(* … or not. As an alert reader just pointed out, Bergman has been replaced with a tribute to James Garner. Still… I’ll leave this post for future reference, as I’m sure TCM will eventually bring some of these films back.)

I recently screened a 16mm print of Ingmar Bergman’s (1918 – 2007) The Magician (1958). His birthday was on Bastille Day (July 14th) and his day of death was July 30th. It is fitting that both his life and death should fall on the same month. The Swedish director is famous for artful portrayals of existential extremes that tackle the agonies of passion and life against a backdrop of inevitable mortality in ways that put them back-to-back. His most famously iconic scene from The Seventh Seal (1957) turns the game between life and death into something that is not even back-to-back; it’s face-to-face in a setup that is still referenced even today (ie: in The Colbert Report‘s “Cheating Death” segments). Which brings us back to the end of July… usually thought of as a summer moment made for back-pack adventures, trips to the water-park, and leisurely moments spent lounging around in air-conditioned spaces. But perhaps TCM programmers were hip to the idea that July is also Bergman’s month, because this Monday night they are showing six of his films back-to-back. Here are some crib notes for those ready to take the plunge.  [...MORE]

July 26, 2014
David Kalat
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Pryor convictions

Richard Pryor stood on the stage of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC in 1998.  It was an unusual audience for the veteran comedian—a bunch of stuffed shirt politicos and hoity toits, there to award Pryor with the Mark Twain Prize for humor, and to congratulate themselves for doing so.  He was 58 years old—and although no one knew it at the time, he had less than a decade left to live.

Those 58 years had been filled with incident: he was born in a brothel, forged his comic fearlessness in front of the Vegas Mafia, set himself on fire while free-basing cocaine, and played a computer hacker in Superman III.

Addressing this audience of VIPs, Pryor said that he considered his mission as a comedian to be more than just making people laugh—it was using that laughter as a tool “to lessen people’s hatred.”

As it happens, we can see this noble calling at work in a particular scene of Pryor’s 1976 film Silver Streak.


KEYWORDS: Arthur Hiller, Gene Wilder, Richard Pryor, Silver Streak

Show of hands!


The received wisdom is that the eyes are windows to the soul… but hands do the heavy lifting. My eyes tend to gravitate towards hands, both in real life and reel life. Hand shadows on the wall made for, if not the first form of public entertainment, one of the earliest forms of storytelling and countless years later you can tell a lot about a character by what he or she does with his or her hands. But enough palaver; to paraphrase Shakespeare, let’s let hands do what lips do and allow this show of hands to speak for itself…  [...MORE]

The Malaise of the Ghetto: LA HAINE (1995)


It’s about a society on its way down. And as it falls, it keeps telling itself: “So far so good… So far so good… So far so good.” It’s not how you fall that matters. It’s how you land. – LA HAINE (1995)

In light of recent events at home and abroad it seems strangely appropriate that TCM will be airing LA HAINE (aka HATE;1995) on Sunday night. This low-budget film written and directed by Mathieu Kassovitz chronicles 24 hours in the lives of three friends of different descent, an Arab (Saïd Taghmaoui), an African (Hubert Kounde) and a Jewish man (Vincent Cassel) who have befriended one another in the harsh climate of the suburban French ghettos on the outskirts of Paris. Facing discrimination, poverty and a lack of opportunity the three young men turn to drugs for escape and impulsively get caught up in the civil unrest and rioting that plagues their troubled neighborhood. While it’s easy to appreciate the film as a snapshot of the social tensions that continue to erupt in Paris today, the emotional message at the heart of LA HAINE actually speaks to a much wider demographic and the film has understandably struck a chord around the world. For better or worse, this modern day classic expressed the frustrations of a generation and many marginalized young people of all nationalities have continued to discover the film since its initial release and embrace its street-wise aesthetic.


Cut to the Plot: The Cinematic Chase

It can be rather easily argued that the chase epitomizes the cinema.  It is action as story.  The dramatic conflict is easily defined between the chaser and the one being chased as simple pursuit.   One party is relentlessly driving towards another party in the hopes of dramatic resolution.  Any good chase has a beginning, middle, and end, even if that end is simply the chase concluding with the prey getting away.  Tonight on TCM, Bullitt is being shown and it has one of the most famous, and revered, car chases of all.  From the earliest chases of The Great Train Robbery (1903) and the climactic pursuit in Stagecoach (1939) to The French Connection (1971) on through to the most elaborate chases of the new century, such as the spectacular foot chase in Casino Royale (2006), the chase has often provided the most exciting moment in a movie, spawning the phrase, “cut to the chase” to indicate a desire to move to the exciting, or concluding,  part of the story.   Most chases resolve action so well they usually do conclude the story but many times, as in several mentioned above, they come earlier (and in the case of Casino Royale, at the beginning).  But I’m not here to talk about the history of the chase (just look up “Greatest Chases in Movie History” online if you’d like to read that article – there’s about a million of them), I’m here to talk about the chase as plot and how so much great cinema, one way or another, can be defined as a chase.



