Sunday, 1 June 2014

(46) Book Review: "My Lunches with Orson" edited by Peter Biskind (2013)

My Lunches with Orson edited by Peter Biskind (2013).

It took me a while to finish the last thirty pages or the last two conversations of the book, it was neither because the book got boring, nor because the conversations were not engaging, it was only because I knew the ending of it - Orson Welles will die. After acquiring such engaging, delightful, humorous and witty friends - Orson Welles and Henry Jaglom - it seemed unfair and hard that I will have to leave them sitting in Ma Maison by their lunch table. But it has come to that - the book is finished. This is The End. I am left in awe that for a quite some while I had two intelligent, shameless and captivating lunch chums.

I have no doubt that after reading this book quite a few directors are grinding their teeth, because now not only they have to compete with Welles as a filmmaker, but also as a brilliant raconteur outside of the film set.
From 1983 till 1985 Henry Jaglom, the director and friend of Welles, recorded his conversations with Welles over lunches at Ma Maison, the bistro in Hollywood. Not sure whether these recordings were Welles approved or not, because the "tape recorder was one of the only two things we [Jaglom and Welles] didn't speak about. The other was his [Welles] weight and its health implications." (Biskind 289), they reveal Welles unplugged, and it can be said with a certainty that throughout his life Welles stayed a first-rate raconteur and storyteller.

Orson Welles, 1977.
There is no need for a long introduction to Orson Welles (1915-1985), what he was and what he did, his work does the talking, moreover Welles was not only a skilled director, he was also a producer, an actor, a screenwriter, an author of essays, articles, plays and stories, and quite often he was joggling from one profession to other, often pressured for financial reasons. As Jean-Luc Godard remarked, "Everyone will always owe him everything." (Biskind 2). Now back to the lunch table, while I reveal for you some of my favourite moments from this enchanting book.

In the conversations with Jaglom, Welles is truthful, harsh, intimate, gives a revealing insight into a film industry, he is honest, rude and shocking, he has opinion on and about everything and everyone. Despite all that, Welles was an unlucky wretch when it came down to selling his own work, that can be seen in the conversation where Susan Smith from HBO joins Welles and Jaglom's lunch table, as Welles himself admits "I'm a bad seller."

Remembering that Marilyn Monroe was born on this day, June 1, I must note, true or not, but there might'n be Monroe, as we know her, if not for Welles. He tried to promote her career by taking her to the parties and introducing her to people, as Welles notes in the 6th conversation with Jaglom:
I [Welles] would point Marilyn out to Darryl [Zanuck], and  say, "What a sensational girl." He would answer, "She's just another stock player. We've got hundred of them. Stop trying to push these cunts on me. We've got her on for $125 a week." And then about six months later, Darryl was paying Marilyn $400,000, and the men were looking at her - because some stamp had been put on her.
In the first conversation Welles talks about "such a thing as physical  dislike" in which he states how much he dislikes Woody Allen physically and how Allen has "the Chaplin disease" - a particular "combination of arrogance and timidity", later in the same conversation Welles describes Brando's neck being "like a huge sausage, a shoe made of flesh" and reveals that he is a racist and dismisses Spencer Tracy as "one of those bitchy Irishmen", and states how he prefers Irishmen from Ireland over Irish-Americans:
Seven hundred years of bitter oppression changed their [Irish] character, gave them that passive meanness and cunning. All I can say is what Micheál Mac Liammóir said when we were making Othello, and I asked him, "Describe the Irish in one word." He said, "Malice." Look, I [Welles] love Ireland, I love Irish literature, I love everything they do, you know. But the Irish-Americans have invented an imitation Ireland which is unspeakable. The wearin' o' the green. Oh, my God, to vomit!
After living for a year in Ireland and now visiting for the last two years, I felt particularly excited, when I got to know that Welles has met William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory and other "famous Gaelic nationalists"; who knows maybe he walked around Coole Park and maybe I have walked where he once walked.

This is only a dip in the first forty or so pages of the book, I have to stop now, before I re-tell you all of the stories. Every conversation will make you laugh, cry, yell, smile or argue back, it definitely won't leave you apathetic. So next time, when you sit down to a lunch table use this opportunity to get closer to a legend, Orson Welles, in the best part he has ever played - Orson Welles.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

(45) Penny Dreadful (2014-): "Enter freely and of your own free will!"*

Penny Dreadful (2014-).

