Making of is hard to do

When I am asked what got me into movies in the first place, the simple answer (and the wrong one) is STAR WARS.  In 1977 I was seven, an impressionable age.  STAR WARS showed me that movies could be an immersive experience encompassing all forms of artistic expression.  Because, let’s face it—STAR WARS was not a hit movie because it told a terrific story.  Its story was certainly effective—rooted as it was in mythologies that have thrilled humankind as far back as we have records.  About the script, though, Carrie Fisher once quipped that “you can type this stuff but can’t say it.”  If what you want out of movies are just solid stories and good acting, STAR WARS will never satisfy—because its pleasures lie in the tactile and the sonic, the visual and the entrancing.  On those occasions that I claim that STAR WARS was the film that set me on my own personal journey to becoming a film geek, that’s the kind of argument I put forth.

But here, just between you and me, let me let you in on the secret real reason I became a film geek.  It wasn’t STAR WARS itself, but something associated with it.

The Art of Star Wars

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CRIB NOTES, PART 2 OF 2

In my last post I explained the reasoning behind my programming choices for the first half of my Spring arthouse film calendar, today I finish the job. I accept the fact that anyone looking at my program will inevitably point to one (or more, perhaps even many) titles here and, in essence, ask the following question: “What the heck is THAT doing there?!” What follows below will hopefully dispel all head-scratching.

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Ann Harding: A Q & A with Biographer Scott O’Brien

“Looking at [Ann] Harding,” wrote film historian Mick LaSalle in his book, Complicated Women (St. Martin’s, 2001), “is like looking into clear, deep water. Nothing stands in the way. No stylization, no attitude, no posing. In fact, little about her technique could date her as a thirties actress.”

These are some of the words that inspired Scott O’Brien, author of Ann Harding – Cinema’s Gallant Lady (BearManor) in his research into the career and life of actress Ann Harding (1902-1981). For those who met her during the height of her Hollywood career, she left starkly different impressions. Laurence Olivier called her “an angel.” Henry Hathaway said that she “was an absolute bitch.” Myrna Loy found her “a very private person, a wonderful actress completely without star temperament, but withdrawn.” Ann Harding may not be as well-remembered as actresses whose stellar careers extended well beyond the pre-code era, such as Norma Shearer or Barbara Stanwyck. Her natural reserve means that her name does not automatically come up when particularly saucy favorites of the period like Ruth Chatterton, Joan Blondell or Dorothy Mackail are discussed. Powerful icons whose last name conjures something singular, such as Garbo, Dietrich and West, are better remembered. In recent years, in large part because of the rediscovery of her early films on Turner Classic Movies, occasional revivals of her movies and the work done by film historians reassessing the pre-code period, Harding has begun to captivate audiences again. Her lustrous beauty and surprisingly modern style of acting are only part of her appeal.

With the publication earlier this year of Scott O’Brien’s beautifully illustrated and well written biography, a balanced portrait of a skilled actress emerges, as well as some sense of the publicly guarded but privately intense woman behind her fame. Recently, I had a chance to ask the author of this meticulously researched and long overdue biography of Ann Harding about his interest in this unique, transitional figure in American film. Perhaps after reading this post a few more people who have yet to discover her work will pause next time one of her rarely seen films, such as Devotion (1931), The Animal Kingdom (1932), Double Harness (1933), When Ladies Meet (1933), The Flame Within (1935) or Peter Ibbetson (1935) emerges from the movie vault. This often surprisingly modern actress may intrigue and touch you with her presence. You might find yourself unexpectedly enthralled.
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The Silent Robin: A Tonic for the Soul

I suppose to the eyes of the world, we were a motley looking crew as the capacity crowd flowed eagerly into George Eastman House‘s Dryden Theatre in Rochester, New York last month. Unlike the first Hollywood premiere of Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood (1923) at Sid Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre on October 18, 1922, there were no limos, no gowns, no red carpets, no klieg lights searching the sky, and certainly no hint of a “Day of the Locust” style mob scene. However, there were about five hundred not very glam but expectantly eager people gathered on an October evening for the “World Premiere” of this restored version of the tale in the 21st century starring Douglas Fairbanks in one of his classic roles.

