If Mary Pickford is known today outside of film fan circles, it is merely as “The girl with the golden curls” or “America’s Sweetheart”. Behind her delicate beauty, Pickford was a woman with razor sharp business acumen who rose to become one of the most powerful figures in Hollywood. She wrote, produced and starred in her own films wielding complete creative control over every aspect of production. She also co-founded United Artists along with Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith and husband Douglas Fairbanks. Her life, career and legacy are explored in the new documentary “Mary Pickford: Muse of the Movies” by Nicholas Eliopoulos which is now out on DVD from Cinema Libre.
The film discusses Pickford’s meteoric rise, her box office drawing power and how she helped to shape acting in film as we know it today. This is made all the more effective by the use of rare archival interviews in Pickford’s own words. Her life seems in many ways to be defined by ambition. While the public loved her in the “little girl” roles, she sought to stretch herself as an artist by tackling new challenges. In the film “Stella Maris” she played a doomed orphan. She transformed herself so completely for the role to that she was rendered unrecognizable. Pickford brought director Ernst Lubitsch from Germany after WWI to direct her 1922 film “Rosita.” They clashed during production and never worked together again. Even so, Pickford was not one to shy away from taking chances.
She eventually began to feel confined by the “little girl” roles and felt they were artistically suffocating her. After her mother’s death in 1928, she had her curls chopped off which made the front page of the New York Times. This transition came along with the arrival of sound. Pickford’s “talkie” debut was the film “Coquette” which won her an Academy Award. Unfortunately fans were confused seeing her play a flirty socialite with bobbed hair. It was not the Mary Pickford they were used to. Her career began to fade along with her celebrated marriage to fellow Hollywood titan Douglas Fairbanks. They would only make a handful of talking pictures each (including a clunky adaptation of “The Taming of the Shrew” together) before retiring from the screen.
Pickford continued to produce and remained involved with charity work until the end of her life. She blazed countless trails for women in Hollywood and left an indelible mark on film history.
TCM has done it again with another stellar line up! This event really has become a mecca to classic movie lovers and I've been amazed to find that most people I meet at the festival have made this their yearly vacation.
The only problem with TCM Fest is that they haven't invented (to my knowledge) a human cloning machine. There are up to 5 fantastic events all going on at the same time over the course of the entire festival. I tend to mull over the schedule for days before making my final decisions and it is never easy. I am a vintage clothing collector and have a huge passion for design, so the theme of "Style in the Movies" was a lure I couldn't resist.
First up, I saw the silent film "Our Dancing Daughters" (1928), which stared Joan Crawford, Anita Page and Dorothy Sebastian. I've seen this before but never on the big screen, so this was an exciting opportunity. Before the film began, TCM conducted an interview with Anita Page's daughter. The interviewer did the best he could, but she didn't have any insights or anything interesting to share. He finally asked to if the rumor was true that Italian dictator Benito Mussolini had written her mother fan letters. She confirmed that it was. Then the interviewer asked how she felt about that, to which she deadpanned, "Well, at least it wasn't Hitler." You could have heard a pin drop. The audience all sat in a seemingly long uncomfortable silence. The interviewer smiled and made a fast exit to start the film.
"Our Dancing Daughters" is a wonderful flapper melodrama complete with plenty of eye popping 1920s deco sets, evening gowns and jewelry. Joan Crawford jumps right off the screen and seems in her element dancing on a table top amidst a wild party. In the film she plays a free spirited (but virtuous) flapper who falls in love with a young man who is lured away by her gold digging rival (Anita Page). While the story itself plays out like a soap opera, the performances really elevate the proceedings. This film was a huge hit and spawned two follow up films--"Our Modern Maidens" and "Our Blushing Brides".
I'm a huge fan of film noir and was also eager to see "Gun Crazy" (1950). Out of the all of the films I attended at the festival, this is the one that really brought the house down. Noir czar Eddie Muller introduced the film and brought out star Peggy Cummins for her first Los Angeles appearance in decades. The crowd gave her a standing ovation. She was gracious, classy and didn't disappoint. She recalled the film has being super low budget and none of them had expectations that it would become such a classic. It just just thought of as another "B" movie at the time. Peggy Cummins gives perhaps the most ferocious performance in noir history as a beautiful gun crazed circus sharp shooter intent on living life in the fast lane.
The print of "Gun Crazy" was stunning and it was such a thrill seeing it at the Egyptian Theatre. Film noir has become such a popular and highly influential genre, so I'm really glad to see they are carving out a space for it at the festival.
"Girl Shy" (1924) is perhaps Harold Lloyd's most winningly romantic film. While he hasn't been as well remembered as Chaplin and Keaton, this has changed in recent years. His films have enjoyed screenings at several film festivals along with new books and even a DVD box set. "Girl Shy" was a packed house. In the film Harold Lloyd plays a shy, quiet guy who writes a book on how to seduce and handle women....even though he knows nothing about it. He has numerous fantasies about his conquests of "The Flapper" and "The Vamp". Naturally he meets the woman of his dreams, but trouble ensues along the road to a happy ending. Harold Lloyd's granddaughter spoke before the film. She talked about his incredible attention to detail and how he timed his gags for the maximum audience response. It is obvious that Harold Lloyd was indeed brilliant and worthy of being remembered as one of the comedy greats of the silent era.
Every year TCM has made a point of including a Clara Bow film and I couldn't be happier! This year they showed the rare pre-code goodie "Call Her Savage" (1933). The film was introduced by biographer David Stenn whose Bow biography "Runnin' Wild" is a must read. Clara Bow stars here as a disgraced socialite named Nasa Springer. The film contains enough melodrama for three films and includes pre-code elements such as prostitution, a gay bar, venereal disease, gambling, scandal and attempted rape. Clara Bow elevates the material with an excellent performance, putting to rest any myths that she was unable to make it in "talkies". In truth, Clara was simply tired and ready to retire. This was the second to last film of her career and one that she was particularly proud of. It is always hard to decide what films to see, but the choice is much easier when TCM shows rarities like this one that aren't on DVD.
"Letter From An Unknown Woman" was another film that I had never gotten to see in the big screen format. It was introduced by actress Rose McGowan who seems very smart and knowledgeable about the classics. Directed by Max Ophüls, the film stars Louis Jourdan as a concert pianist who receives a letter from a past lover (Joan Fontaine) who he fails to remember. The film is a heartbreaking, tender drama that moves slowly and requires patience when viewing. It doesn't zip along like many movies, but rather unfolds slowly and with a quiet, deliberate pace. The frustrating thing about this film is that the character played by Joan Fontaine is so spellbound and naive that she refuses to see the truth that has been right in front of her all along. This same material felt infinitely more effective in the film "Only Yesterday" (1933) with Margaret Sullavan and John Boles.
Perhaps the most revelatory screening of the festival for me was the documentary "Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room". Barely two years old at the time, Baby Peggy became a sensation in silent comedies of the early 1920s before making the transition to feature films. Unfortunately her parents squandered her entire fortune through outrageous spending and mismanagement. Baby Peggy performed in vaudeville before eventually running away from home with her sister in an effort to break free from her parents. She eventually found solace in religion and managed to make the transformation from film actress to film historian. I've read her book "Whatever Happened to Baby Peggy" which is a fantastic and vivid account of her life. The documentary effectively tells her life story in photographs, interviews and even recent footage of a now 94 year old Baby Peggy (renamed Diana Serra Cary) interacting with her granddaughter and attending film festivals. This was an excellent documentary and a great treat to see with an audience. TCM also did a separate program of Baby Peggy silent shorts. Diana Serra Cary was in attendance and her memory is excellent. She was able to recall many details about the dangerous stunts, long hours and often hazardous working conditions she endured. She held the audience captive and is a really great story teller. If you haven't read her book, it really is a must.
I also took a break from movie going to play a trivia game called "So You Think You Know Movies" at the Roosevelt Hotel with some other film fans. Unfortunately we lost, but had a great time playing in any case. Several of us went to lunch at the Pig & Whistle afterward. One of the things I enjoy most about the festival is meeting and getting to know other people from around the country and even the world who cherish these films as much as I do. TCM Fest really is a community and a great way for film fans to unite in our shared passion.
I got to spend a few minutes chatting with Ms. Carey (Baby Peggy) after the screening! Pardon the iphone quality photo.
HOLLYWOOD HERITAGE AND PARAMOUNT GIVE HERITAGE MUSEUM A FACELIFT
In keeping with the celebration of Paramount Pictures’ 100th anniversary, the motion picture production company is putting some loving care into the building where their company was born - the Lasky-DeMille barn. The 1901 Hollywood stable was built by Col. Robert Northam, and later sold to Jacob Stern. Stern was the owner when it became a film studio in 1912. It was later rented to the Lasky Company, which purchased the property. The Lasky Company merged with Adolph Zukor’s Famous Players Film Company and the Paramount Distributing Company to become Paramount Pictures Corporation. In 1979, Paramount donated the barn to Hollywood Heritage. Today it is the Hollywood Heritage Museum, operated since 1985 by Hollywood Heritage, a membership based non-profit, with an all-volunteer management and staff.
Paramount Pictures, along with the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Los Angeles County Preservation Fund, provided funds to prepare the building for a “new” coat of paint. The current painting of this California State Landmark returns the building to its original color scheme when Paramount was born.
Numerous researchers and historians both in and outside of the organization aided Hollywood Heritage in discovering the building’s construction date and color. Subsequent detailed paint studies taken from those remote portions of the building least changed in the last hundred years was conducted by Historic Resources Group of Pasadena, and confirmed descriptions in newspaper accounts of the building as “The Gray Lady” and leading it to be returned to a glorious gray once more (with a bit of dark green and white trim).
Paramount Pictures will provide both the paint and skilled labor to accomplish this restoration, which is anticipated to be completed by the end of March. “We are so gratified that Paramount Pictures has joined this restoration project, helping us to commemorate the building and the company’s history. As the sole link between early agrarian Hollywood and the entertainment capital it is today, this is an important landmark” said Hollywood Heritage president, Richard Adkins. Of equal importance is the donation by the Cecil B. DeMille Foundation of the refurbishing of the second story of the museum with new climate controlled storage and archival facilities.
Currently on display at the museum is an exhibit provided by Paramount Pictures and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Foundation of photographs and artifacts from 100 years of Paramount films. The museum which is located at 2100 N. Highland Ave. is open Wednesday through Sunday noon to 4 p.m. Admission is $7.00 and children under twelve are admitted free. Visit us online at www.hollywoodheritage.org
WE WANT YOU TO SEE NAPOLEON….AND HERE ARE 10 GOOD REASONS WHY!
We want to share with you an article posted by Thomas Gladysz this week on SFGate and The Huffington Post. Thomas details ten compelling reasons why everyone should go see our monumental presentation of NAPOLEON at the Oakland Paramount (March 24, 25, 31, April 1) - we couldn’t have said it better ourselves. Following are his ten great reasons, with excerpts from the article:
10) BACKGROUND: “[Film historian Kevin Brownlow has] spent much of his life piecing together this lost masterpiece which had been dismissed, neglected, cut up, reworked, and scattered by the winds of time.”
9) KEVIN BROWNLOW: “In the March issue of Vanity Fair, Martin Scorsese wrote, ‘If you love silent movies, Kevin Brownlow should be your hero.’”
8) SETTING: “Thanks in part to [the Oakland Paramount] - a temple to the motion picture experience - movie-goers who attend Napoleon may well find themselves spellbound in darkness.”
7) MUSIC: “[Carl Davis’ score is] a marathon and masterful work of film scoring which has twice been expanded to keep up with newly found footage.”
6) CARL DAVIS: “Davis has written music for more than 100 television programs and feature films, but is best known for creating music to accompany silent films, including key Brownlow restorations.”
5) BIGGER AND BETTER: “This current and likely final restoration, completed in 2000 but not previously seen outside Europe, reclaims more than 30 minutes of additional footage discovered since the earlier restorations while visually upgrading much of the film.”
4) GREATEST FILM EVER MADE: “Here is what Vincent Canby had to say in 1981 in the pages of the New York Times. ‘...One suddenly realizes that there once was a film that justified all of the adjectives that have subsequently been debased by critics as well as advertising copywriters. Napoleon sweeps; it takes the breath away; it moves; it dazzles.’”
3) POLYVISION: “There are few movies so innovative, so daring and so hugely ambitious… For the finale, the screen expands to three times its normal width - a kind of triptych - while showing panoramic views and montages of images. There really hasn’t been anything else like it, not even Cinerama… Prepare to be amazed.”
2) VALUE: “For a five and a half hour movie (the length of three contemporary films) accompanied by a live symphony orchestra (a concert ticket too), the ticket prices to Napoleon are rather inexpensive.”
1) EXPERIENCE: “In ten or twenty or thirty years, when this screening of Napoleon is only a memory, film lovers will ask - were you there? ‘Did you see the Napoleon at the Paramount in 2012?’”
The Oscars are happening tomorrow night and all eyes will be on Hollywood. For anyone who loves film history, this year has been one to savor. THE ARTIST was wonderful and everything I could ever want in a film. While there has been some backlash with detractors saying it is too light and fluffy, the film has undeniable charm and was clearly made as a love letter to old Hollywood. Based on the months of pre-show awards results THE ARTIST is poised to win Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director. I also loved HUGO and would be thrilled if that were to win Best Picture of any other awards for that matter. My hope is that the general public will see these films and develop an interest in learning more. We are very fortunate to live a time when there are a ton of silent movies on DVD including a Melies box set. It is easy and accessible to find. TCM also shows silent films, often on Sunday nights. While the winners may be predicable, I still enjoy watching the show and have made it a tradition since childhood. Below are my pics and predictions for the Oscars:
The 84th Annual Academy Awards
Actor in a Leading Role
* Demián Bichir in “A Better Life”
* George Clooney in “The Descendants”
* Jean Dujardin in “The Artist”
* Gary Oldman in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”
* Brad Pitt in “Moneyball”
Actor in a Supporting Role
* Kenneth Branagh in “My Week with Marilyn”
* Jonah Hill in “Moneyball”
* Nick Nolte in “Warrior”
* Christopher Plummer in “Beginners”
* Max von Sydow in “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”
Actress in a Leading Role
* Glenn Close in “Albert Nobbs”
* Viola Davis in “The Help”
* Rooney Mara in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”
* Meryl Streep in “The Iron Lady”
* Michelle Williams in “My Week with Marilyn”
Actress in a Supporting Role
* Bérénice Bejo in “The Artist”
* Jessica Chastain in “The Help”
* Melissa McCarthy in “Bridesmaids”
* Janet McTeer in “Albert Nobbs”
* Octavia Spencer in “The Help”
Animated Feature Film
* “A Cat in Paris” Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli
* “Chico & Rita” Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal
* “Kung Fu Panda 2” Jennifer Yuh Nelson
* “Puss in Boots” Chris Miller
* “Rango” Gore Verbinski
* “The Artist”
Production Design: Laurence Bennett; Set Decoration: Robert Gould
* “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2”
Production Design: Stuart Craig; Set Decoration: Stephenie McMillan
Production Design: Dante Ferretti; Set Decoration: Francesca Lo Schiavo
* “Midnight in Paris”
Production Design: Anne Seibel; Set Decoration: Hélène Dubreuil
* “War Horse”
Production Design: Rick Carter; Set Decoration: Lee Sandales
* “The Artist” Guillaume Schiffman
* “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Jeff Cronenweth
* “Hugo” Robert Richardson
* “The Tree of Life” Emmanuel Lubezki
* “War Horse” Janusz Kaminski
* “Anonymous” Lisy Christl
* “The Artist” Mark Bridges
* “Hugo” Sandy Powell
* “Jane Eyre” Michael O’Connor
* “W.E.” Arianne Phillips
* “The Artist” Michel Hazanavicius
* “The Descendants” Alexander Payne
* “Hugo” Martin Scorsese
* “Midnight in Paris” Woody Allen
* “The Tree of Life” Terrence Malick
* “Hell and Back Again”
Danfung Dennis and Mike Lerner
* “If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front”
Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman
* “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory”
Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky
Wim Wenders and Gian-Piero Ringel
TJ Martin, Dan Lindsay and Rich Middlemas
Documentary (Short Subject)
* “The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement”
Robin Fryday and Gail Dolgin
* “God Is the Bigger Elvis”
Rebecca Cammisa and Julie Anderson
* “Incident in New Baghdad”
* “Saving Face”
Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
* “The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom”
Lucy Walker and Kira Carstensen
* “The Artist” Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius
* “The Descendants” Kevin Tent
* “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
* “Hugo” Thelma Schoonmaker
* “Moneyball” Christopher Tellefsen
Foreign Language Film
* “Bullhead” Belgium
* “Footnote” Israel
* “In Darkness” Poland
* “Monsieur Lazhar” Canada
* “A Separation” Iran
* “Albert Nobbs”
Martial Corneville, Lynn Johnston and Matthew W. Mungle
* “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2”
Nick Dudman, Amanda Knight and Lisa Tomblin
* “The Iron Lady”
Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland
Music (Original Score)
* “The Adventures of Tintin” John Williams
* “The Artist” Ludovic Bource
* “Hugo” Howard Shore
* “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” Alberto Iglesias
* “War Horse” John Williams
Music (Original Song)
* “Man or Muppet” from “The Muppets”
Music and Lyric by Bret McKenzie
* “Real in Rio” from “Rio”
Music by Sergio Mendes and Carlinhos Brown; Lyric by Siedah Garrett
* “The Artist” Thomas Langmann, Producer
* “The Descendants” Jim Burke, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Producers
* “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” Scott Rudin, Producer
* “The Help” Brunson Green, Chris Columbus and Michael Barnathan, Producers
* “Hugo” Graham King and Martin Scorsese, Producers
* “Midnight in Paris” Letty Aronson and Stephen Tenenbaum, Producers
* “Moneyball” Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz and Brad Pitt, Producers
* “The Tree of Life” Sarah Green, Bill Pohlad, Dede Gardner and Grant Hill, Producers
* “War Horse” Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, Producers
Short Film (Animated)
* “Dimanche/Sunday” Patrick Doyon
* “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg
* “La Luna” Enrico Casarosa
* “A Morning Stroll” Grant Orchard and Sue Goffe
* “Wild Life” Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby
Short Film (Live Action)
* “Pentecost” Peter McDonald and Eimear O’Kane
* “Raju” Max Zähle and Stefan Gieren
* “The Shore” Terry George and Oorlagh George
* “Time Freak” Andrew Bowler and Gigi Causey
* “Tuba Atlantic” Hallvar Witzø
* “Drive” Lon Bender and Victor Ray Ennis
* “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Ren Klyce
* “Hugo” Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty
* “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl
* “War Horse” Richard Hymns and Gary Rydstrom
* “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”
David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Bo Persson
Tom Fleischman and John Midgley
Deb Adair, Ron Bochar, David Giammarco and Ed Novick
* “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”
Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Peter J. Devlin
* “War Horse”
Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson, Tom Johnson and Stuart Wilson
* “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2”
Tim Burke, David Vickery, Greg Butler and John Richardson
Rob Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossmann and Alex Henning
* “Real Steel”
Erik Nash, John Rosengrant, Dan Taylor and Swen Gillberg
* “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”
Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White and Daniel Barrett
* “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”
Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Matthew Butler and John Frazier
Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
* “The Descendants” Screenplay by Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
* “Hugo” Screenplay by John Logan
* “The Ides of March” Screenplay by George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon
* “Moneyball” Screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin; Story by Stan Chervin
* “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” Screenplay by Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan
Writing (Original Screenplay)
* “The Artist” Written by Michel Hazanavicius
* “Bridesmaids” Written by Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig
* “Margin Call” Written by J.C. Chandor
* “Midnight in Paris” Written by Woody Allen
* “A Separation” Written by Asghar Farhadi
I always look forward to the films coming out in the fall. It is usually when the independents get more of a chance to shine and gear up for Oscar season. This fall brings a wealth of interesting new titles. Below are the films I’m the most eager to see:
DRIVE (Film District) Sept. 16th
Ryan Gosling stars as a Los Angeles wheelman for hire, stunt driving for movie productions by day and steering getaway vehicles for armed heists by night. Though a loner by nature, Driver can’t help falling in love with his beautiful neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan), a vulnerable young mother dragged into a dangerous underworld by the return of her ex-convict husband Standard (Oscar Isaac). Winner of the Best Director Award at the Cannes Film Festival, this modern day noir looks fantastic! Gosling continues to work with top notch talent and is really building a solid, lasting body of work.
TAKE SHELTER (Sony Classics) Sept. 30th
Plagued by a series of apocalyptic visions, a young husband and father questions whether to shelter his family from a coming storm, or from himself. Michael Shannon excels at playing disturbed characters. Witness his Oscar nominated turn in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD or on BOARDWALK EMPIRE if you don’t believe me. This film also stars fast rising actress Jessica Chastain (TREE OF LIFE, THE HELP). A friend of mine caught an advance screening of this the other night and raved about it.
BLACKTHORN (Magnolia) Oct. 7th
It’s been said (but unsubstantiated) that BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID were killed in a standoff with the Bolivian military in 1908. In BLACKTHORN, Cassidy (Shepard) survived, and is quietly living out his years under the name James Blackthorn in a secluded Bolivian village. Tired of his long exile from the US and hoping to see his family again before he dies, Cassidy sets out on the long journey home. I have always enjoyed a good western and cling to hope that the genre will be revived on a more consistent basis. This film looks really sprawling and epic—-as any good western should be.
MY WEEK WITH MARILYN (Weinstein) Nov. 4th
Colin Clark, an employee of Sir Laurence Olivier’s, documents the tense interaction between Olivier and Marilyn Monroe during production of TTHE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL. While I couldn’t find an official trailer yet, I did find a video below about the making of this film. Playing a real life person, particularly an iconic movie star is always a slippery slope. That said, Michelle Williams is one of the best young actresses working today and I’m dying to see her pull this off. When Cate Blanchett played Katharine Hepburn in THE AVIATOR, she demonstrated (to Oscar winning effect no less) than it is possible to pull off a full bodied transformation instead of a simple impression. Here’s hoping that Williams can do the same. Kenneth Branagh is also generating buzz for his performance as Sir Laurence Olivier. I can’t wait!!!!!
THE ARTIST (Weinstein Co.) Nov. 23rd
Hollywood 1927. George Valentin is a very successful silent movie star. The arrival of talking pictures will mark the end of his career. Peppy Miller, a young woman extra, becomes a major movie star. This black and white silent film took the Cannes Film Festival by storm winning the Best Actor Award and a distribution deal with The Weinstein Company. While something like this might be a tough sell with the general public, I’m pretty obsessed with silent films and I’m thrilled to hear that one will be released in 2011!!! The trailer for this film looks really beautiful. Opening day can’t come soon enough for me!
