Luck on HBO

The new HBO series Luck sees director Michael Mann and writer David Milch combine forces with Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte.

Based around a group of characters at a horse-racing track, Milch spoke about the premise to Variety last year:

“The pilot is about a bunch of intersecting lives in the world of horse racing,” Milch told Daily Variety. “It’s a subject which has engaged and some might say has compelled me for 50 years. I’ve joked that if I just can make $25 million on this show, I’ll be even on research expenses. I find it as complicated and engaging a special world as any I’ve ever encountered, not only in what happens in the clubhouse and the grandstand, but also on the backside of the track, where the training is done and where they house the horses.”

Although it looks like an ensemble piece, it appears Dustin Hoffman will have the biggest role as a man ‘deeply involved in gambling’.

Both Mann and Milch have a considerable pedigree when it comes to TV shows: the former was showrunner for Miami Vice in the 1980s when Milch was doing the same job with Hill Street Blues.

With Martin Scorsese directing the pilot of Boardwalk Empire for HBO, it seems like the venerable cable network is fast becoming a refuge for directors who want to flex their creative muscles outside the studio system.

Luck is scheduled to air sometime in 2012.

> HBO page for Luck
> Find out more about Michael Mann and David Milch at Wikipedia
> New Yorker profile of David Milch from 2005

Documentaries News TV

Trailer: George Harrison – Living in the Material World

The new trailer for the new Martin Scorsese documentary about George Harrison is now online.

George Harrison: Living in the Material World features rare footage from Harrison’s childhood, his time in The Beatles, his solo career and his unlikely career as a movie producer through Handmade Films.

The interviewees include Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Yoko Ono and Olivia and Dhani Harrison.

Like Scorsese’s previous documentary about Bob Dylan – No Direction Home – this is split into two parts: the first section (94 mins) covers Harrison’s early life in Liverpool and career as a Beatle up until their break up in 1970.

The second part (114 mins) charts his solo career during the 1970s and 80s, up until the end of his life in November 2001.

It is being screened at cinemas across the UK and Dublin on October 4th.

In the US it will air on HBO in two parts on October 5th and 6th and in the UK on the BBC at some point (although details are unclear, it may be on BBC2 in November for the 10th anniversary of his death).

The DVD and Blu-ray come out soon after on October 10th.

> For more info and to book tickets visit the Facebook page
> More on the film at the IMDb
> Pre-order the DVD or Blu-ray at Amazon UK


Nicolas Winding Refn on BBC Breakfast

Director Nicolas Winding Refn was promoting Drive on BBC Breakfast when he used some rather creative language to describe the violence in the film.

The look on Carey Mulligan’s face at 0.11 is priceless.

Although some cynics may smell a calculated publicity ploy here, it seems to me like he was tired and after doing rounds of press discussing his latest work just got muddled as to where he was and what kind of language he should be using.

But what’s interesting to note how quickly parts of the British media – especially the dead tree kind seize on this kind of slip up.

Haven’t we all seen The Sex Pistols on Bill Grundy, Helen Mirren’s recent use of the s-word or Jane Fonda drop the C-bomb live on US morning television?

It seems strange that British newspapers act shocked at this when some have supported facism and hacked the phones of murder victims, but maybe I’m just being old fashioned.

Note the obligatory use of the phrase ‘choked on cereal’ or ‘choked on cornflakes’ in any story covering this world-shattering event.

Plus, what exactly can the presenters or broadcaster actually do apart from apologise and move swiftly on?

I know that as we speak there is some poor soul deep within Television Centre filling out a compliance form, which have been enforced on shows since the Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand voicemail affair, which is listed in Wikipedia with the hilariously concise title of “Russell Brand Show prank telephone calls row“.

But let me save them some time and encourage them to fill a blank sheet of paper or empty web form with the following:

Danish director of cool new film swore live on air. Presenters apologised. Move on.

By the way Drive is really good, if a little violent in places, and apparently the violence is a little like… [REDACTED].

> Full review of Drive
> Very funny Stars Wars vs Drive mashup trailer
> BBC Breakfast slip up when unedited audio of Christian Bale was aired

Interesting TV

Alexander Mackendrick and The Watergate Hearings

In the early 1970s director Alexander Mackendrick used the Watergate hearings to explore the basics of film grammar.

After establishing himself as a director with vintage Ealing comedies in the late 1940s, he returned to America where he made the classic Sweet Smell of Success (1957) with Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis.

In 1969 he went into teaching at the California Institute of the Arts, where his students included future filmmakers such as Terence Davies, F. X. Feeney and James Mangold.

As the Watergate scandal heated up with saturation television coverage, Mackendrick noticed that the principles of narrative filmmaking could be applied to real-life television coverage.

For those not familair with Watergate, it began with a seemingly minor burglary at the Democratic campaign headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in 1972, and as Washington Post reporters probed the story, they gradually uncovered widespread criminal behaviour and evidence of a cover-up within the Nixon administration.

The Senate Watergate Committee began hearings in May 1973 and after several dramatic revelations, Nixon was forced to resign in August 1974.

Over the course of that year leading to his resignation, various people were called to testify to the committee, which were broadcast live on TV.

One exchange that caught Mackendrick’s attention was the between Senator Howard Baker and Sally Harmony, who secretary to G. Gordon Liddy, one of the key Nixon operatives later convicted of conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping.

You can watch the footage here:

Mackendrick was struck by the inherent drama of the conversation and the visual language of what unfolded on his television set.

He even wrote a detailed pamphlet which explored how the principles of a dramatic film apply to documentaries.

It makes for fascinating reading, but this particular quote stands out:

“It’s my guess that a movie director, given dailies of exactly the same footage, could hardly have done a better job of editing even if given time to analyse the material. The rapidly intercut closeups may be silent, but their subtext is obvious and eloquent. Seeing these live broadcasts from Washington, I remember being transfixed by what was essentially news reportage.”

He even sketched out a diagram of where the cameras were in relation to the people:

The interesting thing is that you can apply Mackendrick’s analysis to any non-fiction footage, be it reality television, YouTube videos or serious current affairs.

The most seismic news event of the past decade was 9/11, a terrorist attack which many people at the time remarked was ‘like a movie’.

On NBC’s live coverage, a terrified witness on the phone says these very words at 04.21:

Presumably part of the terrorist plan was to use the Western media against itself, as they knew these images would be carried around the world.

The catch 22 for media is that they had to broadcast them as it was a major news story, but they also knew that the terror was being fed into millions of living rooms across the world.

Although the live coverage was edited in real-time, the way in which the images came together for audiences was like a dreadful disaster movie unfolding live on television. (For more on 9/11 and the movies click here)

On a very different note, Susan Boyle’s famous appearence on Britain’s Got Talent was massively popular because it was a classic underdog story compressed into 6 minutes.

Susan Boyle – Singer – Britains Got Talent 2009 by moovieblog

But notice several key points in the narrative:

  • Simon Cowell’s doubtful look at 1.06
  • Notice the cut to a sceptical audience member at 1.24 right after Boyle talks about her dream of being a professional singer
  • Simon Cowell’s raised eyebrows at 1.59 which indicate the moment where the underdog has come good
  • Amanda Holden’s eyes opening at 2.01 which accentuates that Boyle can really sing

This wasn’t quite live, but the basic narrative building blocks of what made it resonate were shaped in editing.

It currently has over 72 million views on YouTube (the reason I can’t embed from that particular site is a whole other story).

Mackendrick’s basic observations still resonate because they tap into the way in which human beings process the moving image.

Keep an eye out for any factual footage, be it on a serious news or the tackiest reality TV and notice how it is constructed.

You’ll probably find out more than you might initially think.

> Alexander Mackendrick at the IMDb
> More on Mackendrick and the Watergate footage at The Sticking Place

Amusing TV

Bill Maher and Jane Lynch perform Weinergate

Bill Maher and Jane Lynch last night staged a dramatic reading of Anthony Weiner‘s now infamous Facebook conversations.

For those not familiar, New York Congressman Anthony Weiner recently confessed that was involved in lewd online exchanges with random people on the internet.

On HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, the host and Lynch read out one of Weiner’s Facebook exchanges verbatim and the results were predictably funny (although definitely NSFW):

(Click here to watch the video if the above one is pulled down)

> HBO Real Time
> More on the Anthony Weiner sexting scandal