The opening and closing frames of 55 films, side by side.
It’s always one of the most poignant short films of the year: TCM’s Remembers, documenting the lives of film industry people who passed away. See it at TCM Remembers 2013.
Last year, the Academy Awards version of the same tribute was woefully lacking and failed to include a number of performers–like Andy Griffith, Ben Gazzarra, Phyllis Diller, and even more. Maybe this year the Academy will use the TCM piece as a reference.
- The TCM Top Twelve for December 2013 (journeysinclassicfilm.com)
AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY weighs in at a staggering 828 pages. That is because its author, Theodore Dreiser, is in the words of a critic, “endlessly faithful to common experience” (emphasis on “endlessly”). To read a paragraph from the novel, scroll down to the bottom of this blog.*
I did not read the novel cover to cover. I read about one-quarter of it and used online chapter summaries for some of the gaps.
AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY (1925)
An American Tragedy brought Theodore Dreiser both popularity and acclaim. It was based on a true story and follows the facts of the case closely, even down to the setting of upstate New York.
Dreiser’s prose style is a sea of sand. But in that sand lies psychological acuity. Dreiser knew people. He is the kind of person you would avoid at a party because a minute after he met you, he would have your number—and probably put you in his next novel.
There are three central characters—Clyde and the two women he is involved with, Sondra and Roberta.
Clyde’s parents are fundamentalist Christian street preachers. It is a poverty-stricken, itinerant existence. His sister runs off with the first man who gives her a line of smooth talk. Like his sister, Clyde is clueless about who he is or how to get anything worth having in life, but unlike her, he catches a lucky break. He ends up working at his wealthy uncle’s factory, the Griffiths Collar & Shirt Company, in Lycurgus, New York.
Clyde meets Roberta, who is hard-working, pretty, and poor. She has a tender heart. When she dreams of a better life, she does not dream of being rich. She dreams of being loved. He enjoys sleeping with Roberta (novel is fairly frank about this), but soon he meets Sondra, who is rich, beautiful, generous, and kind. She is the Other—the dream girl who embodies everything he thinks he wants.
When Roberta becomes pregnant, Clyde tries to arrange an abortion for her. Roberta agrees because she is terrified. But the remedy provided by a druggist only makes her sick. The doctor who performs abortions for his wealthy clients on the side refuses to help her. She then pleads with Clyde to marry her, accepting that he will leave after the baby is born. He puts her off.
Clyde takes her out in a canoe intending to murder her, but he has a last-minute change of heart and cannot go through with it. She stands up and walks toward him. He hits out at her (with a camera, for some reason), and the canoe tips over. Once they are in the water, he does nothing to save her.
Clyde is convicted of murder on partly manufactured evidence. After nine months on death row, he is executed by the state of New York. What happens to Sondra? She just sort of disappears. After Clyde’s arrest, she sends him a kind but bland letter to which she does not sign her name.
Okay, got the picture? Roberta loves Clyde. Clyde loves Sondra. Sondra thinks Clyde is interesting.
A PLACE IN THE SUN does not play the story quite that way.
A PLACE IN THE SUN (1951)
This George Stevens movie was a critical and commercial success. It won six Academy Awards and a Golden Globe Award for best picture. It stars Elizabeth Taylor as rich society girl Angela Vickers and Montgomery Clift as the poor and enterprising George Eastman. They look very much as Dreiser describes Sondra and Clyde, by the way. Sondra is a dark-haired beauty; Clyde is darkly handsome.
Shelley Winters plays Alice Tripp, the girl who becomes pregnant by George. She does not sound or look like Dreiser’s Roberta. Alice is deliberately made unattractive so George’s rejection of her will not seem so bad.
With Clift and Taylor as the leads, the movie plays like Romeo and Juliet. To play it any other way with those two stars would have been crazy. They have spectacular chemistry; this is a story they can tell. Angela does not find George “interesting.” She is passionately in love with him, as he is with her. They reach across the walls of their respective classes.
Alice tries to blackmail George into marrying her. George wants her dead, but does not kill her. That scene plays just as it does in the book.
In the novel, Clyde has a death row conversion. He accepts Christ as his personal savior and writes a farewell letter to the world that exhorts young men to lead good Christian lives. Dreiser plays this scene cynically: the conversion is a measure of how thoroughly Clyde has been destroyed.
It is impossible to imagine the movie ending that way, and a good thing it doesn’t. I like the movie’s ending better. It is simple and straightforward: George takes responsibility for what he did and accepts his fate.
A good story raises questions.
Is movie saying that you need to know your place in life and stay there?
If George and Angela had run off together, would it have worked?
What if George and Alice had married?
What kind of movie would A PLACE IN THE SUN have been if Taylor and Winters had played each other’s roles?
There is an earlier film version from 1931 that seems to have vanished. Josef von Sternberg’s AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY stars Philips Holmes as Clyde, Frances Dee as Sondra, and Sylvia Sidney as Roberta. Dreiser did not like it.
About chemistry—here is the “Do I make you nervous?” clip from A PLACE IN THE SUN:
Here is the trailer:
*From An American Tragedy:
So astonished was he that he could scarcely contain himself for joy, but on the instant must walk to and fro, looking at himself in the mirror, washing his hands and face, then deciding that his tie was not just right, perhaps, and changing to another—thinking forward to what he should wear and back upon how Sondra had looked at him on that last occasion. And how she had smiled. At the same time he could not help wondering even at this moment of what Roberta would think, if now, by some extra optical power of observation she could note his present joy in connection with this note. For plainly, and because he was no longer governed by the conventional notions of his parents, he had been allowing himself to drift into a position in regard to her which would certainly spell torture to her in case she should discover the nature of his present mood, a thought which puzzled him, not a little, but did not serve to modify his thoughts in regard to Sondra in the least.
Lindsay Edmunds blogs about robots, writing, life in southwestern Pennsylvania, and sometimes books and movies at Writer’s Rest. She is the author of a novel about love in the age of artificial intelligence: Cel & Anna.
WHEN I WAS A KID, I remember watching the likes of Rebecca (1945), Mildred Pierce (1945), and The Asphalt Jungle (1950) on television. I didn’t know I was watching something called film noir, but these mysterious, riveting movies were standard broadcast fare on weekend afternoons. How lucky to grow up with movies like those to watch on rainy Saturdays. I pity the kids who have only the likes of Sponge Bob at their disposal to learn how very bad things can happen.
My top picks for Noirvember include movies that have left indelible images in my brain:
I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932) Technically pre-noir because of its 1932 date, this film is grueling. Just thinking of it exhausts me. Paul Muni is wrongfully committed of a crime and suffers the painful consequences of harsh prison life again and again and again. Director Mervyn LeRoy creates a film experience that is raw, violent, depressing, and bleak…and absolutely brilliant.
Shadow of a Doubt (1943) One of my favorite of Hitchcock’s (and one of his own favorite’s as well), this film brings evil intent right into safe family life in a sleepy, small town. Someone you know and trust can hurt you. Teresa Wright is excited when her Uncle Charlie comes to visit but soon becomes suspicious of him. Joseph Cotten is chilling as Uncle Charlie.
Queen Bee (1955) She rules. Joan Crawford is a blast in this sinister portrayal of the perfectly evil bitch. This is a winner of a movie to watch with friends and howl at Joan’s over-the-top performance. And what a wardrobe she has!
Sweet Smell of Success (1957) Creepy and sleazy dynamics rage between Burt Lancaster, as a very powerful newspaper columnist, and Tony Curtis, the dirty public relations guy. Like so many noirs, location takes a meaningful role in the action. In this story, New York City and its bars and clubs also star.
Gun Crazy (1950) The original title was “Deadly Is the Female,” so guess who is the bad apple in this one? Annie Starr (played by Peggy Cummins) is a liar and maniuplator…and yes, she’s gun crazy in her Bonnie Parker outlaw beret. Her man, hapless Bart Tare (John Dall) is no angel, quite smitten with his guns himself, but he’s way too willing to get under her spell. You want to shake him most of the time as their crime story road trip unfolds.
Niagara (1953) This one of those Technicolor noirs, a story of a dysfunctional marriage, betrayal, and murder…with the rush of Niagara Falls as the relentless backdrop. Marilyn Monroe and her lover need to get rid of the disturbed husband, Joseph Cotten. Jean Peters is the innocent counterpart to Monroe’s juiciness. Such action and suspense!!
I Want to Live! (1958) I can’t help but love movie titles with exclamation points! Director Robert Wise takes on a true story of a murder trial gone bad. Susan Hayward gives the performance of a lifetime as Barbara Graham, a defiant party girl who, along with the rest of the world, can’t imagine that a woman would get the death penalty. Bring out the tissues.
1. Funniest Noir Title: Noir titles are not known for the humor, but the title The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938) cracks me up.
2. Gasp-Worthy Trailers: I nominate the trailer for Roger Corman’s Teenage Doll (1957) as one of the creepiest and compelling.
3. Perfect Pairing: There is no other film genre that has its own grape: Pinot Noir. Such a perfectly dark wine when you’re ready for dark cinema.
The definition of film noir for me is both stylistic and formulaic. Stylistically, the film should have a fluid movement to the filmmaking, cinematography, fashion. Story-wise, the thing that sets a noir apart from a regular mystery is the everyman who is put into an unusual situation. From the small boy in The Window who accidentally sees a murder, to the hapless hitchhiker in a film like Detour–suddenly an ordinary life is swept up into extraordinary circumstances by one moment, a moment that could be something like picking the wrong lover to something as mundane as having a flat tire.
