Movie Crazy

I’ve been poodling with my nominees for my Alternative Top 100 Greatest Movies list. I still feel I don’t have enough to make the list (I’ve got around 215 nominees. I’d like at least 300.), so I wonder. What movies do you think are the greatest?

Here are my requirements:
1. In English, and here’s why. This is a list to compliment/offer alternatives to the AFI Top 100. Rather than call them the Greatest American Films (it’s kind of hard to discern country anyway. What makes a film American? Not location. Not language. Is it the producer?) Also, English is the only language I speak and because of that it’s the only language in which I can pick up nuance, puns, etc. I don’t want foreign films to have to accomodate my lack of knowledge for this particular list. It’s not fair to the foreign films. But then, some might say, if a movie leaps the language barrier for me, it deserves a place on the list. Yes. But then it makes me questions the English language choice and it all becomes a damn mess.
2. Feature length. There are tons of short films and miniseries (John Adams? Pride and Prejudice? Angels in America? Pixar shorts?) out there that are fabulous, but I’m only one person. So at this point, I’m sticking to feature length.
3. No documentaries. I love and adore documentaries, but I think it would be like comparing apples and oranges to include them.

I am particularly interested in non-dominant cultures (I know I know, my English rule is flawed. But again, I’m only one person. If I include foreign film in this list it won’t ever happen. Can you tell I feel guilty?), women directors/writers, lgbt, etc. However, that is not to say that is all I will watch. Everybody knows Cary Grant is my fave. He is white male dominant and straight as a line.

I also am trying to avoid, although not entirely writing off, movies that have been adapted from books and true stories. The reason I say this is because underneath it all, it might be the book that is the true winner, rather than the film. For that reason, I don’t include the movie The Grapes of Wrath, for example. The movie is wonderful, but it’s the book that matters. There are many many exceptions to this rule. ALl That Jazz is based upon Bob Fosse’s life. But it’s not a straight-shot, chronological film. To Kill A Mockingbird is a better book than movie, but the movie is a lesson in the art of adaptation and casting. So again, I’m not trying to write off adaptations and true stories, I’m just a little hesitant about them.

So tell me. What are your favorite movies? What movies do you think are truly the greatest? I’ll take foreign suggestions, of course. They just won’t be included in this one list. And then, if you please, tell me why you think they are the greatest. Do me a fave and don’t censor yourself. I could do an hour lecture on the merits of Don Knotts’ cannon. Trust me. Any flick’ll do, if you think it’s worth it.


One’s primary purpose at university level is to learn how to think

To think like John Singleton. But I’ll get to that later.

My reaction when I saw this was “*gasp!*” and then “Oh my god” said on the continued inhale of the gasp.

Somebody hand me five grand and a ticket to a ball. I’ve got a dress to wear. Oh Marchesa. Will you please please consider some pro bono work?

I haven’t mused about perfume in awhile. Today I’m wearing YSL Paris which is considered by the Perfumes book to be a “Roaring Rose.” For me, it’s a Juicy Rose. It smells like a rose you want to stick a straw into and drink. I know it’s loud. I know it’s unapologetic. I know it might be too much for close quarters, but I also fear the same could be said of me.

I also think YSL Paris could benefit from a leather jacket. The contrast would be divine. As you can see above, I love contrast.

Rehearsal continues and is as fruitful as a bottle of Badgley Mischka. The key, I have learned, to this particular script is the transitions. The show is prop heavier than I imagined, but we are moving nearly set-free. At this point, we are using three key pieces of structure. Other than props, that’s it. I really do need to make a trip to Joann’s, however.

And finally, in movie news, I watched High Learning. After recovering from my headache due to being beaten about the head with the film’s message, it was fun to see a movie (new to me) full of scads of early nineties workhorses. I’m talking Kristy Swanson, Omar Epps (in very nearly the same role as he plays in The Program, martyr sequence notwithstanding), Andrew Bryniarski (an actor of mass proportion who has made a career of playing entirely unsavory characters, and thus suffers from “that guy”* syndrome), Cole Hauser, Michael Rapaport, Regina King, Adam Goldberg, Brigitte Wilson (a woman born to wear suprisingly feminine combinations of ripped denim, tights, and leather), Jason Wiles, and Randall Batinkoff (another That Guy). It’s got something for everyone: sex, violence, lesbian kisses, skinheads, flannel. Lots and lots of flannel. When I was in middle school, minus the violence and racial tension, this is how I though college would be. A mix of this, Kicking and Screaming, and PCU.

I also had two “I’ve never heard of John Singleton” conversations yesterday. At the end of one, I kind of felt like I had seriously failed to live in “the now.” At the end of the other one, I felt myself cursing 22 year olds for completely missing what I consider an important era in filmmaking – the Early to Mid 90’s. I now give you Higher Learning’s Busta Rhymes (start at :30):

* That Guy Syndrome – attributed to actors who evoke the recognitive response, “Hey! It’s That Guy!” upon viewing a film in said actor’s cannon.

Movie Hero of the Week! – Oliver Reed*

First let me tell you how the man died – (I’m quoting IMDB here) “He died of a heart attack in a bar after downing three bottles of Captain Morgan’s Jamaica rum, eight bottles of German beer, numerous doubles of Famous Grouse whiskey, and beating five much younger Royal Navy sailors at arm-wrestling. His bar bill for that final lunch time totaled 270 Maltese lira, almost £450.”

Okay, so that’s a general idea of what we’re dealing with, here. Also, that occurred during the filming of Gladiator, which caused Ridley Scott some problems.

He was rude. He was drunk. He was obstinate. He was a masogenist. He was everything I loathe in a person. And yet…the combination of ALL those things? Incredibly alluring. What can I say? I’m full of multitudes. He’s famous for saying, “My only regret is that I didn’t drink every pub dry and sleep with every woman on the planet.” But God help him, he tried.

I first bumped into Oliver Reed when watching Oliver! when I was little. He played Bill Sykes, and judging from what I’ve read, it wasn’t a challenge. Other than Gladiator, that was about all I had seen Mr. Reed in, until a couple weeks ago. I watched the movie Burnt Offerings starring Reed, Karen Black, and Bette Davis (with a wonderfully creepy Burgess Meredith on the side.) I thought, “oooOOO. Who is this smashtastically tan man with piercing blue eyes, a pectoral area you just don’t see in movies anymore, and one of the most beautiful and manly speaking voices I’ve ever heard?” I was expecting to see this man was knighted and who’s hobby was drinking sherry and talking about Shakespeare. So when I bumped into this little tidbit, “In 1973 Steve McQueen flew to England to meet Reed and discuss a possible film collaboration. “Reed showed me his country mansion and we got on well,” recalled McQueen. “He then suggested he take me to his favorite London nightclub.” The drinking, which started at Reed’s home, Broome Hall, continued into the night until Reed could hardly stand. Suddenly, and with no apparent warning, he vomited over McQueen’s shirt and trousers. “The staff rushed around and found me some new clothes, but they couldn’t get me any shoes,” said McQueen. “I had to spend the rest of the night smelling of Oliver Reed’s sick.” You can imagine I was a bit surprised. And intrigued.

He even starred in the first movie to drop the f-bomb, not to mention a notorious homo-erotic wrestling scene. He’s the Anti-Richard Burton. Looks like him, sounds like him, drinks like him, and yet…

Well, let’s just say I think Liz would have cracked him across the jaw. But then she probably did to Burton, too. So who the hell knows what my point is.

I guess my point is that he was The Ultimate Bad Boy. Russell Crowe and his ilk can try, but they’ll never match, because frankly they would die of alcohol poisoning before they could get there.

So in honor of Mr. Reed, I’ve added – The Brood, The Assassination Bureau and Tommy. (Just as soon as The Three Musketeers releases, I’m adding that too.)

Here’s one of the more heart-warming tidbits about Mr. Reed: Lawnmower racing owes its origins in part to actor Oliver Reed who, at an inaugural event lost control of his machine and demolished the VIP toilet tent, fortunately without injury to either driver or occupant – “luckily, dear boy, because we were both seated at the time.”

I only have one request: that someone film the story of his life. And that Eddie Izzard play him.

*What is a movie hero? An un or under-sung member of the filmmaking community who deserves more of the spotlight. And yet lack of such a spotlight often adds to their charm.

** Yes. He really looks like Will in that first picture.

Tell me what to do. For the love of God, just tell me what to do.

So there is a lot of talk in the theatrical blogosphere of late about many a big and important issue in today’s Chicago theatrical community. It’s all very fascinating and inspiring and frustrating, like theatre tends to be. Having moved here 5 years ago from an area where there is major undercurrent of anti-intellectualism, I sigh in utter delight when people are talking seriously about the Arts and nobody’s elbowing anyone in the ribcage and making faces. Well, not as much anyway. And when I don’t zone out, I enjoy reading it and thinking about it and wondering.

What do I wonder? I wonder what I should do. First and foremost, I’m an actor. I’m beginning to direct, but if the theatrical police came along and said, “Name, title,” I would say, Elizabeth Morgan – actor. So what do I do? I want the Chicago theatre scene to be vibrant and diverse. I want to feel like I’m a part of a community. I want resources to be readily available and shared. And I want to do it all while eating the occasional fresh vegetable and not just ramen. But, as my friend Jamie says, I also want a pony.

