Monday, March 31, 2008

I Got the Music in Me, Part One

"When I cut the chase in The French Connection... I used a track from Santana called Black Magic Woman. I cut that whole chase scene to Black Magic Woman. I didn't put any music in it in the picture. There's not a note of music in the chase. I just cut it to that tempo. There's like nice, sliding, long sort of guitar trills and licks and the thing sort of moved along nice to that and then there's some hard stuff and it slows down. But I had Black Magic Woman in mind when I shot that scene. The final cutting of it really happened out of a number of shots in that chase scene."

So says William Friedkin describing the editing process of the famous car chasing train scene in The French Connection. I was curious how the scene would play out with the song Black Magic Woman played underneath. I searched the tubes and came up empty so I grabbed the DVD, cued up Black Magic Woman, cut the two together and came up with the video below. I made no attempt at editing music cues to correspond with the action, I simply have the song playing underneath the scene. I begin the song and the scene as Gene Hackman descends the steps from the train platform as this is where the DVD begins the chapter for the chase. Interestingly, at about 4:36 an abrupt guitar chord directly accompanies the woman with the baby stroller suddenly appearing out of nowhere.

But this was more than just a simple music video experiment. I watched the scene about three times with the music and began to understand how Friedkin could have gotten a feel for the tempo and atmosphere provided by the song for the scene. As the song closes the guitar becomes more frenetic in synch with the chase in Friedkin's head. It develops a build-up that seems appropriate. But more than this, it underlines how the artistic process is a difficult thing to understand much less to explain. I myself have cut together film with tempos and rhythms in my head and had an exacting idea of how I wanted something to look and feel. When asked by someone during the process I invariably fail to explain it adequately and they shake their head and say they just don't see it. Then when the work is done and the results can be seen it looks obvious to everyone. "Now I see what you were talking about," is usually the response.

And outside of film how many times have people written or painted or crafted anything and everything to music? The music itself may not be a part of the finished product but it was there during the making, the creating, the crafting and thus becomes a part of the finished result if only indirectly. I myself don't usually play music while writing but I am constantly playing a song or a piece in my head during the process. That way, unlike listening to it, I can repeat a refrain or verse over and over in my head until the rhythm of the piece demands I move on.

Below is the video I put together from the movie. The only edit occurred due to the fact that the song in about 90 seconds shorter than the chase so I simply took the last ninety seconds of the song and repeated it for the last 90 seconds of the chase which provided a nice finale on the steps, cued to the music.


Part Two will explore how a soundtrack can make the mood, or destroy it.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Spring Break Winding Down...

... and Jane's sleeping cool. Whew, that's a relief. I was afraid she might get all sweaty on us.

So I've got this inflation calculator on my computer that you can plug any year and price into and it gives you the average rise in inflation for each year forward. Yes, yes I know, I'm a geek. Anyway this unit in 1952 is advertised at $229.95. Know what that is in 2008 dollars? $1,284.80. Damn(!) window units were expensive back then. I've got a window unit I got last year for seventy bucks!

So Spring Break is winding down here which means soon the kids will be back in school and I might be able to actually watch some movies and get something written here. Thank God! I feel like I've been going through withdrawal. In the meantime I did manage to finally get my third blog underway: Toys of Desperation. Since I'm a scanning obsessive and have tons and tons of vintage ads scanned from old magazines I decided to start putting them up publicly, one a day. If you stop by Toys you'll see the five for last week. I won't put any up on the weekends and have comments disabled because they're just there to view. As always, Synchfish will remain my lazy blog, that is to say, YouTube snags, links and whatever the hell I feel like posting. And of course any vintage ads I put up on Synchfish will go there first before going up on Toys so we can make fun of them.

And now I can finally start doing some work on my video posts. Ah, it's an exciting time to be a Cinema Styles poster. And oh yeah, one last thing: Go visit Arbogast to see my guest post for him on The Cat and The Canary. But don't bust his stones over his post labels. He's a little touchy about that.


Oh, and in case you were wondering, Jose's sleeping cool too.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Six Pack of Mystery Movies Revealed!

A last minute check to my e-mail confirms my suspicion: I made this way too hard. I myself could only identify three before locating them in old movie books of mine to scan. Next time I offer a real prize I'll try to make a little more winnable.

