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Entries in American Graffiti (8)

Wednesday
Jan072015

Soderbergh's Viewing List Includes "Magic Mike XXL" Three Times! 

By now you've probably heard mention that Steven Soderbergh, he who is officially retired but not really because nobody totally believes it and he still works in various capacities, just posted his list of everything he watched and read this past year. I love Soderbergh's List-Mania more than I even love Soderbergh because I relate. This is now my favorite celebrity listing tradition of each year, not that there are very many consistent ones.

 The whole list is worth reading but I wanted to share nine highlights in the order in which they delighted me.

NINE HIGHLIGHTS IN ORDER OF HOW THEY DELIGHTED

09 He watched Lisa Kudrow's The Comeback the same day he watched Birdman... a very meta Hollywood day was November 9th.

08. I can't imagine what his Oscar ballot looks like since it appears in the middle of all his TV viewings and plentiful 1970s movies, he only watched nineteen 2014 movies (in order): The Monuments Men, Gone Girl (twice), Under the Skin, Pioneer (the Norwegian film), Finding Vivian Maier, Boyhood, Citizenfour, Birdman, Whiplash, The Babadook, Ida, Nightcrawler, American Sniper, A Most Violent Year, Foxcatcher, Unbroken, Inherent Vice, Selma, The Interview and Top Five. Given that that's all he watched

Let's guess what his Director ballot looks like... Maybe:

  1. Fincher - Gone Girl
  2. Inarritu - Birdman
  3. Linklater - Boyhood
  4. DuVernay - Selma
  5. ...????????? Gilroy? Chazelle? Miller? Anderson?

07. While his TV preference are very typical (all the acclaimed stuff) he seems to really appreciate funny women since he watches:  Inside Amy Schumer, Getting On, Girls, and Veep regularly.

06. Like me and many of you, he read Mark Harris's "Five Came Back" this summer

05. Since he watched American Graffiti again right before our 1973 Smackdown with Dana Delany we're free to pretend that he did it in preparation for enjoying our event! 

04. I can't fathom a double feature of Selma and 2001: A Space Odyssey just before Christmas which is why it's fun.

03. But nothing beats the double feature of Poland's awesome Ida followed by... wait for it... Peter Pan Live! 

02. On Valentine's Day he watched Ice Castles (1978). Love it. Okay maybe it was Ice Castles (2010) but it's more fun to imagine the earlier film. Take it away Melissa Manchester

Please, don't let this feeling end
It's everything I am
Everything I want to be
I can see what's mine now
Finding out what's true
Since I found you
Looking through the eyes of love

01 Look at how many times he's already watched Magic Mike XXL (2015). JEALOUS. Looks like he saw the first cut just five weeks after shooting began. And then twice more within another month. (If you missed our interview with an actress who appears briefly in Magic Mike XXL and told us about it, click here.) For the record, though Soderbergh isn't directing the sequel, he's still involved in multiple aspects including (according to IMDb) as cinematographer, editor, and executive producer. So it's still very much a Soderbergh picture... especially since his long time first assistant director/producer Gregory Jacobs is in the director's chair this time.

Friday
Aug012014

Podcast: A Smackdown Companion w/ Dana Delany

Dana Delany loves talking movies! You can see her next in "Hand of God" on Amazon PrimeYou've read the Supporting Actress Smackdown of 1973. Now hear its companion Podcast 

On this special episode of the podcast -- meant to enhance and extend the current Supporting Actress Smackdown conversation to include the films themselves -- Nathaniel welcomes two time Emmy winner Dana Delany (China Beach, Desperate Housewives, Body of Proof), as well as EW editor at large and "Five Came Back" author Mark Harris, "You Must Remember This" podcast goddess Karina Longworth, Bill Chambers from Film Freak Central, and Kyle Turner from The Movie Scene.

You'll want to listen to this one. Trust me on this: your week will not be complete until you hear Dana's Sylvia Sidney impression and Mark's childhood Exorcist story. 

Smackdown 1973
00:01 Introductions
02:45 American Graffiti: nostalgia, sexism, George Lucas, actors vs screenplay
13:15 Summer Wishes Winter Dreams: New Yorkers and Joanne Woodward's psyche
20:30 Paper Moon: Tatum O'Neal and the matter of child actors
23:15 The Exorcist: assembled performances, stand-ins, horror subjectivity
29:45 "Collaborative Performances" Andy Serkis & Linda Blair
34:00 We share childhood stories about seeing scary/adult movies
40:00 Behind the Scenes history & Dana talks Emmys & the awards circus
45:35 Paper Moon: Madeline Kahn, great screenplays, category fraud, and films about The Great Depression 
55:00 Final Questions / Goodbyes 

You can listen at the bottom of the post or download the conversation on iTunes. Continue the conversation in the comments.

