Posted by Susan Doll on October 10, 2016
Last week, I interviewed Mark Caro who created a film series in Chicago called “Is It Still Funny?” This weekend, I introduced The Teahouse of the August Moon as part of a film series at the Ringling Museum of Art on the image of Asians in Hollywood movies. It seems the opportunity to watch older films on a big screen with an audience has a powerful appeal for movie-lovers in all parts of the country. Teahouse drew a good crowd who enjoyed the film and stayed for a lively discussion afterwards
The Teahouse of the August Moon has an impressive pedigree. In 1951, Vern Sneider published the novel. John Patrick turned it into a very popular Broadway play in 1953; three years later, Patrick adapted it to the big screen for MGM. The studio had high hopes for a critical and box-office hit. Teahouse stars Marlon Brando as Japanese interpreter Sakini, who is also the movie’s onscreen narrator, speaking directly to the audience at the opening and closing of the film. He serves as interpreter for an American colonel in charge of Occupation forces in Okinawa. The Colonel orders Captain Fisby, played by an affable, slightly bumbling Glenn Ford, to oversee a small Okinawan village. The goal is to Americanize the village by indoctrinating them into the ways of modern capitalism. Sakini, who has his own agenda, accompanies Fisby to serve as interpreter–in more ways than one.
Posted by Susan Doll on June 27, 2016
Director Vincente Minnelli was experiencing a career peak in 1959 when he chose the melodrama Home from the Hill as his next project. His musical Gigi had just swept the Oscars, and his previous film, the melodrama Some Came Running, had earned critical acclaim. However, Home from the Hill, which airs on TCM tomorrow, June 28, would prove to be the last Minnelli film to turn a reasonable profit, earning almost $6 million at the box office. After this film, his creativity seemed to decline as he turned to pedestrian if still enjoyable fare.
Much speculation exists regarding Minnelli’s sexual orientation, which scholars use to explain his interest in stories about male identity and masculinity. I am always leery of making simple, cause-and-effect connections between a director’s personal life and his themes, but I concede that this topic recurs in his films. Those issues are obvious in Home from the Hill, which is the story of the Hunnicutt family. Patriarch Wade Hunnicutt owns a successful business, a large home, and many acres of land in a small Texas town, but he is a failure as a husband and father. Wade is estranged from his wife Hannah, who maintains separate bedrooms because of his flagrant infidelity. She has raised their son, Theron, to be gentle, cultured, and sensitive, which is the opposite of Wade’s uber-masculine persona. Meanwhile Wade respects and admires his illegitimate son Rafe Copley, employing him for various services, but he refuses to acknowledge the young man as his offspring.
Posted by Pablo Kjolseth on May 31, 2015
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]
Posted by Pablo Kjolseth on April 4, 2010
In a few hours we will screen a 35mm English print of Werner Herzog’s Aguirre: The Wrath of God. I imported it from Europe with the help of Lucki Stipetić, the younger half-brother of Herzog (and head of Werner Herzog Filmproduktion), who emailed me a week ago to say: “The print we have is the only English print we have and we have to be very careful with it.” I first tried to get Aguirre from the newly reconstituted New Yorker Films, the original distributor of the film who, in a fitting tribute to Easter, rose back up from the dead this month. But they have a lot of sand stuck to their tunic and they’re waiting for the coffee to kick in, which put into question whether I’d be able to secure a print from them in time for today. I didn’t have the luxury of time as Roger Ebert is in town this week for The Conference on World Affairs – a yearly event founded in 1948 – and he’s selected Aguirre for a week-long dissection that begins tomorrow. So last week I contacted Herzog’s office in Germany where Lucki tried to sell me on screening Aguirre in a digital format. For me that was out of the question. Ebert’s week-long dissection goes on this Monday through Friday and allows anyone in the 2,000+ seat Macky Auditorium Concert Hall to raise their hand to pause the action with a question or comment, with Herzog there the first two days and Ebert there the whole week. These aptly titled Cinema Interruptus screenings are by necessity screened digitally. As far as I’m concerned it would be a sacrilege not to give people a chance to see Aguirre before that, uninterrupted, on the big screen, and with the full warmth and density that 35mm celluloid provides. The only time I could sneak in that screening was today: Easter Sunday. Which is just fine by me; the film theater is one of my preferred churches anyway. [...MORE]
Posted by Moira Finnie on December 16, 2009
“People say I’m a one-note actor, but the way I figure it, those other guys are just looking for that one right note.”
