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Q & A    Archive
Page 63

Name: Michael
E-mail:

Dear Josh,

About recent films, I don't know if you've checked out "Requiem For a Dream" from Darren Aronofsky, the writer/director of "Pi". I am not entirely sure you would like it. I sure did. You should check it out regardless. I really did think it was an interesting but exploitive film.

Another film that you should check out, "Killing Zoe", written and directed by Roger Avary, co-writer of "Pulp Fiction". It isn't a recent film, but I found it to be enticing. I believe it came out 1994. It has a terrific screenplay that I often like.

Continuing this sci-fi debate, "Dark City" and "Twelve Monkeys" could be considered science fiction films for adults. I thought of them to be. Don't get me wrong, I hated the two. But they do seem like they are mature science fiction films rather than the science fiction/fantasy elements for kids.

Dear Michael:

But I thought this sci-fi discussion was about coming up with a film since "A Clockwork Orange" that was as good as it, as well as being for adults? Naming films you think are crappy doesn't mean anything. And, I'm sorry, but I didn't care at all for "Killing Zoe." It seemed like a stupid, unbelievable caper attempted by a bunch of drugged-out knuckleheads.

Josh

Name: Ed
E-mail: ednewman5@hotmail.com

Dear Josh,

I'm not sure about the whole "one-gimme rule". If you look at ''E.T.'', the one-gimme rule is that an extraterrestrial could land in your garden and befriend you. However, the second big suspension of disbelief that works very well
is the concept that an extraterrestrial could make your bike fly over the moon. Everybody believes that, right?

Also, ''Bladerunner, the directors cut'' does not boil down to a fight between man and robot, but the question: can a relationship develope between a man and a robot the way it does between ordinary people?
The relationship between Ford and Young also complicates his quest to kill the replicants, since she herself is a replicant that he aims to protect by the tales end. These contradictions are the things that make ''Bladerunner'' the greatest of all sci fi movies. On top of that, the photohraphy and production design make it a great work of art.

Ed

Dear Ed:

And Harrison Ford is really Laurence Olivier. All this "Bladerunner" talk makes me want to go to sleep. And by the time kids are flying on their bikes past the moon in "E.T." I was also ready to take a nap. I think it's a perfect example of the one-gimme rule. By the time E.T. begins performing a magic routine, that film's a dead duck.

Josh

Name: Jeff
E-mail: wonkyj@aol.com

Hey Josh,

A couple things,

1) In view of the 3 act structure, how have classic movies like Ben-Hur broke for intermission? End of Act one? Middle of Act 2? And how would you do it, if you had a movie that actually needed to be that long?

2)Someone previously was talking about how movies were made at the beginning of sound. I'd recommend seeing "Singing in the Rain" Not only is it a great movie, it also shows some of the growing pains they went through to make the first "talkies"

3) Have you seen last year's "Moulin Rouge"? And if so, what did you think?

Thanks for the site!

Dear Jeff:

1. The intermission (or entr'acte) falls at the end of act two, that way the audience has already sat through the bulk of the film and only has to return for act three. Sadly, there hasn't been an intermission in a film in about thirty years.
2. Yes, "Singing in the Rain" is an amusing version of the beginning of sound, but that wasn't what that question was about. It was more about why films suddenly became so prudish soon after sound came in, which was due to the Hayes code.
3. I saw part of "Moulin Rouge" on pay-per-view and had to stop because it was so bloody awful. If it's supposed to be 1890s France, why on earth were they singing "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" from the 1953 film "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"? It's like a giant stupid music video.

Josh

Name: Anthony Rayner
E-mail: 72016.2651@compuserve.com

Josh ! Ignore previous idiotic message about "Intruder " ( I thought you were the 'Bread man' when it was ,of course, Scott Spiegel ...Enjoyed 'Thou shalt not kill...except' on DVD immensely ! Now retreating back to my cave !
Best,
Anthony

Dear Anthony:

That's okay, many people confuse me for a bread delivery man. Have fun in your cave.

Josh

Name: August
E-mail: joxerfan@hotmail.com

Dear Josh:

Yesterday was Angela Dotchin's 28th birthday. Any memories or stories of working with her?

And on the continuing sci-fi discussion....

I sort of went by your initial definition of "adult" sci-fi movie. To me, that would necessitate some sort of progressive message or prediction or lesson or commentary. So I too loved "Road Warrior," but didn't see any vision of the future or lesson for us all. As opposed to "Blade Runner." And of course I concede all your points on its flaws, but I do think it had (or tried to have) something to say on genetic engineering and on the way our society is heading. Same for "Clockwork Orange" - minimal science involved there, but a very pointed social statement.

"Gattaca" in my opinion very consciously set out to be a sci-fi film, but bored the living daylights out of me; I lost interest 20 minutes into it. Haven't seen "Phase IV" though - was that the film about the ants?

To me, "RoboCop" and "Westworld" fell into the same category as "Star Wars" - fun kids' movies. Like you, I was expecting a huge renaissance of science fiction in the late '70's, but enjoyed "Alien" as a fair horror movie in a sci-fi setting, the sequel as a well-done G.I. combat movie, "The Terminator" as a well done action movie, etc. And I loved "Silent Running" at 12, haven't seen it since, remember it as a simple political statement augmented by good special effects, and suspect it would be very dated now. (Didn't it pre-date "Orange" by a year or two, though?)

So if we want to add thrillers or other genre films that use a sci-fi setting, I'll toss "Outland" into the mix. Nothing more than a remake of "High Noon," but I thought the details of airlocks, video-phones, movement in zero-g, etc. were all worked out very believably, as was the vision of a near future replete with corporate skullduggery and strip shows on remote space stations.