I won’t bemoan how little time and money we all have and how big some of these issues seem to be. That’s not what I mean to do here. I mean to ask this, is it okay to be just an actor here in Chicago? Of course we must also be advocates. But can I merely appear in and promote the shows with which I’m affiliated? OR do I need to don my philosopher hat and grab my producer cane and find a way to have a voice in these big discussions? I’m not very good at organizing get-togethers. (I just planned a prop-building party and forgot to include the time, date and 5 people I meant to invite.) BUT, If and when there is a Storefront Summit, I will be there. Assuming I don’t have rehearsal. And certainly, it would behoove people holding rehearsals (myself included) to pause that evening and join in the summit as well, but…well, see my “pony” comment.

I guess what I’m saying is I’m feeling kind of helpless and kind of dumb, in both senses of the word. So here’s my way of holding up a flag and saying, I’m a Part of this Community and I Want to Do Something to Benefit This Community But I’m Not an Artistic Director or Head of the League or a Known Voice of Dissent. I Just Want You to Know I’m Here and I Love This Place that is Chicago Theatre and I Want to Make it Better (It’s a really big flag.)

Sure I have my list of “Shit I wish wouldn’t happen every goddamn time I do a show,” but that’s a company by company thing and it’s heavily arbitrary. (I’m also discovering that, as a director, I’m horrifyingly guilty of some shit that pisses me off as an actor.) And sure I have in my head what a dream life in Chicago theatre could be. But again, that’s subjective. I mean, some of you like Meisner.

So I’m here, I’m theatre, I’m used to it. I just don’t know what to say. I mean I read these blogs and I think, Hmmmm…interesting point, Mr. Vire. OOooh snap, Kerri Reid! Cool idea, Nick Keenan! Jesus Christ, shut the hell up….people who will remain nameless. But, other than popping popcorn and clicking refresh 8 million times until 5:00 where I head off to rehearse, I don’t really know what to say. I don’t know most of these guys personally, but the ones I do I’m very honored to know. Occasionally Dan Granata posts stuff that I can dig into, particularly because he’s an actor, too. And Rebecca and I seem to be on the same page about a lot of stuff, particularly material, process, and finding answers to questions. I find Bilal Dardai’s blog to be consistently thought-provoking and very well-written.

Certainly I don’t want to come off as a drooling idiot, here (Theatre Blog important. Reading goooood.), who does? I’m just saying I feel young and overwhelmed. But I want to be a deliberate and effective member of this community. Hell I minored in political analysis, I LOVE a good set of public policy (emphasis on “good.) So count me in. I’m just not sure what’s going on.

The Wisdom of Alan Arkin

From Little Miss Sunshine:
Olive: Grandpa, am I pretty?
Grandpa: You are the most beautiful girl in the world.
Olive: You’re just saying that.
Grandpa: No! I’m madly in love with you and it’s not because of your brains or your personality.

A rule of thumb: If the film contains Alan Arkin, give it a whirl.

I may have found the perfect movie. It’s not particularly “good”, per se. Like, I’m not about to enter it into a discussion about Film. It won’t be making it onto my Alternative Top 100. (Although it may make it onto my personal Top 100 feel-good movies…if I were to ever make that list.) It’s kind of cheesey. It’s fairly predictable. It’s packed with cliches, types, and Kevin Pollack. But I loved it anyway.

It’s called Indian Summer. It takes place in the early nineties in Autumn at Summer Camp. Bingo. Betsy Movie. All sorts of plaid flannels, men with interesting hair, women with perms. Kimberly Williams.

And Alan Arkin is in it, which is awesome. So is Elizabeth Perkins, whom I’ve always liked. AND AND this guy that played Hardware in Meatballs!!!!! I mean, HARDWARE FROM MEATBALLS!? Minus Bill Murray, you are talking a cast of seriously unknowns. And there is Hardware. Turns out he’s been working steadily for years and continues to. However, I’d like to point out that I watch a lot of movies and bumping into Hardware from Meatballs was still a big treat. Sure he plays an asshole, but whatever.

