Sunday, September 15, 2013

Chaplin and Woody Allen: Very Similar

Nobody expects big box office from Woody Allen. Maybe nobody really wants it. Actors simply die to be handpicked by him to play minor roles in which they invariably don't know what they are doing or what the movie is about. (Or even if their contributions will make it into the final cut.) Woody is an authentic New York City treasure and like New York itself, he may be financially unappealing, but he's got that "certain something" only New York has.
Liz Smith, New York Post, Feb. 20, 1991 (qtd. in Spignesi xi)
Woody Allen has been one of America's most steadfast film directors, releasing roughly a movie a year since 1969. New Yorkers, in particular, have long supported the Brooklyn-born Allen, many of whose films serve as cinematic poems of their city. Given this, it was surprising for the New York Times, on 5 June 2002, to run a disparaging front-page story titled "Curse of the Jaded Audience: Woody Allen, in Art and Life." It began as follows:
A grand total of eight people showed up yesterday for the matinee of Woody Allen's latest movie "Hollywood Ending," one month out of the box and now playing in exactly one theater in Manhattan, a $4.95-a-ticket discount house in Times Square.
Because of technical problems, the screening was canceled. (Newman and Kilgannon A1)
The article, which detailed Allen's legal problems with his long-time producer Jane Doumanian and his difficulty pleasing modern audiences, included the domestic ticket sales figures for all of the twelve movies Allen had directed over the previous ten years. They ranged from a low of $2.7 million for Shadows and Fog in 1992 to a high of $17.5 million for Small Time Crooks in 2000. Allen's most recent release, Hollywood Ending (2002), had earned a paltry $4.7 million. Any way you calculated the figures--the mean and median were both $8.6 million-they did not look encouraging. In fact, the total box office take of Woody Allen's twelve theatrical releases from 1992 to 2002 was only $103.7--the typical earnings for a single successful film. Released the same summer as Hollywood Ending, My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002), another low-budget, independent filmmakers' release, raked in over $100 million in its first few weeks, making more than a full decade's worth of Allen's films.
The day after the damning New York Times article appeared, the newspaper ran a letter to the editor from Chicago Sun-Times movie critic Roger Ebert, who leapt to the beleaguered director's defense. "What offended me most...," Ebert wrote, "was the chart showing the box office performance of Mr. Allen's recent movies. Surely you don't equate box office with quality" (A30). Ebert pointed out that a majority of Allen's recent films won favorable ratings at, a website that chronicles North American movie critics. In addition, as a group, the movies cited by the Times garnered fourteen Academy Award nominations and won two Oscars. "Few directors do as well," Ebert concluded (A30).
Rightly so, but the damage was already done. Woody Allen, the one-time boy wonder of the movie industry, apparently had lost his cachet. It was not always the case. Robert Evans, in his popular autobiography The Kid Stays in the Picture (1994), describes a conversation with Warren Beatty and his roommate and friend Charlie Feldman in the early 1960s centering on the rising young comic, Woody Allen. As Evans writes, "Charlie was telling Warren and me how brilliant this new kid, Woody Allen, was. 'The kid's a genius [Feldman gushed]. We went to Danny's hideaway for a steak last night. I laughed so hard I couldn't eat" (101). Forty years later, Allen's status as the funny, neurotic Jewish intellectual with a quirky insight into romantic relationships was in question. No longer dubbed "the genius" and no longer hilarious and attractive to the youth audience that makes up the bulk of moviegoers, Allen had fallen so much out of favor that Picking Up the Pieces (2000), a black comedy directed by Alfonso Arau in which Allen played a kosher butcher with an unfaithful wife, went straight to Cinemax, despite the fact that it also starred Sharon Stone and Friends' David Schwimmer. Allen-directed Anything Else, released in September 2003, made only $3,212,310 and Melinda and Melinda in 2005, only slightly more, $3,826,280 ("Woody").
However, just as Allen seemed to have sunk to the status of box-office poison, something unexpected happened: he had a hit. Released in December 2005, Match Point starred Scarlett Johansson, a young, beautiful, blond starlet dubbed as the next Marilyn Monroe, and earned $23,151, 529 domestically and $78,265,575 worldwide ("Match Point"). While not a blockbuster by anyone's standards, it nevertheless became one of the most commercially successful films of Allen's career and garnered almost universally favorable reviews. Movie theaters, not accustomed to having huge crowds for a Woody Allen film, had to turn away patrons on opening weekend. Scoop (2006), Allen's follow-up effort, also starring Johannson, did not measure up critically or popularly, although it did manage a respectable, albeit limited opening, coming in thirteenth for the week and earning $3,046, 924 on 538 screens ("Miami Vice" E2).
Like Roger Ebert, Woody Allen does not judge a film by the size of its audience. Peter J. Bailey, reflecting what has been characterized as the director's patronizing attitude towards his audience, writes, "Allen's interviews proliferate with genial disavowal of accountability to his audience, with affirmations of his greater commitment to craft than to effect" (267). Allen himself once remarked, "The best film I ever did, really, was Stardust Memories. It was my least popular film. That may automatically mean it was my best film. It was the closest that I came to achieving what I set out to achieve" (qtd. in Shales 90). A highly personal and idiosyncratic filmmaker, Allen writes, directs, and stars in material that he finds challenging and does not strive to win over the moviegoing masses, asserting that "[t]he vision of the audience is never as deep as the vision of the artist involved. They are always willing to settle for less than you want for yourself" (qtd. in Lax 370). Nevertheless, it is instructive to consider why the multitalented Allen, although he prefers to please his audiences rather than not, struggles to attract viewers in what should be the prime of his career. Simply labeling him "unpopular" would be imprecise and unproductive. At the same time, exploring the reasons for Allen's box-office performance over the past twenty-five years sheds light on the strategies practiced by one of American film's most notable auteurs and changing trends in the entertainment market.