Number One - Pool Sharks (1915). It was W.C. Fields first movie. That's him on the right. I just bought a book on Fields over the weekend for a dollar from the used bookstore I go to and scanned multiple photos immediately. Prior to owning this book I couldn't have picked out a screengrab from Pool Sharks if the security of the world depended on it.


Number Two - Albert Schweitzer (1957). It won the Oscar for Best Documentary and has narration by Fredric March. I've read up on Schweitzer and know what he looked like so I could've made a reasonable stab at this one through an internet search but again, until I scanned it in from an old Oscar book I have, I couldn't have identified it outright.


Number Three - Sons of Liberty (1939). Here I was being deliberately sneaky. This is a short subject that runs from time to time on TCM. It was directed by Michael Curtiz and stars Claude Rains and Gale Sondergaard, who acted together in Anthony Adverse, another period piece, and I figured anyone looking at the pic and recognizing the two leads would immediately go with Anthony Adverse, not the short subject Sons of Liberty. I'm a bad boy.


Number Four - The Patriot (1928). The classic lost film The Patriot, directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Emil Jannings (in the picture with Florence Vidor) one of the most highly praised films of 1928. Oddly, for one of the most highly praised films of any given year, it is lost. It is considered to be near the top of sought after lost films, along with a complete version of Stroheim's Greed. I certainly know about this film, but was unfamiliar with it's look outside of this scanned image.


Number Five - The Walls of Malapaga (1949). This is one movie I'd love to see and have seen that image of Jean Gabin in so many movie books that I figured this one would be identified more easily than the others. The movie, the story of a criminal on the run who falls in love with a girl in Italy, was directed by Rene Clement and won the Honorary Oscar (at the time it wasn't yet a full-fledged category) for Best Foreign Language Film. It takes place in Italy but the dialogue is in French. I've never seen it but would very much like to. However, it is not available on DVD. Yet.


Number Six - Underworld (1927). Josef von Sternberg directed this classic late-era silent film. It is one of the true forerunners of the gangster films made so popular in the thirties and still holds up on its own as a terrific crime movie. It's not available on DVD but I saw it years ago on a local PBS station and even in it's grainy degraded condition it looked quite good. I hope this, and more great silents, find a good digitally transferred home on DVD soon. Pictured is Clive Brook. The lighting makes him a bit hard to identify but the cleft chin gives him away.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Six Pack of Mystery Movies

So those deep thoughtful analytical posts are just going to have to wait a little bit longer. It's spring break here in Cinema Styles land and there's plenty of kiddie commotion to be had. But the good news is I have thousands and thousands of pictures at my disposal. So when I can't spend time on a longer more controversial or insightful post I can still put up movie pics for all to enjoy. And since I always have fun with guessing games here at Cinema Styles I've decided to do it again. These six pics come from six movies that have nothing in common. They're just six I picked with the only criteria being that they weren't anything screamingly obvious like Gone With the Wind or Star Wars.

The game? Tell me what these movies are.

Now several of these have clearly identifiable actors pictured which should help the search process considerably. Others may not have a famous actor, but that last pic for instance is pretty ubiquitous in most of the Movie Picture books I've seen (it's in at least three of mine) so for those with a movie book library it may be familiar.

First person to correctly identify all six pictures gets the DVD of their choice, $49.99 and under. I'll even cover the shipping. Contest runs until 12 noon Eastern Standard Time tomorrow, March 27th. Here are the rules: You can send me an e-mail with your choices or you can guess in the comment section. If you guess in the comment section though just be aware that if you don't get all six right you will be clueing others in as to what some of the films might be so probably best to e-mail. I will not respond to comment guesses with clues or suggestions as to how many someone has gotten right. First person to get all six (according to e-mail or comment time stamp) wins. Good luck!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Cagney and Lacey Tracy

Spence and Jimmy at a barbeque organized by Pat O'Brien sometime around 1937. They were all members of what they called "The Irishman's Club" or more simply, at times, just "The Boy's Club." Cagney's looking at Tracy like he's in a competition to out-eat him or at least, eat more menacingly. And I gotta say, I love the white shoes and white socks sported by Cagney. It's a statement, a white heat kind of a statement.

Oh yeah, and I'm pretty sure the mugs contain milk. Or maybe apple juice. Yeah, probably apple juice.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Kate Would've Made A Lousy Blogger...

... especially if this was her banner.

Katherine Hepburn enjoyed her private life. She didn't like giving interviews or talking about herself. Last year on TCM they ran the two part Dick Cavett show from the early seventies where he interviewed her and it was wonderful. The first night there was no audience at her insistence. So most of the first interview is very quiet with Kate seeming ill at ease and anxious. Eventually, though, by the second night enough people had gathered from the studio to make an audience and she was more comfortable talking about things. Which leads me to...

Stars and the public, or more specifically, paparazzi. I've never approached a celebrity for an autograph myself although I've seen several. I've even had casual conversations with famous folk without letting on that I even knew who they were. The last time was a couple of years ago when I chatted with erstwhile CNN anchor Bernie Shaw at a famous world leader's funeral (you really want to know what I do don't you?). I bummed a smoke from him and we talked about the deceased and the media coverage and when he mentioned his own interview of him I reacted with a "so that's where I've seen you" faux surprise.

I'm not saying it's wrong to recognize famous people and I'm sure to some extent they enjoy it. I'm really talking about invading someone's space ala the paparazzi. I'm no big fan of Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan (apologies to Kim Morgan) but I have a genuine sympathy for the fact that they are hounded and followed endlessly. I don't like it when I hear someone say, "Well if they don't like the fame they shouldn't have gone into that profession." But you don't not do something you love because fame goes along with it.

Most of us have jobs we could very well do without, I know I do. But take something you love doing, really truly LOVE doing. And then imagine that no matter what it is, it is only possible if fame accompanies it. Are you really going to give up something you love because of that? If so, why? Why would you stop doing something that gives you fulfillment because of a certain amount of hardship that follows?

So, yes, fame accompanies celebrity, but that doesn't mean they've given up their right to eat in a restaurant without being interrupted every five minutes. Which is why I've never approached anyone for an autograph (although I have gone to a signing because I just had to meet Chuck Berry). I think to myself, "How many people before me have approached them today? Was the last one just two minutes ago and they're just trying to walk to the damn store?"

So there's my take on it. It's just a personal call of my own, not saying it's something I expect everyone to do or agree with. And I think a good amount of celebrities enjoys recognition and fan adulation and are gracious and appreciative of it. But my favorite moment of fan recognition has always been the scene in King of Comedy. It's early in the film and Jerry Langsford (Jerry Lewis) is walking down the streets of New York. People are waving and saying "hi" and getting the occasional autograph until one woman takes it too far. The problem is, the woman doesn't realize this has been happening all morning (like I said, that's why I don't approach) and Jerry's running late. She praises him and he gives her an autograph and then says he has to go when she asks him to speak to her nephew in the hospital. Her response?

"You should only get cancer! I hope you get cancer!"

It's unsettling and hilarious all at once. Oh and please ignore Kate's sign. I don't want anyone to go away. I love doing this too much and fortunately blogging does not bring on the paparazzi so I have no worries. Although I hear Dennis Cozzalio can't walk to work in the morning without being stopped a thousand times. I feel for you brother, I really do.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

On the Set with Orson

"This is how you split a board in half fellas."

Orson directing the Chronicle Staff for the upcoming photo shoot.


"Okay boys we got a lot of papers to deliver. Remember, this paper route is paying for the movie."

The famous shot of Kane surrounded by a sea of papers is set up.


"Wait a minute, where'd you get this? That's my bracelet."

Orson discusses costuming while a shorn Everett Sloane looks on.


Thing from the Addams Family adjusts the light.

Orson watches the rushes (or dailies) with an absolutely exhausted looking Joseph Cotten.


"You can see the ladies shower across the soundstage."

Using the viewfinder to set up the shot. Orson worked hand in hand with his cinematographers to achieve the visuals he wanted.


"I can't believe you just called FDR and asked to speak to I.P. Freely."

Not sure what Erskine Sanford finds so funny but Orson seems amused.


Thing to the rescue again, this time with the camera.

