Archive for Barry Levinson

She’s Young, They’re in Love, and He Kills People

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 21, 2020 by dcairns

Yes, as a matter of fact, it did take me a while to catch up with BUGSY, now that you mention it. Probably being disgusted by DICK TRACY, a bloated waste with pretty colours, put me off going to see this. But as always with a Warren Beatty joint, top talent is involved. The director here isn’t WB himself but Barry Levinson, who has made some fine films, but maybe not this one.

My main observation is not, I think, an original one — Beatty somehow can’t suggest the psychopathic rage part that gives Ben Siegel his nickname and the film its title, which is a fairly big problem if you think about it.

What surprised me, during Beatty’s biggest tantrum, was an odd cut where his anger goes from about a 7 to a 10 with no transition and no motivation. Thereby making it clear that two takes, featuring different levels of performance, have been spliced together, maybe to try for a jarring, sudden escalation? Maybe hoping that this disjunction would make Warren scarier? I mean, he’s doing a decent job of looking angry, and if you were in a room with a guy that angry you’d maybe feel a little sick, but the problem is Harvey Keitel is in this film and Ben Kingsley is in this film and if Levinson asked either of them to do what Warren’s FORCING himself to try to do here, the key grip would soil himself in terror. We have seen scary actors. If we haven’t, we might be convinced by Warren.

In Levinson on Levinson, the director talks about how Bugsy needed to be a romantic lead as well as a vicious killer — obviously, Beatty can do the romantic stuff no problem. The trouble was, they needed BOTH. I can’t really think of anyone who was around at the time who would have been better.

Beatty is romantic partly because he has Annette Bening to be romantic with. She plays Virginia Hill, also the subject of a seventies TV movie where Dyan Cannon played her. Harvey Keitel was in that too, funnily enough.

The other big filmmaking fail — well, the film has several goddamn MONTAGES, the point of which I do not see, and whenever a period movie resorts to montages to get from one point of a disarticulated story to another, I feel somebody’s not done their screenwriting work — but the other thing is the ending.

Bugsy alone.

This ties in to the best bit, actually, Bugsy’s Damascene vision of the Flamingo Hotel. I tend to feel like Warren is buying up all the toys when he hires people like Storaro to shoot and Morricone to score… in fairness, BULWORTH is an absolutely gorgeous showcase for Storaro’s work and the maestro does great work here… but the great Morricone wasn’t really NEEDED for BULWORTH and he’s probably not needed here. Normally, if you hire Morricone and your lead has an ecstatic vision of an unbuilt hotel, you turn the composer loose and get something amazing. What they do here is impressively different.

Of course, Storaro gives us some great desert photography. But the sound design, by Richard Beggs, does the rest. It’s this distant echoing hubbub — like an auditory leak from the future. It comes from far away, probably from approximately our time. Or maybe we can only hear it dimly because it’s coming from inside Siegel’s head, which is only semi-porous as they prove at the end with bullets. Anyway, it’s really wonderful, and arguably better than what you’d get from the mighty Morricone because it’s NEW.

Anyway, the other fail: big pull-back from Annette Bening after she gets the news of Bugsy’s death, and pan off onto darkness. Then… nothing. Some TEXT, telling the movie’s version of what happened next — a version which is factually unfounded, as far as I can tell. Then a nothing shot of modern Vegas as the credits whiz upwards.

No good at all. What Fiona and I both expected, as the shot panned from Bening in her billowing gown, was the lights of modern Vegas coming on bit by bit in the darkness. That’s what the whole film has been leading up to, and certainly seems like what that shot is designed to lead up to. It’d have to be some kind of FX shot, sure. Something out of ONE FROM THE HEART. And maybe the idea is corny. But corny is better than disappointing, right? Usually. I mean, if the movie wasn’t so shamelessly romanticized then maybe it could afford to end with some kind of anticlimax. What do I mean by shamelessly romanticized? Well, Virginia Hill wasn’t at the Flamingo because she unexpectedly left for Paris, making some suspect she was tipped off about her boyfriend’s hit job — but there’s worse — we earlier see a witness being sent off on a nice holiday so he can’t testify against Bugs — two real witnesses were in fact whacked. To accuse them of taking bribes rather than bullets definitely falls into the category of insulting the dead.

Of course, BONNIE AND CLYDE was rose-tinted too. But that 100% worked. Does that excuse it? I’m not 100% sure. But when I watch that film, I 100% forget to worry about it.

The Lawyers and the Pigs

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , on June 15, 2019 by dcairns

I picked up Levinson on Levinson secondhand because I was sure there’d be some good stuff in it. And sure enough, as soon as he starts talking about his days in live sketch TV comedy alongside Craig T. Nelson ~

“There was a sketch called ‘The Doctors and the Vikings,’ and it became like a running soap opera from week to week. Quite simply, we would do a lot of doctor talk, all very dramatic and serious, and then periodically a Viking would come through the operating room, blowing his horn, look at the situation, shake his head and then leave. That was the gag, and it became very popular. Popular, that is, for a local station, with maybe the fifty people who watched it.

“Then one week we decided to do an encore, called ‘The Lawyers and the Pigs’, with lawyers in suits speaking a lot of legalese as normal, but carrying a lot of little piglets under their arms. We’d make no reference to the piglets, and that would be the joke. When we rehearsed on the Sunday, we didn’t bother to get the piglets, as we thought that was just the gag, no need to bother. When we went into the show, and it’s live, we ran to find our piglets. Only these were not little piglets, but huge, 70-lb pigs! I could just about carry mine to the defence table — he was so heavy — but Craig’s started to crawl over his back. The judge had more sense, he actually got a piece of rope for his pig, but they started squealing and then peeing all over the stage. The audience began to laugh so loud they couldn’t hear us and we couldn’t hear each other. This was meant to be a quickie sketch, run two minutes and then boom and out, but it went on for thirteen minutes, with the pigs trying to break free and us trying to grab hold of them, but never talking about the problem. It was absolute anarchy, with the audience screaming with laughter. People tuning into the show were going, ‘My God, they’ve really gone off the deep end with this piece. This is the sickest thing on television!'”

Notes: The Lohman & Barkley Show ran on KNBC. This sketch, tragically, has not made its way to YouTube. But it makes me think of this famous bit of British children’s telly.

The Viking thing seems very Pythonesque, and indeed Levinson would soon be writing for Marty Feldman.

This is the only representative bit of Lohman & Barkley I could find. Quite dark.

The Shadowcast #2: Midterm Mayhem

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 5, 2018 by dcairns

The second edition of our podcast is here! Listen to Fiona and I plus Momo the podcat discussing US political satires from 1997 and 1998 — MAD CITY, WAG THE DOG, PRIMARY COLORS and, best of all, Mr. Warren Beatty’s extraordinary BULWORTH.

Here’s the link.

And the feed.

Enjoy! Tell your friends! Vote!