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Lie To Me: The Multiple Personalities of Tom Waits Acting Career by Chris Evangelista

By Yasmina Tawil

I aint no extra baby, I’m a leading man.

Tom Waits, Goin Out West

Tom Waits lights up the screen. The minute the singer appears in a film, he brings with him a sort of atmospheric baggagewe may not know what character hes playing, but we know him. We know that no matter what the film is, Waits will lend his own distinct, off-kilter brand of weirdness to it. Waits has been playing characters all through his musical career, the boozy troubadours and raspy-voiced noir loners who populate his songs are all engaging Waits creations.

Using his distinct, gravel-caked voice, Tom Waits conjures up boozy ballads designed to be played low at 3 a.m. and melodies that might echo off the broken-down rides of an abandoned, haunted carnival. His is an eclectic style, combining blues, jazz, cabaret, Spooky Sounds of Halloween sound effects tapes, and more. This distinct, unmistakable style goes beyond Waits musical accomplishments, finding its way into his acting in the two dozen or so film appearances the singer has made.

Waits doesnt consider himself foremost an actor. I do some acting, Waits tells Pitchfork. And theres a difference between I do some acting and I’m an actor. People dont really trust people to do two things well. If theyre going to spend money, they want to get the guy whos the best at what he does. Otherwise, its like getting one of those business cards that says about eight things on it. I do aromatherapy, yard work, hauling, acupressure. With acting, I usually get people who want to put me in for a short time. Or they have a really odd part that only has two pages of dialogue, if that.

Waits first film appearance was in Sylvester Stallones 1978 directorial debut Paradise Alley. Its a small part, with Waits essentially playing a version of himself, or at least the self he presents in many of his songs. The character, Mumbles, shows up at a piano, twitching and crooning. When was the last time you was with a woman? Stallones character asks him. Probably before the depression, Mumbles says. What are you saving it for? Stallone shoots back in that garbled manner of speaking Stallone has perfected. I dunno, Waits replies. Probably a big finish.

In the grand scheme of things, this is a nothing part; it was intended to be a bigger role, but Stallone cut it down to little more than a cameo. Yet what made it to the screen is distinct because Waits makes it so. Stallone is very still in the scene, leaning on Waits piano like dead weight. Waits is a study in contrast, never sitting still, his eyes half open. It might even be considered too much acting. When asked if acting came naturally to him, Waits replied, Its a lot of work to try and be natural, like trying to catch a bullet in your teeth.

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Lie To Me: The Multiple Personalities of Tom Waits’ Acting Career by Chris Evangelista

By Yasmina Tawil

“I ain’t no extra baby, I’m a leading man.”

— Tom Waits, Goin’ Out West

Tom Waits lights up the screen. The minute the singer appears in a film, he brings with him a sort of atmospheric baggage—we may not know what character he’s playing, but we know him. We know that no matter what the film is, Waits will lend his own distinct, off-kilter brand of weirdness to it. Waits has been playing characters all through his musical career, the boozy troubadours and raspy-voiced noir loners who populate his songs are all engaging Waits creations.

Using his distinct, gravel-caked voice, Tom Waits conjures up boozy ballads designed to be played low at 3 a.m. and melodies that might echo off the broken-down rides of an abandoned, haunted carnival. His is an eclectic style, combining blues, jazz, cabaret, Spooky Sounds of Halloween sound effects tapes, and more. This distinct, unmistakable style goes beyond Waits’ musical accomplishments, finding its way into his acting in the two dozen or so film appearances the singer has made.

Waits doesn’t consider himself foremost an actor. “I do some acting,” Waits tells Pitchfork. “And there’s a difference between ‘I do some acting’ and ‘I’m an actor.’ People don’t really trust people to do two things well. If they’re going to spend money, they want to get the guy who’s the best at what he does. Otherwise, it’s like getting one of those business cards that says about eight things on it. I do aromatherapy, yard work, hauling, acupressure. With acting, I usually get people who want to put me in for a short time. Or they have a really odd part that only has two pages of dialogue, if that.”

Waits’ first film appearance was in Sylvester Stallone’s 1978 directorial debut Paradise Alley. It’s a small part, with Waits essentially playing a version of himself, or at least the self he presents in many of his songs. The character, Mumbles, shows up at a piano, twitching and crooning. “When was the last time you was with a woman?” Stallone’s character asks him. “Probably before the depression,” Mumbles says. “What are you saving it for?” Stallone shoots back in that garbled manner of speaking Stallone has perfected. “I dunno,” Waits replies. “Probably a big finish.”

In the grand scheme of things, this is a nothing part; it was intended to be a bigger role, but Stallone cut it down to little more than a cameo. Yet what made it to the screen is distinct because Waits makes it so. Stallone is very still in the scene, leaning on Waits’ piano like dead weight. Waits is a study in contrast, never sitting still, his eyes half open. It might even be considered too much acting. When asked if acting came naturally to him, Waits replied, “It’s a lot of work to try and be natural, like trying to catch a bullet in your teeth.”

Read more


The Arc Of Stanley Kubrick: From Killers Kiss to Eyes Wide Shutby Noel Murray

By Yasmina Tawil

Stanley Kubrick made just 13 feature films in his nearly 50-year career, and from the 60s through the 90sthe era in which a Stanley Kubrick picture had a meaningeach new project went through more or less the same press-cycle. During production, reports would leak out about the grueling shoot, and how the reclusive Kubrick was testing the boundaries of cinema and propriety. Then the film would come out, and the critical reaction would be mixed to muted, with some declaring the new work a masterpiece and others calling it a disappointmentor even a pretentious fraud. Years would pass, and with time to sink in, each movie would be extensively reevaluated, eventually landing on best of the decade or even best of all time lists. It was as though each picture had to re-teach the audience how to watch a Stanley Kubrick film.

Eyes Wide Shut is the best case-in-point. Shooting began in the November of 1996 in London, and ended in June of 1998. Throughout that year and a half, there was gossip galore about what Kubrick was up to. The press knew primarily that the film starred Tom Cruise and Nicole KidmanHollywoods most popular couple at the timeand that it was going to be sexually explicit. Once filming completed, Kubrick spent nine months working with editor Nigel Galt, fine-tuning. Less than a week after he completed a final cut and showed it to Warner Bros. and his stars, he died.

So when the movie came out that summer, for a good long while the conversation surrounding it was about everything but what Kubrick had actually made. Instead, the press was preoccupied by

the decision to digitally obscure the orgy scenes, to avoid an NC-17 rating.

whether Cruise and Kidman had wasted a year of their careers making stilted softcore porn.

how American audiences reacted to seeing two of the biggest movie stars in the world in a slow-paced art-film.

whether the Pinewood Studios version of Manhattan looked real enough.

whether Warner Bros. was going to make its money back.

if this was the proper capper to a prestigious career.

By the end of 1999 though, a film that had generally been tagged as a letdown was being rehabilitated. Roger Ebert taped a special edition of his syndicated TV series, wherein prominent Chicago critics extensively unpacked Eyes Wide Shutand thus subtly rebuked the large number of well-known New York critics whod initially shrugged the movie off. The film made a healthy handful of best-of-99 lists (including in New York), and in the decades since its generally become regarded as one of the 90s supreme cinematic achievements, and indisputably worthy of its maker.

Most of the shift in conventional wisdom was due to Kubrick himself. When artists produce outstanding work throughout their careers, its easier to trust that they knows what theyre doingand that if we dont get it right away, we should look again. Its also true that once a film is out of the multiplex marketplace, questions like, Did you like it? become less pressing. Opinion takes a backseat to analysis. And with Eyes Wide Shut, theres as much to pick through and puzzle over as in any of Kubricks filmseven though almost nothing that happens in the picture is left unexplained.

Based on Arthur Schnitzlers Traumnovelle, the movie has Tom Cruise playing Dr. Bill Harford, a successful New York general practitioner who lives in a lavish apartment with wife Alice (Kidman) and their young daughter. The story begins with the couple going to a lavish Christmas party thrown by Bills patient Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack), where the pair flirts with other guests before the doctors called in by his host to attend to a nude, overdosing woman. The next night, Bill and Alice have a testy argument about sexual desire, during which Alice confesses that shes recently lusted after another man. Still fuming, he leaves the apartment to go on a house call, and begins a winding two-day odyssey that sees him sexually tempted multiple times. A combination of desperate arousal and burning envy nearly puts him in mortal danger, after he crashes a bizarre masquerade party at a country estate.

For a long time, Bills journey into the night feels like an erotic dream that keeps threatening to become a nightmare. (In fact, Traumnovelle is sometimes translated in English as A Dream Novel or Dream Story.) But at the end, Bill meets again with Victor, who offers a different interpretation of the previous 48 hours. Bills anxious because the morning after he was ejected from the masquerade, one of his friends went missing and a woman who helped him turned up dead. Victor insists that the friend just left town, the woman was a junkie prostitute, and the masked men at the party werent really threatening Bill, they were maintaining the theatrical illusion of an event meant to resemble a decadent, dangerous gathering of some ancient clandestine tribunal.

Victor could be lying. Or more likely hes acting as Kubricks surrogate, telling the audience not to think too hard about shadowy cabals and unsolved murders, because thats not really what Eyes Wide Shut is about.

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The Arc Of Stanley Kubrick: From ‘Killer’s Kiss’ to ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ by Noel Murray

By Yasmina Tawil

Stanley Kubrick made just 13 feature films in his nearly 50-year career, and from the ‘60s through the ‘90s—the era in which “a Stanley Kubrick picture” had a meaning—each new project went through more or less the same press-cycle. During production, reports would leak out about the grueling shoot, and how the reclusive Kubrick was testing the boundaries of cinema and propriety. Then the film would come out, and the critical reaction would be mixed to muted, with some declaring the new work a masterpiece and others calling it a disappointment—or even a pretentious fraud. Years would pass, and with time to sink in, each movie would be extensively reevaluated, eventually landing on “best of the decade” or even “best of all time” lists. It was as though each picture had to re-teach the audience how to watch a Stanley Kubrick film.

Eyes Wide Shut is the best case-in-point. Shooting began in the November of 1996 in London, and ended in June of 1998. Throughout that year and a half, there was gossip galore about what Kubrick was up to. The press knew primarily that the film starred Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman—Hollywood’s most popular couple at the time—and that it was going to be sexually explicit. Once filming completed, Kubrick spent nine months working with editor Nigel Galt, fine-tuning. Less than a week after he completed a final cut and showed it to Warner Bros. and his stars, he died.

So when the movie came out that summer, for a good long while the conversation surrounding it was about everything but what Kubrick had actually made. Instead, the press was preoccupied by…

… the decision to digitally obscure the orgy scenes, to avoid an NC-17 rating.

… whether Cruise and Kidman had wasted a year of their careers making stilted softcore porn.

… how American audiences reacted to seeing two of the biggest movie stars in the world in a slow-paced art-film.

… whether the Pinewood Studios version of Manhattan looked real enough.

… whether Warner Bros. was going to make its money back.

… if this was the proper capper to a prestigious career.

By the end of 1999 though, a film that had generally been tagged as a “letdown” was being rehabilitated. Roger Ebert taped a special edition of his syndicated TV series, wherein prominent Chicago critics extensively unpacked Eyes Wide Shut—and thus subtly rebuked the large number of well-known New York critics who’d initially shrugged the movie off. The film made a healthy handful of best-of-‘99 lists (including in New York), and in the decades since it’s generally become regarded as one of the ‘90s supreme cinematic achievements, and indisputably worthy of its maker.

Most of the shift in conventional wisdom was due to Kubrick himself. When artists produce outstanding work throughout their careers, it’s easier to trust that they knows what they’re doing—and that if we don’t “get it” right away, we should look again. It’s also true that once a film is out of the multiplex marketplace, questions like, “Did you like it?” become less pressing. Opinion takes a backseat to analysis. And with Eyes Wide Shut, there’s as much to pick through and puzzle over as in any of Kubrick’s films—even though almost nothing that happens in the picture is left unexplained.

Based on Arthur Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle, the movie has Tom Cruise playing Dr. Bill Harford, a successful New York general practitioner who lives in a lavish apartment with wife Alice (Kidman) and their young daughter. The story begins with the couple going to a lavish Christmas party thrown by Bill’s patient Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack), where the pair flirts with other guests before the doctor’s called in by his host to attend to a nude, overdosing woman. The next night, Bill and Alice have a testy argument about sexual desire, during which Alice confesses that she’s recently lusted after another man. Still fuming, he leaves the apartment to go on a house call, and begins a winding two-day odyssey that sees him sexually tempted multiple times. A combination of desperate arousal and burning envy nearly puts him in mortal danger, after he crashes a bizarre masquerade party at a country estate.

For a long time, Bill’s journey into the night feels like an erotic dream that keeps threatening to become a nightmare. (In fact, Traumnovelle is sometimes translated in English as A Dream Novel or Dream Story.) But at the end, Bill meets again with Victor, who offers a different interpretation of the previous 48 hours. Bill’s anxious because the morning after he was ejected from the masquerade, one of his friends went missing and a woman who helped him turned up dead. Victor insists that the friend just left town, the woman was a junkie prostitute, and the masked men at the party weren’t really threatening Bill, they were maintaining the theatrical illusion of an event meant to resemble a decadent, dangerous gathering of some ancient clandestine tribunal.

Victor could be lying. Or more likely he’s acting as Kubrick’s surrogate, telling the audience not to think too hard about shadowy cabals and unsolved murders, because that’s not really what Eyes Wide Shut is about.

Read more


The Pragmatic Rebellion of Roger Cormans The Tripby Jessica Ritchey

By Yasmina Tawil

image

Pre-production for a movie rarely involves dropping acid, yet in the spirit of due diligence, producer/director Roger Corman spent a weekend in Big Sur, California doing this essential prep work for his 1967 odyssey The Trip. At the time, Corman was one of the main forces behind American International Pictures (AIP), a powerhouse independent that filled drive-ins and neighborhood theaters with titles as diverse as Viking Women vs. The Sea Serpent and The Wild Angels. Corman had originally studied to be an engineer, and brought that background into the movies: Just as an engineer puzzles over objects to see if they can work more efficiently, Corman looked at B-movies and figured out how to produce them on even more stripped-down budgets and schedules.

It also meant that if he was going to make a movie about LSD, he had to try it first. Hippies, and their acid trips, were a subject that were often overly romanticized or condemned. Cormans pragmatic remove from the counterculture and its recreational drugs runs through the finished film. And it means The Trip has aged a good deal better than many countercultural curios like Skidoo or The Strawberry Statement. Corman sympathizes with the youthful impulse to rebel, but hes also keenly perceptive about what happens when rebels age into their 30s, and the growing pains, in work and in love, are more acutely felt. Expectations about careers and relationships that would sustain and fulfill them start coming apart at the seams.

Read more


The Pragmatic Rebellion of Roger Corman’s The Trip by Jessica Ritchey

By Yasmina Tawil

image

Pre-production for a movie rarely involves dropping acid, yet in the spirit of due diligence, producer/director Roger Corman spent a weekend in Big Sur, California doing this essential prep work for his 1967 odyssey The Trip. At the time, Corman was one of the main forces behind American International Pictures (AIP), a powerhouse independent that filled drive-ins and neighborhood theaters with titles as diverse as Viking Women vs. The Sea Serpent and The Wild Angels. Corman had originally studied to be an engineer, and brought that background into the movies: Just as an engineer puzzles over objects to see if they can work more efficiently, Corman looked at B-movies and figured out how to produce them on even more stripped-down budgets and schedules.

It also meant that if he was going to make a movie about LSD, he had to try it first. Hippies, and their acid trips, were a subject that were often overly romanticized or condemned. Corman’s pragmatic remove from the counterculture and its recreational drugs runs through the finished film. And it means The Trip has aged a good deal better than many countercultural curios like Skidoo or The Strawberry Statement. Corman sympathizes with the youthful impulse to rebel, but he’s also keenly perceptive about what happens when rebels age into their 30s, and the growing pains, in work and in love, are more acutely felt. Expectations about careers and relationships that would sustain and fulfill them start coming apart at the seams.

Read more


Getting the Gold Watch: Famous Actors Who Went Into Retirement and the Films that Drove Them There by Rob Thomas

By Yasmina Tawil

image

Whether a ditchdigger, an astronaut or a film critic, weve all had that moment: Take this job and shove it. We just cant imagine ourselves getting up and going through another day of work. The thought of hanging it up, accepting the gold watch and retiring early is just too tempting.

In cinema, however, its pretty rare to see an actor or actress actually walk away from the business. Plenty are shown the door involuntarily, as has-beens and never-wases find Hollywood to be an unforgiving place. But to walk away from film acting while youre still a bankable star? Pretty rare.

But some movie stars have hung up their spurs before their time and never (okay, almost never) looked back. In looking over this list of films, we see two gender trends, neither of them very appealing. There are some beloved older actors who walked away from Hollywood, grown cranky at the changing industry. And we see some younger but still vital actresses who found themselves having to choose between a flagging career and starting a family.

Heres a look at some of cinemas most famous retirees, along with the final films that may have pushed them into early retirement.


No list of cranky ex-actors would be complete without Gene Hackman, the character actors character actor. Hackman seemed like an irascible old coot even when he was playing Popeye Doyle in the original French Connection at the tender age of 41.

So its no surprise Hackmans battered, take-no-bullshit give-no-bullshit authenticity became even more appealing as he aged. In the year 2000 alone, he memorably played the eccentric family patriarch of Wes Andersons The Royal Tenenbaums and an aging thief in David Mamets Heist.

Then came 2004, and Welcome to Mooseport. Hackman played the former President of the United States, who runs for mayor of a small town and ends up embroiled in a political race with a local (Ray Romano) that turns unexpectedly nasty. Its not a good film, and an enjoyably cranky Hackman performance gets lost in sitcom subplots.

And just like that, at the age of 74, Hackman was done. He now spends his time writing historical novels, and told a GQ interviewer in 2011 that hed only do another movie if they could shoot it in his house, only had a crew of one or two people, and didnt break anything while they were there. Somebody should take him up on it.

Sean Connery probably wouldnt even go that far. The first James Bond walked away over a decade ago from a long and successful career in Hollywood and seems to have never looked back. He left after a flurry of roles that were likely lucrative but not well-received, including The Avengers and First Knight. He was actually quite good in one attempt at serious Oscar-bait acting, Gus Van Sants Finding Forrester, but it was an outlier.

The straw that broke the camels back was The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in 2003, a bloated action-fantasy franchise with only the flimsiest connection to the Alan Moore comic book series. Connerys grandfatherly charm was lost in a mess of bad CGI effects and incomprehensible action. As Allan Quartermain, Connery looks positively pissed off at certain points during the movie.

Not long after the film tanked at the box office, he announced through a spokesman that he would never do another film because he was fed up with the idiots… the ever-widening gap between people who know how to make movies and the people who green-light the movies.“ Connery has done a couple of voice acting roles, most notably returning to the role of 007 for a From Russia With Love video game, but thats it.

Carrying more of a question mark next to his name is Jack Nicholson, who has not announced his retirement, but hasnt made a movie since 2010s How Do You Know and has no projects in the works. Like Connery and Hackman, hes expressed distaste with the current state of Hollywood moviemaking.
His part in How Do You Know (itself coming off a three-year break for Nicholson) seems like a favor to his friend, writer-director James L. Brooks, with whom he had worked on Terms of Endearment and As Good As It Gets. Here, Nicholson plays the heavy, a bullying and corrupt financial tycoon who is the father of Paul Rudds nice-guy character. One gets the sense that it wasnt this role that has kept Nicholson away from Hollywood ever since, but it didnt help.

image

So, three actors, all able to walk away into retirement while still highly employable in movies, if they werent always getting the best roles. It speaks to the power imbalance between men and women in Hollywood that they were able to amass such long, illustrious careers and then leave on their own terms, simply because they tired of the work.


For actresses, its often a different story. The examples of well-known actresses going into retirement often feature women in their 30s and 40s, not their 70s, facing both Hollywoods notorious antipathy towards older actresses and the demands of family.

Read more


Getting the Gold Watch: Famous Actors Who Went Into Retirement and the Films that Drove Them There by Rob Thomas

By Yasmina Tawil

image

Whether a ditchdigger, an astronaut or a film critic, we’ve all had that moment: Take this job and shove it. We just can’t imagine ourselves getting up and going through another day of work. The thought of hanging it up, accepting the gold watch and retiring early is just too tempting.

In cinema, however, it’s pretty rare to see an actor or actress actually walk away from the business. Plenty are shown the door involuntarily, as has-beens and never-wases find Hollywood to be an unforgiving place. But to walk away from film acting while you’re still a bankable star? Pretty rare.

But some movie stars have hung up their spurs before their time and never (okay, almost never) looked back. In looking over this list of films, we see two gender trends, neither of them very appealing.  There are some beloved older actors who walked away from Hollywood, grown cranky at the changing industry. And we see some younger but still vital actresses who found themselves having to choose between a flagging career and starting a family.

Here’s a look at some of cinema’s most famous retirees, along with the final films that may have pushed them into early retirement.


No list of cranky ex-actors would be complete without Gene Hackman, the character actor’s character actor. Hackman seemed like an irascible old coot even when he was playing Popeye Doyle in the original French Connection at the tender age of 41.

So it’s no surprise Hackman’s battered, take-no-bullshit give-no-bullshit authenticity became even more appealing as he aged.  In the year 2000 alone, he memorably played the eccentric family patriarch of Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums and an aging thief in David Mamet’s Heist.

Then came 2004, and Welcome to Mooseport. Hackman played the former President of the United States, who runs for mayor of a small town and ends up embroiled in a political race with a local (Ray Romano) that turns unexpectedly nasty. It’s not a good film, and an enjoyably cranky Hackman performance gets lost in sitcom subplots.

And just like that, at the age of 74, Hackman was done. He now spends his time writing historical novels, and told a GQ interviewer in 2011 that he’d only do another movie if they could shoot it in his house, only had a crew of one or two people, and didn’t break anything while they were there. Somebody should take him up on it.

Sean Connery probably wouldn’t even go that far. The first James Bond walked away over a decade ago from a long and successful career in Hollywood and seems to have never looked back. He left after a flurry of roles that were likely lucrative but not well-received, including The Avengers and First Knight. He was actually quite good in one attempt at serious Oscar-bait acting, Gus Van Sant’s Finding Forrester, but it was an outlier.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in 2003, a bloated action-fantasy franchise with only the flimsiest connection to the Alan Moore comic book series. Connery’s grandfatherly charm was lost in a mess of bad CGI effects and incomprehensible action. As Allan Quartermain, Connery looks positively pissed off at certain points during the movie.

Not long after the film tanked at the box office, he announced through a spokesman that he would never do another film because he was “fed up with the idiots… the ever-widening gap between people who know how to make movies and the people who green-light the movies.“ Connery has done a couple of voice acting roles, most notably returning to the role of 007 for a From Russia With Love video game, but that’s it.

Carrying more of a question mark next to his name is Jack Nicholson, who has not announced his retirement, but hasn’t made a movie since 2010’s How Do You Know and has no projects in the works. Like Connery and Hackman, he’s expressed distaste with the current state of Hollywood moviemaking.
His part in How Do You Know (itself coming off a three-year break for Nicholson) seems like a favor to his friend, writer-director James L. Brooks, with whom he had worked on Terms of Endearment and As Good As It Gets. Here, Nicholson plays the heavy, a bullying and corrupt financial tycoon who is the father of Paul Rudd’s nice-guy character. One gets the sense that it wasn’t this role that has kept Nicholson away from Hollywood ever since, but it didn’t help.

image

So, three actors, all able to walk away into retirement while still highly employable in movies, if they weren’t always getting the best roles. It speaks to the power imbalance between men and women in Hollywood that they were able to amass such long, illustrious careers and then leave on their own terms, simply because they tired of the work.


For actresses, it’s often a different story. The examples of well-known actresses going into retirement often feature women in their 30s and 40s, not their 70s, facing both Hollywood’s notorious antipathy towards older actresses and the demands of family.

Read more

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