Showing posts with label Television. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Television. Show all posts

Saturday, March 19, 2022

SXSW: The Last Movie Stars

Credit: Philippe Le Tellier/Paris Match via Getty Images

Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward are the subjects of a new documentary streaming later this year on HBO Max. Told in six chapters, The Last Movie Stars chronicles Newman and Woodward's acting careers, including the sixteen films they made together, and their enduring love story. I had the privilege of attending the world premiere of the first chapter at this year's SXSW Film Festival and am thrilled to share a bit about this documentary with you.

The Last Movie Stars is the brainchild of producer Emily Wachtel who was close friends with the Newman-Woodward family and was able to get access to recordings, photos and home videos used in the film. Ethan Hawke directed the film and gave the project an "actors on actors" perspective.

The project began just as the pandemic put us all in isolation. The film embraces the constraints of the pandemic and is primarily composed of archival footage, movie clips, narration and Zoom interviews. This works quite well in the first chapter and I'm curious to see if continues to work or if it will bog down the rest of the film.

To offer some background, some years ago Paul Newman started working on a memoir. He invited friends and family to tell their stories about their relationships with him including his wife Joanne Woodward, his ex-wife Jackie Witte, his friends and fellow collaborators Gore Vidal, Karl Malden, Sidney Lumet, Elia Kazan and more. He also recorded himself discussing different aspects of his life and career. It's uncertain why but Newman eventually destroyed all of these recordings. Lucky for us, they were all transcribed and those transcriptions survived. 

In The Last Movie Stars, Ethan Hawke invites his actor friends to read the transcriptions in the voices of the various subjects. George Clooney plays Paul Newman, Laura Linney plays Joanne Woodward, Zoe Kazan plays Jackie Witte, Vincent D'Onofrio plays Gore Vidal, etc. Other actors include Mark Ruffalo, Billy Crudup, Sam Rockwell, Oscar Isaac and Steve Zahn. Along with their narrations, there are Zoom interviews with all of the actors. They share their mutual admiration for Newman and Woodward with Hawke who guides the story. There are also of other interviews with figures like Sally Field and Martin Scorsese who don't narrate but offer their perspectives and stories. It's a very meta approach. The audience follows along with the creation of the documentary as they learn more about these two fascinating subjects from film history.

The documentary's core purpose which is to tell the story of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Chapter one focuses on how they became actors, their affair which lead to the break-up of Newman's first marriage and the beginning of their lifelong adventure together. One takeaway from the first chapter is that Woodward very much came into her own at the beginning of her career while it took Newman to really discover himself as an actor. Newman eventually overshadowed Woodward as his fame skyrocketed. However, the two had a mutual respect for each other and Woodward was able to find a deeper meaning to her life and career. With The Last Movie Stars, producer Emily Wachtel and director Ethan Hawke are reintroducing Newman and Woodward to a new generation with the hope that telling their story will help reinforce their legacy as the great actors they were. 

Watching The Last Movie Stars reinvigorated me. My purpose has always been to keep film history alive and share the joys of classic movies with others. This documentary does just that. Having seen the first chapter, I am anxious to see the next five. At the world premiere, Hawke shared that the first three chapters are completed but the last three are still in the editing process. He estimated that they'll be done by June. A streaming date has yet to be announced.

Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas

Ethan Hawke introducing The Last Movie Stars at SXSW

Q&A after the world premiere. Left to Right: Richard Linklater, Emily Wachtel, Ethan Hawke

I hope to do a full review once all six chapters of the documentary are available.

Note to add: While Joanne Woodward is still with us, she suffers from alzheimer's disease and was not able to be interviewed for this project. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson Boxed Sets

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson DVD sets

We often talk about lost films, those have been destroyed due to fire or negligence. Recovering what we can from the farthest corners of the planet has been our mission in order to restore parts of film history. But what about the history of television? Some shows were neglected in much the same way. They were discarded or in some cases like The Dick Cavett Show or The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, they were taped over with new material. Many of those early episodes with interviews and performances that should have been preserved are lost forever. With The Tonight Show, many of the early episodes are lost but some episodes from the 1970s were recovered thanks to  copies sent to industry executives. These are gems that merit preservation for future generations.

