Tuesday 31 March 2009

Women in Music #6

Joni... Joni... Joni...

Woody Allen on Shane...

The New York Times
August 3, 2001

HE came into his screening room walking that Woody Allen walk, slightly hunched, a little distracted, his vigorous fingers carving the air as he spoke. ''I hope you don't mind,'' he said, ''but I have prepared a statement.''
And he pulled from his pocket a folded sheet of canary-colored paper, the double-spaced letters overlaid with black-ink editing that spilled into the margins. Mr. Allen said he wanted to make completely clear why he had chosen George Stevens's ''Shane'' as the film he wanted to watch.
''I'll just read this into your tape recorder, if that's O.K., and then you can do whatever you want with it after that,'' he said, settling himself in a plush chair in the back corner of the screening room. ''Is it on? Can I start talking?''
He held up the canary sheet and began. ''When I was invited to pick a film to view and discuss with The New York Times, I wanted to select an American one,'' Mr. Allen said. ''This is unusual for me, because my affection for foreign movies seems to be much deeper. If I were, for example, to list my 10 or even 15 favorite movies -- and I don't say best movies, because these lists are always completely subjective -- aside from 'Citizen Kane,' all of the films would be foreign. A sampling might be, 'Rashomon,' 'The Bicycle Thief,' 'Grand Illusion,' 'Wild Strawberries,' 'Seventh Seal,' 'Throne of Blood,' 'The 400 Blows,' 'Los Olvidados,' you get the idea.''
He cleared his throat, took a deep breath and continued: ''But I didn't want to do that for this, because I wanted to make sure that the people who read this, at least a portion of them, have seen the movie, so I thought I would stay with an American movie. I hesitated, too, about viewing a comedy, because on a list I might make of, let's say, the 10 or 15 great American films, there'd be almost no comedies. Certainly not from the talking era. And I wouldn't include the silent era, because that is a completely different entity. Silent films to me are a completely different kind of thing. If you were to count silent films, of course, between Chaplin and Keaton you could probably get 10 great movies. But if you take films only from the start of the sound era, I don't think that there are too many great sound comedies.'' Mr. Allen, 65, hunched forward and spoke slowly into the recorder, never looking up from the typewritten sheet. (And it had indeed been pecked out on a typewriter, not printed from a computer.)
He wore khaki pants and a button-down blue shirt, long-sleeved and fastened at the wrist, and despite the sweltering summer afternoon he was perfectly dry, pressed and unruffled.
''I have a very idiosyncratic view of sound comedies that I wouldn't want to interfere with this,'' he said. ''For example, I wouldn't count the Marx brothers or W. C. Fields films, I wouldn't put them on my great list, as I don't consider their films great. But they are records of performances by these stupendous comedians, and any five minutes of Groucho or Fields is funnier than most purported or even venerated comedies. And still I wouldn't rank their movies, which I find, you know, choppy and even silly, as great comic filmmaking. I would say my personal view of most sound era comedies would be considered harsh, and I certainly include my own films in that appraisal. None of them would be on any of these great lists, certainly.''
'A Great Movie'
There is a scene in Mr. Allen's ''Manhattan'' in which Isaac, the character he plays in the 1979 film, reclines on a sofa in his New York apartment and recites into a tape recorder a list of what he holds most dear in the world, from city landmarks to creative works like Flaubert's ''Sentimental Education.'' It is difficult to watch Mr. Allen read his ''Shane'' statement into a similar tape recorder without catching at least an echo of Isaac's streaming, punctilious manifesto.
''For whatever reason, I am not enchanted by a huge number of highly respected comedies, whose names I would rather not mention and hurt anybody's feelings,'' Mr. Allen said. ''I do consider 'The Shop Around the Corner' a great comic movie, also 'Trouble in Paradise,' also 'Born Yesterday.' Speaking of 'Born Yesterday,' I considered the British version of 'Pygmalion' with Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller, and also the Fellini masterpiece 'The White Sheik.' Since I spent most of my life in comedy, in one medium or another, I am not a clean, objective judge. I would prefer not to harp on my highly special preferences and distastes. As musical comedy goes, I do consider 'Singin' in the Rain,' 'Meet Me in St. Louis' and 'Gigi' great, and probably 'My Fair Lady' would have to be ranked up there.
''In the end, looking over my list of great American films, which include, among others, for final consideration, 'The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,' 'White Heat,' 'Double Indemnity,' 'The Informer' and 'The Hill' by Sidney Lumet, I finally settled on 'Shane.' This is an odd choice in one sense, because I don't like westerns. I like 'The Ox-Bow Incident' and 'High Noon' and care a bit but considerably less about a few others, but 'Shane,' I think, is a great movie and can hold its own with any film, whether it's a western or not.''
Mr. Allen looked up from the piece of paper. ''That's the only statement I wanted to make,'' he said, handing over the typewritten sheet along with the still turning recorder. His editing marks cover the entire statement, words are crossed out, entire clauses inserted from the margins.
He nervously cleared his throat again and stood up, peering back into the projection booth where someone was waiting to crank up the first reel of ''Shane.'' The cluttered suite of Park Avenue offices where Mr. Allen edits his films and maintains a screening room is completely free of the kind of blinking high-tech gizmos with which other directors surround themselves. The editing equipment, the upholstered furniture, even the copious collection of vinyl jazz albums that line one entire wall all seem like throwbacks to an earlier, analog era, as well worn as the love seat where Mr. Allen finally came to rest facing the screen.
''I saw 'Shane' when it first came out in theaters,'' Mr. Allen said. That would have been in 1953, when he was just getting out of high school in Brooklyn. ''I didn't rush off to see it,'' he said, ''because there's no western film that I ever rush off to see. I'm not really that interested -- and, again, this is purely personal -- by rural atmospheres. So when a film begins in a farmhouse or something, it's not the same for me as if it begins in a penthouse. I just like an urban setting.''
So just why, then, did he choose ''Shane''?
''I thought 'The Ox-Bow Incident' was wonderful when I saw it, and 'High Noon' is a good western, for me,'' he said. ''But none of them hold a candle to 'Shane.' 'Shane' is in a class by itself, because if I was making a list of the best American movies, 'Shane' would be on it, and none of these other movies would.''
The reason, in large part, is the great skill of Stevens, Mr. Allen said. ''I rank him very high. And this is on the basis of a very few things, really. The few of his films that I've liked, I've liked very much. 'Shane,' I think, is his masterpiece. I do think he would be right up there with my very few favorite American directors -- of the era that I grew up in. Orson Welles is in a class by himself, but then, you know, John Huston and George Stevens and William Wyler.''
A Score of Viewings
Mr. Allen remembered enjoying ''Shane'' from the first time he saw it, but he said his appreciation had deepened over the years. ''I've seen it many, many times,'' he said. ''Certainly more than 20. I've also taken people to see it, people who tell me that they can't stand westerns. Because it's more than a western. It's a fine movie. Oh, there are a couple of weaker spots in it, but they are so minor and forgivable, and what's great about it is so wonderful, that you'd really have to be carping to be annoyed at them. To this day, if it was on television this week and I happened to be tuning through the channels, I would stop and see it. I am always riveted.''
Mr. Allen frequently describes ''Shane'' as a lovely film, or a beautiful one, and praises it for its poetry and elegant flow, words not normally associated with westerns. Two of his favorite westerns, it is pointed out, are essentially a long buildup to a climactic confrontation. In ''Shane'' it is Alan Ladd's reluctant gunfighter strapping his six-shooter back on to do battle for the beleaguered homesteaders; in ''High Noon'' it is Gary Cooper taking on the killer who has arrived on the noon train.
''Yes,'' Mr. Allen said, letting the notion sink in for a moment. ''But if you were asking me, I would say that 'Shane' achieves a certain poetry that 'High Noon' doesn't. 'High Noon' is beautifully made, but you can see the message of it too plainly, you know, and it's just not as well done. For whatever reason, probably because Stevens himself had some of the poet in him, it infuses that material with a certain poetry that 'High Noon' doesn't have. 'High Noon' is more like a fine piece of work, you know, whereas 'Shane' is sort of a fine piece of poetry.'''
Mr. Allen leaned over, twisted the volume knob on a console beside his seat and shouted back to the man in the projection booth. The familiar blast of Victor Young's classic score erupts behind the Paramount Pictures logo, pushing into the classic opening shot of the wandering gunfighter cresting a hill and passing down into the troubled valley where the drama will take place.
The colors in the print are a little bled out, which is a shame, because the images of the craggy peaks of northwest Wyoming, where Stevens shot the film, are among the most beautiful in any western. Did Mr. Allen have any idea where the film was shot? ''No idea,'' he said in a crisp tone that discouraged further discussion. A subsequent question was cut off just as quickly. Was Mr. Allen going to be able to discuss the film as we watched it? ''I can't talk and watch the movie at the same time,'' he said.
This was a bit of a problem, as the discussion is pretty much the idea of this series. But he was adamant -- polite but adamant. He suggested a compromise: we would watch the film for 20 minutes or so, then switch it off and discuss what we had seen before starting it up again.
Just Heading North
Shane glides across the bucolic valley to the remote homestead of the Starrett family, Joe (Van Heflin), Marian (Jean Arthur) and Joey (Brandon de Wilde). He asks to cut through their property, says he's just heading north to ''someplace I've never been.'' When Little Joey absent-mindedly cocks his rifle, Shane snaps around like a gunfighter. When some rough-looking men ride up, Starrett at first thinks Shane is one of them. They are the Ryker brothers and their gang, open-range cattlemen who want to chase off all homesteaders. They threaten Starrett and roar off.By this time, an embarrassed Starrett realizes that Shane was not with them and invites him to stay for supper. Shane, used to the gunfighter's violent life, is entranced by the gentle domestic scene. After dinner, the two men work to remove a stubborn tree stump in Starrett's yard, and Shane accepts a job on the ranch.
The next day, Shane rides into the nearby town to buy work clothes and is humiliated by one of Ryker's hired men, played by Ben Johnson. At a meeting that night, Stonewall Torrey (Elisha Cook Jr.), one of the homesteaders, and others shun Shane for his supposed cowardice. They decide to ride into town together in the future, and are seen doing just that, a glowering sky lighted by lightning foreshadowing trouble ahead.
''O.K., is this a good place to stop?" Mr. Allen asked. ''It is? Fine.'' He called back to the projectionist.
In the Middle of Nowhere
''I think, first off, you take the film from the beginning, there's that beautiful scenic opening,'' Mr. Allen said. ''The sense of this ranch house that's isolated out there, and then the town, which is one of the great images in American film. It's a town in the middle of nowhere, just a few buildings. I mean, it's just a little general store, a bar, a livery stable, just stuck out in the middle of the wild like that. You have a sense that this is what those Western towns really looked like.''
Mr. Allen noted the complex tangle of relationships that are economically sketched out, one by one, in the opening scenes. ''From the first, because of the way Stevens shot it, you can tell that there is this intense fascination between the kid and Shane; it's almost love at first sight or something,'' he said. ''And it's wonderful the way he snaps around when the kid cocks his gun, because you know, immediately, that you're dealing with a tough guy. It's done so offhandedly. There are certain things that you don't think in words, that you think emotionally. You know, it clicks in some subliminal way. Here, you think to yourself, oh, I would like to have this guy on my side. So that then later, when he does go on Starrett's side, it's so wish-fulfilling.
''And the bad guys are handled in a great way, too. The first word out of Ryker's mouth is that he doesn't want any trouble. At several points during the movie, Ryker tries to be reasonable. So it's not just a bunch of bullies. It's more complex than that.''
The connecting threads of the relationships are built one strand at a time. Even the tough guy who humiliates Shane in the bar comes back into play, later, redeemed and nuanced. But through it all, the overriding mystery is the character of Shane himself; quiet, calm, utterly competent and yet yearning for something. ''This guy is not a pushover,'' Mr. Allen said, ''but you have also seen this goodness of spirit that he has. Alan Ladd is an interesting choice for the part because Shane is such a passive character in the whole thing. He's just quiet and passive and nonassertive. And he's a small guy, not a big, beefy cowboy star.''
Evil Arrives in the Town
The movie starts up again. Shane and the homesteaders are heading into town. The weather is glowering. Shane, now aware that the homesteaders consider him a coward, wanders back into the bar to confront Ben Johnson. They circle each other, then fight. At first, the homesteaders hang back, fearful. But finally Starrett wades in and the two men take on the entire gang. The Ryker brothers, sensing that the time has come to raise the stakes, send off for a gunfighter. Shortly afterward, Jack Wilson (Jack Palance) rides into town, a reptilian, thoroughly malevolent desperado.
''Watch this,'' Mr. Allen said, breaking his own rule.Mr. Palance enters the saloon. A dog looks up, sees him and slinks across the barroom floor. Mr. Palance begins to walk across the room. We see him only from the waist down. Gradually, he dissolves out of the frame and, almost instantly, dissolves back in a few steps further along. It's beautiful, but ghostly. He's like an apparition.
