Starting Next Wednesday is Dante’s Inferno over at the New Beverly. You best believe I’m going to be there every chance I get. Truck Turner on the big screen? Life is good.
THANK YOU ADOLF HITLER (AKA THE EX-PATS)
American cinema would be much less interesting if it weren’t for the rise in power of Adolf Hitler. The price paid for such a benefit was obviously too great, but because of the Nazis, we got Billy Wilder, Ernst Lubitsch, Fred Zinnerman and Fritz Lang (to name a couple). As Germany was one of the leading film-making industries, we got skilled technicians, who – in most cases – mastered the Sound picture as well as any American. And, on top of that, we got Peter Lorre! Face, Germany! It also meant that some French artists were going to stay where less bullets where fired, and so Jean Renoir (The Southerner, The Woman on the Beach), and Max Ophuls (Caught, The Reckless Moment) spent some time in the Hollywood system.
But those who stay for the rest of their lives (or most of the rest) are few and far between. Like this week’s entry from Wong Kar-Wai, they are often courted, and then politely rejected. Each “new wave” has sent some member or the other over to American shores for a bit. From France Francois Truffaut made the English language Fahrenheit 451, while Godard didn’t leave Europe, but worked with American producers on Contempt. Both were courted for Bonnie and Clyde, if legend is to be believed. Godard was much like Robert Rosselini (Voyage in Italy) and Vittorio di Sica (Terminal Station), in that they met half way, and Antonioni also experimented in English language cinema with Blow Out and Zabriske Point. Louis Malle came later, but he worked for a while stateside. But few filmmakers pull a Milos Forman or a Lasse Halstrom and give up their homeland. Though – especially in the late sixties and seventies you had stars who would go to Europe to work simply because they were more a name abroad than at home. See, for instance, Burt Lancaster in The Leopard, or John Saxon in Tenebre– sometimes this reignites a performer, usually it doesn’t. One of the most positive uses of an American actor on foreign soil is Last Tango in Paris, though Bernardo Bertolucci can be said to have used American money, he’s made his films all over the world. I can’t talk about this without mentioning Jules Dassin, who was forced abroad because he wouldn’t snitch to McCarthy, and recently passed away. Though he is tangential to this discussion. So is Roman Polanski, for that matter.
The appeal of working in America and for Americans is usually mutual. American cinema has always had the largest coffers, and working in Europe or Asia can often leave filmmakers feeling like they would like to stretch those budget muscles, while talent is often hip to hip filmmakers, and wants to work with them – Lucas and Coppola were both more than happy to lend their name to Akira Kurosawa, and the cast Wong Kar-Wai got for My Blueberry Nights was likely found on the strength of his work with In the Mood For Love. But most film artists who make an impression are either actively courted by Hollywood, get financing from Hollywood, or come to out shores for a film or two (such as Wim Wenders). Cinematically speaking, the effects can often be ruinous.
The closest Hollywood has come to the wave of filmmakers who came when Hitler became too formidable is the Hong Kong flights of the early 90’s. With the then-upcoming hand-off of Hong Kong to China after years of British rule there was a sense of the industry collapsing, and fears of what China would do. For many Asian filmmakers, their movies became audition tapes (John Woo’s Hard Boiled is the ultimate example), but as much as the HKers wanted to come to America, action cinema needed that jolt. And so 90’s cinema in America became infused with Hong Kong’s action sensibilities. Interestingly, Tsui Hark made American films, but never made a film in America, or abandoned his country. For the most part – including technicians like Peter Pau – everyone has gone back to Hong Kong, including Woo.
Wong Kar-Wai probably could have come over sooner after Quentin Tarantino helped release Chungking Express, but he took his time, and unfortunately with the public drubbing My Blueberry Nights took at Cannes, the five theaters it hits this weekend will likely expands only ever so slightly – and with a region 3 release readily available it may suffer as Oldboy did in premature exposure. Drew “Moriarty” McWeeny seems to share my sentiments for the film (Jeremy mentioned he might be weighing in soon), and I hope people give it a chance. It’s a breezy film after the emotional weight of both In The Mood for Love and 2046, and the man seems to have a handle on working with English speakers. More in the vein of Chungking, it’s easy to see why Cannes dismissed it, but also it’s easy to see what’s engaging about it. But if Wong Kar-Wai only makes one English language film, it should be no surprise.
WE’VE GOT SUCH A LONG WAY TO GO, HEADING TO THE BORDER OF MEXICO, GOT TO PREDICT, LIKE THE WIND, PREDICT LIKE THE WIND
It’s just a year ago this weekend that the grand experiment Grindhouse came out, and we’re still waiting for the proper DVD on that one. In its way Leatherheads is just as much the exact same thing, but a little more palatable to the American public. Then again I’m sure if you said Screwball comedy to the average 16-45 year old, they’d think you were talking about something like Joysticks or American Pie. You know, ’cause it has the word screw in it. Ah Joysticks. From the director of Black Shampoo. That Leatherheads should get over above The Hudsucker Proxy is likely because of the goodwill of George Clooney. I’ve seen some go as high as $20 on this one, but I would bank a bit lower. You’ve also got Nim’s Island. Which means you’ve got hot Fox on Fox action in regards to the kids market (not a Jodie Foster joke, though possibly a pinball machine joke). It may be the number one film of the weekend, but Fox is likely more concerned about protecting Horton. You’ve also got a studio horror picture. Horror is one of the rare genres where word of mouth matters, and since the horror kids liked it, I think it’ll probably not do too horrible, but as an adaptation of a book (class and horror hasn’t gone together since Sir Ridley Scott opened the head of Ray Liotta) it seems stuck between being exploitation-y and selling it to those who may have read the thing. It’s the first weekend in April, and I can smell a dump just as sure as I can see one. Still, with a weak weekend, you take what you get.
21 will likely not fall much more than 50%, while Horton and Nim will likely be close. Almost too close. My DJ has a name, it’s Terminator X, he’s on the one’s and two’s, and he kicks it like this:
1. Leatherheads – $14.8 Million
2. Nim’s Island – $13.4 Million
3. 21 – $12.8 Million
4. Horton Hears a Who – $11.7 Million
5. The Ruins – $9.4 Million
So, partly what I’m saying is that we’ve got four pictures that could likely be within a million or so of each other, with Nim’s having something of the kids X factor. If 21 takes the top slot while Leatherheads underperforms, I wouldn’t be surprised. We’ll know more Saturday when we get the Friday numbers. And I’ll be back Sunday to do some yardwork, or hedging, as the case may be.