Pre-Codes at TCMFF 2017

Another highlight of my time spent in Hollywood for this year’s TCM Film Festival involved getting to catch a couple of pre-Code films.

While I may not be as well-versed as some, this is a sub-genre that holds great interest for me within the greater world of classic cinema.

And sure, a lot of these films are available for view at home, but seeing them on the big screen is an added treat.

One such example is the Howard Hughes-produced 1932 aviation comedy Cock of the Air, which thanks to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, has been restored and includes some of the original dialogue which had previously been censored. While I did not personally record the pre-screening introduction in the theater, here is a video (provided by the Academy) which discusses the restoration project:

The other pre-code feature worthy of attention features a not-exactly-“Blond Bombshell” Jean Harlow comedy Red-Headed Woman. I can only describe this experience as a wild ride that did its duty and left me in stitches as I witnessed Harlow’s Lil Andrews’ outrageous behavior on full display. Based on a novel of the same title by Katherine Brush and with an uncredited “written by” from the likes of no other than F. Scott Fitzgerald, the official screen credit is attributed to writer Anita Loos, who took the reigns from Fitzgerald and adapted the source material.

If you are a newbie to the world of pre-Codes and/or Jean Harlow, I highly recommend that you start with this film. You will thank me later 🙂

Back to School (another TCM/Ball State Course Offering)

First, it was film noir. Now we are taking a deep dive into the world of cinematic comedy.

With younger people everywhere either back in school or getting very close to going back, now is an excellent time for the intellectually curious among us in the adult set to get in some learning of our own.

Largely due to the success of last year’s Turner Classic Movies and Ball State’s film noir collaboration on the Canvas LMS, we are back at it by taking a look at slapstick comedy.

TCM_Slapstick_sharePart of the homework in the course, titled, TCM Presents Painfully Funny: Exploring Slapstick in the Movies, will require you watch some films – and like last year, TCM is providing the accompanying programming of 56 films dating from 1915-2004; here is a look at the scheduling, which starts on September 6th as part of the TCM Series called Ouch! A Salute to Slapstick.

And best of all folks – it’s FREE. Go at your own pace or challenge yourself and work towards a certificate of completion. Full disclosure – last year I was passionate and enthusiastic about taking the course but life got into the way and I ended up not completing the course, but I relish the opportunity to learn and share a learning experience with a community of equally passionate cineastes.

If you get a chance, you should check it out!

slapstick

 

Closing Out 2015

This has been an interesting year to say the least. While it might not have been reflected in my blog posts, I have in fact seen a lot of films. And that is what I want this, my last blog post for 2015 (New York Time) to be dedicated to … giving a shout out to a couple of films I saw (and enjoyed) but for whatever reason, failed to give just due to here on iluvcinema.

Miles Ahead. Saw this on Closing Night of 2015’s New York Film Festival. Written, directed (his debut) by and starring Don Cheadle, this Miles Davis story was definitely a passion project. In recounting the film, I refrain from using the term biopic because Miles Ahead takes a rather atypical look at the artist’s life. It is an entertaining combination of a “day in the life” narrative, mixed with expositional flashbacks, all delivered with humor, drama, imagination and, music (of course). Do not worry if you think you missed it, because you haven’t; you will get a chance to see this one in 2016 as it is scheduled for release on April 1st in the United States – no foolin’.

Image credit: New York Film Festival

Image credit: New York Film Festival

 

Macbeth. Directed by Australian director Justin Kurzel (who also is also at the helm of star Michael Fassbender’s forthcoming project Assassin’s Creed), Macbeth was an inventive and engaging take on the Shakespearean tragedy. The accents from the non-Scottish talent may have been amiss at times, but maybe it was my overly sensitive ears. In the end, it mattered little really. After I readjusted myself to the sounds and construction of Shakespeare’s English, I was totally taken in by the stunning performances of Macbeth (Fassbender) and his Lady (Marion Cotillard). This presentation of the time-honored tale of “bloody ambition run amuck” felt fresh and inspired – the quiet unraveling in the midst the chaos of murder, etc. was an interesting thing to watch unfold. Also, for various reasons of late, I have become a great admirer of the rugged, beautiful Scottish landscape. And this film only deepened that appreciation (in other words it was beautifully shot).

macbeth2

 

That’s all folks! Hope you had fun at the cinema in 2015. And here is hoping for more good times in 2016!

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ILC does #NYCC2015: A Singular Experience

Two weeks have passed and I am still processing my NYCC (New York Comic Con) 2015 experience. It was fun to be sure but definitely was “one to grow on” so to speak.

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I mean look at that crowd. Quite overwhelming to say the least. And this is just the entryway.

I had individual Friday-Saturday-Sunday tickets but ultimately bailed on the last day (previous engagement). Upon reflection, you realize that is one of the ways you are “had” – not in a bad way – the time gap between ticket sales and the actual event almost requires that you purchase a multi-day pass or individual tickets for multiple days. The reasoning being (of course) that you never know what is going to happen and when. In the lead up to the actual event, NYCC planners stagger the release of information of screenings, panels and other entertainment appearances.

Also important to note, that, unlike its older sister/cousin, SDCC, there is not a whole lotta movie-related stuff going on here. This is a convention dedicated to comic enthusiasts, with a bunch of sci-fi fantasy/TV/gaming opportunities and tie ins thrown in for good measure. So set your expectations right.

My first day was spent mostly walking the convention floor to get a lay of the land. I have to say it was definitely packed but after you take it all in – it is quite fun. There are giveaways galore. Sure you will probably get home with a “swag bag” wondering why the hell you have TWO posters of the cover art for Dark Horse Comic’s Fight Club 2, remember all part of the experience.

My last day was a bit shorter. I walked the floor (rather quickly) and headed straight to my two panels. Still felt it was well worth the time spent on a lovely Saturday.

Let me close out this post with a few of pointers for any and all who are considering attending NYCC next year or in future years:

  1. GO TO PANELS – As this was my first Con and I will feeling the whole thing out, I only attended a couple of panels (there was one that I had to skip due to a travel delay) but I think this is where you get the most bang for your buck. Otherwise
  2. Speaking of panels …. for the big ones, arrive EARLY. Sure the doors officially open at 10:00AM, but if say there is an X-Files panel at 1:00PM, you may want to get there is the 7:30AM-8:00AM window to guarantee a seat. Trust me on this one.
  3. A last item about panels … the Main Stage (where the aforementioned X-Files event took place) clear out after panels, the other smaller rooms do not. So … I am not saying I did this … but you could theoretically look at the schedule (plan ahead!) and if you feel like a panel you want to attend might reach capacity, just attend a panel (or two) before and park yourself in for the day.
  4. When purchasing tickets – go for the 3 or 4 day pass. There is an economic reason for it (cheaper per day, assuming you attend all days). But it is also simply convenient. If these are not available I would definitely target Friday and Saturday next in the queue.
  5. Oh yeah did I mention PLAN AHEAD. While the meat of the event takes place in Javits Center, I noticed that there were quite a few events that took place at other venues. The panels that took place here had a decidedly TV theme to them.
  6. If you want a photo op/autographs, be sure to bring your checkbook. This is not really my thing, but the prospect is appealing to others. If you decide to forgo this one-on-one experience, you can still walk around the autograph area to catch a glimpse of your favorite celebrity. But hope you have a photographic memory — because photos are not allowed to be taken in the area.
  7. The signs are everywhere but as a reminder, you are not allowed to take pictures of cosplayers unless you are granted permission to do so by said cosplayer. Sounds obvious but I guess it needs to be said (they even have signs posted around the convention reminding us of this). Most of them do not mind at all; but for me, it was enough to simply sit back and watch the passing parade.
  8. Bring your walking shoes – especially if you plan to camp out for several hours or all day (not my recommendation personally), you will do a LOT of walking. Seating is scattered to say the least so you may even find yourself aimlessly wandering around the convention floor while waiting for that panel that you are dying to see.
  9. Don’t like what is on offer to eat at the Con site? Well you have bring your own food and bevvies, but know that you can venture off during the day if you are there for a spell. Your badge grants you re-entry on the convention grounds (until 8:00PM). So no worries – take a two hour break eat at your favorite Midtown (?) spot, or just chill for a bit, and come back to enjoy the fun!

So there you have it – I could try to be clever and round out this list at a “top ten,” but I am tired and still recovering from a late night last night (Blur was worth it though).

Did any of you attend NYCC, 2015 edition? Share your experiences with all!

Hometown Movie Palaces

First off, my apologies for not posting recently. The work-life balance has been a bit askew meaning that I have not had the leisure or pleasure of waxing poetic about my latest and greatest thoughts about the world of cinema.

But enough of that. I am glad to return with a bit of Friday nostalgia, inspired by:

  1. My recent screening of the 4K restoration of The Third Man (more on that in a separate post) and
  2. My participation in the free course inspired by the TCM’s Summer of Darkness, which showcases the thrilling cinematic movement/genre known as film noir.

