i scream you scream we all scream for…norway?

The Scream - Credit:  Munch Museum/Munch-Ellingsen Group/BONO

Celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, who painted a little canvas you’re likely using as a mouse pad right now, VisitNorway has released a short film on its website to show travelers a few Norwegian-style scream experiences. Don’t expect The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo or The Killing (Sweden and Denmark, respectively), or even a sinister Nordic take on splatter-porn, however; this flick is all about the good things in life that make you scream. The fun part is that anyone can join in helping to create what organizers hope will become the longest scream in the world – and ride it all the way to the land of northern lights and midnight suns. Upload your own scream clip and have it added to the original film, helping to grow it longer. (It sounds like a Warhol experiment, doesn’t it?) As the film grows so does the value of the grand-prize trip drawn from all the submitted entries. Norwegian director of tourism, Per-Arne Tuftin, put it in a Nordic nutshell: “We basically want to make the world scream.”


in praise of bond

I love the James Bond films  – even the lame ones - for so many reasons: the geeky gadgets and kooky villains for a start. Then there’s the crazy chases and death-defying stunts and, of course, Bond’s bevy of double entendre-toting beauties. Plus, there’s all the exotic locales. In film after film, few heroes have given us wider license to travel the far corners of the world than Agent 007. Here are just a few memorable highlights.

SCHILTHORN, SWITZERLAND: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) took us to the mountaintop, literally: the 2,970-meter-high Schilthorn, which George Lazenby skied down at breathtaking speed with Telly Savalas as Blofeld in hot pursuit. It’s one of the great movie ski chase scenes, now documented in an exhibit at Piz Gloria, which doubled as the Bleuchamp Institute for Allergy Research in the film. Organized Bond-themed excursions start from the car-free town of Mürren, or you can glide up the mountain yourself on a 32-minute aerial cable car trip that originates in Stechelberg. For more Bond-style adventure, ski the mountain’s 15.8 km mixed-terrain Inferno course. Experienced skiers usually cover it in about 45 minutes; competitors in the annual Inferno Race – the largest amateur ski race in the world – can do it in 15.

ISTANBUL, TURKEY: Several locations in Turkey – where East meets West on the banks of the mighty Bosphorus – are featured in Skyfall, the newest adventures of James Bond. Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar has been a must-see since 1461. More than 550 years later, it attracts nearly a half-million visitors daily. Presumably few of them other than Skyfall director Sam Mendes envision its narrow, crowded aisles as a location for a high-speed chase. It is, however, an excellent place to buy local handicrafts and to engage all your senses as you immerse yourself in the city.

KEY WEST, FLORIDA: Licence to Kill (1989) kicks off with Timothy Dalton parachuting in with CIA pal Felix Leiter to Felix’s wedding at St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Church in Key West after some insane aerial maneuvers. Other scenes shot in the area include a car chase on Seven Mile Bridge, the segmented concrete (to make it hurricane-resistant) span you’ll cross if you’re driving to Key West, and a scene at the Ernest Hemingway Home in which M demands that Bond relinquish his “license to kill.” Hemingway, no slouch in the adventure department himself, moved to the house at 907 Whitehead Street in 1931. A guided tour shows off his writing studio as well as the descendants of Hemingway’s famous six-toed cats, who have unlimited license to roam the house and grounds.

THE BAHAMAS: Of Bond’s many visits to the Bahamas, the most memorable is Sean Connery’s 1965 Thunderball battle in the underwater caves of the Exuma Cays. They’ve been known ever since as the Thunderball Grotto. (Connery returned there in 1983 for Never Say Never Again.) Several charter companies, including Four C’s Adventures and the Island Routes 007 Thunderball Luxury Tour, will take you out to the grotto by boat and guide you on a snorkeling route to the inside of the caves, where the light streams in and colorful fish dart about below the water’s surface.

PARIS: With an “I’m too old for this stuff” look on his face, Roger Moore chased Grace Jones to the top of the Eiffel Tower in A View to a Kill (1985), only to watch her parachute off, land on a boat conveniently waiting along the Seine, and make a spectacular getaway in one of the film’s more memorable scenes. (It was almost as good as Duran Duran’s video for the movie’s theme song.) On a tour of the tower, you’ll learn about Franz Reichfelt’s tragic demonstration of his “parachute suit” in 1912, which should convince you that parachuting off the observation deck is not the thing to do here. However, if you’re feeling fit, climb the 704 steps from the ground to the second floor. From there, you can catch the lift to the top, where you’ll find a champagne bar with killer views of its own.

AUYUITTUQ NATIONAL PARK, CANADA: Nobody does it better, ahem, than the opening sequence of The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), in which Roger Moore BASE jumps off the edge of a mountain and – whoosh – a Union Jack parachute opens and glides him to safety. The mountain, with its distinctive twin flat-topped peaks at 6,598 feet, is Mount Asgard in Auyuittuq National Park on Baffin Island, Canada. Serious outdoors people find the 7,370-square-mile arctic park a haven of pristine beauty offering 24-hour daylight in summer. Accessible via the Inuit hamlets of Pangnirtung and Qikiqtarjuaq, which can be reached only by small plane, the park requires that all visitors attend a safety orientation before they embark on their travels. For this level of adventure, only experienced wilderness travelers — and MI-6 agents — need apply.


at the theatre: who’s afraid of virginia woolf?

For anyone with even a passing knowledge of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? the ghosts of Burton and Taylor loom large. Not necessarily because their performances in Mike Nichols’ terrifying noir exorcism are good per se – though they are superlative – but because they have been committed to celluloid, which has become our culture’s lingua franca. (Arguing about the superiority of Uta Hagen’s Martha in Alan Schneider’s original staging is a bit like the arguments made for Laurette Taylor’s turn in Williams’ The Glass Menagerie:  you had to be there. The legacy of the ephemeral artist evaporates with time.) Which is one of the reasons why Tracy Letts – the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of August: Osage County – is so successful as the male half of Albee’s dynamic duo in the Steppenwolf Theatre production of Woolf which opened at the Booth Theatre exactly 50 years after the original Broadway opening. Letts gives a tightly controlled, calibrated impersonation of Richard Burton as George. Like a floor show playing out in front of a movie screen it’s familiar, if not entirely authentic. With crisp enunciation, Letts’ muscular, musical delivery, is at once stylized and powerful but there’s something ineffable missing here: the humanity  On the flip side Amy Morton’s Martha is all too human, throwing off the balance of this marital cage match. You get what the actress is after: trying to get as far away as possible from Taylor’s lasciviously boozy floozy. As admirable as it is to see this fine actress stretch to find Martha’s desperate depths beneath the bluster, Woolf is not a realistic drama; it’s a Walpurgisnacht, as Albee himself titled the second of the play’s three acts: a highly stylized – dare I say theatrical? – transfigured night. Morton expends so much Chekovian energy being miserable that when she finally confesses to Nick  – who, along with Honey, is a virtual non-entity in this outing – that George is the only man who ever made her happy, it rings false. Nothing could make this woman happy – except perhaps a train to Moscow.


obit (the dust) of the month: oh, no! it wasn’t the airplanes

The Italian-born film producer Dino De Laurentiis, who has died aged 91, will perhaps go down in movie history as the last “transatlantic” tycoon. Over a career spanning more than 60 years, producing films on both sides of the ocean, he had as many flops as hits. But De Laurentiis almost always succeeded in staying afloat.

In Rome, he produced Federico Fellini’s Oscar-winning La Strada (1954) and the grandiose spectacular War and Peace (1956), but also made The Bible: In the Beginning (1966) and Waterloo (1970), which never recovered their costs. Relocating to the US, he enjoyed success with Serpico (1973), Death Wish (1974), Three Days of the Condor (1975) and Conan the Barbarian (1982), but had financial disasters including Year of the Dragon (1985) and a failed food emporium, which he opened in New York. De Laurentiis was also a starmaker, both in Italy, where he launched the career of the actor Silvana Mangano, who became his wife, and in the US, where he boosted Al Pacino’s career.

Born in Torre Annunziata, in the province of Naples, De Laurentiis was the son of a pasta manufacturer for whom he worked as a travelling salesman in his teens. While selling pasta in Rome in the mid-30s, he decided on an impulse to enrol at the city’s film school, the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, as an actor. He soon realised that his flair was more for production. He was able to gain experience in most sectors of the industry before producing his first film, L’Amore Canta (Love Song, 1941), at the age of 22.  READ MORE


at the movies: kazan, kazan

I totally dropped the ball regarding the New York Film Festival this year.  Or rather my friend who usually procures my tickets dropped the ball and I didn’t see a single one of the main slate films.  However, I did make it to a special event double-feature that served as a tribute to one of the twentieth century’s great artists, Elia Kazan: a screening of Martin Scorsese’s A Letter to Elia and Kazan’s own America, America in a newly restored print.

Kazan is a polarizing figure.  Though unarguably one of the greatest stage and film directors of our time, his name is often mentioned in the same breath as another controversial artist, Leni Reifenstahl.  And with that the implication is clear:  you cannot separate the artist from the person; any achievement, no matter how staggering, is nullified by the personal failings of it’s creator.  I don’t necessarily subscribe to such an absolutist view of the world, yet at the same time one of my early teachers was Morris Carnovsky, one of leading actors in the seminal Group Theater, from which Kazan  – among so many others – sprang in the 1930’s.  Carnovsky was one of names named by Kazan before Joseph McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee -  and with that his career evaporated.

At the time Kazan’s autobiography was published in the mid-1980’s, I was just starting out in the New York theater.  My first big gig was the Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s The Price with Eli Wallach.  And while Miller – who refused to testify before the committee and later toasted Kazan at the opening of his loosely veiled play about the Communist witch hunts, The Crucible – never spoke to him again, Wallach and his wife, Anne Jackson, remained close to Kazan throughout.  So when Eli mentioned that Kazan was coming to see the play, I made sure he would introduce me.  What do you say to an artist you idolize?  How is it possible to describe to a stranger how their work, their art, has changed you?  (This is after all the man who directed Death of A Salesman, A Streetcar Named Desire, East of Eden, On The Waterfront.  Kazan found a new way of telling stories by digging towards deeper truths.  After Kazan, the theater and the cinema will never be the same.)  This is a fundamental question addressed in Scorsese’s film as he speaks forcefully and passionately about Kazan as a formative film-making influence.  Yet that doesn’t work as cinema ultimately.  What does work are the precisely chosen clips and interview footage of the director himself.  As the film recounts the director’s tumultuous immigrant journey from the Group Theater to the Hollywood A-list to the thicket of the blacklist, it makes a powerful case for Kazan as a profoundly personal artist.

And that dovetails nicely with what was the big surprise of the evening:  a screening of Kazan’s epic,  America, America.  Based on the life of Kazan’s own uncle, it is an unforgettable story of an impoverished and oppressed Greek Turk determined to escape, by any means necessary, to the land of the free. His perilous journey across mountains and oceans, through arranged marriages and crafty swindlers, rivals that of an earlier Greek voyager, Odysseus, in its epic emotional sweep. Obviously intensely personal, all you need to know about Kazan the man and Kazan the artist is in this film.  And Haskell Wexler’s photography is nothing short of stunning, too.  Rarely screened and never released on DVD, it is finally getting it’s due in a Kazan boxed set due to come out in November.


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