Meet Toby Wing, the Darling of the Photographers

tobyopenerIf I could go one day without hearing about the dreaded Kardashians, I would be thrilled. The most superficial of celebrities, they are famous for being famous, with no body of work to support their fame. How could this gaggle of girls with no discernable talents be the center of media attention? Recently, while researching a pre-Code film in newspapers of the era, I came to understand the construction of celebrity more fully. I was reminded that while gossip, rumors, and accusations pour from the Internet at an alarming rate, there have always been Kardashians eager to climb into the spotlight, and media outlets eager to keep them there.

Toby Wing was treated like the Kim Kardashian of her day. However, there are some differences: She did display a healthy degree of ambition, she parlayed her celebrity into a short-lived studio contract and a few supporting roles, and her famous family left a positive mark on history. Her life story offers insight into the Hollywood publicity machine, which has always churned out celebrities lie dolls on an assembly line.

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Behind the Scenes of ‘The Lucky 6′

6openerI caught only one film at the Sarasota International Film Festival this past April—The Lucky 6, a drama about a group of coworkers who win the lottery. I had a vested interest in watching this film, because it was written, shot, and edited by Ringling College faculty members and students. According to department head Brad Battersby, the Ringling Digital Film department is the first undergraduate cinema program to make a feature film. Though I had nothing to do with the production of The Lucky 6, I felt closely connected to it because many of my students worked in key crew positions, and I watched the film being made last summer. After being behind the scenes during the shooting of several sequences, there was something magical about watching the final version on the big screen in a packed theater. Scenes looked familiar yet registered in a completely new or different way.

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Six Degrees of Elvis Presley

elvissammyFor the third and final post in my informal and unintended series on Elvis Presley, I was inspired by the documentary Elvis: That’s the Way It Is, which airs on TCM on Tuesday, April 15, at 5:00am (actually Wednesday, but it is listed as Tuesday night on the TCM schedule). Elvis: That’s the Way It Is chronicles Presley’s engagement at the International Hotel in the summer of 1970. The film airing on TCM is the 2001 special edition, a reworked version of the original. A producer named Rick Schmidlin discovered unmarked cans of unused footage for the film in MGM’s storage facilities in an old salt mine in Kansas along with the original 16-track recordings. The tracks were digitally remixed for the special edition, and unseen footage of Elvis in rehearsal and on stage replaced non-concert scenes from the original. For me, one of the most interesting parts of this documentary is the show of celebrities and stars who lined up to see Elvis at the International, including Juliet Prowse, Charo and her husband Xavier Cugat, Dale Robertson, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Cary Grant.

Elvis knew and admired a variety of stars and performers throughout his career. This makes sense considering his success in different arenas of show business (recording; films; live performance and his eclectic personal tastes in entertainment and music. The latter served him well in developing a unique musical style and sound not once but twice—in 1954 and in 1968-1969. Below are just a few photos of Elvis’s show-biz acquaintances, associates, and admirers. You are not likely to find a more diverse circle of celebrities associated with one entertainer.

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Unfinished Films: Where Can I Buy My Ticket?

dunep

This month  JODOROWSKY’S DUNE (2013) will finally be leaving the festival circuit and getting a wider release on March 21st. Frank Pavich’s new documentary chronicles the long strange and turbulent development of what many consider to be one of greatest unrealized films in cinema history and allows us to imagine what Jodorowsky’s unfinished film might have looked like if it had been completed. Jodorowsky’s unruly vision was based on Frank Herbert’s science fiction opus and featured production design by the Swiss surrealist H. R. Giger and French cartoonist Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, a soundtrack by the psychedelic rock band Pink Floyd and a cast that included Orson Welles, Gloria Swanson, Mick Jagger, David Carradine, Salvador Dali and Amanda Lear. Pre-production on this big-budget film started in 1974 and millions of dollars were spent before the project eventually fell apart. Unfortunately, Jodorowsky’s story isn’t uncommon and there are thousands of forgotten unmade movies that we’ll never get the opportunity to see although they may not have had the same ambition or scope as the long lost DUNE. With this in mind I decided to compile a list of some particularly intriguing film projects that never made it to the big screen. These are the forgotten dreams of frustrated directors and writers but from time to time I find them unspooling in my head and my imagination has transformed them all into minor and, in some cases, major masterpieces.

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Nosferatu to you too, and the horse you rode in on

It’s getting ever closer to Halloween, and TCM is imminently going to screen the spectacular 1922 Nosferatu.  I was asked to contribute an audio commentary on this legendary horror classic for the UK Blu-Ray edition from Masters of Cinema.  In preparing my track I took the opportunity to challenge some of the received wisdom about the authorship of this film—but one disadvantage of the audio commentary format as a vehicle for that kind of discussion is that I was limited to the visual examples presented by the film itself.  To really make my case I wanted to be able to show some other film clips or stills—which is best suited to a blog!  So here we go—into the mad world of Nosferatu’s creator, F.W. Murnau Albin Grau!

 buch_cover_albin_grau

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Some of the Many Faces of Danny Kaye

Virginia Mayo is the seductive casbah girl after the implacable British flying ace in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"

Virginia Mayo is the seductive casbah girl after the implacable British flying ace in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”

 

In honor of tomorrow’s TCM Danny Kaye 100th Birthday 24-hour celebration, here are a few of my favorite pictures of him from my collection, in no particular order.  It’s great to know that there is renewed interest in this most talented of entertainers — I’m not the only one who likes him! — and I’ll bet that there will be some new fans after Sunday’s festival!  Here we go…Enjoy!

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A New Perception of ‘Inception’

What’s better than listening to a behind-the-scenes DVD commentary and discovering something new about a favorite film? It’s listening to a live commentary while watching the film on a big screen! Last week, I attended a “sound-down” of the sci-fi blockbuster Inception presented by cinematographer Wally Pfister. A sound-down is exactly what the term implies: The film is screened with the sound so low that it cannot be heard while a person of note—in this case, Pfister—provides an expert commentary. A sound-down offers an opportunity to fully understand the art behind the illusion that is Hollywood movie-making without destroying the magic.

A free event open to all film students and movie-lovers, the sound-down of Inception ended a week of workshops, master classes, and screenings at Ringling College of Art and Design in which Pfister generously gave his time and expertise to the students. Located in my new hometown of Sarasota, Florida, Ringling is the college where I now teach film and art history to a talented student body of future illustrators, fine artists, animators, and filmmakers. I was lucky to squeeze into a class in which Pfister provided an insider’s view of production design by explaining the interrelationship between the director, the production designer, and the cinematographer. Informal yet informative, Pfister painted a clear picture of the process of production, emphasizing that story needs to drive the choice of visual techniques—not the other way around.

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