I am taken back momentarily to how these films were exhibited to audiences of their time – movie palaces and movie theaters.

Often built by studios, whether big or small, these buildings were opulent pieces of architecture, often designed and styled in the fashion of the day, including, art deco and a generic Hollywood-defined “oriental style.”

For years growing up near Gramatan Avenue (part of the commercial district of my hometown of Mount Vernon, NY), we would frequently walk by a sad, dilapidated edifice that for my part, felt haunted by echoes of the past. I always referred to it as “the RKO Theatre.” A quick internet search, revealed a little more about the history, including the formal name, RKO Proctor Theater).

proctor interior

Proctor Theatre, interior. Mount Vernon, NY (Photo source: Architecture and Building, Volume 46)

Proctor Theatre, exterior. Mount Vernon, NY. Photo source: Architecture and Building, Volume 46

Proctor Theatre, exterior. Mount Vernon, NY. Source: Architecture and Building, Volume 46

Here is a link to a couple of additional interior shots from the same source.

Now to think about, this all makes sense to me now because right across the street there was named “Proctor’s Pharmacy,” a concern that is still in operation.

Shout out and many thanks to one of my recent favorite internet resources – Cinema Treasures – for their comprehensive database of all manner of building in the United States was/is dedicated to the exhibition of film. It was in this archive that I was not only able to find information about my abandoned, beloved neighborhood theater above, but where I also “discovered” several other theaters in Mount Vernon that were lost to time (hint: the hyperlink will tell you a little more about the theater and location; also be sure to check out user comments – very informative):

Embassy Theatre (no photo)

Biltmore Theater

biltmore

Photo source: Cinema Treasures

Loew’s Mount Vernon Theatre

Loew's Mount Vernon (Source: Cinema Treasures)

Loew’s Mount Vernon – sign visible in the upper right corner (Source: Cinema Treasures)

Parkway Theatre (no photo) I had forgotten I knew about this one. Also on Gramatan Avenue (a little further up in the Fleetwood section of Mount Vernon). A very faint, distant memory recalls me (again) walking by this theater and seeing a poster for the release of The Elephant Man. Interesting fact about this location’s fate – it now houses a funeral home.

Do you have a hometown/local/now long gone, forgotten building you remember fondly as a place where you would enjoy watching films? Share below.

Meta ….

I mean there is a LOT of movie related news that has come across in the past couple of weeks. I mean LOADS. So instead of creating separate posts for each, I decided to aggregate those that piqued my interest the most. So here they go – in no particular order. Enjoy!

 

Sony Pictures Hacking Scandal

Many suspect that this is a cyber attack courtesy of North Korea, in ‘retaliation’ for the The result has been the trickling release of some very interesting emails that are equal parts, embarrassing, illuminating and hilarious. I suspect the overall impact will be minimal, save leaving a few tactless executives a little red-faced. Pro-tip: if you are using company email, it is not private. Save potentially incendiary commentary for the face-to-face meeting.

 

TCM Remembers …

The folks over at Turner Classic Movies get me every time. Their touching tribute is a wonderful homage to those in the world of cinema that have passed. Very classy as always TCM, very classy.

 

NYC Classic Film Retrospectives

  1. Starring Joan Bennett @ MoMA. Started earlier this month and running through the end of January, the films featured will cover Bennett’s transition from ingenue to smoldering femme fatale.
  2. Orson Welles at Film Forum. Ring in the new year with a five week retrospective on the filmmaker. Films in the series include Citizen Kane (of course), The Magnificent AmbersonsTouch of Evil (release and restored version) and many many other over the auteur’s decades-long career.

 

13288_Joan_Bennett_American_Stage_Actress

Sundance 2015

This past Monday, the films selected for narrative and documentary premieres (out of competition) were announced. Just looking through the list, ones to look out for include:

  • Brooklyn
  • I Am Michael
  • The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

As it is still early days, stay tuned to this space for more updates.

 

Its Awards Nomination Season (Again)

It is now at the point where there are too many awards out there to count, so I will keep my general observations based on the SAGs and GGs. My reaction? Pretty meh for the moment, because I look at the list I see a few notables that I did have the pleasure of catching but then also a couple of films that regardless of the praise heaped upon them, I will very likely be a “miss” for me, film snobbery be damned. I am personally at the point where it is becoming fairly predictable which films/performances will be highlighted at year’s end and subsequently rewarded with awards recognition.

