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Interviews

Actress Adepero Oduye Is No Pariah but An Indie Spirit Nominee

Adepero Oduye-bbThough Pariah is this little film telling a simple, classic tale seen and heard before, the charm of its actors and the need to have this coming-of-age story told again and again until it no longer needs to resonate makes the film a powerful and award-worthy statement.

Relative newcomer Adepero Oduye portrays Alike (pronounced ah-LEE-kay), a 17-year-old African-American woman who lives with parents Audrey and Arthur (Kim Wayans and Charles Parnell), and younger sister Sharonda (Sahra Mellesse) in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene. With a flair for poetry and good grades, Alike quietly but firmly embraces her lesbianism with the sometimes boisterous support of her best friend and out lesbian Laura (Pernell Walker).

Read more: Actress Adepero Oduye Is No...

Ken Russell & Vanessa Redgrave Recognize The Genius of The Devils

While every publication, news site and television program celebrated those who passed ken-russell-Devils-coveraway at the end of this year, one incredible talent, the British director Ken Russell, was overlooked by much of the media in those look-backs since his death on November 27, 2011, at 84.

When Russell came to NYC in June 2010 for his Film Society of Lincoln Center retrospective, Russellmania, which took place from July 30 to August 5, 2011, he was exuberant about developing new projects and possibilities. It was as if this reassessment re-invigorated him for the future, even though he had this fragility about him.

Born on July 3, 1927, Henry Kenneth Alfred "Ken" Russell was known for a flamboyant and controversial style. During his peak years, the English film director attracted criticism because of his obsessions with sexuality and the church. Best known for his Oscar-winning film Women in Love (1969), The Devils (1971), The Who's Tommy (1975), and the science fiction film Altered States (1980), he directed lots of feature films independently and for studios.

Russell began directing for the BBC, where he made creative adaptations of composers' lives which were unusual for the time. His pioneering work in television and film often dealt with the lives of famous composers or were based on other works of art which he loosely adapted. held in high regard by many classical musicians and conductors for his story-driven biopics of various composers, most famously Elgar, Delius, Liszt, Mahler and Tchaikovsky.

He’s also produced and directed theater including a play starring Keith Carradine in NYC. Finally a new Blu-ray release of Russell's The Devils came out further highlighting his work on the influential film.

Q: Of all of your films, which one do you feel is most perfect and why?

KR: The Devils because the characters are so excellent in it. It had the best cast I ever got together.

Q: Of all the actors you have worked with, who would you would cast again?

KR: I certainly liked Oliver Reed because he was always a challenge. Even with The Devils, he rose to the challenge and often transcended the possibilities of what he could do and couldn’t do.

Q: What did you think of it?

VR: I was astonished by the film the first time I saw it. I’m even more astonished now, because in everything -- the concepts, the text -- it’s like you took cinema into another world.ken-russell-Russell-Redgrave

I personally haven’t seen anything like this for years, and I mean that in the sense of profound homage. That’s extraordinary images of the kind of brutal chaos that certainly happened at that time, and has happened and is happening at other times.

KR: That’s why I wanted to make it. It was a tale that needed retelling every few years because nothing changes and there’s still a lot of evil in the world. This is just a reminder of the evil that surrounds us.

Q: You were a Roman Catholic at one time in your life. Were you no longer a Roman Catholic by the time you made this film?

KR: I’m a devout Catholic; always have been, always will be.

Q: It's not the most flattering portrait of the Catholic Church.

KR: You were proud of this film, weren’t you darling?

VR: Yes. Very proud of it. Very proud of you, of Derek Jarman, very proud of the decisions you made to not go for the general run -- medieval, tired, semi-reconstituted -- but to go for this fantastic… I can’t put a name to it, because it’s beyond putting a name to. The conception of Loudun and the white tiles of Loudun, which sort of encompass this world, and when they crumble, reveal a bleakness both within and without.

There’s so much to take on board in the film, but in cinema terms and spiritual terms it’s extraordinary. I feel very inadequate even attempting to put one word after another. I’m very proud of it.

Q: Ken, you mentioned that Aldous Huxley had said that the exorcism of Sister Jeanne was like a rape in a public lavatory, and that informed your instruction of Derek Jarman.

KR: Yes. He went for it. He wanted to achieve this monumental horror story in terms Aldous Huxley would have appreciated, and that’s what we got, I think.

VR: That’s fantastic to hear it was Aldous Huxley.

Q: This film speaks to war and atrocity. Do you find in the world at this point that cinema can play a role in creating hope, because some people in charge continue to pollute and destroy this planet.

KR: You have to look for it and you need a magnifying glass to find it. That’s about all I have to say on it. It speaks for itself.

