The 1970s might have been a terrible time for New York City’s municipal finances and crime rate, but it was a Golden Age for the moviemakers who worked in the city then.
It was the period when Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Sidney Lumet and Paul Mazursky did much of their best work. The pictures shot in New York in the 1970s have a raw quality — you couldn’t hide the fact that the city was in the middle of a social and cultural breakdown — and the reality of the backdrop pushed actors to be as authentic as the setting.
Method specialists Al Pacino and Robert De Niro emerged from the New York films of the 1970s, but so did Diane Keaton and Jill Clayburgh.
One of my favorite 1970s New York pictures — “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” — is the attraction at next Tuesday night’s “Martini and a Movie” screening at the Fairfield Theatre Company.
Although the picture was endorsed by critics and audiences in 1974, it wasn’t a “prestige” hit like “The French Connection” (1971) or “Serpico” (1973).
It was only with the passage of time that film buffs and young moviemakers such as Quentin Tarantino began to appreciate the incredible filmmaking craft that went into this thriller about a subway hijacking. The criminal gang — led by mercenary Robert Shaw — all dress identically and call each other by color-coded names (Mr. Blue, Mr. Green, etc.), a device that Tarantino tipped his hat to in “Reservoir Dogs.”
What separates “Pelham One Two Three” from most of the other 1970s New York crime pictures is the black comedy that director Joseph Sargent and screenwriter Peter Stone found in such an explosive premise.
The transit cop who negotiates with the hijackers is played by Walter Matthau in one of his best and most droll performances. The actor captures the essence of the seen-it-all New Yorker who is ready to cope with whatever bizarre situation he faces next.
Stone also uses the financial catastrophe of the city for some wry joking. When the hijackers demand $1 million, the mayor and his minions aren’t sure if they can raise the cash in a few hours.
“Pelham One Two Three” must have been a logistical nightmare —with much of the film shot on subway platforms and in the tunnels connecting them — but it has a documentary feel that you just don’t find in contemporary Hollywood movies.
Join me next Tuesday at 7 p.m. for this free screening of a New York classic.
(The Fairfield Theatre Company is at 70 Sanford St. in Fairfield Center. For more information visit the non-profit organization’s Web site at www.fairfieldtheatre.org.)
The 1970s might have been a terrible time for New York City’s municipal finances and crime rate, but it was a Golden Age for the moviemakers who worked in the city then.
When most of us think about “the Hamptons” we have visions of the super-rich escaping Manhattan on summer weekends for plush estates and expensive restaurants where might you rub shoulders with Steven Spielberg, Billy Joel and Jerry Seinfeld.
Jasmin Rosemberg takes us to the other side of the plush beach resort’s tracks in her amusing new novel, “How the Other Half Hamptons” (5 Spot), set in a Long Island share house/pig pen where a few dozen twentysomething guys and gals look for summer fun on the cheap.
Rosemberg knows what she is writing about, having spent a recent summer living in a Hamptons share house and writing about it in a weekly New York Post column.
In the novel, Rosemberg follows three Manhattan girlfriends who decide to spend much of their summer in a share house. The characters are far from fresh — a party girl, a “nice” girl who has just broken up with her boyfriend, and a smart girl tired of living in the shadow of her older sister — but the journalistic aspect of the narrative will keep many readers turning pages.
Rosemberg would have been well-advised to stick to one protagonist in her first novel, but she does a good job of immersing us in a crowded and funky beach house that doesn’t seem like much of an escape from the jammed city where the characters work.
When I was young and foolish, I visited friends in a similar set-up in Dewey Beach, Delaware, and came away thinking it was like returning to college dorm life in your mid-20s (not a good thing). The non-stop drinking, drugging and…how shall I say this?…mating was quite awesome, however.
Reading “How the Other Half Hamptons” is a good guilty pleasure in the tradition of the MTV train-wreck reality series “The Real World” and “My Super Sweet 16.”
