Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Two Things



One, Larry Aydlette has changed addresses AGAIN! Yes, yes I know, we're all shocked and stunned. He's now on tumbler which confuses me with it's notes and reblogging thingys instead of comments and links, but you know Larry, he likes to roll with the changes. His new address (for probably, oh, let's say the next three weeks) is here.

Two, I got the e-mail everyone who's ever ordered a Criterion from Amazon gets about the now available instant Criterion viewing online for only $3.99. Anyone tried it yet. Netflix instant viewing is quite lacking in my opinion (no letterboxing, sketchy picture quality, etc) and I was wondering if this is the same or better. If you've tried it, let me know. Thanks.

That is all.

It's not a party until Mel shows up


So you're Marlene Dietrich and you're thinking it's a premiere (Brave Bulls, 1951, d. Robert Rossen), you got the usual studio invite, you might as well show up. Why not bring the daughter along, Maria Riva. She's done an episode or two of this and that on TV so why not show her off. You're both kind of bored when you make your entrance and you tell Maria, "Don't worry, five minutes in and I'll get a 'stomach cramp' and we'll have to leave." And then all plans go out the window because...


... it's Mel baby! And when Mel shows up, it's a party!

**********************

another picture post inspired by the Siren.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Hell's Angels When it Soars

Hell's Angels is no great shakes as a drama. The acting is for the most part servicable, sometimes mediocre, sometimes outright bad. The dialogue, average at best. And yet it gets 7.9 on IMDB's aggregate of user votes and I think I know why: The action sequences, especially considering this was made in 1930 which was not only decades before CGI but a few years before even miniature work was that good, are extraordinary. Howard Hughes, the eccentric billionaire of reality and legend, may not have been much with actors and dramatic scenes (he had to hire in then unknown but soon to be famous James Whale for those scenes since actors and drama were not of his interest), but damn did he know his way around an action/special effects sequence. Watching the action scenes in this movie makes one wonder if Hughes didn't miss his calling as a second-unit director for special effects sequences.

There are other good parts to the film as well. One was the decision to have the Germans in the film speak German, not English. That very year in the far superior All Quiet on the Western Front, the characters, all German, spoke English. Before sound came in, foreign languages weren't a problem as inter-titles took care of all dialogue anyway. But once sound became a part of the film experience directors had to decide whether to go with foreign language and subtitles or just have everyone speak English. Unfortunately, the latter became the standard until fairly recently. But not here. Hughes has the Germans not only speak German, but only provides inter-titles, not subtitles, for the stuff the viewers can't figure out on their own. All the rest is left up to the viewer to translate.

Finally, the plot itself offers a slight change of pace as it takes the old cliche of friends on opposite sides of the battle and gives it a hard-edged, unsentimental ending. [SPOILER] They all die. All of them. [END SPOILER] But mainly, it's the action sequences, the ones Hughes spent millions on, as dramatized in Martin Scorsese's lackluster The Aviator (2005) that make much of this movie worth watching. That Hughes may have been one crazy bastard but when he set his mind to putting together an action sequence, he was a genius. Below is the finale of the Zeppelin attack sequence in the movie. The sequence lasts for about twenty minutes and builds with a slow, methodical pace that reminds one of the expert pacing in the duel scene in Barry Lyndon. I've put up the last two minutes here. As all the fighter planes have been shot down, the last man standing, his machine guns jammed, makes the decision to go kamikaze on the Zeppelin to bring it down. The sequence begins beautifully, shot from overhead, as we watch the Zeppelin, motionless on the screen as the fighter plane goes from the bottom of the screen to the top, moving to the front of the Zeppelin. Then it circles back around and goes into a dive. Hughes used color combined with black and white throughout the film and this scene is no exception, as you'll see with the flames. Be sure and watch until the blazing conclusion, and note the exceptional use of sound, the airplane's engine heightening the suspense of the dive, the immense roar of the flames, the thundering crash. And remember: It was made in 1930!

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Name That Movie Round 2, Clip 10


And now we move on to clip 10. Bob has a point and both Flickhead and Bill have four each. Who will be the first to the halfway point of five? Bill? Flickhead? Or will some hot dog be revealed who sweeps through the next ten clips to grab the brass ring? Doubtful but who knows. Here's this week's clip.

*****UPDATE***** In a new land speed record Bill got it seconds after it posted. Congrats Bill!


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Don't Forget

Name That Movie at 11:00 a.m. EST, today.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Shot


Rouben Mamoulian and Greta Garbo set up the famous closing shot of Queen Christina.



*****Click for extreme enlargement*****



Two things stick out for me in this photo


*****UPDATE BELOW*****



One thing I've learned scouring the historical photo archives on the internet is just how many people are famous at any given moment only to be forgotten just a few years later. This is Sabrina and when I happened across the caption concerning "the television rage in England in 1958" I had to see who they were talking about. Up came this photo.

The next thing I did was go to Wikipedia to look up this mysterious Sabrina, born Norma Ann Sykes on May 19, 1933. It took only reading to the second sentence to discover that her "main claim to fame" involved her "prodigious breasts." I was, shall we say, unsurprised. And apparently, and I refer to the photo caption, she did a tv show as well although Wikipedia doesn't mention it. Later she was involved with Steve Cochran, which is kind of fitting I guess because he was famous in many circles for his, uh, prodigious penis. That's mentioned in Wikipedia too, although they use the term "well endowed." They must have made quite a pair. Or should I say trio?

Sabrina is still alive and well and living in Hollywood, no longer required to wear ridiculous torpedo bras that make it look as if she is concealing two Renaissance conical hats under her blouse. She has fan sites dedicated to her, including this one, The Sabrina Site, as well as that site's offshoot, a society devoted to preserving her heritage called Best Of Our Beautiful Sabrina. Yes, yes, take a look at the letters and figure out the acronym for yourself.

