Posts Tagged ‘Glenn Lovell’

Robin Williams “obsessed” over screen swan song

07/18/2015

Slightly more than a year before he took his own life in August 2014, Robin Williams reported to a Nashville movie set to play a closeted gay husband battling, among other things, severe depression and a lifetime of self-deceit.

In retrospect, Williams’s Nolan Mack may be seen by some as a sad harbinger of what lay ahead.

Nolan — a shy, alRobinmost painfully withdrawn banker — is the principal character in “Boulevard,” opening in the Boston area on Friday. From all accounts, the low-budget drama was a labor of love for the actor, known to champion chancy indies, like “One Hour Photo” and “The Night Listener.” Williams suggested key changes to the script, originally set in Los Angeles and titled “Santa Monica Boulevard.” He also approved the casting and the final edit. He fought for Nolan’s intense coming-out scene (to an ailing father). It was cut, then, at Williams’s insistence, restored.

“Nolan was a more dramatic role for Robin,” said the actor’s widow, Susan. “He poured his heart and soul into the film.”

“Boulevard,” promoted as Williams’s “final dramatic performance,” costars Kathy Baker as Nolan’s wife and Bob Odenkirk as his best friend. Newcomer Roberto Aguire, 27, plays a runaway-prostitute who sparks long-suppressed urges.

Fittingly, the film is “more about letting go than coming out,” said director Dito Montiel, whose “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints” (2006) caught Williams’s attention.

“When Robin and I talked about [‘Boulevard’],” recalled Montiel, “we agreed that it was more a love story between husband and wife. How do you let go of someone you’ve been married to for 40 years? How do you say goodbye to the love of your life?”

Indeed, Williams was concerned that the film might appear to vilify Nolan’s wife, Joy (Baker), and asked for rewrites to beef up her character. “He wanted the final fight between Nolan and Joy expanded,” said the film’s screenwriter, Douglas Soesbe. “As a gay man who came out late in life, I wanted to write a story about a man who was outwardly contented but came up against a situation in which his passion just could not be contained anymore. Robin, I think, responded to that, to the humanity of the story, the simple emotional undertow.”

While some who worked with Williams on the production could not recall periods of depression or symptoms of what was later reported to be the onset of Parkinson’s disease, they said there were indications that something was troubling the actor. He appeared thinner and more introverted than usual. Also, he “really obsessed” over the smallest detail on a film that cost a small fraction of one of his studio productions, said Montiel, who often found himself, at 2 or 3 in the morning, discussing a problematic scene. “Because we shot so much at night we’d have midnight lunches. And Robin would say to me, ‘Let’s take a walk.’ So we’d walk for an hour or so trying to figure the scene out.”

Baker and Aguire chalked up the weight loss to his near-compulsive bike riding.

“I was nervous about meeting [Robin],” admitted Baker, whose credits include “Edward Scissorhands” and “Saving Mr. Banks.” “I was afraid it was going to be the funny, always ‘on’ Robin, and that he was going to be a distraction. . . . And here was this quiet . . . respectful . . . almost fragile man.

“But I never for a second thought he had anything physically or mentally wrong.”

Baker called Williams “a true professional” — generous to a fault. “He said after every take, ‘Did you get what you want? Do you want to do it again? You want something else?’ I wouldn’t say we did three or four takes on anything. He was totally prepared. We never stopped because he didn’t know a line.”

Aguire also found Williams uncommonly generous. A key sequence, set in Nolan’s bedroom, took them until almost daybreak. They had been working 12 hours straight and Williams showed signs of fatigue. “We had shot all his coverage, he was completely done. Then the camera turned to me. I expected him to either leave or phone it in.”
Now repeating his lines off-camera, Williams proved “as vibrant, alive, as he was in any of his takes,” Aguire said. “It just blew my mind.”

Susan Williams joined her husband in Nashville. Though she has yet to see the completed movie, she described her visit to the set as “incredibly moving,” adding in her e-mail, “I’ll never forget the bedroom scene when Robin got in bed quietly next to Kathy and said, ‘I love you, Joy.’ It was the most tender, touching, and sad scene.”

Seven months after principal photography had wrapped, Baker bumped into Williams again. They were in Vancouver — he was doing “Night at the Museum 3,” she was doing “The Age of Adaline.” They had dinner. He was quiet, but, as always, solicitous of fans who asked for photos or autographs. They talked about work, their families. Again, there were no signs of depression, which made what happened that much harder to fathom.

When Baker heard that Williams, suffering from acute depression, had committed suicide, she said she refused to believe it; she thought it was an Internet hoax. Once it was confirmed, she had her husband drive her to the beach, where she sat and watched the waves. “I couldn’t grasp it. I couldn’t think what to do,” she recalled. “I just wanted to go to bed or be with others who knew and loved him.”

If Williams had confided in her when they met in Vancouver, talked about his debilitating depression, what would she have told him?

