Wednesday, January 31, 2007

NOIR CITY 5—Eddie Muller Remarks on Glenn Ford

Fielding groans when he announced that Noir City 5 was officially halfway over, Eddie Muller quipped, "You wait all year and it's over so fast. That's what my wife says to me."

Glenn Ford always struck Eddie Muller as the actor Ronald Reagan wanted to be. Ford personified the same thing that Reagan tried to do on movie screens but couldn't quite accomplish until he moved off the movie screens onto the television screen asking for our vote. Muller isn't quite sure how Reagan pulled that off, but he did.

Muller expressed his happiness in being able to pay tribute to Glenn Ford. Though Ford lived to a ripe old age, he was not in good shape the last few years of his life and became "one of those dead-or-alive questions." It's too bad, Muller lamented, that the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences never got around to giving Glenn Ford his due (nor the American Film Institute, Alan K. Rode—who was sitting next to me—whispered as an aside). As an actor, Ford had a career that reminded Muller that a man who builds a giant palace gets all the notoriety for his one palace whereas the guy who builds one thousand single-dwelling homes is somehow overlooked. That's how Muller perceived Ford's career: "Incredible longevity, totally believable in every performance he ever gave, in whatever genre it was—whether he was in a prowl car, on horseback, or being somebody's dad, or lover, whatever it was, Glenn Ford was totally believable because as he said, 'I'm actually not acting up there on the screen. That's just me.' "

Harry Cohn at Columbia Pictures was wise to realize that movie audiences would warm up to somebody who conveyed such an incredible everyman quality on screen, which is definitely—Muller asserted—what Glenn Ford did. When they teamed Ford with Rita Hayworth in Gilda after the war—where Glenn Ford had served with distinction in the armed forces during WWII—that kicked his career into high gear. Gilda enflamed the imagination of every guy in America because they thought, "Well, if Glenn Ford has a shot with Rita Hayworth, maybe I do too!"

Ford went on to be incredibly truthful and great in a number of films, many in the roster of noir titles. For Noir City 5, Eddie announced, we would be seeing the film he made at Columbia Pictures after GildaFramed (1947), which Muller guaranteed we would love. "[Framed] is the kind of film that we talk about when we try to describe what film noir is all about," he explained. "Yes, there is an incredibly dangerous femme fatale in this movie. James M. Cain could successfully sue for royalties on this movie. This is the classic noir bump-off-the-spouse kind of deal." As a bit of trivia, Muller offered that the director of Framed, Richard Wallace, is a native of Sacramento, California.

Along with having a grand time with Framed, Muller promised we would appreciate the reuniting of Glenn Ford and Rita Hayword in Vincent Sherman's Affair in Trinidad (1952). The programming didn't work out this way to pay official tribute to Vincent Sherman, who would have been 100 years old last year. He made it to 99 years of age. Not only did Sherman direct Affair in Trinidad but The Damned Don't Cry (1950), the film that will be closing out Noir City 5 on Sunday.

I had struck up a conversation with author Alan K. Rode before Muller delivered his introductory remarks and discovered after the fact that Rode attended and reported to Film Monthly on last year's Hollywood tribute commemorating Ford's 90th birthday where Ford—unable to attend in person due to poor health—delivered a poignant though diminished video message.

Equally informative are the obits Dave Hudson gathered together for The Greencine Daily when Ford passed away in August of last year.

But on the Castro's screen Glenn Ford was in his smoldering prime: angry and betrayed in Framed, wounded and enraged by jealousy in Affair in Trinidad. Sexy in his darkly compromised masculinity. He is definitely one of my favorite noir hunks.

There is a quartet of lovely musically-accompanied photo tributes to Ford at

Cross-published on Twitch.

NOIR CITY 5—Evelyn Keyes & Tab Hunter

Eddie Muller has a great double-punch when it comes to educating his audiences regarding film noir ("Take that … and that!). This year, more than previous years, I actually feel like I'm learning something and it's sticking. I'll always know who Marsha Hunt is now as well as being keen to the snappy repartee of William Bowers and the character acting of Richard Erdman. Likewise, Evelyn Keyes is firmly ensconced in my consciousness, by face and name. I'd never made the connection that Keyes played Julie Benson (the fictional counterpart of Ruby Keeler) in one of my mother's—and mine!—favorite mid-afternoon t.v. flicks—The Jolson Story. Noir City 5 paid tribute to Keyes by screening 99 River Street (1953) and Hell's Half Acre (1954) and delightfully surprised its audience by having an unpublicized introduction by Tab Hunter.

Why Tab Hunter? As Hunter explains it in his absorbing autobiography Tab Hunter: Confidential: The Making Of A Movie Star, co-authored by the Czar of Noir himself: "Perry Bullington worked in casting at Canon Films. One night while he was lying in bed, a book fell off the shelf above and conked him: it was Evelyn Keyes's novel, I Am A Billboard. Perry knew a good thing when it hit him on the head. He raved to us [Glaser-Hunter Productions] about the story, and once Allan [Glaser] and I read the thinly veiled memoir about a young Georgia girl's coming-of-age in the 1930s and her journey to Hollywood, we agreed—it would make a terrific movie.

"I'd always loved Evelyn Keyes, not just in Gone with the Wind, where she played Scarlett O'Hara's sister, but in pictures like Here Comes Mr. Jordan, The Jolson Story, and The Prowler. By the time we met, she was in her seventies and writing a regular column for the Los Angeles Times, "Keyes to the Town." She was excited about our plan to turn I Am A Billboard into a film, and she sold us the rights. Evelyn was still so sharp, so opinionated, so full of piss and vinegar, and so brilliant a writer, that when she insisted on taking a crack at the screenplay, we eagerly agreed.

"Evelyn practically lived in our Beverly Hills house, working with me every day on that script. She had a volatile personality—extremely engaging, but relentlessly combative. It was easy to see how major talents like Charles Vidor, John Huston, Mike Todd, and Artie Shaw had all been beguiled by her—and how eventually they'd all had enough.

" 'Don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out!' I yelled after one of our countless battles. Evelyn stormed out, drove around the block, and came back to finish the scene we were working on. Over the course of the year, that incident repeated itself innumerable times, but out of it all came a terrific script, titled Georgia Peach.

"We weren't the only ones who thought highly of it. Allan sold it first place he pitched it, to Scotti Brothers Pictures, a newly formed offshoot of Scotti Brothers Records, which had scored with several hit records in the eighties, Eye of the Tiger being the biggest of the bunch.

"Georgia Peach quickly went into preproduction—where it languished for two years. Finally we got a start date and were scouting locations when Scotti Brothers decided to quit the movies and return to record making exclusively.

"Such is the treacherous nature of independent filmmaking." (2005:329-331)

When later invited to the rededication of Warner Brothers in 1973—"A Celebration of Traditions"—Tab Hunter took Evelyn Keyes as his date. "[S]he and I had traveled around the world," he recalled, "lived overseas, and at various times sworn off this insane industry. Yet here we were, years later, back in the fold. Once in your blood, show business, it seems, is there forever." It had been 30 years since Hunter had set foot inside the Warner walls and, overcome with emotion as memories flooded back to him, his eyes welled up with tears. Noticing, Evelyn Keyes squeezed his hand. (2005:336, 337)

Keyes's Georgia Peach screenplay was subsequently re-named Blues in the Night and Allan Glaser succeeded in rekindling interest in the script by engaging Four Seasons Entertainment to possibly produce (2005:343).

Astute to the prurient interest the average moviegoer has in Hidden Hollywood, Hunter wrote of Keyes's notorious enmity with Joan Cohn, widow to Harry Cohn. Juggling friendships, Hunter was careful to never mention his film project with Evelyn Keyes. "Joan and Evelyn hated each other," he revealed. "The animosity stemmed from Evelyn's autobiography Scarlett O'Hara's Younger Sister, in which she claimed that Harry Cohn had a decade-long infatuation with her.

" 'That's complete bullshit,' Joan declared. 'Harry had better things to do than obsess over a second-rate actress.'

"By this time, Allan and Evelyn had become thicker than thieves, and whenever he'd mention Joan in conversation, Evelyn would hiss, 'What line of bullshit is Queen Cohn telling you now?' " (2005:346)

Elsewhere, Hunter noted: "Evelyn Keyes used to argue with me all the time about psychoanalysis. She'd been through it back in the fifties and found it essential to understanding herself. By contrast, I've never spent one minute of my life in any kind of analysis." (2005:351)

Allan Glaser arranged a "power dinner" with Neil Koenigsberg, personal manager to such talents as Jeff Bridges and Ed Harris, because of Koenigsberg's interest in helping to get Blues in the Night made. Peter Bogdonavich was invited to the dinner as a potential director and Bogdonavich was anxious to meet Keyes, who joined the dinner party. "More than twenty years had flowed past since she and I had first met," Hunter reminisced. "Her razor-sharp brain was by this time being inexorably dulled by the early stages of Alzheimer's.

" 'John Huston was certainly an amazing man,' Peter said to her. 'What was it like being married to him?'

" 'John who?' Evelyn responded, bewildered. 'Who's he? Oh, that's right, I was married to him.'

"Although her odds have greatly improved that Blues in the Night might finally be produced, Evelyn won't be able to savor the satisfaction of seeing her story on the silver screen. She lived it, she wrote it, but she doesn't even recognize her own script when it's in her hands.

"Allan and I still see Evelyn regularly. She lives just down the road, at a retirement home that looks, appropriately enough, like a set from Gone with the Wind. Allan, now her conservator, moved her when she became too forgetful. All things considered, she has it pretty good. She gets treated like royalty, has gained thirty pounds from all the home cooking, and remembers most of the good things—but it's heartbreaking to see her losing pieces from the incredible canvas of her life.

"Perhaps," Hunter attributes, "that's one of the things that inspired me to put my life down on paper." (2005:352-353)

Hunter's willingness to fly up from Santa Barbara to accept Muller's invitation to introduce 99 River Street and Hell's Half Acre indicates a loving friendship with Evelyn Keyes, which made me respect him all the more. Hunter peppered his introduction with the memory of Evelyn Keyes looking at herself on the screen, exclaiming: "There's star quality! Look at those tits!" Keyes was quite the character apparently and—according to author and Noir City 5 co-producer Alan K. Rode, with whom I had a charming chat last night—both Hunter and Muller cleaned up their remembrances somewhat, not wanting to offend their audience. Maybe one of these days over a lucky single malt, I'll get to hear what was respectfully omitted. For now, it was such a pleasure to experience Noir City 5's tribute to Evelyn Keyes; a double-punch I didn't mind taking on the chin.

Cross-published on Twitch.

NOIR CITY 5—Marsha Hunt Onstage Interview With Eddie Muller

I've been watching movies in the Castro Theatre since 1975. Even after 30 years, I never take for granted the Castro's palatial embrace, its Mighty Wurlitzer, its huge screen, the electric receptivity of its audiences (or its hissing snakepits), the variant festivals it hosts, and the countless onstage events that have helped create the texture of cinematic history in San Francisco. I know—as a cineaste—that I am blessed and I am cognizant and proud of that blessing.

Over the years there have been many times when on stage tributes have accompanied programmed films and I've sat near enough the honored guest to watch them watch themselves in films of yesteryear. It fascinates me for some reason, this observed distance between then and now. Watching Cyd Charisse enjoy herself in Silk Stockings. Sitting right next to Kenneth Anger as Frameline celebrated his early experimental films. And Friday evening right across the aisle from Marsha Hunt, her elegant face tilted slightly back as she monitored her youth in Raw Deal and Kid Glove Killer. What was she thinking? Has the aesthetic of ephemerality ever been more poignant than when considering the loss of one film noir print after another, and the youthful energy that fueled them? She was happy, that seemed clear, and proud undoubtedly. I had her autograph generously scrawled on my folded program and, after Raw Deal, sat back with attentive pleasure to hear her converse with Eddie Muller.

* * *

Marsha Hunt: I can't get over this. [Responding to her standing ovation.]

Eddie Muller: And I'm here to tell you that, yes, she does look that good close-up.

Hunt: I have to tell you, I have done three plays in San Francisco. I've never ever come across audiences as good as San Franciscans. [Cheering applause.]

Muller: I have to ask you—did you see this picture [Raw Deal] when it first came out in the 1940s? Did you even bother to go see it?

Hunt: I did.

Muller: Do you have any recollection of [making it?] I ask that as kind of a little joke because a lot of these pictures were "B" pictures. Raw Deal was definitely a "B" picture. …We could talk a little bit about Edward Small, the producer, who was really one of the giants of independent film production in Hollywood … but, at the time, did you happen to think when you were cast in this movie, "Boy, this is really a potboiler. Is this going to do anything for my career?"

Hunt: It's about as negative as a story can get.

Muller: That's why we love it!

Hunt: They hadn't coined that term "noir" yet and it was a very strange kind of film. You weren't sure who—if anyone—you could pull for. But it was a gorgeous cast. I loved working with all of them. No, we had no idea it was going to be destined—how many years later?—that was 1947. That was 60 years ago. Who knew that we would be in the vanguard of something that would become a cult? A movement? [Staring out at her audience, Hunt sweeps her arm to include everyone.] Look at you! I have puzzled over the years as this movement grew: what is it exactly that they love? Nobody to pull for. Virtue is not rewarded. You love shady ladies and I am Miss Virtue. Except, the interesting thing is, Claire [Trevor] is the bad girl, she's in love with a bad guy, and she winds up making the supreme sacrifice so that love can conquer all. And Miss Virtue winds up aiming a gun and firing. So you figure.

Muller: That's why everybody's here tonight.

Hunt: And you know it did occur to me—because I really puzzled over [this]—why does everyone love this kind of story? Mayhem and flames and have you ever noticed there is no dry street at night? They're always soaking wet. Photogenic, I agree, but I think the reason everybody loves noir films is that it gets as bad as it can get up there and you go home saying to yourself, "Well, I guess my life isn't really that bad after all."

Muller: I do have to tell you one really funny story about this. Several years ago I did a book called Dark City Dames and it was my sincere hope that Claire Trevor was going to be one of the dames that I wrote about. I had several interviews with Claire on the telephone and she just wasn't in good enough health to actually participate. But I talked to her about Raw Deal. In absentia we'll tell this Claire story. She didn't remember it, is the whole point. I said, "So tell me about Raw Deal" and she said, "What's that?" She said, "Just remind me of it. It will come back to me." I said, "Oh, Dennis O'Keefe is the guy. There's a little twist. He's the homme fatale between the bad girl and the good girl." She said, "Oh. Who else was in it?" I said, "Well, Marsha Hunt…." She goes, "The good girl, no doubt?" [Laughs.] So at what point in your career did you realize you were fated to be cast as "the good girl"? And was that okay with you?

Hunt: I wasn't always. I moved around a bit. In fact, Metro—which I had just left when we did Raw Deal—let me play no two people alike and that was the happiest, imaginable [thing]. I was good. I was bad. I was inbetween. And it was all wonderful. I was frequently old. I played four old ladies in movies before I was 30. That was a tremendous compliment that they thought I could do that convincingly. So that was the joy for me—not playing good or bad—but playing every possible kind of person.

Muller: You did have a reputation as the best-looking character actress in Hollywood.

Hunt: I was called the youngest character actress except for those four old ladies I played.

Muller: How did you start? I heard you say that you wanted to be an actress from the time you were about 3-4 years old. What was your course to Hollywood? You were born in Chicago, right?

Hunt: How long do you have? It's quite a story and I think you probably want to go over other things. I tricked Hollywood into signing me and it worked.

Muller: How so? I want to know the trick. Tell us the trick.