In order to understand Woody Allen's relationship with moviegoers, it is helpful to compare Allen to a comic auteur of an earlier era, Charlie Chaplin, whose life and career bear many resemblances. Like Chaplin, Woody Allen specializes in romantic comedies that he writes, directs, and stars in. The two actors developed distinctive on-screen personas: Chaplin's as the little tramp and Allen's as the neurotic, fumbling, Jewish intellectual. Both were underdogs, losers audiences could relate to, and when they won, viewers felt hope for themselves. Both Chaplin and Allen lacked substantial formal education but achieved fame very early in their careers and became workaholics who demanded complete control over their films. In their personal lives, both were married multiple times, or involved in numerous high-profile romances, and created scandals due to taboo relationships with underage females and, in the case of Chaplin, with leftist politics.
However, here the comparisons end, for the two filmmakers approached their work differently in two vastly contrasting eras. Chaplin, the visual artist, relied on ad libs and multiple takes until he achieved the direction and effect that he wanted. He worked slowly and deliberately, producing but a handful of comic gems, each one eagerly awaited by his audience. Allen, on the other hand, who is first and foremost a writer, concentrates on the script and is most adept at wordplay and ideas. He works quickly and efficiently, having established himself as one of America's most prolific filmmakers with a movie release a year. Ironically, Chaplin was a silent, visual comedian forced to adapt to talkies while Allen is primarily a verbal stylist, working in a medium that has become increasingly image-dominant and given over to action and special effects as a way of increasing global sales. Although the British-born Chaplin was ostracized from Hollywood (and America) in 1952 and spent the rest of his life in Switzerland happily married to Oona O'Neill, he returned for a hero's welcome in 1972 when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented him with a special Oscar for his achievements. As his life drew to a close, audiences worldwide embraced him. However, what of Allen, now in his 70s and presumably the final stages in his career?
At the onset, it is important to note that Woody Allen's films, even those most critically successful and featuring bankable box-office stars such as Diane Keaton, Julia Roberts, Leonardo DiCaprio, Sean Penn, John Malkovich, Jodie Foster, Hugh Grant, Charlize Theron, and Will Ferrell have never been big blockbusters. Although Annie Hail won an Academy Award for best picture, for example, it earned only $38,251,425 upon its release in 1977, the same year that Star Wars broke box office records. Allen's biggest moneymakers, Manhattan (1979) and Hannah and her Sisters (1986) earned $39,946,780 and $40,048,041 respectively, respectable but not staggering. Nevertheless, early in his career, even if Allen was not churning out blockbusters, he seemed, according to Sam B. Girgus,
   particularly suited to his times.... In
   a time of democratic upheaval that
   touched all aspects of life from the
   sexual and social to the cultural and
   political, Allen's looks and offbeat
   style seemed to speak for and represent
   the involvement of "everyman" in
   the transformations of life-styles and
   values. His persona as a "loser," the
   classic underdog, "schlemiel" figure,
   was perfect for a period of participatory
   democracy and confusing change, but
   also allowed for a process of distancing
   from developments and events that
   contained frightening potential within
   them. One could look at and listen to
   Woody Allen and identify with him,
   while also feeling somewhat estranged
   with him. (3)
Girgus also alludes to Allen's timely ability to treat racial and cultural differences in a nonthreatening way during a period of ethnic turmoil and controversy in America (3). Today, Allen no longer holds the distinction of spokesperson for the changing values of nation. Although Eric Lax says that an Allen film "reflects the dilemmas of its maker's age group" (370), not even baby boomers, now in their fifties and sixties, attend his movies with regularity, in part because they attend fewer movies in general. Thus, at a point in Allen's career when he should be poised to take the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award or a special Oscar for his contributions to the industry, the American movie audience, especially young people, who make up its majority, are not embracing him.
On the surface it would seem that Woody Allen's difficulties attracting an audience were triggered by his personal life, namely his sexual relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, the adopted Korean daughter of his longtime lover and former leading lady, Mia Farrow. Following his 1992 breakup with Farrow, her accusations of his molesting their younger children Dylan and Satchel, and a high-profile court case, Allen appeared in both the tabloids and legitimate journalism as a scoundrel who wronged and deeply wounded the beatific Farrow and her family. However, the public respects survivors and those who persevere are generally forgiven. Just as Chaplin recovered from scandal and dalliances with underage women, so too, perhaps, has Allen: he was acquitted of the child molestation charges, and he and Soon-Yi, who were married in Venice in 1997, now have two young daughters. Their pictures appear regularly in People magazine and other popular publications as the typical domestic couple, a view reinforced by Barbara Kopple's 1998 documentary Wild Man Blues. In essence, Allen, like Chaplin, seems publicly rehabilitated.
Given this, one must direct attention away from Allen's personal life to concentrate more squarely on his approach to moviemaking and his creative output. In the 1960s and 1970s, when Allen attracted the most media attention and a favorable press, he appeared in sync with a generation that was seeking relevance and spearheading a sexual revolution. His movies addressed, with unusual frankness, how life and relationships work and what goes through people's heads. His themes of sex, death, crime, family history, fame, and psychoanalysis were indicative of a time when people were publicly searching for understanding and meaning. Allen's moviemaking techniques also were cutting edge for the time: actors addressing the audience directly or stepping into flashbacks, elimination of the fourth wall, melding live-action with animation, and telling a story out of sequence, from memory. At the core of his best known films was Woody Allen himself, never handsome but possibly cute, somehow likable and vulnerable even when he was being despicable. However, Allen's style of moviemaking is not clicking in the same way with audiences today, for reasons that reflect the volatile state of the movie industry and Allen's role in it. Note, for example, several explanations.
First, Woody Allen directed his first film, Take the Money and Run, in 1969, when he was just twenty-four years old and his name was already synonymous with hip intellectualism due to his stories, articles, plays, and witty television interviews. By achieving success this early in life, he has been in the limelight for decades; thus, while the young audience today recognizes him, especially because his classic and current films show up regularly on television cable channels, on DVD, and in university film classes, it associates him an older generation that is less innovative and cutting-edge.
