Formatted almost like a film school lecture, “Leap of Faith,” a new documentary about the making of “The Exorcist” and now streaming on Shudder, is a master class in how a classic movie was made.
In the almost fifty years after the release of a movie that was heralded as everything from “religious porn” to “pure cinematic terror,” “The Exorcist” has not lacked for critical analysis. Thousands of gallons of ink have been spilled printing books and articles on the subject while in the internet age everyone who has ever stepped into a theatre seems to have written something about the film. “Leap of Faith” does everyone who has ever posited an opinion on the film’s meaning one better. It goes to the source with an in-depth interview with the movie’s director William Friedkin.
Documentary filmmaker Alexandre O. Philippe goes long with the director on the creative process, nailing down the definitive stories of how the 1973 horror film came to be. Much of the information was covered in the 2014 autobiography, “The Friedkin Connection,” but here the director’s way with a story and Philippe’s use of visuals makes the stories cinematic.
This isn’t a casual fan doc. Friedkin and Philippe dig deep to uncover the film’s visual influences—everything from Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1955 “Ordet” to Magritte’s “The Empire of Light” series—to how recording the score ended a long-time friendship. There is great detail on the casting, the filming of controversial scenes and why star Max von Sydow, who once played Jesus in a film, had so much trouble performing one of “The Exorcist’s” most pious and famous sequences.
Over and over Friedkin talks about following his instincts and making decisions that either seemed counterintuitive or deemed too costly by the studio. “I didn’t question my instincts,” he says, which I suppose is at least part of the reason the film is called “Leap of Faith.” There’s the obvious reason and then there’s the small leaps of faith that those working with Friedkin had to take along the way. Hearing about his battles with everyone from studio heads on down to get his vision to the screen is an interesting reminder of Hollywood when creative vison could trump corporate interference.
“Leap of Faith” isn’t a flashy film. It’s a detailed, if straightforward, making of documentary that connects the dots between the filmmaker and his faith in an interesting, if long winded way.
The spooky new supernatural thriller Deliver Us From Evil sees Eric Bana play a jaded NYC police officer. “I’ve seen some horrible things,” he says, “but nothing that can’t be explained by human nature.”
That changes when he meets a renegade priest (Édgar Ramírez) who convinces him a plague of demonic possession has infected the Big Apple. Working together, they combat the evil forces with exorcism and faith.
Deliver Us From Evil is based on a nonfiction book of the same name authored by Ralph Sarchie (with Lisa Collier Cool), a sixteen-year NYPD veteran who investigates “cases of demonic possession and (assists) in the exorcisms of humanity’s most ancient—and most dangerous—foes,” in his spare time.
“Before going out on a case,” he writes, “I put aside my gun and police badge and arm myself with holy water and a relic of the True Cross.”
Sarchie’s story joins a long list of exorcism movies with roots in true events.
The Exorcist, the granddaddy of all demon possession movies, is based in part on the 1949 case of an anonymous Maryland teenager dubbed Roland Doe. He was determined by the Catholic Church to be under a diabolical spell when strange things started happening — levitating furniture and holy water vials crashing to the ground — after he played with a Ouija board.
Exorcist author William Peter Blatty first heard about Doe’s story when he was a student at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. in 1950. He drew from newspaper reports and a diary kept by the attending priest, Fr. Raymond Bishop, as the backbone of his novel.
The character of Father Lankester Merrin, the elderly priest and archeologist played by Max von Sydow in the movie, was based on British archaeologist Gerald Lankester Harding. Blatty said Harding “was the physical model in my mind when I created the character, whose first name, please note, is Lankester.”
In recent years hits like The Rite, starring Anthony Hopkins as a real life exorcist tutor, and The Exorcism of Emily Rose with Tom Wilkinson as a priest accused of murder when a young woman died during an exorcism, are based on true events.
Finally in The Possession, a haunted antique carved “Dybbuk” box — containing an evil, restless spirit — turns the behaviour of a young girl (Natasha Calis) from angelic to animalistic. The owner of the real-life box offered to send it to producer Sam Raimi but the filmmaker declined. “I didn’t want anything to do with it,” he said. “I’m scared of the thing.”
“The Exorcist” was released 40 years ago to great fanfare.
“This film, when it came out, lived at the very center of popular culture,” film critic and author Richard Crouse told CNN. “It was the only thing that people talked about. The speed of popular culture wasn’t as fast as it is now. Even a big hit like ‘Gravity,’ people are excited for a week, excited for two weeks, and then it fades away until awards season comes around. But it wasn’t like that in 1973. This movie, for a year, really inked out all available entertainment space.”
Crouse, author of the book “Raising Hell,” recalled “stories about people throwing up at screenings…
Welcome to my on-line Cannes diary. Over the next eleven days I’m going to give you a blow-by-blow account of what happens both personally and professionally at the biggest, craziest and most respected film festival in the world.
Leave Toronto at 7:20 pm on Air France. The flight is on time, and after a lay-over in Paris, a connecting flight to Nice and a half-hour cab ride we should be in Cannes by 3 pm on Tuesday. The flight is uneventful, although the food was uncommonly good, and not just by airplane food standards. I get a little obsessive about food while I’m on the road… especially airplane food. It has always seemed to me to be cruel and unusual punishment to strap someone in a seat for eight hours, make them line up for the bathroom, charge them a fortune, make their ears pop and after all that serve them crappy food. I scope out the menu (yes there is a menu…) and choose an appetizer of lobster accompanied by mango salad with lemon and cocktail sauce, followed by a palate cleanser of different cheeses, a main course of duck a l’orange with basmati rice, Chinese broccoli and a carrot and
spinach flan. Others had the lobster followed by an herb crusted Mahi Mahi. I chose not to have the Mahi Mahi because I’m convinced that’s just a nicer name for Dolphin, and I’m not eating anything that is almost as smart as me. The duck was delicious, filled with ducky goodness, and served on china plates with only the plastic knives in our cutlery bundles serving as a reminder of heightened security concerns. Followed dinner with a cognac, and a very quick nap… I have trouble sleeping on planes for some reason.
After the all too brief nap I decided to watch a movie… Of course I’ve seen them all — several times — so I pass the time watching “For A Few Dollars More” in Portuguese, and I realize that Spaghetti Westerns work in any language — even if you don’t understand the dialogue. If you don’t understand what they are saying, you can certainly understand what they are doing. The same can’t be said for my second choice, “Serendipity,” with John Cusak. I chose to watch this one in Spanish, and the absence of any understandable dialogue actually improved the movie for me. Take away theinsipid script and all that’s left is the beautiful Kate Beckensale….
Next was “Le Famille Tenenbaum,” still funny, even though my grasp of
French is limited…
The stop-over in Paris was long and painful. Not long enough to actually
leave the airport and do something interesting, just long enough to make us tired. I love to travel. I like to walk on the beach, meet new people, see new things, as much as the next guy, it’s just the getting there that I find insufferable. It’s the waiting around, the bad airport food (see I’m on about food again), the guy in front of me who always has to put his seat all the way back so I have only 1/2 inch of leg room…
Charles deGaulle Airport Sightings: Serious looking soldiers with machine guns. A store that sells $500 sunglasses, and herds of poodles… well maybe not herds, but more than you usually see in airports…
After four and a-half soul destroying hours spent waiting around the
Paris airport we caught a flight to Nice. Uneventful flight, followed by a harrowing high speed taxi ride from Nice to Cannes. We arrived safely,
But our cab driver was quite obviously the retired NASCAR champ of France or something… Spent the rest of the day chasing stories for the upcoming shows, getting our press credentials in order and picking up cell phones.
Went to bed early, after having been up for about 34 hours… I was too tired to even dream, which is appropriate because I had been dreaming of sleeping all day….
Talk to you tomorrow….
WEDNESDAY MAY 15th
No jet lag! The secret is not sleeping when you arrive. I always stay up
until 11 or 12 o’clock in whatever time zone I’m in, no matter how tired I am, get a decent night’s sleep and the next day I always feel adjusted.
Apparently not everyone is so adaptable. At the press lounge jet lagged reporters from all over the world are walking around like half-dead
zombies, desperately chugging coffee trying to stay awake. I keep such erratic hours anyway that I seem to be able to adjust to any time change.
Spent Wednesday morning and afternoon trying to set up interviews for
R2R’s upcoming shows. The real chaos hasn’t started here yet, so I didn’t have to wait long, although at one office I had to stand in a dank, dark hallway for almost an hour before anyone could find time to speak to me. It’s busy here, but the expected throngs of press and tourists will arrive over the week-end. Then the bad craziness starts. You can’t move on the streets, people line up for screening hours and hours in advance, restaurants and cafes are full to capacity… just trying to walk down the street becomes a hellish, hectic experience. But right now the weather is beautiful, there are stylishly dressed people from all over the world everywhere… I love walking twenty feet down the street and hearing twenty different languages being spoken, it’s a mind broadening experience. On the downside, security is very tight this year. I have been frisked, poked and prodded everywhere.
This is a new development from last year, but given the shaky world political climate, I guess it has to be this way.
I spoke with Michael Moore on the street today. I’m a big fan of his work, and have just finished reading his latest book, “Stupid White Men.” Most people will remember him from his award winning documentary “Roger and
Me,” although I really liked his later film “Canadian Bacon” with John Candy, and his television show “The Awful Truth” which should be required viewing for people who trust corporate America. Moore is in Cannes to promote his latest film “Bowling for Columbine,” a bitingly satiric look at the gun trade in the United States after the Columbine school shootings. He’s a cool guy, who had very funny things to say about the last time he was in Toronto and his appearance on Canada AM. If all goes well I will be interviewing Mr. Moore later this week for one of R2R’s Cannes shows.
Woody Allen’s “Hollywood Ending” opens the festival tonight. Our camera man Mark shot a press conference with Woody this morning, which will be used on the first show. also shot some footage of a press conference with the jury of this years festival, including David Lynch, Sharon Stone and Micelle
Yeow. Stone has a cold, and needed to blow her nose. “It would be nice if somebody had a handkerchief for me,” she said. Lynch, sitting next to her offered her his hankie. “I do,” he said. “But it’s used.” She declined.
Shot the first Cannes special show here today in a variety of locations around town. Shooting here is difficult with the noise and crowds everywhere. On top of that we had MASSIVE technical difficulties, but managed to get the show done, and shipped back to Toronto for editing. Also met some people from Toronto, two young women who went to school here, and have come back to check out the festival. They stood in the same spot for over 5 hours in the blistering sun to get a glimpse of the red carpet, and hopefully see some stars. They were hoping for Harrison Ford or Tom
Cruise and seemed slightly disappointed when I told them that it was going to be Woody Allen on the red carpet that night…
Went to a party for DDA, one of the world’s largest publicity firms. Nice little soiree on the beach, with plenty of wine and beer for everyone. Had a
snack and a couple of Stella Artois and continued on to the Canadian
Pavilion to finish shooting for the day. The Canadian Pavilion is
Located on the beach in the International Village next to Pavilions from the
US, Holland and dozens of countries from all over the world. Nice layout inside, but the beautiful patio right on the beach is the main draw. Met Canada’s trade ambassador there and I’m sure to be spending more time there as the week goes on.
Anyway… one show is done and shipped back to Canada, only three more to go. Have loads of interviews lined up, and will likely start doing them on
Talk to you soon,
THURSDAY MAY 16th
Woke up with a start today. Disoriented. Didn’t know where I was. Late. Slightly crazed feeling. I think I must have had a really deep, almost coma-like sleep last night. Shook off the weird sleepy feeling and headed off to see “Bowling for Columbine,” the new documentary from director Michael Moore. On the walk down from the villa to the main drag I noticed that overnight the festival seemed to make the leap from merely busy to confusing and chaotic. Loads of people must have flown in last night, and then in the morning it seemed like all them were going to see the same movie as I was… I started to play a game to pass the time on the walk. I try and count the number of people on the street that a) don’t have a cell phone glued to their head, b.) don’t have a cigarette in the hands, c) doesn’t have a small yappy dog on a leash or d) some combination of all of the above. I counted two people…
I saw Eartha “Catwoman” Kitt outside the Carlton Hotel today. I have always thought she was the greatest Catwoman (move over Julie Newmar and Michelle Pfeiffer), and her song “I Want To Be Evil” should be required listening for anyone who has ever wanted to get a nine to five job and settle down in the suburbs… She looks great, at least twenty years younger than her reported age of 75.
The Troma circus has rolled into town, although chief rabble rouser
Lloyd Kaufman doesn’t arrive until Monday. Then, I imagine the Troma Team will really start to terrorize the town. They are a fixture here at Cannes, every year providing mayhem up and down the Croisette, usually parading the cast of characters from their movies — The Toxic Avenger, Mad Cowboy and Dolphin Man to name a few. They ALWAYS get into trouble. Last year I saw one of them get arrested for indecent exposure on one of the nude beaches that line the main drag. I know, I know, it’s hard to get arrested for indecent exposure on a nude beach, but this guy was only wearing a slight thong to hold in his 300 pounds… Not a pretty sight and I think the police arrested him on aesthetic grounds as much as anything else. I saw Lloyd on the street just after it happened and told him one of his guys had been arrested. “Not again,” he said. It seems everywhere Troma goes strong men weep and chaos follows. They have found a new home after getting kicked out of the swanky Carlton Hotel last year, after having their offices there for almost 20 years. Now they are just behind the Carlton. I don’t know, but if I ran the Carlton, I would want these guys where I could keep an eye on them…
Had a rather frustrating afternoon. Checking with publicists is a daily ritual. You pop your head in, say hello, make nice and hope that they give you the interviews you have requested. Today yielded interviews for an American movie called “Scorched,” Most of the cast is confirmed, although the biggest star is “being difficult” (the publicist’s words, not mine), and is unsure as to whether he wants to do interviews. I can’t tell you who it is, but if you’re interested go to IMDB.com and look it up. I don’t think it will come as much of a surprise…
Interviews for television are hard to come by here, particularly for Canadians. “Ah, the Canadian confusion…” one publicist said as I tried to confirm an interview I had booked in Toronto before I left. Seems some paperwork has gone missing, and now those spots are in jeopardy. So now, as unbelievable as it seems my interviews with Canadian directors Atom Egoyan and David Cronenberg probably aren’t going to happen as expected. It’s too bad really, I like both their new movies, and would love the chance to speak to them Canadian to Canadian while I’m here… I’ll keep you posted on what happens here…
That is just the fluid nature of the Cannes Film Festival. Arrive with a plan, but be prepared to change it every five minutes or so. It can bend your head if you let it.
More about the food. Didn’t really have time to eat on Wednesday, although I grabbed a salad from a kiosk on the beach — even the fast food here is great — arugula, mozzarella and tomatoes. Delicious and not too expensive at 5 euros (about $7 Can.). On Thursday breakfast didn’t happen until about 3 pm when I grabbed some uber-tasty pastries at the Geraldine Chaplin press conference at the grand old Carlton Hotel.
Chaplin is in town to launch “The Chaplin Collection,” a set of DVDs featuring all her father’s legendary comic movies, and rare outtakes and home movies added as bonuses. With her was Warren Liederfarb from Warner Brothers, the man they call “the father of DVD,” and the French distributor of Chaplin films for the big screen Marin Karmitz.
I interviewed Ms. Chaplin one on one after the press conference. She’s a
deeply tanned, elegant woman who reminded me of an older, but well preserved Audrey Hepburn. She’s small and birdlike, but smiles easily and is fluent in both French and English. When I first spoke to her I commented on her shoes, which were red and metallic silver runners. “They’re cheaper than a facelift,” she said, “because everybody looks at the shoes and not my
She spoke lovingly about her father, and told me about the difficulties involved in getting all of Charlie Chaplin’s 8 kids to agree on the best way to preserve and make available their father’s films. If I appear distracted during the interview it’s because an obnoxious European reporter was tapping me on the back throughout my conversation with Chaplin, trying to push her way into the action. I ignored, got my interview and went on my way. So did Ms. Chaplin and the other reporter went away empty handed. I didn’t feel particularly sorry for her…
At 6:30 I did a live television interview via satellite with CBC’s Newsworld in Canada. The studio I shot it in is a spacious multi-room flat, overlooking the Croisette, and the Grand Theatre’s red carpet. I saw Sharon Stone, and think I saw Jack Nicholson, but was too far away to tell. While I was waiting to go on a couple of us sat and watched “Loft Story” on television with the sound turned down. It’s a reality show, a la the Canadian production “The Lofters.” Not really sure what it was all about. It’s a huge hit in France, but just seems to be about three girls in Thongs mopping the floor and washing their hair. I’m not complaining, I just didn’t really understand the story. The CBC interview went well, although the satellite cut out midway through.
That’s about it for today… early day tomorrow with screenings in the
morning and interviews in the afternoon.
FRIDAY MAY 17
Here’s what I take with me everyday when I leave the villa: a map of
Cannes, my cell phone, 10 – 15 pages of research, a lighter (all the cute French girls smoke), several pens, including one that lights up for writing in the dark and the latest edition of Daily Variety. Here’s what I usually come home with: 3 – 4 Beta tapes, about 50 pounds worth of press releases and magazines (OK, maybe I exaggerate, but not by much), 2 or 3 promotional T-shirts, and several promotional ball caps. Today someone gave me a box of cigars. It’s no wonder that my back aches and I think I’m developing a hunchback.
So far the best swag item has been an Evian “Brumisateur,” a water pump so I can spritz myself frequently while walking around in the blistering heat.
There are movie posters everywhere. On almost every square inch of available space on the streets, plastered on the sides of the hotels… everywhere. So far the strangest one I have seen is for a movie called “Citizen Jury.” I recognized Christopher Lambert from the poster… not hard to do as the guy always has at least one cheesy movie at Cannes, but I struggled to see who the other star was. “Looks like Jerry Springer,” I laughed to myself. When I stopped chuckling I realized that yes, MAN OH MAN, it is Jerry Springer, looking very serious, and if I may say, almost respectable. The movie’s slogan is: “Watch, Vote and Execute… All in the name of justice.” I’m thinking to myself they should add something about transvestite taxi drivers with unnatural lust for poodles to attract some of Jerry’s core audience… It’s all about the marketing.
Saw a movie called “Scorched” this morning. It stars Woody Harrelson and Rachel Leigh Cook (you’ll remember her as Josie in “Josie and the Pussycats). I’m not allowed to review the movie as yet; there is an embargo on reviews until after they have found a distributor. I can tell you it is a
story about four separate people all of whom decide to rob the same bank on the same day.
After the movie I went to the splashy Noga Hilton on the Croisette to do interviews for a film called “Intacto.” It’s a fascinating film about the nature of luck, why some people have and others don’t. It’s a very complicated, slow moving picture by Spanish first time feature film director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo. I had the great pleasure of sitting with Max Von Sydow, a man I consider one of the great screen actors of our time. Who could forget him as killer-for-hire Joubert in “Three Days of the Condor,” or as Father Merrin in “The Exorcist,” not to mention his work with legendary director Ingmar Bergman. He’s a large man, who walks slowly, but that is the only hint that he is in his mid-seventies. He is a lively conversationalist, witty and not at all like the stone faced serious characters that he usually plays on film. He talked about many things, (the interview will air next week), including how much he loves Toronto. He was there in 1983 to film “Strange Brew,” and fondly remembered the look of the city, especially how old and new buildings co-exist, and while the glass paneled skyscrapers look very modern, somehow the mixing of old and new works. He is a charming man, and it was a real treat and honor to spend some time with him.
I also spoke to the film’s star Leonardo Sbaraglia, a Spanish movie actor with many films and awards to his credit. Cool guy. Didn’t speak English very well, but we had a translator and we had a nice talk. Also spoke to director Fresnadillo, who spoke perfect English, and was able to articulate some of the heavy concepts contained in his film.
After the interviews I left the Noga with its beautiful panoramic view of Cannes, and visited some publicists, trying to line up more interviews. More luck today than yesterday. It looks like several of the interviews that were in jeopardy yesterday are going to happen. I just have to keep my fingers crossed, and keep harassing the PR people. That seems to be the name of the game here in Cannes. The bigger the pain in the butt you are, the more they
cooperate with you.
Daily food update: After my meetings with the publicists I headed over to the American Pavilion down by the ocean. They have guest chefs coming in all week. Today was Mario Batali from the “Malto Mario” television show on The Food Network. For lunch I had Prosciutto San Daniele with Black Pepper Fett’unta and Baby Spinach Salad. It was great — I have yet to have bad food here — and tasted better because I sat on the beach and ate it. Lots of food, and only 10 Euros (about $14 Can).
The interviews for “Scorched” turned out to be scorchers, as they were held on the pier at the Majestic Beach. Rachel Leigh Cook was lovely, although she’s very, very, very small and has the tiniest feet I have ever seen. I was concerned that she might fall over during the interview… We talked about “Josie and the Pussycats” and why it didn’t do more business in the theatres. She tells me there are no plans for a sequel, so don’t expect to see “Josie and the Pussycats In Space” anytime soon. She also told me she loves Toronto, and that her mom is obsessed with Honest Ed’s, the enormous bargain store on Bloor Street West. Also spoke to the film’s director Gavin Grazer and Marcus Thomas, the actor who plays Cook’s love interest. The final interview of the day was with Paulo Costanzo, a Toronto-born actor who has recently had success with “Road Trip” and “40 days and 40 Nights.” It turns out that we have a mutual friend. My literary agent has known Paulo’s family for years. Paulo also told me that he wanted to turn down “Road Trip” because he thought it was such a terrible script. It was ridiculously hot on the pier, but everybody was in good spirits and the interviews went well.
After that went to the opening night party at the Canadian Pavilion. As with all good Canadian parties, it was packed, everyone was standing at the bar, and there was more than enough beer and wine for everyone. Met some cool people, and had a long and very funny conversation with the director of a new movie called “Eve,” which is billed as “An Exotic Adventure.” Also at the party was Bruce Kirkland from the Toronto Sun and “The Young and the Restless'” Tonya Lee Williams.
On the way home I saw some bizarre stuff… The street performers are out in
full force, there are mimes, jugglers, buskers and some guy painted gold who poses like Buddha…. But tonight I saw an older lady dressed like a clown SCREAMING at a mother and her baby. Yelling at the top of her lungs in French, and even though my grasp of the French language is tenuous, I could pick out the profanities from her tirade. It’s no wonder everybody hates clowns. That poor baby is going to be scarred for life. Also saw two guys dressed head to toe in old soda cans… hundreds of them attached to their clothes. They walked in rhythm, making a sound that reminded me of what it might be like if you filled up several oil cans with marbles and rolled them down the street. Noisy, but hilarious.
Also saw Academy Award winner Randy Newman on the street. He was much bigger than I expected he would be (he kind of looked like Sullivan, the big blue creature John Goodman voiced in “Monster’s Inc.), I stood next to him on the street, and noticed that he was humming “That’s What Friends Are For,” the cheesy Elton John / Dionne Warwick tune. It actually sounded OK coming from Randy….
As I write this I am sitting on the balcony of the “Reel To Real” villa with a view of downtown Cannes and the ocean. Tonight is clear and warm and there is a display of dancing lights in the sky. It’s beautiful. They have 40 or more klieg lights shooting upwards from the beach, and swaying in rhythm… it kind of reminds me of the old laser light shows at The Planetarium in Toronto… A nice image to take to bed.
SATURDAY MAY 18
I have a tan! I rarely ever spend enough time in the sun in Toronto to get any color at all, but I seem to have picked up a tan… rather a sunburn just by walking around.
Did several interviews this morning. Jean-Marie Poire, the French director who is best known in North America for “Just Visiting” was first up. He is promoting his latest French language farce “My Wife Maurice,” and was a delight. The movie is very funny, and will probably play very well in Europe. We talked about the failure of “Just Visiting” to find an audience in North America, and he explained that the final version of the film was not the movie he intended to make. He didn’t have final cut, and felt the movie wasn’t as funny as he wanted it to be. But he was philosophical about his Hollywood experience. “I’ve made 50 films, and only two haven’t been successful, so I can’t complain too much,” he said with a laugh.
Next we searched for the elusive location of our next interview. Confusion! Mega-Triple-Double-Dog-Dare-Ya Confusion… After getting a variety of directions, and lugging a metric ton of equipment all over the place, we found our spot… only it was closed for lunch. After some negotiations we found another spot and spoke to the makers of a film called “Japon.” The director and director, Carlos Reygadas, based this story on an old family friend, Alejandro Ferretis, who plays himself in the movie. They both spoke very good English (that is a real concern over here when dealing with international actors and filmmakers) and were very entertaining; I just wish I had more time to spend with them.
Next up was the usual barrage of phone calls to publicists while I ate a
Cobb Salad Wrap at the American Pavilion… remember, I said food was very important to me, and I have been missing far too many meals since I’ve been here. The calls were fruitful, and I booked interviews for “Spider” and “Ararat,” both of which I thought had gone south. Then a visit to the Troma Office just behind the Carlton Hotel. Oh Lloyd, what have you wrought? I met this kid from Madrid who had traveled at his own expense to be in Cannes, and work for free with the Troma Team. “Wouldn’t miss it for anything,” he said. He also invited me to a Troma sponsored yacht party. “Get there early if you want to drink,” he warned me, “the Troma people like to hose back the booze…”
I took a pass on the Troma drunk-a-thon, choosing instead to go to the Hong
Kong In Cannes party on the Carlton Beach. Despite a slight drizzle of rain the place was packed. So far they win for the complete excellence of the food, and the unique way they displayed it. Four large food trees, which canapés for branches were the centerpieces, but were surrounded by food stations with salmon, dim sum, and a food area. There were four bars, two inside and two out. Also another very cool thing they had was a small attachment that hooked on to the side of your plate to hold your glass of champagne. Excellent idea, as it keeps your hands free and your drinks close. I think it must be a rule in France that when the champagne is free you have to have at least three glasses… I hate to break the rules…
The show at the Honk Kong party was amazing. On stage they had traditional Chinese musicians, a Kung Fu demonstration, a 20 foot dragon that danced and winked, a host of Hong Kong stars, including Maggie Cheung, two of Honk Kong’s biggest actors, both named Tony Leung, and several Asian directors.
Almost saw my first fist fight of the festival. Cannes is notorious for the in-fighting that happens between photographers who are all vying for the same shot. I haven’t seen too much action in the scrums this year until tonight when two photogs bumped into one another, and BOOM, it was World War Five in photographer land. The fight was mostly verbal, but one guy did take a swing, missed and was then escorted out by a security guard. I was hoping the Kung Fu masters would become involved. That would have been a show.
Went to bed at midnight after the party. Have to be up early to see “Punch Drunk Love,” directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, and starring Adam Sandler. I loved Anderson’s last two movies “Magnolia” and “Boogie Nights,” so I’m curious to see this one.
SUNDAY MAY 19
Lists. Cannes is all about lists. I have a black notebook that never leaves my side. In it are my contacts phone numbers, hastily scribbled notes, show ideas and lists and lists and lists of things to do. Each list usually starts with: 1.) Check list… I need all the reminders I can get…
First movie today was Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Punch Drunk Love” at the Grand Theatre. It’s the largest of the festival’s movie houses holding upwards of 1000 people. As I wrote last night I loved “Magnolia” and “Boogie Nights,” but unfortunately lightening has not struck a third time. “Punch Drunk Love” I think, was an attempt by Anderson to pare down the epic length movies he is known for and make something simpler and more linear. He has accomplished that, cutting the running time down to one and a half hours from his usual three, but in doing that has sacrificed character development. I was hoping this would be Adam Sandler’s entry to adult roles, and while he is almost there, he displays no ability to grow and develop into a believable character. His Barry Egan is a distributor of novelty items (like plungers with dice on them for use in Casinos), with a severe anger management problem. He falls in love with Lena (Emily Watson) while at the same time becoming involved in a phone-sex extortion scam. Not a bad premise, but when the main character is hard to identify with it makes it difficult for the viewer to feel sympathy or any connection to them. Sandler stretches his usual teen-movie shtick a little bit, but not enough to satisfy. After the movie there was a small smattering of applause rather than the usual ovation given for the “In Competition” films. Watch “Reel To Real” for a full review.
Next up was an interview I had been trying to set up since the day I got here. Three members of Andy Warhol’s Factory family are here to promote the screenings of a trio of cult films — “Flesh” “Heat” and “Trash” – produced by Warhol and directed by Paul Morrissey. I sat and spoke with Morrissey, Joe Dellessandro and Holly Woodlawn at their elegant apartment on the Boulevard D’Alace. Morrissey has been called “America’s most undervalued and least shown major director.” As Andy Warhol’s right hand man he ran the factory, put together and managed The Velvet Underground and directed the films that Warhol presented. Dellessadndro starred in many of the films, including the three being shown here, as well as “The Loves of Ondine,” “Lonesome Cowboy” and “Blood for Dracula.” The photo of him that graces the cover of the “Flesh” DVD, dressed in a black t-shirt and headband staring menacingly into the camera is one of the iconic photographs of the 1970’s New York art scene. He has continued to work in both mainstream and art films. Holly Woodlawn (born Harold Danhakl) also performed in many of Warhol’s movies, but is probably best remembered as the subject of Lou Reed’s song “Walk On the Wild Side.” Remember the opening line? “Holly came from Miami FLA… hitch-hiked her way across the USA… plucked her eyebrows on the way, shaved her legs then he was a she…” Apparently Holly is still walking on the wild side, as she was rather hung
over from the Vanity Fair party the night before. Morrissey was great… he’s a provocateur who isn’t afraid to make statements like “Andy couldn’t read or write…” or refer to Lou Reed as “that AWFUL Lou Reed.” An interesting interview with three of the major figures in underground filmmaking. I particularly like Morrissey, maybe because he said I was “charming and informed.”
On the way back to the Croisette I saw Hayden Christenson on the street.
He’s probably having one of the most surreal weekends of his life, with “Star Wars: Attack of the Clones” opening all over the world. When he wakes up on Monday morning, and the box office results are in his life is going to be changed forever.
By midday we were at the Martinez Hotel to do interviews for the still in-production “Bulletproof Monk.” (It’s shooting in Toronto until July.) Getting into the hotel was a bit of a trail as Adam Sandler was trying to leave the hotel as hundreds of fans were swarming the entrance. We got in and saw an 11 minute roughly cut excerpt of the movie. Interesting to see it in its unfinished state with very little music or sound effects and very rudimentary special effects. Having had just a taste of it, I have to say it’s kind of like eating a cake before it has been baked… the dough is OK, but could be better. I think it’s going to be an eye-popper when it is finished.
Jamie King (she’s no longer James King) is beautiful. I have interviewed her before for “Pearl Harbor,” but her whole look has changed. Last time I met her she had short blonde pin curls, a real 1940’s glam look, now her hair is a more grown-up long and a reddy-brunette. She kind of reminded me of
Sharon Tate. She was staring in my general direction, so I looked behind me to see what was going on. “No, it’s you,” she said. “You have really great hair.” Seann William Scott (from the “American Pie” movies was very nice, had lots of nice things to say about Toronto, and called me “Dude” several times.
The final call of the day was the Telefilm Party at the Savoy Hotel. It seemed to be the day to interview beautiful women. I spoke with the Canadian producer, publicist and director of “Eve,” a breathtakingly hypnotic journey of a young woman searching for her soul mate in a time before time as the first day dawns. (She’s looking for Adam, get it?) They were all great, but the star, model Inger Ebeltoft, the former Miss Norway and current Miss Cannes It Girl was beautiful, smart, and funny. Her photo call on the beach earlier in the day dressed in her “Eve” bikini almost started a riot…
Tomorrow is an interview with Michael Moore in the morning, so I’ll sign off so I can prepare…
MONDAY MAY 20
Busy day today, although a good chunk of it was spent waiting around to do interviews. Arrived at the Majestic Beach at 10:30 am after making my usual rounds of all the publicist’s offices. My call time for the Michael Moore “Bowling for Columbine” interview was 10:50, but as soon as we arrived we were told that they were running at least an hour late. “Just ask him one question and you’ll get a twenty minute answer,” one publicist told me. Moore likes to talk, and was giving every media outlet his full attention, so the schedule was blown out right away.
We waited, getting more sun burnt by the minute until it was our turn at
12:10. It was well worth the wait. In person Moore is as engaging and funny as he is on his television show “the Awful Truth,” or in his documentary movies. He remembered me from our chance meeting on the Croisette earlier in the week, and answered each of my questions with long detailed replies.
When the publicist came by to break up the interview, he waved her off saying, “Hey, these guys came all the way from Canada and have been waiting all morning. I’m enjoying this.” Then he turned to me and said, “Ask me some more questions…” We continued for another 10 minutes or so, while he talked about how much he likes and admires Canada, hates Mike Harris and thinks we should take the Queen off our money. This one was definitely a highlight… I could have talked to him for hours.
Next was lunch at the American Pavilion with the crew, Bryan, my trusty cameraman Mark and my special guest host for the Cannes shows Denis Seguin. Denis is a reporter for Screen International, and has made frequent radio and television appearances. He is in Cannes writing for Screen
International, Canadian Business and doing a radio piece for CBC’s Definitely Not the Opera. After some salads and Mexican food we headed off to Casa “Reel To Real” to shoot reviews for “Ararat,” “Spider,” “Punch Drunk Love,” and “Bowling for Columbine.” He was great — nice insights to the films, and we didn’t always agree, so I think the reviews are lively and entertaining.
No star sightings on the street today, although I did get to interview a young Canadian actor named David Alpay, the lead in Atom Egoyan’s “Ararat.” He’s a U of T science student who auditioned for the film on a lark thinking he might get some work as an extra. Instead he got the lead… We spoke at the Alliance Atlantic office on Rue Mace, with a brass band playing in the street below. He’s a nice guy, level headed and very smart. Enjoyed meeting him, and I think he will be offered more screen work when people see his work in “Ararat.”
Following that interview we headed for the jaws of hell. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that covering a film festival is glamorous easy work. It’s not as I was reminded on Monday night. We were asked to cover a red carpet event for the film “Gangs of New York,” which was happening at a restaurant called Baoli down by the water. We arrived at 5, ready to set up our equipment, but were asked to stand back and wait until the organizers arrived. Keep in mind it’s about one million degrees here… we waited until it was time to be herded like cattle into a cordoned off area next to the red carpet. The idea is that the stars walk by and you can ask them a few questions before they head off to dinner. We waited. And waited. Then waited some more. They booked too many media outlets, so everybody was crammed into this tiny space, hoping to get a couple of minutes with Cameron Diaz, Leonardo D’Caprio and Martin Scorsese. At 7:30 we heard police sirens which announced the arrival of Mr. Scorsese’s limo. Mega crush time in the media pen as everybody surged forward to get a few words from the famous director.
He spoke to Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, E! and… Reel To
Real before moving along and going inside. Cool, one down and two more to go. Leonardo was next, and chatted with the American press first, and just as I got his attention, and had half of my question out his personal publicist hauled him away. Ditto for Cameron Diaz. Now if I had the choice of any of these people I would take Mr. Scorsese, so that part was satisfying, but we waited over three hours in the blistering sun for these people to show up, and then left with just a few minutes of tape. Not glamorous. Not pretty. I feel like sending Cameron Diaz a bill for the medicated aloe cream I had to buy for the sunburn I got while waiting around for her.
I’m over that little blip now, but I am feeling slightly crazy from the heat… a long day of standing around that yielded some cool stuff, Michael
Moore and Martin Scorsese, but I think I may have fried my noodle a little bit. Time for bed.
TUESDAY MAY 21
No early appointments today but I just can’t seem to sleep in. I hate that.
Woke up at the ungodly hour of 7:30 am and wandered around the apartment, trying to figure out the rest of the day…
We had to Fed Ex another load of tapes back to Canada at 11:30 am, so we decided to hit the Croisette and shoot the “tops and tails” for each segment of the second show. As I mentioned a few days ago shooting outside is tough because of the noise and the crowds. Here it is doubly difficult given the large wandering herds of people who tend to wander in and out of camera range, and the sounds of traffic in the background. But we got downtown early before it got too crazy and banged off enough footage for the second show.
Lunch! I love lunch! Today Mark and I went to a little cafe just off the main drag and had pasta and very strong caffeinated drinks. Got a call from
Jesse Rosensweet a Canadian short film director who is showing his movie
“The Stine of Folly” in competition here. I think he was sitting right behind me at the same restaurant. We made arrangements to do an interview on Wednesday or Thursday.
Then it was back to Casa R2R to get more equipment for the remainder of the day’s shooting schedule. Several interviews booked, and we’re running out of Beta tape. We brought more tape with us this year, but have shot three times as much stuff this year as last… Bryan has spent most of the morning trying to track down tapes for us to use…
It’s still really busy here, although there seem to be fewer people around on Tuesday. Last night, sitting on our balcony we could hear the chimes of cell phones from the street as hurried reporters ran from screening to screening, taking calls and talking loudly… It was a long week-end here which added to the crush of tourists who clog the streets here, stargazing.
But most of them seem to have left now, and it is a little easier to get around… but only a little easier. There is fluidity to covering Cannes that takes a few days to get used to. Interviews are scheduled. Interviews are cancelled. Then they’re back on, but on a different day and time. Of course this new time always conflicts with something else you have already set up, so then you have to make a series of phone calls to publicists to try and convince them to juggle their schedules to accommodate yours. Nothing and I mean nothing, runs on time… but after a while I began to enjoy the challenge of working within the Cannes chaos. As they say: The only constant is change… that should be the motto of Cannes.
The final interviews of the day are for two highly anticipated Canadian films — “Ararat” and “Spider.” These have been difficult to arrange, and both the publicists and the interviewees have been very co-operative. First was Patrick McGrath, the English-born writer of both the novel and screenplay for “Spider.” He’s a big blustery man, and not at all what I expected. I thought he would be a scowling Goth type, dressed in black with tattoos and skull earrings. Instead I am presented with an outgoing multi-talented guy who has written horror novels, thrillers, children’s books and literary works. I asked him about why he chooses to explore the themes of mental illness in his books, and he told me about growing up on the grounds of a mental hospital that his father ran… It’s a good story, but you’ll have to tune into the show to hear it…
Next I zipped over to the Toronto Film Festival party at the Gray D’Albion Beach. I could only stay a few minutes, but saw Piers handling and the rest of the film festival staff who are here scouting movies for our September festival. Also Michael Moore stopped by to say hello. Then it was off to the Grand Salon of the Carlton Hotel to interview Arsinee Khanjian, the lead actress in “Ararat.” We talked about many things, and I reminded her that years ago when I was a waiter at Southern Accent she came in one night, and while trying to show someone her wedding ring, accidentally tossed it over the patio and it disappeared into a flower bed. I ran and got a flashlight, and after a 20 minute search we found it… She vividly remembered that night and we had a good laugh about it.
Here’s an interesting aside… Arsinee is married to “Ararat’s” director Atom Egoyan. The Cannes film festival this year coincided with the run of a play she was doing in Toronto, so rather than have her miss the opening night of the film at the Grand Theatre, Atom and his partners bought out the play for the days she was to be away…
After speaking with Arsinee I hoofed it over to the Alliance Atlantis office just off the Croistette to interview Atom Egoyan. Due to the “Canadian confusion” I spoke about a few days ago a number of Canadian media outlets were left off the list to interview Mr. Egoyan. Since his schedule was already packed there didn’t seem to be a way to fit any of us in. Now, remember earlier when I was talking about the interviewees being very co-operative? I’m thinking of Atom Egoyan. He spent eight hours doing interviews; one right after the other, in seven different languages, under hot lights the night after his film received a fifteen minute standing ovation at the Grand Theatre. He probably just wanted to go out and celebrate, but instead agreed to meet with the Canadian press for another round of interviews… He was tired, but gracious and I appreciate that he helped me and my show out.
Out to dinner afterwards… pizza at an outdoor cafe, and then off to Casa
R2R to write, and plan the shows we have to shoot on Wednesday…
WEDNESDAY MAY 22
Finally a slack day! Of course it is also the worst weather we’ve had which caused us some problems as we tried to shoot parts of the show. The howling wind prevented us from shooting for most of the morning – you just can’t get good sound with wind whipping by the microphone at one hundred miles an hour… We spent the day shooting “b-roll,” some beauty shots of Cannes to be used in montages and exploring the old part of the city.
Got an alarming phone call from our editor Vince. Seems none of the tapes we sent yesterday have arrived. The courier has misplaced them… all thirty of them. We tracked them and discovered they are in Paris, so at least we know where they are, but it means show number two will be late by a day. The missing tapes contain pretty much everything we’ve shot — all the interviews, the parties, the b-roll and the reviews with Denis Seguin — four shows worth of stuff. I hope and pray they show up in Toronto on Thursday.
The porn festival is moving into town. Each year at the end of the regular festival a porn convention starts just outside of town, and you can really see the difference. Today we saw a woman on the street dressed (?) head to toe in a sheer see-through outfit and nothing else… The porn festival is well attended, just not very well reported. Each year the mainstream film business brings in about $4 billion, while the porn industry is almost double that. So they come here and spend loads of cash and are welcomed by the local merchants and hotels.
As the festival winds down to the closing day you can really see the toll it is taking on everybody. Security, who used to greet you with a “Bonjour,” now simply look at you with contempt as they frisk you and check your bags.
Reporters are all talking about going home and how much they are looking forward to it, and the nice woman in the media lounge is looking tired and isn’t as friendly as she was earlier in the week. It’s a burn-out job covering any festival, but this one seems to really take it out of you. The confusion, the heat, the waiting around… it’s very draining.
On Thursday we have to finish shooting the shows regardless of the weather. I spent the night preparing material and getting ready, and praying for sunshine.
THURSDAY MAY 23
Rainy, windy day… not great for shooting, but we’ll have to make do. Found a spot in front of the Canadian Pavilion that was protected from the crappy weather and shot the remaining “stand-ups” for the fourth show, and then stood in the rain to shoot stuff for the hour-long special.
Had an interesting conversation with the producer of “Spider” at the Canadian Pavilion. He tells me the reaction to the film over here in France has been very good, and foreign sales of the film are doing well. It’s a very European feeling film, so I’m not surprised that sales are brisk.
The final story I wanted to cover over here was a movie called “Only the
Strong Survive,” a documentary by legendary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker.
In the Sixties Pennebaker made one of the best rock and roll movies ever,
“Don’t Look Back” about Bob Dylan. “Only the Strong Survive” is a look at the soul singers of the 1960s – Sam Moore (of Sam and Dave), Carla Thomas, Wilson Pickett, The Chi-Lites, Ann Peebles and Mary Wilson — and what they are doing now. So many didn’t make it — Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Jackie Wilson, almost all of The Temptations… the list goes on and on. Those who did survive and thrive after their turn in the spotlight frequently have inspiring stories, and that’s what this movie is all about. Sam Moore is a prime example. In the late 1960s he and singing partner Dave Prater placed a handful of hits in the Top Ten, including the classics “Soul Man,” “Hold On, I’m Coming,” “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby,” “I Thank You,” and “Soothe Me” under the name Sam and Dave. After the hits stopped Moore and Prater went their separate ways, had failed solo careers and developed serious drug habits. In 1978 the success of The Blues Brothers re-recording of “Soul Man” saw Sam and Dave briefly reunite. Personal differences and drug problems seemed to doom the duo to a life of semi-obscurity. Fortunately with the help of his wife Joyce Moore has been clean ever since 1982, and it is his story that provides the “soul” of “Only The Strong Survive.”
I met Moore and his wife on a patio overlooking the ocean at the American Pavilion. Moore looks fit and trim, with the grin of a man who has been there and back, and is happy to have made it through. In the interview I asked him to explain soul music. Why is it different than pop music? He sang part of his answer. “It’s all in the phrasing and the attack,” he said, before singing a line from a pop song, then bending and caressing the notes the way he would sing it. It gave me goose bumps to sit next to one of the great soul singers of the 60s and have him sing just for me… Also a couple of other revelations from Mr. Moore: He doesn’t like being called a soul singer; he likes Celine Dion and doesn’t care for his biggest hit “Soul Man.”
Also spoke with D.A. Pennebaker and his partner Chris Hegedus. He’s a seminal figure in the world of documentaries and his work (now in collaboration with Hegedus) is still as vital and exciting as it was almost 40 years ago when he pioneered “cinema verite.” He’s a self effacing man who allows his wife Chris to do most of the talking. He tells me he doesn’t care for labels, and doesn’t think of his work as “cinema verite,” just good movies. They are an interesting couple who have managed to work together and keep a relationship going for almost 25 years. That’s almost unheard of in the film world.
They were the final interview of the trip, and I was feeling pretty good about the work we had done — loads of interviews, lots of tape to sort through back in Toronto — certainly enough to put together 4 half-hour shows and an hour special. Then Vince, the voice of doom called from an editing suite in Toronto. The tapes finally arrived at the station after the courier had “misplaced” them, but all of the trailers we had dubbed from Pal to the NTSC format were unusable… The company we had hired in Cannes blew it and the audio was sped up on all of them. “Everyone sounds like chipmunks,” Vince told me on my cell.
My head nearly exploded. The last ten days had gone well… really well… almost too well. We were really busy, and had gathered great material and had hit all our deadlines. To have a technical glitch bugger up ten days of work was almost more than I could bear. We had to gather all the tapes again, and have then re-dubbed by someone else and Fed Ex’d overnight to Toronto so we could make our next deadline. The 2nd show probably won’t make it to air on time, but if everything works the way I am planning we’ll only be one airing late.
This news kind of ruined the high I had been riding on, thinking we had pulled this off… At least Vince called after dinner (roasted red peppers with chevre, filet of beef with a pepper sauce and seasonal vegetables with a bottle of wine, followed by Marquees au Chocolate) so he didn’t spoil my appetite.
Unfortunately I’ll be traveling all day on Friday, and won’t be reachable until 6 pm Toronto time, so I won’t know if the situation is really fixable… you gotta know that’s driving me nuts.
I have to be up at 4:30 am, so I’ll sign off now…
FRIDAY MAY 24
Went to bed at 10:30 pm on my last night in Cannes. I had to be up at 4 am
(note to self: get a new travel agent) to drive to Nice, catch a flight to
Paris and then another to Toronto. Today’s going to be a long day and I want to be at least semi-rested, but I couldn’t sleep last night thinking about all my interviewees talking like chipmunks to one another…
Here’s something I didn’t need to see first thing in the morning, after only a couple hours of sleep… Someone (Mark the cameraman or Bryan the EP) left the round wall mirror with the magnified side facing out. Oh, I know it sounds like a little thing, but literally the first thing I saw this morning was my enormous tanned head, magnified to three times its usual size. I wasn’t quite awake and thought perhaps over the night I had grown and swollen to become some kind of gigantic freak. What if I don’t fit into my plane seat?
As soon as Mark and I walked out of the apartment door with our luggage and made our way down to the waiting cab the trip was over for me. The rest is just an endurance test — making flight connections and killing 4 hours at Paris airport, then an eight hour flight to Toronto.
I’m a facts and figures kind of guy… so here’s a list of some information you need to know about “Reel To Real”’s 2002 trip to the Cannes International Film Festival…
1. Number of tubes of Sour Cream and Onion Pringles consumed by R2R
2. Estimated liters of water I drank each day: 5
3. Best food at a party: Hong Kong At Cannes bash on Saturday. I’m still dreaming about the dim sum…
4. Hours spent waiting in the blistering sun for Martin Scorsese: 3
5. Number of times a day I was told “It’s not possible” by someone connected to the festival: 7
6. Most elegant interview subject: Max Von Sydow
7. Smallest interview subject: Rachel Leigh Cook. She’s lovely and smart, and I liked her very much, but she has the smallest feet I have ever seen…
8. Funniest interview subject: Michael Moore
9. Number of hours spent in Cannes: 231
10. Number of interviews: 29
11. Number of hours spent waiting for interviews to begin: 31
12. Number of Stella Artois consumed: Not telling…
13. Number of bad Adam Sandler movies I saw: 1… I seem to be the only person in Cannes that didn’t like “Punch Drunk Love”…
14. Number of souvenirs purchased in Cannes: 0… I had no time…
15. Number of people we met who inspired a classic rock song: 1… Holly
Woodlawn was the inspiration for the Lou Reed tune “Walk On the Wild
My plan was to sleep on the plane from Paris to Toronto, get a decent rest and feel good once I got home… of course it didn’t happen… It looked good right up until about a minute before we took off. Mark and I get our seats, and they’re nice, spacious and there’s NOBODY sitting around us. Perfect. I’m looking at my watch, and as we get closer to departure time I’m thinking that the plane is undersold and we’re going to have all this space to ourselves… One second before we took off a large extended family — grandmothers to infants — come rolling in and fill up all the seats around us, including grandmother who has never flown before sitting next to me, and a newborn sitting right behind me. Eight hours of wailing and crying… and that was just me complaining about the noise this family was making.
Anyway, it wasn’t a restful trip.
Got to Toronto roughly on time, and then took two hours to get downtown. Mobs of people everywhere… hard to get a cab. The hardest part of getting home was actually the last journey from the airport to my house… Dropped off my luggage, and tried to answer as many of my 22 voice messages as I could before passing out. I had been up since 10 pm (Toronto time) the night before and it is now midnight…
I’m tired, but I think it was worth it. We got to interview loads of people, including a few I had always wanted to talk to like Max Von Sydow, Michael Moore and Martin Scorsese, see some great movies and bake in the sun for almost two weeks… Hope you enjoy the shows…
In a twelfth century twist on a modern saying, the only two things you can count on in “Robin Hood,” the handsome new retelling of the age old tale from director Ridley Scott, are taxes and treachery.
Set in the waning days of Richard the Lion Heart’s (Danny Huston) ten year long Crusade, the origin story of how Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) became Robin Hood, really picks up when Robin promises one of the king’s knights, Sir Robert Loxley (Douglas Hodge), that he will deliver a sword to Robert’s father, Sir Walter Loxley (Max Von Sydow), in Nottingham. Meanwhile, Richard’s ridiculous brother Prince John (Oscar Isaac) ignores his trusted advisors, his chancellor William Marshall (William Hurt) and his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine (Eileen Atkins) and imposes crippling taxes on his subjects. Egging him on is the duplicitous Godfrey (Mark Strong), a traitor who is secretly trying to start a civil war and help France invade the country. Back in Nottingham, Robin delivers the sword, meets Lady Marion (Cate Blanchett), helps save England from the French and for his trouble is declared an outlaw by King John.
The new “Robin Hood” isn’t the bright Technicolor tale of the famous Errol Flynn version. Scott’s vision of the story is dark, thematically and visually. It’s a raw boned and bloody story of greed, unfettered ambition and treachery with a complex plot that touches on some very modern issues like taxes, too much government and one that might make the people of Arizona happy—unwanted immigration. It’s a mostly historically correct representation of the time and the Robin Hood legend, but Scott has added in an unbelievable plot twist involving Robin’s father and a coincidence that stretches credulity to the breaking point. It seems so out-of-place and glaringly silly I’m sure the writers of the campy cartoon series “Rocket Robin Hood” would have rejected the idea as being too outlandish.
Despite that lapse in judgment, the movie works. Fans of “Gladiator” will feel a sense of déjà vu—the only thing separating the two movies is the time period and Richard Harris and Oliver Reed, and they’re both dead. Scott and Crowe have returned to the winning formula of historical drama mixed with strong characters and lots of crazy action.
At the center of it all is Crowe, possibly the only Hollywood a-lister he-man enough to pull off “Robin Hood’s” combo of raging machismo, honor and emotional intensity. Physically he doesn’t look like he spends much time at the gym, instead it seems like he earned those muscles the old fashioned way—by swinging a sword. Equally strong is Blanchett in a role that could be redubbed, Maid Marion, Warrior Princess. She defines twelfth century girl power and, as one of only three female characters, cuts through the thick cloud of testosterone that hangs over the movie like a cloud. The supporting cast, including Mark Strong—in what is now becoming his trademark bad guy routine—Max Von Sydow, William Hurt, Danny Huston and Canadian Kevin Durand as the ironically named Little John, add much to the overall effect.
“Robin Hood” is a new take on an old story; it’s entertaining, occasionally funny and as epic a film as we’re likely to see this summer.
What role do Paul Bettany, Robert de Niro, Rowan Atkinson and Max von Sydow share? Mr. Jennifer Connelly, the Oscar winner, Mr. Bean and the legendary Swedish superstar all have one kind of part in common. They have all played priests on the big screen.
In this weekend’s post-apocalyptic action horror film Priest Bettany plays the title character, a warrior pastor hunting the vampires who kidnapped his niece. Based on Min-Woo Hyung’s graphic novels the movie also features Christopher Plummer as the Monsignor, described by the legendary Canadian actor as “a horrible priest gone wrong—a lovely, stylish villain.”
In the Barry Levinson film Sleepers De Niro was Father Bobby, a Hell’s Kitchen priest who lies in court to prevent four of his parishioners from going to jail for killing a sadistic prison guard. “Most priests like to preach from the pulpit,” says one character. “Father Bobby liked to talk during the bump and shove of a pick-up game.”
Atkinson played Father Gerald, a new vicar performing his first marriage ceremony in Four Weddings and a Funeral. The tongue-tied priest has some of the film’s funniest lines, including, “In the name of the father, the son and the holy goat. Er… ghost.”
Probably the most famous movie celebrant is Father Lankester Merrin, as portrayed by Max von Sydow in The Exorcist. Von Sydow is one of the few actors to have played both God (in The Greatest Story Ever Told) and the Devil (in Needful Things) but it is as Merrin that he is best remembered (unless you are a Great White North hoser who worships his role as Brewmeister Smith in Bob and Doug MacKenzie’s Strange Brew). The statuesque Swedish actor played Merrin twice—he’s seen in flashbacks in Exorcist II: The Heretic—and Stellan Skarsgård played him in two prequels but it is the first movie and the iconic line “The Power of Christ compels you!” that is most memorable.
Many other actors have played clerics. Carl Maldan was Father Barry in the Best Picture winner On the Waterfront, George Carlin was Cardinal Ignatius Glick, the mastermind of Dogma’s ‘Catholicism Wow!’ campaign but the actor most associated with playing priests is Pat O’Brien. He became an actor only after deciding against entering seminary and his devotion to playing priestly characters was so well known it even inspired the name of band, the blues-rockers Pat O’Brien and the Priests of Love.
There are many types of movies about people who deal in death to make a living. There’s the cold blooded killer story, the revenge drama and even comedic takes on killing for fun and profit. Assassins can be men, women, children and even robots.
In this week’s The American George Clooney plays another kind of murder engineer, the troubled, introspective assassin. There are as many kinds of cinematic killers as there are kinds of weapons for them to use.
Here’s a look back at the philosophies of some of the screen’s most memorable death merchants.
Charles Bronson, as the skilled slayer in The Mechanic (soon to be remade with Jason Statham and Ben Foster), teaches his young protégé, played by Jan-Michael Vincent, some basic hitman lessons. “Murder is only killing without a license,” he says, adding that when you shoot someone do it right. “You always have to be dead sure. Dead sure or dead.”
That’s key killer advice, but slow down, there is a progression to becoming a hitman. In The Professional Leon (Jean Reno) details the system. “The rifle is the first weapon you learn how to use,” he says, “because it lets you keep your distance from the client. The closer you get to being a pro, the closer you can get to the client. The knife, for example, is the last thing you learn.”
Along the way movie assassins also learn that relationships are verboten. Remember what happened to Mr. and Mrs. Smith (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie)? “Your aim’s as bad as your cooking sweetheart,” taunts John to Jane, “and that’s saying something!”
Day of the Jackal’s would-be Charles de Gaulle assassin (Edward Fox) adds, “In this work you simply can’t afford to be emotional,” although sometimes feelings inevitably get in the way. Just ask Prizzi’s Honor’s Charley Partanna (Jack Nicholson) who memorably said, “Do I ice her? Do I marry her?”
Once they’ve learned the ropes, one question remains: Why do movie assassins kill?
Max Von Sydow plays one of the great movie killers in Three Days of the Condor, Sydney Lumet’s classic story of conspiracies and murder. His reasoning for doing what he does is chillingly simple. “The fact is, what I do is not a bad occupation,” he says. “Someone is always willing to pay.” The Matador’s Julian Noble (Pierce Brosnan) agrees, “My business is my pleasure,” he said.