convenience isn’t everything

Julia over at Pages of Julia just reviewed Rear Window, and it made me think about when I was growing up, when you couldn’t see Rear Window at all.

Five Hitchcock movies, including Vertigo, considered by some to be the best movie made in Hollywood during the 20th century, were unavailable for almost thirty years.

My first though was that things aren’t like that now. These days it seems like every old movie, every out-of-print book, every old TV show, is available all the time.

But, as I think about it now, this is not universally true. And that’s sort of nice, even if it can be frustrating. Everything shouldn’t be handed to us all the time. I like it that there are still a few subway stations in New York named after streets which do not currently exist, and some streets where nobody knows what they’re named after. I like it that there’s no explanation anywhere in Lord of the Rings of who Tom Bombadil is. :-)

So, here are three movies which I would really like to see. But I can’t, at least not easily.

1. The Other Side of the Wind (directed by Orson Welles). The most difficult to see, since it doesn’t exist, or at least not in a form where anybody can see it.

This is Orson Welles’ last film, or it would have been. There are periodic efforts to get it finished, usually driven by the invaluable Peter Bogdanovich, but no result yet.

I’ve seen the clips, of course, but that’s it. So far.

2. Renaldo and Clara (directed by Bob Dylan). I have seen it, more than once, but it’s pretty much impossible to see now.

I saw the four-hour version twice (my goal was to see it six times in all, so that I would have spent a whole day watching it), and another time I went to see the four hour version, but they didn’t get the reels in time, so they offered to let us see the two-hour version, and then an hour into that a guy rushed in carrying the cases with the full version, and they stopped the two-hour version and let us vote on what to do. We voted for watching the last three hours of the four-hour version.

Movie theaters used to be different.

But these days Dylan is not allowing it to be shown or released, for whatever reason. Someone had it up on YouTube in little chunks, but they were forced to take it down. That was all right — 3-minute segments on YouTube is no way to watch a movie.

3) Chelsea Girls (directed by Andy Warhol). You can see it in museums and occasionally in movie theaters (I’ve seen it that way twice), but it’s difficult to show, since it requires two screens and two projectors.

There’s seven hours of film (I think Wikipedia is wrong), taking somewhat over three and a half hours to show (the two screens are never exactly in sync). Pretty much impossible to describe. Funny in spots, awkward in others, tedious in others (as I recall, one half-hour segment consists of Nico trimming her bangs). In one scene, the camera loses interest in a conversation and wanders up to examine the ceiling instead.

Some day I will see it again, though I may need to go to the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh to do it.

Of course, if it was available on two DVDs, and you had two screens…

But no, everything shouldn’t be so easy.

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the hot hand, and some subject creep

Interesting article about the “hot hand” as it applies to artists: “Bob Dylan and the ‘Hot Hand’

The article focuses on Bob Dylan, but it covers some other artists as well (for example, did you know that Shakespeare wrote Henry V, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and Hamlet all in one year?)

I expect there are a lot of factors which go into a hot streak like that. A congenial working situation, whatever that may be, is probably one. Events in the world. Artistic competition (I remember when it was very obvious that the Beach Boys, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Who were all watching each other very carefully, and they all were watching Dylan, too).

It makes me think of Robert Altman, too. Hot streaks in movies don’t happen the same way, since movies take a lot longer to make, but after he had his first big success, with MASH, in 1970, he made eight movies in six years. All are good, most are great, and at least two are masterpieces (Probably three — my opinion of The Long Goodbye keeps improving. The two definite masterpieces are McCabe and Mrs. Miller, my favorite film, and Nashville).

Possible factors? He had been working in television for years, perfecting his craft, figuring out what he wanted to do (particularly the things that he couldn’t do in television). Because of the success of MASH, he was given a lot of leeway (this was true in general in Hollywood at that time, as I talked about here — point #2). Because of his television experience, he knew how to keep his costs low. He made some flops in his career, but he never made an expensive one.

The streak stopped, or at least slowed down, because Altman was scheduled to direct Ragtime, a prestigious project, but then Buffalo Bill and the Indians was a flop (and may have been considered inappropriate Bicentennial fare in some circles). Ragtime was given to Milos Forman, Three Women (Altman’s next picture) was not a hit, and for a while his pace slowed down somewhat.

But he kept going. Yes, sometimes you’re on a roll, but sometimes — most times — you’re not. Sometimes none of your shots are falling. But you keep going.

My mother was an art historian, and one of her opinions, after a long lifetime of studying art and artists, was that anybody who could be stopped or discouraged from making art — well, they’re weren’t real artists anyway. The real ones persist, finding ways to work.

Altman kept going — directing plays when nobody would give him money to make movies, and then making movies of the plays (movies of plays are really cheap to make).

As I’ve said before, at one point, years ago, somebody asked Altman how he dealt with the fact that most of his movies weren’t available on video at that time.

“How can I deal with it?” he replied. “I make another movie.”

And I seem to have wandered, away from what interested the writer at the New Yorker and toward what interests me.

Oh, well. :-)

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in which i surprise myself (in a slightly embarassing way)

Last time, I said I was thinking of getting back to my story, possibly called “It was a dark and stormy night.” I linked to the first chapter.

So, I decided to listen to the chapter on my Kindle, where I had a file from a while ago (when I was actively working on the project).

The chapter was pretty good, I thought, and I wondered if I’d started the second chapter, which was going to be a flashback…

Then my Kindle started to read a second chapter, which seemed sort of familiar.

Well, not to drag it out, I listened to the entire second chapter, which I didn’t remember writing (and which was pretty darn good).

Good thing my devices remember stuff better than I do.

Now, where did I put those scenes for the rest of the story…

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back on “schedule”

Ooops, I think I missed a regularly scheduled blog post, which was not easy to do, since I don’t have a regular schedule.

So, here’s some interesting stuff:

1) I saw this article at the AV Club website: “Is Stephen King justified in hating Kubrick’s vision for The Shining?

It reminded me of this blog post, where I described my idea of how to adapt a book for a movie (in brief: throw out the book and make a good movie). Which is obviously what Kubrick did.

After all, Shakespeare did a lot of violence to his sources, too, on his way to writing some pretty good plays.

2) Also from the AV Club: “Mulholland Dr. defined the modern puzzle-box movie

I have my theories about Mulholland Dr., but no theories about it are “true,” because the movie doesn’t offer answers. Which is fine.

Worth seeing (and then you may well want to see it again).

Mulholland Dr. is also an illustration of what a vital factor random chance can be, since it was intended to be the first episode of a TV show, then the show fell through, Lynch got some more money, and figured out how to shoot new scenes to make a movie out of it.

It came to him, he has said, one day when he was drinking a milkshake at his favorite coffee shop. In a flash, he knew how to take all the footage he had and make it all work.

3) I’m still very happy with “A Princess in U-town,” though I am a little disappointed that I couldn’t work the phrase “letters patent” in there somehow. I tried, but it would have been awkward.

4) In point #3 up there, I started by saying I was “pretty happy” with the story, but then I remembered a recent post over at Maggie’s blog called “Weak Language,” and I decided to own up and admit that I’m very happy with the story. Which I am.

Not writing anything right now, but I may well go back to “It was a dark and stormy night…” (or whatever it ends up being called). That story has potential (hey, it already has a really cool ending :-) ).

5) Coming soon: some deep analysis of thematic depth and mise en scène in the “Fast and Furious” movies, or possibly a blog post entitled “Fast & Furious 6 is a way better movie than Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

Which it totally is.

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in which i write about a movie i haven’t seen

I have not seen The Martian, and probably won’t, but this article annoyed me: “What’s Missing from The Martian?

The premise of the piece, in brief, is that The Martian is an amazing technical achievement, but that we don’t get enough, or maybe any, background on any of the characters, including the protagonist.

I think this is a really incorrect approach to movie writing (and, really, writing in general). Matt Damon’s character is stuck alone on Mars for years, and he survives (spoiler, I guess). He uses science to solve problems, and maintains his sense of humor. That’s not enough? You also need a family life and what movies he likes and watching him play solitaire?

It’s not enough to watch a character do something extraordinary?

To take another example from Ridley Scott, how much information do we get about Ripley in Alien? Not a heck of a lot, and Alien is pretty damn awesome anyway.

This also makes me think about Good Night, and Good Luck. In that (excellent) film, we see Edward R. Murrow play a vital part in changing history, and we learn almost nothing about his personal life. Which is fine with me.

Not that it’s bad to include the personal stuff, but it’s not essential when you’re telling about somebody doing something amazing.

Also, I have to say that the movie (The Martian) is 144 minutes long already.

I wonder, by the way, whether Scott decided to make this movie, about a scientist surviving because of his scientific knowledge and creativity, to make up for the “scientists” in Prometheus, who were all nitwits and psychotics.

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a princess in u-town (conclusion)

This story started here.

“So, mom, when did you know?”

We were having dinner that night with our daughter, Ron — after doing the paperwork for Ana’s arrest, and then, I confess, taking a nap — and Ron was, as usual, cutting right to the most important point.

“Well, of course I had the chance to go through their luggage…”

Ron rolled her eyes. “Their passports,” she said.

Jan laughed. “That certainly would have made it easy, but no. Their passports were not there, and they didn’t have very much cash, either. I believe that they left those things in the safe at the hotel where they stayed in the city.” She shrugged. “We do have a reputation for lawlessness around here, after all.

“No, the clue was their clothes. Ana is substantially larger than the princess was, and a princess’s clothes are not identical to an assistant’s. The items which were more luxurious, and in many cases handmade, were all the princess’s size, not Ana’s.”

Ron nodded thoughtfully. “Why did she do it? And why did the princess make her sleep on the floor? I mean, shit, I shared a bed with a girl at camp, and it wasn’t that bad.”

“Apparently it didn’t occur to the princess — the real princess — that they could share a bed. They were friendly, but they were not friends — although it seems that for a while Ana thought they were.

“Ana has admitted that she was offered money — a lot of money — not to interfere with the murder, but I believe that resentment played a part as well.”

“What will happen to her?”

“The court will decide. She betrayed the princess — I’m not sure if there’s enough evidence to establish that, but she’s admitted it — but then she did try to save her. She also admits shooting Glover, but that was in a struggle and apparently it was an accident or self-defense. We’ll see what the verdict is.”

Ron looked thoughtful. “Ana was gonna get stiffed, right? No money in her luggage, and all the cash was about to go out the window in whats-his-name’s pocket.”

Jan nodded, smiling. “I can’t argue with that. Very good.”

Ron’s smile was so fleeting that it may have been a trick of the light.

“So, can I come along with you guys?”

“Come along?” Jan asked innocently.

“Well, you’re gonna go see the king, right? To tell him what happened?”

Jan nodded. “One of his children has apparently been involved in the death of the other one. His majesty should hear the details of what happened as accurately as possible.”

Ron snorted. “The prince is going to be fucked.”

“We don’t know that it was him. It could have been somebody around him, somebody who thought they’d benefit.”

Ron made a face which said she was sure of the prince’s guilt, but she didn’t pursue the question. Instead she said, “And you’re going to find out whether the king’s son is killing him.”

Jan nodded. “That, too, of course. It does seem possible that the sudden decline in his majesty’s health, at a relatively young age, is not entirely natural…”

“So, mom, when did you know?”

Jan looked at me, and I shrugged. “If she’s coming with us, she’ll figure it out.”

Jan nodded. “That’s true.” She reached over to her desk and picked up a magazine, which she handed to Ron.

Ron looked at it. The cover was King Fernando — a photograph of his last official portrait. It showed his impressive mane of dark hair, his luxurious salt-and-pepper beard and mustache, a dark suit crossed by a red sash of state, and his striking, pale blue eyes. Which we knew he had passed down to both of his children.

Ron nodded. She knew that a world famous amateur detective would not want it known that she had solved a mystery by such a plebian method as noticing the eye color of two women.

After all, even I had spotted that.

The End

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