Fractured thoughts for a fractured week:
- All set to crack wise about how Rob Schneider collapsed on the set of his new film due to some combination of heat stroke and food poisoning and, tragically, survived – what should I read but that Roger Ebert had been rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery to correct complications from his recent cancer procedure, and more, that Argentinian director Fabian Bielinsky had died of heart attack at the ridiculous age of 47. Nothing like a cold bucket of water to soothe the great white snark.
- Let me disclaim that the only thing that I really have against Schneider is that he, like buddy Adam Sandler, are almost single-handedly perpetuating the comic-Asian stereotypes in the mainstream (with assists from the Olsen twins and that idiot who directed Freaky Friday and Mean Girls) – and confess that I liked the first Deuce Bigalow film because of the way that it dealt (not entirely stupid and surprisingly sensitive) with female body image and disability. But that – and the full-page ad he took out in Variety to dimwittedly lambaste one of his critics (Uwe Boll/M. Night Shyamalan/Wayne Kramer-like) – is enough. (What, you think we don’t get pages of hate mail expressing the exact same idiot-think in what's often the same words? How proud you must be.) Oh, that and he’s not funny anymore, his suckling at Sandler’s teat becomes increasingly unseemly, and his The Hot Chick flick functions as an example – perhaps the example – of the theory that film doesn’t exist anymore as a phenomenon that’s not entirely dependent on itself for definition.
- And let me offer that for all that I come down on Mr. Ebert’s inaccuracies and critical condescension – it comes at least in some part from a place of sadness because without Ebert, I never would have gotten started on this path and then from a place of sympathy because I suspect that a lot of what’s been sanding off Ebert’s edge in the last decade or so has to do with his illness and the new lease on life that surviving cancer, so I’ve heard, offers the survivor. If he survives, we’ll blame it again more on other things. But I can’t resist barbing that it doesn’t explain his misogyny (getting more pronounced) – even as it might explain to some extent the venom with which he’s rejected the weaknesses demonstrated by Singer’s version of the Man of Steel.
- But Bielinsky’s death really hurts. I wasn’t a particular fan of Nine Queens (far less its English-language remake Criminal), but I was a big fan of Bielinsky’s. I interviewed him four years ago in Denver and had already made inquiries as to whether I could chat with him again upon the debut at the LA Film Festival of his new film El Aura. Hard to believe it’s been four years between films for him – when we talked, he had a lot of projects in the works, but he’d expressed a great deal of pessimism in regards to the direction in which the Argentinian film industry was headed. The last published line of our interview together haunts me now. I guess those fears were borne out by his absence, and the absence of Argentina as the film power that they seemed poised to become.
But Bielinsky. A bear of a man, we talked off-record and at length about the American ‘70s – I guess he was a film professor and his curricula often included Hackman, Sutherland, Pakula, Coppola – you look at his film and you see the influences but, more, you see them employed with knowledge if a little self-consciousness. His eyes shone when I broached The Conversation with him, if he was guarded a little to start with (battered by a morning and afternoon of journalist dickwads like myself asking him the same retinue of questions), he was warmth personified after. I wanted to recruit Bielinsky for our side because he liked the right things with the right amount of passion and for as frustrating as it can be writing out our words in dark rooms for largely anonymous readers – it can’t have been better butting up against an unsupportive industry shunting you into commercial work. Failing that, I wished for him prolificacy: the ability to tell as many stories as he could before his time was up. Maybe, even better, I hoped that he’d have the time to teach a few more classes so that this movie love of his wouldn’t die from the world. Maybe he did.
I pulled out the tape of our interview and listened to it again. If you’re in the right mood, there’s nothing sadder than the sound of a friend (as much of a friend as you make being one of a hundred, over a tape recorder, and with just one hour alone) you’ll never speak with again clearing his throat.
When we wrapped it up, he gave me his phone number and email which, out of embarrassment, I never used. What an asshole I am. I’ll miss you, Bielinsky – I’m looking forward to the new picture.
- Moderated a screening/discussion of Gregory La Cava’s My Man Godfrey this week and was stricken again by how topical this seventy-year old film has remained. It alternates between screwball (Lombard is the quintessential screwball, of course, and my review of her six-flick set is on the horizon) and serious social commentary with William Powell never better as the titular hobo/butler/savior. The recent Criterion Collection release of the picture blows away my unlicensed transfer – it’s easily worth the upgrade as if there’s any question.
- Found a copy of Huston’s Beat the Devil on DVD in, of all places, the $3.99 bin of my local supermarket. This after my Huston/Bogie series this last Spring in which we couldn’t find an “official” copy of the flick to show. What a shame. Gina Lollabrigida is stunning as always – but my favorite film of hers remains Jules Dassin’s The Law (1959).
- Gave a two-hour lecture on Stanley Kubrick, tracing his major themes through three keystone films: The Killing, Dr. Strangelove, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Looking at the latter after Superman Returns revealed a lot to me about Singer’s film. I begin to wonder if Supes isn’t a straight homage – it’s worth considering if the Kryptonian hasn’t been imagined as a spiritual step in our development as a species. If he’s pure moral, then you’ve got to wonder if the picture, like 2001, can’t be divided into quarters. My main source material aside from the films themselves is Michael Ciment’s Kubrick: The Definitive Edition and, as it happens, Alex’s fascinating write-up of 2001.
If I’m ever in the position to do another Kubrick series – I think I’d go with Lolita, The Shining, and Full Metal Jacket.
- Attended a filled screening of Pirates of the Caribbean 2 which left me with two words: Matrix Reloaded. But, err, not as good (?).
- Attended a press screening of Elisha Cuthbert’s The Quiet which left me with one onomatopoeia: ick.
- In other news, got a weekly fifteen-minute gig on the nationally syndicated Bill Press show on Sirius Satellite Radio. 8:45am EST. Tune in if you can – from what I understand, there are potentially 4.3 million listeners out there who might find out about FilmFreakCentral.net through this outlet.
- Hope to get quite a few DVD reviews logged in the next couple of weeks (I know Bill’s hoping so, too) as well as a new opinion piece for the upcoming Annual now that a tighter part of my speaking schedule has come and gone. Among the titles up to bat: Nanny McPhee, Magic, Running Scared, M.A.S.H., and several sci-fi television series including the new BBC “Dr. Who.”
Question of the week: tell me about a promising up-and-comer who either never had a chance to fulfill their potential or, worse, betrayed their debut/s with dud after dud. My first thought of the latter is Michael Lehmann who, after Heathers, began his decline with Meet the Applegates and then Hudson Hawk. Of the former: Steve DeJarnatt who gave us the exceptional Miracle Mile. . . and then what? Also, wherefore art thou Antonia Bird?