"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Million Dollar Movie

Over at Vanity Fair, Scott Price has a long piece on “Diner”:

The second crisis hit when an on-set fire cost another night of shooting, and MGM refused to budget another day. Levinson needed more time. Sova suggested breaking out a second camera in the diner, to speed things up by filming actors on both sides of the table simultaneously. That, however, created a problem with sound: instead of clipping a lavalier microphone to just one actor and allowing him to say his lines cleanly—that is, without overlap from other actors, so it can be edited into a scene later—the new situation demanded that all the actors, on-camera and off, be miked. Robert Altman aside, at the time it was still rare to use overlapping dialogue, especially for trivial, tabletop chatter. “What Levinson did in a revolutionary way 30 years ago,” John Hamburg says, “is something we’re doing now.”

It was, for the final two weeks, a kind of liberation. “Because we didn’t have to worry about overlaps, we could really ad-lib,” Guttenberg says. “You could ad-lib offstage and throw the guy a fastball, and he could catch it and throw it high. That’s what made the experience so unique in filmmaking: you didn’t have to match ‘what we did last time.’ It was ‘Just give me something extraordinary. Take it wherever you want to go.’ ”

…Banter is a delicate thing, crippled by obvious effort, destroyed when, as so often happens on sitcoms, it’s reduced to point scoring or put-downs. Reiser was so quick, so on, that there are moments in Diner when he sounds as if he’s trying out material. But Levinson was also going for something deeper, a casualness implying dynamics and affections that reach back years, and even the screw-ups nail that quality. The best comes when Guttenberg’s Eddie asks Boogie, “Sinatra or Mathis?,” and Rourke brushes him back with “Presley.” “Elvis Presley?,” Guttenberg’s Eddie says. “You’re sick … ” He starts to improvise, but it’s like watching a kid let go of the handlebars for the first time: he knows he’s going to crash. “You’ve gone like two steps below … ,” Guttenberg stammers, “in my … my, uh, book.” Clearly, a blown take: The actors giggle, Stern spits up his drink, breaks character, and says, “Once again … ” But rather than splice in a cleaner run, Levinson went with the mess.

For more, check out this Q&A I found in an old issue of American FilmMy Dinner with Barry (Robert Ward)

And yeah, that’s the same Robert Ward who wrote the famous “Straw that stirs the drink” Reggie profile for Sport.

feed Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via email
"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver