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Hell on Wheels

December 11, 2013 | by


During one of the most lucrative Thanksgiving weekends in Hollywood history, moviegoers hooked on the Hunger Games franchise once again embraced the vision of a populace preoccupied by blood sports. Millions more Americans stayed home and skirted family small talk while zoning out in the flat-screen glow of football coverage. Before NFL collisions in HD and murderous YA fiction in IMAX colonized our culture, a short story published in Esquire in 1973 anticipated the blitz on both fronts. William Harrison’s “Roller Ball Murder” forecasted a future where corporations have replaced all governments and world armies, and nationalism is exorcised at ultraviolent roller derbies. The games keep the people in line, so long as they’re tuned into what Harrison presciently dubbed “multivision.”

When I came across Harrison’s obituary in the October 30 edition of the New York Times—he passed away in Arkansas, at age seventy-nine—it was printed just below the obituary for the late Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Allan Stanley. Seeing the two notices printed in such proximity, the name that leapt to mind was Ontario’s own Norman Jewison, a lifelong Leafs fan and the Oscar-winning director of In the Heat of the Night and Fiddler on the Roof. In 1975, Jewison adapted Harrison’s story for the screen and encouraged him to write the screenplay. The result was Rollerball, an underappreciated seventies curio that was revived briefly in the wake of a regrettable remake in 2002. The overlooked original still packs a punch. Read More »


War of the Words

July 26, 2013 | by

Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles. Courtesy of Rainbow Films

Orson Welles and Henry Jaglom. Courtesy of Rainbow Films.

My Lunches with Orson, a collection of off-the-cuff conversations between filmmaker Henry Jaglom and Hollywood lion Orson Welles, recorded before Welles died of heart failure in 1985 (when his body was discovered, he had a typewriter in his lap, keystrokes from a comeback that was cruelly out of reach), arrived in bookstores last week with much fanfare. The chats were recorded weekly at the duo’s favorite restaurant, the now-shuttered Ma Maison on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, and were conducted not only with Welles’s consent but at his urging. The transcripts read less like a meal and more like forkfuls from a dessert cart that endlessly whizzes by. Welles stabs at topics this way and that, exposing his deepest grudges and marveling over his unmatched moments of grandeur, sometimes in the same sentence. Author Peter Biskind combed through the cassettes, dozens of which Jaglom had stashed in a shoebox, and edited them for maximum punch. In his introduction, Biskind claims this “may be the last undiscovered trove of Welles on Welles.”

Excerpts from the book, which can be snacked on online, reveal Jaglom recoiling at times as his companion blows buckshot across Hollywood. With each passing course, Welles serves up one-liners, each more potent than the last, and dismisses showbiz royalty past and present. High-powered table-hoppers are skewered the moment they’re out of earshot. Richard Burton gets the breeze. Waiters get shushed. Jaglom gets embarrassed. Even Wolfgang Puck, the chef preparing Welles’s meals, is targeted. (This was before Puck slid to Spago, the quintessential mideighties hot spot he erected off the Sunset Strip.) While Welles has no problem chortling about a leading Broadway critic who was unaware that the disgruntled staff at his favorite hotel routinely pissed in his morning tea, he doesn’t seem particularly mindful of his own tableside vulnerabilities. Read More »