Archive for Ralph Rosenblum

Zero Tolerance

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on September 24, 2019 by dcairns

A producer I was discussing the vicissitudes of the film business with once described it as “a process of continually deferred satisfaction” (credit where due: it was Eddie Dick) which seems about right.

Proof of this lies in THE PRODUCERS, where Mel Brooks can lay claim to having written an as-good-as-perfect script (OK, the first scene is like twenty pages long, but it’s GREAT) and assembled an as-good-as-perfect cast to play it. Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder are so good together, astonishing (it’s worth seeing RHINOCEROS, the Ionesco adaptation they’re in together too, although I would prefer Alexander Mackendrick to have made his version, with either Tony Hancock or Peter Sellers and Peter Ustinov. He was going to matte rhinos into London landscapes.)

The first woman to wear lipstick in New York, and the man from whom Brooks stole the Elephant Man’s hairstyle.

BUT — to prove that there is no real satisfaction to be had for the labourer in film, Brooks was dissatisfied with Mostel’s performance throughout the shoot. Editor Ralph Rosenblum, in his excellent memoir, describes how Brooks filled the cutting room with explosive rage at Mostel’s intractability. He couldn’t let go of it and concentrate on the editing, his mind was still chewing over the trauma of the shoot, where he had tried to get Mostel to imbue Max Byalistock, conceived as a kind of humanoid id, with a form of sweetness and likability. If you see Nathan Lane in the role in the remake, you’ll see exactly what Brooks had in mind — Lane became his vision of the part.

The end credits list Zero merely as “Zero,” which seems affectionate — maybe Rosenblum is responsible, or maybe it’s phony showbiz affection, or a hidden gibe, or maybe Brooks loved Mostel as a man even if he hated — HATED! — the performance. A little mystery.

Yet I find Mostel ideal, and don’t find him remotely lacking in sweetness and likability, (“The most selfish man I ever met,” says Leo Bloom, affectionately.) But I agree with Mostel’s interpretation that the man is in essence villainous. Mostel played a lot of villains and finks in his pre-blacklist period, and being blacklisted probably didn’t make him any less explosive. But he’s always hugely human, therefore loveable.

(When The Producers stage musical was to open in London and Nathan Lane was unavailable, Brooks cast Jonathan Cake, who had played Mosley, then fired him for playing it too villanous. Nathan Lane somehow became available.)

Mel Brooks has had as long and rewarding a career as you could wish for, achieving wonderful things as director and producer and star and writer and lyricist. But by some cruel caprice of fate, he can’t see how magnificent the lead actor in his first film is.

Dream Repairman

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 18, 2012 by dcairns

I’m a sucker for memoirs by cinematographers and editors — perhaps especially the latter. Sometimes these books can be frustrating because the authors are not experienced writers or may not understand what the reader would like to hear about — or maybe what I want to hear about is too arcane.

The best book by an editor I know is Ralph Rosenblum’s When the Shooting Stops… The Cutting Begins: A Film Editor’s Story, which covers work with Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, William Friedkin… all very interesting personalities, and a lot of films which required really inventive work in the cutting room.

So I was excited to find a copy of Jim Clark’s memoir (written with John H Myers), Dream Repairman, Adventures in Film Editing. Like Rosenblum’s book, this covers its author and subject’s entire career up until retirement, only Clark is a Brit who has worked in America and Europe, his career only ending relatively recently due to health troubles (he was to have cut Rob Marshall’s Nine).

By his own account, Clark is quite an outspoken man (at one point he describes meeting Sean Penn, who asks him what he thought of INTO THE WILD. “It’s too long,” says Clark) so the fact that I don’t like a lot of the films he cut isn’t a problem. He doesn’t like them either. But he did cut a slew of films for John Schlesinger, some of which I like a lot, plus a few for Stanley Donen and a couple for Jack Clayton. His portrait of Clayton’s temperament enhances my understanding of this complex and not always pleasant man, adding to the raging furies I already knew about (you can’t really resent a man for throwing a chair through Barry Diller’s office window) a prodigious appetite for brandy and sodas and a penchant for sadistic practical jokes perhaps inherited from his time with John Huston.

Schlesinger could be equally explosive, but emerges as a lot more lovable (and one waits in vain for thunderbolts to strike down Madonna and Rupert Everett for humiliating him and practically killing him while making the wretched THE NEXT BEST THING. It’s very silly, but I do like Schlesinger’s nickname for his over-budget comedy disaster HONKY TONK FREEWAY, which he only ever referred to as WANKY WANK BUMHOLE.

(The book abounds in nicknames: we learn that Zeffirelli called C. Thomas Howell “Tea Towel” and Liz Taylor “thee beetch,” [which is, in fact, his name for all women], while the labs referred to Martha Fienne’s ONEGIN as “ONE GIN,” and Schlesinger’s affectionate/elitist name for the general public: “the sillies.”)

There’s not a huge amount about the craft of editing, which is admittedly difficult to illustrate on the page, though we do learn a lot about how at least a few of Robert DeNiro’s performances have been hewn together out of miles of wildly uneven material, since the actor often doesn’t learn his lines and feels his way through his scenes trying a wide variety of approaches, so that the editor makes most of the choices for him.

But Clark is an amiable host, and fabulously indiscrete: he prints a full-frontal picture of Marty Feldman, something I didn’t expect to see as I turned the page, lists the guests at a Hollywood party and then remarks that he was the only straight man present (the company included at least one major producer who has been known to get shirty when his personal life comes under the spotlight), and carelessly tosses off the following —

“It was known that Jimmy Woolf was homosexual, though just how active he was I never knew. He had a long liason with Laurence Harvey, now married, and was currently escorting Terence Stamp who was also in TERM OF TRIAL.”

I *think* the story is that Woolf liked nothing more than a handsome young man who would treat him very badly, so I don’t think this necessarily means what it seems to mean. But who knows? the charm of Clark’s book is that he’s out of that world now so he can more or less say anything he likes. Though increasingly tetchy about the levels of productorial interference in modern filmmaking, made possible by digital editing, he’s generally fair and affectionate to nearly all his collaborators, even when he’s mercilessly rubbishing the end product of some of these jobs.

Clark’s short stint as director is also covered — he did well to concentrate on editing, as these include the lamentable RENTADICK, which he still thinks is funny, and MADHOUSE, which was butchered by Milton Subotsky but is actually a bit better than he gives it credit for. It did result in a lifelong friendship with star Vincent Price, and through him to Coral Browne, who provides some good vulgar fun. I’ve long admired the anecdote about her rehearsing a play wearing a huge fur hat. When the director asked her if she was uncomfortable, she said “Yes, I feel as though I’m looking out of a yak’s arsehole.”

But Clark provides a story that’s positively heroic in its use of bawdiness in the face of death. Browne is dying of cancer and on a morphine drip. She’s asked if she’s hungry.


“What would you like to eat.”

“A big cock.”

It’s not witty, exactly. But it somehow strikes me as encapsulating humanity at its finest.

Dream Repairman: Adventures in Film Editing

Making the scene

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2012 by dcairns

I first heard about ACTING OUT in editor Ralph Rosenblum’s book When the Shooting Stops… The Cutting Begins, a very engaging and insightful look at RR’s life as a film editor, which includes transforming/rescuing films from William Friedkin, Mel Brooks and Woody Allen. His work with Allen, from TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN to ANNIE HALL particularly comes to mind when viewing ACTING OUT (rescued from obscurity by trashmeisters Troma) —

The film is a sort-of documentary about sexual fantasies. Various New Yorkers are interviewed, then auditioned, then finally invited to attempt to enact their fantasies in real life on a plush estate outside the city (Project: Nim was probably being enacted a stone’s throw away… the building is also slightly reminiscent of the orgy palace in EYES WIDE SHUT, and it seems likely that, given his interests, Kubrick would have screened this).

Well, it doesn’t all go swimmingly, although probably most of the participants are glad they tried. A learning experience. “It was completely asexual,” complains one young woman, after her fantasy of medical domination turns out off-puttingly real. I would think anybody capable of imagining such a scenario might also be able to imagine how different it might all feel in reality, with a movie crew present…

Woody Allen lines kept cropping up in my head as I watched:

“A large vibrating egg. Well, I ask a psychopath, I get that kind of an answer.”

“I am in love with my sheep.”

“She is elderly, and she uses her wrist a lot.”

The up-tempo jazz tracks don’t do anything to dispel the hilarity, and the dry VO is a killer: “John Smoczyk and Karen Frohardt from Seattle, Washington, who wanted to make love to clowns in a funhouse surrounded by distorting mirrors, got lost in a pleasant but aimless orgy and forgot about completing their scene.”

“You may be interested in why am appearing without, uh, my face. I’m very interested in getting into this show naked and I’m interested in telling you my fantasy. BUT — I thought this was going to be a porn movie, and I have a family… they might think it unfair. My – my wife know about this, being in this p-picture, b-being in this interview, my children don’t know a thing about it. And I worked in civil service, and I was quite straight, and now that I’ve retired, I felt, Gee, modern times, why not get into all the act? So, uh, I’ve been out to the, uh, beach, and I’m going to tell you what my fantasy of sex is. I went out to the beach at Brighton. I don’t mean Brighton. I-I went out to the breach, ah, beach, I won’t give the name of, uh, they now have people… dressing… without any clothes. And it seemed very exciting and so on. And my fantasy is that I’m out there and everybody’s sitting there, some with clothes, some without clothes, and I fall asleep. And then I wake up and there’s a young girl come over to me… she’s interested in tickling me, she’s interested in having me have a party with her, and… either we have a party on the beach, or we have a party in her place, and, um, my fantasy goes on to all sorts of fun there, lots of fun similar to what you’ve probably heard in other people’s fantasies…”

My theory is that this guy just wants sex. That this isn’t his sexual fantasy — how could it be? I mean, I know he’s a retired civil servant, but still… The other stuff in the film is properly whacky and sometimes a little disturbing (only the men are disturbing), and mainly I was thinking “This is HIGHLY personal stuff… are you sure you want to be putting it out there?”

Rosenblum, I seem to recall, says in his book how moving he found the experience, and for the most part, although porn actors were used in staging the scenes, the movie is as far from the exploitation of “adult cinema” as you could wish. Except that not everybody seems to be going into the scenes knowing what to expect, which raises questions about informed consent which the filmmakers don’t seem inclined to answer. There’s also the straightforward incompetence, as when the guy with the dream of being a Salem impuritan (one of America’s F***ing Fathers?) and tickling a bunch of men’s penises with a feather goes awry when they line up a bunch of straight guys (including a lead player from CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST) who don’t, ah, respond as he’d hoped. The guy’s pretty upset about this, as well he might be — it’s like he’s gone to Fantasy Island, and Herve Villechaise won’t put out.

Foundering feathers.