Posts Tagged ‘StumbleUpon.com’

Luis Valdez & “the Vicissitudes of Hollywood”

06/09/2015

by Glenn Lovell

Luis Valdez, the acclaimed filmmaker-playwright best known for “Zoot Suit” and “La Bamba,” was born in Delano, Calif., less than five miles from the San Joaquin Valley town of McFarland. Valdez saw his first movies in McFarland and, later, helped organize farm workers there. He would have been the perfect choice to direct Disney’s “McFarland, USA” (now on DVD and VOD), about a Chicano cross-country team and its initially skeptical coach, played by Kevin Costner.

Yes, but then the emphasis/perspective would have been different: the film would probably have been more about the high-school runners and their parents than the fish-out-of-water Anglo coach who struggles to fit in … andVH104ValdezHighlight2, in typical Hollywood fashion, saves the most troubled of the kids from themselves.

In short, with Valdez at the helm, “McFarland, USA” would not have been another in a long line of white-savior movies that includes “Dangerous Minds” with Michelle Pfeiffer and “The Blind Spot” with Hilary Swank.

“Sure, I would have loved to direct that (film), among many others,” replies Valdez from his Teatro Campesino office in San Juan Bautista. “The story of McFarland is a familiar reality, my reality. I grew up there. It’s an old, traditional farming community, not some foreign country … But it’s not surprising that Hollywood would continue to do the white savior thing: that’s long been a through line in these types of movies.”

That said, Valdez has nothing but praise for the Disney release, directed by New Zealander Niki Caro (“Whale Rider”). “I found it to be a wonderful film, positive and inspirational. The reality of the southern San Joaquin Valley is, of course, multi-layered … No single film can deal with all the relevant issues, but I was impressed by the final screen updates that many of the track members went on to college and then back to teach in their community.”

However, the movie industry overall continues to “lag behind” when it comes to cultural diversity, Valdez contends. “The impression is that Latinos or Chicanos are all recent arrivals, and (filmmakers) don’t take into account that we’ve been here as long as thLaBambae state has existed … If you can’t see past the ethnicity, you don’t see that.”

In 1987, Valdez followed up his screen adaptation of “Zoot Suit,” inspired by the Sleepy Lagoon riots of 1944, with a biopic about Chicano rocker Ritchie Valens. It was produced by Taylor Hackford for Columbia Pictures and starred Lou Diamond Phillips as Valens, who died in a plane crash in 1959. “La Bamba” earned over $100 million worldwide. Not a bad return on an $8 million investment. “Depending on how you define Latino films, it’s a track record that stands to this day,” says the director. “Robert Rodriguez has done some wonderful work and his films have grossed quite a bit, but they’re not strictly speaking Latino films.”

With “La Bamba” in the can, Valdez met with Hackford and new Columbia boss David Puttnam.

“We were feeling pretty good and we just sat around discussing ideas. And they said, ‘What do you want to do next?’ So I pitched them an idea for this thing called ‘Tortilla Curtain,’ which was a comedy. I got the green light. They approved it on the spot. ‘Yeah, go write it.’ I felt pretty happy about that. Then, when my wife Lupe and I were in London promoting ‘La Bamba,’ we learned about Puttnam’s resignation.” (It’s generally held that Puttnam was given the boot for ruffling feathers.)

Dawn Steel replaced Puttnam, who had produced “Midnight Express” and “Chariots of Fire” and was known for chancy, offbeat projects. Steel canceled Puttnam’s projects, including “Tortilla Curtain.”

Valdez next worked on “Old Gringo,” developed by Jane Fonda from a Carlos Fuentes’ novel about the disappearance of writer Ambrose Bierce. Valdez saw Bierce as “this weird Anglophile” and wanted Peter O’Toole for the role, which eventually went to Gregory Peck. After a disagreement over the script, he was “paid not to direct the film” and replaced by Argentinean Luis Puenzo. The film, released in 1989, was a critical and commercial flop.

Valdez was then set to adapt the Rudolfo Anaya novel “Bless Me, Ultima.” The prime backers: Jose Menendez and Carolco Pictures. While scouting locations in New Mexico, he received word that Menendez and his wife had been murdered by their sons. “After that, our film project fell apart,” he recalls ruefully.

“It’s just part of the vicissitudes of Hollywood,” says Valdez of his premature retirement from movies. “Because ‘La Bamba’ made money people assume there were a lot of offers. There weren’t. But I’ve had a fairly typical run in terms of things that have almost been made but weren’t for one reason or another.”

Valdez isn’t bitter. He doesn’t have time to be. His latest play, “Valley of the Heart,” workshopped at El Teatro, moves to San Jose Stage Company in September. Set in Cupertino in 1941, it’s a star-crossed romance between a Mexican-American ranch hand and the Japanese-American daughter of a soon-to-be displaced rancher. Also, “Zoot Suit” was just revived to cheers at San Jose State University. A multimedia fusion of drama and documentary, the new production was directed by son Kinan Valdez.

Does Valdez, who’ll turn 75 later this month, have another movie in him? “I’m interested in taking ‘Valley of the Heart’ to film. I think it would make a wonderful movie. It’s epic because of World War 2, but it’s also an intimate love story. Some people who have seen it on stage have said it’s ‘like watching a movie.’ ”

“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.

Brando Estate Holding “One-Eyed Jacks”?

04/28/2015

by Glenn Lovell

Good news for Western fans who have had to make do with that washed-out bootlegged copy of Marlon Brando’s “One Eyed-Jacks,” directed by and starring the Method legend as a reformed outlaw loosely modeled after Billy the Kid.

According to  Stevan Riley, writer-director of the terrific new Brando doc, “Listen to Me Marlon,” the Bone-eyed-jacks-life-magazinerando estate has found the negative for the 1961 Western and plans to digitally restore and color correct the cult film for DVD release.

“One-Eyed Jacks,” an adaptation of “The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones,” began as a script by Sam Peckinpah (later fired and replaced by Calder Willingham). Stanley Kubrick, the original director, fed up with all the delays, asked Brando, “Remind me, Marlon, why are we making this film?” Brando replied, “Because I’ve already paid (contracted costar Karl) Malden $200,000.” With that, Kubrick threw up his hands and left.

With a famously indecisive first-time director at the helm, the film became the very definition of “troubled production.” It went significantly over budget (from almost $2 million to a then-staggering $6 million) and the scheduled 12-week shoot doubled in length. The film was shot by veteran cinematographer Charles Lang Jr. (“Ace in the Hole,” “The Magnificent Seven”) brandoin Mexico, Death Valley, Monterey and, for the scenes in which Brando’s Rio licks his wounds, a never-more-ravishing Big Sur.

Scorsese and Tarantino are on record as calling “One-Eyed Jacks” their favorite Western. (It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Johnny Depp, Brando’s close friend and costar in “Don Juan DeMarco,” someday mounted a remake.) Said Brando’s daughter, Rebecca, “I think it’s wonderful that the film is going to be re-released. It shows another side of my father, the side where he is a good director. I think it’s great.”

Brando’s original cut reportedly ran five hours. It was whittled down by Paramount to 2 hours, 21 min. Fingers crossed that the canisters from the vault hold the director’s cut.

Richard Corliss (1944 – 2015): Critic as everyman

04/25/2015

by Glenn Lovell

Richard Corliss, TIME mag’s longtime film critic, has passed away at age 71 from a stroke. He was easily one of the most authoritative yet least pretentious reviewers to occupy the aisle seat. Unlike pundits Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris, known for their labyrinthine tangents, Corliss conversed easily with the reader as reliable friend. And thanks to TIME’s notorious space constraints, he mastered the pithy, precisely crafted three- to four-graph review that still somehow left us feeling satisfied.

I always found myself flipping through the back of TIME to get Corliss’s take on the latest by Scorsese (he loved “GoodFecorlissllas”) or Richard Linklater (ditto “Boyhood”), and he never disappointed in either erudition or analysis, cynical disdain or clever wordplays. Along with Kenneth Turan of the L.A. Times, he was one of the only critics to sound off against the obscenely bloated “Titanic,” writing, “Ultimately, Titanic will sail or sink not on its budget but on its merits as drama and spectacle. The regretful verdict here: Dead in the water.” (He also slammed the Coens’ brilliant “Fargo” as mean-spirited, but, hey, we all have our blind spots.)

