Tag Archives: Dustin Hoffman

T.G.I.F. – Ten From Arthur Penn

Arthur Penn died earlier this week. Although he wasn’t a prolific film director, his batting average was incredible, and his films were an accurate reflection of the mores and zeitgeist of their times. His most famous epic, Bonnie and Clyde, was not only a cultural phenomenon in the 70s, but the critical and popular success of its tone and style opened the doors for other landmark films that would revolutionize the film industry.

Penn got his start in television, directing live dramas for shows like Playhouse 90, and was also a very successful Broadway director, winning Tony Awards three times in a four-year span. His work included dynamic shows like Clifford Odetts’ Golden Boy and the original productions of Wait Until Dark and The Miracle Worker.

But although he received three Academy Award nominations for Best Director, he never took home the statuette for his film work. No matter – his impact was huge. Despite a short filmography, he worked with all of the greatest actors of his time – Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Warren Beatty – and was adept at extracting eclectic performances from them. Ironically, he hated method acting, although he worked often with some of its biggest practicioners.

Arthur was often mistakenly identified as the father of the successful Penn brothers – actors Sean and Christopher and musician Michael; their father Leo was also in the industry but no relation.

So in tribute to Arthur , I give you Ten From Arthur Penn. These are his ten best films – also his first ten films – and I suggest those you haven’t seen go on your “must see” list. And if the independent film era of the 60s and 70s  interests you, I highly suggest you grab a copy of the fascinating documentary Easy Riders, Raging Bulls.

01. The Left Handed Gun (1958) – Newman as Billy The Kid, an underrated Western with some great performances.

02. The Miracle Worker (1962) – Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke in the award-winning smash

03. Mickey One (1965) – An underknown classic with Beatty as a nightclub comic fleeing the mob. Sadly not on DVD yet.

04. The Chase (1966) – An amazing cast in an oddball combination of a Southern melodrama and an action film, scripted by Horton Foote and Lillian Hellman.Trainwreck great.

05. Bonnie and Clyde (1967) – One of the best films ever made, period.

06. Alice’s Restaurant (1969) – Arlo Guthrie’s song took up an album side and Penn made it into a counterculture classic.

07. Little Big Man (1970) – The oddest history lesson ever and a great anti-Western; Forrest Gump stole the concept.

08. Night Moves (1975) – One of the dozens of reasons that Gene Hackman might just be the best of his generation.

09. The Missouri Breaks (1976) – At this point directors let Brando do what he wanted just to get him in the film; he was rarely odder than this one.

10. Four Friends (1981) – Craig Wasson leads a lesser known cast in one of the better films made about growing up in the turbulent 60s. Written by Steve Tesich, who gave us another coming-of-age classic in Breaking Away.

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Remembering Lenny Bruce

Forty-four years after his death his influence still towers.

You may or may not like Lenny Bruce; if you discovered him towards the tail end of his career sometimes his appearances were little more than anti-establishment rants about the persecution he was being subjected to. He was losing his career, his freedom, and towards the end, his sanity. Who wouldn’t?

But his belief in personal freedom, the right for anyone to speak their mind, the drive to question authority – you know, fundamental human rights – made him a trailblazer in the world of comedy. His jazzy, free-flowing style blurred the line between storytelling and joke-telling; his subject matter risqué for the times; his intelligence and subtlety a reward for those who were really paying attention.

Jazz musicians in the pocket are capable of taking a solo at any moment; so too Bruce was able to run off on a tangent and weave his way back in almost invisibly. When they make lists of the greatest and most influential comedians ever to walk the planet, Bruce is always in the very top cluster, if not the apex.

When the movie Lenny first came out I was sure I wouldn’t like Dustin Hoffman in the lead, but I liked the film and thought he did great work. The film we really need to see is the documentary Swear To Tell The Truth, narrated by Robert DeNiro.

Read more about Swear To Tell The Truth.

But while it’s nice to read about him and hear about him, your first move should be to listen to him. I highly recommend that you get your hands on Let The Buyer Beware, the boxed set collection of his albums. Also Lenny Bruce Without Tears (a DVD with some of his TV performances) and The Lenny Bruce Performance Film, most copies of which include Thank You Masked Man.

Rest in Peace,  Lenny. Finally, peace.

Lenny Bruce official website.

Lenny on Wikipedia.

Nice collection of links to Lenny related material.

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In Praise of Peter Sellers

Hard to believe that Peter Sellers died thirty years ago today.

Harder still to realize he was only fifty-four when he died.

Sellers crammed a few spectacular movie roles into a relatively short period of time; despite a thirty year career it’s easy to see the clumps of time where his initiative and the quality of the project intersected to make movie magic. Of course, his legacy also includes his tenure as a member of The Goon Show and even hit records ( some produced by George Martin!).

His early period includes some of my favorites – The Ladykillers (one of the great Alec Guinness comedies), The Mouse That Roared and I’m All Right Jack. But his  work with two famed directors cemented his legacy.

Stanley Kubrick first cast Sellers in a supporting role (Clare Quilty) in his version of Lolita, an opportunity that gave Sellers the freedom to improvise and use disguises. This mutually trusting relationship would blossom in the anti-war classic Dr. Strangelove where Sellers juggled three separate roles. The black comedy consistently places high atop the lists of the greatest films ever made, and Sellers’ performances within became part of the social fabric.

Blake Edwards’ movie The Pink Panther first introduced the bumbling Inspector Clouseau, one of the most famous comic characters in movie history. Sellers repeated the role in four additional films: A Shot In The Dark, The Return of The Pink Panther, The Pink Panther Strikes Again and (posthumously) Revenge Of The Pink Panther.

The combination of clever wordplay, outrageous slapstick gags and dunce-like attitude enabled Sellers to put the movie on his back and run; the plots were secondary (and in some cases, contradictory across scripts). Nominated for a Golden Globe in three of the Pink Panther films, he never won.

Video: Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau

I thought one of his best performances was also one of his most restrained – Chance The Gardener (a/k/a/ Chauncey Gardiner) in 1979’s Being There. Whether you look upon that movie as a religious allegory, a fairy tale or a brilliant social satire – I think it’s all three – Sellers’ performance is almost inverted, as he allows everyone and everything to react to him.

Crazy? Or crazy like a fox? Sellers won the Golden Globe for his performance but didn’t win the Academy Award; he was nominated for Best Actor but lost to Dustin Hoffman for Kramer vs. Kramer.

Sellers was often quoted saying he did not know who he really was, that he lived through his characters and his artistic expression. If true, that’s a sad story, but supportive of many comedians who claim they have very little self-esteem. And when you crawl into someone else’s skin as often as Sellers did – and into such odd skin, at that – who’s to say he was exaggerating?

My pint glass raised to you today, Peter Sellers.

Peter Sellers filmography at IMDB.com

The Peter Sellers Appreciation Society

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