Tag Archives: Charles Martin Smith

The Buddy Holly Story (1978, Steve Rash)

There are three different things going on throughout The Buddy Holly Story. Well, more than three but there are the three big different things. There’s Robert Gittler’s screenplay, which has one narrative gesture for most of the film. There’s Gary Busey’s lead performance, which is resolute in both its sincerity and its anti-inscrutability. And there’s Rash’s direction, which enables both the script and the performance, but also leverages them to manage the scale.

Rash has a very determined narrative distance with The Buddy Holly Story. It’s Buddy Holly’s story. It’s Busey’s story. If he’s not in a scene, he’s about to be. Even when it’s not his scene, it ends up being his scene, because it’s all about him. Well, his performance. But Busey doesn’t do exposition. The performance doesn’t suggest a propensity for it, the script doesn’t pursue it. The other members in the band are there for exposition. Lovable standing bassist Charles Martin Smith and big but not dumb drummer Don Stroud. Even Amy Johnston, as Busey’s hometown girlfriend, expounds so Busey doesn’t. So the script’s got its own distance to its protagonist.

Because what the film becomes–and stays for quite a while–is these three guys journey into and through stardom. But not the pluses of stardom and not even the minuses (they’re implied and off-screen). They’re moving through the practicalities of it all. They’re at an information disadvantage, going from Lubbock to New York City by way of Nashville. Their actions can influence the trajectory but those actions tend to be reactions. Bluntly, the film positions the band as underdogs, even though they’re objectively not.

American music in the fifties had an enumeration of creatively significant artists working independently, simultaneously, and in both active and passive conjunction. Lots of big things happened in music, including Buddy Holly and some of the other musical acts portrayed in the film. Rash and Gittler consciously keep the characters’ anticipation and trepidation separate from the audience’s. The film is very sad. But it’s not sentimental. It’s sad. It’s guardedly, but enthusiastically nostalgic.

But it’s also very softly lighted–by Stevan Larner–on these often empty sets. Joel Schiller’s production design is great but outside musical set pieces, a lot of the film is just the three guys in sparse interiors. Usually without natural light sources. If there were fluorescent lights all over the place in the fifties, The Buddy Holly Story would be mostly in fluorescent lighted rooms with Busey discovering how far his creative ambitions can go and how to get them there and Stroud and Smith trying to keep up.

There are also bigger scenes, but they’re near vignettes. Like when Busey and the boys go play the Apollo and the white manager (Dick O’Neill) is terrified of putting up the three white boys from Texas for his black customers. The micro-subplot where Busey and the boys tour with Sam Cooke (Paul Mooney). They’re these clumps of larger scale scenes with the band scenes–which do eventually involve other supporting cast members, but as background–handling the narrative progress.

Then in the mid-to-late second act the film spotlights Busey as he branches off from the musical journey plot line to romance Maria Richwine. And the spotlight stays on Busey even away from those scenes. The film doesn’t really change its narrative distance, just its focus… by fading out around Busey. But never isolating him.

It’s a neat trick. Rash and Gittler do a lot with a lot. They’re even able to get away with the obviously historical location footage from establishing shots later on. It’s almost a gradual trust issue. The film doesn’t exactly lull its audience, but it invites a comfortable relationship.

Because the film is a true story and it’s a tragedy and even if you’re going into it completely unaware as a viewer, the filmmakers are aware and they take on certain responsibilities. And everyone making Buddy Holly Story–Rash, Gittler, Busey, Stroud, Smith, and whoever else–are embracing those responsibilities. The film’s astoundingly self-confident from the first scene. It’s never showy but it never meanders either. It doesn’t wander. Rash is guiding that flow, with a variety of styles, and each one has to hit just the right tone.

Not always easy when there are budgetary restrictions. Some of those interiors are sparser than they ought to be.

When the Story gets to the end, the film does just the right thing. It’s not an entirely unexpected thing, it’s not a surprise, but it’s neither the most or least obvious. But then Rash and Gittler haven’t been worried about the audience’s expectations, they’ve been tracking Busey’s. So it’s sort of the inevitable right thing. And you want it to go on forever.

The acting’s all good or better. Busey’s phenomenal. Then there’s the lip-synching. There isn’t any. So that enthusiastic nostalgia without any betraying of the verisimilitude and whatnot. Because Rash and Gittler are taking it seriously.

