December 6, 2010 § Leave a comment
More than 30 years after his death, John Wayne still can’t get a little respect. The latest sideways attack, in the pages of The New York Times, seems as unnecessary as it is unfounded. It came in the form of a formless and unfocused article by Michael Cieply (published Dec. 3), headlined “Coen Brothers Saddle Up a Revenge Story (or Two). Maybe Cieply needed to denigrate Wayne in order to fawn over Joel and Ethan. Who knows?
December 1, 2010 § Leave a comment
But we have to go back to where Bailey started learning his art: Swindon, in the UK. After all, he knew he was going to be a drummer from the start.
About the time Bailey turned 18 he received an invitation to audition for a pianist named Winifred Atwell – a name that may not be familiar today, but who was a rising star at the time. Bailey joined her band and she would go on to become quite famous. There’s a lovely clip of Atwell being hosted on the Australian version of “This Is Your Life”, during which the host tells Bailey to sit on the couch with Atwell because “you’re her family.”
A turning point in Bailey’s evolution as a drummer came in 1956 when he heard drummer Joe Morello play on a Dave Brubeck record. There is always someone, in the career of any artist, who plays the important role of mentor – the person who makes the artist want to be better all the time. For Colin Bailey, that person is Joe Morello. Morello is known for his unique time signatures like the ones that can be heard on such legendary recordings as “Take Five.”
Guaraldi was not a prolific writer, but he made his mark. “Vince wrote great – what I call ‘catchy tunes’ that people could get into. They weren’t complicated. “Cast Your Fate To The Wind” and all these things, we were playing every night,” said Bailey. Guaraldi had a contract with Fantasy Records (which was based out of San Francisco) and we went into the studio at midnight and did the whole thing in four hours. I absolutely love that record.”
“It was an honor – what an honor – to play with Ben Webster. Ben was an original. No one sounded like Ben. He had come to the Jazz Workshop with Jimmy Witherspoon and we played a three week gig, six nights a week, and Sunday afternoons,” said Bailey. “I got to hang out with him a little bit. He was playful. It would be like 3 o’clock in the morning and he would eat this big bowl of chili. He had an cast iron stomach. He was a beautiful person.”
But Bailey played on the Francis Albert Sinatra/Antonio Carlos Jobim album that was released in 1967. It may be the last great album Sinatra ever made – not that he didn’t record some beautiful singles, but the great Sinatra concept albums were all behind him by the late 1960s. While Sinatra’s later records as a whole tended to try too hard to be current, the beauty and clarity of the Jobim record is undeniable, and Sinatra may not have ever sounded better.
November 29, 2010 § Leave a comment
Our friend Freddie Catalfo’s short film “Bighorn” continues to make the rounds at festivals and generate buzz. Wondering what it’s all about? See it right here. Catalfo describes “Bighorn” as “a 15-minute, supernatural historical fantasy based on a true fact: that General Custer’s bandmaster, Felix Vinatieri — an Italian immigrant and the great-great-grandfather of Super Bowl-winning kicker Adam Vinatieri — was ordered to stay behind at the 7th Cavalry’s Powder River camp and missed the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The story takes place in 2002 and 1876. BIGHORN is the latest from award-winning filmmakers Alfred Thomas Catalfo (writer/director of the internet hit “The Norman Rockwell Code” and winner of 21 major screenwriting competitions) and Glenn Gardner (producer of Cannes Film Festival Palm d’Or winner “Sniffer”). The renowned Steve Alexander, recognized by the U.S. Congress as the world’s foremost Custer living historian, portrays Custer. Native American and adopted Lakota Bill Watkinson portrays the Lakota Medicine Man. The NFL graciously granted the filmmakers permission to use footage from the 2002 Super Bowl.”
November 22, 2010 § Leave a comment
“I hope you get where your going and be happy when you do.”
It sounds like an Irish blessing, something that has come down to us over the years, something that is said when people get married, have a drink, consecrate a death, or begin a journey. “I hope you get where your going and be happy when you do.” How much more simple and beautiful can you get?
But it isn’t an ancient blessing. It’s a throwaway line in Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road” — appearing on page 134 of the scroll version, and it’s said by an old hobo called Mississippi Gene that’s hitching a ride on the back of a truck out in the midwest. (The spelling used in the phrase is Kerouac’s.) It’s good, practical advice, something that sounds right coming out of the American mid-west at night, and I suppose this is what made me think of Clint Eastwood, and made me think that if there was anyone on the planet that could turn “On The Road” into an honest movie it would be him.
Eastwood may be the last living, working American filmmaker who was around at the time the book takes place. He must have heard that language spoken in the book as it was actually spoken and travelled the open roads the story takes place on. “On The Road” was written between 1947 and 1949. This is a story of Wild West Week in Montana and old Indians hanging out at bus stations at night, and of off-road diners where you can buy beer at midnight.
Eastwood can remember that. He was born in San Francisco in 1930 and he would have breathed the same air and heard the same sounds Kerouac describes, like those parts when he’s stuck in Marin County and driving into San Francisco at night trying to pick up girls. Eastwood has that California cool in his bones. He’d be the perfect director for an “On The Road” film.
The heartbeat of the story is not just Kerouac, of course, who seems sadder and more disaffected in the scroll version than I remember in the heavily revised Viking version. There is also the famous madman Neal Cassady, who had a patois and joy of life that others around him (Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey, etc.) found not only infectious but inspiring. Ginsberg wrote Cassady into “Howl” and of course Kerouac begins “On The Road” like this: “I first met Neal not long after my father died…I had just gotten over a serious illness that I won’t bother to talk about except that it really had something to do with my father’s death and my awful feeling that everything was dead.”
Neal Cassady would reawaken Kerouac’s zeal for life, and you get a feel for Cassady when Kerouac writes down the way he speaks: “‘Now darling here we are in N(ew) y(ork) and although I haven’t quite told you everything that I was thinking about when we crossed the Missouri and especially at the point when we passed the Bonneville reformatory which reminded me of my jail problem it is absolutely necessary now to postpone all those leftover things concerning our personal lovethings and begin thinking of specific lifework plans…’” This is how Kerouac recorded Neal Cassady.
And this made me think of Jack Nicholson. Nicholson (born 1937) undoubtedly knew the beat scene of the late 50s and he certainly was familiar with Ken Kesey, of course, because he had played Randall Patrick MacMurphy and Cassady had been an integral part of Kesey’s Merry Prankster’s, having driven the bus. But that isn’t why I thought of Nicholson.
When you hear or read an interview with Nicholson he has that kind of speech that you hear Neal speak above: Nicholson has a very unique, very specific way of speaking — something that rarely if ever comes through in his acting. It’s Nicholson jazz geometry. It’s concrete and oblique at the same time; and beautifully filligreed. And you never misunderstand what he’s saying. Nicholson has a fascinating personal language all his own. But since he’s also a writer, he would be the perfect writer to turn “On The Road” into a script.
Nicholson would get the hipster angle, and he would empathize (and probably sympathize) with the driving heartfelt artistry that is inside these characters, and their desire not to do what they are supposed to do but what they want to do. “This is the story of America,” Kerouac writes at one point. “Everybody’s doing what they think they’re supposed to do.” Nicholson understands the burning need to not do what you’re supposed to do, but to do what feels right, and to have that turn out right.
“I have finally taught Neal that he can do anything he wants, become mayor of Denver, marry a millionairess or become the greatest poet since Rimbaud,” Allen Ginsberg says at one point about Neal Cassady. “But he keeps rushing out to the midget auto races.”
This conflict — the outsider trying to play the insider’s game — is one that Nicholson has spent a lifetime delineating on film.
I was thinking then, as I read again through this beautiful book — one that has eluded filmmakers for more than 50 years — that Eastwood and Nicholson may be a great combination to give us this story on film.
We are also now blessed with an actor, James Franco, who would be perfect as Neal. Franco has that American handsomeness, and the keenness of mind and talent to play Neal Cassady.
This is my version of having a fantasy football league but only for movies. Eastwood at the helm, Nicholson as screenwriter (and playing Mississippi Gene so he can deliver that line), and James Franco as Neal Cassady.
One more thing: “On The Road”, unlike “The Great Gatsby”, still has relevance beyond the beauty of its language. The book still speaks to people on a visceral level. I realized this the other day when I went into Baldface Books, a used bookstore in Dover, NH, to get the standard paperback edition of “On The Road.”
“I don’t think I have any,” said the owner who, in fact, didn’t. “Anytime I get some copies, the kids come in and take them right off the shelves.”
November 19, 2010 § Leave a comment
Turning “The Great Gatsby” into a movie comes down to a central question: how well can you dramatize a single line of prose?
That single line is: “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”
Gatsby is a great novel without much a plot. It’s a long lament. It’s a memory drifting away in the hot summer sun. But that line is a real thumper — it knocks everybody out when they first come across it — and it may be the one line everybody remembers aside of the very last beautiful line of the book.
In the 1974 film version, Sam Waterston plays Nick Carraway, and he delivers it in that halting, sideways style of his that dissolves all the power from it. And if you don’t get that line of the book right you don’t have the movie. Jack Clayton directed that version, and it starred Robert Redford as Jake Gatsby. We know it it all turned out.
“Gatsby” is uniquely American. The only culture in it is the culture of money. And that American-ness – that Jazz Age vernacular – is awfully difficult to synthesize. Harder still now that there isn’t anybody left that actually spoke it and lived it.
Baz Lurhmann has chosen an English actress, Carey Mulligan, to play Daisy Buchanan. Who could really play that role anyway — maybe Joan Crawford in the 1920s, when she was sexy and free? Before she became a bit mummified?
I have no doubts about Mulligan as an actress, I guess, but I’ve only seen her in one film. She seems extremely refined. Her beauty is refined. Daisy is beautiful but is it that kind of refined beauty? I don’t think so. Daisy is rich but she’s vulgar.
Leonardo DiCaprio is a fine, fine actor — but he doesn’t have a lot of mystery about him, and what is Gatsby if not mysterious? Who is he — what is he? When DiCaprio strays too far outside his acting range his face gets all crimpy and confused, and I don’t see Gatsby ever breaking a sweat.
Well. This new version may be dazzling. But the thing about “Gatsby” is that it was never about the story – it was about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s voice, and if that isn’t front and center of the film – and how can it be? – then what have you got?
Fitzgerald was a guy who caught the vibe of his age, but nothing from the 1920s, almost nothing at all, has lived into the 21st century, including its books, its magazines, its music and its movies. It’s a shockingly irrelevant time, from this vantage point.
I suspect, then, that the urge to make this story again as a film is based more on its myths than its merits. We have these bad film versions (including a Hollywood version from 1946, and a silent adaptation that seems to be lost), and maybe there is some kind of ego-driven desire to undo that, as though old Gatsby hasn’t gotten his due. Maybe DiCaprio feels that Gatsby is also a great role that hasn’t been done well, either. But that doesn’t hold up. Gatsby doesn’t leave his house. He broods. He’s a void. What do you do with that? You have to shift the power center of the book away from Nick to Gatsby to make it a starring role, and I doubt that will work.
For me, when I want to get a feel for the 1920s, I take out my old New Yorker cartoon anthology and look at the drawings made during that decade. They’re decadent, drunken vampires that saunter through those pages. Everybody’s drenched in jewels and regret. That’s what Gatsby feels like to me.
The 1920s were so wasteful and exhausting it didn’t even have enough stamina to finish on time. On Oct. 24, 1929 it all came to a screeching halt, burnt out to the core. Good luck with that.
October 30, 2010 § Leave a comment
|Photo by Ralph Morang|
Roundtable Pictures’ short film “Tuesday Morning” was well received at the New Hampshire Film Festival. In the photo above, Lars Trodson, far right, of Roundtable Pictures answers a question about the film during a question and answer session at the Music Hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.