View from the Cheap Seats
Thursday, 27 August 2015 13:57

The Biggest Movie Story in America

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I had to sit on maybe the biggest movie story in America. For a long time. And now that it’s been completed and is over, I’m shocked that the whole thing hasn’t been on the front page of The New York Times.

I’ve perhaps casually mentioned that I helped create (didn’t get in the way of) a film school here in Oklahoma City, actually at Oklahoma City Community College. The idea was, unlike film degrees that are based on watching and studying themes and points of view and reading scripts, the creative side, so to speak, to offer a technical, hands on degree program, why a community college was selected in the first place. And to enhance the experience, we got the finest equipment in the world – Avid editors and cameras and lenses and lights and then, through a lot of hard work from a lot of good people, here came the ultimate – a full end studio, built to the specs of an actual Hollywood soundstage. If another state funded school has a facility like this, I’d like to see it.  [Read on here...]

This all works because we recruited back to Oklahoma a Hollywood legend to bring his experience, contacts and hubris to run the whole thing. Gray Frederickson was screwing around in Italy in the mid to late 60s and stumbled onto the set of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, an Italian production for sure, but a top of the line shoot, in that it would have a huge worldwide release in that it was the highly anticipated third film in the “Man With No Name” trilogy starring Clint Eastwood and directed by Sergio Leone. Gray made connections and soon he was that American who would help Italian crews shoot their way across the United States. He worked with Italian screen legends Ugo Tognazzi, Vittoria De Sica and Alberto Sordi.

Then he came to Hollywood and through a series of circumstances, which we should probably should discuss someday ended up partnering with Al Ruddy, who had already by the early 70s, made his name by creating and producing the hit sitcom Hogan’s Heroes to produce The Godfather.

Thus followed with Gray and long and fruitful partnership with Francis Coppola that resulted in The Godfather, Part II, Apocalypse Now, One from the Heart and The Godfather, Part III. Oscars followed in their wake.

Gray FredericksonYou know Coppola, right? He’s the Big Cheese of American filmmaking who led a revolution in the 70s like no other impresario since Orson Welles and spawned a family of movie making talent which continues to impress – his daughter Sofia is an Oscar winning screenwriter and his nephew Nicolas Cage is an Oscar winning actor; his sister, Talia is an Oscar nominated actress and his son Roman is an Oscar nominated screenwriter and his nephew Jason Schwartzman is an essential character actor.

Get this – Coppola’s last studio feature was his adaptation of the John Grisham novel The Rainmaker in 1996. Wow. Since that time, Coppola has written and directed several independent productions released, honestly, to indifference.

While both Gray and Francis stayed in touch, checked on each other’s children and family, as Francis wasn’t actually making films any more, there was small hope of them ever working again.

A budget shortfall at OCCC raised the need for a fundraiser and the pressure was on Gray to create an event that would raise significant coin. Gray is not an asker – I get it because I’m not one either – but he took as gulp and asked Francis, notorious for turning down even the most influential and popular film festivals and Hollywood events, to fly on his own dime to Oklahoma City and spend a day with students and donors and even go onstage and do a Q&A.

Don’t forget that Coppola is a now a major business executive, the Coppola Winery is no vanity project, it is a major corporation and Coppola is a hands on CEO.

However, come he did – to a packed house. The evening was blissful and informative and a dream for movie buffs. Coppola himself seemed to have a good time. And, actually, it turns out, he was doing a little scheming as well.

And thus the secret.

I don’t know whether Coppola’s newest idea was generated because of his visit to the unreal facilities at OCCC or he had thought it through and had yet to find a place to see it realized.

So, in early June, under the cover of darkness, Francis Coppola moved to Oklahoma City. It should be mentioned that the director and the Sooner State had met before – because of Gray, Coppola had optioned The Outsiders and had filmed it in its original setting of Tulsa and, so taken with the area, Coppola used the city again for Rumble Fish.

Coppola's Rumblefish

Of there were rumblings in Oklahoma City – this person spotted him in a theater or that in one of the college buildings however, I had been told to keep my yap shut and so I did.

Then, local casting companies started sending out parts for a super-secret project at OCCC and the rumor mill went into overtime. But again, these lips were locked.

Finally, after a month, Coppola announced he completed his opus – an experiment in live cinema – a movie performance piece created in real time. Coppola utilized modern filmmaking techniques and the most advanced video technology to create a cohesive dramatic production filmed live. To make it happen, the project included over 70 film students enrolled in a special course, in order to earn college credit. They served as camera operators, grips, sound, costumes, props, video, acting, stage management and producing.

