Conversations S1E3: Popeye

Popeye – an inspired selection for our movies series. It’s hard to think of an aspect of the art of film that is not superb in Popeye: a great director on top form directing superb actors, the sets, colors, sound, songs . . . but I should quiet down and let Henry and Jonathan tell you about it.

If you have seen Popeye, I am sure you will enjoy our NOLAscape movie duo drilling down into it. And if you haven’t, I hope they inspire you to get access to a copy and see what you have been missing.

Popeye is not currently on Filmstruck, Amazon Prime, HBO or Netflix. You can rent it from Amazon video for $2.99 or $3.99. I bought it; I think it cost $8.99. With a film this delightful, a pleasure to watch all the way through or in parts over and over again, I’m sure I’ll get my money’s worth.

To get email alerts to the Conversations series and other NOLAscape material, just let us know your email in the slot below, just below the comments box (where you can put your name – optional) and we will put you on the list.

© NOLAscape August 2017

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Good News, Bad News

Bannon is out but don’t forget: we are still the China shop and the rodeo clowns trying to corral the tormented, crazy bull may just be three generals. If we were seeing that in another country, we would suspect the scene was being set for a military coup.

GOOD NEWS: Bannon is out.

BAD NEWS: The other fool – whatsisname, Trump? Still there. Just not listening: all the stuff I have said about him, and he is still hanging on.

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It can’t happen here, says the American religion. We call those other countries “third world.’ And we are “first world.” Right. We the First People, our virtue eternally protected by the Pledge of Allegiance and the Patriot Act, by living on a hill in a shining city under protection of the god of the prairie and all the nice things we do to other people’s countries.

As if a military regency were more improbable than the White House taken over by a mean, miserable, ignorant collection of character flaws and snarling resentments funneling money into his collection of flim-flam businesses, installing family members as flatterers to insulate him from the world and let them cash in, too. You can’t get any more third world than the Trump kakistocracy. If the junta takes over, it will be a segue not a revolution.

The Charlottesville Nazis and Trump’s support shouldn’t shock us. He kept telling you in his campaign that they were there, and they kept cheering and snarling while he kept recruiting and grooming them, and then there they were, on proud display. A Trumpist bloc, more numerous than coal miners and maybe all the Rust Belters dispossessed by history is the ugly animal that lives inside the worst of us.

Trump is probably dead in the water now, but don’t take your eye off him. If he didn’t have some good Houdini skills, he would be in jail. Even Bannon, a high-functioning nut job out to damage what’s left of civilization following fevered dreams of gods, demons and Knights Templar, knows that. But does Trump know it? How high and thick is his flattery wall?

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GOOD NEWS for the rest of the world: Trump has so degraded the government and the country, depleting the executive and diplomatic corps, that combined with the Republican descent into social madness, that not much is left but military to impose the “indispensable nation” myth and “project power.” Other countries (except North Korea, Iran and maybe poor Venezuela) and peoples are probably blinking in the sudden glare of liberation.

For much of of Planet Earth, the US is a military empire that overthrows their governments, rapes the land, protects their oligarchs, and tells the people that if it were not for our bombers and drones and spy satellites, it would be even worse for them.

“The Russians” were right: Trump’s victory was a big win for them. Think of it the other way: if you were an American nationalist and could put Trump in charge of Russia instead of Putin . . . .

In the best imaginable case, the US will come through this less arrogant, less stupid, less unaware, more attuned to civilization instead of domination.

BAD NEWS: Trump and some of the more deplorable clumps of congressional disasters think that bombing, droning, invasion and occupation are fine things. A clown of chaos like 45, running to stay a step ahead of Mueller, might be crazy enough to use the big stuff, and create the Clash of Civilizations, which may not be inevitable but is still optional.

For the rest of us, until the authoritarian, nativist gang is out on its collective ear, the lives of the people who live in this land are under threat of a degenerate tyranny built on ignorance whose objectives boil down to variations on theft of money and power.

Á propos, since NOLAscape readers are the most perspicacious people in the world, you will not have failed to notice that we used to be able to say that the Kim dynasty of North Korea was a unique lunacy. No more. Trump handed them their release papers. Now when they say they need nukes because the United States is threatening to attack them, they have the evidence.

