CRY UNCLE!

a uncOuch! Even though I was instantly thrilled when I saw that Guy Ritchie had made a movie based on the old Man from UNCLE television series, I was also suspicious that the release date had been scheduled in mid-August, which is usually a dumping ground for dead dogs and moldy cheese. My enthusiasm was further tested when I saw the a mipreviews; Henry Cavill seemed to be a pretty good choice to succeed Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo, but big, muscular Armie Hammer just plain didn’t look right as Illya Kuryakin. No, David McCallum personified that character: slender, bookish, poetic, intelelctual. Maybe Ritchie felt obliged to reinvent the man for a generation that doesn’t read. Alas, my suspicions proved correct. The movie did just enough things right to prove to be a huge disappointment. Hugh Grant was aaunc2 shrewd pick as Mr. Waverly, and Elizabeth Debecki was terrific as the fashionable villainous Victoria Vinciguerra.But the back stories were unimaginative, the east-west rivalty was banal, the abandonment of all the UNCLE lore and iconography was a huge misjudgment. J.J. Abrams taught the world how to do a cinematic reboot of a TV series with Star Trek in 2009: the key is to preserve the characters the audience loves. Tom Cruise, to his credit, also figured this out with the Mission Impossible series, whose fifth installment, Rogue Nation, proved to be inventive and fun. Some time ago Cruise figured out that the teamwork in the series was more important than the plot, and this episode again works that angle to perfection. The new wrinkle this time is a rival agent played by a little known British actress named Rebecca Ferguson, who is every bit as cool as Honor Blackman and might even rival–dare I say it?–the amazing Diana Rigg. Well, no, I guess she’s not all that. But she is smashing!

RUSH TO JUDGMENT

Yesterday, noted cineaste Rush Limbaugh offered some ex post facto commentary on the selection of 12 Years a Slave as Best Picture. “There’s no way that movie was not going to win!’’ said Limbaugh. “If it was the only thing that movie won, it was going to win Best Picture. There was no way — it didn’t matter if it’s good or bad; I haven’t seen it — it had the magic word in the title: Slave.”

For the record,here are just some of the movies for which the word slave worked no spell:

Slave (2003), Slave (2009), Slave (2012), I, A Slave, The Slave (1953), The Slave (1962), Slaves (1989), Slaves of New York, Slaves of the Realm, Slaves of Rome, Slaves of Crime, Slaves of Babylon, Slave of Desire, Slaves of the Saints, Slaves to the Underground, Slaves in Bondage, Slaves of Hollywood, Slave of Love, Aido: Slave of Love, Love Slaves of the Amazon;

White Slave, The White Slave, White Slaves, Slave Ship, White Slave Ship, White Slave Traffic, White Slaves of Chinatown, Three Dancing Slaves, Runaway Slave;

Boy Slaves, Slave Girl, Tarzan and the Slave Girl, The Pirate and the Slave Girl, The Warrior and the Slave Girl, Captain Kidd and the Slave Girl, Slave Girls from Beyond Infinity, Goliath and the Rebel Slave, Slave Hunter, Slave Warrior, Slave Piercing, Iron Slaves;

Slave Wife, Slave Queen, Samson and the Slave Queen, Slave Queen of Babylon, Theodora Slave Empress, Prince Among Slaves, Blood Slaves of the Vampire Wolf, Mistress Absolute and a Slave Called Lewis, and Angola 3: Black Panthers and the Last Slave Plantation.

THE WOLF HAS ALL THE GRAVITY

The Oscars will be presented tomorrow night, and right now smart money for Best Picture is on Gravity, an engrossing and technically advanced film about one of the oldest plots in the book, that of the marooned person who is running out of time and resources. It’s a fine film, very well directed, featuring two ingratiating performances by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, and like most Republican Vice Presidential nominees, it has, well, no gravity. Next to Martin Scorsese‘s The Wolf of Wall Street, it is wafer-thin and value-free.