Meanwhile, I hesitate only slightly when I say I think that this movie also provides a perfect role for Bill Paxton. God bless him, the man can’t act. But he really is kind of weirdly charming in this movie. I know that some people will say, But Big Love! Big Love is so good! Well, I’ll have to take your word for it, because I can’t stand Chloe Sevigny and only watch movies and shows she’s in if I didn’t know she was in it. She is the physical embodiment of nausea. But back to Bill Paxton, I will say this, he’s okay in Apollo 13. But all he really has to do is shiver and vomit and look a little out of his element. Surrounded by the likes of Tom Hanks, Ed Harris, Gary Sinise, Kathleen Quinlan, and many other more gifted individuals, I imagine that wasn’t too difficult. If it never occurred to you to think of Bill Paxton as a bad actor, allow me to provide a primer: Boxing Helena.

So here’s the deal. I recommend Indian Summer conditionally. 1. You have to have some sort of love for summer camp. 2. It helps to feel warmed and comforted by all things early nineties. 3. You love movies that embrace Autumn. If you can say yes to all three of these things, check this movie out.

NOW, one last thing. If you are a movie dork, you may appreciate this: Sam Raimi plays a supporting role that involves lots of well-executed physical comedy. AND there are several references to Spider Man in the movie. Coincidence? Sam Raimi….Spiderman? Hell, maybe it is. I don’t know. But it was worth mentioning.

This movie made me think about one of my pipe dreams which is running a summer camp somewhere leafy and North-woodsy. Which led to me thinking this: even when I come up with alternative career paths to theatre, none of the alternatives provide any more money. I mean, although I can’t say this is true for certain, I think that the following words have never before been combined: Camp Director/Tycoon.

The reason I’ve been thinking about this is several-fold. 1. My little sister is embarking upon her first semester of college and having spoken with her many many times recently helping her make the transition, I’ve been thinking to myself: If I could do it all over again, would I? I don’t know. There are certain things I would change (one particularly ill-informed haircut right before my freshman year), but to totally do it over? I think no. And the main reason I can come up with is that I have met so many cool people in Chicago, why would I want to change anything leading up to meeting them? There is a moment in the movie Indian Summer when Alan Arkin says, “If there is one day in my life I would change, that would be the one.” I think I’m too young to start naming off candidates for that day. The only thing I know so far is that when I ignore my gut feeling about something, I usually regret it. Arkin also says this, “I knew things would work out. They usually do.” Here’s hoping.

Care for an Appetizer?

First things first. Tonight we open Appetite Theatre’s Bruschetta Festival. The shows are hilarious, and the talent is great! Plus they serve bruschetta and bubbly. Come see these wonderful shows and help Appetite Theatre continue to produce high-quality work.

Directing for Appetite has been a very pleasant experience, and I sincerely hope I can work with them again. I also met many new and fun actors, directors, and other theatrey types. As I said to Will last night, “Well, that was the least painful tech week of my life.” Not because it’s a low-tech show, but because I was surrounded by fun people with positive attitudes and a desire to make a good show. Fabulous. Come check us out! The scripts are all new. There’s been much talk behind the scenes about emerging artists. It’s a great way to get rolling in the 2009-2010 theatre season. Back to school, indeed.

Meanwhile, everybody’s talkin’ ’bout The New Colony’s mission for a Storefront Summit. (Count me in, btw.) I was poodling around their blog reading up on what everyone had to say, and I stumbled upon an entry from April of this year about children’s theatre. I’m going to be directing a show for Rascal Children’s Theatre beginning this Monday, so I found the talk to be very enlightening. I garned from it a lot of not so much inspiration, but confirmation of my beliefs about theatre for children. I remember what attracted me to theatre when I was 4 and 5 years old. My parents didn’t take me to see “children’s theatre” (minus a production of Sharon, Lois and Bram’s Elephant Show). They just took me to theatre. I sat through my Dad’s production of Camelot a couple of times. At age 4. Loved it. Charlie’s Aunt? THought it was hilarious. (that is, until my Dad fell off a chair and I stood up in my seat and thought he was actually injured.) The point is, I wasn’t bored or in over my head. I was also a fantastically weird child, so I’m not saying let’s load up a bus and take the kids to see The Oresteia. I’m just saying I feel like those kids are still out there. As the New Colony blog states: Children’s Theater – theater made with children as the audience in mind. This kind of theater suffers from a condescension that is not actually unique to theater, but applied to almost anything targeted to children: children’s restaurants, children’s movies, children’s TV shows, and so of course children’s theater. I imagine the rationale is simply that children don’t know anything and so are easily duped and uncritical. Well, this might be true for mathematics, and maybe biologically speaking a kid’s palate isn’t refined enough to enjoy the height of the culinary arts, but on aesthetic matters, kids are never to be underestimated.

As I sit weeding through my script for the show, and shaping my rehearsal schedule, I’m not thinking about my audience. Certainly, I’ve made choices with them in mind. As I’ve said in other posts, I decided NOT to use the ol’ sea chantey “Baltimore Whores”. But I’m not thinking about “will they understand?” What I’m hoping is what I hope with all shows: Will they be entertained?

The number one path to good entertainment is good people performing it, and I have that. So check 1. The second path, for me at least, is utilizing as many art forms as I can. This isn’t a “musical” production, but there is music. There may not be formal dance, but likely there will be choreography. Visually, I plan on painting pictures, except I’ll be using bodies instead of paint.

New Colony’s blog also talks about how the best works for children are often the best works. Their examples: Huckleberry Finn, Alice in Wonderland and Looney Tunes. (I would argue about Looney Tunes…they were actually created for adults…but then, look how they resonated with kids, so okay…I’ll give them that). My favorite book as a child was To Kill a Mockingbird. Still is on some level. Is it a “kids” book? No. I don’t think so. But it’s told from a kid’s perspective and Harper Lee obviously thought very highly of Scout. It’s not a fluke that kids are known for cutting through bullshit and saying “what it is” right out loud. Just like…perhaps…a critic? Perhaps?
The point is, I’m not going to direct this show like a “children’s show”. I’m going to direct this show like a show. And I’m going to do my best. And I’m going to add the elements that I like to see in a show (minus bawdy sex scenes. Just kidding.)

Movie Hero of the Week! – Edith Head

EDITH HEAD (1897 – 1981)

I walked into my movement professor’s office sometime during my sophomore year of college. Along with teaching movement, the business of acting, and Senior Acting Studio, she did costumes. (She often put me in pleated pants with a 30″ inseam, so I usually ignored the costumes part). Anyway, I traipsed in there one day to get a critique on a headshot. She was on the phone, so I puttered around looking at headshots of old students, costume renderings, and general theatrical doo-dads until I came upon a letter, framed on her wall. Signed by Edith Head.

I don’t really remember what happened after that. Did I fall to my knees in worship? Did I pass out? I may have just turned green with envy. Anyway, I’ve never forgotten that letter.

I’ve loved Edith Head since the first time I watched White Christmas, which had to have been around hmmm…age 6? Something like that. It wasn’t the dresses that did it (although they helped); it was the men’s shoes being the EXACT same color as their pants. The line was phenomenal. Danny Kay wears a gray suit in the “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” number, with these elegant gray shoes. He nearly dances right off the soundstage. I think it was then that I realized that there was method to the madness of costuming.

When I was little, my Mom would often costume community theatre productions. Not only do I remember these costumes well, I’ve seen them since in an old apartmenty warehouse space above Archbold’s small downtown that houses the Community Theatre’s costumes, props and sets. And they still are great. So I have a soft spot for costumers in general. Of all the tech folk (whom I respect deeply), it’s the costumers that have the most contact with the actors. As an actor, you only have a general sense of the lighting. You can feel the hot spots, etc. Certain more dramatic moments have a “feel”. A set certainly helps determine your floor pattern. A perfectly executed cue by a stage manager can be the difference between brilliant comedic timing and a lost moment. But the costumer’s work you wear on your body. The two of you can make an entrance. Fit is everything and the woman I celebrate today knew that. And more.

Of course I fell in love with Ms. Head’s work because of a musical. Musical are both costuming dreams and nightmares, but the possibilities are endless. The true talent of a costumer often shows in their ability to show restraint.

I give you Rear Window.
Of course, a picture doesn’t do this dress justice. And why would it? It was made for film. It moves so well. Certainly, Ms. Kelly lives up to her first name, but she is framed so well by the work of Edith Head. For me, this is the height of “dance-inspired.” The neckline is perfection. The tulle skirt is dramatic, but tasteful. It’s genius, pure and simple. Simple being a key word. Edith Head knew what so many other designers seem to ignore: It’s all in the tailoring.

Check out Barbara Harris in Family Plot. It’s just a sweater and jeans, but the fit is perfection. (It’s not the best pic, but it’s the best I could find.) In fact, it’s that sweater that convinced me to go ahead and attempt the shawl-collar wrap sweater. I had never seen it done “right” until I watched that movie. The jeans hit the ground just right (trust me…or watch the movie), her bag is…well, let’s just say I’ve been searching for equivalent for years and have been thwarted.

There is something else that Ms. Head understood. Breasts. Sure there’s cleavage. That’s easy. But what Edith did was frame them, like a fine work of art. Observe:

She did the gowns for one of my favorite movies of all time: What a Way to Go! I won’t post examples here. Let me just say that Ms. Head has a sense of humor.

In honor of Edith Head, I’m adding Torn Curtain (a Hitchcock I haven’t seen!) and The Great Race to my queue…along with many, many more.