Saturday, June 28, 2008

Favorite Moments: The Hospital




More favorite moments as I search for the meaning of life. Forgive the abundance of them but I plan on putting them up whenever I feel the itch to do so and this weekend as I prepare for a vacation, a gallery opening (more on that Monday or Tuesday) and a hell week at work I give you two favorite moments of mine from the movies. First this one from The Hospital, Network's neglected step-child (or should that be step-father since it came first?). George C. Scott is superb (that's probably needless to say but I said it anyway) as the doctor going through a somewhat late mid-life crisis.

Tomorrow, a very short favorite moment from a movie that I've been seeing all over teh intranets lately and since it's a favorite of mine I figured I'd jump in the fray. If you haven't seen it I'm not sure if the favorite moment will do anything for you. If you have seen it, and therefore know everything that immediately preceded the scene, then you'll understand why I find it so funny - and so perfectly done by the actor in the scene. But that's all I'm saying for now, you'll see it tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

You Get More, More, More with Morlocks



Recently I sat down with Richard Harland Smith of TCM's Movie Morlocks for a brief interview about the making of Frames of Reference. Well, okay, actually I sat at my computer and he at his and we e-mailed each other questions and answers but you get the idea. It's brief but provides some insight into the making of the movie so please give it a look if you like. Some of the interview had to be edited for length (at the last minute it was mutually decided that a full description of my anal warts was inappropriate to the task at hand) but the basic idea of what I wanted to get across is there. And thanks to Richard for being understanding of a few edit requests wherein describing an opening scene idea I came off sounding like a disturbed sociopath. Hey, it happens. Enjoy, and if you've not yet viewed Frames of Reference (and recommended a viewing to 10,000 of your closest friends) please do so. Thanks.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Beyond Belief: Trinity and Beyond


Around this time of year I always begin reading about the Manhattan Project. It enters my psyche this time every year as the date draws closer to July 16th, that fateful day in history when, in 1945, the world officially entered the atomic age. I have a small library of information, biographies and histories on the subject as it's fascinated me for years. Around nine or ten years ago I bought a DVD entitled Trinity and Beyond: The Atomic Bomb Movie. According to the info on the back cover it won a Silver Hugo at the Chicago International Film Festival, the Gold Award at both Worldfest Houston and Worldfest Charleston (apparently Worldfest just couldn't get enough of it) and the Golden Scroll from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films. Pretty impressive, I guess. Upon finishing up my first viewing of it my immediate reaction was, "Wow, must of been a pretty damn weak year at the Worldfest." Ten years later, that reaction hasn't changed.

Trinity and Beyond is the work of Peter Kuran, special effects expert who has an Oscar for a color film restoration process he engineered and one he uses to great effect here. The problem with Trinity and Beyond is that's all it is, a restoration of nuclear bomb tests with William Shatner narrating, William Stromberg providing some of the most bombastic film music in history and dry, very dry, analysis. It offers no insight into the tests, no opinion on the decisions made, no social commentary. It's just... there.*

The problem with all of this is that the choice of music, narration and interview subjects makes the documentary appear to be pro atmospheric testing.

The documentary contains all of two interview subjects: Physicists Edward Teller and Frank Shelton. If you don't know who Edward Teller is (and I have no idea why you wouldn't) the following linked ad pretty much sums him up perfectly. It was taken out in The Washington Post after the Three Mile Island accident. I'd tell you the headline of the ad but it's too beautiful to spoil the surprise. It simply must be clicked on here. Teller has two interview clips in the documentary, both strongly in favor of nuclear weapons and testing and both letting the viewer know how why he was ahead of his time in his thinking (one does not go to Edward Teller for modesty or humility).

Then there's physicist Frank Shelton, who provides a very straightforward, cold description of the tests and their experimental results. Here is a man who in the face of all of the horrors of nuclear warfare speaks academically about pellets of tritium doubling yields. Nothing seems to excite him about the idea of nuclear weapons, rather, they are mathematical constructs to him. It's all yields and pre-cursor winds and how best to measure them.

In between Teller's ego rants and Shelton's academic explanations there's nuclear test footage, and lots of it. Beautifully (if that's the right word) restored footage of nuclear bombs blowing up. Footage of pigs and goats being fried in their wake. Footage of houses and buildings and buses imploding upon impact of the shock wave. Footage of bombs being blown up in space. Lots and lots of footage with no perceivable point of view. None. It succeeds in detailing decades of nuclear weapons testing without having any point of view about it. How can you not have a passionate point of view about it one way or another? Well, he doesn't. And then the movie ends. Ah, but that ending.

The finale is the only point where Kuran seems to be trying to make some sort of a statement but what is it? I don't know, I really don't. Maybe you, dear reader, can help me. I've put the finale up below. It starts by saying how many tests the United States did and how many countries signed the treaty to stop testing. Then it says "However" and shows scenes from China's Cultural Revolution followed by one of the most bizarre nuclear tests you've ever seen. But that's not all! The tests has been mashed-up by Kuran. Yep, I know my test footage (as I explained at the start I've been obsessed with this for a long time) and Kuran uses at least four separate tests as well as CGI created smoke effects. So what's his point? We shouldn't have stopped testing because China started testing? We should be prepared for all out nuclear war with China? Christ I don't know. I do know this: The footage you are about to watch from the end of the film is the only original and interesting moment in the whole movie. I've talked with friends who've watched it as well and that's pretty much all they remember: The Chinese soldiers shooting machine guns at the camera as they ride on horseback towards a nuclear explosion, with both themselves and the horses decked out in gas masks. It's quite a sight to see. The movie isn't.



video




* Further evidence that Kuran has never actually thought upon the subject of nuclear weapons and what they mean to civilization: The DVD I ordered from his company (this was in the days before Amazon had everything under the sun) came with 3-D glasses for a special 3-D explosion, a viewfinder reel of blasts and a little slide viewer with a picture of a detonation that you hold up to the light. Ugh. McDonald's must've turned him down on a tie-in deal.


**Shelton, Frank H. 1988. Reflections of a Nuclear Weaponeer. Shelton Enterprise Inc. pp. 6-13 to 6-14.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Favorite Moments


Back when I started this blog in 1977 on my brand new Commodore PET I never dreamed it would evolve into the mega-empire you now see before you, pulling in millions of readers daily and raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in ad revenue. I never dreamt that because it never happened - and never will. But hey, I have a fun time doing it anyway. It's fun to see how it's evolved in the year I've been doing it (anniversary coming up, gift registry will be set up soon).

When I look back at the early posts they seem so different from what I write now. One series I wanted to do when I first started this blog was covering favorite moments in movies. It quickly became whole scenes, with plenty of screengrabs and analysis and I tired of it. All I really wanted to do was show some of my favorite moments in movies. Now that the technology has completely caught up with my whims I'm going to start it up again only this time I'm doing it the way I wanted to in the beginning. I'm telling you so you'll know what the hell all the video posts are that keep popping up. Some will be a minute or so long but most, the large majority, will be a few seconds to half a minute. They're just moments, moments I like or love for whatever reason. No damn analysis, no explanation, just the scenes, or moments, and that's it.

They will come from movies big and small and while a few may be famous scenes, 90 percent won't be. They will just be a little moment that makes me smile, or cringe or react in some way memorable to me from the movie. I hope they will either be favorites of yours as well, or if you haven't seen the movie in question that maybe you'll want to after watching that little snippet.

That's all. I'll put one up soon and from a decade roundly ignored here on Cinema Styles, the eighties. I didn't like a lot of the movies from the eighties but oddly, as I snag clips for this series, I find I have a lot of favorite moments from movies of that decade. Not more than any other decade but enough to surprise me nonetheless.

And now I'm off to negotiate another $250,000 ad space here on the site that several studios are fighting over. Hey I can dream can't I?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

All Glory is Fleeting; Just Ask Thomas Meighan


About a month ago the Siren put up a post on movie actors she didn't like. It elicited a big response and after reading her choices I wrote a lengthy comment myself. A quick summation: I said that few of the actors she mentioned were well known to the average filmgoer today with some exceptions (Bing Crosby, Ronald Reagan). Now, of course, anyone here knows them all and everyone who visits her site knows them all and there's not an obscure name on the list but to the average filmgoer today the names Dan Dailey or Jeanette MacDonald won't ring a bell. If you don't believe me do what I did; ask any of your non-cinephile co-workers if they know either of them. The answer I got was "no" as I suspected it would be (full disclosure - I didn't ask anyone in their sixties or up - the point is to see if a star is known to someone who was not born until that star's career was either over or they were dead). Now ask your co-workers if they've heard of Katherine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant or James Cagney. Unless they're very young, I bet you'll get a "yes."

My point on the Siren's post was that maybe the reason they're not as remembered is because they lacked something that translates through the decades that those other names don't lack and maybe that's why they don't appeal to the Siren or many other cinephiles. At any given time there are hundreds to thousands of actors working in the movies. Of that lot, many a multitude is famous. Go through the top box office winners of the week and there won't be a movie where you don't recognize at least one of the actor's names. In most cases, you should recognize at least three. If that's the average, that's thirty actors right there that are currently famous plus a couple hundred more that you and I could easily name. That's now. What about in 80 years? Who will be left? And why?

To prove I'm not crazy (without spending money on psychiatrists and expensive drugs) I turned to my old movie books. I've got quite a few. When I say "old" I don't just mean the ones I got when I was a kid from the seventies and eighties or ones that were old then, from the sixties. I mean "old" as in forties and fifties (in case you're wondering, secondhand bookstore). One that I was thumbing through after the Siren's post was Classics of the Silent Screen from the mid-fifties. At the time it was written the Silent Period hadn't been over for even thirty years yet so it would be like reading a book today on classics of the seventies and early eighties. The interesting thing is when you get to the section "The 75 Greatest Stars of the Silents." Now I'm a cinephile and have been since I was in grade school. I've watched a plethora of old movies and read through stacks and stacks of movie books and I can tell you that a good 20 percent of the names were unfamiliar to me. Of the other 80 percent I recognized, at least half I knew by name only. That is, when I see the name "Mae Murray" I know she's an actress from the early days of Hollywood and I even had a still from Circe, the Enchantress on my sidebar for the longest time several months back. But I don't really know Mae Murray. I don't know 90 percent of her movies. I just know the name.

Others, like Ben Turpin and Harry Langdon, I easily recognize by name and face because of their distinctive looks and styles (what movie book of old doesn't have a picture of Turpin's crossed-eyes?) and even know a few of their movies.

