Tuesday, April 22, 2014

RACIST JOKES CAN BE FUN

From a long ago Howard Stern show, here's a sampling of Jackie Martling's grab-bag of racist jokes that he performed in his club act. Does anyone remember hearing about the Stern group appearing at a place in Long Island called Club Benet (pronounced--and maybe even spelled--BENAY) back in the late 80's/early 90's? What about Susan Bezerkowitz (actually Berkeley), the traffic reporter who was so frazzled by the contempt with which she was treated that she actually quit on air? I'm talking vintage early K-ROCK Howard here. I spent way too much time listening back then and am spending way too much time recently finding this stuff on Youtube and reliving my lost (and very happy) twenties.



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Monday, April 21, 2014

DIRECTORS SPEAK! (PART TWO): DON SIEGEL

Here's Don Siegel, ("Dirty Harry," "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", "Escape From Alcatraz" to name his three best known films though I admit I considered going the snarkier route and naming "Spanish Affair", "Count The Hours" and "China Venture" instead) discussing how much he dislikes directing. If you'd shown me this twenty years ago when I'd only directed a short or two, I'd have thought he was kidding or drunk. But it really is as dispiriting a job as he says and I like the laconic, wry ease with which he patiently explains the reasons for his antipathy to his profession. This was shot in 1974 while he was in London, shooting a movie I've barely heard of called "The Black Windmill". I'd love to see the rest of this interview but the below minute is all that seems to exist on Youtube. I tried looking up Siegel's house address but could find nothing other than this cool reminiscence by someone who, as a kid, attended the Siegel's Oscar night parties in the 60's. It turns out they lived in Sherman Oaks. I'm not surprised. Siegel's career had a definite slightly low self-esteemy Valley-show-biz vibe to it. And finally I've also posted the trailer from Siegel's 1954 masterwork "Riot In Cell Block 11".






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Saturday, April 19, 2014

THE GOOFY SINATRA

Why does Frank Sinatra make the strange nasal noise before singing the word "Downtown" in his recording of--er--"Downtown"? Is it a tribute to Jackie Gleason? Or is it Frank copping a feel of the trend du jour (circa mid-sixties) which was to make up weird noises when singing? I like to picture the guys in the booth while Frank is singing...the subtle but embarrassed looks at one another as the Chairman continues making the weird noise...the hushed conference about asking him for a take without the "nasal effect"...the drawing of straws to see who would actually take on the dreadful task of telling Frank he sounded weird...the final shrug of all present who decide: fuck it. If Frank likes it, we like it...


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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

THE WILD BUNCH: MAKING THE FINAL SHOOTOUT

Here's a mini-doc (or excerpt from a longer one?) on the making of the famous final shoot-out in Sam Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch." Among other things, it tells of how Peckinpah took a one line description of some action in the script and, thinking on his feet, developed one of the films truly iconic sections--the "long walk" taken by the principals. When people wonder what a director really does, I try to point to examples such as this. Directing is about looking deeply into the material at things that appear merely functional and finding ways to give them size--visually, metaphorically, thematically. I've also posted the final shoot-out itself which makes even more fascinating viewing than usual after watching the description of its making.






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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

DIRECTORS SPEAK PART ONE! ROUBEN MAMOULIAN...

Here is an exceedingly rare view of the great director Rouben Mamoulian ("Love Me Tonight", "The Mark of Zorro", "Silk Stockings") speaking from his home in Beverly Hills in 1986, age 88.  Beside his innovative and still stylishly fascinating film work, Mamoulian also made theater history, directing the original productions of two seminal musical works of art, "Porgy And Bess" and "Oklahoma". And he's all but forgotten today. Jesus!

I had the great good fortune of meeting Mamoulian in the early eighties at the home of film critic Arthur Knight. He was old-school gentlemanly, attired in jacket, scarf, hat and wielding a cigar. I remember asking him about several of his films and his saying one thing that particularly stuck with me. It had to do with "Silk Stockings", my favorite Fred Astaire film post Ginger Rogers. I don't remember what the question was but it must have had to do with process because I recall him quite casually saying, "So then we rehearsed for seven hours and..." etc. My jaw dropped. They rehearsed for seven hours? This was the pace, the meticulousness and the sheer perfectionism that not only made his work so richly realized but also got him fired from three very famous movies--"Laura", "Porgy And Bess" and "Cleopatra".

At the top of the clip he says a marvelous quote of his grandmothers which he applies to life and to his work with actors. I won't tell you what it is. Just watch it. By the way, where's the rest of this doc? If anybody knows, tell me for Chrissakes! I've also thrown in the magnificent "Red Blues" dance sequence from "Silk Stockings".




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Saturday, April 12, 2014

ROB THE MOB MEETS EUSTICE TILLEY?

The wonderful New Yorker Magazine journalist Jane Kramer has written a wonderful New Yorker magazine piece about "Rob The Mob". It posted today in the on-line edition (which apparently outstrips the print edition by double the amount of readers--which doesn't bode well I'm afraid for the good old print edition) and I'm delighted to post it here.

I'm especially pleased by this exposure because The New Yorker has been an important part of my life since I was a kid, but for mysterious reasons they've paid little or no attention to my films, barely reviewing them (except for a negative David Denby review of "City Island"--which didn't unduly depress me since Denby is almost always one-hundred percent wrong on every movie he reviews). But I've collected old New Yorkers for many years, going back as far as late 1920s editions, which are of particular interest to me. Just reading the nightclub and theater listings of the period (to say nothing of studying the advertisements) are akin to entering a time machine and journeying into a past that is considerably more enticing than our present...(if you eliminate the depression-era economy, the racism and the much-shorter lifespan). Below I've posted a full episode of "The Twentieth Century", a 1961 documentary series narrated by Walter Cronkite. This twenty-six minute episode is devoted to New York in the 20s, a world that I find endlessly fascinating for a variety of reasons, the most important being the fact that when the market collapsed at the end of the decade, virtually every stylistic element of the 20s--from hats to vaudeville acts--seemed to disappear overnight. It was as if the era needed to erase itself entirely. I've always found any relic of the era--like old New Yorkers--a window onto a dead civilization.



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Friday, April 11, 2014

LOVE AND THE "GUB"

Thank you, Kansascity.com, for this very good notice on "Rob The Mob". Will this movie play in Kansas? I wonder. Why not? Interest in the mob and in criminal activities in general are not limited to the denizens of the five boroughs.

And, as we've opened in Seattle, the Seattle Times has weighed in.

Ditto Boston, who has welcomed the film warmly (for the most part).

And "Love and the Gun", the movie's "theme song" (music by Stephen Endelman, lyrics by yours truly) is in rotation on New York's WLIW AM station, soon to be branching out to FM and beyond this hemisphere. Here's the vid:



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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

"THE COMEDIAN"--A MICKEY ROONEY JOINT

Below I've posted the full ninety-minute live television broadcast of "The Comedian", written by Rod Serling (based on a 'novelette' by Ernest Lehman), directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Mickey Rooney. The show was originally broadcast as part of the "Playhouse 90" anthology series on February 14th, 1957. In it, Rooney plays a wildly egomaniacal star TV comic who rants, rages and browbeats everyone around him. The show, which also features Mel Torme as Rooney's brother (!) as well as Edmond O'Brien and Kim Hunter, is a fascinating period piece rich with views of how early television worked and looked. Frankenheimer's staging and direction is wildly elaborate--even if the show hadn't been 'live' a lot of his set-ups, dollies and crane moves would have been hard to achieve. That the whole thing was accomplished in what amounts to a single ninety minute take is truly impressive.

But I would be lying if I said that Rooney's performance is anything more than okay. He's so shrill, so over-the-top and so one-note awful that it's hard to make it through the entire thing. Still it's interesting watching him 'stretch'--there's nothing left of Andy Hardy in this portrait of a show-biz maniac. Indeed, this may have been closer to the real Rooney than any of his other roles--except, perhaps, for "Baby Face Nelson".

And I have another confession to make. These so-called 'golden age of television' live shows? They don't hold up well at all, in my view. Part of the problem is inherent in the very nature of their transmission. The 'live' aspect creates a palpable tension in the acting, direction and overall timing of the shows that feels uncertain--they play like a ship constantly about to capsize. I find it hard not to be watching for the floor managers scurrying out of the way, the cameras bumping into each other, the actors on the verge of going up on their lines etc. In that sense, the surviving live TV shows are more interesting to me for the 'meta-film' they present; you are in the studio with them, chewing your nails raw and hoping they make it to the finish line in relatively decent shape.


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Monday, April 7, 2014

ROB THE MOB MEETS ANDY HARDY?

A couple of extra press thingies that have been out their dangling for the last few days.

Here's a radio interview I did (via cell phone)  with Andrea Chase.

This piece is long but rewarding and is from Technology Tell.

Dig this from the SF Gate. San Francisco? San Fernando? Sam Francis? They're not telling.

And here's a very nice review by Jackie K. Cooper that appeared on the Huffington Post. Mr. Cooper is not the same Jackie Cooper who became a child star due to his ability to cry very effectively. But I like the synergy of his name coinciding with the passing of another one-time child star Mickey Rooney. I guess it's as good a time as any for me to tell my Mickey Rooney story.  Here goes.

It's the year 2000 and my film "Two Family House" has been invited (along with me) to the Deauville Film Festival, easily the most charming film festival I've ever been to. The Mayor Of Deauville traditionally gives a party for the filmmakers and special guests at the official residence. This year was no exception. Lots of interesting people, good wine, over-rich food etc. And the special guest was none other than Mickey Rooney.

For me, standing in a room with Mickey Rooney was as incomprehensible and stunning a moment as if I had been standing in a room with Orson Welles. Or Irving Berlin. Or Duke Ellington. Or any of the worlds true human cultural treasures. Rooney was the last link to much of the history of show-biz in the twentieth century. Rooney knew vaudeville from the early twenties, silent movies from later in the decade, stardom as a youngster at MGM in the thirties and forties, B movies in the fifties, TV in the sixties, Broadway in the seventies. He acted with Spencer Tracy. He sang and danced with Judy Garland. He did Ava Gardner!

To shake Mickey Rooney's hand was to be one handshake away from all that history (and God knows from what else). Seeing that he was accompanied by a young man who I learned was his son, I decided to make my move and ask the son for an introduction.  He was very nice and was sincerely delighted to hear how awed I was by his father's presence. Seconds later, I was shaking hands with Mickey Rooney himself. Here's our exchange in full:

RAYMOND: Mr. Rooney, I can't express how special this moment is for me. You're simply one of the greatest living entertainers and I'm delighted to have this moment to thank you for all the terrific work you've given us over the years.

MICKEY: Thanks. What do you do?

RAYMOND: I'm a director.

MICKEY (PAUSE, STARES AT ME, THEN): Then why the hell don't you give me a job!

(He turns and walks away.)

Unpleasant as the experience was, it was ultimately a good thing. By facing his wrath, his frustration, his lack of manners and his complete disregard for any kind of normal civilized behavior,  he inadvertantly prepared me for working with Peter Falk.


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Saturday, April 5, 2014

BROOKLYN (AND QUEENS) OWES THE CHARMER...

A fresh pile of 'Rob The Mob' reviews. Dig:

This from the Philadelphia Daily News.

And this from the Georgia Sentinel.

Dig this from the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

And finally this, from the all-too-appropriately named blog 'Way Too Indie'.


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Friday, April 4, 2014

THE THING

"Rob The Mob" expands to many more theaters this weekend--click here and go to the "tickets" section to see all the new venues. And a few new reviews are in.

Dig Newsday's review. Long Island came through for us.

And the San Francisco Chronicle rather likes us as well.

The San Francisco Examiner has some quibbles, but I'm putting this in the plus column anyway.

And in Miami, the internettishly-named Miami.com gives us four out of five...dots? coms?

Here's a review that's worth a glance from Cinema Viewfinder.

And dig this from the curiously named Moviesharkdeblore.

Here's a nice gallery of photos from the movie from Mercury News.

One of the real pleasures of having a movie with a 78% Tomatometer rating is finding the occasional isolated pan. As I generally only print reviews with which I agree (and fortunately that's been the case with most of them with this film), I hearby make the exception that proves the rule.

Meet Bill Wine and enjoy his lonely dissertation on why 'Rob The Mob' just doesn't work. If you'd like to know more about Mr. Wine, read the below. I'm looking forward to reading Mr. Wine's plays, catching his controversial podcast "Yada Yada Movies!" and perhaps even speaking at La Salle University, assuming he invites me one day and tells me where La Salle University is.


wine bill Bill WineBill Wine has been KYW Newsradio’s movie critic since 2001.
You can also hear Bill’s “Weekend Box Office” reports Mondays on KYW Newsradio; his “Movie Grapevine” reports on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays at 12:47pm; and his live recap of new releases on Friday afternoons at 5:17pm.
Wine is a tenured professor in the department of communication at La Salle University, where he teaches film and writing courses. In addition to his work in the media and academia, he is also a produced and published playwright.
Bill previously served as movie critic for the Fox Network’s Philadelphia TV station from 1990 to 2002, first for its evening news and then for its morning program, receiving three Emmy awards and eight Emmy nominations for his writing.
Wine has also served as a film, theatre, television and book critic for such publications as the Village Voice, the Camden Courier-Post, the Philadelphia Daily News, and the Philadelphia Inquirer, and has contributed articles, essays, and reviews to numerous magazines and film books.
A lifelong resident of the Philadelphia area, Bill attended Drexel University and did his graduate work at Temple University.
He now lives in Wyncote with his wife and two daughters.
You can catch Bill Wine’s movie reviews on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays on KYW Newsradio 1060. And don’t miss Bill Wine’s podcasts, “Yada Yada Movies!,” at KYW News On Demand.


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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

AT HOME WITH THE MINELLIS

Committed readers of this blog (both of you) know of my penchant for exploring the residences of well-known filmmakers of the past. Previously I've taken you to the homes of, among others, Fritz Lang, Sidney Lumet, Billy Wilder and a host of others too numerous to mention (which means, of course, none--zero--that's it).  Today we will investigate the home of the great MGM musical (and dramatic) filmmaker Vincente Minelli, father of Liza, ex-husband of Judy.

For many years I would drive by a large, dilapidated house that sits on the corner of Sunset Blvd. and Crescent Drive--the house is angled so as to be literally facing the Beverly Hills Hotel across the street--and wonder why the hell somebody didn't buy it and fix it up. Deep research on my part (in other words, screwing around on-line one afternoon) revealed to me that it was Minelli's home, purchased by the director in 1956. He died there in 1986 of emphysema (a very popular disease for old directors--think of John Huston, William Wyler etc.) and willed the house to his then wife Lee Minelli. But Liza with a Z was in charge of the estate and after Lee continued to live on past her natural expiration date, Liza apparently grew frustrated and wanted to sell the place. She offered her step-mother a condo. Step-mother passed. Liza turned off the electricity. Stepmother stayed there in the dark and sued Liza's ass, saying: " "While defendant is honeymooning all over the world, having fed 850 of her closest friends a 12-foot cake, plaintiff is alone in a cold, dark house, at age 94."

After Lee died in 2002 (age 137?) Liza sold the place to some people who planned to pull it down and put up what would have no doubt been a large, Persian-esque palace, the kind of house that has been gradually de-charmifying the so-called 'flats' of Beverly Hills over the last twenty years.

But issues arose with the Beverly Hills authorities and the property languished, gradually turning into the overgrown, broken-down decaying mess that it currently is. According to this account from Curbed LA,  squatters moved in and substantially disimproved things. The Curbed LA photos lovingly document a Beverly Hills squalor unlike any you've ever seen--the picture on the left is just the beginning. The amusingly named blog "I Am Not A Stalker" also stalked the joint, coming up with these titillating views of the wreckage.

The house was built in the 1920s but remodeled along so-called "neo-Regency" lines sometime in the 50s by John Elgin Wolf, (pictured right), the architect du jour of that time who specialized in this strange hybrid design. Usually featuring tall double "pullman" front doors, lots of terrazzo floors, large strange sculpted walls, the then-new and elegant sliding glass doors (now old and ratty and never really able to be opened easily) and fussy non-French French details, the houses once littered Beverly Hills but are now, alas, a dying breed. Ira Gershwin's very Regency-ish house on Roxbury Drive was recently demolished in favor of a "Persian Solution" (here are some photos of the horrors).  Composer Harry Warren's Sunset Blvd. estate (which I went to a number of times whilst a youth) was purchased by Madonna, of all people, and given the "grand go-by" in favor of a steroidal, lot-filling contemporary. Perhaps the truth is that Woolf's moldy but charming notion of "chic" simply hasn't aged well (when does what's 'chic' ever age well?) but one assumes they could be dressed up in a charming, period way and given new life...sort of like getting an aging actor out of the Motion Picture Country Home, dressing him in his old Sy Devore suit, and taking him to lunch at Musso and Frank. It might not be hip, but charm can trump hip if handled correctly. And whats hip about Persian architecture, anyway?

Pictured below are three Elgin-Woolf designs for your perusal. First, Ira Gershwin's staircase:


Sue Mengers patio:

The Pendleton (Nat?) residence on Beverly Drive:
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