Dec 25, 2008

Disney's Merriest Men

The Radio City Music Hall
Christmas Attraction of 1973

Dec 17, 2008

Toxic Thunder

The state of modern comedy can be best seen in the very bloated schizophrenic foul-fest called Tropic Thunder. Okay, let me list each adjective and define:

1. BLOATED - Why is every comedy today inflated with minute after minute of time spent with obnoxious hateful "funny" characters? I realize a lot of the dvd versions of these Ben Stiller and Judd Apatow films are filled with added SPECIAL scenes not seen in theaters, but even before that Frankenstein stitching of extra funny bones, these films are still too long for fanny endurance in a cinema seat. Epic comedies are dead, people, and even they, in their prime in the 1960s, were stretching the limit. There is a reason they died. Comedy is best served on a small plate and eaten while it's still hot. A big serving becomes cold fast and unappetizing.

2. SCHIZOPHRENIC - Tropic Thunder's director, the truly unappealing Ben Stiller, wants this to be a comedy, right? Why then is it filmed like an action movie? Why the gritty cinematography best suited for Rambo or Oliver Stone? Why the portentous sound track? Why the CGI and slow motion explosions that want us to revel in the BOOM and the BANG? The idea of this film is that we are watching a fake war film. Why continue the look and sound after we know it is a comedy?

3. FOULFEST - I am no prude, but is constant swearing and tirades on oral sex truly funny? Shock comedy, yes. It hits you in the face and you react with a nervous laugh. But comedy today slams you in the face over and over again with a full fist of "fucks" and then rabbit punches you with more verbal vulgarity and this is supposed to funny. I swear, I truly believe that I could hire a bunch of Junior High School students and tell them to write a script and provide top grade technical equipment and they could produce a Summer Comedy Hit. Kids find swearing and sex jokes and over the top phony violence funny. Aren't we supposed to grow up? In a discussion with a co-worker, I was told that if Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton or W.C. Fields were allowed to say "fuck" or flash their posterior or fart, well, they would have done so. Why do I find that hard to believe? Stiller should look at his own parents. Anne Meara and Jerry Stiller based their comedy on "character" and verbal wordplay.

Tropic Thunder is supposed to be the funny epic comedy of a group of actors who are making an action war film and then are, accidentally, thrown into a real dangerous jungle situation involving drug smugglers. Only one of the actors still thinks he is in a film and that idiot is played by Ben Stiller who always plays an idiot or unlikable jerk. Idiots and unlikable jerks have always been comedy fodder. We have seen them as the protagonists of many comedy films. But we eventually like them and they change during the plot of the story. Stiller never does; he's always a humiliated asshole to the end. I have a natural aversion to Stiller. He is hard to look at; he resembles a cross between a monkey and Tom Cruise. (more on Tom Cruise in a minute!) Stiller is, also, the screenwriter and director and his idea is to make fun of actors and Hollywood and the people who make these type of big action films. The problem is that Stiller and his fellow co-stars, Jack Black (oh, is he insufferable in his screaming and heroin withdrawal ramblings), Matthew McConaughey and Tom Cruise are part of the very thing they are trying to make fun of; they themselves continue to make the same cliche, soulless, unfunny and/or dramatic action crap they aspire in this film to deride. So ... it doesn't work. It stinks as much as the dung they force upon the public every year. It is completely unbelievable as satire. I can believe Robert Altman or Blake Edwards when they poke fun at Hollywood, because I see them as people who dislike or have been burned by that environment ... not Ben Stiller running around with his Hollywood Gym muscled arms.

The only saving grace of this film is Robert Downey Jr. as an actor who so involves himself in his parts that he literally "becomes" what he is playing. In this case, he is playing a black man in the fake film in the film. He is so believable in this role that I actually forgot who he was Robert Downey Jr. He actual character is a blond haired Australian actor who he, also, plays flawlessly. Another actor who tries to be someone we don't associate with his usual roles is Tom Cruise. Cruise plays a vulgar fat Hollywood executive. He is covered in latex, a bald cap, wears tinted glasses and has body hair erupting from his unbuttoned shirt. The difference with Cruise is that we know right away that IT IS CRUISE. He can't act. He can't do a character. The smile, the smirk, the laugh is still there; no matter the make-up or the excessive vulgar language it is still empty old Tom Cruise trying to be funny. The fact that Stiller is now "buddies" with Cruise (a person he used to make fun of on his short lived TV show) and is planning a film, according to E! Online, starring this very Len Grossman character, is proof that Stiller hasn't a clue to what is funny. Can you imagine 90 minutes of ... oh, wait ... I mean, TWO HOURS or MORE of Cruise's bombastic foul Hollywood executive dancing to rap music and saying shit and fuck and dick over and over again? Wait, did I write the word "dick"? I did!! Are you laughing?

Dec 15, 2008

Oscar Winning Best Actors of the '60s: 1962

Winner: GREGORY PECK - To Kill a Mockingbird

other nominees:

Burt Lancaster - Birdman of Alcatraz
Jack Lemmon - Days of Wine and Roses
Marcello Mastroianni - Divorce - Italian Style
Peter O'Toole - Lawrence of Arabia

I recall first seeing To Kill a Mockingbird as a Junior High School student. After being assigned and reading the novel for English class, we were treated to a showing of the film (shown in two installments) in the school auditorium. Viewing classic films based on classic novels was a staple at my school and we saw wonderful adaptations many times in those three years. The only handicap in watching the films was my sensitivity to the emotion the films conveyed. Most of these films involved scenes of death, failure, hopelessness and their musical scores were so lush and emotional. I was prone to tear up at times when the weight of the emotion affected me and this would cause embarrassment on my part and teasing on the part of my fellow classmates. In the case of the adaptation of Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize winning book, I know I was wet-eyed a few times and I wanted to see if watching it again would turn the tap on once more. It did not. But, I did feel the slight melancholy I feel when I watch a film narrated by an adult who is telling the story of an incident in their childhood; for some reason it always affects me. And I did feel the warmth and security that glowed from the screen in the presence of Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, the father of two children and a respected and wise lawyer in a Southern town.

Peck's presence dominates the film and it is probably his best known role. It, could be, to some, the only movie they think of when they think of the actor. His career was extensive; from his twenties to his old age. Atticus Finch defines Peck like Norman Bates defines Anthony Perkins, Oscar Madison defines Walter Matthau and Rick Blaine defines Bogart. He epitomizes the solid family man, the strong father, the sage who can answer all questions and whose whispers of assurance and love are warmer and more secure than a winter blanket on a cold night. There is one scene in particular when the children spot a rabid mad dog in the street in front of their home and they scream in alarm. The housekeeper spies the incoming trouble and her first thought and ours is to inform Atticus Finch. She does just that and we feel assured that he will solve this problem at once. He does, but he does so with humility and then pure laser-like intent. He is an admirable man on all fronts.

The film recounts the memories of his young daughter Scout and, in particular, the trial of a wrongly accused black man whom Atticus must defend against a charge of attacking a white woman. We know from the glaring hints of over acting from the girl's father that he is responsible for her beating and forcing her to pass blame on the accused. There is no question that Atticus is defending an innocent man in our minds. But, even so, due to Peck's portrayal we know, in our hearts, Atticus would never defend someone he suspected of being guilty unlike the thoughts we have of lawyers in today's world. Atticus is without blemish. He is as glaringly white and clean in his heart as is the suit he constantly wears even to the breakfast table. He is a unbiased man and, as is evident in movies of the 1960s, he is the great white father to the African American community; the protector and savior. This can be seen as a bit prejudicial in an ironic way, but Atticus never seems to be lording over or overbearingly pedantic with the community he protects. His sense of justice is universal to all and will even put himself in danger to defend his beliefs and protection of his charges. This is most evident in a scene where he stands guard outside the jailhouse door where the accused is being held. He sits in a chair on the jailhouse porch reading a book, a symbol of his intelligence and thought, with a rifle leaning against the door. Atticus will protect with his words and composed thoughts of decency than with the force of a gun. This is observed by his children and is a magnificent symbol of humanity for them and for the audience. We would all want a father like Atticus Finch.

Reading some material on the Oscar year of 1962, I learned that Harper Lee thought Peck was so much the embodiment of her real life father, that she gave Peck her father's pocket watch as a gift. He used the watch as a prop as he spoke in the courtroom scenes. He, later, kept it in his hand as he sat at the Academy Award ceremony and had it in his keep to his dying day. He said that the part of Finch was like "putting on an old suit of clothes - just comfortable". Maybe that is why he is so splendid in the role. The definition of the character was easy for him because it was more than just a "role". The role of an everyman, the role wherein an actor almost plays himself can be, I feel the most difficult role to play. In that case, Peck deserved the Academy Award that year.

Dec 6, 2008

Much of it Turns Out Not to Matter

Lajos Kotai's film Evening, based on a Susan Minott novel, is really not a very good film. It seems very familiar in its telling of an elderly woman dying of a terminal disease, at home, being cared for by a night nurse and visited daily by her two daughters. The dying woman (Vanessa Redgrave) floats in and out of reality, fantasy and her memories of 50 years ago when she was the Maid of Honor at her best friend's wedding in Newport, Rhode Island. Claire Danes plays Ann Lord, the dying woman, in the flashback segments of the film. Ann is a young woman who dreams of becoming a professional singer and feels a bit out of place amongst the rich family and friends of her friend Lila (Mamie Gummer). She is connected to the family not only by her friendship with Lila, but with Lila's younger brother Buddy, whom Ann was close friends with in school. Buddy (Hugh Dancy) is high spirited, a dreamer, rebel to the family hopes and an alcoholic. He does not believe in his sister's love for her attended groom and believes she truly loves Harris (Patrick Wilson), the son of their housekeeper, who is, also, attending the wedding and is a physician. Glenn Close is the patrician mother of Lila and Buddy and Barry Bostwick cuts an imposing figure as the cliche stolid WASPish father. The film unfolds with the Chekovian equations of A loves B, but really loves C who loves B that adds up to a grandiose Lifetime-style cable movie

The familiar qualities of Evening recall the soap opera-ish films of the late 1940s and, especially, the 1950s. One could see this starring Bette Davis or Joan Crawford in the '40s; Jane Wyman or a myriad of other actresses of the '50s period. Perhaps, Rock Hudson as Harris and James Dean as Buddy ... only the rather blatant hetero and homosexual currents would not surface as easily and would be swimming below the film's water line of plot. You see, Buddy loves Ann and he loves Harris and he drinks and has awkward alcohol infused outbursts at family dinner parties about love and society's false values. Buddy is the most interesting character in this film and his layers of emotion and hurt are greatly exposed by Hugh Dancy. Most of the other characters are bores and cardboard figures. I could not possibly see what Ann or Lila or Buddy saw in their love for Harris. He is as bland as a glass of warm 1% milk. Buddy's character reminded me of Lew Ayres' closeted younger boozy sibling of Katharine Hepburn in Holiday, though more nuanced and serious. The film would have, if made in the eras I referenced, been soaked in lingering soft focus shots and sweeping lavish strings and piano from a studio orchestra (we get, instead, an incongruous recording of Michael Buble singing a standard as Ann and Buddy dance lightheartedly). In the '50s this might have been made by Douglas Sirk and produced by Ross Hunter. Evening wants to be much more important than those soaps of the past cinema. It wants to "say" something. What it hammers into your head at the conclusion is that we fret and worry and wonder about the supposed mistakes we make in life, but that whatever road we take we will find happiness of a sort. Life is a culmination of mistakes that result in the life we have and that we should cherish. Relationships provide children and friends and memories that make us happy ... no matter what errors brought us to that point.

