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February 13, 2016
David Kalat
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Japanese Beat Cinema Episode 2: Giants and Toys

For all you fans of Mad Men left bereft after the end of the series, here’s a treat: a 1958 Japanese satire on the Advertising Age with a lot of the same flavor. Like Mad Men, it wallows in that glorious midcentury style, but tempers that aesthetic indulgence with a wary eye about the social costs of relentless exploitation and cutthroat competition. As an added bonus, Giants and Toys actually hails from the era it critiques, as if director Yasuzo Masumura was live-blogging from the epicenter of advertising excess.

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KEYWORDS: Giants and Toys
COMMENTS: 1
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I Appreciate the Leads but I Came for the Ensemble

You ever watch a movie and walk away thinking about how little you cared for the lead actors and how much you loved everyone else?  Me, too.  Now, I don’t mean this as an indictment of the movies I’m going to present, just that in these particular cases I don’t much care for the main action at all.  It just so happens one of those movies is on TCM tonight which is what made me think of this in the first place.  It’s a movie that was very successful, got nominated for a bunch of Oscars and, well, I enjoy watching it for everyone but the lead.  The movie is Tootsie and you can keep the lead actor, I’ll take the ensemble.

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Jean-Claude Killy in Snow Job (1972)

sjposter3After winning three gold medals in the 1968 Olympics and two FIS Alpine Ski World Cups Jean-Claude Killy, the French championship skier, received international fame and acclaim due to his agility, speed and unparalleled technique on the slopes. He was also a skilled endurance sports car driver who competed in the 1967 Targa Florio and the 1969 Le Mans 24 Hours race. Besides his award worthy sportsmanship, Killy was an attractive and charming man, which helped bolster his reputation and companies as diverse as Rolex, United Airlines, Schwinn Bicycles, American Express and Chevrolet offered him lots of money to endorse their products. He appeared in printed advertisements as well as television ads and on countless magazine covers including four issues of Sports Illustrated between 1967-1969.

Naturally, Hollywood took notice and in 1971 Warner Brothers decided to produce a film that would make use of Killy’s impressive skiing talent and international appeal. The film was titled Snow Job (1972) and I recently had the opportunity to catch up with it thanks to Warner Archive Instant streaming.

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The un-Official TCM Underground ‘Zine… or how I spent my winter vacation

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Tune in next week for an exciting page 2!

Accused: The Wrong Man (1957)

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The Wrong Man was promoted as Alfred Hitchcock’s first film based on a true story, and the director went to great lengths to secure its authenticity. To shoot the story of Manny Balestrero, who was falsely accused of robbing a life insurance company, Hitchcock shot the film on location in NYC, and cast supporting parts with many of the actual participants in the case. The movie strives for “reality”, and much of it plays as a heightened kind of docudrama, focused through Balestrero’s POV as he is arrested, processed, and put to trial. Manny’s world of Manhattan night clubs and his Jackson Heights home shrinks to the space between his shoes on the ground of his jail cell, seen with impressive clarity on the new Warner Archive Blu-ray. Manny’s resemblance to a hold-up artist has undone the life he had built over forty-three years, as his wife suffers a nervous breakdown from the stress. For no reason at all, a void has opened up and swallowed him whole.

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Hail, Caesar: A Feast for Movie Fans

blogopenerI remember when Peter Bogdanovich’s Nickelodeon was released in the 1970s. While I loved the film, I turned to my companion and remarked, “The reason I like this movie is the very reason why it will not be a hit at the box office.” Over the weekend, I caught the Coen Brothers’ Hail, Caesar!, and the same thought occurred to me. Both films are fictional tributes to the film industry of another era and abound with references to actual incidents, people, and classic movies. Cinephiles, movie fans, TCM viewers, and those old enough to remember post-WW II Hollywood will recognize and get a kick out of many of the references in Hail, Caesar! I truly hope this specialized group of viewers will catch this film in the theater to support it. Other movie-goers—the young demographic that the big studios prize so much, the family audience that made Kung Fu Panda 3 the top box-office movie for two weeks in a row (good grief!), or those looking for a laugh riot as per the trailer—will not be appreciative.

I love movies about the history of movies by auteur directors who know and appreciate that history—Bogdanovich’s Nickelodeon, Scorsese’s The Aviator, Truffaut’s Day for Night, Altman’s The Player, Blake Edwards’ Sunset. Even if the films are critical of Hollywood, they speak in a language that I know. These films are not the same as exposes of Hollywood, or movies about the movies, such as Sunset Blvd., The Bad and the Beautiful, Hearts of the West, or A Star Is Born, because the referencing is part of the fabric or texture of the narratives. Yet, it is the referencing that goes over the heads of most viewers, dooming the films to a less-than-stellar performance at the box office. [...MORE]

Monsieur Cinéma Collectible Movie Cards

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I’m taking over for Pablo today while he recovers from his trip to the Sundance Film Festival. Hopefully he’ll return soon & share his adventures with us all.

If you are a classic film fan who appreciates movie memorabilia or a writer (like yours truly) involved in researching classic films, you’ve probably come across Monsieur Cinéma Fiches (Sheets). These large oversized collectible cards produced in France can often be found on auction sites like eBay and typically feature images from films or portraits of popular actors and directors from around the world.

I’ve seen them so often during my own research that I took them for granted while having no idea where they came from or when they were produced. Recently curiosity started getting the best of me so I decided to delve deeper into the history of these mysterious (at least to me) cards but I couldn’t find much information about them in English. In light of this, I thought it might be helpful to share what I’ve recently learned about these Monsieur Cinéma cards with other classic film fans who might be as curious about them as I was. And if you haven’t seen them before and appreciate movie memorabilia, I hope this post will pique your curiosity.

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crazed-fruit-movie-poster-1956-1020359346
February 6, 2016
David Kalat
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Japanese Beat Cinema Part 1 – Crazed Fruit!

If you’ve grown tired of my singular focus on slapstick comedy these last 4 weeks, have no fear—I now plan to be singularly obsessed with 1950s and 60s Japanese New Wave Cinema for the next 3 or 4 weeks. Not sure yet how long I can keep this up—or which of us will blink first.

But even if you’re not already familiar with these movies or their makers, I encourage you to give it a try—there is some truly awe-inspiring and powerful filmmaking from a half a century and half a world away that rivals or bests any Golden Age Hollywood film you can name. We’ll start with one of the standard bearers of the genre, the best jumping on point I can imagine–Ko Nakahira’s 1956 Crazed Fruit.

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KEYWORDS: Beat Generation, Japanese New Wave, Sun Tribe films
COMMENTS: 6
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When the Classics Surprise You: It Happened One Night

Years ago – many, many years ago – as I began my odyssey into the world of film, the main thing I did was read.  Back in those days, pre-cable, pre-vcrs, way pre-dvd and streaming, most movies simply weren’t available for viewing.  The best thing you could do if you were a fledgling cinema obsessive was read.  Read general movie history books and bios of directors, interviews and analyses, breakdowns of specific genres and even the occasional book focused solely on a single film, which the “Focus on…” series did and became my introduction to many foreign and classic films I would otherwise have had no way of seeing.  Of course, I wasn’t seeing them, that’s the point, but these books made it feel like I was.  Actually seeing the movies only came when they ran on the late show, PBS, or in a local theater playing an older movie between engagements.  I took every opportunity I could to see whatever I could and to this day, there a handful that despite all my advance knowledge from reading up on them, truly surprised me.  Following is one that did, and when I saw it was showing tonight on TCM, I couldn’t stop thinking about it: It Happened One Night.

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Melvin Van Peebles: The Story of A Three-Day Pass (1967)

tdp09February is Black History Month and to celebrate the occasion I thought I’d share some thoughts about one of my favorite films directed by the multi-talented black filmmaker, Melvin Van Peebles.

In the late 1950s, Melvin Van Peebles went to Hollywood after completing a number of short films. He had aspirations of becoming a director’s assistant but an agent quickly squelched his ambition after telling him, “If you can tap dance, I might find you some work. But that is about all.” When he couldn’t find work as a director, Van Peebles attempted to sell one of his novels put publishers at the time told him he didn’t “write enough like a Negro.” After those disheartening experiences, the aspiring director and writer decided to relocate to Europe in 1959 where there were often more opportunities for black artists and performers.

While there, the French film archivist and preservationist Henri Langlois invited Van Peebles to show his short films at the Cinémathèque Française where they were warmly received. This inspired Van Peebles, a self-motivated learner with a degree in English literature from Ohio Wesleyan University, to study French. After learning the language, he began writing French novels in the hope of turning them into future screenplays. One of these novels was called La Permission and it drew upon the director’s own experience in the United States Airforce. The success of the novel enabled him to get a directing permit so he could adapt La Permission into a feature-length film.

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