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Bob Dylan, slapstick comedy hero? It almost happened.


 
Larry Charles is a force in contemporary comedy, but to most people he’s little more than a name. Odds are pretty decent that he’s been involved in the creation of something you love—he was a staff writer for Seinfeld for five years; he directed three Sacha Baron Cohen movies, including the immortal 2006 release Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan; he was executive producer on The Tick; he has directed more than a dozen episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Clearly, if you look at that resume, Charles can count Jerry Seinfeld, Baron Cohen, and Larry David as some of his most fertile collaborators. But he has a significant collaborator that hasn’t garnered as much notice—that being Bob Dylan. In 2003 Charles released his first directorial feature, a star-studded “comedy-drama” (per Wikipedia) called Masked and Anonymous, with Bob Dylan as number 1 on the call sheet, as they say in Hollywood (i.e., the top-billed actor). Charles directed the movie, and Dylan and Charles co-wrote it, using the pseudonyms Sergei Petrov and Rene Fontaine, respectively.
 

Larry Charles and Bob Dylan
 
But that (likely somewhat mixed-up) feature started its existence as an HBO pitch for a “slapstick comedy” TV series with Bob Dylan in the lead role—a pitch that was green-lighted after a bizarre meeting with the head of the premium cable network. Charles was on Pete Holmes’ podcast You Made It Weird recently and told the entire story. (In the podcast the story starts around an hour and 26 minutes in, but someone has helpfully created a YouTube video of that section, which we’ve embedded below.)

I’ve transcribed a couple of sections from the story, but it’s rather long (10 minutes) and suitably aimless, being a podcast. Dylan lovers should really listen to the whole thing. The story starts out as follows:
 

I got a call that he was interested in doing, he’d been on the road, he does this endless tour, he’s on this tour all the time, he’s on this bus, most of the time. And he’s got a TV, this was back in the ‘90s, he’s got a TV in the bus and he watches movies and he gets into certain genres of movies, and he gets like addicted to them and just watches every single one of them. And he had been watching Jerry Lewis movies. And he’d gotten deeply into Jerry Lewis, and he wanted to make a slapstick comedy. ... He wants to do it as a TV series for HBO, so I’m called in to meet with him. He wanted to star in it, almost like a Buster Keaton or something.

 
There’s a great section where Charles and Dylan meet in the back of a boxing gym that Dylan owns, that’s also connected to a coffee shop, and Dylan is playing mind games with Charles, whom he’s meeting for the first time, by drinking out of his guest’s ice coffee glass just to see how he’ll react. There’s also a lengthy bit about Dylan’s writing process, at least at that date—suffice it to say that it involves writing snatches of text on whatever scraps of paper are at hand and cobbling something together later on. Very “oblique strategies.” Says Charles, “We wrote like a very elaborate treatment for this slapstick comedy, which is filled with surrealism and all kinds of things from his songs and stuff.”

Eventually they go to meet with the president of HBO, Chris Albrecht. At the meeting, Charles is wearing pajamas, which was his habit for a couple of years around then, and Dylan is dressed like a cowboy, all in black. Albrecht attempts to break the ice by bringing up Woodstock, to which Dylan says (pretty reasonably), “I didn’t play Woodstock.” After that Dylan spends the entire meeting standing with his back to the group staring out the window. At this point Charles’ agent Gavin Polone leans over to Charles and whispers, referring to Dylan, “Retarded child.”

However, despite all of that, they do in fact come to an agreement on a deal to do a slapstick TV series starring, of all people, Dylan. As they’re walking out to the elevator, Charles and Polone and Dylan’s agent, Jeff Kramer, are of one mind about the project to come, but Dylan’s head is elsewhere. As Charles tells it: “The three of us are elated, we actually sold the project, and Bob says, ‘I don’t want to do it anymore. It’s too slapstick-y.’ He’s, like, not into it. That’s over. The slapstick phase is officially ended.”

So instead they worked for another year or so on Masked and Anonymous.
 

 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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‘Open Windows’ updates Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’ for the Internet age

00opnwdw.jpg
 
With his third movie Open Windows writer and director Nacho Vigalondo has attempted an audacious remodeling of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window for the social media generation. That he largely succeeds is in part down to his highly imaginative and visually arresting telling of his tale—all told via a laptop screen and a host of various pop-up windows—and a strong performance by Elijah Wood’s as geeky blogger Nick Chambers who finds his life hacked by the sick plans of a psycho troll from Hell.

This is not the first time Rear Window has received a generational make-over: Brian De Palma made his beautifully crafted homage Body Double in the 1980s, while more recently D. J. Caruso successfully updated the format with Disturbia in 2007. Now Spanish-born director Vigalondo has devised a clever way to bring Hitchcock’s concept bang up-to-date with Open Windows. His story follows a young blogger (Wood) who runs the fansite for actress Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey). He soon finds out that he is part of a fake blog and the tool by which hacker-cum-stalker Chord (Neil Maskell) wants to have revenge on the actress.
 
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Elijah Wood as Nick Chambers unwittingly(?) watching his fate unfold.
 
Ignacio “Nacho” Vigalondo was born in “a small town in the middle of Spain” in 1977. As a child he wrote stories and created his own comic books, but being raised in a poor family Nacho never considered the possibility of becoming a filmmaker until the mid 1990s when he was inspired by the low budget movies by directors such as Jim Jarmusch, John Waters (particularly Pink Flamingoes), Kevin Smith, and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead. This eventually led to Vigalondo making his own films, in particular his Oscar-nominated short 7:35 de la Mañana (7.30 in the Morning). He then wrote and directed his first movie Los Cronocrímenes (Timecrimes in 2007, which he also acted in, and Extraterrestre (Extraterrestrial) in 2011. Both films played with audience expectations and used interesting plot devices, which Nacho has developed with Open Windows.
 
nachoscreengrab.jpg
Nacho being interviewed online about ‘Open Windows.’
 
In an exclusive interview with Dangerous Minds Nacho Vigalondo discussed his Internet thriller Open Windows (how else? but) via Skype, where he started off by explaining his inspiration for the film.

Nacho Vigalondo: When I started writing the script I was given a good suggestion from my producers—they wanted me to make a movie that was intimate yet had a large presense on the screen, like in the film Closer by Mike Nichols. They wanted to rethink and remake Rear Window for today. Taking that advice to the limit, I offered them a device for making a movie that all happens on a computer screen all the time. So, they had this interesting suggestion and I gave them back this insane approach.
 
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‘Open Windows’ vengeful game of cat and mouse is told via a laptop screen.
 
‘Open Windows’ must have been difficult to film, as you have multiple frames of different action all interacting with each other at the same time. How did you manage this?

Nacho Vigalondo:  The key was the script and then making a really detailed pre-production work. Basically we made a whole film like it was a Pixar movie. We made a whole presentation of the whole movie as we wanted to be really sure about the things we needed in front of the camera for every shot, for every scene. Not only the action inside the windows but also everything that was happening over the whole desktop. The key for us was to have everything preprepared and leaving nothing to improvisation. I love improvisation but in this case it was impossible, for every window is connected with the other ones. So, it was really mathematical in a sense and all about logistics.

Your film develops at a relentless pace, shifting and changing as it progresses, why is this?

Nacho Vigalondo: I didn’t want the movie to rest on the format. I wanted the movie to be crazy and surprising. That’s the reason every twenty minutes the movie changes its whole nature and becomes something else. That’s the reason the movie approaches science-fiction at the end, that’s the reason the movie becomes another genre in the third part. I wanted the movie to evolve all the time. I didn’t want to make a movie that just rests on what happens, I wanted it to be ambitious.

As you say, the film is a genre-bender, do you think this should be a prerequisite for directors when making movies?

Nacho Vigalondo:  Every movie demands something different from you, and since you are in love with the movies you want to make, you have to accept what the movie asks you to do. For example, my previous movie Extraterrestrial was a sci-fi film that turns into a comedy. In this case, Open Windows seems to be a psycho-thriller with erotic elements but the third act turns into a totally different genre. That is something I have to confess, the inspiration for the last hour of the movie is more literary than cinematic, because I love reading novels from the end of the 19th century-beginning of the twentieth century—novels by Conan Doyle, Gaston Leroux The Mystery of the Yellow Room—all those novels in which the characters have fake identities and they are playing with the other characters, and you also have the super heroes at that time. In those novels everything was in the transformation of identity—you can see that in the Fantômas films—for me that stuff, that lack of identity or using identity as a tool makes perfect sense in the social media environment.

Initially when I started writing the script, I didn’t know the movie was about fake identities, but at the end of the movie, the story took me to that place. 
 
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Sasha Grey as Jill Goddard finds she has some unwanted admirers in ‘Open Windows.’
 
‘Open Windows’ raises questions about the ethics of the Internet, do you think the Internet is a force for good or bad?

Nacho Vigalondo:  The Internet is not something apart from us, it is not something that turns us into something different. The Internet is us. I don’t want to think of the Internet as something separate from us that is turning us into something different.

