Tom Cruise & Steven Spielberg ‘War of the Worlds’ movie 2005: H.G. Wells’ sci-fier for the 21st century U.S.
“Aren’t you afraid that audiences in some parts of the world may even applaud when they see Americans lying on the ground?” asked the German weekly Der Spiegel to War of the Worlds director Steven Spielberg and star Tom Cruise during an illuminating interview about the raison d’être – i.e., terrorism – for the latest film version of H.G. Wells’ science-fiction classic. (“I wouldn’t want to speculate about that,” was Spielberg’s response, adding, “We aren’t responsible if people perceive the film differently because of their ideology and their aversion to our country.”)
War of the Worlds 2005: ‘subjective point of view’
The lengthy Spiegel interview also broaches the fact that although War of the Worlds is supposed to depict a worldwide invasion, almost all of the action (including the miraculous planetary rescue) takes place among Americans in the United States.
According to Spielberg, that is so because the film “describes a global catastrophe from a subjective point of view.” The director might have added that plain old economics played a part in the selection of the film’s setting, since most of the War of the Worlds grosses (on a per-country basis), including ancillary sales, will be generated in the U.S. (By the way, Wells’ original novel, published in 1898, is set in England.)
Also worth noting is that Spielberg is asked about his previous fascination with nice aliens and mean sharks, while Tom Cruise discusses his increasingly outspoken devotion to Scientology, which some in Germany perceive as a dangerous cult.
Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds and World War II
Curiously, in the interview, Spielberg says that Orson Welles’ radio broadcast of War of the Worlds took place right after the start of World War II, when “the headlines were dominated by reports on Hitler’s invasion of Poland and Hungary.” Actually, Welles’ broadcast terrified thousands of Americans in October 1938, almost a year before the Sept. 1939 invasion of Poland. (Germany invaded Hungary near the end of the war, in 1944.)
Tom Cruise War of the Worlds movie photo: DreamWorks / Paramount Pictures.
Brief obit: Lon McCallister, the cute, pleasant star of several “family” films of the 1940s, such as Home in Indiana (1944) with Jeanne Crain and June Haver, and The Big Cat (1949) with Peggy Ann Garner, died of heart failure in the Lake Tahoe area, Calif., on June 11.
The boyish McCallister quit acting at age 30 to invest in real estate. He had a long-time relationship with fellow 20th Century Fox contract player William Eythe, an alcoholic who died of acute hepatitis at age 39 in 1957.
Lon McCallister was 82.
Brief obit: French stage and screen actress Suzanne Flon has died following complications from a stomach illness. Flon appeared in dozens of films, almost invariably in supporting roles, including Orson Welles’s Mr. Arkadin (1955) and Roger Vadim’s Château en Suède / Nutty, Naughty Chateau (1963). She won two Césars as best supporting actress, for One Deadly Summer / L’Été meurtrier (1983) and La Vouivre / The Dragon (1990). Her last film was Fauteuils d’orchestre / Avenue Montaigne (2006).
Suzanne Flon was 87.
Reuters reports that the family of the 91-year-old former FBI man Mark Felt, better known as Watergate’s “Deep Throat,” has signed a film deal with Tom Hanks as producer.
Quiz of the Day: One of Lon McCallister’s first important films was George Cukor’s Winged Victory, the tale of young recruits learning How to Fight in World War II. Cukor’s film, adapted from a Moss Hart play, was a patriotic mess, but the director did better by Shakespeare in a mid-1930s film that also marked McCallister’s first screen appearance. What’s the movie?
June 15, 2005:
At Corante.com, JD Lasica discusses “The legacy of Jack Valenti.” Valenti, known by most people as the walking signal for a toilet break during the yearly Oscarcasts, was also a determined fighter against the digital (and analog) copying of motion pictures while he acted as the CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America. Lasica interviews Valenti at Darknet.com.
Via GreenCine Daily: Seattle Post-Intelligencer film critic Sean Axmaker discusses the films screened at the Seattle International Film Festival.
Quiz of the Day: Besides being known as an avid anti-DVD piracy advocate and as an Oscarcast embarrassment, Jack Valenti – officially, at least – is responsible for the use of the current “parental guidance” system for films released in the United States. When did that erratic and often inane rating system come about?
June 13, 2005:
Stills of Leni Riefenstahl’s Tieflandto be auctioned in England
The BBC reports that 33 original photographs taken during the shooting of Tiefland (Lowlands), the last feature film directed by Leni Riefenstahl, Adolf Hitler’s favorite filmmaker, go on sale in Shropshire, England, this week.
The photos from Tiefland include those of gypsy children who allegedly had been forced to take part in the shoot and who are supposed to have died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. The sale includes a letter Riefenstahl wrote in 1954 – the year the film finally opened in Germany – denying that the children had been sent to Auschwitz.
In October 2002, German authorities dropped a case against the then 100-year-old former filmmaker for falsely claiming that “each and every one” of the gypsies who appeared in the film had survived the war. (Leni Riefenstahl died in September 2003 at the age of 101.)
Filmed in Spain, Tiefland was based on Eugen D’Albert’s opera which itself was taken from Catalan playwright Ángel Guimerá’s Terra Baixa, an indictment against social corruption and tyranny. Jean Cocteau was an ardent admirer of Riefenstahl’s film, comparing its imagery to the work of Breughel. As president of the 1954 Cannes Film Festival, Cocteau insisted that Tiefland be screened at the event.
As for the auction, documents specialist Richard Westwood-Brookes, from Shropshire auctioneers Mullock Madeley, stated that “the present photographs of the gypsy children are extremely moving in their simplicity and tragic beyond belief if the claims against Riefenstahl are true.”
Quiz of the Day: Before becoming a director, Leni Riefenstahl made a name for herself as the star of several Bergfilmen, or mountain movies. Who was her highly popular male counterpart in that genre?
June 12, 2005:
Quiz of the Day: In 1962, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford starred in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, a Hollywood gothic tale of two has-been actress sisters living in semi-seclusion in a forbidding mansion. The film was, to everyone’s surprise, so successful, that director Robert Aldrich decided to pair the two veteran actresses again in another movie. Crawford, however, (officially, at least) fell ill and had to be replaced by another actress. What is the name of that film? And who replaced Crawford – reportedly much to the joy of Davis and assorted crew members?
June 11, 2005:
The [London] Guardian reports that the 1972 adult flick Deep Throat, directed by Gerard Damiano and starring Linda Lovelace, was given its first UK cinema screening last night at the Everyman Cinema in North London. In his article, Simon Hattenstone refers to the sexually explicit Deep Throat as “probably the most controversial film of all time.”
That’s quite an overstatement. What about The Birth of a Nation or Last Tango in Paris? And really, what about Damiano’s own The Devil in Miss Jones, not to mention everyone’s family favorite, Debbie Does Dallas?
Surprisingly, Hattenstone repeats the absurd claim that Deep Throatgrossed US$600 million, thus becoming the most profitable movie ever made. (The Godfather, for instance, which also came out in 1972 and played in many more theaters than Deep Throat, earned $135 million).
It’s like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ oft-repeated claim that the Oscarcast is watched by 1 billion people around the globe – however baseless your assertion, if you repeat it often enough and it gets printed in enough publications, it becomes true. (Deep Throat, by the way, did not win any Oscars, though it did become the subject of a 2005 documentary, Inside Deep Throat, directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato.)
Quiz of the Day: The erotically conscious The Devil in Miss Jones is a pun on the title of a 1941 socially conscious RKO film called The Devil and Miss Jones. Georgina Spelvin plays Miss (Justine) Jones in the 1973 flick, but who plays Miss (Mary) Jones in the 1941 film? And which one of that film’s performers was nominated for an Oscar?
June 10, 2005:
Actress Anne Bancroft, who died of uterine cancer this past June 6, is the subject of two appreciations in Los Angeles newspapers: In the L.A. Weekly, Nikki Finke pays homage to Bancroft in “Here’s to You, Mrs. Robinson,” while the Los Angeles Times‘s Carina Chocano headlines her article with the statement, “She tried to
seduce us, and did.”
According to the BBC, Indian police have arrested Jagtar Singh Hawara, head of the outlawed Sikh separatist organization Babbar Khalsa International, which Indian authorities believe is behind the Jo Bole So Nihaal cinema bombings in May that killed one person and injured 49. Hawara was arrested along with two of his associates this past Wednesday in New Delhi, where police said they also found arms and explosives, including bomb-making equipment.
Actor Russell Crowe, 41, had to wait only 8 hours for police processing after being arrested for throwing a telephone at a hotel clerk. According to the New York Daily News, detainees generally have to wait up to 36 hours before arraignment. During an appearance on CBS’s Late Show with David Letterman, where Crowe was promoting his latest film, Cinderella Man, the actor claimed that he was helped by NYPD’s movie and TV unit assignee Tommy Cronin. The NYPD has denied that Crowe received any type of special treatment.
Quiz of the Day: Before Anne Bancroft came onboard, one of the following five actresses was approached to play Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate:
a) Lucille Ball. b) Carol Channing. c) Doris Day. d) Jane Fonda. e) Katharine Hepburn.
Who was the initial – and offbeat – choice for the part of the middle-aged seducer of a geeky young man?
June 08, 2005:
“I can’t get out of the press. These people can’t get in the press. So let’s redirect the attention a little bit. … We have the potential to end poverty (in Africa) in our time. … Man – I mean, what is more exciting than that? The potential’s there. We gotta go for it.”
That’s American actor Brad Pitt in an interview with ABC newswoman Diane Sawyer.
“These people” Pitt is referring to are the African men, women, and children suffering for dire poverty and AIDS. According to The Guardian, the European Union has agreed to double aid to Africa, while U.S. president George W. Bush said “the United States has tripled its aid to the continent, and the traditional measure of a country’s aid effort – percentage of gross national product, which shows the United States among the most miserly of the rich nations – was not the right way to measure America’s commitment.”
Whichever way you measure the U.S.’s aid effort, the New York Times remains unimpressed, calling Bush’s aid pledges “crumbs for Africa.”
In New York magazine, Ken Tucker discusses “the fascinating spectacle of watching Mr. Top Gun veer off-course. I assume he wanted to elevate his virility by pumping up a quickie romance – scarcely an original move in the age of Us Weekly. But he managed to execute this media gambit in a manner so clumsy, so ill-conceived, that it’s worked at cross-purposes, making him seem variously crass and dumb and craven. Instead of that bleak interpretation, I think we might view this wild lack of control more sympathetically: as vulnerability, always an attractive trait, rare among your bigger male stars. Think about it: Our most in-control celebrity, the same man deeply devoted to the achieve-your-goals discipline of his Hollywood religion, is suddenly, without warning, improvising his media message and letting it all hang Scientologically out.”
Via Cinema Minima: Jason Silverman discusses Hayder Mousa Daffar’s The Dreams of Sparrows, a documentary that depicts scenes and stories set on the Iraqi front that have been neglected by the U.S. media – too busy tring to figure out if Tom and Katie are really an item. At Wired.com.
June 07, 2005:
“Aren’t you afraid that audiences in some parts of the world may even applaud when they see Americans lying on the ground?” asked the German weekly Der Spiegel to War of the Worldsdirector Steven Spielberg and star Tom Cruise during an illuminating interview about the raison d’Áªtre for the latest film version of H. G. Wells’s science-fiction classic.
The Spiegel interview also broaches the fact that although War of the Worlds is supposed to depict a worldwide invasion, almost all of the action (including the miraculous planetary rescue) takes place among Americans in the United States.
According to Spielberg, that is so because the film “describes a global catastrophe from a subjective point of view.” The director might have added that plain old economics played a part in the selection of the film’s setting, since most of the War of the Worlds grosses, including ancillary sales, will be generated in the U.S. (By the way, Wells’ original novel, published in 1898, is set in England.)
Additionally, Spielberg is asked about his previous fascination with nice aliens and mean sharks, while Cruise discusses his increasingly outspoken devotion to Scientology, which some in Germany perceive as a dangerous cult.
Note: In the interview, Spielberg says that Orson Welles’s radio rendition of War of the Worlds took place right after the start of World War II, when “the headlines were dominated by reports on Hitler’s invasion of Poland and Hungary.” Actually, Welles’ broadcast terrified thousands of Americans in October 1938, almost a year before the Sept. 1939 invasion of Poland. (Germany invaded Hungary near the end of the war, in 1944.)
June 03, 2005:
Stuff.co.nz reports that New Zealand’s first Maori film festival will be held in the small town of Wairoa this weekend. Inspired by a Maori film festival held in France, the event will screen films dating back to 1940, in addition to modern fare such as Whale Rider and Once Were Warriors, and the first public screening of Tama Tu, Taika Waititi’s new short film.
Earlier this year, Waititi’s Two Cars, One Night received an Academy Award nomination in the Best Short Film, Live Action category.
The festival will open with John O’Shea’s Broken Barrier (1952), reportedly the only New Zealand feature film made between 1952 and 1960.
June 02, 2005:
As per its organizers, Outfest is “the oldest and largest continuous film festival in Los Angeles.” This year, the 23rd edition of L.A.’s gay & lesbian film festival will screen 232 features and 47 shorts from 28 countries between July 7 – 18.
Since 1982, Outfest has presented 4,000 film and video productions for more than half a million moviegoers.
This weekend, a crowd of about 100,000 – including actors Martin Sheenand Dennis Hopper – are expected to gather in Marion, Ind., the birthplace of James Dean (1931 – 1955). The city will be hosting a three-day festival featuring outdoor screenings of East of Eden (1955), Rebel Without a Cause(1955) and Giant (1956) on a giant screen at Marion’s airport.
June 10 Quiz Answer: Big-time personification of American female virginhood Doris Day. Patricia Neal had been originally slated to play the role, though she had to be replaced after suffering a stroke.
June 11 Quiz Answer: The delightful Jean Arthur, Columbia’s top star of the 1930s and early 1940s, was loaned to RKO for the role of Miss Mary Jones.
Charles Coburn is outstanding as a tycoon who wants to squelch agitators at his department store, but who ultimately realizes that his employees are more than money-making machines. Coburn received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination – unfairly so, for he actually has about as much screen time – if not more – than Arthur.
Others in the cast were Robert Cummings, Edmund Gwenn, and Spring Byington, as Coburn’s love interest. Sam Wood directed from a screenplay by Norman Krasna. Frank Ross, Arthur’s then husband, produced.
June 12 Quiz Answer: The follow-up to the Hollywood gothic What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? was the Southern gothic Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte. Two-time Oscar-winner Olivia de Havilland, Bette Davis’ friend from the old Warner Bros. days, replaced Joan Crawford. Davis and de Havilland had starred in three movies back in the old days: the light comedy It’s Love I’m After (1937), the historical melodrama The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), and the psycho-drama In This Our Life (1942).
June 13 Quiz Answer: Luis Trenker (1892-1990), the director-star of Der Sohn der weißen Berge / The Son of the White Mountain (1930), Berge in Flammen / Mountains on Fire (1931), and many other such films. Trenker and Riefenstahl co-starred in two Bergfilmen, both directed by Arnold Franck: Der Heilige Berg / The Holy Mountain (1926) and Der Große Sprung / The Big Jump (1927).
June 15 Quiz Answer: November 1968. Two 1966 releases in particular were responsible for the creation of the new ratings system: Mike Nichols’s adaptation of Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which had some of its “offensive” content taken out at the insistence of Valenti and the MPAA (in exchange for letting phrases such as “humping the hostess” remain in the final cut), and Michelangelo Antonioni’s sexually liberated Blow-Up, an Anglo-Italian co-production that was released by MGM without a certificate of approval from the censors.
June 16 Quiz Answer: Romeo and Juliet, starring two way overripe teen lovers, Norma Shearer (35) and Leslie Howard (43). McCallister, 13, played a (uncredited) pageboy.