So, who were these people who came out to see this 87 year old film version of the English bandit’s adventures?  Among the crowd at this movie were a few who might have been just old enough to have seen a later Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. film in a movie theater, a generous sprinkling of younger cinephiles, middle aged academics, and a delightful gaggle of children of about nine years of age in the audience that Saturday.  Once thought lost until it was rediscovered in the 1960s, this film’s “premiere” was a highlight of the seventh biennial conference of the International Association for Robin Hood Studies at the University of Rochester, where the historical and literary permutations of the appealing errant figure of lore were analyzed and, frankly, reveled in by the participants. Accredited scholars and hard core Robin buffs from around the world spent three days discussing the evergreen legend of this “Robin Hood: Media Creature”, trying to discern if the 700 year old hero of Sherwood Forest even existed, while enjoying an extravaganza of multi-media exhibits (including Douglas Fairbanks boots, seen below), early manuscripts, songs, and presentations discussing all aspects of the tale.

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These movies brought to you by the number 11.

Books

Ever wonder if the universe might be sending you a secret message? I’m not one to read tea-leaves or Tarot cards, but sometimes think numerology can be fun. So today I woke up wondering if there could be any significance to it being the first day of the eleventh month of the year. Taking a cue from the popular internet meme that asks people to turn to a specific page in the book nearest them to share an excerpt, I decided to see what films the cosmos might be suggesting I add to my Netflix account by pulling down from my bookshelf all the film books I had that I figured would have plenty of poster art. Then I counted the stack. I’m not making this up: there were exactly eleven books! I was off to a good start. How to proceed? Since it’s the first day of the eleventh month of the year I went to page 11, and from there let my finger fall on the very first film image that followed. With that in mind, I now dedicate the following eleven films to the month of November: [...MORE]

What I Didn’t Know About Hollywood

hollywoodland1For the past month or so, I have been fact-checking a book called Armchair Reader: Hollywood for a local Chicago publisher, Publications International. Armchair Reader: Hollywood is filled with dozens of articles, tidbits, lists, fun facts, and quizzes on film history and Hollywood lore. I was thrilled to be asked to consult on the book and then serve as the primary fact-checker, though it is a lot of hard work. I have gone to the library more in the past few weeks than I did all of last year. The reward, however, is the fun I am having in learning more about Hollywood and the movies — everything from Hollywood folklore to behind-the-scenes production details on specific movies. I thought I would share a few fun facts, strange stories, and lurid legends.  I am sure many of you may already know some of this information but perhaps there will be some odd fact or detail that you have never heard before, and it will make your day.

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The Last Swashbuckler by Peter Bosch

small alan

A Note from  Moira:
When I heard the news that Stewart Granger was to be July’s Star of the Month on TCM, I was delighted for two reasons. As regular readers might have guessed, part of my happiness stemmed from my lifelong enjoyment of the adventure films touched on appreciatively in last week’s nod to Errol Flynn in this blog. Such movies also were animated with renewed zest during Stewart Granger‘s high time in British and Hollywood films.

My second reason for joy was the offer by my friend, Peter Bosch, a writer and a recent TCM Fan Guest Programmer to have an interview he’d conducted with Mr. Granger published here. I think Peter, (fondly known to many of us on the TCM Message Boards as Filmlover), does an excellent job of capturing Granger‘s acerbic wit and honesty in this glimpse of the man as he launched his well done autobiography in 1981.

Learning to Read Moviespeak (and enjoying it)

stop in for popcorn to goThanks to my fellow Morlock, my attention was drawn by R. Emmet Sweeney to the “Reading Movies Meme” that started over on The Dancing Image blog, so I decided to take the plunge and mull over the movie books which had the greatest impact on me this week. I hope that readers will list their own faves as well.

While one of the pleasures of movie viewing is that instruction is not required and we can let a film wash over us without intellectualizing the experience at all, once you start reading a bit about the movies, it can be like eating potato chips. It may not make you healthier, smarter or a more joyous human being, but boy, is it addictive. And occasionally enlightening, even when you don’t agree with the writer.
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