“Nothing Lasts Forever,” yet this Bill Murray movie persists.

“Nothing Lasts Forever,” yet this Bill Murray movie persists. (photo)

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“This is a historic moment for me because in this very theater years ago, I saw ‘Ben Hur’ and was scared to death when they went into the leper thing in the cave,” said Tom Schiller at a rare screening of his lone feature “Nothing Lasts Forever” at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. “So this is my revenge by showing my feature film that has been suppressed for 27 years.”

Teased recently in Karina Longworth’s L.A. Weekly piece as “the Bill Murray film you’ve never seen,” Schiller’s 1984 quasi-comedy about “a guy who wants to be an artist, but he doesn’t know what kind” has been getting a revival of late, first rediscovered in 2004 when Murray insisted the rare film be included in a retrospective of his work at the BAMcinématek in New York, and subsequently serving as the Opening Night Film at last year’s Olympia Film Festival and a recent play at the 92YTribeca “Not Coming to a Theater Near You” series in March in addition to Michael Streeter’s book “Nothing Lost Forever.” The Olympia Film Fest date is particularly ironic, given that it was a bad test screening in the Pacific Northwest that doomed “Nothing Lasts Forever” to a release directly to the airwaves of late night television in Europe when MGM, still reeling from “Heaven’s Gate” and other debacles of the early ’80s, decided against releasing the film theatrically.

As the American Cinematheque moderator Grant Moninger noted during the film’s post-screening Q&A, Schiller’s film resembles the work of Guy Maddin, heavily using stock footage to imagine a New York run like a police state by the Port Authority with an underground sanctum where ticker tape falls from the sky representing the souls living above. (The worlds are differentiated by black-and-white for the Big Apple and color for the rest.) A pre-“Gremlins” Zach Galligan is caught between the two worlds when after being revealed as a fraudulent pianist in Europe, he is called upon by the New York underground to travel to the moon for some “spiritual work” and to find his soulmate (Lauren Tom). Although “Nothing Lasts Forever” isn’t traditional in any sense, Murray plays what would be described as the film’s villain, the testy lunar bus attendant whose job it is to serve Lunartinis and encourage the largely senior citizen passengers to shop freely at the “Moon-O-Rama Carousel of Consumer Values” on a moon that resembles Hawaii far more than the one Neil Armstrong landed on. (Fellow “SNL”-er Dan Aykroyd pops up in a cameo and Schiller revealed John Belushi had been originally tapped to play one of the underground dweller gods before he died in 1982.)

When asked at the Egyptian screening how the film got made, Schiller responded, “I don’t exactly know” before explaining how Lorne Michaels had a development deal at MGM and out of several projects Michaels considered, he picked the one from Schiller, who had been directing idiosyncratic shorts like “Don’t Look Back in Anger” and “Java Junkie” for the NBC show during the late ’70s and early ’80s. “I think they thought it was low budget or something to get off the hook of their contract, but I had total freedom. No one was watching hardly and I got to make a personal film with a studio crew.” As it turned out, two members of that studio crew would later become Oscar winners — Howard Shore, who composed just his second score for the film, and “Alice in Wonderland” costume designer Colleen Atwood, who is credited as a production designer on “Nothing.”

Clearly, MGM didn’t know what to do with “Nothing Lasts Forever,” which derives its self-reflective humor from a bewildered Eddie Fisher (as himself) asking, “How the hell did I wind up singing on a bus to the moon?” and one of Galligan’s art groupie sexual conquests squealing “Oh my God… it’s ‘Potempkin!'” upon climaxing as she sees the Eisenstein film in the background. According to Schiller, the film was accepted not once, but twice into the Cannes Film Festival’s Directors’ Fortnight after Schiller smuggled a print of the film to the powers that be, but MGM passed.

“I got a phone call and they said, [in a French accent] “you have created a masterpiece! You will be a sensation at Cannes!” So I met [the Cannes director] at the Algonquin Hotel, where he gets me champagne and my head is swimming because all I wanted to do was be a great foreign-appreciated American filmmaker,” Schiller recalled half-jokingly. “So I immediately call the president of MGM and say, ‘They want us at Cannes.’ And he said, “Baby, you could get killed at Cannes.” I said, give me the name of a film that was killed at Cannes. He said, “Baby, I could give the names of 50 that were killed on your desk by tomorrow.’ I never got the names of 50 and I never got to Cannes.”

Though Schiller insisted he likes the film’s cult status, he also alluded to the “murmurs” of an eventual DVD release, possibly through the Warner Archives label, and when asked if he’ll ever make another film, said, “I’m reading stuff. Yeah, maybe. Why not?”

[Photo: “Nothing Lasts Forever,” MGM, 1984]


Bourne to Run

10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Bourne Movies

Catch The Bourne Ultimatum this month on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

You know his name, as the Super Bowl teaser for the upcoming summer blockbuster Jason Bourne reminded us. In this era of franchise films, that seems to be more than enough to get another entry in the now 15-year-old series greenlit. And gosh darn it if we aren’t into it. Before you catch The Bourne Ultimatum on IFC, here are some surprising facts about the Bourne movies that you may not know. And unlike Jason Bourne, try not to forget them.

10. Matt Damon was a long shot to play Jason Bourne.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Coming off of Good Will Hunting and The Legend of Bagger Vance, early ’00s Matt Damon didn’t exactly scream “ripped killing machine.” In fact, Brad Pitt, Russell Crowe and even Sylvester Stallone were all offered the part before it fell into the hands of the Boston boy made good. It was his enthusiasm for director Doug Liman’s more frenetic vision that ultimately helped land him the part.

9. Love interest Marie was almost played by Sarah Polley.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Damon wasn’t the only casting surprise. Franka Potente, of Run Lola Run fame, wasn’t the filmmaker’s first choice for the role or Marie in The Bourne Identity. In fact, Liman wanted his Go star Sarah Polley for the part, but she turned it down in favor of making indie movies back in Canada. A quick rewrite changed the character from American Marie Purcell to European Marie Helena Kreutz, and the rest is movie history.

8. Director Doug Liman was obsessed with the Bourne books.

Universal Picutres

Universal Pictures

Liman had long been a fan of the Bourne book series. When Warner Bros.’ rights to the books lapsed in the late ’90s, Liman flew himself to author Robert Ludlum’s Montana home, mere days after earning his pilot’s license. The author was so impressed with his passion for the material, he sold the rights on the spot.

7. Liman’s father actually worked for the NSA.

Universal Picutres

Universal Pictures

Part of Liman’s fasciation with the Bourne series was that his own father played the same spy craft games portrayed in the books while working for the NSA. In fact, many of the Treadstone details were taken from his father’s own exploits, and Chris Cooper’s character, Alex Conklin, was based on Oliver Stone, whom Arthur Liman famously cross examined as chief counsel of the Iran-Contra hearings.

6. Tony Gilroy threw the novel’s story out while writing The Bourne Identity.

Universal Picutres

Universal Picutres

Despite being based on a hit book, screenwriter Tony Gilroy, coming off of The Devil’s Advocate, had no idea how to adapt it into a movie. He said the book was more concerned with people “running to airports” than character, and would need a complete rewrite. Director Doug Liman agreed, and Gilroy claims to have condensed the original novel into the first five minutes. Getting that out of the way, he then wrote his own story, based on a man who wakes up one day not remembering anything but how to kill.

5. Damon walked like a boxer to get into character.

Universal Picutres

Universal Picutres

Damon had never played a character like Bourne before, and was searching for a way to capture his physicality. Doug Liman told him to walk like a boxer to give Jason Bourne an edge. Damon took that to heart, training for six months in boxing, marital arts and firearms.

4. Damon broke an actor’s nose.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Damon’s training for the films is legendary, but mistakes still happen. While filming a scene for The Bourne Ultimatum, Damon hit actor Tim Griffin so hard, he shattered his nose. Apparently, the space the scene was filmed in was smaller than originally intended, throwing Damon off just enough to exert a real beat down.

3. James Bond visited The Bourne Legacy set.

Eon Productions

Eon Productions

Actor Daniel Craig stopped by the set of The Bourne Legacy to visit his wife, actress Rachel Weisz, who was starring in the movie. While having James Bond on a Bourne set must have been exciting, The Bourne Legacy was the only Bourne movie to not actually feature Jason Bourne, meaning our bets on who would kick whose ass would have to wait for another day.

2. The Bourne Identity was nearly a bomb (in the box office sense).

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

As reshoots began to pile up, and an all-out war between the studio and director Doug Liman spilled into the press, expectations were that The Bourne Identity was going to flop. Matt Damon told GQ that, “the word on Bourne was that it was supposed to be a turkey…It’s very rare that a movie comes out a year late, has four rounds of reshoots, and it’s good.”

1. Matt Damon wasn’t the first actor to play Bourne.

Warner Brothers Television

Warner Brothers Television

Aired on ABC in 1988, the TV movie adaptation of The Bourne Identity, while not exactly critically acclaimed, was a more faithful version of Ludlum’s book. Richard Chamberlain, of The Thorn Birds fame, played a much less ass-kicking spy, while “Charlie’s Angel” Jaclyn Smith played love interest Marie. If you like your Bourne movies heavy with poorly lit ’80s melodrama, this might just be the adaptation for you. Otherwise, you should catch The Bourne Ultimatum when it airs this month on IFC.

100 years of Akira Kurosawa.