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Trump is turning into a brooding, miserable Tiberius. Watch him lumber on to the stage, as if Mueller’s men were fingering their handcuffs backstage. When his reign was tattered and beleaguered, the Roman Emperor Tiberius moved his base to Capri, a holiday island off southern Italy, leaving military consigliere Sejanus, Tiberius’s John Kelly, in charge. In the wings to be elevated by the Praetorians when somebody finally offed the Emp, or he died under assault of his own excesses, was young Caligula.

           

                      Tiberius                              Sejanus                                       Caligula

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GOOD NEWS: Cedric Grant is out of the SWB.

BAD NEWS: The city is giving him and equally incompetent cronies hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in pensions for their great work in causing millions of dollars of damage to hundreds of people this month.

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GOOD NEWS: Landrieu is riding to the rescue. The man with no name materializes in the mist, fixing generators, bringing pumps to life.

BAD NEWS: Landrieu is turbocharging his resumé with a rescue story to save the city from a mess that he should never have allowed to happen. He should have known that Grant was useless. Others did. SWB failure is more life threatening than the bogeyman stories about security in the French Quarter, getting $40m and possibly years of disruption. He should have known  that the SWB was not functioning, and put in competent staff that would not have let this happen.

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GOOD NEWS: White House watchers are increasingly predicting that Trump can’t last his term, some that they would be surprised to see him get to the end of the year.

BAD NEWS: Trump is an escape artist. If he wasn’t, he would be in jail. His choices may be to try to hold onto office for immunity, or resign in return for an immunity deal.

If he hangs on by his fingernails, brush warfare, proxy wars and trying to turn Blackwater into a Praetorian Guard may be the only way left for the pretend emperor to flex his authoritarian neuroses. Partnering up with Netanyahu and Adelson to pick a fight with Iran may be in our future, leading to another few generations of Middle Eastern bloodshed. That should unleash more Radical Islamic Terrorism, so he can tweet it more.

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GOOD NEWS: Kelly seems more intelligent, savvy and grown-up than Trump. A low bar but . . . .

BAD NEWS: Kelly, McMaster and Mattis could be the USA’s first military junta. Move over, Argentina.

GOOD NEWS: That is not all bad. If the military triumvirate moves in to save the state, they may actually be doing it.

BAD NEWS: I don’t have to tell you.

But I will.

The interlocking net of security agencies and the military establishment are in the core of the “deep state.” The Bannon gang thought they could re-write its operating system by Trump’s poking the ugly embers of nativism, firing Comey and gutting the executive branch by appointing idiots and vandals to the cabinet and agencies. Now they think they chose a cracked vessel, but they aren’t giving up. The barbarians are still inside the gates.

The other side, and it’s a big other side, of salvation by the Generals is that American military and security agencies are the causes of more death, destruction and misery in recent decades, certainly since the beginning of Vietnam, than any other force in the world, with religion in second place. The religious terrorist groups are bad, but add them all together, including their brothers and sisters in the neo-Nazi clubs, and they don’t come close to US “national security.

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BAD NEWS: Our Popeye Conversation is not up on the site yet.

GOOD NEWS: It will be very soon – just a day or two.

Popeye is an irresistible work of art and entertainment, charming and seductive. If you don’t know it, this is your chance to fall in love.

I can’t find Popeye on any of the subscription streaming services that I use, but you can rent it from Amazon for $2.99 or $3.99. I bought it for $8.99, because it is a beautiful, bright piece that you can watch again and again.

© NOLAscape August 2017

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Trump Dump, Season 1 Episode 2 

 

Trump went tweety again. Kelly, the new babysitter, couldn’t stop him.

Even if he could have, it’s too late to mask the undeniable: the “president” is not only a thief and alpha asshole, but on top of a psycho profile constructed of a mixed bag of symptoms usually called mental “illness” (not quite the right word, because he thrives on them) and his effective compensations, is now going crazy while simultaneously descending into a grouchy dementia. A psychiatric fireworks show.

Which props keep the show running? Is it the airplanes? The chocolate cake? The cheers at the Deplorables rallies?

Maybe narcissism kick-started The Trump Show and programmed it with the now familiar pugnacious vulgarity, ignorance and proud stupidity. Or maybe “narcissism” is just a sanitized, therapy-referent word for a particularly obnoxious kind of asshole that Trump turned into a brand. But those were amateur days. He has become a psychiatric virtuoso.

What happens to the poor old military empire when the President goes nuts, leaving behind the stance he made fashionable, belligerent victimhood? Those bombs won’t drop themselves. Mattis, McMaster and Kelly, Trump’s Knights of the Twinkling Medals, will have to keep the flashbang show going while they keep Trump under discreet house arrest. A military takeover, America’s First Triumvirate.

Dumping on Trump is a crowded field. Why should NOLAscape get in it? In a prime corollary of the Philosophy of Cosmopolitan Bias, as expounded in dialogue between Yossarian and Doc Daneeka, if everybody is doing it, I would be crazy not to, right?

And crazy is just too Republican a look to be seen in.

Somehow through the kaleidoscopic lens of his array of symptoms, Trump spotted that out there among the apathetic were millions of practicing and potential Deplorables, and there might be enough of them. From beauty pageants, The Apprentice, Evangelicalism and WWE, he knew about people who liked to be in crowds sharing illusion and belief. They really loved believing. From the simple suspension of disbelief required to enjoy a couple of hours of wrestling to the dreams of “faith” he saw people he could talk to. People who like him had porous barriers between illusion and reality, and liked living in organized, manufactured, shared dreams.

He saw that some actually believed the mythologies, and that many more just liked the cuddly feeling of belief, and that even more were spiritual authoritarians, craving a lord to lead them and a subordinate to play lord over. They call that “freedom.” Believing and following just feels good. Wrestling story lines, Gods and angels, heavens and hells, mythologized history, identity-based supremacies – have a beer and settle into synchronized believing.

If you don’t share the Exceptional Nation dream, you’re not a real American. Like Nixon before him, Trump spotted the opportunity of grifters like Pat Robertson, Franklin Graham, Mikes Huckabee and Pence, selling feelings and fantasies dressed up as religious nationalism. John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe gave people spaces for feelings and fantasies too, but if the actor sticks “Rev.” in front of his name, you get into the zombie zone of “religious freedom,” one of the cuckoo lands still inoculated against the American enlightenment’s imperfect attempt to get the churches out of the driver’s seat.

But for Marilyn and John Wayne and even Vince McMahon’s circuses, you only have to pony up the price of a ticket. The preachers want a lot more, and the congregations were ready to put it up, in money and in loyalty. With amazing intuition or luck, Trump realized that he would no more have to know anything about the interests and beliefs the megachurchers say are paramount than he had to know anything else. Just some lightly coded and padded flattery and they followed him home. And he delivered. Charlottesville is backfiring, but it is a version of what he thought they wanted.

In his commercial show days Trump took the ticket route. Now he does more damage at vastly higher cost on the government’s tab. Admission to the tent show is free. No money up front. He wants votes, adulation, and campaign contributions and turn a blind eye when he picks your pocket. Like cult members throughout history, like savage, carnivorous sheep, the Deplorables are ready to fork up.

NOTE: Deplorables does not mean rust-belt workers whose lives have been impoverished by the social irresponsibility of industrial neoliberalism or farmers shoved off the land by agro-industry. Deplorables are those who chose Trump as the route out of it, especially the prosperous middle-class idiots who vote for him to support racism, nationalism, protectionism, isolationism, identitarianism, the belligerent cruelty they think libertarianism is, authoritarianism; or the seriously powerful who wield corporations like automatic weapons in an armed robbery and support Trump as cover for piracy. Whether you got there by suffering the brutalism of the corporatist kleptocracy, or just by being a homegrown Fox-watching jerk, into the basket with you.

This week, as Trump makes a hash of the Charlottesville ugliness, we might be getting a glimpse of something he really believes in. Maybe the only thing outside of himself and the suppurating turmoil inside his head. Usually – pretty much always – he just seems opportunist, carrying a pocket full of dog whistles, trying them out until one gets the response he wants. But the neo-Nazis in Virginia got a different response. First, he gave them a pass. “Violence on many sides. Many sides.” Then back in the White House, the less tone-deaf of the nanny squad got him to read something critical about white supremacists. He didn’t look like he was paying much attention. Once out of their clutches, secure in his New York bling fortress, he walked it back.