Hunt: I was fashioning my own road into movies. Oddly enough, I was movie struck, never stage struck, and I grew up in New York a few dozen blocks from Broadway. But I saw a lot more movies than I did plays. You could afford them more. And it was the Depression. When I finished high school, it was of course expected that I would go to college as my parents had done, and my sister was already in college, and I found there was not a college in the country where you could major in drama before your third year. I didn't want to spend two years studying everything except what I wanted to do with my life. So I didn't go to college, broke my parents' hearts, stayed in New York. There was no training for movies, none. There wasn't a single course on any kind of film to be had. So I fashioned my own approach, which was to be a model, learn about cameras and lights and make-up and grooming and all that. Find out if I photographed or not. Talkies had come in so I marched down to NBC and had a series of auditions—I was 16 at the time, just out of school—to learn about sound and all that. Then I went to dramatic school, since there was no training for films, I went to study about the theater. Two photographers I had worked for as a model had a hunch about me. They moved to California and set up a PR business in Hollywood. They got an idea. They thought, Hollywood is really child-like—not childish, child-like—and that child psychology ought to work. If you tell a child filled with all kinds of food on a plate, "You can eat everything on this plate except the spinach, no spinach," the kid's going to say, "Well, what's wrong with the spinach? Why can't I have spinach? I want spinach!" And that is what happened. They made me spinach and told Hollywood that they couldn't have me and Hollywood insisted on having me.

Muller: I want to talk a little bit about the second film we're going to see tonight—Kid Glove Killer—which is quite a rarity. Boy, this is a real treat that we're getting to see this tonight. Did you think this was a breakthrough film in a sense? It was Fred Zinnemann's first film as a director and it had quite a good part for you as well.

Hunt: It was a lovely role. I don't know if I had already worked with Van [Heflin]—we did three pictures together and I enjoyed them very much; he was a bright, gifted, nice complicated fellow—and Fred Zinnemann is as gifted as they get. Fred was so softspoken, so low-key. We all said, "Who's going to direct this?" and they said, "Fred Zinnemann" and we said, "Fred what?" Nobody had heard the name and he came on the set first day and—before we rehearsed a scene—he asked if everybody could come down from the catwalks up there and from the far places and gather round, because he didn't speak very loudly, and he said, "I wanted to meet you all. As you may well know, this is my first feature film. I think I'm ready. I've been working a long time to be ready. But you are the veterans. You've all made many films. I want this to be the best film we can make and if any one of you, whatever your job, sees a better way to do what we're doing, come and tell me and I'll be very grateful." No one could believe the humility, the decency, the niceness of that, and the respect for the professionalism of gaffers and prop men and make-up men and so on. I think they would have died for him if he asked and he made a very good film. But what a way to start! Wasn't that a good beginning?

Muller: For whatever reason, certain directors like Fred Zinnemann and Robert Wise had great reputations as really humble, competent, craftsmen. They just don't get written about in the same way that the Fritz Langs and the Orson Welles get written about. They just don't have that kind of forceful personality but everybody who has worked with them just sings their praises completely. Zinnemann came over in that same group from Germany, with Preminger and Fritz Lang and Edgar Ulmer….

Hunt: You know it's the only thing that I can think of that we have to be grateful to Hitler for. [Laughter.] The exodus from Europe of these gifted, brilliant filmmakers—thanks, Adolph!

Muller: Marsha! We'll see that quote in The New York Times come Monday morning.

Hunt: Let me just ask, if the audience is in any doubt of the name of the leading man's character in the film we just saw? The name of this guy was: JOE!! I don't think there were two lines in a row that we didn't say his name.

Muller: Speaking of which, any recollections about the great Dennis O'Keefe who I think is really one of the greatest underrated actors? You could put Dennis O'Keefe up against Bob Mitchum in a lot of these roles and it's like, I'm buying this guy completely. He's fantastic.

Hunt: I loved working with him. We had a very good time on the show. I do remember Dennis taught me a very spicy song, which I will not sing for you tonight.

Muller: Wait, we've got time.

Hunt: Claire kind of avoided me. It was not hostile. She just never happened to be near me except in a scene and we never really had much conversation together and I realized along the way she wanted to keep the distance between us so that she would have no problem hating me. What if we got to like each other? That might make it difficult to play. But I never saw Claire again for 30-40 years. And then we met at my across-the-street neighbor's home. He was Burt Kennedy, do you know that name? [Applause.] Burt is gone but I'm sure he thanks you from wherever he is up there in Western Heaven. But Burt gave himself a 70th birthday party every year for 10 years. I went to every one of them because I lived across the street. At one of them, there was Claire Trevor! She greeted me as warmly as she never did while we were shooting the picture. See, it was safe. She didn't have to hate me anymore. She was lovely.

Muller: And by then she owned all of Orange County.

Hunt: I didn't know that.

Muller: Her husband was quite a successful real estate [investor]. …Of all the pictures you've made—I know we're talking noir here tonight—but there must be personal favorites of yours that you would like to see. Raw Deal is back. You can see it on dvd.

Hunt: It's perennial, yeah?

Muller: Are there other films that you've made that you're equally proud of or moreso that you want people to see?

Hunt: There were 62 of them. It's hard to say any particular one. The one in which I had the most fun was Pride and Prejudice. I never got a whiff of playing comedy before Pride and Prejudice and I was ready. The darling director Bob Leonard turned me loose and I got to squint and wear nearsighted glasses. I remember Karl Freund was the camera man and he used to say, "Where's Turkeyneck? Bring Turkeyneck in; we're ready for her", making my neck even longer than it was and sausage curls and singing off-key. If you are at all musical—and I am—it's hard. They coached me for weeks to sing just in the crack, not quite off-key, but inbetween, just enough to hurt the ears. I had a wonderful time. I already had a big crush on Laurence Olivier. What a cast! It was a privilege to be a part of that. I think we knew we were making a classic and it sure is.

Muller: Those of you who came to the reception earlier and the lucky ones who were able to buy a copy of Marsha's book, your book The Way We Wore—which is about fashion from the '30s and '40s and so much more—is one of the most interesting combinations of things I've ever encountered in a book. I've never seen a book that mixes sociology, politics, wardrobe, fashion and hairstyles in quite the way this book does. It's really amazing. Like: just because you're a diehard liberal doesn't mean you can't dress well! If you don't have a copy, you owe it to yourself. Which leads me into: right at the height of your career all of a sudden visitors from Washington appeared in Hollywood and the House Un-American Activities Committee swooped in. [The audience hisses.] Oh, I know where this audience is coming from! You were actually a participant in one of the most remarkable plane trips ever taken. I always say that—if that Hollywood Fights Back charter flight to Washington for the hearings—if that plane had dropped an engine, Hollywood's history would have been entirely rewritten. There were so many amazing people on that airplane. I've set it up. Take it away, Marsha.

Hunt: What's to say about it? I think there were probably several hundred familiar names and faces who would have liked to be on our flight. Hollywood was under attack. There was a Congressional committee called the House Un-American Activities Committee, which found that it could get itself headlines by accusing Hollywood of being masterminded by Communists and that it was really very dangerous to go to the movies because your patriotism might be subverted because there were a lot of Reds writing screenplays, maybe directing them, acting in them. That was what was happening in 1947. Nineteen very gifted writers and directors and one actor were subpoenaed to come to Washington and account for their political beliefs. But we have a secret ballot, I understood. I thought that was one of the things we were promised. So—just on principle—we objected to that. People had a right to be Communist. It was a perfectly legal political party at the time and so for it to be made a hazard to your career and a dirtier word than murder or rape—if you were a Commie, watchout!—for that reason Hollywood stood up and said, "Stop this." We gave—"we", meaning the industy—gave those 19 a send-off meeting at the biggest auditorium in town—the Shrine; it seated 6-7,000 moviemakers; they came from every studio—as the send-off to the Hollywood 19. Those of us who went on the flight were simply those who were free and not shooting at the time but our plane was paid for by the nickels and dimes and dollars of the moviemaking people. We passed the hat. Howard Hughes—hardly a Communist—offered us a plane, one of his many planes, to fly back to Washington.

Muller: That was the one that was supposed to drop the engine.

Hunt: He was not allowed to give it! We had to pay full price so we passed the hat. The industry paid for chartering a flight and there were 30-some of us on the flight and, of course, it was led by the Bogarts. Danny Kaye was probably the other big [name]. John Huston was among the three directors who thought up that trip. See, the headlines were scaring Americans to death that maybe it wasn't safe going to the movies anymore, their loyalty might be subverted by hidden Commie propaganda tucked away in the dialogue. This was such nonsense that it had to be answered. But the headlines were very large and the Committee—which included Richard Nixon, he was on that committee [the audience hisses]—they had the answer. They were getting headlines every day on the strength of the attack on Hollywood. So this was fighting fire with fire; headlines with headlines. …Anyways, we flew to Washington to accentuate the positive. We stopped along the way at two or three stops on the way there and two or three stops on the way back. The word was out about our flight. The flying field was packed with citizens. They didn't care about Communism or the hearings, they wanted to see the Bogarts. They wanted to see all those movie stars. So we spoke to the public that thronged these flying fields at every stop and explained our mission, that it was pretty hard to subvert Americans' loyalty without being caught at it. If there were Communists that wanted to get some propaganda tucked away, there were too many cooks making that soup of a movie—all the way from the head of the studio to the editor to the producer to the sneak previews, all of those—you couldn't get away with tricking Americans into loving Communism. We had to speak plainly about that, which we did along the way and we did in Washington. We attended two days of hearings of the Hollywood 19, as they were called, these truly gifted men. We were misquoted. We were ridiculed by some of the press. The rest of the press thought we were doing a dandy job of showing the other side of things. Anyway, by the time we got back to Hollywood, the hearings had been called off and we thought maybe we had made a difference. Maybe really we had been able to even the score…. But then there was a meeting at the Waldorf-Astoria held by all the studio heads and that's where it hit the fan. That is where we lost the war. Because the people who provided the funds for movies said, "We are pulling our backing for your studios if you don't get rid of every one of these Hollywood 19 who have been subpoenaed as unfriendly witnesses"—they had already heard some friendly ones—"get rid of them. Get rid not only of the Hollywood 19, get rid of anybody who seems in any way to be making waves. There's money at the box office and we can't lose it." So the Hollywood 19 were summarily fired and we who had spoken up to defend their political freedom were also suspect.

Muller: Do you think that your joining the Hollywood Fights Back Committee For the First Amendment definitely had an effect on your career? Were you, in fact, blacklisted?

Hunt: Oh, yes. That's whatever happened to Marsha Hunt.

Muller: A lot of people draw parallels between that period and some things that are happening today. As someone who lived through it, and is also living through what our country is going through today, do you see those parallels?

Hunt: Yes.

Muller: You do?

Hunt: Conformity is a dangerous word. It means don't think for yourself, go with the safe ticket, the safe viewpoint, don't ask questions, don't make waves. If the public is convinced of that, you've got them and nobody will challenge you. There has been a bit of this, more than a bit, in the last few years. What are we doing over there? [Cheering applause.]

Muller: Next question: will you run?

Hunt: I've twice been asked to run for public office. I was never so flattered but . . . no.

Muller: But you have done a great deal of humanitarian work.

Hunt: Getting blacklisted gave me more free time than [I knew what to do with]. Rather than do several other things that could fill your time, I discovered some things that maybe deserved more attention than they were getting. It felt so good. I went around the world in 1955 with my husband and I came back a citizen of the planet. I decided we were not just Americans, we were part of the whole. I began to want to know more about the rest of it. I looked into the U.N. and that's where the next 25 years of my life went. I decided that was maybe our last best hope and gave it all the attention and time and energy I could. It was the most rewarding period for me. I had a remarkable career. I had made 50 movies by the time I did my first Broadway play. I had had such a rewarding time for this acting bug that bit me at any early age that it was quite wonderful that I had a chance to . . . certainly no ego needed more food than I had been given. It was time to give my attention and energy outside myself. Let's face it, acting is a very self-centered pursuit. Yes, you get to play you're a lot of other people but it's you doing it and it's the public who likes you, if they like what you do. So it was kind of a privilege to be able to turn all of my energies outward and try and explain this great idea of all humanity coming together for once to end war. [Applause.] You may well applaud, [the United Nations] was born here in San Francisco and now it lives on our opposite coast. It is really an American idea that the rest of the world joined with and, yet, the hostility to the U.N. is something so breathtaking. I, by some miracle, got on the nutty Right Wing's mailing list and I get mail that is so shameless. It distorts the U.N. and is out to destroy it and to get the U.S. out of the U.N. and the U.N. out of the U.S. …There are those who don't like the world. They only like the U.S. I think the world is just dandy and we'd better join it. [Cheering applause.]

Muller: Marsha, if you don't want to run for President, I think there's a mayor's slot opening up here in San Francisco….

Hunt: As a matter of fact, I have the key to San Francisco from the then-mayor when I came up here. I heard that the Alcazar Theatre—which was first called the United Nations Theatre because some of the early U.N. sessions were held there—well, I did a play, my favorite play, at the Alcazar Theatre and when I heard that it was going to be torn down, I came up here and demanded to see the mayor to put a stop to this. He said that he agreed with me but he couldn't stop it unless there was a groundswell. So he gave me the key and I went home proudly. They tore down the Alcazar and it's [now] a parking building, isn't it? It parks a lot of cars.

Muller: Sadly, they have changed the locks in this town since you were here. So the keys don't quite work the way they used to. But, y'know Marsha, at the top of the show when I talked about how we enjoy the fact the film noir inspires a new generation of people, the real treat about doing this festival and having guests like you come out here is really to pay tribute to you. It's such a blessing to have somebody of your caliber and your intelligence and longevity to come out here and inspire these young people in this audience.

[At this point Marsha Hunt received a standing room ovation from her cheering capacity Castro crowd.]

Cross-published at Twitch.

04/20/07 UPDATE: Cabinetic at the main Greencine site has posted their video footage of this onstage event.

Monday, January 29, 2007

NOIR CITY 5—Eddie Muller Opening Remarks

"We're baaaaaaack," Eddie grinned on the Castro stage to his cheering, adoring crowd last Friday on opening night of Film Noir 5. He identified the short film serving as the festival trailer as a 2006 piece (3 mins. & 48 secs.) by Osbert Parker, a 26-year-old Londoner. Parker's short Film Noir has been creating quite a stir on the international festival circuit and Muller elected to lead off the festival with the short to pay tribute "to how film noir continues to inspire artists even today." Created in-camera, this mixed media animated adventure combines live action, found objects with photo cut-outs woven into a non linear narrative and manipulated into a dark story of romance and psychological tension. It perfectly captures the spirit of film noir.

Inspiration—such as seen in Parker's film—is really what the festival is all about, Eddie emphasized, encouraging his audience to attend the festival's full 10 days. "During the course of this festival, I do hear from a lot of people who are writing books, plays, short stories, making films, everything inspired by these old films and I am very much inspired by all that. I think there is a wonderful circuit that is kept alive in all of this. First off I just want to pay tribute to all of you folks for making San Francisco the Noir Capital of the World!" Mentioning that the festival is being covered by "the paper of record, The New York Times, and by Telerama in France", Muller gloated, "They are coming to us!"

Muller acknowledged the tremendous coverage in all the local media who have taken the festival under their wing. "Whichever one you prefer, I give it up completely for the Chronicle, the Guardian, and the Weekly, they've all done right by us, the Bay Area Reporter, all the fabulous bloggers here locally. We even have someone blogging from Seattle. It's just sensational. So I really give thanks to all the media people who are paying attention."

