Tuesday, 26 April 2011

City of Angels: The Studios, Part 2: Paramount


In its heyday Paramount was nicknamed “the country club of the Hollywood Studios”, and by looking at the photos, revealing the beautifully manicured lawns, it becomes evident why. However, the nickname doesn’t just refer to the studio’s impeccably maintained grounds, but also to Paramount’s output of films, which were rivalling the sleek and polished look MGM’s pictures were known for, but also belied the fact that, as film-historian Andrew Sarris puts it, “the films of Lubitsch, Sternberg, Wilder, McCarey, and Leisen have put a gloss on the Paramount logo that the bulk of its productions doesn’t deserve”.

Paramount’s founding father, Adolph Zukor was a true film pioneer. A Hungarian-Jewish immigrant, he arrived in the United States in 1888, barely sixteen years old.
Hooking up with distant family members, who had settled in New York a few years earlier, Zukor started out in the fur business before he began investing in a Penny Arcade, located on New York’s Union Square as early 1903, the year Edwin S. Porter directed his groundbreaking film The Great Train Robbery.

Adolph Zukor

Moving with the times, Zukor switched to Nickelodeons, and later combined vaudeville with one-reelers, until in 1912 he had the trailblazing idea of turning a stage play, Queen Elizabeth, starring the legendary actress Sarah Bernhard, into a feature-length film. Although filmed statically, with the camera fixed on a tripod, the film was a raging success, leading to the foundation of the Famous Players Film Company, named after the company’s motto to film “famous players starring in famous plays”.

Mary Pickford, dubbed America's Sweetheart

At about that time Mary Pickford, who had already been working with David Wark Griffith, starred with great success in a Broadway play, A Good Little Devil, which is why he decided to sign her, thus establishing the contract system, which later would be adapted, and pushed to the limit, by all the big studios. With Edison’s Motion Picture Patents Company still pulling the strings in the fledgling film business, Zukor successfully joined Carl Laemmle and William Fox in challenging Edison’s power, and asserted himself as one of the industry’s leading figures. While Zukor was building his first film studio on 26th Street in New York, another bunch of film pioneers, led by Cecil B. DeMille and Jesse Lasky was busy getting Hollywood’s first feature length film, The Squaw Man, off the ground.

Cecil B. DeMille, the Steven Spielberg of his day

A few years later, in 1916, Zukor merged his Famous Players Company with DeMille and Lasky’s Jesse Lasky Feature Play Company, and together they founded Famous Players Lasky, with Zukor as president, DeMille as director and Goldwyn as chairman, the latter of whom would soon drop out to go into business with the Selwyn Brothers.
Famous Players Lasky’s films were distributed by Paramount Pictures, a distributing company founded by W.W. Hodkinson, through which the newly founded Famous Players-Lasky made their films accessible to the public.

As with every industry, its infancy is usually marked by a myriad of sudden changes and takeovers, the film business being no exception. Zukor, always a few steps ahead of his competitors, soon began to realise the advantages of a vertically operated film company and swallowed Hodkinson’s Paramount Pictures, allowing him to combine production, distribution and exhibition all under the same roof. His new company, now called Paramount, quickly signed another fleet of rising stars, among them the now forgotten William S. Hart, Douglas Fairbanks, Clara Bow, and Fatty Arbuckle, enabling Zukor to increase his output of films, of which only some were big, prestigious productions. However, by shrewdly inventing the so-called block-booking system, which also would later find its way into the other film companies, he forced exhibitors to take the smaller, less prestigious pictures in order to get the big ones.

Continuing to acquire various theatre chains (which later, with the Government Decree in 1950 would backfire), the company grew steadily, establishing itself as the largest movie corporation in the United States, operating unrivalled until the foundation of MGM in 1924.

With Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford creating their own company, United Artists, in 1919, and a handful of other stars gone as well, it was Gloria Swanson who, by becoming De Mille’s muse and starring in hits like Male And Female (1919), and The Affairs Of Anatol (1921), became temporarily Queen of the lot, and Paramount’s biggest draw, along with Valentino, whose films The Sheik (1921) and Blood And Sand (1922) were huge hits, ensuring Paramount’s constant expansion. In 1926, the company moved from its location on Sunset and Vine to its present location on Melrose and Gower. B.P. Schulberg (Budd Schulberg’s father) was hired as the new head of production.

The man with the cigar: Ernst Lubitsch

This was a clever move, for it was Schulberg who signed directors like Josef von Sternberg, Ernst Lubitsch, and William Wellman, whose film, Wings (1927) went on to win the first Academy Award for Best Picture. And it was Sternberg, who, while on a loan-out to UFA Studios in Berlin, Germany, with which Paramount was affiliated, brought his newly found muse Marlene Dietrich to the US, with one of the famous 7-year- studio-contract stashed in her pocket.

Berlin import: Marlene Dietrich, seen here in Paramount's Shanghai Express (1932)

Box-offices receipts peaked in 1930, before they dropped sharply as the country was ravaged by the Great Depression. Of the many stars Paramount had under contract, it was Mae West whose films, I’m No Angel (1933) and She Done Him wrong (1933), helped substantially to see the company through those meagre years. With the company in serious trouble, solutions to help Paramount were few and far between. As a result of the slump in business, Paramount went bankrupt, and in 1932 Schulberg and Lasky were ousted, and Barny Balaban was named president, a position he would hold for almost thirty years, with Adolph Zukor himself being pushed into the harmless position of chairman of the board of the reorganised company.

A number of production chiefs were brought in to help Paramount to get back on its feet, and at one time the post fell to Ernst Lubitsch, who held the job down for a year (1935-36), before he ran into roadblocks and went back again to his old job as a director. And even though it wasn’t Lubitsch himself who brought Billy Wilder on board, it was the screenplays Wilder and his colleague wrote for Lubitsch, and also for Mitchell Leisen, that turned out to become some of the biggest Paramount hits during the late 1930s.

Polish film poster for Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Poster for Wilder's Double Indemnity (1944), which he co-wrote with Raymond Chandler

Other outstanding directors during that period included Preston Sturges, Leo McCarey, and the unsinkable Cecil B. DeMille, whose films, even though their artistic merits might be somewhat doubtful, were money in the bank. By the mid-1940s, with Sturges and Lubitsch gone, Wilder had established himself as the leading force on the lot, becoming one of Paramount’s most prolific and successful directors. His films Double Indemnity (1944), The Lost Weekend (1946), and Sunset Boulevard (1950), not only won the studio praise and a handful of Academy Awards, but they were also among the studio’s biggest money makers during that period.

With the multitude of cinemas Paramount owned, it was hardly a surprise that the studio suffered greatly from the Government Consent Decree, issued in 1950, that forced the studios to separate themselves from their theatre chains. The introduction of television at around that time made matters worse, prompting millions of Americans to stay home and enjoy the pleasures of the new medium. As a response to lure the audience back into the cinemas, most big Hollywood Studios launched a wide screen system, which in Paramount’s case was VistaVision, introduced in 1954 with big fanfare with the musical White Christmas, featuring Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby.

The famous RKO globe on the corner of Gower and Melrose

Eventually, Paramount took over the adjacent RKO studios, which had previously belonged to Howard Hughes and Lucille Ball, who co-owned them with her husband Desi Arnaz. Having painted over the famous RKO trademark globe, thereby erasing all traces of the once glorious neighbour, the globe has since been restored to its original colours.

The Bates mansion from Psycho (1960), which was built on the Universal lot where it still stands today

Alfred Hitchcock’s landmark shocker, Psycho (1960), was, even though shot on rented space on the Universal lot, essentially a Paramount production. The film, containing the most discussed and analysed scene in film history - the stabbing in the shower - went on to become a major commercial hit for Paramount as well as for Hitchcock. Shot on a shoestring budget of just over a million dollars, Psycho took in more than $9 million in American rentals.

One of the best films of all time, Chinatown (1974)

In 1966 Paramount was yet another film company that fell prey to being taken over by a big conglomeration. Gulf Western, an oil company, became the new owner, with Charles Bluhdorn as president, and Robert Evans, a former actor, as head of production. Under the valiant Evans Paramount was thriving again and the studio entered its most profitable and artistically riveting period since the 1940s. Landmark films like Rosemary’s Baby(1968), Love Story (1970), The Godfather (1971), The Godfather 2 (1974), and Chinatown (1974), were all produced under Evans’ helm. The flamboyant Evans left Paramount in 1975 to operate as independent producer, distributing his highly successful films such as Marathon Man (1976) through Paramount.

John Schlesinger's landmark thriller Marathon Man (1976)

In 1976, Paramount’s founding father Adolph Zukor died at the age of 103, having outlived all other first generation moguls.

Robert Redford’s Ordinary People won Paramount an Academy Award for best picture in 1980, repeated three years later by James L. Brooks’ high-class soap opera Terms Of Endearment (1983), which finally also won the incomparable Shirley McLaine her long-overdue best actress Oscar. Like all the other film studios, Paramount would go through a swarm of presidents and chairmen, until in 1992 Sherry Lansing was appointed Chairman of Paramount, a position she held until 2004, withstanding even the studio’s merger with Viacom in 1994. In 2005, Paramount purchased Dreamworks, which was owned by erstwhile Paramount executive Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Among the few noteworthy films Paramount has produced over the past 20 years are Lasse Hallström’s truly remarkable What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump (1994), and Peter Weir’s clever The Truman Show (1998).

Thursday, 21 April 2011

City of Angels: The Studios, Part 1: Columbia

Last year, I ran a series on Los Angeles and how it became the film capital of the world. The series included postings on Santa Monica, Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Downtown LA and a detailed look into Hollywood Boulevard, which is Hollywood's main artery and lnked, in more than just one way, to the birth and the history of American Film.

You can find all articles of that series if you go to archives > 2010 > and search for City of Angels.

What follows is the continuation that series, discussing the hubs of the movie capital: The studios, starting with Columbia.


What today is called the Sunset & Gower studios - located, as the name suggests, on the corner of Sunset Blvd. and Gower Street - used to be the headquarters of Columbia Pictures.

Founded in 1924, Columbia Pictures emerged from the CBC (Cohn-Brandt-Cohn) Film Sales Company, headed by Jack and Harry Cohn and their business partner Joe Brandt, all three having previously worked for Carl Laemmle’s Universal. Setting up shop on Sunset and Gower, Harry became head of the studio, while his brother, Jack, joined by Joe Brandt, operated from New York, pulling the business strings of the infant company. Known as a so-called poverty row studio, Columbia churned out cheap fare, and the films were forgotten as quickly as they were made.

Unlike its rivals at Paramount, United Artists or MGM, Columbia had very few actors and directors under contract, as Cohn preferred to hire them for one-picture deals.
However, in 1927 Harry signed up a young, ambitious director of Italian descent, Frank Capra, whose biggest dream it was to make films, which is why he didn’t mind being paid a mere $1.000 per picture by the miserly Cohn. Cohn soon realised that by hiring the enthusiastic Capra he was tapping into a gold mine, as it turned out that all of Capra's pictures made money, enabling the studio to expand.

In the meantime, ensuing business conflicts between the head-office in New York and the Los Angeles operated studio prompted Joe Brandt to resign which subsequently made Harry Cohn the Olympian figure at Columbia, being the president as well as the studio boss, making brother Jack the studio’s vice-president.

With Capra producing one hit after another, Columbia gained momentum in 1934 when his film It Happened One Night won all five major awards at that year’s Oscar Ceremony, including Best Picture, turning Columbia into a major studio in a snap. But It Happened One Night also won Oscars for its leads, Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable, who were both on loan-out to Columbia, Colbert being under contract to Paramount and Gable coming from MGM, the latter having been lent to Cohn by Louis B. Mayer with the intention to put him in his place, as Gable had grown far too arrogant for Mayer’s liking. And thus, as a means to punish him, Mayer sent Gable “to Siberia”, as Columbia was referred to, hoping that this would teach him a lesson. Little did Mayer suspect, however, that Gable would win the coveted Oscar, returning from Siberia not only with an ego-boost but also with substantial box-office clout, which the shrewd Mayer quickly turned into hard cash.

Even though a lot has been written about Harry Cohn and his shenanigans - his stinginess, and his office which was reportedly modelled after the Duce’s, whom Cohn greatly admired - fact remains that Cohn was a very committed studio boss, known to give those directors whom he trusted a lot of leeway, and it can be said that both actors as well as directors enjoyed a kind of freedom that a larger studio seldom permitted. As Capra himself put it, “A handshake from Cohn is worth more than a signature from most other Hollywood studio bosses”.

The fact that during the second of the 1930s, Cohn was instrumental in helping newly arrived refugees from Europe find a job in the thriving film community, is also worth mentioning. Having already persuaded Jack Warner and L.B. Mayer to take on some of the writers such as Friedrich Torberg, Lenhard Frank, Alfred Polgar, and Jan Lustig, to name but a few, given Cohn’s poor reputation in Hollywood, Paul Kohner didn’t expect the temperamental Columbia boss to take very well to the idea. However, not to be outdone, Cohn topped Jack Warner and L.B. Mayer, who had agreed to take on four and six writers respectively, by hiring ten writers and offering them a one-year contract ... or so the story goes ...!

Weathering the storms of the Depression, thanks to Frank Capra, who continued his unrivalled reign at Columbia - his ‘Capra-corn’ raking in millions at the box office - until his resignation in 1939. The studio had its first major female contract player when Cohn signed Rita Hayworth in 1938, turning her into Columbia’s major asset and eventually one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. Before Hayworth entered the scene, the comely Jean Arthur had been the studio’s leading lady during the 1930s, but she never took to the autocratic studio-chief, and the two of them often clashed, eventually leading to their separation.

Outside Capra’s films, which garnered Oscar Nominations during the 1930s year after year, Cohn continued hiring directors as well as actors on a one-picture deal basis, landing hits with Leo McCarey’s The Awful Truth (1938), or George Cukor’s Holiday (1939). With Capra gone, and with Rita Hayworth, who was treated with kid-gloves by Cohn, as the studio’s only draw, the 1940s were a rather sorry time for Columbia. Her films, Cover Girl(1941), You Were Never Lovelier (1942), and the sultry film-noir Gilda (1946) became Columbia’s bread and butter, doing well critically as well as commercially.
But even though the year 1950 spelled the end of the studio era and the dawn of the Television Age, things were looking up again when in 1949 Robert Rossen’s All The King’s Men scored an Oscar for Best Picture, and a year later Judy Holiday walked away with the Best Actress Oscar for Columbia’s Born Yesterday, much to the distress of fellow-nominees Bette Davis and Gloria Swanson.

With no theatre chain to speak of, Columbia wasn’t affected by the US Government’s Consent Decree, which forced all the big studios to divest themselves of their film theatres, and, unlike most other studios, ergo was protected from a further slump in business. Also, the astute Cohn, having seen the writing on the TV screen, was one of the first studio bosses to venture into the new medium, creating a subsidiary, Screen Gems, that was operated by Jack’s son, Ralph, and would soon turn out huge profits.

In 1952 Columbia landed another huge hit with From Here to Eternity, which was showered with Oscars, repeated a few years later by Elia Kazan’s masterpiece On The Waterfront, Elia Kazan having already done the studio proud by earning laudatory reviews - and a handful of Academy Awards - for his screen adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire in 1951. Much less praiseworthy than his films was Kazan’s stance during Hollywood’s red baiting. Pressured by the House of Un-American Activities Committee, he famously agreed to name names in order to keep working, which left a great many of his disciples disappointed with the great director’s poor character.

Harry Cohn, the man who had said "I don’t have ulcers – I give them!", was operated for cancer in 1954, his recovery being aggravated by Jack’s death in 1956. But the show went on, and astute business man that he was, Cohn started investing in British films, which would prove highly successful in the years to come, for The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957), as well as a few years later Lawrence Of Arabia (1960) were both lavished with praise and awards alike. An era came to an end when Harry died in 1958, leaving the studio in the hands of Sam Briskin, a former collaborator of Cohn. With Harry Cohn hated as much as he was during his lifetime, there was some well-founded concern that hardly anybody would show up for his funeral, which is why Columbia staff was reportedly requested to attend. However, when the crowd at the then-named Hollywood Memorial Cemetery turned out to be much bigger than expected, a Columbia staff-member famously quipped, “As Cohn always said, Give people what they want, and they come!”

