DATE August 24, 2001 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Christopher Nolan talks about the making of "Memento"
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
The film "Memento" is one of the biggest independent hits of the year. It
opened last winter and is still playing in many theaters. The film cost $5
million to produce and has grossed around $25 million. It comes out on video
and DVD September 4th.
Christopher Nolan wrote and directed "Memento." We spoke when the movie
opened last winter. "Memento" is a thriller whose real subject is memory and
identity. It stars Guy Pearce as Leonard Shelby, a man with a rare form of
amnesia. He's been unable to make new memories ever since he was struck on
the head while his wife was raped and murdered. He's obsessed with finding
the murderer and getting revenge, but how do you keep track of the clues you
uncover? How can you even be sure what you're doing if you have no memory?
In his pursuit of the killer, Leonard has moved into a cheap motel. Here he
is talking with the desk clerk.
(Soundbite from "Memento")
Mr. GUY PEARCE (As Leonard Shelby): I'm Mr. Shelby from 304.
Mr. MARK BOONE Jr. (As Burt): Right. What can I do for you, Leonard?
Mr. PEARCE: Hmm.
Mr. BOONE: Burt.
Mr. PEARCE: Burt. I'm not sure. I think I may have asked you to hold my
Mr. BOONE: You don't know?
Mr. PEARCE: Well, I think I may have. I'm not too good on the phone.
Mr. BOONE: Right. You said you like to look people in the eye when you talk
Mr. PEARCE: Yeah, yeah.
Mr. BOONE: You don't remember saying that.
Mr. PEARCE: Well, that's the thing. I have this condition.
Mr. BOONE: A condition?
Mr. PEARCE: It's my memory.
Mr. BOONE: Amnesia.
Mr. PEARCE: No, no, no. It's different from that. I have no short-term
memory. I know who I am. I know all about myself. I just--since my injury,
I can't make new memories. Everything fades. If we talk for too long, I'll
forget how we started and the next time I see you I'm not gonna remember this
conversation. I don't even know if I've mentioned it before. So if I seem a
little strange or rude or something--I've told you this before, haven't I?
Mr. BOONE: Yeah. I mean, I don't mean to mess with you, but it's so weird.
You don't remember me at all?
Mr. PEARCE: No.
Mr. BOONE: We've talked a bunch of times.
Mr. PEARCE: I'm sure we have, yeah.
Mr. BOONE: What was the last thing you remember?
Mr. PEARCE: Well, I...
Mr. BOONE: Well, what' it's like?
Mr. PEARCE: It's like waking. It's like you just woke up.
GROSS: For his work on "Memento," Christopher Nolan was named British
Screenwriter of the Year by the London Film Critics Circle. He based his
screenplay on a story by his brother, Jonathan(ph). This is Nolan's second
film. His first, "Following," played film festivals and got limited
distribution in the States.
Christopher Nolan, welcome to FRESH AIR. I'd like you to describe Leonard's
memory disorder in "Memento."
Mr. CHRISTOPHER NOLAN (Director, "Memento"): Leonard's memory disorder in
"Memento," it's anterior-grade memory loss. It's a form of amnesia whereby
you can't make new memories. You know everything about yourself. You know
all the supposedly objective information about, you know, who you were and,
you know, your name and who you grew up with and who you were married to
and where you lived and all this stuff up until a particular point where,
through, in his case, some kind of trauma--I mean, a blow to the head--he's
lost the ability to make new memories. So he's been sort of cut adrift, in a
sense, in, you know, time because he's lost his sense of time passing, and in
space because he doesn't know where he is because he doesn't know how he's
GROSS: I think what I like most about the film is that Leonard is just a more
extreme version of how I live my life. Like I tell friends things several
times, forgetting that I've already told them.
Mr. NOLAN: Right.
GROSS: My memory's often so unreliable, I write notes to myself. I e-mail
myself. I leave phone messages for myself. Leonard actually tattoos his body
with lists of facts that he has to remember; things like `Find him and kill
Mr. NOLAN: Well, that was exactly my interest in the condition. I mean, the
screenplay was based on a short story that my younger brother was writing.
And basically, what fascinated me about the condition and about then writing
the screenplay from it is that I saw him not as a freak, you know. I wasn't
interested in making any kind of medical drama. I saw an interesting jumping
off point for an exaggeration of the process by which we all live, you know;
by, you know, the process of memory, the process of taking present-tense
information and passing it into the long-term memory. I saw a very
interesting jumping off point for an examination of that process and how
fragile and inefficient it is. And as I wrote the script, I simply
exaggerated the way I live my life. You know, I tend to keep the same things
in the same pockets so I don't have to think about, you know, where I put my
house keys or my glasses and so forth. And I became sort of fascinated by the
idea that if I were to tell you a string of 12 numbers right now, you know, 30
seconds later, you probably wouldn't be able to recite it back to me. Once
you start looking at it in that detail, it becomes a little bit frightening.
GROSS: Describe some of the devices you've given Leonard to help him
remember what he just experienced and what he's just learned.
Mr. NOLAN: Well, the most visual device, obviously, is the tattoos, which he
uses his body to record essential information; clues about the guy who killed
his wife because he's looking for the guy who killed his wife. He's looking
for revenge. The more everyday things are he uses a Polaroid camera. He
carries one with him at all times and he snaps Polaroids of the car he
drives, the place he's staying and the people he's encountering, and he writes
notes to himself about these people on the backs of these pictures. And he
has a sort of chart on his wall where he sticks this information when he's
done with it, you know, when he comes back to his hotel room and so forth.
And so these are the kind of devices he uses.
But the main one, actually, is--that some people miss when they're watching
the film, funnily enough, is a form of sort of behavior modification called
conditioning, which is where you sort of use a different part of the brain to
try and retain information. It's your sort of muscle memory. And what you
do is you pattern your behavior and you use habit and routine to systemize
your behavior to the extent that you stop having to use your conscious mind
GROSS: I want to play another scene from the film. And this scene is really
about how we're defined by memory. In this scene is Guy Pearce and Joe
(Soundbite from "Memento")
Mr. JOE PANTOLIANO (As Teddy): What about John G.? You think he's still
Mr. PEARCE: Who?
Mr. PANTOLIANO: Johnny G., the guy you're looking for. I mean, that's why
you haven't left town. Am I right?
Mr. PEARCE: Maybe.
Mr. PANTOLIANO: Leonard, look. You have to be very careful.
Mr. PEARCE: Why?
Mr. PANTOLIANO: The other day, you mentioned to me maybe somebody was trying
to set you up and get you to kill the wrong guy?
Mr. PEARCE: Well, I go on facts, not recommendations, but thank you.
Mr. PANTOLIANO: Lenny, you can't trust a man's life to your little notes and
Mr. PEARCE: Why not?
Mr. PANTOLIANO: Because your notes could be unreliable.
Mr. PEARCE: Memory's unreliable.
Mr. PANTOLIANO: Oh, please.
Mr. PEARCE: No, no, no, really. Memory's not perfect. It's not even that
good. Ask the police. Eyewitness testimony is unreliable.
Mr. PANTOLIANO: That...
Mr. PEARCE: The cops don't catch a killer by sitting around remembering
Mr. PANTOLIANO: Right.
Mr. PEARCE: They collect facts.
Mr. PANTOLIANO: That's not what I'm...
Mr. PEARCE: They make notes and they draw conclusions. Facts, not memories.
That's how you investigate. I know. That's what I used to do. Look, memory
can change the shape of a room. It can change the color of a car and memories
can be distorted. They're just an interpretation; they're not a record. And
they're irrelevant if you have the facts.
Mr. PANTOLIANO: You really want to get this guy, don't you?
Mr. PEARCE: He killed my wife. He took away my (censored) memory. He
destroyed my ability to live.
GROSS: That's a scene from "Memento." My guest, Christopher Nolan, wrote
and directed the movie.
Can you talk about how you connect memory and identity in the film?
Mr. NOLAN: Well, for me, when my brother, Jona(ph), when he told me this
story or this idea for a story that he was working on, what he pointed out to
me and I immediately responded to was that it's not an amnesia story. And the
reason that was sort of interesting to us is because amnesia stories have no
rules in a sense. If you wipe out the identity of the character by wiping out
his long-term memory, you then can make this character anybody, you know, you
want to. It becomes a very easy device in the story. I mean, it makes it
great, amnesia thrillers, but what we were drawn to with this condition is
that you know all of the information that you're supposed to be able to use to
identify yourself. You know your name, your Social Security number, who you
were married to, where you went to school, where you live, all this stuff.
