Jean Renoir: Whirlpool of Fate (1925)

WHIRLPOOL OF FATE (1925)

To view Whirlpool of Fate click here.

In a fortuitous sequence of events, right after I acquired Pascal Mérigeau‘s biography of Jean Renoir, FilmStruck started streaming 16 of the director’s features and shorts. I’ve skimmed over the surface of Renoir’s career, having seen the acknowledged masterpieces like The Rules of the Game (1939) and Grand Illusion (1937), but never managed to explore much beyond that. So over the next few weeks I will be discussing an individual Renoir film, providing production info gleaned from Mérigeau‘s exhaustively researched tome. First up is the hypnagogic melodrama Whirlpool of Fate (the original French title is La Fille de l’eau, The Girl in the Water, 1925), starring his Gloria Swanson-worshipping wife Andree Heuschling (using the screen name Catherine Hessling). Though he received a co-directing credit on 1924′s Catherine (aka Backbiters), Fate is the first film where he had complete control, and he used it to experiment with a range of tones and techniques, from poetic realism to flights of expressionist fancy. 

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A Look at the Short Films of Harold Lloyd

NEVER WEAKEN (1921)

To view Just Neighbors click here, to view Billy Blazes, Esq. click here and to view Never Weaken click here.

As I prepare for this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood, I am revisiting the films of some of the actors and actresses whose work is being featured at the annual event. With a wide variety of events available at each time slot, it’s impossible to attend all the screenings, special presentations and interviews that I’d like to see. I don’t have any complaints, though, as there’s rarely a bad choice to be made. Like in years past, there will be a silent film presentation with live accompaniment. In previous years, I’ve seen Girl Shy (1924), The General (1925) and City Lights (1931). This year, the TCM Classic Film Festival is featuring Harold Lloyd’s 1928 comedy Speedy with live accompaniment by the extraordinary Alloy Orchestra. Any event featuring the Alloy is not to be missed, so I will be enthusiastically lining up for this screening on the closing night of the festival. Since I don’t want to watch Speedy this close to seeing it in a theatre with an appreciative audience, I decided to revisit some of Lloyd’s other work in preparation. Although I much prefer Lloyd’s feature-length films such as Safety Last (1923), Why Worry? (1923), Girl Shy (1924) and The Freshman (1925), I’ve selected three of my favorite short films featuring Lloyd that are currently available on The Criterion Channel of FilmStruck.

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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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