NEXT ON THE SMACKDOWN: 1989 on August 31st

Smackdown Companion 1973

Thursday
Jul312014

Smackdown 1973: Candy, Madeline, Linda, Sylvia, and Tatum O'Neal

Behold the five Oscar-nominated Supporting Actresses of 1973: a "bitchin' babe" (Candy Clark), a pint-sized con-artist (Tatum O'Neal), a possessed teenager (Linda Blair), a selfish carnival dancer (Madeline Kahn), and a vinegary New York institution (Sylvia Sidney). 

THE NOMINEES

 

Last month's featured year, 1964, gave us an extremely senior acting shortlist of Oscar regulars but the corresponding shortlist of 1973, apart from Sylvia Sidney who had been a respected working actress for nearly a half-century, skewed very new and very young and not just because it gave us the youngest Oscar winner of all time in Tatum O'Neal; she was 10 years and 148 days old. The four actresses nominated with Sidney were in their first flush of stardom and only acting in their first (O'Neal) second (Kahn & Clark) or third films (Blair). The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences obviously approved of their career choice.

THIS MONTH'S PANELISTS

from left to right: Chambers, Delany, Harris, Longworth, Rogers, Turner

You've already heard 'what 1973 means to them' and now here to talk about these five performances are authors Mark Harris ("Five Came Back") and Karina Longworth ("Anatomy of  an Actor: Meryl Streep"), film critics Bill Chambers (Film Freak Central) and Kyle Turner (Movie Scene), your host Nathaniel R (The Film Experience) and our special guest: two-time Emmy winning actress Dana Delany ("China Beach", "Body of Proof", and the forthcoming "Hand of God").

And, as ever, we must thank StinkyLulu for the original Smackdown inspiration in which we revisit Oscar shortlists of the past without all the campaigning and heat-of-the-moment politics that infect each awards race. Without further ado, part one of the main event.... (here's part two which is a podcast conversation)

1973
SUPPORTING ACTRESS SMACKDOWN 

 

LINDA BLAIR as "Regan" in The Exorcist
Synopsis: The daughter of a famous actress begins acting strangely. Can two priests save her from the demon inside?
Stats: 15 yrs old. First and only nomination. 41 minutes of screen time (or 34% of running time). 

Dana Delany: William Friedkin clearly created a set where Blair felt free to perform. She is naturally real as a pre-teen and then fully committed  in the physicality when she is possessed. I know it's McCambridge's voice, but Blair deserved this nomination just for what they put her through; the crucifix in the crotch, alone! ♥♥♥

Bill Chambers: This isn't one performance but three--four if you count the makeup unto itself. Blair provides the base coat, of course, and the guilessness she brings to her early scenes is perhaps easy to underrate; she's not just natural, she's impossibly ordinary. (Her squirms and grunts in the hospital scenes are also viscerally authentic.) But Regan is a puppet in both concept and execution, manifesting fewer reactions than she provokes. In the end, this isn't unlike nominating Yoda or something. ♥♥

Karina Longworth: In a movie full of terrible performances, at least Blair's gives you something to think about, in that it takes some work to separate out what she's actually doing on her own, and what is being accomplished via makeup, effects, and voice dubbing. The things that are wrong (dated, laughable) with the movie are not Blair's fault, exactly, but she also doesn't exactly give a sense of the agency or invention that she brings to the role that another actress wouldn't.  ♥♥

Kyle Turner: Though part of what’s memorable about Blair’s performance has to do with Mercedes McCambridge’s voice work, she adds an absolutely crucial element of that innocence and naiveté suddenly taken over by evil. The film is not only horrifying on a visceral level, but on a human level because we sympathise for Regan. She’s going through Hell. Literally. ♥♥♥♥♥ 

Mark Harris: Revisiting this, I found myself surprised by how little Blair is in the movie—unlike the adults, she’s not a character but an object, and William Friedkin uses her shrewdly but sparingly, in short, carefully chosen takes, sort of the way Spielberg deployed the shark in Jaws. It’s far from great acting, but her ordinariness works well for the part, and even though it’s a largely lip-synced performance (all hail Mercedes “Pazuzu” McCambridge!), she’s impressively game in every scene. ♥♥ 

Nathaniel R: Those doctors and priests are such fools. Little Regan definitely has an unholy spirit inside her and its name is "McCambridge". Though the sound design, dubbing, and makeup are doing major heavy-lifting, Blair does just fine with her half portions, believably slipping towards catatonic trouble. Plus: watch her demon scenes with the sound off (I tried it!) and there’s still solid physical acting. In short I believed this young actress scratched “Help Me” into her own stomach from the inside. ♥♥♥ 

Reader Write-Ins: "Even with all the help this performance gets (makeup, sound, voice actors, etc) I still think Blair was ahead of her age and completely believable. Even after all the spoofs and rip offs I still find her creepy and during the "normal" scenes she's very natural." - Mauro. (Reader average: ♥½)

Actress earns 19½ ❤s 

4 more actresses after the jump


Click to read more ...

