Monday, 27 March 2017

Maestro Alessandro Alessandroni dies at 92

I was saddened to receive confirmation this morning that composer Alessandro Alessandroni has died in Rome at the age of 92. Not only an established composer in his own right, Alessandroni was also hugely respected and adored among the Eastwood community as working alongside Ennio Morricone and for famously providing that signature whistling that peppered those wonderful western scores.
As a tribute, I have decided to post the English translation from the Italian news network repubblica.it. I have also made a couple of minor adjustments to avoid confusion as a result of that translation.

"It's very simple. I [received] a phone call (from) Ennio Morricone [who] said: 'Sandra, come on down for a moment, in the room [studio], you need to make a fischiatina' (a whistle). Well, it was really a fischiatina, nothing more, but think about what it is happened next ... When we saw the film, I have to admit that no one thought that would make any money. “Instead, the 'fischiatina' really did change everything. Alessandro Alessandroni, the Master - it is right to call it - says the opening words of the most famous of his career and most iconic piece of Western movies, that for a fistful of dollars, made up of Morricone, which made the films of Sergio Leone - and practically all the best western movie - even bigger. The composer, conductor and arranger Alessandro Alessandroni died in Rome, the city that March 18th, 1925 gave birth, March 26. He had just turned 92 years. The announcement came on the official Facebook page of the composer: "It is with great sorrow that I inform you of the death yesterday maestro Alessandro Alessandroni born in Rome on March 18, 1925, composer, multi-instrumentalist, arranger and choir conductor. It will be a memorial service at home in Namibia with music and musicians directed by his son Alex Jr. Alessandroni ".

Alessandroni approached music when he was still a boy. At the time he lives in the mother country, in the province of Viterbo. He was 11 years old and listened insistently, whenever he could to classical music. He began playing the guitar with assistance from a friend. The site is one of those details. He told in an interview to the blog Planet Hexacord : "I started in the barber shop, because in small countries is a reference point: there were the instruments, the guitar, the mandolin. They worked a little, but they played a lot. .. ". While he is attending the last year of high school he formed his first ensemble, with which he toured for local and dance halls. Fast to learn in a short time become proficient in several instruments, alternating during her performances: a teenager is already able to play the guitar, the piano, the accordion, sax, flute, mandolin and sitar, one of the first Italians to try their hand in this complex stringed instrument. Obtained diploma at the Conservatory in Rome, find a job in the film production company Fonolux There he meets the great Nino Rota, his senior by 14 years, who wants him in his orchestra. Then came the whistle. It was almost by accident. Alessandroni, at some point, when volunteers Rota needs a reason booed. Whistling become its new tool to play with and one of the characterizing moments spaghetti western soundtracks. Music in effect: "My whistle parts are on the staff," explained Alessandroni, "and woe to miss the pitch, to make mistakes." The thought also Federico Fellini, author of his soprannonme: Alessandroni for him was simply "The Whistle".

In 1962 he founded the octet I Cantori Moderni, a formation of his previous group, the Caravels Quartet. With them - the band is formed by soprano Edda Dell'Orso, Augusto Giardino, Franco Cosacchi, Nino Gods, Enzo Gioieni, Gianna Spagnuolo and, not least, the wife of Alessandroni Giulia De Mutiis.

The most important co-operation and long life of Alessandroni remains today the one with Ennio Morricone: besides the famous whistle for A Fistful of Dollars will also work in For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Alessandroni is called by all the most important Italian composers of the time, in the sixties, such as Piero Umiliani, for which sings with his wife Julia in fantastic reason Mah-mah-nà nà , extracted from the soundtrack of Sweden, hell and paradise of Luigi Scattini (1968) and with the master Armando Trovajoli. 

With the arrival of the seventies, the ARC of the RCA, the label dedicated to the 'young Italian song', between beats and 'world exotico', a disc-public collection of twelve songs in the race edition of 1969 Canzonissima. They are recorded, of course, in an instrumental version and work on the Hammond organ solo is credited to Ron Alexander, his pseudonym.


