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Recalling a Visit with Shirley Horn

Singer and pianist Shirley Horn died last week on October 21st at the age of 71. In 1992, Horn took part in a concert and interview with Fresh Air. Playing with her was her long time drummer Steve Williams and bassist Charles Ables (who died in 2002).

21:43

Other segments from the episode on October 28, 2005

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 28, 2005: Obituary for Shirley Horn; Review of Val Lewton's classic horror films; Interview with Christian Bale; Review of the film "The weatherman."

Transcript

DATE October 28, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript

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Review: Warner Bros.' new DVD boxed set of classic horror films
by producer Val Lewton
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli filling in for Terry Gross.

It's Halloween and time for scary movies with mad scientists, vampires,
zombies and mummies. But music critic Lloyd Schwartz, a horror movie fan, is
especially fond of the psychological kind, and he thinks the best of them are
the ones produced by Val Lewton.

LLOYD SCHWARTZ (Music Critic): A young girl is sent by her mother on an
errand after dark. She's nervous because there's a rumor of an escaped
leopard. She rushes back, growing increasingly frightened, as do we. But
when she reaches home, the door is locked. The camera moves inside the house,
from where we hear her screaming to be let in. And suddenly a pool of blood
oozes under the door. We never see what attacked her. The next scene is her
inquest.

The film is "The Leopard Man," and it was made in 1943 by Val Lewton, who
produced some of the most remarkable Hollywood movies of the 1940s. For want
of a better word, we call them horror films, but they're more like
psychological and spiritual mysteries, often dealing with the human attraction
to death and the understanding that there are more realities than mere
physical presence. Lewton couldn't afford special effects so he had to use
his imagination.

His films were also a rejection of more traditional Gothic melodrama. Not
that monsters and vampires didn't make terrific movies. Universal, the studio
most famous for its horror movies, has released terrific, inexpensive boxed
DVD sets of Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolf Man, Mummy, and Invisible Man and
Woman films. The best ones, like the "Bride of Frankenstein," are
masterpieces. But because Lewton didn't rely on star power and because his
studio forced him to use such campy titles as "Curse of the Cat People" and "I
Walked With a Zombie," maybe these films aren't as well remembered as they
should be. So Warner Bros.' new nine-film Val Lewton fest, the first
appearance of any Lewton films on DVD, will be a wonderful discovery for a
contemporary audience.

(Soundbite of "I Walked With a Zombie")

Unidentified Actress: I walked with a zombie. Doesn't seem a hard thing to
say. Had anyone said that to me a year ago I'm not at all sure I would have
known what a zombie was. Well, I might have had some notion that they were
strange and frightening and even a little funny. It all began in such an
ordinary way.

SCHWARTZ: Lewton was actually a producer, not a director, but he hired three
very talented young directors: Mark Robson and the late Robert Wise, who had
originally worked for him and Orson Welles as editors, and Jacques Tournier.
Lewton himself, though, took an active part in every aspect of production,
even as co-writer. His films all have a similar look: elegant, shadowy,
dreamlike, relying on the power of suggestion, impeccable timing and Roy
Webb's insinuating and atmospheric music.

(Soundbite of film music by Roy Webb)

SCHWARTZ: A number of these films have eerie sequences of people being
followed, or who think they are, through deserted streets at night. It's one
of the elements Lewton films have in common with another dark American
contribution to 1940s filmmaking, film noir. A late-night swimming pool scene
in "Cat People" is as scary and dazzlingly filmed as the shower scene in
"Psycho" and predates it by more than a decade. But scaring the audience
isn't Lewton's only purpose. "Cat People" is really about sexual terror. The
exquisitely feline Simone Simon believes she'll become a wild animal in the
course of making love, that she might tear her husband to bits.

