Tag Archives: liv ullmann

Today’s Word

“Everybody these days is talking about transmedia,” said video game agent Keith Boesky in a recent New York Times article. “Transmedia”! Finally my enemy has a name.

I remember the afternoon I first had a sense of what was to come. It was in film school. One day, from out of nowhere, it was decided that we of USC’s Film Production department were required to take a video game class. The moment I heard the news I remember thinking, “Years from now, I will look back on this moment as the beginning of the end of meaningful content in Hollywood.” It was a flash-forward containing a flashback.

That day, I barged – literally, barged – into the dean’s office. I was shaky, borderline belligerent, and fueled by the righteous fire of someone whose parents were footing the bill.

“This is a mistake,” I said. “You’ve got to be kidding with the video games.”

The dean looked up. His still eyes, peering out from behind thick screenwriterly frames, told me it was no use. “It’s the future,” he muttered. “Electronic narrative is the future.”

“Electronic narrative? I came here to learn film. Cinema. Not to analyze Donkey Kong.”

“It’s a good skill to have.” He put down his dog-eared copy of Syd Field. “Another arrow for your quiver.”

“What arrow? What quiver? I want human feelings!”

“It’s another form of story telling. That’s all.”

“Show me a video game that does what Cries and Whispers does, and I’ll take the class. Show me Ingmar Bergman’s Mortal Kombat, in which I can play Liv Ullmann and do battle with a total metaphysical breakdown, and you’ve got yourself a convert.” I was kidding, but I was completely serious.

The next day, I was in a basement with fifteen pale-faced boys who I was certain had never seen a bare tit in their lives. For two hours, we discussed a game called Grand Theft Auto. Then I raised my hand.

“Have any of you ever wept at the end of a video game?” I asked. “I mean really wept. Convulsive sobs.”

They blinked back at me. Then one spoke.

“The end of Final Fantasy IV is really sad.”

I didn’t speak. My professor – in all honesty, a very nice man – tried then to help me see it another way. “You know, of course, that film was originally perceived as a low-culture medium.”

“You can’t compare the evolution of a mammal to the evolution of an amoeba,” I announced. “Film came from D.W. Griffith. You people come from Pong.”

After class that day, I returned to the dean and begged him for clemency. “They’re Pong People,” I pleaded. “And they’re going to kill us.”

The dean hung his head.

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Federico y Ginger

Amid news of a Pac-Man movie, the latest casting developments in Captain America, reviews of Iron Man 2, new TV spots for The A-Team, and Fox’s announcement of a Planet of the Apes prequel, I excavated a small piece of encouragement: Pedro Almodovar will be working with Antonio Banderas once again. The film, The Skin I Live In, will begin shooting this summer.

“The film will be a terror film, without screams or scares,” Almodovar told the Spanish daily El Pais. “It’s difficult to define and although it comes close to the terror genre – something that appeals to me that I’ve never done – I won’t respect any of its rules. It’s the harshest film I’ve ever written and Banderas’ character is brutal.”

Throughout the eighties, Almodovar and Banderas made five films together – Labyrinth of Passion, Matador, Law of Desire, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, and finally Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! – an impressive, versatile streak that, in its day, ranked with the greatest director/actor partnerships around. Back then, before Almodovar had fully cultivated his current, perversely mature sensibility, Antonio Banderas was the living embodiment of his world, Cary Grant to his Howard Hawks. Under Almodovar’s direction, the actor alternated between a screwball-state of flummoxed boyishness (like Grant in Bringing Up Baby, Monkey Business, I Was A Male War Bride) and commanding manliness (like Grant in Only Angels Have Wings) – a duality appropriate to Almodovar’s madcap feeling for passionate behavior.

Together they forged new cinematic ground (Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! is an NC-17 comedy about a stalker in love with a heroine addicted porn-star), pushing ahead into uncharted emotional territory that they may not have reached on their own. Katharine Hepburn’s famous remark about Fred and Ginger – “He gave her class and she gave him sex” – readily applies; Pedro is Fred, Antonio is Ginger. How else could we have been lured into rooting for Banderas, who played that memorable, lovable rapist in Matador? Teamwork.

Jimmy Stewart made cold Hitchcock warm; Mastroianni gave warm Fellini cool; and Liv Ullmann gave Bergman’s films a chance at hope, like a life preserver thrown into a cold, dark sea. Antonio Banderas – a highly gifted performer who has never really been taken seriously in America – could, as Almodovar said, play “a puerile guy with an overpowering power of seduction.” Has there ever been a better summary of Almodovar’s brand of playful intensity?

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I Confess

Alfred Hitchcock died thirty years ago this week, on April 29th, 1980.

I’ve always had a confusing relationship with Hitch. With several exceptions (which I’ll touch on in a moment), a large majority of his pictures fill me with a strange mixture of awe and apathy, like when the TV tells me about a new sports car that can go very, very fast, or an athlete who scores a lot of points. “Yes,” I want to say to movies like North by Northwest, “That’s a lovely sequence – a touchdown sequence – but…then what?”

Maybe it’s because we like to talk about Hitchcock in pieces. The Shower Scene, the crane shot in Notorious, Vertigo’s dolly zoom, the high-angle shot from Topaz – wonderful garnish, but sometimes I wonder, where’s the beef? (Caveat: Vertigo is 100% prime cut select.) Often, it has helped me to see the garnish as the beef: so many of these pictures tend to be as much about how we watch them as they are about their content. Rope is a famous example: an experiment in watching. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I’ve always thought Rear Window was one of Hitch’s best; it was a subject near to Hitch’s heart, and it showed.

Wait, did I just write “Hitch’s heart”? What does that mean, exactly?

Screenwriter David Freeman had the good fortune to work with Alfred Hitchcock late in his career, in the days when Hitch would have prints of the newest movies delivered to his office at Universal, which is how he saw Bergman’s Autumn Sonata. In his book, The Last Days of Alfred Hitchcock, Freeman reports that Hitch, at the height of one of those ferocious Liv-Ullmann/Ingrid Bergman scenes, got up from his seat, wobbled to the door, and announced, “I’m going to the movies.” Then he left.

It’s a revealing anecdote, and a reminder that Alfred Hitchcock, deep in his heart-thing, was really not one for the hard stuff. He was jokester. Tilt your head, substitute Cary Grant for Alec Guinness, and you’ll see a good portion of these pictures look like sadistic Ealing Comedies. Shadow of a Doubt, Suspicion, Lifeboat, Strangers on a Train, and a few of the films I mentioned above, all have that mischievous prankster quality, the giggly feeling of pulling the rug out from under the status quo. I like these movies, but with the exception of Vertigo and Rear Window, my personal cluster of favorites comes from the back shelf: The Wrong Man, I, Confess, and The Man Who Knew Too Much (the second) are perhaps his most disturbing films. Not because their composition is any more bravura than Psycho’s, but because they each feature such strong performances (Henry Fonda, Montgomery Clift, and Doris Day, respectively). These characters are the dead-opposite of the Hitchcock Blonde, and their films are all the better for it. But that’s very much a personal thing.

For the record: it’s only because I love Hitchcock that I let myself needle through his best films. As a former-fellow voyeur, I know he wouldn’t want it any other way.

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