Then there's the stars that every cinephile knows: Lon Chaney, Ronald Colman, John Barrymore, Clara Bow, Louise Brooks, Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Greta Garbo, Lillian Gish. And of those, known to the average filmgoer, is probably Chaplin, Garbo, maybe Keaton. Think I'm wrong? Go back to your co-workers (unless you work in the movies or with other film critics that is). I am constantly amazed at people having no idea who Clara Bow is, or Ronald Colman or yes Buster Keaton and Lon Chaney. I'm serious. You follow movies your whole life and you think those people are known to everyone and, well, sad to say, they're not.

At any given time in Hollywood there are hundreds of famous names but time whittles it down until there are just a few mega stars left, stars that if not known to the average filmgoer by face are at least known by name.

One example I gave on the Siren's site of someone who has enjoyed recent fame was William Atherton. Anyone who watched movies in the seventies and eighties knows William Atherton. He starred in The Sugarland Express, Day of the Locust, Looking For Mr. Goodbar, The Hindenburg and others. Not in bit parts, he starred in them. Then he fell to supporting and minor supporting (Ghostbusters, Die Hard) then appearances on popular tv shows. His star burned out. Something about him just didn't work for enough people in enough movies and Hollywood selected him out of the lead roles. We all know him now and our kids may be familiar with him vaguely due to things like Ghostbusters but in fifty years good luck finding a thirty year old filmgoer who knows who in the hell William Atherton is.

And who will be selected out now? I have a few nominees on both ends of the spectrum. While Oscar winners tend to stay in the memory longer winning an Oscar is still no guarantee. Most filmgoers today and even some cinephiles aren't familiar with George Arliss despite his Oscar win. Nevertheless it's a definite advantage. Stars of the eighties and before are already well established and we're already seeing who will remain and who will not. Stars like Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Dustin Hoffman, Robert DeNiro and Faye Dunaway are here to stay. I don't think many people will be scratching their heads over those names 80 years from now. Stars from the nineties through today like Daniel Day Lewis, Russell Crowe, Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington and Cate Blanchett will still be known in 80 years, probably. But how about Halle Berry, Hillary Swank, Jude Law, Mark Ruffalo? And you should know, if you haven't already picked up on it, none of this has to do with their respective talents as actors. I don't think Mark Ruffalo will be forgotten and Russell Crowe remembered because one is a better or worse actor than the other. I don't think William Atherton is a bad actor, in fact, I think he's very good. To paraphrase Clint Eastwood (definitely remembered forever - no doubt at all) in Unforgiven, "Talent's got nothing to do with it."


Personally, I would lament Mark Ruffalo not being remembered but so far, I don't think he has the "star power," whatever that is exactly, to translate through the ages. Hell, most people I talk to today don't know who he is so what chance does he have with history. But I want him to be remembered because I think he's one of the best actors in the movies today. When I think of other actors who will be remembered for sure that I don't like it Ruffalos my feathers even more. For instance, I know Tom Cruise is here to stay. Now I thought he was terrific as Frank "T.J." Mackey in Magnolia. I thought he was good in his breakout movie Risky Business. But I don't like him. Really, I don't. Ah hell, I'll be honest, I can't stand the guy. I'm not talking about acting talent (though judge it as you will) I'm saying I don't like him. He bugs me. He makes movies he's in unenjoyable to me (unless he's playing a dick, like in Magnolia). I want him selected out and Mark Ruffalo selected in but I know that's not going to happen.

And I want forgotten stars of the twenties and thirties to be rediscovered. I brought up Glenda Farrell both at the Siren's site and here shortly thereafter and re-submit her name for rediscovery now. As Arbogast said in the comments on my post about her, she was "a force of nature." Indeed. And how about others from the thirties and forties that have fallen away? Or the fifties and sixties? Actors that we wish more people knew, and some actors that we wish they'd just forget about. I've got quite a list but I'll wrap this up now and leave it with Ruffalo and Farrell for the time being. I'd hate to flash forward to the future and find Ruffalo's name as unfamiliar as Thomas Meighan, mentioned in the title of this post. He was one of the 75 Great Stars mentioned in that book. He made over 80 movies. And now his IMDB mini-bio begins this way: "Sadly, this once-popular silent screen star and older matinée idol for Paramount Studios, is all but forgotten today. Thomas "Tommy" Meighan was one of the rulers of the Hollywood roost, between the years 1915 and 1928." I could be wrong of course. Careers of those mentioned in this post could skyrocket or fall unexpectedly in the next century or so. But there are so many talented actors in the movies both yesterday and today that it's a shame so many of them will have the same opening to their mini-bios in a century that Meighan does now. Truly. As George C. Scott, who starred in Hindenburg with William Atherton, says at the conclusion of Patton, "All glory is fleeting."

Monday, June 16, 2008

Joan Crawfords End Up in the Strangest Places


In fanzine ads waiting for a new name.



Pushing down the burgers on the beach for studio publicity.



Breaking Bobby's heart with a ukulele and a song!



Saving the Ice Follies!



And barefootin' it in Mountain Dew Commercials!




When I was a petulant teen I would have called the publicity stunts, the Ice Follies and the Mountain Dew commercial nothing more than a series of sellouts, voluntary or not. Now I call it something else: Hard working. Joan, like so many of the older Hollywood professionals, worked her butt off til the day she died. Or at least it seemed that way. Maybe that's why I like them (and Joan) so much.