Evening was a disappointment and it only provided a few glimmers of good acting. What the film did most of all for me was something that even a bad film can do; spark memory and allow you to relate. During my entire viewing of Evening, I thought back to incidents in my own life that these cinema ciphers enacted on the screen. It is so strange how film, if you allow it to envelop you, even if it isn't very good, can still affect you. Mediocre films can be easily ignored and that veil of separating yourself from your place in current time can be dispelled so easily by a film's failure to entrance a viewer. The magic was there in Evening and it worked. Having a parent die slowly and trying to understand her musings as you sit beside her, wondering what her life was really like as a younger person (we rarely think of our parents as once young); these scenes in the film struck me strongly.

But, most of all, the thoughts of the younger Me and my relationships years ago with a family of my own acquaintance. My friendships with those people and the people I met through them; people I loved and those I disliked and who all changed me in some way and the way I thought about my true self. The hurts felt by Ann and Buddy; the misunderstandings and not speaking your mind and the guilt were all there on the screen and igniting the fuses of memory in my mind. Certain little incidents or scenes in the film made each of those memories explode ... thoughts I might express through the delirium of the twilight moments of my own end; secrets told to no one and known but to a few ... especially the love we feel and not speak of or act upon with the people we encounter in life or with our relations and parents ... and the moments of having our talents displayed to others who applaud us and see bright futures on the horizon that only turn to haze and clouds. Maybe, as the film tries to tell us, those mistakes don't really matter. Those incidents were wonderful, painful and educational, but whatever they meant at the time, what we thought to be so important, dismissive or earth shaking ... we still survive. Maybe what we did do or didn't was meant to happen and brought us to where we are today. We can still look back and regret and cherish and wonder what if ...? Maybe we can learn and hold dear what we did gain or what steps led us to where we now stand or those whom we have met and cared for even if we hadn't taken those other roads. I don't know if that is all true. But, I do know Evening provided the magic of taking me back to my past and making me think ... and that is one of the reasons why I love movies.

Nov 30, 2008

Oscar Winning Best Actors of the '60s: 1961

Winner: MAXIMILIAN SCHELL - Judgment at Nuremberg

other nominees:

Charles Boyer - Fanny
Paul Newman - The Hustler
Spencer Tracy - Judgment at Nuremberg
Stuart Whitman - The Mark

Stanley Kramer's Judgment at Nuremberg is one of those big important issue pictures that started to become prevalent in the late 1950s and into the 1960s. It has an all-star cast headed by an aged Spencer Tracy as a judge presiding over the international trial of four German judges that handed down indictments of victims of the Fourth Reich. From reading, I have understood that this was originally a television drama that Kramer transformed into this mammoth 3 hour plus movie. Surprisingly, it has an overture and exit music, but no intermission. It is a static affair filled with histrionics, crying, blustering speechifying and crying for attention supporting roles by Montgomery Clift and Judy Garland. This film, supposedly, began the practice of Academy voters nominating "usual" head-liners in supporting categories. This enraged Hollywood gossip columnists, like Hedda Hopper, who thought it was an insult to allow a "star" to be thought of as a supporting player. Today, of course, it is common place and usually means a sure-fire win in that secondary category for the "star".

The star who, ironically, won the statuette for Best Actor this year was an actor who was not so known by American audiences at the time. Austrian born actor Maximilian Schell plays Hans Rolfe the German lawyer representing four judges who over saw the indictments of victims of the Fourth Reich. Schell had performed this role once before in the 1959 Playhouse 90 television production and was selected by Kramer to reprise his role several years later. Schell does an admirable job and you do pay a lot of attention to him when he is on screen. He poses an impressive figure; bold personality, strident voice and good looking dark features. His role is an odd one to honor in this category only because he plays a man who could be seen as a sort of villain. He is a man who strongly believes in the innocence of the men who allowed many to be sterilized, executed and sent to concentration camps for acts such as fraternizing with Jews and not being able to pass intelligent tests by the German officials. He believes in the duty of men to support the law of a land ... even if that law is unsound. However, Schell's Rolfe is a complex character; an honorable man who does not want his country to be thought of as entirely evil and corrupt; that there is still good there and these men were forced to do their duty whether sound or unsound. The opposing view, voiced by the usual blustering acting of Richard Widmark as the American military Captain in charge of the prosecution, is that evil acts should not be allowed whether they are law or not; evil should be stood up to and challenged. Schell poses a very good defense but ultimately loses, as we know from history and from the confession of guilt by one of his clients, that he admires greatly, played by Burt Lancaster (the winner of the previous year's Best Actor Oscar). He plays a learned renown German judge and professor of law who we find out hated the Fuhrer and all he stood for, yet upheld the edicts this monster and his Nazi officials had enacted into the law of the land.

Why did Schell win the prize? Good question. I found him adequate; he even has a spotlighted full-blown yelling to the rafters speech in the courtroom toward the conclusion ... pure Oscar bait. The film, though, dealt mostly with Spencer Tracy's role as presiding judge and his relationship with a German widow played by Marlene Dietrich. We spend almost the entire film with Tracy and his observations of German post-War life. Tracy was, indeed, nominated for Best Actor, but lost to Schell. And, most of all, I was impressed by Lancaster as the accused German judge. He is a fantastically fascinating character. He is stoic and appears evil and mysterious. As the film progresses you see his true nature and his moral dilemma. And the two powerhouse actors, Lancaster and Tracy, hold court in the final scene. Schell seems more of a supporting player to me and, perhaps, 1961 was a year that, through events or preoccupation with other matters of historical value, it was time for the Academy voters to hand the gold to a foreign actor.

Nov 25, 2008

Woody Movie Quotes #5: HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986)

Mickey: "Millions of books written on every conceivable subject by all these great minds and in the end, none of them knows anything more about the big questions of life than I do ... I read Socrates. This guy knocked off little Greek boys. What the Hell's he got to teach me? And Nietzsche, with his theory of eternal recurrence. He said that the life we lived we're gonna live over again the exact same way for eternity. Great. That means I'll have to sit through the Ice Capades again. It's not worth it. And Freud, another great pessimist. I was in analysis for years and nothing happened. My poor analyst got so frustrated, the guy finally put in a salad bar. Maybe the poets are right. Maybe love is the only answer."

