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Kingrat's Festival Notebook

Posted: May 6th, 2013, 3:54 pm
by kingrat
This post combines my previous post in the post-1970s films thread about the interview of Jerry Schatzberg with my own thoughts about the film.

Scarecrow (1973), a road film about two drifters played by Gene Hackman and Al Pacino, is a longtime favorite of Leonard Maltin, who introduced and interviewed its director, Jerry Schatzberg, at the 2013 TCM Film Festival. Maltin felt that the movie had held up 100% when the DVD came out a few years ago. The new restoration does justice to Vilmos Zsigmond’s outstanding cinematography, and this version will be shown later in the month at the Film Forum in New York.

Schatzberg was a fashion photographer who was struck by the way the fashion industry elevates a model to stardom for two or three years, then discards her. He interviewed a model (identified in other sources as Anne St. Marie) for three and a half hours, and this was the genesis for his first film, Puzzle of a Downfall Child, starring Faye Dunaway. He thought this would be his only film, and was especially upset that the last six minutes of his film had been scratched. Therefore, he turned down the opportunity to direct The Panic in Needle Park when this was offered to him.

However, he reconsidered when he learned that Al Pacino was interested in the script. Before he had ever directed, Schatzberg saw a play called The Indian Wants the Bronx, starring Pacino. At the play he turned to a friend and said, “This guy is so powerful, if I ever make a film, I want him.” Kitty Winn, who also stars in The Panic in Needle Park, was present at the showing of Scarecrow. Schatzberg introduced her, praised her, and wanted everyone to know that she had won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival.

Gene Hackman was paranoid that Schatzberg and Pacino had worked together before, but that was something Schatzberg felt he could use in the film. During the first week of rehearsal, Hackman told Schatzberg he never got along with his directors, but they actually got along fine. Hackman liked the fact that Scarecrow was mostly shot in sequence, as the production moved from Bakersfield to Denver to Detroit like the characters in the story.

Vilmos Zsigmond told Schatzberg that the film was like a fairy tale. Leonard Maltin praised the opening shot of the film, a long-held shot of Gene Hackman walking down a hill to a two-lane road, which is intercut with two quick shots of Al Pacino staring (I would say lovingly) at Hackman. During the first take of this scene, Hackman walked a little bit, then waved his hand to end the take. He asked Schatzberg why he was walking down the hill. Schatzberg made up a story that Hackman had just gotten off a train and was walking into town for a meal, and this satisfied Hackman.

Schatzberg used a lot of non-professionals they cast along the way. In one bar scene they used a number of bar regulars and had to pay them not to drink during the filming that day.

In the scene where Hackman and Pacino get breakfast in a diner, Hackman didn’t like the actress who played the waitress. (She appears only briefly in the finished film.) Trying to use this, Schatzberg told her to switch the orders of the two characters. When she does, Hackman adlibs a sarcastic “This your first day?” Schatzberg said he never cut on Hackman, he just let the camera roll. In this scene, after it is supposedly over, Hackman says, “Give me a bottle of beer and a chocolate doughnut,” which cracks up Pacino. Schatzberg left this in.

Scarecrow opened well, then Warner Brothers opened The Exorcist and ignored Scarecrow. The film has just been rediscovered in England and received a fantastic response at the Lyons Film Festival, the European equivalent of the TCM festival.

Scarecrow definitely held my interest, and I’ll agree with Leonard Maltin that it has aged well, seeming less dated than many 70s films. Zsigmond’s cinematography has a much wider range than most of his contemporaries. The opening is indeed great. The oddity of Schatzberg’s career is that someone who began as a fashion photographer would have such a strong interest in acting and character studies. The only films of his I’d seen were The Seduction of Joe Tynan and Street Smart, which I liked well enough, and I would be interested in seeing more of his films.

Max (Gene Hackman) has just been released from prison, and he has a violent temper which he can’t or doesn’t control. Francis (Pacino), renamed Lion by Max for his middle name Lionel, has been at sea for five years. He has a child, but doesn’t even know if it is a boy or a girl, thus the present of a lamp which he carries with him as they hitchhike. Lion tries to defuse situations with humor and tries to teach Max to do the same. Max wants to get to Pittsburgh to open a car wash.

