Posts Tagged ‘Paper Moon’

“[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.


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

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Paper Moon (1973) was Tatum O’Neal’s first film and she walked away with the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. She was 10 years old, which is still the record for the youngest Oscar-winning actor or actress. And while she’s terrific the entire film, her line, “I want my $200!” (see the scene below) was her “Show me the money!”-like line from Jerry Maguire. Never underestimate the power and resonance of one emotional line on an audience.

Paper Moon was the third Hollywood studio film directed by Peter Bogdanovich and his third successful film in a row following The Last Picture show and What’s Up, Doc?  To have a streak of three critical and financial successes out of the gate was an amazing feat, but as we’ll see in tomorrow’s post, it would not last.

Bogdanovich’s life after Paper Moon, after he’d reached the mountain top, would become a cautionary tale. As the saying goes, “Success is a poor teacher.” But he’s a survivor and he still has stories to tell—lessons to pass on—which is why when the dust settles I will have written about him for two straight weeks.

At the 4:40 mark when Tatum O’Neal’s character says, “Then get it,” the direction Bogdanovich gave her was to say it like John Wayne would. Also, if you notice the up until the 2:00 mark the perspective of the scene is played from the inside looking out and then it shifts to outside (though technically inside the restaurant) looking in breaking the 180 rule. But Bogdanovich covers it “by cutting on movement”—when Ryan O’Neal leans over to get some relish— so the audience doesn’t notice the perspective shift. A trick he said he learned from Howard Hawks.

Paper Moon was written by Joe David Brown and  Alvin Sargent (based on Sargent’s novel Addie Play). It was Brown’s last film and he died in 1976, Sargent later won two-Oscars (Ordinary People, Julia) and was one of the co-writers on The Amazing Spider-Man (2012).

P.S. On the Paper Moon director’s commentary Bogdanovich says that though the novel was a southern story, he thought it would be more interesting to put it somewhere else and remembered how flat Kansas was when he once drove through the Midwest. They shot the movie in and around Hays, Kansas and St. Joseph, Missouri. The opening of the scene above was shot in  Gorham, Kansas. (Named after E.D. Gorham once described by the Kansas City Star as “the largest landowner in western Kansas, and perhpas the richest man in that part of the state.” Always comes back to money, right?) The opening title graphics were found in Kansas City by the film’s production designer Polly Platt when scouting locations.

Scott W. Smith

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