VR: I was at a conference [at the RFK Center] -- I won’t go into the whole conference -- but apart from attending, listening very carefully and being extremely encouraged, I joined Mandy Patinkin and Gloria Reuben in reading some testimonies by a few -- only nine -- of some hundreds of people who were photographed by [Eddie Adams] and interviewed by and for Kerry Kennedy.

There was an exhibitioken-russell-Redgraven, and a school program for the curriculum called "Speak Truth to Power."

From my point of view, it's extremely important. The stories that Mandy, Gloria and I read, just brief excerpts, are by women and men from many different countries -- Russia, Chad, Ghana, and India -- who have [had] horrible violence done to them personally and around them, and turned it into defending human lives and human rights in a most extraordinary way.

This work tends to get drowned out by the very real violence and cruelty that is in the world. But it’s very important that these programs are being taken to schools.

Kids need to know that there are so many really decent people, some of whom have been wronged horribly, and dealt with very cruelly, that have not gone mad, and survived and have turned all the pain that they felt and the misery they felt into defending lives and human rights.

There are so many of these people, but they don’t hit the media. So I’m glad that I was there and I’m glad that I’ve been able to meet some extraordinary people.

I’m very glad to have met the families and some of the guys who have finally returned from Guantanamo. They’ve been through hell -- a hell that in my mind resembles that hell that we saw in the film. These are such remarkable people, and their families are very remarkable too, and so are the communities that came forward to help them and the children and wives.

School teachers, schools that opened their doors for public meetings to raise the issue that these are British citizens, British residents, they’ve been charged with no crime, they must be returned to Britain.

And because of prolonged campaign and a profound repugnance in all the legal circles for the profound illegality and cruelty, they are home -- with one exception of one man, one British resident with a British family, who’s still there.

Now I wouldn’t have gone into this except to say that in my experience -- and I can only say from my experience -- I have seen as much decency in human beings and protection and will to defend humanity as I have of cruelty.

KR: I’m sure Vanessa’s sentiments are quite profound and need no continuity or thought to continue. So I would just like to thank her once again for her profound words. Thank you.

VR: Well, I’d like to thank you for this wonderful, iconoclastic, philosophically iconoclastic [film], which went with a profound faith. Because I think people who have a profound faith are the people prepared to break all the barriers for that faith to become and be what it could be but isn’t, so often.

KR: Yes, thank you very much. I can’t add any more to that.

Q: The Devils to you is what Paths of Glory was for Stanley Kubrick. I consider them the same area.

VR: He considers your film The Devils to be in the same area as Stanley Kubrick’s.

Q: Yes, because of the corruption and politics.

KR: It’s the destruction. Everything we hold ken-russell-Devils-shootgood and right. The film really sort of confirms what we all feel about situations like Loudun, situations which went on and have gone on for centuries and with little sign of ceasing. So that’s what it’s about.

Q: You recorded audio commentary for a DVD that has yet to materialize. The Devils became available on iTunes. It looked beautiful, but in 72 hours was pulled with no explanation from iTunes or Warner Brothers -- like they’re afraid to let people see this film. It’s still incendiary and censored. There’s a sequence, the rape of Christ, that's not in this film. It was shown in England but not here in the States.

KR: That was Warner Brothers just putting the boot in. They’ve never liked the film from the day it was first seen. They’re afraid of it.

Q: It has been reported that someone went into the vaults at Warner Brothers, unearthed the canister print and there was a note in there that said, "This film shall never see the light of day." At least we proved them wrong tonight.

KR: The only way it will see the light of day is if you all write to Warner Brothers. I gather it’s just opened in Spain in a version yet to be seen.

Q: What was it like working with Oliver Reed?

KR: It was very interesting. He’s not the most forthright person to have conversations with. But we devised a method of communication, which I will pass on. He’s dead now, so it won’t do any harm.

My method of working with him was quite simple once I worked it out. We worked out moods. He would ask me what mood I wanted particularly for a scene. Did I want it moody one, moody two, or moody three? And depending on the horror I wanted, or lack of it, I would say "Let’s try moody one," and that would be it. Mostly it was moody two.

Q: Vanessa, you didn’t really have many scenes with him.

VR: I was in a scene in which I couldn’t even see him, so we weren’t acting…as you can see; we didn’t have any scenes together. I think he’s very, very good in the film. Whether that’s Ken’s choice of moody one or moody two [I can't say], but I think he’s very, very good.

KR: I have nothing to say except to congratulate you on a wonderful performance. It really is extraordinary.

Fire-Breathing "Bellflower" -- Director Glodell's Auspicious Sundance Debut

Evan GlodellWhat is Bellflower, the latest buzz movie of the moment? It's a road movie, a mumblecore/relationship film, even a weird buddy pic with some bitchy girls and that flamethrower.

Or to sum it up, best friends Woodrow (Evan Glodell) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson) toil endlessly over Mad Max-inspired devices and vehicles to prepare for the impending apocalypse.

Yeah, right. Until Woodrow meets a girl, falls in love, gets a gang and journeys into shifting patterns of love, hate, betrayal, infidelity and a bit of violence -- basically everyday fantasy life in post-millennial America.

Read more: Fire-Breathing "Bellflower" --...

The Late Great Director Sidney Lumet: A Last Interview

On the occasion of the great Philadelphia-born and New York-bred director Sidney Lumet's BB-SLumet-DDead-poster2passing earlier this year, The Film Society of Lincoln Center put together an extraordinary retrospective of 16 signature classics, Prince of The City: Remembering Sidney Lumet, which was held  in the Walter Reade Theater from July 19 - July 25, 2011 in Manhattan.

It culminated in the closing screening of Lumet's powerful last feature, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. A melodramatic thriller stoked with dark humor and darker dread, Before the Devil... first premiered in the U.S. at the 2007 New York Film Festival.

Its director had long been regarded as an internationally respected auteur who had made several benchmark films such as The Pawnbroker, Prince of the City and Network, as well as his two Al Pacino star vehicles, Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon.

Just as Before the Devil was getting all the ballyhoo, Lumet regaled a posse of journos with insights and asides on his latest effort. It was not only for the film's brilliant and unique story structure or its sterling cast (Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, Marisa Tomei and Amy Ryan), but for Lumet's application of HD video cameras.

The film details the tragic tale of two brothers who organize the robbery of their own parents' jewelry store. The job goes horribly wrong, triggering a cascading set of events that sends them, their parents and their friends and lovers careening towards a disastrous climax.

Little did we know at the time that it would be his last press day or his last film. On April 9, 2011 the seemingly indefatigable Lumet died at 86, after a long career as an actor/writer/director who made over 50 films -- many garnering Oscar wins or nominations for their actors.

The son of Yiddish thespians, Lumet began acting at age four, made his Broadway debut at 11 and first film apBB-SLumetpearance at 15. But it was as a director -- first in early live television and later in movies -- that he found his true calling, drawing on his experience in front of the camera to become the very definition of an "actor's director."

From 12 Angry Men in 1957 to Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Lumet was, in the words of Woody Allen, "the quintessential New York filmmaker," whether telling gritty stories of urban corruption or adapting Broadway stage classics in cinema.

Here now is that last roundtable interview, published for the first time in its entirety.

Q: How well rehearsed were the actors for this film? Did you do a lot of takes for the more challenging scenes? Or was it just straight ahead, one or two takes?

SL: We're very thorough in rehearsal. We do everything. In fact, before the rehearsal ends, we do a run-through from top to bottom -- fights, anything, everything. The scripts are out of their hands. It's a very thorough preparation. I'm a big believer in it.

Q: From start to finish?

SL: Start to finish. Everything is covered every day, because first of all, it's the only time they can do it in sequence. They'll never get it in sequence again.

Second of all, when you're going to ask for this level of intensity, you're not going to get it if they're insecure in any way. If they're tight, the rehearsal just relaxes them completely because they get to know what they're doing. It's that that allows all of the emotion to come jumping out and springing to the fore. Yeah, I find it invaluable.

Q: Why did you think of Marisa Tomei for Gina -- the wife of Phil Hoffman's character?

SL: I fell in love with her in My Cousin Vinny, and it hasn't abated a bit. A superb actress. When I met her after My Cousin Vinny, I couldn't believe it, because I thought she was that.

Every once in a while you see a performance and say well, the director went out and got a nonprofessional, and I thought that was true of Marisa. I thought it was true of Tim Robbins in Bull Durham, and I thought, my God, they went out and got themselves a real cracker. So I loved her work from that and some subsequent work.

Also -- this is very important for a picture like this -- if you know my pictures, I don't do sex scenes. I don't do sex scenes because I don't believe them.

Only one picture I ever believed in [doing it], and there was a reason I believed, but I knew I was going to have to have it in this, that opening scene.

It was very important that both actors be relaxed about it, because if they weren't then it would be like any other sex scene, the ones I don't believe.

And I knew that Marisa just is totally uninhibited. She's not an exhibitionist by any means, but it's just another part of acting for her. And I'm sure that Philip is not used to it because he's not the conventional leading man.BB-DDead2

When we were blocking -- this is during rehearsal, after we'd finished three days around the table talking and so on -- then we got up on our feet, we started to stage it just like you would in the theater.

So that's the first scene, the first one we get to, and there's a set laid out on the floor and a bed. Marisa, bless her, she hops onto the bed.

I wrote out the description very carefully, because there are instances of actors saying, "Oh I didn't know I was going to have to get undressed," and by union regulations you cannot make them. I wrote it out in great detail so that they couldn't say they didn't know.

So Marisa hops onto the bed, gets up on her knees and on her elbows and slaps her ass and says, "Let's go, Phil!"

It was so great because it not only put it in its proper place -- which is part of the movie, part of a performance -- but for Philip, that must have been such a release and such a relief that there was nothing competitive or what-have-you.

Q: That took all the stress out of it.

SL: Absolutely. I was thrilled with her. I was thrilled with her.

Q: How do you bring that essence out of an actor?

SL: It varies picture by picture. And another big variable in it is that some actors are in themselves closer to the roles they're playing and some actors are farther away.

Here, the most important thing there was to work on was the intensity, because like all good melodramas the story is completely unbelievable.

The only thing that's going to create a belief is if the intensity of performance is so high that your audience can't deny it, that you're sucked in completely. So for these actors it was a question of getting up onto a high enough pitch in the inner life of the performance.

Q: You worked with Albert Finney [who plays the father] in Murder on the Orient Express 33 years ago. Did you talk about the differences and similarities of working with him back then and working with him now?

SL: Never. I don't even see my old movies, and "old movie" is anything I did last. When this round is over with, and the premieres that I have to go to, and so on, I won't see this again. Next Wednesday is the last time I'm going to see this movie.

Q: You've shot all your moBB-SLumet-Pacinovies with multiple cameras. This one seemed to be very much a stationary camera looking into these lives. Was this something very conscious that you wanted to do or something very different from your older movies?

SL: I never think of the camera work as separated from the picture itself. One of the reasons I love high def -- I think in high def -- is because multi-camera has become much simpler.

For me that takes me right back to my origins, that takes me right back to live TV, because there I'd be using as many as six cameras. So it was a terrific pleasure. I love high def anyway; I've worked in nothing else for the last five years.

Q: What was similar or different about making this film?

SL: The multi-camera use. For instance, in two scenes, there's one camera there, there's one camera there, this camera's covering him, this camera's covering him. Look, you can get anything you want to in normal film, I realize that; it's a question of the effort.

Take a scene like where Ethan and Philip are ripping off the dope dealer's place and Philip has just shot that stranger lying there in the bed and he's rifling stuff in the closet, and Ethan is just standing there petrified -- this tension begins between them. "Did you touch anything?" "What?" "Did you touch anything!"

I guess I could have gotten that with individual cameras, first one side, then the other, but two things: it would have taken me all day to build up to that level of intensity, number one; and number two, I still don't think they ever would have been able to seem like they were working out of each other so completely.

Each one of them was in perfect reaction to what the other person was doing because they were doing it together at the same time. All pieces of work, you kind of keep hoping for the good accident and it happened when Philip stuck his head out and he said, "Okay, are we good?"

Now that wasn't in the script. Extraordinary line, extraordinary reactionBB-SLumet-12AMen2. And also from a character point of view, because for the first time, the only time in the movie, Philip is the insecure one and Ethan is the secure one. That inversion is so humanizing to those two characters.

A complete accident, and I think it only could have happened if both of them were being recorded at the same time. If that had happened on Philip's side and he'd thrown that in and then two hours later I'd turned around and gotten Ethan's side, I don't think he ever would have gotten to that reaction.

Q: That's a fascinating perspective that only a good director would have. You actually wrote a draft of the film. You didn't take a writing credit?

SL: No. I would have loved one, but those things are decided by the Writer's Guild. I don't know what they use as judgment, but they are very suspicious -- and rightly so -- of directors who put their names on as writers as well.

Because the normal amount that I do on a script, I wouldn't think of asking for a credit for. The writer may have written "the battle happens and the North wins," and then the director, because he'll stage the battle, he'll ask for a writing credit -- and I don't think he should get it.

Q: How hard was it to get this one made?

SL: I don't know. It's a peculiar time in movies now because there's so much private financing in it, and I don't know what Michael [Cerenzie, the producer] had when he sent me the script. I don't know how much money he had lined up, and when the last of it clicked into place.

Q: With a small movie like this, Oscars are a different game now; it's changed a lot. Now you have to campaign for them.

You've had so many Oscar-nominated and award-winning movies. How important are awards to movies like this?

SL: I have no idea. It's like catching lightning in a bottle. I don't think you can ever figure on it. I don't aim anything for it.

The reason it's all so much more a sales job now, and ads and this that and the other -- in the old days when you were working at 20th Century Fox, Darryl Zanuck sent you a note saying, "Vote for this picture." Literally... So your vote was decided for you.

Q: How would they know what you'd voted for?

SL: They knew.

Q: It's amazing that you've made nearly 50 movies in your 83 years. And this movie is so great -- and to come out at this time in your life. Will you continuing making movies after this?

SL: I hope so. With a little luck, with a little help from my friends, yeah.

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