Saturday, April 14, 2012


Benjamin Guggenheim from Titanic: The Musical
Is it possible, do you think, that we have this coming? I can’t help remembering something Balzac wrote. He said, “Behind every great fortune lies a great crime. So let’s confess it. Who wants to start?”

I was not very familiar with Titanic: the Musical until our community theater put on a production in the Spring of 2012. When I was approached about appearing in it, in my hubris I agreed and thought I could handle this with no problem. Equipped with a set of song and dance skills that are a bit below professional standards, I soon found myself a bit over my head.

I quickly found myself like Sam Beckett from an episode of Quantum Leap where I leaped into the body of (some Broadway actor, I don’t know, Tommy Tune maybe?) a song and dance man with the pressure to perform at a high level.

I was playing the millionaire “playboy” Benjamin Guggenheim who (spoiler alert!) goes down with the ship after getting his French mistress safely on the lifeboat.

These are the songs I had to learn. (All the music throughout the show is very good, much of it quite inspiring.)

Act I
“Godspeed Titanic”
The opening. The words to this one came fairly easily, but I found it really hard to sing in spots. I hear people around me singing it so beautifully. I just hope I don’t mess it up too much.

“What a Remarkable Age This Is.”
A very fun song. I do enjoy a lot of the lyrics in this one.

A fellas invented see through film, he calls it cellophane, another has built a parachute for jumping out of an airplane. Remarkable things flow endlessly throughout the human brain. Indeed and what a remarkable age this is.”

It was just a question of learning blocking on this one…and also how to properly put on a cummerbund.

“Ladies Maid”
The easiest part to learn, but did point out another problem. In this scene, I am not playing Benjamin Guggenheim, I am playing a third class passenger who is an aspiring millionaire. The problem is changing into a third class outfit after wearing a tuxedo after changing out my boarding outfit from the first scene. After this, I put back on my boarding outfit…not to mention wearing pajamas in scene two before once again putting on my boarding outfit. It’s not the lines or even the music I was most worried about-It’s the damn changing of clothes!

“Ladies Maid” is my favorite scene that I’m in the whole show. I have my only solo bit here.

I want to be a millionaire! Millionaire in America strike it rich and spend the fortune I amass!”

Just hope my voice holds out as I don’t have a spare.

“The Latest Rag”
This song has the frightening possibility that I may have to dance. Yes, I’m dancing or something approximating dancing. This went from being my favorite song in the show to the one I dread the most. I had a friend who saw the show who said it was so great how you were pretending you couldn’t dance and your partner kept telling you what to do. Note to friend-I wasn’t pretending!

No Moon #2
Well there’s an iceberg dead ahead. Mr. Guggenheim and friends are playing a friendly game of cards and everyone is on the stage singing dramatically until we strike it. A wonderfully staged scene among many wonderfully staged scenes from our production.

Act II

Opening of Act II
Not a song…but I have to begin Act II by banging on John Jacob Astor’s door. So essentially if I forget my first line, we can’t do act 2. No pressure!

“Dressed in Your Pyjamas in the Grand Salon”
This has become about my favorite song in the whole show and not just because I get to sing it wearing pajamas! I wanted to do the scene carrying a teddy bear, but had to remind myself that I was playing Benjamin Guggenheim, not Thurston Howell the Third! I have some fun lines from a brief duet.

Dressed in your pyjamas in the grand salon, looks to be bizarre to the extreme. Things would improve if the steward opens the bar!”

“Getting Into the Lifeboats”
Act frantic! The ship is going down! Don’t forget your cues. There is one part where I’m the only one singing. Of course, we’re high up on deck and in my one song line I’m basically going to just scream so the audience can hear.

Mr. Guggenheim then gets to repeat the quote from Balzac from the top of this page before going down with the ship.

Will be singing as one of the dead. (Alas, poor Benjamin did not survive the journey)

This has been an amazing experience. The musical talent around me has been inspiring (and a little intimidating) The sets were amazing (How’d they do that!). And the director’s vision for this project was titanic in every way.

Benjamin Guggenheim from James Cameron’s Titanic: “We are dressed in our best and are prepared to go down as gentlemen-but we would like a brandy.”

Since this is a 1001 movie blog, I do have to mention James Cameron’s Titanic. Of course, it won countless awards, set box office records and had the now famous Jack and Rose love story, so any criticism I have of it will fall upon deaf ears, I’m sure. Not that I don’t find it a very worthwhile movie, with a pretty amazing recreation of the Titanic disaster. That being said, I found that there were so many stories going from the ship, the relentless focus on the Jack/Rose love story kept me asking what about the other stories from the ship? I mean the film is over three hours long! What about the millionaires? What about more from Mr. Andrews or the Captain? Where is the second class during all this? I would have preferred more of an ensemble piece, sort of like Nashville. That’s it! Robert Altman’s Titanic. Keep Jack and Rose, but just as one of many stories.
Favorite character not named Guggenheim: David Warner as Cal Hockley’s evil ex-policeman bodyguard.

Benjamin Guggenheim from A Night to Remember
: “We have dressed now in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen…If anything should happen to me I would like my wife to know that I behaved decently.”

The 1958 film, A Night to Remember, based on the book by Walter Lord is more of an ensemble piece. The closest thing the film has to a main character is Mr. Lightoller, played by Kenneth More. The funny thing is that one of the criticism distributors in the United States had with this movie is that there wasn’t really a star, (James Cameron made sure with his film that this wouldn’t be an issue) but I agree with the assessment that the ship is the star. Yes, they get some of the technical points wrong, as they didn’t know the boat split in half until years later. That didn’t bother me too much, as the stories on board were still moving.
Favorite character not named Guggenheim: The drunk cook who casually floats to safety on deck chairs and survives none the worse for wear.

And the winner is: A Night to Remember. Yes, you should still see the James Cameron film, but let us remember A Night to Remember.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I plucked the documentary Surfwise from the 1001 Movie list* for my next film to view. In fact, I didn’t even know it was a documentary until I began watching it. So much for background research.

The film is about Doc Paskowitz, a doctor turned bohemian, who lived out of a camper during the 60’s and 70’s with his wife and nine children (eight of which were boys). The children didn’t attend school, instead traveling around the country (and beyond) with their parents learning about surfing, life and how to live comfortably in a twenty-four foot camper with a double digit number of people.

A retrospective of Doc and his family fill the first half of this film. The second half has more on what his children are doing now, how their upbringing affected them and gives the audience space to make judgments on Doc and his lifestyle choice.

Director Doug Pray really puts this documentary together well. I seem to remember some news stories about the Paskowitz family years ago and they were billed as the first family of surfing (I’m not sure how much competition they had for this title). And because of the ages of the children at the time the documentary were made (The children were mostly in their 30’s and 40’s at the time the documentary was filmed in the mid 2000’s.) we can really gain some perspective on how their unusual upbringing effected their lives. No matter how you feel about “Doc” (and opinions can certainly differ) this is a fascinating journey and the film is well deserving of its place in one of the updated editions of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die**.

Another surfing documentary that didn’t make the 1001 cut is The Endless Summer. I remember first seeing this on television during the 70’s and have watched parts of it a couple of times since. I always thought you could boil the plot down to a couple of guys travel around the world looking for the perfect wave. But it’s a bit more than that. It’s very…what’s the word? Zen. Yes, it’s a very Zen movie. Mike Hynson and Robert August are two surfers in their early twenties who attempt to travel the world over a series of months following the summer as they go. They are accompanied by filmmaker/wisecracking narrator Bruce Brown. The boys spend a lot of time in Africa. Their encounters with the friendly natives of Ghana, who have never seen a surfboard before, are one of the highlights of the film. Another obvious highlight is when they walk through a South African desert to find (drum roll please) the perfect wave. Waves so long and perfect you would think they were out of a machine. Waves that you can ride so long that Bruce Brown actually runs out of film before he can show you an entire ride. Waves that might actually make me consider picking up a surfboard...well, not quite.

On the lighter side, we see the boys complaining about the prices of things in the world ($1 dollar coffee, $1 dollar a gallon gasoline, and a luxurious suite that is a whopping $30 a night. Hey, this is 1966! What a rip-off!). We also see some other surfers of the day shooting the curl or hanging ten and the whole thing is in good fun.

Not to get too deep here, but when you enter The Endless Summer you allow yourself to forever keep searching for the perfect wave and if you keep going around the world, you may even stay forever young.

And the winner isSurfwise. Because I really like the way Doug Pray weaved his narrative together and turned it into a most fascinating story.

*This film is listed in a supplementary 1001 Movie list I saw on the internet, but haven’t been able to find it in an actual edition of the book. Go figure.

**Nope, still can’t find it in any book.

Saturday, April 7, 2012


As I was looking for old video games for my son in a neighborhood pawnshop recently, I came across A DVD collection called Alfred Hitchock: The Legend Begins, which included three films on the 1001 movie list. I became very excited (I get excited easily). I forgot all about looking for silly video games and bought the DVD.

The first film I watched was Blackmail, (1929) which I found out later was originally a silent film, but was changed after production began into Britain’s first talkie. It is disorienting in spots, as the film starts as a silent film and then somewhat awkwardly makes a transition to sound. That isn’t to say it isn’t a worthwhile film and it does have several touches that Hitchcock would later make his trademark (Woman kills man in self defense, man in love with her tries to cover it up and of course the blackmailer, himself.)

The second film, The 39 Steps (1935) is probably the most famous of the three, though it was admittedly my least favorite. Hitchcock takes a lot of liberties with John Buchan’s original story and employs the innocent man on the lamb plotline that Hitchcock would later use again in North by Northwest and other films. It does includes a lot of nice banter between Robert Donat and Madeline Carroll.

The last film from this DVD set was Sabatoge (1936). This was my favorite of the three films. The plotline of a saboteur (today we would just call it a terrorist) in London and the way Hitchcock builds suspense to the inevitable bomb going off are highlights. The portrayals of the main characters played by Sylvia Sydney as the wife and Oscar Homolka, as her not-so-innocent husband were effective. I also liked the way Hithcock shot Homolka with close-ups that showed off expressive face and bushy eyebrows. This film also has a short animated sequence, Who Killed Cock Robin? from the Disney studios which makes this film a must for Disney completeists.

I'm thinking now that I should head back to the pawnshop to see if I can find a Howard Hawks DVD collection. I’ve sure got plenty of his films left on my list.

Monday, April 2, 2012


* This post really has nothing to do with Chariots of Fire, I just needed a blog heading.

I think anyone that goes through the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list makes at least a mental note on what movies they think were unfairly left off the list and which ones that are in the book and probably shouldn’t be.

I compiled a list of 130 possible alternatives. Why 130? Well, the explanation is…ok, I have no explanation. It’s just 130, all right?

1.Animal Crackers (1930, Victor Herman)
2.The Old Dark House (1932, James Whale)
3.Easy Living (Leisen, 1937)
4.Lost Horizon (Capra, 1937)
5.Way Out West (Horne, 1937)
6.The Roaring Twenties (Walsh, 1939)
7.The Great Dictator (Chaplin, 1940)
8.Tom Brown’s School Days (1940)
9.Among the Living (1941, Heisler)
10. Buck Privates (1941, Arthur Lubin)
11.Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (Edward Cline, 1941)
12.Bambi (Hand, 1942)
13.Day of Wrath (Dreyer, 1943)
14.Lifeboat (1944, Alfred Hitchcock)
15.Dead of Night (various, 1945)
16.Kiss of Death (Hathaway, 1947)
17.Hamlet (1948, Laurence Olivier)
18.Late Spring (1948, Ozu)
19.Key Largo (Huston, 1948)
20.Othello (Welles, 1952)
21.Miracle in Milan (1953, Vittorio De Sica)
22.Sawdust and Tinsel (1953, Ingmar Bergman)
23.Stalag 17 (1953, Billy Wilder)
24.Mister Roberts (1955, John Ford)
25.Oklahoma! (1955, Fred Zinneman)
26.The Killing (1956, Stanley Kubrick)
27.Lust for Life (1956, Vincent Minelli)
28.A Face in the Crowd (1957, Elia Kazan)
29. Jailhouse Rock (1957, Richard Thorpe)
30.Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Brooks, 1958)
31.Hidden Fortress (Kurosawa, 1958)
32.Plan Nine From Outer Space (1959, Ed Wood)
33.Compulsion (1959, Richard Fleischer)
34.Inherit the Wind (1960, Stanley Kramer)
35.The Virgin Spring (Bergman, 1960)
36.One, Two, Three (1961, Billy Wilder)
37.Judgement at Nuremberg (1961, Stanley Kramer)
38.Yojimbo (1961, Akira Kurosawa)
39.Lonely Are The Brave (Miller, 1962)
40.Birdman of Alcatraz (1962, John Frankenheimer)
41.Carnival of Souls (1962, Herk Harvey)
42.It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963, Stanley Kramer)
43.High and Low (1963, Akira Kurosawa)
44.The Silence (1963, Ingmar Bergman)
45.A Fistful of Dollars (1964, Sergio Leone)
46.The Pawnbroker (1964, Sidney Lumet)
47.Zorba The Greek (Cacoyannis, 1964)
48..A Thousand Clowns (Coe, 1965
40.For a Few Dollars More (1966, Sergio Leone)
49.The Professionals (1966, Richard Brooks)
50.A Man for All Seasons (1966, Fred Zinneman)
51.King of Hearts (1966, de Broca)
52.Endless Summer (Brown, 1966)
53.Morgan (1966, Reisz)
54.The Knack and How to Get It (1967, Richard Lester)
55.The Dirty Dozen (1967, Robert Aldrich)
56.How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967, David Swift)
57.A Guide for the Married Man (1967, Gene Kelly)
58.The Swimmer (1968, Frank Perry)
59.Bullitt (Yates, 1968)
60.Head (1968, Bob Rafelson)
61.Monterrey Pop (1967, James Desmond)
62.The Magic Christian (McGrath, 1969)
63.Medium Cool (Wexler, 1969)
64.The Passion of Anna (1969, Bergman))
65. Catch-22 (1970, Mike Nichols)
66.Watermelon Man (1970, Melvin Van Peebles)
67.Brewster McCloud (1970, Robert Altman)
68.Macbeth (1971, Roman Polanski)
69.1776 (1972, Peter Hunt)
70.Carnal Knowledge (1972, Mike Nichols)
71.Duck, You Sucker (1972, Sergio Leone)
72.Slaughterhouse Five (1972, George Roy Hill)
73. Marjoe (1972, Howard Smith)
74. Private Parts (Bartel, 1972)
75.The Last Detail (1973, Hal Ashby)
76.Paper Moon (1973, Peter Bogdanavich)
77.The Paper Chase (1973, James Bridges)
78.O Lucky Man! (1973, Lindsay Anderson)
79.Scenes From a Marriage (1974, Ingmar Bergman)
80. Hearts and Minds (Bert Schneider, 1974)
81.Love and Death (1974, Woody Allen)
82.Lenny (1974, Bob Fosse)
83.The Towering Inferno (1974, Irwin Allen)
84.Animal House (1978, John Landis)
85.Watership Down (Rosen, 1978)
86.Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Kaufman, 1978)
87.Magic (1978, Richard Attenborough)
88.The China Syndrome (1979, James Bridges)
89.The In-Laws (Hiller, 1979)
90.Hair (1979, Milos Forman)
91.Phantasm (1979, Don Coscarelli)
92.Caddyshack (1980, Harold Ramis)
93.The Gods Must Be Crazy (Uys, 1980)
94.Kagemusha (Kurosawa, 1980)
95.My Dinner With Andre (1981, Louis Malle)
96. Superman II (1981, Richard Lester)
97.Arthur (1981, Steve Gordon)
98.The World According to Garp (1982, George Roy Hill)
99. Flashdance (1983, Adrian Lyne)
100.The Meaning of Life (Gilliam/ Jones, 1983)
101.Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Nicholas Meyer, 1982)
102.Stop Making Sense (1984, Jonathan Demme)
103.Repo Man (Cox, 1984)
104.Risky Business (1984)
105.Choose Me (1984, Alan Rudolph)
106.My Life as a Dog (1985, Lasse Hallstrom)
107.Pee-wee's Big Adventure (Tim Burton, 1985))
108.Something Wild (1986, Jonathan Demme)
109.Wild at Heart (1990, David Lynch)
110.Jungle Fever (1991, Spike Lee)
111.Barton Fink (1991, Joel Coen)
112.Malcolm X (1992, Spike Lee)
113.The Fugitive (1993, Andrew Davis)
114. Much Ado About Nothing (1993, Kenneth Branagh)
115.Richard III (1993, Richard Loncraine)
116.Searching for Bobby Fisher (1993, Stephen Zallian)
117.Speed (1994, Jan de Bont)
118.Quiz Show (1994, Robert Redford)
119 Ed Wood (1995, Tim Burton)
120.Sling Blade (1996, Billy Bob Thornton)
121.Twelth Night (1996, Trevor Nunn)
122.Hamlet (1996, Kenneth Branagh)
123.Contact (1996, Robert Zemeckis)
124.The Truman Show (1998, Peter Weir)
125.A Beautiful Mind (2001, Ron Howard)
126. Master and Commander (2003, Peter Weir)
127. Shrek (2003)
128. Mystic River (2003, Clint Eastwood)
129. The Fog of War (2003. Errol Morris)
130. Sin City (2005, Frank Miller)

Rules & thoughts from my alternative 1001 list

1. I guess I just can’t seen ti get enough of Altman, Leone, Bergman, Hitchcock, Kubrick and Kurosawa (Brewster McCloud, A Fistful of Dollars, Scenes from a Marriage, the Killing and The Hidden Fortress)
2. Obviously I can’t get enough Shakespeare either. (Richard III, Hamlet, Macbeth)
3. I have a bias towards films from the era I first started watching films yet still fill the need to criticize others for their era bias. (Don’t think The Towering Infernois a classic, eh? What the hell is wrong with you?)
4. Got to add a few cult films. Ah, back in the day of the midnight movie… (Brewster McCloud, Private Parts (1972), King of Hearts, The Gods Must be Crazy, Head)
5. It doesn’t pay to be highbrow all the time (Caddyshack, The Dirty Dozen, Jailhouse Rock, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Animal House, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad Mad World)
6. Campy sci-fi is welcome on my list (Phantasm, Carnival of Souls, Plan Nine from Outer Space.)
7. In fact, we need more classic sci-fi on the list. (Contact, Repo Man, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), Superman II and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
8. But sometimes you gotta be a little highbrow (My Dinner With Andre, Miracle in Milan, Day of Wrath, My Life as a Dog)
9. Make sure to add a film that no one has ever heard of to make you look smart even though you haven’t seen it in thirty years but you really liked it at the time but really should see it again to see if it is as good as you remember. (Among the Living)
10. Make sure to add some that you just think should be on the list. (Everyone says how good Mystic River is, I will get around to actually seeing it one of these days!)
11. How about some more musicals? (Oklahoma!, Monterey Pop, Stop Making Sense and a personal favorite, 1776)
12. Most of the classic non-English language films I’m most familiar with are already in the book so my additions here are slight.
13. No silent comedy film additions since the great comics are covered well in the 1001 book.
14. I didn’t add many 2000-present movies since they seem to come and go in each new addition.
15. Random thought: I’d like to see a book on recommended documentaries. It’s hard to decide which ones to add.
16. Looking at my list, I’d already see the need to make some deletions. Flashdance? What was I thinking? I don’t even like that movie!
17. And additions: I left off The Time Machine? Why did I leave off The Time Machine? (The 1960 version, of course)
18. And another addition: Midnight Express! How could I leave off Midnight Express?
19. I now realize how damn hard it is to make a list like this…
20. So I won’t complain about omissions from future editions of the 1001 movie book that I think should be added…at least for now.