Tag Archives: Michael Caine

Remembering Roger

 

Roger Ebert taught me a lot about movies.

When we sailed together on Dusty Cohl’s bi-annual Floating Film Festival, Roger would screen some already much-appreciated film — Citizen Kane, Raging Bull, Casablanca — and dissect it frame by frame. A master class, if you will. But Roger’s frame-by frame-process was different. He called it “democracy in the dark” and he urged his audience to share our observations during his narrative, even right in the middle of a scene if that was when the urge struck us. After all, it wasn’t as if we didn’t know how it was going to end.

Sometimes it took two or three 90-minute sessions to get through a film. To be honest with you, I never intended to stay for any of them. I had already seen Citizen Kane more times than I could remember; I felt neither the desire nor the need to see it again. My plan was to be present for the first session, just to show my support, and then quietly slip away after the lights went down. I would give it, say, 20 minutes, just to make sure the screening was going all right. But then Roger would make some little comment, give some historical background to a scene we were watching, and I would somehow lose track of time. And 90 minutes later Roger would be saying that he thought this was probably a good place in the film to take a break. By which point I would decide that I would only stay for the first 10 minutes of the next session. Because, after all, how many times could you watch Citizen Kane and keep finding new things in it? But somehow Roger always did. So I always stayed.

He was a great teacher. He taught by example. He didn’t preach; he practiced.

rogerebert-736078I remember the year that Roger came to TIFF with his new laptop voice. He was seeing lots of movies, but also doing some interviews. I asked Michael Caine how it felt to be interviewed by Roger and his new voice.

“Now that you mention it,” said Caine, “I realize I barely noticed it. It just seemed like another interview with Roger.”

I reported Caine’s reaction back to Roger. “Michael said he felt completely at home with you,” I added.

Roger scrawled something on his ever-present notepad and handed it to me. Of course he felt completely at home, he wrote. When I asked him questions I used the laptop voice with the British accent!

In the last few years he was living in a special state of grace. We spent far more time worrying about him than he did. He was busy establishing a whole new curriculum, teaching us how to be human. It was an amazing course. It was a tough course. It was, as you might have predicted, the course less traveled. Had any of us expected, even for a moment, that it could be anything less?

Roger left us a year ago today.

He left us richer for his presence. He left us poorer for his absence.

So why am I laughing?

Because when I think of him, as I often do, what I remember most is how funny he was.

My most vivid memories of Roger were at the Cannes Film Festival with Dusty Cohl and Billy Baxter. Dusty was the uncrowned King of the Hotel Carlton, and the most coveted Ask at Cannes was an Invitation to join him at his table on the Carlton Terrace. Billy was the boisterous Pretender to the Throne at the Hotel Majestic, and ruled the Majestic Bar with an iron American Express credit card.

Roger had carte blanche at both tables on both terraces, but on most evenings, after we had filed our stories, Roger would hold court at Dusty’s table on the Carlton Terrace and regale us with a bottomless repertoire of jokes. He was an extraordinarily good joke-teller, as good as any seasoned standup comedian, and his rapid-fire hysterically funny homages to Henny Youngman and Lou Jacobi and other Catskill comics frequently sparked uncontrollable shrieks of laughter from our table on the Terrace.

This was the ’70s, by the way, when our days and nights in Cannes were constantly fueled by cigarettes and alcohol and a fair amount of champagne. The day before the festival began, hotels and restaurants in Cannes produced ‘special’ menus and ‘special’ drink lists, both with outrageously high prices.. (When one of his guests ordered a glass of orange juice, Dusty winced. “How about vodka and orange juice?” he countered. “Same price!”)

And in one of Roger’s great columns from Cannes, he told his Chicago readers how Edy Williams had climbed up on our table to perform an impromptu striptease for a cadre of clamoring photographers. Roger admitted that he found this quite upsetting, not because Edy was taking her clothes off, but because when she got up on our table she almost knocked over his bottle of Perrier water. “And if you knew how much a bottle of Perrier water costs at the Carlton Terrace,” he assured his readers, “you’d be pretty upset too.”

When Roger stopped drinking I suspected he’d never again be as funny as he was on those nights at the Carlton Terrace. Happily I was wrong. Maybe our nights in Cannes had been fueled by alcohol, but his richly refined sense of humour and his magical sense of timing were fueled solely by his unique talent and his irrefutable skill as a superb storyteller.

They’re all gone now. Dusty, Roger, Billy. Gone, but not forgotten.

All the links in this blog today are kinda special, but here’s the most special one. This is a link to Roger’s tribute to Billy. Read it and, well, laugh. Go ahead. Laugh out loud. We certainly did. And some of us still are.

