Searching for Old Hollywood: The TCM Tour

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Once again, I attended the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood with my partner in crime, Maryann. Part of our ritual is to spend the Thursday afternoon before the fest combing the streets, cemeteries, and movie palaces looking for the last vestiges of old Hollywood. This year our quest led us to the TCM Movie Location Tour, which took us from Hollywood to downtown Los Angeles. A large screen inside the bus showed clips from movies shot in L.A., while the driver eased by the actual locations, and a knowledgeable tour guide offered fun facts and amusing anecdotes.

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Group Therapy: Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

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Only Angels Have Wings keeps growing stranger with age. This studio-era classic is about a group of nihilist flyboys who enact their dreams of self-destruction out of an imaginary South American cabana. Howard Hawks insisted on the film’s realism, as he based it on the stories of some ragged pilots he met in Mexico, but the movie is as realistic as the Star Wars cantina. The invented port town of Barranca is pure Hawks country, an extension of the death-driven pilots he depicted in The Dawn PatrolCeiling Zero, and The Road to Glory. Revisiting Only Angels Have Wings in the new DVD and Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection (out today), one is struck by the sheer lunacy of the fliers, ready to sacrifice their lives for the chance to deliver the mail. Only Angels Have Wings pushes Hawks’ love of professionalism to the extreme – death is a natural part of the job, and beyond just accepting it, they seem to embrace it. In Only Angels Have Wings, to work is to die, and these jokey nihilists, including the the female interlopers who are integrated into this group – cheerily embrace the void.

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The First Time I Ever…

Tonight TCM airs one of the all time classics by anyone’s yardstick, The Wizard of Oz.  It’s a movie that occupied a great deal of my childhood imagination as its annual showing was a highlight of each passing year, long before the days of cable and VCRs and DVDs when making sure you were home in front of the tv on Good Friday was your only chance to take in the magic of Oz.  And a magical movie it was, and is to this day.  It’s also a movie that can easily lead off a list I’ve wanted to do for some time: The First Time I Ever…  What does that mean? Let’s start off with The Wizard of Oz and it should be clear.

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Hail, Caesar: A Feast for Movie Fans

blogopenerI remember when Peter Bogdanovich’s Nickelodeon was released in the 1970s. While I loved the film, I turned to my companion and remarked, “The reason I like this movie is the very reason why it will not be a hit at the box office.” Over the weekend, I caught the Coen Brothers’ Hail, Caesar!, and the same thought occurred to me. Both films are fictional tributes to the film industry of another era and abound with references to actual incidents, people, and classic movies. Cinephiles, movie fans, TCM viewers, and those old enough to remember post-WW II Hollywood will recognize and get a kick out of many of the references in Hail, Caesar! I truly hope this specialized group of viewers will catch this film in the theater to support it. Other movie-goers—the young demographic that the big studios prize so much, the family audience that made Kung Fu Panda 3 the top box-office movie for two weeks in a row (good grief!), or those looking for a laugh riot as per the trailer—will not be appreciative.

I love movies about the history of movies by auteur directors who know and appreciate that history—Bogdanovich’s Nickelodeon, Scorsese’s The Aviator, Truffaut’s Day for Night, Altman’s The Player, Blake Edwards’ Sunset. Even if the films are critical of Hollywood, they speak in a language that I know. These films are not the same as exposes of Hollywood, or movies about the movies, such as Sunset Blvd., The Bad and the Beautiful, Hearts of the West, or A Star Is Born, because the referencing is part of the fabric or texture of the narratives. Yet, it is the referencing that goes over the heads of most viewers, dooming the films to a less-than-stellar performance at the box office. [...MORE]

Hitchcock/Truffaut

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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]

Searching for Old Hollywood: Night Life

Regular readers of my blog posts know that I am obsessed with old-school night clubs from back in the day. I don’t care if they were actual hot spots where the famous and infamous danced into the wee hours, or fictional Art Deco fantasy clubs that can only be found in the movies. If I were to step back in time to the era when big-band singers crooned and glamour girls donned evening gowns, I would probably end up like the Broadway Baby at the end of “Lullaby of Broadway” in Gold Diggers of 1935!!

Recently, I ran across a treasure trove of information and photos on the famous Hollywood night clubs of the Golden Age of Hollywood, which I thought I would share.

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Hollywood Comes to Hearst Castle: Memories & Musings

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Maybe it was the Hollywood homes featured in my last post or the ongoing worldwide celebration of Orson Welles 100th birthday? Whatever the reason, I spent a great deal of time thinking about William Randolph Hearst and his massive estate at San Simeon last week. As any classic film fan worth their salt knows, the newspaper mogul once played host to many Hollywood stars and starlets at Hearst Castle and his life was brilliantly satirized by Welles’ in CITIZEN KANE (1941). For better or worse, the film has forever colored our view of Hearst as well as his mistress, actress Marion Davies, while his home remains a mythical Xanadu currently opened to the public as a state run museum that I once had the pleasure to visit.

I was at the impressionable age of 10 or 11-years old when I got the opportunity to explore Hearst Castle and the experience left an undeniable mark on my young mind. My late grandmother, who lived a short distance away in Goleta, California, planned the trip and I knew nothing about the place until we arrived at the entrance and I was bombarded by guide books and picture postcards that featured familiar faces from the movies I’d grown up watching. Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Cary Grant, Bette Davis and Clark Gable were just a few of the recognizable celebrities that had once graced these hallowed grounds while participating in private sporting events and attending extravagant parties.

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Unusual Commentary Tracks

 

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A few weeks ago I had a conversation with Tim Kirk, producer of Room 237, The Nightmare, and other titles. We talked about commentary tracks because he is releasing something called Director’s Commentary: Terror of Frankenstein. The normal order of business would be to simply re-release Terror of Frankenstein (Calvin Floyd, 1977), and then add a commentary track as a bonus. Sadly, the only existing elements that remain for Terror of Frankenstein are sketchy at best and not worth revisiting in and of themselves. A serendipitous conversation, however, between Kirk and Terror of Frankenstein star Leon Vitali opened the door to a mysterious world behind Floyd’s surprisingly faithful adaption of Mary Shelley’s story. Given Vitali’s work with Stanley Kubrick, he is already the subject of a few conspiracy theories himself, but what Vitali reveals in his commentary track to Terror of Frankenstein suggests that method-acting can go too far. It might even lead to murder. [...MORE]

What worth a glimpse into an archive?

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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]

Hollywood’s Deco-rators: Cedric, Hans, and Van Nest

decomaidens2Our Modern Maidens (left, 1929), best known as an early flapper vehicle for Joan Crawford, airs on TCM this Wednesday at 9:45am. In addition to its role in Crawford’s burgeoning stardom, the film was renowned for its Art Deco set design by Cedric Gibbons, who had launched his signature Deco style a year earlier with Our Dancing Daughters (1928).

Art Deco and Hollywood fit together like hand in glove. Originally known as Modernism, Deco emerged in the 1920s, depicting and capturing the fast pace and modern lifestyle associated with the Jazz Age. This unique linear style began in the mid-1920s with ornate zig-zags and geometric shapes then quickly evolved into the stripped-down curvilinear forms of Streamline Moderne in the 1930s. Other styles of the time included Bauhaus and the International Style. The catch-all phrase Art Deco was not coined until the 1960s to refer to most of the styles of this era.

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