Warren Beatty’s biscuits

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Warren Beatty’s biscuits are brought to you by MICKEY ONE, successfully bringing you Warren Beatty’s biscuits since 1965.

It’s a fascinating piece. The opening sequence, which unfold like a really great fashion spread of the sixties, only with moving parts, had me convinced this was going to be great before the director credit. And then I got progressively less convinced, but still impressed.

Mickey One titles from David Cairns on Vimeo.

Arthur Penn, fabulously squandering the goodwill generated by THE MIRACLE WORKER, goes all out to create an American art film, which is not a form native to America. I think the ultimate cargo cult art film may be Frankenheimer’s STORY OF A LOVE STORY, which dutifully assembles a bunch of talents with impeccable arthouse credentials and then sits back, well pleased with itself, while the already-sparse audience shuffle out. Penn likewise has a leading lady and a cinematographer with nouvelle vague references, and an actor from THE SEVEN SAMURAI (I was thinking I know that guy for the longest time, simply assuming he was Japanese-American, but NO, they imported him), but to his credit his film is also 100% American, with a particularly strong sense of time and place.

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The very young Warren Beatty plays a stand-up comedian on the run from the mob — in the third act he reverses his course and tries running TO the mob, which is the main bit of plot development. There’s intriguing support from Franchot Tone (looking like he’s been in another fight), Hurd Hatfield and Jeff Corey. Alexandra Stewart is the Cahiers-approved leading lady.

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On the minus side, Beatty’s material isn’t funny, and he isn’t funny doing it; the plot is paper-thin but not really meant to be otherwise; the film wants to be Felliniesque but only Fellini could pull that one off (is there any other great filmmaker whose influence on US film was so overwhelmingly negative? Fellini has an especial appeal for filmmakers who don’t want to do the work of telling a proper story — I think it’s significant that just as Picasso knew how to draw a credible realistic human figure, Fellini was a master storyteller who moved beyond storytelling); the attempts to do quirky, ludic filmmaking with undercranking and stuff are mainly a bit embarrassing.

On the plus side, fabulous imagery is thrown up all the time, working best when it arises naturally from the settings rather than being some kind of surreal conceit. And the movie has the most glorious dissolves: scenes melt into one another, frequently resulting in Beatty sharing the screen with himself (which I’m sure he loves). One time, driving a car, Beatty turns his head as if reacting to something, and a second landscape bleeds through in just the spot he’s looking at, followed by a second Beatty, peering uncertainly from the back of the first one’s head. The brilliant editor was Aram Avakian, later a fine director.

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Two Beattys #1: ethereal foreground Warren looks at background Warren seemingly walking through fire.

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Two Beattys #2: Warren 2 looks out the back of Warren 1’s head.

(In his autohagiography The Kid Stays in the Picture, Robert Evans says he fired Avakian from THE GODFATHER for manoeuvring against Coppola, trying to steal his job. It may be true, But Avakian had worked with Coppola before [YOU’RE A BIG BOY NOW], was Coppola’s guy. Evans, on the other hand, was manoeuvring against Coppola (it’s kind of what some producers see their job as — stop the film from being too individual a creative expression) and I suspect him of simply trying to weaken Coppola’s band of followers. He couldn’t easily fire the cinematographer, but editors are easy to snip out of the picture, privately.)

More acting with himself: it’s kind of hilarious the number of scenes Beatty plays with other actors who won’t talk to him. Little Kamitari Fujiwara never speaks at all, and Tone and Hatfield and the rest spend long scenes just staring balefully and refusing to answer Warren’s impassioned questions. “Why does nobody want to talk to Warren?” I asked.

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The ending is a would-be Fellini trope that rather irked me, but there’s a bit where Beatty tries to perform his act in the spotlight’s glare with the strong sense that he’s about to be killed — he performs to the light, as if meeting his maker, and it does achieve the existentialism the film is clutching for. The trouble is, it happens TWICE, at roughly the two-thirds mark and at the end, which rather dilutes the effect. But I could see the potential — Micky’s Kafkaesque contract, which may or not exist, makes him a man under obscure sentence of death, like the whole human race. Pompous and self-serious, maybe, but evocative, especially in black and white.

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16 Responses to “Warren Beatty’s biscuits”

  1. Yes, Warren is very young, but he’s also as much in command of the project as he would be with his next film Bonnie and Clyde, also directed by Penn for which he took official producer credit. Warren has always struck me as a director-actor rather than an actor-director.