Distant Vision, the name of the production was written, directed and produced by Coppola, is the story of three generations of the Corrado family whose history spans the development of television.

A very surprised audience was invited to the premiere of the film at a local Oklahoma City.

Coppola was very pleased with the outcome.

“Our experimental workshop has been a vital part of my own understanding of live cinema. The faculty and students here have been tremendously valuable and supportive, and working in Oklahoma is always fruitful and a pleasure. I look forward to conducting larger-scale workshops in the future and developing plans for a full production several years from now,” Coppola said.

But there’s a little more. While social opportunities with Mr. Coppola were nonexistent, a few days before starting the project, Gray made sure the three of us went to dinner. It was as glorious as one would think.

However, his first words didn’t give me any hope for a Godfather IV.

“Nothing happening in the motion picture industry interests me,” Coppola told me.

A Kim Jong Il Production (Book)We talked about a lot – Abel Glance, Paul Fischer’s new book called “A Kim Jong Il Production,” a true story about the Korean dictator’s attempt to make good movies from his country, achieved by kidnapping South Korea’s greatest actress and director, John Milius, who is recovering from a devastating stroke and, my dream conversation regarding a film he produced in the 80s called Hammett which was director Win Winders’ American debut about the legendary crime writer – the script was written by native Oklahoman Ross Thomas, who also has a cameo. There have been stories for years that Coppola had to step in and direct what would be the finished product and there major problems during shooting.

I won’t spoil confidences, but I got my answer.

I’ll report when the next component of this project comes to fruition.

By the way, “A Kim Jong Il Production” is a stunning read. Another that I’ll mention, totally off subject, is another fascinating biography “Jerry Lee Lewis – His Own Story,” by Rick Bragg, a very influential Southern writer, that is a, ok, a killer. I actually got to talk to the Killer himself at a recent concert stop and told him I’d spread the word. Consider it done.

Kim Jong Il


New on Blu-ray & DVD

It’s been a while, so I’ve got some new releases to discuss.

The Magician is out on Blu-ray from the Cohen Media Group. It is directed by Chuck Workman, who produces those short, clip rich, videos at the Academy Awards every year, has never before seen clips, rich interviews and a stunning overview of Orson Welles. The clips alone from Welles’ unfinished films like Don Quixote and The Deep and his theatrical productions are worth watching the film but it is so insightful and so reverent that I highly suggest you buy The Magician today.

Also out from Cohen is the dark, deep Academy Award nominated Timbuktu.


Twilight Time continues to make home video history by finding these incredibly rare titles and giving them a loving restoration. Then, smart guys that they are, they limit these titles to 3,000 or, for some popular titles, 5,000.

Here are some of the new releases:

Love and Death – Can you believe Woody Allen made both this and Sleeper back to back and, while Sleeper was first and nearest to my heart, this is the movie that pushed Woody straight into Annie Hall. I actually, to this day, can’t get through it without collapsing – one of the funniest movies ever made and brilliantly restored by Twilight Time.

Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy – This was the beginning of Woody Allen’s 80s period that included Mia Farrow in almost every picture – this decade brought Zelig and Broadway Danny Rose. This is minor Woody but beautifully shot and completely entertaining. Beautiful restoration.

Lenny – Two Dustin Hoffman pictures are also available in limited quantities from Twilight Time. I’m going to say this is a lost picture and it’s a darn shame. It was directed by Bob Fosse at the peak of his powers, Dustin and Valerie Perrine are on fire, all Oscar nominated by the way, and today’s audiences need to know all about Lenny Bruce. Its stark black and white photography is perfect for Blu-ray. Get this one while you can.

American Buffalo – If Lenny is lost, this is dead and buried. This is the movie of the classic David Mamet play, with Dustin Hoffman taking the lead which both Pacino and Duvall played onstage. Thanks for this one especially, Twilight Time.

House of Bamboo – classic widescreen color noir from Sam Fuller starring Robert Ryan. Perfection.

Visit or

Criterion wows us with the reverential treatment of lost noirs, most recently Ride the Pink Horse, never available on home video. Leave it to Criterion to bring out the entire restored classic on Blu-ray with tons of extras and a beautiful, lovely restoration. Robert Montgomery both stars and directs this masterpiece, based on the novel by Dorothy B. Hughes. This is never on TCM and is totally worth buying.