''It's one of the most puzzling dissolves I've ever seen,'' Mr. Allen said. ''I can't imagine what it was for. It must have been to cover up a mistake. I can't think of any other reason for it.''
Once Mr. Palance is introduced, the film returns to the farm. Shane is trying to teach Joey how to shoot until Marian comes out and stops it. She doesn't want her boy to have anything to do with guns. It's clear, too, that the unspoken relationship between Marian and Shane is deepening, though nothing ever happens between them that's more physical than a handshake.
''So, when we last left off, they were riding into town, and you could tell that Shane had his own agenda to settle the score with these people,'' Mr. Allen said. ''And then they go home and you get the scene of Marian fixing up the two men, Shane and her husband, and it's so obvious that she's attracted to Shane, and it's starting to bother her. When Shane leaves, she asks her husband to hold her. She's getting to where she can't trust her feelings. This is wonderful stuff for a cowboy movie because it's not heavy-handed. It's a relationship that develops with the same subtlety that it would in the most sophisticated kind of urban movie.''
And then there is Jack Palance.
''If any actor has ever created a character who is the personification of evil, it is Jack Palance,'' Mr. Allen said. ''We've all read about the size of the horse, how Stevens put Palance on a smaller horse so he'd look even bigger. But when he arrives -- the music is great -- he's all in black; he's so poetically evil. He looks like he'd gladly kill the guys who hired him if they looked at him wrong. He's just bad news. Serpentine. In our minds, he's set off against Shane, one particularly good, almost too good to be true, and the other is totally evil.''
By this point, too, we have come to know Starrett a little better.
''Shane is more sophisticated,'' Mr. Allen said. ''Shane has traveled more. He's drifted around more, seen more different sides of the world. Starrett is more plain. But they're both very nice men, both brave men. The only difference is that Shane is so amazing with a gun. He's got the gift of God or the artist or something.''
The homesteaders, hoping to buck up their confidence, organize a Fourth of July celebration. Starrett notices Shane dancing with Marian, and an odd look crosses his face. After the party, Shane and the Starretts head back to their homestead. It's dark. When they arrive, the Ryker brothers are waiting for them. So is Wilson.
'One of the Best'
''This is a great scene,'' Mr. Allen said. ''Really, from here on until the end of the picture are some of the best scenes I've ever seen in an American movie. And this is one of the best. You have so much going on at the same time, but it's never forced. All these relationships are working at the same time, and Stevens is able to make you feel and understand all of it because he has laid the groundwork so carefully in the earlier scenes. You've got the Rykers, talking reasonable again. You've got the wife worrying about her husband, about their boy. You've got the boy watching this. And then, in the background, without a word, really, you've got Shane and Wilson sizing each other up. And the boy watches this, too. It's directed in the most brilliant way. And when, at the end, Jack Palance backs his horse out of the yard, it's just an amazingly wonderful moment.''
The next day, Torrey, the hot-headed homesteader, heads into town. It's too much of a temptation for Wilson. With the Rykers' permission, he picks a fight with Torrey. Standing on the raised wooden sidewalk outside the saloon, looking down at the diminutive Torrey slogging through the mud, Wilson belittles him with a hissing voice, casually puts on his gunfighter's gloves and outdraws Torrey. There is a moment's pause, Torrey standing there with his useless gun in his hand, until Wilson blasts him in cold blood.
''This may be the best shooting confrontation scene in a cowboy movie ever,'' Mr. Allen said. ''First, it's so beautifully filmed, these guys riding into town, the camera going along with them, and then you get the side view of the town with the mountains and the weather. And then Palance, the personification of evil, lures him into this fight. It unfolds so slowly. And then there's the ritual of it, with Palance putting on that glove. It's just his eccentricity, or something, a part of his artistic process, in a sense. It isn't a simple thing, where he just shoots Torrey. There's this whole ritual that goes with it. And it's always so shocking when you get this three- or four-second pause before Palance pulls the trigger, because it's clear that he doesn't have to shoot. He's already beaten him. There's never been a shootout in a cowboy movie to equal it, in terms of evil against innocence.''
Violence vs. Violence
Torrey is buried at the graveyard on a hill overlooking the town. Some of these shots are the most stunning in the film: the small cluster of mourners around the open grave, the tiny town in the distance, the towering mountains all around. That night, back at the homestead, the Rykers pass word that they want to meet with Starrett back in town. He knows it's probably a trap, but he also knows he has to go. His chances are slim, but he has come to realize that the Rykers' increasing violence can be defeated only by more violence.
Shane appears. He has his gunfighter's clothes on again, his six-shooters strapped on his waist. He announces that he, not Starrett, is going into town. They quarrel, then fight, tumbling all over the dusty yard until, up against the remains of the stump over which they labored in the opening scenes, Shane knocks Starrett unconscious, says goodbye to Marian, suffers Joey's withering disdain and heads into town.
''Shane doesn't want to get back into gunfighting,'' Mr. Allen said. ''He's been trying the whole movie to put it behind him. But he knows that the only way to put an end to the violence in the valley is for him to do it. That's what makes the film great in my eyes. He knows. He's got to go in there and kill them. And sometimes in life -- it's such an ugly truth -- there is no other way out of a situation but you've got to go in there and kill them. Very few of us are brave enough or have the talent to do it. The world is full of evil, and rationalized evil and evil out of ignorance, and there are times when that evil reaches the level of pure evil, like Jack Palance, and there is no other solution but to go in there and kill them.''
He's Not Coming Back
And so the famous climax plays out. Shane makes his long ride into town, Joey running after him. Shane confronts Wilson, pure good versus pure evil, and outdraws him. Then, when the Ryker brothers pull guns on him, Shane shoots them, too, but not before one of them wounds him.
Afterward, Shane gets on his horse and tells Joey that he's not coming back to the ranch. Shane realizes that the era of the gunfighter is ending, but he also knows that he can't be anything else. And so he rides off. ''Come back!'' Joey calls. But Shane does not come back. The last shot, a mirror of the opening image, has Shane riding over the crest of a hill. Except this time he is heading out of the valley. And it is twilight. And he is hunched over in the saddle. Wounded? Dead? Or simply sorrowful?
''I don't like to think that he's dead,'' Mr. Allen said. ''Just that he's wounded. I hate to think that he dies in the end. I think they probably are pointing to the fact that he's dying because, you know, he's ascending. But I don't like to think that he's dead yet.''
Stevens and Ladd on the saloon set

And Mr. Allen stood, stretched, turning the lights on one by one.
''Everything pays off,'' he said. ''The relationship between Shane and the kid pays off in spades. But also between Shane and Marian, between the husband and wife. And when Alan Ladd takes control and tells Starrett that he's not letting him go into town, it's like, you know, you always hope in life that there's somebody who will take that kind of control, who will fight your battles. It's really only in the movies that it happens, though. The moment you really want to see, and that you can never see, is the next morning when the people come into town and see that both Ryker brothers and Wilson are dead. You don't get to see that. And you want to. You want to see how they react when they see what Shane has done for them.
''Because the truth is, most people are not comfortable with violence. So they find themselves at the mercy of armies or groups of policemen or vigilantes. You always hope, in that situation, that either a Shane will appear or that you will somehow become like Shane. I use the example of Michael Jordan. He's the guy who knows that the ballgame has to be won in the last six seconds, so he goes out there and quietly wins it. That's what had to happen here. I keep referring to Shane as the artist. You see, that's what he is. Shane is the guy who has brought this gunfighting to the level of art.''

Watching Movie With...
This article is the 13th in a series of discussions with noted directors, actors, screenwriters, cinematographers and others in the film industry. In each article, a filmmaker selects and discusses a movie that has personal meaning.


More on Shane when I can get around to it...

RIP Dorothy Bridges

Wife of Lloyd and mother of Jeff and Beau, who have been in far too many good and/or quirky American movies to mention (but, hey, there's Hal Ashby's The Landlord, Bob Rafelson's Stay Hungry, Steve Kloves' The Fabulous Baker Boys, Terry Gilliam's The Fisher King, Tony Richardson's The Hotel New Hampshire, Francis Coppola's Tucker: The Man and his Dream, Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show, Robert Benton's Bad Company, Jonathan Kaplan's Heart Like a Wheel, the Coen Brothers' The Big Lebowski, Martin Ritt's Norma Rae, Ivan Passer's Cutter's Way and Michael Cimino's Thunderbolt and Lightfoot to start with...), so credit where credit due.


By FNB Special Guest contributor Woody Allen:

Tails of Manhattan
by Woody Allen
March 30, 2009
Investments Two weeks ago, Abe Moscowitz dropped dead of a heart attack and was reincarnated as a lobster. Trapped off the coast of Maine, he was shipped to Manhattan and dumped into a tank at a posh Upper East Side seafood restaurant. In the tank there were several other lobsters, one of whom recognized him. “Abe, is that you?” the creature asked, his antennae perking up.

“Who’s that? Who’s talking to me?” Moscowitz said, still dazed by the mystical slam-bang postmortem that had transmogrified him into a crustacean.

“It’s me, Moe Silverman,” the other lobster said.

“O.M.G.!” Moscowitz piped, recognizing the voice of an old gin-rummy colleague. “What’s going on?”

“We’re reborn,” Moe explained. “As a couple of two-pounders.”

“Lobsters? This is how I wind up after leading a just life? In a tank on Third Avenue?”

“The Lord works in strange ways,” Moe Silverman explained. “Take Phil Pinchuck. The man keeled over with an aneurysm, he’s now a hamster. All day, running at the stupid wheel. For years he was a Yale professor. My point is he’s gotten to like the wheel. He pedals and pedals, running nowhere, but he smiles.”

Moscowitz did not like his new condition at all. Why should a decent citizen like himself, a dentist, a mensch who deserved to relive life as a soaring eagle or ensconced in the lap of some sexy socialite getting his fur stroked, come back ignominiously as an entrĂ©e on a menu? It was his cruel fate to be delicious, to turn up as Today’s Special, along with a baked potato and dessert. This led to a discussion by the two lobsters of the mysteries of existence, of religion, and how capricious the universe was, when someone like Sol Drazin, a schlemiel they knew from the catering business, came back after a fatal stroke as a stud horse impregnating cute little thoroughbred fillies for high fees. Feeling sorry for himself and angry, Moscowitz swam about, unable to buy into Silverman’s Buddha-like resignation over the prospect of being served thermidor.

At that moment, who walked into the restaurant and sits down at a nearby table but Bernie Madoff. If Moscowitz had been bitter and agitated before, now he gasped as his tail started churning the water like an Evinrude.

“I don’t believe this,” he said, pressing his little black peepers to the glass walls. “That goniff who should be doing time, chopping rocks, making license plates, somehow slipped out of his apartment confinement and he’s treating himself to a shore dinner.”

“Clock the ice on his immortal beloved,” Moe observed, scanning Mrs. M.’s rings and bracelets.

Moscowitz fought back his acid reflux, a condition that had followed him from his former life. “He’s the reason I’m here,” he said, riled to a fever pitch.

“Tell me about it,” Moe Silverman said. “I played golf with the man in Florida, which incidentally he’ll move the ball with his foot if you’re not watching.”

“Each month I got a statement from him,” Moscowitz ranted. “I knew such numbers looked too good to be kosher, and when I joked to him how it sounded like a Ponzi scheme he choked on his kugel. I had to do the Heimlich maneuver. Finally, after all that high living, it comes out he was a fraud and my net worth was bupkes. P.S., I had a myocardial infarction that registered at the oceanography lab in Tokyo.”

“With me he played it coy,” Silverman said, instinctively frisking his carapace for a Xanax. “He told me at first he had no room for another investor. The more he put me off, the more I wanted in. I had him to dinner, and because he liked Rosalee’s blintzes he promised me the next opening would be mine. The day I found out he could handle my account I was so thrilled I cut my wife’s head out of our wedding photo and put his in. When I learned I was broke, I committed suicide by jumping off the roof of our golf club in Palm Beach. I had to wait half an hour to jump, I was twelfth in line.”

At this moment, the captain escorted Madoff to the lobster tank, where the unctuous sharpie analyzed the assorted saltwater candidates for potential succulence and pointed to Moscowitz and Silverman. An obliging smile played on the captain’s face as he summoned a waiter to extract the pair from the tank.

“This is the last straw!” Moscowitz cried, bracing himself for the consummate outrage. “To swindle me out of my life’s savings and then to nosh me in butter sauce! What kind of universe is this?”

Moscowitz and Silverman, their ire reaching cosmic dimensions, rocked the tank to and fro until it toppled off its table, smashing its glass walls and flooding the hexagonal-tile floor. Heads turned as the alarmed captain looked on in stunned disbelief. Bent on vengeance, the two lobsters scuttled swiftly after Madoff. They reached his table in an instant, and Silverman went for his ankle. Moscowitz, summoning the strength of a madman, leaped from the floor and with one giant pincer took firm hold of Madoff’s nose. Screaming with pain, the gray-haired con artist hopped from the chair as Silverman strangled his instep with both claws. Patrons could not believe their eyes as they recognized Madoff, and began to cheer the lobsters.

“This is for the widows and charities!” yelled Moscowitz. “Thanks to you, Hatikvah Hospital is now a skating rink!”

Madoff, unable to free himself from the two Atlantic denizens, bolted from the restaurant and fled yelping into traffic. When Moscowitz tightened his viselike grip on his septum and Silverman tore through his shoe, they persuaded the oily scammer to plead guilty and apologize for his monumental hustle.

By the end of the day, Madoff was in Lenox Hill Hospital, awash in welts and abrasions. The two renegade main courses, their rage slaked, had just enough strength left to flop away into the cold, deep waters of Sheepshead Bay, where, if I’m not mistaken, Moscowitz lives to this day with Yetta Belkin, whom he recognized from shopping at Fairway. In life she had always resembled a flounder, and after her fatal plane crash she came back as one.

from http://www.newyorker.com/humor/2009/03/30/090330sh_shouts_allen?printable=true

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Maurice Jarre RIP

Guest FNB Nicolas Sarkozy pays tribute to Oscar-winning film composer Maurice Jarre, who has died in Los Angeles at the age of 84.

Mr Sarkozy called French-born Jarre, whose credits include Lawrence of Arabia, "a great composer" who produced "majestic and full-bodied works".

Jarre also won Academy Awards for Dr Zhivago and A Passage To India.

His last public appearance was in February at the Berlin Film Festival, where he won a lifetime award.


Mr Sarkozy added: "By working with some of the greatest filmmakers in the world, he showed that music can be just as important as pictures to make a beautiful and successful film."

French culture minister Christine Albanel called the composer a "creative, modern musician who showed a perfect mastery of sound".

"His music provided a counterpoint to the pictures and formed one with the film," she added.

Jarre rose to prominence relatively late in life, writing his first score for a French short film in 1952.

His breakthrough came in 1962 when provided the soundtrack for the epic Lawrence of Arabia, for which he was awarded an Oscar.

He went on to compose music for more than 150 films.

A further six Academy Award nominations came Jarre's way for his scores on other high profile films, including hits like Ghost, Gorillas In The Mist and Witness.

The musician also earned two Bafta Awards, four Golden Globes and a Grammy in a career rich with accolades.

His scores enhanced the work of some of the film industry's greatest directors - among his collaborators were David Lean, Alfred Hitchcock, John Huston and Luchino Visconti.

He also wrote symphonic music for theatre, ballet and television, including the 1970s mini-series Jesus of Nazareth.

Jarre, who moved to the US in the 1960s, was married four times and is the father of Jean-Michel Jarre, a pioneer of electronic music.

His other son, Kevin, is a screenwriter based in the US.

At the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year, event director Dieter Kosslick paid tribute to Jarre saying: "Film composers often are in the shadows of great directors and acting stars.

"It's different with Maurice Jarre - the music of Doctor Zhivago, like much of his work, is world-famous and remains unforgettable in cinema history."


Sadly, M. Sarkozy was out to lunch with Gordon someone or other when our photographer called around, but his considerably more photogenic wife kindly took time out of her hectic schedule to pose... Should she ever be in Alvinos around 11 on a Friday night, we'd like to buy her whisky out of gratitude. If only more world leaders' wives were this understanding.

Thursday 26 March 2009


We're meeting in The Central bar, Gateshead, this week. Reports suggest that Da is ailing, so may well be an absentee. Get well soon, Da! Terry's da is pictured, right, in a wartime snap to warm the cockles of your hearts.

Wednesday 25 March 2009

Women in Music #5

Last night I dreamed that I won a Grammy;
it was presented to me by Debbie Harry.
I ran up on stage in my tux;
I gulped and I said, "Aw shucks;
I'd like to thank my producer and Jesus Christ."

The audience gave me a standing ovation
I shed tears of joy;
I shed tears of elation.
Behind the podium there,
Debbie grabbed my derriere
and I'd like to thank my producer and Jesus Christ.

I took my Grammy and Debbie
and I walked offstage;
we made the cover of Cashbox and the Random Notes page.

In the weeks that followed
things went fine for me:
an Oscar, a Tony and an Emmy;
Bo Derek and Barbara Mandrell;
a Pulitzer and a Nobel;
Meryl Streep and Tammi Terell;
five gold and one bronze as well;
Joan Rivers and Lana Cantrell;
I'd like to thank my producer and Jesus Christ

Loudon Wainwright III - The Grammy Song; from Fame and Wealth (1983):

Tuesday 24 March 2009

Da stars as the bad guy in Iron Man!

Ian as Obadiah Stane, filling in gamely for Jeff Bridges. This pose wasn't in the original script!

Shaven-headed Jeff Bridges preparing for his role as Obadiah Stane before going down with a mysterious bug

Monday 23 March 2009

Da's Doings

THE Archives are officially released on 02 June 2009. Copy on order from Neil/Warner Bros web site. Just counting the days!

Friday 20 March 2009

Friday Night Boy Cool #1

Betsy Blair RIP

From the Los Angeles Times
Actress Betsy Blair, of 'Marty,' at age 85
Ernest Borgnine remembers once-blacklisted, Oscar-nominated co-star as the 'nicest person you could ever want to meet.'
By Dennis McLellan

4:31 PM PDT, March 19, 2009

Betsy Blair, an actress best remembered for playing the shy, plain-Jane school teacher who meets Ernest Borgnine's lonely Bronx butcher at the Stardust Ballroom in the 1955 movie "Marty," has died. She was 85.

Blair, who was blacklisted in Hollywood in the 1950s while married to screen legend Gene Kelly and later was married to director Karel Reisz, died of cancer in a hospital in London on March 13, said her daughter, Kerry Kelly Novick.

The red-haired actress earned an Academy Award nomination as best actress in a supporting role as Clara Snyder in "Marty," which won the Academy Award for best picture -- as well as Oscars for screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky, director Delbert Mann and Borgnine.

Blair, Los Angeles Times movie critic Edwin Schallert wrote in his review, "shines right along with [Borgnine] as the gentle and understanding wallflower whom he meets in the dance hall, and with whom he finds deep and mutual understanding, because he seems to be such a bull in a china shop himself."

Of the on-screen pairing of Borgnine and Blair in the film, in which "lonely boy meets lonely girl," New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther wrote, "the two make an excellent team."

Borgnine told The Times that he had just been thinking about Blair while signing autographs to be inserted into copies of his recently published autobiography for a promotional trip to London in April when he learned of her death.

"I was thinking to myself, 'Gee, she was always on time, she was a wonderful woman, very quiet-spoken, and the nicest person you could ever want to meet,' " Borgnine said. "She carried herself well, and she knew her business. I thought she was deserving [of the Oscar], but other thoughts prevailed, I guess."

Jo Van Fleet won for "East of Eden."

Blair's performance in "Marty," Borgnine said, "was absolutely lovely. It was a pleasure working with her."

Blair, however, almost didn't get to play Clara, a role that Chayefsky had recommended her for: She had been blacklisted since 1950.

The actress, who had attended a weekly Marxist study group in New York City when she was 16, later came under the scrutiny of the FBI for her association with left-wing organizations such as the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee, the Sleepy Lagoon Committee and the Civil Rights Congress.

But Blair's ideals "had always been American, not Russian," she wrote in her 2003 memoir, “The Memory of All That.” And her "battles and contribution -- small as it may have been -- were against racism, for strong unions, for the rights of women; to put it simply, for democracy."

It wasn't until Blair had done three impressive readings for the role of Clara that the subject of the blacklist came up when producer Harold Hecht phoned her and apologetically asked her if she would write a letter that would "clear" her.

As Blair recounted in her memoir, Hecht told her that she didn't have to "name names" -- at least not names that hadn't already been exposed.

She wanted the part so badly that she agreed to write a letter without names. In her letter, which she described as sounding "like a schoolgirl essay for civics class," she expressed her love for her country and "went on about freedom of speech and the American Constitution and the secret ballot."

But, she wrote in her book, "both Harold Hecht and I knew it wouldn't pass muster. It didn't come near what the Un-American Activities Committee wanted -- no, demanded."

Finally, husband Kelly -- one of MGM's biggest stars -- intervened by asking studio head Dore Schary "to do something" to help his wife get the part or he'd stop shooting the movie he was working on.

"And Dore did," Blair wrote. "He called the American Legion in Washington right there and then in front of Gene, and he vouched for me. And so I was in 'Marty.' "

In 1957, the year after she received her Oscar nomination, Blair and Kelly were divorced, and Blair moved to Paris.

"How could I have left Gene, this wonderful man, after 16 years of marriage?" Blair said in a 2003 interview with the New Yorker. "To this day, I can't explain it." Then she added: "It had nothing to do with sex. It was freedom."