Monday
Jul282014

Introducing Pt 2... Blair and Candy

Previously on "Introducing"Tatum, Sylvia & Madeline

It's just 3 days until the Supporting Actress Smackdown of 1973. Bless StinkyLulu for dreaming up this event years ago because it's still so fun. But first some unfinished introductions: how do Candy Clark and Linda Blair enter their movies. If you hadn't yet seen the movie would you be expecting an Oscar nomination from these first scenes? What do the scenes telegraph for first time viewing? 

Sure do love you.

Hi, Mom!

11½ minutes in. Meet "Regan" (Linda Blair in The Exorcist)
How fitting that she first appears in bed, since she'll spend the bulk of the movie in one albeit it under far more horrific circumstances than a good night's sleep. As the scene begins her mother Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) has heard noises in her Georgetown rental and checks on her daughter first. Sound asleep. But there's a telling pan left to the open window, curtains blowing, and despite the maternal warmth and blissful lack of scoring or over-done sound design at this moment (it does sound plausibly like a rat or racoon in the attic) the scene is subtly chilling. The Exorcist understands the slow build and modulation and starts pianisssimo.  Chris kisses her daughter and pulls the covers up. When we see Regan again five minutes later she's just a typical bouncy teenager who talks pretty horses and steals cookies. If you'd never heard of The Exorcist before you first saw it (fat chance) you could safely assume that both the mom and the daughter might soon be in peril, but nothing else. The Exorcist establishes home life normalcy first before demonic insanity betrays its fragility.

Babe. What a bitchin' babe!

30¾ minutes in. Meet "Debbie" (Candy Clark in American Graffiti)
American Graffiti is about four friends after high school graduation but by the half hour mark they've all split up and the film becomes four parallel films as they cruise around the strip in different cars or on foot. We meet so many characters, first spotted from car windows, including one previous blonde fantasy girl that Debbie's entrance doesn't seem major... at first. Initially Debbie is presented in completely objectified fashion as Terry (Charles Martin Smith) calls her a Babe (to himself) and hears other men cat call her. He follows her in the car and she's getting nervous in this neighborhood and walks faster. But after a minute of fruitless one-sided conversation from his car he tells her she looks like Connie Stevens. Her temperature changes and she beelines straight for him, suddenly a different person. It's a special entrance just from Clark's offkilter switch. She's the one suddenly objectifying... only its the car she's lustfully eyeing and possibly more compliments, too.

She'd get the ultimate compliment with an Oscar nomination.

Be here on Thursday afternoon when our awesome panel discusses these five nominated performances in the monthly Smackdown event. This is your last day to vote on the 1973 supporting actress shortlist by sending me heart ratings -- for only the ones you've seen -- on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being unimproveable feats of acting. (Reminder: Next month is 1989)

Thursday
Jul042013

"American Graffiti" is a Wonderful Ride. Take It. 

I honestly can't tell you why I've avoided American Graffiti (1973) for as long as I have especially since my childhood was filled with Star Wars trilogy mania to the extent that I even devoured a George Lucas paperback biography in the early 80s. But as the only remaining unseen nominee from an unusually diverse and entertaining Best Picture Vintage (American Graffiti, Cries and Whispers, The Exorcist, The Sting, and A Touch of Class) I thought it was time. My assumption that a leisurely drive back into American nostalgia would be just the ticket for the Fourth of July holiday was correct. What surprised me was the drive itself, which "leisurely" does not accurately describe though modern sensibilities might describe the unrushed pacing in just that way.

America Graffiti spends a single night cruising with a group of friends and new acquaintances (a couple of whom, at least, have just graduated high school though the film is less clear on where the other characters stand in the age and education continuum). It's just any night but it's also not. Best friends Curt (Richard Dreyfuss, Golden Globe nominated for this performance) and Steve (Ron Howard), are due aboard a plane headed for college the next morning. But the road they and their friends travel isn't a straight shot, despite the frequent threat of drag race challenges. It's filled with detours, cul de sacs, snack breaks, and confusing cross, tail and headwinds fighting their course.  

