A White Male Tired of Being “Blamed for Everything That’s Wrong in the World”

(p. A11)  You were angry when the head of BBC comedies recently said if they were doing Monty Python now it wouldn’t be “six white Oxbridge blokes.”

I wasn’t particularly angry, I just played angry. The idea is that we’re already excluded because the world has changed. I said, I’m tired of being, as a white male, blamed for everything that’s wrong in the world. So now I want you to call me Loretta. I’m a black lesbian in transition.   . . .

Could you get an irreverent film like “Life of Brian” made today?

I don’t know, but you have to try. I’m always pushing to see what we can get away with, to make people think rather than just reacting. That’s what Python was about, and we seem to be respected as the great old men of comedy. But to do what we were doing—now, yes, it would be a fight.

For the full interview, see:

Caryn James, interviewer.  “Terry Gilliam Yearns for the Old Days.”  The Wall Street Journal  (Tuesday, April 16, 2019): A11.

(Note:  ellipsis added; bold in original print version.)
(Note:  the online version of the interview has the date April 15, 2019, and has the title “Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam Wishes Comedy Hadn’t Changed.”  The bolded questions are asked by Caryn James.)

Last Blockbuster Store Flourishes

(p. B3) The second-to-last Blockbuster, a squat blue-and-yellow slab wedged next to a real estate agency in Western Australia, will stop renting videos on Thursday and shut down for good at the end of the month. Two stores in Alaska, part of the final group of Blockbuster outlets in the United States, closed in July.
That will make the Blockbuster in Bend, Ore., one of a kind: a corporate remnant, just off the highway, near a cannabis retailer and a pet cremation service.
. . .
Some Tower Records stores still thrive in Japan long after their parent company declared bankruptcy and closed all of its American stores. There is a Howard Johnson’s in Lake George, N.Y., that is the lone survivor of what was once the country’s largest restaurant chain.
Such holdouts have bucked the norm in the retail and restaurant industries, which have shed stores by the hundreds in recent years.
. . .
The Bend store became a Blockbuster franchise in 2000. It has about 4,000 active accounts and signs up a few fresh ones each day, Ms. Harding said. Some of the new customers are tourists who have traveled hours out of their way to stop in.
. . .
One possible explanation for the store’s long life: Bend is in a region that the city’s mayor, Sally Russell, describes as having “huge expanses with really small communities” that often do not have easy access to the high-speed internet necessary for content streaming.
Many residents of outlying areas stop at Blockbuster during their weekly trips to town to run errands, drawn in part by the store’s seven-day rental policy, Ms. Russell said, adding that the store’s last-in-the-world status could even give it a lift.
“It’s like with old vinyl, and how everyone wants to have turntables again,” she said. “We get to a place where something out of date comes back in — there’s definitely interest in keeping this almost-extinct way of enjoying movies alive.”

For the full story, see:
Tiffany Hsu. “A 9,000-Store Chain Has Closed 8,999. How Does That Work?” The New York Times (Thursday, March 7, 2019): B3.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 6, 2019, and has the title “The World’s Last Blockbuster Has No Plans to Close.”)

“I’ll Stick with You in Failure”

(p. B13) Sidney Sheinberg, an irascible Universal Studios executive who discovered and nurtured Steven Spielberg, putting “Jaws” into production and helping to turn Hollywood into a blockbuster-focused business, died on Thursday [March 7, 2019] at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif.
. . .
Mr. Sheinberg was for much of his career the forthright top deputy to Lew Wasserman, the chairman of MCA, a conglomerate that encompassed Universal. The ultimate mogul, Mr. Wasserman defined power in Hollywood in the decades after World War II.
But Mr. Sheinberg, openly intimidating as president and chief operating officer, kept the gears turning. When the two men left MCA in 1995, Mr. Sheinberg had worked for the company for 36 years, the last 22 as president.
During that time he helped transform Universal into an international entertainment giant, complete with a sprawling theme park empire.
. . .
“Sheinberg dealt with all people like a battering ram: Do it his way or get out of the way,” Dennis McDougal wrote in the 1998 biography “The Last Mogul: Lew Wasserman, MCA, and the Hidden History of Hollywood.”
Most important, Mr. Sheinberg discovered Mr. Spielberg. It was 1968 and the director, in his early 20s, had just completed a short film, “Amblin’,” a love story about hitchhiking hippies. Based on what he saw, Mr. Sheinberg put Mr. Spielberg under contract and gave him a job directing television shows. An episode of “Marcus Welby” was one of the first. In 1971 came “Duel,” Mr. Spielberg’s thrilling TV movie about a commuter terrorized by a truck driver.
With a line that has come to epitomize loyalty in the often fickle movie business, Mr. Sheinberg told his protégé at the time: “A lot of people will stick with you in success. I’ll stick with you in failure.”
Mr. Sheinberg, who could be as tender as he was prickly, was the one who allowed Mr. Spielberg to make “Jaws,” giving him a budget of $3.5 million (about $17 million in today’s money). A problem-plagued shoot pushed the cost to more than twice as much.
But Mr. Sheinberg, developing a father-son relationship with Mr. Spielberg, continued to support the film, which went on to become the prototype for the wide-release summer blockbuster.
. . .
When he opened the first Universal theme park in Orlando, Fla., in 1990 — in a race against Disney, which was building a movie-themed park that is now called Disney’s Hollywood Studios — Mr. Sheinberg and his team incorporated one of Disney’s mouse-ear hats into the “Jaws” ride.
The ears bobbed in the bloody water.

For the full obituary, see:

Brooks Barnes. “Sidney Sheinberg, 84, Dies; Universal Studios Leader Who Discovered Spielberg.” The New York Times (Saturday, March 9, 2019): B13.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date March 8, 2019, and has the title “Sidney Sheinberg, a Force Behind Universal and Spielberg, Is Dead at 84.” The online version says that the page number of the New York edition was D7. I cite the page number in my National edition.)

The biography of Wasserman, mentioned above, is:
McDougal, Dennis. The Last Mogul: Lew Wasserman, MCA, and the Hidden History of Hollywood. revised ed. Boston, MA: Da Capo Press, 2001.

Hollywood Should Respond When “the Audience Starts Voting with Their Feet”

(p. C1) Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Heading into the holidays, there still was no host for the 2019 Academy Awards, following the withdrawal of Kevin Hart over his controversial Twitter history. Next year’s ceremony will be the 30th anniversary of the last time the Oscars went emcee-free, in 1989.
The telecast’s producer, Allan Carr (“Grease,” “Can’t Stop the Music”), tried to fill the void by staging a kitschy opening number that is now considered the most cringe-worthy moment in awards-show history: Rob Lowe’s duet with Snow White on a reworked version of “Proud Mary.” (Sample lyric: “I used to work a lot for Walt Disney, starring in cartoons every night and day.”)
“It’s fitting and proper that we continue to honor the dark and tragic event that befell our nation 30 years later,” Lowe deadpanned. “I’m particularly looking forward to the candlelight vigils.”
. . .
(p. C6) Do you think the Oscars learned a lesson from this debacle?
[Sarcastically] It’s always been a huge relief to me that after Snow White, the Oscars got their act together and avoided any further controversy and embarrassment. By the way, it’s basically a show that nobody wants to do. It’s really sad. But honestly, they’ve got nobody to blame but themselves.
Why do you say that?
Making movies is about the audience, and when the audience starts voting with their feet, like they have been, only people who take themselves so seriously and self-reverentially would be incapable of making the kind of changes that one would need to make to be relevant to the times.

For the full story, see:
Bruce Fretts. “‘Rob Lowe Has A Last Laugh At the Oscars.” The New York Times (Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018): C1 & C6.
(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original online version.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 21, 2018, and has the title “Rob Lowe on Dancing With Snow White and Getting the Last Laugh.” The bold questions are by Bruce Fretts. The answers that follow are by Rob Lowe.)

Star Wars Details Allow “a Fully Believable, Escapist Experience”

(p. A15) Mr. Jameson clearly lays out the qualities that geeks appreciate in their art: realism bolstered by a deep internal history and the sort of “world-building” exemplified by Tolkien. But in Hollywood “Star Wars” changed the game thanks to its verisimilitude, “which immediately and thoroughly convinces viewers that they are watching humans and aliens skip from planet to planet in a vast, crowded other galaxy with its own detailed history.” Similarly, the biological background of the “Alien” series includes Xenomorphs “whose intricate life cycle can be described from beginning to end in grisly detail.” Books like “The Star Trek Encyclopedia,” in which the show’s designers document “all the alien planets and species that they’d invented” and present starship engineering schematics, are quintessential works of geek culture.
Detail is important to geeks, the author suggests, because they want without “any boundaries, any limits. . . . They don’t want the artwork to ever end.” Whether it’s playing a tabletop game filled with lore about previously unknown characters from the “Star Wars” galaxy or reading a “textbook” to study the fantastic beasts of the “Harry Potter” world, geeks want to believe–at least for a bit. As Mr. Jameson says, “geeks have long thought of artworks as places where one can hang out.” That’s one reason why single films have given way to trilogies and why characters have cross-populated to create Marvel’s seemingly endless “cinematic universe.”

For the full review, see:
Brian P. Kelly. “BOOKSHELF; The Geeks Strike Back.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, June 8, 2018): A15.
(Note: ellipsis in original.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 7, 2018, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing’ Review: The Geeks Strike Back; The “Star Wars” franchise and Marvel’s superhero films reign supreme in today’s Hollywood. How did that happen?”)

The book under review, is:
Jameson, A. D. I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing: Star Wars and the Triumph of Geek Culture. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018.

Origin of “Round Up the Usual Suspects!” at End of Casablanca

(p. C5) David Thomson’s “Warner Bros: The Making of an American Movie Studio” is the latest in the exemplary Yale Jewish Lives series, which now stretches from Jacob the Patriarch to Jacob Wonskolasor, known to the world as Jack L. Warner (1892-1978).
. . .
Jack told Julie Garfinkle that “people are gonna find out you’re a Jew sooner or later, but better later.” Julie became John Garfield. I can’t resist adding that Jack approached Phil and Julie Epstein with the same advice. After turning him down they snuck into his office and stole a piece of stationery. To the newly arrived Don Taylor, a fellow Nittany Lion, they wrote, “All of us at Warner Bros are looking forward to your great career as an actor and to a long and fruitful relationship with you under your new name of Hyman Rabinowitz. Sincerely, Jack L. Warner.”
. . .
(p. C6) As this fine book progresses, Mr. Thomson turns his attention away from the brothers and their studio and onto individual actors and films. These form a remarkable series of critiques and vignettes–cranky, idiosyncratic, sometimes improbable, but always ingenious, and now and then inspiring.
. . .
Of course he has the most to say about “Casablanca,” much of it insightful and cogent. On the one hand, it’s an “adroit masquerade,” yet also part of what it was, and no less is, to be American: “Wry, fond of sentiment yet hardboiled, as if to say we’re Americans, we can take it and dish it out, we’re the best, tough and soft at the same time.” Thus did the qualities of this film, and others, pass “into the nervous system of the country,” making it what it remains to this day.
I am in a position to point out one of the few outright mistakes, not of judgment but of facts, in this book. Mr. Thomson naively accepts screenwriter Casey Robinson’s claim that he created the ending of “Casablanca.” The truth is that the ending was thought up at a red light on the corner of Sunset and Beverly Glen, when Phil and Julie turned to each other, as identical twins will, and cried out, “Round up the usual suspects!” By the time they reached Doheny they knew Maj. Strasser had to be shot and by the time they reached Burbank they knew who was going to get on the plane with whom.

For the full review, see:
Leslie Epstein. “The House That Jack Built; Warner Bros was the smartest, toughest studio, and Jack L. Warner its smart, tough driving wheel.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017): C5-C6.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 4, 2017.)

The book under review, is:
Thomson, David. Warner Bros: The Making of an American Movie Studio. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017.

Ode to Physical Film Premieres on Digital Netflix

(p. C6) “Kodachrome” is based on an article that A.G. Sulzberger, who became the publisher of The New York Times this January, wrote in 2010. It concerned the international rush on Dwayne’s Photo in Parsons, Kan., which became the world’s last processor of the discontinued color film Kodachrome.
But in a twist that may make camera buffs’ heads explode, the feature, directed by Mark Raso, arrives courtesy of Netflix, which bought the movie after it was made. Despite a credit noting that the movie was shot (to little effect) on 35-millimeter Kodak film, “Kodachrome” will mostly be seen on the streaming platform, whose current business model hastens the destruction of physical media.

For the full review, see:

BEN KENIGSBERG. “An Ode to Color Film, Now Streaming Near You.” The New York Times (Friday, April 20, 2018): C6.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date APRIL 19, 2018, and has the title “Review: ‘Kodachrome,’ an Ode to Color Film, Now Streaming Near You.”)