A scary Tuesday night at the movies

*  The rep of PG-rated horror these days couldn’t be much worse. So, I have no problem believing CHUDster Devin Faraci that a publicist sent out a blast e-mail crowing about the R-rating given to “The Wolf Man” for “‘bloody horror, violence and gore.”

The-Wolf-Man1

I’m excited enough about what appears to be a nicely movie-movie stylized general approach to the movie from director Joe Johnston, of the underrated “The Rocketeer” among other movies, to still be looking forward to seeing this, I think. Moreover, I am a fan of the fairly sanguinary (and, to me, truly freaking scary in more or less the best way possible) “An American Werewolf in London,” but I’m still a bit nonplussed. I realize I’m a bit of wuss about too much gore, certainly compared to the typical horror fan.

Nevertheless, I can’t help finding the attitude of AICN’s Quint a little Stephen Colbertesque in its equation of blood and gore to “nards” (Colbert would just come right out and call it “balls”). I also think making a tough, scary film really doesn’t have that much to do with how much colored corn syrup you throw around. But then who listens to a guy who likes musicals?

* The most disconcerting news about “The Wolf Man” is not the above, but the news last month about the decision to apparently drop a mostly completed score by Danny Elfman. Yesterday, Jon Burlingame of Variety wrote an even more disconcerting piece arguing that film composers are being devalued. Here’s the article ending quote from respected composer James Horner (not my personal favorite, as it happens, though he’s certainly worked on plenty of good movies and I’m perhaps not giving him enough credit):

“No one just says, ‘What do you think of my picture? I want you to write what’s in your heart.’ I haven’t heard that in years. That simple concept does not exist anymore.”

Michael Stuhlberg in Apparently, though, it does for some composers, when they’re working with really good directors. Michael Stuhlberg’s interview with Anne Thompson a while back indicates the Carter Burwell’s music may have changed the tone of Coen Brothers’ “A Serious Man” considerably and that he was given considerable latitude. Real filmmakers apparently still realize that musical choices — when and how to use it, or not use it —  are absolutely crucial.

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Stop-motion discord on “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (updated 2x)

I don’t know how I missed it up to now, but I just caught up with this fairly extraordinary L.A. Times article from Saturday’s edition by Chris Lee covering some pretty extreme sounding discord between writer-director Wes Anderson and at least some of the crew of his puppet-animation adaptation of Roald Dahl’s “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” which is set to open on November 25th.

Now, a little grumbling is probably inevitable given that Anderson decided to eschew any and all CGI on the film and do everything “in camera,” including using live fur on the animal characters. As viewers of the original “King Kong” will note, stop-motion fur tends to rustle on screen because the effects people have to pick up and touch the thing and, barring CGI, I believe there’s really no way around it. However, like Anderson, to me there’s a wondrous handmade charm to it. As someone with highly retro sensibilities, I completely understand the aesthetic reasons for Anderson’s decision, though I realize it also makes a very hard job harder.

Fantastic Mr Fox Gets Set Photos

However, the quotes Chris Lee was able to get go far beyond just a disagreement about the production methods, and underline just how possibly wrongheaded his decision to direct the actual animation portion of the film’s production remotely from Paris might have been. I personally would not have expected Anderson to be on hand for every single frame of film shot — I doubt that Ernest Shoedsack and/or Merian C. Cooper were around for much of the shooting of the effects footage created by Willis O’Brien in “Kong” — but they were as far as I know they were all working out of the RKO lot, at least. True, Anderson had computer technology available to him but, assuming there was no journalistic malpractice, something clearly went very wrong on the set that he was not there to deal with.

To be specific, when you have high ranking production people providing material like this:

“Honestly? Yeah. He has made our lives miserable,” the film’s director of animation, Mark Gustafson, said during a break in shooting. He gave a weary chuckle. “I probably shouldn’t say that.”

…and this…

“We avoided wild animated flourishes of fantasy,” [Art Director Nelson] Lowry said. “Normally, an animated film allows you crazy camera angles shooting through a wild landscape. Instead, this feels like a dry adult drama.”

…and especially this…

“I think he’s a little sociopathic,” cinematographer [Tristan] Oliver said. “I think he’s a little O.C.D. Contact with people disturbs him. This way, he can spend an entire day locked inside an empty room with a computer. He’s a bit like the Wizard of Oz. Behind the curtain.”

…to a major newspaper, you have a real problem.

These are no rank amateurs or show business neophytes, even if they are effects folks. Oliver, whose comment Anderson somewhat understandably said “kind of crosses the line,” in particular is a veteran of Nick Park’s Ardman animation and worked on all of the “Wallace & Gromit” films as first a camera operator and later the DP. (For the record, however, I’m not sure Oliver understands the meaning of the word “sociopathic,” which indicates a complete lack of any conscience or compassion — that doesn’t seem to be exactly what he means.)

All of this leads to a question. I personally consider Anderson one of the two or three best American directors now working, give or take a Sidney Lumet, I know Paris is the city of lights and all, and clearly Anderson j’etaimes the place, which I get. But what’s London, chopped liver?

UPDATE: Variety‘s Todd McCarthy has a mostly positive early review which touches on some of the matters brought up above.

ANOTHER UPDATE: As pointed out in the comments, DP Tristan Oliver has basically charged Chris Lee and the L.A. Times with journalistic malpractice. You can reads his remarks to a Wes Anderson fan site here. Were his words really twisted by Lee or is this a case of after-the-fact damage control? Could be either, neither, or both. To paraphrase Will Rogers, all I know I read online.

  

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