Maury Z. Levy

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Jimmy Stewart: The Interview

In Video Review on January 23, 2011 at 10:02 am

AMERICA’S FAVORITE ACTOR TALKS CANDIDLY ABOUT KNOCKING HOLLYWOOD ON ITS EAR AND GARBO ON HER ASS

He is silver now, but no less golden. At 78, James Maitland Stewart looks back fondly on a career of some 80 feature movies. He’s played cowboys and con­gressmen, baseball players and bandleaders, ranchers and runamucks. And through it all, this Princeton graduate who stumbled into Hollywood by way of summer stock has had a special air of innocence and elegance that has made him, without a doubt, America’s favorite actor.

His craft, most often seen on the late show in recent years, is now being preserved for the ages on home video. MCA, which released the long-awaited Hitchcock series a while back, just came out with five more Stewart classics: The Glenn Miller Story, The Rare Breed, Bend of the River, Winchester ’73 and Thunder Bay.

As Stewart relaxed in a comfortable armchair in his Beverly Hills home, surrounded by almost as many awards as memories, editor Maury Z. Levy talked with him about his life and loves, his tapes and times.

LEVY: You, quite obviously, have a VCR in your home. Do you use it a lot for taping?

STEWART: Well, um, actually, no. You see, so many of the old movies I’m interested in are on so damn late at  night, and I just can’t keep awake anymore. But taping them from television—I just don’t find that a good thing to do. Especially, you know, if it’s a picture that I’m in. I just find the quality so gull-darn awful. The movie’s scratchy, the sound is bad. That’s why I think this new idea of prerecorded home video is so great. They go and do the taping and the cassette work at the studio, and they do it directly from the film master. I’ve seen some of the stuff and it’s absolutely crystal clear, and the sound is great.

LEVY: And that’s why you’ve let them release so many of your films on home video.

STEWART: Yes, well, that’s right. They just make the whole thing so, well, so attractive. Also, you don’t have to wait until two in the morning to see it. You can just invite people in whenever you want. Throw a little party, you know, and still get to bed at a respectable hour.

LEVY: But will this mean the end of movie theaters?

STEWART: I’ll tell you something there. For some of them, it might not be such a bad idea. Now I’m talking about those little 300-seat houses with the bad projection and the bad sound. I think it’s very disturbing what they let these things get down to. But I do hear that some folks are building bigger and better picture houses. I know there are several being built right here in Los Angeles. And, in other places around this great country, they’re reopening some grand old houses that have been closed for a long time. The owners were smart enough not to have them torn down, because they just had a feeling that the movie audience that used to be would come back.

LEVY: And will they?

STEWART: I think so. I think we might see a nice mix. People will watch the videocassettes one or maybe two nights a Read the rest of this entry »

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The Real Super Bowl Winner: The NFL Films Story

In Video Review on January 11, 2010 at 2:09 pm

At 1:00, the Earth moved. The 
Denver Broncos’ offensive line came running out of a now tiny 
tunnel onto a freshly painted field. They were big and tough and hard. From the floor of the 
stadium, almost at eye level, they looked like giants, except for the uniforms. By now, still two hours away 
from kick off, the warm California sun sat like a burnt orange on the rim 
of the Rose Bowl. Dan Reeves, the coach of the team that would lose the 
second half of this crucial game, stepped onto the crew-cut sod, shaded his 
eyes and squinted badly. “Damn,” he muttered, “I should have brought sunglasses.” He looked into the camera of 
the man standing next to him. “This 
sun,” he winced, “is really wicked, 
isn’t it, Phil?”

Phil Tuckett, who headed up the 
60-person field crew for NFL Films, 
gave Reeves a soft smile. Tuckett knew 
all about the sun. Not because he’d 
played a couple of years as a receiver 
for the San Diego Chargers, but because yesterday, while the rest of the 
press did research from the long end of 
a cocktail glass at one of the 800 pre-
Super Bowl parties that dotted the city 
of almost angels, Phil Tuckett was here in Pasadena. Here in an almost empty arena, with a 
handful of security guards and the guy who would play 
Mickey Mouse at half time; here to check out the light, 
to get a fix on the sun; here to ready his camera positions, his filters and his game face.

The next morning, the day of Super Bowl Ex-Ex­Eye, while the Broncos and Giants still slept, Phil 
Tuckett held a team meeting at his hotel. While the 
crew members ate meat and potatoes and apple crepes, 
he told them, “Don’t let anything or anyone get in 
your way today. I want each one of you to shoot this 
game like you’re the only camera we have.” It was an inspiring breakfast. Vince Lombardi would have been 
proud. Except for the apple crepes.

At the stadium, the members of the NFL Films team 
played one of their best games ever. They shot the faces 
of the players and the soul of the game. They got the 
shots you never saw on TV. Lawrence Taylor in street 
clothes and sunglasses, checking out the manicure of 
the grass. Phil Simms working on a secret snap with 
Bart Oates. Phil McConkey psyching himself up.

Once the game started, they stayed as close to the action as George Martin was to John Elway. They didn’t 
take up permanent positions like the network did. 
They got down and dirty in the trenches. They ran, they scrambled, they shot, they won. And when it was 
over, while the Giants still celebrated a few feet away, 
and while the Broncos, their bags packed, their heads 
down, slowly walked out to their chartered bus, a couple of couriers from NFL Films quickly packed up 
some 200 rolls of film for the police escort to the airport. They would hand-carry the footage from LAX to 
Mt. Laurel, NJ, where it would be processed and 
edited into what would become the biggest-selling instant video in the history of sport.

The groundwork for all this had started weeks 
before. By the Monday morning after the conference 
championship games, it was in full gear. Steve Sabol, 
who now runs the company his father, Big Ed, started 
in the ’60s, answered his phone in New Jersey not with 
hello, just a simple “I don’t have any tickets.” As Sabol, a cinematic and marketing genius who’s led his 
company to 33 Emmys, sat at his editing table snipping 
together the great plays and big blunders that would 
make up the beginning of this tape, he talked about the 
reality of it all. A former self-promoted football star at 
tiny Colorado College, this kid from Philadelphia—
who until he got married a few years ago, had an electric chair in his living room—doesn’t so much talk as 
he booms. “The Giants will kill,” Sabol said. “And 
that’ll be good for the history of the game, for the 
glory days of the NFL.” Not to mention a golden 
chance to pluck the giant New York market.

“If it’s a good game,” he said, “we could sell 
300,000 cassettes in two months.” Last year, when the 
Bears won, NFL Films put together the first of these 
instant videos. In the stores little more than two weeks 
after the contest, it was a wonderfully done tape that 
ran just under an hour—a game-by-game recounting 
of the championship season, sprinkled with key player 
profiles and topped off with the Super Bowl blowout 
itself. The tape, at $19.95, sold close to 130,000 copies, 
most of them in football-rabid Chicago, where many 
video stores couldn’t keep it in stock

This year, tapes would be made for both the winning 
and losing teams. “We can only hope,” Sabol grinned, 
”that the losing team suffers defeat with honor. They 
get blown out, we get screwed.”

The names for this year’s tapes had been figured out 
before the conference finals. The Giants tape was 
originally slugged One Giant Step. Sabol, a serious 
student of the old days of Hollywood, didn’t think 
that had enough drama, so he changed it to Giants Among Men. (The Denver tape would be called Mile High Champions. Had the Redskins made it, the tape 
was Warpath. Had the Browns gotten in, the title was 
Return to Glory.)

These tapes wouldn’t have the fleeting glitz of The Super Bowl Shuffle, last year’s music video of the 
Bears done by another company. “We’re not in the 
music video business,” Sabol says. “We want this to 
be a collector’s item. Fathers will want to save this to 
show their sons. That’s why we go back to the old style 
—a championship built game by game, brick by brick. 
We’ll add in flashbacks on the Giants of the ’50s. We’ll 
even go back to 1934, back to the glory days of Bronko 
Nagurski. This will be an historical document.”

Even with the history, the track record and the nationally consuming interest in the Super Bowl, Sabol 
and NFL Films Video chief David Grossman have had 
to work hard to get certain stores to stock up. “Video 
stores still don’t understand sports tapes,” Sabol says. 
” ‘Oh, why would that sell, it’s already been on TV.’ 
Jerks. But if I came in with a tape of two albino hairdressers and a Tijuana donkey, they’d order a thousand on the spot. It might be a losing battle, but we’ve 
got to fight it.”

To help win, he brought in some big guns, including Pat Summerall, the most trusted play-by-play man in 
America, to do the voice over. Video could be the 
future of his business and Sabol knows it. That’s why he’s building a whole warehouse for it, along with a $10 
million video/audio postproduction 
facility for everything from TV commercials to, yes, rock videos. The company has come a long way.

It all started when Ed Sabol, then 
head of a Philadelphia clothes company, bought himself a Bell and Howell 
movie camera to chronicle the early 
career of his high-school hotshot son. 
Steve Sabol was then a star running 
back at Haverford Prep on the Main Line. Big Ed used to stand on the 
sidelines and shoot him. When the cheerleaders kept getting in front of 
him, Big Ed, who always seems to get 
his way, talked the school into building 
a press box and camera position at the 
top of the stands. There, he could get a 
better angle and pursue his hobby in 
peace. The hobby would eventually turn 
into a multimillion-dollar business.

Big Ed got pretty polished with the 
camera. He also got to know the NFL big shots. In 1962, with young Steve off 
to college, he made them a proposition. 
He bid $5,000 for the rights to shoot the NFL championship game. That was twice as much as they paid the year 
before, but Big Ed always did things in a big way. Instead of the standard one 
view from the press box, he hired a half-
dozen free-lancers to get the game from
every angle. The result was a critical, if 
not financial, success. He continued the 
deal the next year and, by 1964, talked 
the league into buying his little film 
company to shoot the championship 
game as well as individual team 
highlights. That’s when Steve Sabol was 
in one of his several senior years at Colorado College. He gave up the grandeur that was anonymity to join his father in what was now the family business. Today, NFL Films, a wholly owned subsidiary of the league, has a few hundred 
employees, an annual operation budget of $15 million and makes big bucks.

A major reason for the success is the 
approach. It’s in-your-face journalism. 
The cameramen work their butts and 
knees off—whatever it takes to get the 
right angle. A lot of the film is shot in slow-motion and super-slow-motion, not 
so much for sport but for cinematic texture. Each film is edited and scored like a major Hollywood production. Cameramen edit, editors shoot, everybody 
gets dirty. It’s a tough job, but NFL Films does it like no one else.

In Mt. Laurel, Dave Plaut, the 
award-winning director of last year’s Super tape, sits for hours and days in a darkened room going over dozens of

cassettes, carefully piecing together the Giants’ season. Plaut runs each play 
over and over, making sure the engineer 
has perfectly synced the music with the
footage, making sure the last thud of 
the drum hits exactly when Lawrence 
Taylor sacks the quarterback.

Across the hall, Bob Smith, another 
former footballer, is performing the 
same surgery with the Denver season. He’ll take time out from editing only to fly to Pasadena to be one of the 12 cameramen on the crew. He’ll work the sidelines near Phil Tuckett.

The teams have finished warming up 
now. Most of the 102,000 fans are in their seats and NFL Films is ready to roll. “We don’t do a lot of game planning,” Phil Tuckett says as Neil Diamond gets ready for the national anthem. “Most of this is unspoken, we’ve done it so often. Every member of the crew is so well-versed. Each has shot 
every angle and done every job. We’re like a repertory company doing Shakespeare. One night you’re King Lear, the 
next night you’re the ghost.”

Tuckett is talking louder now as the 
Beach Boys begin to play. “We’re not

like the TV guys,” he yells. “There’s no 
director in our ear telling us what to do. 
For us, that just gets in the way of spontaneity. We get the great shots because 
we’re always thinking like the coach has to think. What will they throw at us 
next? What could go wrong on a play? You learn to anticipate anything. As a 
player, I always felt like the game was in 
slow-motion. That’s why we shoot it 
that way. We wanted to find a way to 
re-create the feeling of the field—the romance, the adventure. And that’s why we shoot film instead of tape. Tape has immediacy. Film has texture. It gives us 
the perspective of history. It makes everything look more heroic and larger than life. We think that’s special.”

Three-and-a-half hours later, the last 
whistle blown, the last Gatorade poured, Phil Simms, the most valuable 
player of this game, is running off the 
field at the highest moment of his life so 
far. In the chaos, he spots an NFL 
Films camera and stops—stops dead to 
do a special little segment that only NFL Films will capture.

“How the hell did you do that?” one 
of the network guys asks Phil Tuckett 
later on. Tuckett gives him one of his 
soft smiles. “You know us,” he says. “If 
we didn’t get it, it didn’t happen.”

_____________

Copyright 2012 Maury Z. Levy. All rights reserved.

A Walk on Lou Reed’s Side

In Video Review on August 3, 2009 at 9:59 am

By Maury Z. Levy

“Your mother!” Suzanne screamed. You could hardly hear her. The sound system at The Ritz, a rock club on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, had all the definition of a speeding A train and all the subtlety of David Lee Roth. Tonight, the bass was booming so much that the balcony started to shake. It didn’t seem to bother most of the 3,000 people who 
crammed the place as they pushed up the steps to the main dance 
floor, right past the sign that said: “Legal Occupancy: 1527.”

Suzanne, a wild-looking blonde who seemed significantly less than 
21, was stuffed into a very short black dress without a back. There 
was clearly no room for underwear. Her friend George wore a 
T-shirt that said: “In Lou We Trust.” They had come, by bridges 
and tunnels, all the way from Brooklyn, Lou Reed’s home 
borough, in the hope they would enjoy the show.

“Your mother!” Suzanne screamed to George. “She said this 
was her favorite song when she was our age! This guy must have 
been around forever!”

Lou Reed, who has been around a few times, and then around 
again, is on stage wearing a black leather vest (the night is too hot 
for his black leather jacket) and a Harley-Davidson T-shirt. He is 
singing the song that made him what he is today—an enigma.

Holly came from Miami, F-L-A

Hitchhiked her way across the U-S-A

Plucked her eyebrows along the way

Then he shaved his legs and then he was a she I say, hey babe

Take a walk on the wild side .. .

The show went on for hours. Lou Reed, who sings like a 
songwriter, did the old stuff and the new stuff. He very 
 Read the rest of this entry »

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