DO YOU THINK WE'LL MAKE THE SULLIVAN SHOW?
Those words were once uttered by our own Nolan B. Canova, in a very poor Liverpudlian accent, during one of our band rehearsals. We often played Beatle songs and would end them with some kind of banter. I bring this up because if you've ever dreamed about voicing a Beatle and are in Stamford, Connecticut next weekend, you can audition for director Robert Zemeckis, who is planning a 3-D motion capture remake of "Yellow Submarine" for the Walt Disney Company. No singing required.
There are so few genuine good stories in professional sports these days so I'm proud to report that I've found one. Here in Kansas City, home of the lowly Royals, there is a young pitcher named Zack Grenke. Zack was the teams first pick a few years ago and showed some promise early. Unfortunately, the young man also had a bad case of anxiety and actually left baseball for most of a season. Rather then cut their losses, the Royals, to their credit, stuck by Zack and supported him through his treatments. They brought him back slowly and, before the start of this year, signed him to a five year extension that would pay him in excess of $50 million. This year Zack rewarded his team by winning the American League Cy Young Award. In other words, in two years he went from "out of baseball" to being recognized as the best pitcher in his league. A great inspiring story if you ask me.
AND THE OSCAR GOES TO
In another attempt to boost television ratings (already done: 10 Best Picture nominees instead of 5) the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has ALREADY handed out this years honorary awards, hoping to streamline the television broadcast. What a slap in the face of the artists they honor. Sorry, we didn't want to use up 10 minutes of airtime on you...but we will do a quick montage right before the 37th commercial of the night!
This year's honorees:
ROGER CORMAN: independent filmmaker extraordinaire! Among the talent he first spotted: Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, Robert DeNiro, Francis Ford Coppola, Jonathan Demme and Joe Dante. Ron Howard said the best advice Corman ever gave him was "if you do a good job for me on this picture you'll never have to work for me again."
LAUREN BACALL: Bogey's wife and Scott Gilbert's high school crush! In her almost 60 year film career full of outstanding performances Ms. Bacall was only nominated for an Academy Award ONCE!
GORDON WILLIS: Cinematographer and a genius with light. As much as Coppola, responsible for the success of "The Godfather" by designing the look of the film, as well as it's two sequels. Other films by this master: "Klute," "Presumed Innocent" and no less then EIGHT films with Woody Allen, including "Annie Hall" and "Manhattan."
JOHN CALLEY: Oscar nominated producer ("Remains of the Day") is this years recipient of the Irving R. Thalberg Award, which is presented to "creative producers whose bodies of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion picture production." Among other films on Mr. Calley's resume': "Catch 22," "Closer," "The DaVinci Code" and "Angels and Demons."
As I worked nights primarily from 1984-2003, I missed a lot of television. One show I made sure I watched, thanks to the magic of VHS, was "The Equalizer." Very sad to report the passing of the show's star, Edward Woodward, who died this week at the age of 79. He began his almost 55 year career with appearances on British television. He made his U.S. debut on a 1964 episode of "The Defenders." He continued in television and even had his own one hour show, "The Edward Woodward Hour" in 1971. He starred in the original 1973 version of "The Wicker Man" and continued his episodic television career in England until he was signed to do "The Equalizer." He was most recently seen in the
Simon Pegg comedy "Hot Fuzz."
Ken Ober: who hosted the first non-musical program on MTV (Yes, children, there really was a time when MTV played music videos) entitled "Remote Control." It was a trivia driven show that dealt with popular culture and ran for 5 very successful years. Ober also used the show to give such young comedians as Colin Quinn and Adam Sandler their start. Cause of death is not known, though a friend states that the day before he passed Ober complained about a bad headache. Ken Ober was 52.
LAST WEEK IN "MY FAVORITE FILMS"
During my write up of "The Deer Hunter" I included the following line, "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)." At the end of my piece I meant to add something that I only just recently learned. On the only available in England DVD of "The Deer Hunter," director Cimino reveals during his commentary that the baby is actually Nicks (Christopher Walken) which now explains the switch in the script. As I also noted, Roy Scheider left the film because originally his character was to stay behind in Vietnam while Walken came home to be with Meryl Streep. However, it now makes more sense to me that Nick should be the one sending money home to Steven; not to take care of Steven but to take care of his child. Also, how would he be able to face Linda and his friends/family if it came out that he was the baby's father?
MY FAVORITE FILMS, PART II. THE YEAR WAS 1981...
Raiders of the Lost Ark|
Starring: Harrison Ford and Karen Allen
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
FIRST SEEN: Landing Theatre, Leavenworth, Kansas
FAVORITE SCENE: The first 15 minutes - boulders, spiders and angry natives with spears!
FAVORITE LINE: "It's not the years, honey. It's the mileage." This line, like another favorite ("You're gonna need a bigger boat" from JAWS) was not in the script but was adlibbed by Harrison Ford).
1982 Academy Awards for Best Sound, Film Editing, Art Direction/Set Direction and Visual Effects. Also received a special Achievements Award for Sound Effects Editing.
1982 Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Director, Original Score and Cinematography.
1982 BAFTA Award for Best Production Design/Art Direction
1982 BAFTA Award nominations for Best Film, Supporting Actor (Denholm Elliot), Score, Cinematography and Sound.
1982 Director's Guild of America nomination for Best Director
1982 Golden Globe nomination for Best Director
1982 Grammy Award to John Williams for Best Album of Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television Special
1982 Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Film
1982 Writer's Guild of America nomination for Best Comedy Written Directly for the Screen.
Coming off what could only be disappointment at the under-performance of "1941" (a film that with time has become regarded as a pretty funny comedy) director Steven Spielberg and his friend George Lucas vacationed together and began discussing a project Lucas had conceived before "Star Wars." That idea evolved into "Raiders of the Lost Ark."
Much has been made of the casting of the role of Indiana Jones. Spielbergs' choice was Harrison Ford, but Lucas nixed it because Ford had already worked with Lucas on both "American Graffiti" and "Star Wars." Other actors were contacted: Nick Nolte, Steve Martin (who decided to do the musical "Pennies From Heaven" instead), Chevy Chase, Tim Matheson, Crazedfanboy friend Nick Mancuso and Jack Nicholson. Finally the part was given to Tom Selleck. Unfortunately, Selleck had just signed to star on CBS as "Magnum P.I." Despite pleas to the production company, Selleck was held to his contract. Of course, the irony is that "Magnum P.I." didn't even begin filming until after the last shot of "Raiders" had been completed. Selleck later starred as an Indiana Jones type hero in "High Road to China." With less than three weeks before principal photography was set to begin, Harrison Ford was signed to play Indiana Jones.
The film tells the rousing adventures of Jones and his on-off again girlfriend, Marion Ravenwood. They band with old friend Sallah to keep the Nazi's from obtaining the home of the 10 commandents, the Lost Ark of the Covenant. Along the way they have adventures, many of them of the breathtaking variety.
Once again it is my honor to welcome fan favorite guest writer Greg Van Cott
UNRAVELING THE YARN — RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
by Greg Van Cott
I have been told that Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the last great yarns of the last 30 years and that we have not had any true yarns seen in movies since. You may ask, “What is a yarn?” The supposed definition of a yarn is probably one of the most ambiguously taught and frustratingly unclear of all modern literary terms. I will make my best attempt to explain this as Raiders requires a certain amount of analyses.
The ThinkQuest library states that it is, “A tale or story. Yarns are usually improbable and most likely exaggerated.” Now that definition can certainly apply to Raiders, but it also ludicrously applies to every other story in existence. Wikipedia states that yarns are derived from a larger comedic concept called a ‘shaggy dog story,’ which is, “an extremely long-winded tale featuring extensive narration of typically irrelevant incidents, usually resulting in a pointless or absurd punchline. These stories are a special case of yarns, coming from the long tradition of campfire yarns.” This definition would imply that yarns are the earliest form of storytelling where individuals would dictate stories around any aforementioned fire. My favorite definition of a yarn is “an unraveling of events where characters tend to have unclear intentions or schemes in an adventure that, like a ball of yarn, does not show a clear path as to where it ends [till you get there].” This definition does not necessarily lend itself to proving that all mysteries are yarns however. It does seem to prove itself a countering point to Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey (although the Hero’s Journey formula can certainly be applied to a yarn, that is fundamentally Raiders and Star Wars) in terms of predictability and formula. I have always found unpredictability to be a true component to a true yarn because it, like that last definition, depends on audience participation on what these series of events mean as a whole; a fact not obvious at the beginning of the story. All of that depends on the writer(s) because the Indiana Jones sequels would probably not be considered yarns necessarily since they follow similar patterns as seen in Raiders, which arguably could have been avoided. Examples are of course the best way to illustrate a point: the best yarns of early movies could be considered The Thief of Bagdad, King Kong, The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, Mr. Arkadin, and The Manchurian Candidate. Besides Raiders, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the original Star Wars trilogy, Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro, Octopussy, The Living Daylights, and even Halloween III: Season of the Witch come to mind as good recent examples. I should additionally mention that Michael Curtiz’s stylistic touches to Casablanca (characters’ shadows spilling onto walls, the presence of very villainous Nazis, and the use of maps with animated line segments [complete with overlays of the individuals actually on the move] to indicate travel) obviously had an effect on Raiders’ sense of adventure.
