An American Blogger in Paris

If I don’t respond to comments on this post right away, you’ll have to forgive me, I’ll be in France.  Paris, to be exact.  I can’t let David Kalat have all the fun.  I won’t be painting on the sidewalk, dancing with French school children, or staging a triumphant grand finale set to the music of Gershwin but in my heart, the movies will inform my every move.  I’ve never been to Paris before but it’s my lovely wife’s birthday this weekend and that’s what she’s wanted to do for years so that’s what we’re doing. Until now, I’ve only known Paris from the movies.  And the movies have made it irresistible.  But then, that’s what movies do.  They take a location most of us are unfamiliar with, and transform it into something special. As big as Paris, New York, and London are, the fact is most of the several billion people who live on the planet don’t live in any one of them.  Most have probably never even visited them.  But the movies have made us all cosmopolitan.  As I discover the real Paris, let’s revisit some of the sites the movies have glamorized and why I’d like to visit those fictional real places more than the real real places.

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On the Waterfront (1954): A Poster Gallery

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I’m unapologetically biased when it comes to On the Waterfront (1954). I’m well aware of the controversy surrounding the production but I firmly believe it’s one of the greatest American films of the 1950s and on April 24 and 27 Turner Classic Movies in association with Fathom Events and Sony Pictures Entertainment will be bringing this American classic to theaters across the country for a special two-day event. Both screenings will include an exclusive commentary by TCM host Ben Mankiewicz explaining how the film, which was shot in just 36 days, has had such a long-lasting cultural impact. Tickets are available at the Fathom Events website.

If you’ve never had the opportunity to experience this powerful and provocative movie on the big screen I highly recommend doing so. You might think you understand what made Marlon Brando such a commanding screen presence but until you’ve had the opportunity to see him strut and fret for more than an hour on the big screen, I don’t think you can fully appreciate what made him a Hollywood trailblazer and acting heavyweight. But don’t just come to watch Brando at his best. There are many more reasons to see On the Waterfront including Elia Kazan’s outstanding direction, Boris Kaufman’s moody black and white cinematography, Budd Schulberg’s potent script, Leonard Bernstein’s compelling score and a top-notch cast of supporting players that include Karl Malden, Eva Marie Saint, Rod Steiger and Lee J. Cobb firing on all-cylinders while delivering some of their finest screen work.

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This week on TCM Underground: Possession (1981). Just Possession. All you really need is Possession.

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Some movies I know just to leave the Hell enough alone.

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Sunshine Noir: Cutter’s Way (1981)

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“I have seen people after the war that came from concentration camps, they were violated in their bodies and their minds, and they were contaminated by the violence. They became violent themselves. This is what I wanted to show in Cutter’s Way.” – Ivan Passer

Cutter’s Way is a sickly film, its characters hungover or half in the bag. They have never recovered from the Vietnam War, either from the physical scars from fighting or the guilt from avoiding it. Cutter (John Heard) is the wounded veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress, a ranting paranoiac lost in his own head. His wife Mo (Lisa Eichhorn) nurses the loss of her pre-war husband with drink. Cutter’s best friend is Bone (Jeff Bridges), a lithe golden god who makes a living as a gigolo and occasional boat salesman.  The trio’s blurred vision focuses upon the corpse of a young girl, who they suspect was murdered by local tycoon J.J. Cord (Stephen Elliott). Cord begins to exert an outsized role in their personal mythology, a symbol of the system, the American way of life, that has left them on the periphery.

Their amateur investigation is a half-cocked mess, and twists around into a blackmail scheme. Their dream of justice is obscured by the thick haze of the Santa Barbara summer, but whether or not they have found the true killer, they have recovered a modicum belief, belief which ends in a defining act of violence. United Artists didn’t know what to do with this downbeat drama, and released it with little fanfare in 1981. It has had vocal supporters through the years, foremost among them J. Hoberman, and Twilight Time has released a handsome-looking Blu-ray that should expand its cult.

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Check Out These Documentaries

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I know very few people who do not like documentaries, which are produced by the hundreds if not thousands every year. Some of the most respected filmmakers lauded at film festivals are documentarians. And, yet docs are rarely screened in theaters, and specific titles are difficult to track down. Documentary distribution and marketing just seems so arbitrary and indiscriminate.

The opportunity to see documentaries on the big screen is the main reason why I continue to attend and support the Sarasota Film Festival (SFF), despite some serious misgivings about the fest. Often, filmmakers attend the screenings to introduce their films and to answer questions from the audience. I am always touched by their passion for the format as well as their thoughtful commentary. The documentary selection at the SFF was particularly good this year, and I recommend the following titles. [...MORE]

Forbidden Planet and other Shakespearean musings

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Later today TCM is screening Forbidden Planet (Fred Wilcox, 1956), one of the best science-fiction films of all time. That last statement might ring hyperbolic, but anyone familiar with the movie knows it’s true. What could I possibly add that hasn’t already been uncovered about a film that had an influence on everything from Star Trek to Alien and beyond? Given how Forbidden Planet adds elements of Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Jungian theories tapping into the collective unconscious, I sent emails to cast of The Theatre & Dance department at my campus, which recently hosted “Return to the Forbidden Planet, the musical”, as well as to some folks at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, and even a couple Humanities professors who teach courses on Carl Jung.  [...MORE]

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April 16, 2016
David Kalat
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Abbott, Costello, Jekyll, Hyde

So, this weekend TCM has got it into its corporate head to screen the 1953 comedy Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In case you didn’t already know, this is one of the lesser-regarded, least-loved entries in the already rather shopworn and degraded pile of B-movie fodder that is the Abbott and Costello oeuvre. I know I’m misusing several words there—both oeuvre and B-movie, at least—but I do so advisedly. I’m a sucker for Golden Age Hollywood comedies, and comedy teams, and slapstick, so I have a soft spot for old Lou and Bud, but seriously it’s hard to defend their Universal films as anything more than programmatic filler recycling some vaudeville schtick well past its sell-by date. That being said, Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is substantially better than its reputation suggests, and definitely worth the time of anyone who bothers to read my weekly rantings here. Just go in with sufficiently lowered, realistic expectations, and let the isolated bright spots of this thing impress and surprise you.

But that’s not what I wanted to write about this week. I’m more interested in the movie TCM won’t be screening, because it doesn’t exist. The movie that might have been, in some alternate universe, where the original ideas for this film didn’t get curtailed and redirected into stale formula. Because at one point, this movie was set to be called Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde. And boy, what a difference that extra letter makes.

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KEYWORDS: Abbott and Costello, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde
COMMENTS: 11
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Losing Track of the Later Career

Actors and directors have distinct career tracks much of the time.  If they’re a big star, like Cary Grant, they have a type of role that works well for them, and they stick to it throughout their career.  For directors, it’s often the same thing.  But sometimes, perhaps even as a result, I tend to lose track of directors’ late career.  It has never felt like something that was by design but maybe it is.  I began thinking about it recently when I read Richard Brody’s piece in The New Yorker on director’s late movies often being better than their earlier efforts.  In the piece, he is reminded of something he once said: “If you think that someone’s first or second film in a long career is their best, you don’t really like their work. Artists grow.”  It’s one of those statements that sounds clever and thoughtful at first glance but runs into problems with deeper analysis.  After all, artists grow in many different ways and perhaps onwards and upwards is not always the direction their growth takes.

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Barrymore Best: The Spiral Staircase (1946)

ss17Ethel Barrymore & Dorothy McGuire in The Spiral Staircase (1946)

This month Turner Classic Movies is spotlighting “The Best of the Barrymores.” The Barrymore family regularly appears on TCM but every Monday evening throughout April viewers can tune in and catch a selection of films featuring one or more of the Barrymore siblings in some of their best roles. Next Monday (April 18) the TCM spotlight will shine on Ethel Barrymore and one of the films scheduled to air is The Spiral Staircase (1946) at 10 PM EST/7 PM PST.

The Spiral Staircase is a longtime favorite of mine and the film has been hailed as a prototype for many of the best giallo; the Italian genre films that I touched on just last week in a piece titled Death Walk Twice: A Giallo Double Feature. With thoughts of murder and black-gloved killers still running through my mind, it seemed like a good time to revisit this classic thriller that features an Academy Award nominated performance by Ethel Barrymore as the bedridden matriarch of a wealthy family that is concealing some unsavory secrets.

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This week on TCM Underground: The House by the Cemetery (1981) and Burnt Offerings (1976)

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Just when you thought it was safe to rent a creepy old country house at a surprisingly affordable rate…

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