Tag Archives | TCM Classic Film Festival 2015

Updated Articles Archive

One of my resolutions this year is to add articles more often to my site’s backlog, so I’ve included, if not yet sorted, eight pieces to the Writings tab and checked that item off my list (read my new year’s post here on spring course offerings, fiction and other goals). The newly added articles appear on separate website pages, so they are not blog posts, with hyperlinks on headlines in bullet points included below. For various reasons, I may have to remove these articles at some point, so if you’re interested in any of these, read them sooner than later.

The oldest article went to press in 1999. It’s a roundup of then-newly printed works by Ayn Rand, anchored by two reviews of books published by the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) peppered with or consisting of essays or writings by Rand, whose birthday, incidentally, is tomorrow. I haven’t re-read my thoughts on those books in years. I think the reviewed versions may have been updated with new editions by the organization’s ARI Press. The reviews are generally favorable. A related article is among the most recent pieces: the first interview with ARI’s new CEO, who discussed seeing Rand lecture near Harvard, where he was enrolled in business studies, his favorite course by Leonard Peikoff and what being an Air Force commander adds to the challenge of leading an organization dedicated to advancing Objectivism.

Three other exclusive interviews appear. Composer Alexandre Desplat, nominated for an Oscar for scoring The Shape of Water, spoke with me from Paris about Charlie Hebdo, Islamic terrorism and his methodology in making music for movies, including predominantly his 2015 movie, Suffragette. That same year, Leonard Maltin, whom I’ve interviewed several times since we met, talked in depth about classic movies and the third edition of his Classic Movie Guide.

I had been asking him for years to do an extended interview in person and, finally, we did, at his home. The interview ended right on time as a TV crew came in for set-up and perhaps you’ll agree with me that it’s our most serious exchange. The third movie-related interview took place a year later with a historian who knows all about the slave rebellion depicted in a controversial film, The Birth of a Nation (2016), which opened to widespread praise in a film festival only to lose critical darling momentum when its writer and director was linked to a rape victim who later killed herself. This pre-Me, Too Hollywood derailment only made me more serious about judging the merits of the movie, distributed by Fox Searchlight, the studio responsible for the powerful 12 Years a Slave, so I’m glad I went to the young scholar who studied the facts which form the basis for the motion picture. The exchange amounts a history lesson on the truth about slavery in America.

A couple of articles report on interviews conducted by others for the annual classic film festival — the only movie festival I’ve consecutively covered — hosted by Turner Classic Movies in Hollywood. Read my account of Club TCM’s detailed tribute to Leonard Maltin, who got personal about his early career in book publishing, movie journalism and an affiliation with the Walt Disney Studios and my 2016 report on TCM’s rare and respectful one on one exchange with one of America’s last glamorous movie stars, Faye Dunaway, who talked about Network, Barfly and The Thomas Crown Affair (1968). Finally, I’ve added an article from a local edition of the Los Angeles Times which I conceived, researched and wrote on assignment. This is the tale of a mid-range shopping mall nestled in a prime location in the shadow and hum of LA’s newest freeways. The property would begin with publicity visits from movie stars and Olympic athletes amid concern about lost business in a neighboring suburb whose government was so frightened that they passed regulations to stop people from shopping there. Its decline began when two of the most feared Los Angeles serial killers stalked — and enticed, captured and murdered — children at the mall.

Newly added articles include:

Movie Review: Viva Zapata! (1952)

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Elia Kazan’s Viva Zapata! (1952) starring Marlon Brando and Anthony Quinn, is another of his brilliantly conceived and executed character studies, a penetrating movie with an excellent script by John Steinbeck (The Grapes of Wrath). I had the pleasure of seeing it for the first time in the venue for which it was created—the movie theater—at the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival. The picture was introduced by the late Mr. Quinn’s widow, Katherine. More on this later.

This thoughtful picture begins in a dictatorship, when a small group of Mexican peasants comes pleading to el presidente in an annual publicity stunt. Every man is humbled before the officiously puffed-up thug. Except one man (Brando) who coolly refuses to go along with the herd. He speaks up. When he does, the others step aside.