Regards,

August

Dear August:

My main memory of Ang Dotchin is that she's a total babe, upbeat, fun to work with, and a pro. I could fall for her in a nano-second. Regarding "Silent Running," it came out the year after "Clockwork Orange." The only sci-fi film I recall coming out between "2001" and "Clockwork" was "Marooned," which is the precursor to "Apollo 13" (three astronauts stuck ina spaceship the whole film. "Outland's" main problem is that it's just plain old stupid. "High Noon" in space may have made a good high-concept pitch, but the results were dull and dismal (Peter "Timecop" Hyams is a hack). So far, the only title for me that's holding any water is "Phase IV," and I don't think it's nearly as good as "Clockwork Orange."

Josh

Name: Michael
E-mail:

Dear Josh,

1) What do you think of "Ronin"? I would be interested to hear what you have to say about it. John Frankenheimer directed it. He did a great job with "Black Sunday", which is probably one of the most underrated acting film. I really enjoyed that.

1) Oh and about this science fiction discussion. What about "Pitch Black"? I wasn't sure about naming that because it seems as if it is geared to children as well as adults.

Dear Michael:

I haven't seen "Pitch Black," but it sure doesn't sound like a very intelligent film. Since all of you sons of guns keep throwing these recent titles at me I haven't seen, I actually signed up with Netflix and ordered some of them. I'll put that one of the list, too. Meanwhile, I thought "Ronin" was a generic bore. I don't have much repect for "Black Sunday," either, although I do like the very beginning with the chase scene through Miami Beach. Robert Shaw was an absurd choice for an Israeli agent. However, Mr. Frankenheimer had a great run of films between 1961-1966, with: "The Manchurian Candidate," "The Birdman of Alcatraz," "Seven Days in May," "The Train," and "Seconds." He fell apart right after that, and I don't think he's ever gotten it back together again. Crap like "Ronin" and "Reindeer Games" looks like it was stamped out by a machine.

Josh

Name: Chopped Nuts
E-mail: danjfox@rogers.com

Dear Josh:

You don't think Pi qualifies? Do you mean it isn't sci-fi enough? It didn't have a lot of whiz and zap to it of course, but a major point of it was the main guy attaining the super-chip so he could further his project. And it had a strong message of "Careful what you wish for you may just get it." Having to drill a hole in your head to get God out is a lean towards the fantasy side of things I think. :)

On a completely different note is it all right with you to discuss your screenplays here? I read Cycles and have a couple of questions.

P.S. I hate using smileys but man I read my stuff before I post it and I always sound like a complete snot. So, um... :)

Bye!

Dear Dan:

Apparently I frequently sound like a complete snot, too, so what the hell. And if you can discuss my scripts here, where can you? I still don't accept "Pi" as a sci-fi film. It has some fantasy concepts, like the super-chip to figure out the stock market, or the Orthodox Jews believing that there's a number that represents the name of God, but it never really says these things happen. And drilling a hole in your head isn't fantasy or sci-fi, it's just crazy, and any crazy person can do it. The only possible sci-fi element is him using some sort of goo as a computer chip. I really do like that film, and it proves you can make an intelligent, interesting, visual film for peanuts, if you have a story to tell and a vision.

Josh

Name: Rob
E-mail: robk98@hotmail.com

Mr. Becker,

Love the site! I have a question as a reuslt of reading your film reviews. What mainstream films of the past year, or decade for that matter, have you enjoyed? Or do you just generally resent films that a lot of people see?

Rob.

Dear Rob:

I don't resent films that a lot of people see. Some of my very favorite films were exceedingly popular, like "The Bridge on the River Kwai," which was the biggest money-maker of its year. I just don't think they're making very good movies anymore. Hollywood decided somewhere around 1977 with the release of "Star Wars," that all movies had to appeal to the largest common denominator, meaning they all had to be for kids. I did just see an interesting movie, however, "The Believer," which took the grand prize at Sundance last year and still couldn't get a theatrical release. Instead, they release "Dude, Where's My Car?"

Josh

Name: Tom
E-mail:

Yo Josh!

Got three qz for ya:
1. Who was Rob Field and what did he ask for?

2. What do you think of heart-warming films, such as BABE and 101 DALMATIONS? LOL

3. What are you doing at the moment? Just taking it easy? Lucky git!

Dear Tom:

1. Rob Field was one of editors on "Xena," but I don't know what you're referring to about him asking for something.
2. I liked the original animated "101 Dalmations," but I didn't bother with the remake. "Babe" bugged me, and I think it was poorly written. I hated "Shrek." Quite frankly, I don't give a crap about kid's films. It too me 43 years to get to this age, and unlike Spielberg and Lucas, I'm not harboring a small child inside me. I like stories for adults, and I've prefered them since I was about 12 years old.
3. I'm busily writing "The Complete Guide to Low-Budget Filmmaking," and I've got about 300 pages I'm rewriting. I have a few other irons in the fire, too.

Josh

Name: Ed
E-mail: ednewman5@hotmail.com

Dear Josh,

You say that ''Bladerunner'' is illogical, but aren't sci fi movies about suspension of disbelief?

Also, the theory that Ford is a replicant explains his sensetivity towards the Sean Young character, and underscores the theme of mortality than runs through the film.

Ed

Dear Ed:

No, I disagree. The suspension of disbelief is another way of expressing the one-gimme rule, where in any story the audience will happily suspend their disbelief once, which, in the case of "Bladerunner," means we're all willing to accept an over-crowded future where replicants -- robot workers with super-human strength designed for labor on other planets -- now live among the humans. There's the suspension of disbelief, meaning I'm suspending the rules of reality and accepting the rules of this new world. Now it's the filmmaker's job to stick to those rules. If you want me to believe that replicants can lift 100-ton boulders on Mars, then humans have no chance of fighting them, which is what the whole movie comes down to. I still think the Deckard-is-a-replicant is a lame rationale after the fact. It's also just a plain old weak detective story, and Deckard is a dull character.

Josh

Name: Dustin
E-mail: dustglas@hotmail.com

Dear Josh:

i watched "Phase IV" about five years ago and enjoyed it. i can't get ahold of it anymore since hollywood video took over the old videowatch, and many great titles like that were taken away. refresh my memory on what you thought of the film.

Dear Dustin:

I've seen "Phase IV" about six times. I think it's visually pretty astounding. It's the only feature film ever directed by the brilliant title designer, Saul Bass. Ants have begun acting strangely out in the Arizona desert, different species grouping together which they've never done before, and two scientists set up a lab, and begin studying them. They use a variety of insecticides, which the ants become immune to immediately. There's a brilliant sequence of ants -- and these are all real ants, no effects -- carrying a hunk of a new yellow insecticide down the ant tunnels. Each ant that carries it is killed, then the yellow stuff is picked up by another ant, taken a ways, then it dies, until it reaches the queen, who eats it, then begins spewing out yellow baby ants that are now immune to the yellow insecticide.
Very cool stuff.

Josh

Name: Anthony Rayner
E-mail: 72016.2651@compuserve.com

Josh ~ why didn't you mention Intruder in your resume???? It came out uncut in Honk Kong & Japan but was emaciated in the UK. Surely it deserves a DVD release - did anybody keep out takes or think to do some behind the scenes stuff ??? Think I'll e mail anchor bay's suggestions page !!!
Best Wishes,
Tony Rayner

Dear Tony:

Why would I mention it? I haven't got anything to do with it. I did work on the super-8 pilot version called "Nightcrew."

Josh

Name: S.C.
E-mail: scornett@yahoo.com

Dear Dr. Becker,

Hi. I just read the brief discussion of Romero in the Q and A section of your website. You said "The Crazies" was the only film by him that you haven't seen. I haven't seen it, either, but I'm curious, now. What do you think of him, in general? I like some of his earlier films (to some degree), but have a problem with his later stuff. Have you seen "Bruiser"? God, I thought that was DUMB. I haven't seen "Monkey Shines", but I'm a little curious after hearing your one sentence, semi-endorsment of it.

I enjoyed the first two "Dead" films (for different reasons), and remember thinking "Martin" was interesting (although a little slowly paced)... but it was probably a decade ago when I saw it.

Anyhow, I really was just hoping for an interesting overview on your take of Romero.

Thanks,

S.C.

P.S. Did you see "Amelie", and if so, did you like it?

Dear S.C.:

No, I haven't seen "Amelie" yet. I think "Night of the Living Dead" was an important film in its day, and it scared the hell out of me when I first saw it on its initial release in 1970. The other "Dead" movies bored the living piss out of me (I fell asleep in the theater watching "Dawn"). I think there's a good idea lurking in "Martin," but it's very poorly realized. Once again, though, "Mokey Shines" isn't bad. All in all, other then "Night," I don't really give a damn about any of Romero's films. I met him and spoke with him for a while at a party last year, and he couldn't have been nicer. He's also about 6' 5".

Josh

Name: Chopped Nuts
E-mail: danjfox@rogers.com

Dear Josh:

Yes you can call me Dan, but that's so boring. How many times can you use, "Hey, I just e-mailed chopped nuts" in a conversation?

I have to disagree with Will (I think it was Will) about Romero's The Crazies. As far as I can remember if the message was in there it was totally obscured by the movie itself. The film reminded me of a bad student project: bad dialogue, horrendous acting, and so on.

Er... did anyone mention Pi yet?

Dear Dan:

I don't think anyone has in regard to sci-fi films, and I'm not sure it really qualifies. I will say that it's a much better film than "A Beautiful Mind."
I haven't heard any responses to my suggestion of "Phase 4."

Josh

Name: pedro
E-mail: psurf@hotmail.com

Dear Josh:

how bout the first half of enemy mine? it fell apart with him dying and coming back to life stuff but it was before wolfgang peterson started racking out crap. or maybe it was the beginning. we watched it last night on your beloved AMC.

Dear Pedro:

It's not my beloved AMC, since they now have commercials. I don't think any part of "Enemy Mine" is adult fare, it's simply a sci-fi version of "Robinson Crusoe," and it was done better with "Robison Crusoe on Mars."

Josh

Name: Godmil
E-mail: godmil@xenafan.com

Dear Josh,

I just discovered your site, thought I've been a big fan of your TV work for years. I'm dying to get a hold of Lunatics (but it's not available here in Scotland :(

I was just reading through your Film Review section and I nearly pissed myself laughing. It's sooo refreshing to see someone with the courage to lay into crap (but critically acclaimed) films. I'm particularly impressed that you took a shot at Schindler's List.

I'm so curious as to where you stand on the work of (one of my other fav directors) David Lynch. Particularly Mulholland Dr, Eraserhead, and Fire Walk With Me.

Dear Godmil:

I thought Lynch was realy on the ball there for a while, with "Eraserhead," "Elephant Man," and "Blue Velvet" (skipping "Dune"), but since then I think he's gone straight down the crapper. All he seems to have left is his lame attempts at trying to imitate his earlier work.

Josh

Name: John
E-mail: chowkidar@aol.com

Josh,

Two cents for the sci-fi challenge. You list "The Andromeda Strain" on your list of films you actively like. "Andromeda" is clearly adult sci-fi, is still relevant, or perhaps even more so, and I don't recall it taking obvious shortcuts, though it's been a while. Maybe not better than "ACO", but certainly a challenger. What do you think? Thanks.

John

Dear John:

Yes, I do agree. "The Andromeda Strain" is an adult sci-fi film, unlike every other example we've all come up with. It's not in the same league as ACO, but it's a good example.

