It certainly wasn't Miramax that arranged for me to talk to director Martin Scorsese. I ran into him on Wednesday night at the premiere of the 25th anniversary re-release of The Last Waltz. He was instantly forthcoming about his epic Gangs of New York, which is set for Christmas release.
"It's fine, it's done," Scorsese said. "We came up with a version everyone's happy with and a good running time. It's two hours forty minutes, and I'm very proud of it."
Scorsese must be happy with the finished product, because when I suggested that one day he could release his original four-hour version on DVD, he objected strenuously.
“I don't think so, because this really is the director's cut," he said. "This is the finished version."
The famed director — who's never won an Oscar despite numerous landmark films including Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, GoodFellas, The Age of Innocence and Cape Fear — did confirm that he's added a voice-over by Leonardo DiCaprio to help explain the action.
"It's very short, but it worked in GoodFellas with [the Henry Hill character], and we did it in The Age of Innocence. I thought, 'this just fixes it,' and it's done."
Don't buy into stories of fights between Scorsese and Miramax's Harvey Weinstein — despite the fact that the latter never shies away from a good confrontation.
Scorsese is famous for never getting into it with anyone. On Bringing Out the Dead, he set up a dinner meeting for himself, writer Paul Schrader, and star Nicolas Cage. At one point he left the table, assigning Schrader the task of asking Cage to give a "restrained" performance that wouldn't be too over the top.
As for The Last Waltz, it is a remarkable document, and if you can try to see it on a big screen over the next month, please do so. (The DVD and new CD will be issued shortly.)
Scorsese told me: "I hadn't seen it in 22 years, but it really held up. I was surprised."
The Last Waltz documents the final concert given by The Band — Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, and the now-deceased Rick Danko and Richard Manuel. The Band was a seminal rock group, and Scorsese uses them in the film to explore all types of American music.
One highlight, for me, was Levon performing the lead vocal on "The Weight" with Mavis Staples, her sisters, and father. It's extraordinary.
Unfortunately, Helm — who is struggling with the aftereffects of throat cancer — did not come to the premiere. He and Robertson have not spoken in years, and according to friends the rift cannot be mended.
Robertson works on solo projects now, and told me recently that he has a consulting position at Dreamworks. Hudson, a great bear of a guy, lives in upstate New York and is thinking of launching a new music project shortly.
Director Allison Anders may be shooting a Joni Mitchell documentary, it was reported yesterday on EW.com, but if so, she's a little late.
Stephanie Bennett, the L.A.-based British filmmaker whose credits include Roy Orbison's Black and White Night, The Compleat Beatles and Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll, has already made a Mitchell film. It's being readied for PBS's American Masters series.
Bennett told me at the Last Waltz premiere that her film covers all of Mitchell's life, including her romances with Graham Nash, Jackson Browne and David Crosby, plus the finding of her adult daughter and Joni's insistence that she's influenced every one from Sting to Paul Simon and beyond.
"She's a genius, and she doesn't let you forget it," said Bennett, who is clearly smitten with her subject.
Indeed, one of the unexpected pleasures of The Last Waltz is Mitchell's energetic performance of the song "Coyote." Never much of a crowd-pleaser when it was released in 1976, "Coyote" is vibrant in the film. And here's a little trivia: the song is about playwright Sam Shepard, referred to in the lyrics as "a prisoner of the white lines on the freeway."
Meantime, Bennett is hoping to get a big-screen re-release of Hail! Hail! from Universal, much the same way MGM/UA has handled The Last Waltz. The Chuck Berry biodoc is being readed now for DVD, but Bennett is right.
The film — which has rare footage of Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and other rockers performing with Berry — is a landmark, and the time is right for a revival of great music films. (I say this because of course I just produced one myself.)
"We have all kinds of extra material that didn't make it into the original film that could be restored now," Bennett said, adding that a proper archival release would be certain to gain a lot of attention. Come on, Universal! This could be retitled A Beautiful Duck Walk or something like that!
This week The New Yorker, that austere publication, has a terrific feature on As the World Turns writer Hogan Sheffer.
Soap-opera ratings have fallen to an all-time low. The Young and the Restless, which has been No. 1 for years, recently fell under a 5.0 — and it's still No. 1. In its heyday, Y&R — a splashy, Hollywood-produced affair — was at a 9. That means about three million fans have left soaps behind.
What happened? Recycled writers, rehashed stories, and egomaniacal executive producers have gone from show to show. Every show, including World, which is probably the best, has lost focus.
The concentration on young, ill-equipped actors is at an all-time high. I don't want to be excessively nasty, but there's one actress on Port Charles who is starting to make me feel the way hearing Mary Hart's voice did to Kramer on Seinfeld.
There are some bright spots. Eleven years ago in Entertainment Weekly I wrote about Beth Ehlers on Guiding Light as the best new actress on daytime. Lo and behold, I caught her this morning in a great jail-cell scene.
She's still terrific, very understated, and completely unselfconscious. No scene-chewing. Very refreshing. And miles ahead of the norm in this genre.
Are soaps dead? Well, they're dying. And it's too bad, since the New York shows especially have been a prime supplier of excellent acting talent over the years.
But these days you can catch reruns of Ryan's Hope on cable, a show that's off been the air for more than a decade. Who would have thought that this once formidable Emmy winner, which was so well written and cast, would have held up while contemporary soaps seem so rote and pedestrian? The current shows could all learn something from Ryan's Hope.
I got a kick out of seeing a story yesterday on ABCNews.com about Peter Spears's short film Ernest and Bertram.
Three months ago, on January 14th, I wrote in this column that Children's Television Workshop lawyers would be all over director Peter Spears for his live-action short, in which two actors don Bert and Ernie outfits from Sesame Street and fight over the fact that they're longtime lovers. The film ends in shocking violence.
Ernest and Bertram played at the Sundance Film Festival, so it’s funny that ABC News has just caught on to it. Their story actually noted that Sundance was "several weeks ago." No, it was three months ago. If their slogan that "most Americans get their news from ABC News" is true, then I guess we're in some trouble…