The name of Alessandroni had become of worship across the board, had crossed generations and musical styles, and especially among library music lovers. Among the last to want it in their record Baustelle, group of Montepulciano, who chose him for one of their best albums. "Alessandro Alessandroni is the oldest guest," explained Francesco Bianconi, the singer, "a wonderful eighty-four that we did play the sitar, accordion, acoustic guitar and we did blow the whistle". The song title, not surprisingly, was Spaghetti Western - The album, Amen.

RIP Maestro – our thoughts and condolences are with the Alessandroni family. 

Sunday, 19 March 2017

The Clint Eastwood / Jack Robinson photo session July 1969

Jack Robinson, Jr. (September 18, 1928 – December 15, 1997) was an American photographer and stained glass designer. Robinson was freelance photographer for Vogue and The New York Times from the 1950s to the early 1970s before he left New York to return home to the American South and pursue a career as a stained glass designer.

In July, 1969, actor Clint Eastwood met Robinson for this photo session. By 1969, Eastwood had already appeared in several popular spaghetti westerns and the television show Rawhide. His films Hang ’em High and Coogan’s Bluff had been released the previous year and soon after these photographs were taken, Paint Your Wagon would be his next film to be released.   

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Robert James Waller, Author of The Bridges of Madison County, Dies at 77

At the weekend I was informed by several people that the author of The Bridges of Madison County, Robert James Waller had sadly passed away aged 77. I have decided to post The New York Times tribute by William Grimes as it’s a nicely written and an entirely fitting piece. My thanks also to my U.S. friend Kevin Walsh for also providing the full page tribute (left) that appeared in today’s New York Times.
Robert James Waller, whose gauzy, romantic novel “The Bridges of Madison County” became a runaway best seller on its publication in 1992 and the basis of a popular film, died on Friday at his home in Fredericksburg, Tex. He was 77. The cause was multiple myeloma, his daughter, Rachael Waller, said.

The novel came out of the blue. Mr. Waller, on leave from teaching business at the University of Northern Iowa, was shooting pictures with a friend along the Mississippi River in the early 1990s when he decided to make a detour and photograph covered bridges in Madison County, Iowa. He was an enthusiastic guitarist and singer, and years earlier he had written a song about the dreams of a woman named Francesca. An idea stirred.
Two weeks later he had completed the manuscript of “The Bridges of Madison County.” It told the tale of Francesca, a 45-year-old Italian war bride on an Iowa farm whose life takes an unexpected turn when Robert Kincaid, 52, a free-spirited photographer, stops by one day to ask directions to the Roseman Covered Bridge. She is temporarily alone, her husband and two children away at the state fair. Francesca and Robert discover that they are kindred spirits, a thirst for love, and a torrid affair commences. It lasts just four days — but four days unlike any other.
“God or the universe or whatever one chooses to label the great systems of balance and order does not recognize Earth-time,” Kincaid tells her in a post-affair letter. “To the universe four days is no different than four billion light-years.”
Many critics found the characters unconvincing, the sentiments sappy and the writing overripe. Kincaid, who called himself “one of the last cowboys,” was fond of delivering statements like “I am the highway and a peregrine and all the sails that ever went to sea.”
Millions of readers, however, found Mr. Waller’s story of reawakened love deeply moving. The Orlando Sentinel spoke for them when it wrote, “This lyrically written first novel is as perfect as a tear — and don’t be surprised if you shed a few upon reading it.”
Oprah Winfrey, who broadcast a special edition of her television show from Madison County, called it “a gift to the country.”
“Bridges” leapt to the top of the best-seller lists and stayed there, eventually outselling “Gone with the Wind.” It took root on The New York Times’s list and remained there for three years, becoming, as Entertainment Weekly put it, “The Book That Would Not Die.”
The film, released in 1995, starred Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood and was directed by Mr. Eastwood. It was also reincarnated as a Broadway musical in 2014, starring Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale. Robert James Waller Jr. was born on Aug. 1, 1939, in Charles City, Iowa, and grew up in nearby Rockford, about 125 miles northeast of Des Moines. His father was a chicken-and-egg wholesaler and a local magistrate. His mother, the former Ruth Welch, was a homemaker. He won a basketball scholarship to the University of Iowa but transferred in his freshman year to Iowa State Teachers College (renamed the State College of Iowa in 1961). While an undergraduate, he married Georgia Wiedemeier, whom he had met at a dance in Iowa City. The marriage ended in divorce.
In addition to his daughter, he is survived by his wife, Linda Bow, and a granddaughter. Mr. Waller earned a bachelor’s degree in business education in 1962 and a master’s in education in 1964 before pursuing graduate work at Indiana University’s school of business. He was awarded a doctorate of business administration in finance in 1968. His thesis was on the American guitar industry. He returned to his undergraduate alma mater, renamed the University of Northern Iowa in 1967, and taught management and economics there. In 1980 he was appointed dean of its business school.
On the side he began writing travel and nature essays for The Des Moines Register’s Sunday edition. These were collected in “Just beyond the Firelight: Stories and Essays” (1988) and “One Good Road Is Enough” (1990). Fed up with teaching, Mr. Waller took an unpaid leave of absence in 1990 and obtained a $200,000 grant from the state to study the future of the region. His report, “Iowa: Perspectives on Today and Tomorrow,” was published in 1991.With “Bridges” still riding high, Mr. Waller recorded an album, “The Ballads of Madison County,” and in 10 days wrote his second novel, “Slow Waltz in Cedar Bend,” about the love affair between an economics professor and a colleague’s wife. With a first printing of a million copies, it, too, shot to the top of the best-seller lists.

Seeking solitude, Mr. Waller moved to a run-down ranch in Alpine, Tex., southeast of El Paso. The high desert country provided the setting for his novels “Puerto Vallarta Squeeze: The Run for el Norte” (1995) and “Border Music” (1995). Both sold well, but not spectacularly.
Mr. Waller decided to revisit the scene of his first novel in “A Thousand Country Roads: An Epilogue to The Bridges of Madison County,” published in 2002. It continued the adventures of an older, lonelier Kincaid, who hits the road again and, at one point, finds his way back to covered-bridge territory. In his next novel, “High Plains Tango” (2005), Mr. Waller passed the generational baton to Kincaid’s son, a master carpenter who battles to stop development on the site of an Indian burial ground in South Dakota. Mr. Waller’s last novel, “The Long Night of Winchell Dear” (2006), was a taut, atmospheric thriller about a retired professional poker player and a fateful night at his ranch in the Texas desert. The romantic flame ignited by “The Bridges of Madison County” was slow to die.

“I receive letters each week from people who have read it and are moved by the story,” Mr. Waller told Book Page in 2005. “At one time, I received 50 to 100 letters per week. Now it’s more on the order of five. The last I knew, 350 marriage ceremonies had been celebrated at Roseman Bridge.”


Sunday, 5 March 2017

Clint with Bill Paxton and Bruce Dern at the Fourth Annual Sun Valley Film Festival, March 4th, 2015

It was just about a week ago that news came filtering through that actor Bill Paxton had suddenly died following complications from heart surgery, he was just 61. I was reminded that I had some photos on file of Bill and Clint together, I just couldn’t remember what event it was. I’ve finally managed to locate them, and strangely enough it was almost 2 years to the day. The event was the Annual Sun Valley Film Festival. Clint was being honoured the festival's Lifetime Vision Award. Unfortunately, I didn’t get around to posting the event at the time. I’ve posted a couple of pieces here from stories covering the event and of course it provides a nice opportunity to share these photos. Both Bruce Dern (Hang ‘em high) and Bill Paxton were in attendance for the festival’s Coffee Talks where industry experts offered their insights to festival audiences each morning. Our sincere thoughts and condolences are of course with the family of the great Bill Paxton.

SVFF has struck a unique balance of accessibility, affordability, glitz and glamour 
By George Prentice
SVFF Director Candice Pate on Clint Eastwood, inaugural recipient of the festival's Lifetime Vision Award: "He keeps besting himself, and he has a career that has had so many peaks. I'm sure that he'll have another peak five years from now. But for now, we have him."
Who can say what the script looks like for a perfect film festival? Cannes, Sundance and Telluride claim international notoriety, superstars and top-tier films. I've attended all of the above film festivals and more; and when asked to recommend one over the other, I offer caveats that begin with two questions: "How many thousands of dollars do you plan on spending?" and, "How do you feel about standing in line for four hours to see a 90-minute film?" The film festival experience, like other high-profile events such as the Olympics or the Super Bowl, can turn out to be a slog and can be glaring examples of the growing chasm between the haves and have nots.
Then there's the Sun Valley Film Festival. Still in its infancy (this is its fourth year), SVFF has struck a unique balance of accessibility and affordability, along with more than its share of glitz and glamour. SVFF Director Candice Pate likes to call it a "sweet mix."