But as with most other studios, whose bosses perished along with the era they created, things would never be the same again at Columbia. And although Cohn sure wasn’t an easy man, he was nevertheless somebody who knew - and loved - the picture business inside out, which is something that cannot be said about the majority of his successors. The year Harry died Columbia was in the reds for the first time in history, but soon got back on its feet again when A Man For All Seasons (1960), and Oliver! (1968) won multiple Oscars which also translated into respectable box-office receipts.

Columbia abandoned its Sunset & Gower headquarters in 1972 to settle permanently in Burbank, adjacent to Warner Brothers. Their former lot was sold to a private bidder who named it somewhat unimaginatively The Sunset And Gower Studios.

In 1973, the year the studio had its worst annual loss, Columbia was saved from bankruptcy by Herbert Allen Jr., who obtained ownership and subsequently named Alan Hirschfield and David Begelman heads of the studio.

After having led Columbia to a couple of hits like Warren Beatty’s Shampoo(1973) and Spielberg’s Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1978), Begelman was accused of having embezzled large sums of money and subsequently resigned, followed soon after by Hirschfield, details of which can be read in Julia Philips’ no-holds-barred tale, You’ll never Eat Lunch In This Town Again.

Replaced by Frank Price, who came from Universal’s Television Division, he went on to produce a string of profitable and critically acclaimed pictures, like Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), and Tootsie (1982).

The Coca-Cola Company purchased the studio in 1984, picking British producer David Putnam as chairman in 1986, only to be ousted a year later when Columbia merged with Tri-Star, which opted for Dawn Steel instead. It took the Coca-Cola Company three years to realise that selling films is not quite the same as selling soft drinks, and in 1987, disenchanted with toiling in films, they sold Columbia Pictures - an American Institution- to the Sony Corporation of Japan. Sony relocated to Culver City after acquiring the former MGM headquarters and combined both operations - Columbia/ Tristar and Sony Pictures - renaming their alliance, Sony Pictures Corporation.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Cannes Film Festival, 11 - 22 May 2011

There are few things left in life that are as predictable as the Competition line-up of the Cannes Film Festival. Almodovar, von Trier, van Sant, Allen, Ceylan, Cavalier, Malick, Moretti. While these are all great film makers, no doubt, should it not be the aim of a film festival to discover new talent, to give new directors a showcase for their films? Granted, there are a number of relatively new names to be found in thus year's line-up, yet the surprises are few and far between.

What Berlin doesn't have enough of, Cannes is having in spades - glamour and big names. But to bank on glamour and big names only, means turning what once was the world's most prestigious film festival into yet another star-studded extravaganza which may draw gazillions of paparazzi and attract coverage from (all the wrong) media while increasingly missing the point of a film festival in the process. The focus on glitz and glamour is almost blatantly reflected in the poster which - admittedly - is beautiful. Very stylish. Very tasteful. Very Cannes. It shows a still of Faye Dunaway - in her day, one of the most beautiful actresses I can think of and, as all blog-followers will know, also a longtime favourite of mine - in Puzzle of a Downfall Child, a film from 1967 by Dunaway's then-lover Jerry Schatzberg. Schatzberg's film - then also shown in Cannes - is about the downsides of being a model. Dunaway's role in the film anticipated the scandals and the notoriety that would surround Kate Moss some 30 years on. The poster aptly, and almost ironically, symbolises the shift of focus in what the Cannes Film Festival is all about. No longer a mere film festival for the sake of it, to celebrate film as art - today, Cannes is a free-for-all for anybody who has sufficient clout - not to mention dough - to generate headlines and ensure a maximum of coverage. Media coverage translates into cold hard cash in the form of ads, commercials, and most of all: Sponsors. As such, it is indeed a reflection of the world we're living in where it's all about money, marketing and packaging, while substance and content have been relegated to the back burner ...

Opening Film

Woody ALLEN, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (Out of Competition)






















Gus VAN SANT, RESTLESS - Opening Film - 1h31
























Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Sydney Lumet, 1924 - 2011

It just doesn't stop - just over a week after Elizabeth Taylor's passing, another true cinema great has passed away.

While Sydney Lumet's name is not necessarily associated with the cinema of New Hollywood - as is, for instance, Arthur Penn's or Hal Ashby's - Lumet was nevertheless responsible for some of the most remarkable films of that period, many of which - such as Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon and especially Network - have since rightly become American classics.

Not only has Network always been one of my favourite Sydney Lumet films, but it actually is, in my own opinion, one of the best and most significant, films ever - period. For those who don't know it, I'd strongly advise to go and catch the DVD. Hopefully, following Lumet's passing some cinemas across the world will have the common sense to run a retrospective of Lumet's films.

Considering that Network was released in 1976, it is a film that was much ahead of its time. Watching it today, it doesn't in the least come across as dated and, in fact, seems as fresh and relevant as it did then. With Network, Lumet anticipated many other films (for instance Broadcast News, to name but a one) that tackled the topic of television and its corrupt and cynical goings-on behind the scenes and the effect it has on society at large. Lumet and his screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky crafted a screenplay so meaty, so alive, so full of cynicism and - most of all: humour - making Network a film that grabs you from the start, a unique blend between social criticism, drama, thriller, and satire. It won Faye Dunaway a much deserved Academy Award for her role as the twisted, unsound, TV producer Diane Christensen, a signature role and widely believed to be one of the most iconic and most important parts written for an actress in the 1970s. Hence, like the film as a whole, Dunaway's character is a role that was quite unusual for its time as Diane Christensen is a woman in power who does not shirk from anything to stay there. She only thinks in ratings and, of course - cold, hard cash. Yet, Lumet and Chayefsky were way too clever and subtle to portray Christensen as a one-dimensional, evil, bitch but rather as the product of a society which raises its off-spring on a constant diet of TV and all its glittering promises which it fails to keep. Christensen is as power-ridden as she's hell-bent on success. Yet she's also vulnerable and in need of male companionship. However, unforgettable is the scene when while making love with William Holden all she's able to think about are next day's TV ratings.

Sydney Lumet was a true master of the art of film-making. He's also published a book to that effect where he discusses his craft and his approach to making movies. Having read many a book about film and practical film-making, I can safely that I have read few which are so comprehensive and insightful, so easy to follow, and so logical in the way Lumet explains what film-making - to him - is all about. For all those who intend to break into movie-making, I'd also strongly recommend reading Lumet's book - aptly titled Making Movies - and in between watching some of his films!

His best are:

1. Network
2. Serpico
3. Dog Day Afternoon
4. The Verdict
5. The Pawnbroker
6. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
7. Garbo Talks
8. Running on Empty
9. 12 Angry Men
Also recommended are Murder on the Orient Express, The Wiz, and The Morning After, in which Jane Fonda plays an alcoholic accused of murder.

I'm finding it difficult nowadays to name a director whose whole body of work I admire, but Lumet has always been one of the few. That's kind of strange, because there are few directors who worked in so many genres and who were as versatile as him. Nevertheless, the quality of Lumet's films never suffered and was, in fact, almost persistently top-notch. He excelled no matter which genre he tackled. Even in his last film, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Lumet was at the top his game, coming up with a thriller the likes of which I hadn't seen in a while. Sadly and unfairly, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead went mostly unnoticed, yet it is a masterpiece in tight, edge-of-your-seat, story-telling which will leave you gaping - if you haven't seen it already!

Faye Dunaway as the TV producer from hell, Diane Christensen, in Network

Al Pacino as the cop, who single-handedly decides to take on NYPD in Serpico

Al Pacino robs a bank to pay for the sex-change of his boyfriend in Dog Day Afternoon

Sydney Lumet directing Charlotte Rampling in The Verdict

Rod Steiger as a Holocaust survivor who can't forget the past in The Pawnbroker

Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men

Friday, 8 April 2011

German Film Awards 2011

Tonight, the German Film Awards - also known as Lola, after Marlene Dietrich's iconic role in Sternberg's The Blue Angel - were awarded at Berlin's Friedrichstadt-Palast.

