Q & A    Archive
Page 80

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

Dear Josh,

You had an interesting point about critiquing your own work, and the author's lack of perspective. A creator can become so focused in the creation and the effort that errors or flaws, easily seen by an impartial observer, fail to catch his eye. There is a story about the architect who designed the Flatiron Building in NYC, that mirrors this point. Justifiably proud of his new building, he was horrified to learn on the building's opening day that he had failed to design any bathrooms into his multi-story office tower. Supposedly, he went to one of the upper floors and hanged himself that very day, out of humiliation. Granted, this is an extreme example.
Anyway, on to a film question. What did you think of THE WOMEN? I thought it was an interesting concept to shoot an entire film with only a female cast, and the writing and power of the talent (Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford, to name only two) help to pull it off. The end result was very good, and I watch the film whenever it's on TV (usually TCM).

Yours truly,
Darryl

P.S. Praise to Shirley! The website gets better in its scope and appearance every time I log on. Excellent job!

D.J.M.

Dear Darryl:

"The Women" is certainly well thought of, but I never really cared for it. Admittedly, I haven't seen it in twenty years, but it all seemed very stagy and overly-written to me. I like George Cukor's 1933 "Little Women" very much, and the young, enchanting Kathrine Hepburn makes a great Jo.

Josh

Dear Darryl,

Aw, shucks.

Shirley

Name: Jean
E-mail:

Hi Josh,

Give the characters in "Ghost World" a break!
They were only 18 and right out of High School.
Enid slept with a man who was old enough to be her
father and she freaked out. Her treating Steve
Buscemi's character like shit after they had sex
was the reaction that a confused teenage girl would
have.

The characters were directionless, unmotivated
teenagers. Most of us acted like fuckheads when we
were that age. I'm not saying that their behavior
towards Seymore was excusable but it was a youthful
indiscretion. I sympathized with their characters
because there are things that you do and say to people
when you are a teenager that will haunt you when you
begin to grow up a little more. I could identify with
that and I liked Enid even though she was cruel to
Seymore.

Enid refused to do anything that she did not
want to do. I admired her character for recognizing
the fact that she lacked direction. I know dozens of
people who went to college just because it was the
only thing that they could think of to do after High
School. None of them really wanted to go to college.
It just seemed like the natural progression of things.
Enid was not going to make a move until she figured out
what she wanted to do. I liked that about her.

Thanks!
Jean

Dear Jean:

You found reasons for liking them, I didn't. When I was eighteen I was more interesting than that. Bruce's daughter is eighteen and she's way more interesting than those two. I just think they're dull characters.

Josh

Name: Erik
E-mail: mrbrown666@hotmail.com

hey josh,

ive been reading your reviews and see that you have no problems giving your honest opinion. my question is, how do you see your own work? is it possible for you to somehow look at your work (your movies specifically) and critique them as if someone else had made them? are you satisfied with your work? do you think you have any "weak" points?

Dear Erik:

That's a very good question, one I've thought about quite a bit. No, I can't honestly look at my own work and critique it. To me there is so much more caught in every frame of film that I'm not seeing a movie, I'm seeing a few years of my life compressed into these shots: writing the script, casting, shooting, cutting, and it's all too much for me to be able to see it like it was someone else's movie. I can't watch a Xena episode I directed and see it like a regular episode, it represents much more for me. I don't know that any of my movies are any good at all, but they are, for the most part, honest efforts.

Josh

*** SPOILER for "If i Had a Hammer" ahead ***

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

Josh,

I've got a handful of questions for you. First, I was interested in how you handled the "He said-She said" scenes through "Hammer". The conversation with Lorraine in the cafe, for instance, makes extensive use of alternating framed head shots. Phil's later conversations with his family seem to involve more over-the-shoulder shots. There are also occasional inclusive shots, most notably in the music store and the club. I didn't actually count the shots so I guess the first bit I should ask is whether this observation is correct. Assuming it is, are the variations dependent upon space or are they calculated to produce scene-specific perspective? Also, do you run through the scene several times to capture each perspective for later editing or do you decide in advance which lines will take which shot?

My second question concerns the Three Deadbeats. They seem almost like a Greek Chorus, if in subtle style. Are they a more direct entry for the director's viewpoint? I wonder if you wrestled over the specificity of their worries; i.e., "...ban smoking in public places" and "..ratings on movies and TV shows." They might have said simply "...ban smoking" and might well have included books or other print media in their concern about ratings.

The Four Feathers make me think of the new remake of that movie, and its earlier versions. I've seen the Beau Bridges and Alexander Korda versions. I've always been amazed at the sheer number of projects Korda was involved in and wondered what is your opinion of him and his career.

Finally, I'm just getting around to watching "Taras Bulba" for the first time and thought I'd ask what you think of that movie. By the time you reply I'll have watched it and it'd be interesting to compare my impressions with yours. I've read the story by Gogol; I seem to read a lot of Russian fiction. Anyway, thanks as always.

John

Dear John:

My, but aren't you loaded with questions today. Regarding two people sitting and talking, there aren't all that many ways to shoot it. The scene in the cafe is covered in what is called "standard coverage," plus two close-ups. That means I got the medium two-shot of both of them at the table, as well as over-the-shoulder shots. That's standard coverage. I also got fairly tight close-ups, too, which you'd get if the scene were very dramatic, or in this case, rather long. It gives the editor more choices in the cutting. I also have the exterior shot of the cafe where you can see them through the window, which I used at the very beginning and the very end. This is all very intentional and has nothing to do with the space, just what I as the director want to get. And each of these angles is shot in its entirety, the whole scene. You'll notice though that the tight close-ups don't come into play until quite a ways into the scene, when it's getting rather personal. Yes, the Deadbeats are a sort of Greek chorus, but they're also the biggest hypocrites. "A free society is based on constant vigilance," coming from a junkie, perhaps society's least vigilant group, except for their own needs. And being of Hungarian extraction, Alexander Korda always impressed me as a top-notch, highly prolific, Hungarian producer. And to have made it as big as he did in England is even more impressive. I really wish he had been able to complete Joseph Von Sternberg's version of "I, Claudius." Oh well.

I saw "Taras Bulba" as a kid, like ten years old, and I loved it. I thought it was great. The Poles being pushed off a cliff on their horses is really impressive. It wasn't until later that the casting of Tony Curtis as Yul Brynner's son seemed ridiculous. I love the sequence of Tony Curtis and the fat cossack jumping their horses over the chasm. Everything in the Polish village with the black plague really moved me. I cared deeply about the love story between Tony Curtis and Christine Kaufman, whom I thought to be a babe. And the sound of the bullet going through the armor at the end was brilliant and sticks with me many years later. Apparently, there are earlier French and British versions from the 1930s.

Josh

Name: Brian
E-mail: KumiteENT@aol.com

Josh,

Yes I agree. I didn't mean Avary was a 'genius' I just wish he'd get more credit, that's all. I did think, however, that Avary's first film "killing Zoe" was much better than Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs." I actually cared about Eric Stoltz's character (something that's hard being that it's eric Stoltz)which is more than I can say for Reservoir Dogs. The only one I cared about was Mr. Pink, and that's mainly due to the fact that Steve Buscemi played the part (which I agree with you, he's always good).
I am very much interested in Avary's new film "Rules of Attraction" just because I've read the book by Bret Easton Ellis. If Van der Beek (whom I've never liked in any movie) can pull off the role of Sean Bateman, his acting career may go somewhere....or if not I'm sure 5 more seasons of Dawson's Creek will be all right with him >P

Brian
-P.S. I'm sending out the check for "Hammer" tomorrow!

Dear Brian:

I didn't much care for "Killing Zoe." Since I spent most of "Reservoir Dogs" thinking of walking out, I guess the former film was better. Neither one has anything to do with my tastes. If I'm going to watch a tough heist picture I'll take John Huston's "The Asphalt Jungle" or Kubrick's "The Killing." The combination of Roger Avary and Brett Easton Ellis, who's a lousy writer, sounds deadly.

Josh

Name: Brian
E-mail: KumiteENT@aol.com

Hey Josh,

I just wanted to say, as a random thought, that Tarantino gets way too much credit for being a 'film genius.' For one thing, I hate the fact that on 'Pulp Fiction' it reads Written & Directed by Quintin Tarantino. Stories by QT and Roger Avary. I don't understand how that is being, according the the Avary site, that both him and QT wrote the script together while in Amsterdam or some other place in Europe. And also Roger Avary wrote True Romance (a first draft, yet it was still his idea and characters). Apparently he didn't know what else to do with it so he let QT take a look, while adding his fancy 'film knowledge' dialogue with it, which he called his homage to Elmore Lenord yet no mention anywhere that it was Avary's original idea.
At least when winning the award for best screenplay on "Pulp Fiction" it was both Tarantino and Avary, but still give credit where credits due, right?
I was just thinking about this when reading your interview with Tarantino- Man, what an asshole Bender is. By the way, what script did you want him to take a look at?

Dear Brian:

"Cycles." I have yet to see the slightest display of genius from either Tarantino or Avary. Neither one has ever done a really good shot or an interesting cut. It's just generic tough-guy characters spewing non-sequiters, and meaningless contemporary references. They make me yawn.

Josh

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

Dear Josh,

It's interesting to see what a buzz the smoking scenes in HAMMER have caused here. Personally, I come from the other side of the fence (don't smoke, never have). However, I agree that those scenes were appropriate in order to establish part of the social climate of the period. Too many period films today try to impose modern values on historical characters. The end result is a socialist Robin Hood, a feminist Joan of Arc, and any number of other characters, all expressing politically correct values totally out of sync with the time periods from whence they came. The strong filmaker will use mores and values correct to the characters and the period, no matter how offensive or inappropriate some modern viewers may think them.
Incidentally, I was reviewing my past posts on HAMMER, and I don't think that I've ever written so extensively about any other film before. I showed the film to my friend Joe, and he really enjoyed it. In fact, we spent over an hour in the car later discussing the ramifications of the film and its meaning. He also enjoyed RUNNING TIME and TSNKE, much to my surprise (he usually watches the latest blockbusters, mixed in with Saturday morning cartoons).

Yours truly,
Darryl

Dear Darryl:

Everyone used to smoke. If not all the time, then when they went out at night. I love seeing in old movies people unapologetically smoking on buses. It really was a different world then.

Josh

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

Dear Josh,

Sorry, one more thing that's been bugging me. Have you seen that series COMEDY SEARCHLIGHT, on Comedy Central, the one about the contest to let some unknown direct a new sitcom? I sincerely hope that it was a parody of PROJECT SPOTLIGHT and not a real documentary. Having worked in TV, would you say that people in the industry are that scheming, manipulative, abrasive, and just downright sleazy? I literally couldn't believe that it was real, and if it was, then my already low opinion of the human condition in Hollywood just slipped a few more notches.

Sorry, just had to get that one off my chest,
Darryl.

Dear Darryl:

No, I haven't seen it. As though it mattered who directs a sitcom, and as though that would lead anywhere.

Josh

Name: mark kelly
E-mail: m32.mkelly@palmharbor.com

Dear Josh:

I am looking for a photograph that can be used in a Power Point presentation of a business group at a conference table or in a meeting where the speaker is smoking a cigarette or the group is all smoking.

If you know of such a photograph or perhaps a place to look I would certainly appreciate it. Thank you.

Dear Mark:

It's kind of funny that people come to me as an expert on both smoking and 99-cent stores, since my expertise goes as far as having written highly-uninformed essays about both subjects. It seems to me there's a scene of everyone smoking in The Three Stooges' feature "The Outlaws is Coming," where all of the baddest badmen of the old west are having a conference and smoking, and one evil badman blows out an endless stream of thick smoke, which made me laugh. One of these guys is a very young Adam West, pre-Batman.

