WHEELS IN THE SKY KEEP ON TURNING

Le Mans

This Thursday TCM is featuring four films that fall under the theme of European Auto Racing: Le Mans (Lee H. Katzin, 1971), Grand Prix (John Frankenheimer, 1966), The Racers (Henry Hathaway, 1955), The Young Racers (Roger Corman, 1963), and Speed (Edwin, L, Martin, 1936). Last month I sold the Subaru that I’d owned since 1996. The odometer had 102,000 miles on it, and probably only had that many due to the two or three road-trips I’ve taken to visit various film festivals every year over its almost two-decades of service. That’s my way of saying I’m not much of a car guy, so it’s probably not a surprise I’ve missed out on all the aforementioned films except for Le Mans, which I saw for the first time at the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival. Special guests Chad McQueen and race-drivers Derek Bell and Vic Elford were in attendance, and the experience was truly riveting. For the film, Steve McQueen famously tossed out most of the dialogue and it seemed like a half hour went by before anyone said anything at all – leaving viewers instead to marinate in the sound of motors…. motors going dangerously fast and rubbing shoulders with death, both on and off-screen. [...MORE]

Snapshots of the Fall: Part II

In my last post I provided a look behind the curtain for the first five weeks of film programming for my fall film calendar. This week we look at the remaining 24 titles that round out the schedule. It features everything from classics such as Vertigo to the state premiere of the latest uncompromising and visually arresting film by Bruno Dumont, Outside Satan (a scene of which is pictured above). [...MORE]

Muppet Love

I have something I need to say. It’s something I don’t say often enough, and for that I am sorry. You deserve to hear it. The words are few but powerful.

I love you. I love you, Muppet Movie.

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In Praise of Pee-wee

Probably everybody’s heard by now about the resurgence of Pee-wee Herman, actor Paul Reubens’ singular creation, who’s now enjoying a joyous renaissance on the Broadway stage after wowing audiences in L.A. with a new version of his classic stage show of the 1980s.  As a super fan of Pee-wee and Reuben I’ve been following the latest reviews since his show opened the other day.  While the Los Angeles critics seemed to be totally into the revivial, the NYC press is an interesting mix of reactions, from the adoring to the “Huh?”, which suggests to me that the latter reviewers simply never got into Pee-wee and his particular brand of absurdist amusement.  Not to say that everybody has to like the character or the show, but to not “get” Pee-wee…well, if you don’t buy into the premise, there’s no way his world view is going to make any sense, or more importantly, make you laugh.  But for those of us who love Pee-wee, and maybe even for people who don’t, 1985′s big screen success Pee-wee’s Big Adventure should provide enough evidence that Paul Reubens’ character of the child-man Pee-Wee Herman is a classic of movie comedy.

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Sweet Dreams are Made of This: Reflecting on Sturges and Sullivan

I rarely attend films on opening night, but made an exception for Christopher Nolan’s Inception, knowing that it would be one of those films, like The Usual Suspects, whose ending can be telegraphed in two or three words by anyone who’d seen the film before me. Among other things, Inception is about dreams, dreams within dreams, lucid dreaming and shared dreams – which is ripe terrain for cinema since films themselves reveal the collective unconsciousness of the nations that burp them into existence. I followed up Inception with Sullivan’s Travels, and found it an appropriate choice. After all, Preston Sturges’ 1941 classic is, like the dreamer who knows he’s dreaming, very much self-aware. It’s a film about films that knows it’s a film. The more precise and academic term that Bruce Kawin, my Film History professor would use for this is “self-reflexive.” [...MORE]

Remembering Dennis Hopper

Dennis Hopper passed away yesterday morning at the age of 74 from complications related to prostate cancer (he’d been diagnosed with it late in 2009). That same morning I heard of the news from over 12 Facebook posts by friends, and from there the tally continued to climb. Somewhere, someone has surely come up with a formula that matches the speed and quantity with which news of a passing celebrity gets around along with a correlating chart mapping out their iconic status. Clearly, in  Dennis Hopper’s case, that iconic status was cemented over the years, and for different generations, by various roles that tapped perfectly into the zeitgeist.  [...MORE]

The Road to Comedy: Happy Birthday, Bob Hope

This month marks the 107th birthday of Bob Hope, who was an icon of the entertainment industry for almost nine decades.  From vaudeville to radio to movies to television to video/DVD releases of his films, Hope’s comic style and persona were remarkably consistent and adaptable from one arena of entertainment to another.

Anyone who knows Hope from his television specials and his stints at hosting the Academy Awards remember his breezy monologues, one-liners, and ad libs. Those who are fans of his films enjoyed his comic persona as the cowardly smart-mouth or likable cad, who could crack wise with exquisite timing. He could spray jokes with astonishing rapidity, or slow the momentum down with a calculated pause or double take. Hope’s talent was primarily verbal, but he was also adept at donning ridiculous costumes, handling a prop with comic aplomb, taking a decent pratfall, and reacting with just the right expression to his costars’ dialogue or actions. Even the way he strolled into a comic sketch or sidled onto a film set could be funny. Like many a former vaudevillian, he knew the comic value of making an entrance.

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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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Highlights from the Telluride Film Festival

A scene from THE ROAD.Last week I talked about the exceptional Red Riding trilogy the debuted at the 36th annual Telluride Film Festival. Now that the festival can be seen receding in my rear view mirror, it’s time to reflect on some of the other films that were also screened there. Let’s start with The Road[...MORE]

The Duke vs. The Dust Bowl

A 1930s Dust Storm

Above: A WPA image of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s

A certain influential Mr. Turner–no–not the estimable Ted, but Frederick Jackson Turner the American historian, once pointed out that “the forging of the unique and rugged American identity had to occur precisely at the juncture between the civilization of settlement and the savagery of wilderness. The dynamic of these oppositional conditions engendered a process by which citizens were made, citizens with the power to tame the wild and upon whom the wild had conferred strength and individuality.” That was at the end of the 19th century, just as the American Western frontier was closing, but the impact of that view of America still has resonance today.

Watching the distinctly different Three Faces West (1940-Bernard Vorhaus) as part of the John Wayne Day for Summer Under the Stars celebration on TCM, the scholarly Turner’s sometimes controversial ideas came back to me out of the blur of my increasingly distant undergraduate days (or is it daze?). This Republic studios movie is among the least known of Wayne‘s movies, but one of the more interesting–since it came at a time when he was just beginning his ascent to a plane somewhere between a movie star and a force of nature. It incorporates ideas old and new, some of them still contentious, in the course of a brief 79 minute story that effectively portrays the savagery of that wilderness as it affected the lives of Midwesterners in the Depression era.
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