Posted by davidkalat on April 27, 2013
Last week I posted here some embarrassing anecdotes about my experiences as a color timer in the early 1990s—and I’d intended to immediately follow it up with a sequel. The first post was about Even Cowgirls Get the Blues—a film I knew was a commercial and critical disappointment, and I thought it was funny trying to pretend I was the reason for its problems. And so the sequel would flip the story—a Hollywood film I came near, but which soared to great heights because I was kept safely far away from it.
Except when I sat down to start writing this, I was absolutely jaw-droppingly gob-smacked to discover that my whole premise was flawed. To my utter astonishment, I learned that the Coen Brothers’ The Hudsucker Proxy was not considered a success. I’m still trying to wrap my head around this.
Posted by davidkalat on March 23, 2013
Just in case my love of screwball comedies wasn’t evident from all the times I’ve posted about it here before, I’m here this week to celebrate Ralph Bellamy’s contributions to the genre.
I need to note that upfront, because Ralph Bellamy had such a massive and sprawling career that you could be a huge Bellamy fan and not actually have seen any of the movies I’m going to talk about–even though Bellamy was a major force in the development of the screwball comedy, and was so singularly associated with it he became a punchline in and of himself.
Posted by davidkalat on May 12, 2012
Hollywood’s fascination with itself has generally meant that movies about movies–or, more precisely, movies that celebrate movies–tend to be overvalued by the film establishment relative to their actual merits. For example, Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels tends to show up on a lot of classic movie lists, it was singled out for the Criterion treatment back before Criterion’s management really cottoned on to the idea that comedies can be classics, and when writers try to summarize why Preston Sturges is important, Sullivan’s Travels is almost always cited as his one or two most significant accomplishments. What Sullivan’s Travels is not, however, is terribly funny–it is one of Sturges’ tamer works. If you want to ask me what Sturges should be most remembered for, I’d have to say Palm Beach Story–a profoundly anarchic comic masterpiece that wholly abdicates any responsibility to make a lick of sense.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on April 17, 2012
I had a similar reaction to Mr. Stewart when I watched Kim Novak purr her way through Bell Book and Candle, just released by Twilight Time on a gorgeous blu-ray. He also might have been agog at Westward the Women (1951), the William Wellman femme-Western released in a well-appointed DVD from the Warner Archive, which includes an audio commentary from film historian Scott Eyman. They are two films that focus on female desire, a rare occurrence in the generally leering male gazes of post-code Hollywood (pre-code films were replete with sexually independent women – check out Baby Face (1933) for a bracing example). Bell Book and Candle is set in motion because of Novak’s uncontrollable lust for Stewart, and Westward the Women kicks off because of hundreds of ladies’ self-sacrificing desire for a better life out in California, a gender bending variation on Horace Greeley’s advice to, “Go west, young man”.
Posted by davidkalat on March 3, 2012
Too Hot to Handle—a fairly forgotten romantic comedy from 1938, a passable entertainment but not the sort of movie likely to inspire much deep discussion. Or is it?
See, this unassuming movie ties together many of the themes we’ve been working with since the end of December—this is a movie about movies, specifically about how movies lie, and how people who lie tend to make movies. Like Melies’ faked coronation of King Edward VII, these are newsreels that lie—documentaries that are secretly fictional (which is the sort of thing we had on our minds at that very first film show in 1895, with the Lumiere Brothers’ very first film being a staged “documentary”).
The film in question is by Jack Conway, whose virtues I sang back on February 4, and is a quasi-remake of a Buster Keaton silent classic—one that calls into question the conventional wisdom of what happened to the silent clowns when the movie started to talk.
That’s a lot to pack into one movie—so let’s get started unpacking it. This week, Too Hot To Handle!
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on February 7, 2012
This is Part Two of a four-part series that looks at the career of director Robert Mulligan. You can find Part One here.
After the success of To Kill a Mockingbird, Robert Mulligan and producer Alan Pakula made five straight films together to close out the 1960s, before Pakula departed to become a director himself. Using Mockingbird as a template, the duo chose projects that dealt with hot button issues (Love With the Proper Stranger and Up the Down Staircase), or were prestigious literary adaptations (Baby the Rain Must Fall and Inside Daisy Clover). Their final collaboration, The Stalking Moon, with a story taken from a Western novel, is the exception. Regardless of their middlebrow origin, these are films sensitively attuned to the social and geographic landscapes of their subjects, to the ebb and flow of urban overcrowding and the oppressive emptiness of the open plains. These films also continue Mulligan’s interest in outsiders adapting to new realities, in “dramas of experience intruding upon innocence”, as Kent Jones eloquently put it.
Posted by davidkalat on February 4, 2012
Last week we visisted with Fantomas, the Lord of Terror. This week it’s his opposite number’s turn in the spotlight—the Gentleman Thief, Arsene Lupin.
Posted by keelsetter on September 11, 2011
In case you missed it, the Telluride Film Festival had its 38th bash last Labor Day Weekend, September 2-5. It included the latest films by Aki Kaurismäki, Werner Herzog, Martin Scorsese, Alexander Payne, Béla Tarr, David Cronenberg, and many more. But the reason I still love Telluride is not because it delivers the newest works from so many talented directors, but because they also focus on the past (showing silent films, archive prints, and various repertory titles), along with some unexpected programming courtesy of guest directors who are given Carte blanche to select anything they like, no matter how esoteric that might be. (This year the guest director was Brazilian composer, singer, guitarist, writer, and political activist Caetano Veloso, who has worked on soundtracks for Michelangelo Antonioni and Pedro Almodóvar). Telluride also eschews the competitive awards-system that drives so many other festivals and has managed to sidestep being mobbed by industry professionals, brand-obsessed sponsors, or party-obsessed socialites. In sum, Telluride has managed to still be that rare festival that bends over backwards to bring obscure 35mm movies while simultaneously providing viewers with cinematic experiences that challenge them to broaden their horizons rather than simply pandering to market whims or popular taste. And, yes, I say that despite the fact that this year its tribute star was George Clooney. READ MORE
Posted by davidkalat on July 23, 2011
[Slapsticon, the greatest film event of the year, has been canceled this year. To grieve it, I am devoting the entire month of July to posts about slapstick comedy.]
A Woman of Paris. Not a title that stirs your soul, is it? Maybe you’ve never even heard of it. Or you’ve heard of it but just never cared. Or like me you cared but still avoided it because you thought it was the movie equivalent of spinach–something good for you, but not fun.
Well, I’m here to testify. Brothers and sisters, I was once like you, but then I saw the light.
And I’m here to tell you, you need to put this movie high on your to-watch list. And I’m gonna tell you why.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on June 21, 2011
The evil geniuses over at Hong Kong’s Milkyway Image productions (above, looking evil) have begun their takeover of the Mainland. Johnnie To (seated) and his long time co-director and screenwriter Wai Ka-fai (flashing the horns) have had their last decade of gangster sagas (Election, Triad Election, Exiled, et. al.) banned or censored in China. So in an effort to expand their audience, they are making two Chinese co-productions, both romantic dramas, back-to-back. Don’t Go Breaking My Heart was released in March of this year (and is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray), and Romancing in Thin Air recently wrapped production in Yunan province, and should open early in 2012.
Regarding Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, Johnnie To told the South China Morning Post that, “we believe in our ability to bring our own style of filmmaking to audiences up there.” But then went on to hedge that, ”It’s not exactly the kind of film that could best bring our skills to play – but if we were to do something else, like a police thriller, we would have to attend to a lot of potential problems with the censors.” A director, like any artist, is also a full-time hustler, and has to follow the money in order to get their work made. With Hong Kong’s film industry in an across the board decline and the Mainland still flush with cash, Milkway Image is making artistic concessions to keep afloat. The strange thing about To’s comment is that they’ve made superb romantic comedies before, including the smash hit Needing You in 2001 and the wonderful cult item My Left Eye Sees Ghosts (’02). Their skills certainly play well in that genre, although it’s clearly not where his creative interests lie right now. In the downtime between the Chinese super-productions, he shot a low-budget HK thriller starring Lau Ching-wan, Life Without Principle, whose release date is unknown.
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