Noir In Color

So here we are … it is the end of November. This post was originally meant to be part of a series in association with the celebration known as “Noirvember” but alas life gets away from you sometimes and plans go awry.

But have no fear – I hereby present you with a condensed version of the series.

The idea being that while we often associate the film noir movement with stylized, moody expressionistic angles in black and white cinematography, there were more than a handful of gritty, evocative pieces during the peak period of this movement (I am looking at you, 1940s and 1950s) that were shot in color. The main thing is that these films evoke a mood

Here are just a few films that I feel are worth your consideration if noir is your thing:

 

Leave Her To Heaven (1945). I have mentioned this film on several occasions but it goes without saying that this is a must-see Technicolor piece noted by the wonderful performance of Gene Tierney that not only shows the full force of her acting powers but is really disturbing on so many levels.

LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN - American Poster 3

 

Niagara (1953). Two couples meet at the honeymooner’s paradise (especially at that time), but dreams are dashed when the merry holidaymaking becomes a murderous nightmare. Starring Marilyn Monroe, Joseph Cotten, and Jean Peters. Directed by Henry Hathaway.

niagara

 

A Kiss Before Dying (1956). While not an absolute favorite of mine, this film is notable for being one of Joanne Woodward’s first films. In it, she plays an ill-fated heiress caught in the grasp of cunning, socially ambitious go-getter Robert Wagner. Also starring Jeffrey Hunter. An ill-advised and poorly received remake was made in 1991.

Poster - A Kiss Before Dying_01

 

In my “research” (yeah, I actually do a little digging around before my self-described ‘brain dumps’) there were other films (mostly Hitchcock thrillers) that while some may categorize them as “noir,” I chose not to include on the list for purely subjective reasons. But that is the thing — one of the many great issues of debate among cineastes and film scholars alike is how exactly does one define what is considered noir. As I mentioned in my 2014 piece on Leave Her to Heaven, I like the definition offered on AMC’s Filmsite Website. But note: various other opinions on the subject are available.

Seen any of these films? Think I am missing something? Hit the comments section and let me know what you think.

 

Latest Obsession: “You Must Remember This” Podcast

Thanks to a recommendation of a friend, I have been able to pass my working day with ease. Journalist Karina Longworth‘s (my new she-ro) and her podcast, “You Must Remember This,” have become an essential  part of my podcasting life. Each episode begins with the haunting titular refrain taken from “As Time Goes By,” the song made famous (of course) by the 1942 classic Casablanca. The broadcast then proceeds to pass by in a brisk 45 minutes (more or less), as it explores “the secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century.”

It is a heavy lift to be sure – considering there have been many, many tawdry stories chronicling Hollywood acts of ill repute. Scandals, intrigues and conspiracies abound in her reportage, which in some cases, she has conveniently grouped together by theme (e.g. “Charles Mason in Hollywood” or “MGM Stories”). Through thorough research, Ms. Longowrth  constructs a narrative as close to the truth as she can find and substantiate. I think this is my favorite part of the podcast – especially when it comes to deconstructing tales that have passed through the generations as fact – for instance, answering questions that I have had, including Was Errol Flynn really a Nazi spy? Listen to find out 🙂

Also really cool is that she is open to listener feedback about what subject to cover; if she chooses your listener suggestion you get a shout out! Not that this is an incentive or anything but since listening to her podcast, I have put together my own list of subjects I would like to find out more about.

Screen Shot 2015-11-07 at 1.32.38 PM

A screencap from the site for the podcast, “You Must Remember This.”

Give it a listen. I am sure you will be glad you did.

Scary Movie, Part I: The Innocents (1961)

This post is the first in my two-part Scary Movie(s) series to “honor” the rapidly-approaching Halloween festivities.

Today I will offer for your consideration a frightfully classic Gothic ghost story – The Innocents, a British production from the year 1961. Originally released in the UK release in late November of that year, it got its United States premiere on Christmas Day – just in time for that most jolly of holidays …

An adaptation of Henry James’ Turn of the Screw, The Innocents stars Deborah Kerr as a governess whose charges exhibit increasingly strange behavior, leading to some shocking and mind boggling action.

