Weekend Reel Reads: Mailer, Kael and Ruiz

Features
by Steve Greene
August 26, 2012 12:48 PM
1 Comment
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"The Lines of Wellington."

The Films of Norman Mailer

Although Norman Mailer might be better known to a majority of the American public as a novelist, he built a unique filmography as well. Sam Adams’ piece for Slate dives into Mailer’s audacious quartet of films, messy but raw outputs that were mostly of a piece with the late author’s written work. Behind the cumbersome titles and self-inflicted foleying lies a set of films that, in some cases, as with 1970’s “Maidstone,” blurred the line between narrative and documentary.

"Mailer’s movies certainly don’t lack for force. Watching them is indeed like being attacked, and it’s Mailer doing the attacking. Wild 90, which according to its closing credits was created 'from a script which did not ever necessarily exist,' is a crash course in inventive profanity, with Mailer reeling off lines like, 'I could fuck a girl with my ears better than you can with your triple prick.' It’s clear he’s having a grand old time tossing off lines with his friends Buzz Farbar and Mickey Knox; at times, he doesn’t even bother to suppress his get-a-load-of-this grin. But even if the amateurish sound hadn’t rendered a good chunk of the dialogue unintelligible—a situation that led D.A Pennebaker, a documentary veteran who served as Mailer’s cameraman and played a small role as a police officer, to shelve the movie—it would still be almost unwatchable."

Raul Ruiz and the ghosts on the battlefield

In what will likely gain greater exposure as the film gets closer to its Venice Film Festival premiere, “Mysteries of Lisbon” director Raul Ruiz’ final film will be shown over a year after his passing. Geoffrey Macnab of the Guardian penned a concise look at the production history of “The Lines of Wellington,” a film that Ruiz’ wife eventually helmed to its completion. Macnab’s story also delves into the idiosyncratic portions of the prolific director’s career, including his stints as a professor in Scotland.

"French actor Melvil Poupaud, who first worked with Ruiz as a child and appears in The Lines of Wellington, saw him in hospital the day before he died. Despite his failing health and recent liver transplant, the director was discussing his plans for the film and cracking jokes. On Ruiz shoots, Poupaud remembers, there would always be at least one sequence in which everybody swapped jobs. The makeup artist would push the dolly, the sound technician would take a role in front of camera, the actor would hold the boom and so on. This, Poupaud says, was all part of his attempt to make film-making fun, 'something of a childish world still going on'."

A Critic and a Poet

Pauline Kael is a titan of the critical profession and the subject of many retrospective pieces. But rather than look at Kael’s life or ascension/decline at any of her writing outlets, Clive James’ for The Atlantic features close examinations of Kael’s philosophy, as evidenced by her prose style. Among the vicious attacks and lavish praise, James describes, was an approach to the job that deftly handled trends in the industry as well as evaluations of the individual works that those waves may or may not have contained.

"Kael was in her mid-40s before she succeeded in contributing to any publication that would pay her enough to live on. Until then she did all kinds of jobs—nanny, cook, violin teacher, seamstress—while writing scattered pieces that improved only in the sense that she learned to get more in. William Shawn, whose most original single move as the editor of The New Yorker was to take her on, deserves eternal commendation for hiring a writer who was unlike any other that the magazine had ever had. In any piece she wrote, the argument could go alarmingly sideways in search of corroborative material. She exaggerated so wildly that it was tame: the reader soon learned that a construction like '[Jeff Bridges] may be the most natural and least self-conscious screen actor who ever lived' meant that Pauline Kael thought Jeff Bridges was pretty good. Going overboard about Last Tango in Paris, she did not aid her case by saying, 'It may turn out to be the most liberating movie ever made.'"

You Say True Life, I Say Scripted

How can something that’s non-fiction have a writer? It’s a question that’s contributing to the enigmatic stature that documentaries have in our culture, one of the elements of the form that might easily puzzle those who usually opt for more narrative fare. Tom Roston of the New York Times interviews a number of filmmakers and representatives from the Writer’s Guild of America, all of whom have varying degrees of enthusiasm and apprehensiveness about the growing trend of documentarians earning writing credits as part of their work (even, as the story mentions, in the case of last year’s "Senna," which eschews any type of narration).

"Unlike the fictional-feature-film industry, where job titles tend to be more distinct (editors edit, camera operators operate cameras and so on), nonfiction credits are more fluid. Directors wear many hats, doing much more than directing their films; they often also produce, edit, write and even provide the narration. The Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney has taken a writing credit for adapting or writing the narration for all of his films. And, like a growing number of documentary filmmakers, he is a member of the Writers Guild, which provides protections for residual payments, as well as pension and health benefits."

You Either Smoke or You Get Smoked

Oral histories are no stranger to Grantland’s pages. But as the site used the format to tackle the TV version of "Friday Night Lights," Thomas Golianopoulos organized interviews with a multitude of cast of crew of "White Men Can’t Jump" on the occasion of its 20th anniversary. Looking at the production, release and legacy of the early-90s basketball film, Golianopoulos spoke with leads Woody Harrelson, Wesley Snipes and Rosie Perez, as well as writer-director Ron Shelton, among others. The piece’s true highlight? No less than four people saying, nearly word for word, that Snipes is "a great athlete," but not a basketball player.

"Rosie Perez (Gloria Clemente): When I went in for the audition, there were three other girls there and they were all A-list actresses, and they looked at me and smiled. I knew one of these actresses, and she goes, 'Hi, are you reading for Wesley Snipes's wife?' I go, 'No, I'm reading for Billy's girlfriend.' The whole room went quiet and [everyone] just stared at me. I went into the bathroom and had this panic attack. I thought about it, and now I was full-blown pissed off. And then confidence just came over me. I came back out, sat there, and the girl started talking to me and I just turn to her and go, 'Can you not speak right now because I just need to concentrate.' She goes, 'Oh, well.' I go, 'I don't mean to be rude. I just want this part.' They called me in. Then I got a callback and then I met with Woody. I remember when Woody walked in the room, I was just like, 'Oh my God, he's so sexy in person.' That's all I was thinking. I wasn't thinking about anything else. I was just looking at him like 'Oh my God.' There was instant chemistry between us."

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1 Comment

  • Larry | August 26, 2012 1:04 PMReply

    Lines of Wellington is not Ruiz's last film. It is his wife's film. Ruiz died before it even went into production. His last film is Night Across The Street.

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