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Film study literature has done its best to praise and promote filmmaking from around the world, produced and directed by local talent. Undeveloped countries in the 20th century had a spotty filmmaking tradition, mostly due to the domination of commercial films from America, Europe and more cosmopolitan regional neighbors. Yet distinctive and vibrant films were made in South America, Asia and Africa, sometimes supported by governments. In film school we were shown sample features by the Senegalese director Ousmane Sembène and the Brazilian political firebrand Glauber Rocha. None of the film prints were in particularly good shape. As art film houses couldn't draw a crowd with obscure foreign fare, film festivals were often a dead-end for 'World Cinema'. Politics also militated against the free circulation of films. When the Los Angeles Film Exposition showed a large number of post-revolution Cuban I.C.A.I.C. films in the mid- 1970s, most had not been screened here previously.
Much more troubling is the poor state of film preservation in nations without developed film industries. For decades, much of the early film heritage of Argentina and Mexico was held in private hands, in unknown condition and mostly unavailable to the public. Conditions in Africa and Asia are worse.
Martin Scorsese started The Film Foundation in 1991, connecting with studios to promote the preservation of neglected American cinema. In 2007 he helped initiate a program called The World Cinema Project, which in six years has restored nineteen feature films from around the world. Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Project gathers six notable features from five continents, spread between 1936 and 1981.
1973's Touki-Bouki is a 'young lovers on the run' picture with a unique vision. Senegalese director Djibril Diop Mambéty's story expresses the desire of a generation to break free of the limits of reality in a former French colony where ordinary people have few or no opportunities. Less violent than Perry Henzell's Jamaican-set The Harder They Come, it's a surreal dream of freedom played out against realistic backgrounds. Mambéy has a great eye for arresting images, and gives the film pace and dramatic tension, not to mention animal imagery and a playful use of his soundtrack. Vintage French songs by Josephine Baker represent the elusive dream of Paris. Will the hero take the boat from Dakar to Paris? Should he?
The picture is in excellent condition, restored from the original negative elements. Colors are bright and accurate, and George Bracher's cinematography is a fine match for Mambéy's visual imagination.
Martin Scorsese provides brief intros for all six features. On Touki-Bouki he first reminds us that American awareness of foreign films has been limited mostly to a few name directors, often one per country. The visual essay on Mambéty's picture is by Abderrahmane Sissako, who does his best to express the director's special genius. Third World directors often go to America or France for formal film educations, but Djibril Diop Mambéty was self-taught. The remarkably accomplished Touki-Bouki was his first feature.
Released in 1936, Mexico's Redes strains the ground rules of 'World Cinema' in that its co-director Fred Zinnemann and cinematographer Paul Strand came from abroad, much as had Sergei Eisenstein with his legendary unfinished project Que viva Mexico! But we're given to understand that this film's style set the standard for visuals in the Golden Era of Mexican filmmaking that followed: beautiful scenery and proud compositions of earthy figures silhouetted against the sky. Acclaimed photographer Strand also made impressive film art in America, the experimental 1921 short Manhatta and the poetic pro-union feature Native Land from 1942. Featuring the artistic input of John Dos Passos and composer Silvestre Revueltas, Redes is a committed, if formulaic drama about the exploitation of working men. Performed almost entirely by non-actors, it is often compared to Luchino Visconti's Italian neo-realist La Terra Trema, made over a decade later.
The story concerns a fishing village doing poorly in a bad season. A local boss owns most of the boats and buys good catches at a price he determines, enjoying large profits at the markets in Vera Cruz. Fisherman Miro's child dies because the boss won't advance him money for a doctor. When the boss cuts salaries for a good day's fishing the bitter Miro leads an angry movement to set up a fisherman's cooperative. Unfortunately, a candidate for local office offers to serve as the Boss's henchman in exchange for financial assistance for his campaign. The candidate's talk of tradition and honor splits the fishermen into opposing camps. When a fight breaks out the opportunity arises to silence Miro with a gun.
The film was made by a committee. Mexican co-director Emilio Gómez Muriel worked with the actors; cameraman Paul Strand imposed the aesthetics of still photography on most of the shots. Strand favored static poses while co-director Fred Zinnemann reportedly did his best to interject action into the frame. Zinnemann would later helm such classics as High Noon and From Here to Eternity. Backed by Silvestre's impressive music score, several montage scenes are works of visual art.
Critic Kent Jones' visual essay for Redes presents a multitude of back-stories. His visual analysis of this attractive film is especially acute. The film exists only in surviving positive prints, but Criterion's transfer raises its presentation to a high standard. Scratches and a tiny bit of film damage remain, yet most scenes are remarkably sharp and Paul Strand's images retain the look of fine art photography.
Redes won a pictorial spread in Life magazine but won little success commercially, as with much of critically acclaimed World Cinema. 1973's A River Called Titas is an epic-length tale of a lost way of life on the rivers of what is now Bangladesh. Director Ritwak Ghatak made few movies, and this one was considered too pessimistic to attract a wide audience. Yet the 2.5-hour show has enough story complications for three movies.
While visiting a neighboring village fisherman Kishore (Probir Mitra) marries Basanti (Rosi Samad) and has barely had words with her before she's kidnapped on the river. She's found alive by strangers, but has lost her memory of the crime. She doesn't know her husband's name or have a clear idea what he looks like, but she remembers the name of his village. Ten years later she sets out with his son to find him. Basanti's story is only the first chapter in a long, impassioned series of events and side stories that eventually lead to even bigger tragedies. One emotional climax is almost unbearably sad.
The movie sways between melodrama and documentary-like recreations of a riverside culture that has mostly disappeared. Occasionally, a burst of fantasy wish fulfillment will occur, as when Basanti's son envisions his mother as an idealized, bejeweled goddess. Much of the acting is primitive, and in some scenes the post-synched dialogue makes no effort to match the actors' lips. Some of the plot turns can be unclear for a few minutes, yet the movie is always compelling. Beautiful images record an entire cultural lifestyle -- the boats, the customs, the rituals.
Ghatak's compositions are bold but his film is never merely pictorial in impact. We see fascinating moments of cultural interaction, as when the lovers on their wedding night are too shy to speak to each other. Ghatak makes good use of his soundtrack. One scene has only the sound of heavy breathing, and another, falling rain. We see several ceremonies and an impressive boat race.
The movie is pessimistic in that the potential for disaster seems built-in to the lives of these people. They depend on the river for everything, and old men worry that it will some day dry up. A landowner uses his influence to bring legal and monetary penalties against the entire village. Some villagers seem cruel in refusing to share their food with needy new arrivals like Basanti. But that's only because the possibility of starvation is always near.
A River Called Titas was restored from incomplete elements, so the film quality changes in a few scenes. An unsteady shot or two appear to be the result of a problem with the original cinematography, but most of the film is in extraordinary shape.
Visual essay host Kumar Shahani tells us that director Ritwik Ghatak was deeply critical of the political situation in Bangladesh, and used his films to express the feelings of pain and loss in his partitioned country. Ghatak worked extensively in the theater as both a director and an actor. He plays an old boatman in a number of scenes.
The Turkish Dry Summer (1964) was a big local hit for director Metin Erksan, and won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Erksan's tale could be a story from the Bible. The greedy farmer Osman (Erol Tas) has the only water spring in the valley. He decides to cut off his neighbors without a drop, against the wishes of his younger brother Hasan (producer Ulvi Dogan). Osman also covets Hasan's lovely new bride, Bahar (Hulya Kocylgit). When the other farmers take reprisals, Osman shoots one of them and then persuades his brother to go to prison in his place. Instead of helping as promised, Osman destroys Hasan's letters and begins a slow seduction of his lonely sister-in-law.
An elemental story of universal interest, Dry Summer asks whether water resources are to be owned by some or shared by all. The loathsome Osman claims that he's a fair man safeguarding his interests, but those interests include lording it over his neighbors and finding a way to possess his own brother's wife. The gullible Hasan has no idea that his older brother spies on their lovemaking, and trusts that leaving major decisions to him is the right thing to do. We watch Dry Summer aghast at Osman's black-hearted deeds, fearing that he'll not be punished for his crimes.
Metin Erksan's direction is superb. Bahar uses a mirror to signal Hasan for a romantic chase through the thick trees; the sexual attraction between them is expressed in positive, healthy terms. Erksan sketches his characters quickly. His 'sex scenes' are chaste yet supremely sensual; Bahar's flesh is as magical as Osman's water supply. Erksan makes the most of the precious substance water: hoarded in Osman's pond, running through his canals and restrained by an improvised spillway gate. In the satisfying ending Osman and his water become one and the same.
The B&W presentation is excellent. The title sequence was lost so Criterion has provided a substitute. Although the production is modest at best, Ali Ugur's cinematography is precise and resourceful. Those mirror reflections figure several times in the film, and when Bahar becomes delirious with grief, the camera spins madly. Some of the film's music is by the celebrated Manos Hatzidakis. Viewers should be forewarned that one graphic scene shows what appears to be the actual shooting of a dog.
In a new featurette Turkish director Fatih Akin praises Dry Summer and explains its historical context. He says that Turkey acted like Osman to the Syrians in the 1990, withholding water from a major river. Director Metin Erksan appears in an older interview to declare that the greatest enemy of Turkish cinema is oppressive censorship. Although it is a common custom for a surviving brother to 'inherit' his brother's widow -- to keep the land from being split up -- the censors objected to scripted scenes of Osman marrying Bahar.
Trances from 1981 confirms that this grouping of films really is Martin Scorsese's personal selection. The director's The Last Temptation of Christ credits the Moroccan musical group Nass-El Ghiwane for inspiration. Trances is a concert movie showing the band performing their rhythmic, hypnotic songs. Traditional elements are present, especially with the ancient musical instruments being played. Repetitious chants predominate. The remarkable feature of a Nass-El Ghiwane concert is the participation of the audience, which becomes so complete that individuals work themselves into real gyrating trances.
Director Ahmed El Maanouni gives us plenty of interview material with the band members. Nass-El Ghiwane began in 1969. Its member-musicians are more like traveling troubadours than performing celebrities. They perform in ordinary street clothes. Huge audiences dance in place, wave their shirts and come on stage if allowed. More than one band member says that music isn't 'something he does', but instead part of his essential personality.
Also included are documentary scenes of Moroccan neighborhoods, and a few staged moments. Known as "the Rolling Stones of North Africa", the band's lyrics are a combination of non-militant calls for freedom and lamentations for lost family traditions.
Martin Scorsese's intro explains how he discovered Trances while watching the TV show Night Flight during all-night editing sessions on The King of Comedy. The lengthy featurette includes input from Scorsese, director Ahmed El Maanouni, producer Izza Génini and Nass-El Ghiwane musician Omar Sayed.
The Housemaid (1960) is a suspense thriller by Kim Ki-young, a once-forgotten director now championed by a new generation of Korean filmmakers. Made under heavy censorship rules, it is nevertheless a scathingly subversive critique of 'family values' among the emerging middle class. As if Luis Buñuel had moved to Seoul, director Kim's film is a series of socially uncomfortable, volatile confrontations. A blood-dripping main title tips us off that this tale of "Father Knows Best" will go in dark directions.
The audacious film easily bests American thrillers about families disrupted by a sexual intruder. The husband (Kim Jin-kyu) is a handsome music teacher in a girls' factory school, who proudly moves his wife (Ju Jeung-nyeo) and two children into a larger house. Following school rules, he reports a student who slips him a mash note, and she's suspended. The girl's best friend becomes the husband's private piano pupil, and helps him find a maid to work in the new house. It's not long before the scheming housemaid (Lee Eun-shim) discovers a way to sexually compromise the husband. She wants to take the wife's place, and exploits the fact that her employers will do almost anything to avoid a scandal. The situation gets so bad that murder seems the next step -- and all know that there's a bottle of rat poison in the kitchen.
The Housemaid's amorous intruder reminds us of Buñuel's Susana, a caustic satire about a sexy female convict who invades a 'proper' Mexican hacienda. A close look reveals that director Kim's happy Korean family is anything but. The outwardly decent husband only thinks that he can resist the temptations of the factory girls he teaches. The mother has another baby on the way, and overworks herself to better justify the television she covets. The children are not idealized. The daughter is a polio victim, and her selfish little brother swipes candy while openly making fun of her crutches. In keeping with the Korean culture of tough love, the parents do not object; the father declares that the steep stairs in the new house will force the daughter to exercise more.
The mercenary, two-faced housemaid initiates a series of petty blackmail threats that escalate into a war of nerves. When she becomes pregnant all notions of normality break down: the servant's new orders include sleeping rights with the husband. Things go over the edge when a demand that the housemaid abort her unborn child leads to outright murder attempts. She becomes a monster, haunting the house by pounding on the keys of the husband's piano.
With its lurid tailspin into despair and doom, The Housemaid is like a Douglas Sirk domestic drama gone mad. It defies prevailing entertainment norms that exalt family values as a shining ideal, and even a trick ending can't dissipate its power. Korean audiences must have felt that the uncompromising film revealed truths about middle class values, as it was very popular -- Kim Ki-young remade it twice at ten-year intervals.
The World Cinema Project had a difficult time rescuing The Housemaid. It was considered lost for years because two reels of its negative could not be located. An export print was found in the 1990s, albeit marred by intrusive English subtitles. For two nine-minute sections, the film quality drops considerably. The digital patch job used to eliminate the burned-in subs is a little distracting as well.
The expertly directed movie is a masterpiece worth seeing in any condition. The plaster patterns in the walls of the new house soon begin to resemble spider webs, or the 'cat's cradle' string game played by the children in the first scene. The director punctuates the seduction of the husband with a blast of lighting striking a tree. The family's perfect home soon becomes a house of horrors. I can see a lot of attractive housemaids losing their jobs, back in Seoul of 1960.
In the featurette for The Housemaid director Bong Joon-Ho (The Host) expresses his enthusiasm for Kim Ki-young in no uncertain terms, noting the film's taut camera moves and superb direction of actors. Bong also provides a cultural analysis of the characterizations, especially the portrait of the 'perfect' Korean wife -- who also joins the murderous scheming as soon as her comfortable social status is threatened.
Criterion's Blu-ray + DVD of Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Project is a good cross-section of worthy international films not likely to be revived through normal commercial channels. Scorsese's selection covers a wide range of appeal. All of the restorations were performed at the Cineteca di Bologna. Most of the HD transfers yield excellent results, with flaws occurring only when original elements were missing or damaged. The English subtitles are up to Criterion's high standards. We hope that more World Cinema Project collections are on the way.
As with all new Criterion releases, the disc set is a Dual-Format Edition with identical contents. Three Blu-rays share two feature films each, while each title also gets its own DVD disc. A 64-page booklet contains essays on the Project's aims as well as scholarly pieces on each of the pictures by Richard Porton, Charles Ramírez Berg, Adrian Martin, Bilge Ebiri, Sally Shafto and Kyung Hyun Kim.
By Glenn Erickson
By Marius Kotowski
Certain stars are known for their larger-than-life personas and Pola Negri is no exception. From her lavish lifestyle of fashion and jewels, her romances with Charlie Chaplin and Rudolph Valentino, to the lore of walking her pet cheetah down Hollywood Blvd, Pola Negri helped define the "anything goes" ethos of the Jazz Age of the 1920s.
Negri (1897-1987) rose from an impoverished childhood in Warsaw, Poland, to become one of early Hollywood's greatest stars. After tuberculosis ended her career as a ballerina in 1912, she turned to acting and worked under legendary directors Max Reinhardt and Ernst Lubitsch in Germany. Negri preceded Lubitsch to Hollywood, where she quickly became a fan favorite thanks to her beauty, talent, and diva personality. Known for her alluring sexuality and biting artistic edge, she starred in more than sixty films and defined the image of the cinematic femme fatale.
At the height of her fame, Negri often portrayed exotic and mysterious temptresses, headlining in such successes as The Spanish Dancer (1923) and Forbidden Paradise (1924) before returning to Europe in the 1930s. The devastating effects of World War II soon drove her back to the United States, where she starred in Hi Diddle Diddle (1943) and pursued a vaudeville career. She made her final screen appearance in Walt Disney's 1964 romantic mystery, The Moonspinners, opposite Hayley Mills, Peter McEnery and Eli Wallach.
In this engaging study, Kotowski not only tells the story of Negri's life and career, but also explores the link between Hollywood and European cinema in the years between the two World Wars.
Marius Zotowski is the chief executive officer of Bright Shining City Productions, a film production company.
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By J.E. Smyth
From From Here to Eternity to High Noon, Oklahoma! to Julia, director Fred Zinnemann's films remain some of the most popular and critically acclaimed of the twentieth century. Across a variety of genres, he worked with an impressive host of A-list actors including Montgomery Clift, Shirley Jones, Burt Lancaster, Gary Cooper, Jane Fonda and Jason Robards. Along the way, many won Academy Awards for performances in his films and he himself won Best Director Oscars for From Here to Eternity and A Man for All Seasons. Yet despite his remarkable accomplishments, Zinnemann has remained in the shadows of Hollywood history instead of in the limelight.
From the beginning of his career, Zinnemann refused to shy away from issues he thought important--the role of women and communists in the anti-fascist resistance, the problems war veterans faced as they adjusted to life off the battlefield and the darker side of America's national heritage. Unafraid to deal with difficult subject matters, Zinneman showed candor in telling the stories he thought needed to be told .
Smyth explores Zinnemann's relationship with actors as varied as Spencer Tracy, Montgomery Clift, Audrey Hepburn, Gary Cooper and Vanessa Redgrave. She examines the critical reaction to High Noon, as well as Zinnemann's battles over censorship while making From Here to Eternity, A Nun's Story and Behold a Pale Horse.
Smyth also details Zinnemann's passion project, his unrealized history of the communist revolution in China, Man's Fate and his controversial study of political assassination The Day of the Jackal.
Utilizing Zinnemann's personal papers from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences's Margaret Herrick Library, Smyth brings Zinnemann's vision, voice, and film practice to life. She reconstructs a complex portrait of Zinnemann's cinema of resistance, examining his sketches, script annotations, production and editing notes, as well as personal letters, to finally bring Zinnemann out of the shadows of Hollywood history.
J.E. Smyth is associate professor of history and comparative American studies at the University of Warwick (United Kingdom). She is the author of Reconstructing American Historical Cinema from "Cimarron" to "Citizen Kane" and is the editor of Hollywood and the American Historical Film. She lives in the United Kingdom.
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By Susan L. Mizruchi
Marlon Brando was an actor with many faces--the brooding, good-looking young man who burst into stardom playing Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951); the activist who gave his time and money to support civil rights, anti-war protests and Native American causes; the man who romanced a bevy of beautiful women, appeared nude in Last Tango in Paris (1972) and who, too often it seemed, came close to self-destructing.
But the private Brando was very different from the one the public thought they knew. The private Brando collected over four thousand books, rewrote scripts--often trimming his lines to make them sharper--and was known for being a good and loyal friend by those closest to him.
From Brando's letters, audiotapes, and annotated screenplays and books--many never before available--Mizruchi paints a portrait of a complex person whose intelligence belies the fact he was a high-school dropout. He embraced foreign cultures, had an affinity for those outside society's "norms," used what he learned to create empathetic performances in unusual roles and never tired of testing the limits of his talent.
Susan L. Mizruchi is a professor of English at Boston University. She specializes in American literature, cultural history, and film. Her most recent work was The Rise of Multicultural America. She lives in Boston.
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Edited by Paul Duncan and Jürgen Müller
Fog shrouded streets, minimalist lighting, a mysterious woman, a down on his luck hero and the forces that conspire against him are all main ingredients in film noir. This new book by Taschen takes the reader through the evolving history of the genre decade by decade.
With an introduction by Paul Schrader--film noir scholar, screenwriter (Taxi Driver), and director--this is the first film-by-film photo-rich exploration of film noir and neo noir. This essential study begins with the early German and French silent films that were influencers of the noir style, then journeys through such seminal works as Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Vertigo. As it travels through the decades to the present day via Chinatown, Pulp Fiction and the recent cult favorite, Drive we see how noir may have changed to fit the times but never lost sight of the stylistic roots that make a film noir.
It's a film world populated by gangsters, private eyes, psychopaths and femmes fatales, where deception comes too easily, lust clouds good judgment and trust often leads to betrayal and, sometimes, death.
The editors have taken care in choosing posters and rare stills, and have provided cast/crew details, quotes from the film and from critics, and analyses of the films presented. The 100 films selected represent a Who's Who of directorial talent and star power. Side-by-side films from the major studios are the gritty, cynical B-films that helped define noir with their minimalist storylines and production values that resulted in a highly stylized film genre that was nonetheless gut-wrenchingly real.
This well-produced encyclopedia of film noir is destined to become an essential part of any movie lovers' library.
Paul Duncan has edited 50 film books for TASCHEN, including the award-winning The Ingmar Bergman Archives, and authored Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick for the Taschen Film Series.
Jürgen Müller has worked as an art critic, a curator of numerous exhibitions, and has published books and numerous articles on cinema and art history. Currently he holds the chair for art history at the University of Dresden, where he lives. Müller is the series editor for TASCHEN's by decade film surveys.
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Stage and screen legend John Barrymore took on the good doctor and his vicious alter ego from the famous Robert Louis Stevenson novel in this silent horror classic, adapted as much from the stage play by Thomas Russell Sullivan as from Stevenson's original book. It wasn't the first adaptation of the story but it became the most celebrated until Fredric March took on the role in the sound era, and it helped elevate the respected actor into a major big screen attraction.
As Dr. Henry Jekyll, the moral, religious man who keeps company with society gentleman who find Henry more than a little self-righteous, Barrymore takes on a theatrical nobility: quiet and subdued, he stand tall and stiff and favors his great profile to the camera. He runs a free clinic (called "the human repair shop," a phrase that inadvertently brings to mind Frankenstein more than Hyde) that his friend Sir George Carewe (Brandon Hurst) sneers at. "You should live--as I have lived," he advises the sheltered Henry. Sir George is the father of the proper young lady Millicent (Martha Mansfield), who admires and loves Henry, a seeming contradiction that he explains to Henry thusly: "I protected her as only a man of the world could." After a visit to a seedy nightclub, where Sir George invites dancing girl Miss Gina (Nita Naldi) to get Henry all hot and bothered, Henry decides that maybe it's time to let his baser desires out for a romp. But rather than sully his soul (or his reputation) he concocts a potion is release the evil buried inside (the original sin?), essentially releasing the id from his dominant superego, to take a Freudian approach.
Barrymore makes the transformation into a theatrical showpiece. He curls up on himself and emerges gnarled and bent, with a bald cone sprouting on top of his head surrounded by matted hair and grotesque teeth jutting from his twisted smile. It's Barrymore's version of a Lon Chaney transformation without the elaborate prosthetics. Make-up effects turn his hands knobby and gnarled but the rest of the transformation is in his performance: he screws his face into a demented grimace and he takes on a spidery body language, looking like an urban troll with evil on his mind. He is as close as you'll come to pure evil in a 1920 movie, leading a life of wanton vice and leaving a trail of victims in his wake. Jekyll, meanwhile, becomes addicted to bad behavior and goes about creating a separate like for Hyde so he can live out his basest desires and impulses but "leave the soul untouched." It's pure hypocrisy on the part of Jekyll, pretending that he has no responsibility for the acts perpetrated by Hyde even as he lets his alter ego out to play with greater frequency. He changes his will to leave everything to Hyde and spends more and more time in his life, neglecting his own practice and looking worn and exhausted when he's back as Henry. And when he decides to kick the habit, it's too late: Hyde emerges without the potion after a terrifically bizarre dream sequence with a monstrous spider bearing Hyde's head.
Barrymore was almost 40 when he made Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, already a star of the stage and veteran screen performer, and he used the role as a performance showcase. Known as a handsome leading man, he delivers a big, outsized performance of a grotesque figure and he unleashes the hammy side of his style as the leering beast of a thug, but what a monster. By the end of the film, he's stomping children in the street and wantonly murdering Henry's friends. And he brings a tortured struggle to the repressed doctor, horrified at the demon he's unleashed, guilty that he enjoys Hyde's unrestrained life of drinking and whoring, and terrified that he can no longer control the transformations. Barrymore was acclaimed for the performance and it launched him into the 1920s as a real movie star.
This was an A-list studio production and John S. Robertson delivers a handsome canvas, something not always apparent in earlier home video editions. Henry's world is perfectly fine but the squalid slum streets and dive taverns frequented by Hyde really give the film its atmosphere. But it also has a choppy narrative with a heavy reliance on bridging intertitles to carry the plot forward and explain the narrative turns of the film. The script drops story threads (whatever happened to his free clinic?) and no one seems to notice how Henry has all but dropped from sight, only that his association with the repulsive Hyde is becoming too much for even the sybarite Sir George to put up with.
Barrymore's performance carries the film and it's more interesting than convincing today; his brand of flamboyant theatricality hasn't aged well, but it is fun to watch. Nita Naldi, who made her film debut here, is memorable in the small role as Miss Gina, the wicked woman next to Martha Mansfield's angelic good girl Millicent. Naldi later starred opposite Rudolph Valentino in Blood and Sand (1922) and Cobra (1925).
The 1920 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which long ago fell into the public domain, has been released in numerous substandard editions. Kino first released the film on DVD in a fine edition in 2003 but has gone back to archival 35mm materials to create a new HD master for its Blu-ray debut. There are plenty of artifacts on the image--scratches, grit, chemical damage--and a couple of scenes are clearly salvaged from inferior prints to fill in missing footage. The difference in clarity from a 35mm source and a 16mm copy is glaring, which only illustrates the vast improvement in image quality from previous editions. Even with the emulsion scratches and chemical degradation, the image underneath is presented with greater clarity and sharpness than in any previous disc release and that allows viewers to look past the visual noise to the film itself. The film is presented at a slower and more accurate frame rate than the previous Kino DVD and features color tints.
The accompanying score is compiled by Rodney Sauer and performed by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. Supplements (carried over from the previous DVD release) include a one-reel version of the story from 1912 starring future director James Cruze, a 15-minute digest version of the rival 1920 version of the film starring Sheldon Lewis, the 1925 Stan Laurel one-reel parody Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pride, and a rare 1909 audio recording of "The Transformation Scene" with actor Len Spencer. All of these extras are also on the new DVD edition made from the same HD master.
by Sean Axmaker
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Sergio Leone is unarguably the godfather of spaghetti westerns. He directed its first international smash of the genre, defined the spare, savage style and mercenary sensibility, and made stars of journeymen actors Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef. But he was far from the only director who made his mark in the genre. Among the filmmakers who carved out their own style in the genre were Sergio Corbucci, Damiano Damiani, Enzo G. Castillari, and Sergio Sollima, whose trilogy of films with Tomas Milian take a more politically charged approach to the brutal tales of greed and betrayal and revenge that ground most spaghetti western scripts.
The Big Gundown (1966), Sollima's first spaghetti western, stars Lee Van Cleef in a rare heroic role as Jonathan Corbett, a dogged lawman without a badge who applies an unwavering sense of justice. Fresh off For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Van Cleef was an instant icon of the genre; the American posters even promoted the film with a reference to his Leone success: "Mr. Ugly is back." (Never mind that he was actually "the bad" man of the trio.) Sollima casts him as an unusual kind of hero who hunts down wanted men yet refuses to collect the bounty on their heads. His code is honorable (he literally hands a ragged band of outlaws a chance to go out shooting rather than face the rope) but unforgiving, an Old Testament angel as gunslinger passing judgment on the wanted men of his promised land of Texas. His lean features, windblown face, and hard, piercing eyes makes him stand out in the cast of Italian and European actors standing in for American settlers and Mexican peasants.
Brokston (Walter Barnes, another American import), a rapacious landowner and would-be railroad baron, wants to nominate Corbett for Texas Senator for his own ends. "I'm interested in Texas, not your personal profit," responds Corbett, who is more motivated by reports that a 12-year-old girl has been raped and murdered by a local Mexican named Chuchillo. When the local sheriff is too lazy to be bothered with a manhunt, he hits the trail alone while Brokston prepares the campaign for Senate, leveraging Corbett's quest as an election stunt.
Cuban-born Tomas Milian is Cuchillo, who gets his introduction in a scruffy desert camp dressed in course peasant clothes worn to rags, a dirty serape that looks like it was hacked out of a horse blanket with a dull knife, and simple sandals. He doesn't look much like a bandit let alone a brutal killer and master criminal. He's more con man and frontier rascal than hardened outlaw, as he proves in his clever getaway. If Van Cleef's Corbett is a humorless, unstoppable force, Milian's Cuchillo a wily, earthy trickster, a Bugs Bunny playing pranks on every escape along this merry chase through the southwest and across the border. He has a wicked sense of humor and an implacable survival instinct that gets a few unsavory types killed in the proverbial crossfire, most of them lured into harm's way by their own greed and guilt. In the corruption and cruelty of this world, that's just good clean dirty fun.
Sollima uses the landscape of Almeria, Spain, to create a spare, stripped-down portrait of the southwest frontier as a stark ocean of rock and sand, beautiful but hostile with the occasional oasis of dubious salvation (and a lovely prologue where death takes a band of outlaws in a wooded clearing standing in for Colorado), but he's not a stylist on the Sergio Leone level. Corbett and Cuchillo cross paths with a Mormon wagon train, a monastery, and an isolated ranch where the sexual pressure-cooker of a widowed owner and a crew of jealous ranch hands makes every visitor a target for their desires and frustrations, before tangling in a bordello and landing in a Mexican prison. But the episodes in this sun-blasted Odyssey through the desolate deserts of Texas and Mexico are petty tangles rather than operatic showdown, a bitter comedy where the jokes are on our childish desperado and stalwart tracker.
Most spaghetti westerns are built on the conflict between the rapacious figures of big business and political power and the common folk who stand in their way, figuratively or literally, with the mercenary gunmen becoming heroes merely by virtue of standing against the oppressors. The Big Gundown puts the power and the politics from and center and drops Corbett in the middle, a man with an unyielding sense of justice who slowly discovers that he's serving a corrupt master. Sollima and screenwriting partner Sergio Donati offer a pointedly political perspective of the corrupted American dream on the frontier in place of Leone's mythic approach or Corbucci's utterly mercenary take. Brokston's posse crosses the border like an invading army pillaging a local village in a treasure hunt where Cuchillo is the prize, a scapegoat for his latest scheme. Brokston's bodyguard, a German Baron with a mania for dueling, offers up the ideal of European culture (he plays Beethoven's "Für Elise" on the grand piano at one point) as nothing more than the claim of aristocratic privilege. His one desire on this American adventure is to hunt the only big game he has not yet faced: man. He recalls the Prussian officer, Captain Danette, played by Henry Brandon in Robert Aldrich's Vera Cruz, a film that in many ways was a template for the spaghetti western, but with an even more naked streak of cruelty and arrogance.
Whether the audiences noticed the politics is a fair question, especially in a genre as disreputable as the Italian western was in the 1960s, but politics was in the air in Italy as it was in film cultures everywhere and that kind of commentary was always easier to smuggle into pulp genres and violent films. But politics aside, it's one of the best spaghetti westerns of the genre. Van Cleef brings an ominous sense of stature to Corbett, a hero compromised by his blinkered perspective and obsessiveness, Milian practically bounds through the film as he makes Cuchillo an energetic, entertaining, unaccountably likeable jester, and the playful script is full of tangles and scrapes and clever twists on gunfights and showdowns. The icing on the cake is Ennio Morricone's score, which offers plenty of moods through its spare orchestrations and creatively weaves the piano line of Beethoven's "Für Elise" into the Baron's theme for his final showdown.
It's hard to believe that this film has never had a legitimate home video release in the U.S. until now. Grindhouse goes all out for its debut with a four-disc Blu-ray+DVD+CD Combo that features both the original English-language release version expanded with three additional scenes not seen in American release prints, and the complete Italian director's cut, which runs 15 minutes longer than the expanded American version (a complete list of cuts is listed in a DVD-ROM supplement on the DVD) and adds small but significant details to the film and adds to the complicated nature of the character of Corbett. The American version is mastered from a 2k digital restoration and these elements are used in the presentation of the Italian cut, which makes it relatively easy to spot the footage unique to this version (the drop in video quality is not dramatic but it is noticeable). Both version are presented on separate Blu-ray discs, with the DVD featuring the expanded American cut only. The final disc is a CD soundtrack with Ennio Morricone's score.
Also features interviews with director Sergio Sollima, co-writer Sergio Donati and star Tomas Milian, commentary by western film experts C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke, galleries of stills, trailers and TV spots, and a booklet with notes by Joyner and Gergely Hubai, who writes on the differences between the two cuts and on Morricone's score. The case features reversible art.
by Sean Axmaker
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Alain Robbe-Grillet is best known as an experiment novelist in the nouvelle roman movement of the fifties and as the screenwriter of Alain Resnais' elegant yet conceptually daring French nouvelle vague landmark Last Year at Marienbad. But Robbe-Grillet was also a filmmaker in his own right. He directed ten features in a career that spanned over 40 years. Until this year, only two of those films had been released on disc in the U.S.: the 1983 La Belle Captive (from the now defunct Koch Lorber label) and his final feature Gradiva (from Mondo Macabro). Now Kino Lorber, in partnership with the British label Redemption, has announced a slate of six Robbe-Grillet films for release on Blu-ray and DVD. Trans-Europ-Express is one of the first releases from this collection.
A lighthearted play with spy movies, erotica, and storytelling from 1967, Trans-Europ-Express is the director's second directorial effort and his most popular success and audience-friendly production. It opens on a trio of movie folk--a director (played by Robbe-Grillet himself), a producer (actual film producer Paul Louyet), and a secretary / script supervisor (Catherine Robbe-Grillet--you get the idea)--boarding a train (the Trans-Europ-Express, naturally) and brainstorming a story for a film about drug trafficking between Paris and Antwerp. When the actor Jean-Louis Trintignant (fresh from furtively picking up a bondage magazine at the station newsstand) briefly ducks into their cabin, he's recognized by the filmmakers and quickly cast as their main character, Elias, a smuggler involved in a big score with a shady criminal. Their sketchy, silly little plot (initially illustrated in a gag sequence right out of a silent movie parody) suddenly gets a face and a grounding. As much as a film that is constantly rewritten and revised can be said to be grounded.
Think of it as Robbe-Grillet's Breathless, a pulp story refracted through the director's own distinctive take on narrative deconstruction and sexual perversity. Last Year at Marienbad played with the shifting perspective of memory and competing claims to truth with a slippery style that rendered "objective" perspective meaningless in the abstractions of the storytelling, the enigma of the characters, the blurring of past and present, memory and fantasy, even space itself. Trans-Europ-Express takes a more playful approach to the idea of storytelling and the fragmentation of the narrative experience. Robbe-Grillet tosses in the iconography of espionage movies (a suitcase with a false bottom, a gun in a hollowed-out book, bags of drugs) like they were ingredients in a recipe, sends Elias on elaborate assignments (masterminded by the drug kingpin to test his loyalty), adds in double-crosses, and gives him a love interest. Or perhaps sexual distraction is a better description. Marie-France Pisier is introduced as a girl on the train, then becomes the girl in every window watching Trintignant after he disembarks. Eventually this nameless, omnipresent observer becomes Eva, a hooker, and Elias is a client who requests rape fantasies and bondage, which she obligingly provides. It's consensual but she provides the requisite struggling to give him his money's worth, and provides Robbe-Grillet with the kinky erotic angle that will become more explicit in his subsequent films.
We've seen stories that play out with a storyteller narrating and changing details along the way (reflected in amended versions of the scenes, usually for comic effect) and Rashomon texts of stories that change shape and detail depending on the perspective, the teller, and the motivation. This is a little different. Yes, the narrative is constantly rewritten and changed by the filmmakers, who wander down alleys and toss out suggestions, only to discard or revise, and it sends their spy movie rewinding and twisting back on itself. But this is more like a quantum narrative; some of those nixed ideas refuse to die and continue to play out in their own alternate universe. Trintignant is at once Jean-Louis the private citizen, Elias the character, and Trintignant the actor playing the character Elias, identities that get tangled up in each other in the shifting levels of fiction, and the story is both a fictional construct and a "real" event brought to life by the storytelling itself. Dead characters come back to life and the entire cycle seems poised to begin again once the filmmakers disembark. Just like heading back into the pleasures of cinema stories and their mix of constructed plots and contrived twists, the blur between the performer's personality and the fiction created for the character, and the spectacle of screen images constructed for our entertainment. This is a work in progress, a piece in flux, and a sketchbook in motion that turns the blind alleys of a rough draft into a story in its own right.
Kino Classics gives the film its American debut on Blu-ray and DVD in an edition produced in partnership with the British label Redemption (which has its own imprinted line on Kino). It's mastered from original 35mm elements in good condition, with a strong image and mastered with what appears to be a minimum of digital noise reduction. There are soft surface scratches but no print damage. The film grain looks natural and the digital master has that cool, creamy black-and-white quality I associate with French films of the mid-sixties.
The film was previously released on Blu-ray in Britain and is slated for a new deluxe edition in a BFI box set this summer. Kino's American edition features none of the BFI supplements but it does offer a 31-minute video interview with Alain Robbe-Grillet conducted by Frédéric Taddeï a few years ago (in French with English subtitles). Also includes trailers for Trans-Europ-Express and two additional Alain Robbe-Grillet films (The Man Who Lies and Eden and After) slated for release on Kino in the future, plus a fun promo short with clips of all six film set for release by Kino.
by Sean Axmaker
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John Milius occupies a curious place in the culture of American filmmakers of the seventies. In the age of new, young, maverick voices, he's the rugged American individualist with conservative politics and iconoclastic heroes. He's fascinated with military culture and imperialist adventure, caught up in the tension between American isolation and intervention, in debt to the romantic ideals of honor and duty idealized in John Ford's cavalry films, and celebratory of the glory of battle, whether in war, on a surfboard challenging waves, or swinging a sword in the age of barbarism. In an era of secular liberalism, he's the wildman conservative of mythical heroes and combat veterans, but he's also more than that, as David Thomson notes in his Biographical Dictionary of Film: "He is an anarchist, he is articulate, and he has an unshakable faith in human grandeur...."
The Wind and the Lion (1972), the sophomore feature of the film school-trained screenwriter turned director, takes on a romantic tale of rebellion and response, honorable ancient codes and modern military might, and the first stirrings of the United States of America, the modern, maverick young country in a political culture dominated by the history-seeped empires of old Europe, as a world power. And it does so in a cagily budget-minded take on the sweeping military epics and colonial adventures of the 1950s and 1960s, a sensibility appropriated in the opening seconds of the film as Jerry Goldsmith's grandly dramatic score plays under the credits etched into the handsome parchment of a yesteryear Hollywood frame.
In Tangiers in 1904, a Berber chieftain sweeps through the city to the residence of the American ambassador with a small company of swordsmen on horseback, grabs the widow Eden Pedecaris (Candice Bergen) and her two adolescent children, and rides back out into the deserts of Morocco. It's a grand entrance for a hero who charges in like a villain, wrapped in a turban and face scarf that is pulled aside to reveal Sean Connery as Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli. Yes, this is the last days of the era when you could get away with an Anglo actor playing a Moroccan Berber leader with a Scottish accent but Connery plays it with gusto. He gives a swashbuckling flair to the leader of the guerilla opposition to a Moroccan ruler who has allowed the Germans and the French military presence into the ruling circle to vie for diplomatic influence. For Raisuli, such deference to the European powers is an affront to the honor and the sovereignty of the ancient culture and this kidnapping is as much about humiliating the prince as it is to secure a ransom from the Americans.
Back in the United States, President Teddy Roosevelt (Brian Keith in a brush mustache and an easy, rugged charm) is campaigning for his first presidential election (he assumed office after the assassination of McKinley). The event becomes the issue he needs to define his run: he will not put up with such an attack on the American body. "Pedecaris alive or Raisuli dead!" becomes a slogan and when the Moroccan rulers refuse the entreaties of American diplomats to rescue their citizens, Roosevelt sends the American military to launch their own rescue. It's an American incursion of a sovereign power that Milius presents as both a daring diplomatic challenge to the supremacy of the European powers in colonial Africa and as a heroic military action in the name of American honor. John Huston has a small but memorable role as Secretary of State John Hay, constantly prodding Roosevelt with affairs of state while he's occupied at target practice, hunting, or on the campaign trail, and Clint Eastwood regular Geoffrey Lewis is the American Ambassador to Morocco, trying the walk the fine line of diplomacy between the figurehead prince and the real power behind the throne.
Against the grand sweep of the military adventure is the almost-romance between Raisuli, a chauvinist with a sense of chivalry and honor, and Eden, who stands up to Raisuli, directly challenges him in front of his men, and plots her own escape rather than awaiting a rescue that may never come, dragging her reluctant children along with her. The kids are fascinated by the Berber warriors, especially her son William (Simon Harrison), who studies Raisuli's every movement, and they slowly accessorize their British outfits with the practical (and exotic) sashes and scarves of their desert captors. Faye Dunaway was reportedly slated for the role of Eden but dropped out due to illness and Bergen stepped in as a replacement. She comes off more flustered than furious, recalling the "spunky" energy of thirties actresses in battle-of-the-sexes pictures, and she lacks the onscreen gravitas that Connery effortlessly commands. But she commits to the role and that unbalanced sense of authority matches the situation: her defiance is all bluff given her position as the prisoner of a war-hardened desert tribe. Her growing respect and affection for Raisuli also puts a dent in her righteous defiance.
Milius creates a small scale version of a 1960s military adventure epic, which he accomplishes without a cast of thousands at his disposal. He suggests a larger army while focusing on smaller engagements given greater scope with his Panavision frame and vast desert landscapes. You can see the influence of David Lean and Lawrence of Arabia in scenes of galloping swordsman dueling in silhouette against the sky and small bands of charging horseman dwarfed by vastness of the Moroccan desert. Milius hasn't the chops of Lean--the battle scenes are more interesting for the effort and energy than the technical execution--but he has a passion that overcomes the sometimes clumsy action staging and choppy editing and a cagey understanding of size and scale that gives the shots a kind of modest majesty. And he invests it with his own sense of honor and responsibility and romance of patriotic and moral causes, a sensibility out of favor by the seventies and its suspicion of foreign engagements.
Raisuli is in every sense an enemy of America, yet Milius not only respects and likes him, he suggests a kinship with Teddy Roosevelt and the American spirit, equating the rebel Berber leader fighting to free his country from foreign influence with the spirit of American individualism and exceptionalism. "Sometimes your enemies are a lot more admirable than your friends," notes Roosevelt during the long-distance game of international chess. The Americans, who at the turn-of-the-century are underdog outsiders in the diplomatic gamesmanship and colonialist competitions of European powers, and the rebel Berbers find common cause against the old world arrogance of the German and French forces. Milius, true to form, identifies with the maverick spirit of the American cavalry unit sent to rescue Pedicaris, nicely expressed in the can-do practicality and frontier spirit of Steve Kanaly's Captain Jerome, whose mix of straight-talking manner and American colloquial expressions is as endearing as it is admirable.
The Wind and the Lion has a rather romantic take on revolution and the honor of war that is out of step with the more complicated sensibilities of American movies in the seventies. Coming soon after the withdrawal from Vietnam, this celebration of gunboat diplomacy seems ill-timed, but Milius is full of contradictions and underdog valor and he creates such grand characters and colorful collisions of cultures and countries that it works. It received two Academy Award nominations, including Best Music for Jerry Goldsmith's sweeping dramatic score.
It debuts on Blu-ray in a gorgeous edition. The film looks close to pristine, the colors are strong and the image clear and sharp. The DTS-HD 5.1 sound is muscular, recreating the six-track audio of the film's 70mm release version, with the battle scenes spreading the soundtrack through the surround channels.
Features commentary by John Milius originally recorded for the 2004 DVD release. Milius is an articulate guy who loves historical and technical detail. He discusses his inspirations and goes into detail for the battle scenes, quite proud of the historical accuracy of his recreations, and he never fails to identity the gun going off in any given scene.
Also includes the promotional behind-the-scenes produced for the film's original theatrical release. It's available through the Warner Archive collection but it is a pressed disc, not manufacture-on-demand like the Archive's DVD releases.
by Sean Axmaker
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To many fans, Performance (1970) is legendary as the dramatic feature film debut of Mick Jagger. Though released in 1970, the film--about a short-fused punk of a London gangster named Chas (James Fox) who hides out from the cops and the crooks alike in the basement flat of a reclusive rock stars' (Jagger) dilapidated mansion--was shot in 1968, at the height of Jagger's bad-boy infamy. The Rolling Stones had released "Between the Buttons," "Their Satanic Majesty's Request," and "Beggar's Banquet," and Jagger and Keith Richards had been arrested and convicted on drug charges in 1967. By the time the film was released he was the poster man-boy of rock decadence and the devil's music, dangerous and seductive, and he became a sexual icon in a way the Beatles could never be. But Jagger has less screen time and a far less central role in this drama than you might guess, given the way his presence transforms the film.
Performance opens as a crime thriller steeped in London gangster machismo. Chas, an angry, vicious young thug always on the edge of spinning out of control, is the young enforcer for mobster Harry Flowers (Johnny Shannon), an old school gang leader making his play to consolidate his control over his section of London. The problem is that Chas likes his work far too much and has a tendency to overreach his orders, especially when they call for restraint. Chas is an artist of destruction. Which of course comes back to bite him. His zeal threatens Harry's new alliance and puts him in the crosshairs of the underworld and the cops alike.
Performance is the directorial debut of both cinematographer Nicolas Roeg and artist / writer Donald Cammell, who teamed up to co-direct. It's a heady brew from the opening scene, which stitches two seemingly disconnected storylines with aggressive editing that seems to rewrite the script as it weaves scenes together. The jagged, jackhammer dynamism cuts dialogue in to fragments in places, beginning a sentence in the back of a car where Chas leans on a witness and warping the meaning when it's picked up by a barrister in court defending Harry Flowers against criminal charges. Sixties cinema was no stranger to experimental editing and conceptual creativity but this is something else, dancing between narrative storytelling and thematic associations until the threads wind together at the end of the scene, and the editing continues to challenge conventions throughout the film. Cammell spent two years editing Performance, or rather reediting the film, after an unsatisfactory preview. He created the dense editing pattern, with its intricate layering of images and storylines and characters contrasting and blurring identities, while Roeg was off in Australia shooting his first solo project as a director, Walkabout, but Roeg was clearly in synch with Cammell, as Roeg's subsequent films continued to expand on those editing ideas. It gives the film a challenging, aggressive quality, slamming the two cultures-- London gangster machismo and the heady, decadent world of sex, drugs and rock and roll--together with a jagged crash. This is underworld culture and counterculture with a savage edge and these two artists spin a dense web of images and ideas and cultures in upheaval.
James Fox had made his reputation playing cultured men and portraits of dignity and breeding. Chas was something new to him and Fox is almost unrecognizable under the barking cockney accent and cocky, swaggering physicality of Chas, constantly wound up and ready to explode. It's all he can do to remain still in the company of the older, more disciplined soldiers of the Flowers mob. When he finally unleashes his pent-up fury on a trio of rivals who ambush him, he tips over into savage survival mode, going lone wolf with a ferocious focus. Every action seems to be acted on impulse, a sudden brainstorm that he pounces on with the full force of his feral drive, right down to the overheard tip on the basement room. He doesn't take no for an answer and, while his cover story is as patently false as his impromptu dye job (Chas mixes lotion and red paint and runs it through his hair, giving him a hairdo that looks like it was cast in plastic), his commitment to the façade is so total that Turner can't turn him away.
The role of Turner, the androgynous, sexually unrestrained celebrity hermit, noodling with his experimental musical projects and lounging in bed with multiple partners, was perfect for Jagger. He almost didn't need to act, and in many ways he didn't. Jagger is least forceful when's he delivering dialogue (his tentativeness is surprising given his confidence as a singer), but his presence fills the film with the atmospheric musk of animal sensuality. Lounging under the covers or shuffling through the mansion in a loosely-tied robe, he's a man at home with his body, and the bodies of his live-in lovers. "The only performance that makes it, that makes it all the way, is the one that achieves madness," says Turner as he and his lover (Anita Pallenberg) draw Chas into their little world of sex and drugs. It's not a promise of things to come, it's a description of what's already going on, and it comes to a head in the "Memo From Turner" number, the demonic Jagger solo tune with a sultry slide guitar by Ry Cooder. It's still the most wicked and dangerous Jagger that has ever been on screen. Speaking lines as Turner, the hermit of a rock star haunting a wreck of a mansion, Jagger is oddly passive, but once starts biting off lyrics and chewing them over as a song, he commands the scene and the screen.
It's amazing what Cammell got past Warner; this is perhaps the first major studio film to embrace androgyny and bi-sexuality in its main characters without judgment. And it's not just in the hideaway maze of Turner's oasis, where identities blur in the games of musical beds (on Blu-ray it's much easier to see that it's Mick and James in a post-coital cuddle before the identity shifts once again). Pay attention you'll see that mob boss Harry Flowers relaxes to gay porn while in bed. It gives this portrait of London thug machismo a homoerotic quality that is more than just a suggestion. Sex and violence aren't simply connected, they are intertwined here along with the fluid idea of identity and sexuality.
The Blu-ray debut looks brings out details not apparent on the DVD. The 2007 DVD release clipped a line that has been restored for this edition - "Here's to old England!" - and presents a different vocal performance for actor Johnny Shannon, who plays mob boss Harry Flowers. Some of the performances were rerecorded for the American release to soften the cockney accents and it's not clear which version this is. The film was released in mono and so is disc; the dense soundtrack sometimes gets muddied in the mix, but "Memo From Turner" sounds terrific. It jumps out of the mix.
Also includes the 24-minute featurette "Performance: Influence and Controversy," a very good piece on the production, release, and culture of the film, originally produced in 2007 for the DVD release. It doesn't feature any of the primary participants (no Jagger, Fox, or Roeg, and Donald Cammell died in 1996) but it does include interview with producers David Cammell and Sanford Lieberson, editor Frank Mazzolla, and co-star Anita Pallenberg. The archival "Memo From Turner" is a five-minute promotional piece from the film's original release that focuses on Jagger's contributions to the film and features almost the entire song. The supplements are not presented in HD.
by Sean Axmaker
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DICK DINMAN AND SCHAWN BELSTON SALUTE RODGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN FOX CLASSICS. Producer/host Dick Dinman welcomes his returning guest Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment's Senior Vice President of Library and Technical Services Schawn Belston as they salute the Rodgers and Hammerstein film classics STATE FAIR, CAROUSEL, THE KING AND I, SOUTH PACIFIC, THE SOUND OF MUSIC and two versions of OKLAHOMA all of which have been restored to sumptuous sight and sound Blu-ray perfection in the just released RODGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN BLU-RAY COLLECTION.
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 http://www.dvdclassicscorner.com/ or http://www.dvdclassicscorner.net/.
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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
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
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
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
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Turner Classic Movies Pays Tribute to Eli Wallach on Monday, June 30 with the following festival of films. This program will replace the previously scheduled movies for that day so please take note.
The new schedule for Monday, June 30 will be:
9:00 AM Kisses for My President
11:00 AM Act One
1:00 PM How the West Was Won
3:45 PM The Misfits
6:00 PM Baby Doll
One of the most respected actors in American performance, Eli Wallach's career never quite matched his long list of stage credits in terms of quality, but he had nevertheless contributed some memorable characters to film. Movieg rs knew him best for a pair of similar characters - the cruel Mexican bandit Calvera, whose raids on a poor village prompt the formation of "The Magnificent Seven" (1960), and as the scheming, scene-stealing Tuco in Sergio Leone's groundbreaking spaghetti Western, "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly" (1967). But Wallach's career stretched back a decade prior and continued on well into the 21st century, during which he played almost every ethnic type and moral stripe under the sun. While his record on the big screen remained spotty, Wallach thrived on television with an Emmy-winning performance in "The Poppy is a Flower" (ABC, 1966) and a campy turn as Mr. Freeze on "Batman" (ABC, 1966-68). Over the years, he remained under the radar while performing onstage or in lesser-known pictures, only to resurface in projects like the revival of "The Diary of Anne Frank" (1978), the acclaimed miniseries "The Executioner's Song" (NBC, 1982) and Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather III" (1990), in which he had a memorable scene as a mobster who dies while eating poisoned cannoli. By the time the nonagenarian delivered award-worthy small screen performances on "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" (NBC, 2006-07) and "Nurse Jackie" (Showtime, 2009- ), Wallach's place as one of Hollywood's most venerated character performers had been assured.
Born Eli Herschel Wallach on Dec. 7, 1915 in Brooklyn, NY, he made his performing debut as part of an amateur production while still in high school. At some point in his early life, Wallach lost the sight in his right eye, the result of a hemorrhage (Wallach was vague about the date in his autobiography). After gaining a BA from the University of Texas in Austin and a Masters' degree in education from the City College of New York, Wallach earned a scholarship to New York's prestigious Neighborhood Playhouse, where he first cut his teeth on the Method style of acting. After graduation in 1940, he landed a smattering of minor stage roles before WWII intervened; he joined the Army in 1941 and served as a medical administrative officer, being dispatched to numerous points across the globe, including Hawaii, Casablanca and France. It was in the latter location that his superiors learned of his acting background and asked Wallach to mount a production to entertain the recuperating troops. With the assistance of other members of his company, Wallach wrote and performed "This is the Army?" a satirical revue in which he played Hitler, among other roles. It would be the first of many memorable villains Wallach would play during his long career.
After being discharged from the service, Wallach resumed his acting career and made his Broadway debut in 1945. He also joined the Actor's Studio, spending two seasons with the American Repertory Theater before blossoming into a major stage star in the early '50s - thanks to a pair of Tennessee Williams plays, "The Rose Tattoo" and "Camino Real." The former landed Wallach a Tony Award. The actor returned to the theater frequently over the next six decades in countless productions ranging from Eugene Ionesco's "Rhinoceros," "Teahouse of the August Moon," and "Mister Roberts." In 1948, he met and married fellow actress Anne Jackson, with whom he had appeared in countless stage productions, as well as the 1967 comedy "The Tiger Makes Out," which he also co-produced. They year 1956 marked the beginning of Wallach's screen career in the controversial Elia Kazan feature "Baby Doll." As earthy Sicilian Silva Vaccaro, who lustily pursues the teenage bride (Carroll Baker) of hapless mill owner Karl Malden, Wallach generated considerable heat for his non-traditional leading man, undoubtedly contributing to the film being banned by the Catholic Legion of Decency and several international markets. The buzz generated by "Baby Doll" boosted Wallach's profile in Hollywood and overseas, where he won a BAFTA for his work in 1957. He was soon busy with numerous film projects - often playing mad, bad and dangerous variations on the Vaccaro personality, including the psychotic hitman in Don Siegel's gritty noir "Lineup" (1958); Sgt. Craig, who spits insults even after a horrific facial injury in "The Victors" (1963); and as Poncho/Baron von R litz, he teamed with Edward G. Robinson and fellow Method advocate Rod Steiger in "Seven Thieves" (1960), a glitzy caper.
Wallach's profile by the early 1960s was significant enough for him to share top billing with Steve McQueen and Yul Brynner in "The Magnificent Seven" and Clark Gable and Marilyn Monr (who babysat Wallach's daughter Roberta during the film's troubled shoot) in "The Misfits" (1961) - the fabled last film for both Monr and Gable. He was also a frequent guest star on television, especially anthology series like "Playhouse 90" (CBS, 1956-1961) and "The Hallmark Hall of Fame" (CBS, 1951- ), for which he was a notable Dauphin opposite Julie Harris' Joan of Arc in "The Lark" (1957). He also made an amusing Mr. Freeze (one of three actors to play the character) on two episodes of the campy series, "Batman" (ABC, 1966-68). On a more prestigious note, Wallach won an Emmy for "Poppies are Also Flowers" (1966), an all-star drama penned by Ian Fleming and produced in part by the United Nations about the international drug trade.
By the mid-1960s, Wallach was a dependable character actor with a knack for foreign characters who often wielded a degree of swagger and occasional menace. In addition to the Mexican Calvera and the Italian Guido in "The Misfits," Wallach was a Greek kidnapper in the Disney film "The Moon-Spinners" (1965), an amorous Latin dictator on the make for American female president Polly Bergen in "Kisses for My President" (1964), and an Arab shah in "Genghis Khan" (1965). In 1967, Wallach traveled to Italy to film the third in a trilogy of operatically violent Westerns for director Sergio Leone; his performance as Tuco in "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" was arguably his best turn on screen; one that allowed him to work with his full and formidable acting palette. Over the course of Leone's three-hours-plus masterpiece, we were shown all sides of Tuco - from the duplicitous creep who would abandon his own partner in crime (Clint Eastwood) in the middle of the blazing desert, to the loyal friend who rescues Eastwood from the same fate, to the wronged brother who lashes out against his sanctimonious priest brother, to the sympathetic victim of a cruel sadist (Lee Van Cleef) who will go to any length to discover a cache of hidden gold. Wallach tackled each of these emotions with a vigor and humor that was positively riveting in every scene. His performance was a key element in the film's worldwide success.
Despite being nearly killed on three occasions during the making of the iconic film (due to faulty and lax production issues), Wallach acknowledged the movie's impact on his career on numerous occasions after its release. He even named his 2005 autobiography The Good, the Bad, and Me: In My Anecdotage and in 2003, he and Eastwood re-dubbed 18 minutes of footage that had been excised from the film before its 1967 release in America. Wallach also returned to Italy several times to appear in other "spaghetti Westerns," usually as variations on Tuco. Wallach was supposed to reunite with Leone for the film "Duck, You Sucker" (1973), but scheduling conflicts prevented this from happening (his role was later assumed by Rod Steiger).
Wallach remained as busy in the '70s and '80s as he did in the previous decade, though his roles were largely character parts and the quality frequently ranged from top Hollywood product to low-budget fare. Among his better films from the period were "Cinderella Liberty" (1973), in which he played a tough-as-nails Navy lifer; "Movie Movie" (1978), Stanley Donen's clever tribute to vintage Hollywood melodramas and musicals; John Huston's Bicentennial-themed short "Independence," in which he captured the intelligence and wry humor of Benjamin Franklin. Wallach also appeared in numerous TV movies, including the thriller "A Cold Night's Death" (1973), co-starring Robert Culp, about scientists losing their grip in the Arctic; the drama "Skokie" (1981) co-starring Danny Kaye, about Holocaust survivors facing neo-Nazis; and the thriller "The Executioner's Song" (1982), based on the Norman Mailer book about serial killer, Gary Gilmore. But Wallach also enlivened plenty of junk during this period, too, including "The Deep" (1977), the wretched Satanic thriller "The Sentinel" (1977), and the overwrought teens-on-drugs TV feature, "The People" (1970).
As the 1980s wore on into the 1990s and the new millennium, Wallach continued to answer the call for character parts - long after many of his contemporaries had passed on. He was a near-sighted hit man in the limp Kirk Douglas-Burt Lancaster comedy, "Tough Guys" (1986), a psychologist testifying against a seemingly deranged call girl (Barbara Streisand) in "Nuts" (1987), the candy-loving Don Altobello in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather III" (1990), and Ben Stiller's sympathetic rabbi advisor in Edward Norton's wry comedy, "Keeping the Faith" (2000).
In 2003, he reunited with his friend and former co-star Clint Eastwood to play a cagey storeowner in "Mystic River" - for which he was uncredited. As Wallach entered his ninth decade, he did not appear to slow down in the least. He was a former blacklisted TV writer on an episode of "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (NBC, 2006- ) and enjoyed sizable roles in "The Hoax" (2006) - about Clifford Irving's bogus biography of Howard Hughes - and "The Holiday" (2006), in which he played a charming elderly screenwriter befriended by Kate Winslet in the romantic comedy. Wallach found himself back in play at the Emmy awards after a 20 year absence, earning a nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for his performance on "Studio 60." After voiceover roles in "Constantine's Sword" (2008) and "The T Tactic" (2009), Wallach returned to the small screen as a dying elderly man for an episode of "Nurse Jackie" (Showtime, 2009- ). His performance earned the 94-year-old an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series.
(Biography courtesy of TCMDb)
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For the second year in a row this May, I journeyed from Los Angeles to Palm Springs for four days of gritty film noir -- courtesy of the annual Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival. This year's edition, the fifteenth, was even better than last year's, as festival producer and host Alan K. Rode offered up a solid assortment of the familiar and not-so-familiar, with genuine classics like Sunset Blvd. and The Killers mixedwith intriguing obscurities like Southside 1-1000 and Storm Warning. The recipe worked, as Rode reported afterwards that the festival broke attendance records and sold out several shows. Twelve films were screened in a 72-hour period that began Thursday evening, May 8, and ended late Sunday afternoon, May 11. The movies themselves (almost all in 35mm), the fascinating guest speakers, the attentive audiences, the comfy theater, the big screen, the host hotel, even the quality popcorn -- all made for a sparkling and hugely enjoyable four days. What follows is a first-person account of those days designed to give a sense of what the overall experience was like, since this festival makes for a perfect little getaway and I can highly recommend making plans to attend in 2015.
The festival was founded in 2000 by Palm Springs resident and writer Arthur Lyons. Since Lyons' death in 2008, the festival has continued strongly thanks to the aforementioned Alan K. Rode as well as Palm Springs residents and Cultural Center Founders Ric and Rozene Supple, and the San Francisco-based Film Noir Foundation, which has rescued and preserved many noir films and puts on annual Noir City festivals in Hollywood, San Francisco and other cities. FNF founder and president Eddie Muller -- also an occasional TCM host -- was on hand with Rode and film historian Foster Hirsch to introduce the weekend's screenings and interview the special guests.
I pulled into the driveway of the Palm Springs Renaissance Hotel at about 5pm on Thursday afternoon. After a two-plus-hour drive into the desert, the hotel's sleek lobby felt like an oasis. This was the festival's host hotel, and it was an ideal choice -- only five minutes away from the Camelot Theatre, and nice enough to feel like a comfy retreat without being too over-the-top or expensive. I had no complaints. And there was just enough time to grab a burger and salad in the Renaissance bar area before heading off to the Camelot Theatre for the opening night movie: The Window (1949). An hour before showtime, a considerable crowd was already gathering for what would be a capacity screening. Why The Window -- an outstanding suspense picture that was a sleeper hit for RKO back in the day -- isn't better known or more often revived is beyond me. Perhaps it's because it does not feature A-list stars. In any case, the cast that it does have -- Barbara Hale, Arthur Kennedy, Paul Stewart, Ruth Roman, Bobby Driscoll -- are all superb. Based on a Cornell Woolrich story entitled The Boy Who Cried Murder, the brisk 73-minute film centers on a New York boy (Driscoll) who is prone to telling lies and embarrassing his parents (Hale and Kennedy). Sleeping on the upstairs fire escape one night, he witnesses, through a window, his neighbors Stewart and Roman murdering a man. When he tells his parents, they don't believe him. When he tells the police, they investigate but end up not believing him either. Then, in a scene that Alfred Hitchcock would have loved, Hale marches Driscoll upstairs to apologize to Stewart and Roman, not realizing that this will place her terrified kid in genuine danger. The suspense only ratchets up from there in what is ultimately an ingeniously written, atmospherically directed little thriller -- a perfect film of its type. And there actually is a slight Hitchcock connection -- Window director Ted Tetzlaff 's last film as a cinematographer had been Notorious (1946), after which he moved full time into directing.
The Window is also notable for making the most of a limited budget with evocative sets and décor--hallmarks of the noir style. The New York tenement where the action is set is extremely convincing, aided by fine location work shot in Harlem. Tetzlaff gives the setting an appropriately claustrophobic feel, with the tenement, the surrounding run-down streets, and a condemned building next door all coming off as prison-like. In the marvelous climax, with Bobby Driscoll in mortal peril, you get the feeling there's nowhere to run.
Following the screening of this beautiful 35mm print funded by the Film Noir Foundation, Rode welcomed leading lady Barbara Hale to the stage for a very rare public appearance. The 92-year-old actress was in fantastic shape and instantly won over the crowd with entertaining tales from The Window and her overall career, which includes a long television stint as Della Street opposite Raymond Burr's Perry Mason. Hale recalled that while on location in New York for The Window -- which she saw this night for the first time in 65 years -- it was so cold that the entire cast was wearing long underwear beneath their costumes. This was remarkable to hear, for the film does a great job in convincing us that the action is really taking place during a hot, sweaty summer.
She continued that Arthur Kennedy "was so true to life that actually he seemed more like an actor when we weren't shooting," and that Ruth Roman became a dear friend as a result of this picture. Of little Bobby Driscoll, who was borrowed from Disney and won a special Oscar for his performance, Hale said that he became like her real child at the time and that she felt very protective of him. Her devastation over his later drug problems and untimely 1968 death was still apparent: "I just adored that child," she said in a shaky voice. "It's very hard for me to talk about it. He became my baby." Hale also spoke sweetly of meeting her future husband, actor Bill Williams, on the set of West of the Pecos (1945): "What a lovely fella he was... just the sweetest smile and the best daddy. I miss him terribly. It was a wonderful marriage." But her funniest story concerned her friend (and West of the Pecos co-star) Robert Mitchum, who saw her one day across the crowded RKO commissary, and shouted: "Hey, Hale! Ya gettin' any?!" "He was the biggest tease," Hale recalled with a twinkle. "Just full of the devil!"
After Hale's talk, there was a lovely, catered reception outside the theater in the mild Palm Springs night. This was followed, for me anyway, by a quick drive back to the Renaissance and straight to bed for some peaceful slumber.
Friday started off with a 10am screening of another 73-minute RKO gem: Roadblock (1951), with Charles McGraw in a rare leading role not as a villain but as a more sensitive, if still hard-edged, insurance investigator. Alan K. Rode, author of a strong 2007 biography of McGraw, said in his introduction, "This is the kinder, gentler McGraw, the conflicted McGraw who plays what I would call the noir chump." Indeed, McGraw's screen persona makes him entirely convincing both as a virtuous cop figure and as a contemptible villain, which is a key reason why his transformation here from one to the other is so credible. Shot in eighteen days in and around downtown Los Angeles, Roadblock moves like lightning and is entirely satisfying. It screened in Palm Springs in a new -- and the only known -- 35mm print, which exists thanks to the funding of the Film Noir Foundation and lab work by Warner Bros. and the UCLA Film and Television Archive. It played great to the morning audience. It was preceded by a short film by director Greg King entitled Glass Sun (2013), an imaginative, wordless throwback to classic noir.
After a nice lunch with friends at the Renaissance, Friday's second picture was Too Late For Tears (1949), continuing its triumphant tour of film noir festivals in San Francisco, Hollywood, and now Palm Springs, after a five-year restoration project spearheaded by the Film Noir Foundation. As Eddie Muller told the crowd, "It's a miracle that there's a show this afternoon." A decade ago, Muller explained, he had wanted to show the film but found there were no complete, undamaged prints known to exist. Eventually, a dupe negative of the French release version (entitled La Tigresse) showed up at the UCLA Film and Television Archive, and UCLA's Scott MacQueen was able to cherry-pick the best shots from that negative and two other print sources to end up with the superb print available now.
Too Late For Tears, starring Lizabeth Scott, Arthur Kennedy, Dan Duryea, Don DeFore, and a suitcase containing $60,000, was an independent film produced by Hunt Stromberg and released by United Artists, which is why, without the protection of a major studio owner, the prints fell into disrepair over the years. The movie plays as a fine noir thriller with Lizabeth Scott at her villainous best, in full-fledged femme fatale mode. Muller said that virtually the entire budget was spent on its two main stars, Scott and Duryea, with the production cutting corners everywhere else.
The 4pm movie, Billy Wilder's masterful Sunset Blvd. (1950), was one I have seen many, many times, so I decided to play hooky and camp out for a couple of blissful hours by the Renaissance Hotel's large, beautiful pool. It was buzzing with guests and their families, creating a very agreeable vibe. But I made sure to return to the Camelot for the post-film discussion between Rode and actress Nancy Olson, who plays the young writer Betty Schaefer in the film. I was glad I did, for Olson gave a fascinating interview that touched on details of the film's making, the cast, director Billy Wilder, and that overall era of Hollywood. A mere 20 years old during filming (not, she pointed out, 22 -- as is mentioned of her character on screen!), she still sounded incredulous that as a UCLA student who was nicknamed "Wholesome Olson" and who didn't even know who Gloria Swanson was, she had the good fortune to begin her screen career with a movie like this one. "You wonder about destiny, about how your life takes turns," she said. "The door opened and I became a leading character in one of the greatest films ever made. That is amazing!"
Olson recalled that Swanson was incredibly dedicated to her role of Norma Desmond, often "begging" Billy Wilder to stay late after filming to work on the next day's scenes. Olson also said it was usual studio practice for all the dozen or so films being shot at Paramount at any given time to have their dailies shown at 6pm in a little theater. Typically, directors and technicians would come to watch their own work and then leave before the other films' dailies began. But "then Sunset Blvd. started to show its dailies, and nobody left. It was very unusual. They had to bring in extra seats!" Of Sunset Blvd.'s timeless appeal, Olson said "this film told the truth about not only the film business but the world. It's a story that has a kind of resonance about people selling their souls, as Bill Holden did, to survive. And about falling in love with the wrong person at the wrong time, and the consequences of all that."
Following Sunset Blvd., a quick, tasty dinner with friends was in order at the Camelot Theatre's upstairs cafe. Then it was back down for the evening movie, Sorry, Wrong Number (1948). Film historian, noir scholar and author, and college professor Foster Hirsch introduced the film as "pure, hardcore noir -- straight up, no chaser, all the way. If you came here for fun and uplift, you've come to the wrong place!" Director Anatole Litvak's movie was based on a famous 22-minute radio play starring Agnes Moorhead that was expanded by author Lucille Fletcher into a complicated screenplay full of flashbacks, and flashbacks within flashbacks. Barbara Stanwyck stars as the bedridden heiress who overhears a murder plot on the telephone but is unable to convince husband Burt Lancaster or anyone else of this. The movie stands as an interesting experiment in bringing the techniques and qualities of radio drama to the screen, with pronounced, heightened visual and aural effects that are akin to purely aural, old-fashioned radio plays. To me, it came off as overdone and sometimes shrill, but the movie does stay true to the storytelling mode it creates, features a great cast, and certainly it played well on this evening.
Speaking afterwards with Foster Hirsch was Victoria Wilson, author of the recent biography A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940, the first of two volumes about the actress. Wilson has a fulltime day job as an editor for Knopf (Hirsch himself is one of her writers), so she worked nights and weekends for fifteen years to complete this volume. She said that Stanwyck's acting is timeless because "there was only one thing that really interested her, and that was the truth of whatever the situation was. Her acting doesn't age, it doesn't date, because she always went for the truth." Hirsch asked about the ramifications of Stanwyck's early years, when she was essentially an abandoned child, since her mother died when she was four and her father deserted the family soon thereafter. Wilson replied, "I don't think she ever got over it. If you think about the things that haunt you, at a certain point in your life you're able to put them aside, and they don't stand in your way. But if you really don't cope with them, they come back to haunt you. And that's what happened to her and that's what I'm going to be writing about in volume two."
It was still so warm after this screening that a walk down festive Palm Canyon Drive with some ice cream and friends seemed like a good idea, before heading back to the Renaissance for some drinks in the bar lounge.
Day 3, Saturday, kicked off at 10am with yet another 73-minute gem, Southside 1-1000 (1950), screening in a beautiful 35mm print again made possible by the Film Noir Foundation. This Allied Artists release, an obvious knockoff of the similar T-Men (1947), is nonetheless a nifty little low-budget suspenser in its own right, fast-moving and efficiently done, with some memorable set pieces. With documentary-style narration that was in vogue at the time, the film follows a Secret Service agent (Don DeFore) on the trail of counterfeiters. Produced by the King brothers (Frank and Maurice King) as a follow-up to their masterful, Joseph Lewis-directed Gun Crazy (1950), this was originally to have been directed by Lewis as well. But Lewis left for MGM and bigger movies, and the King brothers replaced him with Boris Ingster, whose Stranger on the Third Floor (1940) is considered by some to be the first true film noir ever made.This would be Ingster's third and final film as director, but as Eddie Muller pointed out in his intro, Ingster had a long, prominent screen career in various capacities going back to the 1920s, and remains a fascinating figure to study. "The King brothers," Muller said, "had a special knack for finding people that were on the way up or on the way down."
Southside 1-1000 makes excellent and imaginative use of L.A. locations, including a sequence on Angels' Flight railway filmed right inside the actual car, and Union Station. It features a solid cast of heavies like George Tobias and Barry Kelley (who memorably tells his son to "beat it" when the kid asks for some cake), as well as a fetching and strong leading lady, Andrea King. And the film contains what Muller labeled "the weirdest opening sequence ever" -- a flag-waving piece of Red-Scare-era patriotism about the Korean War and the necessity for Americans to spend money to fight Communism. It's possible the sequence was tacked on simply to pad the film's short running time. Muller said it "makes me laugh because [the King brothers] were kind of petty crooks in their early days, bootleggers, and their dad was a racketeer, and they got in the movie business through pinball machines -- and for these guys to be giving us a lesson in patriotism is a beautiful thing indeed."
The next movie was for me the biggest discovery of the festival: Storm Warning (1951). While not a particularly rare title -- it's been issued on DVD more than once -- I had never seen it or even been aware of it. It's certainly an oddball movie, with Ginger Rogers and Doris Day prominent in the cast even though the film is nowhere close to being a musical. One could argue whether Storm Warning, dark as it is, is actually a film noir, but it does create an anxious, tense atmosphere of mob violence and contains a powerful sequence in particular that is undeniably, strongly noir: Ginger Rogers walks down a dark street one night as all the shop owners turn off their lights, one after the next, making her (and us) feel very alone and ever more nervous. The scene pays off with Rogers witnessing a highly unsettling act of violence carried out by the Ku Klux Klan. It turns out that everyone in town is either part of the Klan or too scared to speak against them. Local prosecutor Ronald Reagan (quite good here in his last film for Warner Bros.) hopes that Rogers' outsider status will give her the impetus to speak up, but complicating matters is her younger sister's (Doris Day's) marriage to one of the Klan members (Steve Cochran).
Rogers and Day wanted nothing to do with Storm Warning, which is certainly among the most unusual films on both their resumes. But they are very convincing as sisters, and their against-type casting works to heighten our interest. They are both very appealing, even though Day in particular is completely deglamorized. Cochran is also terrific in a part originally meant for Marlon Brando (who turned it down), even donning a white t-shirt à la Brando in scene after scene. There is no racial violence in this film. Producer Jerry Wald, director Stuart Heisler and writers Richard Brooks and Daniel Fuchs instead use the Klan as a way of telling a metaphorical story with a subtext of McCarthy-era America and the HUAC anti-Communist witch hunts. Foster Hirsch explained this very well in his fascinating introduction, pointing out that the pressures of that time -- conformity, thought control, intimidation, fear, bearing witness -- are what Wald was interested in capturing here. "There's not a single laugh in the entire movie," said Hirsch, which was a strong endorsement of the serious issues at stake.
Next up was The Killers (1946), one of the all-time great noirs and Burt Lancaster's screen debut. This is a picture I could quote verbally or visually from every scene, so I availed myself once again of the Renaissance Hotel's sparkling pool area and the Palm Springs sunshine before returning for the intriguing post-screening discussion between Alan K. Rode, Lancaster's widow Susie Lancaster, and Kate Buford, author of the fine 2000 biography Burt Lancaster: An American Life. Their conversation delved into Lancaster's entire career, including his run as a very successful independent producer (with Harold Hecht) in the 1950s, a decade that began in the era of studio domination and ended in the brave new world of independent production. Lancaster's extraordinary discipline and filmmaking intelligence carried him through. As Buford said, quoting film historian Neal Gabler: "[when] you track the course of Lancaster's career in '50s Hollywood, you track '50s Hollywood."
Susie Lancaster related an evocative little anecdote from The Professionals (1966) that spoke to Lancaster's sense of professionalism. One day early on, Lee Marvin was not on set when he was supposed to be, so Lancaster rode his horse into the nearby town, found Marvin, grabbed him by the shoulders and shook some sense into him. And Marvin was never a problem again on the shoot. Susie also spoke sweetly of Lancaster the man, especially their final years together, with Lancaster working to stay in great physical shape and maintaining a positive attitude right to the end. And the talk touched on other great Lancaster performances like Ulzana's Raid (1972) and Go Tell the Spartans (1978), with Buford offering some fascinating food for thought regarding Lancaster's performance in Atlantic City (1981). She said, "Atlantic City is The Killers brought to its conclusion. If the Swede had not died, he'd be running numbers in Atlantic City. There's a beautiful integrity balancing those two movies."
Before the Saturday evening film got underway, Eddie Muller polled the audience to ask how many had seen the film before. Only a few hands went up, prompting Muller to laugh, "OK, this is not many. This is gonna blow people's minds. You people are really not at all prepared for what you're about to see! It's a treat." Indeed! Shack Out on 101 (1955), while not technically a film noir, was in keeping with the day's Red Scare theme, as seen in Southside 1-1000 and Storm Warning. But here, the subject is very overt and highly comedic. This is one of the oddest, most absurd comedies to come out of the 1950s -- a true guilty pleasure. It's terrible yet deliriously wonderful. It makes no sense but you just don't care while watching it. Lee Marvin, as a diner cook named Slob, and Keenan Wynn, as the diner owner, are hilarious as they trade barbs, shoot harpoons, lift dumbbells, prance around in scuba gear, and lust after sultry waitress Terry Moore. Moore is involved with nuclear physicist Frank Lovejoy, who is scheming with Marvin in a plot that seems to involve the passing of nuclear secrets. Eventually the balance of the Cold War seems to rest in these individuals in this oceanside diner. Meanwhile, the movie finds time for moments like a love scene between Moore and Lovejoy that's played as a conversation about the Bill of Rights; the more they quote the Constitution, the more hot and bothered they get. Muller called this film "inexplicable. It's as if William Inge had fallen in his studio, knocked himself unconscious, yet his fingers kept typing."
Terry Moore, now 85, was there afterwards to speak, and she was as crowd-pleasing as the film. The audience just loved her as she playfully challenged Muller ("Tell me why this movie's weird, Eddie!"), and reminisced over Marvin and Wynn, "the two funniest men I've ever known. I never enjoyed working with any two people as much as I did with Lee and Keenan. [It was] the first time anyone ever talked to me like I was one of the guys. It was an experience I will never, never forget." Moore's screen career goes back to 1940, when she had bit parts in Maryland and The Howards of Virginia, and she is still working, with a recent role in the HBO series True Detective and a new movie coming out later in 2014, Aimy in a Cage, which she said contains the best performance she has ever given. "I want to give Betty White a run for her money!" she joked about her longevity.
Moore confessed to not remembering too much about working with Frank Lovejoy, prompting Muller to say, "Well, you kissed him more than anybody in the movie. You must have some memory of that." Terry replied, "I -- I kissed so many guys!" and drew a big laugh. She added that the one man she kissed onscreen she will never forget was Tyrone Power, her co-star in King of the Kyber Rifles (1953) and "the greatest person I ever knew." Later she spoke of her secret marriage to Howard Hughes, "the first love of my life," who still shows up in her dreams, and also of her famous decision to pose for Playboy at the age of 55: "I was sick and tired of Hollywood only thinking women were worthwhile between the age of 15 and 25. I wanted to prove them wrong."
Back at the Renaissance Hotel outdoor bar area, drinks were in order as friends talked over the day's films and events. Rode, his wife, and Lancaster and Buford even stopped by for a chat. But then it was off to bed, for in just a few hours, the final day of the festival would kick off with some major star wattage in the form of Humphrey Bogart in Deadline U.S.A. (1952) -- one of the great newspaper movies. As Eddie Muller said, quoting film critic Dave Kehr, "This is a movie about newspaper people told the way newspaper people feel about themselves when they've had a few too many." The screenplay by Richard Brooks, who also directed, was inspired by the real-life 1931 folding of The New York World, once published by Joseph Pulitzer. In the film, which is first-rate, editor Humphrey Bogart launches a print crusade against a local gangster (Martin Gabel) and fights to keep his newspaper alive as the owner's heirs consider selling, which would mean the paper's end. Brooks, Muller explained, had been a newspaperman before coming to Hollywood to work as a screenwriter and novelist. "He was a passionate believer that movies needed to have messages, that they needed to say something important about the culture." The issues in Deadline U.S.A. are still timely, Muller said, issues "of who's in charge of the business, and why it exists, and what is the fate of the paper and the public that it serves if the paper isn't there."
Next was Laura (1944), Otto Preminger's all-time classic that was screened as a tribute to the late Marvin Paige, a veteran casting director and a driving force of this festival from its inception until his death late last year. This was his favorite film. Screened this day in a flawless DCP, Laura was of course as spellbinding as ever, from Clifton Webb's magnetic opening narration to David Raksin's timeless score and everything in between. Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney and Clifton Webb are all so perfect in their roles that it's head-scratching to realize that the original choices were John Hodiak, Jennifer Jones and Laird Cregar. But just as with Casablanca (1942), the pieces eventually fell into place to create the perfect cast for a great movie. Alan K. Rode noted that Andrews remains an underrated, letter-perfect actor who, like Spencer Tracy, you can never catch "acting."
After the show, Susan Andrews took the stage with Rode to share some loving memories of her famous father. Eventually the talk turned to his struggle with alcoholism, and Susan wondered if his career might have had a more upward trajectory had he turned sober before 1969. For ten years after that date, however, Andrews had some of the happiest years of his life as he toured in stock with his wife.
One of Andrews' closest Hollywood friends was Jacques Tourneur, director of the final film, Out of the Past (1947). This, of course, is another all-time classic starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas. It's also a perfect movie with which to close out a film noir festival, as it is arguably the picture that most epitomizes the noir style, with one of the greatest alluring and deadly femme fatales, an iconic noir hero in Robert Mitchum, beautiful, shadowy, expressionistic lighting, and a story structure that emphasizes fatalism and doom above all else. To see it in 35mm is always a treat.
As I drove back to L.A., I marveled over how the weekend had managed to showcase so many films, guests and activities, yet still overall felt relaxing and unhurried. Surely the proximity of the Renaissance Hotel to the Camelot Theatre had a lot to do with it, as did the strategic scheduling of films with an eye to their running times, so as to allow enough time between shows to leave, actually do something like have a meal or relax by the pool, and then come back for the next screening.. And the festivalgoers were a nice group of people, passionate about the movies and respectful during screenings. I really don't have a bad word to say about the entire experience -- it was a perfect combination of moviegoing, intellectual stimulation, and plain old vacationing. Rode and the other organizers deserve a tip of the fedora and all the best for continuing the good work next year and beyond.
For more information about the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival, go to arthurlyonsfilmnoir.ning
For more information about the Renaissance Hotel, go to renaissancehotelpalmsprings.com
Videotaped interviews of the special guests will eventually be posted on the Film Noir Foundation website and can be seen here: www.filmnoirfoundation.org/video.html.
By Jeremy Arnold
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Recording this CD brought back many wonderful memories from my childhood. I have loved movies, movie music and Broadway musicals my entire life. I discovered a lot of this music for the first time when my parents bought me a 16mm Bell and Howell sound projector in the early 70s. It was one of the machines made out of metal from the 1950s and had to be manually threaded. In those days one could go to the public library and check out pristine prints of all the classic films for 2 days at no charge. Since my mom was an actress and a page at CBS in New York during the golden age of radio, she encouraged my passion for music, movies and Broadway. We spent countless hours in our basement where I shared a love, a wonderment, a passion for the American Popular Song with my mom as she told me all sorts of behind the scene stories. Her older sister (my Aunt Esther) was like my grandmother and we spent every Saturday together. She also fueled my passion and ultimately helped me write a fan letter to Ira Gershwin. Little did I know that would be a life defining moment for me. Although my Aunt Esther and my beloved mom have passed on I think about them every day and am reminded of many happy memories when I perform and hear this music. It is my wish that when you listen to this recording many happy memories will be brought to you as well.
For more information, please visit: www.richardglazier.com or www.centaurrecords.com.
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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