Reflections on Bond, James Bond, by Paul Sparrow-Clarke

Oh, to have a time machine, and travel back to 1962 to see the premiere of the first Bond film, Dr. No, starring a relatively unknown Scottish ex-truck driver, Sean Connery. I’ve seen Dr. No on the big screen, about 10 years ago at a repertory theatre, but I doubt that it captured the magic. But there again, with my jaded 90s filmgoer eyes, it would be impossible to know the excitement of audiences as they realized they were seeing a new type of hero in a new type of screen adventure.

Bond has now been on the screen for 37 years, the character has become a cultural icon, and the films have long become formula.But what a glorious formula it is, and what incarnations the character has gone through (and survived) a rogue, clown, killer, superman (not to mention Scottish, Australian, English, Welsh, and Irish).I’m a Bond fan. I’ve seen every movie at least 3 times, and read all the books. My first movie theatre experience with a Bond film was unfortunate, 1979’s Roger Moore opus Moonraker, surely the worst of the series. But I survived that, and went on to look forward to the release of each new Bond picture. With the release of The World is Not Enough, which looks to be the best Bond film in a long time, I want to share my reflections, thoughts, and opinions on the Bond film series.Fleming: Father of BondBefore I begin writing about the movies, I want to pay my respects to Ian Fleming, the English writer who created agent 007, and wrote 14 books based on the character, starting in 1953. The first Bond novel was Casino Royale, which Fleming wrote on the eve of his marriage at age 42. The Bond novels are characterized by Fleming’s attention to detail and ingenuity with plot and character. Bond himself, while not exactly a great literary character, is nevertheless fleshed-out, human, and a far cry from most of the later film portrayals. The Bond novels remain great reads to this day. The best of the Bond films are those that closely follow at least the spirit of the books.Fleming always thought that his Bond novels would make good films, and this was proved when producers Harry Salzman and Albert “”Cubby”” Broccoli teamed up to film the first Bond big screen adventure, Dr. No. The casting of Bond was a difficult one. At one time or another, Carey Grant and James Mason were considered for the part. Fleming himself thought David Niven would be right for Bond. (I’m glad Fleming wasn’t the casting director.) Instead, they chose a little-known actor, Sean Connery, who ended up delivering the definitive screen 007.Connery’s the ManNo doubt about it. No matter how good they are, any subsequent Bond actor falls in the shadow of Sean Connery. He defined the screen character, and played him perfectly. He had the looks, the style, the moves, and the voice. And though not letter-perfect to the character from the novels, Ian Fleming liked him in the part. So much in fact, that Fleming even gave the literary Bond a Scottish background. The best Bond films are the first three – Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and Goldfinger. All of these films feature a greater emphasis on plot and character, too often lost in later movies. My favourite moment from these three is the fight scene in From Russia With Love. If you’re familiar with this film, you know the scene I’m talking about.The setting is the Orient Express. The villain, Red Grant (superbly played with convincing menace by Robert Shaw) has got the drop on Bond. 007 is on his knees in front of Grant, who is holding a gun on him. Through ingenious means that I won’t reveal here for those who haven’t seen the picture, Bond gets the upper hand, and a fight ensues. Though the fight takes place in a small compartment, with very little room to maneuver, the choreography is so well done that the scene is riveting. It still remains one of the best fight scenes ever filmed. In a much later Bond film, Goldeneye, director Martin Campbell intentionally pays homage to this scene with a close-quarters fight between Bond (Pierce Brosnan) and Alec Trevalyan (Sean Bean). But the original is best. The scene encapsulates everything that made the first Bond films work so well. Memorably-played characters, plot ingenuity, well-filmed and exciting violence, convincing danger, and a glib remark to provide some release from the suspense. Screenwriter Richard Maibaum and directors Terence Young and Guy Hamilton deserve much of the credit for the early Bond style. (Though Hamilton deserves a raspberry for his later Bond films, some of the weakest ever.)By the third film, Goldfinger, the Bond Formula became well-established. It includes the following: pre-credits scene that is a mini-movie in itself, visit to M that sets up the mission, visit to Q branch where Bond receives his latest equipment, beautiful woman that has to be wooed, big villain surrounded by “”little villains”” or henchmen, Bond ally who is murdered by a henchman (or woman), Big Villainous Plot that Bond uncovers, and climactic battle where the villain is defeated (after the body count racks up significantly). Other elements include the one-liners that Bond delivers (usually after or during action scenes), and of course the gadgets themselves that Q (Desmond Llewellyn) provides.When the fourth Bond film, Thunderball, was released, Bond mania was at its height. With that film, the series began to rely on its sets and gadgets more than its characters and plot. You Only Live Twice was even more gadget-laden, and completely ditched the Fleming novel for the first (but sadly not the last) time. Connery quit the part after this film, and the producers desperately hunted for someone to assume the Bond mantle and continue on with the series. They chose an Australian model, and thankfully went back to Ian Fleming for inspiration.Lazenby: Honestly, Mr. BondPity George Lazenby: chosen to follow the most-loved actor of his time in the most successful film series ever. And he had no acting experience, beyond television commercials. Though relatively unsuccessful at the time, Lazenby’s only appearance as 007, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, is now considered by many Bond fans to be one of the best in the series. And it’s a terrific film, with a convincing and involving plot, refreshing lack of gadgets, and spectacular action. It’s ski chase sequence is still one of the best ever filmed. The big twist in the plot is, of course, that Bond falls in love and gets married. Diana Rigg plays his bride, Tracy. She is excellent in the role, playing a Bond woman who is tough and independent.Lazenby is quite good as Bond, though his inexperience shows. He lacks the self-assured presence of Connery. In a way, though, this fits the film perfectly, and allows a more honest, human Bond that jives better with the story. Though initially derided by critics, Lazenby’s only Bond film stands as one of the most memorable and powerful of the whole series.OHMSS did not, however, fare as well at the box-office. So the producers lured Connery back for one more turn as 007 in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. This film, while entertaining and well-acted by Connery, marks the beginning of a sad emphasis on comedy and outlandish plots. It also began a downward slide in quality, that continued in earnest with the casting of Roger Moore as Bond.Moore: The Comedy YearsEven in Moore’s first Bond film, Live and Let Die, the problems are obvious. The filmmakers continue the lighthearted comedic style they began in Diamonds Are Forever, and this time they have an actor more than willing to take that style and run with it. The result is what is widely known amongst Bond fans as the James Bond Comedies. They are characterized by outlandish plots, silly villains, cardboard characters, ridiculous slapstick humour, unbelievable gadgets that 007 relies upon to get out of sticky situations, and a Bond that is more concerned with spouting bad puns and not wrinkling his suit than dispatching villains.The ultimate bad Bond movie is Moonraker. To sum up how bad this film is, one need go no further than considering the chase scene in Venice. Bond is in a gondola, pursued by evil villains, and calmly opens a panel to reveal electronic controls that turn the gondola first into a speedboat, and then into a hovercraft. We are then “”treated”” to a scene where Bond drives the gondola/hovercraft through a crowded square, and shots of pigeons doing double-takes and drunks staring at their liquor bottles and throwing them away. Funny, I was 13 when I saw Moonraker, and couldn’t believe how juvenile the film was. Gone is the interesting Bond character created by Ian Fleming. Instead we have a cardboard superman, invulnerable in any situation, tossing off bad jokes and raising his eyebrows. Sigh. But perhaps I’m a bit too hard on the Roger Moore era. Sure, it produced the worst films of the series, but Moore did have some effective moments. The Spy Who Loved Me was very good, with effective set pieces, a memorable villain (“”Jaws,”” the steel-toothed giant), and some sporadic good acting from Moore. For Your Eyes Only was a return to the Fleming style, and features Moore’s most effective performance as Bond. When he coolly dispatches a villain by kicking his car, precariously perched on the edge of a cliff, onto jagged rocks below, you actually sense his anger and desire for revenge. Great stuff, and true to the Fleming character.The last two films of the Moore era, Octopussy and A View to a Kill, were passable. There were scattered good moments vying for attention with scenes like Bond swinging on vines through a jungle, a Tarzan yell on the soundtrack. All in all, though, I was glad to see the end of the comedy years. And for a fan of the books, longing for a return to the true spirit of 007, the next Bond incarnation was a dream come true.Dalton: Back to BasicsInitially, Pierce Brosnan was the actor chosen to next portray James Bond. At the last minute, however, his contract to the tv series Remington Steele prevented him from playing 007. So the producers of the Bond films decided to go with Welsh actor Timothy Dalton, who was one of the actors originally considered when Connery first left the role. Dalton made a great 007. He brought the character back to earth, paved the way for the incredibly successful Brosnan films, and made an acting contribution to the Bond films surpassed only by Sean Connery. It’s odd that most people don’t seem to like him as Bond. I think that you have to have read the Fleming books to really appreciate Dalton’s performance. Back in 1987, with the release of the first Dalton Bond The Living Daylights, I breathed a sigh of relief that the years of the James Bond Comedies were over. Here was an all-too-human James Bond, who was also a ruthless killer when required. Bond was back with a vengeance.There’s one scene in The Living Daylights that comes close to summing up all of Dalton’s strengths as Bond. It’s set in a fairground in Vienna. Bond has met one of his allies, Saunders, in a café that features an electronic sliding door at the entrance. Saunders gives Bond some valuable information, and Bond thanks him, clearly showing his respect. As Saunders walks out of the café, one of the villains activates an electronic device that slams the sliding door into Saunders, killing him. Bond runs over, kneels in front of Saunders’ body, and spots a balloon with the words “”Smiert Spionon”” (“”death to spies””) written on it, indicating that the death was not an accident. The look on Dalton’s face as he realizes this is pricelessâ€

Disney’s Nymphets, By Courtney Kenny

Is it just me, or is the competition getting a lot younger? Every time I turn around, there’s some teenage girl on television bearing her flat mid-riff and her perfect Barbie doll figure. They’re young. They’re tan. They have that twinkle in their eye. And, you just know that they can eat all the pizza and candy they want without gaining an ounce. I hate ’em.

It used to be that supermodels were everywhere, and that was okay. With supermodels, it was obvious that they had just lucked out on the genetic lottery. It was also obvious that these women never ate. They just smoked their way through life. I accepted the fact that I never would (nor would I want to) be a supermodel. Then the “”Bubble-Gum Cutie”” came along. Now every time I turn on the television I’m subjected to some Disney reject like Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera, or some “”Dawson’s Creek”” babe. They’re cute. They’re sweet. They’re perfect. They’re everywhere. And, they make me want to lose my lunch.If I sound like a woman scorned, it’s because I am scorned. I’m sick of all the standards that women have to put up with. At least with supermodels the normal woman never stood a chance in the first place. And, the normal guy didn’t expect her to. But with these teen-queens, there’s a constant reminder that I used to be just like them. I used to be able to eat whatever I wanted. I had that perfect figure once. And try as I might, I’ll never have it again. Why? Because these girls are still growing, and I’m grown. I have hips. They don’t. They’re in that stage of growth where their boobs have developed before anything else. It’s that perfect figure we all remember having once upon a time. Now, it’s a fashion statement. It doesn’t matter that my religion is the workout; my temple is the gym, and my prayers take place everyday on the stair-master, or in the swimming pool, as I pray that I work off that annoying flab on my outer thighs. There will still be that constant reminder of what I once was. That outrageous standard that’s constantly thrown in my face every time I try on trendy clothing.Still, my only consolation is that someday these girls will grow up and their metabolism will take a nosedive. They’ll eat the same food the same way, and suddenly, it will make a difference. The rest of their bodies will catch up with them. Their perfectly flat stomachs will develop that small pooch. And, their sense of self-esteem will be shot. Then they’ll realize what every other woman goes through. Then they’ll have to watch and envy the next set of teen-agers with the perfect body. But, maybe by then they’ll be lucky. Maybe then the standards will have changed. I hope so.

Save Us From Sequels, By Douglas A. Gordon

I’ve been depressed. I used to watch my Star Wars trilogy collection at least once a month. Now I can’t even bring myself to look at my old action figures. Come to think of it, it’s the same with my Austin Powers video. After my last viewing – my twentieth? twenty first? I’ve lost count – I didn’t even have the energy to rewind the tape. What is it that has rendered my usual and most reliable sources of joy and mirth completely ineffectual? Sequels.

Yes, sequels. The summer of 1999 was supposed to be a high point in a lifelong hobby of movie going. I can think of no summer where I looked forward to the studio release slate with such fervid anticipation. Not only would I see the first new Star Wars movie in over 15 years, I’d also get a second helping of the hairy, dentally-challenged swinging super spy, whose sleeper debut was arguably one of the funniest comedies in years.But it is not joy I feel, only pain. I feel betrayed by both George Lucas and Mike Myers. Why? The new stuff just isn’t up to snuff. Of course, we expect sequels to be similar to the chapters before them. Some continuity of character, theme and tone are necessary, otherwise audiences would be left scratching their heads. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the third Indiana Jones movie, provided this continuity in its memorable prologue. Look! There’s the young Indiana Jones falling in a pit of snakes. So that’s how he got his intense phobia! Wow! Young Indy is taming a lion with a whip! Not only was it a good way to show how he learned to use his signature weapon, it was also a clever way to explain Harrison Ford’s real life scar on his chin. As the young Indy is crowned with his trademark fedora, the prologue concludes one of the biggest shared “”in jokes”” between a movie and its audience. Spielberg gives the audience what it expects quickly, and then is free to tell the story he wants using a familiar character. The audience is refreshed, as if it’s been reintroduced to an old friend it’s not seen in quite some time. Lucas and Myers got too bogged down in giving the audience what it expects. So much so that it affected the quality of their respective stories. After all, why worry about the audience getting tired when it’s been told time and time again You Are Going To Like This Movie! With the ubiquitous marketing and sheer frenzy prior to the opening of “”Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me”” and “”Episode 1: The Phantom Menace”” was there ever any question about whether or not people would go see these movies? When marketing and history have pre-sold your movie, why concern yourself over silly little details such as the story?I can almost picture George Lucas sitting down to write “”The Phantom Menace.”” He has a yellow legal pad out on his desk and he’s jotting down thoughts as they come into his head. What lines do I have to put in, he thinks. “”I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”” Of course, that has to be in there. He continues thinking, last time out I had goofy furry alien creatures fight nameless, armored soldiers in an effort to blow up a shield generator. While they’re doing that, there should be an air battle, the goal of which should be to blow up a giant space station that is the key to the enemy’s power. What should I do this time, he asks himself. After a moment of reflection, eureka! He has found it! I know, he proudly thinks, this time I’ll have an air battle, the goal of which should be to blow up a giant control ship that is the key to the enemy’s power. While that’s going on, goofy scaly alien creatures will fight nameless, robotic soldiers. Perfect!While the above writing process was unfolding, Mike Myers sat at his computer, hypnotized by the blinking cursor and – surprise – was hardly able to come up with original ideas for Austin’s second romp. In the first Austin Powers movie, we do not see Dr. Evil’s face until after he has sent the Fez-topped Mustafa and several others to a fiery death. Suddenly we see Dr. Evil and he wants to get on with the announcement of his diabolical plan. But wait! What’s that noise? It’s Mustafa, calling down from below that he’s been “”badly burned”” and is in need of help. It’s a great skewering of the typical action movie convention of violence without consequence, where people are killed without any regard to pain, suffering or remorse. Myers has fun with this, and the result is hilarious.So, Mike Myers decides it worked so well in the first movie, why not try it again? In The Spy Who Shagged Me, Mustafa is thrown off a cliff and a similar line of “”badly injured”” dialogue ensues. This time around, however, it’s not as funny and feels tired and used. With so many spy and action movies in the canon of American and British cinema, it’s a shame Myers couldn’t mine more clich

Show Me The Money, The Current State of Indie Films by Steven Hallex

Recently, I attended an Roundtable about the State of Independent Film Directors. The color Green was so prevalent, it could have been St. Patrick’s Day. For nearly two hours, the six filmmaker’s in attendance endured questions of finance and profit with an uneasy grace, while rarely did an audience member come forward with an inquiry into the life and motivations of a director.

After all, this is Washington, and if anything, we know the bottom line; in a town where the residents mull over the gargantuan Federal Budget, film budgets such as the $750,000 Alejandro Hauterman paid to produce “”Little Thieves, Big Thieves”” seem minuscule. So minuscule, in fact, that they are not dignified with a screening in this city, except in the eleven days of FilmFest DC. Nevertheless, the crowd of about forty–packed into a nook at Border’s on 18th & L streets, and largely ignored by patrons skimming the shelves for Marilu Henner’s diet book or the latest “”Chicken Soup”” title– was comprised of independent film enthusiasts, who bore profound concerns for the viability of independent films. Their fears were validated when Brazilian filmakers Claudio Mac Dowell (“”The Call of the Oboe””) and Rosane Svartman(“”How to be Single in Rio””) related the difficulty Brazilian films have cracking into theaters in their own country. “”At best, they get limited showings in Rio and Sao Paulo”” says Mac Dowell. They also lamented the virtual impossibility of their films’ finding commercial success in the United States. Though “”Central Station”” and “”Life is Beautiful”” made tidy profits here last year, they are an under whelming exception to an overwhelming rule. The difficulty, they all agreed, is on account of the language barrier. “”[Americans] don’t want to go to the cinema to read”” Mac Dowell–who had some trouble with English–added, in reference to subtitles. Hauterman currently has three projects in the works–all in English. “”The market for a Spanish film is very, very small. I film in English for better distribution.”” One of the first questions that an audience member was the standard, “”how was the film financed.”” The answers revealed running trends in off-Hollywood financing. Mac Dowell received joint support from Dutch and Brazilian backers, as well as a filmmaker’s prize from HBO. When that ran out, he fell back on a tax-shelter for filmmakers, a program also exploited by Svartman. Svartman, in addition secured the sponsorship of a beer company, only having to add a scene in which patrons at a bar were seen drinking the company’s product. Hautman had a German partner as well as grants from the Venezuelan film board and from TNT Latin America. It has become common as film budgets bloat, for foreign producers, lacking the fat purses found in the U.S., to forge international alliances. In the future, we are likely to see more films with producers from three or more countries. Finances are patchy and profits are sparse, but non-studio filmmaking has its benes. “”The beauty of independent filmmaking”” offers “”The Sky is Falling”” director Florrie Lawrence “”is that you control what you do,”” and in the following minutes all, including moderator Eddie Cockrell (“”Variety”” critic) bandied about the term “”Freedom,”” and nodded to each other’s comments. With your limited budgets, I asked, are there any freedoms you lose? Would your film have been different if you had a big budget? “”Not really”” Lawrence answered. “”I have no trouble with the limited funds. Above all, I didn’t want to compromise. The production values weren’t great, but there were tricks you learn.”” Her producer, David Parks, immediately added: “”You can’t throw dollars at problems. The big studios should learn lessons.”” independent film, over the years, has irreversibly grown apart from the studio product. So much so that a “”Two-tiered”” system has emerged, in which independent films are financed through equity and use small distributors. Increasingly, they are being pushed off the Multiplex screens and are coming to rely on small movie houses and film festivals for screenings. Mac Dowell stated frankly: “”It’s terrible to be dependant on film festivals for distribution.”” But it is the only remaining way for an independent filmaker to get his work in front of distributors. These distributors understand that the character-driven formula of these films, such as last year’s “”Life is Beautiful,”” and “”Affliction,”” appeal to steadily shrinking audience. Late in the day, one intrepid audience member asked the panelists for their thoughts about the future of character-driven narrative, and for once, they disagreed. Lawrence was the most pessimistic:”” I think thoughtful, character-driven films are in great danger in America. However, I will continue to make indies.”” Mac Dowell blamed the domestic distributors: “”The American audiences are thirsty for these films. You have a commercial market that is not being exploited.”” Svartman’s remarks contained some philosophic optimism: “”There will always be thoughtful, character-driven films. It is a universal and timeless thing.”” Unfortunately, so is moolah.

The Making of Six String Samauri By Ed Ritchie

Death Valley is a hell of a place to shoot a movie. Literally. It’s one of the hottest places on earth, frying up the second-highest temperature ever recorded, 134 blistering degrees Fahrenheit! But it’s also got endless miles of restless sand dunes. And vast panoramic landscapes with shimmering ponds that reflect towering mountains.

The sunsets paint the desert in a warm glow that could deceive you into thinking humans could even survive there. In all, there’s more than 3.3 million acres of spectacular desert scenery. So if you’re mad enough to gamble doing your first feature length action movie on a shoestring budget, Death Valley just might be the place. If you’re mad enough.The team of director/writer Lance Mungia and actor/writer Jeffrey Falcon were mad enough, and they proved it by scraping together $25,000 for the production of their independent film called “”Six String Samurai””. Did it pay off? If winning film festival awards, having the William Morris agency broker your deal to fund production for a nation-wide theatrical release, plus spin offs like a TV series and comic book means success – then it certainly paid off for Mungia and Falcon. Does that mean your “”average action packed, rock and roll fairy tale”” movie can be done for what amounts to pocket change in Hollywood? Not exactly. “”We figured we could shoot weekends in Death Valley and pull off this spectacular martial arts epic for twenty five grand or so in loans and credit card bills,”” said Mungia. “”We picked Death Valley because I could get in with a student permit, and its locations look like they’re from another world, yet, they’re all accessible and within an hour of each other. That decision was great for the film’s look, but horrible for Jeff’s and my pocketbooks.”” So Mungia and Falcon began their three-month shoot in November ’96, and watched as their production costs began to rise – faster than a thermometer on one of Death Valley’s hottest days. It wasn’t as if this inspired team had been splurging on an extravagant production. Their one camera was a rickety 35mm non-sync antique borrowed from Panavision. Additionally, they were shooting on expired 100′ rolls of end stock donated by Fuji Film, forcing them to constantly change mags due to the one minute loads. As for the production team? “”During those months no one was ever paid a dime,”” said Mungia. “”We could barely afford to feed anyone. We’d sleep in tents or cars, eating nothing but hot dogs and drink no-name sodas every weekend.”” How about the costumes and sets? “”Six String’s”” are much more creative than some big budget releases (“”Star Trek – Insurrection”” and “”Soldier”” are two that pale next to “”Six String””). Was that where they overspent? “”We’d written the script around locations that existed, and around costumes we could cheaply make,”” said Mungia. “”Since the film was a post-apocalyptic fantasy, we could make a costume out of anything. Jeff got kicked out of a swap meet once for rummaging through their trashcans. Yet it wasn’t that we weren’t getting anything done, because we were always flying, getting sometimes fifty setups in a day. But we’d totally underestimated the enormity of the film. The details were killing us. We were doing massive location and costume changes daily, plus action, all from the back of a rented U Haul truck.”” At that rate, the shoestrings finally unraveled, and by January, after just three months, Mungia and Falcon found themselves completely tapped out, along with all the relatives and friends who had been willing to gamble on the project. “”We’d amassed well over 3 hours of dailies and overshot our budget by an additional $25,000,”” said Mungia. “”But we’d still only shot 25 percent of the film. I could have sworn it was more.”” Yet the team went back to Death Valley for one last weekend. That weekend the weather and the desert’s bureaucracy went against them. Heavy winds kicked up a storm that blew away their tents and blasted them with sand. While shooting a scene of a motorcycle off-road, Park Rangers hauled them out, fined them, and refused to allow any more shooting without permits. Rather than waste the rest of the weekend, they stopped in Palm Springs to shoot scenes using a junkyard and field of windmills for backgrounds. “”When we came back to shoot again a month later, the junkyard was gone,”” said Mungia. “”If we hadn’t been kicked out of Death Valley, we’d never have been able to get the scene, which is one of my favorites.”” Favorite scene or not, “”Six String Samurai”” and its producers needed money. And lots of it if the previous three months experience was any indication. Hollywood has a reputation for being a place with lots of money. But the first place Mungia and Falcon went was Park City, Utah. The Sundance Film Festival had accepted Mungia’s short film “”A Garden For Rio””. So Mungia, Falcon, Kristian Bernier (director of photography) and some of the crew, descended on the festival for a “”shameless crusade to save our unfinished film””. They showed a trailer for the film to practically anybody that would watch, and got some interest, but no money. So it was back to Hollywood where their four minute trailer got them some new meetings, but still no deals. Next stop? The American Film Market came to Santa Monica, so Mungia and Falcon went back on their shameless crusade. They got enough interest to start serious negotiations, but it was Mungia’s calls to the William Morris agency that finally generated some cash. Super agent Cassian Elwes liked what he saw so Mungia and Falcon had a deal for money and distribution in the unbelievable short time of two weeks. Armed with their experience and a new budget, Mungia and crew headed back to the desert, where they managed to suffer more as the trials of location shooting threw them additional hardships and mishaps. “”In the past 15 years I’ve been in 17 action pictures in Asia where the schedules and conditions have been brutal,”” said Falcon, “”but this was by far the hardest film I’ve ever done.”” But was it worth the struggle?Falcon doesn’t hesitate, “”After you create your own ‘stamp’, people come to you,”” he said. “”They know you can create something from nothing, or on an ultra low budget. During the shooting in the desert we were suffering. But we knew if we could make the film the way we wanted, we could succeed. You have to have the thought in your head that you can succeed.”” So what does having a success like “”Six String Samurai”” as a calling card mean? “”Now I can call people and actually get them on the phone,”” said Mungia. “”And we’ve been having meetings on other people’s projects,”” added Falcon. “”But I think going out with your own material is ultimately much better. Doing other people’s projects means having producers, writers, and others attached. So you end up making a film by committee.”” Mungia and Falcon would prefer not to go that route, but can they get their next project done?””It’s a total question mark,”” Mungia said. “”We know what we would like to do, and the way to succeed,”” he continued. “”You’ve got to plan ahead. If it takes six months or a year just to write a script, take the time. It’s going to take a lot of time, energy and attention to detail. So surround yourself with good people you can trust and just go out and do it.”” That philosophy proved to be successful for Mungia and Falcon. However, other independent filmmakers might want to write their story in a location other than Death Valley.

Director Ann Lu Has Big Dreams of Hollywood Success

Ann Lu enters the skirmish known as filmmaking with “”Dreamers,”” a movie, coincidentally about the struggle itself. As of this writing, the eventual release date for the film remains indeterminate, pending a distribution agreement. It seems the final hurdle to the silver screen is the most challenging.

Imagine spending one-third of your time making films, and the other two-thirds haggling with powers-that-be. This is the true life of a filmmaker, beneath the varnish manufactured by Hollywood itself. When a filmmaker is not thanking critics for their praise, giving interviews to flattering writers, or running to the bank to deposit their latest seven-figure check, they are struggling: with investors and executives, with accountants, with cast and crew, with the power company and the IRS, and very often, with their own soul.For most, this struggle is too harrying. After a few years, they strike the tents, and retreat to vocations that offer more tangible rewards. Those are the people the industry doesn’t want; the non-professional, the easy capitulator. Its system is a well-constructed sieve, ensuring that only the grittiest sort remain in their auspices. All successful filmmakers remember their time being shaken through the proverbial sieve.Nascent filmmakers, regardless of talent, experience its purgatory. There are hundreds out there right now, fighting a single-handed war against artistic oblivion. It is a desperation that denies introspection, and eludes expression with words, at least until one has distant hindsight.It can, however, be portrayed with images. With “”Dreamers,”” Ann Lu has done just that. A visual memoir of the present, a cathartic outcry at times, “”Dreamers”” rolls all the frustrations of artistry and young life into a ball of gleaming images. Two kids, Dave and Ethan, shield themselves from hectoring childhoods with dreams of celluloid glory, which hold a power and beauty much like the sun sitting above the hills of eastern Tennessee, the film’s setting.Dreams are like amulets: intricate, splendorous, a charm worn for guidance, and also a weight that holds some in place and causes others to drown. As adults in Hollywood, Dave and Ethan learn– all too soon and all too well– that while dreams protect against some of the calamities in life, they also tear the soul apart from the inside.Their story does not resolve itself in their favor: their abilities to make these dreams work for them are not particularly potent; they are not prodigies. Nor does the story actually “”end.”” The artist who surrenders will find that his replacement has already arrived.Ann Lu is the new blood. Cautious, passionate, and imaginative, she makes you believe she deserves success, and is due, even if this is her first time as director. I picture her in China–before coming to U.S. in 1993– standing alone in a yellowing field, looking towards the sun. It is afternoon, the sun hangs in the west. She follows it in her mind.AntagonistHer aspirations have a powerful foe in contemporary Hollywood politics. With skyrocketing budgets, studio heads must be more cautious: they cannot produce many $ 50 million-plus movies that nobody goes to see. By necessity, contemporary films need to be commercial more than they need to be good. Which usually means they are familiar. The small, personal films are being turned down for their limited appeal, and the simple fact that the studios have less money to make them. For outsiders like Ann, there are now fewer inroads. She even worries if a director like Stanley Kubrick could succeed in contemporary Hollywood: “”Things were easier back then; studios were run by filmmakers. Somewhere, the M.B.A.’s took over and put emphasis on testing, marketing, and merchandising. It is hard for filmmakers with an agenda to fit in. Somehow, they have got to find a way to reconcile artistic integrity with commercial viability.””Her attitude is pessimistic, not defeatist. In fact, she believes industry is ignoring these films to their own detriment: “” It is a mistake to underestimate the size and purchasing power of people who watch this type of film. If they focus their product entirely for the seventeen year old ‘popcorn muncher,’ they are missing a whole group of people who can see value in films with personal vision.””””Even the way things are now, I think if you don’t give up, somehow you will get a break. I don’t know how: I’m still waiting for mine; but I think that if you wait long enough, you will find a way to reach audiences.””Eyes, Hands, and VoicesArt is material vision. The artist is simply one who knows how to use the given tools to make internal vision into material fact. In filmmaking, many of these tools happen to be other artists. Actors, cinematographers, set designers, and many others are artists just as much as writers and directors. Each brings personal vision to the project. The challenge of a director is to utilize these many visions in a way that successfully portrays her own. Without the talents of Neal Fredericks at her disposal, Ann could not have made such a distinct film. In “”Dreamers,”” camera angles and shooting techniques cross your mind more often than acting, dialog, or editing. Neal plays it to his best advantage, never letting you forget that the camera is the voice and not the eyes of the film; a viewer sees the characters and scenery with only as much sympathy as the cinematographer has himself.He is playful, even hedonistic with the photography, shunning the conventional, eschewing the objective, establishing the camera as a flamboyant presence within the film. He shoots dreamers in 35mm, 16mm, and video, according to Ann’s conception of the film. He also shows strong technical ability by conquering the film’s challenging lack of artificial light.At this moment, he is better known. His cinematography in “”The Blair Witch Project”” ( for which he has received only $5,000) was a serious topic of discussion last year, with its herky-jerky frames and varying picture quality. Neal got mixed praise and scorn for his facsimile of amateur camerawork. “”‘The Blair Witch Project’ is the first movie I know of that tried to portray reality with total immediacy and spontaneity”” he says, in part referring to the largely ad-libbed dialog.””Can I interrupt?”” Ann interjects. “”I was just thinking about [Ingemar] Bergmann’s ‘Persona,’ and the way it blurs the boundary of reality and illusion. ‘The Blair Witch Project’ is about the surface of reality, which in this movie comes off as an illusion. It intrigues me why this movie caught on with the public. The thinking is all improvisation, which makes it feel like an intrinsic record of the present. I think that opens a link to every audience. “” I believe Ed [Myrick] and Dan [Sanchez], were having a Bergmann moment during that shoot. They set out to do nothing more than re-create reality.””Neal adds: “”So many of us re-create reality in our own measured way. In the eight days of shooting, I think we set out to re-create reality in a more horrifying way.””””This film is one without control.”” Ann replies “” If there is no control, what is the point of being a filmmaker? I think if Bergmann saw ‘Blair Witch,’ he would say ‘why didn’t I make this?’ It has a lack of conscience in confronting reality. It intrigues me.””Neal: “” I could shoot a feature film. They are a dime a dozen. I prefer films that make the best use of camera and lighting. I like controlling my position, even if I am afraid to get involved. A real film director, like [Ann], controls the look. Her main style is to find places that match her imagination. For instance, she found the coffee shop that appeared in [“”Dreamers””], and she said to me: ‘look, this is the way my coffee shop looks ‘. “”Ann concurs: “” More than anything else, I want to re-create reality.Everything I did in this movie was creating the right environment, the right mood. That is why I only used natural lighting [which meant a lot of neon]. The goal was to reflect the psyche in the context it was in. Neal’s work helped achieve that. The look was self-reflective; very much about seeing and being seen.””Sexual BodyAnn and Neal met six years ago in Atlanta, working on “”Compelling Evidence,”” a B-erotic thriller. Ann has never gotten over the experience: “”I like films about sex and violence. The films are enjoyable in a primitive way, because they portray the human condition so shamelessly.”” “”Dreamers”” is a sensual if not erotic movie, containing several fleshy sex scenes. This is likely to become an Ann Lu trademark: “”I enjoy sex, it is part of life. I dream of breaking into people’s houses to have sex. If people go to a movie of mine and find the sex somewhat entertaining, that’s great. Movies are supposed to entertain. But if you go in, and come out wanting to write an essay about it, that’s fine too.””The set of the film was not immune to the tension created by differing sexual attitudes: “” Dave’s sex scene was a problem. The actor– Jeremy Jordan– is sexually ambiguous. Sex doesn’t mean much to him. Well, he had problems when it came time to do the scene. When they both took their clothes off and got close, Jeremy freaked.

Spike Lee, 15 For 15, By Michelle Alexandria

“”Bamboozled”” marks Spike Lee’s 15th film, in 15 years, the prolific and always controversial director’s latest project throws a pipe bomb into the current debate of racism in Hollywood. His impressive body of work includes classics like, “”Do The Right Thing””, “”Clockers””, “”Malcom X””, and “”Jungle Fever””. Spike uses his films as a billy club to force America to look at its ugly history of racism and continually remind us how that legacy still serves as an undercurrent to the racial attitudes that we all harbor today, whether you are black or white.

In his latest effort, “”Bamboozled””, he takes on the continued racism and stereotyping in the television Industry. This “”intensely thought provoking”” satire, makes wince, while you laugh at it. “”Bamboozled”” manages to elicit several distinct emotions in you at a single time, anger, laughter, held back tears, and even defiance at the same time.This award-winning director who sparks controversy with just about every thing that does and says recently sat down with EclipseMagazine and a roundtable of journalists from other organizations. Hi reputation precedes him. We expected him to be angry and controversial, but was surprised [and a little disappointed] to see him relaxed, happy, and ready to go toe to toe with us. RoundtableDid you have any problems pulling the cast, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Damon Wayons, Savion Glover, Tommy Davidson, etc. together?SpikeNo, they read the script and wanted to do it. They thought they where very good parts and could contribute to the movie.Roundtable When you look at blacks in the media today, what do you see as today’s minstrel shows?SpikeWell, where are you from? (He asks the reporter, reporter responds, “”I’m from””) [Spike, laughs], you guys [BET] show a lot, those videos you guys show, gangster rap, are a form of minstrel shows. Bling, Bling… I call them like I see them.Roundtable The Rev. Calvin Butts in NY, went off on a particular video, TLC, can you give us an example, or examples of videos that you feel are minstrel or something that set you off?Spike[Referring to elements in Gangster Rap Videos] The Bentleys, the ever flowing Cristal, the standard shot of people throwing $100 bills at the camera, the scantily clad – not my words – “”ho’s and bitches””, constantly gyrating. Bling, Bling….Roundtable Other than Gangster Rap Videos, what other shows, Comedy, or otherwise would you consider minstrel?SpikeI think there are shows on television that are boarder line minstrel. I’d hope that this film would show that in this new millennium you wouldn’t have to wear blackface or put on a minstrel performance.Roundtable Can you be a little more specific?SpikeNo, I think that’s as specific as I need to be.Roundtable Was there a difference in between in footage quality between the narrative portions and the television show?SpikeWe shot the show on Film, while the rest of the movie was filmed on Digital Video.RoundtableThe film really does a good job of showing the behind the scenes workings of the “”industry””….SpikeWe were trying to show how the industry works, but also show that we are partly to blame for what gets put out there because we are a part of it. We accept these roles.RoundtableAfter viewing the film some of us talked and discussed the pain that we felt while watching this film. At times, it’s also really funny, when can you laugh and not laugh?SpikeThe film is Satire and we want people to feel uncomfortable laughing at it.RoundtableAre people laughing with us, or at us?SpikeIt depends on who is doing the laughing. You really can’t dictate how people are going to react to your film. All you can do is put it out there. I don’t think this film is, “”ha, ha, ha,”” I think that people should be uneasy while they watch this film.RoundtableHaving said that, do you want people to walk out of this film thinking about their relationship to other people, their race, etc.?SpikeEverything, their relationship to the images, what they watch, what they think is funny, and to understand the history of racism in the Industry, etc…RoundtableIn a recent interview, someone asked you why there was no solution outlined or suggested in the film. SpikeI’ve seen this before, when “”Do The Right Thing”” was criticized because it didn’t offer any solutions. At the end of the film, you leave us hanging out in the wilderness without any answers. I think it’s a cop out to diminish the work.RoundtableThere was a lot of violence in this film. Did you have any reservations about including it?SpikeNo, I think the violence in the film is a comment on violence. It’s not exploitation or promotion of violence.RoundtableWho do you blame for the current slate of minstrel shows? The black actors who consent to do them or the producers who produce them?Spike There is enough blame to be spread around. The best thing about this film for me, is that I have tremendous respect for the original black actors who were forced to do minstrel shows and put on black face in the past. While at the same time, it’s made me even more critical of us [and I include myself] for what we do now, because we have a lot more choices in what we can do today.RoundtableFive years ago it used to be that African Americans where always the villains and that time they were completely a moral, one-dimensional killers drinking 40’s and doing drive-bys. Nowadays, it seems like Hollywood is over compensating by having white actors play the bad guy roles, the only difference is, now the villains are nice and cuddly, fully three dimensional characters. The type of guys you want to bring home to mother. For example, the Bruce Willis, character in “”The Whole Nine Yards””, is a killer, but a “”loveable killer””. Do you think that now that white actors are taking on bad guy roles Hollywood is more sensitive to how the character is portrayed than they were in the past, when black actors would play the bad guy?SpikeWell, they have always done that. For the most part, whether you are a black or white actor, the villain has always been the choice role. What has to change is the diversity of the writers.RoundtableNow that Hollywood, seems to be scared to have a black actor play a bad guy, while at the same time they don’t want them to play the hero either, do you think there are less roles for black actors today?SpikeIt depends on who the Heroes are. I think Denzel’s character in “”Remember The Titans”” is a hero. I don’t want to make any blanket statements, but I don’t think we have the range of roles that every one else does.RoundtableFrom a hip-hop point of view, we were talking earlier today about it becoming it’s own form of minstrel.Spike[laughing, and interrupting] wait, wait, I didn’t condemn all hip-hop, it’s the Gangster Rap that I don’t like. RoundtableDo you think there is anything on television now that serves as a good counter balance to the negative stereotypes?SpikeWell, I was watching the Yanks game, so I haven’t seen Gideon’s Crossing yet.RoundtableSomeone mentions that it has some annoying gospel music….SpikeIsn’t it funny, that whenever you see black people on television that they have gospel music playing, even on “”City of Hope””. [joking] Every single time… I mean, I’m not saying that we don’t love gospel, but we have a range of musical interests.RoundtableHow do you respond to the Time Magazine article that says that “”Spike Lee’s, Bamboozled, shames us all, you have rage for the powerful, and contempt, for the masses””…SpikeI have compassion for the masses, while at the same time you have to show people the truth. I think shame comes from the institution of television and film. If you look at the final montage of this film, it shows the legacy of the Industry. It’s funny if you look at the Academy Awards, they always have the 3-5 minute montage that shows the history of film. You may get a shot of Whoopie, or Denzel getting whipped, or Mookie throwing the garbage can through the window, but I say we start a petition to make the Academy Awards show the final montage of “”Bamboozled.””RoundtableSpeaking of the “”Bamboozled”” montage, why didn’t you continue it to the present day and show a linkage, did you think it would be too heavy a statement?SpikeNumber one, we feel that we do that to some extent with our commercial [they do a spoof of designer Tommy Hillfinger, calling his stuff Tommy ‘Hillnigger’] and the mou-mous [a spoofed gangster rap group]. Number two, there’s no way those groups would allow their videos, and clips be used in a montage like this. RoundtableWhy didn’t you handle this subject in a Documentary form?SpikeHow many people see documentaries?RoundtableHow much of Michael Rapaport’s character came from your direction and how much came from within him?Spike Michael Rapaport is nothing like that character. He’s very cool people, he grew up in Brooklyn, New York, he gets outraged when young white kids come up to him and say “”what’s up, my nigger.”” Unfortunately there are a lot of Dunwittys [Rapaport’s Character] out there, especially in this Industry and also running a lot of these rap labels. To get back to an earlier point, I don’t think every black person in my films has to be 100 percent “”angelic””, that you can’t have a crack head in the film, to me that wouldn’t be very realistic. My point is, there has to be a balance and I would like to see the characters be fully three-dimensional. As I said before, most villains have the meatiest parts.Roundtable You said that you were convinced that there are white people in Hollywood who think they know black people, better than black people themselves. Do you think that it’s possible for a white person, to know a black person better than another black person?Spike[laughing] I think that if I where white, and I thought that was true, I wouldn’t tell a black person that.RoundtableDo you think Generation X will understand what you were trying to accomplish with Generation X?SpikeI think they will.RoundtableIn the film, what do you think made the minstrel show so successful, was it the hype, or do you think the audience where naturally drawn to it?SpikeA combination of both.RoundtableWhat is your definition of a “”Minstrel”” show?SpikeIt’s something that everyone needs to make up their own mind, it’s not something that you would find a clear definition of in the dictionary.RoundtableHow do you respond to the following statement, “”this is a film that white people, definitely need to see, but black people can pass””… Their are black people who feel that “”we’ve seen this already before””, that “”we know our history”” and it’s “”too depressing to watch””.SpikeI disagree. I think everyone needs to see this film. A lot of black don’t know our history.RoundtableWhat part of the film affected you the most?SpikeFor the actors, Damon and Savion said it killed them to put on the black face every day. That it scared them emotionally. You can see them getting dehumanized and see their real emotion. For me, I’d say the end when we killed one of the characters. RoundtableWhat are your plans for the future, and what do you think of the Internet’s ability to bring new programming to the masses?SpikeIn the next few months we will be making some announcements about several new television projects that we are working on. I’m tired of all the comedies on television so we are creating new dramas. I don’t really see the Internet being a replacement for television, it’s fine for short films, but I don’t see a lot of people watching that little screen for an extended period, maybe in the future, but not now.RoundtableDid Savion’s statement “”as long as I’m hoofing and making money, it’s all good”” mean that young people only care about making money and not the consequences of what they do?SpikeThat’s not just young people. I think it’s up to each individual artist to make their own decisions as to what they think is right for them.Fini

ATLANTIS – Disney’s Lost Continent Adventure Loses Its Way. By Sean O’Connell

In the process of shedding the usual song-and-dance routine, Disney discards their sense of adventure, too. For “”Atlantis,”” Disney’s big-budget entrance into the summer movie season of 2001, the studio took the safe road by hiring the masterminds behind the enormously successful “”Beauty and the Beast”” and “”The Hunchback of Notre Dame,”” Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise. The film, reportedly set in the early 1914, follows the adventures of inept but earnest adventurer Milo Thatch (voiced by Michael J. Fox), who believes he’s one step away from decoding the location of the lost continent of Atlantis.

The crucial last step is provided by the eccentric Preston B. Whitmore, a philanthropist and old friend of Milo’s grandfather who funds an expedition to the spot where the continent should have vanished. Accompanying Milo are the usual cast of politically correct characters, including the African American doctor, the Mexican teenage girl, the French (Italian? Bad accent.) explosives expert, the mercenary (voiced by James Garner) and a mole-like person who provides absolutely no comic relief.Perhaps to keep with the Jules Vern-style story, Trousdale and Kirk present animation that’s rough around the edges, boxy and unpolished. Character’s faces are square, and the visuals lack detail. Intentional or not, it works to a certain extent, though the backgrounds look hazy and vague. Despite the lack of songs, Disney religiously sticks to their proven formula, but when you reach a point in the film when a lively song penned by Sir Elton or Celine Dion might have elevated the material, the film falls flat. By the time you reach the climax, a flurry of chase scenes and brutal battle sequences that are much more advanced than 1914 would allow, you’ll wonder why you’re so very bored. Final Grade D

Swordfish: This One’s Big Enough to Keep

“”Swordfish,”” the next summer slammer to attempt to weave gunfights, car chases and gratuitous nudity together in a coherent matter, starts off with the biggest bang of the season that literally has to be seen to be believed. It wouldn’t give too much away to say that the scene involves plenty of C4, hostages, John Travolta, a slew of ball bearings, and the same stop-motion camera work made popular by “”The Matrix.”” But this works. And more miraculously, “”Swordfish”” holds its own for 90 minutes after said opening sequence, a trick that’s mightier than you’d think.

Travolta, reeling after last year’s “”Battlefield Earth”” and “”Lucky Numbers,”” plays Gabriel Shear, a rogue spy who operates his computer piracy at arm’s length of the law. For his next project, which involves him stealing $9 billion in unused government funds, Shear needs the help of famed computer hacker Stanley Jobson (Hugh Jackman), a Leavenworth inmate on parole who only wants enough money to get his daughter back from his drug-addicted ex-wife. Halle Berry co-stars as the women in Shear’s life who may not be as loyal as she seems, and Don Cheadle plays the FBI honcho assigned to bring Shears down.As is required of most blockbusters in the post “”Sixth Sense”” age, “”Swordfish”” boasts more twists that a third-graders French braid, and most of them make sense, which is a pleasant surprise. Director Dominic Sena (“”Gone in 60 Seconds””) stages fantastic action sequences and lingers his camera on them long enough for us to appreciate them, a novel concept that has eluded the choppy directors behind “”Bait,”” “”Double Take”” and countless Jean Claude Van Damme films. Plot holes big enough to fly a bus through do appear, more to force the film’s surprise twist than anything. Sena avoids them, for the most part, by keeping the film in fifth gear, burying logical questions under layers of shiny car chases and glistening guns. “”Swordfish”” will not boost Travolta out of the acting cellar he climbed into with “”Battlefield Earth”” and “”Lucky Numbers,”” but it does further the argument that Hugh Jackman is a bona fide star waiting for the right role. Admittedly it’s not the freshest catch, but as a summer break, it’s certainly one fish you shouldn’t throw back.

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