Speaking of which, I've been working pretty hard myself (though not as hard as Joan). Sorry for the delay in posting (well, delay for this blog at least. I usually have something each day or every other day) but I've been a tad obsessive lately with some movies I'm working on and when the editing and creative juices combine it's a chemically deadly combination of "I cannot focus on anything else. Kids? We have kids?" I'm kidding about the last part of course. I received a very beautifully done hand-drawn card yesterday and then... worked on my movie some more. Anyway, I finished one of them up so it's back to normal for the time being. So that's it for now. And yes, that is Matt Helm (Dino) in the banner? You got a problem with that?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Stars on Stage III: One More Guessing Game


Okay, this is the last Stars on Stage for a while, promise. Anyway, this is a still from a production of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. We all know, or should, that that's George C. Scott front and off-center as Willy Loman. The question is who are the three actors behind him. Sure you can google it but can you guess without googling? All three are famous film actors. The one in front is the least famous with the least amount of big films to his name but the two in back are quite famous indeed with many a big film. The one all the way in the back is so covered in shadow it would be impossible to guess without prior knowledge but try anyway.


Break a leg!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Direction and Imagination of Peter Brook


All this talk of stars on stage, and a mention of Lotte Lenya and The Three-Penny Opera in the comment section by Marilyn, got me to thinking of my days of studying theatre, Peter Brook and his film version of The Beggar's Opera (1953).

I still haven't seen it.

Peter Brook's name came up often when I was formally studying theatre in college and anyone who has studied the theatre is probably familiar with The Empty Space, his book on theatre that emphasizes the importance of the connection between performers and audience, and is less enthralled with that connection taking place in a traditional setting.

I must admit some of my most engaging memories of theatre have come from small intimate spaces rather than the large 500 seat auditorium. I once saw a production of Hurlyburly performed in a lab space in which there were only two rows of fold up chairs in front of the performers and two along the right side. Sometimes the characters were screaming at each other right in front of your face, other times sex was being had at your feet. Make-up was important in this space. That is, it couldn't look like make-up. When the stripper shows up screaming after being thrown out of the car, it looked like someone had just beaten her up off-stage to achieve the proper effect. And when they smoked their joints on stage, they understood the space they were in. They knew the audience could not avoid the smoke, or the smell. The smell of cigarettes would've spoiled the illusion so when they fired up, well, let's just say the aroma was unmistakable. To this day it still feels like the only reality show I ever saw in person. Peter Brook would have liked it I think.

Brook played with color on stage often and to great effect. His production of A Midsummer Night's Dream* for the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in 1970 is now legendary and you can read about it here. There are some great stills on the page from their archives, including one showing a young Ben Kingsley as Demetrius, but none as good as this one (IMHO), provided by yours truly:



Another legendary production of Brook's at the RSC was Marat/Sade** (1964), which he later made into a film in 1967. Here's a still from the RSC production:



Brook worked in film sporadically, never devoting his full attention to it as his love for the stage was too great. The only films of Peter Brook that I've seen are Lord of the Flies (1963 - B/W) and Marat/Sade (1967 - Color), but the one I've wanted to see for years is The Beggar's Opera which stands as the only musical Laurence Olivier ever did. He even did his own singing. Olivier plays the infamous highwayman Macheath, Mack the Knife to you and me, and Hugh Griffith is the beggar relating the story. But alas, the DVD is only available in Europe. On this side of the pond the usually reliable Netflix only has the Roger Daltry version. Given the fact that so many people now have region-free DVD players I wish Netflix would start carrying more European imports and simply label what region they are for the unaware. Oh well.

So I will continue my quest to see Brook's version of The Beggar's Opera, and recommend a reading of The Empty Space to anyone interested in the theatre who has not yet read it. Brook turned 83 in March and to my knowledge still works in the theatre. As recently as 2002 he helmed a production of Hamlet for television. And even if his best work is behind him, it's an impressive enough body of work to require no further elaboration.

______________________________


* When putting on the production on Broadway a year later, Brook received the Tony for Best Direction.

** Brook received the Tony for Best Direction for the New York production for this as well.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Stars on Stage II: The Totally Screwed Edition



British born Jessica Tandy was replaced by British born Vivien Leigh in the role of the faded Southern Belle Blanch DuBois for the movie version of A Streetcar Named Desire and Julie Andrews got pushed aside in favor of Audrey Hepburn for My Fair Lady. Both actresses totally screwed. Or were they?

Tandy seemed content to act on the stage as her sporadic film appearances before and after her Broadway success with Streetcar attest to. Andrews however plunged headlong into movies starting in 1964. Jack Warner decided to go with Hepburn over Andrews, reasoning that she had more star power, despite the fact that Andrews had starred in the most successful television event of all time up to that point, Cinderella; had starred in the most successful Broadway musical of all time up to that point, My Fair Lady and the soundtrack album for which, plus appearances on Ed Sullivan performing songs from Camelot (which she was also starring in) had made her a household name, or, if you will, a star.

So what if Jack Warner hadn't made his infamous decision? We know that Walt Disney offered her Mary Poppins based on seeing her in Camelot and even waited for her to finish her run and have her first daughter before starting but Disney was only able to make the offer because she wasn't going to be busy making My Fair Lady.

