Friday, February 27, 2009

Spread of Activation IV: The Unprepared Edition

So I have nothing ready to go on the blog heading into the weekend because of a work situation I'd rather not go into again and because I spent most of last night helping my friend set up a blog. I showed him how to get his music up on it as well as personal movies and he was more than gracious in return. He's a great guy and I was happy to help him. Nonetheless, here I am hastily throwing something together as I don't want to go more than a day or two without an update but don't have time to really flesh out a full review or put together an argument on a trend in movies or discuss the implications of certain types of films according to genre. But I still have much to say. For instance...

Last Saturday my wife and I took in The Earrings of Madam De... at the AFI Silver Theatre in downtown Silver Spring, MD. Until last weekend neither my wife nor I had ever seen it and afterwards we were damn near speechless. We both thought it was a remarkable film and it made us remember again how many great films are out there and how few of them we have really seen. And once again, the sense of obligation to see new movies diminished as we thought, "Why should we rush to see Movie A, released last year, when we still haven't seen even half of the movies made by Ophuls? We've got some catching up to do." Of course I'll still see new movies, usually about twenty a year on average, and see even more from the last ten years that I didn't catch during their initial run by way of DVD, but the lure of past movies, now available to me on DVD and the big screen courtesy of the AFI, is too much to resist.

Then I started wondering just how many movies have been made. There's no exact figure to be had but I did discover through some basic online research that it is estimated that there have been about 350,000 to 450,000 theatrically released movies made since 1915. That's a wide range but it's mainly because the records are so shoddy for the first thirty years or so of feature length film production. The first feature length film by the way is considered to be The Story of the Ned Kelly Gang, made in 1906 and coming in at 70 minutes in length. Now, if we go from 1906 to 2008, 102 years, and assume the same amount of movie made each year we get over half a million. For instance, this chart of the last five years, courtesy of the Australian Government, shows 5,002 movies produced worldwide in 2007. If we multiply 5,002 by 102 we get 510,204 movies. Now of course, 5,002 feature length films weren't made in 1906 (in fact Ned Kelly was the only one) and even after Cabiria (the first successful epic, over three hours long) in 1914 it was still rare to have more than a couple of hundred movies more than 60 minute in length. And India didn't make its first feature length film until 1913 and didn't begin making movies anywhere near the prolific numbers of today for decades. So you can probably lop off about 4,000 a year until the mid twenties, which would result in around 80,000 less titles or about 430,000 movies. That's a lot but before finding out the figures I somehow thought it would be more. Still, if we use a conservative running time of 90 minutes per movie by 430,000 movies we get 38,700,000 minutes. There are 525,600 minutes in a year. So, if someone used eight hours a day for all of their sleeping, eating, shopping, cleaning and any other life activities, and spent the other sixteen (350,400 minutes for a year of this) doing nothing but watching movies, nonstop, every day, a different movie each time, it would take a little over 110 years to see every movie made up to now. And then of course, they'd have 110 years worth of movies they missed while watching all those other ones. So obviously, you can't see every movie ever made. When you really absorb all those numbers, really think about them, doesn't a top ten best list of all time seem almost obscenely stupid?

Of course, it's also a signal of how many average, mediocre, run of the mill movies are made that so few, so very few, are remembered fondly for very long past their sell by date. I don't really suspect that there is some film among the 430,000 that no one has ever heard of that outdoes the works of the masters we all know and love because had it been that great it would be known if only by legend and reputation, like Greed. But I do suspect there are plenty of titles among that 430,000 that are excellent viewing and entertainment and have sadly been lost to the ages.

And speaking of excellent viewing and entertainment, I got my 50th Anniversary Edition DVD of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) starring Kerwyn Matthews and Kathryn Grant in the mail last week and what a great treat. I love watching that movie but it also has some featurettes on the movie, Dynamation and an hour long doc on Ray Harryhausen. It's a great transfer and I highly recommend it for fantasy film fans. Jason and the Argonauts is still my favorite movie featuring the work of Harryhausen but this one is a close second.

Finally my mind returns to seeing classics on the big screen and I realize I've never seen either 7th Voyage or Jason and the Argonauts on the big screen. I don't know if the AFI will ever play them but may I be the first to petition that they do and that they do so the exact moment the remakes of Jason and the Argonauts and yes, Clash of the Titans go up on the big screen in 2010. This being a new millennium I can't imagine either remake will employ Dynamation unless Nick Park or Tim Burton are involved (they're not) so I don't have high hopes for either and seriously doubt I'll take them in at the multiplex when they're released. Hopefully, I'll be pleasantly surprised to discover they have done the originals justice but even so it will probably take some time for me to get around to them. After all, there are over 400,000 titles in the queue ahead of them. And I've only got one lifetime in which to watch them.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Slumdog Update

Last week Larry Aydlette called my attention to an AP story about the Slumdog Millionaire child stars and how plans were in the works to profoundly alter their living circumstances. Now Peter Nellhaus has pointed me to this article online that gives more definitive answers as to what Danny Boyle and Slumdog Producers will be doing for the children and it definitely looks to be a good thing. Although no one says so, I can't help but feel it was in part media pressure that made this happen so cheers to the MSM on this occasion for running the stories and photos that first made bloggers and fans of the film take notice. My take on the original controversy can be found here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Rota Fortunae

The goddess Fortuna spins her wheel at random. Some get lucky, some don't. Above is a photo of two starlets signing contracts with 20th Century Fox on October 25th, 1951. The one on the left that bears a more than passing resemblance to Gloria Grahame is also named Gloria, Gloria Krieger. She will enjoy no success in movies, her IMDB listing containing only one entry: An appearance on Ed Sullivan in 1955 as herself, presumably to sing a song. Presumed because she was dropped by 20th Century in 1954 and signed with Columbia Records that year as a singer. Unfortunately for her, in the age of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Judy Garland, her style is of the Jeanette MacDonald operatic variety. She quickly vanishes from sight and beyond that appearance on the Sullivan show no more information can be found on her, even on the historic archival site from which I pulled this public domain picture. Whether it be movies or music she could never get that big break.

The wheel spins in a different direction for her photo op partner, also signing with 20th Century Fox that day and already with a couple of films and several radio shows under her belt at the tender age of eighteen. The girl signing with Gloria that day is Debra Paget who will go on to make movies with everyone from Jimmy Stewart to Elvis Presley. By the late fifties her career will start to slide. Not having the on-screen charisma the studios are looking for she will be dropped by 20th Century Fox and do odd work here and there before retiring at age 32. Later she will devote her life to a newfound Christianity and work with both the Trinity Broadcasting Network and Praise the Lord of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker infamy. She lives in Houston now, near her two sisters. She was married three times and divorced three times.

