Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Walk and Woodstock

                            Balancing Acts
                                                           Reviews by Ken Burke
Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews.  Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up.  Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.  
                                                    The Walk (Robert Zemeckis)
Here’s another based-on-fact-but-still-fictionalized-a-bit-account, this time of astounding high-wire-walker Philippe Petit who clandestinely strung his wire between the 2 not-yet-finished-towers of NYC’s World Trade Center in 1974, then set out to perform the act of the century (or any century) by walking across, 110 stories up, with no net or protective tether.
What Happens: In this version of celebrated high-wire-walker Philippe Petit’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) most-renowned-accomplishment, stringing his wire between the not-quite-finished Twin Towers of NYC’s World Trade Center in 1974, then successfully walking that thin road between the 2 buildings with no safety apparatus, the story is told via direct-camera-address by Petit, perched on the torch of the Statue of Liberty with Manhattan spread out behind him, the lofty Towers gleaming in the sun.  While based on actual exploits, this movie takes some liberties with our protagonist’s life so that we’re led to believe that Petit, a Paris street performer (low-wire-walking in public spaces, unicycle-riding while juggling lit torches, and other acrobatic tricks), only conceived of his famous 200 ft. stroll between the 110-story-Towers in 1973 (although he actually began dreaming of this feat in 1968) as the ultimate challenge to his emerging art (at the time they were the world’s tallest buildings), preceded by a warm-up in which he clandestinely stretched his wire between the towers of Paris’ Notre Dame cathedral (this was actually done in 1971), then entertained an early-morning-crowd before his inevitable return to the ground where the police awaited him in response to his unauthorized demonstration of delicate balance (not working with authorities to gain permission for his brazen stunts was part of his working procedure, along with the reality that permits for such dangerous performances—he refused to use a net or any other sort of life-protecting-device—were highly unlikely anyway).  He’s already acquired 2 necessary “accomplices” for his exploits by 1974, street musician/lover Annie Allis (Charlotte Le Bon) and photographer Jean-Louis (Clément Sibony), although he needs a larger crew who are recruited one at a time, including Jeff (César Domboy) who offers the positive contribution of using a bow and arrow to shoot the initial line that will ultimately carry the wire between the Towers yet balanced in his own way by the negative reality that he has a terrible fear of heights even as he's expected to assist Philippe as he begins his death-defying-challenge 1,368 feet above the city streets.

 Through this constant-structure of narrated flashbacks that begin in black & white, then transitions into full color, we learn that Philippe became fascinated with high-wire-walking as a child, attending a circus where he was quickly mesmerized with the skills of the White Devils family, led by Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley); as a young adult, Petit approaches Papa with the hope of being an apprentice which works in terms of learning the rudimentary moves but results in a break between the 2 men when Rudy’s exasperated that Philippe’s too arrogant, unable to show proper respect to his audience in the process of achieving his desired accomplishments (by the way, don’t be put off by the use of French language with necessary subtitles in these earlier times; most of the movie’s in English—so that Petit could better master the language before going to NYC—with Gordon-Levitt’s French-to-English-accent quite viable to Anglo-eared-me as this actor speaks fluent French).  Philippe’s a bit shocked to be dismissed like that (especially with his own high opinion of his abilities), but he takes it in stride (just as when he's thrown out of his family home for not choosing a viable profession), makes his way to the U.S., recruits some more accomplices, then sets out sizing up the Trade Center buildings with his crew (one of whom, Barry Greenhouse [Steve Valentine], conveniently works in one of the Towers), in various disguises, until plans are confirmed for the August 7 walk.  Through a clever con he manages to smuggle his needed gear up to the roof of the South Tower where he stays with Jeff while some of the others (excluding Annie who watches from the streets below with binoculars) bring what they need to the top of the North Tower so that the wire (and its stabilizing support lines) can be put in place overnight, although that requires waiting out the departure of a guard, problems with getting the wire taut, and the ever-closer-sunrise which will bring in the construction crew, preventing “the coup” from taking place.  All of this is overcome, though, allowing Philippe to finally take his first astounding steps across the vast chasm, quickly drawing a crowd below when Annie calls their attention to the wondrous event high above them.  However, after Petit traverses that dangerous distance he decides that he must then go back to the South Tower, whereupon he finds police waiting for him (they’ve already handcuffed Jeff, who’s done more to challenge his acrophobia in these few hours than likely in all of his previous life).

