Fun Flicks and fabulous finds

Fabulous Finds

Dennis Hopper and “The American Way”

Dennis Hopper could bring any movie to life. He simply throbbed energy. I remember when I first watched Apocalypse Now, I was getting bored as the story lumbered towards the final act — then Hopper appeared.

He seemed like such an alien presence — totally out-of-place in this movie — but his energy and humour was a welcome change from the dreary tone the film was embracing.

Now, sadly, he’s gone. But we are left with a huge assortment of films that benefited from his being there. One of these is The American Way.

The American Way — better known in North America as Riders of the Storm — was the victim of terrible marketing and distribution. As I recall it only played a week or so at the Eaton Centre Cinemas (one of Toronto’s worst multiplexes) before being dumped on the video market.

Nowadays, the few who have seen it probably only saw it on VHS as it has yet to be released here on dvd. Consequently, The American Way is arguable his most sorely under-rated film.

Thankfully I found a Spanish release dvd, and offer this video review.

Arthur Miller, The New York Times and “The Bicycle Thief”

The Bicycle Thief poster - CanadaThis year I’ve had the privilege to do a lot of work for Corinth Films in aid of their 60th anniversary release of The Bicycle Thief.

(NOTE: “Bicycle Thieves” is the title most often used in Canada and elsewhere these days because it’s a more accurate translation of the Italian title “Ladri di biciclette” but American arthouse theatre owners still largely prefer “The Bicycle Thief” — and if you’ve seen the film it is a much more effective title).

Amongst other things I got to design a new poster, press book and — for this Sunday’s edition — a quarter-page ad for the New York Times.

This week I’m wrapping up an update to the press book. The owner, John Poole, uncovered a treasure trove of articles and reviews from its original 1949 release (though made and released in Italy in 1948, it didn’t reached the U.S. until December 1949) and I’ve been scanning, proofing and formatting these. The archivist in me is having a ball.

One curious discovery was Arthur Miller’s original New York Times article about the film.

If you do a Google search you’ll find this oft-quoted line from Miller: “The Bicycle Thief is Everyman’s search for dignity – it is as though the soul of a man had been filmed.

Pretty good, eh?

But Miller doesn’t use that line anywhere in his original piece. He never wrote it.

So where did it come from? My guess is, a very clever publicist who put together this 25th anniversary promotional sheet when Richard Feiner & Company owned the U.S. rights to the film, and which later got reprinted in the Image Entertainment dvd release some years ago. Except for that quote, which opens the page, it’s word-for-word from the final section of the Times article.

Miller’s source article opens with a fairly lengthy overview of the state of Italian cinema at the time before he eventually slides into his discussion of The Bicycle Thief. Not a very catchy opening if you’re trying to promote that film alone. So that had to go.

But that would have left them with this as an opening: “The Bicycle Thief is about a man, a worker, who must have a bike in order to work at his job.”

Not exactly a grabber.

So, I suspect, whoever was doing the editing borrowed the article’s subtitle (something a Times editor would have written) which read “Arthur Miller Cites The Bicycle Thief As Everyman’s Search for Dignity,” and then dreamt up the second half of the line.

You have to admit, it’s a great line — “it is as though the soul of a man had been filmed” — which is little wonder so many love quoting it.

But it’s a bit disconcerting to see how so many on the internet have promulgated it now that its true source is in question.

Here is the full transcript of Miller’s original words, published January 8, 1950.