Orson with cinematographer Gregg Toland behind the camera.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Under False Pretenses

(Spoilers Throughout)
Friday night I watched a great double feature on TCM of Gaslight followed by Bunny Lake is Missing. The two work surprisingly well together as dual studies of faux and real insanity, the first being faux the second being real. While I enjoyed watching both again immensely what got me to thinking was a scene near the end of Bunny Lake. Carol Lynley quietly makes her way from the "crazy off his rocker" Keir Dullea at the end, walking and walking and walking while we see Keir confused and peeved near the slide at the playground. She gets to a greenhouse and hides Bunny inside, then leaves and locks the door. Seconds later we see Keir was inside the greenhouse the whole time. Which means he somehow got ahead of her while we saw her within distance of the greenhouse and he on the playground, then he correctly guessed that she would hide Bunny in the greenhouse, hid himself in the greenhouse (while we still see him on the playground) and... well, you get the point. It's impossible. It's based on a premise of him out-thinking and evading her that doesn't work.

And it was okay. It was okay because the movie is interesting, involving, even captivating at times. So we forgive it. I have an old film textbook, Analyzing Films, that covers this very phenomenon, explaining that if a film is directed and edited well enough it can get away with all manner of false premise. As an example it uses Rocky. From Analyzing Films, edited by William H. Phillips:

Consider Rocky's big fight with Apollo Creed at the conclusion of the film. At age 30, with no previous major fights and after only five weeks of training, Rocky becomes the first man to knock down Creed; Rocky becomes the first man to go the distance with Creed (last all 15 rounds). In the 14th round, Rocky in fact seriously injures Creed, who begins to hemorrhage. Rocky very nearly wins the fight, losing only by a split decision (two judges voted for Creed; one for Rocky). Rocky achieves all this though his nose was broken in the first round!

The editing of the fight is handled well enough and is engaging enough that we either don't notice or don't care. In a bad movie this kind of thing drives the viewer crazy and will often be included in a critique of why the movie is so bad. Yet in a good movie it doesn't seem to matter. Which leads us to the question, "If the movie's good enough will we forgive it's plot holes?"

I would say the answer is a resounding "Yes." If a film is well enough made I don't care how many plot holes exist, or improbabilities.

One of my favorite improbabilities is from North by Northwest. The bad guys (James Mason, Martin Landau) want our man Thornhill (Cary Grant) dead and proceed in the most complicated way imaginable. In particular, he is sent to meet someone at a desolate and secluded bus stop in the middle of a vast open plain.

So what's the best way to kill someone you have purposely fooled into going to the middle of nowhere?

Simply have someone wait at the bus stop and shoot him once the bus leaves? - No.

Have a gunman drive by, slow down, shoot him and drive off? - No.

The best way of course is to hire out a crop dusting plane (easily traceable), have the plane actually release pesticide over an area with no crops so that an innocent bystander can remark how odd that is to our hero, then fly around waiting for everyone to leave until finally it can begin to chase and fire at our hero from the air, where, being in a plane and all, it's a lot tougher to hit your target.

Ah yes, that's the solution! Brilliant! To cap it all off, let's have our hero coax the plane to ground level at just the moment a truck is pulling up so the plane can crash into it. Happens all the time. And to get our hero out of here let's make sure this previously abandoned outpost is suddenly flooded with gawkers so that he can drive off in one of their vehicles.

All in all, it's patently ridiculous. And all in all, I don't care. Ever. I love the movie and love the scene too much to let such things stand in the way of a good chase. Had North by Northwest been one of Hitchcock's failures, this scene probably would have been critiqued and examined more closely but as such it stands as one of the great attempted murder/pursuits in the history of film. A false premise vanishes in the face of an expertly shot and edited movie.

Which brings us to the big one. The granddaddy of false premises. The king of impossibilities. The champion, if only because it is so highly regarded. That movie is, of course, Citizen Kane.