Muller likewise thanked the poster boy for this year's festival, Robert Mailer Anderson, and his "playmate" Ivory Madison, "Miss Noir City 2007." Muller requested we stay tuned about further announcements regarding the development of a Mr. and Miss Noir City competition. "It's kind of getting legs," he smiled, "It's kind of taking off. It might become like a whole yearlong campaign."

"A very cogent case could be made," Muller continued, "for noir being born right here in San Francisco. Back in 2003 when we did the first Noir Film Festival here at the Castro, we made that very plain by showing nothing but San Francisco Noir. Don Herron did a wonderful piece in that book claiming that a good argument could be made noir was born right here in San Francisco. If, in fact, it was … it was born at 891 Post Street at the corner of Post and Hyde in an apartment building where Dashiel Hammett wrote The Maltese Falcon." In the audience Muller acknowledged the presence of Richard Layman (the foremost Dashiel Hammett scholar in the world), Julie Rivette (Dashiel Hammett's granddaughter), and Jo Hammett Marshall (Dashiel Hammett's daughter). "You are not getting closer to the genesis of noir by blood than who is here tonight."

2007 PSIFF—Cine Latino/Mexico—En El Hoyo (In the Pit)

These days I'm feeling not so much a film journalist and more a circus act, juggling film festivals while balancing a tight rope on rollerskates. Twitch sent me and contributing Evening Class writer Michael Hawley down to cover the Palm Springs International Film Festival; Larsen Associates had me cover San Francisco's Berlin & Beyond; I launched into San Francisco's Noir City Friday evening, and S.F.'s IndieFest is looming menacingly around the corner. If I go off balance, lose my skate key, and drop a ball now and then, please forgive.

PSIFF's Cine Latino program was especially inviting this year. I wish I could have taken much more advantage of their fare, but, am grateful for what I got to see.

From Mexico, I was eagerly anticipating Juan Carlos Rulfo's In the Pit (En el Hoyo, 2005), which came highly recommended to me by Sergio de la Mora, who graciously sat through it one more time with me. In his Bay Guardian capsule Sergio succinctly wrote, "Director Juan Carlos Rulfo finally lets his famous father rest in peace while dynamically exploring his own voice. This documentary brings together on-site conversations with workers who constructed the second level of the highway where three million cars circulate daily through Mexico City."

In The Pit won Best Film at the 2006 Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema, Best Documentary at the 2006 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, the Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema-Documentary at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, the Jose Cuervo and Audience Award for best documentary at the Morelia Film Festival, and was awarded the Knight Grand Jury Prize of $25,000 in the World & Ibero-American Documentary Feature Competition at the Miami International Film Festival.

As the film's website attests: "The pit is but the pretext . . . what you encounter is life." Or as Variety's Robert Koehler puts it, this documentary about the building of the flyover or second level of Mexico City's Periférico freeway—Mexico's most controversial project in the last decade necessitated by the more than 3 million cars in Mexico City today—is "[m]ore an inquiry into what makes working people tick than a study of the project itself, the pic highlights the human dimensions involved in any huge public project." Fipresci's Lucy Virgen notes the similarity of its faithful, poignant portrait of Mexico's working class with Jia Zhang-ke's Dong. Nick Schager at Slant distinguishes that the film isn't "an overt critique of socio-economic divides as it is simply a compassionate attempt to shine a light on its subjects' individuality and basic humanity."

Rulfo accomplishes this by focusing on a handful of albañiles (construction workers); a cast of characters who infer Everyman. If their language is not glutted with profane sexualizations—"El Grande" harasses "Shorty" by feminizing and fetishizing his butt—then it elevates into suspicious incant as Natividad recirculates the ancient Mexican legend that—for every bridge being built—the devil asks for one soul, in exchange for the bridge never to fall. Natividad is convinced the devil has claimed more than his due.

"[G]rounded in the conviction that audiences with their eyes wide open will draw their own conclusions", Rulfo observes how this team works "in subterranean pits built to shore up the pillars that support the second deck, as well as high above to insert thousands of steel rods to reinforce the concrete columns and blocks that comprise the deck." A quick glimpse at the photo section of Rulfo's IMdb profile extols the vertiginous camerawork he undertook for nearly four years. Along with Rainer Hoffmann's riding the rails to El Norte, Rulfo reminds that a true documentarian is not opposed to dirt or the salt of sweat or stepping into the lives (and work shoes) of his subjects. "Juan Carlos Rulfo may talk like a construction worker," Lucy Virgen comments, "but he shoots like a great filmmaker." As much as Rulfo asserts that he has tried to remain invisible, however, and as much as Virgen credits him with this, it takes perhaps a Mexicana like Native Stranger's Nayeli to catch the subtle way the film's subjects nickname Rulfo güero (blond) and defer to him as "usted" instead of "the informal "—"indication of the difference in social status between them."

The documentary's sound design is incredible. Schrager writes: "In the Pit is a documentary defined by symbiosis, its melding of musical instruments with construction site sounds (clanging jackhammers, crunching iron, screeching machinery) a sonic reflection of its portrait of men becoming intimately, inextricably associated with their artificial creation."

Across the board with critics, it is the documentary's coda—a sweeping, 6-7 minute helicopter scan of the Periférico freeway under construction—that stunningly contextualizes the immensity of the project and the number of individuals necessary to construct this architectural mammoth. You're lifted out of the world of one work team to witness the labor of hundreds and its impact upon millions. The effect is transcendent.

Cross-published at Twitch.

CINE LATINO—Banner Year For Latinos At Oscars

Twitch team mate Felix has written a fine write-up on the Latino nominees for the 79th Academy Awards and has granted permission to cross-publish here on The Evening Class. Thanks, Felix!

As a brief preface to Felix's piece, I'm reminded of the little bit of Oscar trivia that perhaps only a Chicano like myself can fully appreciate and which is all the more relevant in this year rich with Mexican nominees. Emilio Fernández ("El Indio")—responsible for such great Mexican classics as Flor Silvestre, Maria Candelaria, Enamorada, La Perla and so many others—was a good friend of actress Dolores Del Rio. Her husband at the time was Cedric Gibbons, arguably the most important and influential art director in the history of American film. Gibbons had been commissioned to design the statuette for the Academy Awards and—after being introduced to El Indio through his wife—convinced Fernández to pose nude. So by all accounts, that's a naked Mexican all those grinning winners are gleefully clasping and taking home! Though you won't find any mention of that at the Oscar website's official history of the statuette. Filmbud Sergio de la Mora cautions that it might possibly have been El Indio himself who started circulating the story as Fernández had a history of telling all kinds of incredible tales (tall, short and in between). For now, take it with a granito de sal.

* * *

The Oscars has entered into an interesting year honoring many Hispanic artists with esteemed nominations. Actors, Directors, and cinematographers are reveling in the acknowledgment of Hispanic artists in 2007.

I'm not really one to hang my race high. I'm Puerto Rican born from two pure Puerto Ricans, and yet I'm not always interested in wearing my culture on my sleeve, for the simple fact that labels are easy to have, and that sets limitations for me. May not be a philosophy many agree with, but it's just what gets me by.

But, there's no denying that this year at the Oscars, whether you examine the occasion or not, has been an interesting year for Hispanics in the film industry. Actors, Directors, and Producers have all been granted some sort of accolade for their work in the film medium.

True, some were deserved and some not, but where as years ago, the Oscars paid a certain homage to African-Americans in the business, this year has been an interesting one for Hispanics.

What with Penelope Cruz (Spain) nominated for her acclaimed turn in Volver, and Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarrítu's (Mexico) directorial turn in Babel, as well as Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuaròn, Adriana Barraza and Guillermo Arriaga all grabbing highly esteemed nominations, it's interesting to see this tide turn.

As many film buffs know, the Oscars are notorious for being blatantly dismissive of minorities. Though, African-Americans are noted as being the primary race dismissed for their artistic contributions, Hispanics and Asians have suffered almost the same kicks.

Over the last six years, the Oscar academy has steadily backpedaled the bad press by paying homage to excellent minority entertainers that have gone almost virtually unnoticed, nominated old and new comers in the industry, and one of the most publicized contenders for Best Director was Ang Lee who directed Brokeback Mountain.

If you've ever seen The Bronze Screen, it's pretty clear that minorities in general have suffered this dismissal, as well as President George W. Bush practically outlawing the Spanish language as an alternative for the Star Spangled Banner, yet in 2006, we saw quite a few masters propel their films into Oscar competition.

Most notably nominated was Alfonso Cuaròn for his utterly amazing Children of Men, a film that earned, sadly, only technical nominations, and Guillermo Del Toro's fantastic Pan's Labyrinth for Best Foreign Language Film, both films have been tied as my #2 favorites of 2006.

Penelope Cruz, a favorite of Pedro Almodovar explains, "It has been a long time coming, especially since millions of people speak Spanish as their main language in this country. It's great that it's finally being reflected in movies." This ceremony marks the first time Cruz has ever been nominated, as well as Iñarrítu for his acclaimed Babel.

Adriana Barraza of Babel (earning seven nominations, Pan's at six) who is competing with fellow co-star Rinko Kikuchi (my vote), views this nomination as a chance for audiences to view a rare sub-plot: "With my character, an immigrant worker, audiences get to see the feelings, the needs, the real reasons why they are here in the United States, people like my character, they are contributing to this society, and it's important for people to see that."

Agree or not, Barraza's turn as an illegal immigrant nanny of two children, who finds herself in a rather perilous situation after she's caught drunk at the border, is excellent.

"I think what it means is that there is finally a very, very strong all-inclusive presence of Spanish-language culture in the mainstream," Guillermo Del Toro explains, "And by this I mean it's not an isolated case of an actor or a star, but I'm talking about technicians, artists, cinematographers, art directors, makeup artists."

This year marks one of the few times Hispanics have peppered most of the categories, which Cruz attributes to a more globalized film industry. But Gonzalez Iñarrítu, honored to be nominated, has warned of defining people with labels.

"The film Babel is not about 'I am Mexican, and you are American,' the point is we are human, and we are born naked before someone puts stupid passports on us and raises a flag."

I concur.

Cross-published at Twitch.

02/07/07 UPDATE: Alfonso Cuaròn voices his allegiance to filmmaking without borders in The Guardian Unlimited, stating: "What I resent … is the notion that the Oscars are somehow bestowing legitimacy on Mexican cinema. We don't need this legitimacy."

Further: "I have a huge appreciation of backgrounds. What I have a problem with is borders. The language of cinema is cinema itself: it doesn't matter whether it is filmed in Spanish or English or French or Japanese. The same goes for the people who make it. Yes, I'm a film-maker from Mexico. But I also belong to the world."

Sunday, January 28, 2007


Rory Kennedy's documentary Ghosts of Abu Ghraib just played at the Sundance Film Festival and Dave Hudson at The Greencine Daily has shepherded the critical flock to date. The Roxie Film Center is scheduled to screen the documentary Friday, February 2 through Sunday, February 4 and—as an added treat—HBO, in association with the World Affairs Council, is offering up a free screening in the Cowell Theater, Fort Mason, on Monday, February 5, with director Rory Kennedy present to moderate a discussion at film's end. Seated is limited. Please RSVP at 888/745-7425.


Having finished up its recent round at your local arthouse, the Viva Pedro retrospective that toured the country has found its way to a dvd boxset (you can buy it cheap at Greencine!) and now is as good a time as any, I guess, to point to the essay Greencine commissioned me to write on the retrospective.

Cross-published at Twitch.

CINE LATINO—Sundance Film Festival Winners

Eugene Hernandez and Brian Brooks report at indieWIRE: "A pair of Latin American stories won the top prizes at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival …. Christopher Zalla's Padre Nuestro [Our Father], a Spanish-language immigrant drama set in New York City was awarded the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize, and Jason Kohn's Manda Bala, a profile of lives in Brazil, won the Documentary Grand Jury Prize (along with the cinematography prize), capping the 2007 Sundance Film Festival." (Via Dave Hudson at The Greencine Daily.)

Hernandez synopsizes: "Zalla's first feature, Padre Nuestro, centers on immigrants Juan and Pedro who meet en route to New York where Pedro hopes to meet his successful father. Juan, fleeing a criminal past, steals Pedro's belongings and later introduces himself to Pedro's father as his son, hoping to cash in on the father's supposed wealth. As Zalla explained in a recent interview with indieWIRE, he 'wanted the audience to feel like the movie could really go in any direction at any moment.'

" 'This is a movie (with) a ticking clock storyline,' said Padre Nuestro director Christopher Zalla, accepting his dramatic grand jury prize, 'But at the heart, it's about finding family and seeking connections.' And he added, 'This movie wouldn't have happened without an incredible family that came together to make it.' Continuing, he dedicated the award to the City of New York, which he called, 'A city of outsiders, where the vast majority of people are immigrants,' even if they are simply from other parts of the U.S.

"Manda Bala focuses on Brazil's infamous corruption, profiling the unfortunate fruits of fraud, including a politician who uses a frog farm to steal billions of dollars as well as a wealthy businessman who spends huge amounts of money bullet proofing his cars, and a plastic surgeon who reconstructs the ears of mutilated kidnapping victims. As Kohn told indieWIRE in a recent interview, 'I really thought of Manda Bala as a non-fiction RoboCop depicting a very real broken and violent society.'

" 'I am really, really happy and I am very, very honored,' gushed Manda Bala director Jason Kohn after receiving the Grand Jury documentary prize. 'I can't thank everyone, but thank you all,' he smiled, after reading a list of names he'd listed on his BlackBerry."

Dave Hudson has gathered together critical response to both Padre Nuestro and Manda Bala for The Greencine Daily.

Photos courtesy of indieWIRE. Cross-published at Twitch.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


Aiming an erudite spotlight on Mexican cinema is Sergio de la Mora, author of Cinemachismo: Masculinities and Sexuality in Mexican Film, who recently contributed an assessment of the best of recent Mexican cinema for the San Francisco Bay Guardian. His overview includes Julián Hernández's Broken Sky (El Cielo Dividido, 2006), Carlos Reygadas's Battle in Heaven (Batalla en el Cielo, 2005), Amat Escalante's Sangre (Blood, 2005), Fernando Eimbcke's Duck Season (Temporada de Patos, 2004), Beto Gómez's Pink Punch (Puños Rosas, 2004), Luis Estrada's A Wonderful World (Un Mundo Maravilloso, 2005), Felipe Cazals's The Citrillo's Turns (Las Vueltas del Citrillo, 2005), and Juan Carlos Rulfo's In the Pit (En el Hoyo, 2005). Hopefully, the San Francisco Bay Guardian will draw upon Sergio frequently for cinematic updates from our neighbor to the south.

Sergio's previous articles available online include his fantastic interview with
Ximena Cuevas for Senses of Cinema and his Current Trends pieces for the 2005 San Diego Latino Film Festival, one an overview and the second a study of María Candelaria.

Cross-published at

Friday, January 26, 2007

NOIR CITY 5—Line-up

San Francisco is rapidly becoming the noir capital of the world! It's easy to understand why when Eddie Muller—self-proclaimed "Czar of Noir"—has whetted his Bay Area audiences by educating them through rescued rarities fanfared at his Noir City festivals. Noir City 5 opens up tonight at the Castro Theatre with an Anthony Mann vehicle, Raw Deal, featuring an on-stage appearance by Marsha Hunt, the film's leading lady, who will likewise greet her fans at a reception where she will autograph copies of The Way We Wore: Styles of the 1930s and '40s in the Castro's mezzanine. Muller has secured a pristine 35mm print from the Library of Congress.