 Refusing to accept submission to the authorities, Philippe makes a smooth turnaround on the wire to head back to the North Tower but cops are there by now as well so he just goes back and forth for quite some time, at one point laying down on the wire (in probably his ultimate act of balance) to look up to the open sky above, at another going down on one knee to give honor to the wire, his helpers, the crowd below, and the entire environment of the event, finally understanding what Papa Rudy was trying to instill in him earlier.  He finally surrenders to the police on the South Tower, is hailed by the construction workers (with quiet or direct admiration from the cops also) as he’s escorted below, and ultimately basks in the worldwide glory he achieved through media coverage of his act with his only legal punishment being a court-mandated-repeat-performance (at a much lower-height-level) in Central Park as a benefit for children.  As the movie wraps up, he sadly bids farewell to Annie who returns to France seeking her own path toward accomplishments, joyously receives a lifetime pass to both Tower observation decks from the buildings’ manager, then says goodbye to us as the camera moves past his perch on Lady Liberty to focus on the Towers, left in a final image gleaming in the sun as the rest of the frame is blacked out.  (There are no graphics to remind us of what would become of these magnificent structures on September 11, 2001, but it’s easily assumed that all of us will understand their significant import as they’re now lost forever but replaced by a memorial that proudly stands in tribute to the thousands dead or injured in that ghastly attack that’s kept us at war in the Middle East ever since.  In retrospect, I’m so glad that my wife, Nina, and I got to go out on the roof of one of those Towers during a 1996 trip to NYC, even though a storm was brewing so we couldn’t stay there very long; the view was magnificent, although unnerving even though guard rails kept us back from the edge, as was the sense of the majesty of these constructions—honestly, though, we must admit that neither of us have any direct memory of Petit’s famous walk in 1974; several months before, I’d moved back to Texas, [ironically] from NYC, to re-enter the graduate program that would eventually result in my Ph.D. and an academic career so I guess I was distracted with that but Nina will have to make her own aging-memory-excuses as I was still almost 13 years away from meeting her.)

So What? If you’ve seen the Academy Award-winning Feature Documentary (I’ve got another one of those for your consideration once we finish up this review), Man on Wire (James Marsh, 2008), you already know this nearly-unbelievable-story in terms of the motivations, preparation, and monumental actions by Philippe Petit, so the first question must be: Why do this again?  One aspect of the answer is to visually-enhance what that doc was barely able to show because it had to rely on black & white still photos, along with interviews supported by after-the-fact-re-enactments of the meticulous, frequently-almost-thwarted-preparations, so with that work we were able to get a solid sense of what happened, why it was so significant in the annals of daredevil feats, and what drove Petit to push himself to such deadly limits, yet it all looked so distantly "historical.”  Thus, when you can push past all of the temporal-and-resource-limitations that kept that excellent documentary within the realm of recalled memory in order to present this event again from a narratively-driven, full-color, wide-screen (plus 3-D and/or IMAX if you choose/ have access to these further technological enhancements) perspective you find that Zemeckis’ result is quite stunning—but only in the final walk itself (although there’s good tension and triumph as well in the conquest of the Notre Dame towers, especially when you know that skill, sheer determination, and careful planning can’t fully compensate for unforeseen atmospheric conditions nor the deadly distractions that come when the walker is pulled out of his trance by attention to happenings on the surface below—which we witness when Petit attempts his first major walk, above a lake during a fishing contest but catcalls from the inebriated boatmen result in his plunge, fortunately into a water landing).  You could even say it’s beyond stunning (unless you suffer from fear of heights, a warning given out to theatergoers considering a purchase) to see how photos of Gordon-Levitt have been seamlessly-merged with computer-generated-imagery to recreate the Towers and their surroundings in a manner that truly forces you to believe that this actor is hovering many hundreds of feet above the ground where one false move would prove terminal for him.

 Still, though, to arrive at that roughly half-hour of breathtaking imagery and introspective narration as this determined athlete/ artist/entrepreneur defies gravity/common sense/ even just an opportunity for lunch later that day we have to watch another couple of hours of background, budding romance, the slow process of sure-footed-training, the need to constantly create and re-create tension about the actual Towers-walk through problems and hurdles, all in order to finally get to the “money shot” (in a vastly different context than that term carries within the porno-movie-industry, although you could argue that Petit’s climaxing triumph of achievement constitutes the equivalent of an emotional—even spiritual—orgasm), or shots, given the many marvelous angles of the walk that Zemeckis makes us privileged to observe, as Petit conquers personal fear along with Newtonian physics.  What we get on the walk itself is some of the most astounding imagery (given the amount of CGI involved, even to just restore the Towers to a daunting sense of presence, minimizing the sight of the puny humans attempting to conquer them in a manner akin to what’s going on in another current release, Everest [Balthazar Korimako], so I hesitate to call it pure cinematography in that Visual Effects would be the more-appropriate-awards-category) ever put on a movie screen, but for me all of the rest just becomes necessary filler to explain who Petit was in his quest (although I can’t say that I ever got quite enough of a sense of why wire-walking is so compelling for him beyond the old saw of “because it’s there”), build tension that the walk is impossible or that he’ll get caught before he can do it (yet we already know from other factual-sources none of that matters), and to join in with his victory-lap-exuberance after the grand victory, but truly this would be just as effective—more so, in my mind—if it were simply a half-hour-IMAX-short, although I understand that the technology and expense required to successfully pull off this wire-walk-event require the full package of a feature film to justify the investments.

Bottom Line Final Comments: Egotistical as it might seem to compare my first attempt at filmmaking while in grad school to this big-budget-major-studio-production, I can’t help but remember my instructor (with the unlikely name of Ron Policy) telling me that my second film (after he dismissed my first one as being essentially incoherent but, more importantly for a just-graduated Art major, poorly composed; he was right on both counts)—which was a collection of overt-sexual-allusions (in tribute? frustration?) about the breakup with my girlfriend of the time—felt like I’d built a freight train of process to carry a teacup’s worth of message (an evaluation that seemed horribly insulting at the time, but in retrospect he was right about that one too, with my occasional worry that such a result may still be what’s happening in these current reviews as I wander from one topic to another), which is just too similar to how I feel about The Walk.  I’m just not able to completely admire what’s on screen, even as I realize that the intention to fully dramatize what had already been very successfully presented in documentary form, as well as to use Petit’s voice-over-narration (that is, Gordon-Levitt’s, in that the actual Petit is still alive, still celebrating his mid-1970s-fame but not shown nor heard within this movie, although he did train Gordon-Levitt in wire-walking for the needed green-screen-studio-shots) to reflect upon his triumph (as everything not part of the Statue of Liberty direct-address-scenes is understood as flashback) while also admitting that fear is ever-present in these death-challenging-performances, that doubt-generated-distraction can be just as dangerous as becoming involved with what’s going on far below rather than what’s right in front of you as the ongoing wire should be your only concern.  (A point also made effectively in the visuals of the long-anticipated-walk’s beginning, as metaphorical fog rolls in at sunrise, obscuring everything but the beckoning wire to Philippe so that when this atmospheric muck blows away as he takes his first steps into the potential-abyss we not only realize that we’re back into actual representation of the environment but also that even in these clear images Petit is not pulled into concerns with buildings, sky, street, or even his team shouting encouragement to him, he’s one with the wire and the balance pole that he holds, fully “in the zone” necessary for any victory—from the sports field [such as with baseball’s upcoming 2015 World Series] to the chessboard [Pawn Sacrifice (Edward Wick; review in our October 3, 2015 posting)].)

 Yet, when I see (more truthfully, absorb) all of this climatic-grandeur, I’m also reminded of Prof. Policy’s dismissal of my 3rd film, using various abstract/abstracted visuals to accompany The Beatles’ (but, really, just George Harrison’s) “Within You, Without You” (from something as significant as Petit’s Tower-walk, the 1967 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, a song which you might want to give a listen to as it touches upon the more enlightening revelations that also came clearly into whatever personal-pride-fog might have been clouding Philippe’s mind, so here it is if you like, with some gorgeous visuals added, much more sophisticated than the ones I created back in 1970—I wonder what Ron would think of this version), where my middle section, synced to the instrumental break in the song, was a flowing, colorful progression of lines and shapes scratched directly into deep-black-underexposed-film stock, then either left as projected white (tinged with blue from the emulsion) or hand-painted, in the manner of some of the earliest experimental films from the days of 1920s Dada art, while the rest of it was a combination of strange footage, some of it in B &W also partially-hand-painted, which had marginal connections at times to the words being sung.  Policy made it clear that I’d have been much better off with just that middle, fully-abstract-section set to the sitar music rather than the whole construction.  (He may have been a bit less correct in his assessment of my final film, but, nevertheless, it still resulted in a C for the course, the end of my budding filmmaking career, and an ongoing focus instead on still photography—for which I’m better suited in terms of finding useful reasons to produce images—multi-image projector and audio shows, and the analytical/critical explorations of all sorts of imagery rather than any further wasted funds on making—rather than studying, examining, attempting to explicate—cinema.)

 Despite his many other cinematic successes (including the Back to the Future trilogy [1985, 1989, 1990], Who Framed Roger Rabbit [1988], Forrest Gump [1994], Contact [1997], Cast Away [2000], The Polar Express [2004]), I think that Zemeckis could use some of Policy’s advice with The Walk, in which I think he definitely has a tremendous amount going for him in the actual high-wire-depictions but just too much requisite-feature-film-length-buildup in the rest of the time we’re sitting there waiting for the real show to begin (if you choose to be part of that show, though—which other critics would more likely encourage you to do rather than me, as The Walk’s got notable positive numbers from Rotten Tomatoes [85%] and Metacritic [70%], more details in the links far below—I recommend you consider a 3-D option because this movie is one case where that additional-depth-technology is well conceived and executed).  If you’d like to save your cash for something more fully-fulfilling, though (such as Bridge of Spies [Steven Spielberg; here's our review]) maybe you could be satisfied with a pseudo-look at The Walk by watching its trailer (also in the links far below, 2nd one connected to this movie) and giving a listen to my Musical Metaphor, Leon Russell’s “Tight Rope” (from the 1972 Carny album) at  Admittedly, for Petit the choices were the same on either side of the wire—empty air leading down to the physical Earth rather than this song’s own metaphorical-options of ice and fire but when Russell sings of “One side’s hate and one is hope” where “the altitude Really gets to me” I sense Philippe’s strong inner-struggles to pursue his ambitious dreams with the eventual understanding (shown in a scene where just before they begin sneaking all of his gear up into the Towers in anticipation of the walk the next day he wakes his crew up in the middle of the night to finally thank them for all the support and help they’ve offered up to that point) that he’s trying to inspire everyone to push past their fears, do something that takes more confidence than they’re ever known just to be able to add that private breakthrough to the value of our species-at-large rather than merely making a personal spectacle just for individual glory.  Once that inner-understanding is truly embraced, then “the wire” (whatever it is in our specific lives) becomes an ally, an “accomplice” in our collective triumphs.
Short (not really but a little less than the “official” review) Takes
                    Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music
             (Michael Wadleigh; 1970, 1994)
This is the long-lauded-documentary about the historically-significant 1969 3-day-music-festival featuring some of the biggest pop performers in the world at the time but it's also a significant cultural document of the era blatantly espousing the ability of a crowd of an estimated half-million to co-exist in harmony despite functioning in what was called a disaster area by official society.
Nina Kindblad and Ken Burke at the site of the Woodstock music festival in 2009,
40 years too late for the original event and 1 month too early for the anniversary
 If you’ve ever visited the summary of Two Guys reviews (also noted in the regular cluster of links below) you’re aware that I reserve a 5-star-rating for something that’s clearly earned classic status for being the sort of cinematic experience that remains a touchstone for generations to come (I’m not saying that no one could create a new film that would earn such an ultimate designation from me, but I have to feel deeply that anything of this stature offers an extremely strong potential to achieve that sort of reverence with future viewers so I’ve been very guarded with the 5 stars, holding them back so far only for re-releases of such established-milestones while hedging my bets with a few other notable 4½ designations).  While it hasn’t been in recent re-release, though, I certainly think that Wadleigh’s Woodstock is another oldie-but-goodie that deserves my highest praise even though I’ve just watched it on Blu-ray video rather than in a theater (which was a possible intention back when Pat Craig and I began this blog but, until now, neither of us has followed up on that option) because, upon finally overcoming my penny-pinching-attitudes long enough to admit that for years I’ve wanted a better version of this documentary than the old VHS one I taped off of a PBS broadcast some time ago (surprisingly, with no pledge breaks), I bought the 2014 re-issue of the 40th-anniversary-package last weekend (slightly enhanced with some further additional material to add to what was in the original 2009 package).  Nina and I donned our tie-dye-clothes this past Monday night to watch it all the way through (3 hrs. 45 min.)—enhanced for me by a large-economy-size-cup of the best Mai Tai you’ll ever taste (constructed from meticulous research over several years and islands of the great state of Hawaii), so I thought it only appropriate to review a filmic document that’s fascinated me for decades (as well as give me something to write about that moves me more than does most of what I see in The Walk until almost the very end)

David Brown (bass) and Ron Harper (drums) of Santana
 Even in 1970 when I first saw this somewhat-compressed-account of an event that sprawled across a huge stage and acres of New York farmland (town of Bethel, Sullivan County; the original plans to be in Woodstock hit a local-opposition-snag, so if you plan to visit that NY version of Berkeley—which Nina and I did spontaneously in 2009, following our trek to Cooperstown to see Oakland-native-superstar-Rickey Henderson’s Baseball Hall of Fame induction—be prepared to travel over some backroads for another 70 miles or so) I was already convinced that it belonged in the pantheon of great films; time hasn’t changed my mind at all about that, although the 1994 Director’s Cut version in my 2014 package that extends the 3-hour-original (also adding a subtitle to announce its expansion, as with how Francis Coppola renamed his 1979 masterpiece to Apocalypse Now Redux with his 2001 Director’s Cut adding 49 min. of new scenes, bringing that epic to "only" 3 hrs. 23 min. so Wadleigh still wins the expansion-pissing-contest) includes a few new bits that do little to enhance the original cut (“A Change Is Gonna Come” from Canned Heat, even though their much-better “Going Up the Country” is already there under scenes of festival preparation; a couple of additional tunes from Jefferson Airplane—Hey, Michael, if footage and rights were available to you, how about a sampling of Ravi Shankar and/or The Band?), although if that’s what must be accepted in order to get the fabulous extras of Janis Joplin (“Work Me, Lord”), more from Jimi Hendrix (“Voodoo Chile”), and the ending roll-call of now-departed-“Woodstock Generation”-figures (over Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Find the Cost of Freedom”), then so be it.

