The Lambs' Q&A with Film Critic David Thomson

The Lambs
26 May 202159:20

Summary

TLDRFilm critics David Thomson and Foster Hirsch engage in a thoughtful discussion about the past, present and future of film directors. They analyze the careers of legendary directors like Scorsese and Tarantino, debate the problematic legacy of controversial figures like Woody Allen, and explore how shifting cultural norms are impacting creative expression. While they disagree on various directors, they find common ground discussing cinema's role depicting the American experience. They remain optimistic about film's future, even as streaming and other forces transform viewing habits.

Takeaways

  • 😊 David and Foster have different opinions on some directors and films, but appreciate discussing cinema openly
  • πŸŽ₯ David believes high quality TV series now surpass movies for cultural impact
  • 😒 David worries people may not return to theaters post-pandemic, threatening film culture
  • πŸ‘€ David had to reconsider some comfortable assumptions when writing the book to adapt to current cultural standards
  • 😠 David refuses to dismiss great directors like Allen and Polanski despite their personal controversies
  • 🎭 David argues cinema must explore romance and sexuality freely even if it makes some people uncomfortable
  • πŸŽ’ David selected Scorsese and Tarantino's latest films to show the crisis in America's relationship with cinema
  • πŸ“½ David highlights excellent work by minority directors, wanting to judge them as just directors, not minorities
  • 🎞 David explores how being an outsider to American culture shaped his perspectives on its cinema
  • πŸ€” David and Foster debate favorites like Howard Hawks but appreciate discussing different opinions

Q & A

  • What does Thompson say initially drew him to film and shaped his lifelong passion for cinema?

    -Thompson says that from a very young age, around 4 years old, his parents took him to see films which had a huge impact on him. Even when he was terrified by a film, he still wanted to go back and be frightened again, so he developed an 'obsessive, compulsive relationship with the movies'.

  • How does Thompson compare the quality of recent TV/streaming series to recent theatrical releases?

    -Thompson feels that in recent years, the long-form streaming and TV series have been more impressive and involving than most of the films playing in theaters. He thinks we may be developing a habit of staying home to watch high-quality series rather than going out to theaters.

  • What two recent films does Thompson critique, and why does he find them problematic?

    -Thompson critiques Martin Scorsese's The Irishman and Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. He found them both overly long, expensive vanity projects that didn't have much cultural impact. He also feels they represented missed opportunities to make truly meaningful films.

  • How did Thompson's perspective as a Brit impact his view of American culture and cinema?

    -Having grown up in the UK, Thompson saw America as a land of culture, creativity and idealism. He says that as an outsider, he may have a more critical view of the 'American romance' than someone born in the US would have.

  • Who are some of Thompson's favorite directors that he wishes he could have included in the book?

    -He wishes he could have included Max OphΓΌls, French documentarian Chris Marker, Michael Powell, Elia Kazan, and Douglas Sirk. He explains why each would have brought something unique to the book.

  • How does Thompson address the challenges of writing about cinema amidst shifting cultural norms and cancel culture?

    -He admits feeling pressure not to offend or say certain things, but refuses to completely outlaw discussing filmmakers like Allen or Polanski based solely on their controversial personal lives. He warns of the dangers of letting 'illiberal forces' dictate such prejudices.

  • Why does Thompson argue against throwing out all of cinema because it has encouraged some 'bad' people?

    -He says most directors have been 'tough, ruthless, selfish' people with bad personal track records, but we can't discount the whole art form because of that. People are complex, and even people who've done bad things can create great art.

  • What are Thompson's critiques of both Triumph of the Will and Leni Riefenstahl?

    -While an extremely skilled visual stylist, he calls Riefenstahl's confidence in telling the Nazis how to stage events for her 'breathtaking'. He says Triumph is terrifying post-1945 but wonders if it was truly more propagandistic than many American films of the era.

  • Why does Thompson argue against biblical films, and what does he say often happens to even the biggest hits of the genre?

    -He dislikes nearly all biblical films, feeling the Bible is better left as a book to read. He argues that even massive biblical hit films like Ben Hur fade from memory quickly and aren't being watched anymore, showing their lack of lasting impact.

  • What does Thompson say the purchase of MGM by Amazon signifies about the film industry's future?

    -He says it shows the primacy of back catalog & streaming over theatrical releases. While Amazon may still fund films, their main incentive is to exploit MGM's library across their streaming platform over the next decade.

Outlines

00:00

πŸ˜€ Introduction and background

David Thompson provides background on himself - born in London in 1941, moved to the US in 1975 to teach at Dartmouth, then moved to San Francisco as a freelancer. Has loved movies since childhood. Foster introduces David, praises his writing and perspective as an outsider providing critical view of America.

05:03

😟 Concerns about the film industry today

David chooses to end the book discussing Tarantino and Scorsese's recent films, which he found problematic. David prefers quality TV over recent films, sees streaming as the future. America needs a great film about its racism crisis. Film culture may be shifting away from theaters.

10:03

😊 David's writing process and omissions

David wishes he could have included chapters on Max Ophuls, Chris Marker, Michael Powell in the book. Notes some directors he personally likes but understands why they weren't included. Wanted to bring attention to some lesser known quality films and directors.

15:04

😏 David's perspective as a foreigner

David discusses his lifelong fascination with America and its culture from afar in London. Still feels like an outsider in some ways, is more critical of the country now. This shapes his perspective writing about American film.

20:05

πŸ˜– Discomfort discussing marginalized filmmakers

David felt uncomfortable having to categorize female and minority directors separately. These groups likely make the most interesting films now. Wants to be able to discuss them without labels, but understands the awkward necessity currently.

25:06

😳 Evaluating difficult directors and censorship concerns

David refuses to censor Allen and Polanski despite their personal controversies. Most directors have bad personal track records. But understands many now find even Belle de Jour unshowable. Could threaten fantasy in film.

30:07

😑 Defending Riefenstahl and Hawks

David explains including Riefenstahl by arguing Triumph of the Will, while terrifying, uses fascistic imagery also used in American film. Foster pushes back, disturbed. Also discusses heated disagreement on Howard Hawks appreciation.

35:07

πŸ€” The difficulty of modern censorship

David empathizes with Foster's struggle teaching a course on Allen and Scorsese. They discuss how to engage students who demand censorship. Need to argue against illiberal forces taking over film interpretation.

40:09

😴 Films that have not aged well

David lists films like Gentleman's Agreement, Marty that seem stale and dated now but were acclaimed in their time. Some exceptions like Gigi remain fresh to Foster. Films made for the moment, date quickly.

45:10

πŸ™‚ Hitchcock done right

Foster praises David's Hitchcock chapter for evenly praising his genius, not getting distracted by hype. David can't wait for Foster's upcoming book to scrutinize Hitchcock's 50s work.

50:11

πŸ˜† Totally opposing views on Hawks and Land of the Pharaohs

Foster explains his love for Land of the Pharaohs shows how much he disagrees with David on Hawks. Also can't stand Bringing Up Baby and Hepburn. David finds their oddcoupling delightful and promises to rewatch Pharaohs.

55:12

🎬 Discussion of the future of film

Questions from the audience on topics ranging from MGM purchased by Amazon, more diversity in casting, superhero movies, streaming helping independent films. David provides interesting perspective shifts happening.

Mindmap

Keywords

πŸ’‘director

A director is the creative leader who oversees and orchestrates the making of a film. This video focuses extensively on famous film directors like Martin Scorsese and their works. It analyzes their styles, influences, flaws, and contributions to cinema.

πŸ’‘auteur

An auteur is a filmmaker who imposes a strong personal creative vision on their films. The video praises Scorsese as the archetypal American auteur who defined a generation of filmmaking.

πŸ’‘streaming

Streaming refers to the technology of delivering film and video content over the internet to be viewed online. The speakers discuss how streaming is changing viewing habits and poses an existential threat to traditional theatrical film distribution.

πŸ’‘me too

The Me Too movement against sexual abuse and harassment is discussed as having influenced cultural attitudes and making many older films seem outdated or problematic now.

πŸ’‘political correctness

Political correctness refers to using language and depicting content that does not exclude or offend groups based on race, gender, sexuality etc. The speakers admit to grappling with political correctness norms while writing about films.

πŸ’‘editing

Editing is the process of assembling raw footage into a coherent film narrative. One speaker mentions arguing with his editor about meeting political correctness standards in his writing.

πŸ’‘representation

Representation refers to the depiction in media of groups based on race, gender, sexuality etc. There is much discussion about the historical lack of representation of women and minorities among famous directors.

πŸ’‘cancellation

Cancel culture refers to boycotting public figures due to questionable personal behavior or beliefs. There is apprehension expressed about classic films being "cancelled" because of their directors' biographies.

πŸ’‘censorship

Censorship is the suppression of content considered immoral or politically unacceptable. The speakers strongly oppose censoring controversial old films, while debating how to address their problematic elements.

πŸ’‘provocation

Provocation means stimulating strong reactions, especially anger or controversy. One speaker praises directors who boldly provoke audiences and push social boundaries through their films.

Highlights

I chose those films simply because, as I was writing the book, they were the two, I thought most impressive

For several years I have felt, that the things i could see on, television long form series, streaming series everything from say, the wire which was one of the early, versions, to underground railroad playing now, which i think is a masterpiece, i found those series, many of which went on years and many, many hours, i found the more impressive more, involving, than the movies playing in the theaters

Our movies have to try and deal with, this they have to try, and find a new kind of american dream a, new kind of american hope that we can, believe in

Just don't think that everything is, going to be a continuation of what we, have, today

Sooner or later most people do something, they're ashamed of, but i'll be i'll be entering too, judgmental and puritanical a period

Biblical films are the end of the road, for me, and and i there's none of them i like

Try finding, someone who's seen ben hur lately

I didn't get him i don't get it i, like, land of the pharaohs and the thing, bringing up baby drives me wild, i i i i can't i can't tolerate it

If if howard hawks, ideal woman is lauren mccall, he and i don't have the same tastes

I have great, deal of trouble with superhero films

I prefer films made according to narrative, structures that are not nearly as, popular today

Christan bale is my, favorite actor i, i i follow what he does, devotedly

The son of a long deceased member, who was called the dentist of broadway, and we got a file of got a lot, hundreds of pounds of stuff but he sent, the records for one of his patients, archie leech, so we have when 20s, so we have cary grant's dental records

If i'd had known tonight you were such a, cary grant fan i want to hold them up on, the, zoom but uh yeah you can see his teeth, and everything

Really do yourselves a favor and buy, this delicious book, a light in the dark a history of movie, direct of, of movie directors published by knock, the best there is so it's beautifully, produced, it's a superb book really delicious

Transcripts

play00:03

take away magda

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okay well welcome everyone and i'm so

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thrilled uh

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first of all i have to thank foster

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because foster

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helps me a great deal without him i

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don't know how i could put this together

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and um uh mark barron who has helped me

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in the past he's been invaluable

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and tonight's guest is david thompson

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and i'd love to introduce him

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and david are you okay i don't

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i don't let me see if i can i'm waiting

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to be introduced

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okay and tell us about yourself and then

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uh

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foster will take over well i was born

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in london as the bombs fell in 1941

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i came to this country uh in 1975

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i taught at dartmouth then i moved

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to san francisco and i've been a

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freelance

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ever since and since the age of about

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four

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uh i had to see movies my parents took

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me to see

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henry v the olivier version

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i was terrified at it i couldn't

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understand it

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i had to be taken out in tears but as

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soon as i got into the lobby i said

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take me back take me back i want to be

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frightened again

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so i have this kind of obsessive

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compulsive relationship with the movies

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and i think most people of my sort of

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age do

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and i've been extremely lucky and that i

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have just about

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managed to make a living talking about

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them writing about them

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and teaching them and that kind of thing

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and here i

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am your guest i'm very happy to be here

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and i'm very pleased to be conducting

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this interview i'm a huge fan of david's

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work

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we do the same thing we're competitors

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but i don't feel that way at all

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he is unique in what he does and this

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book

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is that we're talking about tonight a

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light in the dark

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a history of movie directors it is

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written with such

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snap and verve and energy

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and david makes writing seem so easy

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just flows off the page

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what i love about of the writing is

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like me david is a very opinionated guy

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but he presents his opinions in a way

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that

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is very open you realize that he would

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be

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open to argument and discussion he's not

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set

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in other words here it is and no

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discussion no he this is my opinion do

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you have a different opinion

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let's argue which is which is wonderful

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he invites you to argue

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off the page and as you read the book i

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think you'll find

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that sometimes you will want him and

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that that's just terrific

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so at any rate i want to start uh david

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actually with the end of the book

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yeah i'm not not at the beginning you

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end

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what is in a sense a very good

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overview of the history of film

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directors

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with two recent films uh tarantino's

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once upon a time in hollywood and martin

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scorsese

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the irishman which bring us up to date

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to recent movies

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you have serious reservations about both

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films

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why did you choose to end the book with

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those

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two films in particular well

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um first of all great to see you again

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foster and thank you for your

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introduction and thank you for having me

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and

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thank you for being who you are um

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i chose those films simply because

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as i was writing the book

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they were the two

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[Music]

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i thought most impressive uh

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in a way most portentous films that were

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available

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at that time i finished writing the book

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sort of as they came out and as you

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indicate

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uh while they clearly are the work of

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extraordinary

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directors who have done great things in

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the past

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scorsese especially i would say

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um i found them both

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very problematic and

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they for me embodied what i find to be

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a great dilemma that we face

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looking at our screens now which is that

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for several years i have felt

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that the things i could see on

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television long form series

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streaming series everything from say

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the wire which was one of the early

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versions

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to underground railroad playing now

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which i think is a masterpiece

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i found those series

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many of which went on years and many

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many hours

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i found the more impressive more

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involving

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than the movies playing in the theaters

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and i think it's very interesting to ask

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ourselves whether

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now that we're feeling better about

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ourselves our health

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our cities are we gonna go back

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to the theaters or have we picked up

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an alternative habit that of staying in

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our own room which has many advantages

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which seems a lot cheaper than going to

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the movies and watching

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the new series that come along

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very variable in quality but when

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they're good

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i would contend they're absolutely

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extraordinary and here we are

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at a great crisis

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in america's relationship with racism

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and it cries out for a masterpiece film

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a film that everybody can watch

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and feel terrified by

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shattered by but enormously interested

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in

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and the film comes along on long-form

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television

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and you cannot really conceive

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that underground railroad would have

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been done

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for theaters and i think that indicates

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that the culture of watching

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storytelling on screens is moving

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on to a new format but in a way your

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selection of those

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two films by masterful contemporary

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film directors and the two films you

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found somewhat lacking or disappointing

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or dare i say not

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completely relevant was that accidental

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or symptomatic of a

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larger turn in the fortune of the motion

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picture

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well it's a fascinating question and i

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can't give even

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an opinionated definitive answer to it

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but i mean if you take scorsese who i

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think was about

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75 when he made the irishman

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an enormously distinguished career

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several great films

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he was for a long time

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the american auteur the american film

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director that young people were probably

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most likely

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to name and

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he sort of got the idea that the

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irishman was going to be

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his swan song it would be the gangster

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film to end all gangster films

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he developed extraordinarily expensive

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technology so that he could play with

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the characters ages

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and he spent about 200 million dollars

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on it

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well the film didn't get that money back

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or anything like it

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and i really don't believe in movies

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that cost that much anymore i think

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there is a degree

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of vanity and pretension in a venture

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that big i much prefer the idea that

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someone might make something simply

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something small like nomad land for

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instance which

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you know obviously cost a tiny fraction

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of that

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and which i think made a deeper impact

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on a lot of people because it showed

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them a kind of life

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that they had not really seen on screen

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before whereas we had seen

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the irishman before that's what i

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thought i thought it was

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very accomplished it is but i had seen

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it before

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if not literally then figuratively

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nothing new for the director and so my

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feeling is though it's just a year or

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two old

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it's already sort of dropped from

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consciousness

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not well remembered from a year or two

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ago

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no and in other words it didn't have the

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impact on the culture that let's say

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taxi driver and raging ball had once

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upon a time those were films

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they're still there people still look at

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them but they were films that

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made an enormous immediate impact in

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of 75 and 81 whenever they came out and

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they were relevant they were for the

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moment taxi driver

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i saw a taxi driver very soon after i

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had come to america when new york was a

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pretty new place for me

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and i knew being in a packed theater

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watching it

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in manhattan that the overlap between

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the atmosphere of that audience and that

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film

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was uncanny and very important and very

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valuable and i felt the audience felt

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that too

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that was not the case with the irishman

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which is almost

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quaint or easy or from the past

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though very very accomplished absolutely

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i agree with you completely

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i hope that's not the only time we will

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agree all evening no i want to go back

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and ask another maybe unusual question

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as an early one for our discussion

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you your book is in a sense it's called

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the history of movie directing

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but in writing this enormous subject in

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a

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relatively trim a number of pages

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not not more than 300 pages you had to

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eliminate a lot

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yes in on reflection are there directors

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you wish you had included and i hope

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there will be a part two to

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uh to the book but did you make any

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omissions

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that now strike you as

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perhaps the wrong choice or you regret

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well i don't know about the wrong

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choices because i think all the people

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who are in the book deserve to be there

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but of course a lot of other people

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deserve to be there too

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um i was talking to a friend only a

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few days ago and he said you know the

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chapter

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i miss the most because i know what he

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means to you

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would be max office and max office

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who worked in so many different

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countries

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never very happily never very secure in

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his career

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a traveler another kind of nomad

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um made some of the most beautiful

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poignant films ever and i would love to

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have included him in the book

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i would love to have included a

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documentarian

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and i think it would have been

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the frenchman chris marker that i would

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have put in there probably

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uh there are many others that i would

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love to

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have put in there i i'm very fond of

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michael powell

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a director i knew well personally

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and i felt that omission um

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i could do several more volumes in this

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ilk if if the publishers would allow me

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and we'll have to see about that

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now you you you don't uh

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discuss my own two personal favorites

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which is fine because then there's more

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room in my book for me but that

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is uh my two favorites are kazan and

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douglas cirque

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yes i i gather you don't mention serp's

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name at all but i gather you do respect

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kazan

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oh i i think kazan is one of the

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all-time great directors

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of actors and and he

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he was the figurehead in the late 40s

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into the 50s and 60s

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for a whole new way of acting in

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american films the influence of which

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is still with us and very important in

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that way i would love to have written

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about him

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i knew him a little bit he was a very

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tricky person

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personally uh and and um

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he did not like some things i wrote

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about him but i would love to have

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written about him properly um douglas

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circ you mentioned

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and and you know douglas circ

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in many ways is the germanic

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director who came to america and

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had really the most successful career

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more successful even than fritz lang and

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even lubitsch uh cirque made a certain

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kind of american movie

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that on the face of it it's very hard to

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believe a german had made them because

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they are so

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understanding of america i know in your

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coming book on the 50s you're going to

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go

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crazy on cirque and you will say this

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much better than i can

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but from the moment he arrived here in

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the early

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40s as a filmmaker he was doing things

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differently he was doing

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things that no one else seemed to want

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to do

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he made a couple of some very

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interesting check off adaptations which

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are not well known

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but then when he was at universal in the

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50s and teamed up with

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almost the least likely star rock hudson

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he made hudson's career and he made a

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certain kind

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of romance about america

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that they work as romances but they've

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got a

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quite subtle critical sense to them

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there is there is the sense in his work

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that we're looking at america through

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the perspective of an

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outsider he's not one of us and indeed

play14:45

after his masterpiece imitation of life

play14:48

he left us never to return yes

play14:51

that film was such a hit he could have

play14:53

called the shots and made

play14:54

15 more melodramas but he left

play15:00

he was an outsider and he saw us

play15:02

critically and you just feel that in the

play15:03

films

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but i want to focus that now on you

play15:07

you're not american born

play15:08

and i felt in rereading your book

play15:12

that you mention america

play15:15

and see america from

play15:19

somewhat of an outsider's point of view

play15:23

that is you didn't grow up seeing movies

play15:26

in america you talk about

play15:28

seeing movies in london yes is is that

play15:31

at all an accurate perception

play15:33

absolutely you obviously you live here

play15:35

but you're not

play15:36

you're not born american um

play15:39

i was in love with america from a very

play15:42

early age

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i'm not certain how far it went but i

play15:46

believe

play15:47

that my mother had a romantic feeling

play15:50

for an american airman who gave me

play15:54

a leather flying cap which was one of my

play15:56

most treasured possessions and it was a

play15:58

sort of emblem

play15:59

of america and as i grew older

play16:04

america to me meant jazz

play16:07

crazy about jazz it meant hemingway

play16:10

fitzgerald falkland those kind of

play16:11

writers

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and it meant the movies and i was

play16:16

i yearned to come to america i didn't

play16:19

really think about coming to live here

play16:22

but i yearned to be in america because i

play16:24

just felt from a distance

play16:26

that the culture had an idealism and an

play16:29

ease and a

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fun and a space england was so cramped

play16:34

you know

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and i i wanted to be in

play16:38

those places and i came much too late

play16:41

but i did come eventually

play16:43

and i'm still here i'm an american

play16:45

citizen

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most of you will not have chosen to be

play16:48

an american citizen i

play16:50

did however

play16:53

i'm fairly alert to what's going on and

play16:58

the america i dreamed of from afar and

play17:01

loved from afar and loved when i came

play17:03

here

play17:05

it's not the same america that we have

play17:07

now and

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um there is a part of me now that

play17:11

would certainly contemplate

play17:15

going back to england for at least

play17:17

extended visits i

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i'm i'm like cirque if you like i i've

play17:21

become

play17:23

much more critical of the american

play17:25

romance than i was

play17:26

around and that that does filter into

play17:29

this book

play17:30

i think so that criticism filters into

play17:33

the book

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yep but it enriches it because you're

play17:36

looking

play17:37

at american movies and you write mostly

play17:40

but not entirely about american films

play17:42

from slightly detached perspective

play17:46

or perspective different from somebody

play17:49

born here

play17:50

yeah your viewpoint would be different

play17:51

from mine for instance

play17:54

i no i cannot i cannot i can imagine

play17:57

that but you know you said something

play17:59

earlier about cirque you said

play18:01

he was an outsider i have the feeling

play18:05

that uh america has become more and more

play18:10

a country about

play18:11

outsiders i don't feel

play18:14

that many people are really at home here

play18:16

anymore

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i think that's part of the malaise part

play18:19

of the

play18:21

pain and difficulty of it and i don't

play18:23

know how that's going to get worked out

play18:25

it's a very very big problematical area

play18:28

but some way or another

play18:32

our movies have to try and deal with

play18:34

this they have to try

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and find a new kind of american dream a

play18:39

new kind of american hope that we can

play18:41

believe in

play18:42

and the reason i stress underground

play18:44

railroad

play18:45

dark dark as it is is that is telling a

play18:49

message that

play18:51

we need to attend to

play18:56

speaking of that i i felt at

play18:59

in two chapters in the book you

play19:02

you say it and you certainly suggested

play19:06

that you were uncomfortable even even

play19:09

having to write

play19:10

the chapters and that is the chapter on

play19:12

women

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female directors and the chapter on

play19:16

minority filmmakers that those

play19:19

categorizations

play19:21

themselves make you uncomfortable and

play19:23

they

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work they describe a kind of

play19:26

marginalization

play19:27

while they there's an attempt to

play19:28

overcome it they almost

play19:30

emphasize it my rug those two chapters

play19:34

gave you some discomfort

play19:35

just in terms of the labeling i mean not

play19:38

discomfort because i didn't want to talk

play19:40

about those

play19:41

directors discomfort that

play19:45

one sort of is obliged to take them on a

play19:49

separate chapters i mean

play19:52

we should not need to separate women and

play19:55

men directors

play19:57

one reason we do is because the movies

play20:00

hollywood laid down a culture for us

play20:04

in which superior powerful man

play20:08

gazed at and fantasized over

play20:11

women that is one of the chief reasons

play20:14

why

play20:15

being female in america is so difficult

play20:18

and why being

play20:19

a female filmmaker is so difficult

play20:22

and same applies to people of

play20:27

color i think that

play20:30

almost by virtue of the difficulty

play20:33

those categories that people find

play20:35

themselves in now they are probably

play20:37

going to make the most interesting

play20:39

films i mean clearly underground

play20:41

railroad

play20:42

could not have been made by a white

play20:45

director

play20:47

for a long time we lived in a film

play20:49

culture where

play20:50

no black director would have had the

play20:52

opportunity to make a film like that

play20:55

you know because it's a big film it's

play20:57

like 10 hours at least

play20:59

um that's changing and that's good and

play21:02

that's great

play21:03

but i want to be able to talk about

play21:05

barry jenkins

play21:07

as a film director not a black film

play21:10

director because that is

play21:12

that is bringing in the framework of a

play21:15

kind of ghetto that i want to shatter

play21:17

and throw away

play21:18

he is a film director a great film

play21:21

director i think

play21:23

but at the moment we're still dealing in

play21:26

terms of those categories

play21:28

absolutely and we and there's enormous

play21:31

awkwardness because of it

play21:33

and you know i i think that many film

play21:36

writers i'm sure it's happened to you

play21:38

too

play21:38

have been told by editors i don't think

play21:41

you can quite say that or i don't think

play21:42

you could do that

play21:44

you know because there are so many

play21:46

delicate feelings out there

play21:48

well there are so many delicate feelings

play21:50

because we've behaved so badly

play21:52

for so long and we've got to get over

play21:55

that

play21:55

and you know films

play21:58

have always been about attractive people

play22:01

about romance with an element of

play22:04

sexuality in them

play22:06

and that should not be denied you can't

play22:08

look at a douglas cert film you can't

play22:10

look at written on the wednesday

play22:12

without knowing that robert stack

play22:16

rock hudson dorothy malone are very

play22:19

attractive people

play22:20

they're very uneasy unhappy people but

play22:23

they're very attractive people

play22:25

now to say somebody in a movie of

play22:28

whatever sex whatever gender choice

play22:30

is attractive is a problematic thing

play22:33

these days

play22:34

to what extent did you find yourself

play22:37

writing

play22:38

under the ages of cancer

play22:41

culture and all of the other identity

play22:44

politics that we're struggling with now

play22:47

to what extent did you find yourself

play22:49

censoring

play22:50

your own sentences and not allowing

play22:53

yourself

play22:54

to say things you might have said three

play22:56

four

play22:57

five ten years ago oh it's

play23:00

is that a fair question it's absolutely

play23:03

fair question and it's there

play23:05

and i had talks with my editor on the

play23:08

book

play23:08

in which he said you know you tend as i

play23:13

did

play23:14

you tend to talk about a film director

play23:16

as a he

play23:18

it's very simple to change that and it

play23:21

is

play23:21

and that kind of change needs to be

play23:24

made and it needs to be made on not just

play23:27

sentences about filmmakers about

play23:29

sentences about

play23:32

every walk of life in this country and

play23:34

it's it's a long

play23:35

hard slog to get that done and there are

play23:38

a lot of people who resist it and object

play23:40

to it and are

play23:41

very insecure over it but yes i felt

play23:44

that

play23:44

i felt that pressure and i i simply

play23:47

don't believe

play23:48

there is a a writer on film

play23:51

these days who doesn't feel that kind of

play23:54

pressure

play23:55

did you feel at any moment

play23:59

why am i writing about white men

play24:03

at a time when white men are being

play24:06

pushed off their

play24:08

pedestal of cultural power most of your

play24:11

book is written about the wonderful work

play24:13

of

play24:13

white male directors starting from

play24:17

with dw griffith and fritz long and

play24:20

and genre war going right up to martin

play24:22

scorsese and

play24:23

quentin tarantino that's your subject

play24:26

yes

play24:27

men have made most of the great films

play24:29

that is that is a

play24:30

historical fact well it it's it

play24:33

certainly is and i

play24:36

i tried to do what i could to leven that

play24:39

and

play24:39

and you know i mean you say that

play24:42

the chapter on black directors felt a

play24:44

little uneasy uncomfortable

play24:46

i know what you mean there was another

play24:48

way in which i love doing it and which i

play24:50

welcome doing it

play24:51

and i love being able to talk about a

play24:54

director like carl franklin say

play24:57

who is not widely esteemed not nearly as

play25:00

widely esteemed as he could be and

play25:02

should be

play25:03

part of those chapters for me the

play25:06

pleasure of it is

play25:07

bringing some names forward and some

play25:09

film titles that

play25:11

the audience will not know readily

play25:14

and saying you know that's a film that

play25:16

you should

play25:17

uh seek out a girl who walks home

play25:20

alone at night by anna liliamo a film

play25:24

that cost about fifty thousand dollars

play25:26

black and white

play25:27

wonderful film uh i made a

play25:31

a pitch for that and and for other films

play25:33

too but you

play25:35

you david you were very frank in those

play25:36

two chapters you said some of the work

play25:39

of female directors i was asked to write

play25:41

about i don't like their work

play25:43

well i do like their films and you said

play25:46

i know spike lee is important but i

play25:47

don't have a strong response to his work

play25:50

i trust carl franklin i mean

play25:53

it's part of being opinionated that i

play25:56

have as much right to say

play25:58

i didn't like a film was that i do like

play26:00

it though and i think

play26:01

you know anyone who's a historian like

play26:03

you a teacher

play26:05

you know how necessary it is

play26:08

to let students know let your readers

play26:11

know that while you love

play26:13

these films you really don't like those

play26:15

films so much so that

play26:16

you are one of the great authorities on

play26:19

otto premanger a great director another

play26:21

man who could have been in the book

play26:23

and otto preminger i think

play26:26

i'm sure you think is a lot better than

play26:29

stanley kramer

play26:30

a director with whom he could be

play26:32

compared because they'd take on big

play26:35

social political juice and perimeter is

play26:38

just streets ahead

play26:39

you know that's my opinion i think it

play26:42

goes too

play26:44

far more sophisticated yes absolutely

play26:47

but

play26:47

i did notice with the me too culture

play26:51

did in there was a discomfort

play26:55

when you were writing about lewis

play26:57

boomwell

play26:58

who would certainly not pass the me to

play27:01

test at least in terms of his subject

play27:04

matter i don't know about his private

play27:05

life

play27:06

but his subject matter yeah you

play27:09

do describe some delicious scenes in

play27:11

bloom well

play27:12

well these foods would not pass the

play27:15

current litmus test

play27:16

there's a i certainly felt this while i

play27:19

was doing the book you asked about a

play27:20

particular moment

play27:22

i knew that i had to do lewis benoit

play27:25

because

play27:26

he's almost the inventor of surreal

play27:28

cinema

play27:29

and a personal favorite

play27:32

and i knew i had to write about bel de

play27:34

jour which probably

play27:36

one of his two or three favorite films

play27:38

for me

play27:39

and i started writing about bel du jour

play27:43

and i realized that i was

play27:46

falling into the sexual fantasy that the

play27:50

film is based upon

play27:52

and i realized and it was quite a

play27:55

shocking realization that a film that

play27:57

was made in what 1966 i think

play28:00

um i don't think that film could be made

play28:02

today

play28:03

i think it's still a masterpiece i think

play28:06

it was an extraordinary event when it

play28:08

played in 66

play28:10

i don't believe that bunuel were alive

play28:13

today

play28:14

and if catherine de niro was still the

play28:16

age she was in that film

play28:18

i don't think they'd be allowed to make

play28:20

that film

play28:21

or that it would play in our theaters

play28:24

now that

play28:25

that is a really shocking

play28:28

disturbing thing because that could

play28:31

threaten to take away

play28:34

the the fantasy roots of film

play28:37

altogether and and

play28:41

i don't know how we're going to work

play28:42

that out it's a huge

play28:44

approach if we submit romance and

play28:47

sexuality

play28:48

to the litmus test of political

play28:50

correctness

play28:51

we may throw the whole thing out the

play28:53

window nothing will be acceptable

play28:55

foster i have a serious fear

play28:59

that the thing you and i probably love

play29:01

the most

play29:03

could be thrown out the window i think

play29:05

that i think that we're in a culture

play29:07

that could say well you know

play29:10

i don't think we need the movies we're

play29:12

going to move

play29:14

and and you know we have to remember the

play29:16

movies came out of nowhere

play29:18

for centuries in our history we didn't

play29:21

know what they were

play29:22

we didn't know what a photograph is and

play29:25

a lot of what we're talking about comes

play29:26

from the nature and the origin

play29:28

of the photograph itself the thing that

play29:31

you can hold up in your hand as a piece

play29:33

of reality

play29:34

and dream about it and just as

play29:38

films came into being i seriously

play29:41

believe

play29:42

they could go out and be the automobile

play29:45

you know i mean america for decades

play29:49

believe the automobile was as vital as

play29:53

anything else in the society i think

play29:55

it's quite possible

play29:56

we can see it now the automobile could

play30:00

go

play30:02

and you know it's not that there won't

play30:04

be substitutes for it

play30:06

but transportation in the broadest sense

play30:09

but the damage the automobile has done

play30:11

to us

play30:13

it may kill us more surely than all the

play30:16

wars put together

play30:17

so you know this

play30:20

this enterprise we're in can be

play30:24

overtaken by

play30:25

change quicker than you can imagine and

play30:27

we're talking about

play30:29

the pandemic and people not going to

play30:30

theaters and people

play30:32

may not ever return to theaters in the

play30:35

same number as before

play30:37

out of the habit good as you're saying

play30:39

good good material on tv

play30:41

better than what you pay 15 or 20

play30:43

dollars for at the theater

play30:44

i was mentioning beforehand not very

play30:46

tactful of me i went to see

play30:48

i'm ashamed to admit godzilla in 3d

play30:52

because i love 3d i hated the movie

play30:54

there was nobody in a big theater

play30:56

three people i went to see the father

play30:59

recently in san francisco film i like

play31:02

very very much

play31:04

and i went with my wife and there was

play31:07

one other person

play31:08

in the theater and you know people are

play31:10

saying oh i can't wait to go back

play31:12

to theaters in fact it's been possible

play31:15

to go back to theaters for some time

play31:17

people are not going

play31:18

and they're not going we're not going i

play31:21

was delighted

play31:22

throughout the book you have a wonderful

play31:23

balance between telling us a

play31:26

little bit about the biography of each

play31:29

of the main directors you write about

play31:31

and the connection between biography and

play31:34

work

play31:35

to what extent does it become a

play31:39

challenge

play31:39

in the current moment to give the

play31:42

director

play31:43

a pass on being a good person in order

play31:46

to be able to

play31:47

discuss his work what if the director is

play31:50

a monster

play31:51

i think most people would have said

play31:52

fritz long was not a nice guy

play31:54

he you even intimate he may have killed

play31:56

his first wife

play31:57

he made some great movies does one thing

play32:00

have any impact on the other

play32:01

can't we appreciate his films and say he

play32:04

wasn't a very good person

play32:06

well look we we have two directors at

play32:10

least

play32:12

alive more or less working

play32:15

or ready to work polanski

play32:18

and woody allen um

play32:22

i think they both had extremely variable

play32:24

careers

play32:25

but i believe both of them

play32:29

made some great films and i

play32:32

personally refuse to

play32:35

outlaw them on the grounds of what we

play32:38

think we know about them

play32:41

i i've always thought that woody allen

play32:44

is a

play32:46

dark secretive person i i think in the

play32:49

same way polanski is a dark

play32:52

outrageous person uh

play32:56

i've lived enough in the world of film

play33:01

to know that most directors are tough

play33:03

ruthless

play33:04

selfish and with a pretty bad track

play33:08

record

play33:08

personally and i

play33:12

will not throw the whole nature of

play33:15

cinema

play33:15

out because it has encouraged some bad

play33:20

people

play33:22

it's deeply vexing problem um and

play33:26

and i mean i don't i suspect

play33:29

in new york at the moment a theater

play33:32

showing a woody allen film would

play33:34

probably

play33:35

be picketed even one of woolly allen's

play33:39

great films and there are

play33:40

i think there are there are a number

play33:42

here absolutely great films

play33:45

and this is a man who has not been

play33:48

charged and convicted

play33:52

of anything uh he may have behaved

play33:55

strangely

play33:56

i i think that what happened with sunni

play33:59

was a

play34:01

pretty tasteless move i i will leave it

play34:04

at that

play34:05

uh but i've got to tell you i know

play34:08

a lot of film directors who behaved as

play34:10

badly in the past and no one ever

play34:13

noticed or spoke about it because the

play34:15

climate was completely

play34:17

different but does it does that

play34:20

knowledge that we think we have

play34:23

force us or compel us to re-evaluate the

play34:26

work

play34:27

in the light of personal revelations

play34:31

i would say fundamentally no i think it

play34:34

can enrich

play34:35

your understanding of the work take

play34:38

howard hawks

play34:40

howard hawkes made films that were

play34:43

universally found to be entertaining

play34:46

howard hawks was a chronic womanizer

play34:50

uh if you knew every detail about how he

play34:53

treated everyone he had

play34:55

sex with it's when it comes to i think

play34:57

you'd be

play34:58

horrified the films are still hilarious

play35:03

brilliant smart and i'm not going to say

play35:06

they're not

play35:07

just because of that possibility that

play35:10

private side to it

play35:14

people are people and

play35:18

sooner or later most people do something

play35:21

they're ashamed of

play35:23

but i'll be i'll be entering too

play35:25

judgmental and puritanical a period

play35:28

we certainly are we're losing a sense of

play35:31

humor even a sense of

play35:32

balance or proportion i agree with you

play35:35

entirely and

play35:36

and i mean a lot of what you're talking

play35:39

about

play35:39

is generally described as the liberal

play35:42

interpretation of these

play35:44

people's lives don't forget

play35:47

what that prejudice could look like

play35:50

if it was taken over by illiberal forces

play35:54

and then your room you're reminding

play35:56

yourself

play35:57

of the way in germany in the 30s and in

play36:00

the world controlled by germany later

play36:03

people were outlawed with maximum

play36:06

prejudice

play36:08

because people disapproved of how they

play36:10

behaved

play36:12

very very dangerous territory very

play36:15

dangerous

play36:15

yes to bring it to a very personal

play36:18

moment

play36:19

i had offered a course casually for next

play36:22

fall

play36:23

at the college called city boys

play36:26

the new york films of martin scorsese

play36:30

and woody allen

play36:31

great question want to take it well no

play36:34

and my

play36:34

my chair in consultation with my chair

play36:37

she said and i

play36:38

said myself i feel i've made two errors

play36:40

i can't call it city boys

play36:42

because that will offend some people the

play36:45

boys

play36:46

he said yep that should be taken out and

play36:48

i said i think

play36:49

woody allen would cause dissension i ask

play36:52

students and some of the students said i

play36:55

would pick at your course

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if you open it yes yeah i'm not offering

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the course

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well i'm sorry happening yeah but i mean

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what do

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what do you do with those students how

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how do you talk to them do you do you

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enter into an argument with them about

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it

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i i tried to tactfully i should

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i did try to do tactfully yeah i tried

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to be sensitive i said

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i don't think that's fair but we're not

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going to offer the course now because i

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didn't we have enough controversy

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but uh at school obviously i didn't want

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to go into that

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well you know it's so interesting um

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roman polanski

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is is as verboten

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as woody allen in in many respects he

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has

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a film his most recent film which i've

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not seen

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which you can't see in this country

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because he's roman

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polenski at the same time

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within the period we're talking about a

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book came out on chinatown the making of

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chinatown a very good book i thought

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bestseller i mean you know

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it's a schizophrenic attitude because i

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think most people who've seen it

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know that chinatown was a fabulous

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film a wonderful portrait of la and of

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america at a certain time

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and yet i don't know that you could play

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it in a movie theater

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for those reasons very bizarre situation

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now not that i want to fall into being

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guilty of what i'm accusing

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others of but i did have a difficult

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moment

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at one point in the book yeah with you

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yeah when you i perceived it

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as a defense of laini riefenstral

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i understand she is a powerful filmmaker

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but i feel she used her art in the

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service of evil

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and that she was guilty

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um i mean we're playing out the

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the issues we've just been talking about

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i

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i drew lenny riefenstahl in

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to the part of the book where i was

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talking about female directors and one

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of the reasons i did was because

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it's not only that she was a most

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remarkable cinematic stylist

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she made a film in

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which she told the nazi party

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how to stage its rally so that she could

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make the film

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she wanted that's breathtaking

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nerve and confidence and goal

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you know i mean not many people messed

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around with those guys

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when they wanted something she did

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i think triumph of the world is a

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terrifying film

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although it's impossible for me

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not to see it in a post-1945

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feeling we know what that led to

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therefore we immediately say well

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the film is evil i'm not sure the film

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is evil

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i'm not sure the film is so different

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from a number of films that were made in

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america in the 30s

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and that are being made now because

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there is a fascistic

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element in the celebration of force

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and uniforms and guns that has always

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been there

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in film i understand exactly what you're

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saying about trump

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the will um

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i would say though on the other hand and

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i suspect you'd agree

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that historically culturally every

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angle you can think of we have to keep

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looking at triumph with the will

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yeah oh i agree i would never want to

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silence to understand

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what happened show it to classes all the

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time

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yeah never never dream of censoring that

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film or laney reference troll

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while saying i don't approve of her but

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i would never censor her

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no if you feel i was defending her then

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i

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i take that very seriously and and uh

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you may well be right and i made a

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mistake i didn't mean to defend

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her i've tried to say what i was trying

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to do

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but you are a very sensitive and smart

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reader and if you were offended and

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troubled i take that seriously

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maybe i need to go back and

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but i do want to talk about our our uh

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very decided difference over howard

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hawks whom you love

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i really appreciate your love i've

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re-read with great relish your chapter

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you communicate exactly what it is you

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like about him

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if i tell you that my favorite howard

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hawks film is land of the pharaohs

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you'll know where i stand with regard to

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howard hawks

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yes i don't get him i don't get it i

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like

play42:07

land of the pharaohs and the thing

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bringing up baby drives me wild

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i i i i can't i can't tolerate it

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why does it drive you wild because i

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mean you know it's fabulously

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written it's beautifully directed and

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organized

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you know cary grant and catherine

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hepburn are

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god she gets on my nerves she does

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did she always get on your nerves or

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just in that i don't think so my

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favorite

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katherine hepburn performance is

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suddenly last summer

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oh wow well we do have big differences

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i find her so shrill and so i find it

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forced

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yeah um and if if howard hawks

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ideal woman is lauren mccall

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he and i don't have the same tastes i

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think

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he idealized nearly every woman he ever

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met

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but what about you but you i i love the

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chapter because your

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your passion for this director comes you

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explain it so clearly and crisply with

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such

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verve i just don't share the enthusiasm

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but what do you think of land of the

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pharaohs which i love

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i i'll tell you about me and land of the

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pharaohs i have not seen it since it

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came out

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okay see it again in a beautiful scope

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screen

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i will i will it's written by william

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faulkner after all

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well okay we'll take that with a grain

play43:39

of salt i think but yeah

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and we look at it again yes i do now you

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do you have a list of

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films in one chapter

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and i was fascinated by the list of

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films that have dated

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and become stale and don't work anymore

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but they were very acclaimed during

play43:56

their time

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including gentleman's agreement um

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going my way marty um

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gigi ben hur bridge on the river kwai

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the quiet man

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and some of that list i would couldn't

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agree with you more

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but i must defend gigi ben hur

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and bridget on the river why i think

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those hold up

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and they do what they're supposed to be

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doing okay musical a great epic and a

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great warfare

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well we are a perfect odd couple in many

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respects

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can't change your mind about it but you

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make the point that all of those films

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are so settled in this point of view

play44:38

that they're again there's no ambiguity

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or mystery or room

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for discussion they're so clear about

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what they're going to be doing

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i've also got to say that that um

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i don't want to offend anyone but

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biblical films are the end of the road

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for me

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and and i there's none of them i like

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and you know um

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that we have a bible as a book to read

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that's fine

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but i i really do not like the way it's

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been turned into so many

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terrible films and um you know

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it's very interesting as you know benjo

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was a huge hit when it came out

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it won so many oscars you try finding

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someone who's seen ben hur lately

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uh i i think a lot of the films that are

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in that list

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gigi may be an exception i don't know

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people who see bridge on the river kwai

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anymore uh gentlemen's agreement i

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equally i i i don't know i may be wrong

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but i i think i think films are made for

play45:48

now

play45:49

always and they date very fast

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and what's so wonderful about the medium

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is that some of them

play45:56

are still fresh 100 years later

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some some some retain their freshness

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and the two of us could agree that

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they're still great

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there are those films there are those

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films a big thing

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there are those films i i was very happy

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with your

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chapter on hitchcock which seems to me

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very fair you

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you praise his genius for what it is not

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more not less

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and don't allow the the rhetoric the

play46:26

meteor rhetoric to interfere

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with the best of the work i can't wait

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for your book because obviously

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hitchcock is at his best in the 50s

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absolutely and i make that point

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i'm sure and i really want to see what

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you're going to say

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and i will get you a show and i will

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hold your feet to the fire

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okay okay uh

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marge i think we can open the floor to

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questions from the house

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great thank you so much um

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one question i had for david is out of

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the news

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what do you make of mgm getting bought

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by amazon

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and what does that mean for films

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well it's a sign of the time so to say i

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mean for

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foster and me and for many others

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mgm was like the flagship of the golden

play47:21

age of hollywood

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and to have it passing into this kind of

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ownership

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is it's sad it's inevitable

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i mean what it really means is the

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reason they have

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bought mgm is that they are buying the

play47:38

library

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of films and particularly tv shows

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that uh mgm possesses

play47:47

which will then pass into streaming

play47:51

through amazon's platform and that's why

play47:54

they've done it

play47:55

it's amazing that they're putting as

play47:57

much money as they are into it because

play47:59

that indicates they think

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people are going to watch these films

play48:04

and shows for

play48:06

at least 10 years to make a profit for

play48:09

them

play48:10

and you know one has to respect the

play48:13

people at amazon on

play48:14

making that kind of decision because

play48:16

that's what they're good at

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um i think it will

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be a little less likely that amazon

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makes

play48:25

interesting movies which they like to

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say they're in the business

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of doing i think they're going to peddle

play48:33

that library

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very hard and they're going to make more

play48:36

product

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that will go into that library in the

play48:39

same way

play48:41

thank you a question from freddie tv

play48:44

movies are showing more international

play48:46

married couples

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do you see this expanding into more

play48:48

widescreen movies

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it better i watched the pelican brief

play48:57

again recently if you remember the film

play48:59

in which

play49:00

denzel washington and julia roberts

play49:03

are in partnership to solve a crime

play49:08

it's it's a routine film but it's okay

play49:10

it's watchable

play49:11

but it cries out

play49:15

for those two to at least kiss

play49:19

at the end they've become pals they've

play49:22

they're fond of each other the audience

play49:24

i think is begging for it

play49:27

and whenever that film was made 1990s

play49:29

sometime i can't remember exactly

play49:31

it was deemed that they should not do it

play49:33

the there's a hug but that's it

play49:36

and for god's sake you know

play49:40

we've got to get on with life as a

play49:42

reality

play49:43

yes there should be more and more

play49:45

interracial marriage which will of

play49:46

course lead to more and more interracial

play49:48

divorce

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because we cannot believe and kill

play49:51

ourselves that america

play49:53

is simply content with marriage but yes

play49:56

more more and susannah has a really good

play49:59

question the old

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who do you want to have dinner with

play50:01

three directors living or dead who would

play50:03

you want to

play50:04

oh three directors living or dead

play50:08

okay well i would say jean renoir the

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frenchman because i think he was one of

play50:12

the warmest most humane

play50:14

people i'm gonna go for howard hawks

play50:18

and i think i'm gonna go for jane

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campion who is

play50:21

the female director of the last decade

play50:25

that i've been most

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moved and excited by so i would go for

play50:28

those three

play50:31

any questions anybody from the floor

play50:38

uh ted asks what do you make of super

play50:40

films

play50:42

um are they targeting their only

play50:44

marketable demographic

play50:46

here's what i feel i think the medium is

play50:49

super

play50:50

and i don't think the heroes need to be

play50:53

super

play50:54

i like i like films about people who

play50:57

remind me

play50:58

of me not

play51:01

stick figures born and dressed in

play51:05

armor all their lives i i i i have great

play51:10

deal of trouble with superhero films

play51:14

thor though kenneth branagh had

play51:18

great reaction did very well