I've been working a lot on the screenplay for Angry Little People: The Movie. It's such a sad story in so many ways (i.e. all of them). It's all about Helen, a failed housewife and deeply closeted artist who has systematically destroyed herself with alcoholism, inertia, day-dreaming and bad, bad decisions. It's getting harder and harder to spend so much time in her head. As someone who has been plagued with all sorts of anxiety disorders and constant worries that my decisions are bad, and that I don't write enough and just want read novels and watch movies all the time, I'm beginning to see too much of myself in her. But she's not me. I made other decisions. I'm not an alcoholic. Maybe her story has always meant so much to me because she's not me, but she is an object lesson, someone who drinks too much, a writer who doesn't write; who is all feeling and zero critical thought.
VIRGODOG: Maybe you should write happy things. Happy people should write sad things, and sad people should write happy things. That's how it should work.
CAVIGLIA: And I'm a sad person, so I should write happy things?
VIRGODOG: Well, yes.
CAVIGLIA: What about Eugene O'Neill? He was a sad person who wrote sad things.
VIRGODOG: And how did it work out for him?
CAVIGLIA: Pretty well. He won a Nobel prize.
VIRGODOG: And what about all the other people in his life?
CAVIGLIA: I guess not so well. They didn't win Nobels.
VIRGODOG: I don't think I like where this is going.
And then I watched the Soderbergh film from a couple of years ago, The Good German. I really hated it. It was completely confounding to me. He filmed it in B&W, in the old aspect ratio, even using the lenses people used to film '40s movies. Doing all that with a modern cast, in a movie filmed now, I guess he couldn't avoid an ersatz feel to it, but he could have avoided it being sloppy and poorly shot. The movie looked just dreadful. And he has Cate Blanchett, and Clooney for Christ's sake and made them look awful. It was boring and confusing, and I don't understand what he was getting at. I talked a little about it last night with Fuzzy Bastard and he thought that Soderbergh seemed angry at the movies of the '40s. You can't really argue with a feeling, I guess, but I think the movies he seems to be arguing with: Casablanca and The Third Man are impossible to have a dispute with, they will stomp all over whatever problem you might have with them and simply win.
I don't think anyone needs me to tell them that Casablanca is a really, really good movie. I love it. And for most of my life I managed to see it only in theaters (including once at Radio City Music Hall. Yowza!). A couple of weeks ago, I watched a documentary on PBS, From Hitler To Hollywood, about the actors and artists and writers and filmmakers who fled occupied Europe and wound up in California. Really worth seeing if they air it again. Casablanca was made during the war and pretty much every actor with a speaking role (except for Bogart, Bergman & Claude Rains) was a refugee from Hitler.
The Third Man is in the top five (maybe the top three, or top two) of My Favorite Movies of All Time. I think it is perfect. Maybe that's one of the reasons this Soderbergh thing made me so mad. It was like he was trying to show how dark and edgy and how bad the Americans could be, too. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact that movie has been made. In 1949. By Graham Greene, Carol Reed and Orson Fucking Welles. Filmed on location in bombed out Vienna. With a crazy zither score. With jokes about genre fiction versus art. With two American characters, one hopelessly naive, the other a greedy, sociopathic profiteer. With Alida Valli as the femme fatale; you never find out what happened to her during the war, what she did to survive, or what she saw. You never find out a goddamn thing about her in the movie, because she's not talking, and nothing she could say would be quite as bad as what you're thinking. You know nothing, but see it in her seen it all dead eyes and know what ever it is, it was bad. And it will probably never be okay for her again. If Soderbergh wanted an Elsa who never got out of occupied Europe, here she is. Cate Blanchett might be one of the greatest film actresses alive, but her role here is unplayable. She's a movie dame who talks and talks and bloody talks, and it's all so underwhelming. Maybe Soodrbergh was domed to failure in this, but did it have to come off feeling so half assed?
I'm all over the place in this post today. I'l leave you with this: