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Richard Fleischer’s “Bodyguard” (1948)

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017

Here’s a great little film noir, recently released to DVD – check it out.

Since I seem to be in a noir mood today, I’ll follow up my entry on The Big Clock with this neat little programmer from 1948, which I blogged about some time back on the website Film Noir of The Week, ably edited by Steve Eifert.

As I wrote for NOTW, “Lawrence Tierney (whose brother was the equally tough actor Scott Brady) pushes his way through Richard Fleischer’s Bodyguard (1948) with the same brutal assurance he brought to such films as Max Nosseck’s Dillinger (1945), in which he played the title role of the notorious gangster with eerie intensity, and his finest film, Robert Wise’s Born to Kill (1947). But then again, in all his roles, Tierney was really channeling his real life persona of a rabble rousing hellion, who seemed absolutely incapable of staying out of trouble. Tierney is one of the cinema’s unique characters, indelibly identified with violent roles, and in real life, just as much of a loose cannon as he was on the screen.

Bodyguard is a distinctly down-market affair, with a running time of a mere 62 minutes, and was produced by RKO’s B unit, but it still packs a punch; in many ways, the noirs that Richard Fleischer directed for RKO in the first days of his career, such as Follow Me Quietly (1949), Armored Car Robbery (1950), and The Narrow Margin (1952) are his best work, certainly worthy of more attention than Fantastic Voyage (1966) or Doctor Dolittle (1967), which typified the big budget films that dominated the bulk of Fleischer’s career.

Here, working from a script by Fred Niblo Jr. and Harry Essex, from a story by George W. George and Robert Altman (yes, that Robert Altman), Fleischer tells the tale of tough guy cop Mike Carter (Tierney), who is pushed off the force for cutting corners with little things like search warrants and beating up suspects to get a confession out of them, much to the delight of his immediate superior Lieutenant Borden (Frank Fenton).

Fleischer stages the confrontation between Carter and Borden in a series of increasingly tight close-ups, in which each man gradually walks towards the camera, cutting back and forth, until both faces dominate the frame with overpowering intensity. The literal face-off ends when Carter abrupt punches Borden in the nose, and is kicked off the force for good.

In his spare time, Mike looks after (in an odd sort of way) a group of young toughs as a sort of Big Brother, and the film quickly moves to a baseball game, where Mike has treated the kids to a doubleheader in the company of his girlfriend, Doris Brewster (Priscilla Lane, in her final screen performance).

No sooner does Mike take his seat, however, than the slimy Freddie Dysen (Phillip Reed at his most disagreeable) slips in beside him, and offers him a job as bodyguard to one “Gene” Dysen, the owner of a meatpacking plant who has been receiving death threats. Despite a generous retainer, Mike turns the job down, but Freddie persists, and when Mike discovers that “Gene” Dysen is in reality Eugenia Dysen (Elisabeth Risdon, coolly professional as always), and there is another attempt on Eugenia’s life, Mike reluctantly accepts the position.

What follows is a typically violent 1940s noir, with Tierney walking through the role with his customary forthright arrogance – “one side, Dracula” he barks at Eugenia’s startled butler when first entering the Dysen mansion – and Lane offering capable support as his long suffering girlfriend. Naturally, there’s a murder, and Mike is implicated, and just as predictably, has to clear himself despite police interference.

I don’t want to give the plot away, except to note that lurking behind the entire affair is the profit motive – capitalism turned to murder – and Fleischer effectively limns the dark side of post war Los Angeles with deft assurance, ably assisted by the cinematography of Robert De Grasse, and Elmo Williams’ editing.”

You can read the entire essay by clicking here, and see the trailer by clicking here; while you’re at it, why not check out the entire Film Noir of the Week website by clicking here, for a nearly encyclopedic series of entries on some of the most effective – and often overlooked – noirs of all time. It’s nice that Bodyguard is on DVD; many of these films never made the jump to that format. Get it while you can!

A remarkably tight and effective little film; well worth an hour of your time.

