Archives for category: Movies

by Suzanne Lummis

“I was thinking about that dame upstairs
and how she’d looked at me. And I wanted
to see her again, close, without that silly
staircase between us.”
– Voice of Walter Neff in Double Indemnity

Sir, if I may be frank, even bold,
perhaps rash, I’d like to see you again
without that grand piano between us—
the silly one with its carved curlicues,
enamel inlay, its painted panel legs
displaying their affection
for the 19th Century.

And the piano player also—again, forgive
this lapse of discretion. … No, no,
I don’t mean I wish to see him as well.
I long to see you without him between us,
the grand piano player, whose “ivory hands
on the ivory keys strayed in a fitful fantasy”.
(Thank you dear Mr. Wilde). Well—

perhaps I would like to see him again,
but let’s not think on that now. Now
I desire (did I just confess desire?)
to see you again without even
the music between us. Without—sir, yes,
yes, you read my meaning, my purpose
and, I dare say, my lips—without even
that last
lithe, trembling
note of the concerto
between us.

IMAGE: Still from Double Indemnity starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray (1944)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  In 2013, Suzanne Lummis won the Blue Lynx Poetry Award—her collection Open 24 Hours will be released by Lynx House Press in 2014. Her poems have appeared in noted literary journals across the country and in such anthologies as California Poetry from the Gold Rush to the Present, the Knopf “Everman’s Poetry Library” anthologies, Poems of the American West, Poems of Murder and Mayhem. Her definitive essay on the poem noir appeared in New Mexico’s Malpais Review, for which she is California Correspondent, and in 2011 her organization, The Los Angeles Poetry Festival, produced a 25-event citywide series, Night and the City: L.A. Noir in Poetry, Fiction and Film. She is co-editor of Beyond Baroque’s new imprint, The Pacific Coast Poetry Series, which will publish an important new anthology of Los Angeles area poets in 2014. She performs with the serio-comic performance troupe Nearly Fatal Women and teaches for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, and for other colleges and arts organizations. Visit her at

Author photo by Penelope Torribio. Visit the photographer at

I’ve been looking forward to seeing Ruby Sparks (2012) and finally got my hands on a copy. Starring and written by Zoe Kazan, the movie is smart, entertaining, and thought-provoking — especially for writers.

In the story, Calvin Weir-Fields, played by Kazan’s real-life love, the always fascinating and appealing Paul Dano, is approaching 30 and 10 years past his breakthrough novel written when he was a teenage wunderkind. Now he’s afraid of failure and can’t write. His analyst, Dr. Rosenthal — in a charming cameo by Elliott Gould — tells Calvin to write about someone who will love him unconditionally. Calvin asks whether it’s okay if he writes “badly” — and Rosenthal gives him permission to write “very badly.”

Freed from his inhibitions, Calvin creates his dream woman — Ruby Sparks (Kazan) — and a novel begins to flow out of him. He falls in love with his creation to the point that she becomes real — appearing one morning in his kitchen. At first, he thinks he’s lost his mind — but when other people can see Ruby, he realizes he has dreamed her into existence.


After the first blush of romance, problems crop up — until Calvin figures out he can get Ruby to do anything he desires, just by writing a new page in the novel, which he types on a vintage Olympia typewriter (nice touch!). The movie is at its best in the darker passages when exploring relationship dynamics — and how couples engage in power struggles and negotiate truces.

I enjoyed the film’s literary references and antecedents — Pygmalion, Frankenstein, Pinocchio, The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland — but Ruby Sparks has an original point of view with new things to say. I also enjoyed the L.A. locations — especially Calvin’s minimalist home near Griffith Park and several scenes at Skylight Books.

Writers are always faced with philosophical, moral, emotional, and intellectual dilemmas related to their creations. As we write, our characters take on lives of their own, and when finished the book takes on a life of its own. What is the writer’s part in the equation? Ruby Sparks helps us explore this question and many more.

Hats off to Zoe Kazan for a terrific screenplay and winning performance!

Find Ruby Sparks at

May the force be with you in May and all the other months of the year! In this short clip, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) bids bon voyage to Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in Star Wars (1977).



by Sam Shepard

I remember trying to imitate Burt Lancaster’s smile after I saw him and Gary Cooper in Vera Cruz. For days, I practiced in the backyard. Weaving through the tomato plants. Sneering. Grinning that grin. Sliding my upper lip up over my teeth. After a few days of practice, I tried it out on the girls at school. They didn’t seem to notice. I broadened my interpretation until I started getting strange reactions from the other kids. They would look straight at my teeth and a fear would creep into their eyes. I’d forgotten how bad my teeth were. How one of the front ones was dead and brown and overlapped the broken one right next to it. I’d actually come to believe I was in possession of a full head of perfectly pearly Burt Lancaster-type of teeth. I didn’t want to scare anyone so I stopped grinning after that. I only did it in private…

Photo: Burt Lancaster as Joe Erin in Vera Cruz (1954)


Released in July 2012, The Beat Hotel (directed by Alan Govenar) is an 82-minute documentary that tells the story of a remarkable group of artists — including many of the prominent Beats writers — who in 1957 converged in a cheap Paris hotel, where some of their greatest works were born.

Hotel residents included Beat poets Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, along with novelist William Burroughs. Ginsberg began his magnum opus, Kaddish, in the hotel, located in Paris’s Latin Quarter, while Burroughs completed his most renowned work, the experimental novel Naked Lunch. Joining these Americans were artists from a variety of persuasions (photographers, painters, musicians, performance artists) who hailed from France, Britain, and other parts of the world.

The Beat Hotel tells the story of the power of art and the power of artists to influence one another in positive ways. Hotel owner Madame Rachou only allowed artists to reside in her establishment — and charged them next to nothing to live there. She felt that artists needed time and space to create — and this was her way of acting as a patron of the arts.

A good time was had by all in The Beat Hotel — and this documentary makes you feel as if you were part of it all. Eddie Woods, contributing editor for several Silver Birch Press anthologies, appears in the film — delivering a lively poetry reading outside the hotel. 

Find the movie at


written and directed by Sophie Barthes

If you like the films by Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich) and Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), you’ll probably enjoy the comedy-drama Cold Souls.

Screenwriter Sophie Barthles, who also directed the movie, based the story on a dream where Woody Allen was carrying around a jar that contained his soul, which looked like a chickpea. From this germ of an idea, Barthles has created a fun cross-genre romp that’s part sci-fi, part existential art film, and part flat-out comedy.

As an angst-ridden actor, Paul Giamatti (playing a character named Paul Giamatti) has trouble separating himself from the characters he plays, so he decides to  try soul extraction — a new technology he’s read about in the New Yorker.

During the course of the film, Giamatti has his soul removed, tries to get it back, but it gets stolen, so he borrows someone else’s soul, then decides to retrieve his stolen soul, and on and on — from New York to Russia and back. The story moves quickly, but has a lot of depth — exploring what, after all, makes us human. 

Find it at

by Robert Louis Stevenson

Whenever the moon and stars are set,
            Whenever the wind is high,
All night long in the dark and wet,
            A man goes riding by.
Late in the night when the fires are out,
Why does he gallop and gallop about?
Whenever the trees are crying aloud,
            And ships are tossed at sea,
By, on the highway, low and loud,
            By at the gallop goes he.
By at the gallop he goes, and then
By he comes back at the gallop again. 

PAINTING: “Windy Night” by Marilyn Jacobson, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Prints available at

EDITOR’S NOTE: A fascinating project about Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) is currently in the works — a film about his life in San Francisco, with a screenplay by G.E. Gallas. Find out more at


In 1957, Allen Ginsberg was in Paris awaiting the results of the U.S. obscenity trial related to HOWL, the book-length poem Lawrence Ferlinghetti had published in San Francisco through his City Lights Press.

