Thursday, November 29, 2007

What a Short, Perfectly Normal Trip it's Been

December marks the sixth month of my blogging on Cinema Styles. My profile says I've been on Blogger since March 2007 but Cinema Styles did not begin until July. That's because when I first started on Blogger I ran a couple of other blogs that eventually became one blog, Cinema Styles. I wrote about politics, religion, science and whatever else piqued my interest or ire, including movies. By June it was becoming increasingly difficult with my workload to maintain a focus for my blogs and they became disjointed and confused. The main thing I wrote about was politics. The reason, as some of you may have discerned from my comments on other blogs, was because I have a feverish and intense dislike and distrust of government and politicians and so used blogging as a way of venting my frustrations.

After two months of blogging it seemed I had found a niche. Chris Weigant, a fine political writer who writes for The Huffington Post as well as his own page, commented on a post I had done on the "Bong Hits for Jesus" decision. After that we commented on each other's sites and he linked a post I had done on President Bush's capital punishment record while Governor of Texas in a post of his own. It wasn't long before I was getting combative comments from right-wing bloggers looking for a fight. I tried to be kind and conciliatory in my responses but it became clear that none of them were looking for a middle ground. And frankly, I just didn't have the time or energy for the fights they wanted to engage in. I don't know if any of you have ever been involved in an online clash of political ideologies with someone before but I can tell you from experience, it's pointless. No one concedes a point, no one budges an inch. Flames fly back and forth. It's draining and futile. And absolutely no fun. So I decided to make a change.

In my original blog I had posted articles on Oscars picks and the occasional performance or moment in a film. I decided in July to create a new blog, Cinema Styles, and put all the movie posts there. As for the other blogs, they're still there but there's nothing on them. I use them now to test new templates, design ideas and format posts that will be transferred here. As for the name, Cinema Styles, it's dull. I know that. My other blogs (there are ten in all) have much more creative and fun names. They include Magnificent Bile, Like a Sinner on the Wet, Toys of Desperation, Plastic Spiders, Treacherous Guile, The Synchronicity of Fish and a personal favorite, Screaming Electric Genitals on Fire. But when I started my movie blog I wanted the content to be memorable, not the name. So I purposely chose something generic. I knew I wanted the word "Cinema" in there, and since almost every variation of cinema phrases had been taken for blog titles already, I came up with Cinema Styles and never looked back.

Luckily my first comment on Cinema Styles came from Dennis Cozzalio. Why is that lucky? Well, certainly not because he's a mischievous leprechaun (although I have my suspicions), but because in a post like this one, looking back over the first five months, it just wouldn't be impressive to write, "And that's when I got my first comment from some guy named Fred in Missouri." Anyway, he commented on my Birth of a Nation analysis and I was thrilled. It inspired me to keep going because frankly I wasn't sure if I wanted to. I had gotten used to comments on Magnificent Bile for my political posts and it was feeling kind of lonely on Cinema Styles. But it also let me know that there were others out there interested in dissecting film and film history. Right now on Scanners, Jim Emerson's terrific blog with the Chicago Sun Times, there is a discussion about separating style from substance, technique from content. The very ideas I discuss in my piece on Birth of a Nation. As I said there, and on Scanners in agreement with Jim, I don't see the two as being separate. One works with the other.

But as much as I love dissecting film and film history, and debating the state of film criticism (a very popular topic of discourse on the Internet film-blogging community), one thing I don't care a lick for is discussing the state of film blogging. In fact, my first reaction is usually, "You're joking, right? The state of film blogging?" The state of film-blogging is pretty simple to sum up: It's in its infancy. There's nothing to discuss. In ten or twenty years maybe. But right now, no. We're all getting our feet wet at this point and I'm not going to worry about whether or not we're all the best writers in the world or who's better than whom. Do you know what I do here on this blog? I write reviews of classic movies, write up performances, scenes, do the occasional list and parody post. You know how that separates me from most other film bloggers? It doesn't! That's what we all do! Reviews, lists, recommendations, debate starters, etc. And what's wrong with that? For one thing, it provides a wonderful alternative to the Mainstream Media Critics. And that's great! Before I started blogging I read all of their stuff. Since I've been blogging I get reviews and reactions to current and older films almost entirely from the bloggers. I still read Ebert and Rosenbaum occasionally but I'll be honest with you: Since I know how Dennis, Kimberly, Ken, Brian, Neil, Rick, the Shamus, Jim, Ed, the Siren, Peter, Eddie, Ray, Justine, Kim, Hedwig, the whole gang at The House Next Door, TCM's Movie Morlocks (and so many more I'm probably leaving out) feel about movies, because of the intimate personal atmosphere blogging provides, I'm much more trusting of their reactions to films than anything I could get by reading the latest Tomatometer on a movie in current release. And if Bill had a blog, I'd read his reviews too.

