Tuesday, November 16, 2010

In Living (techni)Color, no. 2

Esther Williams, Van Johnson, Keenan Wynn & Lucille Ball from 1946's Easy to Wed.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Trailers, no. 1

The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

In Living (techni)Color, no. 1

Olivia De Havilland

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Sweethearts, no. 1

Joanne Woodward & Paul Newman
(This picture is so fantastic I had to start a photo theme in order to justify posting it.)
Tony Curtis, 1925-2010

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Missing Person

Once in a while you have to break your own rules.

Today I braced the pouring rain in coat and boots to the local video store, Movie Madness. Inside I walked by one of their many window displays of authentic movie props, and let the rather small Maltese Falcon from the 1941 movie put me in the mood for noir. I'm sure the weather helped as well.  I have been repeatedly disappointed by the more recent throwbacks to noir (Brick, The Man Who Wasn't There, to name a few) but eventually I stumbled across The Missing Person (2008) and decided to give it a try. And this is why I'm breaking the rules, and talking about a contemporary film on a site that I'm so obsessed with dedicating to old movies that I'm even wary of uploading color photographs onto it.

This film was one of those rainy day surprises when you're kind of already content just plopping down on the couch and taking whatever comes but are soon wide awake and loving every moment. Of all of the noir tributes, I'm going to make a bold statement and say this is the most successful one I've seen. Going down the required elements, you've got cigarettes, trains, your Marlowe-esque P.I., liquor, jazz, dingy hotel rooms and even a femme fatale clothed in black. It takes on the noir persona so flawlessly that the eventual appearances/mentions of cell-phones, Google, segways and a few other 21st Century gizmos or references do nothing to shatter the mood. Michael Shannon (where has this actor been all my life?) takes you through the film (and its contradictory modern L.A. & NY locations) like a lazy saunter, or a Southern drawl, or warm wine in your stomach. Add to this a supporting role by Amy Ryan, a jazzy soundtrack and wonderful dialogue. By the end credits I was left completely satisfied, and a bit sleepy--as if I actually had warm wine in my stomach, or had been put into a trance.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Metropolis, 2010

Okay, it is high time I intersperse all of these depressing obituaries with an actual post. Last night I ventured out into the Portland night life to catch the new "completely restored" (a misnomer since, as I felt jaded to discover before the screening, certain scenes were still missing) Metropolis. The missing scenes in question probably lasted no more than a full minute, so I'll give the newspapers and film scholars and archivists a break by agreeing this is the first time Fritz Lang's sci-fi masterpiece is being shown in full form since its Berlin premiere in 1927. 
 Some 25 minutes of "lost" footage was found and restored by two Argentinian film archivists who will, hopefully, have it made from now on as far as film restoration and preservation. Though the found footage was too damaged to perfectly sync in with the pristine crispness of the rest of the film (seriously, some of the fully restored scenes are jaw-droppingly gorgeous) they definitely add to the plot and overall comprehension of Lang's vision.

To get a peek at the restoration, here is the official website: http://www.kino.com/metropolis/
and a wonderful article on the SF screening, which was introduced by none other than Eddie Muller, and included a visit and commentary by the now quite famous archivists: http://twitchfilm.net/interviews/2010/07/sfsff-2010-metropolis-1927--onstage-interview-with-eddie-muller-paula-felix-didier-and-fernando-mart.php 

(After Portland, I believe the film returns to SF's the Castro Theater next week. I highly recommend it.)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Dennis Hopper, 1936-2010

Friday, May 14, 2010

Tangents of Celluloid

I'm not quite sure I get blogging. What are the rules, guidelines, if any? Or is it just common practice to write short, quick observations on the day's events and/or get right to the this-film-is-good/this-film-is-terrible point, and/or include so many inside jokes or web slang that only close friends can understand you? I feel like this blog has started falling into that instant gratification/depth-less fad lately. At one point it was becoming more important to me to chalk up another post rather than put some actual effort into it. I suppose, at the time, that was enough for me, what with work, and friends, and events, and other booked time, but the reason I started this blog was to expel the thoughts and philosophies and contemplations that film has always evoked in me, and to even understand why film brings such things to the surface-- i.e., the reasons I love cinema. I need to think. I need to contemplate, and consider, and question. I need to dig.

I make no promises or guarantees to myself about how long this clarity will last because everything changes--moods, truths, etc. Not even the original source of this blog will remain in every post, but at least it's clutched tight between my fingers right now--the reasons I love cinema. I love cinema because it allows me to see the connections. To lie down to bed one night and suddenly think of Elia Kazan (I'm sure weirder things have popped into your head) who makes me remember a confusing Oscars ceremony in 1999, that then channels my brain to HUAC and naming names, then leads me on an inner monologue about a person's true self in relation to crisis, which summons forth Kazan's 1950's counterpart, Arthur Miller, which then ends in an internal philosophical rant on what it is to fully understand oneself, and, incidentally, myself. All of this from Elia Kazan.

Isn't cinema wonderful?


* Elia Kazan has always attracted me; specifically the controversy that continues to surround him posthumously--he's a perfect example of a topic the art world has never really agreed on the answer to: can you separate the artist from his or her art? (Roman Polanski is another one who comes to mind, as well as Raymond Carver, who's talent is now being questioned with the recent evidence that it was, in fact, his editor who was largely responsible for his style. I can't help but also think of little Marla Olmstead, whose exceptional paintings inspired the documentary My Kid Could Paint That (2007) and whose reputation was threatened by the shocking rumor that her father was the actual artist.) What does it matter who created the art, especially after it has already been called art? Can an artist's unfavorable actions do irreparable damage to his or her creations, no matter how exceptional those creations are? Or are we as viewers wrong in taking those actions into consideration? Should the art be left alone? Film is a tricky area because most of the films we are exposed to are not abstract in the sense that a painting can be abstract; we think of film as narrative, as a story with a beginning and an end that usually offers a clear-cut message. I think this makes it much more difficult to separate a film from its director (who, although part of a team of creators, has always been recognized as the overseeing auteur).

* In 1999 my passion for classic cinema was just starting to bud. Names like Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers, and Greta Garbo were becoming regular references and favorites, but I hadn't quite expanded to release dates, directors, etc. Understandably, I neither recognized the name nor the face of the little old man who created such a stir at the Academy Awards that year--Elia Kazan was the recipient of the 1999 lifetime achievement award, and the mixture of enthusiastic applause, boos and hisses, and rigid faces when he accepted his award sparked my curiosity instantly. (Wikipedia claims that Meryl Streep, Kathy Bates, and Warren Beatty were among those who stood and applauded, Ed Harris and Nick Nolte sat perfectly still, and Steven Spielberg and Jim Carrey clapped politely while remaining seated.)

* Kazan directed two of the greatest films I've ever seen [On the Waterfront (1954), A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)] two of my personal favorites [A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945), East of Eden (1955)] and a slew of other great films [namely, the underrated A Face in the Crowd (1957)]. Despite the fact that he offered up 8 names to the monstrous House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952 (including John Garfield who Kazan worked with on the ironically titled Gentleman's Agreement (1948) and who was eventually blacklisted) these will always be great films. Still, I can't help but wonder what was going through Kazan's head when he agreed to turn on friends and co-workers.

* Usually I think of decisions like this as stemming from fear, (Kazan's former friend and blacklisted director Jules Dassin himself stated that Kazan was terrified of being separated from his work) and this forces me to think that who a person is, what their true character and essence are, lies in who they are in a crisis; who they are when backed up against a wall. This scares me. Because how do we know then who we really are until we're put in this kind of position? I can believe that I would "do the right thing" when facing a crisis or threat, that courage would overpower fear, but how do I really know? I want to believe it, but I have no guarantee.

* After Kazan's unfortunate run-in with HUAC, he directed On the Waterfront--an answer to his critics in which a heroic dockworker informs against a corrupt union boss. Former friend Arthur Miller, on the other hand, wrote The Crucible, which compared and exposed HUAC for what it really was-- a witch hunt. After Kazan's testimony he and Miller did not speak for 10 years. [Pictured: Kazan & Miller on the set of Death of a Salesman in 1949.]

I will always agree that Kazan was beautifully talented. I don't know if it's easy or hard to judge him, but I think I feel more pity for him than anything. If Dassin's belief was correct, if Kazan was really so terrified of losing his ability to make movies, if he needed cinema so desperately that he would sacrifice friends and colleagues. . . what torture that must have been. And how awful to have to prioritize and indulge in one fear over another for the sake of maintaining passion and creation.

These are the detours film leads me down when I'm not looking. Oh, I love cinema.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The music man, the music man, how I love the music man.

At a hefty 151 minutes long, this film could have continued for another 2 hours and I'd still want more. I don't think I can say the same for any other film, let alone any other musical. I'm not a big fan of the musical. I enjoy the classics--Singin' in the Rain (1952), The Sound of Music (1965)--and the edgier ones that came along later--Cabaret (1972), Victor/Victoria (1982)--but most of the time I avoid them. There's only so much musical sugary one can stomach in a lifetime (of course, anything with Judy Garland is an exception). Having said all of this, The Music Man (1962) has got to be one of the most delightfully enjoyable movie experiences I've ever, well, experienced.

Composer Meredith Willson started his career as a member of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and eventually landed in radio working on the Burns & Allen and Jack Benny programs. He also received awards for scoring Chaplin's The Great Dictator (1940) and the Bette Davis tour de force The Little Foxes (1941). Incredibly, The Music Man was his first Broadway musical, and he was well into his 50's by that time. My biggest problem with musicals is, appropriately, the music. There are usually a few great numbers, but very rarely is every song a catchy hit that I find myself humming for the next week or so. And more often than not, the love songs leave much to be desired. The drawn out high notes leave me cringing, and the rest leave me drifting off to sleep. Willson's score, however, contains hit after hit after hit. After hit.

I know some people would have preferred Barbara Cook in the role of Marian, who first portrayed the character on Broadway in 1957, but Shirley Jones is fantastic in this role, and her chemistry with Robert Preston is perfection. Speaking of Preston, can I just say thank God plans with Frank Sinatra and then Cary Grant fell through? As much as I love these fellas I can't imagine anyone else but Preston giving the right amount of sneaky panache or flamboyant trickery to Professor Harold Hill.

There are some excellent supporting roles in this film, including an 8 year old Ron Howard (credited as Ronny) and the Buffalo Bills, arguably the best barber shop quartet, then and now. Above is a video of my favorite musical number, "Marian the Librarian". Unfortunately there isn't enough detail to capture Jones's comedic expressions, or even clearly notice the brilliant flick of the wrist that sends her spectacles flying, but hopefully you get the picture. And if you've seen the film you already know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, I hope you enjoy this little theatrical gem and that it inspires you to seek out the film. Honestly, you will be laughing and grinning for over 2 hours.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Lewton's Leopard Man!

Someone actually titled this film The Leopard Man. From what I know of classic Hollywood, the decision was probably made by a cigar-chewing bigwig with no experience actually making films, and plenty of experience making money. He might have said, leaning back in his plush chair, feet up on the desk, "Hey! 'The Leopard Man.' That's a much better title than 'Black Alibi'." And he was right. How can you resist with a title like that? Furthermore, when you realize it was directed by Jacques Tourneur and produced by Val Lewton, well you're even more helpless at this point. This is a terrible film, let's be clear about that from the start. But the title sort of indicates that on its own. It's not trying to hide anything. I've read several reviews of this film, mostly by Lewton fanatics who insist on its greatness. I can't help but shake my head, try as I might to follow their pleeing logic. There's absolutely nothing to analyze or critique, or get into a heated, in depth discussion about. It's pure, silly, dated entertainment. And as long as there's someone to laugh with you, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Noir City no. 6 (aka Eddie Muller bought me a drink)

"Seems like we always spend the best part of our time just saying goodbye." Angela Vickers

Noir City ended last night with George Stevens' A Place in the Sun (1951). What a beautifully tragic note to end on. As Eddie Muller said beforehand, here are the screen's two most gorgeous people, tormented and suffering and making you depressed. Oh, but those close-ups are worth it. "Tell mama. Tell mama all." 

For me, however, the night didn't end so drastically. I never wanted to blog about personal thoughts or experiences. I wanted this to be strictly a film blog, and I've always been conscious of never crossing that line. However, last night was so special and unexpected, and very closely tied to film and the noir festival in particular that I just have to make an exception. 

As I was getting my ticket outside the theater, dressed in my finest, complete with a black, 1940's hat with veil, and red heels reminiscent of the Victorian Era, I passed by the Czar of Noir himself, Mr. Eddie Muller. We both smiled and he seemed to nod in approval and acknowledgment at my dedication to the evening. The exchange was so quick and brief I didn't have time to thank him for all he has done for classic film. But it quickly dawned on me that that might be a possibility. After all, after attending Noir City for three years now and never running into him once, passing by him now at the start of the evening made another meeting seem not so farfetched. It even seemed to be in the air.

With this hope, my friend Wayde, dressed just as snazzy as I was, and I made our way up to the lounge during intermission. Lo and behold, there was Mr. Muller, who I had never seen in the lounge before. We huddled nearby, waiting for his conversation with another film lover to end. We caught him just as he was on his way back to the stage, and I was able to shake his hand and say thank you. It was rushed, but he listened, and all I wanted to do was say a quick "thanks" anyway. We went back to our seats; I was completely satisfied and expected nothing more of the evening. 

A Place in the Sun was gorgeous and touching and sad, and I wasn't ready for the night to end just yet. So Wayde and I went to a nearby bar and were welcomed by a beautiful interior with a 1940's vibe, and the Andrews Sisters singing "Rum and Coca-Cola" over the speakers. It was perfect, and there were several other fedora wearing customers eager to talk about film once they noticed our attire. One of them joined our table, and not ten minutes later who but Mr. Muller himself came over to us and bought our next drinks. 

He settled down at his own table, directly behind me. We were practically sitting side by side looking in opposite directions, and I had to fight to keep my focus on the rather chatty fellow who had joined Wayde and I. It was quite difficult when I could easily overhear the table behind me discussing Sunset Boulevard (1950) and Raymond Chandler. How close I was to discussing film with Eddie Muller! But I didn't feel right intruding on his party, even if he did buy me a drink. 

It started getting late and Wayde (also my ride home) needed to leave. I was torn. If I wanted to join the party behind me it was now or never. There had already been a quick exchange about this. I admitted I was having trouble ignoring the conversation behind me, and Mr. Muller, who could obviously hear me, suggested I join them. The door was open. After some persistent begging, Wayde (ever the patient and amiable friend) relented and gave me a bit more time-- thank you Wayde! The other fellow at our table and I turned our chairs and were right between Mr. Muller and "The Voice" (sadly, I can't remember his name, but his voice was instantly recognizable). They were discussing the whereabouts of Dashiell Hammett's typewriter. The one, I assume, on which he wrote "The Maltese Falcon". Apparently "The Voice" had actually lived in Hammett's San Francisco apartment at one point, and they were now working to restore it. Perhaps as a literary landmark, I'm not sure. 

Mostly I just listened and enjoyed this moment, hearing these film gurus go through tunnels and down alleyways I hadn't the knowledge or connections to even know existed. There was once a lapse in conversation, and I unashamedly (come on, this was my chance!) asked Mr. Muller what his favorite film noir was. I know he's been asked this question to death, but I wasn't about to pretend originality. I just wanted to know. He looked me straight in the eye and said, "In a Lonely Place". I felt myself smile with approval. I'm not sure if he noticed or not. Wayde and I got up to leave soon after and I thanked Mr. Muller again for the drink. We shook hands, and he said to me, with pure sincerity, "Charmed".

