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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
By John Canemaker
In this handsomely illustrated book, author John Canemaker brings to life the covert scrapbook of special effects wizardry compiled by Disney artist Herman Shultheis, who used it to detail how many animated effects were created over seventy years ago.
Schlutheis not only worked on effects photography but also documented, sometimes painstakingly, how famous sequences in Disney animated classics were conceived and achieved--from the elaborate opening shot of Pinnochio to the snowflakes in Fantasia. Schultheis was in the perfect position to create such a chronicle: his work at the Disney studios was focused on effects photography, but he also shot the reference photographs that animators would often use when creating their drawings.
Schulteis' story reads a bit like a Hollywood tale: he was a German immigrant and a part-time nudist, a suspected German sympathizer, and a technical whiz with a camera who worked at the Disney studios from 1938 to 1941. After World War II, he worked at Twentieth Century-Fox and Telefilms before going to Guatamela, camera in hand, in 1955. He never came back--disappearing while on a trip into the jungle.
Thirty-five years later, after his widow's death in 1990, his notebooks were discovered in a cabinet drawer. The originals are on display at The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco and are reproduced for this book. A forward by Pixar's Pete Docter, the Academy Award-winning animation director, puts the importance of the notebooks into context, helping us to understand what they represent in terms of the history of animation and why they are so valued by technicians and film buffs today.
John Canemaker is an Academy Award-, Emmy Award-, and Peabody Award-winning animation director and designer. His twenty-eight minute film, The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation, won the 2005 Academy Award for Best Animated Short, and his more than twenty films (and their original art) are in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He is also a tenured professor and director of the animation program at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.
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By Mark Whitaker
Bill Cosby has been a part of our cultural history for over fifty years--from his early comedy records to his groundbreaking work in television, movies and stage. Yet this is the first major biography of this talented man.
Author Mark Whitaker spoke with Cosby himself, in a series of in-depth interviews, as well as over sixty of the actor's associates and close friends to help bring the man and artist into sharper focus .
Cosby grew up in a Philadelphia housing project, the son of an alcoholic, largely absent father and a loving but overworked mother. He turned his life around when he joined the Navy, talked his way into college and seized his first breaks as a stand-up comic.
Published on the 30th anniversary of The Cosby Show, the book reveals the behind-the-scenes story of that groundbreaking sitcom, as well as Cosby's bestselling albums, breakout role on I Spy, and pioneering place in children's TV. It also deals with professional setbacks and personal dramas, from an affair that sparked public scandal to the murder of his only son. Mark Whitaker is the former Managing Editor of CNN, Washington bureau chief for NBC News and reporter and editor at Newsweek magazine, where he became the first African-American to lead a national newsweekly. His critically acclaimed family memoir, My Long Trip Home, tells the story of his parents--a star-crossed interracial couple who married in the 1950s--and his grandparents, black undertakers from Pittsburgh and French Protestants who helped hide thousands of Jews from the Nazis during World War II. Whitaker lives in New York City with his family.
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By Steve Wilson
Seventy-five years ago, moviegoers watched a young heroine stand on a hillside in the early morning hours and swear she would never go hungry again. By that point in the movie, Scarlett O'Hara had already encountered love, loss and an invading army. Audiences were swept up in the epic story and the film has become an enduring classic.
To commemorate the milestone anniversary of this beloved film, author Steve Wilson scoured the archives of the David O. Selznick collection at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin for this new book chronicling the making of the film.
This rarely-seen material offers fans and film historians a fascinating behind-the-scenes view of the challenges, trials, and successes related to the production of this timeless classic.
Before a single frame of film was shot, Gone With The Wind was embroiled in controversy. There were serious concerns about how the film would depict race and violence in the Old South during the Civil War and Reconstruction. And while Clark Gable was almost everyone's choice to play Rhett Butler, there was no clear favorite for Scarlett O'Hara which, stymied the legendary producer Selznick for some time.
There was also the huge challenge of turning Margaret Mitchell's Pulitzer Prize-winning epic into a manageable screenplay and producing it at a reasonable cost. Various screenwriters tried to tame the story and Selznick himself kept the pressure up with his own notoriously detailed memos. George Cukor was hired and then fired before Selznick finally settled on Victor Fleming as the man most able to handle the scale of both the story and the production.
With a foreword by film historian and TCM Host Robert Osborne, the book includes on-set photographs, storyboards, correspondence, fan mail, production records, costumes and, of course, Selznick's own lengthy memos. The author writes effectively about how creative choices helped produce one of the most loved films of all time and why it remains so influential all these years later.
Steve Wilson is the curator of the film collection at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. He has curated several exhibitions at the Ransom Center, including Shooting Stars, a display of Hollywood glamour photography, and Making Movies, a major exhibition on film production.
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Edited by Barry Day
The fog shrouded streets, the double-dealing hustlers and the hardboiled dames who could break your heart or just as easily plug you with a bullet--the world of Raymond Chandler was not for the faint of heart.
Chandler never wrote an autobiography or a memoir, but Day, making use of Chandler's novels, short stories and letters, tells the story of the man "with no home"--a man precariously balanced between his classical English education and the fast-evolving American culture between and after the two World Wars.
Chandler reveals what it was like to be a writer, and in particular what it was to be a writer of "hard-boiled" fiction in what was for him "another language"--a fast-changing American vernacular that didn't make things easy. He also discusses the work of his contemporaries: Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner and Somerset Maugham, among others.
But Chandler's reflections on place and character--the most often discussed and memorable aspects of his fiction--are among the highlights of Day's selections for this book. Day includes Chandler's reflections on Los Angeles, his adopted city, and the locales he used in his writings, as well as on his time in Hollywood working with Billy Wilder, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock and other towering figures of the studio era. Day also includes a section on Philip Marlowe, Chandler's alter ego, the incorruptible knight with little armor who walks the "mean streets" of a city not made for chivalry. Barry Day is an author and playwright. In addition to his books on Noël Coward, Day has written about Dorothy Parker, Oscar Wilde, Johnny Mercer, and Rodgers and Hart. He has written and produced plays and musical revues showcasing the work of Coward, the Lunts, Oscar Wilde, and others. He lives in New York, London, and Palm Beach.
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The title of Errol Morris' The Unknown Known, a profile of the life and career of former Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld, is a direct reference to Rumsfeld's most famous TV appearance. Discussing the evidence (or rather, the glaring lack of evidence) linking Iraq with weapons of mass destruction provided to terrorist groups, which was the stated reason for invading Iraq, Rumsfeld told reporters: "there are known knowns; there are things that we know that we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know." It was a cagey piece of analysis, both a true assessment of the nature of intelligence and an obfuscation of the administration's intelligence failure, in line with another sophisticated excuse offered up to the press: "the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence." A decade later, the evidence is still absent and Rumsfeld is still refusing to admit that the United States invaded Iraq without provocation or justification, merely suspicions ungrounded in any firm evidence.
It is not exactly a companion piece to The Fog of War, Morris' documentary on former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert MacNamara who oversaw the escalation of American involvement in Vietnam. Like that 2003 documentary, Morris engages with a former Secretary of Defense, discussing a foreign war that was launched and (mis)managed under his watch and the indefensible misconduct and scandals involving American soldiers and officer. Where is differs is the response of the subject: MacNamara, with the --- of hindsight and history and the thoughtfulness of a statesman more interested in truth than a personal agenda, admitted not just to his mistakes but to the damage the war wrought on American lives (and, of course, Vietnamese lives, though the focus is one the American legacy). A longtime politician who entered politics as a congressman elected in 1962 and served in the administrations of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and George W. Bush (George H. W. Bush did not trust him), Rumsfeld is a storyteller who makes his case with a gentle matter-of-factness backed by an unforced authority and genial ease, whether talking to reporters during the war or talking to camera in the interviews conducted for the film. The smile, with those half-moon eyes suggesting a grandfatherly affection backed by experience and cocksure authority, is a defining image in the film.
Errol Morris is one of the most inventive and engaging non-fiction filmmakers in the world today. He brings a strong visual presentation to pull audiences in to his films while building his case on excellent research and choice archival materials. While The Unknown Known features video clips and archival images to fill in Rumsfeld's past, however, it is his talent as an interviewer and interrogator, honed over decades of filmmaking, that gives the film its dramatic center. The film is built on hours of one-on-one interviews between filmmaker and subject, with Rumsfeld speaking directly to the camera. It's a signature of Morris' films thanks to his own invention, the Interrotron. Basically, it uses mirrors in front of the camera a way that allows interviewer and subject to engage each other directly while the subject is in looking directly into the lens. It provides an intimacy with the interview during shooting and during viewing.
Morris himself was surprised that Rumsfeld agreed to sit down for a series of interviews for this production, given his politics and his history. Watching Rumsfeld respond to Morris' questioning, you can make your own guess as to why he did. Morris is no crusading journalist hammering his subject in a debate and his approach as an interviewer is not confrontational. He engages Rumsfeld on the issues, pressing him but not challenging him. Rumsfeld responds with smiling assurance that never wavers as he repeats the same justifications and excuses he made a decade ago, despite the evidence that has come to light in the years since. And as Morris uses silence as a way to give Rumsfeld the opportunity to continue, to elaborate, to reconsider, Rumsfeld treats it as a game of chicken, simply smiling silently back at the camera until Morris continues. The kind of revelations that MacNamara offered are nowhere to be seen in Rumsfeld, whose purpose seems to be solely to explain and sustain his legacy as he sees it. It's a contest for him, a struggle over who will define his story, like a one-on-one version of the press conferences that made Rumsfeld a media star of sorts in the early 2000s.
With Rumsfeld constantly obfuscating and sidestepping issues (he calls the abuses at Abu Ghraib exaggerated and denies waterboarding was ever sanctioned), the most interesting parts of the film involve Rumsfeld reading from the hundreds of thousands of memos he wrote during his government service. He called them "snowflakes" and takes pride in them, and true to form, when confronted with a memo that contradicts his own stated position, he sets about reinterpreting it for the camera. With Morris unable to get Rumsfeld to reconsider anything in his legacy, these contradictions are the closest we have to challenging his record. You don't get the dramatic jolt or profound sense of struggle between truth and power that define previous Morris documentaries, from The Thin Blue Line (1988) to Standard Operating Procedure (2008). Rather, you get a glimpse at power protecting itself, at discredited talking points continually presented as fact, at politics as a game of shaping and controlling the message in face of any evidence to the contrary. Discussing Tariq Aziz, the Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Rumsfeld calls him "A perfectly rational individual. You wonder what goes on in a mind like that." I have that same reaction at the end of The Unknown Known. There is no doubt that Rumsfeld is both a smart, savvy political players and a polished media creature. But for all the easy-going pose of humility, he isn't the least bit humble, and he is not about to let any self-reflection complicate or contradict the legacy he has so carefully built and maintained.
On Blu-ray and DVD, with a strong picture, thanks to Morris' austere style (a single subject set against a dark background) and digital photography. The archival footage shows its age, of course, but the interview scenes and graphics are vivid and bold and look superb on the discs. Both feature commentary by filmmaker Errol Morris and a short interview with Morris discussing the genesis and the production of the documentary. Also features the 57-minute archival presentation "Third Annual Report of the Secretaries of Defense," an hour-long recording of a conference from 1989 featuring Rumsfeld, Robert McNamara and Caspar Weinberger, and the text of Morris' four-part New York Times op-ed piece "The Certainty of Donald Rumsfeld."
By Sean Axmaker
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Hammer Studios struggled to remain relevant in the seventies as their lurid Gothic style was upstaged by the transgressive horrors in films like Night of Living Dead, Rosemary's Baby, and The Witchfinder General, which pushed the boundaries of movie conventions, screen violence, and subject matter. Their answer was to simply push their natural tendencies in R-rated territory. In other words, more explicit blood and boobs. Their most notorious examples were a series of erotic vampire films with female predators who use their bodies and their wiles to seduce their prey.
Title aside, Countess Dracula is not a vampire at all. The screenplay is inspired by the legend of Elizabeth Bathory, the Hungarian countess who murdered hundreds of girls in the late 16th century, ostensibly to bathe in the blood of virgins to keep her youth, or so the legend goes. This isn't a faithful retelling, however, but an original take on the legend with a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde dimension to it. Polish-born actress Ingrid Pitt, fresh from playing the bloodsucker Carmilla in The Vampire Lovers (1970), made her second Hammer appearance as the Countess Elisabeth Nádasdy, though you wouldn't recognize her when she enters the film under ridges of prosthetic wrinkles and old age make-up. She's an aging widow burying her husband (how many Hammer films have so set the atmosphere by opening with a funeral?) and bitter over how he has split the inheritance between her and their daughter Ilona (a very young and innocent-looking Lesley-Anne Down), who had been sent to Vienna years before. There is no mention of why she was sent away--it was ostensibly for her education in the cultural center of Europe--but Elisabeth's disdain for human life (she doesn't flinch when her carriage cripples a peasant in a horse-drawn hit-and-run) and the controlled fury of greed and envy she shows at the reading of the will suggests it may have been for the girl's own protection, just one of the unspoken suggestions woven through the film.
Pitt's reputation has more to do with her voluptuous appearance and frequent nudity than her acting chops but she's really rather effective as Countess Elisabeth, blithely cruel and vindictive as the wrinkled dowager ferocious and renewed with a lusty passion after the blood of serving girl restores the bloom of youth to her shriveled cheek. The serving girl disappears that night, after a visit to the chambers of the Countess, and the next morning a young beauty "arrives" at the castle. Elisabeth has taken over the identity of her daughter Ilona and has arranged for the real Ilona to be kidnapped and held hostage by a mute henchman in a forest cottage. The youth effects are short-lived, of course, so a steady parade of victims is necessary to maintain the transformation, and she's abetted by her loyal nurse (Patience Collier) and Captain Dobi (Nigel Green), the Castle Steward and her longtime lover. It's not just her own youth she desires, however. She's obsessed with handsome young Lt. Imre Toth (Sandor Elès), who served with her husband and was rewarded in his will with horses and the manor stables. So he sticks around, much to the resentment of Dobi (Nigel Green). With the Count's death he expected no challenge to her affections.
The explanation for this crimson fountain of youth is tossed off with some rather unconvincing ancient text discovered by Master Fabio (Maurice Denham), the castle historian. Though little more than a plot device in the script, Denham makes Fabio a delightful character and a respite from the scheming around him. Even better is Green, a grand old character actor whose wounded dignity and bruised sense of honor makes Dobi almost as dangerous as Elisabeth, as well as just a little sympathetic.
Countess Dracula belongs to Hammer's erotic horrors of the seventies that began with The Vampire Lovers (1970) and continued through Lust for a Vampire (1971) and Twins of Evil (1971), among others. And sure enough, there are plenty of moments of topless spectacle. But where those films follow a familiar plotline of bloodlust and erotic awakenings, Countess Dracula weaves a fascinating pattern of complicity, jealousy, and blackmail among the central quartet that gives the routine plotting a fascinating subtext.
Dobi resents the competition of Imre but serves the Countess faithfully nonetheless, securing her supply of young virgins while plotting to undermine the affair. Julie, Elisabeth's personal maid, is even more faithful to her mistress, little realizing that Elisabeth has imprisoned the real Ilona. And when Imre finally learns the truth about the Countess, he's neatly blackmailed into remaining her sexual slave. The four of them keep up the façade of normalcy as bodies are uncovered and the conspiracy is on the verge of collapsing under the Countess' obsessive escalation of killings and increasingly feral bloodlust.
Hungarian-born director Peter Sasdy, the most interesting of Hammer Studio's directors in this era of transition, brings a perverse psychological weirdness to the film, twisting and intertwining conflicting motivations and overwhelming emotional drives into a spiral of self-destructive acts that are far more fascinating than the usual battles of good and evil. He suggests the depraved atmosphere in the opening scenes, as the peasants hiss "devil woman" and "witch" when Elisabeth rides by. And he luxuriates in the Hammer style, with castle sets filled with period detail and color, village locations populated by hearty characters, great costumes, and of course streams and splashes of blood jumping out of the image.
Countess Dracula was previously available on DVD on an Ingrid Pitt double-feature with The Vampire Lovers from MGM. The film was originally cut for the U.S. market and received a PG rating, but it received an X certificate in the UK for the nudity and blood, and that version was restored for the non-anamorphic letterboxed DVD and for the new remastered Blu-ray. (Pitt was dubbed for the film by a British actress, but it's so well engineered that you'll only notice if you compare the voice with Pitt's other film appearances.) The color is strong and vivid and the image clean and sharp, a fine edition that should satisfy Hammer fans.
The disc includes the brief new featurette "Immortal Countess: The Cinematic Life of Ingrid Pitt," a routine but informative survey of her career with the usual suspects showing up as commentators (Ms. Pitt passed away in 2010), and an audio archival interview with Pitt that runs about nine minutes (but doesn't discuss this film). Carried over from the DVD is commentary with director Peter Sasdy, co-writer Jeremy Paul, and star Ingrid Pitt, moderated by Jonathan Southcott, and there is an animated still gallery.
By Sean Axmaker
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The term "video nasty" isn't exactly a common phrase in the U.S. but in Britain it defines an era of nanny state censorship. The British Board of Film Censorship, or BBFC, determined what could be shown in British theaters and often forced cuts to content or outright banned films, but home video did not exist when the law was written. When the video rental business took off in the 1980s, films that were either banned or censored in theaters were available uncut on tape. The fears of kids being emotionally scarred or corrupted by these tapes were fanned from an ember to a conflagration of controversy thanks to a campaign led by social conservative reactionary activist and self-appointed moral watchdog Mary Whitehead. Members of Parliament, riding the wave of public hysteria, passed the Video Recordings Act of 1984, which forced all videotape releases to be passed by the BBFC before they could be rented or sold in the UK. It imposed an even stricter content code on commercial videotapes than on theatrical releases and, though standards have eased in the decades since implementation, the act is still in effect.
Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide is a three disc set anchored by the Jake West's 2010 documentary Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape, a comprehensive history of the social hysteria and media coverage surrounding the call for censorship, the Parliamentary response, and the reverberations of the act. It opens with a quick montage of clips from the 72 films that were banned under the Video Recordings Act of 1984, with rapid-fire glimpses of gruesome, explicit, and just plain bizarre scenes from the movies. This films on this hit list range from the disreputable (Faces of Death, I Spit On Your Grave) to the notorious (Snuff, Cannibal Holocaust) to classics of the genre (The Evil Dead, Last House on the Left, Possession). Being a British production of a British phenomenon, some of the films cited feature a different title than their stateside release (Zombie Flesh Easter, for instance, is Lucio Fulci's notorious Italian horror originally titled Zombi 2 in Italy and retitled simply Zombie for the U.S.). The affection for these movies is apparent in from the opening minutes, as film historian and horror experts describe the forbidden attractions of films that were mostly, by their own assessments, "rubbish." It's not a matter of defending the films as great art. It's all about acknowledging them as cultural artefacts like any other: they entertain, in some cases inspire, and in a very few instances rise to the level of art.
Jake West is clearly an aficionado whose sympathies are with the horror fans and anti-censorship activists. He comes from a background of directing featurettes for DVD releases of horror films and has directed a couple of his own horror shorts. Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape plays like a high-quality, feature-length disc supplement with a significant budget, dominated by talking head interviews, interspersed with archival news clips and movie clips, and spiced up with cute video effects to parody the look of VHS tape wear and damage. It is also highly informative, packed with expert interviews, from horror historians to news reporters to officials and politicians from the era, and features essential archival footage of Mary Whitehead, former BBFC director James Ferman and other pro-censorship activists on TV talk shows and news reports. Fans of the genre may recognize some of more authoritative participants, like horror film historians Kim Newman and Alan Jones, British film and media historian Julian Petley, and genre film directors Neil Marshall and Christopher Smith. Other important voices include human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson and social scientist and academic Martin Barker, and on the pro-censorship side is Graham Bright, the conservative MP who introduced the bill and still proudly stands by his work.
The hysteria mirrors the American comic books scare in the fifties, when horror comics were accused of causing juvenile delinquency, a proposition backed up by flimsy research and non-existent studies that were never scrutinized by lawmakers. It became a media circus, with Whitehead proclaiming on TV "I have never seen a video nasty" and "Oh please, I actually don't have to see visually what I know is in that movie" and reporters refusing to challenge her. More appalling is the willful misrepresentation and wholesale fabrication of research that was presented in Parliament and picked up by the media without any due diligence. When the fraud was revealed, no one seemed to care. Who needs facts when you know you are right?
Tapes were confiscated from stores by police without warrant, based solely on directives from the BBFC, and some movies were initially banned by title alone, without ever actually being screened by the censors (among the confiscated titles: Sam Fuller's World War II drama The Big Red One and the musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas). Confiscated tapes were destroyed in a modern-day answer to a book burning. The BBFC gave explicit instructions to keep their ever-expanding lists of titles secret, not wanting to create further interest in them, but also creating a Kafkaesque environment of secrecy and control. Writer and director Andy Nyman explains that "the people that put through the act were convinced that what they were seeing in the films were real," and sure enough Graham Bright, the MP who introduced the original law, insists decades later that notorious films like Snuff and Faces of Death include real violence, still repeating the rumors as fact long after they had been dispelled.
72 films in all were banned for their violent content, but it's more than just about banning a few movies. This was a struggle over free speech. In the name of protecting children from unproven effects, the government made these works unavailable to adults as well. People went to jail for selling or renting these tapes. And when the act was proven to be invalid due to a legal misstep, it was simply reintroduced and passed without revisiting the disproven studies and hysterical claims rolled out when the initial law was passed.
39 films are still banned for their violent content. 33 other film were initially banned but subsequently acquitted and removed from the Director of Public Prosecution's list. Trailers for all 72 of those films are collected on the bonus discs of this three-disc set, "The Final 39" banned movies on Disc 2 and "The Dropped 33" on Disc 3. You can view them back to back as a running trailer show or with newly-filmed introductions by many of the historians, academics and genre journalists featured in the documentary. Or you can explore each title separately via the menu. It's over seven hours of trailers and introductions altogether, a substantial supplement with a sincere appreciation for the subject.
The trailers are actually a pretty good introduction to the films and why they were banned--some flaunt the money shots, at least in slivers, and all at least tease audiences with the promise of their most grotesque scenes of violence--and you can decide for yourself which of these warrant further investigation. These were once holy grails for hungry young horror fans in Britain (and even some in the U.S.), a kind badge of honor in some quarters, but today most of them are more interesting for their notoriety than their quality.
The final supplement is the "Video Ident-a-thon," a montage of logos from the VHS labels, runs almost an hour. It makes for some strange video wallpaper, a jolt of nostalgia for anyone who came of age in Britain in the eighties and a curiosity for the rest of us. It is located on the first disc with the documentary.
As for the video quality itself, the new interviews were shot on HD video and look just fine. The archival clips show their limitations and the film clips and trailers are standard definition and appropriately rough and ragged in places. It works just fine in the context of this production and it fact adds to the context of the grungy VHS era of video nasties.
By Sean Axmaker
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Is art worth fighting for? Dying for? These are questions posed in The Train (1964), a thrilling WWII action picture, both to the characters in the story and to us, the audience. When the art in question is a treasure trove of French impressionist art ("the heritage of France"), at risk of being hauled out of the country by Nazis to an uncertain fate, the questions become all the more difficult to answer.
How refreshing it is for a movie filled with eye-popping, visceral, kinetic action to also center around such a thoughtful dilemma. The Train is not only gripping but timeless, because the issues at its core are timeless.
It's also timeless in the way director John Frankenheimer, working from an Oscar-nominated script by Franklin Coen and Frank Davis (along with three uncredited writers), crafts an efficient, no-nonsense style that grabs audience attention right off the bat. Nazi Colonel Von Waldheim (Paul Scofield) quietly enters a building to look admiringly at scores of great impressionist paintings hanging on the walls. "Degenerate art," he tells a French curator. "I should detest it." But it's clear he doesn't, even as he then oversees the crating up of all this art in preparation for shipment to Germany. These are the last days of the German occupation of France. The Allies are closing in fast, and Waldheim wants to spirit the art away to Germany on a special train. The curator, however, informs the local French resistance of the scheme, and the French train-yard chief, Labiche (Burt Lancaster), is asked to prevent the train from leaving, or to at least to delay it long enough until the Allies to arrive in a few days' time.
And so begins a cat and mouse game between Waldheim and Labiche, who at first is dead-set against risking any lives for the art. Eventually, however, Labiche becomes as determined to keep the train in France as Waldheim is obsessed with getting it out. Labiche and his men concoct clever, elaborate schemes to delay and reroute the train under the constant noses of brutal Nazis. Scofield is positively brilliant as Waldheim, whose love for the art makes him at best a complex Nazi, and Lancaster, at age 50, delivers one of his most physical performances -- running, jumping, climbing trains, scrambling over walls, and sliding down steep hills. And for the last section of the film he does all that with a limp, caused by a real mishap he had while golfing on a day off. Frankenheimer later called Burt Lancaster "the strongest man physically I've ever known. He was one of the best stuntmen who ever lived. I don't think anybody's ever moved as well on the screen."
Frankenheimer shoots many of Lancaster's stunts in long, complex takes, often having his star end the shot in close-up, as if to impress us (successfully) that it was in fact Lancaster doing his own stunt work. The long takes also allow the audience to feel the visceral reality of the action. In this film, the trains are real, the locations are real, and the explosions are real: full-scale, with no effects work. This creates genuine impact, and is all the more impressive today, fifty years on, because very few movies with such large-scale action are ever still made in this way.
The Train impresses in other ways, too. Almost every shot in the film employs razor-sharp deep-focus photography, resulting in one of the most beautiful black-and-white features of the era. (This is said to be the last great action movie done in black and white.) Frankenheimer's handling of crowd scenes is remarkable, with wide shots crammed with action and extras deep in the frame. Here again, the long takes reveal an unbelievable amount of complicated choreography work. Often, Frankenheimer incorporates people and objects into the extreme foreground so as to emphasize the overall depth of the image. Even something as simple as Lancaster's initial walk through the train yard ends up being one of the most memorable shots in the movie, because of the massive amount of activity involving people and machinery going on all around him in the single take. And the sound design is phenomenal, with the screeching, groaning, hissing and metallic sounds of the moving trains adding immensely to the sense of gritty, sooty realism. Long sections of the film are constructed wordlessly, with the dramatic visuals and intense sound telling the story -- the mark of a first-class filmmaker.
Ultimately, The Train moves toward a thrilling final sequence that culminates with the final standoff we know must come. ("A painting means as much to you as pearls to an ape!" Scofield berates Lancaster.) It's to the film's credit, however, that it does not present the scene as a simplistic western-type showdown. The variation used works ever better, because it feels of a piece with the sense of loss permeating the German side of the things that has been established from the first moment of the movie.
Twilight Time's Blu-ray is beautiful. The Train surely hasn't looked or sounded this great since its initial theatrical release. On a new audio commentary track, film historians Nick Redman, Julie Kirgo and Paul Seydor offer good insights into the film, though a single commentary track with so many people is inherently a bit unwieldy, as participants tend to cut each other off or jump around erratically with their points. Kirgo also supplies superb liner notes with all sorts of interesting production information and analysis.
Otherwise, the Blu-ray retains the extra materials first seen on MGM's 1999 DVD release: an isolated score track, and another audio commentary track with director John Frankenheimer, who died in 2002. His comments are sporadic but fascinating, as he talks about the challenges of the production, his use of lighting and depth of field, and how he approaches a film in terms of the emotional stakes for an audience. Of Michel Simon, the famous French actor who plays to perfection the role of the ill-fated train engineer Papa Boule, Frankenheimer says, "That face! I just couldn't take the camera off him." He also talks of introducing the paintings as he would a human character in the opening sequence, which incidentally was the only one to be shot on a soundstage.
The Train, which Frankenheimer took over from director Arthur Penn after Penn and Lancaster had a falling out, turned Frankenheimer's life around; he spent a year on location in Normandy, then returned four years later to live there for seven years. In the meantime, he turned out a picture that impresses for its balance of large-scale drama and intimate cat-and-mouse conflict between vividly real characters. A great film.