So it’s like it should be a surprise The Buddy Holly Story is such a success, but it also couldn’t be anything but.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Steve Rash; screenplay by Robert Gittler, based on a story by Alan Swyer and a book by John Goldrosen; director of photography, Stevan Larner; edited by David E. Blewitt; music by Joe Renzetti; production designer, Joel Schiller; produced by Fred Bauer; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Gary Busey (Buddy), Maria Richwine (Maria), Charles Martin Smith (Ray Bob), Don Stroud (Jesse), Conrad Janis (Ross Turner), William Jordan (Riley), Amy Johnston (Cindy Lou), Dick O’Neill (Sol Gittler), Neva Patterson (Mrs. Ella Holly), Arch Johnson (Mr. Lawrence Holly), Gloria Irizarry (Mrs. Santiago), and Paul Mooney (Sam Cooke).


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Starman (1984, John Carpenter)

Starman’s first forty or so minutes speed by–director Carpenter gets as much information across as quickly as he can to discourage the viewer from paying too much attention. There aren’t exactly plot holes, but there’s a lot of silliness in the script. For example, Charles Martin Smith–who’s perfectly good in the film–has an entirely pointless character. He’s just there to contrive some drama in the third act.

Except it isn’t really dramatic because Starman’s narrative is exceedingly predictable. What isn’t predictable is Carpenter’s direction or the performances from Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen. Bridges gets the unique leading man role of being able to continually reinvent his performance; right up until the last scene of the film, there’s always something new he gets to do.

The script doesn’t fully acknowledge the strangeness of Allen’s character’s situation–her husband reincarnated but as an entirely different being. Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon’s script is never particularly smart or self-aware. In some ways, Carpenter just ignores the script problems and pushes forward. He matches his personal indulgences (like the massively choreographed and utterly useless helicopter sequence) with similar indulgences for Bridges and Allen. Carpenter’s showcasing, because there’s not much else to do with the problematic narrative.

Carpenter keeps the filmmaking ambitious, compensating somewhat for the script. The lush Jack Nitzsche score is initially muted, only coming through as the narrative develops. Carpenter and cinematographer Donald M. Morgan create some fantastic visuals.

It’s a glorious, gorgeous misfire.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; written by Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon; director of photography, Donald M. Morgan; edited by Marion Rothman; music by Jack Nitzsche; production designer, Daniel A. Lomino; produced by Larry J. Franco; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Jeff Bridges (Starman), Karen Allen (Jenny Hayden), Charles Martin Smith (Mark Shermin), Robert Phalen (Major Bell), Tony Edwards (Sergeant Lemon) and Richard Jaeckel (George Fox).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | JOHN CARPENTER, PART 2: THE STUDIO QUARTET.

Fifty/Fifty (1992, Charles Martin Smith)

Fifty/Fifty is the last film where crap-master screenwriters Dennis Shryack and Michael Butler worked together, though it appears they wrote the script in the mid-eighties. It’s one of their best films, which isn’t difficult, only because the film occasionally batters its viewer with man’s inhumanity to his fellow man (in this film’s case, it’s when the President of the United States sides with the vicious dictator and helps him kill the rebels). The film’s politics are incredibly anti-American, which would have made it interesting if it’d been successful.

It was not.

The script’s a lot at fault, but it’s a Cannon picture, so it’s not like there was a lot of budget behind it, or production values. They cast Robert Hays, who trades on being genial but not particularly likable–he’s still the guy from Airplane! so watching him in scenes with Peter Weller, it kind of works and kind of doesn’t. While the two do make their camaraderie work, Weller acts circles around Hays; it makes things awkward. Hays’s character has a more difficult arc and needs the more nuanced performance.

Charles Martin Smith’s supporting role in the film is better than the majority of his direction–though he gets it during the battle scenes, which makes it somewhat incomprehensible how he doesn’t get the–presumably–easier straight comedy or action scenes. He does a decent job with the actors, especially Ramona Rahman, who has a laughable character at times but is always presented well.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Charles Martin Smith; written by Dennis Shryack and Michael Butler; director of photography, David Connell; edited by James Mitchell; music by Peter Bernstein; production designer, Errol Kelly; produced by Maurice Singer and Raymond Wagner; released by Cannon Films.

Starring Peter Weller (Jake Wyer), Robert Hays (Sam French), Charles Martin Smith (Martin Sprue), Ramona Rahman (Suleta), Kay Tong Lim (Akhantar), Dom Magwili (General Bosavi), Azmil Mustapha (Colonel Kota), Dharma Harun Al-Rashid (Sentul), Os (Jamik), Ursula Martin (Liz Powell) and Sharudeen Tamby (Colonel Seng).


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The Beast (1996, Jeff Bleckner)

The Beast is, like most television miniseries, engineered to be watchable without being compelling. It’s like a McDonald’s milkshake (are they still called milkshakes or are they back to shakes?)–you’re in the mood for a milkshake, so you figure it can’t be too bad and order one… only to finish it and discover you should have waited for a real one. The Beast is never real–it’s incredible how many opportunities the movie misses, mostly out of laziness, but also out of disinterest. It’s a TV miniseries about a giant squid, which is–according to wikipedia–a real thing. So I guess it’s a little real, anyway.

But it’s never too terrible, just like most event miniseries. There are sturdy, recognizable cast members. William Petersen does his TV leading man thing here, the working class guy–just look at his beard, but he’s well-groomed enough for the viewer to know he’s not any working class guy… he’s the soulful, quietly intelligent working class guy who’s going to get the job done. While battling his demons, of course. Petersen doesn’t have many demons in The Beast–though a scene where he impales his daughter with a stake (and Missy Crider does have some exceptional talons on her fingers here, scarier than any of the rubber squids) sadly did not make it into the film. It must have been in my imagination, since Crider’s one of the worst actors I think I’ve ever seen. And in a TV miniseries from the 1990s, the acting’s not supposed to bottom out… it’s supposed to be where the network showcases its actors who aren’t leads on popular shows. You know, so viewers will follow them from the event miniseries to the weekly show. (This entire system has all changed and I have no idea why, so I’m not even going to bother hypothesizing–but it worked to a degree).

In other words, most of Petersen’s fellow cast members are good. Karen Sillas is somewhat wasted as the Coast Guard officer who can’t get any respect because she’s a woman. Her really good moments just remind how Sillas never really found a great role. Charles Martin Smith’s in it a bit–he’s fine, though the character’s poorly written. Ronald Guttman is goofy. Both Sterling Macer Jr. and Denis Arndt are good. As Crider’s friend, Laura Vazquez doesn’t have enough scenes (and should clearly have gotten the bigger part). Larry Drake’s funny as a drunken moron, kind of an incompetent Quint.

The comparisons to Jaws are legion. Peter Benchley only has so many scenes he can do, regardless of what characters he can fill them with. The scenes generally move the same way, with a lot of the same props. I remember when Beast first aired, Entertainment Weekly pointed out it didn’t just rip off Jaws, but also Jaws 2 and Jaws 3. The Jaws 3 rips are stunning. I missed the Jaws 2 stuff.

Oh, I forgot to mention Murray Bartlett–he’s awful too.

Bartlett’s one of the movie’s Australian cast members (where it shot). Occasionally accents are iffy, but the production values are good. The special effects are lame. I kept wondering how it couldn’t look better than the original Jaws, given the developments in special effects in the twenty years between the two adaptations. Maybe because giant squids just look dumb. But there’s only one really terrible CG shot and there is one good sequence with a miniature boat.

The Beast kind of made me miss miniseries. Strangely, there’s an exceptional amount of potential for the format–the abbreviated third act in the first half and the abbreviated first act in the second half, it changes the pace of the storytelling… maybe even in good ways. There’s also the opportunity for a lot of character development. It’s just too bad the source material (I’m guessing) wasn’t very good here. With a lot of the cast–and maybe minus a giant rubber squid or two–it would have been fine.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jeff Bleckner; screenplay by J.B. White, based on the novel by Peter Benchley; director of photography, Geoff Burton; edited by Tod Feuerman; music by Don Davis; production designer, Owen Paterson; produced by Tana Nugent; released by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring William Petersen (Whip Dalton), Karen Sillas (Lt. Kathryn Marcus), Charles Martin Smith (Schuyler Graves), Ronald Guttman (Dr. Herbert Talley), Missy Crider (Dana Dalton), Sterling Macer Jr. (Mike Newcombe), Denis Arndt (Osborne Manning), A.J. Johnson (Nell Newcombe), Larry Drake (Lucas Coven), Murray Bartlett (Christopher Lane), Laura Vazquez (Hadley), Robert Mammone (Ensign Raines), David Webb (Jameson) and Marshall Napier (Commander Wallingford).


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