THE CINEMA SHOW: FILMS ABOUT FILMS – PART 2

The creative process can sometimes seem like moving a 320-ton ship uphill. Sometimes, you actually have to do that.

By Tim Lorge

 

FITZCARRALDO AND BURDEN OF DREAMS

There are some films in which the production itself was so unbelievable that they spawned a separate film documenting or dramatizing the process.

For some films, to truly understand it, you really need to know the backstory (a.k.a. horseshit) about its production.

Next up, the movie that is said to be one of the most difficult movies ever made, Werner Herzog’s “Fitzcarraldo” and Les Blank’s documentary on its making, “Burden of Dreams”.

If there is a theme between last week and this, it would be: film masters who, in one way or another, have suffered for their art.

The case could be made that Welles brought his suffering upon himself, in part, because of his arrogance. Herzog’s suffering, if he considers it so, is because he wants to tell a truthful and accurate story.

1982’s “Fitzcarraldo” is about Brian Sweeney “Fitzcarraldo” Fitzgerald (Klaus Kinski) is a (very German looking) Irishman who wants to bring opera, specifically Enrico Caruso, to the Peruvian Amazon in the early Twentieth Century. To do that, he needs to build an opera house.

To get the large sum of money he needs to build the opera house, he decides to harvest rubber from a swath of land that is almost impossible to reach by boat due to a long section of rapids and, of course, the indigenous people who want nothing to do with outsiders.

To get to the land, he has to portage (carry – didn’t know the word before this article), well, he got the locals to portage, a 320-ton boat over a steep, 40-degree hill.

To say the least, Herzog is a stickler for authenticity.

He shot the film on location in the Amazon AND actually moved a real 320-ton riverboat up and over the hill; no special effects were used at all! He actually moved a huge riverboat up and over hill!

I should note that there was a Peruvian rubber baron by the name of Carlos Fitzcarrald from whom Herzog drew inspiration for this film. Fitzcarrald actually executed natives if they didn’t help dismantle and carry a boat over the mountain. However, according to Herzog, it was only a 30-ton vessel broken up into fourteen or fifteen parts or, 2-tons per part.

This alone would be reason to watch Fitzcarraldo. However, we have to discuss the 1983 BAFTA winner for Best Documentary about the making of Fitzcarraldo, Les Blank’s “Burden of Dreams”.

If Burden didn’t exist, I don’t know if Fitzcarraldo would be as legendary as it is.

We have the 320-ton boat, three of them actually, one of them has to get up the hill. We see how that was done and it is AMAZING.

Let’s go back to before the moving of the boat.

Jason Robards and Mick Jagger were originally cast as Fitzcarraldo and his assistant, respectively. They shot about forty percent of the film, Robards contracts dysentery, has to fly back to NYC and his doctor orders him not to go back – he’s out. Jagger has a Stones tour to do, so, he’s out too.

Herzog now has to recast and get more money and oh yeah, the leaders of one of the local tribes are pissed that Herzog didn’t pay them off obtain their permission so they burned down their camp and all the sets.

Now, these are some of the highlights and there are so many more problems.

On its own “Fitzcarraldo” is an amazing piece of work. However, since we are talking about thirty-three years ago, as I mentioned last week, it would help you understand the picture better if you watched “Burden of Dreams” first.

Werner Herzog is a true giant of independent film. There is really no one quite like him. His vision and dedication to authenticity, particularly as evidenced in Fitzcarraldo, is something to which more filmmakers should aspire.

I encourage you to do the same.

Incidentally, once every year or two, Herzog runs what he calls the Rogue Film School [http://roguefilmschool.com/]. It is, according to Marie-Françoise Theodore’s article [http://www.indiewire.com/2014/09/12-things-i-learned-at-werner-herzogs-rogue-film-school-69693/] on IndieWire, quite the experience.

He is also running a filmmaking class on Masterclass [  https://www.masterclass.com/classes/werner-herzog-teaches-filmmaking ] later this summer. I hope to have an article for you on that after it launches.

The Cinema Show: Films about Films: Part 1

Citizen Kane, RKO 281 and “The Battle Over Citizen Kane”

There are some films in which the production itself was so unbelievable that they spawned a separate film documenting or dramatizing the process.

I’m not talking about a middling DVD extra. I’m talking an actual documentary made by someone other than the studio.

For some films, to truly understand it, you really need to know the backstory (a.k.a. horseshit) about its production.

There are many and we’ll cover some of them. Our first is Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane.

Citizen Kane is often called the greatest film ever made because it is the greatest fucking movie ever!

Yes, everyone says it and it is easy to discount that fact.

However, I ask you to consider this.

At the age of 24, if you had intimate details about the private life of the largest media tycoon in the world, a man who could crush your life, career and art, would you as an artist be willing to write that story, get it made and spend the rest of your life dealing with the fallout from it?

Orson Welles had that information on media magnate William Randolph Hearst and did just that.

Hearst’s power and influence is really quite unimaginable today. No one wields as much power over the media as he did. Rupert Murdoch is nothing compared to Hearst.

Every frame of Kane is steeped with jabs at Hearst. As detailed in Filmmakers Thomas Lennon (the documentarian not Lt. Dangle of Reno 911!) and Michael Epstein’s PBS documentary “The Battle over Citizen Kane,” when Hearst got wind of this, he was none too pleased.

He sent influential gossip columnist Louella Parsons (think TMZ but with WAY more power to destroy people) to find out all she could about the film and obliterate it before its release.

When that didn’t work, Hearst tried to coerce the heads of the other Hollywood studios.

That didn’t work either. Hearst’s newspapers set about trashing the film and libeling Welles upon its release. Non-Hearst papers, however, gave it positive reviews.

In the end, the audiences of 1941 ultimately rejected Kane and it bombed.

With the death of Hearst in 1951 and advent of TV in the 50’s, Kane began its ascent to legendary status.

The story of Citizen Kane is a frame story that opens with a media tycoon Charles Foster Kane’s last words “Rosebud.” This sends an intrepid reporter on a quest, to find out what Rosebud means.

“RKO 281” was a dramatization of “The Battle” that HBO produced in 1999.

There are some criticisms about “The Battle” and, in turn “281,” claiming Welles and Hearst weren’t as similar as portrayed and that the “Hollywood legend” of Rosebud being a nickname Hearst had for his mistress’ clitoris wasn’t true.

Whether either is true or not, I have no idea. Considering the venom with which Hearst pursued Welles and Kane, I can certainly see it as plausible.

My preference is to watch the backstory on the films first, then watch the film. I find that it makes the viewing of the original film that much more compelling.

If you are a lover of film and have never seen these three, you must.

Citizen Kane – 1941

Written by: Herman J. Mankiewicz, Orson Welles – Original Screenplay; John Houseman, Roger Q. Denny and Mollie Kent – Uncredited, Contributing Writers

Directed by: Orson Welles

Main Cast:

  • Joseph Cotten
  • Dorothy Comingore
  • Agnes Moorehead
  • Ruth Warrick
  • Erskine Sanford
  • Everett Sloane
  • Paul Stewart
  • Orson Welles

Academy Awards: 9 nominations, 1 win.

On lists

  • 1001 Films
  • #1 AFI Top 100 ‘07
  • #1 AFI Top 100 ‘98
  • #4 WGA 101 Greatest
  • 1989 Addition to National Film Registry, one of the first 25 selected

 

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

Wikipedia

Playing Where? Netflix DVD, DVD Purchase

 

The Battle Over Citizen Kane – 1996

Written by: Richard Ben Cramer & Thomas Lennon

Directed by: Michael Epstein & Thomas Lennon

Main Cast

  • David McCullough (host)
  • Orson Welles (archive)
  • William Randolph Hearst (archive)
  • Richard Ben Cramer (narration)

Academy Awards: 1 Nomination for Best Documentary Feature

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes n/a

Wikipedia

Playing Where? Netflix DVD, DVD Purchase

 

RKO 281 – 1999

RKO 281 Trailer

Written by John Logan; Based on “The Battle Over Citizen Kane” by Richard Ben Cramer and Thomas Lennon

Directed by: Benjamin Ross

Main Cast

  • Liev Schreiber
  • James Cromwell
  • Melanie Griffith
  • John Malkovich
  • Brenda Blethyn
  • Roy Scheider
  • Liam Cunningham
  • Kerry Shale

Awards:

  • Golden Globe, 2000 Best Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television
  • Emmy Award for Outstanding Casting for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special
  • Emmy Award for Outstanding Music Composition for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

Wikipedia

Playing Where? Netflix DVD, DVD Purchase

The Cinema Show: 1,852 and Counting

I have had one thousand, eight hundred fifty-two sexual partners and they were all glorious!

No, I’m kidding. How would I ever find time to drink and write? Plus, I’m a whiskey man so, there’s that.

I’m talking movies!!

I have a list of 1,852 (and counting) movies that you should see in your life. It’s extreme yes, however, if you are a cinefile, you have probably seen many of these.

This started simply enough. In the Summer of 2014, Mandy from xoJane set all the filmmaking sites abuzz with [http://www.xojane.com/entertainment/bill-hader-200-favorite-movies-mike-sacks-poking-dead-frog] “Bill Hader’s 200 Films Every Comedy Writer” should see from Mike Sacks’ book “Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today’s Top Comedy Writers”.

I have to say, it spanned the history of film and was amazing!

To my surprise, I had seen about 75 of them. I now had to see the rest so into the Netflix queue they went.

I then had a realization. These were just comedies and those that claimed to be. What about dramas?

I started poking around and came across the AFI Top 100 Lists.

One was the “AFI 100 Years … 100 Quotes”  [http://www.afi.com/100Years/quotes.aspx] list. It’s all the quotes we’ve all seen used and abused mostly from the opening montages of awards shows.

•    “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night” – All About Eve
•     “Stella! Hey, Stella” – A Streetcar Named Desire
•    “Play it Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By’” – Casablanca
•    “Are you talkin’ to me” – Taxi Driver

Again, I realized outside of the clips, I hadn’t seen most of them so I added them to my list.

In its latest iteration, I have 1,852 movies on this list. I have since found other lists to add but here are the initial lists I’m using:

•    2003- 2014 editions of “1001 Films to See Before You Die”     (Listed in alphabetical order not a ranking)
•    Oscar Winners and Nominees for Best Original Screenplay
•    Oscar Winners and Nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay
•    Films on the National Film Registry
•    AFI Top 100 list from 1998
•    AFI Top 100 list from 2007
•    AFI’S 100 Greatest Movie Quotes
•    AFI’s 25 Greatest Film Scores of All Time
•    AFI’s 25 Greatest Movie Musicals of All Time
•    AFI’s 100 Most Inspiring Films of All Time
•    WGA’s 101 Greatest Screenplays List
•    Of course, Bill Hader’s 200 Essential Movies Every Comedy Writer Should See

If you were to watch one of these per day, you’d be finished in over 5 years. That’s a lot of movie watching so we should get to it.

Without further ado …

All About Eve – 1950
Written and Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Notable Cast
•    Bette Davis
•    Anne Baxter
•    George Sanders
•    Celeste Holm
•    Hugh Marlowe
•    Barbara Bates
•    Gary Merrill
•    Thelma Ritter
•    Marilyn Monroe

Academy Awards – 14 nominations/ 6 wins

On Lists
•    1001 Films
•    #28 AFI Top 100 ‘07
•    #16 AFI Top 100 ‘98
•    #5 WGA 101 Greatest
•    1990 Addition to National Film Registry

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0042192/
http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1000626-all_about_eve/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_About_Eve

Playing Where? Amazon, iTunes, Netflix DVD & Vudu

Description
Aging Broadway diva Margo Channing (Bette Davis) hires ingénue Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) as her assistant and let the cat-fighting begin! Plus, you put Celeste Holm in a movie and I’m there! OK, most probably won’t say that but she had an amazing career appearing opposite some of the biggest stars of her era.

A Streetcar Named Desire – 1951

Screenplay by Tennessee Williams
Adaptation by Oscar Saul
Based on his original play: “A Streetcar Named Desire” Tennessee Williams

Directed by Elia Kazan

Notable Cast
Vivien Leigh
Marlon Brando
Kim Hunter
Karl Malden

Academy Awards – 9 nominations/ 4 wins

On Lists
•    1001 Films
•    #47 AFI Top 100 ‘07
•    #45 AFI Top 100 ‘98
•    #19 AFI 25 Greatest Film Scores
•    1999 Addition to National Film Registry

www.imdb.com/title/tt0044081/
www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1020333-streetcar_named_desire/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Streetcar_Named_Desire_(1951_film)

Playing Where? Amazon, iTunes, Netflix DVD, Vudu

Description
One of Tennessee Williams’ finest, with superb film direction by very same director of the Broadway play Elia Kazan. At the end of her rope, Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh) moves in with her sister Stella (Kim Hunter) and brother-in-law (Marlon Brando) then … complications arise.

Casablanca – 1942

Written by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, Howard Koch
Directed by Michael Curtiz

Notable Cast
Humphrey Bogart
Ingrid Bergman
Paul Henreid
Claude Rains
Conrad Veidt
Sydney Greenstreet
Peter Lorre

Academy Awards – 8 nominations/ 3 wins

On Lists
•    1001 Films
•    #3 AFI Top 100 ‘07
•    #2 AFI Top 100 ‘98
•    #32 AFI 100 Most Inspiring
•    #1 WGA 101 Greatest
•    1989 Addition to National Film Registry

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0034583/
http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1003707-casablanca/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casablanca_(film)

Playing Where? Amazon, Flixster, iTunes, Netflix DVD, Vudu

Description
As political thrillers go, they don’t get any better than this. Jilted American ex-pat and political neutral Rick Blaine (Bogart) runs a nightclub and casino in Vichy French and German occupied Casablanca. After obtaining transport papers from Signor Ugarte (Lorre), his jilter, Ilsa Lund (Bergman) shows up with her husband fugitive Czech Resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Henreid ) looking for a way to escape the Nazi’s.

Taxi Driver – 1976

Written by Paul Schrader
Directed by Martin Scorsese

Notable Cast
Robert De Niro
Jodie Foster
Harvey Keitel
Cybill Shepherd
Albert Brooks
Peter Boyle

Academy Awards – 4 nominations/ 0 wins

On Lists
•    1001 Films
•    #52 AFI Top 100 ‘07
•    #47 AFI Top 100 ‘98
•    #32 AFI 100 Most Inspiring
•    #43 WGA 101 Greatest
•    1994 Addition to National Film Registry

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0075314/
http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/taxi_driver/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxi_Driver

Playing Where? Amazon, Flixster, iTunes, Netflix DVD, Vudu

Description
In all candor, I did not get this one. I find Vietnam related pieces hard to grasp. But, it is a classic and has wonderful cinematography of 1970’s New York. De Niro play Travis Bickle a Vietnam Vet who drives a cab at night and is disgusted by the world and saves Iris, a teenage prostitute played by a then 13-year-old Jodie Foster. I probably have to watch this again.

I hope you like this week’s selections. Let me know what you think.