Second, while Woody Allen has proven his willingness to take risks and try new things--philosophically, psychologically, and technically moving far beyond his early farces that youth audiences found funny and entertaining--he nevertheless has found a formula that he is comfortable with and is best known for his systematic output of romantic comedies. By his own admission, he is an actor with limited range. He can play only one character--a neurotic, bumbling misfit with big black-rimmed glasses--who is either a criminal or an intellectual and goes by names such as Virgil Starkwell, Alvy Singer, Isaac Davis, Mickey Sachs, Ray, or Val Waxman. Allen reprises this same character with slight permutations in film after film, and even typecasts his supporting characters in supporting characters in subsequent films. Thus, audiences feel they have seen the same thing before. This sense of deja vu is reinforced by the musical scores that Allen chooses. Rejecting rock or other contemporary sounds, he prefers jazz and the big band music of the 1930s and '40s, which give his films an old-time, nostalgic quality. Stephen J. Spignesi cites 1950, when Allen was fifteen, as "the musical cutoff year" for [his] taste in popular music," reiterating biographer Eric Lax's assertion that Allen "has no use for almost any popular music after 1950" (Spignesi 5).
Third, the classic Woody Allen character, originated in films like Annie Hall and Manhattan, is a throwback to an earlier era. In on-screen romantic relationships, the Allen character lacks confidence but yet always has to have the upper hand: he is often older, smarter, or more worldly, and plays the role of mentor. In Annie Hall, for example, Annie's identity is based on the fact that she is not very smart or very talented; when her perception of herself begins to change, the relationship is doomed. Similarly, in Manhattan, Ike knows that when Tracy returns from study abroad in England that she'll be less naive and more worldly and that he won't have a chance of winning her back. Even in his later fare, including his more recent release Scoop, Allen is associated with this paternalistic sort of role, whether played by him or other male characters that he has created, and thus does not appear progressive.
Fourth, Woody Allen's movies reflect sensibilities of another time. Recent comedies--such as Small Time Crooks, in which ex-cons rent a store as a front while they try to tunnel underground to rob a bank; The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, which contains gags based on the repeated triggering of a hypnotic trance; Hollywood Ending, in which a movie director suffering from psychosomatic blindness tries to direct a movie without anyone catching on; and Scoop, in which a prominent newspaper writer appears from the dead to help a young journalism student uncover a mass murderer--reflect plots that seem contrived and old-hat. Today's media-savvy audiences have already heard the stories and can guess the endings. Allen's themes, too, seem out of sync, as "psychoanalysis" and "therapy" are not the buzzwords that they once were. Further, Allen's films, which always presupposed an intelligent, college-educated audience familiar with literature, history, politics, and current events, have trouble finding an audience in a career-driven, image-obsessed time when intellectualism, ideas, and verbal wit are less valued. If Mike Myers and Kevin Smith are the Woody Allens of subsequent eras, one sees that fast-paced dumb jokes, raunchy humor, and sight gags designed to shock take precedence over word play, literary and historical allusions, and parody. As twenty-four year old Abel Feldhamer, quoted in the previously mentioned New York Times article, observed of Allen, "His sense of humor is sort of frozen in the '70's. He appeals to an older crowd" (qtd. in Newman and Kilgannon A22).
Fifth, as Woody Allen entered his late 50s and 60s and physically aged, he became less credible as the male lead in a romantic comedy. For a romantic comedy to work the audience has to understand the characters' attractions for one another, and contemporary audiences have difficulty seeing a Helen Hunt, Tracey Ullman, or Tea Leoni forgoing other attractive lovers to be with what they perceive as a skinny, whiny, bespectacled older man. Hence, Woody Allen may have lost his ability to be believable as a romantic male lead.
Sixth, as a filmmaker, Woody Allen has produced like clockwork: a film a year. His reliability is evidenced in the working titles of his films: Fall 2004 project, Fall 2005 project, Fall 2006 project. Even during his most turbulent personal times, Allen never let his work schedule be compromised, saying that he compartmentalizes the various aspects of his life. Perhaps this reliability has worked against him in an event-driven media era. The openings of Woody Allen's films are predictable, not special. In the same way that he begins each film with simple white credits on a black background (preferring to spend his small budget on other features of the film), he rejects flashy, high-concept, high-budget projects that require lengthy negotiation for funding and long planning and shooting schedules. One who produces films at Allen's prodigious rate and break-neck speed is bound to incur a certain amount of sameness with regard to storylines, characters, actors, and settings. For example, the second Allen-directed Scarlett Johansson vehicle in a year created less audience excitement.
Seventh, Woody Allen has not concerned himself with promotion and marketing at a time when perhaps he needs to do so. Unlike other directors, he rarely grants interviews, goes on talk shows, or does publicity tours, in part because he is too busy churning out his next move. He prefers not to leave New York, although he did venture to the UK to make Match Point, Scoop, and Cassandra's Dream (2007), and Spain for Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008). Hollywood Ending opened the same weekend as Spiderman, perhaps a nod to counter-programming but also a virtual guarantee that the movie would not get much opening-weekend publicity. Scoop appeared in the midst of Johnny Depp's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006) hoopla. In an event-driven movie industry, Woody Allen's releases in recent years have been systematic and business-as-usual rather than special and attention-getting, even when he casts A-list stars.
Despite these observations, Allen remains a viable force in American moviemaking in the twenty-first century by virtue of his longevity and calculated filmmaking strategies and routines, and he continues to surprise, keeping him on the audience's cinematic radar. At the March 2002 Academy Award presentations, Allen--the quintessential New York director who had never before attended the Los Angeles ceremony-introduced the Academy's post-September 11 tribute to New York a stunning montage of clips of the city in film, commencing with Allen's own opening of Manhattan with George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" wailing in the background. In addition to heading to Hollywood for the Oscars, the reclusive Allen was a presenter in France at the Cannes Film Festival, both high-profile events that generate media attention and bolster professional stature. Allen also agreed to an extensive television interview that aired repeatedly in May 2002 in conjunction with a retrospective of eighteen of his films on Turner Classic Movies. In Woody Allen: A Life in Film, a ninety-minute documentary on his career, Allen talked at length of his approach to filmmaking and reinforced his status as one of the great auteurs of the American cinema. However, this event most likely attracted the baby-boomer-and-older demographic who have long comprised Allen's core audience and are more likely to subscribe to Turner Classic Movies than the Millennial Generation that filmmakers need to attract in order to bolster their box-office receipts.
More important than Allen's efforts to connect with his audience through public relations gestures is his overall management of his career, which goes against the grain of modern Hollywood. Stig Bjork man, who conducted extensive interviews with Allen, reports that Allen's
   position in the film world is unique.
   He has a contract with his producers
   which guarantees him complete
   freedom to write and direct one film
   a year--at least. The contract means
   unlimited control on Woody's side
   over choice of subject, script, actors and
   team members, final cut and so on. The
   only condition is that he keep within
   the economic boundaries fixed for the
   project. (xii)
By 2005, when the Motion Picture Association of America reported that the average Hollywood movie cost $96.2 million to produce ("World Box"), Allen's movies average a modest $15 million (Westbrook). Spending what most directors spent twenty years ago, Allen makes his films cheaply and efficiently, rarely going over time or budget or investing large sums in special effects. His actors, anxious to work with one of film's prestige filmmakers, who has a good track record for directing Academy-Award nominated performances, do so in between more lucrative projects and for a fraction of their usual salaries, thus keeping Allen's costs down even for movies with A-list ensemble casts. If one does the math, it becomes apparent that Allen's strategy is to keep his production (and promotion) costs low and his productivity high, aiming for at least a small profit on each annual release. An occasional hit, such as Match Point, more than compensates for the films that do poorly at the box office. For example, Match Point, made in 2005 for $15 million, earned $78 million worldwide ("Match Point"). This compensates for losses for Anything Else, which cost $18 and earned $13 million worldwide ("Anything"), and the more expensive Curse of the Jade Scorpion, which cost $33 million and earned $18 million worldwide ("Curse"). Other recent releases, such as Small Time Crooks, made modest profits ("Small Time"). Over the long haul, Allen's movies collectively turn a profit, albeit a small one, indicative of a director who is not led by audience expectations but is afforded total freedom to create. Another reason for Allen's small profits is that his movies, generally more verbal than visual, are not as easily transformed into moneymakers in a foreign market more geared to action.
Both Charlie Chaplin and Woody Allen withstood the effects of scandals and diminished appreciation of their films in their later years, but Chaplin, in the end, won multigenerational praise and was heralded as a cinematic ground-breaker, and a comic genius. Will Woody Allen, who is now in his 70s and has directed nearly forty films, be as lucky? Although his individual films fail to attract blockbuster audiences, the body of his work has taken on iconic stature, making his influence on American mass media unmistakable. His early romantic comedies--such as Annie Hall (1977), Manhattan (1979), Zelig (1983), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), and Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)--explore classic Allen themes, the difficulty of relationships, sexual taboos, the plasticity of Hollywood, and the cult of celebrity, and reveal the nuances of daily life under a microscope, expressing the precarious nature of human attraction and the rare possibility that a relationship will ever work out. Their influence can be seen on a myriad of television shows, especially Seinfeld, and movies, When Harry Met Sally (1989) being the ultimate homage (Spignesi 343-349). Even the previously mentioned My Big Fat Greek Wedding depends on the juxtaposition of a large, boisterous ethnic family and a small, staid WASP one for laughs, the same thing Woody Allen did effectively in Annie Hall twenty-five years earlier. As Woody Allen's biographer Eric Lax observes of his influence, "[Allen] has clearly increased the vocabulary of romantic comedy. He has made the nerdy, off-beat antihero into a leading man. He has perfected the use of long master shots in which a whole scene is filmed without cutting from one take to another. He has turned narration and voice-over into character, and speaking to the audience natural. And he has had a tremendous influence on his audience, to the point that they identify with him and his sensibilities" (414).
However, in order for the modern audience to embrace Woody Allen in the twenty-first century, perhaps he needs to step out of the limelight as a leading man, write characters that are not more variations of the classic Woody Allen persona, take the time to develop projects that are not simply reliable and routine but well worth the wait, and adopt the Hollywood practice of vigorous promotion. Allen did not appear in Match Point, his most financially successful venture in twenty years, a feature that was advertised primarily as a Scarlett Johansson vehicle, not a Woody Allen production. Although he did act in Scoop, he has not appeared in another film since. Vicky Cristina Barcelona, starring Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem, Rebecca Hall, and Penelope Cruz, earned a tidy profit, and Midnight in Paris (2011), nominated for an Academy Award for best picture, became his most moneymaking film of late.
One could argue that there is really no reason for Woody Allen, who has turned a career profit and produced an interesting body of work, to do anything to increase his audience. However, there is hope yet for his popularity. Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post wrote in a film review of a "Woody Allen figure, a New York nebbish, the loner who wasn't in the cool set and had an uncertain way about him" (C1). Of whom was he speaking? It was Peter Parker-Spiderman--the biggest box-office draw of the summer of 2002, who just happened to be like Woody Allen.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Steve Jobs Fired from Apple? Yes in 1985

It's perhaps one of the most famous -- or infamous -- personnel moves in Silicon Valley history: then Apple CEO John Sculley's 1985 firing of Steve Jobs. But until now, we've never known much about how it happened.

At a Forbes conference in Bali last week, however, Sculley opened up about the firing, telling some of the richest and most powerful people on Earth just how he came to deliver Jobs' pink slip.

Steve Jobs
(Credit: James Martin/CNET)

At the conference, Sculley spent eight minutes rehashing the infamous history after an audience member asked about it. "The ballroom then sat in rapt silence as Sculley delved into details," Forbes reported today, "cast blame, and reflected on lessons learned."
Essentially, Sculley told the crowd, it was the Apple board's fault for creating an environment in which Sculley, the former Pepsi wunderkind, and Jobs, who lured him away with the famous challenge to make a difference instead of spending his career with sugar water, clashed.
The main reason for that clash, Sculley recalled, was the introduction of the Macintosh Office in 1985. The second-gen Mac's launch had been panned, with critics calling the new computer a "toy," and ridiculing its small computing power.
 "Steve went into a deep depression," Sculley said. As a result, "Steve came to me and he said, 'I want to drop the price of the Macintosh and I want to move the advertising, shift a large portion of it away from the Apple 2 over to the Mac."
"I said, 'Steve, it's not going to make any difference. The reason the Mac is not selling has nothing to do with the price or with the advertising. If you do that, we risk throwing the company into a loss.' And he just totally disagreed with me."
"And so I said, "Well, I'm gonna go to the board. And he said, 'I don't believe you'll do it. And I said: Watch me."
Jobs' problems with the launch didn't come in a vacuum, Sculley explained. Already, Jobs had overseen a slew of product failures, including the Lisa and the Apple 3, and revenues from the Apple 2 were slowing considerably. The company needed a major new revenue source to get the Macintosh line where it needed to go. Sculley said that the board gave him the power to first ax Jobs as head of the Mac division, and then from the company altogether. And was it the right thing to do?
Sculley said he didn't have the business expertise at the time to fully understand what visionary leadership was. "What would have happened if we hadn't have had that showdown?...I did not have the breadth of experience at that time to really appreciate just how different leadership is when you are shaping an industry," Sculley said, "as Bill Gates did or Steve Jobs did, versus when you're a competitor in an industry, in a public company, where you don't make mistakes because if you lose, you're out."
Added Sculley at the conference in Bali, "My sense is that there could have been a different outcome."

Indeed, over the years, Sculley, like so many others, recognized Jobs' true genius as a leader. In 2011, for example, he called Jobs "the greatest CEO ever." 

Sculley Fires Steve

Former Apple CEO John Sculley, speaking at a Forbes conference in Bali last week, explains the circumstances behind his firing of Steve Jobs in 1985.
(Credit: Screenshot by CNET)

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Restoring Chaplin

An article from the British Film Institute about restoring some of Chaplin's movies.

Chaplin is perhaps unique in film history in having taken such control over the ultimate fate of his work. Most filmmakers work for studios or production companies who take charge of the physical materials in which their work is contained. As soon as he left Keystone Chaplin made sure that his films were kept intact and was one of the first filmmakers to make protection materials. From 1918 Chaplin took charge of every process of the filmmaking process and kept tight control over negatives. This has ensured their longevity.
Compared to other filmmakers Chaplin's films are in very good order. After Chaplin's death the Association Chaplin took charge of the restoration of the major feature films and the First National titles. An on-going restoration programme is being carried out at l'Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna with premiere screenings at the Cinema Ritrovato festival. These events are staged to the highest standards with scores restored by conductor and composer Timothy Brock and performed with full orchestra at the Teatro Comunale in Bologna.
The story is not quite so good for Chaplin's earliest films. Good restoration work has been carried out on the Essanay and Mutual films (David Shepard's work can be seen on the BFI Chaplin Essanay and Mutual DVD volumes). All of the prints survive in reasonable condition but for the very earliest films made at Keystone the survival rate is much lower. Chaplin had no influence over materials issued by Sennett's Keystone Company and his popularity had not then been established. Ironically it was this very growth in his popularity that devastated the original copies which were reissued to cash in on the new craze and frequently re-cut and re-edited, given new inter-titles and the negatives worn out. In this section we tell the story of the international effort to restore these films.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Kono: Chaplin's Right Hand Man for 18 Years