More treasures from Criterion include Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King, Richard Brooks’ film version of In Cold Blood and D.A. Pennebaker’s incisive look at Bob Dylan Don’t Look Back.


Kino Lorder’s Studio Collection, all on Blu-ray, offers an amazing selection of pictures in September, including Vigilante Force, starring Kris Kristofferson and Jan-Michael Vincent, featuring audio commentary with cult director George Armitage; Phil Karlson directing Rock Hudson in a terribly lost WWII thriller Hornet’s Nest and House of Long Shadows, which shows that Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and John Carradine could still have fun in the 80s.

Here’s some other lost gems – Billy Two Hats, a nice 70s western with Gregory Peck and Desi Arnaz Jr.; Busting, a great cop drama with Robert Blake and Elliot Gould: a grouping of Robert Mitchum movies, including Young Billy Young, Man With a Gun and The Wonderful Country and both Support Your Local Sheriff and Support Your Local Gunfighter, both with our recently departed Oklahoma native Jim Garner.


Star Vista & Time Life has been at the epicenter of great TV releases for a long time, but it seems to me they’re working overtime.

For the first time on DVD, the company has released the best episodes from the groundbreaking years of Carol Burnett’s beloved variety show, including the first episode aired, the first performances of many of her famous characters, legendary guest stars, and show-stopping musical performances.

Even Carol herself is thrilled to see these released.

“No one has seen the first five seasons of The Carol Burnett Show since they were first aired – no re-runs, no web streaming, no DVDs, nothing, nowhere, zip… until now,” she said.

And then there’s Hee Haw.

Roy Clark and Buck Owens hosted the countrified ensemble show, pickin’ and grinnin’ and singin’ and spinnin’ with a talented cast of characters. Minnie Pearl, Grandpa Jones, Archie Campbell, and the rest of the Hee Haw gang traded knee-slappers and gut-busting one-liners in hilarious sketches including “Doc Campbell,” “PFFT! You Was Gone” and “Gordie’s General Store“—as well as the all-time favorites “Rindercella” and “Trigonometry.“

And because Hee Haw was a favorite stop for country’s greatest stars, the collection features over 100 classic performances by country stars at the peaks of their careers, like Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, George Jones, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams Jr. and so many more!

The complete set includes 2 Bonus DVDs. Hee Haw Laffs includes enduring sketches and countess comic moments from the early years, plus the series premiere with Loretta Lynn and Charley Pride as it aired in 1969. You’ll also enjoy exclusive bonus interviews with original cast members including Roy Clark and Lulu Roman.

To me, Hee Haw was always about the music. And, even if the jokes are stale or whatever, shut your eyes and listen.


Shout! Factory must be reading my mail with regard to their new releases.

There was once a New York tough guy novelist named Vincent Patrick who made a stunning fictional debut at a late age with a book called The Pope of Greenwich Village. The book was a stunner and it wasn’t long before the film was put into production, directed by Stuart Rosenberg and starring two relative unknowns, Eric Roberts and Mickey Rourke. The result was one of the best films of the 80s, although it has flown completely off the radar until just now when it was released in Blu-ray. Trust me, it’s a gem.

Don’t get me started about Carole King – I think she has never been given her due. She is incapable of writing a bad song and is a generous performer with a legendary voice. She keeps making fabulous records and tours sporadically. And, of course, there’s a new jukebox musical of her songs on Broadway.

Shout! Factory recently released the MusicCares tribute to Carole and it’s unreal – here’s all I have to say – Carole and James Taylor performing “Sweet Seasons.”

Also, show of hands for those who remember The Thunderbirds? That was the series which featured the Supermarionation technique which influenced science fiction and pop culture forever. Timeless Media, part of Shout! Factory has released the entire series and I know several of my friends have already purchased. The same group has also released the complete series of The Saint, with Roger Moore.


Finally, Warner Archive releases so much on a weekly basis that I thought we might just discuss their venture into Blu-ray. The group has released several high end pictures in that format such as 42nd Street, The Great Race and The Hudsucker Proxy and now have released The Hunger, one of Tony Scott’s first movies, a vampire opus, with David Bowie, Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve; The World According to Garp, with our dear late Robin Williams and based on the book and Richard Donner’s Ladyhawke.


No wonder I need glasses. See you at the flix!

- Bud Elder


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