Posted by David Kalat on October 12, 2013
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!
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on September 17, 2013
It’s hard to conceive of Howard Hawks without sound. His films are focused on work and its downtime, and it is in spurts of chatter in which his characters define themselves. As physical as their occupations may be, it’s always their words that reveal their true selves. Which is why watching Hawks’ silent films are so disorienting. The Museum of the Moving Image is in the midst of a full retrospective of Hawks’ work, and this past weekend they screened many of his silents, including A Girl in Every Port (1928), which manages to set up many of the director’s pet themes before the arrival of sound allowed his talents to fully emerge.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on September 10, 2013
Earlier this month Turner Classic Movies began airing The Story of Film, a 15-chapter documentary by Mark Cousins tracking the history of the moving image from 1895 – 2000s. Running from now through December, TCM will also air 52 movies that Cousins mentions in his work. To coincide with The Story of Film Chapter 2: 1918 – 1928, tonight TCM will air everything from Nanook of the North (1922, 8PM) to King Vidor’s silent masterpiece The Crowd (1928, 2AM). While Nanook was recently issued on Blu-Ray, The Crowd is only available on out-of-print VHS, so this airing is a rare opportunity to see it in a decent edition. George Feltenstein, the Senior Vice President of Theatrical Catalog Marketing at WB, recently wrote that the home video future of The Crowd depends on the sales of Vidor’s The Big Parade, which comes out on October 1st. It was originally because of the The Big Parade’s massive success that Vidor was allowed to make the smaller, artier The Crowd, so maybe it will have the same effect on WB executives today. Like Murnau’s Sunrise (’27) or Paul Fejos’ Lonesome (’28), The Crowd depicts the trials of the everyday with expressionistic intensity, proving that the working man is as worthy of tragedy as royalty.
Posted by Pablo Kjolseth on September 8, 2013
A week ago I attended the Telluride Film Festival. Their program used the XL Roman numerals to mark the occasion of their 40th anniversary. With the addition of an extra day of programming as well as a new, 650-seat theatrical venue named after Werner Herzog (dubbed “the Zog” by staff), the festival also felt XL in overall size when compared to previous years.
TCM, a yearly sponsor of the Palm Theater, was there with a special presentation that dovetails nicely with the current SUNDAYS WITH HITCH IN SEPTEMBER motif: a selected program by cinéaste Pierre Rissient (assistant director to BREATHLESS) that included an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour titled A PIECE OF THE ACTION, directed by Bernard Girard (ten years later he’d work with an unhappy Christopher Walken on THE HAPPINESS CAGE).
A PIECE OF THE ACTION was originally broadcast on September 20th in 1962, and stars Gig Young (who, speaking of Alfreds, was in Peckinpah’s BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA). Young plays a professional gambler and Martha Hyer is his frustrated wife. It also had a supporting role for a 25-year-old Roberd Redford as the gamblers’ reckless younger brother.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on August 20, 2013
Penny Serenade (1941) is the third and final film Cary Grant and Irene Dunne made together. The Awful Truth (1937) and My Favorite Wife (1940) are screwball comedies of re-marriage, and Penny Serenade is their tragic inverse, focusing on the work necessary to maintain a long-haul relationship. The first two are set in high society, produced by the improvisatory Leo McCarey, while Penny Serenade is working class and focused on the fear and trembling of young parents, made with stark realism by the more deliberate George Stevens. Grant worried about audience expectation, the “people who are laughing already, in anticipation of another mad marital mixup”. Both actors were protective of this heart-tugging melodrama, and later in life Irene Dunne declared it the favorite of her films. It was a success, although not to the same blockbuster degree as The Awful Truth, and for years has circulated in beat-up public domain editions. Olive Films is releasing a spiffy Blu-Ray of Penny Serenade next week, and it’s something of a revelation.
Posted by David Kalat on August 10, 2013
It takes many people to make a movie. There are hairdressers and set dressers, designers and gaffers, caterers and stand-ins. But never mind—in the public imagination it all comes down to the director and the star.
And there was a moment, in 1953, when one of the greatest directors who ever graced Hollywood came to work with inarguably the most iconic movie star of all time. What they made was a bright Technicolor musical comedy, produced on the tail end of Hollywood’s Golden Age, that was as raunchy as anything made in the pre-Porky’s era. And for all its glorious brilliance, it probably shouldn’t have worked at all—because you can’t just put any director with any star. Sometimes they don’t match.