"The Curse of the Cat People" is a surprisingly moving and apparently
autobiographical treatment of lonely children and their powerful imaginations.
"I Walked With a Zombie" is really a version of "Jane Eyre" in a Caribbean
setting, a journey of self-discovery. "Bedlam," with Boris Karloff as the
director of the notorious 18th-century London insane asylum, deals with social
and political abuses and the powerlessness of women. One of Lewton's most
memorable images is a shot looking down a long corridor in which all we see
are a row of arms desperately reaching through the bars.

My very favorite Lewton film might be "The Seventh Victim," with the young Kim
Hunter in her first movie role and the hauntingly beautiful Jean Brooks as her
sister who, decades before "Rosemary's Baby," has joined a cult of Satan
worshippers. The film traces an infernal labyrinth through upper-class and
bohemian New York and ends with a chilly meeting in the hallway of a rooming
house between a dying recluse who wants to leave her lair for one last taste
of life, and the heroine, who is coming home to give in to her death impulse.
Lewton begins and ends with a quotation from John Donne's "Holy Sonnets."

(Soundbite of "The Seventh Victim")

Ms. KIM HUNTER: (As Mary Gibson) I run to death, and death meets me as fast.
And all my pleasures are like yesterday.

SCHWARTZ: How many other movies quote great poetry? How many films are
inspired by great poetry? I think Val Lewton's films are as close as
Hollywood got to being poetry.

BIANCULLI: Lloyd Schwartz is classical music editor of the Boston Phoenix and
teaches English at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. He reviewed the
new DVD set of nine Val Lewton films released by Warner Bros.

Coming up, a darker, more threatening "Batman."

This is FRESH AIR.

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Interview: Actor Christian Bale discusses his roles in "Batman
Begins," "The Machinist" and "American Psycho"
DAVID BIANCULLi, host:

Christian Bale is an actor who looks very different and acts very differently
in almost every movie, and who seems to choose his roles for precisely that
reason. He's the latest actor to don the Batman costume in "Batman Begins," a
film credited with reviving that movie franchise. It's just been released on
DVD. Bale also took on the controversial role of the murderous sociopath in
the movie version of "American Psycho," televised this weekend on cable's USA
Network. And, in between, he dropped 60 pounds to play a tormented insomniac
in "The Machinist."

Terry talked to Christian Bale earlier this year and started with a scene from
"Batman Begins." After seeing his parents murdered, Bruce Wayne left Gotham
and traveled the world to understand the nature of the criminal mind and to
learn martial arts. He returns to Gotham with a plan to fight crime and
defend the weak. Here he talks with his faithful butler, played by Michael
Caine.

(Soundbite of "Batman Begins")

Mr. MICHAEL CAINE: (As Alfred Pennyworth) Are you coming back to Gotham for
long, sir?

Mr. CHRISTIAN BALE: (As Bruce Wayne) As long as it takes. I'm going to show
the people of Gotham their city doesn't belong to the criminals and the
corrupt.

Mr. CAINE: (As Alfred Pennyworth) In the Depression, your father nearly
bankrupted Wayne Enterprises combating poverty. He believed that his example
could inspire the wealthy of Gotham to save their city.

Mr. BALE: (As Bruce Wayne) Did it?

Mr. CAINE: (As Alfred Pennyworth) In a way. Their murder shocked the wealthy
and the powerful into action.

Mr. BALE: (As Bruce Wayne) People need dramatic examples to shake them out of
apathy, and I can't do that as Bruce Wayne. As a man, I'm flesh and blood. I
can be ignored. I can be destroyed. But as a symbol, as a symbol, I can be
incorruptible. I can be everlasting.

Mr. CAINE: (As Alfred Pennyworth) What symbol?

Mr. BALE: (As Bruce Wayne) Something elemental, something terrifying.

BIANCULLI: How about a bat? Christian Bale told Terry he had a very strong
opinion of how Batman should be portrayed.

TERRY GROSS, host:

What was your idea of how Batman should be portrayed?

Mr. BALE: He had become--unbeknownst to me, because I was not a comic book
fan--he had become a spoof of what Bob Kane had originally intended when he
created "Batman" back in 1939. He was a dark and threatening superhero. He
was always the superhero that, you know, in sitting around a table, hanging
out with other superheroes, would definitely be the one that the others were
kind of looking at sideways and being a little unsure about how quite he got
into their group. He also has, obviously, no superhuman powers. The only
power that he does have, which is substantial in this world, is enormous
wealth, which allows him the time and access to all of the gadgets and the
abilities to do what he does.

But essentially, what I found in the graphic novels--and there is a great
foreword, and I believe it's in "Batman: Year One," by Frank Miller. And it
talks about his first experience with "Batman," and that to him, "Batman" was
never funny. "Batman" was dark. And that's really what we've attempted here.

GROSS: Right before you did "Batman," you starred in the movie "The
Machinist," which--a film I really liked, and I thought it was a great
performance that you gave in that.

Mr. BALE: Thank you very much.

GROSS: It was a real nightmarish vision. You play somebody who hasn't slept
in a year, and your...

Mr. BALE: Yeah.

GROSS: ...body is totally emaciated. You're wasted in it.

Mr. BALE: Right.

GROSS: And you're having these delusions, these hallucinations through the
movie, and the movie's in black and white, which is the kind of emotional
world you're living in. I mean, everything's been...

Mr. BALE: Yeah.

GROSS: ...drained of life and color.

Mr. BALE: Right.

GROSS: And you're going over the deep end in it. You lost how many pounds
for this role?

Mr. BALE: It ended up being 63 pounds I lost for it.

GROSS: And I should say that you look like somebody who just got out of a
concentration camp or...

Mr. BALE: Right.

GROSS: ...the survivor of a famine in Africa. I mean, you...

Mr. BALE: Yes.

GROSS: ...basically have a rib cage and skin.

Mr. BALE: Yeah, right.

GROSS: Going that from "Batman," you were really pumped up in "Batman."
Your...

Mr. BALE: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: I mean, your arms, man, they are the size of a lot of people's waists.

Mr. BALE: Right. I had a...

GROSS: Did you audition as your "Machinist" self for "Batman"?

Mr. BALE: Well, that was a conversation that Chris Nolan and I had. We were
talking on the telephone whilst I was making "The Machinist." And he said to
me that I was going to have to screen test for "Batman." At the end of
July--and this would have been 2003--I weighed 121 pounds. My normal weight
averages about 185, 190. And in the first week of September, they had screen
tests for "Batman" planned. So he asked me, well, how did I look, you know?
I mean, how was he ever going to be able to convince the studio that I was the
man for the job when I was going to be rail-thin?

So I really stuffed my face a great deal in those five, six weeks, and, you
know, managed to get by with the test, was cast, but then had a really
rigorous, very arduous training period to prepare for "Batman," because, like
we said, this is one without superhuman powers. He must look capable of doing
all that he does. And this "Batman" is grounded in much more reality than any
of the previous "Batman" movies, so we really wanted it to be, you know,
recognizably believable that he could be a truly good and experienced fighter.

GROSS: So what's it like to be in the Batsuit? I mean, first of all, as an
actor, you kind of lose your face as a tool...

Mr. BALE: Right.

GROSS: ...because it's covered by a mask.

Mr. BALE: You have your eyes, though, you know. You have your eyes with
this. You have your eyes and your mouth and obviously the body language as
well, which I think is so crucial with playing any kind of an outfit like
that. But it is very--you know, it is very constricting. The cowl certainly
is extremely tight, you know, as it must be. And I did find myself having
pretty splitting headaches after two or three hours within it. But, you know,
I'd chosen to play the role, and I wasn't going to be complaining about it.
And I chose, instead, to kind of use that, because I saw Batman, the creature,
as being somebody who would probably have a very focused and intense headache
that would be putting him in quite a rage and quite a mood, so I just used it.

GROSS: We've talked a little bit about how you lost a lot of weight for the
insomniac machinist, your previous movie.

Mr. BALE: Yeah.

GROSS: You put on weight and pumped up for "Batman."

Mr. BALE: Yeah.

