Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.
1. Our Dated Model of Theatrical Release Is Hurting Independent Cinema. The classic theatrical release model splits between wide release and limited release, but while this model has existed for ages with small changes here and there, its imperfections are numerous. The New Yorker’s Richard Brody argues that the theatrical release model is hurting independent cinema.
The most frequent and conspicuous cinematic reference in “Lemonade,” Beyoncé’s “visual album,” is to Julie Dash’s 1991 film “Daughters of the Dust.” It’s an apt reference to a modern classic and one of the greatest American independent films ever made — and it’s all the more delightful an homage because, for all its artistic wonders, the film is also somewhat obscure. “Daughters of the Dust” opened at Film Forum in 1992 and then at other theaters across the country. It’s the first feature film directed by a black woman to go into national release. Nonetheless, it has links to only fifteen reviews on Metacritic and nine on Rotten Tomatoes, yet today it’s the most secretly famous movie in the world — and to think that it has only taken twenty-four years. (It wasn’t reviewed in “The New Yorker” at the time of its release.) Meanwhile, Dash hasn’t yet gotten to make a second feature. Sadly, she’s not alone; some other major independent filmmakers of the time haven’t made second films, either — I’m thinking of Wendell B. Harris, Jr., the director of “Chameleon Street”; Kathleen Collins, the director of “Losing Ground”; and Leslie Harris, the director of “Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.” These directors are black; and though there are certainly plenty of white independent filmmakers who have trouble raising money for movies, these four made first films of extraordinary artistic value and should immediately have been propelled to the forefront of the art and at least somewhere in the industry. Instead, they’re still waiting, except for Collins, who died in 1988, before “Losing Ground” — one of the first American features made by a black woman — was released (it had only a few showings in museums and on public television prior to its long-belated commercial release in 2015.) Part of the blame lies with critics — predominantly white critics — who paid no attention. But part of the blame lies with a system of tacit complicity between critics and the industry that poses obstacles to the recognition of independent films.
2. “New Girl” Creator Liz Meriwether Recalls the Prince Episode. Prince’s death has sent shockwaves throughout the worlds of film and television, with many who have been touched by his death sharing their thoughts on his legacy. The “New Girl” creator Liz Meriweather recalls the episode when Prince guest starred.
The truth is, I had no idea why Prince had agreed to guest-star on “New Girl.” I was told he loved the show, that it was one of the few shows he watched. How could that be true? We weren’t cool enough for Prince — we did an entire episode about someone leaving a wet towel in the bathroom. A very real part of me felt that this was a prank some mean girls from middle school had spent 15 years concocting. I had also been told that Prince was known to back out of things at the last moment if he was unhappy. My interactions until this call had been with a manager, though I could sometimes tell what was coming directly from Prince in forwarded emails because of the way he spelled words: Letters were mostly capitalized. Numbers replaced letters whenever possible. 2Day. 2Morrow. An email from Prince was like a message that had been beamed down from a party in space by a robot whose job it was to communicate during all space parties. We had originally approached Prince in season two for a cameo in an episode called “Virgins.” He said no. Obviously, in hindsight: The episode was too racy. But we were told he would be interested in coming back to do something else another time. I thought that was just the polite bullshit of the casting world. (An actor didn’t hate the script; she just “did not respond to the material.”) So when his manager reached out at the beginning of season three to ask if we were still interested in having Prince on the show, I was shocked. Yes. Yes, yes, yes. That year, Fox had asked us to air an episode after the Super Bowl. It had to be the one. It had to be Prince. I met his manager and pitched the idea: The characters were going to end up at a party at Prince’s house, and with Prince’s help Nick and Jess would finally say “I love you” to each other. It was a big moment for our show. Prince liked the idea that he would be the one to get Jess to tell Nick how she felt about him. He referenced “Silver Streak” and “Hitch.” Two of our writers, Rob Rosell and Dave Feeney, wrote a very funny, wonderful script, and he signed on. He told us he wanted the party on the show to be as close as possible to what parties at his house were really like. I couldn’t believe this was happening.
3. The Behind-The-Scenes Story of Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” Video. Though Prince’s music videos and live shows are notoriously difficult to view on the Internet, they are nonetheless essential documents of his career. Uproxx’s Mike Ryan examines the behind-the-scenes story of Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” video.
[Director Bryan] Greenberg, almost strangely at that time, already had a lot of experience shooting music videos. Michael Nesmith (yes, the Michael Nesmith from The Monkees), had started a show for Nickelodeon called “PopClips” that ran weekly in 1979. “PopClips” was the granddaddy of all music video shows and introduced the idea of VJs. (It was initially supposed to have comedians in-between the videos, but that idea was quickly scrapped.) Eventually, as Nesmith became less involved, Greenberg became one of the people running the show. Even by 1983, there weren’t a lot of people who knew how to make music videos. So, as Greenberg explains today, it really wasn’t that strange to find out on short notice that he’d be flying from Los Angeles to Florida to film a music video for Prince. “Warner Bros. found us, they called us up, and next thing you know, [producer] Beth [Broday] and I are sitting in front of [Prince’s manager at the time] Steve Fargnoli, talking about doing a video for Prince.” The deal was, they’d fly to Lakewood, Florida, where Prince was rehearing, and film a video for “Little Red Corvette” and Vanity 6’s “Drive Me Wild.” Greenberg recalls the budget was minuscule, under $20,000, “and their only stipulation before agreeing to shoot the video was that they wanted half the budget paid immediately…in cash.” The original plan for the “Little Red Corvette” video was quite different than what was eventually produced. There was always supposed to be the stage work we see, but also another part filmed with Prince and Vanity driving around in a red Corvette. When Vanity died in February, Prince performed “Little Red Corvette” and dedicated it to her – and, as it turned out, she was almost the co-star of the video. Greenberg remembers, “Originally we were going to shoot the next day. It was actually a night shoot. It was him and Vanity rolling around in a red Corvette that was going to be towed around this little lake. It was really beautiful, a really pretty area we were filming around where we were shooting. But, at the time, Prince hadn’t done anything outside of being onstage. And he’s very shy. He really keeps to himself. So I always knew in the back of my head that I just don’t think he’s going to do this. He wouldn’t have control. He wouldn’t be able to control the situation.” After a day of shooting the stage work, both Greenberg and Prince mutually agreed to nix the whole Corvette part. “At the end of the day,” Greenberg recalls, “Prince looked at me and I looked at him and it was like, ‘You know, we’ve got the video. We don’t need to do any more. This will work.’ And we both kind of decided we had the video. I literally took the crew out to Epcot Center the next day instead of shooting.”
4. The Society of the Real: How Robert Drew and Associates Changed Documentary Film. The Criterion Collection just released a new set of documentaries entitled “The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew and Associates.” For RogerEbert.com, Steve Erickson explores how Robert Drew and his team of newsreel cameramen changed documentary film.
“The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates” is as interesting historically as aesthetically, and not just for those fascinated by the Kennedys. While “Primary,” “Adventures on the New Frontier” and “Crisis” all include voice-over, they point the way towards the direct cinema documentaries that would dominate the ’60s. One senses that these films, particularly “Adventures on the New Frontier,” are often limited by their TV funding and roots in the Time-Life aesthetic, yet Drew managed to create something new from these unpromising sources. Additionally, it’s worth pointing out that Criterion has outdone itself with extras this time around. I’m sure this is the first time former Attorney General Eric Holder has appeared on a Criterion disc (to comment on “Crisis”). Drew, Leacock and Pennebaker offer commentary on a shorter, alternate version of “Primary.” The four main documentaries only add up to three hours, but it’s an immersion in a history that shaped our present, including the election primaries now underway. “Primary” has no directorial credit, but Richard Leacock, Robert Drew, Albert Maysles and D.A. Pennebaker all worked on it. Although it’s an American nonfiction film, its raw quality marks it as a contemporary of the French New Wave, filled with startlingly tight close-ups that are the result of lightweight 16mm cameras (personally designed by Drew and Leacock) which allowed the cameramen to get extremely close to their subjects. Shot over the course of five days as Hubert Humphrey and John F. Kennedy battled for the 1960 Democratic nomination in Wisconsin, “Primary” shows a recognizable but very different America from the one we live in. For one thing, children and young teenagers take an interest in politics. On a more serious level, the film feels pre-civil rights; I don’t think a single person of color appears in it. Drew and co. seem as interested in how it feels to run for president as in what Humphrey and Kennedy plan to do in office. Humphrey does get to talk for several minutes about his agricultural policy, but he starts off bashing the East Coast media. (You can see echoes of Ted Cruz’s dig at “New York values” here.) Even from a distance of 56 years, Kennedy’s glamour cuts through. Most of the audiences to whom he speaks look rather dowdy in comparison, as does Humphrey. Their televised debate is about stardom versus policy. History tells us which won.
5. The Curious Story of “Shock Treatment,” the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” Sequel That Never Arrived. Last year, the classic cult film “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” celebrated its 40th anniversary, but while that B-move turned into institution, there’s plenty more that never quite arrived. For Oscilloscope’s Musings blog, Keith Phipps explores the curious story of “Shock Treatment,” the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” sequel designed to have a cult following that never arrived.
That [writer Richard O’Brien and writer/director Jim Sharman] would find interest in following it up once it became a staple of midnight screenings was, if not inevitable, highly likely. “Shock Treatment” began as a direct sequel, with Frank N. Furter resurrected, Janet giving birth to his baby, and all the other major characters returning. It arrived looking only tenuously connected to what had come before. Gone were Curry, Sarandon, Bostwick and most others. Returning were Charles Gray (“Rocky Horror’s” criminologist/narrator), O’Brien, Quinn, and Campbell. For “Shock Treatment,” however, they’d assume different roles,. And though Rocky Horror’s Brad and Janet would remain central characters, they’d be played by different actors, namely Cliff De Young and Jessica Harper (the latter no stranger to cult films having previously starred in “Suspiria” and “Phantom of the Paradise”). Also on board: Australian comic Barry Humphries (best known for his comic creation Dame Edna Everage), and “Young Ones” star Rik Mayall. Gone too was “Rocky Horror’s” crumbling gothic castle. In its place: Brad and Janet’s hometown of Denton, Ohio, nicknamed “The Home Of Happiness” and a town now more or less consumed by the sprawling, antiseptic TV studio of DTV. Consequently, despite Sharman’s return as director, it looked little like “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” And despite O’Brien and Richard Hartley penning the songs, it didn’t sound that much like it either. Where Rocky Horror had deep roots in the glam era, “Shock Treatment’s” songs are new wave to their core, combining pop songcraft with synthesizers, propulsive guitar lines, and nods to American roots music and reggae. If O’Brien had Bowie on the brain while working on Rocky Horror, “Shock Treatment” seems to have born of long nights listening to Blondie. But even if it looked and sounded little like “RHPS,” its core story wasn’t that different. For the now-married Brad and Janet, DTV becomes a dangerous and seductive world as they fall under the sway of a charismatic, possibly malevolent leader. Instead of Frank N. Furter, however, it’s Farley Flavors (also played by De Young), who’s spun his fast food fortune into the DTV empire, creating an endless succession of corporate-sponsored programming that ranges from game shows to soap operas, all enacted by the residents of Denton. As the film progresses, Janet becomes a star, Brad becomes institutionalized, and convoluted secrets get revealed. (Also as with “RHPS,” the plot can be confusing at times.) So why didn’t it connect with “Rocky Horror” fans, much less a wider audience? It’s possible that, for all it had in common, its differences were too great, be it the changes in cast, the claustrophobic set, or the shift in musical style. It might also be that cults can’t be manufactured. They just have to happen. The rituals around “Rocky Horror” evolved organically. “Shock Treatment” arrived with the expectation of cultdom.
Tweet of the Day:
Can’t decide whether this election is a bad Brian De Palma movie, a good Paul Verhoeven movie or an Oliver Stone Directors Cut.
— Stephen Cone (@stephendcone) April 27, 2016