Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Written by Joe D on August 26th, 2008


I can’t believe it myself! I actually really liked this film, I went to see it with low expectations, hoping to get some views of Barcelona and enjoy Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruse but the movie was great! Wonderful story, beautiful locations, great actors. My only nitpicks are as follows: too much narration from some unknown narrator and a lot of out of focus shots. I don’t mind a few but it seemed like half the shots were soft! I read an interview with Woody and he mentions how he loved foreign films from the 60’s and they’re always out of focus, so the question is was this an intentional homage or did he spin that story into the press to make up for the buzzy focus? You decide. Javier Bardem is a wild artist sort of like the guy in Turkish Delight, if you’ve seen that film.
Trying to forget his lost love by jumping into bed with everyone he can. Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall are two young American chicks spending a summer in Barcelona. They are both excellent as well/ But Penelope Cruse has the Dr. Wu part. That’s a part ( according to Orson Welles) where everyone talks about the mysterious person for the first 20 minutes of the film (or play) , they all keep saying how incredible Dr. Wu is, what a genius etc, so when he finally shows up, the audience really believes he is the greatest. It works! Penelope Cruse doesn’t show up till about 20 minutes in and she is the most memorable character in the film. See for yourself! I recommend seeing this in the theater while you can, it’s worth it.

Godard vis a vis The Exiles

Written by Joe D on August 24th, 2008


I was just reading about Jean Luc Godard, I hadn’t know that he studied anthropology in college. His early films definitely show the influence or sensitivity to this interest. The life on the street that is in the background of his films, it captures a moment in time , a particular point in a society’s evolution, a view informed by a study of anthropology.

The same can be said of The Exiles. From the opening montage of Edward Curtis photographs of Native Americans we are made aware of this point of view. Godard set his genre/pulp plots in this particular setting whereas the setting and characters were the point for Mackenzie. But I knew there was a reason, outside of the B&W cinematography and downtown urban settings that The Exiles made me think of Godard. Another filmmaker that has this magical talent is Jess Franco, he can capture a revealing portrait of a city in a single shot. Check out The Obscene Mirror or Eugenie to see for yourself.


Jesus! Franco!

The Exiles

Written by Joe D on August 18th, 2008

It was worth the wait. The Exiles operates on many levels and succeeds on all. First of all it is extremely beautiful to look at, lush, delicious B&W cinematography, deep blacks, sparkling highlights, rich greys, such contrast and texture. Bravo to everyone involved. Secondly it is a time capsule par excellance. Los Angeles 1959 how cool is that? The way people dressed and slicked back their hair, the music they listened to on old Seeburg jukeboxes, “Play E7!” The incredible cars! There is a scene of two young Native couples driving a late 40’s convertible through the 3rd street tunnel that blows your mind! They’re blasting through the tunnel with the top down, passing a bottle of wine, the radio blaring some rockabilly hit, smoking, flirting, the joy is infectious! I want to do that too!
Also all the locations are A#1!! They all live on Bunker Hill, the bygone neighborhood of LA’s golden age. In the shadow of Angel’s Flight no less! Right next to it! This is where John Fante set his masterpieceAsk The Dust, the protagonist lived right next to the elevated railway Angel’s Flight.
They party at a bunch of downtown dive bars, man you can just see Bukowski slumped on one of these barstools. The bars are amazing and the clientele is incredible, even the bums are well dressed, especially compared with today, everybody dressed better, looked cooler and had more fun. At one point they stop off for some gas, the gas station is incredible! All white and chrome, brightly lit, I saw the address 3501 Sunset Blvd. I’m going to have to go check out what’s there today. If you are a fan of film noir or hardboiled LA fiction or Los Angeles history in general you will dig this film. Another thing the actors in this drama are all Native American, just real people not actors at all and they are terrific. The dialog is all post synced and is probably the weak point of the film but it’s not that big of a deal. I guess Kent Mackenzie recorded interviews with his subjects and structured the film around them, reconstructing what they spoke about, an interesting technique. In a lot of ways this film reminds me of early Godard, B&W, shot on the streets and in the bars of a big city, an improvised plot, a crazy dance scene in a bar with a jukebox, the internal monologue of characters expressed in voiceover. Super Cool!
The Natives all head up a hill that overlooks LA after the bars close, I think it’s Radio Hill or someplace near the Eastern edge of Elysian Park. Here they beat a drum and sing and dance all night! Just like back on the reservation. The Spiritual Life goes on even in a big city. It remimded me of an experience I had once, I walked up the hill to the top of Elysian Park to watch the 4th of July fireworks from Dodger Stadium, there was a car parked up there and an old Indian was beating a drum and singing, several other Indians were there with him, burning sage and dancing. This was all Indian land, there were big settlements of Gabrelino or Tongva Indians all around here. Their Spirits are still here in the Land and Sky. The Exiles makes this point in a timeless way. Finally I’d like to say Bravo again to Kent Mackenzie, he made a film that reflected his interests ,his concerns as a human being and an artist. He didn’t care about commercialism or market research, he created and documented a truth and as a result his film will live forever.