Any movie lover worth his or her salt has seen it, probably multiple times. And every movie lover who has seen it, and pored over it's camera work, editing and acting has noticed the same thing: No one, but no one, could have heard Kane say "Rosebud." He is very clearly alone in the room as he whispers (Whispers!) "Rosebud" on his deathbed and drops the snow globe. Then the nurse walks in. And yet the entire movie is based on the premise that everyone wants to know what his last word "Rosebud" meant. It sets the entire story in motion. Even though no one could have heard it. Later, when the butler, Raymond, says he heard it he is talking about a different occasion as Kane destroys Susan's room, and even then it's hard to believe as Kane once again whispers it and Raymond is down the hall! According to Tim Dirks at some people have even gone so far as to explain this by assuming the entire film to be Kane's "life flashing before his eyes" final moments before he dies but I'm not buying it. I think that Orson Welles and Herman Mankiewicz simply didn't care. Or even did it on purpose to amuse themselves. After all, it would have been very easy to show a nurse sitting at the foot of the bed and when the snow globe dropped you still could have shown a second nurse entering the room. It wouldn't have affected the film in any way and would have solved the "who in the hell heard him say 'Rosebud'" mystery.

There are probably many other examples of false premises or plot holes in movies so good, or enjoyable, that the viewer forgives them every time. For me Bunny Lake, Roger Thornhill and Charles Foster Kane can engage in all manner of unbelievable set-ups and I'll forgive them every time because they charm me in so many other ways. But when hundreds of beach goers in Speed 2: Cruise Control don't notice a very slow moving cruise ship approaching the shore until the last minute and then said cruise ship plows for hundreds of yards inland, when in reality a simple sandbar or dock will stop a ship dead in its tracks, man that shit just pisses me off.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Tolkien, Eisenstein, Montage and The Battle on the Ice

On March 8, 1939 J.R.R. Tolkien presented what is now considered a pivotal lecture on mythology at The University of St. Andrews, Scotland. It was titled "On Fairy- Stories" and it distinguished the mythology of the Fairy Story from that of Science Fiction and Dragon or Animal Tales as taking place in an entirely separate environment from that of this world. So Arthur and Gulliver and Grendel may provide fantastical tales but they are tied to a time and a place recognizable and regionally specific. Middle-Earth and Narnia on the other hand are their own worlds even if they do employ distinctly Anglo elements.

Tolkien became the leading writer of this genre and with praise from such luminaries as W.H. Auden and C.S. Lewis he became the most critically successful as well. That is until Edmund Wilson spoiled the party by giving his widely read negative review of the Lord of the Rings trilogy in The Nation taking Tolkien to task for considering his works "adult" in nature and countering specific items of praise offered by other critics before him. An excerpt from his review concerning Sauron states:

Once Sauron's realm is invaded, we think we are going to meet him; but he still remains nothing but a burning eye scrutinizing all that occurs from the window of a remote dark tower. This might, of course, be made effective; but actually it is not; we never feel Sauron's power. And the climax, to which we have been working up through exactly nine hundred and ninety-nine large close-printed pages, when it comes, proves extremely flat. The ring is at last got rid of by being dropped into a fiery crater, and the kingdom of Sauron topples in a brief and banal earthquake that sets fire to everything and burns it up, and so releases the author from the necessity of telling the reader what exactly was so terrible there.

Wilson was the leading literary critic in America at the time and once his reviews were out the tide began to turn against Tolkien. And the band-wagon boarding was swift. By the release of The Return of the King W.H. Auden was now having to defend against his liking the works in his positive review:

... among the hostile there are some, I must confess, for whose literary judgment I have great respect. A few of these may have been put off by the first forty pages of the first chapter of the first volume in which the daily life of the hobbits is described; this is light comedy and light comedy is not Mr. Tolkien's forte. In most cases, however, the objection must go far deeper. I can only suppose that some people object to Heroic Quests and Imaginary Worlds on principle; such, they feel, cannot be anything but light "escapist" reading. That a man like Mr. Tolkien, the English philologist who teaches at Oxford, should lavish such incredible pains upon a genre which is, for them, trifling by definition, is, therefore, very shocking.

