Wednesday 30 August 2023

On demand: "Eega"

Here's a fun idea, expertly executed. In the years before his international breakthrough with the elaborate event movies 
Baahubali and RRR, the Telugu filmmaker SS Rajamouli arrived at a parable - framed as a bedtime story told by a father to a restless child - which expanded on local ideas of reincarnation via nods to Kafka and The Incredible Shrinking Man. Eega is the one about the man who turned into a fly: it sees boyish pipsqueak Nani (played by the actor Nani) sprouting wings and a thousand eyes to take his revenge on Sudeep (played by the actor Sudeep), a predatory capitalist who offed our hero after developing designs on his micro-artist beloved Bindu (Samantha Ruth Prabhu). As has become commonplace in Rajamouli's cinema, the film's goodies and baddies are nothing if not starkly defined. (Bindu funds her niche artistic endeavours with some sort of charity admin job - she's both a model and a modeller of virtue.) This frees up time for cooler stuff. Instead of equivocation, we get action - like Nani, in his pre-insectoid state, repurposing a satellite dish, some tin foil and a torch to illuminate Bindu's apartment after a neighbourhood power cut. (You'll have to read his watching over her as fond rather than creepy - especially after his eyes multiply.) Rajamouli makes the character's rebirth seem a logical development: even in his human state, Nani presents as a bit of an annoyance, persistently circling the other characters. It's just he's up against a total ne'er-do-well who deserves every humiliation the second half throws at him - the type of shit to which flies are drawn.

Taking a fly for a hero carries the film into the digital realm, yet Eega makes a strong case for keeping your effects small and manageable, and having them interact with analogue elements wherever possible. Sure, these are 2012-era effects - the sequence where our hero is rebirthed reminded me of early trance promotional videos - but then there's never any danger of the rotely pixelated overload that characterised Marvel's comparable Ant-Man movies; Rajamouli has visibly thought twice before powering up his processors. He's had to think anew about storytelling, too, but that may be what happens when you write a hero who, after half an hour of screentime, can only buzz for himself. The challenge Rajamouli sets himself, accepts and aces is exactly that the flyspeck Nani faces: how to bring about the downfall of a villain without recourse to the verbal exposition that makes up 90% of feature scripts. Images are forced to take over: sinuous, Fincher-like camera loop-the-loops, first-person representation of a fly's-eye view, sometimes images of words, like the message Nani writes for Bindu in the tracks of his sweetheart's tears. (The poetry in Baahubali didn't come out of nowhere.) It's a touch setbound, lacking the abundant resources the industry would later push this director's way, but Rajamouli commits to his hokum in a manner that circumvents glib, Snakes on a Plane-style winking and only heightens the dramatic stakes. The greatest compliment you can pay Eega is that it really would make for a cracking bedtime story: 12 certificate, pint-sized identification figure waggling a defiant thorax at allcomers, unexpected pockets of emotion and suspense. Even grown-ups may hold their breath when Bindu reaches blithely for a can of Raid.

Eega is available to stream via Prime Video.

Tuesday 29 August 2023

Show biz kids: "Theater Camp"

Theater Camp
 is Waiting for Guffman passed through Glee: softer, fonder, possessed of boundless performative moxie but only variable comic quality control. From that title on down, it's also very American. Expanding their 2020 short of the same name, writer-directors Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman offer a middling mockumentary on an East Coast rite of passage: the annual exodus that sees aspirant showbiz kids relocated to leafier, chichi-er sticks (in this case, a ramshackle venture in the Adirondacks) for a month or so of training in the ways of all things Lloyd Webber. Do we even have such camps here? Did we have them in the days before a decade of crippling arts cuts? At any rate, Gordon and Lieberman cast their demographic net with an early run of gags on the topic of Bye Bye Birdie. (Respond in any way to those, and you can consider yourself one of the club.) Then we meet the dramatis personae: the vlogging bro dude (American Vandal's Jimmy Tatro, emergent master of the clueless) drafted in to manage Adirond Acts after his mother falls into a coma, the salty site owner (Caroline Aaron) trying to keep the footlights on, the heads of performance (Gordon and Ben Platt) struggling to work through their own issues, and - last but not least - the kids, who to a child perform for the cameras as though this is a shopping-mall talent showcase rather than a valid opportunity for satire. During the onstage auditions process, one of these cherubs elects to perform "Defying Gravity", and he isn't going to let a mid-song power cut get in the way of his hitting the high notes.

Thereafter, the film's success will largely depend on how invested you are in the inner workings of an American theatre camp. We're spending the hour before the inevitably chaotic opening night (the premiere of "Joan, Still", the Platt and Gordon characters' tribute to the camp's bedridden founder) watching bitty, underwritten, semi-improvised scenes that desperately hope enthusiasm is an acceptable substitute for wit; these fumble through modestly promising set-ups to arrive at generally shrugging punchlines. (If the film speaks at all to our present, strikebound moment, what it has to say is this: actors would be nothing without good writers and directors to guide them.) The cosiness - a small band of performers who've known one another since youth, amusing themselves by recreating a world they know like the backs of their tearstick-coated hands - manifests in a look you could fairly describe as TV-adjacent: Gordon and Lieberman lean heavily on those faux-surveillance scenes shot through open blinds that have signalled growing intimacy (or trouble) in texts from The Office to Abbott Elementary. After the grand scale and goofy ambition of Greta Gerwig's Barbie, there's something grounding about watching a movie that unspools like four consecutive episodes of a soon-to-be-cancelled sitcom, or which reminds you of what had started to pass for studio comedy in the post-Apatow era. Sporadic smiles (the bulk of those care of Minari's Alan Kim as the one kid who's showed up at camp with designs on becoming an agent), but a sum total of zero big laughs, almost certainly because everyone involved owes camps like Adirond Acts a formative debt.

Theater Camp is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

Friday 25 August 2023

For what it's worth...

