Weekly Wilson - Blog of Author Connie C. Wilson

Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books—-her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Category: Interviews (Page 1 of 6)

Dan Rather Appears at Texas Book Festival in Support of “What Unites Us:” Says “Civil Dissent Is As American As Apple Pie.”

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Veteran CBS newsman Dan Rather, a Houston native, came to the First Baptist Church in Austin at noon on Saturday (November 4, 2017) to talk about his new book “What Unites Us.”  His appearance was part of the Texas Book Festival, which is one of the largest and one of the most prestigious literary festivals in the country, featuring 250+ nationally and critically recognized adult and children’s authors, 20+ venues (including the State Capital), 80+ exhibitors and live music.

Later in the day (4:00 p.m.), Rather’s spot would be taken by Tom Hanks, talking about his new book of short stories, a compilation united by his love for collecting old typewriters.

But at noon on Saturday, November 4th, Rather sat down with an interviewer and answered questions:

The First Baptist Church in Austin hosted Dan Rather. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Q:  When did nationalism become essentially white nationalism?

A:  I think the sixties spawned this. It was a very difficult period.  I do think that, coming out of the sixties, as an “experienced skeptic,” the tragedy of President Nixon and his appealing to Southern state white racists was not a good thing. Remember: Nixon was successful. He was re-elected two times with overwhelming majorities.  He proved that you can win if you appeal to white supremacists.  We’re now paying the price of what started in the sixties.

We need to pause and take a deep breath.  Our national motto is “E Pluribus Unum”:  “Out of many, one.” We can make it work.

Q:  The slogan “make America great again.” It seems to be asking us to go back to the fifties. Is that true?

A:  There’s no going back to the 1950s and, by the way, the 1950s were not that great (laughter from crowd).  We can’t do it.  Those who try will not succeed.

Texas Book Festival.

Moderator:  “You’re literally whistling Dixie, Dan.” (laughter from audience).  There’s a perception that all this started on January 20th with President Trump’s Inauguration. Is that right?

A:  It started at least as far back as the 1970s or 1980s.  We’re realists. We recognize when we’re wrong. After 9/11 we pulled ourselves together.  Now we are at a decision point:  re-dedicate ourselves to belief in the institutions, values, drive and forward movement of the American Dream.

Q:  You have written your book in terms of 6 essays on such things as Freedom, Character, Responsibility, Science, Empathy and Exploration.  I’d like to ask you about science, in particular.

A:  We can’t move the country forward with post-truth.  There are no “alternative facts.”  I don’t care if you have a degree from Harvard or Stanford, it is ridiculous:  2 + 2 = 4. We know the difference between bullshit and brass tacks.  Water does not run uphill:  Gravity is a fact.

Q:  What makes this unique? All Presidents have sometimes dissembled?

A:  What makes this unique and not moral is these daily statements are not true. No President has ever told so many lies so brazenly and so perpetually. Also, his constant attacks on the free press are unprecedented.  It’s a post-truth where facts don’t matter, and it’s dangerous.

Moderator:  “In your empathy essay you say that we seem to have lost the power to be empathetic.

From the First Baptist Church in downtown Austin, Texas. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

A:  I don’t necessarily feel that way.  We see empathy in the American people all the time:  People are civil, wanting to help.  These are very strong values that Americans prize, and we saw it following the recent natural catastrophes.

What is unworthy of us, as Americans, is a week-long debate about the President of the United States’ words to a grieving widow. Any decent person would have called her back or sent her a note of apology. That is the real spirit of the American heart.

Q:  Let me ask you about your “Dissent” essay.

A:  Yes. Dissent is being discouraged. Civil dissent in America is as American as apple pie.

Q:  What makes our situation right now so perilous, in your view?

A:  I want to be careful about drawing a line between Watergate and the place our country finds itself in now.  Watergate was bad, but it was internal. Now, we have a foreign power intervening and interfering in our democratic process. That is an enormous difference.  Also, the media landscape is different.  It used to be that newspapers were important.  Iphones and social media did not exist.

Q:  Do you think it was better then, or better now?

Texas Book Festival, Austin, Texas. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

A:  Overall, I think it is better now to have the Internet. The Internet, when used properly, is a tremendous resource.  Today, the greatest opportunity of the Internet is to educate, but a greater burden is placed on the user.

Rather ended his remarks to a standing ovation from a  crowd of roughly 700 people and left the Church so that Tom Hanks could take his place at 4:00 p.m.

Vanessa Redgrave’s Directorial Debut, “Sea Sorrow,” Documents the Refugee Crisis in Europe

Reading Time: 5 minutes

In her directorial debut after a lengthy career as a much-lauded actress, Academy Award winner Vanessa Redgrave takes on a cause near and dear to her heart in “Sea Sorrow.” That cause is trying to alleviate the refugee crisis affecting Europe right now, with displaced persons—many of them unaccompanied children—streaming in, 70 new people a day at a camp called Jungle Camp in Calais.

Of those numbers, 800 are children with 387 of them eligible to join relatives in the country to which they fled, but bureaucratic indifference or actual opposition dooming progress.
Only Greece seems to be trying to set an example for the rest of the world, although Germany’s Angela Merkle also has done much to help and Canada’s Justin Trudeau was also singled out for praise. Donald J. Trump, of course, has proposed numerous travel bans and seems to have no core moral philosophy guiding his “executive decrees,” [other than to build a wall against Mexico and ban travelers from other lands.] Trump was not mentioned by name in the documentary, which, instead, interviewed the refugees, themselves, and those working hard against overwhelming odds to try to help them. The entire message of the 74-minute documentary could be summed up this way, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

Early estimates of the numbers of unaccompanied children entering the country in countries like Greece, Italy, Calais (France), and Dunkirk were 26,000, but more accurate surveying revealed that the number was really closer to 95,000.
Redgrave urges, “Bring back the idea that we’re all humanity.” Jemma Redgrave (actress) is shown saying, “I find it unbearable that there are children living in camps who are denied any assistance. We have to stand up as parents and human beings and not accept the appalling status quo.”

Redgrave hopes the film will educate a generation and a half to the existing mandates, written and adopted after World War II, to stand up for human rights.
There is a film clip of Eleanor Roosevelt addressing the United Nations during the 1945 Declaration of Human Rights, issued after the defeat of Fascism. The film comments on the European Convention on Human Rights (UNHCR, 1951) and the 1989 Rights of the Child legislation, all of which, she said, are being ignored.

It is Redgrave’s feeling that the battle must be won through the courts, using these existing pieces of legislation to force nations that have become insular and unwilling to accept these displaced populations, to do the right thing and help unaccompanied orphans and children streaming into Europe, as well as the entire families who are fleeing for their lives. Precautions against the entry of terrorists are, of course, implicit and already in place in most countries, but the lives of innocent men, women and children are also on the line.

Not only Redgrave, but House of Lords member Lord Dubs, whose own history goes back to World War II when his parents escaped the Nazis, gave the shocked audience actual data on the crisis. It was originally thought there were 26,000 unaccompanied minor children, but the real number turned out to be closer to 96,000 and 10,000 of these poor souls have completely disappeared.

When you hear stories like that of 22-year-old Hamidi, who fled Afghanistan after witnessing the murder of both his mother and his father right in front of him (he was also shot as he fled), who walked 3 months on foot with $8,000 Euros gathered from friends and relatives to finance the trip and then was loaded onto a boat meant for 40 with 80 souls (Twelve fell overboard or died on the boat).

Another young boy spent 11 hours on a boat to Bari; it took him 2 months to flee from Tripoli. These people are desperate and are treated very poorly and inaccurately by mainstream media, according to Carlo Nero. Of the 86% of refugees who entered the UK, the United Kingdom provides support for less than 1%. The words on the base of the Statue of Liberty (“Give me your tired, your poor, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. I lift my lamp beside the Golden Door.”) have gone out the window in the U.S., along with common human decency to our own citizens in many places under the Trump administration. Be careful in screening immigrants, yes, but push for the equality and dignity of defenseless refugees fleeing death and destruction in their native lands.

The opportunities for human trafficking and other such misdeeds at camp’s like Calais, France’s The Jungle are high
. “Bring back the idea that we’re all humanity,” pleads Redgrave, and one short clip gives a little bit of her own childhood remembrance of the burning of the Coventry Cathedral during the blitz. (November 14, 1940, when she was just 3). She still has nightmares about approaching fire.

The biggest injustice, it seemed, was that, of the 378 children in the Calais camp known as “The Jungle” (which was torn down in October of this year), 178 had relatives who would have taken them in, under the terms of the Dublin Treaty. Said Redgrave, “It is simply a matter of political will.”

Rallies were shown with touching scenes of young refugees thanking their rescuers while wearing shirts with the message “Choose Love.” Seventy new people a day join their ranks. Said Redgrave, “They are brave young people with real courage.” No one denies the need for security precautions, but common human decency is also necessary.

We learn some of the history of why Redgrave feels so passionately about this cause and why Lord Dubs has thrown in his efforts to assist her. An old copy of the newspaper the Manchester Guardian dated 1938 is read by film star Emma Thompson, in which average citizens write in saying they are ready, willing and able to help. Why won’t our government let us help? (Most notably E. Sylvia Pankhurst of Essex wrote, who willingly would have taken some of the refugees that were spirited out of Germany during the Holocaust in an operation known as Kindertransport.) Redgrave mused on “The Diary of Anne Frank.” The young Jewish teenaged girl who lived in hiding from the Nazis for two years in Amsterdam, wrote, “In spite of everything, I still believe people are basically good.”

Redgrave’s feeling: “You’ve got to litigate. The courts are ruling every single time that the government is wrong, but the government appeals. And that’s where we are…We people can change things, but we’ve got some very hard work to do. None of us should feel hopeless. You have to get groups of them and say, ‘This is wrong and we’re going to do everything we can to change it.’”
No stranger to controversy following her Oscar acceptance speech in 1978, her attempt(s) to do good here will, no doubt, incite further controversy, but her message, with 10 people dying a day, was, “The Greek people are showing the world how to help fellow human beings. Now, we have to tell our governments they have to step in.” She urged a common European policy be adopted.

There are some sad stories with happy endings, like that of 14-year-old David from Eritrea, whose parents both drowned on their way to Italy. He spent 9 months in Rome until the group Safe Passage found his Aunt in England and he was allowed to go live with her. “These are inspirational people and a lot of them are young people,” said Redgrave, of the volunteers. She, at 80, said she is willing to go with the film to colleges and elsewhere to help spread the word about the refugee crisis and to let a whole generation know about human rights law that is currently being ignored and violated.

The film’s title comes not only from the harrowing scenes of boatloads of refugees (and even the famous photo of a young two-year-old boy, drowned, dead on the beach in Greece that stunned the world) arriving and being helped ashore by the Greek officials, but from Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest.”

At the end of the film, Ralph Fiennes reads the scene from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” where Prospero is speaking to Miranda about how they were “Hurried them upon a boat—a rotten carcass of a boat.”

“How came we ashore?” asks Miranda.

“By Providence Divine. Sit still and hear the rest of our sea sorrow.”

Vanessa Redgrave Receives Visionary Award at the 53rd Annual Chicago International Film Festival on October 16, 2017

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Vanessa Redgrave and Producer son Carlo Nero arrive for her acceptance of the Visionary Award at the 53rd Annual Chicago International Film Festival.

Vanessa Redgrave is one of the most honored actresses of her generation. Now 80, she has been Oscar-nominated six times (winning for Best Supporting Actress in “Julia” in 1977) and may be the only British actress to have won an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony, a BAFTA, an Olivier, a Cannes award, a Golden Globe award and an award from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG).

Redgrave and her 48-year-old son, Carlo Nero, who also functioned as producer on “Sea Sorrow,” Redgrave’s first directorial effort, were present in Chicago at the 53rd Annual International Film Festival both to show the audience their heartbreaking film about the refugee crisis in Europe and to receive a special Visionary Award.

Those who have followed Redgrave’s storied career will know that she has always been a passionate and outspoken proponent for many causes (she is currently a UN Goodwill Ambassador). In 1978 there was a lot of controversy after her Oscar acceptance speech, amidst criticism of her involvement in the Arab cause after her work on “The Palestinian.” Wikipedia notes that, “The scandal of her awards speech (at the Oscars) and the negative press it occasioned had a destructive effect on her acting opportunities that would last for years to come.”

Now, Ms. Redgrave, with the help of other right-minded folk, has made a documentary about the plight of those fleeing Syria, Afghanistan and other countries and arriving in Europe. Appearing in the film in addition to the testimony of actual refugees are fellow actors Emma Thompson and Ralph Fiennes.

On the Red Carpet on Monday, October 16th, before her film was shown, I was able to speak with Redgrave about her early career and the topic of the current refugee crisis. The Festival has been showing the 1966 film “Blow-Up,” directed by Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni and starring Redgrave and David Hemmings. The film was an international sensation more than 50 years ago, as it chronicled the story of a high-fashion photographer in sixties Swinging London whose camera might have captured a murder during a photo shoot in a park with an enigmatic beauty (Redgrave).

The film remains an art cinema landmark and a time capsule of the counter-cultural moment. When asked whether she remembered the sensation it created in 1966, she answered, at first, “Not really, no.”
She went on to say this about that classic film in response to questions:

Q1: “Blow-Up” was such a breakthrough in visual filmmaking. (It was said, at the time, that Michelangelo Antonioni, the Italian director, even dyed the grass for the park shoot greener than it would normally have been.) Do you remember the reaction to the film?

A1: I don’t remember. It was a huge excitement as an actress to work for Michelangelo Antonioni, to act for him and to learn what he was seeing. His approach was completely unlike the Anglo-American approach. And he was also very reassuring. He was sitting offscreen during the camerawork. At one point, the cameraman asked something about a scene and Michelangelo. said: “Don’t worry. She’ll either be able to do it or she can’t.” He didn’t know I could speak Italian, so I understood, and I thought, “Well, that’s reassuring.” I relaxed immediately and thought, ‘Well, at least he isn’t going to be mad.’”

Q2: What do you think causes the roots of fear about immigrants amongst other nations?

http://www,youtube.com/watch?v=U-WRhouNVmYA2: “A lot of has to do with media propaganda. Remember the media is owned by certain individuals.” Son Carlo interjected, “A lot of the public has been poisoned by media articles, effectively making refugees out to be rats and it’s a disgrace that this can happen in the 21st century. And this is mainstream, mainstream media.”

Q3: There was a quote in the Palme D’Or winning film “The Square” that said, “How much inhumanity must we experience before we exercise our humanity?” Perhaps you saw it at Cannes. Comments?

A3: We must challenge our governments to act. Right now, these children are here and all alone. I don’t understand how governments can fail to act. Redgrave’s film “Sea Sorrow”, which I will comment on separately, gives the legal grounding for protecting refugees, in general, and refugee children, in particular.)

Q4: So, having been in the film industry for over 50 years, what did you learn about yourself directing this film?

A4: I learned that there was still so much I still had to try and learn. We had to work against the clock. We had to get it ready as soon as we could. It was the kindness of technicians who helped us that allowed that to happen. We had a lot of support making the film. We didn’t have a lot of money and we couldn’t have done it without a lot of generous assistance from others in the film industry who helped us (mentions Ralph Fiennes and Emma Thompson, both of whom appear.)

Both Vanessa (Redgrave) and her 48-year-old son Carlo Nero were gracious in answering questions fully At the end of our brief talk, before the movie began, she mentioned that they “might have an important meeting coming up in Rome soon,” without elaborating on that enigmatic statement.

Speaking with the Director of “It Comes At Night”

Reading Time: 5 minutes

“It Comes At Night” Writer/Director Trey Edward Shults Talks About His New Film

Genre: Horror/thriller/mystery

Length: 1 hour, 37 minutes

Writer/Director: Trey Edward Shults

Cast: Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo, Christopher Abbott, Riley Keough, Kelvin Harrison, Jr., Griffin Robert Faulkner, David Pendleton, Mikey the dog

Reviewer: Connie Wilson

Following the absolutely gut-wrenching preview showing of the film “It Comes At Night” in Chicago on Thursday, June 1st, writer/director Trey Edward Shults talked about how this, his second feature film, came to be. (the movie opens wide on June 9th).

At 18, Trey became an intern on a Terrence Malick shoot in Hawaii for the volcano scenes in “Tree of Life.” He was rooming with the film loader, who taught him how to load film inside a changing bag for Imax films. They were helicoptered to the volcano site and filmed lava erupting from the volcano.

Something caused the second unit film loader to be unavailable and Trey stepped in, with lava oozing down the sides of the volcano in the rain and the cinematographer yelling, “We need another mag!” After that, Trey quit college at 19 and, in addition to interning in Austin with Malick, was employed on a Jeff Nichols movie.

Shults spent this time studying movies constantly, making shorts, and trying to find his voice as a filmmaker. He says he has never worked on “a traditional film set” and is open to collaborating with actors. “Krishna,” which was Shults’ first feature-length film, premiered at SXSW in 2015, featured his family members, and earned him a 2-film deal with A24. It is a movie about family and, as he said in Chicago, “I knew I had to quit making movies that starred only my family members.” (Laughter).

So “It Comes At Night,” film number two, was born, after Shults had captured the John Cassavetes Award (2016), the Independent Spirit Awards Breakthrough Director Award , the Gotham Award (2016) and earned reviews that praised “Krishna” as “unforgettable,” “original” and “a ferociously impressive film debut.”

In this, Shults’ second full-length feature film, Joel Edgerton (“Loving,” “Midnight Special”), who plays Paul in the picture and also was an executive producer, helped with assembling the top-notch cast: Carmen Ejogo of “Selma;” Riley Keough (Elvis’ granddaughter who was in “The Girlfriend Experience” and “American Honey”) as Kim; Christopher Abbott (“James White”) as Will and new-comer Kelvin Harrison Jr. as Travis, through whose eyes the story is told. Said Shults, “I’m very blessed, because they are all very talented and amazing people. I went through the Hollywood bullshit casting. You fly to London and meet with someone and they say, ‘Oh! I’d love to be in your movie!’ and you fly home and then they say they have committed somewhere else.” Stelts shrugs and says that the role of Travis was cast during a Skype session with Kelvin Harrison, Jr. of New Orleans, who was 22 at the time, while Shults was 27. Kelvin is the person through whose eyes we experience the film. (When asked for his favorite scene in an interview, Harrison said he enjoyed the grim, gory sequence where Riley Keough straddles him in bed and oozes thick blood into his mouth. He also identified one of his favorite movies as the 1959 film “Imitation of Life,” about a light-skinned black girl passing for white).

The personal elements of the film came from Trey’s watching his father (from whom he had been estranged) slowly die a grim death from pancreatic cancer. As someone who nursed her father through terminal liver cancer in a town too small to have much of a hospice program, I could definitely relate. In sharing that commonality, I earned a hug from the director, who is the product of various strong female role models, including his actress aunt Trisha Fairchild, who starred in “Krisha.” Family is important to Trey and that line about trusting family first is used in the film’s dialogue.

The long, slow fade to black of his father’s death made a deep and indelible impression on the young filmmaker. He says, “I started writing and it started spewing out of me. For the people who dig it, that’s cool. It’s not about the disease; it’s about what the disease does to people.” He mentions genocide and paranoia and the struggle to survive, turned to maximum volume.

Set in a remote cabin in the woods, the survivors of an unnamed disease are trying to survive, using gas masks and barricading themselves from what is out there that might infect them or kill them. We never know exactly what that might be, but gas masks are used throughout, as are kerosene lanterns and natural light (much like Terrence Malick’s films and their emphasis on natural light.) The film’s tone is reminiscent of early Carpenter or “Night of the Living Dead.”

Dream Sequences: Q: You’re never really sure it is really a dream or reality. Is that intentional?

A: “Yes. The way we shot it was deliberate, from 240 to 275 to 30. The score is also subtly different and, at the end of the movie, the aspect ratio slowly changes and the reality/dream music is interwoven; we shot 3.0 for the rest of the film. The goal with the nightmares was a path into Travis and how he’s thinking and how he’s processing these things. (“Totally,” is usually Trey’s favorite one-word response.)

Q: What about the stupidness of horror movies, in general? What did you think was stupid in that way in your film, if anything?

A: Travis running into the woods after Stanley (the dog) is probably the stupidest thing. (He adds that he would probably have done it, too).

Q: What about the title?

A: A title hits you and then it sticks with you. At night is when my brain is most active. It’s a little gateway into how I think. (Laughs) I had this nightmare where I had cancer, but it was just in my finger, but I was gonna’ die. The title “It Comes At Night” is not literal. It is metaphorical. It’s intentional. The purpose was to put you in the headspace of the characters.”

As Trey says, “The entire theme is pretty minimal. Less is more,” he says, quoting Mies van der Rohe.“I really wanted to make the most of this toned-down setting. There isn’t an ounce of fat on this movie.” Shults mentions some of his Obsessive/compulsive tendencies (wrestling, when in high school, until a shoulder injury ruined that career) and says, “I mixed the gunshot sounds over and over and over.” Shults also said, “We didn’t do night lighting. You go in the woods with a flashlight or in your house and it’s dark and it’s totally terrifying. We wanted economical storytelling. It’s a low-budget film (shot in 5 weeks in one setting.) There is no hidden material.”

Shults tells the story of attending a screening of “There Will Be Blood” with his mother and how it influenced him, as have such diverse films as “Boogie Nights,” “Night of the Living Dead,” “The Shining,” and “The Thing.” For all of his admiration for such classic horror films, Shults says “It Comes At Night” is not a genre film.

“The movie is about the unknown and the fear of the unknown. Death is the ultimate unknown.” He tells the story of his cousin who, having been drug addicted but clean for years, came to a family reunion but relapsed while at the reunion (and later died). These brushes with death early in his life—whether a parent or a cousin—obviously have informed the young filmmaker’s work. His apprenticeships with Terrence Malick inform the first 45 to 50 minutes of the film, when the cinematography goes from cameras to dollies to zoom shots.

Some will not like the ending, because the film leaves us with questions.

Shults says, “I like questions. I know that’s what I love. I love the kind of movies where you think about them later and wonder about things. If this turns out to be one of those movies that stays with you afterwards, that’s cool.” (“Totally.”)

THE HERO with Sam Elliott Screens @ SXSW 2017

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Genre: Drama with Western roots
Length: 90 minutes
Director: Brett Haley
Actors: Sam Elliott, Laura Prepon, Krysten Ritter, Nick Offerman, Katharine Ross

The mythic spirit of the western, our American archetype, is alive and well at the 2017 SXSW Film Festival.
I’ve seen two westerns in two days at the Festival. “The Hero,” which showed at the Zach Theater on Friday, March 10th, was the better of the two.

“The Hero” was an unusual picture because it focuses on a 71-year-old actor (Elliot) who has been playing western parts for most of his career. Now, he is in the twilight of that career, and most of his work seems to be voice-over work (primarily for a BBQ sauce). He’d like to get a feature like “The Hero” that catapulted him to fame back in the day, and he’s phoning his agent, looking for more work. And then he is derailed by a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

There are parallels here between “The Wrestler” that featured Mickey Rourke and this plot. Both men find they have a potentially terminal illness and are dealing with that knowledge the same way. Both are initially in denial and tell no one. Both have a daughter from a failed relationship (real-life wife Katharine Ross plays the ex) and both men want to make peace with their only child before it’s too late. But the daughters aren’t cooperating much in moving towards reconciliation.

I wanted to see Katharine Ross (“The Graduate,” “The Cincinnati Kid”) after all this time, if only to see how she has aged alongside her silver-maned real-life husband, Elliott, whom we have seen in the TV series “Justified” and, earlier, as the narrator in the Coen Brothers classic “The Big Lebowski.” There is no doubt that Elliott has the best hair of anyone his age in pictures. (Robert Redford might be a close second.) Sam Elliott and Katharine Ross were in “The Cincinnati Kid” together, way back in 1969, but did not officially meet and begin dating until 1978, ultimately marrying in 1984, 33 years ago. (They have one daughter born that year)
The love interest in this film is not Elliott’s true-life wife, but Laura Prepon, who played Donna on “That 70s Show” (“The Girl on the Train.”) (Prepon announced that she is pregnant by fiancé Ben Foster in January.)

The two meet cute through their mutual drug dealer Jeremiah, played by Parks & Recreation’s Nick Offerman. A budding romance erupts, although Laura’s character (Charlotte Douglas) nearly kills the romance at the outset by making fun of romancing older men during her stand-up comedy routine.

In the film, western star Lee Hayden is going to be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by an organization known as The Western Appreciation and Preservation Guild.
Since he also has just learned he has pancreatic cancer, he is struggling with the thought that his only chance at prolonging his life slightly may be a grim procedure known as the Whipple Procedure, which would remove part of his pancreas, his gall bladder and part of his small intestine. Even then, his odds don’t sound that great. And Laura actually seems interested in getting to know him better and agrees to be his date for the awards ceremony (after Lee’s estranged daughter turns him down).

THE GOOD

Elliott does some truly fine acting in the scenes where he is auditioning for a part in a film and must speak lines as though to his daughter. Real life impinges on fictional life as he is overcome with emotion. When Lee’s new female friend Charlotte reads Edna St. Vincent Milay’s poem “Dirge Without Music” to him, Elliott’s reaction is also spot on.

All the characters play their parts well, although it was difficult to understand how Elliott’s character of Lee Hayden was so forgiving of Charlotte, after her cruelty towards him onstage during her comedy act. The elderly: one of the few remaining groups under fire; it seems it is just fine to make fun of someone for being old. That is exactly what Laura Prepon’s character does, without mercy, in her act. Yet Elliott’s character, Lee Hayden, is quite forgiving.

During the Q&A, Director Brett Haley was asked why he has made more than one film about old age. (His 2015 film “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” starring Blythe Danner and Sam Elliott, was also about an older woman facing old age, death, and being alone.) Haley first responded that this film was built around Elliott’s persona, but went on to say, “This film is about legacy…about looking back on one’s achievements. There’s something very interesting to me about older people who are toting up their achievements in life and trying to cope with the end of it all. Ageism is a problem in film and it’s a problem in society. That’s just something I’m drawn to.”

There are many beach scenes in the film which cinematographer Rob Givens photographed beautifully. Haley shared with the audience that the crew shot all the beach scenes in one day but when they went back to film they had to find a cliff for the principal actors to stand on (Elliott and his daughter Lucy, played by Krysten Ritter) because 6 to 8 foot swells had covered the beach.

One very big positive about the film, for me, was the use of Edna St. Vincent Milay’s poem “Dirge Without Music.”
I asked Haley whether they had to pay the poet’s estate to use the film, and he said, ”They were very nice, and they let us use the poem for free. Her estate said, ‘Any time we can get the word out about her work, we’re happy.’” The director went on to say that, in his experience, “I think it is through music and poetry and film that we communicate. That’s what we all do. It’s why I have a recurring theme in the movie involving the Buster Keaton film clips. If I were dying and wanted to talk about death, that’s what I’d do. To me, it felt like a real thing that real people would do, and Milay is one of my favorite poets.”

Asked about Sam Elliott’s ability to roll a real joint for key plot scenes, Haley made it clear that Sam Elliott does not smoke marijuana, but knew exactly how to roll a doobie.
Nick Offerman (“Parks & Recreation”) playing his drug dealer and friend Jeremiah from co-starring in a television series, was very complimentary about Elliott’s work ethic and what an honor and education it was to work with the old pro.

Said Offernan: “On the set of Parks & Recreation (Elliott had a recurring role as Nick’s doppelganger), I always tried to show up early. So, to work with a giant like Sam Elliott, I wasn’t going to show up less than thirty minutes early or not knowing my lines. It’s the same way I felt working with Michael Keaton. These guys are legends. So, one morning we’re shooting at 4:30 a.m. and I show up half an hour early, and there’s Sam, already leaning against the truck.” (laughs)
Director Haley shared that the film was originally supposed to be called “Iceberg,” which had to do with a metaphor in the film and the image of an iceberg on the drug dealer Jeremiah’s computer, but, just before shooting began, the title was changed because, “’The Hero’ is a closer portrayal of what the film is about. The title came to me right before we shot, and some of the early producers weren’t as keen on it, but I think it works.”

THE BAD

There are some random scenes meant to show Lee Hayden’s career in movies. In one, Elliott emerges from a small pup tent, wearing a cowboy hat. When you see him in the scene, it is unclear whether this is a flashback, a flash forward, or simply present history. Likewise, a scene where Lee (apparently dreaming?) sees a man hanging from a tree is in the film, but the message it is supposed to be sending is unclear.

OVERALL: It was nice to see a film that acknowledges that some people do live into their 7th decade of life and are not necessarily total fossils. An examination of any woman’s magazine “beautiful at any age” issue would convince you that there is no woman (or man, for that matter) who lives past 60 and could be considered handsome or beautiful. The fact that Lee is also obviously still virile (there are numerous love scenes, chastely shot) is also a gift to the AARP generation. That was unexpected and nice. Only a few films of the past decade have focused on characters in their golden years and done so sensitively. This is one of them.

Steve McQueen Q&A, Artistic Achievement Award @ Chicago Film Festival on October 22, 2016

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Michael Kutza and Steve McQueen in Chicago.

Michael Kutza and Steve McQueen in Chicago.

British director Steve McQueen came to Chicago to receive an award on the 20th anniversary of the Chicago International Film Festival’s Black Perspectives program. Jacqueline Najuma Stewart, professor of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago, interviewed him onstage.
Prior to Ms. Stewart’s questioning, McQueen spoke to us on the Red Carpet and answering a question about the climactic hanging scene in “12 Years A Slave,” his Best Picture Oscar winner of 2013, by saying that the long shot required patience and was his search for truth.

McQueen has directed 3 feature films, to date: Hunger (2008), Shame (2011) and “12 Years A Slave” (2013).

“Hunger” depicted the 1981 hunger strike in Britain by Irish Republican Army inmates, eleven (other sources say 10) of whom died. Asked about the impetus for this 2008 first feature, McQueen referenced his youth in England, watching a picture of one of the inmates (Bobby Sands, the leader of the hunger strike), with a number counting down beneath his picture on television each day.

Only 12 at the time, McQueen would ask his mother why that man’s picture was onscreen with a number under it each day. From this, came an interest in the subject. “I realized that, when you’re young, your parents control everything. One of the few ways you have to protest is by not eating.To not eat is to be heard,” said McQueen.

steve-mcqueen-034 “I was interested in the subject. The subject asked for its treatment to be linear, a feature film. This was the early eighties and terrorism and IRA tension was rife then. I did lots of research. I wanted to know the things in between the lines of the history books. History has so much to do with what is between the lines.”

McQueen went on to talk about how smells can bring back a time, place or person (‘the smell of Grandmother’s house”) and said, “It’s not a visual thing.” In the film “Hunger,” which won a Gold Hugo at the Chicago Film Festival in 2008 and for which Michael Fassbender (now in all 3 of McQueen’s films) won a Silver Hugo for acting that year, the inmates are shown protesting their imprisonment any way they can, including smearing their own feces on the walls of their prison cells.

This meant that every 5 days the authorities would make the prisoners change cells so that the walls could be washed, but the prison guards made the transfer from one cell to another in the most abusive way possible, stripping the men naked and mistreating them throughout. An extremely graphic clip from the film was shown. I could tell that most in the audience had not seen it previously (although I had, in 2008). “Hunger” was a very powerful piece of filmmaking, but not for the faint of heart.

Q: “How do you stage such a brutal scene?”

A: “This was not a normal film set in Belfast. Young people who grew up with the Troubles …it was put on them. That day of shooting was heavy. Apparently I shoot fast (although I don’t know; I have no basis for comparison.) We only did one take. I had to supervise the shoot using monitors, when I prefer being just behind my cameraman, but there wasn’t room for me. The fact that I was the instigator of this violence was quite shocking. (He says he broke out in a physical rash days later over the shooting of the film’s violent scenes.) There is only one cut; I won’t tell you where. I had to walk off the set. Tears were in my eyes and I hadn’t had tears in my eyes like that since my father’s funeral.”

McQueen continued: “Art caused people to talk about it. Eleven men dead of starvation in British prison cells. (*Note: other sources put the number at 10 with Bobby Sands leading the rebellion).”

steve-mcqueen-052Q: Then you did the 2011 film “Shame” about sex addiction, shot in New York City, again with Michael Fassbender and Carrie Mulligan. There was lots of nudity in the film.

A: “Yes. If this movie had been made in 1951, Michael and Carol would have worn their pajamas.” McQueen recounted several conversations with psychiatrists that gave him an in-depth understanding of sex addiction and also mentioned the times during which it was shot. “Rupert Murdoch had just bugged everyone’s phones and it was the Tiger Woods era.”

Q: You seem to have a different rhythm and flow for each film. Do you plan that in advance?

A: I always saw ‘Hunger’ as a stream: floating on your back and taking in the landscape and then there’s a waterfall and loss of gravity. Then you see the physicality of what is happening. After violence, it is exhausting and you go into a cascade, an avalanche of words. I saw ‘Hunger’ as having 3 parts: the introduction; the violence; and talk. But sound is also the most important thing in the film. Sound is so important in film. People need to lean in to listen. It gives them something to do.”

Q: Do you consider your films and your way of working conventional or unconventional?

A: “If it works, it works.”

Q: How do you know if it works?

A: “I’ve been doing this for a while now. Trust me. I know.”

McQueen is a film school dropout from NYU’s Tisch School and has been quoted more than once as saying the atmosphere there was too constrictive for him. He mentioned their refusal to allow him to throw a camera in the air. However, he said, “I went to a very good art school. Education was free in Britain then (15 years ago).”

Q: How did you come to the theme of “12 Years A Slave”?

steve-mcqueen-049A: “It was a good story. I’ve been coming to the U.S. since I was 7 years old. Just because my sister and I were born in the West Indies (Grenada and Trinidad) people try to separate us by nationality. It’s nonsense. These are stories, which are ours. There is a huge archive of black history—many stories. I wanted to tell this story of this man who was free and was kidnapped 97 years ago and who kept a diary of it. It was very interesting to me that this was a book that no one knew about, when everyone knows about ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’, which happened during World War II. By doing this story, I was advocating for a movie about the Underground Railroad and other projects. I consider it a bit of a Trojan horse because these are amazing narratives and now they are being made.”

Q: Do you have people telling you that they are experiencing slavery fatigue?

A: “Slavery fatigue? What is that?”

Q: Tell me about the casting of “12 Years A Slave.”

A: “When I read the book, I knew I wanted Chiwetel Ejiofor to play Solomon Northup because there’s something noble about him. You can put him in rags and he still looks like a prince. He’s such a genius. Also, Michael (Fassbender) is passionate and fearless. His part is such an interesting character. He is in love with Patsy (the slave girl played by Lupita Nyong’o) and he shouldn’t be. That’s a very difficult thing to do, but Michael went there. To be a human is to be complex. The slave owner Michael played was a vicious nasty man to take out his pain on Patsy (Lupita). Simon is America. Deal with it.”

Q: How did you find Lupita Nyong’o?

A: “Lupita is like Scarlett O’Hara in this. It is amazing in that we searched high and low before finding her. She’d not yet graduated from college, but we saw her tape. She has a beautiful jaw line, beautiful lips. Her looks and her spirit and the combination of her looks and her spirit were outstanding. Michael (Fassbender) had rented a massive room with barely any furniture in New Orleans and I brought them together to practice some scenes and, after Michael worked with her and saw her passion and her intensity, he said, ‘I gotta’ get my shit together.’ (laughter) She’s got what she’s got and she’s taking it so far. She’s genius.”

Q: The furious jump cuts. Were they part of the initial rhythm or were they put in in post-production?

A: “I’ve worked with the same 3 people on 3 films: Joe Walker, my editor; Sean Bobbitt, Director of Photography; and Michael Fassbender. It’s like a band (I know I’d be Keith). You knew there was going to be a rhythm. You shoot it and then you see what happens. As long as you’ve got the angles, then you can play around with it.”

Q: What is your own personal connection with “12 Years A Slave?”

A: “The connection of this person wanting to go home. It was a bit like a horrible fairy tale, like ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ All of my films have a realization of blackness. I’m black.”

Q: If you were to make a movie set in Chicago, would you focus on Chicago politics or on crime?

A: “How come there aren’t more stories coming out of Chicago? It’s so rich that it’s crazy. Walk outside and open your eyes!”

(*Note: On September 27, 2016 a new project, Widows, was announced to be in development with a script penned by Gone Girl writer Gillian Flynn and McQueen attached to direct. Originally Jennifer Lawrence was approached for the lead role, but due to scheduling conflicts, she had to decline the project. Viola Davis will star in the film. The film is described as a heist thriller about four armed robbers who are killed in a failed heist attempt, only to have their widows step up to finish the job.)

Michael Kutza points out that the Black Perspectives Artistic Achievement award is one inch taller than the Oscar.

Michael Kutza points out that the Black Perspectives Artistic Achievement award is one inch taller than the Oscar.

At this point, Cinema Chicago founder Michael Kutza came onstage to award McQueen his Black Perspectives Award for Artistic Achievement, noting that it is one inch taller than the Oscar McQueen collected in 2013 for “12 Years A Slave.”

Kutza asked McQueen how long it took him to film his 3 feature film projects: 35 days with one camera for “12 Years A Slave”; 25 days for “Shame;” and 22 days for “Hunger,” noting that, “We had to wait for Michael to lose some weight for the part.”

Michael Kutza and Steve McQueen in Chicago.

Michael Kutza and Steve McQueen in Chicago.

Danny Glover Accepts Visionary Award at Chicago International Film Festival

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Danny Glover accepts the Visionary Award from Cinema Chicago founder and artistic director Michael Kutza.

Danny Glover accepts the Visionary Award from Cinema Chicago founder and artistic director Michael Kutza.

Danny Glover appeared in Chicago to promote the Nigerian film “93 Days” and accept a Visionary Award from Festival Founder Michael Kutza.The film “93 Days,” based on real-life events, follows the Nigerian effort to stop the Ebola virus from spreading, when it was introduced into the capital city of Lagos (21 million people) in 2014.

Director Steve Gukas and star of "93 Days" Danny Glover.

Director Steve Gukas and star of “93 Days” Danny Glover.

As Director Steve Gukas said, “This film is about our inter-connectedness. The sacrifice of a few actually saved the lives of many the world over.” The trailer looked good, so I gave the film my attention for what seemed like an interminable 124 minutes of time. The film has international distribution at this time, but no U.S. distribution yet, so my remarks about the film must wait for later.

(L to R) Producers Dotun Okahunri, Bolanie Austen-Peers, Pemon Rami and Director Steve Gukas.

(L to R) Producers Dotun Okahunri, Bolanie Austen-Peers, Pemon Rami and Director Steve Gukas.

Many of the film’s producers and stars accompanied the film to Chicago and Glover said, before its screening, “I can’t tell you how proud I was to work with my brothers and sisters in Nigeria. I can’t thank the producers and Steve Gukas enough for allowing me to be a part of this.”

Producer Pemon Rami of Chicago.

Producer Pemon Rami of Chicago.

The only United States producer on the project was Pemon Rami, who is one of the elders of black cinema and has been involved in the development of TV shows, films, music concerts, documentaries and plays for more than 60 years. He is the first African American casting director for Chicago films. When asked about his experiences helping make “93 Days,” Pemon said, “I was the only producer from the U.S. I was there for 3 months working on the film. We were in places in Nigeria that you don’t typically see. Some of the places the houses all looked like the White House!” When asked how Danny Glover became involved with the film, Rami said, “When he read the script, he wanted to be involved in a bigger way.” As it is, Glover’s part is bigger in the opening parts of the film when the crisis is being diagnosed than it is during the “solve-this-problem” parts of the film, when actor Tim Reid, playing Dr. David, took over.

ffthroughdannyglover-077When Festival founder Michael Kutza mentioned that an invitation to attend Chicago’s Film Festival has been extended on three earlier occasions, Glover vowed it would not be his last visit and said, “You know, I was in Hyde Park in New York City accepting an award just a day or so ago, and then I had a commitment with the school board there. Then I was cooking dinner for Harry Belafonte at his home the other night, at Idlewild to honor labor leaders, and at the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party on Saturday.” In other words, Glover keeps busy, and he was nowhere busier than in Chicago where he appeared in not just one, but three separate film entries.

“One Day Since Yesterday” & Life Achievement Award Focus on Peter Bogdanovich

Reading Time: 9 minutes

bogdanovich101616-010Peter Bogdanovich, ex-wife Louise Stratton and the makers of a documentary on Bogdanovich’s career entitled “One Day Since Yesterday,” (Director Bill Teck; Producer Victor Brazo) attended a screening entitled “Peter Bogdanovich and the Lost American Film” at the Chicago Film Festival on Sunday, October 16th. The “lost American Film” in question is Bogdanovich’s movie “They All Laughed,” which starred his then-love interest Dorothy Stratten opposite John Ritter and was Audrey Hepburn’s last film, as the love interest for Ben Gazarra.

During the evening’s presentation of the Golden Hugo Award to Bogdanovich for his life achievements in film, the Bill Teck documentary was screened and Bogdanovich answered questions afterwards from Michael Phillips of the Chicago “Tribune” and talked about his storied career. [He didn’t take questions from the Chicago “Sun Times,” as that phone interview was canceled.] But the legendary director did convey quite a bit of information to the audience.

Peter Bogdanovich

Peter Bogdanovich

The audience was treated to clips from some of Bogdanovich’s greatest films (see chart at end of article) and interviews with those who know him well, like Jeff Bridges and Ben Gazzara.
When the portions of the film that focused on Dorothy’s heinous murder were reached in the documentary, Bogdanovich left the theater. About ten minutes later director Bill Teck followed, no doubt to check on him.

As he spoke to us, some grisly coincidences were revealed:
1) Dorothy Stratten was murdered by her psychotic husband/manager after she began her affair with Bogdanovich, seemingly ruining his life from that point on. (Dorothy’smurder was particularly brutal and heinous).
(2) “They All Laughed” was Audrey Hepburn’s last film (and that’s ignoring John Ritter’s untimely death at a too-young age)
(3) Bogdanovich directed River Phoenix’s last completed film, “The Thing Called Love,” before River Phoenix died of a drug overdose in 1993 outside the Viper Room in Hollywood; at the time, Phoenix was at work on a movie called “Dark Blood.”
(4) Ben Gazarra’s interview with Bill Teck that we saw this night was his last interview
(5) Bogdanovich, during his remarks, said that Bob Fosse’s making of “Star 80,” (which Bogdanovich objected to and said was not accurate, “killed him.” It was Fosse’s last film)

So, yikes! (Does the term “Kiss of Death” resonate, or is it just me?)

bogdanovich101616-008In the Q&A following the documentary, Michael Phillips of the Chicago “Tribune” asked a question that many might have posed: “How do you manage to remain friends with an astonishing number of exes?” Bogdanovich answered, “If one aspect of a relationship doesn’t work, why dump it all?”

His most lasting and well-known relationships were with wife Polly Platt, a working relationship and one that lasted from 1962 to 1971, producing two daughters, Antonia and Sashy (he put both girls in “They All Laughed”). In 1971, while making “The Last Picture Show,” he fell in love with its star, Cybill Shepherd, and left his wife. They were a couple until 1978. In 1980, while making “They All Laughed,” Bogdanovich became romantically involved with Dorothy Stratten, 1980 Playmate of the Year who was murdered in 1981. He married her younger sister Louise in 1988 when he was 49 and Louise was 20; they divorced in 2001.

Bogdanovich’s climb to director was not the traditional path through film school. Instead, he privately reviewed every movie he saw from 1952 to 1970 and sought out the great masters of film to interview them and write about them. A true student of the cinema, he has written extensively on all matters concerning film.

Hired as a film programmer at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York City in the sixties, Bogdanovich organized film retrospectives of Orson Welles, John Ford and Howard Hawks. One of those film retrospectives on Alfred Hitchcock I had the good fortune to see, taking my daughter from individual table-top computer to individual table-top computer to view such classic Hitchcock film scenes as the shower scene from “Psycho” or the attack scenes from “The Birds.”

bogdanovich101616-007Bogdanovich would ask publicists for invitations to movie premieres and industry party invitations. Roger Corman was sitting behind him at one of these events and, after a conversation in which Corman complimented Bogdanovich on a piece he had written for Esquire magazine, Corman offered him a job directing.

Bogdanovich accepted immediately, taking on the film “Targets” that starred Boris Karloff. Bogdanovich has said of this experience (undertaken under the pseudonym Derek Thomas), “I went from getting the laundry to directing the picture in three weeks. Altogether, I worked 22 weeks—preproduction, shooting, second unit, cutting, dubbing—I haven’t learned as much since.” (Quote from “What They Learned from Roger Corman” by Beverly Gray of MovieMaker magazine, spring of 2001.)

During his remarks this night, Bogdanovich articulated his dislike of numerous, obvious cuts, a style in vogue today (think Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon’s “Bourne” movies), which Bogdanovich called “the MTV School of filmmaking.”

Bogdanovich’s opinion: “I don’t like that. You cut for emphasis. I believe in the intelligence of the audience, (originally an Otto Preminger quote).”

When asked about how he developed his own style, he replied, “I never thought about style. I was interested in telling the story and using the craft to make the film the most effective way possible. I saw a lot of pictures and I’d say, ‘Why is the camera there?’ I was told always cut on movement. Then they’ll never notice the cut. The MTV influence, which I despise but which is in vogue nowadays, they want you to notice the cuts.” To make his point, Bogdanovich offered up Ginger Rodgers/Fred Astaire musical numbers or Gene Kelly’s dance numbers.

Asked if he had ever considered following some other notable directors into directing for television, Bogdanovich said, “I directed an episode of The Sopranos in the 5th season. But, to do the job right, you have to be in charge. I don’t look forward to it when you don’t know your cast, but I did know the cast of The Sopranos.” (from his role as Dr. Melfi’s psychotherapist, Dr. Elliot Kupferberg.)

bogdanovich101616-029Bogdanovich noted of his Sopranos time, “We couldn’t change a word of dialogue on The Sopranos without consulting the director. If you wanted to change anything, you had to call him (David Chase) up and ask him.” Given those strictures, he was told to ask Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) a question, but no question had been written for him. He improvised a question. The director said, “Ask a better question.” Laughing, Bogdanovich said he told the director that if he wanted a better question, he should write a better (expletive deleted) question for his character to ask.

Throughout the evening’s question and answer period, Bogdanovich, an avid film historian, kept repeating how much he had learned from studying other great directors. He repeated this nugget of information from an interview he did with Howard Hawkes in 1962. Hawkes told him, “It’s not about plot. The plot is people either getting together or not. Hawkes wanted to focus (in Rio Bravo) on the characters. I loved him. I learned so much from him and from Ford and Fritz Lang, Otto Preminger, Renoir, Alfred Hitchcock. I was so lucky. And they were all my friends. Well, maybe not Fritz so much.” (laughter)

Asked about his collaboration with Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal in 1972, “What’s Up, Doc?” (and, especially, about Barbra’s reputation as a prima donna), Bogdanovich said that Barbra had seen an early cut of “The Last Picture Show” and wanted to work with him. He recalled mentioning to her how Barbra might read a certain line in the script (which Bogdanovich had written) and Barbra saying, “Oh, so now you’re going to give me a line reading?” Later, when Barbra was singing “As Time Goes By” in the film, he mentioned to her that she might put more emphasis on the word “can” within the lyric “on that you can rely” and Barbra retorted, “Oh…so now you’re going to give me line readings for the song lyrics?” He added, “She was fun to work with. I really loved her.”

bogdanovich101616-034Bogdanovich quoted Jimmy Stewart, whom he interviewed for the 1971 AFI documentary “Directed by John Ford:” “If you’re good and you’re lucky enough to have a personality that comes across, a good film is like giving the audience back little pieces of time.”

Here are the film “pieces of time” Bogdanovich has given us since 1968 (and he has written extensively):

Year Film
1968 Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women Alternative Title: The Gill Women of Venus and The Gill Women. Credited as Derek Thomas
Targets Alternative Title: Before I Die
Also Writer/Producer/Editor
1971 Directed by John Ford Documentary
The Last Picture Show Also WriterBAFTA Award for Best ScreenplayNew York Film Critics Circle Award for Best ScreenplayNew York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director
Nominated – Academy Award for Best Director
Nominated – Academy Award for Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
Nominated – BAFTA Award for Best Direction
Nominated – Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Feature Film
Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Director
Nominated – Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay
1972 What’s Up, Doc Also Writer/Producer
1973 Paper Moon Also Producer
Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Director
1974 Daisy Miller Also Producer
1975 At Long Last Love Also Writer/Producer
1976 Nickelodeon Also Writer Nominated – Golden Bear
1979 Saint Jack Also Writer Venice Film Festival for Best Film
1981 They All Laughed Also Writer
1985 Mask Nominated – Palme d’Or
1988 Illegally Yours Also Producer
1990 Texasville Also Writer/Producer
1992 Noises Off Also Executive Producer
1993 The Thing Called Love
2001 The Cat’s Meow
2007 Runnin’ Down a Dream Documentary
2014 She’s Funny That Way

The documentary “One Day Since Yesterday” was directed by Miami native Bill Teck and produced by Victor Brazo. It focuses on Peter Bogdanovich’s film “They All Laughed.” This was the Dorothy Stratten film. Said Teck of Bogdanovich, “I never met a more brave human being. He gave us unprecedented access to everything.”

bogdanovich101616-020Teck explained his fascination with Bogdanovich’s film work this way: “When I was 13 I went to the Art Theater in Miami and saw ‘They All Laughed.’ My movie is about that movie. I don’t know that anyone else embodies old Hollywood combined with the new more than Peter Bogdanovich. ‘They All Laughed’ is a valentine to love: love of his art, movie love and true love. I call it ‘The Lost American Film’ because it was Audrey Hepburn’s last film role, co-starred John Ritter and Ben Gazarra and, of course, Dorothy Stratten.”

Following the showing of the film, Bogdanovich commented on directing Audrey Hepburn in her final film.

Q: Why did Hepburn take the role?

A: “I think she did it because I told Audrey that Sean, her son, could be my assistant. But she was paid $1 million for 6 weeks’ work.” Said Bogdanovich of Hepburn: “She was very apprehensive, very shy, sensitive. In front of the camera, however, she had a steel-like intensity; it was all there. We had a limited budget for this movie. We couldn’t shut down 5th Avenue, so all the trailers and trucks were blocks away. She had no trailer. No chair. No dressing room. She was great. She was just great. She’d go inside the store and we’d use hand signals to let her know when we needed her to come out for shooting a scene and she’d come out and say, “Oh, look, Peter. They gave me this lovely umbrella.” (mimicking Hepburn’s accent)”

Ben Gazarra plays Hepburn’s love interest in the film, and documentary director Teck was fortunate enough to be able to record Gazarra’s last interview about making both this film and Saint Jack with Bogdanovich.

Tabloids buzzed after the brutal murder of Playmate of the Year Dorothy Stratten by her estranged husband/manager Paul Snider, who then committed suicide. The murder, in 1981, sent Bogdanovich into a tailspin from which he seems never to have fully recovered. His marriage to Dorothy’s younger sister Louise in 1988, when he was 49 and she was 20, did nothing to cause the memory of the brutal murder to recede into the past for the public nor, it would seem, for Bogdanovich to fully recover.

In fact, both with his master plan to buy back the film from the studio and distribute it himself through a distribution group he dubbed Moon Pictures, his actions since 1981 seem to have produced a long period of grieving for what he has lost in life. Descriptions of how distraught Bogdanovich was after Dorothy’s murder include his daughters testifying that he couldn’t walk, but crawled to them. Ex-wife Polly Platt, mother of his two children, thought that writing The Killing of the Unicorn: Dorothy Stratten 1960-1980 was probably good therapy for Peter at the time.

bogdanovich101616-016Perhaps it was, but it doesn’t seem to have worked that well.
His daughters remember August 14, 1980 as “the day we lost our father.”

Bogdanovich addressed the Bob Fosse-directed picture “Star 80,” (based on Pulitzer Prize-winning articles in the Village Voice) which featured Eric Roberts as Snider and Mariel Hemingway as Dorothy. When the film came out, Bogdanovich called up Bob Fosse, its director, whom he knew personally. “‘Why are you doing this, Bob?’ I asked him. Fosse said, ‘We think it’s a good story.’ It was Bob Fosse’s last picture. It killed him. All I know is that if this had happened to Bob, I wouldn’t have made a film about it.”

Producer & director of "One Day After Yesterday," the Bogdanovich documentary, smile on their way into the screening.

Producer & director of “One Day After Yesterday,” the Bogdanovich documentary, smile on their way into the screening.

Bogdanovich was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1985 and again in 1997.
The bankruptcy of ’85 was caused by his rash decision to buy back Stratten’s film “They All Laughed” (mortgaging his house to do it) from the studio and to try to distribute it himself. “We had no clout,” he said. (According to Wikipedia, at the time, he had income of $75,000 a month and expenses of $200,000 a month). “That was dumb,” he said during the Sunday event, of his attempt to self-distribute. Had it been a big success, however, he might have revolutionized the industry as singularly as Amazon has revolutionized the publishing industry with its Print-on-demand service.

More studio problems presented themselves when Bogdanovich helmed “Mask” in 1985 with Cher and Eric Stoltz. He became embroiled in a dispute with the studio over the replacement of Bruce Springsteen’s songs in the film with songs written by Bob Seger.

Whatever ups and downs Bogdanovich’s career and personal life have had, his 3 hits in a row (“The Last Picture Show,”1971, “What’s Up, Doc” in 1972, and “Paper Moon” in 1973) alone will forever cement his reputation as once being among the best of the best.

His extensive writing about film, preserving the wisdom of previous great directors whom he personally knew and interviewed, also justifies awards like the Gold Hugo Lifetime Achievement Award, bestowed upon the 77-year-old Bogdanovich in Chicago on Sunday, October 16th, 2016.

“La La Land” Opens the 52nd Chicago International Film Festival on October 13, 2016

Reading Time: 5 minutes

“La La Land”—that place where “they worship everything and they value nothing” (i.e., Hollywood and Los Angeles)—is the subject of Writer/Director Damien Chazell’s third film, following on the heels of his highly acclaimed “Whiplash” with Miles Teller. (Bad teacher J.K. Simmons even has a bit part in this one as Gosling’s boss in a supper club).

Miles Teller was originally supposed to play the lead in “La La Land,” Chazell’s attempt to make a musical like those from “the old days.” This is where I’m supposed to sing the merits of musicals of old (“Singin’ in the Rain,” “The Big Broadcast of 1940”) or mention the stylistic and tonal debt the film owes to Jacques Demy’s “Umbrellas of Cherbourg” and “The Young Girls of Rochefort,” but I was never a huge musical fan and this is a modern film in so many other ways. [My mother-in-law, were she still alive, would love this film! She always admired “Chicago” (the musical).]

But me? I’m more of a thriller type. I had to be won over.

THE GOOD

If you’re going to send an actor to win me over, by all means send Ryan Gosling. I’d have accepted the equally talented Miles Teller in the part, (and I’m still hoping that Gosling will star in a remake of “Logan’s Run,”) but if it’s musicals we’re here to discuss, let’s have at it. Who can forget the onscreen chemistry Gosling already had with Emma Stone in “Crazy, Stupid Love” when he told her his signature move was the lift from “Dirty Dancing” and they replicated it?

I liked this one. I would like any musical where the camera lingers lovingly on Ryan Gosling; the fact that he sings passably well and can even do a bit of soft shoe added to my enjoyment. This is to be expected, given his stint on “The All New Mickey Mouse Club” and his early training in Ottawa at the Elite Dance Studio and the top Hat Dance School in his hometown of Cornwall. You have a male lead who can legitimately sing and dance. Emma Stone does an equally good job in both areas, but, somehow, you are less surprised when the female of the species can sing and dance.

Take into account that Gosling’s character of Sebastian is supposed to be a passionate jazz pianist (great lighting in the scenes where he’s playing the piano) and appears to actually be playing the piano, and I’m in. (And I haven’t been “in” to a musical since Leonard Bernstein and “West Side Story.”)

No review would be complete without giving much credit to composer/arranger Justin Hurwitz, with assists lyrically from Benj Pasek and Justin Paul for the great songs. There’s also one song contributed by John Legend.

Themes:

When Gosling says, “I’m a Phoenix rising from the ashes” and “I’m gonna’ let life hit me and then I’m gonna’ hit back. It’s a classic rope-a-dope” you believe him. He’s so devoted to jazz that, says co-star John Legend (yes, the singer), “How are you gonna’ save jazz if nobody is listening. You’re holdin’ onto the past, but jazz is about the future.” Another conflict-laden scene where the young couple are being pulled apart by (initially) Gosling’s success featured dialogue that was largely improvised and included the line, “Maybe yu just liked me better when I was on my ass because it made you feel better about yourself.” (Ouch!)

Second theme is the age-old conflict between art and commerce, i.e., the need to make a buck versus the need to create art.

And, last, but certainly not least, I found echoes of two recent films struck me. Those 2 previous films were Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s 2009 film “500 Days of Summer” and Woody Allen’s even more recent film (2016) “Café Society” with Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart and Steve Carell.

Each of those non-musical predecessors suggests that there are a variety of people who might be “right” for you at one time or another in your life, and a variety of futures you might have with each person. And, at least in Woody’s film, you can see the wheels turning in Jesse Eisenberg’s head when his first love re-enters his life briefly at the end of the drama. (“Ah, what might have been!” he seems to be thinking.)

The music of Justin Hurwitz, with lyrical assists from Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, helps carry the themes of reaching for the stars and not giving up on your dreams. (Hurwitz also did the music and arrangements for “Whiplash”). With lyrics like, “Here’s to the fools who dream, crazy as they may seem. Here’s to the mess we make” the plot is carried along a brightly colored path where a young would-be actress and a young would-be jazz musician who wants to own his own club meet and fall in love, rather slowly by today’s standards. (In the age of Tinder, it was nice to see the slow build-up to the romance.)

THE BAD

Well, it’s a musical.

But it’s a good, witty musical that will garner awards at Oscar time, including a possible Oscar nomination for Emma Stone and the picture itself. If Emma gets a nod for the Best Actress Oscar and Ryan Gosling does not receive a similar endorsement for his skills, it will be a bit like Dustin Hoffman carrying the day in “Rainman” while Tom Cruise was ignored.

I also smiled at the scene when Mia (Emma Stone),who has thoughtlessly double-booked herself with her date Greg and is standing Ryan Gosling up for their spontaneously arranged movie date, gets up from the table and excuses herself, leaving Greg to join Sebastian. The actor playing Greg (Finn Wittrock) played the psychotic killer clown on the circus episodes of “American Horror Story” and was also featured in the hotel year episodes (with Lady Gaga). I think anyone in the theater who has seen old Finn in his psychotic clown make-up was seriously rooting for Emma to flee, not so much because we felt bad about her standing Ryan Gosling up, but because we half-expected Greg to attack her with a steak knife at the dinner table at any moment. I also recognized a second suitor at the very end of the film (Tom Everett Scott) from the 1996 Tom Hanks film “That Thing You Do” and wondered what he’s been up to since then.

Both of the leads, as well as the Writer/Director and everyone who did such a fine job on this film deserve recognition of how difficult it must have been to pull off a romantic musical in today’s crass times. Between all the talk of Donald Trump’s assaults on women and his genitalia and the specter of Bill Clinton’s trysts elevated to front row status at the second presidential debate, it’s really hard to remember more romantic times.

Those who loved musicals do remember, and this is the kind of film they’ll love, which really should be seen on the Big Screen.

So, “Here’s to the ones who dream, foolish as they may seem, I’ll always remember the flame.”

[*The Lionsgate representative on the Red Carpet on October 13th, when asked, said it would be perfectly fine to run a review now, as it was playing elsewhere, but it is slated to open wide in December.)

Opening Night of the 52nd Chicago International Film Festival on Oct. 13th

Reading Time: 2 minutes

http://search.aol.com/aol/video?q=Valerie+Perrine&v_t=aolrt-ff

Claude LeLouch with interpreter.

Claude LeLouch with interpreter.

Now that I have your attention, may I mention that the lovely creature featured in the tribute above is the co-author of French director Claude LeLouch’s (2015) film “Un & Une?” You may recognize Valerie Perrine from her Oscar-nominated role as Honey Bruce, wife of Lenny Bruce, in the 1974 film “Lenny” or any of her many other film roles. She accompanied LeLouch to the opening night and is a lovely and vibrant 73-year-old (LeLouch is 79).

Damien Chazelle, Writer/Director of "La La Land" and "Whiplash."

Damien Chazelle, Writer/Director of “La La Land” and “Whiplash.”

The current hot director who attended the Opening Night of his film was Damien Chazelle, whose musical “La La Land” has been well-received virtually everywhere it has screened. In Venice, on August 31st, the opening sequence on a Los Angeles freeway received a standing ovation. Since then, the film has opened to kudos at Telluride and Toronto and Emma Stone won the Best Actress award for her role (She is being prominently mentioned as a Best Actress Oscar contender). The chemistry that Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone displayed in “Crazy, Stupid Love” (he told her his signature move was the lift from “Dirty Dancing”) remains.

Michael Rooker

Michael Rooker

Another classic flick brought back to life for the 52nd Chicago International Film Festival was “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer”, an indie film directed by John McNaughton and starring Michael Rooker. The film premiered in Chicago in 1986 and has achieved cult status over the intervening 30 years. Rooker, himself, now 60, has gone on to appear in such films as “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Days of Thunder” (1990), “The Bone Collector,” and as Merle in television’s “The Walking Dead.”

When McNaughton was asked his advice for aspiring filmmakers who want to make an independent film he said, “Ill give them the same advice my father gave me: become a dentist.”

Rosemarie DeWitt of "La La Land."

Rosemarie DeWitt of “La La Land.”

In addition to Writer/Director Chazelle of “La La Land”, actress Rosemarie DeWitt, who plays Gosling’s older sister in the film, came to Chicago and her comments to me about the film were, “I think Damien made something very beautiful and very fresh that is going to make you very happy and maybe even make you cry.”

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