Tag: Donald Sutherland

Trumbo

Trumbo

23 years after his death, Dalton Trumbo (“Johnny Got His Gun”) remains among the best-known screenwriters of all time. Ironically, that’s largely because much of his best work was done in secret. Jailed in 1950 and then blacklisted for his refusal to discuss his constitutionally protected membership in the Communist Party, Trumbo survived by writing prodigiously, using pseudonyms and “fronts” until 1960, when director Otto Preminger and actor-producer Kirk Douglas openly placed his name in the credits for “Exodus” and “Spartacus” and sounded the first death knell of the Hollywood blacklist.

Drawn partly from a play by the writer’s son, Christopher Trumbo, and featured on PBS’s “American Masters,” this documentary combines interviews with Trumbo’s family and friends, including stars Kirk Douglas and Dustin Hoffman, and dramatic interpretations of his writing by a long list of acting heavyweights such as Joan Allen, Michael Douglas, Liam Neeson, and Donald Sutherland. On the down side, director Peter Askin plays up Trumbo’s heroism while playing down his political extremism and indulges in some pretentious and annoying cinematic tics, including shooting the actors looking on pensively while their occasionally overdone readings play on the soundtrack. Still, when Askin captures the writer’s unsentimental and often humorous essence — as in Nathan Lane’s wry reading of an ingenious letter to the teenage Christopher Trumbo on the joys of masturbation and Paul Giamatti’s testy renditions of Trumbo’s broadsides at his local phone company — this is a highly engaging summary of the life and work of a singular figure in mid-century movie history.

Click to buy “Trumbo”

Hanging with the new flesh

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“Your reality is already half video hallucination. If you’re not careful, it will become total hallucination. You’ll have to learn to live in a very strange new world.” – Media philosopher Brian O’Blivion in David Cronenberg’s “Videodrome” (1983)

So far, the bulk of gifted documentarian Ondi Timoner’s work has dealt with the forces that persuade human beings to give up some part of themselves, whether it be in pursuit of creative growth, God, or fame. Her latest film, takes that as far as it can possibly go. Unlike her remarkable “DiG!,” about the cultish neo-psychedelic rock band, the Brian Jonestown Massacre, or “Join Us,” about an actual religious cult, this time the cult is not just a few fanatics, it’s you and me.

I first praised the Sundance Grand Jury prize-winning “We Live in Public,” opening Friday at L.A.’s Nuart Theater (with special Q&As Friday and Saturday nights), back in June when I saw it at the Los Angeles Film Festival. The screening was capped off with the then somewhat surprising appearance by the documentary’s antihero, Internet entrepreneur and self-styled conceptual artist Josh Harris. Having returned from an idyll in Ethiopia, he said that his next project was something he called “the Wired City” and that, in his view, a typical human’s life in the future is going to be something like the present day existence of “a Purdue chicken.” He also said he hadn’t seen the movie and wasn’t sure when he would.

Back in the 1990’s, Harris made a large fortune largely by being one of the first to see the full communications potential of the web and was a dot-com era sensation via his groundbreaking web entertainment company, Pseudo. Leaving that when his eccentric and creative side grew to be too artsy and weird for the corporate room, he then spent a good chunk of that fortune on two highly provocative experiments/art projects.

We Live in PublicFirst came “Quiet” – basically a month-long party/community in an underground compound on the west side of New York with overt fascistic overtones. Harris recruited roughly 100 artists and creative types to live there 24/7 for an indefinite period (it turned out to be a month). He would provide all the food, (legal) party favors, a firing range and plenty of weaponry (blanks only, I’m told), as well as a fake church and real interrogation tactics borrowed from the Cold War-era East German secret police.

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