James L. Brooks

A subforum to discuss film culture and criticism both old and new, as well as memorializing public figures we've lost.
Message
Author
User avatar
therewillbeblus
Joined: Tue Dec 22, 2015 3:40 pm

Re: James L. Brooks

#76 Post by therewillbeblus » Thu Sep 24, 2020 12:41 am

Well, I'll be the first (and maybe last) to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the musical version of I'll Do Anything. It's messy and strange, but contains a playful looseness that works most of the time, even when it's raising eyebrows. I haven't seen the commercial release so I'm not sure what footage was added beyond musical numbers, but many of the gags succeed not in spite of, but especially since they come out of left-field discontinuity. Albert Brooks is hysterical as the producer, and visual jokes like him halfway out the window staring down all the subordinates burns itself into the celluloid refusing to cut away against expectations. The satire clicks, but it's the more farcical subtly-absurdist human interactions that retain the hardest laughs that breathe against the peculiar context.

Nolte playing against type as a meek empty vessel of 'human yo-yo' passivity manages to escape the red flags and become the film's key ingredient, as an uncharacteristic sounding board for louder types to engage with and amplify the effects of the interpersonal dissonance, and by extension that between us and the film we expect. Kavner's initial conversation with Nolte, for instance, is full of laughs because of how incongruous her unpredictable list of commonalities between states is with his comfort level or capacity to respond. Nolte's visual presence, only aided by our knowledge of his historical roles, is so ill-fitting that the joke it set before the social escalation takes place. This is also one of Brooks' funniest films, even with a chaotically edited script, and perhaps part of the reason I'm strongly drawn to this is in the layered tones -a staple of Brooks already- but here they are nakedly potent than his more consistently fluid stamp. The daughter's initial meltdown is atypically intense, yet there is an aftertaste of pathos to this extended clueless savagery just as there is in Ullman's odd song in the prior scene (or the reverse effect in the Nolte-parenting-ignorance banter that funnels into the daughter's own self-serious number!)

The songs contain just as mixed vibes as the satire-blended-with-drama bits (i.e. the rapid, puzzling "I've been going to the movies since I was six!" lampoon->Big Dramatic Speech->Problem), and it's often difficult to tell what emotion the scene was going for, though a combination of irony and emotional honesty seems in step with the diverse and nebulous mood(s) of this beast. Even Albert Brooks' early number, a confusing and grating bit, reminded me of the unapologetic on-screen singing in At Long Last Love (cue a series of posts shunning me for mentioning this in the same sentence with that masterpiece) and I appreciated the audacity, and at times sheer perversity and irreverence of this picture, which feels more like The Simpsons' brand of humor and general attitude than Brooks' other projects.

I'm not going to pretend that this isn't sloppy or emotionally erratic, but I love it for the same 'structural' reason I love Desplechin's careless fusion of flavors (though this is far less talented or philosophically/psychologically/spiritually dense, and should be compared in broad disorganizational form only). The daughter's attempt to cheer Nolte up with a song transforms into a weird rap, and then a dropkick of an impulsive negative reaction of shame, and a fatherly response that professes love and curated self-actualization out of nowhere, are all over and done with within seconds. Nolte and Richardson's irregular demonstrations of their affections don't match any clear rhythm or comprehensible chemistry according to cinematic rules of narrative or character, but feels like a pre-Punch Drunk Love piece of bizarre romance (with maybe the weirdest scene of intimacy.. ever? Think The Room) And don't even get me started on Kavner's restaurant scene that is preluded by a perplexing instrumental scan and followed by a satirical punchline that summarizes Brooks' thesis with this film- finding the raw truth through means that couldn't be less real. This is a film that constantly surprised me with a mixture of authenticity, cookie-cutter movie theatrics, and an in-between space of opening up the floodgates to the eccentricities of nonsensical human behavior, that doesn't wait around for its audience to handhold or catch up. I fully expect most people to hate this, but it's so different that I can't help but feel refreshed and grateful for Brooks' bold choice to locate a hybrid of honesty and actualized-artifice that will feel foreign to most, if not all, moviegoers and find new magic in the kind of picture that has long been refurbished from a bone-dry well.
SpoilerShow
I also admired how the film ended with a bit of Broadcast News anticlimax to the core romance, with Nolte looking around to find no Richardson and seeing his daughter as more than enough. I wasn't expecting Brooks to forfeit that pairing, but the final moments draw a pretty mature and humble small gesture between father and daughter, with even the camera taking a gentle backseat. The onion layers peel back to reveal Nolte's process of actively considering his priorities and pondering what fulfillment really means to him, and seeing it in his daughter outside of acute drama. A spiritual connection, if you will.

