May 30, 2018
When Olive Films announced that it was releasing Cold Turkey (1971) on Blu-ray, it was the first I’d heard of this film starring Dick Van Dyke and Bob Newhart and directed by Norman Lear. It isn’t shocking that this comedy about a town that temporarily quits smoking in a bid to win a fortune never came across my radar before. It was filmed in 1969, deemed poor potential box office by the studio and released years later to little fanfare. This is a shame, because it’s an entertaining flick. I was glad to have the chance to give it a look.
Dick Van Dyke stars as a highly moral preacher who always hopes for a little more from his congregation than he can realistically hope to get, a fact his wife (Pippa Scott) understands with stoic silence. When the town mayor (Vincent Gardenia) tells him about a contest a tobacco company is sponsoring, where if an entire town can quit smoking for 30 days, it will win $25 million, Van Dyke realizes the civic improvements this windfall could fund and becomes determined to sign every last reluctant resident to a pledge of going cold turkey for a month.
The contest is the brainchild of an advertising executive (Bob Newhart, in an uncharacteristically and delightfully sleazy performance) who convinces the frail head of the Valiant Tobacco Company (Edward Everett Horton) that much like the Peace Prize established by weapons manufacturer Alfred Nobel, offering the prize could help the profile of Big Tobacco. It is a cynical effort though, as he doesn't believe any town could qualify for, let alone complete the challenge. Panic sets in when he realizes how much influence the reverend has on his town.
Cold Turkey is Norman Lear at an interesting point in his career. He’d built up a solid reputation as a television writer and producer, but was on the edge of his greatest successes with a remarkable run of shows like All in the Family, Sanford and Son, The Jeffersons, and One Day at a Time throughout the 70s and 80s. Here you even get a peek at Lear regular Jean Stapleton before she would forever be known as Edith Bunker.
While Cold Turkey follows the townspeople as they struggle to stay away from cigarettes, it’s really about the greed the experience arouses in them. At first they focus on the pain of withdrawal, and how ravenous, horny, and angry it makes them. Then the town’s seemingly impossible quest become the focus of national attention. Ad money begins rolling in, merchandise featuring the reverend and other town leaders begins to sell, and these ordinary people get to experience the glamour of appearing on TV.
Lionized and idolized, Reverend Brooks is wary of the hero worship and dismayed to no longer recognize his neighbors. Sure they were always tacky, and self-centered and shallow, but they were also essentially humble, hard-working, and more satisfied with life than the greedy, demanding mob they have so quickly become.
Backing up this intriguing premise is a cast of astonishing talent. It is remarkable that they were all assembled in the first place. In addition to those previously mentioned, television mainstay Tom Poston plays the town alcoholic and comedians Bob and Ray make an appearance as a pair of godly television presenters. Perhaps the most remarkable is Edward Everett Horton though, who in his last role communicates plenty, while remaining completely silent except for a single fart, which was apparently the first passing of gas recorded in a mainstream film. I could see him being amused that this moment was his swan song.
Many thanks to Olive Films for providing a copy of the film for review.
May 29, 2018
The audience attending Belle de Jour (1967) at the SIFF Cinema Uptown last night alternated between stunned silence and nervous giggles, a clear sign that Luis Buñuel’s tale of desire has retained its power over time. In a new 4K restoration from the original negative, the colors popped and Catherine Deneuve looked icily serene as she played a wealthy housewife rebelling against convention by pursuing her fantasies.
Deneuve is a young wife of leisure, somewhat happily married to, if a bit emotionally disconnected from a surgeon (Jean Sorel). His cheerful wholesomeness is at odds with her S&M-tinged sexual fantasies. Anxious to relieve the tension these daydreams create, she begins to work afternoons in a high end brothel, where she is called Belle de Jour. There a violent criminal becomes obsessed with her, a fact which both frightens and arouses her, and brings her fantasy life into harsh reality.
I was delighted to see that the house of Yves Saint Laurent was a donor to the restoration effort. The designer created Deneuve’s costumes, which do as much to establish her character as anything she says or does. The military-influenced structure, and the epaulettes on her shoulders, are a vivid reminder of the way society restricts fantasies like hers. On the other hand, she also garbs herself in furs, leathers and one particularly kinky-looking shiny, black raincoat which point to her animalistic and adventurous side.
|Deneuve's YSL raincoat, from a 2016 exhibit at Seattle Art Museum honoring the designer Photo: A Classic Movie Blog|
Buñuel’s fetishistic camera adds to the erotic appeal of those artfully crafted costumes. His obsession with shoes is especially pronounced, as he lingers on shiny pumps with pilgrim bucklers and patent leather boots that scream danger and perversion. He gives the same treatment to the objects in his heroine’s life, sweeping over an array of perfectly arranged bottles on her bathroom counter to announce her return to safety and order after her first afternoon at the brothel.
The highly-disciplined craft of these elements: the camera, costumes and Deneuve combine to create an erotic, dangerous tension which keeps the viewer intrigued and excited, but also uneasy. Much like the BDSM it reveals, Buñuel’s film demands the release of that tension, without regard for propriety and fully in service to desire. It is this boldness that gives Belle de Jour a timeless edge.
May 24, 2018
I love it when Warner Archive releases a flood of pre-codes. It almost makes up for the end of the Forbidden Hollywood box set series--almost. The company has thankfully stayed true to its promise to continue to make films from this era available on DVD. I enjoyed this latest batch, which includes a pair of flicks starring Ronald Coleman, early Kay Francis and Loretta Young talkies, and a good mix of genres.
A Notorious Affair (1930) is an unusual melodrama in that it features Kay Francis, but stars Billie Dove in what would eventually be the standard Francis role. Dove is a young heiress who falls in love with an impoverished musician (Basil Rathbone) and leaves her wealthy enclave for a more humble life. Rathbone falls for his thrill seeking patron, the Countess Balakiereff (Francis), causing Dove heartbreak and falling into ill health himself.
