WEIRDLAND: July 2017

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Tarantino's planned film take on Sharon Tate and The Manson Family murders

Quentin Tarantino is developing a film about the Manson family murders. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the Pulp Fiction and Hateful Eight director will write and direct the as-yet untitled film, which concerns the notorious killings of five people, including pregnant actor Sharon Tate – wife of director Roman Polanski – carried out by followers of Charles Manson in 1969. Manson and four followers later received life imprisonment – and his group were also responsible for a number of other killings during the 1960s.

Details on the plot of the film remain unknown, but Deadline reports that Margot Robbie has been approached to play Tate, while the Hollywood Reporter suggests that Jennifer Lawrence is also being considered for the part. Brad Pitt and Samuel L Jackson are also being linked with roles in the film, which will begin shooting next year. The Manson Family murders became headline news around the world, and were seen as symbolic of the disorder and violence of the late 1960s, as well as the demise of the hippie movement. Tarantino’s last film, the violent western The Hateful Eight, was released in January 2016. Despite an all-star cast that included Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Samuel L Jackson, the film performed disappointingly at the box office. Source:

In June 1968, Roman Polanski’s film Rosemary’s Baby had become a huge success and made the Polish director a celebrity in the United States. Sharon Tate, an actress he had married in January 1968, was not yet a star. She had appeared in Valley of the Dolls, a film depicting the sleazier side of screen fame, Polanski’s Fearless Vampire Killers, and a nude pictorial in Playboy magazine—her husband shot the session photos. Tate seemed to be the quintessential Hollywood starlet. With Rosemary’s Baby a substantial hit, Polanski and his wife had to be based in L.A., though they could and did spend considerable time in England and Europe on film projects. 

They had trouble finding the right place to live, settling for a while in a Chateau Marmont apartment on Sunset Boulevard, then renting a house in the Hollywood Hills from actress Patty Duke. The place didn’t really suit them. They wanted something grander, commensurate with Polanski’s new, exalted status, and so they kept looking. Meanwhile, the couple hired a housekeeper named Winifred Chapman. Tate hoped soon to become pregnant. Despite her flashy image and nude photos, she was something of a homebody at heart. When they learned about Altobelli’s Cielo Drive property, Polanski and Tate were interested; their plans to find a new home had taken on new urgency when they learned that Tate was pregnant. Even when Polanski was away, there were friends with her all the time, quite often celebrity hair stylist Jay Sebring, who had been Tate’s boyfriend before she left him for Polanski. After their breakup Sharon and Jay stayed close friends.

In the "Manson Women" documentary of the Biography Channel it's mentioned that Jim Morrison visited the Ranch Spahn's and The Family Manson at some point prior to the murders. Jim knew one of the murder victims, Sharon Tate's ex-boyfriend Jay Sebring, who worked as hair stylist for actors in Hollywood. His clients included Warren Beatty, Steve McQueen, Frank Sinatra and Kirk Douglas. Sebring was introduced to Sharon Tate by journalist Joe Hyams in October 1964 and they had a romantic relationship until 1966, when Tate went to London to work on The Fearless Vampire Killers and began a romance with director Roman Polanski.  

Jay Sebring was also the creator of Jim Morrison's famous haircut (a free-flowing hairstyle) for the photo sessions by Joel Brodsky (The Young Lion photoshoot). Jim Morrison did visit Death Valley several times in his famous shamanistic "Vision Quests" trips and allegedly met there some members of The Manson Family, who hung out at The Spiral Staircase, the place that inspired Jim Morrison to write "Roadhouse Blues"—about the drive up Topanga Canyon Blvd to The Corral. Charles Manson often hung out at The Corral with his Family. On December 9, 1970, the day after celebrating his 27th birthday, Jim Morrison sat in the Doors’ business office, reading an article from the LA Times about a grand jury having indicted Charles Manson and members from his Family for the slayings at Cielo Drive. Jim Morrison put down the paper and said to others in the room, "I think I’m having a nervous breakdown." It seemed strange Manson had seized upon the sunny music of the Beach Boys and the Beatles for his psychotic projections but he had ignored The Doors' prophecies.

Sharon Tate, here pictured around 1969, with her husband, Roman Polanski, were customers of Pamela Courson’s store, Themis. Sharon is wearing a traditional Moroccan djellaba robe. Although it has not been proven Sharon actually purchased this item in Themis, it is almost certain she bought it at Pamela's boutique. 

Pamela Courson (aka Pamela Susan Morrison, Jim Morrison's common law wife) operated Themis (1968-1971), a fashion boutique that Jim Morrison bought for her with his royalty checks from the album Strange Days. One of The Family Manson's followers was seen wearing the same Moroccan djellaba robe that both Sharon Tate and Pamela Courson wore. The Manson Family were known to be thieves, or as they called it “creepy crawling,” their way into people’s homes to steal at night. We don’t know if the night Sharon Tate was murdered they stole any of her clothes, but it is very eerie that one of Manson’s followers was wearing this same rare djellaba that Sharon Tate owned in 1969—probably bought at Pamela Courson's storeat one of those “Free Manson’s” protests. Source: pamelasusancoursonmorrison.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Howard Hawks' screwball influence on Edgar Wright's Baby Driver

“Baby Driver” (2017) is exuberant, fast paced and tightly scripted. There’s not much in the way of fat—no scene goes on longer than it needs to. The picture isn’t just a collection of jokes and improve-y back and forths poorly glued together to resemble a feature length film. Edgar Wright firmly believes in narrative and structure to keep things organized and the action moving. Story and character come first, while the humor flows effortlessly out of them. “Baby Driver” keeps to a meticulous and playful comedic rhythm, sort of like a classic screwball comedy with more music, heavier cutting and a lot more action.

Edgar Wright also likes working within established genres. “Baby Driver” embraces a well-worn sub genre of the crime film—an expert criminal trying to get out that dangerous life but that life wont let him leave. In this case, that expert criminal is a young (talented) getaway driver known as “Baby” (Ansel Elgort). A good kid who mostly means well, he works for the master criminal Doc, (Kevin Spacey) doing jobs to pay off a debt he acquired years ago. “Baby Driver” is Wright’s hyper screwball take on films like “Thief” and “Drive.” It’s kinetic and cartoon-y, with a palpable undercurrent of violence and danger. Source:

Between the favorite films of Edgar Wright, there are several directed by Howard Hawks: "Scarface" (1932), "Bringing Up Baby" (1938) and "The Big Sleep" (1946). Source:

Between April and July 1974, Tom Luddy at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley ran the most complete Howard Hawks retrospective ever organized to date, in that it included the silent films until then thought to be lost: Paid to Love, The Cradle Snatchers, and Trent’s Last Case. His Girl Friday and To Have and Have Not received the usual rapturous receptions. While in Berkeley, Hawks agreed to speak with three representatives of a radical leftist film journal called Jump Cut. The interviewers were prepared to suspend their “aversion to his reactionary romanticism and hail him as a closet subversive, a repressed populist, perhaps even a right-wing anarchist.” The result was undoubtedly the oddest, most rambling, but in some ways most personal interview with Hawks ever published. In it he railed, as much of his generation did, against the “biased” media that “has turned people against Nixon,” against newfangled school textbooks, against political messages in motion pictures, and against “sick” pictures, which he defined as “pictures of psychopaths, pictures of strange people, pictures that are nauseating, people that you don’t like to look at or follow—those are sick pictures.” He expressed a revulsion at politics in general and at the “gradual erosion” of ideals in America. On the subject of Vietnam, Hawks said, “America lost all over the world by fighting there. I think that whoever started it in the first place was wrongly advised. They should have said, ‘Go over there and drop a couple of big bombs, and if you don’t feel like doing that, stay out of it.’”

Hawks was not an intellectual yet he was very intelligent; he possessed the wisdom of his years but remained an adolescent in his enthusiasms even in old age; he was innately conservative in his worldview yet daring and inclined to risk; he was embraced by many feminists in the 1970s for liberating his women characters from the home and placing them on the same field with men, yet he held an utterly conventional view of women’s role in his own life; he was stoic but reckless, reserved but excessive; he was celebrated but little known; he was a pragmatist but a poet; and he had the mind of an engineer but the subconscious of an artist. He was, above all, a modern artist. —"Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood" (2007) by Todd McCarthy

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Only Angels Have Wings' emotional core and redemption: Jean Arthur

Frank Capra's 'Lost Horizon' (1937) headed for an 80th Anniversary Blu-ray Edition this Fall. Celebrate the 80th anniversary of the lavishly produced Frank Capra classic, LOST HORIZON, based on the best-selling novel by James Hilton. Ronald Colman and Jane Wyatt star in this unique journey to the enchanted paradise of Shangri-La, where time stands still. Sony is working on 'Lost Horizon: 80th Anniversary Edition' for Blu-ray on October 3. Fully restored in 4K and presented in high definition, the Blu-ray is housed within a lavish, limited edition 24-page Digibook, complete with an all-new essay from film historian Jeremy Arnold and rare archival photos from the film. In addition, as part of the restoration, more than a minute of rarely-seen original footage from the film was found and included, making this the most complete cut of the film in existence. In 2016, the film was selected for inclusion in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." 

According to Frank Capra, the word around Columbia was that Jean Arthur was a bit "cuckoo." But he liked her style-and her voice-and signed her for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) over the objection of Harry Cohn. "Great voice?" Cohn bellowed. "See her face? Half of it's angel, and the other half horse." But Capra fixed the problem, as he did for Claudette Colbert, by making sure his cameraman Joe Walker always shot the actress with her best face forward. It was a move to which Arthur later attributed much of her movie success. When the American Film Institute honored Frank Capra with its Life Achievement Award in 1982, practically all the major living stars Capra had directed, including Bette Davis, Claudette Colbert, Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, showed up to pay tribute. But not Jean Arthur. "She's just a hermit," Capra told Tom Shales of the Washington Post. "She doesn't do very well in crowds, and she doesn't do very well with people, and she doesn't do very well with life but she does very well as an actress. She certainly had two sides: the actress, this wonderful actress, and this person, this shy personality that she was in reality."

When movie buffs sought out Capra's films, inevitably they stumbled upon the director's "favorite actress," Jean Arthur. America's "forgotten actress," as one journalist called her on the occasion of her birthday in 1985, could readily be seen in such classics as The Plainsman, Only Angels Have Wings, The Devil and Miss Jones, The More the Merrier and Shane. And her list of leading men: Jimmy Stewart, Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Charles Boyer, William Powell, Ronald Colman, John Wayne, Ray Milland, William Holden, Joel McCrea and Alan Ladd.

Becoming Cary Grant (2017) documentary by Mark Kidel draws on an unpublished memoir by Cary Grant, and also dwells on his experiments with LSD in the 1950s. Grant’s LSD experiences were part of a rigorously supervised experiment in cutting-edge Southern California psychotherapy. He would take a tab, once a week, in his therapist’s office, lie down on the couch with a cover over him, and hallucinate his way back into his subconscious self. He found the experience to be frightening, liberating, and healing—“I passed through seas of horrifying and happy sights, through a montage of intense love and hate, a mosaic of past impressions,” Grant wrote. “At last,” he said, “I'm close to happiness.” “Becoming Cary Grant” leaves too many questions unanswered. Grant, who was married five times and was so handsome that Pauline Kael described him as the most pursued male of the 20th century, was a person haunted by the fragility of his romantic temperament. The film includes commentary from his daughter Jennifer Grant, his last wife, Barbara (Harris) Jaynes, longtime friend Judy Balaban and authors David Thomson and Mark Glancy.

