If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out

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To view Harold and Maude click here.

Anyone who came of age in the 1970s and 1980s probably remembers their first viewing of Harold and Maude (1971). For me it came in the early days of cable TV when HBO and Cinemax started running it in the afternoons on Saturday and Sunday; after all, it was rated PG so that meant it could comfortably rub shoulders with other family-friendly fare like Barbarella (1968) and Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). So imagine my surprise as an impressionable nine-year-old kid seeing this hilarious black comedy with a welcome morbid streak, delivering one of the screen’s great love stories when Bud Cort isn’t spurting fake blood or setting himself on fire. [...MORE]

Black Sheep: Mon Oncle (1958)

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To view Mon Oncle click here.

“That would be the ideal film. I would like people to see Hulot less and less and to see other people or characters more and more.” – Jacques Tati

With Mon Oncle (1958), Jacques Tati gets closer to making his ideal film. The character of Hulot gets pushed further and further into the background until he often disappears, letting nearly everyone else in town take center stage. Hulot’s role is to set a disastrous mechanism into motion, then stroll offscreen with charming obliviousness. He is inimical to the quickly modernizing world of the film, able to find the flaw in any advanced doohickey and reduce it to a smoking, blubbering mess in a matter of minutes. Hulot is forever putting the brakes on technological advancement, while the rest of his family is installing the latest and greatest in household tech, from a motion-sensor garage door to a fish water fountain. While his family tries to automate and smooth out their lives, Hulot prefers to live in the grit and grime, in an old rickety house covered in dust and layered with history. Tati uses set and sound design to separate Hulot from his contemporaries, going from the squeaky clean lines of his sister’s ultra-modern home to the clatteringly labyrinthine staircase of his apartment building. Hulot is a man of out of time, trying to impart his destabilizing spirit to his little nephew, the only relative susceptible to his charms.

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One for all, and all for one!

FOUR MUSKETEERS, THE, Frank Finlay, Michael York, Richard Chamberlain, Oliver Reed, 1974.

To view The Three Musketeers click here.

To view The Four Musketeers click here.

Director Richard Lester was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania but he made some of the best British films of the 1960s. Inspired by Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati, he developed an acute funny bone and an appreciation of the absurd that allowed him to work side-by-side with bastions of British comedy such as Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers. Lester’s sense of humor also appealed to The Beatles who personally selected the expat director to record the band’s exploits in A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and Help! (1965). This music-fueled double feature introduced the Fab Four to audiences around the world and revealed how quirky, lively and charismatic the band could be on and off the stage. In both films, Lester aptly spotlighted the mop-tops playful camaraderie as they challenged authority, outwitted ostensible villains and used teamwork to right perceived wrongs.

By presenting The Beatles as a group of countercultural champions, the director laid the groundwork for many of his future films which included reinterpreting legends (Robin and Marian [1976], Butch and Sundance: The Early Days [1979]) and superheroes (Superman II [1980], Superman III [1983]). But outside of The Beatles movies, the best example of Lester’s appreciation for comical heroes can be found in The Three Musketeers (1974) and its impromptu sequel, The Four Musketeers (1974) currently streaming on FilmStruck.

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Summer Daze: Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953)

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To view Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday click here.

The first screen appearance of Jacques Tati’s Hulot character is inside of a car: a clattering, jittering wreck making its way to a seaside hotel in Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953). Tati cuts from the sound of a train horn to the pitter-putter of Hulot’s gasping car engine as it turns the corner of a country lane. The train is carrying the middle-class vacationers to their summer home, but Hulot always travels his own circuitous path. He yearns to be part of the group, but is forever getting sidetracked, by everything from funerals to fireworks. The character of Hulot, established here and elaborated on in three more films (Mon Oncle [1958], Playtime [1967] and Trafic [1970]), is baffled by modern technology and remains continually tangled up in it, reaching an apotheosis in the shimmering urban Hulot-trap of Playtime.  Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday is a gentler affair, though it establishes the unsteadiness and peculiar launching qualities of his springlike body. Like his car, he is as unsteady as a reed in a wind, and the slightest stumble will launch him into the next zip code. But he will always circle back home, hoping to get a few moments’ peace before getting launched once again.

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A Modern Screwball Comedy: The In-Laws (’79)

THE IN-LAWS, Peter Falk, Alan Arkin, 1979, (c) Warner Brothers / Courtesy: Everett Collection

To view The In-Laws click here.

Weddings can be stressful. The planning of the actual event, along with facing the responsibilities surrounding a life-long commitment to another person, creates both an exciting and terrifying experience for the couple involved. But all of the wedding nonsense can’t compare to the stress of the couple’s parents meeting for the first time. In Arthur Hiller’s 1979 comedy The In-Laws, we witness this first meeting, over an awkward dinner filled with tall tales and bizarre behavior. Alan Arkin is Sheldon “Shelly” Kornpett, a successful dentist whose daughter is a day or two away from tying the knot. Shelly is supportive of his daughter and her fiancée, but has doubts about his daughter’s future father-in-law, Vince Ricardo, played by Peter Falk; an enigmatic character who has yet to set aside the time to meet the Kornpett family. Shelly has concerns about Vince, specifically in relation to his career as a so-called international consultant. After receiving a bit of unsolicited advice from one of his dental patients, Shelly is convinced that Vince is a shady character and is seriously considering calling the wedding off altogether.

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The Postman: Jour de Fête (1949)

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To view Jour de fête click here.

After a decade-long career as a music-hall performer, Jacques Tati transitioned to feature filmmaking witha comedy about a remarkably gullible postman. Before Tati invented the iconic bumbling bourgeois Hulot (in M. Hulot’s Holiday, 1953), he experimented with a clumsy working class letter carrier, prone to insecure bouts of drinking and falling flat on his face. Jour de fête (1949) exhibits Tati’s elastic expertise at mime, including a tour-de-force drunk bike ride, as well as displaying his immediate talents as a director, constructing brilliantly funny gags through choreography and sound design. All of the gags generate from a small town’s resistance to and obsession with technological advancement, especially as trumpeted by the Americans. Tati eyes all this talk of modernization with a gimlet eye, preferring instead to linger on the absurdities of small town life before they disappear forever.

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More Than a Two-Word Review: This is Spinal Tap (’84)

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To view This is Spinal Tap click here.

I can’t quite remember exactly when I first saw This is Spinal Tap (1984), but I do know it was sometime in the late 80’s. It was in fairly heavy rotation on cable in various edited forms, and the first few times I only saw bits and pieces—usually the concert scenes. And I have to admit I thought I was watching a legitimate documentary about a real rock and roll band. Yes, I was a kid. But I knew my music, and I just couldn’t figure out how this band slipped under my radar. Of course, it wasn’t long after those first few brief viewings that I realized Spinal Tap was merely parody, and it quickly became a personal favorite, only to get better as I’ve gotten older. With each viewing, which is at least a couple times a year, I discover something new and hilarious. But what I’ve also found with those repeat viewings is that my initial impression of the film when I was kid really wasn’t that far off. This is Spinal Tap is ridiculous, yes, but it is more faithful in its portrayal of the bizarre culture surrounding rock and roll than it’s given credit.

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Die Laughing: Carry On Screaming! (1966)

CARRY ON SCREAMING, Joan Sims, Tom Clegg, 1966

To view Carry On Screaming! click here.

“The usual charge to make against the Carry On films is to say that they could be much better done. This is true enough. They look dreadful, they seem to be edited with a bacon slicer and the comic rhythm jerks along like a cat on a cold morning. But if all these things were more elegant, I don’t really think the films would be more enjoyable: the badness is part of the funniness.”
– Critic Penelope Gilliatt, “In praise of Carrying On” from a 1964 issue of The Observer

FilmStruck has made a batch of the Carry On films available for streaming and if you’re unfamiliar with these British comedies it’s a great opportunity to become acquainted with one of the U.K.’s most popular film franchises. Beginning with Carry On Sergeant in 1958, director Gerald Thomas and producer Peter Rogers teamed up with a rotating cast of regulars to make an impressive 31 films before the series ended in 1992 with Carry On Columbus. During their 34-year run, the Carry On films never won any awards and were typically dismissed by critics but they were beloved by audiences who appreciated how these funny farces satirized respected British institutions such as the military, law enforcement and the medical establishment. The Carry On franchise also regularly lampooned popular films such as the James Bond series with Carry On Spying (1964) and 20th Century-Fox’s big-budget Cleopatra epic in Carry On Cleo (1965).

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Another Day in the Country: Picnic on the Grass (1959)

PICNIC ON THE GRASS, (aka) DEJEUNER SUR L'HERBE,LE, (seated)Paul Meurisse, 1959

To view Picnic on the Grass, click here.

For Jean Renoir Picnic on the Grass was both a return and a departure. It was filmed in and around the country estate of Les Collettes, his late father’s land, where he had grown up as a child. It is the perfect setting for this back-to-nature comedy in which a scientist (and hopeful presidential candidate), is lured away from the world of the mind for that of the flesh. But instead of using this return to indulge in nostalgia or reiterate the naturalistic style of his still-famous triumphs – Renoir pushes further into farce and caricature. Picnic on the Grass is a broad and joyful comedy that was inevitably compared with Rules of the Game(1939) and Grand Illusion (1937), which had been restored and re-released around the same time, and so Renoir was compared to his previous self, and found wanting. Jonas Mekas, writing in The Village Voice in 1960, had a profound experience watching Picnic on the Grass and was baffled by its failure – he wrote: “I hear the critics did not like it. Who are the critics? Critics like to talk big – poor nearsighted things! They do not see beauty even when it is there.” FilmStruck presents us with another opportunity to see this beauty, so I attempted to find it there.

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Ralph Barton and Charlie Chaplin in the Jazz Age

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Charlie Chaplin—an icon of cinema—flirted with the fine arts. He sketched on occasion, and he could converse about art and music in social situations, but his strongest connection to the world of art was his friendship with illustrator Ralph Barton. During the 1920s, Barton was a highly successful caricaturist and cartoonist, whose work was elevated by an understanding of design, line and composition. He served as an advisory editor for The New Yorker from its very beginning in 1924, which reflected the type of social circle Barton traveled in. Barton seemed to know everyone who gave the Jazz Age its flavor, from Mayor Jimmie Walker to actor Paul Robeson.

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