That's Something You Don't See Every Day, Chauncey

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Posts Tagged ‘burt lancaster’

All-Time Top 20 Favorite Movies, #14: Nobody ever lies about being lonely.

Posted by kozemp on November 9, 2012

This is the kind of weird person I am.

This past summer my parents were on vacation in Hawaii. At one point when I was talking to them they mentioned that the next day they were going to Halona Cove Beach, the one made famous in From Here To Eternity.

I said, “bring me back some sand from the beach.”

My mother laughed.

I said, “no seriously, I put it in a jar or something.”

She laughed again.

I said, “really, not kidding, bring back the fucking sand.”

I admit that sometimes it can be difficult to determine when I am being serious given the outlandish nature of a lot of what I say. But I really, honestly wanted sand from that beach. Because From Here To Eternity is a stupid awesome movie.

I came to the movie in a very roundabout way, and I’m not sure if that makes my love for it more or less weird. The progression, more or less, goes something like this: because, at the age of 21, I totally was an obnoxious cineaste film student, I went to see Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line on opening night. Then, because I am a giant process nerd, I read the book by James Jones, and thought, “oh my god this guy is depressing.” Then, because I am obsessive about such things, I read all of his books (not that hard for James Jones) and read From Here to Eternity and thought, “Jesus Christ, I thought this guy was depressing before.”

Not too long after that there was a sort of mini film-festival for Columbia Pictures’ 75th anniversary, and one of the movies that was playing at the Ritz at the Bourse was From Here To Eternity, and because I was both a giant process nerd AND an obnoxious cineaste film student AND a repository of movie trivia (From Here to Eternity was, for a little while, the record holder for most Oscars won, at 8, and it should have been 9) I determined that seeing it on the big screen was clearly something I had – HAD! – to do.

I sat there, by myself in the underground theatre – in a truly shocking turn of events I could not convince any of my 21 year old college compatriots to come downtown to watch a black and white movie from 1953 – and was, as I am by a lot of movies, completely dumbstruck by how great it was.

Look, I get that old movies, especially pre-1960 stuff, have a really high barrier to entry for modern audiences. I get that. But so much of that is about things like style and pacing. A good story is still a good story. A good performance is still a good performance. From Here to Eternity has a great script (more about that in a bit). And, I don’t want to spoil anything here, but it also has more amazing performances than you can shake a stick at. Sinatra won an Oscar for this movie, and it might be the LEAST good of his major performances. DONNA REED won an Oscar! Donna Reed!

And then there is Lancaster.

Milt Fucking Warden, Badass

Burt Lancaster is my favorite actor of all time – no one else is even close – and this movie is largely why.

Burt Lancaster was a great actor – anyone who says otherwise is fucking stupid – but he wasn’t the kind of “great” actor that, for instance, Montgomery Clift was. He couldn’t craft a performance effortlessly like Clift could, and he knew it, and reportedly it pissed him off to no end. This is astonishing stuff. Lancaster’s biography is literally the only biography I have ever read, and it talks about how jealous and angry he was because he knew he wasn’t as good as Montgomery Clift. Onscreen and off, Burt Lancaster was the King of Hollywood in the 1950s, and here he was seething with self-resentment because he wasn’t Montgomery Clift.

(Oddly enough, they both shunned the glamour/spotlight side of Hollywood, and were both far more devoted to craft than money.)

It’s a shame, because even if he wasn’t talented in the way that Clift was, this is really the movie that changes his career from pretty good tough guy to Mega Movie Star Leading Man With Acting Chops (which, admittedy, may not be an actual thing). He’s so fantastic in this it’s not even funny. This is the first movie Lancaster stars in where it seems like he was born solely to play his role. Note that I said the FIRST movie where that is true. He would do it over and over and over again, in Elmer Gantry, and Run Silent Run Deep, in Birdman of Alcatraz. General Scott in Seven Days in May is one of the all-time great cerebral film villains. Even in knockoff actioner shit like The Train (a movie that is pretty great, but still) he blows the doors off the theatre.

Then, as he got older, he transitioned into a classic acting elder statesmen (Lancaster in Atlantic City OH MY SWEET CHRIST), and if Moonlight Graham isn’t the greatest acting swan song of all time, you, gentle reader, are welcome to go fuck yourself.

And of course, in the middle of it, there is JJ Hunsecker in Sweet Smell of Success, easily one of the most underappreciated films in American history, that is powered by a Burt Lancaster performance so fierce and blistering that can peel paint off the walls through the screen. If you have any love of great movies at all and have not seen it, I implore you to rectify that as soon as you possibly can.

But, like I said: this is the movie where he turns into that actor. He was a bit like George Clooney, in that as his career got bigger and bigger he got choosier about the parts he took (not AS choosey as Clooney, but enough). Everybody talks about Clift’s performance in From Here to Eternity, and rightly so. He’s also pretty fucking great in everything. But aside from the pure acting work that Lancaster does here, he also has to carry all the emotional weight of the film, and THAT he makes look effortless. Milt Warden is the heart of the movie, and it is a soldier’s heart: resolute, honorable, bound to duty and comrades, but still brutal and cruel deep down. The ease with which Lancaster communicates all of that, and the efficiency of it… it’s breathtaking. Yeah, this might be inside-baseball actor-y stuff, but it’s one of those things that if you’ve ever read one thing about acting theory, and then you watch Lancaster in this movie, you sit back and go “holy fuck he’s awesome in this.” And he’s SURROUNDED by great performances too. It’s an embarrassment of riches on the acting score.

And as if having a spate of absurdly good performances weren’t enough, From Here to Eternity is a fucking clinic on how to adapt a difficult book for the screen. Because, if you haven’t read it, trust me: making a movie out of the James Jones novel, in an era when the Hays Code controls what you can and can’t put in a movie, is nigh impossible. The fact that a COMPREHENSIBLE adaptation of the novel was made is, in and of itself, wholly remarkable, never mind that a movie so nakedly anti-establishment somehow got past the censors. The fact that the adaptation is not only a brilliant film in its own right, but manages to keep the spirit (and most of the plot) of the book perfectly intact with the restrictions it was made under… it’s a goddamn Christmas miracle.

There is a certain kind of brainless, would-be movie person who says, “they don’t make them like they used to.” To which, for one thing, dickface, no they don’t. The technical and logistical side of movie production has changed greatly over the last few decades. That’s called “progress.” But it’s worth noting that in a very famous movie (which will appear in this countdown) where that saying appears, another character responds, “no, no one ever made them like this!” That’s how I feel about From Here To Eternity. So many elements, all perfectly wrought, coming together to produce a singular work of brilliance. How often does that happen whatever year it is?


PS – For the record, both Seven Days in May and Sweet Smell of Success were very late cuts from this list.


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CLASSIC: It is an honor I dream not of.

Posted by kozemp on January 13, 2012

Since, as we all know, my motto is and has always been “Safety First” – followed closely by “Dignity, Always Dignity” – we’re going to return today to our occasional series of seminars on drastic and dangerous life events.

This week’s topic is “how to survive going to two weddings in one day.”

– Firstly and most importantly – this really cannot be stressed enough – do not wait until the day you are attending two weddings to buy the shoes you are planning on wearing to two weddings. For while your brand-new shoes may be very impressive in their own right, and when combined with your brand-new suit and shirt and tie, all selected and coordinated specifically for the two-wedding day, make you resemble nothing so much as the reincarnation of Burt Lancaster himself, and we’re talking like vintage 1955 “I just got finished sleeping with Ava Gardner AND Lana Turner and, my oh my, what’s your name, sweetheart?” Burt Lancaster, wearing brand-new shoes to two weddings in one day is a CATASTROPHICALLY BAD IDEA. Doing so will cause your resemblance to Burt Lancaster to rapidly erode, as it is a known fact that Burt Lancaster was in possession of both his feet, and after a couple hours of wearing brand-new wingtips the only thought in your entire head – overriding your base, lizard-brain lusting after food, sex, lower taxes and oxygen – will be a burning desire to chop off your own feet with a rusty axe.

– Have backup. This is valuable in several respects. If, for instance, you tear the price tag off your brand-new tie a little too vigorously and rip out one of the moorings of the little tie-holder-label-thingy, while driving to the first wedding you can call your backup and say, “you got any safety pins? What do you mean you threw out all your safety pins? How the fuck can you throw away anything as fantastically useful as safety pins? Fabric glue? Will that set in time? Okay, fine, bring that.” (This is an actual, complete quote.) Or, when partway through the first of two weddings in one day, you can say to your father, “if you don’t get me a pair of golf shoes that look like wingtips I’m going to chop my feet off with a rusty axe.” If your backup gets snippy, you can remind them that pain overrides family and that once you start chopping off body parts it can be very hard to stop. You know, like Jedi.

– While buying nice new Burt Lancaster-izing clothing for two weddings in one day is endorsed, if you are buying your clothing at someplace you have never shopped before be sure that you actually look at the prices of the clothes you’re buying, so you can avoid situations such as tearing the price tag off your brand-new tie a little too vigorously and, while wondering how you’re going to fix the little tie-holder-label-thingy, glancing at the too-vigorously-removed price tag and realizing that you have paid more for a tie than you normally do for a shirt, and that you normally pay pretty handsomely for shirts to begin with. This realization is closely followed by a feeling of growing horror while you try to calculate how much you paid for the new shirt from this place, then wondering whether the guy at the gas station on the way to work on Monday morning will accept the change from your cup holders as payment.

– While the bucolic location for the first reception might make you think that everyone will be very relaxed and easygoing, always remember to be very, very careful when surrounded by large groups of Germans. This advice applies pretty much anywhere, really. And for god’s sake, whatever you do, don’t mention the war.

– Your desire to end the lives of certain guests at the reception is not something you should verbalize.

– At the first reception, if your father has been hopelessly addicted to the bride’s grandmother’s pastries for the last 40 years, telling your father that the dessert tray is a collection of pastries made by the bride’s grandmother and that they are out and ready to be eaten is a surefire way to guarantee that you do not get to eat any of said pastries.

– Silk suspenders do not have the same kind of “give” in them as the cheaper, elastic suspenders you may have worn in the past. This means that things like going to the bathroom take exponentially longer as you will spend several minutes trying, Houdini-like, to extricate yourself from them, since after you realize that you could have made a car payment for what you inadvertently paid for said silk suspenders you will find breaking your own back preferable to doing any damage to the goddamn things.

– Wearing contact lenses for the first time in almost a year is recommended if the first reception is outside on a beautiful sunny day, as it makes the wearing of sunglasses possible. Trying to drive from one reception to another in the dusk of twilight while wearing contact lenses for the first time in almost a year is not recommended, as the combination of your eyes adjusting to your slightly-different vision and the tricky, shifting light of the immediate post-sunset period will make driving in under-lit suburbs much more exciting than it really needs to be.

– When arriving at your friend’s parents’ house for the second reception, do not trip over the SAME GODDAMN TRICK DOORSTEP THAT YOU HAVE TRIPPED OVER EVERY ONE OF THE HUNDREDS OF TIMES YOU’VE GONE INTO THAT HOUSE FOR THE LAST TWENTY FUCKING YEARS! Seriously, don’t do that.

– No matter how much your new clothing makes you resemble Burt Lancaster, the sentence, “you look so much like my ex-girlfriend that I really thought you were her, but when you walked past and didn’t punch me in the face I realized you weren’t” is not the first thing you want to say to someone you’ve just met. The fact that it is 100% literally true does not matter. Even at a nighttime, outdoor reception, where the darkness makes you resemble Burt Lancaster that much more, saying things like this clearly marks you as “not relationship material.”

– Get your friend who lives out of town and is thus marrying a woman you haven’t met yet to introduce you to his new wife BEFORE he is drunk.

– If you once watched one of your friends drink 26 beers in one night, offer him a ride home BEFORE people start playing beer pong if you want to leave the party any time soon.

– And, finally – whether your belief tends toward Jehovah, Vishnu or the Lords of Kobol, never let anyone think that you don’t thank the powers that be every day that you have the friends you have, without whom none of these fun things are possible. (Or necessary.)


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