After watching Francis suffer nobly through so many melodramas, it is fun to see her be bad. With her slicked back bob and dangerous smile, she is the type to cap a flirtation with an attractive specimen below her balcony by tossing down her keys. I would have loved to have seen her in more roles like these, because it looks like she’s having a blast.
It’s rough to watch the usually dashing and devilish Rathbone play a weak and whiny character, though he does possess some consumptive glamour. Dove seems to think she deserves him, though she has better prospects. Still, despite her faulty romantic radar, she suffers elegantly, with those big eyes and a delicate bird beak nose that points down just so.
The Ship From Shanghai (1930) begins with a jaunty Chinese ensemble playing Singin’ in the Rain in a Shanghai nightclub. It’s about the last light moment in this tense flick that all but creates the template for many a shipbound terror flick.
Wealthy Conrad Nagel and and Kay Johnson join a group from their set on 3-month yacht voyage across the Atlantic. There they are eventually held captive by the vengeful ship steward (Louis Wolheim) and crew, who despise the snooty passengers and their high-handed ways. Of course, the truth is the steward only longs to be a part of their world, a fact made clear when he puts the moves on Johnson.
The film takes a sharp dive from playful luxury, to sweaty, nasty horror. You spend the first part of the film observing the off-putting privileged passengers and the next repulsed by Wolheim and his men. It isn’t enthralling drama, but it serves its purpose as a solid entertainment and keeps a good pace through its 67 minute running time.
The Devil to Pay (1930), stars Ronald Coleman as an irresponsible playboy attempting to bounce back from his careless loss of another chunk of his father’s fortune. Cut off from the family coffers, he returns to his mistress, but soon abandons her for a young heiress. This airy set-up then begins to deflate, as the necessary romantic conflict is something more easy to resolve than the plot would have it.
The film features a teenage Loretta Young as the heiress and Myrna Loy as Coleman’s actress mistress in a rare early role where she doesn’t play an Oriental temptress. As Coleman’s love interests, the effect they have varies widely. While Loy is charming and more age-appropriate for her male lead, she hasn’t yet honed the edges of the sharply appealing persona that would be the cornerstone of her legend. On the other hand, Young seems to have arrived in the talkies with her image fully-formed, if a bit coltish.
Coleman is reliably elegant and mischievous in a role that John Gilbert could also have mastered with ease. It’s a fun romp, enjoyable because for most of the running time you get the simple enjoyment of watching these attractive people at play.
Condemned (1929) also headlines Ronald Coleman, this time as a prisoner on Devil’s Island. Upon his arrival on a tightly-packed ship, he and his fellow prisoners are told there is not escape, upon which he turns to wink at his friend (Louise Wolheim). The warden (Dudley Diggs) observes Coleman’s elegant manner and decides to put him to work for his wife (Ann Harding) in their home.
The pair hit it off right away, establishing a friendly rapport. They are two attractive people though, and the inevitable happens: Coleman buys Harding a monkey in the market, inflaming her passions and Diggs’ envy. The pair plan to escape together, with the help of Wolheim (he's one of those bruisers with a big heart and a delightfully smooshed nose).
Coleman and Harding have a solid, if not sizzling, chemistry and the action moves along efficiently. While much of the story runs along familiar lines, there are a few good jolts away from predictability.
Of the films reviewed here, Condemned has the most notable wear and tear, with lots of hiss and popping on the soundtrack, though the image is for the most part clean and clear.
The best of the bunch is The Lost Squadron (1932), a post-World War I drama set in Hollywood. Upon release from the army, a quartet of American fliers (Richard Dix, Joel McCrea, Robert Armstrong, and Hugh Herbert) pledges allegiance to each other and their fallen countrymen, who they refer to as “the lost squadron.” Jobs are scarce, but alcoholic Armstrong finds success as a stuntman in the movies and eventually the other three find work alongside him.
Hollywood is no safe haven though, as Dix runs afoul of a sadistic director (Erich von Stroheim). The men find themselves faced with an enemy more deadly than any they ever faced in wartime. Mary Astor and Dorothy Jordan are the women in their lives, and while this is an emphatically male-driven film, these actresses have a powerful presence.
The Lost Squadron has an unusually vibrant soundscape for an early talkie, drawing much of its drama from eerily rushing wind, whistling, and the shifts between quietly eerie or contemplative scenes and more raucous, celebratory moments. It is this high level of craft, and the charisma of the varied cast which make this an unsung gem worthy of classic status.
Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing copies of the films for review. These are Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVDs. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.
May 22, 2018
The documentary That Summer (2017), which I viewed last night at a SIFF screening at the Ark Lodge Cinema, has been called the “Prequel to Grey Gardens,” because it features footage of Edith Bouvier Beale and Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale, the mother and daughter captured before that famous 1975 Maysles brothers film, in 1972, years before production. In a project conceived by Lee Radziwill, cousin and niece to the Edies, and the photographer and collage artist Peter Beard, the women were to play a role in a documentary the pair planned to make about the effect development had on the environment in the Hamptons.
After capturing hours of footage at the Beales’ home, the project died for reasons unknown and the film was put into storage. Now that film has been edited into this free form documentary,in which Radziwill and Beard also provide insight about what they filmed and what it was like to spend time with the Edies.
It is a less expertly crafted film than Grey Gardens, but in a way more revealing and compassionate. While the Maysles concentrated on the Beales, here you are given a more detailed view of the decay of Grey Gardens and efforts to restore it somewhat. As Radziwill discusses plumbing and electrical wiring with contractors, Little Edie flits around the edges. You wonder if reality has punctured her bubble of fantasy when it appears a bit of humiliation flickers across her face. She explains that she has done the best she can to manage, that the garbage piled up because the trucks would not come to pick it up.
It is also more clear how much Big Edie controlled her daughter, and how, despite her love for her mother, Little Edie resented her imprisonment as her caretaker. This magnetic and attractive woman could likely have escaped in marriage in her early years, but clearly prefers full independence with a side of romance, which was not an option.
Though Little Edies’ dissatisfaction is clear, Beard chooses not to see it, revering the women as brilliant creators of their own world. While this is true of Little Edie as a matter of survival, it is clearly not the life she desires. From his perspective they are both happy. Though it is hard to be sure, it seems Radziwill also sees both the women as living how they choose. That they cannot see this woman’s depression and her unmet desires is frustrating.
That said, Radziwill is for the most part appears to be an entrancing and compassionate woman. She loves and respects her aunt and cousin, accepting them for who they are completely. Garbed in immaculate, expensive, and highly inappropriate ensembles for overseeing remodeling, she is polite and refined, but never stuffy. Her genuine warmth, and the funds she was able to secure from brother-in-law Aristotle Onassis, are the reason the Beales were able to stay in their home and made to feel they belonged, at least to a degree.
That Summer succeeds on the strength of the remarkable people it features. It isn’t well constructed; the clips of the Beales are presented unedited, essentially padded with the home movies and musings of Beard and Radziwill (he in brief vignettes that bookend the film and audio clips, she via the audio from a 2013 interview with Sofia Coppola) so that the film is barely feature length. As entrancing as the Edies can be, there are moments when their bickering becomes repetitive and tiresome, the footage would have benefited from an edit.
Grey Gardens fans will love this film though, flaws and all. It takes the viewer deeper into the Beales’ world and expands it to people only referenced in the Maysles documentary. Those not familiar with these eccentric East Hampton outcasts are likely to find it less compelling and even a bit confusing, if maybe somewhat dazzling because of cameo appearances of Radziwill’s and Beard’s social circle including Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger, and Bianca Jagger.
The film will show once more at SIFF on Tuesday, May 28 at 6:30 PM at the SIFF Cinema Uptown.
May 20, 2018
The 44th Seattle International Film Festival: Sansho the Bailiff (1954) and Godard, Mon Amour (2018)
My first day of the 44th Annual Seattle International Film Festival was a varied and long, starting with a Secret Festival screening at the Egyptian Theater (that’s all I can say about that) and traveling through time, from feudal Japan to 1960s France.
I didn’t know anything about Sansho the Bailiff (1954) going into the film, except that director Kenji Mizoguchi is among the most celebrated Japanese filmmakers. I looked forward to seeing a restored version of the film for my first viewing and I was not disappointed. It sounded great and the mistily beautiful cinematography was presented to great effect.
Sansho is the story of a wealthy family who are separated when their governor father is exiled. They each fall into misfortune, primarily due to the heartless actions of the titular Sansho, whose trade is human bodies and the labor and pleasures they offer. Imprisoned and abused, all these unfortunate souls possess is the strength to stay true to their beliefs, though even that is not always assured.
Mizoguchi had a talent for finding the right people and setting them free on his productions. The wisdom of this approach is most evident in the achingly elegant, long shots of cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa, and the simultaneously enchanting and menacing music score composed by Fumio Hayasaka, Kinshichi Kodera, and Tamekichi Mochizuki. These beautifully composed elements give the film a grace that does nothing to diminish the horrors on display, but does give the viewer the strength to absorb it all.
You do need strength to watch this film too, because it isn’t out to bring villains to justice, but rather to bring their evil deeds into the light. No resolution is offered, but in the end, everything lands in a place of love and forgiveness which can only come from the pursuit of integrity.
Godard Mon Amour (2017) is the lighter, vaguely slapstick story of film director Jean Luc-Godard in the period after he had made the revolutionary Maoist flick La Chinoise (1967) and married its young star, Anne Wiazemsky.
The film passes through the decade plus they spend together. In this time Godard is faced with fans who want him to “be funny again” and engage him in conversations with no purpose or end. The director struggles to find acceptance for his new work, a film about revolution, while he tangles with what it means to be a revolutionary in the first place.
This exploration takes place in public, in the midst of protests and rooms of passionate youths who are always pained and outraged when Godard takes the mike and tries to work out what he means to say in real time. He realizes he is aging out of being an angry young man and that his youthful wife will not turn the clock back for him.
As Godard, Louis Garrel captures some of the edgy, itchy restlessness of the filmmaker in a mostly comic performance in which he is shown to be out of sync when it comes to interacting with the world, a fact emphasized with a running gag in which his glasses are constantly broken.
Rather than exude the pouty reproachful look of Wiazemsky, Stacy Martin has the appearance, and passive air of Chantal Goya in Godard’s 1966 film Masculine Feminine. Because of this, I was never able to accept that the woman on the screen was meant to be the same person as that budding revolutionary in La Chinoise. The real Wiazemsky appears more passionate and intelligent than this blank-faced, if strong-willed waif.
There are laughs and insight enough for Godard aficionados in Godard Mon Amour. Fans of director Michel Hazanavicius will likely not get the same charge here as with The Artist (2011) or the OSS:117 films, though at times there is similar humor at play. Overall, it gives you the feeling that you are passing time with these characters without ever understanding much about them but that they existed.
The film plays SIFF again at the Majestic Bay Theater on Tuesday, 5/22 at 9PM.
May 18, 2018
I can never get enough of Gun Crazy (1949). It’s an addictive flick. The high-energy performances, its erotic charge, the rhythm of it, and director Joseph Lewis’ economical, effective style elevated this ‘B’ production to classic status. Now it is making its Blu-ray debut with a new 1080p HD master, from Warner Archive.
The story itself, based on a short story by MacKinlay Kantor is basic crime noir: a pair of gun fanatics meet at a carnival, become fanatical about each other, and start robbing people. In the performance that made her a noir legend, Peggy Cummins is Annie Laurie Starr, a sideshow sharpshooter who will not hesitate to kill in order to get what she wants. Bart Tare (John Dall) wants her the moment he sees her, because he has always been obsessed with guns himself, though he is her opposite in that he is strongly averse to killing.
Nestled within this dark, violent story is one of the most passionate and true cinematic love affairs. So often romance is insincere in noir. It’s the tool of a femme or homme fatale, used but not felt. That is not the case here, where Annie and Bart are so ecstatically in love that they sometimes can’t think straight. Cummins is most adept at demonstrating this passion, though it should be noted that she appears to get the same erotic charge from robbing a bank.
The film is at its best when Lewis films his lovers as if they have been caught in a candid moment, interacting casually instead of acting. The best example of this is in the famous bank robbery sequence that was shot with one camera, set up in the backseat of the getaway car. As they drive towards the scene of the crime-to-be, Annie and Bart speak casually, like a couple heading to the grocery store. He lights her a cigarette and gives her directions; she comments on the heavy traffic and makes little explanations with the appearance of spontaneity. No romantic clinch could demonstrate their intimacy better than this scene.
Gun Crazy a great film, because it effortlessly combines its seemingly offhand scenes of intimacy with more conventional, and adeptly framed action scenes and passionate declarations.
The picture quality is great, retaining that bit of grain necessary to emulate the warmth of film. Special features on the disc include commentary by author/film-noir specialist Glenn Erickson and the 2006 documentary Film-Noir: Bringing Darkness to Light, which is an excellent primer to those new to film noir and has some interesting tidbits for genre enthusiasts.
Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.
May 16, 2018
Book Review--Magnificent Obsession: The Outrageous History of Film Buffs, Collectors, Scholars, and Fanatics
Magnificent Obsession: The Outrageous History of Film Buffs, Collectors, Scholars, and Fanatics
University Press of Mississippi, 2018
Even from the early days of film, cinema fanatics have existed in some form. Though not always known as film buffs, these mostly white, male, and socially awkward aficionados have been present and of an essentially consistent character over the decades. In a new book, prolific film writer Anthony Slide explores the world of these super fans for whom the movies are a life-consuming obsession.
This is a community with which Slide is intimately familiar, which gives the book an authenticity that would be impossible to achieve as an objective observer. He goes into the history of movie fandom, collecting, and the connecting culture, even explaining the origin of the term “film buff.” There is also much attention given to the habitat of the film fanatic, from theaters and bookstores to trade shows and private screenings.
Most fascinating of all though, are the people from this world. Slide has known many of them personally and they are an unusual bunch. Though I already knew a lot about the social awkwardness, theft, and eccentric personalities to be found in this milieu, I found plenty to surprise me here. I had also had a taste of the bizarre behavior to be found in this scene via a series of difficult and oddly amusing phone calls with one of the men featured in this book in the process of arranging an interview with an actor several years ago. Despite all this, I didn’t expect the level of aggressively antisocial, sexually depraved, and mentally unstable behavior I found here.
There are plenty of likable, or at least enjoyably eccentric characters featured in the book, but for the most part this is an unpleasant bunch. There’s the man who stalked Leonard Maltin, calling him in tears in New York from LA, (unsuccessfully) inviting himself on a trip with him and his wife Alice, and actually showing up at their apartment building and leaving a letter for the film critic in the lobby. Another film fanatic kidnapped a woman who lived in his building, stripped her naked, taped her to a chair and spray-painted her black. And among the most devoted collectors of film and memorabilia there are many who took advantage of those who wanted access to their rare collections, some even exhibiting psychopathic behavior.
In the midst of these lurid can’t-look-away tales of social dysfunction is a mostly unorganized, and in some cases unintended movement to save and promote cinematic history. The beauty of that passion and preservation in the midst of this fandom is like a rose in a trash heap.
All told, it’s a fascinating story, with plenty of unexpected twists and turns. Slide doesn’t hesitate to share who he thinks is boring, sleazy or unattractive. He also has plenty of love for those he admires in this scene. Often, he feels both ways about the same subject. You need never wonder what he really thinks.
The digs, which come with a sort of affection for these people who have through their obsession done much for film history, give the book a personal feel. Slide is often a a part of the story, whether through his presence at various events he describes, the friendships he has had with film buffs and those connected with them, and his connection with the community as a writer and film expert. Whether or not he sees himself as a film buff is not made clear, but he knows the world of film fanatics intimately. The title of his book is apt; this is truly an "Outrageous History."
Many thanks to University Press of Mississippi for providing a copy of the book for review.
May 11, 2018
No actress gave the classic melodramatic weeper more depth than Kay Francis. In a genre crafted to manipulate emotions, she threw herself into the drama with such abandon that you can’t help forgiving her for working your tear ducts so relentlessly. Now on DVD from Warner Archive, Comet Over Broadway (1938) showcases the actress at her glamorous, self-sacrificing best.
Francis plays an ambitious newsstand worker who lives with her husband and baby daughter. She spends her days reading Variety and her nights performing in community theater, always dreaming of big stage success. When her husband accidentally kills a visiting famous actor who he suspects of putting the moves on Francis, he is put in prison for life.
Determined to get her man out of jail, the guilt-ridden Francis hits the road with her daughter, working her way up from carnival entertainer to Broadway star. Along the way she meets an aging actress on the verge of retirement. She notes the trouble Francis has raising a child on the road and insists that she take on the task of raising the young girl. Though reluctant to part with her, she agrees that it is the best for her daughter.
As the years pass, Francis falls in love, reunites with her daughter and fights for her husband. She is criticized for her ambition and her poor mothering, but is nevertheless determined to do things her own way. There are syrupy strings, eyes full of tears always on the brink of falling, and sacrifices galore.
Sybil Jason plays Francis’ daughter. It’s her second pairing with the actress, they were also mother and daughter in I Found Stella Parish (1935). As in that film, they have a pleasing chemistry, playing off each other well in some of the film’s most emotionally wrenching scenes. Jason was groomed to be a sparkling Shirley Temple type, but she was more appealing as a dramatic star, always approaching her roles with sincerity and genuine warmth.
Bette Davis rejected the lead of Comet Over Broadway because she felt it was beneath her, which is fair, it was. However, in Francis’ hands this is a perfect melodrama. She knew exactly what she was doing in this kind of film and in her way she is just as good as Davis because, like her, she knew her lane and she kept in it.
Few genres are more derided that melodrama, but if it is done well, it essentially thrives in its own universe. It is a heightening of reality, grabbing directly for your emotions and if it is the ride you want to take, Comet Over Broadway is the perfect expression of the form.
Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. This is a Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVD. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.
May 9, 2018
As the title character of Joe (1970) Peter Boyle spits out a stream of bigoted patter that would have come as a shock a couple of years ago. Now it is a familiar fact of life, an unpleasant reminder that hatred may go into hiding, but never fully fades away. While some of the issues it explores are relevant to today, this gritty, bleak drama is very much of its time, a sort of farewell to a turbulent era. Now available on Blu-ray from Olive Films, it is a surprisingly good-looking film despite its brutal feel.
Boyle plays an angry factory worker who hates black people, hippies, drugs, and youth culture. While drunkenly spouting off at a bar, he meets Bill (Dennis Patrick), an advertising executive who has killed his daughter’s drug-dealing, junkie boyfriend in a fit of rage. Delighted to meet a man who has fulfilled his dreams of murdering hippies, Joe attaches himself to the frightened executive, finding common ground in their hatred and clashing uncomfortably on just about every other level.
They drink together, have an awkward dinner party with their wives, and go on a scornful tour of hippie-dom where they don’t mind enjoying the attentions of a couple of free-love endorsing women. Adding to the discomfort is that Bill’s strung-out daughter (Susan Sarandon in her first film role) is the same age as these women and living the supposed hippy lifestyle he protests, while enjoying the benefits of the looser morals it inspires. There’s always a feeling of dread when these two are together, but it is Joe who generates the most fear. Bill has already killed, but you always have the feeling that Joe, encouraged by his friend’s perfect crime, could do a lot worse.
Much like the shocking rock documentary Gimme Shelter (1970), released the same year, Joe feels like a sort of death knell for the free-loving, experimental aspects of the sixties. All the hippies are burned out and the establishment remains intact, and ever more determined to maintain control.
It is a grimy, bummer of a story, and so it is astonishing how beautiful it can look. In a film made for a washed out palette, colors are instead often vibrant and sometimes dreamily beautiful. The landscape is bleak, but somehow something pleasing comes out of it.
Boyle plays a repulsive character, but he is true to himself and entirely lacking in pretension. It is likely that these qualities, in addition to his giving voice to views that were becoming unpopular, but remained strongly-held by many, contributed to the heroic image he had among fans of the film, a worship that horrified Boyle, who was repulsed by the man he played.
While for the most part compelling, in the end Joe’s message loses its subtlety. It circles back on previous conversations in a way that would almost be risible if it weren’t so gut-wrenchingly sad. What remains is the feeling that the party has ended, drugs aren’t fun anymore, and not much has changed.
Many thanks to Olive Films for providing a copy of the film for review.
May 7, 2018
On Blu-ray: Friz Lang Does Noir in While the City Sleeps (1956) and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956)
Director Fritz Lang had an astounding career. Influential, enduring, and inventive, he was able to adapt from silents to talkies and then from European to Hollywood filmmaking while keep his own unique style. I recently had the chance to watch two crime noir titles from late in his career: While the City Sleeps and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (both 1956), both of which are available now on Blu-ray from Warner Archive.
It can be difficult to focus on the twists and turns of While the City Sleeps (1956) because of its astounding cast. I found myself spending most of the running time in disbelief that Dana Andrews, Rhonda Fleming, George Sanders, Howard Duff, Thomas Mitchell, Vincent Price, and Ida Lupino all somehow ended up together in a movie. It has the effect of an explosion of personalities. They’re all so charismatic and there are only 99 minutes to cover their various story lines, and so it is incredible that the final result is as entertaining and well balanced as it is.
That said, there are so many appealing personalities that you never feel like you get quite enough time to enjoy everyone. They all have their moments though: Sanders plotting with Lupino while he bruises peaches in a champagne glass, Price smirking under a portrait of his father as he wrecks havoc on a media giant, and Rhonda Fleming looking like a trophy wife, but acting like a bruiser, both mentally and physically.
The story is set in the media world, where newspaper, television, and wire service magnate Amos Kyne (Robert Warwick) dies suddenly, leaving his empire to his underqualified son (Price). At the same time, a young man (John Drew Barrymore, Jr.) is murdering ladies who live alone, a case that Kyne had been following with interest. The younger Kyne decides to use the murder to play his company executives Mitchell, Sanders, and James Craig against each other in a competition for a juicy promotion. Whoever solves the murder first gets the job.
For the most part, the plot zips along efficiently, performances are solid and the proceedings are alternately thrilling and humorous. Barrymore is the weak spot, playing his psychopathic character too far over the top and contrasting badly with his more subtle costars. There is never any mystery as to who is doing the killing, making the methods these men use to win the focus of the action. There’s a lot going on here; it’s the kind of film that rewards multiple viewings.
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956), has less zing, but is a solid, for the most part straight forward thriller. It once again stars Dana Andrews, in addition to Joan Fontaine as his fiancée. Andrews plays a writer who plots with Fontaine’s father, a newspaper publisher (Sidney Blackmer) to prove the danger of the death penalty by making it appear that the younger man has committed a murder. The plan is for the publisher to exonerate Andrews before conviction, but a car accident disrupts their plans.
While the action proceeds intriguingly enough, it’s a bit off-putting how low energy everyone is about the shocking events unfolding. You’d expect more emotion than this in reaction to alarming and life-threatening dangers. That coolness is in some ways deceptive though and is perhaps of benefit as the plot unfolds.
Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. This is a Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVD. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.
May 5, 2018
The 44th Seattle International Film Festival is coming up fast! I am looking forward to covering SIFF with a focus on the interests of fans of classic film for a sixth year. From May 17 to June 10 I will be in cinematic heaven as I explore the especially fascinating offerings on the program this year.
While the archival offerings are a bit thin as far as older films go, overall the festival has a lot of interesting options for classic movie fanatics. I will report on several of these titles throughout the month of the festival:
Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day (1972)
Saturday, 5/19, 10:00AM, SIFF Film Center
One of the most fascinating selections on the SIFF schedule, this 478 minute television series directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder will screen with two intermissions. For those who are not up for a lengthy marathon, the show will also screen each Wednesday of the festival.
With a an especially upbeat tone for Fassbinder, this series explores the life and community of a toolmaker in postwar Germany. Beloved in Europe upon its initial run, it has not been readily available to American audiences in the years since its broadcast. I’ve been hearing good things about this one. As crazy as it may sound, it may be best experienced as a marathon.
That Summer (2017)
Monday, 5/20, 9:00PM, Ark Lodge Cinemas
Tuesday, 5/29, 6:30PM, SIFF Cinema Uptown
New facets of the story Beales of Grey Gardens, the mother and sister who were made famous in a 1975 documentary filmed by Albert and David Maysles, can be seen in this new film that documents the lives of the famous and the Beales in the Hamptons in the summer of 1972. I’m eagerly anticipating this new perspective on the lives of these endlessly compelling women, with input from the likes of Andy Warhol and Lee Radziwill.
Belle de Jour (1967)
Monday, 5/28, 6:30, SIFF Cinema Uptown
Catherine Deneuve is placidly dissatisfied as a bored housewife who turns to sex work for afternoon entertainment. Director Luis Bunuel uncovers an exciting and dangerous fantasy world in this French classic. I’m looking forward to finally seeing this on the big screen.
Being There (1979)
Saturday, 6/2, Noon, SIFF Cinema Uptown
This Hal Ashby film is one of the director’s best and also features top performances from Peter Sellars, Shirley MacLaine, and Melvyn Douglas (in an Oscar-winning role). It’s a timely exploration of how people see what they want to see and give power to those who they think will keep them safe in their beliefs.
Found Footage Festival: Cherished Gems (2018)
Wednesday, 6/6, 9:15 PM, SIFF Cinema Egyptian
VHS collectors Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher share unusual videos from their extensive tape collection. The pair will comment on clips from bizarre commercials, training videos and the like in what sounds like a wild live show.
Sansho the Bailiff (1954)
5/20, SIFF Cinema Uptown, 2:00 PM
I’ve never heard of this medieval-set tale directed by Kenji Mizoguchi, and am looking forward to seeing it for the first time in a new restoration.
The Changeling (1980)
6/5, 6:30 PM, SIFF Cinema Uptown
This gothic horror classic will be of special interest to locals in the audience, because it features several location shots in Seattle. Can’t quite wrap my mind around the fact that George C. Scott plays a UW professor though. A new 4K restoration of the film will be screened.
Le Crime de Monsieur Lange (1936)
6/3, 2:00 PM, SIFF Cinema Uptown
I am excited to finally have a chance to see this lesser-known title in the filmography of one of my favorite directors, Jean Renoir. It is a story of corruption and worker uprising in the world of pulp book publishing made early in the director’s career.
Godard Mon Amour (2017)
Sunday, 5/20, 7:00 PM, AMC Pacific Place
Tuesday, 5/22, 9:00 PM, Majestic Bay
The early reviews are mixed of this biopic of Jean-Luc Godard directed by Michael Hazanavicius (The Artist ), but I am curious to see it because it features his relationship with first wife Anne Wiazemsky, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Hazanavicius.
Friday, 6/1, 6:00 PM, SIFF Cinema Uptown
Sunday, 6/3, 12:30 PM, SIFF Cinema Uptown
I’m delighted to see this documentary about Hal Ashby on the schedule, because while many of his films are celebrated, he’s never been fully given his due as a successful and influential director. I mean Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Coming Home, and Being There? That’s a varied and adventurous filmography and I’m looking forward to learning more about the man behind these films.
Thursday, 5/31, 7:30PM, The Triple Door
The silent movie screenings with live musical accompaniment at the Triple Door are always a highlight of SIFF, but this year’s selection is especially intriguing. Seattle band My Goodness will be playing with this Italian drama inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy. The elaborately conceived production features pioneering Méliès-flavored special effects.
May 4, 2018
I almost gave up and slept in on Sunday morning, but I knew I had to experience Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) in the Chinese Theater. Assuming that many people would skip the morning block, I showed up washed, but thoroughly ungroomed, minutes before the line was led into the theater.
|I'm not here for the cameras|
Director John Sayles took an appropriately cowboy-like stance as he introduced the film. He had a lot to share, and it was interesting, but knowing how long the movie was, I eventually wanted to get the show on the road.
I then sobbed my way through one of the most magnificent movies ever made, moved by every extreme close-up or twang of the Ennio Morricone score. At the end I sat there huddled over a tissue thinking how much I loved movies and that theater. Of course I was exhausted and emotional, but it was also a moment of deep appreciation for what movies have brought to my life. Enjoyed individually and as part of a community, they have meant more to me than I can express.
After the film I finally slowed down for a decent lunch with a good friend. For future festivals I need to remember Whealthy, another build-your-own bowl place just outside the back door of the Chinese Multiplex. Many of the restaurants I went to during this year's festival had plenty of vegetable options available and as a result I ate much better than in previous years and noticed a dramatic improvement in my energy and mood. It pays to balance out all the popcorn and Junior Mints when you are navigating this crazy schedule.
After that, I visited The Hollywood Museum, which is located in the former Max Factor building, just off Hollywood Boulevard. My main goal was to check out the Batman ’66 exhibit, but there are so many other wonderful things to see in the permanent collection:
|Eartha's Catsuit was worth the price of admission|
|A gorgeous portrait that was part of the Jean Harlow exhibit|
|A tiny costume Elizabeth Taylor wore in Giant (1956)|
Then in a great piece of luck, I got to catch the TBD screening of This Thing Called Love (1940), which I had skipped before for another must-see. Illeanna Douglas introduced the film, which starred her Grandpa Douglas (aka Melvyn Douglas) and Rosalind Russell. It’s about a newly-married couple who at the suggestion Russell have embarked on three months of chastity so that they may ensure that they are compatible in other ways.
|Illeana Douglas had A+ backlighting for this intro.|
It’s a silly, fast-moving film, which at one point didn’t work to my advantage. I fell asleep for about five minutes, and woke up at the start of a dinner party where all the jokes set up in the previous five minutes paid off. Everyone else was laughing and I had no idea why. I thought I had ruined the movie for myself, but was eventually able to catch up. I hope I can see it again sometime.
|The best thing about sitting in the balcony of the Egyptian is gawking at the ceiling|
I reluctantly went back to the hotel to pack before joining many friends new and old in the forecourt of the Egyptian Theater to line up for A Star is Born (1937). I couldn’t think of a better way to end the festival. It was a lot of fun to see Janet Gaynor wandering around the forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theater with nary a beer-bellied Spiderman in sight.
Alicia Malone interviewed director William Wellman's son William Wellman, Jr. before the film.
Then on to the chaos of the closing night party, which is an introvert’s nightmare. This was my best year dealing with that mess, because I discovered several of my friends had nabbed a booth in a quiet corner and people were dropping by to visit. That made it all much easier!
|Ahhh, relative peace and calm|
When the lights came up on the party, I joined an expedition to In ’n Out, which was as packed as if it was the noon rush. It was good to have a chance for one more chat though. Our goodbyes were reluctant, but airy, because we all knew how fast a year can go.
I’m already mulling over what to eat, what side trips to take, and how else I can make next year’s TCMFF even better. It’ll be hard to top 2018.
I wanted to wrap up with a few observations about the TCMFF experience--
Hand and Footprint Fail
Every year I try to go visit the hand and footprints made in the TCMFF ceremony for the previous year. This year I wanted to visit Carl and Rob Reiner's prints from the 2017 event. I knew that all new prints were close to the theater and I searched in confusion for quite a while until I found this:
Yes, the Reiners were under a handtruck, which was stuck under a big box, so I couldn't move it. I figured if anyone would have a sense of humor about this, it would be those two.
Beautiful theaters like the historic Egyptian and Grauman's Chinese are an important part of the joy of TCMFF. These are some of my favorite places in the world to spend time:
I mentioned this to a local last year and she told me that the Chinese Theater was only of interest to her during the festival, because it showed current movies the rest of the time.
I'm sure she feels that way about the Chinese Multiplex as well, which doesn't have the same classic theater feel, but becomes a lot more fun when the lobby becomes a hub of social activity during the festival.
Making Our Own Swag
I love how the tradition of festival attendees sharing personalized pins with others has expanded to M&Ms, picture postcards and all sorts of other interesting things. It further emphasizes how much this is a fan-driven event:
|@ and Fredric March M&Ms|
|I still had this many pins after giving away a few!|
|Handed out before the Thursday screeening|
Friends: Old, New, and Undiscovered
Of course film is the focus of TCMFF, but community is its character. This is where classic film fans go to find their own kind, both familiar faces and new. Even new TCM host Alicia Malone expressed awe several times during the festival that she was with so many of her own kind. A lot of us spend all year looking forward to experiencing this camaraderie again:
Until next year fellow film fanatics!
May 3, 2018
The second and third days of TCMFF were almost all about the movies. Of the sixteen flicks I saw during the festival, I saw eleven these two days. When I write sentences like that, I wonder how I managed it, but at the time I was completely focused on film. This is the festival is at its best, when you have so many remarkable experiences within 24 hours that any one of them could make that day special.
On Friday I’d considered going to see Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951), because I thought it would be great to see that thriller on the big screen. I am so glad I made a last minute change and saw Intruder in the Dust (1949) instead. Juano Hernandez is one of my favorite actors and this is his best performance.
|Claude Jarman, Jr.|
The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944) was one of my best schedule changes. I’ll admit that I switched partly so I could carve out some time to have a decent lunch, but it was also fabulous to see a Preston Sturges comedy in a theater for the first time. I had forgotten how giddily funny this movie is. It moves fast and takes a lot of crazy turns. You can’t waste any time trying to make sense of it all. It’s all about the laughs.
|I know food pics are usually pretty gross, but I promise this was DELICIOUS|
I lingered over lunch longer than I’d expected, but I did get a chance to catch some of the Film Biographers: A Life presentation at Club TCM. TCM/Filmstruck host Alicia Malone hosted a panel of biographers including Donald Bogle, Scott Eyman, and William J. Mann. These men have written some of my favorite film books and it was exciting to see them all together. They covered some interesting territory, discussing the way the truth can be colored by context, how maintaining skepticism and good research habits is key when faced with stories that have been passed down through generations, and how emotional connection with subjects often makes them wish they could write about a happier outcome. Overall, I got a good sense of the moral struggle involved in documenting a life.
|Susan King and Bob Koster|
I loved Three Smart Girls. It’s basically The Parent Trap without switching siblings and summer camp. Though it covers some devastating territory, it’s funny, fast-paced and full of amusing characters. One of the highlights of the film was a very young Ray Milland looking so handsome he had the audience collectively holding its breath.
I don’t think many people know how sharp-witted, invigorating and fun Deanna Durbin films can be. I think because of her youth and the sweetness of her singing, she has the reputation of being a sickly sweet, sentimental star, but that is not the case and this film is ample proof of that.
After a quick taco run at Baja Fresh, it was back to the Egyptian for Gene Tierney. As brutal as it can be, Leave Her to Heaven (1945) is one of my favorite films, partly due to the lush, colorful look of it and a magnificent cast, but mostly because it stars one of my most adored actresses, Gene Tierney in her best performance. The Technicolor looked gorgeous on a sometimes scratchy, but mostly decent nitrate print. It was interesting to hear an audience reacting to Gene’s outrageous behavior in this film. She is not only wicked and ruthless, but quite creative in her devious deeds.
I don’t think I’ve ever been to a less enthusiastically received midnight screening than The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962), which is saying a lot, because this is where TCMFF gets adventurous. That’s all right by me and is in fact why I love these middle-of-the–night screenings.
The Film Geeks of San Diego have become known for bringing fun goodies to the midnight show and they topped themselves this time by handing out triangle-shaped goatees just like the one the film’s star wears.
|Modeling my goatee with @thephantomasthmatic|
|Romeo Carey, wearing his World's Greatest Sinner goatee|
|John Kirk and Eddie Mueller|
On Saturday it seemed delightfully inappropriate to get up bright and early to watch a film noir as sleazy as Kiss Me Deadly (1955). I gave myself time to sleep off the midnight screening and showed up to the Chinese Multiplex as late as possible in order to stay at least a bit on brand.
Noir Alley host Eddie Mueller had a brief chat with retired film archivist John Kirk about the film. Kirk forgot to pack his dress pants, but his casual shorts look was at least California-appropriate. They discussed his discovery of a sought-after ending of the film that was long thought lost. He expressed sympathy for a woman who was writing about the film at the time whose book would now be irrelevant thanks to what he found.
I almost skipped Bullitt (1968) because my schedule was full of re-watches and I wanted to see This Thing Called Love (1940), but my sentimental attachment to this film is so deep that I couldn’t miss it. When I was a kid, my dad took great delight in pointing out to me how realistic the car sounds were in the famous chase scene. Since he has done some wild driving in his time, I figured he had first-hand knowledge.
|You don't sweat a number this high when the theater seats over 900|
After the screening I texted my Dad, raving about it all. He responded, “Bullitt. Wow. I can hear the exhaust music now. In the key of V8.” I should mention that in addition to cars, my dad is fond of playing jazz piano, hence the musical tone. I wish he would have been with me to see it!
|Nancy Olson and Michael Feinstein|
Then I hopped back in line again for Sunset Boulevard (1950), also to be shown in the Chinese Theater. Actress Nancy Olson spoke to Michael Feinstein before the screening. She is a sharp, lively and lovely 89-year-old and it was a fun interview. She talked a lot about her relationship with director Billy Wilder, who learned as much as he could about her, because he suspected her real personality was close to the role she would play in the film. He even had her wear her own clothes as they were more effective than any costume in communicating the woman she was. I also thought it was interesting that Olson pointed out that everyone in the film was an opportunist. I’d never thought of that, but it’s true, though there are differing levels of morality at play. It was the perfect setting for that kind of film and the final scene was the quintessential classic movie moment.
|The wonderful Nancy Kwan|
Though I love the pre-code gangster flick Scarface (1932), I mostly attended the screening so I could see legendary director John Carpenter introduce the film. I thought I would have another starstruck moment, but Carpenter is so unpretentious and straightforward that I simply saw him as a knowledgeable and interesting man sharing some interesting facts before a good flick. I guess he was essentially the way I envisioned him to be.
It was during this screening that the intense schedule started to catch up with me. I dropped off for a few minutes. The gentleman a few seats behind us went much further, erupting into magnificent snores during the closing scenes of the film. He was still asleep as the theater emptied and we figured it was better that he be awakened in an empty theater instead of putting on a show for remaining audience members.
Then it was on to my second midnight flick of the festival, the screening of a restored Night of the Living Dead (1968). Director Edgar Wright had been scheduled to introduce the film, but could not make it to the States due to visa issues. Shaun of the Dead (2004) star Simon Pegg stepped in and we were all impressed with his grasp on zombie lore. I learned a lot in that five minutes!
The Film Geeks of San Diego came through again with zombie cookies (both colorized and black and white versions) and George Miller/zombie girl face masks. I always appreciate the sense of fun they bring to midnight screenings.
I found the restoration of the film astounding. It almost seemed like a different flick to me. The music was sharper, the image so clean that it practically felt like a modern movie, and I also better appreciated how remarkable Duane Jones’ performance was in this film. He managed to be an effective and admirable action star in a business casual uniform of cardigan, khakis and loafers!
One of my friends was watching the film for the first time and was disturbed to realize that the zombies were not nearly as scary as the men with guns at the end who had a license to kill without boundaries. I thought that was pretty sharp for a first impression!
Then it was time to pass out in bed, slightly hungry because dinner was popcorn.
Come back tomorrow for the last day of the festival and parting thoughts!