CARNAGE (Sony Classics) Dec. 16th
Tells the story of two sets of parents who decide to have a cordial meeting after their sons are involved in a schoolyard brawl. Based on the play “God of Carnage” this film adaptation is directed by Roman Polanski and stars a trio of Oscar winners Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster and Christoph Waltz along with nominee John C. Reilly. You can’t go wrong with a cast like this.
You can help The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum win a grant of $25,000 by voting for them in the National Trust For Historic Preservation’s Community Challenge contest: THIS PLACE MATTERS. Please alert your friends to this so they can vote for them too. You can vote only once and they figure that they will need at least 8,000 votes to win. Voting ends June 30th. Simply follow the steps below to place your vote.
1. CLICK HERE to go to our page in the website.
2. Click on “Register” in the voting box
3. Enter your email and click “Submit”
4. Click on “Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum” in the list of sites
5. Click on “Vote Now” on our page
Thanks for helping to keep this museum alive!!!! Check out Leonard Maltin’s blog about his visit!
I had been eagerly looking forward to the TCM Film Festival for months much like a little kid would look forward to say a visit from Santa Clause. Here is my diary of the film festival experience:
Thursday, April 28th
“The People Behind TCM” panel in Club TCM in the Roosevelt
First off these people seem to be living the dream. I can’t imagine a better way to make a living than to work for TCM. All of the panelists really seemed to love their jobs and take pride in doing them. The panel discussed the various challenges in putting on the festival, getting the guests and programming the films. Charlie Tabesh (Head of Programming) emphasized that they didn’t want to show films ONLY from the Warner Bros archive (which is owned by Turner) but that they wanted to keep showing films from other studios as well. Tom Brown (Head of Original Programming) also mentioned that he was working on some new documentaries including one about multi-generational families who have worked in Hollywood. While there were many details that they couldn’t divulge, the panelists indicated that many new and exciting things were in store for TCM fans in the near future.
Discussion about Jack Pashkovsky Exhibit in Club TCM in the Roosevelt
I have admired the work of numerous famed photographers from Hollywood history including George Hurrell, Clarence Sinclair Bull, etc. I had never heard of Jack Pashkovsky. Apparently I was not alone in this. Filmmaker Barry Avrich was at the Motion Picture Country Home a few years back making a documentary about the organization when he happened to walk by Mr. Pashkovsky’s room. His head turned when he realized it was filled with beautiful candid portraits of stars that he had never seen before. He asked about them and Mr. Pashkovsky declined saying that his work was not important. Fortunately Barry Avrich respectfully disagreed and made several return visits to learn more about him. It turns out there was a treasure trove of 400 never before seen photos collecting dust under his bed.
Pashkovsky had no particular interest in film stars per say, only in photography. Since he lived in Hollywood, photographing the stars made sense. Arvish explained, “If he had been in the Amazon, he would have happily photographed the wildlife.” The stars were simply available and willing subjects. Some of the photos were framed and mounted all around Club TCM. They are candid and have a spontaneous quality about them that is devoid of studio tampering. In an image where the stars were carefully controlled, one picture shows a relaxed Cary Grant smiling on the street with his tie crooked and sticking out. Averich got Mr. Pashkovsky to give him the rights for the photos in order to do a book, but died very shortly thereafter. Unfortunately the book hasn’t materialized, but the photos are being archived by the Toronto International Film Festival. There are plans for a display in the future.
Barry Avrich also made a documentary called Glitter Palace about the Motion Picture Home, but alas it has only aired in Canada and has not yet been available in America. It was an interesting Q&A and a joy to discover the work of a new artist who had long gone unrecognized.
A NIGHT AT THE OPERA
I was thrilled to see that the theatre was a packed house! Groucho’s grandson Andy Marx was on hand to share his memories about “Grandpa Groucho”. The interview was conducted by Robert Bader who discussed the fact that Zeppo was missing in action, having recently left the comedy team to become an agent. This marked the first time they had worked as a trio since 1912. They discussed how A NIGHT AT THE OPERA was the first Marx Bros. film at MGM and they had just departed Paramount after a very successful run. Andy Marx also emphasized that the Marx Bros. had not been fired from the studio and that DUCK SOUP (their last film there) had been a success. He said that there was some “re-structuring” in the front office which led to a delay in the renewal of the Marx Bros. contract which is what sent them to MGM. The legendary Irving Thalberg supervised their films. Andy Marx said that “Grandpa Groucho” thought of Thalberg as a god like figure and had the highest admiration for him. Legend has it that Thalberg wanted them to settle for less money without Zeppo to which Groucho counted that they were twice as good without him and should get twice as much! Andy Marx first saw A NIGHT AT THE OPERA on television as a kid. He recalled bringing in a tape recorder to record their dialogue so he could act out the scenes. (Yes kids there was a time even before VCRs were invented!) He said that around the mid or late 1960s Groucho started to dislike any reference to his career and simply didn’t want to live in the past. His attitude changed when the Marx Brothers were re-discovered by new audiences and became popular once again. He said his grandpa’s love of comedy returned and he even began singing his old songs and performing routines for him. They also mentioned that Groucho Marx did not like his director Sam Wood who was a known conservative. There is the oft-told story of Wood disparaging one of Groucho’s line readings, saying, “You can’t make an actor out of clay,” to which Groucho famously replied, “And you can’t make a director out of Wood!” Andy Marx was very fortunate to have gotten to know “Grandpa Groucho” and to have shared in such a fantastic Hollywood legacy.