I couldn't have asked for a better finale.

Noir City no. 5: Gloria Grahame

Or, as Noir City called Saturday night's theme, "The Magnificent Gloria Grahame". Lucky enough for this year's noir audience, this was a last minute tribute thrown together when Harry Belafonte pulled out of attending the Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) screening. I assume, then, that this was supposed to be a tribute to Belafonte instead. Don't get me wrong, he's a wonderful performer and hardly difficult to look at, but he's not a noir actor. I can't even think of a film they could have appropriately paired with Odds. Grahame, on the other hand, fits the movement (because noir is much more than a genre) like a glove. Her strong-willed floozies with that hint of neglect and sadness behind the eyes are second to none. When it comes to the noir dame, Gloria Grahame is it. (With Ida Lupino, of course, right behind her. As David Thomson said, "If only she [Lupino] and Gloria Grahame could have played wicked sisters".)

As a Grahame tribute this double bill was a bit disappointing. Eddie Muller himself admitted that a Gloria Grahame tribute should never be an afterthought, or something you simply fall back on. Unfortunately, this was the case, and she was hardly done justice with Odds Against Tomorrow concluding the evening. She has no more than two short scenes in this film, and she's so good that you feel jilted for not getting more. Her opening line, while peeking curiously through a neighbor's door, was something along the lines of, "What's going on in here? An orgy?" And this was 1959.

Fritz Lang's Human Desire (1954), however, was a perfect showcase for Grahame's talent and magnetism. The print was beautiful, Glenn Ford was his usual great self, and Broderick Crawford gave a spark to Carl Buckley that was missing from La Bête Humaine (1938). If only they had paired this with The Big Heat (1953), another Lang-Ford-Grahame collaboration, or In a Lonely Place (1950), the evening would have been pure bliss.

Noir City no. 4: The B's

Nobody did B movies like noir did. They're almost their own industry and genre. They spawned fabulous posters that unashamedly exploited the exclamation point, and ran a quick 60 minutes or less that allowed no time for wandering or soul searching. You know it's a B movie when the plot and the title are one in the same. These are the good guys, these are the bad guys, and this is the dame who everyone wants. Pure and simple, and pure entertainment.

Noir City no. 3: Richard Widmark

Widmark's night started with the rare 1949 film, Slattery's Hurricane. Along with Road House (1948), this film seemed to cement Widmark's future as a psycho jerk ready to explode at any moment. While not so much the lunatic he played in Road House (no trademark maniacal laughter this time around.....although I do recall some drunken singing that came close) Widmark's Will Slattery is a first-rate douche-bag. Although practically engaged to Dolores Grieves (Veronica Lake), he blatantly flirts with the wife of his best friend, Aggie Hobson (Linda Darnell), while the two couples are having dinner. Apparently, unbeknown to their partners, Aggie and Will have quite a history together. You can imagine where it goes from here. Darnell was a bit flat in this role, though she wasn't given much to work with. Widmark was his usual magnetic self, and handled the overdone narration as best he could. But it was Ms. Lake who really shined in this film. A bit older, a bit wiser, and without her signature bob, she gives a wonderfully subtle and stirring performance. She never gives in to the sentimental whims so many other actresses would have exploited to the max, but she's also not afraid to be completely vulnerable. In fact, director Andre De Toth, also Lake's husband, used this role as sort of a therapy session, forcing Lake to confront issues that were present in her own life. The result is a very beautiful and touching portrayal.

Any tribute to Richard Widmark, even if it's limited to two films like this one was, is not a genuine tribute unless it includes his 1953 classic, Pickup on South Street. By this time Widmark had mastered the hard-edged prick so well you couldn't help but wonder about his real character. Thelma Ritter gives a performance of a lifetime as Moe the informer, and I seriously doubt the tart from the wrong side of the tracks has ever been played as great as Jean Peters plays it here. The cinematography is gorgeous, the dialogue is sharp, and after another 50+ years I doubt it will have lost any of its
appeal. This was definitely one of the highlights of the festival.

