Sharing a Smile and a Tear With My Kid

KID, THE (1921)

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I made a promise that I would share my love of music and film with her. All throughout my pregnancy I cranked up the classic rock, 80’s alternative, James Brown and Frank Sinatra. My husband and I sat immediately behind Robert Osborne during a screening of Steamboat Bill Jr. at the final Robert Osborne Classic Film Festival held in Athens, Georgia. I saw a beautiful 35mm print of Singin’ in the Rain (1952), which is one of my daughter’s favorites, when I was seven months pregnant. I swear she was tapping along to “Moses Supposes.” I was watching Billy Wilder’s Sabrina (1954) and I went into labor just as Sabrina and Linus embrace one another on the ship. She obviously wanted to hold out to see who Sabrina ended up with. Ellie shares a birthday with Buster Keaton, October 4th, and the TCM Star of the Month at the time was my beloved Fredric March. And Ellie, short for Eleanor, is partially named after Eleanor Powell (with Roosevelt being the other namesake). We even joked that she looked like Guy Kibbee with her pudgy cheeks and bald head. This kid never had a chance.

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They Don’t Make Stars Like. . . Well, You Know the Rest

THE LOVE GODDESSES, from left: Marilyn Monroe, Carole Lombard, 1965

Recently, I re-visited the extraordinary stars of the past by viewing The Love Goddesses (1965), a documentary streaming on The Criterion Channel of FilmStruck. Directed by Saul J. Turell, this little-known documentary traces the popularity of female stars as a barometer of America’s attitude toward sex and romance throughout the decades. Though I found the connections between the stars and America’s sexual mores too reductive, the clips of the famous, the not-so famous and the infamous were irresistible.

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Pioneers of African-American Cinema

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On the last two Sundays of July, TCM is airing a selection of groundbreaking films made by African-Americans during the early 20th Century. Faced with racism within the industry these pioneering filmmakers were forced to work outside of the Hollywood studio system. Independently they created hundreds of diverse “race films” addressing the concerns of black audiences that were screened in segregated theaters across the country. Due to neglect, many of these films have been lost but what remains is an innovative, wide-ranging and fascinating record of black culture.

The films will be hosted by TCM’s own Ben Mankiewicz along with Jacqueline Najuma Stewart, a Professor at The University of Chicago and author of Migrating to the Movies: Cinema and Black Urban Modernity. Stewart’s research and teaching explore African American film cultures from the origins of the medium to the present. She also directs the South Side Home Movie Project and is co-curator of the L.A. Rebellion Preservation Project at UCLA as well as an appointee to the National Film Preservation Board. Stewart is currently completing a study of the African American actor, writer and director Spencer Williams.

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June 4, 2016
David Kalat
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First Things First

DVR alert—thanks to this month’s Marie Dressler tribute, coming up on June 6th TCM is running the 1914 comedy feature Tillie’s Punctured Romance. This is a hugely important work in film history—just about any film reference will tell you so. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say: “Tillie’s Punctured Romance is notable for being the first feature-length comedy in all of cinema.” Wow. I mean, right? Just wow.

Except… it’s hard to give credit to Tillie’s Punctured Romance for being the “first feature-length comedy in all of cinema” when there was another feature-length comedy released on August 10, 1914, four months earlier.

And you want to know the best bit? This earlier film, arguably the true first comedy feature in film history, is a gender-bending treat that suits today’s mood much better than the fusty old melodramatic complications of Tillie’s Punctured Romance. Click the fold below and let’s find out more!

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KEYWORDS: A Florida Enchatment, Sidney Drew
COMMENTS: 9
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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.

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The American Artist

While vacationing in Paris recently I was struck by how much Parisians love their artists.  The streets are named for major cultural figures, the city is awash in museums, and at the newsstand kiosks at the entrances to the subway you can find, nestled between the tabloids and porno mags, a huge portfolio of works by Modigliani.  That’s how they roll.  And it’s ever been thus: once upon a time, Auguste Rodin was commissioned to do a sculpture in honor of the author Balzac.  The resulting statue was perceived as being “too avant garde” and triggered outrage, public complaints, and threats of lawsuits.  Has anything remotely like this ever happened in the US?  Has there ever been an artist, in any media, who was so beloved and so intimately intertwined with our national sense of self that anyone would bother to complain that an honorary statue wasn’t sufficiently reverent?

(Well, I mean aside from Lucille Ball, naturally)

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We Haven’t Seen Anything Really

Last Friday, March 18th, when I looked at the TCM schedule, I was reminded how many movies there are out there and how few any of us has really seen. Much of the time I look at the TCM schedule and can honestly say I’ve seen at least half of what’s on that day. The other half I may not have seen but I’m completely familiar with them and may have even seen a few scenes. There are other days when I have seen literally every movie on the schedule for that day. Big classic movies that we’ve all seen, say, during the 31 Days of Oscar. And then, on days like last Friday, I look at the schedule and think, “Wow, I’ve only seen two!” Those two were A Song to Remember and That Uncertain Feeling.  Of those on the schedule that I hadn’t seen?  Well, there was Wide Open, But the Flesh is Weak, Lonely Wives, Roar of the Dragon, Sing and Like It, Smarty, The Night is Young, Young Man with Ideas, Gypsy Colt, Moonfleet, and First Comes Courage.  I have not seen a one of them.  And why should I have anyway?  Do have any idea how many movies have been made?!

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March 19, 2016
David Kalat
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Arbuckle Up, It’s Gonna Be a Bumpy Ride

DVR alert: there is a fabulous block of Roscoe Arbuckle comedies coming up on Sunday night, way past your bedtime. Roscoe appears onscreen in only a couple of them, but taken together this is an opportunity to see the great Roscoe Arbuckle working and collaborating with a wide variety of comic talents of the teens and twenties: Mack Sennett, Mabel Normand, Ford Sterling, Buster Keaton, Al St. John, Lloyd Hamilton, and Johnny Arthur. (Don’t worry if you didn’t recognize that last name—you’re not missing out on much. But hopefully the other names rang some bells, and if not, just keep reading and I’ll catch you up).

Seeing Arbuckle’s collaborations with some many disparate talents is important, because it can help settle some misunderstandings—but I won’t tell you just why, yet, because I want you to click the dashed line below and keep reading. So, if you can’t already guess why comparing Arbuckle’s work with different comedians might be revealing, or if you’re burning with curiosity to find out why “Lloyd Hamilton” is, then come on, click the fold, and let’s party on!

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KEYWORDS: Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, lloyd hamilton, Roscoe Arbuckle
COMMENTS: 4
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January 30, 2016
David Kalat
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The Immigrant

For the last several weeks I’ve been circling around the legacy of Charlie Chaplin, with posts about him, his influences, and his contemporaries. This week I return to where I started, the man himself, to look not as Chaplin’s aesthetics but his ethics. There’ s something very important about the little fella I haven’t remarked on, and now is the time.

Let’s just start by saying that The Immigrant is my favorite Chaplin film, but that it got to be that by earning the spot. You see, I used to go around to elementary schools with a 16mm projector and put on an hour-long show of short comedies. I’d originally intended it to be a rotating selection, chosen by my mood at the moment and whatever tied in best with what the class was working on at the time. Sometimes I might include Big Business if it was Christmastime, or some Melies shorts if the class had been studying France, and so on. But very quickly on, I realized that for every class and every time I did this, The Immigrant got the biggest reaction. It became the tentpole of the show, by default.

I’ve had kids come up to me, years later, and recognize me—you’re the guy who showed us that Charlie Chaplin film. I showed a bunch of stuff, but that’s the one they remember. Keaton’s One Week, the two reel version of Harold Lloyd’s Hot Water, Harry Langdon’s Remember When—those were fleeting, ephemeral moments. Chaplin’s The Immigrant made an impression on these kids, and I decided to start studying it closely.

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KEYWORDS: Charlie Chaplin, The Immigrant
COMMENTS: 9
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January 23, 2016
David Kalat
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Musty Suffer

It’s March 1, 1916 (or its November 1915 if you want to be pedantic and argumentative. I know who you are, and I’m ready for you). Let’s start again: It’s March 1, 1916. There. This is the day that the first film in the “Mishaps of Musty Suffer” series is released: Cruel and Unusual.

For the next two years, Musty Suffer’s mishaps will unspool over a raucous cycle of unruly two-reel shorts, full of surreal imagery and violent slapstick. Largely forgotten today, but available to the curious in an outstanding set of DVDs, the Musty Suffer films are remarkable both for what they are and also for what they are not. They are artifacts of what happens when talented and inventive people go significantly out of their way to take the road not traveled. And to understand just why these singular oddities deserve special attention beyond their immediate joys, we need to focus on the significance of that date—these would make sense if they’d been a few years before, or a few years after. But 1916?

That’s just nuts.

 

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KEYWORDS: Charlie Chaplin, Musty Suffer, Silent comedy, Slapstick
COMMENTS: 10
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