HAVE WE FORGOTTEN?
As the eigth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01 passes by, it's nice to know that the big headlines all week were the release of the newly remastered "Beatles" catalog. Now believe me, I'm as excited as hearing the new music as much as the next guy, but sadly the events of that horrific day seem to have faded into memory like the latest Katy Perry song. There is a song by country artist Darryl Worley entitled "Have You Forgotten" that includes the following lyrics:
They took all the footage off my TV
They said it's too disturbing for you and me
It'll just breed anger, it's what the experts say
If it was up to me I'd show it everyday
What a novel idea. And a good one. I'd lead off the evening news every night with images of crashing planes and falling buildings while Charlie Gibson intones, "Good evening, today is day number 2929 of America under attack," kind of like Ted Koppel used to do on "Nightline" when there were Americans being held in Iran in 1980. When the biggest story about the attacks is where they want to put the memorial reflecting pond then this country needs to pull it's head out of the sand.
NUMBER NINE...NUMBER NINE
As George Harrison was always the "quiet" Beatle, the real public faces of the group, since John Lennon's assassination in 1980, have always been Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. Many fans chastised Paul for remarking "it's a drag" when first discussing John's death. However, I recently received a transcript of the "letter" that McCartney read to Lennon as part of his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, courtesy of reknowned Fab Four Fan Woody Liffton. Of course, the ceremonies back then weren't broadcast so I believe this may be the first time its' contents have been divulged. To me it not only shows Maccas true love for Lennon the man but his respect for Lennon the musician:
I remember when we first met, at Woolton, at the village fete. It was a beautiful summer day and I walked in there and saw you on stage. And you were singing Come Go With Me, by the Dell Vikings, but you didn’t know the words so you made them up. Come go with me to the penitentiary. It’s not in the lyrics.
I remember writing our first songs together. We used to go to my house, my dad’s home, and we used to smoke Ty-Phoo tea with the pipe my dad kept in a drawer. It didn’t do much for us but it got us on the road. We wanted to be famous.
I remember the visits to your mum’s house. Julia was a very handsome woman, very beautiful woman. She had long, red hair and she played a ukulele. I’d never seen a woman that could do that. And I remember having to tell you the guitar chords because you used to play the ukulele chords.
And then on your 21st birthday you got 100 pounds off one of your rich relatives up in Edinburgh, so we decided we’d go to Spain. So we hitchhiked out of Liverpool, got as far as Paris, and decided to stop there, for a week. And eventually got our haircut, by a fellow named Jurgen, and that ended up being the Beatle haircut.
I remember introducing you to my mate George, my schoolmate, and getting him into the band by playing Raunchy on the top deck of a bus. You were impressed. And we met Ringo who’d been working the whole season at Butlins camp he was a seasoned professional but the beard had to go, and it did.
Later on we got a gig at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, which was officially a blues club. We didn’t really know any blues numbers. We loved the blues but we didn’t know any blues numbers, so we had announcements like Ladies and gentleman, this is a great Big Bill Broonzy number called Wake Up Little Suzie. And they kept passing up little notes “This is not the blues, this is not the blues. This is pop.” But we kept going.
And then we ended up touring. It was a bloke called Larry Parnes who gave us our first tour, I remember we all changed names for that tour. I changed mine to Paul Ramon, George became Carl Harrison and, although people think you didn’t really change your name, I seem to remember you were Long John Silver for the duration of that tour. Bang goes another myth.
Wed been on a van touring later and we’d have the kind of night where the windscreen would break. We would be on the motorway going back up to Liverpool. It was freezing so we had to lie on top of each other in the back of the van, creating a Beatle sandwich. We got to know each other. These were the ways we got to know each other.
We got to Hamburg and met the likes of Little Richard, Gene Vincent I remember Little Richard inviting us back to his hotel. He was looking at Ringo’s ring and said, I love that ring. He said, I’ve got a ring like that. I could give you a ring like that. So we all went back to the hotel with him. (We never got a ring.)
We went back with Gene Vincent to his hotel room once. It was all going fine until he reached in his bedside drawer and pulled out a gun. We said Er, we’ve got to go, Gene, we’ve got to. We got out quick!
