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  • November 24, 2009

    A Scouting Life: Homecoming, then Bad News

    by Sam Hutchins

    We finished the day in Detroit seeing the rest of what it had to offer us. I had hoped to spend another night there and spend the next day scouting the countryside as we headed east, but I was overridden on that. Kar Wai had no interest in anything rural, but a great deal of it in looking at more of the gray, industrial cities of the upper Midwest. So on we pressed to my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. Once more Stephane deserves credit for getting us there. I was exhausted but wouldn’t say so. He picked up on it anyway and took the wheel, guiding us through the night and increasingly heavy snow to get us home.

    As he drove I set us up in one of my favorite hotels, the Renaissance. It is part of the Terminal Tower, built in the 1920’s and the tallest building in North America outside of New York City until the early 1960’s. It sits atop the old Union Terminal train station and features some magnificent interior spaces. The Hotel itself was a grand old dame, with a massive sitting area in the lobby where you can drink cocktails under the vaulted ceiling. It also has one of the best bars in Cleveland just off the lobby. The place was just slightly tattered and dowdy now but retained enough of its original glamour to be perfect for us.

    With Kar Wai’s blessing I arranged to have my parents meet us for a drink at the hotel. Pulling up to the valet station around ten pm we saw them arriving at the same time. Whoever said you cannot go home again was simply wrong. When you are as worn-out and road weary I was, getting a few minutes with your loved ones can make all the difference in the world. We checked in, quickly washed up, and reconvened in the lobby.

    Everyone has a different relationship with their parents. Mine happens to be excellent. Not only do I love them, I’m proud of them. Not everyone could hold their own with the accomplished crew I brought with me but my folks certainly can. Dad is an accomplished photographer and quickly fell into deep conversation with Darius about related subjects. My stepmother is an incredibly sophisticated Korean woman and easily matched wits with Kar Wai. She is very direct and pulls no punches. In an hour together she got more out of him than the rest of us had in a month. For his part Kar Wai was incredibly complimentary towards me, which greatly pleased her. Simply a lovely evening and one I’ll always treasure.

    We said our goodbyes eventually and headed out for a late-night sushi feast. The Cleveland I grew up in shut down at night and on the weekends but things had changed. The streets of the warehouse district were crowded and we got one of the few remaining tables. Turns out that Kar Wai had a masterful knowledge of Japanese cuisine as well. While generally impressed by the meal we had he pointed out subtle things I never would have noticed, such as a certain piece of fish was cut incorrectly, slightly against the grain. A great deal of sake was consumed and good times were had by all.

    Waking early the next morning I went through the usual routine of plotting out our day’s scouting, getting the cameras ready and working on the vehicle. Retrieving it from the valet I took it to get gassed up and washed then returned to wait for the guys outside of the hotel. It was a beautiful, crisp winter morning. The snow had stopped and a weak sun cast its light on me.

    It did feel like a magical morning. Sitting in the truck, I could look across at the bus stop where I used to transfer to get home from high school. I also saw the Old Stone Church, where my sister married her husband Ben, and the 55 building, which is where my dad first worked as a photographer. I busied myself for a while taking pictures as I waited. And waited and waited. The minutes turned into an hour and more. The snow started falling again while I sat there. I was nearly ready to go in and check up on the guys when Stephane exited the hotel, toting his suitcase. That confused me, as we hadn’t planned on checking out.

    “Stephane, should I pack up my stuff?” I asked as I hopped out of the car.

    “No, you stay here, we just had a bad phone call and I have to go back to New York. The guys will be down in a minute.”

    And with that he hopped in a cab and was gone. I was left to sit and wonder if we were still scouting or packing up and heading home to sift through the remains of a failed attempt at a film.

    ….

    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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  • November 23, 2009

    Best Movies by Farr: Deborah Kerr Films to Remember

    by John Farr

    This week, Reel 13 airs An Affair to Remember, but don’t forget to watch these classic Deborah Kerr films.


    Black Narcissus (1947)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    When young Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) is asked to open a convent-hospital in a former brothel perched high above a small village in India, she readily agrees, despite knowing hardships lie ahead. Once there, she’s greeted by a sardonic Englishman, Mr. Dean (David Farrar), who takes great delight in ruffling Sister Clodagh’s habit. But it’s jealous, unstable Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron) who eventually succumbs to the dark allure of the exotic, windswept setting.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Another great success for “Red Shoes” helmers Powell-Pressburger, “Narcissus” is an absorbing, finely acted British melodrama about the secular problems facing a new mother superior in an unfamiliar, potentially hostile new environment. The directors even stirred controversy by developing a subtle yet credible sexual tension between the luminous Kerr and hunky Farrar. Jack Cardiff’s Oscar-winning Technicolor photography and Alfred Junge’s hand-crafted art design give this film exceptional production values to boot. And Kathleen Byron’s celebrated turn as the unhinged Sister Ruth climaxes in a suspenseful sequence that’s hard to forget.


    King Solomon’s Mines (1950)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    When a hunter disappears in wild, uncharted parts while searching for the fabled mines of King Solomon, rugged adventurer Allan Quartermain (Stewart Granger) is hired by the man’s wife, Elizabeth (Deborah Kerr), to lead an expedition to find him. Of course, both Elizabeth and her brother John (Richard Carlson) insist on accompanying the group into the jungle, and despite misgivings, Quartermain reluctantly agrees.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Shot on location in Africa, and featuring the winning team of Granger and Kerr, “Mines” is a handsome, pounding adventure film with plenty of thrills and romance. Thanks to spectacular camerawork by Oscar winner Robert Surtees, the movie is indispensable purely on a visual level, but Granger and Kerr emit powerful screen chemistry too, which makes the epic journey- including snakes, spiders, lions, rhinos, and assorted African tribes-that much more exhilarating.


    Separate Tables (1958)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    This brilliant drama, adapted by Terrence Rattigan from his own play, portrays a group of mostly lonely lost souls-including boastful war hero Maj. Pollock (David Niven), mousy spinster Sibyl (Deborah Kerr) and her overbearing mother (Gladys Cooper), and alcoholic American writer John Malcolm (Burt Lancaster)–staying at the same English seaside resort. When Malcolm’s ex-wife Ann (Rita Hayworth), a faded beauty, appears unexpectedly, the group’s collective secrets and dreary emotional baggage come tumbling out into the open.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    What in lesser hands could have been a mucky soap-fest becomes instead a subtle, sensitive, intelligent film thanks to director Mann’s deft handling of Rattigan’s Oscar-nominated script. The first-rate group of ensemble players include Niven, Kerr, Lancaster, Hayworth, and the fabulous Wendy Hiller–who (like Niven) won an Oscar for her performance as Pat Cooper, the innkeeper having an affair with Lancaster. “Tables” remains a multi-layered human drama of the highest order.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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  • November 20, 2009

    A Scouting Life: Peaks and Valleys

    by Sam Hutchins

    After we finished at the pizzeria we pushed a little further out of downtown Detroit. We really were in some impoverished areas. I felt a great sense of responsibility for my companions. Everywhere they went was someplace I took them and they were the farthest thing from safety-conscious. Typically I would pull the truck over and Kar Wai would spring out of it and start rapidly striding off. He could go in any direction and easily get lost. As he was the real artist and the reason we were there I felt most responsible for him.

    While he moved quickly, however, Stephane and Darius took forever getting in motion. Kar Wai could be damn near a mile away before they found their hats and gloves, stretched, checked their cameras, chatted a bit, grabbed a piece of fruit, and finally left the vehicle. I was constantly trailing Kar Wai but holding back, waiting for them to leave the vehicle so I could lock it. God forbid either of them ever pay the slightest bit of attention to practical matters. Were I not on top of it those two would wander off with the car doors ajar in even the worst neighborhood. It may seem petty but when you spend months travelling with people and are the only responsible party the resentments do build up.

    I trailed Kar Wai down a side street but it turned out to be a dead end. As we returned to the truck we saw Darius shooting an extremely run-down restaurant. It was a pretty ghetto Chinese joint. As we approached he called out to me.

    “Sam, can you see if I can take pictures inside?”

    I had just started to move when Kar Wai placed a hand on my shoulder to stop me. I can’t say he looked angry but it’s the closest I’ve ever seen him to being so.

    “No Chinese. Not in this movie.”

    Darius and I made eye contact and held it for a moment. We wordlessly agreed to discuss that one privately.