Up to this point, you know, in Leonard's case, relatively, you know, late in
his development, if you like, when he's lost the ability to make new memories.
So the question of identity is sort of boiled down--it's not this wider
question of who am I? I could be anybody. It's to me a more relevant
question, certainly relevant to me approaching the age of 30, as I was when I
made it, this question of who am I now and how does that relate to who I was
10 years ago, you know, how did I get here sort of thing. To us, that was a
much more interesting identity question. And, you know, there's certainly,
you know, an element of, I don't know, satire in a way that, you know,
Leonard's primary identifiers or, you know, the clothes he wears and the cars
he drives and, you know, that was kind of interesting to us as a device as
GROSS: I think I understand why you were so intrigued by the idea of a
revenge story about somebody with memory loss.
Mr. NOLAN: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: I mean, crime films are often about someone obsessed with seeking
revenge for having been double-crossed in the past or revenge for a loved one
who was murdered. So it's the memory of this double-cross or this crime that
leads to obsession with revenge. And, of course, the paradox here is that,
you know, your character's memory of his wife's murder leads to his obsession
with revenge, and yet he's lost all subsequent memory.
Mr. NOLAN: Yes. And so, you know, this was Jona's fascination with the
material, and it certainly played right into the movie. He's trapped in the
moment of the aftermath of this trauma. As he says at one point in the film,
you know, `How can you heal if you can't feel time?' He can't feel time
passing because he's lost the ability to process information, so he's not
aware of how long it is since his wife was killed and so forth. And that
seemed a very tragic, a very extraordinary situation for a character, that he
be stuck in this moment of grief and anger.
GROSS: One of the characters says to Leonard who's so obsessed with revenge,
`Even if you get revenge, you won't remember.'
Your movie is not only about memory. Your movie relies on the audience's
memory, which it needs to follow a pretty complicated plot.
Mr. NOLAN: Well, it's actually a very, very simple plot. But the--I mean,
the notion is to tell it in such a way that you have to view it the way
Leonard views it. And to Leonard, even a relatively simple story, such as it
makes a momento, becomes incredibly complicated viewed the way he has to view
it and pieced together the way he has to piece it together.
GROSS: Why don't you describe the structure of the narrative, how everything
happens in reverse?
Mr. NOLAN: Yeah. The film is structured pretty much literally in reverse.
We begin with the end of the story, if you like, or the end of the
chronological sequence. And then each subsequent scene is a flashback further
in time from a previous scene. So we jump further and further back in time,
and this material is all in color. And then between these color sequences, we
have these little black-and-white scenes coming in that actually run forwards
in time, as you sort of learn in the film, and they provide more objective
information about this guy. They kind of show Leonard from more a bird's eye
view, more of a kind of documentary view of him. And these kind of separate
the subsequent flashbacks further and further in time, and also give us a
little more information about the character we're looking at.
GROSS: Now you mentioned the black-and-white scenes vs. the color scenes and
how the black-and-white go forward, whereas the color scenes go in reverse
chronologically. It actually took me awhile to notice that.
Mr. NOLAN: Sure.
GROSS: I'm wondering if you wanted that to work on people consciously or
Mr. NOLAN: My ideal, you know, viewer, if you like, who's watching the film
kind of picks up on that, you know, at some point in the second reel or third
reel. But, you know, I wanted to construct it from a such a way that you
don't need to know that at all, and you can kind of figure that out, you know,
an hour after you've left the film, or, you know, if you're interested enough
to see it a second time, sort of notice it the second time. So it's certainly
What's essential is to realize that the color sequences are moving back in
time. That helps orient, you know, the viewers that watch it, so that's it
not a random sequence of events and it's not completely cyclical or it kind of
echoes in cycles within the film. But the overall thrust of it is backwards
GROSS: Let's talk about the casting. The lead in your movie, the man who has
lost most of his memory, but is seeking revenge for the murder of his wife, is
Guy Pearce, who our listeners might remember as the kind of seemingly
straight-lace, by-the-book cop in "L.A. Confidential," and he was also in
"Priscilla, Queen of the Desert." Did you ask for Guy Pearce or did he come
Mr. NOLAN: Well, both really. It sort of worked out quite well, because
what I was really looking for was an actor who would see the potential of, you
know, what they could do with this character, and obviously an actor of
extraordinary talent, because, you know, this is a character who's in every
single scene of the movie. I mean, the story is entirely told from his point
of view. And Guy was brought to my attention by the producers. And I had
never really put together the actor from "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert"
with the actor in "L.A. Confidential." And once I took a look at those two
films and saw this actor who could do both of these things, I thought well,
you know, `Any actor who can pull off both of those characters can do
absolutely anything he sets his mind to.'
And we got the script to Guy. And when I met him--you know, he wanted to meet
right away, which is always a good sign. And when I met him, it was very
clear that he'd really connected with the material. He really connected with
the character. This is a character who is constantly pretending that he knows
what's going on when he doesn't. He's constantly feeling emotions that are
carrying over from an experience that he can no longer remember. So he feels
the emotion, but not the conscious reason behind it, not the narrative reason
behind it, if you like. And I think Guy had seen a way of tapping into that.
And what he also brought to the table was he's an incredibly logical-minded
performer. He won't do anything that doesn't make sense to him. So he became
an incredible logic filter on the material. Because I was determined that the
film should sustain the close scrutiny that its bizarre structure kind of
invites. And he was very helpful in making sure that everything really holds
GROSS: Christopher Nolan wrote and directed the thriller "Memento." It comes
out on video and DVD September 4th. We'll talk more after a break. This is
GROSS: Let's get back to the interview we recorded earlier this year with
Christopher Nolan, the screenwriter and director of the independent film hit
Why do make movies? What do you love about watching movies and making them?
Mr. NOLAN: I think there are various different things I love about it. I've
always loved films. I started making films when I was seven years old and
kind of haven't stopped, and I never really thought about doing anything else.
What I love is films that create their own particular geography, their own
particular world and then kind of immerse you in it for a couple hours.
And I've always been a huge fan of Ridley Scott, certainly when I was a kid.
I mean, "Alien" and "Blade Runner." They just blew me away because they just
created these extraordinary worlds that were so terribly--you know, just
completely immersive. I've also always been an enormous Stanley Kubrick fan
for similar reasons. And then I think as I got older, I got more interested
in films that I hadn't grown up with, the sort of cinema of people like
Nicholas Racz and Sidney Lumet and John Frankenheimer, people like that.
GROSS: When you were making movies as a child, what were you making them
Mr. NOLAN: Well, I started off with my older brother, Matt, sort of doing
kind of sort of war movies with, you know, action figures and all the rest.
And then when I was about seven, "Star Wars" came out and kind of changed
everything. So everything I did after that was sort of little spaceships
flying around and, you know, short films imaginatively titled "Space Wars" and
things like that. But I had a lot of fun doing that over the years.
And actually the guys--I was living in Chicago at the time when I was eight
years old and I made films with these two brothers, Roko and Adrian Belic.
And they made their first film just when I did, their first feature film when
I made my first feature film, the "Following," and we were on the festival
circuit together. It was a documentary they made called "Genghis Blues" that
they actually wound up getting an Academy Award nomination for last year,
which was--so it was a wonderful kind of serendipity that we kind of wound up,
you know, going out there with our first films when we sort of made these sort
of little science fiction epics when we were kids.
GROSS: Just one last question about memories, since that's really the subject
of your movie "Memento." Is there anything in your life that you really wish
you could conjure up a full memory of, either visually or factually, that's
just kind of been erased over the years and you can't grasp it much as you
desperately want to?
Mr. NOLAN: Well, after writing the screenplay for "Memento," I have to be
honest, I actually feel that way about almost all my memories. Because what I
realized about myself, and I think it applies to other people as well, is that
the process of creating long-term memories is very similar to the process of
remembering a dream. And you wake in the morning and you, you know, lie there
in bed and you can remember the dream and you can remember it in a sensual
sense. You can actually recreate the dream in your mind. But as you do that,
you turn it into words, you turn it into language, both visual language and
verbal language, and so it becomes a set of symbols in your long-term memory.
So it's very much like the process of, as I say, remembering a dream and the
trying to explain it to someone else. And then all you're left with really is
the kind of symbolic representation of something you experienced. And after
going through the process of making "Memento," it seems increasingly true to
me that, other than these tiny little glimpses of sense memory to do with
smell and particularly, you know, visual references and all the rest, the tiny
little details of a person that you remember, much of it is very elusive and
GROSS: Now, in the face of that knowledge, are you trying desperately to keep
journals and to photograph things and sketch things so that you will have as
accurate a memory as you're capable of keeping? Or do you just accept the
fact that everything you experience is kind of fleeting in its own way and you
can't really grasp it forever?
Mr. NOLAN: I've actually sort of accepted the fleeting nature a little bit,
and kind of done less of, you know, the trying to remember things or trying to
record things. Just before I made "Memento" as an exercise, partly just to
keep things sort of visually in tune, I started taking a single photograph
every day of my life, and I did this for about a year leading up to making
"Memento." And it was a photograph of anything, just a tiny little detail of
something in my apartment or outside. But I was doing it for visual reasons.
I wanted to discipline myself to take a single frame and create an interesting
image with that; just taking one single frame every day.
And, you know, I sort of put together this book of tiny, little visual details
for every day, and, you know, that was the process I was kind of going through
in terms of while I was writing the screenplay and exploring memory. And
since making the film and since kind of dealing with that in such detail, I've
really kind of relaxed about that. And it's a long time since I actually took
any pictures of anything. So unfortunately all my experience now is just kind
of getting lost as it happens, but, you know, that's fine.
GROSS: Well, Christopher Nolan, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. NOLAN: Thank you very much.
GROSS: Christopher Nolan wrote and directed the film "Memento." Our
interview was recorded last March when "Memento" was released. It's still
playing in many theaters and comes out on video and DVD September 4th. Nolan
is making a new movie called "Insomnia," starring Al Pacino and Hilary Swank.
I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: That's Neil Young playing Fuzz-Tone guitar on the Buffalo Springfield
recording "Everydays." A new boxed set collects the group's recordings from
the '60s. Coming up, Ed Ward profiles Buffalo Springfield and we listen back
to an interview with Neil Young. Also, John Powers reviews Woody Allen's new
(Soundbite of "Everydays")
BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD: ...Saturday's child stays home, nothing to say. So
wrong. Whoa, whoa, whoa, another day. Whoa, whoa, whoa, another day.
Grocery store, 10 clerks just making change, plastic checks. Up in a tree a
jay bird yelling at me, no words. Everyone looks, can't see. Can be ignored
easily. Whoa, whoa, whoa, another day. Whoa, whoa, whoa, another day.
Stopping in the world where things are ecstasy, the sound of trees. Most
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Buffalo Sprinfield 4-CD set
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
It may be simplistic to call the Buffalo Springfield America's answer to The
Beatles, but the band did produce a number of brilliant careers after its
short life ended. Bootlegs have circulated for years, but now the band's
definitive summing up has arrived. Today, armed with the new Buffalo
Springfield box set, rock historian Ed Ward tells their story.
(Soundbite of Buffalo Springfield song)
Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) There's something happening here. What it is
ain't exactly clear. There's a man with a gun over there telling me I got to
beware. I think it's time we...
Group of Singers: Stop!
Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) ...children...
Group of Singers: What's that sound? Everybody look what's going 'round.
ED WARD reporting:
Nobody involved seems to remember just how it was the Buffalo Springfield came
together, although they all agree the band was named after a steam roller.
Stephen Stills and Richie Furay were members of the Au Go Go Singers, a supper
club folk act. And while on tour in Canada, they met Neil Young, son of a
famous sports writer and a guy who went back and forth between solo
performance and being in a band called The Mynah Birds with bassist Bruce
Palmer and a black American singer named Rick James.
The Mynah Birds collapsed, and Young and Palmer took off for Hollywood to be
discovered. It was 1966, a good year for that.
(Soundbite of "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing")
Mr. STEVE STILLS and Mr. RICHIE FURAY: (Singing) Who's that stomping all
over my face? Where's that silhouette I'm trying to trace? Who's putting
sponge in the bells I once rung and taking my Gypsy before she's begun? To
sing in the meaning of what's in my mind before I can take home what's
rightfully mine. Joining and a-listening and talkin' in rhyme. Stopping the
dealing to wait for the time. Who can say maybe that don't mean a thing
'cause nowadays Clancy can't even sing?
WARD: Unfortunately, fame didn't come to the two Canadians, so they decided
to strike out for San Francisco, where they'd heard good things were
happening. They got into Neil's old hearse and were driving down Sunset
Boulevard when Stills and Furay, driving in the other direction, saw them.