Who's Bill you ask? That's another thing I love about blogging. The interactions and connections you make with people that you would have never met otherwise. You see, I love commenting on other people's blogs. That probably comes as little surprise to anyone reading this. I love the interaction and discussion. Some blogs I stopped commenting on because they never provided a response. And that's fine. There's no hard fast rule on this kind of thing nor should there be. But for me I love the interaction. Whenever someone comments on my blog I always respond and I love it when a discussion gets started. Sometimes it goes off topic and I don't mind that either as long as everyone knows it's still okay to comment on the original topic. For instance, a couple of weeks ago Kimberly and I went off about World War II in the comments section of a post I did on racism in Hollywood. Then Jim came in and commented on the post itself instead of the WWII discussion. Terrific. I'm always worried when the discussion goes off topic that others will be dissuaded from commenting on the original post and I want everyone to know it's okay to ignore the discussion at hand and comment on the original topic to your heart's content. But what about Bill? Oh yeah, Bill.

So, a couple of months back I was reading Cozzalio's blog. Bill came on and disagreed with Dennis' views on Dazed and Confused. The two of them went back and forth, completely ignoring my "pay attention to me" wise-ass remarks in between. Then Sal, an old buddy of Dennis' and a fine regular commenter there, asked who this entity called Bill was. Well, Bill took offence to that and told him to "pack it full of walnuts." This amused me to no end so I commented that I wished I were an entity and asked how does one become one. Bill commented back about the annual dues and we were off to the races. Sal, being the great guy he is, apologized and then Bill and I just kept going on until Dennis finally stepped in and told everyone to get back to the topic at hand. Or was that the other post where Dennis and I started trading Steely Dan quotes to purposely bewilder Bill? I can't remember now. The point is Bill now comments here and I'm a better blogger for it.

So those are my views on blogging and commenting on blogs. I hope I never get spammed to the point where I have to hold comments for approval because I feel that interferes with the "of the moment" beauty of commenting. I understand that some blogs have to do it, but when there is no delay between commenting and seeing the comment posted there is no confusion of ideas. For instance, how many times have you commented on a delayed comment blog only to see that when the comment appears three other people agree and two others have radically different ideas. If only you could have seen their comments when they made them a much richer discussion of the agreements and disagreements could have taken place. But again, I understand it has to happen because of spamming and I personally despise that jerk who spammed the Shamus at Bad for the Glass (one of my favorite stops) and forced him into delayed commenting approval. It hasn't hurt the site at all as the Shamus is a great cultural blogger regardless of comment discussion, I just wish we could still see each other's comments as they were posted.

And one last thing about commenting. I love writing about movies and commenting on them. Sometimes my comments are a little too jokey, sometimes too dogmatic in tone, sometimes too bland ("Great Post") but I hope they are taken in the nature they are given: A love for movies and discussion of movies. I know I probably annoy some bloggers out there like Arbogast from time to time, but I enjoy commenting on Arbo's blog because he seems quite humorous and good natured and able to take any smart-ass remarks I can give him. And then give them back to me two-fold. And even though her blog has very little to do with film, The Sheila Variations is one of the most amazing cultural blogs in existence and Red herself is one of the most genial hosts and most timely comment responders out there and I'm very glad to have made her acquaintance.

Okay, I think I'm done except to say thanks to everyone I haven't mentioned and thanks to all those without blogs who visit here regularly. Now on to the plastic surgery.

You see, I bore easily with the look of things here on my blog. I've changed the sidebar a hundred times and I've never had a banner last longer than two weeks before changing it (the banner at the top of this post and the one to the right are the first and second banners I used). So now I've decided to change the whole damn look of the thing. New template (self-designed) and everything. Just a warning so the next time you come here in December you don't think you've clicked the wrong link and immediately back out. And the design's nothing special, just different. It will allow me to change the background more often so that the banner doesn't carry the whole weight of the look of the blog. Oh yeah, and the content will now be entirely concerned with toiletry products of a questionable nature. Okay, maybe not. It will still be all about movies (mainly from the teens through the seventies) with the occasional rant outside those perimeters. And I wouldn't want it any other way. I love writing about movies too much and I don't care that I'm not getting paid for it or read by millions. I didn't start this in the hope of winning the first-ever Pulitzer Prize awarded to a blogger. I started it because I loved it, and still do. As a wise man (Brian, the Cinephile of Bubblegum-Aesthetics) once said about blogging: "It's writing, not as obligation or propriety, but as bliss." Thanks for the summation Brian. I agree. Bliss, indeed.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

November Banner Movie

Well the November banners are done and since you can't see them all anymore here they are conveniently sliced together in a wee little slideshow movie. Can you feel the excitement? No? Me neither, but here it is anyway. And of course everyone knows where the opening and closing chords of music are from, right?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Cinema Still Life: Cheese and Beef... cake, that is

We're wrapping up this November's focus on the Production Code. Given that so many events in censorship history occurred during this month in history, each November Cinema Styles will focus on the code. It's a little early to be announcing what I'll be doing next year on these pages but what the hell: I'll be focusing on the sixties and the movies and events that conspired to bring the code down, from The Leather Boys to The Pawnbroker.

Until then let's finish up with some pics. Now during the code years nudity was strictly off-limits but that didn't mean the studios didn't know how to sex things up. Frankly, depending on the clothes of course, the clothed body is much more alluring than the nude body. Nudity equals art (or porn depending on the action). Garters, heels and heaving breasts equals sex. And Hollywood understood that. Until we revisit the code next November here's some Post-Thanksgiving Cheesecake... and Beefcake.

First, there's the actresses and dancers known for their legs - Marlene, Betty, Cyd and Angie:


Then there were the bombshells - Jane, Jayne with a "Y", Mamie and Marilyn, twice:


Then there were the vixens of the sixties - Brigitte, Ursula, Ann-Margret and Raquel


And just so the ladies don't think I'm leaving them out here's a few choice slices of beefcake from the Production Code era:

Strong Man Buster

Joe E. "Charles Bronson" Brown


Bert "The Lion" Lahr. Psssst... he's not wearing any clothes!

Okay seriously, all jokes aside, who the hell would've figured Joe E. Brown to have such a muscular defined build? It's Joe E. Brown for godsakes!

And I would've had more beefcake photos but there are no pictures of Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen or Alain Delon anywhere on the internet. Seriously, I must've typed in "Brigitte Bardot" a thousand times and not once did a picture of Clint Eastwood come up. Alain Delon? Forget it. I probably typed in every possible combination of "Marilyn Monroe," "Ann-Margret" and "Raquel Welch" and nothing! I mean nothing! I must be doing something wrong. Oh well. There's always next November.


As always, click to enlarge.


Friday, November 23, 2007

So let it be written, so let it be done...

c. Revenge in modern times shall not be justified.

Well, that's curious. Why just modern times? The Production Code has all manner of little oddities running throughout it including things like "c" from Article 1, Section I listed above in which crimes and other immoral actions were okay, as long as they took place way, way in the past. "Modern Times" was never fully defined, although I'm almost positive they weren't strictly forbidding revenge to be shown in the Charlie Chaplin film. Nobody really cared because they all knew what it meant: the Bible was a sacred holy book to millions in America and yet contained some of the most violent, repulsive and profane imagery imaginable. And "violent, repulsive and profane imagery" was just what filmmakers like Cecil B. DeMille wanted to get up on the screen early and often. So if you left out "modern times" from your wording you would immediately rule out many Bible stories which would seem odd since it was religious groups, like the Catholic Legion of Decency, that got the whole enforcement ball rolling in the first place.

The Code still wouldn't allow a filmmaker to have explicit nudity and the like but other things were allowed in Biblical Epics that wouldn't be for non-Biblical Epics. For instance, section VII on dances reads (don't tell Kevin Bacon):

1. Dances suggesting or representing sexual actions or indecent passions are forbidden.

2. Dances which emphasize indecent movements are to be regarded as obscene.

Well, the Bible's just chock full of women doing passionate gyrating dances for pleasure, reward or just some guy's head on a platter. The solution? Easy. Just make it so everyone understands that outside of nudity and explicitly presented violence, the code didn't really apply to Bible movies.

Now I've never ever been a fan of biblical epics but I confess to a guilty pleasure I get from watching The Ten Commandments. I'm sure we've all seen this by now. Well here's ten things I love about Commandments:

1. I love that Charlton Heston acts each line. He may not act them very well, but by God he acts every one of them.

2. I love Anne Baxter's "darting eyes" hamminess as Nefretiri.

3. I love Anne Baxter's taunting of Rameses (Yul Brynner) despite the fact that the taunting will clearly lead to his, her and her son's ruin.

4. I love Edward G. Robinson asking "Where's your messiah now?"

5. I love that the freed Jews actually listen to Edward G. Robinson despite the fact that they have just witnessed their God part an entire effing sea before their eyes!

