MARCH 2005 NEWS

3.30.05:

Sweden's Göteborgs-Posten website is featuring footage from Paul Schrader's press conference at the Brussels International Festival of Fantastic Film, as well as some new scenes from his version. Click on the photo to view the clip.

3.28.05:

Last August Stellan was in NYC to shoot the 15-minute short, Torte Bluma, directed by Benjamin Ross. The film is expected to be screened at film festivals later this year. Stellan plays Nazi commandant Franz Stangl, who headed the deathcamp Treblinka in Poland. At his trial years later, Stangl was charged with murdering over 850,000 people. The film tells the story of Richard Blau, a Viennese Jew, and his relationship with Stangl. When Blau’s father unexpectedly arrives at the camp, Blau begs a one-time favor from Stangl. This unveils the full horror of what the camps have done to both characters. Here are some frames showing Stangl in his usual white uniform. The face is commanding, ruthless....

A couple weeks Paul Schrader gave a rather lengthy and comprehensive interview with  Erik Kristopher Myers that has just been posted at bloodynews.com. It'll give you the full story behind the controversy over Morgan Creek's decision to re-shoot his version of the Exorcist prequel. When Schrader was asked about the casting of Stellan, he said, "I don't know how he was presented to Jim (Robinson, Morgan Creek CEO)... I was very, very keen on Stellan, who I knew and liked a lot." When asked if he followed the Harlin production, he replied, 'Not much. I mean, I was in contact with Stellan, and Stellan would tell me things that were happening. I would hear how the budget kept getting bigger and bigger, and when Gabriel Mann was replaced, that's when it looked like they'd have to start over."

And what was Stellan's reaction to re-doing the film? Schrader says, "He wasn't happy. It must have been lucrative. He and Renny are friends and worked together on Deep Blue Sea. Obviously, he got paid, and he did a different performance. One of the fascinating things about the two movies was that it's not only a different directing style; it's a different acting style. In my film, he was playing this sort of tormented Max Von Sydow/Ingmar Berman sort of character. In Harlin's film, he played Harrison Ford."

3.26.05:

Fox news reports that Morgan Creek and Warner Bros. will release Paul Schrader's Exorcist: The Original Prequel in the next two months. No specifics if this means a theatrical or DVD release. Fox describes it as "an unprecedented move. The production company hates the film so much that instead of releasing it, re-shoots it. Then it makes a really bad film. But it's forced to release the original when critics applaud it." Morgan Creek chairman James Robinson's son, David, says, "I never want to have to go through anything like this again." Schrader says, "They'll be talking about this in film schools for years to come" and credits the Internet-based fan clubs for never allowing his film to die. At least Dutch Filmworks will give it a theatrical release in Holland in June or July. In both versions of the Exorcist prequel, the Nazi officer named Kessel is played by Dutch film star Antonie Kamerling, and though his role is minor, I'm sure his fans will be delighted. Here are some NEW photos of Stellan with Antonie at the film's premiere last August.

Three years ago while on the Exorcist set with Schrader, Kamerling made these comments - "I think it's going to be a great film, I hope. You never know, let's be honest, you never know..."

3.22.05:

Paul Schrader's EXORCIST: THE ORIGINAL PREQUEL finally received its long overdue premiere at the Brussels International Festival of Fantastic Film on Friday night. Cast members Billy Crawford, Gabriel Mann and Clara Bellar joined the director in Brussels to support the film. Schrader said it was "very gratifying" his actors had traveled to Belgium at their own expense, describing their gesture as an "act of solidarity".  Since Stellan couldn't be there, he also supported the director by sending a video message saying how glad he was that the film was being screened adding, "I hope it's fantastic." His sentiments were echoed by Mann, who said it was an "unbelievable experience" working with a "cinematic icon." Crawford, who endured six hours of prosthetics make-up to play the possessed Cheche, admitted, "It broke my heart when the movie didn't come out." And co-star Clara Bellar said, "I'm very moved that so many people's good work will finally be seen."

"This film was not supposed to exist", Schrader said, adding the Brussels event had only come about through "patience and cunning." He went on, "I always knew there'd be blood on the floor. I just didn't know it would be mine. Getting fired is not good for your reputation or your self-esteem." The director says his prequel will definitely be distributed in the Netherlands and is optimistic it will be shown in the UK soon. He claims, "Warner Bros. said they couldn't release the same movie in the same year, but I believe they're reconsidering. The buzz on the internet might have reached the executive suites."

It was disappointing that even though many film critics, cinema sites and newspapers highlighted the news of the premiere, it wasn't an easy task finding reviews, at least from reliable sources. I normally dismiss comments on horror movie message boards and forums, which are often times left by idiots. (I'm not kidding...) Here are a few excerpts from Screen Daily: "Paul Schrader's Exorcist prequel is a far richer affair than its troubled production history might suggest. A notable improvement on Harlin's rushed job, this is a grown-up horror movie in which performance and character development matter just as much as the special effects... Its  themes (alienation, guilt, violence, the struggle for faith) aren’t so very different from those explored in such earlier Schrader works as Affliction and Light Sleeper... ...the key set-pieces (the Nazi massacre which opens the film, the exorcism scene itself) are confidently and intelligently handled. Skarsgård brings gravitas and pathos to his role as Merrin while Schrader tackles the material in his customary, full-blooded style. Though almost inevitably falling short of Friedkin’s classic 1973 original, this prequel is an intriguing piece of work in its own right and surely deserves its belated chance to try to reach an audience." (read full review)

A reviewer from darkdreams.orghad never seen Harlin's version so he couldn't make any comparisons, but did commend the film on its characters being well-developed and two-dimensional rather than made out of cardboard. The film was described as "good, enjoyable entertainment" with "very good acting." However, he felt the CGI effects did seem to weaken the film.

Variety agreed that the least convincing component were the CGI effects. But they did praise the film with "hardly a diabolical failure, if not quite a heavenly masterpiece." The film industry mag referred to Morgan Creek's decision to hire Schrader as both "inspired and 'what-were-they-thinking" insane." (echoing Stellan's opinion) They were pleased to see that the director had delivered a 100% Paul Schrader film, "drenched in the spiritual and moral angst that's watermarked his career." Describing the film as 'a drama about faith, infused with metaphor and doubt", they even went so far as to say the film "achieves moments of real cinematic poetry." In a surrealist homage to the dream sequence in Hitchcock's Spellbound, Schrader included a scene which they found to be more dramatic than any of the CGI. They also thought the dialogue seemed to play better with extended arguments between Father Merrin, Rachel and Father Francis about faith and the nature of evil.

Roger Ebert didn't see the film but has revealed that Schrader recently wrote him saying "Warner Bros. has apparently reversed its position and will now give the film a limited release in April or May, albeit only if it is positioned as a 'new' film. But that can change." Rumors abound... There may be an initial three-city, 100-print release. I guess it's safe to say that there will be a DVD release. Morgan Creek isn't that stupid (I think...)  And I'm happy that the IMDB has now given Schrader's prequel its own film page!

Recently some of the Swedish newspapers ran an article about celebrities in their country who have done ads. [picture shows page 12 of Aftonbladet's March 3rd issue which I've scanned]. Stellan has done the voice-over for Ramlösa, a Swedish mineral water from Helsingborg in southern Sweden. And he actually lived there years ago and enjoys their mineral water. He felt it  was important that he write into the contract that Ramlösa was not allowed to identify him in the commercial or use his name as a representative. He has also done ads for the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter and for a margarine called Flora. In an Sveriges TV interview a year ago, he related this amusing story - "Before you start doing a shot, I think about - what's this scene all about, what is it supposed to tell. What's the subject, the conflict? And then I stand on the top of a mountain in Sarek [in the wilderness of Lapland in northern Sweden] and I'm supposed to do this sequence in this Flora film - the camera is on - I start thinking - what's this all about? - what's this all about? ....... margarine! I panic and won't get out a word. We had to do several takes. We had flown there by helicopter, and an unbelievably huge amount of money on this film has been spent and I don't get out a sound."

Here are a couple new high-resolution photos taken at the King Arthur premiere last June in NYC.

Moneybrother was Stellan's favorite band, I came across an article in Friday's issue of Sweden's Expressen. It just so happens that four of Sweden's most popular bands - The Ark, Melody Club, Deportees and Moneybrother - were on tour and had a gig at the Troubadour in Hollywood last Wednesday night. The band impressed an LA audience, which included Stellan. An obviously happy Anders Wendin (Moneybrother) relates the events, "He came up to me and said, 'Boy, you have soul. You really have soul.' I have always dreamed about going to an after-party in Hollywood. Now it became a reality. Stellan Skarsgård invited us to a party in his hotel suite where he was staying." Ola Salo, vocal for The Ark said, "It feels as if we have succeeded."

3.17.05:

Another review of Paul Schrader's Exorcist  has been posted to bloodynews.com, this time by David Harrington, who echoes the sentiments of Myer's review [see yesterday's update below]. He states the film "is nothing less than a true work of art. It is a beautifully shot, wonderfully acted, bona fide piece of cinematic art that is deserving of all the accolades and praises it is sure to get from the festival in Brussels." And he finds Skarsgård dynamically different. Now he has personality. He continues, "He isn’t always stone faced and withdrawn as portrayed in Harlin’s film. Though he has lost his faith in God, he is not a morally bankrupt, defrocked priest with a penchant for whiskey. He still believes in the acts of human kindness and decency. He also knows that it is okay to emote. He smiles when he is happy, tears well in his eyes when he is upset."

This is amazing news! Whether it eventually gets a theatrical release remains to be seen, but there are rumors that it will play in key US cities and eventually be released on DVD. Bring me the head of James G. Robinson, the Morgan Creek Chairman and CEO who fired Schrader!!! That decision cost the company another $45 million to re-shoot a whole new film, and on a personal note, it also subjected a fine cast of actors in Harlin's version to bloody-awful reviews. Tomorrow night Exorcist: The Original Prequel will have its premiere at BIFFF and we'll have a better idea how universal this favorable opinion is. I'll be away for the weekend so I won't be doing any updates until Monday. If any of you come across reviews, please email the URLs to me. That would be most helpful. Thanks.

I've posted a new image section featuring Stellan's attendance at the Berlin International Film Festivals. In 1982 he made his debut at the side of director Hans Alfredson and their film, Den Enfaldige Mördaren, for which he won a Silver Bear for Best Actor. In 1991 God Afton, Herr Wallenberg was screened. Then in 2000 he accompanied director Jonathan Nossiter and co-stars Charlotte Rampling and Deborah Kara Unger from Signs and Wonders. Two years later he attended on behalf of Istvan Szabó's Taking Sides.

Director Mike Figgis on Stellan: "There isn't a better actor working right now. I would like to see him being given the lead in something weighty, where he would undoubtedly win an Oscar."

3.16.05:

The first review of Schrader's version of EXORCIST has been posted at bloodynews.com! Erik Kristopher Myers recently attended a special screening of the film in NYC through an invitation from the director. His overall response was very positive - "Exorcist: The Original Prequel is a remarkable film, and the fact that Paul Schrader was cheated out of the opportunity to release it is a tragic thing. It’s a haunting work, filled with richness and texture, going far beyond what is expected of a mere continuation of an established classic." Myers actually loathed Harlin's version so this news is very promising. On the character of Father Merrin, he says, " He has been betrayed by his God, and lives in a state of perpetual liminality that he simultaneously hates and fears to be free of. This isn’t Indiana Jones with a crucifix, as he would later become during the remake. Stellan Skarsgård seems more comfortable with this incarnation of Merrin, and does more with his eyes than with all the lines of dialogue in Harlin’s film put together."

Report from the set of Pirates - When I asked Stellan if he was having fun yet, it wasn't a surprise that he responded "Yes". And working with Johnny Depp has turned out just the way he hoped it would be. He adds, "The vibe on the set is good and creative and you feel free to develop the scene and character on the spot." And how does our Swedish pirate look? Well, his hands are tied at the moment, but he says, "I have lots of glue on my face and I look really interesting and very different from anything I’ve seen before." So, we have an all-new Skarsgård character, different from Randbaek, Hrothgar, Cerdic.....Now I'm dreaming up all kinds of images... He'll be finishing up in Los Angeles in the next few days returning to a much colder climate in snow-covered Sweden (evidently a late spring this year), and then back to fun in the sun in the Caribbean come May.

I have disappointing news on the fate of the psycho-thriller Downloading Nancy, starring Stellan, Holly Hunter and William Hurt. It seems the film is having financial problems so no one knows when and if production will begin. Commercial and music helmer Johan Renck was to make his feature film directorial debut.