My noir recommendation list is vast, but here are ten of my top picks:
Scarlet Street (1945) Like Detour, this is Noir 101. It’s a must-see film. And probably my favorite film of the genre. Edward G. Robinson plays a hen-pecked husband who picks the wrong woman to try to save one rainy night. Joan Bennett plays the woman who, with her grifter boyfriend (played by Dan Dureya), thinks that Robinson is a famous painter. From there, noir hilarity ensues. Lots of twists and turns and one of the darkest endings of any American film.
The Lineup (1958) I just recently saw a screening of this, and I was blown away by the violence of the film. The film follows the ruthless killer played brilliantly by Eli Wallach who is trying to track down heroin smuggled in an unsuspecting traveler’s suitcase. Some incredible location shots of San Francisco in the late ’50s. This is one of those movies they would call edge-of-your-seat suspense.
Fury (1936) Spencer Tracy plays a man traveling across country who stops in a small town and is mistaken for a killer. Based on a true story of vigilantism, the town takes the matter of justice in their own hands and burns down the jail where he is being held. Tracy’s character turns from an average Joe to a man of hard, bitter hatred. Sylvia Sidney plays his girlfriend who tries to show him that his hate is destroying him.
I Wake Up Screaming (1941) An unlikely noir with glamour girl Betty Grable and Victor Mature (who I usually hate) in a murder mystery told in flashbacks. The killer thing about this movie, which recurs in many noirs, is the use of a popular song that is played over and over throughout the movie. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is used in this movie, and it will wipe out of your mind all memories of Dorothy and the Tin Man. It was the breakthrough movie for Laird Cregar as the obsessive detective. He died young and it’s a tragedy. He was one of the best actors who ever was in movies.
Detour (1945) Much has been written about this low-budget film directed by Edgar G. Ulmer. It’s the fastest 65 minutes of movie you’ll ever sit through. Not a minute of wasted film. Proof that you don’t need a big budget just a great story. Ann Savage is the spice that makes this movie pop!
The Scarf (1951) This movie is a cousin to Detour. This story, about an escaped inmate from an insane asylum who is trying to figure out if he really committed a murder, takes its time getting started, but once Mercedes McCambridge picks up the inmate (John Ireland) on the side of the road, the journey begins. Like Detour’s Ann Savage, McCambridge tears into every line of dialogue like a vicious cat. It also has a great nightclub scene.
Hangover Square (1945) Again with Laird Cregar. A musician suffers from a condition that has him go temporarily mad when he hears high-pitched sounds. Another ongoing theme of noir is “rooting for the criminal.” Cregar creates sympathy with his character so that the audience knows he is just a man who cannot help what he is doing.
Furies (1950) One of the queens of the genre, Barbara Stanwyck, gives a tour de force performance in this noir western. Stanwyck’s hate and revenge for her father drive the story of this Greek tragedy-like film. It’s got the look of a western, but the heart of pure darkness.
Fourteen Hours (1951) Richard Basehart plays a gay man whose life is no longer worth living, and he spends 14 hours on the ledge of a building. Not a typical noir, but the characters who are drawn into this unusual situation are the people on the street watching the drama unfold. Amazing moments with Agnes Moorehead as the dominating mother and Barbara Bel Geddes as the girlfriend who ‘understands’.
Female on the Beach (1955). Joan Crawford, Queen of the Noirs, stars in this camp classic. A great story about deception, but the thing that makes this film is the unforgettable lines per minute:
“I have a nasty imagination, and I’d like to be left alone with it.”
“You must go with the house–like plumbing.”
“You’re about as friendly as a suction pump…”
Keep up with my noir recommendations on the Home Projectionist “What Are You Watching?” Facebook page.
- Nine Noirs for November Nights (homeprojectionist.com)
EVEN A BAD NOIR is good, when film noir is your favorite movie genre, as it is mine. So it’s really difficult for me to name nine as “the best,” particularly when some, like The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice, would be really obvious, unsurprising choices. What follows though are some that I could watch over and over. A few are well-known, a couple maybe not so much. But they’re all great–perfect for a chilly, dark and stormy November night.
The Big Heat (1953) Gloria Grahame and Glenn Ford, with terrific chemistry, and a very evil Lee Marvin. Grahame–Marvin’s abused girlfriend–delivers sympathy for Ford’s plight, and deep regret for her own choices. Ford’s utter despair and silent rage are a great contrast to Marvin’s nearly psychotic character.
Leave Her To Heaven (1945) “Technicolor Noir” and much admired by filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese. The complex and selfish character played by the beautiful Gene Tierney destroys everyone around her to one degree or another. Awe-inspiring cinematography and an unforgettable score by Alfred Newman.
Point Blank (1967) Lee Marvin, left for dead in an Alcatraz prison cell, is back in L.A. He doesn’t want his girl (Angie Dickinson), his life, or revenge. He wants his money. Is he really alive and kicking, or is the entire film a death bed dream? We’ll never know, but who cares? This is a wild ride, in more ways than one.
The Killing (1956) Stanley Kubrick’s riveting heist film, an early masterpiece. One of Sterling Hayden’s best roles, with a clockwork-like plot and intriguing time-shifts.
The Tall Target Dick Powell is a detective in 1861, aboard a train full of sinister characters, one of whom is allegedly the would-be assassin of president-elect Lincoln. Claustrophobic, suspenseful, and unpredictable, it also, because of what we know would eventually happen to the President, has an extra layer of poignancy and foreshadowing.
The Narrow Margin (1952) Like The Tall Target, this terrific film noir, shot over three weeks, is set within the small confines of a train. With great dialog, like Marie Windsor’s assertively snide, “There’s another train… The gravy train!”
They Live By Night (1948) Nicholas Ray’s early, sweet and tragic noir, starring Farley Granger, with a tone that later would be evident in Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause. Granger and Cathy O’Donnell are the tragic lovers who, as the opening credits say, “were never properly introduced to the world we live in.”
Fall Guy (1947) “Was that the sound of heels clicking, or my beating heart?” Fall Guy is a very low-budget noir from Monogram Studios, based on a Cornell Woolrich story. A young man who’d been implicated in a murder, has no recollection of what happened, and must clear his name.
Dark Passage (1947) My list isn’t complete without at least one Bogart picture, and this is the one. On the run from San Quentin, Vince Parry (Bogie) meets up with none other than Lauren Bacall. After some low-rent plastic surgery, Parry is out to prove his innocence against all odds. A great ending scene.
Countdown to Halloween, the 31st day of October…
In honor of the movies and trick-or-treating, here’s a pairing of scary movies with their freaky candy counterparts. How about a NutRageous! candy bar while watching PSYCHO? Or a 3 Musketeers with TRILOGY OF TERROR? And you can guess what little tri-colored treat goes best with CHILDREN OF THE CORN.
Check out the entire selection at https://homeprojectionist.com/tag/31-bites/
(Thanks to Home Projectionist blogger Dave Hunter for these brilliantly clever morsels!)
TCM will begin airing the 15-part documentary THE STORY OF FILM tonight. It’s a fascinating ride through the history of film by historian Mark Cousins, and you’ll end up with a long, long list of movies on your watch list.
I loved the first episodes the best. From my Home Projectionist blog posts about the series: “During the first two hours of THE STORY OF FILM: AN ODYSSEY, I learned that the first real movie star, Florence Lawrence, committed suicide with ant poison, that the first close up in cinema featured a sick kitty, and there was some hot erotic dancing going on in the silent movies.”
One of my favorite experiences was discovering Asta Nielsen‘s dance from The Abyss (1910).
Let us know what you think.
(1958, France) starring Jacques Tati, Jean-Pierre Zola, Adrienne Servantie, Alain Bercourt; directed by Jacques Tati; music by Franck Barcellini and Alain Romans. Seen on TCM, July 21, 2013. Available from these sources.
The story: Five years after his first appearance, Jacques Tati’s M. Hulot returns with MON ONCLE, a film set along the dividing line between Paris’ past and its future. Aligned (as is the film) with the former, Hulot lives in a colorful, overpopulated Parisian neighborhood and, lacking employment, spends his days waiting to pick up his adoring nephew from school, and subsequently escorting him to his parents’ ultra-modern house. Filled with gadgets, some turned on only to impress the neighbors, the house seems designed specifically to frustrate Hulot, who unwittingly disrupts its operations at every opportunity. Concerned about his future, Hulot’s relatives attempt to find him gainful employment and pair him off with a neighbor, with little success on either front.
– – –
IN MON ONCLE, there is a silver fountain shaped like a fish that has so much screen time that it is practically a co-star. It belongs to the Arpels—Monsieur Hulot’s sister, brother-in-law, and young nephew. They live in a house so obsessively modern that it has turned them into clowns.
When Hulot’s sister switches on the fountain, which she is forever doing for visitors, it gives a strangled gurgle and spouts straight up like a geyser. You see that fountain far away, in close up, and from every conceivable angle. Is is as if Tati can’t get over how funny it is, and neither will you after about an hour.
M Hulot lives a dreamy, impractical life in a city neighborhood full of color. He tries to do what his modern relatives want—the problem being that even they cannot do what they want. They cannot be colorless for the life of them. They own a red bicycle, green plants, blue pillars, a vivid yellow rocking chair. We first see Hulot’s sister wearing a pea-green caftan and matching turban.
She buys a silver garage door with an electronic eye that terrifies the maid. But her husband buys a green, pink, and lavender car with fat white sidewalls. These are anniversary presents.
This movie hasn’t got one mean-spirited moment, because Tati never invites you to look down on these people. It’s the human comedy, he says. Look at the colors of that.
– – –
A CHIRPY, CATCHY FRENCH TUNE is playing. Stray dogs scurry, enjoying boundless freedom on these cobblestoned streets of a town somewhere in France. Precisely where, I don’t know, but I loved the two hours I spent there.
Mr. Hulot (director/star Jacques Tati) is like those dogs. He’s a happy, harmless fellow, taking pleasure in the little things. Such as manipulating a window reflection just enough to cause a nearby canary to warble. As with the carefree pooches who delight in finding morsels in the garbage, it doesn’t much to make Monsieur Hulot cheery.
Like the seaside resort in Tati’s previous film, MR. HULOT’S HOLIDAY, this is a very real-seeming place. I was immersed in the setting and its quirky, flawed inhabitants with all their very human characteristics.
There’s a street sweeper who’d rather do anything but sweep. A sweet, pretty young girl who seeks out the older Hulot’s approval. There’s a ridiculously fussy fussbudget whose prized possession is a horrid, metal fountain she activates only for worthy, impressionable guests.
There are the boys who pass the time by either making pedestrians have head-on collisions with street lamps, or causing drivers to think they’ve had collisions when they actually haven’t.
Then there’s Hulot. He lives on the very top floor of an impossibly intricate building that resembles a Joseph Cornell box. He tries, but modern gadgets and appliances make life too complicated. So what job does he take on? Well of course in a factory filled with nothing but dials, switches and complex machinery. Falling asleep at his desk on his first day, he throws the entire operation into minor chaos. But the side effect is that Hulot brightens the up-till-now dull and monotonous life of his co-workers.
At the movie’s end, the dogs are romping through the streets again. Life goes on. As with HOLIDAY, I’m sad to leave. I miss it already.
*Also recommended: Tati’s PLAYTIME and MR. HULOT’S HOLIDAY, as well as the recent, animated adaptation of a Tati screenplay, THE ILLUSIONIST.
– – –
WHEN I WATCH a Jacques Tati film, I feel as if I’ve been invited to be part of a clever, conspiratorial event.
“Come watch,” his work seems to say. “Let’s have some fun.”
So I’m drawn in, expectant, and hunkered down with an incessant grin on my face, periodically surprised by the laugh-out-loud moments. I can’t wait to see — and hear — what happens next. Visual treat after visual treat appears, accompanied by perfectly calibrated silence and perfectly hilarious sound effects. Who knew that the bzzzz of an entry buzzer or an on-again/off-again fountain gurgle could humor me for two hours? I’m still whistling the theme song.
What I love about MON ONCLE is the sense of intimacy. I’m totally in for the ride, peeking over fences, down halls, and into windows. I see what and how Tati sees, mesmerized by his sight gags and clever points of view, those long, extended shots that give me time to look around, and each masterfully composed frame that can stand alone as a piece of art.
When the characters bring their über-contemporary chairs out of doors to look into their house to watch television, I feel as if I am pulling up my own chair to sit quite happily and watch them while they watch tv.
The contemporary world that Hulot’s sister and brother-in-law inhabit is monochromatic steel gray and full of new fangled complexity. Regardless of its symmetry, it’s a world consistently off-kilter, dysfunctional, and just plain kooky. Hulot’s counterpoint neighborhood is in stark contrast, lived-in and richly toned, as comfortable as his moccasins and overcoat. It’s not a perfect world either, but people have gotten used to how things work (and don’t work) there. Hulot replaces a brick in a pile of rubble because that’s where it goes. Humans are amusing that way.
I could watch over and over again when the neighbors try to follow the curved path of the sidewalk and teeter across the paving stones in the yard, but I bet that one day they’ll start cutting straight across and make their own path, the same way Hulot’s brother-in-law veers from the standard gray option and buys a car that’s painted pink, lavender, and green.
The world keeps changing, and we figure out how to live in our particular place in time.
“C’est la vie,” Hulot says. He’s absolutely right.
Lindsay Edmunds blogs about robots, writing, life in southwestern Pennsylvania, and sometimes books and movies at Writer’s Rest. She is the author of a novel about love in the age of artificial intelligence: Cel & Anna.
Dave is a graphic designer, and proprietor of movieLuv.
“The Hitchcock 9” have started their U.S. tour.
The Herculean restoration project by the British Film Institute required a series of daunting tasks — from reintegrating lost footage to tinting restoration. Hitchcock once said, “The silent pictures were the purest form of cinema.” The release of these films offers audiences a remarkable opportunity to experience his force of genius in full glory, instead of on old, damaged prints.
The Hitchcock 9 includes:
- THE LODGER (1926)
- THE PLEASURE GARDEN (1926)
- DOWNHILL (1927)
- EASY VIRTUE (1927)
- THE RING (1927)
- THE FARMER’S WIFE (1928)
- CHAMPAGNE (1928)
- THE MANXMAN (1929)
- BLACKMAIL (1929)
To add to the drama, live accompaniment, including some new scores, will be part of the screenings.
The Hitchcock 9 opened at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival last week, goes bi-coastal this week in L.A. and New York, and then moves on to Seattle, D.C., and points beyond.
I know where I will be in August when The 9 shows up at Chicago’s Music Box Theatre.
Source: Wall Street Journal, Silent Hitchcock, by Kristin M. Jones
- The Hitchcock 9 at LACMA (hitchcocksvertigo.com)
- Hitchcock 9 Silent Film Festival Diary – Day One: “Blackmail” (filmbalaya.com)
Would anyone be surprised by a huge implosion in the film industry?
As reported by FirstShowing.net, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg recently predicted a list of dramatic adjustments, from pricing to distribution and competition from the networks. Hollywood is not immune from the upheavals that technology brings to every industry. Their presentation was held June 12 at the University of Southern California.
I’ll predict that there will be home theaters in every house in the country — and as costs go down and business models change, lots of community theaters or at least community watching events where people can gather and pick their own programming. What fun! Cheaper popcorn too!
For the full scope of the Lucas/Spielberg conversation, go to http://www.firstshowing.net/2013/steven-spielberg-george-lucas-predict-implosion-of-film-industry/ or see additional links below.
What do you see in the future of the film industry as it responds to the marketplace and reinvents itself?
At this blog, we coined the term “Home Projectionist” as a way to identify film fans (like us!) with a broad range of tastes and sensibilities who are always on the lookout for the next interesting movie to watch.
Our goal is to create a community of like-minded Home Projectionists because we like recommendations and feedback from real live people. It’s more fun than algorithms alone. Over the last few months, we’ve found that the liveliest conversations are taking place on with our Home Projectionist “What Are You Watching?” group on Facebook.
So, in the name of making HP-to-HP (Home Projectionist-to-Home Projectionist) connections, I’m introducing a new HP blog feature: Home Projectionist of the Month.
Meet HAROLD J. GAUGLER of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania (which, by the way, is northwest of Philadelphia).
I recently posed a few questions to Harold about his love for the movies, his top recommendations, favorite directors, and assorted other topics in Harold’s Movie Brain.
Was there a defining moment, a movie or a memory (or both) that made you a true film fan?
GAUGLER: As a child of the 1960s, I was part of the generation of kids who ran home from school every day to watch DARK SHADOWS (1966-1971), the popular afternoon soap opera about vampires, witches, ghosts, and werewolves. The star was Joan Bennett, who’d had a 30-year film career before moving into television.
Watching DARK SHADOWS with my mom all those years ago, I remember my mom saying, “That’s Joan Bennett. She used to be a movie star.” Immediately, I wanted to see her old movies.
Back in those days, there was a total of maybe eight TV stations, and on weekends the UHF channels would fill their schedules by showing old B&W movies from the 1930s through the 1950s. I spent many Sunday afternoons watching old movies with my mom. Her favorite star was Joan Crawford. I learned to love her too, and loved seeing old Joan Bennett movies, and seeing Barbara Stanwyck from THE BIG VALLEY (1965-1969) and Joan Blondell from HERE COME THE BRIDES (1968-1970) in their old films. I’ve been a fan of the movies and stars of Hollywood’s Classic Era, and in general all movies, ever since.
Are there any films (current or older) that you recently discovered and would recommend?
GAUGLER: I’m always discovering new movies, both current and older. One classic I recently watched for the first time was GUN CRAZY (1950), a highly regarded, low-budget film noir drama. John Dall plays a decent, honest man who has had a gun fixation since childhood (though not for killing), who falls in love with psychopathic carnival performer Peggy Cummins, who leads him into a life of crime. A fascinating look at violence in America and the link between sex and violence, with beautiful B&W cinematography, camera angles, plot twists, and superb performances by two underrated stars.
What are the top movies are you happy to watch again and again and again — and why?
GAUGLER: I have many stars who I count among my favorites, including Cary Grant, James Stewart, and Humphrey Bogart. But going back to my childhood, I’ve ALWAYS loved actresses! Starting with Joan Bennett, I’ve always loved watching movies with a strong female lead. Bette Davis in almost anything. Joan Crawford in her 1940’s Warner Brothers period. The heroines of screwball comedies. The femme fatales of film noir.
One I happily watch again and again in John Cromwell’s CAGED (1950), with Eleanor Parker, as an innocent accomplice to her husband’s crime, who is corrupted by the heartless penal system and the career criminals she is incarcerated with. A superb star performance by Eleanor Parker and a great cast of supporting actresses highlight this grim but entertaining film.
Another, much more recent is THE HOURS (2002). Every moment of this film fascinates me. And in her sequences, Julianne Moore gives one of the all-time great performances of any actress.
THE BIG CHILL (1983) may be my favorite movie of the last 30 years. I’m slightly younger than the amazing ensemble cast, but I identify with their struggles between the free spiritedness of the hippie era and the conformity of moving into middle age. It’s a landmark film in my life, one I never tire of watching again and again.
Who are your favorite directors and actors?
GAUGLER: Jean Arthur, Joan Bennett, Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, Charles Boyer, James Cagney, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Irene Dunne, John Garfield, Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Katharine Hepburn, Burt Lancaster, Charles Laughton, Ida Lupino, Joel McCrea, Dorothy McGuire, Robert Mitchum, Marilyn Monroe, Eleanor Parker, William Powell, Edward G. Robinson, Barbara Stannwyck, James Stewart, Margaret Sullavan.
Do you have a favorite era or genre?
GAUGLER: I love film noir, like DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944), SCARLET STREET (1945), MILDERD PIERCE (1945), OUT OF THE PAST (1947) and screwball comedies like MY MAN GODFREY (1936), THE AWFUL TRUTH (1937), THE LADY EVE (1941), and THE MORE THE MERRIER (1943) — among many others.
What kind of equipment or setup do you have — a home theater? big screen tv? pc? other? What do you prefer?
GAUGLER: I have a DVD player and a small 28” flat screen TV. I’m not interested in interactive menu’s, alternate endings, and whatever else Blu-ray has to offer. I enjoy the commentaries on some films, especially the classics. But when I watch a movie, I want to watch a movie. I don’t need the extras. I do plan to get a much bigger flat screen TV when it’s in my budget. But having grown up on watching TV on a small screen, it’s really not that big a deal for me….
What are your go-to movie sites or blogs, including any blogs you contribute to?
Any final thoughts on movies or being a “Home Projectionist”?
GAUGLER: Most of my answers have been about films from Hollywood’s classic era. But I also watch films of today. I think Sean Penn is an amazing actor. There’s not a better actor among his generation today. I love Diane Keaton with all my heart! Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon, Kevin Costner, Viggo Mortenson, and so many others….
If you want to find out more about what Harold is watching next — or tell us about what you’re watching as well — visit the Home Projectionist “What Are You Watching?” Facebook page.
‘Til next time…
Happy 80th Birthday to the drive-in movie!
One man’s brainstorm in New Jersey changed American culture forever.
What great drive-in memories I have: A dusk-til-dawn PLANET OF THE APES festival, getting scolded by security for singing “Freddie’s Dead” too loud while watching SUPERFLY, seeing WHERE THE BOYS ARE with my mom…and of course the unmentionable memories as well:)
Besides the movies I can recall, I remember the warm nights, those metal speakers, and the cars we were in — like the green Chevy, the yellow Barracuda, the aqua Rambler.
Those were indeed the days.
What are your sharable drive-in memories?
- Drive-in Movie Theaters Celebrate 80th Anniversary On this day… (instagram.com)
- 80th Anniversary of the Drive-In Movies (wtvy.com)
- Photos: 80 years since opening of first drive-in movie (vancouversun.com)
- Drive-in theaters mark 80th anniversary (usatoday.com)
Kudos to the Northwest Chicago Film Society for its June 5 screening, “only the second showing since 1930, outside of the Library of Congress.” The sound restoration of this gem was completed by the Library of Congress in partnership with the Film Foundation, Chace Audio, and the Alaska Moving Image Preservation Association.
It would be nearly treasonous if this piece of cinema history wasn’t readily available one day.
Directed by Maurice Elvey, “the most prolific film director in British history,” HIGH TREASON takes us to an eccentric, Metropolis-like, and very contemporary future vision of 1940.
The United States of Europe and the Empire States of the Atlantic are at the tipping point of declaring war. In the mix are national pride, terrorists, squabbling border patrols, a split war council, and greedy munitions industrialists. The President (Basil Gill) seeks the fight. He doesn’t expect that the leader of the Peace League, the virtuous Dr. Seymour (Humberston Wright), will commit murder to change the course of events.
