Friday, February 25, 2011

Weekend Cinema Listomania (Special A Broken Heart For Every Light On The Great White Way Edition)

Video Event of the Week: Is the Dreamworks DVD/Blu-ray combo of Megamind, the not as funny as it should have been supervillain animated flick featuring the voice of Will Ferrell, possibly in contention? Might Sony's DVD of Get Low, with Robert Duvall as an eccentric Tennessee woodsman who decides to organize his own funeral bash, by any chance what we're talking about? Or is there the remotest chance that Warner Home Video's Blu-ray edition of Due Date, the rather blatant rip-off of Planes Trains and Automobiles starring the ill-served Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Gallifinakis, could conceivably be The One?

A very middling field, I think you'll agree, so for my money it simply has to be the incredibly cool new Criterion Collection refurbishing of the quintessentially NYC-ish Sweet Smell of Success from 1957, starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis.

If you haven't seen SSOS before -- in which case you're in for a treat -- it's about (among other things, including greed, lust and betrayal) the nexus between show biz celebrity and politics, which actually makes it even more relevant in our current media age than it was back in the day, when it seemed to be ripped from the headlines. Based on a script by North by Northwest writer Ernest Lehman (rewritten by lefty playwright Clifford Odets -- the unforgettable Broadway dialogue is mostly him), it stars Lancaster (in the performance of a lifetime) as sinister and deeply amoral gossip columnist J.J. Hunsecker, a character that everybody in America recognized as a barely disguised portrait of real-life tabloid and radio journalist Walter Winchell; Curtis (equally good) is Sidney Falco, a small time press agent/hustler with a love/hate and vaguely parasitical relationship with the great man. The film's un-billed costar, however, is New York City itself; director Alexander Mackendrick and cinematographer James Wong Howe staged the story against a backdrop of (many now sadly vanished) Manhattan locations, and it's hard to imagine a more exciting time capsule of the Big Apple in all its slightly sleazoid sharkskinned glory.

Here's Criterion's trailer to give you an idea.

Criterion's package begins with a gorgeous digital restoration from the original 35mm negative; it's so vivid you can practically smell the cigarette smoke and stale whiskey in the nightclub scenes. There's also a second disc with some bonus features that are almost as fascinating as the film itself, including Mackendrick: The Man Who Walked Away, a 1986 profile of the director (who is every bit as clear-eyed and acerbic about the movie business as you'd expect, and also charming as hell), a new video interview with Neal Gabler, who wrote the definitive book on Walter Winchell, and a terrific 1973 documentary on Oscar-winning cinematographer Howe. The accompanying booklet also features a characteristically perceptive essay on the film's history by critic Gary Giddins and (best of all) both of the Lehman short stories (from Colliers and Cosmopolitan) that introduced the Hunsecker and Falco characters.

The bottom line: You can -- and frankly what are you waiting for? -- head over to Amazon and order Sweet Smell of Success here.

Okay, and with that out of the way, and because things will as usual be mostly pretty quiet around here for the next couple of days, here's a relevant and hopefully amusing little project to wile away the hours until whenever:

Best or Worst Inside-Showbiz Film (Fictional OR Documentary)!!!

And my totally top of my head Top Five is:

5. Lonely Boy (Roman Kroitor and Wolf Koenig, 1962)

Snicker if you will, but if there's a better look at the star-making machinery and the price of fame than this cinema verité portrait of teen idol Paul Anka back in the day then I, for one, haven't seen it.

4. Can't Stop the Music (Nancy Walker, 1980)

A musical comedy(?) account of how the Village People got together in which the word "gay" is mentioned exactly never. And yes, it was directed by THAT Nancy Walker.

3. The Oscar (Russell Rouse, 1965)

The rise and fall of an incredibly obnoxious heel of a movie star (Stephen Boyd) and the bad actors (Tony Bennett) who enable them until they don't. Co-written by Harlan Ellison, of all people, and to his credit he's apologized for it on numerous occasions.

2. Stardust (Michael Apted, 1974)

The aspiring rock star Essex played in That'll Be the Day goes on to Beatles-size success in the 60s, with all the attendant drug use, artistic and personal sell-outs and betrayals that entails. Surprisingly downbeat and realistic, plus the fake band includes Dave Edmunds and Keith Moon.

And the Numero Uno perfectly awful that-business-we-call-show film of them all simply has to be...

1. Glitter (Vondie Curtis-Hall, 2001)

Rags to riches mishegass about an 80s pop diva, and also known as Somebody Almost Killed Mariah Carey's Career. Truly one of the worst films ever; see it for the scene where Carey gets seduced by a guy whose big move is playing the marimba for her.

Alrighty then -- what would your choices be? )


Gummo said...

On the bad side there's one of my favorite movies of all time, Wild Guitar, starring Arch Hall, Jr., Arch Hall, Sr. and Ray Dennis Steckler (stop & take THAT in for a moment) and directed by the Incredibly Strange Zombie himself, Ray Dennis.

The story of a small-town kid who comes to the big city to be a rock star (Jr.) only to get enmeshed in the parasitic connivances of a cynical record company owner (Sr.) and his henchman/bodyguard/hitman (Steckler -- yes, Ray Dennis plays the tough guy!), this is the movie that rips away the happy veneer from the pop music world to expose the dank underbelly of fame!

No, seriously, it's another of Sr.'s lame attempts to make a movie star out of his teenaged son, and this one may be even better than Eegah. Featuring some of Ray Dennis's stock company (Carolyn Brandt doing an interpretive dance to Jr. singing "Vicki" -- well, there are no words) and a host of Jr.'s songs and the most abrupt turnabout of an ending ever, this movie has to be seen to be believed.

edward said...

24 Hour Party People
A Hard Days Night
Singing In The Rain
The Producers
Day For Night

steve simels said...

I am ashamed to admit I have never seen Wild Guitar.

ninotchka said...

loving you-once again, elvis is applicable-
a face in the crowd
my favorite year
all about eve
the player
the day of the locust

sometimes i wonder, if i correctly answered the question.........

Anonymous said...

This is Spinal Tap!!!!!!!!!


steve simels said...

And speaking of THE PLAYER --

My tribute to an old school chum who is one of the celebrity cameos.

Michael said...

The Girl Can't Help It
And the truly dreadful Streisand version of A Star is Born

Anonymous said...

Good - Almost Beginners, Starstruck (the Australian one)

Bad - I know it has its defenders and an appealing trainwreck quality, but All that Jazz

J. Loslo said...

Does "Renaldo and Clara" count? I was a big Dylan fan in college, then his movie came out & it was so awful I couldn't listen to Dylan for a couple of years.

Never seen "Stardust," but I picked up the soundtrack over at raremp3, and some of the Dave Edmunds stuff is terrific. "You Kept Me Waiting" has become a favorite of mine.

steve simels said...

Both of those Essex movies are terrific.

The first one is more of a kitchen sink realist piece, whereas Stardust has fantasy elements.

And Ringo's great as a teddy boy in the first one.

Noam Sane said...

Someday I will find a copy of the Behind the Music that featured Chris Gaines, who was Garth Brooks in emo disguise (grunge wig, soul patch). Just stupidly great, and greatly stupid, like an hour-long Ben Stiller show skit.

I especially liked the part about his problem with sex addiction. Truly before his time!

Spinner summed it up best: "no one but a few eager psychiatrists gave a whit."

Brooklyn Girl said...

Seconding several choices from above, if for no other reason that they have memorable dialogue:

All About Eve ("Fasten your seatbelts ... it's going to be a bumpy night!")
Hard Day's Night ("She's a drag, a well-know drag. We turn the sound down on her and say rude things.")
The Producers ("I'm wearing a cardboard belt!")

The worst? SHOWGIRLS! :-)

Nigel Tufnel said...

This Is Spinal Tap (of course)
The Buddy Holly Story (wildly inaccurate, but fun)
American Hot Wax
A Star Is Born (1956)

A Star Is Born (1976)--overblown and an utter waste of talent. I rejoiced when Kris Kristofferson's Ferrari went over the hill and crashed, he was such a schmuck.

steve simels said...

Hey -- I love Showgirls!!!

dave™© said...

Not technically "movies," but two Rod Serling pieces come to mind - "The Comedian," a Playhouse 90 starring Mickey Rooney as an incredibly hate-filled obnoxious TV star (in other words, the REAL Alan Brady); and "The Velvet Alley," featuring Art Carney as a suddenly-successful writer, Jack Klugman as his mensch of an agent, and Leslie Nielsen as the TV director filled with self-loathing. Carney is absolutely fucking incredible in this. You can't really find it anywhere, but there are some clips on YouTube - check it out.

Oh, and I'm glad someone mentioned "Day of the Locust." A truly overlooked film.

dave™© said...

As for "Star is Born," apparently, before Streisand and her boyfriend took over, it was supposed to be a Cher vehicle, with Neil Diamond maybe (!!!). The guy that ostensibly directed it, Frank Pierson, wrote a scathing piece on his travails after the thing came out. Apparently, he's been doing some work for "Mad Men" recently...

Anonymous said...

Ed Wood. A shockingly great movie.

Bowfinger -- for me, Steve Martin's greatest moment.

Cadillac Records and La Bamba. Neither is perfect or even great, but I love 'em both.

The Doors (movie) -- scarier than Godzilla.

Broadcast News -- a great movie, and relevant here (I think) because these days news is just another form of entertainment.


Anonymous said...

Part B:

Does The (rereleased) TAMI Show count as film or documentary? Or both? Anyway, I'd put it on the good list. Also very good: The Wrecking Crew documentary. They make perfect bookends for getting a handle on the early-through-mid-60s LA pop scene.


Elroy said...

I loved S.O.B. by Blake Edwards, with old pros Richard Mulligan, William Holden, Robert Webber and Robert Preston having a blast. Plus Robert Vaughn in drag...and Julie Andrews' boobies!

pete said...

Payday, with Rip Torn

verification word: dotater

danny1959 said...

You're a cookie full of arsenic, Mr. Simels.

edward said...

The above mention of Cher/Neil Diamond reminds me of the truly awful Neil Diamond version of The Jazz Singer

Second Payday, Rip Torn is totally brilliant in it.

And since it stars the Rip Torn of this generation and is, at least superficially about putting on a play and Roger Ebert called it the best film of the 00's:
Synecdoche, New York

Nigel Tufnel said...

I forgot one: American Movie, the documentary about a guy in Milwaukee trying to write, produce and direct a horror movie by casting his friends and relatives and shooting only when he can raise enough cash to buy film. It's a contemporary version of "Ed Wood."