ADVENTURES IN AUTHORING: ANSWERING NEGATIVE CRITICISM

A while back I was having dinner with my publisher, Tim Schaffner, when the subject of negative criticism of Lee Marvin Point Blank came up.
Don’t get me wrong, the overwhelming majority of reviews of the book have been largely positive and for that I am eternally grateful.

Paperback back cover of LEE MARVIN POINT BLANK (designed by Jake Kiehle) highlighting some of the reviews.

However, the handful of negative criticism still stick in one’s craw. I can chuckle at it now but at the time, you can’t imagine how frustrating it is to be pummeled over something the critic claims authority over, yet in reality, knows nothing about….and then blames me!
What had bothered Tim was a review that not only raked the book over the coals, but also tore into what the reviewer thought was the awful editing of the book. Why did that bother Tim so much? He just happened to have been the editor! I told him I had read some other negatives too, but he emphasized to me in no uncertain terms that no matter how tempting it is: DO NOT RESPOND IN KIND. His point being that it gives them a platform, brings you down to their level, and might even effect sales negatively in the long run if the review is believed.
He was right of course, but seeing as how this is my blog, to help support and supplement my book, run for cover if you are so inclined as I’m-a gonna fire back, once and for all. As James Dean said to Rock Hudson in Giant: “And there ain’t a dang thing you can do about it!”
Okay, Since I had told Tim I wouldn’t respond in kind, and to keep myself as honest as possible, I’ll just focus on two such reviews and I won’t be citing the source of the criticism. I’ll merely quote the inane comment anonymously and then show how frustratingly wrong they can be. Ready? I’ll start with the one that pissed off Tim so much. Here goes….

… Dwayne Epstein’s Lee Marvin: Point Blank isn’t anything close to definitive. A sloppily edited assemblage of interviews, it’s first-draft oral history in which readers with considerable patience can find Epstein issues several medical diagnoses derived from his own conclusions….Marvin fans who can get through all the throat-clearing tedium will find similar quotable bits in these underedited pages.

Heh, heh. Can you see why Tim, the book editor, got so pissed? No proof to back up their claim, no alternative response, not even an example of my ‘throat-clearing tedium,’ other than one sentence in which the quote is taken completely out of context. I hope the idiotic reviewer got paid well for his online rant because he may have kept a lot of well-meaning movie geeks from reading my book and discovering Lee Marvin for themselves. Sadly, it’s their loss.
And now, my personal favorite. Here’s the one from a respected and long-in-the-tooth film journal that went to town on my facts. Strange scenario involved as well because the reviewer sent me the review and apologized as it was a last minute assignment for him, thus hinting that he may not have read the whole thing. Like a bonehead, I thanked him for his effort without reading the review first. Still kicking myself over that one. Here’s part of what bugged me….

Epstein does tell of Marvin—during the filming of Samuel Fuller’s The Big Red One (1980), his last great role—taking the stage at a Roman-built amphitheater in Israel to recite a soliloquy from King Lear. That event is as surprising to the reader as it must have been to Marvin’s costars, as there’s no other mention in the book of Marvin having an affinity or aptitude for William Shakespeare or classical drama.

Hmm, do you think he may have missed the section in which Lee studied the classics at the American Theatre Wing (ATW)? Possibly. Then again, he probably also missed this image in the photo section (laid out by graphic artist Jake Kiehle), as well…..

Lee Marvin in LM:PB’s photo section shown in Shakespearean garb while attending the ATW.

I swear to you folks, try as you might, you just can’t make these things up!
Okay, enough ranting. Don’t go by my word as to the book’s value. Certainly don’t go by the word of an online movie geek or pompous film journalist, either. By all means, judge for yourself. Read the book. Find out about Lee Marvin. Rent or download some of his films. Then, do something revolutionary these days: make up your OWN mind.
– Dwayne Epstein

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BIG RED ONE RECONSTRUCTION AT THE DGA

Writer/Director Sam Fuller’s The Big Red One never received the accolades it deserved in his lifetime for a myriad of reasons. I mention this simply because I was going through my research records for Lee Marvin Point Blank and came across some reminders of the film’s reconstruction back in 2004. I was invited to the screening at the Director’s Guild of America (DGA) in Hollywood and wound up mingling with several of the film’s participants.

Program cover for the DGA screening of Sam Fuller’s reconstructed THE BIG RED ONE.

Those in attendance included Sam’s widow Christa Fuller and their daughter Samantha, as well as the film’s costars Robert Carradine, Kelly Ward, Bobby DiCiccio, Perry Lang and a few others. Mark Hamill was scheduled to appear but had to cancel.
Anyway, it was a wonderful experience.

Inside page of BIG RED ONE reconstruction program.

