Saturday, August 4, 2018

Podcast: Interview with Bill Forsyth (1985)

A scene from Bill Forsyth's Local Hero (1983).

From 1981 to 1989, I was assistant producer and co-host of the radio show On the Arts, at CJRT-FM (today Jazz 91.1) in Toronto. With the late Tom Fulton, who was the show's prime host and producer, we did a half-hour interview program where we talked to writers and artists from all fields. In 1985, I sat down with Scottish film director and writer Bill Forsyth.

At the time of our conversation, Forsyth had written and directed four feature-length films: That Sinking Feeling (1979), Gregory's Girl (1981), Local Hero (1983), and Comfort and Joy (1984). He would go on direct four more – including 1994's Being Human, starring Robin Williams but he likely remains most famous for those earlier movies.

– Kevin Courrier

Here is the full interview with Bill Forsyth as it aired on CJRT-FM in 1985.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Tough as Nails: Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot

Joaquin Phoenix as John Callahan in Gus Van Sant's Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot. (Photo: Amazon Studios)

Note: This review contains spoilers for Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot is indisputably the best film title of the year. It’s a caption from a cartoon by John Callahan, the subject of Gus Van Sant’s film and the author of the book on which his screenplay is based. Callahan (Phoenix) was a quadriplegic as a result of a car accident when he was twenty-one and bar-hopping with a fellow alcoholic; it took him another half-dozen years to get sober. His career as a cartoonist took off when The Willamette Week in his native Portland, Oregon began to publish him in 1983; it was his home base until he died in 2010. His distinct line-drawing style (small, scrunched, deceptively simple-appearing) was dictated by his physical restrictions, while his trademark humor (bleak, sardonic, taboo-breaking) – which won him a phalanx of fans and a steady group of offended outliers – was forged by a combination of his personality and his response to the cards he’d been dealt. Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot is one of the most unusual triumph-of-the-spirit movies ever made: the chronology is fractured, it’s peppered with unexpected visual choices (skewed perspective, a montage cut to look like a clip of celluloid frames or a live-action comic strip viewed vertically rather than horizontally), the style of the performances is so radically naturalistic that they feel improvised, it’s often scabrously funny, and most of it is vigorously unsentimental. Van Sant hasn’t made anything this good – or this inventive – since he broke through with Drugstore Cowboy nearly three decades ago. It’s also a return to form for Phoenix, who does his finest work since Two Lovers in 2008. (Phoenix’s last movie, the wretched You Were Never Really Here, had maybe the worst title of any picture released so far in 2018.)

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Stephen King X 2: The Outsider and Castle Rock

Author Stephen King.

Stephen King turned 70 almost a year ago but this most prolific of authors hasn’t slowed down one iota. In fact, he has two books out this year from Scribner, The Outsider, currently in bookstores, and Elevation, a short novel due out in October. He’s also maintained a high quality of output in recent years, from his Mr. Mercedes horror/mystery trilogy (Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, End of Watch) to the sensational and incredibly visceral science-fiction novel Under the Dome, as well as his touching, thoughtful time travel tale 11/22/63 and Revival, his chilling examination of life after death.

The Outsider is quasi-police procedural and part horror, set in a fictional Oklahoma town called Flint City, and beginning with the arrest of respected teacher and beloved baseball coach Terry Maitland for the heinous rape and murderer of an eleven-year-old boy. Police detective Ralph Anderson is so sure of Maitland’s guilt that he arrests him publicly at a game; after all, he has eyewitnesses to Maitland’s picking up the boy and DNA evidence, too. And yet . . . how can Maitland also be seen on video asking writer Harlen Coben a question at a writer’s conference he was attending at the same time far away from the murder scene, and how can his fingerprints be on a book he looked at in the conference hotel gift shop?

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Primal Pop: Whispering in a Loud Voice

Ol' Blue Eyes. (Photo: Getty Images)

Wait . . . some wag is claiming that both Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra were exemplars of primal pop music? How can that be? Two of the most mellow crooners in musical history? But what about John Lennon or Jim Morrison? Oh, them, too, of course. But two of the very first pop stars, astronomical and international singers of pop songs to everyone everywhere – that would be Frank with his 150 million records sold, and Bing with his 100 million  also both touched a deep and hidden place in the soul of their listeners, as diverse as their audiences were, and that is the essence of a primal pop star. They were not only minstrels and troubadours of the highest degree, each with a sense of timing and finesse that captured the tempo of the human heart as never before, but also they both never once complained about being so popular and wished they could have been taken more seriously as artists.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

There, But for the Grace of God: The Disaster Artist (2017)

James Franco as Tommy Wiseau in The Disaster Artist. (Photo: IMDB)

The Disaster Artist (2017) is the story behind The Room (2003), that perennial frontrunner in the race for worst film ever made. Based on the eponymous memoir, it stars James Franco in a Golden Globe-winning turn as eccentric and enigmatic filmmaker Tommy Wiseau, with Dave Franco playing his best friend, Greg Sestero. The Room is a project of love, however incompetent, so the story begins when Greg chats up Tommy after acting class, where Tommy has presented a scene from A Streetcar Named Desire. Greg wants to get tips on how to project competence -- it turns out the key is not to give a fuck. The first third of The Disaster Artist is the story of this budding friendship, culminating in the desire to write and make a film without having the first idea of how to go about it. The second act is the actual shooting of The Room, infamously written, directed, produced, marketed by, and starring Tommy Wiseau. And the last third details the friends' falling out as a result of Tommy's paranoia and other qualities that make him generally hard to get along with, ending with their eventual reconciliation over the release of the picture -- not as the drama Tommy envisioned but as the inadvertent cult comedy we all know and love-hate today. Between the film proper and the end credits are a series of side-by-side comparison shots of The Room and its recreation in The Disaster Artist, and the similarities are uncanny.
Nick Allen over at the Roger Ebert website faults the movie for not delving into Tommy's psyche. Judging from the promotional materials, I expected nothing of the kind. I thought it would be about this guy who shouldn’t succeed but finds himself doing so regardless, and that’s exactly what we get. The PR framing of the film seemed to imply that it's about a dream come true, but that only serves to heighten the contrast between the premise that The Room was never meant to be, and the fact that it actually, ridiculously exists. It’s a total and absolute farce, from the very first scene, when Tommy scales the walls of the acting studio screaming, “Stella,” to the very last of the comparison shots. The scene that got the biggest audience reaction when I saw it is the one where Wiseau, wearing his actor's hat, fails to complete a scene even after sixty-seven takes. If we take the movie as a farcical tale, such a reaction is well-deserved. The problem is that these are real-life events; people actually listened to this guy and let him make The Room.  That’s not as innocuous as it sounds.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Spaces to Fill In: Lempicka

Eden Espinosa as Tamara de Lempicka. (Photo: Daniel Rader)

The new musical about the life and career of the painter Tamara de Lempicka at Williamstown opens with a huge reproduction of one of her striking Art Deco canvases, a portrait of a woman whose imperious gaze assaults you while she remains aloof and impenetrable. Lempicka is about how the artist – who was born in Warsaw and moved first to St. Petersburg and then to Paris after she’d managed to get her aristocratic husband, Tadeusz Lempicki, released from prison during the Russian Revolution – became a celebrated figure in the art world between the World Wars, as famous for her the boldness and bravado of her personal life (she was openly bisexual) as for the take-no-prisoners froideur and forthrightness of her painting. But this painting is the only image by Lempicka that we see until the very end of the show, when her works fill the stage in a dramatic sweep. In between, whether we’re in her studio or at one of her shows, all we see are frames on easels.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Secrets de la Parisienne: An Afternoon of Couture in the City of Light

Institut Guerlain, 68 Av. des Champs-Élysées. The flagship of this venerable Parisian parfumer has a boutique on the ground floor and a beauty salon on the upper level. (Photo: Parfumista)

The final round of the Paris ready-to-wear shows concluded just as the daffodils were beginning to show off their sunny bonnets in the gardens dotting the City of Light, but spring could already be felt in the bias-cut dresses and peekaboo slips trimmed in frothy lace which flooded over the catwalk, a harbinger of the feminine power surge to come. But today is my day off reporting on the shows. Prêt-à-porter is giving way to prêt-a-primper as I leave the congested tents near the Eiffel Tower to uncover the beauty mystique of la parisienne, that fascinating creature all other women around the world always want to emulate. Clothes aren’t the only tools in her arsenal of seduction. There’s perfume, lipstick and (oh, my) pressed powder, too. I am determined to uncover all her secrets.