Saturday, January 19, 2013

Johnny Twennies - Part 2 - Everything Old is New Again

Don't throw the past away
You might need it some day
Dreams can come true again
When everything old is new again
-Peter Allen

In fashion, they call it retro when long-gone styles return to popularity. In film, it's just a constant.

The "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls" crowd were steeped in film history, some even taught film. In Scorsese on Scorsese, the director from that group talks about influences not just in terms of movies as a whole, but even breaks down shots that inspired specific shots for his movies.

The maverick darling Quentin Tarantino talks endlessly about films that influenced him.

The animation series that broke the ground for the irreverent, clever adult series today, The Simpson, is steeped in not only old television but old styles of entertainment. Studies have been done on the "Cape Feare" episode, which is an inception inside an inspiration inside an inspiration.

The episode is directly inspired by Scorsese's remake of the 1962 pulp classic  Cape Fear (my personal preference). Sideshow Bob has captured Bart and is about to kill him. Bart's last request? That Bob (Kelsey Grammer) sing all of H.M.S. Pinafore by the 19th Century songwriting duo Gilbert and Sullivan - which he does!

Current animation bad-boy Seth MacFarlane (American Dad, Family Guy) not only opens Family Guy with a clear send-up of classic TV show All in the Family, but regularly references vaudeville, barbershop quartets, and old musicals, from Stewie and Brian's Road To Rhode Island, a tribute to the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby popular road movies to having Stewie dance with Gene Kelley.

These innovators don't live in the past; they take what the past taught them to create something new and fresh.

Johnny Twennies, which would be renamed Man of the Century* on it's release, was not a musical, but like many movies from the Golden Age of Cinema, had music in it.  The music is mostly a throwback to the era of the 1920s that is where Johnny seems to dwell, even though he is living in the 90s.

Adam and Gibson cast the movie from both young rising stars and movie and theater veterans.

The young performers included the lead characters friend, a "cub reporter" played by Anthony Rapp, just off his success in Broadway's Rent. Twennies love interest was played by the lovely Cara Buono, who has had success both on Broadway and has been a regular on television series The Sopranos and Third Watch, and received a Emmy nomination for her supporting character of Dr. Faye Miller on Mad Men.

Both Cara and Anthony were great to work with, but I got the biggest kick from the older stars that were cast. Among them was veteran New York character actor  David Margulies and impressionist and actor Frank Gorshin. Gorshin was a staple on 1960s television variety shows, doing impressions of everyone from Burt Lancaster to George Burns, who he later played on Broadway, but may best be remembered as The Riddler on the campy television Batman.

Margulies as the confused mayor in Ghostbusters
Gorshin as "The Riddler"

As Johnnie's mother, who is a product of the turn of the 20th century, we had the lovely Anne Jackson, who may be best known to audiences today as the doctor in The Shining, and also had a recurring role as a judge on Law and Order. That is a gross short-hand of her career in theater, film, and television, but as with many industry vets, much of their work is in supporting roles. She is seen below with performing legend and husband Eli Wallach (more on this in a later post).

Many jazz legends appeared in old movies in that were not musicals playing musicians, from Hoagy Carmichael playing piano for Lauren Bacall in To Have or Have Not, to Dooly Wilson's iconic "Sam" in Casablanca.

Johnny Twennies had Bobby Short, a cabaret legend.

Here is a fun piece of nostalgia featuring Bobby Short - raise your hand if you understand the campaign and even remember Shelley Hack!

The crew I put together also had a pairing of old and new.

I knew I needed an AD that would bring no surprises, and hired Brian Bentham, my 2nd AD from 1999, as 1st AD.

In the time between that movie and Johnny Twennies, Brian had worked on 1st AD on other films. In fact, Brian had been hired over me for a film where both of us appeared for interviews!

As one of my other former 2nds who later went on to 1st AD for me and others, Chris Kelley, once reminded me, "If you meet the Buddha along the road, you must kill the Buddha."**

One Buddha I wasn't killing just yet was Stan Bickman. my mentor. Not surprisingly, Stan was one of my references. When I was looking for a production manager and a production coordinator, I waded through resumes before the thought occurred to me: What if I hired Stan and his regular coordinator. Dianne?

Ok, maybe this was playing it a little close to the vest, but why not? If I were looking for someone with experience who I could trust, who better than the man who had taught me so much?

I approached Dianne first to see if it would be awkward for Stan to work for me. If Stan was my Gibbs, he would have smacked me across the back of the head. A job is a job, Stan would say, and who gets mad at being offered work?

Interesting, because in Buddhism, a whack is the vehicle for transmission of the Dharma in many koans. Can this possibly be the inspiration for the whack on NCIS? Then again, maybe I'm reading too much into all of this.

Gibson and Adam didn't miss the peculiar nature of the hiring. When I gave them the name of the production manager, they looked at me quizzically, wondering about the series of events where Stan referred me and then was hired by me. I had never hired Stan before, and pointed out, truthfully, that it wasn't even on my mind at the time of my hiring. Still, I understood how it looked, and only relied on the fact that Stan would do such a wonderful job that it would soon be forgotten.

I would also start my association with some new crew members on this shoot, but more on that as explanation of the shoot continues.

In the meantime, we had assembled quite a cast and crew, and were ready to begin production.

*In this blog, I often refer to movies I worked on by their original title, when I can remember them; hence, these posts are titled "Johnny Twennies."

**While this sounds blasphemous - or at least disrespectful, it's origin is actually from Buddhist teaching. See more on it here.

No comments: