The Paradigm Shifts…

We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.
-Marshall McCluhan

After listening to Steven Spielberg talk about the changing nature of film, it occurs to me that that is exactly what 6 Degrees of Film has focused on for the past several years. The changing nature of film has produced an inordinate amount of movies that are, to paraphrase the words of Marshall McCluhan, taking us into the future while looking through a rear-view mirror. Therefore, we are marching backwards into the future.
How true this is when we see so many re-worked ideas being made into films! The statistics don’t lie. The number of sequels being filmed is at a record high this year.
The paradigm has shifted to television films which George Lucas described as being “much more adventurous” than the work coming out of major film studios.
Here is an excerpt from the book, “6 Degrees of Film”, talking about this paradigm shift:

Kick-ass cinema can be defined as a type of film where the predominant emotion is one of elation when the hero kicks ass against the villain, and the entire filmmaking experience is cathartic—but only for those who view life through a very narrow window.
This is not really a new problem for filmmakers, and there are a number of films that have been made, from the post-WWII generation through today, catering to the kick-ass audience. However, the types of films that have lingered in the highest-grossing list and the ones that have earned sequels in the past ten to twenty years represent the dumbing-down of a large portion of the moviegoing audience.
To be fair, films like Titanic and Avatar don’t really figure in this category. But films like The Fast and the Furious, Transformers, and other mindless high-speed car-chase action films are fast becoming the sure-fire hits for Hollywood studios. These films are the counterpoint to the small, independent pictures that have been made in the United States and abroad since the ’60s.
The breakdown of the old Hollywood studio system did spawn independent and foreign films that make us think. But the kick-ass brand of filmmaking makes money and that is why they are here to stay. At some point in our lives, as we age, we start to ask ourselves how much money we want to spend to be entertained by the same mindless pap that is being paraded on screen, masquerading for entertainment. Speaking for myself, this is a nasty apocalyptic thought. Even the notion of having to waste two or more hours sitting through this type of drivel has made the very thought of becoming a film critic akin to someone condemned to a torture chamber.
One of the most satisfying addendums I have seen in recent times comes in one of my least favorite movie guides, Entertainment Weekly. In the sidebar, there is a list where the highest-grossing films of all times are adjusted for inflation, and the list begins to look quite different. Gone with the Wind comes out on top, I do believe!
So the good news is that there are still great films being made, even in Hollywood. But the demand is high for pabulum and drivel being churned out of Hollywood simply to generate revenue, and that is all we might eventually get. Imagination and originality in plots and content are all that should be asked for in good filmmaking. It’s not too much to ask, and we should all demand more of it in the days and decades to come.

Thoughts on Superman: The Myth

I remember seeing Superman on the big screen for the first time. It was kind of exciting to be able to watch a comic book character come alive. And there was an element of shock and awe that the “big league film producers” decided to take the kids world of comic books seriously…seriously enough to produce a major feature film that starred Christopher Reeve and Marlon Brando, no less!
That was 1978. Now we live in the Golden Age of Comic Book Films and the screen is awash with these characters.
We have explored the dark side of Batman at length with “The Dark Knight”. And the world was astounded when “The Avengers” became the  third Highest Grossing Film of all time, surpassing Titanic and Avatar. Comic book characters proved they are here to stay. And now we have another Superman.
Superman is, from what I remember way back when we read the characters only in comic books, a character that lent itself to creating multiple universes.

