Friday, April 19, 2013

Script First

Jack Webb may have been one of the world's most wooden actors, but as director of Pete Kelly's Blues, he had some pretty cool moves. One memorable shot early on is from inside a pizza oven, beginning as a pie is pulled out, flames coyly dancing at the left of the Cinemascope frame--as if from the point-of-view of the alchemy that turns dough into bread (or weaklings into toughs). No wonder Martin Scorsese thought highly enough of the film to add it to his collection.

But my favorite moment in this atmospheric film has nothing to do with camera moves or plot twists or acting moments. It's part of the credits. They begin with Warner Bros. (of course) and Webb--but as actor, not director. No announcement of "a Jack Webb film" or anything else of that ilk. Instead, right after "Jack Webb as Pete Kelly," come words to warm a writer's heart: "in a screenplay by Richard L. Breen." Not "in a film by Jack Webb" or "in a Mark VII Production."

It's a rare acknowledgment that the script comes first, that without it there would be no film: no producing, directing gripping, gaffing, editing, and photographing; no roles for Janet Leigh, Peggy Lee, Lee Marvin, and their fellows.

They don't make 'em like that anymore, but I'd sure like to see somebody try. Maybe one of these days, an innovative director will relinquish the usual vainglorious opening credit, and put the script first again.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Wait, Later This Will Be Nothing

Today I had a half hour or so between two nearby appointments, so I headed to the Museum of Modern Art, showed my card, escalated to the second floor, and turned into the first show I noticed: Wait, Later This Will be Nothing, Editions by the late, great Dieter Roth. It was a revelation. I'd seen paintings of Roth's in galleries and museums over the years, but wasn't familiar with his prints, books, and multiples. Here they were in abundance: Intricate, hypnotic, black-and-white prints--in the vanguard of op art. Books made from discarded newspapers. "Literary sausages" in which ground-up books Roth loved or loathed were used as a meat substitute combined with traditional ingredients and sheathed in traditional casing. Prints including foodstuffs like cheese or chocolate that the artist intended to decay with time but had been well covered with glass. A series of gorgeous, haunting works, large and small, based on a postcard of Piccadilly Circus.

My time ran out halfway through the show, but I'll be back.