I just watched this 55 minute NFB documentary from 1965 made about the great Buster Keaton filming one of his much later films in Canada entitled THE RAILRODDER.  The DVD I had also had that movie to watch, which was decent, but the real jewel was this documentary. It was fascinating seeing Keaton behind the scenes, now as a much older man, one who ridden the proverbial rollercoaster of fame and fortune, divorce, and alcoholism.  In many ways, Keaton is but a mere shadow of the silent superstar he was in the 1920s, but you can still see his natural wit and penchant for performance.  He was known as the Great Stoneface for his unflinching deadpan expression from his films, and Keaton even in 1965 rarely if ever smiles in public.  Is that a symptom of depression, aging, or frustration, or has he become completely the unsmiling Keaton of the silver screen?  With him it is hard to decide where the artist stops and where the art begins.  And make no mistake, Keaton truly was an artist.  Even a staggering 40 years on, he knows exactly what will be funny, how to stage a gag, how to film it.  He was a true visionary.  Here are three things that might interest you in watching this:

1.  Seeing Keaton behind the scenes, and hearing his voice.  As well as seeing him as an old man.  The interesting thing about discovering directors, actors, or performers of any kind after their death, is being about to watch them grow through the ages, become the superstars they were destined to be, and witness their (sometimes sweet) comedown as their life draws down.  Keaton is my favorite silent star, and countless contemporary (especially physical) comedians owe at least something to to him, from Jackie Chan to Cosmo Kramer.  But the real treat here for me was to see Keaton on location discussing what gags and how they are going to shoot them as they go along.  I've seen lots of old Keaton films from the 1920s, but it was neat and somehow (fittingly) melancholic to see him older and wrinklier.  Despite not having the physique of his youth any longer, he still knows how to use his body in a funny way.

2.  It was shot in Canada.  So, yes it is very cool to see Keaton traversing the country on a CN rail roadster.  Keaton is at home on the rails, so many of his films see him involved with mechanical devices and machine and vehicles--especially trains.  The narration in the film tells us "If anybody had bothered to ask him what he wanted to be when he grew up he would have said an engineer," and it is so apparent in his understanding of physics and machines.  And what better way for Keaton to travel across a country than on the rails--from the Maritimes, through Quebec, Ontario, across the Prairies, through the Rockies, and finally to British Columbia.  (Towards the end of the actual film, THE RAILRODDER, we see the Lion's Gate Bridge in the background!)

3.  It is a great example of a film made in the glory days of the National Film Board.  Oh but to have worked for the NFB in the 1960s.  A professor I had at school illustrated the seemingly endless funds the NFB had back then by describing how Hollywood vs the NFB would film a simple gag of a person walking down the sidewalk and slipping on a banana peel.  In Hollywood, they would build a sidewalk, write the scene, hire an actor, a stuntman, extras, a whole camera crew, make-up artists, wardrobe people, production assistants, and shoot the scene.  An NFB crew would set up a camera on a sidewalk and start rolling the camera until a random passerby dropped a banana peel.  It is kind of ridiculous, but did illustrate to me how fortunate one was to be able to work for them and be able to burn through hours of film.

And Bonus thing: You can watch it free online at the NFB website!  Among many other landmark films.


Woody Allen: A Documentary

PBS has this documentary series called "American Masters" and recently they did a two part film about the great comedic/dramatic filmmaker Woody Allen.  I watched Part 1 last night and it was really good!  It's about 2 hours long.  But if you're interested in Allen, or contemporary American filmmakers, or interesting people, it is worth a look!  It not only looks back at Allen's career and films, but he is the central interview figure.  He indulges filmmaker Robert B. Weide (producer and director of many "Curb Your Enthusiasm" episodes), being very candid about his hopes and dreams and disappointments, as well as explaining his writing and creative processes (he still types everything on the same typewriter and "cuts and pastes" the old fashioned way!).  I think I'm going to watch Part 2 today.  But here it is all up on the PBS website.