Of course, without knowing what became of Miss Krieger, we can never really be sure who got the better spin of the wheel after all?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Name That Movie Round 2, Clip 5 BONUS ROUND

Here's the Bonus Round. I'm betting this will be immediately evident to most anyone who has seen this movie even if they haven't seen it in years. Sometimes I like to throw an easy one out there, although quite frankly, Flickhead (this year's Arbogast) is making them all look easy.


It has been brought to my attention that while I updated the last post with the winner and the correct guess, I did not do so for this one. My apologies Flickhead for not reminding everyone once again that you got three, yes three, right in a row. Wow, that's amazing! I think it's safe to say we're all really, really impressed. So once again, congratulations to Flickhead.

Oh yeah, and Bill got this one. It's from Blow Out.


Name That Movie Round 2, Clip 4

Here's the fourth clip for Name That Movie. I almost changed it due to something that came to my attention yesterday but decided to keep it. I'll explain that later. For now, here's the clip. Flickhead got the last two in a row. Can he threepeat? We shall see.


Flickhead has three-peated! Now to explain my previous line about possibly changing it. I upload these a couple of weeks in advance so I'm not coming up with a clip at the last minute. Well, last night I realized the 8 pm movie on TCM was... Stage Door! I didn't change it only because the Oscars were on last night at the same time so I figured most people wouldn't be watching. Anyway, Congrats again Flickhead. And Marilyn and Bill, thanks for playing. Now, AND THIS IS IMPORTANT, there will be a bonus round today at 1:00 pm EST. I believe it will be quickly guessed and I don't care, I'm putting it up anyway. Bill - That's your cue! Show up right at two.


The return of Name That Movie, 11:00 A.M. today

Don't forget, Name that Movie returns today at 11:00 a.m., EST. And maybe there will be a bonus round if it's solved quickly. And maybe that bonus round will be stunningly easy. Or maybe not. See you at 11:00.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

And Voilà!

Just like that the template has changed. Call it my minimalist period if you will but I feel the need to unclutter. If this template survives into October (and I wouldn't take that bet if I were you) I can use the animated film strip on the right to send scary screengrabs running up and down the page. For now though, I must present a clean and organized appearance to keep myself coming back. And don't worry if I had a banner of yours up in the sidebar advertising something on your blog, it will return soon. I have to decide how and what to display on the sidebar and will tinker with that over the next week or so.

For now, consider this a coming out party for the new bare-bones back to basics template. With that in mind I present you with another as promised archival photo, this one with Fred Astaire and Anthony Quinn escorting their debutante daughters for their coming out party. The date was December 23rd, 1959. The event was the Las Madrinas Ball held at the Beverly Hilton. Nothing so elaborate for me and my template. Also, my daughters will not require nor expect such antiquated formalities. And finally, the cat's been fixed. So I guess I have to accept there's just not going to be any cotillions in my future. Damn.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Surprise, Surprise I'm Bored with my Template

I'm bored with my template again, and oddly enough, Rick Olson just changed his too. People are going to start thinking I'm just a Coosa Creek Copycat if I keep changing my template right after he changes his. But that's okay because people will think what I tell them to think! Okay, so I'm no Charlie Kane but I thought you should know a change is on its way. I'm tired of all the tabs at the top and the pesky way you have to change the banners and the light tan text on on a brown background and yadda, yadda, yadda. Anyway, I'm going for a much cleaner back to basics look with a new template I've just finished designing and am putting the finishing touches on. It's got a superclean uncluttered appearance and right now I just need that to make me feel better to tell you the truth.

And just so this post isn't entirely about my template boredom here's a pic of Rudolph Valentino and Pola Negri in 1926 at the newly built Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, California, posing after winning a costumed dance contest there. He wore the same costume he wore in the movie Blood and Sand. Sorry Marilyn, it's the best I could do. I went through all the pics I have and couldn't find one of him as a dance instructor. I did check to see if this one was already available online and could only find a tiny thumbnail of it so hopefully it's one you haven't seen before. Enjoy.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Virtual Horn of Plenty

My place of work has subscriptions to online research sites like JSTOR (short for Journal Storage), ARTstor, Project Muse and other archival databases. If you or anyone who does not work for a university, research center or think-tank tries to read, say, The Journal of the Society of Cinematologists, volume 1 first published in 1961 and later to become Cinema Journal you will not be able to. You will receive plenty of links on Google from JSTOR, Project Muse and several universities (it's published by the University of Texas) but if you click on them they will inform you that your institution must have a subscription if you want to read the entire issue. I inform you of this not to stick my tongue out and go "Nyah nyah" in your face but because I hope to use these resources more frequently here at Cinema Styles.

First, you should understand that visiting these sites is how I spend most of my work day, even though it shouldn't be. You see, I have hundreds of weekly tasks in my job and none of it requires going to these sites but the guys and gals at the top have given me the keys to the kingdom with access to these sites ( I. Am. A. History. Nerd.) and expect me to, what, just ignore it? My God, these archival sites have EVERYTHING! I'm not kidding. They're loaded to the gills with all manner of historical booty. So, yeah, I'll just totally ignore these sites and get right on that report for you Mrs Tessmacher. Fat chance!

Also, it's not just journals, books, magazines and dissertations, it's pictures. PICTURES GALORE! And not just any pictures, thousands upon thousands of PUBLIC DOMAIN PICTURES!And the pictures that are still in copyright usually have a "fair use" notice in the "rights" section allowing their publication for non-commercial use but most are public domain from decades long past. Many were never used because the lighting was wrong, better shots existed or the AP didn't pick it up for some other ephemeral reason lost to the ages. Pictures of stars getting out of a cab, attending a charity ball, attending the Oscars, getting on a plane, or doing some other perfectly random activity. Remember that pic I put up of Bette Davis speaking at the dedication of temporary homes for vets? Where do you think that came from, Doctor Macro? Or the most recent one of Loretta Young handing off a bowl of money or that pic of Marge and Gower Champion. They all came from archival storage sites.

Now these pics may bore some, or possibly many, but I find them interesting simply because they are so, uh... uninteresting. Does that make any sense? In other words, a search of Google images produces glamour pics of Loretta Young or shots from her movies but I prefer the historical minutia of Young at the California Hospital in the forties for some charity function giving some guy a bowlful of money. It has more of a time-capsule quality to it that the glamour shots are missing.

I've already saved hundreds of such photos from these sites and thousands when you count all the historical pics I've downloaded that have nothing to do with the movies and so will never show up here. I slowly filter them out on Cinema Styles... but why? Why not just throw them up each and every opportunity I can between a post? So prepare yourself to start getting lots of photo posts here of stars in perfectly banal situations. Or attending the Oscars, like this one for instance:

That's Walter Plunkett, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Edith Head in March, 1952 at the 24th Annual Oscars for the year 1951. Plunkett won Best Costume Design, Color, for An American in Paris and Head won Best Costume Design, Black and White, for A Place in the Sun. Zsa Zsa presented.

So yes, expect me to bore you with tons of these in the coming months (as long as I don't get laid off). One exception to this will be exploitation photos. There are plenty of photos in these archives of stars in the drunk tank, stars on a slab at the morgue, stars after suicide attempts and so on. Don't expect to see any of those here. It's odd I know. They've been dead for decades so it's not like I would be invading anyone's privacy but still, I don't want to put those kinds of photos up at Cinema Styles. But as for the rest, up they go. And anyone else with access to these institutional archives*, join me. There are tons of public domain photographs with "No known restrictions on publication" - and they're just waiting to be seen and appreciated.


*If you have access to these kinds of archives and are curious what is allowed and what isn't go here for information on copyright issues. In a nutshell, anything before 1923 is public domain and anything from 1923 through 1963 is public domain unless the copyright was renewed. If it was renewed it should say so on the site and have a section where it grants the right to use it through fair use doctrine. In other cases it may require permission and will provide the contact info of the rights holder, usually a museum, library or university that can be contacted through e-mail. After 1963 it gets a little more complicated. Just another reason to stick with the old stuff.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Marching to the Beat: The Tin Drum TOERIFC's February Selection

Oskar Matzerath is a phantom. From the age of three until his presumed father dies, he lives his life in the third person. He refers to himself as "Oskar" rather than "I" or "me" and his life parallels this grammatical conceit. Having forcibly stunted his own growth at the age of three he has chosen to see the world through the eyes of a child, not having to face the responsibilities of adulthood. It is a plan doomed to failure as physical growth does nothing to halt his intellectual or emotional growth. By the time he has seen his father die, shot to death by Russians at the end of the European hostilities in World War II, he is ready to grow again but by now it's too late. The damage is done.

There has been so much written about The Tin Drum, the novel and the film and about its author Günter Grass that I find myself challenged in writing this post. Because the story is told using elements of magical realism, fable and allegory many readers and viewers feel the need to assemble a map and legend with which to navigate the story. At each proper highway marker the proper symbol is assigned and the characters are relegated to meaninglessness outside of their historical or moral representation. For me, an allegory only works if it works on its own as a story first.

When I watched Pan's Labyrinth and No Country for Old Men for the first time upon their release I was aware that both stories could be interpreted any number of ways and that even the reality of certain characters was in question and most certainly almost all of the characters in both movies could easily stand in as symbols for ideas taking them beyond the literal. But I also knew that both movies worked as straightforward stories as well. If one chose to take them literally, at face value, one would still have a well-told story presented to them. Is the same true of The Tin Drum? In the opinion of this viewer, yes and no. Yes, it does tell a story but without the allegory, the story is too episodic, too much without momentum or clear meaning. Approaching this story literally will leave some viewers cold. And confused. Let's start at the beginning.

The Tin Drum is directed by Volker Schlöndorff with a confident and bold visual style throughout. He captures and uses the piercing gaze of David Bennent as Oskar to great effect, most notably in his first appearance, in the womb of his mother. The shot of Oskar in the womb as the fully developed boy-man we will see throughout the film is a brilliant visual touch that immediately signals an other worldliness about the character of Oskar.

Schlöndorff then brings him into the world using a P.O.V. shot (point of view) of Oskar emerging in the delivery room and pondering his surroundings. Overhearing his mother state that he will receive a tin drum on his third birthday is the only thing that keeps him from immediately retreating back to the womb. Well almost the only thing. They have also cut the umbilical chord.

On his third birthday he does indeed receive his tin drum and watching the bickering hypocritical world of adults around him decides he will stop growing at once. He hurtles himself down the cellar steps and never grows again. Physically, that is. Intellectually he progresses just like anyone else. He also discovers when threatened with the loss of his beloved drum that his scream can shatter glass. And all of this takes place in post World War I Germany as that country and the world hears the ever growing drumbeat of Nazism, a call to arms that make its intentions clear on Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, November 9, 1938. In fact, it is shortly after we see Oskar, with his friends, drumming and marching, breaking glass in public for the first time (Oskar shatters a street lamp) that we the Nazis literally come around the corner, also drumming, also marching.

After this the story does not provide the literal viewer with much more than a general coming of age tale set during wartime. Oskar reaches puberty and engages in oral sex with his first love. As he grows older still he leaves home to tour with a group of performing Little People who entertain the Nazi troops on the front lines. There he meets his second love and on the shores of Normandy watches her die in a hail of fire and smoke. He returns home, believes his first love's son is his own (and it may well be as he and his father have both made love to her) and gives him a tin drum for his third birthday. He would like his son, Kurt, to stop growing too but Kurt does not. Eventually the war is lost, he sees his father killed, suffers a brain injury and is carted off (again literally) to a sanitarium. The end.

One persistent problem of the film is that it appears to assume one has read the book. In the novel, Oskar narrates from the sanitarium as he writes his memoirs. By the end of his story he has feigned insanity to enter the asylum, once again avoiding the hard choices of life. In the movie, most viewers unfamiliar with the book will not even know he is going to a sanitarium at the end, or that he hasn't really suffered any neurological damage. I have no problem with characters being left out, that is understandable in any adaptation of a lengthy novel but why Schlöndorff chose to make the location of Oskar's narration unknown is a mystery. It certainly would have made the ending clearer.

Schlöndorff also seems unsure if he wants to approach the allegory as a comedic fable or a serious one. While it's true the book contains many absurdities and elements of magical realism not present in the film (in the book, for example, the Germans go to underground cafes that serve large cut onions, which force them to cry, since they are too shell shocked to release emotion on their own) it employs the language of film unavailable to the book. Some scenes are run at a faster frames-per-second rate to emulate a silent film, or more specifically, silent comedy. And Schlöndorff uses vibrant colors and brightly lit scenes throughout, betraying any sense of impending doom. Even during the death of Oskar's second love in Normandy, the sun is shining and the environment inviting. Going for a cup of coffee doesn't seem that crazy after all.

In a way, Schlöndorff has such a good eye for visual set-ups that the movie's realism, which he favored over it's fantastical elements and says so in the commentary track, becomes secondary to the paintings he wants to put before our eyes. But those paintings do live long in the mind: The horse head on the beach with the eels running out of it. Oskar in the womb. Bebra's performing troupe having a picnic on top of a pillbox on the shores of Normandy. Oskar's mother consuming raw fish until it kills her. Visually, Schlöndorff has produced a striking film. Narratively, he has produced a muddle.