Friday, April 29th
THE MERRY WIDOW
I had to work all day Friday, but managed to make it to Hollywood for an evening film. While it seems everyone else picked the Kirk Douglas Tribute and screening of SPARTACUS, I decided on seeing THE MERRY WIDOW. It was thrilling to see this in the Egyptian, since it was built in 1922 originally as a silent era movie palace. Historian and preservationist Kevin Brownlow was on hand to discuss the film and its turbulent production. The great director Erich Von Stroheim was well known for being as talented as he was tyrannical. He drove the cast to distraction and fought with Louis B. Mayer, Irving Thalberg and Mae Murray. He fought with star John Gilbert as well before they became friends. Mr. Brownlow said that Von Stroheim had the film taken away from him and cut by the studio. Von Stroheim was furious and claimed to hate the ending—even though it was the ending that he had written and shot himself.
In the film Mae Murray (known as “the girl with the bee stung lips”) plays an Irish-American dancer in the fictional town of Monte Blanco. Both beautiful and lively, she is pursued by numerous wealthy and royal suitors who seem intent on forcing her into bed. There are ominous undertones and several racy (for the time) touches such as nude, blindfolded musicians playing during their romantic dinner. Curiously, there are numerous close ups of shoes. In the editing room Thalberg questioned this and Von Stroheim admitted to a foot fetish. Thalberg retorted, “No you have a FOOTAGE fetish” in reference to Von Stroheim’s tendency to shoot ten times more than was needed. The film was romantic, moving and beautiful. Seeing silents on the big screen with a live orchestra is the best possible way to see them. The impact is so powerful. John Gilbert and Mae Murray radiate passion in every frame of the film. The ten-piece orchestral accompaniment led by the Dutch composer Maud Nelissen. The music was magnificent and they also beautifully incorporated The Merry Widow waltz into the score. The audience gave the film and their performance a standing ovation. I only felt sad that there weren’t more people there to see it.
Saturday, April 30th
I have long been a fan of Clara Bow and sadly until now HOOP-LA hasn’t been an easy film to see. I did see it several years ago at the UCLA Film and TV Archive, but it wasn’t in very good shape and the original credits were missing. I was thrilled to hear that this is no longer the case. Bow biographer, historian and preservationist David Stenn has been working with MOMA in New York to bring the film back to audiences. The print was beautiful and an entirely different experience from my previous viewing. Before the film, Stenn spoke about how this was Clara Bow’s final film. She had experienced the highest and lowest possible levels in Hollywood and no longer had the heart for it. She wanted to retire and had one foot out the door during the making of this film. That said her total emotional commitment to the part remained evident on the screen. In the film Clara Bow plays a side show dancer who agrees to seduce the manager’s son in exchange for money. The plan backfires when she falls in love with him. Bow is so powerful and moving in this film. I kept that there should have been more! The last shot of the film features Bow standing on stage while the carnival barker introduces her. Her face and eyes run the gamut of emotions from heartbreak to happiness in those moments. It was a fitting final shot for the woman who was a master of silent screen acting and who knew all to well how to break hearts without saying a word.
WENT THE DAY WELL
Kevin Brownlow introduced this film and gave it plenty of context. Born in 1938, he was a little boy in England during WWII, which is the time and place the film is set. WENT THE DAY WELL is about a village of polite English citizens who are host to a band of soldiers only to find out that they are secretly Germans who plan to kill them. I must confess that when I first started watching this film, I wasn’t certain I would like it. It seemed a bit dull, crisp and overly mannered. Fortunately it didn’t stay that way. The pace and intrigue of the film picked up so fast that I felt blindsided. There is one violent attack scene that was entirely unexpected and took the whole audience by surprise. The screening was sold out and the audience really seemed to respond to this film. People were clapping, cheering and really involved in the story. That sort of collective energy and excitement is what makes going to the movies so special. You simply can’t get that experience in a living room at home.
THE CAMERA MAN
For much of the festival, I have been very torn about what movies to select. At the TCM Film Festival there are always 4 or 5 amazing events happening all at the same time. I wish I could clone myself and attend all of them!! I was very close to selecting NIAGRA and seeing Marilyn Monroe on the big screen during this time slot. Then a friend told me that the music for THE CAMERAMAN was being provided by the Vince Giordano and the Nighthawk Orchestra from NY and that it couldn’t be missed! My friend was right. The music was fantastic and made me want to jump up and do the Charleston right there in the theatre. Buster Keaton was one of the greatest comedians of the silent era—-or any era for that matter. This film isn’t shown nearly as often as THE GENERAL but it should be. It is fast, funny and endlessly entertaining. Keaton stars as an aspiring newsreel photographer who is out to win a job and the girl he loves. His co-star is a small monkey who threatens to steal the show. The film was introduced by Leonard Maltin. He said that THE CAMERAMAN was Buster Keaton’s second to last silent film and one of the last on which he had full creative control. Soon afterward the powers that be at MGM took that freedom away from him causing him to fall apart both professionally and personally. Maltin encouraged the audience to enjoy the film and to think of it as one of Buster’s last great hurrahs on screen. For my money, the Nighthawk Orchestra and Buster Keaton are a match made in heaven. I hear that they play at a nightclub every week in New York City and broadcast over the internet. I will certainly be sitting by my radio here on the West coast tuning in.
Sunday, April 30th
Bright Boulevards and Broken Dreams
For this panel, historian Donald Bogle gave a slide show and lecture about African Americans throughout film history. This topic is very interesting to me and judging by the crowd at Club TCM, there are many other film fans who find it fascinating as well. Bogle discussed the obstacles, difficulties and dearth of opportunities faced by these bold pioneers in the industry. He also talked about them on a personal level and gave some insights into their lives off screen. There were many things he discussed that I had never known before. For example the first African American actress in Hollywood was named Madame Sul-Te-Wan and she was actually friends with D.W. Griffith and appeared in THE BIRTH OF A NATION. This was pretty shocking news to me. I will have to do some searching and read more about her. He talked about the lives and careers of Hattie McDaniel, Lena Horne, Dorothy Dandridge and many more. Bogle’s style is very eloquent and entertaining. I’m glad that TCM has asked him to the festival again this year. Shedding light on these films and performers is an important piece of understanding film history.
A TRIBUTE TO THE NICHOLAS BROTHERS
I first saw the Nicholas Bros. on screen in college when I saw STORMY WEATHER. I was dazzled at their artistry. It was thrilling to see TCM honor their achievements and have an entire event dedicated to their careers. Bruce Goldstein (head of the Film Forum in NY) hosted the event. He had met the Nicholas Bros. and even made a documentary about them. He was joined by filmmaker and screenwriter Robert Townsend, who also paid them tribute. He said that due to growing up in a gang infested area of Los Angeles, he was forced to stay inside the house after school and he often sought refuge in the movies. As a young African American boy, it was a revelation to him to see the Nicholas Bros. on screen. He became an immediate fan of their work and even cast Harold Nicholas in The Five Heartbeats, which he directed in 1991. Mr. Goldstein showed clips and interviews of the Nicholas Bros. and shared his personal insights along the way. At the beginning he asked the audience to avoid thinking about what the Nicholas Bros. could have done in another place and time, but rather to focus on what they had achieved instead. While I see his point, it was obvious that they deserved more. They should have had their own TV show and movies based completely around them instead of being just a stand alone dance number in films. Harold Nicholas even discussed this point in some of the documentary footage. The audience responded with rapt enthusiasm and their every dance clip with met with cheers and wild applause. They seriously must have had rubber and springs in their bodies, as their talent was simply otherworldly. I can’t even begin to imagine how they pulled off these feats….in particular there one in STORMY WEATHER where they jump down the stairs landing in a full split—-multiple times! Their sister was in the audience as well as their grandchildren and great grandchildren. I got to take a picture with them and found them very nice and gracious. The little grandson of Fayard Nicholas looked so much like him! He had big lively eyes and told me that he was a dancer too. His great granddaughter was equally cute. I’m sure it will be a matter of time before they will light up marquees taking their family tradition well into the 21st Century.
For the closing night film, I opted to see FANTASIA on the big screen at the Chinese. I hadn’t seen it since I was a little kid, so it was a great re-discovery. The color, music and artistry are all mind blowing. Robert Osbourne introduced the evening and was given thunderous applause from all of the TCM fans. He announced that there will be a third TCM film festival and an upcoming TCM cruise as well. I feel like the most spoiled film fan alive. When I went around the festival, I got to talk to tons of different movie fans of all ages from all over the country. Many of them said that TCM was the only way they had of seeing older films and that they didn’t have places like the American Cinematheque, New Beverly, Cinefamily, UCLA, etc. I also heard many people say that none of their friends liked older movies, so they were really excited to meet and befriend others at the festival who shared their passion. That shared experience and sense of community is what really makes the TCM film festival a beautiful thing. We all got to revel in our love for Hollywood’s Golden Age and discover that we weren’t alone—that there are many of us taking out places as “those wonderful people out there in the dark.”
I’m thrilled to be attending the TCM Film Festival this year. The schedule has presented attendees with an astonishing embarrassment of riches! The problem has been deciding what to see. I seriously wish I could clone myself and attend everything.
Here is my tentative game plan:
Thursday, April 28th
1:00pm The People Behind TCM
*3:00pm Cemetery Tour (As seen on TCM!)
7:15pm A NIGHT AT THE OPERA
Friday, April 29th
8:15pm THE MERRY WIDOW
Saturday, April 30th
9:30am THIS IS THE NIGHT
3:45pm WENT THE DAY WELL
9:00pm LA DOLCE VITA
Sunday, May 1st
10:00am NIGHT FLIGHT
12:30pm Bright Lights, Broken Dream
3:45pm Nicholas Bros. Tribute
These events are my “Plan A”. If I can’t get in for some reason, then I will resort to “Plan B”. I tried to select some rarities like NIGHT FLIGHT and HOOP-LA that don’t turn up very often. I’m also really looking forward to the “Bright Lights, Broken Dreams” event with historian Donald Bogle about African-Americans in Hollywood’s Golden Age. I’m so glad that TCM is including this kind of program in the festival. These artists were important pioneers and deserve to have their stories heard. I’m also thrilled to be seeing FANTASIA in the historic Chinese Theatre! I really do feel so fortunate to live in Los Angeles. As a die hard fan of Hollywood’s Golden Age, there is no better place to be!!
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This blog post is for the Blogathon for Film Preservation. The goal is raise awareness and hopefully money for the cause of preserving film for future generations. Proceeds will go to the Film Noir Foundation’s restoration of the 1950 noir “The Sound of Fury.” This is being hosted by The Self Styled Siren and Ferdy on Films. You can also check them out on Facebook.
To donate, click on the below link:
This past year I co-wrote a book called Location Filming in Los Angeles, so movie locations have been on the brain lately. When a location is captured on film it is given a certain kind of immortality. While a place like Bunker Hill may be destroyed, the film that captured it lives on…or at least we hope so. Out of every genre, I think that film noir best captures the spirit of Los Angeles and the locations it has to offer. Los Angeles is a place of sun, sand, surf and palm trees, but behind that showy veneer lurks a whole other reality. This can also be a place of darkness and deception. Film noir revels in that alternate reality and dares us not to watch.
In D.O.A. (1950) Edmond O’Brien finds out that he has been fatally poisoned and has only a few days to live. He is on a desperate mission to find out who killed him and why. That quest takes him to a climatic fight in the historic Bradbury Building. More than any other building in the city, the Bradbury looks like a movie set that is made to order. Built in 1893, it looks like something out of the year 2093. It looks both historic and futuristic at the same time. The ironwork throughout the building along with the large skylight creates shadows, lines and a sense of space that provide the perfect setting for mayhem. Director Joseph Losey filmed part of the chase scene there for the 1951 remake of “M” to brilliant effect.
The Los Angeles Coservancy was hoping to screen D.O.A. for their yearly series “Last Remaining Seats”. They wanted to show it in the Million Dollar Theatre which is right across the street from the Bradbury. They spoke to noir historian Alan K. Rode who informed them that a 35mm print of D.O.A. doesn’t even exist anymore. I’ve been told there is only ONE film print in the whole world of the “M” remake and that resides at the British Film Institute in London. It is not even on VHS or DVD and bootleg is pretty much the only option as far as I know for that title. The permanence of film is something we cannot take for granted. These films are such an important part of our culture and our history. I’m glad this blogathon exists. We need to do all we can to raise awareness and obtain the funding to save these films.
Another of my cinematic location obsessions is Bunker Hill. In the early years it was filled with proud, elegant Victorian homes. By the 1930s it was a skid row of sorts filled with boarding houses, pawn shops and squalor. Fortunately the movies were there to capture it. In CRISS CROSS (1949), Burt Lancaster’s mom lives in an old home on Bunker Hill. The area is working class and run down. Angel’s Flight can clearly be seen just outside the window. In the film Burt Lancaster plays a man who is obsessed with his ex-wife who drags him down into the underworld and brings about his ruin. CRISS CROSS utilized Union Station as well. The film is a fantastic noir and a great time capsule into downtown Los Angeles in 1949. KISS ME DEADLY (1955) also shows off Bunker Hill and Angel’s Flight. The seedy, underbelly of the city appears dangerous but strangely irresistible. For more Bunker Hill check out ACT OF VIOLENCE, HOLLOW TRIUMPH and CRY DANGER. Those shadows, sidewalks and hilltop trailer parks seem to hold endless possibilities. For me these films act as a time machine to a world that I long for, but never got to inhabit.
While CRY DANGER is sadly not on DVD yet, it will be featured at the upcoming UCLA Festival of Film Preservation on Friday, March 18th at 7:30pm. Film noir historian Alan K. Rode will be there along with CRY DANGER co-stars Rhonda Fleming and Richard Erdman. (The photo above features Dick Powell, Richard Erdman and Jean Porter in the Clover Trailer Park, which used to exit on Bunker Hill. This photo is from Jim Dawson’s blog “Bunker Hill Goes to the Movies.”)
By the way, the Annual Festival of Film Noir is coming up March 31st - April 17th at the Egyptian Theatre and I encourage you to attend! Stay tuned to FilmRadar for more details. They have excellent film prints, great guests and film noir experts Eddie Muller and Alan K. Rode are on hand nightly to provide insights. It is also a great way to socialize with other noir fans and to meet other people who like to take a walk on the dark side.
Today, February 15th 2011 marks the 50th anniversary of the plane crash that killed the U.S. Figure Skating World Team on February 15, 1961.
To commemorate this, the U.S. Figure Skating Association will release the film RISE in theaters nationwide on Thursday, February 17, 2011 for one night only. Ice legends Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Scott Hamilton, Brian Boitano and Michelle Kwan drive the story for the film, which is helmed by Emmy-winning twin filmmakers Lisa Lax and Nancy Stern Winters.
The one night event RISE will be hosted by Matt Lauer and simulcast LIVE from the Best Buy Theater in NYC to 500+ movie theaters in all 50 states, complete with post-show interviews and a never-before-seen skating tribute by Olympic Gold Medalist Evan Lysacek. All proceeds benefit the U.S. Figure Skating Memorial Fund, which was established shortly after the 1961 plane crash to both honor the victims and ensure up-and-coming skaters have the opportunity to pursue their dream. The Memorial Fund awards approximately $300,000 annually in grants and scholarships to skaters in financial need, recognizing excellence both on and off the ice.
Tickets to the event are available at participating theater box offices and online at www.FathomEvents.com
You can also learn more by visiting www.rise1961.com.
A future DVD and television release of RISE planned for fall of 2011.
When I saw the press release from the Academy, this announcement made me very happy! For those of you who may not know—-Kevin Brownlow is perhaps the most important and influential film historian who has ever lived. He was born in 1938 and studied silent film at a time when many of the key artists from the era were still alive. He has written numerous books on film history that are crucial reading to anyone who is passionate about film. His book “The Parade’s Gone By” is considered the most seminal book ever written on the subject. He has also made several documentaries including the 13 part documentary series “Hollywood” as well as documentaries on Greta Garbo, Lon Chaney, D.W. Griffith, Univeral Horror and many more! In the “Hollywood” documentary, Brownlow interviews not just the movie stars, but men who worked in the sound departments, stunt men, assistant directors and many other behind the scenes technicians. He understands that every member of a film crew can hold a crucial piece of information about the past.
Mr. Browlow is also very humble about his many achievements and incredibly generous in assisting others with questions and research. He has also been instrumental in film preservation. There are numerous classics that might not exist today had it not been for his efforts to save them. His whole life has been dedicated to furthering film history and this Oscar that is well deserved indeed!
Nearly two years ago I went on a trip to London and a historian that I’m friends with asked if I would drop a book off at Mr. Brownlow’s office. I showed up at his doorstep with the book and was hoping to get a few moments of his time to ask him some questions. After receiving the book, Mr. Brownlow suggested that we go down the street for tea. We spent the next hour discussing silent film while drinking tea and eating plum pie. He patiently answered all of my questions. I will always be eternally grateful for that time. I felt like a devout Catholic who just spent an hour privately with the Pope. It was one of the most memorable afternoons I’ve ever spent.