1.There was a small bottle he kept in his Fortress of Solitude that contained an entire city from his home planet of Krypton. The people were all futuristic marvels. I believe his uncle may have even lived in the jar-Kandor was the name of the mythical city. So there were opportunities to create storylines just from that one idea-the city in the jar!
2. Of course, there was a Super Girl and a Super Dog eventually created in the course of the series. These also created multiple storylines.
3. In later years, they tweaked his ties to planet Earth by using sensational titles like, “Superman Gets Married!; Superman has a Baby! Or Superman Dies!” All of these plot twists came and went as we traversed the perils of Superman within the pages of the comics.
4. The Fortress of Solitude: What a wonderful name! This was the place Superman went to “get away from it all”. It was somewhere in the frozen tundra of the North, the Arctic would be a likely guess…. where only he could survive. He would go there to think and to meditate, I suppose, as the name implies.
5. There was one comic-book episode that always stood out in my mind. Scientists invented a ray gun that would make violent criminals into infants, and they would be raised again to fit into society and conform. This was a comforting thought that showed us even as kids there was at least one creative way to magically solve many of the problems in our society.
Unfortunately, the ray gun doesn’t exist and Superman is not real. So we are faced with the problem of re-creating the fictional Superman character to accommodate each passing generation with higher technological advances and fewer glimpses of the simpler time from whence he came into existence on Earth.

And now, we are learning to live with a new paradigm. The fast-paced modern world wants to see Comic Book Storyboards come alive every few years. So it comes to pass that the younger audience, not familiar with the world of comic books, sees this superhero with fresh eyes. And, of course, the movies make a lot of money for Hollywood. Therefore, we are going to see more of Superman and less of George Bernard Shaw’s “Man and Superman”. That is a fact.

The Film Experience

Lawrence of Arabia, Close Encounters, The Godfather, Jaws,
Singin in the Rain and An American in Paris; It’s a Wonderful Life; Casablanca or The Big Sleep; The Wizard of Oz; The Sound of Music

The film experience is unique and something that one must consider in regard to some of the classic films of the past century. These films were made to be experienced at the movies. There is something to be said for the movie experience where we sit in a darkened theatre and commune one-on-one with the story and the characters on screen.

The age of television has taught us a lot about community. We are a solitary people, at times, and television enforces this as we sit and watch the small screen every night. But movie-going was a collegial experience; you would go to certain films only on college campuses.
You would go out with your friends, with your girl friends or guy friends to see a particular movie or a certain movie star. Those things you did as a group. But now,television isolates us. We develop group-think as we sit and watch commercials and then pontificate at the water cooler about which shows we watch and which shows we hate.

Films give us a visceral reaction to events and to our emotional gauges in society. From the start, from the Birth of a Nation to Frankenstein and Psycho we always react with our gut when we think about a movie we love.

The movies that are shown sometimes at old movie palaces or as special events tell us a lot about ourselves as a society. They are the cream of the crop, and most of the audiences are graying when we see who is watching these older movies. Younger people do not really want to sit and experience movies as we did in the past. They are not able to experience film the same way, and the type of movies that are made today reflect this divide.

Perhaps we will not always find ourselves in dark movie houses with the ability to lose ourselves in a character or a storyline flickering on the big screen in front of us. But we will remember the era of big Hollywood movies and the film experience for what it was. And what it tells us about our own American Experience.

The Problem with Tony Soprano

I have a problem with Tony Soprano. A big problem…with the way that I have seen the tributes pouring in about the character James Gandolfini portrayed in “The Sopranos.” A few weeks ago, I wrote a post asserting that the Great American Novel, “The Great Gatsby”, could never become the The Great American Film. That accolade belonged to “The Godfather”. For many reasons, the Godfather series of films touched a chord in the psyche of the American consciousness.

Why do I believe the Godfather holds sway as the Great American Film? It is because we are a nation of immigrants. We believe in the power of tomorrow, in the ability of a man to work his way up from nothing and become somebody. The Godfather also touched another nerve in the American psyche. We are a violent people. The Godfather acknowledges this facet in our character and consciousness. We celebrate violence in some ways that is disturbing to the rest of the world.

Another post from “6 Degrees of Film” is called Americana. There are three films named that define our American Spirit. “The Wizard of Oz”, which celebrates hope and courage; ‘It’s a Wonderful Life” which celebrates small-town values such as hard work, love of family and country, and a kindness of Spirit and Faith in God that is found in the American heartland. And the third is “To Kill a Mockingbird”, which explores the themes of integrity and love for family, honor and courage in the face of overwhelming odds, but also the dark side found in our recent American past. We see bigotry and racism in this film at war with faith and goodness, sometimes in the very same character struggling to learn how to do the right thing.

We are not a perfect people. America is not a chosen nation of overlords. But we struggle to do the right thing and acknowledge our weaknesses in most cases. For example, the Abu Ghraib prison is a shining example of an American institution that went awry. We incarcerate more people in the United States than any other nation on earth. Therefore, we need to acknowledge that our policies have roots in our own system found right here in the good old U. S. of A.

Guantanamo is another shining example of our need to simply clamp down and cover up where we should be shining examples for the rest of the world. But we don’t see ourselves as others do. In “To Kill a Mockingbird”, the film ends with Scout standing on Boo Radley’s porch, proclaiming that you don’t really know a man till you stand in their shoes. “Standing on Boo’s porch was enough”, she said.

We need to stand on the porch and look at ourselves, as Americans with fresh eyes. All of this brings me back to the character of Tony Soprano. No doubt the man, James Gandolfini was a consummate actor. He played a well-written part with nuance and finesse and deserved all the afore-mentioned accolades that have come his way. However, the character that he portrayed was a violent man. He was a killer and a mob boss. He was not Atticus Finch or Jimmy Stewart or Ronald Reagan. There is no shining city on a hill found in the character of Tony Soprano. There are sobering lessons to be sure, but if we take a step back, then eventually there will be a reckoning. I’m thinking that time is coming….

After all, we did elect the first African-American President in our history. And we still believe in that shining city on the hill that Reagan spoke of. We need to look for heroes that reflect the times, but not those that shape some of our darkest tendencies. Tony Soprano is a character to reflect upon, and to contemplate, but not to emulate. That is the end and, as they said about Gatsby and about the man who created him, F. Scott Fitzgerald, he was a “poor son of a bitch”. ‘Nough said.

6 Degrees Summer Newsletter 2013

Critics corner:

Some of the best pieces I’ve seen on Gatsby include 1) A review featuring advice from Dear Old Dad…written by Daniel Williams and is entitled, “4 life lessons from The Great Gatsby”. Another is from the online site Moviefone and is called, “10 Things You Should Know about Baz Luhrmann’s 3D Spectacle”. It was written by Alex Suskind. My review is at WordPress:


What looks good:

The Heatis a “chick flick” comedy, good for light summer fare. Melissa McCarthy is a smoking hot commodity and this should be a great pairing.(McCarthy and Sandra Bullock) The previews also look funny.


Shakespeare at the Movies: They are making a version of Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing starting Friday, June 7th– A “modern retelling of Shakespeare’s classic comedy about two pairs of lovers with different takes on romance and a way with words”.



Chick Flicks: The origin of the term…


According to the Internet site, “The Phrase Finder”, the origin of the phrase, ‘Chick Flick” runs the gamut from early sexually exploitative Russ Meyer films to movies like “Thelma & Louise”, a film made in the early nineties. By that time, there were enough films written by women and about women that were beginning to receive different types of notices. .”Chick film” was turned from a pejorative phrase denoting films about chicks to films that were made about women or would appeal to women. The phrase took a firm hold in the public lexicon around 1995-almost 20 years ago.  By then, films that had previously been dismissed as just “chick films” became “chick flicks”. The phrase, “Chick Flick” is well established and in today’s parlance, it denotes films about and for women.

 Most of these films feature strong female leads that the public can identify with in the same sense they identified with an actress like Doris Day in the fifties. She was someone who wasn’t necessarily a pioneer in the Women’s Liberation Movement, but was however, a strong voice for the type of everywoman that was certainly the average American housewife of the fifties and sixties. Today, an actress such as Sandra Bullock would feature in parts comparable to the type of roles Doris Day took in a bygone era.

The upcoming movie “The Heat” is a “chick flick” in the best sense of the word!



Strong Women in Film: Here’s a sample from the upcoming book,”6 Degrees of Film”:


Women in Hollywood


Pioneering women writers like Dorothy Parker paved the way for others to join them in participating as commentators, actors, scriptwriters, and later directors and producers in the film industry. Parker wrote this charming ditty after a visit to William Randolph Hearst’s famous mansion:

Upon my honor, I saw a Madonna,

Sitting alone in a niche.

Above the door

Of the glamorous whore

Of a prominent son of a bitch.[1]

At the turn of the twentieth century and during the first ten to fifteen years of motion picture history, women did not have the right to vote and lacked basic civil liberties with which to leverage power.

But by 1920, women had won their suffrage and the First World War had ended. With the dawn of the Jazz Age, flappers and vamps were the cutting edge for women’s liberation. Women were only just beginning to experience some semblance of power or authority in their government, and they were anxious for their voices to be heard.

Unfortunately, from the beginning in Hollywood and to this day, screen-acting careers for women in leading roles are often limited to that of the ingénue or young girl. Older women have been mostly stereotyped in parts. Of course, there have been exceptional cases like Katharine Hepburn, Meryl Streep, and Bette Davis, but the truth is that most women lose starring roles to younger women after the age of forty; this is some improvement—it used to be thirty. Bette Davis thought she was through at forty-one. According to the latest list of highest-grossing actors, only two in the top twenty are women: Cameron Diaz and Julia Roberts.

Current Female Pioneers

In 2009, Kathryn Bigelow, director of The Hurt Locker, became the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director. She also won the award for best director from the Directors Guild and the Critics’ Choice Award.

Sofia Coppola is one of the more prominent female directors of independent features at this writing. The daughter of iconoclastic filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, she starred in The Godfather Part III, and won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Lost in Translation in 2003.



Recommended viewing


The elegant and sophisticated actress Eleanor Parker is being featured in June on Turner Classic Movies. Eleanor Parker is probably best remembered for her role as the beautiful Baroness Schraeder in “The Sound of Music.” Elsa does her best to lure the Captain away from Maria but loses her man in the end. One of the most memorable lines in the famous film comes from Ms. Parker as she walks with her friend Max.


Baroness (Parker): “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Max: “What”

Baroness : “Why…to pack my harmonica?”

(This after hearing a roomful of singing Von Trapps!)


Parker was frequently paired with Robert Taylor in films made during the fifties. One of Parker’s strongest female leads comes from a film she made in 1955 with Taylor.  In this movie, “Many Rivers to Cross”, she plays an outdoorsy type of frontier woman who is determined to “get her man” to the altar. But she is no shrinking violet. And she knows what she wants and makes up her mind to go out and get it…The frontierswoman she portrays is a fairly pure role model for the modern woman!



Another upcoming film is “World War Z” starring Brad Pitt. Here’s a look at some of his best work:


Brad Pitt Filmography:


Thelma & Louise: 1991-This small part was pivotal in that it brought him to the attention of a nation of young, female moviegoers (myself among them) who wanted to know more about the hunky young man in the tryst with Geena Davis.


Kalifornia:1992 – A dark picture of an amoral world. Pitt is believable as the face of evil in one of his earlier roles. His portrayal of the menacing and amoral controlling half of a young couple on the rampage, meeting up with some unsuspecting travelers, is one that established him as a credible villain.


A River Runs Through It:1992 – A good chance to show the vulnerable and extremely charming side of Brad Pitt. The theme of loss and rejuvenation, with the sweeping backdrop of the river, makes this an emotional, if not altogether memorable film.


Meet Joe Black:1998-Pitt has been paired twice with Anthony Hopkins. The popular romantic saga, Legends of the Fall, that went before was not as satisfying in many ways as this quiet study about life and death. This remake of “Death takes a Holiday” also shows two sides to Pitt’s character, the charming and carefree lover and the dark and menacing persona of death.


Fight Club:1999-Here is another chance for Pitt to show he’s more than just a “pretty face”. His character is the walking embodiment of the man who has it all, who can do no wrong. And yet, he is darkly conflicted, and is shown to contain a core of violence that speaks to our society. This has become a film with something of a cult following, with young men identifying themselves strongly with the dark and silently violent nature that surrounds and defines the fight club.


Mr & Mrs Smith: 2005-Although this film breaks apart badly in the last half hour, it is interesting for so many reasons. The two leads are such perfect specimens of sheer beauty, they are enjoyable to watch and the sparring between them during the first hour is definitely the most entertaining part of the movie. Pitt is often cast as the bumbling, ineffectual dullard who is hard pressed to focus on the task at hand. In this instance, we see a layer of charm and a chance for a light comic touch as the two of them bicker over the dinner table. Would that the writers could have invented another way to end the picture rather than simply go the storyboards and start blasting away…






Funny Fat People in Film:


After observing the rise of plus-sized actresses such as Melissa McCarthy, here is a look back at some of the most famous…”weight-challenged” people who have starred in movies over the years:


Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle: One of the first successful comedians of the silent film era, Roscoe Arbuckle was riding a wave of success until September 5, 1921, when he attended a party that resulted in the death of a young woman.

Arbuckle was charged with manslaughter and acquitted after three sensationalized trials were held. But by then it was too late. His career was basically over and the stigma of the scandal stayed with him for the remainder of his life. He died at 46 of a heart attack after attempting a comeback in feature films.


Oliver Hardy:The sweetly endearing face of the chubby member of one of the most famous comedy duos in history belonged to Oliver Norvell Hardy. He was born Norvell Hardy, but took the name Oliver as a tribute to his father, a Confederate war veteran who died when he was just one year old.

Oliver Hardy initially broke into silent short films as a heavy. He was often teamed with Stan Laurel in years prior to their partnership, first in 1917 in “The Lucky Dog” and later when he began working at Hal Roach Studios in 1924. Stan Laurel actually directed one of Hardy’s early films in 1924, yet they didn’t appear on screen together until 1926.

Director Leo McCarey, who worked for Roach Studios at the time, is credited with the idea of pairing them together for a series of shorts. The rest,as they say, is history.

Oliver Hardy is also noted for some of his solo work, appearing with a friend of his, John Wayne, in “The Fighting Kentuckian”. He also played the Tin man in the 1925 version of “The Wizard of Oz.” Oliver Hardy died in 1957 at the age of 65.


Lou Costello: During WWII, Abbott & Costello were among the most popular acts in the country, on screen and touring for GI’s. Lou Costello was born in New York and met Bud Abbott in the 1930’s while both were performing in Vaudeville. They perfected their comic timing and the famous “Who’s on First?” routine very early in their stage career. After enjoying an enormously successful career on stage and in radio, they got their big break in film in 1940, when they appeared in the film, “One Night in the Tropics”. They only had a supporting role but stole the picture and were immediately signed to make “Buck Privates”. Their career boomed during World War II with a series of pictures designed to entertain a war-weary country.

Abbott & Costello went on to perform together on television in the 50’s, and Lou Costello appeared solo in some later films such as “The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock”. Costello died in 1959 a few days shy of his 53rd birthday.


Jackie Gleason: Although primarily known as a comic, Jackie Gleason was a jack of all trades when it came to entertainment. He was born in Brooklyn and many of the characters he created, including his most famous, Ralph Kramden, sprang from memories of his own life. He was known to be a hard working, hard drinking and hard partying entertainer. Gleason started as a stand-up comic and moved into film and radio during the 40’s. After the war, he got his big break in the fledgling medium of television.

Eventually, he had his own show that featured a cast of characters including The Poor Soul, Reginald Van Gleason and Ralph Kramden.

Gleason was a consummate entertainer who also excelled at playing straight dramatic roles. He received positive reviews for his work with Steve McQueen in “Soldier in the Rain”(1963) and Paul Newman in “The Hustler”(1961).


John Candy:A Canadian who gained fame in the seventies on Second City Television, Candy became an endearing film star before his death in 1994. John Candy got his start in the Toronto branch of the improvisational comedy troupe, Second City. He became widely known in the U.S. after Second City Television debuted in the 70’s.

After leaving SCTV, he gained recognition as a film star with roles in “Splash”, “Cool Runnings” and one of his best known films, “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”, which also starred Steve Martin.

Candy was 43 years old when he died of a heart attack while filming “Wagons East” in 1994.




The Great Gatsby: Notes from the Film

Gatsby poster 2After seeing this picture, here are some thoughts on this version of Gatsby:

1) Baz Luhrmann-A talented director, I wonder why he didn’t do this as a musical? One of the highlights of this film is the music. In particular, the build up to our first on-screen sighting of Gatsby with the spectacular backdrop of the West Egg Castle/home surrounding him and the music of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” plus a bevy of fireworks that make for splendid cinema.
2) Why didn’t they overhaul the film and make it a contemporary setting? It could easily be done with the theme of Wall Street Greed and corruption that pervades the storyline. So many of Shakespeare’s classics have been re-done in modern settings. This would have worked as well without the somewhat dated setting of the roaring twenties. However, the Art Deco sets are impossible to ignore. They are beautifully done in this film.
3) Good conceit: (With “Conceit” defined as a “quaint or humorous fancy)”. The notion that Nick, the narrator, is an alcoholic who ends up writing the story of Gatsby. Of course we see a bit of F.Scott Fitzgerald in both characters, the idealized version in Gatsby, and the more gritty and cynical persona of Nick. Fitzgerald often spoke of the dichotomy that existed within himself, and indeed, in all writers, where you may find yourself looking at a scene from the outside, even as you are taking part in the action. This is one of the successful themes that is highlighted in this film.
4) This film tries to stay true to the story Fitzgerald wrote. Some notable exceptions: the list that Gatsby made, we discover after his death, which reveals a lot about an otherwise mysterious character; the character of his father is also part of who Gatsby was/is and is missing in this version.
5) Like all great actors, DiCaprio embraces this role with a vengeance and does try to “own” the character of Jay Gatsby. He succeeeds in doing so. But…
6) The role of women: Daisy is/was weak! Zelda Fitzgerald (Fitzgerald’s wife and presumably, a model for the Daisy character), was not weak or epemeral. The character of Daisy constantly needs “protection” from the men. In the Jazz Age, women were just coming into their own as citizens, and they were finally allowed to smoke/drink in public and to vote. This was a first attempt to portray a “modern” woman, and Daisy comes off poorly. She is shallow, vain and selfish, although she has a core of cynicism and an innate ability to fascinate men. She comes across, not as a modern woman, but more of a warning sign to all to avoid greed and excess. More of a modern day Circe, she’s doomed to lead men to their deaths.
7) The parallels with Wall Street Greed and excess of the last ’08 Crash. I have a shameless suggestion: Better to watch “A New Leaf”, which recently aired on Turner Classic, and to read my review of that film listing some of the points which make this a good morality tale-on a much lighter note!- to serve as a warning against corporate and individual greed. Not that there aren’t some nice pivots in this Gatsby version which lead us in to a great crash…greed, avarice, the love of money, these are all points made in the film. The rich are seen as snobs and elites who are racist bigots and amoral to boot.
8) I admit, I’m not one to make a stand defending the rights of the rich in this country, but the focus of the film, the core message, sometimes gets lost in the overriding wish to lump Fitzgerald with the comment: ““Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.”: Note: This quote was from the short story, ‘The Rich Boy”, written in 1924 while awaiting publication of “The Great Gatsby.”
9) There are some nice touches of Fitzgerald’s own prose being used within the film, particularly the use of the metaphor of the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. There are also some slow moments, but by including the green light the director emphasized the core message, which is that Gatsby, a metaphor for the American Dream, exuded hope to the bitter end.
10) As stated earlier in my previous write-up on “The Great Gatsby on Film”, prior to seeing this version, I contended that this was not the Great American Film. I still maintain this is true, however, I concede that this is the best of the bunch-the Gatsby bunch, that is.