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Wednesday, Feb 20, 2008

While I was doing an interview with Kevin Ayers (coming soon to Perfect Sound Forever), something occurred to me.  Ayers is a very nice guy who was pleasant to speak to but clearly not comfortable answering questions about his work and his life.  There were short answers, long pauses and awkward silences- I found myself going through all my questions in half the time I thought that I’d need.  I wondered if a problem like this was one reason that a great artist like Ayers unwittingly stays a cult figure.

So does that mean if a performer gives good interviews, they’ll make it in the biz?  Of course not but that’s just part of playing the music game- it helps by getting recognition by having some press.  Sometimes that means answering the same questions or just stupid questions but even if a performer can fake some enthusiasm, that can go a long way.

The same thought also crossed my mind with two other interviews.  In 2000, I interviewed Butch Hancock.  The man’s a brilliant songwriter (just ask Joe Ely or Jimmie Dale Gilmore) but he was clearly uncomfortable talking about his work.  It seemed to me that he probably didn’t do many interviews.  I also got the impression that he didn’t care- it wasn’t that he wasn’t a snob but it just wasn’t something that he was concerned with.  During the interview, his main concern was spiritual matters, which he didn’t think he could accurately express in an article about his career.  Hancock is far from being a careerist- he lives in a ghost town in West Texas and only puts out albums once in a while and doesn’t play out often (though he signed on with a local travel company to accompany rafting adventurers).  He’s happy that way so why gainsay that?  If you’re a fan of his though (like me), you might find yourself caring more about him becoming more well known that Hancock himself does.

Then there was a 1991 interview with composer Conlon Nancarrow.  Host/composer Charles Amirkhanian is cheery and has a sympathetic ear but I felt for him as it seemed that he was pulling teeth at times to get answers out of Nancarrow, who usually gave short, casual answers to most of the questions.  The fact that Nancarrow spent decades in Mexico City rather than a major city in the U.S. or Europe (self-exiled because of his Communist beliefs) or that he composed many pieces for an unusual instrument (player piano) probably didn’t help him easily make it into the modern classical pantheon alongside Reich and Glass though CN did make the good career move of expiring (sorry, bad joke).  Though he did finally receive some much deserved recognition in the late 70’s and early 80’s (thanks in part to Amirkhanian who released his works), his compositions nowadays aren’t heard enough in the repertoire of modern classical works.

In his mid-70’s at the time and having suffered breathing problems for decades (he died about five years later), Nancarrow also sounded uncomfortable with his interview though it was still fascinating to hear his thoughts about his work.  Like Hancock, he didn’t sound particularly concerned. One of his biographers (and a great composer and writer too) was Kyle Gann, who also explains this about Nancarrow:

“Conlon was never very chatty in his life. But in January 1990 he had a stroke, and he was never the same after that. I didn’t see him again until 1994, by which time he had recovered somewhat, but it sounds like he was still having trouble during the interview you mention.”

I’m sure that Nancarrow cared deeply about his work but his lack of savvy about presenting it or his persona didn’t help him sustain access to a larger audience.  Maybe, like Hancock, he didn’t care about that aspect of work his work but then again, that may be of more concern to his boosters than it was to the artist himself.

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Tuesday, Feb 19, 2008

Picking who will win the Oscars each year is like taking a trip directly into a fool’s paradise. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on who will win, the wacky members of AMPAS step in and screw everything up all over again. They’ve been known to make a mistake or two, and their decisions rarely have much to do with art or classicism. Still, if you’ve watched the talent train wreck for long enough, you learn a few lessons about forecasting the unfathomable. So while SE&L prepares its own annual Academy tie-in, here’s our shot are determining who walks away with gold come Sunday. We won’t confess if we get it wrong, but we sure will gloat if we get it right. Keeping score is optional. Let’s begin with:

Best Motion Picture of the Year
Atonement (Focus Features) A Working Title Production: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Paul Webster, Producers
Juno (Fox Searchlight) A Dancing Elk Pictures, LLC Production: Lianne Halfon, Mason Novick and Russell Smith, Producers
Michael Clayton (Warner Bros.) A Clayton Productions, LLC Production: Sydney Pollack, Jennifer Fox and Kerry Orent, Producers
No Country for Old Men (Miramax and Paramount Vantage) A Scott Rudin/Mike Zoss Production: Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Producers
There Will Be Blood (Paramount Vantage and Miramax) A JoAnne Sellar/Ghoulardi Film Company Production: JoAnne Sellar, Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Lupi, Producers

What Will Win: Atonement
What Should Win: No Country for Old Men
This is the stretch, the pick that goes against the established thinking’s grain and suggests that Oscar has learned nothing over its last 20 years. Smacking of a Crash/Brokeback Mountain - Shakespeare in Love/Saving Private Ryan fiascos, this could very well be the old guards response to the Coen’s dark, desperate vision. Remember, the voting Academy is made up of aging ex-nominees, and the mock Merchant/Ivory quality of this British period piece fits right into their cinematic comfort zone.

Performance By an Actor in a Leading Role
George Clooney in Michael Clayton (Warner Bros.)
Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood (Paramount Vantage and Miramax)
Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (DreamWorks and Warner Bros., Distributed by DreamWorks/Paramount)
Tommy Lee Jones in In the Valley of Elah (Warner Independent)
Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises (Focus Features)

Who Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis
Who Should Win: Johnny Depp
Call it a case of wishful thinking, but maybe, just maybe, Oscar will overlook Day-Lewis’ complete domination of the year end Best of’s (and abundant award show anointing) and chose the actor who actually did the best job of bringing his character to life. There’s no doubt that Daniel Plainview is a piece of work, but Depp took a huge chance by playing the overdone bravado of the Broadway legend as a small, sinister shell. It remains the most daring turn by any actor in 2007.

Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Casey Affleck in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Warner Bros.)
Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men (Miramax and Paramount Vantage)
Philip Seymour Hoffman in Charlie Wilson’s War (Universal)
Hal Holbrook in Into the Wild (Paramount Vantage and River Road Entertainment)
Tom Wilkinson in Michael Clayton (Warner Bros.)

Who Will Win: Hal Holbrook
Who Should Win: Javier Bardem
Just like the Supporting Actress category, the Academy has set up this contest to be about age, experience, and career accomplishment. Holbrook holds all the cards, especially when you consider that he’s just entered his 80s and is still going somewhat strong. Bardem may be the presumptive favorite (winning every other award imaginable will do that to one’s chances) but don’t be surprised if Monday’s headlines reflect a ‘happy trails’ vs. ‘what’s happening’ mentality.

Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth: The Golden Age (Universal)
Julie Christie in Away from Her (Lionsgate)
Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose (Picturehouse)
Laura Linney in The Savages (Fox Searchlight)
Ellen Page in Juno (Fox Searchlight)

Who Will Win: Ellen Page
Who Should Win: No One
The choices here are all suspect at best. Of the five, only one has any real buzz, and the backlash has already started to eat into Juno’s junk culture likeability. Page will probably pull it off, proving that previous statues to Helen Hunt, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Julia Roberts haven’t shamed the frequently misguided voters back to their senses. As for the lack of a “should”, see tomorrow’s SE&L awards for some guidance.

Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Cate Blanchett in I’m Not There (The Weinstein Company)
Ruby Dee in American Gangster (Universal)
Saoirse Ronan in Atonement (Focus Features)
Amy Ryan in Gone Baby Gone (Miramax)
Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton (Warner Bros.)

Who Will Win: Ruby Dee
Who Should Win: Cate Blanchett
Dee’s blink and you’ll miss it turn paired up with Gangster’s lack of Oscar love could confuse this category even more than it already is, but long term talent plus tragedy (Ossie Davis died three years ago this month) usually means a little gold statue. And let’s not forget the overriding issue of race. One classic African American face up against a group of youthful Caucasians spells trouble for everyone else’s chances. If it was a question of real merit, Blanchett blows everyone else away.