I think the Internet is like a speaker—it is one of us and we have the chance to speak out loud and we all can be heard. For example feminism is rightly more visible than ever before, yet at the same time misogyny is also more visible than ever.

But at the end of the day the Internet is all about us.

Though ‘Open Windows’ has received some negative reviews (mainly for the film’s shift in the third act), this reviewer found Nacho Vigalondo’s film a thrilling, highly inventive and enjoyable romp, which raised a few interesting questions about our relationship with the Internet from voyeurism, stalking and misogyny—though these are not always resolved. The acting may be iffy in places, but Elijah Wood shines and manages to keep the whole film together, which is some feat considering he was acting to camera throughout. The film also stars former porn actress Sasha Grey as the focus of Wood’s attention Jennifer Goddard and Neil Maskell, who previously starred in Ben Wheatley’s ‘Kill List,’ as the villainous Chord.

Open Windows’ is on release from today details here and is also available on VOD details here.
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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The last words of Dutch Schultz, the cartoon
11.07.2014
07:36 am

Topics:
Animation
History
Movies

Tags:
Gerrit van Dijk
Dutch Schultz


 
People throw around the word “sociopath” a lot these days, but Dutch Schultz was a man who could commit murder “just as casually as if he were picking his teeth”—or so his own lawyer said. Dutch Schultz: The Brazen Beer Baron of New York tells how the gangster and his partner hung an uncooperative bootlegger “by his thumbs from a meat hook and beat him viciously,” wrapping a bandage around his eyes that “had been liberally coated with discharge from a gonorrhoeal sore.” The bootlegger went blind; Dutch went to the top of the world, ma! Then there’s this heartwarming anecdote about the Dutchman from Five Families:

When he suspected that one of his long-time trusted lieutenants, Bo Weinberg, was plotting against him with Italian mobsters, Schultz personally encased Weinberg’s legs in cement and dumped him into the Hudson River while still alive.

 

 
At the time of his death, Schultz was planning to murder special prosecutor Thomas Dewey in defiance of the wishes of the other major figures in organized crime, a hubristic move that likely resulted in the gangster’s own demise. On October 23, 1935, gunmen shot down Schultz and his men in Newark’s Palace Chop House. As he lay dying in the hospital with a 106-degree fever and bullet holes in his trunk, a police stenographer transcribed his ravings.

It is no use to stage a riot. The sidewalk was in trouble and the bears were in trouble and I broke it up. Please put me in that room. Please keep him in control. My gilt-edged stuff and those dirty rats have tuned in.

Please get me up my friends; I know what I speak of. Please, look out, the shooting is a bit wild, and that kind of shooting. Saved a man’s life. Oh, Elmer was. No, everything frightening; yes, no payrolls, no walls, no coupons.

Oh, sir, get the doll a roofing. You can play jacks and girls do that with a softball and do tricks with it. I take all events into consideration. No. No. And it is no. It is confused and it says no. A boy has never wept nor dashed a thousand kim.

French-Canadian bean soup. I want to pay. Let them leave me alone.

 

 
These utterances were then scrutinized for all kinds of hidden meanings—not least for clues to the location of Dutch’s buried millions. Authors William S. Burroughs and Robert Anton Wilson, however, found something else fascinating in the transcript; both men spoke as if it was at once the coded prophecy of a gangland oracle and a high modernist poem. Burroughs wrote a screenplay, The Last Words of Dutch Schultz, which was never filmed despite his efforts to sell it in Hollywood, and Schultz’s last words feature in Wilson and Robert Shea’s Illuminatus! trilogy.
 

 
Victor Bockris records how Burroughs described the deathbed scene, and its relationship to the modernists, to Lou Reed in 1978:

You don’t know about the last words of Dutch Schultz? You obviously don’t know. They had a stenographer at his bedside in the hospital taking down everything he said. These cops are sitting around asking him questions, sending out for sandwiches, it went on for 24 hours. He’s saying things like, “A boy has never wept nor dashed a thousand kim,” and the cops are saying, “C’mon, don’t give us that. Who shot ya?” It’s incredible. Gertrude Stein said that he outdid her. Gertrude really liked Dutch Schultz.

 

 
In 2003, Dutch filmmaker Gerrit van Dijk used Schultz’s last words as the basis for an animated film, intercut with TV-style live-action dramatizations of the Palace Chop House shooting. Rutger Hauer, Schultz’s voice in the short, gives a surprisingly understated performance. The animated portion of the film represents Dutch’s subjectivity roaming freely through time and space, hallucinating past and future. Anachronisms slip into the 1930s world of newsboys, gangsters and gun molls: while Dutch rambles, Mike Tyson bites off Evander Holyfield’s ear, John F. Kennedy’s head explodes, O.J. Simpson is declared not guilty, and the first plane hits the World Trade Center. Even if none of this is up your street, the rotoscoping is quite beautiful, and there’s always the possibility that you’ll crack the code and find the Dutchman’s buried millions.
 

