Above, Debbie Reynolds cracks a walnut with an Academy Award statuette in Susan Slept Here, Frank Tashlin, 1954, about which more later.
'Tis the season indeed, and as usual, I'm not having it. In fact, I daresay, up until the event itself, which I may or may not "live-blog," as they say (leaning to not), this is likely the first and last thing you'll read on this blog relating to Oscars. The only Oscar "blogger" or film writer or what have you I read with any regularity is my sui generis pal Jeffrey Wells, and in the "the whole world is queer execpt for thee and me and even thou art a little queer" department he's definitely rising to the occasion, for instance titling a post about the David-Poland-convened Movie City News Oscar panel the Gurus of Gold, "Guru Bitches Scatter." I know that Poland's an arch-enemy of Wells, and why not, but, geez, what did Breznican, Elwood, Hammond, Hernandez, Howell, Karger, Levy, et.al., ever do to Jeff? I also like Wells' summing-up of "pro" sentiments for The Fighter: "The passion of the big guns who are with it[...]is deep and true." What was that Vince Vaughn line in that upcoming comedy that got everybody into trouble? Oh, never mind.
In any event, as a part-time student of aberrant psychology I do confess I find the workings of the Oscar-prognosticating mind somewhat fascinating; on the other hand, I haven't got the time time (as Lou Reed once might have put it) to plumb said workings all that thoroughly. So I, um, commissioned film writer Vadim Rizov, he of unique perspective and gimlet eye, to plumb them in my place. The resulting piece, "The Gold Standard, or Lack Thereof," is one of my favorites in the first issue of Nomad Edition's Wide Screen, an online publication of which your humble servant is the editor. Another favorite is by my friend Farran Smith Nehme, also known as The Self Styled Siren, about Kent Jones' and Martin Scorsese's ALetter to Elia.
Nomad is a venture designed to provide what they call "content" to mobile and other such digital devices, using a software that makes said content pretty and readable on practically every conceivable such screen. Said content is not free, but will be available at what are, in my consideration, what they used to call "popular prices." I believe Wide Screen starts off with some very good stuff, and I know there's some even better stuff in its future, so I hope you check it out. Many thanks.
10:32: "Why is it okay when Jamie Oliver does it but not when Michelle Obama does it?" "Because Jamie Olver's not a SOCIALIST!!"
Ar ar ar.
I'm right: Martin's funnier by himself. His intro of Bullock takes me back to my Knob-Creek-fogged viewing of his solo Oscar hosting.
I think Bullock might have borrowed her lipstick from Jesse James first wife.
Avatar. "It's not cinematography. It's animation!" But the cinematographer has a Central European-sounding name.
Richardson was robbed.
Oh Jesus. If there's one thing about the Oscars that didn't need "improving" it's the dead people montage. Just get the list as complete as possible and put the montage together. Don't "enhance" it by having James Taylor come out and coma-tize The Beatles.
They dissed Farrah Fawcett. She was in Logan's Run AND Saturn Three, so the "she was a television person" argument doesn't wash.
Commercials. What's this bullshit with Cindy Crawford doing furniture for Penney's? I thought she had an EXCLUSIVE with RAYMOUR AND FLANIGAN!!!!
No time for Bacall or Corman, but time for this crap dance abomination. I try not to get overly agitated by the unbelievable awfulness of a given awards show...but as Orson Welles once said, "This is a lot of shit, you know that..."
"Which dancer represents the bomb?"
"Can we fast forward this?"
"No, it's going on live, in real time."
"Can we propel ourselves into the future, then?"
Apparently this horrible dance troupe thinks Up is Wall-E.
As promised, live-blogging of the Oscar telecast is beginning from an undisclosed Brooklyn location. Barbara Walters is unspooling some sort of "greatest hits" reel...or was...now she's showing baby pictures of Sandra Bullock...ooh, look at that Blind Side clip of Sandra talking smack to a crack dealer...she ain't a patch on Eastwood in Gran Torino..."I can't believe she's married to that jackass," Mario says when Jesse James comes on. Maybe I should tell him about James' prior wife...