Quite some long time ago after watching Dark Shadows (2012) and once again being impressed by Eva Green I checked her IMDb page to see whether there might be some film or TV series with her that I haven't seen. At a time there were quite a few films in pre- and post-production, as well as a TV series Penny Dreadful, for which synopsis were more than fascinating. Thus every few months I wrote down reminders, so that I wouldn't forget about it. Now with a shimmering zeal in my eyes I can tell you, my dear reader, that it is only one month left till the premiere of Penny Dreadful.

The term 'penny dreadful' comes from mid-nineteenth century Britain, when demand for literature increased. The penny dreadfuls were a cheaper alternative to mainstream fictional works. It was a type of British fiction that featured serial stories, which came out over a number of weeks, and, accordingly, each part of the story cost but one old penny. They were called 'penny dreadfuls' because of their cheap nature and poor and 'dreadful' quality, nevertheless, they were popular publications and met the desires of the working class. Penny dreadfuls were not the most enlightening literature, however, they increased the literacy level in the industrial Britain. As creator and executive producer of the new TV series John Logan asserted in one of the behind the scenes video on Penny Dreadful blog: "What did Victorian's do?", as one might suspect, they didn't have TV, radio, internet or cinema, so "They read penny dreadfuls or they went to the theater."

Just like penny dreadfuls were serial stories, so is the Showtime eight episode TV series Penny Dreadful, which will contain different literary characters. From synopsis (Showtime homepage):
Some of literature's most terrifying characters, including Dr. Frankenstein, Dorian Gray, and iconic figures from the novel Dracula are lurking in the darkest corners of Victorian London. Penny Dreadful is a frightening psychological thriller that weaves together these classic horror origin stories into a new adult drama.
The TV series is set in 1891 in the time of Victorian society. Logan chose to set the series in this time period
not because it would be cool visually but because the Victorian era reminds me of right now ... They were on the cusp of the modern world … grappling with the very elemental question of what it means to be human. I sit down at my computer and I don't understand any of the new world zooming toward us. We're on the cusp of the same thing now: There's frightening dissonance and excitement for unchartered waters. We will pull these characters from where they're comfortable into unchartered waters, and, to me, that makes good drama. (The Hollywood Reporter)
Penny Dreadful is produced in Dublin, Ireland, created by John Logan, and stars Eva Green (The Dreamers, Cracks, Dark Shadows), Timothy Dalton (The Living Daylights, Hot Fuzz) and Josh Hartnett (Black Hawk Down, Pearl Harbor).

Open up your organizers and mark it down - the new TV series Penny Dreadful will be premiered on Sunday, May 11, 2014.

For US viewers it will be broadcast on Showtime.
For Ireland and UK viewers it will be broadcast on Sky Atlantic.

See the full trailer below:

For more information and behind the scenes videos visit Penny Dreadful production blog.

*Bram Stoker, "Dracula".

Sunday, 6 April 2014

(44) Short Film Sunday #29: A Day in the Lives of Sisyphus and Ivan (2012)

A Day in the Lives of Sisyphus and Ivan (2012).
Good evening, my dear readers, it is nice to write to you again. It has been a while, so Short Film Sunday is back, for today, who knows what will happen next Sunday or during the week. I know that I still owe you all a review of one certain book, it will come as a surprise at some point this year. I hope you are all doing well and have been busy in a good sense. Now back to the short film.
Today's short film will be existential and created in a way that would not be too common in a digital era - a cutout animation - it is one of the earliest forms of animation. In some ways it reminds me of Chinese shadow theater. For a while now I have been reading, flicking through, buying and carrying around Penguin's Great Ideas books, and Albert Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus is next on my list after Immanuel Kant's An Answer to the Question: 'What is Enlightenment?'.
Therefore it only seemed suitable to introduce myself with the main idea of The Myth of Sisyphus before I start the reading, and what a better way to do it if not by watching an animation? Kati Rehback's created cutout animation A Day in the Lives of Sisyphus and Ivan tells the story of Sisyphus, who has been punished by gods, and Ivan Denisovich, who has been sentenced to spend 3653 days in a Soviet prison camp. The short is based on the writings by Albert Camus and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, both works use existentialism to criticise existing orders and modes of society. The simplistic style of Rehback's cutout animation portrays both stories in a simple, yet in a captivating way, which highlights the monotony of Sisyphus rolling the rock up the mountain or Ivan's days in the Soviet prison camp.
That is some food for thought, enjoy my dear reader and hope to see you some time soon!

