The Big Brass Ring

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"...the close up is a magical thing isn't it?" - Malcolm on filming
Short Cinema Journal | Formats | Pictures | Transcript | Malcolm on the part | My Review | Notes
Feature Film | Formats | Notes | Pictures | My Summary | My Review

Short Cinema Journal

Malcolm mentioned this project in 1997 on the Tom Snyder show. He described it as a lost film written by Orson Welles. In 1993 George Hickenlooper bought the rights to the movie and sat down to adapt it to a modern screenplay with Matthew Greenberg. In 1997 he took five pages of the script, 2 scenes, 7 minutes worth and filmed it in hopes to attract interest in the project. Those five minutes were put on DVD in 1997 as a short film on a compilation appropriately entitled Short Cinema Journal 2 and also Short Cinema 1:2 Dreams. 

This clip features a reporter, Mrs. Cela Brandini (Ivana Milicevic),  trying to get dirt on candidate Pellarin by interviewing his former mentor, Kimble Abraham Mennaker (Malcolm). He is a flamboyant homosexual and was a political adviser from the times of FDR to Clinton. She knows Kim is gay and is trying to find out if they ever had a homosexual relationship.

Formats

DVD R1 (Short Cinema 2 and 1:2 Dreams)

Pictures

Short Cinema 2 - Spinning Cover

Transcript

Scene 1 on the boardwalk

Kim: All right Mrs. Brandini, I'll give you a couple of minutes.

Brandini: Rumor has it you are quite the ambassador to the homeless.

Kim: Yes. Well, FDR's been gone for a long time now. Don't you think somebody should start looking after (point at 2 dirty people walking by) their distress? Must you really use that damned infernal tape machine?

Brandini: Let's stick to the subject.

Kim: Yes of course, Blake Pellarin. Well, I think he really deserves your generosity. 

Brandini: He needs it?

Kim: Mrs. Brandini, I'll think you'll find Blake is slightly more complex than the headline in your little tabloid.

Brandini: His complexity comes from you?

Kim: Naturally.

Brandini: Blake suggests you are one of the greatest minds he's ever met.

Kim: (Laughs) Well, if on that quaint New Haven green some of the brighter sprigs felt that way about me it was not an opinion I discouraged. What truly great ones are they ever likely to encounter in young Winsley gardens of the world?

Brandini:  A Socrates without a Plato?

Kim: (Laughs) Me? I an no Socrates madam and Platos' are extinct.

Brandini: Then a Samuel Johnson without a Boswell.

Kim: No, no. I'm not Weber without Fields or Smith without Dale or even Ozzie without Harriet.

Brandini: I'm not familiar with those people.

Kim: You don't imagine that's  posterities judgment. Posterity is a whim it's a shapeless maker of old bones the mitten of a vulgar beast.  In a capricious and immense mass public of them all...the dead.

Scene 2 on the beach

Brandini: And Pellarin? If he wins what will that posterity make of him.

Kim: Yes, well outside of what the public will make of him he could save our bones, heal our flesh. Yes, I think he'll be remembered. Like we remember beautiful oil painting by Mateese or 1928 Chateau Rotheschild or a dear Mrs. Roosevelt.

Brandini: So what makes him so unique?

Kim: What makes him so unique?  Well simply he is no mediocrity. It is the mediocrities that are forgotten and fortunately it is they who are in the majority. But the rare ones, the few truly great ones you remember cause it is those who accept having a cross to bear. 

Brandini: And what's your cross Kim? Was it that he never loved you?

Kim: Love, ha...yes. Now what happened when that happens?

Brandini: Or was it that he loved his family too much? I was looking at Listville application records and I came across an address while living in New York from 1970 to 1972. Apparently he resided with his brother. But what I didn't know was that birth records indicated a twin.

Kim: Yes, poor Buddy....missing in action since 1973. We all miss him, naturally.

Brandini: Now I can see why Blake's college deferment was such a sore subject. What I find really interesting was that before he was drafted his brother had 12 arrests for solicitation, each time bailed out by a Boise Pellarin.

Kim: What kind of story are you writing Mrs. Brandini?

Brandini: This is off the record obviously...

Kim: You just want to hear how Blake pimped for his brother?

Brandini: No...just...

Kim: Goodbye Mrs. Brandini. I hope to God we never meet again.

Brandini: I only have the best intentions. I am a journalist Mennaker, even if I don't report it I am entitled to know.

Kim: It's youthful indiscretion my dear Pella nothing more. Even the best of us have our limitations.

Brandini: You keep speaking of limitations. Some day I'd like to find out exactly what our yours.