I am an aficionado of wooden actors. I love them so, I ought to have splinters. Among leading actors, Joel McCrea may be lumped in with them occasionally, but not by me. His “one-note” as he mentioned above, was well played throughout his long life on screen, bringing a naturalism to everything from Westerns to Screwball Comedies. On top of that, he was physically beautiful when young and warmly interesting, weathered and credible as he aged; as anyone who has seen The Most Dangerous Game (1932) or Ride the High Country (1962) can attest. He underplayed well, and seemed to have the instincts that allowed him to make it through almost 100 movies without embarrassing himself.
Those fellows whose presence I’d like to celebrate today may have lacked that instinct at times, but they were usually highly employable during a time when the cut of an actor’s clothes as well as his ability to blend into the background allowed the more vivid players around them to shine. Often the focus of many silent crushes by film fans in their own day and even today, my own appreciation of these unsung actors has increased in recent years. I was reminded of my affection for these guys recently when I came across this article by David Thomson on “The Death of the Method” in The Wall Street Journal last week. The brouhaha that has since occurred in the blogosphere dissecting or defending this argument is amusing, though it reminded me that, despite having grown up in the time when a murmur from Brando, a shout from James Dean, and an angst-ridden cry from DeNiro and Pacino was the standard, I was always fond of a forgotten breed too. I have been moved by each of these actors, but I can’t say that I haven’t enjoyed the often forgotten fellows whose only method seemed to involve showing up looking presentable as well. These actors were the guys who bounded or glided into a drawing room asking “Tennis, anyone?”, lit a leading lady’s perennial cigarette, got her wrap for her, and commiserated with her over her emotional (and often trite) travails.
Posted by Moira Finnie on September 30, 2009
Maria Ouspenskaya, whose talent came out of that creative seedbed for some of the finest actors and boldest hams, stands out among them, despite being under five feet tall. Many of her colleagues lent their credibility and indelible gifts to Hollywood, but she may be the most readily identifiable of the bunch. While hightailing it away from the Cossacks, the Whites, the Reds, the Mensheviks, the Bolsheviks, the anarchists and the fascists who made life a bit too “interesting” in the first half of the 20th century from Siberia to the shores of Ellis Island, several of these actors found a pretty fair living in Hollywood, among them Akim Tamiroff, Olga Baclanova, Vladimir Sokoloff, Leonid Kinskey and Konstantin Shayne. They may never have felt completely at home in what sometimes seemed the Babylonian splendor of “barbaric” American culture in the studio era. Cut off from their cultural roots and often having lost their families and nearly their lives during the revolutionary times they lived in, these actors often proved their strength of character and professional versatility when asked to play characters of almost every class and ethnicity in American movies.
Posted by medusamorlock on July 2, 2009
I’m not going to try to repeat what’s already been written in past two days about the great Karl Malden, who died yesterday at the age of ninety-seven. Compared to so many of his show business compadres, Mr. Malden had a tremendously and accomplished long life, filled with artistic triumphs, the respect of his peers, and the devotion of legions of fans. Instead, we should just look at some of his roles, enjoy him doing what he does best. Words can hardly compare to watching Malden onscreen, his un-movie star looks always inviting you in to what you know will be an extraordinarily good performance. I would invite you to read Roger Ebert’s tribute to Malden which he published yesterday, however, and the Los Angeles Times had an excellent extensive obituary with lots of background info. Let’s watch…
Posted by Moira Finnie on May 20, 2009
Maybe it was the moon, or that 4th cup of tea I had that afternoon or just a touch of Spring fever. In any case, last week, the Sandman forgot my address. I was wide awake at 3a.m. Those burning coals that used to be my eyes just weren’t eager to dive into the text of any of the books next to the bed, it was too cold to be star-gazing, (I’m always hoping to catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis), and flipping on the tube, those infomercials about the joys of cryovacing food at home just aren’t something I’d like to watch at any time. Inevitably, a perusal of those late night movies seemed to be a pretty good way to entice Morpheus to drop in soon. Except for the movie I came across while channel surfing.
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