6. I love that the plan they come up with to return to Egypt and gain Rameses favor is to build a golden calf and march back holding it up before them. Yeah, that'll work.

7. I love that God lives on a mountain and everyone knows when he's home because when he is there's smoke over it. Those cigarettes must be huge!

8. I love that no one, and I mean no one, in the movie even resembles a native of the Middle East or Africa. Cedric Hardwicke?!!?!??!!?

9. I love that DeMille took the entire cast and crew to Egypt for location shooting but 90% of the movie was filmed on sets.

10. I love the parting of the Red Sea. I admit it. When those old-timey special effects kick in I'm giddy with delight.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Cinema Still Life: That's a Wrap!

In one of my favorite production stills ever the cast and crew of The Ten Commandments wrap for the day and enjoy their exodus. Biblical epics were a popular way to get sex, violence and sin in general up on the screen in the production code era. Up next at Cinema Styles we'll cover hallowed ground here in Naughty November.


As always, click to enlarge.


Monday, November 19, 2007

Ribbons of Light

Correct standards of life, subject only to the requirements of drama and entertainment, shall be presented. - General Principles, Section 2, Motion Picture Production Code 1930

In film noir, degradation and death seem to lurk in every nightmare alley, behind every venetian blind in every seedy apartment. -David Oberbey, In the Shadows, Movie of the Forties, 1982

No character can speak authoritatively from a space which is continually being cut into ribbons of light. - Paul Schrader, Notes on Film Noir, Film Comment, Spring 1972

Those last two quotes are from two gentlemen who understand the minutia of film noir in far greater detail than I ever shall. If you'd like more just do some searching: the net is filled with great and insightful essays on noir. If you'd rather visit your local library or feel like shelling out some dough to for your own copy, you can pick up all four volumes of The Film Noir Reader, each of which contains collections of great essays on noir, including Schrader's authoritative, Notes on Film Noir, as well as interviews with those that made it happen.

But for me, this is how I've always defined film noir:

Kathie: Oh, Jeff, I don't want to die!
Jeff: Neither do I, baby, but if I have to I'm gonna die last.
- Jane Greer and Robert Mitchum, Out of the Past, 1947

Other definitions include:

A few more definitions:

Walter Neff: It's just like the first time I came here, isn't it? We were talking about automobile insurance, only you were thinking about murder. And I was thinking about that anklet.

- Fred MacMurray, Double Indemnity, 1944

Vivian: Why did you have to go on?

Marlowe: Too many people told me to stop.

- Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, The Big Sleep, 1946

Ellen: Why don't you go to the police?

Philip: I'm my own police.

- Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd, This Gun for Hire, 1942

Sam Spade: Haven't you tried to buy my loyalty with money and nothing else?

Brigid O'Shaughnessy: What else is there I can buy you with?

- Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor, The Maltese Falcon, 1941

Vargas: How could you arrest me here? This is my country.

Quinlan: This is where you're gonna die.

-Charlton Heston and Orson Welles, Touch of Evil, 1958

Henry: My motto is: "If you want something, get it now!"

- Burt Lancaster, Sorry, Wrong Number, 1948

Kitty: Who do you think you are? My guardian angel?

Millie: Not me, honey. I lost those wings a long time ago.

Joan Bennett and Margaret Lindsay, Scarlet Street, 1945

And there are many more. Amazingly, even today critics and viewers alike debate if film noir is even a genre or not. Working within the confines of the Production Code produced an ambiguity so great in many a filmmakers' work that the films themselves, especially in the darker crime genres, remain wide-open to interpretation today. Nevertheless, everyone knows what noir is, don't they? It's those images, it's that dialogue. It's that loner with the gun and the relentless need to make sense of it all. It's that woman, the one who says she wouldn't hurt a fly, but that you'd never turn your back on. It's that crazy son of a bitch with all the money and the power pulling the strings behind the scenes but missing the one thing he really wants. It's all those things. Or maybe it's none of them. Maybe it's all just a trick of light and shadow. The search for the perfect definition continues. Until we find it there's one thing I can say for certain: It's the stuff dreams are made of.

Or should that be nightmares?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Wrong Entertainment

From Reasons Supporting the Preamble of the Code from the Production Code of 1930:

I. So correct entertainment raises the whole standard of a nation. Wrong entertainment lowers the whole living conditions and
moral ideals of a race.

Note, for example, the healthy reactions to
healthful sports, like baseball, golf; the unhealthy reactions to sports
like cockfighting, bullfighting, bear baiting, etc.

Note, too, the effect on ancient nations of gladiatorial combats, the obscene plays of Roman times, etc.

