Family Pictures

Noel Coward pointed out a long time ago that it was “Extraordinary how potent cheap music is”. I think that most of us have felt the same bittersweet pull of moments in popular films as well, even if we think we know better or believe we might be too jaded or sophisticated to acknowledge their power. While reading the heartfelt blog posted here by High Hurdler, I was admiring his economy of emotion and touching description of the unexpected impact of the minor motion picture Michael (1996-Nora Ephron) on him some years ago. As I read that piece, a light came on in that ramshackle house called my memory once more. Transported back to other Decembers over 25 years ago, a door opened on experiences similar to the one explored by my fellow Morlock.

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Ghosts of Christmas Past

The nature of art is that it produces an emotional response, sometimes it’s loud and obvious but more often than not it’s muted and internalized.  If an art form resonates or touches us in a meaningful way, it’s likely to create a memory of the time when we first experienced it.  As such, we might associate a particular song or movie with a person we once knew – e.g. a popular tune or film from when we were dating a certain someone – such that hearing or seeing it again will provoke a nostalgic feeling of a time gone by, or of an acquaintance lost.  I’ve also found that many of the more powerful epic films that I’ve experienced can imprint themselves permanently into my consciousness.  Additionally, movies watched when I’ve been emotionally vulnerable have a stickiness factor within my heart and mind.
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The Straight Story on Richard Farnsworth

A holiday movie, like the raised expectations of the festive season, can be burdened with some pretty extravagant hopes. Like the day itself, we always seem to hope for a cinematic experience that might transcend the reality of an enjoyable if sometimes stressful day such as Thanksgiving. This year we got lucky. After rejecting family votes for some familiar films, including Avalon (1990-Barry Levinson), with its cri de coeur line, “you cut the too-key without me?!” spoken by with the now immortal Lou Jacobi; any hopes for those who wanted to see The Searchers (1956-John Ford) for the umpteenth time were also dashed; as was one l-tryptophan induced vote for Pulp Fiction (1994-Quentin Tarantino). We finally settled on a movie with little obvious connection to the holidays, The Straight Story (1999) on DVD.

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Tony Sarg: Floating Above Reality

If you are like millions of Americans, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade may be playing as video wallpaper in the background of tomorrow’s holiday hubbub in your household. In between stuffing that turkey and unsuccessfully averting your eyes from the crasser, materialistic moments of the television broadcast, it is still fun to catch sight of those unwieldy balloons straining while remaining afloat above the crowded street. Depending on luck, fashions in pop culture and our memories of balloons past (where is Underdog?) these gargantuan floating creatures seem as familiar as that stained recipe card you may be consulting. Yet, as the above image from a 1930s Macy’s Parade illustrates, they were not always quite as cuddly as they seem today. Just as these helium behemoths sometimes elude their handlers and occasionally deflate, the origin of these now familiar fixtures is not well known. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the originator of these unique inflated fantasies dipped a toe into the movie business just as it started to take off as an art form.

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A Rap Sheet on Wendell Corey

Wendell Corey early in his Hollywood career

The acerbic American writer Paul Theroux once observed that “Fiction gives us a second chance that life denies us.” Maybe movies–that particularly compelling and seductive form of fiction–gives us that chance too, especially if we look at an actor’s many roles, rather than their best known portrayals. Some actors leave you cold, though once in a while you’re able to look at someone in a new way.

MorlockJeff‘s recent article on that ’50s movie fixture, George Nader, found here, made me question my attitudes toward certain actors. I thought that Nader was a negligible, pompadoured presence in laughable movies such as Carnival Story (1954), or the outrageously campy The Female Animal (1958). The best that I could say about the guy was that he looked good in navy blue in an unpretentious, if sometimes overly ponderous “victory at sea” story from Universal, called Away All Boats (1956), directed by Joseph Pevney. However, Jeff’s lively description of this upcoming noirish feature on TCM, Nowhere to Go (1958), with Nader acting opposite a very young, doe-like Maggie Smith, makes me want to see the movie. It also made me think about an actor whose work I’ve dismissed in the past, but have recently grown to see a bit differently. Maybe I threw Wendell Corey on my personal pile of rejects too soon.

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Adventures of a Movie Tourist, Part II

xmas6I really do enjoy visiting the sites or locations where movies have been  shot, whether they are classic award-winning dramas or forgotten little b-movies. Apparently so do a lot of other people, because movie tourism accounts for the latest trend touted by the travel industry. [Okay, I confess, I actually co-wrote a book about movie tourism in Florida called FLORIDA ON FILM, published by the University of Florida Press in 2007, but even before that, I was drawn to visiting movie locations.] 

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A Merry Little Christmas, Cinematically

Terry Moore, being held aloft by Mr. Mighty Joe Young himselfThis year, some might wish more longingly for one fewer excursion in search of something perfect for that special someone or for reasons to be rushing around. Whenever the charged emotions and high expectations overwhelm me at the holidays, I find myself looking for some forms of escape, which, of course, may sometimes be a movie.

There’s a part of me that craves the films of my youth at Christmas, even though not all of them have anything to do with the holiday.  This entry in our Movie Morlocks blogathon generally falls under the heading of Movies I Loved as a Kid (and still do). Intellectually, I can see that each of these films acknowledges that there are similar themes in each person’s life of paradise lost, found, and rediscovered, as well as the mysterious serendipitous events  that connect us and and occasionally give us a glimpse of a deeper understanding of the ebb and flow of life. Having seen more in real life–especially this last year–I can also cherish my visceral, wholly instinctive reaction to these stories and the feelings that they evoke as they unspool on film.  Perhaps you can too :

Mighty Joe Young (1949) is indelibly imprinted on my memory’s hard drive. This film, which used to be broadcast every year at the holidays, is a less ambitious successor to King Kong (1933) with many members of the original team lending a hand, including director Ernest B. Schoedsack, writer and producer Merian C. Cooper, and creator of the original Kong models, Special Effects master, Willis O’Brien. Interestingly, the legendary Ray Harryhausen was “first technician” on this movie, and, as he wrote in his autobiography, Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life, he saw “Joe as young, mischievous and unaware of his own strength”. I think that Harryhausen, O’Brien and the other special effects men did a great job of making Mighty Joe a more expressive, sensitive, and less adult creature than Kong was in the 1930s pre-code production.

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Classics, Contemporaries, Shorts and Full Length Features to get you through the Holidays

I am loath to watch anything twice; I’m a compiler, so anything that I willingly watch over and over again is an exception to my rule.  Therefore, my habit of choosing to view the same movies and programs each Christmas holiday season is unusual.  While not all of the following are movies (in the strictest sense), a Christmas without seeing these shows would be breaking a holiday tradition for me.  So here they are: 

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Movies To Help Me Get Through the Holidays

christmas6 I had more trouble making this list than I did finding Christmas presents for everyone. My initial list seemed so “normal” that I was disappointed with it. I kept thinking there must be films out there that I had forgotten about.  I looked at endless lists of Christmas movies online; I looked at anti-Christmas lists; I looked through catalogues of movie titles. For awhile, I got hung up on looking for really “special” movies — highly regarded classics, the rare, the bizarre.  But, then I decided that this was not in keeping with the spirit of the blogathon topic.

 Perhaps part of the problem is that I am ambivalent about Christmas; for many reasons, I truly dread this holiday, and this Christmas has been more difficult than usual. On the other hand, I know there will be genuine moments of joy, such as when the carolers come around to my mother’s house in the country and serenade us. I was torn between those favorites that make me feel like there really could be peace and good will on earth, and those that remind me that there won’t be.  Finally, I decided to include both.  Some are Christmas movies that are festive, warm-hearted, and joyful; others are anti-Christmas in their cynicism, dreary mood, or pessimism.

 So, for what it’s worth, below is my list of movies that make the holidays go smoothly for me. . . or, at least, faster. 

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In the bleak midwinter…

blacksilent

On Tuesday, December 16th, the Grindhouse Film Festival at The New Beverly Cinema will present the perfect antidote to Yuletide schmaltz… a blood-soaked double bill of Bob Clark’s BLACK CHRISTMAS (aka SILENT NIGHT, EVIL NIGHT 1974) and Theodore Gershuny’s SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT (1972).  I reviewed both of these movies here in 2006, as part of my “Cruel Yule” review series of holiday-themed horror movies.  I quote myself in saying that I found BLACK CHRISTMAS had an eerie magic present in very few slashers new or old and that SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT was and remains an a resonant study of human disaffiliation taken to its logical and gory extreme. [...MORE]

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