Applied genius: The Dick Smith Legacy


My early education in cinema involved the worship of a fair number of Hollywood makeup men: “Man of 1,000 Faces” Lon Chaney, Universal monster maker Jack P. Pierce, PLANET OF THE APES monkey mover John Chambers, the whole Westmore dynasty, Morlock manufacturer Bill Tuttle… and Dick Smith. Dick Smith was easy to follow, and remember – he had the same name as my Dad. In the wake of Smith’s passing this week at the lovely age of 91, eulogists may find themselves trying to rank order among the roster of old school FX makeup men I’ve just laid before you but that’s not my aim. I’m not interested in anybody’s notion of the best, I just want to mourn and remember an artist whose work had a profound effect on my life.  [...MORE]

A Century of Scares: Happy Birthday Bava!


This week marks the 100th birthday of Mario Bava who was born on July 30th (according to leading Bava researcher Tim Lucas and author of the essential Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark) or 31st (if you want to believe and Wikipedia). The brilliant Italian director, cinematographer, special effects artist and screenwriter died in 1980 but today he’s fondly remembered by horror film enthusiasts as the Maestro of the Macabre. Bava has long been one of my favorite filmmakers so I couldn’t let this important anniversary pass without acknowledging his artistry.


Building the Character, Literally

Movie locations are often as much a character in a movie as the ones the actors are playing.  Location scouts and set designers work together to create physical spaces that work for the movie but also work within the movie, creating something that the actors and screenplay alone cannot.  Often these are real locations, adapted for use by a movie crew or used as a basis for a more extensive constructed set, and many times the sensation I get from the location is more powerful than anything else in the movie. But locations are areas whereas buildings are physical spaces, inanimate beasts that, in the best of them, can steal a scene from the best actors in the biz.


Anime Goes West: Magic Boy (1959)



In the 1950s Hiroshi Okawa wanted to make Toei Company the Disney of Asia. Toei had already become a prolific producer of jidaigeki (period drama) movies, focusing on cheaply made programmers to fill out double and triple bills. They made 104 features in 1954 alone. Toei president Okawa had grander designs, and acquired the animation company Nichido in 1956 in the hopes of competing in the international cartoon market. Toei followed the Disney formula of selecting local fables and fairy tales for adaptation, and adding on a menagerie of cute animals. They also followed the Disney edict of making only one film per year. In a test of the receptivity of the U.S. market, they released their first three films there in 1961, all through different distributors. Their first animated feature was The Tale of the White Serpent (1958), an iteration of the Chinese folktale “Legend of the White Snake”. It was dubbed and released in the U.S. as Panda and the Magic Serpent by the independent Globe Pictures. The first Japanese anime to receive substantial stateside distribution was Magic Boy, completed in Japan in 1959 and released by MGM in ’61. Alakazam the Great (1960) was released stateside by exploitation experts American International Pictures.  The overseas theatrical experiment failed, though Toei’s animation wing would start a pipeline into U.S. television, becoming a staple on Saturday afternoon matinees. Now the Warner Archive has given the U.S. version of Magic Boy its first DVD release, allowing us to examine part of Okawa’s grand plan (it also airs on TCM on Monday, October 6th at 3AM).


Adventures of a Movie-Location Tourist in New Orleans

nolaopenerAhhh, New Orleans! Where else can outrageous people eat exotic food while downing powerful alcoholic drinks with catastrophic names. On a recent trip to NOLA, I was prepared for everything—the crowds of colorful revelers, the world’s most demented ghost stories, even the parents who dragged small children to Bourbon Street on a Saturday night. But, what really surprised me—and, pleasantly so—was how much I learned about movie history during my brief vacation. Avid movie-goers know that a variety of contemporary films and television programs have been shot in New Orleans and Louisiana, including the third season of American Horror Story. But, Louisiana’s contributions to American film history go back to the earliest silent days.




(* … or not. As an alert reader just pointed out, Bergman has been replaced with a tribute to James Garner. Still… I’ll leave this post for future reference, as I’m sure TCM will eventually bring some of these films back.)