There’s a phrase—oil and water. It’s meant to suggest that two people are of such disparate temperaments that they can’t mix, like oil and water. But that metaphor is a limited—oil and water may not mix, but they are such inert things. But try mixing potassium and water and see what happens—they don’t mix either, but stuff explodes. And that’s our metaphor for today—because putting Howard Hawks in the same room as Marilyn Monroe and expecting anything other than stuff exploding was madness.
Posted by David Kalat on August 3, 2013
He sat in the audience of High Noon, fuming. He didn’t like the way Gary Cooper slunk through the town unable to muster any allies for his heroic stand against Evil. He thought it was unmanly. And after shaking his fist for a while and muttering oaths under his breath, he realized that he wasn’t accomplishing anything just venting his rage at the screen. So he went to work, to make his own movie, as a deliberate rejection of High Noon.
When it appeared in theaters, Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo claimed to be based on a short story by “B.H. McCampbell,” which makes it sound impressive. In fact, “B.H. McCampbell” was Hawks’ daughter Barbara, and her “short story” was just some spitballing about how cool it would be if some gangsters had a bunch of dynamite in crates and some good guys came along and shot up the crates to make them blow up. Which is, indeed, very cool. But that little bit of business aside, writers Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett were really tasked with making a manlier version of High Noon, with the same character types in the same situation but in which the sheriff doesn’t get all wishy washy and scared and whatnot, but just stoically goes out and kicks some ass.
Posted by David Kalat on July 27, 2013
Once upon a time, there was a pretty girl. As has happened to many other pretty girls, other people liked to take pictures of her—and one of these pictures ended up in a magazine read by one of the greatest filmmakers who ever lived. And this set in motion a chain of events that led to an enduring masterpiece of classical Hollywood—To Have and Have Not. (Tune in July 17)
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on July 23, 2013
The infernal weather system that soaked the Northeast in sweat this past week was moving backwards. In the United States these systems usually travel west to east, but this persistent “dome of hot air” was traveling in reverse. I feel a kinship with this contrarian gasbag, so in its honor I will look back at an undervalued movie set during summer. A Summer Place (1959) is mainly remembered for birthing the #1 instrumental single by Percy Faith (adapted from the Max Steiner score), but it was a sensation at the time for its frank discussion of sex. It marked a transition in director Delmer Daves’ career from macho action-adventure films into melodramatic women’s pictures, one of the more reviled shifts in film history. He completed his twilight Western The Hanging Tree in August of 1958, and made four candy-colored romance pictures for WB afterward. Dismissed by both critics (the NY Times memorably called it “garishly sex-scented…. The whole thing leaves a rancid taste”) and ardent admirers (Jean-Pierre Coursodon called this period “dangerously close to artistic suicide”) , today they are ripe for rediscovery. A Summer Place is bursting with erotic energy that spreads out in the Technicolor widescreen frame, and treats adultery and teen sex with a forthright shrug.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on July 16, 2013
This is Part 2 of a series on director Allan Dwan. Part 1 focused on his silent films.
Dwan was ready for the transition to sound. He had experimented with the new technology as early as 1925, when he made a satirical sound short that screened at the private Lambs’ Club. There was a failed effort at the men’s only institution to allow women to join, or at least perform at their “gambols”. So Dwan directed a sketch in which Gloria Swanson audibly crashed their proceedings, as reported by Frederic Lombardi in his Dwan biography. In 1927 he made a sound newsreel for Movietone News (“The Military Academy at West Point”), and shot a sound prologue for The Iron Mask (1929). So when his career fully transferred to talkies later in ’29 with Frozen Justice, he already had a feel for how he could bend the technology to serve his roving camera. In her introduction for Slightly Scarlet at the Museum of Modern Art, filmmaker and critic Gina Telaroli remarked that the concept of “circulation” is the key to Dwan’s art, referring to his circling plots as well as the perambulations of his camera and actors. His mastery of the tracking shot, which he developed as early as 1915 in David Harum, continued unabated into the sound era, even with the restrictions of onerous recording equipment. Even when the camera is static, his films percolate with a choreography of micro-movements inside the frame, as his anxious characters push forward into the unknown.
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