Spent some quality time Friday interviewing director John Lee Hancock ("The Rookie," "The Alamo") whose next film, "The Blind Side," opens next week. Look for a new chapter of "CrazedFanboy Presents" soon.
THE BIG 4-0
It is hard to believe that "Sesame Street" is 40 years old. I can remember when the episodes WEREN'T repeats. Shows like this, "The Electric Company" (with a young Morgan Freeman as Ready Reader) and "ZOOM" were the staple of my after school viewing for years. As Nolan mentioned on the home page, the episode where Big Bird finally comprehends Mr. Hooper's death is one of television's finest moments. Give it a peek:
In doing some research I learned that James Earl Jones, who at the time was starring on Broadway in "The Great White Hope," was the first "guest star" on "Sesame Street," appearing in the show's second episode. I also learned that the show was forbidden to be shown on Mississippi public television because of it's "radical" portrayal of racial harmony. The ban lasted one year.
26 year old Reeve Carney, who fronts a New York City based band called Carney, has been chosen to portray Peter Parker in the Broadway bound musical "Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark," which is due to open next year.
Carl Ballantine, magician and actor best known as Lester Gruber, a member of "McHale's Navy," passed away this week at the age of 92. Though skilled in magic, he often appeared as a comically inept one, using the names "The Amazing Ballantine," "The Breat Ballantine" and "Ballantine: The World's Greatest Magician" among others as his billing.
Art D'Lugoff, whose nightclub the Village Gate featured everyone from John Coltrane to Woody Allen, passed away in New York this week at the age of 85. The club, which openend in 1958, proudly featured blacklisted talents like Pete Seeger and Paul Robeson, jazz musicians like Coltrane and Duke Ellington and an early solo appearance by Jimi Hendrix. D'Lugoff famously told the story about having to fire a waiter who became so distracted by watching Lenny Bruce on stage that he neglected the customers. The waiter was Dustin Hoffman, who later earned an Academy Award nomination for portraying Bruce in the film "Lenny."
MY FAVORITE FILMS, PART II. THE YEAR WAS 1978...
The Deer Hunter|
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken and John Savage
Directed by: Michael Cimino
FIRST SEEN: Horizon Park Cinemas, Tampa, Florida
FAVORITE SCENE: Russian roulette and it's aftermath
FAVORITE LINE: "You got the wrong guy, Ace."
1979 Academy Awards for Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (Walken), Sound and Film Editing.
1979 Academy Award nominations for Best Actor (DeNiro), Supporting Actress (Meryl Streep), Cinematography and Screenplay written directly for the screen.
1980 BAFTA Awards for Best Cinematography and Film Editing
1980 BAFTA Award nominations for Best Film, Actor (DeNiro), Actress (Streep), Director, Supporting Actor (Walken), Screenplay and Soundtrack.
1979 Director's Guild of America Award for Directing
1979 Golden Globe Award for Best Director
1979 Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Picture (Drama), Best Actor (Drama - DeNiro), Supporting Actor (Walken), Supporting Actress (Streep) and Screenplay.
1979 Writer's Guild of America nomination for Best Original Screnplay.
In 1978 Hollywood finally paid attention to the Vietnam war with two very different films. "Coming Home" looked at the effect the war had on those who fought it and their loved ones. "The Deer Hunter" took a similar approach, though one much more brutal and honest.
The film centers around three friends; Michael, Nick and Steven. Steven is about to be married (it is no secret to his friends and his mother that his wife to be, Angela, is with child) and, in a few days, the three are off to basic training and then, of course, to Vietnam. The night before the wedding Steven confesses to Nick that he has never been with Angela). As Steven and Angela head out on a short honeymoon, Michael, Nick and some friends go up into the mountains of Pennsylvania for one last deer hunt. Michael, easily the best hunter among them, shoots an impressive deer. The men return to town and soon the trio finds themselves in battle.
Brilliantly directed by Michael Cimino, "The Deer Hunter" owes much of it's power to it's outstanding cast. As Michael, DeNiro is clearly the leader of his little clique. Ironically, Roy Scheider was originally cast as Michael. However, he strongly objected to a change in the story and eventually quit. As he still owed Universal two pictures on a contract he had signed after "Jaws" the film company, looking for some continuity from the blockbuster film, told Scheider that if he agreed to star in "Jaws II" they would count his participation as two films and the contract would be fulfilled. He did and they did and everyone was happy.
The supporting cast is just as great. Walken's performance is harrowing, especially the scenes that take place in the film's second half. Savage, George Dzunda, Chuck Aspregen and John Cazale make up the rest of the group. Cazale managed to get Streep, his fiance' at the time, an audition and soon she found herself with the key role of Linda, Nick's girlfriend, who takes up with Michael when Nich doesn't return from Vietnam. Cazale was quiet ill with the cancer that would eventually claim his life at the age of 42. Cazale was so ill that the production company could not get insurance for him and wanted to replace him. When the cast heard this they banded together and told producers that if Cazale were not allowed to stay that they would walk off the film in support. Cazale stayed and has earned notice as the only actor to apply in just five films (six if you count flashbacks) only to have each film earn a Best Picture Academy Award nomination. Dzunda was just starting his acting career while Aspergren was a real life plant worker who so impressed Cimino when he was looking for locations that he was hired.
Cimino, who had written "Silent Running" and "Magnum Force" had just come off his directorial debut, the Clint Eastwood film "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot," which he had also written. With Eastwoods endorsement he was hired to direct his "Deer Hunter" screenplay. He used the word of mouth that built on "The Deer Hunter" to secure the financing for his next project, the doomed western "Heaven's Gate."
Of all the scenes that remain with viewers of "The Deer Hunter," none is more intense then those that show the men playing Russian roulette during their p.o.w. experience. Director Cimino took much criticism for this scene but he swore that in doing research for the film that the events portrayed actually happened to many of the soldiers he had interviewed. Whether or not that is true, the scenes remain some of the most discussed in the history of film.
As mentioned above, Cimino followed "The Deer Hunter" up with "Heaven's Gate," a film that is synonomous with movie excess (example: when "Waterworld" was rumored to be out of control budget wise it was often referred to as "Kevin's Gate," in honor of star Kevin Costner). Budgeted at $7.5 million the film eventually ran up a tab of $40 million, basically destroying United Artists, which soon found itself bought up by rival MGM. Cimino was said to be so hands on that, in crowd scenes, he would take hours to set up shots because he would insist on positioning each extra. His first version of the film ran over five hours. The film was released at the three hour mark to terrible reviews. A shorter version was released in Europe to some success. To be fair "Heaven's Gate" is NOT a bad film. Unfortunately it was not able to overcome it's history. Cimino's career stalled after the debacle. He was hired to direct "Footloose" but when he insisted on re-writing the script he was fired. He has done only four films since "Heaven's Gate." Even the well made "Year of the Dragon" was not enough to redeem him in Hollywood's eye.
Next week we'll take a look at another film that saw it's original star replaced when Harrison Ford replaces Tom Selleck in "Raiders of the Lost Ark."
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.