Nov 24, 2008

Oscar Winning Best Actors of the '60s: 1960

Winner: BURT LANCASTER - Elmer Gantry

other nominees:
Trevor Howard - Sons and Lovers
Jack Lemmon - The Apartment
Laurence Olivier - The Entertainer
Spencer Tracy - Inherit the Wind

I've decided to watch, in succession, the Academy Award winning Lead Actors in the decade of the 1960s. Luckily, each of the 10 films I must view are available on dvd and I own them or can access them through the wonders of NetFlix. Starting with Elmer Gantry directed by Richard Brooks and based on the novel by the brilliant Sinclair Lewis, it is evident that the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have always loved those big brassy performances that declare an actor is on the screen in all his glory. Burt Lancaster portrays Elmer Gantry a traveling salesman who, though thrown out of the seminary as a younger man, ironically finds himself in the role of an Evangelist Tent Preacher. Gantry's morals are in question from the outset as we witness his duplicity, his drinking, his lying and his obvious lascivious manner toward the fairer sex. He becomes attracted to a famous evangelist Sister Sharon Falconer, played by Jean Simmons, whom he becomes entangled with in business and eventual romance. Gantry's cynicism and hucksterism is matched by Sister Sharon true beliefs and aim to serve God and help the masses. Her blind faith is in direct contrast to Gantry's earthy snake oil salesman approach. Lancaster is perfect in the role and he is at his most charming and toothy grinned best. His Gantry is all show; over the top thespian acting, bible thumping and going to the extent of using a monkey in his preaching to waylay the criticism of Darwin believing reporters. I can't think of another role of Mr. Lancaster's wherein he nears the perfection of what people think of when they hear his name or when I would see impersonators ape him on television. It is in the style of the few swashbucklers he was in early in his career. I like this performance, but find it hard to believe the public would find truth in this man's preaching. It is so phony, so oily, so grandstanding ... yet people looking for answers and faith and verbal balms to their earthly problems wold believe in most anything, especially anything that they believe God is telling them through a man in a seersucker suit and a silver tongue spitting out authority and fear; reduced to quivering souls ready to open their wallets for salvation.

I, personally, relish Mr. Lancaster's other style of acting. His quiet eccentric character studies in Sweet Smell of Success, From Here to Eternity, Atlantic City and Local Hero. He was a great actor and one I appreciated more so in his later years. As to the film by Mr. Brooks, I found it mediocre and found it very hard to forget the novel it is based on that I had read years ago. Sinclair Lewis' scathing portrayal of Gantry is hard to forget. Mr. Brooks, who won an Academy Award for his screenplay, portrays Gantry in this light, but he softens him and wants the audience to sympathize and actually turns him into a hero, of sorts by the conclusion. I try always to separate a film from its source material. Even if I could put the novel's text aside, I still would find this turnaround of this character a bit uncomfortable and the issues of believing and God as a business are different in the film and harder to stomach. This may be a cost of the time in which the film was released; certain parts of the novel may have been hard to pass by the censors. If this was the case, and not just poor story telling on Mr. Brooks' part, then more is the pity.

Nov 19, 2008

Frame of Mind 18

directed by Albert Lewin
cinematography by Harry Stradling Sr.

Nov 16, 2008

My Top 10 Criterion Collection Films

Spurred on by a friend, I have decided to list my current favorites from the Criterion Collection dvd library.

dir: Ingmar Bergman

Choosing between Bergman's Winter Light and this film was difficult, however, this story of questioning the existence of God and the meaning of Life trumped the other masterwork for its injection of occasional humor and exhaling of Life's bright gusts of intermittent brightness. Both exude beautiful photography that I can never forget.

dir: Eric Rohmer

Rohmer is my favorite French New Wave director. His static style, his dialogue and intelligent ideas enthrall me. No flashy camera work is needed to show human beings talking and relating and trying to find happiness. And there is talking. Lots of talking. Wonderful words and thoughts. Rohmer's characters visit bookstores and talk about what they read. This film is my favorite in his canon.

dir: Terrence Malick

One of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. A story filled with images and sounds and music. Malick is one of the most enigmatic directors in my experience of watching film. I can't really describe what he does ... but what he does is spellbinding. His dialogue is simple, the images simple, the story simple, the experience of letting his film flow over you is not so simple. The experience is transporting. True cinema. It's like entering a dream.

dir: Masaki Kobayashi

Defiance of authority is one of my favorite themes in film and Kobayashi's film slams you in the face with its rage filled defiance. I have never experienced a film that builds so magnificently to a bloody climax of the most artful action sequences I have ever seen. It feeds my pessimistic outlook and theory that Life is ultimately hopeless. It gave me that satisfying feeling after a good meal; not so bloated, but content with my melancholy digestion.

dir: Yasujiro Ozu

One of the most difficult things a director can do is show simple life in an interesting and involving way. Ozu does it. You watch life unfold for an elderly father and his doting daughter ... and you see how life changes for them and how it will change for us. One of the saddest films I have ever seen.

dir: Francois Truffaut

Truffaut takes the American noir film, does it in his style and everyone has copied it ever since. The story of a cafe piano player with a dark past who gets involved with gangsters. This film mixes all genres into one great film.

dir: Preston Sturges

A jealous concert conductor devises several ways to dispose of a wife he thinks is cheating on him; all plans set to classical compositions. Brilliant fast talking script by Sturges ... sight gags galore and fantastic comic timing. I like my comedy mostly dark and this one is lit only by a dim night light.

dir: Akira Kurowsawa

A movie that incorporates a western, a love story, a comedy, a tragedy, a historical epic all in one. The structure of this film is perfect. Long and involving, but never boring for one second. Idiot directors of so-called action films should be forced to watch how Kurosawa worked.

dir: Wong Kar-wai

This is one of the most beautiful sad love stories I have ever seen. Such beautiful cinematography and set design and music embellish this story of unrequited love. The ending still has not left my mind.

dir: Whit Stillman

The story of a very intelligent New York outsider to the "debutante scene" who is invited to join a clique of rich kids during the Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday "coming out" season. This movie is dryer than a saltine cracker, but I love that kind of humor. I love it beyond words. I tend to dislike snobs who know they are snobs, but love eccentrics who don't realize they are snobs. In that case, I truly wished Christopher Eigeman's character Nick Smith was my friend. Whit Stillman is the WASP version of Woody Allen. I only wish he made more films.

Nov 3, 2008

Woody Movie Quotes #4: SHADOWS AND FOG (1992)

Jack: "You don't believe in God and you can't make the leap of faith necessary."

Kleinmann: "I can't even make a leap of faith to believe in my own existence."

Nov 2, 2008

Frame of Mind 17

PSYCHO (1960)
directed by Alfred Hitchcock
cinematography by John L. Russell

Sep 8, 2008

Blogged Down

This blog, if it was truly a blog, is going to be under construction ... perhaps deconstruction. It has been a failure, as far as I'm concerned. I intended it to be more than it evolved into; a series of movie stills and inane posts of YouTube videos. It was to be my habits of attention; instead it has become the continuing habit of inattention. There is, possibly, only one post I'm proud of in the series of entries that appeared since this past late winter. I wrote an essay on a film that bowled me over and instantly ran to the keyboard to capture that feeling of wonder and awe. I felt I accomplished that to a degree beyond my own known scope. I just re-read it and, if you don't mind a moment of ego inflation, I am very proud of what I created. It has just been a mental chore to sit down and replicate that instant of creation. I can blame it on many things, mostly laziness. But, I have been in a sort of depression of late, I feel ... a long lingering malaise that is swallowing me whole. Movies are an escape from that hollow pit of over-thinking and melancholy and just watching them and allowing them to sooth me with their visual balm of mental relaxation is enough; to then write afterwards about that experience seemed to take away from the experience.

I hope to soon start this blog over and re-design it ... make it part of the escape that the films provide. This may take some time ... or it may be sooner than I imagine. I want to convey what these films do to me ... whether they are mediocre or brilliant. I just have to find that place in me again ... the wellspring from which erupted the writing I'm proud of.

So, as you pass the theater, please keep glancing at the marquee. The next attraction may begin soon.

Sep 1, 2008

Woody Movie Quotes #3: SEPTEMBER (1987)

Peter: "Is there anything more frightening other than the destruction of the world?"

Lloyd: "The knowledge that it doesn't matter one way or the other ... it's all random ... resonating aimlessly out of nothing and eventually vanishing forever. I'm not talking about the world. I'm talking about the universe ... all space ... all time ... just a temporary convulsion."

Aug 25, 2008

Aug 19, 2008

Frame of Mind 16

directed by Ingmar Bergman
cinematography by Gunnar Fischer

Aug 18, 2008

Woody Movie Quotes: MELINDA AND MELINDA (2004)

Hobie: "God, you, uh, you look, uh ... you look very pretty in this candlelight."

Melinda: "Well, I'm sure anyone would look amazing with all these flickering shadows and all the wine you're drinking."

Hobie: "Right, right, uh ... well, I-I-I'm - I'm drinking because life moves so fast ... so unpredictably. You know, it's-it's over so fast and in the end what is it? Chekhov said a soap bubble."

Aug 17, 2008

Something Demme

One of my favorite directors is Jonathan Demme
and he has a new film arriving soon.
I've heard nothing about it, but the anticipation is great.

Aug 7, 2008

Trashcan Sinatras re-do Lulu

The Trashcan Sinatras perform their haunting version
of the theme song to the film To Sir, With Love.
I have no idea what film or television show the scenes
that weave in and out of the video are from;
regardless of their interruption, close your eyes
and listen. I couldn't stop.

Aug 3, 2008

"Dear World ..."

"Dear World. I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck."
- Actor George Sanders' suicide note before taking an overdose of Nembutal at age 66.
Best roles as Addison DeWitt in ALL ABOUT EVE
Cousin "Jack" in REBECCA
The voice of Shere Khan in THE JUNGLE BOOK

Jul 27, 2008

Frame of Mind 15

directed by Arthur Penn
cinematography by Bruce Surtees

Jul 26, 2008

If Michael Bay Remade TAXI DRIVER ...

... it would star Shia LeBeouf as Travis Bickle.

Take place during extremely sunny daylight.

Have a scene where his taxi is pursued by a helicopter silhouetted against a setting sun.

His taxi would have the capability of transforming into a friendly robot who helps him fight crime.

Shia would cry.

Have a scene wherein Travis looks incredulous when the taxi/robot speaks to him for the first time and he replies,
"Ar-are you ... talking ... to ... ME!!??"

Toe Tapper

AMERICAN TEEN was one of the more critically acclaimed documentaries at this year's Sundance Film Festival. It is being highly anticipated this Summer for general release. I am looking forward to it and will, hopefully, see it ... in the mean time, I became aware of some of the music from the film's soundtrack and one bit of pop pleasure is this number done by Black Kids and it is entitled I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You. It's beat and infectious lyrics engaged me immediately. One of the great pleasures in life is stumbling across musical magic that casts a mysterious spell of elation on some part of your soul. It's inexplicable, but it's a mystery best left unsolved.

Jul 19, 2008

Frame of Mind 14

directed by Woody Allen
cinematography by Gordon Willis

Jul 9, 2008

Frame of Mind 13

F IS FOR FAKE (1974)
directed by Orson Welles
cinematography by Francois Reichenbach

Jul 3, 2008

Lincoln Center Tribute to William Holden

From July 2 until July 15, the Walter Reade Theater at New York's Lincoln Center will run a film tribute to actor film tribute to actor William Holden. The roster of films is impressive and rightly displays the essence of an actor who, though an eventual Best Actor Oscar winner, I believe, was considered as a second tier leading man during most of his career. But, Holden was a magnificent actor who, though very attractive as a younger man in a matinee idol sense, showed layers of emotion not found in most male film stars of his generation. He was not afraid to show the psychological underpinnings of the men he portrayed. Whether he was the hungry screenwriter using a dangerous demented silent screen star to his advantage, a cynical prisoner of war, a western outlaw whose glory days were over, or an aged bitter television executive, Holden was always ready to show the weakness and pain in these men ... never afraid to show the scars that most good-looking male stars would cringe from exposing on screen. You could always see the sadness and the loss of faith ... the readiness to challenge authority. He was great when he got angry. I can't think of another American actor that could spit out an angry tirade with an almost non-inhaling vocalization like Holden.

I encountered him in most of his older roles, while I was growing up. I saw him in westerns and war films and he starred in several Billy Wilder gems in his younger and older days. He even was believable as a man of intellect with horn-rimmed glasses in Born Yesterday and The Towering Inferno. He always impressed me with his presence. In fact, for some reason, I loved films about older men trying to cope with changing times ... their melancholy and anger and his acting lit the fuse of that interest. He was one of the actors that went with the times and aged like a fine bottled Scotch in his roles. And it is best to describe him as a bottle of Scotch; irascible, hard-hitting, yet ready to provide comfort and a feeling of safety like a shot after a hard day of being toyed with Life. He was not a fine bottle of wine. It's strange I use that alcohol metaphor, it was known he was an alcoholic and, sadly, died due to an accidental fall due to his drinking.

I notice two westerns and a war film of his are not in this roster. One is The Revengers and the other Blake Edwards' The Wild Rovers. The war film being The Devil's Brigade. All these films, actually quite mediocre, impressed me as a young lad. He was so impressive in the roles. He was grizzled, sad, scary, heroic, bitter, but you knew you could depend on him like a Father figure.

I want to see these films again. And the film tribute described on this YouTube presentation from the Film Society at Lincoln Center makes me want to scratch this cinematic itch.

Jun 20, 2008

Frame of Mind 12

directed by Theodore J. Flicker
cinematography by William A. Fraker

Jun 17, 2008

Cyd Charisse (1921-2008)

One of the most limber dancers of the MGM musicals passed away today at age 87. Here she is in one of my favorite fantasy dance numbers from the film THE BAND WAGON. Her dancing partner is Fred Astaire. The number is Dancing in the Dark.

Jun 14, 2008

Beautiful Looking Car at Bargain Basement Price

I recently purchased some films that have a singular relation to each other ... driving, automobiles and the open road. They vary in genre, but they all have this singular theme. I hope to have an odd type of drive-in road movie festival this Summer and watch as many as I can ... and, recently, I saw some scenes from a bizarre Summer B-Horror film from 1977 entitled THE CAR! It is like JAWS on wheels. Some evil entity is driving this big tank-like limo and terrorizing a small town in the mid-west or somewhere . It's nutty, but the clips were beautiful to look at. Observe this one shot of a country road. I believe, in the distance, you can see the cloud of dust signaling the approach of THE CAR!!

The film was directed by Elliot Silverstein; the same man who directed Lee Marvin to an Oscar win in Cat Ballou. Amazing. And the beautiful sky and gleam of THE CAR's Satan black exterior was photographed by Gerald Hirschfeld. And look at this shot (below) of the film's hero and star James Brolin. If you didn't know it, you'd think it was his son Josh. Looks like he's about to investigate the driver of ... THE CAR! Boy, there is nothing like these Summer thrill rides that were tossed into theatres and drive-ins in those hot months. Pure junk that made you smile and forget every damn thing that plagued you ... especially if you were a teenager ... or younger.

I'm certainly looking forward to watching THE CAR this Summer. It's the open road for me ... filled with criminals, motor cycle cops, men in search of Mexican heads, existential pursuits with people with no real names, kidnappers, and demonic automobiles ... oh, and vacationers beset by Devil worshippers. Feel free to join me.

Jun 12, 2008

Different Way to See

The Criterion Collection, a superior dvd production company, not only sells films under their banner, but, also, other items such as caps, shirts, mugs and posters. A new poster, they have alerted subscribers of their newsletter regarding, is of the Jean-Luc Godard film Vivre Sa Vie (My Life to Live). Here is what it looks like:

It is stark and beautiful, much like the film. It is an important film to me ... it literally changed the way I look at movies. I saw it on one of my annual New Year's Eve Movie Marathons. A friend insisted I see it and threw it in the dvd player. We watched it on a projection tv in a dim large family room eating pizza and drinking red wine after watching Noi, an Icelandic film. It captivated me from the first frames of dialogue wherein the star and a co-star talked to each other at a bar with their backs to the camera for about 10 minutes, I think. Totally original. That opening would never be attempted in the conventional Hollywood picture. I had never seen a Godard film before ... and it started the cascade of a New Wave waterfall that I gladly plunged into headfirst.

Jun 4, 2008

The Raftman's Razor (2004)

This was found through my wanderings on the internet.
A short film by Keith Bearden.
It is a wonderful little movie about ...
well, think about what it means to you.
All I know is that it evokes memories from my youth
and reflects, a bit, my musings on life.

Jun 3, 2008

Frame of Mind 11

directed by Richard Attenborough
cinematography by Geoffrey Unsworth

May 30, 2008

"That's HEDLEY Lamarr, you putz!!"

Last night I was trolling the internet and discovered, via The IMDB, that comedic actor Harvey Korman had passed away at age 81. He is, I imagine, known mostly for his co-starring role, with his partner in classic TV comedy sketches, Tim Conway on The Carol Burnett Show. Korman's movie career is sporadic; Disney sequels like Herbie Goes Bananas and the later Pink Panther film entries. He will, though, be forever remembered in my mind to have created one of the funniest and most memorable comic villains in film history. Mel Brooks utilized Korman in three films, I believe, and his performances always stood out. The one film role that stands highest of all to me is his portrayal of the vain, evil, oily western town power manipulator Hedley Lamarr in Brooks' BLAZING SADDLES. Each time he appears on screen to invoke more comic evil dialogue, filled with fantastic sentence construction of impeccable grammar and rakish intonations, I smile even more. Korman appears to be a mutated version of Dudley Do-right's moustache twirling villain Snidely Whiplash and a perverted Rhett Butler. Of course, the performance is a creation of Brooks and his screenwriters, but Korman adds such panache in his physical molding of Lamarr. I'll never forget his perfect diction in lines like this:

"My mind is aglow with whirling, transient nodes of thought careening through a cosmic vapor of invention!"

And his smug leering that would turn on a dime when, instead of being called Hedley Lamarr, he was mistakenly called HEDY Lamarr (a confusion of his name with that of the 40s screen siren). This aggravated him to no extent and he would explode with volcanic force, sputtering indignation and anger at his ego being pierced and mental emasculation. My favorite bit is when the film reaches its surrealistic climax and the "western" breaks the fourth wall of audience perception and a barroom brawl erupts into the soundstage of a musical being filmed next door. Lamarr escapes into the studio back lot and hails a taxi. He calmly commands the driver to "get me out of this movie." This is one of my favorite comedy moments in film history. It's one of the rare film moments that makes me laugh every time I see it.

If you've never seen his performance or have and remember it as fondly as I, here is a snippet from BLAZING SADDLES:

Thanks for the laughs, Mr. Korman. You may be gone, but we'll always have HEDLEY Lamarr.

May 26, 2008

Frame of Mind 10 - (for Memorial Day)

directed by Steven Spielberg
cinematography by Janusz Kaminski

May 23, 2008

Frame of Mind 9

THE 400 BLOWS (1959)
(Les Quatre Cents Coups)
directed by Francois Truffaut
cinematography by Henri Decae

May 16, 2008

Tripping the Light Fantastic

Take a gander at this musical number from It's Always Fair Weather (1955) directed by Stanley Donan and Gene Kelly; the same directing team that brought the world Singing in the Rain. I was going through some musical film sequences on YouTube and found this one ... it's amazing. I've not seen this particular film, but had seen this solo dance number in a Gene Kelly documentary. Kelly dances effortlessly in roller skates in this scene. He glides like a carefree breeze, wafting purely on a feeling of love. Then he tap dances on the skates. It is all done magnificently on a fake studio set giving the illusion of New York City streets. The illusion is evident, but so is the magic that classic musicals from the Studio Era conjured. Emotions depicted through song and dance, instead of dialogue between characters. Excuse the French subtitles and just watch the poetry.

May 11, 2008

Mother's Day

Saturday, the day before Mother's Day, I spent some time clipping pieces of various azalea plants in the garden at my home to take to my Mom's crematory niche at George Washington Memorial Park. The Spring growth was in glorious bloom. My Mother was an avid gardener. The back yard is in full botanical splendor at this time of the year. There are hosta plants bursting in green throughout the garden, a bleeding heart is showing off each small pendant pink heart like a extravagant charm bracelet, and violets and hyacinths and daisies are swaying in the Spring breeze. Most of all, the azaleas are the most beautiful. My Mom planted so many; white, two shades of pink, red, and purple. I thought, instead of spending an exorbitant amount of money on flowers for her (hiked up in price due to the holiday) I would take from her own garden and bring her the beauty she, herself, planted and cared for ... the flowers and plants that annually arise and bring her most to my mind during the year.

I think of my Mom all the time, actually. I guess the cliche you hear people intone is that they think of deceased loved ones every day; that cliche is true, believe me. But, it's the sight of earth sprouting those many plants that makes her memory most evident. She toiled out in the yard and the front of the house all day creating her own form of art, using the soil as a canvas. She contracted a rare form of cancer at a time too young in her life, her late fifties, and was told it was fatal ... no cure. It took its time to ravage her even while she received chemotherapy and other medicines, but she held forth and braved through the ordeal. It disfigured her physically and wore upon her mind and temperament , yet she still persevered and kept up hope. I can still see her in the yard kneeling on a special gardening pad, with her sun hat, her gloves and pail nearby ... digging, cutting and planting ... shaping a world she saw of continual growth and future beauty, even though her own real world was ending.

I always will think of her and of the memories she planted in my mind and the ground as they continue to grow, bloom, pass and arrive again and again as the days and seasons continue on and on. I miss her very much.

May 1, 2008

A Little Wes Anderson Quirk

Today is Wes Anderson's birthday (May 1, 1969) and to commemorate the occasion, I am going to post a quirky video I discovered. The video was shot at the BORDERS Bookstore in Ann Arbor, MI. Mr. Anderson was there, with actor Jason Schwartzman, to publicize his film The Darjeeling Limited with a question and answer session and a signing of the film's soundtrack on cd. Before, or after, their appearance in front of the retail public, Mr. Anderson and Mr. Schwartzman chronicled their browsing through the cd and dvd section of the store. I'm sure most of their recommendations are quite serious, but, at times, there seems to be a dry dead pan edge to their comments. Oh, and pay attention to his plugging of the wonderful Criterion Collection.

Apr 25, 2008

Frame of Mind 8

directed by Woody Allen
cinematography by Gordon Willis

Apr 23, 2008

Frame of Mind 7

directed by Craig Gillespie
cinematography by Adam Kimmel

Apr 16, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mr. Chaplin

Charles Chaplin
April 16, 1889 - December 25, 1977
Today is the anniversary of the birth of one of the most influential and famous figures in motion pictures. A man who was without a doubt a genius in his field. The mere silhouette of his tramp character is recognized the world over ... in every country and every language. The perfection of his comic antics and pathos provided so much entertainment to so many. I believe that his fame, which still exists to this day, surpassing any other star of film, was enhanced and gained its perpetual power due to the silence of his craft and its presentation. No words were needed, whether the viewer in the darkened theater spoke English, French, Italian or Swahili ... the picture, the moving picture spoke the language that all could understand. Below, is one of my favorite moments in all of Chaplin's works. City Lights, Modern Times and his many short films are magical, but this sequence from The Circus is my favorite of all ... it is pure comic genius ... the comedy stemming from false confidence, the realization that it is false and the added danger of monkeys crawling on you when you are on the brink of death. Comedy stems from woe and frustration and our ability to laugh as a catharsis. Many times my very day feels like this ... a tightrope act of swaying to and fro, fearing to look down and thinking that it can't possibly get worse ... and then the monkeys arrive ...