Dreyfuss is a dreamer in "American Graffiti"

There are no convertibles to speak of in American Graffiti but you dont even have to be exposed and in motion to feel like the past and future are whipping your hair about and fighting for control of your vehicle, your life, your now. The main characters from hotshot drag racer John (Paul LeMat who won the now defuct "Promising Newcomer" Golden Globe for this performance), to cheerleader Laurie (Cindy Williams, BAFTA nominated for this performance), to best friends Curt and Steve... are visibly confused about the future and even their feelings about the past though they're hanging on, sometimes consciously, to its familiarity. Graffiti's screenplay and ensemble work is strong enough to even let the secondary characters in on this past/future action a bit too, in more subtextual ways. 

The cinematography by Jan D'Alquen & Ron Eveslage (who according to IMDb never worked again after this???) with guidance from the legendary Haskell Wexler isn't particularly showy but it is complicated given the multiple light sources, reflections, moving vehicles, and dark of night. And it's sometimes beautiful, too. Since this series is about individual shots, we have to choose one. My runner up is this brief two-shot between Laurie and Bob Falfa played by Harrison Ford in a precise (and wonderfully telling) debut. I love the light of the passing cars, the reflections, and most of all the acting...

Laurie is angry with her boyfriend Steve and gets in Bob's car only to realize the vacuum of chemistry therein. She doesn't know why she's done this exactly. Bob is also less than smitten, and they're immediately rude to each other. To break the silence Bob comically croons "Some Enchanted Evening" in the way boys clown about to avoid discomfort. In a great comic beat Laurie scoots as far away from him as she can and it'd be even further if the car weren't in motion. Both actors absolutely nail the 'what am I doing here? will i always be doing this? what's next?' ambivalence in a comedic miniature way and what's beautiful about that is that it's the same effect, really, that the film and characters arcs are going for in a dramatic longform way. I even love the art director's touch of that hanging skull in Falfa's car. Maybe's it's a little on the nose for a film that trades so heavily on Fear of the Future and even (inelegantly) foretells death in its credit sequence but it's funny and character-specific.

But that choice, finally, felt too much like a choice based solely on which paragraph I wanted to write (funny how that happens in this series!) rather than a sound decision. Best Shots don't always come from Best Scenes but this time I'm siding with synergy. The best scene in the film, the one where the omnipresent golden-oldies soundtrack, direction, performance, editing, themes and cinematography all coalesce perfectly is at the high school dance the characters reluctantly drop in on despite having just graduated. Steve and Laurie, who have been arguing for the whole first half hour of the movie, are revealed to us to be basically the King & Queen of their high school and they're called up for a spotlight dance right in the middle of a very heated break-up. The scene is two whole minutes in length and every second is beautiful. 

best shot

As they dance in circles under the blue spotlight we get, in brilliant miniature, the ebb and flow of their entire relationship from first date to first kiss to now, as their future looms -- they're not at all sure it's going to be a shared one.

The scene ends with a perfectly judged cut to a closeup as Laurie suddenly clings to Steve, tears in her eyes, wishing for her past to also be her future no matter how pissed she is at present. But since the ending to this absolute gem of a scene is more of a best cut, really, I'll select this image (above) from the middle of the sequence as its best shot. How perfect that the characters are looking in separate directions, that Laurie is driving the scene (as she does throughout despite Steve being the protagonist), that the "62" of their graduating class is lit up, and most of all that Laurie is shifting from angry historian to sentimental scrapbook artist of her own romance in the process of retelling it.


*sniffle*

NEXT WEDNESDAY': David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers (1988) [Amazon | Netflix | iTunes]
Join us by watching it and sharing your choice of best shot. We'll link up.

MORE GRAFFITI ?!
These blogs are boss. Go visit them!
Antagony & Ecstasy thinks this is George Lucas's masterpiece
Coco Hits NYC is unfamiliar with car culture but loves the movie
The Entertainment Junkie on the volatile cocktail of adolescent emotion
Film Actually on the teenage iconography of "lover's lane"
The Film's The Thing "something great is out there waiting for you"
A Fistful of Films proves you don't have to have complex screen capture technology to deliver wonderful posts for this series (join us next week people!)
The Matinee alkdgs
Sorta That Guy visits the radio station with Curt. will he stay or will he go?
Stale Popcorn "they won't have moments like this much longer"
We Recycle Movies on quests and myths and aimless heroes

Wednesday
Jul032013

Visual Index ~ American Graffiti's Best Shot(s)

Where were you on 7/2? Hopefully watching American Graffiti (1973) to better appreciate today's edition of "Hit Me With Your Best Shot", our collective series in which we invite anyone who loves movies  'round the web to select their favorite image from a pre-selected movie. [Next Wednesday we'll be discussing the brilliant and disturbing Dead Ringers (1988) so do not miss that.] This week we return to simpler times...

1962 by way of 1973, in point of fact, courtesy of George Lucas's first Best Picture nominee, the very fine nostalgia fest American Graffiti which we thought an appropriate choice for the 4th of July Holiday. more...

Click to read more ...