Monthly Archives: May 2011
by Jim Eaton-Terry
“You’ve got to be a genius to make a movie this bad”
The Devil’s Candy is like no other book on film I’ve read. A former financial journalist, Julie Salamon was film critic for the Wall Street Journal when she gained access to Brian De Palma’s production of Tom Wolfe’s satirical novel. Her first idea was to give an industrial view of the filmmaking process and show the complexity of the contemporary cinema industry, and she does that, but she also wound up on the set of one of the most spectacular commercial and critical flops in the history of Hollywood.
There are plenty of books – great books – about the art of film. There are books about the politics of the industry and the studio systems. And there are books of gossip about the ludicrous egos of everyone involved. The Devil’s Candy touches on all those areas, but where Salamon really excels is at showing the sheer number of different processes involved in a blockbuster movie. Detailed but never dry, she gives you a view of everything from the costume shop to the ever-expanding budget.
Salamon follows the process from the first deals to the public reception of the film. She spends time with everyone from the location scouts to the director as they embark and then continue into disaster. That disaster shadows the book from its cover on, but Salamon never pre-empts her story: it’s only in the final third that you start to understand the sheer scale of it, and begin to feel something of the pain that might result from devoting two years of your life to a film that becomes an international punchline.
Mostly Film is taking a short break for a UK bank holiday, but we’ll be back on Tuesday with a new feature: the Mostly Film Book Club. The idea is simple. Every two months we choose a book about film, we give it a brief introduction, and over the course of the two months we discuss it here. Then we do it again with a different book.
First up is Julie Salamon’s The Devil’s Candy, her soup-to-nuts account of the making of Brian De Palma’s titanically unsuccessful “The Bonfire of the Vanities”. Shudder as Bruce Willis is cast instead of John Cleese! Wonder why Alan Arkin is ditched in favour of Morgan Freeman! Boggle at a ten-second clip of a runway that took five cameras and $80,000 to shoot!
We have other books lined up for future months, but we’re hoping Mostly Film readers will have ideas of their own and can step up with suggestions. The brief is as plain as can be: it can be any sort of book as long as it’s centrally about film and film-making. Biography, tutorial, novel, criticism – anything. Let us know your ideas in the comments section.
Also coming up next week, pieces on why Michael Bay is like Osama bin Laden (only alive), the life and work of the jailed Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, and the usual helping of much, much more.
by Ron Swanson
‘Cannes. Shit. Still in Cannes.’
After a few days with minimal sleep, spending hours on end queuing in the blazing sun, eating and drinking more unhealthily than usual, that was my first thought upon waking up most mornings. I had planned to adhere to two rules when writing this column, the first of which was ‘no complaining’. Thankfully, the second was not to state my admiration for Hitler at all, and I feel like that’s been achieved.
When the Festival starts, Cannes is a place unlike anywhere else in the world. It’s a mixture of the glamorous and the trashy, a place without much class, and a place that I love, almost unreservedly. If only there were nobody else here – as it is the festival-goers are rude, entitled and snobby, a combination of industry insiders, journalists and wealthy, elderly local residents for the most part – it would be just about perfect.
The sedate world of the London Film Festival, which I’d been frequenting for years before I first came to Cannes, doesn’t prepare you for this. Fighting broke out this year as people jostled for position for the first screening of Terrence Malick’s wonderful The Tree of Life. While Leicester Square is no stranger to a brawl, it isn’t usually over who will get an opportunity to see the new work from auteur X first. As I queued, unsuccessfully, to see Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia, a woman two or three places behind me launched into an astonishing tirade against the security guard who had just announced that the screening was full. She did accuse him of impinging her human rights. She did not, unfortunately, compare him to Hitler.
Any self-respecting article about the 64th Cannes Film Festival has to address the Von Trier issue head on. I would have liked to have been able to say that, maybe, Von Trier’s lack of self restraint was as evident in his two and a half hour opus as it was in his press conference, but unfortunately, I didn’t get in to see it. What I will say is that this year Cannes has welcomed Mel Gibson, whose anti-semitic rants are on public record, and, in previous years, convicted criminals like Mike Tyson. Choosing to ban a director for saying something stupid is hypocritical and naive at best. Interestingly, considering Von Trier’s film split critical opinion, Kirsten Dunst won the award for Best Actress. But enough about films I didn’t see.
Welcome to the first in an occasional series, in which we will collect lovely little bundles of themed recommendations from Mostly Film contributors. To kick the series off, we asked them to recommend a film that they were pretty sure none of the rest of us had ever seen (as it went, few managed to get that obscure).
“Larger than Life” by CaulorLime
Asked to write about an obscure gem it would have been easy to write about Satyajit Ray’s Big City or something old, silent and Japanese. Easy, and wrong. Anyone can explain the appeal of a lost classic, but a failed studio comedy from 1996? That’ll take some energetic shilling.
Bob Dylan is 70 today. To mark the occasion, four Mostly Film contributors write about Dylan’s many faces on film and wonder whether any of them is his own.
Niall Anderson on “Dont Look Back”
There are probably worse introductions to Bob Dylan than Dont Look Back, but alas it was mine, so I find it hard to believe. Before I saw DA Pennebaker’s film I only knew the inescapable Dylan: the strumalong homilies, a famous line here or there, the placard-flashing promo for “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, and the fact that he was considered a genius. I was seventeen and I don’t know what I expected genius to be. I mostly expected it to be obvious. Not necessarily direct or easy, but in some way lividly apparent. I didn’t expect this.
by Jeremy Tiang
I wanted to write a book about the Malayan communist insurrection of the 1950s, so I took a bus to the jungles of Southern Thailand, where the former guerrilla fighters all live these days. In the town of Betong, I went up to people in the street (fortunately, everyone in Betong speaks Chinese, so I didn’t need my Thai phrasebook, which is shockingly lacking in communist vocabulary) until I found someone willing to take me up the mountain on his motorbike. He didn’t have a spare helmet, but on such a steep mountain road a helmet probably wouldn’t have done me much good.
by Susan Patterson
“We play cricket for the value of cricket” – Bunny Wailer
Despite my ancestors being indigenously British as far back as the Romans, I failed the Tebbit cricket test a long time ago. My mantra was ‘anybody but England, unless it’s Australia’, but my true love in international cricket was the West Indies team. When I meet someone from Ballycastle who supports Leeds United, or from Porto who supports West Ham United, I have a theory that the club was in its glory years when that person was ten years old. Having seen Fire in Babylon I now know that in supporting the Windies, instead of being a romantic maverick I was a glory hunter, no better than a London Red. (I prefer to believe that I had a premonition of the Barmy Army, and knew that I would want nothing to do with it.) After telling a classmate, who called me a nigger lover, for the first but not last time in my life, my affiliation became the love that dare not speak its name. This was also my first lesson that National Front supporters were not cuddly patriots.
In Fire in Babylon director Steven Riley tells the story of the West Indies cricket team, from their humiliating 5-1 Test defeat in Australia in 1975 to becoming the unstoppable Test-winning machine captained by Clive Lloyd, using archive footage, interviews, music, and cultural analysis by Bunny Wailer and Frank I. The film is overtly framed in the emergence of a post-colonial Caribbean culture; the politicisation of some of the team, particularly Viv Richards, as black people increasingly conscious of their African descent; and the fight against apartheid. Its saddest moments come with the fallout from the rebel tour of South Africa in 1983.
Tags: Fire in Babylon
by Jim Eaton-Terry
I’m going to start by stretching the definition of a new record to breaking point – not only is this not new, being a compilation, it’s also not a record as it can never be released:
But nothing new I’ve heard this month – this year, in fact – comes close to matching this lovingly compiled unofficial best of the KLF for energy, for ideas, or for simple cheek. Tom Ewing has assembled a guide to the only truly lost pop group of the last 20 years, from the piratical hip-hop of Burn the Bastards through the hits and the scams of the Timelords and Stadium House to their freeze frame into legend.
Over the course of less than 5 years, the KLF invented at least 2 now-forgotten genres (ambient and stadium house), recorded half a dozen brilliant top 10 singles (even if you don’t count “Doctorin’ the Tardis” under “brilliant”) and took the idea of the pop group as scam to its vanishing point. Then they deleted the back catalogue, left the building and, with a discipline no equivalent act has ever managed, vanished. Even 20 years later I keep half-suspecting every new European comedy dance act has Drummond and Cauty pulling the strings.
There have, however, been some new albums released this month (even if the second best – which I’ll talk about next month – is Kate Bush’s collection of old songs recreated to get closer to the sound in her head).
by Mr Moth
Charlie Simpson – Down Down Down
Oh, Charlie Simpson off of Busted. You broke my heart when you left Matt and James, you really did. Why did you split up the band, just when you were reaching your peak with “Thunderbirds Are Go!”, from Thunderbirds Official Soundtrack? To form Fightstar? Really? No, really?
Anyway, now you’ve put Fightstar on hiatus – literally tens of fanboys will no doubt be rending their clothes as we speak – to, in that dread phrase, “pursue solo projects”. And this is yours. Well done, you. You sure showed us you’re a true renaissance man. Why, this sounds like.. god, Charlie, it sounds like soulful Busted. You can’t help it. Bit of acoustic strumming. KNOT THOSE BROWS. OK, Busted after having listened to a bit of Noah and the Whale or whatever, but still. There’s something inherently naff about all the ex-Busted members – something which Matt Willis has worked to his advantage, but which works against Charlie every time he tries to be A Serious Artist.