Sunday, December 5, 2021

Cinema is a matter of what's in the frame and what's out.
- Martin Scorsese

It’s official. My taste is turning solidly toward the folk and folk rock quarter. I still need dense enough instrumentation to keep me going (full-on acoustic singer-songwriter down-tempo on every song still doesn’t to it for me), but with nearly five months straight of my top album being in the folk/folk-rock/alt-country vein, it’s time to stop pretending it’s unusual for me to like this stuff. A couple of years ago, I didn’t really, which is why I keep being surprised. Tastes change. I’m learning to accept it.

One Little Plane – Into the Trees

I have a few different ways of finding new bands to listen to – friends recommendations, music blogs (though I’m bad at keeping up with them), Pitchfork reviews (I rarely agree with their reviews, but they turn me onto some good bands), NPR’s First Listen. Sometimes I just look up all the releases coming out in a week and randomly add albums to my Spotify playlists because I feel like I’ve vaguely heard of the band before, or just because I like the sound of their name. It’s a total crapshoot that sometimes pays off. That’s the case with this band. I have no idea why the name “One Little Plane” struck a chord with me, but I took the plunge and started up the first song and was in love within five seconds. Led by folk singer Kathryn Bint from Chicago (whose gorgeous voice easily slides into the same zone as Amy Millan or Emily Haines), this album is folk rock with just enough contemplation mixed with just enough rich orchestration to keep me enamored.

Okay, these things are supposed to be once a week, not once a month or whatever it keeps being lately. Still getting into the groove. Working it out. In the meantime, this will be a supersized edition – most links are within the last couple of weeks or so, but there are some exceptions where I felt the post warranted it. 🙂

Featured Links

MM: More Than the Silver Witch of Us All by Kim Morgan at Sunset Gun

Several posts popped up celebrating Marilyn Monroe’s birthday on June 1st, and I think this one my Kim Morgan is my wistful favorite – it’s wide-ranging and really gets at the person beneath the myth, something a lot of commentaries on Marilyn Monroe fail to do. See also The Lady Eve of The Lady Eve’s Reel Life discussing Marilyn’s final film The Misfits, a post that fits both Marilyn’s birthday and the Horseathon that was currently underway, sponsored by My Love of Old Hollywood. Also, Bobby Rivers at The Cinementals has a great post about Marilyn’s ability to make dorks and nerds feel loved.

Mary Pickford: The Girl Who Invented Celebrity by Carley Johnson at The Cinementals

The recent Mary Pickford blogathon generated a number of good posts, and I really enjoyed this one from The Cinementals. Yeah, I’m going to be linking The Cinementals a lot from now on, so just get used to it. They generate an awfully lot of high-quality content, and it’s getting to be one of the premier sites for classic movie fans. Anyway. Here Carley talks about Pickford as really the first big Hollywood celebrity – and how that differs from our current definition of the term. Also check out Page‘s picturiffic post about Pickfair at My Love of Old Hollywood, and Brandie‘s exploration of the working relationship between Pickford and writer Frances Marion at True Classics.

The Legendary Wit of Judy Garland by Lara at Backlots

Also celebrating a birthday this month was the wonderful Judy Garland (see my tribute), and Lara goes into Judy’s legendary wit, while also pointing out that it was something of a public front for her. Fascinating commentary, and the section about the candid interviews revealed a side of Judy that I didn’t really know about. See also Aurora‘s tribute to Judy at The Cinementals, and Ryan McNeil‘s perhaps fortuitously-timed Blind Spot review of A Star is Born.

The Latest Whither Criticism Kerfluffle

Seems like there’s a big debate over the “value of criticism” or “what is criticism” or approaches to criticism or what have you that takes over a bunch of the big dog film critic blogs for a while every six months or so, and even as they get repetitive, I always enjoy reading them. The current topic is the common one of film critics vs. mainstream opinions, kicked off immediately by a video podcast from the New York Times featuring film critic A.O. Scott and media commenter David Carr. Appalled by Carr’s lack of logical rigor, Jim Emerson analyzed the crap out of the video, while Glenn Kenny offered his thoughts on criticism itself. Meanwhile, others looking in, like the excellent amateur blogger Velvet Cafe (whose blog is a must for extremely well-written personal experiences with movies) wondered why all the fuss over such a trifling video. I left my own long comment on Velvet Cafe’s blog, but the gist of it is that I agree with Emerson, though I’m not as angered as he was. The video mostly just made me frustrated that the level of discussion it displays is considered adequate in any way. It’s a ridiculous video, and while it might not be worth getting up in arms over, Emerson’s breakdown of it is exactly right. If this is what passes for critical discourse at the New York Times (about criticism or anything else), then we’re in a bad way.

West Side Story, playing Wednesday on TCM

[Every week I do a column at Row Three detailing the notable films playing on TV during the upcoming week. I will choose my top five recommendations from that list to specifically highlight here. Click through to see the full list.]

Possessed

Tuesday at 8:00pm on TCM
A pulpy noir with Joan Crawford driving herself crazy (literally) pining over a man who strings her along. He’s basically an homme fatale, which is interesting, with Crawford taking on the typically male noir role of the one pulled into ever darker despair by trampled-on love. The film tries to do too much, throwing in all sorts of other noirish plot points, but remains a really good watch for noir fans.
1947 USA. Director: Curtis Bernhardt. Starring: Joan Crawford, Van Heflin, Raymond Massey, Geraldine Brooks.
Newly Featured!

West Side Story

Wednesday at 8:00pm on TCM
I unabashedly love musicals, Shakespeare, and stylized choreography. Hence, I love West Side Story. I wish Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood were a little more interesting as the leads, but the supporting cast is electrifying enough that it doesn’t much matter, especially with Bernstein and Sondheim music and Jerome Robbins choreography.
1961 USA. Director: Richard Wise & Jerome Robbins. Starring: Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, George Chakiris, Rita Moreno.
Must See

The Spiral Staircase

Thursday at 3:15pm on TCM
A classic example of the “old dark house” atmospheric thriller, with Dorothy Maguire as a mute domestic servant whose life is endangered when a serial killer seems to be targeting people with disabilities like her. In the subgenre of creepy old mansions horror films, this one is often mentioned right up there with The Haunting and The Innocents.
1945 USA. Director: Robert Siodmak. Starring: Dorothy Maguire, George Brent, Ethel Barrymore, Kent Smith, Rhonda Fleming, Elsa Lanchester.
Newly Featured!

Hausu

Late Friday/Early Saturday at 2:30am on TCM
This is quite possibly the most insane movie I have ever seen. Japanese schoolgirls set to go on holiday arrive at the house where they plan to stay, and are beset by crazy cats, carnivorous pianos, deadly pools, and I don’t even remember what all else. As soon as you think Nobuhiko Ohbayashi has certainly included everything he could possibly think of, he throws in more stuff. It’s like he took every cinematic element ever and every filmmaking technique ever and just mashed them all up together into one glorious, ridiculous, amazing film. You gotta see it.
1977 Japan. Director: Nobuhiko Ohbayashi. Starring: Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Kumiko Ohba.
Newly Featured!

Rio Bravo

Sunday at 8:00pm on TCM
A ragtag group made up of a sheriff, a cripple, a drunk, and an untried youth guard a man in jail against the expected rescue attempts by his brother, the local bad guy. One of the most enjoyable westerns ever made, with all the actors having a great time with their characters.
1959 USA. Director: Howard Hawks. Starring: John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Walter Brennan.
Must See

Back when I was a Hollywood musicals-obsessed kid, Judy Garland was understandably one of my favorite performers. By the time I was 15, I could count the number of her films I HADN’T seen on one hand. As a youngster with lots of time and parents who encouraged my classic film obsession, I made many attempts to form marathons to watch favorite stars’ films on their birthdays, but the Judy Garland one is the only one I stuck with for years in a row – even today, when I see June 10th looming on a calendar, her name immediately springs to my lips, as if an old childhood friend’s birthday was once again right around the corner.

As I grew older, my appreciation for her bigger-than-life talent and her courage in the face of personal hardship only grew as well, along with an unshakeable sense that not only was she a great singer (undeniable by anyone who’s ever heard her sing), but she was also an underrated actress, as evidenced not only by her perfect control of emotion while singing, but also in her few purely dramatic roles like The Clock and Judgement at Nuremberg, and a gifted comedienne, as evidenced by her comic timing in most every film, and her satirical performance in numbers like “A Great Lady Has an Interview” in Ziegfeld Follies (watch). In short, Judy was the consummate performer, managing to be relatable and awe-inspiring at the same time, and we haven’t seen anyone to match her since.

In fact, if she has any faults as an actress, it’s that she comes across as a bit too excited, too eager to do whatever the current film role calls for – put on a show, win the man that probably doesn’t deserve her, civilize the old west with the Harvey company, go to the World’s Fair. Her eagerness belies the tragedy of her real life, yet that shone through as well, in flashes of very real melancholy – just watch the Christmas sequence of Meet Me in St. Louis and listen to the way her throat catches when singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (see below). From her fresh-faced youth in the string of “let’s put on a show” movies with Mickey Rooney through her banner years as one of MGM’s top leading ladies and into her later years as a concert star, Judy never failed to entertain and move her audience, and never failed to show inspiring courage no matter how difficult her personal circumstances might be.

The culmination of her career is undoubtably 1954’s A Star is Born, not only her finest performance ever, but also being something of a comeback, a triumphant return after four years off-screen following Summer Stock and MGM’s termination of her long-term contract (she’d been with them since 1936). In a way, the film parallels her own life, with its story of a young singer “born in a trunk” and in show business from an early age, then discovered (undergoing a name change from Esther Blodgett to Vicki Lester; Judy’s real name was Frances Gumm) and put in movies, hitting success almost immediately but also finding great tragedy in her personal life. Of course, in the film, that tragedy is the decline of her husband, has-been actor Norman Maine (James Mason), and in real life it was her own struggle with addiction and self-image. Thus the film also contains an ironic edge as it actually marks Judy’s last great film musical, whereas in the film, Vicki Lester’s career is only beginning.

Though Judy has several lifetimes worth of great performances during her 47 years, her rendition of “The Man that Got Away” in A Star is Born is possibly her best, going from an impromptu casual performance to a full-on, all-out performance by the end. It’s heartbreaking and breathtaking, and never fails to remind me why I will always be a big fan of Judy Garland, and why I will always want to celebrate her birthday every June 10th. She is and always will be a legend, and today she would be 90 years old. Happy birthday, Judy.

And here’s a few bonus tracks, largely from a simply fantastic 2-disc set called “Judy Garland: Collector’s Gems from the MGM Films,” which has a ton of content from her tenure at MGM (1936-1949), including a bunch of alternate versions and outtakes, INCLUDING most of the soundtrack she recorded for Annie Get Your Gun before her health forced her off the project. One of those songs, “Let’s Go West Again,” was never included in the final film with Betty Hutton.

Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen (outtake) from Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938)

Tom, Tom, The Piper’s Son from Presenting Lily Mars (1943)

Have Yourself a Merry Christmas from Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

I’ve Got The Sun In The Morning (outtake) from Annie Get Your Gun (1949)

Let’s Go West, Again (outtake) from Annie Get Your Gun (1949)

And then a couple from the essential “Judy at Carnegie Hall” 2-disc set. I don’t usually like live albums that much, but this one is absolutely incredible. I particularly like her take on “San Francisco” because not only is it a great vocal performance, but it shows, even in just the audio, Judy’s indomitable sense of humor as she gently digs at Jeanette MacDonald (who I also like very much, but whose light operetta voice is pretty much the opposite of Judy’s, and was totally wrong for the song “San Francisco,” even though it did become an inexplicable trademark for her).

San Francisco

Come Rain or Come Shine

Apparently I turned a corner in moviewatching in May, finally having a solid streak of films I really liked to loved. I think there were a few months earlier this year that I struggled to come up with any films that a solidly loved. Obviously not last month with the TCM Fest going on, but that’s a special occasion. This month I saw and loved four very distinctly different films, which is exactly the kind of month I like to have. Not a lot of volume in May (thanks to my newly developed Minecraft addiction – seriously, if you get addicted easily, do NOT buy that game), but a whole lot of quality.

What I Loved

The Avengers

I actually wrote a sort-of review for The Avengers already, so I won’t go on about it here, except just to say that we went back to see it again the next week (we NEVER do that – I can count the number of films I’ve seen multiple times in theatres on two hands) and I still enjoyed it just as much. I expected the beginning set-up section at S.H.I.E.L.D. to drag a lot more the second time, but I was pleasantly surprised.

2012 USA. Director: Joss Whedon. Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Gregg Clark, Cobie Smulders.
Seen May 5 and May 12 at Arclight Sherman Oaks.
Flickchart ranking: 382 out of 2965

The Turin Horse

Over a blank screen we’re told the famous tale of Nietzsche seeing a horse being beaten in the streets of Turin, running to the horse, and throwing his arms around its neck, weeping – the beginning of a mental breakdown from which he never fully recovered. But what of the horse, asks Béla Tarr, and of its owners? Instead of the heady philosophy or dramatic psychosis you’d expect from a story that begins with Nietzsche, Tarr gives us a mundane, human, and deeply moving glimpse into a very difficult and despairing existence. The man and his daughter depend on the horse for their lives, such as they are – and we see them throughout a week as the horse, stubborn because of illness, gets weaker and weaker and their own hold on existence gets more and more tenuous. You don’t (or shouldn’t) sit down to a Tarr film without knowing what you’re getting into, and this one is nearly two and a half hours long of basically watching these two people do mundane chores over and over in very long takes. When things are so much the same, the differences become enormous, and Tarr maximizes that by varying camera placements, or by using slight changes in demeanor or action to telegraph the changing states of mind and being of these extremely taciturn people. Settling into the film’s rhythm yields an experience that makes mundanity into something transcendent, and by the end, seeing these two simply sitting at their roughhewn table was enough to bring me to the brink of tears. Tarr has said this will be his final film, and if that’s true, it’s a pretty masterful work to go out on.

2011 Hungary. Director: Béla Tarr, Ágnes Hranitzky. Starring: János Derzsi, Erika Bók, Mihály Kormos.
Seen May 2 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 433 out of 2965

Moonrise Kingdom

To some degree, you know what you’re going to get when you head into a Wes Anderson movie, so carefully has he refined his style, putting out one of the most self-consciously auteurist bodies of work of any director working today. This one is almost a spot-on distillation of the concept of a Wes Anderson film, and yet rather than devolve into parody, he’s created one of his best films yet. Here a boy scout and a young girl (who looks like a Margot Tenenbaum in the making) escape from her dysfunctional family, providing a young love of such innocence that it seems to provide a way out from Anderson’s typically ironic family drama, here played out by the world-weary and yet strangely childish adults. The film is so charming it’s easy to call it overly slight, but there’s more going on here than immediately meets the eye, and it has surprised me by never straying far from my mind since I saw it.

2012 USA. Director: Wes Anderson. Starring: Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Jason Schwartzman, Harvey Keitel.
Seen May 26 at Arclight Hollywood.
Flickchart ranking: 480 out of 2965

The Love Trap

Silent-to-sound era transition films are almost innately awkward, as studios rushed to try to sound-ify any silent films currently in production, creating hybrids that sit comfortably as neither silents or talkies. The Love Trap is one such film, and I won’t deny it has its fair share of awkwardness when the film, completely silent for roughly the first two thirds, turns completely talkie and it takes a little while to settle into the new mode. Yet I also can’t deny that I loved this film far more than it probably deserves. Laura LaPlante (who after seeing just this and The Cat and the Canary is my new silent girlcrush) is a showgirl who’s bad at it and gets fired, her only recourse to try to get “powder room money” from rich men. When one gets a little too fresh, she runs out horrified and disgraced, only to find she’s been evicted. A man in a taxi rescues her and her furniture from the sidewalk, and after a quick romance they’re married – but what will his wealthy family think of his showgirl wife? It’s pretty typical of the time, but done with such charm and spontaneity that I thoroughly enjoyed almost every second of it – I say almost because there is a brief part in the taxi that bothered me, as the man begins behaving almost exactly like the cad back at the party, but somehow it’s different because we just “know” he’s the good guy. Double standard much? And the transition to sound is awkward, with poor LaPlante struggling a bit at first, but somehow by the end, she’s just as charming as she was in silent mode.

1929 USA. Director: William Wyler. Starring: Laura LaPlante, Neil Hamilton.
Seen May 9 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 555 out of 2965

Click here to read on!

My husband Jonathan and I have been taking turns choosing movies we care about a lot to share with each other; both of us getting to catch up on a lot we’ve missed. We’re posting about a selected ones of these films on our blogs.

The Movie

Movie: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie
Info: 1990 USA. Director: Steve Barron. Starring: Judith Hoeg, Elias Koteas, Josh Pais, Michelan Sisti, Leif Tilden, David Forman, Corey Feldman, Robbie Rist.
Chooser: Jonathan
Date and Method Watched: May 14, on DVD

He Says…

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie is one of those films you bring out to the significant other with hesitation. I’m reminded of an episode of How I Met Your Mother where one of Ted’s (many) issues was showing his girlfriend Star Wars for the first time. Would she be all over it, or would she laugh at all the ridiculous puppetry and special effects? How would that affect the relationship? As it turned out, she actually DIDN’T like the movie, but was able to appreciate it because Ted loved it. And while I wouldn’t say I hold TMNT:TM to a similar level of excellence, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t kind of nervous about showing off this treasured piece of childhood to my wife. I mean, what if she DIDN’T like it?

Well, I’ll let her fill you in on what she thought. What I will add are some thoughts from our recent re-watch. As it turns out, TMNT:TM has aged a lot better than I was expecting it to. Having not seen it for almost ten years, I was partially ready to start apologizing for this part and that, much like I would for something like Super Mario Brothers. The puppetry and special effects held up quite nicely, hitting a realism at times that most CGI still has trouble getting right. The dated elements were more charming than cheesy, and the more somber moments still hit the absolute sweet spot for me – Raphael’s and Splinter’s private conversation being the prime example. The overall goofiness held up as well, and remains the part that makes this film near and dear to my heart.

Now to dust off my copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze and cross my fingers once more!

She Says…

Of all the movies Jonathan kept mentioning to me as his touchstone movies growing up, the kind of cheesy but fun movies that he has strong emotional connections to, this one initially gave me the most pause. I was like, really, you’re going to eventually make me watch a movie about overgrown talking turtles who break out ninja moves and eat pizza? Yet when it came down to it, it was actually me who suggested we go ahead and take the plunge. And I was actually kind of weirdly excited about it, too. Probably it was the somewhat scary degree to which I’ve gotten into comics and superheroes lately, and with enough comic books under my belt, the mental jump to mutant ninja turtles apparently isn’t actually that large.

And you know what, I actually quite enjoyed the film. Sure, it’s cheesy, and it’s very much a product of its time, but those things give it a quaint charm that may not be exactly what the creators were going for at the time, but made it work for me now anyway. Definitely the kind of film you just have to give yourself over to, though, what with the mixture of an investigative journalism story and, well, mutant ninja turtles. Between the goofiness of the turtles, the “gangs are bad!” message, the meet-cute of the logically incompatible love interests, and the over-earnest wisdom of the giant rat Splinter, there’s a lot here that could easily be turn-offs, but thankfully (for both my evening and my marriage!), I just found it all pretty endearing. Up to and including the special effects, which are actually much better than I expected. I like practical effects anyway, and the puppets and animatronic elements are right up my alley, and the puppet work on the turtles’ faces is quite good.

All in all, I expected to at most enjoy it as a so-bad-it’s-good movie, but I actually enjoyed it for real. I’m sure we’ll get to the sequel soon enough, and I’ll get more ooze than I know what do to with (this is starting to sound like a not-very-subtle euphemism, so I’m gonna stop right there).

[This post is a contribution to the third annual For the Love of Film blogathon and fundraiser, which will be running from May 13-18. This year, hosts Marilyn Ferdinand, Farran Smith Nehme and Roderick Heath have dedicated the week to Alfred Hitchcock, whose early (non-directorial) work The White Shadow will be the beneficiary of any money earned during the event, to support the National Film Preservation Foundation’s desire to stream the film online for free. Be sure to donate so you can see this very-nearly lost film yourself!]

[Note: I suppose I spoil The White Shadow a bit in here, but it’s an incomplete film, and in terms of film preservation, that’s part of its power. I wanted to get across the sense of what it was like to be in the Academy screening when we came to the end of the portion that exists. But if you particularly don’t want to know anything about the film until you can see it streaming thanks to the NFPF and this blogathon’s fundraising efforts, skim lightly especially in two paragraphs before and after the image of Hitchcock directing.]

We excitedly gathered on the sidewalk, anticipating being let into the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ own screening room, the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills. VIPs slipped by, headed toward the bar or lounge in their finery, while the rest of us waited, patient but anxious to begin the evening’s entertainment. Any screening at the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre is a treat, a step into a more opulent past presented by the self-appointed guardians of Hollywood history, but this was no ordinary screening. This was the very first appearance of an early, long-thought-lost Hitchcock film pretty much since its original release in 1924. Well, technically Hitchcock was the Assistant Director on the film (and he tended to get in on every part of production he could in those early days, so likely he was doing much more), the second of two collaborations with director Graham Cutts and actress Betty Compson, apparently rushed into production to capitalize on the popularity of the first, Woman to Woman. According to producer Michael Balcon, “it was as big a flop as Woman to Woman had been a success.” But Woman to Woman remains a lost film, and in any case, The White Shadow could’ve been a terrible movie and we still would’ve been ecstatic to see it.

Our excitement was first of all out of curiosity to see if we could see any glimpses of Hitchcock in the film’s style, but also simply because here’s a film that has been thought lost for decades, turned up (partially at least) in an archive in New Zealand, along with a bunch of other long-lost films. If we can still locate treasure troves like this in 2011, what else might still be out there, waiting for intrepid archivists to find it, figure out what it is, and restore it so the world can rediscover it?

Click here to read on!

Well, the Roundup kind of took an unplanned hiatus while I recovered from the TCM Film Fest and struggled to get caught back up with the blogosphere. I’m still running a bit behind, but not by much, so let’s go ahead and try to get back into the groove here.

Featured Links

For the Love of Film Blogathon

The For the Love of Film Blogathon, now in its third year, supports film preservation by raising awareness of the need for preserving film and seeking to raise financial support for a specific film preservation cause of project. This year, the project is The White Shadow, the recently rediscovered 1924 film that Alfred Hitchcock worked on as assistant director (and many other things, most likely), currently the oldest film known to exist that Hitchcock played a part in making. In order to make it possible for more people to see the film, the National Film Preservation Foundation wants to put it streaming online, a conversion and delivery system that will cost several thousand dollars. Those of us blogging as part of the For the Love of Film Blogathon this year will be discussing Hitchcock’s work in general, his silent films, or other silent films in light of the importance of preserving this cinematic heritage and making it available to a wider audience. My piece about The White Shadow itself is right here. In the meantime, Marilyn Ferdinand of Ferdy on Films, Farran Smith Neame of The Self-Styled Siren, and Roderick Heath of This Island Rod are collecting the links to other participating blogs as articles get posted. It’s quite a collection already, which I look forward to delving into.

Tales of Hollywood: Preston Sturges’ Wild Ride by The Lady Eve of The Lady Eve’s Reel Life

Preston Sturges is one of my favorite writers and directors, and The Lady Eve (who has taken her pseudonym, of course, from one of his best films) has an excellent biographical piece about him and not only how he became one of a Hollywood’s first writer/directors (paving the way for Billy Wilder and many, many others), but about his other “job” as a restaurateur, starting the famous Players’ Club on Sunset, a popular hangout for many celebrities in the 1940s. She also tells of how the place basically ruined him. It’s a fascinating story that I really didn’t know anything about.

My 11 Favorite Cinematographers by Alex Withrow of And So It Begins

Cinematography is one of my favorite things about the movies, and it’s not uncommon that a movie that looks really beautiful or distinctive will jump up a couple of notches in my estimation no matter what I think about the rest of it (story, acting, etc.). It’s all too easy to fall back on auteurist shorthand and credit a film’s look to the director – which is not always totally wrong, but often when directors have a distinctive and consistent “look” to their films, it’s because they tend to work with same cinematographer over and over again. Alex Withrow jumps straight to the source here and talks about his favorite cinematographers. Then he realized there weren’t any female cinematographers on his list, and went specifically looking for women to feature, resulting in this post. Then he went to find the films that he loved the look of, but weren’t by otherwise known cinematographers, and came up with this post for B&W cinematography and this one for color cinematography. All in all, an excellent set of posts.

Thomas Edison and the Origin of Sound and Color in Films by Lara at Backlots

Quick, film history 101: when did sound come into motion pictures? 1927, with The Jazz Singer. What about color? 1936 with Becky Sharp. Both common answers and not totally incorrect, and yet also…incorrect. As much as I love B&W films and think color is an option, not a necessity, and as much as I’ve grown to love silent cinema and think it was just as high an art form as sound film eventually became, the early pioneers of cinema were no more content with B&W and silence at the dawn of cinema than they were in the late ’20s and early ’30s, and color and sound experiments started way back with Thomas Edison, one of the original developers of cinema. Lara lays out his experiments with both color and sound in a highly informative and interesting post.

The 10 Greatest Movies of All Time (According to the Internet) by Cole Abius at Film School Rejects

If you follow Roger Ebert on his blog or on Twitter, you may have noticed him debating over his votes for this decade’s Sight & Sound poll, which creates a top ten list every decade based on the lists submitted by prominent (and invited) film critics. The poll has a certain cache, but it understandably leans heavily on accepted canon. Not necessarily a bad thing, but FSR decided to hold their own poll, inviting various prominent members of online media and film-related websites to make their own poll, which has some interesting results – about half accepted canon, and about half what I’d consider the canon of 30-year-old men, in other words, well-beloved 1980s favorites. Which is fine, and actually creates a more diverse list that captures something of our zeitgeist. Both lists have their place, and it’s fun to see alternative takes on the “best” movies of all time.

The Future is Female: 2012 is the Year of the Empowered Girl by various writers at Row Three

A group effort by a bunch of Row Three writers, in which I played only a humble part, writing about Katniss Everdeen. Others covered Haywire, Prometheus, The Avengers, The Secret World of Arrietty, Brave, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, A Lonely Place to Die, and more, talking about how this year seems to be something of a watershed in terms of having a large number (and variety) of female leads in the kinds of films that are traditionally centered on male figures. Lots of room for disagreement, additions, or even wondering whether making such a list actually negates its own purpose, so come on over and leave your thoughts.

More Links!

  • Christopher Morris at The Cinementals lists his top five Ginger Rogers films (sans Fred Astaire)
  • Joanna at Man I Love Films acclaims Steve McQueen as the original badass, and she is totally right
  • Dan Heaton of Public Transportation Snob picks out ten of his favorite podcasts; I already listen to and enjoy a few of these, but I’ll definitely be checking out some more!
  • Richard Brody calls for Every Movie Now – can’t say I disagree with him, but restoration/digitization I’m sure is a barrier
  • Where Danger Lives turns up a veritable plethora of Joan Crawford posters
  • Max Steiner is pretty much the father of movie scores, and Lara at Backlots (again!) runs down his career and influence thoroughly and engagingly
  • Seems like everyone I know has been writing about Murnau’s The Last Laugh lately, and now Chris Edwards of Silent Volume joins his voice to the throng – apparently I gotta see this thing, and soon
  • Andrew at Row Three (and other sites, but I saw it here first, regardless of favoritism) highlights some fun facts about Universal Studios as they turn 100

Cool Trailers, Videos, and More

  • Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Emma Stone, etc., in a period neo-noir? Based on that and this trailer, I’m there the day Gangster Squad opens
  • I keep forgetting Safety Not Guaranteed exists, but with Aubrey Plaza in a time-travel-esque film, I gotta quit doing that – here’s the trailer
  • Can Ben Affleck go three for three as a director? Judging from this trailer for Argo, it seems very possible
  • Criterion has Three Reasons for The Gold Rush
  • Classic film fans! Check out this group photo and see how many you can name – I only got 15-20 or so (right click and say “open in new tab” to see it larger)

Noteworthy News

  • The Avengers is just setting records all over the place – $200m first weekend, $100m second, and over $1 billion worldwide
  • Jessica Chastain drops out of Iron Man 3 (boo!), but Rebecca Hall may be her replacement (yay!) – I love Hall almost as much as Chastain, and she definitely deserves more exposure, so I’m stoked
  • The existence of promo posters for Sin City 2 and Machete Kills suggest what Robert Rodriguez is up to lately
  • Edgar Wright‘s next movie may be The World’s End, a third film with Pegg & Frost; he’s still planning Ant-Man, though!
  • Apparently Film Socialisme isn’t to be Jean-Luc Godard‘s last film, after all; he’s prepping Goodbye to Language (which should really be the title of all his movies), and it’s gonna be in 3D – sorry JLG, I gotta *eyeroll* that
  • Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof working on a mysterious sci-fi project? Yeah, I’m there

Last week I was complaining because there were hardly any releases worth glancing at; this week I opted to put in a second row of highlighted covers because there are a LOT of releases, including a bunch of last year’s festival circuit films that I didn’t want to get lost in the shuffle. Still a slow week on the Instant Watch front, for both new additions and expirations, but there are a few gems in there you won’t want to miss.

New Release Pick of the Week

Chronicle
A nice surprise in the midst of February doldrums to find this small but satisfying take on what would happen if a group of high-schoolers got the power of telekinesis. Both the “ordinary people get superpowers” and found footage genres are getting stale, but Chronicle uses both to good advantage, chiefly by being spot on in how teenagers would react to their new-found powers.
2012 USA. Director: Josh Trank. Starring: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan.

Other New Releases

Afghan Luke (2011 USA, dir Mike Clattenburg, stars Nick Stahl)
Agent Vinod (2012 India, dir Sriram Raghavan, stars Kareena Kapoor)
Chained: Code 207 (2012 USA, dir Tino Struckmann, stars John Greer)
The Devil Inside (2012 USA, dir William Brent Bell, stars Fernanda Andrade)
Dragonslayer (2011 USA, dir Tristan Patterson, stars Josh ‘Skreech’ Sandoval)
eCupid (2011 USA, dir J.C. Calciano, stars Andy Anderson)
Flashpoint: Season 4 (2011 USA, stars Amy Jo Johnson, Hugh Dillon)
Golf in the Kingdom (2010 USA, dir Susan Streitfeld, stars David O’Hara)
Hell on Wheels: Season 1 (2011 USA, stars Anson Mount, Colm Meaney)
Mortuary (2005 USA, dir Tobe Hooper, stars Dan Byrd)
My Perestroika (1010 USA/UK/Russia, dir Robin Hessman)
My Piece of the Pie (2011 France, dir Cédric Klapisch, stars Karin Viard)
The Tenants (2009 Brazil, dir Sergio Bianchi, stars Fernando Alves Pinto)
The Universe: Season 6 (2007 USA)
Victorious: Season 2 (2011 USA, stars Victoria Justice)
We Were Here (2011 USA, dir David Weissman, Bill Weber)
Windfall (2011 USA, dir Laura Israel)
The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake (2011 Hong Kong, dir Herman Yau, stars Rose Chan)

Catalog Pick of the Week

Being John Malkovich Criterion
There are no films that define “mindfuck” quite like Being John Malkovich, and yes, I pretty much mean that literally. When John Cusack discovers a door that leads inside the brain of John Malkovich, it’s only the beginning of one of the most bizarre and brilliant films I’ve ever seen. I’m glad to see Criterion honoring newer, deserving films like this.
1999 USA. Director: Spike Jonze. Starring: John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, John Malkovich, Catherine Keener.

 

Other Catalog Releases

Before and After Blu-ray (1996 USA, dir Barbet Schroeder, stars Meryl Streep)
Born Yesterday Blu-ray (1993 USA, dir Luis Mandoki, stars Melanie Griffith)
Bringing Down the House Blu-ray (2003 USA, dir Adam Shankman, stars Steve Martin)
Caravan (1946 USA, dir Arthur Crabtree, stars Stewart Granger)
D.O.A. Blu-ray (1988 USA, dir Annabel Jankel, Rocky Morton, stars Dennis Quaid)
Duets Blu-ray (2000 USA, dir Bruce Paltrow, stars Gwyneth Paltrow)
Eagle’s Wing (1979 USA, dir Anthony Harvey, stars Martin Sheen)
Fanny by Gaslight, aka Man of Evil (1945 UK, dir Anthony Asquith, stars James Mason)
Forbidden Zone Blu-ray (1982 USA, dir Richard Elfman, stars Hervé Villechaize)
Gone Fishin’ Blu-ray (1997 USA, dir Christopher Cain, stars Joe Pesci)
Hazel: Season 3 (1963 USA, stars Shirley Booth)
Holy Man Blu-ray (1998 USA, dir Stephen Herek, stars Eddie Murphy)
Love Story, aka A Lady Surrenders (1944 UK, dir Leslie Arliss, stars Margaret Lockwood)
Mr. Wrong Blu-ray (1996 USA, dir Nick Castle, stars Ellen DeGeneres)
The Odessa File Blu-ray (1974 UK, dir Ronald Neame, stars Jon Voight)
The Order Blu-ray (2001 USA, dir Sheldon Lettich, stars Jean-Claude Van Damme)
Riverboat: Complete Series (1959-61 USA, stars Darren McGavin, Dick Wessel)
Spaghetti Western Double Feature: Grand Duel / Keoma (1972/1976 Italy, dir Giancarlo Santi/Enzo G. Castellari, stars Lee Van Cleef/Franco Nero)
Terminal Velocity Blu-ray (1994 USA, dir Deran Sarafian, stars Charlie Sheen)
Walking Tall Trilogy (1973-1977 USA, stars Joe Don Baker / Bo Svenson)
White Squall Blu-ray (1996 USA, dir Ridley Scott, stars Jeff Bridges)

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An excellent week coming up on TCM, with a few scattered cool things on other channels, but for the most part, this week is all TCM all the time, and I’m hardly exaggerating. Especially look out for the Frank Capra marathon on Friday, including some of his early works, which are a whole lot of fun, even if Capracorn isn’t quite your thing.

Monday, May 14

6:00pm – TCM – Stage Door
I cannot describe to you how much I love this film. I’m not sure it’s wholly rational. Katharine Hepburn plays an heiress who wants to make it on her own as an actress, so she moves (incognito) into a New York boarding house for aspiring actresses. Her roommate ends up being Ginger Rogers (who’s never been better or more acerbic), and the boarding house is rounded out with a young Lucille Ball, a young Eve Arden, a very young Ann Miller, and various others. The dialogue is crisp and everyone’s delivery matter-of-fact and perfectly timed, and the way the girls use humor to mask desperation makes most every moment simultaneously funny and tragic – so that when it does turn tragic, it doesn’t feel like a shift in mood, but a culmination of the inevitable.
1937 USA. Director: Gregory La Cava. Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Adolphe Menjou, Andrea Leeds, Gail Patrick, Eve Arden, Lucille Ball, Ann Miller, Constance Collier.
Must See

11:30pm – TCM – 100 Men and a Girl
Deanna Durbin was Universal’s answer to Judy Garland back in the 1930s and early ’40s, a fresh-faced ingenue with a grown-up sounding set of pipes. Deanna’s voice tends more toward the operatic than the pop, though, which could conceivably be a turn-off to modern audiences. She’s still delightful on screen, though, and this is one of her most charming films, playing a young girl determined to save her father’s struggling orchestra by getting renowned violinist Jascha Heifetz (playing himself) to play with them.
1938 USA. Director: Henry Koster. Starring: Deanna Durbin, Adolphe Menjou, Alice Brady, Jascha Heifetz, Eugene Pallette, Mischa Auer, Billy Gilbert.
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