And when something caught his eye, he sang it praises like no one else. Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction,” he wrote, “towers over the year’s other movies as majestically and menacingly as a gang lord at a preschool. It dares Hollywood films to be this smart about going this far. If good directors accept Tarantino’s implicit challenge, the movie theater could again be a great place to live in.”

Corliss, writing in Film Comment, on the depressing state of his profession:

“The long view of cinema aesthetics is irrelevant to a moviegoer for whom history began with ‘Star Wars.’ A well-turned phrase is so much throat-clearing to a reader who wants the critic to cut to the chase: What movie is worth my two hours and six bucks this weekend? Movie criticism of the elevated sort, as practiced over the past half-century by James Agee and Manny Farber, Andrew Sarris and Pauline Kael, J. Hoberman and Dave Kehr — in the mainstream press and in magazines like ‘Film Comment’— is an endangered species. Once it flourished; soon it may perish, to be replaced by a consumer service that is no brains and all thumbs.”

You can sample many of Corliss’s reviews at RottonTomatoes.com

“Steve Jobs” Comes Home

01/14/2015

by Glenn Lovell

Call it a homecoming —

Oscar-winning filmmaker Danny Boyle — known for “Trainspotting” and “Slumdog Millionaire” — is in the Bay Area shooting that still-untitled Steve Jobs biopic scripted by Aaron Sorkin from Walter Isaacson’s bestselling biography. In mid-January, the company cordoned off Crist Drive in Los Altos, home to “the garage” where Apple was founded in 1976. Last week, principal photography moved to, among other spots, De Anza College’s Flint Center on Stevens Creek Boulevard in Cupertino.

The always natty Jobs — sporting green bow tie and double-breasted blazer — unveiled the original Mac at Flint Center in 1984.

Michael Fassbender is standing in for the Apple guru, a role originally linked to Leonardo DiCaprio and (a dead ringer for Jobs) Jobs3Christian Bale. Seth Rogen costars as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, the brainy Sancho Panza to Jobs’ big-picture Don Quixote

For the De Anza campus shoot, the production is looking for enthusiastic local extras, 18-40 years old, who will cheer on cue as Fassbender’s Jobs addresses an Apple convention. Must have ’80s hairstyles and clothing. Production is also looking for vintage cars, 1983 or older.

Kate Winslet, Katherine Waterston and Jeff Daniels are set for juicy co-starring roles.

De Anza Film/TV students had the opportunity to serve as extras on Saturday, January 31, 2015, on the ‘Danny Boyle Project,’ ” said De Anza film prof Susan Tavernetti. “The ‘crowd scene’ shoot took place from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. in the Sunken Garden adjacent to Flint Center.” Though student extras weren’t paid, De Anza’s F/TV Department received a donation — “$10 a head.”

A production company synopsis provides insight into the film’s approach: “(Jobs’) passion and ingenuity have been the driving force behind the digital age. However his drive to revolutionize technology was sacrificial. Ultimately it affected his family life and possibly his health. In this revealing film we explore the trials and triumphs of a modern day genius, Steven Paul Jobs.”

Beau Bonneau Casting in San Francisco (415-346-2278) is handling paid-extra gigs.

Rod Taylor: King of B’s (as in beefcake, brawler, boozer)

01/11/2015

by Glenn Lovell

Sad to say another face from our misspent youth at the movies has passed.

taylor

Taylor in “Dark of the Sun”

Sydney’s own Rodney Sturt Taylor — who went from beefcake hero to legendary boozer to, in his later years, wonderfully crusty character actor — died at age 84 in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

You know him as the mama’s boy who sustains some nasty pecks in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” and as the Victorian-era scientist with his eye on the future in George Pal’s Oscar-winning “The Time Machine.”

These titles, plus a couple of lame romantic comedies with Doris Day (they had zero chemistry), were mentioned in the obits. Mostly overlooked: Taylor’s mercenary in the brawny, Congo-set “Dark of the Sun” and his desperately overextended Aussie businessman in “The V.I.P.’s,” which co-starred Maggie Smith, a favorite among his leading ladies.

