The Tragedy of Lineage: Tess (1979)


To view Tess click here.

A haggard, beaten down farmer walks home down a quiet country road in Wessex and greets, and is greeted by, another man on a horse. The man on the horse is Parson Tringham (Tony Church) and the grizzled farmer is John Durbyfield (John Collin). The parson jokingly calls him “Sir John” and John, who prefers “Jack,” asks him why. This simple exchange sets in motion a series of events that will eventually lead to rape, murder and the complete ruin of John’s family and the imprisonment and execution of one of his daughters. How this comes to be is the story of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, a sprawling and extraordinary tale of how one man’s obsession with his family’s roots leads to the destruction of all around him and how Victorian society victimizes an intelligent, educated woman whose entire life lies at the center of the upheaval. That book was adapted to film in 1979 by Roman Polanski as Tess, and it remains one of most beautifully shot and richly detailed adaptations of any of Hardy’s works. It is also inexorably linked to the personal legacy of its director, a man making the film as a final wish to his late, murdered wife, Sharon Tate, while on the lam from the law for the rape of a thirteen-year-old girl.


Yum, Yum, Yum! A Taste of Cajun & Creole Cooking (1990)

YUM, YUM, YUM! (1990)

To view Yum, Yum, Yum! A Taster of Cajun and Creole Cooking click here.

If you’ve never heard me say it before, let me say it here again: Les Blank is my favorite documentarian. I’ve written about him several times in different venues on and offline, as well as on TCM’s main site, where I did an article on this very movie. In that article, I wrote, “There aren’t many documentarians like Les Blank anymore. Maybe there never were. Blank had an uncanny ability, an inexplicable talent one might say, to take normal, ordinary activities, like making dinner, and turn them into fascinating cinema.” Of course, the wonderfully titled Yum, Yum, Yum! A Taster of Cajun and Creole Cooking (1990) is about more than making dinner, it’s about culture and family and how something as simple as a meal can have deep communal roots.


Before Cable, There Was Korda


To view Conquest of the Air click here.

Perhaps I’m alone in this (though I hope not) but I find watching old info docs as much fun as watching old movies. When I first got TCM years ago, I quickly settled into something that would become a familiar pattern. Sitting down for a night of movie watching, I was often more excited for the programming between the movies as the movies themselves. And if one of those one-reel wonders turned out to be an informational documentary or travelogue, all the better. If you’ve seen some of them, you know that re-enactments play a big role in them, whether they’re covering the early days of the Pony Express, cataloging superstitions or retracing Washington’s crossing of the Delaware. These infotainments would become the models for cable programming years later, and when you watch them, you can see proto Modern Marvels and Wild Discoveries in the making. In Britain, these formats were done with exceptional skill and an eye towards entertainment and one of the most interesting, and ominously timed, was Conquest of the Air(1936), produced by Alexander Korda and directed by his brother, Zoltan.


Walking The Thin Blue Line (1988) with Errol Morris


The Thin Blue Line (1988), which is available for streaming via FilmStruck as part of the series Documentaries by Errol Morris, is more than a documentary. It is an investigation into the case of Randall Adams, who was falsely convicted of the murder of Dallas policeman Robert Wood.

Randall Adams was one of the hundreds of rural poor eking out a meager living on the margins of working-class Texas. His (mis)fortunes turned from bad to worse when he met David Harris, a wild teenager with a penchant for violence. The two hung out for a brief time before parting ways after Adams declined to allow Harris to crash in his motel room. A short time later, Adams was arrested for killing Officer Wood during a routine traffic stop. The primary witness was Harris, who claimed he was in the passenger seat when Adams pulled out a gun and shot Wood. Intent on a quick conviction, the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department “discovered” other witnesses in addition to Harris who swore that Adams was a dangerous murderer.


Faceoff: Sabotage vs. Foreign Correspondent


It’s that time of year when I ask students to select one or more Hitchcock films as part of the course material in my upper level film history class. I like to offer a pre-WWII Hitchcock film as one of the choices to represent his early spy thrillers, in which various spies and secret agents dash about Europe either defending or undermining the forces of democracy.

Last year, after asking for the input of the Morlocks (now StreamLine) readers, I selected The Lady Vanishes (1938) to represent this phase of Hitchcock’s work. It was a resounding success. This year, I have narrowed the choices to Sabotage (1936) and Foreign Correspondent (1940), both available for streaming through The Criterion Channel. (Foreign Correspondent also airs on TCM on February 8 at 8:00pm ET.) Please weigh in on which film you think is the better choice, especially for young viewers who have heard of Hitchcock but are unfamiliar with his earlier work.


Crash Course in Editing: Man with a Movie Camera (1929)


Comic book films and action movies tend to use a fast-paced style of editing combined with close framings and jittery camera movement. The editing has been dubbed post-classical or hyper-editing, while the camera movement is referred to with the derogatory term “shaky cam.” I have also heard this obvious, inelegant style called “chaos cinema” or “intensified continuity.”

Hyper-editing is antithetical to the classic continuity editing innovated by D.W. Griffith and cemented by hundreds of directors over nine decades in Hollywood. Continuity editing prides itself on establishing a clarity of space and logic of action, which pulls the audience into the film, making them participants in the narrative. Viewers identify with the characters, bonding with them. Bona fide suspense is created when the characters are in danger, because viewers can see where the danger is in relation to the characters. The performance of the stars, as well as mood and tone, are part of the experience, which is enhanced by continuity. Hyper-editing trades spatial clarity, star turns, and mood for a visceral experience that is forgotten as soon as it is viewed. Small wonder it appeals to adolescent boys whose attentions spans can be measured in nano-seconds.


August 2, 2014
David Kalat
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First things first, but not necessarily in that order

The Killing is many things.  It’s a 1956 film noir heist film.  It’s the earliest work that Stanley Kubrick embraced as representative of what he wanted to do.  But The Thing You Need to Know About The Killing is: it’s a daringly non-linear jigsaw puzzle of a story that jumps back and forth through its own timeline, looping through the same events as it shifts perspective among its many characters.  Such innovative narrative gymnastics remain striking even today, and give the film a weird modernity for a B&W picture set in an era before airport security.  Quentin Tarantino has identified The Killing as (part of) the inspiration behind his own exploration of non-linear storytelling in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction.

But, for all that, there’s a risk here of taking this too far.  The more we praise the supposedly non-chronological storytelling in The Killing the more we risk misunderstanding how movie storytelling works in the first place, and crediting this film for innovations that it doesn’t really innovate.  I don’t mean to be churlish here, it’s just that the events in The Killing did not actually take place—they’re made up.  So there is no “other” chronology involved.  The only order in which these events “happen” is the order in which Kubrick tells them to us.


KEYWORDS: Edwin S. Porter, Life of an American Fireman, Stanley Kubrick, The Killing

The Story of Film: The Life of an American Editor

As any fan of reality TV can tell you, the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction are poorly policed.  Reality shows emphasize drama—often following entirely predictable and palpably artificial storylines—yet are constituted of footage of events that actually happened.  The irony is that for all the ways that this may feel challenging or new, it has been part of cinema since the very beginning.  This is where movies began, in the 1880s and 90s.

The earliest motion pictures were just what their name said: pictures that moved.  And as such they had a lot in common with pictures that didn’t move—records of real events.  Take a quick look at whatever pictures you have on your phone.  How many are attempts to tell stories, or to be artistic, versus how many are documentary records of things that happened to you?  Think about what comprised the first ever Lumiere Brothers film show in 1895—here’s our office, here’s our friends, this is somebody’s baby.  It’s a photo album that moves.  All that’s missing are some Lumiere Brothers selfies throwing up deuces.



Forgotten Films to Remember: ‘Between Two Worlds’

btwopener2Ever since Morlock Greg Ferrara questioned why some classic movies are remembered and others are forgotten in a post earlier this month, I have been turning over in my mind the implications of his point. As the Golden Age slips further into the past, a canon of familiar classics has emerged to represent that era; in other words, beloved movies like Casablanca, The Philadelphia Story, Rebel without a Cause, An American in Paris, The Searchers, the comedies of the Marx Brothers, screwball comedies, etc., tend to stand in for  all of Hollywood history. Their importance is reinforced by film festivals, continual releases on DVD, and references in other pop culture. Getting young generations to recognize older films as a vital part of our culture is difficult, so I am not complaining that the canon of classic movies gets its due. But, what about the hundreds of other unusual, charming, provocative, quirky, and otherwise remarkable films that are less famous? Will they be forgotten, especially because vintage black-and-white movies are simply off the radars of most people? Are they doomed to be lost in an era when the costly preservation of original negatives and prints is essential to their safeguarding?


Resolve Nothing, Roll Credits

Occasionally, I hear people (very foolish people indeed) complain that a movie doesn’t have an ending.  Of course, this is nonsense.  Unless the film in question has an infinite running time, it has an ending.  When the credits are done and the lights go up, trust me, the movie is over.  Nevertheless, just a few short years ago, when No Country for Old Men (2007) was released, many of the same complaints were heard again, even if they were easily dismissed by anyone actually watching the movie with open eyes.   You can even find websites with “Movies with No Endings” lists (though I won’t link to such garbage here) that find such movies troubling.  In the end, literally, it’s a matter of how the viewer wants it to end, on the tonic, so to speak, but not every movie goes down that path.   Now, I’m not here to provide a list of every movie like that but there are three movies I saw several times growing up that defined the non-traditional ending for me, and if I ever get around to making a feature film, all three of these will play a definite role in how I end it.


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