Thursday, May 29, 2008

Cinema Styles Presents Frames of Reference

Here it is, Frames of Reference. If you missed the Tuesday post on the film here's one last overview: No sound from the films themselves, all done to one piece of music instead of the usual multiple snatches of music in montages (the music being Complex City, composed and conducted by Oliver Nelson, a piece so extraordinary with so many different tempos and breaks it cries out for film use) and with the idea being no chronological order, no genre order or preference, simply the language of film referencing itself. The opening section is purposely slow and methodical as is the music. Then it builds until at the 5:40 mark everything ramps up for the minute long finale. Enjoy.

P.S. If you have good speakers and are in a place where you can turn it up please do to get the full effect. *** Also you might want to let it fully load before playing it so it doesn't keep stopping.


**** UPDATE ****

Frames of Reference has now been uploaded to YouTube for those having problems viewing it through Blogger. To view it on YouTube or embed it go here. Thanks.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

"I like words and letters, but I'm not crazy about complete sentences"

I myself quite enjoy complete sentences despite June's distaste for them but it seems like a good description of a clip montage: Words and letters but not complete sentences. I love the look and feel of clip montages but I've always had a different idea of how I would do them. Specifically, whenever I listen to music I envision what could accompany said music movie-wise. So when I set out to do mine, which I've just recently completed, I knew I wanted to take just one piece of music, and using no ambient sounds from the films themselves, edit together clips building a rhythm according to the natural rhythm of the music.

I had another goal in mind as well. I did not want to move through film history chronologically, working from a hundred plus years back and moving forward or going in reverse, and I did not want to break it down into sections according to genre. What I wanted to do, and did, was take advantage of the language of film, the words and letters, and the fact that so many films, whether consciously or not, use the same shots, the same angles, the same movements when telling their story. And so the montage exploits these similarities and puts them to the rhythm of the music. I had a great time making it and want to make another one this very second but am currently working on an original film that I hope to complete by the end of summer or early fall.

I was also not shy about using the same movie multiple times. This clip is not about entertaining the audience at the Oscars (although I certainly hope it is entertaining - I think it is) or using as many different clips from different sources as I can (although I did use quite a lot). The point is taking advantage of the language of film and if one movie contains four scenes that work perfectly towards this goal then I use all four. It also means that the most famous shots from a movie are not necessarily the ones I used, if they didn't fit the rhythm. Of course, sometimes shots become famous because they are so familiar to us at first glance. They're familiar because they have employed the familiar words and letters of film to great effect and some of those familiar scenes are used here as well...

... which leads me to ...

The Wilhelm Scream.

Anyone familiar with movies probably knows about the "Wilhelm Scream." If not you can read about it here. If you don't want to read about it the extreme shorthand version is this: A scream from the movie Distant Drums (1951) was recorded and used again in The Charge at Feather River (1953) in which the scream comes from Private Wilhelm. Sound Editor (sound designer) for Star Wars, Ben Burtt, named it the "Wilhelm Scream," used it in Star Wars and as a nod to each other, Sound Editors have been using it in movies ever since. The Wikipedia article linked above has a long list of all the movies in which the "Wilhelm Scream" has been used.

So anyway, I thought about what the "Wilhelm Scream" of clip montages might be. There are certainly clips used again and again ("I'm as mad as hell" from Network, the bicycle silhouetted against the moon in E.T., the shot of Clark Gable at the bottom of the staircase looking up at Scarlett in Gone With the Wind) but I wanted the nominee to be one that includes a scream, obviously. And whether it's a favorite movie or not doesn't matter, just the ubiquity of it. The one I came upon and nominate to be the Wilhelm Scream of clip montages is the Popeye Scream. The beauty of the Popeye Scream (aside from the fact that it's already been used in almost every damn clip montage ever made) is that it can be used in clip montages that have sound from the movies themselves or in ones like mine where the music is all you hear because the shot itself only shows the scream, but provides no audio. "What is the Popeye Scream?" you ask. It's the ubiquitous clip of Popeye Doyle screaming as the woman with the carriage comes out of nowhere, and screams herself, in The French Connection. So it's even got a bonus scream. Future clip montagers could only use a twentieth of a second from the clip if they choose, a quick shot of his bulging eyes for instance, to give a wink and nudge to other clip montagers who also use the Popeye Scream.

So the Popeye Scream is included and the music provides the perfect home for it. Outside of that their are a few other "famous" shots but mainly they are lesser known shots that work with the rhythm of the piece. The clips used come almost entirely from my DVD collection but a few were quick Netflix rentals when I would realize at the last minute that I didn't have the film on hand that I needed to reference.

It's title is simply Frames of Reference, alluding to the fact that the scenes, the frames of film used, reference each other throughout. The music is by Oliver Nelson, a favorite jazz composer of mine. And it will all make sense on Thursday, at noon, Eastern Daylight Savings Time. I hope you will show up and enjoy the movie.

Monday, May 26, 2008

In Memoriam

To the right is a picture of the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington, Virginia. The Memorial holds a special place in my heart for one obvious reason and one not so obvious.

The obvious reason is family. I was a middle-aged baby, as they say, common today but uncommon in the sixties. My parents were in their late thirties when they had me so they were always a good fifteen years older than my friends' parents. My aunts and uncles were all born in the teens, twenties or thirties and three of my four grandparents were dead decades before I was even born. One of my uncles was also dead before I was born. He was my dad's oldest brother, Joe, and my dad looked up to him greatly. My dad was the seventh of seven children and Joe was a good ten years older than him. And a hero to him. When the United States entered World War II my Uncle Joe joined the Marines and went abroad in 1942.

But first he came home on leave after training at Parris Island before being shipped overseas. My dad has told me the story a million times. You see, my father's father was a carpenter and worked whatever jobs he could during the depression. There was always woodworking material around the house and yard, including chair posts, like the kind you see at the top of this chair:

My dad told me when his brother came back from training his strength had increased so much that he was able to twist the top off of one of the posts, unassisted, which he demonstrated for my dad. Now he had always been strong because he too had worked manual labor construction jobs in his teens but now he was mighty. My dad never tires of telling me about that time he was home and displayed his strength. And it's important to him.

Because it's the last time he ever saw him.

In 1945, on the island of Iwo Jima, my dad's brother, my Uncle Joe, was shot and killed. He was in the 4th Marine Division and is listed on the 4th Marine Division's Dead in World War II as "DOW" - Died of Wounds. That means he did not die on the battlefield upon being shot but survived long enough to be transported back from the lines and receive medical supervision before finally succumbing to his wounds. As my dad would say, "He was strong."

That's one reason the memorial means something special to me. The other involves a visit from my parents when I was in college at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. It was their first visit to see me and my dad wanted to see the Iwo Jima Memorial. He had been to D.C. before but had never seen it. My older brother, who lives in Virginia, drove us all out to it. I had been to monuments with my dad before and even though I knew of the obvious history behind this one, I wasn't expecting it to be any different. I was a teenager. Insight was not there yet.

We all got out of the car and walked up to the statue making comments like, "It's bigger than I thought" and other such trivialities. My dad didn't say a word which I found curious. Then I noticed his lip start to quiver, and shortly thereafter, I noticed he was crying. I didn't say anything to him. My mother stood by him and we all observed the memorial quietly for a few minutes before leaving. When we got into the car my dad apologized. He said he didn't think it was going to have that much of an effect on him. And then we talked about his brother some more. He told us how he smoked cigars and how his mother hated it. He told us how he would eat all the icing off of cinnamon rolls and never eat the actual rolls themselves. And he told us about that chair post and how he twisted it off. He was a strong man indeed. Like my dad.


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Great Moments in Movie History: Lamest Throw Ever

So there you are, on the set of a major motion picture. They've gone to the trouble of putting you in full monkey make-up for the shoot. You even make it into a shot with the star.

And this is your throw?


Come on! Where's the "Can-Do" spirit? Where's the go-get-um attitude?

There's the star right in front of you. Don't be timid, you're supposed to be throwing fruit at him. Plant one right on his face and for years afterwards you can tell the grandkids, "I once hit Chuck Heston square on the chin with a rotten mango." But those glory days will never be. You had your chance and you blew it. For shame.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Who's That Girl? Why It's Jessie Matthews Of Course. Just Ask Marilyn (but not Bill)

And no it's not Madonna or Marlo Thomas. I'll be busy for the rest of the day preparing for the Bacchanalian celebration that is Little Miss Milkshake's seventh birthday. In the meantime, here's a star of the thirties. She was a singer, a dancer and an actress. One of her first successes was a musical revue that had a name later used by a famous English punk band (mild punk with reggae and rockabilly influences) for their most prominent album.

Anyone know who it is? Readers in the states might have a difficult time but I think readers from across the pond will find the face more familiar. Scanned from that plentiful source of scans here at Cinema Styles, John Kobal's Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance (1974).

***** UPDATE *****

Yes, it's Jessie Matthews, star of First A Girl (1935), the first remake of Viktor und Viktoria(1933). I don't have time to elaborate on some of the great stories about her told in the book but suffice it to say she was, as John Kobal says, "never coy."

Thanks to Marilyn for coming up with the answer. And by the way, one of her first successes was in Noel Coward's London Calling, also the title of The Clash album in 1979.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I Think We Lost the Horizon

So Jeremy Bushnell is having a Production Design Blogathon at the Too Many Projects Film Club and I decided to participate. Why not add a third blogathon entry for the month I say. Besides it's on production design, which I love, and when I think production design I think Lost Horizon.

Lost Horizon was directed by Frank Capra and released by Columbia Pictures in 1937. It's a fascinating movie for many reasons. First, in war torn China Robert Conway (Ronald Colman) is on a mission. The title card informs us his mission is to rescue "90 white people" from the area. Uh... okay. They get the last five on board and take off. Then their plane is hijacked and crash lands in the middle of a frozen wasteland. There's no possible hope until mysterious sherpas show up and guide them to Shangri-La, a paradise in the Himalayas where no one ages or gets sick. It's here that we see the extraordinary set design of Stephen Goosson, for which he won the 1937 Oscar, and deservedly so. Behold.

After that, we meet the High Lama, a white missionary played by Sam Jaffe. The Lama speaks in pacifist terms, encouraging Conway to stay in Shangri-La while the world's strong "devour" each other. Most of the pacifist passages were removed with the onset of World War II and finally restored years later using still images and the original audio track. The movie plays as one extended philosophical tract where the characters stand for things rather than enjoy any deep character exploration. And there's that production design. That beautiful production design.

I put together a clip of their entrance into Shangri-La, cutting out reaction shots and inserting the music of Steve Tibbets. Since Tibbets is obsessed with Eastern modes of thought and music I thought it to be a nice match. Besides, I have his CD The Fall of Us All, which titularly also seems apropos (for the confused a CD is a round silver plastic disc that people used to buy. They would have music on them. Weird, huh?). Enjoy the clip and make sure you scroll down for the added bonus video.



And now for a bonus video. Since I've got the DVD handy why not throw in another scene just for fun. This scene is one of my favorites in the movie. It always makes me giddy with delight. It begins with George, Robert Conway's big talking younger brother, going all hysterical cry baby about their hopeless turn of events before slumping down into his seat to wimper. Everyone just stares blankly ahead not knowing how to react except resident venereal disease infested prostitute Gloria Stone (Isabel Jewel). She laughs her ass off, gives them the what for, then laughs some more. Laughs and laughs like the crazy whore she is. God bless her! The icing on the cake comes when her own sense of moral victory is abruptly ended by her constant hacking cough. Here's the scene (slightly edited by me). Watch and enjoy.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Waxing and Waning: Jeanette MacDonald and Glenda Farrell

Jeanette MacDonald in between takes filming a scene for I Married an Angel (1942), one of her operettas with Nelson Eddy. In his book Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance (from where this pic was scanned) John Kobal lays the blame on the popularity of the Nelson Eddy musicals for halting Jeanette's progress as a comedienne. Remarking that she was no longer given "the opportunities... to display her comic talents," he then quotes Ernst Lubitsch as saying, "In sophisticated comedy today, she has few equals."

I decided to put this pic up after getting involved in a great discussion of actors one dislikes over at the Siren's place. Jeanette is on her list and as with any list of dislikes there is both support and dissent. In the discussion in the comments section there are also names of actors that are widely liked but have no popularity beyond their own time, such as Glenda Farrell (brought up by me and happily finding support) who is enjoyable and fun to watch in everything she ever did and yet she is virtually unknown today. Her low-grade, lighter than air, B-Movie extraordinaire Torchy Blane series of movies are pure entertainment. She exudes charm, charisma and yes, I'll say it, sass throughout.

Probably my favorite Glenda Farrell movie is 1933's Mystery of the Wax Museum. The stars listed on the poster include Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray but Farrell outshines them both. It's almost a test run for the Torchy series as she plays the same type (smart, sassy, snappy reporter), this time going up against a diabolical murderer, played sufficiently over the top by Lionel Atwill. Directed by Michael Curtiz, he of the constantly moving camera, and using a two-strip technicolor process it's a movie that despite its production date, feels like it could have been made in the sixties. It's a lot of fun and a good introduction to Farrell for those unfamiliar with her work. And it's never too late to be introduced to Farrell.


Saturday, May 17, 2008

Raiders of the Lost Art

Some concept art for Raiders of the Lost Ark. Judging from the concept art, before Harrison Ford and before even Tom Selleck they were apparently trying to get Sergeant Rock to play Indy. Love the cigarette hanging out of his grimacing mouth. And check out the sketch, third one up from the bottom. It's the Luke and Leia pose from the Star Wars posters.

So who's cooler? Indy and Solo? And which is cooler? A gun/blaster or a whip/lightsaber? I'm going with [muffled inaudible mumbling] on the first one and whip/lightsaber for the second one. The good thing about a whip is it can be used for so many things other than a weapon: rope, human towline behind Nazi truck, stylish belt. And a lightsaber? Lantern, door melter thingy, hot dog roaster. A gun/blaster? Sure they're handy when you need to kill someone long range but outside of that... I don't know. You could use it as a hammer I guess. Anyway, enjoy the pics.


This has been a part of the Indiana Jones Blogathon hosted by Cerebral Mastication by Ali Arikan.

Friday, May 16, 2008

But How Strange the Change From Major to Minor

A lot can change in 27 years. That's how long it's been since the original Raiders of the Lost Ark and it's been nearly two decades since the last one, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Look at it this way: Two of the biggest adventure hits of 1954 were 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Naked Jungle. Now imagine Kirk Douglas and Charlton Heston making sequels to those movies in 1981, 27 years later. By 1981 the movie landscape was decidedly different than it was in 1954 and 2008 is decidedly different than 1981. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't sense the excitement about a new Indiana Jones film like I did in the eighties. When the other two sequels were released they, like the Star Wars sequels The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, were the summer movies to see. Now Indiana Jones is practically lost in the shuffle. Iron Man and the next installment of Batman have generated far greater buzz and even Speed Racer has it's share of enthusiastic defenders.

One could sense the change with the release of Revenge of the Sith in 2005. It was the biggest money maker of the year to be sure but was it exciting? Was it an event? Was it the movie to see? No. And not because of any standard of quality (although full disclosure: I was underwhelmed in the extreme with all three later episodes and could live another 1,000 years without a desire to watch them again) but because there was too much competition. Among the top ten moneymakers of 2005 that could be considered direct competition with Revenge of the Sith were The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, War of the Worlds, King Kong and Batman Begins. Two decades earlier and any one of those would have been the movie event of the summer but now there's an event every other weekend.

And quite frankly, with the possible exception of Batman Begins, I don't believe any of those films have had the lingering sense of fan devotion that the original Star Wars or Indiana Jones movies did, and part of it is simply because there's a new blockbuster each week. And that's fine, I'm not making a judgment call. If the summer audiences want one special effects popcorn flick after another and the studios can provide them it makes perfect business sense to me to give the ticket buyers what they want. It's just that the blockbuster has lost its luster, so to speak (there's a rhyming couplet to be had with those two words but I don't feel like figuring it out).

[Warning: Good Old Days Geezer Alert!]

Back when I was a kid the blockbuster was an event. Each year promised a high profile movie that some studio would sink all their money into and everyone had to see it. Since the success of Star Wars was unanticipated by the movie going crowd (that is, we weren't waiting and waiting for it to be released, it just kind of happened) my first recollection of an anticipatory blockbuster was The Empire Strikes Back. Oh Dear Lord I couldn't wait to see that damn thing. My friend, Chris, had read the Star Wars fiction released in between the two and told me all about Darth Vader falling into a volcano and that's why he had to wear the suit. Wow! How cool was that? Little did I know when I finally saw it happen in 2005 I would be stifling yawns during the climax. And of course the Star Wars fiction made absolutely no mention of Vader's name or who he was so the whole "Father" moment was absolutely flooring (although since Vader actually means 'father' I'm curious why this was not picked up on sooner by the adults seeing the movie. Were people just that un-curious and intellectually lazy back then? Nowadays the 'Vader' thing would've been blown after the first showing of the first movie).

The next E-V-E-N-T was Raiders of the Lost Ark. It came out the following year (nowadays it would have come out the following weekend - Hey, I didn't put that geezer warning up for nothing) and again I was just crazy to see it. But this time something strange occurred: After I saw it, and loved it, I didn't go back. Now with Star Wars and Empire I had gone back multiple times to see them again and again in the theatre. With Raiders, once was enough. Not because of the movie, but because, well, I just didn't feel the need. By 1981 I was knee deep in my early days of cinephilia and the movies I wanted to see again and again were Citizen Kane and anything foreign. We had just gotten a VCR (cost somewhere around $900 - In 1981 dollars!) and I was constantly renting video after video of whatever old or foreign films they had (for the curious, the first video I ever rented was Dr. Strangelove). My days of haunting the theatre to see the newest blockbuster again and again were over, and I hadn't even gotten my first pimple yet. And believe it or not, I'm not just thinking of this for the first time because I'm writing this entry for a blogathon. I have often thought of Raiders of the Lost Ark as the turning point blockbuster for me. It was, through no fault of its own, the first blockbuster I didn't return to in the theatre. When I didn't go back multiple times I knew I had changed. I watched it again on video and later on DVD and enjoyed it immensely. I think it's a great adventure movie and had it occurred just a year or two earlier it probably would have meant a hell of a lot more to me. But it came at just the wrong time for me to fully appreciate it. It came at a time when my obsession with art was in full blossom and I was more interested in torturing my mother with videos of Truffaut and Godard than seeing blockbusters. I wanted to see what all the hoopla was about with Last Year at Marienbad. I wanted to see The Magnificent Ambersons and The Lady from Shanghai. I wanted to see Shadow of a Doubt and Vertigo. I wanted to see Nashville. I wanted to see Britannia Hospital and If. I wanted to see so much and I didn't have the time to see them all if I was constantly returning to the theatre to see the same movie again.

That's not to say I don't watch movies repeatedly, I do. I just don't watch them repeatedly with only days or weeks in between the viewings. And because my time is so constricted now I can't even imagine watching the same movie a second time before watching a fresh movie in between. There's still too much I need to see and I'm sure as hell not going to pass up the opportunity to watch a movie I have heard and read about for years but haven't seen yet to see some summer movie again that I just saw a week before. I have stacks of DVDs of highly regarded English and Foreign Language films that I still haven't seen so when I have time I try to watch one of those instead.

And now here it is, 27 years later and I'm knee deep in my cinephilia again. Netflix affords me the opportunity to catch up on so many movies I have missed and the AFI Silver theatre, just 20 minutes walking distance from where I live, is constantly showing highly regarded as well as little known cinema classics, both foreign and domestic. An abundance of choice surrounds me and I am forever grateful. But that abundance, and age, have also diminished my excitement for the new Jones film.

Blockbusters are a dime a dozen these days. Opening weekends are everything and even the biggest money maker of the year won't play more than a few weeks before being pulled in preparation for its DVD release. Which opens up even more choices. It used to be (geezer time again) that if you didn't see the movie in the theatre you were out of luck. Maybe, just maybe, it would be shown on commercial television in three years time and we all now how unsatisfying that is. So you made sure you saw it in the theatre. Besides, the home viewing experience just couldn't compare. Now, it can compare. Sitting six feet from a 70 inch high definition television is the equivalent of sitting in the middle row of a multi-plex. And the differences favor the home viewing experience: No one sits in front of you, you can pause the movie at will for bathroom breaks and no one's breaking your bank account for a drink and a bucket of popcorn. Of course, we don't all have 70 inch sets but still it can be much more relaxing to watch a movie at home. At the same time, there is an excitement of seeing a movie in the theatre that the home experience can't match and many times, it's the blockbusters that generate that sense of communal excitement.

So the new Jones film opens on May 22nd. Even if the series "must-see" status has evolved over the years from major to minor it should still be a big event at the movies. Will I see the new Indiana Jones movie? Of course I will. Will I see it in the theatre? Uh... let me get back to you on that.


This has been a part of the Indiana Jones Blogathon hosted by Cerebral Mastication - Thanks Ali.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Come And Knock On Our Door...

... we'll be waiting for you.

There's just something so very, very wrong about a poster for a film noir where the woman looks like one of Jack Tripper's sexual triumphs (did he have any?) on Three's Company. From the 1978 remake of The Big Sleep with Robert Mitchum and Sarah Miles. I haven't actually seen it since I was but a youngin' and at that time the look probably didn't strike me as odd but now it stands out. Of course, Altman's The Long Goodbye revels in the seventies look but I consider that film a masterpiece, not only of filmmaking in general but of noir re-invention as well. Go figure.

And the reason I'm posting this is because I stopped by Adam Ross' DVD Panache and read this terrific post, The Blog Sleep, on the demise of movie bloggers. Now if you are growing weary of reading about the state of film blogging I should tell you that you need not worry - Adam writes the post in the fashion of the pulp fiction dime novel with a surpise ending. It's an enjoyable read even if he doesn't make me look too good in it - I appear to be one of the underworld characters but then so is Dennis so I guess I'm in good company. Hope I didn't spoil anything with that. Nah, I didn't, trust me.

Hey wait a minute. Underworld character? Damn you Ross! I'll get you for this.

Monday, May 12, 2008

It's Official: The Damn Thing's Ubiquitous

Old Jonathan Lapper's daughter was only six years old. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate (to borrow a phrase from Charles Dickens).

So on Saturday I had to drive the six year old Little Miss Lapper and her six year old friend to her soccer game. It's a fascinating weekly event in which six year olds wander aimlessly in circles and oblong formations attempting to kick a ball with some sense of purpose. Occasionally, if the planets are aligned correctly and the universe engages in a brief quantum flux, the ball rolls into one of the goals. The planets do not align correctly often.

On this past Saturday we arrived to find the game had been cancelled due to the muddy field from the previous day's rain. Being the responsible and resourceful father that I am I decided the perfect alternative to a vigorous and healthy workout on the soccer field was a trip to the ice cream shop. Besides, I had a hankering for a malted. So I packed up the two little ham balls into the car and drove across town to a nice little locally owned ice cream shop for a bit of creamery delight.

The six years olds confirmed their age by ordering the oddest combination of flavors and toppings available. Maybe I'm too unimaginative but in my book gummy bears don't go with Dulce de Leche flavored ice cream very well. But who am I to judge? I got my malted, paid and we all took a seat.

Upon sitting down it wasn't long before Little Miss Lapper inquired as to the deliciousness of my malted. I told her it was indeed delicious. She (and this should be no surprise to anyone with children) immediately wanted some. I gave her the malted for a taste. She took it in both hands, as children are want to do, and that's when it happened. She looked me squarely in the eyes, furrowed her brow and said:

"I drink your milkshake. I drink it up!"

"Wow," I thought, "it's official. That goddamn line is now known by every human being on the planet."

Now obviously, movies are discussed quite a bit in my household and if I may brag for a moment, the Little Miss Lapper, at the tender young age of six, can identify by face or name most of the big stars of the thirties and forties, which places her far ahead of most casual moviegoing adults. She loves "old movies", as she says, and indeed The Awful Truth is one of her favorites, with the scene of the cat holding back the door against Cary Grant guaranteed to crack her up every time. And it's not just classics but older movies in general. Last year for a playdate she wanted to bring a DVD and picked Murder Ahoy with Margaret Rutherford. Not wanting her to face the rejection of this choice we explained that other children might not appreciate Miss Marple on the same level that she does. But at home we've watched all four of Rutherford's Marple series many times over. Margaret Rutherford fascinates the Little Miss Lapper.

But There Will Be Blood? I saw it in the theater. I still don't have it on DVD. And yet there she was, quoting Daniel Plainview to me at the local ice cream shop. Amazing.

What is it about certain movie lines that they are immortalized almost instantly? Why do some lines become ubiquitous while others go unnoticed? Casablanca is famous for it's wealth of quotable lines from "shocked, Shocked!" and "hill of beans" to "here's looking at you kid" and "round up the usual suspects." Hell, it's got so many memorable lines people even remember lines that weren't there ("Play it again, Sam"). In keeping with the classic Hollywood film theme of this comparison, Citizen Kane has a screenplay filled with great lines as well, including one of my favorites, "You know Mr. Bernstein, if I hadn't been very rich I might have been a really great man." But what's the one Kane line that everyone knows? "Rosebud."

I don't have the answer for why some lines become immortal while others do not. Some are understandable. For instance, "May the Force be with you" is not only a simple statement along the lines of "Good Luck" or "Break a Leg", it also has the fortune of being spoken in a film seen more times by more people than most other films in history. Same goes for "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn." Outside of the obvious advantages of that line (spoken by Clark Gable, appearing in generationally popular movie) there's also the context: It's being said to someone who connives and schemes by someone who is, to quote an old internet joke, just so tired of all her shit. It provides the audience with a "finally!" moment that they love.

So is it context that makes a line immortal? The context of the milkshake scene in There Will Be Blood could certainly fall into the same category as the Gone With the Wind line in the simplest of comparisons in that one character is telling another character off, a character the audience has been waiting to see get told off. Only in There Will Be Blood the character doing the telling off, Daniel Plainview, is decidedly less likable than Gable's Rhett Butler. But what about those famous lines that have practically no context like "Yeah Baby!" from Austin Powers that people started saying because they didn't know how to be witty or clever on their own. Or "I'm the King of the World!" from Titanic? It's not a particularly deep line or containing any kind of clever play on words but for whatever reason it became famous. A seemingly coke-addled James Cameron even yelled it out when he won one of his many Oscars that night, acknowledging it's ubiquity.

Is it quality? Doubtful. There are many lines from many a bad film that are utterly immortalized. But quality films do seem to have the advantage. More people know "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse" from The Godfather than "muzzled by army brass" from Plan Nine from Outer Space (or it's almost orgasmic description of Solaranite, one of my favorite scientific explanation movie moments in film history) but Plan Nine does have its share of famous lines nonetheless.

The thing with immortal movie lines is you never know which ones are going to become immortalized and which ones aren't. So maybe it's the mood of the country or the world at any given time. I've often thought that despite its cleverness as a line, one of the reasons that "We're gonna need a bigger boat" caught on so well was due to the sinking ship feeling all over the world in 1975. Gas shortages, meat and sugar prices shooting up, the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Watergate, the drawn out end of the war in Vietnam, recession and so on and so on. It was a mess and nobody had the answer. But in that movie, Jaws, Chief Brody saw the problem and addressed it succinctly, honestly and appropriately. I think everyone in the seventies felt like we needed a bigger boat.

So what's the zeitgeist now? Why is the milkshake line so ubiquitous? Is it because it uses the word "milkshake?" Seriously, is that why? If he had said "water" instead would it have stuck? I don't think it would have so the wording definitely goes a long way in explaining its popularity.

Or is it the internet? It seems more movies have memorable lines now than ever before if only because we can watch clips from them over and over at our leisure. And that goes for television shows too. Most people can quote episodes of The Simpsons or South Park liberally and with ease so maybe it's just the access we have now. Maybe if There Will Be Blood was released in 1957 the line would've disappeared without a trace.

And this technological advantage of the internet and DVDs has helped out smaller movies immeasurably. The ability to watch the movie on DVD or online again and again has helped movies that would've fallen down the memory hole just a couple of decades before become cult classics. Take The Big Lebowski. It had a lukewarm reception in the theatres during it's opening run. It got mixed reviews and seemed destined to be one of the lesser known Coen brothers' films. Then it was released on video and took on a brand new second life as a cult classic. With its release on DVD it became even easier to go to favorite scenes over and over. And the price didn't hurt either. The Big Lebowski was one of the first DVDs I ever bought, partially because I liked the movie and partially because it's price point was around seven bucks. Today its fans (and most cinephiles in general) can quote the movie endlessly even though many of the quotes are only funny within the context of the film and don't stand out as anything special on their own. The line on the phone, for instance, when the Dude tells Walter that, no, he didn't think the kid was about to crack, is hilarious, but only if you've sat through the astonishing homework interrogation scene before it.

So will there be more out of context quoting of 'R' rated movies by six year olds in the future? Almost assuredly. We have entered the golden age of movie quoting, aided by technology, that allows moviegoers the world over to connect with each other on the basis of shared knowledge. In this case, shared knowledge of movie or television dialogue. When people unfamiliar with each other can recite a scene from a favorite movie together or knowingly laugh when the other says, " I don't roll on Shabbos!" we've entered a new age; the age of quote conversations, as I like to call them. I've had many quote conversations with people I would have otherwise had nothing to say to. Usually it ends there, but sometimes it goes further and who knows, with all these quote conversations going on, some of them may end up as the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

I think I heard that in a movie somewhere.

Friday, May 9, 2008

He's a Serious Mister, Shake His Hand and He'll Twist Your Arm

I'm referring to Arbogast, of course. We all know Arbogast (real name: Jed Leland). Well he tagged me and since I've been busy and running kind of dry with blogging I agreed to participate. So here's the meme thingy:

1) Pick up the nearest book.
2) Open to page 123.
3) Locate the fifth sentence.
4) Post the next three sentences on your blog and in so doing...
5) Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged me.

So here goes.

"Balderdash," said Smethels as he furiously inhaled the green essence emanating from the discarded pantaloons he had discovered in the alley, "We cannot go back in time and successfully mate a pterodactyl with Cheops."

"Ha!" snorted Phineas as he bounced about on one elbow in a futile effort to keep his shoes dry, "We shall do just that and can do that as long as we have just these three items: the bark of a twelve-year-old Cyprus tree, a cylinder of Caruso performing 'Rigoletto' and a medium sized horn filled with sweet cream unsalted butter churned from the milk of a nursing jackal."

Hortense leapt to her feet: "The butter is vital!"

Nah, that book sucks. Okay, one more try.

"Oh I know I oughtn't to be taking it like this, but... Honestly, Jim, it does get you down, the whole thing. I feel so fed-up with it all. I don't even want to bash his brains out any more."

There, that's better. Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis. Oh yeah, and I cheated. I started after the sixth sentence instead of the fifth because the sixth was a long-ass run-on and I didn't feel like typing it and I wanted to actually go with the first book I grabbed. And now for the tag.

I tag you. And you.

And YOU!

UPDATE: What a stroke of luck that I posted from two books, the first of course being The Amazing Fantabulous Adventures of the Crazy Upside Down Dr Phineas' Travels Through Time! because I just discovered that the incomparable Kimberly Lindbergs of Cinebeats tagged me for this as well. And she's a serious sister. That means I must tag more people. This time I shall tag YOU.


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Welcome to Palm Beach

So a few folks have asked me, "Where's Larry?" For my answer I went straight to the source, Larry Aydlette, and discovered, to my relief, that he's doing just fine. But he's done with blogging.

The thing with Larry is he's a professional in the business so the blog seemed superfluous to begin with. Most of us would stop blogging because we got a job on a paper whereas Larry started blogging even though he already had a job at the paper. Kind of like working by day as a pilot and by night, as a hobby, you... uh... fly planes. Is entertainment writing in Larry's blood or what?

For those who didn't know he's a writer for and Entertainment Editor of the Palm Beach Post. So if you can't do without Larry's writing and opinions ( and I for one don't want to do without them) just link t0 the Palm Beach Post instead of the now defunct Welcome to L.A. It's that easy.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Fred and ... Adele?

I ran this photo of Fred Astaire and his sister, Adele, back in December but figured now would be a good time to run it again (what with a danceathon going on and his birthday coming up and all). Unfortunately I am not at home right now so I don't have the book from which I scanned it in front of me and can't for the life of me remember who the photographer is or what the year was in which the photo was taken. It's an entire book of just this photographer's work. I'll update it later. And I didn't mention it in my original posting of it so that didn't help either.

Fred and Adele danced as a team for 25 years (starting when Fred was only seven). In 1932 she went off to England and married a British Lord. He went to Hollywood when the team split and had a career in the movies. I think. I can't remember exactly.

This has been a part of the Ferdy on Films Invitation to the Dance Blogathon.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Beyond the Routine: Choreography and Dance

Formal dancing isn't easy. Everyone's gone on the dance floor, swung wildly and moved their hips to the beat but try doing a perfect waltz. That's a different story altogether. I did a play years ago in which I was taught to waltz. It was, unfortunately for me, necessary for a scene in the play. It wasn't difficult to learn but it wasn't easy either. While it didn't require extraordinary athletic ability or magisterial grace it did require discipline. And it taught me what a discipline dance is.

For one thing I never understood "leading." I'd seen dozens of movies and television shows where the man jokes that the woman is leading but I didn't really get that concept until a dance instructor taught me to waltz for that part. The man places his hand squarely on the small of the woman's back and forcefully pulls her along. Where she spins and turns and moves is not her choice. She is led by the man.

The instructor was a diminutive woman and told me how to do this. I placed my hand on her back and with all the firmness of day old milquetoast gently limped along. She told me I was not leading properly. And then, playing Delbert Grady to my twin Grady daughter, she "corrected" me. This five-foot-two tall woman placed her hand on my back and effectively turned me into a marionette. I moved where she wanted me to and when she wanted me to. It was forceful to say the least. And I got it. From that point on, I led and led well.

So in a superficial way, I had become a dancer but only by the thinnest of definitions. I knew the basic moves and knew where to go but only because someone was telling me so. I would've never figured it out on my own. She choreographed, I danced. And those are two very different things.

Many people make the mistake of lumping choreographers and dancers together as if one were the other. They are not. The problem with film dance is that when one is asked, "Who are the greatest dancers the screen has ever produced?" the answer usually has more to do with choreography than dance. Russ Tamblyn, for example, was an incredibly gifted athletic dancer, but without Michael Kidd or Jerome Robbins telling him what to do he was just some guy doing back flips off a wooden beam or spinning around inner-city basketball courts.

So back to the question, "Who's the greatest dancer in film?" We all know the familiar names: Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Eleanor Powell, The Nicholas Brothers, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Ann Miller, Cyd Charisse, etc. But when most people provide the answer they're usually thinking choreography, not dancing.

Let's take three athletic dancers to make the case: Gene Kelly, Fayard Nicholas and Harold Nicholas. All three were superb athletic dancers but all three suffered from criticisms lobbed against them that there were more gymnastics involved than dancing. Kelly was particularly irked by this and incorporated ballets and graceful duets throughout his films to counter the charge. The Nicholas Brothers also heard this but had no directorial power to change it. Years ago I watched a documentary on the Nicholas Brothers in which a choreographer complained that the problem with the Nicholas Brothers was that once you saw them do a number you had seen all their moves. The routine was, so to speak, routine: Jump down into a full split, leap over each other, tap, spin, repeat.

To be sure, it is one hell of an impressive routine and wows audiences every time they see it. But the charge remains: the Nicholas Brothers are great dancers, but not great choreographers. As such they don't have the variety that an Astaire or Kelly has to assist in evaluating their legacy. They've got that one routine, transplanted to a different set for each new film. But is that really because they weren't good choreographers? I say, "No."

The Nicholas Brothers were given one number per film at best. So let's engage in a thought experiment. Let's say Gene Kelly had only one number per film. That's it, just one. And he had no directorial power or say to change that. Now, if given only one number to show what he could do, and instructed by the producer to make it a showstopper, do you think he would do a piece where he does a graceful ballet with Debbie Reynolds on a soundstage at a fictional studio? Do you think he would do a sweet little number with a bunch of French children on a sidewalk in Paris? Would he even bother with that umbrella and puddle-filled street? Or would he leap and bound and flip over backwards every chance he got to burn his talent onto the mind of the viewer? I vote for the last one on the list. I think he contorts and twists and turns and jumps like a frog from Calaveras County every chance he gets. And his talents as a choreographer? Well, quite simply, we never discover them.

Only we did discover them and I'm glad we did. His famous stroll down the wet streets in Singin' in the Rain is a beautifully and deceptively simply choreographed piece of dance art. His big dance finales in Singin' and An American in Paris are also wonders to behold. And even his simple little piece with the Nicholas Brothers in The Pirate is nice to look at, although one suspects Kelly made it a little too simple so as to not be shown up by his extremely physical partners.

So when the question is asked and the answer is delivered it more often than not involves dancing on the ceiling or a sailor cutting the rug with Jerry the mouse. In other words, great choreographed numbers performed by great dancers. The Nicholas Brothers never got to do those numbers and that's a shame. But that shouldn't distract us from the fact that they were extremely talented dancers, even if a lack of choreographic variety didn't allow us to see many different aspects of their talent.

The fact is, I don't know who the greatest dancer in the history of film is. For all I know it might be some dancer in the crowd at the end of An American in Paris but he or she never had the looks or the charm or charisma to make it big. As for the rest it's all guesswork. Kelly and Astaire were terrific choreographers as well as dancers. The Nicholas Brothers on the other hand had that routine. You can watch it below from Down Argentine Way. After the first minute or so of singing and hamming it up they go into it full throttle. When it's over it's hard to imagine any other dancers ever competing with them for sheer physical prowess. It's that amazing. And there's nothing routine about that.


This has been a part of the Ferdy on Films Invitation to the Dance Blogathon.

I've been dancin' on the floor darlin' And I feel like I need some more

So the above dance isn't enough for you? Okay, let's do it again. Is this the greatest dance number ever recorded on film? Is it even dancing? Is it choreography? Is it both? Or maybe neither? You be the judge. It's a dance number that ends a masterful film and provides an extraordinary coda. You might say it makes one feel mighty real. Behold and revel in its glory.


This has been a part of the Ferdy on Films Invitation to the Dance Blogathon.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Sons and Lovers ...

... and stepmothers with lust in their hearts. An incredible still from a 1950 ballet production of Phedre in Paris, staged by Jean Cocteau. Pictured is the choreographer of the ballet Serge Lifar with Liane Dayde. Behind them are Nina Vyroubova (left) and Lycette Darsonval (right).