After moving to Europe, Blair went on to appear in Michelangelo Antonioni's "Il Grido" and several other films over the next few years, including "Lies My Father Told Me," "I Delfini," "All Night Long" and "Sinilita."

In 1963, after moving to London, she married Reisz. Their marriage lasted until his death in 2002.

Among Blair's sporadic later credits are "A Delicate Balance" (1973), "Betrayed" (1988) and the 1994 TV mini-series "Scarlett."

Born Elizabeth Winifred Boger on Dec. 11, 1923, in Cliffside Park, N.J., Blair took dance lessons as a child. By age 11, she was tap dancing in an amateur show that toured New Jersey and soon was working as a model with the John Robert Powers modeling agency.

She was barely 16 in 1940 when she auditioned for the chorus line in Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe, a Manhattan nightclub where 28-year-old Kelly was working as choreographer. They were married the next year.

Blair, who also danced in the chorus of the Broadway musical "Panama Hattie," played the female lead in William Saroyan's Broadway play "The Beautiful People" in 1941.

And late that year, in the wake of Kelly's success in the hit Broadway musical "Pal Joey," they moved to Hollywood to launch Kelly's movie career.

Blair began acting in films in the late 1940s and had roles in several films at the time, including "The Guilt of Janet Ames," "Another Part of the Forest," "The Snake Pit" and "Kind Lady."

In the late '70s, she earned a bachelor's degree in speech therapy and worked for a couple of years as a speech therapist while continuing to act.

In addition to her daughter, Blair is survived by three stepsons, Matthew, Toby and Barney Reisz; eight grandchildren; and four great grandchildren.

A funeral service for Blair will be held in London on Friday.


Wednesday 18 March 2009

Bad Day At Black Rock

Bad Day At Black Rock (1954) is John Sturges’ taut modern-day Western Noir set in a hostile small town surrounded by a barren desert and mountains and populated by bigots, thugs and people living with a terrible secret. A one-armed stranger, John J. Macreedy (Spencer Tracy), arrives not on a horse but on a train, the Streamliner, making an unscheduled stop.

This was the first MGM film to be shot in Cinemascope and the wide shots of the harsh environment immediately create a sense of the oppressive forces that Macreedy will have to overcome. He arouses suspicion among the local toughs, notably rancher Reno Smith (Robert Ryan) and his sidekick thug Hector David (Lee Marvin), when he asks the whereabouts of a man called Komoko. They tell him he no longer lives there; he had been interred as a Japanese American, after the attack on Pearl Harbour. Every where he turns, he’s stonewalled. The sheriff (Dean Jagger) is afraid of Smith; the undertaker (Walter Brennan) tells him to get out of town; he is harassed by another thug, Coley Trimble (Ernest Borgnine),
who picks a fight with him despite Macreedy’s attempts to turn the other cheek; the only person who shows him sympathy is Liz Wirth, the sister of the desk clerk at the hotel. The town hasn’t had another visitor in four years and is effectively under the control of Smith and his henchmen.

When Smith admits Komoko is dead, Macreedy drives out to the farm he owned and discovers it’s burned to the ground, but the well is full of water and there is a patch of ground covered with wildflowers. He tells Smith, whose racism towards the Japanese is obvious, that he suspects the flowers cover a grave.

Gradually, it emerges that something terrible happened four years earlier, but Smith rules the town by fear and no-one is prepared to speak out. When Macreedy tries to send a telegram to the police, it isn’t sent, but he uses his skills at karate to floor Trimble when he starts a fight with him and he tells Smith he knows he killed Komoko and that he must have had help.

The other townspeople begin to turn and the undertaker accuses Hastings (Russell Collins), the telegraph operator of committing a federal crime for not sending Macreedy’s message; however, when the sheriff tries to do something about it, Smith snatches his badge and gives it to Hector, who tears up the telegram.

Although the sheriff refuses to get involved, Macreedy works on Pete Wirth (John Ericson), who finally reveals what happened. Komoko had leased farmland from Smith, who knew that there was no water there, but when he found some, the value of the land increased and Smith was unable to break the lease. When America entered the war, Smith was turned down and took out his aggression, by now fuelled by drink, on Komoko. Although he barricaded himself in his home, Smith and his men set it alight and, to Pete’s horror, he shot Komoko when he tried to escape.

We learn that Macreedy’s life had been saved by Komoko’s son in Italy during the war and he was bringing the son's medal to his father.

Pete lures Hector into the hotel office, where Doc Velie knocks him out and Liz drives Macreedy out of town. However, she stops the Jeep in a canyon and Macreedy knows he has been betrayed. Smith fires at him and Liz is shot when she runs to see him. He tells her she must die with his confederates and when she runs, he shoots her in the back. Poetic justive is served when Macreedy fashions a molotov cocktail and throws it as Smith. The nest day,he takes the injured Smith back to town; the sheriff has jailed David and Trimble and the police are called.
Macreedy boards the train and the undertaker, Doc Velie asks for Komoko’s medal to help the town to heal. He gives it to him and leaves.

Like many noble examples of this most elastic of genres, the film takes the conventions of the Western and uses them to craft a story of bigotry towards Japanese citizens and criticism of the wartime internment policy practised by the United States, but it takes on an extra resonance in the era of McCarthyism and the dangers of conforming and being passive out of fear.

