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Monday, 17 February 2014

n the town of Clermont-Ferrand in France there is a 13th century cathedral built from black volcanic rock. In the center of town there is a statue of Vercingetorix the chieftain who lead the Gauls to resist the invasion of Julius Caesar and the Romans. Every year during the first week of February there is another invasion. 100,000 people descend on the town for an 8 day short film festival. There are no Hollywood actors or executives. These are all short films independently produced from around the world. There were films from China, Russia, Africa, and just about every country.
I’m sure I was over 100 films in the course of the week. Some of the more memorable ones were a movie about shadow puppets from Taipei, a movie about Moroccan immigrants taking a boat to Spain, a movie about a boy, his sister, and a rabbit , and several restored World War I films from 1917.
Every day there were usually 4-5 theaters showing movies at any one time, most of them packed. There were seminars with European film buyers and distributors and a film market. The film market featured booths from many countries trying to distribute their films. At 5:30 different booths took turns hosting happy hour with wine and food.
I met filmmakers from England, Serbia, Italy, and Spain and we went to films and parties together. There was music tent and the Oceana Hotel hosted filmmaker parties almost every night. This is a well organized and well attended festival which has been going on since 1978. If you ever happen to be on vacation in France early in February consider putting this event on your itinerary.

Posted by mcusiman at 5:26 PM EST
Updated: Monday, 17 February 2014 5:27 PM EST
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Monday, 30 December 2013
American Hustle

Last night I was finally able to see the movie American Hustle. It was a wild movie where everyone in the cast is a con artist or nut case. What had me interested is that I was one of the extras in the New Jersey Casino ballroom scene. They hired 200 of us to walk into the ballroom, hang up our woman's coats, mill round the buffet table, cheer the mayor etc. We were there for 14 hours but 99% of what they shot wasn't used in the movie.

Between hiring extras, putting them in 70s tuxedos and dresses, and feeding must have cost $500,000 at least. I think I saw the back of my head in the crowd scene. Half a dozen of my friends were used as extras in that scene. My one friend played a waitress in at the scene with Robert DeNiro and that got cut too. But of course they don't make movies to make the extras happy. That's why they call us extras. It is an entertaining movie though. The characters are all crazy. The only straight man in the movie was Louis CK who is a comedian.
    One scene they filmed was after the mayor's speech Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, and all of us danced along with the Motown band. Why they didn't put that in the movie I can't imagine. It would have been an iconic moment in film history.

There haven't been so many hollywood luminaries in one movie scene since It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World in 1963. Hopefully they will include that in the DVD outtakes.

One interesting thing happened when we got our costumes on and were told to walk onto the set. This guy came and put his hand on my shoulder and said you look great in theta suit. He called out to someone and said "Hey I have one of your friends here" Seeing his thick glasses I rallied that tis guy was David O. Russell director of the movie. He told me not to go away. Then he called over Christian Bale, introduced us, and took a picture of us together. Why? I have no idea. I thought he was the star.

American Hustle is an entertaining movie. There is one scene accompanied by a 70's song which is really hysterical. I read that the cast had a riot doing this movie. Several of them were in The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook and jumped at the chance at playing in a Russell movie again. Go see it!

Posted by mcusiman at 1:00 PM EST
Updated: Monday, 30 December 2013 1:05 PM EST
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Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Film Studios aren't just worried about piracy but about
  the people who would rather play video games than go to the movies

Posted by mcusiman at 8:49 PM EDT
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Sunday, 2 September 2012

Last night two women I knew invited me to a Dance night at a local bar. The disc jockey played tango, swing dance, salsa, and disco music over and over.
There were a few musical genres missing…rock, jazz, and Reggae.

I've taken a few swing and tango lessons but the truth is I'm not really into learning regimented mechanical steps. I grew up on rock and roll where people danced free form. It's interesting that after disco no one remembers that in the sixties people actually DANCED to rock and roll. Where do you think go go girls came from?

Every week American Bandstand would showcase new rock songs and kids would dance to them. All this is totally forgotten in the modern culture. People also don't realize that in the 30s and 40s people danced to jazz maybe because most of the people who did that may not be around anymore.

The other night I was at this fancy nightclub with friends. A jazz trio was playing over an hour when some of us got up and danced to the music. It would never have occurred to the other people in the restaurant in a million years to dance to jazz.


I'm no musical historian but it's interesting how some aspects of culture almost completely disappear.