Only one person would have a hearse with Ontario plates, Stills reasoned, so
he had Furay turn them around and chase the car. The four went somewhere to
jam, and a band was born. Their first success was "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even
Sing," one of Neil Young's songs, with Furay and Stills singing. And it
sounded good enough that they quickly started writing.
Soon they had a drummer, another Canadian named Dewey Martin, and managers
with a track record. They also managed Sonny and Cher. And before long, it
signed the Buffalo Springfield to Atco Records. "Clancy" was released as a
single. It went nowhere, but there was an album on the way.
(Soundbite of Buffalo Springfield)
Mr. NEIL YOUNG: Been burned, and with both feet on the ground, I've learned
that it's painful coming down. No use running away, and there's no time left
to stay. Now I'm finding out that it's so confusing. No time left, and I
know I'm losing.
WARD: The album, entitled "Buffalo Springfield," was filled with brilliant
songs, played with an offhand virtuosity that sounded easy. Then right after
it was released, Stills was on his way to the Sunset Strip when he found his
way blocked by turmoil, the famous Sunset Strip riots. He went home, and
about 10 minutes later, he'd written, "For What It's Worth," which became the
band's biggest and only hit.
Unfortunately, Charlie Greene and Brian Stone, their managers, fancied
themselves record producers, and the first album was marred by horrible sound.
That was just the first of the problems that would doom this great band. The
second was a trip to New York, where Bruce Palmer got busted for pot and
deported. The band continued to record and write, however, but in May 1967,
Neil Young quit, claiming his work wasn't appreciated in the band. Palmer
rejoined and a couple of months later, so did Young.
(Soundbite of Buffalo Springfield)
BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD: (Singing) Every time you touch her sets your hands on
fire, and everything you've got is all that she requires. And you hang on,
hang on, hang on to the one ...(unintelligible). Can you feel it getting down
to the wire?
WARD: Although the band recorded group material like that on the first album,
like this rough take of a Neil Young song "Down to the Wire," more and more,
the second album was looking like a series of solo projects pressed onto one
(Soundbite of "Bluebird")
Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) Listen to my bluebird laugh. She can't tell
you why. Deep within her heart, you see, she knows only crying. Just crying,
WARD: Stephen Stills' "Bluebird" was a guitar dual standout of their live
show, but condensing it to four and a half minutes on record made it all the
more powerful, especially when someone had the brilliant idea of tacking on a
banjo coda at the end. As for Neil Young, he was hanging out with LA's pop
avant garde, including a brilliant arranger named Jack Nitsche(ph).
(Soundbite of "Expecting to Fly")
Mr. YOUNG: (Singing) There you stood on the edge of a feather, expecting to
fly. While I laughed, I wondered whether I could wave goodbye.
WARD: Neil is the only member of the Buffalo Springfield on "Expecting to
Fly," and from the demos he was recording at this time, it seems clear he was
heading out in another direction from the rest of the band.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. YOUNG: Don't call pretty Peggy. She can't hear you no more. Don't
leave no message 'round her back door. They say the old laughing lady been
here before. While she don't keep time, she don't count scores.
WARD: But a second album entitled "Buffalo Springfield Again," finally did
come out with "Bluebird," "Expecting to Fly" and another Neil Young avant
garde opus, "Broken Arrow." "Buffalo Springfield Again" should have been
their big break, but once again, the law got Bruce Palmer, and this time, he
stayed in Canada.
Jim Messina, a studio technician, who'd been around while they were recording
the second album, took over on bass and helped them compile tracks for a third
album. But the band had lost too much money, and as 1968 drew on, it was
clear Buffalo Springfield couldn't continue. A final album called "Last Time
Around" came out, but the band had already scattered by the time it did. And
Neil Young and Jack Nitsche were already recording Neil's first solo album.
Buffalo Springfield had only last 25 months, but they set a standard few bands
have approached since.
GROSS: Rock historian Ed Ward lives in Berlin. He reviewed a new box set of
the band Buffalo Springfield.
Coming up, an interview with Neil Young about his early career, including his
days with Buffalo Springfield. This is FRESH AIR.
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Review: Woody Allen's movie, "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion"
TERRY GROSS, host:
Woody Allen's new movie, "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion," stars Allen, Helen
Hunt and Dan Aykroyd. Our film critic, John Powers, has a review.
Back when he was making "Sleeper," "Annie Hall" and "Manhattan," which is to
say more than two decades ago, a new Woody Allen movie was something to get
excited about. Now it's an occasion for dread.
I drive to the theater with a sinking heart, knowing exactly what I'm going to
get: black-and-white credits with music by someone like George Gershwin, a
slack plot in which Woody's character is made to look silly or even nasty, but
is ultimately vindicated and, of course, some flesh-crawling scene in which a
hot, young babe wants to have sex with him. You know what I'm talking about,
and I suspect that he does, too. Not that it makes any difference.
His new movie, "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion," is quintessential late-period
Allen, though with a better calibrated plot. It's set in 1940, radio days,
you might say, and finds Woody starring as C.W. Briggs, a claims investigator
or a fading insurance company. C.W.'s bete noire is Betty Ann
Fitzgerald--that's Helen Hunt--an efficiency expert who hates his old-style
ways, especially his taste for brainless broads. But when they go to an
office party at a night club, C.W. gets hypnotized by Voltan, a magician
played by David Ogden Stiers. The crooked Voltan uses his hypnotic power to
get C.W. to rob the company's clients, and soon, C.W. is in a mess,
investigating crimes he himself has unwittingly committed, fending off the
sexual advances of a sexy heiress, played by Charlize Theron, and engaging in
a protracted love-hate relationship with Betty Ann.
Here, the two meet at a bar.
(Soundbite of "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion")
Mr. WOODY ALLEN (As C.W. Briggs): I don't think you know what you're
talking about. I think you came in here like a steam roller and...
Ms. HELEN HUNT (As Betty Ann Fitzgerald): You felt threatened by me from the
first day I got on this job. Not only was I an efficiency expert and a
challenge to your little state within a state, but I'm not one of those
wind-up dolls you can tickle at the water cooler. I'm smarter than you, I'm
faster. I can see right through you. You're right to feel threatened by me.
Mr. ALLEN: I am threatened by you?
Ms. HUNT: It's fascinating as a female executive how many men I meet with a
Mr. ALLEN: A fragile masculinity? You make one more crack about my religion
and woman or no woman...
Ms. HUNT: I have to go.
Mr. ALLEN: Hey, listen, honey, let me level with you here. Despite all your
highfalutin talk about streamlining the office, what you really need is a
good old-fashioned roll in the hay.
Ms. HUNT: Ha! You wouldn't know which end is up.
Mr. ALLEN: Well, in your case, it would be hard to tell.
Ms. HUNT: Don't bother seeing me to the door. Someone might think we're
Mr. ALLEN: Why? Do I look like an organ grinder?
Ms. HUNT: No. Just an organ.
POWERS: It doesn't get any better than this. Truly. That's one of the
funniest scenes in "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion." It's not unpleasant to
watch, really, but it is stale. C.W. and Betty Ann aren't so much characters
as vessels for Allen's trademark humor, dialogue whose one-liners and rhythms
are now so reflexive, they've become an artistic prison. If Allen ever made a
"Planet of the Apes" movie, the monkeys would all talk exactly like Woody.
Allen's familiar gags might feel less tired if they actually had something to
say about the world. Back in his golden days, Allen's work did. He made
timely jokes about Marshall McLuhan, offered an ironic romanticism perfectly
attuned to its era, and displayed an interest in radio days that was more than
just nostalgic. But over the years, his engagement with the larger world
vanished, and the main interest of an Allen movie became how he would tinker
with his own image, how he would justify himself after the fiasco with Mia
Farrow and Soon-Yi, how he would find a way to still play the lady killer, now
that most women look at him as if he were their grandfather, old and not a
In all this, he was a far cry from Clint Eastwood, whose movies also dealt
with his own image, but were about more than just himself. Eastwood used his
iconic status to explore the complications of being male, the violence, the
guilty fears, the struggles with aging. He grew more open as he got older.
Allen has just gotten older. And what's saddest about his work now is its
lack of passion. Year after year, his films keep coming out, and some are
marginally better than the others. "Manhattan Murder Mystery" had some
exuberance. "Deconstructing Harry" at least tried to be ambitious. But none
seem inspired by anything more compelling than the fact that he's used to
doing them. The way other people light up a cigarette or have a cocktail,
Allen now makes movies. And what's left of his audience goes to see them for
much the same reason: not on the expectation of another "Annie Hall," but out
of nervous habit.
GROSS: John Powers is executive editor of LA Weekly.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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