Max may be a brute, but this appeals to certain lower-class women like the ones played by Eileen Brennan and Ann Wedgeworth. I’ve seen Ann Wedgeworth since she played the gloriously named Lahoma Vane on Another World, and she has basically played variations on the same character for years, sometimes good-natured and earthy, sometimes, as here, a little more trailer trashy. Great moment: Frenchy, as this Lahoma Vane is called (breathy and seductive): “What did you miss most in prison?” Max (Hackman at his deadpan best): “Home cooking.”

Dorothy Tristan could be, but shouldn’t be, overlooked in the quieter role of Max’s sister, and Penny Allen has a chilling scene as the mother of Lion’s child. Telephone scenes usually don’t work; this one did.


I liked the big difference between the way we saw Lion and the way the mother of his child did. Though we don’t learn details, I found this plausible and moving.

Unlike some buddy movies, which may drift into homoerotic overtones unintentionally, Scarecrow seems to go there purposefully, then back off. Our first view of Lion is his first glimpse at Max, which is shot as a kind of love at first sight. Lion is in the way when he and Max go home with the Eileen Brennan character, then he deliberately tries to sabotage Max and Frenchy as they flirt in the back yard of Max’s sister’s house. This is jealousy of Max’s attention to Frenchy, not pure and not simple. However, when a prison trusty makes a pass at him—and this has been telegraphed well in advance—Lion freaks out. This reaction could be plausible, but I’d rather see this plainly shown on the screen rather than have to think up rationales for the character’s behavior. The end of the film emphasizes a feel-good and non-sexual buddy feeling on the part of Max, which is fine as far as it goes, for it shows that Max has learned to care about someone. Scarecrow shows how much further Hollywood has gone even since Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which kept the obvious homoerotic connection subliminal, although it still doesn’t go far enough for its own good, or ours.

Understandably, some people will be interested in seeing Scarecrow just to see Hackman and Pacino, with their contrasting acting styles, work on a lot of scenes together, and I don’t think they will be disappointed. The down and out ambience has been captured well, and parts of this film are likely to stick in your memory.

Re: Kingrat's Festival Notebook

Posted: May 6th, 2013, 4:47 pm
by kingrat
I’d like to add some Kevin Brownlow quotes to the write-up by lzcutter from his interview by Cari Beauchamp:

1. “I was going to be the second Orson Welles. I never even put the weight on.”

2. Jerry Simmons urged him to make a TV documentary about Hollywood, but added, “Television is a very ulcer-producing activity.” Kevin Brownlow walked outside and collapsed with stomach pains.

3. For a while Kevin Brownlow showed silent films in a small theater in London under Waterloo Bridge: “The wind blew through the air conditioning system, which was effective for The Wind.”

4. During the silent era, the large cinemas had libraries of music to use as accompaniment.

5. He loved Cari Beauchamp’s comment that Carl Davis’ music for Abel Gance’s Napoleon “elevates and illuminates what’s on screen.”

6. After a tribute in his honor at the British Film Institute, Abel Gance went around drinking the dregs from glasses. “I thought you didn’t drink,” Brownlow said, obviously surprised at this behavior. “Only at times like these,” Gance replied.

7. Brownlow did an outstanding job of gaining the confidence of silent film stars. On one occasion Mary Pickford said, “You’ve been so good, Kevin, I’m going to allow you to open your notebook.”

Re: Kingrat's Festival Notebook

Posted: May 6th, 2013, 8:09 pm
by kingrat
LA TRAVERSEE DE PARIS (1956, dir. Claude Autant-Lara) literally means “The Journey Across Paris,” but the original American title was FOUR BAGS FULL and the title of the version which Rialto Productions will release this month is A PIG ACROSS PARIS. That’s a good title, because Bourvil and Jean Gabin carry four suitcases of black market pork across Paris, hoping that the Nazis won’t catch them. Bourvil is an unemployed taxi driver—with the lack of gasoline, no one needs his services—so he’s turned to the black market. His pal has been arrested, so he takes a chance on a stranger, Jean Gabin. The story mixes comedy, drama, and suspense, and if you like Gabin, what more do you need to know?

Bruce Goldstein of the Film Forum and Rialto Productions pointed out that for the original audience, the Nazi occupation of France was as recent as the events of 9/11 are to us. Francois Truffaut hated Autant-Lara’s films—he made the kind of script-based studio films which drove the New Wave into hissy fits--but thought this was the perfect subject for Autant-Lara and praised it highly. The direction is sharp, such as the use of silhouettes in a scene where the Nazis are about to arrest our anti-heroes—or do worse than that.

Goldstein pointed out that Rialto’s release will have new subtitles. When we spoke briefly at Club TCM, he said that the old subtitles were the worst he’d ever seen. Even I caught one obvious blooper. According to the subtitles, the route across Paris will go through “the marshes.” The actual speech says through “the Marais,” which, true enough, means “the marsh,” but the Marais is a well-known district of Paris named after the marsh which existed there back in medieval times. By the way, I hope the Rialto version has had some restoration work; the copy we saw wasn't bad but definitely needed it, especially the soundtrack.

I don’t often get a chance to see the once-famous films of the “tradition of quality” which were deemed “not cool” by the New Wave, but when I do, I usually like them, so I’d be interested in investigating more of Autant-Lara. A PIG ACROSS PARIS seems too assured to be his only good film.

Re: Kingrat's Festival Notebook

Posted: May 8th, 2013, 1:35 pm
by kingrat
The independent filmmaker Allison Anders introduced The Swimmer (1968, dir. Frank Perry), the film which was Burt Lancaster’s favorite among his films. She called it “weird and essentially American.” She also mentioned that Roger Ebert called The Swimmer a rare allegorical film. Many people today compare it to Mad Men (which I’ve never seen) and see the film as “Don Draper in mid-life jumping through swimming pools.” Frank Perry and Burt Lancaster did not get along, and the final straw was an argument over whether Joan Rivers (then an actress, and before she’d spent kajillions of dollars on plastic surgery) should play her character as sympathetic, which Perry wanted, or unsympathetic, which Lancaster wanted. Perry walked out, Sydney Pollack replaced him, and apparently others were involved, though neither imdb nor Wikipedia names them, which Is unusual. Allison Anders noted that nonetheless, The Swimmer feels like it has a single directorial point of view (I agree). The Swimmer was made in 1966, but shelved for a couple of years before release. Anders quipped that that’s the way her films are released.

Especially for ChiO, I want to note that Barbara Loden was originally cast as the Broadway actress with whom Lancaster had had an affair, but she was replaced by Janice Rule. Some sources assert that Lancaster felt he was overshadowed by Barbara Loden and that’s the reason for the change. Apparently Sydney Pollack directed Lancaster’s scenes with Janice Rule.

The restoration looked good (it will be available on DVD), and Burt Lancaster had an amazing physique at more than 50—amazing for any age, in fact. The basic premise is simple: Lancaster gets the notion to swim through a series of swimming pools which are all on the way to his home. The journey, which starts with poolside chatter and mild flirtation, becomes increasingly dark, as the neighbors seem to know about events that he doesn’t or has suppressed knowledge of. What truths could this successful and handsome man be hiding from himself?

The audience at the festival seemed to enjoy the film a lot, as I did, although it was not a success upon release, and some have found it boring, our buddy lzcutter, for one. You’re in good company whatever your opinion of the film.

Because Lancaster goes from pool to pool, this means new characters in each scene, and many good actors in small roles, from Kim Hunter and Cornelia Otis Skinner to Diana van der Vlis and Dolph Sweet (one of Constance Ford’s husbands on Another World; he’s played lots of cops, although here he’s a successful and obnoxious businessman). Lancaster flirts, and eventually propositions, the young daughter of a neighbor (Janet Landgard). Jan Miner (best known as Madge the Manicurist in TV commercials) enjoys the task of telling Lancaster exactly why she despises him so much. As for Joan Rivers, her character seems flattered when Burt makes a pass at her, tempted, but ultimately unwilling, which works fine. There’s a funny scene with two elderly nudists where, to be polite, Burt takes off his swimsuit. Yes, Burt has a nude scene here.