    Moving on, we saw a fairly interesting spot called the Hygrade Deli. In addition to being a potential location it had neon signs advertising hot corned beef. Even though Kar Wai didn’t want Chinese in his film every possible meal we ate was Chinese food. If I had a shot at a nice corned beef sandwich I was taking it.

    Inexplicably the doors were locked. Odd, as it was around lunchtime and the place was lit up like it was Christmas. After knocking for a while an older fellow came to the door. He was convinced we were there to rob him. Who knows, perhaps there had been a string of burglaries committed by an American, a Chinese, a Frenchman and an Iranian guy recently. It took a good ten minutes of speaking through a locked door to convince him to open up and let us in. Even when we did he would only let us just inside the door. Clearly I wasn’t getting that sandwich. Things must really be rough in Detroit.

    In another of those wildly frustrating moments, Kar Wai took a few steps inside, looked around, shook his head no and strode wordlessly out the door. It’s understandable that a Director needs to have a look at a place before knowing if it is of interest to them. Of course they do. The thing is, the façade of the Hygrade was all glass. There was not a thing about the place that couldn’t be seen from outside. Yet Kar Wai had been rather insistent that I get him in. So I tapdanced for ten minutes, finally convincing some scared old fellow to open up and let us inside, only to have Kar Wai bail immediately. Now my director was legging it quickly down the block and I was stuck making our excuses. How do you quickly and politely explain why you are leaving so quickly after badgering the guy so hard and so long to open up for us.? Harder still when I don’t actually know why.

    Peaks and valleys, peaks and valleys. Just when they knock you down they build you back up. In the car again Kar Wai addressed me.

    “Sam, if you were not doing this, what would you do?”

    “I don’t know. I like to write.”

    “No, you would be a detective. You would make a great detective.”

    “Why do you say that?”

    “You talk to people, all kinds of people, and find out what you want to. And you can handle yourself in any situation. This is very good.”

    What a wonderful compliment to receive; especially from someone I admired as much as him. Peaks and valleys, peaks and valleys.

    ….

    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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  • November 16, 2009

    Best Movies by Farr: Brilliant Brenda Blethyn

    by John Farr

    One of John Farr’s favorite actresses in three British films.


    Grown Ups (1980)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Working-class newlyweds Dick (Philip Davis) and Mandy (Lesley Manville) move into their threadbare new row house in Canterbury with humble plans to perk it up but little motivation to do anything but smoke fags and have a pint at the local pub. Next door live stern, callous schoolteacher Mr. Butcher (Sam Kelly) and his good-natured but unhappy wife, Christine (Lindsay Duncan). Both couples’ lives are turned inside out with the arrival of Mandy’s desperately needy sister, Gloria (Brenda Blethyn), a fussy frump who longs to make herself indispensable to everyone.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    This superbly acted film by English director Mike Leigh (“Naked”) is a bleakly funny slice-of-life tale about two couples mired in somewhat depressing routines. Manville and Davis are delightfully dour as a bickering couple trying to decide whether or not to have a baby, while Kelly and Duncan’s moribund, dysfunctional relationship is alternately hilarious and gut-wrenching to observe. But the film’s greatest asset is Blethyn, whose showstopping meltdown on the Butchers’ staircase is the work of a champion actress – one fully in touch with the depths of despair. “Grown Ups” is a sweetly madcap gem for the feeble-minded fussbudget in all of us.


    Secrets and Lies (1996)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    After the death of her adoptive parents, soft-spoken West Indian optometrist Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) sets out to find her birth motherwho shes surprised to learn is a white woman named Cynthia Purley (Brenda Blethyn), a sad-sack factory worker with an embittered, street-sweeper daughter (Claire Rishbrook). After meeting for tea, the two eventually develop a bond, with Hortense guiding Cynthia onto a path to reconciliation with her estranged family.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Leigh’s bittersweet family drama “Secrets and Lies” showcases the superb acting talents of British veteran Blethyn, who picked up a Best Actress nomination for her (mostly improvised) work alongside co-star Jean-Baptiste. Leigh’s long, static shots-especially of the first confused meeting between Cynthia and Hortense at a London teashop-are admirable feats that give you the sense you’ve known these characters for years. Kudos also to Timothy Spall, playing the bearish brother Cynthia longs to reconnect with. For an emotionally enriching film that deals intelligently with class, race, and family conflict, check out “Secrets and Lies.”


    Little Voice (1998)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Little Voice (Jane Horrocks) is a shy young woman with an extraordinary singing voice, though no one knows it except her mother, Mari (Brenda Blethyn). One night, Mari meets smarmy talent agent Ray (Caine) at a bar, and brings him home, where he hears LV warble a perfect rendition of “Over the Rainbow.” Smelling a sensation in the making, Ray sets out to arrange for her public debut, but the road to stardom is pockmarked with jealousy, anger, and more than a few complications.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Mark Herman’s utterly winning “Little Voice” was an indie sensation in Britain, where it charmed the socks off audiences. Blethyn’s hilariously histrionic turn as LV’s overbearing mum won her an Oscar nod for best supporting actress, and Caine’s own performance as a venal manager with a thing for Roy Orbison has a humorous bite. But the star is Horrocks herself, who gives a tour de force performance as the introvert with golden pipes (just wait for her showstopping debut). “Little Voice” might be a modest film, but it has a whole lot of heart.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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  • November 16, 2009

    Best Movies by Farr: Tony Richardson Times Three

    by John Farr

    Three early 60s gems from director Tony Richardson.


    The Entertainer (1960)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Fading vaudeville comic Archie Rice (Laurence Olivier) plays to virtually empty music halls in Britain’s seaside provinces, limping through the same stale routines in garish make-up, but side-steps his failure through pathetic flings with younger women. Selfish, arrogant, and insensitive to those around him, especially alcoholic wife Phoebe (Brenda De Banzie), Archie ultimately damages the lives of everyone in his family, including doting daughter Jean (Joan Plowright).

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Ironically the foremost symbol of traditional English theatre, Olivier showed off his astounding range with an anti-heroic, tour-de-force turn in Tony Richardson’s 1960 drama, adapted from John Osborne’s play. Reprising his celebrated stage role, Sir Larry has a field-day playing Rice, a somewhat ghoulish has-been who personifies his own nation’s decay, and the effort earned him an Oscar nomination. De Banzie and newcomer Plowright (who’d go on to marry Olivier) excel in supporting roles.


    The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Sentenced to a boys reformatory for robbing a bakery, rebellious English punk Colin Smith (Tom Courtenay) soon attracts the interest of the schools Governor (Michael Redgrave) for his athletic prowess. Hoping to groom Colin for a cross-country race against a public school, the Governor endows him with special privileges. But is the embittered Colin willing to be house-trained?

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    One of the best of Britain’s Angry Young Man films, Richardson’s expressive drama hinges on the complex psychology of Colin, an uneducated but cunning youth still smarting from the recent death of his father. Richardson builds tension by cutting between the restrictions and tensions of reform-school life and Colin’s recollection of events leading up to his arrest and detention. Courtenay (“of “Billy Liar” fame) gives a haunting performance in the title role, and Redgrave is masterful playing a cold rehabilitator obsessed with winning a trophy. For a powerful expression of working-class disaffection, go the distance with “Runner.”


    Tom Jones (1963)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Based on Henry Fielding’s book, Tom (Albert Finney) is a fortunate orphan adopted by a wealthy squire in eighteenth century Britain. In young adulthood, Tom’s good looks and lusty nature fuel an irresistible attraction to the opposite sex . With various parties set against him due to his humble birth and shaky morality, our hero can’t win the approval of Squire Western (Hugh Griffith) to marry beautiful daughter Sophie (Susannah York). Soon Tom must leave home to seek his fortune, and a host of bawdy adventures ensue. Will Tom ever be found worthy of his beloved Sophie?

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Winner of the Best Picture Oscar, Tony Richardson’s rousing film has all vital elements in proper alignment: a brilliant screenplay by playwright John Osborne, swift pacing fueled by John Addison’s zippy harpsichord score, and colorful performances from a powerhouse cast including Griffith, Joan Greenwood, Diane Cilento, Edith Evans, and a young David Warner as the priggish Mr. Blifil. York is the epitome of fair English beauty, and Finney carries off the central role with gusto. Sumptuous color photography is another bonus. Don’t miss the famous Finney/Cilento eating scene.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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