“If you haven't seen Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, and Rita Hayworth in Howard Hawks's romantic and exciting 1939 South American flying drama, Only Angels Have Wings, you have not experienced one of the most vibrant, resonant, and deeply entertaining movies ever made.”—Peter Bogdanovich 

In Only Angels Have Wings (1939) Howard Hawks transformed Geoff Carter's “stoicism” into a metaphor for the very type of reserved, nonswaggering macho heroism that young American servicemen would need after America's coming entry into World War II, so much so that the film's signature line of dialogue, “Where's Joe,” would serve as a catchphrase for the wives and mothers of a generation of wartime G.I. Joes. As Peter Bogdanovich rightly points out, this picture transformed Cary Grant from light comedy into the front ranks of Hollywood leading he-men, the first successful action film in which he got the girl—or rather, the girl got him. It was the intricate dynamics of sexual combustion between men and women that preoccupied the poetic engineer Howard Hawks. The screenplay of Only Angels Have Wings has always been viewed as the essence of Jules Furthman in its world-weary romanticism, cynical attitude toward sex, hard-shelled and stoic leading man, and footloose leading lady with a past. One could carp that certain scenes represent a warped, toxic notion of masculinity (not an uncommon criticism of Hawks), but that would require ignoring Geoff’s willingness to give Bonnie what she needs from him even as he makes it appear that he’s withholding it (in order to protect himself from a potentially disastrous surge of vulnerability).

Hawks encountered heavy resistance to his methods from Jean Arthur. Questionable in the role of a vagabond showgirl knocking around Latin America, Frank Capra’s greatest leading lady was simply too wholesome and irrepressibly upbeat to fit comfortably into Hawks’s world. Arthur was not adept at improvising with the quicksilver Grant, and when Hawks would try to direct her to act in the sexy, subtly simmering way that he'd later find in Lauren Bacall, she simply refused, saying, “I can’t do that kind of stuff.” Hawks didn’t hide his disappointment and attributed Arthur's inability to follow his direction to “a quirk.” The film greatly benefited from the romantic optimism Hawks was feeling at the time, as he was just in the initial throes of falling in love with Slim, the most important woman of his life. Howard Hawks eventually had to admit that Jean Arthur was "really good," marveled  at "one of the best love scenes that I've ever seen in a picture. That was beautifully done."

There had been rumors that Arthur was unfriendly to Hayworth during filming, beginning when Arthur refused to stand next to the striking newcomer for publicity stills. Hayworth recalled that Arthur would do a scene, run off to her dressing room and lock herself in. Then Hayworth would do her scene, run back to her own dressing room, and lock herself in. Finally they bumped into each other on the last day of shooting. "You're shy," observed Arthur to the young newcomer. "You are too," Hayworth replied. Rita Hayworth eventually displaced Jean Arthur as queen of the Columbia lot, but she also inherited the title of Harry Cohn's chief whipping girl. Like Jean Arthur before her and Kim Novak after her, Rita Hayworth refused to bend to Cohn's will or to submit to his possessive, bullying tactics. All three actresses had introverted natures that did not respond well to the mogul's gruff manner, but it was Rita Hayworth who suffered the special indignity of constantly having to ward off her boss's blatant sexual advances.

At the start, Carter’s feeling is that women are dangerous, and there is considerable evidence that Bonnie’s mixture of ingenuousness and impulsiveness, however attractive, makes her more dangerous than any girl he may have had in mind in the first place. Carter and Bonnie first become intimate in an argument about the compatibility of male professionalism and female domesticity, and their growing love affair erodes Carter’s code a good deal. Carter gradually subsides in a growing and largely unstated emotional commitment to a girl who is herself rather rootless (she is an unemployed showgirl, daughter of a circus tightrope walker who died from a fall). Each fills a real emotional need in the other. Only Angels Have Wings would inspire adventure TV series Tales of the Gold Monkey (1982) which was set in 1938 in the South Pacific, about an ex-Flying Tigers pilot named Jake Cutter, his best friend Corky, a good-hearted alcoholic, and his love interest Sarah who sings in the Monkey Bar as a cover for her espionage activities.

The most fascinating character in Only Angels Have Wings is Bonnie, played brilliantly by the always-underrated Jean Arthur. She's the film’s emotional core. She holds Geoff’s redemption. Modern Oscar historians regard Arthur's repeated slightings as among the more egregious of the Academy's many errors of omission. In 1990, Emanuel Levy observed that Arthur "occupies a special position among the Academy's underestimated actresses," noting that at least three of her performances should have been nominated but were not. Danny Peary ventured that Arthur deserved several nominations (for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Easy Living), and at least one Best Actress award (for The More the Merrier). Several factors conspired to cause Arthur's work to be overlooked so frequently by the Academy. Comediennes have fared especially poorly in Oscar competition. She had abandoned the role of Billie Dawn in "Born Yesterday" for which Judy Holliday won a Best Actress Oscar in 1950. But the biggest factor Arthur had going against her in the annual Oscar sweepstakes was simple politics. Hedda Hopper had labeled Jean the "Least Popular Woman in Hollywood" in 1942. The Academy voters, among whom Arthur had few friends, were aware of her reputation for being difficult, and it was considered bad form for a star to feud so openly and repeatedly with her employers. So, when Arthur finally did garner her first and only Oscar nomination, it was in spite of, rather than because of, Harry Cohn. —Sources: "Jean Arthur: The Actress Nobody Knew" (2004) by John Oller and "Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood"  (2007) by Todd McCarthy

Monday, July 03, 2017

Happy 4th of July! Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

"Every movie star is disliked by some people," said John Cromwell, another director with whom she worked, "but everyone liked Jean Arthur." She worked assiduously at placing herself beyond Hollywood's usual grasp. She recoiled from interviews, shunned photographers and declined to participate in the standard publicity gimmicks. She avoided parties and nightclubs and the glamour set that inhabited the likes of Club Mocambo and the Troc. Instead, she chose to live as a virtual recluse. As her one-time husband, movie producer Frank Ross, once affirmed, "She really wants to be left alone." 

Peter Pan provided Arthur with a fictional affirmation of her values, "If you can hang on to your individuality, hold tight to your freedom, and not get squigged-out as you grow older, then and only then are you mature," she said during the play's run, later adding that "people who aren't free like Peter, or at least hunger to be free, aren't aware of the adventure of living. They're walking around dead." "She was a nonconformist too," said Jean of Joan of Arc, "a believer in her own intuition. Intuition, that's what Joan's voices were. She just wanted everybody to go home and mind their own business," which is all that Arthur wanted, as well.

Jean Arthur's aversion to publicity would eventually cause the mainstream Hollywood press to turn on her, but for the time being journalists were more intrigued than anything else. Many saw her as a sort of American Garbo, only even harder to reach. "It is Miss Arthur, even more than the divine Garbo, who wants to be alone," declared Movie Classic in January 1937.

James Stewart was impressed with his leading lady, later calling her "the finest actress I ever worked with. No one had her humor, her timing." You Can't Take It With You was far from either's best opportunity to display their respective abilities, but it helped establish them as the quintessential Capra couple. Arthur and Frank Ross had recently moved from Beverly Hills into a unique, modernistic three-story house high in the hills of Brentwood, complete with pool, terrace and garden. Still, Arthur remained curiously frustrated from a professional standpoint. Her husband further explained that "Jean is not essentially a happy person, you know. She is not in any way a Polyanna. She is never satisfied with herself."

Few Hollywood films have stamped themselves as deeply upon the American consciousness as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). The real message of this film is that the forces of evil in America's political institutions are as powerful and entrenched as the forces of good, and that only through the latter's eternal vigilance can occasional, marginal progress be made. The film's own conflicting impulses were a product of the melding of the fundamentally conservative philosophy of its director, Frank Capra, and the left-wing leanings of screenwriter Sidney Buchman, a Communist Party member who brilliantly adapted Lewis Foster's original story. In the Capra/Buchman treatment, good is represented in the figure of Stewart's Jefferson Smith, a "Boy Ranger" leader who is unaware that his appointment to fill out the term of a deceased senator is the work of a political machine that expects him to serve as a rubber stamp for its graft. Smith's opposite number, with a heart as evil as Smith's is pure, is machine boss Jim Taylor, played by portly Edward Arnold, who practically came to define the role of the snarling, capitalist pig. 

Between the polar opposites of Stewart and Arnold in Mr. Smith were two other principal characters whose attitudes toward the democratic system were decidedly more ambivalent. Senator Joseph Paine, Smith's idol, was once an idealist whose presidential ambitions led him to sell out his principles to the powerful Taylor machine. Veteran character actor Claude Rains, with whom Arthur had once appeared on Broadway in The Man Who Reclaimed His Head, was cast in this role as the distinguished-looking orator whose eloquence masks a guilty conscience and weak stomach for the fraud he must perpetrate in order to continue Taylor's patronage.

Though she constantly talks of quitting and going back home to Baltimore, Arthur's Saunders stays on because she needs the job "and a new suit of clothes." Paine has given her the assignment of watching over his junior colleague and keeping him away from anything that smacks of real politics. Arthur's screen time in Mr. Smith is modest in comparison with that of her leading man, but again her role is the pivotal one in the film. She is both the agent of the unsuspecting hero's ultimate triumph and the buffer Capra has set up between the almost unbearably naive protagonist and the presumably more skeptical audience. For if the world-weary Saunders can be converted to Smith's cause, then we will be convinced as well. In the beginning, we see Smith as Saunders does, as a hayseed whose wide eyes have failed to notice that he is nothing but an "honorary stooge," as the press has scornfully labeled him.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is best remembered for Stewart's famous filibuster at the end of the film. But the most moving scene in the movie is the immediately preceding one, where Saunders talks Smith out of quitting the Senate and urges him into battle. Smith sits sobbing at the Lincoln Memorial, where he has gone, baggage in hand, for one last look before leaving town that night. "You can't quit now, not you," she admonishes him. "You didn't just have faith in Paine or any other living man. You had faith in something bigger than that. You had plain decent everyday common rightness. And this country could use some of that-yeah, so could the whole cockeyed world-a lot of it." On October 17, 1939, Jean Arthur's thirty-ninth birthday Mr. Smith Goes to Washington had a celebrity preview at Washington's Constitution Hall, home of the conservative Daughters of the American Revolution. In attendance were 4,000 special guests, including members of Congress, the national press corps and several Supreme Court justices. Embarrassed and humiliated by the unflattering portrayal they had received, official Washington lashed back, calling the film an indictment, rather than a celebration, of American democracy. Fortunately the critics and public strongly supported Mr. Smith, and it was nominated for eleven Academy Awards. And in 1942, defiant Parisians proved the opposite of Joe Kennedy's theorem: they chose Mr. Smith as the last English-language film to show before the Nazi ban on American and British films took effect.

Hollywood passed from the golden era of the thirties to a new decade, and Jean Arthur became more insecure with each new success. To the extent Arthur had political thoughts, they tilted heavily leftward (George Bernard Shaw and Erich Fromm, her two greatest intellectual heroes, were both committed socialists). Louella Parsons thought Arthur's aversion to conformity was the real explanation for her idiosyncrasies. "I never believed that Jean Arthur suffered from any kind of a complex," Parsons said. As Arthur explained in one of the last interviews she ever gave, "You have one life, you do what you want to do. Some people like to do what everybody else does-go to parties and talk about nothing. The only real reason for living is doing what you want to do, or trying to, anyway." For the remaining years of her life, Arthur would keep on doing just what she wanted-or trying to. She didn't let many people see what she was really like. Helen Harvey, Arthur's one-time agent, added: "She wasn't very real. Her deepest passion in life was reserved for her ideals, rather than for people." —"Jean Arthur: The Actress Nobody Knew" (2004) by John Oller