There were also a few unexpected surprises, such as Martha Plimpton and her father, Keith Carradine. I spoke briefly with Carradine in hopes of getting an interview for his work in Emperor of the North but sadly, it was not to be.
On a happier note, I was able to reconnect with Peter Levinson (1934-2008), The Big Red One’s original publicist who had granted me an interview a few months before, regaling me with some wonderful industry anecdotes I might blog about in the near future.
Viewing the film was of course an incredible experience as the lost footage had been rumored and whispered about for decades were finally on display. Historian Richard Schickel did a most commendable job putting the pieces together, as most fans would later discover on DVD.
Okay, I am apparently avoiding the obvious, which is what I REALLY found in my research records. Can you tell? So, without further adieu, here it is. Before the film started, Christa Fuller took a photo of me chatting with her daughter outside the DGA building. It might best be dubbed “Beauty & The Beast.” I give you…..

Samantha Fuller (left) reacts to something I’m telling her while I blather on about something that, for the life of me, I have no memory of whatsoever. Maybe that’s a good thing.

 

 

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LEE MARVIN’S KLANSMAN: WHAT IF IT DIDN’T GO SOUTH?

The recent events dominating the news out of places like Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland, got me to thinking about Lee Marvin’s 1974 film The Klansman. While it is of course axiomatic that nobody sets out to make a bad film, certain ones, with even the best intentions, have no choice but to turn out that way.
In the case of The Klansman, Marvin was not necessarily drawn to controversial subject matter but what he read in Sam Fuller’s adaption of William Bradford Huie’s novel got him to change his mind.  While the reasons for The Klansman’s embarassing failure is well documented in the pages of Lee Marvin Point Blank, Fuller’s original script was anything but cliche’ and Marvin signed on for it. Fuller’s friend and neighbor, John Cassavetes read it first and told Fuller, “It’s a pisscutter of a script.” Want proof? Here’s just one sequence in the film Fuller wrote involving Marvin’s character, southern sheriff ‘Big Trak’ Bascomb and his free-thinking college age son, Alan…..

 An amazing sequence from Sam Fuller's original script of The Klansman, featuring Marvin's characterof  Bascomb and his son Alan that did not make the final cut.

An amazing sequence from Sam Fuller’s original script of The Klansman, featuring Marvin’s characterof Bascomb and his son Alan that did not make the final cut.

Can you imagine what the reaction to that would have been in even more open-minded 1974 America? There had been other films in which redneck sheriffs were lead characters but there was always some sort of redemption in the end. In the Heat of the Night comes to mind and was certainly the best of the lot but there, too, the characters played by Rod Steiger and Sideny Poitier came to respect each other by film’s end, and there was certainly no sequence in it as shown above.

The script Marvin read had him playing a character who actually got WORSE as the film went on and Marvin liked it. No excuses for his behavior was originally written other than what he had displaying onscreen all along except it simply got worse for the audiences to gasp at, expecially Fuller’s ending! In short, racially motivated violence by police, as we’ve seen alot of lately, would have fit the mould of The Klansman if the filmmakers had the courage of their convictions. When the film was about to start production, Marvin had this to say to the publicist….

The Klansman's publicist got this quote from Marvin just as the film went into production to later be used us part of the film's press kit.

The Klansman’s publicist got this quote from Marvin just as the film went into production to later be used us part of the film’s press kit.

 

The changes that were made disgusted the actor and his drinking naturally escalated, although not as much as his strangely cast costar Richard Burton. After the film’s release and the behind-the-scens debauchery had made front page news, Marvin said this in an interview with a short-lived magazine called Girl Talk (!)

In the long defunct GIRL TALK magazine, Lee Marvin gives his thoughts on The Klansman after its release.

In the long defunct GIRL TALK magazine, Lee Marvin gives his thoughts on The Klansman after its release.

Sadly, Marvin would never again commit to a film with a controversial social commentary. Not because he didn’t want to play an unsavory character, as some actors would. He had no problem with that. He clearly didn’t want to run the risk of seeing the message he was trying to convey become diluted. A shame really, as he did look good in the costume, though….

Marvin as 'Big Trak' Bascomb in The Klansman, looks like a cross between Mayberry's Andy Taylor and The Dirty Dozen's Maj. Reisman.

Marvin as ‘Big Trak’ Bascomb in The Klansman, looks like a cross between Mayberry’s Andy Taylor and The Dirty Dozen’s Maj. Reisman.

 

 

 

Other than in The Klansman, anybody know a police dept. in which a Thompson submachine gun is regular issue?

Other than in The Klansman, anybody know a police dept. in which a Thompson submachine gun is regular issue?

The Klansman's two ad campaign's featuring its stars.

The Klansman’s two ad campaign’s featuring its stars.

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