Writers on Film
Jason Isralowitz and Hitchcock's Wrong Man
Nothing To Fear: Alfred Hitchcock And The Wrong Men
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Alfred Hitchcock is not often associated with a social justice movement. But in 1956, the world’s most famous director focused his lens on an issue that cuts to the heart of our criminal justice system: the risk of wrongful conviction. The result was The Wrong Man, a wrenching and largely overlooked drama based on the real-life arrest of Queens musician Christopher “Manny” Balestrero for two robberies he did not commit.
With documentary-like authenticity, Hitchcock and his team meticulously re-created Manny’s journey through the corridors of justice and the devastating effect of the arrest on his wife, Rose. In so doing, the director cast a damning light on New York’s history of mistaken identity cases. The Balestreros fell victim to the same rush to judgment and suggestive eyewitness identification procedures that had doomed innocent defendants in earlier cases. Their ordeal is part of a larger story of the state’s failure to reckon with its role in other wrongful prosecutions in the first half of the twentieth century.
Attorney Jason Isralowitz tells this story in a revelatory book that situates both the Balestrero case and its cinematic counterpart in their historical context. Drawing from archival records, Isralowitz delivers a gripping account of Manny’s trial and new insights into an errant prosecution. He then examines how Hitchcock fused striking visual motifs with social realism to create a timeless work of art. The film bears witness to issues that animate the contemporary innocence movement, including the unreliability of eyewitness testimony, the need for police lineup reforms, and the dangers of investigative “tunnel vision.” Given the hundreds of exonerations of the wrongfully convicted in recent years, The Wrong Man remains as timely as ever.
“Nothing to Fear is a fascinating history, not only for fans of Hitchcock but for anyone interested in how our justice system works (and sometimes doesn't). The story of ‘the wrong man' continues to resonate well into the twenty-first century, and will make you question your assumptions about innocence and guilt.” Dawn Raffel, author of The Strange Case of Dr. Couney, named by NPR as one of 2018’s Great Reads and winner of a 2019 Christopher Award.
“Thanks to Jason Isralowitz for finally writing a book about Hitchcock’s most under-appreciated movie. Isralowitz brilliantly contextualizes the movie and the true-life story of Manny Balestrero, preceded by an eye-opening prologue detailing the justice system’s long history of indicting ‘the wrong man’ (and, in a few cases, ‘the wrong woman’). A must for both cinephiles and true crime buffs.” Bruce Goldstein, Repertory Artistic Director, Film Forum, New York.
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135. Jem Duducu talks Napoleon01:08:31Jem Duducu talks Ridley Scott's new film Napoleon, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Virginia Kirkby. Jem is the host of the Condensed Histories podcast, the author of Hollywood and History and The Napoleonic Wars in a Hundred Facts.Jem’s first love has always been history, ever since he saw the Sutton Hoo helmet as a small boy. He now works as a freelance trainer which has allowed him to hone his presentation and communications skills and has been posting articles about history online since 2012. He has been writing history books for Amberley Publishing since 2013. His style has been described as an historical guide; as he says “I take the reader/viewer on an introductory journey on a topic they may know little to nothing about”. The list of books include: The Busy Person’s Guide to British History, The British Empire in 100 facts, Deus Vult a Concise History of the Crusades, The Napoleonic Wars in 100 facts, The Romans in 100 Facts, Forgotten History Unbelievable Moments from the Past, & The American Presidents in 100 Facts.
20. From the Archive: Talking memoirs with Gabriel Byrne47:38John Bleasdale talks to actor, producer, director and author Gabriel Byrne about his autobiography. Walking with Ghosts is the stunningly evocative memoir by Irish actor and Hollywood star, Gabriel Byrne.'Dreamy, lyrical and utterly unvarnished' – Colm TóibínAs a young boy growing up in the outskirts of Dublin, Gabriel Byrne sought refuge in a world of imagination among the fields and hills near his home, at the edge of a rapidly encroaching city. Born to working-class parents and the eldest of six children, he harboured a childhood desire to become a priest. When he was eleven years old, Byrne found himself crossing the Irish Sea to join a seminary in England. Four years later, Byrne had been expelled and he quickly returned to his native city. There he took odd jobs as a messenger boy and a factory labourer to get by. In his spare time he visited the cinema, where he could be alone and yet part of a crowd. It was here that he could begin to imagine a life beyond the grey world of ’60s Ireland.He revelled in the theatre and poetry of Dublin’s streets, populated by characters as eccentric and remarkable as any in fiction, those who spin a yarn with acuity and wit. It was a friend who suggested Byrne join an amateur drama group, a decision that would change his life forever and launch him on an extraordinary forty-year career in film and theatre. Moving between sensual recollection of childhood in a now almost vanished Ireland and reflections on stardom in Hollywood and on Broadway, Byrne also courageously recounts his battle with addiction and the ambivalence of fame.Walking with Ghosts is by turns hilarious and heartbreaking as well as a lyrical homage to the people and landscapes that ultimately shape our destinies.‘Make no mistake about it: this is a masterpiece . . . poetic, moving and very funny’ – Colum McCann, author of Let the Great World Spin
134. Mark Wheeler on Sorcerer01:25:47William Friedkin’s film Sorcerer (1977) has been subject to a major re-evaluation in the last decade. A dark re-imagining of the French Director H.G. Clouzot’s Le Salaire de la Peur (The Wages of Fear) (1953) (based on George Arnaud’s novel); the film was a major critical and commercial failure on its initial release. Friedkin’s work was castigated as an example of directorial hubris as it was a notoriously difficult production which went wildly over-budget. It was viewed at the time as the end of New Hollywood. However, within recent years, the film has emerged in the popular and scholarly consciousness from enjoying a minor, cult status to becoming subject to a full-blown critical reconsideration in which it has been praised a major work by a key American filmmaker.
133. Pamela Hutchinson talks The Red Shoes01:21:55Endlessly fascinating, dark and bright, The Red Shoes (1948) employs every branch of the cinematic arts to sweep the audience off its feet, invigorated by the transcendence of art itself, only to leave them with troubling questions. Representing the climax of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's celebrated run of six exceptional feature films, the film remains a beloved, if unsettling and often divisive, classic.Pamela Hutchinson's study of the film examines its breathtaking use of Technicolor, music, choreography, editing and art direction at the zenith of Powell and Pressburger's capacity for 'composed cinema'. Through a close reading of key scenes, particularly the film's famous extended ballet sequence, she considers the unconventional use of ballet as uncanny spectacle and the feminist implications of the central story of female sacrifice.Hutchinson goes on to consider the film's lasting and wide-reaching influence, tracing its impact on the film musical genre and horror cinema, with filmmakers such as Joanna Hogg, Sally Potter, Martin Scorsese and Brian De Palma having cited the film as an inspiration.
132. Nancy Schoenberger talks Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor01:07:13The definitive story of Hollywood's most famous couple.He was a tough-guy Welshman softened by the affections of a breathtakingly beautiful woman; she was a modern-day Cleopatra madly in love with her own Mark Antony. For nearly a quarter of a century, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were Hollywood royalty, and their fiery romanceoften called "the marriage of the century"was the most notorious, publicized, and celebrated love affair of its day.For the first time, Vanity Fair contributing editor Sam Kashner and acclaimed biographer Nancy Schoenberger tell the complete story of this larger-than-life couple, showing how their romance and two marriages commanded the attention of the world. Also for the first time, in exclusive access given to the authors, Elizabeth Taylor herself gives never-revealed details and firsthand accounts of her life with Burton.Drawing upon brand-new information and interviewsand on Burton's private, passionate, and heartbreaking letters to TaylorFurious Love sheds new light on the movies, the sex, the scandal, the fame, the brawls, the booze, the bitter separations, and, of course, the fabled jewels. It offers an intimate glimpse into Elizabeth and Richard's privileged world and their elite circle of friends, among them Princess Grace, Montgomery Clift, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Peter O'Toole, Michael Caine, Marlon Brando, Rex Harrison, Mike Nichols, Laurence Olivier, Robert Kennedy, Tennessee Williams, Noël Coward, John Huston, Ava Gardner, the Rothschilds, Maria Callas, and Aristotle Onassis. It provides an entertaining, eye-opening look at their films, their wildly lucrative reign in Europe and in Hollywoodand the price they paid for their extravagant lives.Shocking and unsparing in its honesty, Furious Love explores the very public marriage of "Liz and Dick" as well as the private struggles of Elizabeth and Richard, including Le Scandale, their affair on the set of the notorious epic Cleopatra that earned them condemnation from the Vatican; Burton's hardscrabble youth in Wales; the crippling alcoholism that nearly destroyed his career and contributed to his early death; the medical issues that plagued both him and Elizabeth; and the failed aspirations and shame that haunted him throughout their relationship. As Kashner and Schoenberger illuminate the events and choices that shaped this illustrious couple's story, they demonstrate how the legendary pair presaged America's changing attitudes toward sex, marriage, morality, and celebrity. Yet ultimately, as the authors show, Elizabeth and Richard shared something priceless beyond the drama: enduring love.Addictive and entertaining, Furious Love is more than a celebrity biography; it's an honest yet sympathetic portrait of a man, a woman, and a passion that shocked and mesmerized the world.
131. Tom Shone talks the return of the auteur blockbusters01:19:26Author of The Nolan Variations and Martin Scorsese, Tom Shone is one of the best film writers out there and a great friend of the podcast. He returns to cast his eye over the releases this year and to talk Oppenheimer and the films of Paul Greengrass, who will be the subject of his next book. Please like, leave a review, subscribe etc.
130. Carol Baum on Creative Producing01:05:18Buy a copy of Carol's book here. Go behind the scenes with the producer of Father of the Bride to learn all the skills necessary to be a top Hollywood producerAs former co-president of Dolly Parton's production company, Sandollar, and as a successful independent producer, Carol Baum is an expert in the art of film production. Creative Producing provides a crash course in the frequently misunderstood producer's role and the many skills needed to survive and thrive in Hollywood. Readers receive a master class in production––from pitching, script development, and packaging, to working with stars, directors, and difficult executives. Enhanced with behind-the-scenes stories from Baum's illustrious career, Creative Producing offers an intimate look behind the Hollywood curtain to give film students, cinephiles, aspiring executives, and industry insiders a must-have guide to understanding film development from successful pitch to hit picture.
129. Robert Sellers on the Greatest Year in Cinema History01:12:261971 was a great year for cinema. Woody Allen, Robert Altman, Dario Argento, Ingmar Bergman, Stanley Kubrick, Sergio Leone, George Lucas, Sam Peckinpah, Roman Polanski, Nicolas Roeg and Steven Spielberg, among many others, were behind the camera, while the stars were also out in force. Warren Beatty, Marlon Brando, Michael Caine, Julie Christie, Sean Connery, Faye Dunaway, Clint Eastwood, Jane Fonda, Dustin Hoffman, Steve McQueen, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino and Vanessa Redgrave all featured in films released in 1971.The remarkable artistic flowering that came from the ‘New Hollywood’ of the ’70s was just beginning, while the old guard was fading away and the new guard was taking over. With a decline in box office attendances by the end of the ’60s, along with a genuine inability to come up with a reliable barometer of box office success, studio heads gave unprecedented freedom to young filmmakers to lead the way.Featuring interviews with cast and crew members, bestselling author Robert Sellers explores this landmark year in Hollywood and in Britain, when this new age was at its freshest, and where the transfer of power was felt most exhilaratingly.
128. Demetrios Matheou talks Means Streets at 5001:06:29Mean Streets was Martin Scorsese's third feature film, and the one that confirmed him as a major new talent. On its premiere at the New York Film Festival in 1973, the critic Pauline Kael hailed the film as 'a true original of our period, a triumph of personal film-making'. The tale of combative friends and small-time crooks is set amid the bars, pool halls, tenements and streets of Manhattan's Little Italy. Scorsese has said of his childhood neighbourhood, 'its very texture was interwoven with organised crime', and this quality would dramatically inform the tone and restless energy of his seminal film.Demetrios Matheou's insightful study considers Mean Streets' production history in the context of the New Hollywood period of American cinema, noting also the key roles played by John Cassavetes and Roger Corman. He analyses the importance of Scorsese's background to the film's characters and themes, including preoccupations with guilt, redemption and criminal subcultures; the development of the director's film-making process and signature style; the way in which he both drew upon and invigorated the crime genre; his relationship with emerging stars Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel, and the film's reception and legacy.Matheou argues that while Taxi Driver (1976) and Raging Bull (1980) are regarded as Scorsese's greatest films of the period, Mean Streets is the more influential achievement. With it, Scorsese not only paved the way for a new kind of crime movie, not least his own GoodFellas (1990), but also inspired generations of independently-minded film-makers.