Bad Day At Black Rock (1954) dir. John Sturges writ. Millard Kaufman (based on the story by Howard Breslin) cine. William C. Mellor edt. Newell P. Kimlin music. Andre Previn star. Spencer Tracy (John McCreedy), Robert Ryan (Reno Smith), Anne Francis (Liz Wirth), John Erickson (Pete Wirth), Ernest Borgnine (Coley Trimble), Lee Marvin (Hector David), Dean Jagger (the Sheriff), Walter Brennan (Doc), Russell Collins (Telegraph man)

The shooting draft of the film script is available here:

See McSweeney's : http://www.mcsweeneys.net/2007/10/10millardkaufman.html

Millard Kaufman, 1917-2009

Millard Kaufman RIP

Screenwriter Millard Kaufman dies at 92
Co-created Mr. Magoo, penned 'Bad Day at Black Rock'
Associated Press
March 17, 2009, 07:39 PM ET
Screenwriter Millard Kaufman, who co-created the cartoon character Mr. Magoo, was nominated for Academy Awards for his screenplays for "Take the High Ground!" and "Bad Day at Black Rock" and won a cult following as a first-time novelist at age 90, has died, a spokeswoman said. He was 92.Kaufman died March 14 of heart failure, said Laura Howard, spokeswoman for McSweeney's Publishing, which published his novel "Bowl of Cherries" in 2007.Kaufman's writing credits also include "Never So Few," "The Warlord," "The Klansman" and "Convicts 4" as well an episode of the TV series "Police Story" and the TV movie "Enola Gay."In 1949, he wrote the screenplay for the short film "Ragtime Bear," which featured the first appearance of Mr. Magoo. He later co-wrote the 1950 Mr. Magoo short film "Punchy de Leon."He was nominated twice for an Oscar: in 1953 for the story and screenplay of "Take the High Ground!" and two years later for the screenplay of "Bad Day at Black Rock.""Black Rock" used the structure of a traditional Western to examine an unlikely subject -- American attitudes toward the Japanese in the wake of World War II.In it, Spencer Tracy plays a one-armed private investigator who arrives in a defensive desert town to investigate the disappearance of a Japanese immigrant. Critics consider the film a cultural milestone for its treatment of Asian-American issues, though the film shows not a single Asian character.Born in 1917 in Baltimore, Kaufman graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 1939. After college, he worked as a reporter for Newsday and New York's Daily News before joining the Marines in 1942 and later serving in World War II. After the war ended, Kaufman moved to Los Angeles with his wife, Lorraine, and began his screenwriting career.Kaufman served two terms on the board of the WGA West.After working as a screenwriter in Hollywood for more than 50 years, he published his first novel, the bawdy coming-of-age tale "Bowl of Cherries," in 2007.His second novel, "Misadventure," is scheduled to be published by McSweeney's, an imprint known for its hip and original younger authors where Kaufman found an unlikely home, later this fall.He is survived by his wife of 66 years, their three children and seven grandchildren.

From The Hollywood Reporter

Terry Calls on all Alpha males

"Let's go back to basics, boys: beer, baccy, birds and bathos. Lots of bathos."

"Soon you'll be able to do this again":

But for some Friday Boys there was no going back. Their lives had touched the edge of art and their dreams were forever disturbed by strange (and not unpleasant) images:
"Begone, bathos!"

Tuesday 17 March 2009

Leonard Sachs Protests

He remembers the good old days!


Ian's doing a 'McConkey's ass' grab on Terry in that picture and it doesn't look as if the Jarrow poet is enjoying it. But Madame Chang advises him not to hold out for his own personal sexual colossus because pickings are going to be slim in 2009; she urges him to get over his antipathy towards older heterosexual men and roll with the flow, chanting the mantra, "The river will flow and the sun will shine; can't stop lovin' that man of mine."

Friday Night!

The Back to Basics FNBs Campaign starts right here! No fannying on with films, no half-assed 'short stories' (thank God they were anonymous), no Shane putdowns, no rock chick drool-pics or jazz obits - let's get back to where we once belonged: beer and banter.

We're meeting this Friday at 8pm at that narrow dreamland for men hooked on free feels of passing women - The Crown Posada.

See ya there!
Terry Shute.

Monday 16 March 2009

Women in Music #4

Richard Dawkins is Wrong!


TARGETS (1968)

Plot summary
The story concerns an insurance agent and Vietnam veteran, played by Tim O'Kelly, who murders his wife and mother and then goes on a shooting rampage from atop a Los Angeles oil refinery. When police start tracking him down, he flees to and resumes his shootings at a drive-in theater where an aging horror film actor is making a final promotional appearance.The character and actions of the killer are based on Charles Whitman, the University of Texas sniper. The character of actor Byron Orlok, named after Max Schreck's vampire Count Orlok in 1922's Nosferatu, is based on Boris Karloff himself, who in fact plays the part in his last appearance in a major American film (although Bogdanovich states that, unlike Orlok, Karloff was not embittered with the movie business and did not wish to retire).In the film's finale, which takes place at a San Fernando Valley drive-in theater, Karloff — the old-fashioned, traditional screen monster who always obeyed the rules — confronts the new, nihilistic late-1960s monster in the shape of a clean-cut, unassuming multiple murderer.
Post film note supplied by Grahame: The guy who was shot in the telephone booth was Mike Farrell, later B J Hunnicutt in MASH on TV.

Bogdanovich got the chance to make Targets because Boris Karloff owed studio head Roger Corman three days' work. Corman told Bogdanovich he could make any film he liked provided he used Karloff and stayed under budget. In addition, Bogdanovich had to use clips from the Victorian-era thriller The Terror in the movie. The clips from The Terror feature Jack Nicholson and Boris Karloff. Bogdanovich has said that Samuel Fuller provided generous help on the screenplay and refused to accept either a fee or a screen credit, so Bogdanovich named his own character Sammy Michaels (Fuller's middle name was Michael) in tribute.

Background Notes
Although the film was written and production photography completed in 1967, it was released after the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy and thus had some topical relevance to then-current events. Nevertheless it was not very successful at the box office.However, Bogdanovich, who appears in the film as a young writer-director (i.e. like Karloff, playing a character very similar to himself in real life), credits it with getting him noticed by the studios, which in turn led to his directing three very successful films in the early 1970s.

Women in Music #3