So what if she had made My Fair Lady and not Mary Poppins? Would Audrey Hepburn have done Mary Poppins? Doubt it. Would Andrews have still done The Sound of Music? Probably. So what would have changed? Probably nothing. So why is it that that Warner decision is still so infamous? Still so hated? Maybe he did the right thing. Frankly, I've never been a fan of either movie and I really don't care that Hepburn isn't singing her own songs. And Andrews has, for me, an incredibly low order of sex appeal, making it hard to believe that Henry Higgins would suddenly be smitten with Eliza if played by Andrews. I can believe it more with Audrey Hepburn in the role. And Rex Harrison's Henry Higgins has even less appeal on all counts which is one of my main problems with My Fair Lady. Higgins, as played by Harrison, is such an unsympathetic pig, such an ego maniacal jackass, that I can't see anyone on Earth falling for him, under any conditions. Now if he had been played with more humor and charm by someone like Cary Grant, or to go with someone just starting at the time and closer to Hepburn in age, Peter O'Toole, then I could understand the motivations of the characters better. Then I could understand them falling for each other.

So Warner's decision? He didn't go far enough. He should have replaced Harrison too. Then I might actually have enjoyed it.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Stars on the Stage I



With tomorrow being Judy Garland's birthday, I started thinking of Hollywood stars who also made a big splash on stage, before, during or throughout their film career. And then I thought, "Hey, I've got a zillion stars on stage pictures, I should put some up." But of course it's never that simple. I must always play a game. No DVD giveaway (but another will be happening) this time, just an acknowledgement that you are godlike in your supreme gift for facial identification. And who doesn't want that gift? Also, this one's pretty freaking easy!

Okay, we all know that's Meryl Streep second from the front. My question is, who are the two actresses on either side of her? I'm not telling the name of the play either, lest it be too easily researched by the Bills among you (although Bill, feel free to research away). I don't think very much research will be required anyway. Both became quite well known on television. So...

Name those Actresses!

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Answer was under Your Nose, but the Question Never Arose

I had this friend in college, Andy, who possessed a unique gift for clarity. He did this thing, you see, that consistently amazed friends and classmates alike. An example of what would happen time and time again is this: I'd be arguing with someone on a given topic, any topic, it didn't matter. We could be arguing for or against a particular movie, a politician, a foreign policy stance or some matter of historical minutiae. The argument would get heated, we'd dig in our heels and any possibility of a middle ground would grow more and more remote. Then Andy would show up.


"What are you guys talking about?" he'd ask. We'd tell him. Then he'd say, "The way I see it, ..." and proceed to deliver three or four sentences, at most, that would completely, totally, utterly, and absolutely end the argument. There would be silence, my friend and I would stare at each other, and stumble through sentences like, "Well... yeah... uh... I mean... yeah... that... I guess that pretty much settles it." He did it enough that fellow classmates joked about it, made reference to it and said in the midst of heated arguments, "If only Andy was here."


I lost touch with Andy years ago but had an Andy-like moment on the Scanners blog the other day. After Jim stated he wasn't the person to review Sex and the City commenters went back and forth about it. How could he say that? How could someone be the person to review Se7en? Isn't that a cop out? And so on. Then Andy, oops, I mean, Larry Aydlette showed up and wrote,


"How many times do critics feel that way about lots of movies and yet they never let the reader know? And do they owe them an explanation? All criticism is
subjective in the end, of course, but does this make a valid argument for movie critics to have specialties? Book critics who like mysteries tend to focus exclusively on their preferred genre. As do many art critics. And music critics, obviously. Movie critics, however, are expected to be great generalists,appreciative of every type of film. Why?"


Thanks Andy, er, Larry. In studying art criticism in college, where I was introduced to the criticisms of Roger Fry among others, it was made clear that there were experts in separate fields. Painting, sculpture, architecture and literature all had critics who were well versed in one style or period and that's what they wrote about. I knew that but never applied it to film criticism because no one ever asked (hence the title of the post).


To answer Larry's question of "why" I would say it's because the cinema is still so very new. It's periods are defined by decades, not centuries, and the definitions themselves are fuzzy. As for style, cinephiles are still arguing over what a genre even is. What makes a movie a Noir? Does it have to have a femme fatale? What makes a Screwball Comedy? How about Horror? There's monster horror (vampires, werewolves), slasher horror, ghost horror, serial killer horror - wait a minute - some are serial killer horror but some movies about serial killers are Police Procedurals. By the way, what makes a Police Procedural? Is it just an updated version of the Mystery genre? My guess is that a thousand years from now people won't care, or even see the difference. There will be 19th century film (the earliest and shortest period), 20th century, 21st century and so on. Perhaps they will have names. The 20th Century period might be the "Montage" period of film, in reference to the editing techniques that began to define the form in the teens, expand it in the twenties with filmmakers like Sergei Eisenstein and now has reached saturation point with rapid fire, quick-cut mini-montages accounting for 90 percent of the content of most action films (although to be a stickler, they are not really using disconnected images to create a coherent new text so maybe pure montage is already dead).


But hey, that's a thousand years from now. What about the present? In the present, I see the change already taking place. As bloggers and online critics continue to write without editorial control they naturally take themselves in one direction or another. They self-specialize. For now, it's those short ten year periods or those fuzzy genres. In the future, it will be whole centuries of cinema styles that will be their specialty at which point no one will feign shock over a critic saying, "I'm not the person to review this movie." It will be expected.


Which brings me back to the idea of who reviews what. I started thinking about what movies I am the reviewer for and which movies I am not. As far as specialized genre is concerned my favorites are science fiction, adventure and horror, though oddly many of my favorite films are low key dramas and always have been, but I guess I don't think of "low-key drama" as much of a definable genre. As far as period goes, my favorites are the thirties, especially the early thirties when the industry was re-learning the craft after the introduction of sound, and the late sixites to the mid-seventies.


