I think it appropriate to end today with one of the most beautiful and haunting piece of cinematic music in recent years.
Cloud Atlas might have been like Icarus as it flew too high to the sun but only to crash into the sea. The same couldn’t be said about the orchestral score composed by Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek & Reinhold Heil. It’s a great piece of film score composing that managed to lend true emotions with every note without a hint of cynicism.
The “End Title” part of the score completely encompasses every piece character motif the three composers came up for each and every vital character in the film. What we get is a song that’s a pure distillation of everything that came before it.
Just like the film, this song marks the ending of one journey and the beginning of a new one for one of us. Fair winds and following seas.
Chris Mead, who blogged for the TSL under the name Semtex Skittle, passed away on January 21st. Though Chris started out as our video game reviewer, he quickly proved himself to be just as adept at reviewing everything from anime to episodes of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD to Pierce Brosnan-era James Bond movies. His reviews were distinguished by his intelligence and wit and were always a pleasure to read. I was always so happy whenever I would see that he was editing a new review.
It’s hard to know what to say after losing someone like Chris. Speaking for myself, I will always be grateful for the invaluable help that he provided back in 2012 when I decided that, in the days leading up to the release of Skyfall, we, as a group, would review every single film in the James Bond franchise. Leonard Wilson often refers to the Bond reviews as being our Avengers moment and Chris was definitely our Captain America.
On a personal note, Chris and I once ended a long twitter conversation about gender stereotypes by making an agreement. He promised to watch the last Twilight film if I would buy, play, and subsequently review the latest Call of Duty game. I did buy the game and, believe it or not, I even played a good deal of it. Fortunately, Chis was always available on twitter to explain to me how to do things like … well, like how to actually play the game.
Chris was taken from us far too soon but I know we’re all thankful for the time that we had to get to know him. He was a Bears fan, a good writer, a good friend, and a good guy. He will be missed. Our thoughts and condolences go out to his friends and family.
“What do we do now?” — Democratic senate candidate Bill McKay (Robert Redford) in The Candidate (1972)
When I reviewed Advise & Consent, I mentioned that if anyone could prevent billionaire Tom Steyer from winning the Democratic nomination to run in the 2016 California U.S. Senate election, it would be Betty White. Well, earlier today, Tom Steyer announced that he would NOT be a candidate. You can guess what that means. Betty White has obviously already started to set up her campaign organization in California and, realizing that there was no way that he could possibly beat her, Tom Steyer obviously decided to step aside.
So, congratulations to Betty White! (I would probably never vote for her but I don’t live in California so it doesn’t matter.) As future U.S. Senator Betty White prepares for the next phase of her career, it would probably be a good idea for her to watch a few movies about what it takes to win political office in the United States.
For example: 1972’s The Candidate.
The Candidate would especially be a good pick for the nascent Betty White senate campaign because the film is actually about a senate election in California! California’s U.S. Sen. Crocker Jarmon (Don Porter) is a Republican who everyone assumes cannot be defeated for reelection. Democratic strategist Marvin Lucas (a heavily bearded Peter Boyle) is tasked with finding a sacrificial candidate.
The one that Marvin comes up with is Bill McKay (Robert Redford, before his face got all leathery), a 34 year-old lawyer who also happens to be the estranged son of former Governor John J. McKay (Melvyn Douglas, whose wife Helen ran for one of California’s senate seats in 1950). As opposed to his pragmatic and ruthless father, Bill is idealistic and the only reason that he agrees to run for the Senate is because Marvin promises him that he’ll be able to say whatever he wants. Marvin assures Bill that Jarmon cannot be beaten but if Bill runs a credible campaign, he’ll be able to run for another office in the future.
However, Jarmon turns out to be a weaker candidate than everyone assumed. As the charismatic Bill starts to close the gap between himself and Jarmon, he also starts to lose control of his campaign. He soon finds himself moderating his positions and worrying more about alienating potential voters than stating his true opinions. (In one of the film’s best scenes, Bill scornfully mutters his standard and generic campaign speech to himself, obviously disgusted with the vapid words that he has to utter in order to be elected.) The film ends on a properly downbeat note, one that reminds you that the film was made in the 70s but also remains just as relevant and thought-provoking in 2015.
Written by a former political speech writer and directed, in a semi-documentary style, by Michael Ritchie, The Candidate is an excellent film that answer the question as to why all political campaigns and politicians seem to be the same. The Candidate is full of small details that give the film an air of authenticity even when a familiar face like Robert Redford is on screen.
Whenever I watch The Candidate, I find myself wondering what happened to Bill McKay after the film’s iconic final scene. Did he ever regain his idealism or did he continue on the path to just becoming another politician. As much as we’d all like to think that the former is true, it’s actually probably the latter.
That just seems to be the way that things go.
Hopefully, Betty White will learn from Bill McKay’s example.
“Go ahead and hate your neighbor; go ahead and cheat a friend. Do it in the name of heaven; you can justify it in the end. There won’t be any trumpets blowin’ come the judgment day On the bloody morning after, one tin soldier rides away”
— From One Tin Soldier, the theme song of Billy Jack (1971)
Yesterday, we took a look at The Born Losers, the first film to ever feature the character of future U.S. Senator Billy Jack. The Born Losers ended with former Green Beret-turned-gun-toting-pacifist Billy Jack (played, of course, by Tom Laughlin) saving the girl, killing the bad guy, and getting shot in the back by the police. As Born Losers ended, we were left to wonder whether Billy would survive his wounds or would he just be another victim of the establishment.
Well, audiences had to wait five years to find out.
When Laughlin returned to the role in 1971’s Billy Jack, it was revealed that not only had Billy Jack lived but he was now residing in a cave with his wise Native American grandfather. Billy still had little use for civilization but he would occasionally emerge from his cave. Sometimes, it was to protect wild mustangs from being hunted the evil Old Man Posner (Bert Freed) and his sociopathic son Bernard (David Roya). Other times, it was to protect the Freedom School and, even more importantly, the Freedom School’s founder, Jean (played by Laughlin’s wife, Delores Taylor).
The local townspeople viewed the Freedom School with suspicion and whenever the students went into town, they would be harassed by Bernard and his friends. Fortunately, the students could always count on Billy to show up, say a few angry words, and then lose control. Billy may have been a liberal but he was no pacifist. Jean, however, fully embraced nonviolence and she always made it clear that she wasn’t comfortable with Billy providing her kids with a violent example.
Finally, both Jean and Billy’s convictions were put to the test. First off, the bigoted townspeople tried to close the school. Then, Jean was raped by Bernard. And finally, Billy found himself barricaded in an old mission, surrounded by police and national guardsmen. Even as Jean pleaded with Billy to lay down his weapons and to peacefully surrender, Billy made it clear that he was willing to die for his beliefs.
And, as the film ended, you would never guess that Billy Jack would eventually become a member of the U.S. Senate. But, in just a few years, that’s exactly what would happen in Billy Jack Goes To Washington!
Now, of course, Billy Jack is ultimately a product of its time and that’s both a blessing and a curse. To be honest, if anything could transform me from being the socially liberal, economically conservative girl that you all know and love into a card-carrying right-wing extremist, it would be having to spend any time with the students at the Freedom School. They are all so smugly convinced of their own moral superiority that the townspeople almost start to look good by default. Whether they’re attending improv class or disrupting a meeting at town hall, the majority of the students come across like a bunch of rich kids from the suburbs, playing hippy and slumming by hanging out with poor minorities. As you watch them, it’s difficult not to suspect that most of them are going to get bored with rebelling after a year or two and eventually end up growing up to be just like their parents.
Fortunately, the film is saved by the pure sincerity of Laughlin and Taylor. For all the attention that the film gets for the scenes of Billy Jack beating people up, the most compelling scenes are the ones where Jean and Billy Jack debate nonviolence. There’s an honesty and a passion to these scenes, one that proves that Laughlin and Taylor, as opposed to so many other self-styled counterculture filmmakers, were actually serious about their beliefs. Billy Jack is an essential film, not only as a time capsule of the era in which it was made but also as one of the few films to actually make a legitimate attempt to explore what it truly means to embrace nonviolence.
Billy Jack is also a historically important film. When American Independent Pictures withdrew from the production, Laughlin took Billy Jack to 20th Century Fox. When 20th Century Fox looked at the completed film and did not know how to market it, Laughlin distributed the film himself, without the support of a major studio. And, despite what all of the naysayers may have predicted, Billy Jack was a huge hit.
And every indie filmmaker since owes a huge debt of gratitude to Tom Laughlin.
If you ever find yourself on the campus of the University of North Texas and you need to kill some time, stop by the UNT Library, go up to the second floor, find the biographies, and track down a copy of Peter Manso’s Mailer: His Life and Times.
Back in December of 2007, at a time when I really should have been studying for my finals, I spent an entire afternoon in the library reading Manso’s book. I didn’t know much about Norman Mailer, the Pulitzer prize-winning writer and occasional political candidate, beyond the fact that he died that previous November and that a lot of older people who I respected apparently thought highly of his work. Though Manso’s book had been written 20 years earlier, it still provided an interesting portrait of the controversial author. It was largely an oral history, full of interviews with people who had known Mailer over the years. As I skimmed the book, it quickly became apparent that, among other things, Mailer was a larger-than-life figure.
For me, the book was at its most interesting when it dealt with Mailer’s attempts to be a filmmaker. In the 1960s, Mailer directed three movies. All three of them also starred Norman Mailer and featured his friends in supporting roles. All three of them were largely improvised. And, when released into theaters, all three of them were greeted with derision.
Maidstone, Mailer’s 3rd film, was filmed in 1970. In the film, Mailer played Norman Kingsley, an avante garde film director who is running for President. Over the course of one weekend, while also working on a movie about a brothel, Norman meets with potential supporters and debates the issues. And, of course, shadowy figures plot to assassinate Norman, not so much because they don’t want him to be President as much as they want him to be a martyr for their vaguely defined cause.
Just based on what I read in Manso’s book, it’s hard not to feel that the making of Maidstone could itself be the basis of a good movie. Mailer essentially invited all of his friends to his estate and they spent 5 days filming, with no script. It was five days of drinking, drugs, and bad feelings.
At one point, actor and painter Herve Villechaize (who would later play Knick Knack in The Man With The Golden Gun) got so drunk and obnoxious that he was picked up by actor Rip Torn and literally tossed over a fence. The unconscious Villechaize ended up floating face down in a neighbor’s pool. After fishing Villechaize out of the pool, the neighbor tossed him back over the fence and shouted, “Norman, come get your dwarf!”
Eventually, after five days, filming fell apart. Some members of the cast were okay with that. And one most definitely was not..
Fortunately, Maidstone is currently available on YouTube so I watched it last night. Unfortunately, the film itself is never as interesting as the stories about what went on behind the cameras. Maidstone is essentially scene after scene of people talking and the effectiveness of each scene depends on who is in it. For instance, Norman’s half-brother is played by Rip Torn, a professional actor with a big personality. The scenes with Torn are interesting to watch because Rip Torn is always interesting to watch. However, other scenes feature people who were clearly cast because they happened to be visiting the set on that particular day. And these scenes are boring because, quite frankly, most people are boring.
And then you’ve got Norman Mailer himself. For an acclaimed writer who was apparently quite a celebrity back in the day, it’s amazing just how little screen presence Norman Mailer had as an actor. Preening for the camera, standing around shirtless and showing off his hairy back along with his middle-aged man boobs, Mailer comes across as being more than a little pathetic. He’s at his worst whenever he tries to talk to a woman, giving off a vibe that’s somewhere between creepy uncle and super veiny soccer dad having a midlife crisis.
It’s an uneven film but, for the first half or so, it’s at least interesting as a time capsule. For those of us who want to know what rich intellectuals were like in the late 60s, Maidstone provides a service. However, during the second half of the film, it becomes obvious that Mailer got bored. Suddenly, all pretense towards telling an actual story are abandoned and the film becomes about Mailer asking his cast for their opinion about what they’ve filmed so far.
And then, during the final 15 minutes of the film, Norman Mailer decides to have the cameramen film him as he plays with his wife and children. This is apparently too much for Rip Torn who, after spending an eternity glaring at Mailer and undoubtedly thinking about everything he could have been doing during those five day if he hadn’t been filming Maidstone, walks up to Mailer, says, “You must die, Kingsley,” and then hits Mailer on the head with a hammer.
This, of course, leads to a long wrestling match between Mailer and Torn and, as the cameras roll, blood is spilled and insults are exchanged. There’s a lot of differing opinions about whether this final fight was spontaneous or staged. Having seen the footage, I get the impression that Mailer was caught off guard but that Torn probably let the cameraman know what he was going to do ahead of time.
Regardless, it’s hard to deny that the pride of Temple, Texas, Elmore “Rip” Torn, appears to be the one who came out on top. After the fight, Mailer and Torn have a lengthy argument that amounts to Rip saying that he had to do it because it was the only way that the film would make sense while Mailer replies with some of the least imaginative insults ever lobbed by a Pulitzer winner.
(So basically, Rip Torn won both the physical and the verbal rounds of the fight.)
Anyway, you can watch the entire Rip Torn/Norman Mailer confrontation below.
Now, while the fight is really the only must-see part of Maidstone, it still has considerable value as a time capsule of the time when it was made. You can watch it below!