Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A FEW RANDOM THOUGHTS

     Here are a few scattered thoughts, more diary-like than most of the posts on this site have actually turned out to be:

     First, it was delightful to start the post-Oscar movie-going season with Wes Anderson’s THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL.  The picture’s opening scene, in which a tweedy Tom Wilkinson attempts to spin a yarn with some decorum but is pelted by his pea-shooting son in a fashion reminiscent of the Marx Brothers and “Our Gang,” gives viewers license to laugh.  Such permission is important because the design of the film is so artful, its plot so filled with unexpected twists and its balalaika score by Alexandre Desplat so original that one might feel too overwhelmed to guffaw as she or he should.

     Part caper movie, part screwball comedy and part buddy picture, GBH is brilliantly performed by Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, newcomer Tony Revolori and a shockingly star-studded cast that includes Wilkinson, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Bob Balaban, Edward Norton and a host of less well-known but equally capable character actors.  (Fisher Stevens, Wallace Wolodarsky and Saoirse Ronan are among those who deserve to be more recognized.)

     The narrative unfolds like the cinematic version of a Russian nesting doll-- as a story within a story within a story. Bob Yoeman’s rapidly moving camera always hits its mark perfectly and contributes as much to the movie’s breakneck pace as Barney Pilling’s taught editing.

     Adam Stockhausen’s sets capture the grandeur of an exclusive hotel in the Dinaric Alps on the eve of World War II while also emerging as works of art in and of themselves. An elevator reminiscent of Matisse’s “Red Studio” shares screen time with intentionally primitive looking funiculars, hilarious paintings, Agatha Christie-inspired train compartments, impossible bakeries, Andersonian servants' quarters and a fa├žade that makes the Grand Budapest look like a dollhouse.

     There’s a model of Stockhausen’s hotel on display in the lobby of the Arclight cinema in Hollywood, and the rendering is eye-popping and fun.  But it’s also a reminder of the depth, complexity and hilarity of Wes Anderson’s story, not at all a relic of a movie overwhelmed by its own scenery. One takes it in while exiting the theatre and wants to turn around and watch film again.

     The pleasure of  seeing THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL at the Arclight – moving on to the next random thought -- brings to mind what a great city Los Angeles has become for motion picture viewing. Not only does it still have grand movie palaces (The Vista, El Capitan, The Egyptian and the main auditorium at Mann’s Chinese Theatre), its “repertory cinema” is at a level of quantity and quality I haven’t seen since I lived in New York in the 1980’s.  There, on any given night, I could watch great European and Asian films, old and new, as well as vintage Hollywood pictures, at such venues as The Thalia, The New Yorker, The Carnegie Hall and Bleeker Street Cinemas, at Cinema Studio and at the venerable Film Forum. Only Film Forum, as far as I know, survived the crushing blow of real estate development, which has made it nigh impossible for a single screen theatre with low admission prices to turn even a modest profit.

     But in L.A. today, Cinefamily, The New Beverly, The American Cinematheque, (at The Egyptian and The Aero) and The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) all have excellent World Cinema and Hollywood “golden age” programming.  On March 1, the night 91 year-old Alain Resnais passed away, I watched a restored print of JE T’AIME, JE T’AIME at Cinefamily. (Resnais’ 1968 film also played that night at Film Forum in New York).  This month LACMA will present an evening with Ennio Morricone (THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, THE UNTOUCHABLES, DJANGO UNCHAINED) and interviewer/collaborator Quentin Tarantino.  Later in March, the museum will screen the Hollywood classics MY MAN GODFREY, GOING MY WAY and MOROCCO.

     It would seem, then, that all goes well for Los Angeles movie lovers. But I must end on a much darker random note:  I was deeply saddened to hear that director Scott Kalvert died on March 7, apparently by his own hand.  I worked with Scott on DEUCES WILD (2002), which featured a remarkable ensemble cast. Matt Dillon, Stephen Dorff, Brad Renfro, Fairuza Balk, Debbie Harry and a then-unknown James Franco were all eager to work with Scott because of his stellar direction of Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg, Juliette Lewis and Lorraine Bracco in a 1995 adaptation of Jim Carroll’s THE BASKETBALL DIARIES.

     I have no special knowledge of what made Scott despondent.  But it often seemed to me he never recovered from lawsuits alleging that murderers at high schools in Paducah and Columbine were inspired by a dream sequence in THE DIARIES.  The fact that the suits were frivolous – that they ignored the fundamental sociopathy of the killers – and the fact that they were consequently dismissed, didn’t especially mitigate the damage they did to Scott.  Filmmakers who excel at their craft must be unusually sensitive.  And any sensitive person would be devastated by the suggestion, no matter how wrongheaded, that his work led to the killing of innocent teenagers.

     Blaming Scott Kalvert’s adaptation of Jim Carroll’s memoir for the shootings was as preposterous as asserting that The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” caused the Manson murders or that J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye is the reason Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon.  No doubt, the British band and the reclusive author were affected by news stories linking them to heinous crimes.  But neither the fab four nor Salinger were sued by victims.  And both had bodies of work so extensive and esteemed as to insulate them from ludicrous accusations.  THE BASKETBALL DIARIES was Scott’s first feature film; he was all but defenseless.

     My deepest condolences to his loved ones. Rest in peace, Scott Kalvert.