Now I don't know nearly as much about horror as do notable bloggers like Kimberly Lindbergs, Stacie Ponder or Arbogast Von Gingersnap (I'm just assuming that's his full name). I'd call myself a fan but not an expert.


Then there's adventure. I love adventure movies, especially those in the mold of Gunga Din or The Man Who Would Be King but again I'm more of a fan than an expert.


But Sci-Fi. Yeah, I could review Sci-Fi. I've loved Sci-Fi since I was but a tot and have seen voluminous amounts of it. Now I'm not into Sci-Fi literature, at all, but I love Sci-Fi movies and television. I love them to the point where I'm one of those people you run into from time to time who gets visibly annoyed when someone thinks Star Wars is science fiction. It never turns out good. I try and explain that it's an adventure story, a fantasy story, a story steeped in the traditions of mythic heroes only to get, "Yeah but they got ray guns and fly around in space." That's usually when the twitch sets in and I start making audible verbal ticks.


So I'd have to say if I were part of a staff that reviewed movies or wrote about them historically, and all according to preference, I'd be the sci-fi reviewer and the thirties Hollywood historian. Those would be my gigs. We'd all share Drama I suppose.


I even started thinking about where I would place my fellow bloggers and commenters but came up empty most of the time. Larry for instance. I have no idea. Tough guy movies? You know Burt Reynolds stuff,or hard boiled detectives or streetwise dames. I'd definitely trust my instincts with putting him in charge of concert movies. But for the most part I don't know. I do know that while people naturally specialize their interests they hate being pigeon-holed and I understand. As much as I love Sci-Fi I wouldn't want to be thought of as "that Sci-Fi guy." I want people to know that I am well-rounded and have varied interests. I want people to know that I am not beholden to one particular genre or period for all of my entertainment. Maybe that's why film critics attempt to be generalists in this most popular of art forms. With only a little over a century of product available, no one wants to be limited to only a few years or a few movies.


So it will be quite a while before film criticism starts fully specializing itself into large century long periods. Until then, if you don't mind pigeon-holing yourself in public (as long as it's legal in your state) please do so. I'd love to know your position on the staff.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Great Moments in Movie History: Best Animatronic Cat Ever!


Behold! The most amazing animatronic feline in the history of film! Rejoice in its splendor!


video

Yep, that's just how my cat jumps too. Slowly the back legs rise into the air while all muscles and joints remain locked and stiff then it magically floats away. Exactly like that. Amazing. They really nailed it.


___________________________


Clip from Murder at the Gallop (1963) with Margaret Rutherford.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Framing the Picture


First, I'd like to thank everyone for their kind and generous words in relation to Frames of Reference and give a special thanks to those who chose to link or embed it on their own blogs: Dennis, Jim, Larry, Brian, Bob, Hedwig, Alonzo, Jozef and fellow pseudonymous blogger Arbogast. I can only go by what technorati gives me, and they're infamously slow, so if I missed anyone I apologize. And now for a little background.


Watching the montage probably didn't give the viewer a good enough idea of just how anal I am when it comes to editing, and that's probably a good thing. I'm the kind of editor that will work for extended periods of time tweaking something that I know only I will notice. And yet I do it anyway. Of course I want someone to notice, starved for attention as I am, and with my blog I now have the luxury of pointing out those things to everyone. But don't worry, I'm not going to go through the whole movie. However, I will give you one example. At the 4:25 mark we cut from The Ruling Class to Singin' in the Rain. It's not a random cut. I tweaked and tweaked until I got it to the exact point it's at. You see, the split second before we cut to Singin' in the Rain Peter O'Toole kicks his right leg out and at that moment we cut to Gene Kelly completing the kick with his right leg. And it happens at the moment of a snare drum hit as well. Watch it again and you'll see it. I then go back to The Ruling Class because I wanted to frame Peter O'Toole's hilariously amateurish dancing with that of the accomplished Kelly and Astaire. The second cut from O'Toole to Astaire is more obvious: O'Toole does a laughable twirl in the air and Astaire does a masterful twirl with the coatrack. Both O'Toole frames connect to the Kelly/Astaire frame after them, but I suspected only the Astaire one would be noticed. If anyone did notice the Kelly connection before this let me know, it will make me very happy indeed. And if you didn't notice you'll never be able to watch it again now without seeing it. Every time I watch it I hear that snare as the kicks complete each other.


So that's one example of what was going through my mind when putting it together. The obvious purpose was to connect the clips but some connections might not be as apparent as others. Near the end of the video I use reaction shots to clips which is not done for the first two thirds. For instance, after the water torture scenes I show a Dennis Weaver reaction shot from Touch of Evil, as if he's watching the water torture, and is horrified. Soon after that, following the whipping scenes, I show a Cary Grant reaction shot as if he were witnessing Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner being whipped like horses by Spencer Tracy. If you want a comedic reaction shot to a barely disguised S&M sexual fantasy sequence from Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, Cary Grant's your go-to guy.


Later comes possibly the most tenuous connection. I show Mordred with his lance from Excalibur followed by Christopher Walken with his cane from The Dead Zone smashing a vase. Because of Walken's upturned cape-like collar and the cane I saw him as a knight using his sword. A stretch, perhaps, but for the curious, that was the connection there. Then the man being flung against the wall was meant to follow and continue the momentum of the vase smash.