John Farrow’s “The Big Clock” (1948)

Saturday, August 26th, 2017

Charles Laughton and Ray Milland in the superb 1948 film noir, The Big Clock.

As Joseph D’Onofrio writes perceptively on the TCM website, “In The Big Clock, George Stroud, (Ray Milland) the editor of Crimeways magazine has been given the task of solving a murder before his own staff finds evidence that will point to him as the killer. As he races to find the real murderer, Milland discovers that his search has led him to his magazine’s corporate headquarters. Located in a massive tower within the cold confines of those headquarters, the big clock seems to dominate everything. Even when Milland hides in a room just behind the clock, it’s as if he’s trapped inside a box of time within other boxes, one onto the other. All of them enclosed in the labyrinthian corridors of the imposing, futuristic-looking Janoth building. Time is the real enemy in The Big Clock. Even the murder weapon, a sundial, reinforces this notion.

The Big Clock is directed by John Farrow in an elegantly understated style, described by Simon Callow in his book, Charles Laughton: A Difficult Actor, as ‘nearly’ noir. As Callow puts it, ‘The play of shadows is handled in a masterly way, while the plot with its inversions and convolutions, presents an image of nightmarish reversals.’ Callow also speculates that Charles Laughton, as Earl Janoth, the owner of a publishing empire, seemed to be intentionally ‘drawing attention to the robotic heartlessness of big business.’ Janoth’s right hand man, Steve Hagen, is superbly played by veteran heavy George Macready, while Harry Morgan, in a very early role, appears as Janoth’s bodyguard, Bill Womack, without saying one word in the film.

Just after World War Two, Americans were witnessing the building of corporate giants, and the complications that come from such growth and progress. As much as The Big Clock is an entertaining thriller, it also seems to be an attempt to come to grips with that loss of identity within the corporate milieu. Workers, now faced with more powerful corporate heads in the new streamlined workplace, could relate to Laughton’s cunning portrayal of what Callow called, ‘a Napoleon of print.’

Farrow’s camera follows Laughton closely. It captures his nervous tics and twitches as he rules his employees with a fierce adherence to the adage that time does, indeed, equal money. A perfect example of this occurs when Laughton gives an order to an underling: ‘There’s a bulb that’s been burning for several days in a closet on the fourth floor to no apparent purpose. Find out who’s responsible; dock his pay.’ As Callow puts it, ‘The performance is a technical tour-de-force of high-speed throwaway, comic and powerful at the same time. We know everything about what he (Janoth) is, and how he works – like a clock, as it happens, the image that dominates and unifies the whole film.’

But it was Ray Milland who received top billing in The Big Clock, a rather ironic turn of events considering that Laughton once helped Milland as a struggling young actor in a supporting role in Payment Deferred (1932). If anything was made of this Hollywood twist of fate, it doesn’t show in the final product. The two men work well together and Milland is, as always, the consummate professional. We feel his confusion and anxiety as a man who misses a train and has a fateful, soon-to-be disastrous meeting which leaves him a man on the run, desperate to clear himself of murder.

When Milland won the Oscar for his gritty portrayal of an alcoholic in Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend (1945), he began to take on less glamorous, more challenging roles. In movies like Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder (1954), for example, he comes full circle, playing a jaded sophisticate and man-about-town who plots his wife’s murder. The Big Clock came at a transitional point in Milland’s career, offering him a role that falls somewhere between the elegant leading man of his earlier period and the more cynical and corrupt characters he later essayed.”

See the trailer for the film, featuring on-screen narrator Art Gilmore, by clicking here.

Patty Jenkins in Final Talks to Direct Wonder Woman 2

Saturday, August 19th, 2017

Patty Jenkins is closing a deal to direct Wonder Woman 2 – but what’s taking so long?

As Anita Busch and Anthony D’Alessandro reported on August 17th in Deadline Hollywood (or Deadline for short, if you prefer – perhaps the industry’s most reliable trade journal, and usually first with the facts), “it’s been over two months since Wonder Woman opened to a staggering $103.2M and went on to gross close to $800M worldwide for Warner Bros. (with Japan yet to bow). The movie, directed by Patty Jenkins, not only re-invigorated DC movies and the studio itself, but became a symbol of strength for women across the country. Now Jenkins is returning to the director’s chair to helm the second film in the franchise that she was so instrumental in starting.

Last month at Comic-Con, the studio confirmed both a sequel with Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot and a release date of Dec. 13, 2019. However, curiously, there was no deal with Jenkins. Why the delay? Because Jenkins — who was lauded repeatedly during the Women in Film Crystal Awards this year by several of its nominees — expects to be paid substantially more and the same as a male director would receive after such a box office coup. That desire was seconds away from becoming a reality on Thursday evening as a deal was being finalized which would elevate her as the highest-paid female director in town.

And why not? Wonder Woman shattered several glass ceilings at the box office, including the best opening ever for a title by a female director and the best global haul for a live-action film directed by a woman as well as the third-highest grossing film in Warner Bros.’ history (behind only Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight series). Although no payday was revealed, we understand that her payday and deal is in line with any other director who has performed at this level. A studio source said they were ‘confident the deal will be reached soon.’

Typically, according to sources, a frosh director on a comic book movie gets $1.5M to $3M, while a director in the realm of Zack Snyder (who is helming DC’s Justice League) received $10M against 10% cash break even for his second DC film Man of Steel. (That’s usually paid out as 20% during pre-production, 60% during production, 10% during post and 10% following).

Jenkins burst on the scene with the critically acclaimed indie film Monster in 2003 — she wrote and directed while Charlize Theron won [the Academy Award for Best Actress for the film] — then directed a number of TV episodes for such shows as Entourage and The Killing before she was hired on for Wonder Woman.”

But now it’s Saturday night, and there’s still no word if this is happening.

I’m not really a comic book movie fan, but that’s hardly the point: Wonder Woman was a groundbreaking entry in the comic book movie universe, and Jenkins’ direction was solidly effective, especially in the opening thirty minutes of the film, and the kick-ass action scenes throughout. She also imbued the characters in the film with a sense of depth and realism missing in nearly all other comic book films, where one character after another is shuffled on and off the screen solely to advance the narrative.

There’s no doubt that if Jenkins were male, after the smash success of Monster, she would have directed a stack of films by now, and not have been relegated to the second-tier world of series television. Michelle McLaren was originally slated to direct, but left over the usual creative differences, so Jenkins was the second choice, but she more than delivered the goods, and she’s busy cooking up ideas for the sequel. And indeed, in contrast to the endless bombast of Zack Snyder’s films, Wonder Woman was a genuine relief this summer.

But here she is – still just trying to get paid precisely what she’s worth. Ever sadder are the comments that follow the story in Deadline; while many are supportive, some are openly sexist, asking why a man shouldn’t take over the job. Good grief! Are we still stuck in the 1950s? Or the 1900s? Hollywood is a bottom line business, and if you deliver the goods – as Patty Jenkins did – you should get paid for it, and not have to haggle with studio bosses for an equitable paycheck.

Let’s hope this is resolved soon, with Jenkins victorious in her quest.

See All The Movies You Want For $10 A Month?

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

Under a new proposal, you could pay $10 a month, and see a new movie every day.

As Isabel Gottlieb reports in Bloomberg News, under a new scheme proposed by one of the co-founders of Netflix, you could go to the movies every day for a month for just $10. Sound impossible? Maybe it is – but “as movie theaters struggle with tepid sales, Mitch Lowe has an extreme proposal for how to get more people into seats: Let them come to all the showings they want for about the price of a single ticket each month.

Lowe, an early Netflix Inc. executive who now runs a startup called MoviePass, plans to drop the price of the company’s movie ticket subscriptions on Tuesday to $9.95. The fee will let customers get in to one showing every day at any theater in the U.S. that accepts debit cards. MoviePass will pay theaters the full price of each ticket used by subscribers, excluding 3D or Imax screens.