However, Mr. Wilson makes it quite clear in his review that not only is he a considerable fan of heroic quests and imaginary worlds but he is a fan of The Hobbit itself and his review, while scathing, does seem measured, critiquing the way the story is told (as evidenced by the quote above) rather than criticizing the story elements themselves. He even takes Auden to task directly:

The most distinguished of Tolkien's admirers and the most conspicuous of his defenders has been Mr. W. H. Auden. That Auden is a master of English verse and a well-equipped critic of verse, no one, as they say, will dispute. It is significant, then, that he comments on the badness of Tolkien's verse - there is a great deal of poetry in The Lord of the Rings. Mr. Auden is apparently quite insensitive - through lack of interest in the other department.- to the fact that Tolkien's prose is just as bad. Prose and verse are on the same level of professorial amateurishness. What I believe has misled Mr. Auden is his own special preoccupation with the legendary theme of the Quest. He has written a book about the literature of the Quest; he has experimented with the theme himself in a remarkable sequence of sonnets; and it is to be hoped that he will do something with it on an even larger scale. In the meantime - as sometimes happens with works that fall in with one's interests - he no doubt so overrates The Lord of the Rings because he reads into it something that he means to write himself.

Although there were no winners and losers in this debate the reputation of Tolkien as a great writer did take a fall after Wilson turned the critical tide against him. Of course, the books themselves, once released in paperback in the sixties became enormously successful and their popularity continues to this day. By the early 21st century the entire book (broken into three books by Tolkien's publishers much to his objection) had been made into a grand series of epics that eventually (with the third installment The Return of the King) won the top Oscar for Best Picture. And so, as often happens with history, it is the story, not the specifics about the level of amatuerishness or professionalism of the prose, that is remembered. It would be easy to say that Tolkien won, and handily.

Which swings us in the direction of Sergei Eisenstein by way of a battle that will work its way into our story soon. Eisenstein is known to all students and scholars of film. There is not a student of film alive who does not connect his name with "montage" and rightly so although most people's idea of montage has something to do with Rocky working out to Eye of the Tiger. Montage as Eisenstein saw it was much more complicated. The director or editor takes two or more images that are specifically unrelated, edits them together and creates a linear arc that was not present in the unrelated images themselves and thus creates a third, separate entity that now has a new meaning. The images do not have to create a linear story arc within themselves. They can be used to create a third entity that in and of itself has no beginning or end but does have meaning. For an analysis of this as it pertains to the Odessa Steps sequence in Battleship Potemkin go here.

Eisenstein in his development as a filmmaker used montage in the linear sense and to great effect. At the time of his later work in the late thirties through the late forties he was suffering from some of the same problems that Tolkien would suffer just a few years later, only in reverse. That is, while his prose and verse (his technical skills as the director) were never in question, his stories were. He suffered the critique (whether true or not) that his movies existed for his technical skills to be displayed, rather than his technical skills being used to enhance a great story. Such is the case with Alexander Nevsky, which in many ways mirrors the problems that Edmund Wilson found with The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

In Alexander Nevsky the villain, like Sauron in LOTR, is without a true face. He is indeed visible, unlike Sauron, but has no character, no personality, no humanity. He (and the German hordes he leads) seems to exist only for Nevsky to defeat. And the story surrounding the true tale of Nevsky elevates it to a mythic status so that even Nevsky himself seems only designed to defeat the German hordes. He too is a man without a face.

And now film and literature, montage and verse, Nevsky and Orcs clash, or more precisely, merge, as Alexander Nevsky (released the year after Tolkien published The Hobbit), providing a fully developed Eisenstein at the very top of his abilities as an editor of montage, offers the perfect medium for Peter Jackson to take the story of LOTR and bring it to life. Eisenstein provided the technical expertise, Tolkien provided the story.

I am referring to The Battle on the Ice in Alexander Nevsky. While there were battle sequences in film before (among the first and most notable prior to this was the Civil War clash of brothers in The Birth of a Nation) none had the the elements of Nevsky. What separates Eisenstein's miraculous sequence from Alexander Nevsky is that the build-up to the battle is more exciting than the battle itself. Just as Auden understood the journey was the thing while Wilson concentrated on the destination, Eisenstein understood the tension before the battle was where the adrenalin truly builds. It is a sequence that has so heavily influenced battle scenes in film that most filmmakers probably don't even know they're paying homage to it. They are doing their scene this way because the last director did it this way and on and on.

In Peter Jackson's LOTR Trilogy, it is echoed throughout in battle after battle but most notably in the climactic battle for Gondor in The Return of the King in which many of the elements of Eisenstein's Battle on the Ice can be found.

While students and scholars of film are familiar with Battleship Potemkin, Eisenstein's other works are generally little studied. They're known, but not accorded the same analysis as Potemkin, and yet many of them, particularly the action and battle sequences of Alexander Nevsky, have been more influential on the editing of modern day action and adventure films than anything found in Potemkin. Of course, in a battle of influence Potemkin would win hands down for simply being the first to develop so many of the techniques in place today. But Nevsky refined those techniques and thus provided a clearer blueprint for modern filmmakers to follow.

Please watch the preamble to the Battle on the Ice below if you have not seen it (and if you have, watch it again). Tolkien said that Fairy Stories took place in mythical worlds yet provided identifiable characters that did not seem alien no matter how fantastical. Since they drew on universal themes they seemed familiar to even the first time reader of fantasy fiction. That's how Eisenstein feels to me. Even if you've never seen one of his films, they should already look familiar to you the first time you do. Alexander Nevsky was released in 1938, but it's been remade regularly every year since.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

If You Build It, He Will Blow It Up

Bridge goes up , bridge goes down. God I love miniatures and models used in special effects! The skill and talent involved is impressive. Note that the model builders at the far end are not any (or very much) different in size than those in the foreground, indicating that they have built some incredible forced perspective into the model.

As for the movie itself The Golden Gate bridge is blown up during World War III in 41 Hours of Terror (1960) directed by... oh, I'm not saying. Let's turn this into a game. Who can figure out the name of this movie and director first? "Why that's easy," you say, "You gave us the name right there." Not quite. It's not listed on IMDB under that name and it wasn't released in the U.S. in 1960 and I'm not telling you the later U.S. dubbed version's name. Oh yeah, and even a google search on 41 Hours of Terror turns up nothing. Now obviously we all know a few bloggers out there (you know who you are) for which this should be a piece of cake but let's see if someone else can identify it first. So give me the Japanese IMDB title and U.S. dubbed version title and the director. The prize is the usual: I talk about how freakishly cool you are in the comment section.


And a quick note: My computer at home is nearing the limit of its hard drive capacity (as in we're down to the last gig) due to hundreds of hours of film footage shot over the years as well as countless dvd clips used for montages and other things I'm working on that are clogging it up. As a result it has slowed down considerably causing regular crashes so I'm currently cleaning it up by transferring the film to CD. This is rather time consuming so the posts for the next week will be short and sweet like this one and CB DeMille one before it. And that video post I mentioned has to wait a little longer. Right now just editing a few seconds of it causes everything to lock up for minutes. I should get most of it done by this weekend but just wanted to explain for all those thinking, "Hey, he's leaning pretty heavily on the scans right now isn't he?"

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Cinema Still Life: CB, Oil and the Glory of Freedom

Cecil B DeMille explains that oilmen competing fairly against each other defines American freedom. Uh huh. I think I remember reading that somewhere in DeTocqueville's Democracy in America.

I scanned this from a 1956 National Geographic which explains their mention at the bottom but it still doesn't explain what this cryptic message means: "Mention the National Geographic - It identifies you." Huh? What the hell? Do you mention National Geographic at the American Petroleum Institute and get a free barrel of crude oil? Any ideas?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Cinema Still Life: Some Old B Movie

An important shot is set up for some old Warner Brothers movie. Based on the play Everybody Comes to Ricks it is re-titled... hold on let me check... Casa... Casa... oh, here it is - Casablanca. Hmmm, I wonder if it ever went anywhere. Who is that anyway? Ronald Reagan and Ann Sheridan? Nah, they'd be all wrong. You know I think it's Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Yeah, yeah, I'd swear that was them. I'm going have to read up on this movie. It might be pretty good.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

This and That and Maybe a Change or Two

First, I've just finished watching Turner Classic Movies' documentary on the Pre-Code Era entitled Thou Shalt Not Sin. If you've been reading Cinema Styles for a while you may remember that the Pre-Code era (as well as the Production Code era through 1968) was covered here in November so I was excited to see the documentary. Coming in at a little over an hour it just had time to cover the basics but even so I was a little disappointed. I thought it was a good introduction to the Pre-Code Era and for the novice very informative. And I love TCM and all of it's documentaries so I'm not giving it a negative review, just wishing they had provided a little more depth.

