Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Movie Magic

I had the extreme pleasure of watching Billy Wilder direct his last movie, BUDDY BUDDY. The movie itself was not very good, but what an awesome treat watching the great Billy Wilder in action. And yes, he wore the hat. 

They were filming a scene where Jack Lemmon was gagged and tied to a chair. He shimmies the chair over to a heating vent and is able to singe the rope enough to loosen its grip and escape. Mr. Wilder explained this to the crew and one member popped up saying there was a problem. Mr. Lemmon was supposed to click on the heating unit with his foot, the filaments would then glow and he would set about freeing himself.

The crew member said that filaments don’t just turn on and glow, they take several minutes to warm up.

Wilder shot back at him: “Young man, ve are making MOVIE MAGIC here! Did you ever notice that there is ALWAYS a parking space? Right out front? Always a window table at a restaurant? MOVIE MAGIC!”

Mr. Lemmon clicked on the unit and the filaments instantly glowed.

Someone once said movies are “Life with the boring parts left out.”

When was the last time you found a parking space right out front?


Jim S said...

Reminds me of the movie "The Stuntman" starring Peter O'Toole and Steve Railsback.

I saw it once on cable almost 40 years ago, but still remember the line "How tall was King Kong?"

In the film O'Toole plays a director making a war movie and he needs a stuntman. Railback is a Viet Nam veteran who sort of stumbles into the job. (Again, it was almost 40 years ago. The details are a little fuzzy).

Railsback said he doesn't know anything about making a movie and wouldn't being a stuntman be dangerous. O'Toole then goes on about how movies are made and how fake things look real. He said that King Kong wasn't a 40 foot tall ape, he was a six-inch model.

So when it comes time to shoot the big climax, Railsback wonders if they can do the extremely difficult shot. O'Toole shouts back "HOW TALL WAS KING KONG?"

The movie was about more than making a movie. O'Toole's character said he wanted to make an anti-war movie, but the problem with war movies, even anit-war movies, was that it made war look cool and enlistments actually went up after they came out. O'Toole messed with Railsback's head to convince this man that war wasn't cool.

It was a whole art house movie thing, but I still remember it almost 40 years later.

Movie magic.

Jeff Alexander said...

Nice little piece on one of the greatest movie comedy directors, Mr. Levine! Sadly, "Buddy Buddy" was Mr. Wilder's last and certainly far from his best (I call it "Cruddy Cruddy").
With Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau teamed with Wilder for the third time, it should have been a lot better.
Mr. Wilder also gave a great piece of advice to filmmakers striving for artistic shots -- "never shoot from inside the fireplace. That is from the point of view of Santa Claus."
That Wilder touch!!

Steve Bailey said...

Funny how we just sort of accept some movie conventions so that we can get on with the story. How many times have we seen a movie or TV couple in what is meant to be post-coital conversation, yet they still have all of their pajamas and nighties on?

Dixon Steele said...

BUDDY BUDDY didn't work, but I loved the original French comedy it was based on, released in the US as "A PAIN IN THE A--", starring Jacques Brel and Lino Ventura. It was directed by Edouard Molinaro, who also directed LA CAGE AUX FOLLES.

I enjoyed Wilder's version of THE FRONT PAGE when it came out, but I was a kid. It really gets raked over the coals in the current Eddie Murphy Netflix film DOLEMITE IS MY NAME, which I loved.

Murphy plays Rudy Ray Moore, who thinks TFP is awful and not funny (despite a white audience enjoying it), and it inspired him to make his own movie.

Andy Rose said...

I'm just old enough to remember when most TVs still had vacuum tubes. The tubes had to warm up in order to work, so it would take several seconds after the set was turned on before you'd see a picture. It always bothered me as a kid when people on TV would turn on their set and see a picture almost immediately.

I would also get annoyed when writers in the days before cell phones would use the premise of a live news report to let one set of characters know instantly about something that happened to another character in a different location. TV and radio stations don't cut in to regular programming to give a "breaking news" report on a routine arrest of a non-celebrity, or an ordinary protest or car accident. But you'd see them all the time on sitcoms and dramas because somebody needed to be able to say, "Wait, is that MOM being led away in handcuffs?" or "That sounds like Dad's car that just wrecked on the 101!"

