Flickering Florida: The Sunshine State on Film

blogposterOver the weekend, I participated in a conference called Flickering Landscapes, which was organized by Bruce Janz and Phil Peters of the University of Central Florida. The conference focused on the representation of Florida in film and television as well as the state’s extensive cinema history. Florida is unique in the way that its distinctive landscape has affected the state’s identity and image in popular culture. In addition, tourists, vacationers, and Hollywood image-makers have played a major role in shaping that identity—something native Floridians have learned to live with.

I thought I would share some of the history and ideas that I learned at the conference.

I recently wrote about Florida’s role in early cinema history after I discovered that director George Melford had been part of an effort to launch a film industry in St. Petersburg. (See October 26th  post.) I expanded on this piece of Florida history for my part in the conference, and I discussed two other attempts to establish film production on the Gulf Coast. In the mid-1920s, a real estate investor built a beautiful film studio half way between Tampa and Sarasota. Dubbed Sun City, the production center was considered a movie colony, which was supposed to include housing for actors and crew members, a school, a church, a city hall, a power plant, and other facilities necessary to be self-sustaining. The secretary-treasurer of the Sun City Holding Company decided to plat out the streets, pave them, and name them after famous movie stars of the era. He sent maps of Sun City to every Hollywood movie star with a street named after them, hoping they would relocate to Sun City to make films at the new studio. Unfortunately, the land bust caused by rampant real estate speculation destroyed any chance for Sun City to become successful, and the studio never produced a feature film. The only vestiges of this film colony are the town’s streets, which are still named after stars of the 1920s. I am sure current residents have no clue.




The 38th Denver Film Festival calls it a wrap today. When it began in 1978 it featured the works of such diverse directors as Woody Allen, Wes Craven, and Louise Malle. This year #DFF38 was held November 4 – 15 and it had an equally varied lineup that covered a wild gamut of genres from all around the world. Of specific interest to TCM viewers would be a documentary by Kent Jones that screened last night at the DFF titled Hitchcock/Truffaut. It uses a legendary 27-hour interview between François Truffaut and Alfred Hitchcock conducted in 1962 as its starting point. The results provide an excellent launch pad for cinephiles looking to rekindle a discussion for what Hitchcock referred to as “the greatest known mass medium in the world.”  [...MORE]

What worth a glimpse into an archive?


Gene Hayworth works at the university library here in Boulder and has many duties, one being that he manages various subscriptions for the faculty. He recently set up a trial with Entertainment Industry Magazine Archive and I promised him I’d poke around to see if the Film Studies faculty I work with might find it of interest. Given that this particular service costs well over a hundred times what I pay for access to my yearly IMDb Pro account, I was curious what it had to offer. I randomly picked six films, screening throughout the week a month from now on TCM, to plug into the search engine: Papillon, The In-Laws, Along the Great Divide, The Manitou, Spring Fever, and Baby Doll. Included here are some of the results. [...MORE]

A tale of two Alfreds.

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.

Alfred is holding a key to a very exclusive club.



Bruce Kawin is a widely published scholar, film historian, and poet. As Professor of English and Film at the University of Colorado at Boulder, he has influenced many careers. Some 25 years ago, Dayton Taylor, the producer of Habit (1995) and Wendigo (2001), got the idea for his three-dimensional imaging Timetrack® camera system while learning about Eadweard Muybridge in Kawin’s class. (In 1877 Muybridge captured continuous motion of a horse by setting up twenty-four cameras in a row along a racing track.) More recently, both Derek Cianfrance, director of Blue Valentine (2010) and Drew Goddard, director of Cabin in the Woods (2011), have cited him as an influence. In the interest of full-disclosure, I should mention that I took my fair share of classes from Kawin and later did a stint as his T.A. and projectionist, and he played a pivotal role in my path toward cinema literacy. Kawin had a reputation among the students as being a demanding teacher. Kawin was not afraid to flunk people who did not show up or do the assigned work, thus he has had his fair share of detractors. Kawin’s encyclopedic knowledge and keen attention to detail could be daunting to students used to fudging their answers. In his class, if you spelled Gregg Toland’s name with only one “g,” or only knew him as the cinematographer of Citizen Kane (1941) without being able to link him to Mad Love (1935), your grade would suffer. For Kawin, history and connections are both important. It is also one of many reasons why serious lovers of the horror genre have reason to rejoice, because here now is a book that fuses Kawin’s keen intellect and attention to detail with his passion for monster movies. [...MORE]



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Borzage Through Fresh Eyes

Color me green with envy after reading all those positive reports from all over about the recent TCM Classic Film Festival. While giving friends who attended the third degree to extract every droplet of vicarious enjoyment from their accounts of that long, delirious weekend in LA, one of the things that stands out in their reporting is the mention of the large number of young people in the audience, as well as the “lifers,” (aka those of us who have been movie-mad since childhood).  Recently, I was delighted to make the acquaintance of a youthful filmmaker who could be representative of this fresh wave of classic film lovers on the horizon.

From the viewpoint of most of us, Rebecca Bozzo, a twenty-something graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara, is already a working film professional, but her ebullient enthusiasm for what she describes as  the  “collaborative energy” of movie making has an infectious quality that blends real knowledge and a joyous passion, even as she describes the sometimes arduous but invigorating process of collaboration with diverse people. Growing up in a household where her supportive parents exposed her to great films from Hitchcock, Cukor, Stevens, and Minnelli, her father was particularly involved in the National Film Society efforts to preserve films. With this cinematically aware family background, a growing desire to be a part of the film industry as a director and producer almost seems inevitable.


Elliot Lavine Still Dreams in Black and White

Asking Elliot Lavine to talk about his favorite film noirs is a little like asking a parent of many different children to describe what he loves about his babies. If you are anywhere near San Francisco in the next few weeks, you may want to hightail it over to the newly remodeled Roxie Theater in the Mission district for a chance to admire some of his neglected favorites–Elliot‘s nearly forgotten, “cheap, lowdown and tawdry” stepchildren, consisting of 28 rarely screened B noirs from the Poverty Row Studios. These movies will be on display from Friday, May 14th through Thursday, May 27th in a program entitled I STILL Wake Up Dreaming: Noir is Dead! / Long Live Noir! A complete list of these movies is posted at the end of this blog with links to the Roxie for times and ticket information.  A few days ago, Elliot was kind enough to submit to a grilling from me about all things film noir…


Helen Walker: A Well Kept Secret Part I

Normally, blogs that commemorate a “deathiversary” of a person are anathema to me.  Still, when I stumbled across the fact earlier this month that March 10th marked the day that actress Helen Walker died in 1968 at age 47, my attention was drawn to her story. I’ve always been beguiled by the indelible impressions she left on screen in only a handful of performances I’ve seen. Best remembered today for her work in film noirs such as Nightmare Alley (1946-Edmund Goulding), Call Northside 777 (1948-Henry Hathaway), Impact (1949-Arthur Lubin), and The Big Combo (1955-Joseph Lewis), the actress remains a relatively obscure figure, in part because several of her forties’ movies have languished in archives for years, unseen by current classic film fans for some time. Maybe she was just one of hundreds of young women who became a limited-run product off the studio assembly line, but behind those dancing eyes of hers, a person seemed to be at home, projecting a blend of self-mocking bemusement, a kittenish warmth, and later, a chill of knowing recognition in her unsettling, unblinking gaze.


Homage to Robin Wood

Over the holidays, celebrated film scholar Robin Wood died of leukemia at age 78. I did not realize he had passed away until I saw his obituary on the Internet early last week, and I was saddened by the loss. Of all the historians, scholars, and critics I have studied and read over the years, Wood has been my most lasting influence.

While I enjoy reading the work of those who regularly write about film, I am extremely selective about those writers I consider true influences. The problem I generally find with the hundreds upon hundreds of writers who hold forth on film is twofold: Scholars steeped in cinema history, theory, and aesthetics write in such a tedious style that their ideas are lost in their academic jargon; critics and reviewers who write in breezy, entertaining styles often have so little formal background in film studies that their interpretations of movies are inaccurate or distorted, and their opinions are little more than reflections of their personal tastes. Scholars are often elitist in their choice of films to study or analyze, which can make them dismiss the very movies most of us enjoy. On the other hand, reviewers and critics are too blinded by their personal tastes or too full of themselves to be truly interested in helping their readers get more out of their viewing experiences. Robin Wood was that rare film scholar who loved popular movies, understood the contexts in which they were produced, and was devoted to interpreting them in a down to earth style that anyone could understand.


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