Saturday, January 31, 2009

Favorite Moments: The Parallax View


This scene from the 1974 political thriller The Parallax View is trickier than it looks. The scene occurs as Warren Beatty, pretending to be a violent loner so as to infiltrate the Parallax Corporation sits down to take a test with them. The corporation takes isolated loners and molds them into assassins. The "test" here is simply a film of still images and words put to music. While it is ostensibly shown to Beatty, in actuality it is shown to us, the audience. That's where it gets tricky. Gordon Willis, the great cinematographer of so many landmark films of the seventies including The Godfather and Manhattan, and Alan Pakula, the director of The Parallax View, worked on the short film together and the challenge was to produce a film that looks like it would work on an isolated loner in reaffirming his beliefs about family, society, race and the American Dream while at the same time being obvious enough to the viewer that the changes in editing and placement of images is evident. And it does, and they are.

Watching this "test" serves its purpose beautifully. That purpose, for Pakula, is to show the viewer exactly the type of person that becomes an assassin without going through the laborious motions of creating another character for the movie to follow in depth. Simply watch the film and you know exactly what type of person the Parallax Corporation has working for it, doing its killing. And it's placement is brilliant too. It occurs near the end of the second act of the film, with about thirty-five minutes to go. After this test film, the audience now knows the type of person Beatty is up against. Fittingly, his character is in increasingly more danger, and more powerless, from this point on, until the end, when running as fast as he can just isn't fast enough.



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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Ice-capade!



Every so often here at Cinema Styles I put up a photo I've scanned from a movie that is unavailable on DVD. The photos come from any one of my many movie books. In most cases, it's a movie I want to see because I like the actors and have heard good things about the movie, I love the still, or both.

And then sometimes, I just want to know the freakin' context. Such is the case with today's photo, from the 1945 movie Out of this World with Eddie Bracken, Diana Lynn and Veronica Lake, a movie I've never seen. Here's the plot summary from IMDB: After struggling to become a success, Betty Miller and her all-girl orchestra finally hit pay dirt when crooner Herbie Fenton comes on board. Problems arise when Betty and her girls try to find backers to invest in Herbie and they sell 125 percent of him.

Eddie Bracken plays Herbie Fenton, Diana Lynn plays Betty Miller and Veronica Lake plays the wonderfully named Dorothy Dodge. Okay. But what the hell happens in the story that eventually leads to Bracken sitting on a block of ice in a shower stall with his shirt off?!? If anyone has seen this movie please fill me in! It's one of the most bizarre stills I've ever seen. And that facial expression!

Oh yeah, and if you haven't seen it, by all means, make something up. That pic's got too much potential entertainment value not to.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Is that any way to review a movie?


Jim Emerson of Scanners has devoted several video posts to scenes from The Dark Knight in which he hopes to understand better why he dislikes the film and better explain it to those who would disagree with him. One scene in particular, the school bus escape from the bank, has been analyzed, studied and dissected in an attempt to achieve these goals. Some readers like the exercise while others feel it is overkill. I have nothing against a blogger obsessing over details, it is, in fact, what usually draws me in. I like it when I start to notice the same things being focused on again and again, whether it's a genre, a director, an editing style or a time period, by a blogger. It signals to me that they have a passion for the movies, a love of cinema, that cannot be sated by a general overview but by a veritable feast of forensic analysis. The posts by Jim signal that to me as well. It's clear to any reader who happens upon Scanners that Jim has a passion for the movies. But...


The Dark Knight posts keep bothering me. Why? I've made it clear that I didn't like the movie very much so why should I care, especially since the posts are concerned with "exposing" the movie's flaws? And yet, the posts bother me. As a budding filmmaker myself, a photographer and the husband of a successful painter I have my own ideas of what makes art work and how one should judge it. And I can't get away from the nagging feeling that you don't judge a painting stroke by stroke but as a whole. If I focus on the over sized hands and arms of the reader in Edward Hopper's Chair Car, I lose not only the feel of the whole work, but the point of art as well.





It's not about getting that human figure to be perfect in shape and size, it's about the idea the artist is expressing and that is gathered by taking the painting in as a whole, not breaking it down into digitalized pixels. This led me to imagine how one might do the same thing for a fairly celebrated film in American cinematic history, Citizen Kane. I thought it might be a tad difficult, but in actuality, it was rather easy. Given access to a DVD ripper so that one may use whichever scene one desires, anyone reading this post could probably do the same with just about any movie in existence. Let's begin.

First let's take this simple shot. It begins as an exterior shot in which the viewer sees Charlie Kane writing and Jed Leland sitting and dissolves into an interior shot viewing the same two characters from behind. Here's the clip:



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Anyone who knows the language of film knows that shot is all wrong. It uses a dissolve for its transition from exterior to interior. When does one use a dissolve? Most often to emphasize the passage of time. When going from exterior to interior without a passage of time one simply cuts to the opposite shot. Okay, but what if Welles actually is implying the passage of time? What if he wants us to understand that Kane has been writing up against the window for a while now? It's still all wrong. Any director worth his salt knows that if one wants to use a dissolve to illustrate the passage of time with the same characters in the same location, then the characters positions must be moved around, for the sake of both aesthetic consideration and to not confuse the viewer. For instance, in the first exterior shot we would see Jed pacing in the background and Charlie sitting at a desk writing. Dissolve to interior as we see Charlie writing against the window and Jed sitting next to him. The passage of time has been effectively communicated. Watch this shot from Casablanca, made in roughly the same time period (within a year) of Citizen Kane. It's a two for one clip in which we first see a dissolve to illustrate the passage of time and then see an exterior shot of Ingrid Bergman on a balcony then an interior shot from the opposite angle as Humphrey Bogart opens a bottle of champagne. Here is the clip:



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And there you have it. The dissolve and the exterior/interior cut demonstrated properly by director Michael Curtiz. Am I to believe that Welles was not familiar with this most basic syntax of film language? That he and his editor Robert Wise didn't understand the fundamentals of dissolve transitions? It's difficult to believe and yet there it is. When they were in the editing room, and they had the two shots before them, and knew they had to put them together, they chose to use dissolve for reasons unknown. I could argue from this single scene that Welles and his editor, Wise, were incompetent, or at the very least, poor visual storytellers. It wouldn't be true, but if I choose to isolate my criticism of the film to a series of single scenes, I could do so.