GROSS: And in another earlier movie, "American Psycho," you...

Mr. BALE: Yeah.

GROSS: ...had these--the kind of muscles that a real narcissist might have,
somebody who...

Mr. BALE: Exactly, yes.

GROSS: ...pumps up because of the way it looks, not because he needs to build
any strength.

Mr. BALE: Right. Well, thank you for recognizing the difference in that,
because, absolutely, with "American Psycho," it was all about the vanity, the
narcissism. It was nothing to do with health, really.

GROSS: Why'd you take the role? You know, the book got such bad--the book
was just kind of shredded by a lot of critics.

Mr. BALE: Right.

GROSS: And then it was criticized by a lot of people for moral reasons,
because...

Mr. BALE: Yes.

GROSS: ...your character's such a sociopath.

Mr. BALE: Yes.

GROSS: So why did you want to jump into this one?

Mr. BALE: I had not read the book before reading the script. And I was
anticipating--because I had been aware of the controversy surrounding the
book, and I had read--I'd read maybe a couple of pages of it. I was expecting
something very different from the script. And what I found is that I may well
have a peculiar sense of humor, but that I was crying with laughter in reading
the script, because, to me, the character of Patrick Bateman was always an
absolutely ridiculous one. You know, he's laughable. And to me, it was never
really a movie about a serial killer. That was this extreme that Bret Easton
Ellis had pushed it to. But really, it was a social satire about a yuppie in
the '80s. And that was the way that Mary Harron, who wrote the script, had
adapted it. And so much of the violence which is contained in the book in an
incredibly graphic manner is merely suggested in the movie.

GROSS: There are some voice-overs in "American Psycho," and I want to play
one of the voice-overs. And this is a scene from early on, in which you're
enumerating all the wonderful, you know, like, lotions and shampoos and things
that you have. I mean, you really are the ultimate narcissist in this movie.
Here's that voice-over.

(Soundbite of "American Psycho")

Mr. BALE: (As Patrick Bateman) I always use an aftershave lotion with little
or no alcohol, because alcohol dries your face out and makes you look older.
Then moisturizer, then an anti-aging eye balm, followed by a final
moisturizing protective lotion. There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some
kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something
illusory. And though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my hand and
feel flesh gripping yours, and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are
probably comparable, I simply am not there.

GROSS: Now I think we can hear in that, that, you know, in this voice-over
from "American Psycho," you have this perfect, like--What is it?--like
mid-America, like, TV announcer...

Mr. BALE: Right.

GROSS: ...kind of voice. You're from Wales.

Mr. BALE: Yeah. Right.

GROSS: How did you get that voice? And you have very few traces now, I
think, of a Welsh accent.

Mr. BALE: Well, my voice, I can kind of change at will. With every character
that I've played, it's very easy just to pick that accent or dialect back up
again. And for me specifically right now, you know, I'm talking primarily
about "Batman Begins," and I feel that he's such an American icon that I chose
not to be doing interviews in my full-blown English accent. I felt that it
would just be raising too many questions.

GROSS: Well, really, are you just--you mean, you're kind of, like, performing
the interview in a way, like you're doing it in a voice?

Mr. BALE: Well, listen, I've played more American characters than I've ever
played English, and I tend to maintain whatever accent I'm doing throughout a
movie, so in honesty, it's become as natural for me to speak in that way as it
is in my, you know, home tongue. So it's just a choice, you know, but, yeah,
I made the decision that, when talking about "Batman," I didn't wish to sound
English, you know. I realize that he's such a strongly identified American
icon that I just didn't want to raise that question.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. BALE: Thank you very much.

BIANCULLI: Christian Bale speaking with Terry Gross last June. This weekend,
USA network broadcasts his film "American Psycho."

Coming up, "The Weatherman."

This is FRESH AIR.

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Review: "The Weatherman"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

The director of "The Pirates of the Caribbean" swashbuckler has made an
intimate story of a Chicago weatherman on the brink of despair. "The
Weatherman" stars Nicolas Cage, with Hope Davis as his estranged wife and
Michael Caine, again, as the father who wants his chaotic son to grow up.

DAVID EDELSTEIN reporting:

Nicolas Cage couldn't have found a more natural fit than David Spritz, the
title character of "The Weatherman." Cage is a very entertaining actor, but
he's not much of an interactor. He likes to play solecistic men, men who live
in an emotional vacuum and get to that point where they're desperately
reaching out through the fog, just like Spritz, who changed his name from
Spritzel at his TV station's request because a lot of weathermen adopt cute
meteorological names. But in this persona, he feels shallow and ridiculous,
especially when passersby repeat his stupid catchphrases or inexplicably
bombard him with Slurpees or Big Gulps.

Spritz is having one of the most naked existential crises I've seen in a
movie, and I've seen them all. He can't get on the wavelength of his heavy
daughter or pothead son, both of whom are rapidly approaching crisis points.
He wants desperately to get back with his ex-wife, played by Hope Davis, but
she'll have none of his spacey self-centeredness. And his father, a famous
novelist played by Michael Caine, has lymphoma and is probably going to die
without seeing his son become a responsible adult.

There's one surprising grace note in this parade of miseries, which is that
Cage's Spritz is really good on TV. True, he's not a meteorologist, but we
see through the TV monitors that he's a master at engaging the viewer's eye,
and we know why he has been chosen to try out for a gig on a national morning
show. But being a weatherman comes easy to David. It doesn't stretch him.
It's the path of least resistance. There's a fast-food motif in the movie,
and in a voiceover, David even comes to understand the nature of what has been
splattering him.

(Soundbite of "The Weatherman")

Mr. NICOLAS CAGE (Actor): (As David Spritz) The first time I was struck
with something, a chicken breast from Kenny Rogers, I was standing next to a
garbage pail. I thought it might have been an accident, that they were
throwing it out. The second time, it hit me square on the chin, a soft taco;
then pop, a falafel, McNuggets. Always fast food. Fast food: things that
people would rather throw out than finish. It's easy, it tastes all right,
but it doesn't really provide you any nourishment. I'm fast food.

EDELSTEIN: With one lapse that I'll talk about later, Steven Conrad's script
is good and nervy. It balances the bleakness with wry narration and extremely
funny, squirmy embarrassments, and not squirmy-funny in the reflexive way of
Larry David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm." The embarrassment often comes from
trying and failing to measure up to the expectations of his father, played by
Caine with such grave and soulful decorum as a miracle of self-discipline and
centeredness. "The Weatherman" builds to an unusually double-edged epiphany,
a variation on `accept who you are,' but framed as resignation, a resignation
that helps you live in the world and be responsible and grow up.

Yet I don't think this is a great movie. Much of the fault is the direction
of Gore Verbinski, best known for "Pirates of the Caribbean." He's an
intelligent and skillful filmmaker, but he's impersonal and overly controlled,
and here he gets one visual idea and sticks to it. "The Weatherman" is set in
a wintry Chicago, and there isn't a touch of red or green. It's all white and
gray and ice-blue, with droning ambient music, and it's all hard lines, bare,
straight trees, skyscrapers, metal desks and glass partitions. David becomes
obsessed by archery, and while this isn't spelled out, it's clear he's drawn
to the straight lines and the focus. He's trying to straighten out himself in
a universe of swirling winds and unpredictable currents. It all so perfectly
worked out that it's suffocating, and Cage's one-note plaintiveness is too
familiar because always, always, the Cage stands alone.

Now the one aspect of the script that bothered me. David's teen-aged son,
played by Nicholas Hoult, is set on by a pedophile drug counselor. And one
way this absent father proves himself is by beating the guy up. Now life
would be simpler if we could all prove our worth to our loved ones by finding
predatory pedophiles to beat up. Thank heaven there aren't enough to go
around, except in movies, when they slither in on cue to prove that righteous
violence has a way of cutting through knotty spiritual crises.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for Slate.

(Credits)

BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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