3.12.05:

UK's Independent newspaper published an interview  yesterday called "Paul Schrader: Exorcising his Demons." Just one week from tonight his version of Exorcist: The Beginning will have its world premiere at the Brussels International Festival of Fantastic Film (BIFFF) in Belgium. So how did Schrader manage to persuade Morgan Creek to part with his director's cut footage? Schrader explains, "They had extremely ambivalent feelings about it. They wanted to make some money. But obviously, they take the risk that the better people think of my film, the worse they look. So, it's obviously an extremely difficult situation for them. They gave me the money to finish the film on the cheap, so that there would be a DVD. And I was trying to work out a way to give it a theatrical life as well." Schrader contacted the BIFFF organizers, thinking it would be a better showcase for the film to be the biggest movie in a smaller festival than just another film in a big festival.

The director will be accompanied at the premiere by some of his cast and crew including Gabriel Mann, Antonie Kamerling and pop idol Billy Crawford, who happens to be in the middle of his European tour. Crawford plays Cheche, the crippled boy who becomes possessed. Stellan will not be able to attend due to film production on  Pirates of the Caribbean 2 in Los Angeles. Rumor has it that he will be sending a message of support via video.  Schrader admits, "I really enjoyed working with Stellan Skarsgård and the rest of the cast." So now Dutch Filmworks has agreed to give the film a Benelux release, and it will be on Belgian soil that the first verdict will be delivered. "Its theatrical fate awaits Brussels," says Schrader.

You can view a NEW trailer for Paul Schrader's Exorcist: The Original Prequel by clicking on the poster below. The trailer shows only the WW II Dutch village scene with the Nazi officer. It's filmed very differently from the Harlin version. Here it's slow paced and there's much more realism in the faces of the people and in the anguish of Father Merrin. Far superior footage. There's hope....


 

Three years ago when Schrader's Exorcist was being filmed in Rome, Stellan was asked about shooting this particular scene last. He responded - "This is the very beginning of the film. It takes place in Holland towards the end of the war. It's a very cruel scene... It's nice to shoot it now when you know what it's going to lead to. And it's such an emotional scene... it's good to have about four months to warm up. I prefer shooting chronologically, but you never do that. It's good not to start with the most difficult or emotional scenes. You always want a slow start and gradually warm up.  Actually you want it to be slow and easy all the time but it never is (laughs) because I'm naturally lazy."

 

3.08.05:

When asked today if there was a release date for Beowulf and Grendel, director Sturla Gunnarsson replied, "Not yet". And in defense of his interpretation of the Beowulf poem, he posted this explanation at the film's official web site. "Since the poem, when written sometime in the ninth century, was a 'modern interpretation' of a tale that had been passed on orally for at least three hundred years before being committed to sheepskin, I think the passage of another millennia plus plus entitles us to a little artistic license. That being said, I can assure you that the bones of the story remain intact and I doubt that those who are not blinded by their preconceptions will be disappointed."

Yesterday one of the Orlando Bloom fan sites posted this comment about the Pirates of the Caribbean sequel - "We have an anonymous report from the set - Stellan Skarsgård, who is playing Bootstraps Turner, was spotted with great make-up on and looked very scary."

There have been all kinds of paraphernalia from the Exorcist: The Beginning set being auctioned  on Ebay recently. I'm always a bit suspicious of these items as to whether they were actually worn or appeared in the film. Anyway, Father Merrin's cassock was sold for $350!

3.06.05:

From the Pirates set- According to the Swedish publication, Expressen, Stellan says he's already shot two days with Johnny Depp, who he finds to be a very nice man and CHARMING (of course!). For his role as Bootstraps Turner, he must sit for three hours in makeup every morning (and what does he see in the mirror???). And he thinks director Gore Verbinski is mighty attentive and intelligent.

According to the The Daily Mail (UK), "Keira Knightley was leading the 'crew' of The Dead Man's Chest - Part two of the Caribbean saga - in a night of fun in Hollywood on Wednesday (2/23). The actress and other shipmates, including Tom Hollander, Stellan Skarsgård and Orlando Bloom, were enjoying a few laughs with friends Sienna Miller, Kirsten Dunst and Hugh Dancy." Stellan was also seen  at Bar Marmont in West Hollywood enjoying some late-night vodka shots with a posse of pals. Filming began last Monday so the "crew" is now at work. [photo below shows Keira & Orlando]