CinemaCon, like its namesake Showest before it, has always been about exciting the theater owners with new technology and product meant to get them pumped for their direct connection to the customer. While the textures of this year from “Life Of Pi” to “Skyfall” provided some interesting visions, none was more discussed or contested like the footage that Peter Jackson showed of “The Hobbit”, shot at 48fps, which only a year or so after the acceptance of 3D and the near conversion to full digital, takes the string up one more notch. It is all about what you show.
Paramount Heading into summer, Paramount opened the con by honoring Dwayne Johnson with the “Action Star Of The Decade Award” with studio head Rob Moore calling him “franchise viagra”. Johnson, with his textbook charm along with director John Chu, best known for the”Step Up” films, introduced a dexterous element of scenes from the film which both showed humor and drama. Next, Tom Cruise, in a taped greeting from the set of “Oblivion” [directed by Joe Kosinski] in Baton Rouge, spoke before showing scenes from “Jack Reacher” directed by Christopher McQuarrie whose last helming outing was “Way Of The Gun”. Two scenes adapted from the graphic novel distinctified “tone” which Cruise mentioned in his opening remarks. Rob Moore then turned the stage over to Jeffrey Katzenberg who, after a great year with “Kung Fu Panda 2” and “Puss In Boots”, brought “Madagascar 3” and “The Guardians”. The third entry into the “Madagascar” franchise showed almost 15 minutes of the opening optimizing new animation techniques since the last one in the series with Chris Rock coming on stage saying that it was the best so far adding that some parts were “trippy” which reflected in a circus montage. “The Guardians” based on a children’s book is a completely different animal using “myth” and “belief” to approach its subject matter with an edge and texture. Chris Pine who leads the cast as the voice of “Jack Frost” spoke about the key in the character to finding “the center”. Interestingly, the whole time he was speaking, all of his remarks also applies everything he sees in this character to James Kirk for which he is currently shooting the sequel to “Star Trek” as. The ending of the presentation did not disappoint with Sascha Baron Cohen making his second public appearance as “The Dictator” complete with girls and soldiers in tow and walking through the crowd. After throwing some zingers on stage as is his MO, Cohen as the character angled out Katzenberg as the other “dictator” in the room before announcing (which most thought as a joke) that the film would be screening at 11pm up the Strip and that it was not a threat before he exited with great fanfare as Katzenberg kissed his ring.
Warner Brothers The texture of Warner Brothers relies in being able to follow up the powerhouse of Harry Potter. While the arrival of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp to introduce an extended trailer of “Dark Shadows”, it was Christopher Nolan talking about shooting almost a 1/3 of his “Dark Knight Rises” in IMAX that offered a stemming view of a brooding dark conclusion so much so that Adam Shankman who showed an extended trailer of “Rock Of Ages” including the first bit of Tom Cruise singing threw a “you fucker” line at Nolan because of how unbelievable bad ass it was. Director Jay Roach then talked about the balance of political “broo-haha” in regards to his new film:”The Campaign” starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis. However it was moving into fall that offered the most interesting view with the first glimpse of footage from Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” in 3D which Luhrmann explained in a taped message from Australia allows you to see the actors shine without any visual effects. Lastly, Peter Jackson introduced in 3D from New Zealand, the first footage of 48 frames per second from “The Hobbit”. Like seeing “Avatar” for the first time, it takes some getting used to because it is a completely different movie experience in terms of perception with Jackson showing distribs around 10 minutes of footage. One piece in particular showing Gollum’s face very close to camera shows the distinctiveness of this frame rate as do flying shots (like those seen in the original trilogy). Another one very specific to the changing viewpoint of the immersion of the technology is when Gandalf is alone in the catacombs. The depth of the shot makes you think you are actually there though the process does retain an almost HD camera quality in terms of perspective which is rather hard to describe.
Disney Balancing out with the texture of brand specifications from Warner, the Mouse House used the cross structure promotion with Marvel, Pixar and Dreamworks to fuel the fire. Marvel presented a short clip from “The Avengers” intermixing Iron Man, Thor and Captain America with bone-crunching sound followed directly with the announcement of Thor II and Captain America II before Marvel President Kevin Feige showed a small clip leading to the production of Iron Man III which begins production in North Carolina later in the month. Progressing into Dreamworks, the aspect of “People Like Us” starring Chris Pine and Elizabeth Banks (and directed by Alex Kurtzman of “Star Trek” and “Fringe” frame) capitalizes on the studio’s penchant for more novel based forms. “Lincoln” which makes its distribution stateside through Fox, was also mentioned, without texture of a trailer likely to be seen at Fox’s Presentation two days later. Disney Pictures itself started quietly with sleeper quality textures of the stop motion film “Frankenweenie” directed by Tim Burton which does contain odes to Brad Bird’s “Family Dog” episode of “Amazing Stories” and definitely suburban angles of “Edward Scissorhands”. “The Odd Life Of Timothy Green” starring Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton seems more reminiscent of Disney fantasy/morality films of the 70s like “Pete’s Dragon” depending on the tone of the eventual picture. “The Wonderful World Of Oz”, which just completed filming just a couple weeks ago, boasts a great pedigree in director Sam Raimi re-teaming with his “Spiderman” villain James Franco as the titular character here. The story details unearthed by the director speak to an interesting betrayal in the story of sorts centering around Mila Kunis’ character which fuels the intentions of what happens in the world. The footage shown dictates a mixture of sets, which producer Joe Roth identified as Detroit, as well as some interestingly created background CG mattes which might or might not be the final textures. Conversely, Jerry Bruckheimer was brought out by current live action film prexy Sean Bailey after a short live stage bit about Kermit wanting to be the Lone Ranger and Miss Piggy wanting to be the Good Witch in Oz. Entertaining for sure. Bruckheimer spoke of them shooting in Arizona with Johnny Depp coming out and speaking as well. Depp made reference to that fact that “I just saw a frog and pig out here. Did anybody else see that?” When asked about Tonto, Depp deferred in a show of modesty saying, kindly, that he wants the theater owners to see it when it is done. With no footage to speak of for the title with the exception of a photo, details are still scarce. John Lasseter, head of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, came out next to discuss his slate. “Wreck It Ralph” is a non-Pixar film which is interesting in its own right following a bad guy in an 8-bit video game stuck in an arcade. Lasseter spent a good ten minutes setting up the premise and characters before showing the first ten minutes of the film. John C. Reilly, who spoke about trying to improvise during the recordings with sometimes co-star Sarah Silverman, gives a definite heart to the character. A specific “bad guys anonymous” scene represents this with a dexterity and tongue-in-cheek element replete with visual gag cues. Representing beyond and speaking into the Pixar mode, the announcements in terms of new structures (beyond “Monster University”) border on more esoteric which might be undeniably groundbreaking with one being “The Last Dinosaur” with only a silhouette of a brachiosaurus present and another one that can be encapsulated as “Journey Into The Mind” but probably not in the “Fantastic Voyage” way. Finally, as a perspective of a film which has been interestingly placed without any real knowledge of it, Lasseter unspooled nearly a half-hour of “Brave” which follows the exploits of a tomboyish princess in the highlands of Scotland. While interesting echoes of Robin Hood play through especially when the heroes take disguise, what does seem to ring through. which was not prevalent before as much in the other Pixar movies (because this is inherently a human world), is the reactions of the animals and others in a more realistic way which was a hallmark of say “Beauty & The Beast”. It shows how the feature animation side of Disney is being impacted by Lasseter. While not at the full potential of Disney because of responsibility to the shareholders, he is pushing the bar in subtle ways as he can.
Filmmaker Forum: Martin Scorsese & Ang Lee Whenever you get Martin Scorsese in the room, the perspective becomes one of a film class which is interesting when he is speaking to a roomful of theater owners. The impact of “The Hobbit” footage at 48fps had been ringing for about 24 hours and everybody had an opinion on it, both good and bad. This forum was more about 3D with Scorsese’s “Hugo” pushing the barrier last year in terms of serious filmmakers from a dramatic point of view. Ang Lee, mostly known for his more direct non-genre dramas (but Oscar-winning fare) recently immersed himself in 3D for his Christmas release “Life Of Pi” which many said to be “unfilmable” (and for good perspective reason). While it is interesting to see these men discuss the virtues of this medium, it almost feels like they are behind the ball because the technology is moving so fast. Before the discussion began, a sample of 120fps technology was shown. The eye cannot see, for what is being said, beyond 60fps. The footage here was more smooth gliding elements but the separation dictates the depth. This is one thing that did interact in terms of the Scorsese/Lee discussion because lighting becomes even more of an important structure which Lee said drove him mad in certain respects on “Pi”. Scorsese reflects that the I/O, which determines depth in 3D, was something he and his cinematographer Robert Richardson constantly toiled with on “Hugo”. He however said it was one shot when Sascha Baron Cohen is staring down into the camera with his dog in forced perspective that gave him chills because it showed what the technology was capable of doing. Lee, still in the midst of figuring everything out on his movie, spoke on the essence of using water since a lot of his movie takes place in the ocean. The Taiwanese government ended up building him a massive tank but the camera was the first to use a housing to shoot 3D actually underwater. Neither had seen “The Hobbit” footage so they could not comment though Scorsese seemed visibly intrigued at everyone’s reaction. He compared it to a movie he showed to his daughter, her school friends and some of their mothers at his home in New York recently. It was from back in the 30s where the aspect ratio and the color changes during the film (much like “Wizard Of Oz” in some respects). People, he said, spoke the same way about color. It is just something that will eventually, after growth spurts, become a mainstay. 3D took a little longer but eventually is having its day.
Sony While franchises seem to pile on with respect to the Sony brand, the intention seems to reflect that bigger is better quality. While “MIB 3” and “Total Recall” showed extended structures in 2D, it is interesting to perceive their eventual release.The time travel perspective of Men In Black does not quite have its plot direction set in the footage shown but the humor, as always, plays dry and loose with Josh Brolin doing a spot on impression that you would almost think that Tommy Lee Jones is doing the voice over. “Total Recall” oddly enough recreates an almost deja-vu situation because the set ups in terms of plot device to the original are eerily similar with a swig of “The Fifth Element” thrown into the mix. The world is intense and Kate Beckinsale, melding a character that mixes Sharon Stone and Michael Ironside from the original, is bad-ass especially in an extended foot chase sequence that just screamed with adrenalin yet felt wholly original. The intention of what Douglas Quaid is being accused of here is played a little more than conjecture. “That’s My Boy” looks to bring Adam Sandler back to full resolution after the misfire that was “Jack & Jill” but the man experiments with comedy (albeit more low brow) much like Will Ferrell but with more success on an ongoing basis. This is an R-rated romp that has textures of “Little Nicky” but with more curse words and breasts. Sort of like Billy Madison grown up. It looks hilarious because Sandler’s character can go nuts because Andy Sandberg takes on Adam’s usual role with aplomb. It should kill for sure. And as the announcements proved, “Grown Ups 2” is around the corner a summer from now. “The Amazing Spiderman” also seems to be trying to find its footing. The hardest thing in rebooting the franchise is selecting the right tone and space within which to set it. The humor and action shown here is seeking a balance for sure and the scale surely feels much bigger than the last franchise. Andrew Garfield’s approach is more aloof at times though Emma Stone stabilizes the structure. Denis Leary as the police captain who sees Spiderman as a threat will bring some added tension and the more comprehensive view of Lizard Man promises interesting feelings but it all contains relevance in heart depending on the end product. “Resident Evil: Retribution” shows Paul W.S. Anderson pushing the 3D ideals but the mythology is getting extremely deep. However as long as Milla Jovovich can wield a sword and guns with fire blazing behind her (with extended I/O mind you) people will flock. The final perception allowed was a first look at the Bond film “Skyfall” directed by Sam Mendes. The teaser is dark with overcast skies and dark rooms. It seems almost built like a brainwash sequence. The music is rumbling and has tendencies of foreboding much like “Road To Perdition” which gave chills. Granted it gives no perspective of overall story but the tone indicated feels much like “The Dark Knight Rises”: a dark humor that mixes with tragedy.
20th Century Fox With two summer films that hang on the precipice with different elements at stake, the ideas are humming. With “Prometheus” and a bang up viral campaign, director Ridley Scott seems to know what he is doing. The extended trailer showing the landing sequence onto the planet in its full glory has a dexterity and industrial feeling that only Scott can do. “Alien” DNA plays heavily into the trailer from the ship to the Space Jockey. The blood letting definitely paints it well. It looks phenomenal on the big screen. “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” I have been interacting with over the past couple months. It is a near idea that is perched between real life and genre which is always a hard sell. Director Timor Bekmambetov has the chops to make it happen and the new footage plays to more the historical basis and less of the acrobatics which may be a conscious decision. “Neighborhood Watch” is another interesting amalgamation with Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill moving into an alien invasion hybrid comedy where they become defenders of their community, swilling beer and taking no bullshit. It is interesting but the line being walked is a tightrope. The final perception to be mentioned on Fox’s upcoming slate is “Life Of Pi”, Ang Lee’s 3D epic to be released at Christmas. Lee showed one sequence and one scene from the film to show what he is trying to do. What comes across for sure is a necessity to use 3D as a storytelling mechanism of immersion. The sequence involves the marooning of the lead character on the ocean and the sinking of the freighter he is traveling on. At first it seems almost simple but the single long takes show a deeper thought at work. Like “Titanic” in a way but more intimate, Lee’s camera follows the actor (picked from a worldwide casting search) underwater trying to save his family who is trapped in the water below deck. The 3D camera picks up the bubbles which gives a much more real feel. Pi, the lead character, ends up on a life raft which a zebra (there are a lot of animals on the ship) jumps onto. The perspective of that and then a Bengal tiger (an integral part of the story) jumping on as well while rain is pouring down, makes on realize that there is a lot of stuff going on technically here. One of the most beautiful shots comes around this point where you can see the sinking ship lingering below Pi in an overhead shot with its lights still on. He disappears below the surface and you get a sense of scale. When 3D starts to be used for this kind of thing (which Cameron embraces as well) is when you will get some killer stuff. The other scene Lee showed is very reminiscent of “Old Man & The Sea”. You can tell at a point it is in a studio stage while Pi and The Tiger fight over their food of flying fish along with tuna that sail into the boat. It has that aspect of Anthony Quinn and the primal fight. The tiger (which is probably CG but it is so seamless as not to be believed) blows Aslan from “Narnia” out of the water with its reality.
CinemaCon, showing new advances, continues to challenge theater owners and, by extension, audiences by trying to keep up with changing technology and rights conversion which, while exciting, always seems to come with a bit of apprehension but ultimately interest.
The revolving structure within the new idealism of ABC under the stewardship of Paul Lee reflects a more family based structure despite the success of more edgy fare like “Modern Family” and “Cougar Town” With the exception of “Off The Map” which takes advantage of post-“Lost” Hawaii assets, most of the new material revolves around the Disney Channel and Lee’s former post at ABC Family. The intentions are not unfamiliar but reflect changes in regards to structure of the former regime.
Paul Lee addressed the elements of forward momentum with a much more committed hand than the previous incarnation only hours after his new post was assigned. In regards to his recent thoughts, he distinctified that the company has really stood behind their Wednesday comedy block before dictating that “The Middle”, “Modern Family” and “Cougar Town” would be picked up for next season. Lee continued with intention saying that his goal is really to make ABC Studios “a showrunner culture”. He worried when they launched that there were too many shows. Even big broadcast networks, he explains, need to have a place and time. He points to “Body Of Proof”, the new Dana Delany show, as being “a very good procedural” but admits that now the networks have to “play and compete 12 months a year”. He examples “Castle” as being the target of the ABC brand. He continues describing the network, and broadcast studios in general, in that “we brought the dinner party and we brought the guests but the showrunners need to continue” the progression. Both them and the network behind them have to “be willing to fall on your face” but do it within branding.
In speaking to new ideas in the process, he mentions a “fabulous procedural” that Shonda Rhimes [of “Grey Anatomy” and “Private Practice”] is working on. They have also made two pick ups with “Smothered” and “One Up” which he explains are both comedies. In terms of existing comedies, he volunteers that “Cougar Town” has a very distinctive voice. In terms of “Mr. Sunshine” headlined by Matthew Perry, they will be placing that show after “Modern Family” within the schedule. He admits a couple years ago ABC couldn’t have been able to anchor an hour on Wednesday. Comedies, in Lee’s mind, take a while to find themselves.
Approaching the other end of the spectrum with a series like “V”, 10 episodes were ordered because within that they could maintain quality control. In the same vein, Lee addressed the interaction of Marvel within the Disney family and how that could impact ABC. His thought is that with something like Marvel, you can get the whole company behind the idea which keys back to his focus on brand, Lee also admits to the fact that the networks are living in a fragmented universe (i.e. DVR, online watching) which changes the way viewing is tracked. Marketing becomes critical but there needs to be time to do so. When interrelating to other networks, he points out that shows like “The Good Wife” and “Glee” fit the ABC Brand though he admits his favorite ABC Shows are “Modern Family”, “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Dancing With The Stars”.
Disney Channel’s “Lemonade Mouth” uses the strength of “Glee” to use the inherent star-making behind some of Disney’s successes into a specified movie aimed at creating an essence of edginess without sacrificing values.
Debra Chase, who also produced “Cheetah Girls” and “The Princess Diaries”, describes the production as “a movie with music” with “these characters trying to find their voice”. The key was to find a group that would “become a band with their band performances”. She said that they spent three months looking all over the world to find the best prospects. The script was based on a novel by Mark David Hughes and the title comes from the organic lemonade machine which is the cornerstone of the school. Chase’s hope is that the heart, soul and spirit of the book still lives on in the movie.
Patricia Riggen, who also directed the Spanish film “Under The Same Moon”, says that every song in the movie is special and worked from character, revealing a duality. She points out with the kinds of songs the kids sing, they are more mature and can stand on their own. For her it was a challenge to do serious storytelling on a 8 week shoot where it was about walking into an empty room and bringing the voices together.
Adam Hicks, who plays Wen, says that music motivates people whether they know it or not. The first thing he does after writing music is that he wants to tell people. The key in “Lemonade Mouth” was that in doing all the rehearsals, they could show that they all legitimately play the instruments on and off camera. His angle is writing rap which he has been doing since the 4th grade but said he “loves the surprise [from people] because I have red hair and freckles”.
Tisha Campbell-Martin, best known from the TV series “Martin”, says that she started out doing musicals Off-Broadway before graduating to “Little Shop Of Horrors” and “Rags To Riches”. She says originally she couldn’t get arrested in getting a comedic role. Seeing these young people in the movie however reminded her so much of herself.
ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars” continues the act of trying to balance family programming with an edge using the story of a quartet of women who are targeted by anonymous foe, paving the way for “Mean Girls” reversal.
Exec producer Oliver Goldstick focuses the idea that the series is specifically about romance and that the soul mate connections are structured through the episodes. Balancing that with the implements of a procedural allows the show to use subtext in a series of cycles. The structure of the narrative, he explains, can rotate into mini-seasons like a 3-act play taking into account the theme of responsibility as the central cornerstone of the series.
The girls involved kept balance with how much they wanted to be aware of the world beyond the script. Lucy Hale, who plays Aria, only planned on reading the 1st book but ended up getting through the middle of Book 5. This allowed her a perception beforehand of this girl’s life although she says “I haven’t had any girls confessing their love for teachers” which is the flaw of her inherent character. Shay Mitchell, who plays Emily, says that when she auditioned she hadn’t read any of the books but read them as they shot the pilot. She says that she fully embraced her character’s style as an Adidas model but hopes to have her in heels by the end of the season.
