DID YOU NOTICE THE SIMILARITIES BETWEEN THESE HYPED, EPIC STORIES?
*They are both too long.Once Upon a Time in Hollywood runs at 2 hours and 40 minutes whereas The Irishman runs even longer at three and a half hours. Both stories could have shaved at least a half an hour and retained the essence of the story.
*They both feature iconic directors at the ends of their career doing their respective genres with all their signature marks. Cashing in on what made them famous? Give the audience what they want? Both directors are passionate about making violent films with antiheroes who gain our sympathy. Both directors have fans who worship them. Scorsese and Tarantino are boys who never stopped playing Cowboys and Indians and G.I. Joe. Their films are about who has the power, and how does he hold on to it? Nothing new in that storyline. There’s a testosterone need to see power executed on the screen with blood splatters and firebombs and Kung Fu fighting. A raucous way to combat the boredom of ordinary life. Scorsese and Tarantino fill an escapist need. How did you feel they handled their stories behind the camera? I liked Scorsese’s break to the long shot to show the environment of his characters. I liked Tarantino’s shot behind the driver’s head so you felt like you were along for the ride in the back seat of the car.
Both films rely heavily upon conversation scenes that show how normal the players are when the characters are anything but typical guys; mobsters and movie stars are real people, too. Whatever it is they are bitching about, when their gripe resonates with us, we become empathetic. Which conversation scene worked for you? Mine was Al Pacino as Hoffa when he went to Florida to meet Joe Gallo who shows up fifteen minutes late in shorts.
Both films rely heavily upon cameos of people in the industry that come and go without much importance. The reasoning behind this is they are the pepper flakes in the pot of soup that defines the culture. I wish that Harvey Keitel had had more lines, too.
These are Dick Flicks. Both films are about male interactions. Women are virtually non-existent, and when they do appear, they pose. They are there to amplify the historical climate with their costumes and hairstyles; they are subservient dolls and sexual objects. The wives and daughters in The Irishman and Precious Pussy and Sharon Tate in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood come to mind. In The Irishman, there’s a scene when a remorseful Frank tries to understand what when wrong with the relationship between his four daughters. Peggy, his favorite, has disowned him. The other daughter says, “You don’t understand how hard it was for us, do you?” Nope. We have no idea how hard it was because they never had screen time, only glaring looks from Peggy as a girl when Frank breaks the hand of a grocer who nudged her in the store. Anna Paquin‘s role was a waste.
As a woman, I’m not offended. It’s a story about men and their observations from a historical era of the past. It’s perfect, really. It does show how women were viewed. That’s precisely why the “Me, too” movement” came about. To ask Tarantino and Scorsese to give a chick a meaty role defeats their intention. Which is —
Both directors wanted to show a male culture, the relationships between males in their historical era. This is a story about Frank and Cliff who are cleaner fish, who depend and defend their masters. Women weren’t essential to their beings. Their jobs as a stuntman and hitman necessitated a symbiotic relationship with other men to validate their appeal and power. I accept that. It is similar to the movie The Help.That story was about the relationship between females in the 1950-60s. The class struggle between white women and their black hired help who raise the babies but their livelihood depends upon the tight-rope walk between the chemistry of women. The men in the film were weak and virtually non-existent. I accept that. Women and men had definite boundaries in history. Gender spheres have always been the norm until recently. Now it’s a blended, androgynous society. I’m not convinced it’s better.
Both stories don’t have a plot. Characters are placed in situations and asked to problem solve. The solution is murder.
Both directors infuse music to establish the time and mood; music becomes a bit character in the movie. There’s rarely a scene in both films where the music doesn’t play, such as an accompaniment to a murder, a live performance at Frank’s retirement party, or Cliff Booth’s car radio. The auditory image triggers the past of those who lived during the time. Popular music helps younger audiences associate the era with the characters. Music binds the multi-generations in a way that a set design can’t penetrate. Both directors are keenly aware of this and use it to the point of distraction.
Both films contain the dream cast of icons with the star power of three generations. I had a sugar rush from so much eye candy. The emotional love between the audience and the star fills the audience with the notion that “this is the movie of the year.” Haven’t you predicted these two films and their stars will be nominated for top awards? Wasn’t Al Pacino great as Hoffa? Who would have expected Joe Pesci to be outstanding, ascending past the acting of Robert DeNiro? You love to hate Leonardo DiCaprio, but his portrayal of the insecure Rick Dalton was brilliant.
Brad and Bobbie similarity: The story follows the characters of Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) and Frank Sheeran (Robert DeNiro). These are the two principal characters who support and are defined by the Alpha Dog they protect. Yet, Pitt and DeNiro’s acting was surpassed by others.
Both films are obsessed with paying attention to the details that recreate a time in history with mastery and great love. For both directors, their highest achievement was their attention to the details that created the historical climate. For Tarantino, the nostalgic drive around L.A. was authentic, and we time-traveled back to the streets of 1969. For Scorsese, his epic spanned decades; his sets and film locations were real places, too, and his recreation of the 50s, 60s, and 70s were perfect. Congratulations to both. It made me hang in there as the hours went by.
Which epic was better? Which one would you watch more than once?
That’s a daunting task. What hasn’t been said about World War II? Anyone over the age of forty has lived with its ramifications from memoirs, relatives, books, movies, and personal accounts. While my 1920s manuscript is in the process of publication for a November release, I’m researching World War II for the third installment of my historical fiction series about the twentieth century. My goal is to create two characters who are experiencing it. I will focus on a few aspects of the war to follow that encapsulates the universal themes. Again, I scratch my head and ponder the possibilities. Acutely aware that armchair scholars and scholars alike have heard it all before. Well, I’m always up for a challenge.
I’m reading about an epic account I have never heard about before. Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides. It chronicles “121 hand-selected U.S. troops who slipped behind enemy lines in the Philippines. Their mission: March thirty rugged miles to rescue 513 POWs languishing in a hellish camp, among them the last survivors of the infamous Bataan Death March.”
I’m thinking one of my fictitious characters will be on that mission.
The other character is female and experiencing the war on the homefront. Somehow, she will be connected to the baseball/pilot hero Ted Williams. Somehow, I’d like to include Navajo Code-Talkers, the Hiroshima Maidens, and the 422nd., the all-Nisei Regiment in the plot. Here’s an article about them from the History Channel:
My novel is in the process of publication and will be on the shelves in November. I realized I needed an afterword. I thought I’d share my efforts with the history surrounding Inside the Gold Plated Pistol. New followers and old friends might find it interesting.
Chapter One: Sally
The Roaring 20s was a special time for women to break boundaries and demand their independence. Innovation, music, movies, art, extravagance, and exuberance commanded the decade. Researching the historical climate circa 1927 led me down one road and then another; it was a fun way to get lost. Trying to conceive original characters depended upon a historical vision and then allowing the characters the flexibility to form themselves out of the mental mud I spun. Thank you, Barbara Stanwyck and Flo Ziegfeld girls, for providing me clues about a lifestyle for the fictional character Sally. Vaudeville acts, traveling dance troupes, nightclub dancers, and the high-class Ziegfeld Follies were a part of the Jazz Age across America. Though the Wild West was technically dead by 1927, no one told the 15,000 residents of Jerome, Arizona. The family of a copper baron, miners, cowboys, Native Americans, dance-hall girls, and prostitutes fused with the best technology of the age and imitated the urban environment out in the middle of nowhere with impressive results. Several silent-era actors and actresses transitioned from the chorus line on Broadway by Ziegfeld from 1907-1931. Many westerns were filmed in the area including nearby Sedona like Zane Grey’s Call of the Canyon in 1923. This is where Barbara Stanwyck comes in.
Stanwyck was orphaned at four and a frequent run-away from foster homes. She became a Ziegfeld dancer at fourteen. That led her to the movie industry and subsequent sixty-year career with 80-plus films to her credit. Imagining Barbara Stanwyck as the driven girl who possessed grit, sex-appeal, and survival instincts were the inspiration for the fictional Sally Vandenberg.
Barbara Stanwyck photographed by Alfred Cheney Johnston
Chapter Two: George
German Expressionism. What is it? Simply put, it was a movement in art, film, and architecture during the Weimar Republic (1919-1933). At its height during the 1920s, it was a German reaction to the horrors of World War I. Mutilated soldiers returned with haunted eyes, hopeless, and depressed. Society as a whole suffered from nightmares more than dreams. Scholarship suggests there was a correlation between the Weimar years of emasculated men who committed depraved sex acts and murders against women particularly in the 1920s. This reaction to the war might be a link explaining the mindset of a society that allowed Nazi intolerance toward Jews. https://harvardmagazine.com/1997/03/right.lust.html
I turned to the 1927 silent film, Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, an impressive composition about urban life during the Weimar Republic. Before the catastrophe of Nazism, Berlin was a mechanized, modern center of Europe. With subways, canals, taxis, factories, and elevators, Walther Ruttmann began his film with the sunrise, and clocks chronicled the day of Berliners. I am reminded of ordinary occurrences that are extinct today. Toddlers and children played outside with very little supervision. Milk was delivered to your home in bottles. On the corner of intersections, newsies sold newspapers for five cents, and policemen directed traffic. Horses still competed with cars and trolleys for the use of the street. Men pushed brooms while women beat the dust out of their rugs. Water was pitched on front steps for daily scrubbing. Reports were typed and letters were written. People shared rotary phones and were restricted to booths and cords. These details seem meaningless, but they are vital when recreating the time period. In a paralyzed German society after WWI, it is easier to understand how horror came to be expressed on the film screen. Abstract production designs mimicked Surrealism in art. Architecture with exaggerated lines and points replicated the skyscraper. Shadows, nightmares, long staircases, dream sequences, ghoulish villains and pretty, naïve women fed the psychologically damaged. The Man Who Laughs is an example inspired by Bram Stoker’s classic, Dracula. Actor Max Schrek plays the vampire Count Orlok the nocturnal stalker in F.W. Murnau’s masterpiece, Nosferatu (1922).
Berlin was a stimulating, indecorous urban center. Expressionist German architect, Hans Poelzig created buildings with a creepy touch. Director Fritz Lang was a key pioneer of German Expressionism in the film industry. Thea von Harbou, the screenwriter and wife of Fritz Lang, had a grip on my imagination while I created the climate of Weimar Germany. The fictional WWI veteran, George Hero, arrived in Berlin, and stumbled into the world at UFA studios wherein 1922, Thea’s script was directed by Fritz Lang: Dr. Mabuse: Der Spieler. What happened to George’s psyche mirrored the country’s neuroses displayed visually in Lang’s film and substantiated by Otto Friedrich’s account of Berlin during the Weimar Republic in his fascinating book, Before the Deluge. How wild were those Berlin cabarets? For descriptions of the venues, the clientele, and street addresses, Mel Gordon’s Voluptuous Panic was an eye-popper.
Chapter Three: Kay
The Hopi People by Stewart B. Koyiyumptewa, Carolyn O’Bagy Davis and the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office was instrumental in learning about the culture of the Hopi. Another imperative work was James W. Cornett’s Indian Uses of Desert Plants. To be Hopi is the life-long pursuit to be whole with the universe through traditional ceremonies practiced by a lunar cycle. They revere all things in nature. Their creator is Maasaw and their matrilineal clan is peaceful. They are migratory farmers and in Clarkdale, their footprint is left by their ancestors, the Anasazi, whose “condominiums” from a thousand years ago are displayed for us in the Verde Valley to admire such as Toozigut or Montezuma Castle. Many Hopi lives in Northeast Arizona in the four-corner region of the United States. I was fascinated by their expansive knowledge of desert plants and holistic healing. They are expert artisans of silver making, weaving, and pottery design. Their wooden Kachina dolls are a beautiful insight into their spiritual world.
Zane Grey (1872-1939) was known as the father of the Western novel. With 64 books, magazine articles, and 130 films to his credit, to understand his influence, I recommend Thomas H. Pauly’s biography, Zane Grey: His Life, His Adventures, His Women. In his stories, Grey described the grandeur of the Southwest that evoked a desire to visit and a need to protect the vanishing frontier. His heroes were flawed and troubled. He honored the Native American instead of portraying him as a savage. His women were virtuous, strong, and spellbinding. The violence and action of the gunfight were secondary to the enchanted topography Grey conveyed with love. His popular novels contributed to the collective consciousness of the myth of the West well into the 20th century.
Silent films capitalized on Grey’s novels. Of the 130 films adapted from Grey’s books, a third of the filming locations occurred in Arizona. Reading his most popular novel, Riders of the Purple Sage, revealed how descriptive Grey’s talents were. There is no doubt for me that Zane Grey’s real adventures made his fiction stories authentic. The adage, “write what you know” is exemplified by Zane Grey. His descriptions are from someone who rode through the Southwest by horse. I respect the man’s adventurous life and his writing style is nothing short of inspirational. The Western genre in film originates with Zane Grey. His influence spilled into radio shows and television. His film adaptations provided the impetus for many careers including Shirley Temple, Tom Mix, Randolph Scott, and Alan Ladd.
Zane Grey’s influence abounded in far-reaching ways. While associated with the arid, desert landscape, his passion was for deep-sea fishing. He owned patents on fishing lures and held eleven world records in deep-sea fishing. His letters to friend Ernest Hemingway linked Grey’s attempt to conquer the Marlin. Their discussions became the inspiration for The Old Man and the Sea. Today, Zane Grey has schools, subdivisions, and roads named after him. However, by the end of the 1920s, Zane Grey’s popularity dipped as a deluge of westerns circulated the movie industry. Many careers of Hollywood’s best actors participated in the genre of the western. Connected to the Sycamore Wilderness Canyon is Oak Creek Canyon in Sedona. Sedona was a popular spot for filming and starred several Hollywood heavyweights: Joan Crawford, Henry Fonda, Glenn Ford, Sterling Hayden, Rock Hudson, Elvis Presley, Donna Reed, Richard Widmark, and John Wayne.
When I wrote the book, I decided on the 1925 William K. Howard lost film, The Thundering Herd, for the fictional setting of the film.
A most beautiful man: Gary Cooper
Besides Jack Holt, Lois Wilson, Noah Beery, Sr., and Raymond Hatton, the 1925 version was Gary Cooper’s first uncredited role in film. The Thundering Herd is about a trader who uncovers a scheme to blame the Indians for a Buffalo massacre. Director William Howard remakes the film again in 1933 and stars Randolph Scott. Sally was besotted by Gary Cooper. Can you blame her?
Chapter 4: George
I give my deepest thanks to the board and members of the Clarkdale Historical Society in Clarkdale when I volunteered heavily for a year learning about the William A. Clark family and the United Verde Copper Company. An intricate mining system located in the Black Hills of Jerome sent the raw deposits to the smelting plant below in Clarkdale. Jerome by Midge Steuber and the Jerome Historical Society Archives was instrumental in learning about the mining history of Jerome and Clarkdale. The galleries of photos, newspaper articles, books, and older residents shared their personal histories and gave me a valuable history lesson. A true company town, William A. Clark was a rags-to-riches story of the famous copper baron who turned senator. He died in 1925 at the age of 86 leaving an estimated $200 million ($2.5 billion today) and his company town. He established a rail line and a depot in the middle of the desert called Las Vegas. He had nine children from two marriages. His son, William A. Clark Jr., went to Los Angeles and became a rare books collector and the driving force of the Philharmonic Orchestra. William A. Clark’s reclusive daughter, Huguette, has become popular to do the excellent biography by Bill Dedman, a Pulitzer-prize winning reporter, entitled Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune. The grandson was an aviator who tragically died in the hills outside of Clarkdale when his plane failed to come out of a spin in 1932. Earlier that year, he helped establish the Cottonwood AirField (later known as the Clemenceau Airport) in the neighboring town of Cottonwood. A special guest attended the two-day dedication celebration–Amelia Earhart.
Chapter 5: Sally
Many times my family and I ride up the dirt road to what we fondly refer to as “The Plateau”. The stunning vista views of the Sycamore Canyon and the Red Rocks of Sedona always impress. It is a place for a campfire and stargazing. It is also the starting point of the story’s camping expedition.
Photo by Cindy Bruchman
Fictional Kay is 19 and experienced a loss of self. In the 1920s, Native Americans generally had three choices for adopting an identity. First, return to the Hopi tribe and “be” Hopi. Two, reject the Hopi tradition and assimilate into the white culture. Three, become a hybrid of sorts, holding on to and existing in the white culture while honoring parts of Hopi traditions discreetly. As Kay figures herself out, she is befriended by an old Apache grandmother who tries to teach her Apache ways. From the 1880s to the 1950s, Yavapai, Apache, Hopi, and Navajo tribes shared traditions because of the forced removal and tribal integration on the reservations. Over the years, tribes blended versions of dances and art forms. While there is a fierce pride in keeping with tribal traditions that are distinct as Hopi or Navajo, Native Americans instinctively bonded with other tribes first before they would bond with whites. This is a generalization and exceptions are always found. What fascinates me as a social historian is how an individual chooses their cultural identity. Native Americans see themselves as unique. They are a minority group trying to be autonomous while surviving in a larger culture. I find their grace and artistry and traditions fascinating. I’m a big fan of Native American photographer and ethnographer, Edward “Shadow Catcher” Curtis. From the 1880s to 1930s Curtis recorded thousands of wax cylinder recordings of music, language, and mythologies of Indian tribes in the Southwest. His expansive photography captures the grace and beauty of Southwest Indians. His photographs are now famous although he had little fame or fortune during his working years. I recommend reading Edward S. Curtis: Coming To Light by Anne Makepeace. One aspect of the Indian tradition that they all shared was their way of harvesting and use of wild desert vegetation. I recommend James W. Cornett’s informative book Indian Uses of Desert Plants by Nature Trails Press.
Chapter 6: Kay
Early Glendale by Juliet M. Arroyo was helpful in getting an idea of what the Los Angeles Area. Who knew Native Americans camped out in the parks or that there was a union formed by Native Americans objecting to the depiction of Indians in the movies? Another aspect of Los Angeles I was drawn to was the Glendale airport. One of the biggest advancements in the 1920s was in aviation for women. One singular organization validated the unconventional woman who dared to fly, the Ninety-Nines, which are still in existence today. The club was created for the purpose of chronicling the achievements of women aviation. I saw photos and posters featuring Native American women aviators and knew my fictional heroine had to make the decision to “aim higher”. Flying was the answer to her independent nature. The Ninety-Nines played an active role during the depression with their marking project across America. And there was a female pilot as talented as Amelia Earhart but gathered an ignoble reputation as a Nazi spy, Laura Ingalls, a distant cousin to the famed writer of life on the prairie. It was a good way to tease the reader’s interest in the third book of the series when it will be set during World War II.
In general, my goal was to write a compressed story of three believable characters in the 1920s. Creating a historical climate was the overarching goal. Inside the Gold-Plated Pistol is the second novel in a six-part series showcasing the twentieth century with new heroes who have been underrepresented in United States history.