Woody Allen: A Documentary (Part 1)


Madness in Morocco: The Road to "Ishtar"

Ishtar (1987) is commonly considered one of the great film flops of all time. Warren Beatty must surely have been happy when Kevin Costner came along and took that title for him with Waterworld. I read this fascinating excerpt from Warren Beatty biographer Peter Biskind's book "Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America" about the making of Ishtar on the Vanity Fair website (linked to through slate.com's round up of 5 amazing film making stories). If you have time to read this, it is certainly worth it, as it provides an interesting perspective on stardom, egotism, stress, and determination, and how it can destroy a production, friendships, careers, and waste millions of dollars. Most of what it says about Dustin Hoffman I knew, but I really did not know anything about Beatty or the director, Elaine May, the talented writer and friend of Beatty's who bit off more than she could chew by accepting Beatty's gift of a project for her. Anyways, if you want to know how not to make a film, this is a really interesting place to start!

Madness in Morocco: The Road to "Ishtar"


Dir.: Wes Anderson

This was one of my favorite films of 2009. And I still watch it seemingly every few months. Wes Anderson's inventive telling of Roald Dahl's classic story, and the amazing cast make this movie a delight! Here are three things/reasons why I love this movie!

1. The voice cast is pitch-perfect. Mr. Fox is voiced by none other than George Clooney whose confidence and quick wit is perfect for the aging fox who must overcome his overconfidence (and slight cockiness) and accept who is he, as well as come to appreciate what he has, especially in the family department. Also wonderful are Meryl Streep as Mrs. Fox, Jason Schwartzman as Foxie's son Ash, Eric Anderson (Wes' brother) as Ash's cousin Kristofferson, Bill Murray as Badger, Wallace Wallodarsky as Kylie the Opossum, Willem Dafoe as Rat, and Michael Gambon as the farmer Franklin Bean.

2. The animation. Obviously! This was inspiring to watch when we were filming the stop-motion sequences for my short film MARS BITCH (coming soon to the internet!), from just technique to pure, plain old awe. The film was largely animated by the crew of Tim Burton's THE CORPSE BRIDE (which I have ashamedly yet to see!) and led by animation supervisor Mark Waring. Each time I rewatch it I find new details to enjoy. It is so incredibly full of texture and life that it is just such a treat for the eyes. Despite it being an animated film, it is still without a doubt a Wes Anderson film, adhering to his auteuristic style of carefully composed shots and colour palettes. There are many wonderful sequences, but some of my favorite are the quick-paced heists scenes where Foxie and co. are sprinting through the farmers' properties like only the best parkour athletes can.

3. It contains what is likely my favorite moment on film. My heart quaked the first time I saw it in theatres, and I watched the film last night and it made my heart quake then: the moment of understanding and solidarity between volpus volpus and canis lupis. You'll know it when you see it.

BONUS THING #1: All the other wonderful things! Whack-Bat. How they eat. The farmers Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. Foxie's travel radio. Kylie's trances. The bandit hats. So many!



Villains, by Art Streiber

Some classic movie villains photographed by Art Streiber

Malcolm McDowell (Alex DeLarge in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE)

Sharon Stone (Catherine Tramell in BASIC INSTINCT)

Louise Fletcher (Nurse Ratched as ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST)

Anthony Hopkins (Hannibal Lector in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS)


The 23rd Bond Film: SKYFALL

It was announced this morning that production has begun on the 23rd James Bond film, entitled SKYFALL. Daniel Craig again dons the tuxedo to play Bond, which I'm happy about because he has taken it in a great direction I think. And Judy Dench is M. Also included in the cast, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Albert Finney, Naomie Harris, and Javier Bardem, as the villain. Sam Mendes, of REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, AMERICAN BEAUTY, and ROAD TO PERDITION fame, will be directing. So, exciting news! I think SKYFALL is a good title too, I'm not sure of its origin, whether it is the title of a work by Ian Fleming, as was QUANTOM OF SOLACE, but I think it fits in nicely with other titles like THUNDERBALL, MOONRAKER, and GOLDFINGER. So very exciting news in the Bondsphere today, and I guess the speculation can begin as we anticipate it's arrival on October 26, 2012.