Posted by Richard Harland Smith on November 22, 2013
In July of 1963, acclaimed Irish playwright/poet/novelist/weirdo Samuel Beckett traveled to New York City to oversee the filming of his first and only screenplay, a silent two-reeler starring Buster Keaton. Would you like to know how that all came about? Me, too. So let’s get our checkbooks out…
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on November 21, 2013
Tomorrow (November 22nd) is the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination and TCM is commemorating this tragic event by airing a series of films tonight (November 21st) that document his presidency. Four of the five films were directed by Robert Drew, a LIFE magazine photographer and editor who pioneered the cinéma vérité movement in the 1960s that attempted to “capture truth on film by observing, recording, and presenting reality without exercising directorial control” (The Film Encyclopedia, Seventh Edition, 2012).
Posted by gregferrara on November 20, 2013
In 1972, the legendary film historian and archivist William K. Everson released his seminal book, The Detective in Film, of which I proudly have a first edition copy with its slip cover still in good condition. When The Maltese Falcon aired on TCM last night, I thought of it again. Everson is the kind of film historian that simply cannot exist anymore. His type of film historian cannot exist because with the modern day availability of movies, stills and back story, the kind of hunting, exploring, collecting and curating that Everson did is no longer as in demand as it once was, though still clearly needed. For instance, I have a book on the silent period, Classics of the Silent Screen, written in 1959 by Joe Franklin. In the acknowledgements, it lists Everson as the person who acquired the stills for the book and the prints for Joe to watch. Back in his day, Everson was a walking, talking movie database, a man who could find a lost film and lend it to you to view or copy, even if it meant flying halfway around the world to get it to you. It was all about the details, saving and preserving all the pieces of film history that might otherwise get lost. And when he wrote about movies, he preferred a specific approach over a general one. He wrote about W.C. Fields, bad guys, and the history of the western, so it should come as no surprise that in the early seventies he felt it necessary to explore the themes surrounding the private detective, at a time when neo-noir was finding its way to cinema screens and the anti-hero was making a comeback.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on November 19, 2013
The violence in Assault on Precinct 13 is a result of simple geometry. Director and writer John Carpenter sets up four narrative lines that collide at a soon-to-be-shut-down police station. Taking advantage of the wide Panavision frame, Carpenter emphasizes horizontals, from long shotgun barrels to threatening gang members strung out across a darkened road like holes in a belt. This nearly wordless group of thugs has the station surrounded, its cowering occupants an uninspiring group of rookie cops, wounded secretaries and wiseass convicts. Enclosed and in the dark, these panicked heroes learn how to turn the space to their advantage, choking off the gang’s freedom of horizontal movement and funneling them into a narrow chamber that evens the odds. Reducing the action film to its basic elements, Assault on Precinct 13 still packs the force of a blunt object to the cranium. The textured transfer on the new Blu-Ray, out today from Shout! Factory, is the ideal way to re-acquaint yourself with its concussive impact.
Posted by Susan Doll on November 18, 2013
Last week, I was reminded of Louise Brooks when someone on Facebook noted that it was her birthday. As a film historian, I should have immediately recalled her best films—Pandora’s Box, A Girl in Every Port, Diary of a Lost Girl. Instead, my first thought was: “Great hair.”
A good haircut can be more than mere fashion or part of a glamorous appearance. It can also connote something about a character’s persona, and in some cases, tap into a larger social significance. While some male film stars have sported distinctive-looking styles (Elvis’s ducktail, Yul Brynner’s bald pate, Johnny Depp’s dreadlocks), hair is more obviously part of the identities of female characters and stars. For example, I have seen films in which a female character’s hair is shorn, shaved, or chopped off in order to extinguish or obliterate her individuality or sense of self. When I was a little girl, I watched the WWII drama 5 Branded Women, directed by Martin Ritt. The story follows five women who are accused of sleeping with the Nazis. As part of their punishment, a group of partisan men chop off their hair, obliterating their sense of femaleness and scarring them as outcasts. The film scared me, because I found the act so brutal—like destroying someone’s personal identity as a way to control or punish them.
Posted by Pablo Kjolseth on November 17, 2013
What was it about the script for Mildred Pierce (Michael Curtiz, 1945) that caught Joan Crawford’s eye? And why does the finished product, a film that is a perfect fusion of film noir and melodrama, still resonate with us today? Go to any film school teaching a film noir or women and film course (or both), and you’ll probably find Mildred on the syllabus. The property was also recently brought back to life by director Todd Haynes in a critically acclaimed HBO miniseries released in 2011. The novel by James M. Cain (1892 – 1977), the author known for The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934), and Double Indemnity (1943), ran afoul of so many restrictive provisions set forth by the Motion Picture Production Code that most of the sexual relations depicted in the novel had to be excised from the original film and replaced with something more acceptable: murder. [...MORE]
The repetition of certain lines of dialogue is one of the defining characteristics of Ernst Lubitsch’s cinema. Lubitschean characters repeat certain lines as a way of creating double-entendres on the spot. Audiences are expected to recognize the repetition, and to remember the context of the original lines, so that those memories get overlaid on top of the repeat, imbuing the words with a weight of additional meaning beyond the literal significance of the words themselves.
To single out an especially piquant example from To Be Or Not To Be, consider what Lubitsch does to the phrase “Heil Hitler.” Over the course of 90 minutes it is yawned by Jack Benny, treated like an Abbot and Costello routine by most of the rest of the cast—Heil Hitler! No, I Heiled Hitler first!—there is Bronski’s fake Hitler says “Heil myself,” and of course Carole Lombard’s orgasmic moan.
The central conceit of the movie isn’t about making fun of what the Nazis took from Poland, it’s about creating a fictional space where the Poles take everything from the Nazis. This isn’t a movie about the German invasion of Poland—it’s about a Polish invasion of Germans.
During the course of the film, our heroes subversively appropriate the Nazis’ uniforms, their identities, even their salute—and as these icons of Nazi terror are systematically taken over by the Polish actors it simply serves to undercut the power of those totems. They turn “Heil Hitler” into a punchline before the first German troops set foot in Poland. [...MORE]
Posted by Richard Harland Smith on November 15, 2013
Oooh, I’m spoiling for a fight today… a real knock-down, dust-up, take-no-prisoners, no-quarter-given, apocalyptic barney. My knuckles are itching to bite into a set of teeth and my teeth are itching to lay into a row of knuckles. I won’t be satisfied until I dissolve in a flurry of biffery, until I drink blood — mine or yours — and if you want to be the one to set me off here’s all you have to do… [...MORE]
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on November 14, 2013
In the early 1980s British home video stores found themselves in the center of a storm when moral panic swept through the U.K. Religious leaders, parents and politically motivated individuals created what’s now known as the “video nasty” scare after discovering that stores were renting graphic horror films usually reserved for American grindhouses and indiscriminate drive-ins. Most of the objectionable movies were made in the U.S. or Italy where excessive violence and nudity had few problems getting past censors if it was properly rated but in Britain film censorship tended to be much more restrictive. Movies with explicit content and titles that often intended to shock such as CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980), THE DRILLER KILLER (1979) and I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978) caused widespread outrage throughout the U.K. that led to them being removed from video stores, criminally prosecuted or cut for British audiences. The only British film that was apparently singled out during the video nasty scare was James Kenelm Clarke’s THE HOUSE ON STRAW HILL (aka Exposé; 1976). For decades this notorious erotic thriller has had the reputation of being one of the sleaziest films ever produced in Britain during the 1970s, which made it difficult to see. Badly cut or edited video copies circulated among the curious but the quality was always questionable. Thanks to the efforts of Severin Films I recently had the opportunity to catch up with this infamous film on DVD but it didn’t exactly live up to its seedy status. Is it an unsung cult classic waiting rediscovery? Or is it one of the most depraved movies ever made? In truth it’s neither of these things but I’m glad that Severin has saved the film from obscurity and given it a new life on DVD.
Posted by gregferrara on November 13, 2013
Years ago, the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC, ran a movie that flopped completely. It was Julia Roberts’ Dying Young and, as tempting as it may be, I won’t go for the obvious pun as to its fate. The Uptown Theater was, and still is, one of the few remaining movie palaces in the country. Back then (and perhaps still today), when it booked a movie, that was it. If the movie died young (dammit, see, I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist), and they had booked it for three months, well, they were out of luck. Either show it every night to dwindling or non-existent audiences or go to Plan B. The Uptown went to Plan B. What was Plan B? Take every old print of every classic they had in storage and show them for three months instead. It was the best three months of movie-going I’d ever had up to that point. I saw everything from Bridge on the River Kwai to Blade Runner on the biggest screen in town and it was great. But did it really make that much of a difference?
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