Well before he was hired by Hitchcock, John Ford (“Young Cassidy”), Michelangelo Antonioni (“Zabriskie Point,” which he later decided was “viciously anti-American”), and Quentin Tarantino (as a jowly Winston Churchill in “Inglourious Basterds”), Taylor had walk-ons opposite James Dean (“Giant”) and Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor (“Raintree County”).

Cast more for his physique than his acting chops — think of him as the Down Under Rock Hudson — Taylor found himself playing second fiddle to the leading man in films like “A Gathering of Eagles” (starring Hudson), “Fate Is the Hunter” (Glenn Ford), and “36 Hours” (as a German officer determined to break James Garner).

Later typed as an “active leading man” in Westerns and war pictures, Taylor said he felt like a phony. “(That) kind of embarrassed me sometimes because I really wasn’t big enough to be a really tough guy,” he recalled in a TCM interview. “I could fight in a way, I guess, (but) I really wasn’t good-looking enough to pull some of the roles that I was put into. So I was a little bit, I don’t know, insecure …”

When he did muscle his way to the front it was all too often in low-budget, testosterone-fueled imports, such as Italy’s title-tells-all “Colossus and the Amazon Queen.”

All in all, the sandy-haired calendar boy who apprenticed in radio (as Tarzan, no less) enjoyed a good-to-middling career, plowing the path for a later wave of Aussies, which would include Russell Crowe and Huge Jackman.

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.

Auteur! Auteur! Andrew Sarris (1928-2012)

06/22/2012

By Glenn Lovell

Andrew Sarris, who died Wednesday at age 83, wrote about movies his entire life but most notably during the 1960s-1970s. It was a heady time, a time of spirited debate over the merits of Bergman, Antonioni and Kubrick. And the scrappy Sarris was at the center of it all, driving and informing the dialogue with his long, rambling, impassioned columns for the Village Voice. The following is an interview I did with Sarris in 1994.

FOR THOSE OF US who began thinking seriously about film in the ’60s, he was the guru, the man who somehow made it all make sense. For his opposite numbers across the Atlantic ‒ Cahiers du Cinéma critics Francois Truffaut and Jean- Luc Godard ‒ he was the chief American proponent of the “auteur theory,” which downgraded Hollywood’s more self-conscious “artists” and made heroes of Howard Hawks, Otto Preminger and especially Alfred Hitchcock.

Sarris

At “65 going on 66,” Andrew Sarris is still hard at it, writing a weekly column for the New York Observer, teaching at Columbia University and putting the finishing touches on his 11th book, “The American Sound Film.”

Sarris, who will be speaking tonight on “The Iridescence of Irene Dunne” (Stanford Theatre, 7:30 p.m.), refers to his latest tome as “my magnum opus.” It was supposed to be out last year, but Sarris being one of the great dreamers and procrastinators pushed the deadline to this summer. “I haven’t done as much as I should have,” he says of his career in general, “but I’m a very late starter.”

Initially, he saw himself as a novelist. But the “real writing” didn’t come. At 27, after a stint in the Army Signal Corps, he submitted a review of “The Country Girl” to Film Culture (“I really panned it”). Remuneration: zilch. But that was OK; he was living with his mother in Brooklyn and working as a script reader for 20th Century Fox.

Four years later, he walked into the editorial offices of the Village Voice, then all of eight pages. Under his arm was a review of Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” Not only was it a rave, it argued that the “master of suspense” should be placed on a pedestal with the likes of Jean Renoir and Ingmar Bergman.

“It caused a great storm,” he recalls from his East Side apartment, which he shares with wife and fellow critic Molly Haskell (also a guest speaker for Stanford’s on-going screwball-comedy series). “I was treating Hitchcock as a major artist. Their idea of an art film was something by Bergman or Fellini. The idea of Hitchcock as a great artist was anathema.”

Those early reviews ‒ now described as “very crude, clumsy” ‒ caused quite a commotion among New York film buffs and left their author with a feeling of euphoria, power. A year later, Sarris began his reign as the Voice’s regular film critic. From 1961 to 1989, he wrote the “Films in Focus” column, which became required reading for fledgling critics and sparked very public feuds with anti-auteurists Pauline Kael and John Simon.