These are the results:

Best Film - Gold
VINCENT WILL MEER (Vincent Wants More), produced by Harald Kügler, Viola Jäger – Olga Film – director: Ralf Huettner

Bester Film - Silver
ALMANYA – Welcome to Germany, produced by Andreas Richter, Ursula Woerner, Annie Brunner – Roxy Film – director: Yasemin Samdereli

Best Film - Bronze
WER WENN NICHT WIR (If Not Us, Who), produced by zero one film, Thomas Kufus – director: Andres Veiel

Best Documentary
PINA, produced by Neue Road Movies, Wim Wenders, Gian Piero Ringel - director: Wim Wenders

Best Screenplay
Nesrin Samdereli, Yasemin Samdereli for ALMANYA – Welcome to Germany

Best Director
Tom Tykwer for Drei (Three)

Best Actress
Sophie Rois for DREI (Three)

Best Actor
Florian David Fitz for VINCENT WILL MEER (Vincent Wants More)

Best Supporting Actress
Beatriz Spelzini for DAS LIED IN MIR (The Song Inside of Me)

Best Supporting Actor
Richy Müller for POLL

Best Cinematography
Daniela Knapp for POLL

Best Editing
Mathilde Bonnefoy for DREI (Three)

Best Production Design
Silke Buhr for POLL

Best Costumes
Gioia Raspé for POLL

Best Make-Up
Kitty Kratschke, Heike Merker for GOETHE!

Best Score
Matthias Klein for DAS LIED IN MIR (The Song Inside of me)

Red carpet arrivals tonight, outside the Friedrichstadt-Palast:

Alexander Fehling:

Aylin Tezel:

Anastasia Zampounidis:

Jasmin Tabatabai and Andreas Pietschmann:

Bruno Ganz and Iris Berben:

Dani Levy and Sabine Lidl:

Lisa Martinek and Guiglio Ricciarelli

Kostja Ullman and Janine Reinhardt:

Minu Barati-Fischer:

Michael Degen:

Nadja Uhl:

Sibel Kekilli:

Director Tom Tykwer and Marie Steinhoff:

Volker Schloendorff:

Wim Wender and his wife, Donata:

Wladimir Klitschko:

Wolfgang Kohlhaase:

Monday, 4 April 2011

Winter's Bone, Debra Granik, USA 2010

One of the few - positive - upshots of the recent credit crunch and subsequent depression is that it gave birth to a string of films that deal with the flipside of the American dream, among them are Welcome to the Rileys, The Fighter, or indeed Winter's Bone.

Winter's Bone revolves around 17-year old Ree, who takes care of her two siblings and a depression-stricken mother while struggling to hang on to their house which Ree's father put up for his bail. Much of the story of Winter's Bone reminded me of a modern-day version of The Third Man since similar to Carol Reed's classic, in Winter's Bone, too, the film's central character - or rather, the elephant in the room: Ree's father - never shows and you're never quite sure whether he actually does exist or not, and if so, in what physical shape and condition ... This is, of course, the only difference between the two films, and not meaning to spoil things for those who have yet to see the Granik's film I won't give away any details regarding the whereabouts of Ree's father. Moreover, even though much depends on Ree having to find Jessup, her father, it is not the main point of the film for Winter's Bone is decidedly not a thriller, notwithstanding the fact that Ree's hunt for Jessup does keep the viewer on tenterhooks, but more so as an undercurrent rather than as the film's leitmotif. Winter's Bone is all about the struggle for sheer survival by Ree in the face of a relentlessly adverse and hostile world, which has all but forgotten about its disenfranchised inhabitants who have little left but the wretched, run-down, houses they live in and the handful of drugs to keep them going, making them forget about the misery that surrounds them.

Given its theme, Winter's Bone is by definition a rather bleak film. It is to Granik's credit that she managed to shirk any sentimentality which a film that revolves around a teenage girl who has no one but herself to rely on, would have lent itself to all too easily. That Winter's Bone does nevertheless end on a somewhat upbeat note may strike some viewers as unrealistic or too laboured. However, it struck me as a much needed and well-deserved dose of serendipity on Ree's part, restoring at least some of the faith in life and mankind you're likely to lose over the course of the film.