The Story of DeMille’s Lost City

blogopenerA few weeks ago, my friend and wonderful colleague Daphne Rosenzweig left an article in my mail cubby at Ringling College titled “The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMIlle. ” The article described the enormous Egyptian-style set built for Cecil B. DeMille’s 1925 version of The Ten Commandments and also chronicled the efforts of filmmaker Peter Brosnan to make a documentary about the set, which still exists beneath the sand dunes near Guadalupe, California. Originally called the City of the Pharaoh, the set was the largest built to date.

Film historians live for these kinds of stories, and I decided to track down the documentary. My search led me to Mr. Brosnan, who spent 30 years making a film about the City of the Pharoah, now referred to as the Lost City. He and his friend Bruce Cardozo began their quest to find and excavate the Lost City as well as to document their efforts in 1982. Sadly, just before the final cut of the film, The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille, Mr. Cardozo died unexpectedly.

Mr. Brosnan was kind enough to allow me to interview him about the Lost City, its excavation, and his film. He is currently shopping for a distributor while the film makes the rounds of the festival circuit, most recently playing the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Check out the movie’s website at www.lostcitydemille.com and view the trailer at https://vimeo.com/151442490.

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The Shooting

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Made on roughly the same budget as The Blair Witch Project (1999) and shot shortly after the assassination of J.F.K., Monte Hellman’s The Shooting (1966) is a western very much of its time that was not properly released in its time. It’s informed by films like The Virginian (1962), One Eyed Jacks (1961), Stagecoach (1939), and My Darling Clementine (1946), yet infused with an aesthetic not far from L’Avventura (1960) or Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. It stars Warren Oates, Jack Nicholson, and Millie Perkins. It also stars a ghostly and lunar landscape that ceased to exist with the completion of the dam on the Colorado river in 1966. Strange to think kids partying on a houseboat atop Lake Powell now skim water a hundred or so feet above the totemic panorama that gives The Shooting so much of its visual power.

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July 23, 2016
David Kalat
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This isn’t your father’s Ganja & Hess

I ran across the IMDB listing for Spike Lee’s 2014 film Da Sweet Blood of Jesus the other day and chuckled at its inept attempt at classification: the film was identified simultaneously as a comedy, thriller, and romance. And since that same set of classifications nicely describes His Girl Friday but fails to encapsulate the many other attributes of Sweet Blood, I couldn’t help but laugh. In case you didn’t know, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus is Spike Lee’s lovingly faithful remake of Ganja & Hess. And, in case you also didn’t know, Ganja & Hess is an absolutely singular American independent film from 1972 that blended arthouse aesthetics, Blaxploitation horror, vampire themes, and experimental theater into a heady broth. I played a small but significant role in getting Ganja & Hess rescued from obscurity and back into circulation on DVD and later Blu-Ray; I also played a small role in getting the remake made, since I mailed a copy of Ganja & Hess to Spike Lee back in 2006. Of course, he’s a knowledgeable student of film who didn’t need me to tell him about this landmark work of American arthouse cinema, but at the very least I saved the man $25 and a trip to Tower Records (which still existed in those days).

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KEYWORDS: Bill Gunn, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, Ganja & Hess, Spike Lee
COMMENTS: 2
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Let’s All Go To The Planet of the Apes

“Get your stinking paws off of me, you damned dirty ape!”

There are classic movie lines and then there are lines delivered by Charlton Heston to talking apes. The latter is pretty unbeatable. From that iconic moment when the apes realize that Bright Eyes, aka Taylor, aka Chuck Heston, can talk to his fist pounding damning of the human race to hell for destroying everything, there isn’t a lot about the original 1968 original classic, Planet of the Apes, that isn’t known to viewers these days so spoiler warnings seem about as necessary as a “No Diving” sign over a lava pit. Nevertheless, there are those lucky few who haven’t seen it yet and an even luckier few who don’t actually know the big final twist that comes in the last scene of the movie. So, all things considered, SPOILER WARNING. Let us now delve into the wonder that is Franklin Schaffner’s 1968 sci-fi marvel, Planet of the Apes, playing this weekend in theaters around the country, courtesy of Fathom Entertainment and Turner Classic Movies.

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Pioneers of African-American Cinema

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On the last two Sundays of July, TCM is airing a selection of groundbreaking films made by African-Americans during the early 20th Century. Faced with racism within the industry these pioneering filmmakers were forced to work outside of the Hollywood studio system. Independently they created hundreds of diverse “race films” addressing the concerns of black audiences that were screened in segregated theaters across the country. Due to neglect, many of these films have been lost but what remains is an innovative, wide-ranging and fascinating record of black culture.

The films will be hosted by TCM’s own Ben Mankiewicz along with Jacqueline Najuma Stewart, a Professor at The University of Chicago and author of Migrating to the Movies: Cinema and Black Urban Modernity. Stewart’s research and teaching explore African American film cultures from the origins of the medium to the present. She also directs the South Side Home Movie Project and is co-curator of the L.A. Rebellion Preservation Project at UCLA as well as an appointee to the National Film Preservation Board. Stewart is currently completing a study of the African American actor, writer and director Spencer Williams.

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The New Kid in Town

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Remember how you felt on your first day at a high school or just sitting down at your desk for a new job?  Okay, maybe jumping in with the Morlocks isn’t quite like that, but I still feel like I should stand up and introduce myself to the class. My name is Nathaniel Thompson, and you might recognize me from the TCM programming articles I’ve been writing for the past decade or so. I’ve also written and overseen the DVD Delirium book series at FAB Press and have maintain the site Mondo Digital since 1998. So hey, I should write about movies even more!  I take great pleasure in everything cinematic from the highest of art to the lowest of brows, so we’ll have fun seeing how it all intersects going forward.

On that note, I’d like to shine a little spotlight on two films that perfectly personify this intersection airing under the TCM Underground banner this weekend, THE STREET FIGHTER (1974) and RETURN OF THE STREET FIGHTER (1975), both starring the mighty Sonny Chiba. Last year the brilliant and much-missed Richard Harland Smith gave you the lowdown on the first film in what turned out to be a Chiba trilogy; if you haven’t already, head over there and read up on one of Japan’s most essential action stars, who was popularized in the U.S. by Quentin Tarantino via Christian Slater’s idol worship in TRUE ROMANCE (1992) and his role as Hattori Hanzo in KILL BILL VOL. 1 (2003).  Whether beating his opponents to a pulp or donning silver skin paint and a horned helmet as a planetary prince in Kinji Fukasaku’s MESSAGE FROM SPACE (1979), he’s always a fearless and compelling presence on screen. [...MORE]

Summer of Rohmer: A Summer’s Tale (1996)

 

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My summer of Rohmer enters its fifth week by docking at the rocky Breton seaside town of Dinard, the location of A Summer’s Tale (1996). Like all of Eric Rohmer’s summer vacation films, it is about hesitation and uncertainty, the holidays a transient borderland before the return to adulthood, when decisions have to be made. A Summer’s Tale involves a moody engineering student and hopeful musician named Gaspard who is romantically entangled with three women on the beach. He is entranced by the idea of love but is rather afraid of the physical reality, and masters the art of the indeterminate reply, a master of escape. One of Rohmer’s few male protagonists (the film often feels like a throwback to the masculine bull sessions of the Moral Tales), Gaspard is reported to be a highly autobiographical character who runs through a composite of events from the director’s life. Rohmer doesn’t look back with nostalgia, but with a lucid gimlet eye, his Gaspard one of high ideals and evasive, indecisive actions. A Summer’s Tale is streaming on Netflix, and is available on DVD from Big World Pictures.

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What I Did on My Summer Vacation: Karlovy Vary, Part II

blogopener2In last week’s post, I talked about the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (KVIFF), and its series devoted to Hollywood director Otto Preminger. This week, I thought I would follow up by bringing a couple of documentaries, indies, and foreign flicks to your attention.

At a midnight screening on my last night in Karlovy Vary, I saw one of my two favorite films. I almost didn’t go because I had to get up at 7:00am to take the long journey to the airport in Prague. Blood Father, starring Mel Gibson, was definitely worth it. Gibson—or more specifically, his star image as an action hero—dominates this film about a low-life father who finds redemption when he goes on the run with his wayward daughter. A former alcoholic and drug user, and an ex-con, John Link literally and figuratively lives on the margins of a society that would rather he not exist at all. Long-lost daughter Lydia shows up, hoping to escape the drug cartel on her trail. Their journey together is violent and volatile as every avenue of hope and freedom is closed off to them. Blood Father is directed by French filmmaker Jean-Francois Richet, who won a Cesar for Mesrine, the story of a real-life French criminal from the 1960s-1970s. Beautifully shot and edited, with no shaky cam or chaotic montages, Blood Father reminded me of the best of the genre from back in the day when the likes of Walter Hill, John McTiernan, and pre-Titanic James Cameron cranked out coolly-crafted flicks for adult audiences.

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The Vanishing Political Drama

Tonight on TCM, The Best Man airs, the 1964 political drama that plays like a suspense thriller.  It’s one of the best political movies ever made and recalls a time when political conventions actually made a difference.  In the very same year, Henry Fonda, star of The Best Man, also starred in another politically charged thriller, Fail Safe.  Movies like that don’t get made much anymore, and not just because impactful political conventions and nuclear brinksmanship with the Soviet Union don’t exist anymore.  They don’t get made because the audience may not be there these days.  Maybe they never were.

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July 16, 2016
David Kalat
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The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

For the moment, set the title aside. There is no character named “Colonel Blimp” in this film—we will come to him later. Instead, our hero, if that’s the word, is Major-General Clive Wynne-Candy (Roger Livesey).

We find him, fat and comfortable, in a Turkish bath. He is a caricature of himself, a grotesque parody of the kind of self-satisfied stiff-upper-lip officer who led the British military into so many ill-advised imperial adventures.

Naked and soft, bald and round, a wild bushy moustache extending forth from his upper lip—the man is the very model of a not-at-all-modern Major General. He is a relic of the turn of the century, a leftover of a British Empire that is rapidly crumbling in the face of Hitler’s relentless onslaught.

The man pointing a gun at the General is the future—young, brash, confident, and willing to “think outside the box” as the saying goes. He is not the General’s enemy—well, not literally, at least. They are both on the same side, and this is but a war game, cooked up as a training exercise in the middle of the real war raging outside. Both men want to defeat Hitler. The difference lies in methods—the old General adheres to a code of conduct and civility from the Old World; the young Lieutenant thinks that in the face of an existential fight against the purest Evil the world has ever seen, no tactics are off the table.

But, in a more metaphorical sense, they are enemies: old versus young, and everything that implies. “You don’t know how I got fat, you don’t know why I grew this moustache, you don’t know anything about my life!” shouts the General—and with that, Powell and Pressburger’s greatest masterpiece unfolds.

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KEYWORDS: life and death of colonel blimp, Powell and Pressburger
COMMENTS: 33
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