  2. Alexandra Stewart is an Axiom of tShe Cinema. French-Canadian by birth she made her mark in France via Louis Malle in Le Feu Follet and Black Moon (in which she has a memorable knock-dow-drag-out-fight with Joe Dallesandro. ) She also did the narration for the English-language version of Chris Marker’s San Soleil and lent her glamour to Prince’s ineffably outre Under the Cherry Moon

  3. Here’s Warren’s firstborn. Quite like Dad in Mickey One

  4. And now a preview of coming Warren

  5. He has the same sweet, questioning smile.

    Fiona is very weirded out that Beatty’s Howard Hughes movie appears to be a romcom. HH being both a monster and a very sick man… Does Beatty see him as a surrogate? A lovable eccentric millionire who slept with a lot of women?

    Beatty’s directing and producing strike me as exercises in controlling his own image, the same as he won’t start to act until take ten or so, when he’s good and ready.

    My favourite Penn-Beatty story is the one about setting the squibs off on Bonnie & Clyde. Beatty, for reasons known only to himself, failed to start acting, and just stood with a dopey grin while a bit of his head blew off. “And all the while, behind him, Faye Dunaway was dying like crazy. I wish I’d kept the piece of film.”

  6. Warren has wanted to a Hughes movie for a LONG time.it all started eons ago when he was staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel and discovered Hughes was there too. He saw this endless fleet of messengers coming and going and became fascinated. Warren does tend to take his time deciding what he wants to do, and while he was deciding Marty made The Aviator (aka. A History of Color Cinematography) with Leo. I expect that age nudged Warren towards rom-com. More important he’s apparently something of a subsidiary character in the film.

  7. A for his own image, the credit sequence of Mickey Onefinds him the charming womanizer we all know from “scandal” and the silly bio what’s-his-face churned out a few years back. On that front Warren said everything in his “apologia pro vita sua,” Shampoo

  8. I imagine the producers are nervous about Rules Don’t Apply after Hail, Caesar!, another Hollywood period comedy with the same star, died like a dog. A weirdly diffuse movie, the Coens film, I wasn’t blown away by it but was thinking as I was watching it that I’d need to see it again to figure out why they’d made it.

    The Beatty looks a little more… coherent?

  9. The Avakian story in “Kid Stays etc” makes very little sense to me. AA tells Evans the footage is ‘brilliant’ but it ‘can’t be cut together.’ Avakian must’ve anticipated Evans would screen the footage at that point. What producer wouldn’t? (And as a friend of mine said, “What the fuck does ‘it can’t be cut together’ mean? The world ran out of glue?”)

    “Kid Stays” is a highly recommended audio book anyway. Every chapter ends with Evans asking a series of demented rhetorical questions, all of which he then answers. (“Was I sleepwalking off the edge of the Grand Canyon? You bet your ass I was. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat, baby!”)

  10. I was kind of horrified that the Kid Stays movie got such plaudits when all they did was put pictures to the audio book, and they must have known the narrative contained, at the least, half-truths. It’s very watchable, but I wouldn’t call it a documentary.

    I guess “won’t cut together” would imply that Coppola’s angles didn’t match (eyelines, screen direction), his coverage was inadequate or the continuity was awry (scourge! curse of the script-girl!), but as you say, all of those allegations could easily be disproved, and none would be likely at that stage in FFC’s career. So the lie wouldn’t hold up, but nor would it be convincing from the start. So I do think RE is the one who’s lying. Remember that Coppola was very reluctant to work with him again, and “You fired my editor” may have been part of that.

    The other frankly odd thing is that RE is desperate that we believe he had nothing to do with the drugs on the set of The Cotton Club, but has already confessed to his own massive coke habit and to sleeping with the partner of the West Coast’s biggest drug supplier. I think he may require this firewall because of the murders that took place afterwards…

  11. I truly dislike the Coens. Cynical and slick they’re the opposite of Warren — who’s worldly-wise but never cynical.

  12. Coppola wrote a tribute to Avakian that was read at his 1987 memorial, which I think puts any possibility Evans was telling the truth at roughly the same odds that Chuck Barris was a CIA hit man.

  13. Avakian edited Bert Stern’s Jazz on a Summer’s Day. Great work,

  14. And I’m a big fan of his Cops and Robbers and 11 Harrowhouse. Been gearing up to watch End of the Road, which seems likely to be the masterpiece.

    One odd thing about Hail, Caesar! is how uncynical it appears — there are some off-kilter satirical angles, but it’s overall approach seems starry-eyed. One doubts its sincerity, but struggles to find any evidence of INsincerity.

  15. I find its treatment of the Hollywood Ten (“The Future”) to be inexcusably smarmy.

  16. Yes, that bothered me. I suspect the idea was to find a way of writing about the issue without saying anything credible about it. But I don’t really think that’s a great approach.

    I was also bothered by using the name Eddie Mannix for a hero. The real EM was anything but.

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