"We certainly own the things that make the festival unique, but there's also the significant factor of the capacity of Sun Valley. With a few years under our belt, I'm realising that it's a sweet mix of both," Pate told Boise Weekly. "Hopefully our choices reflect that, with the films that we choose and the talent that we bring. It still remains to be seen, but it sure feels pretty good right now."
There are significant milestones in the life of a film festival. In Sun Valley, the first was the 2013 appearance of two-time Oscar winner Jodie Foster, who cautioned attendees to, "Remember how it is now. Years from now, the lines may be longer, and you'll think back." SVFF's next major landmark will undoubtedly be this year's appearance of four-time Oscar winner Clint Eastwood.

"I can't tell you everything about how we secured Mr. Eastwood, but he made a film here [1985's Pale Rider, filmed in the Boulder and Sawtooth mountains], and he loves Sun Valley," said Pate. "I know that he gets requests to be honored 17 times a day, but I think the reason he said 'yes' to us is that he really gets what we're doing."

Eastwood was nominated for another Oscar for the current box office sensation American Sniper. The film won the Best Sound Editing Oscar, with a team of technicians giving a shout-out to Eastwood during their acceptance speech. And when Eastwood arrives in Sun Valley, he'll receive SVFF's inaugural Lifetime Vision Award.

"Eastwood keeps besting himself, and he has a career that has had so many peaks," said Pate. "I'm sure that he'll have another peak five years from now. But for now, we have him."

Through its highly popular "Coffee Talks," SVFF will also allow attendees to get some face-time with Bruce Dern (Nebraska, Coming Home) and Bill Paxton (Titanic, Apollo 13, Big Love), who will pull double duty by hosting a 20th anniversary screening of Apollo 13.
"I really felt that getting some higher-profile talent this year would help us get on the radar of folks in the industry and certainly attendees," said Pate. "Getting to spend time with all this talent, actors, Oscar-nominated screenwriters and directors, that's the intimacy part of our festival. When I visit other festivals, part of me is envious of their infrastructure and huge sponsors, but what we offer is our special guests—and attendees can interact in a relaxed environment and truly celebrate filmmaking."

More than 60 films, curated from hundreds of entries, will be showcased on screens throughout the Wood River Valley, with something new coming to some place old: The Sun Valley Opera House. Just in time for this year's festival, the Opera House has undergone a $60,000 projection and sound upgrade.

"It's a world-class experience juxtaposed in an historic opera house. It's a huge investment by the [Sun Valley] resort," said Pate.
As for visitors, Pate said, "What really blows me away is that I've been watching our sales of festival passes come in from Italy, Alaska, New York, New Jersey, Georgia, you name it. I want to email each one of them and ask, 'How did you hear about us?'"


It turns out that SVFF spends little on national advertising, instead investing in its internal communications/public relations arm to help tell its story. "Word of mouth is a big part of it. Honestly, some of that comes from reading your articles or blogs in Boise Weekly," Pate said. "A lot of people who come to explore the festival feel like they're the ones that discovered it."
The trailblazing resumes Wednesday, March 4, and with Clint Eastwood at the end of this year's trail, it's certain there will more "explorers" at SVFF 2015.
Clint upon receiving his award:

“I absolutely love Sun Valley.  I was lucky enough to make a movie here (Pale Rider), and if I had my way I would hang out here all the time.  But I guess I’ll have to make another movie at some point since my last movie (American Sniper) did fairly well.  So much of this business is hard work and a lot of good luck. And tonight I consider myself lucky to get to know you all. I can only wish you the best of luck to keep this great film festival going for many years to come.”

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Eastwood’s lost hopes for The Warriors

It has widely been accepted that Eastwood’s original hopes and intent for The Warriors (which eventually became Kelly’s Heroes) were regrettably destroyed. I have gathered a few notes together which I have had stored on file for some time now, in order to try and provide a clearer account of exactly what happened.

The late 60s were a turbulent time for MGM with a great deal of changes occurring. In particular, James Aubrey had been assigned as head of production by the studio. Within days of his hiring, twelve films were cancelled because of financial issues. The original project was announced by MGM in November 1968 under the title of The Warriors. The original script for The Warriors was written with much more of an anti-war sentiment at its heart. Upon completion of the film, it barely resembled the script that Clint had originally read and enjoyed so much.

Before examining what happened and how the changes came about, it’s perhaps important to look at a few changes which happened prior to any shooting. A Clint favourite, George Kennedy turned down a role despite an offered fee of $300,000 because he reportedly didn’t like the part. It’s hard to establish which role, but I could have visualised him comfortably playing Big Joe. Kennedy had appeared for MGM a couple of years earlier in their blockbuster The Dirty Dozen (1967). Big Joe was of course eventually played by Telly Savalas, another star of The Dirty Dozen, as was Donald Sutherland who also appeared in Kelly’s Heroes as Oddball. One of the other significant changes was Kelly’s Heroes inclusion of a female character. However, prior to filming, the part was cut from the script. Ingrid Pitt, who had already been cast in the role, (and had been in Hutton’s movie Where Eagles Dare with Eastwood the previous year), revealed that she was "virtually climbing on board the plane bound for Yugoslavia when word came through that my part had been cut."
According to Ben Mankiewicz in his pre-movie introduction of May 2015 for Turner Classic Movies, filming commenced in July 1969 and was completed in December. It was shot on location in the Istrian village of Vižinada in Croatia (former Yugoslavia) and London. Yugoslavia was chosen mostly because earnings from previous showings of movies there could not be taken out of the country, but could be used to fund the production. Another reason Yugoslavia was selected was that in 1969, Yugoslavia was one of the few nations whose army was still equipped with operating World War II mechanised equipment, both German and American. This simplified logistics tremendously.
Before Brian G. Hutton was on board, and ‘at Clint's behest, Don Siegel was offered the picture, but he was tied up on the post-production with Two Mules for Sister Sara, and so, with Clint's approval, the assignment went to the pyrotechnically inclined Brian Hutton. He, not unnaturally, wanted to stress the kind of action that had worked for him in Where Eagles Dare which went into its successful release just before Kelly’s Heroes went on location’.

Once filming was complete, the Post-production stages of Kelly’s Heroes were an even bigger mess than the shoot, which had now dragged on for nine months on location in both Mexico and Yugoslavia. As mentioned above, MGM’s new head was James Aubrey, who hadn't originally approved the film. Aubrey was no longer interested in epic-sized pictures, preferring small budget films that could still yield profits for the studio. After viewing Hutton's original cut, Aubrey insisted the film should be a simple "Clint Eastwood action-adventure" and ordered substantial revisions that wound up changing the whole tone of the film. Aubrey was also the man responsible for changing the title from The Warriors to Kelly's Heroes.

Approximately 20 minutes were cut from the film by MGM before the film’s theatrical release. Eastwood said later in interviews that he was very disappointed about the re-cut by MGM because he felt that many of the deleted scenes not only added depth to the characters, but also made the movie much better. Some of the deleted scenes survive through MGM promotional stills.

In the French magazine, Positif No. 287 (January 1985) Eastwood explained to Michael Henry:
‘It was a very fine anti-militaristic script, one that said some important things about the war, about this propensity that man has to destroy himself. In the editing, the scenes that put the debate in philosophical terms were cut and they kept adding action scenes. When it was finished, the picture had lost its soul. If action and reflection had been better balanced, it would have reached a much broader audience. I don't know if the studio exercised pressure on the director or if it was the director who lost his vision along the way, but I know that the picture would have been far superior if there hadn't been this attempt to satisfy action fans at any cost. And it would have been just as spectacular and attractive. It's not an accident that some action movies work and others don't. What makes the difference is the quality of the writing.’

