Thursday, January 31, 2013

Key West Old Movie Theatres.

One of the things I’ve taken to doing in my travels recently is seek out old movie palaces or just old movie theatres. Most every town or city has them, though most are not used as theatres any longer if they even still exist.

I started doing this after thinking and writing about the great movie palaces in Hollywood and then in Denver. So why not check out other places?

Key West.
There is certainly lots to do in Key West – I addition to frequenting all the bars on Duval Street – and seeking out old movie theatres may not seem a high priority but I enjoyed it, it was right up there with visiting Hemingway’s house, Harry Truman’s Winter White house and the other rich historical places in this southernmost place in the United States.

The Strand
This is perhaps the most recognizable as a movie theatre, though it is now a Walgreen’s Drugstore. The Theatre at 527

Duval Street, may have opened as early as 1920 but was certainly showing films by 1922. In 1993, it became a Ripley’s Believe it or Not but closed in April 2002. It is now, as noted, a Walgreens. The drugstore chain has done a good job of maintaining the building’s façade and its ornate flourishes as well as the marquee. They even have movie references on the marquee. You will note in the photo a reference to the Golden Globes on the marquee. The Globes were being broadcast while I was in Key West and took the photo.

The San Carlos
This theatre, at 516 Duval is across the street from The Strand. It opened in 1924 as the home of the San Carlos
Institute but operated as a movie theatre for many years known variously as The San Carlos and The Palace. In 1953 the theatre was given a grand remodel and renamed the San Carlos, by Milton Frackman and his partners, A.W. Castro and Gerald Abreu. The had leased the building from its owner, the Cuban government and had been operating it as a movie theatre under the Palace name until the remodel. Ernest Hemingway apparently attended a movie there. He reportedly told Frackman, just before the filming of The Old Man and the Sea began, that if Frackman would book the film when it was finished, he would make a personal appearance. I don’t know if that ever happened.

The San Carlos is no longer a commercial movie house, though the auditorium is intact, the marquee is missing from the front façade. It is once again the home of the San Carlos Institute.

The Lincoln Theatre
This theatre was also operated by Frackman and his partners. The name Lincoln Theatre is appropriate as it was the

African-American theatre in Key West. The building at 813 Emma Street is now an artist’s studio and gallery. The building façade looks much as it did when it was a movie theatre with the exception that a marquee that once existed is gone.

Monday, January 28, 2013

SAG Awards - my picks and thoughts on the outcome.

SAG Awards are over for another year. As usual, some of my selections matched the actual winners and some didn’t. This was a year in which the selections were particularly difficult – the performances were uniformly strong.

In the Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture

I voted for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – it was a sentimental favorite of mine and I guess my age/generation is showing. Argo won and I can hardly quibble about that. It is a powerful film with a happy ending. Ben Affleck as both actor and director deserves tremendous credit. Argo also won the Producer’s Guild Award on Saturday night. Between these two wins, it has to be the odds on favorite to win the best Picture Oscar, moreover in the past 23 years the winner of the PGA award goes onto win the Oscar – but a note of caution: Ben Affleck was passed over by the Academy for a Best Director nomination and history tells us that a film usually does not win the Best Picture Oscar if the Director has not also been nominated for a Best Director award; Lincoln is still out there – Spielberg is nominated for Best Director; Amour, is getting a lot of buzz but could not compete in either the PGA awards or the SAG Awards (it did not qualify under either of the respective Guild rules).

While I voted for Marigold Hotel, I actually thought that Lincoln would win. As Jim Nabors used to say: “Surprise, Surprise!”

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role

I voted for John Hawkes in The Sessions, but again, not surprisingly, Daniel Day-Lewis won for his magnificent portrayal of Abraham Lincoln. I voted for Hawkes, because I thought it was the more difficult acting assignment and he pulled it off wonderfully. He engaged us and made us care about him; he was funny and sad and cranky and at times melancholic and he did this all with nothing but his voice and his face. He did not have the luxury of using all of an actor’s tools, his body was immobile. As an aside, I though William H Macy was wonderful as a very unorthodox Catholic priest. He was not nominated for a SAG award (or for an Oscar)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role

Helen Mirren in Hitchcock was my choice but I was torn between Naomi Watts in The Impossible and the eventual winner Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook: Lawrence because her performance was spot on and Watts because her role in The Impossible seems almost impossible (the stories of the ordeal she underwent in shooting are harrowing).

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role

Until I saw Lincoln, I was certain that I would vote for Alan Arkin. But then, I did see Lincoln and Tommy Lee Jones’ performance and there was no question. Wow. It is far and away the best thing he has ever done. Another aside, it was fun to see Denver Center Theatre Company’s John Hutton in a brief scene as Senator Charles Sumner and former DCTC member Jamie Horton as Giles Stuart.

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role

Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables won in what was a very strong field, but my choice was Helen Hunt in The Sessions, who I think really deserved it. Did the subject matter of the film and the nudity play a role in some members voting (both for Hunt and Hawkes)? I don’t know but the Guild has a very large membership in the older demographic. Hunt and Hawkes are also nominated for Oscars.

LIFE ACHIEVEMENT AWARD went to Dick Van Dyke. This award was not a matter of a vote, but if it had been I certainly would have voted for Van Dyke. Carl Reiner, who was set to introduce Van Dyke and give him the award was sick and could not make it, so Alec Baldwin filled in.

Tommy Lee Jones too was ill and that is why he was not in attendance to receive his award.

There were television awards Sunday night as well, but space doesn't permit going into them at this time.

Okay, now it is on to the Oscars.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Quartet - four times the pleasure.

There were three films at last year’s Starz Denver Film Festival with the word quartet in the title. Quartet, the best of those, returns to Denver today.

Making his directorial debut with this charming film, Dustin Hoffman shows us that he can not only act, he can direct.

Beecham House is a very opulent ‘retirement’ home for musicians and other performers. And right now it is buzzing with the rumor that a ‘star’ performer is imminently to take up residence. Who can it be?

The residents are also in the midst of preparing their annual gala: it is a bit like the Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland musicals – ‘let’s get a barn and put on a show!’ In this case the barn looks like the manor house in Downton Abbey and ‘kids’ are replaced by superannuated performers, among them Reginald Paget (Tom Courtney), Wilfred Bond (Billy Connolly) and Cecily Robson (Pauline Collins).

Into this mix arrives the ‘star’ Jean Horton (Maggie Smith). The arrival is a thunderbolt to Wilfred and Cecily but particularly to Reginald – Reggie. The four had formed a quartet in the past until Jean moved on to a solo career (with accompanying ego) that left behind hard feelings and more in the case of Reggie. He and Jean had been married and the breakup of the quartet also saw the breakup of the marriage.
Ahh, but the plot thickens even more.

It is proposed by the gala director, the wonderful Michael Gambon, that now that Jean is in residence the quartet should reform and perform one of their signature works, Verdi’s Quartet.

The film is a lovely and charming work. Just as I find those old Rooney/Garland movies entertaining so too did I enjoy Quartet. It is enjoyable for the performances, not just of Courtney, Smith Connolly and Collins but everyone else in the film.

Hoffman as an actor understands that as a director he can let good actors do their work – point them in the right direction and get out of the way. All of the residents are portrayed by performers actually playing themselves and they are all quite good.

A fun and rewarding device in the end credits is the showing of then and now photos of the performers.

The screenplay by Ronald Harwood is based on his play of the same name that ran in the West End.

This is a wonderful ensemble piece in the spirit of one of my favorite films from last year: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. oh, and we do get to hear the Verdi Quartet. Lovely.

Quartet opens an exclusive engagement at the Esquire.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Denver's Historic Movie Palaces

Hollywood isn’t the only location with a history of wonderful Movie Palaces. I wrote recently about Grauman’s Chinese and other theatres in Hollywood but Denver also had its share of exotic theatres during the first half of the 20th Century. Some have survived, some even continue to exhibit films.

Unfortunately, though, the magnificent Movie Palaces that lined Denver’s Great White Way – Curtis Street from 14th to 18th Streets – are all gone. The Empress, the Paris, the Iris, the Princess (later renamed the Victory), and the Rialto once thrived along the ‘theatre row’ that was Curtis Street. But Denver’s Movie Palaces were not restricted to Curtis Street. There were theatres elsewhere in the downtown area and in Denver’s neighborhood.

Perhaps the most recognizable is the Mayan on Broadway. Built in 1930 with its

wonderful central-American themed décor and architecture, it was a first run movie house for many years, but then as is often the case it fell on hard times and closed. It was also nearly demolished until a public campaign saved it in the mid-80s and

Landmark Theatres took over its operation. It still shows films but now on three screens. The balcony was remodeled into two small theatres with the downstairs auditorium making the third screen.

The Paramount Theatre also opened in 1930 and also was saved by a public campaign in the 80s. This wonderful Art Deco theatre opened originally as a silent movie theatre operated by the Paramount Pictures/Publix theatre chain. It soon switched over to sound as that became the norm. It still retains the Wurlitzer Organ that was installed to accompany the silent films. It no longer screens films but is primarily a concert venue. The current entrance to the theatre is on Glenarm but the original entrance was on 16th Street.

The Denver theatre was another great theatre downtown. It was across 16th Street from the Paramount. It was built in 1927 and operated by the Fox Movie Theatre Chain (part of what eventually became 20th Century Fox). This theatre was not able to be saved at the same time as the Mayan and Paramount. It was demolished – thank you Urban Renewal – and a new building built in its place.

Also gone is the Aladdin. It opened in 1926 with a Moorish design on east Colfax at Race. As with many of the theatres noted here, declining audiences and ticket sales in the 1970s forced its closure (it did operate for a short time as a legitimate theatre). By the mid-80s it was doomed to be destroyed. There is a Walgreen’s drugstore on the site now.

Another theatre that still operates is the Esquire at 6th and Downing. It was built in 1927and opened originally as the Hiawatha. It was remodeled in 1966. As with the Mayan, there now is the larger auditorium on the main floor and the balcony has been converted into a separate screening room.

The Oriental Theater, at 44th and Tennyson, opened on Christmas Eve, 1927 as one of Denver’s original movie palaces. It is now a multi-media event facility periodically showing movies but also operating as a concert venue.

Nearby in North Denver is the Holiday on West 32nd Ave. It originally opened in 1914 as the Egyptian. In the 1960s and 70s it survived by screening Spanish-language films. However by the 80s that was not enough and it closed. The building housed a restaurant for a time. The screen is apparently still intact.

The Roxy in Five Points opened as the only non-segregated movie theatre in Denver, in 1934. The building is still there but it no longer operates as a movie theatre.

The Ogden opened in 1917. It is now a concert venue but in the 80s it was still showing films and was the site of the Denver Film Festival.

The Bluebird, likewise is now primarily a concert venue. It opened in 1915 as the Thompson theatre. In the 70s and 80s it became a porn house.

Other historic theatres in Denver include the Denham, the Orpheum, the Federal, the Aztlan, the Centre, the York, The Webber and the Vogue.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Martin Luther King, the struggle for Civil Rights and the Movies.

Civil Rights. Martin Luther King is the great symbol of the civil rights struggle battle against racism of the last half of the 20th Century. For those of us who lived through it and participated in it marked us and framed who we are. It was all too real and violent and deadly.

Because the struggle against racism and for civil rights was so dramatic it has also been explored in film. But as dramatic and dark as the period and events were, some films actually managed to deal with racism with humor. But most civil rights films have a somber tone and are based in real-life occurrences. It also must be remembered (as Reverend King reminds us) that the civil rights struggle was not just about African-Americans and the south it was/is about poor people; it was also about such things as the farm workers struggle, and the struggle for gay rights.

Many films deal with persons involved in the Civil Rights movement, some deal with events. Some are fictional and some are documentaries.

Django Unchained is not listed here. I am not sure it belongs.

Mississippi Burning
This true story about the deaths of three civil-rights workers in 1964 was justifiably praised for its stellar acting and Alan Parker's direction. Critically acclaimed, the film was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Perhaps the most important legacy of the film is its accurate portrayal of life in the south during the civil rights movement. It was a volatile time in American History, and Mississippi Burning captures that with it’s many complexities.

Ghosts of Mississippi
Rob Reiner directed this film about white supremacist who assassinated Medgar Evers and walked away free. James Woods is repellent. It clearly portrays the vitriol exhibited by some in the south in those years.

This was a mini-series about the life of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. A wonderful portrayal of Dr. King.. Paul Winfield really captures both the moral strength and the personal insecurities of the man. With Cicely Tyson and Ossie Davis.

Malcolm X
In Spike Lee's powerful film with, Denzel Washington as the controversial black nationalist

The Jackie Robinson Story
Game-changing ball player Robinson stars in his own life story, as the first black man to play in the Major Leagues.

The Long Walk Home
Sissy Spacek and Whoopi Goldberg star as a Southern housewife and her maid who become unlikely allies during the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955.

The Intruder
This Roger Corman drama stars a pre-Star Trek William Shatner as a racist rabble-rouser who incites his town against school desegregation.

John Waters takes a dim view of racial prejudice in this, the original Hairspray - not the musical - about the integration of the music scene in Baltimore in the 1960s.

The Defiant Ones
Stanley Kramer’s 1958 drama film which tells the story of two escaped prisoners, one white and one black, who are shackled together and who must co-operate in order to survive. It stars Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier,

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
Also by Stanley Kramer and also with Sidney Poitier. Pretty tame it was groundbreaking at the time it was produced. Inter-racial marriage was illegal in many states at the time. It was Spencer Tracy’s last film.

To Kill a Mockingbird
This is a classic. Released in the midst of the civil rights movement, the film takes a look at equality, prejudice, and the importance of courage under fire. Six-year-old Scout (Mary Badham) and her 12-year-old brother, Jem (Phillip Alford), are brought out of an era of innocence when their father Atticus (Gregory Peck) defends a black man in court.

In the Heat of the Night
Norman Jewison’s 1967 mystery film based on the John Ball novel of the same name published in 1965, which tells the story of Virgil Tibbs, a black police detective from Philadelphia, who becomes involved in a murder investigation in a racist small town in Mississippi. The film won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It stars Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger.

Blazing Saddles
I said there were films that dealt with racism with humor. Sheriff Cleavon Little in Ku Klux Klan robes skewers not only racism, but the stereotypes that populate Hollywood movies. The film is primarily meant for laughs, but underneath is one of the most comprehensive takes on the stupidity of racism.

The struggle for civil rights for Gays and Lesbians. This film is a biography of gay rights activist Harvey Milk who was shot and killed by Dan White.

The documentaries:

Eyes on the Prize
At 14 hours long, "Eyes on the Prize" is widely considered to be the most exhaustive accounting of the civil rights movement on screen. It documents the African-American fight for equality between the years of 1954 and 1985.

Chicano! History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement
Four-part documentary series "Chicano! History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement" chronicles the fight the Latino community waged for equality in the 1960s.

The Fight in the Fields: Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers’ Struggle
César Chávez may be the most recognized historical figure in Mexican-American history but his life story hadn’t fully been told on screen until the release of "The Fight in the Fields: Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers’ Struggle."

4 Little Girls
The Spike Lee documentary "4 Little Girls" chronicles the 1963 bombing of a black church in Birmingham, Ala. The explosion took the lives of an 11-year-old and three 14-year-old African-American girls.

Freedom Riders
In the "Freedom Riders," filmmaker Stanley Nelson tells the story of the racially mixed group of 400 men and women who risked their lives in 1961 to end racial segregation in interstate travel. Although the Supreme Court had earlier ruled that segregation in interstate travel facilities violated the Constitution, Jim Crow remained alive and well on transport in Southern states.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Visiting the Denver Area? Experience the Lariat Loop

Are you in Denver for the National Western Stock Show? Or maybe you’re planning a visit later this year. In any event you might want to make the Lariat Loop part of your visit.

The Lariat Loop National Scenic Byway is a 40-mile motoring adventure reminiscent of the early 1920s. It runs through the historic towns of Morrison, Evergreen, and Golden, which have maintained their integrity and authenticity over time. These towns supplied the miners and trappers in the 1850s and the early tourists in the early 1900s. Initially, railroads brought tourists to Golden and Morrison, delivering them to the bases of three mountains, where funiculars transported people up to world-class views of the Front Range and the plains. But it is not just a drive, there is plenty to see and do along the way, not to mention the spectacular views. There are more than three dozen historic sites and buildings that line the route and interpret primary themes of the mountain west, from mining and ranching to homesteads and tourism

The Byway is a combination of two historic routes: the Lariat Trail Scenic Mountain Drive that ascends Lookout Mountain and the Bear Creek Canyon Scenic Mountain Drive. These routes were part of several of the ‘scenic circles’ that were developed and promoted by Denver beginning in 1915 to help visitors experience the mountains in close proximity to Denver. The roadways were designated to the National Register of Historic Place in 1976.

The Lariat Loop provided early automobile access to the Denver Mountain Parks system. Denver has a series of Mountain Parks, some 14,000 acres in four counties along the Colorado Front Range. The Mountain Parks came into being with the acquisition of Genesee Mountain in 1912. Many of the sites you will want to visit on your excursion are part of the Denver Mountain Parks.

The ‘Loop’ gets its name from the historic Lariat Trail, a 5-mile road from Golden, Colorado up the front of Lookout Mountain, where Buffalo Bill is buried.

Here are just three places you might want to visit along the Lariat Loop.

Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave Site

When Buffalo Bill Cody died in 1917 he was buried where he wished to be, atop Lookout Mountain. The site of his grave as well as the Buffalo Bill Museum and Pahaska Lodge are part of the Denver Mountain Park system. The Museum houses a large number of artifacts including many personal items belonging to Buffalo Bill and items from his famous Wild West Shows.

May 1-October 31, the Museum is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. November 1-April 30 it is open Tuesday – Sunday 9am to 4pm.

Colorado Railroad Museum.

There is just something beguiling about trains. Hearing the distant whistle in the night; the rock of the cars as they roll along the rails. Americans have a love affair with cars, but trains have an even greater emotional pull.

The museum has over 100 narrow and standard gauge steam and diesel locomotives, passenger cars, cabooses and a G-scale garden railway. It also has exhibit galleries, a roundhouse restoration facility and a working turntable. There are train rides every Saturday.

Open Daily from 9am to 5pm

Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre

This world famous park and Amphitheatre has hosted concerts from Sting to the Beatles. It is a geological phenomenon – the only naturally-occurring, acoustically perfect amphitheatre in the world. But it is more than that. It is in a unique transitional zone where the Great Plains meet the Rocky Mountains. The diverse environment allows visitors to see plants, birds and animals of both regions. The view east to the Denver Skyline and the Great Plains beyond is spectacular.
The Amphitheatre was built by Mother Nature with some assistance from the WPA and the CCC and opened in 1941. Two, three hundred-foot red sandstone monoliths provide the backdrop to the amphitheatre and are responsible for it unique acoustics.

Concerts are held during the summer. The Visitor Center is open from 8am to 7pm May through September, 9am to 4pm October to April.

You can start the Lariat Loop in Golden, Colorado. From Denver, take I-70 or US 6 west. Follow US 6 into Golden and start the Loop at 19th Street. Oh, you might want to pay a visit either before or after your excursion to the Coors Brewery in Golden for a tour there as well. They do offer free samples to those old enough to enjoy.

For more information: The Lariat Loop

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Grauman's - what's in a name - and Movie Palaces

Grauman’s isn’t Grauman’s anymore. One of the most famous – if not the most famous - movie theatres in the world will not be called Grauman’s Chinese Theatre anymore. As you may have heard, the naming rights to the movie palace on Hollywood Boulevard have been sold to the Chinese (at least the Chinese part is appropriate) TV maker, TCL. TCL stands for ‘The Creative Life’ the company’s slogan. The theatre with the foot- and hand-prints of movie stars in its foyer will now be known as the TCL Chinese Theatre.

This is not the first time that the theatre was known as something else. For a number of years, the theatre was part of the Mann Theatre Chain (now bankrupt and out of business) and was known as Mann’s Chinese Theatre. At least the corporate name was that of the theatre chain which was consistent with the practice that many theatre chains in the early years of the 20th Century had of naming individual theatres after the chain. There were Fox and Paramount Theatres everywhere.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. The invidious move to name almost everything after corporations seems ever-present. Is there a major league sports stadium anywhere in the country that is not named for a corporation?

In Denver, for many years the local baseball team, the minor league Denver Bears played in Bears Stadium. That stadium became Mile High Stadium and the newly minted Denver Broncos began playing there in 1960. Now of course, we have Sports Authority Field because Mile High was torn down and a new stadium built. Originally, the new stadium was known as Invesco Field, named for the now failed and defunct financial services company. Ahh, the vagaries of business and naming rights in the corporate world.

We also have Coors Field where the Colorado Rockies play and the Pepsi Center home of the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche. The Rockies originally played at the old Mile High and the Nuggets began life and played for many years at McNichols Arena, a swell location and facility that stood right next to Mile High. It was torn down so as not to compete with the Pepsi Center – ‘The Can’.

So it goes. Many performing arts complexes now also wear a corporate logo as arts organizations seek sources of revenue beyond grants and ticket sales, but I think it is unfortunate. I don’t mind so much when a major donor makes a significant gift and some part of a building or complex is named for the benefactor – The Sie Film Center, for instance - at least it is a person or persons.

But back to the Chinese Theatre.

Sid Grauman built the theatre in 1927. He had been successfully operating the nearby Egyptian Theatre since 1922 and wanted to expand to take advantage of the demand of patrons for movies. Grauman’s partners in the venture were silent film stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. It opened with Cecil B. DeMille’s epic The King of Kings.

Sid Grauman sold his share of the theatre to the Fox Theatre Chain in 1929 but stayed on as the managing director of the theatre until his death in 1950. The Fox Chain was owned by Willam Fox of the Fox Film Company which eventually became 20th Century Fox. Many of the Hollywood Studios had their own movie theatres.

The Egyptian and Chinese theatres wwere part of golden age of the movie palace. In the years of the early Twentieth Century grand theatres were built for the express purpose of showing movies. Many of these theatres were built in an ‘exotic’ style and named to reflect that style. The Egyptian and Chinese were typical examples.

The Egyptian Theatre is just down Hollywood Boulevard from the Chinese. The Egyptian theme and décor of the theatre was chosen because of the excitement at the time of the discoveries of ancient Egyptian artifacts such as King Tut’s tomb. There were other theatres around the U.S that mimicked the Egyptian Revival style.

The El Capitan started life in 1926 as a legitimate theatre but in 1941 Orson Welles premiered Citizen Kane there. In 1942 it was remodeled in the Art Moderne style and reopened as the Hollywood Paramount Theatre, the flagship theatre of Paramount Pictures. The theatre has been renovated and is again known as the El Capitan. It was renovated and is owned by the Walt Disney Company and is its flagship theatre.

The Pantages Theatre, also on Hollywood Boulevard opened in 1930. It was built in the Art Deco Style and operated by Fox West Coast Pictures Theatre chain. Howard Hughes acquired the theatre as part of his national RKO Studio chain of movie houses. While built as a movie theatre, it also had a live stage show capacity and is used now as a legitimate theatre. It is where I saw Richard Burton’s final performance in Camelot.

Warner Brothers Hollywood Theatre was also a grand movie palace on Hollywood Boulevard. It is no longer in use as a movie theatre but rather as a church. Opening in 1928, it did not follow the Art Deco or exotic style but a combination of styles including Renaissance Revival, Moorish and Rococo. I saw 2001, A Space Odyssey at the theatre in June of 1968.

Interestingly, the theatre building also housed the original studios of radio station KFWB (still broadcasting in L.A.) which was owned by Warner Bros. The broadcast towers were on the roof of the theatre.

The boom of movie theatres, many of them movie palaces being built in the early years of the Twentieth Century was not limited to Hollywood. They were everywhere, including Denver. But more about that later.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Author Evan S Connell, Custer and his connection to Sand Creek

Evan S. Connell passed away yesterday in Santa Fe, New Mexico at the age of 88. He was a wonderful and eclectic writer perhaps best known for his novels Mrs. Bridge (1959) and Mr. Bridge (1969). The two novels were the basis for the 1990 film, Mr. and Mrs. Bridge starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.

But I will always remember him for his 1984 book, Son of the Morning Star: Custer. It was a not very flattering look at the vainglorious boy-General George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

In the late 1980s I was touring a one-man show about Frederick Benteen, who served in the 7th Cavalry and was at Little Bighorn. Custer had split his regiment into three battalions, one commanded by Major Marcus Reno, one by Captain Benteen and the third Custer took with him to attack the Sioux and Cheyenne encampment along the Little Bighorn River. It was only Custer's command that was annihilated. Benteen went on to have a long career in the Army.

Connell's book was very useful to me as I put together the material I used in my portrayal of Benteen. Thinking about the book, now, I may go back and re-read it. It really was quite good.

Something else of note comes to mind about the boy General.

Many are familiar with the Sand Creek Massacre in which some 700 hundred members of the Colorado Territorial Militia under the command of Colonel John Chivington attacked Black Kettle's encampment along Sand Creek in southeastern Colorado on November 29, 1864. It is estimated that 163 Cheyenne and Arapaho were killed – almost all women and children. Black Kettle survived.

However four years later, almost to the day, George Armstrong Custer led an attack by the 7th Cavalry on Black Kettle's village, this time on the Washita River in what is now western Oklahoma. This time Black Kettle did not survive, he and his wife Medicine Woman were shot in the back and killed. Estimates vary as to the number of Native Americans actually killed but all estimates agree that a number of women and children were included in the dead.

Eight years later, Custer himself would be killed at Little Bighorn. One of the principal Sioux Chiefs at the battle was Sitting Bull. He would later join Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show. As I wrote earlier, there is a wonderful Museum devoted to Cody on Lookout Mountain west of Denver, it is also the site of his grave. Included in the museum is a lot of material, photographs and artifacts about Sitting Bull.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Oscar - jaws drop and the buzz and intrigue begin

The buzz is deafening. That other sound is jaws dropping. The announcement of the Oscar nominations this morning has indeed generated a lot of buzz and some head-scratching. In every major category the nominations carried a number of surprises – some more than others, however the Best Picture nominations were not a surprise for me. What is surprising are the Oscar nominations in the Directing, Acting and Foreign Language Film categories.

In my earlier reflections on the DGA and SAG Awards nominations, I noted that I thought that Oscar nominations would generally reflect those nominations. I was wrong.

Kathryn Bigelow, Ben Affleck and Tom Hooper each received a DGA nomination but did not get an Oscar nod - only two DGA nominees also got an Oscar nomination, Ang Lee and Steven Spielberg. This flies in the face of what has happened historically when the Oscar nominations generally do reflect the DGA. It will now really be interesting to see who wins the DGA award and who wins the Oscar. Will they be one and the same? It will also be interesting to see how the DGA award, Best Director Oscar and Best Picture Oscar might – or might not – align.

Of the 20 Oscar acting nominations only 14 reflected SAG Award nominations. That too is in contrast to past years when the nominations were much more closely aligned. The three biggest surprises for me were the failure of John Hawkes, Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith to garner an Oscar nomination.

Perhaps I should also be surprised that I actually picked each of the Best Picture nominations. I listed ten films while noting that the Academy might not nominate ten. I listed them in the order of the number of first place votes I thought each would receive. My tenth pick was Skyfall which did not receive an Oscar nomination.

However the most interesting nomination is Amour. This film is nominated for an Oscar in the Best Picture category and as Best Foreign Language Film – it is Austria’s entry in that category. Moreover, Amour also received nominations in the Best Actress, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. Can one picture win two 'best' picture awards?

Which brings me to the Foreign Language category: The biggest surprise for me was the failure of The Intouchables (France’s entry) to receive a Best Foreign Language Film nomination. I thought it had everything going for it and would be a lock – but again, I was wrong.

Finally, I am sorry Sister, from Switzerland did not receive a nomination. The film is disturbing but emotionally very powerful. Nonetheless I am surprised that Kon Tiki from Norway made it and Sister did not.

Ahh, the vagaries.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Best Picture Oscar Nominees?

So tomorrow morning we will know the Academy Awards nominees. There will be at least five Best Picture nominees and as many as ten. The Academy’s uses a weighted voting system which is based on the number of first place votes from the members and no film can be nominated unless it receives at least five percent of the total votes cast. Nomination voting ended on Monday.

This year the voting schedule has been accelerated and this has complicated things. More importantly, perhaps, voting is being done online and there have been significant problems and glitches with a lot of grousing by Academy members about it. The real fallout may be a diminished turnout.

If there is a diminished turnout, what impact will it have? Equally important to the size of the turnout is who votes and who doesn’t: Older members, younger members, actors, directors? Different demographics may favor different films.

Nonetheless, fearlessly, here are my picks of the films that will be nominated. I say, fearlessly but frankly, no film on the list (certainly the top five) will be a surprise.

I am picking ten even though I don’t think there will be ten nominees. Here they are in the order of the first place votes I think they may have garnered from the voting members:

Les Miserables
Zero Dark Thirty
Silver Linings Playbook
Life of Pi
Django Unchained
Beasts of the Southern Wild

As I noted above, the demographics of the voters can make a real difference. A controversial film like Zero Dark Thirty or even Django Unchained (a violent film in the aftermath of Newtown, Connecticut) can be helped or hurt by who votes.

We’ll know around 6:30 AM, Denver time, Thursday.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

DGA nominations are out - Only Oscar remains

The last of the major feature film award nominations are now out with the Director’s Guild of America (DGA) announcing their nominations today. Previously, the PGA, Writers' Guild, SAG and the Golden Globe nominations have been announced

The DGA nominations look very much like what I think we will see for both the Best Director Oscar Nominations and Best Motion Picture Oscar Nominations that will be announced Thursday.

It is a strong list with Steven Spielberg for Lincoln, Ben Affleck for Argo, Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty, Ang Lee for Life of Pi and Tom Hooper for Les Miserables.

In making the announcement of the nominees, Guild president Taylor Hackford said:

"DGA members have chosen an incredibly rich and varied group of filmmakers to nominate for this year's Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film Award. These directors represent the highest standard of filmmaking, and their films are a testament to artistic achievement, innovative storytelling and the passion that filmmakers share with their audiences."

It is extremely likely that the winner of the DGA award will also be the winner of the directing Oscar. Only six times since 1948 (when the DGA began giving the award) has the DGA winner not also won the Oscar:

1968 Anthony Harvey won the DGA Award for The Lion in Winter but Carol Reed won the Oscar of Oliver.

1972 Francis Ford Coppola won the DGA Award for The Godfather but Bob Fosse got the Oscar for Cabaret.

1985 Steven Spielberg won the DGA for The Color Purple but Sydney Pollock got the Oscar for Out of Africa.

1995 Ron Howard won the DGA for Apollo 13 while Mel Gibson won the Oscar for Braveheart.

2000 Ang Lee got the DGA Award for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – Steven Soderbergh took the Oscar for Traffic.

2002 Rob Marshal was DGA’s pick for Chicago but Roman Polanski won the Oscar for The Pianist.

Best Picture Oscar? The DGA nominations enhance the chances of that award going to either Lincoln or Argo. Those two films have been nominated in the ‘best’ category by the DGA, the PGA, the Writer’s Guild and an ensemble-cast nomination from the Screen Actor’s Guild. Academy members of each of these guilds will be voting for Best Picture once the nominations are announced.

While those two films chances are enhanced, 'it ain’t over till it’s over', as Yogi said.

Les Miserables was nominated by the PGA, DGA and SAG but was ineligible for the WGA award (WGA has very strict eligibility requirements for consideration).

Zero Dark Thirty, which was released late in the SAG voting period and did not send screeners to the nominating committee, was nominated by the WGA, PGA and DGA, but only received an individual nomination for Jessica Chastain from SAG.

Silver Linings Playbook did not get a DGA nomination but did from the other Guilds. Life of Pi did not receive any nominations from SAG.

DGA Awards are February 2nd.

Friday, January 4, 2013

More Award nominations: Writer's Guild

In my post yesterday I neglected to note that the Writer’s Guild of America West(WGAW) and Writer's Guild of America East (WGAE) also give awards for best screenplays. The two Guilds announced their nominees today for the awards ceremonies (occurring simultaneously in Los Angeles and New York) on February 17.

Again there is a lot of commonality to other award nominations; a lot of the same films populate the various lists, notably Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln, Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook and Argo.

These are the nominees in the various motion picture categories.

Flight, Written by John Gatins; Paramount Pictures

Looper, Written by Rian Johnson; TriStar Pictures

The Master, Written by Paul Thomas Anderson; The Weinstein Company

Moonrise Kingdom, Written by Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola; Focus Features

Zero Dark Thirty, Written by Mark Boal; Columbia Pictures

Argo, Screenplay by Chris Terrio; Based on a selection from The Master of Disguise by Antonio J. Mendez and the Wired Magazine article “The Great Escape” by Joshuah Bearman; Warner Bros. Pictures

Life of Pi, Screenplay by David Magee; Based on the novel by Yann Martel; 20th Century Fox

Lincoln, Screenplay by Tony Kushner; Based in part on the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin; DreamWorks Pictures

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Screenplay by Stephen Chbosky; Based on his book; Summit Entertainment

Silver Linings Playbook, Screenplay by David O. Russell; Based on the novel by Matthew Quick; The Weinstein Company

The Central Park Five, Written by Sarah Burns and David McMahon and Ken Burns; Sundance Selects

The Invisible War, Written by Kirby Dick; Cinedigm Entertainment Group

Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, Written by Alex Gibney; HBO Documentary Films

Searching for Sugar Man, Written by Malik Bendejelloul; Sony Pictures Classics

We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists, Written byBrian Knappenberger; Cinetic Media

West of Memphis, Written by Amy Berg & Billy McMillin; Sony Pictures Classics

Thursday, January 3, 2013

PGA Best Picture Awards Nominations and an Awards timeline

The Producer’s Guild of America (PGA), announced yesterday, the nominees for the Daryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of a Theatrical Motion Picture. This is a noteworthy list as it is often predictive of the nominees and eventual winner of the Oscar for Best Picture. In 16 of the last 23 years, the winner of the PGA award has also won the Best Picture Oscar.

The nominees:

"Argo” (Warner Bros.)
Producers: Ben Affleck, George Clooney, Grant Heslov

"Beasts of the Southern Wild” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Producers: Michael Gottwald, Dan Janvey, Josh Penn

"Django Unchained” (The Weinstein Company)
Producers: Reginald Hudlin, Pilar Savone, Stacey Sher

"Les Misérables” (Universal Pictures)
Producers: Tim Bevan & Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward, Cameron Mackintosh

Life of Pi” (Fox 2000 Pictures)
Producers: Ang Lee, Gil Netter, David Womark

"Lincoln” (Touchstone Pictures)
Producers: Kathleen Kennedy, Steven Spielberg

"Moonrise Kingdom” (Focus Features)
Producers: Wes Anderson & Scott Rudin, Jeremy Dawson, Steven Rales

"Silver Linings Playbook” (The Weinstein Company)
Producers: Bruce Cohen, Donna Gigliotti, Jonathan Gordon

"Skyfall” (MGM/Columbia Pictures)
Producers: Barbara Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson

"Zero Dark Thirty” (Columbia Pictures)
Producers: Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal, Megan Ellison

This list is generally consistent with award nominations already announced from the Golden Globes and the SAG Awards.

PGA gives a separate award for animated films. The list of nominees for Outstanding Producer of Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures:

"Brave” (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
Producer: Katherine Sarafian

"Frankenweenie” (Walt Disney Pictures)
Producers: Allison Abbate, Tim Burton

"ParaNorman” (Focus Features)
Producers: Travis Knight, Arianne Sutner

"Rise of the Guardians” (Paramount Pictures)
Producers: Nancy Bernstein, Christina Steinberg

"Wreck-It Ralph” (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
Producer: Clark Spencer

I don't expect that any of these animated features will end up on the Oscar nomination list.

The PGA Awards will be announced at their gala, January 26th in Hollywood. PGA will also give awards in other categories, including television long form.

We are truly in the midst of award season. As noted above, SAG Award nominees and Golden Globe nominees have been announced. Their awards shows are January 13 for the Golden Globes and January 27 for the SAG Awards. The Director’s Guild will announce their nominees on January 8th with their awards gala on February 2nd.
Oscar will announce his nominees on January 10th with the Oscar broadcast on February 24th.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Kerouac and Cassady – On The Road.

Jack Kerouac’s novel On The Road is now also a motion picture. Walter Salles, who did Motorcycle Diaries (about some early travels of Che Guevara), directed and it stars Sam Riley as Sal Paradise (Jack Kerouac), Garret Hedlund as Dean Moriarity (Neal Cassady), Kristen Stewart as Marylou (LuAnne Henderson) and Kirsten Dunst as Camille (Carolyn Cassady).

Kerouac finished the book On The Road in 1951 and it was published in 1957. It was based on the travels he took with Cassady and Cassady’s wife at the time LouAnne Henderson and helped define the ‘Beat Generation’ (Kerouac coined the term ‘Beat Generation’).

Cassady was from Denver (as was LouAnne) and though he met Kerouac in New York City they both ended up back in Denver for a time. It was then that Cassady met Carolyn Robinson, whom he eventually also married. She also had a long-time affair with Kerouac.

There are still places you can see that Kerouac and/or Cassady haunted. My favorite is the bar at the corner of 15th and Platte, now called My Brother’s Bar. Kerouac and Cassady (and Carolyn) also frequented the Rossonian (now vacant and boarded up) in Five Points for Jazz. It doesn’t look like it now, it has all been redeveloped, but Larimer Street from 14th Street north was the heart of Denver’s Skid Row in the 40s, 50s and 60s. Cassady and Kerouac spent time there. The Colburn Hotel on Grant Street is where Carolyn Cassady (Robinson) was living while she was going to Denver University and met and began an affair with Cassady. It is also where she found Cassady, LouAnne and Allen Ginsberg, all naked, in bed together. In 1949, Kerouac lived for while in a house he bought (proceeds from the sale of Town and the City) at 6100 W. Center in what is now Lakewood.

So much of On The Road has a Denver focus, but of course no filming was done here. That’s a story we are all too familiar with in Denver and Colorado. On The Road opens in Denver January 18th, 2013.

There is another film that deals with Kerouac, Cassady and Carolyn Cassady: 1980’s Heart Beat, based on Carolyn Cassady’ memoir Heart Beat My Life With Jack and Neal.

In that film, Nick Nolte played Neal Cassady, Sissy Spacek played Carolyn and John Heard played Kerouac. The memoir covers the time from the late forties through the fifties, the film focuses on the early period, concurrent with Kerouac’s writing of On The Road.

Heart Beat was not a great film, but it had a wonderful look – truly evoking the late forties and fifties. It even had a 49’ Hudson (with a Pueblo Tent and Awning canvas water bag hanging from the hood ornament)like the one the three drove.

I remember the film well because I had a small (very small) part. I played a waiter in a scene in a San Francisco restaurant where the three are meeting someone.