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
Persepolis (Sony Pictures Classics): Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud
Ratatouille (Walt Disney): Brad Bird
Surf’s Up (Sony Pictures Releasing): Ash Brannon and Chris Buck

What Will Win: Persepolis
What Should Win: Ratatouille
With the political poison of Iraq still thick in the air, anything dealing with the Middle East is bound to get undue attention. This doesn’t mean Persepolis is undeserving, just that it speaks directly to the Academy’s apologist mentality. And since Pixar has picked up a few of these babies along the way, the fascination French film has a very good chance of walking away with the win. The dudes from Surf’s Up should save some money and just stay home.

Achievement in Directing
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Miramax/Pathé Renn), Julian Schnabel
Juno (Fox Searchlight), Jason Reitman
Michael Clayton (Warner Bros.), Tony Gilroy
No Country for Old Men (Miramax and Paramount Vantage), Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
There Will Be Blood (Paramount Vantage and Miramax), Paul Thomas Anderson

Who Will Win: Joel and Ethan Coen
Who Should Win: Paul Thomas Anderson
Here’s the deal - if Atonement takes home the top prize, it will be because voters figured this award was enough for the sibling auteurs. They’ve got the DGA, the critic’s polls, and the forward momentum, so all seems ripe for a return to glory. But what Paul Thomas Anderson did was so brave, so beyond his typical ‘80s artifice as deconstruction that it’s hard to believe he actually made the movie. Just for that feat alone, he deserves the nod.

Achievement in Cinematography
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Warner Bros.): Roger Deakins
Atonement (Focus Features): Seamus McGarvey
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Miramax/Pathé Renn): Janusz Kaminski
No Country for Old Men (Miramax and Paramount Vantage): Roger Deakins
There Will Be Blood (Paramount Vantage and Miramax): Robert Elswit

Who Will Win: Roger Deakins - The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Who Should Win: Robert Elswit - There Will Be Blood
Elswit has the Cinematographer’s Society Award, while Deakins has the pretty pictures. Neither has one before, but the latter has the best chance, if only because he’s nominated twice. If he splits the vote, Blood will win. But Oscar is desperate to find a way of rewarding Andrew Dominik’s overlong character study, so don’t be phased if Deakins bucks the trend and takes home a trophy for bringing the Wild West back to beautiful life. 

Best Documentary Feature
No End in Sight (Magnolia Pictures) A Representational Pictures Production: Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience (The Documentary Group) A Documentary Group Production: Richard E. Robbins
SiCKO (Lionsgate and The Weinstein Company) A Dog Eat Dog Films Production: Michael Moore and Meghan O’Hara
Taxi to the Dark Side (THINKFilm) An X-Ray Production: Alex Gibney and Eva Orner
War/Dance (THINKFilm) A Shine Global and Fine Films Production: Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine

What Will Win: No End in Sight
What Should Win: SiCKO
Bush bashing has become a tradition at the Academy Awards, like Cher wearing bad Bob Mackie and facelift scars. While Michael Moore (previous President pariah) made the most important film of the year, No End is a playbook of bad policy decisions by the sitting Commander in Chief. It’s a wonderful film, and devastating in its message, so clearly it takes the night. But the wounded health care system - and those looking to take it down - could really use an Oscar boost.

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
Beaufort Israel
The Counterfeiters Austria
Katyn Poland
Mongol Kazakhstan
12 Russia
What Will Win: Who Knows
What Should Win: Who Cares
Under the arcane system applied by the Academy, the best foreign films of the year didn’t even make it into the running. Therefore, we withhold a prediction out of protest.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Atonement (Focus Features), Screenplay by Christopher Hampton
Away from Her (Lionsgate), Written by Sarah Polley
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Miramax/Pathé Renn), Screenplay by Ronald Harwood
No Country for Old Men (Miramax and Paramount Vantage), Written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
There Will Be Blood (Paramount Vantage and Miramax), Written for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson
Who Will Win: No Country for Old Men
Who Should Win: No Country for Old Men
In keeping with our Atonement trajectory, the brothers will have to be happy with a double dose of Academy appreciation come the end of the evening. Taking home statues for directing and script will just have to suffice. Granted, they are without a doubt the best writers for film currently working, and their screenplays are always good for a quotable line or 20. And since they already own a similar accolade for Fargo, this will be further proof of their way with words.

Best Original Screenplay
Juno (Fox Searchlight), Written by Diablo Cody
Lars and the Real Girl (MGM), Written by Nancy Oliver
Michael Clayton (Warner Bros.), Written by Tony Gilroy
Ratatouille (Walt Disney), Screenplay by Brad Bird; Story by Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco, Brad Bird
The Savages (Fox Searchlight), Written by Tamara Jenkins
Who Will Win: Diablo Cody
Who Should Win: Brad Bird
Anyone who knows the story behind the Pixar hit would instantly jump to Brad Bird and company’s defense. Far beyond Cody’s stripper to scribe sentiment, the mind behind The Incredibles raised what was, in essence, a dead project from the cinematic grave. Taking the incomplete material left behind, he refashioned the film into one of 2007’s best. Cody will always be the Callie Khouri of this year’s model - Bird is the tested timeless talent.

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Tuesday, Feb 19, 2008
Day One: Re:Print Hearts Scott Rudin

It’s five days until show time, when Hollywood picks its best and brightest, and tells this is the best no matter what you think! I love my Oscars, even though I can’t remember a time I’ve entirely agreed with more than a handful of winners in any given year. Still, it’s the one time of year when I choose to ignore the pomp and the politics behind the big golden curtain and just let the glamour sweep me away.

I’m looking forward to this year’s ceremony for a few reasons. Mainly, I want to see Casey Affleck win for his role in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, because he was good, and because he was even better as private detective Patrick Kenzie in another great film this year, Gone Baby Gone.

I’m also eagerly anticipating the show because of just how literary the whole thing feels this year. Atonement, There Will Be Blood, The Assassination of Jesse James, No Country for Old Men, Charlie Wilson’s War, Into the Wild, Gone Baby Gone—these works are becoming synonymous with great cinema as well as great literature. I can’t remember a time when books so diverse and from such varied eras were so prominent at the Oscars, or at least that the audience were so aware of it. I’m struggling, too, to remember a time when so many big-time actors’ faces stared back at me so somberly from bookstore shelves.

It’s a phenomenal year for books at the Oscars. In the days leading up to the ceremony, Re:Print will take a look at the nominated texts, discuss their transition to the screen, and look at other works about the ceremony and its history. We’ll also be taking a look at the media buzz surrounding Oscar’s new role as literary expert, no doubt single-handedly filling up Book Club itineraries across the globe.

Re:Print‘s road to the Oscars today looks a little bit further forward than this Sunday’s events. We’re looking specifically at a Radar Online report from this past week that discusses uber-producer Scott Rudin, behind No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood, and the number of famed literary works in his possession that he is developing for the big screen as we speak.

Rudin produced the film versions of Pulitzer Prize winning books The Hours and Angela’s Ashes, and helped turn Joe Connelly’s amazing Bringing Out the Dead into a superb film, so he’s already in our good books. Rudin, it would seem, knows the reader’s thirst for big-screen representations of our favourite novels and memoirs. The future looks very bright with the following works apparently in his hands:

Blood Meridian
William Monahan, screenwriter of The Departed, looks to be working on this adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s 1985 book about a runaway mixed up with a group of scalp hunters called the Glanton Gang. Ridley Scott is attached as director.

The Corrections
Based on Jonathan Franzen’s book about an offbeat family getting together for a final Christmas together, no information is available yet on this one. Rudin is behind it, according to Radar.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics
Same again—no details, but Rudin is in control of turning Marisha Pessl’s first novel into a movie.

The Reader
I’m too excited for this one, mainly because Kate Winslet has taken over from Nicole Kidman as Hannah Schmitz. It’s a role much better suited to Kate, and just a brilliant piece of work all ‘round. It’s great to hear the quality of the names attached from Kate and Ralph Fiennes, to director Stephen Daldry and screenwriter David Hare, who worked together on The Hours.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
Also to be directed by Stephen Daldry, little is known about this adaptation. Author Michael Chabon has written the screenplay. The story is about the creators of a globe-trotting, tyranny-ruining comic book hero, The Escapist.

The Fantastic Mr. Fox
Whoever thought of this is now on my list of favourite people. Wes Anderson is directing an animated adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book, which is about three farmers who decide to do away with their ultra-wily chicken-stealing nemesis and his family. Great list of names attached, including Cate Blanchett and Bill Murray.

Rudin is attached to the film version of Brad Land’s 2005 memoir about his experiences with fraternity hazing rituals.

Correction: I mistakenly referred to Joe Connelly as John Connolly.

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Tuesday, Feb 19, 2008

A new future for foreign correspondents.

The world is changing before our eyes. Fidel Castro has brought his rule to an end in Cuba. President Musharraf is accepting defeat in elections in Pakistan. Kosovo has declared its independence. The International Herald Tribune has mused about Kosovo’s future by drawing comparisons with the world’s other tiny, impoverished, newly free state, East Timor, whose President, Jose Ramos Horta, remains seriously ill in a hospital in Darwin in Australia after what seems to have been a failed kidnap attempt.

The large media organizations, who for the last century have explained the world to us, wherever we are, are making further cuts to their news gathering operations. The New York Times is cutting one hundred news staff.

The Times has 1,332 newsroom employees, the largest number in its history; no other American newspaper has more than about 900. There were scattered buyouts and job eliminations in The Times’ newsroom in recent years, but the overall number continued to rise, largely because of the growth of its Internet operations…

The Times Company has made significant cuts in the newsrooms of some of its other properties, including The Boston Globe, as well as in non-news operations. Company executives say the overall head count is 3.8 percent lower than it was a year ago.

But with the industry’s economic picture worsening, the company is under increased pressure from shareholders — notably two hedge funds that recently bought almost 10 percent of the common stock — to do something dramatic to improve its bottom line.

More disturbing are editorial changes being suggested by Los Angeles Times publisher, David Hiller, who, along with another round of staff cuts, is seeking to further collapse the walls between editorial and advertising.

Top Times executives have discussed letting marketing executives control the monthly Sunday magazine, rather than leaving it to editors, though Mr. Hiller says no decisions about that have been made. The idea touches on the traditional tension in journalism, between profiting as a business and making independent judgments about what information to deliver, without concern for advertisers’ interests.

The costs of maintaining foreign bureaus and extensive newsdesks have contributed to their demise. The Frontline Club in London grew out of the ashes of the Frontline Television News Agency, in London.

The Frontline Club opened its doors soon after the Frontline Television News agency closed down. Frontline TV was created over Christmas lunch in the midst of the chaos and confusion of the Romanian revolution. It went on to become a key player in the independent fringe of television newsgathering. The Club was set up by the surviving members of the original team of maverick cameramen, and dedicated to the memory of friends and colleagues who lost their lives gathering news and images from the world’s conflict zones. This history is reflected throughout the building in our changing photographic exhibitions. The current War and Protest exhibition is made up of iconic black and white from some of the world’s finest photographers, including the legendary Robert Capa. The Club quickly became a centre for a diverse group of people united by their passion for quality journalism and dedication to ensuring that stories that fade from headlines are kept in sharp focus. It exists to promote freedom of expression and support journalists, cameramen and photographers who risk their lives in the course of their work.

A recent entry on the Frontline blog discusses a model for a new kind of foreign correspondent, with reliable, portable technology. It’s a fascinating, inspiring assessment of the future of reporting, from economic and editorial perspectives, well studded with links to background and further reading.

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Tuesday, Feb 19, 2008
by PopMatters Staff

Talib Kweli
Hostile Gospel Part 1 (Deliver Us) [Video]

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