Lets pause for a refreshing Sam Peckinpah anecdote, recounted by one of his favorite stuntmen. What is this little gathering at which this anecdote was recounted? Is it some kind of Peckinpah-veterans group lunch? The grizzled western-ish faces and knowing glances and chuckles indicate a group of former Hollywood stuntmen, perhaps mixed in with a few grips, electrics and general movie-set thugs. What prompted this was a search online for Peckinpah interview material, which in turn was prompted by watching the Peckinpah version of 'The Getaway" on the plane last night which in turn was prompted by a trip I had to make to LA which in turn...

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I've just watched John Sturges "Bad Day At Black Rock" (or lets be honest--John Sturges and Millard Kaufman and Don McGuire's and Spencer Tracy's "Bad Day At Black Rock"--for no finished movie is anything less then the creation of the director and star and writer, or rather no finished GOOD movie is)--anyway, I just finished watching it and am having mixed feelings about what is generally regarded as a classic. But I'll get to that in a minute.

First of all, why did I choose to watch BDABR on this particular Sunday morning? Because yesterday I found a very interesting audio commentary that director John Sturges did shortly before his 1992 death for a Laser Disc remastering of the movie. Apparently the commentary hasn't made it onto any subsequent DVD of the movie and it was rescued by a slightly cranky chap who has a wonderful blog containing edited commentaries by directors called "Filmschoolcommentaries".
(I've posted parts one of the Sturges commentary on BDABR above). Sturges has a great, raspy, cigarette-laden directors voice and, much like Anthony Mann, speaks in definitive, clear and unambiguous terms. No bullshitting around for these guys! I love how he refers to the actors as "the players" and his obvious respect and affection for "Spence" is quite moving--especially given how difficult and troublesome the actor had become at this point in his career/life.

But the film has left me a little underwhelmed for some reason. While I admire the widescreen photography (in the commentary Sturges is defensive about his use of it as it was considered a strange choice at the time for a non-epic), I also see it as an impediment at times. Often I want to get out of the wide master and see the eyes of the actors looking at each other, but the cuts come infrequently and the coverage is never as close as I'd like it to be. For a movie that's about silence, tension and people sizing each other up, the arms-distance POV feels frustrating. And Andre Previn's score does the film no favors at all--it's invasive and hysterical like an alcoholic cousin at a family gathering who you wish would stop ruining potentially nice moments. Which brings me to the very strange non-existent alternate version of BDABR--namely the Don Siegel directed, Allied Artists produced one. According to Siegel's autobiography, he read Don McGuire's original script before it was set up at Metro and was dying to do it. Siegel, at the time, was a sort of big fish at a sort of small pond and he approached Allied Artists head Steve Brody with the script. (Brody has previously told Siegel that if he found something he wanted to do he'd give him carte blanche). To Siegel's everlasting chagrin, Brody turned him down after reading the script thus causing Siegel to lose out on what certainly would have been his first truly outstanding film.

What would the Don Siegel BDABR have been like? Its easier to answer this in terms of what it would not have been like. It would not have been in widescreen. And it would not have been in color. It would have been faster paced (not necessarily a good thing) and it would have been tightly covered and edited (probably better for viewing today). It's crisp black and white photography would have lent a touch of noir to the dusty California town, possibly giving the emptiness of the environment a little more reality (the clutch of shacks that make up the town feel very set-dressed to me in all their Metro-Color perfection). I don't know what might have replaced Andre Previn's score, but possibly nothing might have. A music-free BDABR would have been quite stark and effective (Sturges discusses in the above interview how they briefly thought of going this route but decided the idea was "ridiculous"). It would have been a grittier, more "B" version which might have suited the nastiness of the town. But the big problem with the Siegel BDABR would have been the cast. For instead of Tracy, you'd have Kevin McCarthy as the stranger with one arm who comes to town. Instead of Borgnine you'd have Neville Brand. Instead of Walter Brennan you'd have Gabby Hayes. And instead of Lee Marvin, you'd have Walter (not yet Jack) Palance. Not the worst cast in the world, but not of the level that MGM--still the host to "more stars than in the heavens"--was able to commandeer. Siegel also had the opportunity to direct "The Godfather" years later but on that occasion he was the one who turned it down. In his book, he had the grace to add that it was lucky for Paramount that he did.

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Richard Dreyfuss, who I am currently staring at on a monitor in an editing room, is inescapably adorable. At any age he is cheek-pinchingly huggable. (I can only imagine what his grandparents used to do to his face when he was a toddler). One of his fans has compiled a "laugh" reel (above) giving us a menu of adorable, huggable, cheek-pinchingly Dreyfussian laughs over the years. By the way, it's that very quality that makes him so purely evil as Bernie Madoff, as you will see later this year...on ABC...in our mini-series...that I'm in an editing room watching on a monitor...

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Sometimes it's nice to give a blog a month off. Unfortunately, the silence of the past month was an inadvertent one--I've been directing the Bernie Madoff mini-series for ABC, an event that normally I would have blogged to death. For reasons that are a bit murky and not really necessary to get into, I was more or less prevented from doing this. (I'll go into details in my forthcoming memoir, tentatively titled: "Raymond De Felitta; A Life At Home").

But we had a spectacularly great shoot and I'm now a free man, happy to continue this absurd exercise in 'brand-building' and incessant self-promotion. To that end, let's look at the above posted series of Suntory Whisky commercials, featuring Francis Coppola (young, fat and beard as opposed to old, fat and bearded) and--get this--Akira Kurosawa, who apparently could belt 'em back pretty good. This all came about because yesterday, on my first day off, I spent the afternoon watching the complete three-hour forty-seven minute version of "Seven Samurai", largely to make myself feel better about the huge amount of work I have to do to pull together the two-hour forty-five minute movie I've just shot. It didn't. But a healthy dose of Tito's (my version of Santory) did the trick...

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It's Raymond's birthday and we're about midway through shooting, so Raymond has no time to blog today. Never fear, as his trusty assistants will post on his behalf. Not too much to say, just a few photos of our beloved leader Ray.

Eating birthday cake on set, overlooking Central Park (and thinking of Anthony Mann?)

Surrounded by his team, taking in a luxurious location at the end of the day.

Holding his mini-monitor, guiding the  action during a busy street shoot.