Soundtrack Spotlight #6: Nunzio (Lalo Schifrin)

Nunzio is a rather special Soundtrack Spotlight case to me because I am very close friends with David Proval, the actor who played Nunzio in the 1978 Universal production (filmed, by all the accounts I have heard, during one of the hottest New York summers on record, with both the 1977 black-out and the Son of Sam playing a role, albeit minor, in the film's production). Every time I have seen even short clips of the film, it gives me a profoundly privileged feeling in knowing that the Nunzio character speaks to aspects of David Proval's persona that I have seen emerge endlessly from him in reality, and I am grateful to have known him and to have been one of the beneficiaries of his warmth and trust. David is one of the biggest mensches I have encountered; he truly went out of his way to help give me a start in film world and has encouraged me every step of the way since I have known him. It was through him that I also have met the film's writer, Jimmy Andronica, who also plays Nunzio's brother in the film and is a native to the part of Brooklyn in which the film is shot, and I have spoken with the film's director, Paul Williams, on the phone. It actually doesn't end there, either. I just finished shooting a fundraising trailer for the little boy (now grown man) who played Nunzio's 5-year-old nephew. So, I am not exactly going into this with an air of impartiality. I think highly of the film because, in it, someone I have grown to love and admire as a friend plays a character you grow to love and admire as the creation of a gifted actor whose greatest part this is...and that is including his performance in Scorsese's Mean Streets (third billed after De Niro and Keitel). He plays Nunzio with bold humor, fascinating nuance and gravitas--three ingredients that rarely function so well in confluence. Watching this performance made David one of my favorite actors and I sometimes have gotten a little emotional just watching choices he is making as an actor in this film. So, okay, this is not a review of the film or the actor in the film, or at least it shouldn't be. My prejudices are out in the open about the score, but I nonetheless think an average listener would get a great deal out of Schifrin's usual mastery.

Lalo Schifrin's music complements the film in spades. Funny story: I was simultaneously disturbed and delighted at one point to pass a stand on West 34th Street in New York City playing a badly dubbed kung-fu flick featuring Nunzio's theme on the soundtrack. I was flabbergasted, considering that Nunzio is not exactly a movie known by many. Schifrin scores the film with tracks and cues of great bravado and piano-based strains heavy on pathos (yes, versus bathos). One often cannot help but think that Bill Conti's score from Rocky had at least some influence in Schifrin's approach to scoring Nunzio, but I think it stands perfectly well on its own and is certainly one of my favorite scores of the composer's long, prolific and distinguished career (along with his unreleased score from The Christian Licorice Store, which could very well be the next Soundtrack Spotlight). The film tells the story of a "mentally slow" Brooklyn grocery delivery boy/man who thinks he is Superman, who enjoys a puppy-love attraction to a bakery cashier, played by Tovah Feldshuh. My favorite lines in the film: "Superman don't take tips" and "You break those eggs and I'm gonna break your head, Nunzio!" I am not going to break down technicalities of the score for this, like I usually do. This score is pure whimsy and emotion, nothing much else to really say. Just enjoy it, really. And for the retrophile, you've got the occasional disco elements which are especially present in "Theme from Nunzio" and "Candy Store Frenzy".

Download the score here. Thanks to the boys at Isbum's Place and Vintage Vinyl for the upload. My favorite track is perhaps "Nunzio in Love," with "Main Title" coming in a close second.

Keeping Company: A Survey of Now Defunct Production and Distributon Companies

People have often used the term "retrophile" in describing my tastes and creative proclivities. After all, I was one who was tickled with a nerdishly giddy (or giddily nerdish) delight when seeing that Tarantino used the old Universal Pictures logo of 1967-1974 to open Inglourious Basterds, and when noticing that Fincher used my favorite old Paramount logo of 1968-1975 to open Zodiac. Both of these instances were cause for me to exclaim, "If I made a major studio picture, I'd always use one of their old logos to open it!" For a Warner film, I would have most likely used Saul Bass' logo of 1975-1984 (or, even better, the one from their "A Kinney Company" era in the early 70's), and for a Columbia film, the one used in the late 60's. And then there are the great United Artists logos: the "Transamerica whale's tail" or the one with the spooky Jerry Fielding music.

Another instance of my deep-seated desire to exploit opportunities to be esoterically retro occurred when a friend of mine completed a 3-hour film. I was ecstatic that he would be premiering it with an Intermission and envisioned in my mind a 60's Roadshow-style presentation, with Overture, Intermission, Entr'acte and Exit Music. I even suggested at one point that we hand out programs the way they used to at epic movie roadshows. The idea was not met with even nearly equal enthusiasm. I understood why this was impractical. No one would have gotten the reference or even the fact that it was a reference at all.

Since I am not making films nearly on the scale of a major Hollywood production, I recently settled for opening my upcoming film The Idiotmaker's Gravity Tour, a sort of elegy to "journey films" of the early 1970's, with a 5-second MPAA certificate claiming my film as having been rated GP, a short-lived rating signifying "General Public" which was used only from 1970 through 1972. Alright, so a little self-indulgent, I admit it. It's a quick five seconds at the header of my film (once upon a time, all films in the U.S. opened the first reel with an MPAA-rating header). I figure audiences can hang in with me for that long at the very outset, even if they don't get the reference. At one point, I seriously considered opening the film with the logo of a defunct production company, but stopped short, considering the possible legal ramifications of this idea, and considering that existing companies owned the defunct companies' catalogues. It was fun, however, deliberating which one I would have used. Some of the options I considered are below. That said, whenever I see a film headed up by these logos, I feel automatically privileged to be viewing works specifically of (and often for) their times.

Cinema Center Films (1967-1972) (Assets currently held by Paramount/CBS) As far as I am concerned, Cinema Center has one of the coolest animated logos I can remember. You can view it on YouTube above. Spearheaded by CBS for the release of the Doris Day vehicle With Six You Get Eggroll in 1967-68, Cinema Center would soon become a formidable production house, turning towards the risky and/or controversial (e.g. 1970's The Boys in the Band, Something for Everyone) as well as commercially viable genre pictures (e.g. Little Big Man, The Reivers) not to mention the tame and family friendly fare (e.g. Snoopy Go Home, Scrooge). CCF was eclectic. Something for Everyone, directed by New York stage sensation Harold Prince, actually happens to be one of my favorite films, but Cinema Center's contribution to American filmdom of the late 60's and early 70's does not stop there. Other Cinema Center films of note include: Adam at 6 A.M. (1970), an unfairly dismissed and most curious Steve McQueen-produced entry into the "journey film" cycle featuring a very young Michael Douglas in a Five Easy Pieces-type role; Who is Harry Kellerman and Why is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? (1971), an underrated Herb Gardner-penned character study featuring Dustin Hoffman as a disillusioned rock music composer; The Christian Licorice Store (1971), an unusual, simultaneously emotionally distant and involving exploration of a professional tennis player's decline into shallow living featuring cameos by Jean Renoir, Monte Hellman, James B. Harris and others; This company was the numero uno front-runner when I was still considering using a defunct company's logo to open my new film. Other films of note: The April Fools (1969), Prime Cut (1972), Blue Water White Death (1971), Figures in a Landscape (1970).

National General Pictures (1967-1973)
(Assets currently held by Warner Bros.) It is very appropriate that National General Pictures follows Cinema Center Films because NGP was the official distribution company for CCF's films. National General did helm nine in-house productions, including one of my favorite films, Daniel Mann's A Dream of Kings (1969) starring Anthony Quinn. In 1973, the company attempted to merge with Warner Brothers, in hopes to acquire and take over. When this plan of action failed, National General closed its doors. Ironically, it is Warner that now owns their in-house productions. Films of note: Executive Action (1973), Up the Sandbox (1972), The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972), The Todd Killings (1971), The Grasshopper (1970), Poor Cow (1967), The Baby Maker (1970).

Cinerama Releasing Corporation/ABC Circle Films (1966-1974)
(Assets currently held by Walt Disney with video rights to MGM, with select titles under license to miscellaneous other video distributors) When someone says Cinerama in mixed company, it clearly does not illicit the memory of an actual production company, but rather an ambitious "stretch" 70mm process made popular throughout the 60's with films like How the West Was Won and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (both 1963), Battle of the Bulge (1965), Grand Prix (1966) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Cinerama Releasing is to ABC exactly what Cinema Center Films is to CBS. Cinerama Releasing even released a number of certified 70mm Cinerama productions during its tenure, including Song of Norway (1970), Krakatoa East of Java (1969) and Custer of the West (1967). Cinerama also released such films as the Oscar heavyweight They Shoot Horses Don't They? (1969), Straw Dogs (1971), Kotch (1971) and a great many others, making it by far one of the most prolific of the defunct companies I am surveying, and also one of the most eclectic.

Avco-Embassy Films (1949-1994) (Assets currently held by Studio Canal through Lion's Gate Films, as well as select titles under video license to Anchor Bay and Image) You know Joseph E. Levine, don't you? Come on, you've gotta remember this guy! After all, he's the "great artist-producer" who "presented" films like 8 1/2, Contempt and the Hercules films to American and British audiences. Yes, the first thing you saw in a Fellini film was not "Un film de Federico Fellini," but instead "Joseph E. Levine Presents". A great deal has been said and written about Avco-Embassy CEO Levine and it is far from flattering. For one, a close friend of mine, production designer Paul Sylbert, wrote an entire book called Final Cut: The Making and Breaking of a Motion Picture about his titanic battles with Levine over the production and final cut of his film The Steagle (1971). Other accounts say likewise inflammatory things about Levine as a businessman and as an individual of low moral fiber. However, many of the films that his company Avco-Embassy released throughout its five-decade tenure are nothing to sneeze at. The Graduate, The Producers, The Lion in Winter, Carnal Knowledge and The Ruling Class were just five of the myriad of films produced and distributed by Avco Embassy Pictures, which went belly-up in the mid 90's due to bankruptcy.

American International Pictures (AIP) (1956-1980) Do the names Roger Corman and Samuel Z. Arkoff ring any bells? Arkoff was the man whose well-known business model was ARKOFF: Action, Revolution, Killing, Oratory, Fantasy and Fornication. Later, the "Peter Pan Policy" was adopted at AIP. These were the precepts of that policy: (1) a younger child will watch anything an older child will watch; (2) an older child will not watch anything a younger child will watch; (3) a girl will watch anything a boy will watch; (4) a boy will not watch anything a girl will watch. The conclusion? Zero in on the 19-year old male! Thus, American International was responsible for all those fun little Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello beach party movies, grade-C horror and sci-fi pictures like The She-Creature and The Terror, pale Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, motorcycle gang pictures like Hell's Angels on Wheels, counterculture freak-outs like The Trip and Psych-Out, and youth exploitation pictures like Wild in the Streets, Gas-s-s-s and Riot on Sunset Strip. AIP products, however, were the training ground for many of the filmmakers that would storm the Hollywood Bastille following the success of Easy Rider, including Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich, Martin Scorsese, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, John Sayles and a great many others. Their later years were spent producing slightly more mainstream efforts like The Amityville Horror, Shout at the Devil and The Island of Dr. Moreau, before biting the bullet finally in 1980, selling out to Filmways which later became Orion.

Cannon Releasing Corporation (1968-1993) (Assets from 1969-1979 currently held by MGM, and assets from 1980-1993 currently held by Warner Bros.) The names Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus ring in infamy within the halls of moviedom. The term "schlockmeisters" was often synonymous with the Israeli entrepreneurs who turned a once-profitable independent filmmaking company founded in 1969 by Christopher C. Dewey and Dennis Friedland to foster films like Joe (1970) and Sam's Song (1969) into the "den of high class" responsible for Death Wish 3, 4 and 5, Missing in Action 1 and 2, the unbelievably schlocky camp musical The Apple (1980), the Indiana Jones knock-off Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold (1986) and other "super prestige" titles. Under Golan and Globus' reign, the aforementioned ethereal art film Sam's Song was re-edited into a trashy action-suspense yarn called The Swap (over which the film's star Robert De Niro rightly sued). As an aside, it is ironic that the recut version of that film so designed to make the film more commercial features less of De Niro (he's only in the new version for about 14 minutes versus the old version's entire 83 minutes) and more of the acting chops of "dynamic thespian" Anthony Charnota (never heard of him? there's a good reason for that). Golan and Globus did try their hand in the world of the arthouse film and mainstream drama with releases like John Cassavetes' Love Streams (1984), Andrei Konchalovsky's three-film cycle Runaway Train (1985), Duet for One (1986) and Shy People (1987), Norman Mailer's Tough Guys Don't Dance (1987) and Godard's embarrassing King Lear (1987). Cannon's legacy in schlock is known before any of the titles representative of that schlock. By the late 80's, Cannon was showing considerable signs of great financial strain, exemplified by a key event: the budget for their A-list production for 1987, Superman IV, had been cut literally in half from $36 million to $17 million just days before the film was to begin shooting. In the midst of a slew of lawsuits, a Golanless Globus closed Cannon's doors in 1993.

Orion Pictures (1978-1992) (Assets currently held by MGM) In the wake of Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate in 1980 and the fracas thereafter, disgruntled ex-United Artists employees, some leaving willfully and others defrocked and sacked in the wake of changes of the corporate guard and a no-frills merger (read: takeover) with MGM, headed over to the auspices of the newly founded Orion Pictures, originally partnered with Warner (until 1982) essentially to continue the work they started at UA. It was a profitable and often artistically fruitful venture, spawning a great many formidable Oscar contenders, including a few that actually brought home the bacon, including Amadeus, Platoon, Dances With Wolves and Silence of the Lambs. Orion was also the home of Woody Allen's 1980's output, including Hannah and Her Sisters and Crimes and Misdemeanors. The company, due in large part to creative accounting which caught up to the ailing studio, as well as a string of ambitious flops that went over-budget, Orion folded and closed, even in the wake of two consecutive big Best Picture Oscar scores and hits.

RKO Radio Pictures (1928-1957, 1981-1987) (Assets currently held by Warner Bros. in the U.S. and Universal in the U.K.) RKO's logo is indelible in the minds of American history, let alone American film history. This was most heartily demonstrated by its prominent display as a backdrop during the last act of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. In all honesty, what can you say about the production company that released Citizen Kane, Top Hat, King Kong, Bringing Up Baby and Murder My Sweet? It's already been said. I am going to focus on the company's later incarnations, however, because not much is known widely about the later rebirths of the company. I remember watching D.C. Cab (1983) with Mr. T when I was a youngster and, already a cinephile (albeit a different breed of one), I was puzzled by text in the opening credits of that film which stated that it was an RKO Production. Research well over a decade later (thanks to the then-developing powers of the Internet), I discovered that the later RKO worked in cooperation with Universal Pictures and released five pictures, including the Burt Reynolds-Dolly Parton picture The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982). An attempted hostile takeover led to it ultimately being acquired by a capital firm, thus it went defunct once again. It was reborn yet again, notably to release the landmark 1992 independent film Sundance festival hit Laws of Gravity directed by Nick Gomez. More nasty treading of corporate pirate waters led once again to its demise.


A possible spin-off of this article could be companies that started small and grew Popeye-style with a little corporate spinach. Examples of this? Lion's Gate is a production house started up by Robert Altman in 1970. The company would release Alan Rudolph's Welcome to L.A. (1976) and Remember My Name (1978) as well as Robert Young's Rich Kids (1979), all of which Altman produced. Look at the company as it exists now. It's a titan which has grown in size exponentially! Part of me wonders what Altman thought of this. Being Altman, he probably did not care one way or the other. New Line Cinema is another example. It started as a small production house on Manhattan's 14th Street and Second Avenue, importing foreign and art films for American release. It also branched out into releasing American indie productions like Susan Seidelman's Smithereens (1982). Enter Ted Turner...the rest is, as they say, history.

But I have always avoided news featuring stories about full-body-contact games of corporate roller hockey. I need an interest in that like I need a hole in my head. What does interest me is the risky material these often short-lived companies chose to champion and, in some way, shove into the popular consciousness. I am one curiously afflicted by a deep-seated premature nostalgia, and seeing these logos at the head of films is like full-cerebral massage. I nestle into another time completely. I would have gladly placed the Cinema Center Films logo at the start of my film The Idiotmaker's Gravity Tour...but I fear a game of full-body-contact corporate roller hockey. And so it goes...

The Accidental Feature: A Director’s Statement on The Idiotmaker’s Gravity Tour

Dedicated to William Cully Allen, a true rescuer, to whom I am grateful.

For the first year I lived in New York, a recurring dream seemed to taunt me and haunt me at least one night per week. In it, I had completed shooting a feature-length film almost entirely on my own – and the great thing was that there it was, just waiting to be put together and edited, there in this dream world, and the greatest source of comfort was just in knowing that the pieces were just ready to be given a working-over. That alone was enough because the possibilities about its outcome were limitless. It was exciting. The world was so immaculately open. Various other dream scenarios would fashion themselves around this feature-film that existed only in these dreams, and the project often stood as the incentive, the oasis, from the worries and the weight that had cumulatively built up around my life and manifested themselves in these dream narratives.

I would soon awaken and, in that place between asleep and awake, I would ruminate about how very lucky I was to have a film on the proverbial “editing table,” just waiting to be put together. In this in-between place, I romanticized it and likened it to a browbeaten aspiring writer, returning from a day “in the trenches” at a dead-end job and plugging away on an Underwood or Remington Portable – the novel (or, in this case, the film) acting as a possible tunnel from hardship and obscurity, ultimately to all manner of security, even if it failed. When I became fully conscious, I realized that I had no feature film ready to be edited. It did not exist. It was only a dream. I had nothing, zippo, bupkus, kadoches. I didn’t even know what this “dream film” had been about. It could have been about anything for all I knew. The point was that it wasn’t there anymore as it had been when I was asleep. For all I cared, it could have been shot on a $100 used consumer Handicam purchased at Best Buy or Wal-Mart. It didn’t matter. I just wanted it to exist so badly.

I would then go about my day in vague disappointment, wishing that somehow it existed or that it would exist soon. I suffered from a general whopping creative block around this time, and really had nothing I found worthwhile doing. The dreams just compounded my frustrations. I was rather demoralized and felt I had dried up. Not to be melodramatic, but I thought it was a permanent condition. I thought then that maybe my recent Jewish religiosity had softened my drive to make films. No, I then thought. I knew I had the fire, and the drive to make an ambitious project like this hypothetical film happen. It just wasn’t there yet, but the worst part was that it looked like it was not going to arrive for awhile, if at all. It wasn’t like me. I was, at one time, so prolific and churned out things like it was nothing. A lot of stuff I made was bad, but I was constantly working, and had an intense need to keep working. Those days seemed no more. I hit the panic button. Just go out and shoot something, I told myself, and keep shooting and shooting and shooting until, for better or for worse, the feature at last would exist. “Foolishness,” I would say to myself, “That’s just silly. It wouldn’t be a film at all, just a desperate stunt that no one would watch.” The dream continued to play out over and over, the in-between place between asleep and awake continued deluding me and months passed me by. With the loss of a creative drive, I felt the sadness of losing a best friend.

By early summer 2010, I was ready to chuck the filmmaking thing and resign myself to rabbinic studies forever. It seemed I was more passionate about that than my desire to make films. I can’t do it anymore, I told myself, and went around justifying what people perceived as a startling decision…with an internal numbness. Kremer is quitting film! If a project I found worthwhile turned up later in time, I told myself, I might try to pursue it, but that was that. A then-recent unpleasant experience in Los Angeles had also served in disillusioning me and rattling my cage. I decided definitively that the very world of filmmaking was not for me. I thought, one might say pretentiously, of Rilke's "Archaic Torso of Apollo" once again in relation to my life, “for here there is no place / that does not see you. You must change your life." These words had a habit of returning at various points throughout my quarter of a century to haunt me again and again.

That’s that, then. Goodbye, filmmaker Daniel Kremer. Hello, Rabbi Daniel Kremer. And off I went, throwing myself headfirst into the new pursuit, got myself into a good yeshiva and tried not to look back. A profound part of me remained profoundly depressed, though. It was not easy realizing or believing that I had dried up. I never thought it would happen, let alone to such a degree. I found myself becoming alienated around friends who were still creatively active, even though I tried to hide this feeling from them and make it seem that, with the exception of the news of my new career path, all was the same. It wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong; I’m still pursuing becoming a rabbi and that fulfills me equally as much as film. But I still felt like a widower. My long-time wife, cinema, had died and left me as half and alone. I sat shiva for it in a manner of speaking, but tried to take my mind off it. I cried for its loss. It was perhaps one of the hardest periods of my life thus far. I had never before wanted to cash in the chips with film. I had never given up on much of anything. No one has known the degree I felt this until now. I didn’t tell a soul. I alluded to it to a single friend. It was damn hard hiding the fact that I felt an emptiness and it was the first time I lost total belief in myself. I loved film and it had flown the coop on me. My muses jilted and cuckolded me into a cruel timidity.

In July 2010, I received a call from William Cully Allen, my ex-professor, close friend and a loyal member of a repertory acting company I kind of helped form. His spirit always managed to make me feel better, no matter what mood I was in. Bill always seemed positive and full of energy. I envied him for it. He told me that the time had finally come to make the documentary that was his lifelong dream project: a bio of his doctoral advisor Bibhuti Singh Yadav, the controversial philosopher of Indian religions. Bill told me, “You’re coming to India with me on a trip. We’re going to do this thing.” The prospect of a trip to India made me burst with a new excitement. I didn’t know about the filmmaking aspect of it. I doubted myself so much, and my capabilities. I’d certainly shoot, but then doubted I would have the energy to put it all together when push came to shove. I was also traversing a new path now and felt trepidation at any aversion or detour on that path.

I thought about it. The idea of a second film was brought up. Hey, we would be in India together, an amazing location. I would be there with an actor I had worked with a total of four times. Picture yourself (and Bill) on a boat on a river. The River Ganga. Danny in the sky with cameras.

For the life of me, I couldn’t thing of a single blasted thing to do the second film about. Just go over and shoot something. You never know what will happen until you’re on-site the camera starts shooting. I started writing scenarios in script form for this second project. As far as I’m concerned, it was all total nonsense. I sent these to a couple people. I didn’t like what was happening. I got blasé about it. “If I shoot something, I shoot something. If I don’t, that’s okay too. I have another life to return to.” I started packing for the trip on a shabbos, and still I had not a clue about what this second film would be, or for that matter if it would be.

I boarded the plane to Zurich. I listened to music nonstop, my old “writing music,” and started thinking long and hard about the other movie. I really wanted something to happen and I really wanted to make it happen. I felt crippled. The non-Chassidic part of my head kept saying, “Fuck it! You’re finished! What you’re doing right now is a farce! You’re not going to come up with anything! Quit now!” I fell off into a troubled sleep. Upon waking, the first thing I thought was, “I just have to do this. I’ve gotta come up with something. This is make or break. Bill’s ready to do something and I’ve gotta just do it.” In my head, I got to quoting The Music Man…at a pivotal moment, Robert Preston, about to be tarred and feathered if he doesn’t prove himself to the people of River City says, ”Now think, man. Think!” Do or die. Again, this is not wanton melodrama. This is really what I was going through.

Then, the clouds parted, and suddenly, it hit me like a ton of bricks. The memory of unfinished business blazed a glorious trail of light through my brain. The memory that I had long wanted to do a film that paid tribute to and echoed the “journey films” of the early 70’s American New Wave, the films that had so left a mark on me even as a pre-teenager building the encyclopedic knowledge people have come to know me for. Five Easy Pieces, Scarecrow, Two-Lane Blacktop, O Lucky Man!, Zabriskie Point, countless others. I remembered something Bill had told me about his own life, i.e. having hitch-hiked across country at the age of sixteen in the late 60’s. Lightning had struck! I had my answer, I had my film. Furiously, I began writing. When I got off the plane in Zurich, I immediately e-mailed my best friend about the film story. He had heard tons of bad ideas come out of me the weeks preceding the flight to India. At last, there was one that stuck.

I arrived in Delhi and had a night to stay there before flying to Varanasi the next day to meet Bill. There he was, waiting there outside the airport door, standing amongst a solid congregation of Indians awaiting the arrival of a dignitary, ready to lock me in a friendly embrace, next to Pappu Rai, an assistant and longtime friend of his who would ultimately play a part in acting and producing the India leg of the film. Pappu did more for both films than anyone has yet given him credit for. I told Bill my idea. Originally, it seemed there was some trepidation, but he seemed open to the concept. I was whisked off right away to remote rural India, to the village of Tulasipur, where the Yadav family resided. The next morning, the sacred, enduring (and banned) karaha ritual would be performed for the benefit of my camera. I would be one of the few Westerners to have ever seen this performed live. I felt like Marty McFly to Bill’s Doc Brown. On the roof of a half-finished school in remote rural India, on two wooden hammocks by nightfall, Bill went off quoting Dylan tunes and reciting a variety of other things that found their way into the film. This was the beginning of something good, as the old song says.

The karaha ritual I will never forget witnessing, until my dying day. What’s more, though, is that something unexpected and frightening happened during it. The ritual involves, partly, immersing bodies in sacred flames and immersing one’s limbs in boiling hot cauldrons of milk. In the middle of the ritual, Bill was called up to have it done to him. He had no idea this was going to happen. Afterwards, a little shaken up, he said to me, “You’re not using that footage of me in the documentary.” I was crestfallen, because it looked so spectacular. Then, he said, “You’re using it in the other movie!” Flattered that he entrusted me with such amazing footage for my own work, and rather stunned, I excitedly started planning everything around this central sequence.

We returned to the city of Varanasi and started shooting more and more, sometimes even with the benefit of extras. One night, Bill and I stayed up until the wee wee hours of the morning. He confided in me that night about his experiences on the road in the 60’s and the things he had seen, and entrusted me with his story, openly and (it seemed) willingly. I told him why the film was so important to me and how it was make or break. He understood because he had felt the same way about the documentary for years. He felt an equal stagnancy. It felt like a real connection and bond was made between director and actor. We became co-conspirators. I was riveted by what he told me that night. I was reawakened. I was rebirthed into filmmaking. I was reinvigorated. That was, until what I thought was the arrival of disaster.

I had shot a great amount of footage for both projects. All I needed to complete the second was a single shot in a field of tall grass in the Yadav village – the climactic emotional moment for my lead character. The patriarch of the village was not keen on this idea. Initially, he forbade it. Then, he softened but said we could only do it under his watchful eye. It was the pivotal moment of the film, the character’s finally emotional realization. I shot what I could of it, but a mushroom cloud went off in my brain. All that shooting and now I don’t have my ending! I would be leaving to return to the U.S. in a day’s time. I had no time left. I didn’t have a film. I was angry…angry at the Yadavs, angry at being reinvigorated only to be cut short so close to the finish line. I tried to keep my cool, but I think I was visibly upset and Bill knew it. I was so close and so very far away. It was never like me to quit, but in my mind I couldn’t think of anything to do to cover up the lack of an ending. Keep in mind, now, that at this point in time, the second film is still, in my mind, a short film and not yet a feature.

The next day I was put on the plane with assurances from Bill saying, “You’ll think of something, Dan. You always do. It’s going to be a masterpiece” and all that. I didn’t believe him. I felt patronized. I was angry at the world really. The movie’s finished, I decided. Screw it. I threw in the towel. I had no ending. Nothing could change that. All the work of the Indians who had assisted so generously in the making of the film, all my efforts, all Bill’s efforts, all for naught. I admit now that that was a fatalist, defeatist attitude. But the project was so important to me now, and a door had been closed right in my face.

Then, another magic airplane moment occurred. I came up with a way of using the footage that had been shot in the field by using an alinear chronology in the film. By shooting a frame back in the U.S., the film could be saved. I was relieved and a smile was able to return to my face.

We started shooting the U.S. scenes, which I had written in script form. Everything in India had either been improvised or “written” on the spot (I’m not putting those parts down because they do work). Glenn Walsh, whom I had directed in three previous films, only one of which has been ever screened, was conscripted to star as Bill’s character’s old friend and the film would be framed partly by their discussion at various parts, with the use of Glenn’s fantastic, rustic family house – the house his grandfather had built. Truly magical moments transpired on that set to me. I called upon friends of mine to crew. Aaron Hollander returned as my DP from A Trip to Swadades and shot most of the American sequences. Andrei Litvinov, the first person I befriended in my freshman year of college, recorded sound. John Gross, my roommate of three years in college, was an all-purpose man. Various people stepped in and out of roles, but it was good to be back in the saddle with people I loved and trusted. The set was pure fun and everyone was in good spirits. Once I again, I felt the same invigoration.

Now the funny thing was that this project just grew, and grew and grew and grew. It was without a doubt an accidental feature-film which just kind of happened. I originally didn’t envision this as a feature-length film at all. But even after shooting with Glenn Walsh in the U.S., the ideas just came fast and furious and I wore Bill down with additional shoots -- in Manhattan, on Long Beach, reschedules because of rain-outs, trips up to Montreal. He occasionally had doubts, I know, about how it was all going to come together. In his words, “I just do what you tell me to do. I never know how it’s all going to come together until I see the finished product and you always make it great.” This is the man credited as co-writer, harty har har. Upon first preview viewing, his faith and enthusiasm were restored and the validation of my confidence about the film was exactly what I needed at that point. We filmed a Castaneda-esque dream sequence on the amazing acreage of actor K.J. Linhein’s heavily wooded property. I was able to integrate into the film another piece of unfinished business -- the fact that I had long wanted to do a film in some way about Castaneda. Everyone was just a joy to work with and I am grateful to everyone who helped make it happen with me. They helped me prove myself to myself. That’s the best gift anyone could have given me.

I grew apart from my yeshiva studies as a result of the project. I was rushing to get it done in time for a rough cut test screening of the film in California. It was an extreme crunch and I barely got it finished in time. The rabbanim at the yeshiva were perplexed by what seemed like a sudden shift in allegiance, but gave me the benefit of the doubt. The first California screening of the assembly cut was phenomenal. It went through the roof and was met was a standing ovation. I stood before a crowd of the film’s admirers with a new humbleness. This was funny because my "other life" was taking hold. As a result of my “mussar” (the Jewish practice of self-improvement), I heard one the rabbis telling me, in my head, to keep old practices in check. I had the tendency of being a ham at Q&As, answering questions that people weren’t even asking, basking in the fact that I access to a captive audience. This time around, it felt extremely strange to me. It was truly a case of a double life vying for equal chances at the spotlight. I talked to them about how important the film was to me, and how it couldn’t have come at a more critical time for me. It also begat other ideas for films I want to make. My anthem for this film, a song that I played over and over again while actively working on the film was, in fact, “Before the Parade Passes By”.

Before the parade passes by
Before it goes on, and only I'm left
Before the parade passes by
I've gotta get in step while there's still time left
I'm ready to move out in front
Life without life has no reason or rhyme left
With the rest of them
With the best of them
I wanna hold my head up high
I need a goal again
I need a drive again
I wanna feel my heart coming alive again
Before the parade passes by...

I am still editing the film as of November 1, 2010. I am making the final adjustments to the rough cut. It’s almost there. It needs some massaging as they say. But I will say that this film was a big, bold adventure in its making. My eternal gratefulness is extended to William Cully Allen. Without his faith and belief in my abilities at a critical time, I might have resigned myself permanently to a life asking those saddest words of tongue and pen, “It might have been.” He assisted in helping me find the “derech” (path) that I spoke of in my previous blog entry about Chassidism on film. Thanks also to the Eldridges, the film's producers, for everything they have contributed. The film would not exist without them either. To me, the film speaks about the status of the perpetual dissenter who kicks defiantly against the universe and longs heart and soul for the past that can no longer be, much like it seems most of my characters do. More so, it speaks to that figure’s branding in society. The film will ultimately be transferred to a 16mm print then transferred back to nonlinear for its final cut. It’s a film that, itself, longs for the past that can no longer be, shot on video, transferred to film, only to see its inevitable return. The film itself undergoes the struggle its character undergoes.

So what else is there to say? I finally got that feature I had literally been dreaming about…the one that had tormented and taunted me for a year's worth of dreams. Full consciousness now is greeted with the reality that I do have a film on my “editing table” and the possibilities are limitless and the world feels immaculately open to me. And thanks to the realization that no one says I can’t be both rabbi and filmmaker, we’ll add a “Baruch Hashem” for good measure. For the non-Jews who don’t know it, look it up, ‘cause that’s how I feel. The Rabbi Filmmaker is truly born!

