Thursday, December 30, 2010

I Just Had Coffee With McCauley...Half An Hour Ago!

Before the new year begins and I finish compiling my Top Ten list of 2010’s best films, I almost certainly have to document the final few weeks of my extraordinary first semester of sophomore year at New York University. I must start by saying that I had the incredible honor of meeting one of my lifelong heroes in life and in art on December 2nd, 2010 – Mr. Al Pacino. Let me preface this experience by saying that, when I first started my film criticism website when I was thirteen years old, I wrote a dedication on the front page that, to this day, reads as follows: “This website is dedicated to Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese, and Al Pacino, my heroes, and the men who are responsible for my love of cinema, acting, filmmaking and writing.” This dedication will always remain true. When I was eleven years old and I started watching the visceral, forceful, brilliant performances by De Niro and Pacino and the passionate, emotionally devastating pictures by Scorsese, I knew that I wanted to be an actor, and I knew that I wanted to be a filmmaker.

Film after film, Pacino’s searing performances redefined my notion of what acting could be. There was a disturbing rawness, a pain, a wild, uncontrollable force in his performances that shook me to my very core. By the time I was twelve, his work as Michael Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather Part II (1974), Frank Serpico in Sidney Lumet’s Serpico (1973), Sonny in Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Richard Roma in James Foley’s Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), Tony Montana in Brian De Palma’s Scarface (1983), Lowell Bergman in Michael Mann’s The Insider (1999), Vincent Hanna in Michael Mann’s Heat (1995) and countless other movies was embedded in my brain, like a piece of personal history. When I wasn’t obsessively re-watching every Pacino, De Niro and Scorsese movie at home on VHS, I was seeking out their current work in theaters. My mom took me to see Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia (2002) when it was first released, and there I was, yet again, gaping in awe at the power and the intensity that Mr. Pacino brought to every role, every performance.

So when I say that I am a “fan” of Mr. Pacino’s work, I do not use the term “fan” lightly. He, along with De Niro and Scorsese, is responsible for my entire career as an artist. How choices have I made onstage as an actor that I simply borrowed from the endless library of Mr. Pacino’s brilliant performances that I more or less store away in the back of my mind? To come face-to-face with the man who I have been watching and idolizing for years in the dark of the cinema, is something I cannot really describe. It was not unlike first seeing Martin Scorsese speak last year at the Director’s Guild Theater – the man and his work are such an integral part of my very psychology and personal history, that it is surreal to see him, at last, in person.

Pacino is currently starring in the Broadway production of William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice at the Broadhurst Theatre, and I was very lucky to attend the play in early December (and, afterwards, I was able to meet Pacino at the stage door). It was a magnificent production, with Pacino giving a powerhouse performance as Shylock, and featured an excellent supporting cast, including Jesse L. Martin and Lily Rabe. That same weekend, I also had the pleasure of attending the Broadway revival of Driving Miss Daisy at the Golden Theatre, starring James Earl Jones, Vanessa Redgrave and Boyd Gaines, which was a fantastic production, as well.

On Monday, December 6th, I attended the 2010 Tisch School of the Arts Gala, also known as "The Face of Tisch" Gala, at the Frederick P. Rose Hall at Lincoln Center as one of the Tisch Dean’s Scholars. The Gala, which is held every year and celebrates an outstanding alumnus of Tisch, this year honored actor/director Billy Crystal, Class of 1970 (BFA, Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film and Television). At the Gala, I was lucky enough to have a conversation with NYU President John Sexton, and for the ceremony, the Dean's Scholars received front-row seats in the auditorium as Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Paul Shaffer, Marcia Gay Harden, Jesse L. Martin, Sean Curran and many others came onstage to honor Mr. Crystal, who sat in the audience with his family. It was an one-of-a-kind experience, from laughing consistently at Mr. Williams' jokes to watching a spectacular dance number by students from the Tisch Dance department to hearing Mr. Crystal describe his NYU film classes in the late 1960s when a young Martin Scorsese was his demanding professor. After the ceremony, there was an incredible dinner for the guests where the Dean's Scholars received their own table. You can click on this link to view official pictures from the event, where you'll find a group picture of the Dean's Scholars (as well as great pictures of Mr. Crystal, Mr. Williams and many others). I am truly grateful for having been able to attend this ceremony.

The end of the semester meant saying goodbye to Sight and Sound: Film, my favorite class that I have ever taken, taught by the great professor Laszlo Santha. For my final Sight and Sound film, I had the honor of working with three great actors – fellow film student and actor Grant Rosenmeyer, who, among many other roles, played Ari Tenenbaum in Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums (2001); my friend Lizzie Logan from Columbia University, who was in my third Sight and Sound movie; and a very talented actor named Angelo Niakas, who also starred in several of my classmates’ films. All three actors did extraordinary work in my film, which was titled But When We Get To The End, He Wants To Start All Over Again, and my crew members Jonah Greenstein, Alex Fofonoff and Ben Dewey were so incredibly hard-working and dedicated.

I also had the great opportunity of acting in thirteen of my classmates’ movies over the course of the semester, and I hope to post some of those movies online once they are transferred digitally (because everything is shot on 16MM film, a proper digital transfer usually takes a little while). In the meantime, I have uploaded a rough recording of my first four films for Sight and Sound: Film. The video is a digital recording of the four films as they were screened on a 16MM projector in the Tisch Steenbeck lab, and so the quality is understandably murky. But until the films are transferred properly next semester, here are the first four films I wrote, directed and edited this semester.

I also crewed on a Tisch junior's Color Sync film in New Jersey during the weekend before finals began, which was great fun. The day after I returned to Austin for the holiday season, I saw one of my high school theatre directors, Mrs. Annie Dragoo, perform in The City Theatre's production of Steel Magnolias by Robert Harling. Mrs. Dragoo was fantastic in the production, and it was a great way to jump into the Austin arts scene for my winter break.

As for movies, I will post my Top Ten list of 2010's best films in the coming days. For now, I will simply say that 2010 was the best year for film, in my opinion, since 2007, when we saw the likes of Joel and Ethan Coen's No Country for Old Men, Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood, Todd Haynes' I'm Not There, Sean Penn's Into the Wild, David Fincher's Zodiac, Tony Gilroy's Michael Clayton and Andrew Dominik's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, all seven of which remained among my favorite films of the 2000s decade.

No comments:

Post a Comment