100 years of Akira Kurosawa. (photo)

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Today is the 100th anniversary of Akira Kurosawa’s birth, a centennial that’s already been celebrated with a good deal of pomp (retrospectives, articles, a very expensive Criterion box set).

As part of the small group of foreign auteurs recognizable by last name alone — alongside Bergman, Fellini, Antonioni and, honestly, not many others — Kurosawa made films that became de rigeur viewing. And, as Christopher Campbell points out at MTV, his legacy lives on in a mutated way, with sturdily archetypal plots that can be shorn of cultural context and reused — the “what is truth?” film, the men-on-a-mission and so on.

It’s a curious fact that Kurosawa’s popularity has waned — as, indeed, has the stock of most of the international directors who briefly made foreign film viewing a mandatory part of many people’s college experience. Bergman’s death prompted a bilious Jonathan Rosenbaum obit, and most Fellini (“8 1/2″ aside) seems to have been downgraded in importance. Antonioni’s particular brand of ennui seems more prescient than ever about the rhythms of the contemporary arthouse/festival film, even as his movies (undeservingly!) seem to be less-watched than ever.

In Kurosawa’s case, pretty much everyone I know under 30 who cares about such things has almost no use for him. Any day now, it seems he may be downgraded to the ranks of some old-school Hollywood triumph no one watches anymore. This despite the fact that his career is anything but a 50-year march of self-recycling. My personal favorites are from the ’40s — a weird and exploratory time in his career — and the magisterial one-two ’80s punch of “Kagemusha” and “Ran,” which pull off the rare trick of combining epic spectacle and a crawling pace that draws attention to the pleasures of its slow groove.

03232010_kagemusha.jpgIn between comes a lot of mixed work, including — and where I think the problem lies — the landmarks perpetually paid lip service: “Yojimbo,” “Ikiru” and the rest of the gang, showcasing the manic scenery-chewing of Toshiro Mifune, whose particularly voracious brand of masculinity was extensively (and accurately) parodied by the late John Belushi. There are issues of cultural specificity as well — try unpacking the argument of a relative bagatelle like “The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail” and you’ll see what I mean. Kurosawa’s standard reputation as the most “Western” of Japanese directors is a total crock.

When it comes to Kurosawa, what it comes down to, I suppose, is this: Kurosawa’s films often veer erratically between the “well-made” (in a way that anyone can recognize) and very specific ideas about acting and cultural traditions — an unstable, heady mix that, now that the initial shock of discovery has worn off, can often seem unresolved. Or maybe the cultural tides are just arbitrarily shifting again.

Here’s Belushi’s spot-on Mifune. That’s Buck Henry (writer of “The Graduate”) as the hapless customer:

[Photos: “Seven Samurai,” Criterion Collection, 1954; “Kagemusha,” Criterion Collection, 1980]

Bill Murray and Robert Duvall, Honorary Texans

Bill Murray and Robert Duvall, Honorary Texans (photo)

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“There’s a couple of you I’d like to touch, but most of you, I’ll be hilarious with,” Bill Murray said in response to a question about how he found the tonal balance between touching and hilarious in “Get Low,” the period dramedy that premiered in Austin Wednesday night. Even before he walked on stage, Murray was cracking the audience up, urging the film’s soft-spoken director Aaron Schneider to project more during his introduction, which led Schneider to remark “There’s this idea that I directed these actors…,” looking over at Murray and co-stars Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek. Moments later, Duvall called on the audience for a hearty amen, which he received; Murray’s call for a fight on St. Patrick’s Day was less successful, though he did take a moment to tell the crowd sincerely, “you’re all very lucky to be here tonight.”

The film, which stars Duvall as a societal outcast in 1930s Tennessee inspired to stage his own funeral while he’s still alive with the help of a funeral director (Murray) and his assistant (Lucas Black), played to an enthusiastic response and a standing ovation for Duvall when he came out for the post-screening Q & A. Nearly all the questions revolved around just how a first-time director like Schneider was able to collect such an impressive cast — when one audience member asked him how lucky he felt, Murray chimed in, “We were saying that a lot. We were telling him how lucky he was.”

It was just one of many breaks for the $7.5 million film that Schneider had to edit in his house since he couldn’t afford an editing bay. Screenwriter Chris Provenzano said the basis for the story came from his own family tree from a relative who set up his own wake several generations before and once the production starting gaining momentum, Schneider felt particularly lucky to find a Civil War Park Preserve in Georgia to play the role of Duvall’s recluse Felix Bush’s 300-acre estate.

Spacek declared early that “I think we should call Bill and Robert honorary Texans,” a sentiment echoed at the end of the evening by Murray. “Austin’s not a safe town for people like us,” he said, pausing for the irony to settle in. “But for two or three hours, we can come here and feel safe.”

[Photo: “Get Low,” Sony Pictures Classics, 2010]

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