Her last movie was The Phantom Gunslinger with Troy Donahue in 1970 and though a very quick and admittedly lazy search produced no results, I could swear someone whose blog I follow reviewed that movie at some point. I'd love to hear more about it if that's true. Never seen it so if you have please chime in with some thoughts on it. And wish Sabrina a Happy Birthday this May 19th. She will be 76.

*****UPDATE***** Since Satan in High Heels was mentioned not once but twice in the comments I figured I'd upload a clip so we could enjoy the acting stylings of Sabrina. From the Sabrina website mentioned above, here's the clip. Enjoy.


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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Thoughts on This Happy Breed


I watched David Lean's 1944 This Happy Breed yesterday for the first time and was very pleased with this British soap opera, adapted from a play by Noel Coward. It covers 20 years in the life of a middle-class British family, much the same way Coward's Cavalcade covered decades in the life of an upper-class family 11 years earlier in 1933. David Lean's direction and the leads' formidable talents (Celia Johnson - so wonderful an actress, Robert Newton, Stanley Holloway, John Mills) kept everything moving at a brisk pace and held one's attention as the years raced by. Afterwards I did some reading up on it and three things came to mind, two of which I had read just recently online.

First, I was reminded of something Arbogast said in his post on the 1951 film Five where he made reference to critics not actually seeing a movie but writing a review or synopsis anyway. As I scoured write-ups on This Happy Breed the first one that crossed my path was a brief, positive write up at a film site in which the critic quoted the lines spoken by Robert Newton to his grandson at the film's end. The only problem with that? That scene is in the play, not the movie. Our esteemed critic looked up This Happy Breed for quotes, came across lines from the play not contained within the movie and went with it. Oops.

Second, I was reminded of something Roger Ebert said by way of Jim Emerson's blog Scanners in this post. The summary of Ebert's thoughts being how surprising it is when a critic, in this case Ebert, discovers everyone else thinks the opposite way about a movie than he does. I felt this way as I searched and found one positive review after another, confirming my own views on the film, until I came across this from Halliwell's Film Guide, most likely from editor John Walker since the review was a part of the new restoration of the movie in 2008 and Leslie Halliwell died in 1989: Coward's domestic epic is unconvincingly written and largely miscast, but sheer professionalism gets it through, and the decor is historically interesting.

I know everyone is entitled to their own opinion and we all see things differently and yadda, yadda, yadda but the person who wrote that not only stands alone but clearly didn't see the movie, so it's a two-for-one deal really. Anyone who couldn't see the tremendous performances given by Celia Johnson and Robert Newton is someone who simply can't see good acting. Miscast? That's insane. Johnson and Newton are perfectly cast. They seem like an average unglamorous middle-class couple. Some of the actors are a little old for their parts at first, it's true, but that's because it was easier for the filmmakers to put lots of cover-up on their faces for the earlier scenes when they are in their twenties and then show them as is twenty years later in the story, rather than cast young actors for the early scenes and apply unconvincing old-age make-up later on. Makes sense to me. Unconvincingly written? Maybe Coward's dialogue lacks the necessary naturalist, realistic ring to the modern ear but I found the characters and the scenarios surrounding them refreshingly lacking in the usual Coward upper-crust cleverness. All in all, I'd say it was one of Coward's better efforts (although he had little hand in the screenplay from what I understand).

Third, I thought of the sad life of Robert Newton. Interestingly, I had just spoken of him to my wife a week before after I came across some archival photos of him being arrested for being drunk and disorderly or driving while intoxicated or the like, photos I would never put up here. His alcoholism weakened his body until at the early age of 50 his heart gave out and he died. But he was an excellent actor and left behind a legacy that few actors or, well, anyone can claim the equivalent of. You see, Robert Newton played Long John Silver in Walt Disney's Treasure Island in 1954. Now plenty of actors had played Silver before, including Wallace Beery in the 1934 version, and others from Errol Flynn to Basil Rathbone had played pirates, and they all used voices they thought fitting for the character. But it was Newton who decided to use that voice - the voice - the pirate voice. The one we all know. Now it's true, Lionel Barrymore is credited with the first use of "Arrrggh" in Treasure Island (1934) but it was Newton that provided the full accent, his native Dorset accent, one of the West Country Dialects, that gave the world the Pirate Voice, as it is now known and spoken by people like me ( and you too right? ) every September 19th, on International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Fine performances, crisp direction and fast pacing all made This Happy Breed an enjoyable experience for me. It's an excellent showcase for the talents of Johnson, Newton, Holloway and Mills, all in top form. And it's a reminder that Newton was gone too soon, but left a legacy behind most actor's couldn't dream of, outside of possibly Bela Lugosi: He's been copied, imitated and impersonated by practically everyone on the planet at one time or another in their lives. Unfortunately most folks don't know it, so this September 19th, be sure and tell anyone who calls you "matey" that their imitating Robert Newton. It's time he got his due.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Inedible


I've enjoyed photography for years and often I enjoy taking photos of the ugly side of life. Not all the time, I take pretty pictures too, but when I see something neglected, I'm drawn to it. I enjoy heightening the contrast on a photo as well to bring out the "harshness" of the subject, as I've done here. If you live in Silver Spring this might actually be familiar to you. These two barrels have existed at the back of the CVS parking lot off of University Blvd for years. I don't know what's inside them but I do know the sign across the front is thoroughly, completely and absolutely unnecessary.


Click to enlarge and see barrels in all their nauseating glory.

Photo, Inedible, © Copyright Cinema Styles, 2008.

Spread of Activation VI: The Harpers Index Edition*


1 - Number of Werner Herzog documentaries I've seen. Grizzly Man for the curious. I was struck by how much like a mockumentary it felt. Timothy Treadwell, the tragic figure at its center, seems like a Christopher Guest creation, which oddly, made the whole thing more troubling for me.

2 - Number of times I've seen Aguirre, the Wrath of God.

5 - Number of times I saw Star Wars in the theatre. I now find myself in the same place as so many others of my generation: Uninspired and unimpressed with the trilogy, and wondering why I ever was in the first place.

2 - Number of times I saw Empire Strikes Back in theatre.

1 - Return of the Jedi.

3 - Return of the King, third in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The youngest son absolutely loved it and had to keep seeing it. I liked it, but by the third time, I wanted to die, and I couldn't tell him that.

24 - Age I was when I first saw The Man Who Would Be King, on television as it turns out. I loved it and it became one of the first movies I ever bought on DVD.

107 - Number of DVDs I own of movies from the thirties and forties. Would like to make it around 10700.

*** - Number of DVDs from the nineties on that I own that I'm too embarrassed to publish. For the first ten years or so of the existence of DVDs I simply bought any new movie to watch it, whether good or bad. Many are being donated now to the local library.

1 - Number of posts, reviews or write-ups I've done of movies made in the nineties. It was the atomic bomb documentary Trinity and Beyond (1997).

1 - Number of comments that review got, on the old Haloscan commenting system. It was from Sheila. I responded to make it two.

235 - Most comments I've ever gotten on a post. It was The Tin Drum post and thus expected to be big with everyone watching it and discussing it as part of the TOERIFC February selection.

308 - Current number of comments on the Siren's latest post, done over a week ago, and last responded to by the Siren days ago and yet the comments keep coming in. And it wasn't a part of any film club discussion. Just so we all know where we stand.

478 - Estimated number of times Fox has made me slap my forehead or roll my eyes with a comment he has posted.

17 - Estimated number of times Bill has said in the comments that he was going to punch Fox in the mouth.

587 - Estimated number of times that Bill or I have feared we offended Marilyn. Also estimated number of times Bill or I have assumed we are no longer liked by the blogging community.

2 - Number of movie blogs my wife reads. Me and Arbo. Sorry guys, it's nothing against any of the rest of you, it's just her thing. What can I say.

??? - Number of movie blogs I read. I've lost track.

112 - Estimated number of times Kimberly or Peter has written up a movie I am completely unfamiliar with, even by reputation. I am continually impressed.

237 - Estimated number of movies Ed Howard reviews a week. His blog should get a speeding ticket.

1 - Number of blogs I know of with Coosa in the title.

1 - Number of blogs I know of with Infield Fly Rule in the title.

1 - Number of gratuitous plugs for The Invisible Edge in this post. And it's this one.

*No actual movie stats, just personal ones.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ethel Barrymore does her part in the fight against tuberculosis


Today is World Tuberculosis Day and while we forget here in the states how devastating something like tuberculosis can be due to our easy access to advanced medical care we should be reminded it still kills almost one and a half million people each year. The American Lung Association formed in 1904 to fight the disease and began selling Christmas seals to raise money for the cause. Pictured immediately below is Ethel Barrymore in 1921 at a Christmas seals drive. Barrymore was nominated four times for an Oscar, winning Best Supporting Actress on her first nod for None but the Lonely Heart. Below her picture is General John Pershing, before he had a missile named after him, and President Woodrow Wilson, both participating in drives as well. After that is a series of four WPA posters from between 1936 and 1941, the first two issued in New York and the next two in Chicago. Finally, two posters from France, issued in 1917.



















Monday, March 23, 2009

Name That Movie Bonus Round


I decided to go with a theme today for Name That Movie, and so both clips take place on the water, in comparably sized boats. No smuggling or sharks in this one though.

*****UPDATE*****

Flickhead surges back. See comments for answer. Bill and Flickhead are now tied, 4 to 4.


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Name That Movie, Second Round, Clip 8


No, that's not the Orca and the captain's not Quint. But that is one huge-ass shark! Now... Name That Movie!

*****UPDATE*****

Bill has won again. Go to the comment section for the answer. And if you go here you will see that Bill R has become the first ever FOUR-PEATER with Name That Movie! Yes, Flickhead and Arbo both three-peated but Bill is the only one to four-peat. Congratulations Bill. Bonus Round up at noon.


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The Inside Dope on Name That Movie...


... is that it will be up today around eleven. And since I missed last week's Name That Movie, a Bonus Round will go up at noon. Good luck to all.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Puttin' on the Ritz!


The Ritz Brothers perform for a patriotic rally in 1951, I Am An American Day, not to be confused with Citizenship, or Constitution, Day (an actual Federal Holiday) which falls on September 17th each year and was formerly known as I am an American Day before becoming an official holiday in 2004. No, no, this was an entirely different patriotic rally. "Huh? What?" you ask. It doesn't matter. What matters is the Ritz Brothers were old school entertainers. The kind who kept the show going even if children were being traumatized. Case in point, these photos. (and for God's sake, click to enlarge, especially the last two, for the full effect).




Here's Jimmy, Harry and Al mugging for the camera. Harry, in the middle, has a freakish tan that gives him an even more psychotic appearance than his usual mugging already provides.

____________________




Onto a trademark dance routine. They're having a great time and the audience is loving it (we assume).

____________________




Now Harry decides it would be a good idea to pick up a kid from the front row and have some fun with him. The kid is clearly terrified but that doesn't stop the other two from wanting to join in the fun. This has to qualify as one of the most unintentionally disturbing celebrity shots I've ever seen.

____________________



Finally, with all three holding the child, and Harry now looking especially demonic, a final photo is snapped before the child is left to move on with his now traumatized childhood. As Tom Sutpen might say, They Were Unwilling Collaborators.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Requiescat in Pace

Natasha Richardson, May 11, 1963 – March 18, 2009.

A Conscious Effort

"... when I see a fact plainly I feel lightened, set free from the more or less conscious effort to maintain a delusion." - Anne Truitt, Daybook: The Journal of an Artist.

Lately, I've become a bit obsessed with scouring online historical archives of letters, manuscripts and photos that I have access to at work. Many are even open without a subscription and many are available in such public arenas for anyone to search on such as the Library of Congress archives where Wikimedia Commons and Shorpy get most of their photos. Since they're open for anyone to search I've taken to scouring the lot at home too. I've always had a fascination with the past and my love of old movies is a part of that. I not only love the art form itself, but I love the idea of old movies acting as a sort of time capsule. Ever since I watched Dancing Lady and put up the video of the chorus girls singing The Gang's All Here (second clip at the bottom of the post) I've wondered what happened to them? What direction did their lives take? I wondered the same after posting about Debra Paget and Gloria Krieger in which I detailed the arcs of their respective careers. But it's more than just movie chorus girls and bygone studio hopefuls. It's also all the people that never had anything to do with show business.


Scouring the archival news photos produces an uneasiness at times and a sadness as well. There are crime photos of policemen at the scene of a brutal beating or murder. There are photos of people living on the edge of society, making do, scraping by. Photos of poor children from the Depression clinging to their mothers. And most photos come with names included, as well as addresses and dates. And yet searches online come up blank in an effort to find out more about them. Alas, events as bad occur so often and situations as dire exist worldwide with such permanence and repeat with such consistency that most records are limited to a caption on a news photo. There simply isn't any other information on these people available and soon enough, they are all forgotten.

Then there are the time capsule photos, personal portraits from another time and place. There's a Navajo child with a blanket around his head in 1905. He looks to be about five years old. It's a stretch to think he's still alive, but having a 109 year old person today isn't nearly as rare or extraordinary as it used to be. Whether alive or dead, I wonder what his life was like. Of course, I'll never know.

And this fascination of mine goes back well before the internet came along. In my early teens I used to go to the local college's library and spend hours going through microfilm from the early twentieth century. I read about the Titanic, the Stock Market crash of 1929, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the 1964 Anchorage earthquake and so on, all from the perspective of what was written in that moment, before it became rigid history.

And when I had my driver's license I drove deep into the rural areas of my birth state, South Carolina. I'd get in the car and drive for an hour or two until I was as far away from civilization as I could get, until I was surrounded by tens of thousands of acres of marsh and communities without electricity, where they farm what they eat and bury their dead in makeshift cemeteries near their homes. I stopped at a couple of these cemeteries, a few miles into the woods off of Highway 41. The names of men and woman who had lived for only a few years or for ninety were burned into thick pieces of wood acting as tombstones. What had their lives been like? Were they aware of many of the historic events of their day or did they live sheltered in their own community unaware of most of the goings on of the outside world? Had they ever watched a television? Been to a movie? Listened to a radio? Talked on a phone?

When I left South Carolina all those years ago I knew I would be leaving those explorations behind but I wasn't sure how much longer those areas would survive anyway. On visits back home in the nineties I found new mini-mansions going up just a mile or two from the rural areas I once frequented. The roads leading up to them, once dirt for miles, were now paved up to the new homes. And power lines were now evident where before there were none. Are those communities and cemeteries I drove to many years ago still there or have the remaining families been bought out and relocated? I assume the latter only because new technology like Google maps has allowed me to search the areas I once visited without physically returning to them. From overhead anyway, they look pretty full now. And so one more remnant of the past is lost forever. Had I taken pictures back then there might be that to show for it but like those news photos it still wouldn't tell much of a story. Most of it will always reside only within the memory.

But memories don't even last very long, including memories within familial generations. Grandparents are often remembered firsthand but great-grandparents are only names from stories related by older relatives. Great-great-grandparents are usually unknown to most family members even by way of story. Beyond that, going back five or so generations most of us have no clue as to who was in our family at that time or what their names were. And even if we do because we researched our genealogy it's still not the same as having an actual memory of them.

Eventually, everyone reading this post will be forgotten. Not a one of us will be remembered beyond a certain point in time. Even those figures in history who changed the landscapes of their times are eventually just a name that very few people know. Figures from a few hundred years in the past are still known well enough today but go back three thousand years and the number of people who know the rulers of Egypt or Greece or China will drop by factors of ten. In ten thousand years the 20th Century figures so prominent in our historical studies today will be completely and totally forgotten to all but a few of the most ardent history enthusiasts. That's because so much will happen in the next ten thousand years that will gradually overtake all that came before.

Of course, in the end, the universe will run its course regardless of what any of us do. No matter how important we may think we are, the fact is that a stray dog or an oak tree or a pebble on the side of the road will have as much impact on the outcome of the universe as you, and they're not even trying. All we can hope for is to make our time here worthwhile, for both ourselves and those important to us.


My wife makes life worthwhile for me as do my adopted children, my cat, my friends and family and my online friends and fellow bloggers. Sometimes I feel like abandoning them all in a fit of insecure temperament. A feeling of not being impactful enough on the things around me, impactful in a positive way. But of course I don't. There's too much still to be experienced and for most of it, I'm the only record it's ever going to have. Once I'm gone most of those records will go with me.

And that includes movies. Even though thousands of movies from the thirties and before exist in digital form most are not viewed in anything approaching the numbers of even the most moderately successful January filler movie put out by Studio A. I don't express it enough in comments on other blogs (something I've become very remiss in doing lately outside of my core group of blogs, and you know who you are because of my comments there) but I have a level of appreciation that goes far beyond what a "thanks" or "great post" could ever adequately express. When I see one of my online friends review a little known film from the thirties or forties or any decade really, I feel a pleasure and a pride at being a part of that community. I may not comment as often as I should on the classic film blogs that fill my blogroll, or the other blogs that deal with a specific niche or genre, but I am grateful for what they do. And when a blogger writes up a film that few people have bothered to see they are recording it for history. It's true. You see, outside of the big classics or the current blockbusters there isn't a huge online digital archive of reviews for thousands and thousands of little known or underseen movies. For better or worse, the blogs and the websites are historical archives that keep the memory alive for everything from The Third Secret, Witchcraft, and Gabriel Over the White House to Beyond the Rocks, Edvard Munch, or La BĂȘte Humaine. I'd like to keep contributing to that community myself and continue to be one of its record keepers.

But I grow weary. Weary of the structure, weary of restricting or limiting myself based on what type of blog I'm supposed to be running. A weariness that soon turns to hopelessness. I cannot start another blog. I simply cannot do it. I have three running right now and a fourth would drive me over the edge. I'd rather just throw everything in here, stir it up and see what happens. The name of the blog is Cinema Styles and I'd like to explore the cinema more deeply. But I'd like to explore that which is spoken to me by photography as well, even if said photograph has nothing to do with the movies. Tom Sutpen's blog If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger, There'd Be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats has always been an inspiration to me, so in love with the photographic record of the past as I am. I'd like to take that inspiration and make something of it right here on Cinema Styles. So expect to start seeing photos from history outside of the movies as well. Maybe even my own photos will post from time to time, maybe my own movies, and not just the montages but original productions. I don't know what I want to do exactly and I probably never will. But I do know this: I don't want to be weighed down by delusions anymore. I've got a humdrum job and my wife and I struggle to make ends meet. That's a fact. We find solace in each other and our art. And I find solace in memory, the collective memory of the world around me and I want to keep that memory alive for as long as I can and in any way that I can. It's a journey I want to take and if you want to go along with me I welcome you. If not, I understand and no offence taken but don't act surprised when decidedly non-movie posts begin to appear with more frequency. The focus here will always be the movies, fear not, but a little branching out is good for the soul.


A love of history is as big a part of me as a love of film and for me, they go hand in hand. I see movies when I read about history which is to say I see stories being told. And when I see a movie I see moments preserved in time. A movie like It Happened One Night, this past weekend's Friday Night Movie for me, my wife and our youngest who made the selection, isn't just a great road comedy but a visual record of how things looked in 1934. Even if how they looked is only how things looked for movies at that time, or how people spoke, it's still a record of that. And the past recorded by photograph or film is something I'd like to explore more deeply. And so I shall. Like I said before, join me if you will, the choice is yours. I'll make the journey regardless but I'd love to have some company. And let's lay that name illusion to rest for good. I've had all I can take of the moniker "Jonathan Lapper." After almost two years I know it's quite an adjustment to throw on people and I apologize but I don't want any curtains obscuring anything here, anymore. A couple of you already know this but for the rest of you my first name is Greg and my last name is the same as the director of Bad Lieutenant who has the first name Abel. To keep it relatively Google search safe from work (notice I didn't actually spell out the last name but feel free to use it just as you would use Lapper) I'll go by Greg F., taking my inspiration from my friend Bill R. And since so many I've met here ARE my friends, I feel they should call me by my name. My real name.

And that's it for now. I look forward to sharing and recording images and thoughts on movies and history and blurring the line between both. And sharing photographs and movies of my own creation. And I'll enjoy doing it as myself. Finally.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Monday I'll Be Up the Creek

But Rick should provide an ample paddle with his post on Boudu Saved from Drowning. If you've seen the movie either recently enough, or just plain enough times to make informed comments on it please stop by Coosa Creek Cinema and join in the discussion. Thanks.

******REMINDER******

No Name That Movie this week due to discussion at the Creek. Back next week with Two, yes TWO, to make up for this weeks absence.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Spread of Activation V: The Uninspired Edition


I'm not dead yet. I'm still here. Just a little off-center this week as personal matters have taken priority over blogging matters. This whole week has been a bit discombobulating and next week won't be a lot better and as such my brain is in a scramble as to what to write about. Let's start with a reminder: On Monday, March 16th the illustrious Boudu Rick Olson of Coosa Creek Cinema will be hosting the 3rd featured film of the The Oldest Established Really Important Film Club, known around these parts as TOERIFC. Rick will be putting up a piece on Jean Renoir's Boudu Saved from Drowning. If you know it well or have just watched it please join in the discussion. But a reminder, these discussions delve into the details of the film in question so please make sure it's either a recent viewing or a film known very well to you if you choose to join in. I'll give Boudu another look before Monday and can hardly wait to read Rick's piece.

Reminders aside I've spent some time in the last week catching up on movies from the last couple of years that I didn't get around to upon their release. One from fairly recently was Wall-E and if you've read anything I've written on CGI movies before you'll probably not be too surprised by my reaction which was tepid. However, I can say this: It's probably the best CGI movie I've seen, I didn't dislike it, and most importantly, it helped me to finally figure out what I can't stand about CGI movies, and it has nothing to do with the CGI part of it (except in live-action movies where the CGI is usually a lazy way to produce filler). It's the goddamned anthropomorphized characters! That's what I hate! Why did this movie finally reveal that to me and none of the others did? Because I love science fiction that's why! I kept thinking if only this were live-action and the robots were simply that, robots, used to collect samples and the Captain and/or a couple of other people on the starship Axiom were the real main characters investigating what Earth was all about and slowly discovering to their horror that it was all lost - Now THAT'S A MOVIE I COULD GET BEHIND! But instead I got lot's of cute back and forth between two fluffy floppy eared bunnies named Wall-E and E.V.E. in the guise of robots for an hour and a half and an ending far, far, FAR too easy for a story with this one's implications. And once again I was left concluding that either the state of film criticism in this country is at an all-time low or maybe this is as good as it gets. I mean, if this thing was coming in near the top of lists at the end of the year then I can only conclude standards are pretty low. It's fine, done well and I don't hate it. But it could have, and should have, been so much more.

Speaking of science fiction another movie I saw was Danny Boyle's Sunshine which left me tremendously disappointed. I can say with little doubt that I have rarely been so annoyed at a director's visual choices as I was with the last 15 minutes of Sunshine. There has been much talk of a genre shift in the last act of the movie but a genre shift can be an invigorating thing when done well. No, what people didn't discuss enough of was that there was a stylistic shift and that's what made the difference. We've all seen films that go from comedy to drama and back again, or a thriller that ends up a romance and so on. A genre shift is not a bad thing. What Danny Boyle does that is unforgivable at the end of Sunshine is a stylistic shift, and that's not a good thing. It's incompetent. Like doing two-thirds of a painting expressionist and then doing the last corner as an abstract. In the last act we shift from general third person setups where the camera centers its characters and frames the action in an unobtrusive way, over the shoulder, two shots, etc to herky jerky bizarro POV shots where we are told who the killer/monster is - that's important, we are told who it is - and yet Boyle hides his face and figure from us. Remember now, WE KNOW WHO IT IS!!! There is no reason to hide his face unless for some reason you are an incompetent buffoon behind the camera who doesn't understand even the simplest notions of third act payoffs. I suspect of course that Boyle is no incompetent buffoon which makes his blurred visual shift in the last act even more confusing. Upon reflection I believe Boyle knew the screenplay took a nose dive near the end and by providing jarring and confusing imagery the audience might be distracted. And on a personal level, I don't like pretty boys playing physicists. It tears down the fourth wall for me.

Finally, by way of sci-fi/monster movies I saw Cloverfield and finally came away satisfied. Not absolutely and completely but enough to call it even and walk away with some sense of accomplishment. I didn't feel the extended opening party sequence added a whole hell of a lot to the movie (the same character relations and connections could have been made in half the time) but nevertheless, the pace was quick, the creature unexplained and the characters kept the movie alive. They didn't interest me on any personal level but they felt real enough to keep me going with it. In the end, I don't know if or when I'll watch it again (it feels like a movie that may be more effective if seen only once - that make any sense to anybody?) but I thought it was good and probably the best monster movie I've seen in years.

And then, lots of personal stuff happened that has kept me from blogging but I am writing. What, I don't know but I'm writing. I don't know how much of it is about movies, but it's therapeutic and I'll force it all on you sometime next week. And one final note: Name that Movie will be taking the week off. TOERIFC discussions usually occupy the whole day, at least for the first two (No pressure or anything Rick) so I don't want to interfere with that. As a TOERIFC founding member and supporter I must stick to my policy of no posts on discussion day, except a reminder post letting everyone know where I'll be and what the discussion is all about: Boudu Saved from Drowning at the Creek. Be there!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Zsa Zsa and George


And just because the Siren has a post or two on Mr. Sanders currently up at her place, here are three from the archives of George with second wife Zsa Zsa Gabor. Taken in 1952.






Name that Movie, Round 2, Clip 7


First Flickhead got three in a row, now Bill has two in a row. Can Bill three-peat too? We shall see. Here's the clip.

*****UPDATE*****

Bill has three-peated! The correct answer is The Naked Jungle. It's Chuck Heston and Eleanor Parker battling billions of soldier ants on the march. In my book, that's a "can't miss plot." Congratulations Bill.



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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Watchmen


Pocket Watchmen that is. This year marks the 30th anniversary of one of my favorite seventies sci-fi flicks, Time After Time. The fact that this trailer uses the exact same music as the Watchmen trailer is purely coincidental. Purely. Enjoy.


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Friday, March 6, 2009

That's No Meter-Maid!


From the archives, a couple of candid shots of Rita Hayworth in July of 1951. I'm still waiting for Dante's Inferno (1935) to be released on DVD. I saw it years ago on AMC, back before they degenerated into a poor man's USA network (if it's even possible for the USA network to have a poor man's version). I recall liking it and have wanted to see it again for years. Rita has a small dancing part in it, billed as "Rita Cansino."





Thursday, March 5, 2009

You're Just a Little Mixed Up



Fox: [referring to the subjects of Jonathan's critiques] Have you ever seen any of your victims?


Jonathan: Victims? Don't be melodramatic. Look at the DVD playing on the monitor. Tell me Fox. Would you really feel any pity if one of those pixels stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand Euros for every pixel that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many pixels you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man. Free of income tax - the only way you can save money nowadays.

Fox, you're just a little mixed up about things. ...in general. Nobody thinks in terms of human beings. Film critics don't, so why should we? They talk about the actors, and the characters... I talk about the suckers and the mugs... It's the same thing. They have their top ten-film plan, and so have I. Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in America for 10 years under the blogs they had flame wars, comment spam, hacking, and Windows Vista, but they produced Dennis Cozzalio, dissent and discussion, TOERIFC and the Movie Blogaissance. In the 90s they had web sites - they had 8 years of consensus and agreement and no comment sections, and what did that produce? Harry Knowles. So long Fox.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Get Your Boudu Banners now at TOERIFC!


Go to TOERIFC now for all your sidebar banner shopping. The next selection, Boudu Saved from Drowning, directed by Jean Renoir, kicks off March 16th at Coosa Creek Cinema hosted by Rick Olson. The sidebar banners are now up and ready to be used, just follow the link provided above or this one here. There are twelve days still to go so there's still plenty of time to get a hold of it, through rental or sale, and join in the discussion on the 16th. You do not have to be a selecting member to join in the discussion, just someone who has seen the movie and wants to take part in the discussion. And to those who have e-mailed me about selecting movies, that can all be worked out shortly. At this point we have more than enough selecting members so I don't know how many more we will add since each member will want to choose a movie more than once every two years but for now we can probably add on a couple more, which we have already gotten e-mails for requesting spots.

So, basically, we welcome anyone who wants to join up and I'll be happy to put you on the TOERIFC sidebar as a discussing member but I think for now we're holding off on making anyone else a selecting member. For the time being. That may change in the future so keep checking back. Thanks.

Marie and Lionel (and Sidney)

Marie Dressler on the set of her penultimate film, Dinner at Eight, with Lionel Barrymore and below on the set of her last film, Christopher Bean, again with Lionel Barrymore. In Dinner with Eight she plays a high society dame, in Christopher Bean a maid. The latter is unavailable on DVD. It was based on the play The Late Christopher Bean by Sidney Howard who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1925 for They Knew What they Wanted and would become the first person awarded an Oscar posthumously when he received the 1939 Oscar for Best Screenplay for Gone With the Wind. He was only 48 when he was killed three and a half months before GWTW's premiere in an accident on his farm. His tractor had been left in gear and when he went to the front to crank it, it drove him into the wall and crushed him.





Click on the above pics for very large versions, from the archives.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Limping Lady


I bought Dancing Lady on DVD recently and used a clip for the most recent Name that Movie contest, correctly guessed by Bill R. of The Kind of Face You Hate. I posted a still from it a few months ago here on Cinema Styles and wrote: "Although it has quite an impressive cast (Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Franchot Tone, May Robson, Robert Benchley and, yes, the Three Stooges) Dancing Lady (1933) is mainly remembered as the film debut of one Fred Astaire, playing himself, a dancer on Broadway, doing a single number with Joan. Less than one month later, he would have a significant supporting role in Flying Down to Rio where he would team for the first time with Ginger Rogers." Well now I know why it's primarily remembered for Astaire's debut. There's not much else about it worth remembering.


Dancing Lady is a pretty mediocre romp about dancing queen Janie Barlow, played by Joan Crawford, fighting for respectability in the dancing world. It's directed by Robert Z. Leonard who displays no feel for snappy dialogue at all. And I mean none. There's plenty of snappy dialogue in the script but instead of having it move at a quick clip like Hawks or La Cava, it just hangs there with each actor waiting three or four beats before and after every line. The story itself isn't sturdy enough to hang even a straw hat on and what little story there is is made less interesting by the fact that Joan Crawford... how to put this... well, she just isn't any good. Coming a year after giving a wonderful supporting performance in Grand Hotel and a few years before other great performances in The Women and Mildred Pierce here she seems lost. Her delivery is so flat you feel a real empathy for Franchot Tone and Clark Gable for having to play up against such a dreadful partner (on and off screen - for both of them). But then you realize they're no great shakes either. Tone's got smug down pat but it gets tiresome and Gable blusters and blusters but to no effect. Then it hits you: It's the director and the script, not the actors. It's the director because of the pacing of the dialogue referred to earlier. And it's the script because all those quips don't add up to anything. And so the actors have nothing to build on. They're just delivering a series of disconnected lines until the curtain comes down.


Where director Leonard shows his skill is with the camera. Dancing Lady looks fantastic. Leonard gets great shots of his stars, knowing when to go straightforward with a fully lit two shot and when to bring in the dramatic lighting for a pensive shot of Crawford gazing out the window in silhouette. It looks great and visually holds your interest. It's one of the principle reasons Leonard got the directing job for The Great Ziegfeld three years later. But lighting and art direction seemed to be Leonard's only interests which may explain why Buster Keaton is rumored to have taken over much of the direction from him for In the Good Old Summertime years later in 1949 (and one look at the umbrella fiasco when Judy Garland and Van Johnson first meet will tell you right away that Keaton was at the helm). Leonard just doesn't seem too concerned with his actors.


In the end, none of it matters because once we get to the big finale all is forgiven. Not because it's so good, but because it's so bad. Clark Gable plays Patch Gallagher (no, he doesn't smash watermelons), the producer/director of the Broadway show that will star Barlow in all of her dancing glory. In a big dramatic moment, he throws out everything rehearsed so far and tells his backers it's got to be a show about a working class girl scraping her way to the top. Janie Barlow understands that life. She can play the part of this burlesque girl reaching for respectability. Okay, fine. But then we see the show and it has nothing to do with that. Nothing. I'm not kidding. I'm not exagerrating in any way. Not even slightly. It has absolutely nothing to do with that. After the huge dramatic scene where the audience is informed this is going to be the story of a girl from the streets clawing her way to the top, we get an opening number about beer (yes, beer) with Fred Astaire and then a number about everybody going modern and then a bunch of women on a merry-go-round. And then... that's it. Huh? But no matter, the bizarre ending still works. Visually it looks terrific if musically it could use a lot of help. I've included two clips below, the merry-go-round finale, to provide you with meaningless eye-candy until our star rides in on her own painted pony at the end and then the best moment in the movie, the performing of The Gang's All Here. Wow, it's bad! Leonard, or somebody, had the idea to have a different showgirl each sing one line from the song. It's clear no one bothered to synch the song for them to listen to and make sure they all sung it in the same tempo. Or, hell, the same anything. Each showgirl is clearly trying to make an impression by doing her one line in a special, unique way and the result is unharmonious, discombobulated and (well, for me and my wife at least) a little on the hilarious side. I could give you my own breakdown of what I think each showgirl was striving for with their "moment" but I'd rather you enjoy it yourself. I think my favorite is the fourth one who says "let's have beer" so non-chalantly that if you don't have the volume turned up to eleven you won't even hear her. It's like she swallowed a healthy dose of valium just before the shoot.


In a strange way I almost kind of recommend Dancing Lady as an example of how well musicals like The Gay Divorcee and Gold Diggers of 1933 succeeded. Dancing Lady plays like a movie that thinks it's easy to do this kind of thing. Just get some stars, a few witty lines and a big finale and you're good to go. But it's not that easy. The Gay Divorcee and Gold Diggers of 1933 make it look easy, sure, but Dancing Lady shows just how easy it is to fool yourself into thinking otherwise.




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One last bonus item. A great still found in the archives. It's from the salute to beer number "Go Bavarian" with Fred Astaire.



Monday, March 2, 2009

Name that Movie Round 2, Clip 6


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Name that Movie 25 is up. Who will guess it correctly? We'll find out. Good Luck! By the way, I have to go pick up a neighbor whose car broke down in the snow so it might be a while before I can confirm any guesses.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Poisoning Paradise



We all have dates in history that strike our attention once a year. Dates such as December 7th, November 22nd or September 11th. Dates that give us pause. Some dates mean more to one person than another. Some mean nothing at all to any but a very few. One of those dates, for me, is March 1st. Every year it swings around I stop and think about it. I don't bring it up but it's always there, on Wikipedia's "On This Day" entry but for those of us interested in the history of nuclear testing by this country, the Soviet Union, England, France and China no Wikipedia reminder is necessary. The date is the day the Castle Bravo event took place, local time, in the Marshall Islands. It was still February 28th in Washington, D.C. Castle Bravo was the detonation event of a dry fuel thermonuclear device, better known as a hydrogen bomb. In the parlance of nuclear testing, there is a series or operation name and a shot name. The series was Castle and included such shots as Romeo, Union and Bravo. Bravo was the biggest. And the most damaging.
It exceeded its expected yield by two and a half times. The reason it was so far off the mark is described well here but to long-story-short it, the physicists at Los Alamos failed to recognize that the lithium-7 isotope, thought to be inert, actually released neutrons as efficiently as the active lithium-6 isotope and boosted the fission of the uranium tamper by two and a half times. That fission process, which is only there to initiate the fusion process, ended up being responsible for 67 percent of the yield, while the fusion process produced only 33 percent.

