Musings @musicandmeaning.com

Oh, the truth will form and fall apart again.
"He had a theory that musicians are incredibly complex, and know far less than other artists what they want and what they are; that they puzzle themselves as well as their friends; that their psychology is a modern development, and has not yet been understood." – E. M. Forster

Archive for the 'Film' category

Movie magic.


Thursday, 7 July 2005

The Lehman legacy

"Silly, only grown-up men are scared of women!"

That’s my favorite quote from one of my favorite movies. Duane Chase (playing a boy named Kurt) said it, but Ernest Lehman wrote it.

The movie? The Sound of Music.

Not a big fan of the schmaltzy Julie Andrews movie about nuns and Nazis?

How about…

Hello, Dolly!
The King and I…or…
West Side Story?

Not a fan of musicals?

How about Sabrina?

Not a fan of fluffy movies?

How about…

North By Northwest?

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Ernest Lehman wrote the screenplays for all of them.* He died on Saturday at the age of 89.

I suspect that most people won’t know that unless they’re film buffs or otherwise pay attention to the writing credits for movies. I considered myself a film fan and I’d seen three of those movies, but the name "Ernest Lehman" didn’t stick in my brain until a number of years ago, when I read Charmian Carr’s autobiography (as any The Sound of Music fan knows, she played Liesl in the film). Lehman appeared often in her book, which I recommend to anyone interested in films/film history — especially, of course, SOM fans. Around that time, I also listened to Lehman’s interesting audio interview included among the special Sound of Music DVD supplements. And last year, I listened to his running commentary on the DVD for North By Northwest (which had an original screenplay), and felt like I’d spent a lovely afternoon with him while listening to his insights and asides. From those accounts, and from the films he wrote or adapted, he seemed like an amazingly talented, funny and friendly guy. I have no doubt that he was witty — his writing demonstrates that well.

Lehman left behind a diverse and prestigious mark in film and cultural history. (He even has a connection to tech history, thanks to Photo Matt and his first — and now default — WordPress plugin, Hello Dolly.) I can’t think of any current screenwriters who are responsible for such a range of revered and successful movies. I’ll have to check out the rest of the films he worked on. A few of his own print stories were adapted by other writers and produced for the screen.

In 2001, he received an Oscar "in appreciation of a body of varied and enduring work." It was the first honorary Oscar bestowed to a screenwriter. During his speech at the awards ceremony, Lehman said:

I accept this rarest of honors on behalf of screenwriters everywhere, but especially those in the Writers Guild of America. We have suffered anonymity far too often. I appeal to all movie critics and feature writers to please always bear in mind that a film production begins and ends with a screenplay.

However, this glorious night is demonstrating that film belongs to many — to the creators of original works, to superbly talented actors, directors, producers and to gifted collaborators. Had it not been for all of them, I certainly would not be up here having one of the most exciting nights in a long lifetime.

You have my admiration, Mr. Lehman.

[*He shared the writing credit for Sabrina with Billy Wilder and Samuel A. Taylor.]

More info:

Posted at 6:28 am | Filed under Film, News commentary |  

Wednesday, 25 May 2005

Goodbye, Ismail Merchant

I’ve just read the news that Ismail Merchant, of Merchant Ivory Productions, died today in London. He was 68. (Here’s the AP/Yahoo news report.)

I’m very saddened, and at this point, I can’t form the words to write everything I want to write. I will say that his death is a great loss. He, James Ivory, and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala formed the filmmaking team that made me a fan of E. M. Forster and deeply influenced my life. The Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala adaptation of Howards End still ranks as my all-time favorite movie, 12 years after I first saw it. I am sorry that I did not get to meet Mr Merchant to thank him personally, and that I did not write him the letter that I’ve meant to write for years.

I met James Ivory at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books last month…he made over 40 movies with Ismail Merchant. My sincerest condolences to Mr Merchant’s family and friends, including James Ivory and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.

I have a lot more to say, but I’ll have to come back when I’m better able to communicate my thoughts.

Posted at 2:54 pm | Filed under Film, News commentary | 2 replies »

Sunday, 27 March 2005

X-Files fans rejoice

Well, sort of. In a way. Okay, this post has very little to do with The X-Files except for the David Duchovny connection (but I will mention something about the show in a sec). He wrote and directed his first feature film, House of D, which premieres next month. And for the promo push, Duchovny is writing a blog (Flash required). It’s interesting to see his writing style and his typing style (very few caps; single paragraphs), especially since — as hardcore XF fans will remember — he pursued a PhD in English literature before leaving Yale for an acting career.

I’ve been out of the entertainment industry news loop for years — I remember reading something about him writing his first movie, but didn’t think about it after that. Anyway, I just now happened to catch the link to his blog while on the Blogger site — his name was at the top of the list of "blogs of note." I figured it was a fan site, but nope, it’s really him. Check it out. There are audio posts, too, although I haven’t listened to them as of yet.

(Note: Clicking on the orange banner for the movie at the top of his blog leads to the wrong site! Oops. I wonder how long it’ll be before someone fixes that.)

Based on the two X-Files episodes that Duchovny wrote and directed ("The Unnatural" is still one of my favorites), I’ll definitely put his movie on my to-watch list. (I haven’t done much XF web browsing in a really long time, but Fox TV has apparently replaced its excellent resource at x-files.com with product pages for the DVDs.)

Okay, here’s the news about The X-Files: in Duchovny’s entry for March 23rd, he says at the very end:

speaking of x files, i think we’re getting very close to getting a start date on the x2. my guess is we’ll be filming early next year.

Cool. I know absolutely nothing about the sequel other than that, but I hope it’s better than the first movie. That reminds me, though…the last two seasons of the series…weren’t my faves. I wonder what the story will be about? I’m already a little sad that the Lone Gunmen won’t be in it. Who knows? Maybe they could be.

Posted at 6:42 am | Filed under Film, Television |  

Thursday, 22 January 2004

Various tidbits

Just a number of random and not-so-random thoughts.

Over the holidays, I missed a bunch of Charlie Rose shows that I wanted to watch. So far, I’ve listened to the 8 Kbps Real(bad)Audio streams of his interviews with Cate Blanchett (30 Dec. 2003) and Naomi Watts (19 Nov. 2003) in the show audio archives. If you’re a Blanchett fan, I highly recommend catching this latest interview with her. Not that I’ve seen/heard many, but it’s by far the best Cate Blanchett interview I’ve heard, including the one on Fresh Air. And of the ones I’ve witnessed, I think it’s one of the best interviews that Rose has conducted, with an actor or not. I hope it airs on television again soon. The one with Watts isn’t bad, but I don’t know if I’d listen to it again at 8 kbps… Another decent Rose interview is of Nicole Kidman on 27 Dec. 2002 (also in the audio archives), when she was doing press for The Hours. Hmm. I just noticed that I’ve mentioned only Australian actresses in this paragraph…

I can’t believe we’re already in an election year. The presidential candidates seem to be cancelling each other out. Who’s it going to be? It’s still early to tell, despite what polls say. Please, please, vote this year. If you think your vote doesn’t make a difference, let me say two words: Florida, 2000.

Music still helps keep me sane. I think taping Anne Litt‘s show is one of the smartest things I’ve ever done. These days she’s pretty good about playing Alison Krauss (and she played the Sting song from Cold Mountain…and I still think that "The Scarlet Tide" is a better song), and Norah Jones‘ new song "Sunrise" as well as Clem Snide.

A few weeks ago, I watched Howards End for the first time in at least four years, and was amazed by how much it still moves me, and how beautiful and lonely and powerful it is. It must have been my ninth or tenth time watching the movie, but I still noticed new things. They really don’t make movies like it anymore, and it was made in 1991. I picked up E. M. Forster‘s novel and read bits and pieces. I have a terrible memory when it comes to books, ironically, and so even if I’ve read and studied a book intensely, a year or two later I will have forgotten much of it. So I will re-read, and I will remember some things, but I will rediscover, as "new" many more things. Howards End is an excellent book, and still my favorite. It’s interesting that something I loved as a teenager, I still love so strongly — I guess some things don’t change.


Friday, 19 December 2003

Happy Christmas from Wallace and Gromit

Just in time for the holidays…it’s a new, free short short episode from the Aardman Animations series, Wallace & Gromit’s Crackling Contraptions! The latest episode is "A Christmas Cardomatic" (requires Flash/Shockwave).

If you’ve never heard of or seen Wallace & Gromit, where’ve you been? Too busy herding sheep? Check out the above, as well as the other Aardman shorts on tap at Atom Films. If you don’t know where to start, at least see Creature Comforts! I first saw it on laserdisc back in 1992 (or was it 1993?); it was one of the movies we watched at a party held at my English teacher’s house. Oddly, I can’t remember the other movie we saw. In any case, it’s definitely worth watching again if you haven’t seen it lately. It’s definitely worth the 5+ minutes. It’s worth buying, too.

Anyway, the new Christmas episode is really short, but The Wrong Trousers is another can’t-miss holiday treat, and it’s a longer film as well. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen Robbie the Reindeer yet but I hope to, soon.

Posted at 2:34 am | Filed under Film |  

Monday, 20 January 2003

The more things stay the same…

Earlier tonight (technically last night) I had the TV turned on during the 3-hour-tape-delayed Golden Globe Awards (given by the Hollywood Foreign Press, which has a membership of 90 people…90 people who can give a seemingly huge-biz-deal, internationally televised awards party…isn’t that amazing? I’ve always thought so). I was working on something on the computer; the TV is situated behind me, so I ended up just listening in every so often.

When Nicole Kidman accepted her Best Actress in a Drama award for playing Virginia Woolf in The Hours, she made a comment about how the past year had so many good performances and roles for women. And she pleaded with writers to continue writing rich and complex roles for women, because (may not be verbatim) “we’re very interesting.”

It was a nice speech, and it got much well-deserved applause…but I couldn’t and still can’t help thinking that a decade ago, when I was so very into the film industry and kept up with all of the news I could, actresses were trying to get the same message across. In no way do I intend to critique the originality of Kidman’s speech — not at all. I’m saying: What does it mean when, after ten years, female actors still have to plead for diverse and interesting characters to play?

Of course, I realize that it’s not as if things have remained static from 1993 to 2003. I acknowledge that improvements have been made. Even if Michael Cunningham had written The Hours back ten or fifteen years ago, I don’t know if the film would have been made…perhaps. But if it had, it likely wouldn’t have included such a remarkable “A” list cast, nor would it have been backed by a huge studio like Paramount, and without that cast and financial backing, it never would have had a chance in heck at winning an award like the Golden Globe. So a major dramatic movie about three women (who are not in their twenties, nor action heroes, nor evil spies, nor singing and dancing seductresses) like this one…it’s a positive sign, definitely (and I haven’t even seen the film yet). Even with the dollar-driven drivel that gets green-lighted these days, there’s still hope. Not just for actresses but for women as directors and writers and in the many other talents.

But I hope to witness the day when women will not have to ask men to write especially for them (and more women will be welcomed in the biz as writers), and when women will not have to search far and wide for (to borrow Kidman’s phrase) “complicated, rich characters to play.” Let’s try and see if we can make it happen. Because, let’s face it, I don’t want to have to make this case again ten years from now…and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Posted at 3:03 am | Filed under Favorite posts, Film, News commentary |  

Wednesday, 3 January 2001

Happy new millennium!

     Hope everyone’s holidays were enjoyable, how
ever you spent them. I’m thankful that I was able to see many friends,
a few whom I hadn’t actually seen in ages, over the past few weeks.
As for holiday gifts, well, I’m lucky to have gotten some fabulous CDs,
some of which are dominating my CD player
as I write this. The newest/main attractions are David
Gray
, Richard Buckner and the soundtrack to my favorite Rodgers
& Hammerstein
-based film. :-) Thanks to those people (you know who
you are!) who knew what to get me.

     One thing that I’m bummed about: I missed
both Weekend
Becomes Eclectic
shows on KCRW (30 & 31 December). It’s
not the first time I’ve missed both shows over a weekend, but the Sunday
show was a "best of 2000" retrospective, I think, and I probably missed
a truckload of good stuff. And you know, reading a playlist just isn’t
the same…

     Recently I got to visit a music store (a new
branch of a big chain which shall remain nameless here). It’s so amazing
how a roomful of guitars, all asking to be played, can brighten my day
(I guess you can tell by reading this that I don’t visit music stores
that often) :-) Anyway, I mostly looked but did play a few, including
a Martin
000M that sounded surprisingly good. Unfortunately the place didn’t
have any of the particular brands/models that I’d heard about and was
looking for (Martin 000-16 and variations, Martin 000-15 and variations,
Larrivee
OM models and Parlors, Tacomas). But my time there did allow me to come to the conclusion that if I ever
have the chance to get another guitar, I would prefer something smaller
than a dreadnought. I played a few, including a Martin D-15, and they
were way too boomy for me. I also played a Guild
D4
and a Gibson
Working Man 45
. Again, too big, but the WM45 also sounded too trebly.
Maybe it was the fault of the strings? I wasn’t there long enough to
test drive anything else, but there were definitely enough guitars in
there to last an entire afternoon. :-)

     I also saw two movies, both of which I liked,
but one more than the other: I highly recommend Finding
Forrester
(the character of Forrester is a writer — played
by Sean Connery — but I doubt it has any connections to either C. S.
Forrester or E. M. Forster). I also "kind of" recommend Cast
Away
, which just pummeled its way to the top of the box office.
Finding Forrester is a much better executed movie — and
has a much clearer story — than Cast Away, which feels
aimless and completely immersed in its own confusion in the last third
of the plot. Forrester is genuinely thoughtful, but the
Tom Hanks vehicle (by the way, Hanks still does a good job) only makes
a half-successful attempt to be profound; it could have been much more
powerful if the ending/resolution had been more developed.