It was filmbud Max Goldberg's write-up for the San Francisco Bay Guardian that convinced me to shell out a C-note for the Noir pass that will get me into tonight's sold-out reception and Marsha Hunt double-bill. "I've often thought," Max writes, "that the way the classic femme fatale seduces her doomed prey is the onscreen equivalent of the way films draw in—and obsess—their audiences. A great many movies are stylish and smart to the point of irresistibility; how many times has the promise of hard shadows and unrepentant fatalism at the theater won out over a sunny afternoon in the real world?" Max engages Noir City's host Eddie Muller in an informed conversation that highlights Muller's impassioned strategies to preserve film, reactions of old-school talent to the attention they receive decades after the fact, and why audiences fell for such movies in the first place.

Robert Avila's covering the event for SF360, describing film noir's "iconic images as definitive as the light cut by a Venetian blind." Avila evokes: "Sporting a long line of macho loners, slick villains, seedy locales, and dangerous dames, the usually low-budget but stylish look and the preposterously cool, street-smart attitude of these films laid an unruffled surface over a powerful undercurrent of social anxiety, moral uncertainty, and pervasive corruption. It added up to a telling portrait of the system that tended to blur the lines (when it didn't outright erase them) between business and crime, good guys and bad, autonomy and fate. Sure, some semblance of justice would often be meted out to the worst offenders in the end, but instead of following the condemned out of the room, the guilty verdict tended to hang around afterward like languid cigarette smoke—it got onto everyone there."

Cross-published on Twitch.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

CHILEAN FILM—SF360 Report by Miljenko Skoknic

A shout-out to Chilean filmbud Miljenko Skoknic whose site Millions of Images was long on my Evening Class blogroll before the site went down. He also blogs at Dr. Mabuse's Kaleido-Scope and writes for La Fuga. Susan Gerhard at SF360 has astutely signed Miljenko on as an intern and one of his first reports has been on his top four Chilean films—Raúl Ruiz's Palomita Blanca (1973), Aldo Francia's Valparaiso Mi Amor (1969), Patricio Guzman's La Batalla de Chile (1975), and Silvio Caiozzi's Fernando Ha Vuelto (1998).

Palomita Blanca (Little White Dove), adapted from the book by Enrique Lafourcáde, was an early Raúl Ruiz film thought lost only to be eventually discovered in the vaults of Chilefilms. It contained music written and performed by Los Jaivas. It has rarely been written about so it's especially noteworthy that Miljenko has drawn attention to it. René Naranjo has written a piece in Spanish for CivilCinema and Ruiz discussed the project with Benoît Peeters for Rouge, as part of their 2004 annotated filmography on Ruiz in conjunction with a program organized by the Rotterdam International Film Festival—"Raúl Ruiz: An Eternal Wanderer." But that's about it. Greencine's Jonathan Marlow caught up with Ruiz in a crowded café in Rotterdam for an insightful interview (though there is no specific reference to Palomita Blanca) and Girish Shambu—in his inimitable style—has engendered cogent discussion on Ruiz's Poetics of Cinema, likewise eruditely analyzed by Michael Goddard for Senses of Cinema. Though my Greencine rental queue has been padded with all they offer on Ruiz, Palomita Blanca remains evasive, fluttering out of reach. I envy Miljenko his opportunity to have seen the film and, again, appreciate his drawing due notice to its capture of "elusive natural Chilean speech."

Valparaiso Mi Amor (Valparaiso My Love)—though seen long ago—remains in Miljenko's memory as a "most heartfelt version of neorealism." It's another film rarely written about. Pamela Biénzobas has written a piece in Spanish for Revista de Cine Mabuse. Dan Pavlides has written a lean synopsis for All Movie Guide. He mentions that Aldo Francia was a respected pediatrician who organized the Vina Del Mar Film Festival.

Miljenko describes the first installment of Patricio Guzman's La Batalla de Chile (The Battle for Chile) documentary trilogy as "[a] black-and-white, kaleidoscopic recollection of life-segments, interviews, political campaigns, and conspiracies of every level, documenting with wide-eyed precision the calm before the storm that was the 1973 military coup." One bit of IMdb trivia indicates that French filmmaker Chris Marker sent film stock to Guzman to complete this film after the U.S. pulled supplies due to ideological differences. Marker told Guzman that what he was trying to do was insane. It certainly sounds difficult, according to Dennis West who has written about Guzman's methodology of obtaining "actuality footage" rather than relying on archival footage and the more customary compilation techniques that characterize political documentaries. Guzman, a committed Marxist militant, believed in immersing himself in the political fervent he was documenting rather than objectively filming it.

Along with the expected Spanish reviews for CivilCinema and Revista de Cine Mabuse by
Christian Ramírez and Jorge Morales, respectively, Paul Bond's English write-up for the World Socialist Web Site provides an equally informed context, detailing Guzman's Q&A responses at a rare London screening at the 1999 Human Rights Watch Film Festival.

Miljenko's fourth choice—Silvio Caiozzi's Fernando Ha Vuelto (Fernando Is Back)—is also a documentary on Chile's 1973 military coup, rendered this round through the "depleting" story of a 17-year-old detenido desaparecido, one of the many political prisoners detained and "disappeared", whose body is recovered in an illegal grave 20 years after his disappearance, exhumed, identified, and forensically examined. What is revealed is horrific torture—bullet holes and bone fractures—a horrid truth with which his surviving family must reconcile. This documentary short received first prize at the Valdivia Film Festival, the Coral prize for the Best Documentary at the 1999 Festival of Havana, and the OCIC prize granted by the World Catholic Church.

I congratulate Miljenko on his SF360 internship and look forward to his continuing contributions to Bay Area film commentary.

Cross-published at

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

2007 OSCARS—Quick Takes & Initial Responses

The Oscar nominations are set! As questionably cruel as the Oscar elimination process might be—according to Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck—he must be exhaling a sigh of relief right about now. The Lives of Others made the final five in the foreign language category. Congratulations, Florian! His film might very well be the dark horse winner at this year's ceremonies—and it certainly deserves its nomination—though I am unquestionably conflicted about this category, wanting Pan's Labyrinth to win. I was hoping The Lives of Others would be nominated for Best Original Screenplay in hopes that there might have been a tradeoff with Guillermo walking away with one statuette and Florian with the other and there's still a very strong possibility that might happen, only in the inverse. As an aside, I love that I feel comfortable enough to use their first names. As a further aside, I am surprised not to see Volver among the hopeful quintet.

The other category that I'm deeply conflicted about is for Best Actor. I'm polishing my nails and blowing air on them as I remind my readers that I predicted Ryan Gosling would be nominated for Half Nelson way last Summer. At the same time, Forest Whitaker's performance as Idi Amin is formidable and I hope he takes my sound advice and wears something fabulous to the Oscars ceremony. I suspect Gosling will walk away with the Independent Spirit Award and Forest with the Oscar. Either way, I will be bouncing on my sofa whichever one of them wins whatever award or renting my shirt and smearing ashes on my face should neither of them win either award. That's a problematic sentence, I know, to mirror the depths of this dilemma. I'm sure you feel my pain.

I haven't caught Leonardo DiCaprio's performance in Blood Diamond so I can't comment on it (though, for some reason, his accent in the trailer made me cringe and was probably the main reason I decided against seeing the film; that and my aversion to white-man-in-black-Africa stories); but, with regard to his nomination for Best Actor, he has responded: "I'm honored to receive this nomination from the Academy—especially in a year full of such worthy nominees. I'm grateful to everyone who has supported Blood Diamond. Being nominated is a tribute to everyone who worked on this film—especially Ed Zwick. I am also thrilled for Djimon, Mark and Marty—all so deserving of this recognition."

As for Best Actress, I think we can all spell Helen. One "l", right? Through The Queen's Bay Area publicist—Michelle Jonas of Allied Advertising—Helen has commented: "I would like to thank the Academy, it is a great honor to be nominated. When the idea of making The Queen was first mooted we had no idea that the result would have quite the impact it has had. It is astounding the way that audiences have responded by taking the film to their hearts.