Perhaps the heart of the film is Lancaster’s scene with a young boy who has been left at home with a nanny while his mother gallivants to Europe with her new man. This swimming pool is empty, and he and Burt can only pretend to swim across it. The little boy complains that he is always picked last for games. Burt tells him he’s lucky to be picked last, to be free from having to be the team captain, the golden boy. This really struck home to m; perhaps some of my independence of thought comes from exactly these roots.

About Janice Rule: she’s beautiful, smart (she became a psychoanalyst), talented, and somehow not quite a star. Are her eyes too small? Burt Lancaster’s eyes certainly grab your attention; it’s hard to notice anyone else.

After The Swimmer Marge Champion spoke. The first thing she said was, “It was some film!” She had not seen it since its original release. She’ll be 94 in September and watches TCM all the time. She thinks she may have read for Eleanor Perry (the screenwriter, Frank Perry’s wife; they divorced in the early 70s, but most of his best work was done when they worked together). Marge Champion had not worked in a while; she left the kids with her husband and worked on the movie for a week or two. She knew Kim Hunter and Janice Rule, and thought Janice Rule was incredible. She didn’t know Joan Rivers at the time. At the very last minute Eleanor Perry gave her a line which summed up her character: “God, how I hate Columbus” (where she and her husband have moved for his job). Burt Lancaster had a bad leg at the time, so they worked that into the script.

Marge and Gower Champion had a set of friends called the “Mouse Pack”—those who couldn’t get into the Rat Pack—which included Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis, Gene and Miriam Nelson, and Gordon and Sheila MacRae. Her son would say, “Is Tony Turtis coming?” Marge was born on Orange Drive in Hollywood. Her half-sister, Lina Basquette, was a star of silent films and the Ziegfeld Follies. Marge was a trained dancer and teaching other dancers by the time she was eleven. During the Depression her mother would tell them only to get the meat the butcher was giving away or at most, not to spend more than ten cents on meat. They ate a lot of tripe. Her mother fed those who came to their door wanting to work.

The audience loved Marge Champion, of course, and enjoyed her line, “I’ve done everything in show business except burlesque.”

Re: Kingrat's Festival Notebook

Posted: May 8th, 2013, 9:05 pm
by Sue Sue Applegate
David, this is a wonderful account of the screening of The Swimmer

And I've been in a little theatre under Waterloo Bridge. That's where the British Film Institute is, and I saw Rebecca on the big screen there in a little theatre where the wind sometimes whistles!

Re: Kingrat's Festival Notebook

Posted: May 9th, 2013, 3:42 pm
by kingrat
According to Max von Sydow, The Seventh Seal was made for about 45,000 Swedish kroner or about $9,000. Talk about getting your money’s worth. The print shown was visually outstanding, though the soundtrack wasn’t the same quality. Still, to see the cinematographer Sven Nykvist’s stunning images of the Swedish coast in the opening scenes of the film was wonderful.

A little to my surprise, quite a few people in the audience had not seen The Seventh Seal. Although I did chat briefly with one woman who had expected more of the chessboard scenes—Max von Sydow confirmed that at the time no one had any idea that these shots would become iconic—and did not care for the film, the response by the first-timers was overwhelmingly positive. “That was fabulous,” I heard one man say. I also heard comments like “I’d forgotten how powerful the scene was when the actors are performing and the procession of penitents comes through.”

Because von Sydow had mentioned Bergman’s love of Orff’s Carmina Burana, I noticed a shot that might have slipped by: first we see a pig walking on the floor of the tavern, then the camera moves up to show a pig roasting on the spit. This was probably inspired by the song of the roasting swan in Carmina Burana.

Much has been written about The Seventh Seal, and instead of discussing the whole film, I want to concentrate on some of the things which struck me most this time. Some of the characters are particularly sensitive to religious matters: Jof the actor sees a vision of Mary teaching the infant Jesus to walk. The Knight has a privileged moment, like an instant of divine grace, when the actors share their milk and strawberries with him, in a kind of divine communion. It’s noteworthy that what the Knight sees as a glimpse of the divine is Jof’s ordinary life. The woman whom the Squire saved from being raped, played by Gunnel Lindlom, also has an acute sensitivity to religious matters. Although she has no dialogue for much of the film, her reactions are always strong and important (a great performance), and Bergman makes sure that she is included in many shots where she has no lines. To get a fresh perspective on this film, pay attention to her scenes. She is drawn to the flagellants, and it is she who first sees the figure of Death when he appears in the Knight’s castle, and she is the one who says, “It is finished” (Christ’s last words from the cross).

Max von Sydow spoke of Bergman’s love of music, and one can see some of the structure of The Seventh Seal in musical terms. The Knight is the first theme, the Squire the opposing second theme. By the way, it’s important that the Squire, who feels no need for God, distrusts religion, and doesn’t see Death when he appears in the castle, is the one who saves the girl from being raped and who saves the actor Jof from being tormented, perhaps even killed, by the people in the tavern. If Jof and his family, the Knight, and the servant girl are the positive side of the religious impulse, the darker side—the thematic inversion, to continue the musical analogy—is represented by the flagellants, the young witch, and Raval, the priest who tries to rape the girl. This priest is the one who had sent the Knight off to the Crusades.

The medieval religious paintings which inspired Bergman’s play, which eventually became The Seventh Seal, contained humorous as well as serious scenes, and Bergman puts a surprising amount of humor in it, which isn’t how most of us remember the film. Most of the humor concerns the actors and the love triangle of Skat (the older actor), the blacksmith, and the blacksmith’s wife. The scene of Death sawing down the tree in which Skat is hiding has a very medieval feel—it’s more their sense of humor than ours, and it works.

Have you ever thought of The Seventh Seal as a film about marriage? I hadn’t until I saw it again. Jof, Mia, and their baby are the happy family, still early in their marriage, still in love. The Knight and his lady have been separated for years while he was on crusade, and chill that has grown between them is like a harbinger of similar couples in Bergman films to come. Perhaps the ideals and aspirations and doubts of the Knight have prevented him from the simple happiness available to Jof and Mia. The blacksmith and his wife are like a parody of these marriages, governed strictly by impulse, whether it’s the impulse to run away with someone else or the impulse to get back together. The squire and the girl he saves from being raped are not married, yet he looks after her in the way that a husband might. Their relationship is the least developed of the couples.

The festival presented us with tough choices, and for me the toughest of all was deciding to forgo The Train, The Big Parade, and The Tall Target for a chance to hear the interview with Max von Sydow and then watch The Seventh Seal again. I’m glad I did.

Re: Kingrat's Festival Notebook

Posted: May 9th, 2013, 10:20 pm
by Sue Sue Applegate
Oh, David, I am glad you did, too. Your essay is so evocative of the film. I chose to see the interview, but forego the film, and I feel your analysis is on target.

I remember the first time I saw the film, and how I was struck by Von Sydow's beautiful countenance that just mesmerized me. You brought the beauty of it all back for me. I was sidetracked by socializing...shame on me.

Re: Kingrat's Festival Notebook

Posted: May 10th, 2013, 11:37 am
by kingrat
I’d like to thank Lynn, Christy, and Theresa for all their posts about the festival, and for some great photos, too. Didn’t Ann Blyth look incredible? Are any of you aware of other posts or blogs on other websites? Does TCM keep an archive of blogs and video about each year’s event? I’d love to hear about Albert Maysles and everything else that none of us had time to attend.

A few random thoughts about the festival: for me the cost of the event has gone up about $450 since 2010. This isn’t a complaint, just a statement of fact. I believe the Classic Pass used to be $499, with an early bird price of $399. Thanks to the success of the festival, TCM doesn’t need to offer an early bird price, and the Classic Pass this year was $549. Passes tend to sell out quickly. More special guests, higher prices, not to mention all the hotel, airfare, staff, hall, and rental costs.

I’ve stayed at the same motel for all four years. The price used to be around $100/night, but now it’s about $150, and the other hotels around are even more expensive, most over $200/night, although some of those include breakfast, which mine does not. Just this year, the motel decided to charge $22/night for parking, which had previously been free. Ouch. However, the festival and the friends are priceless.

Food prices have remained more or less the same, and in line with what you’ll find in the area generally. One welcome development is that the Chinese multiplex now offers food beyond popcorn and candy. I’ve heard that their food—a limited menu of pasta, salads, and sandwiches--is not bad. They are also offering adult libations, although we’re not yet able to bring our drinks into the screening rooms. Still, a glass of wine in the lobby can sometimes be just the thing, and the pours were generous.