June 18 Quiz Answer: The film’s name is, quite simply, Morocco. This 1930 Paramount production directed by Josef von Sternberg marked Marlene Dietrich’s introduction to Hollywood. Adolphe Menjou is the man she leaves behind – a perfectly understandable gesture. The man she goes after is Gary Cooper, a decision that would be understandable if he had a more steady métier. As it is, poor Dietrich must take off her swanky high heels before setting out on her trek through the desert. She does, however, keep her chic evening dress on.
June 20 Quiz Answer: Pat O’Brien (1899-1983), who plays the vice-president. O’Brien co-starred with Cagney in 8 Warner Bros. films: Here Comes the Navy (1934), The Irish in Us (1935), Devil Dogs of the Air (1935), Ceiling Zero (1936), Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), Boy Meets Girl (1938), The Fighting 69th (1940), and Torrid Zone (1940). Additionally, they both had roles in Ragtime (1981), which happened to be the last theatrical feature film in their respective careers.
By the way, the first Billy Jack sequel was called The Trial of Billy Jack (1974).
Quiz Answer: On the Waterfront received five acting Academy Award nominations: Best actor (Marlon Brando), best supporting actor (Rod Steiger, Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb), and best supporting actress (Eva Marie Saint). Brando and Saint won in their respective categories; the best supporting actor trio lost out to Edmond O’Brien in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s The Barefoot Contessa.
Quiz Answer:The Dark Mirror (1946), in which Olivia de Havilland had the chance to act both sweet and mean. That same year, Bette Davis also played identical twins – one good, the other really bad – in A Stolen Life. De Havilland won an Academy Award in 1946, but for To Each His Own, in which she had only one role.
June 28 Quiz Answer: Mourning Becomes Electra, Dudley Nichols’s generally despised – though in this writer’s view surprisingly effective – 1947 film adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s play about, to put it mildly, a highly dysfunctional New England family.
Both Michael Redgrave and co-star Rosalind Russell received acting nominations. Neither one deserved it. Redgrave lost to Ronald Colman in A Double Life, while Russell – a sure bet to win the award – lost to Loretta Young in the fluffy romantic comedy The Farmer’s Daughter.
June 29 Quiz Answer: Byron Haskins. Haskins was the d.p. in the following John Barrymore films: Don Juan (1926), The Sea Beast (1926), and When a Man Loves (1927).
July 1 Quiz Answer: Jean Simmons and Donald Houston (directed by Frank Launder). Houston stayed in England, but Simmons went Hollywood, where she became an important star in the 1950s and 1960s. Some of her American films of the period include Young Bess (1953), Guys and Dolls (1955), Elmer Gantry (1960), Spartacus (1960), and Divorce American Style (1967).
Edward Norton Down in the Valley to open Los Angeles Film Festival
The Los Angeles Film Festival 2005 (website) will be held at different venues throughout the city (though mostly at the Director’s Guild and at the Sunset 5 complex in West Hollywood) between June 16-26. LAFF will screen more than 70 features and 50 shorts from around the world, opening with the North American premiere of Down in the Valley, a crime story set in the outskirts of the sprawling San Fernando Valley, just north of Los Angeles. Directed by David Jacobson, the film stars Edward Norton and Evan Rachel Wood. (Image: Edward Norton Down in the Valley.)
Rodrigo García’s Nine Lives, a study of women (including Kathy Baker, Glenn Close, and Sissy Spacek) and relationships, will be the festival’s Centerpiece Premiere, while Don Roos’ Happy Endings, a series of stories about love and family starring, among others, Lisa Kudrow, Laura Dern, and Maggie Gyllenhaal, will be its closing-night film.
LAFF 2005: Elijah Wood, Lisa Kudrow, Don Cheadle
As Honorary Festival Chairs, Elijah Wood will host the opening night festivities, Lisa Kudrow will host the closing night festivities, and Don Cheadle will present the Target Filmmaker Award for Best Narrative Feature at the Spirit of Independence Evening on Saturday, June 25.
Sydney Pollack will serve as the festival’s Guest Director, hosting a two-day retreat for filmmakers, programming films that have inspired his work, and attending the opening night gala.
In addition, the Los Angeles Film Festival will offer panels and workshops with independent film directors, producers, and other professionals.
Edward Norton Down in the Valley photo: Los Angeles Film Festival.