The Exiles to screen at UCLA

Written by Joe D on August 13th, 2008

Finally they restored Kent Mackenzie’s The Exiles! They’re screening it at the Billy Wilder Theater August 15 through August 23 also it’s going to be shown across the country check here for your area. I’ve never seen this film but I’ve wanted to see it for a long time. The true story of a Native American community on Bunker Hill in Los Angeles.
Bunker Hill is a mythical part of LA that was dismantled during the 60’s and replaced with office buildings, it was a neighborhood of crumbling Victorian mansions, some carved up into rooming houses and Angel’s Flight was smack dab in the middle.
This neighborhood features prominently in pulp writing(Chandler, Ellroy) and classic film noir. So come on down and check it out! Los Angeles does have history, it’s just buried under a strip mall.
Here’s the trailer:

Night Of The Hunter Outtakes

Written by Joe D on August 10th, 2008


Laughton reads from the Bible in an unused scene

I went to see the Night Of The Hunter Outtakes last night and I’m glad I did. It was an excellent show, narrated by the restorer, really the man responsible for this wonderful artifact existing at all, Robert Gitt. By the way the show was packed! This magical film draws people, even it’s outtakes! And it wasn’t just a bunch of academics, there were all ages and types of people. It’s sort of especially wonderful considering that Laughton had thought he failed in making this film. That the film was basically a flop when it was initially released. I blame United Artists! They had a technique of under budgeting films, then when the filmmakers were faced with needing more money or shutting down, UA would swoop in and supply the cash but take all rights, profits, etc. They used this same technique on my pal Robert Downey when he directed Pound for UA. But back to last night, I was extremely gratified to see that Preston Neal Jones, the author of the incredible Heaven and Hell To Play with- The Filming Of Night Of The Hunter was there. I love this book and I think it should be required reading at every film school in the country, on second thought the world! He is a very nice guy, very humble, and was so pleased that people liked his book and had many complimentary things to say about it. I wrote about the book in a previous post, check it out here.

Me & Preston Neal Jones, I know I look like a psycho

Anyway the show was great, Bob Gitt narrated the proceedings from a podium at the side of the stage, first he gave a bit of history of the footage, Laughton’s widow donated the footage to the AFI back in 1974. Students there began using it as fill leader, i.e. just to fill spaces between sections of magnetic track, in other words as junk film. Someone noticed this and put a stop to it and the film was shipped to the AFI in Washington D.C., Bob Gitt worked at the AFI and found out about the film. He later moved to UCLA and got the film shipped back to LA and began restoring it. It took 20 years of work to get it pieced back together and restored! Thanks for being so resolute!

Bob Gitt, restorer and narrator

The first scene was something Laughton shot for the opening of the film, a close up of himself reading from the Bible, it was never used but I think some of the audio may have appeared on the soundtrack album. Some of the highlights were, seing scenes that didn’t appear in the movie. For example a nighttime shot of downtown Cresap’s Landing where Robert Mitchum first comes to town, This was replaced by a stock footage shot of a locomotive steaming furiously at the camera. A wise move by Laughton and Robert Golding, the film’s editor. Outtakes of Mitchum screwing up were always amusing, especially when 5 year old Sally Jane Bruce would tell him ” You forgot your lines again”.


