Posted by Pablo Kjolseth on December 5, 2010
To renew or not to renew? That is the $329.99 subscription question.
Among the many emails that I’m catching up on over the weekend is one from Variety asking me to renew my subscription to their weekly publication. For “only” $329.99 I can have “significant savings” on 50 more issues. The problem is: an unread stack of about 25 of them are sitting on my desk, gathering dust. I have an equally hard time staying atop the many other magazines to which I am a subscriber.
Variety is a great resource, but a pricey one. They also irked me when they fired their lead film critic (Todd McCarthy) last March. This served as a particularly conspicuous and crappy reminder of how little we now value the many veteran film critics who have served their time in the trenches of the printed word. But who am I to bemoan the shrinking publication universe if I’m not making the time to be a more attentive reader? With that thought in mind I cleared my living room coffee table of the many small piles that had been accruing for Film Comment, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, The Village Voice, Sight & Sound, and so on and so forth, and there… in that new empty space I’d created… I plopped down my unread stack of roughly $150 worth of Variety back-issues.
Unlike Film Comment, which still devotes a fair share of ink and academic analysis to past classics, obscure auteurs, and the avant-garde, Variety – like The Hollywood Reporter and Box Office Magazine – is focused primarily on the business side of things. That places the bulk of its content in profits being made in the here and now, along with many attendant business speculations. It’s like The Wall Street Journal of film periodicals, mainly looking at the present and immediate future.
I know most TCM readers won’t care about how ‘Saw 3D’ cuts into overseas competish (Nov. 8 – 14), or for seasonal fare such as NETS VISIONS OF SUGARPLUMS (Nov. 22 – 26), nevermind the seemingly arbitrary use of lowercase or uppercase fonts for headlines just witnessed on those last two headlines. So here, instead, is a compilation of news items gleaned from Variety‘s pages that have to do with older films. Granted, they are only a few, but hese tidbits, posted in an almost chronological order, will hopefully be of some interest to the TCM audience.
June 28 – July 11 issue: ALGERIA GOES INTO ‘BATTLE’ AT WORLD CUP (By Nick Vivarelli)
The Battle of Algiers (dir. by Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966) is often included in any list of important films – it recently landed in the middle of an Essential 100 cinema list published by the Toronto Film Festival, for example. What fascinated me was how, after the U.S. was attacked on 9/11, the Pentagon made it required viewing for Special Operations officers. Powerful stuff, to be sure. But what’s it doing in last summer’s issue of Variety? Reading Vivarelli’s article I found out that Pontecorvo’s film, based on a 1962 novel by a military chief of Algeria’s National Liberation Front, was used “as a major motivational tool by the Algerian national soccer team during its World Cup run.” Vivarelli goes on to suggest that this might have been “the first time the film has provided inspiration for a peaceful activity,” a point I’d disagree with because the film has been screened over the years by as many peaceful groups using it to show the horrors of war as by insurgent or military groups screening it for instructional (and destructive) purposes. What we both agree on is that Pontecorvo’s film has a “pervasive and enduring power.”
July 12 – 18 issue: Waves in ‘Pacific’ (By Dave McNary)
Fans of South Pacific (dir. by Joshua Logan, 1958) can either prepare to celebrate or take umbrage at a remake that is being spearheaded by producers Ileen Maisel (The Goldan Compass) and Bob Balaban (Gosford Park). Screenwriters were being sought who could, in Maisel’s words, “show how people really did talk and act in 1944, which is something that the film and play don’t come anywhere close to showing.” If it all comes together, you can expect some spectacular scenery, courtesy of Bali, along with a shelving of the magical realism that is the coin of the realm for many modern musicals in exchange for a “new realism.” I can’t pretend to know what most of this means, except that musicals have traditionally done pretty well during times of economic woe.
September 20 – 26 issue: A grave oversight (by Michael Sullivan)
This article about actress Loretta Young (1913 – 2000) opens with a sentence that I think any TCM viewer would agree with: “While institutional Hollywood often forgets its past, fans are often there to keep its former glories alive.” Young got pregnant after an affair with Clark Cable in 1935 (they had co-starred that year in the presciently titled The Call of the Wild), and she later won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in The Farmer’s Daughter (1947). That same year she also starred with David Niven and Cary Grant in The Bishop’s Wife. Loretta Lynn was named after her. She was the mother of the singer for Moby Grape. And on it goes, her life full of colorful tidbits worth a separate post or two.
Alas, the opening sentence about keeping former glory alive turns out to be a red herring, because what Sullivan points out is that, although Young died of ovarian cancer ten years ago, she “still doesn’t have a headstone on her grave.” It had been paid for by the family, but “no family representative ever came in to make decisions about the plaque, and thus it was never installed.” Young’s ashes were buried in the same plot as that of her mother (Gladys Belzer) in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California (section F, tier 65 grave No. 49). Perhaps fans could step up to the plate and honor her resting space in some creative way. They could take a page from followers of The Doors who visit Jim Morrison’s grave at the Pere-Lachaise in Paris, but instead of leaving behind beer bottles, joints, and related drug-paraphernalia perhaps they could leave framed pictures of her 1999 Vanity Fair cover – where, according to IMDB, she graced the cover looking much younger than her 86 years thanks to, in her words, “air brushing techniques (that) can do wonders.”
October 4 – 10 issue: Journals with jabs (by David Cohen)
Let the parade of adjectives starting with the letter “S” begin! Sultry, sexy, silent-screen siren, scholar, … and all can be applied to Louise Brooks. “Brooks kept private journals from 1956 until her death in 1985, and bequeathed them to the George Eastman House with instructions they remain sealed for 25 years. That date passed in August, and Eastman staffers have been poring over the journals before making them available to the public.” Here are two choice excerpts:
Although I have no way of knowing the breadth and scope of Brooks’ thoughts as she recorded them in her journals, I’m pretty sure the good and patient folks down at the George Eastman House are glad to finally get a crack at sharing their findings.
Speaking of the George Eastman House, which is one of the world’s oldest film archives, the reason I did not present all my Variety tidbits in chronological order is because I’ve saved the best for last:
August 2 – 8 issue: the whole issue.
That’s right, the whole issue. Why? Because it’s “The Preservation Issue.” HOLLYWOOD OR DUST! reads the large, all-bold, screaming headline at very top that accompanies the cover-page article by Marc Graser. Here’s the opener:
Now want to hear something really scary?
Small surprise here, as a following article (Euro’s cel bloc pools resources, by Ed Meza) makes clear that “The Major European nations (who do a much better job at film preservation than the U.S. does) do have one key distinction vs. the U.S. when it comes to film preservation: relatively generous government subsidies, and in some countries, official mandates, to preserve all or much of their celluloid past.”
Still, let’s count our blessing for the Library of Congress. I was fascinated to learn that it was launched by $160 million that came not from Hollywood but rather from David Packard, “co-founder of Hewlett-Packard and former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense during the Nixon administration.”
We haven’t just lost a lot of films due to short-sightedness, but also a lot of vintage television programs have disappeared forever. There are some notable exceptions, like I Love Lucy, but “that’s because Desi Arnaz put 35mm film cameras next to his TV cameras to preserve the show for posterity.” (Ghost in the Machine; Old hardware holds key to vintage shows. By David S. Cohen, p. 10) For the most part, a lot of early TV shows simply were not preserved because nobody ever thought of any secondary potential past their moment of airtime. “The first year of Johnny Carson was dropped into the Hudson River because there wasn’t space for it.” (Karen Herman, Academy archive director, quoted in HISTORY DOWN THE TUBE, by Diane Garret, p. 11). Speaking of losing things to the river, this last May the floods in Tennessee “put a sizable chunk of the Grand Ole Opry’s video archives underwater, including episodes of Grand Ole Opry Live and Hee Haw. (Specs Brothers get flood of tapes. By David S. Cohen, p. 10).
I hate to end on a down-note, so here are three interesting pull-quotes from the cover-story.
Good news on the recovery front:
Keeping costs in mind:
If you should buy one single issue of Variety from the last six months, this is it. It talks about the 1,650 films that The National Film Preservation Foundation helped preserve, also giving a tip of the hat to Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Foundation, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, the Eastman House in Rochester, N.YO., New York’s Museum of Modern Art, UCLA, and more.
Speaking of the past, here’s one last excerpt:
September 13 – 19 issue: Variety archives offer digital dig through past (by Timothy Gray)
Access to Variety‘s 105-year archives, which “can be viewed in its original page-by-page format – and articles, ads, names, companies and titles (that) will be searchable” is big news. This alone would certainly seal the deal for me renewing my subscription – if my yearly subscription included this treasure trove. But access to these 270,000 issues will come at a further price of $60 for “50 issues during one month’s time” or $600 annually for “unlimited access.” That’s a bit too rich for my blood.
Plus, there’s still the issue of all those other neglected periodicals I’ve been collecting. My private archive may be small by comparison, but when I look at the stacks around me I still feel like Hypatia, the last head librarian of the ill-fated library of Alexandria. Given than David Packard, who launched the Library of Congress, was a scholar of early Greek and Roman civilizations, he certainly appreciated how much was lost by those cultures when they threw away or burned important documents of their time. It’s a loss that cheats us all.
Roger Ebert’s reaction to Variety’s firing of Todd McCarthy:
Rotten Tomatoes article on the “St. Patrick’s Day Massacre” and Village Voice layoffs:
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