He could be just reflexively clinging on to Alt-Right voters, possibly overestimating their numbers. Maybe he thinks when push comes to it, he can arm them up and get Ed Prince to teach them how to shoot down African Americans, Mexicans, Muslims and maybe some Jews, but not Mr and Mrs Kushner.

Isn’t it more likely that White Supremacy or White Nationalism is his real political homeland? Before the escalator show, he built his political base on his talent for free publicity and the “birther” BS, a racist concoction. It doesn’t matter as much whether he believed the story, as that he believed it was the right thing to do.

Then the “Central Park Five” stuff, calling for lynching black boys who would dare lay hands on a white woman, even if they didn’t. Paying government salaries to Bannon and Miller, white nationalist nut cases with civilizational armageddon in their plans, while their daily work is to subvert the state.

We let a guy in the White House who has been flying over the cuckoo’s nest for 70 years. Now under pressure of a job that he does not understand, with Mueller and a team of forensic experts breathing down his neck, he is going crazy on a new level.

How does it end? A quiet military coup, with Kelly sitting him in the Oval Office with a coloring book and soft crayons, and Nurse Ratched giving him his meds every four hours? Or the Republicans setting up impeachment or Article 25 to force resignation, so he hands over to Pence, laughing at us because Pence is as crazy as he is. Or some other possibility, which would risk turning violent, to turn the whole rat pack out and resume the serious political life of America, which mostly consists of letting neoliberals choose empire over people, “shareholder value” over real life?

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Anyway, let’s back-burner the indignation for a while and have some fun.

Lots of writers and broadcasters like trying to figure out this strange fake president who seems to be more a mess of symptoms wrapped in a navy suit than a real human, so while he was a bit less noisy for one whole day in a row, I rooted around in the amnesty discards in the Trumpster Dumpster, compared some of the junk with good ideas culled from Naomi Klein and David Cay Johnston, Paul Street and Juan Cole, Ryan Lizza, Keith Olbermann and even Rachel Maddow.

Trump has two interconnected main businesses, money laundering and brand hustling. We can sense the money laundering. I have been predicting for months, since before Muller, that that is what they will get him on. Now the fact checkers and editors on broadsheet papers like the Times, Guardian and Washington Post let their writers use the word. We can see its shadows and fuzzy reflections. We can see Paul Manafort and Wilbur Ross and the Mammadov deal in Baku. We can see how Trump’s casinos worked, and didn’t, and the meaning of the $10m fine levied on the Taj Mahal for insufficient care. We can sense the shadowy cash flows behind the licensed buildings and golf courses.

We need Robert Mueller to nail it down. Trump needs to get Mueller off the stage. Dum da dum dum. Act Three should be starting soon.

A caveat being brought into the light by the Rachel Maddow show: Mueller has brought in leading experts in taxation, forensic financial analysis. With Mueller’s team on the track of his career of financial and business crime, why is Trump keeping a legal team with no expertise in taxation and international money movement? He still has that New York guy that did his divorces and Sekulow, the weird lawyer who seems to specialize in fundamentalism as a business.

One possibility is David Cay Johnston’s assertion that Trump never thinks he did anything wrong. He might really believe and assert that if the oligarchs and dictators committed any crimes, that was nothing to do with him. He has no way to check the source of funds, nor means to control their businesses. Lawyers who actually know the field would tell him that that won’t fly. He probably doesn’t want to hear that yet. The current lawyers are racking up the billables, knowing the problem is going to get worse, and Trump is okay with it, because he won’t pay all of their bills anyway.

The brand business is more familiar. In Trump’s racket the upfront, noisy Joker act enables and masks the money laundering, which happens in shadows. The absurd Trump live-action figure on TV every day, the overweight, grimacing, brutalist bully CEO, with the fat-tailored navy suit, long red tie, comic book orange dyed hair, his name in larger than life caps all over the place – it slips into consciousness easily. It fits on the list of animated comic book icons with Mickey Mouse, Darth Vader, Voldemort and Batman. Character shops like Marvel, DC and new ones coming up are highly valued treasure troves of illusions to sell. We are exposed to competing brand icons hundreds of times a day. Trump is one of them.

