Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week
In 1980, John Cassavetes wrote and directed, and Columbia Pictures released, an explosive movie John had done everything he could to avoid making, including asking me to direct it instead. Cassavetes, remember, was the brilliantly iconoclastic actor and filmmaker who, more than anyone except Orson Welles, had essentially inaugurated America’s independent film movement with his groundbreaking series of realistic, yet strangely stylized, slices of life such as Shadows (1960), Faces (1968), Husbands (1970), Minnie and Moskowitz (1971), A Woman Under the Influence (1975) and others. He wrote a script, first called One Winter Night , in which a Spanish-American family, all but one little boy, is wiped out in a mob hit, and an ex-gun moll reluctantly finds herself saving the kid as the killers go after him. But Cassavetes felt the basically melodramatic thriller material wasn’t really his thing, that he had written the script to make some money by selling it, not making it himself. When he came after me to do it, besides feeling flattered, I said he was the only one who could make its complicated dualities work. Eventually, not very happily, he gave in and agreed to shoot the picture himself if he could use his wife and frequent collaborator, the uniquely talented and beautiful Gena Rowlands. Columbia said he could, but only if Barbra Streisand wouldn’t do it. Barbra was still annoyed at John for turning down her offer for him to direct the rock ‘n’ roll A Star Is Born (1976) and also justly felt no one would believe her as a mob doll, so she passed, Gena was cast and, fortunately, John made one of his most financially successful and expressively subversive works, finally titled Gloria [Saturday, June 13, Cinemax, 29, 6 A.M.; have your VCR tape it for you as this one is not available presently on videocassette.]
Sometime after Cassavetes’ untimely, tragic death in 1989, shortly before his 60th birthday, Gena would tell me that the main reason John didn’t want to do the movie was because of the terrible massacre of that whole family which sets the picture’s story in motion. But one of the things that makes the film so effective and compelling is precisely this tension between Cassavetes’ poetic temperament and the devastatingly violent material he was treating. Ultimately, the picture is one of a kind in the way it turns upside down everything the normal gangster shoot-’em-up does. That an attractive woman is the strongest yet most deeply compassionate figure in the whole piece–a kind of feminine variation on John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney–is what gives the work its extraordinary resonance and distinction. It might well have been adopted as a centerpiece for feminism: In a cold and out-of-control universe, an increasingly urban jungle without rules or honor, the woman as a kind of prehistoric archetype of both destruction and salvation, is certainly a valid proposition.
And no one could have incarnated this better than Gena Rowlands, at the head of the list of America’s finest actresses. Her Gloria and her “woman under the influence” are the quintessential two sides–strong and broken–of the modern female psyche. Cassavetes’ Gloria presents a New York City you’ve never seen quite this way: ominous, dangerous, unpredictable, a microcosm of the world at large. The little boy, played by John Adames, also gives a superb performance; director-actor Vittorio De Sica ( The Bicycle Thief, Shoeshine ) once said you’re not a director until you’ve directed a child: Cassavetes certainly was a director like no other and, contrary to popular misconception, he also–except for Shadows , which was improvised–wrote all his own scripts. If the least typical, Gloria is the most easily accessible of his movies. John was our most revolutionary filmmaker, whose restless and uncompromising vision remains vividly contemporary, challenging, provocative and, at its heart, darkly lyrical. If there was ever an American Jean Renoir, Cassavetes was the one.
Wednesday, June 10
NYTV correspondent Olli Chanoff reports: If you wander into a bar anytime during the next month, look up and see if there’s a soccer match on TV. If there is, prepare yourself to be kissed full on the lips at the first sound of “Gooaaal!!!!” by a sweaty, hairy foreign male naked to the waist and draped in an unidentifiable flag. Jawohl! The World Cup kicks off in France today, amid all the delirium, scandal, foreboding and general pandemonium that this greatest of sporting events seems to generate everywhere–except, of course, here in the United States. The World Cup is well worth watching, even if you don’t know from soccer, if only because it is an mad spectacle of frenzied nationalism. In the stands, the Brazilians dance to samba drums, Italians sob real tears of ecstasy and agony, British and Dutch hooligans bludgeon the crap out of everyone in sight. . .
Though America remains stubbornly indifferent, the World Cup–until July 12–will be the biggest televised sporting event in history, with a cumulative 37.5 billion viewers over the entire series. But it’s the emotion that counts. “On the streets of Rio,” said my old Brazilian coach Caio, “World Cup month is like Carnaval times 20, or maybe even 30. It is the craziest.” Though Europeans are rabid fans, they can’t match the Latin American nations when it comes to pure, maniacal passion. After Colombia was eliminated from the 1994 tournament by the United States, Andres Escobar, the defender responsible, was shot dead outside a nightclub soon after his return home. The gunman reportedly screamed, “Thanks for the auto-goal, Escobar!” as he unloaded. In both Argentina and Brazil, suicide rates balloon dramatically when their national teams make an early exit in the tournament. In the 1969 Guerra de Futbol, thousands of people died when Honduras and El Salvador literally went to war after three bitterly contested World Cup qualifying matches…
There is nothing quite like attending a World Cup match live in the flesh, but if you can’t make it to France, at least the United States now has adequate television coverage. For the first time, all the games will be broadcast on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2. But to best appreciate the insanity, watch Univision on channel 26, where with any luck you’ll actually be able to hear a Spanish-speaking announcer have a coronary live on the air. [ESPN, 8; WXTV, 41,11 A.M.]
Thursday, June 11
Bob Newhart plays Carnegie Hall tonight for the first time since 1960 …
“I had just made my first album, The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart , and it was kind of intimidating,” said Mr. Newhart. “It’s a beautiful theater and the acoustics are great, but you’re standing on the same stage as Isaac Stern and, in my case, six months before that I really wasn’t doing anything.” What were you doing? “I was an accountant, and toward the end of the day when I was starting to lose it, I’d call a friend who was in advertising and we’d do routines over the phone. After a couple of times, he suggested we record them and try to sell them to radio stations. We sent out 100 audition tapes, which were really Bob and Ray kind of routines. We were picked up on three stations and made $7.50 a week.” When Mr. Newhart’s partner decided to pursue an advertising career, the famous one-man telephone conversation was born…
These days, stand-ups star in sitcoms all the time, but Bob Newhart paved the way. He performed live throughout his entire career while simultaneously starring in two sitcoms (now in permanent syndication) The Bob Newhart Show (1972-78) and Newhart (1982-90). In 1992, he starred in a short-lived series (one and a half seasons) called Bob! In Bob! he wanted to try something different and played a mean cartoonist. “I learned a lesson from that,” he said. “I thought it would be interesting to play that character, but the people didn’t want to see it. I think the American public said, We don’t want to see a side of you we haven’t seen before.”…
And what about TV today, Bob? “Funny is funny, but shock is shock,” he said. “There will always be clones of successful shows, but what happens all along is that people keep pushing the envelope and it’s good. It’s progress.” [Carnegie Hall, 57th Street and Seventh Avenue, 8 P.M.]
Friday, June 12
NYTV correspondent Abraham Levitan reports: As host of The Daily Show , Craig Kilborn is the primary nonanimated reason for Comedy Central becoming the little cable network that could. Nevertheless, he–as Bill Maher had before him–contracted network fever when CBS chose him to replace Tom Snyder on The Late, Late Show With Tom Snyder …
Before Mr. Kilborn is allowed to do his dance for a network audience, however, he must free himself. “We have a valid, enforceable contract with Craig that takes him through July 1999,” said Tony Fox, Comedy Central’s senior vice president of corporate communications…
Thus, to court: Comedy Central did not take kindly to CBS’s request for Mr. Kilborn’s appearance at its May 20 “upfront” at Carnegie Hall, an industry event that, Mr. Fox said, is “really nothing more than the cable and broadcast networks trotting out their talent and entertainment to secure advertising for the upcoming calendar year.” Mr. Kilborn’s contract pledged exclusivity to Comedy Central, and as time wound down, the two competing employers forged an agreement. At Carnegie Hall, Mr. Kilborn “was allowed only to show up on stage and say, ‘Hey, I’m here,'” said Mr. Fox…
Surprisingly, however, CBS chose not to exercise its “Hey, I’m here” option at all. Rather, Mr. Kilborn went to Carnegie Hall May 20 and remained backstage for the duration. “Craig was supposed to come out and say a few words to showcase how funny he is,” said a CBS source. Instead, CBS president Les Moonves “stood up on stage and said, ‘We’ve signed Craig Kilborn.'”…
The larger issue of Mr. Kilborn’s Comedy Central contract remains unresolved. Mr. Snyder has made a public appeal to Comedy Central on his show to release Mr. Kilborn from his contract, to allow him retirement. But Mr. Snyder knows that Mr. Kilborn may not be released until next July, and has told CBS that he would stay on if necessary…
The courtroom drama has left CBS unfazed. “We’re thrilled,” said the CBS source. “Behind the scenes, we’re snickering with glee that all Comedy Central’s court action has done more to alert the public about CBS’s acquisition of Craig Kilborn than CBS’s own publicity.” [Comedy Central, 45, 8:30 A.M.]
Saturday, June 13
Tonight, the folks at Saturday Night Live are honoring the memory of Phil Hartman with a show compiled of his best sketches. According to Zenith Media Services Inc., the Chris Farley memorial show, broadcast Feb. 21, 1998, was the second-highest-rated show of the season. Memo to Tim Kazurinsky: Watch your back. [WNBC, 4, 11:30 P.M.]
Sunday, June 14
Free HBO! Billy Crystal (funny, well-groomed), Robin Williams (very funny, sorta hairy, but neat) and Whoopi Goldberg (well-groomed) host the Comic Relief VIII fund-raiser for the homeless–remember them?–live from Radio City Music Hall. It will feature a tribute to Mr. Television, Milton Berle, and stand-up from heavy hitters like Chris Rock, Dennis Miller, Jon Stewart and Roseanne. [HBO, 28, 8 P.M.]
Monday, June 15
Musician and high-cheekboned star of Jim Jarmusch movies (which he does not want to be known for) John Lurie got the idea for a six-part series called Fishing With John while fishing with fellow high- cheekboned actor and buddy Willem Dafoe. Their conversations were that good. Fishing with John is the type of “art” you might make a night out of at the Knitting Factory (where it screened last year), but the Independent Film Channel is delivering on its programming promise with this series. Also, Jim Jarmusch is an advisor to the channel.
In tonight’s debut episode, Mr. Lurie drives out to Montauk with … Jim Jarmusch! To catch shark. “I have mild skills, and we actually caught three fish,” said Mr. Lurie. “But we were with these guys, and any idiot could catch a fish with these guys.” Future episodes include Tom Waits in Jamaica, Matt Dillon in Costa Rica and Dennis Hopper in Thailand. “It’s really the most fun you can possibly have,” said Mr. Lurie. “In Thailand, in a boat with Dennis Hopper. The breeze is hitting your body and the sun is going down; it’s really beautiful.” Did you say Dennis Hopper? [IFC, 81, 8:30 P.M.]
Tuesday, June 16
Live at Five recently led a Friday-evening broadcast with a story about a game called “Killer” that’s been a tradition at the Upper East Side’s Hunter College High School for more than 20 years. Reporter Tony Aiello turned the game of tag played with plastic guns that shoot plastic disks into a scare story. At the beginning of the show, anchor Sue Simmons promo-ed the story: “It’s a game some kids are playing, and critics say it could be deadly.” Then WNBC cut to a commercial for Eliot Spitzer for Attorney General, promising to rid schools of guns. When they came back, Tony Aiello, reporting from Hunter’s 94th Street campus, interviewed a senior girl who defended the game and Hunter principal Dr. Anthony Miserandino, who said he thought it could be potentially dangerous. Then Mr. Aiello wrapped it up: “The students say they may be armed, but they’re not dangerous. Of course, that view reflects the optimism of youth … the fear is one year the game will get out of hand and one of those seniors won’t make it to graduation.”
Next year’s Hunter class president Jack Riccobono described the response from students as a kind of disbelief. “It doesn’t seem newsworthy,” he said. “Tony Aiello seemed to kind of talk down to the kids. ‘ This view reflects the optimism of youth …’ It’s such horrible writing, it’s like, gimme a break!”
Mr. Riccobono says it’s more impressive that for more than two decades, Hunter students have enjoyed this complex, student-run, two-week game of tag based on an honor system. “The way they used it as their top story, segueing into a story about school violence in a Florida school,” he said, “made me think they wanted to use this story to come to this deep realization of violence in America’s schools.” [WNBC, 4, 5 P.M.]