Friday, February 25, 2011

Weekend Cinema Listomania (Special A Broken Heart For Every Light On The Great White Way Edition)

Video Event of the Week: Is the Dreamworks DVD/Blu-ray combo of Megamind, the not as funny as it should have been supervillain animated flick featuring the voice of Will Ferrell, possibly in contention? Might Sony's DVD of Get Low, with Robert Duvall as an eccentric Tennessee woodsman who decides to organize his own funeral bash, by any chance what we're talking about? Or is there the remotest chance that Warner Home Video's Blu-ray edition of Due Date, the rather blatant rip-off of Planes Trains and Automobiles starring the ill-served Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Gallifinakis, could conceivably be The One?

A very middling field, I think you'll agree, so for my money it simply has to be the incredibly cool new Criterion Collection refurbishing of the quintessentially NYC-ish Sweet Smell of Success from 1957, starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis.

If you haven't seen SSOS before -- in which case you're in for a treat -- it's about (among other things, including greed, lust and betrayal) the nexus between show biz celebrity and politics, which actually makes it even more relevant in our current media age than it was back in the day, when it seemed to be ripped from the headlines. Based on a script by North by Northwest writer Ernest Lehman (rewritten by lefty playwright Clifford Odets -- the unforgettable Broadway dialogue is mostly him), it stars Lancaster (in the performance of a lifetime) as sinister and deeply amoral gossip columnist J.J. Hunsecker, a character that everybody in America recognized as a barely disguised portrait of real-life tabloid and radio journalist Walter Winchell; Curtis (equally good) is Sidney Falco, a small time press agent/hustler with a love/hate and vaguely parasitical relationship with the great man. The film's un-billed costar, however, is New York City itself; director Alexander Mackendrick and cinematographer James Wong Howe staged the story against a backdrop of (many now sadly vanished) Manhattan locations, and it's hard to imagine a more exciting time capsule of the Big Apple in all its slightly sleazoid sharkskinned glory.

Here's Criterion's trailer to give you an idea.

Criterion's package begins with a gorgeous digital restoration from the original 35mm negative; it's so vivid you can practically smell the cigarette smoke and stale whiskey in the nightclub scenes. There's also a second disc with some bonus features that are almost as fascinating as the film itself, including Mackendrick: The Man Who Walked Away, a 1986 profile of the director (who is every bit as clear-eyed and acerbic about the movie business as you'd expect, and also charming as hell), a new video interview with Neal Gabler, who wrote the definitive book on Walter Winchell, and a terrific 1973 documentary on Oscar-winning cinematographer Howe. The accompanying booklet also features a characteristically perceptive essay on the film's history by critic Gary Giddins and (best of all) both of the Lehman short stories (from Colliers and Cosmopolitan) that introduced the Hunsecker and Falco characters.

The bottom line: You can -- and frankly what are you waiting for? -- head over to Amazon and order Sweet Smell of Success here.

Okay, and with that out of the way, and because things will as usual be mostly pretty quiet around here for the next couple of days, here's a relevant and hopefully amusing little project to wile away the hours until whenever:

Best or Worst Inside-Showbiz Film (Fictional OR Documentary)!!!

And my totally top of my head Top Five is:

5. Lonely Boy (Roman Kroitor and Wolf Koenig, 1962)

Snicker if you will, but if there's a better look at the star-making machinery and the price of fame than this cinema verité portrait of teen idol Paul Anka back in the day then I, for one, haven't seen it.

4. Can't Stop the Music (Nancy Walker, 1980)

A musical comedy(?) account of how the Village People got together in which the word "gay" is mentioned exactly never. And yes, it was directed by THAT Nancy Walker.

3. The Oscar (Russell Rouse, 1965)

The rise and fall of an incredibly obnoxious heel of a movie star (Stephen Boyd) and the bad actors (Tony Bennett) who enable them until they don't. Co-written by Harlan Ellison, of all people, and to his credit he's apologized for it on numerous occasions.

2. Stardust (Michael Apted, 1974)

The aspiring rock star Essex played in That'll Be the Day goes on to Beatles-size success in the 60s, with all the attendant drug use, artistic and personal sell-outs and betrayals that entails. Surprisingly downbeat and realistic, plus the fake band includes Dave Edmunds and Keith Moon.

And the Numero Uno perfectly awful that-business-we-call-show film of them all simply has to be...

1. Glitter (Vondie Curtis-Hall, 2001)

Rags to riches mishegass about an 80s pop diva, and also known as Somebody Almost Killed Mariah Carey's Career. Truly one of the worst films ever; see it for the scene where Carey gets seduced by a guy whose big move is playing the marimba for her.

Alrighty then -- what would your choices be? )