 

Speaking of Which …

Going to see Selma this Monday; look out this upcoming week for my thoughts.

 

Thoughts on any of the topics covered in this post? Hit the Comments section.

 

NOIRvember: The Whistler

For my next installment in the NOIRvember series, I would like to discuss the (mainly) William Castle directed film noir series of the 1940’s entitled The Whistler. Based on the popular radio serial that ran from 1942-1955, the film noir/crime/mystery series totaled 8 films; 7 starred veteran actor Richard Dix (who played a different character in each role):

  • The Whistler – 1944
  • The Mark of the Whistler – 1944
  • The Power of the Whistler – 1945
  • Voice of the Whistler – 1945
  • Mysterious Intruder – 1946
  • The Secret of the Whistler – 1946
  • The Thirteenth Hour – 1947
  • The Return of the Whistler – 1948

mark_of_the_whistler_xlg

The “Whistler” we refer to is an omniscient narrator (Otto Forrest, with a voice that sound awfully similar to Vincent Price) who sets the stage for the crime story which usually involves some plot twist or wrinkle in the criminal scheme, thus leading to things not going as initially planned.

I have only seen a few of the films in the series, but I must admit I have enjoyed what I saw; granted, the enjoyment is by no means the result of watching some form of high cinematic art. With running times of approximately 60 minutes, there really isn’t enough time to do much but spin a tale where you find yourself chuckling at criminals engaging in some dubious acts that due to either oversight or just plain hubris don’t go exactly the way they intended.

 

Sources: Wikipedia, Turner Classic Movies (TCM)

NOIRvember: Born to Be Bad (1950)

Oh, darling Christabel. Such a lovely, innocent name – but as the title of this Nicholas Ray film suggests, you were Born to Be Bad.

Born-to-be-Bad

Sure, this one borders more on the melodramatic (very familiar territory for lead actress Joan Fontaine), but that is what makes it so fun to watch. It is definitely a lighter fare in the film noir canon, seeing there is no real peril present and death by misadventure or unnatural causes is non-existent. Here we just have a scheming femme fatale willing to go to any lengths to get what she wants – be it money, men, you name it.

In addition to Fontaine, the cast includes stalwart actors Robert Ryan, Zachary Scott, Joan Leslie and Mel Ferrer. Definitely one to stay in for, just check out the poster …

Born_to_Be_Bad_(1950)_cinema_poster

NOIRvember Feature: Leave Her To Heaven (1945)

I guess it is something that for my first feature (Leave Her to Heaven) during NOIRvember I choose a vibrant Technicolor film, which in my estimation at least is loosely noir, and borders more on the melodramatic. I  fact I often wonder if this film were shot in black and white, would I be so reluctant to fully class it as a noir.

Annex - Tierney, Gene (Leave Her to Heaven)_03

Sure, over the years cinephiles and scholars alike have played fast and loose with what actually classifies a film as a noir. I think after reading endless materials on the subject, I will fall back on this excerpt from AMC’s Filmsite analysis of Film Noir (written by Tim Dirks):

Classic film noir developed during and after World War II, taking advantage of the post-war ambience of anxiety, pessimism, and suspicion. It was a style of black and white American films that first evolved in the 1940s, became prominent in the post-war era, and lasted in a classic “Golden Age” period until about 1960 […]

Important Note: Strictly speaking, film noir is not a genre, but rather the mood, style, point-of-view, or tone of a film. It is also helpful to realize that ‘film noir’ usually refers to a distinct historical period of film history – the decade of film-making after World War II, similar to the German Expressionism or the French New Wave periods. However, it was labeled as such only after the classic period – early noir film-makers didn’t even use the film designation (as they would the labels “western” or “musical”), and were not conscious that their films would be labeled noirs.

Very often, a film noir story was developed around a cynical, hard-hearted, disillusioned male character who encountered a beautiful but promiscuous, amoral, double-dealing and seductive femme fatale … She would use her feminine wiles and come-hither sexuality to manipulate him into becoming the fall guy – often following a murder. After a betrayal or double-cross, she was frequently destroyed as well, often at the cost of the hero’s life. As women during the war period were given new-found independence and better job-earning power in the homeland during the war, they would suffer — on the screen — in these films of the 40s. Source: filmsite.org

Well I guess in this regard (and noting the sections I have bolded) Leave Her to Heaven may not pass the sniff test for the following reasons:

  1. Like I said at the open, the film is in live and living Technicolor.
  2. Our principal male protagonist is NOT a hard-hearted, disillusioned figure. In fact, Cornel Wilde embodies the romantic, heroic optimism that cowers in the light of Gene Tierney‘s wicked ways.
  3. Sure the female fataleis destroyed but (spoiler alert) she does so by her own hands and for a rather outlandish reason.
    • And although not mentioned above, at times, in a “film noir,” there is a female foil to the femme fatale, the “good girl,” who is ever so deserving of our male lead’s love and affection. CHECK! Another Jeanne (Crain) fits that role to a tee.
  4. The hammy over the top theatrics of courtroom scenes need to be seen to be believed.

Also note, there is peril and menace lurking around every corner because of Tierney’s cold calculations and manipulations..

So what do you think  yup or nope – is Leave Her to Heaven a “real” film noir? Hit the comments section below with your thoughts.

Key Film Facts:

Directed By: John M. Stahl
Written By: Jo Swerling (based on novel by Ben Ames Williams)

Principal Cast

  • Gene Tierney (Ellen Berent Harlan)
  • Cornel Wilde (Richard Harland)Vincent Price (Russell Quinton)
  • Jeanne Crain (Ruth Berent)
  • Mary Phillips (Mrs. Berent)
  • Gene Lockhart (Dr. Saunders)
  • Darryl Hickman (Danny Harland)

Scary Movie(s), Part 2: Friends and Family Edition

For the second part of my Scary Movie series, I decided to poll and troll those who are nearest and dearest to me, with the promise that their individual responses would be protected by anonymity.

I posed the very basic question to them:

Select a scary movie that you “love” and describe in a couple of sentences why this is so.

All in all I would say I was quite entertained, even by the scaredy-cats, who for various reasons, do not indulge in such films. If you will notice, I left the question very vague, because scares and frights mean different things, depending on the person. So without further ado, here are the responses I received:

Sinister – I am not expert, but I liked Ethan Hawke in this and the whole trail of killings and how it turned out they connected was well executed in the film. Paranormal Activity (the first one) – this gave me nightmares and the perspective they filmed were very realistic. (These are) Just my top two, but also like (The) Conjuring and am looking forward to seeing Annabel.

Sinister_Quad_Rev_AW.indd

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The Shining: Redrum. Redrum. The scene where the costumed partygoers look at the boy in the bedroom still creeps me out to this day. And oh yeah, talking to an evil spirit in the mirror. Not exactly my idea of a festive scene.
Alien: “10 Little Indians” Meets Outer Space. This dark, brooding film was not only depressing visually, but the main antagonist, a 7-foot, reptile-like alien which doesn’t have eyes, is pretty eerie.
IlluminatiWatcherDotCom-The-Shining-46
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The scene in The Ring when the girl crawls out of the TV is bananas. I have never seen anything like it. it was surreal, the black and white, the color, cinematography magic.
Idk if this is considered scary, but I cannot get enough of Silence of the Lambs. I loved the creepiness of the Anthony Hopkins character, Hannibal Lecter. How he could skin a man alive and not hurt a tiny hair on Clarice. I esp. loved crazy Buffalo Bill telling the governor’s daughter to put the f#$king lotion in the basket. (I love that this person realizes that my blog is PG-13)
Lastly, I think it was Texas Chainsaw Massacre (no I did not see the movie, just a scene). the girl was in the backseat of the car and they just shot a guy and his brains were all over the seat and they made her sit on it- ewwww
The-Silence-of-the-Lambs-hannibal-lector-5079952-1020-576
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Poltergeist 1.  It was one of the first scary movie I saw as a child. My sister and I forced our parents to lock the closet door for months after watching that movie.
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I don’t really like scary movies so I haven’t watched many of them. If I had to pick one, I would say my favorite scary movie is Aliens. Some people may say it is more suspenseful than scary, but I think all really good scary movies are also really suspenseful. But I love this movie because it has a great opening sequence to set up the movie and then a quiet, slow build up to the aliens.  The movie is tense throughout from the dark, wet setting, the eery music and the almost claustrophobic feeling.
So there you have it ladies and gents. And if truth be told, when I was deciding which images to post according to the responses, I was creeping myself out a bit (luckily I had Outlander: The Wedding playing in the background as a distraction). Especially with that scene from The Shining; but I surmised what better time to face my fears :). Well almost anyways, no way would I replicate The Ring or creepy preacher man from Poltergeist (“You’re gonna die…” or something to that effect).
Lovely readers, now is your turn. Post your favorite scary movies/moments in movies in the comments section below.