skip navigation

Movie News - Our extensive online Hollywood film and classic DVD news page.

  1. Top News Stories

    •  
    • Maureen O’Hara: The Biography

    • By Aubrey Malone

      With her porcelain skin, her fiery green eyes and that mane of glorious red hair, Maureen O'Hara was destined to be in the movies, especially movies filmed in Technicolor. She commanded attention with her striking beauty and impassioned portrayals of spirited heroines, whether she was being rescued from the gallows by Charles Laughton in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, (1939), falling in love with Walter Pidgeon against a coal-blackened sky in How Green Was My Valley (1941), learning to believe in miracles with Natalie Wood in Miracle on 34th Street (1947), or matching wits with John Wayne in The Quiet Man (1952). She charmed audiences with her powerful presence and easy confidence.

      Maureen O'Hara: The Biography is the first book-length biography of the screen legend hailed as the "Queen of Technicolor." Following the star from her childhood in Dublin to the height of her fame in Hollywood, film critic Aubrey Malone draws on new information from the Irish Film Institute, production notes from films, and details from historical film journals, newspapers, and fan magazines. Malone also examines the actress's friendship with frequent costar John Wayne and her relationship with director John Ford, and she addresses the hotly debated question of whether the screen siren was a feminist or antifeminist figure.

      Though she was an icon of cinema's golden age, O'Hara's penchant for privacy and habit of making public statements that contradicted her personal choices have made her an enigma. This breakthrough biography offers the first look at the woman behind the larger-than-life persona, sorting through the myths to present a balanced assessment of one of the greatest stars of the silver screen.

      In the words of Mollie Gregory, author of Women Who Run the Show: How a Brilliant and Creative New Generation of Women Stormed Hollywood. "Maureen O'Hara: The Biography is a significant contribution to scholars in the field and to movie fans for its broad scope, rich movie lore and enlightening information about O'Hara, the woman and the actress, whose career spanned a vital period in American film history."

      Aubrey Malone, a professional film critic, has written more than seventy books, including Hemingway: The Grace and the Pressure and The Hunchback of East Hollywood: A Biography of Charles Bukowski.

    • Comment
      share:
  1. New Books

    •  
    • The Lost Notebook: Herman Schultheis and the Secrets of Walt Disney's Movie Magic

    • By John Canemaker

      In this handsomely illustrated book, author John Canemaker brings to life the covert scrapbook of special effects wizardry compiled by Disney artist Herman Shultheis, who used it to detail how many animated effects were created over seventy years ago.

      Schlutheis not only worked on effects photography but also documented, sometimes painstakingly, how famous sequences in Disney animated classics were conceived and achieved--from the elaborate opening shot of Pinnochio to the snowflakes in Fantasia. Schultheis was in the perfect position to create such a chronicle: his work at the Disney studios was focused on effects photography, but he also shot the reference photographs that animators would often use when creating their drawings.

      Schulteis' story reads a bit like a Hollywood tale: he was a German immigrant and a part-time nudist, a suspected German sympathizer, and a technical whiz with a camera who worked at the Disney studios from 1938 to 1941. After World War II, he worked at Twentieth Century-Fox and Telefilms before going to Guatamela, camera in hand, in 1955. He never came back--disappearing while on a trip into the jungle.

      Thirty-five years later, after his widow's death in 1990, his notebooks were discovered in a cabinet drawer. The originals are on display at The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco and are reproduced for this book. A forward by Pixar's Pete Docter, the Academy Award-winning animation director, puts the importance of the notebooks into context, helping us to understand what they represent in terms of the history of animation and why they are so valued by technicians and film buffs today.

      John Canemaker is an Academy Award-, Emmy Award-, and Peabody Award-winning animation director and designer. His twenty-eight minute film, The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation, won the 2005 Academy Award for Best Animated Short, and his more than twenty films (and their original art) are in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He is also a tenured professor and director of the animation program at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.

    • More >
    •  
    •  
    • Cosby: His Life and Times

    • By Mark Whitaker

      Bill Cosby has been a part of our cultural history for over fifty years--from his early comedy records to his groundbreaking work in television, movies and stage. Yet this is the first major biography of this talented man.

      Author Mark Whitaker spoke with Cosby himself, in a series of in-depth interviews, as well as over sixty of the actor's associates and close friends to help bring the man and artist into sharper focus .

      Cosby grew up in a Philadelphia housing project, the son of an alcoholic, largely absent father and a loving but overworked mother. He turned his life around when he joined the Navy, talked his way into college and seized his first breaks as a stand-up comic.

      Published on the 30th anniversary of The Cosby Show, the book reveals the behind-the-scenes story of that groundbreaking sitcom, as well as Cosby's bestselling albums, breakout role on I Spy, and pioneering place in children's TV. It also deals with professional setbacks and personal dramas, from an affair that sparked public scandal to the murder of his only son. Mark Whitaker is the former Managing Editor of CNN, Washington bureau chief for NBC News and reporter and editor at Newsweek magazine, where he became the first African-American to lead a national newsweekly. His critically acclaimed family memoir, My Long Trip Home, tells the story of his parents--a star-crossed interracial couple who married in the 1950s--and his grandparents, black undertakers from Pittsburgh and French Protestants who helped hide thousands of Jews from the Nazis during World War II. Whitaker lives in New York City with his family.

    • More >
    •  
    •  
    • The Making of Gone With the Wind

    • By Steve Wilson

      Seventy-five years ago, moviegoers watched a young heroine stand on a hillside in the early morning hours and swear she would never go hungry again. By that point in the movie, Scarlett O'Hara had already encountered love, loss and an invading army. Audiences were swept up in the epic story and the film has become an enduring classic.

      To commemorate the milestone anniversary of this beloved film, author Steve Wilson scoured the archives of the David O. Selznick collection at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin for this new book chronicling the making of the film.

      This rarely-seen material offers fans and film historians a fascinating behind-the-scenes view of the challenges, trials, and successes related to the production of this timeless classic.

      Before a single frame of film was shot, Gone With The Wind was embroiled in controversy. There were serious concerns about how the film would depict race and violence in the Old South during the Civil War and Reconstruction. And while Clark Gable was almost everyone's choice to play Rhett Butler, there was no clear favorite for Scarlett O'Hara which, stymied the legendary producer Selznick for some time.

      There was also the huge challenge of turning Margaret Mitchell's Pulitzer Prize-winning epic into a manageable screenplay and producing it at a reasonable cost. Various screenwriters tried to tame the story and Selznick himself kept the pressure up with his own notoriously detailed memos. George Cukor was hired and then fired before Selznick finally settled on Victor Fleming as the man most able to handle the scale of both the story and the production.

      With a foreword by film historian and TCM Host Robert Osborne, the book includes on-set photographs, storyboards, correspondence, fan mail, production records, costumes and, of course, Selznick's own lengthy memos. The author writes effectively about how creative choices helped produce one of the most loved films of all time and why it remains so influential all these years later.

      Steve Wilson is the curator of the film collection at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. He has curated several exhibitions at the Ransom Center, including Shooting Stars, a display of Hollywood glamour photography, and Making Movies, a major exhibition on film production.

    • More >
    •  
    •  
    • The World of Raymond Chandler: In His Own Words

    • Edited by Barry Day

      The fog shrouded streets, the double-dealing hustlers and the hardboiled dames who could break your heart or just as easily plug you with a bullet--the world of Raymond Chandler was not for the faint of heart.

      Chandler never wrote an autobiography or a memoir, but Day, making use of Chandler's novels, short stories and letters, tells the story of the man "with no home"--a man precariously balanced between his classical English education and the fast-evolving American culture between and after the two World Wars.

      Chandler reveals what it was like to be a writer, and in particular what it was to be a writer of "hard-boiled" fiction in what was for him "another language"--a fast-changing American vernacular that didn't make things easy. He also discusses the work of his contemporaries: Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner and Somerset Maugham, among others.

      But Chandler's reflections on place and character--the most often discussed and memorable aspects of his fiction--are among the highlights of Day's selections for this book. Day includes Chandler's reflections on Los Angeles, his adopted city, and the locales he used in his writings, as well as on his time in Hollywood working with Billy Wilder, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock and other towering figures of the studio era. Day also includes a section on Philip Marlowe, Chandler's alter ego, the incorruptible knight with little armor who walks the "mean streets" of a city not made for chivalry. Barry Day is an author and playwright. In addition to his books on Noël Coward, Day has written about Dorothy Parker, Oscar Wilde, Johnny Mercer, and Rodgers and Hart. He has written and produced plays and musical revues showcasing the work of Coward, the Lunts, Oscar Wilde, and others. He lives in New York, London, and Palm Beach.

    • More >
    •  
  1. DVD Reviews

    •  
    • The Train on Blu-ray

    • Is art worth fighting for? Dying for? These are questions posed in The Train (1964), a thrilling WWII action picture, both to the characters in the story and to us, the audience. When the art in question is a treasure trove of French impressionist art ("the heritage of France"), at risk of being hauled out of the country by Nazis to an uncertain fate, the questions become all the more difficult to answer.

      How refreshing it is for a movie filled with eye-popping, visceral, kinetic action to also center around such a thoughtful dilemma. The Train is not only gripping but timeless, because the issues at its core are timeless.

      It's also timeless in the way director John Frankenheimer, working from an Oscar-nominated script by Franklin Coen and Frank Davis (along with three uncredited writers), crafts an efficient, no-nonsense style that grabs audience attention right off the bat. Nazi Colonel Von Waldheim (Paul Scofield) quietly enters a building to look admiringly at scores of great impressionist paintings hanging on the walls. "Degenerate art," he tells a French curator. "I should detest it." But it's clear he doesn't, even as he then oversees the crating up of all this art in preparation for shipment to Germany. These are the last days of the German occupation of France. The Allies are closing in fast, and Waldheim wants to spirit the art away to Germany on a special train. The curator, however, informs the local French resistance of the scheme, and the French train-yard chief, Labiche (Burt Lancaster), is asked to prevent the train from leaving, or to at least to delay it long enough until the Allies to arrive in a few days' time.

      And so begins a cat and mouse game between Waldheim and Labiche, who at first is dead-set against risking any lives for the art. Eventually, however, Labiche becomes as determined to keep the train in France as Waldheim is obsessed with getting it out. Labiche and his men concoct clever, elaborate schemes to delay and reroute the train under the constant noses of brutal Nazis. Scofield is positively brilliant as Waldheim, whose love for the art makes him at best a complex Nazi, and Lancaster, at age 50, delivers one of his most physical performances -- running, jumping, climbing trains, scrambling over walls, and sliding down steep hills. And for the last section of the film he does all that with a limp, caused by a real mishap he had while golfing on a day off. Frankenheimer later called Burt Lancaster "the strongest man physically I've ever known. He was one of the best stuntmen who ever lived. I don't think anybody's ever moved as well on the screen."

      Frankenheimer shoots many of Lancaster's stunts in long, complex takes, often having his star end the shot in close-up, as if to impress us (successfully) that it was in fact Lancaster doing his own stunt work. The long takes also allow the audience to feel the visceral reality of the action. In this film, the trains are real, the locations are real, and the explosions are real: full-scale, with no effects work. This creates genuine impact, and is all the more impressive today, fifty years on, because very few movies with such large-scale action are ever still made in this way.

      The Train impresses in other ways, too. Almost every shot in the film employs razor-sharp deep-focus photography, resulting in one of the most beautiful black-and-white features of the era. (This is said to be the last great action movie done in black and white.) Frankenheimer's handling of crowd scenes is remarkable, with wide shots crammed with action and extras deep in the frame. Here again, the long takes reveal an unbelievable amount of complicated choreography work. Often, Frankenheimer incorporates people and objects into the extreme foreground so as to emphasize the overall depth of the image. Even something as simple as Lancaster's initial walk through the train yard ends up being one of the most memorable shots in the movie, because of the massive amount of activity involving people and machinery going on all around him in the single take. And the sound design is phenomenal, with the screeching, groaning, hissing and metallic sounds of the moving trains adding immensely to the sense of gritty, sooty realism. Long sections of the film are constructed wordlessly, with the dramatic visuals and intense sound telling the story -- the mark of a first-class filmmaker.

      Ultimately, The Train moves toward a thrilling final sequence that culminates with the final standoff we know must come. ("A painting means as much to you as pearls to an ape!" Scofield berates Lancaster.) It's to the film's credit, however, that it does not present the scene as a simplistic western-type showdown. The variation used works ever better, because it feels of a piece with the sense of loss permeating the German side of the things that has been established from the first moment of the movie.

      Twilight Time's Blu-ray is beautiful. The Train surely hasn't looked or sounded this great since its initial theatrical release. On a new audio commentary track, film historians Nick Redman, Julie Kirgo and Paul Seydor offer good insights into the film, though a single commentary track with so many people is inherently a bit unwieldy, as participants tend to cut each other off or jump around erratically with their points. Kirgo also supplies superb liner notes with all sorts of interesting production information and analysis.

      Otherwise, the Blu-ray retains the extra materials first seen on MGM's 1999 DVD release: an isolated score track, and another audio commentary track with director John Frankenheimer, who died in 2002. His comments are sporadic but fascinating, as he talks about the challenges of the production, his use of lighting and depth of field, and how he approaches a film in terms of the emotional stakes for an audience. Of Michel Simon, the famous French actor who plays to perfection the role of the ill-fated train engineer Papa Boule, Frankenheimer says, "That face! I just couldn't take the camera off him." He also talks of introducing the paintings as he would a human character in the opening sequence, which incidentally was the only one to be shot on a soundstage.

      The Train, which Frankenheimer took over from director Arthur Penn after Penn and Lancaster had a falling out, turned Frankenheimer's life around; he spent a year on location in Normandy, then returned four years later to live there for seven years. In the meantime, he turned out a picture that impresses for its balance of large-scale drama and intimate cat-and-mouse conflict between vividly real characters. A great film.

      By Jeremy Arnold

    • More >
    •  
    •  
    • Arch of Triumph on Blu-ray

    • One of several independent film companies attempting to establish a foothold in Hollywood was Enterprise Productions, which generated a string of quality pictures in the late 1940s. Enterprise's directors included Andre De Toth (Ramrod), Abraham Polonsky (Force of Evil) and Max Ophüs (Caught), but its only box office hit was Robert Rosson's Body and Soul with John Garfield.

      Enterprise's biggest production is director Lewis Milestone's Arch of Triumph, from a novel by the noted Erich Maria Remarque, who had earlier written the source novel for Milestone's anti-war classic All Quiet on the Western Front. Producer David Lewis scored a coup by securing the services of stars Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. After only a few years in Hollywood, Bergman had been nominated for Best Actress three times and won once, opposite Boyer in Gaslight. Remarque's story took place in Paris just prior to the Nazi invasion, a place and time that Bergman had made her own in the wildly popular romantic thriller Casablanca. The highly anticipated movie seemed a guaranteed hit.

      But author Remarque wrote few romances with happy endings. Having fled the Nazis, Austrian doctor Ravic (Charles Boyer) is an undocumented, stateless political refugee living in Paris. He earns money by practicing in secret. Helping maintain Ravic's anonymity is his best friend Maurice (Louis Calhern), a former Russian colonel who now works as a doorman at the Scheherazade Café. Ravic prevents a suicide by Joan Madou (Ingrid Bergman), an Italian-Romanian refugee who has taken a succession of lovers to survive. He cannot resist falling in love with her. Living by night and avoiding police, they travel to Antibes on the French Riviera. Joan attracts the attention of various playboys, including the wealthy & possessive Alex (Stephen Bekassy). Ravic becomes unsure of Joan's love. Back in Paris, Ravic catches a glimpse of a portly German on the streets of Paris, a man who may be Ivon Haake (Charles Laughton), the Nazi torturer who murdered Ravic's lover in Austria. Ravic is dead set on killing Haake, if he ever sees him again.

      Arch of Triumph has been out of circulation for so long that fans of Ingrid Bergman will consider it a major discovery. Charles Laughton's following also jumps at the chance to see him in something 'new'. Unfortunately, the beautifully produced and directed film was a major box office flop. Neither an escapist romance nor an audience-friendly thriller, it's a grim drama about disillusioned and desperate people. By 1948 audiences no longer welcomed stories about political misery in Europe. They had embraced the wartime morale booster Casablanca mainly because of Bogie and Bergman. Warner's well made Confidential Agent starred Charles Boyer as a Spanish Republican dodging Franco agents in wartime England. Audiences didn't care about the issues involved, and noticed only that Boyer and co-star Lauren Bacall didn't generate much romantic chemistry. Carol Reed's The Third Man was a notable exception to this trend.

      Audiences liked political complexity even less in the 1940s than they do now. Arch of Triumph was labeled as 'sluggish' and unfocused, which we can now read as, "doesn't follow the accepted pattern for wartime romance stories." The movie is surprisingly adult in its outlook. Ingrid Bergman's Joan Madou has fled to Paris. Unable to work, her only way to live is to find a man to take care of her. Dr. Ravik comes upon her because her lover has died in her bed. Terrified that the French police will nab her, she feels like a common prostitute. He's demoralized as well. It's a decidedly downbeat romance.

      Arch of Triumph is fairly faithful to the novel by Erich Maria Remarque, one of the few authors who wrote passionately about civilians displaced by the upheavals of war. It's in the same vein as Remarque's novel Flotsam, an 'annihilating epic' in which half a dozen characters fleeing Nazi Germany roam across Europe looking for a non-existent haven. It was made into the impressive Sam Wood movie So Ends Our Night. Pushed from one country to another, refugees must live like criminals to avoid being sent back to prison or death in Germany. It's a story of betrayals, murders and noble suicides. So Ends Our Night was released in 1941 just as conditions turned grim for these stateless refugees. Most had fled to the haven of France, and when the Germans invaded, the majority were rounded up and sent to an unknown fate.

      Unlike the desperate nomads of So Ends Our Night, Dr. Ravik hasn't had to walk halfway across Europe. He has some money and earns more practicing medicine on the sly. Close friend Maurice makes him welcome at the nightclub and tips him to potential trouble. Ravik is able to slip away to the South of France for a vacation with Joan. But their happiness could end at any moment. One slip-up would mean arrest and deportation to Germany, where the torturer Ivon Haake would surely finish him off.

      The movie benefits from director Milestone's formalism and attention to character detail. The lighting, sets and costumes are more realistic than we expect. Nervous pre-war Paris is seen mostly by night. The movie offers noir atmosphere, incipient doom and the haunted face of Ingrid Bergman.

      A screenwriting analyst would surely find fault with the movie's structure. Ravik and Joan's trip to Antibes dissipates much of the story's tension. How tough can things be when she's having a fine time in fancy dresses? We can see audiences wondering what's going on, as the rich are happily gambling even on the brink of war. The script also fumbles Ravik's vendetta against Ivon Haake. A flashback to a torture chamber (cue silhouette images) seems to come from a horror movie. At one point Ravik is arrested and spends months in Germany before escaping and returning to Paris. As most of this happens off-camera, we can't fully appreciate the hardships being suffered by thousands of refugees.

      The movie also fails to utilize the talented Charles Laughton. Ivon Haake is only in the movie for a scene or two, and has no scenes with Ingrid Bergman. No longer in uniform, the German is apparently commuting between Berlin and Paris to prepare a secret police network for the coming occupation. Arch of Triumph is true to the novel (and history) but the audience must have felt cheated to be deprived of a 'big' Laughton scene.

      What does work well is the romantic fireworks between Bergman and Boyer. The lovers only slowly reveal their feelings for each other, and are prevented from full commitment by their refugee status. When Ravik comes back from exile he finds Joan living in a swank apartment provided by the wealthy Alex. He forgives Joan and even gives her time to detach from Alex, who isn't happy that Ravik has re-entered the picture. But war is declared before any of this can be resolved. Ravik spots Ivon Haake again and prepares his trap.

      As we expect, Ingrid Bergman comes through with an absorbing performance. She positively glows as a troubled woman whose life is out of control. The contradictions in Joan Madou remind us of films from the 1970s, when screen characters were allowed to be complex or ambiguous. Charles Boyer is also good but Milestone underplays the suicidal streak in Ravic's drive to kill Haake, and instead treats the doctor as more of a righteous avenger. Thus we expect a much bigger comeuppance for Haake.

      Postwar audiences enjoyed dark stories, but the unsentimental Arch of Triumph asks them to be concerned about problems from a past they'd like to forget, and associated with uncomfortable politics. By 1948 America had aligned itself with occupied West Germany against new foreign enemies. We gave huge sums of money to charities helping displaced European orphans (see The Search) but mostly preferred to forget the ugly wartime situations chronicled by Erich Maria Remarque.

      The film's political complexity now seems much more attractive. We're accustomed to movies about people trapped in grim political binds -- the new A Most Wanted Man is a spy movie that sympathizes with a stateless asylum seeker navigating a dangerous path. Audiences in 1948 may have rejected Bergman and Boyer's characters because they weren't noble idealists and selfless lovers, as in Casablanca. That's probably what attracted Bergman to the role, and it's why the movie is so interesting now.

      Olive Films' Blu-ray of Arch of Triumph is a very good HD transfer of this hard-to-see picture. The show suffered a number of cuts either in reissue or when distributed to television, but UCLA has restored it to its full 133-minute running time. The images show some wear but Russell Metty's B&W cinematography looks terrific. The audio is also strong.

      Enterprise Productions put everything it had into Arch of Triumph, with production values the equal of any big studio film. But audiences didn't "discover" the film and it earned back less than a third of its budget. It was the beginning of dramatic career changes for Ingrid Bergman. Just a couple of years later her Hollywood career was destroyed by the scandal of her affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini. The American press turned on Bergman with the kind of venom reserved for The Hollywood Ten, Charles Chaplin and the Rosenbergs. When she returned to American screens six years later, Arch of Triumph had been long forgotten. But fans of the actress will be happy to see her in such an interesting and demanding role.

      Let's hope that Erich Maria Remarque's So Ends Our Night can also be rescued from obscurity -- at the moment the only video copies available are in very poor condition.

      By Glenn Erickson

    • More >
    •  
    •  
    • Testament (1983) on DVD

    • The early 1980s saw an uptick in international pressures. When Ronald Reagan declared the Soviet Union an "evil empire" the possibility of nuclear war felt more real than ever. The earlier Three Mile Island nuclear accident had already raised the public's awareness of the hazards of radioactive poisoning, and PBS television specials reported on the insanity of Mutual Assured Destruction as a defense/deterrent strategy. In terms of nuclear consciousness, it was a return to the Eisenhower years. President Reagan joked about bombing Russia.

      Most movies about nuclear peril date from the 1950s science fiction boom, often expressing doomsday fears in fantastic terms. But that decade ended with Stanley Kubrick's powerful On the Beach, a realistic post-apocalyptic drama based on the idea that the radioactivity loosed by a nuclear exchange could exterminate all of humanity. After Stanley Kubrick's excellent horror-comedy Dr. Strangelove, the theme of "pushing the button" became an overused cliché.

      Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher's aggressive rhetoric against the Soviet Union once again brought the subject to the forefront, and nuclear war-themed movies suddenly came back into vogue. College audiences laughed and gasped at 1982's The Atomic Cafe, an advocacy documentary made from old government films and newsreels. It re-popularized the bizarre "Duck and Cover" cartoon once shown in schools. But 1983 saw a batch of liberal-minded pictures commenting on the precarious nuclear standoff. In March NBC broadcast Special Bulletin, in which terrorists detonate a nuclear bomb in the port of Charleston, South Carolina. Using a "faux reality" format, the show was made to look like normal broadcast coverage. The juvenile thriller WarGames was released to theaters in May. It concluded peacefully, with a computer lecturing teenager Matthew Broderick and a hawkish general that nuclear war is, "A strange game. The only winning move is not to play."

      Later in the year, ABC broadcast the two-part miniseries The Day After, a doomsday tale following the fates of a number of Kansans during an all-out war. Graphic special effects depicted an entire city's population vaporized by a hydrogen blast. It is estimated that 100 million Americans tuned in.

      But arguably the most artistic and emotionally effective anti-nuke movie of the Reagan years is Lynne Littman's Testament. The low-budget production was filmed for broadcast on Public TV's American Playhouse, but Paramount was so impressed that they picked it up for theatrical distribution. It opened to critical accolades but modest business, as word of mouth spread that it was an almost intolerably sad and depressing viewing experience. Like On the Beach, Littman's film shows no atomic bombings and concentrates on the effect of atomic war on ordinary people. But unlike Stanley Kramer's movie the ordinary people in Testament are not played by glamorous movie stars. The citizens of a small Northern California town find themselves suddenly isolated, with little or no news from the outside world, and facing lonely, hopeless deathwatch.

      Screenwriter John Sacret Young concentrates most of the drama within a single household. The Wetherly family lives in Hamelin, a wooded bedroom community inland of San Francisco. Carol (Jane Alexander) is a housewife. Tom (William Devane) works in the city and likes to stay active with his older son Brad (Ross Harris). Young Scottie (Lukas Haas of Mars Attacks!) hasn't started school yet. Daughter Mary Liz (Roxana Zal) is just getting to the age that she's thinking about boys. Carol and Tom have their differences but manage to get along with a degree of harmony.

      In one afternoon everything changes. A news announcement about atomic strikes on the Eastern seaboard is cut off when the TV and all normal communications are knocked out. Carol nervously waits for Tom to return; he often works late but this day left a phone message saying that he was already on his way home. The initial fear turns into a gnawing uncertainty as days and then weeks go by. Tom doesn't appear. After some initial looting the small community draws together. The school tries to keep things as normal as possible for the kids. Brad helps round up batteries for use in radios and flashlights. Carol and her three children grow closer to their neighbors. Service station owner Mike (Mako) rations out what gas remains and comforts his developmentally challenged son Hiroshi (Gerry Murillo). Elderly Rosemary and Henry Abhart (Lurene Tuttle & Leon Ames) become the neighborhood's only link to the outside world, for Henry picks up bits of outside news on his generator-powered ham radio.

      Depression sets in as all realize that the worst is occurring: animals, babies and the infirm are the first to be affected by higher levels of airborne radiation, presumably from blasts in the cities and military targets. Young marrieds Phil and Cathy Pitkin (Kevin Costner & Rebecca De Mornay) panic when their newborn baby falls sick. Some people leave, although the news is that the same thing is happening everywhere. As homes go dark, the business of dealing with the dead begins. All Carol can do is gather her children closer and do her best to keep hope alive.

      Our society makes mock-cynical jokes about death, but most of us sing a different tune when the subject becomes unavoidable. With some emotional reserves and the support of loved ones, most of us can face mortality. We may also gain comfort if we have children that will live on after us. But the unnatural nuclear threat negates normal human values. Testament offers a convincing scenario for utter doom, as experienced by a fairly stable American family. The end doesn't arrive as a Bang but neither does it come as a Whimper. Our selected family instead dies by stages. At first Carol joins in the community effort to maintain morale. Now the man of the family, poor Brad takes to his bicycle to carry messages and show his mother that he can be a good trouper.

      The movie becomes more claustrophobic as Hamelin shuts down. Director Littman occasionally cuts to home movies of the Wetherly family, laughing and playing outdoors. One day Brad finds Hiroshi left all alone, and brings him home. Carol's burden is appalling. Raising children shouldn't be about helping them to die, and worrying if one is going to die first. A child is all about plans for the future. Mary Liz withdraws, Brad tries to support his mother and little Scottie tires to understand what's going on. He asks his mother, "Make it go away".

      The movie avoids truly intolerable events but doesn't flinch from suggesting them. At one point we see a young father in shock, carrying a dresser drawer to use as a coffin for his dead infant. No editorial speeches are delivered about the causes of the war, as in On the Beach. We're instead given a little school play, the kind that parents attend to see their kids perform on stage. The play is "The Pied Piper of Hamelin", about the irresponsibility of parents toward their children. The teachers give the play a hopeful ending -- the thoughtless people of Hamelin will get their children back "when they deserve them".

      Why put the audience through this ordeal? Testament pulls the discussion of nuclear war back down to reality. It isn't a fantasy about violence on the highways and it isn't some vague allegory with zombies. There is no special effects destruction spectacle to admire, only a very possible scenario that society cannot afford to ignore. Lynne Littman's film reached a much wider audience when it was shown on PBS in 1984. Its personal, family-oriented horrors hit us where we live.

      The Warner Archive Collection DVD-R of Testament is a re-issue of a much older Paramount disc and appears to be the exact same pressing. The enhanced image is detailed and accurate, and James Horner's sensitive music score comes across well on the clear soundtrack. English subs are encoded as well. Although the setting looks like Northern California, the film was shot in Sierra Madre, a suburb of Los Angeles. Steven Poster's cinematography makes the most of the rainy streets, and the set dressers create the illusion of trash piling up and lawns dying out.

      The extras from the original release have been included. In 2003 Lynne Littman directed Testament at 20, a making-of remembrance reunion. Several of the film's actors became stars in the interim. Now adults, the three child actors still feel like a family. Littman's second featurette Nuclear Thoughts combines more interviews with news film and talks with school children to talk about nuclear sanity in the post- September 11 world. And a text scroll offers a number of key dates for a Timeline of The Nuclear Age.

      By Glenn Erickson

    • More >
    •  
    •  
    • Pickpocket on Criterion Blu-ray and DVD

    • French filmmaker Robert Bresson was a bona fide artistic iconoclast. His ideas about cinema go directly against established narrative conventions. His most frequent theme investigates the notion of spiritual transformation, and his most successful films generate a sense of spiritual mystery. Critic Paul Schrader asserts that for him this transcendent emotional rush was a consciousness-raising, inspirational event. Most films accost us, asking for our involvement. Schrader says that Pickpocket instead recedes from the viewer into its own mystery. If we're intrigued, we move toward it. Many critics consider Bresson's 1959 film Pickpocket to be his best.

      Pickpocket's melancholy loner Michel (Martin LaSalle) is a close cousin to the director's soulful, suffering Diary of a Country Priest. Vaguely referencing a philosophy about privileged 'supermen', Michel considers himself too special to work like others. He cultivates an interest in public sneak-thievery. His friend Jacques (Pierre Leymarie) tries to understand Michel's odd behavior, as does Jeanne (Marika Green), a neighbor of his mother. Michel falls into league with two accomplices led by a particularly talented pickpocket (Kassagi). He is perversely intent on pursuing his criminal life, which can only end in one way.

      We tend to champion mainstream film directors that profess a strong personal vision. Robert Bresson takes his ideas about cinema theory to an extreme. He has no use for movie stars, or even professional actors. As has been repeated in almost every review of a Bresson film, the director refers to his on-screen talent as 'models' and insists that they be non-actors. He asks his cast to behave without expression or theatrics, and employs special techniques to prevent them from performing in an expressive manner. If a 'model' says his line with too much emphasis or meaning, the shot is re-taken as many times as Bresson feels are necessary to 'deaden' the performance into a rote, neutral delivery.

      Bresson does not want his actors to project their personalities, but to serve only as a conduit for his thesis. Alfred Hitchcock sometimes talked about using actors as posed 'objects' for his visual schemes, but for the most part he depended on star personalities to bring his films to life, to establish an emotional contact with his audience. Bresson's aims are far less commercially oriented. He controls his actors as a writer chooses words, to connect with the audience only on his terms. No psychological explanation is offered for Michel's behavior. Michel mumbles a few unconvincing words about Nietzschean supermen existing above the common morality, but Pickpocket doesn't fit human behavior into a cause-and-effect dramatic pattern. Michel is essentially as unknowable as strangers we see on the street.

      Pickpocket presents realistic people in naturalistic locations -- drab rooms, metro platforms, a racetrack. Sitting in his tiny room, Michel seems absorbed by a vague discontent. When in public he's unable to commit to a few minutes of civility with his friends. He behaves as if he wants someone else to take responsibility for his existence, to change his life. Jeanne looks at him in a maddening way: interested? Neutral? To get a reaction Michel must feed her suspicions about himself. "How do you think I live without a job?" About the only thing we really know about Michel is that he's an egotist, unaware that people around him also feel trapped in their own skins.

      Bresson breaks standard narrative conventions, so that we will take nothing for granted. Music is not scored to enhance the drama. Editing rhythms are slower than normal, and cuts don't happen when we expect them to. Shots are naturalistic but actions are not. Michel and his friends move as if employing a conscious act of will to do simple things like turn around, or look in a certain direction. They tend to stare without blinking, as if they were Pod people not quite comfortable in human bodies.

      Bresson aim is to get beyond the 'movie experience' so as to involve the viewer more deeply. We're accustomed in films to casually identify with wrongdoers. We project our own thoughts and judgments onto Michel. He's not that different from us. Do Bresson's 'blank' characterizations function as a mirror for the viewer?

      The film presents the actions of the pickpockets as strange ritualized behavior, performed like magic. Bresson uses precise, clear camera angles to show Michel first practicing sneak-thief work in his room and then performing it in public. Using the sleight-of-hand skills of professional magician and sleight-of-hand expert Kassagi, we see pickpocket 'touches' carried off both singly and in coordinated attacks. When Kassagi works in concert with Michel and a third man, they're like invisible angels, lifting wallets and rifling purses with magical skill. Is this what Michel wants, to be a phantom presence, moving among ordinary people but existing on a higher level? If so, Michel fails badly. When he prowls on his own in a racetrack crowd, Michel makes eye contact with his victims, seemingly telegraphing his intentions. We feel sure that the victim must be aware of him. Is Michel trying to be caught?

      Michel's thievery provides him with the illusion of an identity free of outside control. Yet his struggle to exist independent of other people brings him more fear and doubt. Michel seems capable of appreciating another person only after losing his liberty. Much is made of the climactic scene, with its sudden reversion to conventional directorial tactics: the camera moves sharply forward to heighten an embrace. The final voice-over line is an emotional release for the audience. Yet Bresson holds back here as well -- Michel speaks the final lines as if he were narrating his life in the past tense.

      Pickpocket isn't as pessimistic as Bresson's later Au hazard Balthazar and L'argent. For some it elicits strong religious feelings, as does the director's Diary of a Country Priest. The void at the center of Michel's life seems to call out for the guidance of faith, and some aspects of the final shot validate this interpretation. It is said that Robert Bresson's characters want to transcend the limits of reality, to attain some greater truth. Does Michel experience transcendence? Or does he succeed simply by making a meaningful contact with Marika?


      Criterion's Dual-Format Blu-ray + DVD of Pickpocket improves on a very good DVD from 2003, with a sharper and more stable image. The soundtrack seems even more subtle and intimate. Bresson uses lesser-known classical music to strong effect behind his titles and sometimes during pickpocket sequences. The emotion-laden music cue the finish would seem to break with the director's avowed rules of engagement.

      Repeated from the earlier edition, disc producer Kate Elmore's extras offer is a variety of viewpoints on Bresson's methods and theories. James Quandt's commentary is a formal analysis that holds the film in proper reverence while pointing out its endless parade of oddities. Quandt notes the apparent disconnect between Michel and his voiceover. He also notes that everything in the movie seems organized in symmetrical pairs -- trips to the racetrack, talks to the policeman, etc. The articulate Robert Bresson speaks on an old French television show; our own Paul Schrader provides a video interview explaining how Bresson inspired him to become a filmmaker. All of these witnesses (even Bresson, to some extent) seem privy to a miracle, the essence of which cannot be communicated through speech.

      A pleasant TV docu tracks down all three of Pickpocket's 'model' actors, proving that human beings did indeed make the movie. Leading actor Martin La Salle is found living and working in 'obscure fame' in Mexico City. Actress Marika Green also appears in a Q&A session from a 2000 screening. Not to be missed is a French television show excerpt, in which the illusionist Kassagi performs marvelous magic tricks like eating razor blades. He also shows off his pickpocket skills, which are genuinely incredible.

      By Glenn Erickson

    • More >
    •  
    •  
    • The Essential Jacques Demy: The Criterion Collection on Blu-ray

    • The Criterion Collection's prime function is making great filmmakers accessible to the home video audience. Their new dual-format disc set The Essential Jacques Demy contains excellent restorations of the marvelous French director's best films. Always a loner exploring new avenues of music and romance, Demy's work will delight fans of his international success The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

      Jacques Demy is not categorized as a French New Wave filmmaker, but his Lola (1961) has the look of a Nouvelle Vague feature. It was filmed mostly with available light on location in the seaport of Nantes, with all audio dubbed in post-production. The B&W Franscope images slowly build a dizzying tangle of romantic relationships that center on the handsome but aimless Roland Cassard (Marc Michel) and a singer and bar hostess, Lola (Anouk Aimée). Roland meets an attractive widow (Elina Labourdette) in a bookstore, and offers advice to her daughter Cécile (Annie Duperoux). Roland encounters Lola and soon falls in love, but the timing isn't right. Lola spends the night with an American sailor friend, yet is saving her heart for a long-lost love that abandoned her with child seven years ago.

      In Lola fate takes the form of accidental meetings, which happen easily in an ornate courtyard shopping arcade frequented by most of the characters. All of the lovers have histories of mistakes and broken hearts, but none of them realize that their personal stories are part of a larger, repeating pattern. Lola would rather wait for her dream lover to return than commit to Roland. When young Cécile is taken to a fun fair by Lola's sailor friend and falls madly in love with him, she's unaware that the exact same thing happened to her mother, and Lola as well. Jacques Demy is reminding us that our romantic experiences are private, yet shared by all.

      Despite the gray realism of the cinematography, fantasy elements slip in. Sailors dance and drink at Lola's nightclub, where every working girl has a heart of gold. Cécile is barely in her teens, but we see her enraptured by love and ready to make a life-changing decision. 'Magical' timing brings people together and keeps them apart. Roland just misses an appointment for a job with a diamond smuggler, an accident that saves his skin. Appearing periodically through the picture is a tall man in a white Cadillac, who may hold the solution to several relationships.

      Demy references other romantic movies as well. Elina Labourdette starred in the classic Les dames du Bois de Boulogne as a woman trapped in a sordid compromise; her character in Lola is determined to save her daughter from the same fate. Roland Cassard attends a matinee of Return to Paradise, in which Gary Cooper's sailor abandons his own daughter on the South Seas island of Matareva. When another character seeks to explain his long absence, he talks about being marooned on an isle called Matareva. Demy converts these previous movies into quasi-prequels.

      Because its original negative was destroyed in a fire, the fine-quality restoration of Lola seen here is a genuine rescue job. Demy and his cameraman Raoul Coutard don't frequently film Anouk Aimée in extreme backlight, and she persists in looking ravishing even when the image is purposely overexposed. Criterion's extras include a 2012 interview with Ms. Aimée, another with Agnés Varda and four complete early films by Jacques Demy. One early student film points directly to what would later become the director's main theme: a young man wallows in self-pity after a romantic breakup.

      Judging by the success of Lola director Demy had his pick of actresses for his next film. Bay of Angels (La baie des anges) features a remarkable performance by Jeanne Moreau as Jackie Demaistre, a serious gambling addict. Demy once again gravitates to the seaside, this time to the casinos of Southern France. Bored bank clerk Jean (Claude Mann) catches the gambling bug after winning half a year's pay in just a couple of hours. He meets and beds Jackie, an utterly charming but hopelessly corrupted devotee of the Roulette Wheel. Having left her ruined marriage behind, Jackie bounces erratically from city to city and also from man to man. Both she and Jean have excellent luck. Jean finds out what it is like to buy expensive clothes and dine at the most exclusive eateries.

      But the troubled Jackie doesn't know when to quit, and loses money almost as fast as she wins it. When he first sees her, in fact, she's being ejected from a casino for attempting to steal chips. The practical Jean averts disaster more than once by announcing that he's held some cash in reserve. Jackie soon loses track of whose money is whose, and simply assumes that he'll give her everything he's got.

      Other directors' movies about gambling addicts almost always end in tragedy. At first Bay of Angels makes winning a lot of money seem a possible way to make a living. But the emptiness of the lifestyle comes through as well. When he meets her, Jackie has nothing left except the clothes on her back. She talks about redeeming the jewelry she's pawned but keeps returning to the tables instead. The longer Jean stays with her, the more she revises her backstory to align with the truth, rather than the face-saving lies she told him on meeting.

      Demy's direction of one of France's top stars is flawless. Just as notable is his refusal to criticize or condemn the unpredictable Jackie, no matter how reckless or abusive she becomes. Jean accepts her for what she is, and sticks with her. They're a remarkable couple; even if their lifestyle seems wholly unsustainable. The movie is a fascinating peek at a curiously detached existence.

      Criterion's extras emphasize Jacques Demy's appeal to potential actresses, as the usually calm Jeanne Moreau enthusiastically endorses him in an old television interview. Instead of choosing mainstream work, Demy concentrated on expressing his romantic themes. His main collaborator would be the composer of the music for his first two films, Michel Legrand.

      1964's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Les parapluies de Cherbourg) is the movie that put Demy on the map. In America it has been rediscovered by succeeding generations of French language students, in the same way that The Red Shoes inspires budding ballerinas. French directors admire American musicals but only Demy has found success adapting the highly artificial genre to his own temperament. A fully sung jazz operetta, the movie's soundtrack had to be finessed and recorded before filming took place, so that Demy's non-singing actors could lip-synch to the lyrics. Michel Legrand's music is nothing less than enchanting, and his main romantic tune is still an instantly recognized standard. Adding to the film's legend is its 'discovery' of Catherine Deneuve, one of the most enduring of French stars.

      For his first film in color Demy adopts an extravagant visual style, even though most of the film was made in a realistic setting, the port of Cherbourg. Just as in an MGM musical, bright primary colors are everywhere and costumes and props are carefully matched to the sets. Yet the story Demy tells is not an escapist fantasy. Umbrella shop girl Geneviève and mechanic Guy (Catherine Deneuve & Nino Castelnuovo) fall madly in love but are forced to separate when he's called up for military duty in Algeria. When she becomes pregnant and Guy's letters stop coming, Geneviève's practical mother (Anne Vernon) insists that she accept a marriage proposal from a wealthy diamond merchant. An undefeatable Great Love seems doomed to tragedy, as Geneviève realizes that she's just another victim in the world's oldest story.

      The film surprised audiences everywhere. The format takes just a few seconds to win us over. Because the entire movie is sung to music, there are no awkward transitions between normal dialogue scenes and musical numbers. As in West Side Story we don't mind hearing people sing instead of talk in completely realistic backgrounds, such as an auto repair garage. Unlike West Side Story, the romantic fantasy flows, without stylistic breaks for ordinary scenes.

      The Umbrellas of Cherbourg puts some audiences through an emotional wringer. The lovers' farewell at a rainy train depot fully conveys the desire to die rather than be separated, when two years seems an eternity. But Geneviève and Guy have already succumbed to their passion in a scene that of powerful visual symbolism. The inevitability of it all is expressed when they drift in the direction of Guy's house, without walking. The lovers know where they'll end up, and the film simply cuts to static images of the path to Guy's bedroom.

      The bright colors seem to depart for the later chapters, when reality forces Geneviève to betray her love. It's at this point that Umbrellas takes the leap into Jacques Demy's world of 'romantic relativity'. The cool diamond merchant sees and wants Geneviève, and maneuvers himself into a proposal as if conducting a smooth business negotiation. He's none other than Roland Cassard from Lola, played again by Marc Michel. Roland's music cue returns as well. Having lost the love of his life, Roland found his calling in the diamond trade and is more or less shopping for a wife and family on his own terms. He's sincere but cool, and by no means the same broken-hearted man who moped around Nantes. As Roland tells Geneviève's mother about Lola, we suddenly see that ornate shopping arcade again, this time in color.

      We spend the rest of the movie dreading what will happen when Geneviève and Guy meet again, for each has betrayed the other. Demy and Legrand have such control over the film's emotional flow that the snowy climax of Umbrellas achieves an impact equal to that of a classic opera.

      The extras grant us a full appreciation of how difficult it must have been for Demy and his designers to build a stylized reality from scratch. Demy and Legrand timed out the entire movie soundtrack in advance, leaving room for stage business and transitions. It's amazing that the final action and performances never seem locked into a rigid pattern. Several interviews cover the making of the show. Ms. Deneuve underwent a full makeover to become the film's blonde, virginal Geneviève, a change that she initially resisted. Only a director like Demy could inspire such trust.

      1967's The Young Girls of Rochefort (Les Demoiselles de Rochefort) spreads the musical-cinematic ideas of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg across a larger canvas and adds the dimension of dance. Its multiple romances play out similarly to Lola: when a music & dance company comes to Rochefort for a big boat and recreation show, a dozen potential lovers criss-cross in the streets, almost making the right romantic connections. Every line of dialogue is sung to Michel Legrand's music score and all the stage business is choreographed. Demy's newest collaborator is Hollywood's own Gene Kelly.

      This time the tone is light and breezy. Show dancers Etienne (George Chakiris) and Bill (Grover Dale) must find replacements when their female counterparts decide to run off with sailors. Enter the Garnier twins, ballet teacher Delphine (Catherine Deneuve) and piano teacher Solange (Françoise Dorléac). Delphine is breaking up with the owner of an art gallery who displays a painting by young soldier Maxence (Jacques Perrin) that looks just like Delphine. Maxence has never met Delphine but he does know her mother Yvonne (Danielle Darrieux), and tells her that he's searching the world for the feminine ideal represented in his painting. Yvonne pines for the lover she spurned ten years before for frivolous reasons. He's Simon Dame (Michel Piccoli), who's just returned to Rochefort thinking that Yvonne's long gone to Mexico. Simon is soft on Solange, but she wants to go to Paris to meet successful composer Andy Miller (Gene Kelly). Add to that several other characters whose random destinies hinge on chance encounters in Rochefort's charming streets, and it's hard to tell who will end up with whom.

      The film's ambition seems to be to revive and develop Hollywood's abandoned tradition of MGM musicals. Every scene has at least one song, and even more combine singing with dancing -- lots of dancing. The leading characters dance on the street, in hallways, just about everywhere. The twenty or so squeaky-clean show dancers do large-scale numbers in every open space in town.

      The lengthy Rochefort eventually wears us out. Michel Legrand's music has energy and style but is short on truly memorable melodies. There are also talent issues, in that the non-singing actors can be dubbed but they can't become real dancers overnight. Thus pros like George Chakiris, Grover Dale and Gene Kelly rein in their skills, while the gorgeous sisters Deneuve and Dorléac seem stretched beyond their abilities. They move well and have grace to spare, but are no match for the pro dancers around them. Yet they're a knockout in shimmering crimson dresses, in a dance modeled after Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe's big number in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

      Demy's charming screenplay is more than a little quirky. For several characters romantic Nirvana is just a chance meeting away. All subsist on their romantic dreams. Most of the older generation must live with bad decisions in their past. Yvonne told Simon she was pregnant with his child but left with another man to live in Mexico -- because she didn't like his name. In contrast to the mix 'n' match sweetness of most of the proceedings, a bizarre tangent surfaces about an axe-murderer. The weird subplot is treated as no big deal, yet has two songs associated with it.

      Criterion has located vintage interviews with Demy and his collaborators, as well a TV show about the making of the film. Also included is Agnés Varda's retrospective documentary The Young Girls Turn 25. Sadly, co-star Françoise Dorléac was killed in a car accident not long after the premiere.

      1971's Donkey Skin (Peau d'âne) takes Jacques Demy in a new direction. It's again a musical, a faithful adaptation of a classic Perrault fairy tale with a conclusion very much like Cinderella. Told in simple terms yet given an eccentric spin, Demy and composer Michel Legrand's show is often hilarious but never disrespectful. It was intended for all ages, although today's PC-minded parents might object to the story's main conflict as unsuitable for children. Part of the charm of Donkey Skin is Demy's refusal to soften elements of the original fairy tale. It stars the perfect fairy tale princess Catherine Deneuve.

      A happy kingdom despairs when its Blue Queen falls ill: she makes her husband The Blue King (Jean Marais of Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast) promise to remarry only when he finds someone more beautiful than she. Pressured to produce a male heir, the King discovers that his own daughter, the Princess (Deneuve) is the only woman more beautiful than her mother. Confused, the Princess is willing to marry her father because she indeed loves him. But the opinionated Fairy of the Lilacs (Delphine Seyrig) counsels that one mustn't confuse two different kinds of loves. She has the Princess stall her father with demands for the making of three fabulous dresses. When the King still insists on marriage, the Princess asks a price that the Fairy is convinced he won't pay -- the skin of the King's magic donkey, which produces not manure but gold and jewels. But to the Princess's horror, her father makes the sacrifice and delivers the donkey skin. Now the Princess has no choice but to run away.

      To our surprise, the incest theme in Donkey Skin turns out not to be a problem. As Demy and a collection of psychologists explain in the disc's interview extras, when young girls are asked who they want to marry, many will say, "Daddy". The story also includes a wealth of amusing details unlikely to surface in a Disney-fied fairy-tale adaptation. The sight off the 'Royal Donkey' defecating gold coins and rubies is hilarious, as is an obnoxious crone character that literally spits toads. Told that anyone whose finger fits into a tiny ring can become the bride of the handsome Prince Charming (Jacques Perrin), ladies and maids boil the fat off their fingers or whittle them down with knives.

      Demy's fairy tale land is designed and constructed with remarkable taste, making the movie highly enjoyable just on the visual level. The servants in the Blue Kingdom are literally blue, as are their horses. The hairstyles are ornate and the three magic dresses are impressively designed. The 'dress like the weather' appears to have clouds flowing across its folds. Michel Legrand's songs carry playful lyrics that criticize the characters. When the Princess disguises herself as a ragged peasant in the forest, the villagers sing lyrics about how filthy she is. Te lovers' duet has words almost as silly as their instant affection. The story works its way to a logical conclusion without hyping the Perrault original. It turns out that the Lilac Fairy had a secondary motive in not allowing the King to marry his own daughter. His arrival on a 'magical' transport never fails to get a laugh.

      Demy planned for years to make 1982's Une chambre en ville, an original opera for the screen that takes a much darker direction than his earlier work. This time his musical collaborator is Michel Colombier, who provides duets much more like traditional opera than Michel Legrand's more playful jazz themes.

      A terrific B&W opening scene sees striking shipyard workers in Nantes of 1955 squaring off with riot police, and exchanging chanted lyrics in a call & response pattern. When the police charge the film suddenly cuts to color. The strike then becomes a background for the problems of François Guilbaud (Richard Berry), who argues with his wealthy landlady 'Baroness' Margot's Langlois (Danielle Darrieux). Guilbaud has decided that his faithful and adoring girlfriend Violette (Fabienne Guyon) bores him, but he goes crazy for Edith Leroyer (Dominique Sanda), a runaway wife. To spite her impotent husband Edmond (Michel Piccoli), Edith has taken to prowling the streets for lovers, wearing only a long mink coat. Guilbaud discovers that Edith is actually Margot's estranged daughter. Violette is expecting a marriage proposal, not knowing that Guilbaud has instantly committed himself to Edith; while the insanely jealous Edmond threatens to kill Edith with a straight razor.

      Une chambre returns us to the city (and shopping arcade) of Lola, adding story elements from Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Just like Genevìeve and Guy, Guilbaud meets Violette after work, but their relationship is one of discord. The strike situation seems to throw everything off-kilter, as Guilbaud chooses this time to argue with Margot and dump poor Violette, and the unbalanced Edith walks the streets looking for a way to escape a husband she's grown to loathe. It's no wonder that audiences didn't respond, as the film's mood is cheerless and there's nobody to root for. The movie is a highly personal effort by Demy, yet its meaning is elusive -- the impressively executed 'musical riot' scenes fail to connect with the overheated personal tragedy. The troubles don't let up until one person is beaten to death and two others have committed suicide.

      In the extras we learn that a group of French critics took out ad space in newspapers to ask the public to give Une chambre en ville a chance. But the film didn't find an audience. Looking at it now, restored to visual perfection, in stereo sound, we admire Demy's clear storytelling. The strike-oriented material comes off very well, with the violent standoff in the streets playing like Les misérables in miniature.

      The extras let us know that Demy wanted to film Une chambre en ville right after Donkey Skin, but he couldn't secure his dream cast of Catherine Deneuve, Gérard Depardieu and Simone Signoret. Richard Berry does well as the confused Guilbaud, but Dominique Sanda only seems freakish as the sexually deranged Edith.

      The extras finish off with two impressive documentaries. James Quandt analyzes Demy's style and themes with a multitude of visual observations in Jacques Demy, A to Z. Agnés Varda's feature-length ode to her husband, The World of Jacques Demy illustrates Demy's life and work with many stills and movie clips.

      The Criterion Collection's delightful Dual-Format Edition Blu-ray + DVD set The Essential Jacques Demy is a treasure of impressive filmmaking and entertainment. The director's work has held up better than that of many of his contemporaries.

      The boxed set also celebrates Agnés Varda's decades-long mission to restore Demy's pictures to their original color and sound. The delicate colors make Umbrellas, Young Girls and Donkey Skin pop off the screen, and new stereo mixes are in place. Each title except Donkey Skin comes with a trailer and four of the titles have restoration demonstrations.

      Criterion producer Kate Elmore's 68-page insert booklet contains essays on the films by Terrence Rafferty, Ginette Vincendeau, Anne E. Duggan, Jim Ridley, Jonathan Rosenbaum, and Geoff Andrew, and Berthomé.

      By Glenn Erickson

    • More >
    •  
  1. Press Release

    •  
    • "The Making of GONE WITH THE WIND" Exhibition

    • The exhibition "The Making of 'Gone With The Wind'" commemorates the 75th anniversary of one of the most popular films ever created by exploring its history and legacy. The exhibition runs from Sept. 9 to Jan. 4, 2015, at the Harry Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at The University of Texas at Austin.

      Featuring more than 300 items, the exhibition is drawn entirely from the Ransom Center's collections and includes on-set photographs, storyboards, makeup stills, costume sketches, concept art, correspondence and fan mail, production records, audition footage and producer David O. Selznick's own extensive memos. Three original gowns worn by Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara, including the iconic green curtain dress, will be exhibited together for the first time in more than 25 years. In 2010 donors from around the world contributed more than $30,000 to support conservation work for these costumes. Replicas of two gowns will also be on view.

      From the time Selznick purchased the rights to the book, it took more than three years to bring the film to the screen. The materials in the exhibition document the challenges of turning Margaret Mitchell's Pulitzer Prize-winning book into a manageable screenplay and producing it at a reasonable cost.

      Before a single frame was shot, "Gone With The Wind" was embroiled in controversy. There were serious concerns about how the film would depict race and violence in the South during the Civil War and Reconstruction. While Clark Gable was a popular choice to play Rhett Butler, there was no clear favorite for Scarlett O'Hara, and there was a nationwide search before British actress Leigh was cast in the role.

      "'The Making of 'Gone With The Wind'" is the largest and most comprehensive exhibition on this film," said Steve Wilson, exhibition curator and the Ransom Center's curator of film. "The David O. Selznick archive, which is the Center's largest collection, forms the backbone of the exhibition, placing the Ransom Center in a unique position to tell the story of the making of this epic film."

      The chronologically organized exhibition will reveal the challenges involved in the making of this quintessential film from Hollywood's Golden Age and illustrate why it remains influential and controversial 75 years after it was released. Visitors will get an insider's perspective on the search for an actress to play Scarlett, the film's iconic scenes, the influence of the African-American press on filmmakers' decisions and the enthusiastic reception of the film by fans.

      A fully illustrated exhibition catalog of the same title will be co-published by the Harry Ransom Center and University of Texas Press in September with a foreword written by Turner Classic Movies (TCM) host and film historian Robert Osborne. Generous support for the exhibition has been provided by TCM.

      The David O. Selznick holdings comprise the core of the Ransom Center's film collection, which also includes the archives of silent film star Gloria Swanson, screenwriters Ernest Lehman and Paul Schrader, director Nicholas Ray and actor, director and producer Robert DeNiro.

      "The Making of 'Gone With The Wind'" can be seen starting Sept. 9 in the Ransom Center Galleries on Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended Thursday hours until 7 p.m. On Saturdays and Sundays the galleries are open from noon to 5 p.m. Member-only hours are offered on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to noon.

      Public tours are offered every day at noon, as well as Thursdays at 6 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. "Gone With The Wind" screentests will be shown in the Ransom Center's first-floor theater at 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on weekends, immediately following the public tour.

      In conjunction with the exhibition, the Ransom Center will host the 2014 Flair Symposium, "Cultural Life During Wartime, 1861-1865," from Sept. 18 to 20. The symposium will look back to the 19th century to examine the cultural world of Union and Confederate painters, photographers, musicians, theater companies and writers. The songs, images, poems, books and plays that appeared between 1861 and 1865 offer a nuanced perspective on the Civil War that challenges later narratives, both fictional and historical.

      Complementing the physical exhibition is the web exhibition "Producing Gone With The Wind," which explores producing the film, including rarely seen fan mail from individuals who sought auditions, solicited employment and protested the production. Visitors can also see teletypes from Selznick's production company that detail the casting of Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara and explore the costumes, hair and makeup that contributed to the film's vibrant imagery. The web exhibition launches Sept. 9 at www.hrc.utexas.edu/webgwtw.

    • More >
    •  
    •  
    • DICK DINMAN PRESENTS "THE VIC DAMONE STORY"

    • DICK DINMAN SALUTES LEGENDARY VOCALIST VIC DAMONE (PART ONE): Producer/host Dick Dinman commences his six-show tribute to iconic vocalist Vic Damone as guest Vic Damone shares his reminiscences of his upbringing in a rough section of Brooklyn, the early influence of his idol Frank Sinatra, his first break and first of many hit recordings, and the generous help and encouragement of stars Perry Como and Milton Berle.

      DICK DINMAN SALUTES LEGENDARY VOCALIST VIC DAMONE (PART TWO): Producer/host Dick Dinman continues his tribute to ever-popular song stylist Vic Damone as Vic chats about his first screen test courtesy of MGM producer Joe Pasternak and reveals the identity of the silver screen superstar who saved the day by guiding him through it, his stint in the Army that temporarily interrupted his rise to screen stardom, and his marriage ceremony to the troubled MGM star Pier Angeli as Angeli's ex-beau James Dean looks on mournfully.

      The award-winning DICK DINMAN'S DVD CLASSICS CORNER ON THE AIR is the only weekly half hour show devoted to Golden Age Movie Classics as they become available on DVD. Your producer/host Dick Dinman includes a generous selection of classic scenes, classic film music and one-on-one interviews with stars, producers, and directors. To hear these as well as other DVD CLASSICS CORNER ON THE AIR shows please go to www.dvdclassicscorner.com or www.dvdclassicscorner.net.

      NEXT MONTH! DICK DINMAN PRESENTS "THE VIC DAMONE STORY" (PART THREE AND FOUR).

    • More >
    •  
    •  
    • San Francisco Silent Film Festival Announces SILENT AUTUMN Film Program

    • San Francisco Silent Film Festival follows its tremendously successful 19th annual Festival (May, 2014) with Silent Autumn on September 20th at the historic Castro Theatre. For information, please visit www.silentfilm.org.

      The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is moving its annual winter event to fall, and with SILENT AUTUMN on September 20 it continues its mission to present masterpieces from the silent era with the finest musical accompaniment in the world. The program:

      ANOTHER FINE MESS: SILENT LAUREL AND HARDY SHORTS
      (USA, 1928-1929, Produced by Hal Roach, total running time is approximately 70 minutes)
      11:00 AM

      This program features the splendid anarchy of the finest comedy team to grace the silver screen. Both Stan Laurel (the thin Briton with the elastic face) and Oliver Hardy (the rotund baby-faced American) were successful comedians before the met, but together they were genius! Many people know the duo from their later feature career which included Sons of the Desert (1933), Babes in Toyland (1934), and Our Relations (1936), and these rare short silents are sure to be a revelation! Included in the program: Two Tars (1928), Big Business (1929) and a surprise or two!
      Musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin

      THE SON OF THE SHEIK
      (USA, 1926, Directed by George Fitzmaurice, 81 minutes)
      1:00 PM

      Rudolph Valentino's last film picks up on the story of his extraordinarily successful The Sheik. The Son of the Sheik resumes about 25 years later, and Valentino again stars, this time as the son! Like his father, he's charismatic, athletic, and a ladies man. This wonderful swashbuckling romance is being presented in a new restoration by Ken Winokur and Jane Gillooly from excellent 35mm negative material.
      Musical accompaniment by Alloy with the World Premiere of their new score!

      A NIGHT AT THE CINEMA IN 1914
      (USA/UK, 1914, 85 minutes)
      3:30 PM

      Marking the centenary of the start of World War I, the British Film Institute has put together this glorious miscellany of comedies, adventure films, travelogues and newsreels recreates a typical night out at the cinema in 1914. Cinema a century ago was a new, exciting and highly democratic form of entertainment. Picture houses across the country offered a sociable, lively environment in which to relax and escape from the daily grind. With feature films still rare, the program was an entertaining, ever-changing roster of short items with live musical accompaniment. Among the highlights of this program of 14 short films are a quirky comic short about a face-pulling competition, a sensational episode of the American film serial The Perils of Pauline, an early aviation display, scenes of suffragettes protesting at Buckingham Palace and Allied troops celebrating Christmas at the Front. There is also an anti-German animation film and an early sighting of one of cinema's greatest icons.
      Musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin

      THE GENERAL
      (USA, 1926, Directed by Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton, 75 minutes)
      7:00 PM

      Consistently listed as one of the finest films of all time, The General was one of Keaton's favorites as well. In the film, Buster plays Johnnie Gray who falls into the Confederacy through love of his locomotive and his beautiful Annabelle Lee. Orson Welles said: "The greatest comedy ever, made, the greatest Civil War film ever made, and perhaps the greatest film ever made."
      Musical accompaniment by Alloy Orchestra.

      THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI
      (Germany, 1920, Directed by Robert Wiene, 75 minutes)
      9:00 PM

      The story of the hypnotist Dr. Caligari and his somnambulist Cesare is one of the earliest examples of a "psychological thriller" and one of the best known German films of all time. SFSFF's presentation will be the US premiere of the restoration of this brilliant German Expressionist film--restored using the original camera negative, resulting in a print quality worthy of its classic status. With Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Fehér, Lil Dagover.
      Musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin


      Tickets Information and Public Contact Numbers
      Silent Autumn at the historic Castro Theatre will take place on September 20. For more information and to purchase tickets and passes, go to www.silentfilm.org.

      San Francisco Silent Film Festival
      833 Market Street, Suite 812
      San Francisco, CA 94103-1828

    • More >
    •  
    •  
    • Movie-Themed Nights at the Hollywood Bowl

    • Don't miss the Hollywood Bowl's special movie-themed nights sponsored by Turner Classic Movies. Pollstar magazine's Best Major Outdoor Venue (ten years in a row!), the Hollywood Bowl is the largest natural outdoor amphitheater in the United States. Throughout the summer the LA Phil presents the best in jazz, classical, Broadway, and world music, featuring artists that range from Yo-Yo Ma to Janelle Monae, John Williams to Steve Martin, and Gladys Knight to The Pixies. This summer's special movie-themed nights include many crowd favorites:

      Sunday, July 13, 7:30pm
      Grease Sing-A-Long
      Tickets
      Bring the family to the fun-filled Grease Sing-A-Long, which returns with a pre-show performance and the much-loved movie musical on the Bowl's giant screen. Grease is the word! Come early for a 7:30pm pre-show with Sha Na Na.

      Didi Conn ("Frenchy"), host
      Sha Na Na musical guest



      Sunday, August 31, 7:30pm
      The Big Picture: Hitchcock
      Tickets
      Suspense! Sinister plots! Mistaken identities! This year's Big Picture is a thrilling tribute to the classic films of Alfred Hitchcock. Mesmerizing, haunting and psychologically gripping scores by Bernard Herrmann (Vertigo, North by Northwest), Dimitri Tiomkin (Strangers on a Train, Dial M for Murder) and more will be played live while spellbinding scenes are projected on the Bowl's big screen.

      Hollywood Bowl Orchestra
      David Newman, conductor
      Eva Marie Saint, host



      Saturday, September 20, 6:00pm
      Sound of Music Sing-A-Long
      Tickets
      The Hollywood hills are alive with The Sound of Music! Everyone's favorite sing-along returns to the giant screen at the Bowl. Bring your costume for the pre-show parade, and warm up your vocal cords for this beloved and always sold-out event.



      Make the most of your Hollywood Bowl experience with a picnic dinner. You can bring your own food or buy on site. For tickets and information, visit HollywoodBowl.com

    • More >
    •  
Frank Capra: The Early Collection DVD
Frank Capra: The Early Collection DVD
$44.99
was $49.99
Columbia Pictures Pre-Code Collection (DVD)
Turner Classic Movies and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment...
$44.99
was $49.99
Hollywood Movie Stills: Art and Technique in the Golden Age of...
This photographic book is the most detailed and perceptive survey...
$24.99
Close

Close

  •  
  • Wednesday, March 20, 2011

  • Removed: 10:00pm Springfield Rifle
    12:00pm Casablanca
    Added: 1:00pm Virginia City
    12:15pm Casablanca
  •  
  • Wednesday, March 20, 2011

  • Removed: 10:00pm Springfield Rifle
    12:00pm Casablanca
    Added: 1:00pm Virginia City
    12:15pm Casablanca
  •  
  • Wednesday, March 20, 2011

  • Removed: 10:00pm Springfield Rifle
    12:00pm Casablanca
    Added: 1:00pm Virginia City
    12:15pm Casablanca