Now let's examine a different part of the movie in which the criticism goes to another criticism of The Dark Knight, heavy handedness. This writer in particular leveled that criticism against it. But look at this scene from Kane. Kane is reading his Declaration of Principles and while doing so is shrouded in shadow. How far down the educational chain would one have to travel (third grade, second, kindergarten?) before finding someone who didn't get the visual metaphor there? I've heard it discussed many times and equally praised. I've rarely if ever heard it mentioned how screamingly obvious it is, how closely it falls in line with amateur writing reaching for obvious metaphor. Here's the clip:



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Now let's take a different tack: Visual clutter. The Dark Knight has been accused of this and few movies clutter up the screen like Kane. Is it beautiful or is it a mess? Let's take this clip of what I'll call The Eye of Susan. It's a transition shot from Susan's face at the picnic to a hallway in Xanadu. As the shot dissolves we see Susan's eye replaced with the eye in the stained glass. Here's the clip:



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Kane is full of visual treats like this but if it doesn't go towards a better understanding of the story or character, if it serves no purpose, it's just clutter confusing the viewer with too much information. Upon listening to the commentary track of both Roger Ebert and Peter Bogdanovich during this transition it was not surprising to find that neither mention it. Most people never do. Why? Because once mentioned, meaning must be discerned and what does it mean? That Susan who is now about to leave Charlie is all-seeing? That Susan is like artwork built into the house? Neither of those is very convincing and even if they were meant to show that, by this point in the film the relationship of Charles and Susan has been made clear to the viewer without the added clutter.


Finally, let's tackle the ending. Some, including this viewer, found the ending of The Dark Knight to be a bit ham-fisted. This same criticism could be levelled against Kane. Visually, it's beautiful, as the camera pulls back finally revealing thousands of crates awaiting disposal. But listen to the dialogue. It's a classic moment of "gee thanks for the sledgehammer over the head but I think we all got that without you saying it." Here's the clip:



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Since this one is dialogue specific, and some viewers may not have sound available on their computer due to their work environment here is the transcript:

Mr. Kane was a man who got everything he wanted and then lost it. Maybe Rosebud was something he couldn't get, or something he lost. Anyway, it wouldn't have explained anything... I don't think any word can explain a man's life. No, I guess Rosebud is just a... piece in a jigsaw puzzle... a missing piece.

Dialogue that, with some name changes, could have been lifted straight from a high school term paper on The Great Gatsby.


So there you have it. Citizen Kane is an incompetent mess of a movie. Hammy dialogue, visual clutter, obvious symbolism and baffling editing choices. It's a wonder this movie gets any play at all. Maybe if it weren't for all those Kane fanboys we'd never have even heard of it. What a disaster.


Just as it is important for the reader of A Christmas Carol to understand that Jacob Marley is as dead as a doornail, it is equally important for the reader here to understand that I love Citizen Kane and don't believe a word of what I wrote in the preceding paragraph. But if using individual elements to critique a movie is one's method, then one can elevate or destroy anything. It's too easy. I'd rather see a full review in which the entire movie is taken into account. If you're trying to convince me a movie is not worth my time based on individual scenes you have plucked from the whole then you're not going to convince me. Art is understood from a perspective of the whole. No one praises Van Gogh's Starry Night based on the church steeple alone. No one writes essays about the fourth star from the left. Those two things might get mentioned, especially the steeple as it occupies the center of the frame, but only in the context of the whole. Telling me the school bus escape doesn't make sense doesn't tell me The Dark Knight is a bad movie. It tells me that particular scene doesn't make sense. In the meantime, I've learned nothing about the rest of the film. I've learned nothing about the themes of the film. I've learned nothing about the story, the characters or the plot's development. In short, I've learned nothing except that the critic publishing the piece knows how to pick a scene out of a film to suit his or her purpose. That way lies sophistry. And that's no way to review a movie.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Relive the Glory Days


Remember that time Pierre got Strike? Or how about when Krauthammer guessed Bulldog Drummond Escapes? Remember when Marilyn struck twice in a row with Passport to Pimlico and then Three Days of the Condor? Or how about when Arbo won again. And again. And again.

Friends, you don't have to rely on shaky memory accounts anymore! Announcing the new running tally of all the clips used for Name That Movie so that we may all relive the stupendous, fabulous and yes, magnificent glory days of the prize-winning guessing game that's sweeping the nation. Did you know that for the first game the decade represented the most was the thirties? Here's how it rolled:


1920's - 1

1930's - 5

1940's - 3

1950's - 1

1960's - 3

1970's - 3

1980's - 2

1990's - 1


So if you want to see who guessed what and which movies were chosen head on over to the home of the clips here. Or if you just want to see Arbogast's name typed in repeatedly, it's good for that too. In fact, it only took nineteen clips to get through the entire first round. I'm looking for the second round to last a bit longer which means I need to mix it up a bit more but still keep it reasonable.

Name That Movie Round 2 Clip 1



And we begin again as Name That Movie, Round 2 gets things rolling. Here's the 20th clip overall and the 1st clip for Round 2. Much trouble with YouTube this morning. It would not process the video so here it is uploaded to Blogger. Good Luck everyone.