Josh

Name: Steve Goins
E-mail: steve007steven@msn.com

Mr. Becker

I was hopeing to get an autographed photo or card from you. I am a huge fan of alot of your work. Is there an address I can write and send an SASE to?

Thank you
Very Sincerely
Your Fan

Steve Goins

Dear Steve:

Thanks. Yes, you can write to Shirley and she'll forward it to me.

Josh

 

Dear Steve,

Just send it to:
Shirley Robbins LeVasseur
c/o P.O. Box 86
East Vassalboro, ME 04935

Name: D. Huffman
E-mail: L5g@excite.com

Dear Josh:

I guess I sould throw Robocop out there for the whole intelligent sci-fi debate. It did make use of satirizing Reganism, with corporations running everything, and showing how to make a quick buck by mass producing poor quality products for cheap, as with the ED209. And with Robocop himself being a Christ figure, rising from the dead and walking on water, though I never realized that point until some one else mentioned it.

Dear D.:

I like "Robocop," and I do think it's kind of bright, but not that bright. When everything is said and done, it's mainly about firing guns. Still, it's Paul Verhoven's best American movie by far. Since no one has mentioned it, my vote would go to "The Road Warrior," which I also think isn't as intelligent as ACO, and is ultimately about car chases, but it works like gangbusters.

Josh

Name: Ed
E-mail: ednewman5@hotmail.com

Dear Josh,

I've got a film that's just as intelligent, and just as artistically accomplished, (if not more so), as ''A Clockwork Orange'', that was made in the sci fi genre: ''Strange Days''. And made by a woman, too!

A highly intelligent sci fi film, eh?

Ed

Dear Ed:

Sorry, I'm not going there with you, buddy. That was a weary old idea long before they made "Strange Days," and Ralph Fiennes just bores me. Not only is it not in the league of ACO, it's not in the same league any of Kubrick's films, including his worst. I think it's Kathryn Bigelow's worst film so far, too.

Josh

Name: Diana again
E-mail:

Dear Josh:

That'd be my online album for Mosquito I think that person is looking for.

I should mention that if anyone wants to keep any of those, they should save them now, because I had some of my other album pictures confiscated from the meanies at Lycos, for "remote loading" them. So please don't link directly from my album anymore if you're using them on the net. Please save them on your own system first. Thanks.

BTW- I'm so flabbergasted by your take on Blade Runner!
Oiy, is it possible two things influencing your opinion are that the genre isn't your favorite, and that you find Harrison Ford bland?
Does the surprise-end idea that Deckard might be a replicant after all put more credence in his surviving the fights?

Dear Diana:

I think the Deckard-is-a-replicant explanation is a rationale to try and make sense of a completely illogical story. If he was a replicant, why was he letting the others beat the snot out of him and never picked them up and threw them across the room? And yes, Harrison Ford is bland.

Josh

Name: Will
E-mail: wdodson52@hotmail.com

Dear Josh:

Yes, I've seen The Killing. Kubrick, actually, is one of my big favorites in terms of directing, but you hit the nail on the head with your assesment of his editing scenes based on the music. It worked for 2001, and worked for most of Clockwork O., but I think his command of pacing went to the toilet after 2001 exactly because of his editing for music. In The Killing, and even the less-good-but-still-interesting Killer's Kiss, he was using library music and pacing for the action, for better results. While I still enjoy his later work (even more than his early b's), I just think the pacing sucks.

Cemetery Man is great, it really is. The story structure is a strong three-act despite its at times confusing surrealistic touches. The surrealism is integral to the theme and story though, so I found it was worth it to rewind for the parts that stumped me at first. Easy to follow once you get going.

It's a sad day to lose Wilder. The Apartment will always be in my top 5 fave films. Lemmon was never better, nor MacLaine, and MacMurray gave his best performance next to Double Indemnity in my opinion.

So an intelligent sci-fi movie popped into my head: The Crazies, by George Romero. One of his lesser known flicks, it's slightly hampered by low budget and amateurish acting. But in it he takes the themes of inter-societal alienation and bureaucratic hypocrisy that he touched on kind of clumsily in Night of the Living Dead and fully realizes his take in this story. It's very good, and other than budget and technical proficiency, I'd stack it up with Clockwork O.

Dear Will:

Oh, great, that's the only Romero film I've never seen. I just saw "Monkeyshines" again, though, and it's kind of a creepy movie. The idea that anything by Romero compares to just about anything by Kubrick seems to difficult to accept, but okay.

Josh

Name: Diana Hawkes
E-mail: upon request

Dear Josh:

The reason no one has responded to your Sci/Fi challenge is that you've stumped us once again!
You'll be proud though, that it inspired me to do some homework.
(I just learned that, because of the copy-cat violence that the film was blamed for, Kubrick withdrew it from circulation in Britain a year after its release.)

While I don't think anything has been a *MORE* intelligent, adult-oriented Sci/Fi film made since then, I do have a few personal choices that maybe approach the general caliber of A Clockwork Orange {ACO}.

"Gattaca", a more recent film. Now don't roll your eyes, bear with me here. I know I have to make my case with you:

ACO seems to ask:
How can evil be eradicated in modern society?
Gattaca asks:
How can inferiority be eradicated?
In the same way ACO explores taking away free will,
Gattaca explores taking away human aspirations.
In other words,
There is no triumph when success is predictable.
The quest to make a better society has destroyed individuality.

The theme of loneliness is present everywhere in the film, and I noticed (and loved) how quiet, for lack of a better word, it all came across, even when Jude Law's character was ranting. I don't know how to explain it, but in every little scene, it got across to me the profound loneliness/isolation that was a result of the genetic hierarchy/discrimination of this futuristic society. Even his suicide scene was well, it was *quiet*.