Doc Severinsen, Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon
Doc Severinsen, Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon

Out of the NBC vault comes two new collections brought to us by Carson Entertainment and Time Life: The Vault Series: Collector's Edition and Johnny and Friends. Each of these DVD boxed sets boast a variety of episodes from the 1970s, '80s and '90s, some never before released in their entirety or at all. Bonus clips consist of episodes cobbled together from existing materials. Special episodes are preceded by a note giving some background on any technical difficulties, quality issues or missing segments. What makes these collections so specials is that they contain full episodes. These are not collection of clips or segments. You get the experience of the full episode presented just the way it appeared on its original air date.

The DVD menu gives you an option to watch the episodes and bonus clips with or without commercials. I implore you to watch them WITH the commercials. They are half the fun of watching these sets. There are lots of vintage commercials from brands such as Pillsbury, Budweiser, Fresca, KFC, Ore-Ida, Sanka, Subaru, RCA, Sears, JC Penney, Revlon, Delta, United Airlines, Alpo and more. Some of the commercials feature well-known actors early on in their careers. There are also Ed McMahon's sponsored spots for numerous brands which are a lot of fun to watch too.

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson The Vault Series

The Vault Series set contains 6 DVDs and features 18 episodes and bonus clips (which watch like almost complete episodes). These include anniversary and birthday episodes, notable guest appearances and some serve as a time capsule. For example, 2 discs highlight one week in March 1976.

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson: Johnny and Friends

Johnny and Friends set contains 10 DVDs which 3 episodes and bonus clips. Each DVD highlights a particular regular guest on the show. These include: Don Rickles, Robin Williams, David Letterman, Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Burt Reynolds, Steve Martin, Rodney Dangerfield, Eddie Murphy and Jim Fowler. Save the Don Rickles DVD for last because it's the best one.

Highlights of both sets include:

  • Ray Bolger song and dance numbers and a performance with Bing Crosby and Marvin Hamlisch
  • Charlton Heston on working with Cecil B. DeMille
  • Michael Caine and Sean Connery promoting The Man Who Would Be King
  • Orson Welles on the power of radio, on the good old days of radio.
  • Lucille Ball and Johnny Carson talking about their sex lives
  • A tipsy Dean Martin
  • Don Rickles insulting Johnny Carson and his guests
  • Don Rickles and Johnny Carson doing sit-ups with Olympian Olga Connolly (Fikotova)
  • James Garner and Ellen Burstyn discuss working together
  • Lauren Bacall discusses her admiration for Bette Davis
  • First appearances by David Letterman, Eddie Murphy, etc.
  • Burt Reynolds and Johnny Carson prank each other
  • James Mason discussing some of his worst films
  • Rodney Dangerfield's stand-up
  • Wildlife expert Jim Fowler and his animal friends
  • Bob Hope's entrances with Thanks for the Memories played by the band
  • Appearances by notable actors including Susan Sarandon, Clint Eastwood
  • Johnny Carson (finally!) performs Rhinestone Cowboy
  • Johnny Carson's skits including Carnac the Magnificent and Tea Time Movie matinee
  • The retro commercials.
  • The "More to Come" art in between commercial breaks often features classic film stars including Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Mae West, Shirley Temple, etc.

Both sets make fantastic gifts for the Johnny Carson fans in your life. If you want to pick only one of these two sets, I recommend the Vault Series over Johnny and Friends. I enjoyed the presentation of episodes more with that one. If you're a classic film enthusiast there is much to enjoy there. However, Johnny and Friends includes 4 more DVDs and a lot of truly excellent content. I wasn't as interested in some of the featured guests but with the full episodes I found plenty of other guests to capture by attention.

Watching full episodes of The Tonight Show, presented with retro commercials, is like taking a time travel trip to a bygone era of television history. These sets are so much fun to watch. I hope you'll give them a try.

Many thanks to Time Life for sending me these DVD sets for review. Shop The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson sets on Time Life.

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