Category Archives: R.I.P.

In Praise of Barney Miller

A few days ago, we lost another one. Comedian and actor Steve Landesburg passed away. Sadly underused and underrated, he made his most lasting impact as the fact-filled Lt. Arthur Dietrich on ABC’s Barney Miller, the great sitcom of the 70s.

I’ve always had a special affection for that show. When it originally aired, I was too young to “get” its droll sensibilities. So much of its comedy was derived from pondering, pauses and outright silence, that I hadn’t a clue what could be inspiring so much laughter from the studio audience. Still, I faithfully watched it by my Pop’s side (it was one of his favorites). He’d sit there laughing and laughing, and I’d be saying in my pipsqueak voice, “What’s so funny? I don’t get it? There’s nothing going on! They’re not even talking! Why are you laughing?!” I started to catch on when I was around 11 (aka Barney Miller’s 7th season).

I could go on and on about show’s many accomplishments/merits:
        -its depiction of bankrupt New York City in the 70s and the impact that had on crime and the city’s mentality
        -its theme song, arguably the most-sung bassline of all time, giving air-bassists a weekly workout


-its principle cast (don’t get me started!)





        -its supporting cast, a rotation of character actors, which made the show virtually a weekly Preston Sturges film; creators Danny Arnold and Theodore Flicker fearlessly reused actors season and season, always in different roles, like a stock company. (For example, the crumpled Phil Leeds appeared 7 times in 8 seasons, each time playing a different victim or perpetrator.)


But that praise will have to come another time. Until then, here’s a clip that sums up the show’s strengths. It’s the conclusion of season 3’s 4th episode (“Bus Stop”), which aired October 14, 1976, but that’s all irrelevant. Lt. Dietrich is doing what he usually does—espousing fact after fact—to his fellow detectives, Phil Fish (Abe Vigoda) and Nick Yemana (Jack Soo). It’s a beautiful example of comic timing.

Who could imagine so much laughter could be derived by simply watching two homely men chew doughnuts?

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Filed under Comedy, R.I.P.

R.I.P. Joe Mantell: “Forget it, Marty. It’s Chinatown.”

I was still reeling from the news of the passing of two Hollywood luminaries—Arthur Penn and Tony Curtis—when I heard that wonderful character actor Joe Mantell had also passed on within the last 24 hours.

Although Mantell is nowhere near as familiar as Penn or Curtis—by name or by a lengthy and distinguished resumé—Mantell nevertheless holds a special place in our collective heart: He’s the one who tells Jake Gittes to “forget it.”

Since this very famous line (#74 on AFI’s 100 Most Memorable Movie Quotes) is part of the final scene of Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974), I’m unwilling to include it here as a video clip. So, instead, here’s a still from that scene and if you’d like to here Mr. Mantell (playing Walsh) utter the famous line, simply click the picture.

In truth, Mantell was doubly lucky, at least so far as having secured a place in the Lexicon of Film Quotes. Not only did he get that fantastic line from Chinatown, he also originated the character of Angie in Paddy Chayefsky’s Marty, first on live TV in 1953 and again in the 1955 film version (he’s the only principal actor to appear in bother versions). Therefore, Mantell is also responsible for half of this famous and oft-quoted exchange:

Angie: So, what do you feel like doin’, tonight?

Marty: I don’t know, Ang’…What do you feel like doin’?

Here’s the clip from Delbert Mann’s film:

It may not be as famous in most circles as “Forget it, Jake,” but it is where I come from. I was stunned when I made that connection that Mantell originated both lines. (I hadn’t been that shocked by a piece of film trivia since I heard that the cute, 13-year-old chick from National Lampoon’s Animal House and Maggie, the Scottish girlfriend from Caddyshack, were one and the same.)

And so it goes: it will be a long couple of days in my world, full of wonderful quotes from Bonnie and Clyde, Some Like It Hot, Chinatown, and Marty.

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Filed under Film, R.I.P.

Farewell, Dennis Hopper




For some final thoughts, I acquiesce to this wonderful and moving piece
by Matt Zoller Seitz.
It’s a love letter straight from his heart.




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Filed under Film, R.I.P.

Dede Allen, Film Editor

Sadly, Dede Allen passed away Saturday. (Here’s her New York Times obituary.) Her impact is enormous, however, as she edited many wonderful and important films, such as Serpico, The Hustler, Dog Day Afternoon, and others. I’d like to show scenes from three of them.


Bonnie and Clyde (1968)
This is the big mack daddy of her credits. The obvious go-to scene for Arthur Penn’s film is the brutal finale (which Allen actually credited to her assistant editor Jerry Greenberg), a scene I tend to re-watch four or five times whenever I see the film, but I’ve selected a different scene. It’s the picnic with Bonnie’s mother and family. It occurs late in the film, and death—Bonnie and Clyde’s that is—is beginning to feel inevitable. For almost two minutes the film becomes dreamlike, with hazy filters and distant sound. But it’s Dede’s editing that really hits me: like the film’s violent conclusion, time is warped, but in this case you’re floating. It feels like Bonnie’s heaven and funeral combined.



Reds (1980)
This is an early scene from Warren Beatty’s 1980 film (which Allen also executive produced). Activist/journalist John Reed and writer/future wife Louise Bryant have just met. She’s interviewing him, and she (and we) quickly get a sense of his passion for politics and change.

Something tells me this was fun to edit. Not easy, but fun.


The Breakfast Club (1985)
I remember being surprised to find out she had edited this John Hughes film. But as I’ve re-watched it over the years—and enjoy it more and more—I can see her imprint. The success of this film is hinged on the Reaction Shot.

Since these characters slowly warm up to each other in the first third of the film, their reactions to each other aren’t always verbal. (This is particularly true of Ally Sheedy’s character.) Not to take anything away from Hughes, but I imagined he’d let the camera roll sometimes, asking the actors to give multiple versions a reaction, perhaps varying the intensity, and then he and Dede would pick and choose, meticulously pacing the evolution of these complex relations. Even though I’m talking about a cumulative impact over a ten minute scene, I ‘ve strung togther most of these reaction shots into a single clip. (I hope this doesn’t do a disservice to Dede’s work. I even feel cheesy cutting this to the Simple Minds tune, but I hope my point comes across.)

Next time you watch the film, I suggest paying close attention to the reaction shots throughout the whole film. It’s great storytelling.


BONUS: The “Clyde Barrow” Jump Cut

Clyde: Before and After

Ten days ago I did a post about jump cuts, and due to my vague prose and the technical limitations of the internet, one jump cut I referred was impossible to understand. Ironically, I’ve been meaning to write an addendum to that post, explaning that edit in more detail, and with Ms. Allen’s passing I feel even more responsible to accurately represent her work.

This 25 second clip breaks down the edit, at varying speeds. About ten frames of a shot are removed just as Clyde says his name.



I don’t want to get too sentimental over these things, but I can safely say Dede Allen’s work changed my life and the lives of many others. Her work pushed envelopes and changed the way we abosorbed information, which is no small feat.

(Jesus, all this and I forgot to show anything from Slap Shot! What a masterpiece of editing! Well, that’ll have to wait for another post.)

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Filed under Film, R.I.P.

Alex Chilton: “Hit me, band.”

Alex Chilton hearing a Hell Sound, circa 1973

Last August we lost the great Memphis musician, producer and role model Jim Dickinson and this week we lost Alex Chilton. These losses remind us that they once collaborated: Jim co-produced for Alex the legendary Big Star Third LP.

By all accounts, working with Alex Chilton during that period was trying indeed, and Jim Dickinson’s musically spiritual demeanor definitely got put to the test. Dickinson, always game to talk at length about his methods of producing music, shared this wonderful story in an interview with Rick Clark, published in Goldmine magazine, September 16, 1994. At this time it bears repeating.

“That is the part of Big Star Third that no one will ever hear: Alex’s version of ‘The Dark End of the Street.’ Andy Hummel [bass] doesn’t know the chords, and Alex is play a simplified version. Spooner [Oldham, piano] is playing like Spooner. He’s playing extra chords and Martian intervals, and it’s jut piano, acoustic guitar and bass. He gets into the solo and Alex says, ‘Hit me, band, ‘ and nothing happens, because nobody is there. (laughs)

“I could tell Alex was hearing something in his head, and it was ‘that’ that I went for in Big Star Third. It was that idea of this guy in a trio or a quartet, or whatever, hearing this other ‘Hell Sound’ of horns, strings and voices and fucked-up stuff. ‘Hit me, band!’ I thought, ‘What is it that Alex was hearing?’ That is really what I tried to go for. It was ‘Here’s your band.’

“If I can get the sound that I think is in the artist’s head, especially at the moment of creation, when they wrote the song, that is what I want.”

That’s why Jim Dickinson was a great producer.

I was a Dickinson junkie and tried to this “Hit me, band” sensibility to my work as a sound editor, as a means for helping filmmakers get their ideas up on the screen. In fact, I had this story posted in my sound editing studio (not far from my Buster Keaton poster).

And one of these days I’ll do a post about the time my car died in Memphis, and because of it I got to meet Jim Dickinson and take this photograph:

Jim Dickinson, June, 1998, photograph by S. Altobello

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Filed under Music, R.I.P.

R.I.P. Alex Chilton

Photo by the Commercial Appeal Files, Memphis

Damn. One of the greats. I was just listening to Big Star’s “Thirteen” this morning. And I bet a lot of us will be for the rest of the week.


Here’s a 1987 solo song of his, a really fun cover of an obscure song by a band named Groundhog.

Take It Off (2:55, right-click to download)

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Filed under Music, R.I.P.