And finally, one shot in the movie references only the music. The opening shot from Army of Shadows is used in reference to the music itself, not to any other movie, as the music adopts the strains of an ominous march. Since "ominous march" is what I thought of hearing the music at that point, the Nazis marching in Paris seemed a perfect, if dark, fit.


As for the clips used almost all came from my DVD collection. There were about five or six that I loaded up in the Netflix queue for particular shots but everything else came from my homebase. I only used shots that worked for the movie so I was not then, nor now, concerned that I was not using Casablanca, The Magnificent Ambersons, The Third Man, Nosferatu and so on. I love them all but nothing jumped out at me from them that I wanted to use for this particular piece. It doesn't mean I couldn't have found something, but using the biggest movies wasn't my first concern. And then there are all the clips that I ripped from a DVD only to have them go unused in the end. A reaction shot from Ernest Borgnine in The Wild Bunch, Keith Carradine being shot on the bridge in McCabe and Mrs. Miller, the merry-go-round of cars and buses at the end of Playtime to be used with the merry-go-round at the end of Strangers on a Train (I tried it, it just didn't work). In fact, there was another connection with Jaques Tati that I was going to use as well that didn't work. In Mon Oncle, near the end, he lights his pipe with a car lighter and then tosses it out the window, just like John Belushi in The Blues Brothers. It worked okay, but where I was with the movie at that point it just didn't fit the music.


And speaking of the music...


It's not all there. If you seek out Complex City after watching Frames of Reference (and I hope you do) you will notice it's a good minute and a half longer than what you hear in my movie. That's another thing about me as an editor: I believe less is more. If I ever do become a recognized film director and you see a DVD of mine labeled as "Director's Cut" it will most likely mean that I have made the film shorter for the DVD release. I like films to leave you wanting more, not looking at your watch. Complex City is a great piece of music, but at over eight minutes it was simply too long for my purposes. At the 4:40 mark, when Dick Wesson of Destination Moon is opening the door with a smile on his face, a piano solo begins. It ends a minute or so later and then the horns take back over. Musically it works beautifully. Filmically, it brought the whole damn thing to a halt. So I cut it and patched the first section to the second section, sans piano solo. But I did start work on it before giving up. I even had a clip of Fredric March playing the organ from Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. In the end though, it worked too much against the rhythm of the movie.


And now for the list of movies used which is going to turn this into one long damn post. It was enough to type all these in, I don't have the energy to parenthetically list each director and year as well. Sorry. For movies that have more than one version, however, I have listed their year. I used 106 different movies for a total of 158 separate clips (if your number differs from mine it may come from the fact that I'm not counting when two or more clips from the same movie are used consecutively, like the Au Hasard Balthazar slaps or the succession of shots from The Day the Earth Caught Fire - to me, those count as a single clip because nothing separates them).


And so, without further ado, here are the movies used in order of their appearance in Frames of Reference:



1. Le Mépris (Contempt)
2. Walkabout
3. Black Narcissus
4. The Shining
5. The Trial
6. Weekend
7. Walkabout
8. The Pawnbroker
9. Bride of Frankenstein
10. Intolerance
11. Stroszek
12. The Edge of the World
13. La Belle et la bête (Beauty and the Beast -1946)
14. Peeping Tom
15. La Belle et la bête (Beauty and the Beast - 1946)
16. Alien
17. Altered States
18. The Black Stallion
19. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
20. The Wizard of Oz
21. The French Connection
22. The Exorcist
23. Jaws
24. Black Narcissus
25. Vertigo
26. Bridge on the River Kwai
27. Bad Day at Black Rock
28. The Devil and Daniel Webster
29. The Maltese Falcon
30. Lawrence of Arabia
31. The Spy Who Loved Me
32. The Wizard of Oz
33. Vertigo
34. Bridge on the River Kwai
35. Amadeus
36. Singin' in the Rain
37. The Band Wagon
38. 8 1/2
39. Bande à part (Band of Outsiders)
40. Body Heat
41. Local Hero
42. The Right Stuff
43. Touch of Evil
44. Body Heat
45. Bande à part (Band of Outsiders)
46. Dr. Strangelove
47. The Big Lebowski
48. 8 1/2
49. The Red Shoes
50. Don't Look Now
51. Hiroshima, Mon Amour
52. Citizen Kane
53. Gun Crazy
54. Out of the Past
55. Dracula (1931 American Version)
56. Metropolis
57. Black Narcissus
58. Dracula (1931 Spanish Version)
59. Mon Oncle
60. The Trial
61. Dead End
62. Walkabout
63. Medium Cool
64. The Pawnbroker
65. McCabe and Mrs. Miller
66. Black Narcissus
67. The Shining
68. Army of Shadows
69. The Lost World (1925)
70. Lawrence of Arabia
71. 2001: A Space Odyssey
72. The Day the Earth Caught Fire (5 consecutive clips)
73. The Invisible Man
74. Airplane
75. 8 1/2
76. Cutter's Way
77. Excalibur
78. Peter Pan (1924)
79. Royal Wedding
80. Peeping Tom
81. Down Argentine Way
82. Au Hasard Balthazar (2 consecutive clips)
83. The Ruling Class
84. Singin' in the Rain
85. The Ruling Class
86. Royal Wedding
87. Network
88. Bad Day at Black Rock
89. Medium Cool
90. Destination Moon
91. A Clockwork Orange
92. La Règle du jeu (Rules of the Game)
93. Out of the Past
94. Last Tango in Paris
95. Lost Horizon
96. Singin' in the Rain
97. Taxi Driver
98. Wizard of Oz
99. A Clockwork Orange
100. Double Indemnity
101. The Big Lebowski
102. Raiders of the Lost Ark
103. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
104. The Great Escape
105. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
106. The Great Escape
107. Topper
108. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
109. Touch of Evil
110. La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc (The Passion of Joan of Arc - 1928)
111. Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde (1931)
112. Dinner at Eight
113. Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde (1941)
114. Lost Horizon
115. North by Northwest
116. The Searchers
117. The Dead Zone
118. Some Like it Hot
119. Last Tango in Paris
120. The Trial
121. Bad Day at Black Rock
122. Raiders of the Lost Ark
123. Wild Strawberries
124. La Règle du jeu (Rules of the Game)
125. Out of the Past
126. A Christmas Story
127. Gun Crazy
128. Jaws
129. No Country for Old Men
130. Apocalypse Now
131. Forbidden Planet
132. Last Tango in Paris
133. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
134. The Twelve Chairs
135. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
136. The Bride of Frankenstein
137. A Clockwork Orange
138. The Battle of Algiers
139. Touch of Evil
140. Planet of the Apes
141. Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde (1941)
142. Arsenic and Old Lace
143. Dead End
144. North by Northwest
145. Topper
146. Witness for the Prosecution
147. Nashville
148. The Battle of Algiers
149. La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc (The Passion of Joan of Arc - 1928)
150. Excalibur
151. The Dead Zone
152. The Legend of Drunken Master
153. M.A.S.H
154. Au Hasard Balthazar
155. Witness
156. The Godfather, Part II
157. Gun Crazy
158. Contempt

