Archive for the Television Category

No Smoke

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , on August 24, 2016 by dcairns


I got intrigued by COLD TURKEY when I saw Joe Dante had programmed it as part of his diverse selection of features screening at BAM in New York to compliment a retrospective of his own work. The only film directed by US sitcom supremo Norman Lear, it proves to be quite Dante-esque in its abrasive satire.

An approach to a small town. Every major local business seems to be permanently shuttered. We’re following a dog, shambling along. The dog stops at the town sign and urinates, solemnly — and the camera abruptly takes off in a helicopter. An ambitious start, showing one of the key things about the movie — it’s determined to throw off the shackles of TV.

I never saw Sanford & Son or All in the Family/Archie Bunker’s Place, though I believe Channel 4 did show the latter at one point. I’m probably too familiar with the British originals to appreciate them. But based on COLD TURKEY, Lear obviously has a distinct sensibility.

This small town takes up a bet, publicised by a cigarette company, to give up smoking for a month, with a prize of $25,000,000. PR man Bob Newhart has convinced senile tobacco magnate Edward Everett Horton (!) that he can have a Nobel-like legacy by one well-publicized philanthropic deed like this — and it is assumed that probably no town will take up the challenge and certainly no town will succeed.

But town padre Dick Van Dyke sees this as an opportunity to escape his awful parish, so he galvanizes the community, even with threats of violence, and soon has them either taking part or leaving town. Local libertarian wingnuts are enlisted as a kind of anti-smoking militia. The town unites in a spirit of cooperation and adventure — and then falls apart in a welter of madness as mass withdrawal kicks in. Then, as the town becomes famous via the TV news, commercialism takes over and the pseudo-noble dream is corrupted. The image grinds into slomo as DVD watches a troupe of kids run by, all wearing Dick Van Dyke masks. Terrifying.


Some very strong material — good gags, many emerging from manic montages, just making an impression before they’re swept away. No sympathetic characters, which bothered me slightly but also seemed kind of bold and admirable. TV seems to have given Lear a boundless contempt for his fellow Americans who are, according to this: sick; venal; gross in their bodily excrescences; deeply stupid about politics; respectful and craven before nonsense like religion and TV news; neurotic; brutal; selfish. Nobody is spared.

Fascinating to see DVD’s chirpy persona buried in the character of a louse, who browbeats his wife with tender compassion, and is motivated only by worship of the Great God of Self. His moment of horror at the town’s corruption passes swiftly once he realises he stands to gain from it, and the church approves.


The ending leaves three major characters shot in the street, and doesn’t even bother to let you know if they live or die. And you don’t care.

If this sounds like your kind of thing, the chances are it’s your kind of thing. I found it a wee bit harsh. I admired it, but in a slightly aghast way.

Monterey Gun

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , on August 17, 2016 by dcairns

Poster - One-Eyed Jacks_07

I don’t think it’s premature of me to reveal that my Big Brando Project is a video essay for Criterion’s forthcoming Blu-ray of the restored ONE-EYED JACKS. Here’s the announcement on their website. It doesn’t mention me by name, but it does say there will be video essays. Well, I’m doing one of them. Should be finished today, more or less! A fun job.

I’d tell you more but I’m saving it for the video essay. OK, here’s one fun fact that isn’t included: David Lynch’s Twin Peaks features a brothel called One-Eyed Jack’s. It also features the nonagenarian Hank Worden, who was in Brando’s film (briefly), and a character named Emory who works at the whorehouse, seemingly named after Ben Johnson’s sleazy desperado, also in the Brando. Seems either Mark Frost or David Lynch is a fan.


Posted in FILM, Politics, Television with tags , , , , on August 16, 2016 by dcairns


NATAN, the documentary Paul Duane and I directed in 2013, airs today on Arte in France and Germany at 22.15. The film’s TV premiere. Special thanks to all who helped make it possible, and particularly Serge Bromberg for his tireless efforts as distributor. We’re hoping this leads to sales elsewhere, but it’s wonderful in itself — France was always the key place we wanted to play.

“Bernard Natan haunts the history of French cinema…” – Le Monde

“Natan is an extraordinary film!” – Philip Kaufman

“I loved it. It is a very moving, thoughtful documentary” – Bertrand Tavernier

Bernard Natan revolutionised French Cinema. So why was he destroyed, imprisoned, murdered, and then, after his death, why was even his memory turned into a sick joke? – Craig McCall (CAMERAMAN)

Related articles in French and German. You can buy the film via our Facebook page.


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