Jerry Lewis: The King of Comedy has Left Us

Jerry Lewis passed away this past Sunday. For many, who only know his annual telethon toJerry Lewis raise money for Muscular Dystrophy, they have missed out on one of the true greats of film comedy. I came to know Lewis first through his variety show on television and his films with Dean Martin. They were a perfect team, like Laurel and Hardy. Their personalities played off each other in an almost musical way. But not long after I began watching Martin and Lewis films, I discovered a book at the local library called ‘The Total Filmmaker’. It’s author: Jerry Lewis.

I was a film geek starting in sixth grade. I began shooting Super-8 movies, writing screenplays, and directing the neighborhood kids to die on cue. I read every book I could get my hands on about making films or film history. Here was a book by an artist I admired in which he shared his feelings about the medium and some of his techniques.

I learned about the films Lewis made after he and Dean Martin went their separate ways – ‘The Errand Boy’, ‘The Nutty Professor’, and ‘Cinderfella’. He borrowed from the silent comedians who had only their bodies and faces with which to express themselves. And not just Americans. There was a fair bit of Jacques Tati mixed in with Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.

In his book, Lewis described how his love of the medium had started while shooting the Martin and Lewis films. He wrote that between setups he would wander off to talk to the guys up in the catwalks to find out what they did. He would lose track of time learning about the different types of lights. They would have to send someone out to find him to resume shooting.

There was one thing in the book that did not compute with my sixth-grade mind. Lewis described the act of ‘licking celluloid’ as if it were an intoxicant. Only later, as an adult, did I finally come to understand what Lewis meant.

Lewis claimed to have invented video playback, and many have given him credit. Being able to watch a take immediately after it was shot by recording a separate video image has become the way films are made.

Lewis’ career went through peaks and valleys. While he continued to perform live in clubs across the country, his films ceased to hold the public’s interest – in the United States, anyway. In France, Jerry Lewis was lauded as one of the great film comedians of all time.

I remember one performance from his variety show. He was in the stands watching a red-carpet reception for a film premiere. There’s no dialog. He just watches, waves, tries to get close. Then he gets a brain storm. He paints his chinos and windbreaker black. Sneakers, too. He puts on a scrap of black fabric for a tie. And he strolls down the red carpet himself.

Martin Scorsese was a fan. He cast Lewis in his film ‘The King of Comedy’. If you haven’t seen this film, you have missed one of Robert DeNiro’s greatest performances. Lewis plays a talk show host. DeNiro plays a fan named Rupert Pupkin, who kidnaps Lewis. In a strange twist on the skit from Lewis’ variety show, DeNiro (With the help of Sandra Bernard) forces Lewis to interview him on television, so he can be just like all the stars he sees on TV.

Much has been said, and there has been much speculation about, Lewis’ reason for making Muscular Dystrophy his personal cause. Regardless of the reason, he personally raised many millions of dollars for research into this debilitating neuro-muscular disease. May he rest in peace.

 

 

A Three-Year-Old’s Perspective: John Frankenheimer’s ‘The Manchurian Candidate’

The Manchurian CandidateIt is 1988. I am visiting my friends, Rick and Claire, in Redondo Beach. We are trying to decide what movie we’re going to rent at the video store. Their three-year-old, Dietrich, is with us in the living room.

I mention ‘The Manchurian Candidate’, a film I didn’t see until it was released on VHS. But from the first viewing, John Frankenheimer’s film blew me away. There’s an interesting look to the film, with its deep focus shots and yet the film has an almost documentary feel. The technical accomplishment of staging a scene showing the brainwashed American soldiers mixing reality with their programmed perceptions is remarkable.

And then there’s my favorite scene, in which Major Marko (Frank Sinatra) meets Eugenie (Janet Leigh) on a train. The dialog, straight from Richard Condon’s novel, sounds like two spies negotiating a complicated series of pass phrases.

But that is not what we are talking about.

Claire tells me she saw the film when it first came out in 1963. She tells me it scared her.

I ask why. It’s a suspense thriller. Not scary.

She says it was the scene where Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) is being treated for snakebite by Josie (Leslie Parrish), who removes her blouse to use as a tourniquet. Claire was a young girl when she saw this, so scared isn’t what she means.

It ‘disturbed her’, she tells me. She didn’t understand what was going on.

Dietrich listens quietly.

I tell Claire about the whole ‘mother’ thing, with Angela Lansbury, his controlling mother, being his American controller for the Communists. The way Raymond shoots Senator Jordan (John McGiver) through a milk carton held before his chest, which proceeds to leak milk, is a clear reference to maternity in my mind (Director Frankenheimer makes no such claims – he just wanted to find a different way to stage a shooting).

The time has come to decide what movie we will rent at the video store.

Three-year-old Dietrich has a suggestion.

“I want to see the scary milk movie.”

Evolution of a Screenplay: The Shining

To understand the complex process that Stephen King’s novel The Shining went

Stephen King conceived The Shining at the Stanley Hotel.

Stephen King conceived The Shining at the Stanley Hotel.

through to become Stanley Kubrick’s  The Shining, we need to go back to the night it began in the mind of the famous horror writer.