I recently screened a 16mm print of Ingmar Bergman’s (1918 – 2007) The Magician (1958). His birthday was on Bastille Day (July 14th) and his day of death was July 30th. It is fitting that both his life and death should fall on the same month. The Swedish director is famous for artful portrayals of existential extremes that tackle the agonies of passion and life against a backdrop of inevitable mortality in ways that put them back-to-back. His most famously iconic scene from The Seventh Seal (1957) turns the game between life and death into something that is not even back-to-back; it’s face-to-face in a setup that is still referenced even today (ie: in The Colbert Report‘s “Cheating Death” segments). Which brings us back to the end of July… usually thought of as a summer moment made for back-pack adventures, trips to the water-park, and leisurely moments spent lounging around in air-conditioned spaces. But perhaps TCM programmers were hip to the idea that July is also Bergman’s month, because this Monday night they are showing six of his films back-to-back. Here are some crib notes for those ready to take the plunge.  [...MORE]

July 26, 2014
David Kalat
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Pryor convictions

Richard Pryor stood on the stage of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC in 1998.  It was an unusual audience for the veteran comedian—a bunch of stuffed shirt politicos and hoity toits, there to award Pryor with the Mark Twain Prize for humor, and to congratulate themselves for doing so.  He was 58 years old—and although no one knew it at the time, he had less than a decade left to live.

Those 58 years had been filled with incident: he was born in a brothel, forged his comic fearlessness in front of the Vegas Mafia, set himself on fire while free-basing cocaine, and played a computer hacker in Superman III.

Addressing this audience of VIPs, Pryor said that he considered his mission as a comedian to be more than just making people laugh—it was using that laughter as a tool “to lessen people’s hatred.”

As it happens, we can see this noble calling at work in a particular scene of Pryor’s 1976 film Silver Streak.


KEYWORDS: Arthur Hiller, Gene Wilder, Richard Pryor, Silver Streak

Show of hands!


The received wisdom is that the eyes are windows to the soul… but hands do the heavy lifting. My eyes tend to gravitate towards hands, both in real life and reel life. Hand shadows on the wall made for, if not the first form of public entertainment, one of the earliest forms of storytelling and countless years later you can tell a lot about a character by what he or she does with his or her hands. But enough palaver; to paraphrase Shakespeare, let’s let hands do what lips do and allow this show of hands to speak for itself…  [...MORE]

The Malaise of the Ghetto: LA HAINE (1995)


It’s about a society on its way down. And as it falls, it keeps telling itself: “So far so good… So far so good… So far so good.” It’s not how you fall that matters. It’s how you land. – LA HAINE (1995)

In light of recent events at home and abroad it seems strangely appropriate that TCM will be airing LA HAINE (aka HATE;1995) on Sunday night. This low-budget film written and directed by Mathieu Kassovitz chronicles 24 hours in the lives of three friends of different descent, an Arab (Saïd Taghmaoui), an African (Hubert Kounde) and a Jewish man (Vincent Cassel) who have befriended one another in the harsh climate of the suburban French ghettos on the outskirts of Paris. Facing discrimination, poverty and a lack of opportunity the three young men turn to drugs for escape and impulsively get caught up in the civil unrest and rioting that plagues their troubled neighborhood. While it’s easy to appreciate the film as a snapshot of the social tensions that continue to erupt in Paris today, the emotional message at the heart of LA HAINE actually speaks to a much wider demographic and the film has understandably struck a chord around the world. For better or worse, this modern day classic expressed the frustrations of a generation and many marginalized young people of all nationalities have continued to discover the film since its initial release and embrace its street-wise aesthetic.


Cut to the Plot: The Cinematic Chase

It can be rather easily argued that the chase epitomizes the cinema.  It is action as story.  The dramatic conflict is easily defined between the chaser and the one being chased as simple pursuit.   One party is relentlessly driving towards another party in the hopes of dramatic resolution.  Any good chase has a beginning, middle, and end, even if that end is simply the chase concluding with the prey getting away.  Tonight on TCM, Bullitt is being shown and it has one of the most famous, and revered, car chases of all.  From the earliest chases of The Great Train Robbery (1903) and the climactic pursuit in Stagecoach (1939) to The French Connection (1971) on through to the most elaborate chases of the new century, such as the spectacular foot chase in Casino Royale (2006), the chase has often provided the most exciting moment in a movie, spawning the phrase, “cut to the chase” to indicate a desire to move to the exciting, or concluding,  part of the story.   Most chases resolve action so well they usually do conclude the story but many times, as in several mentioned above, they come earlier (and in the case of Casino Royale, at the beginning).  But I’m not here to talk about the history of the chase (just look up “Greatest Chases in Movie History” online if you’d like to read that article – there’s about a million of them), I’m here to talk about the chase as plot and how so much great cinema, one way or another, can be defined as a chase.


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