But all of this makes it sound as if I do not like the film and nothing could be further from the truth. I found The Tin Drum to be quite captivating at times. It's true, I would've preferred a richer narrative than the episodic fleeting moments the viewer is presented with and do believe it works better for a viewer familiar with the book, but it's images and characters pulled me in and kept me engaged. While I feel it works best as an allegory, I don't believe the allegory is so blunt as to keep the movie from working on its own. One could take the story of Oskar as literal, a boy refusing to grow up and engage in the complicated paradigms of the adult world or one could take it as an allegory for the German people ignoring reality around them (they chose to stop growing, i.e., make adult decisions and choices) until after the horrors of the Holocaust were revealed at which time they needed to start growing again. That's the basic idea put forth by the author Günter Grass with the novel and he spent decades hammering the point home in public speeches, interviews and lectures. The German people had stunted their growth, refused to take part in the adult world of taking responsible action and a madman and his band of thugs sent millions to their deaths as a result. Grass did not hold back from demanding there be shame, remorse and accounting.

Then in 2006 it was revealed he had been a conscripted member of the Waffen-SS. Worse than that, though less reported, he had tried to volunteer for U-Boat duty at the age of 15. The conscription into the Waffen-SS could be written off since he had no choice in the matter, but eager to volunteer at fifteen? That couldn't be written off so easily. Many, including Christopher Hitchens, called him a hypocrite and a fraud while others, like writer John Irving, hailed him as a hero.

As with all things the truth lies somewhere in between. Had Grass revealed the truth of his past from the beginning he would have had, to my mind, an even higher moral authority from which to speak. He could demand accounting and remorse because he had been a part of it and by revealing his involvement had fully accounted and taken responsibilities for his actions. But he didn't. He kept it a secret until 2006, until after the Nobel Prize, until almost fifty years after the publication of the novel. Still, as John Irving asks, why should that invalidate the ideas put forth in the novel? If someone preaches against the horrors of slavery and is then discovered to have once been a slave owner, does that invalidate what they said about slavery? It may make them appear hypocritical, but it certainly doesn't invalidate their view that slavery is wrong.

And this is just one more roadblock to a full appreciation of the book and movie. The movie has become infamous due to Grass' conscription and obscenity charges levelled against it in Oklahoma, something I don't care to discuss but felt I should mention it to make a point. These things have become The Tin Drum as much as the story itself. Audiences now view it through the filter of a once conscripted hypocrite or the accusations of child pornography. Presenting its story in allegorical form complicates matters more. Is the average modern viewer (no one here included) knowledgeable enough about the Treaty of Versailles and the conditions forced on Germany after World War I to understand the tension that slowly mounted around the Polish Post Office in Danzig? Are they aware of the accusations of complicity levelled against the German people in the rise of Adolph Hitler that Oskar's refusal to grow up stands in for as a metaphor? What about Oskar's ability to affect change as he disrupts the Nazi rally and turns it into a waltz? After he realizes he can affect change if he tries, he abandons any notions of doing so and instead begins entertaining the troops. He could have done something, but didn't. What about the Jewish toymaker? What are Grass and Schlöndorff going for with his death? Does he stand in for all the Jews slaughtered? Is being killed in his office irony? Was supplying the drums to Oskar intended to be another ironic statement on the perceptions of Anti-Semites that the Jews of Germany passively enabled the Nazis? Finally, does Oskar have any remorse? Does he learn anything? He loses his true love and soon after is smiling as he brings a tin drum to his son, blissfully encouraging the same avoidance of life in his son that has brought him heartache and confusion.

There are no definite answers to any of those questions and as long as people examine history in an effort to understand it there never will be. It's all interpretation. It's all reflection. Meaning is obscured by more recent events. Facts are obscured by interpretation. In the end the drumbeat of history continues unabated, indifferent to our allegories and parables and road maps. The Tin Drum tries to make sense of World War II, Nazism and the Holocaust by presenting its tale through the eyes of a disaffected narrator at odds with the society around him. It may succeed in this, it may not. Or it may be marching to the beat of a drum that only it can hear.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

This Never Happens to Me

No one ever hands me a bowlful of money. Ever. Even if it is all ones who cares, it still never happens. And if it ever did it wouldn't be someone like Loretta Young handing it to me. No it'd be Jar-Jar Binks or the "I'll buy that for a dollar" guy from Robocop. Alas, alack.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Couple of Couples

The 24th Annual Academy Awards held in March of 1952. The big winner for Best Picture that year (1951) was An American in Paris. A Streetcar Named Desire won three out of the four acting categories, losing only the Best Actor category to Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen. Attending the ceremony were some of the biggest couples of the day including Mr and Mrs James Stewart shown here:

But who's this? Who could this Mystery Couple be? Marilyn?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Virtue, White Women and a Tale of Two Charlies

Double features don't happen outside of specialty houses anymore unless it's an experiment by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez and then it just confuses people. But at places like the Film Forum in New York and the AFI in Silver Spring the Double Bill is alive and well. Recently my wife and I took in two Carole Lombard movies back to back on a double bill at the AFI. From 1932 and 1933 respectively we were treated to Virtue and White Woman. Once again the audience at the AFI was perfectly suited for the two films, no one laughing at the wrong place, no one making snarky remarks because the films are culturally from another place and time. Nope, just rapt attention and great reactions. And in what is becoming a welcome habit, I thrilled at seeing a film, two in this case, from the thirties on the big screen. I love TCM, but there really is no substitute for seeing these things in a theatre.

Neither movie stands out as an example of superb writing, thrilling camerawork or daring editing. No, they're both pretty standard fare but both were still very entertaining. Especially that Tale of Two Charlies I'll get to in just a minute. First, a brief look at the first movie on the program, Virtue.

Virtue stars Lombard with Pat O'Brien and it's the first time I've ever seen O'Brien in a role in which he elicited my sympathy. I didn't know he had it in him but he plays humiliation in a couple of scenes perfectly a with downturned look and a slight quiver of the lip as we realize he just wants to cry but being a big, tough talking guy, can't. The story is soap opera fare all the way. Lombard's a prostitute whose been ordered in court to leave town or go to jail. She pretends to leave town, gets off the train and runs into O'Brien, a taxi driver, who picks her up at the station. I'd go further but this is one of those massively over-plotted movies involving deception, mistaken identity, broken hearts and murder. I think drugs are in there somewhere too but I can't remember.

Edward Buzzell directs with an impressive economy of speed. While containing enough plot for a season's worth of episodes on HBO, Buzzell pulls the whole story in at just under 70 minutes and especially impressive for 1932, as the industry was just getting around to noiseless cameras that could come out of the sound booth, he keeps the camera moving. The opening scene of roommates Pat O'Brien and Ward Bond discussing Bond's girl troubles races by despite the banality of their conversation because Buzzell follows them through the apartment while they're in constant movement like he's got a hand held camera and he's working the red carpet.

The performances by all are good, not great, and the end result is an entertaining and fast paced soap opera with a happy ending. Seeing it on the big screen definitely upped it a notch or two in my book. Now, for that second movie.

White Woman was the second part of the program and it's one I wasn't sure I was going to get through. It too comes in at just under 70 minutes but the first thirty are just this side of dreadful. The pacing for the first half is lethargic, filled with odd pauses between lines, lingering shots that amount to nothing and a static lifeless camera. It tells the story of a widow, Judith Denning, played by Carole Lombard, who is stuck singing at a cafe in ... uh, I don't know, Malaysia I think. At least that's what IMDB says but they get every other detail of the plot wrong so I probably shouldn't trust them. Anyway, she is going to be deported because, best I could gather, she's white and a white woman singing in a cafe disturbs the locals. No, I'm actually serious, that seemed to be the reason. So along comes Charles Laughton as Horace Prin, King of the River. Yes, he runs a rubber plantation along the river and will marry her so she won't be deported. They marry and Judith and Prin return to his houseboat where she discovers he blackmails all of his employees and if they try and leave he orders the natives to kill them.

Now, Laughton, the first Charlie, is terrific with his way, way, waaaaay over the top delivery and a moustache that seems almost supernatural in design, or at the very least, gravity-defying. And yet the first half-hour still drags. Judith starts having an affair with the Overseer, David von Elst, played by Kent Taylor, and the two decide to leave the jungle. Prin of course tells them they're welcome to leave, but they won't get a boat so they'll have to go through the jungle and face the natives. They decide to stay and Prin puts von Elst in charge of the outpost up the river where he will be miles from Judith. And that's when the second Charlie shows up, Charles Bickford.

Most cinephiles know Bickford as Oliver Niles, producer, in the 1954 remake of A Star is Born. Here he is a revelation. The second he shows up as the new Overseer, Ballister, he starts insulting Prin with a gruff deadpan delivery that's just hilarious. Up to this point everyone tiptoes around Prin but Ballister immediately lays into him. Everyone calls Laughton's character "Prin" or "Mister Prin" or "Sir" but not Ballister. No, he calls him "Tubby", "Potbelly" and my favorite, "Squashface" as in "Yeah, whatever you say Squashface" or "Well look who's here - Tubby" or "Ah shut up Potbelly." Prin looks bemused every time Ballister insults him. Then as von Elst heads up river Ballister walks right up to Judith and says (and remember it's pre-code) "Hey baby how 'bout a tumble?" She recoils to which he replies, "Ah come on sister, you could do a lot worse around here than a tumble with me." This doesn't convince her. No tumble occurs.

Meanwhile Prin has insulted some Tribe up the river and they're on their way to kill him and everyone there. Prin has been warned by von Elst who has put his life in danger to come back to tell them. Prin is going to stay and fight with his machine guns but tells von Elst and Judith they can have a boat to go down river. He then snickers to Ballister that it only has enough gas to get them to the worst part of the river, where the most violent and murderous tribe lives. Ballister gives a deadpan, "How about that Squashface. Guess you gotta get up pretty early in the morning to fool you huh Potbelly?" Then Ballister goes out to the boat, fills it up and tells Prin they'll make it all the way now. Prin is furious and Ballister just says something along the lines of, "Ah shut up Tubby." And that takes us to the finale, and what a finale it is!

Prin goes to get his machine guns only to discover that they have been thrown in the river by Jakey, another blackmailed servant who hated Prin for killing his chimpanzee (and may I just say that scene is fairly disturbing). Ballister laughs when Prin discovers this, calls him a few names, insults his manhood and then says, "Hey let's play some poker." And there they are, in the middle of the night on a boat docked in the jungle as the war drums grow louder playing poker. They trade barbs. Prin - "You're face would look handsome stuck on a spike." Ballister - "Ha! Well your's wouldn't, that's a cinch!" This goes on for a few minutes until Ballister is hit with a poison dart. His body stays upright in the chair smiling as Prin starts yelling at him for ... well... everything. His life, his shattered dreams, his wife leaving, the tribes at war, hell, even his poker hand. He's furious because for the first time in his life he got a Royal Flush and his opponent in the game is now dead. The shots of Prin yelling at Ballister's lifeless grinning face, lit from beneath like a horrorshow routine, are as memorable as anything I've seen in some time. Then Prin runs out to the deck of the boat screaming wildly and is killed. The end.

What a movie! Or at least, what a last half of a movie! Because still, I can't recommend anything here until Ballister arrives. Before that it's a chore. The first thirty minutes easily feel like ninety. But once Ballister shows up, the game's on.

As the lights went up a mere two hours and twenty minutes after going down my wife and I agreed, we had gotten our money's worth. Virtue and White Woman may not go down in cinema history as anything other than a couple of larks on Carole Lombard's resume but seeing them back to back on the big screen in a glorious theatre made for one of my best nights out at the movies in a long, long time.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Ideas that Walk and Talk

As is now custom, here's another scene (or three) from this week's Name That Movie, Lost Horizon. I've written up Lost Horizon before and have included the two videos I have previously posted at the bottom of this post. One is Welcome to Shangri-La celebrating the art direction of Steve Goosson with the music of Steve Tibbetts and the other is Isabel Jewel, as prostitute Gloria Stone, giving the "noble animals of the human race" the what for, before her moral upperhand trails off into a chronic hacking cough. But first, a new scene to look at.

This is yet another strange scene from this strange fascinating movie espousing pacifism and Buddhist-like moderation. If I could create my own genres, and why can't I, I would creat the Political Tract Genre and place this in there along with The Fountainhead. In both movies, there is no real character development as the characters simply function as vessels for ideas or as metaphors for another group or notion. Here, Thomas Mitchell represents capitalism, reformed. Edward Horton the clueless intellectual elite. John Howard, reactionary violence and cowardice. And so on. As such, there are no real personal conversations that go on in the film, just a relating of philosophical or political ideas and positions.

This next scene represents the only conversation that Jane Wyatt and Ronald Colman have that has nothing to do with Shangri-La, the pacifist philosophy (Wyatt by the way represents the idealist, sure that no one in the world is bad, just in the wrong place at the wrong time) or political beliefs. And it's an odd one. Colman tells her "'why' is the most annoying word in the English language" then plays a game where he performs a mother and daughter conversation for Wyatt, who looks uncomfortable as he does. He put her hand on his hand, later she moves it, he puts it back. Then he makes a joke about "mommy" wringing the neck of the daughter, Wyatt asks if he would like to wring hers, he says "yes," she runs, he chases her, she says upon being caught "I sorry, I sorry" like a little girl as he play strangles her and then ... they kiss. Huh? What the hell? It's odd to say the least. The equating of strangling a little girl with sexual arousal does give one pause. And yes, I know they were just joking around with each other and playful frolic in the movies always leads to sex but still, to these eyes, it's weird. The writers could have come up with a hundred other "cute" ways for these two to finally kiss and they came up with this? Oh well.


And here are the two previous clips I posted last year.



Name That Movie Round 2, Clip 3

Here's the 3rd clip for the second Name That Movie game currently going on here at Cinema Styles. Bob got the first, Flickhead got the second but who will get the third? This clip is presented a little differently. It has sound as it opens, then goes mute, then sound again then mute again. Why? Because they wouldn't stop saying the character's name that's why. They must say it five times in just four seconds and so I muted it. He's not even a big character in the movie, but out of curiosity, since they say his name so much, I googled it and lo and behold, the movie title populated 8 of the first 10 hits. I googled many different variations of Embassy Club too, just to be on the safe side, and that damn name has been used in so many movies of the period you have a better chance of randomly picking a title from the IMDB database and getting the right one than finding it through that search. So here it is, odd muting and all.


Sunday, February 8, 2009

Spread of Activation III, The DVD Edition

Ever see a DVD and think it should cost less even though it only costs seven dollars to begin with? I thought that as I was flipping through the DVDs at Borders in downtown Silver Spring on Friday. I came across Stripes. It was seven bucks, or to be more precise, $6.99. Now to be sure that's pretty cheap for a DVD. And yet I said to myself, "If this were a buck fifty I'd get it." Now before I confuse the situation too much let me clarify. I don't think it should be a buck fifty because it's a bad movie although it's also nothing special. I saw it in the theatre when it opened, had a few laughs, saw it on cable a couple more times and laughed again. It's fine. It's unambitious, cheaply made, and a bit visually shabby. However, it does adequately serves its purpose, which is basically to provide a quick and easy comedy vehicle for Bill Murray and show P.J. Soles breasts. So I'm not saying it's bad. I'm saying for what it sets out to do and what it accomplishes, and how meager all those goals were to begin with, it should be a buck fifty. And then I might get it.

Or how about the desire to buy a DVD of a movie you don't even like? That happens to me more than I care to admit and I'm always a little confused by it when it does. A couple of weeks ago I was out perusing the DVDs again when I happened across The Greatest Show on Earth. This is a movie I truly dislike. I find it lethargically paced, poorly scripted and remarkably non-eventful. I do like the car/train crash sequence with it's miniatures colliding and careening but outside of that I'm just not a fan. But there it was priced at $8.99. "Wow," I thought, "$8.99, I should get it." And then I remembered I didn't like it. But then I thought, "But it's a classic film and I want my DVD collection to be overflowing with classic films." And then I remembered how much I didn't it and forced myself to walk away.

Or how about the multiple movie DVDs priced a little higher than a single DVD? These come in a variety of qualities. The TCM Archives discs are pretty good. Usually three movies, priced around 40 bucks, with good quality transfers. But then I think, "Forty bucks for one DVD. I could buy two or three DVDs for that price." Now the obvious logical hole here is that there are two or three movies on this one DVD but it's still one DVD and that's what throws me off. And here's why: When I buy three DVDs for forty bucks I'm getting three DVD cases, with three DVDs. When I buy TCM Archives DVDs, which I have, I'm getting one DVD case and at most, two DVDs. Here's what TCM and others should do: Treat it like a mini-boxset. For instance, I have TCM Archives Forbidden Hollywood Collection Volume One. This has Baby Face, Red Headed Woman and Waterloo Bridge on it. It is on two DVDs inside one DVD case. Instead, they should package each movie in it's own case and slip them in a cover box announcing the collection just like one would get buying the Star Wars or Lord of the Rings trilogy. You still get three separate cases so the price doesn't cause an illogical reaction in the buyer.

And speaking of box sets I own almost none. They're just too expensive for me. I've got the Woody Allen and Stanley Kubrick sets as well as The Godfather set that recently came out but that's about it. They just cost so damn much, it's prohibitive to my budget. So I look for collector's DVDs instead that have lots of great features. As I peruse my collection in wondering which is my favorite my eye falls on The Adventures of Robin Hood, Two Disc Special Edition. My God, it's glorious! It's probably my favorite Collector's Edition DVD of my whole collection. First and foremost, it has the movie, that great, brilliant wonderful movie of 1938, one of my favorite adventure films of all time. But then, there are the features. Holy cow! It has:

*Music Only Audio Track where you can listen to Erich Korngold's great score.

*The short subject Warner Night at the Movies 1938 which features the trailer for Angels With Dirty Faces, a newsreel, the musical short subject Freddie Rich and his Orchestra and the Merrie Melodies cartoon Katnip Kollege.

*Full length documentary Welcome to Sherwood: The Story of the Adventures of Robin Hood.

*Outtakes and cut scenes from the movie.

*Breakdowns of 1938, a blooper reel that Warner Brothers put together every year to show to its employees at their annual banquet (yes, you get to hear the stars of the day cursing - they say 'goddamn' a lot).

*The mini-doc, Robin Hood Through the Ages, which covers other screen adaptations.

*A Journey to Sherwood Forest which contains home movies shot on the backlot during production of the movie by Basil Rathbone.

*The classic Merrie Melodies cartoons Rabbit Hood and Robin Hood Daffy ("Yoicks and away").

*Calvacade of Archery, a short produced in 1938 showcasing the skills of Howard Hill, the archery expert who trained Flynn. Wow, is he good. His skills are amazing to behold. Seriously, he can hit something the size of a pea with his arrow, including of course splitting arrows in a bullseye again and again.

*The Cruise of the Zaca, a short film that follows Errol on his yacht, the Zaca, as he and his scientist father, wife and friends sail the world exploring sea life and different cultures. My youngest absolutely loves this short. We've watched it at least a dozen times.

*Splitting the Arrow, a slideshow of historical art, costume designs, concept drawings, cast and crew photos and publicity stills.

*The Robin Hood Radio Show from May 11, 1938 with the vocal work of Flynn, DeHavilland and Rathbone.

*An audio recording of a piano session with Erich Korngold.

*The Errol Flynn Trailer Gallery which features the original trailers from Flynn's movies. And not just one or two. No, as Baron Guest once said, this one goes to eleven, including favorites Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk.

*And finally, the full length documentary, Glorious Technicolor, on the history of the technicolor process, of which was used for Robin Hood.

That's one hell of a set of bonus features, including of course the expected commentary by Rudy Behlmer who does probably 70 percent of all classic DVD commentaries. I've never listened to it to be honest. But everything else I have checked out, several of them many times over. It's a motherlode of features and didn't cost much more than an average DVD, certainly not as much as a box set.

