The Atomic Revolution: Now the Truth Can Be Told

Last year I was blown away by the beautiful artistry that went into the eerily slick corporate propagandotainment comic book, The Atomic Revolution.
I’m using the cool, Golden Age comic style as a major visual reference point for my As Yet Unannounced Animated Musical, which has more than a little good, old-fashioned apocalyptic flavor to it.
The cool animation artist Ethan Persoff rediscovered it, scanned it in, and hosted the entire book on his site (and now accepts donations to pay for the significant bandwidth the increasingly popular book consumes. Why not drop some change in the jar?)
Now, finally, after getting smoked on a couple of previous auctions, I can announce that I’ve finally received my own copy of the book this week from an Austin ebay-er. It wasn’t expensive, just rare. Henceforth, you all have my permission to search for your own issue. Good luck.

On How A Musical Revival Takes Longer Than One Year

Rebecca Traitser, oft of the NYO and some online zine called Salon, notes in the NYT that the studios haven’t quite ironed out all the details of that post-Chicago musical revival we’ve all been waiting for. Ignoring that Miramax-spun history of contemporary musicals for a moment (Moulin Rouge? South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut? 8 Mile?), it seems musicals need a certain studios ne savent quoi to escape development hell.
Some examples: Broadway films [Do we know that Joel Schumacher’s Phantom won’t bring on the Apocalypse?], classic musical remakes, hip-hop musicals, pop stars performing, and –shockingly–something original. [I would add animated anime-style thriller to that list if I’d moved forward with it at all in the last three months…]
The only musical in the article that doesn’t already bore me to tears is John Turturro’s Romance and Cigarettes, starring James Gandolfini and Susan “Rocky Horror” Sarandon. The producers call it “Pennies from Heaven meets The Honeymooners,” and say it’ll include covers of Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Man Without Love” and Tom Jones’s “Delilah” along with original music and choreography. [Christopher Walken’s in it, and as Spike Jonze’s Weapon of Choice video proves, the man can dance.]
R&C is currently in post-production. Back in 2002, it was a Coen Brothers joint, they dropped out and left Turturro to direct. Greene Street Films is producing, and my boy Bingham Ray’s UA is distributing.

Oooooo-kla-ho, man! Is that Hugh Jackman??

Salon ad for PBS's Oklahoma! starring Hugh Jackman

I may have a new tagline for my As-Yet-Unannounced Animated Musical: it’s not Terminator meets West Side Story; it’s Swordfish meets Oklahoma!
But I’m already too late. Starting Saturday, PBS will broadcast the Royal National Theater’s 2002 revival of Oklahoma! starring hacker, mutant, and musical theater whore, Hugh Jackman.
Related Links:
Salon. For once, I didn’t make it past the ad
Oklahoma! on PBS, starring Hugh Jackman
Hugh Jackman starring as Peter Allen, Liza Minnelli’s gay husband (is there any other kind?) in The Boy from Oz (I’m leaving a whole HBO joke on the table there, you know.)
It turns out the National Theater revival was already the occasion for a post, but from an anthro/cult stud perspective.

Beyond Bruce Schneier’s Beyond Fear

On BoingBoing, Cory Doctorow calls Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World “one of the most important texts of the decade.” I’m pretty sure he means the decade starting in 2000, (or, say, September 11, 2001), not the last ten years.
Schneier‘s a/the security expert, and Beyond Fear, Cory says, “utterly demystifies security” for a non-technical audience. My bet is, it guts every Ashcroftian rights-and-power grab in the name of security like a trout on a church griddle. [I know, Ashcroft is so not Catholic, so the fish thing’s not applicable. Work with me here, people.]
I’m using Schneier’s landmark text, Applied Cryptography, as a reference for my animated musical script, of all things. After all, the video store’s bargain bins are overflowing with tapes of animated musicals that included crypto but couldn’t bother to get it right. Aren’t they?

Making Musicals Film Series? Sign me up.

Film Forum is presenting a 3-week series, The Freed Unit and the Golden Age of MGM Musicals. Stuart Klawans gives a preview in yesterday’s Times and recommends the dark, slightly weird, The Band Wagon.. [By the way, it was written by Comden and Greene, directed by Vincente Minelli, and starred, um, Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse.]
The Band Wagon opens July 4, which means my PS1 museum tour is booked against the 3:15 Saturday screening. At least I don’t have to compete directly with Betty Comden, who’s making a personal appearance after the 5:45 Monday show…

Bollywood Thursdays on TCM

Turner Classic Movies is showing a dozen Bollywood classics on Thursdays in June, introduced by Ismail Merchant. As might be expected whenever Merchant’s involved, the movie menu reads somewhere between vegetarian and vegan: noble, needs some spice, and definitely not enough cheese.
But that’s just how it looks to a guy who discovered Bollywood through Diesel Jeans commercials and Namaste America, an Indian music video show on NYC’s public access channel Saturday mornings. Merchant/Ivory’s own meta-Bollywood film, Bombay Talkie is good, too, but unfortunately, it’s not in the series.

Painless Prediction: A Wave of Raves for Jerry Springer: The Opera

Michael Brandon as Jerry, image:

Guardian‘s Michael Billington’s got one that begins: “Reviewing an already acclaimed show is a bit like arriving sober at a party where everyone else is drunk.” Here’s a giddy Telegraph profile of Tom Morris, who put on the show at London’s Battersea Arts Centre. Comedian/bookwriter/director Stewart Lee’s site has dozens more.
As one who is writing an Animated Musical on a counterintuitive, quite contemporary subject, I, for one, hail our new operatic overlords.
JSTO opened tonight at the Lyttleton, National Theatre

He’ll Be Back: A Terminator Weekend

Partly in preparation for the impending release of
T3, partly because I’ve been describing my Animated Musical as “Terminator meets West Side Story,” we watched T and T2 back-to-back last night. Pertinent findings: 1) That’s a lot more Linda Hamilton than the average human constitution is prepared for, and 2) my worries about having taken too much inspiration from films I hadn’t seen for 19 and 12 years, respectively, were unfounded.
And besides, at the end of the Terminator DVD, there’s an unusual credit, “acknowledging the works of Harlan Ellison,” which prompted me to IMDb to see what’s up. Turns out Cameron bragged on the set about “stealing the idea for the movie from a couple of episodes of Outer Limits.” As Cory “BoingBoing Doctorow points out in his countdown of the greatest sci-fi lawsuits ever, Ellison figured it out, too, since the similarities are rather glaring. So he sued Cameron. Several times. And he took out big ads in Variety slamming Cameron for the, um, homage. The verdict: don’ t piss off a guy who cooks up indestructible killing machines for a living.
Another unheralded precedent, for SkyNet is the little-seen Colossus: The Forbin Project, a bleak 1970 film by Joseph Sargent about the disasters that ensue from turning global defense over to a supercomputer. It’s probably not worth getting a laserdisc player for, but I’m looking forward to seeing it.

How to Finish An Animated Musical Script

You may have noticed I’ve been kind of quiet on the “about making films” front lately. Even if the number of posts seems to indicate otherwise, It’s not because of the war. I’ve been writing, rewriting, actually, on the fourth draft of the Animated Musical script. Looking back to November, when I finished the second draft, I have to say I’m very pleased with the progress:
A couple of major characters needed to be more fully developed. A couple of ways I did this: wrote down brief descriptions, including some backstory, for each character as I saw them; and read the script through for each character, to see how they actually appear. Reconcile the two embodiments of the character. One other thing I put forward in my mind was actors; I imagine actors being asked to play this or that character, and write characters that they’d want to take on. [cf. Julianne Moore interviews and, yes, In The Actor’s Studio.]
What remains right now is a complete front-to-back read for pacing, timing and flow, to see how tension builds, how the story unfolds, how expectations are set and met (or not).
The big showdown ending, for lack of a better term, had troubled me for a long time. I knew what should happen, how it should end, but not necessarily how to get to the resolution I had in mind. The incidents it’s partly based on didn’t have a decisive ending, so I couldn’t just turn to real life for the solution. And besides, it has to be believable, coherent, and it wasn’t, for a long time.
Here’s how I (think I) fixed/finished it: To see how the action unfolds, I wrote out the entire third act in one-line elements. Those just-the-facts elements were mostly actions/reactions, or statements, or realizations, but usually not specific dialogue, details, or shots. These no-nonsense, flourish-free elements became the structure and flow of the story; it’s easy to keep track of one-line elements, to move them around, add or delete them, thereby pinning down the sequence of things and making it much easier to lay down the details, dialogue, etc.
more to come…

On The Coming Wave Of Movie Musicals

Rick McGinnis writes about it on his Movieblog, jumping off from Renee Graham’s Boston Globe article, article,“Casting aspersions on the future of movie musicals.”
Something’s coming, but is it something good? Since Chicago, it’s been Code Orange for movie musicals, I guess, and no one quite knows what the appropriate response is. The speculation (remake West Side Story with J-Lo and Ben) can barely keep up with reality (Vin Diesel’s up for the “hard edge” remake of Guys and Dolls) for shock and awe. [Note about G&D: Vin Diesel putting himself up for Marlon Brando’s role sounds like brand management to me. Vin’s attempt to be “taken seriously” by adding “Brando” attributes to his own thing (or thick, in this case) offering. He doesn’t want to sing, any more than he wants to gain 200 pounds and take eight Tahitian maid/wives. He wants people to mention “Diesel” and “Brando” in the same sentence. Looks like he’s got a way to go, too.]
Today, McGinnis suggests, 8 Mile is a better model for musicals to follow than (played out) Broadway. He envisions musicals “based realistically on the sort of talents that have been cultivated since movie actors stopped taking voice and movement classes and started going to the gym.” Someone can’t sing? Dub’em like WSS. Can’t dance? Edit the hell out of them. Hm. Vin Diesel may have a chance after all.

On Opera Adapted From Novel

I became familiar with Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, through its horrible film adaptation, a numbingly unsubtle reproductive fascist farce. I guess in 1990, the only totalitarianism that director Volker Schlondorff could get people to accept is the East German kind.
Anyway, on the occasion of its premiere at the English National Opera, Atwood writes in the Guardian about allowing the Danish composer Poul Ruders to make an opera of it in the first place. One challenge turned out to be the lack of contractual precedent for adapting an opera from a living writer’s work.

Then there was the Danish and/or lawyerly cast of mind, an introspective one given to second thoughts, as in Hamlet. (“Whether ’tis prudenter in the contract to offer/ The perks and carrots of outrageous royalties/ Or to strike pen throughout a sea of clauses/ And screw the writer blind?”) But with the help of various agents we managed to cobble something together. I forget who got the T-shirt rights, but it wasn’t me.

That was 2000, and Atwood’s world–a fundamentalist takeover of the US government, a rollback of civil liberties, secret police with the all-seeing eye for a logo controlling the population through credit card surveillance–seemed like a liberal campfire story, best told with a flashlight under your chin. The Danes loved it, though. So did Time, which compared it to the Taliban. You may have to travel to the UK for this one; I don’t imagine it opening in the US for 2 or 6 years.
One upside: at least now we know it doesn’t look like East Germany.

A Long NYT Article On The Road To Chicago

Rick Lyman writes about the decades-long battles to make a film version of Chicago, including a Chandler Auditorium-ful of cast, director, and writers who were attached to the project through the years. One star is conspicuously absent from the scrum, Bebe Neuwirth, whose Broadway Chicago won her a Tony and transformed the property from a “half-remembered musical from the 1970’s [into] a fresh hit.” Yet somehow, casting “Catherine Zeta-Jones was an easy choice, with her musical comedy experience.”
Lyman leaves more such hints at the bitchy article that could have been, except that “upbeat amnesia” reigns among the “formerly fractious creative team,” the Neuralizer-like effect of a dozen glinting Oscar statuettes (and Harvey “the Hutt” Weinstein’s Academy-muscling for all the film’s nominations).
Well, almost all. Apparently director Rob Marshall’s not feeling the love. He thinks Miramax is not only not doing enough to promote him for Best Director, Harvey’s thrown his full weight behind Marshall’s competition, some flash-in-the-pan named Martin Scorsese. Miramax had Robert Wise “write”* a recommendation for Scorsese and his little film, Gangs of New York, but for Marshall, “to have Mr. Wise, the director of The Sound of Music, [and West Side Story and, oddly, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, – g.] come out in favor of the Gangs director was apparently the final straw.”
I threw together a quick PowerPoint slide on why, seriously, Marshall should be happy to be nominated:

Rob, seriously, we need to talk.

* Wise, a former president of the Academy, found Harvey’d pulled him into a controversy.”His” essay pushing Scorsese for the Oscar was actually written by a Miramax publicist. The company had run the whole thing as an ad in Variety and other papers. Previously, the LA Times‘ John Horn busted Sony for inventing reviews from an imaginary critic. Someone embed that man!

About Chicago: One Man’s Sad Journey

Act I: Setup

  • Chicago is being called “an attempt to revive the movie musical,” a genre which has been woefully ignored by Hollywood since Moulin Rouge and South Park.
  • It apparently won a bunch of awards at the Golden Globes last week, and now lemming journalists are herding it to the cliff of Oscar plausibility.
  • Despite a general trepidation/disapproval of the genre (See exceptions here), I’m writing an Animated Musical.
    Act II: Action
    I went to see Chicago last night at the Ziegfeld (now a Pepsi theater, so no small sacrifice)
    Act III: Resolution
    IT SUCKED. Catherine Zeta-Jones’ (aka, my phone pimp) was alive, and Queen Latifah had one good song (ok, great). But the film was emotionally and narrative…ly? flat. Feeling nothing, not caring what happens to any character, and not getting any sense at all from the film of where we were in the story, I almost left several times.
    Embarassingly, it was media hype of Richard Gere’s earnestly-studied tapdancing that kept me there, until I realized I may have already missed it (I hadn’t, and it wasn’t worth it). After the surprising turns by Ewan MacGregor, Nicole Kidman and Jim Broadbent in Moulin Rouge, the bar has been raised; “Wow! [Insert unlikely star name here] is singing!” just isn’t enough anymore. [Of course, Woody Allen proved it wasn’t enough before, either.]
    Lastly, the editing. If Moulin Rouge‘s occasional 100-120 cpm (cuts per minute) were too much for some people, at least they held up as a creative choice. Some of Chicago‘s musical numbers reached at least 70-80 cpm, but to disjointed, not frenetic effect. A barrage of nearly indecipherable cuts might fit an orgiastic mob dance scene, but rapidfire cuts of two women dancing on stage seems just like a cheap attempt to liven things up (or, more likely, feeble cover for an actress’s less-than-sharp dancing).

  • AYUAM second draft completed. Get me rewrite!

    The last couple of days have been pretty productive, and I’ve managed to get out the second complete draft of the As-Yet Unannounced Animated Musical (AYUAM or AM for short) script. It’s probably even less fun to read about an unannounced than it is to write cagily about it. Sorry. Here on the weblog, I’ve been trying to come up with thematically consistent and entertaining links and clues over the last few weeks, creating a scattershot mosaic of references that, if pieced together, should amply prepare you/pump you up for the actual story. In fact, though, I count on the short attention span-weblog format to keep the dots unconnected. (For better or worse, I don’t have an army of decoding gamer/readers, a la that secret A.I. promotion a couple of years ago).
    Where it stands: The story, plot and action are all in place and pretty tight. The present/future/flashback narrative structure makes sense, too. At least as much as it’s gonna. In addition to our (anti-)hero (it’s based in part on a true-crime story, remember), there are 3-4 other major characters, depending on how you count. Of these, I’m still only fully satisfied with the characterization of two of them. The other three are close, but not done. It’s a combination of action/reaction, dialogue, and how they change/reveal themselves over the course of the story.
    Global issues:

  • Dialogue overall needs some attention, but that’ll be the case until we finish shooting, I imagine. There are still some artifacts from when everything that happened got explained. There is still some dialogue that I can tell will be acted away, too (i.e., made unnecessary by the actor’s performance).
  • Pacing I feel like I need to take a pass through the whole thing, finetuning the pacing, and imagining how the music will fit in. This will be the the last step to get it in good enough shape to take it to the songwriters. And I expect the whole thing will change/improve once the songs come in.
    [For an example of how a script can change by bringin’ in the big musical guns, check out this draft of South Park, which predates some of Marc Shaiman’s contributions.]
    “Mormon cinema on a mission for profits”, an article that causes me a crisis of faith, frankly. Like to know more? Check out, a good old-fashioned portal, with Mormons I knew/knew about (Aaron Eckhart, Neil LaBute, Walter Kirn) and Mormons I didn’t know about (Tom Hanks, Matthew Modine). No obligation, and no one will visit your home.