Josh

Name: Debbie Convery
E-mail: debbieconvery@hotmail.com

Josh,

I enjoyed your 99 cent store editorial. We must have gotten our mops from the same lot.

Thanks,
Debbie

Dear Debbie:

I have a bottle of economy dish detergent from the 99-cent store and it barely makes any suds. You could get a hernia trying to wash your dishes with it.

Josh

Name: Jean
E-mail:

Hi Josh,

I rather liked "Ghost World". I'm a big fan of Steve Buscemi and I thought it was an interesting portrayal of people who don't fit into conventional society. Plus it is one of the few films that I can think of that actually focuses on teenage girls who are a little left of center. The thing that pisses me off the most about movies these days is the way that females are portrayed. It makes me sick. I found "Ghost World" to be refreshing.

Back to the smoking issue. My Mom has spent over 30 years in the restaurant business. The government is thinking about passing the same type of California laws about smoking back in Maryland (where I am from). I have noticed that more people smoke back east then they do out here in CA. She is terrified about the law getting passed because she thinks her business will go down the tubes. She was saying that the government already regulates so much shit in the food service industry that the no smoking law would just be another knife in their back. She thinks that each individual proprietor should be able to decide what happens in their restaurant.

On another note, I noticed in one of your essays that you are a Van Morrison fan. My big brother is getting married next week and I am reading an excerpt from "The Way Young Lovers Do" from his Astral Weeks album during the ceremony. We grew up listening to Van Morrison.

Thanks,
Jean

Dear Jean:

"Ghost World" may well be about teenage girls, but they're both creeps. And the way Thora Birch treats Steve Buscemi, who is good as always, made want to see her get run over by a bus. Yes, I'm a Van Morrison fan, and I listen to his music all the time. When I worked on the first Hercules movie, Roma Downey, who's Irish, played the lead Amazon. Every time I saw her we'd both break into a Van Morrison song, which was amusing.

Josh

*** SPOILER for "If i Had a Hammer" ahead ***

Name: John Hunt
E-mail: Chowkidar@aol.com

Josh,

I just read Blake's initial review of "Hammer" and his comment comparing the effect of the Beatles' performance to the effect of Star Wars pointed out an irony in the film. The line in the club where Lorraine dismisses rock and roll might well have been accurate had it not been for the Beatles. She denigrated rock and roll because it was childish. But the Beatles, the force which destroyed the folk movement, exceeded folk in its sophistication in a way in which maybe no other band could. The Beatles also represented a (the?) high point of rock and roll's sophistication. Folk music, which was largely about human conditions and ideals, was defeated by a music which went beneath to address the human condition (think "Eleanor Rigby"). Twenty years later someone invented hip hop which seems predominantly concerned gratification. Two peaks and a valley in my book.

Congratulations on the film festival. I checked their site and saw BC is planning on being there. What has been his reaction to "Hammer", I wonder? Thanks as always,

John

Dear John:

Well, rock & roll certainly was one thing before The Beatles, and a different thing afterward. The British invasion was going to explode with them or without them, I think. I don't know that I'd agree that The Beatles were the apotheosis of rock & roll sophistication, although I love The Beatles dearly. John was terrific at writing nonsense lyrics, and Paul was great at writing love songs, and the music and production are brilliant, but they never had all that much to say. I'm not sure that Jethro Tull's "Aqualung" isn't more sophiticated than any of The Beatles' records. Severely questioning our deepest beliefs, while making serious rock & roll, and occasionally lapsing into Gregorian chanting is pretty sophiticated music. The line from the song "Wind-Up," ". . . . As you lick the boots of death born out of fear" is rattling around my head these days. Bruce's reaction to "Hammer" was one of great concern for my financial well-being. He's my friend.

Josh

Name: Jean
E-mail:

Hi Josh!

How do you feel about the response to "Hammer" so far? People seem to be putting a lot of thought into their reviews. I was talking to my Mom last night and I mentioned the cigarette ads in your film. She told me about an ad that she remembers from the 60's where it's a group of doctors saying how good smoking is for you and that everyone should try it or something like that. She said that cigarette ads used to run during "Howdy Doody" and "The Mickey Mouse Club". No wonder my Mom and her sisters all smoke. It was such a different world then. I'm a smoker and I live in LA! I might as well be a leper. When I go back east to visit my family and I can actually smoke in a bar I feel like I've died and gone to heaven!

Did you see "Ghost World"? If so, what did you think?

Thanks,
Jean

Dear Jean:

Yes, the respone has been very interesting so far, and thoughtful, too. But so far it's just been the hard-core regulars, the folks that are willing to look more deeply into movies. What will civilians think? And I too was a smoker in LA for many years there, and also felt like a leper. It's bullshit to marginalize any part of your own population, including the smokers. And yes, I saw "Ghost World," and I didn't like it all. Those two girls were both miserable little drips, and I couldn't care less about either one of them.

Josh

Name: Jim Kenney
E-mail:

Dear Josh:

OK, it just worked fine! A film that I thought was pretty good was the new Brit import "Shiner" starring Michael Caine and Martin Landau, directed by John Irvin ("Dogs of War", "Turtle Diary")...a sort of an unexpected surprise, in that it got no theatrical release in the U.S. (I guess that isn't that surprising anymore, actually, Miramax has a stockpile of what, a hundred unreleased films), it's a story of a washed up seedy boxing promoter/mobster (Caine) getting one last chance to hit the big time with his son as his ticket. It's a darkly funny Brit gangster film that gets nastier as it goes on, and the small kind of story-based drama that you might appreciate renting (I know I do!)