One thing that stuck out for me was the omission of any mention of Clara Bow. As documented here on Cinema Styles in November, Clara Bow was to Pre-Code as carbonation is to soda: You can have one without the other but without the one it's just flat and fizzles. Surely, I thought, given the amount of nude appearances of Clara (either suggested by showing her bare back in Wings or all out frontal as in Hula) they would mention her in the nudity section. Nope. Nothing.

They also glossed over the language bans of the code and completely ignored the fact that "willful offense" to race was included in the original 1927 guidelines, then ominously dropped for the full 1930 Production Code, also covered here.

Ah well, it was still an enjoyable hour and a well-done documentary with plenty of great clips from the early thirties, a period regular readers know I love. So for anyone interested in the period I recommend giving it a look the next time it airs (and if you're so inclined afterwards, please peruse the November 2007 archives here).


Secondly, with so much talk of acting in the air lately I just wanted to say a quick word in defense of actors. Now I know this may seem a little odd but reading all the different posts on acting recently on Scanners, The Siren's site and here (as well as voting on the Best and Worst Best Actor Oscars over at Ed Copeland's site) got my acting ire up. I got my degree in Theatre specifically, not film (although I studied it and have a few old textbooks) and spent a great deal of time on stage before and after. As such I have a defense mechanism that kicks in when I see too many people being overly critical of actors.

So I just wanted to say this: While there are cases of actors and actresses making it in Hollywood and Beyond based on looks or luck most of the ones there really, truly can act. I don't even know why I'm writing this but it's been bugging me so I'll continue. When I read that Jack Nicholson or Al Pacino deserved Best Actor for Chinatown or The Godfather, Part II respectively I am in complete agreement. What I don't like is reading the comments that then go further to say that Art Carney was a joke in Harry and Tonto. He wasn't. He was excellent. And, honestly, how many of the people griping over Carney winning in 1974 have even seen Harry and Tonto? I would have gone with Nicholson, but Carney was a damn fine actor and I'm not going to disrespect him for winning.

Or the year before? I love Marlon Brando in Last Tango In Paris. I think it's a great personal performance. Okay, great, but why is Jack Lemmon's win for Save the Tiger considered so weak? I would have gone with Brando yes but I think Lemmon was at the top of his game as a dramatic actor in Save the Tiger.

Now I know, I submitted my own list for the Worst Best Actors and had some choice words for Roberto Benigni and his win for Life is Beautiful. But... But... I think Benigni, especially in the films of Jim Jarmusch, is a good actor. He's not great (although in Jarmusch's work he's pretty close) but he's good. I have more problems with the film and his choices as an actor in that film than anything else.

I guess that's all I wanted to say there. I think the Art Carney stuff (which I believe but can't say now for sure came from a commenter on Scanners) is what set me off. It's one thing to say someone else should have won, quite another to write off a fine actor with a quip about Norton stealing the Oscar. And check out The Late Show for further evidence of Carney's terrific abilities as an actor.


And thirdly, from now on when I do Acting Up posts (where I focus on a particular performance by an actor or actress) they will not be written. They will be (gasp) video posts instead. My apologies to all who will not be able to watch them at work (admit it, it's where most of us do our surfing) but I've decided to jump into the game of video posting (for the acting posts only though). Several blogs now video post and while I prefer writing a post over recording one, for acting it's simply easier to show the parts of the performance I'm talking about. It just makes more sense. Plus it would be nice to use my voice for something in this damn world after sinking tens of thousands of dollars into four years of college majoring in Theatre - I'm sure as hell not using it to pay the bills. The first will be making its appearance next week (and no, it's not going to be Art Carney - but maybe in the future).


And fourth and finally, thanks for stopping by.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Cinema Still Life: Speaking of Art...

Edward G. Robinson poses with three paintings from his personal collection. Hanging on the wall is a painting by Georges Rouault, on the couch by his side a painting by Pierre Bonnard, and on the floor a painting by Édouard Vuillard. Due to financial problems Robinson had to sell most of his collection in 1957 but these and eleven others stayed with him. I'm pretty sure the dog stayed too.

And I bet he looked at them more than once.


As always, click to enlarge.