Two Great Directors Pass, & Hardly Anyone Notices…

DATELINE:  The Men Who Tango & Fall to Earth

Performance

For movie fans of a certain generation, this has been a watershed week.

Two famous names of the past, great directors from the 1960s and 1970s died within days of each other:  Nicholas Roeg and Bernardo Bertolucci.

We are not surprised at how many people will say, “Who in hell were they?”

If you did not write, direct, or produce a blockbuster cartoon like Superman, Batman, or one of the other Justice League jokers, you likely are not a household name in the 21st century.

In their day, these two men were considered thought-provoking filmmakers. Each started as an apprentice cinematographer under one of the titans of old Hollywood:

Nicholas Roeg worked with David Lean, notable for Lawrence of Arabia.

Bertolucci worked with one of the giants of Italian 60s cinema: Pier Paolo Pasolini.

They managed to step out of the shadows to their own highly recognized movies: Roeg took several music stars and transformed them into movie icons. We think of Mick Jagger in Performance, one of those weird mythic blurring of music and movies. He followed up with a science fiction think piece, The Man Who Fell to Earth with David Bowie, no less.

Bertolucci seemed to take sexual politics as his nest-egg. His biggest film was the notorious Marlon Brando movie, Last Tango in Paris.

How quickly these two directors seemed to fall from fashion. In recent years they might have been thought to be dead for decades, not days ago. They never sold out to Hollywood blockbusters or TV miniseries. And, that may be their anonymous curse in the summaries of their lives.

 

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Johnny Cash Meets Nixon

DATELINE: Man in Black & Man with Black Heart

cash on the house

Likely inspired by the various documentaries and movies about Nixon and Elvis, there was in 1970 another significant meeting between Richard Nixon and a music star. Conservative, religious, patriotic Johnny Cash, sometime rebel, was invited to the White House to give a command performance.

A short documentary telegraphs its feelings with the title:  Tricky Dick & The Man in Black. Though the film gives some balance, it is primarily told through the Cash perspective with intensive interviews with Johnny’s son and sister.

Nixon was not a fan of country-western music as his taste ran more to pop classics, like Richard Rogers’ Victory at Sea music, or the show tunes from South Pacific. However, those handlers in the White House felt besieged by youthful protests against the war in Vietnam.

Nixon’s advisors—Haldeman, Pat Buchanan, primarily—felt they needed a antidote to the protests and drug users of Haight-Ashbury. Cash was their man. When he noted on his TV show that he wanted peace with honor in Vietnam, it won him an invitation to perform in the East Room of the White House in April of 1970.

Alas, Nixon’s men did not do their homework. Johnny Cash was not only an advocate for prison reform, but he had created a music album on behalf of Native Americans and visited Wounded Knee.

When the Nixon White House asked him to sing “Welfare Cadillac” to appeal to the redneck supporters, Cash was taken aback. It was not his song or his style. No one told him what to perform. And, he had just returned from visiting soldiers in Vietnam, turning him into a dove with claws (in his own words).

The performance made Nixon uncomfortable, as Cash made him passive-aggressive points. Two weeks later came the college massacres at Kent State, and only then did Cash release his famous song, “Man in Black.”

A highly worthy insight into Johnny Cash, it may surprise many non-fans.

Adios & Adieu, Bronson & Delon

DATELINE: Farewell, Friend!

adios & adieu

Where has this 1960s crime caper movie been hiding for fifty years?  Charles Bronson is teamed with Alain Delon as a couple of ex-Foreign Legionnaires who plan to break into a major corporate vault.

They are both young and virile.

The film may have had a limited American release, known in circles as Adios, Amigo as well as Adieu, l’Ami.  The American title turns out to be Farewell, Friend.  It’s all the same.

The movie was made when Bronson was on the cusp of international stardom and started matching up with European stars. It came around the time of The Dirty Dozen.

Alain Delon was bigger and received top billing, but he wanted American recognition. His English here is quite good. He was known for critically-acclaimed arty films, and his American incursion was less art and more matter-of-fact.

These two misfits are not exactly well-matched, nor do they like each other. So, you can be fairly certain their amiable hostility will support the old aphorism there is no honor among thieves.

We had no illusions that there would be a good script, but that at least it would give the two stars enough space to play it to the hilt. Indeed, it does.

Even more surprising, the sets are stylish and modern. Not only that, Bronson and Delon are dressed in the finest tailored suits. They do not look like refugees from Haight-Ashbury, as do many stars in 1968 movies.

Bronson has the rough-edged thug role, and Delon is the more debonair scam artist. Their reasons for breaking into a French corporate payroll vault also puts them at loggerheads. Yet, without the usual mayhem and car chases, this turns out to be a quite intriguing and different film, probably dissatisfying to fans.

We loved it.

Man in the Iron Mask 20 Years Later

DATELINE:  Re-assessment

leon

Twenty years ago (was it really 1998?), we saw the TV movie version of The Man in the Iron Mask—and pronounced it the film in which a generation of venerated actors knelt down before the new god of acting. So we were reminded today by a little magpie.

It now seems a good time to re-assess the movie, now in HD and streaming.

Yes, the passing of the torch literally happened at the end of the film when the Three Musketeers (Jeremy Irons, Gerard Depardieu, and John Malkovitch) dropped to their knees before Leonardo di Caprio as if to pay homage to the new acting marvel. Yes, literally, not figuratively.

The young star was stunning, both in his performances in the dual roles of the man in the mask and his egregious brother.

And, on top of that, he was beautiful beyond words.

Over the years, he has morphed into a character actor and downplayed his looks. If you are not beautiful at 24, you never will be.

As for the film, as period pieces go, the production was quite impressive, with only one matte shot that seemed fake. The most shocking shot was Depardieu naked.

It was a rousing tale of the aging Musketeers, and their swan song too. Each of the principal actors (Gabriel Byrne was D’Artagnan) shone in his place—but all had to play second fiddle to the twice the  Di Caprio that you might expect as both the good boy and bad one.

The film’s actresses fared less well and were less known, as even the minor male stars turned out to be Peter Skarsgaard as Malkovich’s son (looking surprisingly alike) and in a throwaway role, Hugh Laurie, almost comical.

Twenty years did not dampen the film’s high-quality appeal.

Outside the Lines: Fake or Fortune

DATELINE: Art for Art’s Sake

fake or fortune gang Culprit Among Art Gang!

Though it sounds like a bad game show, the Netflix series from the BBC about art detectives is quite intelligent and fascinating too.

The show’s misleading title Fake or Fortune does not do justice to the subjects or the experts. Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould work as a marvelous team. They are joined by historian Dr. Bendor Grovesnor who always seems to find key clues.

In essence, someone has a problem painting, without provenance or paperwork, and they cannot prove its true value, or actual artist. In comes the sharp and smart team of experts to track down the truth.

Inventive and dogged, the three detectives manage to find all kinds of evidence to show that Winston Churchill painted a scene in France, or that L.S. Lowry did a couple of small primitive works using unusual pigments.

What is most maddening about the series are the forces or powerhouses in the art world. As you might expect, these snobs are never satisfied with proof, tangible and common sense, if it undercuts their privilege and power.

As a result, many of the brilliant logical discoveries of truth are rejected by those who are threatened in their smugness as owners of definitive art houses.

Heaven forbid that you learn these pompous egos who run the art world are threatened by upstarts and those who are not rich collectors. This is a closed world of dilettantes and snobs.

The combo of scientific and technology with the historical legwork in libraries and archives makes for a pleasant and happy hour in this short series (only four episodes). You may be tempted to send a nasty email to David Coombs, Winston Churchill expert, but it won’t do any good with these inveterate know-it-alls.

 

Who Killed Dorothy Kilgallen?

DATELINE: The Reporter Who Knew Too Much

Killed Kilgallen? Heroic Woman Ignored Again!

This week is the 55th anniversary of the death of John F. Kennedy in Dallas in 1963, which began a cascading of bad events and cultural deterioration in America.

One of the forgotten victims and researchers from the earliest conspiracy days of the Kennedy Assassination was a muckraking journalist named Dorothy Kilgallen. She was a Broadway gossip columnist and star of the TV game show called What’s My Line, which probably contributed to a sexist dismissal of her work.

In November of 1965, she was found dead in her luxury New York apartment—and her ground-breaking research and manuscript was missing. She had interviewed Jack Ruby privately twice and was preparing a second trip to New Orleans

Her death was suspicious, but not investigated by police. Author Mark Shaw’s original book on the subject, The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, spends half the work on her biography—and the second half of the book on lining up suspects and trying to determine what she had uncovered. Many people are still burying her research.

There is no cooperation from Kilgallen’s three children, for some unknown reason. Shaw’s work is thorough and compelling, all the moreso because most “serious” books on the assassination of President Kennedy ignore her mysterious death and hard work.

Kilgallen’s enemies were numerous, as might befit a gossip columnist with a poisonous style of indictment. Frank Sinatra and J. Edgar Hoover loathed her. She knew many of the mobsters who were enemies of the Kennedy family and felt betrayed by patriarch Joe and brother Robert.

Shaw loves Kilgallen even more than her family and is intent on restoring her value and importance in history. If she indeed was a murder victim who came too close to the truth in the early days of conspiracy theory, then she needs to be recognized as a pioneer of the truth-seekers.

It is a fascinating story told by Mark Shaw, though you will suffer the bane of murder mystery: she was not able to identify the culprits before her untimely death–and neither is author Shaw.

 

Love, Cecil: Move Over, Truman, Noel, and Andy!

DATELINE: Save the Queen!

Bright young Beaton Bright Young Beaton!

It’s pronounced Seh-sill, not Sea-sill.

He rose from humble middle-class British life to starring role in every art scene of the 20th century. He was an inveterate snob.

Cecil Beaton was a force to be reckoned with in life—usurping the gay flighty worlds of Warhol and Truman Capote. Though he loathed Noel Coward, he matched them every step of the way down the gay runway.

Billed as the tastemaker of the 20th century, his vast collection of films, photos, designs, and assorted images, make up the compendium. He also gave many interviews. Yet, he still comes across as a social climber and proto-gay libber.

Beaton was always impressed with royalty, being one of those commoners from England. When he came to America, he instigated controversy everywhere: comparing British women to American.

However, he nearly destroyed his career with a careless and stupid anti-Semitic design in Vogue. He claimed to have been careless and thoughtless, as was his entire youth. Deep down, he was shallow.

The other key event in his life was becoming a war photographer during World War II. It redeemed his reputation.

His Hollywood ties include an infatuation with Garbo—asking her to join him in one of those arranged “friendship” marriages, as he preferred boys and she, girls.

By the 1950s and 1960s, he was taking pictures of all the most famous people: Marilyn, Warhol, Mick Jagger, and on and on. He was slight, epicene, and queenly, before it was considered stylish. If anything fit better, he was the natural heir to Oscar Wilde and Serge Diaghilev.

He also played a prominent role in Scotty Bowers’ documentary, Secret History of Hollywood. This Zircon is narrated by Rupert Everett.

 

Interview with God, or Delusions?

DATELINE: God Squad

God

Chitchat with angels or devils are common movies themes, but  few films actually depict God deigning to share their deity. The latest movie to try this is Interview with God. Don’t confuse this with that TV show about God friending someone.

We think of angels in Here Comes Mr. Jordan, or devils in The Seventh Seal.  Usually, God has been less willing to show up unless it is in some Bible movie.

Without John Huston or Orson Welles to play God, you may feel that anyone else is just an interloper in the wind. The hook is what questions to ask God in conversation. How trite it becomes.

As God, David Strathairn is a respected actor of serious note and he fills the shoes of the role. His silver hair glistens, and his gray suit is tailored. This God is 21st century chic

God chooses to meet with a journalist who suffers post-traumatic stress from serving in Afghanistan. Writers are always a bad bet. He also refuses to acknowledge he has a problem.  The addiction/problem du jour used to be alcohol, or gambling, or sex. Now it’s bad war-time memories.

Brenton Thwaites is exasperating and self-centered, and he looks the part.

The main character Paul Asher is editor of a “religious” newspaper thrilled with the idea of having God in an exclusive interview, even if it is fantastical. However, it is no joke to the poor writer, though others may think he is deluded.

God seems irksome in this film, coy about his answers and trying not to be flashy. He has arrived, it appears, to tell compelling actor Brenton Thwaites’ journalist that he has run out of time and better shape up.

The adorable Australian actor makes for a cute New Yorker on his bike, dangerously careening the streets, almost ready to die out of disregard for safety.

We were ready to buy into this movie but found ourselves cast back to college teaching days when creative writing classes were filled with scripts like this. We were reminded how all too often these bad ideas were lauded as “serious” literature.

This movie probably demands more support because “important” films are too far and few between. We only wish God actors like Huston and Welles were still around to give a movie like this true gravitas, if not credibility.

 

 

 

Cassandra Crossing the Rubicon

DATELINE: Old-Fashioned All-Star Thriller

Cassandra

Wow: Ava with Sheen, Loren, and Harris!

You might not believe what you are seeing with this old chestnut of a disaster thriller movie. Back in the day when Towering Infernos were all the rage, some producers came up a loony disaster thriller called The Cassandra Crossing.

A biotech terrorism movie from 1977 features one of those staggering all-star casts and a plot right out of kitsch horror. This time the bad guys are dressed in hazmat suits and are sending a train one-way to oblivion.

It seems terrorists have somehow escaped to one of Europe’s luxury train—and carrying some virus (before computer troubles usurped the idea) that condemns the 1000 passengers to sure death by plague, unless the United States can kill them all by another means to save the world from a pandemic.

The US government will not let anyone off the train. They have decided to send it to a condemned bridge in Poland where it will crash, collapse, and kill everyone.

The killer cast alone is eye-popping:  Sophia Loren is lovingly filmed as only the wife of the movie’s producer could insist (Carlo Ponti joined up with Sir Lew Grade).  Then, you have aging Ava Gardner and her boytoy lover Martin Sheen. Richard Harris is some kind of celebrity doctor, and O.J. Simpson is wearing a priest’s collar and carrying a gun.

To top it off, Burt Lancaster is back at International Health headquarters with John Philip Law and Dr. Ingrid Thulin, to round out the international cast. Oh, don’t forget that Lionel Stander is the train’s conductor.

When the men in hazmat suits take over, they board up the train and send it to Poland, sending shivers down the post-traumatic syndrome of Lee Strasberg as an old Jewish man who starts to relive his trip to a concentration camp.

The film is a bit intriguing as we wait to see Ava and OJ do a scene together or watch Martin Sheen take a knife away from OJ Simpson and let him kill people with automatic weapons.

The real star of the movie seems to be Ava Gardner’s basset hound who is airlifted off the train to be studied for bacterial viral symptoms. This nut-cake movie has to be seen through to its disaster climax at a bridge too far into Poland.

You may hoot too long and too often.

 

 

Oak Island 6.2 & 700 Years and Counting

DATELINE: Exciting Discovery

seconds.jpeg

 

We are all aging rapidly as the sixth season moves along for Curse of Oak Island. You can see it in the faces of the Lagina Brothers, and even in their young hotshot heir apparent, Alex.

As we proceed deeper into the sixth season, the scope of the enlarged budget for treasure hunting is impressive. Now, technology that has heretofore been ignored, is dropped onto the small island.

Seismic scanning with a dozen experts setting off small explosions will render a seismic map of what is below the surface at 200 or 300 feet. That alone may be revealing in ways nothing before in five years of episodes has shown viewers.

However, this season’s discovery of a second brooch by metal detective Gary Drayton proves again to be the shocker.

Taking it to experts as far away as Calgary, Marty and his son Alex receive some stunning news. Though the red ornament inside the setting is glass, it could be 700 years old.

We are always first to throw cold water on the hyped discoveries. Just because it is made around the time of the Templars (or earlier) does not mean those folks were on Oak Island around 1300. The item could have been dropped, lost, or buried anytime in the past few hundred years.

However, it does not alter the stunning news that something is happening, though it is still not clear. We’ve stuck with the show and its padded episodes because we have kept faith that a mystery will be solved.

It may take a few more weeks for revelations to be dumped into the series, but we are constantly impressed at how this team manages to keep its secrets for months before shows are aired.

 

What Red Sox Teammate Stalked Moe Berg?

DATELINE: Cold Spy

Real Moe Berg Real Moe!

Being of a certain generation, we have been asked about some of the accuracy of the movie The Catcher was a Spy.

Paul Rudd plays Moe Berg, an enigmatic athlete who finished his career with the Boston Red Sox in 1939.  Pushing 40, he was pushed out of the locker room to make room for more rookies. And, the Sox had a few.

In the film, one rookie looks in the locker room with suspicion at Berg and notes his reservation about sharing a shower stall with a man with unclear sexual tendencies. Another veteran player (Lefty Grove?) tells him to keep it to himself.

Yet, this player seems to stalk Berg and follow him to some clandestine gay bar of 1939 in Boston. When he comes out (and we do not see what happens in this odd locale), he knows he is being followed—and confronts the young rookie.

He slugs him several times. The player is identified as the fictional Bill Dalton. No one by that name was on the Sox roster.

So, who was the offending rookie stalker?

The Red Sox had several notable rookies in that season with Berg:  Ted Williams was the most famous (also known as the Garbo of the Dugout for his reclusiveness) and Bobby Doerr, one of Ted’s close friends, and Johnny Pesky, all future Hall of Famers.

Was it one of them who had a confrontation with Moe Berg?

You will be hard-pressed to find out something that was kept in the shadows by all concerned. Berg would never talk, and neither would Ted Williams. Berg reportedly offered Ted advice and insights on the greats he played with (and he told Ted he was most like Shoeless Joe Jackson of Field of Dreams).

If the incident is true, and we have no doubt about its veracity, you can now play To Tell the Truth.  Alas, the real stalker will not stand up years after all have passed.

We put our money on Teddy Ballgame. The other two were amiable sorts and often thought to be mediators and peace-makers.

Spy, Catcher, Red Sox Journeyman

DATELINE:  Moe Berg

Rudd:Berg at Fenway Rudd/Berg at Fenway!

Move over, Mookie Betts: another Red Sox player is sharing the spotlight this year.

The Catcher was a Spy is the true story of the mysterious Boston Red Sox player who joined the OSS (early CIA) and was given an assignment to assassinate a Nazi scientist when he visited Switzerland.

Once again, Paul Rudd answers the call to the bullpen, and he manages to play Moe Berg, a Jewish American athlete. He is beginning, however, to look a little frayed around the edges.

If you grew up in Boston with baseball fans of your grandfather’s generation, the legend of Moe Berg was well-known. Now, it is available for all to see.

Berg was a secretive man by nature. Indeed, the first 15 minutes of the movie intimates he was gay and a closet figure of the 1930s. The movie must give us an R rating with a sex scene with his girlfriend after all that.

Moe was a .235 career hitter (though he says .245 later in the movie). He goes to Japan before the war with Babe Ruth’s all-stars to play exhibition games—and already is doing spy work on his own.

No one is able to slip under his radar. A stellar cast tries, including Jeff Daniels as his superior at OSS, Guy Pearce as his military associate, and Paul Giamatti as a scientist on the mission.

Berg spoke 12 languages fluently, went to Princeton and studied at the Sorbonne. No one they called him the Professor among his high-school drop-out teammates. Later, Dom DiMaggio played for the Sox and was also called the “Little Professor,” after Berg.

The scenes at Fenway Park in 1940 are quite accurate, and the film gives us a convincing world of 1940s in turmoil. It is not a great film, but certainly a worthy effort of the true story of the heroes of World War II, though Berg refused any commendations after the war.

He stayed reclusive to the end, and in character.

Walk on Water: Mossad at Work

DATELINE: Multi-Lingual Approach to Nazis

walk on water

We must admit that intelligent gay movies are far and few between, but this one is a treasure. Put aside young coming out stories; this one is about a dangerous Mossad agent/killer who must track down a Nazi war criminal in his dotage and kill him.

Walk on Water is another Israeli film that finds drama and suspense in characters on the periphery of the gay world. You don’t normally find such cerebral films in the American gay movie canon.

Along the way, the deadly intelligence agent must deal with the gay grandson of the Nazi. The film moves in two parts between a visit to Israel by the German heir to the Nazi mantle, and a trip to Berlin by the agent to trap his prey.

The ultimate issue is whether people are responsible for the sins of their fathers (or grandfathers). The firebrand Israeli agent begins to have doubts, and the young German descendant is equally appalled by the skinheads around him.

Throw the gay angle into the mix, and you have another element of the crypto-Nazi doctrine and the Zionist advocate that is exposed from both sides: after all, the concentration camps killed both Jews and homosexuals.

The Israeli agent is working under the stress and post-trauma of having a license to kill—and then finding his wife a victim of suicide over his lifestyle. He finds himself in an emotional roller-coaster with a German brother and sister.

If you want a movie with an intelligent premise, this certainly is up there—above and beyond anything that might be called a gay movie, with a major character in a heroic role. This is a gay-theme wrapped in an enigma within a mystery.

 

 

Five, Actually Six, but Who’s Counting?

DATELINE: First Post-Apocalyptic Nuclear Movie

real star of Five Wright’s Eaglefeather

The 1951 unknown classic by Arch Oboler is called Five, about five survivors of a nuclear holocaust. It was way ahead of its time, but lost count somewhere in the post-apocalyptic shuffle. There are actually six survivors, including a black man, a baby, and a crypto-Nazi.

Director Arch Oboler was a radio writer and producer who went into movies. He was thought to be the poor man’s Orson Welles, and his movie productions were sporadic.

He used his Malibu estate to film the 1951 movie about a handful of people who come together to figure out what happened to the world. They actually surmise that it is genetic that they are immune to radiation, like those who were immune to the Black Death.

Director Oboler was a bit of a character, temperamental and an auteur who did what he wanted. His list of films is intriguing, but the real star of this low-budget film is Frank Lloyd Wright.

Yes, you got that Wright. Oboler had FLW build a mountain top aerie called Cliff House on his estate in 1941. Well, actually, they fought about it—and Eaglefeather became a truncated Wright home. Oboler filmed it from the backside to make it look smaller and more rustic.

The characters note that a rich man’s house is further down the Malibu coast: take that, Frank Lloyd Wright.

As you might expect, the film features Oboler’s particular political perspective. The villain of sorts climbed Mount Everest as a point of monumental ego, and the hero is a graduate of Harvard who specialized in literature. William Phipps has a recognizable face.

Susan Douglas is the innocent girl who goes back to the neutron bomb city to find her husband. She too is remarkable. But, the film has the feel of an early Twilight Zone episode. And, not surprisingly, Rod Serling loved Oboler’s films and used them for inspiration.

Called science fiction, the film is a character drama and low key with its racial angle and Transcendental approach. Fascinating movie.

Scotty’s Secret History of Hollywood

DATELINE: Bowers’ Bow Wow WOW

Cary & Randy

Scotty Bowers wrote a closet-emptying autobiography a few years ago about his career as a gay procurer to the Hollywood elite. Men and women, and the only one left out is Lassie, though he admits to sex with animals too.

He counted Cecil Beaton and Dr. Kinsey as his friends and clients. He offered service for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and he confirms dozens of names of those long-suspected of secret sex lives.

A World War II vet and farm boy, he settled in Hollywood in 1945, glamourous and amorous land of fantasies. He worked in a service station with all pumps flowing. His Richfield gas was really Rich Field Gay, and they all drove over to have their engines inspected by his stable of mechanics.

Once Walter Pidgeon recommended him, he was on his way.

Your litany of stars and their peccadilloes is not totally surprising: Cary Grant and Randolph Scott, Charles Laughton, Laurence Olivier, and then the off-camera boys, like George Cukor and Cecil Beaton.

Names are dropped in between a smorgasbord of outed dead stars like Spencer Tracy and Rock Hudson.

A few moralists dispute his integrity for outing people with his kiss and tell book, now movie, but as he points out, it is homophobic to think everyday biography is beyond revelation.

If anything, we were impressed that neither the vice squad of Los Angeles, nor STDs, ever caught up with the culprits. Well, no one is telling about that. His Edenic world came crashing down with age and AIDS in the early 1980s.

Now 90, he is spry and in denial about his age, his situation, and his hoarding. He is independently wealthy from beneficiaries and investments. He did not need the money to do this tell-all.