Here we observe Charlie trying to impress his sweetheart and the circus crowd with his high aerial hi-jinx. And all the time he believes he is supported by a wire, that will enable him to perform feats of unbelievable daring-do.


Apr 11, 2008

Frame of Mind 6

directed by Robert Clouse
cinematography by Gilbert Hubbs

Apr 9, 2008

Frame of Mind 5

directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
cinematography by Henri Decae

Apr 4, 2008

Horror Noir

Val Lewton was responsible for producing a slate of psychological horror pictures for RKO studios in the days following the financial disaster which incurred after Orson Welles' Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons almost bankrupted the studio. Lewton had worked for David O. Selznick as a story editor and yearned to be his own master ... write his own stories and produce his own motion pictures. RKO made his dream come true. With the release of, Cat People, a low budget picture that implied horror ... not show it, Lewton was on his way to imprint his influential style on celluloid and in the minds of future directors and producers. After Cat People, eight more films rolled out of the RKO Studio gates and into theaters.

A few years ago, a dvd box set of Lewton produced films was released. I was lucky enough to purchase this treasure trove of film history and recently decided to run my greedy hands through the jewels inside. The first gem I decided to examine was The Seventh Victim. I had heard that this was the most obscure and most bizarre of his films. I was intrigued and curious ... and I was quite pleased with what I eventually viewed.

Lewton produced The Seventh Victim, but it was directed by a protege of his named Mark Robson. Made in 1943, the film blends the film noir technique of shadows, dark corners, fedora wearing silhouettes, jagged lines of light and dark and that ever present mood of impending doom with that of the standard noir film. His films insinuated horror and monstrous acts and much evil was done off-screen. There are moments of footsteps being heard behind a frightened protagonist, dark looks that betray horrible sick thoughts and the nuances of film creativity. Many times his style was to use the dark and the wonderful tool of sound to create pure utter fright.

Val Lewton

Much of the horror portrayed on screen in the 1930s and 1940s was located in some bizarre mix of German/English/Romanian country populated with American and English actors battling man-made monsters, vampires and lupine man-beasts. These were being produced at RKO's rival low budget studio Universal Pictures. Lewton's horror was more familiar. His was not the fright of the creature pouncing at you from the darkened room, but the horror of what your own mind could produce from what he implied through shadows, light and simple sound. Most of these was done due to budget restraints, but it proves to be more frightening and more real. And his locations were right here in America ... in this case, New York City, to be specific, Greenwich Village.

The story begins as the virginal simple Mary Gibson must leave the safety of her Victorian-like girls' school and travel to Manhattan in search of her missing sister Jacqueline. Jacqueline was funding Mary's cloistered education and without the funds that her wealthy sister provides, explains her stiffly starched headmaster, Mary will have to leave the school. She does, but to find Jacqueline and solve the mystery of her disappearance. Along the way, much like a fairy tale Goldilocks, Mary encounters, instead of bears, three men; Jacqueline's lawyer husband who begins to fall in love with Mary, a love-sick poet who lives above the Dante Restaurant and harbors his own love for Mary and a smarmy cultured psychiatrist with the cliche noir smoldering cigarette in his two fingers, a pencil moustache and English accent. This man knows more than he should and with his help and that of other two gentlemen, Mary eventually learns of her sister's whereabouts. Those whereabouts involve a devil cult, located in arty Greenwich Village, who will stop at nothing, including murder, to keep their secrets. Their willingness to kill Jacqueline may just be in competition with her own pessimistic attitude toward her own life and the ending of it. Lewton described the theme of this film as "Death is good."

The film is filled with fantastic shots of characters bathed in shadows. An undercurrent of sexuality is running through the story; both hetero and homosexuality. The sense of lesbianism is subtle, but evident by the acting style of the strong women and their meek submissive counterparts. Mary seems quite young (her school appears to be populated by older teens) and the sexual attraction the older men in the film have for her is a bit uncomfortable. Mary is like the pure white lamb wandering from her flock into a den of wolves. Every character seems surrounded by gloom, even supporting characters portraying secretaries and penny-ante private detectives. A standout scene is one in which Mary is returning home at night after seeing a murder and runs aboard a underpopulated subway car. As she sits there in fright, two men enter, both dressed as if they had had a night out on the town; one in top hat, in fact. They are supporting a, presumed, drunken third companion. Mary senses something wrong and she is correct. In her unease she gets up to find refuge in the next car. As she turns to look back at the men, two of them stare at her with obvious knowing menace. It is truly scary.

Other directors must have seen this little known film. As I watched the story unfold, I saw two very glaring examples of later film impression. First was the obvious relation to Rosemary's Baby. The devil cult in The Seventh Victim is very similar to the one portrayed in Polanski's film. They are all ordinary people. The type of people you would see every day in Manhattan. They are a bit sophisticated, but they do not inspire instant fright. But, they do in their matter-of-fact statements and attitude in expressing evil and planning murder. It seems they would easily discuss killing as easily as commenting on photographs from a recent vacation, as they hob- nob at one of their cocktail parties. Perhaps Ira Levin, the writer of the original Rosemary's Baby novel, had seen this film. Another example of impression can be seen in this shot seen below:

The scene that stands out the most to remind you of another classic film is one in which Mary is taking a shower. She is naked and vulnerable. The door opens and a figure approaches slowly. Only a shadow is seen behind the shower curtain. Mary hears her name called out and, in pure terror, responds and converses with this figure. The figure of a matronly woman who warns her of prying into her sister's disappearance. The shadow is given a devilish appearance by a pointed angular hat the character wears. It is hard not to imagine that this scene did not influence someone connected with Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho., whether it be Robert Bloch, the screenwriter or Hitchcock, himself.

The Seventh Victim is a scary film and well conceived. But, I warn you it is not one that will lift your spirits or make you smile after it is over, with the tingly feeling of having just experienced a fun thrill ride. It is laden with doom and instills the feeling that nothing ends well for anyone. It all ends in death. Life, this film could say, could be summed up by one set piece discovered by Mary. An apartment rented by her sister. An apartment that is empty except for a single chair and, dangling over it, a hangman's noose.