By Jeremy Arnold
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One of several independent film companies attempting to establish a foothold in Hollywood was Enterprise Productions, which generated a string of quality pictures in the late 1940s. Enterprise's directors included Andre De Toth (Ramrod), Abraham Polonsky (Force of Evil) and Max Ophüs (Caught), but its only box office hit was Robert Rosson's Body and Soul with John Garfield.
Enterprise's biggest production is director Lewis Milestone's Arch of Triumph, from a novel by the noted Erich Maria Remarque, who had earlier written the source novel for Milestone's anti-war classic All Quiet on the Western Front. Producer David Lewis scored a coup by securing the services of stars Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. After only a few years in Hollywood, Bergman had been nominated for Best Actress three times and won once, opposite Boyer in Gaslight. Remarque's story took place in Paris just prior to the Nazi invasion, a place and time that Bergman had made her own in the wildly popular romantic thriller Casablanca. The highly anticipated movie seemed a guaranteed hit.
But author Remarque wrote few romances with happy endings. Having fled the Nazis, Austrian doctor Ravic (Charles Boyer) is an undocumented, stateless political refugee living in Paris. He earns money by practicing in secret. Helping maintain Ravic's anonymity is his best friend Maurice (Louis Calhern), a former Russian colonel who now works as a doorman at the Scheherazade Café. Ravic prevents a suicide by Joan Madou (Ingrid Bergman), an Italian-Romanian refugee who has taken a succession of lovers to survive. He cannot resist falling in love with her. Living by night and avoiding police, they travel to Antibes on the French Riviera. Joan attracts the attention of various playboys, including the wealthy & possessive Alex (Stephen Bekassy). Ravic becomes unsure of Joan's love. Back in Paris, Ravic catches a glimpse of a portly German on the streets of Paris, a man who may be Ivon Haake (Charles Laughton), the Nazi torturer who murdered Ravic's lover in Austria. Ravic is dead set on killing Haake, if he ever sees him again.
Arch of Triumph has been out of circulation for so long that fans of Ingrid Bergman will consider it a major discovery. Charles Laughton's following also jumps at the chance to see him in something 'new'. Unfortunately, the beautifully produced and directed film was a major box office flop. Neither an escapist romance nor an audience-friendly thriller, it's a grim drama about disillusioned and desperate people. By 1948 audiences no longer welcomed stories about political misery in Europe. They had embraced the wartime morale booster Casablanca mainly because of Bogie and Bergman. Warner's well made Confidential Agent starred Charles Boyer as a Spanish Republican dodging Franco agents in wartime England. Audiences didn't care about the issues involved, and noticed only that Boyer and co-star Lauren Bacall didn't generate much romantic chemistry. Carol Reed's The Third Man was a notable exception to this trend.
Audiences liked political complexity even less in the 1940s than they do now. Arch of Triumph was labeled as 'sluggish' and unfocused, which we can now read as, "doesn't follow the accepted pattern for wartime romance stories." The movie is surprisingly adult in its outlook. Ingrid Bergman's Joan Madou has fled to Paris. Unable to work, her only way to live is to find a man to take care of her. Dr. Ravik comes upon her because her lover has died in her bed. Terrified that the French police will nab her, she feels like a common prostitute. He's demoralized as well. It's a decidedly downbeat romance.
Arch of Triumph is fairly faithful to the novel by Erich Maria Remarque, one of the few authors who wrote passionately about civilians displaced by the upheavals of war. It's in the same vein as Remarque's novel Flotsam, an 'annihilating epic' in which half a dozen characters fleeing Nazi Germany roam across Europe looking for a non-existent haven. It was made into the impressive Sam Wood movie So Ends Our Night. Pushed from one country to another, refugees must live like criminals to avoid being sent back to prison or death in Germany. It's a story of betrayals, murders and noble suicides. So Ends Our Night was released in 1941 just as conditions turned grim for these stateless refugees. Most had fled to the haven of France, and when the Germans invaded, the majority were rounded up and sent to an unknown fate.
Unlike the desperate nomads of So Ends Our Night, Dr. Ravik hasn't had to walk halfway across Europe. He has some money and earns more practicing medicine on the sly. Close friend Maurice makes him welcome at the nightclub and tips him to potential trouble. Ravik is able to slip away to the South of France for a vacation with Joan. But their happiness could end at any moment. One slip-up would mean arrest and deportation to Germany, where the torturer Ivon Haake would surely finish him off.
The movie benefits from director Milestone's formalism and attention to character detail. The lighting, sets and costumes are more realistic than we expect. Nervous pre-war Paris is seen mostly by night. The movie offers noir atmosphere, incipient doom and the haunted face of Ingrid Bergman.
A screenwriting analyst would surely find fault with the movie's structure. Ravik and Joan's trip to Antibes dissipates much of the story's tension. How tough can things be when she's having a fine time in fancy dresses? We can see audiences wondering what's going on, as the rich are happily gambling even on the brink of war. The script also fumbles Ravik's vendetta against Ivon Haake. A flashback to a torture chamber (cue silhouette images) seems to come from a horror movie. At one point Ravik is arrested and spends months in Germany before escaping and returning to Paris. As most of this happens off-camera, we can't fully appreciate the hardships being suffered by thousands of refugees.
The movie also fails to utilize the talented Charles Laughton. Ivon Haake is only in the movie for a scene or two, and has no scenes with Ingrid Bergman. No longer in uniform, the German is apparently commuting between Berlin and Paris to prepare a secret police network for the coming occupation. Arch of Triumph is true to the novel (and history) but the audience must have felt cheated to be deprived of a 'big' Laughton scene.
What does work well is the romantic fireworks between Bergman and Boyer. The lovers only slowly reveal their feelings for each other, and are prevented from full commitment by their refugee status. When Ravik comes back from exile he finds Joan living in a swank apartment provided by the wealthy Alex. He forgives Joan and even gives her time to detach from Alex, who isn't happy that Ravik has re-entered the picture. But war is declared before any of this can be resolved. Ravik spots Ivon Haake again and prepares his trap.
As we expect, Ingrid Bergman comes through with an absorbing performance. She positively glows as a troubled woman whose life is out of control. The contradictions in Joan Madou remind us of films from the 1970s, when screen characters were allowed to be complex or ambiguous. Charles Boyer is also good but Milestone underplays the suicidal streak in Ravic's drive to kill Haake, and instead treats the doctor as more of a righteous avenger. Thus we expect a much bigger comeuppance for Haake.
Postwar audiences enjoyed dark stories, but the unsentimental Arch of Triumph asks them to be concerned about problems from a past they'd like to forget, and associated with uncomfortable politics. By 1948 America had aligned itself with occupied West Germany against new foreign enemies. We gave huge sums of money to charities helping displaced European orphans (see The Search) but mostly preferred to forget the ugly wartime situations chronicled by Erich Maria Remarque.
The film's political complexity now seems much more attractive. We're accustomed to movies about people trapped in grim political binds -- the new A Most Wanted Man is a spy movie that sympathizes with a stateless asylum seeker navigating a dangerous path. Audiences in 1948 may have rejected Bergman and Boyer's characters because they weren't noble idealists and selfless lovers, as in Casablanca. That's probably what attracted Bergman to the role, and it's why the movie is so interesting now.
Olive Films' Blu-ray of Arch of Triumph is a very good HD transfer of this hard-to-see picture. The show suffered a number of cuts either in reissue or when distributed to television, but UCLA has restored it to its full 133-minute running time. The images show some wear but Russell Metty's B&W cinematography looks terrific. The audio is also strong.
Enterprise Productions put everything it had into Arch of Triumph, with production values the equal of any big studio film. But audiences didn't "discover" the film and it earned back less than a third of its budget. It was the beginning of dramatic career changes for Ingrid Bergman. Just a couple of years later her Hollywood career was destroyed by the scandal of her affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini. The American press turned on Bergman with the kind of venom reserved for The Hollywood Ten, Charles Chaplin and the Rosenbergs. When she returned to American screens six years later, Arch of Triumph had been long forgotten. But fans of the actress will be happy to see her in such an interesting and demanding role.
Let's hope that Erich Maria Remarque's So Ends Our Night can also be rescued from obscurity -- at the moment the only video copies available are in very poor condition.
By Glenn Erickson
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The exhibition "The Making of 'Gone With The Wind'" commemorates the 75th anniversary of one of the most popular films ever created by exploring its history and legacy. The exhibition runs from Sept. 9 to Jan. 4, 2015, at the Harry Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at The University of Texas at Austin.
Featuring more than 300 items, the exhibition is drawn entirely from the Ransom Center's collections and includes on-set photographs, storyboards, makeup stills, costume sketches, concept art, correspondence and fan mail, production records, audition footage and producer David O. Selznick's own extensive memos. Three original gowns worn by Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara, including the iconic green curtain dress, will be exhibited together for the first time in more than 25 years. In 2010 donors from around the world contributed more than $30,000 to support conservation work for these costumes. Replicas of two gowns will also be on view.
From the time Selznick purchased the rights to the book, it took more than three years to bring the film to the screen. The materials in the exhibition document the challenges of turning Margaret Mitchell's Pulitzer Prize-winning book into a manageable screenplay and producing it at a reasonable cost.
Before a single frame was shot, "Gone With The Wind" was embroiled in controversy. There were serious concerns about how the film would depict race and violence in the South during the Civil War and Reconstruction. While Clark Gable was a popular choice to play Rhett Butler, there was no clear favorite for Scarlett O'Hara, and there was a nationwide search before British actress Leigh was cast in the role.
"'The Making of 'Gone With The Wind'" is the largest and most comprehensive exhibition on this film," said Steve Wilson, exhibition curator and the Ransom Center's curator of film. "The David O. Selznick archive, which is the Center's largest collection, forms the backbone of the exhibition, placing the Ransom Center in a unique position to tell the story of the making of this epic film."
The chronologically organized exhibition will reveal the challenges involved in the making of this quintessential film from Hollywood's Golden Age and illustrate why it remains influential and controversial 75 years after it was released. Visitors will get an insider's perspective on the search for an actress to play Scarlett, the film's iconic scenes, the influence of the African-American press on filmmakers' decisions and the enthusiastic reception of the film by fans.
A fully illustrated exhibition catalog of the same title will be co-published by the Harry Ransom Center and University of Texas Press in September with a foreword written by Turner Classic Movies (TCM) host and film historian Robert Osborne. Generous support for the exhibition has been provided by TCM.
The David O. Selznick holdings comprise the core of the Ransom Center's film collection, which also includes the archives of silent film star Gloria Swanson, screenwriters Ernest Lehman and Paul Schrader, director Nicholas Ray and actor, director and producer Robert DeNiro.
"The Making of 'Gone With The Wind'" can be seen starting Sept. 9 in the Ransom Center Galleries on Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended Thursday hours until 7 p.m. On Saturdays and Sundays the galleries are open from noon to 5 p.m. Member-only hours are offered on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to noon.
Public tours are offered every day at noon, as well as Thursdays at 6 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. "Gone With The Wind" screentests will be shown in the Ransom Center's first-floor theater at 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on weekends, immediately following the public tour.
In conjunction with the exhibition, the Ransom Center will host the 2014 Flair Symposium, "Cultural Life During Wartime, 1861-1865," from Sept. 18 to 20. The symposium will look back to the 19th century to examine the cultural world of Union and Confederate painters, photographers, musicians, theater companies and writers. The songs, images, poems, books and plays that appeared between 1861 and 1865 offer a nuanced perspective on the Civil War that challenges later narratives, both fictional and historical.
Complementing the physical exhibition is the web exhibition "Producing Gone With The Wind," which explores producing the film, including rarely seen fan mail from individuals who sought auditions, solicited employment and protested the production. Visitors can also see teletypes from Selznick's production company that detail the casting of Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara and explore the costumes, hair and makeup that contributed to the film's vibrant imagery. The web exhibition launches Sept. 9 at www.hrc.utexas.edu/webgwtw.
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DICK DINMAN SALUTES LEGENDARY VOCALIST VIC DAMONE (PART ONE): Producer/host Dick Dinman commences his six-show tribute to iconic vocalist Vic Damone as guest Vic Damone shares his reminiscences of his upbringing in a rough section of Brooklyn, the early influence of his idol Frank Sinatra, his first break and first of many hit recordings, and the generous help and encouragement of stars Perry Como and Milton Berle.
DICK DINMAN SALUTES LEGENDARY VOCALIST VIC DAMONE (PART TWO): Producer/host Dick Dinman continues his tribute to ever-popular song stylist Vic Damone as Vic chats about his first screen test courtesy of MGM producer Joe Pasternak and reveals the identity of the silver screen superstar who saved the day by guiding him through it, his stint in the Army that temporarily interrupted his rise to screen stardom, and his marriage ceremony to the troubled MGM star Pier Angeli as Angeli's ex-beau James Dean looks on mournfully.
The award-winning DICK DINMAN'S DVD CLASSICS CORNER ON THE AIR is the only weekly half hour show devoted to Golden Age Movie Classics as they become available on DVD. Your producer/host Dick Dinman includes a generous selection of classic scenes, classic film music and one-on-one interviews with stars, producers, and directors. To hear these as well as other DVD CLASSICS CORNER ON THE AIR shows please go to www.dvdclassicscorner.com or www.dvdclassicscorner.net.
NEXT MONTH! DICK DINMAN PRESENTS "THE VIC DAMONE STORY" (PART THREE AND FOUR).
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San Francisco Silent Film Festival follows its tremendously successful 19th annual Festival (May, 2014) with Silent Autumn on September 20th at the historic Castro Theatre. For information, please visit www.silentfilm.org.
The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is moving its annual winter event to fall, and with SILENT AUTUMN on September 20 it continues its mission to present masterpieces from the silent era with the finest musical accompaniment in the world. The program:
ANOTHER FINE MESS: SILENT LAUREL AND HARDY SHORTS
(USA, 1928-1929, Produced by Hal Roach, total running time is approximately 70 minutes)
This program features the splendid anarchy of the finest comedy team to grace the silver screen. Both Stan Laurel (the thin Briton with the elastic face) and Oliver Hardy (the rotund baby-faced American) were successful comedians before the met, but together they were genius! Many people know the duo from their later feature career which included Sons of the Desert (1933), Babes in Toyland (1934), and Our Relations (1936), and these rare short silents are sure to be a revelation! Included in the program: Two Tars (1928), Big Business (1929) and a surprise or two!
Musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin
THE SON OF THE SHEIK
(USA, 1926, Directed by George Fitzmaurice, 81 minutes)
Rudolph Valentino's last film picks up on the story of his extraordinarily successful The Sheik. The Son of the Sheik resumes about 25 years later, and Valentino again stars, this time as the son! Like his father, he's charismatic, athletic, and a ladies man. This wonderful swashbuckling romance is being presented in a new restoration by Ken Winokur and Jane Gillooly from excellent 35mm negative material.
Musical accompaniment by Alloy with the World Premiere of their new score!
A NIGHT AT THE CINEMA IN 1914
(USA/UK, 1914, 85 minutes)
Marking the centenary of the start of World War I, the British Film Institute has put together this glorious miscellany of comedies, adventure films, travelogues and newsreels recreates a typical night out at the cinema in 1914. Cinema a century ago was a new, exciting and highly democratic form of entertainment. Picture houses across the country offered a sociable, lively environment in which to relax and escape from the daily grind. With feature films still rare, the program was an entertaining, ever-changing roster of short items with live musical accompaniment. Among the highlights of this program of 14 short films are a quirky comic short about a face-pulling competition, a sensational episode of the American film serial The Perils of Pauline, an early aviation display, scenes of suffragettes protesting at Buckingham Palace and Allied troops celebrating Christmas at the Front. There is also an anti-German animation film and an early sighting of one of cinema's greatest icons.
Musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin
(USA, 1926, Directed by Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton, 75 minutes)
Consistently listed as one of the finest films of all time, The General was one of Keaton's favorites as well. In the film, Buster plays Johnnie Gray who falls into the Confederacy through love of his locomotive and his beautiful Annabelle Lee. Orson Welles said: "The greatest comedy ever, made, the greatest Civil War film ever made, and perhaps the greatest film ever made."
Musical accompaniment by Alloy Orchestra.
THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI
(Germany, 1920, Directed by Robert Wiene, 75 minutes)
The story of the hypnotist Dr. Caligari and his somnambulist Cesare is one of the earliest examples of a "psychological thriller" and one of the best known German films of all time. SFSFF's presentation will be the US premiere of the restoration of this brilliant German Expressionist film--restored using the original camera negative, resulting in a print quality worthy of its classic status. With Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Fehér, Lil Dagover.
Musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin
Tickets Information and Public Contact Numbers
Silent Autumn at the historic Castro Theatre will take place on September 20. For more information and to purchase tickets and passes, go to www.silentfilm.org.
San Francisco Silent Film Festival
833 Market Street, Suite 812
San Francisco, CA 94103-1828
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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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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