When one thinks of Raiders of the Lost Ark the first time the viewer saw the picture and without its sequels, the unpredictable quality of its storytelling is probably a lot more obvious. One can ask, why do only a few of the James Bond films and this one Indiana Jones film make the cut as a yarn? This goes back to my point that not all mysteries necessarily fall in this category of yarns. Unpredictably and mystery are not always the same thing. In certain detective stories, the main character gets his assignment (which is the centerpiece of the plot or even the McGuffin [a writing device created by Hitchcock that motivates the characters, but is not chiefly important to the plot]), follows the right people, runs into some interference, and finally stops the antagonist to complete his assignment and solve the case/conflict. Now as I mentioned earlier, this type of formula can be applied to a yarn, but it is the writer’s arranging of events, disguising of formula, differentiating of structure, and milking of dramatic tension that makes it closer to a yarn.
Upon the first viewing, we know that Indy has been given the assignment to obtain the Ark before the Nazis do, but we do not know how he is going to accomplish this considering Germany practically has its army surrounding the dig site. In certain stories, you can already tell what the hero is probably going to do from the get-go. History will obviously tell us that the Nazis will of course lose (ergo, this SHOULD be easy for the character of Indiana Jones because he is the good guy), but the conceit of this story, like every period piece, is that this COULD have happened and the hero COULD have died at the hands of the enemy of said time period. Therefore, screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan’s carefully laid out suspense between Indy and the Nazis’ front man, Belloq, makes for good conflict. Indy discovers the Ark, loses it to Belloq, obtains it again, loses it once more, and then finally obtains it by pure happenstance at the end (that is, until the U.S. government ultimately takes it away from him). This “yay-boo” series of events keeps things unpredictable for the characters. In comparison to the Bond films, Octopussy and The Living Daylights design Bond’s mission around a small piece of a much bigger pie, and it is up to Bond to determine what the whole is eventually. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has the character of James Bond set out to find antagonist Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s whereabouts. He has not been assigned to clearly track clues to Blofeld’s plans, but is only on the search for his location. This then leads the audience to a slow reveal of the villain’s scheme. OHMSS also has the addition of the highly unpredictable character, Tracy di Vicenzo, whose suicidal tendencies and daredevilry keep Bond constantly in check; uncertain to what he can make of her. The other Bond films tend to follow Ian Fleming’s structures derived from the original novels, which most do not lend itself to yarn-like possibilities in storytelling. This is not to say that formula seen in other Bond and Indiana Jones films is necessarily a bad thing. Serials thrive on the ability to cleanly demonstrate how a heroic character works a situation to find a solution—the trick is to tell it well every time. A ballet can seem formulaic or repetitive in a bad light, but it also can be a very wonderful and fun experience when it is done well. The precision, timing, and the fun of being able to predict what can happen is another form of entertainment. These are conclusively the differences between these two forms of storytelling.
I mentioned the character of Tracy di Vicenzo in OHMSS, which leads me to the character of Marion Ravenwood. You are not quite certain what her role will be in this story, but she is no doubt along for the ride. One of the most intriguing things that happen to her is that after getting lost among many baskets (a humorous reference to a similar gag in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest except with uniforms)—she appears to die right in front of Indy. Our hero then spends many hours drinking and hopefully rethinking his past relationship with her: the usual suspects like, ‘Did he really respect her? Did he take her for granted? Why couldn’t he save her? Why couldn’t she see she was in danger?... and so forth.’ When he finally sees her again bound and gag to a tent pole, he is absolutely relieved and appropriately emotional about the situation. However, he ironically has to leave her in order to not jeopardize his assignment in acquiring the Ark. This is a very funny, but a clever bit of writing on Lawrence Kasdan’s part. This was not the first time Mr. Kasdan has worked on a yarn. He also penned various drafts on The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, which had their ‘unforeseeable futures’ as well. Kasdan’s writing style seems to lend itself a good fit for yarns even though he has only written three in his entire career. Apparently, he too prefers unpredictability and adventure in life.