King based his first two novels, Carrie, and ‘Salem’s Lot, in small towns in his native Maine. He wanted a change, so he and his wife, Tabitha, traveled. He flipped open an atlas and pointed at Boulder, Colorado. They stayed at The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. It was the end of the season and they were the only guests in the hotel. The Stanley was closing down for the season and the Kings had the run of the place.

They stayed in room 217 after hearing it was haunted.

An early attempt at a novel, Darkshine, had stalled. That night, King’s story of a psychic boy came to him again.

They ate dinner in the grand dining room alone. There was only one entrée, which they ate to taped orchestral music. The other chairs were up on the tables. After a nightcap with a bartender named Grady, King had a dream of his son running through the hotel, looking over his shoulder and screaming. He woke up and in the time it took to smoke a cigarette, he had the book in his mind.

The Shining: Stephen King’s Novel

According to Laura Miller’s ‘What Stanley Kubrick Got Wrong About the Shining’, “Jack Torrance, the deranged aspiring writer played by Jack Nicholson in the film, is the most autobiographical of all his (King’s) creations.”

Miller defends Stephen King’s complaints about Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of King’s book.

“That two such different men as King and Kubrick were able to see themselves in this character indicates what a remarkable creation Jack Torrance is.”

It also suggests why King would be particularly sensitive to the manner in which the book was adapted into a screenplay.

“King himself was suffering from alcoholism at the time he wrote the novel, therefore giving a strong autobiographical element to the story. He has expressed disappointment that his novel’s important themes, such as the disintegration of family and the dangers of alcoholism, are less prevalent in the film.”

Jack Nicholson’s famous identification with the character of McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) led King to think audiences would anticipate Jack Torrance going mad. King felt an actor like Jon Voigt, Christopher Reeve, or Michael Moriarty should have played the role, which he saw more as an everyman, whose subsequent madness would be more disturbing

Stanley Kubrick’s Treatment for The Shining

Kubrick made copious notes in his personal copy of ‘The Shining’. He produced an 81-page treatment. The treatment is divided into ten parts, the first nine parts being fairly well delineated. Part Ten, however, is skeletal. It sketches what is to happen during the finale loosely, leaving great gaps.

In Kubrick’s treatment there are repeated acts of physical violence against Danny and Wendy by Jack. These, along with scenes showing Jack’s fight with a student and his dislocating Danny’s shoulder didn’t make it into the film. Here are some of the more significant differences:

  • As in the novel, Jack discovers a large scrapbook that mysteriously appears on his writing table. It provides the history of the hotel. The early images are of its grand opening, but the book begins to paint a lurid picture of the events that have taken place there. Later, he shows the scrapbook to Wendy, telling her he thinks the history of The Overlook Hotel would be a good subject for a book. Then Wendy asks him where he got it and he tells her he picked it up in the lounge. The scrapbook only appears in the background and is never referenced in the film, as was the notion of Jack writing about the history of the Overlook.
  • The lights go out and Jack has to start the diesel generator. He and Wendy go to the basement. He is frustrated by the generator’s complex instructions. They discover some strange things in the basement, including a teddy bear hanging by its neck, belly slashed open. Jack is ultimately unfazed by the experience, which only frightens Wendy more. After Jack gets the generator going, they return to the lobby, Wendy expressing concern over who could make such a horrific display. Jack returns to work, not even caring if the phones work. This scene did not appear in the film.
  • The scene in the ballroom with Lloyd, the bartender, ends when Jack hears the lobby telephone ringing and goes to answer it. A water ring from the bottom of a glass stains the bare bar top. Jack answers the phone. Wendy tells him Danny has become lucid again and told her what happened in room 217. She is afraid to leave her room because she believes there is a homicidal maniac on the loose in the hotel. Jack tells her to stay in her room and goes to investigate. This scene changed from a telephone conversation to one where Wendy approaches Jack at his writing table.
  • Jack goes to room 217. A bloated rotting arm draws back the shower curtain and an old woman rises from the tub. In the film she is beautiful, until Jack embraces and kisses her.
  • The conversation between Jack and Daniel (sic) Grady, waiter, takes place at the bar, instead of inside the red restroom. The dialog in the treatment is very similar, if not the same. But the change in location, that amazing red bathroom, was significant.

The Shining: “How Do You Like It?”

Part Ten of the treatment begins with a variation on what has become one of the most famous scenes in the film. Wendy discovers the radio doesn’t work and goes to the lounge where Jack does his writing to confront him, but he is not there. A thick stack of typewritten pages – Jack’s manuscript – sits on the table next to the typewriter. Wendy grabs a fistful of pages and throws them on the floor. They scatter, float and fall in a hundred different places. She yells for Jack. Then she notices one of the pages on the floor. She moves around the room, taking in the pages and what is written on them: ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKE JACK A DULL BOY.

When Jack confronts her threateningly, Wendy pushes Jack down the staircase, instead of hitting him with a bat. Then Wendy and Danny drag Jack through the hotel to the kitchen and into the larder.

Later, Wendy searches the kitchen for a padlock and key, but finds the door to the larder open. Jack grabs her around the throat from behind and strikes her head against the larder door. She drives her boning knife backwards into Jack’s belly. She gets away from him.

From Stanley Kubrick’s Treatment for The Shining

“A dying Jack creeps slowly in pursuit of a battered, nearly unconscious Wendy, the details of which are to be worked out, and which will end in Jack’s death.”