 

Posted by Oliver Hall | Discussion
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‘I Don’t Know Jack’: Fascinating documentary about ‘Eraserhead’ star Jack Nance
11.05.2014
05:55 am

Topics:
Movies

Tags:
David Lynch
Eraserhead
Jack Nance


 
I Don’t Know Jack is a documentary about the troubled life and violent death of Jack Nance, the actor who starred as Henry Spencer in Eraserhead, played the lovable Pete Martell on Twin Peaks, and popped up in small parts in many of David Lynch’s other movies. Though you know what they say about small parts—he’s only onscreen in Wild at Heart for about a minute, but, for me, Nance steals the show in his turn as deranged Big Tuna resident OO Spool.
 

My dog barks some.”

Nance’s life takes shape through interviews with Lynch, Nance’s brothers, Catherine Coulson (Twin Peaks’ Log Lady, who was married to Nance in the ‘70s), Dennis Hopper, and a number of Nance’s close friends and colleagues. Lynch recalls his first meeting with the actor for Eraserhead:

Jack came in and he had a bad attitude. He didn’t really want to be there, and it was a stupid student film, and it just didn’t go real smooth. And so, it was sorta polite, but not really great, and we ended the interview and I walked him out to the parking lot. And on the way through the parking lot, we passed this Volkswagen—‘59 Volkswagen with a roof rack, four-by-eight-foot roof rack. And Jack stopped and looked at this thing, and he said, “Man, that is a great rack!” And I said, “Thank you.” And he says, “Is that your rack?” and I say “Yeah.” And he says, “You build that?” And I say, “Yeah, my brother and I built that.” So we started talking about wood, and garbage, and getting stuff, and pretty soon I saw another whole side of Jack. And it changed right there, 180 degrees. And Jack went on to be the star of Eraserhead.

Produced (or “presented”) by Lynch, I Don’t Know Jack is full of fascinating glimpses of Nance’s early life. A gifted young stage actor from Texas, Nance moved to San Francisco to play the lead in a production of Tom Paine, whose director, David Lindeman, later recommended Nance to Lynch for Eraserhead. Nance just missed getting the parts that went to Robert Blake in In Cold Blood and Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. He played twin brothers Benny and Tony Rebozo in the Doo Dah Gang, a performance group that staged 1920s-style gang fights at nontraditional venues. When one of his characters died, Nance spent three days lying in a coffin at the staged wake.
 

Jack Nance plays dead in the Doo Dah Gang
 
Nance seems to have spent much of the 1980s in a dark, down-and-out place, drinking hard, acting crazy, and studiously avoiding tenants as the manager of a Hollywood apartment building. Lynch describes an early morning he had to drive Nance, suffering from an alcoholic’s painfully distended stomach, to the emergency room, where the doctor gave him a bleak prognosis. Dennis Hopper talks about helping get Nance into recovery around the time Blue Velvet was filmed.

Nance’s wife, Kelly Van Dyke, committed suicide in November 1991 while the actor was filming Meatballs 4. According to the documentary, she had been on the phone with Nance immediately beforehand. Van Dyke threatened to kill herself if he hung up the phone, at which point a storm on Nance’s end cut the connection.

A few months later, I happened to notice the star of my favorite movie in a supermarket in Studio City, and I asked him: “Are you Jack Nance?”

“What’s left of him.”

I was twelve, and I had no idea what had happened, so I told him how much I loved Eraserhead and Twin Peaks. He was very kind.
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘Eraserhead Stories’: David Lynch looks back on his weirdest film

Posted by Oliver Hall | Discussion
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‘Tribulation 99’: The ultimate conspiracy theory!
10.31.2014
06:28 am

Topics:
Belief
History
Movies

Tags:
Tribulation 99
Craig Baldwin


 
Tribulation 99 is the work of underground filmmaker Craig Baldwin, a former student of Bruce Conner’s whose specialty is collage. Artfully stitched together from bits of stock footage, B-movies, the news, educational films, commercials, and other archival material, the 1991 movie purports to explain most of the events of recent history as the surface phenomena of an ancient conspiracy to enslave humanity. In its sprint toward Doomsday, it covers 99 tribulations in 48 minutes, so you’re unlikely to be bored, and the ending is worth sticking around for. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry…
 

 
The ingenious plot, narrated in sepulchral tones by Sean Kilkoyne, weaves in just about every strand of 20th century conspiracy lore: ancient aliens, the hollow Earth, mind control, Aztec myth, cattle mutilation, UFOs, the CIA’s adventures in Latin America, the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, Iran-Contra, the Bermuda Triangle, freemasonry, Satanism, and, of course, the Book of Revelation. Summarizing the plot is a fool’s errand, and, were it possible, would ruin the effect of the movie. But you will soon notice that its survey of the postwar period is at pains to justify the most atrocious aspects of U.S. foreign policy at every turn—no mean feat!
 

 
I first became aware of Baldwin’s work through Sonic Outlaws, his valuable 1995 documentary about Negativland, John Oswald (Plunderphonics), the Barbie Liberation Organization, and other proponents of “culture jamming.” Freshman year, I sought out a VHS of Tribulation 99 in my college library, which meant watching it with headphones, on a tiny screen, sitting in a dismal room that smelled of plaster and mildew. In those surroundings, it felt a bit like getting the taped briefing at the beginning of a Mission: Impossible episode—all the more so because it’s full of the kind of history “they don’t teach you in school.”
 

 
I haven’t seen Baldwin’s latest feature, Mock up on Mu, but how could a Craig Baldwin movie about the Jack Parsons-Marjorie Cameron-L. Ron Hubbard story fail to entertain?
 

 
DVDs of Craig Baldwin’s films, and much else of interest, are available from Other Cinema.

Posted by Oliver Hall | Discussion
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Roots of ‘The Evil Dead’ franchise: Watch Sam Raimi’s 1978 short film, ‘Clockwork’
10.29.2014
07:55 am

Topics:
Movies

Tags:
Sam Raimi
Evil Dead
Clockwork


 
Sam Raimi would have been no more than 19 years old when he directed Clockwork, but you can definitely see the horror-legend’s talents gestating in the bones of this little Super-8 thriller. Scott Spiegel, the writer, director, producer and actor who would eventually write the screenplay for Evil Dead 2, plays a stalker. His victim is Cheryl Guttridge—who did little in the way of acting, but later served as a “Fake Shemp” (a term associated with Sam Raimi) in The Evil Dead. (Ever notice how much influence the Three Stooges had on these films?)
 

 
What plays out is clearly a predecessor to his goofy gore franchise. It’s a great little short. There’s blood and screams and the sort of pop culture imagery that reminds the viewer—you are not safe, not even in the modern world (though the amenities of say, an S-Mart, can really help a guy out of a jam)! The use of alienating, electronic music builds suspense beautifully, while more traditionally orchestrated sounds add to the unease. There are some artfully executed classic horror shots, with some noir zooms thrown in for suspense. Enjoy the early work of this camp-horror auteur!
 

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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Dario Argento’s horror classic ‘Suspiria’ and the most vicious murder scene ever filmed, 1977
10.28.2014
06:14 am

Topics:
Movies

Tags:
Horror Films
Dario Argento
Violence

Suspiria poster
 
By now, it’s safe to say that those who really dig horror films recognize the brilliance that is Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977). Critics frequently include it in “best-of” lists in the horror genre, and the Italian production has also been cited as one of the greatest films of all time, period. There are many reasons Suspiria is revered, but one sequence in particular has been singled out for its noteworthiness: it’s the most brutal murder scene in the history of cinema.

Argento integrated a diverse set of influences into the making of Suspiria, including German Expressionism, the Technicolor vibrancy of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) (he saw the protagonist of Suspiria, Jessica Harper, as his Snow White), as well as psychoanalysis. He also played the music of the Italian group Goblin on set to create the necessary mood. The band had scored his previous picture, Profondo Rosso (a/k/a Deep Red), and they would also create, in collaboration with Argento, the unforgettable music for Suspiria. The director’s ultimate goal was to create a dream-like, unreality for the film.
 
The beauty of Suspiria
 
Set in a prominent dance academy in Germany, Suspiria stars Harper as an American student who transfers to the school and soon begins to suspect something within those hallowed walls is not quite right. She has only just arrived at the academy when another student is murdered. This is the killing Entertainment Weekly has called “the most vicious murder scene ever filmed.” Though cinemaphiles could debate this distinction endlessly, it is difficult to think of one more graphic. The imagery is so intense it had to be significantly edited before it could be released in US theaters. And it’s not just the on-screen violence that renders the sequence notable; like the rest of the film, it’s beautifully shot and fantastic, yet completely engaging, and with Goblin’s beyond unnerving score in place, totally terrifying.
 
Suspiria hanging
 
In European Nightmares: Horror Cinema in Europe Since 1945, author Anna Powell analyzes the director’s work and why Suspiria affects us the way it does (with references to the aforementioned scene):

Solid scarlet coats the outer walls of this house of blood [the dance academy], spreading inside via wallpaper and drapes in an expressive series: décor, wine, nail varnish, lipstick as well as its most potent source, human blood. Arterial red is complimented by venous blue with which it alternates by means of velvet curtains and wallpaper as well as lighting. Blue shades range from indigo to purple, at times shifting to sickly green. This Technicolor palette vibrates in us intensively, oppressing but at the same time arousing us.

Sound techniques with an exaggerated, hyper-real echo are deployed as affective devices. The electronic chords and discords of the rock band Goblin create a rich sound texture in Suspiria. Whirring, sawing and hollow booming without any diegetic source [sound whose source is visible on the screen] grate on the spectator’s hearing mechanisms and stimulate anxiety, as in the jarring electronic chords before the first murder we witness that sound like the twittering of bats.

In Argento’s films, elaborate pursuit, torture and murder produce tactisigns [virtual sensations; i.e., we feel what the characters feel] to excruciating degrees. Inflicted by mostly invisible torturers, their affective potency is increased by the lack of any distancing subject/object split. This is further intensified by extreme close-up. Knife blades dominate the screen as they gash into flesh, and internal organs are torn loose and exposed.

 
Suspiria death
 
Okay, are you ready? If you’re a wine drinker, I suggest pouring yourself a glass of your favorite Italian red to have on hand to calm your nerves—trust me, you’re gonna need it.
 

Posted by Bart Bealmear | Discussion
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Future Feminism: Antony and the Johnsons’ stunning new concert film, ‘TURNING’


 
On November 10th and 11th, the new CD + DVD of Antony and the Johnsons live in concert TURNING film (co-directed by Antony Hegarty and video artist/filmmaker Charles Atlas) will be released respectively by Rough Trade in the UK and Europe and the Secretly Canadian label in North America.

TURNING is stunning, a magnificent and moving arthouse documentary/concert film of a fall 2006 tour of Europe. That live show featured Atlas’ live video portraiture of thirteen women in close-up as they were spinning on a human-sized turntable, like a nicely updated version of Andy Warhol’s “13 Most Beautiful Girls” screentests. These projected portraits are the backdrop of nuanced performances—alternately tender and forceful, joyous and bittersweet—by Antony and the Johnsons (Antony, Maxim Moston, Rob Moose, Julia Kent, Parker Kindred, Jeff Langston, and Thomas Bartlett), captured in London, Paris, Madrid, Rome and Braga.

You can watch the trailer for TURNING here.
 

 
I asked Antony and Charles some questions about TURNING via email.

The feminine energy that’s celebrated in TURNING isn’t entirely biological. I was wondering if you could clarify what your (preferred) definition of “femininity” is?

Antony: We all have bodies that naturally produce estrogen and testosterone, so I am a bit confused by your assertion about biology. My definition of femininity, which is always evolving, has partly to do with motherhood and the impulses of motherhood, to treasure, to protect, to nurture, to give selflessly. I have observed femininity often manifest as a greater sensitivity to one’s relationships with one’s surroundings, a heightened sense of oneself within space. I often think of the word femininity as congruous with creativity. Another feminine archetype is the capacity for intuitive and emotional intelligence.  On the other hand, there are the Kali-esque faces of femininity. But for me, even when femininity is destructive, as in the case for instance of a natural disaster, there is something essential about it; Nature is not frivolous in her violent manifestations. And inevitably, pastoral life flourishes in the the shadows of volcanic eruptions and tidal waves.
 

 
You’ve screened the film at festivals over the past two years. It’s not merely a concert film, there’s something deeper and much more profound going on; however the reviews I’ve read, some get it, and some plainly just didn’t. There’s that scene where the French press called the TURNING performance a “transsexual manifesto” which obviously illustrates this somewhat, but the New York Times focused on this as well in their brief review. Did you find that some audiences and critics were confused by what the “message” of TURNING is?

Antony: One of the reasons we made TURNING is because we were not sure we “got” TURNING ourselves! The form was mesmerizing and we just kind of fell into it. It came to mean a lot of different things to different people. For me, what is interesting and relevant about TURNING today is its intuitive embrace of the intersection between trans-feminism and “Future Feminism”, a genre of feminism that I have been working with several of the women involved in TURNING to articulate over the last few years.  At the heart of TURNING is the impulse to form a circle of community and create space for each other, to witness and empower one another.

Charles Atlas: Another reason we took charge of the filming and production of the TURNING film ourselves (rather than accepting offers from TV companies to make the film) was precisely to allow all of the meanings of TURNING to emerge. At the public screenings I attended and the follow-up Q & A’s, I felt the audience came away with the feeling of the universality of the message of self-actualization.
 

 
Aside from the beautiful production values, which I thought was stunning on every level—I mean THE BAND!—the backstage preparations, traveling and “sisterhood” aspects of the project were so fascinating. The thing that was so riveting to me—and I know some of the women who were onstage with you—was watching the faces of each of them as they listened to the lyrics, as if the songs were about them and about their own lives, struggles and triumphs. There seemed to be a “psychodrama” aspect to the performance for the “beauties.” The Puerto Rican girl, Nomi, at the beginning seemed like she’d experienced a sort of beatific transcendence about herself and her place in the world. Connie Fleming also seemed very deeply in thought in front of a few thousand people. Can you discuss this?

Antony: The process for the participants was intimately meditative and at the same time extroverted and performative. To be watched in a state of stillness, from every angle, challenged each of the subjects in different ways. There was a tremendous sense of support for each other amongst the models. Each person seemed to develop her own inner narrative that guided her on the pedestal. And for each of us, different things emerged from the process. In the concert itself, the models appeared anonymously; there were no life stories (besides mine, embedded in the song lyrics), only images of women from many ages, backgrounds and experiences. Behind the scenes, many feelings and ideas started to stir.

Charles Atlas: For me, the individuality of the women and their variety of experiences—in concert with Antony’s music, was deeply inspiring. At each performance I entered into the world of Antony’s music and was moved to create video mix portraits in the moment that attempted to rise to the level of beauty of that potent combination.
 

 
Below, Antony and the Johnsons perform a stunning version of “Twilight” while Johanna Constantine turns:

“The performance artist Johanna Constantine appeared as one of the 13 subjects in TURNING. Johanna and I met in our first year of university in California and she has been a huge influence on my life and work.  We moved to NYC together in 1992 and co-founded a late night performance collective called Blacklips. We have always considered ourselves two sides of a whole: she seems to present a threatening, alien, armored face, while as a singer I exhibit a vulnerable interior. As the years have worn on, we have subliminally exchanged these roles, even from minute to minute. Johanna Constantine is also a founding member of an exhibition project we are now working on called Future Feminism. We first coined the term “future feminism” to describe the work of a handful of female artists from NYC that work on a frontier by themselves, using their bodies as material, exploring themes of violence, femininity, alienation, innocence, eco-collapse and survivalism.”  Antony Hegarty

 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Predictions about the year 2000 by Arthur C. Clarke from 1964 (and the Stanley Kubrick connection)

Clarke Kubrick
 
In his 1972 book The Lost Worlds of 2001, Arthur C. Clarke says that he met Stanley Kubrick in a Trader Vic’s on April 22, 1964. The two formed a fast partnership. In May of that year, Clarke and Kubrick began hammering out the basic ideas that would eventually become 2001: A Space Odyssey. They would use Clarke’s short story, “The Sentinel” as a jumping off point and, in order to generate a rich background for the film, they took the somewhat unusual approach of attempting to collaborate on the creation of a new novel “with an eye on the screen” before writing the screenplay (although, in reality, the process became much more blurred).

Right around the same time, Clarke appeared on the BBC series Horizon in September of 1964 where he discussed some of his predictions for the year 2000 and beyond. You can watch the fascinating appearance in the two clips below. Horizon, now its 50th year, had just aired its first episode on Buckminster Fuller in May of 1964. Clarke’s appearance was part of the 6th episode of the series entitled The Knowledge Explosion and it provides us with some interesting insight into his vision of the future and some of the concepts that he and Kubrick were likely contemplating. 

Clarke was keeping a detailed log of his work with Kubrick during this time period. To give the Horizon clips some context, here are a few of Clarke’s journal entries from 1964 as he and Kubrick went back and forth about their ideas for the novel and film. From The Lost Worlds of 2001:

May 31. One hilarious idea we won’t use. Seventeen aliens – featureless black pyramids – riding in open cars down Fifth Avenue, surrounded by Irish cops.

June 20. Finished the opening chapter, “View from the Year 2000,” and started on the robot sequence.

August 6. Stanley suggests that we make the computer female and call her Athena.

August 19. Writing all day. Two thousand words exploring Jupiter’s satellites. Dull work.

September 7. Stanley quite happy: “We’re in fantastic shape.” He has made up a 100-word questionnaire about our astronauts, e.g. do they sleep in their pajamas, what do they eat for breakfast, etc.

