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  • February 18, 2010

    A Scouting Life: Brothers of the Road

    by Sam Hutchins

    By the time the guys returned to the truck I was itching to go.  The idea of Roswell had amused me but the reality was depressing.  We loaded up and headed west on Main Street.  As we neared the end of the main run things opened up and turned into a more traditional new American town.  The old storefronts gave way to strip malls and Aliens lost out to Applebees and Dunkin Donuts.  We passed Roswell High School.  How odd it must be to grow up in a place that attracts UFO tourists.  I was a little surprised by the scope of the sprawl.  Roswell was a much bigger town than I realized.  Soon we saw a Starbucks and I didn’t need to be told, but pulled in and parked.

    The Starbucks fixation was a funny thing.  Stephane and Darius were hung up on authenticity and local, unique experiences.  Yet when it came to coffee they were happy to embrace a homogenized national chain like this.  When I teased them about it Darius curtly replied that they made good coffee.  I could tell he was philosophically uncomfortable with his coffee choice, so of course I continued mentioning it every so often.  Kar Wai couldn’t care less; he was a tea man all the way.  He never had a Starbucks tea, but instead purchased cups of hot water that he used to brew his own.  He carried a briefcase neatly organized with dozens of different teas, each with its own purpose.  One extremely hung-over morning he prepared a special brew that he insisted I drink.  It tasted like tree bark and left me with the intensely irritating sensation of having my throat coated with dirt.  If the thought was to make me miserable enough otherwise to distract from the hangover then mission: accomplished.

    Waiting in line for coffee I had one a weird, transportive moment.  As usual, it involved a woman – a young woman, a very cute blonde who had one of those smiles that just blinds you with its happiness.  She was with friends, laughing sweetly, and never even noticed me.  I got lost in that smile.  Saw myself approaching her, politely interrupting and saying hello.  From there we chatted, she showed me around, and the conversation never stopped.  I discovered her world and told her all about mine.  Her family had some of the nicest people you could hope to meet, and I wound up going to work for her father.  The job was good and we saved for our marriage, kids and house.  It was that sweet of a smile that I could see all of this reflected in it.  So many different possible lives out there to be led.  As sweet as the vision was, I wasn’t nearly ready to get off the road yet.  I took my coffee to go and left a little piece of myself behind.

    We banged down the road west-southwest.  The land started to get really lovely, and I loved the rhythm of the town names.  Ruidoso just rolls off the tongue, as does Mescalero, Alomogordo, La Luz.  It wasn’t my scene, but the natural beauty around here was so great that I could see the attraction I suppose.  We made good time on the largely empty back roads, Kar Wai going into another of his wordless reveries.  Seeing that White Sands National Monument was just within striking distance I made it my mission to get there while some daylight was left.  I quietly pushed it pretty hard.  As usual Kar Wai and Darius were too lost in their own heads to notice but Stephane caught on.  Catching my eye, he silently looked at the speedometer and back at me while raising an eyebrow.  I smiled, looked away, and pushed a little harder topping 95 mph.  The truck was well built and cooperated without so much as a rattle or shimmy.

    The sun was low in the sky when we reached the entrance to White Sands.  The blissful ignorance of my companions which had so frustrated me initially had reached the point of absurd comedy, as manifested in Darius response to arriving at the Monument.

    “Oh, hey, White Sands.  We should look around.”

    That right there is the trip in a nutshell.  Hours ago I had noticed White Sands on a map and decided to check it out.  I had set course and navigated there without help from my three passengers, nearly doubling the speed limit most of the way. I resisted a few stops the others had suggested making in order to arrive in time.  Now that we were actually pulling past the ranger station Darius noticed the sign and decided we should have a look.  Thanks for the suggestion, pal, we’re already here.  As Mr. McManus says, I used to be disgusted; now I’m just amused.

    One other car passed us on the way out as we went in.  Otherwise the place was empty.  We climbed up on the most beautiful dunes I’ve seen outside of St. Bart’s and watched as the sun made its descent.  Darius and I simultaneously pulled out bottles of whiskey and we passed them amongst us as we watched.  It was an almost holy moment, it was so beautiful.  Maybe I should appreciate New Mexico a little more.  No matter what you have been through, a sunset as lovely as this will put a lot of pain behind you.  Taking a long belt Darius turned and addressed us.

    “My friends, we began this journey as four strangers.  We have been through so much together now, this can never be taken away from us.  We have a bond.  For the rest of our lives we shall share these memories.  We are brothers now, brothers of the road.”

    Okay, fine, maybe I teared up a little.  It was such a beautiful and unexpected statement.  We stood in the dunes and silently sipped whiskey as the sun kissed us goodbye for the night.

    ….

    STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF THE SCOUTING LIFE.

    Sam Hutchins has been working in film production for twenty years. He started as overnight security on the set of “Working Girl” while attending film school at NYU. Since 1995 he has been a location manager for some of the top names in the business. He’ll be blogging from a unique insider’s perspective on the filmmaking process, as well as speaking to his colleagues in the production community to share their experiences with you.

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  • February 16, 2010

    A Scouting Life: Roswell, NM

    by Sam Hutchins

    New Mexico is a very odd place.  It has some of the earliest Indian settlements we know of in the States.  The Anaszi people were living there as early as the 1500’s.  This brings only one thought to mind: why?  There are certainly some lovely natural features, but it’s hard to make dinner out of turquoise and quartz.  The landscape is frightfully harsh and barren, and even the best times there must have been hardscrabble.  Still the Indian (or First Nations, if you will) presence remains significant to this day.

    There’s also a significant Hispanic population in the state.  To be fair, the territory didn’t always carry the prefix “New.”  Before we swiped it from Mexico it was not heavily settled and remained largely unpopulated frontier territory.  Much of the current Hispanic populace can be directly attributed to economic hardships south of the border.  Sadly enough a line in the sand can represent the difference between prosperity and hardship.  Understandably many Mexican citizens made the move northward into New Mexico, doing their utmost to become former Mexican citizens.

    The question that vexes one is why the European Americans would migrate there.  The best answer I have is that many were just too weird to fit in comfortably anyplace else.  New Mexico seems to be a magnet for new age mystics, nutjobs who think they can assimilate themselves into the First Nations culture through the creation of bad artwork, and others who favor a hideous stone like turquoise.  It’s an ugly, garish, milky stone yet some people become fixated on it.  Odder still are the UFO fanatics.  Setting a southeasterly course, we headed straight for their Mecca.

    As we pulled into Roswell I could see that it had indeed been overrun by aliens.  The entire town was alien-themed.  What I saw was perhaps stranger than an actual extraterrestrial landing.  Roswell was once a charming old American town.  The Main Street there was as classic as one will find anywhere.  One and two story stone buildings line the blocks, fronted by old-fashioned streetlights.  Close your eyes and you can see what it once was.  Clearly there was once here a Woolworth’s, a soda fountain, a Szabo shoe store, etc.  Now, however it had been forever altered by alien life forms.  Without exception the storefronts had been converted to tourist traps catering to the UFO-whackjob crowd.  (Some more earnest than others, but all con artists in the end.)  Even the streetlights had alien features affixed to them.

    We wandered into a store and bought some gear like good tourists.  I got a shirt with a drawing of an alien on it for my sister.  She enjoys science fiction, but is smart enough not to take this crap too seriously.  Stephane bought an “I believe” t-shirt and put it on immediately.  He was getting much too much pleasure out of these people.  For my part I was just horrified.  People really buy into this garbage?  But I knew they did before ever getting to Roswell.

    A few years earlier I had been home in Cleveland for the holidays.  I made the acquaintance of a young woman and brought her home for the night.  Breakfast was a wee bit awkward as I was staying at my father’s house.  It quickly moved from awkward to painfully uncomfortable when my new friend told us, quite earnestly, of the time she had been visited by aliens.  It was clear that she absolutely believed that it had happened to her.  My father is the nicest guy in the world, but he couldn’t resist a few good-natured jokes at her expense.  She got angry, things got ugly, and I was mercifully able to get her out of the house and my life.

    Now we had found the place where all of these lunatics converged.  Somehow I found the place incredibly depressing.   Stephane led Darius and Kar Wai off to meet flakey Americans that they could feel superior to.   Splitting off, I wandered around until I found a liquor store.  Had a quick belt of whiskey and stashed the bottle in my bag.  Getting back to the truck I realized that one of the guys had the keys and I was locked out.  I sat on the curb drinking whiskey, taking pictures of the flies smashed on the license plate, and growling at anyone who got too close to me.  I wanted out of this city and this state.

    ….

    STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF THE SCOUTING LIFE.

    Sam Hutchins has been working in film production for twenty years. He started as overnight security on the set of “Working Girl” while attending film school at NYU. Since 1995 he has been a location manager for some of the top names in the business. He’ll be blogging from a unique insider’s perspective on the filmmaking process, as well as speaking to his colleagues in the production community to share their experiences with you.

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  • February 15, 2010

    Best Movies by Farr: Weaver’s Winners

    by John Farr

    A look at three of Sigourney Weaver’s winning performances.


    Alien (1979)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    First of a long series, Scott’s film succeeds best at mixing genuine chills with a semblance of character development and solid ensemble playing. We first get acquainted with the diverse team manning spaceship “Nostromo”, before all hell breaks loose. It seems a nasty alien creature has been ingested inside one of the crew, and when it gets out, the group is trapped in their vessel like the proverbial sardines in a can.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Trim little classic has a skin-crawling immediacy, as director Scott builds a sense of impending danger, followed by moments of heightened suspense and terror once this nightmarish genie escapes from its bottle. Weaver makes a perfect feminist hero, ably supported by Tom Skerritt, Yaphet Kotto, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, and Ian Holm. Sci-fi that favors mood and substance over dazzle.


    The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    In 1965, Australian reporter Guy Hamilton arrives in Indonesia to track the turbulent Sukarno regime. There he meets half-Chinese news photographer Billy Kwan (Hunt), who quickly gets him acclimated to the people, place and politics. Billy then introduces Guy to Jill (Weaver), a British embassy attaché, and romantic sparks fly. But Guy is there to uncover the next big story, and a country on the brink of revolution is no place to fall in love.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Weir’s romantic thriller is a tense, colorful ride. The director heightens our awareness of impending societal disruption, keeping us continually on edge. Gibson has never been more magnetic as Guy, and the captivating Weaver exudes sensuality and mystery. Yet actress Hunt is the revelation in the gender-bending role of Billy — it won her an Oscar.


    The Ice Storm (1997)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Set in 1973, this pungent, disturbing tale of suburban malaise concerns the emotionally frigid relations between two families in the affluent town of New Canaan, Connecticut. Returning from his Manhattan prep school for Thanksgiving, 16-year-old Paul Hood (Tobey Maguire) is greeted at the train station by his remote father, Ben (Kevin Kline), and unsmiling mother, Elena (Joan Allen), as well as his Watergate-obsessed younger sister, Wendy (Christina Ricci). Unbeknownst to Elena, Ben is carrying on a torrid affair with neighbor Janey Carver (Weaver), while Janey’s spacey son Mikey (Elijah Wood) has been targeted for sexual experimentation by Wendy. Paul’s got issues of his own, too, including a crush on a priggish socialite (Katie Holmes). Unhappiness and alienation seems to be everyone’s lot, at least until the weather breaks…

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Based on Rick Moody’s novel, this perceptive adaptation by Ang Lee (“Brokeback Mountain”) and screenwriter James Schamus effectively recaptures the bad hangover of the sixties drug-and-sex revolution, most emblematically at a discomfiting spouse-swapping “key party” that ends rather bitterly. Veterans Kline, Allen and Weaver are all first rate, but the young Maguire, Ricci, and Wood also hold their own, touching your heart with a coming-of-age awkwardness that sadly reflects their parents’ own disillusionment and inner gloom.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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  • February 15, 2010

    Best Movies by Farr: Difficult Women

    by John Farr

    Bette Davis. Ann Blyth. Mary Tyler Moore. Three masterful portrayals of nasty women.


    The Little Foxes (1941)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Married to husband Horace (Herbert Marshall) for his money, Regina Giddens (Bette Davis) and her leech-like brothers steal from him to invest in a cotton mill while the poor man recuperates from heart problems. When Horace returns and discovers the theft, Regina must cover her tracks, and inevitably becomes the victim of her own consuming greed.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Adapted from Lillian Hellman’s Broadway smash, the third and final collaboration between William Wyler and leading lady Bette Davis, again playing a viper in petticoats, is a poisonous, effective drama set in the turn-of-the-century South. Davis was never so wicked, playing Regina to the icy hilt. A fabulous cast and authentic 1900s detail bring Hellman’s loathsome characters to vivid life. Is this what they mean by Southern hospitality?


    Mildred Pierce (1945)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    This timeless, tawdry Joan Crawford melodrama is based on the James Cain story of a ruthless career woman (Joan Crawford), who will do anything to ensure her daughter Veda (Ann Blyth) gets all the advantages she never enjoyed. Veda grows into a spoiled monster, but the other characters surrounding the hard-working Mildred aren’t too sympathetic either, whether it’s the oily Monty Berrigan (Zachary Scott) whom Mildred thinks she loves, or lascivious realtor Wally Fay (Jack Carson), who just might help Mildred if she becomes friendlier. There’s a foul odor in this town, and it may be the scent of murder.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Here Curtiz the master creates a diabolical murder yarn. Crawford resuscitated her fading career with the driven Mildred, a part she was born to play. The Oscar- nominated Blyth grates as the hateful Veda (hard for her not to), and Scott and Carson each ooze their particular brand of acid as the calculating men in Mildred’s life. For a vicarious glimpse into seamy small town intrigue, you can’t beat this one. Joan won an Oscar.


    Ordinary People (1980)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Adolescent-aged son Conrad Jarrett (Timothy Hutton) must painfully rebuild his life and relationships, particularly that with his parents (Donald Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore), after his beloved older brother dies in a boating accident.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    “People” is one of the more harrowing films out there (without blood or violence) thanks to Redford’s inspired direction and flawless turns by Sutherland, Moore and especially Hutton. Penetrating and painful to watch, the film delivers ample emotional rewards. Redford’s first foray behind the camera, the film won the Oscars for Best Picture and Director, as did young Hutton for Supporting Actor. A must.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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