Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

“I was Number One at the box office five years in a row, which I don’t think anybody has done since. In 1978, I had four movies at once playing nationwide. If I met you then, I’m sorry.”
Actor/director Burt Reynolds (reflecting on his unchecked ego)

It wasn’t a fair fight. Star Wars vs. Smokey & the Bandit that is.

When both of those movies opened during the same week in May 1977, who do you think won coming out of the gate?

The one featuring a cocky driver in a black Trans Am or the one featuring a cocky pilot flying an X-Wing Starfighter?

Keep in mind that Burt Reynolds was the biggest box office star throughout the late ’70s, that legendary comedian and actor Jackie Gleason was Smokey (the cop), and co-star Sally Field was well-known for her Tv show The Flying Nun. That Star Wars movie had a bunch of then-unknown actors in a space genre that not many people believed in. (Granted in time, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Darth Vader would become bigger than any superlative I can come up with.)

Smokey & the Bandit wonat least that opening week. And according to Burt Reynolds in his book  But Enough About Me. Other sources back that up, others say it was a tie, and one I found even said Star Wars edged out Smokey. (Box office data appears to be spotty from more than 40 years ago.) It was close either way.

But even if the numbers $1.6  million (Smokey) vs. $1.5 million (Star Wars) were the final numbers, Smokey may have won the first round, but it definitely lost the fight. Star Wars finished the year number one ($460 million) and Smokey second or third ($126 million) depending on how counts the revenue for Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Then the Star Wars franchise went on to crush everyone in movie history.  (I don’t count the Marvel universe as one franchise film.)

And, as the saying goes, a number without a reference is meaningless. Star Wars had a limited release in its first week opening in only 43 theaters. Smokey opened in 726 theaters. So even if Smokey did win the box office that first week, Star Wars was killing it in per theater. But, according to IMDB,  Smokey did finish in the top ten of all movies in the 1970s.

Oddly, one of the fans of the movie was the director Alfred Hitchcock. His daughter says it was one of his favorite films in the years before he died, and that he watched it repeatedly.

When I heard that Burt Reynolds died yesterday a zillion thoughts went through my mind. One was I don’t know that there would be this blog without Burt Reynolds. I was 16-years-old when Smokey and the Bandit hit the theaters.  My three biggest interests then were sports, girls, and cars. The fact that I’m talking about Reynolds in the same breath as Star Wars is amazing when you consider he was essentially a jock from a small town in Florida who only became interested in theater when a drama teacher at Palm Beach Junior College encouraged Reynolds to audition for a school play.  Within two years he was in a play on Broadway. (A reminder of the power of one person to give others a sense of direction in life.)

While I was in high school I knew that Burt Reynolds was once a star football player in high school, briefly played football at Florida State University, and then found fame and fortune as a Hollywood actor. For a kid growing up in central Florida, he made that path seem possible.

I was a good enough football player in high school to earn All-Conference honors my senior year, and then walk-on to the University of Miami football team. UM is where I first studied film history and made my first 8mm and 16mm films in the film school there. (Emmy winning Game of Thrones director David Nutter was the Jim Kelly of the film program while I was there.) It’s also where I dislocated my shoulder in practice, got operated on, and walked off.  (Having only dressed for one JV football game—I think I had the shortest football career of any Hurricane player ever.)  Then I set off to finish film school in Los Angeles the next year.

Fame or fortune did not follow, but in tracking Reynolds’ career (and others like him) over the years I realized that path has its own pitfalls. But I’ve had the opportunity to work in production my entire creative career, so I’m thankful to Reynolds for giving me hope and planting that dream.

And that’s the part of the unlikely roots of this blog. Mix in Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville album also coming out in 1977, getting my driver’s license that year—then a few months later scoring three touchdowns in a game, seeing the swagger and laugh of Burt Reynolds on the big screen, and you had one optimistic young fellow.

Hold on to sixteen as long as can
Changes come along real soon
Make us women and men
Jack & Diane/ John Mellencamp

I once produced a video for someone who was fond of saying, “The one thing I’ve learned is every day the world rolls over on top of someone who was just sitting on top of it yesterday.” Burt Reynolds knew what it was like to be at the top and then have the world roll over on top him—then have it back up and roll over him again.  As he reached his 80s, he said his final role was “survivor.”