In 1968, Sarris loosed a salvo that reverberated throughout the critical community: “The American Cinema: Directors and Directions.” Beginning with the line, “The need for an updated film history is self-evident,” Sarris juggled the standings of Hollywood’s most celebrated directors. The darlings of the critics ‒ John Huston and Elia Kazan, among them ‒ were lumped under the heading “Less Than Meets the Eye.” Studio workhorses, such as Michael Curtiz and Henry Hathaway, were downgraded to “Lightly Likable.” Cerebral mavericks ‒ Richard Brooks, John Frankenheimer, Stanley Kubrick ‒ were consigned to “Strained Seriousness.”

And the new residents of Sarris’ Pantheon? Such previously underrated entertainers as Chaplin, Keaton, Hawks, Fritz Lang and, of course, Hitchcock. Their personal vision of “a self-contained world” earned them a place beside Orson Welles, F.W. Murnau, D.W. Griffith. Reissued in 1985 with a new afterword by the author, “American Cinema” is required reading in most film aesthetics classes and, along with “What is Cinema?” by André Bazin and the collected reviews of James Agee, a seminal work in film scholarship.

Sarris himself believes the “cult of the auteur” has gone too far. All directors, even the hacks, are revered over screenwriters now. “It was never meant to be the last word, and I was never meant to be a prophet.”

Pressed for changes he would make in his rankings, Sarris says he’d leave the Pantheon category alone, but would be kinder to Wilder, Wellman, Frankenheimer, Leo McCarey, William Wyler.

“I’m always changing. Times change. Movies change. I think differently today than I did when I started out.”

As for the widely hailed Kubrick (“Dr. Strangelove,” “2001: A Space Odyssey”), he’s still an overrated “superego.” Ditto David Lean, whose “Lawrence of Arabia” was panned by Sarris when it opened in 1962. He considered the epic gaseous and pretentious then, and still does.

Sarris’ recent favorites: Stephen Frears’ “The Snapper,” Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven,” Harold Ramis’ “Groundhog Day” and (as he’s a dyed-in-the-wool Francophile) anything by Claude Chabrol and Eric Rohmer. Critics who measure up by combining “intelligence and intelligibility”: Kael, Vincent Canby, Richard Corliss, Manny Farber, David Kehr and Haskell (who chronicled her husband’s prolonged hospitalization in ’85 with a mystery virus in the unique memoir “Love and Other Infectious Diseases”).

At a time when many are decrying the state of film criticism ‒ where gossip and the direction of one’s thumb have replaced learned discourse ‒ Sarris is surprisingly upbeat. “I think film criticism has improved enormously,” he says. Sarris’ assessment of his own writing: idiosyncratic, a weakness for alliteration. “I’m lazy ‒ I don’t work hard enough on my writing.” He believes such traits kept him from breaking into mainstream publications. He would have joined The New Yorker or The New York Times (like buddy Canby) “in a second.” He left the Voice, he says, because he was “tired of that atmosphere. It was too political, too radical, for my taste. I’ve always been sort of a centrist, an anomaly.”

The key to his longevity, he believes, is that, for him, film was always a means to an end: self-awareness. “Film enabled me to find myself. Through film, I’ve been telling the story of my life, like an ongoing memoir.”

Classic Ray Bradbury on “Fahrenheit 451″ Redo

06/06/2012

by Glenn Lovell

Eloquent, profane, blustery, eternally boyish — Ray Bradbury, who died Tuesday at age 91, proved all of the above in our numerous chats. I met the science fiction-fantasy author in 1983, upon the release of the long-stalled adaptation of “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” Our interview was set for late afternoon at a San Francisco hotel.

But it didn’t come off as planned because Bradbury, by 4 p.m., was happily in his cups, slurring his words after one too many martinis. We rescheduled for two weeks later — at his office-cum-warehouse on Wilshire Blvd. Bradbury couldn’t have been more gracious, regaling his guest with stories of his love/hate relationship with Hollywood. A child at heart, the author surrounded himself with toys and movie memorabilia, including, on his large, cluttered mahogany desk, a model of the Nautilus from Disney’s “20,000 Leagues under the Sea.”

Though we talked numerous times after that meeting, the last story I wrote about Bradbury was on a proposed remake of “Fahrenheit 451″ by Mel Gibson. Excerpts from that never-before-published 2001 interview show Bradbury in rare form, at once caustic and testy.

RAY BRADBURY IS FUMING mad at Mel Gibson’s Icon Productions. “One of their scripts for ‘Fahrenheit 451’ should be seen by people to show how dumb studios can be,” the author grouses. “And please quote me on that!”

Bradbury was hoping things would go smoother this time around with Icon holding the rights to his 1953 sci-fi classic and Frank Darabont now set to direct for Castle Rock Ent. But so far, the author reports, the new “F-451” has been more exasperating than the 1966 Francois Truffaut version with Oskar Werner as Montag and Julie Christie — in what Bradbury calls “a stupid bit of miscasting” — as both Montag’s wife Mildred and the 16-year-old girl next door.

“F-451,” about a dystopian society in which reading is outlawed, was optioned four years ago by Icon as a possible “Braveheart” follow-up for Gibson. Bradbury lunched with Gibson in 1998 to discuss the project. “We had a terrific meeting,” the author recalls. “He seemed very enthused. He showed me plans for the sets and a design for the mechanical hound, which was cut from Truffaut’s version.”

But then, complete silence. “Every six months I call them and they say the same thing: ‘Oh, we were just about to call you.’ Yeah, sure. Can you believe they’ve let so much time go by, when the novel is in every school in America?”

Bradbury says there are now nine “F-451” scripts circulating, plus his own. “How can you write 10 screenplays on ‘F-451,’ when all you have to do is open the book and shoot the pages? It’s stupid.”

Adding insult to injury, none of the scripts has been sent to Bradbury for comment. He did, however, receive a bootlegged copy of draft six from a bookseller in Atlanta. It was very “un-Bradbury-like,” in the author’s words.

“I was afraid to open it. Finally I turned to page 42, very gingerly. It’s where Fire Chief Beatty comes to Montag’s house and Mildred asks, ‘Would you like some coffee?’ Beatty replies, ‘Does a bear s— in the woods?’ I closed the script and didn’t read the rest. I couldn’t believe it.”

Now that the highly regarded Darabont (“The Shawshank Redemption”) is connected with the project, as well as a proposed $70-million HBO serialization of Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles,” the author is more optimistic. “He’s does beautiful work. When I saw ‘The Green Mile,’ I called him and said, ‘Is the ending a Bradbury ending?’ He said, ‘Yes, I read you in high school.’ ”

Among the actors periodically mentioned for the Montag role – after Gibson bowed out as director or star – are Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. Sean Connery once expressed interest in the Beatty role. “Either Cruise or Pitt would be great,” says Bradbury. “Especially Cruise – he’s a very good actor.”

“Alien” vs. “It! The Terror …”: Feud Revisited

06/03/2012

With Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” about to set down, I thought it might be fun to revisit my 1979 story about “Alien” and “It! The Terror from Beyond Space.” This story originally appeared in the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, where I worked as entertainment editor. A second version appeared in “Cinefantastique” magazine.

by Glenn Lovell

Here’s a riddle for you. What came first, the creature or the alien egg?

Put another way, is “Alien,” 20th Century-Fox’s $9-million release, the innovative shock show critics from coast to coast have rushed to call it? Or, is it simply a flashy retread of a number of low-budget 1950s creature features, like “The Thing from Another World” and “It! The Terror from Beyond Space”? With the alien-hitches-a-ride movie already well over the $40 million mark and reaching daily for a spot beside “Jaws,” “Close Encounters” and “Star Wars,” a backlash has begun among onetime admirers who are now asking, “Just how original is ‘Alien’ anyway?”

What they’re discovering ‒ with a little help from horror/sci-fi aficionados ‒ is that “Alien” is not only a first cousin to some of the seedier ’50s monster movies, it is also something of a rip-off of these exploitation numbers.

Although other titles have been bandied about ‒ like “This Island Earth” and “Forbidden Planet” ‒ the two films “Alien” most resembles are “It! The Terror from Beyond Space” (1958)  and “Planet of the Vampires” (1965). The storyline, almost scene for scene, comes from “It!”; the eerie lighting and stylized, expressionistic landscapes are pure “Planet,” an Italian SF/fantasy shocker by Mario Bava.

For those of us who can recall the summer of 1958 and the release by United Artists of a $110,000 quickie titled “It! The Terror from Beyond Space,” watching “Alien” for the first time evoked a strong sense of déjà vu. The new script, credited to Dan O’Bannon, seemed nothing less than a verbatim replay of what director Edward L. Cahn and screenwriter Jerome Bixby had supplied in the way of extraterrestrial fright.

Briefly, in “It!” a spaceship lands on an uncharted planet to search for survivors of a downed rocket and, unbeknown to the crew, picks up a deadly, blood-sucking hitchhiker. As in “Alien,” the thing from another world hides in the ventilation shaft, is warded off by a crew member with a blow torch, and is finally sucked into deep space where it dies from lack of oxygen. What the makers of “Alien” have done is change the shape of the creature (theirs is insectoid, Cahn’s was humanoid with reptilian features) and assault us with more sophisticated shock effects.

Still, the stories bear an uncanny resemblance.

Aware of this, we contacted 20th Century’s “Alien” office for the official word on whether the brains behind the hit were conscious of copying an earlier film or had latched onto a project they assumed was original. British director Ridley Scott escapes complicity because he is unacquainted with most American sci-fi. His U.S. collaborators, however, are another matter. At least three were aware of the striking similarities between “Alien” and “It!” One of the film’s producers even admitted screening portions of “It!” during production “to make sure we weren’t  doing a bald remake.”

Producer David Giler: “We only began to hear about ‘It!’ toward the end of production. I haven’t seen it, but t I know of the film. We were convinced we were doing something new stylistically, even if the basic outlines were the same. I gather the alien-hiding-on-a-spaceship idea is pretty much a classic premise with science fiction writers, like the gunfight in the Western. So the similarities you refer to didn’t bother us.”

Interestingly, Giler was only too happy to brand O’Bannon “a fake” and “rip-off artist.” Giler said he and co-producer Walter Hill wrote most of the script but lost out to O’Bannon in an “idiotic” Writers Guild arbitration. He called O’Bannon’s original draft “amateurishly written ‒ just awful! Basically, it was a pastiche of ’50s movies thrown together. If we had shot the original script we would have had a remake of ‘It! The Terror from Beyond Space.’ ”

When pressed, Giler confided: “I know some of the more esoteric SF magazines have commented on tie-ins between ‘It!’ and ‘Alien.’ But I’m not a regular reader of these magazines. Personally, I think that’s a question you ought to put to O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett (co-author of the ‘original story’). If somebody is responsible for stealing the idea, it’s them. They signed a paper saying it was an original idea. If it isn’t, they lied to us. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn that Dan O’Bannon stole the idea, I must tell you.”

For a different perspective, we contacted “It!” screenwriter Jerome Bixby. He had not seen “Alien” but, through his sons, was aware of plot similarities. We talked him into viewing the film, then reporting back to us. He called two days later.

“Frankly, I feel like the grandfather of ‘Alien,’” chuckled Bixby, whose credits include 1,300 short stories and segments of “Star Trek” and “The Twilight Zone.” “There’s a whole roster of similarities between what I wrote and the new film. They’re both about a small group of people trapped aboard a spacecraft with an inimical creature out to get them and which, in fact, knocks them off one by one. No problem there; that’s a pretty general plot outline. In both stories the creatures use the ship’s air ducts. In both stories they are held off with gas and electricity. And at the end of both stories, they’re dispatched by suffocation, by evacuating the creatures from the ship and depriving them of air.”

Although Bixby wouldn’t say whether he intended to take action against O’Bannon and 20th Century, he did say he was in touch with his lawyer about the matter.

“In all honesty, my story was also derivative,” he allowed. “Essentially what I did was take Howard Hawks’ ‘The Thing’ and play it aboard a spaceship. But I didn’t copy the storyline; I used the film ‒ a masterpiece in the genre ‒ as inspiration for my story. The Hawks film has long been a model for SF writers.”

Bixby said he enjoyed “Alien” but believed the film’s extravagant budget and f/x covered for a weak storyline. “When I think what we could have done with that kind of money …,” he mused. “A lot of people saw our little grade-B flick because there was something of a science-fiction boom back then. But it was nothing like we have today.”


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