From here the treatment deviates from the novel AND the final film.

As Jack dies, Wendy hears the sound of a Snow Cat. She drags herself to the lobby where she finds the doors open, flapping in the wind. There is no sign of a Snow Cat. Suddenly she realizes Danny is alone in their room.

The door is open and Danny is not there.

Dick Hallorann moves along the corridor, casting a terrifying shadow on the wall. He is the fearful figure from Danny’s visions. Grady greets him.

The treatment then describes, in various levels of detail, an ending completely different from the one in the book or the film. Halloran goes crazy with an axe, Danny flees for his life, and Wendy wields her kitchen knife. As she progresses she becomes a ‘maddened demoniacal figure’.

She flings open doors, revealing scenes of the past evils of the hotel. At the conclusion of the chase, Danny sends Hallorann a psychic ‘Stop Dick! Don’t!’, giving Wendy the opening she needs, as Kubrick wrote in the treatment, ‘so that the old lady in Psycho will look like a pushover in comparison.’

Wendy takes Danny from the carnage. Hallorann falls to the floor. The camera moves in on Jack’s writing table, to the white scrapbook that lays open upon it. There is the photograph we all know, showing Jack at the Overlook in 1919. The sound of the Snow Cat starting outside mixes with the sound of a dance band.

A hand enters the frame, closing the scrapbook. The book is picked up, taken from frame. We hear the sound of footsteps fading in the distance.

How Stephen King’s Novel, The Shining, Ended (WITH SPOILERS)

Dick Hallorann rushes back to the Overlook after receiving a psychic distress call from Danny. Hallorann is attacked by topiary animals and then severely injured by Jack. As Jack pursues Danny through the Overlook, the hotel causes him to smash his face beyond recognition. Jack neglected to relieve the pressure on the boiler. Danny informs him that it is about to explode. As Danny, Wendy, and Hallorann flee, Jack rushes to the basement attempting to vent the boiler, which explodes and destroys the Overlook. The injured Hallorann guides Danny and Wendy away from the hotel to safety.

The treatment ends with a tag that appeared following the final scene in the hospital that was lost when Kubrick cut the ending:

“The Overlook Hotel would survive this tragedy, as it had so many others. It is still open each year from May 20th to September 20th. It is closed for the winter.”

The Shining: Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson’s Screenplay

According to an interview in the New York Times, author and ‘The Shining’ co-screenwriter Diane Johnson, says Kubrick approached her initially about making a film of her recent novel, ‘The Shadow Knows’.

“Kubrick was thinking of making either the Stephen King or my novel, ‘The Shadow Knows’. And, you know, he ultimately decided on the King.”

Johnson was an interesting choice for a collaborator. She was novelist who had written several novels. ‘The Shadow Knows’ was well reviewed when it came out in 1974. But she had never written a screenplay. Ever.

Kubrick described their collaboration in an interview with Michel Ciment.

“Diane is an American novelist who has published a number of extremely good novels which have received serious and important attention. I was interested in several of her books and in talking to her about them I was surprised to learn that she was giving a course at the University of California at Berkeley on the Gothic novel. When The Shining came up she seemed to be the ideal collaborator, which, indeed, she proved to be.”

Johnson described Kubrick’s approach to engaging a writing partner:

“You know, you get these calls from Kubrick and then he proposes a meeting, and then he proposes you come in and write a script. And, so I did. And I spent, oh, I don’t know, a couple of months . . . I guess eleven weeks all together, so almost three months in London, working everyday with him, and it was . . . I really learned a lot I think about narrative and film-making. It was a great experience.”

“I had already been working on the treatment of the book, prior to her starting, but I hadn’t actually begun the screenplay,” said Kubrick. “With The Shining, the problem was to extract the essential plot and to re-invent the sections of the story that were weak. The characters needed to be developed a bit differently than they were in the novel.”

Kubrick: Adapting Novels, and Why ‘The Shining’ was Different

For Kubrick, this is where great novels become less great films. The point of a novel is the quality of the writing. This doesn’t translate. The film language is based on a different symbology. Also, the author’s insights contribute greatly to the novel.

According to Kubrick, The Shining was different. Its virtue was the plot. He and Johnson didn’t have much trouble adapting it into a screenplay.

“Diane and I talked a lot about the book and then we made an outline of the scenes we thought should be included in the film. This list of scenes was shuffled and reshuffled until we thought it was right, and then we began to write. We did several drafts of the screenplay, which was subsequently revised at different stages before and during shooting.”

The screenplay was revised so often (sometimes twice daily) that Jack Nicholson gave up reading it entirely.

One of the external sources that influenced Kubrick’s choices in adapting ‘The Shining’ was a story by American author Stephen Crane.

“Stephen Crane wrote a story called “The Blue Hotel.” In it you quickly learn that the central character is a paranoid. He gets involved in a poker game, decides someone is cheating him, makes an accusation, starts a fight and gets killed. You think the point of the story is that his death was inevitable because a paranoid poker player would ultimately get involved in a fatal gunfight. But, in the end, you find out that the man he accused was actually cheating him. I think The Shining uses a similar kind of psychological misdirection to forestall the realization that the supernatural events are actually happening.”

The original ending of the film, adds an even stranger layer to this, by making it apparent that, whatever supernatural forces are at work in the hotel, there is a very human presence guarding it.

