The studio is the enemy of the artist! – Norman Jewsion talking to Hal Ashby
When they talk about the great filmmakers of the 1970s, names like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Altman, Sidney Lumet, and Brian DePalma are always mentioned. Yet, none of these artists made as many great or important films within the decade as Hal Ashby (arguably Robert Altman did as many). Ashby’s 70s work included The Landlord, Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Shampoo, Bound forby’s Glory, Coming Home, and Being There. All these works were made within that one decade. No other filmmaker of the period had as many excellent films within a ten year period.
Hal Ashby was a rebel with a cause. His work was filled with social commentary on racism, The Vietnam War, the ruling class, the military and more. He loved film and filmmaking more than anything else in life. He fought the fight to keep his work untouched by the corporate bad guys. In Amy Scott’S 2018 documentary, “Hal,” reflects the director’s roguish, anarchic and independent artistic nature. Ashby’s first claim to fame was as a film editor mostly working with director and good friend Norman Jewison on films like The Cincinnati Kid, The Russians Are Coming, The Russians are Coming, In the Heat of the Night, for which he won an Oscar, and The Thomas Crown Affair. But what Ashby wanted to do most was direct and he got his opportunity with The Landord, a film far ahead of its time. Sadly, Ashby’s run of excellent work did not extend into the 1980s. Plagued by rumors of cocaine use and fighting with studio heads both his artistic and personal health suffered. Ashby died of cancer in 1988 he was only 59 years old.
Like many comics before her, and after, Gilda Radner was looking for love. Born in Detroit to a middle-class family, her father whom she loved dearly died when she was fourteen. Chubby as a child, the film states her mother, a beautiful looking woman, forced Gilda to take diet pills and repeatedly stressed the importance of being thin. Gilda, feeling unattractive found out she was funny and discovered people liked funny people. Continue reading
The new HBO documentary, Elvis The Searcher, sets itself apart from so many other takes we have seen on the man. True, it is was authorized by the Presley estate, Priscilla Presley is one of the producers, and they do tread lightly on his “legal” drug use, and there is no mention of other women. That all said, the film takes a mostly honest look, a discourse, at Presley’s life and his place in the history of popular culture. Since his sad final years, his death and his afterlife, Elvis has become something of a laughing stock, known more for being a fat, pathetic, over the hill, jumpsuit wearing laughing point than the pop culture subversive artist he was. The documentary attempts to correct this by putting Elvis, his talent, his revolutionary influence back in its proper perspective. It’s also, intentionally or not, a look at the sad failure of the American Dream. Continue reading
“I was born in a crossfire hurricane…” – The Rolling Stones.
For the first time since 1966, The Rolling Stones were touring America. It was 1969, and the venues were large palaces like Madison Square Garden. It was a month-long tour that began in early November and cumulated one month later. The Stones were on fire. Jagger is in top form strutting on stage like a rooster let loose in a hen house. The music is raw, and the audience primed. The MSG concerts would be preserved with the best cuts eventually finding their way on vinyl in 1970 as Get Your Ya Ya’s Out. The Stones agreed to end their tour with a free concert in California, a sort of west coast version of Woodstock. Continue reading
Along with Martin Scorsese, Roman Polanski, Brian DePalma, Arthur Penn, Francis Ford Coppola, John Frankenhiemer and Woody Allen, Sidney Lumet was one of the filmmakers from the period roughly beginning in the late 1950’s through the late 1970’s that shaped and formed my love of cinema. With the imminent demise of the studio system, that period was a significant turning point in American film. Overblown, over budgeted Hollywood productions and television would help end the Hollywood Studios stranglehold. A new order was on the horizon as were a new legion of filmmakers and Sidney Lumet was right in the mix. Continue reading
When Jimi Hendrix arrived back in the states from England, he along with his new backup musicians, Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell, came back as rock stars. In Britain, The Jimi Hendrix Experience recorded a series of singles including, Hey Joe and Purple Haze. In 1967, the Experience came to America and really hit it big at the Monterey Pop Festival with Hendrix famously setting his guitar on fire. After the festival, the band went on tour with the headlining teen pop group, The Monkees, which Hendrix nicknamed, the Plastic Beatles. It was an odd pairing to say the least. The crowds were mostly fans of The Monkees, young teenybopper girls and their mothers. The site of the psychedelic rock threesome with their wild clothes, permed hair and hard rock music must have shocked the mothers in the audience out of this house dresses. They must of thought the group ranked to the left of obscene. Continue reading
It takes a certain quality to be street photographer. You need to get close enough to your subject in order to capture that decisive moment, yet manage to remain elusive, almost invisible to all. You always take the chance of offending someone for invading what may be considered a private moment. It’s a balancing act.
An unassuming woman, Vivian Maier, roamed the streets taking, and compiling, street scenes totaling more than 150,000 negatives and rolls of film. What may have helped Maier shoot her photographs without making eye contact was the type of camera she used. She always carried a Rolliflex which unlike a single lens reflex camera was the kind of camera you held at waist level, looked down at and thru the viewfinder. This meant, unlike with SLR’s you, the photographer, did not directly engage in eye (lens) to eye contact with the subject. It’s possible many of Maier’s subjects were not even aware they were being photographed. Continue reading
Photographer Bill Cunningham admits he is no artist. He is neither a commercial photographer like Bert Stern nor a documentarian such as Dorothea Lange. But what he does, he does well. Cunningham is a well-known photographer in the world of fashion but don’t pin that label him either. That’s not what he does. He emphatically says so himself. He says this though he has worked for Vogue, the original Details and currently works for The New York Times. Continue reading
Tomorrow night on the PBS American Masters series at 9PM (check local listing for exact time and date in your area), the premiere of a full length feature documentary on photographer Dorothea Lange. According to press releases “Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightening” will feature “newly discovered interviews and vérité scenes with Lange from her Bay Area home studio, circa 1962-1965, including work on her unprecedented, one-woman career retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA.” The film is produced, written and directed by Emmy award winning Dyanna Taylor, the granddaughter of Lange and her second husband Paul Schuster Taylor. Continue reading
Being Italian-American, and more importantly that my grandparents, parents, and other relatives lived in the same neighborhood, and in fact, some on the same street the Scorsese family lived on, Elizabeth Street, I had a curiosity about this film than others may not. Did anyone in my family know the Scorsese family back in those days, I wondered? Living in such a close congested area and only a few buildings away, anything was possible, I thought. Well, the answer was no, the name Scorsese was not familiar to anyone I knew. Still, much of what was discussed in the film was so similar to my own family’s experiences that I felt a kind of correlation; here was my own family’s story being told.
In “Italianamerican,” a 1974 documentary Scorsese made after “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” Marty explores his heritage through his parents’ homespun stories. The setting is casual, right in his parent’s apartment on Elizabeth Street in Little Italy. The attention is strictly on his folk’s tales of their early life and that of their immigrant parents. Continue reading