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UPDATE - This one seems to be stumping everyone so let's go to the clues. It starred one of the queens of seventies cinema. If you know your seventies cinema, only a few actresses should spring to mind. She and her co-star were both Oscar winners before they made this.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Another Busy Day


Another busy day at work precludes me from much internet activity today but I didn't want to leave you empty-handed so here are two more pics from the dreamlike Movieland Wax Museum. The first is for Marilyn. Look Marilyn, it's Nancy Kwan as Suzie Wong! The second is for all us Myrna Loy fans. I leave you with a question: Is it possible, even using someone with no knowledge of waxwork, to produce a poorer wax reproduction of Loy than the one on display here. God, I wish I could have seen this place. I get the feeling they just bought mannequins and dipped them in wax.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

To All Mertzies



That's what I'm calling the members of the yet to be named, but possibly named, Mertz Ado About Blogging Social Club. Here's what I found from this Knickerbocker site:

William Frawley, who played Fred Mertz on "I Love Lucy," lived at the hotel for decades. On March 3, 1966, he was coming back to the Knickerbocker when he dropped dead of a heart attack on the sidewalk in front of the hotel. His nurse dragged him into the lobby in an attempt to revive him, but it was too late.

He lived at the Knickerbocker and was returning home so he was always in that area. The Grateful Dead played at the Ivar two weeks before. No word yet on whether Frawley was a Dead Head.

Zzzzzzzzz...


[Jonathan makes loud snorting sound, wakes self up]. Huh, what? Oh hey everybody, I was just watching the Oscar nominations. So for Best Picture it's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader, and Slumdog Millionaire. Well there you have...... Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Snort, zzxxkzxz., hagl; ;ahljk apo. hUH, what/? Oh sorry, I fell asleep at the keyboard typing that last part. I haven't seen a lot of movies this year (maybe 12 or so) but I do know this: Sally Hawkins and Eddie Marsan gave two of the best performances of the year (Happy Go Lucky). I know this because unless it turns out that this year produced an abnormally abundant slate of great performances I can't imagine many actors outdoing either of them.

I also know this: Boring biopics still rule the day with the Academy. Having not seen all of the nominees I am putting my trust in Rick Olson, Fox, Pat Piper, Dennis Cozzalio and many other bloggers who have reviewed most of these and found at least the first three fairly lacking.

I'm not too surprised The Dark Knight didn't get nominated. After all the hype I figured the Academy might give in but no, they didn't. So, anyone else think there will be some kind of fan generated protest at the ceremony? Anyone else think maybe the Academy members are all counting on that? Not that they actually conspire or collectively think anything through, I mean simply now that it's happened, I bet they're happy, and hoping. The Dark Knight never stood a chance anyway. Let's face it, I was no big fan of the movie but that came from me not liking story, editing and directing choices. The Academy didn't like it because it's a comic book movie. They have always ignored horror, sci-fi and adventure. A few have gotten nominations for the top award (Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Exorcist, Star Wars) but most, including 2001: A Space Odyssey and the original Superman were given the pass. After all, how could a movie about a broadly drawn adventure/sci-fi character be better than a movie about Forrest Gump aging backwards? Ugh.

My biggest disappointment is Happy Go Lucky but obviously it will be different for everyone. All I know is, this is one of the most boring list of noms I've seen in a long time. The Oscars? Try, Dog and Pony Show instead.

Fazil, I have failed you


Ed Howard at Only the Cinema, or for the high-minded, Seul le Cinema, has an Early Howard Hawks Blogathon going on and I promised I'd participate. I was all ready. I had a plan. And it was a good plan. Well, not that good, but it was an okay plan. Okay, it was a crappy plan, haphazardly thought out and meagerly researched. But still, it was a plan of some kind and that's worth something right? See, there's this early Howark Hawks film from 1928, Fazil, starring Charles Farrell as an Arab who falls in love with a French woman played by Greta Nissen. Charles being an All-American New Englander and Greta being Norwegian didn't seem to get in the way at all, as these things usually didn't back then. Apparently, from what I read, they put a pencil-thin moustache on old Charlie, darkened his complexion by about one thousandth of a percent and BAM! he was an Arab.

So after reading about that and how the movie was a romance and not like Hawks other work at all I decided, "That's the film I'm going to do for Ed's blogathon." No DVD available? No problem. Surely, somebody, somewhere, has put it online right? And hey, I got software that can grab anything online, anywhere, any site, any security system. If it's a movie and it's online I can save it to my hard drive, burn it, and study it again and again.

Just one problem. It wasn't anywhere online. Not that I could find. And I looked. Hell, I scoured. I went to those European rarity sites where they have Finnish erotica from 1908 and women in the forties doing funny things with Coke bottles and animated stories about tulip farmers or some such thing. Nothing. I went to the Internet Archive. Nothing. Hulu. Nothing. I Googled like hell and Yahooed like there was no tomorrow. Nothing. Hell, I got so desperate I even tried Daily Motion, the ridiculed, befuddled, bastard child of YouTube and got... Nothing.

So then it comes down to this week and the blogathon ends on Friday. "Screw it," I says, "I'll put up a still from the damn movie and call it even." I came up with this:



That's the full size version of the still. Yeah, it's crap. So I kept looking and came upon this:



And what is that you ask? It's two wax figures of Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor in Seventh Heaven. Holy Butt Bomb! That is one pathetic wax figure of Janet Gaynor! But anyway, that's not the point. The point is, I think, is that I lose all interest in Fazil and the Movieland Wax Museum in Buena Park, California usurps my thoughts and becomes my new dream destination. Check out the Harold Lloyd figure:



My God, it's dreadful! It's an atrocity! I must see it in person! But wait, there's more! Here's Marilyn Monroe from The Asphalt Jungle:



Holy shit! It's a goddamn Barbie doll! This museum has quickly gone from dream destination to MUST-SEE-MECCA! Wanna see West Side Story? Of course you do! Here it is:



Jesus Christ! Did they raid my seven year old's toy chest? To paraphrase Max von Sydow in Hannah and Her Sisters, "If Madam Tussuad came back from the dead and saw the figures in this museum she'd never stop throwing up."

Finally I see this shot of Cantinflas and think, "That's it! I'm quitting my job tomorrow and heading west and I'm not stopping until I get there!"



Then I read the news that hits me like a wet sack of dead jellyfish on a cold day at Coney Island: IT'S CLOSED! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!! Depression sets in and it only gets worse. I start finding testimonials online from Californians who visited it and have wonderful memories of it. How could they not? Had I ever gone there that would be all I talk or write about ever! I find personal photos people have put up online standing next to the most unimaginably bad wax rendering of Frankenstein's Monster humanly possible. And they loved it! And I would have too if only I'd gotten the chance to see it before it closed in 2005. Yes, 2005! Soooo close. I just missed it.

Finally, I calm down as the inevitable acceptance creeps in. It's over, it's gone, it's closed. There's nothing I can do about it. I go back to searching for Fazil photos but my heart's just not in it anymore. All I can think about is Movieland. Sweet, wonderful, magical Movieland. I bet they had a Howard Hawks movie or two there. Maybe even Fazil. And if so, I bet Greta Nissen looked magnificent. Simply magnificent!


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This post has been, in a very odd and roundabout way, a part of Ed Howard's Early Howard Hawks Blogathon at Only the Cinema.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Much to be done



Unfortunately, too much. I'll be out of the loop over the next two days (Tuesday and Wednesday) as I busy myself with necessary tasks at my place of employment in this suddenly very crowded city. As a friend once suggested for a tee-shirt slogan, "I'd rather be blogging."

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Rejected Name That Movie Clips


Next week a whole new Name That Movie contest begins. Everyone starts at zero and hopefully now that everyone is accustomed to the format and time (11:00 a.m. EST every Saturday) there will be a lot more competition. I get old and even obscure DVDs almost every month so I hope to run a bigger range of selections this time as well. In the meantime, I thought it would be interesting to run five clips that I had originally intended to use but for one reason or another decided not to. I'm not sure why, but something just said, "Don't use this clip." Maybe you can figure out why I didn't use them.












Friday, January 16, 2009

Mystery Couple


It's a mystery movie they're playing in and their identity is a mystery too. To you that is, not to me. I'm the one that scanned it so I ought to know. But I'll be honest with you, I didn't know who they were before I scanned the photo. Or maybe I did. What do I mean by that? Well...

She's a mystery regardless. With bit parts and only a handful of leads in B-Pictures, she retired from film in 1942. But the male lead, that's a different story. Turns out I've heard his voice a thousand times, and if you're over thirty, you probably have too. And the director? One of the big ones, to cinephiles at least. The average moviegoer probably isn't as familiar with him.

Too much more and I'll give the game away, which as always, I plan on doing anyway with a series of increasingly telling clues (by the way, the actor's name still may not be familiar to you but the clues will lead you to him nonetheless).

But for now - Does anyone have any idea what this movie is and who these two actors are?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Foolish Consistency


This is an unplanned post, feverishly typed out at work after reading this post on Jim Emerson's Scanners. It was in reading this post that I discovered all of Kevin Lee's video essays on YouTube had been removed due to copyright infringement. Jim Emerson says, "This is a travesty of the principles of intellectual freedom that the Fair Use doctrine is designed to protect and encourage under US Copyright Law." I agree. Matt Zoller Seitz also writes about it here and says:


Clips often determine the difference between learning something and truly understanding it. They're quotes from the source text deployed to make a case. Take them away, and you're left with the critic saying, "Well, I can't show you exactly what I mean, so I'll describe it as best I can and hope you believe me."

This, in a nutshell, is the defining difference between criticism pre- and post-millennium. For the first time ever, when someone says to a critic, "Show me the evidence," the critic doesn't need to unlock a film archive vault or even haul out a DVD player to produce it. He can call it up online anytime, anywhere, for anybody.


My take is a bit more personal and a bit more pissed off. Look, I'm not worried about losing my work on montages that I have done over the last seven months. I've got Frames of Reference and Beautiful Monsters and all the rest backed up on hard drive and on disc. If YouTube deletes them before I finish this post I'll still have them. I'm pissed off because it's just one more example of pedantic head-up-their-ass corporate lawyers not seeing the big picture. When I put together a montage, I'm not profiting off of it nor am I burning a copy of the original movie for re-sale. If anyone were to actually buy my montage for redistribution on commercial television every movie in the montage would get royalties. As it is, on YouTube, the only thing those clips are doing, and Matt's and Kevin's, are promoting the movie!

Do you know how many comments there were for Frames of Reference stating that a particular clip made them want to see the movie? Do you know how many clips I see in montages online, on TCM or during the Oscars that make me want to see the movie? It happens all the time. It's a free advertisement for the movie itself! It's promotion you blockheads! It's also a classic example of business models with their feet stuck in the mud, mired in the past. Cinema Styles, Matt Zoller Sietz and Kevin Lee aren't taking business away from the studios, we're sending it to them. I can't imagine any movie or studio out there has been deprived of income due to my montages. If I were selling burned copies of entire movies to all of you then yes, I am taking money for a product that is not mine and no matter how little that money is compared with what the studio made on the movie, it's still money that I am making from someone else's work. But with a montage, I'm working for nothing and essentially producing 2 to 6 minute commercials for the movies involved. My Killing Me Wetly montage done during October Killfest has around 5,000 views and a couple of questions about The Dead Zone clip. If anything, I've probably contributed to at least a few rentals or purchases of The Dead Zone with that silly little montage.

So studios and blinded by greed lawyers: Back off! Jim and Matt and Kevin can give all the eloquent reasons critics need clips to make statements. And they're right. But I'm telling you, since you're clearly not getting it, that the only thing you're accomplishing with this is losing pre-made, pre-packaged advertisements for your product. And you didn't even have to pay for them! It's 2009. Please, for all of our sakes, get your heads out of your asses.

I'll Be There

I'll be all around in the dark.
I'll be everywhere.
Wherever you can look.
Wherever there's a fight, so restless readers can be entertained, I'll be there.
Wherever there's a critic beatin' up a favorite genre, I'll be there.
I'll be in the way guys yell at the climax of an action picture.
I'll be in the way kids laugh when an actor takes a pratfall,
and when the people are watchin' the movies they make
and watchin' them in the movie palaces they build -
I'll be there, too.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

From the Library: The Illustrated Movie Quiz Book



I've done the occasional book review from something in my movie book library here at Cinema Styles before with the most recent one being a review of Lotte Eisner's The Haunted Screen. Then on a year-end post just around three weeks ago I announced that I wanted to do that more often, picking a book from the shelves and writing about it. Not a review proper but an impression of what it means to me. Well, consider this the first intentional post in that area after some previous random, scattered offerings.

The ongoing series is titled simply, From the Library, and to start things off I decided to go not with a revered tome like The Haunted Screen but a lark of a book, a quiz book to be exact, the one you see at the top of this post, The Illustrated Movie Quiz Book by Rob Burt. That cover at the top is a scan I did of my copy (just as the Eisner review used a scanned photo of my own copy) because I don't want you to see some Amazon.com cover picture, I want you to see my cover, from the copy I own, because it means something to me. I got it in 1981, a time in which I had grown confident enough of my movie knowledge that surely I could easily breeze through the quizzes in this book without a problem. I was wrong. But it wasn't all my fault. Many of the questions in the book are of the "who was the 2nd Unit director on..." variety and the like. Really, there are a lot of questions like that. Also whose birthday is when, where was this star born and what was their non-famous brother's name. I don't know. Who the hell wants to know? Who cares? But there are also plenty of questions concerning the big stuff that you might think you know but probably would have to slide on over to IMDB just to make sure. Of course, at the time, there was no IMDB but fortunately the answers were provided in the back of the book. And I read them all.

My goal was to study the book like a text and test myself on it, which I did often. I checked off ones I knew, marked stuff in the back to re-learn and when pondering a difficult question, drew on the cover (which you can see in the top photo). I followed this process for years and it helped tremendously, not only with the acquisition of movie knowledge but in providing a checklist of titles in my head of movies that needed to be seen. Yes, I admit it, I was a teenage cinedork. I'd be at a party drinking and smoking with friends while all the time thinking, "I can hardly wait to get back home and learn some more movie minutia!" Full-Flower-Cinedork.

It's been years since I've seriously quizzed myself from the book and most often now when I look at it, I can't recall half of the answers anyway. But a rush of nostalgia permeates my brain every time I do look at it and that's the principle reason I'll never get rid of it. It no longer contains any information that can't easily be found online, it's missing the last thirty years of film history and most of its trivia is of no value even to a cinephile. But oh the volumes it speaks to me about who I was at that particular moment in my cinephiliac infancy. When I pick it up, I'm there! I'm back! Back in high school, laying on my bed memorizing the answers. Back in college, packing it in my bags to make the 600 mile interstate journey to my dorm room because I couldn't, wouldn't be without it. Back in my basement apartment just after college, already starting to use it as nostalgic defense against the world around me. It's literary value is almost non-existent but to me, it's priceless. And prized. It wasn't the first movie book I ever got and it's far from the last but it's one of the most important to me. And always will be.

****************

As a post-script, I'd like to highlight some of the pages contained within to give you an idea of how the book is set-up. It's quizzes are defined as "Specialist" or "General." All of the below pics can be clicked on to enlarge.

The individuals are divided up between The Players and The Movie Makers with the latter being used for both Actors and Directors and The Players restricted to just actors. Here's one of The Players quizzes, on Carole Lombard. You can of course answer all of these by looking her up online, but how many can you answer cold?

____________________


Another type of quiz in the book, The Big Picture, centers around a specific movie. This one is all about David Lean's Great Expectations (1937).

_____________________


Finally, most of the pages are filled with multiple items. Some have a Mystery Movie with a picture of the poster and the title blocked out, others have Screen Test quizzes about actors and their roles and some, as on this page, have Star Couples, a song quiz, a Gregory Peck quiz and a Mystery Star quiz. See how many of the songs you can connect to the movie they debuted in without hitting IMDB, Google or Wikipedia. Good luck.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Dardos Lives!


Ah Dardos, how I have longed for your acceptance, and now I have it. But I must act fast to bestow you upon others before someone else gets there first. What is Dardos? Ha ha, silly human, do you really have to ask? Of course you do because, like me, you have no idea what it is. It's an award. What kind of award? This kind:

“The Dardos Awards is given for recognition of cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values transmitted in the form of creative and original writing. These stamps were created with the intention of promoting fraternization between bloggers, a way of showing affection and gratitude for work that adds value to the Web.”

And if you are Dardoed you must do this:

1) Accept the award by posting it on your blog along with the name of the person that has granted the award and a link to his/her blog.

2) Pass the award to another five blogs that are worthy of this acknowledgement, remembering to contact each of them to let them know they have been selected for this award.

Well the person that granted me the award is Flickhead, beautiful Flickhead, sad Flickhead, mad Flickhead. Oh no wait, that's Carlotta from Vertigo. Sorry. But Flickhead is incomparable and I'm honored that he selected me. And now I should select five. Five out of so many. Actually, it's easy. I intend no offense to those wonderful bloggers I have become friends with over the last (almost) two years but there are five that were the first friends I made, and admired for their talents and taste so the choice is easy:

Dennis Cozzalio, first ever commenter on Cinema Styles & Larry Aydlette, fine writer who knows his movies and his music. Yes, this first is a bit of a cheat since I'm awarding two for one but I always think of Dennis and Larry in the same breath and can't award one without the other.

Kimberly Lindbergs - We started visiting each others' blogs back in August of 2007 and feel the same about so many things (especially critics, new movies and blogging).


Bill R. - Met him back in 07 too, and he quickly became a regular here before finally starting up his own blog.


Marilyn Ferdinand - Not many writers out there more gracious and more talented than she.

Arbogast on Film - A good friend, on and off the blogs (and the most recent winner of the world famous Name That Movie contest), he is an excellent writer (my wife brings up his reviews more than mine) and a world class wit, on the order of Wilson Mizner (at least I'm pretty sure he thinks so).

Since I can only go with five I apologize to all my good blogging friends whom I could not bestow this award upon but I am confident at five links a piece for each winner by this time tomorrow 95 percent of the blogging world will be a Dardos winner. Congratulations everyone!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

1st Ever Name That Movie Winner - Arbogast



He did it. Arbogast has made it to ten. He's the first ever Cinema Styles Name That Movie winner. All he needs to do now is e-mail with his choice of DVD ($49.99 and under per the rules) and it's his. Congratulations to Arbo.

Not all his points came from guessing movies. He also got a point for naming the actresses in a picture I put up a while ago. But the other nine points came from getting the movies right, a pretty damn impressive feat if you ask me. Congrats again. The new game begins next week. Everyone starts back at the beginning with zero points.

It's Bonus Round Time



The first one today went fast. Let's see how fast the second one goes. Arbo's still at nine as Peter Nellhaus swooped in to get the first one today, Fury, directed by Fritz Lang. Can Nellhaus repeat? Will Arbo win it all? Let's see. Good luck.

*****UPDATE TO CLUE NUMBER ONE*****

The director of this film directed another film in the forties that has the same title as a Steely Dan song as well as the title of a 90's album by an internationally famous and legendary singer/songwriter. That singer/songwriter is Bob Dylan. His nineties album has the same title as the Steely Dan song from the eighties, which is the same title as another movie directed by this director.

*****CLUE NUMBER TWO*****

The lead actress in the movie only has one line in the whole movie. Just one. At the end.

In 1947, the actress in this clip was in Out of the Past. The lead actor in the movie featured today did a movie in 1947 called Out of the Blue.

Name That Movie 18



It's Name That Movie time, for the eighteenth time. Is it the last time as well? For this particular game I mean (NTM is recurring so each time there's a winner, everyone goes back to zero, and it all starts over). Arbogast has nine points and the first to ten wins. When I started this I figured it would be close throughout. I never expected one person would get so many right. All this could be a moot point if Arbo doesn't get this one but if he does I think I'll try to make future NTM's themed, as in all foreign, all silent, all thirties and so on. But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. Number 18 is now up in the sidebar. Go at it and good luck.

*****UPDATE*****

Peter Nellhaus got it. The answer is in the comment section but if you don't want to know then watch the video and see if you can still guess it. I'll keep it in the sidebar for a couple of hours and then around 2:00 p.m. the Bonus Round goes up. Good luck.

Friday, January 9, 2009

And Never the Twain Shall Meet


I had a post on film-criticism from print sources and online sources ready to go but I've pushed it to the back-burner for now since a recent post covered most of it in the comments. Instead, I'd like to devote this short post today, a thoroughly abridged version of the film-criticism post, to identifying a non-cinephile.

My blog comes up on occasion in conversation at social gatherings where a friend may mention it or ask about something on it. Someone else hears this and asks what it's about. "Movies," of course. And then the division is clear. The division between the cinephile and the non-cinephile. Last year David Bordwell wrote a piece entitled Games Cinephiles Play that made the rounds in a few blog discussions. While it defined a cinephile as one who "loves the idea of film" and then presented faux conversational sparring among fictional cinephiles, it did not provide a handy guide book as to how to tell a cinephile from a non-cinephile. As Bordwell says, we all love movies, which is why he separates the cinephile by placing their love in the abstract. But I've noticed several easy signposts to read that help one discern the cinephile from the non-cinephile in casual conversation. The non-cinephile, upon hearing that you blog about movies, asks a predictable set of questions, quickly and easily giving themselves away as amateurs in the world of film. Here are the top three I get:


Question number one: Who's your favorite director?


Question number two: What's your favorite movie of all time?


Question number three: What new movies do you like?


Dead giveaways you are talking to a non-cinephile. A cinephile would never be so pedestrian or obvious. I don't know what they would ask but it would probably have something to do with an older film, a controversial one in film circles or a new box set finally available for someone like F.W. Murnau. But "What's your favorite movie of all time?" Never. At least not in my experience. Like most cinephiles, I don't have a favorite movie of all time. I have hundreds. And they change, daily. I don't have a favorite director of all time, but I have a short list (we probably all do). And even if I did, a cinephile wouldn't need to ask because over the course of the conversation it would probably become clear anyway. And "what new movies do I like?" Please. Ask my kids, not me. They see everything, I don't. I'm in no rush to see every movie out there nor am I in any rush to see every movie ever made. I'll never see them all anyway so why rush it? Why break my butt to see a current movie in release when there are thousands from decades past that have had a much bigger impact on film history, or at least on filmmakers and cinephiles, that are still to be seen? When you still haven't seen The Earrings of Madame De... (playing in February at the AFI as part of a Max Ophuls series - I already have my tickets) Frost/Nixon can wait. Besides, I'd rather keep my theater experiences to the classics anyway. It feels right, somehow, to see Ophuls on the big screen in a lush movie palace and see Howard on DVD at home. So that's what I'm going to do, and keep doing and when a non-cinephile asks me about my blog I'm going to keep using my pat answer: "No, actually I don't blog. I don't even like movies. So what do you do for a living?"


*****Post Scriptum*****


Recently I was tagged by Fox for a resolution meme started by Adam, the kid with panache, DVD Panache, and I doubt I'll ever get around to it but I like Fox and Adam so let's all pretend this is the resolution meme post okay? And I've linked to both Fox and Adam. Finally, I tag that guy I saw in the grocery store the other day, the one who was humming "Up Where We Belong" to himself as he pondered the Hostess Cupcake selection. Whoever you are sir, consider yourself tagged!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Well, since you asked...



... I'll tell you what you've done. You built a bridge. A really good bridge. For the enemy. See, here's the thing. When the enemy says, "Hey you, build me a bridge," you say, "Sure why not, I'll build your bridge for you," and then you use like, I don't know, bubblegum or something to hold the supports together. And then you're like, "Oh damn, the bridge collapsed again. Man that really sucks! Guess we gotta start over." And then the enemy, Colonel Saito, slaps his hands up and down his face like Curly from the Three Stooges and steam comes out of his ears and he's all like, "Nicholson!!! One of these days..." as he waves his fist at you. And then you just laugh and say, "Oh, you mean you want the bridge to stay up? Why didn't you say so! Lieutenant, we must use stronger bubblegum. And twine!" And then everyone laughs and Saito says, "Why I oughta..." as he wags his finger at you and then when he turns to leave he slips in the mud and falls smack down on his ass. Big laughs all around.

See that's how it's supposed to work. But no, not you. You go all out and build the goddamn Golden Gate Bridge for this son of a bitch like you're trying to get into his pants or something. I mean, what the hell? It's like he's your hero. Hey, maybe you and the guys could start mowing his lawn on the weekends and fix that leaky sink in the kitchen his wife's always complaining about. While you're at it why don't you start wiping his ass for him too? I mean, hey, why should this guy do anything for himself? He's got you, Colonel Nicholson, eager puppy and willing bootlick.

I gotta be honest here: The only way you could possibly redeem yourself in my eyes at this point is if took a header onto that ignition plunger over there and blew this whole damn...

... Oh... well... never mind. Good show old man! Jolly good!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Supporting Evidence


Like Rick Olson, I haven't seen enough 2008 movies yet to do a full wrap-up and may not before January is out at which point it becomes kind of pointless to do one anyway. But I have seen the two top contenders for one of the big Oscar categories, and that, along with the whole idea of the category itself, is the topic for this post today.

In 1944, Barry Fitzgerald found himself the center of an interesting dilemma. Since creating the Supporting Actor Oscar category in 1936 the Academy had not defined the rules for nomination in any of the acting categories. Before 1936 the idea was to nominate any performance that was thought to be among the best of the year. It could be any role, big or small, but quickly it became clear that lead roles were the only ones being nominated and so they created the Supporting Acting categories to solve the problem. And it did until 1944. That's when half the members voted to nominate Barry Fitzgerald for Best Supporting Actor for Going My Way and the other half voted to nominate him for Best Actor. And the Academy let it stand. Fitzgerald remains the only actor nominated twice for the same exact role in a single film. He won the Supporting Oscar and lost the Best Actor Oscar to his co-star Bing Crosby. After that the rules were changed to state that whichever category the actor receives more votes for nomination in is the category for which they will be nominated. What wasn't defined, and still isn't and most likely never will be, is what is a supporting performance?

In my days of studying theatre in college the discussions of Protagonist and Antagonist were plentiful in class as we endeavored to understand dramatic conflict and the structure of playwriting. Although most people assume the Protagonist is the good guy and the Antagonist is the bad guy the true meaning is quite different. The Protagonist is the lead, or main, character and the Antagonist works in opposition to him. They are not defined according to good or bad. Two plays that were often used as examples were Othello and Amadeus. In both plays, the Protagonist is what would classically be called the "bad guy." Iago from Othello and Salieri from Amadeus are the main characters with more lines, more stage time, more everything. The title characters, Othello and Amadeus (Mozart), operate in opposition to them, and in both cases, unconsciously, unaware there is any opposition at all. Were Othello and Mozart the main characters consciously working against the designs of Iago and Salieri in an effort to "defeat" them, they would be the Protagonists instead.

Both plays have been made into films and in the case of the 1965 version of Othello, Laurence Olivier, in the supporting role of the Antagonist Othello, received a nomination for Best Actor while Frank Finlay, in the lead role of the Protagonist Iago, received a nomination for Best Supporting Actor. With Amadeus, both roles, played by F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce, received nominations for Best Actor. And it's happened at other times too.

In 1972, the character of Michael Corleone, the character that clearly carries the arc of the entire story on his shoulders, the character that dominates the film, the character that undergoes significant change from beginning to end, was considered a supporting part by the Academy and Al Pacino received a Supporting Actor nomination. The character of Vito Corleone, the character that can not only be seen in opposition to Michael but as a catalyst for his change (his helplessness in the hospital affords Michael the first opportunity to show his nerves of steel that will eventually take him to the pinnacle of power), a character clearly presented as secondary to Michael, dramatically speaking, was considered the lead by the Academy and Marlon Brando was nominated for, and won, Best Actor.

One other notable occurrence would come in the same year that Amadeus itself swept the Oscars in which another nominee, The Killing Fields, had it's lead and supporting characters flip-flopped in the nomination process with Sam Waterston getting the Best Actor nomination and Haing S. Ngor getting the Supporting Actor nomination.


Which takes us to this years Oscar eligibles for Best Supporting Actor. As I look at polls and critics awards it is becoming clear that there are two front runners for this award, Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight and Eddie Marsan for Happy Go Lucky. The most recent one announced, The National Society of Film Critics, gave the Supporting award to Marsan with Ledger in second. The one just before that, a Village Voice polling of critics, went the other way with Ledger getting the nod and Marsan coming in second.

Marsan winning the National Society of Film Critics award makes me happy for a number of reasons not the least of which is that it lets me know that I wasn't alone in being wowed by his performance. Long before his explosion at the climax, which most people will see as the centerpiece of his performance, Marsan was making quite an impression. After just a couple of scenes of his character Scott's pedantic obsessions with driving my wife and I both turned to each other (I think it was after one of his early frustrations with Poppy where he struggles with the seat belt) and said, "damn he's good in this." But I'm also happy because the character of Scott, the driving instructor, is indeed the supporting part, the Antagonist that works in opposition to Poppy and, like Vito Corleone, acts as a catalyst for change in her (we can assume).

