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Posts Tagged ‘Clint Eastwood’

Nature vs. Nurture: Creativity or Experience?

May 26th, 2011 No comments

Unformed or Informed…?

In the last For Bards Blog post, I mentioned a friend had asked the question “Why is it that so many writers or filmmakers do their best work at a young age?” My glib answer was instantaneous: “It’s called the “Citizen Kane” effect.” I did  put in my defense of experience and wisdom by citing filmmmakers like Woody Allen, Clint Eastwood, or Alain Renais, all of whom  in the last year or two delivered the most mature works of their careers. But my friend’s answer was equally quick – and equally glib: “Yes, but no one  goes to see those.” So why is it that so many creative artists do their most audacious work at the beginning of their career, and what filmmakers have managed to have avoid this pitfall? (Or is it a gift…?)

Enfant Terrible?  –  Seasoned Vet?

Orson Welles‘ “Citizen Kane” serves as both an inspiration and a cautionary tale to filmmakers, because it signifies the limitless creativity of genius and the relentless demands of commerce at odds with one another. Arguably Welles’ best film (if not anyone’s), “Citizen Kane” showcased Orson Welles’ ample talent and vision and has thrilled audiences ever since its release; but it was not a commercial success, mainly due to the efforts of William Randolph Hearst, who, probably accurately, perceived Herman J. Mankiewicz and Welles’ story of publishing magnate Charles Foster Kane as a personal attack. The resulting film is a cinema classic, but its arthouse creative ingenuity cost Welles industry work for years. Despite 9 Academy Award nominations, “Citizen Kane” won only for Best Original Screenplay for Mankiewicz and Welles (a credit that its director and co-writer contested for years). Orson Welles’ next directorial effort, “The Magnificent Ambersons,” was taken over in editing by RKO, which savagely re-cut Welles’ original version. Resorting to hire himself out as an actor or wine spokesperson, Welles as a director failed to recreate the cinematic brio of “Citizen Kane,” although he came closest in his 1958 film noir “Touch of Evil.”

Woody Allen is 75 years old. And he still makes movies – almost one a year. Some would argue that his best films are behind him: his “early funny” movies (to quote a sycophant from Allen’s “Stardust Memories”) are a distant memory, and his storylines have tended toward similarity over time. Yet Woody Allen is currently garnering his best critical reaction in years for his latest film, “Midnight in Paris,” which premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival recently. Compared by some to his comic fantasy “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” “Midnight in Paris” stars Owen Wilson as an Allen-esque writer whose present-day Parisian vacation changes when he is transported back to the romanticized Jazz Age Paris of the 1920s, allowing him to rub shoulders and exchange bon mots with the likes of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Salvador Dali and Ernest Hemingway. In a way, it’s  a melding of the ‘old’ and ‘new’ Woody Allen: the protagonist is Allen’s Everyman nebbish stand-in, but the film’s setting and sensibility is the ‘new’ Woody, who left his native New York City to shoot all his films since 2005 in England or Europe. His next film, starring Penelope Cruz, will be shot in Rome. 

 

The Argument Continues…

So why is it that some folks do their most evocative  work when they are clearly ‘making it all up?’ Is that naivete? Or pure creativity? And what about a lifetime of experience? John Huston’s two greatest films were probably the first and last he directed (1941’s “The Maltese Falcon” and “The Dead” in 1987) – 46 years apart! Alfred Hitchcock was limited by film technology when he started directing, embraced it by mid-career and was bored by it at the end – but he delivered films that fall into both the best-work and worst-work categories during each of these phases (among the bests: “The Lodger,” “Notorious,” “Psycho;” among the worsts: “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” “I Confess,” “Topaz”). But in all these cases – and those of countless other writers and directors, their first project – or even ‘sophmore effort’ – displays a yearning to ‘dream big’ and make a mark. One of the bon-vivants of Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris,” F. Scott Fitzgerald, famously said “There are no second acts in American lives,” alluding to the enormous success he experienced with the publication of “The Great Gatsby” in 1924, when Fitzgerald was only 28. Although he struggled to recreate that phenomenal early success, Fitzgerald was forever held to the impossible standard of ‘Gatsby.’ How ironic, then, that yet another adaptation of “The Great Gatsby” is in the works for the big screen starring Leo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan and directed by Baz Luhrmann – the 5th version of Fitzgerald’s classic since 1926. Although alcoholism and a hard life brought about his demise at age 44, Fitzgerald’s masterwork lives on. The moral of the story? Create. Then, create some more. Who knows? – you could be the next John Huston… Or, God forbid, F. Scott Fitzgerald, although I suppose worse things have happened…

 Hopefully I’ll see you at the 2012 opening of “The Great Gatsby.” No second acts, indeed…!

Film Futures: In Hollywood’s Future?

April 29th, 2010 No comments

There’s a lot of debate in Hollywood – and Washington, D.C. – about two new film futures trading exchanges planned by high-roller financial firms.

What are film futures, you ask? That’s a good question. Here’s a typical definition of ‘futures’ from a financial reference volume:

A legally binding agreement to buy or sell a commodity or financial instrument in a designated future month at a price agreed upon today by the buyer and seller. Futures contracts are standardized according to the quality, quantity, and delivery time and location for each commodity. A futures contract differs from an option because an option is the right to buy or sell, while a futures contract is the promise to actually make a transaction. A future is part of a class of securities called derivatives, so named because such securities derive their value from the worth of an underlying investment.

Oh, that seems pretty clear… Except for a couple of things.

In Hollywood there’s an old expression (and a lingering philosophy) that “You’re only as good as your last film.” Perhaps it’s true: have you seen “Invictus”?! That guy Eastwood keeps getting better and better…

But, on the other hand, if your last film tanked at the B.O. and the perception is you’ve lost that ‘Hollywood magic,’ then it might be tough to get your next gig. And that’s where the debate over film futures begins.

At present, there are two film futures exchanges planned: one is the Cantor Exchange, a subsidiary of Wall Street firm Cantor Fitzgerald LP, and the second is the Trend Exchange from Media Derivatives, which is Indiana-based. Their film futures essentially tie each film to a box office contract, with ‘investors’ purchasing contracts reflecting their expectation of the film’s box office performance in a given time. If your film’s performance exceeds your contract, you ‘win,’ but if the film performs below the level of your contract, you ‘lose’ the difference between your contract and the actual result. Cantor’s futures expire 4 weeks after a film’s release, while the Trend Exchange’s futures expire just before opening weekend.

Not so fast! says Hollywood… As financial regulatory debate finally begins in Congress, Hollywood’s lobbying arm, the Motion Picture Association of America, or MPAA, is using every bit of influence it has to oppose the film futures exchanges. Citing the potential for serious abuse like market manipulation, insider trading and other aspects of ‘gaming the system,’ the MPAA (along with the Director’s Guild, the National Association of Theater Owners and other groups) have done their utmost to prevent the exchanges, both of which have already received first-round approval from the Federal Commodity Futures Trading Commission. But a few significant hurdles remain.

Box office contracts remain to be approved by regulators, and a vote is scheduled for June. However, in the meantime, Arkansas democrat Senator Blanche Lincoln, chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee – which oversees futures trading – has inserted language into a draft bill which would prohibit film futures trading as part of larger regulatory control of derivatives. So, in essence, the future of film futures is… yet to be seen?