ABC Studios’ “Off The Map” takes into possibility the infrastructure created by the recently retired “Lost” imbuing a new medical show set in the jungles of South America spearheaded by powerhouse showrunner Shonda Rhimes.
Rhimes admits that there was alot of resources left over from “Lost”. What got her interested was the voice of Jenna Bans who had served as producer with her on “Grey” while she continually spearheads new shows including one revolving around a fixer set in Washington D.C. That new show (which is in development) follows an intelligence specialist which Rhimes describes as a “crisis manager” and is loosely based on a woman named Judy Smith.
Bans, for her part, speaks that with “Off The Map”, what strikes her most about these specific characters is that none of them are at the top of their game. They all need to start over and, at a character level, “you are beginning with a huge difference”. In her eyes, the jungle is their pharmacy and they don’t have technology at their disposal and, because of this, they can “delve into stories that no one else can really do”. As a writer, she says she started writing to the chemistry onscreen that you see offscreen. She sees the series as a mix of action/adventure and comedy but also with a political twist creating what she calls “a nice blend”.
When Bans was researching the project and talking to doctors in the US, she says she came across alot of physicians where their private practice was their day job but their hobby was going away to these countries to do this. The village in the series is not completely far away from an actual commerce center but is completely surrounded by alot of remote villages. With supplies 10 hours or so away by vehicle, different substitutions must be made like using coconut milk as a substitute for fluids (which she says is done in third world countries). Episode to episode, she says they will not make the gore too gratuitous. The zipline material in the first episode will be the most extreme. Bans continues that there are different ways of practicing medicine which is what struck her and got her excited about the show.
The different doctors bring their different functions into play with brevity. Zach Gilford, who plays Dr. Fuller, says that sometimes on TV, one can be pigeonholed into a certain character base forever but, with a show like this, that stretched the possibilities, the rules are different because “you get to see different parts of the island and places you would never find”. Martin Henderson, most known for his role in the film “The Ring”, says that “to find a group of people that get on well is unique whether it was a conscious effort or not” but adds “that it is fortuitous and translates” on camera which Mamie Gummer, who plays Dr. Minard, admits “mirrors the characters”.
PBS always is indicative of a cross-section of political, nostalgia and a mix of tangible intelligence. The idea is one of perceiving the world through a myriad of eyes which ranges from the essence of independent film in “Independent Lens” to intrinsic investigative reporting on the edge with “Frontline”
Beginning the relevant nature works with the Pioneers Of Television highlighting “The Best Of Laugh In”. One of the biggest shows of its time, especially when there was only three networks and viewers could get as high up as 60 million, the sky was the limit but finding new and creative ways to deal with sponsors, censors and the like was always a challenge.
George Schlatter, producer of the show, always relates finding the cast. With the silken voiced Gary Owen, who is now known the world over, the mogul found him in the men’s room of The Smokehouse (across from Warner Brothers Burbank) against the tile wall. With Jo Anne Worley, it was always if nobody else could do it, give it to her. Lily Tomlin bowled him over in the first moments. She came to him in a show he did in NY that got canceled and was doing a barefoot tapdance. What really focused his attention was when she did her rubber freak who ate erasers and everything else. He recalls that when she went on to do Ernestine, the phone operator, for the first time, he made a signal for her to do the dialing with that one finger. Also whenever Lily did her Church Lady (way before Dana Carvey), she made her knees creak. The censors thought it was something else. In terms of maintaining a sense of spontaniety, they always gave the band a heads up when they were doing something a little out there so they could be sure to contain their laughter. Schlatter still remembers the ball they had with the Farkle Family in dealing with the censors. He told them to go “look it up in your Funk & Wagnalls” (which was a popular encylopedia at the time). There were many guest stars. Kirk Douglas came to mind because his sons (specifically Michael) were such fans of the show and encouraged him to go on. One of George’s favorite characters was Gladys but he attributes that to being “glandular” with the scene of her on the bench with her paramour having the pockets out of his coat being the best. In terms of Roland & Martin and their working relationship (which people have always asked about) he says they “were the best nighclub act but couldn’t talk to each other”.
Lily Tomlin follows up the texture of her audition of the barefoot tapdance by saying that she lasted three weeks on that other show “before they fired me”. In terms of Ernestine, she says that George told her that they needed someone on the switchboard as a joke. After doing her rubber bit on-stage (like not a day has passed), she admits that during the time of the show she was too rigid politically to the point that she wouldn’t take a picture with John Wayne. This of course, she said, was fueled by the fact that they had ratings on their side. Her favorite character was the fast talker although she admits “Ernestine thinks she the boss”. The key to the show’s success over the years is that, she says “people get turned on when they see other people having fun”.