Now god knows I do love the occasional bear baiting (I probably engage in it every other Saturday at least) but I have noticed it produces an "unhealthy" reaction in me.

Hollywood would also notice the "unhealthy' (and profitable) reaction produced by "wrong entertainment" and respond to the code in the forties and fifties with two genres that would hit their respective strides in those two decades: Film Noir and Biblical Epics. They both allowed things "disallowed" by the code due to their settings and narratives, and Hollywood was ripe to exploit any loophole it could find. Call it Code Baiting.

Up next, Cinema Styles will strive to "lower the whole living conditions and moral ideals" of the masses as we venture into - Wrong Entertainment!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Cinema Still Life: Lady of the Tropics...

... or How Some Adaptations Just Don't Work in the Production Code Era. For a thorough plot synopsis of Hedy Lamarr's Lady of the Tropics here's a link to Classic Film Guide's plot summary of it. It deals with sexual taboos, race and national differences, all topics recently mentioned here on Cinema Styles. Written by the great Ben Hecht and based on the 18th century novel Manon Lescaut, the movie was, as they say, lost in the translation. The adaptation got tepid responses and today plays more for unintentional laughs.

You owe it to yourself to click on the poster to enlarge it so you can read some of the nuggets of dialogue printed on the poster. My personal favorite: "Half-caste or not -- I want you."

Poor Ben. Everybody stumbles at some point, I suppose.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Willful Offence

The Don'ts and Be Carefuls


Resolved, That those things which are included in the following list shall not appear in pictures produced by the members of this Association, irrespective of the manner in which they are treated:

11. Willful offence to any nation, race or creed;

Remember the Don'ts and Be Carefuls? Well you might remember number eleven above. As stated in the preamble, anything listed "shall not appear... irrespective of the manner in which they are treated." This was in 1927, the year The Jazz Singer gave voice to the movies. It was a hit, a smash hit. It excited audiences. It changed the way movies were made. And it had it's lead character, played by Al Jolsen, look like this for one of his numbers:

After The Jazz Singer, blackface became popular in musicals (despite protests from the NAACP). And when something becomes popular in the movies, studios find a way to keep it in. But what about nudity and language you ask. Those were popular, weren't they? No, actually they weren't. Or at least they weren't worth the trouble. Powerful groups like the Catholic Legion of Decency (founded in 1933 by Archbishop of Cincinnati John T. McNicholas) began organizing boycotts and muscling newspaper giants into dropping ads for studios that made "smut" movies. So by 1934 it was suddenly in the best interest of the studios to drop language and nudity and abide by the Production Code. Besides Joseph Ignatius Breen, who headed up the Production Office, was a good Catholic.

But neither the studios nor the Catholic Legion of Decency, or any other church for that matter, had any problem with denigrating African-Americans on the screen for the purpose of entertainment. So in one of the most insidious and cowardly acts of the Motion Picture Association (and they had many) the Production Code included not one provision for the treatment of race. One will recall that the 1927 list of "Don'ts and Be Careful" included the provision listed at the top of this post. However, when the list was revised and expanded upon to create a formal set of guidelines (The Production Code of 1930) the provision above was separated into two parts, not three. Those two parts were covered under sections dealing with Nationality and Religion. The part dealing with race was dropped. Blackface and Stepin Fetchit were too popular. If they had a provision outlining proper treatment of race, and didn't follow it, it could be clearly used against them by both filmmakers and activist groups stressing that either the rest didn't need to be followed as well or they all had to be. Easier to just leave it out. Then audiences could be treated to grand entertainment like this, free of oversight:

Like most, if not all, moral codes dictated by an elite few, the Production Code was pretty much a sham. It contained some provisions that made sense (children should not be used in sex scenes or have their genitals photographed) but 95 percent of it was pure garbage. Going through the code one could pick and choose which guidelines were the most laughable, the most unnecessary or the most puritanical but the most hateful, the most despicable and the most shameful guideline is the one that isn't even there. It's the one that was dropped and it is hateful, despicable and shameful not because of what it says but because of its absence. What it says, in the 1927 list of "Don'ts and Be Carefuls" is that no film shall contain any subject matter or actions that are "willful offences to Nation, Race or Creed." What no one knew in 1927 was that when the full code was revised and published in 1930 it would contain the most heinous insult to race imaginable by its very omission of any guidelines for its portrayal. One could say it was politics. One could say it was money. But one could not say it was an oversight. Its absence was intentional. For that reason alone, no one can deny that it was, in every sense of the word, a willful offence to race.

A willful offence indeed.