UK box office Top Ten (for the weekend of August 18-20, 2023):

1 (1) Barbie (12A) ***
2 (2) Oppenheimer (15) ****
3 (new) Blue Beetle (12A)
4 (3) The Meg 2: The Trench (12A)
5 (new) Strays (15)
7 (5) Haunted Mansion (12A)
9 (9) Elemental (PG)
10 (4) Gran Turismo: Based on a True Story (12A)

(source: BFI)

My top five:
1. The Idiots

DVD/Blu-Ray/Download top ten: 

1 (new) Transformers: Rise of the Beasts (12)
3 (2The Little Mermaid (PG)
4 (3) The Super Mario Bros. Movie (PG)
6 (new) Babylon 5: The Road Home (12)
7 (5) The Meg (12) ***
8 (7) John Wick: Chapter 4 (15)
9 (12) A Man Called Otto (15)
10 (9) Top Gun: Maverick (12) ****

My top five: 
1. Godland

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:
1. The Third Man [above] (Saturday, BBC2, 12.30pm)
2. Ferris Bueller's Day Off (Friday, Channel 4, 12.10am)
3. Notting Hill (Sunday, ITV1, 10.15pm)
4. This is Spinal Tap (Tuesday, BBC1, 11.40pm)
5. Skyfall (Saturday, ITV1, 8.30pm)

Thursday 24 August 2023

Re-up: "Training Day"

Here's another film whose twentieth anniversary zipped past in the blink of an eye. Back in 2001, Training Day had the look of Warner Bros. throwing considerable resources - stars, money, a thrusting young director in Antoine Fuqua - at a script by a white screenwriter (David Ayer, fresh off The Fast and the Furious) that tessellated with the kind of material that had sustained the 1990s' New Black Cinema: a tale about a rookie detective (a fresher-faced Ethan Hawke) enduring a 24-hour crash course in the dark arts of L.A. narcotics work care of grizzled partner Denzel Washington. The studio threw enough at the project to make it a hit, and then - more surprisingly - to get it into that year's awards conversation. (The Hughes brothers, who'd made 1995's comparatively underpromoted Dead Presidents for Disney, must have wondered what they'd done wrong. They could not have been alone in this.) The Academy may have mistook Training Day for a film that had something significant and lasting to say about policing and race-relations in 21st century America, yet Fuqua's subsequent career has revealed it, if it ever really needed revealing, as chiefly a swaggering, fake-it-'til-you-make-it pose: both a feature-length extension of the rap videos this filmmaker had cut his teeth on, and an expensive upgrade on all those millennial vehicles for rappers that didn't have these contacts and went straight to DVD instead. It's still an entertaining pose, granted, and the actors ensure it stays at least semi-grounded; what we end up revisiting is an example of the star system bolstering a screenplay that had no right to generate anything this watchable and sporadically tense.

It boils down to an old Hollywood standby, the odd couple: someone must have realised only sparks can follow from putting Malcolm X in a patrol car with one of the milquetoasts from Dead Poets Society. Playing the boyish family man to Washington's self-asserting big bad wolf, Hawke more than holds his own - glimpses here of the adventurous and instinctive performer into which he would mature - and the two leads keep pushing one another, much as these characters egg one another on. That's something to cling to, as is some effective location work (on actual, little-filmed inner city backstreets) and the frankly stacked supporting cast that integrates Nineties holdovers (actors you'd forgotten were in it: Scott Glenn, Tom Berenger, Raymond J. Barry, Peter Greene) with distinctly 2001 faces (Snoop Dogg as a dealer on wheels, Macy Gray as a mouthy suspect's wife, the much-missed Eva Mendes as Washington's squeeze, Dr. Dre - forgot about him, too - among Washington's goon squad). Yet all this is secondary, when it counts, to the business of Denzel waving a gun around and Antoine shooting Denzel waving a gun around, and despite frequent cutaways to a sizzling sun apparently coming into land at LAX, everyone appears too deodorised - too concerned with looking cool - for this plot to break real sweat. It's impossible not to watch Training Day now without being reminded of The Wire, which premiered on HBO within months of Denzel winning the Oscar, and the movie's gloss suffers from mental juxtaposition with the series' graft and grit: you hear David Simon snorting disdainfully at one of Ayer's more outrageous dramatic contrivances (the wallet), and the finale now seems scarcely less implausible. This was as close as the studios could get to the streets in 2001 - but it still wasn't enough, and it says a lot about diminishing ambitions in La-La Land that Fuqua has spent the intervening years shepherding Washington through three Equalizer films, including the latest (opening next week), which would seem to be the Equalizer version of Holiday on the Buses. Is that cool?

Training Day returns to selected cinemas from tomorrow.

Tuesday 22 August 2023

Under fire: "While We Watched"

Vinay Shukla's profile of the Indian telejournalist Ravish Kumar introduces its subject paying his respects to a blackened news studio. This is some indication of the incendiary territory
While We Watched is heading into, but it also serves as a crystallising image of what the media has become in the age of Internet-spread populism: vulnerable, even expendable - a sitting target - but also hollowed out, cowed into submission, perhaps never to be the same again. Kumar, who's been fighting the good fight in his role as host of NDTV's nightly current affairs digest Prime Time, faces a predicament. As one of the few Indian anchormen left reporting proven facts in a post-truth world, he's resisted the substantial paydays that follow from circulating hogwash, refusing to maintain the status quo and divide the world into true believers and enemies of the state. Yet that leaves him isolated, and open to attack. There are ready echoes with developments in Brexit Britain and the America of Donald Trump, but a lot of Kumar's grief is inextricable from the politically weaponised tribalism of Modi's India, and to an ever-hotter climate that has apparently boiled his ratings rivals' blood to a degree that would seem comical if it wasn't so dangerously irresponsible. "All stories become personal sooner or later," Kumar is heard to remark early on, a philosophy borne of decades of public service; it shines through in his sober, victim-focused reporting on a suicide case that highlights those societal failings the flagwavers would rather journalists distract their viewers from. Shukla's story gets personal, too, as Kumar finds himself being shouted down and drowned out, targeted by crank phone calls and viral videos, and added to a widely disseminated list of so-called "anti-nationals". At one point, his foes succeed in blocking NDTV's signal in Mumbai, forcing his show off the air. What While We Watched reveals is just how hard it is to report any story when you find yourself at the centre of a firestorm.

Part of Shukla's project here is to show who Kumar really is, which is to say neither the coolly unflappable newsman he presents to India from behind a desk most weeknights, nor the demon-slash-traitor those on the Hindutva right would prefer to paint him as. The film does this in a broadly observational, undemonstrative, fly-on-the-wall style that is the antithesis of the fractious debate being stoked across other channels. We watch Kumar at home with his wife and young daughter, and consulting calmly but authoritatively with colleagues; we see him driving between functions with a security officer positioned in the backseat. This Kumar is an ever so slightly stolid presence - a John Oliver without the team of writers - observed frowningly, unfussily getting on with the job. (As he tells an auditorium crammed with journalism students: "There is nothing special about me, I'm not the Chosen One".) It's just that job, when done correctly, requires him to be quietly analytical, critical in the traditional sense, which only further enrages those touting abject nonsense at ultra-loud volume. In a production meeting, Kumar grimly notes how nationalism in India now serves to accommodate religious fundamentalism (among those most commonly shouted at: Muslims, and Pakistan more generally), and to encourage the country's youth to "choose hatred over jobs". It's a sorry picture, suggesting our leaders can tank the economy and still retain the support of those most affected by it, in large part by recruiting lost souls with discontent in their hearts to serve as a private army of trolls and terrorise anybody seeking to question or change the narrative. "My job," Kumar tells his viewers, "is to arm you against lies and deceit." One further complication is that journalism itself is changing (arguably falling apart) around him, a consequence of managerial costcutting, rampant insecurity in the workforce, a new or renewed pressure to get ratings, clicks and hits, and the efforts of populist politicos to paint the few good newsmen as devils for telling the mob what they no longer care to hear.

It possibly all sounds a little inside-baseball - the kind of film to which concerned and conscientious media types are almost always bound to award four or five stars. Yet Kumar's plight has the inbuilt tension of a procedural thriller, and the roiling turbulence of 21st century India tosses up one setpiece after another: a live broadcast where hackers seize control of Kumar's autocue and activate an alarm, causing widespread consternation; a 2019 election night special that decides the fate of a nation (heading into, as we now know, the Coronavirus crisis) while determining Kumar's place, as what's effectively a journalistic minority, within the Indian media landscape. Throughout, Shukla keeps his eyes open for the telling detail. The colour of his subject's hair, rapidly transitioning from Oliver black to Jon Stewart grey, tells its own story, as do an initially baffling series of cutaways to cakes being wheeled into the Prime Time offices: at first you assume these must be for birthday celebrations, a spoonful or six of sugar to help take away the sour tang of populist poison, but it gradually dawns that these sweetmeats have been catered in for an apparently never-ending run of leaving parties. Unseen management, it transpires, is doing as much as any splenetic blowhard or their Molotov cocktail-lobbing proxies to hollow out our few fully functioning newsrooms; showing good journalists the door extends an open invitation to the barbarians at the gates. The news, as Shukla's film reports it, is bleak - but far better our mediators give it to us straight than deflect, distract or equivocate.

While We Watched screens at the Curzon Camden at noon this Thursday; it is also available to rent via Curzon Home Cinema and YouTube. 

Monday 21 August 2023

On demand: "Fragments of Paradise"

An overview of the remarkable life and work of Jonas Mekas - WW2 troublemaker, concentration camp survivor, migrant, critic, distributor, filmmaker, archivist, poet, philosopher and diarist -
Fragments of Paradise can only ever be secondary to its subject's restless, relentless documenting. I suspect even its director, KD Davison, would be humble enough to acknowledge that a 98-minute digest such as this, by its very nature, could never be as full-strength Mekas as 1968's Walden or 2000's As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty or the recently republished The New York Diaries. Yet Davison benefits considerably from everything her subject continued to shoot, on a daily basis, right up until his death aged 96 in January 2019; she reframes Mekas's images with sensitivity and skill; and she adds context in the form of friends, family and other prominent cinephile voices. These latter are a mostly shrewd selection, folks from whom you're only too happy to hear and learn: Scorsese (of course, as the newly elected grand poobah of cinephilia), Peter Bogdanovich (in one of his final public appearances before his death last year), John Waters (on Mekas's gifts as a programmer, his openness to new voices and ideas) and Jim Jarmusch (offering typically wry description of Mekas's joy at discovering a dusty consignment of Soviet industrial films). Best of all: the queen bee of New York critics, Amy Taubin, who surely herself merits a documentary on everything she's seen and done, is honest enough to confess she doesn't much care for Mekas's features on an aesthetic level, and raises the intriguing idea that filming everything that passed before him might just have been the generally buoyant Mekas's coping mechanism.

Looked at from this perspective, the work seems more than ever tied up with Mekas's refugee status, and some existential need for freedom of movement and gesture that was by all accounts there long before the death camps. (The film was completed before an argument broke out in New York intellectual circles over the precise nature of Mekas's activity during WW2, but it casts new light on the matter - or more fuel on the fire.) Mekas's former wife Hollis Melton describes him, with a measure of fondness and regret, as "a free spirit"; after he moved out of the family home in the first years of the new century and into a vast, echoing loft, we hear Mekas consoling himself with the thought he is surrounded by the atoms of his loved ones. His foundation of the Anthology Archives in 1970 is here couched as central to a wider commitment to the circulation of images and ideas, a credo borne out in his own filmmaking. His everyday images of New York now seem like postcards, hastily composed to show the folks back home he was alive and thriving; his images of his former home, most memorably compiled in 1972's Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania, were illustrations of where he'd come from, and an attempt to better introduce himself to the New World. Some of these fragments may strike the eye and ear as less than entirely paradisical: there's a lot of hanging out with Ginsberg, for starters, and Davison bookends the film with a vaguely distressing clip of the elderly Mekas caught in a moment of profound self-doubt. Yet having all this footage together in the same place confirms the idea that Mekas took up his Bolex camera to see more of the world as it was and as it is. That's what the cinema does: a mechanised liberating force, it frees moments from the tyrannies of time and place and allows them to float through the ether, hopefully carrying the viewer with them as they go. Moving images are migrants, too. Mekas's archival work, meanwhile, suggests a deep-rooted understanding of film as largely composed of other people's memories - and thus something that, whether lofty essay-film or workaday industrial relic, demands to be preserved and handled with care.

Davison certainly does that with the raw material her subject bequeathed her (and us), but she also expands her study outwards beyond mere cinephilia, towards a quietly touching encapsulation of the Mekas worldview. It's clear that, in the main, this was a good life, well lived in the service of a grand cinematic passion; that having been handed a second chance upon liberation from the camps, Mekas spent the rest of his existence annotating the abundant everyday beauty of this world; and that much as he himself was spared the worst, so too he endeavoured to rescue the work (and memories) of others from annihilation. His own images, curious and fumbling though they first appear, look in this context like proofs of love; while Mekas's recognisably staccato narration sounds like that of a hesitant admirer, attempting to convey his affections in an ever-shifting second language. If it hardly seems that Mekas has left us, that's partly because he left another lifetime - perhaps several lifetimes - of footage behind him, and partly because his influence and passion spread far and wide. You can see his spirit metabolised not just in the loved ones Davison interviews here, but in such extant public figures as the critic Richard Brody, digging assiduously around the fringes of the American film scene, and the cult imagemaker John Wilson, taking his camera to scenes of piquantly banal New York life. Few will ever again (have to) cover as much ground as Mekas himself did, however, and while retracing her subject's steps, Davison arrives at one of the best definitions yet of a certain critical mindset: upon being arrested for screening Jack Smith's scandalous underground fantasia Flaming Creatures, Mekas reportedly told close associates "well, OK, now I'll make even more trouble". We can be stubborn sods, we film lovers, which may be one reason Jonas Mekas's own, ever-restless atoms continue to bounce and vibrate among us.

Fragments of Paradise is currently streaming via Channel 4, and available to rent via Prime Video, the BFI Player, YouTube and Dogwoof on Demand.

Friday 18 August 2023

For what it's worth...

UK box office Top Ten (for the weekend of August 11-13, 2023):

1 (1) Barbie (12A) ***
2 (2) Oppenheimer (15) ****
3 (3) The Meg 2: The Trench (12A)
4 (new) Gran Turismo: Based on a True Story (12A)
5 (new) Haunted Mansion (12A)
7 (new) Jailer (15)
9 (6Elemental (PG)
10 (new) Gadar 2 (15)

(source: BFI)

My top five:
1. The Idiots [above]

DVD/Blu-Ray/Download top ten: 

2 (1) The Little Mermaid (PG)
3 (3) The Super Mario Bros. Movie (PG)
5 (5) The Meg (12) ***
7 (8) John Wick: Chapter 4 (15)
8 (6) Ruby Gillman: Teenage Kraken (PG)
9 (9) Top Gun: Maverick (12) ****
10 (15) Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (12)

My top five: 
1. Godland

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:
1. Point Break (Friday, BBC1, 10.40pm)
2. Gagarine (Monday, Channel 4, 2.20am)
3. Shadowlands (Sunday, BBC2, 2.05pm)
4. The Babadook (Saturday, BBC2, 1.10am)
5. Creed (Friday, ITV1, 10.45pm)

Sugar high: "Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani"

Some notable directors deploy their talents across a range of genres and subjects. Others hammer insistently away at the same theme or idea in the hope that either the act of repetition or the benefits of experience will reveal new and deeper insights. For Karan Johar, the Hindi cinema's foremost director-producer-showman, that theme is forbidden love, which would set him squarely in Bollywood tradition - except that he approaches this theme from the perspective of a gay filmmaker working in a more than typically patriarchal society. (He is to Bollywood what Almodóvar has been to the lineage of European melodrama.) Johar's genius, when it manifests, lies in the fact his hammering never feels like hard work; rather, he fashions entertainments the way others throw parties, inviting his audience to come out and have a good time. Laugh, cry, sing, dance; work through your issues; bring a bottle and a friend. Our host didn't quite get the guest list right for his last project, 2016's Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, where cancer turned that forbidden love impossible and Johar badly fumbled the furore prompted by the casting of Pakistani actor Fawad Khan. But everything about Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani proves more serendipitous and life-giving. There will be fewer squabbles over the casting, for starters. The opening number alone sees Ranveer Singh's Rocky Randhawa, gadabout heir to his family's sweet empire, romancing what seems like half of the New Bollywood, while also laying the foundations for a subplot involving seasoned players Dharmendra and Shabana Azmi, separated by social norms at a pivotal moment in their youth. What follows offers two forbidden loves for the price of one - one that speaks to 21st century India, and one that reflects upon the India of yore. The film is credited to three screenwriters (Shashank Kaitan, Ishita Moitra and Sumit Roy), but may also owe a certain narrative debt to Karan Johar's therapist: its overbearing urge is to make peace with (or just make sense of) the past, the better to flood the present and future with happiness.

The process is fun, though - more fun than even Barbie, I'd say. (Confession: I've been watching the musical numbers on a loop for the past 48 hours, trying to keep the film's stardust in the air.) If Bollywood is just about the last place on Earth that still believes in the star system, then Johar believes in the star system most of all. He knows there is value in recruiting pretty, expressive, expressly charismatic folks and then setting these people before us like snacks of one kind or another. In Singh and Alia Bhatt (as Rocky's TV journo beloved Rani), he lays on two of the brightest hopes of any nation, reframing them as latter-day Delhi's very own Beatrice-and-Benedick (emphasis firmly on the latter syllable). Here are two characters who are so outwardly wrong for one another that, in movie terms, they can only be right. Johar delights in contrasting Rocky's slangy, tangled, faux-street syntax (neatly preserved in Nasreen Munni Kabir's English subtitling) with Rani's privately schooled, mediasphere-honed eloquence, and his loud, Ken-like wardrobe with her Manish Malhotra-styled elegance. Singh does genuinely heroic work in making supremely likable a character who first presents as a prize prat: Rocky has to get Rani - an unapologetic badass, not so much a gesture towards Strong Female Characterisation™ as a punch to the solar plexus - to take him seriously, because that's how we, too, begin to take him seriously. And we have to take Rocky Randhawa seriously, because that's how Johar gets us to look beyond the film's own gaudy accessories and take him seriously. That this is a new, mature Karan Johar can be seen from the social context in which he sets his young lovers' skylarking. However tricky they have it, the movie suggests, these kids enjoy far greater freedoms than their hunched and coiled elders, preconditioned to altogether more limited and limiting gender roles. (Somewhere towards the back of this plot: Indian society's renewed suspicion of any man who expresses themselves in a way that isn't instantly readable as macho. You might think the country's long and distinguished lineage of poets would alleviate some of these doubts, but then we live in fearful times.)

I suspect Western reviews of Rocky Aur Rani... are going to lean heavily on the descriptor "broad", but Johar realises that broad allows a director to cram more in: more actors, more extras, more perspectives, more poetry. Broad allows even the supporting players their moment in the spotlight; it means you can mix rousing urban party anthems with keening mountaintop laments, and throw in an oddly charming, jingle-like earworm that restates the title and themes from time to time. (Johar is nothing if not a communicator: he wants us to know exactly what he's getting at.) But don't overlook the precision in the direction, nor the film's many felicities of staging. When Rocky and Rani swap households before the intermission, they do so on a bridge that was surely chosen specifically to recall the hostage exchanges in Spielberg's Bridge of Spies. (And yes, these two are captives in their own households, prisoners to their families' fates.) And don't downplay the quality of the screenwriting: note how these characters are reshaped and reoriented by the experiences of others. Sure, some stretches play as conventional - steered by the plot mechanisms via which Bollywood has guided itself for the better part of a century, only now adorned with light-up hashtags and gags about cancellation. Not for nothing does the business subplot tie up with the rebranding of laddoos under the slogan "new thinking, same great taste". Yet even here you keep catching proofs of this filmmaker's instinct for great movie scenes and moments: Rocky standing, more bemused than usual, in a kitchen he doesn't know how to use; Bhatt going toe-to-toe with Jaya Bachchan, her predecessor in 70s Hindi cinema; two men donning skirted outfits to perform the Kathak dancing more typically performed on screen by women. In so doing, Johar begins to express his own thoughts anew, not least those on the topic of intergenerational conflict: he's spied how some unrealised dreams get fulfilled through our offspring, while others curdle into rage and resentment. At a time when some large part of the Indian cinema has effectively been turned over to filmed hate speech - fostering division, preying on prejudice, lighting fuses and standing well back - someone needed to make a forceful case for unity, pleasure, tolerance, love. By rediscovering his voice and raising it an octave, Johar proves just the man for the job: Rocky Aur Rani... is joy in film form.

Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani is now playing in selected cinemas.

Thursday 17 August 2023

Boom: "Oppenheimer"

I'll say this:
Oppenheimer is Christopher Nolan playing to his strengths. If this filmmaker insists on maintaining the po-facedness that has defined his work since the initiation of the Dark Knight trilogy - the humour deficiency that makes Nolan movies manna for mirthless fanboys, and made such a grinding plod out of the would-be caper Tenet - far better it be turned towards a subject such as the construction of the atomic bomb. Throughout the new film, we are sporadically reacquainted with that now-familiar sensation of solemn Nolanian straining. No other filmmaker presently working within the studio system is more keen for us to take him seriously, to present as A Very Clever Boy Indeed: clever when telling a story backwards, clever about his redeployment of familiar comic-book figures, clever in venturing war movies and biopics that unfold across several timezones simultaneously. A Nolan film remains a complex equation being worked through on an IMAX-scaled blackboard by the brightest kid in the Hollywood class; Oppenheimer duly appends modules in history, politics and thermonuclear physics. (As underlined by all those social-media posts from colleagues no less keen to show off their high-minded beach reading - Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin's biography American Prometheus, Nolan's source here - this is that rare summer movie for which one probably ought to study.) In its wobbly first hour, during which the film can be felt straining too much, you actually get to hear Matt Damon's General Groves hyperventilate the line "This Is The Most Important Thing In The History Of The World!" If you're anything like me, you may not be able to witness such a spittle-flecked, footstomping fit of the vapours without chuckling, but - once the giggles subside - the film does much to impress upon us that J. Robert Oppenheimer's labours might legitimately be considered a matter of life and death.

One early encouraging aspect is Nolan's visible rediscovery of actors. They were front and centre in this director's early films: arguably he's never surpassed his work with Al Pacino and Robin Williams in 2002's Insomnia, when Nolan was still greenhorn enough to defer to thespian experience. In the Dark Knight era, however, the actors in Nolan films became secondary to concepts, schemas and torturous narrative designs, resulting in the total and utter capitulation of Tenet's (dearie me) "Protagonist". I have a spit-in-the-wind theory that Nolan was so spooked by the death of Heath Ledger that he thereafter backed away from anything that struck him as human, vulnerable, mortal - the qualities that made the characters in his earlier puzzle-pictures so compelling. Yet in Oppenheimer, he sears every angle of Cillian Murphy's death's-head features onto the screen, the better to allow close, near-constant study of a figure seemingly irradiated by complicity and guilt. (To the charge the movie shows us nothing of Nagasaki, Nolan responds with a wasteland of a face.) Lest that get too much - lest straining set in for good - he surrounds his lead with people you're only too glad to encounter, the cushioning good company we need so as to sit through the entirety of a three-hour lecture: Josh Hartnett, David Krumholtz and Matthew Modine as fellow physicians; Tom Conti playing Albert Einstein as a relic of more innocent times in theoretical physics, when the numbers weren't attached to death counts; Gary Oldman playing President Truman as Reg Holdsworth. Nolan works one notable miracle in getting the perennially puckish Robert Downey Jr. to act his age - or how someone his age would have presented in the mid-1950s - as Lewis Strauss, the scheming Salieri to Oppenheimer's Mozart, busy engineering his rival's downfall in the wake of WW2. Given that Nolan presumably has access to the best casting directors in all Europe, I could have done without Kenneth Branagh doing a funny accent as Niels Bohr (when he talks of physics' "sheet music", it took me a moment before I realised he wasn't cussing), and the refusal to overdub mean we lose 25% of the dialogue to Ludwig Göransson's persistent score and ominous Dolby rumbling. That's well down on Tenet's 75%, though, and what's important is that amid all of the film's huffing and puffing, we keep catching glimpses of the human cost of building bombs.

In the early stages, granted, glimpses are all Oppenheimer has to offer. We initially get thin slivers of scenes from all over the timeline, which build momentum but gather little heft; what understanding there is here - whether of human interaction or thermonuclear physics - appears stuck at a high-school level. (For an hour, it's a movie only an undergraduate could take seriously.) Having made a fortune by making movies for nerds, Nolan might have found his way to lionising history's ultimate nerd: bullied in college, this Oppenheimer buries himself in books, takes refuge in data, and eventually achieves a dominance of sorts over the very world that had tormented him so. Like a 21st century film director, he builds worlds (the film's pulse quickens the closer we get to Los Alamos) and blows shit up; in his downtime, he bunks up with Florence Pugh in the year's most laughable sex scene (one that could only have been choreographed by a nerd: "I read it in the original German" used as a pick-up line, congress halted so that one party can get a book down off a shelf), abandons her for Emily Blunt, and - as the latter succumbs to her own doubts, and subsequently hard-faced alcoholism - with Pugh again, this establishing this was a nerd who got laid a record three times. Yet what proves semi-interesting about Oppenheimer is how it comes to function as metatext; there are long stretches where it feels like Professor Nolan giving a lecture to his own admirers. His Oppenheimer is someone keen to put his skills in the service of winning a war, and yet his righteousness leaves nothing but rubble in its wake. An early, offhand attempt to assassinate his mocking mentor (injecting a Biblical apple with potassium cyanide: knowledge gone sour) doesn't come off, but Oppenheimer spends the bulk of its three hours watching its small-p protagonist destroy relationships, rivals and eventually entire Japanese cities. Whether it will be heeded remains to be seen, but there may be a warning here for those considering taking to social media to threaten physical violence against anybody threatening Nolan's chances of winning the Best Director Oscar. (Though even that prize wouldn't be vindication enough for some: in the fanboys' eyes, the great God-like Chris would merit all thirty-odd awards, including that for Best Animated Short.)

For years, these true believers have gone gaga over the logistics of each Nolan film while overlooking the work's coolly impersonal limitations and failings. But Oppenheimer is different, emerging instead as a film that sets its maker in direct, often frank conversation with his audience, and possibly even with himself. The drama reaches critical mass around the midpoint, with a second sex scene that repairs some of the damage done by the first - chiefly because the bold staging yanks us outside the Oppenheimer worldview to confront us with the film's true subject: fallout, in all its forms. It's not the only point in these 180 minutes where the prevailing cleverness - or tricksiness, which isn't quite the same thing - does add a kind of weight. When we arrive at the detonation of the plutonium bomb, Nolan stages a dramatic coup in line with the published science, withholding the sound we expect so as to put us in renewed synch with Oppenheimer's shallow sickbed breathing. When the explosion finally hits the speakers, it's less the big bang we associate with summer movies than a deathly rattle: it goes right through the physicist, shakes another decade of life from Murphy's performance, and recurs whenever the world again threatens to get too much for the character. We continue to feel its reverberations. Here, then, is consequence; here, the gravest of responsibility, the very elements that went AWOL from the multiplex over the last decade-and-a-half of Marvel movie dominance, and more so than the filmmaking, Nolan's restoration of those elements to American cinema may be Oppenheimer's most impressive aspect. Reviewing an earlier account of the Manhattan Project - Richard Rhodes's 1986 book The Making of the Atomic Bomb - Clive James noted this story boils down to "how a group of the cleverest men on Earth combined their best efforts in their belief that building a bomb to kill a hundred thousand people at a time was the only thing to do. There can be moral discussions of the modern world that don't take that fact in, but they won't be serious." Nolan is deadly serious about his subject and the implications of Oppenheimer's life and work - and, this once, that seriousness seems neither disproportionate nor misapplied.

Oppenheimer is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

Sunday 13 August 2023

For what it's worth...

UK box office Top Ten (for the weekend of August 4-6, 2023):

1 (1) Barbie (12A) ***
2 (2) Oppenheimer (15) ****
3 (new) The Meg 2: The Trench (12A)
6 (4) Elemental (PG)
7 (new) Joy Ride (15)
9 (5) Talk to Me (15) ****

(source: BFI)

My top five:

DVD/Blu-Ray/Download top ten: 

1 (1) The Little Mermaid (PG)
3 (2) The Super Mario Bros. Movie (PG)
5 (25) The Meg (12) ***
6 (new) Ruby Gillman: Teenage Kraken (PG)
7 (4) The Flash (12) **
8 (5) John Wick: Chapter 4 (15)
9 (7) Top Gun: Maverick (12) ****
10 (19) A Man Called Otto (15)

My top five: 
1. Godland

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:
1. Heat [above] (Friday, BBC1, 10.40pm)
2. The Piano (Monday, BBC2, 11.15pm)
3. Cape Fear (Sunday, BBC1, 11.30pm)
4. Bridesmaids (Friday, ITV1, 10.45pm)
5. Big (Saturday, ITV1, 3.05pm)

Battle cry of the city: "Gangs of New York"

When I saw Gangs of New York u
pon its first run two decades ago, I remember being dazzled by its scale and dizzied by its momentum, while also remaining aware that it was, in certain respects, a folly. A long-time Martin Scorsese passion project, thrashed into some kind of shape by three top-end screenwriters (Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian and Kenneth Lonergan), it finally emerged - some while delayed, after an extended shoot and the traumas of 9/11 - in a version Harvey Weinstein had extensively tampered with. (Even Scorsese wasn't immune from the producer's interventions: he offers a retort of sorts by bestowing the producer's first name on the gambler Bill the Butcher accuses of not putting up enough money.) As it celebrates its twentieth anniversary, a distribution rights change (from the guarded Entertainment to the more laissez-faire Lionsgate) and a reclassification from a UK 18 to a 15, it merits another look, not least to allow us to reassess its myriad pros and cons. 

The opening march to battle, where Liam Neeson's priest meets his match at the hands of Daniel Day-Lewis's Bill, suggests an influence I hadn't spotted in 2003: that this was, among other things, Scorsese's response to the success of 2000's Gladiator, reimagining New York as a colosseum that requires the raising of vast sets (by Dante Ferretti) on which fists and other weapons can be swung and the future of an empire will be determined. After a run of spiritual-personal endeavours (1997's Kundun, 1999's Bringing Out the Dead), this was Scorsese beginning an outwardly commercial phase that would return him to the Academy's radar, and eventually land him his first Best Director Oscar for 2006's The Departed. Had he initiated this project now - with assistance from Netflix or Apple, as has become the Scorsese norm - he would surely have enjoyed a freer hand and final cut, an extra hour to play with, time to smooth out the Henry Thomas-shaped bumps in this narrative and build to an emotional crescendo. The film Scorsese turned out in 2003 remains a jostling hotchpotch, a mixed bag with flashes of excellence and brilliance. In a sign of 21st century things to come, its vision of America violently yanking itself out of the mud would be improved upon on cable TV, over the course of David Milch's extraordinary Deadwood; and in fact that new certificate serves as its own, not inaccurate review. The forging of any turbulent city in blood and thunder really demands an 18 rating, as Milch's backers at HBO understood. Gangs of New York now presents as half the picture it really needed to be - while also serving twice as much picture as anybody else was then giving.

As foundational myths go, this is neither as detailed nor as profoundly felt as that Milch bestowed upon us, but then Scorsese's film proves so much more thrilling for wearing its many years of scholarship so lightly; at its strongest, we get caught up in events, as we do any other ripping yarn or heaving metropolitan crowd. The script's vengeance arc - with Neeson's son Leonardo DiCaprio playing a long game of payback - is really an excuse to film a series of chaotic dust-ups, from the political manoeuvring to hang a bunch of patsies to a backstreet boxing match that descends into an all-out brawl. Part of the film's project is a rambunctious expansion of Raging Bull: a film in which just about everybody's ready to rumble. (The sharp angles of Ferretti's set-building are central to this: every street corner strikes the eye as contestable territory, visibly up for grabs.) What was lost in post-production was crucial connective tissue. In between the setpieces, we become aware of the film's myriad short cuts, the trade-offs required in 2003 to turn a then-expensive $100m production into a book-balancing blockbuster. Rather than actors, we get stars - and suddenly the film seems wobblier: a rare Scorsese movie without a truly outstanding or anchoring performance, either because Weinstein cut the heart and soul out of the picture, or because nearly everyone on set was overwhelmed by the scale of the production.

DiCaprio gets the cockiness right, and you buy him as a child torn between father figures (Neeson, Day-Lewis, Brendan Gleeson as a reminder of the character's Irish roots). What he can't sell you on - what this actor has always struggled to sell us on - is toughness: asked to project anything like that, he reverts to screwing up his face, in the hope we'll forget about his perilously scrawny body. Given her near-retirement, it's pleasing to see Cameron Diaz again as the city's resident colleen/hellcat Jenny, though this cut is far less interested in her than it is in, say, Jim Broadbent's divide-and-rule Tammany; she floats the prospect of a Titanic-like romance, a measure of tenderness to offset the copious butchery, and yet Jenny still looks like a character constructed entirely from producer's notes. As for Day-Lewis: this is as close as we've ever come to watching the great screen actor of our time do pantomime, though I don't mean that entirely as a negative, not least because Day-Lewis was smart enough to realise there were benefits to going so big. The accent is as chewy as it ever sounded (first among equals in a film with some very chewy accent work), but Bill is nothing if not a memorable character, only agreeing to enter into battle with Neeson's priest after first ascertaining the latter has numbers enough to make battle worthwhile. (Here is someone who relishes and savours the fight - the bigger and bloodier the better.) With his top hat and patter and his extravagantly curlicued moustache, he's a dubious ringmaster - comprehensively overshadowing the PG-rated P.T. Barnum, reduced here to the status of bitplayer. With its panoply of character actors (count 'em: Gleeson, Gary Lewis, Stephen Graham, Eddie Marsan) and its cameo from John Sessions, not as Lincoln but as a ham actor playing Lincoln, this is more than anything a vision of America as an especially vicious circus - a big show, complete with thousands of extras duking it out for supremacy and spectacle just about everywhere else you look. In that uncertain moment after 9/11 - when the characteristically sunny Spielberg took a turn for the pessimistic (Minority Report, War of the Worlds) - Gangs of New York was Scorsese's affirmation that the show must go on. For better and worse, it did.

Gangs of New York played in selected cinemas last week; it is currently available to stream on Prime Video, and on DVD through Entertainment in Video.

Thursday 10 August 2023

Lars and the real girl: "Breaking the Waves"

Distributor Curzon's late summer Lars von Trier retrospective opens with what was at the time a transitional film, and one that now invites reading as two films in one. von Trier's breakthrough films - the so-called "E-Trilogy" of 1984's The Element of Crime, 1987's Epidemic and 1991's Europa - displayed the attitudes and assimilated aesthetic of a smart-arsed film school graduate, flaunting everything he'd studied to that point. 1996's Breaking the Waves, by contrast, was von Trier's first mature work, in as much as any self-identifying enfant terrible can ever be said to have signed off on a mature work: it had a chaptered story, and characters who seemed fleshed out, more than mere gestures or pawns in a plot. Though the film's portrait-like chapter headings prefigure imagery to come, scene by scene von Trier and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle tone down the rampant stylisation of the E-Trilogy, instead cultivating a beigey 1970s look; in so doing, they refocus our attention on the performances, and what would become recurring Trierian themes: the clash between generations, and within individuals and society, the potential and frailty of human bodies. (They are the themes you'd expect from someone who came of age during the counterculture in an especially liberal state.) The question with BTW has always been how seriously we're meant to take the mock-Biblical parable at its centre. As has generally been his wont, von Trier has framed the film publicly as a stunt or prank intended to sucker us. Yet even a joke has a way of revealing a worldview, and this retrospective seems likely to expose how rapidly this director's gurgling media-kid cynicism gave way to pessimism, and how deeply that pessimism became ingrained. Breaking the Waves opens with a wedding party and ends with a miracle, however insincere; by the time of 2011's Melancholia (returning to cinemas August 26) a wedding party was a prelude to the end of the world. One von Trier found himself feted to the rooftops at Cannes; the other was sent packing, having been declared persona non grata.

Fortunately, this is as much an Emily Watson film as it is a Lars von Trier film. The latter's work has long been complicated - and made fascinatingly complicated - by his dealings with actresses. Broadly, he has two types. There are the masochists (Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kirsten Dunst), ready to lie down and take what's coming to them, confident their suffering will be weaponised dramatically; and there are the warriors (Björk, Nicole Kidman) willing to put up more of a fight - to assert that what goes on within a story and on a set isn't just (that loathsomely masculine word) banter, that there should be limits to what a writer-director can get away with. Watson is somehow both: she makes a heartfelt effort to understand Bess's life and thinking, the better to sell the character's dealmaking with her God. For her - and this has become clearer with a quarter-century of distance - this is a story about a young woman's discovery of sex. Bess starts the film not just naive but actively virginal; she gains experience beneath the heaving buttocks of Stellan Skarsgård's lusty oil worker Jan; begins to make choices pertaining to her own sexuality; and finds out - the von Trier way, which is to say the hard way - how cruel this world can be when faced with the sexual woman. Doomy though it is, this unsentimental education counts among the most complete character arcs in any von Trier project - and the basis of a story that, on some level, has been properly engineered and told. Much of it plays out on Watson's features, variously observed as searching, dreamy, enraptured, unravelled and agonised; it now looks like a tentative (thus touching) rehearsal for the blunt-force treatment von Trier visited upon Gainsbourg during Nymphomaniac (back in cinemas next week). That these two-and-a-half hours still compel as they do is down to the fight going on within this material, between a man overseeing a sniggering wind-up and a woman who believes in this script, this role, and the transcendent possibilities they might contain. The von Trier stance has been to take everything with a smirk and a wink and a sizeable pinch of salt; Watson simply invites us to take Bess's plight at face value. In this heavily ironised context, that might just strike you as a miracle in itself.

Breaking the Waves is now showing in selected cinemas, and available to rent via Curzon Home Cinema. 

In memoriam: Bo Goldman (Telegraph 09/08/23)

Bo Goldman
, who has died aged 90, was an American screenwriter who twice won Academy Awards for unconventional stories driven by indelible characters – defined by Goldman as “people who have a kind of courage and [an] aristocracy of the heart”.

He initially struck gold aged 43 with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), his first produced feature-length script. From Ken Kesey’s novel, Goldman unfurled a multifaceted drama, stocking each rec room and therapy session with wildly disparate personalities while punching up the barbed back-and-forths between Randle P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) and Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher).

Even by the New Hollywood’s standards, the film was a curveball, but its gimlet eye for human behaviour and anti-authoritarian edge made it a critical and popular smash. As 1975 closed out, it was the seventh biggest earner in history; the following March, it became the first film since It Happened One Night (1934) to sweep Oscars’ so-called “Big Five”: Best Picture, Director, Actor and Actress – and Best Screenplay for Goldman and Lawrence Hauben.

Goldman even (briefly) won over a vocal critic: Kesey, who’d successfully sued for damages over claims the filmmakers were “butchering” his book and vowed to boycott the finished feature. Years later, Kesey confessed to stumbling across a film on TV one evening and being drawn in by the characters; upon realising it was Cuckoo’s Nest, he switched channels.

A second Oscar followed for Melvin and Howard (1980), a funny, generously expanded anecdote about the encounter between mechanic Melvin Dummar and an ageing Howard Hughes. The script had bounced around Hollywood – at one point drawing Mike Nichols’ interest – before being embraced by the relatively untried Jonathan Demme, who leant into Goldman’s offbeat rhythms and richly drawn supporting parts. Pauline Kael, in a rave review, called it “an almost flawless act of sympathetic imagination”.

Shoot the Moon (1982) saw Goldman’s long-nurtured screenplay about separating spouses brought to the screen by Alan Parker. For years, producers had passed on the material, often admitting its description of marital disquiet fell too close to home; yet its honesty proved a core strength, enabling exceptional work from leads Albert Finney and Diane Keaton. After declaring it “perhaps the most revealing American movie of its era”, Kael paid Goldman the ultimate compliment, signing off by quoting his dialogue verbatim: “You’re kind to strangers.” “Strangers are easy.”

Here, though, Hollywood royalty conspired to scupper the film’s box-office prospects: Warren Beatty insisted no other Keaton film should be released against Reds (1981), dooming Parker’s film to a February graveyard slot. Thereafter, Goldman mostly consoled himself with well-paid, lower-stakes work-for-hire.

A ready picketer during the three-month writers’ strike of 1981, he entertained few illusions as to the scribe’s place in the commercial movie ecosystem: “If you’re lucky enough to get recognition and be good at it, then this tension gets tighter and tighter between you and the studio and the director. You’re fighting for your work all the time… They hold all the cards. And to them it’s shoes. They’re selling shoes.”

He was born Robert Spencer Goldman on September 10, 1932 to Julian Goldman, a department store magnate who retained Franklyn Roosevelt as legal counsel, and his wife Lillian (née Levy), a millinery model. They shared a 12-room Park Avenue apartment, but after the Depression wiped out the family fortune, an uncle with property interests was tapped to put the young Robert through Dalton, Exeter and Princeton, what he later dubbed “all my fancy schools”.

At Princeton, he showed promise as a songwriter and gained an enduring pen name after The Daily Princetonian misspelt “Bob”. Upon completing three years as a personnel sergeant on the Pacific atoll of Enewetak, he headed to Broadway as the lyricist of First Impressions, a musical adaptation of Pride & Prejudice starring Hermione Gingold and Farley Granger.

He sidestepped into TV towards the end of the Golden Age, adapting Days of Wine and Roses and Heart of Darkness for CBS’s Playhouse 90 (1956-60). A conversation with Burt Lancaster redirected his attentions towards feature writing – beginning with Shoot the Moon, the script that caught Forman’s eye and landed Goldman the Cuckoo’s Nest gig.

Various unrealised projects – a Wild Strawberries remake starring Gregory Peck, an Elvis movie with Nicholson as Colonel Parker – now seem more interesting than Goldman’s subsequent screenplays. Scent of a Woman (1992) at least showcased much-laurelled scenery-chewing from Al Pacino as a blind charmer, but the exasperating Meet Joe Black (1998) had only Brad Pitt’s vapid Grim Reaper to offer for three hours. 

Script doctoring provided a steady income. Goldman tinkered with Forman’s Ragtime (1981) and Goya’s Ghosts (2006), and old foe Beatty’s Dick Tracy (1990), where an attribution dispute further soured creative relations. After shunning Beatty’s pleas to sharpen Bugsy (1991), he received belated “story by” credit on the actor-director’s Rules Don’t Apply (2016), another, altogether baggier Howard Hughes tale.

In later life, he lived in Maine with his costumier daughter Serena Rathbun and filmmaker son-in-law Todd Field. He remained much admired by his peers, receiving the Writers Guild lifetime achievement award in 1998. Eric Roth, Oscar winner for Forrest Gump (1994), called Goldman “the pre-eminent screenwriter”. But Goldman reserved the last word for himself. Director Martin Brest informed the New York Times upon Goldman’s death that his friend held to a characteristically thoughtful mantra: “Your life is what’s not in the obituary”.

He is survived by five of his six children with Mabel Rathbun Ashforth, his spouse of 63 years, who died in 2017; his son Jesse died in 1981.

Bo Goldman, born September 10, 1932, died July 25, 2023.