Heath Ledger's character of the Joker on the other hand could be seen to be the Protagonist of The Dark Knight. Like Amadeus and Othello, most people will assume that "Title Role" equals "Lead Role" However, the story of The Dark Knight is, to this viewers mind, the story of the Joker. The Joker sets things in motion and Batman reacts. Batman is the Joker's Antagonist but there's more to it than that. In fact, I would break down The Dark Knight this way:


Joker/Batman - Protagonist/Antagonist
Batman/Harvey Dent, aka Two-Face - Protagonist/Antagonist
Harvey Dent/Joker - Protagonist/Antagonist


In other words, each of the three characters is both a Protagonist and an Antagonist throughout the film. Since the Supporting category is so poorly defined anyway and most Academy voters simply go with screen time (of which Ledger has a great deal) I say nominate Heath Ledger for Best Actor for The Dark Knight, not Best Supporting Actor.

Of course, I know that will never happen but I think it would be the proper category for his nomination. And I want Eddie Marsan to win Best Supporting Actor, an award I think he richly deserves. I understand the sentiment behind a posthumous award and I know how important it would be to the family and friends of Heath Ledger, and how emotional. But I also know that Eddie Marsan is alive and may not get another role like this for some time and Heath Ledger, wherever he is according to whatever you believe in, doesn't care one way or the other.

But apart from the classification of Supporting/Lead there's another reason I want Marsan to win. The character itself, Scott, is more richly written and developed than that of the Joker. Now I know, the award is about the performance not how well the character is written but still, it irks me just a little bit, that a character like Scott, who without giving us many historical details of his life somehow lets the viewer in on everything about him, will be pushed aside for a character like the Joker, who speaks in teenage profundities throughout the film. Heath Ledger does a great job with what he's given but there just aren't many places to go with the character of the Joker.

Finally, my own personal choice for Marsan is also influenced by the movies themselves. Happy Go Lucky took me by surprise. As I watched it I thought it was good. But as I thought back on it and discussed it with fellow bloggers it continued to make more of an impression on me. It's not easy to do a slice-of-life, plotless movie with an always perky lead character but Mike Leigh did it and did it well (and looking back on Sally Hawkins performance, maintaining that chipperness throughout the movie and then not missing a beat at the end when she has to combine revulsion, terror and sympathy into one bag for her final scene with Scott, I have to hope for her to win Best Actress as well).

The Dark Knight, on the other hand, not only disappointed but quite frankly, slightly annoyed. As I watched one scene after another use the Sledgehammer School of Artistic Expression in which pious platitudes and teenage level profundities pass for dialogue I was, I must admit, a bit shocked. I don't know the last movie I've seen that contained as many "Oh Brother" moments for me as The Dark Knight: The prisoner throwing the detonator off the boat to show us the moral righteousness of humanity (oh brother), the line, "I'm an agent of chaos" (oh brother), every time Batman and Dent discuss anything (oh brother) and that ending, that ending! Here is the last line, spoken by Gary Oldman (very good in the movie) to his son who has asked why Batman is running: "Because we have to chase him." He then continues with what should be described as one of the most heavy-handed lines in movie, theatre, television or high school production history: "Because he's the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we'll hunt him (pause for effect) because he can take it. Because he's not our hero. He's a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A dark knight." It's exactly the type of line Ben Stiller would do in a parody trailer for a fictitious action movie. And so as to that last line, with all my heart, Oh Brother!

Had I heard nothing beforehand about The Dark Knight I would have thought it an average movie. That is how I think of it now. I find parts of it good, parts bad and much in between that simply feel average. The camera work is uninspired, the editing fairly sloppy and the characters one-dimensional speaking in platitudes to fool us into thinking they're three-dimensional. Nothing wrong with that, not every movie's a masterpiece. And so I choose to think of The Dark Knight as that summer movie I saw that was okay and had some good parts and try to forget how many people there were over the age of seventeen that were impressed by it. And I am impressed with Heath Ledger for what I think is a marvelous performance, given very little to work with.

But as Best Actor, not Supporting. Marsan is the winner there and deserves it. Nominate Ledger for the lead category. Give him the award if you like, just don't cheat Marsan out of what is rightfully his. It's something I believe in. It's an idea I can get behind. It's time to petition the Academy voters to put these two actors in the categories they deserve, lead and supporting. Heath Ledger as nominee for Best Actor, Eddie Marsan as nominee, and winner, for Best Supporting Actor. That's an idea that has my full and unconditional support.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Bonus Round - Name That Movie 17



Marilyn made quick work of the last one, Three Days of the Condor. The actor walking with his back to the camera is Max von Sydow. Now, here's the Bonus Round. It's a lot older and a lot less known. Good luck.

Name That Movie 16


Name that Movie returns for 2009. The new clip is up in the sidebar. Put your guesses in the comments section and if you want to see the clip bigger just double-click it to go to the YouTube page. Good Luck.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Your Attention Please


Some reminders if you please. First and foremost, today is the second which means we are just ten days away from the first film to be discussed at Ferdy on Films for the inaugural post of The Oldest Established Really Important Film Club. The film to be written up (by Marilyn) and discussed (by all) is The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams' Appalachia. If you haven't put it in your Netflix queue or picked it up from the library or video store yet DO SO NOW! Time's a wasting. I received it last week and won't say a word about it until our discussion, except that it is both evocative and provocative, a wonderful choice by Marilyn to get things going. And remember, you don't have to be a member of the club (which doesn't really mean anything anyway at this point because we haven't really defined what that means outside of picking movies) to discuss the film. All we humbly ask is that you watch it first. We would like the discussion to be amongst those who have recently viewed the film so that we're all familiar with it going in.

Also, our good friend Arbogast is in a ghost story telling mood and will be doing so in the month of January. He's made it clear that it's not an all-month, every-day-post kind of a thing but instead a month where the focus will primarily be on ghost stories. He has a new look to his site as well which is worth giving a look. I wonder who designed his brand new totally awesome banner?

Finally, Name That Movie returns tomorrow. As always, the clip goes up around 11:00 a.m. East Coast time. It's a New Year filled with new possibilities. Good luck to all. That is all.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

My New Year's Resolution...


Be as cool under pressure as Colonel Robert Neville.












I'm sure that ultimately I will fail, but it's nice to have a goal.