Here’s (still) looking at you, kid.

 *****************

World Global International Home Office

Dear Lord Lew,
All arrangements are in order for
the maiden voyage of your lordship’s yacht.
I have been successful in inviting the top film
critics of England and America to join you.
They are eager to learn about
your legendary show business career.
As of today, I have confirmations from
Kathleen Carroll and Rex Reed of the New York Daily
News, Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles
Times, George Anthony of the Toronto Sun,
Alexander Walker of the London Evening
Standard, Richard and Mary Corliss of Time
magazine, Andrew Sarris of the Village Voice,
Molly Haskell of Vogue, and Roger Ebert of the
Chicago Sun-Times. I have told them to keep
tomorrow morning free for embarkation.
Please have your office send cars
to the front entrance of the Majestic at about 10.”

Billy Baxter

-/-

 

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Greenwood shines for Beresford, Google scoops up Bawden, and it’s a wrap! — almost — as TIFF gets set to hand out some heavyweight hardware

NO PEOPLE LIKE SHOW PEOPLE: Stratford scene-stealer Geraint Wyn-Davies, currently winning raves for his joyful performance as Bottom in

FOX: on The Hour

FOX: on The Hour

Midsummer Night’s Dream, will take his next play out of town before opening in Stratford next summer. He plans to test his one-man show Do Not Go Gentle, by Leon Pownall, about the life of Dylan Thomas, in New York, where he’ll open a limited run this winter … Google, who continue to be two steps ahead of all other search engines, have reportedly snapped up esteemed Toronto Star alumnus Jim Bawden to cover the Canadian television scene. Smart move, guys! But then, that’s what makes Google Google George Stroumboulopoulos kicks off his sixth

McLACHLAN: dragon lady

McLACHLAN: Dragon lady

season of The Hour with a 60-minute one-on-one with Michael J. Fox … and yes, that was Sarah McLachlan looking lovely at the CBC Fall Launch. She showed up to cheer on her current squeeze, Dragons’ Den panelist Brett Wilson.

FILMFEST FOLLIES: Now that we’re getting close to the finish line, hot titles emerging from this year’s Toronto International Film Festival include Atom Egoyan’s Chloe, Bruce Beresford’s Mao’s Last Dancer, Rodrigo Garcia’s Mother & Child, Lee Daniels’ Precious,

BONO: at TIFF

BONO: at TIFF

Ruba Nadda’s Cairo Time, Tom Ford’s A Single Man, Lone Sherfig’s An Education, Jason Reitman’s Up In The Air, Joel & Ethan Coen’s A Serious Man, and Brigitte Berman’s controversial celluloid portrait of Hugh Hefner. Should be interesting to see who finishes in the money when TIFF prize-winners are announced tomorrow afternoon stars continue to shine where and when you least expect them to. My spies tell me Jason Reitman devotee Aaron Eckhart slipped in to see Up In The Air last weekend.’Bono showed up for his pal Colin Farrell at the unveiling of Neil Jordan’s Ondine. Geoffrey Rush

CAINE: conversing

CAINE: conversing

came out to cheer for Michael Sheen in Tom Hooper’s The Damned United. And Sam Neill was among the eager onlookers who raised hands to ask questions when Harry Brown hero Michael Caine participated in a 90-minute on-stage Conversation with Seamus O’Regan … and at the initial screening of Lars Von Trier’s AntiChrist, which premiered the first night of the festival, my spies report that midway through the film “someone actually fainted and caused a bit of a scene when they toppled onto the row in front of them, totally alarming those people. Talk about a perfect way to start a film festival!!”

SMITH: great quotes

SMITH: great quotes

QUOTABLE QUOTES: “A lot of things have disappeared as I have grown older and a lot of wrinkles and flab have suddenly appeared. But whatever I’ve lost, I still have great legs. As the late actress Kitty Carlisle Hart used to say as she showed her gams at age 90, ‘The legs are the last to go.’ Kitty had a good life motto. She looked at herself every morning in the mirror and said, ‘Kitty, I forgive you!’”

The speaker? Liz Smith, who just keeps wowing us with her wit ‘n’ wisdom on wowOwow.com.

TOGETHER AGAIN (ALMOST): It’s been years since they co-starred at the then Pantages in Phantom Of The Opera, but Colm Wilkinson and Rebecca

GREENWOOD: "spectacularly good"

GREENWOOD: spectacular

Caine continue to brighten stage and screens. Wilkinson was here this week to promote The Tudors at CBC’s elegant mid-week Fall Launch. In the new season he plays an antagonist who Henry VIII summarily executes. “But they must have liked what I did, because they’ve asked me return as a ghost!” Meanwhile, the glory-voiced Ms Caine is set to headline her own concert show, Raising Caine, next Sunday Sept. 27 at the new Conservatory Theatre … and speaking of dynamic duos, Twin Peaks alumni Kyle MacLachlan and Joan Chen are only two of the reasons why TIFF showstopper Mao’s Last Dancer is such a riveting film. Credit director Bruce Beresford for hiring Bruce Greenwood to play the U.S. choreographer with his own agenda. Greenwood, who delivers a brilliantly nuanced performance,  is spectacularly good. But then, so is the movie. Don’t miss it.

-/-

George gets Oprah, Kim gets a sidewalk star and Toronto gets one heaping helping of Hollywood

STARS IN OUR EYES: What a weekend for celebrity-spotting in Our Town.  In addition to Penelope Cruz, Colin Farrell, Jeff Bridges, Jason Bateman, Hugh Hefner, Drew Barrymore, Ewan McGregor (who walked the red

McGREGOR: took flight

McGREGOR: took flight

carpet, then dashed to Pearson International to catch a flight) and too many more to mention here, Anne Murray hosted the stars receiving Walk Of Fame honours on Saturday night at the Four Seasons Centre. New sidewalk star owner Kim Cattrall, back in New York this morning shooting Sex And The City 2, also sparkled at George Christy’s 25th annual filmfest family reunion at the Four Seasons, as did Michael Caine, Rachel Ward & Bryan Brown, Norman Jewison, Michael Sheen, Rex Reed, novelists Ron Base & Shinan Govani, Seamus O’Regan, Chaz & Roger Ebert, Ben Mulroney and An Education scene-stealer Carey Mulligan, who flew to Manhattan yesterday to start shooting Wall Street 2 with Michael

CATTRALL: Back to Manhattan

CATTRALL: Back to Manhattan

Douglas. A few blocks away at Il Fornello TIFF co-founder Bill Marshall & Sari Ruda hosted their annual All-Star Lunch for directors Fred Schepisi, Patricia Rozema and Don Shebib, satirist Rick Miller, filmfest veteran Tony Watt, columnist Martin Knelman, ex-Toronto mayors David Crombie & Art Eggleton and many more. Veteran filmfest programmer Hannah Fisher and producers Pierre Sarrazin & Suzette Couture were among the guests soaking up the sun and snacks at Tonya Lee Williams’ lively networking reception at The Pilot for her ReelWorld Indie Lounge. And producer Laszlo

CLOONEY: with Oprah

CLOONEY: with Oprah

Barna and dozens of TIFF participants showed up to shmooze at the Canadian Film Centre soiree hosted by CFC chief Slawko Klymkiw at The Spoke Club.

Biggest crowd-pleasers of the weekend: George Clooney, who greeted cheering fans Friday night at the premiere of The Men Who Stare At Goats and then showed up with Oprah Winfrey on his arm for the Saturday screening of Jason Reitman’s crowd-pleasing Up In The Air. (My spies tell me Reitman’s Thank You For Smoking star Aaron Eckhart also was there. Who knew?) La Wnfrey herself drew thunderous applause last night at the premiere of Precious, as did Mariah Carey. But it was Michael Caine who earned the most affectionate TIFF standing ovations yesterday in his stellar Q&A session with Canada A.M. stalwart Seamus O’Regan.

TIFF TALK: TIFF visitor Tilda Swinton reportedly wants to star in a new screen version of Mame, more along the lines of stage & screen Mame Rosalind Russell than movie musical Mame Lucille Ball … popular music-makers Terri

SWINTON: new Mame?

SWINTON: new Mame?

Clark and Hawksley Workmen are among the entertainers appearing this week at the Hard Rock Café as part of the fifth annual TIFF-related Canadian Music Café …  Canuck luminaries ranging from Christopher Plummer, Norman Jewison and David Cronenberg to Margaret Atwood, Oscar Peterson and Louise Pitre are currently showcased in a new 30-year retrospective by photographer Edward Gajdel at the o born contemporary gallery on Yonge street … Bobby Del Rio is living the Actor’s Dream. He’s in every single scene of Mio Adilman’s short TIFF film Unlocked … and organizers of the Dubai International Film Festival pulled the plug on tonight’s planned Park Hyatt cocktail soiree. All in all, not Dubai’s best year for public relations. Maybe all the headline-grabbing fuss about the TIFF salute to Tel Aviv scared them off?

-/-