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Posts Tagged ‘Raging Bull’

“I think boxing’s pretty dumb, and I’ve never been a boxing fan.”
John G. Avildsen
Oscar winning director of Rocky


AFI lists the character Rocky Balboa on their all-time movie hero list at #7 and the film Rocky as the #4 most inspiring film of all time. Writer/actor Sylvester Stallone has understandably gotten plenty of honor for the 1976 film. But the other side of Rocky is director John G. Avildsen.

Though we may never know Avildsen’s role in guiding Stallone in the re-writing process, it’s clear his vision and direction helped Rocky win three Oscar Awards; Best Director, Best Editing, and Best Picture.  Avildson’s had just released his first film just seven years before Rocky. A film shot in just seven days that he said in one interview, “It was pretty bad, but it got me my next job and my next job.” It was also a film that he not only directed, but shot and edited as well.

While digital filmmaking and non-union work has made writing, directing, and shooting more common on short films, it’s still pretty uncommon in the feature film world outside of Robert Rodriguez.  But I thought you’d find it interesting to learn where Avildsen honed his skills as a director, cameraman and editor long before he took home the Oscar Award:

“When I first started doing this I was doing industrial films for an advertising agency that did industrial shows and so forth. So I’d make this movie that ran anywhere from a few minutes to an hour for IBM or Clairol or Shell Oil to get their salesmen excited about whatever it was they were trying to get them excited about. So I was hired to direct these things and I hired myself as the cameraman and as the editor and did the things myself and it was a great learning process. It was fun to do. There was very little supervision and you could use whatever music you wanted and that’s how I started. And I figured I was a more attractive commodity to the buyer if for the same eight bucks you got three jobs instead of  one. ”
John G. Avildsen
John A. Gallagher Interview

Avildsen also directed the 1984 version of The Karate Kid in which Pat Morita was nominated for an Oscar.

P.S. In regard to that opening quote about Avildsen not being a boxing fan, it’s interesting to point out that Martin Scorsese originally told Robert De Niro that he was not interested in directing Raging Bull because he was not a fan of boxing. 

Scott W. Smith

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“A good title should be like a good metaphor: It should intrigue without being too baffling or two obvious.”
Walker Percy

I’m staying on the Up in the Air gravy train (gravy plane?)  just a little bit longer. Not only did I love the film but I love the title. It’s a title that has a literal meaning since it’s a film that deals with traveling via airplanes. But it’s also a common phrase in our culture meaning undecided or uncertain.

Up in the Air is a pretty good description of the Up in the Air main character Ryan Bingham, played by George Clooney.  A character whose only real purpose appears to collecting frequent flyer miles. Everything else is up in the air.

Many writers talk about starting with a title and build from there and others say they can’t even decide on a title even after they’ve written the script or book.  Can a movie succeed without a great title? Sure, look at Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Looking at the AFI list of top 100 films and you’ll see a mixture of great, good, and bland titles. A title doesn’t make a film, but in a day and age of the importance of the opening weekend, a great title is desired to help attract an audience.

The most common titles seem to focus a main character or being, place or thing, or an event.

Character or being:
Citizen Kane
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
King Kong
Rocky
Forrest Gump
Spartacus
Bonnie and Clyde
The Godfather
Tootsie
Jaws
Psycho
Raging Bull

A place or thing:
Titanic
The African Queen
Bridge on the River Kwai
Treasure of the Sierra Madre
On the Waterfront
Chinatown
Sunset Blvd.
The Maltese Falcon
The Apartment
Casablanca

An event:
High Noon
Apocalypse Now
Star Wars
2001: A Space Odyssey
Saving Private Ryan
Bringing Up Baby
Sophie’s Choice

And while not a hard and fast rule, great titles tend to be short (three words or less). Just look at the above list.  And my favorites of those listed are Jaws and Psycho. Each one a simple word, but both hit you at a gut level.

Titles like Avatar, Batman, The Matrix are easier to discuss around the water cooler.  Even longer titles (especially sequels) tend to get edited around the water cooler and just called  Harry Potter, Narnia, Pirates, Star Wars, Twilight, Spider-Man.

Up in the Air falls into that minority category of a title that’s a little more obtuse, in line with The Last Picture Show, A Streetcar Named Desire, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Silence of the Lambs, or Gone with the Wind. (All of which happened to have been books or plays first which tend to favor a more intellectual audience.) If you go with a metaphor, it doesn’t hurt to have a movie star in the lead role. As I talk up the film Up in the Air, I find myself calling it “The George Clooney Film.”

What are some of your favorite titles (even if they aren’t one of your favorite films)? Or some of your favorite bad titles.
I love the title of the lesser known 50s film Them. And I like titles such as Black Hawk Down, Meet the Parents, Witness, The Hunt for Red October, Collateral and The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly because they all have built in conflict, mystery and intrigue. And the worst titles off the top of my head goes to Ishtar and Valkyrie, neither of which leave me with a visceral reaction.

Of course, the most bland title ever might just be…Movie Titles (tip #32). (But at least it’s twitter friendly.)

Update: I decided to do a Google search to see what others thought were the best and worst movie titles ever and found one blogger who had a post called Top 10 Worst Movie Titles Ever and the writer put Surf Nazis Must Die at #10. That film was written and directed by Peter George who I happened to go to film school with. (I was always a little upset I didn’t get a small role in the film.) If anyone knows where Mr. George is these days tell him I want my watch back. The one that I left at his Hollywood apartment after I crashed on his sofa one night back before he was making top ten lists.

Scott W. Smith


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Last night I watched Daniel Day Lewis’ character in There Will Be Blood  self-destruct. Self-destruction is never enjoyable to watch, but it is usually fascinating within the confines of a movie theater or watching on DVD at home. And that leads us to our quote of the day.

“Stories of self-destruction are often the stuff of great movies because the lines of action and the opposition are built into the characters.” 
                                                                        William Froug
                                                                         Screenwriting Tricks of the Trade
                                                                         page 29

Of course, he’s right. Look at these films that come to mind:

Taxi Driver
Citizen Kane
Raging Bull
Training Day
The Lost Weekend
Leaving Las Vegas
Pollock
28 Days 
Moby Dick
Death of a Salesman
Aviator  (Howard Hughes)

When you look at that list it’s hard to miss that self-destruction is rooted in some sort of obsession. An obsession with drugs, alcohol, greed, sex, power, control and/or money. If all the self-destruction movies were rolled into one we’d just call it Sin City.

It’s no surprise either that many of those movies are based on real life characters because stories of self-destruction are never far from the headlines. Just a few months ago in Florida a well respected real estate developer committed suicide. He owned three homes, had many successful projects completed over the years, and he and his wife had recently donated $2.5 million to a local college’s medical school. 

But many of his current hundreds of million dollar projects where stalled with the downturn in the real estate market and it is now alleged that he stole at least $21.4 million from investors. And from the world of New York City high finance,  just a couple days before Christmas a 65-year-old money manager who had lost $1.4 billion of an investment fund in a scam committed suicide in his Manhattan office by cutting his wrists with box cutters.

The good news is self-destruction doesn’t always mean ruin and suicide. It can be a low point on the road to redemption as is the case of Johnny Cash in Walk the Line where he overcomes a heroin addiction.  

And sometimes redemption comes outside the theater like some kind of cathartic Greek play.  When the real life Jake LaMotta asked his ex-wife if he was really as paranoid and abusive as he was portrayed in Raging Bull she replied, “You were worse.”  After the film came out it helped turn LaMotta’s life around;  “I was real low before the film, I was barely surviving. The book came out, I started to get interviews. The stand-up took off and the movie hit. Then the Oscar, that was it. I was famous again.”

 

Copyright ©2009 Scott W. Smith

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