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The all-time favorite battle epic Zulu was one of the original late- 1980s Criterion laserdiscs formatted in the then- revolutionary "Letterbox" format. One was obliged to load several large lasers to see the movie, which was recorded in half-hour bursts. Some DVDs followed from legit and sub-legit sources, all of which were eventually eclipsed a few years back by a highly regarded Brit import Blu-ray with a razor-sharp picture and dazzling color. The new Twilight Time limited edition release is just as impressive.
A magnificent depiction of a famous military engagement in which a couple of hundred British soldiers were stormed by thousands of Zulu warriors, the 1964 release has long been a favorite 'boys own' true adventure tale. Originally released in 70mm, Zulu it's an all-out glorification of the Queen's colonial forces and military gallantry in general. It is fairly accurate about the bare facts of the battle, which are impressive on their own.
The movie was released just before the Vietnam War kicked into high gear, at a time when expensive epics were unlikely to be critical of a colonial war. Zulu's relative politically neutrality is interesting, considering that its makers were socially committed artists decidedly left of center. Director and co-writer Cy Endfield was a refugee from political persecution in the U.S.. The director of the savagely critical, highly recommended Try and Get Me! and The Underworld Story, Endfield lost the better part of a decade restarting his career in England. Always a practical fellow, he was considering playing along with the blacklisters when the chance came to partner with actor-producer Stanley Baker. Their 1957 Hell Drivers is a tough-minded tale of corruption in the British trucking industry, easily interpreted as a leftist indictment of free-market capitalism.
Easily the most accomplished and successful of Baker and Endfield's efforts, Zulu does not ask why Great Britain is warring against South Africa's Zulu nation in 1879. Although the indigenous Zulus are treated with respect, the movie still regards them as tribal forces on the attack, not a righteous nation repelling an Anglo invasion. When the troops manning the isolated camp at Rorke's Drift are forced to make a stand, two ranking officers (Stanley Baker and the fresh new star Michael Caine) squabble over seniority issues to determine who will command, and then repeatedly critique each other's performance. An alcoholic doctor (Jack Hawkins) and his seriously repressed daughter (Ulla Jacobson) interfere with the defense preparations, spreading defeatism among the Drift's relatively tiny complement of soldiers. The strong, unflappable Colour-Sgt. Bourne (Nigel Green) shows how Brit Army discipline pays off, repeatedly averting panic in the ranks. Doctor Reynolds (Patrick Magee) deals with the horrendous injuries sustained in the battle. Having gone to a lot of trouble to get himself into the infirmary, the malingering Pvt. Hook (a delightful James Booth) resists taking part in the fighting until given no choice.
Stanley Baker's idea of a righteous message is to champion the role of Welshmen in the army. This sets up a classic sequence in which the Zulus' fearsome war chants are answered with mighty Welsh choral singing. A superb director for both actors and camera, Cy Endfield seemingly sets politics aside to concentrate on making every shot a perfectly-judged marvel. So many moving master shots interweave the action and drama that we're soon caught up in the escalating jeopardy. The action is crystal clear: when the Zulu chieftain coordinates attacks from multiple directions, we have no problem keeping our bearings and understanding what's going on.
I can imagine that Cy Endfield was more fully engaged by the far more overtly political prequel to Zulu made fifteen years later, Zulu Dawn. With its comparatively uncomplicated bravery, smaller 'scope and positive outcome, the two-day assault on Rorke's Drift is a far more commercial choice for a film subject. The battle sees fewer than two hundred men holding off thousands of enemy warriors. It's like The Alamo, except that "the Anglos win." Although we're told that the film employed only 250 Zulu tribesmen, clever filmmaking multiplied them into thousands, giving an impression of combat on a massive scale. The present-day Zulu chief played his ancestor, Cetshwayo.
The battles are breathtaking, even if it's hard to understand why the Zulu commander commits only a few hundred foot soldiers to any one assault. The defenders manage to cut down wave after wave of charging warriors. Black bodies pile up like cordwood, while the tally of Redcoats shot seems too high to account for the large number still standing after the major attacks. We're given scores of scenes in which masses of Zulus are knocked down like tenpins, as well as the iconic "racist adventure" image of a gallant Anglo blasting a black warrior full in the face with his revolver. We cannot help but respond positively to impressive bits of valor, as when Private Hook abandons his cynical stance to join the fray, or when disaster is averted because a wounded, crippled soldier rushes out of sick bay to fight back using his crutch as a weapon. This kind of 'combat charisma' will appeal to any boy in the audience.
The picture neatly contrasts the British military system with that of the Zulu army, which uses a similar command structure and follows equally rigid traditions, as depicted through the fearsome tribal chants that gear them up for their withering attacks. When the enemies trade songs across the battlefield, it is a stirring evocation of the nobility of warriors & military traditions, British and Zulu. Yet we're told that this entire 'warrior salute' idea was an invention -- it never actually happened. The scene allows us to feel good about identifying with a small number of white fighters as they annihilate many hundreds of non-white opponents, about whom we learn very little. It's the old Colonial story.
The entire cast is terrific -- Zulu is one of the better sagas about men in violent situations, under intolerable stress. Stanley Baker is warmer and less brutal than in his other roles for Robert Aldrich (The Last Days of Sodom and Gomorrah), Cy Endfield (Sands of the Kalahari) and (another blacklisted Yank) Joseph Losey (The Criminal, Accident). Michael Caine's stunning leading performance surely won him his first million female admirers. Caine doesn't overstress his character's aristocratic superiority, which lends credibility to his competition with Baker's working class engineer. The performances and direction mesh so nicely that Zulu freshens the oldest cliché's of war movies. When all seems lost, Baker and Caine's exhausted characters become giddy. Impending annihilation will at least relieve them of the unbearable pressure.
Like all of Twilight Time's releases, Zulu is limited to a 3000-unit run. It's a highly desirable disc and I have no doubt that it will be a quick sellout.
The Twilight Time Blu-ray of Zulu is among the label's first titles licensed from MGM. The transfer is, well, gorgeous, the equal or better than that on the coveted UK disc. It was licensed from Paramount, which holds rights to everything but U.S. home video. MGM acquired those through the Polygram/Epic library. The HD transfer is from a 65mm IP made from the original camera neg (in Paramount's possession.
After comparing the two transfers directly, Twilight Time's new release has a slight edge. The UK has a heavier contrast and a slightly overstated chroma -- the uniforms are a harsh scarlet that obscures detail. Twilight Time's disc is smoother without sacrificing any impact. The heightened resolution on both releases allows us to judge production details, right down to the stitching on the uniforms. The movie uses old-fashioned makeup techniques, and it's interesting to see how Michael Caine's fair eyes and eyebrows have been 'sharpened' up with added color and eyeliner.
The new disc has a 2.0 stereo track, which may have been reprocessed from mono. According to more than one source, the 1964 Super Technirama 70 release of Zulu was in Westrex 6-track stereo.
An Isolated Score Track billboards John Barry's powerful and bombastic themes that are in much the same vein as his 'heavier' music for some of the Bond films. The disc's commentary claims that the best scoring comes in a scene where the camp is being prepared for battle. Barry simply 'Mickey Mouses' his music to the action, making the overturning of three wagons into a major dramatic event. Just the same, the marvelous Zulu chants and unnerving battle marches 'played' by hitting spears against shields are even more memorable. The battle songs of the Welsh tenors come off as a beautiful counterpoint.
An original trailer is also present. The major extra is the commentary track by Twilight Time principal Nick Redman and Lem Dobbs, a noted screenwriter billed as a film historian. The length of the movie allows Redman to offer reams of fascinating background material on the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. The record number of Victoria Crosses awarded to the surviving troops was actually a political maneuver meant to draw attention away from the debacle of the previous defeat at Isandlwana. A few comments seem a bit on the flip side, as when we're told that, "Yes, maybe the movie does have Commie messages, because the preacher is portrayed as a drunk." But I was amused to be informed that several major cast members were never on location in South Africa -- Patrick Magee and James Booth are never seen outside the hospital and infirmary buildings.
Julie Kirgo's insert liner notes are as well written as always. She defends the factual liberties in this movie and Raoul Walsh's vintage Errol Flynn epic They Died With Their Boots On with the observation that they "never meant to be historically accurate." Well, all movies are skewed by the prevailing attitudes of their time, whether the bias is intentional or not. Zulu fudges some facts about Rorke's Drift to generate its feel-good finale, but it must be admitted that its overall mindset is quite advanced. In 1964 most movies about African tribes hadn't progressed past the Tarzan stage. It was a big step for Zuluto depict native troops as worthy opponents and not mindless savages.
By Glenn Erickson
By Cari Beauchamp
Film Historian and author Cari Beauchamp has assembled a terrific line-up of Hollywood legends for her latest book, My First Time in Hollywood. Utilizing a wide array of archives, she has traced back to the beginning days of Hollywood and the siren call that brought so many people westward to find their fame and fortune in the movies.
Actors, directors, screenwriters, cinematographers and editors--half of them women--recall their initial impressions of Hollywood, their struggle to find work and the love they had for making movies that kept them going. From Herbert Marshall to Noel Coward, she covers the first twenty years of the western migration that brought the cinematic pioneers to the sleepy little sun-kissed community that would become internationally known as Hollywood.
Throughout the book, legends such as Mary Pickford, Harold Lloyd, Lillian Gish, Myrna Loy, Cecil B. DeMille and many others talk about what inspired them to come west and their first impressions of the dusty roads and orange groves that dominated the landscape of the future home to the dream factories.
Drawn from letters, speeches, oral histories, memoirs, and autobiographies-and with over sixty vintage photographs and illustrations, each story is intimate and unique but all speak to our universal need to follow our passions and be part of a community that feeds the soul.
Cari Beauchamp is the award-winning author of Without Lying Down: Francis Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood;, Joseph Kennedy Presents, Adventures of Hollywood Secretary, and other books on Hollywood history. She has written and produced documentaries, writes for Vanity Fair and is the only person to be twice named as an Academy of Motion Picture, Arts and Sciences scholar.
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By William V. Madison
Madeline Kahn was one of the brightest comedic stars of her generation. Beginning with her scene-stealing (and Oscar-nominated) roles as Trixie Delight in Paper Moon and her wonderful homage to Marlene Dietrich in Blazing Saddles, Kahn lit up the screen with her hilarious portrayals and witty sense of timing.
After her break-through role in Paper Moon, she became part of the Mel Brooks stock company, co-starring in Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, and High Anxiety. She starred on Broadway as well as television, enjoying much success along the way.
In private, though, she was as reserved and refined as her characters were bold and bawdy. Almost a Method actor in her approach, she took her work seriously. When crew members and audiences laughed, she asked why--as if they were laughing at her--and all her life she remained unsure of her gifts.
The book explores her film career, from her well-known roles to her underappreciated and often overlooked performances in films like Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother and Judy Berlin. Author William V. Madison also focuses on her Broadway career where she found great success and remarkably bad luck in equal doses, culminating in a disastrous turn in On the Twentieth Century that left her theater reputation in tatters. It took her fifteen years and a Tony-winning performance in The Sisters Rosensweig to regain her stature on Broadway.
Drawing on new interviews with family, friends, and such colleagues as Lily Tomlin, Carol Burnett, Gene Wilder, Harold Prince, and Eileen Brennan, as well as archival press and private writings, Madison uncovers Kahn's lonely childhood and her struggles as a single woman working to provide for her erratic mother. Readers will discover the paramount importance of music in Kahn's life. A talented singer, she entertained offers for operatic engagements long after she was an established Hollywood star, and she treated each script as a score. As Kahn told one friend, her ambition was "to be the music" and she always delivered her best.
William B. Madison is a former producer at CBS News and a former associate editor of Opera News; he was the lone production assistant on the Broadway musical Rags in 1986. A graduate of Brown University and of Columbia's School of Creative Writing, he is a native Texan currently living in New York City.
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By Joan Kramer and David Heeley
In the Company of Legends gives its readers an insider's view of some of Hollywood's most elite and well-known stars of the silver screen. With their captivating behind-the scenes stories of some of the town's most beloved but hard-to-get interviews, Joan Kramer and David Heeley offer a rousing reading adventure.
They began documenting the lives and careers of many of the stars of the golden age of Hollywood in 1980 with their award-winning profile of Fred Astaire, and they quickly gained a reputation for finding the un-findable, persuading the reluctant and maintaining unique relationships long after the end credits rolled. They revitalized the genre of star biography with their high-quality, definitive portraits and helped turn the genre into a mainstay of modern television programming.
The roster of stars who sat down for interviews with them includes Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, Elizabeth Taylor, Bette Davis and Audrey Hepburn, along with many others. The stories of the productions and the personalities involved are amusing, sometimes moving, and some are revealed for the first time.
Joan Kramer and David Heeley began their long producing partnership WNET before forming their own production company, Top Hat Productions. Their programs have received five Emmy awards, twenty Emmy nominations and national and international honors.
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By Candice Bergen
Candice Bergen has had a varied career that has included being a film actress, an award-winning television star as well as an acclaimed photographer. Her first memoir, Knock Wood covered her early years growing up with her "brother" Charlie McCarthy and breaking into acting. This new memoir details her later life--her marriage to French film director Louis Malle, her success with Murphy Brown, the birth of her daughter, the tragic loss of Malle to cancer and forging a new life from that loss. Throughout the book, Bergen talks frankly about the journey of her life and shares it with a writing style that is honest, down-to-earth and often hilarious.
As she writes in this memoir, falling in love with Malle changed her life in many ways. The director's huge appetite for life broadened her horizons, and their romance flourished despite the ups and downs of their career choices. But, the heart of the story is in her love for her daughter, Chloe. After years of ambivalence about motherhood, Bergen discovered the overpowering love and bond that can exist between mother and daughter. As Chloe grew up, Bergen found her comic genius in the biggest TV role of the 80s, Murphy Brown, and made headlines as the storyline of the show spilled over into the presidential campaign politics in 1992.
Fifteen years into their marriage, Malle was diagnosed with cancer, and Bergen is unflinching in describing her and Chloe's despair over his death. But after years of widowhood, she discovered she missed the company of men and was surprised to find love anew with a man very different from Malle. She takes us through the first years of her new marriage and shares the bittersweet journey of watching Chloe leave home and flourish, while finding comedy in being an older actress in Hollywood and the losing struggle with wrinkles and extra pounds.
Candice Bergen has penned numerous articles, written a play as well as her first memoir, Knock Wood. Her film credits include The Sand Pebbles, Carnal Knowledge, Starting Over (for which she received an Oscar nomination), and Miss Congeniality. On television, she made headlines as the tough-talking broadcast journalist and star of Murphy Brown, for which she won five Emmys and two Golden Globes. She later starred with James Spader and William Shatner in the critically acclaimed series Boston Legal.
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When documentary filmmaker John Boorman made the leap to feature filmmaking with Catch Us If You Can (aka Having a Wild Weekend, 1965), a low-budget rock-n-roll vehicle for the Dave Clark Five, he transformed the quickie into a surprisingly biting satire of popular culture set to a bouncy soundtrack, displaying a remarkable sophistication and creativity unexpected from such a project. It was enough to land him his first American film, Point Blank, where he revealed an even greater ambition and talent.
Based on the novel The Hunter by Richard Stark (a pen name for Donald Westlake), Point Blank shuffles the lean, straight-forward story of a gunman named Walker (Lee Marvin), who is double crossed by his partner in crime and returns (seemingly from the dead) for revenge, into a surreal, abstracted crime drama. The plot is faithful to original novel, a hard-boiled piece of crime fiction reimagined for the underworld culture of the sixties, but Boorman and Marvin, who requested the young director and supported his unconventional vision for the film, refract it through a modern lens. Walker's odyssey from Alcatraz in San Francisco to the underworld of Los Angeles is splintered with short, sharp shards of memory that cut through his story, as if reflecting Walker's attempts to put the pieces of cause and effect together in his mind.
Boorman views L.A. through an alienated lens and edits it more like a European art film than an American crime thriller, but fills it with offbeat, ultra-stylized scenes of violence. It opens on a gunshot that should have killed him and he struggles to put it all together when he wakes up: "Cell. Prison cell. How did I get here?" Marvin is enigmatic, to say the least, as he tracks down his unfaithful, guilt-ridden wife (Sharon Acker), his wife's sister (Angie Dickinson), his old friend turned double-crossing heist partner Mal Reese (John Veron), and finally the syndicate bigwigs, all just to get his due: "I want my 93 grand."
This vision of urban Los Angeles is alternately crowded and noisy and urban, and austere and empty and dislocated. His footsteps echoing through an empty, anonymous hallway becomes the disembodied beat of his march of revenge. A scatting, screaming R&B singer at a chic night spot called The Film Club is the feral soundtrack of a brutal backstage fight, at once visceral and abstracted in the clutter of 35mm film cans and nightclub supplies. The aftermath of a suicide becomes a psychedelic vision of destruction, which disappears in a cut to the apartment suddenly empty, a ghost house with no evidence of life or death, just transition.
The dialogue is loaded with references to "a dream" and characters constant remind Walker that he's supposed to be dead. Keenan Wynn adds another level of remove as the devil whispering in Walker's ear, another unreal figure with a carefully concealed agenda who is preternaturally attuned to Walker's movements. More than an informant, he appears from nowhere to provide a name, an address, a piece of information on the trail to the top man in the Organization as Walker's debt keeps getting passed up the chain of command.
Walker is both an unstoppable sentinel who seems more than flesh and blood and a vulnerable man wounded by betrayal who has armored over his emotions with a mission. Marvin delivers both sides of the character without compromising either. There's a cold fury under his deliberate movements and his eyes betray a moment of regret and sadness when he finds his wife dead by her own hand, but it is all pushed down and kept in check by his single-minded focus. "I just want my money" is his mantra, not a matter of greed but a debt to be settled to balance the scales. Marvin is at once deliberate and relaxed, a veteran criminal soldier alert to everything, which makes his character even more fascinating. He doesn't demand attention on screen, he commands it through confidence and ability and cool focus.
That alone makes him more admirable than Mal, who is played by John Vernon as an oily, arrogant, amoral rat, selling out anyone and everyone to buy his way back into the Organization. The rest of the members of the cast don't play characters as much as cogs, functionaries in a criminal enterprise as a cutthroat corporation, simply doing their jobs as if Walker was a rival in a hostile takeover. Only Angie Dickinson's Chris has the passion and fury and emotional life of a human being, siding with Walker out of both loyalty and for payback against Mal ("He makes my flesh crawl") and the Organization that has taken over her business and her life. Sharon Acker, who plays Walker's wife, comes off less haunted than simply weak. She barely leaves an impression, which is fitting for her character but fails to offer any sense of tragedy to her story, and she's almost instantly forgotten after she exits the film. It's really the only weak element of the film, which otherwise is strong, confident, and sure from beginning to end.
Point Blank has been called a modern film noir but it has more in common with Performance, another crime thriller that fractures time, offers enigmatic and ambiguous characters, and equates organized crime with big business. Boorman delivers meticulously executed set pieces that are designed for the wide CinemaScope frame with a sure sense of space and a dispassionate perspective. He emphasizes intelligence over action and presents Walker as total professional, never flustered and always emotionally removed from the situation. And if Walker is an extreme incarnation of the revenge driven noir anti-hero, the modern syndicate has transformed the old school mob into a world of paper jungles and corporate businessmen, an alienating concept to a two-fisted, gun-wielding independent like Walker. "Profit is the only principle," is their motto. Almost 50 years later, it's more modernist than modern, a fascinating time capsule of an era when young directors brought nouvelle vague style to classic genres, and a cryptic crime thriller that turns Marvin into the most enigmatic criminal professional in the movies.
Boorman creates a hard, austere look for the film and the new Blu-ray delivers a sharp clarity to his vision of Los Angeles as an impersonal modern city. Apart from a few scenes, he strips the frame down to isolated figures in an empty urban landscape under the hard light of the California sun. It's an urban desert and the disc preserves that atmosphere of a ghost city by day and a shadowy underworld at night when the crowds gather on the streets and in the clubs. The impersonal palette of concrete surfaces and blank office interiors in the day gives way to the color of human habitation after dark, which oddly enough has a warmer atmosphere than the harsh light of day.
Carried over from the earlier DVD release is an audio commentary track with director John Boorman and fellow director Steven Soderbergh, a fan of the film who essentially hosts the commentary. He engages Boorman in conversations about the film's style, the use of color and camera lenses, working with Lee Marvin (who became close friends with Boorman), and making his Hollywood debut with a film that refused to play by the studio rules. Soderbergh's The Limey was clearly indebted to Point Blank in both its theme of revenge and in its fractured storytelling and unconventional use of flashbacks. Taking part in this commentary is like paying tribute to his inspiration.
Also features the vintage promotional featurette The Rock (in two parts), which looks at shooting the film on location in Alcatraz, and the original trailer.
by Sean Axmaker
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Ravenous (1999) channels the story reminiscent of the Donner Party disaster and the legend of Alferd Packer (the only American ever convicted of cannibalism) into a gruesome survival thriller with a crimson-hued streak of black humor and an elemental hint of the supernatural. The resulting film takes top honors as the definitive frontier cannibal movie. Not that there's a long list to choose from, mind you, but this earns its position with honors, thanks to a gleefully weird and savagely bloodthirsty sensibility.
Guy Pearce is Captain John Boyd, whose battle cowardice during the Mexican-American war inadvertently results in making him an accidental hero. The ordeal of playing dead under the bleeding corpses of his fellow officers also puts him off meat, as the opening scenes so vividly illustrate. Director Antonia Bird cuts straight to the heart of the situation as she intercuts soldiers devouring bleeding-rare steaks at a military luncheon with the bloody casualties of battle stacked like cordwood: meat is meat, at least as far as this film is concerned. Boyd's commanding officer (John Spencer of The West Wing), who knows that his valor is a fraud, ships him out to the fringes of military reach: a fort in a California mountain pass, which runs with a minimal compliment during the impassable winter months. "This place thrives on tedium," smiles fort commander Colonel Hart (Jeffrey Jones), who takes everything with a bemused indulgence. How else to survive a company made up of a useless drunk second-in-command(Stephen Spinella), a giggling weed-head idiot (David Arquette), a twitchy, mumbling chaplain (Jeremy Davies), and a macho soldier boy (Neal McDonough) who holds the rest of the company in utter contempt?
The tedium is quickly dispersed when a bedraggled disaster survivor (Robert Carlyle) stumbles into camp. He spins a horrific story of a lost wagon train and an incompetent scout who strands them in the mountains, where as the winter snows traps them and desperation leads to feeding on human flesh. It's a tale right out of the Donner Party until it turns feral, but it's not even close to the real story of Carlyle's wild-eyed survivor. For a starving man, he looks remarkably fit when he doffs his shirt, and other clues suggest that this is no production gaffe. One night, while camping on the trail to his old camp to search for survivors, he's caught licking the bleeding wounds of an injured soldier. You know, tasting his next potential meal.
That's when the film takes its twist into weird and wild horror, a bizarre plot that doesn't really make much logical sense but sure makes for a wicked mix of psychodrama and visceral body horror. The Native American Wendigo myth is referenced to explain madness, but you could say it's a vampire tale without the supernatural dimension--it turns out human flesh is addictive, and it helps to have a nest of fellow flesh-eaters to keep the diet coming--or call it a particularly gruesome metaphor for manifest destiny. However you label it, it is off-the-charts crazy, an eat-or-be-eaten thriller served very, very rare.
British director Antonia Bird seems like an odd match for this material. She honed her craft on TV drama and made her reputation with the tough, wrenching dramas Priest and Face, two films with complex characters and socially conscious themes. What they have in common with Ravenous is star Robert Carlyle, who recommended Bird after the film's original director Milcho Manchevski was let go after three weeks and the producer's chosen replacement, Raja Gosnell, was rejected by the cast. Bird (who passed away last year at the relatively young age of 62 after a battle with thyroid cancer) was frustrated by the conditions of the production and the oversight of the producers and she complained that her cut was compromised in post-production. That may explain the awkward pace, jarring turns, and a climax that feels tossed together--an uninspired way to end such a devious film--but she is clearly the architect of the odd, offbeat key of the film's blackly comic tone and surreal atmosphere and Carlyle is her partner in outsized madness. He leads the cast in playing their eccentricities big, though next to Carlyle's juicy performance, Arquette and Davies come off more like actor's studio sketches in twitchy weirdness or fidgety indecision than actual characters. Guy Pearce provides the contrast, creating a character fighting to maintain control and keep his emotions and his reflexive revulsion in check as everyone else lets their freak flag fly. It oddly enough makes him the most intense character on screen. As all that fear and disgust and anxiety just bottles up behind his desperate eyes and increasingly battered body, Pearce shows us the toll this ordeal exacts on him. In this survival drama, he's the one in true survival mode.
Scream Factory's Blu-ray features a solid new HD transfer that preserves the dynamic contrast between the white-out daylight scenes of snow and the ominous shadows of the deep forest and the dark rough-hewn quarters of the frontier fort. Night doesn't have to fall for the darkness to seep into the image. Given the elemental quality of the imagery--much of the film takes place in the snowbound wilderness, with the Tatra Mountains of Slovakia standing in for California--the transfer has a satisfying level of grain that not only preserves the texture of the film but gives the entire atmosphere an added level of authenticity. These images feel like they were carved into the film.
The film was previously released on DVD over a decade ago with three separate commentary tracks. Director Antonia Bird and composer Damon Albarn team up for the most informative track, with Bird talking in detail about the physical challenges of the production. Screenwriter Ted Griffin and co-star Jeffrey Jones tend to lapse into silences in their track and actor Robert Carlyle is even more intermittent in his the solo track. Also carried over from the earlier disc is a collection of deleted scenes (many of them in rough-cut form) with optional commentary by Bird and a gallery of stills. New to this edition is a 20-minute interview with Jeffrey Jones, who looks back on the themes of the film.
by Sean Axmaker
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A motley crew of Louisiana National Guardsman wade out into the swamps for weekend maneuvers. It's 1973, as the war in Vietnam is grinding away the soul of America and the heart of the military, and this platoon of weekend warriors--a volatile collection of rednecks, hotheads, jokers, and guys who probably signed up to steer clear of the draft--are like fresh recruits going into battle for the first time. They've got the fatigues and the cocky attitude but dubious discipline and training and their machine guns are loaded with blanks as they head into the bayou. To the Cajun swamp folk, the trappers and hunters living on the fringes of society, these men are invaders who trample their camps and steal their boats. And when one of the soldiers lets loose a burst from his weapon, laughing like the class bully after humiliating the new kid, these shadowy swamp dwellers defend themselves, becoming a guerilla strike force waging a war of terror on the utterly unprepared toy soldiers. They don't know that it's just blanks in those guns but it likely wouldn't matter if they did. They've been attacked and they will respond. These city dwellers are out their element and after their commanding officer (Peter Coyote) is gone, the first casualty in the war of attrition, they are out of their depth, flailing around with a panic that dumps their radio, compass, map, and pretty much everything else that was supposed to keep them alive.
Southern Comfort will never be mistaken for a Nation Guard recruitment tool. Call it an anti-platoon movie. Hill gives the squad the outward accoutrements of a real fighting force, down to the uniforms and weapons, but this is a military unit in name only. Beyond the swaggering banter of the soldiers and self-deprecating comments of Spencer (Keith Carradine), the self-appointed company joker, they have no real training, no experience under fire, and no commitment to one another. These guys are more like barroom buddies playing soldier than a disciplined force.
There are two voices of restraint in the wilderness, Spencer and new guy Hardin (Powers Booth), a transfer from Texas who doesn't know anyone in the company but sizes up their weaknesses quickly and realizes that they haven't much a chance as long as wild cards like Reece (Fred Ward) and Stuckey (Lewis Smith) go charging through the swamps looking for payback. Casper (Les Lannom) takes command by virtue of an essentially meaningless detail of rank and bumbles around quoting regulations and making speeches, doggedly following the book because he hasn't a clue what to do next. The filmmakers don't make him a figure of ridicule, mind you, just a guy falling back on the only thing he knows. In fact, none of them are necessarily "bad guys," though like any Hill ensemble, it has its share of jerks, bullies, racists, and anger management candidates and the pressure brings out their worst instincts.
So yes, it's a story of American soldiers in an alien land, lost in an unfamiliar landscape and outmaneuvered by a guerrilla army at home in the jungle. Director / screenwriter Walter Hill and producer / co-screenwriter David Giler insist to this day that Southern Comfort was never intended to be an allegory for Vietnam, simply a survival tale in an overwhelming and unfamiliar environment. It's hard to take them at face value but it is easy to forget the allegory in the heat of the drama. It also shares DNA with Deliverance, another film about city boys with guns who take their sense of ownership and entitlement into the wilderness, threaten the locals, and end up hunted by them. But where John Boorman's primal thriller turns his Appalachian backwoods men into brutal outlaws who take pleasure in stalking the city invaders, Hill and Giler keep their Cajun soldiers hidden, seen as figures in the distance or blurs running behind the trees, ghosts on the fringes of sight. They treat the would-be soldier like wild game, silently shadowing their progress and whipping them into a state of panic to steer them into their traps. And whatever the short-fused guys in the platoon think, this is no cultural conspiracy to wipe out the invaders. Their enemy consists of a handful of isolated hunters who didn't start the war but by God are determined to finish it. The rest of the Cajun folks they meet don't seem to be a part of it, though after a couple of days in the swamps, the paranoia is powerful enough to make every sidelong glance look ominous. Ry Cooder's eerie and haunting score only intensifies the paranoia.
What ultimately differentiates them from the soldiers of a classical platoon drama is that they haven't bonded under fire and have never had to put their trust in one another. This group unravels and tears itself apart from fear and panic and unfocused rage. And in classic Hill manner, there are no philosophical musings or existential conversations. The closest the film comes to putting its theme into words is from the mantra of a terrified Simms (Franklyn Seales), who finds himself cut off from the group and suddenly aware of just how vulnerable he is. "I'm not supposed to be here," he repeats, as if begging the universe to correct some cosmic planning error. And then he's no longer there.
While this band of infighting brothers wades blindly through the swamp without a clue as to their bearings or direction, Hill's direction never falters. He has always had a sure hand as a storyteller, keeping his plots uncluttered and letting the details of character, conflict, and the world around them define the story. Southern Comfort limits the world to the middle of the swamp, where we (like the soldiers) are unable to find any point of reference, and observes how the discomfort of the environment and the constant disorientation takes its toll on what little good sense the characters bring with them to the mission. It exacerbates the already dysfunctional dynamics of this platoon of battle virgins and is as deadly on its own as the native hunters who use the environment as a weapon in their arsenal. It's not necessarily skill or even luck that saves the guardsmen who survive the ordeal. In classic Hill fashion, it is a matter of intelligence, awareness, teamwork, and the commitment to do what is necessary to survive. There's no sense of victory in survival, merely relief.
Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack. Both discs feature the new HD master but the Blu-ray of course features superior clarity and richness of color. Both are clean, strong images while the Blu-ray shows off excellent detail. The Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack puts the mix right up front. A couple of scenes of chaos and confusion overwhelm the dialogue with background sound, which is surely intentional but still seems a little out of balance to my ears.
New to this release in an original 27-minute featurette with new interviews with actors Keith Carradine, Powers Boothe, Lewis Smith, and Peter Coyote and, on low-resolution video via Skype, director Walter Hill and producer David Giler, who collaborated on the script with Hill. The actors share stories of shooting in the Louisiana swamps in February with wet suits under their uniforms, six weeks of working in the cold and damp, and they remind us that they were all in it together. The crew endured the same conditions so no one had the right to complain. More interesting is the discussion around the themes of the film. Hill and Giler maintain that while they did not intentionally set out to make a Vietnam allegory they were aware that audiences would make that connection, while the actors admit that they knew it was an allegory from the moment they read the script. Keith Carradine's reading is particularly detailed and interesting. Curiously, none of the six participants mention Deliverance.
Carried over from the old DVD release is a brief collection of outtakes and the original trailer. All of the supplements are featured in both the Blu-ray and DVD discs of the Combo Pack.
By Sean Axmaker
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Tess (1979), Roman Polanski's film adaptation of Thomas Hardy's 1890 novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles, has in 2014 received a sublime Blu-Ray and DVD release from Criterion. Restored by Pathe under the direct supervision of Polanski himself, the movie looks and sounds magnificent. At first glance, the lushly beautiful Tess is a seemingly unusual work for Polanski, whose films we tend to associate with horror and sex, but this was actually a highly personal project for the master filmmaker. It was his first picture after fleeing the United States in 1977, and also a project that his wife, Sharon Tate, had suggested he make as a vehicle for herself -- just before she was murdered by the Manson gang in 1969. Polanski read the novel after her death and realized it was indeed right up his alley, and he dedicated the eventual film to her with an on-screen inscription.
Hardy's tale, to which the film is very faithful, is about a poor English girl, Tess, whose father learns he is a distant descendant of a once prominent, rich family, the D'Urbervilles. He sends Tess to the home of a remaining D'Urberville to find employment (or at least a handout), but Tess winds up being seduced by the ne'er-do-well Alec D'Urberville (Leigh Lawson), who becomes obsessed with her. Fleeing Alec, she eventually finds work at a dairy farm and starts a passionate relationship with a young farmer named Angel Clare (Peter Firth). But in this society, the revelation of the sins of her past, even if they were not her fault, could doom Tess to shame, ostracism and worse. Ultimately, Tess is about a woman struggling to make her way in the world, looking for happiness, or at least survival, but finding that a judgmental society, timing and even luck are all working against her.
Polanski explores this theme vividly, sympathetically and cinematically. Costumes, speech and physical mannerisms of the actors all convince the audience of the time period and of the distinctions among the social classes, and the film's pictorial beauty does much to stress the contrasting cruelty of some of the characters. The movie is not "pretty" for prettiness' sake. Most important, one really feels the isolation of Tess throughout the film, which is at once sprawling and intimate. The plot itself, while important, feels less vital here than the depiction of Tess' emotional experience of the world she is forced to inhabit, and as a result, the long running time feels entirely appropriate and never tedious.
Tess was shot entirely in France, mostly on locations in Normandy and Brittany, because Polanski worried that if he traveled to England he would be extradited to the United States. Polanski later wrote, "To tell the story at all, it was essential to find the proper setting, a twentieth-century equivalent of Hardy's nineteenth-century Dorset. The only way to convey the rhythm of his epic was to use that setting as an integral part of the film, signaling the passage of time and the change in Tess herself by means of a visible, almost palpable change in seasons. Once our rural locations were chosen, we would have to film throughout the year from early spring, through high summer, to the depths of winter." With such a shooting strategy, filming wound up lasting nine months over 80 separate locations, and Tess became, at $12 million, the most expensive film ever made in France to that point. Freak weather and labor strikes only added to the overall time and expense.
If Tess is atypical of Polanski, it's in the way that The Age of Innocence (1993) is atypical of director Martin Scorsese. But in fact, both films are completely emblematic of their directors' concerns and are indeed suffused with violence. It's just that the violence is emotional, an undercurrent beneath a pristine surface -- exactly like the societies the films depict.
That being said, it's hard to shake some of Tess's most exquisitely beautiful imagery, such as the lovely natural light of an outdoor dance, or the riders and dogs on a fox hunt who appear out of a sublime mist, or the face of Nastassia Kinski, who is heart-stoppingly gorgeous (a quality, incidentally, that is vital to the story). Cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth, who had shot such films as Becket (1964) and Cabaret (1972), died a few weeks into production and was replaced by Ghislain Cloquet, who sadly would himself pass away two years later. They shared the Oscar for Best Cinematography. The film also won for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design and was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Score.
Criterion's dual-format release contains one Blu-ray disc and two DVDs, with both formats containing the film and identical extras. And there are plenty, starting with three short documentaries about the film's making (originally included in Columbia's 2004 DVD release), directed by Laurent Bouzereau and totaling 73 minutes in length. Bouzereau expertly interviews key players like Polanski, producers Claude Berri and Timothy Burrill, co-writer John Brownjohn, actors Nastassia Kinski and Leigh Lawson, set decorator Pierre Guffroy, costume designer Anthony Powell, hair and makeup artists, the crew electrician, the assistant editor and others. The artists discuss fascinating details of production, like the challenge of getting the "strawberry seduction" scene between Kinski and Lawson just right (which astonishingly was shot on a rainy day despite looking on-screen like the height of warm summer), the creation of the Stonehenge set outside of Paris, and the design of the costumes to be authentic and truly expressive of character -- beautiful without being decorative. Powell is fascinating as he discusses his approach, and also about the little splotch of blood he put on the hem of Tess' dress at a key point in the story, which Polanski shot for maximum impact.
Burrill recalls that on location the filmmakers were only able to see the rushes days after shooting, rather than the next day, and not always under the best conditions. But gradually, he says, "we started to see what was happening, the magic that was coming off the screen, and the extraordinary professionalism of Nastassia.... I don't think there was ever one day when she fluffed a line. She was word-perfect, always."
Second is a 52-minute documentary from 2006 by Daniel Ablin and Serge July entitled Once Upon a Time... Tess. This is also interesting, but it covers much of the same material as the Bouzereau pieces, with many of the same interviewees telling the same stories. It's also not as smoothly edited. But unlike the Bouzereau film, it includes composer Philippe Sarde, and delves more into Polanski's pre-Tess life and career. It also recounts the difficulties in Tess's post-production, particularly concerning the running time. Francis Coppola was brought in by producer Claude Berri to trim the film, which was deemed overlong, but Polanski hated the result, leading to a falling-out between Berri and Polanski and between Polanski and Sarde. Polanski himself eventually trimmed the film by about 20 minutes, resulting in the current running time of 171 minutes.
Third, there's a 1979 episode of the French TV program Cine Regards, running 48 minutes, that looks at the making of Tess and interviews Polanski during the film's production. The interviews with Polanski are revealing, but the real strengths of the piece are the long, uninterrupted slices of life on the set as Polanski directs and thinks through scenes, conducting his orchestra of crewmembers. These sequences go on long enough to make us feel as if we are there.
Fourth is a 1979 episode of the British TV program The South Bank Show, 50 minutes in length, in which host Melvyn Bragg interviews Polanski. And Criterion rounds things out with the film's trailer as well as a handsome printed booklet containing a fine essay by Colin MacCabe and crisp, colorful photos from the film, almost all of which feature the entrancing Nastassia Kinski. It's a beautiful package and motion picture, all very highly recommended.
By Jeremy Arnold
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The opening of Used Cars (1980) has the ominous, wind-scoured character of a modern crime film in a desperate southwest town where a Sergio Leone western wouldn't be out of place. The camera cranes down from a high shot over a struggling used car dealership, where a few pathetic beaters line the lot, and slowly glides over to one car with someone is crammed under the dashboard. The only sound is the lonely wind--the kind of strangled, desolate howl you get in dustbowl dramas and desert survival thrillers--and the grunts of the man struggling with the mechanics under the dash. And then we see the odometer turn back, shaving some 40,000 or so miles from the record. The title hits the screen, a brass band jumps in with "Stars and Stripes Forever," and the unidentified mechanic wriggles out to reveal Kurt Russell in a cheap, loud suit making his rounds to mask the sorry condition of the cars on the lot. It turns out that this is a crime movie after all, or at least a film of multiple misdemeanors and bald-faced misrepresentation, and the perpetrators are the good guys.
The second feature from director Robert Zemeckis and co-writer and producer Bob Gale, Used Cars comes right out of the screen comedy culture of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the underdogs snubbed their collective noses at authority, propriety, property and privacy laws and anything else that crossed their paths in slobs vs. snobs comedies like Animal House (1978), Caddyshack (1980) and Ghostbusters (1984). Used Cars is raucous and reckless and far more gleefully corrupt than any of its brothers in rebellion, embracing the confidence games and illegal stunts pulled by the skeleton crew that works for Luke Fuchs (Jack Warden), who is the closest thing that the film has to an honest man. The devotion of salesmen Rudy (Russell) and Jeff (Gerrit Graham) and mechanic Jim (Frank McRae) to Luke is really all that separates them from Luke's rapacious brother and across-the-street rival Roy L. Fuchs (Warden again) and his slick sales force. That and the fun they have ripping off the rubes who wander on to their lot.
The premise of film - two used car outfits at war with one another - was hatched by John Milius, who was one of the executive producers (along with Steven Spielberg), but the script is pure Zemeckis and Gale. The rivals are twin brothers, the Cain and Abel of used car dealers. When impending freeway construction threatens to destroy bad brother Roy's dealership and make the good brother Luke rich, Roy finds a way to speed the demise of Luke's bad heart and Rudy makes good on his promise to keep Roy from taking over the lot. Rudy has his own, more immediate motivation, of course--he's trying to buy his way into the local political machine and he's still a little short on the down payment--but it's also personal. Luke is something of a father figure to the crew, which makes them the mischievous sons who break the rules whenever dad's back is turned. After Luke dies, their antics more outrageous, from secretly burying Luke on the lot (his beloved convertible fittingly serves as his casket) to jamming satellite signals with wild pirate commercials replete with gratuitous nudity and senseless destruction of private property. The plot seems to careen from one comic collision to another but there's a nicely-constructed plan under it all, simple but ingenious enough that you don't actually see how the pieces are laid in place until it all comes together in the ragged spectacle of final act.
It's not really a satire of American business so much as a wicked lampoon: lie, cheat and steal as the American way, as long as you do it with a sense of fun. Kurt Russell was just breaking out of his clean-cut post-Disney persona when he took on the role and he sinks his teeth into Rudy, turning the brash characters into the epitome of the smiling mercenary selling lemons to suckers with dirty tricks and phony promises. Gerrit Graham is his partner in commercial piracy, unfazed by anything but harbingers of bad luck, notably red. Deborah Harmon is both romantic interest and plot complication as Luke's long lost daughter, who shows up just after dad's death. Jack Warden has a field day playing twin brothers and Frank McRae is hilarious as the giant adrenaline-pumped mechanic. The crotch-grabbing Mexican junk car wholesaler is ubiquitous character actor and future director Alfonso Arau in his first great comic role in an American film (Romancing the Stone and Three Amigos soon followed). But the entire cast is in danger of being upstaged by the adorable dog Toby, who has his own role to play in the sale stunts. This pooch's hilarious performance makes him one of the greatest movie dogs.
Zemeckis matured into a polished filmmaker and an ambitious storyteller and went on to make more sophisticated, more provocative, and certainly more subtle films, but he never made anything as savagely funny as Used Cars. Its banged-up ingenuity and rough-and-tumble energy and warped mirror reflection of the American Dream as a snatch and grab free-for-all is wickedly funny. Everyone is a crook here and the epilogue even enshrines mendacity as a virtue, at least when it comes to stepping into the used car game.
Used Cars has a remarkably tidy visual aesthetic for a film about a seedy, shabby culture, with a screen that is uncluttered and flooded with desert sunlight in day scenes and blasted with floodlights as bold as a football stadium night game for the after-dark stunts. The new HD transfer shows a well-preserved print and is sharp and clear. Simply put, it looks superb.
The commentary track with Zemeckis, Gale, and Russell, carried over from the 2002 DVD reelease, is almost as fun as the movie. "We wanted Jimmy Stewart in It's A Wonderful Life, except he's totally corrupt," is how Zemeckis explains the genesis of Rudy. Kurt Russell laughs back: "So you cast me!" These guys are having a blast laughing their way through their remembrances, but they manage to stay on track and keep the production stories coming. Few commentaries manage to balance the information and entertainment so well.
There's a four-minute reel of outtakes (apparently taken from surviving video dub; it's all quite hazy), a radio interview with Russell, a car commercial featuring Russell, galleries of art and stills, and not one but two isolated score tracks: along with Patrick Williams' musical score heard in the film is an alternate, unused score by Ernest Gold. We don't quite get it in the context of the film (at least not with dialogue and sound effects) but it's a more conventional, less satirical approach. The accompanying 8-page booklet features another fine essay by Julie Kirgo.
By Sean Axmaker
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The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is pleased to announce its 20th Anniversary Festival running May 28 to June 1 at San Francisco's landmark movie palace, the Castro Theatre. Join the festival and live-cinema fans from across the globe to celebrate five glorious days of silent-era films with brilliant live music. More information is available at SilentFilm.org.
The 20th anniversary edition is the largest in SFSFF's history--with 21 programs that span five days! A diverse array of films from around the world--in restored and preserved prints--will be accompanied by world-renowned musicians.
OPENING NIGHT: ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (USA, 1930)
Lewis Milestone's filmed version of the classic antiwar drama All Quiet on the Western Front was the first to win Academy Awards for both Outstanding Production and Best Director. At its release the film was prepared both as a talkie and as a sync-sound "silent" version with title cards, orchestral score, and sound effects. But this version was lost until the Library of Congress discovered the alternate without dialogue and restored it for the anniversary of the Great War. SF Silent Film Festival's presentation will feature a new score and live sound created especially for the silent version. Live musical accompaniment by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra; Mont Alto culls historic libraries of music for its live musical accompaniment. Together Rodney Sauer, Britt Swenson, David Short, Brian Collins, and Dawn Kramer have recorded and toured widely, creating vibrant, emotional, and historically appropriate musical scores for more than 120 films. For the first time at SFSFF, they are joined by Darren Kramer on trombone. (7 p.m. Thursday, May 28)
CLOSING NIGHT EVENT: KEVIN BROWNLOW IN CONVERSATION ONSTAGE WITH SERGE BROMBERG and BEN-HUR: A TALE OF THE CHRIST (USA, 1925)
A film collector since the age of eleven, British-born filmmaker, historian, and preservationist Kevin Brownlow is responsible in large part for the revival of silent-film art around the world. His extensive research and interviews with surviving silent film artists in late 1960s resulted in the publication of several indispensible tomes of film history. Brownlow will recount stories of his many encounters with silent-era stars and directors in conversation with fellow preservationist Serge Bromberg. Following the onstage conversation, there will be a screening of a restoration from Brownlow's Photoplay Productions. BEN-HUR: A TALE OF THE CHRIST The story of Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur (Ramón Novarro), whose brush with Jesus has significant consequences. Ben-Hur left its mark on history for being the most expensive Hollywood production of its time. Directed and produced on a grand scale, it's a must-see for the virtuosity of its action scenes and the high impact of its storytelling style. Restored by Photoplay and Turner Entertainment Company, the film will be shown with a soundtrack scored by Carl Davis. (7 p.m. Monday, June 1)
FREE EVENTS: AMAZING TALES FROM THE ARCHIVES
The festival continues the behind-the-curtain look at international film preservation with another edition of their popular Amazing Tales from the Archives program. Preservationist Serge Bromberg, of Lobster Films in Paris, will share the entertaining story of finding Maurice Tourneur's 1914 short Figures de Cire (House of Wax). It took 15 years to unearth the film, and today it receives a long-awaited screening! Bryony Dixon, BFI's senior curator of silent film, brings a treasure trove of footage about the RMS Lusitania, the British ocean liner that was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat to international outcry 100 years ago. Liverpool-born actor Paul McGann will accompany Dixon's presentation, adding narration to the films. Film restorer Robert Byrne will describe the meticulous process of reconstructing and restoring William Gillette's Sherlock Holmes--a film thought lost until a complete dupe negative was identified in the vaults of the Cinémathèque Française last year. Byrne's presentation will include the technical, historical, and curatorial aspects of returning the film to a state as close as possible to that experienced by audiences almost 100 years ago.In recognition of the centennial of the birth of the Technicolor Corporation, Movette Film Transfer's Jennifer Miko will offer a rare glimpse of a unique home movie shot on the grounds of La Cuesta Encantada, more commonly known as Hearst Castle. The stunning tour--filmed in two-strip Technicolor--features architect Julia Morgan and the Chief himself, W.R. Hearst. Live musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin; Donald Sosin scores silent films for major festivals, archives, and DVD recordings and is the resident accompanist at New York's Film Society of Lincoln Center, the Museum of the Moving Image, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The event is free. (10 a.m., Friday May 29)
SO YOU THINK YOU KNOW SILENTS
Bruce Goldstein, director of repertory programming at New York's famed Film Forum, will host a challenging trivia quiz called "So You Think You Know Silents." Ply your knowledge of the silent era at this entertaining and spirited contest. Novices and experts alike are welcome to take part. Prizes will be won! Live musical accompaniment by Steve Sterner; In addition to his 25 year association with the Film Forum in New York, Steve Sterner has performed at MoMA, the Museum of the Moving Image, Lincoln Center, and BAM. As an actor, Steve has appeared on and off-Broadway. His crosswords and acrostic puzzles have appeared in the NY Times and various national publications. (1 p.m., Monday June 1)
CAVE OF THE SPIDER WOMEN (China, 1927)
Cave's story comes from a classic of Chinese literature involving a pilgrim monk and his followers--monkey, pig, and shark spirit--who ward off the notorious Spider Queen. The film set 1927 box-office records but was considered lost until it's recent discovery and restoration by the National Library of Norway. Plus: MODERN CHINA (China, 1910, 8 m.) Extraordinary views of life and landscape in Beijing, filmed during the last years of China's Qing dynasty, before the 1911 Xinhai Revolution overthrew imperial rule. The focus is on everyday life, and the views of hawkers, laborers, traders, and artisans reveal the city's vibrant street culture. US Premiere of BFI restoration. Live musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin and Frank Bockius; Donald Sosin scores silent films for major festivals, archives, and DVD recordings and is the resident accompanist at New York's Film Society of Lincoln Center, the Museum of the Moving Image, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Versatile percussionist Frank Bockius will join Sosin for this program. (1 p.m., Friday May 29)
WHEN THE EARTH TREMBLED (USA, 1913)
In 1913, early film mogul Siegmund Lubin decided it was time to produce films longer than the normal one or two reels. His philosophy that "spectacles and disasters" were what audiences wanted to see informed this first mega-production featuring the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire as its centerpiece. Restoration by EYE Filmmuseum and SFSFF. Plus: A TRIP DOWN MARKET STREET (USA, 1906, 13 m.) Restoration by Lobster Films. Live musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne; Back for his ninth San Francisco Silent Film Festival, Stephen Horne has long been considered one of the leading silent film accompanists. Principally a pianist, he often incorporates flute, accordion, and other instruments into his performances, sometimes playing them simultaneously. (4 p.m., Friday May 29)
THE LAST LAUGH (Germany 1924)
In his greatest role, Emil Jannings plays the chief porter at a prestigious hotel, a position that affords him respect and dignity until he is demoted to washroom attendant. The films emotional depth is bolstered by its technical innovation--Murnau's camera is as beautifully expressive as Jannings' breathtaking performance. Live musical accompaniment by the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra; Based at Boston's Berklee College of Music, the all-student orchestra composes and performs under the leadership of three-time Emmy nominee and Berklee professor Sheldon Mirowitz. Composers/conductors include: Xiaoshu Chen; Emily Joseph; Eiji John Mitsuta; Amit Cohen; Shotaro Shima; Gabriel Torrado Tobon. Players include: Eren Basbug, keyboard; Carlos Silva, violin; Milos Branisavljevic, percussion; Elif Cakmut, oboe/English horn; Stephanie Clark, clarinets; John O'Hara, bassoon; Victoria Ruggiero, keyboard; Luisa Cartagena, flutes; Trevor Jarvis, cello; Shachar Ziv, French horn. Robert R. Hayes is managing director. (7 p.m., Friday May 29)
THE GHOST TRAIN (UK/Germany, 1927)
Based on the hugely successful stage play by Arnold Ridley, The Ghost Train employs a variety of techniques from animation to superimposition, that highlight Hungarian director Géza von Bolváry's visual approach to storytelling. But for all its foreign influence, The Ghost Train remains singularly British in its humor and eccentric characters as it tells the story of travelers stranded overnight at a dubiously haunted train station. The extant print of the film comes from the British Film Institute but has French intertitles! The back-to-English translation will be read aloud by British actor PAUL McGANN who came to prominence in the US as the 'I' of Withnail and I. His numerous screen credits include the lead role in the Doctor Who series. Live musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius. Back for his ninth San Francisco Silent Film Festival, Stephen Horne has long been considered one of the leading silent film accompanists. Principally a pianist, he often incorporates flute, accordion, and other instruments into his performances, sometimes playing them simultaneously. Versatile percussionist Frank Bockius will join. (9:30 p.m., Friday May 29)
SPEEDY (USA, 1929)
Harold Lloyd's last silent film is classic Lloyd, replete with ingenious gags and hilarious set pieces. Harold 'Speedy' plays a good-natured bumbler who can't hold down a job. Speedy has two passions - his girlfriend (Ann Christy) and baseball. The first takes him to the famous amusement park at Coney Island, the second to Yankee Stadium with Babe Ruth in tow! Live musical accompaniment by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra; Mont Alto culls historic libraries of music for its live musical accompaniment. Together Rodney Sauer, Britt Swenson, David Short, Brian Collins, and Dawn Kramer have recorded and toured widely, creating vibrant, emotional, and historically appropriate musical scores for more than 120 films. For the first time at SFSFF, they are joined by Darren Kramer on trombone. (10 a.m., Saturday May 30)
VISAGES D'ENFANTS (France, 1925)
Jacques Feyder's eloquent Visages d'Enfants takes place in a remote village in the Swiss Alps, where the film opens with 11-year-old Jean (Jean Forest) watching as his mother's coffin is carried away. This moving portrayal of childhood grief is told with unwavering honesty and profound humanity. Film theorist Jean Mitry wrote, "If I could select only one film from the entire French production of the 1920's, surely it is Faces of Children that I would save." Live musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne. Back for his ninth San Francisco Silent Film Festival, Stephen Horne has long been considered one of the leading silent film accompanists. Principally a pianist, he often incorporates flute, accordion, and other instruments into his performances, sometimes playing them simultaneously. Preceding the screening, Serge Bromberg will receive the 2015 San Francisco Silent Film Festival Award. Preservationist, entertainer, filmmaker, and founder of Lobster Films, Serge Bromberg has presented his rare film discoveries at festivals around the world for twenty-five years. (1 p.m., Saturday May 30)
THE DONOVAN AFFAIR (USA, 1929)
After no-good Jack Donovan kills the lights at a house party for effect, guests find he's the knife-skewered victim--and then inspector Jack Holt is called in. A classic dark-house comedy whodunit, with a classic denouement, based on a play by the prolific Owen Davis (whose 1923 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Icebound is currently being revived Off-Off-Broadway), The Donovan Affair was for Capra "the beginning of a true understanding of the skills of my craft" and his first "100% all-Dialogue Picture." But its original soundtrack--recorded on 16" disks (before sound-on-film became standard)--has long been lost. The one existing print, at the Library of Congress, is completely silent, rendering the picture completely incomprehensible.
For this special screening at SFSFF, the lost Donovan Affair soundtrack will be recreated live, with the dialogue instantaneously dubbed by actors hand-picked for their affinity to the acting style of the late '20s and '30s, along with live music and recreated sound effects. This unique presentation has been shown only three times before, in New York and Los Angeles. Aside from these few special screenings, Donovan has not been seen since its original release, 85 years ago. Live accompaniment by Bruce Goldstein and the Gower Gulch Players; The Gower Gulch Players include Glenn Taranto, Rick Pasqualone, Hannah Davis, Ashley Adler, Steve Sterner (also on piano), Yelena Shmulenson, Allen Lewis Rickman, SFSFF board member Frank Buxton, and Bruce Goldstein--the project's godfather and director of repertory programming at New York's Film Forum since 1986. (4:30 p.m., Saturday May 30)
FLESH AND THE DEVIL (USA, 1926)
Leo (John Gilbert) and Ulrich (Lars Hanson) are companions whose lifelong friendship is torn apart over their mutual love for the beautiful Felicitas (Greta Garbo). Garbo is at her most alluring here, and the growing off-screen passion between her and Gilbert permeates their on-screen chemistry. Live musical accompaniment by the Matti Bye Ensemble; Performing together for almost twenty years, the Matti Bye Ensemble is renowned for its unique instrumentations and improvisational skills. Constantly seeking that magical, emotional alchemy between the music and the images, the ensemble--Matti Bye, Lotta Johansson, and Kristian Holmgren--perform both composed and improvised scores on a variety of instruments that include the piano, glockenspiel, violin, and musical saw. Award-winning composer Matti Bye has written scores for several Swedish silent-era classics and has been an accompanist at the Swedish Film Institute since 1989. (7 p.m., Saturday May 30)
PAN (Norway, 1922)
This brilliant film adaptation of Nobel Prize-winning author Knut Hamsun's famous 1894 novel Pan was scripted and directed by Harald Schwenzen, a talented young actor. It was his directorial debut and although he never directed another it has secured his reputation in cinema history. Schwenzen wrote in the film's original program, "The task we have given ourselves is to make a beautiful and artistic pictorialization of Hamsun's strangest story. Outwardly, there is no strong plot in Pan which could possibly tempt us, but the book is, with its powerful beauty and lyricism, so rich in atmosphere, so characteristic and strong in its human descriptions, that it offers both the director and the actors a very special artistic task. If we have succeeded, through our images, together with excerpts of Hamsun's text, to give life to these people and this atmosphere, as in the book, then we have fulfilled the great task we set for ourselves." Restored at Arri Film and TV Production in Munich. Live musical accompaniment by Guenter Buchwald; Conductor, composer, pianist, and violinist Guenter Buchwald is a pioneer of the renaissance in silent film music. He has provided live accompaniment for more than three thousand titles, playing at festivals worldwide from Berlin to Tokyo, both solo and with other musicians through his Silent Movie Music Company. (9:30 p.m., Saturday May 30).
THE AMAZING CHARLEY BOWERS (USA, 1926-28)
Almost forgotten in the US until Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films revived his oeuvre in 2010, Charley Bowers (nicknamed 'Bricolo' in France) directed and acted in masterpieces of live action and puppet animation in the late 1920s. In spite of being championed by André Breton and the Surrealists for his extraordinary vision, Bowers' films slipped into obscurity by the end of the 1930s. Now, the surviving films have been beautifully restored from original elements gleaned from archives and collectors around the world. Films include: A WILD ROOMER (1926, 24 minutes), NOW YOU TELL ONE (1926, 22 minutes), MANY A SLIP (1927, 12 minutes), THERE IT IS (1928, 17 minutes). Live musical accompaniment by Serge Bromberg; Preservationist, entertainer, filmmaker, and founder of Lobster Films, Serge Bromberg has presented his rare film discoveries at festivals around the world for twenty-five years. Bromberg will introduce the program and accompany on piano. (10 a.m., Sunday May 31)
AVANT-GARDE PARIS Two extraordinary films from Paris in the 1920s illustrate the artistic and intellectual ferment of the time when many of the world's great artists and thinkers convened in the City of Lights.
EMAK-BAKIA (d. Man Ray, 1927, 16 minutes) American artist Man Ray lived in Paris in the 1920s, where he created some of his most well-known works, including several avant-garde films that added to his considerable stature. Ray's cinépoème will be presented with a new score, composed by Nicolas Tzortzis. Live musical accompaniment by Earplay; Earplay will perform a newly commissioned score for Man Ray's Emak-Bakia written by Paris-based composer Nicolas Tzortzis. The ensemble consists of Mary Chun, conductor; Tod Brody, flute and piccolo; Peter Josheff, clarinet and bass clarinet; Terrie Baune, violin; Ellen Ruth Rose, viola; Thalia Moore, cello; and Brenda Tom, piano.
MÉNILMONTANT (d. Dimitri Kirsanoff, 1926, 44 minutes) The great film writer Pauline Kael named Ménilmontant her favorite film of all time, calling it, "an exquisite, poetic 40-minute movie that is one of the least known masterpieces of the screen." Written and directed by the Russian émigré Dmitri Kirsanov, who came to cinema as a cellist in a Paris movie house, the film tells the story of two sisters (Nadia Sibirskaïa, Yolande Beaulieu) in dazzlingly experimental style. Live musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne; Back for his ninth San Francisco Silent Film Festival, Stephen Horne has long been considered one of the leading silent film accompanists. Principally a pianist, he often incorporates flute, accordion, and other instruments into his performances, sometimes playing them simultaneously. (12:30 p.m Sunday May 31)
WHY BE GOOD? (USA, 1929)
The vivacious comedienne Colleen Moore is perfect in the role of aptly-named Pert Kelly. Pert's a shop girl by day and a flapper by night. The very image of a modern gal, she has a wild reputation but lives at home with mom and dad. When the boss's son Winthrop Peabody Jr. (Neil Hamilton) falls for her, Pert gets the ax. But Junior is still smitten and he devises a test to convince Winthrop Senior of Pert's virtue. Restored by Warner Bros. at L'Immagine Ritrovata laboratory. Live musical accompaniment by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra; Mont Alto culls historic libraries of music for its live musical accompaniment. Together Rodney Sauer, Britt Swenson, David Short, Brian Collins, and Dawn Kramer have recorded and toured widely, creating vibrant, emotional, and historically appropriate musical scores for more than 120 films. For the first time at SFSFF, they are joined by Darren Kramer on trombone. (2:30 p.m. Sunday May 31)
NORRTULLSLIGAN (Sweden, 1923)
Four female office workers share a flat and the experience of being self-sufficient in a man's world. This comedy, starring the legendary Swedish star Tora Teje, is remarkably modern in its outlook and technique. Director Per Lindberg includes an astonishing shot of endless rows of typists in a huge office space that predates similar, more famous, scenes in King Vidor's The Crowd and Billy Wilder's The Apartment by years. Live musical accompaniment by the Matti Bye Ensemble; Performing together for almost twenty years, the Matti Bye Ensemble is renowned for its unique instrumentations and improvisational skills. Constantly seeking that magical, emotional alchemy between the music and the images, the ensemble--Matti Bye, Lotta Johansson, and Kristian Holmgren--perform both composed and improvised scores on a variety of instruments that include the piano, glockenspiel, violin, and musical saw. Award-winning composer Matti Bye has written scores for several Swedish silent-era classics and has been an accompanist at the Swedish Film Institute since 1989. (4:30 p.m. Sunday May 31)
SHERLOCK HOLMES (USA, 1916)
Considered lost until its recent discovery at the Cinémathèque Française, this William Gillette film was a vital missing link in the history of Holmes on screen. By the time it was produced at Essanay Studios in 1916, Gillette had been established as the world's foremost interpreter of Holmes on stage. He gave his face and manner to the detective and inspired the classic illustrations of Frederic Dorr Steele. Booth Tarkington famously wrote after seeing Gillette on stage, "I would rather see you play Sherlock Holmes than be a child again on Christmas morning." The newly found Essanay production is not only Gillette's sole surviving appearance as Holmes. It is also the only film Gillette ever made, a unique opportunity to view the work of a major American actor in the legendary role that he wrote for himself. The film faithfully retains the play's famous set pieces--Holmes's encounter with Professor Moriarty, his daring escape from the Stepney Gas Chamber, and the tour-de-force deductions--and illustrates how Gillette wove bits from Conan Doyle's stories, ranging from "A Scandal in Bohemia" to "The Final Problem," into an original, innovative mystery play. Restored by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival and the Cinémathèque Française. North American Premiere. Live musical accompaniment by the Donald Sosin Ensemble; Composer Donald Sosin scores silent films for major festivals, archives, and DVD recordings and is the resident accompanist at New York's Film Society of Lincoln Center, the Museum of the Moving Image, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. In addition to solo piano, he also leads the Donald Sosin Ensemble, which includes violinist Guenter Buchwald, percussionist Frank Bockius, and bassist Sascha Jacobsen. (7 p.m Sunday May 31)
THE SWALLOW AND THE TITMOUSE (France, 1920)
This remarkable film spent 63 years on the shelf unedited before film editor Henri Colpi discovered more than six hours of André Antoine's saga and trimmed the footage to an exquisite 79 minutes. The dramatic family story is set on two barges, the Hirondelle and the Mésange, as they bring coal and other supplies to areas depleted by the recent war. Antoine's pioneering film was depicted in an almost documentary style, and his dazzling realism would take many years to catch on. Restored by the Cinémathèque Française. Live musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne and Diana Rowan; Back for his ninth San Francisco Silent Film Festival, Stephen Horne has long been considered one of the leading silent film accompanists. Principally a pianist, he often incorporates flute, accordion, and other instruments into his performances, sometimes playing them simultaneously. Joining Horne is world-renowned harpist Diana Rowan. (9:30 p.m. Sunday May 31)
THE DEADLIER SEX (USA, 1920)
After her father's death, Mary Willard (Blanche Sweet) takes over his business interest. Willard Sr.'s right hand man Harvey Judson (Mahlon Hamilton) has more cutthroat business practices in mind, and Mary has him kidnapped to protect her shareholders (and teach him a lesson). In the end of this gentle comedy, Mary and Harvey propose another merger that has little to do with business. Boris Karloff has a small role as an unspecified foreigner. Preserved by the Academy Film Archive from the only known surviving film element, a 35mm tinted nitrate print from the Archive's Lobster Film Collection. Live musical accompaniment by Guenter Buchwald; Conductor, composer, pianist, and violinist Guenter Buchwald is a pioneer of the renaissance in silent film music. He has provided live accompaniment for more than three thousand titles, playing at festivals worldwide from Berlin to Tokyo, both solo and with other musicians through his Silent Movie Music Company. Preservationist, entertainer, filmmaker, and founder of Lobster Films, Serge Bromberg has presented his rare film discoveries at festivals around the world for twenty-five years. (3 p.m. Monday June 1)
100 YEARS IN POST-PRODUCTION: RESURRECTING A LOST LANDMARK OF BLACK FILM HISTORY
At a challenging time of segregation in the fall of 1913, a virtuoso cast of African-American performers led by famed Caribbean-American entertainer Bert Williams (1874-1922), gathered in the Bronx to make a feature-length motion picture. After more than an hour of film was shot, the unreleased project was abandoned by its white producers and left forgotten until today. Found in MoMA's Biograph Studio collection, the seven reels of untitled and unassembled footage represent the earliest known surviving feature with a cast of black actors. Shot at locations in New York and New Jersey, the comedy centers on Williams' efforts to win the hand of the local beauty and boasts among its highlights a two-minute exhibition dance sequence and a cutting-edge display of on-screen affection between its black leads. Additionally, nearly 100 remarkable still images of the interracial production were recovered from within the unedited material, providing evidence of an historic effort by a little-known Harlem theatrical community to gain access to the developing medium of moving pictures.
SFSFF presents the Museum's restoration of this lost landmark of film history with an hour-long assemblage of daily rushes and multiple takes. MoMA project leader, Associate Curator Ron Magliozzi, will narrate a selection of unique photographs from the pioneering production and present visual material explaining the film's creation, 101-year disappearance, and ultimate resurrection. Live musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin; Donald Sosin scores silent films for major festivals, archives, and DVD recordings and is the resident accompanist at New York's Film Society of Lincoln Center, the Museum of the Moving Image, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. (5 p.m., Monday June 1)
EXTRAS: Throughout the festival, SFSFF will show motion picture footage filmed at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Other short titles and special guests will be announced as they are confirmed.
Tickets Information, Festival Dates and Public Contact Numbers
The 20th San Francisco Silent Film Festival will take place May 28-June 1 at the historic Castro Theatre. For the complete lineup of films and to purchase tickets and festival passes, go to silentfilm.org. Tickets to the Opening Night party at the historic McRoskey Building top-floor loft are available for purchase at silentfilm.org. ALL tickets and passes are sold online without fees!
For more information, visit the SFSFF website at SilentFilm.org.
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DICK DINMAN AND GEORGE FELTENSTEIN SALUTE "KISS ME KATE" 3-D: Fans of classic films who remain skeptical and/or dismissive of the benefits of the 3-D process are in for a euphoric shock because Warner Home Video's superlative 3-D blu-ray incarnation of the joyous MGM musical-comedy sensation KISS ME KATE is stunning proof of how this unfairly maligned (and frequently misused) depth process can enhance and invigorate an already great film. Producer/host Dick Dinman's guest Warner Home Video Sr. V.P. of Classic and Theatrical Marketing George Feltenstein describes the costly, arduous and painstaking dedication necessary to create what arguably is the single most revelatory classic blu-ray release of the year.
DICK DINMAN AND GEORGE FELTENSTEIN SALUTE "THE BAND WAGON": Warner Home Video's George Feltenstein shares various insights and anecdotes relating to producer/host Dick Dinman's all-time favorite musical THE BAND WAGON which has just received a drop dead gorgeous Technicolor blu-ray restoration. PLUS: THE FRANK SINATRA 5 FILM BLU-RAY COLLECTION and THE 1939 GOLDEN YEAR 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 www.dvdclassicscorner.com or www.dvdclassicscorner.net.
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WINTERSET, Iowa--Over the past 30 years more than one million visitors have journeyed to historic Madison County to tour the modest four-room home where film icon John Wayne was born on May 26, 1907. Guests have included President Ronald Reagan, movie legend Maureen O'Hara, Wayne's widow and all of his children and fans from 50 states and 40 foreign countries. And, as testament to the star's enduring popularity, they keep on coming.
To provide a more meaningful visitor experience, the Birthplace organization has announced the May 23rd Grand Opening of the John Wayne Birthplace Museum, a brand-new 5,000 square ft. facility which will offer an astounding collection of memorabilia from the screen legend's life and motion picture career. The only museum in the world dedicated to John Wayne, it will feature the largest diversified exhibit of John Wayne artifacts in existence, including original movie posters, film wardrobe, scripts, letters, artwork and sculpture, one of his customized automobiles and, of course, a movie theater.
A birthday celebration of this magnitude requires considerable flourish and the weekend of May 23-25 will not disappoint. Providing patriotic fanfare for the opening ceremonies will be the 100-member Iowa Military Veterans Band, in addition to rodeo queens, reduced price admission to the new museum, free John Wayne movies, food and merchandise vendors, cowboy mounted shooters and much more.
A highlight for many will be the Museum Benefit Dinner ($150 per person) headlined by country music legend and RFD-TV star Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives. Also featured will be an auction of unique and one-of-a-kind John Wayne collectibles including artwork and film wardrobe.
For further information call 877-462-1044 or visit the website at
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DICK DINMAN SALUTES "BAND WAGON" DIRECTOR VINCENTE MINNELLI (PART ONE): Although principally remembered and revered for his astonishing contribution to musical cinema Warner Home Video's recent and gorgeous blu-ray releases of not only the musical comedy classic THE BAND WAGON (which can be purchased either individually or as included as part of Warner's magnificent 4 film BLU-RAY MUSICAL COLLECTION) but also the intensely dramatic Oscar-winning Vincent Van Gogh biography LUST FOR LIFE and both graphically demonstrate the fact that Vincente Minnelli's directorial brilliance extended to a dizzying variety of genres and who better to join producer/host Dick Dinman in turning the spotlight on the length and breadth of Minnelli's amazing versatility than Mark Griffin, author of the acclaimed biography A HUNDRED OR MORE HIDDEN THINGS: THE LIFE AND FILMS OF VINCENTE MINNELLI.
DICK DINMAN SALUTES "BAND WAGON" DIRECTOR VINCENTE MINNELLI (PART TWO):
DICK DINMAN SALUTES "BAND WAGON" DIRECTOR VINCENTE MINNELLI (PART THREE):
DICK DINMAN SALUTES "BAND WAGON" DIRECTOR VINCENTE MINNELLI (PART FOUR):
The award-winning DICK DINMAN'S DVD CLASSICS CORNER ON THE AIR is the only weekly half hour show devoted to Golden Age Movie Classics as they become available on DVD. Your producer/host Dick Dinman includes a generous selection of classic scenes, classic film music and one-on-one interviews with stars, producers, and directors. To hear these as well as other DVD CLASSICS CORNER ON THE AIR shows please go to www.dvdclassicscorner.com or www.dvdclassicscorner.net.
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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