Regardless of the threat of mayhem, there’s always time for love and romance. Dr. Seymour’s lovely daughter Evelyn (Benita Hume) is not only beautiful, vivacious, charming, and fashionable — but she’s also willing to stand down an entire army in the name of peace, even if it threatens her relationship with her suitor, Michael Deane (Jameson Thomas), the commander of the Air Force. His troops, by the way, have a very cool black leather fashion sense.
Regardless of Evelyn’s moral fortitude, we get to watch her ready for a shower and dry herself off, not with a towel, but with an impractical handheld blow dryer while she maneuvers behind a peekaboo screen. Women can hold their own in this future world, but they are indeed vulnerable to being exposed in various states of undress when being rescued from rubble and inducted into public service.
In and around the politics and cheesecake, what amazing technology there is! Blade-Runner-esque public projection screens. A one-man orchestra with automated instruments. Electronic scoreboards tallying up peacenik enrollment numbers (like the National Debt Clock in Times Square).
The lovers chat and woo through their retractable Skype machines, albeit with a bit of difficulty in a humorous, modern-day “Can you hear me now?” situation.
My favorite scene in the film is set in an Art Deco nightclub where glitzy couples take to the dance floor, alternating between a traditional twirl and a kind of Vogue, simultaneously freezing for breaks in the music. I’m still wondering why there is a floor show with a fencing demonstration, but maybe it’s a comment on the art of conflict, better that it be practiced as entertainment and a demonstration of skill rather than as a real battle to the death.
A compelling piece of cinema history, HIGH TREASON addresses a conundrum of human existence: We are capable of such powerful and wondrous things — like being in love and creating grand cityscapes with skies full of floating dirigibles. Unfortunately, we are also capable of justifying our self-destruction.
When I saw the clip below from THE GREAT LIE (1941), I had to see the entire movie right away.
Why is Davis SO hell bent on monitoring Astor’s intake of booze and sandwiches?
After all, Sandra, Astor’s character, is HUNGRY. “I’m not one of you anemic creatures who can get nourishment from a lettuce leaf — I’m a musician, I’m an artist! I have zest and appetite — and I LIKE FOOD,” Sandra rails. “I’ve been lying awake in there thinking about FOOD!”
With an almost nonchalant grace, Davis’s Maggie pulls off one of the most striking double slaps in cinema history.
What fun these actresses must have had creating this scene. I can imagine them on set, sharing a satisfying cigarette after filming, as if they just had sex. (Together, Davis and Astor rewrote much of the original script, and Astor won the 1942 Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her performance.)
All in all, THE GREAT LIE is a treat, full of goofy plot twists and turns. Watching Davis play the “good girl” counterpoint to Astor’s paryting diva is worth the entire 108 minutes. The drag on the whole movie is George Brent’s dud character and wooden performance. The character of Pete, played by Brent, doesn’t deserve one iota of either women’s attention. Every time he appears on screen, he does something worthy of a big sigh and a dose of disdain, like demanding that Sandra cancel her piano concert to marry him — even though they could probably go to City Hall after her concert, right?
In a nutshell (spoiler alert), both of the gals love Pete. He’s dumped Maggie to marry Sandra, then finds out that their marriage isn’t legal (due to Sandra’s delayed divorce). He has regrets, sees a way out, reconnects with Maggie, and goes off to the jungle. When the women think that he’s died in a plane crash — and Sandra realizes she’s pregnant and on her way to ruining her career as a concert pianist — the women conspire: Sandra will have the baby and give it to Maggie who will raise it as her own.
Hence, THE GREAT LIE.
But there is a GREATER, BIGGER, JAW-DROPPING LIE in this film. It’s a simple statement spoken by the doctor who is tending to Sandra as she goes through labor. While Sandra writhes and moans, Maggie waits outside, pacing, looking much like the traditional expectant father. On a break, the doctor says to Maggie: “A woman without a baby is like a man without a right arm.”
WHAT??? That’s SO not true, Doc! And could you come up with a worse metaphor?
Not only does the doctor imply that a man without an arm is worthless and devoid of all prospects (pity his poor patient in that sticky situation), but in his position of authority, the doc also gives voice to a big ball of hooey.
Certainly, being a mother may be one of the most fulfilling roles of a woman’s life.
But is a woman without a baby crippled? dysfunctional? broken? useless?
Of course not.
And that’s the BIG, BIG LIE in THE GREAT LIE.
To be sure, cultural messages upholding and reaffirming the positive role of motherhood resonate in film. On the opposite side of the spectrum, we all know about the cold-hearted and childless spinsters and stepmothers who appear in everything from traditional fairy tales to contemporary cinema. But I’ve not often caught such a specific line in a movie that so directly carries the message of “Procreate or Fail.”
Can you cite any other specific lines like that in movies? I want to make a list of them. Bad metaphors, big lies, and all.