Dear Jim:

Thanks for buying "Hammer," and please report back what you think. "Shiner" sounds good to me, and I went straight to Netflix and put it on the list. Thanks.

Josh

Name: Jim Kenney
E-mail:

Dear Josh:

I just got a paypal account exclusively for the purpose of buying your film -- but I apparently don't know how to use it! When I click on the link, it takes me to my account page, but, how, exactly, do I get payment to you? Should I be linked to a page that automatically knows I'm trying to buy "Hammer", or do I have to fill in the info regarding you myself? This online stuff sucks...

Dear Jim:

I don't know. Maybe Shirley has some advice.

Josh

Dear Jim:

Now try it, it should work for you this time (I changed something). If not, please let me know at shirley@beckerfilms.com.

Shirley

*** SPOILER for "If i Had a Hammer" ahead ***

Name: Blake Eckard
E-mail: bseckard@hotmail.com

Josh,

I'm about 20 minutes removed from watching "Hammer" and I wanted to put down my initial feelings before they're lost.

I agree with everyone else in that the film looks absolutely splendid. Watching an indi film (hell, any film) that isn't hand-held and horribly (or just boringly) lit was such a treat!

One thing I'm curious about and want to ask before I forget was in regard to the show "The Simpsons," which you've mentioned several times. When Phil's little brother, Dan, is making fun of Phil's delimma on wheather to watch the Beatles or go to Lorraine's meeting, he makes a noise like "Ah-ha," which, to me, sounded like the mocking tone that Nelson, the bully, usually makes. Also the town was named Springfield, home of Bart, Homer and company. A little tip of the hat?

The acting, for the most part, was good. I love the scene with Phil and his dad in the bedroom smoking and uncomfortably trying to make small talk. The ending line brought in quite a laugh, "Holy crap, look at the time! I'm gonna miss Jackie Gleason!" Great. I also loved the cigarette ads...I had no clue that Fred and Barny were Winston promoters! Absolutely timeless!

One of my very favorite things in the entire picture was the title explaining how 73 million Americans watched the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. This did not, in any way, take me out of the film. Infact, it brought me further into the realm of the film's period. A friend of mine walked in during the last third. This guy has absolutely no appreciation for good movies, and I actually groaned when he showed up. He shut up the second he sat down. When that title card came up he made a comment like "Wow, that must have really been something." When the picture ended, I said something about how unusual it was for a current film. My bud said, and I quote, "It was interesting." He said it with a tone that suggested he'd never seen an interesting film in his life. If you knew this guy, it would be quite an honor to know your film elicted such a comment.

The one thing that did bother me was the consistant play of LoDuca's origianl score on the sound track. I do think certain scenes would have had much more drama with out any music, particularly the end with Lorraine and Phil which I didn't find humerous, but nostalgic and melancholy. I loved the final shot...Had a "Last Picture Show" feel to it that I really enjoyed. With the sun starting to turn the horizon orange behind the old, now out of bussiness Purple Onion, and the newspaper blowing down the street from the passing cars, a wonderful, and vivid final image was secured that is still lasting in my memory.

My favorite shot is the quick, and wonderfully bumpy, old movie, dolly shot that pulls back from Lorraine as she weeps in the empty club. I felt really sorry for her at this point...I also think that this shot ushers in the whole point of the film. The people who really cared for quality and what was right, in whatever regard, were of yester year, and they've nearly all given up. The generation of people in this country today don't seem to particularly care about what is necessarily good or bad...Just what everyone else is interested in. Isn't that exactly what's happening with this film? It's far superior to anything else in theatres, yet nobody will look at it, because it's not the word (whatever it is) that everyone is currently using. I see "Hammer" as a metaphor for the current state of the film business. The Beatles playing on Ed Sullivan, to me, is a variation to what happened to Hollywood when "Star Wars," came out.

"If I Had A Hammer," is easily your best work. The fact that it hasn't secured distribution, let alone gotten into a single shittin' film festival, truly makes me depressed. It's one of the best films I've seen this year. Infact, I feel more strongly about it now that I did 30 minutes ago. It gets inside and makes you think.

Give it time. "The Searchers," "Touch of Evil," and "Peeping Tom," were all flops upoun their initial releases.

Have a good one.

Blake

Dear Blake:

Another interesting review. You certainly did get what I was trying to say. Yes, those were nods to "The Simpsons," the best TV show of the past fifteen years. I wanted to set the story in Any-town, America, and the concept of calling it Springfield, which there is one of in several different states, is a good one. I'm pleased you liked the last image, which I was trying to make nostalgic and melancholy. That it gave you that feeling makes me feel good. There may be an aspect to this film I didn't anticipate, which is that since it's making no effort to be hip or contemporary, it's something of an assault on those attributes, which is fine with me.

Josh

Name: Calvin Hobbes
E-mail: circus_maximus@msn.com

Dear Josh:

I believe our confused friend is referring to your review of AMERICAN MOVIE. Hence his reference to "Uncle Bill," the relative of featured filmmaker Mark Borschardt, who was constantly being hit up for money; and the braindead friend recovering from his years of drug abuse.

In response to Jimbo's queries, Bill's line of dialogue that had to be looped was: "It's alright, it's okay! There's something to live for - Jesus told me soooo!" If you'd like to find more famous quotes from movies, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) often features user-contributed "Quotes" to their listings of movies.

Dear Calvin:

Oh.

Josh

*** SPOILER for "If i Had a Hammer" ahead ***

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

Dear Josh,

Just had a few more thoughts on HAMMER. John Hunt made an interesting observation about Lorraine, and in a sense, I agree with him. I am sympathetic to her plight (disillusionment always hurts); my only objection is to her as a person. She strikes me as the archetypal upper-class liberal in many ways: she feels that since she is hip, intelligent and "socially conscious" that she knows the absolutely right way and is determined to force her view on everyone, their feelings on the matter be damned. It is inherent in her character on many levels other than political. For instance, there is her rather caustic rebuttal of Phil and Terry's taste for rock n' roll ("Rock 'n' Roll's not music. THAT was music!"). Totally oblivious to the way that she stomped on their opinion, she steamrollered them with hers. That was what I found objectionable.
As for apathy, I stick to my guns that it is an American characteristic. Traditionally, we love to bitch about our problems, but it takes nearly an act of God to make us DO anything about them. The key ingredient to our success as a nation is that this apathy is only a guise, a comfortable mode that we like to face the world in under normal circumstances. When something pushes us hard enough, this nation becomes a juggernaut.
In an aside, I read your interview for INSOMNIAC. It seemed well put together, but you sounded a little terse with the interviewer. However, I'll grant you that some of the questions were pretty inane.

Yours truly,
Darryl

Dear Darryl:

In that interview the guy kept asking me about my acting career, and I kept responding that I wasn't an actor. Apparently, I'm listed on IMDB as an actor. Anyway, having asked as many questions as he did about my acting career, and me denying it, he then went back and tried to remove some of his questions, but not all of my answers, and it turned out a bit odd.

Josh

Name: Jim Hardtke
E-mail: jhardtke@yahoo.com

Dear Josh:

What is the line that Bill, the uncle, has to repeat ad nauseum (while sitting in the car)? I just love the line and he is my favorite character.

Of course, the mentally challenged sidekick of Mark is truly a composite of every druggie I ever knew--and sad to say, some who didn't use drugs!

Great movie!

Where can I look up that piece of dialog?

Jim Hardtke

Dear Jim:

What the hell are you talking about?

Josh

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

Dear Josh,

I agree with you that apathy and laziness are hallmarks of our current art. I was going to initially disagree with you on its cyclic nature, but after further thought, I can see the truth in your observation. Let us say then that there is always a baseline of apathy in American society, and that it rises and falls periodically. It would be more of a problem if our founding fathers hadn't engineered so ingenious a system of government, which takes this apathy into account so that no potential tyrant may take advantage of it.
Incidentally, I enjoyed your essays on the making of HAMMER, and look forward to the third installment. The behind-the-scenes material that you produce (essays, commentary tracks, etc) is always far more interesting than the norm, and I've been thinking about why.
One reason is that the process of making your films contains drama in and of itself. Because you do your films independentally, there is no guarantee that the film will be finished. It could be derailed by financial troubles or some other entanglement. Thus, a story about the making of a Josh Becker film is inherently interesting, as the reader gets pulled into the process whereby you beat the odds and get your film to market.
The other reason is that you can talk about your work light-heartedly, which is the key thing that makes your commentary tracks interesting. While other directors ramble on solely concerned with technical details, you can also make fun of things in your films, rather like MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000. The end result is that your behind the scenes stuff seems to receive the same attention to production value as the main feature, whereas major studio films often just pile together boring commentary with a mountain of "deleted scenes" (that for the most part, truly deserved to stay deleted), just to increase DVD sales.
There really isn't a question here; just something I had rambling in my head and wanted to get down. If there were a question, it would be this: in all of the "extras" stuff that you create for your films, are you motivated by a conscious desire to do better than the lame stuff attached to studio films, or is it not really an issue? Just curious.

Sorry for rambling,
Darryl

Dear Darryl:

I'm not trying to do better than anyone else, I'm just trying to do the best I can, and be able to honestly say that's what I did. I've been thinking a lot about all of this, too, as I usually do. It's like the difference in film distribution now. When you do a platform release of a film, like "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" right now, and there used to be many of these all the time, you open a few prints in a few cities, wait for your reviews and word-of-mouth, and let the release of the film grow. This is based on the belief that the film is good. When you put $50-100 million into advertising and open the film on 4000 screens, hoping to make all of your money back in the first weekend, it's based on fear and the belief that your film is complete shit and if word-of-mouth spreads, your film will drop dead, which they generally do. There is something truly horrible about consciously making something you know is bad. This is what working on TV was about on a certain level, and it's dispiriting and ultimately soul-killing. This was all summed up in expression on the sets of both Herc and Xena, which was "don't pull the threads," meaning if you question the logic of anything it will all unravel. The answer to this is to do your own work, do the best job you can, and know that that's what you did.

Josh

*** SPOILER for "If i Had a Hammer" ahead ***

Name: John Hunt
E-mail: Chowkidar@aol.com

Josh,

I meant to thank you earlier for defending Helen Hunt. I've never met her (heavy sigh) but she seems a good actress and carries herself with dignity and has a great last name. Anyway, class move on your part.

Re-reading your "Making of Hammer" essays, I'm now looking for the three digital effects you mention. I also wondered about the "Radiation" book Phil has in his drawer. The title gets washed when he picks it up and you don't catch the time-context link until the second viewing. I did catch the properly dated coinage, though (my wife's a collector).

Darryl's last posting got me thinking. He found Lorraine to be the least sympathetic; I found her to be very sympathetic. I think many people progress from idealism to realism and Lorraine certainly does. Her final line, "Arrivederci, Baby!" follows, I think, a moment of profound clarity, and not just about Phil. As Records delivers the line it sounds almost anachronistically modern; she has stepped into her future as surely as Phil has stumbled into his.

For me Phil works as an allegory for the United States. You've mentioned in several of your replies that the film might work better out of country. I think in many ways Phil is a non-American view of Americans. He may be shallow, but he has tremendous energy when roused. Moreover, though he whines a lot, he is essentially optimistic. A lot of foreigners I've known have commented that America is loaded with potential if properly steered. That paraphrases Lorraine's comment to Debby about Phil.

I don't think Americans are characteristically apathetic. Our Declaration and Constitution work because as a nation we are ideologically and collectively committed to it. If you've ever read the old Soviet constitution the importance of that ideological committment becomes clear; their constitution was essentially a copy of ours. Socialist movements struggled here because they were irrelevant to the American experience, not because we were apathetic.