There was footage of the actor originally cast to play Uncle Birdie, a much more mild mannered man than James Gleason who replaced him. I think if he had continued in the part it would have been more realistic, less showbiz than James Gleason. I guess Laughton felt he needed more energy in that part. It’s pretty cool to see Robert Mitchum dressed as the Preacher sitting in his jalopy on a dark stage, then a slate comes in , the background projection starts, they begin rocking the car and Mitch starts speaking to the Lord! Incredible! Shelly Winters acts up a storm in this film. In the outtakes from her torchlit testifying scene she seems on the edge of a psychotic episode. Lauhton’s off camera voice commands her to say a prayer, any prayer and she begins chanting in Yiddish! This got quite a reaction from the crowd. Another powerful scene dealt with in depth is the one where Mitch kills Shelly. She’s alone in bed, illumined by a shaft of moonlight, a beatific gleam in her eyes, she’s at peace with her God and about to join him. Laughton hammers at her relentlessly, tweaking her performance, giving line readings, stopping her in mid sentence, starting her over. Bob Gitt included all the outtakes of this scene ostensibly to demonstrate what a great director Laughton was, how he shaped Winter’s performance but for me it had a different effect.
Robert Mitchum and Shelly Winter’s and many other members of this cast were excellent even incredible actors. That they would allow someone to constantly interrupt them, give them readings, talk at them the whole time they were on camera is a sign of the respect they had for Laughton. I think they would have told anyone else to shut the hell up! Laughton, a great actor, basically played every part in the movie off camera, often delivering the lines of whoever was in a scene but not on camera, playing the little girl or the boy’s father or whoever. I did feel he created a tension with his off camera direction that added to the depth of seriousness or weight of particular scenes but I think his real direction was probably given in the preliminary discussions with the actors, especially Mitchum and Winters. It’s fascinating to watch Shelly Winters, a devotee of the Actor’s Studio strip herself bare emotionally. It’s like being in her psychiatrist’s office during an especially heated session. But I think this is one of the things that makes a great actor, the ability to expose true naked feelings, things everybody else tries so hard to hide. A tribute to Laughton’s genius is the fact that he allowed Shelly to go to that point of hysteria but the used the more restrained takes that were in the end much more effectual. It’s also great to see Lillian Gish’s outtakes, once again Laughton is on her like an octopus, she begins a take ” Too Much!” bellows Charlie time and again and he’s always right. Another tragic element connected with this film is put clearly on display by screening these scenes, the talent of Billy Chapin who played John Harper. He took direction like an old pro, capturing nuances Laughton demanded of him. He was a great actor at that young age and yet he never worked again! I don’t get it. Another example of the stupidity of the Hollywood system. I have a theory about Laughton, I think he was a tortured soul, gay at a time when that was anathema to a career, having to live a secret life of self-loathing, I think he used this in his performances, like his great Quasimodo, read Fun In A Chinese Laundry and see what von Sternberg said about his acting in the unfinished I, Cladius, it’s all about torturing himself to give a good performance.

Von Sternberg

I think he projected his technique that he used on himself onto the actors in this film and I think instinctively they knew what he was doing and respected it, otherwise I don’t think they would have put up with it. I’ll close my review with two musical notes. One, we get to hear Sally Jane Bruce’s original track singing the “Pretty Fly” song as they float down the river. It was later replaced by a professional adult singer, Sally Jean’s is pretty amazing, for a 5 year old to sing a minor key song acapella blew me away, she got the part because she had just won a singing contest.


Sally Mayes, she sang the beautiful version that’s on the musical theater (Varese
Sarabande) CD of HUNTER

Then over the end credits we get to hear Mitchum sing a sort of boogie woogie version of ” Leaning On The Everlasting Arms” really Cool. There are a lot of other moments that make this show so great, and make us so lucky that this material exists and that a man like Bob Gitt loves film so much that he took the time to preserve this treasure trove. I overheard Bob say they’re trying to get this released on dvd, keep your fingers crossed.

Night Of The Hunter Outtakes To Screen At UCLA

Written by Joe D on August 8th, 2008

This Saturday August 9th UCLA will screen The Night Of The Hunter Outtakes at the Billy Wilder Theater. This material was donated to UCLA by Laughton’s widow, Elsa Lancaster (The Bride Of Frankenstein), Robert Gitt, retired head of Preservation restored the film and is presenting this screening. I’ve long been a fan of this film, Charles Laughton’s directorial debut and swansong, and this is a chance to see Laughton in action behind the camera, he kept it rolling as he directed actors between takes. Preston Neal Jones, author of the wonderful book Heaven And Hell To Play With, The Filming Of Night Of The Hunter has screened the footage and describes it in detail in his book. It just made me want to see it even more and now I have my chance. Besides I will look at any frame of celluloid that Robert Mitchum appears in. I’ll report back about the experience when I can.