User avatar
hearthesilence
Joined: Fri Mar 04, 2005 4:22 am
Location: NYC

Re: James L. Brooks

#77 Post by hearthesilence » Thu Oct 01, 2020 4:32 am

Thanks again to beamish and soundchaser for all of their help!
SpoilerShow
First off, I stumbled on to this L.A. Times article from 1994 while looking for some Prince-related info about the soundtrack. I wonder who this "astonished professional songwriter" may be, but regardless, their reaction feels overblown while reeking of stereotypical Hollywood schadenfreude. In fairness, the article describes several elements that are nowhere to be found in the bootlegged cut, specifically a childbirth scene and a drug subplot which explains why "My Little Pill" is nowhere to be found in the circulating preview cut. These elements may very well be that awful (though again, having heard "My Little Pill," I don't find anything egregiously wrong with the recording - it's a very brief comedic number, and as sung by an actress with a famously distinctive voice, it's exactly what I'd expect, especially when said actress has sung many comedic numbers on the TV show that made her famous).

This was a load of horseshit though: "One track is mysteriously missing from the bootleg tapes: Nick Nolte’s infamous singing debut on his sole number, 'Be My Mirror.' Speculates one source, “He probably spent his entire salary from the movie buying up every single copy of his vocal.” They completely ignore the context to have a bigger laugh at the movie and Nolte. It's the only song performed by Nolte, and he's basically playing a game with his daughter that also serves as an acting lesson for her. It sounds pretty much like any typical father singing a kiddie song to their children as they play together. How awful.

Anyway, the sound mix is definitely rough - I think the music even cuts out awkwardly during Tracy Ullman's number - and there's definitely a ton of ADR that needed to be recorded with some bits of dialogue barely registering on the soundtrack. I bring this up because the instrumental backing on the musical numbers is pretty cheap - it's more suitable for a homemade demo recorded on a Casio than what we see here, so I wonder if there were any plans to re-record it with actual horns and a piano. Accepted on those speculative terms, it didn't become too much of a distraction. (And let me add that Carole King's cameo is wonderful, and it's not even for the song she wrote.)

dom mentioned that he was skeptical about how much better the film could be with the addition of a handful of musical numbers, and he's right to be skeptical. It's indeed better, in some ways substantially so, but not surprisingly my reservations about the theatrical cut are still there. I can't call it a great film, but to me it's become more engaging and far more interesting.

I'm not the biggest James L. Brooks fan, and there's something about the way he mixes drama with comedy and cynicism with sentimentality that feels queasy and even suspicious. Here he develops one idea from Broadcast News even further during a scene where Nolte's daughter has to manufacture crying as the climax of a TV show she's shooting. We're made very aware that it's a fabrication, and it does manage to be humorous and touching because it's a triumphant accomplishment for his daughter who has never acted professionally before. But this leads to a moment afterwards where she hugs Nolte and tells him exactly how she made herself cry, and he's visibly moved by this. All of this is shot and cut with the formulaic close-ups that define such emotional climaxes, and immediately afterwards, it felt like they were trying to have it both ways - to be self-conscious of the manufactured feelings in a Hollywood show and yet to have an audience respond to the same exact manipulation. And I didn't feel like the film pulled off the contradictory impulses of criticizing the ruthless commercial ambitions driving Hollywood while celebrating a few of the core tenets that defined those ambitions as well. Even the small details needed to portray these ideas felt dubious - the choice of remaking Capra's Mr. Deeds, the offhand criticism of Gremlins (an example of a commercial venture that did have real merit as something more), etc.

There's also a sad irony that the most distinctive feature of the movie was gutted out due to test screenings, and it makes all the footage dealing with market research all the more suspicious yet all the more fascinating as well - the jokes made at the market research's expense become more open to interpretation. Perhaps it is cruel that the film was damaged by the same exact process it dramatizes. But what's to be made of Albert Brooks's enthusiasm for the way that whole operation's run, or the élan in how they work through the process? ("I had them bring in two busloads of people from black churches!") Maybe Brooks isn't so skeptical of test screenings and focus groups.

The bootlegged cut has very long stretches that go without music, and the Times article suggests there were at least two more musical sequences, but what remains in the bootlegged cut still makes quite a difference. The movie becomes less bland and generic, and to me, it actually makes a stronger connection to the actors in that world. The theater majors I knew in school were virtually all big musical theater fans, and that's one side of them that felt inseparable from their ambitions and their studies. Years later when I moved to NYC, I caught up with a few who took a shot at Broadway, but by that time, they were done acting and studying law or business. I bring all this up because right in the beginning we're introduced to a troupe of aspiring actors getting their dreams ruthlessly crushed by a theater critic, and seeing them introduced in musical fashion made an instant and strong connection to those people I knew in real life. I think all but one of the big production numbers in the bootlegged cut are performed by characters who are auditioning or rehearsing actors, and it was the same effect there as well.

Post Reply