Columbia Crime: The Whistler


The Whistler…was one of the most terrifying screenplays I’d ever read. A little after midnight, I called [Harry] Cohn at home. ‘It’s horrific, Mr. Cohn…. Exactly what I’ve been waiting for…it’ll scare the shit out of audiences.’ -William Castle

The Museum of Modern Art has been transformed into a den of sin over the past month, as it plays host to Lady in the Dark: Crime Films from Columbia Pictures, 1932 – 1957, an iniquitous series which runs through August 4th. Cheap mass market criminality was the economic backbone of Columbia Pictures in the first decades of its existence, and organizers Dave Kehr and Joshua Siegel trace the studio’s movement from Agatha Christie-style whodunits to the bleak films noirs of the ’40s and ’50s. One of Cohn’s cost-saving gambits was to invest in feature series, in which sets and actors can be reused for an entire decade. This produced profitable reels in titles like The Lone Wolf, The Crime Doctor, and Boston Blackie. “Lady in the Dark” features four films from The Whistler, an unusual anthology-style crime series adapted from a popular CBS radio series of the same name (you can listen to them here). The only recurring character is the eponymous Whistler, a shadowy, cynical narrator who walks by night, and thus knows “many strange tales”. At the center of most of the stories is fading star Richard Dix (Oscar nommed for Cimarron (1931)) who appears in all but one of the eight Whistler features, always as a different character. He’s both anxiety-ridden victim and psychopathic murderer, his body-swapping lending the films a supernatural veneer when viewed in succession. William Castle directed half of these grim mysteries near the outset of his career. There is none of his later ballyhoo here. His compositions are as spare as the sets, and as empty as Richard Dix’s characters, who are always either courting or inviting death. The three I viewed in the series, presented in pristine prints courtesy of Grover Crisp at Sony Pictures, were The Whistler (1944), The Power of the Whistler (1945), and The Secret of the Whistler (1946).


Meet Toby Wing, the Darling of the Photographers

tobyopenerIf I could go one day without hearing about the dreaded Kardashians, I would be thrilled. The most superficial of celebrities, they are famous for being famous, with no body of work to support their fame. How could this gaggle of girls with no discernable talents be the center of media attention? Recently, while researching a pre-Code film in newspapers of the era, I came to understand the construction of celebrity more fully. I was reminded that while gossip, rumors, and accusations pour from the Internet at an alarming rate, there have always been Kardashians eager to climb into the spotlight, and media outlets eager to keep them there.

Toby Wing was treated like the Kim Kardashian of her day. However, there are some differences: She did display a healthy degree of ambition, she parlayed her celebrity into a short-lived studio contract and a few supporting roles, and her famous family left a positive mark on history. Her life story offers insight into the Hollywood publicity machine, which has always churned out celebrities lie dolls on an assembly line.


Classic Movies will Never Change but Everything New? Maybe.*

We are now just a tad under three years removed from the 40th anniversary of the release of Star Wars in 1977.  In the thirty seven years since, it has spawned sequels, prequels, animated series, ripoffs, homages, and one very special holiday show.  Thirty seven years prior to Star Wars, the most popular film of the year 1940 was Boom Town. Rounding out the top ten box office champs of the year were North West Mounted Police, The Great Dictator, The Philadelphia Story, The Grapes of Wrath, Rebecca, Strike Up the Band, Northwest Passage, The Fighting 69th, and The Sea Hawk. None of those were still thriving, hot properties in 1977. Probably not a one would have even been known to an average kid in 1977 (except maybe me and you but, let’s face it, we’re not average). However, go back just one year, to 1939, and both Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz were hot properties in 1977, at least on television. Go back forty years from 1977 and 1937′s top movie was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  Animated Disney movies still rake in the big bucks, and Oscars, even now. Still, none have held on to the upper ranks of monetary power like Star Wars. One difference (but I stress, only one of many) is that it has been updated and regularly. What does that example mean for cinema and the future of the art form?



July 19, 2014
David Kalat
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You squashed my favorite Beatle

OK, so I’m a couple of weeks late writing about the restored A Hard Day’s Night.  C’mon people, the movie’s 50 years old, no matter when I wrote about it would be late, so gimme a break.

But my daughter is an aspiring singer/songwriter, and I love me some absurdist British comedy, so this is a natural fit with me and I couldn’t let its glorious restoration pass by unremarked.  Plus, it is quite striking how innocent, sincere, uncalculating, necessary, and humane the rebellion embodied by the Beatles is/was, especially compared to the alternately cynical and dangerous rebellion presented by today’s rock stars.


KEYWORDS: A Hard Day's Night, The Beatles, The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, The Sex Pistols

Survival is no way to live: Postapocalypscript

Road Warrior

To hear the 80s tell it, all one needed to survive the Apocalypse was a crossbow, shoulder pads, and a kickass attitude. (The stylish survivalist might accessorize as well with leather, a samurai sword, and a headband.) We have MAD MAX (1977) and its sequel, THE ROAD WARRIOR (1982), to blame for this, as their international success spawned a host of imitators. Those copycat Italians really ran with the ball on this one, spinning postapocalyptic yarns on the order of THE BRONX WARRIORS (1982), ESCAPE FROM THE BRONX (1983), ENDGAME (1983), WARRIORS OF THE WASTELAND (1983), THE NEW BARBARIANS (1983), 2019: AFTER THE FALL OF NEW YORK (1983), EXTERMINATORS OF THE YEAR 3000 (1983), A MAN CALLED RAGE (1984), and RATS: NIGHT OF TERROR (1984) — to name a few. And let’s not even get into the ROAD WARRIOR clones from New Zealand (BATTLETRUCK [1984]), the Philippines (WARRIORS OF THE APOCALYPSE [1985]), Canada (DEF-CON 4 [1984]), France (LE DERNIER COMBAT [1983]), and even America (SAVAGE DAWN [1985], AFTERMATH [1985], LAND OF DOOM [1986], STEEL DAWN [1987]). What a time! I was in my mid-to-late 20s during this period of relative peace and prosperity in the world, between the cooldown of the Cold War and only minor rumbles from the problem area that is now Iraq and Afghanistan. We were all feeling pretty good between 1982 and 1988 and so our fantasies about the end of the world were focused less on the tactical problem-solving of scratching out a living on the blasted shell of what was once Mother Earth and more on how great we’d all look.

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