“Oh gosh, I wonder if I would’ve presumed to say anything, other than how much I loved him and how I would want him to take care of himself,” replied Baker after a long pause. “I just can’t imagine the pain he was in. That’s the worst part — to think about the terrible pain and how he managed to hide it from people.”

This story was written for the Boston Globe. Glenn Lovell can be reached at glovell@aol.com.

Omar Sharif: Fallen Idol … or Most Interesting Man in the Room?

07/10/2015

“If I could obliterate the past, I wouldn’t … I think the word ‘regret’ is stupid. It’s an absurd word — this regret.”

By Glenn Lovell

Omar Sharif – the Egyptian actor with the dark, deep-set eyes and smoldering Valentino looks who appeared opposite Peter O’Toole’s Lawrence and Barbra Streisand’s Fanny Brice – died today in Cairo of a heart attack. He was 83.

At his peak, in the 1960s, the international star supped with Hollywood royalty, boasted more than one Beverly Hills address, and landed the much-coveted lead in David Lean’s epic soap opera “Doctor Zhivago.”sharif

In March 2004, I sat down with Sharif in a San Francisco hotel suite to discuss his roller-coaster career, from the seemingly overnight success as Arab leader Sherif Ali (in “Lawrence”) to a then-nomadic existence as perennial party guest and professional gambler. In keeping with his reputation, he proved a most congenial host, gracious and refreshingly candid, even when it came to enumerating his many career gaffes.

Following close on the heels of an Oscar nomination (for “Lawrence”) and Golden Globe wins (for “Lawrence” and “Doctor Zhivago”), he received some very bad career advice — “my own!” he laughed — and segued from one stinker to another. Indeed, he did five back-to-back duds, including ”Che!” and ”MacKenna’s Gold,” and was sentenced to what he called 30 years of “terrible, horrible, ridiculous films. Not one decent film in 30 years! Or one decent part!”

At first content to just take the money and live the life of international bon vivant-gambler in Paris and Monte Carlo, Sharif finally said, “Enough!” The turning point came when his grandchildren began making fun of his movies. “So I decided not to do these things anymore, to wait until something good came up. And if nothing good came up, I decided I wouldn’t work again.”

Sharif’s self-imposed exile lasted five years — until 2003, when he received the script for “Monsieur Ibrahim,” a French coming-of-age story with a strong brotherhood message. Sharif, then 71, played the title character, a grizzled Muslim shopkeeper who tutors and eventually adopts an orphaned Jewish boy (Pierre Boulanger) in ’60s Paris.

The actor who couldn’t find good work for so long also appeared that year in Disney’s “Hidalgo.” His role? Sherif Ali’s grandfather, he remustache_sharifplied with a booming laugh — “an old Arab prince” whose daughter takes a shine to star Viggo Mortensen.

In the wings — but, sadly, not meant to be — was a sci-fi’er called “Cyber Meltdown,” loosely based on the Gilgamesh legend. It would have reunited him with good friend O’Toole.

“I have beautiful dialogue in ‘Hidalgo’ — it’s really the second part in the film,” said Sharif, in San Francisco after receiving lifetime-achievement salutes from the Venice Film Festival and the American Film Institute. “But it was the ‘Monsieur Ibrahim’ script which brought me back. I thought it was time for me, a respected and loved person in the Middle East, to make this statement that it is possible for us to live together and love each other.”

Sharif was known for his very public brawls. At the time he was on the cover of a number of tabloids for head-butting a casino security guard. He said, without a hint of sarcasm, that he was alarmed by the amount of hostility in the world. “The rage of hatred is amazing,” he observed, stirring a cup of tea.

”The world has become a violent place, and the cinema reflects the world. I think this violence stems from the fact that making a living, feeding your belly, is getting to be more and more difficult. Everybody’s in a struggle, a race with the other guy.”

The boy in “Monsieur Ibrahim” is initiated into sex by neighborhood prostitutes, who couldn’t be more loving or romanticized. Such stereotypes didn’t bother Sharif. ”I had the same experience the boy has,” he volunteered. ”My first sex was with a prostitute in Pigalle. I was 15, like the boy in the film. But I was not as bold as him. I was shaking.”

Sharif said he identified with the philosophical Ibrahim. He liked to party and hold court — he had a permanent stool in a hotel bar in Paris — but, he was quick to add, “I never overdo it … now.”

A world-class bridge player and a legendary raconteur who had supped with Hollywood royalty as well as the real thing, he was invited to all the best functions.

“I enjoy conversation — I don’t know how to lie,” the actor said, winking. “I like people. I was born in a country which has monuments and stones. I don’t need to look at stones and monuments anymore. I need to know people and talk to them.

“I’ve always been very welcome in this country. Which is amazing because when I first came here I was an Egyptian from ‘Nasser-land,’ and Nasser was a big enemy of the Jew.”