"It is one of the hardest roles to play not just a living person but one who is part of our everyday lives in Britain. Whilst her presence is with us from her image on the letters that come through our door and on the money we spend, we know so little of the woman behind the image. I hope that my performance has conveyed a sense of Elizabeth the woman as well as the Queen.

"I am indebted to Peter Morgan for his tremendous screenplay and to director Stephen Frears who was a joy to work with and was sensitive to the nuance of the role. I am so proud to be a part of this incredible film-making team and the recipient of this nomination."

Peter Morgan, nominated for his screenplay, has stated: "This is, of course, the highest compliment our industry bestows and the greatest honor. I am proud and thrilled The Queen has been embraced internationally like this. The whole journey has been mind-boggling and exciting. I sincerely hope friends at home will still talk to me." Only if you don't win, Peter, only if you don't win.

Mike Olcese of Terry Hines & Associates ("THA"), Bay Area publicist for Touchstone Pictures, has forwarded John Lassiter's reaction to his nomination for Best Animated Feature: "We are so happy here, all of us at Pixar and Disney. As you know it takes a long time, from inception to completion to make one of our films; we live with these characters and grow very close to them and the story, so it's so gratifying to be recognized by the Academy for the effort. We're thrilled that the Academy, as well as audiences, seem to have connected with the Cars story, and it's in no small part due to the contributions from everyone associated with the film, from our producer Darla K. Anderson, to the artists, writers and voice performers. A special congratulations to my longtime friend Randy Newman for being recognized for his song "Our Town," which truly captures the heart of the story. A special thank you, now that I'm thinking about it, to Paul Newman, for all his support and friendship throughout the making of the film."

Up against Cars is Happy Feet—which I actually found quite entertaining despite myself—and I regretted that my interview with George Miller was canceled at the last moment. He has responded: "We tried to make Happy Feet different from anything that has been seen before. It was a crazy four-year labor of love that brought together great talent from all around the world. A stunning voice cast, brilliant singers and musicians, an army of young and passionate animators and visual effect artists who were determined to push the technology to its limits. To know that the film has been so widely embraced and now acknowledged by an Academy nomination for Best Animated Film validates all our best labors. It means we weren't so crazy after all."

Fox Searchlight Pictures Bay Area publicist, THA's Shelley Spicer, has forwarded reactions from the Little Miss Sunshine crew. Nominated for Best Picture, directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris—who I interviewed some time back—reacted: "Little Miss Sunshine pokes fun at our country's obsession with competition and being number one. While winning isn't everything, it's sure nice to be nominated. It has been an amazing year, from our premiere at Sundance to this Best Picture nomination, we are so grateful to all those who have supported the film." Actor Steve Carell adds: "The honor and recognition of receiving an Oscar nomination is one of the sweetest things that can happen in one's professional life. I have been blessed and am proud to be part of such an outstanding ensemble of actors and creative talent." I'm charmed that Abigail Breslin was acknowledged by way of nomination for her heartfelt portrayal of Olive. She's stated: "When my Mom woke me up this morning and told me I had been nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Little Miss Sunshine, I gave out a little scream—I can't believe how very lucky I am. I love everybody involved with Little Miss Sunshine, and this truly feels like one big family celebration." And finally, Michael Arndt, nominated for Best Original Screenplay, has responded: "I am deeply honored to have been recognized by the writers of the Academy with the nomination of Little Miss Sunshine for Best Original Screenplay. While I am sorely tempted to steal all the credit for the script for myself, the honest truth is that a writer is only as good as his collaborators. This nomination would never have happened, I am sure, without the extraordinary talents of Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Paul Dano, Alan Arkin, Abigail Breslin, and especially Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris—the true authors of this movie—who worked with me for five years honing the script, and who turned mere words on a page into a work of art. This nomination is theirs as much as it is mine."

As charmed as I am by the Academy's acknowledgment of Abigail Breslin's supporting performance in Little Miss Sunshine, it's a slippery slope. If they're going to be acknowledging the performances of such young actresses, why not Sarala's performance as Chuyia in Deepa Mehta's Water? Her performance was every bit—if not more—complex than Abigail's. I was heartened to see Water nominated for Best Foreign Language film and I'd have to be honest and squeeze it in tight after Pan's Labyrinth and just a hair short before The Lives Of Others. Such a difficult category this year! Deepa will always be close to my heart because she was my first face-to-face interview for The Evening Class (it seems so long ago now, though less than a year). Of the nomination for Best Foreign Language Feature, Deepa has responded: "It's been such a tumultuous road with Water. The lows have been very low and the highs have been very high. The weakest low was when the film was violently shut down by Hindu fundamentalists in India and my mother had to see my effigy being burned. And the ultimate high is of course the nomination by the Academy in the Foreign Film section. What great company to be in." The film's producer, David Hamilton, has said: "The seven long years it took to make this film accompanied by riots, death threats, set and equipment destruction has suddenly faded into a distant past with this nomination. To be in the current company of the other nominees offers us a sense of vindication and a deep satisfaction."

Fox Searchlight Pictures is also responsible for Notes Of A Scandal, for which Judi Dench has been nominated as Best Actress. Dench has responded: "I'm very pleased. I'm in frighteningly good company. It is very nice of the Queen to allow me in for a minute. It was one of the harder parts I have played. At the end of the day I was quite glad to get back to the person I am. I had the power to do it because of Richard Eyre. He steered me through the rougher waters of it."

Paramount Pictures' Bay Area publicist, THA's John Weaver, advises that Paramount leads with 19 Oscar nominations with films released by Paramount Pictures and Paramount Vantage in 2006. Those include eight nominations for DreamWorks Pictures and Paramount Pictures' Dreamgirls; seven for Paramount Vantage's Babel; two for Dreamworks Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures Flags of Our Fathers, distributed by Paramount Pictures; and two for the Paramount Vantage documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

Clint Eastwood's statement: "I want to thank the Academy for recognizing both Letters from Iwo Jima and Flags of Our Fathers. It is particularly gratifying that Letters from Iwo Jima was included as a Best Picture nominee. When we were working on Flags, I knew there was another part of the story that deserved to be told, but I could not have imagined where we'd be today. I share these nominations with our entire creative team." Flags Of Our Fathers has been nominated for sound editing (oddly enough, against Letters of Iwo Jima) and sound mixing. Letters has been nominated for the aforementioned sound editing, original screenplay, directing and Best Picture.

Martin Scorsese, nominated for Best Director, has commented: "I am very pleased that The Departed has been honored with five nominations for this year's Academy Awards. I am particularly happy that the hard work of the entire cast and crew has been rewarded with a Best Picture nomination and that the specific contributions of Mark Wahlberg, our screenwriter William Monahan, and my longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker have been recognized with nominations as well." William Monahan, nominated for Adapted Screenplay for The Departed, has reacted: "This is a very great honor. In writing, rewards can be kind of thin on the ground, and it's nice to be recognized. Thanks to the Academy voters and to everyone who made The Departed a success." In the wake of its five Oscar nominations, The Departed is being re-released this coming Friday in more than 1,300 theaters nationwide.

Although I've already mentioned about the wrestling match between Guillermo Del Toro and Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck for original screenplay, my deep down honest druthers would be for Guillermo Arriaga to walk away with the screenwriting award for his exquisite work in Babel. Not only because he deserves that award but he deserves it, me entiendes, Mendez?

That being said, it only underscores how agonizing it is to choose between favorites and to emphasize, as Robert Osborne mentioned, that this truly is an incredible year with noteworthy selections. I can't even comment on the supporting actor and actress categories because I find it impossible to make up my mind one way or the other. Thank God there's an Academy to do that!

Cross-published at Twitch, where Wolf has alerted that the Animation World Network site is offering up profile reports and preview clips for each animated short nominated.

01/24/07 UPDATE: Via Frako Loden, it looks like the program of nominated animation shorts will open at Landmark's Lumiere and Shattuck theaters on February 16.