Trump turned himself into the cartoon, a comic book figure for grownups, targeting high income or rich people who had identified as assholes to qualify for the comfort zone. Because – come on, let’s face it – who but a high- or at least medium-rolling asshole would really want to belong to a Trump golf club or Mar-a-Lago, or play in a Trump casino?

A personal touch: my mother was an enthusiastic Atlantic City gambler from the beginning, who would turn into a slot machine junkie for a few days at a time. But after a first look, she wouldn’t go to a Trump place. Even under the low bar of Atlantic City casinos, Trump was a step too low.

Trump the life-size action figure, with toys of planes and big buildings topped with his own name in big caps, black limousines, ridiculous gilt ceilings and trophy wives is a construct vivid to the actor of the same name who plays it. Excessively vivid, the evidence now suggests, so that the mental separators between his human self and the brand character have frayed. The guy playing president on the news has been taken over by the comic book character he made up. You can’t be sure you are seeing it, because they look almost alike. Donald J. plays Trump plays president.

In her later years, Marilyn Monroe exhibited problems separating Marilyn, who was a character, from Norma Jean who played her, and sometimes from the character Marilyn played in the movies. Marilyn, of course, was much more pleasant to watch, and nobody took pleasure in her decline.

The descent into madness that we are watching is the result of shredded barriers between Trump the comic book character and Trump the little wizard inside the CGI costume/curtain, shouting to be accepted as real, and dangerous. As he turns up the volume, he and the diehard Deplorables think he is getting tough as the times get tougher.

But crafty and crazy are not mutually exclusive.

Trump’s crazy.

In the full flow of his insanity, he is challenging civilization and decency. He is creeping closer to his campaign challenge, that he could murder some people on Fifth Avenue without penalty.

Take him up on it.

Put him down.

© NOLAsxape August 2017

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Conversations S1Ep2: In the Mood for Love

Here is another Conversation in our new podcast series on great movies, featuring Henry Griffin and Jonathan Freilich.

Henry is a scriptwriter, script doctor, movie expert and professor of film at UNO.

Jonathan is a multi-faceted musician and composer, founder and leader of several signature bands, who sometimes writes and applies music to video, and has taught the subject at NOCCA.

The movies we will be discussing are truly international and eclectic. Some will be arthouse or familiar American, French or Italian great films. Others will be works combining great art and great entertainment from Japan, China, India – anywhere you can find great directors and great movies, and that is almost everywhere.

Some of these movies will never have made it to theaters in New Orleans, but now there are great resources available for recent and classic movies in Amazon, Netflix, sometimes YouTube and especially Filmstruck. If you don’t know Filmstruck, check it out.

In the Mood for Love

In this episode Henry and Jonathan discuss In the Mood for Love. If you don’t know this film or the work of Chinese director Wong Kar-Wei, I would suggest diving in. In the Mood for Love is a visual and auditory feast that you can watch over and over, like you look at a great painting or statue again and again. Color, sound, image, movement, quiet passion, powerful emotion powerfully restrained – it’s special.

Suggestion from the amateur (me): think about the title again after you watch the film.

Some intro facts:

Wong Kar Wai

 

 

©NOLAscape August 2017

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The Trump Dump column 

The

Trump Dump

column

 

A new NOLAscape department.

Do we mean Trump is dumping on us? Or let’s dump Trump? Or dump your  old Trump junk?

How about all three?

The NOLAscape Trumpster is a free public service to help recovering Republicans rejoin normal society. Parked right outside our new high rise building on Chartres St. in Bywater’s vibrant Riverfront Overlay zone, the distinctive industrial strength bin for memorabilia of busted ideologies offers more than preservation. We offer rebirth!

Just throw that embarrassing Trump junk in the Trumpster. Old #MAGA hats, bumper stickers, T-shirts, long red ties, placards, erotic pictures of Melania or Ivanka – chuck them in anonymously and wander off with an innocent expression. Do it now to give the neighbors time to forget. Think about your future. You might be able to use “witch hunt” to shore up your illusions through “collusion” or even obstruction of justice, but you don’t want to get caught with an attic full of fan gear gone wrong when the money laundering charges come down.

