One good thing about the irritating and otherwise pointless new Kojak series I really like Ving Rhames, but I saw a preview for this show and it looks as inane as I'd feared it would be is that a DVD set of the first season of the real Kojak, starring Telly Savalas, is now for sale. It would be even better if it included The Marcus-Nelson Murders, the TV movie in which Savalas debuted as Kojak. If you have the right kind of DVD player, one that's okay with PAL and Region 2 Encoding (somebody please make RCE go away), you may want to order Kojak Vol. 1, a DVD from England, which has that plus the first-season episode "Mojo", presumably picked at random to fill out the disk.
I'm glad that TV shows are finding their way to DVD. One of the most valuable releases so far is the box set of the first season of Have Gun, Will Travel. Not only is it a great show, it's of special interest to admirers of Bernard Herrmann, whose "Western" source music is used extensively throughout. He also wrote an original score for the pilot, "Three Bells to Perdido". This includes the theme music, an exciting composition that may remind attentive listeners of Lalo Schifrin's music for Mission: Impossible and Paul Misraki's score for Godard's Alphaville.
I'm reading this interesting book, Heaven & Hell to Play With: The Filming of The Night of the Hunter, by Preston Neal Jones. It's basically an oral history, derived from interviews and archival research. In the beginning of the book, Paul Gregory, the film's producer, relates how he's had trouble with Method actors, always wanting to know their "motivation". He asserts that the drama of the moment is sufficient motivation. I think this is often true, but it doesn't devalue Method acting. Different techniques are required for different concepts, different effects.
Reading this reminded me of a few instances of the effectiveness of the simple and direct approach, the "drama of the moment". First I thought of the steel guitarist Don Helms, whose completely satisfying playing on Hank Williams's recordings was directed by, I think, Fred Rose. (I can't find my copy of Colin Escott's Hank Williams biography, so this is from memory.) The instruction was, when Hank sings high, you play low. When Hank sings low, you play high. I don't think anybody could improve on Helms's contribution to this classic music.
I then thought of the great Jacques Tourneur, director of, among other things, Out of the Past, the ne plus ultra of film noir. (I love italics, okay?) He took time out from plotting the lighting and camera angles to counsel Jane Greer on her character's motivation. "First half, good girl," he told her. "Second half, bad."
My third recollection was of a story an NYU drama student told me when I was an NYU film student. It was about Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier filming Marathon Man. The story had Hoffman running around the block to increase his heartbeat and get agitated so he could really project how freaked out he is by Olivier in the scene they were about to film. Olivier asked him what he was up to, and Hoffman explained his activities and told him about the Method. Perhaps genuinely confused but more likely just hoping to damage Hoffman's self-esteem, Olivier reportedly asked, "Can't you just act?"
I made up my mind a while ago not to see any remakes of movies. Mere awareness of some recent remakes is corrupting my ability to find comfort in the recollection of intensely pleasant movie-watching experiences. It's distressing that my first response to the mention of, say, The Ladykillers, should be a groan. It used to be a sigh of contentment.
Apparently not content with trying to destroy Sgt. Bilko, Steve Martin is hoping to ruin The Pink Panther for everybody by taking on the role of Inspector Clouseau in a remake. Ving Rhames is starring as Kojak in an upcoming cable-TV series, called (what else?) Kojak. There's a multitude of other bad ideas coming our way.
This week I read about an upcoming remake of The Amityville Horror. Whoever wrote the blurb was of the opinion that the original wasn't very good and so wondered why anybody would want to remake it. This shows how backwards things are. I think it's a fine idea to remake bad movies. The idea of a new Amityville Horror doesn't bother me at all. Somebody, anybody, should take a shot at making another movie of Casino Royale. (There's a late-1950s TV adaptation of that novel which is also pretty bad, but Peter Lorre's in it.) Go ahead and remake The List of Adrian Messenger. The world could benefit from a good Modesty Blaise movie that uses Peter O'Donnell's original screenplay. Likewise, a film faithful to Nabokov's Lolita script has yet to be attempted.
There are countless near misses and squandered opportunities which people could try to redeem. Meanwhile, I hear Martin Scorsese plans to remake Kurosawa's Drunken Angel with Leonardo DiCaprio tackling Toshiro Mifune's part. Oh, well.