Searching for Old Hollywood: The TCM Tour

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Once again, I attended the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood with my partner in crime, Maryann. Part of our ritual is to spend the Thursday afternoon before the fest combing the streets, cemeteries, and movie palaces looking for the last vestiges of old Hollywood. This year our quest led us to the TCM Movie Location Tour, which took us from Hollywood to downtown Los Angeles. A large screen inside the bus showed clips from movies shot in L.A., while the driver eased by the actual locations, and a knowledgeable tour guide offered fun facts and amusing anecdotes.

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Your Mother Should Know

As we look forward to a day of programming from TCM in which Mildred Pierce and I Remember Mama both play as a nod to Mother’s Day (what, no Stella Dallas?!), I look back to the programming that made its way into my head every day throughout my youth, programming of the old school kind.   The kind that came from my mom.  You see, while my dad was a great guy who enjoyed movies to the extent that anyone on earth enjoys movies, my mom really loved the cinema and it was her early influence on me that guided me towards my own love of cinema and where I am today.

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May 7, 2016
David Kalat
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The Melies Legacy

On my recent trip to Paris I paid a visit to the grave of the father of mass media as we know it. At the dawn of the twentieth century, he was the greatest entertainer in the entire world, and the first ever movie star. He made movies so fantastic that people around the globe happily lined up to buy tickets, and thus was born a common international commercial tradition of cinema. Alone among the earliest films made in that “primitive” era, those by Georges Méliès’ retain their allure even after more than a century. No apologies or explanations are needed when screening his films for modern audiences.

He made films that were more than records of prosaic events. In fact, they were not records of real events at all, but records of events that never happened, forged documents from a world that cannot exist. The camera had scarcely been invented and here was a man who proved not only that the camera can lie, but that, by its very design, it must. The secret to Méliès’ success was his realization that at the heart of film technology was a conjurer’s illusion just like those that were already the tools of his trade. It took a magician to understand that movies are, by definition, magic. [...MORE]


KEYWORDS: Georges Melies
COMMENTS: 4
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There’s a Lesson to be Learned Here

When we think of message movies, we tend to think of the Stanley Kramer variety where a serious social issue is dealt with heavy-handedly by an all-star cast letting us know it’s time for a lesson in civics that sorely needs to be learned.   They aren’t all like that, of course.  Sometimes the message is interwoven into a movie that deals with its characters and story first and puts the message in service of the plot and not the other way around.  Crossfire, for instance, which airs today on TCM, is a thriller first, a message movie second.  But what about all those movies that so subtly hide their message they’re not considered message movies at all?  They still have lessons for us, if you know where to look.

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Spotlight on AIP with Roger Corman

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Roger Corman is coming to TCM!

Every Thursday night throughout the month of May TCM will be spotlighting American International Pictures (AIP) with a block of films hosted by director and producer Roger Corman. Corman learned his trade while working with AIP, which was established in 1954 by Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson. The Los Angeles based company was committed to making low-budget, independently produced B-movies aimed at the burgeoning youth market that were typically released as double features and shown at drive-ins.

During its heyday, AIP became a training ground for many future filmmakers and actors including Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Nicholas Roeg, James Cameron, Peter Bogdanovich, Ron Howard, Jonathan Demme, John Sayles, Monte Hellman, Joe Dante, Jack Hill, Paul Bartel, Stephanie Rothman, Curtis Harrington, Dennis Hooper, Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, Peter Fonda and Robert De Niro. The company was responsible for reviving the careers of older horror stars neglected by Hollywood such as Boris Karloff, Vincent Price and Peter Lorre securing them a new generation of fans. AIP also established working relationships with international film distributors introducing American audiences to foreign films by Federico Fellini, Mario Bava and Ishirō Honda. And they played an important role in creating popular genres such as Blaxploitation, Biker movies and the Beach Party movies that helped make Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon household names.

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This week on TCM Underground: David Lynch’s old shorts!

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 I don’t mean his old underwear – how weird would that be? No, I mean the short films that David Lynch made before he went long form with ERASERHEAD (1977) and wormed his way into our collective unconscious.  [...MORE]

Lost and Found: The Man and the Moment (1929)

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The light comedy The Man and the Moment (1929) was considered lost until a dupe negative was recently discovered at Cineteca Italiana di Milano. This part-talkie from First National Pictures was restored in 2K by Warner Bros. at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory in Bologna, and was released on Warner Archive DVD last month. A charming proto-screwball comedy, it’s about a marriage of convenience between a rich playboy and an impetuous adventuress that ends up destroying planes, boats and nightclub aquariums. Made during the transition to sound, it exemplifies the stereotype of that era’s stiff, static line readings. It has snap and vigor in the silent sequences, and grinds to a halt for dialogue. This is not aided by leading man Rod la Rocque, who is a debonair charmer in the silent sequences and a wooden statue during dialogue. His co-star Billie Love is more of a natural, and she waltzes away with the film.

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The Men Who Would Be King

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Last week, I talked about the new indie film Elvis & Nixon, which is loosely based on the time that Elvis Presley made an impromptu visit to Washington D.C., to drop in on President Richard Nixon. The event resulted in the most widely requested photo in the National Archives.

Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey star as the King and the President respectively. Shannon tackles the impossible task of playing Presley and does so with sincerity and sympathy. Thankfully, he was able to suggest the King’s Southern accent and vocal characteristics without resorting to impersonator-like tricks and gimmicks. Thin and gangly, with a kind of scarecrow look, Shannon does not remotely look like Elvis, which is distracting. But, he was compelling to watch. Elvis & Nixon reminded me of other films about Elvis Presley in which actors portray the King. Their interpretations range from the credible to the ridiculous.

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Race to the Border

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This Thursday, May 5th, celebrate your Cinco de Mayo with The Fast and the Furious. No, not the recent franchise-spawning movie of same name directed by Rob Cohen starring Michelle Rodriguez (who has her roots in Puerto Rico, not Mexico). I refer, instead, to the 50’s version involving a prison escapee and a fast-car loving woman as they both make a mad dash to Mexico. [...MORE]

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April 30, 2016
David Kalat
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The Artist Formerly Known as Walter Paisley

As regular readers here know, I’ve got a thing for documentaries that ruminate on the meaning of “art” and dig into the gray areas of artistic expression.  Well, I also like fictional satires on the art world, too—and one of the cleverest, Roger Corman’s gloriously bonkers A Bucket of Blood (1959) is on TCM on Thursday the 5th (set your DVRs).

A Bucket of Blood stars Dick Miller as “Walter Paisley,” lowly busboy in a coffee bar/art gallery. The poor guy is a little slow, and as impressionable as a child. Too bad his biggest influences are self-absorbed young adults preening with affectation: they wear bathrobes and creative facial hair, blather on about organic farming and obscure foodstuffs, constantly projecting an air of bored indifference. They rally around a beatnik poet whose manifesto declares that Art is more important than anything, even the lives of other human beings. And Walter wants nothing more than to be one of them.

The joke is that he wins their accolades and respect only by taking that callous screed literally – he kills people and turns their corpses into Art. That part is familiar – on loan from House of Wax (1953), the film that made Vincent Price a household name just a few years earlier. A Bucket of Blood distinguishes itself not by plot points but by context – let Vincent Price mummify his victims with nary a tongue in cheek, but Dick Miller’s body of work is gloriously absurd.

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KEYWORDS: A Bucket of Blood, Dick Miller, Roger Corman
COMMENTS: 10
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