Even more amazing, he was cast as Jewish gambler Nicky Arnstein in William Wyler’s “Funny Girl,” starring a then-25-year-old Streisand as Brice. “I made ‘Funny Girl’ during the Six Day War between Israel and Egypt — with my Egyptian passport.”Sharif_in_Lawrence_of_Arabia

Needless to say, ”Funny Girl” didn’t play in Sharif’s homeland. Nor did “Doctor Zhivago,” because Egypt and Russia were allies and the movie was based on political dissident Boris Pasternak’s novel.

Returning to his Hollywood contract days, Sharif flashed that famous gap-toothed smile and continued, ”At first the idea of my playing Arnstein was a big joke. But then Wyler said, ‘Why not Sharif?’ and everybody was stunned. . . . I had a ball on ‘Funny Girl.’ It’s probably the film I enjoyed making most. It was the first time I wore proper clothes, instead of Arab robes or running around in the snow.”

But it was the films for Lean — ”Lawrence of Arabia” and ”Doctor Zhivago” — that strangers asked about. ”Lean was a big influence on my life. I spent five years with him. Lean was a perfectionist, and I was a great admirer. I was like his son. . . . People ask, ‘Isn’t it disappointing that you’ll never top ”Lawrence,” one of the great films of all time?’ I respond, ‘It is better to do one good thing than to do nothing.’ ”

Even in his 70s, Sharif was a presence to be reckoned with. Why couldn’t he find strong character parts? He would, for instance, have made a great villain in a James Bond thriller.

”What character part? What nationality?” he demanded. ”It’s got to be something Middle Eastern or Oriental. If they need an old American actor, they can get an old American actor. I’m not a box-office draw. Hiring me does not make people go to the cinema. I’m an addition to the stars, but I don’t sell the picture.”

Sharif blamed his under-utilization on his accent, which, because of his early education at French and English schools, has always been an indefinable amalgam.

”I am the only foreign actor in the world who is foreign to every place,” he said with a laugh. ”When you’re young and a box-office draw, they make concessions and cast you in the weirdest things. I played a German officer in ‘Night of the Generals.’ I played Archduke Rudolph of Austria in ‘Mayerling.’ I played Genghis Khan.”

And, of course, he played the morose but charismatic Sherif Ali in ”Lawrence of Arabia.” (Horst Buchholz, under contract to Billy Wilder at the time, was Lean’s first choice for the role.) Ali’s introduction — as first a shimmering mirage, then a slowly growing figure on horseback — qualifies as one of the greatest entrances in screen history.

”When they told me, ‘Come up and be tested in the desert,’ I went. Remember, I was already a star. I had made 25 films in Egypt. I was married. I had a beautiful home. I had a child and was planning more.

”I often wonder if it was a good thing or bad thing that I made ‘Lawrence.’ I wonder if my life would not have been happier had I stayed in Egypt. . . .”

At this, Sharif caught himself. Such ruminations ran counter to his reputation as a vagabond-like citizen of the world.

”If I could obliterate the past, I wouldn’t,” he said. ”I think the word ‘regret’ is stupid. At 71, do I regret decisions I made when I was 30, when I may have refused a film because I had a toothache? I was a different person under different circumstances. It’s an absurd word — this regret.”

Glenn Lovell can be reached at glovell@aol.com

“Black Sunday” Deserves CG Retrofit

05/26/2015

by Glenn Lovell

Reassessment time —

Just re-watched John Frankenheimer’s 1977 “Black Sunday,” based on Thomas Harris’s first bestseller and co-starring Robert Shaw as a glum Israeli commando and a rambling, beady-eyed, typically unchecked Bruce Dern as a Vietnam vet-turned-Goodyear blimp pilot-turned Palestinian pawn.

I remember interviewing an exhausted Frankenheimer at the time. I also remember all but dismissing this superior espionage thriller-cum-disaster epic. I mounted my high horse and accused the director of exploiting national paranoia stoked by what seemed daily airline hijackings.

In a later interview Frankenheimer — who died in 2002 at age 72 — confessed that the film’s failure took its toll on him emotionally. “WblackSunhen ‘Black Sunday’ didn’t hit big,” he said, “it told me that the movie god was not smiling on me that year. There was a lot of disappointment and depression, and I started drinking — heavily.” He added, “It didn’t perform to everybody’s expectations, which was that it would be bigger than ‘Jaws.’ It came at the end of the disaster-movie cycle … We just came out at the wrong time.”
Where immediately following 9/11 did Frankenheimer stand on terrorist thrillers? Years earlier he had directed the ultimate Cold War thriller, “The Manchurian Candidate.” “It would be irresponsible to do (a ‘Black Sunday’) right now — I’m just sick of it,” he told me in what would be one of his last interviews. “These are tricky times. I don’t think anybody really knows what to do right now.”
Wish I could take that “Black Sunday” review back, John. Despite the grainy but then-state-of-the-art blue screen work for the Super Bowl climax, you were right: it’s one helluva ride — grim, coolly observed, suspenseful (thanks in large part to John Williams’ nerve-jangling score).
Check out “Black Sunday” on DVD. Given current events in the Middle East, this ambitious, intricately plotted nail-biter couldn’t be timelier. Paramount and producer Robert Evans should consider doing a CGI retrofit a la “Star Wars” and re-releasing this all-but-forgotten gem.