MoviePass could lose a lot of money subsidizing people’s movie habits. So the company also raised cash on Tuesday by selling a majority stake to Helios and Matheson Analytics Inc., a small, publicly traded data firm in New York. The companies declined to comment on terms of the financing but said MoviePass intends to hold an initial public offering by March. Helios and Metheson shares rose 5.7 percent to $2.95 at the close Tuesday in New York.

Ted Farnsworth, chief executive officer at Helios and Matheson, said the goal is to amass a large base of customers and collect data on viewing behaviors. That information could then be used to eventually target advertisements or other marketing materials to subscribers. ‘It’s no different than Facebook or Google,’ Farnsworth said. ‘The more we understand our fans, the more we can target them. . . .’

Lowe, a fixture of the home video business who helped get Netflix off the ground and served as president of rental-kiosk operator Redbox, was named CEO last year. The privately held company declined to disclose subscriber numbers or financial information. Lowe said the data-based business model is still ‘years in the future.’

With the new strategy, MoviePass hopes to resolve what Lowe sees as the biggest factor to blame for the theater industry’s decline. He said the high price of tickets, not competition from Netflix or Amazon.com Inc.’s Prime Video service, is a big part of what’s keeping people away.” Could it work? Well, I know that one of the factors impacting theater going is the price, and I think it’s true that –

“People really do want to go more often,” Lowe said. “They just don’t like the transaction.”

Reset! More Than 990 Posts On This Blog! Back To The Top!

Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

There are more than 990 entries on this blog. Click on the button above to go back to the top.

Frame by Frame began in 2011 with a post on Nicholas Ray – now, with more than 990 posts & much more to come, we’re listed on Amazon, in the New York Times blogroll, and elsewhere on the net, as well as being referenced in Wikipedia and numerous other online journals and reference websites. And this is just the beginning.

With thousands of hits every day, we hope to keep posting new material on films and people in films that matter, as well as on related issues, commercial free, with truly open access, for the entire film community. So look back and see what we’ve been up to, and page through the past to the present.

USE THE SEARCH BOX IN THE UPPER RIGHT HAND CORNER TO CHECK FOR YOUR FAVORITE TOPICS.

There are also more than 70 videos on film history, theory and criticism to check out on the Frame by Frame video blog, arranged in carousel fashion to automatically play one after the other, on everything from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to film aspect ratios, to discussions of pan and scan, Criterion video discs, deep focus, and a whole lot more.

So go back and see what you’ve been missing – you can always use the search box in the upper right hand corner to see if your favorite film or director is listed, but if not, drop me a line and we’ll see if we can’t do something about it. We’ve just updated our storage space on the blog, so there will be plenty more to come, so check it out – see you at the movies!

Click on the image above & see what else you can find!

Best Story Ever – Robert Forster – “Don’t Quit”

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

Robert Forster is an excellent actor – but at one point, things looked bleak.

As he points out in the brief interview above, Robert Forster has been an actor working in Los Angeles for nearly 50 years – and he’s still hitting it out of the park. But there was a time in the 80s and 90s when the work wasn’t coming – connections dried up, he was getting lousy parts by his own admission, but he kept going at it everyday to see what he could do to turn things around.

As he tells it, he was sitting in his usual breakfast spot when Quentin Tarantino strolled in for some food. Forster had tried out for Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs years before – and thought he killed at the audition – but he didn’t get the part. But rather than being bitter, when Tarantino walked in, Forster hailed him as a friend, called him over, and they started chatting.

The end result; he got one of the leading roles in Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, which jump started his whole career again, and led to roles, in among other things, a little television show called Breaking Bad, to say nothing of his recurring role in David Lynch‘s reboot of Twin Peaks. As he put it, the whole thing came about because of three rules he follows:

*Accept all things; that gives you a good attitude;

*Deliver excellence right now; that gives you the best shot at the best future you’ve got coming;

*And never quit; you can win it in the late innings if you don’t quit.

