SFF Post Mortem

SFF 2015

In my last post I interviewed Stuart Gordon. I also interviewed some other folks while up in Estes Park attending the third annual Stanley Film Festival and, in the interest of making it relevant to TCM readers, I led by asking everyone what some of the older films might be that influenced their careers. People that I talked to included actor/producer Elijah Wood, actor/writer/producer Leigh Whannel, actress Alison Pill, actor/producer/director Larry Fessenden, director Glenn McQuaid, writer April Snellings, producer/director/writer Jen Wexler, actor/writer Graham Reznick, and director/actor Merritt Crocker. Themes that popped up included movies with evil children, classic ghost stories, Freddie Francis, and more. [...MORE]

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May 16, 2015
David Kalat
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Ginger Rogers: Sad Sacks of Fifth Avenue

Gregory La Cava’s 1939 comedy Fifth Avenue Girl is an excellent example of the 1930s style of romantic comedies, and possibly my favorite Ginger Rogers film of all. It is also a decidedly deviant 1930s romantic comedy that breaks more rules than it follows, and uses Ginger Roger’s natural downtrodden deadpan persona to tamp down the usual screwball shenanigans in favor of something altogether more quiet, and bitter. And if that doesn’t quite sound like comedy to you, then read on…

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KEYWORDS: Fifth Avenue Girl, Ginger Rogers, Gregory La Cava, Screwball Comedy
COMMENTS: 5
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When Going to the Movies was More Important Than the Movie

Today on TCM, there’s a short movie running between the other movies and it’s about the making of Westworld, the 1973 sci-fi mediocrity about androids that go berserk and start killing the guests of the futuristic resort they occupy.  It’s a great idea, poorly executed.  Michael Crichton wasn’t much of a director but he did come up with some really great science fiction ideas and stories that worked better if someone like Robert Wise or Steven Spielberg were behind the camera.  Westworld does have a few things going for it besides the basic idea, though.  One, it has a great villain in Yul Brynner’s mad cowboy android.  Two, the pursuit by said cowboy of hapless Richard Benjamin during the climax is surprisingly well done by the usually leaden Crichton, and three, it was made in the seventies.  I’ll pretty much forgive any movie made in my youth of anything.

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British Science Fiction: A Poster Gallery

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Today (May 14th) TCM has programmed a batch of entertaining and inventive British science fiction films beginning with THE TUNNEL aka TRANSATLANTIC TUNNEL (1935) in the early morning hours of 5:45 AM EST/2:45 AM PST followed by FIVE MILLION YEARS TO YEAR aka QUARTERMASS AND THE PITT (1968), VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1961), THE COSMIC MONSTER aka THE STRANGE WORLD OF PLANET X (1958), THE GIANT BEHEMOTH aka BEHEMOTH, THE SEA MONSTER (1959), FIRST MEN IN THE MOON (1964), THESE ARE THE DAMNED aka THE DAMNED (1962), X THE UNKNOWN (1956), and SATELLITE IN THE SKY (1956). In an effort to entice viewers and rouse the imaginations of the most sedate classic film fans I thought I’d showcase some striking film poster art for these surprisingly imaginative films. The timid among us might be put off by the bold graphics, eye-popping layouts and outrageous claims they make but my fellow adventure seekers should relish the opportunity to dream bigger and embrace the improbable. So without further ado, I bring you British Science Fiction Films: A Poster Gallery.

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Ass, Grass, and Mishegoss. An American Hippie in Israel (1972) and I Love You, Alice B. Toklas (1968) on TCM Underground!

American Hitch-Hiker

A disillusioned Vietnam veteran escapes the madness of modern living and attempts to establish a Utopian commune on a desert island.

AN AMERICAN HIPPIE IN ISRAEL (1972)

aka HA-TREMPIST, THE HITCHHIKER, THE HITCHHIKER: A HIPPIE’S GUIDE TO ISRAEL

ast: Asher Tzarfati (Mike), Shmuel Wolf (Como), Lily Avidan (Elizabeth), Tzila Karney (Francoise), Susan Devor Cogan, Fran Avni (Hippie Singers). Director Amos Sefer. Producer: Amos Sefer, Amatsia Hiuni. Cinematography Ya’ackov Kallach. Music: Nachum Haiman.

Color. 95 minutes

Showtime: Saturday, May 16th, 11:30pm PST/2:30am EST. [...MORE]

The Show Must Go On: 42nd Street (1933)

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When sound came to cinema, the musical came along with it. The tremendous box office returns of The Jazz Singer (1927) had producers reeling, and the market was soon flooded with song and dance. But the Depression-era audiences began tuning them out,  preferring the patter of William Powell to the tapping of another chorine. By 1931 the studios had slashed musicals from their slates and were brainstorming what went wrong. In the May 1931 issue of the Motion Picture Herald, Paramount’s Jesse Lasky was optimistic about the future of the genre:

A gradual but inevitable return of music to the screen is predicted by Lasky. He believes the future will bring a sprinkling of operettas, a reasonable number of musical comedies, dramatic pictures with backgrounds of symphony orchestras. Citing the public’s attitude toward musical comedies, he contends that picture audiences were given something before they were prepared for it. “There is merely a need of a little more skillful technique and a better understanding on the part of the public”, explained Lasky. “The public was not prepared for the license of the musical comedy. For years we had trained the public to realism. The stage naturally had a dramatic license which was impossible in pictures. Audiences could not get used to music coming from nowhere on the screen. Nevertheless, musical comedies will come back and the public will become accustomed to that form of entertainment. In the next two or three years they will have forgotten that there ever was any question about musical comedies.”

In 1933 all questions were dropped after the massive success of WB’s 42nd Street, a snappy, streetwise backstage musical that introduced the world to the symmetrical spectacles of Busby Berkeley’s dance choreography. Now out on a sparkling Blu-ray from the Warner Archive, it’s clearer than ever why this was the film that brought the musical back into the spotlight.

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A Forgotten Film to Remember: The Last of Sheila

LAST OF SHEILA, THE

Film historians often proclaim the 1960s and 1970s to be one of Hollywood’s most creative eras. Dubbed the Film School Generation, or New Hollywood, directors, producers, and writers enjoyed a level of creative control in the film industry that few filmmakers have experienced before or since. Directors such as Scorsese, Coppola, Penn, Nichols, Bogdanovich, Altman, Lumet, DePalma, Kaufman, and others were influenced by the work of European filmmakers, inspiring them to experiment with form and content. The result is an era of original films that as a group challenge, entertain, and provoke.

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Your Mother Should Know

TCM celebrates Mother’s Day by offering up a selection of cinematic mothers who reinforce the ideals upheld by most of us when thinking of great mothers.  Barbara Stanwyck’s Stella Dallas is a classless, gaudy, hoot of a mama who, once she discovers the embarrassment and distinct lack of social climbing she offers her daughter, voluntarily boots herself out of the picture so her daughter can know happiness and ease.  Her sacrifice is practically ultimate: her daughter was her life and she gave that up to make her happy.  But what about those moms that aren’t so great?  Frankly, showing a few of them might actually make lots of real moms feel better because, no matter what their failings, they could point to these moms and say, “Well at least I’m not that bad!”  To make it even more inclusive, I’m including moms that never even appear on the screen because how many times can we vote for Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate as the Worst Mother Ever?

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May 9, 2015
David Kalat
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Downton Valley, or Ruggles Conquers the West

Ruggles of Red Gap is an odd duck. It is a crucial turning point into the formative genre of screwball comedy, but it isn’t easily recognizable as a romantic comedy nor is it especially female driven. It was Charles Laughton’s favorite screen role, but he’s not known for comedy, and his performance here consists substantially of standing still and trying to suppress an awkward smile. It’s a 1930s Hollywood comedy for the Downton Abbey set, whose most famous scene involves a British valet reciting the Gettysburg Address to a bar full of Wild West toughs.

In other words, it’s a movie that calls for some unpacking. So let’s get started!

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KEYWORDS: Charles Laughton, Leo McCarey, Ruggles of Red Gap, Screwball Comedy
COMMENTS: 3
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Who Directed This Thing Anyway?!

Anyone who knows classic Hollywood knows that there have been many occasions where the name under the “directed by” credit isn’t the actual person who directed the picture.  One of those happens to be on tonight, Journey Into Fear, nominally directed by Norman Foster, but mapped out in its entirety by Orson Welles.  Other famous cases include Christian Nyby who helmed The Thing from Another World and eerily duplicated all the trademark touches of director Howard Hawks (wink, wink).  Tobe Hooper, who had his former directorial style disappear into an almost exact duplicate of Steven Spielberg’s directorial style with Poltergeist (nudge, nudge) and of course, almost everyone with a directing contract in Hollywood at the time who took a turn behind the camera and emulated David O’Selznick’s style, even though he wasn’t a director, with Gone with the Wind (say no more, say no more).  Which brings up the question, what does a director do anyway and at what point can we declare who the director is?

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