“On Cinema: Alexander Payne” at New York Film Festival
On October 15 the New York Film Festival presented “On Cinema: Alexander Payne,” in which the director (“Election,” “About Schmidt,” “Sideways” and the soon to be released “The Descendants”) talked about influential films in his life. The event was sponsored by HBO, moderated by NYFF Selection Committee Chairman Richard Pena and took place in the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater.
Payne proved to be an affable, frank and intelligent subject who frequently turned Pena’s questions around, playfully shooting them back at his interviewer. Interspersed throughout the talk, Payne showed clips from four influential films: Anthony Mann’s “The Naked Spur,” Michelangelo Antonioni’s “La Notte,” Martin Scorsese’s “Casino” and Akira Kurosawa’s “Red Beard.” Payne also brought a 16m print of an early film by director Carroll Ballard, “The Perils of Priscilla,” a lively, imaginative short which showed the world from the point of view of an abandoned house cat. Payne said it was one of the best movies ever made.
Payne began by talking about growing up in Omaha and the fact his mother took him to all kinds of movies, regardless of ratings. Payne admitted, with some embarrassment, that the movie with which he first fell in love, and saw several times, was “The Sound of Music.” Through the influence of his brother, Payne soon graduated to films like “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” “Cool Hand Luke” and “One Eyed Jacks.” His biggest exposure to art house films occurred in college.
Before screening a clip from “The Naked Spur,” Payne described the film as, “the perfect mix of western and noir.” He said Mann was, “an expert at keeping the viewer’s attention on the actors, the drama and the emotions in the foreground, while always providing spectacular backgrounds, always in deep focus.”
Payne also talked about the wise choice it was for actor James Stewart to not be concerned with his “nice guy” movie star persona, choosing instead to play darker characters in Mann’s westerns, as well as in the films Stewart made with Alfred Hitchcock. “It’s good when stars who have that inner goodness (like Stewart) are cast as sons of bitches,” Payne offered, offering that, as a result, Stewart had a career that lasted for the rest of his life.
Payne introduced Antonioni’s film “La Notte” as “The one Antonioni film in which I fall asleep the least,” a comment which elicited big laughs from the audience. Payne defended his comment by explaining that falling asleep was part of the experience of seeing an Antonioni film. Payne said he would re-watch Antonioni’s films and, hopefully, would not fall asleep during the same parts. He showed the ending of “La Notte” as an example of “one of the all time great endings.” Payne praised Antonioni as a director “who could make a film about a feeling.”
Payne introduced a clip from Scorsese’s “Casino” describing at as “the under appreciated masterpiece that it is.” While he pointed out that most people prefer Scorsese’s film “Goodfellas,” Payne said, “There’s something about “Casino” that gets under my skin.” He said he particularly admires the film’s first 40 minutes. He said the first 40 minutes of “Casino” are something he uses to unwind with after a long day, calling “Casino” a “chicken soup” film. After screening the clip from “Casino,” Payne talked about the sense of rhythm in the film’s editing which blends with the film’s use of pop music and voice over. Payne said he loves voice over in movies because he loves being told a story. “Voice over is one of the greatest contributions of talking cinema,” Payne said. He went on to give examples of what he termed great “voice over” films: “Sunset Boulevard,” “A Clockwork Orange” and “Barry Lyndon.”
Payne introduced a clip from Kurosawa’s “Red Beard” describing it as “a really fierce film about how people should simply be nice to each other.” He described Kurosawa as “less interested in being ‘nice,’ but very interested in being ‘kind.’” Payne described “Red Beard” as a coming of age story about a young physician learning about compassion.
Payne ended the event by expressing his thanks to Pena for having his film, “The Descendants,” as part of the festival. It will be the closing night film on October 16.
Posted on October 16, 2011, in Feature Articles, New York Film Festival 2011 and tagged 16mm, A Clockwork Orange, Alexander Payne, Anthony Mann, Barry Lyndon, Casino, Cool Hand Luke, HBO, James Stewart, La Notte, Martin Scorsese, Michelangelo Antonioni, New York Film Festival 2011, One Eyed Jacks, Red Beard, Richard Pena, Sunset Boulevard, The Bad and the Ugly, The Descendants, The Good, The Naked Spur, The Perils of Priscilla, The Sound of Music. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.