Words to live by; and they certainly work for him!

“Take The Hardest Path” – Roberto Rossellini’s “Voyage to Italy”

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini at work on the set.

In July 2009, I wrote in Senses of Cinema about Rossellini’s remarkable Voyage to Italy that the film “was shot from 2 February through 30 April 1953, on a variety of locations throughout Italy, including Naples, Capri, Pompeii, and at the Titanus studios in Rome, and was a tempestuous production throughout. The plot is simple: an unhappily married couple, Katherine (Ingrid Bergman) and Alex Joyce (George Sanders) are traveling from London through Italy to Naples, where they have inherited a villa.

Their marriage is a shambles, and they quarrel constantly; indeed, it is hard to imagine a more ill suited couple in the history of cinema. Katherine, relatively young and vibrant, seems trapped in a loveless match with the ill-tempered, dour Alex, who thinks only of money, and openly flirts with other women while ignoring his wife. Katherine has made the journey not only to sell the villa, but also in the hope that the “voyage” will reignite the passion of their marriage; instead, as the trip becomes more complex, and fraught with delays and interruptions, Alex’s boredom and frustration turns to outright hostility towards his wife.

In desperation, Katherine recounts to her disaffected husband the tale of a former suitor who, long ago, has been passionately in love with her; but Alex is unmoved, and Katherine seems resigned to the fact that their marriage will end in divorce, as soon as the necessary papers for the sale of the villa have been signed. The couple decide to split up, and spend their remaining time in Naples separately; Katherine visits a series of natural wonders with a succession of paid, only professionally attentive Italian tour guides, while Alex seeks out the company of a group of British nationals vacationing in Capri.

Katherine’s time is nevertheless redolent of the state of her collapsing marriage; viewing the ruins of Pompeii, with human bodies still entombed in centuries-old ash, as well as witnessing first-hand a small volcanic eruption on a tour, Katherine seems lost, lonely, and disconnected from the world around her, yet at the same time she years for some sort of human compassion. Alex is clearly disinterested.

And yet, in the film’s final, unforgettable sequence, as the now-reunited, but still-quarreling couple watch a passing religious procession, they are seized with an unexpected emotion, and fervently embrace each other, declaring their love, and wondering how they could possibly have become so estranged. Their renewal of love is a miracle, entirely inexplicable by any conventional narrative standards; the entire film, indeed, has been consistently moving away from such a reconciliation.

Love appears to have conquered a seemingly irreparable emotional breakdown. It is one of the most unexpected and transcendent moments in not just all of Rossellini, but in all of cinema; as one might imagine, the ending was also highly controversial at the time of the film’s release, and remains so, because it seems to come out of thin air, rather than in response to any section or aspect of the film’s narrative exposition.”

Much of the film was improvised; often Rossellini didn’t really know which direction the film was going in. The actors, especially George Sanders, were often irritated by Rossellini’s seeming indecision during the production, but the director was searching for something through the film, something perhaps related to his difficult and ultimately doomed relationship with Ingrid Bergman, who worked with Rossellini in three of his films, and abandoned her Hollywood career to work with him in Italy.

As I observed back in 2009, “Voyage to Italy is a film in search of itself, a film that only knows its own conclusion when it appears, miraculously, in front of it, arriving at a final destination that no one in the audience could possibly have foreseen. And yet, the final moments of the film seem absolutely ‘right’; indeed, it seems to be the only possible conclusion to the film.” And yet this could not have been an easy path to take; rather, it was a jump into the void, with only the slightest idea of how the film would finally end. And yet only with such a quest can anything worthwhile be made; if you aren’t searching for something, then you are lost.

“When you don’t know which path to take, choose the hardest one.” – Roberto Rossellini

Movie Theaters’ $1.3 Billion Stock Collapse

Friday, August 4th, 2017

2017 hasn’t been that great for movie box office figures – what does the future hold?

As Anousha Sakoui and Emma Orr report on the Bloomberg News website, “Hope is fading for a feel-good ending at the U.S. box office. After several months of flops like Warner Bros.’ King Arthur and EuropaCorp’s Valerian, movie studios and theaters are beginning to acknowledge that their streak of record-setting ticket sales may be coming to an end. AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc., the world’s biggest cinema chain, laid out a worse-than-projected outlook for the North American box office this week.

That announcement dragged down shares of theater stocks, wiping out $1.3 billion from the value of the top four cinema operators in North America since Aug. 1. Even with a new Star Wars, a Marvel superhero movie and the sequel to Blade Runner on the docket for the holiday season, the box office is unlikely to make up for a ‘severe hit’ in the third quarter, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. To date, receipts are down 2 percent in 2017, and AMC is projecting a 1.5 percent decline for the full year.

The concern is that the slump isn’t just a run of bad luck. Cinema operators have managed for years to keep increasing sales by raising ticket prices amid stagnant attendance, but a sharp drop in film going would make that harder to sustain. And the tried-and-true formula of churning out big-budget sequels and cinematic universes populated with super beings seems to be wearing on film goers. Movies featuring once-reliable draws Jack Sparrow, the Transformers and the Mummy did poorly in the U.S.

Meanwhile, competition is heating up. Netflix Inc. and other digital distributors are creating more original movies, and consumers have more demands on their attention than ever, from Snapchat to YouTube. Further exacerbating the trend, studios are expected to push for a new premium video-on-demand window this year.

It’s possible that Hollywood could reverse the trend next year, when a new movie about Han Solo, an Avengers film, and sequels to Deadpool and Jurassic World are scheduled. ‘This is very typical of the movie business,’ said Paul Sweeney, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. ‘You could make the argument that the slate for next year looks really good, which should grow the market next year in North America. That part’s a cyclical thing, and it’s likely to come back.’

And movie-theater operators Regal Entertainment Group, Cinemark Holdings Inc. and Imax Corp. aren’t facing the same level of pressure as AMC, which is carrying almost $5 billion in debt after expanding its empire to Europe, with acquisitions in the U.K. and Sweden.

Controlled by Chinese billionaire Wang Jianlin’s Dalian Wanda Group Co., AMC has become the poster child for China’s incursion into Hollywood. Concern that Dalian Wanda’s international investments may wane is adding to AMC’s troubles. ‘With China cracking down on funding for AMC’s majority shareholder, Dalian Wanda, the cinema chain faces murky prospects given its high debt level and appetite for global M&A,’ wrote Geetha Ranganathan, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst.”

Now, it could be that we’re just going through a run of bad films – or it could be, as Sakoui and Orr note, that “the tried-and-true formula of churning out big-budget sequels and cinematic universes populated with super beings seems to be wearing on film goers.” I’d argue it’s the latter, and though a new Star Wars or Marvel film may come along that rocks the box office, eventually this is a formula that’s bound to collapse. The figures above show it – theatrical box office is steadily going down.

But then again, what are the theaters to do? Audiences have been force fed junk for so long that they no longer know what a more thoughtful, challenging film looks like – they wouldn’t know how to approach anything that doesn’t have three act plot format, cardboard cutout characters, and a massive dose of CGI. Can you imagine if Ingmar Bergman’s Persona were released theatrically today? Or Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (which incidentally, holds the record for the biggest box office success for any foreign subtitled film to this day, adjusted for inflation)?

No one would come. Contemporary audiences only want genre films, franchise films, spectacle films, and superhero/heroine films. That’s it. And furthermore, theaters are locked into multi-year contracts stretching into the next decade for upcoming films from Marvel, DC, Disney, Lucasfilm (bearing in mind that Marvel and Lucasfilm are part of Disney) so they have to run their films no matter what.  What are theater owners to do? They could convert their auditoriums into gigantic videogame parlors, with multiplayer games on the screen, but that, too, would eventually fade.

The future is online. The future is streaming. The future is Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and similar companies. The future is people sitting in their living room watching web series, or feature films, on their 50″ plasma, streaming from the web, or cable – if they still live in the dark ages – but the future is not in movie theaters. It costs too much to go out, the prices at the concession stand are out of control (it’s really the only way the multiplexes can make any money), and furthermore, in today’s violent society, theaters are simply not safe. And with Amazon and Netflix making their own features, distributed through their own online network, who needs movie theaters?

The outlook for theatrical exhibition is grim indeed – what can turn it around?

Frederick Seidel’s “Widening Income Inequality”

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

Frederick Seidel is the quintessential New York City poet – this is his finest work.

I knew Frederick Seidel back in the 1960s, and owe him a great deal; he was one of the people with whom I put together the first film course at Rutgers University in 1966; he was unfailingly kind and generous in his dealings with me; and he got me a job at Life Magazine reporting on the New York experimental film scene in the late 1960s, just before the magazine folded. I met Tommy Thompson, the essayist and novelist there, as well as Brad Darrach, and that’s where I first learned to put pen to paper in some sort of serious fashion – and it’s all down to Fred.

Seidel has been writing poems for years, and they’re always remarkable for their honesty and candor, as well as the grace with which he floats the words on to the page – the result of a great deal of effort, by his own account, which nevertheless seems just right in the finished poem, as if “of course – that’s where this was heading.” He publishes prolifically in The London Review of Books, The New York Review of Books, and The Paris Review, and now many of his most recent poems have been collected in a volume aptly titled Widening Income Inequality.

Seidel has long been part of the Manhattan literary scene; in the 1960s, Esquire published a piece on “who was hot” in the New York City publishing world, and there was Seidel at the red hot center of all the action – just where you would expect him to be. Seidel is independently wealthy, and this informs the backdrop of much of his work; something he’s not in the least ashamed of, and why should he be?

Seidel is direct and clear in these new poems on his obsessions (fast cars are a top item) as well as his fears (growing older among them), but he never loses a certain mordant sense of humor about the vicissitudes of existence. He spends his time writing and working, never gives readings, doesn’t teach, and devotes himself solely to his craft.

As he put it in a 2016 interview with Alain Elkann, “I require a very great deal of time to do the work in. I want gallons of time to do the work. It gives you the opportunity to hear it, to smell it over, to meditate, to listen to what you are writing. You work and you work, and then comes a moment when the poem abandons you, the poem is finished. What has not been sufficiently emphasized is how important the sound is, the sound the language is making.”

The jacket copy for Widening Income Inequality notes that “Frederick Seidel has been called many things. A ‘transgressive adventurer,’ ‘a demonic gentleman,’ a ‘triumphant outsider,’ ‘a great poet of innocence,’ and ‘an example of the dangerous Male of the Species,’ just to name a few. Whatever you choose to call him, one thing is certain: ‘he radiates heat.’ (The New Yorker).

Widening Income Inequality, Seidel’s new poetry collection, is a rhymed magnificence of sexual, historical, and cultural exuberance, a sweet and bitter fever of Robespierre and Obamacare and Apollinaire, of John F. Kennedy and jihadi terror and New York City and Italian motorcycles. Rarely has poetry been this true, this dapper, or this dire. Seidel is ‘the most poetic of the poets and their leader into hell.'”

It’s a remarkable volume from first page to last – sometimes elegiac, sometimes angry, sometime puzzled at the way the twists and turns of existence have unfolded, sprinkled with memories of lost friends from New York society, such as Bobby Short, George Plimpton, Norman Mailer, William Styron – and yet he keeps on moving into the future, living in the moment, in the minute – always scanning the horizon for something new.

If you’re looking for something bracing, original, and absolutely fearless – read this volume.

Amazon’s Version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon

Friday, July 28th, 2017

Amazon’s series has little to do with Fitzgerald’s novel, but it’s still compelling television.

I’ve always been a Fitzgerald fan – much more so than Hemingway, and this interesting take on Fitzgerald’s last unfinished novel is several notches above the usual television fare, if only because it tries to do so many things at once – even as it strays almost completely from the original narrative of Fitzgerald’s work.

Monroe Stahr, fashioned after real life MGM boy wonder Irving Thalberg, runs a Hollywood studio in the 1930s with smooth charm and a velvet-gloved fist, while his fellow moguls try to take him down at every opportunity. Kelsey Grammer plays Monroe’s jealous and possessive boss – in real life, Louis B. Mayer at MGM – and is sure that Stahr is going to bolt for a different studio at this first opportunity.

Other than a famous story that Stahr tells a struggling screenwriter about a mysterious woman, a pair of black gloves, and two dimes and a nickel, as well as a house Stahr is building far from the studio as part of a love affair, that’s about all that’s taken from Fitzgerald’s book. It’s also interesting that in the Amazon series, the real Thalberg pops up, working for Louis B. Mayer (a superb Saul Rubinek) as Stahr’s competition, when nothing at all happens like that in the novel.

Add in a raft of new subplots, including the real-life incursion of Nazi censorship in Hollywood in the 1930s in the figure of Georg Gyssling (Michael Siberry), as well as the usual round of studio backstabbing, overnight stardom, insecure directors (the fictional Red Ridingwood [Brian Howe] from the novel, is referenced here, but in the novel he’s a failing hack; here, he’s the equivalent of Michael Curtiz) and refugees from Nazi Germany who find at home at Stahr’s studio.

Kelsey Grammer could have walked through the role of studio boss Pat Brady in his sleep, but instead offers a firm, assured performance – by the end of the series he’s become a real monster – while Matt Bomer as Stahr is definitely less successful, especially in the romantic sequences, and is most effective when he’s wheedling and cajoling his employees through a typical work day.

Real life figures like Fritz Lang (Iddo Goldberg) flit in and out at the edges of the series, while Jennifer Beals offers an exceptionally strong turn as fictional “passing” African-American film star Margo Taft, who is subjected to blackmail by L.B. Mayer when her secret is discovered. Even Marlene Dietrich (Stefanie von Pfetten) stops by for a quick cameo, and the studio itself (the series was shot in Canada) is littered with authentic period equipment.

The show first dropped the pilot in 2016, and offered it as one possible series of many different choices – and the pilot is perhaps the best episode in the entire series, with a great deal of energy and compact exposition – a strong inducement to watch the entire first season. In now-standard fashion, Amazon has dropped the entire first season on Friday July 28th, and by Saturday night, I had watched the complete set of 10 episodes – it’s that effective.

Though it bears little resemblance to Fitzgerald’s work, somehow, in the end, that didn’t really bother me. This is more of a tale of Hollywood intrigue and double dealing in the 1930s, handsomely mounted and efficiently directed by a disparate group of women and men, which more often than not offers real satisfaction and insight – despite Bomer’s stiff performance in the leading role. The show starts off lightly, but that’s just to lure you in.

As the series draws to a close, the show gathers real power – episodes 6-8 are more or less filler – but in the final two hours, The Last Tycoon takes many an unexpected turn, and reveals just how rotten Hollywood really was in the Golden Era, in which people were bought and sold as commodities, blackmail was rampant, and even murders were covered up in the name of “studio business.”

Fitzgerald’s name is tacked on for marquee value, but even though the plot is often far-fetched, the performances at times melodramatic, and the writing uneven, the show offers definite value for money, and the best part of all is that if you are an Amazon Prime member, you can stream the whole series for free. When you add up all the bad and the good, it definitely comes out on the positive side of the ledger.

Check it out – from the pilot to the finish – it’s addictive television.

About the Author

Headshot of Wheeler Winston Dixon Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions.

In The National News

Wheeler Winston Dixon has been quoted by Fast Company, The New Yorker, The New York Times, the BBC, CNN, The Christian Science Monitor, US News and World Report, The Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, NPR, The PBS Newshour, USA Today and other national media outlets on digital cinema, film and related topics - see the UNL newsroom at http://news.unl.edu/news-releases/1/ for more details.

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