With a screenplay by Truman Capote and direction courtesy of Jack Clayton, The Innocents is a mind-bending example of how horror/terror can be just as unsettling (in some cases more so) than even a film containing an astronomical level of blood and gore (see stab-squish-splat).

In other words, The Innocents is totally comfortable and effective in creating a menacing atmosphere through things unseen, courtesy of some expert lighting, black and white cinematography, and an accompanying haunting soundtrack composed by Georges Auric*.

There are many other details about the story that I know I am missing – with very good reason. Films like this, that play with me on a deeply psychological level, often cause me to block out some details, big and small. If that is not a ringing endorsement as to the merits of The Innocents as a film that deserves to be considered in the pantheon of “all time scary movies,” I do not know what is. In fact, many contemporary films, notably 2001’s The Others starring Nicole Kidman, owe a great stylistic debt to this film. Fun fact: the a portion of The Innocents’ soundtrack was sampled and placed on the “cursed tape” in the 2002 film The Ring.

InnocentsFeat2

Courtesy of the Criterion Collection website, there is a gallery of some the behind the scenes photos. I imagine these are included in the jam-packed special edition DVD/BD that went on sale last month. Check local and online merchants for pricing information.

Have you seen The Innocents? Let me know what you thought below in the Comments section.

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* Among Auric’s film credits: Dead of Night (1945), Roman Holiday (1953), The Wages of Fear (1953), Beauty and the Beast (1946), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951).

Readers’ Choice: Candice Frederick Asks Me …

[To name some] underrated movies

Thanks Candice! You asked a couple of questions that I plan to tackle in separate posts. (So as you can see) I am starting with some films that I feel are grossly underrated. Be warned, there are many repeats from earlier posts on this site.

Shooting Dogs/Beyond the Gates (2005): Overshadowed by the equally emotionally evocative film Hotel Rwanda, Shooting Dogs was another motion picture depicting the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Whereas Hotel Rwanda was based on an actual person, the protagonists in Shooting Dogs were composites of people who lived, fought and died during one of the pointed human atrocities of recent years. US Release 2007

beyond the gates shooting dogs

Children of Men (2006): Almost a perfect film for me. Yes it is dystopian at its most dystopian, but it is equally atmospheric, raw and unflinching in its portrayal of a world that is left without hope. Indeed children are the future.

Detour (1945): Thanks to my dad for introducing this Detour to me. In a world where noir is often identified by John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon (nothing to sniff at, mind you), Detour is a quintessential noir.

Detour-1945-Tom-Neal1

In Bruges (2008): The juxtaposing the magical medieval city with the brutal violence of its occupants makes for the perfect setting of a dark comedy.

Jacob’s Ladder (1990): I don’t know what to say about this film except that I have only seen it once and once was more than enough. Sure some of the visuals disturbed me, but it left an indelible mark on my cinematic memory. Even though I could not repeat watch, I think it deserves to have several eyes on it.

Love Jones (1997): A film that most assuredly suffered at the box office due to being labeled as a film for an “urban” audience. But, as with many films that carry this ridiculous burden, Love Jones has the broad appeal of telling a compelling love story that everyone can relate to.

lovejones_photos_843

Love and Basketball (2000): Speaking of love stories that were little seen, Love and Basketball is one of my favorite films of the past 15 years. A Sundance hit when released, you really have to check this one out.

The Naked City (1948): A sure hit with cinephiles, not enough people know about this gem that captures the pulse and spirit of a most beloved city so well.

25th Hour (2002): While I am largely not resolute in my opinion of Spike Lee, this is one of my favorite “Joints.”

Strange Days (1995): In 1995, a vision of the near future, as seen by Kathryn Bigelow. Oh yeah, and a kick ass performance by Ms. Angela Bassett.

The Hitchhiker (1953): Cinematic trailblazer Ida Lupino took over directing duties of this true-crime film noir when another director backed out.

The Hitchhiker Ida Lupino

So Candice, there you go! I am going to just leave it there. I really could go on for a spell.