The problem it presents is a future that has quietly perverted our --very real, present day-- scientific reasons for conquering the understanding of genes.
Gattaca shows us the results of "blurring of the line between "health" and enhancement." Designer children--Good powerful stuff.

I enjoyed the performances of Uma Thurman, Ethan Hawke, and particularly Jude Law.
And it sure was nice to see Ernest Borgnine as the "in-valid" janitor.

Borgnine said of this film: "One of things I liked most about this story is that it is really about how we treat our fellow man. God knows we've seen discrimination in our world and unfortunately we seem to have forgotten how to love one another. Will we learn to treat one another kindly no matter a person's skin or beliefs or genetics, or will we find new ways to discriminate?"

That is what they indeed gave us, a future with a whole new breed of prejudice. That humanity through superb ultra-science didn't solve a lick of humanity's failings.
(One more thing--Gattaca also managed to weave in a good mystery and love story without tripping over itself, in my very fallible opinion, 'course.)

Quickly, my other offerings:
Westworld ('73)
Society's overindulgence in fantasy. I saw this on T.V. when I was about 14. Yul Bryner scared the ever lovin' piss out of me! Loved this film, though it had a kind of made-for-t.v. feel to it, eh.

Silent Running ('72)
One lone conservationist-at-heart self destructs. Again, *loneliness* was a theme they successfully explored I thought.

Alien ('79, '86-sequel)
Oh forget it! I could talk your ear off with all that I ADORE about this two'fer. Once I get started on this, there's no stopping me. Nobody I know will listen anymore to my waxing philosophically about Ripley! I inevitably do a comparison of the two to make my points. But another time, maybe. Gimme the green light and I'd make my case for it too. <heheh>

Oh my god! As I am writing this, I just heard that William Wyler passed away. Josh! Your thoughts?

Dear Diana:

Billy Wilder just passed away. William Wyler died in 1981. People often confused the two of them. They were also very good friends. All of your choices, Diana, are interesting, but none of them is as intelligent or as adult as "A Clockwork Orange," and it's not like that's one of my very favorite films, although I do like it a lot. "Gattaca" was okay, but it's detective story structure became wearisome, and it all seemed to drop dead before the end. "Westworld" was fun, but definitely kid's sci-fi (and almost the same story as "Jurassic Park"). "Silent Running" is an interesting, though simple-minded, failure with a funky, dated score, that makes the whole film seem painfully dated. I like both "Alien" and "Aliens," but neither is particularly intelligent, and they're both really just saturday afternoon horror films set in space, and both owe a lot to silly, 1950s sci-fi films like "It Came From Outer Space." I throw into this mix "Phase 4," which I like a lot, but still doesn't compare to "A Clockwork Orange."

Josh

Name: Benedict
E-mail: benedict@berneusdavin.com

Josh,

Have you found it necessary to be in regular contact with a lawyer throughout the production process?

Benedict

Dear Benedict:

I needed the help of a lawyer to put together the legal work, but that's it. Otherwise, I've had no use of a lawyer during a film production.

Josh

Name: August
E-mail: joxerfan@hotmail.com

Dear Josh,

OK, I'll bite. Has there been a more intelligent, adult-oriented sci-fi film since "Clockwork Orange?"

Yes and no. I read the novel in high school, and thoroughly fell in love with it. And got around to seeing the film some years later in a revival-house. By then, I'd seen 4 or 5 other Kubrick films, and so my first reaction was "Oh, looks like a Kubrick film." (These included the good - "2001" - the bad "Barry Lyndon" - and the ugly - "The Shining" - plus "Spartacus," which didn't look like a Kubrick film at all.) For me, the film was just sort of a filmed documentary re-creation of the novel, that was more or less successful, and livened up by Malcolm McDowell's awesome performance and Walter aka Wendy Carlos's score.

I understand what you mean about "adult" sci-fi films, as virtually all in recent years have been for kids. I myself look at them in the context of comic books, and they become much more palatable.

I submit "Blade Runner." While its theme (artificial human beings will have the same hopes and fears and obsessions as real ones) is not overly complex, and it's a simplistic plot extended to two hours (good guy tracks down rogue androids one by one as they try to find a meaning for their lives) it still was done with remarkable style and flair, I feel. I totally agree with you that style won't do it alone, but it does flesh out something that is at least adequate. (Which is why I like "Quick and the Dead," for example.) Little things, like the close-up of the artificial owl's eye, and the cop who inexplicably does does origami, and the whole-building video billboards with Japanese commercials, and the sultry Vangelis music, and the bird flying away when Rutger Hauer dies, and all those shadowy ceiling fans and Venetian blinds.... all that stays with me.

Is it a more intelligent film? Possibly not, as "Orange" really does address some serious issues. But as a piece of entertainment, I enjoy it ever so slightly more.

I suspect you hate "Blade Runer," but would be glad to hear your comments on it!

Thanks,

August

Dear August:

You are correct, I do not like "Blade Runner," which seemed to me to be a half-assed detective story, as well as a completely illogical sci-fi story. Deckard spends the entire movie battling replicants, that ought to be able to tear his head off immediately. He shouldn't have lived through the first fight with Brion James, let alone having his head twisted off by Darryl Hannah. By the time it got to the fight between he and Rutger Hauer, I couldn't have been more bored, it wouldn't have been possible. Yes, it's a nice production, but so what? That's just money as far as I'm concerned.

Josh

Name: Harley
E-mail:

Dear Josh:

Do you happen to know the minimum salary for a television writer? I sent out a resume and the interested party would like salary requirements. I honestly don't think I'll get the job, but you never fucking know.

Dear Harley:

It depends on what you're writing for TV. The minimums are different for the various forms, like 30-minute sit-coms, or one-hour dramas, or TV movies. Check with the Writer's Guild, they set the minimums.

Josh

Name: Chopped Nuts
E-mail: danjfox@rogers.com

Dear Josh:

Darryl Mesaros was talking about how the Hayes act led to some dancing around the subjects of sex and violence. Personally I think some of the results of this limited kind of writing turned out very entertaining and far more interesting than the dissolve-to-sex scenes we get now. Granted, t&a does now and always will make a buck, but the oysters and snails bit in Spartacus is something that sticks in everyone's head once they've seen it.

Dear Dan:

I agree that some restrictions only caused writers and filmmakers to make better use of their imaginations. But just because no one will do an interesting sex scene doesn't mean it can't be done. There's a great sex scene in "Five Easy Pieces" between Jack Nicholson and Sally (Ann) Struthers. I'm pretty proud of the sex scene in "Running Time," which I don't think is like all the others. Quite frankly, though, if I never see the standard movie sex scene of dissolving from flesh on flesh to flesh on flesh again, it will be too soon. And I must disagree, T&A certainly doesn't always sell, it just titillates distributors and foreign buyers.

Josh

Name: Darryl Mesaros
E-mail: simonferrer@hotmail.com

Dear Mr. Becker,

Thank you for answering my question regarding cinema in the silent era vs. the early sound era. I only used "He Who Gets Slapped" as an example of an interesting visual style, though. Watching the film for it's plot is an exercise in irritation. I can't watch it without wanting to reach into the set and smack Lon Chaney around for not having the balls to just shoot the rich patron who steals his theory. I guess the film does have a hold on the viewer, otherwise it wouldn't move me enough to make me mad.
Here's another strange thing that I've noticed about films (this also applies to literature): why is it that a movie seems to assume "classic" status as soon as it gets old? A film can be a plotless crowd-pleaser in 1928, yet become a jewel of the cinema after being locked in a collector's vault for sixty years or so. A case in point: Tell It To the Marines (another Lon Chaney vehicle; one of the few where he doesn't wear make-up or appliances). When it airs on TCM, Robert Osbourne (whom I won't say anything bad about; he appears to be one of the few sane people in Hollywood)praises the film as "classic Cheney" and mentions how the Marine Corps lauded the film during its original release; yet if you strip away the nostalgia and the thrill of seeing an old silent film (it really is like peeking through a window into another era), it is a fairly ordinary picture. The plot is a simple love triangle, set against the backdrop of the Marine Corps. It's only distinguishing feature is a great performance by Lon Cheney (during the film, he IS a Marine platoon sergeant. It is entirely believable). Yet it is now a "great" film in the eyes of critics. I only fear that this trend will lead to the ultimate nightmare: TITANIC airing on TCM in twenty years......

Yours truly,

Darryl Mesaros

Dear Darryl:

Lon Chaney was terrific when he was completely covered in make-up, like "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" or "Phantom of the Opera," but when he was just acting, he was awful. I recently watched "Ace of Hearts" and "The Unknown" and he's terrible in both of them. There's plenty of junk out there that's considered great and a "classic" that's really crap, that's why we all have to make up our own minds about good and bad. They may well give "A Beautiful Mind" Best Picture, but to me it's nothing more than a run-of-the-mill, fairly forgetable movie. Ultimately, the only person's assessment I really trust is my own.

Josh

Name: Jeff
E-mail: wonkyj@aol.com

Josh,

I really enjoy the site.

I just read that Billy Wilder died. Which is kind of odd since I was just about to send in a question about one of his films.

What do you think of his films and style? Personally I found them very well written, he really worked well with his writing partner.

Since James Cagney seems to be popping up in the conversation, have you seen his work with Wilder, One, Two, Three? I stumbled upon it and think it's a great cold war farce.

Thanks for putting out some smart film commentary.

Dear Jeff:

I think Billy Wilder was a wonderful filmmaker. He knew what a good story was, and wrote one for nearly every genre. I don't think he was one of the more visual directors around, but he sure knew how to write. I deeply love "Sunset Blvd." and "The Apartment." I like "One, Two, Three" a lot more as kid than I do now. The last time I saw it it really seemed like a whole lot of needless yelling, and Horst Buchholz and Pamela Tiffen both seemed kind of bad. Cagney's great, though.

Josh

Name: Ed
E-mail: ednewman@hotmail.com

Dear Josh,

You were asking if there has been a sci fi film as intelligent and adult oriented as A Clockwork Orange since its release.

What about John Carpenter's They Live??

Dear Ed:

Yeah, what about John Carpenter's "They Live"? Although, I do agree, there's an interesting idea lurking there, I'd have to assess the film as pretty dumb, and getting dumber each minute it progressed. I found it somewhat painful to sit through. That fight scene goes on FOREVER. I don't think that's even an intelligent film for little kids.

Josh

Name: Stacy
E-mail: stacy_c@hotmail.com

Dear Josh:

can u tell me on which of the archived pages is there a link to nude screencaps of you from a movie?

Dear Stacy:

Good God, I don't know. Maybe Shirley does?

Josh

 

Dear Stacy,

If by "nude" you mean "wearing short pants without a shirt," then I assume you are referring to the link which appears on archive page 46.

Shirley

Name: Tom
E-mail:

Dear Josh:

I hope you don't think this is a stupid question... but I was wondering what you call that particular type of camera shot... when say you've got two police walking down the street and then the camera sort of whooshes away from them so fast that all you see is like the background behind a flying chakram and then woopedy doo, the camera stops... and there are the robbers strolling away with a big sack of money! If you managed to understand that, could you tell me how that shot is achieved! Hold on, lemme explain the shot again... I don't think I did a good job... ok
The camera is at one point... it then whooshes or pans away so fast that you only see a blurry menargerie of images, it then stops at a different point- say another 4 miles away from the first shot or even the other end of town!

Dear Tom:

That's called a swish pan or a whip pan, where the cameraman pans as fast as he can and blurs the picture. I used this technique several times in "Running Time" to hide cuts.

Josh

Name: Kim Jackson
E-mail: jaxonian@earthlink.net

Hi, Josh,

I really like your site, especially this Q & A geek hangout. I'm really hoping you get "Hammer" released and SOON!
I disagree with your contention that Magnolia is too long. I think its point is that all people are part of a web and our actions, no matter how seemingly insignifcant, directly affect others. To illustrate that, there are many lead characters as opposed to one or two stars with supporting cast. This would require a long script, in my opinion. My butt didn't burn at all and I was even hoping for more at the end.
As for adult-oriented sci-fi film? I generally avoid sci fi, but recently I saw Abre Tus Ojos (Open Your Eyes). Vanilla Sky is its American remake. I think it is a very good film and addresses the "future" in an intelligent way. I have no idea about the American version though. After The Vanishing, I don't think I would ever see an American remake of a European movie again.
Thanks for your time,
Kim

Dear Kim:

"Open Your Eyes" couldn't have gotten a worse review, but I'll keep my eyes open for that, too. A lot of people liked "Magnolia, but I sure can't understand why. I really do think it represents everything wrong with contemporary cinema, and is a terrible, rotten screenplay. Just saying that there's a coincidental connection between all of the characters does not equal a story. By the fifth time it cut back to Tom Cruise (or anyone else) and he's spewing the same meaningless nonsense he was four times before, I was ready to scream, and that probably wasn't an hour in. Frogs falling from the sky wins, for me, as the most assinine ending on any picture ever. It makes the revelation of "Zardoz" being "Wizard of Oz" seem like it was written by Eugene O'Neil.

Josh

Name: Will
E-mail: wdodson52@hotmail.com

Dear Josh:

Thanks for your comments on White Heat.

As for your Clockwork Orange question,"has there been a more intelligent, adult-oriented sci fi film since then?".......:

If you don't mind lumping fantasy/horror in with sci fi, I would say Michele Soavi's "Cemetery Man" (aka Dellamorte Dellamore).....it's fantastic. I believe a long time back I claimed it was a four star movie, to which you retorted that the idea of a zombie movie being a classic was ludicrous. That may be, but the film is light years beyond the social satire of Romero's films and a very intelligent examination of the nature of reality and consciousness under a thin veneer of monster movie convention.

Other than that, stretching the question, no. I don't think Clockwork Orange has been topped in terms of intelligence. It is too bad that Kubrick wasn't very good and editing for pacing. Orange could have been much better.

Dear Will:

Okay, my eyes are peeled for "Cemetery Man." It's interesting you level that charge at Kubrick, which I think many folks out there might argue with you about, but I won't. Kubrick's pacing was pretty good, I think, from "The Killing" through "Dr. Strangelove," which was most of his movies, but once he got to "2001," he began editing his picture to classical music, and would let scenes hang there for as long as the music ran. The music scores the picture, the picture doesn't conform to the music, at least in my opinion. Nevertheless, if you haven't seen "The Killing," you ought to. It's really about as good as B movies ever got in Hollywood.

Josh

Name: Eric Rosenthal
E-mail: eric3020@hotmail.com

Hi Josh,

Regarding Clockwork Orange, I always thought the theme was: Does society have the right to take away a person's free will for the greater good? It's such a cool movie, I really like the use of music with Beethoven's ninth and Singing in the rain.

I'm happy to hear that you're working on a book on filmmaking. I've read other books on screenwriting which explain the 3 act structure; but there are things in your essays that I haven't read about in other places such as irony, theme, and picking the correct main character.

One thing I've seen in recent movies (Such as Crouching Tiger and AI) that bothers me is when characters spout off something philosophical that sounds deep but has nothing to do with the movie storyline, and reviewers assume the movie is profound.
Anyways instead of bitching about crummy movies, I'm trying to watch more classics. I saw Chinatown and Casablanca recently, both were teriffic.

Eric

Dear Eric:

I'm glad someone else responded to that letter about "A Clockwork Orange" being dull and pointless. I feel like it's been so long since there has been a film with a strong theme and a point that younger viewers don't even know what they're looking at when they're seeing it. And no one responded to my query, has there been a more intelligent, adult-oriented sci-fi film since than?

Josh

Name: Ryan Doom
E-mail: cwo655321@yahoo.com

Hello Josh

I recently bought Running Time here in Wichita, KS. I must say it is a great film and your technique is just as good as Hitchcock's. Anyway, I have 4 questions for you.
1) I'm trying to break into screenwriting. What's my best chance for selling a script.
2)I'd like to start experimenting with film. Should I go film or digital? And what would be the camera of choice?
3) I'm not sure how to raise funds for a movie. Do I ask random people, or go to a distributor?
4) Where can I get some more of your movies? TSNK isn't exactly shelved in KS.

Thanks

Ryan

Dear Ryan:

Ryan Doom sounds like the evil arch-criminal in a super-hero comic.
Anyway . . .
#1. The best way to sell a script would be to write something that everyone in Hollywood thinks is brilliant and a sure-fire money-maker, then get it to a decent agent, which I'm not sure there are any of.
#2. Certainly DV would be easier to deal with now, but I'm still a fan of film. If you're going to shoot DV, you need to get your hands on a good, three-chip camera since the little home models haven't got very high resolution. DV is fine for documentaries or short subjects, but is still inappropraite and impractical for feature films, if you want to try and sell them and get your money back, that is.
#3. A distributor won't give you money, they don't finance films, they distribute them. You need to go to every person you've ever met in your whole life that seems like thay have some money. The best bets are relatives and friends because you can use guilt on them and try to make them feel bad for not helping you.
#4. Try Amazon or any other place that sells DVDs on the internet.

Good luck.

Josh

Name: Darryl Mesaros
E-mail: simonferrer@hotmail.com

Dear Mr. Becker,

I just wanted to say that I agree with your opinion of current film (just about the only channel on television that I watch is TCM - no small feat when you consider that my landlady has digital cable). While hampered a bit by the Hays code, most of the older films seem to me to have more life to them than any of the shlock turned out by the movie factories today. It is ironic that movies nowadays seem more like stamped-out, machine-produced, paint-by-the-numbers products than their predecessors from the studio era; one era created memorable films in a machine-like manner, while the other creates machine-made trash in an unorganized manner. It would be funny, if the results weren't so painful.....
I said that I only had one thing to say, but I did just think of a question that you might answer for me, so here goes: having watched silent films and the sound pictures of the early to mid sound era (1930's to the early 1950's) I've noticed some differences in the quality of the finished visual product. It seems to me that the films of the late silent era were more daring and mature in terms of story and in cinematography. In pictures like Lon Chaney's "He Who Gets Slapped," the director attempts effects and shots that aren't equalled in sound films until years after their inception (iI'm thinking in particular of the nightmare scene, where the congress of clowns sit around the spinning globe, or where Lon sees the crowd turn into the body of professors, then into clowns). As for story, disease, prostitution, serious murder, crime, and social issues all found their way into cinema in this period, and were all treated with a mature, objective perspective for the most part (an exception would be "Traffic in Souls", the 1913(or 14?) morality piece about forced prostitution among immigrants, where you hear a great deal about, but never actually get to see any traffic in souls).
After the inception of sound (the Hays code and the early technical difficulties of sound aside), it seems to me that movies regressed, both visually and in maturity of the scripts. All of a sudden, films became children's fare, even beyond the harsh dictates of the censorship code, as if Hollywood had suddenly become gunshy. A few directors like William Wellman (who could forget "The Public Enemy") and Raoul Walsh put some balls back into American cinema, but the step to sound to me indicates a true step back in the quality of filmaking. It's as if Hollywood suffered a paralyzing stroke, and had to learn how to make films all over again. Have you ever noticed anything to this effect?

Yours truly,

Darryl Mesaros

Dear Darryl:

That's an interesting observation you made about the studio era. The change you're referring to didn't occur right when sound came in, it's when Joseph Breen took over the Hays office in 1934 and really began enforcing the code. This came after a lot of public outcry over the violent and racy films of the early sound era, like "Public Enemy" and "Baby Face" (1933, where Barbra Stanwyck sleeps her way up the coporate ladder, with a very young John Wayne as a secretary). So the prudishness of Hollywood films throughout the rest of the 30s, through WWII was very much self-imposed.
The reason movies became less cinematic for a while there when sound first came in was because the cameras were the size of telephone booths, and everyone had to readjust. By 1938 and "The Great Waltz," though, I think it's all been gotten back together. However, using "He Who Gets Slapped" as any kind of example is odd to say the least. That's simply a weird movie made by a strange silent Swedish director, Victor Seastrom (who would much later star in Ingmar Bergman's "The Wild Strawberries"). That anyone could think that a good story was a brilliant scientist has an important idea of his stolen, so he becomes a clown that gets slapped all the time, had to be weird.

Josh

Name: Kevin Kindel
E-mail: kindel@mail.mc.maricopa.edu

Josh,

I am currently a student at Mesa Community College. I am getting my required classes out of the way so I can attend film school. With that said, I have an essay coming up in composition that regards career aspirations. The essay entails an interview with someone that already works in the field of choice. So, my question is will you answer some interview questions for me? Thank you for your time. Have a good day. Kevin Kindel

Dear Kevin:

Sure, but they better be good questions. If you ask questions along the lines of, What's it like to be a director? or How much do you make? you won't get much on an interview. Good interviews come from good questions.

Josh

Name: Will
E-mail: wdodson52@hotmail.com

Dear Josh:

First off, a little note to warm your heart in a bizarre way. You may constantly be in debt as an independent filmmaker, but at least you can take solace in a rabid fan base that would do crazy things like sit through "Mosquito" just to see your cameo. I did that last night, didn't really need the rump shot, but I did think you were pretty funny. It was the only watchable 2 minutes of the movie, and this coming from a guy who really digs awful, awful b-movies.

Anyway, the point is, I'm a fan. And I gotta tell ya, I hadn't watched a Wyler film in years but after reading through the site the other day I decided to break out my copy of "The Best Years of Our Lives." Fantastic. I had completely forgotten that Gregg Toland did the camera work, which was beautifully understated....really showed his diversity given his ability to do dazzling stuff like Kane. Man, you can't see a movie like "Best Years" anymore. Too bad.

Okay, so a question somewhere....wondered what your thoughts were on "White Heat," one of my all-time favorites. You list it in your "movies I actively like" section, but I wondered what your thoughts were on the film. Obviously the relationship with mother was compelling, and Cagney's performance was gleefully over the top. I guess I just want to hear your breakdown.

Dear Will:

I love "White Heat," and I think it's sort of turning point in violent realism as well as weird psychology in movies. It's like it took nineteen years to follow up on Fritz Lang's "M," while leading to "Psycho." When I first saw the film as a kid and Cagney shoots that guy in the trunk, it really got me. Also, you can't beat the scene at the prison table where it goes down the line asking, "How's Cody's ma?" The prisoner at the end says, "She's dead," then it has to go all the way back down the line to Cagney, who completely freaks out. And you can't really ask for a better ending, "Top of the world, ma!" Boom!

Josh


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