On a different note, do you think you actually could do another film like "Hammer"? I mean in the sense of retaining independent control. Your essays on "Making of Hammer" paint a dismal financing picture. Now you talk about minimal budgets of half a million. Doesn't that bespeak a financing departure for your projects?

The discussion is picking up!

John

Dear John:

I honestly and seriously don't know what's next. I'll make more movies, as God is my witness (I love that line), but when, where, and what remain to be seen. To break even on "Hammer" I have to sell about 30,000 tapes, and so far I've sold twelve. At this rate I ought to hit break-even by the next millennium. Regarding the film, Jane, the producer, had a whole sequel worked out in her head of Lorraine spending a year in Italy, blossoming into a full-fledged woman, and having sex with gorgeous Italian men. I think Lorraine is sympathetic in a very understandable way, as you said, in her move from idealism to realism, which we all have to go through sooner or later. And I'm not saying that Americans are apathetic in general, just specifically right now. The movies of the last twenty years basically stink because they're written by lazy writers, and accepted by lazy producers, and lazy audiences.

Josh

*** SPOILER for "If i Had a Hammer" ahead ***

Name: Jean
E-mail: jthompson77@adelphia.net

Hi Josh!

I watched "Hammer" again last night and I think I enjoyed it more the second time around. I saw that someone said in a posting that you should have cut out some of the musical acts. That would have been a BIG mistake. The fact that you showed the entire perfomance of each act is what makes your film unique. And to top it all off the performances are really good. Bobby Lee Baker and Moustafa are very impressive.

I liked Phil better this time around. I think I see what you and Brett Beardsley were trying to do with his character. I realized that you have a lot of stuff going on in this film and you handeled it really well. I still think that some of the dialogue was too much telling and not enough showing.

The thing that I am still so impressed with is your shot composition. There was not one shot in all of "Hammer" that I found boring. You had a lot of money shots in this film! The look of the film is very beautiful.

Your characters' motivations are very clear and to the point. I think this is a testament to your writing skills. I noticed this in "Lunatics" as well. You have a knack for creating deep characters. The ending with Lorraine, Phil and Terry really cracked me up this time. Phil and Terry had to have known that they missed the meeting, but they showed up anyway still hoping to get into Lorraine's pants! Typical guys! I also love how Phil is a Folkie for like a day. I love when he says something like "I told this dumb girl that I'd go to her stupid meeting." He sounds like he's 8 years old!

You really have a strong film Josh and I can't understand why it's not been picked up by a festival. Most likely because it's not about murder or sex or an alien invasion. Like I said before you made a TRUE indy film and you should be very proud of that.

Here's a thought. Have you ever had any ideas for an hour long TV drama? This may seem like a weird question but you have such a great sense of character in your writing. I think you could come up with some really interesting situations and characters that would have longevity.

Thanks!
Jean

Dear Jean:

Thanks for the lovely review. You know, getting a TV series made is even harder than getting a feature film made. And nothing comes out the Hollywood system in the same form it went in. It's all put through a grinder and turned into mush. Besides, I don't like most TV. No, I'll stick with movies, as imperfect as they may be.

Josh

Name: Diana Hawkes
E-mail: sdhawkes@penn.com

Dear Josh:

Oh my lord! Are we talking about SCTV ?!

You have to understand!
I had a little black and white T.V. in my bedroom as a kid, and every week-nite at 11 p.m. (waaaaaaay past my school-night bedtime) I would turn on the re-runs of SCTV and barely have the volume up loud enough to hear, but about once a week I'd get caught, and be in trouble. Didn't deter me. Andrea Martin as the leopard print wearin' "Edith Prickley" was sometimes the sole source of laughter in my teen years. I put her down as my heroine in my H.S. yearbook! <snort>
I *know* Josh had a particular appreciation for Rick Moranis' character that was that easy going camera expert, that dressed like Dick Cavett, with a goatee...
he was always showing off the "Ez-Cam 2000"- {I think that was it} a steady-cam that he could strap on and jog around with. LOL!
Ohhhhhhh, the name of that character is on the tip of my tongue....a cyber-smooch for the person that comes up with it...I have alot of those episodes on tape somewhere...must dig them out!
I got alot of joy out of Candy's "Johnny LaRue". And just about anything Eugene Levy did. Bobby Bipman! Gold chain wearin', hairy chested, perpetual Hollywood guest star on Sammy Maudlin's late night talk show!
OMG, was that ever comedy gold.
Do you remember the spoof they did of Ocean's Eleven,
with all the SCTV characters instead of the Rat Pack, called "Maudlin's Eleven" ?!
That was the single most hilarious spoof of anything I have ever seen. Josh PLEASE tell me you saw that skit!
It's a really long one too. If you haven't, I WILL send it to you, somehow I'll make a copy. Oh dear lord- does it ever rip into the shallowness of Hollywood types.

See, now I completely forgot what I was going to write in about! errrrrr...Well anyway, a while back you mentioned having your new neighbors over to watch some films, and I was, in the words of Scarlett O'Hara, "pea green with envy"! You say it's hard to find good discussion of film anymore, but if you'd have a convention of us Beckerites over for sandwiches and an afternoon of film, we'd talk your ear off!
My only rule for such a get-together would be: no children. Josh's rule would be: Ya gotta be kosher with smokin' weed.
Which films would you show us first?

BTW, so how are the 3 little Furies? Who looks in on them when you travel? Still chasing out wildlife from the yard? Got the hang of the pet-door yet?

