From Turner Classic Movies:
Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will pay tribute this Saturday, Oct. 2, to acclaimed stage, television and film director Arthur Penn, who passed away Tuesday at the age of 88. At 6:15 p.m. (ET), the network is scheduling a special presentation of Penn’s French New Wave-style drama Mickey One (1965), starring Warren Beatty as a nightclub comic in trouble with the mob. At 8 p.m. (ET), as part of TCM’s previously scheduled The Essentials showcase, Robert Osborne and Alec Baldwin will host a presentation of Penn’s groundbreaking drama Bonnie and Clyde (1967), starring Beatty and Faye Dunaway as the legendary gangsters.
I met Penn once many years ago when I was living in Schenectady, NY. He was one of the owners of a new local TV station and had come to a station event. It was very cool to chat, although the only thing I remember is that I told him how much I liked "Little Big Man." Which I still do. We could just as easily have talked about "Bonnie and Clyde" or "Mickey One," or "The Left-Handed Gun," "The Chase," "Alice's Restaurant" or "The Missouri Breaks," all movies I have found intriguing, albeit for different reasons. ("Missouri Breaks," for instance, has Brando at his oddest.)
Penn was also active with the Actors Studio and in 1995, when "Inside the Actors Studio" was still good, Penn did a press conference to talk about it. I have posted that text after the jump.
From the Akron Beacon Journal, Nov. 8, 1995:
To understand the importance of Bravo's interview series Inside the Actors Studio, it helps to look to the late '60s. Director Arthur Penn went to London with Warren Beatty to promote their movie, Bonnie and Clyde.
"We were astonished to see people walking around as Bonnie and Clyde," said Penn, referring to the '30s outfits Beatty and Faye Dunaway wore while playing the two bank robbers. "That also proved to be the case in Sweden."
What surprised Penn and Beatty was that they had made no attempt to market a line of clothing. People had taken up the wardrobes on their own.
By 1990, when Beatty starred in Dick Tracy, such things were no longer left to chance. Fashions tied to the movie -- as well as toys, books, audio tapes and action figures -- were on sale. But anyone looking at the two movies easily can see which is a work of art and which a pointless extravaganza meant to sell hats.
Penn, an acclaimed director as well as president of the Actors Studio, is unhappy with the state of modern movies.
He was one of the filmmakers to emerge in the '60s and early '70s who thought movies had to be about something -- to have an idea from which everything else flowed. Three of those directors -- Penn, Sidney Lumet and Sydney Pollack -- are interviewed in new installments of Inside the Actors Studio, beginning tonight at 10 with Lumet, next Wednesday with Pollack and Nov. 22 with Penn.
Penn still can see meaning in some movies, mentioning The Piano, The Crying Game and Four Weddings and a Funeral. But each also was considered a small film, an antidote to the would-be blockbusters of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
When it comes to the big studios, Penn said, "Movies are becoming the product of international corporations. And product is the operative word. The artistry has gone out of the movies, and merchandising is more important."
Asked if movies are about anything, he said, "No. Not anything. ... Get Shorty has absolutely no narrative, but simply a series of events that are almost unrelated. I found it far from compelling. ... Pulp Fiction was better, a lot better, but it's entirely sort of film-based. It's a film about films."
Big movies are sold through advertising, publicity campaigns and "exclusive" peeks on entertainment-reporting series often owned by the same company as the movie being promoted. Personalities reign, preferably with some dirt in their past. So Penn looks at Entertainment Tonight and sees "a low level of gossip."
One antidote, then, is Inside the Actors Studio. Tied to the famous workshop where Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Sally Field and Dennis Hopper sought to improve their craft, the series looks less at the people than at their work.
Two hours before a New York City audience, and an open-ended discussion with students in the Actors Studio's Master of Fine Arts program, are taped and edited into about an hour telecast. "Essentially the topic is craft," Penn said. "We try to get away from the Hollywood anecdote into how the work is done, and how we think about things."
Because of the focus, the series already has presented illuminating sessions with Newman, Field, Shelley Winters (who demonstrated the artistry that got lost in her buffoonish turns on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show) composer Stephen Sondheim, playwright Neil Simon and others.
"There are so many extraordinary people asking to get on," said Penn. "It didn't require any begging on my part to get people to do this. They've welcomed the opportunity to be treated as serious artists."
Penn said the series will continue "as long as it stays interesting," and that the Studio plans eventually to release videotapes of the interviews, including material edited from the broadcasts.
They should prove required viewing for people interested in the dramatic arts, because they do so closely look at craft. But even as you see differences in individual styles -- between, say, how Pollack deals with actors and Lumet does -- there are common threads.
The directors, for instance, talk about the practical requirements of their work, but also about the instinct behind knowing when a scene is right.
"That's the mystery of the medium." Penn said. "You're doing a movie in little increments, and you have to know how is that piece going to fit with this one. There are questions that are really not addressable."
You could say the same thing about the actors, writers or composers, who try to pin down every detail but at some point just have to trust their judgment. While Inside the Actors Studio is about the trust, it also looks closely at the judgment.
That goes way beyond the standard something-funny-on-the-set story for other TV interviews. And it looks at the heart of drama, not just how the costumes will look on a Sears mannequin.