The Wolf of Wall Street speaks to the crisis of our times, namely, the control of the economy by finance and the yawning wealth gap between rich and poor. It is a film that responds to the financial crisis, which is odd, because it has nothing to do with the financial crisis per se, and everything to do with the attitudes that fueled the meltdown. Wall Street today operates in a morality-free zone where anything you can get away with is right, and the film nails its subjects to the wall. Critics have chided The Wolf of Wall Street for celebrating the the excesses and emptiness of the traders. I don’t think it celebrates that life at all. I think it exposes its shallownes, its valulessness.

Is this voraciousness such a new thing? Wasn’t this behind the Crash of ’29, the insider trading fever of the late eighties? True enough, greed always has been part of business. Moreover, it’s hard to say that modern business does anything as immoral as slave trading, or using children, or endangering the lives of industrial workers. But the amorality of marketism, the Reagan-Greenspan idolatry of free markets that fight regulation, and wring every cent our of workers and consumers, and use the superpowers of computers to profit from minute fluctuations of the stock market in ways unrelated to productivity or investment, add up to theft on a grand scale from the workers of the world.

Wall Street today is no longer about making money. It is about becoming super rich. In the Times in January, a former trader named Sam Polk wrote about his “addiction to money” that developed after he went to work on Wall Street. “At the end of my first year,” writes Polk, “I was thrilled to receive a $40,000 bonus. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have to check my balance before I withdrew money. But a week later, a trader who was only four years my senior got hired away by C.S.F.B. for $900,000. After my initial envious shock — his haul was 22 times the size of my bonus — I grew excited at how much money was available. Over the next few years I worked like a maniac and began to move up the Wall Street ladder. I became a bond and credit default swap trader, one of the more lucrative roles in the business. Just four years after I started at Bank of America, Citibank offered me a “1.75 by 2” which means $1.75 million per year for two years, and I used it to get a promotion. I started dating a pretty blonde and rented a loft apartment on Bond Street for $6,000 a month. . . .Still, I was nagged by envy. On a trading desk everyone sits together, from interns to managing directors. When the guy next to you makes $10 million, $1 million or $2 million doesn’t look so sweet. Nonetheless, I was thrilled with my progress. . . .[W]orking elbow to elbow with billionaires, I was a giant fireball of greed. I’d think about how my colleagues could buy Micronesia if they wanted to, or become mayor of New York City. They didn’t just have money; they had power — power beyond getting a table at Le Bernardin. Senators came to their offices. They were royalty. I wanted a billion dollars. It’s staggering to think that in the course of five years, I’d gone from being thrilled at my first bonus — $40,000 — to being disappointed when, my second year at the hedge fund, I was paid “only” $1.5 million. But in the end, it was actually my absurdly wealthy bosses who helped me see the limitations of unlimited wealth. I was in a meeting with one of them, and a few other traders, and they were talking about the new hedge-fund regulations. Most everyone on Wall Street thought they were a bad idea. “But isn’t it better for the system as a whole?” I asked. The room went quiet, and my boss shot me a withering look. I remember his saying, “I don’t have the brain capacity to think about the system as a whole. All I’m concerned with is how this affects our company.” I felt as if I’d been punched in the gut. He was afraid of losing money, despite all that he had. From that moment on, I started to see Wall Street with new eyes. I noticed the vitriol that traders directed at the government for limiting bonuses after the crash. I heard the fury in their voices at the mention of higher taxes. These traders despised anything or anyone that threatened their bonuses. Ever see what a drug addict is like when he’s used up his junk? He’ll do anything — walk 20 miles in the snow, rob a grandma — to get a fix. Wall Street was like that. In the months before bonuses were handed out, the trading floor started to feel like a neighborhood in “The Wire” when the heroin runs out.”

That need for ever-increasing amounts of money is what The Wolf of Wall Street dramatizes: Jordan Belfort, the Wolf of the title who is played by Leonardo di Caprio, is hooked on making money. No moral paragon to begin with, he grows more destructive of his family and friends and himself as his need to make money keeps growing, Although he mouths the traditional Wall Street moral spin about investment, Belfort’s game is all about taking the investor’s money, no matter what line of dishonesty is necessary. Scorsese identifies a kind of animal rapaciousness that lives within each of us, a spirit that Wall Street not only unleashes, but provokes to more audacious predations.

In an early scene in the film, above, young Belfort is tuned into this spirit by a mentor played by Matthew McConaughey. It’s a funny scene–McConaughey is kind of over-the-top, but as the film progresses we see that is as prescient as John the Baptist. He is the one who introduces the animal appeal at work here.

By the final sequence of the film, we see that Belfort has infested this spirit in hundreds of others–despite abundant evidence that such greed is manifestly injurious to us. In this masterful sequence, we see Belfort just as he has determined to act against the wise advice of his father and his lawyer, and reject a plea-bargain that would have cost him his firm but preserved ill-gotten his wealth. Instead, he summons the spirits–“the animal spirits” that John Maynard Keynes recognized?–and defiantly rejects the government’s deal. He cannot stop himself.

And what happens? He sort of gets away with it. He receives a a three-year stretch at a country club prison, surrenders much of his money but remains quite rich, and maintains the ability to earn. We see the poor honest FBI agent (an excellent Kyle Chandler) going home on the subway, we see the little people of the world leading their sad and dismal lives, and we see that Belfort remains a rich, widely admired pig. In a masterstroke of understatemnt, the film ends looking into the faces of a room full of aspiring salesmen, people who covet wealth and want the extravagantly indulgent life of Jordan Belfort. As we see their eager faces, the music comes up. Scorsese, not known for his subtlety, picked a a jazz instrumental. The title of the piece is `Cast Your Fate to the Wind.”

It’s still your choice–you’ve been warned.

REVIEW OF `AIN’T IN IT FOR MY HEALTH’

This article first appeared in the Daily Beast today, April 21, 2013.

“I don’t want a biography,’’ Levon Helm told Jacob Hatley in 2007 when the young director came to Helm’s Woodstock home and broached the idea of making a film about the venerable singer and drummer’s life. Helm had no interest in exploring the past, and neither, really, did Hatley, who felt less like investigating than sitting back, fly-style, and creating a portrait of a vibrant, ailing, cranky, authentic rock-and-roll lion in winter. As we see in the resultant film Ain’t in It For My Health, which opened in New York on April 19 (on the first anniversary of Helm’s death) and later throughout the country, Hatley got all that he hoped for, and more.

1wv1rg0-1024x723Unexpected events drift in to fill Helm’s days and Hatley’s picture: the birth of Helm’s first grandchild, the opportunity to complete an unfinished Hank Williams song, a Grammy nomination for the first album he’d recorded in two decades, and a serious health scare. There is a wide array of privileged moments shown in this film: the sheer sweetness of Helm playing “In the Pines’’ for his tiny grandson, tension as Helm waits on a cold steel stool in a hospital examining room, a “who’da thunk it?” teaching moment when Helm holds forth on the venomous spurs on the legs of the duck-billed platypus, and the excruciating scene in which Helm twists in pain as a doctor inserts a tube into his nostril in order to examine his inflamed vocal chords. And there’s sheer awe whenever he sings, and that amazing voice, now banged-up and frayed, connects to the heart of an authentic America that lies buried somewhere under a million tons of junk culture.

But while biography may not have been what Helm wanted, and while biography may not have been what Hatley sought to serve, biography in the end would not be denied, and it’s the way the injured feelings from Helm’s past seep like the goo from a malfunctioning septic tank that gives the film its bite.

For those who don’t know, Helm was the drummer and one of the lead singers of The Band, a popular and influential group of the late sixties and early seventies. They leaped to legendary status when Martin Scorsese decided to tell their nearly unbelievable story (Canadian bar band to Bob Dylan backing band to critically acclaimed innovators and international arena headliners) against the backdrop of their brilliant final concert.

That film, The Last Waltz, is widely considered the best rock-and-roll film ever made. But what that film does not document is Helm’s great anger at the break up of The Band; he didn’t want The Band to end, resented participating in the movie, and hated that lead guitarist Robbie Robertson was pulling out. Over time his feelings intensified, particularly as money became an issue; he felt he didn’t get fair compensation for his participation in The Last Waltz, and he felt that Robertson unfairly took sole songwriting credit, along with the royalties that flowed from those credits, for songs that The Band wrote collaboratively. In the ensuing decades, as money troubles and more tragic events seemed to afflict all the members of the band except Robertson, Helm’s feelings hardened.

Helm, by all accounts, was one of the world’s great spirits. He was a generous, gregarious, upbeat person whose bottomless ability to express congeniality and remember names and share the spotlight earned him affection so warmly expressed that one starts to think people are speaking not of a human but of a beloved and recently deceased family dog. And Hatley’s film captures plenty of moments of Helm’s joie de vivre: gracefully obliging his doctor’s borderline inappropriate request for an autograph, joy-riding on his neighbor’s tractor, and taking the same delight in talking to a bus driver about interstate highway connections as he does in chatting with Billy Bob Thornton about sushi restaurants and Hawaiian pot.

But as the opening line from the Hank Williams song he’s working on says, “I’m living with days that forever are gone.’’ His “unresolved feelings’’ about The Band, as Helm’s longtime friend and collaborator Larry Campbell calls them, manifest in different ways. Sometimes he battles to contain them. Asked by Billy Bob Thornton about what happened to The Band, Helm half groans. “It was a goddam screw job,’’ he says, hoping that the fog of vagueness will discourage Thornton from tapping further against the thin crust covering thirty years of acid.

At other times, they erupt. Told about the Grammy committee’s offer, Helm sneers at “that Lifetime Achievement bullshit’’ with the disdainful eloquence that could only come from one who had studied real bullshit at a tender age. “What good’s it gonna do Rick or Richard?’’ he asks, invoking the names of his late bandmates Rick Danko and Richard Manuel. And sometimes he’s just inscrutable: he displays a moment of excitement when he announces to the friends and employees in his kitchen that his album has just won a Grammy. But as the hugs and back-slaps ripple around the room, a shadow falls across Helm’s face. What’s he thinking about? Absent friends? Missed opportunities? The venomous spurs of the duck-billed platypus? Whatever it is, it isn’t victory.

There are no answers in Hatley’s film, but why should there be, if Helm himself didn’t want to find them? Instead, he gives us a portrait of a man in full, a great artist and an ordinary person who understands that he is being cornered, and who is still fighting for the best of whatever life still offers him.

`AIN’T IN IT FOR MY HEALTH’ SCREENING

1dirt farmerMy friend Ken Smith and I were invited to the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn attend a screening of Jacob Hatley’s documentary about Levon Helm called Ain’t In It for My Health, a lovely, interesting portrait of a gregarious, cranky, still-workin’ rock icon in winter. The film, shot in 2008 amd 2009, captures the man in full–full of life, enjoying new experiences, struggling with money and health, wrestling with the past. After the screening, there was a performance by the Dirt Farmer Band–Larry Campbell, Amy Helm, Teresa Williams, Byron Isaacs and Justin Guip. The whole band was good, but Teresa was in unbelievably good form.

HENRY BROMELL, 1947-2013

Homeland-Producer-DiesThree of the most interesting hours of my life were spent in the company of Henry Bromell, who died the other day at the age of 65. Henry was a writer–of short stories and television scripts mostly, but also of an also of a novel and of screenplays. Ann Kolson had assigned me to write a piece on him for The New York Times; the occasion was his debut as a film director for a film called Panic, about a hitman, for which he had also written the screenplay. We met him at the Algonquin Hotel–the only interview I’ve ever conducted there–and I liked him immediately. Easy-going, friendly, funny, interested, smart–he was anything other than self-absorbed. We talked for literally three hours, which was about three times the amount of time usually required to complete the assignment. Although I was careful to cover the usual bases that needed for my assignment, the encounter wasn’t like an interview at all, but more just a delightful conversation. We talked about film, books, writing, his interesting upbringing, about Homicide: Life on the Streets (where had had performed distinguished work and which was one of my favorite series.) It was just an enormously enjoyable experience, with no sense of the professional wall that typically exists between subject and interviewer. I was thrilled to see that he had achieved recent success with Homeland; that was arena he knew well from his upbringing in the Middle East as the son of a CIA operative. I’m glad that he capped his career with success.

Here are a couple of Henry’s quotes from the piece:

”My editor says I’m the only person she knows who’s written for television that television has made a better writer,” said Mr. Bromell, pointing out that writing for David Chase, who was the executive producer of ”I’ll Fly Away” and is the executive producer of ”The Sopranos,” was the most rigorous experience of his career. ”He thinks in terms of a page and a half or two pages, and within that time, there should be two turns, two times where the scene goes someplace that you didn’t see coming, that’s real and is believable. And he’s a Chekovian, so for him the whole scene has to have a subtext. Even if it’s not mentioned, you’ve got to feel it and understand it. Really tough stuff. But you get excited by what he says, because you see that he’s made it better.”

Reaction to ”Panic” has been positive; Mr. Bromell seems particularly pleased by friends who’ve told him that he has made a European movie. ”Most of the filmmakers I love are Europeans,” he says, enumerating a catalog of favorites that quickly begins to include directors from Japan, India and America but that leaves out most of today’s Hollywood filmmakers.

”Working on the series, we would get as production assistant these very bright kids from U.S.C. film school and N.Y.U. film school who begin each day asking what would be entertaining for the greatest number of people. Not, ‘What if I take that character and put him in a room with that character?’ Now they think like agents and producers. They’re very comfortable servicing corporate culture. They don’t see as their fundamental role being critical or making people laugh in a way they’re not used to laughing.
They think, ‘All right, we got to bring in 30 million people, how are we going to do this?’ I think, ‘If all we’re going to do is serve corporate culture, where are our ideas going to come from?’ ”

THE TOP TEN OF 2012

1love-for-levon-3-600x-1349361870This year that is fast disappearing will not be remembered in these quarters with very much warmth. It was a fairly hideous, sickening year, the year that I felt I got old. But like all good things, the bad ones come to an end as well, and thanks to some much appreciated end of the year action by Richard Plepler, Steve Koepp, David McCormick and others, we begin 2013 on an upswing, and with hopes for better times to come. In the meanwhile, here are some jewels, personally chosen and wholly idiosyncratic, recovered from 2012:
1.) Love for Levon. Without a doubt, everything about the tribute concert to Levon Helm–reporting the story, meeting the people involved, attending2searching-for-sugar-man-poster_large the event, the reception to the article, what may happen yet–turned this into the best thing that I was involved with this year.
2.) Searching for Sugarman. This modest documentary about a real-life Cinderella made my heart leap with joy. A very 3carly-rae-jepsen-jimmy-falloninspirational story.
3.) Call Me Maybe. Carly Rae Jepson‘s unassuming, sweet, girlish, flirty hit was attractive enough, but the way it went viral and enveloped everyone from the US Olympic Swim Team to Colin Powell was delightful. The song never failed to bring a smile to my lips, especially in Jepson’s collaboration with Jimmy Fallon4choir_2238852b and the Roots.
4.) The dauntless, rain-drenched performance of the young people of Royal College of Music Chamber Choir during the flotilla of the Queen’s Jubilee was simply stirring, especially when they sang “Land of Hope and Glory.”
5bill_clinton_dnc_cc_120905_wg5.) The presidential campaign as a whole this year was a fairly tedious affair, but the rousing Democratic convention, driven by one splendid speech after another culminating in Bill Clinton‘s masterful dissection/deconstruction/destruction of the GOP position was fairly brilliant, just as the Republicans’ ceaseless rhetorical self-destruction–“Oops”, “Nine, nine, nine”, “I like to fire people”, “legitimate rape”, “the 47 percent”–was the best long-running comedy series on TV.
6.) The Giants Win the Super Bowl. Just as in 2009, 6manningham_catchthe inconsistent Giants managed to win four–or in this case, six–games that they could win but were not likely to, and managed, one play at a time, to walk off with the hardware.
7he-hour7.) The Hour. A splendid, sophisticated, intelligent BBC series about a ground-breaking TV news magazine being produced in the early fifties. I love the way they can combine news judgment, inside baseball, and messy personal situations. Dominic West, Ben Whislaw and Romola Garai are just terrific. We also liked the posh Downton Abbey and the relentlessly vulgar The In-Betweeners. (I must say, I haven’t seen Homeland yet.
8.) Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel. Having loved Wolf Hall, 8809-11booker2_full_600I feared its sequel would suffer by comparison. I shouldn’t have worried. Other enjoyable books this year: Watergate, by Thomas Mallon; Passage of Power, by Robert Caro; The Long Road to Antietam, by Richard Slotkin.
9.) I went to Lincoln fearing a Spielbergian historical romance, full of longing gazes and quivering lips and swirling strings. But while there was some of that, it wasn’t enough to 9lincoln-daniel-day-lewissicken the whole deal. I give total credit to screenwriter Tony Kushner for his decision to hang this pageant on a moment that has been largely overlooked by historians, the passage by the House of Representatives of a constitutional amendment outlawing slavery. Historians undercut the importance of that moment because there were other ways to accomplish Lincoln’s end, but that’s not the point: whether or not the vote had significant is irrelevant10Superstorm_Sandy_Keel-1_t618, it is a perfectly splendid motor for an historical drama.
10. Superstorm Sandy. “There is nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at with no result,” Winston Churchill once said. I have no reason to dispute him, but I can tell you this: it’s a humbling thing to realize that the killer hurricane has come and gone and that you’ve been missed.

BOND, THE TEMERAIRE, AND TENNYSON

James-Bond-SkyfallMy latest, in The American Interest:

About ten minutes into Skyfall, the new James Bond film, I was already in love. Not because of the long, opening chase scene, which among its obligatory demolishment of fruit carts and motor vehicles, did feature one brilliantly iconic moment when Bond smartly straightens his cuffs after the narrowest of escapes. No, the moment I succumbed came shortly after the chase ended, during Daniel Kleinman’s splendid opening titles, as Adele sang the film’s title song. As the female sihouettes swirled into one another and Adele’s big, brassy, bravura voice asserted itself over the soaring strings and propulsive beat, I was transported into the heart of Bondlandia, where I was once again a 13-year-old fanboy, watching Maurice Binder’s sensuous opening titles, listening to Shirley Bassey’s dramatic, dominant voice, and waiting for Sean Connery to prowl onto the screen like a tuxedo-clad panther. From Skyfall’s early moments, director Sam Mendes showed that he had captured the essence of the signature Bond movies, and happily, for the next two hours plus, he never relinquished it.

temeraire-tugged-to-her-last-berth-to-be-broken-upThe opening chase, the elaborate titles, the anthem—Mendes keeps these Bond movie traditions, and cannily lets others go. Unlike the films of the Connery and Roger Moore eras, the number of women in the film falls below regulation harem levels, and the most important female character is Bond’s boss, a stout, sharp-tongued civil servant who probably hasn’t been seduced since Brezhnev was in his heyday. Q is back, but Mendes shrewdly reinvents him as a young computer nerd who disdains the Hammacher Schlemmer-style exploding gadgets that were a signature feature of Desmond Llewelyn’s long, fusty tenure as Q. Other Bond indicia are firmly in place. The scriptural “Bond, James Bond’’ signature introduction flows in naturally, and the essential “shaken, not stirred’’ instruction receives a clever twist. The fanfare of John Barry’s “James Bond Theme”, a brilliant brass and bass guitar-based totem of Swinging London, nudges into the picture a couple of times, but isn’t deployed in its entirety until fairly late in the film, when 007 takes the tarp off his still gleaming Aston-Martin and roars into the night.

You can read the rest here.

MY SUMMER HIGHLIGHT

Apart from that special day when the temperature was topping 90, a skunky stink was broaching the perimeter of the property, and poison ivy was breaking out all over my body–quite the trifecta!–nothing quite so pleased me this summer as those occasions when I happened upon Carly Rae Jepson singing “Call Me Maybe.” I know the song is a featherweight thing, but the tune is catchy, and, more important, the singer’s innocence flirtiness simply melts my heart. And it’s fun–just simple, silly, stupid, joyous fun. Of all the video versions–and it’s particularly hard to resist the US Olympic swim team’s version, featuring the charming Missy Franklin–I find the most pleasure in the video Jepson made with Jimmy Fallon and the Roots, all of them playing children’s instruments. I love the starstruck disbelief that is all over Jepson’s face, I love Fallon’s older brotherly earnestness, and most of all, I love the Roots’ implacable professional cool. It’s a smile, every time.

WILLIAM FRIEDKIN ON AURORA

After a screening of Killer Joe at the Jacob Burns Film Center last week, the eminent director William Friedkin (left, with Janet Maslin) had an interesting comment about the influence of films in the Aurora shootings. Disagreeing with comments that Friedkin’s capable contemporary Peter Bogdanovich made in The Hollywood Reporter (“Violence on the screen has increased tenfold. It’s almost pornographic. In fact, it is pornographic. . . .Today, there’s a general numbing of the audience. There’s too much murder and killing. You make people insensitive by showing it all the time. The body count in pictures is huge. It numbs the audience into thinking it’s not so terrible. . . . The respect for human life seems to be eroding.”), Friedkin didn’t think movies were to blame for events like Aurora. “Go back to the Leopold and Loeb case,” he said. “Cold-blooded killers–they said they were influenced by Nietzche. The Manson killings were supposedly influenced by The Beatles; they wrote `Helter Skelter’ on the wall. Mark David Chapman was supposedly influenced by The Catcher in the Rye. James Holmes told the police his favorite movies were Star Wars and Dumb and Dumber. These are excuses.” Personally, I don’t know why both of these men can’t be right. The excessive violence in movies does coarsen people’s expectations, but to blame movies, or any other art form, for events like the Aurora shootings is simplistic.

Friedkin had some amusing comments. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, he called Killer Joe “a kind of a Cinderella story”, in which the ingenue is waiting for her Prince Charming; one wonders if the appearance of a can of pumpkin filling in the final scene is a subtle reference. kind of hommage. He easily admits that the film scene has passed him by. “When I came out to Hollywood in the late sixties from Chicago, I met all these great directors like Billy Wildee, George Cukor and Richard Brooks, and they hated all the movies that my generation thought were so terrific. Well, now I’m one of them. If I were going into film today, I would go into computer generated imagery. That’s the future of film.” He said that in casting the title role, he considered a lot of leading men, including Tommy Lee Jones and Billy Bob Thornton (“the hard-bitten types”), and was very interested in casting Kurt Russell (“He finally dropped out; he said that if he took this part, it would be the end of his relationship with Goldie Hawn.”) Friedkin eventually saw McConaughey on a talk show, and began to think that maybe the role would be better played by someone young and handsome and charming. “Matthew read the script and was at first appalled. Then he came around. He knew all these people growing up.” Friedkin also made a funny reference to McConaughey’s mother: “Her dream is to appear in a remake of The Graduate, with her in the Bancroft role and Matthew as Benjamin.”

As for the movie, well, I have to say I was pretty entertained–stupid people, wild violence, over-the-top humor. Matthew McConaughey and Thomas Hayden Church were pretty wonderful, and the whole thing was kind of amazing spectacle. But I must say, after seeing films from Quentin Tarantino, and Martin McDonagh, and now Friedkin, I’m thinking that I’ve seen this pseudo-intellectual, postmodern, blood and yucks act enough for a while. It’s no longer cutting edge, dangerous territory.

Come on, boys–what else can you show me? Bogdanovich in his comments seemed so square when he wondered how come we don’t make films like From Here to Eternity and How Green Was My Valley. But good strong dramas, with honest feelings and heart? Maybe that could be the new cutting edge.