Lost and Found: The Man and the Moment (1929)

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The light comedy The Man and the Moment (1929) was considered lost until a dupe negative was recently discovered at Cineteca Italiana di Milano. This part-talkie from First National Pictures was restored in 2K by Warner Bros. at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory in Bologna, and was released on Warner Archive DVD last month. A charming proto-screwball comedy, it’s about a marriage of convenience between a rich playboy and an impetuous adventuress that ends up destroying planes, boats and nightclub aquariums. Made during the transition to sound, it exemplifies the stereotype of that era’s stiff, static line readings. It has snap and vigor in the silent sequences, and grinds to a halt for dialogue. This is not aided by leading man Rod la Rocque, who is a debonair charmer in the silent sequences and a wooden statue during dialogue. His co-star Billie Love is more of a natural, and she waltzes away with the film.

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Star Scents: A Pictorial of Classic Film Star Fragrances

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Sophia Loren is getting the red carpet treatment on Turner Classic Movies tonight (April 28). If you tune in at 8 PM EST/ 5 PM PST you can catch the multi-talented Italian actress in a live interview with her youngest son (Eduardo Ponti) that was recorded during her appearance at the TCM Classic Film Festival in 2015. The interview is followed by a number of her films including the short Human Voice (2014) and four full-length features: Marriage, Italian Style (1964), Arabesque (1966), The Priest’s Wife (1970) and More Than a Miracle (1967).

Her most recent starring role is in a commercial for Dolce & Gabana’s new fragrance, ‘Dolce Rosa Excelsa.’ The ad was shot by Academy Award-winning director Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso; 1988, A Pure Formality; 1994, The Legend of 1900; 1998, etc.) and features a score by Maestro Ennio Morricone. In this extravagant three-minute production (currently streaming on Youtube) Sophia Loren plays the matriarch of a large family that is restoring a luxurious Sicilian estate. It’s a charming commercial and while watching I was reminded that Loren had appeared in another perfume advertising campaign during the 1980s for Coty’s ‘Sophia’ fragrance, which was named after the actress. This got me thinking and my curiosity sent me on a quest. I decided to try and track down as many movie star scents as I could and what I discovered genuinely surprised me. What follows is a select pictorial of perfumes made famous by the actors who inspired, promoted and occasionally played a part in creating them.

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A Toast to Dolemite (1975)

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“These rhymes and raps that I have were told 50 years ago by the beer joint and liquor store wise men who used to sit out in front of the store, drinking beer, lying, and talking shit. What I did, I picked them up. I even gave older winos money to tell me those tales. And then I’d take them and freshen them up.” – Rudy Ray Moore

Rudy Ray Moore was an X-rated griot, a traveling storyteller who popularized beer-joint folklore in black communities throughout the 1970s. His routine, in which he told outrageously filthy tales in singsong rhyme, was known as “toasting”, a pivotal influence on hip hop. Like the rappers he influenced (“He’s the greatest rapper of all time” – Snoop Dogg), Moore was intent on channeling the personalities of the neighborhoods he grew up in  (he was born and raised in Fort Smith, Arkansas and bounced to Milwaukee and Cleveland as a teen). Wanting to expand his reach after his “toast” albums became underground bestsellers, he started writing a screenplay based on one of his characters – the exaggeratedly macho gangster/pimp/loverman Dolemite. With no one to fund him, he saved money from his non-stop touring and made the feature for around $100,000 of his own money. It is an outrageous, hilarious comedy that never tries to cater to white audiences. Dolemite became famous for the ineptitude of its technical shortcomings – boom mics dipping into frame and the clumsy martial arts choreography – but for black audiences it was a rare depiction of a familiar character, like spending 90 minutes with one of their wisecracking drunk uncles. As writer and performance artist Darius James put it, “Unlike most of the commercial cinema’s Black-market movies, which rely on the story formulas of their honkoid counterparts, the movies of Rudy Ray Moore are rooted in the structure, imagery, and motifs of Black oral narrative.” After decades of circulating in faded dupes, the enterprising exploitation experts at Vinegar Syndrome unearthed a 35mm negative, and scanned and restored Dolemite in 2K. The resulting Blu-ray, out today, is so bright and clean it’s like seeing it for the first time.

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Sunshine Noir: Cutter’s Way (1981)

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“I have seen people after the war that came from concentration camps, they were violated in their bodies and their minds, and they were contaminated by the violence. They became violent themselves. This is what I wanted to show in Cutter’s Way.” – Ivan Passer

Cutter’s Way is a sickly film, its characters hungover or half in the bag. They have never recovered from the Vietnam War, either from the physical scars from fighting or the guilt from avoiding it. Cutter (John Heard) is the wounded veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress, a ranting paranoiac lost in his own head. His wife Mo (Lisa Eichhorn) nurses the loss of her pre-war husband with drink. Cutter’s best friend is Bone (Jeff Bridges), a lithe golden god who makes a living as a gigolo and occasional boat salesman.  The trio’s blurred vision focuses upon the corpse of a young girl, who they suspect was murdered by local tycoon J.J. Cord (Stephen Elliott). Cord begins to exert an outsized role in their personal mythology, a symbol of the system, the American way of life, that has left them on the periphery.

Their amateur investigation is a half-cocked mess, and twists around into a blackmail scheme. Their dream of justice is obscured by the thick haze of the Santa Barbara summer, but whether or not they have found the true killer, they have recovered a modicum belief, belief which ends in a defining act of violence. United Artists didn’t know what to do with this downbeat drama, and released it with little fanfare in 1981. It has had vocal supporters through the years, foremost among them J. Hoberman, and Twilight Time has released a handsome-looking Blu-ray that should expand its cult.

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Group Therapy: Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

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Only Angels Have Wings keeps growing stranger with age. This studio-era classic is about a group of nihilist flyboys who enact their dreams of self-destruction out of an imaginary South American cabana. Howard Hawks insisted on the film’s realism, as he based it on the stories of some ragged pilots he met in Mexico, but the movie is as realistic as the Star Wars cantina. The invented port town of Barranca is pure Hawks country, an extension of the death-driven pilots he depicted in The Dawn PatrolCeiling Zero, and The Road to Glory. Revisiting Only Angels Have Wings in the new DVD and Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection (out today), one is struck by the sheer lunacy of the fliers, ready to sacrifice their lives for the chance to deliver the mail. Only Angels Have Wings pushes Hawks’ love of professionalism to the extreme – death is a natural part of the job, and beyond just accepting it, they seem to embrace it. In Only Angels Have Wings, to work is to die, and these jokey nihilists, including the the female interlopers who are integrated into this group – cheerily embrace the void.

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The American Artist

While vacationing in Paris recently I was struck by how much Parisians love their artists.  The streets are named for major cultural figures, the city is awash in museums, and at the newsstand kiosks at the entrances to the subway you can find, nestled between the tabloids and porno mags, a huge portfolio of works by Modigliani.  That’s how they roll.  And it’s ever been thus: once upon a time, Auguste Rodin was commissioned to do a sculpture in honor of the author Balzac.  The resulting statue was perceived as being “too avant garde” and triggered outrage, public complaints, and threats of lawsuits.  Has anything remotely like this ever happened in the US?  Has there ever been an artist, in any media, who was so beloved and so intimately intertwined with our national sense of self that anyone would bother to complain that an honorary statue wasn’t sufficiently reverent?

(Well, I mean aside from Lucille Ball, naturally)

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Last Call: Her Man (1930)

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Tay Garnett’s Her Man (1930) has had a small but enduring auteurist cult, for those lucky enough to have seen the Cinematheque Francaise print that circulated in the ’50s and ’60s. In his American Cinema, Andrew Sarris wrote of its “extraordinarily fluid camera movements that dispel the myth of static talkies”, while British critic Raymond Durgnat compared it favorably to Howard Hawks’ A Girl in Every Port (1928). Poet John Ashbery saw it in Paris in the late ’50s, and it was an inspiration for his “Pavane pour Helen Twelvetrees”, which you can read here.  The film has seemingly disappeared from view since then, with David Thomson erroneously stating that it was a “lost film” in his Biographical Dictionary of Film. It wasn’t lost, but just hiding. The camera negative was discovered in the Columbia Pictures collection at the Library of Congress, and a 4K restoration was performed by Sony Pictures, with funding provided by the Film Foundation. This week the Museum of Modern Art, courtesy of Adjunct Curator Dave Kehr, is screening the restoration of Her Man, alongside some of director Tay Garnett’s other silent and early sound features (including Celebrity, The Spieler, and One Way Passage). Her Man is a redemptive romance that takes place in one of the scummiest bars in Havana: the Thalia. There Garnett wends his camera through a knockabout group of con artists, drunks and killers to get to his dewy-eyed lovers, who strong-arm their way out the door.

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The Movie Myths We Think We Need… But Don’t

One of the movies not playing on TCM this Easter Sunday is Rebel Without a Cause.  There’s no reason it necessarily should but, technically, it’s an Easter movie since it begins its story on the night of Easter Sunday.  That said, I thought of it, nonetheless, because this is Easter Sunday and if it’s Easter, that movie always comes to mind (I’m betting there’s almost no one else alive who has that happen to them).  And one of the things that comes to mind whenever I think of Rebel Without a Cause is an interview I read years ago, now available online, with its screenwriter Stewart Stern.  And when I think about that interview, I think about a key part of it where they discuss writing credits and how we all cling to myths about the movies and why.

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Kid Stuff: My Little Loves (1974)

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Jean Eustache’s My Little Loves (1974) is about a boy. Twelve-year-old Daniel climbs trees, flirts with girls, and punches classmates in the stomach. He is poised between youth and adolescence, and the film seeks to capture all the moments, and all the silences, of this befuddling transition. After Eustache’s coruscating The Mother and the Whore (1973), a logorrheic portrait of post-May ’68 despair, My Little Loves seems startlingly quiet and gentle. But each are after a kind of completism, of leaving nothing out. Discussing My Little Loves, Eustache told his fellow filmmaker, and Cahiers du Cinema habitue, Luc Moullet, that he wanted “to reconstruct [my] childhood: every wall section, every tree, every light pole.” With the help of cinematographer Nestor Almendros, All My Loves becomes a sensorial memory object. There isn’t much of a narrative – it drifts – but it builds up the fabric and texture of Eustache’s childhood in the small rural town of Pessac (outside of Bordeaux), and the industrial  city of Narbonnes, on the Mediterranean coast. My Little Loves is screening on 35mm in the Metrograph’s Jean Eustache series, one of the inaugural programs for this ambitious new theater on NYC’s Lower East Side.

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Crime and Punishment: Day of Wrath (1943)

day-of-wrath-movie-poster-1943-1020433862“Is it not a fact that the greatest dramas occur in silence?” -Carl Dreyer

Day of Wrath (1943) is set in 1620s Denmark, a period of increasing paranoia surrounding the practice of witchcraft. King Christian IV passed an ordinance in 1617 which defined the crime for the first time, and specified that only witches who had made pacts with the devil would be burned. Prosecutions proliferated in the decade following the establishment of the ordinance, and Day of Wrath takes place in its aftermath. The film is about witchcraft, incest and torture, but director Carl Dreyer keeps all of it offscreen. What he focuses on instead is how the weight of guilt expresses itself on his actors’ faces. The accusers and the accused are all guilty of contributing to the debased state of their society, whether it is through the suppression of female sexuality or attempted acts of murder (it was filmed during the Nazi occupation of Denmark). Dreyer arranges his pained characters in static tableaux that his camera maneuvers around with funereal grace, with suspected witches and unforgiving torturers all equal under DP Karl Andersson’s floating camera. Day of Wrath is a film about the intensity of belief, one in which the supernatural and the divine are the only escapes from the brutal repression of reality.

I was led back to Day of Wrath because the Brooklyn Academy of Music screened it in their ongoing “Witches’ Brew” series. The series was inspired by the horror phenomenon du jour, The Witch, set in 1630 New England, nearly the same time period as the Dreyer film. I have yet to see it, but am taking this revived interest in the conjuring arts as a gift from the dark gods, and as an opportunity to revisit Day of Wrath, which continues to retain its mystery.

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