Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Creative folks and magicians


Once upon a time, there was to be a film that promised to be amazing.

Sam Peckinpah, then the creator of the acclaimed television westerns The Rifleman and "The Westerner" had long been fascinated by the story of William Henry McCarty (alias William H. Bonney, alias Billy The Kid) and his once compadre and eventual killer, Pat Floyd Garrett. He was in development with Paramount Pictures to make a film based on this story.

It was agreed they would use the novel The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones by Charles Neider, which was a fictionalized account of the story. Of course, so was The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid by Ash Upson (ghost-writing for Pat Garrett his-own-self), but that's another story...

Eventually, director Stanley Kubrick, fresh off the hit Spartacus, was attached and Marlon Brando was cast as Rio, the Billy The Kid stand-in, and what, for a brief shining moment could have been one of the great movies of all time was in motion.

My recollection is that Peckinpah left first, having creative conflicts with Kubrick, and Kubrick was fired shortly after filming commenced because of conflicts with Brando. Brando then took over as director, his single film in the role, and the film itself, One-Eyed Jacks, was, in my ever-humble opinion, a complete abomination, although it has a growing list of apparently deluded followers.

The important fact here isn't that it's bad, however. The important thing is the manner in which it's bad.

Brando's performance is so deplorably lazy that it's simple to see him falling on his tricks. It's like watching a magic act on the night where the magician is half-asleep and doesn't cover up the cracks in-between. This wouldn't so much be a problem, except when you see the magician the next night, you've seen behind the act... you can see how they're done even when he's doing them well.

Yes, I've even seen behind the act watching The Godfather, and I've been frankly afraid to watch his earlier work ever since. It's tremendously disheartening to me as a film fan.

Oddly, the point of all this may be eluding you at this point.

I was nowhere near as big a fan of David Mamet when I saw the film Oleanna as I was a fan of Marlon Brando when I watched One-Eyed Jacks, and that movie is, if anything, even worse. As far as I'm concerned, one of the ten worst movies ever made.

Fuck! I'm angry now just thinking about it! If David Mamet knocked on my door right now, I'd slug him.

Now, I can imagine that the play he wrote and based the movie from could be slightly better. Without the directness and literal nature of the camera's eye, it could be staged so it was more ambiguous whether an act of sexual harrassment took place, which would make the crux of the conflict more intriguing and compelling. And onstage, highly stylized dialogue like that, with its complete lack of contractions and such, can play more easily. Film naturally creates an intimate atmosphere, that he does nothing to cinematically work against, in which stylized dialogue tends to ring false, which it most certainly does.

But I don't think it could ever be great, because of the lazy fucking writing. Look, it would be a very compelling challenge to put two sympathetic characters in this kind of conflict and allow the audience to ponder over the ultimate meaning. Putting two completely and utter dispicable characters together offers us nothing.

So, ultimately, that film felt like its own seeing behind the tricks. A showman on an off-night allowing me to see behind his rather sheer curtain, so I've reluctantly avoided watching more, despite having enjoyed most of his stuff prior to that.

So, now we get to this news story Stuart Gordon Does David Mamet Thriller. Apparently, Stuart Gordon, who I admire enormously, coming off his powerful and frightening thriller King Of The Ants, will be adapting Mamet's Edmond, from a screenplay by Mamet himself. It will star William H. Macy, usually amazing but a lead in the abysmal Oleanna, Julia Stiles, Joe Montegna, Rebecca Pidgeon, Maria Conchita Alonzo, Bai Lin and Tom Sizemore.

I'll have to see this, despite whatever ambivilance I may have. Hopefully Gordon's genius will help mask what holes may otherwise have poked through the curtain and I can merely enjoy the hell out of this.

I think I'll even give a shot to reading the play first.

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