Kyoto, Japan — CHARLIE CHAPLIN traveled to Japan just four times in his long life and only narrowly missed being assassinated by a gang of rogue naval officers on one of those visits.
But the Japanese loved Charlie and his Tramp. Still do. Chaplin's films and Tramp character carved a lasting place in Japanese culture, and new evidence of a little-discussed relationship with his longtime Japanese assistant is offering fresh opportunities to explore one of the most poked and perused lives of the 20th century.
The barely mined Japanese connection is what drew many of the world's top Chaplinologists as well as a few hundred fans and the late comedian's daughter Josephine to the first conference on Chaplin in Japan.
Convened in an unheated former elementary school in chilly Kyoto one weekend last month, they swapped business cards and traded Chaplin anecdotes, examining such questions as how much influence Kabuki theater had on his art and what moved prewar Japanese movie audiences to embrace a movie character they originally dubbed Strange Person and, later, Professor Alcohol.
"I'm searching for an explanation of why Chaplin's Tramp has had such resonance in so many cultures for so long and why he keeps popping up everywhere," says Kathryn Millard, an Australian shooting "Here Comes Charlie," a feature documentary on Chaplin's influence around the world. "It's not just about the appeal of silent film stars. It's that the Tramp seems infinitely adaptable."
But the honey that drew the specialists to Kyoto was the recent emergence of documents and photographs from the estate of Chaplin's longtime assistant Toraichi Kono, a Japanese national who had settled in California. Kono went to work as the star's driver in 1916 and was, for the next 18 years if you believe his most enthusiastic Japanese supporters, one of the comedian's closest confidants.
The FBI had another view. They thought Kono became a Japanese spy after he left Chaplin's employ in the mid-1930s. In the run-up to Pearl Harbor, with Japanese-American tensions rising, they caught Kono meeting with Japanese naval officers looking for information about U.S. naval deployments. He was arrested, released and then quickly interned after the attack.
That hazy, curious life story has somehow remained below Hollywood's radar. The question, as phrased by conference organizer Hiroyuki Ono, the leading authority on Kono and who is writing his biography, is: "Why did the right-hand man of the world's greatest comedian disappear from history?"
Until Ono started asking questions, the truth about what Kono did for his movie star boss -- and perhaps for the Japanese navy -- had disappeared into the mists. Chaplin called Kono his secretary in the fleeting references he made to him in his 1964 autobiography (though that's not unusual -- plenty of people close to the star, including his second wife, never got a mention by name either). He also had minor roles -- as a chauffeur -- in three Chaplin films, though he was credited in just one: 1917's "The Adventurer."
But Ono sees Kono, who died in 1971 and whose ashes are buried in Inglewood Park Cemetery, as much more than a gofer: He was Chaplin's gatekeeper. Although Ono says the relationship between the men was "never warm," he cites dozens of letters intended for Chaplin but addressed to Kono as evidence the Japanese assistant was the man you had to go through to get to the star.
Ono argues that Kono had such control over Chaplin's domestic arrangements that at one point in the mid-'20s, all 17 male workers at the actor's estate were Japanese. And it was Kono, he says, who encouraged his boss to visit Japan for the first time in 1932 and cultivated a love in Chaplin for everything from Japanese literature to tempura (Chaplin's autobiography cites a book on Japanese theater written by Lafcadio Hearn as the source of his curiosity).
A new chapter is opened
ONO'S fascination with Chaplin began 22 years ago when, at age 9, he saw "The Great Dictator" on Japanese TV. As an adult, he has visited all the Chaplin haunts: from the south London of his impoverished childhood to the road in California where the Tramp walks off into the unknown arm in arm with Paulette Goddard's gamin at the end of "Modern Times."
An energetic storyteller dripping with enthusiasm, Ono is what the Japanese would kindly call an \o7otaku\f7 -- a Chaplin geek.
In 2004, he met Kono's second wife, who uncrated hundreds of photos and letters for him and gave approval for a biography that would unveil the driver-valet-fixer's importance in the Chaplin pantheon. Ono took news of his find to a July 2005 Chaplin conference in London, where the assembled Chaplin scholars excitedly encouraged him to host his own conference in Japan.
Read more here:

Click below for a documentary about Kono:
Kono Story

Why Write a Book?

Well, about two years ago I got back to watching Gene Kelly movies, as I had always been a fan. I started reading more about him as it was coming up on his 100th birthday and I went into full research mode, reading anything and everything, scouring the web, ordering books, looking at those who worked with him and just loving my research.  I even got in touch with his widow and we have had several conversations about him.  She has supposedly been writing a book on him since 1985 when they met.  He died in 1996 and still no book so I decided to write one.

I felt that a book on one man might not be as viable as one on two or three men and I'd developed an idea or profile on perfectionism, being a control freak and a task master.  I'd always been fascinated with computers and loved Apple and Steve Jobs, so the research started again doing the same drill with Steve Jobs and Apple.  

I needed a third man.  Howard Hughes came to mind and he fit the profile, but as I read the first few books on him, I realized he was just too out there and maybe too fringe.  He was not a likable guy.  As I was reading about Hughes, Chaplin's name came up as they worked in Hollywood about the same time and I started reading and found that Chaplin fit the profile of a perfectionist control freak and even more so than Kelly or Hughes.

I knew of Chaplin, knew he was the best of the silent comedians, but knew little else.  I had seen some clips of Chaplin's movies way back in the 1970s, but those were the copies of copies of copies that were shown at 24 frames per second (fps) and not adjusted to make them look normal.  Most Chaplin films were made at 17fps, but when shown at today's standard rate of 24fps, they were way too fast and it made them look silly.   Chaplin did use a technique called under cranking, which is filming at an even slower rate, thereby having the effect of speeding up the action, but this was only done for certain scenes.  As a result of this flaw, I didn't take the earlier movies seriously, not seeing them as they would have been shown at the theater back in the silent era.  Then about five years ago I saw Modern Times, having never seen a Chaplin film in it's entirety.  I laughed out loud more than for any comedy I'd watched in recent years, but I stopped there and didn't watch another one.

15 books in, hundreds of essays, all 87 movies and tidbits and Chaplin became the third man.  I could truly write a book on Chaplin, but it would be a rehash with all that is out there and nothing new.  As David Gill, the author of Unknown Chaplin, said, "Most people who write a book on Chaplin read five and put out a sixth."  I don't want to do that.  My profile and combination of these three men is new in that it is the only thing I'll really cover in depth comparing him to Kelly and Jobs.  It is almost a study in management.  I'll talk about his basic biographical info, but more in passing.  

I'm finishing Unknown Chaplin now and just finished Theodore Huff's book as well as Georgia Hale's book.  

He is amazing and I wish I lived in that time.  I love old Hollywood and the feel it had compared to today.  Watching The Kid with Chaplin's score gives the viewer that wonderful balance of a laugh and maybe a tear.  I also can barely watch, but do watch over and over and over again the last scene in City Lights where the former blind girl, who can now see, recognizes Charlie from only her touch. I gladly well up each and every time.  Just imagining the hundreds of takes it took to get there.  I is so perfect and one of the most powerful scene ever put on film.  The final Kid scene also.

Chaplin Studio Fire 1927

The Circus
This movie was almost doomed and part of the worst years for Chaplin.  It took two years to complete with an eight month break for a contentious divorce from Lita Grey, false tax issues from Uncle Sam, scratched negatives, a fire and to top it off, the death of Chaplin's mother.

Chaplin almost gave up on the movie and would barely speak of it in later years, but it ranks in the top few spots of his best work.Studio Fire Pics

Chaplin taking a moment after seeing the results of the fire that destroyed the set for his movie, The Circus

A Young Steve Jobs on TV

Back in 1977, when Steve Jobs first ran Apple Computer, he was a cocky, take no prisoners, 90 hour-a-week, demanding and brutal boss.  He was on the cover of Time Magazine, Apple was exploding in value and sales and he was quite full of himself.

As a Steve Jobs fan, I can admit this.  I'm truly more of a fan of Steve on his second stint at Apple starting in 1997, but one had to follow the other.  The early days were his learning days.  He was a wiser, older, more seasoned manager the 2nd time around.

As for the the young Steve, just look at this vid to see the uncanny likeness to Ashton Kutcher.  This is one cocky SOB.

Click below:
Job's First TV Appearance

Friday, September 6, 2013

Being in Control

Gene Kelly had a strong Irish temper and a fierce competitive spirit.  From his early days playing high school sports in the 1920s, through his many movies of the 1940s and 50s, to his guest appearances on TV shows in the 1960s, he wanted and needed to control everything and be the best at whatever he did. He found from an early age that unless you are a craftsman and a professional, you shouldn't be in the business.  He demanded and got 100 percent from his loyal team.  He would choose wisely building a group of professionals who were as devoted to producing a superior product as their boss.

Was Gene Kelly a micro manager?  The short answer is yes.  The longer answer is that he was, but he knew when and where to delegate, especially if it was something he did not want to do.  He used Stanley Donen, Jeannie Coyne and Carol Haney to help him work through new dance numbers as well as train anyone who would dance with him.  Stanley was enlisted to teach a young girl, Sharon McManus, a dance that she would have to perform with Gene in the movie, Anchors Aweigh.  The little girl just could not get a jump roping routine.  Gene would come in to the rehearsal room every few hours to check on her progress and Stanley had the look of disgust on his face.  Gene said, "How's it going?"  Stanley would just scowl and would later say that he loathed the little girl, but being a trooper, he taught her the dance.  Gene, of course, played the pied piper and children always loved him.  She hated Stanley and loved Gene.

The Spanish Dance number was wonderful in the movie as can be seen in this clip, but the back story makes it that much sweeter to watch.  Being in control means also to control a great team.

Click the link below
Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Curiosity Breeds Knowledge

All three men, Chaplin, Kelly and Jobs, were curious about everything and life long learners.  Chaplin, to the best of anyone's knowledge, received barely a 4th grade education.  He learned from the streets and from his fellow performers along the way until he came to America.  He was a keen observer of people and used this hobby for his pantomime.  After he found stardom, he continued his self education by reading books on a wide variety of subjects.  He kept a dictionary at his bedside and would often surprise friends and coworkers with new words.  He would switch from subject to subject as his interests changed and learn all he could until he was an expert.  Chaplin was highly competitive regardless of the subject or sport.  He would converse with the highest echelon of thinkers from around the world.  Einstein, Shaw, Wells and others were counted as his friends.

Gene Kelly was formerly educated with a college degree and even entered law school.  He was also an avid reader and lover of words.  He read poetry and the classics and was able to wow guests and friends with his knowledge. During his highly competitive games of charades at his famous all night parties, he would guess the most obscure word or phrase. He was one of the smartest men in Hollywood and would stop at nothing to get his way.  His competitive spirit was just as extreme when it came to sports.  He could play them all and hated to lose.

Steve Jobs spent only a few years in college, but was also curious about how things worked and would drop in on classes whether he was enrolled or not.  His visits to calligraphy classes led to computers having rich fonts and typeface.  His interest in circuits started from an early age.  At eights years old, he called  Bill Hewlett of Hewlett Packard fame to ask for parts.  He would later work for HP.  Steve, like Chaplin was mostly self educated with a curious mind.  He was brilliant and could make a quick study of anything he put his mind to.

All three men never stopped learning.  They're desire for knowledge was unquenchable.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Chaplin Museum to Open in 2015

Charlie Chaplin had his first break with the Eight Lancashire Lads – a troupe of child performers. He then worked with the comedy impresario Fred Karno, before the Keystone Film Company spotted him in 1912. International stardom followed.
100 years on, his digressive Odysseus-esque global journey – from the drab slums of Lambeth to nubile Hollywood – is being memorialsed in the neoclassical mansion by Lake Geneva where it all ended.
Chaplin moved there in the 1950s to escape Senator Joe McCarthy’s witch-hunt for anyone he suspected of communism. Besides his extensive body of work, museum developers are keen to stress Chaplin’s humanistic politics and social values.
Museum developer Ives Durand explained: “This museum also wants to go beyond the work he has left us, and stress another dimension. His work was both funny and touching but Chaplin was also a great humanist and his films were profoundly social. We will highlight all those characteristics, for all to see.”
Laura Chaplin, Charlie Chaplin’s granddaughter, is an artist who lives between England and Switzerland – part of her work is dedicated to her grandfather. For her, the museum is the perfect way to celebrate the “Godfather” of silent movies: “Towards the end of his life he was worried that he would be forgotten because he’d worked so hard and he had a very strong message. I think that is what he wanted the most, to be remembered and people to hear his message still today.”
The ‘Chaplin’s World’ museum in Vevey, by Lake Geneva, is scheduled to open in 2015.

Chaplin Started Tudor Style in Hollywood

How Charlie Chaplin Kicked Off a Tudor Trend on the Strip

Asking the tough questions, today Wehoville wonders why there are so manyTudor-inspired buildings on and around the Sunset Strip. They don't quite answer the question, but they do share a fun bit of LA history, always appreciated: The catalyst, they say, was Charlie Chaplin's studio on La Brea. Built in 1917, the Tudor-revival exteriors "were arranged to give the effect of a picturesque English village street." The complex got a lot of publicity and may have started the trend--or at least given it a shot in the arm. Tudor-revival was already a popular style for single family houses, but spread to multi-family and commercial buildings, including West Hollywood's Hansel and Gretel Cottages and Normandie Towers, built in 1923 and 1924 respectively. Also in 1924, an early West Hollywood developer named Elmer R. Mauzy decided to build the English Village Shops--a collection of stores near a group of cottages he'd already built. The development was not a success, but was notable for being one of the first shopping centers to provide off-street parking in its U-shaped courtyard. The shops were torn down, but some of the cottages remain, on Harratt Street south of Sunset.
· Ever Wonder Why So Many English Tudor Buildings Line the Sunset Strip?[Wehoville]

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Bold, Brash & Brilliant Book Chapters

Writing a book is as hard as one can imagine.  Deciding on the format is a challenge, but then deciding on specifically what to cover is even more difficult.  It is a work in progress and additional chapters may be added as I get into the meat of the book, beyond the introductory biographies of each man. 

As one book on Chaplin stated, "Most Chaplin biographies were written by people who've read five books and published a sixth."  I didn't want to do the ubiquitous biographical account of Chaplin's, Kelly's or Job's lives.  That has been done to death and there is really nothing new to report unless one of their children or former co workers decided to write about their own experiences.

The book idea truly came from seeing common threads in the lives of Chaplin, Kelly and Jobs as well as other great men and then narrowing the field down to three.  I originally started researching Howard Hughes and even Bruce Lee as they were of the same mindset in their single mindedness when it came to working.  I was concerned about having two men from "Show Business" and one from the tech world, but Jobs and Apple Inc have become intertwined with the entertainment world as convergence takes place with similar tech giants;  Google and Facebook.

The intent of this book is to cover what others have not with an analysis of their lives and work based on the chapters I have listed here and comparing how each dealt with these topics.   The similarities in their work ethic, personal habits and how these affected their employees and family is strikingly similar.

Chapter 1 Chaplin, Kelly, Jobs:  Brief Biographies
Chapter 2 Early Influences
Chapter 3 Hard Work Pays Off
Chapter 4 Timing is Everything
Chapter 5 Rapid Rise to the Top
Chapter 6 Leveraging Fame & Fortune
Chapter 6 The Media
Chapter 7 I’m on Top, Now What?
Chapter 8 The Right Team
Chapter 9 Running a Tight Ship
Chapter 10 Loyalty
Chapter 11 The Next Big Thing
Chapter 12 On Wealth
Chapter 13 On Hard Work
Chapter 14 Effects on Those Closest to Them
Chapter 15 Continued Innovation

Chapter 15 Retirement