Dear Diana:

They never got the idea of the cat door, so I removed it. Now it's just a hole, but luckily they can deal with that. They're nearly full-grown and their the joys of my simple rural life. If I had everyone over for a film and a discussion, the first one would probably be "The Magnificent Ambersons," the inspiration for "If I Had a Hammer." Next would probably be "The Member of the Wedding," just because I like it so much. And yes, SCTV was wonderful. Had I known it would go away completely I would have paid more attention when it was on. I remember one skit where "Edith Prickley Plays the Baths" and Edith is doing acrobatic routines at a gay bath for a lot of bored gay men in towels. Each time it cuts back to her she's trying even harder to be entertaining, spinning plates on the ends of sticks, then playing "Great Balls of Fire" on the piano and kicking the stool out from under her. Then it said, "With special guest star Charlton Heston reading the letters of Andrew Jackson," and then it's Joe Flahrety as Heston reading the letters of Andrew Jackson to the bored gay men. Then Edith and Chuck sing "The Wind Beneath My Wings" together. Very funny stuff.

Josh

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

Dear Josh,

Sorry, just one more thing that I forgot. I noticed alot of Leadbelly songs in HAMMER and was wondering if you just picked them for the movie or if you are a Ledbetter fan. Also, did you see the Leadbelly biopic that Gordon Parks (of SHAFT fame) did, called LEADBELLY?

Darryl

Dear Darryl:

I co-dedicated the movie to him. I think he was a very important song writer, that had a big impact on the folkies. And yes, of course I've seen Gordon Parks' "Leadbelly," which is pretty good, if a bit too TV movie-like.

Josh

*** SPOILER for "If i Had a Hammer" ahead ***

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

Dear Josh,

I just got my copy of HAMMER last night, and watched it immediately. Thank you for signing the copy, by the way. Anyway, here are a few of my thoughts on the film.
I enjoyed this film. It is the best of your works to date, and demonstrates your development as a filmaker. Editing-wise, it would have worked better for me if the second act cut more often to Brett Beardslee for exposition, and focused somewhat less on the stage. The other acts are fine, and move with a very good pace.
As to story and characters, I had mixed reactions. The character of Lorraine I found to be the least sympathetic, as I have dealt with her ilk my entire life and not liked one minute of it. Her delusional politics and strident activism seemed to me to be unconsciously hypocritical, given her station in life (her sincerity is real, but she has no right whatsoever to feel bad "with" her beloved oppressed; she does not share their situation, and can thus only feel bad "for" them). Still, her character was effective, for it elicited a strong reaction from me.
As for the other characters, I identified most with Kristian Monday's character (the name escapes me at the moment). He seems to me to be the most honest of the characters, in the sense that he is honest to himself about what he likes and wants. He may blatantly pretend to be a folky and an activist, but he never deludes himself that he is one, unlike Lorraine. Because of this, he escapes hypocrisy, a term I define as not only outwardly pretending to believe in something that you do not, but also attempting to delude YOURSELF that you believe in something that you do not. Never for an instant does he comfort himself with a phony sense of guilt and self-righteous social consciousness. As callous and shallow and some may say his immediate goals are, at least they are clear to him. As he said himself when Phil asked him if he cared about social issues, "Sure I care. But not as much as I do about getting laid." In a sense, this puts him on a higher moral ground than anyone else in the club, for he his true to himself. As Shakespeare put it, "To thine own self be true."
This post is already long, so I'll end with a few more quick thoughts. The focus on smoking gave me a good laugh when I remembered what an ardent smoker you are. It almost seems overdone, so long has tobacco been publically maligned.
And in an aside, Lorraine's criticism of Phil's apathy as "the problem with America" may be allegorical, but it is also delusional. We as a people may have gotten a little stupider and lazier, but we have not descended from any great pillar of social and political conscience to our present state. Apathy has always been part of the national character, and activists like Lorraine have always been an extremely small, albeit shrill, minority. That is the key thing that makes us unique among nations; that we are normally complacent, but rise to the occasion on our own. Most revolutions and major changes begin with the goading of professional revolutionaries or activists, or the dissatisfaction of an outcast bourgeosie. Ours came from a group of the nation's leading citizens, all staunch merchants and planters, who would normally care about nothing but their own profits. Therefore, to set up Brett as an allegory for the decline of American society is not an entirely correct thing to do, at least to me. Well, this critique is long winded enough, so I'll get off the line now. My overall reaction was one of enjoyment; I really and truly enjoyed your film, and eagerly anticipate the next one. Keep up the excellent work.

Yours truly,
Darryl

P.S. Just a question for Lucas, who wrote in about the MacKenzie Brothers and cultural content on Canadian TV. Is DUE SOUTH still on the air in Canada? TNT was running it for awhile, but it's no longer being shown in the United States. Just curious, as I liked that show.

D.J.M.

Dear Darryl:

Your review was both interesting and insightful. Apathy, like anything else, moves in cycles. There are various times when our society has been more and less apathetic. The 1920s are an earlier example. I do think we're in one now. Were there good reasons, like a world war, to not be apathetic, then we prebably wouldn't be. But there isn't. This too shall change, but that's where I believe we are now, and our art clearly reflects it. It's apathetic and lazy and unsophiticated.

Josh

Name: John Hunt
E-mail: Chowkidar@aol.com

Josh,

Yeah, I tend to forget that "Hammer" is now an old project for you. They say that actors doing promotionals for films often have the problem that the movie they're promoting is now a film or two old for them. Still, I can't help but consider some of these issues and it's good to get your responses. I like to think that I have a fairly strong literary sensibility. I've noticed even in your short stories, however, that you really understand your stories from the perspective of filming them; you have an ability to think in scenes which, I suppose, comes with practice.

I wanted to ask you about Terry's reply to Moustafa when he, Moustafa, says, "The Blues have arrived." Terry responds, "And they were gone, man. Solid gone!" A (folkie) nod to Phil Harris? The only other time I've heard that phrase was in "The Jungle Book".

I also wanted to make a comment about the instruments. Not only were they (rather incredibly) in tune with each other, they were also in tune with my guitar (I played along). I've done my share of open-mike nights and, even in this day of digital tuners, guitars still tend to be all over the place in their tunings. And I would have paid for so enthusiatic an audience, even if I had to put up with their performances as well.

Anyway, I still don't understand why this movie can't get shown. If you'd made this movie back in '74 they be calling it the next "American Graffiti", though that would be missing the point. "Graffiti" was a smaller concept, its allegories accidental or else univerally applicable. But I bet that's what people would say. I'm still digesting the film and will drop questions and comments until I either get through it or you say "Enough, already". Like I wrote earlier, there's an awful lot in this film; a lot of ideas and observations. Very ambitious and well worth the twenty bucks. Anyway, thanks as always.

John

Dear John:

Man, you're a sharp guy. Although I've heard the expression elsewhere, "It's gone, solid gone," I am directly quoting "Jungle Book." ("Now, while you create a disturbance, I'll rescue Mowgali." "I'm gone, man, solid gone."). So, John, keep commenting all you'd like, I'm enjoying it. I just wish others would do the same. It's interesting for me to learn, since I can't play any musical instrument, that everyone was in tune. That's good, right?

Josh

Name: Mike
E-mail: michase@davidson.edu

Sir,

I am completeing a web page for a BIology Course at Davidson College and I would like to use an image of Frankenstien on the page. May I use the picture from your site?

Dear Mike:

Sure, I just scanned it out of a book.

Josh

*** SPOILER for "If i Had a Hammer" ahead ***

Name: John Hunt
E-mail: Chowkidar@aol.com

Josh,

I'm sure there are bits in "Hammer" that I don't get, but there is an incredible amount in it. This was a very ambitious project, layered as it is: Lorraine constantly being told "I told you I would, didn't I?" only to later find she's been lied to again. Generational comparisons and relationships abound; be it Lorraine and the Four Feathers (with all that name implies), Phil and Terry, Phil and his parents. I think about Moustafa's comment about Lorraine, the great recruiter in the context of Terry and Phil's reason for being at the club, the MC's hope behind helping Lorraine, the Four Feathers fond remembrance of their success at the garment factory union in which the strike outcome is never even mentioned.

On the allegorical level there are again a great many things going on. I picture Phil as a United States trying to decide how to express itself with its new-found (post-WW2) power. Terry clearly represents a cynical, though not yet jaded, future. The married couple (names escape) represent the conflict between idealism and reality, while Lorraine is idealism faced with disillusion. I could pick "Hammer" apart and end up with a document longer than the screenplay.

You haven't really yet responded to the issue of pacing which I obviously feel is uneven. Do you look back and think "Yeah, I'd cut this differently" or are you completely satisfied with your edit?

I've begun loaning my copy out to friends and neighbors. If anyone likes it enough I'll refer them to your site. Thanks,

John

Dear John:

It's very interesting to me to finally having someone think about the film that I spent so long thinking about and working on. What can I say, that's how I edited the film, so that must be how I wanted it. Like the shot of Max walking up the street, it's my big money shot establishing the town, the time period, as well as Max, and I like every frame that's there. I'm a firm believer in don't rush the set-up, and all of your editing suggestions are in act one, which I think is the right length. You don't agree, that's okay. But it's not a work-in-progress, it's done.

Josh

Name: Curt Jr.
E-mail: CurtJr.@aol.com

Dear Josh:

I saw LUNATICS:A LOVE STORY last night and bro, were you ripped off. The acclaimed AS GOOD AS IT GETS completely ripped your film off. Think about it-both films are about a mentally disturbed person (in the case of As GOOD... the illness is obsessive compulsion,the "in" mental illness of the late '90's)who are rarely able to leave their home and function in society, both meet and fall in love with an attractive yet neurotic woman who are dealing with a major crisis which the main character (the mentally ill person) must resue them from, and both films end with the main character seemingly being cured (or at the least on the right path to being cured) of their mental illness because of the support of the women. Both films end with the two leads finally becoming a couple. AS GOOD AS IT GETS even stole your whole road trip plot. I haven't seen AS GOOD... in awhile, but I think that Jack Nicholson's character's biggest fear was going on a road trip (somewhere to meet his family or something). In the end he finally has the strength to do so with the support of Helen Hunt's character. Doesn't this ending sound familiar. It should, it was ripped off from you by that shitty screenwriter Mark Andrus. Look at all the garbage he has written since he ripped you off. I think that LUNATICS was much better than AS GOOD (I thought AS GOOD was alright at best). However, because that film gets the big budget and the big stars (even though I think that the two leads in LUNATICS were better than Jack and Helen CUNT)it winds up with all the acclaim and oscars;and that no-talent Mark Andrus gets a ten picture deal. Man doesn't that piss you off. I feel bad for you. Your ten times better than these hacks, but it seems that you can't catch a break. I think that you should have been nicer to Tarantino. He probably would have hooked you up like he did Spiegel. He would have at least done more for you than that ungrateful Sam "sell-out" Raimi. I always thought what made EVIL DEAD was the ending sequence. When I heard that it was you that came up with it, I gave you major props. Is Raimi(who I think is a great director that has been directing garbage movies) such a scumbag that he forgot his friends that got him where he is? As always, YOU DA MAN !!!

Dear Curt Jr.:

I appreciate your support, but neither Sam Raimi nor Quentin Tarantino owe me a thing. And what, by the way, did Sam sell out? I've known him since he was eight and he's always wanted to be a big success, and he is. I don't think he ever made any pretention toward being a "great artist." His claims to fame, previous to "Spider-Man," are three ultra-violent horror movies. It's not like he was ever running around saying he was Ingmar Bergman. Tarantino, on the other hand, is pretentious, which always riles me up a little. Not to mention I was a prick to Quentin so many years ago, there's no taking it back. Meanwhile, I did notice some similarities to my film "Lunatics" when I saw "As Good as it Gets." And why are you being mean to Helen Hunt, who's good? I don't know this writer's other credits, but I guess he liked my film.

Josh


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