Noir City no. 2: John Garfield

An excellent tribute to John Garfield saw the pairing of two of his top roles: the lustful Frank Chambers of James Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), and the instantly doomed Nick Robey of He Ran All the Way (1951). 

Friday, January 29, 2010

Noir City no. 1: Opening Night

"If she's your sister then I'm a boa constrictor in heels."
Shelley Winters, Larceny (1948)

I could compose this post purely of quotes from Larceny, the second feature to kick off Noir City 8, and not only would it be completely, satisfyingly entertaining, but better than any review I could come up with. Sadly, I was too caught up in the savvy screenwriting to grab a pen and paper, and, even more sadly, this film is not available on DVD to hear those brilliant wisecracks again. You will just have to take my word for it, and base my fervent proclomation that this is one of the funnest smack talking noirs I've ever seen on the quote above. (And the fact that Shelley Winters plays said smack-talking dame.)

Now that the festival has officially ended I can safely say this double bill was one of my favorites. I'm not saying these were superbly made films, or on par with classics like Pickup on South Street (1953) or The Big Heat (1953) [what a fabulous year], but they were fun, intriguing, typically noirish in some ways and unconventionally noirish in others, and they were an excellent pairing. Kudos to the programmer on this one.

I admit I was a bit suspicious of Lizabeth Scott playing the good girl for a change (she's just too good in Dead Reckoning (1947). But I was both mistaken and surprised by her convincing subtlety. She and Powell had wonderful chemistry, and Jane Wyatt and Raymond Burr (in an appropriately creepy early role) were strong supporting characters. I'm anxious to discover more Andre de Toth films as his handling of noirish and adulterous themes was both refreshing and well thought out. This is a film that has aged incredibly well; you could tell by the lack of giggles and titters from the audience.

Larceny, on the other hand, was so full of corner-of-the-mouth dialogue you couldn't help but completely let go and enjoy yourself. This was a great pairing, and a fantastic opening night.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Jean Simmons 1929-2010

Friday, January 15, 2010

Play time with Tati.

The first time I saw this film I couldn't wait to see it again, and before I knew it 7 years went by. Recently, it came to my hometown and was as fresh and wonderful as I remembered. Tati's creation of a sterile, cold and ultra-modern Paris nearly bankrupted him, but I like to think he felt it was worth it. The enormous set presents a conformist, industrial vision of the City of Light devoid of any originality or creativity. Office workers sit in boxes within boxes, all in perfectly aligned rows, the janitor stares blankly at immaculately clean floors, and families live in fully exposed apartments that more closely resemble shop windows than homes. It's a wonderful poke at the modern world and technology posing as progress. Play Time (1967) also happens to contain one of the best party scenes on film (think Holly Golightly's soiree x 10) and is delightfully brightened by Tati's popular character Monsieur Hulot--bumbling and struggling to make sense of it all. In the end, Tati leaves us with a congregation of buses and cars trapped in a roundabout. With nowhere to go they circle round and round and round.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Noir City 2010

For months I have been telling myself I would write a new post soon. There's been no shortage of new or repeated screenings worth talking about; namely Ball of Fire (1941), Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948), and Notorious (1946)--the latter at the gorgeous Castro Theatre. Today I was shocked to realize this inner dialogue has been going on, ignored, for almost a year, and while I don't have the time or energy to try to recall the freshness of previous viewings I feel like if I don't post something now, right this second, heavy make-up wearing Germans might be done for. So this post is designed to give me a little kick in the butt, albeit a kick of motivation, and let myself and any of you lurking readers out there (who every blogger fantasizes are there) know that I intend to give more dedication to this thing called blogging. The fabulous poster above should give you a hint as to what's to come in the next few weeks.