The late Richard Schickel discussed the problems with filming Kelly's Heroes and Clint's displeasure with the finished film in detail in his book Clint Eastwood, a Biography:

‘Financed by MGM, and featuring an all-star cast, it was a self-contradictory enterprise. A military adventure, to be made on something close to an epic scale, it was also supposed to be an anti-war satire, somewhat along the lines of such contemporary films as Castle Keep, M*A*S*H, Catch-22 and Too Late the Hero, all of which, one way or another, spoke of public disgust with the war in Vietnam.


It was this aspect of the project that stirred Clint. Around this time he confessed that he had voted for Nixon in 1968 because he regarded Johnson's bombing halt as a cynical electoral ploy of Hubert Humphrey. But he still had no enthusiasm for the Vietnam adventure or for militarism in general, and Troy Kennedy Martin's original script expressed these feelings - in Clint's opinion, movingly and adroitly.
Running more than two hours, Kelly's Heroes is a messily contradictory and never fully resolved movie. Besides being, occasionally, an anti-war satire, it is also from time to time a caper (or bunch of guys-rob-a-vault) comedy, an old-fashioned service (or bunch-of-goldbricks-goof-off) comedy and, yes, a straight bunch-of-guys-on-a-mission piece. To put the point simply, it tried to be all things to all audiences and so, naturally, ended up a muddle - although, right up to the end, Clint thought it could be straightened out.
Hutton, who did not have final cut, had no choice but to oblige Aubrey, and when Clint saw what had been done to the film, he told the director, "Brian, you can't release this." To which the director, who had been fighting the good fight, replied wearily, "Well, that's the way they want to do it," adding that the studio had a release date "creeping up on them." The implication was that even if the studio liked Clint's ideas there wouldn't be time to execute them.

In general Clint felt that the film's comedy now played too broadly, and specifically he was dismayed at the excision of a transition scene between the picture's second and third acts in which, as he recalls, he and the character played by Telly Savalas "just sort of summed up the philosophy of those loose ends, and what the war had done to them." He goes so far as to say that "its soul was taken out, a little bit of its soul was robbed"’

In his book, Schickel goes on to describe how Clint tried unsuccessfully to convince Aubrey that he could fix the film himself if given just a single day in the editing room, but Aubrey wasn't at all interested.

Clint's displeasure with Kelly's Heroes was so great, especially coming on the heels of his disappointment and dragged out filming experience on Paint Your Wagon, that from this point on Clint would take fuller control of his projects, producing most of the remainder of his films, and within another year, he would also be directing most of them as well. It was also rumoured that Clint had made his own cut of Kelly’s Heroes, but as of yet, nothing has ever surfaced. Now that would really be something to behold… 

Friday, 3 March 2017

Cook like Clint - 1969 style!

Celebrity Cookbook: St. Petersburg Independent Thursday, February 13th, 1969
Yes, long before the Hogs Breath Inn, Clint was demonstrating his culinary skills to the St. Petersburg Independent Newspaper (1907-1986). Clint's next film due for release was Where Eagles Dare where he had little time for cooking. However, on the menu some 48 years ago was Western Bone Marrow Stew and of course Eggs Carmel... I'm sure it tasted better than it sounds. 
  

Thursday, 2 March 2017

December 10th 1980: A Day with Clint Eastwood at MOMA

On December 10th 1980, Clint was honoured by The Department of Film of The Museum of Modern Art on 11 West 53 Street, New York City. Over the course of the day, 4 films were shown – A Fistful of Dollars (1964) which signified his first break and international stardom, Escape from Alcatraz (1979) representing his collaboration with Don Siegel, Play Misty for Me (1971) representing Clint’s directorial debut and Bronco Billy (1980) representing Clint’s latest film which he also directed. Clint was at the event and introduced both Misty and Billy.

The event was the first homage paid him by a major American cultural institution. Since then, Clint has enjoyed a long standing relationship with the Museum of Modern Art who expanded the program in 1993 for a second tribute.

I have included here two of my original full page ads from 1980, one from the William Morris Agency and the other from Warner Bros. Below that is the original press release issued by MOMA in 1980.