Shortly after Werner Herzog finished his first movie, a friend called him to let him know that his mentor (the great German film critic Lotte Eisner) was dying. Lotte Eisner was in Paris; Herzog was in Germany. His friend told him to catch a plane. But Herzog refused. Instead, he decided to walk to Paris, in the middle of winter, through clawing blizzards and morgue-like cold. Because he knew that Lotte wouldn’t die as long as he was walking. After days on the road, he arrived in Paris. Racked by illness, Lotte said to him, “I’m tired of life, but there’s a spell on me, that I must not die.” And Herzog said, “The spell is lifted.” Two weeks later, Lotte died.
I want Sergio Leone to direct my life. I want Ennio Morricone to write the score. Wouldn’t we all be better off with those two behind us? You’d be waiting for the bus and Leone would have your face dominating half the screen… the bus moving toward you like a symbol for an era… on the soundtrack: strings, a mezzo-soprano, euphoric heartbreak, a great virile swell of sound…. And you. Or rather: me. Hmmm. Maybe Once Upon a Time in the West is more Leone. If the Wild West hadn’t existed, he’d have made it up. No director ever suited big spaces and six guns more than Sergio. And no movie ever breathed the West like his.
Dan Brown is a mystery to me. His books appear to be written by a (vending) machine. His characters possess all the idiosyncrasies of spoons. His understanding of Catholicism would look dim-witted for a mollusc. And yet he sells in the millions. There’s an existential hunger for his bullshit. Even though the average Dan Brown novel only has four component parts (1) an obscene amount of exposition, 2) a kinky hit-man, 3) Professor Robert Langdon, 4) a tourist-friendly setting) he’s held up as king of thrillers just for throwing in the odd twist. The latest movie to come from a Dan Brown novel (Angels & Demons) is so silly even the ampersand looks embarrassed.
When Death of a Salesman opened in 1949 there was a newspaper cartoon of a couple leaving after the show; the husband turns to his wife and says, “I’ll get you for this!” And it’s true: people rarely have a good time watching Death of a Salesman. A play about failure and death and how very frail we all are is depressing; unless we see those qualities as essential to life. We’re unused to seeing our frayed edges and our worry as part of us. They’re meant to exist off-stage (where no-one can see). Synecdoche, New York begins with a production of Death of a Salesman. Both see beauty in our fears for our lives.
Why do people obsess over Star Trek? It was a Day-Glo show from the Quaalude-end of the Sixties. The cast couldn’t act. The effects looked cheap. But it spawned a legend that has lasted forty years. Obviously this has nothing to do with the scripts (which were terrible) or the creator (who was an idiot). It can’t even be down to the star (who was the worst actor of the lot). So it must be the characters that saved the show: Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock; two Etch-a-Sketches of the male psyche. The one led by his loins, the other by his frontal lobe. The new Star Trek throws out the forty wasted years between then and now. It sticks with what works.
Those who’ve braved Catwoman have nothing to fear from X-Men Origins: Wolverine. If Catwoman is a flesh-eating bacteria, Wolverine is only a case of man-flu. Yes, the movie is bad, and full of A-Team action sequences. Yes, it was written by a ten-year-old. Yes, it may land Hugh Jackman back doing dinner theatre. But it’s not Catwoman. Nor is it Supergirl. You won’t be left dumbfounded that intelligent human beings created it. Only mildly disappointed, that we’re back where super hero movies were in the 80s… disjointed script, schizoid tone, unconvincing effects and a cast like a C-list celebrity pirate ship.