Second Screen Experience: Nail in coffin for serious movie-goers?

06/29/2014

by Glenn Lovell

That death knell you hear is for weekend movie-going as we once knew it. Soon we’ll be recalling wistfully, “Remember back when? Remember when people watched reverentially as images danced magically across the screen.”

If marketing honchos have their way, the bane of every serious moviegoer’s existence, the illuminated cell phone, will be not only welcomed in theaters, it will be encouraged, a required tool for getting the most out of the big-screen experience.

And when this happens, studio execs who have been lamenting the steady decline in attendance can bid adios to what remains of their slowly disappearing audience. Here, finally, will be the excuse disenchanted film-goers needed to park permanently in front of the home-entertainment system.

Word arrived last week that the so-called “second-screen experience” is on its way.

cellphone

Future … or Pandora’s Box?

According to a piece published in the business section of the San Francisco Chronicle, National CineMedia (NCM) is“working on ways to make smartphones, tablets and even built-in screens in seats a key part of the experience both before the movie and … during the movie.”

That’s right, if this comes to pass, those annoying preshow programs ‒ Ford and Pepsi commercials, behind-the-scenes promos for cable TV series ‒ will, with the help of your Shazam app, become interactive games.

And all you’ll need to play along is your cell phone or iPad.

Yes, that very cell phone you’ve been told to mute and stow upon entering the theater.

Obviously this invitation will be manna for those who never got the message that cell phones are a bloody distraction for those of us who come to watch the movie ‒ and only the movie. These clueless clowns will be able to text away with not only impunity but the blessing of theater management.

National CineMedia, the culprit behind this, specializes in something we all hate: those FirstLook movie ads or what NCM euphemistically calls “integrated brand experiences.” NCM, licking its chops, envisions a whole new revenue delivery system. But lest we become alarmed the company assures us that it’s only condoning cell phones during the preshow portion of the program.

Yeah, sure. Pardon me if I’m a tad skeptical. NCM won’t stop with the promotional portion of the program; it’s got its eye on bigger fish and knows that cell-phone junkies are easily enticed to keep tapping away during the feature attraction. The company lets slip its true intentions when it argues that “movies, by definition, are a social experience” that can only be fully experienced with the aid of social media.

Movies are meant to be a social experience ‒ one in which a large gathering of people interact respectfully with one another and the screen. There has always been a pact between filmmaker and film-goer. Once you introduce ‒ and condone ‒ the use of mobile devices that only some in the audience approve, you break that pact and leave diehard movie-goers racing, no, screaming for the nearest exit.

Robert Redford: Cast Away

01/24/2014

by Glenn Lovell

As usual we had a few quibbles with the Academy Award nominations, like where were “Fruitvale Station,” “Don Jon” and Adèle Exarchopoulos in “Blue Is the Warmest Color”? Our biggest gripe, however, was the exclusion of Robert Redford in the best actor category for his work in the powerful survival drama “All Is Lost.” After experiencing Redford’s career-capping tour de force as a lone sailor adrift in the Indian Ocean, I would have bet the farm (or yacht) that he had a lock on a nomination, if not the trophy itself.

Lost

Redford: Abandoned

Not only was it the best performance in Redford’s long, storied career, it provided a master’s class in lean, economical under-acting. Redford’s stolid mariner blazed like a beacon in the night beside the more conventional scenery chewing of Leonardo DiCaprio and Matthew McConaughey.

But in the end this didn’t mean diddly to Academy voters who snubbed both the film and its 77-year-old star. Why? A few possible answers:

√ What’s in a Name? Everything! There are memorable titles, like “Scream” and “Psycho” and soft, impossible to recall titles, like “You Again” and “To the Wonder.” Redford’s latest was saddled with a title so pedestrian it went in one ear and out the other, precluding word-of-mouth.

√ The Fogey Factor. Hollywood has always had a soft spot for veteran actors who hang in there and eventually sneak off with the hardware. Christopher Plummer won at age 82, Henry Fonda at 76. But the Academy’s sentimental streak goes only so far. It was easy to overlook the erstwhile golden boy because the voters had already embraced “Nebraska” costars Bruce Dern, 77 and June Squibb, 84.

√ Yesterday’s Snooze. “All Is Lost” played all the major film festivals, including Cannes in May, before receiving limited release in October. By the time “Wolf of Wall Street” and “American Hustle” arrived, “Lost” was all but forgotten. It didn’t help that the film had no advertising budget to speak of.

√ Simple Spells Simple-Minded. The barebones man-against-the-sea plot was exhilarating to some but too basic for most. Just a cursory description of the film turned off Academy members, who stuck their complimentary “for your consideration” screener at the bottom of the pile.

√ Silence Is Golden ‒ in small doses. Just two years ago Hollywood awarded Jean Dujardin the best actor statuette for his silent performance in “The Artist.” Like Redford, he had only one line of dialogue. Enough already with the pantomimed emoting, grumbled voters. Even lost in space, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney gabbed away.

√ The Outsider Factor. As founder of Sundance Film Festival, which curries and honors independent cinema, Redford can be seen as the ultimate maverick. It stands to reason he has stubbed a front-office toe or two when weighing in on where the year’s hot new indies should land.

Bruce Dern: Breaking from the Pack

11/19/2013

by Glenn Lovell

The best actors, metaphorically speaking, are long-distance runners. They possess stamina, staying power. They start out in juicy character parts, surge to the front in starring roles in their 30s, then finish out the race in critically acclaimed supporting turns. Melvyn Douglas was such an actor; Gene Hackman and Jack Nicholson also fit that description.

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Dern

Bruce Dern, however, may have run the smartest race of all. The 77-year-old actor, who in recent years seemed to be fading in the homestretch, is now having the last laugh. He expanded his chest, made a lunge for the tape, and came in first at the Cannes Film Festival, winning the Best Actor prize for his performance in Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska.”

Not surprisingly, Dern, a decent half-miler in college, has always been a runner. It’s an addiction, he says. Even today he can be seen chugging along Malibu trails. Locals call him “Crazy Bruce.” He twitted, “I’ve been running thousands of miles and am so bored with people who shout, ‘Watch your heart,’ and then drive on.”

The half-mile is the perfect metaphor for Dern’s long career. The runners clump together during the first lap, and then, if one runner has the heart, he pulls away from the pack.

Consider Dern’s body of work. He made his screen debut (well, mostly the back of his head) in 1960 in Elia Kazan’s “Wild River” and died famously in Hitchcock’s “Marnie” and Robert Aldrich’s “Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte.” After six years of AIP quickies (“Wild Angeles,” “Psych-Out,” “The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant”), he, at long last, was given more sympathetic roles: a marathon dancer in “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?,” a basketball coach in “Drive, He Said,” and Tom Buchanan, the rich playboy in the 1974 “Great Gatsby.”

In 1972, he returned to villainy, memorably. He shot Duke Wayne in the back in “The Cowboys.” Asked how it felt to off the screen icon, he chortled, “They may have booed me in Orange County, but they cheered me in Berkeley.”

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Betrayed in “Coming Home”?

The same year he had his first bona fide lead, as the astronaut-botanist in “Silent Running.” This led to leads in Hitchcock’s last film, “Family Plot,” John Frankenheimer’s “Black Sunday,” Hal Ashby’s “Coming Home,” and, personal favorites, Bob Rafelson’s “King of Marvin Gardens” and Michael Ritchie’s “Smile.” I met Dern for the first time during the Chicago junket for “Coming Home,” which co-starred Jane Fonda and Jon Voight. Fonda and Voight took shots at their co-star because he defended his character, a Marine captain who feels betrayed by wife and country and eventually loses it. Dern wanted the character to go out in a blaze of glory (as he does in the script). Ashby shot a more melancholic ending, an ocean suicide a la “A Star is Born.” All three actors were nominated for Oscars. Fonda and Voight won; Dern didn’t.

Dern’s stint at the top lasted about four years. He was never considered bankable, especially after appearing in such bombs as “Middle Age Crazy” and “Tattoo.” He rode out the ’80s and ’90s in character parts, the best being the obsessed runner in “On the Edge” and the conniving Uncle Bud in “After Dark, My Sweet.” These roles should have netted him second and third Oscar nominations. They didn’t because nobody saw the films. Consigned mostly to crotchety neighbor roles and glorified cameos in recent years ‒ he’s in “Monster” and “Django Unchained” ‒ Dern joked that he was best known for being Laura Dern’s father. He’s the motormouth sheriff who moonlights as a writer in Francis Ford Coppola’s “Twixt.” It’s one of his cagiest performances. The film, now on VOD, went unnoticed.

Nebraska-Bruce-Dern

Resurrected in “Nebraska”

And then, miraculously, along came “Nebraska,” starring Dern as the grizzled, at times vacant Woody Grant, who hits the road with his son (SNL’s Will Forte) to cash in what he thinks is a winning sweepstakes number. Dern calls the film (opening Friday) “the best role I’ve ever had” and his best buddy movie since teaming with Nicholson in “Marvin Gardens.”

Will it make him another late-in-life Oscar-winner, like Alan Arkin and Jack Palance? That would be nice, but Dern isn’t slowing down for the laurel. He’s in it for the long haul. He won’t stop acting, or running. Some days you feel the burn, some days you cramp up. His next release: “Coffin Baby” (aka as “Toolbox Murders 2”).

Linda Lovelace Survived “Throat” Preem … Barely

08/08/2013

by Glenn Lovell

Confession time: Yours truly filed the very first review of “Deep Throat,” the 1972 porno that’s back in the news thanks to “Lovelace,” the biopic starring Amanda Seyfried as Linda Lovelace and Peter Sarsgaard as Chuck Traynor, her abusive Svengali.

Just out of graduate school, I lucked into a job at the Hollywood Reporter, then located on Sunset Boulevard. Though I was hired as a copy editor to rewrite press releases, I got my shot at reviewing when the venerable Arthur Knight quit in protest over a friend’s firing. I reviewed television, nightclub acts and a lot of bad blaxploitation, like “Trouble Man” and “The Big Comedown.”

On a Thursday morning the city editor called me over and handed me an invitation. It was to something called “Deep Throat,” screening thaDeep-Throat-poster_lt evening at the Pussycat Theater on Santa Monica Boulevard. At the bottom of the flier: “This film is rated ‘X’ for explicit sexual content.”

When I reminded him that it was HR’s policy to not review hardcore porn, he waved me away. “I know, I know, but we’re covering this one anyway ‒ as a favor to a friend who manages the theater.”

It wasn’t a black tie/klieg light kind of affair, but the premiere did boast in-person appearances by Lovelace, costar Harry Reems and director Gerard Damiano, a former hairdresser who would later make “The Devil in Miss Jones.” As we passed into the theater we were handed cardboard boxes marked “Deep Throat Survival Kit.” They contained throat lozenges, chocolate-covered bananas, multicolor prophylactics, and rocket-shaped lollypops. (What do you think one of these babies in mint condition would fetch on eBay today?)

I can’t remember much about Lovelace, except that she was almost pathologically shy. Before the movie, she fielded questions from the stage ‒ by whispering her answers into the emcee’s ear. The press was told that “Miss Lovelace will be available for questions after the screening ‒ so stick around.” She wasn’t. We didn’t.

Seated behind me at the screening were Laurence Harvey and Joanna Pettet, who were working on a film together at the time. They bolted after about 20 minutes.

My four-paragraph review ran under the headline “Porno Film with Touch of Humor.” I noted that the “uniquely talented” Lovelace “proves she can moan and gyrate with the best of ’em as ‘the girl who untangles her tingle.’” The review went on to predict healthy box office. Something of an understatement. “Deep Throat,” which earned upwards of $600 million on a $47,000 investment, ranks as one of the top-grossing indies of all time.

Depp as Tonto: Debate Heats Up

07/02/2013

by Glenn Lovell

Johnny Depp as Tonto? I know, I know, in this age of political correctness, it sounds like a bad joke. Depp has said he took the role in Disney’s “The Lone Ranger” because he wanted to redress how shabbily Tonto (Jay Silverheels) was portrayed in the old TV series. Strange reasoning: I hated the way an authentic Mohawk played the role, so I, a Caucasian, have decided to make up for it by donning war paint and feathers.

My column on Depp masquerading as Tonto (“Greasepaint Injun“) brought a ton of reaction, some siding with me, some suggesting I put a lid on the bleeding-heart thing.

“I saw a pre-screening a few nights ago,” said Denise Hobbs. “I had not planned on seeing it because of Depp’s role but when asked to the hr_The_Lone_Ranger_12screening, I took advantage of the opportunity. I find it interesting that Depp says he hated how Tonto was portrayed in the original. Well, (Jay Silverheels) was MUCH BETTER than what I saw Depp doing! I was embarrassed watching him make a mockery out of the character. It was Jack Sparrow dressed as Tonto! And I was appalled! He thought he was being funny and it was offensive. He was offended (by the TV series) as I child, well I am NOW offended at his portrayal as an adult.”

Added Christine Candelaris: “I was excited to see Depp’s Tonto in the trailer. His look is almost an exact copy of the Kirby Sattler image “I Am Crow,” an artistic representation of the Crow people from the American Midwest. My husband has worn this image on a t-shirt for years.”

Nikos Lynch said, “If we take this to its natural conclusion, then the Fighting Irish should be offensive; and what about the Irish-one-day-a-year sporting little plastic glitter walking hats on St. Patty’s Day?”

Ellen Mosher weighed in:I agree with Glenn Lovell’s article. There are plenty of good Native American actors who could have played Tonto. Native Americans do not run around in war paint and ceremonial garb everyday as depicted in the movie. The lack of sensitivity and stereotyping of Native American culture and traditions that still goes on is appalling. The parallel with Saint Patrick’s Day and the ‘fighting Irish’ does not follow. St. Patrick’s day is a day that has been embraced by many in the American culture as a happy celebration day, and the term ‘fighting Irish’ has a positive meaning suggesting strength and winning attitude. The stereotyping of Native Americans suggests a primitive and inferior culture when compared to the European culture.

JoMont: “Plenty of good Native American actors don’t sell at the box office like Depp. Let’s get real here. At least he isn’t using a Brooklyn accent like many in the 60’s. No one appeared offended when he played numerous other accented characters. In the big picture, this sort of yammering I find, troublesome.”

Wrote Bob Rosenthal: “Johnny Depp is an actor. Actors play roles. He is playing a role, his job. I will see the movie, realizing it is just a movie, not reality, and eat my popcorn and drink my Pepsi. Like everyone else I have the option of either seeing the movie or not seeing it if I feel it is objectionable.”

Don Gateley didn’t mince words. “Oh, please go away, Lovell. Must you have something to criticize and complain about? Most of these ‘caricatures’ were intended to honor, not insult. Malcontents will always find a way to twist it to tweak their disorder and offer themselves as above the ignorant, unwashed and politically incorrect masses. Your screed is tiresome.

“And, Ellen, I went to the University of Illinois where our rallying figure was in ceremonial dress and danced in honor of the defeated but still mightily respected fighting Illinois Indians who proved themselves a formidable foe.”

Michelle McIntyre: “According to reliable sources, Johnny Depp is Cherokee on his mom’s side. Works for me.”

An anonymous voice asked, “Lovell, are you Native American? If you are not then you are playing the role of White Savior. A role that colonizers have played many times with disastrous consequences to indigenous cultures. Since the word native in Western culture means primitive, I will use the term First Nation People. According to Depp, he is a descendant of First Nation ancestors, which makes him a First Nation person. Cherokee do not go by the European blood quantum policies that were forced upon most tribes by the U.S. government. One drop of Cherokee blood means you are a Cherokee. Which drop of water is not important to the river? I see your article as just another form of colonization by Europeans. You are saying live my way because it is best for you. Please let First Nation People deal with their own problems and live their own lives.”

Gary Hinze concluded, “You are too easily offended. Being offended on behalf of somebody else doesn’t even ring true. Like the white guy who smashed the Christopher Columbus statue at San Jose City Hall in protest supposedly on behalf of Indians. There are differences of opinion in the aboriginal community on this. The majority support Indian mascots. Some Indian groups have given approval to sports teams using Indian mascots. Others have objected. It could depend on how it’s done. If a sports team was to use a Japanese mascot, it surely would not be the demeaning war propaganda figure you postulate. It would likely be a fierce Samurai warrior. Are the Indians offended by the San Jose State Vikings?”

A testy Mila, obviously not familiar with my byline from years at the Mercury News, wrote: “So you’re a ‘local’ film critic? What does that mean exactly? Because based on your article you know nothing about movies or Johnny Depp. First of all, Johnny Depp has never been lily white. Second of all, he IS of Native American heritage himself. Third, his representation of Tonto is brilliant because he has consciously chosen to elevate Tonto’s role in the movie from the traditional and indeed stereotypical ‘sidekick’ to a real mentor and friend to the Lone Ranger. And lastly the make-up that he has chosen for his character is very, very appropriate.

“Here is a picture of an authentic Crow person (by Sattler), for your education: So as you can see Johnny Depp is more than qualified to play Tonto and has done the research he needed to do for his role. Unlike you, who clearly are neither qualified to comment on movies or political correctness nor has bothered to do even a quick Internet search on the topic. But you just wrote this article to get attention, didn’t you?”

Jeri Danforth: “Funny how these comments are split between Johnny Depp fans and non-fans. I agree with Glenn. Tribes recognize members according to tribal rolls. In the case of the Cherokee, even if Depp has only one drop, he should be able to trace his ancestry on the Dawes rolls. As of now, no one has heard that he has even tried. So what’s stopping him? He could easily put a stop to all this fuss if he would speak with the tribe he claims membership for and ask for their assistance.

Gary Hinze again: “Tonto is not a real Indian. Depp does not need to prove he is a real Indian to play a fictitious Indian. Actors play roles. They play extraterrestrials, zombies, even pirates. They don’t have to be real extraterrestrials, zombies or pirates. A movie is a story. This one is fiction. It is not a documentary. Depp does not need to prove he is an Indian, or a pirate. He proves his qualifications as an actor at the box office. He brings in millions of dollars. QED.”

H. Pasterlink demanded, “What reliable sources are you referring to? Cherokee rolls? His maternal great-grandmothers were Kentucky girls, nothing to suggest that they were Native American. His great-grandmother’s name is Minnie, and she was allegedly the mother of his paternal grandfather, (Walter) Everett Wells. But his mother was actually named Anna or Annie, maiden name Cooper. No Indian blood there.”