Mike Barer said...

Isn't it also known as "artistic license"?

Lemuel said...

Funny, the last time I heard the phrase "movie magic" was from the recently deceased Marshall Efron in the movie IS THERE SEX AFTER DEATH? His director character was responding to a grotesque scene involving a squirrel humping a horse,

estiv said...

Alfred Hitchcock is supposed to have calmly admitted that there were plot holes in all his thrillers, but since you didn't notice them until you'd left the theater, who cared?

Jeffrey Graebner said...

Andy Rose, years ago Roger Ebert had a recurring feature in his newspaper column where he had a glossary of terms that referred to movie cliches, which he also later turned into a book. He created some of them himself, but many came from reader submissions and I submitted one that he actually used. My submission was "Human Antenna", which referred to the ability of a movie character to turn on the TV at the exact moment when a newscaster is starting a report on something directly relevant to them.

Anonymous said...

From “Some Like It Wilder: The Life and Controversial Films of Billy Wilder”
By Gene D. Phillips

Peter Sellers was not accustomed to incessant banter on the set.
Moreover, Wilder preferred an open set and allowed his own friends,
as well as guests of the cast and crew, to visit the soundstage during shooting.
“The clubby atmosphere made Sellers feel like an outsider,”
since he was from Britain, notes Glenn Hopp.
............,, .........
Once he was back in London, Sellers granted Alexander Walker
an interview for the Evening Standard, in which he declared
“I have had Hollywood, luv. At the studios they give you every creature comfort,
except the satisfaction of being able to get the best work out of yourself.
I used to go down to the set of Kiss Me, Stupid with Billy Wilder
and find a bloody Cook’s Tour of hangers-on and sightseers.
standing just off the set, right in my line of vision.”
These were friends of the director and the cast
“who came to kibitz on Peter Sellers, actor.
I should have ridden to the set on horseback and bawled out.
‘Who are all these damn civilians?
Get them out of the range of my cannons!’ “

Tom said...

Re: Parking spaces. The last scene of Albert Brooks's "Lost in America" shows a Winnebago instantly finding a parking place in front of the main character's building in midtown Manhattan. The whole audience got the joke and cracked up.

Mike Bloodworth said...

One of my favorite things about being an extra was getting to see all the behind the scenes action, especially the props and sets. One time we were filming inside the Los Angeles colosseum. There were piles of debris everywhere. Since this was not long after our 1994 Northridge earthquake I assumed that they were from repairs going on around the venue. As I got closer I noticed that what I thought was concrete and steel, etc., was Styrofoam and plastic. The "debris" was actually part of the set dressing. Yet, it totally faked me out! Things that look so real and solid on camera are often, quite literally, just a facade.

DBenson said...

A favorite bit of movie magic -- magic in any fiction, I guess -- is getting away with an outrageous coincidence. If it's too obvious, it tips a lazy or desperate writer. But it's done all the time.

If it's positioned as bad luck for the hero, it'll usually fly. Making something especially undesirable somehow mitigates its unlikelihood (the wives spotting Stan and Ollie in a newsreel in "Sons of the Desert"). If a hero makes really clever use of an improbable event, the hero's ingenuity veils its convenience (the uniformed minion who's exactly the hero's size). And in farce, foreshadowing characters on a collision course can make wild coincidences look comically inevitable. As as Estiv noted, speed and the illusion of sense covers a multitude of holes.

J Lee said...

Wilder didn't have as much clout to get the Russians and the East Germans to stop building the Berlin Wall while he was trying to do the scene there with Jimmy Cagney for "One, Two, Three" in 1961. They had to finish by recreating the Gate on a set at a West German studio.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

How about when the phone rings, somebody always answers it immediately after the first ring? Or when a character knocks on somebody's door (or rings the door bell), the homeowner always opens the door two seconds max afterwards? Or when somebody in a medical situation is given a sedative injection, and they're knocked out instantly? And how about M*A*S*H? Did you ever notice none of the mail that arrived for anybody in camp was ever actually sealed? Everybody just opened the envelope flaps like nothing. MAGIC!

Anonymous said...

I worked as a technical advisor on The Fugitive.
When I pointed out an inaccuracy about what goes on in the hospital, an assistant director told me "We want real life, just not too much real life."

MikeN said...

Breaking Bad, it bothers me that Saul Goodman is just magic who can solve all their problems. I have a guy who can sell all your product for you. I know a guy who can get you a new identity.

estiv said...

Just one more example, again from Hitchcock. I'll add that 1) the relevant part only lasts about sixty seconds, and 2) I never would have known we're seeing an older Rod Taylor if it hadn't been clear from context.


estiv said...

Just one more example, again from Hitchcock. I'll add that 1) the relevant part only lasts about sixty seconds, and 2) I never would have known we're seeing an older Rod Taylor if it hadn't been clear from context.


Anonymous said...

I wish I suffered from Doris Day parking syndrome. And have the perfect parking spot constantly

Matt said...


From the department of "I've always wondered..."

On MASH, was the coffee urn in the Mess Tent a working urn or was it strictly just a prop?

Bill O said...

Wilder shoulda gone out with Fedora. Bookend with Sunset Blvd. Good Old fashioned. As opposed to Buddy buddy's bad old fashioned.

In a good last movie, John Wayne's character in The Shootest gets a haircut. The prop man put small clips of hair. Wayne told him to drop big clumps. That the audience would accept it.

VP81955 said...

Ken, through Billy Wilder you have two degrees of separation from the great Ernst Lubitsch.

I'm impressed.

Jit said...

In reference to the post above by Estiv about HItchcock:

"Fridge Logic has been the writer's-room term for these little Internal Consistency issues for a good while, as in "Don't sweat the Fridge Logic, we've got bigger fish to fry. We've only got 20 minutes left to work in three costume changes, a foreign language, and a weird wig." It refers to some illogical or implausible plot point that the audience doesn't realize during the show, but only long afterwards. This naming is highly subjective, since not every person follows the same train of thought. Some people will never even realise there was a problem, while others will call it a Plot Hole, since they already noticed the problem during the show.

The phrase was technically coined by Alfred Hitchcock. When asked about the scene in Vertigo when Madeleine mysteriously, and impossibly, disappears from the hotel that Scottie saw her in, he responded by calling it an "icebox" scene, that is, a scene that "hits you after you've gone home and start pulling cold chicken out of the icebox." "

Tom Galloway said...

Two parking bits; last month, on a busy Saturday night, I snagged a space directly in front of the downtown Seattle Dick's Drive-In (which I was going to). But I have above average parking karma, leading to the second, more amazing bit.

Many years ago, I was hosting writer Harlan Ellison for an appearance at the University of Michigan. We knew each other already, so things were casual. I was driving him from talking to a class on North Campus to his next engagement with a class on Central Campus. It being the middle of the day and the class building not on the Diag but close, I said I'd probably have to drop him off at the building, he could find the classroom, and I'd get there when I found a parking space.

He said he had good parking karma, I replied that I did too, and a few moments later I was parking about 20 feet from the building entrance.

(Worst movie parking bit. Don't recall the name, but it had a character walking out of the Boston Pops Fourth of July concert on the Esplanade right to his parked right there car (which would've had to have been there since, oh, before sunrise) and driving off without hitting any traffic restrictions or, well, traffic.)

workplace innovator said...

Billy Wilder looks like Wallace Shawn in that picture.

Bill said...

I assumed all the mail was opened by army censors first. And made sure everyone knew. Real or fake the coffee was awful.

mike schlesinger said...

A current example of the Doris Day Parking Spot can be found in the excellent (and very serious) MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN, where Norton and Mbatha-Raw pull up and park right in front of the hottest jazz club in Harlem.