Gary Owens, the man with the voice, says that Artie Johnson recommended him to George. One of the most intrinsic moments he remembers is when Billy Graham was a guest. Artie was still wearing his Nazi helmet and comes around to see who’s who. He tells Graham that he has been talking to the man upstairs to which Graham says “Really?” Artie retorts, “Yes. He thinks you’re a schmuck”. Owens also recalls that when Nixon did his “Sock It To Me!” bit on the show, he [Owen] was talking to the incumbent Humphrey on “Meet The Press” when it all happened. He mentions that his father had a deep voice “and so did my mother actually”.
“Forgiveness: A Time To Love & A Time To Hate” takes an “Emotional Life” perspective as to how people deal with the tendencies of letting go but finding closure at the same time.
Helen Whitney, the director of the film, wanted to make something that was passionate but also small in its edification but distinct in concept. This idea seemed to resonate the most deeply for her.
One of the most interesting interrelations for her is the aspect of a wife who abandoned her husband and children and then many years later tries to come back to at least be part of their children’s lives. Daniel Glick, the father, says that 11 years ago he never thought he would be sitting on the stage with his ex-wife but realizes now that forgiveness as an “actual” is not a linear concept but resonated in the themes apparent within this show. The major obstacle is how the production would affect his kids because even though the cameras have been around, they haven’t actually seen the finished product.
Liesbeth Gerritsen, the mother who left, admits that, in being an agent of suffering, it is hard to know how to ask for forgiveness. She see it as “a gnarly question with a gnarly answer”. She can’t admit to say that the experience was therapeutic but only to agree that it was very painful. There however was something about the process, she says, which brings to the forefront that “you cannot be forgiven unless somehow you pay”.
For others like Terri Jentz who was terrorized by an attacker, she provides the perspective that she doesn’t believe that one can dismiss an unforgiveable evil. Her path created an interesting paradox as she looked to new age thinking for an escape. She thought after 15 years she had forgiven this unknown man who escaped but she began to realize that it was just a deadening of her will.
“Independent Lens” is a more and more visceral way is bring the experience of film festivals to public television. In a more saturated world finding this kind of material needs a voice.
“Wasteland”, directed by Lucy Walker, which IR saw at the Provincetown Film Festival, tells the story of an Vic Nunez, a well regarded artist, taking his idea of sustainability into a creative project in the landfills of his native Brazil. When Lucy was at film school at NYU she was always interested in doing profiles of young artists but the reality of approaching the daily life was never that possible at that time in terms of consuming the viewer. She never thought she could do it because the idea of that kind of immersion, at times, doesn’t exist anymore. What surprised her is the lack of awareness she had to the amount of trash in the world. With Nunez, she realized that “the richness of the story was in the rescue of the ingredients”. Nunez grew up poor in Brazil and the film was about recapturing that innocence that he sees in the people there now. In Walker’s mind, that is the kind of thinking that resets the art world. The Brazilian angle of it also offered interesting government involvement because the actualization of the project, more than an art installation, became a social outreach.
Tamra Davis, director of “Jean Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child” (which was also a film picked up from last year’s Sundance Film Festival), speaks of her relationship with the artist when she was going to film school (again at NYU). Her first experiences in front of the paintings hit you because (as she describes) they are “arresting” and “loud” to the point that you can “hear them”. Basquiat referenced many things in Davis’ estImation because “he was sampling the world around him”. She met Jean Michel at an art show in Los Angeles when she was 19 and he was 22. He actually mentioned to her about making a movie about him because as she puts it, “it was a reason for us to hang out with each other”. A couple years later, they actually did a formal interview. The resolute aspect is that in order for people to see your work, you have to be known which means placing yourself out there personally for your art to be seen. She accepts the ideal about how the film made in the mid-90s approaches Jean Michel’s life and has she has talked personally to Geoffrey Wright who portrayed the artist but what surprised her is that there was no discussion about his race in that movie. She says that subject was big to Jean Michel. She continues that she made this film for Jean Michel as a friend but also a girl since many women supported him. She wanted to embody her love and sensitivity for him but also relate what life was like for him on a daily basis.
Intonating the adjoining ballroom with a sense of a gala club, Harry Connick Jr. took to the stage to perform songs indicative of his style for PBS’ new special “Harry Connick Jr. On Broadway”. Having in recent years made his own transmutation to Broadway, one would expect that he would be playing to that tendency but all roads for him still track back to his roots as an 11-year-old in New Orleans.
Upon taking the stage the first inference Harry speaks of makes traction to Frank Sinatra whom he has been often compared to, though Connick prefers to see himself as a “piano player” though he joked about his “super-talent” when riffing with his bandmates. “The Way You Look Tonight” used the simple progression of the bass and drums to coordinate the crooner’s silken voice. With “Mason Street Blues” he brought out an exceptional trombone player featured on the program which gave that undeniable Louisiana twang without going into full jam. His sax player then came out as Connick abandoned the piano for a miniscule time frame to sing a slow tempo serenation of “And I Love Her” by The Beatles which was not on the special. Its inclusion showed the range of interpretations that this performer can see life through though he admits that his personification of jazz offers a certain idealism which, when he tried to make a couple funk records, somehow played short. After bringing up a trumpet player for one of their trademark jams (which Connick says sometimes certain audiences don’t understand because they come to hear him sing), the musicianship comes through.
His trademark “It Had To Be You”, best known as a full big band progression, here was done purely with the piano and a sax on a down tempo giving it a different lounge heavy intensity that plays exceptionally different with a sense of knowing. The ending rush was an inventive Mardi Gras Stomp with all the instruments playing in tandem and Connick allowing his jazz cronies to shine closed the set..
Afterwards, the ideas of the man behind the music ventured with a discussion that covered his influences and various thought processes moving up inside the music. Of course, in tandem he brought the comparisons to Frank Sinatra which he explains like linking someone to Brando in acting. Sinatra had a certain phrasing that made his possibilities look deep and endless but this came out of an enlongated thought process. One of the more interesting influences Connick mentioned of his was Freddie Mercury which he said created these infinite thoughts without being pigeonholed or held back by anything. Connick relates that he spoke to Brian May about this in-depth. The crooner also mentions that he went to the Manhattan School Of Music so technique and practice always comes to his mind. Someone, like Mercury, he says, had no training and the amazing elements he could create were astounding. Connick also mentioned his support of the Saints being a true Orleans boy. In terms of a cutting contest, the one person he says he might be reserved to go up against is Art Beau but says that he rules on New Orleans ground. When asked about the evolution of the definition of jazz, he says that the song remains itself though the idea of who is singing it might not. They key is that the personification of it is timeless whether seen through a young boy or an old man.
The other undeniable performer of this tour resided in the notion of David Foster, who is responsible for some of the most enduring songs of the past couple decade. Evidenced by his calm demeanor and humor, his successes and drawbacks haven’t fazed him as he speaks in between certain songs about how their timeline interrelates to each of his different wives and what they got in the divorce settlement.
Needing nothing but a simple baby grand, the act of the way that Foster can coax structures out of different performers are intriguing. He admits he is no singer which brings about comparisons to Barry Manilow but his instinct in terms of reacting to the American people during a specific period of time were, and still remain, remarkable. Take for example, as he spoke, the two young people that he is shepherding right now. After having achieved success in cross-over with Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli, he is currently working on the debut album of Jackie Evancho, the 10-year old prodigy that sounds like a fully trained adult opera singer.
The greatest gift to talent, in being able to capture what they are capable of, is a sure hand but also exceptional expertise and success on you end plus a sense of humor. In recollecting to the small rapt audience, Foster broke down the progression of his hits songs in an unorthodox way: which wife (he has had three) got a condo or certain baubles from it. He doesn’t sound bitter but makes no apologies for it either. He plays these songs and you begin to realize in a small part the immense impact (at least on easy listening) he has had over the years.
In terms of Wife #1, he begins playing “Look What You’ve Done To Me”, the hit song from “Urban Cowboy” made famous by Boz Scaggs back in 1980 and the one/two punch of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “After The Love Is Gone” and “September”, which alone is enough to make a career. What is essential about these songs is how effortless they feel which, as most songwriters will say, is the ultimate compliment.
In terms of Wife #2, the 80s were ruled in texture of Foster through Chicago and Peter Cetera. The blockbuster “Chicago XVI” and “XVII” albums were structured by harder hitting modern pop with heavy drums and guitars while still maintaining the melodic element that made their early hits possible. This new approach gave them an edge and two of the biggest hits through songwriter/producer Foster were “Hard To Say I’m Sorry” and “You’re The Inspiration” which redefined the band. When Cetera left the band, one of his biggest hits after was the love theme for “Karate Kid Part II” called “The Glory Of Love”, which was again penned by Foster and sported that same necessary edge. Also interspersed among the time period was his instrumental hit for “St. Elmo’s Fire” which became a chart topper as well under his own name.
Again remember, during this whole performance is playing all these live on piano as well while explaining their context. Fast forward to the 90s with Wife #3 (he always remembers his motif) when he worked with Whitney Houston on “The Bodyguard” soundtrack. He wrote the hit “I Have Nothing” and then re-purposed the Dolly Parton song “I Will Always Love You” into the massive life changing single it became. After this structure he began working with Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli mixing the notions of classical and pop into a fusion that is still being perceived today.
The first of the live performers to come on-stage was Charice, one of Foster’s new additions (alongside Evancho), who did at amazing belting version of “All By Myself” that simply knocked the floor over, especially when she an upper octave at full pitch and never wavered.
Donna Summer, proving not to be undone by any means, came out and blasted with a cover of the Foster-penned “Unbreak My Heart”, originally sung by Toni Braxton, with a fervor that shows her voice is nothing if not stronger than when she first used it. Wrapping up the evening, she continued into the song she did with Foster in the 70s that permeated and still remains a stalwart around the world: “Last Dance”.
Two intense live performances. “Great Performances” indeed.
Tavis Smiley, who made a big structure with his intrinsic investigation with director Jonathan Demme into New Orleans on his last trip to the press tour, conceded that he doesn’t like the word “interviewer” instead liking to refer to himself as a conversationalist. For him, the key to his show is about listening generously because if you do it well enough, your subjects will open up to you. The idealistic aspect is knowing the difference between optimism and hope. Hope structures the foundation that times will eventually get better. Smiley thinks that this perception of “hope” is wrong and stands to reason why the nation is not unpacking and taking the economic threat more seriously. While he points out that government is to blame, he does think that “we have to engage in the right kind of discourse in regards to civility”. Politicians are not more important to him than artists though. In fact, for his perception, it is quite the opposite.
“Frontline” continued the discussion on the perspective of intelligence sources versus the actual ground level advances in the persistent effort to protect borders. Dana Priest, one of the lead investigators on the terrorism front, says that the ideas start from what government and private enterprise has built since 9/11 and what is a viable tangible fact. Her focus is watching these organizations and how they grow. The possibility resides in the fact of how the government spies on people. If suspicions are heightened, how do the intel committees looking at these issues weigh the points especially if it involves classified material. She specifies though that the Obama administration has been much more specific and vigilant than the Bush administration in its intent to move the matter through the courts. Priest believes that there is a responsibility to the job they do but the balance is to not suffer the consequences, especially when you find a source willing to talk.
Miles O’Brien approaches a different front with his ongoing and deep seated investigation into the airline industry especially in its outsourcing of maintenance to foreign countries. He makes the specified example of a major US airline moving their maintenance hub from San Francisco to Bejing. What that creates is the situation where no one can get into the hangars to see what is actually being fixed. The regionals do less outsourcing offshore but he explains, even going back to the Buffalo crash, that Continental had no legal responsibility whatsoever because the plane itself was a regional contract. No airline wants a crash but what is happening is that there is a system in place and, slowly but surely, the margin is being eaten away. All the decisions add up but the concern is that the crack seen in all these little decisions will add up to a hole that eventually will run all the way through.
The PBS outlay “POV” takes the approach of looking at a problem or situation and unraveling it at its core by the people living it.
“Where Soldiers Come From” attempts to bring a perspective in the aspect that, even at a purely psychological level, the basic aspects of a person can change when coming home from war, even if they don’t see it.
Director Heather Courtney, known for her documentary “Letters From The Other Side”, describes the aspect that her subject is encapsulated in a rural area and a very small town. The problem returning from war here is that are absolutely no employment opportunities. The incentive of signing up for $20,000 is a powerful one. After war service, Courtney admits that TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) has become the hidden war wound. It is complex and not necessarily easy to explain. The idea of her film for her started off in rural America. The physical subject of her film is Dominick Fredianelli whose father was a few years ahead of her in high school. She says that she didn’t have aspirations to be a war reporter in following Dominick with his deployment but “I needed to be there”. She says it was unusual to be embedded but admits that most of their mission is “alot of boredom” with some “wonderful conversations”. With verite, she says, you can get great stuff but you have to be taping for a couple of hours to get that nugget.
Dominick, as the viewpoint through which the narrative is based, says that once he graduated high school, he had to be ambitious. The deployment was in his head and, before and since, he has been treated very well by the veterans administration. He says that when someone asks him if they should join the guard, he says that it comes down to a personal decision. He did it “for my family, my friends and my girlfriend”. He currently goes to a school for design but it was important for him to get this story out there. He admits though it is hard to do every day things with Courtney sitting there with a camera. The key in this kind of outreach is compassion so people have more of an idea what the soldiers go through over in war zones.
“Storycorps” blending the essence of social media and animation takes an interesting approach to the idea of a family story taking the audio and placing it against an animated milieu. Different booths were set up at various functions and festivals for people to go in and tell their story to be possibly put on file in the Library Of Congress which acts intently as a motivator.
David Isay, the founder of Storycorps, says that the process is a new thought into the idea of storytelling. At the end of a storytelling session, 2 CDs are burned. One is given to the person relating the story and the other goes to the Library Of Congress. Some of the stories are broadcast on NPR and a select few are adapted for PBS. It all started with a radio program he did. He gave a couple of kids audio recorders which they took around their housing projects. Some of the people they recorded eventually died and the recording was all that was left. It created an “ah-ha!” moment. From there they set up a booth in Grand Central to tap the cross-section though he admits that “you just worry about the Jerry Springer Factor”.
James Ransom, whose story about one of his teachers named “Miss Devine”, was adapted into animation says that he didn’t know what the final result would look like but that the creation of it was “how she was”. He relates that he went into one of the Storycorp booths in Sarasota, Florida. It was an Airstream trailer and the actual interview progressed like a fireside chat. He says what is aired is simply a smaller part of a larger conversation. When he asked his cousin about Miss Devine, she related that she was stern but she was mean. At the time, Ransom relates, corporal punishment was OK but “she was the keeper as far as we were concerned” with “a superpower that was unique”. He admits that there was lessons learned. He remembers listening to plays on the radio but says that Storycorps takes these ideas to a new level because the key to it is “about being yourself”.
PBS continues to address sociological aspects of continuing society both from an intellectual but also an emotional standpoint in how everybody from soldiers to major corporations make decisions that change the balance.