Answers to your other questions coming soon! Well maybe not the overrated actors one … (I’ll see what mood I am in).

 

Readers’ Choice: Todd Mason Asks …

OK, what are your worst [film] overall? And do you have an affectionate worst and simply angering worst?

Whoa! This is a thought-provoking question. I guess it would be easy to say I dismiss all the bad, but I don’t. In my lifetime I have seen a whole lotta bad, the term “bad/worst” of course being relative. And even with that I have never thought of categorizing the worst I have seen by those I have great affection to and those that draw my ire. But it makes sense. Many films considered are guilty pleasures while others make you want to throw something or walk out of the theater.

So that is where I will start. Walking out of the movie theater. While I have made myself suffer and endure many a turkey, the only film I have ever wanted to walk out of was the 1998 extravaganza Armageddon. There was just something about that experience that made me slink in my chair and wish it were all over. Perhaps the drifting of the Bruce Willis’ accent or the bombast that is often associated with Bey-ian films is what did me in. Even hearing the Armageddon love song I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing (as sung by Aerosmith), while a lovely ballad, stirs up some rather unpleasant memories for this moviegoer.

Why didn’t I just leave then you may ask? Well, I was a newly-minted college graduate who did my post graduate duty by becoming an RA at a summer camp on campus, I could not leave. I think that made the experience even more agonizing for me. So yeah I will stick with this one.

Armageddon

An honorable mention to Wilson (1944). I just do not understand how this film was a multiple Academy Award nominated film. It was the cinematic equivalent of watching paint dry and I really did not like myself for sitting through it. I must be a glutton for punishment.

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As for the worst film I have seen and have the greatest amount of affection for … hmm, I have to think about this one for a minute. My lovely dad had a penchant for presenting my siblings and I with the dross of the cinema world for fun. The law of unintended consequences as they are means that eventually we grew to love these duds, in spite of themselves. So it really is a great honor to be among the tops of this list. But after long and hard consideration I would have to say …

PLOT TWIST!

It just is not fair or right that I would have to choose just one film, for there are several that hold a warm place in my heart. So in no particular order, here we go:

They Live (1988): This film is obviously an exploitation film meant to look cheap and schlocky; kind of like in a Plan 9 From Outer Space Away (1959) (another one for the list).

Masters of the Universe (1987): It is a childhood thing, yeah it does not stand the test of time and if I were to see it again after all of these years, I might hurl, but that’s okay.

Reefer Madness (1936): The ‘victims’ descent into madness is a riot to watch.

Mama Mia (2008): I like ABBA; so sue me …

Refer Madness

Reefer Madness

Just one note: In my research (yeah I sometimes do that) I saw the 2000 film Center Stage on someone’s list. Well that is just wrong – that film is brilliant!

So Todd, I basically answered 50% of your question as you so nicely asked it. Hope you enjoyed the rather verbose response.

 

Readers’ Choice: le0pard13 Asks …

What classic or well-regarded film have you finally caught up to in the last two years, and been disappointed with, Iba?

Very good question.

Up until recently, I had not appreciated silent films. No explanation really, the films just seemed so foreign to me (in fact more foreign than many international films. I think prior to my immersion, my introduction had been to a handful of films, notably Wingsand snippets of Nosferatu and Phantom of the Opera mixed in for good measure.

But gradually, being the cinematically open-minded person I am, I decided to further plunge into this genre and really find out what it was all about. Of course I LOVED it – why wouldn’t I? As a result of this immersion, I was formally introduced to City Lights, which has become one of my absolute favorite FILMS (not just silents).

On the flip side, and to get around to your question, my silent movie journey also led me to the Fritz Lang masterpiece, Metropolis.

WARNING: Unpopular Opinion Time …

I did not like it. Granted, I did not hate it either. Overall, I was very ambivalent about the experience, as I expressed in my May 2012 piece on the very subject of silent films. Since then, the needle on that position has not really moved.

Hear me out. From the perspective of achievement in the art of filmmaking and of cinematic scale, I get it. Nothing up until that time had been filmed on film, especially a believable future-state. When you get to it, I really think it is me – my expectations were at 11 when it came to story. And in that respect, I felt a bit let down about some of the plot mechanics. Perhaps on revisiting the film later (seeing it on the big screen), I will be a little more forgiving.

This issue is separate and apart for me from reading about the several contemporary efforts to restore the film into a fully realized film.

fritz lang metropolis 1927 silent

Metropolis by Fritz Lang (Germany, 1927) Silent

Celebrating International Women’s Day w/ Cinema

Thursday the buzz was about books (World Book Day). Today (March 8th), the focus is on celebrating women all over the world with International Women’s  Day.

I cannot think of any better way to join in the celebrations by taking a look at women’s role in global cinema.

 

Women Behind the Scenes

woman director with clapboard

Indiewire has done a great job in covering women in the film industry:

The New York Times has also over the years, examined women’s participation as both performers and creators; here are some articles that have resonated with me:

 

Women Front and Center on Screen

Oscar Cate Blanchett

Michael Yada © A.M.P.A.S.

Cate Blanchett drew a lot attention this past week when, during her Oscar acceptance speech, she called out the ‘powers that be’ for their hesitance to promote and encourage the production of films that have women in central roles. The box office returns for 2013 back her up. According to Time.com, in 2013, movies featuring strong female characters actually were a financial boon to the industry. The basis for determining this phenomenon used the now infamous Bechdel Test. Created by cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985, it is a ‘sniff test’ of sorts that asks a work of fiction:

1. to have at least two [named] women in it,
2. who talk to each other,
3. about something besides a man.
(Source: bechdeltest.com)

I encourage you to go to the website (http://bechdeltest.com/) to see if (any) of your favorite films pass. The best part of this Time.com piece is the infographic which shows in unquestionable detail Hollywood’s hits and misses for 2013 and the correlation to the presence of female lead(s) (Source: Vocativ).

Bechdel_BR2498464922

 

Some Movie Recommendations

pariah dee rees

It would be remiss of me to close out this post without offering up some suggestions for films featuring a strong women in the narrative. After drafting my preliminary list, I ran all of the films through the Bechdel; unfortunately, some of my favorites did not make the cut, either they are not in the database or  they really did not meet the minimum criteria. Note, an asterisk (*) indicates that the film was directed by a female.

  • * Strange Days (1995): directed by Kathryn Bigelow and starring Angela Bassett, Strange Days is a pulse-pounding actioner that remains a personal favorite of mine (but it just passes).
  • All About Eve (1950): Backstage drama on the Great White Way. Margo (Bette Davis) and Eve (Ann Baxter) are formidable sparring partners.
  • Alien (1979): Ripley! Sigourney Weaver became a hero for a generation of young women.
  • The Color Purple (1985): While this film is a beautiful and sweeping epic I know it also courts controversy in many corners with its depiction of the male (emasculated?) and female (wanton?) characters.  But for me, it has an emotional resonance because it is one of the few moments in my life I have accompanied my mother to the cinema.
  • Children of Men (2006): Nothing stronger than being the carrier of the future of human civilization.
  • * Pariah (2011): Embarrassingly this has been in my queue for a minute and is the only entry that I am recommending sight-unseen.
  • A Room With a View (1985): This film is simply sublime for me.
  • G.I. Jane (1997): Just ‘cuz.
  • Heavenly Creatures (1994): The picture that gave us the gift of Kate Winslet’s presence on our screens. Based on a true story.
  • * Daughters of the Dust (1991): I need to rewatch this it has been a while.
  • Never Let Me Go (2010): This one fell under so many radars, it deserved a lot of recognition than it received. Haunting and beautiful.
  • Jane Eyre (2006/2011): Take your pick as to the version; Jane is boss.
  • Before Midnight (2013)
  • * Red Road (2006)/Fish Tank (2009): Double-bill directed by Andrea Arnold.
  • Persuasion (1995)
  • Black Narcissus (1947): The most passionate film about a group of nuns you will ever see.
  • * Bend it Like Beckham (2002): The air is indeed rare when you have a teen/sports/cultural clash comedy that features strong young women.
  • Far From Heaven (2002): Julianne Moore gives an Academy-nominated performance in Todd Haynes’ homage to the Sirkian (subversive) melodramas of the 1950s.
  • * Love & Basketball (2000)
  • Sense and Sensibility (1995): It’s Jane Austen, Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet.
  • Short Term 12 (2013)
  • Muriel’s Wedding (1994): Toni Collette and ABBA go on a journey of self-discovery.
  • 12 Years a Slave (2013): Nothing more needs to be said on my part.

… I could go on. In fact this list is growing a lot longer than I imagined. Let me know if you think I missed anything!

DVD Pick: Moguls and Movie Stars (2010)

I luv history.

I luv movies.

So really it was just a matter of time when I would suck it an commit seven straight hours of my life to watching and reacting to this TCM Original Production, Moguls and Movie Stars, an in-depth look at the birth of the motion picture industry from 1889 until 1970, which I guess is a solid marker for cinema’s “modern era.”

Hollywood Sign

Click on the links below for a synopsis of each episode:

Episode One: Peepshow Pioneers (1889-1907)

Episode Two: The Birth of Hollywood (1907-1920)

Episode Three: The Dream Merchants

Episode Four: Brother Can You Spare a Dream (1929-1941)

Episode Five: Warriors & Peacemakers (1941-1950)

Episode Six: The Attack of Small Screens (1950-1960)

Episode Seven: Fade Out, Fade In (1960-1969)

This is a must-see film for anyone who considers themselves a cinephile. After all, through this wonderful medium, we have been able to chronicle an entire human century of existence.

What Would YOU Like to See?

As per my uz … I visited TV.com this week (yeah, I kinda love the small screen too – don’t get me started in on Scandal …) and stumbled upon this interesting article as part of their “Fantasy Casting” series.

sneakers

Let it be known: I LOVE me some Sneakers, so personally the idea of it getting a TV reboot (even within the realm of fantasy) is a bit disconcerting. I felt that its narrative was perfectly composed for a film and not necessarily convertible to serialized format, but hey, that’s just me. Some of the ideas TV.com readers had were quite interesting.

But I digress. Reading the article got my grey matter moving and led me to the following question: exactly which films WOULD work as a TV reboot? Well readers I am posing that very question to YOU.  Maybe it has already been done – see M*A*S*H, BuffyTeen Wolf, The Odd Couple, … My Big Fat Greek Life (yeah it existed) – or maybe not.

In any regard, share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.

What I Have Been Watching …

A few weeks ago I mentioned one of my latest television obsessions and tied it into the world of cinema. This week I will not even attempt a tie-in; instead I will just wax poetic about a program I am a couple of episodes in, The Shadow Line, which originally aired on BBC Two (BTW thanks for the recommendation, Scott – he of Front Room Cinema).

This one-off, seven part series stars a personal favorite of mine, Chiwetel Ejiofor as a cop investigating a murder of an underworld boss. But rest assured, it is not that straightforward. See, he is just back on duty after recovering from a gunshot wound to the head – and the bullet is still lodged there. As a result of the shooting, he has amnesia from the event, which also saw his partner die. This is al established the end of the of the first episode, which had a perplexing and intriguing final act that left one wondering, “Just WHAT is going on?”

And now that I have just finished episode two which heralded the introduction of Stephen Rae’s shadowy figure, I cannot wait for episodes 3 and beyond.

Although made for television, this series has a very cinematic look and feel to it. The writing is clever and well-placed in the hands of a superb cast of actors including Stephen Rae, Christopher Eccleston, Kierston Wareing and a very, very frightening Rafe Spall as the nephew of the murdered crime boss who has more than a screw loose.

Check out the trailer:

For us here in the States, getting our hands on this series has been a hard task to say the very least; this past February, DirectTV aired the program on its Audience Network. But it now appears to be available on Blu-ray via Amazon.com. My only warning: the video description states that this is an All-Region disk, so I can assume that it will play on a North American video disk player, but one cannot be too sure.