KU professor publishes interviews with screen legends; 'Brooklyn' idealizes immigration in the 1950s

When Kansas University Professor John Tibbetts began interviewing international movie directors, cinematographers, editors, composers, and others behind the camera, he always had an eye on the future.

“I intended from the outset to bring these conversations into my classrooms. I never saw them as merely subjects for television/radio broadcasts,” Tibbetts says. “No, I had much broader ambitions for them.”

Tibbetts’ new book, “Those Who Made It: Speaking with the Legends of Hollywood,” has just been published and it contains insightful interviews that span nearly 40 years of his career as an author and journalist.

Some of the filmmakers he spoke with are at crucial career turning points, while others are reflecting on their work in the classic years of cinema — such as sound man Bernard Brown, whose pioneering work on “The Jazz Singer” in 1927 helped it become the first American film with synchronized dialogue.

John Tibbetts and Steven Spielberg

John Tibbetts and Steven Spielberg by Eric Melin

The cover features a photo of Steven Spielberg directing Whoopi Goldberg in “The Color Purple,” and Tibbetts’ interview with Spielberg was conducted in 1985, just as the popular director had left genre fare behind in favor of more “serious” material. Another fascinating interview from 1985 features Terry Gilliam, angry but recently victorious, as he had just won a battle with Universal Pictures to release his cut of his masterwork “Brazil.”

Speaking of angry young men, Tibbetts spoke with first-time director Michael Moore during the release of his breakthrough 1989 General Motors documentary “Roger & Me,” and found the provocateur already thinking about the bigger picture of an out-of-work America, insisting it wasn’t just a problem for his hometown of Flint, Mich.

“It’s happening all over. We need to pay attention,” says Moore in the book. “If there are just a few wealthy people and a whole lot of poor people, well that’s just not good. It’s not good for society. All of the social problems that come along with it are going to get bigger unless we address this inequality.”

The book is overflowing not just with timely subjects, but the vast well of knowledge of its author. Whether it’s a “quickie” for Kansas City CBS affiliate KCTV5 or an in-depth discussion for American Classic Screen film journal, Tibbetts always directs the conversation to unique topics. When pressed to name some favorite exchanges in “Those Who Made It,” Tibbetts is characteristically effusive, naming legends like Bernardo Bertolucci, Robert Altman, Ray Bradbury, Phillip Glass and more.

John Tibbetts and George Miller

John Tibbetts and George Miller by Eric Melin

“I still chuckle when I recall how somebody like [“Mad Max" director] George Miller, who comes across as so bizarre in his personal appearance and in his films, is in reality so entirely normal,” Tibbetts says. “As for Jim Henson, I weep every time I think of the wonderful humanity that exuded from the man, and how tragic was his untimely demise.”

“Those Who Made It” is available now through publisher Palgrave Macmillan, and at Amazon.com.

'Brooklyn'

As the heated political battle over whether to admit Syrian refugees into America continues, the new movie “Brooklyn,” playing now at Liberty Hall, serves as a gentle reminder that our country has always been a nation of immigrants.

Adapted by screenwriter Nick Hornby from Colm Tóibín’s novel of the same name, “Brooklyn” is a lush period drama about an Irish girl (Saoirse Ronan) who emigrates from her family home to a boarding house in the U.S. Although the film’s budget is only $10 million, director John Crowley and his production design team stretch it to the max, recreating 1952 Dublin and Brooklyn with a fuzzy, nostalgic vibe.

Adapting to the nonstop bustle of New York is difficult for Ronan’s Ellis Lacey, whose withdrawn nature doesn’t fit with her new home. The other girls in the house have active social lives and her boss at the department store chides her to come out of her shell or find a new job.

From a dramatic standpoint, the film’s biggest asset is also its biggest challenge: “Brooklyn” eschews showy conflict in favor of small character moments and a leisurely pace. For a coming-of-age story, it’s remarkably restrained, relying on Ronan’s subtle and effective performance to anchor the picture rather than a single, life-defining tragedy. The actress is certainly up to the task, and will likely be remembered during awards time.

It is easy to get swept up in Crowley’s warm and fuzzy vision, full of characters like landlady Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters) who have prickly exteriors but are tender-hearted on the inside. Even a prospective beau (Emory Cohen) is devoid of a dark side, and the couple’s romance is portrayed with a sweet sensitivity that speaks to the film’s idealized setting.

If it seems that everything starts clicking into place for Ellis too easily, “Brooklyn” is quick to remind us that our teenage heroine got there through practical thinking and hard work. When a late plot development threatens to derail her progress and maturity, the anger that will likely build up in the viewer is also a sign that the movie is working so well.

“Brooklyn” is 1 hour and 52 minutes, and is probably suited for all ages, even though it’s rated PG-13 for a scene of sexuality and brief strong language.

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