But he is heard—what he says, which is about property rights and liberty, is less important than the fact that he dares to say it—and his act of defiance is noted. The head of state takes notice of his name. He is marked for persecution by the state. His name is Zapata. As Kazan does in so many of his post-Congressional testimony films, such as On the Waterfront (1954, also with Brando as the one against the many), America, America (1963) and the underappreciated Man on a Tightrope (1953), he depicts a lone man who takes on the world.

Viva Zapata! is centrally about what happens to him when he does. But, in a deeper sense, and Elia Kazan is an ingenious filmmaker in social commentary, this seminal film is about what happens to the world when a man acts against the predominant ideals on principle. And, though it is set and contained in the southern part of North America, this is really and purely a movie about the United States of America, though it is universal, too.

Initially, the swaggering Mexican freethinker, who attracts a woman of means (Jean Peters, excellent in the role), declines to be “the conscience of the world”. He simply fights, he says, accompanied by his trusted brother (Anthony Quinn in a breakthrough performance), for justice. The government is robbing and stealing land from individuals—with Steinbeck, the collective is emphasized over the individual—and anyone can see that this is wrong, he reasons. Brando’s Zapata wants to be worldly, civilized and part of society; he is not a misanthrope or some tortured cynic or anarchist. He actively courts Peters’ feisty maiden, though he does it on his terms. When he sees an act of reprehensible injustice, he is moved to act and he does.

When he does, something happens: the many follow the one—the one who thinks for himself—though, in a powerful scene, they do so not as a mob. They follow one by one; young, old, man, woman, child. The people, too, want to be free.

Emiliano Zapata’s rise to Mexico’s presidency is less involving than its meaning and consequent impact. In black and white, with a distinctive cinematographic approach that matches the history of the period, his illiteracy and, more crucially, his desire to grow and learn, are dramatized in plain pictures, dialogue and action. His tradeoffs, betrayals and alliances shift and converge with subtle character traits and men’s choices shaping the plot. His slovenly brother (Quinn), his comrades, his woman (Peters) and, tellingly, his partner, Madero (Harold Gordon), who blankly insists that everything is “going to be alright” the way today’s ignorant and evasive intellectuals do, represent each type of person. Kazan draws each into the slowly swirling storm of revolution, making Viva Zapata! utterly absorbing.

The title means something, too. This is a man who is strong not merely in body. He is muscled and fit and arrogant in everything he does, that’s true. But it is earned and he is searching, always striving to be his best. His rational mind is his best asset and the movie is seeded with this theme—that the man of the mind is man at his best—in particular with a reference to the difference between the jug and the vase, so watch what happens to both. “Liberty is not [just] a word,” he says at the height of his power, if not his influence. He means it.

The world’s changes happen slowly, over time, and he senses this, too. When Zapata faces his own fallibility, at the risk of death, the revolutionary must make an agonizing choice between blood and tradition and his highest ideals. The choice Zapata makes is the choice each man faces, especially now, with every freethinker endangered by men of faith and force. With depth and reason, the timeless example of what makes a man strong—as against what makes people seek to be led by a strong man—is depicted in indelible scenes on a white horse, which symbolizes lost innocence and a beloved hero. “How do you kill an idea?” Someone asks, echoing Victor Hugo.

Viva Zapata! by Elia Kazan dramatizes an answer that calls upon man’s greatest revolutions—American, Industrial—and dares to ask for more…

In the most fascinating interview at the Classic Film Festival, Mrs. Anthony Quinn, Katherine Quinn, who founded the arts educational Anthony Quinn Foundation, spoke about her late husband, who won Oscars, including one for his role in Viva Zapata!, and studied architecture with Frank Lloyd Wright. Though the exchange was too short, Mrs. Quinn recalled that he hated talking about the craft of acting because he was a man of action who held his approach to his work as an internal, private affair. She also said that, while he liked working with Kazan, and with director David Lean (who directed Quinn in Lawrence of Arabia), he didn’t care for modern directors, whom he regarded as “traffic cops” because they didn’t really direct the actor. My favorite part of the discussion was Katherine Quinn’s response when it was pointed out that Anthony Quinn was “the first Mexican-American…” etc. to win an Oscar. She courteously cut in and explained that her husband rejected the importance of that non-essential fact; he simply, she said, wanted to be his best as an actor. He was and, in Viva Zapata!, it shows.

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