September 8. Upset stomach last night. Dreamed I was a robot, being rebuilt. In a great burst of energy managed to redo two chapters. Took them to Stanley, who was very pleased and cooked me a fine steak, remarking “Joe Levine doesn’t do this for his writers.”

September 29. Dreamed that shooting had started. Lots of actors standing around, but I still didn’t know the story line.

 

On Horizon, Clarke accurately predicts instantaneous communication via satellite between people across the globe and talks about putting space travelers in suspended animation to traverse long distances over huge periods of time just as the astronauts do in 2001. He also throws out some bizarre concepts like replacing human servants with bioengineered apes and dolphins, but as he says early in the first clip “If what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I’ll have failed completely.”

 

 
Part II after the jump…

Posted by Jason Schafer | Discussion
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‘Dog Day Afternoon’: The true story
10.25.2014
04:06 pm

Topics:
Crime
Movies

Tags:
Al Pacino
Sidney Lumet

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The suspenseful 1975 crime drama, Dog Day Afternoon, was nominated for six Oscars—including one for actor Al Pacino’s ultra-intense turn as “Sonny Wortzik,” based on the real-life ill-fated Brooklyn bank robber, John Wojtowicz. It is justly considered one of the classics of Seventies cinema, but what of the actual story behind the events portrayed in the film?

From what I can tell, Sidney Lumet’s film, from a screenplay by Frank Pierson (A Star is Born, Cool Hand Luke, Soldier’s Girl), and based on reporting from LIFE magazine, was essentially pretty accurate to real-life events. John Woitowicz, a bisexual man and former bank clerk, convinced two accomplices, 18-year-old Salvatore Naturile (who was killed by the FBI) and Robert Westenberg (who fled the crime scene when we saw the first police car show up) to help him rob a bank. The reason for the heist, which was poorly planned and partially based on something in The Godfather (which Woitowicz had only seen that morning) was to obtain the money to pay for a sex-change operation for Wojtowicz’s partner, a pre-op transsexual named Elizabeth “Liz” Eden (played in the film by Oscar-nominated actor, Chris Sarandon).
 
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Wojtowicz, writing The New York Times in an unpublished letter from his jail cell after the film was released, described his reasons for the bank robbery:

“[...] I did what a man has to do in order to save the life of someone I loved a great deal. His name was Ernest Aron (now known as Ms. Liz Debbie Eden) and he was Gay. He wanted to be a woman through the process of a sex-change operation and thus was labeled by doctors as a Gender Identity Problem. He felt he was a woman trapped in a man’s body. This caused him untold pain and problems which accounted for his many suicide attempts. I met him in 1971 at an Italian Bazaar in N.Y.C. after two years of separation from my female wife, Carmen, and two children.

Ernest and I were married in Greenwich Village in N.Y.C. on 12/4/71 in a Roman Catholic ceremony. We had our ups and downs as most couples do, and I tried my best to get him the money he needed for his sex change operation he so badly needed. I was unable to obtain the funds for his birthday on 8/19/72 and so, on Sunday, 8/29, he attempted suicide while I was at of the house. He died a clinical death in the hospital but was revived. While I went to get his clothes, he was declared mentally sick and sent to the Psychiatric Ward of Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, NY. I went to see him and I tried to obtain his release on 8/21, but was told he would not be released and would stay there for a long time until he was cured.

Soon 8/22/75, along with two others, I began what I felt was necessary to save the life of someone I truly and deeply loved. No monetary value can be placed on a human life, and as it says in the Bible - “No greater love both a man then to lie down his life for another.”

 
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On August 22, 1972, Wojtowicz, Naturile and (at first) Westenberg attempted to rob a Chase Manhattan branch on the corner of East Third Street and Avenue P in Gravesend, Brooklyn. What was supposed to take ten minutes turned into a fourteen hour stand-off and hostage negotiations with police, and saw hundreds, if not thousands, of onlookers showing up to gawk at the events. For about two days Wojtowicz became an unlikely sort of media anti-hero.

John Wojtowicz was sentenced to twenty years in prison, but got out after fourteen. A photograph of Wojtowicz with Liz Eden (who was able to get a sex change operation out of the $7500 fee that Wojtowicz made from the film) after his release can be see here. Liz Eden died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1987. John Wojtowicz was living on welfare in Brooklyn when he died of cancer in 2006.

The trailer for Dog Day Afternoon (note The Living Theatre’s Judith Malina as Wojtowicz’s mother):
 

 

After the jump, Harry Reasoner reports on the Brooklyn bank heist gone wrong on ABC News in 1972

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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