The Best Years of Our Lives on TCM


the-best-years-of-our-lives-still-526x295William Wyler’s superb film about returning veterans will be broadcast on TCM tonight at 10 PM eastern. The brilliant cast includes Dana Andrews, Fredric March, Myrna Loy, Theresa Wright, Virgina Mayo, and Harold Russell, A must see!

Read about it and more than 30 other important films in my my book, Lessons in the Dark. Available at Amazon. Just click here.

Lessons Dark Final Book Cover

Recent Read: Why To Kill a Mockingbird Matters

MockFew novels have proven to be as important and influential as To Kill a Mockingbird, and few films have become just as important as its source material. Tom Santopietro (The Godfather Effect, Sinatra in Hollywood, Becoming Doris Day) is one of the finest pop culture writers working today. In his new book, the author take a deep dive look at the cultural impact of both Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, published in 1960, and the now iconic film released in 1962. Over its more than 50 years existence, To Kill a Mockingbird has been both praised and banned. Criticized and hailed by both liberals and conservatives.

Santopietro paints a detailed look beginning with Harper Lee’s childhood in the tiny town of Monroeville, Alabama, the inspiration for Maycomb, the fictional town in Lee’s classic. It ends with the publication of Go Tell the Watchman, Lee’s original and extremely different first draft. In between, we get well known and little known details such as Spencer Tracy was originally considered for the role of Atticus Finch. We all know Gregory Peck landed the part in what would turn out to be the role of a lifetime. Who else can be Atticus Finch!

Almost sixty years after its publication, To Kill A Mockingbird remains one of the most read and influential books in America, required reading in many high schools. As relevant today as it was back in the 1960’s. It asks some,hard questions. Can a country that has fought to make the world safe from tyranny and fascism somehow save itself and live up to its potential as a democracy where there is justice and freedom for all. Today, we are failing. As the author  points out, substitute Muslims and Mexicans, along with other South Americans attempting to enter the country, for blacks and you have to asked yourself how much has really changed?

With over 40 million books in print, everyone whether liberal or conservative wants to have an Atticus Finch in his or her life.

 

Arthur Miller Writer (2017)

Miller4For years Rebecca Miller (Maggie’s Plan, The Ballad of Jack and Rose) had been researching, compiling, filming interviews and taking home movies of her father, Arthur Miller. From this wealth of material, Ms. Miller has produced a fascinating look at the life and career of one of America’s greatest playwright/writers.

Miller1Though best known for plays like Death of a Salesman, All My Sons, The Crucible and A View from The Bridge, Miller never stopped writing throughout his life. He wrote 25 plays, numerous essays, short stories, novels and an autobiography (Timebends).

Miller’s film focuses on many aspects of her father’s life; his upbringing (his mother was the artistic one), his work, the House of Un-American Activities hearings(1) and his three marriages. He and his first wife, Mary Slattery, began to grow apart after Miller met Marilyn Monroe for the first time in 1951. There was no affair at this point, but they did exchange letters. The next few years were filled with personal struggles. Monroe was never out of his mind. In 1956, on his way to work each day he would pass the giant cutout of Marilyn above the marquee of the Loew’s State on Broadway; it was advertising her latest film, The Seven Year Itch. Miller had his own continuous Itch for the actress.  His letters to Monroe became more passionate, “I should really die if I ever lost you,” he wrote. He divorced Mary in June 1956 and married Marilyn later the same month. However, for all the passion, they divorced less than five years later. Marilyn would overdose shortly after in August of 1962.

While Miller’s marriage to Marilyn is best known, his third wife, Inge Morath, a well-known photojournalist, and Rebecca’s mother, was his most successful, lasting over thirty years. They met on the set of The Misfits. During their thirty years plus marriage, she would document their life together. The couple also collaborated professionally on a few books.

Ms. Miller had the unique perspective over a twenty-year period to document and record her father doing the simple everyday things around the house, from woodwork to carving the turkey, to discussing his art and his struggles with his later works being ignored by both critics and the public. When asked at the end of the film what he would like written about him when he died he said, “Writer.” That says it all.

Footnotes:

 (1) Miller’s play, The Crucible, on the surface was about the Salem witch trials, but was really an metaphor of the rampant McCarthyism taking hold of the country at the time.

Robert B Parker, Spenser and Jesse Stone

Parker imageBetween 2005 and 2015, nine direct for TV movies were made based on Robert B. Parker’s Jessie Stone novels. Recently, I have been re-watching many of them, seven so far to be exact. Parker was one of my favorite authors. He passed away in 2010.

Parker SpenserRobert B. Parker was best known for his Spenser novels. Spenser, a Boston based, ex-boxer, poetry reading, gourmet cook, wise-ass talking, sensitive guy and tough in a fight as they come P.I.  A fictional decedent of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and Hammett’s Sam Spade. Predictably, a TV series, Spenser for Hire followed starring a very dull Robert Urich. However, the problem was not just Urich; it was the scripts. Though the show has its admirers, on TV, Spenser lost a lot. He became just another vanilla filled version of every other TV detective seen before and after. Four made for TV films followed starring Joe Mantegna as our hero. They were an improvement on the series, though no one was going believe Mantegna was an ex-boxer.

Night PAIn 1997, Parker published his first Jesse Stone novel (Night Passage). Stone, an ex-L.A. detective, fired because of a drinking problem which began after his divorce from his wife, Jen. Jesse is hired as police chief of the fictional Massachusetts town of Paradise. The town council appointed him because they believed since he is damaged goods, they will be able to control him. Little did they know.

Night passThe first film (Night Passage) came out, as mentioned earlier, in 2005. Jesse is played by, with sharp assurance, by Tom Selleck. Jesse is damaged goods. He’s alcoholic, Johnny Walker Red his choice of drink. Moody, unwavering, iconoclastic and good at what he does.  Throughout the books, and the films, Jesse is a man coming to terms with himself. Though his divorce haunts him, he does go out with other women but admits to all them he is not a good candidate for a permanent relationship.

The first five films are based on Parker’s novels. The last four were originals stories written by Michael Brandman and Tom Selleck. The movies are consistently good without being great, nor ever slipping into the disappointing category. Visually, they nicely capture the atmosphere of small New England towns, though all of them were shot in Nova Scotia and the surrounding area.

After Robert B. Parker passed away, the Parker estate decided not to let Parker’s fictional anti-heroes die with him. They handed them over to other authors. Ace Atkins has been writing the Spenser series (six, so far with another coming out in May this year), except for one book (Silent Night) that Parker had begun, but did not finish before his death. The book was completed by Helen Brann, Parker’s literary agent, and close friend. Author Michael Brandman continued the Jesse Stone series. He was co-writer on most of the Jesse Stone screenplays, whether adapted from a novel or original. Brandman wrote the first three post-Parker Jesse Stone novels. Beginning with the publication of Blind Spot, Reed Farrel Coleman picked up the series. His fourth book in the series, Colorblind, with be published in September.

Banned and Blacklisted – New E-book

I am a contributor, along with nine other authors, to the just published ebook, Banned and Blacklisted: Too Hot for Hollywood now available at Amazon for only .99 cents. Proceeds from the sale of this book go to the National Film Preservation Foundation.

Banned and Blacklisted

From Real to Reel: Real Life Photographers in the Movies – Linda McCartney

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This is my third in a series on real life photographers as portrayed in the movies. Here we take a look at Linda McCartney.

For a short period after high school, Linda Eastman attended the University of Arizona. However, she spent more time out in the Arizona countryside horseback riding, a passion since her youth, than in school. In 1962, her mother, Louise Eastman died in an airplane crash, and she came back to New York for a short period. The pressures of her mother’s death on her family sent her escaping back to Arizona. Upon her return, she soon became pregnant by her boyfriend, Melville See. They quickly married, and Heather was born. During this time, Eastman’s experience with photography was limited. While married to See, she took classes in photography at the Tucson Arts Center under the guidance of Hazel Archer. Her photographs at this point consisted mostly of her beloved horses as well as the Arizona landscape. The marriage didn’t last long. See, a geologist took a position that would send him to Africa. Linda declined to follow along. The marriage quickly dissolved. Linda and Heather went back east.

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Brian Jones – Photograph by Linda Eastman McCartney

Linda got an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. She took a low-level job working as an editorial assistant for Town and Country magazine. She met David Dalton, a photographer, and writer, one day while both were waiting for the elevator in the same building where they both worked, though for different magazines. Dalton had a Pentax camera slung over his shoulder, and she began asking questions. They became friends and even dated. He taught her about lighting and other aspects of photography which she eagerly soaked in.

Among Linda’s functions at Town and Country were bill checking, calendar managing and opening the mail. On one occasion there came a press invitation for a reception aboard a yacht that would be cruising up the Hudson River. The guests of honor were the Rolling Stones. With the invite in one hand and a 35mm camera in the other, Linda, and her co-worker/best friend Christine Berlin were allowed on the yacht. [1]

Aboard the invitation-only yacht, Linda was both nervous and excited.  On deck, she photographed Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, Keith Richard, et al. She hoped the photos would come out good enough to sell. They did. Eastman’s success was due to a couple of factors. She had a natural eye and sensitivity. Her pictures were different; they were informal portraits, unlike the regular press photographers who wanted more standard shots. For example, a photo of Brian Jones had him sitting there with his legs wide apart; this was never seen before. It helped that she had a talent for being sociable and was a bit of a flirt with the boys managing to get uncooperative rockers to pose and work with her. After the reception, Linda sold some of her photos to both Hullabaloo, where Dalton was now working, and Datebook teen magazines; this was her big break. Her career as a photographer began. Over the next few years, Linda would photograph rock and roll luminaries like Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Simon and Garfunkel, Jim Morrison, the Grateful Dead, The Doors, The Who and many others. In May of 1968, Linda became the first female photographer whose work, a photo of Eric Clapton, would grace the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. Ever the black sheep of the Eastman family, her father Lee Eastman, never approved of her rebellious lifestyle or her photography career.

Eric Clapton – Photo by Linda  Eastman McCartney

During these days, Linda gained an unfair reputation for being a groupie. It’s a sexist term. After all, if guys had sex with many women, he’s a stud. And unlike most so-called groupies, Linda wasn’t a hanger-on, she had a job, and as a single working woman, she came into contact with famous and rich men who saw her as attractive and exciting as she found them. Why shouldn’t she spend a night with some of the men she came into contact with?

A photo assignment in 1967 brought her to London. One night while hanging out at The Bag o’ Nails, a well-known and popular club at the time, she met Paul McCartney. There was an immediate chemistry between the two even though Paul was still seeing Jane Asher at the time. Linda was invited to photograph The Beatles launch party of their groundbreaking album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. She photographed the event getting shots of all The Beatles for the first time.

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Linda Eastman’s photo of The Beatles launch party for St Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Paul and Linda would meet again in New York in May of 1968. Four months later he asked her to come to London and move in with him; they married on March 12th, 1969. Linda continued to photograph, but her devotion over the years the couple were together was split between family, photography, animal rights and vegetarianism. Family was number one.

From those early rock n’ roll photographs to the last years of The Beatles, Paul’s solo career, the raising of their kids, Linda’s camera was always there to capture the beauty and the spontaneity of their lives. Her work was fresh, self-effacing and warm. When she died at the age of 56, she left behind a visual rock n’ roll history of some of the most significant artists of our time.

One of her proudest moments in her photographic career happened in 1982 after a coffee table size book of her work called Photographs was published followed by an exhibit that traveled across Europe. The high point for Linda though happened when the great French photographer Jacques-Henri Lartigue, then 88 years old, requested a print of Linda’s shot of a young Scottish boy running across a field. At the time, Lartigue did not know who the photographer was.

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Despite the many films made about The Beatles, Backbeat, The Two of Us, Nowhere Boy, Birth of the Beatles to name a few, Linda McCartney was portrayed only in one film. Two years after her untimely death in 1998 at the age of 56, CBS came out with The Linda McCartney Story. Based on Danny Fields book, Linda McCartney: A Portrait, the film tries to have it all by attempting to appeal to Beatles fans, always hungry for another “inside look,” baby boomers, the tearjerker crowd, and the romantic audiences who love a good love story. The film has it all. But as it flashes back and forth between the early days where we see Linda’s beginnings as a photographer, her success, even before meeting Paul, then jumping ahead to her final years, and her fight against the cancer that took her life. You get the feeling none of the targeted audiences will be completely satisfied.

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Elizabeth Mitchell and Gary Blakewell as Linda and Paul

Elizabeth Mitchell was a particularly good choice to play Linda. She manages to make Linda come across as frank, aggressive as well as charming and endearing. The script lets her down toward the second half of the film as it focuses more on the breakup of The Beatles and her health issues effects on Paul with Linda fading into the background of her own life.

Paul is decently played by Gary Blakewell who previously portrayed him six years earlier in the 1994 film Backbeat. George Segal plays, Lee Eastman, Linda’s hard-ass father who before her marriage to Paul saw Linda’s photography career as nothing more than shooting a bunch of long-haired freaks. Tim Piper[2] plays John Lennon in one of the creepiest portrayals of the rocker ever who at one point burst into the McCartney home like a madman, screaming and ranting, finally breaking a framed drawing he did that he previously gave to Paul.

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The Linda McCartney Story

In the beginning, Beatles fans hated Linda. She wasn’t pretty enough for the cutest Beatle, she, along with Yoko, was accused of breaking up world’s most famous band. Then she had the nerve to go on stage and perform with Paul in his new band Wings. Hell, she couldn’t sing or play an instrument, yet there she was. She looked uncomfortable on stage, but Paul wanted her in the group, and what Paul wanted, he got.

Except for the week, Paul spent in a Japanese jail for pot possession; the couple never spent a night apart. Their love for each other and their family was real. Real enough for a wild rocker who slept with an infinite number of women to give it all up for a family and a farm in Scotland. McCartney, always the romantic in his work proved it works offstage too.

In the end, The Linda McCartney Story is mostly a tearjerker overshadowing the photography story, The Beatles, and the love story.  For me, it’s best to remember Linda McCartney as a talented photographer, an animal activist, and vegetarian who brought peace and love to her husband and family and not as a victim of a horrible decease.

Footnotes:

[1] Some Beatles and Paul McCartney biographies have stated that Linda was the only photographer on board the yacht. This was not only untrue, but ridiculous if you think about it. The reception was a press junket and to have had no photographers on board would have defeated the purpose.

[2] Tim Piper has made a career out of playing John Lennon. In 2002, a one night only tribute show called ‘Just Imagine’ premiered at the Stella Alder Theater. The critics liked it so much, the William Morris Agency took it on and put the show on tour across the United State and the world. It still tours to this day.

 

 

 

Sources:

Linda McCartney: A Portrait – Danny Fields,  2000, Renaissance Books

Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney, 2010, Howard Sounes

 

 

From Real to Reel: Real Life Photographers in the Movies – Joe Rosenthal and Flags of My Fathers

WW2_Iwo_Jima_flag_raisingAt 5’ 5” Joe Rosenthal had to place some rocks and sandbags on the ground for him to stand on so he could take what would become one of the most iconic photographs of World War II: the raising of the American flag on the small Japanese island of Iwo Jima. Located 760 miles south of Tokyo, the island was crucial to American forces strategies who planned to use the volcanic island as an air base in their march toward Japan.

USAProsenthalPJoe Rosenthal

Rosenthal, who died in 2006 at the age of 94, was born on October 9th, 1911 in Washington D.C. to Russian Jewish immigrants. During the Great Depression, Joe moved to San Francisco where he lived with his brother as he searched for work. It was during this period, Joe developed an interest in photography; what began as a hobby, soon turned into a career when he got a job working for the Newspaper Enterprise Association.

Nearsighted, Rosenthal was classified as 4-F around the time of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. However, through connections, he managed to get his 4-F status overturned, and would spend his first year of military service in Europe and North Africa. In 1944, he convinced the Associated Press to give him credentials as a war photographer. Rosenthal was sent off to the Pacific where he was present for the invasions of Guam, Anguar, and Hollandia.

On Feb 19, 1945, Rosenthal landed on the Japanese fortified island of Iwo Jima with the first wave of U.S. Marines to come ashore. Dodging bullets, Rosenthal’s only weapon was his unwieldy Speed Graphic, shooting shot after shot of dramatic battlefield photos during those first days of the invasion. About four days into the battle, and after suffering heavy losses, the Marines made their move up Mount Suribachi; the tallest point on the island, and the Japanese stronghold. After a fierce struggle, the Marines controlled the mountain. Louis Lowery, a photographer for the Marine publication Leatherneck, arrived on top of the mountain first and photographed the raising of a small American flag. It was the first American flag to fly on Japanese territory.

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The raising of the first U.S. flag – Photography by Louis Lowery

Rosenthal did not make it up to the top in time for that first flag raising, but he along with two other photographers still chose to make the trek up the hill. Meanwhile, the Marine command decided to replace the original small flag with a larger flag.   Rosenthal, arrived with his Speed Graphic in hand, as the soldiers were preparing to raise the second and bigger flag. He quickly got himself into position, on top of those rocks and sandbag, and shot a series of photos including the shot that would be seen around the world.

At first, it was one of many photographs Rosenthal took that day; he thought nothing was special about it, it was just one of the numerous images he captured on film. He noted the shutter speed at 1/400 with an aperture of F/11. The film was sent to Guam and the Associated Press headquarters where it was processed and transmitted back to the States.

 Then it happened. The picture began to appear in just about every Sunday newspaper across the country. The photo became a sensation, and a symbol back home that the war was starting to turn. Rosenthal was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.  The committee described it as depicting “one of the war’s great moments.” Five months after the flag raising, a stamp with Rosenthal’s photo was issued. It was the first time a living person appeared on a U.S. stamp. Time magazine includes it in its list of the 100 Most Influential Images of All Time. Today, Joe Rosenthal’s picture remains one of the most iconic and recognizable photographs of war ever taken.

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In Clint Eastwood’s 2006 film, Flags of Our Fathers, based on a book by James Bradley and Ron Powers, we first meet Joe Rosenthal (Ned Eisenberg) as an older man. He is being interviewed by James Bradley (Tom McCarthy), the now adult son of John “Doc” Bradley (Ryan Philippe), a Navy Hospital Corpsman assigned to the U.S. Marine Rifle Company invading Iwo Jima. James is researching his father’s life for what would become the book, Flags of Our Fathers. While a younger version of Rosenthal appears later on in the movie recreating the Flag raising on top of Mount Suribachi, it’s this early scene listening to the photographer talk about the historic photograph and its relevance that is most fascinating. Rosenthal states how he took many other photographs that day, many depicting the raw cruelties of war. No one wanted to see them. Somehow though, he goes on, “we had to make some sense of it; we needed to make it easy to understand, using few words. The right photograph can win or lose a war.”

