As Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless comes up for reissue (50 years after its debut), all too many film writers lapse into nostalgia for their own fondness. In The Huffington Post, Patty Zohn offers an enjoyable essay about how she went to Paris (in 1970) and found the film still playing, and how she saw herself in Jean Seberg’s Patricia—the student soaking up the New Wave and the old Paris. Well, I’ve met Ms.
Are some families more dramatic than others? Is this something covered by Tolstoy’s famous law about families—that the happy ones are all alike, while the unhappy ones are unhappy in their own way—or was he hopelessly isolated on the far side of that moment when modern media began?
Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America By Peter Biskind (Simon & Schuster, 627 pp., $30) Warren Beatty has not done a lot for us lately. Town and Country, his last movie, was nine years ago. The absence is such that some of his old associates have concluded that he may be happy at last. But I doubt that such a hope lingered more than a few seconds: Beatty’s entire act has been the epitome of dissatisfaction.
Irving Thalberg: Boy Wonder to Producer Prince By Mark A. Vieira (University of California Press, 504 pp., $34.95) There are times of such chaos and promise, danger and daydream, when all of us hope for a superb and flawless leader. If he can swing it, we are off the hook. But he need not be a hero who turns into a tyrant. He is not necessarily strong, fierce, and Herculean. Indeed, it may add to his charm, to his magic, if he is slight, youthful, on the pretty side, and--better still--dying.
As a person, he was the most deferential of the New Wave directors, yet the most persistent. Eric Rohmer. He died yesterday, aged eighty-nine, and he had made 50 films in that time--as regular, as festive, but as resigned as birthdays--and they were all the same film, about men and women looking at each other. It sounds commonplace as a subject, perhaps, calm and contemplative. But consider for a moment. Are you more or less a man or a woman? Are you more or less tied up with someone?
Robert Altman: The Oral Biography By Mitchell Zuckoff (Knopf, 592 pp., $35) Here is your exam question: who is the last American movie director who made thirty-nine films but never won the Oscar for best director? Name the film by that director that cost the most money, and name the film of his that earned the most. Clue: The Departed, which must have been around Martin Scorsese’s thirtieth picture, and did win the directing Oscar, cost $90 million (four times as much as any of this man’s films cost)--so don’t go that way.
On a Wednesday night in San Francisco, opening night, in a theater no more than half full, the truth was as inescapable as rain at a picnic. Johnny Depp just wasn’t cutting it. He wasn’t even making the attempt. Once again, Michael Mann had poured his nearly liquid talent over a gangster picture without ever thinking to ask himself why. That oddly vague title Public Enemies--why isn’t it called Johnny D. or just Dillinger?--was turning into a startlingly detached and affectless movie.
Kazan on Directing Edited and with commentary by Robert Cornfield (Knopf, 368 pp., $32.50) If anyone wants to make the case for Elia Kazan as one of the outstanding twentieth-century Americans, there is a famous text to call in support. I refer to A Life, Kazan's autobiography, published in 1988 at 848 pages (it was cut to make it a reasonable length), and one of the most forceful and engrossing books ever written about a life in the arts or show business.