And then came the USA New York City where we met up with Phil Spector, the Ronettes, the Supremes, our heroes, our heroines. And then later in L.A., we met up with Elvis Presley for one great evening. We saw the boy on his home territory. He was the first person I ever saw with a remote control on a T.V. Boy! He was a hero, man.
And then later, Ed Sullivan. We’d wanted to be famous, now we were getting really famous. I mean imagine meeting Mitzi Gaynor in Miami!
Later, after that recording at Abbey Road. I still remember doing Love Me Do. You officially had the vocal Love Me Do but because you played the harmonica, George Martin suddenly said in the middle of the session, Will Paul sing the line love me do? The crucial line. I can still hear it to this day you would go Whaaa whaa, and I’d go love me doo-oo. Nerves, man.
I remember doing the vocal to Kansas City well I couldn’t quite get it, because it’s hard to do that stuff. You know, screaming out the top of your head. You came down from the control room and took me to one side and said, You can do it, you’ve just got to scream, you can do it. So, thank you. Thank you for that. I did it.
I remember writing A Day in the Life with you, and the little look we gave each other when we wrote the line “I’d love to turn you on.” We kinda knew what we were doing, you know. A sneaky little look.
After that there was this girl called Yoko. Yoko Ono. She showed up at my house one day. It was John Cage’s birthday and she said she wanted to get hold of manuscripts of various composers to give to him, and she wanted one from me and you. So I said, “Well it’s OK by me, But you’ll have to go to John.”
And she did
After that I set up a couple of Brennell recording machines we used to have and you stayed up all night and recorded Two Virgins. But you took the cover yourselves nothing to do with me.
And then, after that there were the phone calls to you, the joy for me after all the business shit that we’d gone through was that we were actually getting back together and communicating once again. And the joy as you told me about how you were baking bread now, and how you were playing with your little baby, Sean. That was great for me because it gave me something to hold on to.
So now, years on, here we are. All these people. Here we are, assembled, to thank you for everything that you mean to all of us.
This letter comes with love, from your friend Paul.
John Lennon, you’ve made it. Tonight you are in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame.
God bless you.
Sad to report the passing of Academy Award carpet mainstay Army Archerd, a writer for "Variety" magazine for more then 5 decades. Archerd died this week at the age of 87 due to mesothelioma. Besides his covering various award functions for "Variety," Archerd also wrote for the Associated Press. In 1985 he was the first to reveal that Rock Hudson had AIDS, a charge that the actor's reps constantly denied.
MY FAVORITE FILMS, PART II. THE YEAR WAS 1980...
Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back|
Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher
Directed by: Irvin Kershner
FIRST SEEN: Empire Theatre, Kansas City, Missouri
FAVORITE SCENE: Luke and Vader's light sabre battle
FAVORITE LINE: "Try not. Do....or do not. There is no try.
1981 Academy Awards for Best Sound and a special award for Visual Effects
1981 Academy Award nominations for Best Original Score (John Williams) and Best Art Direction/Set Direction
1981 BAFTA Award for Best Score (John Williams)
1981 BAFTA nominations for Best Set Design/Art Direction and Best Sound
1981 Golden Globe nomination for Best Musical Score (John Williams)
1981 Grammy Award for Best Musical Score for a Motion Picture or Television Special (John Williams)
1981 Writer's Guild of America nomination for Best Comedy(?) adapted from another medium (Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan)
FINALLY!! It seemed like forever until the much awaited sequel to "Star Wars" finally hit the big screen. Fans had been teased for the next chapter almost from the end credits of the first film. The "Star Wars Holiday Special" offered up new character Boba Fett. The film was successfully re-issued twice, with special trailers for "Empire" attached. I was actually very lucky to have seen the film on opening day twice in different cities. After seeing it in Kansas City I flew home to Tampa for a vacation. The film did not open until the next Friday in Orlando, and it is here that I rode with John Hooper, Rick Sousa and, I believe, Scott Gilbert to catch a 70 mm presentation. I remember after the screening we drove by the HUGE line of people waiting for the next showing and, with the help of the CB Radio/PA in John's car, announced that "you won't believe Darth Vader is Luke's father!" Yes, we were ass holes!
This is my, and I would think most fans, favorite of the original trilogy. A quick history lesson: In the early 1970s George Lucas wrote a story treatment that consisted of nine chapters entitled "The Star Wars." After the success of "American Graffiti" Lucas was given the green light. Of all the stories that made up the saga, it was part four - "A New Hope" - that had a beginning and end. Lucas figured that this way, if he never made another "chapter" the film could stand on it's own. Of course the film, then just called "Star Wars," went on to surpass "JAWS" and become the highest grossing film of all time, an honor it lost and gained back several times due to subsequent re-issues. The honor was finally sunk in the wake of "Titanic."
"Empire" brought back all of the original characters, as well as introducing two new popular ones: Yoda the Jedi master and Lando Calrissian, mayor of Cloud City and former "pirate" with Han Solo. Yoda was the creation of Frank Oz, charter member of Jim Henson's Muppet Empire. Creator George Lucas was so secretive of the character that he would not allow an image to be seen before the film opened. He sued the publishers of "Starlog" magazine when they published a blurry image of the little green guy, one they had pulled from a trailer they obtained.
The highlight of "Empire," to me anyway, is the climactic duel between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. It is during this battle that Luke learns his true parantage. But how to keep this secret from being leaked (at least until four yahoos with a microphone spoiled it for the sunny Florida multiplexers). In the script, and on the set, Darth Vader tells Luke it was Obi Wan Kenobi who killed his pop. Right before the scene was filmed, director Kershner pulled Mark Hamill aside and told him that Vader was his father, which explains Hamills' anguished "That's impossible" reply to the man in black. A true moment of cinema history in my opinion.
Once again I am happy to be joined by Greg Van Cott who has written an outstanding appreciation of "Empire" director Irvin Kershner. Take it away, Greg:
Irvin Kershner — the unsung hero of Star Wars on THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
By Greg Van Cott
When people traditionally discuss Star Wars, the name George Lucas is usually the first thing that comes to mind. When you ask people to name the director of Star Wars, they would, through common knowledge, answer again and correctly—George Lucas. This is a rather unfortunate end-result of history due to Lucas’ enormous success and somewhat dominating ‘force’ on the Star Wars series. But there is another filmmaker who has undeniably left his own stamp on the original trilogy, through his subtle but brilliant touches of drama, pathos, character interaction, and humanity (most would consider this essential to any presentation of a story, but it is far more difficult to convey on screen effectively than one would think), and that man is named Irvin Kershner, the director of The Empire Strikes Back.
Most people are flabbergasted, for the lack of a less ridiculous sounding word (but it is true), whenever I tell them that George Lucas did not direct either of the two sequels that followed his original Star Wars. And Lucas could not afford the time once again to produce AND direct his follow-up to his highly innovative and immensely successful space-opera because he had enough heartaches (something literally like that) trying to do that and deal with an even bigger heartache: the studio executives at Twentieth Century Fox who constantly questioned the “use” of his project. So during the rewriting stage for his second chapter in his original trilogy, George Lucas did something that is probably one of the most humble things he has done and since—he gave the job of directing it to his old USC film professor and mentor. The only other managerial decision that comes close to that is Lucas giving Steven Spielberg the directorial duties on the Indiana Jones series, but there is a lot to be said in asking your own teacher to handle your own brainchild for you. I do not think many artists have the courage or the ability to swallow their own pride when approaching one much older (and to convince him to accept the challenge) on what many would deem a “young director’s movie.”
At first, Irvin Kershner declined the offer, citing “How do you make a better film than Star Wars?” A Cinescape Magazine article would ironically dispute this earlier statement where he implied that the original film was “trashy” and too full of hardware and special effects. However, Lucas convinced his former instructor that he would have a great deal of creative control over this particular film and that the special effects would not get in the way of what he wanted to do on screen. This is a particularly interesting arrangement considering Star Wars is so effects driven, but the overall point is that it was not all about the visual effects—Kershner wanted to focus on the people. One of his most enlightening quotes, as said on the 2004 commentary for The Empire Strikes Back: "I like to fill up the frame with the [characters'] faces. There's nothing more interesting than the landscape of the human face." Kershner, a very direct and professorial man as can be seen on this film’s making-of documentary and heard on his many DVD commentaries, does not seem to shy away from making the kind of decisions that may be uncomfortable or initially insensitive to others around him, but it always seems to pay off in the final product. His work on his previous films, Hoodlum Priest (1961), The Luck of Ginger Coffey (1964), A Fine Madness (1966), Loving (1970), and Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) showed his great prowess for drama, and his later work on Never Say Never Again (1983) and SeaQuest DSV (1993) also showed he had no inability in dealing with special effects. He prefers to see a balance, and that is exactly what we see in The Empire Strikes Back.
Kershner is a big fan of humorous touches mixed with an overlying theme of seriousness. This seriousness is usually accomplished through the script’s themes, so the humor that Kershner brings out is usually from the dialogue delivery and the moments in between. As a director, he seems very adamant about this philosophy as it brings a lot of human qualities to the characters. Despite the fact that something darkly serious maybe going on, there is always some ironic humor to the situation and that seems to be something a lot of the most famous filmmakers in history (Hitchcock, Kubrick, Spielberg, and Wood for example) hope to accomplish in their dramatic presentations. When the script was still in the drafting stage, Kershner insisted that the human qualities of all the characters, including the aliens and droids, be brought out as much as possible to assist Lucas’ overall plot, which ironically is something that many criticize Lucas for failing to do on his subsequent prequels. Writer Leigh Brackett, infamous for her work on director Howard Hawks’ Westerns and Film Noirs, interestingly enough worked on Empire’s earliest drafts before tragically succumbing to cancer in 1978. It is widely believed that her remaining contributions to Empire’s screenplay involve Han and Leia’s romantic bickering, which is very reminiscent of her work on Hawks’ films, The Big Sleep (1946) and Hatari! (1960). Perhaps this was another indication of Lucas’ willingness to have more help on these pictures. He had a lot of weight on his shoulders, entirely his fault of course, and that the only way to make sure that he was not going to stumble creatively in his own world was to have others who could look at it objectively. Kershner liked Brackett’s work and was further impressed by writer Lawrence Kasdan’s final polishing on the script; incorporating many of his requests to create interesting situations for the characters that furthered their development. From bickering, budding romantics to humor within dark scenarios, Kershner was now content.
From a directing standpoint, Kershner often uses simple visuals to convey an unusual concept. For example, whenever Luke uses the Force and is successful in these acts, he is upside down. The only time he is unsuccessful at trying to contact something psychically is when he attempts to lift his X-Wing craft out of a swamp—at that point he is standing right-side up. From an even subtler note, you might notice that all of the Imperial officers are played by British actors whereas the Rebels are all played by Americans (or at least now have American accents dubbed in). Perhaps not the most politically correct of casting decisions, but it does give the Empire a very regal, Bourgeoisie attitude whereas the Rebels would seem very “American” to audiences which was obviously the point (this idea was not followed through however by English director Richard Marquand on Return of the Jedi). Kershner also provides some of the most old-fashioned tricks in the filmmaking handbook. Whenever the Millennium Falcon shakes from the wormhole quakes, the director simply commands the actors to go left and right whenever the camera pitched and shook to simulate the “earthquakes.” Probably the most suspicious bit of symbolism in the film occurs during Han Solo’s triumphant advance toward Leia. On the DVD commentary, Kershner states that “a kiss in this movie is equivalent to intercourse.” It is very intriguing and obviously hilarious that he says this. As Han turns on the charm and Leia resists, specifically the moment when they talk about their dirty hands, you will notice a strange machine out of focus on the right of the frame. It’s obviously part of the Falcon’s working components (what it is actually supposed to do is anybody’s guess), but what it is doing is simply going IN and OUT, and it does this repeatedly and almost tenderly and playfully (it’s the little cogwheel that makes it seem playful and seems to add to the moments of Harrison Ford’s insinuations in his performance). This machine went missing to the eyes of many later television and VHS versions due to the unfortunate re-framing of Pan & Scan, but is obviously present in widescreen releases. It is extremely subtle, almost to the point that if the viewer notices this device, that its analysis and conclusion would be considered over thinking. However since Kershner mentioned the subject of sex, I can only assume that it is a deliberate symbol. And many great directors do not allow anything in their frame unless for a reason. The scene becomes a lot more mature when you add this idea psychologically.