Soundtrack Spotlight #5: La Course du Lievre a Travers les Champs (Francis Lai)

Bar none, never again will you hear another composer's score sound so extraordinarily reminiscent of the most idiosyncratic work of Morricone...and wind up doing it so right, with originality to spare! The vastly underrated René Clément's La course du lievre a travers les champs (1972) is one of my favorite crime films, and Lai's dolefully dulcet strains throughout his scoring of the film demonstrate that, on occasion, he could eclectically reach well far beyond the soporific constraints of the scores he composed for Claude Lelouch and popular American box-office soapers and romancers like Love Story and Mayerling. The chords that end most of Lai's phrases almost literally scream "Morricone!" and most everything at the very least echoes the prolific Italian scoremaster, but there is something about this score that transcends and defies accusations of empty-headed mimicry.

The film was released in the U.S. in late 1972 under the new title ...And Hope to Die, dubbed into English and cut from 140 minutes to 99 minutes. The original French title translates as The Chase of the Hare Across the Fields. If you ever get the opportunity, go out of your way to see it, especially if you are a crime film enthusiast. The film is available on DVD in its full version in France (I own the Russian disc). It features Robert Ryan in one of his last great roles before his death the following year, along with Jean-Louis Trintignant (just fresh after the critical and commercial success of The Conformist), Tisa Farrow (yes, Mia's sister), the stalwart Aldo Ray and the gorgeous Lea Massari as Sugar. Based on a novel Black Friday by crime fiction luminary David Goodis (upon whose "Shoot the Piano Player" the Truffaut film is based and upon whose "Dark Passage" the Bogart film is based), La course du lievre a travers les champs is by far among the most unusual works of its kind. Filmed in Montreal and rural Quebec, the film tells the story of a hoodlum who seems a misfit fink even among his own kind. On the run from his former gang, who he has somehow double-crossed, he falls in with a motley group of hoods, shepherded by a gravel-voiced ringleader Charlie (Robert Ryan), who are all hiding out in a country-house and shoulder-deep in a grand (read: grandly fouled-up) plot to kidnap a dead girl and holding her for ransom under the pretense that she is alive. I openly recommend this film as well as Clément's Le passager de la pluie in the same breath as any of the Melville crime-genre masterworks like La cercle rouge.

The film consciously opens the way Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West opens, establishing early on that much of Clément's film and not just its score is, in part, a pastiche (or perhaps just simply a meditation) on a director he clearly admired. It would be more than a decade until Leone honed his aesthetic on something other than the Western genre, so an acknowledged use of Leonian influence on a crime film seemed at the time, undoubtedly apropos and intriguing. The film and the score, however, are more than just works that hinge tremulously on the viability of other works. Lai's interlarded use of the pan-flute and a man's melodic whistle to season moments and construct character within musical modalities is novel and admirable, even if one wrongly chooses to reduce it to a case of monkey-hear-monkey-do. Clément places Trintignant's Tony/Froggie character to consciously exist within filmic genre constructs, and within a world invaded by reminders of childhood and the act of play. The score reflects this curious stylistic and directorial pursuit -- and it becomes revolutionary because a score of this time, far before a score like Goldsmith's 1990 Gremlins II soundtrack, has the ability of commenting on a film's sense of self-awareness as well as the handling of the other themes therein that, at first glance, have nothing to do with such reflexivity.

Download the score here. This, again, is not my link. Thanks to the now sadly defunct Isbum's Place and its archives. I recommend the following tracks especially: "Generique Fin" (which innovatively stews the Morricone strains with elements of Jarre), "Main Theme," "Finale/End Title" and "La Course du Lievre".

Vilifying a Rebbe: On Subculture vs. Underworld and the Orientalization of Chassidic Jewry in American Cinema

Day in and day out, each sunset and each dawn, I find myself one in a sea of oscillating black hats; a single wave, contributing to the rhythmic ebb and flow of black and white in heavy motion, and the mellifluous collective murmur of engaged voices swelling around shtenders (podium-like study posts), shteiging feverishly. I am a Chassidic Jew. Technically you're not supposed to call yourself a Chassid, but for the sake of specifying my so-called "insider's perspective" on the matter at hand, it is probably requisite that I affix this label to myself early on. Mostly contrary to my general upbringing, I have taken it upon myself to openly and full-heartedly accept a Chassidic lifestyle as a Lubavitcher Chassid.  I am a full-time yeshiva bokher (Jewish seminary student) and have begun pursuing a rabbinical ordination (semicha as it is formally called). I pour over Talmud and Tanakh day and night and, contrary to what many might have you believe, I live a happy and fulfilled existence met with mostly little resistance. To some degree, I knew that I had been headed to this point of Jewish observance all throughout my life, and Judaism has always been central to my identity.

I am especially unusual because I am a Chassidic filmmaker. Oh yes, there are others of us (most notably another Chabadnik, Marc Erlbaum of Philadelphia). I do not portend to know precisely what my kindred spirits have weathered or will weather in terms of quasi-clever quips leveled at them by others, but I have been called both a "Chassipster" (yes, that is a friend-patented term meaning "Chassidic hipster"), "Chassidic hippie" and "the soon-to-be Matisyahu of independent cinema". Filmmaking to me is my parnassah (a means of survival) but also a form of avodah (in this context, a service that serves some higher purpose). Up to now, I have made only a single film about Jewish issues, all the rest tackling secular topics, albeit often with a keenly Jewish perspective. I am currently at work on a script, ironically entitled Parnassah, which will mark my first feature-length foray into Jewish-themed filmmaking, namely a look into the world of a Chassid which defies earlier permutations of the Chassidic film.

It upsets and disillusions me that not just seldom but in fact never has a truly accurate portrait of Chassidic Jewry been offered up maturely in American cinema -- at least none that I know of. The autopilot button that American filmmakers, outsiders all, seem to push when depicting what is to them almost an underworld renders a highly unfavorable and insensitive view of Chassidism -- an oppressive subculture populated by all manner of stereotypes, from uptight and often grossly unhappy religious zealots to servile women without persona which make the filmmakers go to absurd lengths to make it clear to the viewer that, "Hey, it looks like they obviously missed out on the whole women's lib thing, heh, nudge nudge?". Aim is taken at the flagrantly obvious and the surface-level with any attempt at complexity left discarded to amp the box-office receipts. There is a reason that neatly wrapped packages are attractive to the eyes. An often-used plot device is that one or many of these stock characters are bent on restricting the freedoms of a "free" protagonist who is made to appear free in the most banal of ways. People have often come to accept the illusion that there is a single type of Chassid...the kind that Annie Hall's granny envisions Woody Allen as, at the dinner table scene in Annie Hall. One size fits one and all. That's one of the reasons why that scene, to me, is extraordinary and, in its own way, profound about the image the world has of practicing Jews.

Even in films that take on an overall more "sensitive" approach like 1981's The Chosen, directed by Jeremy Paul Kagan, the son of a conservative rabbi, films often end with a character leaving, at least in some degree, the cloistered environs of the Chassidic world. 2002's The Believer observes Talmudic discourse in a yeshiva as close-minded and closed off to anything that could even remotely ask the bigger questions that emerge in such a dialectical event, and serves in the film to explain partly why our Jewish lead character becomes a skinhead neo-Nazi. The fairly recent film Holy Rollers does not even seem to know, even in any simplistic terms, the hashkafot (sects) that comprise the entirety of the Chassidic world. Behaviors of one hashkafoh will differ in the minhagim (customs) from another hashkafoh. The 2003 low-budget, shoddily produced indie film Mendy is just another tired drama on the tired subject of a restless Chassidic youth looking to free himself from the constraints of the Chassidic world. I am not saying that such stories do not exist. I admit that I am privileged to have lived a wholly other life before resigning myself to my current one, but these truly are the only types of Chassidic stories that are told in American film. Fleeting references in films like this year's It's Kind of a Funny Story are placed carelessly for audiences to gawk and laugh at people, like Chassidim doing things they would not likely do (e.g. taking acid and roller-blading over the Brooklyn Bridge). There is reason why those photos of farm animals smoking cigarettes were never funny. Cinematographers are also keen on photographing yeshivas as dark, bat-cave-like, candelit rathskellers lit only by lush amber hues every other here-and-there. If I studied in a place as dark as that, I'd be like Mr. Magoo by age 35. I am reminded of the 1995 documentary The Celluloid Closet, a documentary history of homosexuality in cinema. Everyone interviewed observed how it was once the key trend in mainstream cinema for gays and lesbians to die by a given film's final fade-out, either by murder or suicide. And so it is the trend that Chassidim will leave the fold by the final fade-out in films about Chassidism.

Even when films are not explicitly about Chassidism and merely possess a definitively Jewish voice, a strictly borscht-belt sensibility is the presiding state of normalcy. Well, either that or the films become pale Woody Allen clones. Jewish humor is vital to our culture, without a doubt, but in American cinema, it assumes such a front-and-center status almost as a means of safety. I am reminded of an actor friend who wrote a script with explicitly Jewish characters, set around the world of horse racing. When pitching the project to Hollywood types, he was told by producer Jennings Lang to "cut the Jewish bit and you got a deal". To most producers, Jewishness is just often too strange and foreign to warrant the posting of funds for a "Jewish film". It's the Orient, the unknown, that spells danger in a world that gambles with investments the way the film business does. A non-Jewish friend of mine is keen on the term "Jewish magic" because of the very insularity with which we, to him, seem to conduct our spiritual affairs. This is to say nothing of the ultimate level, which of course is Chassidism.

Keep in mind that I am not stating that the yeshivishe world and the Chassidishe world is free of stringency. That is an equally absurd illusion and I am not in any way looking to maintain it. It is a challenge and one that, for good reason, most Jews choose not to withstand or ever even attempt. Chassidism is clearly not for everyone and it is no wonder why my new direction has turned a lot of heads and incited panic in many people I know. Implicitly, there is this barrier. What can't be said, done, etc.? What would offend him? Better be careful. How do I act? Questions like this seem to quietly consume those I have chosen to keep close in my life. Valid points all, granted, but a lot of this nervousness is informed by the distorted way media portrays my shady "underworld". At the same time, there is a fascination the world has for the way my brethren and I live. We're among the collective proverbial car crash? No one wants to look, but they cannot look away.

I specifically remember watching Sidney Lumet's 1992 film A Stranger Among Us (or, as many critics dubbed it, "Vitness"), I became actively angered and offended at the depiction of Borough Park Chassidim. I might add that it is not easy to offend me. Melanie Griffith's female cop cruises through Brooklyn in a car and Lumet prefers the tiresome old "babe in Jewland" approach, streets teeming with Hebrew signage, young boys with swinging tzitzis and/or payis, parades of women with strollers, and beards beards everywhere. This is of course accompanied by klezmer music so over-the-top in its placement that it, with very little effort, becomes a heightened parody of itself. This is all coming from Sidney Lumet, a Jew himself, the son of a popular Yiddish theater actor. The film is known as a particular low-point in the director's career, but it speaks to often how Jewish directors picture their own concealed identity when they tackle Jewish subjects, and how alienated they have become from the shtetl that reared their ancestors on a mamishe machmeer (extremely stringent) yeshiva experience. Joan Micklin Silver's Hester Street explores Jewish assimilationism in America at its most critical juncture, in the America of the 1900's. A dream project of mine would be to adapt one of the most scathing and complex Jewish assimilation stories ever told, Abraham Cahan's novel The Rise of David Levinsky, to the screen one day.

I do not wish to reveal very much about my next project Parnassah. It just suffices to say that Chassidism will just simply be in this proposed film, and twists and turns will present themselves, but never in a way that impugns the entire way of life as every single film with a Chassidic subject seems to have done blithely. Sure, I live a life far removed from the lives most are used to observing or even noticing. History, among other things, has taught Jews, not just Chassidim, to be cautious and more insular than most ethnic or religious groups. Another kind of history informs popular conception, i.e. that which is presented in media. As a Chassid then, I have something ahead of me to accomplish. This also engenders something else. On a pay-job shooting a fundraising trailer for a film to be shot in Borough Park, Chassid after Chassid would pass by, catch a glimpse of me on the camera dolly with payis ("sidelocks") untucked and tzitzis out and look at me with wonderment and pointed confusion. Like I said, there are other Chassidic filmmakers, but no one has truly emerged as a voice for our startling minority. Sure, the fact that in many hashkafot (sects), filmmaking may very well be asur (forbidden) might have been a factor. A great deal of weight is placed on "hamavdil beyn kodesh l'chol" (separating the holy from the secular). I happen to belong to a sect that thankfully encourages it more, as Lubavitchers believe that much of everything can be used for tachlit hakadosh (a holier purpose). I think the reason for its asur status is that no filmmaker has delivered an honest portrayal of their lifestyle, therefore no worth can be seen for the greater good, and for it being an avodah. Cinema can aspire towards higher purposes, and I (along with others of my kind), are out to achieve that. We are in search of search of truth and honesty to the extent that film can capture it.

There is friction between the dubitably termed "civilization" and one of its under-realms. I am not going to say that there has not been the occasional difficulty of existing fully in the real world. I have never been able to fully return to my old way of living one-hundred percent and this has deeply affected me on an emotional level, especially as one afflicted by the most intense premature nostalgia. My old self is now just a shadow. As Rabbi David Aaron eloquently says, "We are not human beings but human becomings." It is the friction that is truly interesting. I am resigned, currently with no question in my mind, to live the rest of my years this way. I have seen my fellow bokherim (students) undergo the quandaries of occasional rebirth. Rebirth is always depicted in culture and the natural world as a joyous event, a celebration, a bacchanal. What of rebirth as trauma? What of the story of someone of deep faith and piety who does not wish to escape with any permanence into a new world, but to simply take a brief jaunt into it, bearing in mind his conduct and duty as a Chassid...and the ultimate trauma this Chassid undergoes. I have a stirring story in mind. The political ramifications of this, to me, emerge without them fully meaning to.

This is all to say that subcultures, not just Chassidism, have been branded too often in both Hollywood and independent American cinema as underworlds -- mysterious underbellies of society from which types can easily be manufactured, even by those who should know better.

POST SCRIPTUM: For an interesting and compellingly complex non-filmic portrait of the lives of ex-Chassidim which runs thankfully counter to that of film's one-dimensional portraits, visit One of my brother's students at Stony Brook writes for this blog.

Calling Morocco at 2 A.M.: The Fundamental Reasons Why I Hate Jean-Luc Godard

My apologies for another long absence from the blogging world. I am in post-production on my upcoming feature film and a deadline is looming. However, I figured that since most of this article had been written in another form completely (mostly on Facebook), all I'd have to do was organize the points a bit and post it on here.

To quote Mark Borchardt in the popular 1999 documentary American Movie, "Is that what you wanna do with your life? Suck down peppermint schnapps and try to call Morocco at two in the morning? That's senseless! But that's what happens, man..." Or likewise, to quote from another favorite documentary Crumb, "How perfectly G-ddamned delightful it all is to be sure."

So what does all that have to do with Jean-Luc Godard and my hatred of him? In my recent Facebooking, I posted a status update in response to certain things I had been reading in the articles reviewing this year's New York Film Festival. The status update was an impulsive, impassioned and sincerely felt sentiment that erupted in a heated debate and a flurry of responses. I wrote, "Daniel Kremer thinks Godard needs to quit already. No one ticks me off in cinema (for all the wrong reasons) more than that pretentious sack of hot air who is idolized just because he has a few so-called 'classics' to his name. If you want French New Wave, check out some Rivette, Truffaut or Rohmer instead." Okay, so I was kind of looking for trouble in a sense. I was inviting conflict and scrutiny, and playing the provocateur a bit. So what? I liked the irony. The act of posting that update in and of itself was rather Godardian. I responded at one point, stating that "no filmmaker has enjoyed such flagrant display of titanic ego and misanthropy."

Among the criticisms levelled at my statements: "What about James Cameron?," "Godard is self-conscious, but Rivette isn't? Resnais? Godard's pretentiousness is worse than Truffaut's sentimentality, Chabrol's pandering, Rohmer's arch-Catholicism? Please...," "Film, like rock music, is so much a populist art form that oftentimes films and filmmakers are reduced to a vulgar reactionary quip in a Facebook comments box," "It's the idiotic critique that every film student from here to Tokyo feels empowered to offer up on your average legendary octogenarian cineaste. Spare us all."

Then, out of a comment I made that I have often been tempted to don a pair of shades, an unlit cig and a strip of film, take a photo of myself to mimic the famous one of Godard and caption it with 'I too can be look like an egomaniacal, arrogant reprobate who thinks he's Cool' came my favorite response: "Why do you make movies, Dan? To be thought of as cool? To be praised for your vision, your genius? To get laid? Only you know the answer to that. Just like only Godard knows for certain why he made Vivre sa vie, 2 ou 3 choses..., Le Mepris, Masculin feminin , Pierrot le fou, les Carabiniers, A bout de souffle." This was followed by theorizing that I hated Godard because he was politically Marxist in his work.


The Guardian critic Xan Brooks wrote an article entitled "No Joy in Godard" about Godard's newest film Film Socialisme and its premiere at this year's Cannes Film Festival. He writes, "Jean-Luc Godard continues to haunt the wings of the Cannes Palais. There is little hope of arriving at a consensus over his latest (and reputedly last) film. Some say Film Socialisme is an eccentric masterpiece; others that it's an eccentric mess. File me in the latter camp. My sense is that old age has soured Godard: he has grown so disdainful of his audience, and society in general, that he can barely be bothered to invite us in anymore. Again, I fear I was duped by the title. Isn't "socialism" about inclusivity, about pulling together and meeting as equals? Film Socialisme has no interest in that. It is Godard's arrogant repudiation of the world around him; a burst of lofty non-communication. Crucially, the subtitles are rendered in what he has described as 'Navajo English', a kind of semiotic sloganeering that strips out the verbs and teeters on the verge of nonsense."

This is the type of thing that is said most about Godard's latter day work, including his previous film In Praise of Love. So okay, here's a for-instance. Writer Thomas Hardy at the end of his career felt much the same way as Godard now seems to, but at least Hardy welcomed his readers to share in his disillusionment and to lament it with him. He still told compelling stories that refused to alienate his readers in bold strokes. Godard pushes us away. So Mr. Godard is much older than I, and has experienced so many more years, but one who subjects an audience to what is described above in the Guardian should have his or her ego checked by an egotrician. And yes, egotrician is a made-up word on my part.

What was startling and fascinating for me to discover was that Truffaut and Godard had a major falling-out in 1973, which precipitated in Truffaut writing Godard a 20-page letter lambasting his behavior. Truffaut writes, "Jean-Luc, So as not to oblige you to read this disagreeable letter to the end, I begin with the essential: I will not enter co-production in your film. Second, I am returning your letter to Jean-Pierre Leaud: I have read it and find it disgusting. It is because of this that I feel that the time has come to tell you, at length, that in my view you behave like shit." In this letter, Truffaut went continued calling Godard out in degrees of “shit” for, among other things, trying to seduce his female actresses and calling French producer Pierre Braunberger a “dirty Jew.” Truffaut continued:

“Anyone who has a different opinion from yours is a creep, even if the opinion you hold in June is not the same one you held in April. In 1973, your prestige is intact, which is to say, when you walk into an office, everyone studies your face to see if you are in a good mood. You have never succeeded in loving anyone or in helping anyone. Other than by shoving a few banknotes at them."

Truffaut then added in the letter of all the times he went to bat for Godard, helped him financially especially in Le mepris when Truffaut was asked to replace Godard and refused. He also told Godard that he was jealous of him, and included passages from a letter in which Godard demanded money from him for the production of 2 or 3 Choses.... The letter ended with “In any case, we no longer agree about anything.”

In 1977, he did a talk with students and reviewed his career and said that he was relieved that his films after A bout de souffle were failures. In his mind, he felt it kept him from becoming what he thought Truffaut had become: someone who “Talks to nobody, except to Polanski”. Godard felt that Polanski and Altman films “pretend to be intellectual when it’s pure merchandise”. He felt their style was dishonest. He felt that Truffaut was part of that group.

I am one who steadfastly believes that personal and artistic life should be separated. What do you do about Wagner or Ezra Pound, who were raging anti-Semites, or any legion of others whose personal views do not accord with one's own? I freely admit however that, as a Jew, I find value in both Wagner and Pound. But it is when personal life shrilly eclipses the artistic life yielding masturbatory work that the product(s) and the individual behind it cannot avoid intense scrutiny. What is identified as "joie de vivre" in his early work, to me, looks like a lot of back-patting, the success of which hinged on people's latent need in the 60's for that type of freedom. Pierrot le fou is the closest he has come to my liking him. Even Jean Eustache, whose La maman et le putain (1973) took us through a similar milieu, speaks to more of a humanity and an artist's commune with his audience than any of Godard's work.

I have no issue with Marxism or Marxists really at all. Many of my favorite artists have been far left of center, and I am rare among my kind as an intensely religious liberal, a left-wing Chabad Lubavitch Chassid, and a Zionist all at the same time. It's kind of complicated. Wouldn't it be? I take no issue with the fact that Godard is a Marxist and that he's made "political cinema" and beloved as a polemic. What bothers me, however, and what really "cheeses me off" about his work is that he makes films like he expects automatic commendation from intellectuals, complacent and comically indifferent anger from the "capitalist pigs," the middle class and its sell-outs, and impassioned cries of hurrah hurrah from fellow artists and cineastes...for what are really and ultimately stunts. It's like filmmaking on auto-pilot. You cannot make Marxist films and be a flagrant narcissist the way he is. It's not Marxism anymore. I cannot wrap my head around those mincing, pompous, cutesy stunts he uses in his films, even ones as fleeting as the opening "film from the cosmos" title-card in Week End. And that's really what they are...stunts. As much as people try to glean gold from them, they are like most everything else from Godard, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. His almost sociopathic personality, which everyone blithely characterizes as temperamental artist syndrome, is just the cherry on the cake for me. It just compounds my hatred of him.

But my hatred really does begin with the work (although I believe that his work and personality go hand in hand), which if we are talking about why I dislike his canon, the hatred should begin there, but one should always seeing from where that type of work stems. For instance, Vivre sa vie is beautifully shot and keep in mind that I am not underselling Godard's technicians. I love most all of cinematographer Raoul Coutard's work. But as for the actual film, I have seen similar stories told better elsewhere, with more heart and honesty than that film. There is no doubt Truffaut saw Godard as a genius in his work, but I really do think he saw his friend's reprehensible behavior in life undermining his artistry. Nowadays, it is like Godard's favorite toast, when he can bring himself to be around people, is "Here's to art in vacuums...and the people who toast it!"

His omnibus episodes in Paris vu par and Amore e Rabbia are laughable compared to his compatriots, and these are the only times his work can be explicitly compared. Chabrol, who one of my Facebook debaters identified as "pandering," really showed up his overpraised contemporary in the former. Godard's episode in that film about a love letter sent to the wrong male suitor, or whatever it was (it was so forgettable to me), was the very epitome of tired and tiresome.

Yeah, I really dislike no one in film as much as I do Godard. Alright, maybe M. Night Shyamalan, but that guy is just a universal joke in general anymore, so it almost kind of goes without saying. People think I'm just being contrarian and vainglorious or whatnot when I communicate my vehement dislike of the man and his work. Someone I know threatened to disown me as a friend if I didn't take back my "Godard is a hack" comment. I generally think that Truffaut, more accessible as he is and more commercial as he is (and, yes, perhaps cloying), is a much more successful type of filmmaker. His films are not always great and yes, I dislike quite a few of them as well, but even the ones I dislike still feel like they probe the depths of what fascinates, moves and inspires him as a filmmaker and as a human being (which, even before the duties of being a filmmaker, is first and foremost in its own duties, because the quality of life you lead ultimately, even if you're hermetic, speaks to the kinds of films you make and I don't think anyone can deny that). Rivette's films, good or bad (but most often good in my opinion), often speak to something so intensely personal and deep rooted, and become politically profound as a result, almost inadvertently. I couldn't believe how quickly the 13-hour Out 1 (and most of his long movies) just kind of flew right by. To quote another indie filmmaker, "If you make a film to be liked, it’s not your film anymore that’s being liked. It’s what you did to get liked. I don’t know how you can have worth as an artist if you are full of it as a person. I don't know how." My mantra: Be a mensch first and a filmmaker later, even if you're angry and embittered at the world and the people in it.

I don't take issue with Marxism. I feel like getting out of this country because, yes, as a political animal (surprise surprise, peoples' assumption about my aversion to politics is incorrect), I cannot stand living in this country anymore, in the current climate of Obama-bashing, middle-class racism and intolerance of progressivism for the sole reason that it comes from an alleged "radical black man" (I've seen people lambast him with very little education on the state of things to back it up) and the fever-pitch moral corruption by pop culture and corporations of people my generation and younger. I had to listen to an hour and a half of party-orgy talk from a group of teenage girls on the subway the way back from JFK after my India trip, while they sat directly in front of American Apparel ads of a scandalously young girl in bra and panties. This is not to mention the counter to all this, which is the Bible-beating of America's Breadbasket to smear the lives and livelihoods of those with whom they disagree. Everyone and everything in this country is just ridiculous to me now. This is coming from a Chassidic Jew. Amazing, no? I am devout, but not at the expense of my fellow man. Okay, all that I just said was said with great ferocity. However, I just don't make films about overtly political things, because I don't want to give my work expiration dates. If a political statement is made, it is mired thick in the heart of a story. Rivette would have inspired and exhilarated me enough that way had he just done this alone. Would you rather see Godard's brain-bleedingly pretentious, laughed-off-the-screen-in-1987 King Lear rather than something like Rivette's L'amour par terre (1984) or Truffaut's The Green Room (1978) which, even though they are recognized as respective failures, are ten times more fascinating than any of Godard's 80's drivel?

Making inaccessible films is on the shoulders of its maker. Rivette gets accusations of inaccessibility and that is something I have never understood when you compare him to the likes of JLG. So if Godard wants to suck on his stogy or a cig and "call Morocco at two a.m." (when most people are asleep and not able to pick up the call) because it fullfils him in some way, count me out of being open to picking up that call even if I'm awake. That's senseless! But that's what happens, man. How perfectly G-ddamned delightful it all is to be sure.

India Projects Posted on IndieGoGo! Please Support My Upcoming Films!

By clicking here, you can help me so very much by contributing funds and leaving comments on the funding site for my exciting upcoming India film projects. Even by leaving comments and showing interest in the site by responding to my updates, you will be helping me get the project featured on the IndieGoGo homepage, which can lead to others contributing funds if you are personally unable. Even one comment helps more than you know. It's up to you. These are great films just waiting to be born. This is a real grass roots effort and I need your help in planning the films' releases and film festival lives just right. And for independent filmmakers, I highly recommend It is an excellent resource!

My upcoming article, entitled "The Schnook, the Schlub and the Schmendrick: The Anti-Antics of Stiller, Sandler and Carrey" will be posted within the next couple days and Soundtrack Spotlights will continue this week as well!


Trailer for The Idiotmaker's Gravity Tour

Hello from Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India!

I am making two films here, dear readers, a documentary tentatively titled Paduka: The Footprint of the Guru and a fiction piece that will be titled The Idiotmaker's Gravity Tour (which is supposed to be a tribute title to psychedelic literature of the 60's because this is a tribute to the 60's "journey films" about a man going to remote rural India to find the unknown, unmarked gravesite of an American "guru" named Teschlock who took the main character under his wing as a teenage cross-country-hitch-hike runaway). The lead is being played by William Cully Allen (A Collection of Chemicals and A Trip to Swadades) who is over here with me. It is going to be a Castaneda-esque film, exploring the remains of the 60's idealist in search of his master. The film is very much based on the actor's real life story! The documentary, about the fascinating, extremely controversial life of low-caste philosopher of religion Bibhuti Singh Yadav is some of the most exciting material with which I have ever worked. Stay tuned for more details! These two projects are the first things I have worked on in over eighteen months!

Soundtrack Spotlight #4: Viaggio Con Anita (Ennio Morricone)

Viaggio Con Anita (Travels With Anita, also known under its American title Lovers and Liars) is yet another strange and unlikely film that I saw when I was very young, maybe too young. Even at a young age, I was mystified by the fact that Goldie Hawn, at the very height of her popularity in the United States, following a string of soaring late 70's hits, would agree to star lead opposite Giancarlo Giannini in a highly unusual dubbed Italian sex comedy. It donned on me years later with an obvious answer: a paycheck and a free trip to Italy. Why not, right? The film did not score well at all with critics, at least in the American and British press, and the movie soon vanished into obscurity.

I still today find the film to be something of a pleasure to view, perhaps a guilty pleasure, with more than a few great moments. Its dazed, desperate tonal confusion is endearing and, amazingly, works in the film's favor. And look at the names in the credits! Claudine Auger and Laura Betti co-star, Mario Monicelli directs (Big Deal on Madonna Street and Casanova 70 were both respected films, folks), Tonino Delli Colli shoots and Ennio Morricone scores. The latter is one of the most fascinating aspects of the film. You can often tell very easily that it's a Morricone score (it has the earmarks), but it often feels antithetical to much of his work around the time he scored this film. I mean, hey, Ennio must have been scoring like 400 other films the weekend he scored this one, but this particular score, even though it may seem dated to most these days, is one of his most intriguing and original, not to mention underrated. When I sent the film's main theme via e-mail for a friend to listen to, he told me that he hated it because it sounded like the theme song from a warped, failed children's TV show from the 70's. I wouldn't say that, personally. I then sent him another piece from the soundtrack, entitled "Sull'amaca," which uses a cello like one strums a guitar, which he loved. I might add that I believe "Sull'amaca" to be one of the sexiest love themes from that period of cinema, punctuating a passionate hammock love scene between the two leads.

Other aspects of the score are intriguing as well. Morricone uses a spry harpsichord in many of his cues and he also takes the score into surprisingly mournful directions. The film's last act deals with Giannini covering up the death of his father to Hawn, stowing her away unknowing to rot in a hotel while he deals with the repercussions of his father's sudden passing. Morricone accents these sequences with a treatment of one of the main themes except with melancholic trumpet offset by strings in responsa (and, in "La Ragazza del Padre," a slightly distorted guitar sound). The album as a whole makes excellent travel music, if you ask me. I mean, the movie it scores is a road movie.

As a bonus, Morricone's score from La Cugina, which I have not seen, is included as well. The scores have connecting tissues, but La Cugina, to me, isn't nearly as intriguing as Viaggio con Anita. Also, savor the so-bad-they're-good funk songs "Move," "Good News" and "Sorridimi, Sorridimi". Close your eyes and make your believe you're in some disco in Idaho. Yep, it's that good.

Download the score here. This, again, is not my link. Thanks to Brainiac's Sleazy Listening blog for this upload!

Soundtrack Spotlight #3: Busting (Billy Goldenberg)

Okay, for this Soundtrack Spotlight, I'm givin' you even more Goldenberg. I feel, for at least these two posts, it is my duty to institute a Goldenberg revival because I really feel he is one of the finest film composers ever, and one of his finest scores is from the 1973 police buddy action/comedy/drama Busting, starring Elliott Gould and Robert Blake, and directed by Peter Hyams (in his directorial debut).

Last month, the Busting soundtrack was released for the first time on an official, legitimate disc. This soundtrack is extraordinary. I saw the film last year at Anthology Film Archives on an edited-for-TV print that had seen its better days (the film actually broke midway through). Hearing Goldenberg's score in a theater, no matter the quality of the print, was exhilarating in and of itself. There has never been a score for a film like this that is quite like this. It is, with every bit of honesty I can muster, totally and utterly original, but still manages to integrate the staples of 70's action-film musical composition. In my previous Night Gallery soundtrack post, I said that, with this particular score, Goldenberg achieves something that Elmer Bernstein tried to achieve throughout the entire decade of the 70's but never managed to really pull off (the closest he ever came was his Report to the Commissioner score). The liner notes make note of the fact that Goldenberg's orchestrations were extremely unorthodox, particularly for the time. Like how soundtrack-heads know there is the Mancini Sound and the Goldsmith Sound and the Williams Sound and the Barry Sound and on and on and on, there is most certainly a Goldenberg sound, and, for me, it's irresistible, and no better evidence could be given than his score for Busting.

Tracks I want to particularly call your attention to: "The Chase" and "Nailing Rizzo" open the same way, but go in different directions with a pulsating action-scene theme. I can't recall better chase music in a film from the time. Savor the jarring bongo sound and miscellaneous "noises" in tracks like "The Search" and "Home Alone". Alternate compositions of "The Chase" theme can be heard in "Busting the Club" and "The Electra". Enjoy!

Download here. Note: This is not my link, but another score-head's link. Thanks to Vagos.FM.