“To be honest, the end of the book seemed a bit hackneyed to me and not very interesting. I wanted an ending which the audience could not anticipate. In the film, they think Hallorann is going to save Wendy and Danny. When he is killed they fear the worst. Surely, they fear, there is no way now for Wendy and Danny to escape.”

It is interesting to note how Kubrick changed Hallorann in the treatment with a similar twist. We think he’s coming back to save Danny. But he comes back as a devil instead of a rescuing angel.

Kubrick described the maze and how that ending may have orginated.

“The maze ending may have suggested itself from the animal topiary scenes in the novel. I don’t actually remember how the idea first came about.”

The topiary scenes, in which the plants trimmed to look like animals come to life, were deemed too difficult to render on film with the special effects that were available in the late ‘70s.

The Shining’s Original Ending

Slate published the only known fragment of the film’s shooting script (Scripts available on the Internet are ‘Postproduction’ scripts – created after the fact by transcribing the finished film). The article describes what happened following the film’s release:

“Back on May 23, 1980, when The Shining was first released, audiences saw something slightly different from what viewers obsess over today. That’s because the next weekend Stanley Kubrick did an unusual thing: He re-cut the film, removing about two minutes from the ending, even though it was already in release. Those two minutes, like so much at the film’s ghoulish hotel, are now lost to time, unlikely to ever be seen again.”

Overlook manager Stuart Ullman visits Wendy, along with her son Danny, at the hospital where she is recuperating. Ullman tells Wendy that nothing out of the ordinary was found when investigators searched the hotel. He tells her she must have been hallucinating.

“After inviting, Wendy and Danny to come stay with him in Los Angeles, he begins to leave, but remembers that he forgot to give something to Danny, and throws him a yellow ball.”

That yellow ball, or rather the hand that tosses it, is a direct through line to the hand referenced in Kubrick’s treatment, closing the scrapbook, and the footsteps moving away down the corridor. Having tried to turn the amiable Hallorann into a monster in the treatment, it seems like Kubrick and Johnson transferred a little of that darkness to the Overlook’s general manager.

The appearance of the yellow ball at The Overlook led Danny to find the murdered Grady daughters. Ullman appears to be trying to lead Danny somewhere else.

It seems the hotel still wants Danny, and Ullman is intent on getting him for it.

The Shining: The Secret of Room 237 Revealed

According to the website of the Timberline Lodge in Oregon, there was a change made to King’s story that neither Kubrick or Johnston had anything to do with creatively. The Timberline served as the exterior of The Overlook Hotel in the film.

“Kubrick was asked not to depict room #217 (featured in the book) in The Shining, because future guests at the Lodge might be afraid to stay there. So a nonexistent room, #237, was substituted in the film. Curiously and somewhat ironically, room #217 is requested more often than any other room at Timberline.”

 

 

An Eye For Beauty

BeautyI think of the stupid shit I bought when I was younger because of beautiful sales girls. In the late 70s I bought a pair of jeans that were the biggest bell-bottoms ever. They were the pants equivalent of wide lapels, with so much extra denim it was like wearing sails. Years later I see Ashton Kutcher wearing them on ‘That 70s Show’ and they look – no, they still look really stupid.

It is 1988.

I am living with one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen. We go to Century City for dinner and wait with the crowd outside Brentano’s. She goes to check on our progress, disappears into the crowd. I know when she’s coming back. I can’t see HER, but there is a mass, coordinated movement, like a crowd doing the wave, or synchronized swimmers. The head of every straight man in the crowd locates her, then clocks with her as she moves towards me.

She is THAT beautiful.

We are at Cedars Sinai Medical Center, checking on her grandmother. We get on the elevator and hit five. Just as the doors close, Bruno Kirby makes it on and presses four. It starts up. He turns, looks at us. We smile, nod. He smiles, nods. At me. Then he looks at HER. He smiles. He seems to go somewhere in his head. His eyes glaze over. He seems to forget he is smiling, or that he has a face.

She makes some comment and we all laugh. It gets quiet as the elevator reaches four. The doors open. He doesn’t get off right away, like he forgot it was his floor. The doors start closing. He is startled, then looks surprised – not that the doors are closing but that HE IS IN AN ELEVATOR.

IN A HOSPITAL.

He steps off, turns and looks at HER. He wishes us both (HER) a good evening. He moves to the drinking fountain adjacent to the elevator. He doesn’t take his eyes off HER. Somehow his hand finds the knob as he leans down, still looking at HER. He turns the knob.

A stream of water leaps from the faucet, arcing through the air.

Into his eye.

I don’t feel so bad about those pants anymore.

Curtis Hanson: In Memoriam

Curtis Hanson died last week. He had not been well for some time and rumors In Memoriam Curtis Hansoncirculated he was suffering from the onset of a form of dementia. His last film was, Chasing Mavericks in 2012, but he was unable to finish the film due to ill health. He was replaced by Michael Apted

Hanson was born in Reno, Nevada. In something of a parallel to Stanley Kubrick, Hanson dropped out of high school, finding work as a freelance photographer and editor for Cinema magazine.

Hanson worked on the screenplay for ‘The Dunwich Horror’, based on the short story by H. P. Lovecraft, in 1970.

He began making small-budget films, working up to larger productions. He wrote the screenplay and directed ‘The Bedroom Window’ and directed ‘The River Wild’.

Hanson claimed as influences Alfred Hitchcock and Nicholas Ray. He gravitated towards suspense thrillers.

While I admire the grit of Hanson’s film ‘8 Mile’, his films based on the books of James Ellroy and Michael Chabon were my personal favorites. It was Hanson’s adaptation of Ellroy’s ‘L.A. Confidential’, the third novel in his ‘L.A. Quartet’, where it all came together.

Brian Helgeland met Curtis Hanson during post production on ‘The River Wild’. Helgeland had been trying to convince Warner Brothers to let him make ‘L.A. Confidential’. But Warner Bros. hired Hanson instead of him. Hanson saw promise in Helgeland, who recognizes Hanson took a chance when he brought him aboard the project.

“Curtis started out as a screen writer and had done horror films in his younger days, as I had,” said Helgeland in a recent interview. “In a funny sort of way, Curtis saw a younger version of himself in me.”

“We basically worked on our own dime a lot of it. I did a lot of drafts that I didn’t get paid for, but Curtis was always this cheerleader for the film. Not rah rah, just this kind of grim cheerleader and wouldn’t take no for an answer, so it was kind of, that was his big thing was to just put this thing on his shoulders and not put it down till he got it made.”

Hanson’s belief in the project, and in Hegeland, paid off handsomely. The film is the best adaptation of Ellroy’s work to date. ‘L.A. Confidential’ was a hit at the box office and has had a long life in rentals and streaming. Hanson and Hegeland shared the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for their work on ‘L.A. Confidential’.

And Hanson’s career was made.

After L.A. Confidential, Hanson worked on a screenplay and read scripts looking for his next project. Screenwriter Steve Kloves, (The Fabulous Baker Boys) had written a script based on Michael Chabon’s second novel, Wonder Boys. Hanson loved the characters. They made him laugh. He identified with the Grady Tripp character and the frustration building inside him. The film ‘Wonder Boys’ is a beautifully crafted comedy of errors that completely captures the chaos and hilarity of Chabon’s book.

Hanson continued to make features and, in 2011, he directed Too Big to Fail, based on the 2009 Andrew Ross Sorkin book. It was the last film he was to complete in his lifetime.

Regarding which character in their film Hanson identified with the most, Helgeland said:

“I think ironically, he associated more with Kevin Spacey’s character, [Jack] Vincennes, because Vincennes had sort of existed on the fringes of Hollywood. And not that Curtis was on the fringes of Hollywood, but he wasn’t an A-list go to guy at the time. And I think he had a lot to prove cause he loved Hollywood so much and he loved movies so much. And he knew he had this great movie in him, but…he had to give himself the chance to make it. It wasn’t going to be given to him.”

Curtis Hanson will be missed.

Some Thoughts on Seeing Dr. Strangelove on the Big Screen

Dr. Strangelove

Production model of the War Room set, from Dr. Strangelove

‘Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’ is my favorite film. I was pleased to learn that John Milius and Francis Ford Coppola both held up Dr. Strangelove’s absurdist humor as the example of what they were trying to achieve in writing the screenplay for their film, ‘Apocalypse Now’ (My second-most favorite film).

I recently saw Dr. Strangelove again for the – I don’t know – 25th time? But it was only the second time I’ve seen it on a big screen. The first time there was a projection problem with the first reel. They gave us our money back and let us stay for the rest of the film. It was okay from the second reel on. But I don’t fully count it as having seen the film in a theater.

I noticed several things that I’d never noticed before. First, I noticed a typo in the opening credits. These credits are famous. The design, by Pablo Ferro, has been much-copied over the years. I can’t believe I noticed it but it’s never going to show up the way it did if you’re watching it on even the largest large-screen television.

And the funniest part to me is that the typo is on the writing credit. It says ‘Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick, Peter George, and Terry Southern.’ Then, underneath that is the credit to George’s book, ‘Red Alert’, which was the original material Kubrick planned to base the film on.

The credit reads ‘BASE on the novel ‘Red Alert’ by Peter George. I wonder if Kubrick ever noticed it.

The next thing I noticed, again because it was on a BIG screen, was that Miss Foreign Affairs, the centerfold in the Playboy magazine that Col. Kong (Slim Pickens) is reading, is Tracy Reed, who plays Miss Scott, General Turgidson’s (George C. Scott) ‘confidential secretary’. Apparently this was intended and I just never noticed it before.

I’d also never noticed a couple of shots with General Turgidson in the foreground during the War Room scenes in which other men seated at the table behind him are slightly out of focus. One of those men appears to have the hair and tinted glasses of Dr. Strangelove, but it doesn’t look like Peter Sellers to me.

I noticed that there is a point in the final scene when Sellers, in the Strangelove character, is explaining the concept of using mineshafts to preserve a portion of the country’s population. Actor Peter Bull, who plays Soviet Ambassador Alexi de Sadesky, stands behind and slightly to the left of Strangelove’s wheelchair.

It is well-known that Sellers’ improvisations drove large sections of the War Room scenes. Kubrick admitted to laughing frequently and heartily at Sellers while filming. But Bull, whose stern countenance completely melts down can barely stifle outright laughter at Sellers. Kubrick must have been faced with the choice of using the only take of a brilliant Sellers improv or leaving it out.

