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.



Return to Hell Harbor

blogposterHoist the colors! Tomorrow, Tuesday, January 19, TCM takes us out to sea with a series of cinematic adventures aboard pirate ships. Prepare to be shanghaied at the ungodly hour of 6:00am when the first film, Hell Harbor, kicks off the day-long celebration.

I confess I have already written about Hell Harbor back when TCM was spotlighting the film’s director, Henry King. That was several years ago, and Hell Harbor was not part of the programming on that occasion. I am revisiting the film, because this time around, I get to remind viewers to watch this forgotten film from the early sound era. Indeed, the sound is the most remarkable part of Hell Harbor, because it was shot on location in Tampa, Florida, in 1929—barely two years after the adoption of sync sound.


Pirates 101: From Swan to Sparrow, From Flynn to Depp

piratesopenPirates of the Caribbean did not resuscitate the pirate picture, but it did prove that the swashbuckler was still a fun genre capable of making money.  Previous attempts to update the swashbuckler had failed, including Roman Polanski’s 1986 comedy Pirates and Renny Harlin’s 1996 gender-reverse adventure Cutthroat Island. The Pirates of Penzance from 1983 received good reviews, but many theater owners refused to book it because the studio decided to simultaneously release it to pay-television. The unofficial boycott resulted in box office failure.

Though I generally loathe Hollywood’s current love affair with franchises and series, I confess that the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy are among my favorite contemporary movies, at least until the fourth film when Rob Marshall took over as director. I am fond of the original trilogy because it reawakened my love of the pirate genre. The first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies not only updated the swashbuckler but they also referenced pirate films from the Golden Age, a good example of how contemporary films are richer when they reveal a connection to classic cinema. The latter is a characteristic of the work of Pirates director Gore Verbinski, who likes to make references and hommages to movies of the past as he did in Rango and the much-loathed Lone Ranger. According to the press material for the Pirates trilogy, Verbinski’s knowledge of pirate classics was matched by producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who was quoted about his love for Treasure Island (airing June 27), Captain Blood, and The Black Pirate. For the last in my series on pirate movies, I thought I would connect the dots between the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy and classic swashbucklers.


Pirates 101: Of Wenches and Ladies, Corsets and Balloon Pants

pirateopeningI love pirates who swashbuckle their way through high adventure on the high seas, but I am not always thrilled with the women who try to tame them.  For this second installment in my series in support of TCM’s Friday Night Spotlight on pirate movies, I offer some thoughts on wenches, ladies, and female buccaneers.

A common female character in pirate movies is the aristocratic woman—or, lady—who detests the roguish protagonist because he is uncouth, ill-mannered, and unrefined. Typically, her father represents a powerful local authority, which makes him the arch-enemy of the pirate. Often, the pirate kidnaps the lady, or she finds herself aboard his ship through unforeseen circumstances, instigating a series of romantic adventures in which his virile masculinity wins her over. In the end, the lady lies to authorities, claiming that she had actually run away with the pirate of her own volition; or, she realizes he has acted nobly, which alters her opinion of him. In the silent version of The Sea Hawk (1924), the smitten Lady Rosamund  defends her pirate kidnapper, while in Captain Blood (airing this Friday, June 20), the governor’s daughter changes her low opinion when Blood fights for England against the French.


Pirates 101: Intro to Hollywood Buccaneers, Privateers, and Swashbucklers

pirateblackswanAvast, ye buckos and scallywags! Prepare to pillage and plunder with pirates and privateers as TCM’s Friday Night Spotlight offers 21 pirate pictures during the month of June.  One summer long ago, I read Treasure Island and saw The Buccaneer with Yul Brynner in the same month, which left me with a life-long obsession with pirates, exotic tropical locales, and buried treasure. As fate would have it, I suffer horribly from seasickness, which makes me a landlubber and prevents me from joining one of those crews that search for buried treasure and sunken pirate ships around Key West. Instead, I content myself with watching celluloid pirates and ruminating over the reasons for their periodic popularity in popular culture.

I have collected articles and notes on pirate stories and movies with a vague notion of writing a book or teaching the pirate subgenre in class. TCM’s “Pirate Pictures” fest on Friday nights has given me an opportunity to try out my ideas on TCM viewers and blog readers in a three-part series that I am christening Pirates 101. I promise to keep the pirate lingo to a minimum, though that will be a challenge for me.


Ahoy, Har Be Some Thoughts About Ye Pirates, Shiver Me Timbers!

pirateopenerThe more I learn, the more I realize that what you know is connected in ways that are surprising and stimulating to think about.  This thought occurred to me recently when I learned something new about pirates. That’s right, pirates!

I am teaching the History of Illustration at Ringling College, which is a course I have never taught—or  even taken—before.  As a matter of fact, it is a course that you will likely not find outside of an art school. Most weeks I am knee deep in research on the eras and artists that were important in the evolution of illustration. I treat it as a popular art, meaning part of the material covers the impact of each era and artist on our culture and society, much like I teach film history. Prior to film and broadcast media, print and publishing held the public’s fascination, and illustrators were the stars of the publishing industry. Fans followed the work of prominent magazine, newspaper, and book illustrators, who were treated like celebrities.

Recently, I taught the work of Howard Pyle, who is often dubbed the Father of American Illustration, because he was the first important teacher of the art and craft of commercial draftsmanship. He opened his own unique school in the Brandywine Valley of Delaware, where students paid no tuition and stayed as long as they felt they needed to. In turn, many of the students became teachers, and Pyle’s style of illustration was passed on to a third generation of artists.

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