My Visit to the Francis Ford Coppola Winery

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If you’re a member of the TCM Wine Club, and even if you’re not, you are probably aware of the fact that director Francis Ford Coppola owns a winery located in California’s picturesque Sonoma County. I recently had the opportunity to visit the winery’s Rustic restaurant and explore the grounds, which house memorabilia from many of Coppola’s movies.

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Other Gold Diggers of 1933: Girl Missing (1933)

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In the first scene of Girl Missing (1933), Guy Kibbee tries to seduce Mary Brian with the line: “I don’t feel fatherly, I feel…hotcha!” And so begins this randy, money-grubbing, mystery-solving pre-code starring Brian and motormouth Glenda Farrell. They are two out-of-work chorus girls indulging in some gold-digging to leach cash from old lechers. But in the wildly convoluted plot that races through 68 minutes, they get roped into the murder of a mafia bookie and the disappearance of a society dame (or so she seems). It’s a trial run for Farrell’s tamer post-code Torchy Blane (nine films between 1937 – 1939) movies, in which she played a sassy investigative newsgal sans sexual innuendo. In Girl Missing Farrell machine-guns her dialogue to mow down con-men, con-women, and anyone else who has the misfortune to walk past her in the frame. It airs tomorrow on TCM at 6:15AM, and is also available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

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Family Ties: Sunset Song (2015)

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“The June moors whispered and rustled and shook their cloaks, yellow with broom and powdered faintly with purple – that was the heather but not the full passion of its colour yet … and maybe the wind would veer there in an hour or so and you’d feel the change in the life and strum of the thing, bringing a streaming coolness out of the sea”. – Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Sunset Song (1932)

Chris Guthrie, the young protagonist of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s novel of rural Scottish life Sunset Song, is introduced as part of the landscape, an adornment to the hinterlands of Aberdeen. Her family suffers mightily, with an abusive father, a depressed mother, and the coming of WWI, but Chris always remains loyal to the land which bore her. Terence Davies’ 2015 film adaptation, now available on DVD and VOD in the U.S., is an elegiac heartbreaker which presents Chris as an iron-willed witness to the end of Scotland’s pre-industrial way of life. Played by model Agyness Deyn with stiff-backed reserve, Chris remains fiercely loyal to her conservative town despite the continued thwarting of her artistic ambitions – she is an enigma, and her mystical devotion to home is something that Davies dares not try to explain. She has absorbed an entire country’s worth of tragedies, but carries on anyway, as Davies’ camera floats around her, keeping her mystery intact.

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Print the Legend: Barbarosa (1982)

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In 1982 Universal Pictures quietly dumped the Willie Nelson-Gary Busey Western Barbarosa into a few drive-ins. After low turn-out, they pulled it from distribution. There may have been more critics to see it than paying customers, and it was a strong notice from Gene Siskel condemning the studio’s treatment of the film that led it back into theaters six months later. The damage was done however, and Barbarosa sunk from view despite accruing a string of rave reviews (from Pauline Kael, Janet Maslin, and Dave Kehr, among others). A new DVD and Blu-ray from Scorpion Releasing gives viewers another chance to see this engagingly shambolic revenge film, the first American feature directed by Aussie Fred Schepisi (Roxanne).

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We’re Off to See the Zardoz

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In the pantheon of wildly ambitious, certifiably insane major studio films released in the go-for-broke 1970s, few can hold a candle to Zardoz (1974). Director John Boorman was riding high on the success of Warner Bros.’ Deliverance two years before, so he was essentially given free rein to choose whatever story he wanted as long as the budget was right. The 20th Century-Fox production was envisioned by Boorman as his second vehicle with Burt Reynolds, but when the mustachioed superstar proved too ill to sign on, Sean Connery was brought on instead. The result is a hallucinatory and utterly unique fever dream of a film, as much fantasy as sci-fi despite its marketing (perhaps because Boorman was still frustrated at being unable to launch an adaptation of The Lord of the Rings), and once seen, it’s certainly not easy to forget. [...MORE]

Dementia 13: Coppola’s Graduation Film from “Corman College”

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Francis Ford Coppola cut his teeth in the film industry working for B-movie master Roger Corman as a script doctor, dialogue writer, sound tech, and all-around jack of all trades. As a supplement to Coppola’s education in cinema studies at UCLA, Corman’s tutelage provided a “film education” from a practical perspective. Later, Corman would enhance the educations of other writers and directors, including Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, Robert Towne, Nicolas Roeg, and Jonathan Demme, by hiring them to write, direct, or shoot his B-movies. This combination of formal schooling and “Corman College” gave this group of filmmakers—the Film School Generation—a unique understanding and appreciation of cinema. I can’t help but think that this is what makes the FSG difficult to match in terms of mastery of the medium.

I recently watched Coppola’s debut directorial feature, Dementia 13, for the first time, and I could see the influences of both a formal film education and Corman College.

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Memories of Garry Marshall

blogposterDirector Garry Marshall, who died last month at the age of 81, owned American popular culture in the last quarter of the 20th century. His sitcoms from the 1970s introduced characters so iconic their costumes are on display in the Smithsonian, and his romantic comedies of the 1980s re-set the conventions for the genre. Set your DVRs to catch Marshall’s first foray into feature films, How Sweet It Is, Saturday, August 27 at 8:00am EST.

Marshall’s strength as a director was also his weakness—the enormous popularity of his work. It was his strength because, like the moguls of the Golden Age, he knew how to produce well-crafted entertainment for the mainstream public; it was his weakness because that style, by its very nature, is never innovative, ground-breaking, or even edgy. It hits mid-America where it lives, but it is the bane of culture critics. In an interview, Marshall made a fair comparison when he stated that he set out to be “the Norman Rockwell of television.”

Marshall was a graduate of the journalism department at Northwestern University, which is also my alma mater. Over the years, he gave back to the school that had helped him learn to write. When I was a graduate student in film studies, he returned once or twice a year to offer short classes on writing or directing to the production students. After he completed his first two films, Young Doctors in Love and The Flamingo Kid, he hosted advance screenings at a local theater for Northwestern students. In the 1980s, he and his family donated money to build a dance and theater center on campus.

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Summer of Rohmer: The Romance of Astrea and Celadon (2007)

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I am ending my Summer of Rohmer series with a film set in the spring. Yes, it is a shocking betrayal of the series’ seasonal brand, but I was eager to revisit The Romance of Astrea and Celadon (2007), and extend my stay in Rohmer’s world. Over the last six weeks I have traveled to a variety of France’s hottest vacation spots for romantic anxiety, from a Saint-Tropez country house in La Collectionneuse (1967) to Dinard, the beachside town in A Summer’s Tale (1997).  The Romance of Astrea and Celadon transported me to the valley of the Sioule in Auvergne, a bucolic green landscape for star-crossed lovers in 5th-century Gaul to suffer in. For his final feature (he passed away in 2010), Rohmer adapted Honoré d’Urfé’s L’Astree (ca. 1607 – 1627), a 5,000 page hit at the royal courts. Rohmer focused on the spine of the digressive novel – the romance between the shepherd Celadon and the shepherdess Astrea, and the miscommunication, madness, and masquerades that delay their union. Though set millennia in the past, the film works over familiar Rohmerian ground, as it ponders the nature of love and fidelity, while trying to square the contradictory impulses of each.

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Summer of Rohmer: A Summer’s Tale (1996)

 

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My summer of Rohmer enters its fifth week by docking at the rocky Breton seaside town of Dinard, the location of A Summer’s Tale (1996). Like all of Eric Rohmer’s summer vacation films, it is about hesitation and uncertainty, the holidays a transient borderland before the return to adulthood, when decisions have to be made. A Summer’s Tale involves a moody engineering student and hopeful musician named Gaspard who is romantically entangled with three women on the beach. He is entranced by the idea of love but is rather afraid of the physical reality, and masters the art of the indeterminate reply, a master of escape. One of Rohmer’s few male protagonists (the film often feels like a throwback to the masculine bull sessions of the Moral Tales), Gaspard is reported to be a highly autobiographical character who runs through a composite of events from the director’s life. Rohmer doesn’t look back with nostalgia, but with a lucid gimlet eye, his Gaspard one of high ideals and evasive, indecisive actions. A Summer’s Tale is streaming on Netflix, and is available on DVD from Big World Pictures.

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Summer of Rohmer: The Green Ray (1986)

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My Summer of Rohmer has been held over for its fourth smash week! For the uninitiated, I have been writing about the summer-set films of Eric Rohmer, allowing my vacation-less self to live vicariously through his characters. I have already traveled to Saint-Tropez for La Collectionneuse  (1967), the French Alps for Claire’s Knee (1970), and Normandy for Pauline at the Beach (1983). Today I join one of Rohmer’s most peripatetic souls, Delphine (played by Marie Rivière), through Cherbourg, the Alps, and Biarritz in The Green Ray (1986). Delphine has recently separated from her long-distance boyfriend, leaving her alone and without direction for her summer vacation. A melancholy romantic, she is fiercely protective of her independence, and forever seeking the man who is worthy to end it. She spends her holiday bouncing from resort town to resort town, staying long enough until her loneliness overwhelms her and she is forced to move on. She begins to see portents all around, creating meaning by turning the world into a Tarot card to be read. Rohmer finds the beauty in her intense ascetic solitude, and grants her an ending of offhand sublimity.

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