R. All right. So what should we say?
C. I had this thought that maybe you could talk about your initial attraction to film festivals. And I don't know if you want to go back to when you got interested in film making in general.
R. Sure. Both of my parents worked for Warner Brothers in New York. Warner's had decided to move their entire operation to Southern California in 1928, just before the stock market crash, so that delayed everything. In the meantime, they purchased the land. But they didn't move the studio out there till '31 by which time they offered my parents a certain amount of money for moving expenses, if they wanted to move out to the valley. And my parents being hardcore New Yorkers, were not gonna leave New York and all their friends and family for Southern California, so they stayed behind. But they still were wrapped up in movies, they followed all of the latest releases. They went to a lot of films.
And so I started going to movies. When I was very young, I went to see Pinocchio when I was three, three and a half. Scared the bejesus out of me when that whale came up out of the water, and I was hooked. Because of the way things were set up then, I could go on Saturday morning to the Forest Hills theater. The kids admission for the morning show, as hard to believe as it sounds, was seven cents! So it was seven cents. I could go. It was a mile and a half from the house. I could walk up there, for seven cents I could get in at 10 in the morning and watch cartoons and previews and serials of Batman and was that guy's name? Ranger...
C. The Lone Ranger?
R. No, you know the guy, the 21st century.
R. Space epic, was in the 21st century. Anyway, watch that and two movies. So that ran from 10 in the morning till noon. At two hours, right? Fit two movies into that space. Movies are pretty short, movies are only a good hour and 10 minutes, something like that. Maybe it's just one movie. But anyway, yeah, they aren't as long as now, maybe just one movie anyway, and at noon if I went into the men's room and stayed in one of the stalls for half an hour while they emptied all the kids in the theater, and then came out for the afternoon show which is then two more with two movies definitely, there was Looney Tunes and all kinds of shorts and previews and movietone News and what was going on and World War II and marching and Hitler and so on and...
C. ...tell me again how old you were...
R. When I was first doing this I was eight. Well, I was...
C. ...continuing after the war was over, though...
R. ...yeah, of course. And I would stay there all day. And then 3:30, 4 o'clock in the afternoon, I'd walk out of the theater. All I'd had to eat since breakfast was a couple of candy bars and maybe cotton candy if I felt like it. And I would go outside and I was smacked by the light, it was sunny outside, I get a blinding headache. And go home. And that was that the way I spent Saturday. Most weeks. So that was movies for a few years.
When I got to adulthood, I was still fascinated with movies and went to various film festivals in San Francisco: San Francisco Film Festival and Jewish Film Festival, and gay and lesbian Film Festival, blah, blah, blah, all the film festivals there, just go, look at the programs. And they were always dozens of films that sounded very, very interesting, of course, because somebody was writing them up to make them sound interesting. And I buy a bunch of tickets and I am set up to spend Saturday and Sunday at the film festival, maybe with tickets for 10 films. Again, starting out, I was all ready starting at 10 in the morning, going to nighttime with a break for afternoon snack and break for dinner. And the thing was always that if I had tickets for 10 films, and three of them turned out to be good, that was a good day. So there were many, many films, it made it easier because there were many films that were so bad that I would leave
after half an hour or so. But I learned the ins and outs of the various theaters so I managed to move from the auditorium, I was in a different auditorium to see some other film or at least see the end of some other film or catch the beginning of another one. And just try and see as much as possible.
At this remove and given the wisdom of ancient age, that was lunacy; I saw so many bad films, so many disappointing films, so many films that got these rave reviews in the programs that they get you excited about them, and they'd have people on the radio promoting it and all this PR, and the stuff was just awful. So a handful of films out of that would make it into distribution. General distribution, later on and I could say 'oh yeah, that's a great film. I already saw that in the film festival'. But all of this led to me beginning to write film reviews And the way films are handled by reviewers and film critics and film analysts is a very touchy subject...
C. Well, I don't want to copy what you said but I can go back to my...I just thought it was hilarious that you said Pinocchio and the whole thing of getting scared because that's the thing. I was so involved in music and having my dolly dance to my dad's reel to reel tape recorder and all of that, I think what got me was not necessarily the visuals, it was the music. So when I think of Pinocchio I'm immediately swept away by the songs. I just, I probably, if I could have wept, I would have. I didn't know. I didn't know why it was affecting me that way. But when Jimmy Cricket sings When you wish upon a star, and his little almost countertenorie soprano sort of voice that was what got me and of course it's also crazy to be in the dark and looking at this giant screen and being being just sucked in and enveloped by it especially the...remember the spot when they find Pinocchio washed up on the
R . ..yeah, he's drowning. He's dead. He drowned. Yeah. Oh my god...
C. ...oh my god, that took a lot, I just, it took it out of me And they carry him back and he's still got his donkey ears. And he's drooping, the water dripping off his ears and stuff just...
R. ... devastated.
C. Anyway, I thought it was...I thought it was weird that we have that point of reference both of us when you were about four. And I was, I couldn't have been more than four because we were living in Richmond. And I remember my mother coming out and telling me and Phil we had to come on and get cleaned up because we're going to the movies to see Pinocchio. I had a sensation of...you remember...that feeling you get when you're so excited you can almost not bear it, I just wanted to scream with excitement, but had to clamp down on myself. Make sure that I didn't do something untoward that was going to cause the whole thing to crash and burn and get taken away from me just at the point where...So, I've got to be a good girl. However that works. And just in general going to the movies was something like... you just were—I was anyway—transported. We always
went to the El Rey theater, downtown Concord, which I don't think is still around anymore. Just a single screen theater and smells like popcorn...
R. ...it's an escape, whatever whatever you're gonna be facing when you come back outside is not relevant. When you're in there. It's...Yeah.
C. That sounds so cliched and so corny, but I can actually feel it. If I'm talking about it. I'd feel it the sense that I get that...
R. ...I'm in my seat and I'm in the dark and I'm looking at the screen and...
C. ...I didn't spend all day though. I don't think we could. We couldn't get away with that.
R. Maybe it wasn't available.
C. It was more a question of yeah, you can go, we'll drop you off and you'll go in there and we'll come pick you up. But it wasn't really more than a couple hours. Maximum. might have just been because of the time period. They weren't doing things quite the way you guys were in New York...
R. ...now I remembered the other thing that we were watching was Buck Rogers in the 21st Century, this was 1940's. The 21st century seemed a long a long ways away. Sure.
R. Yeah. Alright, so fast forward.
C. So what are you, at some point you went to film school?
R. I went to film school.
C. Yes. But you seem to be drawn to talking about film reviewing...
R. ...Well, here's the thing: film school was...I just had a...after watching so many films for so many years, a feeling that I could do better than that. There's so much bad film making. And particularly in the documentary film making category. I thought I could do better. So I wanted to go to San Francisco State and study film making and studying documentary film making and found out that is too hard. It is too hard. Yeah, because it was a very underfunded department at San Francisco State. The equipment was very out of date, when they did get the good new equipment, but I wasn't allowed to use it. And so it...and I didn't have enough time...so it was... I kept losing chunks of film and unspooling stuff and...it was just terrible.
C. Was it self sabotage?
R. Wasn't self sabotage, it's that the system was not set up for someone who had another life. I was teaching, had a family. It was set up for young people who could spend 30 or 40 hours a week, footloose and fancy free, 30 or 40 hours a week in the editing rooms. Yeah. And, really put something together. I had, I thought, terrific ideas. But then when come the time to get somebody to sing a song, read some voiceover narrative... and I couldn't somehow, as director, I couldn't elicit what I wanted from them. I got people saying stuff that they thought was, I guess since they were experienced people who were teaching there, that they could do things and say things that would be better than my ideas. And so, it was all, all very frustrating. It was frustrating.
When I came out of that, I'd already been doing some reviewing and then reviewing became the center of my film experience. I just got, and still do get very upset and frustrated and furious by people who claim to be film reviewers who spend their entire time on the radio or in magazines, newspapers, whatever. simply telling the story of the film and any idiot can do that. This doesn't tell you whether it's a film that you would like to see or not or what is the job of a critic—it is not to tell you the story of the film.
C. That's where they invented SPOILER ALERT in all caps.
R. Yeah, well, the SPOILER ALERT is having that person talk about the film at all. Yeah. And remember? Our favorite thing is these reviewers who just get the details wrong, yet they talk about the film, and not only tell you about the film and mess up the names of the characters and can't keep the plot straight themselves.
C. Well, they watch 230 films, and you have to cut them a little slack. Maybe they're under some deadline pressure and basically, really have just decided to burn out and really don't care.
R. Oh, man. Yeah, sure. Whatever, huh? Whatever. No longer important to them.
C. But they do end up going off the deep end sometimes, I remember, once this reviewer was in love with French actresses. First off, gotta go to Cannes, to the film festival. And would be worshiping at the altar of whoever, Isabelle Huppert or Juliette Binoche or somebody? Maybe? Like a little earlier?
R. Would have been...?
C. ...what's her name from Jules & Jim?
R. Yeah. Jeanne Moreau!
C. And but he also was incredibly, I don't know if he's still writing actually, incredibly dismissive. Once he got the bit in his teeth about a particular actress, it didn't matter what film she was in. You know he just had certain actresses that he did not like. And he was...that was a permanent situation.
R. And you'd stumble across one of his reviews and say...
C. ...that was a film that I just love to pieces, and there it is: boom! So and So is in it. And no, he's written her off before you even get a chance to make up your mind and you don't know, I used to read his reviews and comment. I'd actually comment and he probably even responded a couple of times. He didn't think he was minor-league, though, huge ego. I have no idea where that stuff disappeared. Still, online reviews, sure, there's online reviews and all of that. But it has become sort of exponentially more and more difficult to get past paywalls and things that are distractions. Like you try to go on Rotten Tomatoes. Remember Rotten Tomatoes used to be actually a useful, reasonable site. Yeah. No mo. Yeah.
R. Yeah. Just somebody gets the idea to gussy it up and change the formatting the layout and so forth.
C. And and then it becomes...
R. ...just a, well, it's not just movies. It used to be movies. It's now everything.
R. All right. So where are we going with this? Anywhere? I think you wanted to talk about kind of...
C. ...oh, binge watching! Binge watching in this time of pandemic when we're home. And well, first off, let's say when you reach a certain point in your life and you've had the experience of seeing all these movies. You and I saw eye to eye that we both would choose to go to the movies, that was a thing. We would not necessarily choose to go on long candlelit-beach-walking-on-the-beach-and-candlelit-dinner. No, all right, to have a good time was to go to the movies. And so it's cheap, it's fun. You can scour the papers for what's playing and where it's playing and all that. After a couple of decades, or however long that lasted having it sort of slide back in importance and add on top of that certain Unpleasantness. Like, me being out of commission for a year sort of puts a damper on it. So it's not like I could hobble down the stairs and into the car. And now we just reached
that stage where that just isn't a thing anymore. And it coincided with the availability of...
R. ...Netflix and streaming.
C. Right. But I'd like you to say a little bit about the way you felt. Originally, I sort of took it as akin to the one of the first times you were in my kitchen, and I was going to heat something up. And you recoiled at the microwave and muttered something about nuking things. And you, I feel as though you held up pretty much watching a TV was same thing. To watch a movie on a little screen was not the Experience. It was the microwave experience of movie watching.
R. The TV that I grew up with is a whole different matter what we saw was films broken up into little little snippets with commercials and the longer the film went on and the more intense the drama and the development, the more commercials got thrown in. So it was destructive of any kind of film experience and the things that were worth watching on TV as far as I was concerned when I grew up, Sid Caesar and Jackie Gleason and Ernie Kovacs and...
C. Ernie Kovacs! Right and...so you basically hate TV...
R. ... so I got to hate TV, I got to hate the idea that at least through my adolescence, I had to watch with the family and that meant that I didn't actually get to see the things I wanted to see until I was given my own television to have in my room. You can't even imagine it was a seven inch screen. You had to be right up against it right up next to it that actually meant the transmission wasn't real great. It was very grey. snowy and grainy. And it was seven , the diameter of the screen was seven inches. Yeah. So everything was reduced to tiny, tiny size. And the one good thing as I said before they had in New York on I think it was channel 11 they had the movie of the week, which meant they play that same old movie over and over again for days.
C. But cut up...
R. No, no, no...movie of the week didn't have any ads.
C. All right, well, that makes all the difference.
R. So you could watch, you could start at any point. There was a film that I liked. That's, yeah, that's when I fell in love with Winterset. I just thought that was just an amazing production to have a play that was written in verse, a modern play written in verse and then filmed.
Burgess Meredith was just, absolutely spectacular. And it was...I watched it so many times I practically had the dialogue memorized. And that wasn't the only time , it came back later, I came back and watched other showings of it on the same deal.
C. Well, it's funny. Now that we have, of course, a big screen. And when you have things like HBO...
R. ...and Amazon and Netflix, it's not the same, it's not, it's not so much movies anymore. The most interesting things are the series, six part series, three seasons or four seasons, that's very, very engaging. And so we spend, we spend a lot of time sitting in there watching stuff...
C. ...like that. Got a mental image when you were talking about your first little TV, of course, it was that Gary laid his hands on a little tiny Sony, which the screen of which was this big?