This director was very also attentive to detail as he wanted this world to have certain amounts of familiarity to our own. As the Imperial Walkers approach, he shows many images of the Rebels preparing to go to battle. He reveals Luke and his gunner, Dak, getting particularly pumped up for the ensuing fight, and particularly heroic, is a shot of the Rebels cheering and throwing their arms victoriously in the air. The director makes his point clear that the audience expects the battle, but what creates tension and suspense is the build-up to the battle. This is often experienced by anyone in the Military more often than actual battle. During said battle, Julian Glover’s character (interesting bit of casting since he usually played much bigger parts) General Veers, pulls down a periscope. That is all it is… a periscope. When Luke loses his hand and receives a replacement limb, he wanted to show that it was not a simple prosthetic. Luke shows feeling in his robotic hand, which was at the time an advanced concept (not so much anymore as I’ve heard), and that it is as if he never lost one in the first place; though it is very important in the story that he loses his hand as we later realize throughout the saga. Kershner often thought that these touches were very “1930’s” to show that, despite the technology around them, everything was just a futuristic version of something today.
Kershner almost made it a habit to make sure many people working on this film as well as those watching it would be happy. He was very pleased to work with Alec Guinness for one day on the entire production (the only time necessary for Guinness to complete his scenes which were mostly done in front of blue screens), and Kershner was consistently impressed with Guinness’ note taking for his character’s dialogue and actions. When coming to the destruction of the Imperial Walkers, he made sure that each exploded with a cathartic intensity citing that kids love to see bad things blow up. Lucas wanted to reveal a little clue as to what Vader was in actuality, and between the both of them, devised a way to exhibit this through a brief removal of Vader’s helmet. Kershner wanted to see what was under there and figured it was natural, but creepy, to see a helmet-less Vader exposing his heavily scarred flesh as if to take a slight break from his suit. Probably the second-most famous exchange of dialogue would have never been effective if it were not for Kershner’s insistence on finding a better line than what was in the script. Originally, Han simply replied with “I love you, too” after Leia’s final admittance, but the director constantly went through several takes during the allotted lunch break. In the heat of frustration, Kershner instructed Ford to just say something without thinking about it. Because of this, it did not require the actor to think of the nicest thing to say, but probably the most honest and most human response. “I know” says more about Han than it says about their love generally speaking. To Kershner, saying “I love you” back put Han at a disadvantage (right when he was about to be frozen up, mind you), so the ad-lib put both at an advantage. Leia is finally being honest with him while Han preserves his usual, in-over-his-head courage. It may not seem enough for a woman to hear, but it is assuring enough AND assuring to young, worrisome spectators.
Yet all this talk on reality is not to say that Kershner had no interest in the abstract. One of the most impressive sets in the entire Star Wars series is certainly Cloud City’s carbon freezing chamber. Illuminated by Peter Suschitzky’s eerie glows and contrasting blues and oranges while fogged in an incredible amount of steam, Kershner called this room “Hell in the middle of Heaven” and it serves as a great contrast to the beautiful floating city inspired somewhat by Emerald City of The Wizard of Oz and tremendously inspired by the “Cloud Minders” episode of the original Star Trek. While those elegant parallels are familiar with children, the hellish chamber is the stuff of gothic fairy tales. In that some vain, Dagobah also serves as the haunting forests depicted in many fairy tales. When Luke enters the “cave,” things get very nightmarish. Kershner made it an artistic choice to display this sequence in a staggered form of slow motion to give it a sense of the “unreal.” When the head of the specter, in the form of Vader, is lopped off, it is revealed that underneath the mask is the face of Luke Skywalker. This director makes it clear: “He is fighting himself. He is his own enemy.” This type of storytelling where only visuals are used, and are left to the audience’s interpretation, is the stuff of great directors. He has often been referred by cast and crew as their personal favorite in comparison to his respective predecessor and follower, George Lucas and Richard Marquand. And without a doubt, some of the best acting performances out of the entire series come from this particular film.
Kershner’s involvement in the film even went as far as doing his own form of R2-D2 beeps and bops to help the actors whenever they needed an action from the droid who was often too quiet on set. He supplied a temp track to Darth Vader and Yoda’s vocals, which helped the final performances of James Earl Jones and Frank Oz immensely. Kershner was so impressed by the work of Jim Henson and Stuart Freeborn (of Superman visual effects fame) on Yoda that he sometimes accidentally gave direction to the puppet instead of Frank Oz who was listening elsewhere beneath the set. Perhaps Kershner saw a little of himself in that puppet whenever it was present on set, which was apparently a deliberate choice on Freeborn’s part who based Yoda’s head on his own, Albert Einstein, and Irvin Kershner. This director seems to be so obsessed with the little human touches in the scope of all things that a special rig had to be invented to allow R2-D2 to stand on his tippy-toes to look into Yoda’s house, a fishing rod and lines had to be utilized to make sure C-3PO could move while on Chewbacca’s back, R2-D2 had to be able to spit out mud like vomit on command, and C-3PO had to “seem” muted when Han Solo places his hand over his mouth. Kershner admits that some of these things do not necessarily make any sense when it comes to robots, but he wanted to see the influences these humans had on these machines—right down to fear, which was effectively introduced by Lucas on the original film. Scared robots and a howling Wookie were very important to Kershner.
When it came to The Empire Strikes Back’s infamous exchange of dialogue and most famous ‘jape’ (a plot twist that becomes more important than the rest of the story) in movie history, only six people knew of it at the time of writing and shooting: Lucas of course, Kershner, screenwriters Brackett and Kasdan, and actors Mark Hamill and James Earl Jones; not even David Prowse, Vader himself, knew that his lines would be changed in post-production (much to the annoyance of Prowse toward Kershner who wished later that he performed the scene differently). Kershner, along with the rest of the world soon after, was very surprised by Lucas’ twist and made sure to keep security tight around this part of the story. Kershner referred to Vader’s importance in the film as the “perfect antagonist” in the Hitchcock sense because he was very powerful next to our inexperienced hero. This is displayed physically during Luke and Vader’s climatic light saber battle where Kershner has Suschitzky use a long lens in one moment to make Vader look enormous and enveloping against a much smaller and weaker looking Luke Skywalker. Another lesson that Irvin Kershner provides us is that a second act of a trilogy is the intermezzo to a symphony, so it has no real climax or conclusion and that it simply leads to the third act. In the end of this act, all you have is the emotion and the tears over who has been lost in this darker chapter. They are great words of wisdom from a wise storyteller.
In a closing act of honorable collaboration, George Lucas declined to attend the film’s premiere with Irvin Kershner explaining that the film was “his film” and that his appearance would only divide attention from where it solely should be focused. Kershner was very “impressed” by this honor and still is to this very day. Irvin Kershner continued to get honors for his work on Sean Connery’s final outing as James Bond on Never Say Never Again, which is in the opinion of this essayist, one of the best Bond films starring Connery (and if you check out the documentaries and DVD commentary for that film, you will also learn an equivalent wealth of lessons as one does from Empire’s commentary). It should be noted that the character of Darth Vader seems to have similar methods of punishment on failed subordinates as Ernst Stavro Blofeld does (without using the Force, although Blofeld’s force of personality may be lethal enough). I for one believe that Star Wars would have never been taken as seriously if it weren’t for Kershner’s rather mature and sophisticated take on filmmaking and applying it to George Luca’s world. Lucas is famed for his imagination, ambition, and advancements in filmmaking technologies, but it is Kershner’s simplicity and his real-world understanding that makes The Empire Strikes Back provocative for its humane approach. One of Kershner’s most telling points is how the characters wear very normal looking clothes. It may be a Flash Gordon-like future, but they are wearing ordinary attire; creating that timelessness. In the end, Kershner gives us one extremely valuable and unforgettable lesson: “all filmmakers guess.” “There is no such thing as a perfect shot, a perfect film. The Purpose of film is not to make a monument to oneself.” Hopefully, Irvin Kershner will never be forgotten and will be awarded, by his fans and students, with a monument.
Next week I'll take a look at the film that brought one generation to another, Milos Foreman's "HAIR"
Well, that's all for now. Have a great week. See ya.
"Mike's Rant" is ©2009 by Michael A. Smith. Webpage design and all graphics herein are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2009 by Nolan B. Canova.