The 2010 film HOWL, starring James Franco as Allen Ginsberg, covers a range of subjects — including the 1957 obscenity trial — in some cases using experimental techniques (such as animation of the poem).

I particularly enjoyed Jon Hamm (MAD MEN‘s Don Draper) as defense counsel Jake Ehrlich and Bob Balaban as Judge Clayton HornJames Franco also turns in an admirable performance as Ginsberg.

I had very low expectations when I borrowed this film (HOWL) from the library — I didn’t think there was any way to do justice to the subject matter. Basically, I expected a Hollywood botch job. Count me wrong!  I was enraptured and enthralled throughout the movie, which features the entire text of Howl in animation such as I’ve never seen before.

HOWL, the movie, directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, is original, respectful, and a fine testament to Allen Ginsberg, one of America’s most important poets. Highly recommended.

Find the DVD on


FERLINGHETTI: A Rebirth of Wonder

A Film by Christopher Felver


Lawrence Ferlinghetti fans as well as people who’ve never heard of this iconic author, painter, publisher, and activist will enjoy Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder – a documentary film by Christopher Felver released in June 2013 — thanks to the movie’s “Wow! Did that really happen?” factor.

You might call Ferlinghetti “fate’s chosen son” – judging by the incredible coincidences and strokes of luck that came his way. Granted, Ferlinghetti knew how to seize the moment – as in 1953 when he stopped at the just-opened Pocket Book Shop (the first all-paperback bookstore in the U.S.) at 261 Columbus Avenue in San Francisco and made a deal on the spot to go into business with the owner (Peter D. Martin), who also published a small literary magazine called City Lights. The renamed City Lights Bookstore – a nod to Charlie Chaplin and his character “The Tramp,” who fought the system in the 1931 movie City Lights – became a magnet for artists and writers and reinvented the bookstore as cultural epicenter, meeting place, and hangout.

A few years later, in 1955, Ferlinghetti was again in the right place at the right time when he attended Allen Ginsberg’s first reading of “Howl” at the Six Gallery in San Francisco. The next day, Ferlinghetti – by this time a publisher – sent Ginsberg a telegram offering to publish the poem (“I greet you at the beginning of a great career. When do I get the manuscript?”).

The decision to publish “Howl” led to a 1957 obscenity trial where Ferlinghetti and co-defendant Shig Murao, City Lights manager, risked prison to defend First Amendment rights. When the presiding judge ruled that “Howl” was not obscene, a new chapter in American Arts & Letters opened – ushering in the publication of now-classic novels by William S. Burroughs, Henry Miller, D.H. Lawrence, and many other avant garde writers.

What I appreciated most about Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder was the personal side of Ferlinghetti’s story – again, with fate playing a starring role. In a range of interviews, Ferlinghetti shares aspects of his childhood, noting that much of his story is “out of Dickens.” Yes, this is Dickens in overdrive – and I don’t want to give away too much, because here the “Wow! Did that really happen?” factor is in full bloom. From his birth on March 24, 1919 through his WWII service in the U.S. Navy, Ferlinghetti leads a life that is alternately heartbreaking, charmed, blessed, harrowing, and sublime.

Still going strong at age 94 – on May 30, 2013 an exhibit of his paintings opened in San Francisco – Ferlinghetti shows us what it means to “live a life well lived.”

Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder is a loving portrait of the artist as both a young and old man – a celebration of an American icon who personifies what it means, and what it takes, to have the courage of your convictions and put it all on the line for your beliefs and your art. Today, everyone in the arts owes Lawrence Ferlinghetti a debt of gratitude – and watching this wonderful documentary is a place to start.

Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder is available on DVD


Lois Smith made her film debut in East of Eden, based on the John Steinbeck novel, where she shared the screen with James DeanWarner Brothers released the movie in April 1955, about six months before Dean’s death in a car crash.


More than a half century later, in 2012, Lois Smith starred on Broadway in Heartless, the Sam Shepard-penned drama, where she played Mable, a woman partially paralyzed because she fell out of a tree while watching East of Eden on a drive-in movie screen.