Sunday, 16 February 2014

(43) Short Film Sunday #28: Goodbye Mister De Vries (2012)


My dear readers, this weeks Short Film Sunday for some time will be the 28th Short Film Sunday and also the last. I have been thinking a lot about what I want to do, what I need to do and what are my passions, that makes my life fulfilled, as well as other existentialist questions about me as a being and about my being, that is existence. This blog was started first and foremost because I love writing and secondly, because I love films and cinema, I love the intimacy between the screen and the viewer that is created by darkness. When I write fiction I often think, how it would look on the screen, would it be a film, an animation, hand drawn or would it be stop-motion. Writing for me goes hand in hand with a film spurred by my imagination, same as reading.
Short films are quite often dismissed and forgotten, for me they often offer more than a feature film could ever offer - a short escape from reality. Despite the fact that this little project called Short Film Sunday made me realise how quickly time passes and how diverse this form of art can be, I need to put up a sign saying: "Gone for a short while."
I do not know, when there will be a next entry in this blog, but I am sure, that there will be a next one, maybe even next Sunday or Sunday after or in a few days, I am just saying that there will not be anymore guaranteed/promised posts on every Sunday. The reason is quite simple - I need more time for writing. I need to indulge more in literature, fiction, my stories and characters, I want them on paper and out of my head, so I can free some room up for future ideas and projects.

Now enough with explanations and smart talk, here you go this weeks Short Film Sunday, a lovely and heartfelt story about Mister De Vries, a lovely old man, who waits for his time to go. I stumbled upon Mascha Halberstad's created Goodbye Mister De Vries (2012) by accident, however the story has the same warmth around it as a story I wrote a couple of weeks ago.
Enjoy and goodbye my dear readers, just for a short while.

Yours truly,

P.S. As promised, there will be a review of "My Lunches with Orson" edited by Peter Biskind and it will hopefully happen some time soon.

P.P.S. Don't forget that Bates Motel is back with Season 2 on March 3. You still have time to watch Season 1 in case you missed it. You can read my review on Season 1 here.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

(42) Short Film Sunday #27: 43,000 Feet (2012)

43,000 Feet (2012).
A few days ago my sister posted a link to a short film - 43,000 Feet (2012) - I was immediately hooked because of the short film's title and because once in my life I enjoyed mathematics, and I was really good at maths. However, 43,000 Feet is not only about calculations and hitting the right angle, it is an exploration of one's mind, what would one's mind think and what it should think, when all you have is 3 minutes and 48 seconds till your probable death after a free fall from a height of 43,000 feet. It is New Zealand based director's Campbell Hooper's first short film, previously Hooper had worked on several music videos and commercials.
43,000 Feet is a combination of illustrations, graphs, mathematical equations and, of course, the falling. Through the use of these images the film explores the statistician's, John Wilkins', take on the situation, when he is sucked out of the airplane after the emergency door malfunctions. It is a story of his thoughts that goes through his head while falling, like, how much time he has left, how he should fall and what he would tell the press, in case he survives. Although, it seems that these thoughts are more of afterthoughts, which are delivered through an even voice-over. In the end it is left open, whether he survives or not is left to the viewer's perception.
My favourite story from the short is a story about a bum and a time machine. See for yourself one man's musings while falling from 43,000 feet. Enjoy, my dear reader!

Sunday, 2 February 2014

(41) Short Film Sunday #26: Fairy tales

Drawing by Margarita Stāraste.

Today's post won't really be a short film, nor it will be any kind of film post. I am making exception, because one of my all time favourite artists, animators and children book authors, Margarita Stāraste, is celebrating her 100th birthday. So I want to use my blog to wish her a very happy birthday.

Daudz laimes dzimšanas dienā, Margarita Stāraste!*

I was fortunate enough to grow up with her books and illustrations, and I was fortunate enough that my parents read those books to me. One of the best known Margarita Stāraste's created character is Zīļuks/Titmouse. During my childhood I made a few of them myself by using matches and of course an acorn.

Drawing by Margarita Stāraste.

Margarita Stāraste brought to life many little creatures in woods, in your garden, at the back of your house, raindrops and snowdrops came to life, everything had its own life and story to tell, and everything was brought to life in vivid colours. These are the tales that will be passed on from generation to generation.
So all in all it is short film Sunday, just a different kind, I am asking you to roll back your film and remember fairy tales from your childhood, maybe it's time to dive back into them, indulge yourself into a fantasy world.
There are hundreds of more pictures that I want to put in, however I leave it to you, if you want more simply google - Margarita Stāraste pasakas - to open up a whole new world in front of our eyes, and if you happen to be in Latvia go to the nearest bookshop and ask for her books, you won't regret it, even if you can't read in Latvian (if you can read in Japanese, then look up her books in Japanese, as far as I know, a few of them have been translated into Japanese).

