Ever since I first saw Moonstruck, a movie I’ve watched at least a dozen times, I’ve believed that the world would be a better place if every man received a good dressing-down and talking-to from Olympia Dukakis playing Rose Castorini.
Hers is one of my favorite performances on film (it won her an Academy Award), and I’ve very sad to hear that she died this week, at the age of 89.
One of the best lines in Moonstruck wasn’t even in the script. While improvising, Dukakis quoted something her mother said to her:
It is rare and delightful to discover that an artist seemed to be as great off-screen as on, so I will end with this Tweet thread from Sarah Polley:
I really liked Derek DelGaudio’s new film directed by Frank Oz, In and Of Itself. (If you haven’t seen it, don’t read anything else about it, just go watch it.) I asked my friend, filmmaker and screenwriter James Francis Flynn, to make me a list of stuff to watch related to magic, illusion, and con artistry. Below is what he sent me.
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DelGaudio was a consultant on this 2006 Christopher Nolan film about rival stage magicians in turn of the century London.
Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay
A 2012 documentary about Ricky Jay, the famed magician, author, and historian, and those who inspired him to take up those trades.
Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants
A filmed stage show of Jay’s incredible sleight-of-hand work, directed by David Mamet.
House of Games
David Mamet’s directorial debut, which follows a successful author who becomes drawn into the underground world of card cheats and con artists.
During The Great Depression, two professional grifters, played by Paul Newman and Robert Redford, plot to rip off a Chicago mob boss.
An Honest Liar
2014 documentary about James Randi, magician and professional skeptic who made it his life’s work to expose pseudoscientists, psychics, and fakes of all kinds.
Penn & Teller: Bullshit!
Showtime series wherein the magic duo often exposed cold readers, quacks, and scammers. As Penn said in the first episode, “Sure, we lie, cheat, and swindle; we’ve been known to deal in a bit of bullshit ourselves…One important difference: We tell you we’re lying.”
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James Francis Flynn was born and raised in Oxford, Ohio. I met him when we were students at the Western College Program at Miami University. James currently works in TV and film and lives in Los Angeles with his wife and kids. Check out his latest short film, Social Distancing in Los Angeles, and his website: jamesfrancisflynn.com.
I’ve seen Elf probably a dozen times — it’s one of my favorite Christmas movies to watch with the kids — but I never bothered to watch the behind-the-scenes featurettes, so I was delighted by this clip from Netflix’s The Holiday Movies That Made Us that shows how they used forced perspective to make Will Ferrell seem gigantic:
I love practical effects like this. (Director Jon Favreau wanted the movie to look timeless, so he stayed away from too much CGI that might date the movie.) The forced perspective technique is also how they got Hagrid to look so huge in the Harry Potter movies and the hobbits so small in The Lord of the Rings.
Back in 2014, director Steven Soderbergh posted a black-and-white version of Raiders of the Lost Ark with The Social Network soundtrack as an exercise in studying staging. It’s since become my favorite way of watching the movie. I’ve seen Raiders probably a 100 times and I can recite the dialogue line-by-line, but when I watch it in black-in-white, it estranges me from it, and it’s like seeing a new movie. (Fresh eyes!)
“I’m not saying I’m like, ALLOWED to do this,” Soderbergh joked. But some directors insist that black-and-white is actually their favorite way to watch their own movies. “The best version of this movie is black-and-white,” said director George Miller on the “Black and Chrome” edition of Mad Max: Fury Road. “But people reserve that for art movies now.”
Director Bong Joon-ho says his mother wouldn’t let him go to the movies because of “bacteria” when he was growing up, so he watched all movies on their old black-and-white TV. A “classic” movie, for him, is a black-and-white one. So he made a black-and-white version of Parasite, which had a limited theatrical release. “The first time [I saw the black and white version], it felt like I was watching an old movie, a story from long ago. But the second time, the movie felt more intense; it felt [more] cruel.”
Last night my wife and I put on Jurassic Park, and a little bit into it I said, “I’ll bet this would look really good in black-and-white.” So I opened the picture settings on the TV, turned the Color to zero, set the Contrast all the way up, then turned down the Brightness down to about 40/100. I couldn’t believe how good it looked — all the rain and the smoke from Samuel L. Jackson’s cigarette in the control room made it feel almost noir-ish. (And it definitely emphasized the horror elements.) An old movie becomes new. Magic!
Update (3/29/2020): You may be surprised what works and what doesn’t! The Big Lebowski was underwhelming, but Nacho Libre in black and white was perfect — parts of it looked like Bergman or Fellini and the parts in the ring looked like Raging Bull!
Here is one of my favorite shots in Booksmart. It sums up one of the big messages of the movie: If other people have to lose to make you feel like a winner, something is broken — in you, and in the system in which you participate.
I mean, how many teenage comedies have made me think about Ursula Franklin? Here is one of my favorite passages from The Ursula Franklin Reader: Pacifism as a Map (juxtaposed with a clipping from an article about the president):
…many people are hypnotized by the mentality of zero-sum games. In this mentality, if you want to win, someone else has to lose. If you want to gain, someone else must give something up. It is not difficult to point out the many instances in which this scheme falls down.
Franklin said that if we want to change our ways of operating, we have to pay close attention to our language and to the metaphors that we use. “We should consciously avoid representing all events as conflicts, and in an either-or framework,” she wrote. “There is a great need for us to avoid either-or presentations and images of confrontation, of teams, of winning.”
Related reading: Further notes on Scenius.
Here is one of my all-time favorite performances: The Who doing “A Quick One (While He’s Away)” in 1968 as part of The Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus, uploaded in HD quality last month to their official YouTube account:
From Aquarium Drunkard:
Though no official story ever seems to have been given, rock legend has it that the above video is what kept Jagger from handing the tapes over to the BBC. While the Stones had been off the road and were out of practice, the Who were white hot, turning in a showstopping version of “A Quick One While He’s Away.” The song was their first attempt at rock opera, a seven-and-a-half minute medley whose “Dang!/Dang!/Dang!” bridge went on to score Max Fischer and Herman Blume’s acts of romantic terrorism in Rushmore. Here the group tear through the song’s six parts, Keith Moon decorating his bashing with stick-twirls and Pete Townshend whipping furious windmills as the song pushes its way downhill. Keith Richards, decked out in top-hat and eyepatch, gleefully invites us to “Dig the Who,” and it doesn’t take long to see that his bandmates needn’t have worried so much about their inability to top their openers: Very little has ever been better than this.
I dig the entirety of Rock And Roll Circus. I love the ramshackle quality of the Stones performances: the “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” is good and nasty (with the slightly sinister “and now…” intro from John Lennon) and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is nice and stripped-down.
But back to The Who: Maybe it’s the season, but what gives me the goosebumps at the end of “A Quick One” is the ending: “You are forgiven.” Over and over and over. “You are forgiven.” (At the end of this performance Pete Townshend yells, “You’re all forgiven!” In the Live at Leeds performance, it’s “We’re all forgiven!” which I like even more.)
I’m now reminded of the ending of one of my favorite movies, Amadeus: “Mediocrities everywhere… I absolve you.”
I believe that there are no good movies, no good books, no good music compositions just great scenes, great passages, great moments.
I do not want this to be true, but I do think there’s something to it.
Whatever you want more of, that’s where your work begins.
I loved this Kate Beaton twitter thread about her house hunting on Cape Breton. She looked at a house on a big blueberry farm but got extremely creepy vibes from the attic room. Later, she found out that it’s supposed to be haunted.
He said there’s a room at the top of the stairs and I said I KNEW IT and he said people hear these two ladies in there, weaving- they can hear the machine – or the spinning wheel, and the women are singing in Gaelic. And sometimes, you drive by and the light is on upstairs
— Kate Beaton (@beatonna) October 29, 2019
We’ve been watching a bunch of old black and white horror movies for the past couple of weeks, great stuff like The Old Dark House.
One of the funniest things about these old movies is how dumb the protagonists are.
Anybody who’s ever been house hunting knows that you can tell IMMEDIATELY upon entering a house whether it’s got the creeps or not.
In fact, that’s part of the fun of the movie, yelling at the screen, feeling superior. “This would never happen to us,” you think, as you squeeze your wife tight. “We’re a lot smarter than that.”
I wonder sometimes if House Hunters learned this from horror movies: that if you show couples visiting a house and saying dumb things (“I don’t like the paint color!”) or making bad choices it gets the audience whipped up. (This piece on The Cut from last year is the perfect blend of horror and real estate.)
One of my favorite Richard Pryor skits is “Exorcist,” where Pryor imagines the movie if there were black people in it. “The movie would’ve been about seven minutes long. [In The Devil’s voice] ‘Hello?’ [In Pryor’s voice] ‘Goodbye!’”
About a decade later, Eddie Murphy stole Pryor’s joke and updated it using Poltergeist: “Why don’t white people just leave the house when there’s a ghost in the house?”
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