Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Blue Lights

By Mary Lyn Maiscott

You may have read my reviews on this blog. Well, now I’m putting myself on the other side, the reviewable side, as a singer-songwriter with a CD out. It’s called Blue Lights, named for the first track, which is about my parents’ wartime romance at Christmas. There’s also the classic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” with its evocative melancholy tinge. That’s it for Christmas songs. The other tracks I selected from recording sessions I’ve done over the years, plus two new recordings—a cover of “Be-Bop-A-Lula,” a bonus track done on my little digital recorder, and my own song “Midnight in California,” produced by Terence Dover (Celine Dion, Avril Lavigne) at his Hotbed Studios in Brooklyn. And of course as a nod to Bob Rosen (who’s worked very hard as the project manager for the CD) I had to include a Beatles cover—“You Can’t Do That” (which I sang at the publication party for his book Nowhere Man). If you like, you can listen to a few of the songs on my Myspace page, where you can also download individual tracks. Or you can buy the CD at CD Baby. And thanks in advance for listening!

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

I Saw a Film Today, Oh Boy

Mark David Chapman (Jonas Ball) buying the .38 caliber revolver that he will use to murder John Lennon.

Tribeca Film Festival, NYC, April 25-May 6, 2007
The Killing of John Lennon
112 minutes
Written and Directed by Andrew Piddington
Starring Jonas Ball
From U.K.

By Robert Rosen

Let’s get this out of the way right now for the legions of Beatles fans who believe that this movie should never have been made. These fans, as I understand it, are outraged not only that the movie exists, but that it’s being shown at film festivals and that it’s been getting glowing reviews since it premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival last August.

The Killing of John Lennon is not meant to please Beatlemaniacs. It’s not meant to be in “good taste.” It’s not even meant to be entertainment in the traditional sense of the word. It is, rather, a difficult, disturbing, and at times nauseating movie to watch, even if you never cared about the Beatles or Lennon, even if you weren’t yet born on December 8, 1980, and even if you have little sense of who Mark David Chapman—played with chilling accuracy by Jonas Ball—was, what he did, and why he did it.

Why did Chapman do it? Because he was an emotionally disturbed and probably insane individual. He wanted to steal Lennon’s fame, his identity. He saw himself as the reincarnation of Holden Caulfield, the hypocrisy-hating narrator of J.D. Salinger’s classic novel of disaffected youth, The Catcher in the Rye. Chapman thought Lennon was a phony who deserved to die for misleading a generation. And, as I said in my own John Lennon biography Nowhere Man, he thought that if he killed Lennon, he’d write Chapter 27 of Catcher in Lennon’s blood—Catcher ends on Chapter 26—and literally disappear into the pages of the book.

Most of this is very well explained in the movie.

But let me make one other thing really clear, too: Writer/director Andrew Piddington has chosen to show the act of murder in graphic slow motion. Chapman’s five bullets, fired at close range, are seen tearing apart Lennon’s flesh amidst a shower of blood, in the archway of the Dakota, as the ex-Beatle and his wife, Yoko Ono, are returning from a recording session.

So what is this filmmaker up to? Piddington has said that he wants his movie to generate “controversy, adverse criticism, and scorn.” Well, that may be his marketing plan, so to speak. But he’s also said that it was his intention to put on-screen an unflinching presentation of the truth as seen through Chapman’s eyes, as he goes from his dead-end job as a security guard in Hawaii to the aftermath of the murder and his solitary confinement in Attica. Piddington accomplishes this by basing his impressionistic and at times surreal screenplay on the murderer’s journals, statements he made to the police and psychiatrists, interviews, depositions, and court transcripts. The director says that there’s nothing in the script that he didn’t corroborate three times.

That’s an almost impossible standard to employ for any work of journalism, especially for a documentary-like feature film shot on a miniscule budget of $500,000. But it perhaps explains why a number of well-known events and crucial bits of information are missing from the movie. They include:
  • Chapman’s belief that his head and the walls of his room are populated by a civilization he calls the “little people.”
  • Chapman, on his flight to New York from Georgia, sees Lennon on the cover of the November 1980 Esquire magazine, and after reading the article describing the ex-Beatle as little more than a rich businessman, becomes even more enraged by Lennon’s “phoniness.”
  • Chapman meets John’s son Sean and his governess in front of the Dakota.
  • Chapman, in his hotel, reads the January 1981 Playboy interview with Lennon and learns that sometimes he hires fans off the street to work for him.
  • Chapman asks Lennon for a job as Lennon autographs his record album.
  • Chapman, on the morning of the murder, sees Mia Farrow walk in front of the Dakota and takes that as yet another sign that he should kill Lennon. (Farrow played Rosemary, who gives birth to the devil in the Dakota, in the film Rosemary’s Baby.)
The absence of this information is, in the scheme of the film, a piddling criticism that takes nothing away from Ball’s uncannily realistic portrayal of Chapman. And only people intimately familiar with the story (like me) would notice it’s missing.

The Killing of John Lennon, shot on location in New York, Honolulu, and Decatur, Georgia, is a minor miracle of genuine independent/guerrilla filmmaking and should be commended as such. It couldn’t have been easy for Piddington to shoot in front of the Dakota, and that’s undoubtedly why many scenes that in real life took place on the sidewalk directly in front of the building were staged down the block or across the street. And, presumably, it was beyond the limits of Piddington’s budget to shoot the crowds of Lennon fans that haunted the Dakota daily, their numbers swelling after Lennon released Double Fantasy, the album that marked his return to the public eye after five years of seclusion.

And even with its numerous anachronisms—the Virgin Megastore in Times Square, modern subway turnstiles, and the occasional 21st century car—the film doesn’t look cheap; it looks real, and real scary. If anything, The Killing of John Lennon serves as an illustration of the problems associated with low-budget filmmaking and how they can be creatively overcome by a determined and talented filmmaker.


Robert Rosen is the author of Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon. His blog, Chapter 27, is a resource of information on Lennon, the events surrounding his murder, his portrayal in the media, and the uncredited connection between the other Mark David Chapman film, Chapter 27, and the section called “Chapter 27” in Nowhere Man.

The Killing of John Lennon

Fri., May 4, 5:30 PM, Pace University Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts (3 Spruce Street between Park Row and Gold Street)

Friday, April 27, 2007

Paraíso Perdido

Filmmaker Camila Guzmán Urzúa (center) in the “Golden Age” of post-revolutionary Cuba with her classmates, called Pioneers.

Tribeca Film Festival, NYC, April 25-May 6, 2007

The Sugar Curtain (El Telón de Azúcar)
80 minutes
Directed by Camila Guzmán Urzúa
From France, Cuba, and Spain

By Mary Lyn Maiscott

It was good, and then it wasn’t: This heartfelt documentary tries to find significance in the gap between filmmaker Camila Guzmán Urzúa’s Edenic childhood in Cuba in the 1970s and the way things are now. Since she nearly glides past the reasons why (mainly the collapse of the U.S.S.R.), this never quite happens. Still, we see the despair in the beautiful big eyes of her former classmates who continue to live on the isolated island—most have fled to such places as Spain, Canada, or, as with Guzmán Urzúa herself, France—admire the candor with which they speak of “Fifo” (Fidel) and their many problems, and remain fascinated by the sea-washed country that, at least for baby boomers, so affected our own childhood. A special gracias to the native rock band Habana Abierta (now living in Spain) who added a midway jolt of energy to a perhaps too-leisurely film, including the heartening sound of hundreds of Cuban youths deliriously shouting an obscenity-laced chant to the group.

The Sugar Curtain

Fri., April 27, 7:30 PM, AMC 34th Street-14, 312 W. 34th Street (bet 8/9 Avenues)

Sat., April 28, 1:45 PM, AMC 34th Street-10

Sun., April 29, 10:15 AM, AMC Village VII-03, 66 Third Avenue (at 11th Street)

Mon., April 30, 6:00 PM, AMC Kips Bay-15, 570 Second Avenue (at 32nd Street)

Tues., May 1, 9:30 PM, AMC Kips Bay-15

Fri., May 4, 5:00 PM, AMC Kips Bay-13

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Welcome to the Looseleaf Report

The staff of The Looseleaf Report with the late Ray Evans, Oscar-winning composer of such songs as “Que Sera, Sera” and “Silver Bells,” in New York City, May 2005. Left to Right: Victoria Looseleaf, Sonja Wagner, Evans, Robert Rosen, and Mary Lyn Maiscott.

Welcome to the blog of The Looseleaf Report, a bi-coastal talk show hosted by L.A. Times writer Victoria Looseleaf, and broadcasting on public access TV in Los Angeles and New York since 1986. Looseleaf’s guests over the decades include Leonardo DiCaprio, Henry Rollins, George Carlin, Steve Allen, Sidney Sheldon, and Bud Cort.

We will officially launch our blog on April 25, with on-the-scene coverage from the Tribeca Film Festival in downtown New York City.

In the meantime, watch The Looseleaf Report in New York on Time Warner Cable, every other Thursday at 3 PM on channel 56, or online (click on channel 56). The next show is April 19. In L.A., check your local cable listings.