 What remains from the original structure is still what made it grand in the first place:  a marvelous collection of eclectic performances (from Joan Baez’s a cappella “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” to Sha Na Na camping it up with “At the Hop” to the rhythmic-mastery of Santana’s fabulous “Soul Sacrifice”); a persuasive audiovisual argument that many—but not all (“It’s a shitty mess!”)—of the local Bethel residents (representing Middle America's so-called "Silent Majority" of that time) accepted this life-shattering-impact on their community as ‘60s change was “blowin’ in the wind” (even without nearby-resident Bob Dylan on the program) while a peaceful “army” of un-self-conscious-hippies were skinny-dipping in Max Yasgur’s pond (also still there today, although the original concert venue is now a quiet field again as the action has moved to a new pavilion at the top of the hill; had he not had to cancel, we might have seen Tom Jones the day we were there, but we enjoyed a lengthy tour of their Museum [of the Sixties)] at Bethel Woods anyway); and a highly-varied-but-always-engaging visual-and-editing-design of the film that at times became a furious display of multiple-images in kinetic harmony with the musical performances (you can get a quick history lesson yourself on the event if you need to at this summary of the festival and this ongoing site of its heritage).

John Sebastian (of the Lovin' Spoonful) and a few close friends
 That graphic design of Wadleigh’s would have pleased the 1920-‘30s montage-master, Sergei Eisenstein, who advocated the use of a square-shaped-screen so that images could take on whatever configuration their content or the filmmaker called for instead of being confined to the almost-square 4 (widths) x 3 (heights) ratio (also known as 1.33:1 as the “normal” shape to which newer ratios to come are still compared) that quickly became the projected standard from the late-1890-origination-days of Edison and the Lumière brothers.  Wadleigh still worked in the wide-screen-horizontal-format that became the industry standard from the 1950s on with the various Cinemascope, Panavision, etc. processes, but within the space allotted to him on this screen he masked off parts of the filmstrip’s negative to provide a range of different viewing areas, so we begin with testimony from a Bethel old-timer in what appears to be a smallish-rectangle (it’s actually a 1.76:1 ratio, which is basically what you see when an image fills your standard HD TV screen, but when it's contained within a strip of usable area on your screen that’s actually 2.41:1—for the multi-image-diptychs that will come later—it looks confined, just like those old movies or TV programs [in their 1.33:1 format] when they show only in the center portion of your rectangular HD screen), then when we get to about 10 min. in (scenes of the festival’s landscape set to Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Wooden Ships") the ratio is up to the full 2.41:1 (quite wide; for comparison, the photo above is only about 2.17:1) with 2 images working side-by-side, to enhance or counterpoint each other.  

 As the film progresses over its rambling-yet-energetic-length Wadleigh (and his co-editors, including emerging-auteur Martin Scorsese and the woman who’d become his long-time-cutting-collaborator, Thelma Schoonmaker) at times brings single images into a closer-to-square-format (1.52:1) while stretching multiple ones into triptychs (2.93:1, all of these ratios being approximate, based on simply measuring their horizontal and vertical lengths on my TV screen) as mirrored-end-images make for a great graphic design in “tune” with a completely different centered visual; even the single images move about somewhat, as they aren’t always in the center, sometimes moved from side-to-side so that the black space around the picture becomes a design element also.