Posted by mcusiman at 7:52 PM EDT
Updated: Monday, 3 September 2012 7:54 PM EDT
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Monday, 20 August 2012
Gencon Convention Indiana

Gencon gaming and fantasy convention in Indianapolis. They showed my movie and others at this convention. The costumes were out of this world.

Posted by mcusiman at 11:25 PM EDT
Updated: Monday, 20 August 2012 11:28 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 8 May 2012
The Big Sleep

The Big Sleep    Final Term Paper  Film Class   ©2012   Mick Cusimano

     The Big Sleep is a 1946 classic film noir movie with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Bogart plays detective Phillip Marlowe called in to investigate a blackmail scheme. The deeper Marlowe digs he finds more nefarious characters, more people get killed, and the web of the Los Angeles underworld continues to unravel more dark secrets. This is one of the sunniest cities in America but almost all the movie takes place in the dark shadows of night, fog, or rain.

    The signatures of film noir are the dark, rain-slicked city streets, the low key lighting, the claustrophobic compositions, jarring, canting angles, the hard boiled voiceover narration, and convoluted dark plots. These mark this genre as break from the classic Hollywood “invisible style” 1

    The usual relationship in a film noir is a male character (private eye, cop, journalist, criminal who has a choice between two beautiful women: the beautiful and the dutiful. 2

     There is no doubt that The Big Sleep is considered to be a classic film noir movie. Case closed as the Warren Commission hastily proclaimed. Or is it? It took a while to notice because Bogart plays such a serious hard boiled noir detective but after watching The Big Sleep several times it is revealed that there is almost a whole other movie embedded into the main one. My thesis is that there is a romantic screwball comedy parallel story going on between Bogart and Bacall.

     Back in 1934 Columbia pictures put out a small picture It Happened One Night  with little expectations. It starred Clark Gable as a reporter tailing an heiress played by Claudette Colbert on a cross country bus ride. The movie was an unexpectedly huge success. The mathematicians in Hollywood figured that opposites attracted and created cinematic sparks. By forcing a man and woman from different sides of the tracks, who can’t stand each other, into a situation together it becomes an entertaining experience for the audience. The characters in these comedies spar back and forth with snappy wisecracks and banter until they eventually fell in love.

    The special fictional characters of screwball…were strikingly middle-to-upper class…who defy the social property of their class in the innocently aggressive, noisily silly, endearingly defiant, and happily destructive way that little children at play disturb the peace and boredom of adults. In short the screwball combines slapstick and sophistication. 3
     This formula or premise was popular in the 1930s and 40s. Three of the most classic screwball romantic comedies are His Girl Friday, Ball of Fire, and Bringing Up Baby. His Girl Friday is a comedy about two competitive divorced newspaper reporters who work together again and after hilarious battles rediscover what they have in common.
      When I was a kid we discovered old Life magazines in my grandmother’s attic. One 1941 article filled with photos was about this sensational new movie called Ball of Fire. Ball of Fire is about a reclusive professor Gary Cooper who is researching slang as part of a twelve year encyclopedia writing project. He falls for a night club singer Barbara Stanwyck trying to get away from her gangster boyfriend. The Life article had a whole page of slang and it’s translation into formal language which people found endlessly fascinating at that time.

     Bringing up Baby is considered to be one of the all time great screwball comedies. Katherine Hepburn plays a ditsy socialite trying to capture her prey: an academic paleontologist played by Cary Grant. She drags him into all kinds of adventures in rural Connecticut.

     These three movies have two things in common. They are all screwball romantic comedies and they were all directed by Howard Hawks before he directed The Big Sleep. It isn't surprising that Hawks couldn't help inserting a sub story of romantic comedy between Bogart and Bacall into this grim murder detective mystery.

     What makes the Big Sleep scenes between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall into screwball comedy? There are many examples. When Bogart meets Bacall for the first time she spars with him immediately saying he looks like a mess. When he says he could come in next time with stilts and a white coat and a tennis racket she retorts in typical wisecracking screwball banter "I doubt that even that would help." All Phillip Marlowe cares about is repeating that her father offered her a drink trying to get another one from her. Lauren Bacall (Mrs. Vivian Rutledge) remarks that she doesn't like his manners. He tells her to stop cross examining him. "Do you always think you can handle people like a trained seal?" asks Rutledge. Marlowe replies, "Yeah and I usual get away with it too." and she replies, "I'm sure I don't care what you say Mr. Marlowe."

     On one level the movie is about the investigation into underground and the many murders. On the other level it's the battle of the sexes between Bogart and Bacall. When Marlowe brings Carmen home from the Geiger murder Rutledge can only dig him about being insolent. In their encounter when Marlowe gets her mad he stops her from hitting him saying “I don't slap so good this time of night. “ She responds "You go too far Marlowe." Marlowe replies "Those are harsh words to throw at a man especially when he's walking out of your bedroom." By this time there is no question that this is a heated courtship going on between them.

     Fighting is natural to Hawk’s heroes. So love exists even where there is perpetual opposition; it is a bitter duel whose constant dangers are ignored by men of passion. Out of the contest comes esteem-that admirable word encompassing knowledge, appreciation and sympathy: the opponent becomes the partner. 4

     Before we get back to Humphrey Bogart and Bacall there are numerous other women peppered through the movie flirting with Bogart. There is the bookseller with the glasses, the eager cab driver, the hat check girls at the club, and the librarian. The librarian says Marlowe doesn't look like he collects first editions. Marlowe replies that he also collects blondes in bottles too. When Carmen says he is cute Marlowe replies with a line no real detective would come up with off the cuff. "I have a Balinese dancing girl tattooed across my chest." The more you watch the movie the more you see these little bits of comedy that Hawks slips in.

     When Rutledge is waiting in Marlowe’s office she tells him she thinks he is a guy who doesn't sleep like Marcel Proust. “You wouldn't know him he's a French writer.” Marlowe replies, “Welcome to my boudoir.” as he invites her into his office. She makes fun of his plain office and when she is talking he tells her to go ahead and scratch her leg.
    Comedies became the fashion. Here the genteel tradition is “knocked for a loop”: heroes and heroines are neither ladylike and gentlemanly. They hit each other, throw each other down, mock each other, play with each other. These films are sophisticated, full of hitting, bright dialogue, slapstick action- all imbued with terrific energy. 5
     When she calls the cops he grabs the phone and pretends he doesn't know what they are talking about. "There isn't any Sergeant Reilly here talk to my mother.” Rutledge takes the phone, “What was that you said? My father should hear this." They continue razzing and confusing the police pretending to be outraged by the police frustrated response. This scene steps out of the film noir genre and turns into full slapstick screwball comedy. This may actually be one of the great screwball routines of all time. It rivals the Who's on First  skit of Abbott and Costello.

     On the way out Mrs. Rutledge notices that the door is locked. Marlowe says "Well it wasn't intentional." Rutledge slyly wisecracks back "Why don't you try it some time?"
    Though this is a detective story it seems that the writers made sure that Rutledge and Marlowe run into each other over and over throughout the movie. When they are in Joe Brody's apartment Rutledge comes out of the kitchen and cavalierly pushes Joe’s gun aside like it was a toy.

      There is a scene added in the middle of the film that wasn’t in the original release. Thus is an important scene. Bacall makes a grand entrance into the jazzy bar carrying her mink coats. There is a long tracking shot showing her walking past all the customers as she finally gets to Bogart. Bacall walks into the nightclub like a goddess in her mink coat. Cigarette smoke fills the air like incense offered up to Aphrodite.  She orders drinks from Max the waiter she knows. They sit down and the camera moves in for tight shots as Bacall gives Bogart a $500 check to close the case. Then the business meeting turns into a date. They compare each other to race horses.

      Rutledge says, "Well Speaking of horses I like to play them myself but I like to see them work out for a bit. I like to see if they are front runners or come from behind. Find out what their whole card is, what makes them run." Rutledge describes Bogart. "You look to open up in front, take the lead, take a breather in the back stretch and then come home free." Then she asks about his appraisal of her. Bogart replies, "I can't tell until I've seen you over a distance of ground. You've got a touch of class but I don't know how far you can go." She says, “A lot depends on who's in the saddle." They smoke and light each other's cigarettes during this flirtation. "Go ahead Marlowe I like the way you work. In case you don't know it you're doing alright." When he asks her about Eddie Marrs she leaves.

      The cops on the phone scene was done in one take from one angle. During this nightclub scene there are over a dozen jump cuts of the two of them from different angles and distances. The variety of shots is a way to keep the audience visually interested. This was long before MTV took this concept to absurd limits.

     When Marlowe goes up to Eddie Marr's casino sure enough he walks in and lo and behold there is Mrs. Rutledge again singing a popular song ‪And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine by Anita O'Day with the house band. She takes up gambling and asks Marlowe to take her home after supposedly winning $28,000. When he presses her about her relationship with Eddie Marrs again she gets mad and he drops her off.