Enjoy, my dear reader, and once again a very happy birthday to Margarita Stāraste!

Drawing by Margarita Stāraste.

*Happy birthday, Margarita Stāraste!

Sunday, 26 January 2014

(40) Short Film Sunday #25: Steamboat Willie (1928)

Steamboat Willie (1928).

Welcome back to Short Film Sunday, my dear reader. I have been gone for a while, and I have a brilliant excuse: I was enjoying myself up in the Scottish mountains and then down in the Welsh mountains, where my main concern was, where to put my next step. However, this week Short Film Sunday is back on with Walt Disney's Steamboat Willie (1928) and the reason for that is fairly simple, Disney's short animation Get a Horse (2013), that has been screened before Frozen (2013), has been nominated for Academy Award as the best animated short and it also features a very famous mouse, Mickey Mouse, 85 years after his debut. So, let's roll the film a bit back...
I am a bit of snob, when it comes to the Oscars (if you want to know why Oscar looks like Oscar, read David Thomson's "The Big Screen", a lovely little story). I am not a fan of the Academy Awards and I often disagree with nominations and wins, etc. Despite that, Mickey Mouse has always had a room on my shelf as a comic book/journal. I am quite sure, that I could still find the first Mickey Mouse comic book/journal that my parents got for me in my childhood, in the 1990's.
Steamboat Willie is often regarded as Micky Mouse and his girlfriend's Minnie's debut, although it was the third animation where Mickey appeared, but it was the first to be distributed. It is famous for being the first cartoon with synchronized sound, plus it introduced to the world one of the most famous cartoon characters - Mickey Mouse.
Enjoy the first distributed cartoon in which Mickey Mouse appeared and if you have a chance go to the movies and enjoy the latest cartoon in which Mickey Mouse stars.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

(39) Short Film Sunday #24: Balance (1989)

Balance (1989).

Without balance nothing can really exist or co-exist, even chaos couldn't exist without a certain balance. I remember reading a story from 60's, can't remember the title, however the story went, that there was a family they all lived in their separate places, mother, father and a child, the only way they communicated was through their TV screens, something like Skype or video chat nowadays. They had never met in real life. However, one day they decide that they could all meet, what happens is a big explosion of emotions, because they are not familiar with human touch or other ways of communicating, all they know is the TV screen. Their meeting ends with a savage rage. The balance was destroyed.
Well, that story was written in 60's, sadly enough, it often seems to me that it is a route that humanity has taken, less real communication, more virtual communications. Balance is needed. Overcrowded Earth, every human being needs their own space, real or virtual, since there is no room on Earth, it is balanced out in the virtual world.
The short film Balance (1989) is about 5 individuals, who need to keep the platform in balance, so they wouldn't fall off of it and face death. Each individual is aware of the fact that they need to keep the platform in balance, that they need to cooperate in order to survive. What happens when one day one of the individuals pulls up a music box on the platform? Will harmony sustain? Will greed or cooperation win?
See for yourself. Enjoy, my dear reader!
Balance is a short animation made in Germany, directed by twin brothers, Christoph Lauenstein and Wolfgang Lauenstein. It has won several awards, including Academy Award for the Best Short Film in 1990.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

(38) Short Film Sunday #23: The Hearts of Age (1934)

Orson Welles, co-filmmaker of The Hearts of Age (1934).

I finally got my hands on Peter Biskind's edited book "My Lunches with Orson" and I love it. It is a fantastic read, not easy, but certainly entertaining. I was nicely surprised, when I found out that Orson Welles has met William Butler Yeats and Lady Gregory, while he was in Ireland at the age of 16, Welles certainly was a great magician not only on the stage or behind the camera but also in life. You can look out for my book review some time in January.
While reading the book I was looking into biography and filmography of Welles and I came across a weird and surrealist short film The Hearts of Age (1934), which Welles shot together with his friend William Vance in 1934, Welles was only 19 years old. Hence, technically speaking Citizen Kane (1941) wasn't Welles first film, as it is often regarded.
The Hearts of Age is an 8 minute long short, shot in two hours on a Sunday afternoon, its cast consisted of four people: Welles, Vance, Virginia Nicholson and Paul Edgerton. The short has no real plot or meaning, it was made out of fun, as Welles noted in his interview with Peter Bogdanovich, The Hearts of Age was a parody of Jean Cocteau's film The Blood of a Poet (1932).*
Enjoy this surreal piece of work, no making notes or doing any kind of analysis, just enjoy!
Here is to a New Year and all the bizarre things that expect us!

*Information about the interview taken form OpenCulture homepage, you can view it here.