But let's bring this down to human terms. According to a military official interviewed on Frontline in an episode in the eighties on testing, it was the first and only time the military and Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) got scared during a test. Observation ships more than 60 miles distant found themselves in danger when Bravo turned out to be not six megatons but fifteen. Crewmembers on observation ships were ordered below deck as fallout rained down for hours. The Marshall Islanders who had been evacuated to yet another new island found themselves being evacuated again, this time an emergency evacuation, as fallout created a snowstorm of radioactivity on their village. Adults and children unaware of what was going on began to taste the flakes and continued to drink the water that had become inundated. 65 miles away, in what should have been the safe zone, the Japanese fishing vessel, The Lucky Dragon #5, found itself in the path of fallout as well. By the time they returned to Japan three days later, everyone on board was in the throes of acute radiation sickness. One of the crew members died a few days later. So many tuna began turning up in the following weeks and months in Japan markets irradiated that the United States government had to reimburse Japan in the millions and apologize. The fact that the country in question was Japan only made matters worse.

Castle Bravo was a disaster. An absolute, unmitigated disaster.

I have about ten documentaries on DVD concerning nuclear testing, the Manhattan Project or the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. None deal exclusively with Castle Bravo but one, Radio Bikini, does give a good idea of how poorly treated the Marshall Islanders were. Directed by Robert Stone, it uses no narration, simply providing government film footage interspersed with interviews of Kilon Bauno, the Chief of the Bikini Islanders and John Smitherman, an American G.I. assigned to Operation Crossroads, the first series of tests ever conducted at Bikini.

The islanders of Bikini were taken from their series of 36 islands forming a massive 229 square mile lagoon to a series of single islands where there was a scarcity of fresh water, food and without a lagoon, effectively no fishing. They were promised they would be moved back to their homes but with each new test and each new layer of radioactive debris the dates moved further and further back.

Radio Bikini details the relocations from the pie in the sky perspective of the government films, to the more cynical perspectives of Chief Bauno and John Smitherman. Bauno tells the sad tale of his people being relocated again and again until finally they were at home nowhere and accepted by no one. Smitherman speaks of going directly to ground zero, shown in the archival footage as dozens of G.I.s in nothing but t-shirts and shorts walked around the irradiated remains of the ships blasted by shot Abel and shot Baker of Operation Crossroads just days after the blasts had occurred. Throughout the documentary Smitherman is shown in close-up and we suspect it is because a reveal will occur late in the film. It does of course, and we see Smitherman's grotesquely swollen hand as he sits in a wheel chair, his legs having been amputated due to their swelling to the point of endangering his life. At the time of the documentary, 1987, the government had not yet taken responsibility for the medical problems of its Atomic Veterans. Even after finally taking responsibility with the passage of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, passed in 1990, the government continued to run studies that showed no link between the tests and the cancers that later developed. In these studies, some conducted as late as 1997, all 40,000 participants in the tests (the overwhelming majority never venturing near ground zero) were used and when the number of participants who developed cancer was shown to be statistically insignificant they smugly concluded there was no connection. When filmmakers and writers like Robert Stone, Richard Miller, Harvey Wasserman, Norman Solomon, Robert Alvarez and Eleanor Walters did comparisons of ONLY those who went into the ground zero area, well... I probably don't have to tell you that the number who died from cancer was not statistically insignificant.
But the Act did pass. The details of compensatory payment in the Act are as follows:

Onsite Participant - $75,000
Downwinder - $50,000
Ore Transporter - $100,000

The Act also established a presumed connection between service on the tests and certain types of cancers, listed below. This was an important step on the part of the government. This made the act unambiguous. If you were an onsite participant and developed one of these cancers, it would be presumed to come from the test, no questions asked:

leukemia (except chronic lymphocytic leukemia)
multiple myeloma
lymphomas (except Hodgkin's disease)
liver (unless cirrhosis or hepatitis B is indicated)
thyroid
breast
esophagus
stomach
pancreas
pharynx
small intestine
bile ducts
gall bladder
urinary tract
salivary gland

As for the Bikini Islanders, here's the relevant quote on the matter from Wikipedia:

"In 1968 the United States declared Bikini habitable and started bringing a small group of Bikinians back to their homes in the early 1970s as a test. In 1978, however, the islanders were removed again when strontium-90 in their bodies reached dangerous levels after a French team of scientists did additional tests on the island. It was not uncommon for women to experience faulty pregnancies, miscarriages, stillbirths and damage to their offspring as a result of the nuclear testing on Bikini. The United States provided $150 million as a settlement for damages caused by the nuclear testing program."

Radio Bikini is under an hour long and readily available on Netflix. I recommend giving it a look. It came out a few years after The Atomic Cafe and is a welcome counterpoint in mood to that documentary, an excellent film no doubt but filled with a bit too much snark and irony to really hit the point home of the horrors of nuclear testing. Besides, its point is mainly how the government went to ridiculous measures to reassure us that everything was okay. And it succeeded very well. But Radio Bikini takes on the other side of the story. The story of suffering, of pain and loss and gross negligence. It is straight forward and sobering. It was 55 years ago today that Castle Bravo further poisoned the Marshall Islands. The remaining inhabitants and their descendants still haven't returned home.


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Below is a four minute segment on the Castle Bravo event from the documentary Trinity and Beyond (1997) directed by Peter Kuran and narrated by William Shatner. The clip gives the date February 28, 1954. It was detonated at 6:45 a.m., March 1, 1954, local time, which made it the afternoon of February 28th, Washington D.C. time. My review of Trinity and Beyond is here.



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