Johnny Depp as “Greasepaint Injun”?

03/14/2013

by Glenn Lovell

There’s much gnashing of teeth in our house during Cleveland Indians games. It’s not that we can’t stand the team, it’s their longtime logo, that deeply offensive caricature of a Native American “Injun” ‒ red face, stupid grin, prominent, beak-like nose.

How it is possible in the age of political correctness that a major league team could get away with something so insulting?

Answer: In the 21st Century, the PC police have still not gotten around to our country’s indigenous people. Native Americans remain the one minority it’s still OK to ridicule. Imagine the hue and cry if a team wore a WorlJohnnyDeppTontod War 2 caricature of a Japanese (buckteeth, thick glasses, slit eyes) or an African-American on its jersey?

Need more proof of our culture’s lingering insensitivity to American Indians?

Look no further than Disney’s “The Lone Ranger,” due out this summer. If I’m not mistaken that’s Johnny Depp in the old Jay Silverheels role of Tonto, the Indian who saves a Texas lawman and then rides into battle with the masked man. Last I checked Depp was a Caucasian, as in lily W-H-I-T-E. Who over at Central Casting could have thought it was a good idea to have Depp slather himself in bronze body makeup to play an Indian? His Tonto ‒ under long black wig, artfully applied war paint, stuffed-crow bonnet ‒ looks like Captain Jack Sparrow crossed with Conan the Barbarian. (Not surprisingly, Depp’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” makeup man had a hand in the preposterous get-up.)

Depp’s justification? As a kid, he hated the way Tonto was portrayed in the Lone Ranger TV series and, since there’s a drop or two of Indian blood coursing through his veins ‒ “maybe Cherokee or some Creek” ‒ he’s taken it upon himself to right this wrong. No mention of the millions he’s being paid or a monstrously oversized star ego.

Of course, Depp is only the latest in a long line of “Hollywood Indians.” (See “Dances with Deception” on this site.) Other white actors who claim Indian heritage to justify taking Indian roles include Val Kilmer, Lou Diamond Phillips, Fred Ward and Frederic Forrest.

Reminds me of an interview I did with Doris Leader Charge, the Lakota Sioux teacher who appeared in “Dances with Wolves.”

“White actors playing Indians are all Cherokee,” she laughed. “That must have been one huge tribe.”

The $200 million-plus “Lone Ranger”  is hardly the first Disney film to feature whites as Indians. The practice goes back to the studio’s “Tonka” (1958), starring Sal Mineo as a Sioux warrior, and includes “Running Brave” (1983), with Robby Benson as Sioux Olympian Billy Mills.

“If asked to do it again, I would in a second,” said Benson when I asked him about whites playing Indian roles. “It’s what an actor does, become something they’re not. If you’re worried about the political fallout every time you take a role, you might as well hang it up.”

Make yourself heard if you’re offended by this ongoing practice — by boycotting the film.

Coming to a Theater Near You: Wholesale Paranoia

07/20/2012

by Glenn Lovell

The audience emitted a collective gasp Friday morning as the exit door at the front of a northern California multiplex opened about 30 minutes into “The Dark Knight Rises.”

With CNN updates of the overnight massacre at a theater in Aurora, Colorado, fresh in our minds, those of us in attendance at Santa Clara’s Mercado 20 had our focus snapped when a pool of bright sunlight poured into the auditorium. A figure exited furtively through the door, leaving it slightly ajar for a minute or two, and then reentered ‒ the shooter’s M.O. at the midnight showing of the new Batman movie.

Of course it turned out to be a theater employee doing a security check.

Still, for a moment there, suspecting a copycat crime, our hearts were in our throats.

I’m sure the above scenario will play out at hundreds of theaters around the country this weekend.

And while they won’t admit it, box office analysts are right now wondering how the horrific events in Colorado will affect ticket sales. Will they keep people away from the dour, plenty violent Warner Bros. release co-starring Christian Bale and Anne Hathaway? Will potential ticket-buyers say, “Not on your life ‒ I go to the movies to escape, not to be reminded of a real-life movie massacre!”

Or, God forbid, will the mass shooting add a filament of danger, morbidity, making the new Batman saga all the more alluring to young thrill-seekers?

Warner Bros.’ front office won’t own up to this, but I would wager it’s secretly banking on the latter response. After all, it’s in the business of making money and “The Dark Knight Rises” was highly touted as the summer blockbuster.

To the studio’s credit, it wasted no time yanking most of the trailers for its fall release “Gangster Squad.” The tease includes a St. Valentine’s Day Massacre variation, with gangsters positioned behind a movie screen, spraying an audience with machine-gun fire.

Will the sequence be cut from the feature, much as domestic terrorism scenes was deleted from movies released in the wake of 9/11? Probably. Audiences wouldn’t be able to look at it now without being reminded of the carnage in the Aurora strip mall.


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