It was worth fighting the opening weekend crowds at the Museum of Modern Art’s new exhibition, “Dali: Painting and Film” on Sunday.
The huge sixth floor space at MOMA showcases the work that Salvador Dali (1904-1989) did during his regular forays into the world of movies, from the experimental short films he did with Luis Bunuel in the 1920s through his work with Alfred Hitchcock and Walt Disney.
Each gallery is devoted to an individual film, with one large wall displaying a continuous screening of the movie and the other walls filled with related drawings and paintings.
The 1928 collaboration with Bunuel, “Un Chien Andalou” (right), has lost none of its shock value in 80 years, particularly during the notorious sequence in which it appears a man is going to use his razor on a lover’s eye. Modern-day horror films such as “Hostel” and “Saw” have nothing on Dali and Bunuel when it comes to disturbing an audience.
At the time of the film’s first screenings, Bunuel and Dali provoked near-riots in theaters; college film classes and art-house audiences have been squirming their way through this odd-ball classic ever since.
Dali went on to do another film with Bunuel in 1930 — “L’Age d’or” — but it was his brief and tempestuous work with Alfred Hitchcock on the 1945 “Spellbound” that brought the Spanish artist his biggest movie audience.
Sadly, after Dali prepared many minutes’ worth of bizarre dream sequences (for the psychiatric patient played by Gregory Peck), the studio got cold feet and pressured Hitchcock to cut the material down to only a few minutes. The gallery space devoted to “Spellbound” is dominated by a huge painted backdrop that was used during the filming.
In conjunction with the exhibit, a series of screenings in the MOMA theaters will allow museumgoers to see “Un Chien Andalou” and the other Dali films without the gallery distractions, as well as examples of films that were inspired by Dali.
The exhibit runs through Sept. 15.
For more information, visit the museum’s Web site at www.moma.org.
On vacation last week I picked up two quintessential summer beach books — Lauren Weisberger’s third novel “Chasing Harry Winston” (Simon & Schuster) and Jackie Collins’s 26th novel “Married Lovers” (St. Martin’s Press).
Both books were published within the last month. The Weisberger tome seems to have surpassed “Married Lovers” in the best-seller sweepstakes, riding comfortably in the number six slot of The New York Times best-seller list for the past several weeks while the Collins book has dropped out of the top ten.
Weisberger’s fashion magazine world debut novel, “The Devil Wears Prada,” was one of the key chick-lit titles of the past decade and her follow-up book, “Everyone Worth Knowing,” was an entertaining look at the public relations industry in Manhattan.
“Chasing Harry Winston” is a lame time-waster that reads like a contractual obligation book written under duress.
Weisberger catches up with three college pals after a decade of living in the New York fast lane — Emmy, Leigh and Adriana — but the novel stalls out after only a few chapters when it becomes clear the author doesn’t care about these women and hasn’t thought of a plausible narrative for them. The women are pushing 30 and make an inane bet to change their aimless dating habits within the next year.
Where her earlier books were grounded in Weisberger’s actual experiences working in New York media, “Chasing Harry Winston” is a desperate recycling of material from “Sex and the City” and the other chick lit/chick flick milestones of the past decade. The writer never tries to make the ridiculous Brazilian Adriana credible as the best friend of Emmy and Leigh — the hot-blooded swinger is a stale amalgam of Samantha from “SATC” and a Eurotrash party girl in an early episode of “SATC” who was revealed to be a high-class hooker.
I kept reading “Chasing Harry Winston” assuming that some sort of plot would kick in eventually, but I was wrong.
Jackie Collins has been writing beach books for as long as Lauren Weisberger has been on the planet.
While Jackie might not have quite the “heat” of her “Hollywood Wives” era of the 1980s, she still knows how to tell a good story and how to keep a reader hooked for hundreds of incredibly fast-paced pages (Jackie keeps her chapters short and punchy and makes sure her cast of characters are such distinct individuals that we never get that feeling, so prevalent in “Chasing Harry Winston,” of not being able to tell one person from another.)
Jackie has kept her finger on the pulse of the international jet set for four decades and the new book serves up the same irresistible mix of gossip, pop sociology and sheer fun that has been the hallmark of every book since “The World is Full of Married Men” in 1968.
In “Married Lovers,” Collins serves up more juicy characters and situations than you would find in the average half-dozen beach books. Over-heated dust jacket copy is, for once, an accurate reflection of what’s inside: “Three high-powered Hollywood couples, two hot affairs, one underage Russian ex-hooker, a passionate murder – and the players’ lives are changed forever.”
Reading Lauren Weisberger’s latest you get the feeling she had to slog her way through the manuscript to fulfill an unpleasant obligation to Simon & Schuster. Racing through “Married Lovers” you can tell that Jackie Collins loved writing every dirty, sexy and funny page.
The new Will Smith movie “Hancock” is the only major studio release to open during the July 4 weekend, so the box-office figures on Sunday should be strong.
Word of mouth has got to be deadly, however; this is one of the worst summer movie star vehicles since Arnold Schwazenegger’s “Last Action Hero” in 1993. That turkey had a decent opening weekend, too, but the star’s reputation took a big hit — Schwarzenegger was no longer the sure thing he represented during the previous decade.
The pressure on big box-office stars to deliver is intense. The bigger they get, the bigger the budgets become, and record-breaking grosses are expected for every movie.
Years ago, Meryl Streep gave a speech where she complained about the huge discrepancy between the star salaries paid to men and women. She had already won two Oscars by that point, but was earning a pittance compared to male counterparts such as Kevin Costner and Harrison Ford.
Streep had a point, but perhaps her lower salaries and her continuing willingness to take chances on low-budget movies (such as “A Prairie Home Companion”) are responsible for the actress still being a prestigious in-demand performer, while many of her 1980s and 1990s male peers have faded out. The terrific performer has the starring role in “Mamma Mia!” opening July 18 and will be seen in the film version of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Doubt” late this year or early in 2009.
Will Smith has been a money-in-the-bank star for more than a decade now — can you believe “Independence Day” opened 12 years ago this weekend? — but he appears to be losing his edge and his knack for finding good material.
“Hancock” is a messy, nasty piece of work that is poorly made to boot — it’s distressing to see a major talent misuse his gifts this way. And I don’t think audiences will keep Will Smith at the top of the movie star heap if he keeps making duds like this one.
Fans of the Evelyn Waugh novel, “Brideshead Revisited,” and the 11-hour British miniseries from the early 1980s, will probably find a lot to criticize in the new theatrical film version that’s opening on July 25.
The miniseries — which launched the career of Jeremy Irons — was exhaustively faithful to the book.
The Miramax film is a Cliff’s Notes version of what Waugh was trying to say about class and sexuality in England in the years between the two world wars. Ironically, at the screening I attended in New York last week, I heard someone complain that the two-hour-and-10-minute film was “slow” — what would they have made of the miniseries?
No matter what happens to “Brideshead Revisited” in its midsummer art house release, the picture should bring more accolades to the 27-year-old actor Ben Whishaw — his performance as the alcoholic gay aristocrat Sebastian Flyte is the best thing in the movie.
After a series of small roles in British TV and films, Whishaw got his big break when he landed the starring role in the 2006 “Perfume” — where he played a sympathetic madman with a genius for creating expensive scents. The following year, Whishaw turned up as one of the multiple Bob Dylans in “I’m Not There” and held his own in a company that included Christian Bale, Heath Ledger and Oscar nominee Cate Blanchett.
Whishaw is a classically trained stage actor with the charisma of a movie star — he has that special ability to draw us close to angry, disturbed and confused characters who might not be sympathetic if played by a less compelling performer. Whishaw reminds me of the young Tom Courtenay, who was able to redeem anti-social anti-heroes in “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” (1962) and “King Rat” (1965).
Sebastian Flyte in “Brideshead Revisited” is a more conventional character than the ones Whishaw played in his last two movies — a sad young man who drinks to block out his inability to come to terms with being gay — but the beautifully mounted production will take the actor into the center of the mainstream. It’s the sort of flashy and tricky work that earns Oscar nominations.
It doesn’t seem likely that 2008 will bring us a movie book that is smarter or more entertaining than “Pictures at a Revolution” (The Penguin Press) by Mark Harris.
I wrote about the book at length in this space last winter, but wanted to let you know that Harris will be speaking at the Stratford Library tomorrow night at 6:30 p.m. This is another coup for library programmer Tom Holehan who hosted the brilliant Katharine Hepburn biographer William J. Mann last month.
In “Pictures at a Revolution,” the Entertainment Weekly writer and editor takes us back to 1967 and shows us how the five films nominated for the best picture Oscar that year were a perfect representation of the artistic and financial forces that were about to produce a changing of the guard in Hollywood.
Old-school Tinsel Town was represented by the conservative “Doctor Dolittle” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” the brash young revolutionaries were on hand in the form of “Bonnie & Clyde” and “The Graduate” (above) and the fifth film (and eventual winner) was a mix of old and new styles, “In the Heat of the Night.”
Harris takes us behind the scenes of the making of all five Oscar-nominated films. In each case, years were spent simply trying to get the movies into production. The material on “Bonnie & Clyde” is particularly interesting, detailing the half-decade spent by Esquire magazine writers Robert Benton and David Newman trying to interest directors in their off-beat gangster film. Harris shows us how their screenplay grew out of the writers’ love of the French New Wave pictures that opened here in the early 1960s and that “Bonnie & Clyde” was almost directed by Francois Truffaut (he opted instead for “Fahrenheit 451” as his English language debut).
“Pictures at a Revolution” is based on fresh reporting and fresh insights into a pivotal moment in the history of movies.
The free event at the Stratford Library will kick off a five-week Wednesday night film series during which all of the 1967 Oscar nominees will be screened, starting with “In the Heat of the Night” tomorrow at 8:15 p.m.
For more information call the library programming office at 385-4162 or go online to www.stratfordlibrary.org.
The best time I had during a week away from work was at the 18th annual “Broadway Bares” show at Manhattan’s Roseland Ballroom on June 22.
The sexy spectacle raised a record-breaking $874,372 for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and featured some of the best talent on Broadway. Producer Jerry Mitchell was just a chorus boy when he came up with the idea for the show in 1992 and has since gone on to become one of the most successful choreographers and directors on Broadway.
Mitchell’s dance card is too full these days for him to stage this one-night only event, but he left the show in the very capable hands of director Denis Jones and associate director Peter Gergus.
“Broadway Bares” seems to get bigger and more elaborate each year; “Wonderland” was the theme of the June 22 benefit, with the best costuming and scenic design in recent years (if someone was able to move the show to a Broadway house, you wouldn’t really have to improve the production values).
When I talked to Mitchell a few years ago about the benefit, he said BC/EFA had talked about extending the run of “Broadway Bares” for more than the current two performances on one night, but the logistics make it impossible.
Almost everyone who works on the benefit is recruited from shows running on Broadway and Sunday night is the only evening the dancers and actors are all off.
On June 22, for instance, “South Pacific” Tony nominee Matthew Morrison (above) was the star attraction in a terrific “Humpty Dumpty” number in which he slowly shed a giant egg costume to the tune of Digital Underground’s “The Humpty Dance.” The fact that Morrison was willing to rehearse and perform such an elaborate piece of choreography while doing eight shows a week of “South Pacific” says a lot about the young star.
Although “Wonderland” will never be seen again, lots of promotional goodies tied in with the show, including posters, T-shirts, and coffee mugs, are available on the BC/EFA Web site at www.broadwaycares.org