Doc Holiday: Art of the Real at the Film Society of Lincoln Center


From the beginning documentary filmmaking was synonymous was artifice. For Nanook of the North (1922), Robert Flaherty re-staged scenes of an Inuit family at home, complete with an igloo constructed for the shoot. Getting to truth through fiction was an accepted practice for that non-fiction pioneer. It was a common sense approach, using all the filmmaking tools available to capture as much of a multifarious reality as he could. Today the model, best exemplified by An Inconvenient Truth, is that of a TED talk, in which a pre-determined position is supported by talking heads, explanatory slides and jaunty animations. Most of these message documentaries, well-intentioned or not, have no need for moving images at all.  Flaherty’s model has survived, but it lives at the periphery of the film world, in academic contexts like Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab (SEL), or documentary boot camps like the yearly Robert Flaherty Seminar, which programs formally innovative non-fiction work by a rotating cast of curators. Programmers Dennis Lim and Rachael Rakes have gathered the tendrils of these non-fiction experiments into the definition-expanding series “Art of the Real”, which runs through April 26th at the Film Society of Lincoln Center.


Happy Birthday, Doris!


She can sing, she can dance, she can act and she can make us laugh. She’s been directed by a number of recognizable talents such as Alfred Hitchcock, Charles Vidor, Michael Curtiz, Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen, George Abbott, Roy Del Ruth, Delbert Mann, David Butler, Norman Jewison, George Seaton, Gordon Douglas, Richard Quine and Frank Tashlin. And some of her most notable costars include Rock Hudson, Gordon MacRae, Kirk Douglas, James Cagney, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Stewart, Louis Jordan, Clark Gable, Jack Carson, Howard Keel, Frank Sinatra, Jack Lemmon, David Niven, Rex Harrison, Cary Grant, James Garner, Rod Taylor and Richard Harris. Her career and personal life have been marked by incredible highs and crushing lows but through it all Doris Day has maintained a loyal base of appreciative fans that continue to grow in number every year. Today marks her 90th birthday and TCM is celebrating the event by airing a collection of her films including some of my personal favorites such as LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME (1955) and LOVER COME BACK (1961). I thought I’d join in the fun by sharing some interesting anecdotes and fascinating facts about one of America’s most beloved movie sweethearts.

The Outsiders: Mongo’s Back in Town (1971) and Lifeguard (1976)


Joe Don Baker is introduced in Mongo’s Back in Town getting off a bus in San Pedro, a scar still pulsing on his left temple. In Lifeguard, Rick (Sam Elliott) strolls in a tight white t-shirt and shades to his perch on a Santa Monica Bay beach. Each is an act of refusal. The hitman Mongo is intent on destroying himself and his hometown, while the thirty-something Rick has rejected bourgeois career building in favor of life as a beach bum.  Mongo’s Back in Town is a hard-boiled noir made for TV, first broadcast on CBS in 1971 (now available on DVD). Lifeguard is a relaxed Paramount character study that moves with the sunburnt sloth one feels after a long day at the beach, and is available on DVD from the Warner Archive. Though they exist in vastly different genres, both aim for a kind of stasis, one in which its people prefer to watch than move.


Remembering Jeanne Eagels

jeanneposterThroughout the month of February, TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar has offered a variety of fan favorites and familiar classics. On Thursday morning, February 20, a lesser-known Oscar-related gem airs at 6:15am. The Letter stars Jeanne Eagels in the first film adaptation of Somerset Maugham’s story. The 1929 drama lacks the star power of the well-crafted remake from 1940, which featured Bette Davis in her prime, but this version has film history on its side. The Letter represents Eagels’ only surviving sound film, and therefore the only record of the acting style that made her a Broadway legend during the 1920s. And, for those intrigued by Oscar trivia, Eagels is the first performer to be posthumously nominated for an Academy Award. While six actors have been posthumously nominated, including James Dean (twice), Spencer Tracy, Peter Finch, Ralph Richardson, Massimo Troisi, and Heath Ledger, Eagels is the only actress to be nominated after death.


Caught on Film: Hollywood Romances That Ignited On Set


Tomorrow is February 14th, otherwise known as Valentine’s Day. I thought I’d celebrate the occasion by taking a look at some sizzling screen romances that ignited while the cameras were rolling. Anyone who knows a thing or two about Hollywood history knows that it’s not uncommon for actors to fall head over heels for their costars. And who can blame them? When two attractive actors are asked to feign love while kissing and cuddling for our amusement I suspect that the lines between fantasy and reality can easily become blurred. These on set affairs seldom last but they can wreck marriages and leave a trail of broken hearts in their wake. But the heart wants what it wants and on some occasions these romantic rendezvous develop into long lasting loving relationships. And best of all? They often leave us with some passion filled films that make for great viewing on Valentine’s Day!


In space no one can hear you scream


ALIEN airs on TCM January 25th as part of their ‘70s Thrills programming

For decades screaming was often the weapon of choice for women in action, science fiction and horror films. We were expected to shriek, shout, yelp, whimper, squeal and squawk in the face of serious danger and (hopefully) a man would eventually come to our aide. So you can imagine how frightened little 11-year-old me was when I first heard the tagline for ALIEN back in 1979. Weeks before I actually saw the film I spent many sleepless nights rolling around in bed and contemplating the terrifying idea that no one could hear me scream if I was in space. If no one could hear me scream how could I be saved from whatever terrible danger awaited me?


At Home with Joan Crawford


The Morlocks’ week long tribute to Joan Crawford might be over but I’ve still got her on my mind thanks to an interior design book I purchased last month that features Crawford’s last apartment. The book is called Celebrity Homes and was originally published in 1977 by Architectural Digest. Besides giving readers a peek into Crawford’s home, the book also features the lush abodes of many other actors, directors and costume designers including Mary Pickford, Merle Oberon, Dolores Del Rio, Cecil Beaton, Woody Allen and Robert Redford. Crawford’s (somewhat) modest $500,000 five room apartment in Manhattan was one of my favorite homes in the book because the interior design is particularly modern and bright. The book captures a colorful side of the Hollywood legend that’s often forgotten and her intimate friendships with her interior designers are fascinating footnotes in Crawford’s life and career.


January 12, 2014
David Kalat
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Joan Crawford goes Berserk!

Hi everybody—Pablo Kjolseth is off at Sundance doing Sundancey things, so I’m filling in for him today to help round off our week-long tribute to Joan Crawford.  Yesterday I posted about one of Joan’s earliest starring vehicles, by way of talking about how masterfully she managed and controlled her career—and how that calculation tended to subtly influence the roles she played.  We saw that paradigm at work at the start of her career yesterday—today we’re going to watch the same dynamic at work towards the end of that career.

But here’s the thing—we’ve skipped forward 38 years, from 1929’s Our Modern Maidens all the way to 1967’s Berserk!  (From her second major starring role, to her second-to-last appearance—how’s that for symmetry?)  Joan Crawford was a glamor queen, the sexy young star of a film made at the dawn of the talkie era.  And glamor queens are supposed to have a short shelf life.  One day they’re the toast of Hollywood, and then they get replaced by the next model.  By the usual rules of Hollywood, Crawford had no business starring in a movie 38 years later—certainly not to be doing so still as a sex object.  But as we noted, Crawford didn’t play by Hollywood rules—she kept her career going by sheer force of will.  And that in turn would be reflected in her characters…


KEYWORDS: Berserk!, Herman Cohen, Joan Crawford, Joan Crawford blogathon
January 11, 2014
David Kalat
Posted by:

Our Modern Joan Crawford

Jack Conway’s 1929 romance Our Modern Maidens climaxes with a wedding.  Of course it does—it’s a romance, isn’t it?  But there’s something decidedly off about this wedding—indeed the entire film seems to strike a strange note.  It could be argued that the film’s fundamental weirdness is a consequence of its star, Joan Crawford.

In connection with TCM’s tribute to the films of Joan Crawford, this transitional late-period silent romantic comedy was screened already.  Normally I try to write about movies before they air, but I had Arbuckle on the brain last weekend.  Now, by “transitional” I mean it was a silent film with a synchronized soundtrack consisting of music and sound effects but not voices.  But it’s also transitional in the sense that it is probably best understood as a “Pre-Code” film, for its sexual content—but we’ll get there.


KEYWORDS: Joan Crawford, Joan Crawford blogathon, Our Modern Maidens, Romantic Comedy

Joan Crawford in The Best of Everything (1959)



I love a good Hollywood melodrama. Particularly full-color big-budget melodramas that directors such as Douglas Sirk (ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS, WRITTEN ON THE WIND, IMITATION OF LIFE), Mark Robson (PEYTON PLACE, FROM THE TERRACE, VALLEY OF THE DOLLS) and Delmer Daves (A SUMMER PLACE, SUSAN SLADE, ROME ADVENTURE) dished out in the 1950s and 60s. Critics often refer to these movies as “women’s pictures” or “weepies” but that trite description tends to put them in a corner or a small box and the movies are often much too big and multifaceted to be shoehorned into a simple one-size-fits all package. Last year I re-watched many of my favorite mid-century melodramas and caught up with a few I hadn’t seen before including Jean Negulesco’s THE BEST OF EVERYTHING (1959), which features the one and only Joan Crawford in a small but standout role as Amanda Farrow, a cutthroat editor working at a New York publishing firm.

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