These interesting complexities involving not knowing where the story is going or what the characters will do can also apply to supporting characters and not just the leading character and/or hero. Kasdan sets up an interesting planting device around Marion. Planting is a mechanism in writing where one thing is set up, usually something that requires an action, which then pays off for the characters later in the story; usually something that reveals the character to realize the worth of the action. For example, when we first meet Marion, she is having a drinking contest with a supposed Australian climber (according to the film’s credits). This event leads to an uncomfortable and belligerent meeting between Indy and herself; another good example of good conflict. Far later in the story, it turns out that her talent for holding in her liquor works in a botched attempt to escape from René Belloq. Though the attempt proves fruitless, it does prove that at least her skills in that “practice” can come in handy. The French archaeologist, Belloq, is also an interesting character to discuss. His personal mission is clear: make use of the Ark before it is carted off to Adolf Hitler, but how exactly he is going to unlock its secrets or “use it as a transmitter for speaking to God” is unclear. By the end of the film, Belloq has taken a Moses-like form (in a Mt. Sinai-esque meeting place as well) without really having an understanding of the rules of the Ark that Dr. Henry Jones, Jr. clearly does remember, but really did not have much faith or belief in. They are indeed just raiders after a prize without really having a great respect for it, which is a great example of greed over understanding. An important detail to note is that the Ark is very large and heavy compared to the other artifacts that Indiana Jones later pursues. Unlike the Shankara stones, the Holy Grail, and a crystal skull, the Ark can not be held in the palm of your hand. Although Temple of Doom’s centerpiece had the advantage of being multiple pieces to keep it interesting (unfortunately too ambiguous in its story as to what they are supposed to do, but that’s a different writing issue), the Ark was not the kind of artifact that made it easy to transport. Therefore, the Ark’s condition was always a subject of uncertainty whereas all the sequel artifacts can be easily imagined as cradled in the arms of a person running off. The Ark makes it more difficult for all the characters involved. It is commendable that previous writer Philip Kaufman suggested the Ark of the Covenant.
Yarns are not required to borrow from each other either in terms of inspiration and influence. Their open-ended capacities and flexibility should cater to any writers and storytellers to a wide range of possibilities. Of course, there are similarities in terms of main characters working very hard against insurmountable problems. The best ways to create differences is within character traits. In Raiders, for director Steven Spielberg to prove that Indiana Jones was not James Bond is to create an ‘oops’ moment very early in the story. Our hero has to unavoidably jump an enormous gap without his whip for assistance and immediately grabs a hold of an old weed to prevent from going in. If the main character were Bond, he would have probably struggled very hard to get up and would have been amused at the sloppiness or irony of having gotten caught in this situation. Indy grabs the vine-like weed, when suddenly in an exaggeratedly amusing moment, it nearly comes apart at the root. He almost goes in with an almost child-like bit of uncertainty on his face. This proves that he is not a trained agent like Bond, but merely a guy who is mostly in over his head when it comes to these situations. This helps pave this particular yarn toward more vulnerable scenarios. He is also afraid of snakes, but that is an obvious irony considering the entire opening. It is also ironic that Spielberg originally wanted to direct a Bond film, but was swayed by George Lucas’ concept of bringing the Saturday matinee adventure serial back; a similar revamp of those 1930’s serials can be seen in 1954’s Secret of the Incas featuring Charlton Heston looking a lot like a pre-Indiana Jones. It is a good question if Spielberg would have wanted his James Bond film to be more yarn-like (his hypothetical film would have most likely been 1981’s For Your Eyes Only), especially since the last yarn in the series was On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Perhaps Raiders’ success influenced Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum’s return to yarn storylines with 1983’s Octopussy.
There is no doubt that Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the best written action films in its genre next to, in the opinion of this essayist, 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and 1971’s The French Connection. I think it was a good thing that director Steven Spielberg directed his own take on the action/adventure genre instead of making a 007 film (good for editor John Glen who was promoted to helm For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, and The Living Daylights as well). Otherwise, an essay on this type of adventure story would have not taken shape, nor this “attempted” analysis at what modern yarns are and what a yarn should be if any screenwriter wanted to really be serious at making a great one instead of always relying on formula. Again, not that there is anything wrong with formula… it can just get a bit old. Not a ‘good, old movie’ way, but in a ‘bad, old and new movie’ way.
As always, great job, Greg!
Next week I'll take a look at one of the best, yet underappreciated, biograpys ever made. Luis Valdez' "La Bamba"
Well, that's all for now. Have a great week. I'm heading to Chicago to visit my mom for Thanksgiving so I'll be here early. 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.