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Ned Eisenberg as Joe Rosenthal in Flags of Our Fathers

“Look at Vietnam,” he continued, referring to Eddie Adams famous photo of the 1968 execution by South Vietnamese National Police Chief, General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, holding a raised 38 caliber pistol, coldly shooting Viet Cong prisoner, Nguyễn Văn Lém, in the head, right on the streets of Saigon. “That was it!” he continues, “the war was lost. We just hung around trying to pretend it wasn’t.”

Rosenthal goes on to discuss how his picture helped turn the perception of the war back home. People back home saw the photo, and it changed their opinions; the war was beginning to go in America’s favor. Folks were buying bonds and feeling good.

 In their own time, both Rosenthal and Adams pictures reverberated around the country, and the world, one photograph helped win a war; the other helped realize another war was a lost cause. Both men won a Pulitzer Prize for their work.

Photographs tell a hard truth, yet they can, and do lie. In both Rosenthal’s and Adams pictures, we see one side, what the photographer photographed. We never know what came before or after. We see just what they want you to see, a moment in time. What both these photographs do reveal, though taken more than twenty years apart, is the power of the visual image. No words are necessary. The picture tells the story.

Joe Rosenthal’s career spanned more than 50 years, however, like many photographers, there is that one image that he remains best known for and has become iconic.

From Real to Reel: Real Life Photographers in the Movies – Alexander Gardner

First in a series I am doing on real life photographers who made it to the movie screen.

Twenty Four Frames

Alexander_Gardner_1863Photography was in its infancy when Abraham Lincoln was running for President. It was a cumbersome and deliberate process. Cameras were these large boxes, set upon sturdy bulky tripods, using wet plates and a slow exposure making the possibilities of the sort of images captured limited.

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The Best Years of Our Lives on TCM Nov. 11th

William Wyler’s Academy Award winning The Best Years of Out Lives will be broadcast on TCM Saturday November 11th at 5PM. You can read about the film and other classics in my book Lessons in the Dark. Below are a couple of excerpts.

The Best Years Of Our Lives 2

The Best Years of Our Lives has not dated at all. In fact, it remains extremely relevant to our lives today. Sadly, since World War II, we as a country, have been involved in wars or ‘conflicts,’ seemingly one right after another: Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan being the major engagements and there have been numerous others, too many to list. In each case returning soldiers have faced emotional and physical adjustments and sometimes, like during the Vietnam War, were greeted with protests and indifference

Over the years there have been many films that have focused on returning soldiers coming home with uncertainty or shell shock or with battle fatigue or post war syndrome, call it what you will, in works like Coming Home (1978), The Deer Hunter (1978) and more recently Home of the Brave (2006), and most recently, Stop-Loss (2008) and The Lucky Ones (2008). The Best Years of Our Lives was one of the first, if not the first, to focus on returning veterans coming home and adjusting to civilian life. It also remains the greatest.

You can read more about The Best Years of Our Lives and other films in my book Lessons in the Dark. Available at Amazon.

The Steel Helmet on TCM Nov. 9th

Sam Fuller’s gritty war film The Steel Helmet will be on TCM tomorrow, November 9th at 2PM. Below is an excerpt from my book, Lessons in the Dark.

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He has been called a guerrilla filmmaker, a primitive filmmaker and a tabloid filmmaker. Whatever title you want to label him with, Sam Fuller’s The Steel Helmet is a low budget masterpiece made for only $100,000 in just 10 days. It may just be the most honest and brutal look at war ever put on film. Produced, directed and written (he used his own diaries as source material) by Fuller, The Steel Helmet is the story of a battle weary Sergeant known only as Zack, the sole survivor in his unit massacred by the North Koreans. As portrayed by Gene Evans, a World War II veteran himself, Zack is cynical, bad-tempered and unemotional.

You can read more about The Steel Helmet and other films including Gold Diggers of 1933, M.A.S.H., Ace in the Hole and Brute Force in Lessons in the Dark available from Amazon.

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