Much of New York’s film community remained in France this week for that one festival they do over there, making for a mostly repertory week in the art houses. The Film Center celebrated oft-underappreciated golden era film actors Charles Boyer and Jennifer Jones, and Stranger Than Fiction screened the great doc “When We Were Kings,” in an event ho-hosted with the Woodstock Film Festival. At the Times Center, actor/director Stanley Tucci was paid tribute by a select group of indie stalwarts.
Stanley Tucci and Friends At MoMI
On Wednesday night at the Times Center, the Museum of the Moving Image checked in from its hiatus (its theater is currently in the midst of a major expansion) in order to host an informal tribute to actor Stanley Tucci. Featuring Tucci’s friends Steve Buscemi, Hope Davis, Natasha Richardson and (randomly) chef Mario Batali, the tribute became something of a discussion of the life of beloved, moderately successful indie film actors.
“I’m still waiting to feel like I’ll be a success as an actor,” says Tucci. “I’m not kidding. When I finish a job, I always imagine that it is going to take a long time to get another job.”
Buscemi backed him up, saying, “”I get paranoid when I imagine casting sessions, where if my name comes up, the director says ‘Yeah, he’s OK… who else?’, ‘yeah, we’ve seen him, but…who else?” That’s the biggest fear I have, and I don’t think it’s paranoia, I think it’s happening.”
Tucci and Buscemi have recently started their own production company, Olive Productions, with the idea of funding small-to-mid budget films, particularly their own.
“You get frustrated that you aren’t working consistently,” explained Tucci. “The only thing you can do is to generate your own work. I think we all do it.”
“I don’t,” chimed in Davis. “I sit at home and wait for the phone to ring… I prefer not to work. I have small children and I like to be at home.”
Tucci further expressed concern about the perception of actors in Hollywood. “There’s a tremendous amount of pressure actors when a movie bombs. That’s my favorite. You know, there are a lot of other people involved.”
Davis, was also wary about the danger of success. “Because there are so many people attached to all of us now, you’re constantly being pressure to be out there working, making money for them. I feel like I’m always being pressured to take the next job.”
The Museum of the Moving Image will continue to hold periodic programs at the Times Center.
Film Greats Jennifer Jones and Charles Boyer Celebrated
On Thursday night, the Film Society of Lincoln Center kicked off its simultaneous tributes to actress Jennifer Jones and actor Charles Boyer at once with a screening of the 1946 classic “Cluny Brown“, one of the final films of the great comedic director Ernst Lubitch, about a young woman (Jones) with dreams of being a plumber who falls in with an exiled Czech professor (Boyer) at an English country estate.
Jones was the Galatea of super-producer Pygmalion David O. Selznick, who saw her at casting and immediately took an interest. “She was never a starlet,” says Ney. “Selznick made sure she was a star immediately.” After Jones won the Best Actress Oscar for her first starring role, in “The Song of Bernadette“, Selznick continued handpicking her roles. “He was very focused on trying to make her into an important star, like Elizabeth Taylor or Vivian Leigh,” says Ney. “She was such a natural comedienne, but he ignored it.”
Luckily, the series includes her greatest comic roles, both as a pathological liar in John Huston‘s “Beat the Devil” and “Cluny Brown” opposite Boyer. Boyer, for his part, was a stage-trained actor who had struggled in the silent films, but whose powerful voice (and thick French accent) gave him a boost with the advent of sound.
“Charles Boyer is the Gallic Cary Grant, dashing and impeccable” says Ney. “He had such depth and economy of means for his performances, you never saw him acting. And he could be threatening, he had a combination of charm and darkness. The only other person who was like him was James Mason.”
His series features a range of performances, from the truly sinister husband trying to drive his wife mad in George Cuckor‘s “Gaslight” to the uptight husband whose wife is having an obvious affair in Max Ophuel‘s masterpiece “The Earrings of Madame De…“
“The Tempestuous Career of Jennifer Jones” runs through May 24, and “Charles Boyer and the Art of Seduction” runs through May 27.
Woodstock and STF Revisit “Kings”
Thom Powers was joined by guest programmer Meira Blaustein and the Woodstock Film Festival this week for his “Stranger Than Fiction” series at the IFC Center, for a screening of Leon Gast‘s superb 1997 film “When We Were Kings.” The film tells the story of the 1974 ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ in Zaire between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, organized as an unparalleled spectacle by then-neophyte promoter Don King.
This was one of the rare truly great films to win the Oscar for Best Documentary (both Ali and Foreman joined the directors onstage); its greatness is partially due to the 20 year delay between when the footage was shot and when it was edited.
“Don King, true to his character, decided that he was going to sue us, and he got an injunction,” said Gast after the screening. “The money for the film had come from Liberia. We couldn’t get any jurisdiction for it because of the complexity of where it came from. We couldn’t get the negative, we couldn’t even get the work print, we couldn’t get the soundtrack.”
It was 20 years before the film was returned to them, by which point the verite style of the 1970s had gone out of vogue.
“[Producer] Taylor Hackford saw a cut, and he said ‘I love the film, but you’ve got to bring it into the present, and what we should do is find some people that were there to do commentary and analysis'”, said Gast, who added interviews with sports writers Norman Mailer and George Plimpton.
Gast and editor Jeffrey Levy-Hinte finished off by showing clips of their current project, “Soul Power“, a companion piece to “When We Were Kings” about the adjacent music festival (dubbed a “Black Woodstock” and including B.B. King and James Brown) that preceded the Rumbled.
“Stranger Than Fiction and the Woodstock Film Festival will pair up again next week, for an evening with Jonathan Demme (“The Agronomist“).”