I thought I’d found something new, but I googled it to see if I could find another reference.

PETER BULL SELLERS BREAKING CHARACTER

The first item was the Wikipedia entry for ‘Breaking character’. Bull’s performance is second on the list.

That final scene, by the way, wasn’t the original final scene. In fact, the final scene was shot and not used. It featured a pie fight in the War Room in which every character ended up completely covered in merengue. Kubrick decided it against using it. So, in a way, he was stuck using the take with Bull breaking character.

Something else I learned as I was writing this. The advanced screening for Dr. Strangelove was not held. It was scheduled for the evening of November 22nd, 1963. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy would, a few days later, prompt Kubrick to bring actor Slim Pickens into a dubbing studio to record the word ‘Vegas’ to replace the word ‘Dallas’ in his commentary on the contents of the bomber crew’s survival gear.

“A fella could have a pretty good weekend in Dallas with all that stuff” wasn’t funny anymore.

 

‘I Confess’: The Religious Hitchcock

HitchcockIn the recent HBO documentary HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT, director DAVID FINCHER describes directors in general, and ALFRED HITCHCOCK in particular.

“If you think that you can hide what your interests are – what your prurient interests are, what your noble interests are, what your fascinations are, if you think you can hide that in your work as a film director, you’re nuts, you know. And I think that he was one of the first guys who said I’m gonna go with that. I gotta be me.”

The Three Sides of Alfred Hitchcock

There is a triptych of films that define Alfred Hitchcock: VERTIGO, SHADOW OF A DOUBT, AND I CONFESS. Each film explores a completely different aspect of Hitchcock’s personality. Vertigo is the artist representing his (perhaps unconscious) desire to recreate his infatuation with his lost icy blonde, GRACE KELLY. SHADOW OF A DOUBT is Hitchcock’s greatest exploration of his core subject matter – a serial killer drops into Our Town. But Hitchcock’s I Confess is representative of the religious, the Catholic Hitchcock.

Hitchcock: Growing Up Catholic in Kensington

Hitchcock was born in the closing days of the Victorian era to a pair of Roman Catholics who clung to their religion, being surrounded as they were by Protestants in their Kensington neighborhood. Hitchcock was brought up as a Roman Catholic and educated by Jesuits at St Ignatius’ College in Stamford Hill, London.

According to THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK ENCYCLOPEDIA by STEPHEN WHITTY, the Jesuits were a traditionally rigorous order, though their methods seem a bit diabolical.

“The experience schooled him in logic and discipline but also left him with a sense of fear – in a sneaky form of torture, corporal punishment for any offense was scheduled, so that the student was forced into dreadful anticipation – and of human duality, ‘a consciousness of good and evil, that both are always with me’.”

Fear is not the first word that comes to mind, though it certainly applies. By scheduling punishment for a future time, the Jesuits didn’t just create fear.

They created suspense.

The Hitchcock/Truffaut Interview

The film Hitchcock/Truffaut documents the marathon interview in which François TRUFFAUT, a passionate film critic and journalist who had himself become an established director, interviewed Hitchcock over the course of several days. The interview produced over 20 hours of audio tape. Truffaut’s questions were respectful – he prepared for the interview with intense research.

During their interview, Truffaut asked Hitchcock “Do you accept the idea of being considered a Catholic artist?”

Hitchcock responded: “Go off the record.”

The tape machine was shut off. We have no way of knowing what Hitchcock said to Truffaut until the tape recorder was turned on again.

Hitchcock later explained “I don’t think I can be labeled a Catholic artist, but it may be that one’s early upbringing influences a man’s life and guides his instinct.”

Later in the interview Truffaut stated “It would have been impossible for a non-Catholic filmmaker to shoot the prayer scene in THE WRONG MAN.”

Hitchcock responded “Yes, that’s right.”

Truffaut reiterated his thesis.

“Impossible.”

Hitchcock later added, “I am definitely not anti-religious; perhaps I’m sometimes neglectful.”

Hitchcock’s ‘Wrong Man’ Paradigm

Hitchcock claimed that his father sent him to the neighborhood police station with a note instructing them to lock him up to show what happened to bad little boys. This is the great repeating trope throughout a large part of his oeuvre. A man is falsely accused and must prove his innocence. It is at once a dream image, a la Kafka, and a spiritual one.

In the entryway to Hitchcock’s home hung a painting of the death mask of Christ. Can there by a more sublime illustration of ‘the wrong man’ than Jesus Christ?

The Catholic Hitchcock

When talking about his schooldays, Hitchcock told Truffaut about his odd situation and about the moral sense he developed.

“Ours was a Catholic family,” he said, “and in England, you see, this in itself is an eccentricity.”  Hitch added that at school “a strong sense of fear developed—moral fear—the fear of being involved in anything evil.”

According to Father Mark Henninger, writing in the WALL STREET JOURNAL, Hitchcock worked to downplay his Catholicism. Father Henninger came to Hitchcock’s home to conduct Mass for Hitchcock and his wife, Alma. According to Father Henninger, Hitchcock created the impression that he was not a religious man.

“Hitchcock had been away from the church for some time, and he answered the responses in Latin the old way. But the most remarkable sight was that after receiving communion, he silently cried, tears rolling down his huge cheeks.”