While we stood in line at the Egyptian Theater, we had chances to win prizes by answering questions from the big TCM trivia book, and I won a TCM logo picnic blanket and a copy of the big trivia book itself. The questions I answered were:

1. What is the only picture in which Ronald Reagan and his future wife Nancy Davis starred together?
2. Who wrote the novel on which The Stepford Wives is based?

Re: Kingrat's Festival Notebook

Posted: May 10th, 2013, 11:53 am
by mongoII
Good stuff, Kingrat.

Re: Kingrat's Festival Notebook

Posted: May 10th, 2013, 1:06 pm
by Sue Sue Applegate
So glad you won your TCM blankie! I remember how you beamed! Why didn't I take a photo of this momentous event? Was my camera battery dead? Evidently, I had a lapse in judgment.

I agree with your in-depth assessment of the prices, but glad the food prices remained somewhat constant. I made a more conscious effort to eat and sleep so I wasn't so tired when I landed at Hobby Airport on Tuesday.

As for the blogs, there are several on wordpress, and twitter feeds, and I'll try to look for them a bit later. Back to grading...

Thanks for your wonderful reports, David. They make me so nostalgic...

Re: Kingrat's Festival Notebook

Posted: May 10th, 2013, 2:23 pm
by moira finnie
kingrat wrote:Are any of you aware of other posts or blogs on other websites? Does TCM keep an archive of blogs and video about each year’s event? I’d love to hear about Albert Maysles and everything else that none of us had time to attend.
Here are blogs that have posted articles related to the TCM Festival 2013:

I really appreciated the realistic assessment of the amount of money needed to attend the festival. Sounds as though all the merchants in the area must be happy for the success of the now annual event and are profiting appropriately. Does it make a difference in price if you book your rooms ahead of time? Do some people find that staying a distance away is less costly?

I can't resist answering--
kingrat wrote:1. What is the only picture in which Ronald Reagan and his future wife Nancy Davis starred together?
Hellcats of the Navy?
kingrat wrote:2. Who wrote the novel on which The Stepford Wives is based?
Ira Levin?

Re: Kingrat's Festival Notebook

Posted: May 10th, 2013, 3:22 pm
by Sue Sue Applegate
Moira, I do know of the disparity in room rates at the Hollywood Roosevelt. The rate I was quoted was $275 a night for a double deluxe room with a lovely walk-in closet, and that was the rate on my confirmation. A friend of mine made a reservation around the same time, and was quoted $35 a night more. So they do play fast and loose, and charge what they want when they want.

The reservations were both made at the hotel desk, not an 800 number.

Re: Kingrat's Festival Notebook

Posted: May 10th, 2013, 3:23 pm
by kingrat
Ding ding ding! Moira, you are now the proud possessor of a virtual blankie and a virtual trivia book! Right on both!

I don't think that early reservations help, although it's always smart to look around at Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia, etc., as well as the official hotel website. You might find a temporary sale, and if so, lock in the price, though it's important to be sure that you can cancel the reservation if necessary.

Staying a few blocks away from the Roosevelt does help, but the hotel prices seem to be going up in lockstep. It's a question of whether the costs fit into your budget or not. Airfares have gone way up, and those not in driving distance have to factor that in as well. Attendance seemed slightly down from last year, probably because of the airfare and hotel increases.

Unless you stay at a hotel within walking distance, you'll have to deal with LA traffic and with finding a parking place. Not recommended if you want to be sure of being on time for your movies.

Not many filling stations have higher-priced gasoline than the one in Hollywood at the back of the Hollywood at Highland outdoor mall, a mere sixty cents per gallon more than I had paid the morning I left home. $4.39 per gallon for regular gas. Still, twenty dollars' worth got me where I needed to go.

Re: Kingrat's Festival Notebook

Posted: May 10th, 2013, 5:20 pm
by ChiO
$4.39? I'd welcome such cheap gas. But we have decent public transit & my private conveyance ... Two foots.

Re: Kingrat's Festival Notebook

Posted: May 10th, 2013, 7:29 pm
by kingrat
Public transit? What's that?