 This 1970 Oscar-winning Feature Documentary constantly captures that long-gone-but-still-fondly-remembered (at least by some of us) era in its attitudes (the promoters lost a bundle when crowds pushed through the fences, ultimately making it  a free concert—except, of course, for those who had already bought tickets, assuming they could navigate the highways to even get to the festival—but they just celebrated the event for what it morphed into [even as income from the film and album eventually helped their bottom line while extending the spirit of the festival to millions more]), music (you can go here for a list of who sang what), and changing lifestyles of those who were on an emerging quest to try to prove that “war is not the answer For only love can conquer hate” (as Marvin Gaye would offer in “What’s Going On” [from the album of the same name, 1971], one of many attempting to keep this counterculture spirit alive even as the Resurgent-Right-Retrenchment would set in during the latter decades of the 20th century).  There are many appropriate moments you could turn to in this film to serve as appropriate Musical Metaphors for Woodstock (if you’ve got a copy of this Director’s Cut DVD version, Joe Cocker’s frantic “A Little Help from My Friends” is at about 1:20:00, Country Joe McDonald’s “FISH Cheer” [but he doesn’t spell “fish” this time, in prelude to his great anti-war-satire, the “Feel-Like-I’m-Fixing-to-Die-Rag”] at about 2:33:00 [by that far into it I’d had enough Mai Tai so that I wasn’t keeping very precise notes]), but given the full socio-musical-context of this film, I feel compelled to go with the Hendrix take on “The Star-Spangled Banner” at com/watch?v=sjzZh6-h9fM; of course, if you’d prefer the obvious largest context for a Musical Metaphor here you can have the eventual-theme-song of the event/album/film (used under the original closing credits), “Woodstock” by CSN & Y (at RWhyH30, along with “Find the Cost of Freedom,” although this video uses that audio but puts in footage from the film’s beginning, sadly squeezed from its designed wide format back to that smaller 1.33:1 size), or you might prefer this version by the song’s author, Joni Mitchell, at https://, a performance at the Celebration at Big Sur in September 1969 (soon after the NY festival), even with encouragement to join in on the choruses. 

No, this is not the Code of Hammurabi, (1754 BC)
even if it does look like it
 Finally, here’s one little follow-up to the last posting's reviews, which included Bridge of Spies.  I noted then  that my comments were based on seeing it earlier that week at a critics’ screening, at which it’s not at all appropriate to use my little penlight to take notes so I just had to do that while riding home on the commuter train; unfortunately, at that point I found I’d forgotten to bring my reviews notebook so I had to scribble very carefully what I could remember (and fit) onto a fragile paper napkin.  I’m proud to say that after I saw Bridge … again as it debuted last Friday (I was already an invited guest to the screening so I couldn’t bring Nina; instead I got to see this excellent film twice within 4 days as we went to opening night) I was pleased to find that my napkin notes held up quite well, requiring only a few minor additions/ corrections to truly finalize the review.  However, had it not been for a notification from my long-time-reader/active-collaborator, Richard Parker of San Antonio, TX, I wouldn’t have been aware that I completely overlooked some repeated text in the paragraphs just before and connected to the photo of Tom Hanks on a subway.  So, thanks, Richard (and Nina, who also caught a few other minor glitches), for helping me catch that before too many readers (158 according to the count I just checked, although of that group only Richard made the effort to inform me of my very notable text-duplication-mistake; I guess that with the way I write the rest of them couldn’t even tell it wasn’t intentional) were left in a quandary about what I intended (I wonder how many of those 158 are from Russia where I’m still scoring my highest readership numbers for 2 weeks in a row [?!!] but that could be because Bridge of Spies has notable Russian content or maybe—more likely, really—it’s because of their heritage with fine literature, such as what’s offered in this blog on a regular basis).

 Well, buckaroos, that’s all for now, but I'll be back soon with who knows what, hopefully Steve Jobs (Danny Boyle).  In the meantime, for your amusement, here’s a clever mashup of famous imagery from Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick, taken from our friend, the ubiquitous Internet.
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Here’s more information about The Walk: (longer than the usual trailer at 4:42) (4:36 featurette on the actual event and this new movie, includes brief interviews with Phillip Petit) and iFmvLYM (7:25 featurette focused on commentary from Joseph Gordon-Levitt along with Petit; also briefly notes the 2008 doc on this event, Man on Wire, and Gordon-Levitt’s overall career)

Here’s more information about Woodstock: (here you'll find one of those very rare 100% positive responses from the surveyed critics—based on just 20 reviews, admittedly, considerably fewer than for most of their surveys but further evidence for me that this cinematic marvel is worthy of one of my equally-rare-5-star-ratings) (a collection of 116 videos [please note, some with notably lower audio]—actually a few less because some have been removed—from the original film or performances from the event that weren’t included even in the almost-4-hour-Director’s Cut or others that seem to been made by people not associated with the film [including a short clip of some of Ravi Shankar’s performance that I’d been led to believe didn’t exist in motion visuals at all]; if you’re into a straight-through-run of all of them be forewarned that short ads will periodically interrupt the flow along with another interruption: the need to sign in to YouTube to verify that you’re 18 or older in order to watch Arlo Guthrie’s “Coming Into Los Angeles” because of all its drug references and supportive imagery—but no matter how many of these you choose to watch, I highly encourage you to check out the 21:35 of Janis Joplin's performance at #51, a medley that ends with “Ball and Chain,” along with the Jefferson Airplane doing “White Rabbit” at #72, Joe Cocker’s 8:04 direct-from-the-film-version of “A Little Help from My Friends” at #78, The Band’s “The Weight” at #84, and, almost the best of the bunch—possibly my favorite single song of all-time—Crosby, Stills & Nash harmonizing on “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” [also directly from the film] at #94 with the only problem being that it cuts off at 5:07 long before the marvelous finale so I guess you’ll just have to watch a DVD of Woodstock to get the full effect [or, for now, you can go here to see this Stills tribute to once-upon-a-time-lover, Judy Collins; for comparison, here’s another live performance by CS&N, don’t know when or where but considerably later than 1969. with just Stills on guitar; however, with those voices and his flying-finger-expertise that’s all you need], and #103 for some great rock ‘n’ roll oldies from Sha Na Na [if you’ve really got some free time on your hands, though, #116 is the full 59:18 Woodstock performance by Janis Joplin, but mostly with the audio and some video footage, otherwise still photos, and #116 is 30:23 of The Band, accompanied just by still photos]) 

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If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.


  1. I do remember the tightrope event portrayed in The Walk as it hit the papers and TV news back in the day (with no cell phone cameras or internet). It was an "unbelievable truth", but like many human events, stranger than fiction. I was entertained by the work, but still walked out with an uneasy feeling, perhaps triggered by the knowledge people did fall from that building, traumatizing millions realtime across the world.

    I think a comprehensive look at the events leading up to 9/11, including a hard look at the architectural decisions that made the towers vulnerable, the intelligence failures that failed to connect the dots and the very real change in American freedoms that resulted would make a compelling film, especially if presented by a respected filmmaker like Spielberg in the unflinching style of Shindler's List or Bridge of Spies.

    Still, The Walk's Joseph Gordon-Levitt was excellent, the best I have seen from him since the superb 500 Days of Summer with Zooey Deschanel.

    Since Everest keeps coming up, I spent my $5 for an afternoon matinee. High production values, another true story, but I still prefer Meru for real life mountain climbing adventure filmed by the climbers themselves. See it on a big screen if you can before it wins awards in the Spring.

    Climbing Documentary Meru is a Hair Raising Peak Experience.

  2. Hi rj, Thanks as always for the useful commentary; I share your ambivalence about The Walk in that while it was grand for that 1/2 hour or so toward the end to share the triumph of one man's remarkable accomplishment it's also impossible to not be moved even by the vague memory of all of those people whose lives needlessly came to an end on 9/11 at that same site. I too would love to see an in-depth look at what that tragedy has meant to our nation, if done properly by someone like Spielberg.

    I'm also in agreement that Gordon-Levitt continues to show a marvelous range as an actor in this film, just as he did in that grand 500 Days of Summer (these constant agreements wouldn't play well on TV, though, so we're going to have to find some "you ignorant slut" moments if we ever hope to audition for TMC). Ken