In his interview with Truffaut, Hitchcock had said, ‘I am definitely not anti-religious; perhaps I’m sometimes neglectful.”

“There’s a little bit of Catholicism in most of Hitch’s films — even if at times it isn’t much more than an Ash Wednesday smudge,” JOEL GUNZ writes, via his website THE HITCHCOCK GEEK. “As such, it’s easy to say that he belonged to the 20th century’s small handful of Catholic modern artists — a very short list that also included GRAHAM GREENE, (with whom he had tried to work), Expressionist painter GEORGES ROUAULT and not many others.”

Imagine Greene (Who wrote THE THIRD MAN, TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT, and OUR MAN IN HAVANA) collaborating with Hitchcock. The mind reels.

Hitchcock’s Ultimate Wrong Man: Father Michael Landon

I Confess out-wrongs The Wrong Man for one very simple, very Catholic reason. But even The Wrong Man is a very Catholic movie.

The Wrong Man is based on actual events. According to Gunz, “The story is about an everyman, a Queens, New York-bred Italian Catholic named Christopher Manuel (Manny) Balastrero (HENRY FONDA), who is wrongly accused of committing a series of robberies. In this case of mistaken identity, he is arrested, put on trial and nearly convicted in place of the real culprit.”

Balastrero must prove his innocence in order to be released from jail and to restore his good name.

In I Confess, there is, what is in simple terms referred to as a ‘plot complication’. Father Michael Logan, played by MONTGOMERY CLIFT, is the wrong man. But the real killer committed the crime wearing one of the priest’s cassocks, and hid the blood-stained garment in the priest’s footlocker.

And then, he confessed his crime to that very priest, knowing that his confession would be safe and that the priest could never reveal the truth, even if he went to prison.

He effectively prevented the only witness from naming him as the murderer. And he makes damning statements that focus the attention of the investigators on Father Logan. As a result, Father Logan is unable to clear his name.

He, in effect, becomes a stand-in for the real criminal, as Jesus was for the insurrectionist, Barabbas.

Perhaps Father Henninger is correct, that Hitchcock deliberately downplayed his beliefs and practices to separate them from his very public persona. But, like Truffaut, it’s hard to watch films like The Wrong Man and especially I Confess without a sense of a deep and profound belief.

 

Close Encounters of All Kinds

Steven SpielbergIt is 1975.

I am 16. I walk with Steven Spielberg across the parking lot at Orange Coast College where we have just seen a retrospective of his work (Duel, Sugarland Express, Jaws). I ask him what his next film will be. He tells me “It’s called Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but I can’t tell you anything more about it”. Hmm.

It is 1976. I receive a publication from the US GPO for a project in Mr. Ramseyer’s Political Science class. It describes the government’s position on UFOs. It includes the definitions of the three types of ‘Close Encounters’. And I realize Spielberg is making a movie about contact with alien life forms.

It is 1977. ‘Star Wars’ releases in May and triples the value of 20th Century Fox stock within weeks of its release. My parents tell me they want to buy me some stock for my graduation present. I tell them to buy as much Columbia Pictures stock as they can. They say “We want you to study stocks, to learn something about the stock market”. I explain why I want this stock. They buy it immediately. Within a week of its November release, ‘Close Encounters’ doubles the value of my stock. A week later it’s worth three times what my parents paid for it, and rising.

A week later, actor Cliff Robertson goes public about Columbia’s VP of Production, David Begelman, who is embezzling money by cashing checks in Robertson’s name at his bank. The stock tanks.

The end.

Evolution of a Screenplay: Hitchcock’s ‘Shadow of a Doubt’

typewriter-726965_1280Alfred Hitchcock made over 50 motion pictures, beginning in the silent era and working into the 70s. He is a master filmmaker, and has been lauded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with a special Oscar. He was honored by the American Film Institute. His work has seen a resurgence in popularity through the re-releases of his classics in theaters and on DVD and Blu-Ray. He directed the classic ‘North by Northwest’, ‘Vertigo’, ‘Rear Window’, ‘Psycho’ and ‘The Birds’, among many, many others. But of all his films, Hitchcock most often expressed his appreciation of ‘Shadow of a Doubt’.

Hitchcock had been on perpetual loan-out by David O. Selznick since they had made ‘Rebecca’, He had been working with different producers. His most recent film, ‘Suspicion’, had been produced by Jack Skirball. In 1942, Hitchcock was given a five-page treatment for his consideration by Margaret McDonnell, who worked for Selznick. The story, ’Uncle Charlie’, had been conceived as a novel by McDonnell’s husband, Gordon. He had come across a story in the news and wrote the treatment based on that story.

‘Uncle Charlie’ tells of an average family of four living in the small town of Hanford, in California’s San Joaquin Valley.The father is an employee of the local bank. Mother is involved in her women’s groups – there is great concern about social standing in the family according to McDonnell’s treatment. ‘The Girl’ seems hard, maybe a little edgy. Her ne’er-do-well boyfriend is viewed with concern by the community, who are quick to blame him for a local stick up.

In the treatment, the cold, dispassionate voice of the narrator describes the residents of the town the way Uncle Charlie describes people in the film, though in this case the perspective is that of ‘the girl’s’ boyfriend.

Mother receives a letter from her brother, the near-mythical Uncle Charlie, announcing that he is coming to visit. The children have not met him, only heard countless stories of their idyllic childhood and how wonderful Charlie is. After Uncle Charlie arrives, he meets and bonds with his niece. He showers her with gifts, but he doesn’t care for her boyfriend and tells her so.

You can read Gordon McDonell’s treatment for ‘Uncle Charlie’ here:

http://the.hitchcock.zone/wiki/Uncle_Charlie_by_Gordon_McDonell_(05/May/1942)

Hitchcock saw promise in the story, suggesting it would make an excellent basis for a screenplay. He hired Thornton Wilder, three-time Pulitzer prize-winning author and playwright. Wilder had written ‘Our Town’ and that was the feeling Hitchcock wanted – ‘Our Town’ with a serial killer plopped right down in the middle of it. It would be Hitchcock’s first ‘American’ film. Jack Skirball would produce once again.

Hitchcock, his wife Alma Reville and Wilder began developing the screenplay. The story was moved to Santa Rosa, California. ‘The girl’ in McDonnell’s treatment was fleshed out into Charlotte, whom everyone calls Charlie because of her strong connection to her uncle. The connection is demonstrated by the crossing of the telegraph messages from one Charlie to the other. And it is evident that her affection for Uncle Charlie is reciprocated.

But she is not the only character with such a close connection. The mother, Charlie’s sister, Emma, was developed into a believable counterpart to Charlie’s socio/psychopathology. She is emotional in the way Uncle Charlie cannot be. The scene in which Charlie presents the family members with gifts has a particularly telling moment when Emma opens her gift – framed photographs of their parents she hasn’t seen in many years. She is at once pleased to see them and to receive them but, at the same time, she is upset in the knowledge that Charlie had them, had kept them from her, for so long.

The screenwriters removed the character of the niece’s lowlife boyfriend. ‘Young Charlie’ became a nice girl who is just bored with life in a small town and looking for something to stir things up.

Hitchcock found working with Wilder so pleasant he added an effusive tribute to the screenwriter in the film’s opening credits.

Wilder left the project to join the Army. Writer Sally Benson was brought in to contribute additional dialog. Benson’s collection of short stories, ‘Junior Miss’, had been turned into a play that had just opened on Broadway. Alma and Hitch worked with Benson to finalize the screenplay. Benson was given full (shared) screenwriting credit with Wilder and Reville.

During shooting, actress Teresa Wright felt that the dialog in the scene in the garage in which she and Macdonald Carey begin to explore their relationship didn’t ring true. Actress Patricia Collinge, ‘Emma Newton’ in the film, had been published in the New Yorker and Hitchcock asked her to work with the actress to rewrite the dialog in the scene.

You can read a draft of the screenplay here:

https://issuu.com/lafamiliafilm/docs/shadow-of-a-doubt/1

Evolution of a Screenplay: ‘The Sixth Sense’

typewriter-726965_1280‘The Sixth Sense’ (1999) has one of the most amazing screenplays ever written. If you saw it before anyone spoiled it and experienced the mind-bending shift that screenwriter/director M. Night Shyamalan achieved, you know what I mean. My second viewing of the film gave me such a appreciation for the artistry with which both the screenplay and the film were created, it was almost like watching a totally different movie. In a way it’s become Shyamalan’s undoing, as he is compelled to try and achieve that same level of shock and awe that ‘The Sixth Sense’ delivered.

As I mentioned earlier, screenplays get revised. With each revision, elements are added, character arcs are altered, all with the intention of creating the tightest, most powerful screenplay possible. So powerful was ‘The Sixth Sense’ that the film and its screenplay have entered the realm of popular culture. Who doesn’t know the reference ‘I see dead people’?

Scripts go through many drafts before any film is actually shot. It’s the key to writing a taut script. According to an interview in Scenario magazine (Volume 5, Number 4), Shyamalan had written five drafts of the screenplay before an idea came to him that transformed it into something totally new, leading to a landmark film with powerful performances from the film’s stars. It happened in the sixth draft.

What was it?

Spoiler Alert!

Malcolm, the film’s protagonist, is dead.

Think about that for a minute. In the first five drafts of his screenplay, Shyamalan had not come up with that. Without it the film would be nothing. But what happened in the sixth draft was extraordinary. It took the screenplay and the film through the looking glass.

And this is what I mean by watching it a second time is like seeing a different film. There’s a poignancy to everything that creates a totally different mood.

He felt something in his gut that kept him at this project through five drafts of what would seem to be an uninspiring screenplay. Remember, this wasn’t his first rodeo. He had written and directed two feature films before ‘The Sixth Sense’ (And his day job was writing the screenplay for ‘Stuart Little’). So maybe he had a ‘sixth sense’ about the script that made him keep at it, turning the ideas over in his mind until one popped out that was totally amazing and original. It changed the movie and certainly changed his career.

That wasn’t the only major change during Shyamalan’s writing process on ‘The Sixth Sense’. According to an interview at www.creativescreenwriting.com, Malcolm was originally a crime scene photographer who discovers his son sees the victims of a serial killer.

You can read that interview here:

http://creativescreenwriting.com/m-night-shyamalan-on-screenwriting/

There’s a copy of the screenplay on the website www.screenplay.com.