    There are two interesting events late in the movie where noir morphs into romance. When Marlowe goes up to the secluded gas station and gets worked over by the hoods and is brought into the house there it is no surprise that there is Mrs. Rutledge again. This is backed up by a dramatic noir musical score. When Marlowe kisses Mrs. Rutledge and gets her to cut him loose the dramatic score suddenly turns to romantic music for the first time in the movie. When the crooks return the score reverts back to drama.

      In the car getting away Rutledge professes her love and Marlowe remarks "You looked good back there. I didn't know they made them like that anymore." After Marrs gets shot Marlowe says he will do the talking to the cops. Rutledge replies "you forgot about one thing. Me!" "What's wrong with you?" asks Marlowe. Rutledge replies "Nothing you can't fix!" At that moment we hear a police siren but in an instance they look at each other romantically. The romantic comedy and noir genres which existed separately within the movie are fused together for the last few seconds of the film.

     Several books and articles say that though prolific Howard Hawks was not an innovator and only worked in already establish genres.
On one level, Hawk’s lack of originality is quite staggering. In a career spanning 40 years, he has given to the cinema not a single innovation. 6
    There may be some truth to that statement. Hawks did work in established genres. I believe, however, that the man who produced such diverse films as Twentieth Century, Land of the Pharaohs, and Scarface  is underrated. What he did in the Big Sleep was to brilliantly weave two genres he had experience with together into what is supposedly just a film noir detective movie.

1 Fay, Jennifer  and Nieland, Justus. Noir  Fay New York: Routledge, 2010.  page 184.
2 Duncan, Paul. Film Noir  England: Pocketbook Essentials, 2006. Page 12
3 Byrge, Duane. The Screwball Comedy Films London UK: McFarland & CO. 1991. page. 2
4 Rivett, James “The genius of Howard Hawks” Cahiers du Cinema 23, Paris: 1953. Page 130.
5 Renzi, Thomas C. Screwball Comedy and Film Noir. London UK: McFarland & CO., 2012. page. 6
6 Wood, Robin. Howard Hawks 1981. Page 5

Posted by mcusiman at 10:10 PM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 9 May 2012 10:11 PM EDT
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Sunday, 25 March 2012
Tonight I went to the Paramount theater to see this old movie but it was sold out. I walked down tho the Loews cineplex and the only thing at 8:00 was John Carter in 3D a depressing thought.
I saw huge crowds of people dressed up walking to the Boston Opera house  to see Les Miserables which I guess has been sold out for months.
  There was  society lady in front trying to sell a ticket. She said it was a $135 ticket but she would take the best offer. That was too much for me. I went to Dunkin Donuts to get coffee and saw that I honey had $20 left. It was 7:55 so I figured I would walk back there and offer  her all I had. She was happy to get that and I saw my first elaborately staged opera.

Posted by mcusiman at 12:28 AM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 25 March 2012 12:27 PM EDT
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Wednesday, 29 February 2012
Acadaemy Awards hijinks

Certainly the financial Greek crisis can’t compare with Angelina Jolie showing off her leg at the Academy awards. Someone asked How can she do this?

How can Sacha Cohen dressed up like Col Gadaffi dump an urn of ashes on an interviewer? How can Robert Downey Jr. who has been in and out of jail and rehab a millon times get to be a presenter every year at the awards? Are you kidding? These aren’t real people like you and me. They are multimillionaire bankable movie stars. They can get away with anything.

These photos are from the internet used for commentary only.

I thought the Artist was a fine movie but Hugo was a landmark showing the early days of film which much of the public know little about. Young kids may assume that movies have been around forever but barely 120 years. The stories of the pioneers who created a whole new artform with no roadmap is worth exploring so I recommend the movie Hugo for just that reason.

Posted by mcusiman at 3:54 PM EST
Updated: Sunday, 25 March 2012 12:29 PM EDT
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Thursday, 9 February 2012

The New Surrealists of Paris by Mick Cusimano

Back in 1989 traveling to Europe with 3 other poets by chance we met a guy handing out pamphlets in Paris for his group The New Surrealists. (M.A.I.N.S.) I gave him a copy of my magazine Underground Surrealist. Once a year founder David Belly would send me a collage in French which I didn't understand. I would in turn send him cartoons in English that he didn't understand... yet we kept corresponding for 14 years. In 2003 he invited me to be part of the New Surrealists Art show.

How could I pass up an opportunity like this? I sent my drawing The Night of Red Jazz to the gallery and I bought a plane ticket. What would it be like to be part of a Paris art show? What would the New Surrealists be like? Knowing little more than phrasebook French and hearing warnings about Americans being unpopular with the impending Iraq war I really didn't know what to expect.

I walked into Galerie Atelier Z where Karine the curator welcomed me. My drawing "The Night of Red Jazz" was hanging on the wall by the stairs. The New Surrealists were having a reunion since their last show four years ago. I was introduced not as the Professor of Surrealism: To my astonishment they considered me not just a guest but a full fledged member of the group. I had only met David Belly (in white jacket) before but had occasionally corresponded with artists Argus Avatar & Nora Picman. Picman had created a large ceramic Buddha. Argus was dressed up with silver gloves, a mid-eastern hat, and a cane. One of his paintings had propellers attached to them.

There was le sculptor Jacky Kooken with a giant handlebar mustache along with other talented and interesting artists. The opening the following night 600 guests showed up. There were art lovers, professionals, singers, musicians, and poets. If counting all the mink coats was an indication the show was a big success.

 A dancer Maria came by wearing a Mardi Gras mask. Artist Argus Avatar paraded around with silver gloves and a sword. The next day I went out to lunch for couscous with David and Jacques. They showed me video of the last group show in a gallery in 1999. That night we met Karine and her mother and went walking through St. Germain visiting dozens of art galleries that had openings that night. David made sure to hand out flyers to our show to anyone who looked like a likely prospect. I met David and Jacques at Tour St Jacques. They took me to a basement book store which had many obscure books about Breton, Minotaure Magazine, and the surrealist artists.

One night we all gathered together to celebrate David Belly's birthday. Karine handed David a pin with the word M.A.I.N.S. engraved on it. This had been a fantastic week for meeting artists of vision and imagination. The following year I returned to a party thrown for David and the group on the Right bank.

A few years later David came to America. We went out to dinner in Boston and he told me of his quest to have Stephen Spielberg or Woody Allen make a movie about his group. That was the last time I actually was David but we still corresponded every year. We exchanged Christmas cards last month. It was a priveledge to have David as a long distance friend. Recently David Belly passed away and he will be missed.

Posted by mcusiman at 8:45 PM EST
Updated: Thursday, 9 February 2012 8:53 PM EST
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Sunday, 15 January 2012
A Question of Comedy

In then 90s I went out with this woman I'll call Amy on and off for 10 years. Although she took acting, singing, and music lessons she would never actually get up on stage. When we were together we were absolutely hilarious every minute. If someone had followed us around with a video camera it would have been an incredible comedy show but she would rarely go to parties or social events so people rarely saw her. When I suggested that we get up on stage and do comedy together she acted as if I had invited her to take a space capsule to the moon.

I knew this other poet Kitty. We were romantic for a short time but that didn't work out. We hung out on the poetry scene all the time and she did these stories and poems that were hilarious leaving audiences rolling in the aisles. She passed way a few years ago.

    I found a copy of a letter I sent her once suggesting that we work together as a comedy team. I told her that if we teamed up we would be a big hit and she wouldn't have to clean apartments the rest of her life but it fell on deaf ears.

What I've discovered was that outside of Stiller and Meara comedy teams of a man and woman together is as rare the mating of Chinese pandas.

Mike Nichols and Elaine May toured together as a highly successful team in the late 50s but only lasted 3 years.

Sonny and Cher had hugely successful songs on the radio and a television show but broke up after just a few years to follow solo careers.

  There was series of sketches on the early Saturday Night Live: Two Wild and Crazy Guys It starred Dan Aykroyd and Steve Martin playing two obnoxious Czech immigrants trying cluelessly to pick up American women played by Gilda Radner, Laraine Newman, and Jane Curtin. It was popular but I don't think it lasted more than 10-12 episodes.

 When you go to a comedy club what do you see? One guy or woman standing alone on stage telling jokes by themselves.

What happened to comedy teams? The Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello…..these were very popular comedy teams. Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were hugely popular in the 50s.

But it seems that there are few comedy teams these days. Comedy teams of a man and woman performing together is extremely rare. Comedy teams of Chinese pandas performing together is even rarer than that. Why is that? I just don't know.

Posted by mcusiman at 3:57 AM EST
Updated: Monday, 20 August 2012 11:44 PM EDT
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