Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson





Building façade in Cannes, France

Change we (Cannes) believe in

Some days I think seriously about dumping this movie blogging thing and instead becoming a political blogger. After all, I think we can all agree that there are not nearly enough people out there giving their opinion on every political issue. Besides, the demands on both types of bloggers are similar enough. They both require the blogger to sit around at all hours, sometimes wearing clothes, and spewing out as many opinions as he or she can manage. But movie blogging has an additional onerous burden: the blogger actually needs to watch a movie once in a while to have something to talk about. No wonder so many computer jockeys opt for the political blogging route.

Another requirement for political blogging seems to be the ability to regularly come up with a good conspiracy theory. And I can certainly do that. In fact, here are a couple right off the top of my head.

Conspiracy Theory No. 1: When Hillary Clinton says she would be a more successful nominee than Barack Obama, I’m getting the feeling that this is less a boast than a threat. After all, some people grumbled that the Clintons did not do everything they could have on behalf of John Kerry in 2004 and that this could have made the difference in what was a fairly close election—presumably to keep the way clear for Senator Clinton’s run this year. Wouldn’t her best chance for 2012, if she is not nominated this year, be for Obama to lose to John McCain? It’s hard to imagine any Democrat candidate to get across the finish line without the full support of the formidable Clinton machine. It’s also easier to imagine Obama being a gracious and whole-hearted supporter of Clinton than the reverse.

Conspiracy Theory No. 2: Pundits and analysts have made much of the fact that so many Republicans have changed their party affiliation to vote in the latter Democrat primaries, citing this as evidence of the excitement and crossover appeal that Obama has engendered. I have no doubt that this is true to an extent, but these pundits and analysts keep ignoring a fairly well-known fact. Which is that the host of the most-listened-to radio program in America is openly and unabashedly trying to affect the Democrat primaries. People on the left tend to treat Rush Limbaugh’s listeners as mindless robots who get their marching orders from their dictatorial AM airwave boss. But Limbaugh insists that his hordes of listeners tune him in because they are free thinkers. Whatever. Anyway, his free-thinking audience members have apparently been moving en masse and in lockstep to follow his orders to vote in the remaining Democrat primaries—changing their party registration where required. How much effect this is having is difficult, if not impossible, to discern. But it could answer one riddle. Exit polls in Pennsylvania and other states have indicated much closer elections than turned out to be the case. You could chalk this up to the purported “Bradley effect” (i.e. people voting against an African-American and lying about it to pollsters, after Los Angeles mayor and California gubernatorial candidate Tom Bradley). Or it could be that the exit pollsters are not actually bothering to interview people coming out of the polling booths and are, instead, spending Election Day in the bars, slurping up half-filled shot glasses of Crown Royal left behind by Hillary Clinton. But another explanation could be these free-thinking self-described “ditto heads” having a bit of fun, not only making mischief for the Democrats but also messing with the heads of pollsters and journalists alike.

But the Clintons are not Obama’s only problem. He has others that are self-inflicted. But, in fairness, given some of the people he knows or hangs out with in Chicago, it is easy to see where he might have gotten the idea that people cling to church or violent weapons because they are bitter. Is Obama an elitist? I think we have to see him in the context of his background and culture. And that would be, of course, the planet Vulcan. Personally, I don’t think he ever got the full credit he deserved during the years he served on the Starship Voyager, under the name Lt. Commander Tuvok.

Wow. That was too easy. I think I will go back to something more challenging, like writing about movies.

Anyway, it is getting to be that time of year when I start whining that I am not going to Cannes again this year. Or rather that I am not going to the Cannes Film Festival again this year. (One year I actually did go to Cannes but not to the film festival.) Variety had an article yesterday highlighting the announced lineup, and my heart rose to see that one of the most prominent mentions was for Clint Eastwood’s Changeling. The reason that this would get my pulse going is obvious. This movie is written by J. Michael Straczynski. If it does well, maybe someone will give him the money to finally make the Babylon 5 feature film that has been endlessly discussed and awaited by fans for, like, forever. The truth, however, is that so much time has gone by already, I find I cannot get up the enthusiasm for this that I once could. Besides, I have more or less move on. To Doctor Who, mainly, which keeps me excited (and amused) enough on the sci-fi front. But a part of me still hopes that JMS will come up with something new that builds on the pleasure that B5 gave me and so many other people.

Variety notes that this year’s festival will be “heavy on Hollywood glam,” also including Steven Soderbergh’s two (count ‘em, two) Che Guevara movies, The Argentine and Guerilla. Also having its premiere in Cannes will be a new movie by a director named Steven Spielberg, something called Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I don’t know much about it, but it’s nice to see new talent being given a shot at the limelight.

Other films include Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, filmed in Spain and starring Penélope Cruz; Synechdoche, New York, written and (for the first time) directed by Charlie Kaufman, who has written such memorable screenplays as Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Also screening films will be such Cannes regulars as Belgium’s Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Brazil’s Walter Salles and Canada’s Atom Egoyan. And Wim Wenders will screen his newest film, The Palermo Shooting, which reunites him with Dennis Hopper, three decades after The American Friend. And there’s a whole bunch of other stuff.

Gee. Now I’m starting to get really depressed about not being there. This movie blogging is hard.

Rufus the Cat (1912-2008)

There was a lovely tribute to longtime Disney animator Ollie Johnston this week by John Canemaker in The Wall Street Journal. An even lovelier tribute was the 1995 documentary by Theodore Thomas, Frank and Ollie, which chronicled the lives and work of Johnston and his close friend and collaborator, Frank Thomas, who died in 2004. With these two passings, all of the Nine Old Men of Disney’s halcyon animation days are now gone. (The designation “nine old men” was originally ironic, as they were mostly in their 20s when the name was applied to them.)

Johnston had a hand in all of the classic Disney animations, starting with the early Mickey Mouse cartoons and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and continuing through Pinocchio, Fantasia, Bambi, Cinderella, Lady and the Tramp and even Mary Poppins, among many, many others. One of his last movies was The Rescuers, in which the character Rufus the Cat was a deliberate caricature of him. But the truth is that many of the universally known and loved characters in the Disney movies were really Johnston, just as much as any character on celluloid can be said to be the actor who plays him or her.

In his WSJ article, Canemaker noted a coincidence that puts in perspective just how long and arcing Johnston’s life was. Johnston, who died on the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, was born in the same year that the ocean liner sank.

Johnston’s influence continues, and will continue, to be seen by successive generations. He and Thomas wrote the book (literally) on animation: Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life. And in his latter years, he provided guidance to such prominent present-day animators as Brad Bird and John Lasseter.

-S.L., 24 April 2008


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