Kim: I am an old man and a faggot Mrs. Brandini...I don't think I could use another limitation.

Malcolm on the part:

"The perimeters of the part are fairly obvious, you know that he has a wonderful intellect and (is) a mover and shaker behind the scenes. He lets things and people come to him he doesn't really need to project too much because he is really a charismatic character.  Acting in film is a wonderful thing to do because you have the time and so you can get a sort of nuance on it and of course the close up is a magical thing isn't it? So you can really get inside the eyes and in the thoughts he doesn't have to any gesturing or...you just have to think. You just have to tell the truth."

My Review

    This 5 minute sequence is interesting and looked like it would have been a cool role for Malcolm. It has his usual wicked flair for a semi-bad role. He seemed a bit like Max in Cross Creek. The disc is worth it for the Malcolm cover, the interview with him and the director's commentary on the sequence. The disc 1:2 has the better cover with Malcolm sitting in a chair and the Alex bowler hat floating above him. 

Notes

Short Cinema Journal 1:2 Dreams  is a 120 minute DVD of award winning films from around the world in a digitally enriched environment of sight and surround sound. Contains: La Jetee by Chris Marker, Big Brass Ring adapted from Orson Welles script with Malcolm McDowell; Directed by George Hickenlooper, A Guy Walks Into a Bar with Fred Savage, Depth Solitude narrated by Max Von Sydow and Eye Like a Strange Balloon by Guy Maddin with audio commentary by the director, plus 4 more. The other side of the disc contains the making of Portrait of a lady with Nicole Kidman.


Feature Film

In pursuit of power, the only thing worse than denying the truth - is telling it.

Formats

VHS - NTSC
DVD - R2

Notes

The film debuted on Showtime in the US in August 1999 without Malcolm, because when they were ready to film he was committed to another project.

Rated R - 104 minutes

Pictures

VHS White Cover
DVD Black Cover

My Summary

    William "Billy" Blake Pellarin (William Hurt) is running for the governor of Missouri and not only does everyone think he will win, they feel he will be the next president. The press is making a huge deal out of the election because Pellarin and his candidate Dixon are both independents. The democratic and republicans are not in the race.
    Cela Brandini (Irene Jacob) is one of the most famous reporters in the country. She wants to get to the truth behind the race. She heads to Cuba to interview ex-senator Kim Mennaker (Nigel Hawthorne), Pellarin's mentor. Though Kim raised Blake and his brother there was a split that caused them not to speak to each other for 15 years. Blake married the very rich Dinah (Miranda Richardson) who bought the radio station where Kim had a show and he says she fired him. He has since lived in a self imposed exile. Kim dishes some dirt on Blake and secretly decides to come back to the US to see him.
    Cela is given the name Raymond Romero and confronts Blake on it. He won't budge. She is persistent and eventually he relents. Blake says that is his brother. He got his father's name, and his brother got his mothers name. He was later killed in Vietnam. What he doesn't tell her is that that the homosexual Kim took pornographic pictures of Ray with another boy when they were younger. Kim still has those pics and has mailed them to Blake and Cela. This could ruin Blake's career and they all know it.
   Blake knows Kim has sent him the picture and also a matchbook cover with Louis Quatorz on it - a gay riverboat. Blake steals a million dollar necklace from his wife and sneaks off, hoping to bribe Kim off. Kim doesn't want it though, he is banking on Blake winning the "Big Brass Ring" - the presidency. He won't send the picture to Dixon if Blake makes him Secretary of State - Blake refuses.
    Then another skeleton from his closet is revealed. Blake is Raymond! Blake was drafted for Vietnam, but since he showed the most promise, his brother went over there in his place. They switched their names and Blake went to Yale. So his brother's death has always haunted him, he even thinks he sees him during one speech. Kim drops another bombshell him - Billy is still alive! He didn't die in Vietnam after all. Kim gives Blake his pet monkey who has a problem peeing on everything - including Blake.
    Blake runs into Cela on the way out and she returns him to his wife on their campaign riverboat, parked outside of St. Louis on the Mississippi. Dinah has gotten drunk and smashed the place up. She thinks he has cheated on her and ruined her life.
    The rest of the film is the last 48 hours of the election. The incriminating photo is delivered to Dixon and he plans to run with it. Dixon claims that Blake is hiding his war hero brother from the public. Blake proceeds to doctor a photo of Dixon at a Klan rally with the letters KKK tattooed on his knuckles. The cancels the threat.
    Blake's bodyguard wants to be paid to take out Him and Blake's brother - no loose ends. Dinah just wants to get rid of his and terminates him. He decides to go after them anyway and blackmail Blake who he has lost respect for.
    Meanwhile Cela has talked to one of Blake's best friends at high school and learns lots of dirt on him. She also obtains his birth certificate and figures out the two were switched. She is on her way to blowing the lid off Blake. Blake goes to dinner with his wife and $2 million which he plans on giving his brother when they meet that night. Cela then shows up at dinner for an interview, she says he is a misogynist and is afraid to love. She hints that she knows about him. He says he doesn't want her. She tells him he isn't her type. He tells her he hates love only because he needs it so much and that it is easier to love the dead because you don't have to worry about loving them loving you back. Dinah has head enough, she throws a drink in his face and leaves, telling him she can't go on with this any more.
    He goes back in and Cela and the briefcase are gone, but she has left her address. He goes. She has plans on seducing him to get his footprints to compare them to his birth certificate. It works. They have sex vowing to expose each other if necessary afterwards.
    Blake goes to see Kim and realizes that Kim has burned his 15,000 page manuscript he has been working on for 27 years. He must be planning on dying. Kim does take him to an apartment to see his brother. On the way they spot the bodyguard looking for them. Blake tells him at the apartment that it ends here. He doesn't want him in his life anymore. Kim leaves and goes to the bodyguard thinking he wants to kill him, but he really wants the brother.
    Billy is in really bad shape, he is in insulin shock and in a wheelchair. Ray (Blake) begs his forgiveness and asks him why he went in his place. Ray has always hated himself because his last words to his brother were, "Don't do this for me. I hate you. If you die over there it is your fault. Fuck you." Now he wants to make it all better, but Billy tells him it is too late for them to be brothers. He only did it because he wanted him to love him.
    The bodyguard is on his way. Kim gets to him before he gets to the apartment. The guard pulls a gun on him and Cela has followed them in her car. When she honks the horn it distracts the guard and Kim is able to stab him in the neck. The guard then bashes his brains in and pummels him before Cela can get there. He then goes up stairs and Ray jumps on Billy to protect him. When no shots are fired he tells him to just take the $2 million and be gone. The guard tells him the brother is a loose end. Ray tells him he won't let him and to kill him instead. The guard had no problem with that, but he is bleeding heavily from his neck wound. For whatever reason he backs off, takes the money, and runs.
    Ray wins the election by 7%. Billy goes on his own, not telling Ray where he went. Dinah forgives Ray, Ray thanks her, they left Kim and his death a mystery and Cela burns the evidence, letting him live with the lies himself.

My Review

    I watched the full film to see the role Malcolm missed out on playing. The movie is a small independent film that went straight to video after only playing a few festivals. It is safe to say this role wouldn't have helped his career as very few people have seen the film.
    Malcolm would have played Kim, the old senator who pulls Blake's strings. In the short film Malcolm plays the role of the gay man a bit more flamboyantly than Nigel Hawthorne did. Nigel did a good job, as did everyone else in the film, but the film was a bit flat.
    It started out full steam and was getting pretty interesting until 2 days were left before the election day. I was really enjoying the film until then. Many things happened and it wasn't clear why in most cases. It was never explained why the bodyguard turned on him in the first place. Then at the end when he was going to kill him he suddenly changed his mind for no reason. Also when Cela distracts him from shooting Kim she is very close, but it takes her forever to get there. What happened to her being close? Then no one calls an ambulance to try and save him. Billy holds Kim in the street and only a block away was the riverboat and a big carnival, yet not one person or car passes them during all that time. After Kim dies they call and take off. All of this was pretty weak.
    Dinah's role also seems useless. When she says she can't take it anymore - she doesn't say what. Before you know it she is back. Is she only in it for the power as well? Another annoying thing was how everyone was saying Blake would be the next president when it didn't even look like he would win the governor race for a while. Too much talk of the future.
    Cela was obsessed with Blake and we aren't sure why. She goes through all that just to learn the truth, but doesn't say anything on the news about it. This doesn't add up as she doesn't even fulfill her role as a reporter.
    Malcolm would've been cool and of course I would've liked to have seen him in the role, but he didn't miss anything. There was too much going on and not enough explanation. What is supposed to be a political story almost turns out to be more of a mystery. Too much intrigue and not enough on the main story. It wasn't a great film, it wasn't a bad film. It was just an OK film that had many flaws.
    The most embarrassing thing was at the end where it listed "Special thanks to Malcom + Kelly Macdowell" - to spell his first AND last name wrong as well as his wife's first name is totally inexcusable.

Rating: 4/10

This entire page 2001-08 Alex D. Thrawn for www.MalcolmMcDowell.net