Sunday, June 1, 2008

That Oliver Nelson Sound


Oliver Nelson is not a familiar name to non-jazz aficionados but he should be. Nelson made his name with the composition "Stolen Moments" in 1960 and quickly found himself in high demand for television and film in the sixties and seventies. He toured with Quincy Jones in 1960-61 and the two became the driving force behind the sounds of tv and movies for over a decade before the crashing orchestral strains of John Williams in the mid-seventies ended their time at the top. But fallen from popular grace or not, his sound is distinctive to a fault. As musician Phil Woods said of Nelson, "He had what we all seek - an identity. He had that in his writing and in his horns."


Nelson's first full original score for a film, Death of a Gunfighter*, came about due to an interesting conversation. Universal Studios' Musical Director, Stanley Wilson, played a piece of music for Benny Carter (another favorite of mine) that Nelson had arranged. He asked Carter if he could reproduce that sound for the movie. Rather than try and come up short Carter simply said, "Why don't you just get Oliver Nelson?" Wilson called up Nelson and Nelson agreed.


I've been a fan of Nelson's work ever since I heard a live rendition of "I Remember Bird" back in the eighties and fell in love with the sound. Afterwards I learned that he died young, of a heart attack, at age 43 in 1975. I was immeasurably disappointed because at the time I had been wondering what he might have done lately that I could listen to. When I finally did listen to his work it became heartbreaking to understand that such a talent was lost forever at such an young age. But in the short time he composed he defined a sound that will forever be identified with tv and movies of the sixties and early seventies.


I first heard the piece I used for Frames of Reference, "Complex City," on a Verve Collection of Oliver Nelson compositions of the sixties that I bought in the early nineties. From the moment I heard it I was in love. Here was a jazz composer not afraid to let obvious homages to Aaron Copland, Bela Bartok and Igor Stravinsky (some of his favorite composers as well as Debussy) break through the jazz traditions. The opening of "Complex City" could have been composed by Copland, and most of the jarring, discordant breaks could easily be mistaken for something out of "The Rite of Spring."


Nelson worked on the scores for most of the big shows of the late sixties and early seventies. Even if he didn't compose their theme songs (he often didn't) he did the incidental music and scores for pilots, from Ironside to Columbo to The Six Million Dollar Man. Of course, this led to derision among many jazz aficionados at first (Horrors! Composing for Television?!?) and actually lessened his reputation for a time, until he was rediscovered by a new generation of jazz buffs in the eighties (Ahem, cough, people like me, cough) who didn't hold it against someone if they worked for a living.


If you're old enough to remember the television score sound I'm talking about listen to the piece at the end of this post. It's title is "A Typical Day in New York," another favorite Nelson composition, and one that was in the running for the soundtrack to my movie. In the end, it didn't have enough of the variation I was looking for but I may still put something together with it. When you listen to it, especially at around the 28 second mark, you can practically hear an announcer saying, "Tonight on Mannix..." When the song gets going shortly after that you can easily imagine a chase scene involving Steve McQueen or Jim Brown kicking some bad guy butt. It's got that Oliver Nelson feel, the one Stanley Wilson wanted so badly, and one I wouldn't do without it for anything. Give it a listen:





_______________________________


*Death of a Gunfighter has become notable as the first film to ever use the Alan Smithee directorial credit. Richard Widmark did not get along with director Robert Totten at all and had him replaced with Don Siegel who then refused to have his name put on the film because Totten had directed the majority of it and Siegel felt he had done a great job, despite Widmark's misgivings. Widmark would have none of it and the Director's Guild of America came up with the compromise of placing the pseudonym "Alan Smithee" in place of either Totten or Siegel.