For your safety, we won’t take it to the regular landfill. We’ll bury it with the used needles and toxic waste. NOLAscape cares for even the most strayed of our flock.

Recovering Trump victims need kindness. We will help smooth your reacquaintance with reality.

(One little thing: be a bit careful of the Neighbors First anti-architecture protesters. They get grouchy.)

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Okay, that takes care of the Trump Dumpers.

The Dump Trumpers, though – they are in a pretty frantic field. Posting even once a day may not keep up with the erupting geyser of fragrant muck spraying droplets of decay, making dark rainbows that eat the light. Already a twisted complex of compensated mental distortions, Trump is now being driven crazy by Robert Mueller and some congressional committees chasing him around the maypole, while he acts out displaced revenge snapping at Sessions, and Sessions chases mayors and cops, and Stephen Miller tries to break into the circle, and Bannon is in the hall working on the tantric pose the Mooch recommended for him, and Kelly tries to get them to stand in a straight line, and Congress checks whether it is safe to pull their pants back up yet . . . Boys, we got us a caucus race!

Do you think Acting President Kelly will be able to keep his cranky patient under control, while he gatekeeps the Oval? He said he is not going to control the biggest kid, but he is a Marine General. Leopards and spots. I reckon Catch 22 is Kelly’s management textbook for the Trump Family White House and Day Care Center.

Kelly is going to run the Major Major Major game – he’s only in when he’s out. When he is in, though, he’s out. If that is not clear, the paperback is just $9.48 on Amazon – strangely cheaper than the Kindle edition at $11.99. Maybe it’s a Washington Post discount. Sarah Sanders and Stephen Miller will tell us that General Kelly assures that the President is not drugged and is free to walk around his office and change channels,

Invest the $9.48 in a re-read. Re-meet Yossarian and General Dreedle and General Peckem, Colonel Cathcart and Colonel Moodus. They will remind us who the enemy is and how the Trump administration works.

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Okay, the Trump Dump program is open for business.  Is deplorability cultural or congenital? We’ll find out. NOLAscape is built on nothing if not hope. And change.

And please come and visit the new Café ‘Scape veranda bar on the eighth floor, for great views over the river and Crescent Park.

© NOLAscape 2017

 

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Conversations

This is our first podcast in the Conversations series.

In a series within the series we are going to explore great films in conversations with Henry Griffin and Jonathan Freilich.

Henry is a scriptwriter, script doctor and professor of film at UNO. I used to think I was a movie fan, but when I listen to Henry, I find out that I have a long way to go before I can even call myself a proper member of the audience.

Jonathan is a multi-faceted musician and composer, founder and leader of several signature bands, including The Naked Orchestra and The New Orleans Klezmer Allstars. Besides more than 25 years experience with great New Orleans musicians, he picked up a degree in composition from CalArts, has worked in sound design for media and even taught it at NOCCA.

The movies we will be discussing are truly international and eclectic. Some will be arthouse or familiar American, French or Italian great films. Others will be works combining great art and great entertainment from Japan, China, India – anywhere you can find great directors and great movies, and that is almost everywhere.

Some of these movies will never have made it to theaters in New Orleans, but now there are great resources available for recent and classic movies in Amazon, Netflix, sometimes YouTube and especially Filmstruck. If you don’t know Filmstruck, check it out.

We hope you enjoy the conversation and The Conversations.

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Tetro is a film by Francis Ford Coppola released in 2009. Unlike The Godfather or Apocalypse Now!, Tetro was written, produced, directed, nursemaided and guided into being by Coppola. (His other auteur project, 20 years earlier, was The Conversation, with Gene Hackman. Complete coincidence.)

The photography is exquisitely careful, the product of a year of research with different cameras, films and video technology to get the textures right. As will emerge in the discussion, Coppola has reached the point in his career where he can get actors and behind-the-camera creatives to spend a year or more on a project, and can get the money – perhaps from his own account – to finance an effort where artistic perfection can get ahead of the economics of entertainment.

 

© NOLAscape 2017

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