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Entries in Sidney Lumet (8)

Friday
Jun062014

1964: Rod Steiger in The Pawnbroker

Tim here. Ordinarily, I take this space to talk about animation, but with it being 1964 Month at the Film Experience, I wanted to go someplace else – not least because the state of animation in 1964 was not terribly exciting, unless you’re one of those people for whom a semicentennial tribute to Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear sounds like the absolute best conversation we could be having.

Instead, I’d like to use this bully pulpit to call attention to one of my perpetual favorite picks for Hugely Underrated American Film Masterpiece You All Need to Have Seen, Like, Yesterday: The Pawnbroker, directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Rod Steiger, who received an Oscar nomination. It premiered 50 years ago this very month, in competition at the 14th Berlin International Film Festival (they festival’ed differently in those days), not premiering until the following year in the States due to its nudity and generally sour tone. A half of a century has, beyond question, blunted the impact of the movie’s most boundary-pushing elements (not least being the fact that naked women have become so blandly normalized in mainstream film, a development this very movie did a tremendous amount to encourage), and even its then-unprecedented engagement with the Holocaust, including the first scene in an American film set in a concentration camp, feels a little quaint today.

But the grime of humanity isn’t so easily wiped away, and Steiger’s devastatingly committed performance – it’s the best thing he ever did, I’d say, though I’m admittedly dubious about Steiger as often as not – is still a raging powerhouse of human torment. Lord knows The Pawnbroker isn’t any fun, but it’s moving and visceral like few films then or now would dare to be.

More...

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Thursday
Nov012012

A Handful of Link

Pop Elegantarium Alexa's Rosemary's Baby costume she was hinting at the other day in her Curio column. Well done!
/Film new images from Django Unchained
In Contention interviews the production designer of Moonrise Kingdom Adam Stockhausen
Big Thoughts From a Small Mind has a mea culpa about Sidney Lumet in 12 Angry Men. Confession: I myself have never seen this movie but I have seen productions of the play so I am unschooled in the furious dozen

 

Unreality reminds us that with that Star Wars purchase, Disney now also owns a certain fedora wearing archaelogist adventurer 
Monkey See predicts several headlines that will appear when the new Star Wars film is released in 2015. Hee
Awards Daily wonders if the lack of the DGA before Oscar nominations, might throw off the usual correlations
Vimeo if you're already missing Halloween -- it was kind of unsatisfying here on the East Coast without the usual festivities -- here's a creepy impressive 30 second short called "Rot" 

And we end with a very well cut fan vid 'James Bond Death Match,' all six Bonds fighting it out for supremacy.

I demand another rematch.

Wednesday
Aug222012

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: "Dog Day Afternoon"

Forty years ago today, Sonny Wortzik held up a bank on a hot Brooklyn day. It did not go well. Dog Day Afternoon (1975) was nominated for six Oscars -- the kind of nominations that go to well liked contemporary pictures that aren't thought of as particularly "visual" achievements -- winning only for Best Original Screenplay, but it's actually quite beautiful to look at. Credit, then, to director Sidney Lumet who understood the frantic extremes of humanity better than most auteurs, the casting director and the fine actors who are riveting yet absolutely recognizable as people who might actually be bank tellers, cops or pizza delivery boys  and the cinematography by Victor J Kemper whose camerawork and lighting ably capture the flickering nuances on faces and add considerably to the film's sweaty moody desperation. 

Consider these two shots: the first is Carol Kane as a bank hostage and Lance Henriksen as an FBI man.


They're shots that define what "Character Actor" means or at least what it should -- God, what faces!

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Thursday
Dec152011

Distant Relatives: The Pawnbroker and A Single Man

Robert here w/ Distant Relatives, exploring the connections between one classic and one contemporary film.

Dead spouses are great dramatic devices. They can give your lead character an extra dose of pain and pathos and add some emotional heft to a bland plot, some sympathy to a distant character, or in the case of a good-old-fashioned revenge movie, incite the action. At its most banal, the dead lover is an obvious cliche. But occasionally it can sweep us up into the protagonist's psyche, force us to ask their same questions about our lives and loves. Those questions, pondered and feared by anyone whose ever been in love: "What if this person died, suddenly, tragically, unexpectedly?" "What if I weren't there to save them, help them, comfort them?" "What if their death were no more to me than a vanishing act. One day here, the next gone... no farewell, no funeral." "What would become of them?" "What would become of me?" These are worst case scenarios to be sure, and we repress the thoughts by telling ourselves that such occurrences are rare (I imagine the exact same thing that anyone whose ever experienced it told themselves too). We watch movies about people who've had such experiences not out of morose voyeurism but out of a desire to understand a state of being that we hope never to be in but realize we easily could.
 
Our two films today follow men who are mourning the death of a companion and who are, to use a cliched phrase, dead inside themselves. The Pawnbroker tells the story of Holocaust survivor Sol Nazerman (Rod Steiger), a man who lost his family and now lives surrounded by the dirt and corruption of New York City. At roughly the same time, on the other end of the continent, George Falconer (Colin Firth) is barely coping with the death of his partner Jim. George, the subject of A Single Man lives among the sunny skies and bright colors of 1960's Los Angeles. The environments of George and Sol, while polar opposites serve the same dramatic purpose, to highlight their state of mind. Sol's is representative. George's is sadly ironic. Added to this is more than a hit of expressionist style, the gritty choppy manic pacing of The Pawnbroker contrasted with the color boosting and desaturated highs and lows of A Single Man.


Both George and Sol have similar supporting characters in their lives. There are two to whom I'd like to draw your attention. They, in turn, represent George and Sol's impossible futures and unattainable pasts. To George, his friend Charlie's (Julianne Moore) propositions of a move back to England and a quaint straight existence are both impossible and offensive. And for Sol, the advances and attempted comforts of a neighborly Social Worker are something he has no intention of dignifying. Both paint pictures of a future that neither man wants to partake in, yet they only serve to emphasize the pain of the present. As for the past, it shows up in the form of two young potential proteges. For George that man is Kenny, a student who is fascinated by him and a bit flirtatious. For Sol it's his shop assistant Jesus, whose desire to learn the business he continually ignores or rebuffs. Both of these young men possess not necessarily much optimism or intelligence but a youthful exuberance, an almost recklessness that neither Sol nor George have present in them anymore. While George engages with Kenny in a way that Sol does not with Jesus, it may be because George has given up on life and planned a suicide while Sol has decided to go on being a living ghost.
 
Ultimately these films don't have any particularly encouraging messages for the man whose loved and lost. George and Sol float through their existence, flashing back to the moments that have defined them, whether they were present or not. Both men are presented opportunities to feel again, and though they resist and resist, they eventually give in tho their humanness in different but equally tragic ways. For Sol it is a new sadness too deep to ignore, for George a fleeting optimism, quickly snuffed out. Both men are outsiders in worlds that should be embracing them and comforting them, but instead are shunning and fearing them. Both men may have to work too hard to heal. But messages about learning to love again and letting people in aren't the point. The point is to get into the minds of these men and understand what makes them work, how their sorrows manifest, how their lives have become irreparably changed. These films give us insights into the inner workings of men on a precipice none of us ever hope to be. Neither film promises much jubilation but both deliver plenty of humanity.


 
Other Cinematic Relatives
: Veritgo (1958), Last Tango in Paris (1973), About Schmidt (2002), Up (2009)

Friday
Apr222011

'it's linking men, hallelujah, it's linking men... Amen!'

The Film Experience likes the ladies best -- actresses forevah -- but today's links are curious phallocentric, hence the title.

Observations on Film Art one more piece on Sidney Lumet, something to fill out the "constrained" picture of the general mass of obituaries.
Tom Shone, in a wonderful concise piece, knows we're all more Brad Pitt than Terrence Malick in this Tree of Life.
Cinema Blend Katey worries that Hollywood is going to make us sick of Jeremy Renner. He's doing as many franchises as Samuel L Jackson adding The Bourne Legacy (lead role - taking over for Matt Damon) to the line-up. Ruh-roh.
The Wrap organized-crime-drama alert. There's always a few in production. Sean Penn and Josh Brolin, so memorably at odds in Milk, may be enemies again in Gangster Squad
Jezebel has a hilarious reel of men faking orgasm onscreen (in non-pornographic films). It's even a little bit interesting in a non-pervy way.
Movie|Line Joseph Gordon-Levitt trashes the Conan set for a Hesher promo.
Movie Morlocks
RIP on the 1970s star Michael Sarrazin (They Shoot Horses Don't They, For Pete's Sake) who passed away last week. So many major goodbyes in showbiz lately. Sigh.
TVLine Strange Emmy development, ladies division: January Jones is still campaigning as a lead for Mad Men despite her screen time being at least halved this past season. Bad move? This puts her up against Elisabeth Moss, who is back to lead.

GayGayGay
Stale Popcorn Yay. Another convert to writer/director/actor/producer Xavier Dolan. I'll  have more on Heartbeats once it hits DVD... whenever that is.
Towleroad this weeks column by moi. I would have reviewed Water For Elephants but I was in Nashville. Is it wrong that I'm super excited to see it?
Out Magazine Thomas Dekker (Kaboom, Cinema Verite) is sending out all sorts of mixed signals about his sexuality. I guess we're still a couple years away from (male) movie actors coming out.

Tuesday
Apr122011

Network (1976). One Angry Man.

In honor of Sidney Lumet who passed away this weekend, we're re-publishing The Film Experience retrospective on Network from a few years ago. It's new to some of you!

One Angry Man
One thing I suspect about director Sidney Lumet: He liked his drama super-sized, Empire State Building big. No 800 lbs gorillas in the room please, make it King Kong. Give them 16 tons of drama. Lumet wanted grunting, sweating, lunging, screaming, gargantuan desperate drama like the kind you get in Dog Day Afternoon, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead and Serpico. Never mind 12 Angry Men. How about 1 Angry Man, Sidney Lumet, and in the case of Network -- arguably his best film -- one angry fictional man named Howard Beale (Peter Finch). Network eventually gets around to naming Beale the “mad prophet of the airwaves” but it’s also a self descriptive tag. The movie is mad as hell and prophetic, too. Network is Howard Beale and Howard Beale is Network. This impressively large but also miniature film --it's not hard to imagine it as a stage play -- swings wildly from mood to mood like its bipolar madman.

A lot of movies steal from Network but I love the borrowing that Network does right out of the gate, in omniscient detached voiceover.

In his time Howard Beale had been a mandarin of television. The grand old man of news with a hot rating of 16 and a 28 audience share. In 1969 however his fortunes began to decline. He fell to a 22 share. The following year his wife died and he was left a childless widower with an 8 rating and a 12 share.
That calm voiceover, giving numbers as much if not more weight as the man's personal life, has already begun the chilling process of reduction. It's overtly reminiscent of both All About Eve's arch view of the theater world and Sunset Boulevard's ghost-eye view of Hollywood. Network’s target is television. Is it boldly proclaiming itself the final third of the Holy Trinity of Self-Loathing Showbiz Pictures? Whatever the intent, it moves with utter confidence, thereby forcing itself into the godhead. 
We're in the boredom killing business.
It may seem odd to claim that such a black hearted picture is completely entertaining, even enjoyable, but it is. Right from its first shot of four television screens (the one featuring Beale eventually growing to fill the whole screen) the movie surges at you with such electric, articulate force that you have no choice but to go with its current. The prologue of the film then finds Beale (just given his walking papers) with old friend Max Schumacher (William Holden) drinking and laughing maniacally. The chaser to their raucous laughter? A perfect 180˚ cut to Beale seated at the bar quietly announcing “I’m going to kill myself”. The two friends begin to set the movie's plot in motion with improvised plans for live suicides and terrorism on TV. "The Death Hour!" Max proclaims with forced 90 proof glee. Where does all this gallows humor put us before the title credits even begin to appear? 
That puts us in the shithouse. That's where that puts us.
Network is an easy film to quote and its super sculpted and scalding dialogue is undoubtedly the reason why the screenplay (by triple Oscar winner Paddy Chayefsky) is so lauded. It’s the type of talky feature that's jerry-rigged to draw attention to its themes, BIG ideas, diamond hard one liners and showcased monologues. But words aside, the plotting is also tight and strong. I can’t think of a single film that’s more interested in stopping for speeches that also moves with breakneck speed through the twists and turns of its various plots. 


Plot A: Howard Beale threatens to kill himself on air, leading to rubberneck ratings jumps and corporate exploitation of his sudden insanity. As Beale slips deeper into a complete psychotic break, corporate sharks Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) and Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall) start swimming, devouring the smaller fish at the network like Max Schumacher, as they try to capitalize on Beale's popularity with the public who embraces his catchphrase:

I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!

 

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Saturday
Apr092011

Sidney Lumet: 43 Feature Films, 5 Oscar Nominations, 1 Fine Career.

A goodbye with gratitude to prolific director and Honary Oscar winner Sidney Lumet who died this morning at the age of 86 from lymphoma. He was small in stature (5'5") but his legacy looms large as one of Hollywood's most prolific and beloved directors. 

He was a stage actor and a television director before moving into feature films. Actors always loved him and he returned that love guiding several of them through signature roles. He worked with some stars multiple times including, notably: Sean Connery, Timothy Hutton, James Mason, and Al Pacino. The stage-to-screen movie, the courtroom drama, the social conscience narrative, and the true crime story would never have been the same without him. He is survived by his wife of 31 years Mary Gimbel, and children and grandchildren (you'll remember that his daughter Jenny Lumet wrote the blissful Rachel Getting Married screenplay. Our thoughts go out to the family today.

After the jump, the posters for all 43 of his theatrical features with thanks to google, the IMDb and IMP!

How many have you seen?

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