A well made film is a wonderful gift. For those gifts we should be grateful to the team behind their offering. This includes not only the actors, actresses, the directors and the film crew. This includes the producers, like Ira Riklis, who are responsible for an extraordinary amount of synthesis for the project to come off well.
Whether films illicit tears of laughter, rage or joy, they all evoke emotions. It’s what we expect from a film. It is why we go to see them, watch them on television or rent them from the video store. Yet making a film is an inexact science. As all of the participants, crews and backers work feverishly – hopefully not at cross purposes – to complete the project well, there is no sure way to know the results of their efforts beforehand.
When The Lemon Tree was being finished, I wonder if everyone involved knew how it would turn out or how it would be received. I wonder if they screened it before some test audiences first, the responses then providing guidance for further final tweaks. Perhaps even Ira Riklis offered some final comments or thoughts which were then incorporated into the film. We’ll probably never know, nor do we really need to. But that so much is invested into something without predictable results is, in part, what must make film making fascinating.
I don’t know if Ira Riklis likes sports films but he might like this one. Slap Shot (1977) has none of the redeeming qualities discussed in Field of Dreams but it’s still a great movie. If you haven’t seen Slap Shot, go rent it. Right away (but don’t watch it with the family).
Slap Shot is hysterically funny while presenting a good story with more than a bit of drama. It stars Paul Newman as the veteran and grizzled coach/player of a pathetic B league team trying to save itself from extinction. I’ve read somewhere that this movie is one of Newman’s personal favorites.
The film immortalizes the Hanson triplets who are complete goons on the ice while having adolescent (at best) minds otherwise. They wreak havoc on their opponents yet travel with suitcases full of toys. In their first opportunity to play they perform all kinds of open ice hits, knocking everyone off their feet, and then swipe by the opposing team’s box to lift a stick to smack every face sticking out over the wall, their jaws agape at what they’ve just witnessed.
Newman, the veteran way too old to be playing hockey, marvels at the goonish spectacle and the fans sucking it in. He converts the team to follow the Hanson brother’s lead and the movie unfolds from there. If Ira Riklis hasn’t seen it yet, I predict he’ll love it.
It’s not a film with deep resonate meaning, but the value of its humor is priceless. By the way, in case you’re interested, the Hanson brothers have a book out about the film, its making, and their hockey careers before and after the film (yes, the really did have hockey careers.)
Guilt free movies are like low calorie desserts. No harm done. Some satisfaction, a bit of laughter, that’s about it. They’re like pop music. They somehow drill into our sub-conscious awareness and dig out a spot for themselves in which to dwell.
There are pop songs from youth which I could still sing along to, every single word. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are similar songs which illicit the same kind of response from Ira Riklis.
Silliness aside, isn’t this perfectly fine and normal? Shouldn’t we all be granted a bit of nostalgic glee from our past lives. These are the bits, as fragmented as they might be, from which we construct an understanding of ourselves and the trajectory of our life.
I think Ira Riklis would agree, we are all due our bit of indulgence just as sometimes an ice cream sundae really benefits from a bit of whipped cream and a cherry.
Simple sweetness sometimes define the best in life. The trick, as I’m sure Ira Riklis knows, is to see them and taste them as they are. Certainly there’s no harm done and, maybe, if we can pay attention to these small sweetness’s in life, we might all view it with a bit more of a smile, a bit more laughter.
Ok. Let’s talk baseball. There are more than a few good films out there about baseball. Perhaps two of the best known are, and most notoriously representive, in recent years by Field of Dreams and Bull Durham.
Of the two, I’ve always preferred Field of Dreams but I wonder which film Ira Riklis would prefer. Arguably, Bull Durham is more about baseball and all of its idiosyncrasies: the players, the fans, the groupies, the superstitions. All perfectly entertaining.
Field of Dreams, on the other hand, seems to illuminate a different dimension of baseball: its capacity to bring us together. At no point is this clearer than in the final moments of the film when Ray asks his returned father if he wants to ‘have a catch’. It’s worth noting here that there was a vociferous debate during the film’s making over whether the proper phrase should be ‘play catch’ or ‘have a catch’. Ultimately the latter was decided, probably for the better of the film.
There’s a big difference, ‘having a catch’ is a shared moment; ‘playing catch’ turns the event into a noun.
So, a father and son are reunited by a catch with a baseball, a bitter, idealistic writer is restored by ghosts and cornhusks, and a disbelieving banker suddenly leaps for preserving the absurd. Perfect. I’d bet Ira Riklis would agree.
We all have a field of dreams, though it might have nothing to do with baseball. In other words, there are things we each wish to reconcile with, believe in or be restored by. These are the dreams for which we each have a field. Some days we even get to play upon them.
You might have seen them, those particular comedians capable of simulating a kung fu movie dubbed from Japanese into English. The performer speaks a line in English yet his lips look like they are trembling from centrifugal force on a carnival ride. It is extraordinarily funny to watch. You can’t help but wonder how the performer accomplishes the feat.
Then, somewhere in the routine, the comedian speaks a very long phrase in Japanese which then translates into three or four words in English. Yes, it is funny.
But there is something else at work here which has little to do with the quality of kung fu movies or their translations. I wouldn’t know if Ira Riklis is a fan of kung fu movies, but I’d be willing to at least bet that he’s seen one.
What they have going for them, not unlike an Elvis Presley movie on a Sunday afternoon, is they are comfortably entertaining. Not much risked, or gained, in their watching. They are like comfort food. Some movies exist solely for this purpose. They fill dead time on the networks (or one of the 131 other cable stations) with little expense to either provider or viewer. Life should be so simple all of the time.
Does Ira Riklis like comfort food films? I’ve no idea. But let’s be honest, at some point at time, who doesn’t? They don’t have to be stupid funny, or sticky nostalgic, they just need to be entertaining, to allow us not to feel too guilty over how we just let the past two hours slip by with little, or nothing, to show for it.
Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard. When Los Angeles was first coming into fruition, who would have guessed that these roads would acquire almost legendary status? Hollywood Blvd. becomes associated with the lore of broken dreams while Sunset takes on the setting of the universal Greek tragedy: a rise to power, wealth and fame only to descend into the waters of the Pacific.
Life chases the sun, which keeps moving, orbiting forward while leaving us stuck at the water’s edge.
It’s hard to think of these boulevards as a destination for tourism, yet they are. Somehow or other, every trip to the fine City of Los Angeles eventually includes a ride (preferably in a convertible) or a stroll along some fragment, if not a longer stretch, of these roads. They are drives both interesting and melancholy.
That Sunset Boulevard’s topography should engender that most famous of tragic story lines is almost too perfect. Nevertheless, there it is. I think movie producer Ira Riklis might understand.
On the tour, it’s the seedy side of life which becomes note worthy. My LA friends feel compelled to point them out on the tour. There’s the hotel where John Belushi overdosed, another where Rick James had some problems, and then, more recently, the House of Blues which led to Phil Specter’s troubles.
They go on and on. I don’t believe this is Ira Riklis’ world, but he, like all of us, understands it’s there. Which is why he tries so hard to do something about it.
Remember the garage band, The Kinks? I’d bet Ira Riklis does. Contemporaries of The Rolling Stones and The Who, The Kinks were part of that era of the British music invasion but the Kinks seemed less on the front lines and more at the margin of that era.
They were a band which could put out the hardest three chord, power chord driven rock anthem (remember ‘Lola’?). But they also have a wistful side, a capacity for particularly beautiful lyrics and melodies that strike inner chords as well as guitar chords.
Of the many songs which fit this description, my favorite is ‘Celluloid Heroes’. It’s a story about a walk down Hollywood Boulevard, that road of broken dreams, and the stars immortalized there by a plaque set in the concrete sidewalk. Through the song, Ray Davies names a few of the icons who can be found there.
Yes, Marilyn Monroe. But also Mickey Rooney. Yes, Greta Garbo. But also Bela Lugosi. Each has a line or two, touching on their place in our cultural memory, and then the song’s chorus sums it up nicely after each verse:
‘You can see young stars as you walk down Hollywood Boulevard / Some that you recognize some that you’ve hardly even heard of / People who worked and suffered and struggled for fame / Some who succeeded and some who suffered in vain.’
I don’t know if Ira Riklis has walked down the Boulevard, passing by with stars under foot, at the cafes or walking by, but I’d be willing to bet he has.
Circuses are, of course, a favorite setting for films. I’ve no idea why but, for whatever reason, the first film of this genre that always leaps to mind is one of Elvis Presley’s films, Roustabout (1964). Of Elvis’ remarkable 31 films, this was his sixteenth. (Actually the setting was a carnival). Remarkably, his co-star was Barbara Stanwyck. It is one of four films issued that year featuring Elvis, so he was really cranking them out.
I wonder if Ira Riklis has ever imagined films with pop or rock stars as the lead roles. If not, maybe that’s why Ira Riklis’ films are better than Elvis films.
The film, from what I can remember, wasn’t so much about the circus, or even the featured romance between Elvis and his leading lady. The film was a vehicle for Elvis, like all of his other films. The plot, other than Elvis is starring, was secondary. Not to suggest this film, or any of the other Elvis films, were terrible films. They weren’t Oscar worthy, but they weren’t terrible either.
At some basic level, Elvis films did their primary job very well: be entertaining. They are perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon. If a film isn’t entertaining, at some fundamental level, because it is not funny, thoughtful, moving, emotive, or some other such quality, than the film isn’t worth the resources of bits and celluloid they consume.
Question: What’s the difference between a feature film movie producer and a circus ring master? Answer: Not much. This is, in part, what makes movie producers, like Ira Riklis, such interesting figures.
When it comes to producing films, as Ira Riklis has, the vast skill set required is nothing less than daunting. There are so many things to keep track of, so many things that can go wrong, so much reliance and trust in others to do their job at an extraordinary level of proficiency. It is a wonder that the feat is ever accomplished at all, much less to the caliber where film might be considered an art form.
A producer, like Ira Riklis, is not only paying attention to the creative endeavor (ring one), he is also watching the business side of the project as well (ring two). And, especially if it’s a feature film, it costs a lot of money. This typically means investments from either a studio or from private individuals. As in any investment, those who put up the funds would like them back, with a healthy return. That’s a lot of pressure.
The third ring, after the creative work and the business oversight, is getting the film out in the public awareness to a sufficient extent that the public will buy a ticket. How else are the investors to be satisfied? So a producer has three very complex rings of activity to oversee and coordinate. It is no small feat when done successfully. And it’s amazing it happens fairly often.
Wouldn’t it be extraordinary to hover above and independent from the material universe, if only for a little while? It’s not free; Ira Riklis knows this. There’s a burden which comes along with this gift of knowledge. Somehow, the prospect must be shared. Somehow, others need to be granted access to what’s been seen and learned.
This isn’t a simple matter. Often enough, others aren’t interested in the prospect. Those that are might show up with pre-determined opinions of their own. Others might be offended by what they’re shown. Sometimes it’s hard to discern the difference between these two types.
Occasionally, some person, a film maker or an artist, is able to offer the view in such a manner that it offends few and captivates many. Some, like Ira Riklis, are willing to share their gift with the rest of us. It is a benevolent gift.
In true ‘don’t shoot the messenger’ fashion, often enough those in a positon to share don’t because of the potential retribution. Fortunately for us, others forge ahead in a true ‘damn the torpedos’ mentality.
Art is fuzzy be nature. Whether it will offend of captivate is almost unpredictable until it is in the public sphere. Then it’s too late to do much about any mistakes. That’s the rub of it. Until it’s out there, you’ll never know. Once you do, you might wish you hadn’t.