Criterion Collection DVDs usually have lots of good features as well but the main selling point of Criterion is the transfer itself. Still, sometimes even Criterion disappoints. Another favorite of mine, The Most Dangerous Game, is on a DVD put out by Criterion. The transfer is good, not great and the special features? Audio commentary and subtitles. That's it. No really, that's it. And it's Criterion. But it's an older Criterion. Recent purchases of The Rules of the Game and The Lady Vanishes definitely offer more, on par with the Robin Hood DVD described above.

Well, that about wraps up this DVD edition of Spread of Activation. One last thing and this one seems really crazy but maybe, just maybe, I'm not alone. Has anyone else picked up a DVD of a movie they already own on DVD and considered buying it? I don't mean a new, better transfer or any different features. I mean essentially the same DVD but at most it has a new cover box and you think, "Well, I like the new cover a lot and..." Anybody? Or is that just me?

Friday, February 6, 2009

Another One of Those Days

*****UPDATE***** Is there really no one out there who knows the two actresses on either side of the seated center actress? Come on, look at their faces! The one on the right (our right) is hugely famous for god sakes. The one on the left not so much but still, anyone who knows early to mid thirties fantasy and horror should know her.

Work has once again conspired to keep me from any serious update here or at that other place where it has unofficially become One Post Only Week. But like the banner says, I won't leave you hanging. I can't check in much today but here's a pic of some actresses just because... well, just because I have to put something up don't I? The two actresses flanking the center actress are a piece of cake to figure out but the other four more challenging. Unless of course you know the source of the photo which can be easily found on Google simply by typing in the name of the easy to guess actress left of center. If you want to go that way I can't stop you but if you want to try and test your facial recognition skills please do. I should tell you, except for a random guess on the back one I couldn't get any of the others.

And if anyone wants to name today's banner movie, you could test your skills there too (I'm sure Marilyn knows it, but sorry, no points for Name That Movie on this one. Too easy.).

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Are they really?

JONATHAN (TO BILL): You think you know something, don't you? You think you're the clever little blogger who knows something. There's so much you don't know, so much. Do you know the movie world is a foul sty? Do you know, if you rip off the fronts of movie studios, you'd find swine? The movie world's a hell. What does it matter what happens in it? Wake up, Bill. Use your wits. Learn something. The cities are full of movies, cgi-movies, ideas, dead ideas who've spent their lives making fortunes, being recycled again and again.

And then they die and leave the new ideas to the studio heads, the silly studio heads. And what do the studio heads do, these useless people? You see them in their concept meetings, at the best Oscar parties, every day by the thousands, drinking the money, eating the money, losing the money on cocaine and prostitutes, playing all day and all night, smelling of money, proud of their botox but of nothing else, horrible, faded, fat, greedy studio heads...

BILL: But they're alive! They're human beings!

JONATHAN: Are they? Are they really Bill? Are they human or are they fat, wheezing animals, hmm? And what happens to animals when they get too fat and too old?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Empty as a Pocket

In 1986, with the release of his album Graceland, Paul Simon found himself in a curious position. His album was receiving the highest kudos from music critics the world over but at the same time he was being protested, criticized and vilified. The problems were many. First and foremost, he had violated a cultural boycott of South Africa, a boycott that was endorsed by the United Nations, by using South African musicians and recording in Johannesburg. Simon's supporters argued that he was giving exposure to the musicians of South Africa at a time when the world was ignoring them. His detractors claimed he was exploiting them, using them for backing rhythms, knowing that in the event of controversy, he could pull out the "I'm just trying to help" excuse. After all, without Simon it was argued, their careers in South Africa would have never taken off.

Many critics, most notably Charles Hamm and Dave Marsh, didn't buy the story then and still aren't buying it today. Marsh once quipped, concerning Simon's rationalizations, that he was "still lying after all these years." Hamm has written that the musicians Simon used and gave songwriting credit to, including Joseph Shabalala and his group Ladysmith Black Mambazo as well as General M.D. Shirinda and the Gaza Sisters, were and are all of the Conservative Black wing that, simply put, did not suffer during Apartheid. They were doing well already and Simon did not dig deep into the bowels of Soweto to find what the locals would call the real deal. And to add to the offense for many, the music was non-politicized. In most of Europe and North America that meant little, but to many musicians and artists in South Africa, it was a betrayal of the idea of using these musicians in the first place. That is to say, Simon went to all that trouble, breaking the cultural boycott and defiantly using South African musicians, only to make the grand political statement of "You Can Call Me Al." Simon said political songs would have endangered the musicians. Hamm and many South African artists disagreed.

The final insult came with the use of Linda Ronstadt on vocals for Under African Skies. The problem? Ronstadt was a habitual Sun City player and her presence on the album offended many. Writing in the Village Voice upon the album's release, preeminent rock critic Robert Christgau wrote, "The offense is compounded, of course, by who Shabalala's sister-in-song happens to be: a prominent violator of the Sun City boycott. Even if her lyric called for total U.S. divestiture, Ronstadt's presence on Graceland would be a slap in the face to the world anti-apartheid movement--a deliberate, considered, headstrong slap in the face."

Finally, there was the matter of payment, the one area where there was no controversy. Simon claimed not only were all the musicians paid according to American union standards, but triple that. Even Hamm agreed, the musicians were well paid.

There is a similar situation today, not with music but with the movies. Not with musicians but with actors. The movie is Slumdog Millionaire and the actors are Rubina Ali and Azharuddin Ismail, and this time the money situation isn't so easily defended.

First, here is the release from the filmmakers and the studio distributors:


From the moment that we hired them and long before the press became interested in this story, we have paid painstaking and considered attention to how Azhar and Rubina's involvement in the film could be of lasting benefit to them over and above the payment they received for their work.

The children had never attended school, and in consultation with their parents we agreed that this would be our priority. Since June 2008 and at our expense, both kids have been attending school and they are flourishing under the tutelage of their dedicated and committed teachers. Financial resources have been made available for their education until they are 18. We were delighted to see them progressing well when we visited their school and met with their teachers last week.

In addition to their educational requirements, a fund is in place to meet their basic living costs, health care and any other emergencies. Furthermore, as an incentive for them to continue to attend school a substantial lump sum will be released to each child when they complete their studies. Taking into account all of the children's circumstances we believe that this is the right course of action.

Since putting in place these arrangements more than 12 months ago we have never sought to publicize them, and we are doing so now only in response to the questions raised recently in the press. We trust that the matter can now be put to bed, and we would request that the media respect the children's privacy at this formative time in their lives.

- - Danny Boyle and Christian Colson


The welfare of Azhar and Rubina has always been a top priority for everyone involved with Slumdog Millionaire. A plan has been in place for over 12 months to ensure that their experience working on Slumdog Millionaire would be of long term benefit. For 30 days work, the children were paid three times the average local annual adult salary. Last year after completing filming, they were enrolled in school for the first time and a fund was established for their future welfare, which they will receive if they are still in school when they turn 18. Due to the exposure and potential jeopardy created by the unwarranted press attention, we are looking into additional measures to protect Azhar and Rubina and their families. We are extremely proud of this film, and proud of the way our child actors have been treated.

- - Fox Searchlight Pictures, Fox Star Studios, Pathe International

Having read through that in its entirety you may have noticed no one mentions what the two children were paid. The distributor release says "For 30 days work, the children were paid three times the average local annual adult salary." Triple, just like Paul Simon. Only Simon was paying triple union wages. Fox says they were paid triple the adult salary for the area. Do you want to know what the average adult salary for the area is? Rs 48,954. That's 48,954 Rupees. If you use a currency calculator like this one, you will find that 48,954 Rupees converts to $1,006 dollars. And in fact, the reports that do state how much the children were paid use the figures of a little over $1,060 and $3,600 for Rubina and Azharuddin respectively which jibes with the annual salary figures. Rubina got the average annual salary and Azharuddin got three times that. Now, for those who would argue that "well it's still three times" one would have to ask, "Is it fair to pay someone in Mexico 25 cents an hour just because the normal wage is 10 cents an hour?"

The cost of living in India is not in fact so far beneath that of England or the United States that an average salary of one thousand dollars puts you on Easy Street. Oh no, that average salary is well below the poverty level. It's just that, for that area, the average wage earner is impoverished.

So, if you are a producer, or director, or distributor and have within your means to pay these actors at least American or European Union Scale, why wouldn't you? The basic rates for a performer according to this rate sheet are as follows: $624 and $775 for a Day Player, category I or II and $2,190 and $2,712 for a Weekly Player (five days), category I and II. Now, if we take the low end, $624, and multiply by 30 we get $18,720. If we go weekly, again on the low end, and multiply $2,190 by six (30 days or six five day periods) we get $13,140. Either way, it's higher than what they got.

But Danny Boyle, the director, and Christian Colson, the producer, state they have also set up a trust fund, which will take care of the children's education and become theirs once they make it to eighteen, provided they stay in school. And if they can't stay in school or prefer to learn a trade so they can begin earning money at fourteen? Well, I guess they're screwed. Why they cannot have the trust fund set up and a lump sum of three or four time union wages paid up front I have no idea. If they were paid three times union scale, as Paul Simon did with the musicians on his Graceland album, an album that did not make nearly the amount of money that Slumdog Millionaire has, then the children would have been paid, using the low end weekly figure, $39,420 each. For first time actors in major supporting roles in a major motion picture that's fair. Many get much more, some get less, but for a non-star who cannot demand millions, that's about right.

So why didn't they get that? With such figures amounting to mere drops in a bucket for a producer and a distributor, why the hardball on the figures and the convoluted setup of the trust fund? Why? Honestly, I don't have the answer and it may surprise you but I still think it's possible that nothing wrong happened here. Maybe that trust fund is good for millions. The California Child Actor's Bill, popularly known as the Coogan Act, was enacted in 1939 after it was discovered that Jackie Coogan, one of the most successful child stars in Hollywood in the teens and twenties, had lost almost all of what he had made. His parents, it turns out, had spent nearly four million dollars of his money and Coogan, reaching adulthood, was left with $126,000. The bill applies to Hollywood productions only but maybe Boyle and Colson were and are acting in the same spirit of that bill. In fact, maybe Boyle and Colson have paid them more than they're letting on because they don't want the family put in jeopardy with people trying to steal their money. Of course, recent reports of the children still living in abject poverty don't give much support to this hope, but it's possible. However, we can never know until we get answers and so far we're just getting the runaround. I have sent an e-mail to Fox Distribution but have received nothing back. I will try again. My e-mail request was simple: How much, specifically in total monetary terms, were they paid?

I am not here to judge one way or the other, and cannot until I have enough evidence to make any kind of a reasonable judgment. Twenty plus years down the road and Paul Simon is still occasionally put on the defensive when discussing Graceland, most recently due to Los Lobos saying he stole their music, and there is still no resolution. But in 1986 they didn't have blogs. Now we do. Perhaps if some of the bigger ones got involved, say Jim Emerson or Roger Ebert, we could get some answers. Rick Olson, Pat Piper and myself have now posted on this but we are little fish indeed in this big movie blogging pond. Bigger fish would greatly increase the odds of getting an answer and putting this to rest. Until then, many people have a bad taste in their mouths. A taste of exploitation, and it won't go away without answers. Look once again at Graceland. I personally think Paul Simon felt the political statement was the act itself of employing the South African musicians. As for the rest of the controversy, I think Simon is an artist who, like so many, wanted to do something and didn't think all the political or social repercussions through. Where Simon appears different than Boyle and Colson is he never questioned how much money his musicians should be paid. Just because they weren't American musicians didn't mean they shouldn't get union scale, and in their case, three times that. The rest of the controversy lies in misconceptions and differences of opinion. With Slumdog Millionaire, the controversy lies in the payment, period. All that is required to completely and resolutely squash the controversy is for someone to pay Rubina Ali and Azharuddin Ismail their fair share, and if they plan on doing so with a trust fund, or have already done so, tell the press. That's it. That's all they need to do. Why is that so hard? Fox Distribution, Boyle and Colson, feel free to use a lifeline, call a friend, get an audience vote, do whatever you need to do but give us an answer. And as time is running out, we're going to need it to be your final answer. Thanks.

*****Post Script*****

I was going to use quotes from my fellow bloggers in this piece but decided it would be best if they were read in the context they were written. Rick Olson has already written about this twice and in the comment section here there is an excellent discussion of much that is perceived to be wrong with this situation.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Invaders from Mars Montage Finale

Invaders from Mars was directed by William Cameron Menzies and released in 1953. The collector's edition DVD I purchased contains a terrific booklet giving the entire history of the film and it's production, including it's supposed 3-D preparation (not really true) and the tussles between the writer of the movie (John Battle) and the writer of the story (Richard Blake). It was made on the cheap as evidenced by the green felt jumpsuits worn by the underground mutants and the Martian head that resembles an old-school NFL Concussion helmet. But none of that mattered to Menzies who was all about production design (Oscar winner for Gone With The Wind) and montage, which he used to great extent in his first directorial effort, Things to Come (1936).

In this closing montage, everyone flees from the impending Martian spaceship explosion. They flee. And flee. And flee. The shot of the boy, Jimmy Hunt, running and running and running, as the choir yelps louder and louder is mesmerizing to this viewer. Maybe I can't explain it or rationalize to you, dear reader, in any objective intellectual way, but for me, the giddy exuberance of a director going surrealistic on a shoestring is like a gift to be treasured. It's a favorite sequence of mine from Sci-Fi history. Enjoy.