Friday, March 25, 2011

THE HORROR DADS' VACATION IN SALEM'S LOT



After a long holiday-inspired hiatus, the Horror Dads are back on the beat at TCM's Movie Morlocks and we've cooked up a good 'un this time. If you were a young horror fan in the '70s one of the holy texts was certainly Stephen King's follow-up to Carrie, a much more ambitious (and much better) novel by the name of 'Salem's Lot, whose pages people began obsessively turning back in 1975. It was only a year later that saw the release of Brian De Palma's film version of Carrie in 1976, which was a smash hit and effectively launched the Stephen King film adaptation cottage industry that survives and thrives to this day. Perhaps because of its length and relatively large cast of characters, it was determined that Salem's Lot (no apostrophe indicating that the "'Salem's" was short for Jerusalem's) would be better suited to become a TV movie which could be stretched out over two nights, ostensibly in part to give the book's narrative room to breathe.


The TV movie of Salem's Lot which was directed by Tobe Hooper aired in November 1979, beating Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining into existence by about seven months, and it too was a huge hit. Most people who saw it and loved the book were pleased by the TV movie and its fealty to most of King's constructs and his tone. Others (like me) felt the book was compromised by the homogenized quality of TV production and the prevailing standards and practices of network TV at the time. But today it is largely thought of as one of the more successful King adaptations in a long list that truthfully probably contains more misses than hits, a TV movie that can stand alongside other TV horror landmarks like The Night Stalker and Dan Curtis' adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula starring Jack Palance.

The Horror Dads are largely positive in our collective assessment both of our original experiences with the film and the reaction to it upon more recent viewings. The discussion takes the usual larger overview, but we wouldn't be the Horror Dads if we didn't talk about the elements of the film that relate directly to our own experience bringing up kids and trying to pass along our appreciation of the genre. So a lot of time is spent discussing a central character who is obsessed with monster movies, as well as the potentially disturbing development, carried over from King's novel, of two young boys falling victim to the evil enveloping the town of 'Salem's Lot early on. We also spend a goodly portion of time talking about Salem's Lot's place in the pantheon of the great vampire movies of all time. Best of all, Greg Ferrara even had the opportunity to watch the movie with his daughter, a nascent horror aficionado, and reports on what she thought of it.

Kudos must go once again to Richard Harland Smith, who did his usual excellent job pruning 12,000 words of wild e-mail exchanges into a coherent, readable piece that you hopefully will enjoy as much as we did our original discussion. And all of the participants have wonderful moments of observation and expression as usual-- it's a real honor to be counted among the company of eloquent and funny horror dads such as Richard, Greg, Nicholas McCarthy, Paul Gaita and Jeff Allard. No one knows just yet what the next project for the Horror Dads will be, and we'll have plenty of time to figure that out. For now it's time to enjoy the back and forth and continue the discussion. To paraphrase Mel Brooks, it's good to be a Horror Dad.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

ELIZABETH TAYLOR 1932-2011



Dearest Elizabeth, may flights of angels carry you to a peaceful rest...

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Monday, March 21, 2011

ETERNAL SPEAKER POLES OF THE SPOTLESS MIND: ROD AMATEAU'S DRIVE-IN (1976)



One of the things that we take for granted in this age of instant and inexpensive digital photography is that somewhere someone is always taking a picture of something. If a celebrity walks down the street or does something disturbing in public, or if our public servants press the boundaries of their mandate to serve and protect in full view of God and everybody, then someone is probably going to whip out a phone or a digital camera with a video recorder and capture the whole thing for posterity and infamy. And beyond these instances of individual and fraternal meltdown, you could probably Google just about any name of any place on Earth and cough up at least an image or two-- I randomly entered “pupuseria” and “tire shop” and was treated to a digital cornucopia of pictures, most of them taken by regular folk, documenting the storefronts and somewhat mundane goings-on in these establishments. By 2007 82% of Americans had a cell phone (four years later those numbers are likely only bigger) and around 90% of those are camera phones. Somebody might be taking your picture right now, or maybe a shot of the front of your favorite restaurant or bar, or maybe a local gas station.

Putting aside for the moment thoughts of privacy and all the other implications for how we live our lives in an age of such excessive digital documentation, there’s an aspect of all this coverage that is in a way kind of comforting. Our strip mall landscapes have become so mundane, so uniformly franchised and alike, that there wouldn’t seem to be much unique out there to document. Andy Warhol might have suggested that the world we live in as interpreted by our digital camera obsession can yield its own kind of beauty, shining through even the most routine, corporatized imagery. And we preserve the way our individuality, in the mom and pop manifestations of businesses like bake shops and eateries and places that fix our cars, through our incessant documenting and sharing of those places, in our family photo albums and on the Internet. The mundane beauty of the ho-hum storefront where inside a woman is making a pupusa by hand in an environment comfortable and personal for her and her customers can be its own cultural reward. It conveys the feeling that the world, in a strange way, isn’t being taken for granted.


When I was a kid, my friends and I grew up in a small town in Southeastern Oregon with an indoor movie house that operated from approximately mid-September, when the weather would traditionally become less reliable, until around Memorial Day, when the outdoor drive-in theater on the northern outskirts of town would open its gates. The end of the school year was frequently celebrated by a mass migration out to the Circle JM Drive-in on the first Friday of the drive-in season, where some of us would be every weekend (and some weeknights) as long as the summer lasted. We knew the drive-in wasn’t technically top-notch, but we loved it just the same, and we enjoyed it in the way that most kids enjoy things, without a thought that someday it might be gone, leaving us nothing, no evidence of our enjoyment except what we’ve preserved in our memories. My friends and I used the drive-in lot as a location to shoot a couple of Super-8 movies, but it never occurred to us to take pictures of the place as it routinely functioned night-to-night (the way some people, myself included, love to snap photos of the marquees of theaters like the New Beverly). Some might say we were right to just enjoy it as it was meant to be enjoyed, that today people too often experience life and its most important moments not with their own discerning eyes but mostly through a lens that distances them from an experience as much as it may preserve it. But for those places like the Circle JM that are now gone, all we can do is shoot pictures of what’s left, trying to reconstruct the special quality of our drive-in through the images of the buildings and constructs that still stand and conjure the physical presence of screens and signs that are long gone.

Today though the drive-in multiplex has experienced, in relative terms, of course, a bit of an unlikely renaissance, the kind of rustic, small-town, single-screen ozoner that I grew up with, the least economically viable iteration of the drive-in movie in the 21st century, has largely disappeared. (One happy exception: the Sunset Drive-in in San Luis Obispo, where I hope to visit again in May.) The modern drive-in multiplex is, make no mistake, a blessing for those who miss the drive-ins of old and who wish to pass along the experience to their children. But the sense of the drive-in as a place for local social gatherings, not unlike a roller rink or a high school football game, has been largely supplanted by the economic imperative of appealing to the largest possible family demographic, in terms of film programming and physical volume of customers served. Most everyone—families, groups of friends—who goes to the drive-in in 2011 really does come to see the movies, albeit in a unique environment, whereas during the heyday of the drive-in in the '50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, the theater was a hub for social interaction in which a movie might serve as a lively background instead of the evening’s central source of entertainment.


Several movies since the mid ‘60s have memorialized the experience of the drive-in movie and its importance in the social rituals of the young, and usually in an incidental way. Certainly even the least of these movies, in terms of ambition, scale, budget and/or simple entertainment value, easily bests director Rod Amateau’s Drive-In, (1976), a crude, largely forgotten American Graffiti-inspired comedy that is currently only available on VHS, a format whose glory days, like those of the drive-in, are also long past. But no other movie I can think of captures the ambience and the operational detail of the small-town drive-in, as well as the casual appreciation (and disregard) of its customers, the way this one does. Drive-in is barely even modestly successful as a comedy, but as a piece of cultural anthropology it’s top-notch.

Drive-In is an artifact of small-town Texas Americana that exists in real time-- it was filmed in Terrell, Texas, approximately 200 miles from where, and during approximately the same time frame in which Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused takes place, in the much larger and more familiar confines of Austin. As such it serves as a terrific complement to Linklater’s recreation of ‘70s small-town verisimilitude, confirming nearly every detail of the director’s acclaimed generational portrait as the act of a sympathetic and accurate memory. For better and worse, Amateau’s movie feels less created than observed. The tooling-around that Drive-In’s cast of characters engages in hasn’t much narrative energy—subplots involve a plan to rob the theater’s cash box; a run-in between two very unconvincing gangs; the efforts of a group of strangely sagacious clergymen to smuggle themselves into the lot in the trunk of a car; a paranoid African-American doctor’s attempts to relax with his wife and enjoy the movie; a cranky biddy and her son slowly getting stoned in a pickup truck; and the movie’s obligatory romantic entanglements, including a couple’s hesitant consideration of getting engaged and another younger couple’s first moments of confused attraction. And in terms of volume of laughs, the entirety of Drive-In is probably bested by Cheech and Chong’s seven-minute “Pedro and Man at the Drive-in” from their 1973 Los Cochinos album.


What's on screen: Disaster '76, a pre-Airplane mash-up of disaster movie cliches is the main feature at the Drive-In

But as a portrait of what attending a drive-in could feel like (just replace your own scenarios for the cockamamie hijinks the movie itself supplies), as well as a glimpse (however brief) into the inner workings of a drive-in, from the snack bar to the box office to the projection booth, it has no peer. Drive-In is valuable simply because it exists, regardless of the degree to which it succeeds as entertainment, as a visual record of a form of movie exhibition that just doesn’t exist anymore, even though the drive-in itself in 2011 is far from extinct. I worked at the Circle JM for several years before I left my hometown for college, and I can personally attest to the movie’s realistic ambience.



I could almost smell the butter and grilling hot dogs during the opening montage that details the readying of the operation to open for the night, scored to that marvelously backward-glancing ode to family values on the silver screen, the Statler Brothers’ “Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott?” (“Tex Ritter's gone, and Disney's dead, and the screen is filled with sex”); and a glimpse of the projectionist inserting a fresh carbon-arc rod into the projector lamp housing made me gasp with nostalgic pleasure for all those dimly-lit presentations of the past, Planet of the Apes, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, White Line Fever, Gone In 60 Seconds and hundreds more sometimes seen, and just barely, as if projected by a high-powered flashlight.

Drive-In doesn’t suppose to make us believe that the drive-in was all kids in a small town in Texas (or in Oregon, or California, or anywhere) had to do on the weekends. The movie also features a terrific extended scene staged at the local roller rink that is in its way as anthropologically oriented as anything else in the movie. It’s here where some of the central relationships of the movie are established in a neat and tender evocation of the kind of kids’ entertainment that will likely read even more quaintly to today’s audiences than the drive-in itself. This scene cements the movie’s artlessness as not exactly an anti-style, but instead a guileless sort of point-and-shoot naturalism; here the movie settles into an unforced rhythm that suggests a community theater’s ragged charms and ease among its players, almost as if someone (Amateau, the screenwriter Bob Peete?) said “Hey, kids, let’s put on a movie!” and folks from Terrell to Austin—actors, nonactors, nonprofessionals of every stripe—whooped and hollered and pitched in to get ‘er done.

As I stated earlier, the movie complements Richard Linklater’s funky realism in many ways, not the least of which is its hesitation to traffic in broad geographically oriented stereotypes (with the possible exception of that wide-eyed, perpetually blinkered African-American doctor)—everyone is painted with big, broad strokes. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that just about every character in the movie including Orville, the Ronny Howard-esque romantic lead (Glenn Morshower), with his leaden line delivery, stiff body language and great shock of red hair stretching to the heavens in all directions, is illuminated by a carbon-arc rod that could stand to be several foot-candles brighter, but the actors never inspire our derision. Against all likelihood, they’re never obnoxious, and we stay with them in the pursuit of the modest comic returns of their various situations.

But Drive-In also counters Linklater’s acute employment of ‘70s classic rock with its own indigenously accurate soundtrack—the movie is powered by precisely the sort of country hits that permeated the radio dial in small rural towns across America at the time which were resisting the sublimation of pop culture by the dominating forces of rock and pop chart toppers. The Statler Brothers and their paean to lost innocence at the movies is an apt musical theme for a movie that is at least in part about making out and smoking pot at the drive-in, but there’s also Ronnie Millsap, Ray Stevens, and my favorite of the bunch, Tammy Wynette (“God’s Gonna Get You for That”) to certify the movie’s corn-fed credentials. These country tunes position Drive-In within another stripe of realism that acknowledges a world where the soundtrack of kids striving to break their hometown chains and dreaming of a better life still had more in common with their parents’ tastes than with the kids from bigger towns.

The cast isn’t exactly chockfull of faces who became recognizable and/or widely famous later on, but it does carry its share of surprises from the credits as the movie unspools. The late Trey Wilson, probably best known to audiences as the minor league baseball manager in Ron Shelton’s Bull Durham and as the most famous unfinished furniture dealer in the Southwest in Joel and Ethan Coen’s Raising Arizona (“If you can find lower prices anywhere, my name ain't Nathan Arizona!”), appears as one of the hoods plotting to steal the drive-in’s cashbox; he’s accompanied by the lesser-known but equally familiar-looking TV actor Gordon Hurst. You’ll undoubtedly recognize the tubby fella who plays Orville’s little brother, Gary Lee Cavagnaro, as the incomparable candy-bar-smuggling catcher Engleberg in The Bad News Bears, which was released the same year.


And the spidey-sense of those who had your noses in Playboy magazine in the mid ‘70s will surely tingle with abandon upon witnessing the debut screen performance of Ashley Cox as Mary Louise, the none-too-happy recipient of a marriage proposal from a well-meaning oaf who may not really know what he’s asking. Cox is pretty in a very plain way, but it’s hard to gauge what exactly attracted Hugh Hefner from this movie; she seems about as interested in being on screen as she did in baring it all in the magazine’s December 1977 issue.



But the man with the least apparent talent among Drive-In‘s featured players is the one who has emerged with the longest résumé. As unlikely as it may seem, Drive-In kicked off a long and healthy TV career for Glenn Morshower, during which he was able to shape his initial discomfort and affectless manner as Orville into whip-smart deadpan caricatures of humorless (or at least dead serious) governmental figures of authority. Morshower’s repertoire of officialdom has afforded him appearances as various government agents, law enforcement officers, politicians and military bigwigs of all stripes, but most viewers will probably most immediately recognize him, as I did, from his stint as the loyal Secret Service Agent Aaron Pierce, who stood by Cherry Jones’ President Allison Taylor through one crisis after another during season 7 of 24. This local boy, whose first role was that of the insecure Orville, has indeed made quite good.

I recently saw Drive-In in an extremely astute pairing with Dazed and Confused at the New Beverly Cinema—it’s probably the most thematically resonant double feature of all the ones Quentin Tarantino personally programmed for the month of March. The two movies feed off each other in fascinating ways, and if Drive-In can’t begin to approach the electrifying and perfectly precise generational portrait on display in Linklater’s classic, well, its own modest, unpretentious charms and value as a snapshot of a lost world of small-town living and movie-going are hardly misplaced in the comparison. The beautiful new print seen at the New Beverly makes me hope that some kind of digital release is in the movie’s future—it probably never looked this good even on the day it was released. But if no such release ever happens and we’re left to our smeary memories of Drive-In on VHS (where all the images from the movie seen above were taken), that would be somehow appropriate as well. The film can then be left to play in the theater of our minds along with the memories of the single-screen rural drive-ins whose image it evokes so well.

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For those in Los Angeles whose appetite has been whetted by either the recent New Beverly screening of Drive-In or by this piece, keep in mind that I’ll probably be announcing some kind of SLIFR caravan out to one of the outlying Los Angeles area drive-ins coming this spring and summer. It may not seem like it, what with the rain pouring down on us here in L.A. from God-sized buckets, but drive-in season is nearly upon us, and I’d love to share with you the fun of hitting a double feature under the firmament of a cool, breezy Southern California night, the way we used to do it. Stay tuned. And keep clicking on the web site for the Southern California Drive-in Movie Society for further event updates as the season draws nearer.

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

THE FIRST RULE OF CAKE FIGHT CLUB...



“The first rule of Cake Fight is, don’t talk about Cake Fight.”

There was a certain amount of talking about Cake Fight that had to be done, of course, firstly on the order of the invitation. “So it's my birthday,” Julia wrote on Facebook a few weeks ago, “and I've decided that I want nothing more than to get together with all of my friends and smash cake in their faces.” It’s important to remember that Julia actually staged her own fisticuff version of Fight Club not too long ago, so I hope she’ll forgive me if I had a moment’s pause over whether or not it would be only baked goods flying and whizzing through the air at this affair.

So I, along with my daughters, taking care to speak no further about the event to anyone who wasn’t directly involved, procured a lovely two-tiered lemon diner cake, decorated it with writing (which immediately desaturated in the moist pre-rain air into an illegible string of sugary scribbling), added our own artfully chosen array of sprinkles and a parade of pink and white circus animal cookies to march along the perimeter of the construct, and made off for the secret location, a public park somewhere off of Wilshire, down South Plymouth Street, at 880 Lucerne, right there out in the open, in front of God and everybody (and maybe even Brad Pitt—this is Los Angeles, after all).

After a few pleasantries, we were instructed to generously sample the wares everyone brought and laid out on the main picnic table. I hope it won’t be too impolitic for me to brag that the hostess and guest of honor said she liked my cake best—Nyaah-nyaah-nyah-nyah-nyaaah!—even though any pride I took in such a claim would be strictly that of ownership, as I bought the damn cake at my local Von’s. (For the purposes of this story, I’ll invoke artistic license and just say that I high-tailed it right home afterward to the grocery store and relayed Julia’s enthusiasm to the lovely and talented denizens of the bakery department at said supermarket, even though that may not have, in the strictest sense, actually occurred.) Oh, but the cakes were good, especially to one such as I who has been forbidden this kind of indulgence for about three years now. I even held a Twinkie that someone placed in my hand; the thought of its possible devastating effect as a crème-filled grenade made me shiver with anticipation.


But enough caloric preparation. To the strains of Wagner blaring from the overtaxed boom box sitting on the side picnic table, we each grabbed fistfuls of the mighty confections, which surely had no idea that smearing and splattering instead of pleasurable ingesting would be in their future, and flung ourselves into the grassy, muddy, slippery fray.

My memory of battle is vague; at one point I blacked out momentarily, only to regain consciousness and realize that the entirety of my overwhelmingly chromed dome was pasted with what can only be termed a skull-hugging hat made of blue-frosted angel food cake, Jen Yamato leaning over my stunned personage, laughing hysterically and brandishing the azure-stained palms that did the deed before running away to attack someone else. My own daughters showed me no mercy, hurling hard chunks of red velvet cake at my head, smooshing orange cupcakes in my ears. Within seconds my pale yellow t-shirt began to resemble the floor tarp in Jackson Pollock’s studio, only with crumbs and large hunks of dessert dangling from its surface instead of splattered paints. It was only later that I noticed the film crew loitering nearby—the whole thing was being filmed, to be constructed into a commemorative short subject which, with any justice, will be among the five short films nominated for next year’s Oscar. (If it doesn’t happen, it won’t be because I didn’t give it my all, Mr. DeMille— some of those goddamn cake bombs hurt, and I wasn’t too macho to let it show.)


Finally, my eyes locked with Julia’s, both sets of peepers inflamed with fury and a gargantuan sugar rush, and we approached each other warily, both of us armed with what surely were the last available missile-worthy baked projectiles. (I picked mine up off the grass, so there would be some additional fiber to my concluding launch.) I’m pretty sure we approached each other in slow motion, and I know for a fact that as I let fly my triumphant battle cry the sound got all draggy and processed in the way it does when two titans approach each other for the final gory blow in a Zach Snyder movie. I just wish I hadn’t opened my mouth so wide, and I also wish that I liked the taste of carrot cake a little better than I do, and I also wish that Julia’s aim and composure under the pressure of imminent attack wasn’t so cocksure and unflappable. I fell to the grass gagging, my last piece of cake unspent and crushed in my tightened fist, and above me I heard the unmistakable sound of triumphant screaming and a few final crumbs of carrot cake being flicked onto my frosting-scarred brow. It was a horrible sound; it sounded like defeat. Or at least what defeat sounds like through a couple of inches of compacted icing and chunks of what appeared to be raisins that had been jammed to glory into my ear canal.


Cake Fight was over. Humiliated, I limped to my car, helped along by my suddenly sympathetic daughters, whose graces I would never deny even after all that just came before. I looked back at the ruined park, all tattered and stained with the artificial colors of a birthday celebration gone quite mad. I waved good-bye to Julia, our hostess, my superior in battle, and I wished her happy birthday one last time. And then as I thought about the gigantic mess we made, and how legalistically pissy any police officer who might randomly have stumbled upon this decadent free-for-all we’d staged here would be, I decided I’d better get the hell out of there before I landed in jail for public abuse of baked goods or any other such mysterious ordinance. As I drove away, I looked in the rear view mirror back at the park and thought to myself, “You know, this park is so messy, somebody oughta take this lousy park and just… flush it down the toilet.” I could feel my gaze grow ever steelier, more distant as I continued to stare at the park, and now myself, in the mirror. “I hope someday a real rain will come and wash all the scum and the frosting off the grass here for good,” I said to myself, my daughters already absorbed in video games and comic books for the ride home. I took one last look at myself in the mirror before devoting my attention to traffic and noticed a streak of brown icing cutting across the top of my skull from back to front, like a sickeningly sweet Mohawk. I remember thinking the look was a good one for me. My thoughts started drifting… “I gotta get in shape. Too much sitting has ruined my body. Too much abuse has gone on for too long. From now on there will be 50 pushups each morning, 50 pull-ups. No more bad food, no more destroyers of my body, like goddamn birthday cake. From now on will be total organization. Every muscle must be tight.” Thank you, Cake Fight. Everything was all clear to me now. And by the way, it rained like hell the very next day.




(Video courtesy of Anat Indig)

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KINDLE ME!


Those of you who are reading books the 21st-century way, specifically on an Amazon Kindle, may be interested to know that you can now subscribe to Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule directly to your Kindle device! Yes, we’ve moved up a notch around here in the world of high-tech promotion—it’s just another way of getting the writing to a broader audience and perhaps putting a few shekels in this threadbare writer’s coffers at the same time. Mind you, I have no expectation of getting rich off of this—nearly six years of online writing has pretty efficiently stripped me of any and all delusions of that sort. But neither am I one to look askance at the occasional drop in the bucket either. Each yearly subscription costs $1.99, 30% of which comes directly back to me. (That’s 60 cents, for those of you, like me, who have been brushing up on your fifth-grade-level math lately.) Of course I retain all ownership and responsibility for everything that gets written and published on this blog, and also of course this blog will continue to be available for free to anyone who already reads it via the ordinary Internet devices, such as your PC or, if your eyesight is wa-a-a-a-a-ay better than mine, your phone. But if you do own a Kindle and fancy taking SLIFR to the beach or on vacation while you leave your laptop at home, well, there you go! Just another way we’re putting 21st-century sorcery to work for you here at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule. And hey, why not consider subscribing even if you own a Nook, or a Sony Reader, or maybe if you don’t even own an e-reader device at all. Pity subscriptions are just as good as a PayPal donation! (I gotta look into that PayPal thing, huh?)

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

“ALL MEN REACH AND FALL…” OLIVER STONE ON HISTORY, MYTHOLOGY AND REDEMPTION: ALEXANDER REVISITED: THE FINAL CUT



At his best, in films like Nixon and JFK, Oliver Stone doesn’t shy away from the often contradictory impulses contained within the functions of the storyteller, the social and political critic, the historian and, most tellingly, the provocateur unafraid to be accused of lying while seeking a truth illuminated by but sometimes beyond the complexity of “the facts.” Those films also show Stone to be capable of an astonishing empathy in the examination of historical figures (Lee Harvey Oswald, Richard Milhouse Nixon) for whom you would expect him to have none, men who are at the very center of the horrors which, for Stone and many Americans, define the black heart beating within America’s self-created, self-denying image. This bedeviled curiosity, this unexpected empathy, and in Nixon Stone’s free-associative multimedia approach to reaching into a familiar and reviled man’s psyche in order to see the world as he imagines it sees him, is for me key to experiencing what I believe are Stone’s great achievements as a writer-director. Those elements are what pull me into Stone’s field of vision in ways that films like Platoon or Born on the Fourth of July, painted as they are in such bold, unsubtle strokes of anger and anguish, never have. And now it seems that a third film can be added to that short list of the films I consider Stone’s masterpieces.


Rising from the ashes of some of the worst reviews of Stone’s career when it was released theatrically in 2004, Alexander did meager business domestically, about a fifth of its reported $155 million budget. Less surprisingly, it recouped its costs overseas, where audiences might be presumed to be more familiar, or at least more interested in the details of the life of Alexander the Great. The film soon drifted out of theatres and, ostensibly, to a future of eternal indifference amid the shadows of more commercial successful attempts to restore the aesthetics of 1960’s historical epics with modern technique, films like Gladiator and Troy. But a funny thing happened on the way to the video store-- Alexander, the theatrical version, and Alexander—The Director’s Cut together sold 3.5 million copies, indicating that, separated from the dismissive reviews and the attendant hype surrounding its production and release, there was an audience for Stone’s film. (Alexander was one of two films on the Macedonian conqueror racing to theaters in 2004; the other, Baz Luhrmann’s version, never got beyond preproduction.)

Spurred on by an obsession to address the deficiencies that he saw in the film’s storytelling approach, some of which he felt responsible for, some of which were concessions to a market unreceptive to commercial films of greater than three hours’ length, Stone personally financed a third version of the film, this one adding almost 40 minutes to the original version’s 175-minute running time. “Over the last few years I have been able to sort out some of the unanswered questions about this highly complicated and passionate monarch, questions I had failed to answer dramatically enough,” Stone has said. “This film represents my complete and last version.” Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut, in fact, represents a radical restructuring of the first film’s narrative trajectory. It enriches the film’s dramatic power; heightens the emotional effect of the battles (the late battle at Gaugamela is seen at the beginning of the film); makes clearer the connections between the importance of mythology (and self-mythology) to Alexander himself-- and between the telling of stories on cave walls, in history books, and with a camera; and digs deeper into what Armond White rightly termed, in his thoughtful review of the theatrical version, Stone’s use of the warrior genre as a gateway into examining the very basis of manifest destiny.


On digital media— DVD and Blu-ray— Stone’s final cut is revealed to be the supremely fascinating spectacle of a conqueror with the blood of thousands on his hands who is redeemed not only through the mythologizing of history but by his own compelling vision of preserving, not subsuming, the cultures of the world beyond the known. It is also the supremely fascinating spectacle of a director wrestling, on the sort of gigantic canvas that is becoming increasingly rare in world cinema, with his obsessive interest in the life and legacy of a ruler whose proliferation into that unknown world would soon transmogrify into the brand of malignant imperialism which would permeate the director’s other, more familiar concerns. A look beyond one’s knee-jerk responses to the representation of what might be deemed camp clichés of the epic movie form (British accents standing in for the Others; bold, oversized performances; a cast dressed in togas and golden armor; et al) ought to reveal that the movie is only as absurd and moth-eaten as a viewer wants it to be. AR: TFC deals with fascinating issues relating to familial influence, treachery, political conspiracy and, in this case, how Alexander’s sexual proclivities reflected and informed his view of reaching the ends of the known Earth, in ways that will be as familiar to connoisseurs of I, Claudius as to those of Ben-Hur or Samson and Delilah.

Stone employs modern filmmaking technique here, of course, but not in a garish, anachronistic way-- this is not, after all, Natural Born Conquerors. The director has a solid grasp, in AR: TFC, of exactly how his familiar style can be shaped and formed and utilized to best cast reflections within the story to reveal greater depth of meaning. Even the much-derided framing device of an aged Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins) providing the narrative background of the story in voice-over works better given room in this lengthy version to breathe. And the use of a shuffled chronology, leaping back and forth between the decades of Alexander’s life, from his death to his triumphs, from his younger days under the influence of his father King Philip (Val Kilmer), to his close relationship and eventual break from his possibly conspiratorial mother, the alluring Olympias (Angelina Jolie), all the way back to his move through Asia and into India, reveals a grand dramatic strategy which snaps the far-flung parameters of the story into dimensions of allusive clarity that invite comparison to Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part II.


This coming weekend, on Sunday, March 13, the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens, New York, will host A Day with Oliver Stone. At 1:30 p.m., the extended director’s cut of Nixon will screen in the museum’s spectacular new theater. But the real attraction of the tribute comes in the evening when, on that same screen, Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut will be seen theatrically for the first time. Since a negative of this long version, which would have cost millions of dollars to create, was never cut, the MMI will show the beautiful Blu-ray of AR: TFC, lending to the film a scale and grandeur befitting its subject and approach. Oliver Stone will attend the screening, giving the film an introduction and then sitting down for a post-screening conversation with critic Matt Zoller Seitz. For those able to attend it promises to be a fascinating look at how the vision of a director is compromised, evolves and finally takes hold of the audience and even the man behind the camera.

In answer to the question “Why a third Alexander?" Stone wrote in a letter to the members of the Museum of the Moving Image expressing that it has been a film which has haunted him ever since the release of the first two versions, a film he hasn't been able to exorcise from his system. Stone looks upon his adventure with the film as “an experiment, one of trial and error,” in which Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut represents Stone’s clearest interpretation of Alexander’s life. “For those who didn't appreciate the original, rest assured this is my last pass, as there is no more footage to be found,” says the director before extending an invitation for those who already enjoy the film to come to MMI on Sunday and “share with me my passion for Alexander, every sublime and awkward pixel of it.” If it’s true that, as Anthony Hopkins’ Ptolemy intones in the movie’s narration, “all men reach and fall,” then this Final Cut represents one of modern movies’ great obsessives picking himself up, dusting himself off and continuing on a quest that most would dismiss as madness, remaining true to a vision that in the end, to evoke another grand movie warrior (and mix a metaphor), results in an smell very similar to victory.


The following interview with Oliver Stone is the result of Matt’s thoughtfulness and generosity. I appreciate his creating this opportunity for me to speak with the director of this film. Alexander clearly means so much to the man who made it, even though to some it may not seem to be a personal endeavor on its surface. During our conversation Stone was gregarious, engaging and candid, and especially articulate on the subject of mythology, history and the essential unknowable quality of history, both ancient and modern. (It’s telling that even on the subject of Richard Nixon he talks about his film being “closer” to the truth than people realize, a tacit acknowledgment that even such a pervasively documented figure, who resides only 40-50 years in our collective rearview mirror, is a slippery foundation on which to base claims of absolute, objective truth.) In fact, as I got further into the interview, and particularly as I was transcribing it into the form you see here, I was struck by just how much a talk with Oliver Stone, with the director hopping from one subject to the other and back again, juxtaposing ideas from a chain of thought previously abandoned and repositioning the ideas as the response to other notions and questions, can come to resemble the thundering, free-associative experience of immersion in an Oliver Stone film. The director’s candor and openness in speaking about a film for which he has a continuing and tremendous passion ensured a lively and thoughtful exchange. If nothing else it is my hope that this interview conveys even just a small portion of that passion, which I share, for Oliver Stone’s Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut.

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DENNIS COZZALIO: One of the things that’s immediately striking about Alexander is how personal it seems as an Oliver Stone film while not particularly resembling the template of what we’ve come to think of as the films closest to your experience and politics, films like Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July or even The Doors.

OLIVER STONE: I’ve wrestled with Alexander for so damn long, and at this point it’s probably my favorite movie. I loved Nixon too, and I appreciate that it’s the one you think most of too. I watched it recently because Disney is preparing an iTunes digital version that I had to check, and I ended up watching the whole thing! I couldn’t believe I directed it! Somebody else must have, right? (Laughs)



DC: No, I'm pretty sure you did! The movie approaches the subject of Nixon as if it were the man’s horror-filled, self-loathing home movie playing out inside his head. Matt Zoller Seitz suggested that the movie is really Nixon’s fevered perception of the way the world sees him, as a failed leader, as a failed man. It’s a non-talking heads, non-docudramatic way of boring into him as a character study which allows you creative breathing room to examine the familiar facts and historical figures in a more speculative but no less truthful way.

OS: I actually thought we were closer to the historically accurate Nixon than has been written, that we caught something unique about Nixon—I mean, I remember the Nixon administration like it was yesterday because I was a young man. I still think we were closer than people realize, certainly on the Cuba stuff, the more I find out about Cuba. I mean, Eisenhower did give the go-ahead to kill Castro, so who’s kidding who here?

DC: The more you vary from a typical biographical approach, the more nervous people get.

OS: Certainly that’s true. But in terms of the complexity of its structure Alexander is right up there with Nixon. I’m so far removed now that I couldn’t even tell you off the top of my head all the differences between the theatrical version and the director’s cut, or the theatrical version and this longer, final cut. But the structural changes are enormous. It’s much like the cutting in W-- you go back to the past, then you come forward.

DC: Yet Alexander doesn’t settle into that predictable rhythm of chronology the way W did.


OS: W is double linear, but it’s not as complex because it does go from one to two, two to one. But in Alexander, like in Nixon, you’re going inside and then inside inside. The biggest deal on the new version was starting with the battle at Gaugamela, which to me works so much better ‘cause it really focuses on the heroic concept of who Alexander was and brings the viewer immediately to a moment in time where they have to consider, what has he achieved here? Then you move back into the past where he’s formed by a conflict between mother and father—the ominous clouds of patricide and matricide are starting to form, both of which go back straight into the heart of Greek myth and Greek tragedy, which are themselves the basis of all, or most of our writing today and throughout history.

DC: When you start with a big battle scene like that, it’s there to grab the audience, but it’s also a way of setting into place the mythology of Alexander that we’re all most familiar with—Alexander the conqueror—and then, as you say, digging into the subject of the mythology surrounding the person. Where was the battle placed in the narrative of the theatrical version?

OS: It was more linear. After the introduction by Ptolemy, we shot into Alexander’s life as a baby and a young boy and then eventually culminated with the battle. But that was definitely the more conventional approach. I don’t know why I backed off—I’d have to go back to 2004 to remember exactly why I made that change, but at the time I was facing enormous pressure from all sides. I had to make Warner Bros. happy in the States, and at the same time the homosexuality and the violence—they were very much opposed to those elements.

DC: And you were also dealing with the talk of another production which was going on at the time as well.

OS: Yeah, that was always a pain in the ass because, frankly, they did not have a script—they never did. But Dino De Laurentiis kept pushing us and was announcing his project in order to cut off our financing. We did this movie wholly independently and structured it out of Europe with Moritz Borman. It’s one of the largest independent movies ever made and generated enormous publicity. But I did lose my balls, frankly. Warner Bros. is intimidating. I’d been through so many battles on Nixon and Natural Born Killers, and the reviews in my career have not been very friendly overall, so you do get scars. I talked about that in my essay, about how I didn’t carry through on some of the stuff that I should have carried through. (The afterword of Responses to Oliver Stone’s Alexander is written by Stone, in which he responds to the published articles in it and the general reception of the film—DC.) After the film failed in the English-speaking countries, it freed me up to go all the way, and I did that two and a half years later in 2007. Nobody paid attention, but it’s on digital now and I’m very happy with the result.


DC: I was mesmerized by the movie, both as a physical feat and an engrossing attempt to reconnect with a style of filmmaking that last found its richest, most popular expression in films that are close to 50 years old. And one of the things that grabbed me about it is how you’ve fashioned the storytelling methods of the period—Ptolemy’s recounting of history to his scribes as the film’s narration; Philip’s recounting of the myths drawn on the cave walls to the young Alexander—as reminders both of the cinema and, more importantly, the process of becoming mythologized and how we can never have an objective grasp on history. Yet you don’t use that realization as an excuse to go completely off the boards into a grotesque fantasia. What do you see as the storyteller’s responsibility toward historical accuracy when even the first historical accounts of a life may not necessarily be seen as objective truth?

OS: Well, the key to the film, as you say, is this cave scene between Philip and Alexander, and you register it more keenly because the movie goes from this battle at Gaugamela, itself the subject of much historical recollection and representation, back to the origin of the myths.

DC: There’s a connection forged between actual event and mythical representation.

OS: Yes. Alexander is an amazing, original man because he is an amalgam of all these figures—Achilles, Jason, Prometheus. Prometheus was the one I brought into the discussion. Hephaestion calls him “a friend to man,” and through the film that’s what we learn. Prometheus was a friend to man. He brought fire, but he paid for it with his life—he was fed to the eagle every day. It’s the greatest love of man— and that’s why I love the Greeks, the love of man. They conceptualized this idea that you could love man, and I suppose in a way they—I’m not that familiar with Babylonian myth, but in that mythology I just don’t feel the love of man that I felt in the Greek mythology.

DC: Or in the more familiar Roman mythology either, come to think of it.

OS: Oh, there’s no comparison. Yes, Alexander’s empire became— And by the way, that’s a bullshit mythology that his empire didn’t last. It did last. The cultural cross-fertilization he began went on for centuries, and although it fell into four parts, the kingdoms and Alexander’s influence existed and went on. Although there were civil wars, people generally lived a better life—trade was up, the economy was up, prosperity was up. Those four empires existed until they became the Roman Empire, and the Romans were militarists. It’s a whole different way of seeing life and the world. Half the historians hate Alexander and go after him because he’s pre-Christian and go on and on about how bloodthirsty he was. But he was actually one of the least bloodthirsty of historical conquerors. He put the whole world together into one unit, like a return to the womb, and then after he took power he let autonomy reign. He had local satraps, local people run the show and mix the cultures. His idea was to mix.

DC: It seems incredibly unlikely, yet the historical research bears it out, the degree to which he delegated his authority in a very modern way, and the movie does a good job of illustrating this strategy and delineating the ways in which it works against Alexander’s vision too.

OS: There were a few betrayals, which he dealt with harshly. But once the deal was made, it made for a great life and Alexander left a rich empire behind him. And he was running it all while on the move. The explorer part of him kept him going. He could have easily returned to Babylon, had he wanted to, brought his mother and entourage, consolidated his empire as king and achieved enormous historical renown. But he chose to continue with the exploration because he was restless in his soul.


DC: The cave scene strikes me as just one more potent metaphor, along with the scribes detailing Ptolemy’s descriptions, for the power of perpetuating mythology and enriching it with meaning, to which the movies can be included. What is the importance of that cave scene to the narrative structure of this final version of Alexander?

OS: It clarifies the importance of mythology both to Alexander and to Philip.

DC: And for the audience too, I would think, in determining how best to understand the spirit and will and yearning of Alexander, the man.

OS: In thinking about the mythological precedents for Alexander, I wrote down the names “Achilles, Oedipus, Heracles, Jason, Prometheus and Medea.” Jason and Medea are linked to each other and to Alexander because Medea was Jason’s wife, the mother of his children, and to Heracles because Alexander did go mad, he did turn on Roxane, his own wife, and say “I never want to see you again.” So he never saw his son. He cut himself off from Roxane, a very “Heraclean” thing to do. Heracles, one of the great heroes, goes mad and kills his own children. In much the same way, Alexander cuts Roxane off because he thinks she’s responsible for the death of his lover, his soul mate, Hephaestion. And Oedipus is in there too, because he’s blind in his heart and his soul. He doesn’t know if his mother participated in his father’s death. He always must question himself, because his mother openly exalted—and that is historically correct—at his father’s death. Olympias, of course, says Alexander isn’t even his father’s son—she says he’s the son of Zeus. So Alexander questions himself. Should I kill my mother and do like Orestes did with Clytemnestra and kill his mother? Which would make him guilty of two crimes—patricide and matricide. So you see how the mythology is a huge issue in the movie, which works out entirely in India when he goes up against the elephant and sacrifices himself.


DC: The movie is fascinated with the idea of conquest as not so much geological or cultural domination but as migration. Is it simply that the world was as yet unknown, or that Alexander was relatively cognizant of not destroying the culture of the peoples he conquered, that is the difference for you between Alexander’s bloody migration and that of, say, pioneers in the American West or George W. Bush’s disastrous distractions in Iraq and Afghanistan?

OS: The word “simply” throws me a bit. The fact that the world was unknown is unbelievable. It’s literally hard to conceptualize. According to Aristotle’s maps, if you reached the edge of the world you fell off! But here was a man who was thinking about pushing past those boundaries near the end of his life. Not only was he going to conquer Saudi Arabia, but he talked about the Straits of Gibraltar and Rome. If he’d lived a long life he probably would have founded six or seven global centers, from Spain to Rome to Carthage. And each one of those centers would have respected the local culture. Every other emperor goes back to Rome, goes back to Paris, goes back to Berlin, wherever. He didn’t sack the places. That’s why he got into such problems with the Macedonians. They wanted to consolidate the wealth. They wanted to be rich. Ptolemy relates that the generals tell him at one point, “What do we have to gain after all this travel?” I also imply in the voiceover, as heard in the long version, that Ptolemy is very likely part of the conspiracy to kill Alexander because Alexander just kept going and the generals couldn’t stand him anymore.

DC: As I see it, it’s this difference that you see in Alexander, the one between exploring and pillaging or exploiting, that makes him a ripe subject for an Oliver Stone movie.

OS: No one ever ruled like him. He married three princesses of Eastern origin, one of whom, Roxane (played by Rosario Dawson), antagonized the army. By right he should have married a Macedonian girl first, but he didn’t. Another difference: Why wouldn’t he have brought his mother to Babylon? Historians don’t seem to even ask that question. He doesn’t want to see the bitch. And Angelina Jolie— Fuck ‘em. She was great!


DC Yep. She was mesmerizing. Yes, she pitched her performance high, but so what? That wouldn’t exactly be a first in a historical epic. But some people also had a problem with the fact that there’s only a couple of years difference in the ages of Jolie and Colin Farrell.

OS: So she was sexy! She wasn’t some old coot, the typical representation of pent-up female royalty in movies like these in the past. She was a young, hot chick who wasn’t sure she could actually get her son on the throne, so there was a lot of motive for her to get rid of Philip, who had his own son later who was fully Macedonian.

DC: I really think she nailed the part and gives the movie a jolt of sinister spirit. And I recall she was one of the things that even naysayers liked about the original version.

OS: She loved the role, and she won’t back down from it.

DC: It’s a really fearless performance in many ways, because she does take it to the edge of camp, with the sinuous Eastern European-type accent and everything. But I like Jon Solomon’s point in his essay in the book on the popular reception of the movie in retort to all the flippant criticism of her choice of an allegedly silly accent. He wrote: “For all the amusing jokes about Angelina Jolie’s inappropriate 'Transylvanian/Count Dracula' accent, have any of these critics looked at a map of Southeastern Europe, or do they have a Molossian Epirote voice coach they could recommend to the next actress who portrays Olympias?”

OS: And what of all the Irish? The Macedonians were all portrayed with Irish accents, the Greeks English, being the establishment power.

DC: A nice twist on the curious tradition of the whole of Europe being portrayed by anyone with a British accent.

OS: And Olympias was the outsider, the outer tribe, so she’s got to have an accent completely unlike theirs. But this whole “camp” business is a cheap shot. You’re telling me from the feminist point of view that there’s no room for a caricature of a dominating woman? You have to allow for Joan Crawford, Bette Davis and Faye Dunaway and the like, because we do have those figures in our lives, and in the movies, and they do represent a certain truth.

DC: What’s great about The Final Cut is that it’s got room to deal with all this stuff, all these elements pushing at the edges of the frame. It’s not in a hurry, but at the same time it’s the furthest thing from stodgy and remote. Did you have a hard time talking Warner Bros. into letting you go back a second, and then a third time to try and get this movie into the shape you wanted it to be?

OS: The DVD did well all over the world, so I actually went back and talked with the head of Warner Home Video, Jeff Baker, a department under the nose of the Warner Bros. theatrical film division, who would not have supported the idea of going back into Alexander. Because the DVD had done so well, Jeff Baker let me do this. No money. I just did it on my own, supported by them. They made The Final Cut possible, and we did a lot of work on it, remixing, editing. We worked on it a long time, the original editors and I. Warner Bros. issued the DVD and Blu-ray and it turned out okay, because without any advertising, as a catalog item, they’ve sold close to a million in the United States alone. But still nobody knows about it. Matt is so kind to allow us to do this. The Museum of the Moving Image has a great new theater, so this is a big thing for me, to get the movie talked about a little bit by people like you who care about movies. It’s a huge effort.

DC: Hopefully it’ll be a big deal for people in the New York area who may not realize this is probably their one chance to see this version of the movie on a big screen.

OS: I hope so. Michael Wilmington, bless his soul, called the movie Lawrence of Arabia in hell. That was in his original review. He got it. He got how mad this film was.


DC: It really does connect up to that epic tradition and honors it, but it’s also very modern, it’s very much of your filmmaking style, and the way you play with the chronology not only emphasizes elements of the story with more power, but opens up the movie’s allusive possibilities. You’re seeing images and scenes juxtaposed with each other that allow you to see things you might not have had the scenes been separated by time in a more conventional way. With Alexander you’re consciously reaching for the visual language of the cinema epic which you’ve suggested is a bit of a cultural anachronism these days. You’re evoking the templates and spirit, if not remotely the same style, of a master of the form like David Lean, and even affording the technological advantages, yours feels like a movie that could have come from that time, even if it clearly would have shocked people.

OS: I think I knew in my deep subconscious that we were dead in the water. We never even opened in America, especially in the South, and that didn’t have anything to do with reviews. That was because the subject matter was “Military” and “Gay.” It’s like Brando in Reflections in a Golden Eye. There’s no fucking way you’re gonna get a movie to open with a gay military theme. Brokeback Mountain is one thing, but it better not be the military. But I just love those epic movies, that epic style. I loved them as a kid, even the ones that were panned, like The Robe. Victor Mature! I love that shit! Love it, love it, love it. I miss it. It’s sensual, extreme, fun.

DC: And those movies really let you see what it is they wanted to show you too. There was a chance for the viewer to absorb the wealth of beauty (some will call it cheesiness) and information on that wide screen. That’s another thing that surprised me about Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut too. It’s a grand movie that’s finally allowed the time to mentally sift through all the history and the characters and take in visually the rich, sensuous imagery you and DP Rodrigo Prieto managed to get on screen.

OS: We went to India to shoot some of those landscapes. Did you notice when he’s looking out at the mountain range that you see his face in the contours of the mountainside? **

DC: Yes, I did! In fact, I thought I was seeing things when that image snuck up on me. It’s a beautifully hallucinatory image, and for a moment you actually entertain the thought, the hope that it might have been one of those divine accidents, like the shadows of the raindrops on the window sill appearing to make Robert Blake cry in In Cold Blood. Yet it is so deeply connected to the character that he would project himself onto the landscape like that. Now, that’s how you use CGI.

OS: (Laughs) Yes.

DC: And all throughout the movie demonstrates a pretty judicious approach to computer-generated imagery. It allows the epic scope, but I don’t remember a moment where it jolted me out of the story. But beyond wrestling with the film intellectually in terms of trying to structure life not necessarily lived in three or five acts into a manageable script, the sheer physical size of this production must have been daunting.


OS: I’ve never experienced anything like it. Three continents, a massive amount of military— It was like being a general but at the same time trying to keep it intimate. We ended up shooting on the border of Laos and Thailand. That’s right on the banks of the Mekong River where he’s at when he delivers that wonderful speech where he says, “These are the things that destroy men.” And then we were in England in the winter, Morocco in the late summer/fall, and we finished up in Thailand in early winter. And the sets we built in England—It was an amazing experience to go from the rainy, cold, miserable outdoors of England at that time of year— gray, gray, gray—and then walk into a set at Pinewood Studios and see all those lush interiors. I’d love to do that period again. The dancing, the choreography, the attention to detail in all the cultures-- Indian, Greek. We were back in ancient Bactria, which was an incredible cultural capital. And Balkh, an unbelievable city. If the Afghani thing ever ends, they’ll be able to continue some excavations that will reveal they were a much more advanced civilization than people know, as was the Macedonian, by the way.

DC: According to Joanna Paul in her essay “Alexander and the Cinematic Epic Tradition,” the Director’s Cut of Alexander did come under heavy criticism from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation for what it termed your compromised artistic integrity regarding the toning down of the film’s sexuality and the deleting of certain scenes. But one of the things that heartened me about The Final Cut was the way in which the whole subject of Alexander’s sexuality was approached. It couldn’t have been more nonjudgmental, and it certainly didn’t amount to the gay camp spectacle that everyone was predicting before the movie came out.


OS: As you say, nonjudgmental. It was what it was. People especially hated the character of the eunuch Bagoas, most particularly that we showed him kissing Alexander. That’s in the third version, but it didn’t make it into the theatrical cut. He was muted down to nothing in the first two versions. But Bagoas is a major character. Mary Renault wrote about him in The Persian Boy, one of the great books she wrote. Bagoas was the main squeeze in Alexander’s life. You sense, in the third version, the great bond between them. But I think Bagoas the eunuch is instrumental in demonstrating that Alexander went beyond even homosexuality. He was an explorer. With Bagoas he approached a third gender.

DC: As depicted in the movie, his entire worldview seems to be encapsulated in that kind of openness.

OS: It’s beyond feminine or masculine. When you get into the idea of a third gender, it’s important to note how Bagoas physically occupies a space between the two—he’s not transgender, he behaves like a woman, but he’s also masculine— he’s a great, athletic dancer, and he identifies with the female. Alexander, in his relationship with Bagoas, goes beyond masculine and feminine definitions. And because of his upbringing, with his mother and father being so strongly opposite, you feel the place from where that exploratory tendency emerged. That was the great quest of his life, getting back to the womb, trying to make it all one—one world, one sexuality.

DC: Given the effort and inspiration that inform this movie, particularly this version of this movie, and many other movies of yours, do you think that it’s in you, at this point in your career, to make a movie that could be, rightly or wrongly, seen as a straight entertainment sans political themes or concerns, something like Any Given Sunday or U-Turn?

OS: Absolutely. It’s all temporary, this matrix, this tyranny of popular fashion shows, who’s hot, who’s cold, what kind of movies should be made, all that crap. Nixon was a tremendous letdown. I love that movie, and I know you love it. I feel that few people saw through all the fog surrounding that movie and picked up on what it really was. In the same way, Any Given Sunday is filled with the same kind of detail. If you love football, you’ll see that detail and appreciate it. Currently I’m doing a 12-hour documentary regarding the forgotten history of the United States. Three years of work so far and the culmination of all my themes in contemporary American history from 1945 till now. But I am working separately on a film called Savages. Totally fun entertainment—Southern California, young people, drugs, violence, sex, Jules and Jim-- (Laughs) Personal? No. I was never that, but I love that kind of movie, like U-Turn or Any Given Sunday. I’m comfortable in all those worlds.

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RECOMMENDED FURTHER READING AND VIEWING



The trailer for Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut.

** The image to which Stone refers at this point in the interview is visible in this trailer




A video essay on JFK by Kevin B. Lee and Matt Zoller Seitz



A video essay on Nixon by Kevin B. Lee and Matt Zoller Seitz



A video essay on Alexander and W by Kevin B. Lee and Matt Zoller Seitz

Owen Gleiberman on Nixon and JFK

Responses to Oliver Stone’s Alexander: Film, History and Cultural Studies. (You can look inside the book here.)

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Sunday, March 06, 2011

EXTRA! EXTRA! MURIEL KICKS OSCAR'S ASS!



I’m assuming you’ve all been following the big reveals for all the winners at the 5th Annual Muriel Awards, the last awards gathering of the season and surely the most important, gaining in stature and allure with every new edition. If you haven’t (and frankly, no excuse is good enough), here’s a handy click-friendly guide to each award, from first to freshest, the Golden Muriel for Best Picture courtesy of longtime Muriellete Jim Emerson. A word of thanks must be conveyed to Muriels founder Paul Clark (and his late but no less lovely guinea pig, for whom our awards have been named) and Steve Carlson, both of whom handle this event each year with aplomb and tireless energy. The administration of something like this always requires so very much more effort and care than one would ever think-- if one did think it, one would likely sidestep the duty altogether. But not Paul and Steve, and thanks to them we have another group of brilliantly written essays examining for the last time (at least under an umbrella such as this) the great achievements of the past movie year. Much appreciation to you both, gentlemen. And now let’s see what the Muriel voters had to say and how they voted. (My complete ballot follows the list of links.)


10th Anniversary Muriel Award for Best Film of 2000

Best Film Editing

Best Web-based Film Criticism

Best Film of the 1950s

Best Supporting Actress


Best Supporting Actor

Best Body of Work

Best Ensemble

25th Anniversary Award for Best Film of 1985

Best Music (Original, Adapted or Compiled)


Best Cinematic Breakthrough

Best Cinematography

50th Anniversary Award for Best Film of 1960

Best Screenplay

Best Cinematic Moment (This is Steve Carlson’s favorite category, and mine too; Kent Beeson’s words on Toy Story 3 might be the best thing I’ve seen written on this movie, period.)


Best Director

Other Stuff We Liked, Part 1: Actors

Best Actor

Other Stuff We Liked, Pt. 2: Actresses (Here I got to wax a little more enthusiastic about my choice for Best Actress of 2010, Emma Stone.)


Best Actress

Other Stuff We Loved Part 3: Miscellany

Countdown to Best Picture #56

Countdown to Best Picture #42 (Tie) (Here I got one last chance to try to talk some more of you into seeing Please Give.)


Countdown to Best Picture #42 (Tie)

Countdown to Best Picture #39

Countdown to Best Picture #35 (tie)

Countdown to Best Picture #30 (tie)

Countdown to Best Picture #27


Countdown to Best Picture #26

Countdown to Best Picture #20

Countdown to Best Picture #18

Countdown to Best Picture #14

Countdown to Best Picture #12


Countdown to Best Picture #10

Copuntdown to Best Picture #9

Countdown to Best Picture #8

Countdown to Best Picture #7

Countdown to Best Picture #5 (tie)


Countdown to Best Picture #5 (tie)

Countdown to Best Picture #3 (tie)

Countdown to Best Picture #3 (tie)

Countdown to Best Picture #2

And the Golden Muriel for Best Picture goes to…

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MY 2010 MURIELS BALLOT


Best Feature-Length Film [10]
(the best film- documentary, experimental, or fiction- over 70 minutes)

1. PLEASE GIVE
2. LET ME IN
3. TOY STORY 3
4. MOTHER
5. ANOTHER YEAR
6. THE KILLER INSIDE ME
7. CARLOS
8. THE GHOST WRITER
9. EASY A
10. UNSTOPPABLE

Best Lead Performance, Male [5]

1. Edgar Ramirez CARLOS
2. Casey Affleck THE KILLER INSIDE ME
3. Jeff Bridges TRUE GRIT
4. Michael Caine HARRY BROWN
5. Jesse Eisenberg THE SOCIAL NETWORK

Best Lead Performance, Female [5]

1. Emma Stone EASY A
2. Michelle Williams BLUE VALENTINE
3. Hye-Ja Kim MOTHER
4. Annette Bening MOTHER AND CHILD
5. Hallie Steinberg TRUE GRIT

Best Supporting Performance, Male [5]

1. Jim Broadbent ANOTHER YEAR
2. Richard Jenkins LET ME IN
3. Geoffrey Rush THE KING’S SPEECH
4. Jeremy Renner THE TOWN
5. Christian Bale THE FIGHTER

Best Supporting Performance, Female [5]

1. Lesley Manville ANOTHER YEAR
2. Olivia Williams THE GHOST WRITER
3. Jessica Alba THE KILLER INSIDE ME
4. Amy Adams THE FIGHTER
5. Kerry Washington MOTHER AND CHILD

Best Direction [5]

1. Nicole Holofcener PLEASE GIVE
2. Matt Reeves LET ME IN
3. Lee Unkrich TOY STORY 3
4. Joon-ho Bong MOTHER
5. Mike Leigh ANOTHER YEAR

Best Screenplay (original or adapted) [5]
1. Nicole Holofcener PLEASE GIVE
2. Mike Leigh ANOTHER YEAR
3. Olivier Assayas, Dan Franck, Daniel Leconte CARLOS
4. John Curran THE KILLER INSIDE ME
5. Rodrigo Garcia MOTHER AND CHILD


Best Cinematography (film or video) [5]

1. Grieg Fraser LET ME IN
2. Kyung-Pyo Hong MOTHER
3. Roger Deakins TRUE GRIT
4. Morten Soborg VALHALLA RISING
5. Bill Pope SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD

Best Editing [5]
1. Stan Salfas LET ME IN
2. Ken Schretzman, Lee Unkrich TOY STORY 3
3. Luc Barnier, Marion Monnier CARLOS
4. Robert Duffy, Chris Lebenzon UNSTOPPABLE
5. Joe Walker HARRY BROWN

Best Music (original, adapted or compiled) [5]

1. Carter Burwell TRUE GRIT
2. Hector Pereira, Pharrell Williams DESPICABLE ME
3. Marius De Vries, Ilan Eshkeri, Henry Jackman, John Murphy KICK-ASS
4. Nigel Godrich, Beck Hansen SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD
5. Javier Navarrete THE WARRIOR’S WAY

Best Cinematic Moment (best scene or sequence- include YouTube link if available) [10]

1. The aborted murder LET ME IN
2. Holding hands above the incinerator TOY STORY 3
3. Catherine Keener falling apart at a gym for special needs kids: PLEASE GIVE
4. Mary meets Joe and his fiancée: ANOTHER YEAR
5. “Pocketful Full of Sunshine” EASY A
6. Olive’s African-American brother “finds out” he’s adopted: EASY A
7. The sheep sees you: near the opening of SWEETGRASS
8. Vanessa Redgrave reunited with Franco Nero: LETTERS TO JULIET
9. Reanimating and interrogating the dead: JONAH HEX
10. “Oh, my God! Was I good?” Mila Kunis quizzes Natalie Portman about her “dream”: BLACK SWAN

Best Cinematic Breakthrough [5]
(vague explanation: a performer, filmmaker, or technician who made a notable debut in film, took his/her career to a higher level, or revealed unforeseen layers to his/her talent during the year 2008)

1. Matt Reeves, director, LET ME IN
2. Michelle Williams, actress, BLUE VALENTINE, MEEK’S CUTOFF
3. Jeff Malmberg, director, MARWENCOL
4. Jessica Alba, actress, THE KILLER INSIDE ME, MACHETE (but not LITTLE FOCKERS or VALENTINE’S DAY)
5. Tony Scott, director, UNSTOPPABLE

Best Body of Work [5]
(a performer, filmmaker, or technician who made superior contributions to multiple films released in calendar year 2008)

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.


Best Ensemble Performance [5]

1. PLEASE GIVE Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt, Rebecca Hall, Amanda Peet, Lois Smith, Ann Guilbert, Sarah Steele, Thomas Ian Nicholas

2. TOY STORY 3 Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, John Ratzenberger, Michael Keaton, Ned Beatty, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, Estelle Harris, John Morris, Jodi Benson, Laurie Metcalf

3. ANOTHER YEAR Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen, Jim Broadbent, Peter Wight, Oliver Maltman, David Bradley, Martin Savage, Karina Fernandez, Imelda Staunton

4. MACHETE Danny Trejo, Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Steven Seagal, Michelle Rodriguez, Jeff Fahey, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson, Lindsay Lohan, Daryl Sabara, Electra Avellan, Elise Avellan

5. RED Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Brian Cox, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, Karl Urban, Rebecca Pidgeon, James Remar

Best Web-Based Criticism [5]
(Please include the site name and URL. Remember, sites run by Muriel Awards voters are ineligible to win, although sites that Muriel voters contribute to are eligible. Also, The House Next Door is ineligible this year, as it was last year's winner and we'd like a little variety.)

1. Kevin J. Olson, HUGO STIGLITZ MAKES MOVIES
2. Farran Smith Nehme SELF STYLED SIREN
3. Chris Stangl THE EXPLODING KINETOSCOPE
4. Jason Bellamy THE COOLER
5. Sheila O’Malley THE SHEILA VARIATIONS

10th Anniversary Award, Best Feature Film 2000 [5]

1. CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON Ang Lee
2. IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE Wong Kar-wai
3. TOPSY TURVY Mike Leigh
4. O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU Joel and Ethan Coen
5. DR. T AND THE WOMEN Robert Altman

25th Anniversary Award, Best Feature Film 1985 [5]

1. LOST IN AMERICA Albert Brooks
2. MISHIMA: A LIFE IN FOUR CHAPTERS Paul Schrader
3. PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE Tim Burton
4. EXPLORERS Joe Dante
5. O.C. and STIGGS Robert Altman



50th Anniversary Award, Best Feature Film 1960 [5]

1. WILD RIVER Elia Kazan
2. LATE AUTUMN Yazujiro Ozu
3. PSYCHO Alfred Hitchcock
4. PEEPING TOM Michael Powell
5. THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN John Sturges

Special Award: Best Film of the 1950s [10]

1. RIO BRAVO Howard Hawks
2. THE SEARCHERS John Ford
3. NORTH BY NORTHWEST Alfred Hitchcock
4. BEND OF THE RIVER Anthony Mann
5. VERTIGO Alfred Hitchcock
6. SUNSET BOULEVARD Billy Wilder
7. THE TALL T Budd Boetticher
8. DAY OF THE OUTLAW Andre De Toth
9. DIABOLIQUE Henri-Georges Clouzot
10. GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES Howard Hawks

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You can read the tallies of the voting in each individual category, plus access the individual ballots of all the voters (see, Oscar, Muriel is all about full disclosure too!) by clicking here. For now, bye, Muriel. See you next year, sweetheart!

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