The Seven Samurai is an epic about a poor, 16th-century farming community plagued by bandits who regularly steal the harvest. To fight back, the locals recruit a ragtag group of seven professional warriors. Director Akira Kurosawa's 1954 black-and-white masterpiece was adapted in 1960 for The Magnificent Seven, a Western starring Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn.
Vermont screenwriter John Fusco is currently working on another American remake of Samurai for the Weinstein Company (formerly Miramax). "Like Magnificent Seven, it is not an attempt to compete with what many consider the greatest Japanese film ever made," he says in an email. "It's a retelling of a classic narrative for these times, the way that tribal stories are passed on through generations, or blues songs -- like Robert Johnson's 'Crossroads' -- are re-recorded out of tremendous love for the original."
Fusco, who wrote a 1986 hit film about the blues entitled Crossroads, appreciates Samurai lore. "Kurosawa always said that he wanted to make movies like John Ford made movies," Fusco points out. "Sam Peckinpah said he wanted to make Westerns like Kurosawa made Westerns. I've long been fascinated by this cycle of influence."
Magnificent Seven, he continues, "translated beautifully as an anti-hero Western, and when Kurosawa saw it, he sent director John Sturges a sword in a gesture of approval. My adaptation will be a modern-day Eastern-Western of sorts. Sturges died 13 years ago, so we can't expect a pearl-handled Colt in the mail, but we are doing this with great respect to the lineage."
Fusco got the deal largely due to his "doctoring job on Nomad." Set in 18th-century Kazakhstan, that picture actually premiered at the last Cannes festival, but Weinstein wanted additional battle scenes and a pumped-up romance. It will open sometime in 2006.
Fusco also has finished Wolf Brother for director Ridley Scott. The project, expected to start shooting in 2007, is about an adolescent boy's harrowing adventures in the Stone Age.
Walden Media, the company behind Narnia, remains attached to Rebels, Fusco's long-delayed labor of love about Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys. It has gone through many changes. "We had Barry Levinson directing Leonardo DiCaprio at one point," Fusco notes. "I've been resolute about filming in Vermont and Canada, and I'm confident that will happen."
Meanwhile, Fusco -- whose work in the genre began with 1988's Young Guns -- was just named Best Living Western Screenwriter by True West magazine. Not bad for a Connecticut native who now calls Lamoille County home.
Burlington filmmaker Deb Ellis went to Cuba last week for a screening of Howard Zinn: You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train. The 78-minute documentary, which she co-directed with Denis Mueller, was featured at the Havana Film Festival.
They sent a copy in 2004, but missed the deadline because mail from here to Cuba has to go through Montreal, according to Chicago-based Mueller. "So, this year the festival invited us to show it out-of-competition. We made a Spanish-subtitled version in late October."
Octogenarian historian/author Zinn appeared in Burlington during the film's 2004 premiere at the Vermont International Film Festival. Ellis serves on its board. She also teaches cinema studies at Burlington and Middlebury colleges. Middlebury paid her way to the Caribbean island nation and made the trip legal.
"Nowadays, Americans can only visit [Cuba] for research through a university," Mueller says. "Deb could have gone on her own, but that would have been illegal. The fine is $5000 and a knock on the door from the FBI."
He pauses for a moment, then thinks of a clever greeting for that scenario by citing the duo's 1991 doc: "Hey, you want to see our film, The FBI's War on Black America?"
The Savoy Theater in Montpelier marks its 25th anniversary next month with a weekend of nostalgic, free fare. "The seven selections we're showing all played in 1981, our first year," explains owner Rick Winston. "They'll appeal to a range of film buffs."
The event begins with Casablanca on January 7. "That's really our signature movie, because we opened with it," Winston says. The two-day lineup includes My Brilliant Career, Aguirre the Wrath of God, The Court Jester, Yojimbo, King of Hearts and Black Orpheus.
Winston conceived of the retrospective as a way to thank supporters. "Without our membership, we'd be celebrating the 20th anniversary of our closing."