C. Yeah, tiny and it was very deep.
R. And you just plugged it into the wall and it had an antenna.
C. Oh, yeah, you could only get stuff over the air, that was it, there was no possible way of obtaining more content with some outside medium. Turn it on, whatever was on air was, that was it in two or three channels, whatever, was coming in over the air. And I thought that, we were young, we didn't have any money, we could, there's no way we could afford to buy a television. So he just, he dug that out of his paraphernalia that came in with whatever stuff that he had contributed to our household was this little minuscule Sony and I really resented it after a while, you know, I felt like there's there's something weird going on here. That I'm , granted, this is on me that I was supposedly enlightened and had my consciousness raised [laugh] I would be cooking something or making some sandwiches or providing some domestic something-or-other and Mr. thing would be
sitting at the dining room table with this television sitting on the, right on the top of the table, on the dining room table, zoned out and I don't know whether that's because he was bored or whether he was, tired from work or...something. But my resentment was starting to get palpable that there wasn't conversation, there was a little tiny screen that was taking the focus away from me. And I did not like that.
What I didn't know was how to deal with it. I just kind of gave up. And it's true, some food on the table and then we would actually enjoy it.
Isn't all bad because I get to, let's say if he was off doing homework because we were both in school, point is, I would have if I didn't have anything to do, just carry it over the other side of the room and stay out of the way, sound down low. I remember I was watching Bonanza one time. And this plot was so upsetting because Little Joe had finally married some lady. And the rule was that nobody ever got to hook up with anybody. What's he called...Ben Cartwright. He was the three time widower with three sons, each of whom had failed relationships, one after the other. And that's what happened is Little Joe married this lady and then some robbers came by and killed her. That's the end of that. And to make it even more upsetting was she was going to have a baby. So he doesn't get to have a marriage. He doesn't get to produce any grandchildren for Ben Cartwright. Anyway, I
associate that little black and white screen with a certain amount of misery. I don't know that I enjoyed it that much. It wasn't till much later that we got something that was big enough that we could actually see it across the room. Watch it from the couch. I don't know why I'm going off on that.
R. Weird memory.
C. It's probably because I'm thinking what my relationship is with both going to the movies and wasting time watching TV, because Days of Our Lives was a big thing for me. And guess what? I started watching Days of Our Lives on that same fucking little Sony. When I was out of school in the summer of 1970 and had nothing better to do. I was planning menus and going to the grocery store up the street. Gary was at work. And I was waiting for school to start again. I spent the whole summer watching Days of Our Lives and the Galloping Gourmet. And of course, then it sort of got woven into my life and became something that was inordinately was like way way weighted in the direction of some kind of addiction to the sound of the theme, the little theme song doodooo doodoodooo doodoo doodoo doo doo doooo. This is MacDonald Carey, and these are the days of our lives. And each character had their own little leitmotif. So when What's her
face came in and expressed some kind of dismay over her husband was cheating on her or something her background music would be urgent and you know how when we're watching something and that the subtitles say urgent music or ominous or foreboding music. These little snippets—that's what somebody somewhere was composing—same thing that they do in Hitchcock or any number of other classic movies when they've got this composer on standby, who's going to produce a score. You take it or leave it but personally I think it's intrusive. And I probably have way too much invested in the score of anything. If I don't like the score of a movie, I just am so put off. I cannot enjoy it. I can't enjoy the film. It takes me out of it. I can't disappear into a film if somebody is nattering on with a stupid little piano tinkling.
But it also was partly that I get hooked to this addictive sense that Days of Our Lives was going to be something that I could use to comfort myself because it had a regularity. It was it was five days a week. I would record it once we got into VCRs I would record it and go down there in the basement, disappear away from the kids watch my episode was like an escape. It was my, it was an addiction. It's my vice, something that was, I could do that. And wasn't gonna hurt anybody. Let's say it was mindless. It was bubble gum, I suppose. But it's also why we're watching something and I sometimes say this is a soap opera. Because I got a glimpse about my mother who started watching soap operas, just about the time she was starting to lose her shit. She was starting to get migraines...she had come back from France. And she was thinking about leaving my dad, that old business. She started watching From These Roots and Young Doctor
Malone. Why is that? Because it's got some kind of weird symmetry. It's a panacea is it's like having a two cocktail lunch or something.
R. Something that you look forward to.
C. ...and highly emotional. Highly emotional. Yeah, you could cry. Um..
R. ...so if we, if we continue with this, I'm not sure how many...
C. ...yeah, whoa. That's a half an hour already. I'm not sure how many words that comes out to...lots, a lot, a lot of words.
R. So you probably should just do that and see where the holes are and come back and talk about the things you need to fill it.
C. Okay, so we might come back and revisit such things as how to...
R. ...make a decision of whether something's worth watching.
C. All right.