I think I've mentioned at least once on this blog that it was very unlikely that I'd ever do Oscar predictions, or any other such sort of thing, again, unless I got paid for it. This determination had at least a little to do with the fact that, in my clear-eyed estimation, I kind of stink at Oscar predictions. Despite my protestations on this front, my pals at MSN commissioned an Oscar-predictions piece from me anyway, with the main focus being nominees rather than winners. Given my track record, I tried to fill it with as much entertainment value as possible, but in terms of crystal gazing it may not turn out to be a total write-off after all. For instance, Katherine Bigelow's win at the DGA Awards for The Hurt Locker sets the stage for precisely the Best Director/Best Picture split I envision at the Academy bash. I may be onto something in other categories, too. Or I may be on something. The piece is here, and you can comment at MSN or directly below.
Farber: "Good coarse romantic-adventure nonsense, exploiting the expressive dead-pans of Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell, a young man and a young woman who would probably enjoy doing in real life what they have to do here for RKO. Vincent Price is superb in his one right role—that of a ham actor thrown suddenly into a situation calling for high melodramatic courage. Russell's petulant, toneless rendition of 'Five Little Miles from San Berdoo' is high art of a sort."
That pretty much nails it, although it says something interesting about what one might call Farber's critical ecumenism that he could deem this both "nonsense" and a "best film" of the year. It is a thoroughly enjoyable picture, and its enjoyable qualities stem in no small part from its being something of a mess—more nonsensical than your average bit of studio nonsense. Blame then-RKO-head Howard Hughes, whose obsession with his discovery Russell compelled him to micro-manage the production, firing original director Farrow and bringing in RIchard Fleischer to preside over a grueling series of re-shoots, during which the principle actors took the liberty of revising their own dialogue.
The plot setup is pure convoluted hokum, involving a Luciano-esque Italian mobster (Raymond Burr) rotting in exile who contrives to re-enter the U.S. by assuming the identity of drifting gambler Milner (Mitchum), who, it's assumed, will take his multi-thousand-dollar bribe and loll around the strange Mexican resort that's their rendezvous point for a year or more. "It's not the place, it's the people," resort owner Jose Morro (a thoroughly robotic Phillip Van Zandt) boasts to Milner after the possible sucker rolls in (Mitchum looks, of course, like they just peeled him out of bed, only moreso than usual). And for the next 40 minutes or so, HKOW is what Quentin Tarantino would call "a great hangout movie." Not much goes on. The sleepily sensuous Russell tries to pin down boyfriend Price, magnificently self-obsessed until the wife Russell's character didn't know he had shows up. Milner tries to figure out where his contact's at, and shows a little Rick Blaine nobility by using his card-sharp chops to benefit a young couple about to fall into ruin at the hands of a predatory gambler played by Jim Backus. After Tim Holt turns up, the plot somehow feels obliged to kick into gear. And then Russell stops by Mitchum's cabin wearing one of those numbers that makes you go "What the?" followed by (if you're me) "homina homina homina..."
And then the picture gets really weird; were I feeling highfalutin I would say it bifurcates. Actually, that's almost entirely accurate. After Mitchum's character is taken hostage by the bad guys, the picture hones in on Price's character, a hack and a ham and a moral coward who, handed a gun by Russell, sees an opportunity to do something real for once. "You go back to Hollywood...while I go on to real-life triumphs...or a glorious death!" he sincerely charges his puling wife and spineless lawyer (or agent, or whatever—it's hard to actually tell).
And off he goes, quoting Shakespeare all the way. Upon being wounded, he notes, "Tis not so deep as a well, nor wide as a church door," the almost-last-lines of Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet. Even a throwaway line like "I must rid all the sea of pirates" turns out to be from Antony and Cleopatra. The film reaches a near-sublime note of silliness when it throws in what amounts to a silent-movie gag involving a leaky boat commandeered by Price. And all the while, Mitchum's Milner, when he's shown at all, is completely ineffectual, a temporary plaything that Burr's sadistic gangster is eager to be rid of...
It seems a bit unfair, then, that Mitchum's character gets to pull off the film's ultimate bit of derring-do, but them's the rules, I guess. HKOW's often-bizarre variations on convention could only be carried so far.
By the way—two things. Among its other pleasures the movie also features a relatively rare in-the-flesh appearance from voice-over legend Paul Frees; it's always a kick to match that voice to a face. Also, our Mr. Farber was all of five months the senior of "young man" Mitchum at the time he wrote the above-cited piece!
UPDATE: My friend Mr. Joseph Failla has some particularly apposite notes to add:
"Even though Robert Mitchum received top billing, I always considered HIS KIND OF WOMAN, first and foremost, one of Vincent Price's most notable films. He dominates the proceedings so well, you forget the crime thriller you began to watch and become totally caught up with the Price character's newly found heroics. In fact, I'd rate his work here practically on a par with my favorite Price performance as a critically maligned Shakespearian actor in THEATRE OF BLOOD. I've often rejected the notion that Price was a ham; he's done much to prove otherwise. The problem was, he may have been at his best when he was portraying one.
If I remember correctly, very little of the film Farrow shot remains. I believe the opening scene with Burr is his; it seems to be played somewhat straighter than any of the other sequences he appears in. But once the comedy relief begins, we're probably firmly within Fleischer's re-shoots. The bulk of the film even looks different from the opening footage, making clearer how extensive the revisions were. I suppose it shouldn't be any surprise that another troubled Hughes production, MACAO, which also featured Mitchum and Jane Russell, switched directors too. Officially begun by Von Sternberg, it was completed by Nicholas Ray without credit. That alone makes viewing a must.
But I admit, I enjoy the lengths to which HKOW is willing to take its B movie theatrics. While other films would be satisfied with just roughing Mitchum up, this one continues to up the ante, especially during the extended climax on the villain's boat. Heightening the suspense by any means necessary (including that silent movie gag), the movie shows us Mitchum sweating and suffering much longer than we're used to seeing, as he's set upon almost endlessly by murderous thugs and a sinister doctor with a deadly hypodermic needle.
Oh, if you really want a good look at Paul Frees (in color yet), check out JET PILOT again. He's the Russian officer who goes for a very rough ride when he activates his ejector seat from an aircraft while still on the ground."
"Check out Jet Pilot again." Always good advice, sez I.
So, the Oscar nominations were announced some time last week, and I didn't have much to say about them, because I can't be arsed, for reasons that I think can be inferred from what I wrote here. That said, I have to say I'm a bit surprised at how predictable some of the main nominees are, particularly from the vantage point of, say, six months ago. I honestly figured that Happy-Go-Lucky's Sally Hawkins had pretty much nudged Frozen River's Melissa Leo out of Best Actress consideration, indie/arthouse division. And I thought that the Oscar buzz for Richard Jenkins in The Visitor had pretty much faded. I'm glad to see Jenkins get the nod, not so much because I'm crazy about the film itself; just think it's super cool when great character actors get the nod.
The overall consensus—from, I must emphasize, people who get paid to make their analyses—is that the nominations represent a net gain for "excellence." Any cinephile worth his salt knows that that's a crock, that "excellence" in these cases is usually just a synonym for "quality," and that quality is in these cases always putative, and a few more steps and, voila, we're back to what the New Wave firebrands used to call "le cinema du papa" and what I, at Premiere, used to denigrate as "the distinguished film."
How lazy have most Oscar cud-chewers been about this? So lazy that the best perspective on the major categories I've seen comes from a political blog, Lawyers, Guns and Money, whose Scott Lemieux (who's stopped by these parts to comment from time to time, and has very graciously linked from there to here on occasion) takes apart usually astute Times-man David Carr's bromides on "rewarding excellence" with just good plain common sense, asking, "does anybody want to make the case that The Reader is one of the best film of the year?" and other pertinent questions.