Fifty years from now, when people think back to the coolest actors of the ’70s I’m sure Burt Reynolds (and specifically his performance in Deliverance) will be on the shortlist. (All the bad choices he made in life and in roles will be forgotten. In time, ideally, artists are judged on only their best work.)

I flipped through his autobiography last night and found a few odd connections that show what a small world it is. Reynolds briefly studied at the Actors Studio in New York. One of the acting teachers I had in L.A. was Tracey Roberts who also studied at the Actor’s Studio so I wonder if she ever worked with Reynolds. Turns out they were both in a movie called Sam Whisky (1969).

One of the writers on Smokey and the Bandit was Charles Shyer, and one of my professors in film school was Bruce Block who’s worked as a producer on a few films with Shyer, including Father of the Bride I & II. (Two great resources by Block are his book The Visual Story, and his DVD commentary on the collector’s edition of Billy Wilder’s The Apartment.)

One of the players I played high school football with (Billy Giovanetti) and the starting wide receiver when I was at Miami (Larry Brodsky) both played for the short-lived USFL pro-football team the Tampa Bay Bandits which Reynolds was a part owner.

Reynolds continued working as an actor and director over his lifetime and was involved with his own theater in Jupiter, Florida. His various personal, financial, and physical struggles were well documented in the press, but when I think of Reynolds I remember how he entertained me in movies like Gator, Semi-Tough, White Lighting, and The Longest Yard.

One last little bit of Burt Reynolds trivia is Oscar-winning writer/director Quentin Tarantino was named after Renyold’s Gunsmoke character Quint. Tarantino was born the same year I was so I imagine he also enjoyed Reynolds and his ’70s films when he was a teenager.

If Quentin Tarantino hadn’t become “Quentin Tarantino,” I’m not sure what he’d be doing for a living since video stores faded away—but he’d probably have a movie blog and write a post about Burt Reynolds the day after he died

P.S. I’m grateful for a teacher in school who had us read Irwin Shaw’s classic short story, The Eighty-Yard Run. It made you want to make sure you had a life once the glory days passed you buy.  A few years later I saw the documentary Hoop Dreams about a pair of Chicago basketball phenoms starting in eighth grade and follows their dream until they get to college. It should be required viewing for every high school athlete.

Since 2009, ESPN’s  30 for 30 series of sports-centered documentaries have done a great job of showing how athletics intersects with life outside of the games themselves. Three of them have featured the University of Miami football team—The U ,The U Part 2, and Catholics vs. Convicts. 

And if ESPN wanted to do a fourth documentary on UM football they could. There are so many storylines to explore. There’s former QB Jim Kelly and his struggles with cancer, and there’s former QB Mark Richt’s long journey from Hurricane QB to current head coach. The struggles and triumphs of life. It was sad when I learned of the passing of two great players who were at Miami when I was there who also briefly played in the NFL. Rocky Belk was a prime target for Jim Kelly’s passes and died after an illness at age 50,  and Stanely Shakespeare who died in a boating accident when he was 42. I always thought Stanley Shakespeare was the coolest name of anyone who ever put on a football uniform.  He was also starting wide receiver on the 1983 team that won Miami’s first National Championship. And in the final odd connection in this post, both Stanley Shakespeare and Burt Reynolds died in Jupiter, Florida.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

“David Lynch’s The Elephant Man is the one Lynch film that found a mesmerizing middle ground between conventional Hollywood story structure and its director’s surreal dreamscapes. Yet today it seems on the verge of being forgotten, and that’s a shame.”
Kyle Smith, National Review

The Elephant Man is currently available on Amazon Prime and I had forgotten what an extraordinary film it is. The direction (David Lynch), the acting (John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud), the make-up (Christopher Tucker), the black & white cinematography (Freddie Francis), and the screenwriting (Christopher De Vore, Eric Bergren, Lynch) are brilliant.

It was nominated for eight Oscars and the winner of BAFTA Best Picture in 1981. I saw the film in theaters when I was a teenager and it definitely peaked my early interest in what films could be.

Rewatching the movie makes me want to go read the original source material on the life of John Merrick; The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences by Sir Frederick Treves and The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity by Ashley Montagu.

And here’s a super article that fills in more about the movie.

P.S. The Elephant Man opened in theaters in October 1980 and that was a great time to be a teenager newly interested in movies. This was the pre-internet days and VHS or cable TV hadn’t come into my world yet. My movie tastes were evolving so I went to see everything I could. Here’s an eclectic—and partial— sample of what I saw in theaters in 1980:

The Shining 
Caddyshack
Raging Bull
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
The Blues Brothers 
Airplane!
The Fog
Urban Cowboy (worth watching just to see Scott Glenn eat the worm)
Stir Crazy (Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor)
Coal Miners Daughter 
My Body Guard 
Private Benjamin 
Used Cars
The Gods Must be Crazy
Brubaker
The Blue Lagoon
Melvin and Howard
Atlantic City
Ordinary People (Oscars: Best Picture, screenplay, direction, supporting actor) 

Then there’s a list of 1980s films I didn’t catch until later Breaker MorantAltered States, Stardust Memories, and Alligator (early John Sayles screenplay). A couple that slipped by me I need to check out: Kurosawa’s Kagemusha and Jim Jarmusch’s Permanent Vacation. And some interesting titles I never saw and probably never will; Cannibal Apocalypse, Fists of the White Lotus, Eaten Alive!, Blood Beach.

Cheers to the class of 1980. Lots of talent on display that year.

Related post:

Legacy Filmmaking (and Your Bank Account): “They’re never going to talk about your bank account when you’re dead, but they will talk about maybe the movies you left behind if you really cared about what you did.”—Frank Darabont

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

When I first saw A Quiet Place the films Alien, The Birds, and Them came to mind. But later shades of a strange mix of films have also popped into my mind like The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (monster in the house) and  Spielberg’s TV movie Duel. But what I didn’t think about was what Michael Phillips and Adam Kempenaar talked about on the Filmspotting podcast. Here’s an abridged version of their 25-minute conversation on A Quiet Place:

Michael Phillips: Why do I keep thinking of Shane and High Noon when I think about this rugged frontier clan fending off the hostiles in A Quiet Place? Is this some sort of bizarre hybrid of a western and a monster movie in a survivalist anthem?

Adam Kempenaar: I didn’t really think about westerns and High Noon. Though, of course, you get this idea in maybe like Rio Bravo where they’re sort of trapped in a certain spot and, yes, you do have the villains on the outside and you’re trying to survive.

Michael: [It is] in a peculiar way a western—with critters in it. It’s a bizarre hybrid of genres, but it seems to be really hitting people’s appetite very well.  And I can see why. 

Adam: It is about this idea of life of going on. The fact that you’ve got this family who are trying to live as relatively a normal life as they can. There is this sense of purpose. They’re still having school, [the mother is] still teaching her son how to divide properly because there’s this hope, there’s this thought that maybe someday math will matter again. And maybe it won’t be in a larger societal context. Maybe it will just be in the context of you trying to stay alive. The fact that they’re teaching them to fish and provide for yourself—depsite the hopelessness and the despair it would also be our instincts as human beings to do what we would normally do. Or try to make it as normal and to survive and have that sense of hope as opposed to letting everything overwhelm you.

Michael: This film for better or for worse is a completely sincere, unironic embrace of family values. And it’s the most family-values friendly horror film— I guess if you want to call it that—how do you characterize this thing?

Adam: I don’t know.

Michael: It’s running two or three genres at once.  I think the reason it was a huge success opening weekend and I suspect will continue to do well is it really is kind of a red state, blue state crossover. 

Note: A Quiet Place, after a month in theaters, continues to do well.  According to Box Office Mojo it came in third last night. And not only in red and blue or purple states—but overseas as well (whatever color that’s supposed to be) crossing the $250 million mark at the worldwide box office. Perhaps part of the crossover genius of A Quiet Place is you take two micro-budget indie filmmakers (Scott Beck and Bryan Woods) with a heart for Hollywood films, mix that with an actor known for his comedic chops on The Office (John Krasinski) and have him do a pass on the script and direct the movie, and then toss in big-budget Hollywood action director  of Armageddon and Transformers (Michael Bay) and have him produce the film and you’re bound to have something interesting.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Two things happened fairly recently to The Florida Project:  It ended the year on several top ten films lists including The New York Times and AFI, and Willim Defoe received an Oscar nomination.

This week it was announced that 5% of digital download sales (through February 5) would go to Community Hope Center —a central Florida charity group that assists people in need. Click the A24 website to download today through iTunes, Amazon, or one of your other favorites places.

I don’t think I wrote about any one film in 2017 more than The Florida Project. Here are links to all 13 posts:

The Florida Project

The Journalistic and Cinematic Roots of The Florid Project

Sean Baker Aiming for Someplace Different…and Striking Gold

The Rusty Gears of Three Acts and Blurring the Lines of Traditional Screenplay Structure with The Florida Project

A24, the 305, the 407…and Drake

The Florida Project a Whole New Way of Casting Via Instagram, Vimeo, and Walmart

Sean Baker on Directing Kids (Brooklyn Prince) in The Florida Project

The Florida Project and Shining a Light

The Eye Candy of The Florida Project

Thanksgiving with The Florida Project and Pieces of April

Happy Accidents and Desperate Improvisation in Filmmaking (Part 1)

Happy Accidents and Desperate Improvisation in Filmmaking (Part 2) 

The Florida Project—Margaritaville or Bust

Read Full Post »

Here’s writer/director Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) hitting on a theme that’s been central to this blog for ten years.

I’m interested in cinema representing places that don’t usually get representation. I think cinema is one of the better documenters of place. When I go to movie theaters  and I see a world that I haven’t known, or haven’t been a part of, but it feels known intimately by the people who made there’s something—it’s like a visceral experience you get through the screen…I think audiences can breath a certain amount of truth through the screen…So setting [Lady Bird] in Sacramento was a big part of writing it, and starting to find the story. And it’s not only movie I want to make in Sacramento. It’s place I know and I love, and I think you shoot things that are close to you with more care and love than you would a place that means nothing to you.”
Greta Gerwig
Slate’s Represent podcast #70

Here are three movies with a distinct sense of place from Texas to Tokyo with a stop in Denmark.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“[The Little Rascals] were basically comic shorts set against the Great Depression. Most of the characters in The Little Rascals were actually living in poverty, but the focus was the joy of childhood, and the humor that comes from watching and hearing children.”
Writer/director Sean Baker
The Hollywood Reporter

After watching The Florida Project on Friday I understood why critics championed the film and expect it to be remembered at Oscar time. I also understand why some people walked out of theaters before the movie was over.

Sean Baker is a bold filmmaker and The Florida Project is an unflinching, non-sugarcoated look at a marginalized group of people–that’s somehow also filled with humor. I could write about this film and its ramifications for a month. I don’t think I have the time to do the research necessary for that so I’ll just start with this post on the roots of the film, and what I think are some movies that are related to The Florida Project. 

I’ll start with a quote from Baker himself (who co-wrote the film with Chris Bergoch;

Well, I’ve always been a fan of The Little Rascals and Our Gang, which I grew up watching on local television. They’ve influenced pretty much every film I’ve made. Not Four Letter Words and Take Out, but Prince of Broadway, definitely, and Starlet and Tangerine. They’re really some of the best comic shorts that I’ve ever seen, and they still hold up. And then, my co-screenwriter, Chris Bergoch, brought me this topic of families living in budget motels outside of the parks down in Kissimmee and Orlando, Florida.

His mother happened to live in Orlando, and he himself is Disney obsessed. These motels are the last step before homelessness for families who aren’t able to get a lease and can no longer rent for multiple reasons. They have to pay week to week, sometimes night to night, at these budget motels. It’s actually a nationwide phenomenon, but, obviously, there is also an irony with little children living outside of what’s considered the most magical place on earth for children. So, it seemed ripe.”
Sean Baker
Filmmaker Magazine

I’m guessing that Baker meant the Hal Roach version of The Little Rascals/Our Gang  which ran from 1922 to 1944 featuring poor kids navigating life as best they could.

I don’t know what articles Baker and Bergoch read on homeless families in Central Florida, but journalism tends to take a ground up approach. A small newspaper spotlights an issue and it brings attention to a larger regional newspaper (like the Orlando Sentinel) and then local TV reporters may pick up on the trend. That’s when it gets on the radar of national newspapers, magazine, and TV programs. Back in 2010 and 2011 both HBO and 60 Minutes reported on family homelessness in the shadow of Disney theme parks. (One outside Disneyland in California and the other on the outskirts of Disney World in Florida.)

That’s how creativity works. A filmmaker takes in all of these influences going on in culture and mixes them with films that resonate with them and they come up with something similar, but different.

There is an echo in the book Driftless (2007) by photographer Danny Wilcox Fraizer. (Which is an echo of the gritty work done by legendary photographers Dorothea Lange and Arnold Newman.) And toss in Photographer Gordon Parks as well.

Driftless-cover

Gordon Parks

Now I don’t know what films influenced Baker, but three films I feel are connected to The Florida Project are:

Paper Moon (In which Tatum O’Neal won an Oscar.) 

Life is Beautiful (The Oscar-winning film about trying to make the best of a horrible situation.)

City of God

And even scenes from as ecelectic mix of Precious, Straight Out of Compton, and Stand By Me come to mind.

More in the coming days…

P.S. After I wrote this post I came across a video that features some of Arnold Newman’s photos from early in his career that he shot in West Palm Beach. The extreme wealth of the Kennedy family and Donald Trump associated with Palm Beach is a world away from West Palm Beach when Newman was talking photos back in the 1940s. I met Newman at the Maine Workshops 15+ years ago and he told me the local police threaten to arrest him if he didn’t leave the black section of West Palm Beach were he was talking photos. Photos he took in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and West Palm Beach are featured in the book Arnold Newman: The Early Work.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“I want to tell everyone reading this they have the means to shoot a feature film in their pocket”
Writer/director Sean Baker 
(Baker only shot one scene of The Florida Project with a cell phone—the rest in 35mm— but his entire feature Tangerine was shot on a couple of iPhones 5s with the FilMiC Pro app)

Yesterday I wrote a post about going to a spring training game in Kissimmee (in the greater Orlando area). Yesterday I also had to make an unplanned trip to Kissimmee for a root canal. And today I’m going to see The Florida Project which as shot in Kissimmee.

The Florida Project borrows its name from what Walt Disney World was referred to in its early stages.  While people around the world generally associate Disney World with Orlando, the mailing address for Disney World is Lake Buena Vista, and all four of the theme parks are located in Bay Lakes.

But the major spillover city of Disney World is Kissimmee. The former small rural, cattle town is now a tourist area mixing with a sprawling community that’s now 58% Hispanic. It is possible to fly into Orlando and drive to Disney World and have a fantasy vacation without seeing Kissimmee.

But if you want to stay at a cheaper hotel, eat a cheaper restaurants, or experience some cheaper tourist attractions you might end up in Kissimmee. The range of things to do in Kissimmee ranges from tacky touristy to stunning nature beauty. And Kissimmee is where a lot of people work in the Magic Kingdom call home.

And since the majority of jobs at Disney World are service jobs paying in the $8-12 an hour range, where some people call home is a cheap hotel. (Read the Orlando Sentinel article, Magic Kingdom brings joy, if not riches, for long time Disney employee.)  Homelessness is an issue in Central Florida. And not just the living in the woods or or an underpass variety, but families living out of cars and vans.

That is the world that writer/director Sean Baker (and co-writer Chris Bergoch) chose to explore in The Florida Project. Specifically kids that live in a hotel in Kissimmee.  It’s the kind of off the beaten path kind of film that the Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places blog has championed for 10 years now.

Go see this movie. (It opens today in 187 cities.)  Then use your voice (and your cell phone if you have to) to tell the stories waiting to be told in your own backyard.

P.S. When President Obama was in the White House one of his spiritual advisors was Joel Hunter who was then the pastor of Northland Church in the Orlando area. Hunter recently become the founder and chairman of Community Resource Network in central Florida whose vision “sees a future where homelessness is eliminated through the collaborative effort and collective resources of government, business, nonprofit, and the faith community.”

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: