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Posts Tagged ‘Martin Scorsese’

Kon, Zhou & Williams—sounds like an international law firm, right?

If you enjoy the world of filmmaking and are unfamiliar with Satoshi Kon and Tony Zhou then the following seven minutes and 36 seconds of the video below are going to be a real treat. Guaranteed—or your money back.

Last month, in my post Time For A Cool Change I talked about taking some sort of detour after my 2,000th post in the coming months (as I approach the 7th anniversary of this blog). After seeing Zhou’s videos Martin Scorsese—The Art of Silence and The Spielberg Oner—One Scene, One Shot I started thinking about revisiting doing something more video based. I did a couple early on in this blog—and was encouraged by Scott Myers at Go Into the Story to do more—but I just found them too time consuming to produce.

But Zhou has given me a vision that doesn’t require shooting. I’ve already started a list of topic ideas.

Maybe as I hit the reset button in the coming months instead of writing an every weekday blog, perhaps I’ll create a video once a month. Or perhaps a 1 or 2 minute video once a week. Regardless, I love Zhou’s work (and his voice reminds me of the Richard Dreyfuss VO in Stand By Me). I hope you appreciate his film knowledge and time commitment to produce these as much as I do. Here’s his recent video on Robin Williams.

Scott W. Smith

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One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight
Schlemiel, schlimazel, hasenfeffer incorporated
Laverne & Shirley theme song

schlemiel: an inept clumsy person; a bungler; a dolt 
schlimazel: a chronically unlucky person
Words flow from Yiddish/Hebrew/German words

Jerry Lewis is a one-man hero with 1,000 faces.

Some people first think of Jerry Lewis as the actor, director and co-writer of The Nutty Professor (1963)—where he played three characters in one movie. Others think fondly of his 45-year run as the host of the Muscular Dystrophy Association Labor Day telethon, some think of him as the side kick of Dean Martin, and yet others recall his role in the Martin Scorsese directed film The King of Comedy (1982) which he co-starred with Robert De Niro.

But few think of Lewis as a real life college professor—so real that one of his students was George Lucas. From 1967 to 1977 he was an Adjunct Professor at the USC film school.

In 1971 Professor Lewis published a book called The Total Filmmaker which has long been out of print and copies are on sale at Amazon go for as high as $999.99.  But since earlier this year the excellent website Cinephilia and Beyond has a PDF of the book available for free. 

Today I’ll start a run of posts taken from that book. Here’s lesson one:

“I do not know that I have a carefully thought-out theory on exactly what makes people laugh, but the premise of all comedy is a man in trouble, the little guy against the big guy. Snowballs are thrown at the man in the black top hat. They aren’t thrown at the battered old fedora. The top-hat owner is always the bank president who holds the mort­ gage on the house, or he’s a representation of the under­ taker.

In the early days, working night clubs, I learned that taking a pratfall in a gray suit might get a few laughs. But I had to get up quickly and start another routine. Take the same fall dressed in a $400 tuxedo and I could stay on the floor for a minute. They would howl when the rich guy took the tumble.

Or it is the tramp, the underdog, causing the rich guy, or big guy, to fall on his ass. In this respect the sources of comedy are a simple matter of who’s doing what to whom. They include, of course, what the comedian does to him­self.

Chaplin was both the shlemiel and the shlimazel. He was the guy who spilled the drinks-the shlemiel-and the guy who had the drinks spilled on him-the shlimazel. In his shadings of comedy, and they were like a rainbow, he also played a combination of shlemiel-shlimazel. In Mode­rn Times, diving into six inches of water when he opens the back door, which is one of the great sight jokes in com­edy-film history, he does it to himself.”
Jerry Lewis

P.S. In an interview earlier this year on The Talk the 88-year-old Lewis said he began writing at the age of eight and that the idea for The Nutty Professor was to do a comedic version of  Jekyll and Hyde. (Either the Robert Lewis Stevenson novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or one of the many movies based on that book.)

Scott W. Smith

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Today I’ll start a series of posts on Alexander Mackendrick. He directed Sweet Smell of Success and received an Oscar nomination as one of the writers of The Man in the White Suit.  Frustrated with the Hollywood studio system he turned to teaching at CalArts, where he was Dean of its School of Film from 1969 to 1993. (Despite only formally having one year of study at the Glasgow School of Art on his academic resume and being 60 years old when he taught his first class. What he did have was a 30 year filmmaking career.)

Mackenrdrick believed that student films were either “too long” or “much too long,” and used an egg timer as students pitched their stories to the class. He had a passion for craft and taught film as a popular art.

After he died in 1993 and Paul Cronin edited his teachings into the book On Film-making: An Introduction to the Craft of the Director.  And if all of the above is not enough to get you interested in Mackendrick, here’s what Martin Scorsese wrote in the forward of On Film-making, “This book —this invaluable book—is the work of a lifetime, from a man who was passionately devoted to his craft and his art, and who then devoted himself to transferring his knowledge and his experience to his students, And now it’s available to all of us. What a gift.”

It’s a great book that I haven’t given the proper attention on this blog. So as I attempt to mak up for lost time, here’s a taste of Mackendrick’s teachings:

“Film writing and directing cannot be taught, only learned, and each man or woman has to learn it through his or her own system of self-education.”

“Though it will only be a couple of weeks before you are familiar with the basic mechanics of filmmaking it will take a lifetime of hard work to master them.”

“It has been said that the director is like the orchestra conductor, a maestro who must be able to play every instrument competently. Unlikely as it is that you will ever discover real ability in all three fields of directing, writing and acting, I believe you will not be even competent in any single one without a basic comprehension of the other two.”

Related posts:
Screenwriting Quote #175 (Mackendrick)
Learning from Others (Tip #42)
Can Screenwriting Be Taught (2.0)

Scott W. Smith

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“Now that all the decay is over, things are going to get better.”
Adam (Brendan Frazier) in Blast from the Past
Written by Billy Kelly and Hugh Wilson

Who knows how long this will last
Now we’ve come so far, so fast
The End of the Innocence
Bruce Hornsby/Don Henley

Watching It’s a Wonderful Life and The Wolf of Wall Street back to back made me think of the 1999 film Blast from the PastKind of what would happen if George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) of the 1940s showed up in Martin Scorsese’s modern version of Pottersville? (Pottersville is the Girls-Girls-Girls flip side nightmare world to the Norman Rockwell—like Bedford Falls in the Frank Capra classic.)

But Pottersville in Scorsese’s hands comes across like a perpetual party paradise.  An echo of Gary Kamiya’s All hail Pottersville! article— “Pottersville rocks!” Boring vs. Fun.

Perhaps the Wolf of Wall Street himself had a clearer view of the world he created at the brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont:

“It should have been Sodom and Gomorrah. After all, it wasn’t every firm that sported hookers in the basement, drug dealers in the parking lot, exotic animals in the boardroom, and midget-tossing competitions on Fridays.”
Jordan Belfort

Earlier this month, a former worker at Stratton Oakmont who once idolized Belfort gave his perspective:

“But eventually, the blindness from the drugs, the girls and the cars, the clothes and the money, wore off. These people were some of the worst people that I have ever met in my life — they would sell their own grandmother in a second….I’m still going to see the [The Wolf of Wall Street]. My parents want to go with me. I would hope people would try to keep some morality while still trying to achieve success — but I’m not sure the movie is going to show that. Just the wild ride.”
Josh Shapiro
My life working for the real life ‘Wolf of Wall Street’

The movie is a three-hour fantasy wild ride that—well, I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it—but it’s an upside down world. One that Scorsese celebrates more than he condemns. Actress Hope Holiday was quoted in The Wrap saying a screen writer at an Academy screening for The Wolf of Wall Street screamed at Scorsese “Shame on you.” But if you’ve seen Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, or GoodFellas you know the director has a fondness for depravity over redemption.

The Wolf of Wall Street is not Billy Wilder’s classic The Apartment (1960) on steroids…or cocaine, quaaludes or even viagra. The stated theme seems to want to be “When the chickens come home to roost,” but comes across more like “Crime pays, and it pays well.” Maybe Scorsese and screenwriter Terence Winter (Boradwalk Empire, The Sopranos) were just being faithful to Belfort’s book that the movie was based on.

It’s hard to say the 3 hour movie (okay, technically 2 hours and 59 minutes) is missing anything but constraints, but I think TIME’s Richard Corliss says it best—”What’s missing is the broker’s acknowledgement of a wasted life — if not his, then his victims.”

Scorsese said he knows the The Wolf of Wall Street is not for “everyone’s taste” and added, “It’s not made for 14 year olds.”

But I believe that 14-year-olds are going to see this film. And for some The Wolf of Wall Street will be their ideal—their goal. Just as young Jordan Belfort said Gordon Gekko in Wall Street became his ideal, his goal after watching Wall Street. (And Wall Street was not the upside down, amoral world of The Wolf of Wall Street.)

Gordon (“Greed… is good”) Gekko is the #24 Villain on AFI’s 100 Year…100 Heroes & Villains. Ranked just ahead of Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining (Here’s Johnny!). But the Gekko character may rank as the #1 villain that most people want to be like. Actor Michael Douglas said he was surprised at how many people over the years have told him they became stock brokers because of his Oscar-winning performance of what he called “the bad guy.” (And how many of those Gekko followers became players in the banking collapse of 2008? Movies reflect the culture they help produce.)

“As the years have gone by, it’s heartening to see how popular the film has remained. But what I find strange and oddly disturbing is that Gordon Gekko has been mythologized and elevated from the role of villain to that of hero.”
Wall Street co-screenwriter Stanley Weiser
Repeat After Me: Greed Is Not Good, 2008 LA Times

“I’d just say anyone who took away that greed is good has missed the point. The movie speaks for itself. People who walk out of the movie and think ‘[Gekko’s] such a great guy,’ they need to think and ask themselves on what terms am I willing to do that?”
Oliver Stone, Wall Street director and co-screenwriter
Oliver Stone: Life after Wall Street by Telos Demos/ CNNMoney

Wall Street was closer in ideals to It’s a Wonderful Life than The Wolf of Wall Street. More Bedford Falls than Pottersville. More the ’80s Miami of Scarface than the ancient Roman orgies of Caligula.

Perhaps the ongoing battle is the way the world is versus the way we want it to be. But what do I know? Well, I do know one thing—that Jordan Belfort’s speaking fee just went up.

P.S. A movie that’s said to have influenced Stone’s Wall Street was Executive Suite (1954) directed by Robert Wise from a script by Ernest Lehman from a novel by Cameron Hawley.

Related Posts:

Raging Bull vs. Martin Scorsese
“Study the Old Master.”—Martin  Scorsese
The Heart of “Hugo” (Part 1)
The Heart of “Hugo” (Part 2)
Hugo & The Artist
Writing Good Bad Guys (Tip #85)

Scott W. Smith

 

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“My little town blues are melting away.”
New York, New York

 “It’s not a musical; it’s a film with music. I got that definition from Billy Wilder, who said you can’t call it a musical unless the people sing in situations where you don’t expect them to. It’ll be about their marriage breaking up, about their problems in relating to one another…”
Martin Scorsese talking with Roger Ebert about New York, New York (1977) before its release

Just saying New York, New York instantly conjures up the Frank Sinatra standard New York, New York.  But did you know that’s actually a cover song? John Kander and Fred Ebb wrote the song for the 1977 Martin  Scorsese directed movie New York, New York  where Liza Minnelli sings the song. But the neither the film or the original song were an instant success. Three different versions of the film were made (153 minutes, 137 minutes, and 164 minutes) trying to find an audience, and the New York, New York song was not even nominated for an Oscar.

And even the Sinatra version recorded in 1979 wasn’t a number one hit—or even make it into the top 10. It peaked at number 32 on the charts and lost out on the Grammy song of the year to Christopher Cross’ Sailing. But in the 30 years since then the song has become ubiquitous and as recognizable (and as copied) as the “I (heart) New York” logo.

If you need a smile today here’s a version where Frank and Liza sing an impromptu duet of New York, New York. 

But since this is a screenwriting blog…Earl Mac Rauch and Mardik Martin wrote the screenplay for New York, New York from a story by Rauch.

“Martin Scorcesse’s New York, New York never pulls itself together into a coherent whole, but if we forgive the movie its confusions we’re left with a good time. In other words: Abandon your expectations of an orderly plot, and you’ll end up humming the title song. The movie’s a vast, rambling, nostalgic expedition back into the big band era, and a celebration of the considerable talents of Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro.”
Roger Ebert

Looking forward to seeing Scorsese’s latest New York state of mind movie—The Wolf of Wall Street—which hits theaters next week.

Scott W. Smith

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“I’m often asked by younger filmmakers, ‘Why do I need to look at old movies?’ I’ve made a number of pictures in the past 20 years and the response I find that I have to give them is I still consider myself a student. The more pictures I’ve made in the past 20 years, the more I realize I don’t know. And I’m always looking for something or someone I can learn from. I tell the younger filmmakers, the young students that they should do it like painters used to do it—painters do it—study the old masters. Enrich your palette. Expand the canvas. There’s always so much more to learn.”
Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese (The Departed, Goodfellas, Hugo)  
A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies (1995)
Section The Director as Smuggler

Related Post:
Learning from Others (Tip #42) Post the touches on Orson Welles watching Stagecoach 40 times while making Citizen Kane, Frank Darabont watching Goodfellas while making The Shawshank Redemption, and Christopher Nolan watching Blade Runner 100 times.
Can Screenwriting Be Taught? (2.0)

Scott W. Smith

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“I say about myself that I make comedies the way John Ford might have said ‘I make westerns.’ That might be true. That might also be cloaking something. Scorsese in his survey of American cinema, talks about the American director as smuggler. You work within a given genre and smuggle your honest, artistic concerns in those film. John Ford with westerns, Hitchcock with thrillers, Scorsese with gangster pictures. You kind of declare that you make a certain kind of film because that helps them get made, get marketed, makes them more palatable to an American film going public, so I make comedies.

“That’s helped me, the fact that I can get laughs in these dramatic films. The fact that I make them funny, charming, keep them nimble, has helped me sell them to financiers and later to audiences and forge a career that way. One reason it’s great to do comedy is that it’s such a rush when the audience laughs. ‘We love you! We love you!’ When you make a drama, the only feedback you get from the audience is no walkouts.”
Writer/director Alexander Payne (Sideways, Nebraska)
WGAW article Paynefully Funny by Denis Faye

P.S. I believe the survey Payne referenced is A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies (1995) 

Scott W. Smith

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