THE REAR VIEW: The Empire Strikes Back

empire_strikes_back_ver6This week on The Rear View podcast I had the pleasure of sitting down with film composer Ryan Rapsys to talk about one of his favorite movie scores – John Williams’ The Empire Strikes Back. It was this score that Williams first introduced the “Imperial March” to his canon of iconic and unmistakable film themes. The film itself is often held up as the superior of all the Star Wars film, and it can be argued that film score may be what helped elevate its standing.

Ryan and I discuss the importance of collaboration with the director early in the filmmaking process and why a strong melody is vital in tapping into the emotions of an audience. The power of sense memory is unmatched when it comes to music and film. Filmmakers wishing to make an impact on the culture should always be looking to connect with their audiences and a simple and memorable melody can by just the ticket. You can also checkout Ryan Rapsys’ work on Soundcloud. 

 

THE REAR VIEW PODCAST – Sex, Lies, and Videotape

Filmmakers get into filmmaking for one reason. In short, they love movies. Specifically, they love this medium of storytelling. They love the reaction and emotion films generate in us.  They love to study a director’s technique or the way writers get themselves out of the corner they wrote themselves into. They love to make an audience laugh, cry or think. They love how a vast landscape looks on screen or the way a beam of light cuts across their actor’s face. Perhaps I’m speaking just for myself, but those reasons are why I am a filmmaker.

One of the best perks of the work is talking about movies with other filmmakers and really diving into all aspects of the craft and business. Over the years, I’ve been enlightened by some of the perspectives that my friends and colleagues have offered in conversation. And I hope I’ve been able to contribute in kind. Which is why I created this new podcast.

5Dpy8fNsThe Rear View is a chance for filmmakers to take a glance back at film history while driving forward into the future of cinema and television. Each episode, or reel as we’ll be calling them, I sit down with a filmmaker – be it writer, director, cinematographer, visual effect artists or composer – to discuss a film that influenced them in their craft. Or one they simply can’t talk about enough. Whether they liked the film or not, there is always something to learn about it.

(more…)

The Rear View: Americathon (1979)

220px-AmericathonThe mood of our country and perhaps the world in 1979 doesn’t seem to be all too different than what we’ve got going on now. From an American Ambassador being killed by Muslim extremists, to commercial airliner tragedies, to news reporters being killed, to US backed governments being toppled by radicals, to gay rights topping social headlines, to rising energy prices and plummeting Presidential approval ratings (President Carter’s rating in June of ‘79 sat at a cool 28%), present day is more like “second verse – same as the first.”

That’s why watching this slapstick comedy released in August of ‘79  is more fascinating than humorous. Co-written and directed by Neal Israel, the camp king behind some of my favorite movies of my teenage years – Police Academy, Bachelor Party and the awesome Real GeniusAmericathon presents a cavalcade of some of the 70’s best B-list comics and personalities like John Ritter, Harvey Korman, Fred Willard and Jay Leno. With cameo’s by Meat Loaf, Elvis Costello (singing “Crawling to the USA”) and Dodgers legend Tommy Lasorda spattered about the film will keep you guessing who’s gonna show up next. Listen up for George Carlin.

The story takes place in the “near future” of 1998. Carter has left the country in near disarray and because of the energy crisis, there is no more gasoline or oil – it’s way too expensive – so cars are a thing of the past and everyone travels around on bicycles Carter.jpg(Portland, OR and Santa Monica, CA cry tears of joy). After a couple of more horrible successors to Carter, John Ritter portrays President Chet Roosevelt (a distant relative certainly) who is elected by the people based on one simple platform “I am not a schmuck.” And like most politicians before him, he can’t even seem to keep that one promise. Ritter’s performance offers up in my mind what a Joe Biden presidency would look like. Especially when President Roosevelt passes a group of Chinese tourists on a tour of the Western White House in Marina Del Ray and tells them how much he just loves Chinese Food. He even concludes his addresses to the nation with “I’m your president, and I love you.”

The biggest issue of the young president’s presidency – besides keeping his hot wife hot for him – is that the country is about to default on it’s $400,000,000,000 loan (if only) from a wealthy American-Indian tycoon, Sam Birdwater. Birdwater has given America 30 days to come up with the money and pay him back or else he’s going to repossess the country. After contemplating a number of money raising ideas, like throwing a big dance and charging every American $5 to attend or holding a raffle to auction off the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, it’s decided that a 30 day telethon broadcast 24/7 across the country is the best way to raise the 400 billion dollars. Why? Because Americans love nothing more than watching TV. I know, it’s kind of painful to see how far we haven’t come.

7863414_123639818588Harvey Korman’s character, a pill popping TV star named Monty Rushmore (see, the puns fly at you a mile a minute) is hired to be the host of the telethon. He’s chosen over a popular game show host, 70’s TV legend Chuck Barris, who’s latest game show is having people guess the size of each other’s genitals. (America, whatta country!) Rushmore is the star of a hit tv sit-com where he plays a widower raising a young son. Aww, I know. Both father and son are cross-dressers too.

Things are so bad (or so good) in this not so distant future, everything from a ride in an elevator to receiving a phone call requires a coin deposit. A homeless man asks for $25 for a cup of coffee. North Dakota is now the country’s first official Gay State. Not sure if this is meant to be a good thing or bad thing – did the gay community claim it or were they all sent there. Also confusing things is when the filmmakers show a picture that’s supposed to represent North Dakota, it’s a picture of Mount Rushmore, which is in South Dakota. By 1998, China also defeated Russia on it’s own and is now a big capitalist country. Vietnam became the French Riviera of the 90’s and the Arabs and Jews have finally made peace by finding common ground – they both love blonde babes and have renamed their new nation the United Hebrab Republic. The humor in this film is like a junk drawer full of “that would be a funny bit” jokes.

Americathon132-e1401641361548

Over the course of the telethon the audience is treated to one horrible performance after the other and slowly audiences start complaining. The government official in charge of booking the performers, Fred Willard, delivers what is the best line of the film when he declares that what’s wrong with the show isn’t the entertainers because “they are all government approved.” Host Monty Rushmore knows what the audience wants and it’s blood – literally. In a slight comparison to the brilliant cult classic Death Race 2000 (1975) it’s now apparent that when the world is on fire, Americans look to violence, mayhem, and death for entertainment. At least that’s what the mirrors these filmmakers hold up tell us. When Meat Loaf appears on stage and destroys a car with a sledgehammer, the donations come pouring in. The next big money maker is a no-holds barred boxing match between an overbearing mother and her adult son, played by Jay Leno. By the final day of the telethon it’s clear the only thing that will entice the citizenry to donate enough money to topple the 400 billion dollar goal is that someone must be killed on stage.

If you are like me and enjoy watching these old forgotten films that shed light on what our culture was really focused on without the filter of a media approved Time-Life commemorative book version on  [insert your favorite decade here], then spend a few bucks over at Amazon OnDemand and rent it sometime. (link also allows you to watch first few minutes.)

The Rear View: Wives and Lovers (1963)

wives-and-lovers-movie-poster-1963-1020488084Part of the appeal of internet on-demand video services is that places like Netflix and Amazon Prime need scores of content in order to boast to consumers that they have tens of thousands of titles to choose from. Enter, the forgotten gems of Hollywood past. Unless you were alive and in tune with what movie studios were pumping out mid-20th century, the Paramount comedy Wives & Lovers most likely has never entered into one of your conversations about classic films. It’s too bad, because this is a smart, funny and entertaining film.

I recently heard of this film because a song of the same name, released in connection with the film in 1963, came up in conversation because of it’s perception as being misogynistic. Wait, a song from the sixties is considered by some to be misogynistic? Get outta here. Listen to it yourself if you like. “Wives and Lovers” by Jack Jones:

While the words of the song are aimed at young wives, the spirit of the song is meant to encourage both spouses to continue to be lovers to each other.

“Don’t think that just because there’s a ring on your finger, means you needn’t try anymore”

That equal charge is exactly the sentiment of the film Wives & Lovers starring Janet Leigh and Van Johnson.

Van Johnson plays Bill Austin, a struggling writer who stays at home to work and watch over his 8 year daughter Julie, while Bertie Austin (Leigh) works as a dental assistant. Did I mention this film was set in 1963 yet? The Austin family, struggling in a tiny 87th Street NYC apartment,  is suddenly upgraded to the Connecticut suburbs – complete with the always fantastic Shelley Winters and Ray Walston as neighbors – when Bill’s novel sells, along with the rights for the play and movie.

Although the good life awaits, the pitfalls of the sudden influx of wealth brings all sorts of problems with it. Newly “retired” Bertie is at a loss for what to do with her time now, she can’t even fix dinner for her family because of their new housekeeper. Bill, under pressure to keep up appearances at parties and deliver rewrites of the play version of his book, is rarely home. All this makes their daughter Julie (played by scene stealer Claire Wilcox) yearn for the days when all three were crammed in their little kitchen on 87th street.

wives-and-loversAll of this misplaced attention pounds away at the foundation that keeps a good marriage together. Both Bill and Bertie eventually stray romantically. Bill gets caught up with his lit-agent, Lucinda. Although it’s clear it’s all superficial and not based in real love. Bertie is swept up by Hollywood’s handsome “It Boy”, Gar Aldrich. Both Austins have their doubts about going through with their infidelities, but both realize that neither is willing to fight for the affections of the other. While the men of the film, Bill and Gar, are the pursuers, both women push back only enough to make the pursuit exciting. Their objections are more about what these new men might offer than what effects their actions will have on their relationships.

Now aside from the plot, the script is smartly funny and honest. I’m certain the play it was adapted from served the screenwriters well. The strength of the film comes from the performances.  Even daughter Julie has some excellent moments and her place in the plot isn’t simply for comedy or convenience, she is a wonderful character that adds to the complexity of the family’s struggles. But she also brings with her some laugh out loud character traits.

MV5BMTY1MTUxNTMzNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNzUwNjM2._V1_SX640_SY720_The highlight of the all the actor’s chemistry shines during a dinner party and Bill and Bertie’s home. Martha Hyer as Lucinda, shows up to the dinner party wearing a long coat. She’s is encouraged to take her coat off after lingering a little too with it on. I won’t spoil it, but it’s easily now one of my favorite brilliantly funny moments in film and sets up an entertainingly awkward party where jealous heads seemingly prevail. Add to all this the insider jokes on Hollywood culture (Winters plays a divorcee who’s ex is a big time actor and she’s filled with wise ‘ol observations on Hollywood’s upper crust.) and this easily becomes a film that should be lauded for it’s charm and wit.

I could easily see this film remade today, but unfortunately I fear some PC hack would try and progressive-ise it into garbage by inserting some gender role hysteria about how there is no difference in male and female nature – that men and women are the same. Generally speaking, male nature and female nature are not the same. This film is a good example of what society knows to be true but doesn’t want to accept. That men and women can be and are equal, but we are not the same. This should be celebrated.

There are a lot of hot topics that arise today from both the song and film. As someone who enjoys observing our species and a healthy down and dirty debate I look forward to reading your comments.

 

unfrgiven

The Rear View – Unforgiven (1992) – The 20th Century’s Final Film Masterpiece?

(Author’s note:  I am a film buff.  I am a history buff.  With The Rear View I invite you along with me to revisit important films in movie history. – Matt Edwards)

It’s a helluva thing killing a man. You take away all he’s got… all he’s ever gonna have.” – William Munny

Out of the countless films I’ve watched more than once, this western tale of revenge, redemption and rampage ranks among the greatest stories ever filmed.  I know I’m not making some avant-garde claim that this mainstream Hollywood film is a masterpiece.  Unforgiven won almost every best picture award of the season from film academies, film critic circles, guilds and magazine polls.

Unknown

Clint Eastwood cleaned up in the director accolades.  David Webb Peoples was singled out multiple times for his brilliant screenplay.  Gene Hackman seemed to win every supporting actor award.  (In my view he was simply the spokesman for accepting the awards for his the entire supporting acting team of Richard Harris, Morgan Freeman and Frances Fisher.)

Clint’s longtime cinematographer, Jack N. Green, photographed the most beautiful of America’s big sky west.  (Personally, the fact that Jack Green also DP’d Serenity completes me.)  Oscar-winning editor Joel Cox has been with Eastwood every step of the way in Eastwood’s filmmaking career and the mood he and his sound designers create is unparalleled.  Eastwood even wrote the theme for the score of the film which quite hauntingly reverbs from every distant mountain, rain cloud and field of grass which grace the screen.  In short, Eastwood’s team in front of and behind the camera deserve every bit of praise.

unforgivenI want to single out the editing and sound design for a moment.  Two things that rarely get their due recognition outside of those awkward moments when Scarlett Johansson hands some guy who’s been locked up in a sound booth for 16 hours a day an Oscar.  When a sound mix is done right, you don’t notice it one bit.  It’s not until repeated viewings that you start to look around with your ears.  The use of the thunderstorm in films can, has been, and will always be, overused in movies.  However, if you ever want to know how to use it correctly, I can’t stress enough how perfectly it’s used this film.  It’s a theme that makes absolute sense.  The thunderstorm is the Greek chorus of the story and is accompanied by chilled winds, creaking floorboards, and… perfectly timed silence.

With all that Hollywood offers us today, this film from 22 years ago manages to do something that very few films do.  In the context of the Hollywood western film genre, Unforgiven is the grand finale of the first century of Hollywood filmmaking, if you will.  From Charlie Chaplin to Hitchcock, John Ford to Spielberg, Howard Hawks to John Hughes, American Film of the twentieth century was the age of discovery in the art of storytelling with moving pictures.  In a vacuum, Unforgiven is able to stand as a great film.  But this film does not live in vacuum and neither do we.  Unforgiven was made at the perfect time — a time after so much film history had been laid out.

Let’s look at some of the events that had to occur in that history leading up to filming Unforgiven in order for this film to have as large an impact on audiences as it did and will continue to do so, if we preserve and revisit film history: (more…)