Monday, November 18, 2019
‘WESTERN PORTRAITS’ CELEBRATION AT AUTRY TUES. 11/19, PLUS ‘IT ALL BEGINS WITH A SONG’ DOC, GETS DISTRIB., PLUS NOVEL ‘LEGENDS OF THE WEST’ REVIEWED!
WESTERN PORTRAITS – STEVE CARVER’S 23-YEAR LABOR OF LOVE IS A TRIUMPH!
At 11 a.m. on Tuesday, November 19, 2019, lovers of Western film will converge at The Autry’s Wells Fargo Theatre for Rob Word's A Word on Westerns, and an event more than two decades in the making, the publishing of Western Portraits – The Unsung Heroes & Villains of the Silver Screen. Twenty-three years ago, Steve Carver began shooting portraits of Western character actors, beginning with the legendary R. G. Armstrong, veteran of Peckinpah films and TV Westerns, and whom Steve had directed seven times. Next was L.Q. Jones (four times), then David Carradine (four times).
Steve Carver is, in fact, much better known to the general public as a director of action films like Capone (1975), An Eye For An Eye (1981), and Lone Wolf McQuade (1983), than he is as a photographer. As a child, “Actually I was more into art, and wanted to become a cartoonist. Then my father bought for me my first camera when I was eight years old. It was a Brownie box camera. It had two lenses, the top one you look down upon the viewfinder, and the bottom lens was the shutter lens that actually took the picture. Cameras were like magic.” He grew up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and in the summers would attend camp, “And they had dark rooms. So, I was able to actually process the film, and print the negatives that I shot. So, from age eight, 10, all the way up to 12 years old when I became a counselor, I was in a dark room and I was a photographer.
“My whole family encouraged the arts, and encouraged me to go to The High School of Music and Art, which was in Harlem, in the middle of CCNY (City College of New York). I had to travel an hour and a half on subway to go to school every day, and an hour and a half back.” He traveled for his college education. “When I went to graduate school at Washington University in St Louis, I was (studying with) all of the Life and National Geographic photographers that were working in the Midwest. Clifton Edom, who was the father of photojournalism, was teaching at the University of Missouri.”
His focus began to change, “When I did my graduate thesis. I did a film that incorporated a lot of my photography. I made the transition from still pictures that were telling stories, to motion pictures that told a whole story. A story that allowed me to not only earn my degree, but to put the story into perspective. And to have a greater audience than one that would come and only see my artwork and my photographs hanging on a wall. To actually enjoy a film, and to applaud, and then get reviews and have people come back, and want to see the film again and have reviewers write about it.”
He applied for, and won, a fellowship to The American Film Institute. “I had some great teachers: Frantisek Daniel, and Tony Villani were my main teachers. I had four mentors that (A.F.I Director) George Stevens, Jr. gave me, which I was very proud of: Gregory Peck, and Charlton Heston. And my two director mentors were George Stevens, Sr., and George Seaton. Those were the people that I had their home phone numbers, and I could call them up anytime.”
He rubbed elbows with other greats as well. “I found Alfred Hitchcock in the library at the American Film Institute after his lecture. I cornered him and asked, ‘Can you tell me how do you prepare a film?’ And he said, ‘Let me teach you. He sat down with me at the table and took a piece of paper and showed me how to do a storyboard, drew these little stick figures, and actually showed me the single, the two-shot, say the master shot. I played dumb. I knew it already, but he was really great, putting it down for me.”
At a screening of his second AFI film, his adaptation of Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, starring Sam Jaffe and Alex Cord, Roger Corman, no stranger to Poe, “Tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘How would you like to come and work for me?’” Carver cut trailers for Corman, and got his chance to direct a feature when Corman assigned him to direct a female gladiator movie, The Arena, in Rome. “Actually, the first place he sent me was Israel, to (producer) Menahem Golan's house. I started to do a storyboard. Menahem looked at me and said, ‘Who taught you that?’ I said Alfred Hitchcock. He looked at me like, what?”
In Rome, making The Arena at Cinecitta Studios, his neighbor at the next stage was Federico Fellini. “I would watch him shoot Amarcord. And Federico would come and sit next to me, watch the girls. He would speak in broken English, how he loved gladiators with big tits.”
Carver was so busy directing that he hadn’t touched a still camera in twenty years, until he was directing 1996’s The Wolves, in Russia. “I was in Red Square and a gypsy came up to me with a very rare camera that photojournalists use. It was stolen, and he was trying to sell it to me for 50 bucks, American dollars. I wanted this camera, and my body guard, who was a KGB agent, got this camera for me in a very unusual manner. He took the guy behind a kiosk, knocked the guy out, took my money.” Carver returned to California and, ready for a break from filmmaking, built a darkroom in Venice called, appropriately, The Darkroom. Calling on his years of experience in labs, his knowledge skills and painstaking perfectionism – Carver often spends six hours on a single print -- he became in-demand for collectors, museums and archives, making new copies from 19th and early 20th century negatives, shot by master photographers.
Fascinated by the work of great photographers like Steichen, Weston, Stieglitz, and especially Edward Sheriff Curtis, famous for his portraits of American Indians, “I decided to make my own, and to create sets. I was using homeless people that were walking by my lab at night. I would offer them food and money to sit and to mimic these old pictures.
“And I would create my own negatives and my own photographs in order to learn how to do these. Well, these people weren’t working out because they couldn't stay still. These are all time-exposures, because in the old days, the film was real slow. So everybody had to stay very still for several minutes, and they had metal gadgets that held the person very still when they were taking a picture.” Carver’s next move was to ask actor friends to pose, and the project was born. His pool-shooting buddy R.G. Armstrong was his first to pose, and Armstrong encouraged Carver to make it into a book. He even gave Carver the book’s original title. “The first title was not Unsung Heroes. It was called The Dying Breed. When I started to approach some of the actors, The Dying Breed was a big turnoff.”
One of the odd things that can happen with time-exposures is anomalies, or ‘ghosting’. Some are easy to explain, and some are not. When Carver shot L.Q. Jones, “Bobby Zinner (project historian and wardrobe man) brought an 1893 Winchester lever rifle that had killed 22. You know, and you touch the gun, and it has that vibe, a killer vibe. So L.Q. sat in a chair, and the gun was against the wall and we shot the picture. Bobby took the gun back.” On another day, “We shot Buddy Hackett. We used the same set, just redressed it, and we shot Buddy’s picture. In the background, off to the left, there’s a ghost image of the same rifle. We didn't have that rifle.”
The first session with Denver Pyle was even more strange. “The first shooting, Denver was in horrible shape. We dressed him up, and he had a tank of oxygen behind him and tubes running out of him. He was on chemo and we just propped him up and I shot him with 36 exposures, and he just barely got through the session. When I processed the film, his face was purely white. No eyes, no mouth, no nose. Just white. He was a ghost. I was horrified. I didn't have a shot of Denver. I called his wife Tippi and I said, Tippi, is it any way possible that I can get Denver to come back? I need to shoot him again. She said, I'll ask Denver. Denver calls me back and says, I'll be back. No problem. He comes the next day, spitting vinegar. He comes back with his tank, everything. We dress him up again, put the badge on him. I shoot him again. He’s totally different. I mean, lots of energy. The pictures are great. His face is there. His energy is all there.” Denver Pyle died a couple of weeks later. It’s one of the best portraits in the book, and that is saying a lot.
With this two-decade project finished, Carver is eager to leave the darkroom, and return to directing. “What I dread is that the publisher will want a volume two. I have a lot of actors like Robert Fuller writing me and saying, when are you gonna call us? I have a couple of film projects in mind. We’ll see. I’ve got to get out of here first. I’ve got to get another dog.”
The book begins with a forward by Roger Corman, a preface by Kim Weston, and an introduction by Steve Carver. There are eighty-two photographic subjects in the book, many of whom you’ve seen a hundred times, and each accompanied by an illuminating essay and/or interview by C. Courtney Joyner. Joyner also wrote the closing essay, Carved on Film: Western Movies and the Faces that Made Them. The book ends with detailed filmographies of all of the participants, and acknowledgements. Western Portraits is published by Edition Olms Zurich.
The list price is $50. It can be purchased at Dark Delicacies, the Autry Gift Shop, and of course, Barnes & Noble and Amazon.
‘IT ALL BEGINS WITH A SONG’ RECEIVES WORLD DISTRIBUTION & U.S. JAN 2020 RELEASE DATE
The documentary, which celebrates the unsung heroes of Nashville, its songwriters. Directed by Chusy Haney-Jardine, the 82-minute film will be handled throughout the world by Tri-Coast. Among the songwriters interviewed are Rodney Crowell, Bill Anderson, Bob DiPiero, Shane McAnally, Brett James, Caitlyn Smith, Brandy Clark, busbee, Desmond Child, and Jeffrey Steele.
LEGENDS OF THE WEST – A DEPUTY MARSHAL BASS REEVES WESTERN
By Michael A. Black
Published by Five Star – Hardcover, $25.95 238 pages
In 1879, in The Indian Territory which will one day be Arkansas, and pieces of a few other states, Bass Reeves, legendary former slave turned Deputy Marshall for Judge Parker’s court at Fort Smith, has a direct assignment from the Hanging Judge: investigate the activities of a band called The Cherokeos. He agrees, and with his trusty companion, a Lighthorse Indian Policeman known David Walks as Bear, they are on the trails of one Donavan, an Irish immigrant turned criminal mastermind who has left a long and bloody string of crimes in his wake, and has an even more ambitious misdeed in mind.
Michael A. Black, a retired policeman who has written thirty novels in various genres, keeps the telling lively as he cuts back and forth between hunter and quarry, peppered with humor, some of it pretty raunchy. He even provides an alternate story-teller, a character named Stutley, fresh from the east and hoping to be the next Ned Buntline, who is bullied into turning the despicable Donavan into The Rob Roy of The West.
While author Black does not endorse the currently popular theory that The Lone Ranger was based on Bass Reeves, but turned Caucasian, he runs with the idea in this year, the 70th anniversary of the Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels TV series. There are masks, and five ambushed Texas Rangers, and even a faithful Indian companion who keeps calling Bass “Gimoozabie.”
‘LONE RANGER AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD’ SCREENS SAT. 11/23 AT THE AUTRY!
Celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Lone Ranger TV series, the second Lone Ranger theatrical feature, starring Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels, will screen at the Wells Fargo Theatre. The film will be introduced by Native actor & writer Jason Grasl (Blackfeet). It will be followed with an interview with Clayton Moore’s daughter, Dawn Moore, conducted by Leonard Maltin.
AND THAT’S A WRAP!
All Original Material Copyright November 2019 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved