Jul 29, 2012

Quote of the Week

The moment you want to teach your audience, you are making a bad film.

-Douglas Sirk

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Jul 23, 2012

TCM Guest Programmer: What Movies Would You Pick?

Whenever bad news hits, as with the sad events in Aurora last week, I tend to overdo reading the coverage. In an effort to distract myself, I was flipping aimlessly through my Twitter account, and was delighted to find the answers to a question I'd asked my followers a couple of months ago. It was:

If you were a TCM guest programmer, which movies would you pick?

I loved the responses I got. This was partly because the choices were so diverse, but also because hardly anyone picked the same movie twice. It only happened three times: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), Angels With Dirty Faces (1938) and Meet Me in St. Louis (1944). No one picked the same flick more than two times.

Check out the list, in all its unedited beauty:

Todd ‏@Kinetograph 
The Night of the Hunter, I Know Where I'm Going, Angels With Dirty Faces, The Last Laugh, Fétiche 

Maureen Nolan ‏@missmccrocodile
Contraband '40, Gaslight '40, Dawn Patrol '38, Broken Blossoms '19, Battling Butler '26.

Meredith Riggs ‏@MeredithRiggs39
Meet Me in St. Louis, 42nd Street, The Philadelphia Story, Platinum Blonde, and Animal Crackers

John DeCarli ‏@filmcapsule 
Anything Michael Powell: THE RED SHOES, COLONEL BLIMP and older films like EDGE OF THE WORLD.

Dave Mutert ‏@dmmutert 
Sherlock Jr. ('24), The Power and the Glory ('33), Decoy ('46), The Ghost and Mrs. Muir ('47), Odd Man Out ('47)

Evangeline Holland ‏@edwardian_era 
Easy Living, Stella Dallas, Libeled Lady, and Peter Ibbotson.

scott stevens ‏@scott219a 
White Heat, King Kong, Angels with Dirty Faces, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Hells Kitchen

Simoa ‏@Princess_Merida
The Third Man, Spellbound, and A Letter to Three Wives.

Mike Tennyson ‏@M10247 
Let's try The Boys from Brazil, The Stepford Wives, and Rosemary's Baby.

Jessica Pickens ‏@HollywoodComet 
Since You Went Away or Betty Grable or Alice Faye movies, Date with Judy

Terry Towles Canote ‏@mercurie80 
The Seven Samurai, The President's Analyst, and The Wicked Lady

Dee Griffiths ‏@berkobabe 
The Searchers, Barry Lyndon, The Godfather, Casablanca

Christine Brun ‏@classicfilmbuf 
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Now, Voyager, Mildred Pierce and Roman Holiday.

David Neary ‏@DeusExCinema 
Network. Princess Mononoke. Wages of Fear. Sweet Smell of Success. Wings of Desire.

Lê ^_^ ‏@startspreading 
The public enemy (1931), A star is born (1937), On the town (1949), Sunset boulevard (1951)

Irish ‏@WhileTurning 
The Quiet Man,The Enchanted Cottage, Ghost and Mrs Muir, Love Affair-Dunne Boyer, The Whales of August,Miracle on 34th St

kim dunn ‏@kmjdu 
The Guardsman....Woman Chases Man....Bringing Up Baby....Mary Poppins.

james ‏@jamestheluddite 
"Street Scene" (1931) "Meet Me in St Louis" (1944) "Picnic" (1955)

Jess Thomson ‏@jessthomsonnn 
That Hamilton Woman, Rear Window and The Thin Man.

Raquel ‏@TheRedan3553 
The Crowd, Last Holiday, Brief Encounter

Shannon O'Toole ‏@holyunderwear92 
I would choose The Cameraman, It Happened One Night and the Producers, from 1968. Tough question though. :)

Tobias Fearnside ‏@Tobias1970 
'Kind Hearts & Coronets', 'The Pawnbroker', 'The Bride of Frankenstein', 'Cool Hand Luke' & 'A Matter of Life & Death'...

Ryan ‏@sheaciti 
Duck Soup (1933), It's A Gift (1934), The Errand Boy (1961), Three Stooges Meet Hercules (1962). ‏

 Any @hammerfilms from the 50's.

Aren't they great choices? I thought I would go with My Man Godfrey (1936), Notorious (1946), All About Eve (1950) and Red Dust (1932). Then I changed my mind a few times, but ended up thinking these would still be the best, because I love talking about them so much. What movies would you choose?

Jul 22, 2012

Quote of the Week

My good friend [Bob] Fosse said to me once what we have to learn, we people who work in the movies, is show business is two words and that you have got to deal with both of them. It’s a show and it’s a business. They are both tough to deal with.

-Stanley Donen

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Jul 18, 2012

Review--Mary Pickford: The Muse of the Movies

Mary Pickford: The Muse of the Movies 
Earthlight, A Motion Picture Company and White Castle Productions
Directed by Nicholas Elipoulos

I love Mary Pickford's voice. Her humble, warm tone belies her magnificence. It is that of a supporting player, not the pioneering superstar that she was. Of all the things there are to love about Mary Pickford: The Muse of the Movies, that she tells so much of the story in her own voice is one of its most charming traits.

This is accomplished with the use of several Pickford interviews, where she tells her story in a straightforward, and sometimes self-deprecating fashion. Muse is meant to be a tribute, but it never gets too gooey, because Ms. Pickford manages to keep things down to earth.

The rest of the story is narrated with understated elegance by Michael York. That man's voice is like a cashmere blanket. Can we just have him narrate everything?

Pickford and York are the primary soundtrack for a smoothly edited collection of film and archive clips. Some scenes are familiar, such as the wild crowds that greeted Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks on their legendary European honeymoon. Others, like the cheerily feminist conversation between America's Sweetheart and Amelia Earhart at Pickfair are excitingly novel.

There are also a handful of interviews that stretch over several years, with clips of Lillian Gish in the 70s, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in 1994 and Buddy Rogers in 1990. It was fun to hear Fairbanks share the familiar story of playing toy trains with Pickford at six-years-old, certain that this tiny woman was a little girl who had come to be his playmate. I also loved the sweet anecdotes Rogers shared, such as a moment in later years when Gish and Pickford sat face-to-face talking about their enduring affection for each other.

It was especially interesting to see Pickford's daughter Roxanne Rogers Monroe in the only interview she ever gave about her famous parent. While she is respectful of her adoptive mother, you can feel the lack of intimacy in that relationship. And yet, Monroe is close enough to be perceptive about her mother, such as when she notes that Pickford, "loved Douglas Fairbanks and what they stood for." It is as remarkable an interview for the complexity you sense in her emotions about her mother as what she says.

Personally, Muse was a rewarding experience, because it was a powerful supplement to all the Pickford biographies I'd been reading. I can't think of a less clichéd way to say it: the presentation of all these materials really brought her story to life. It was delightful to see as a fan who had already learned much about Pickford, but it would be equally enjoyable as an introduction to this woman who was a film industry pioneer in so many ways.

The materials for the film were collected over the course of more than a decade from archives all over the world. One of the best acquisitions: several hours of film historian Kevin Brownlow's Pickford interviews.

The story of how Eliopoulos discovered his subject is also fascinating. In the late 80s, he met fellow alumni Buddy Rogers at a University of Kansas reunion. This led to an invitation to Pickfair Lodge, and access to rare archives, footage and memorabilia.

Features on the DVD include cast bios, a photo gallery and a pair of interviews: one a Q&A from the Toronto International Film Festival and the other an audio interview from NPR's On Film. I especially liked the insight the Q&A gave me into the film; the audience asked some tough questions.

Check out the site for Mary Pickford: The Muse of the Movies here. There's a great gallery of Pickford shots.

Thank you to Nicholas Eliopoulos for providing a copy of the film for review.

Jul 15, 2012

Quote of the Week

When youngsters ask me how to act, I say, 'Don't. Re-act! Don't act!'

-Barbara Stanwyck

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Jul 11, 2012

Classic Movies on Pintrest

Classic Movies is now on Pintrest! Though I've posted a few of my boards to Twitter, I haven't done much to spread the word about my favorite new place to geek out, so I thought I ought to write a post. I love that I can share so many images and be sure that the source will be properly credited.

So far I've put up eight boards:

Drop by and take a look! If you've got a great Pintrest board, let me know. I may add these to future Classic Links posts.

Jul 10, 2012

Book Review: Bringing Up Oscar

Bringing Up Oscar: The Story of the Men and Women Who Founded The Academy
Debra Ann Pawlak
Pegasus Books

I started reading Bringing Up Oscar: The Story of the Men and Women Who Founded the Academy eager to finally fill the gaps in my spotty knowledge of the early Academy Awards. By the time I got a couple of hundred pages into the book, waiting all the while for more Oscar history, I realized this was not to be. 

Though Oscar is prominent in the title, there's not much of the specific story of the awards in this chaotically organized, but frequently engrossing history. The subtitle is a more accurate representation of the book, because every one of the first 36 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gets some attention. These stories vary in detail and interest, but together they form a compelling group.

The people who founded the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are essentially the men and women who built the company town known as Hollywood. They are the stars, leaders and craftspeople who innovated, set standards and gave structure to an industry that badly needed a focal point. Bringing up Oscar tells the story of these professionals and how they worked together to make movies and the framework to support them.

Some stories, such as the legendary lives of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, will be familiar to many classic movie fans. Others, like the life of scriptwriter Jeannie MacPherson or director Fred Niblo, are less well known, but intriguing. It all adds up to a fascinating and detailed, if disjointed tale.

One of the significant problems of telling this story is how closely intertwined the lives of the early Academy members were. A biography of Mary Pickford must include Douglas Fairbanks. Likewise, Pickford played an important role in Cecil B. de Mille's career. In telling all these stories, the connections invariably result in a great deal of repetition. It also led to some eerie rebirths. In one instance Louis B. Meyer died, only to be back again a few pages later to sign a new contract.

Still, Pawlak clearly loves her subject and her eye for detail elevates the quality of the story in several instances. She has gone deep with her research and told many stories about the birth of Hollywood that, while they aren't a part of popular legend, should be. That alone makes this book a powerful read.

Pawlak also frequently dips away from the narrative to share bits of trivia, as if she can't wait to dish about a new anecdote. I liked this quirk. It was fun learn tidbits such as that Rin-Tin-Tin lived across the street from Jean Harlow. Apparently the platinum blonde held him in her arms, sobbing, when he died.

Though I didn't get what I'd hoped for from Bringing Up Oscar, it told a fascinating story, rich with detail and historical background. I could see going back to read select pages of the book, just to make sure I absorbed all the details. In fact, this may be the best way to avoid feeling overwhelmed by the avalanche of stories about these diverse and determined pioneers.

Thank you to Ms. Pawlak for providing a copy of the book for review.

Jul 8, 2012

Quote of the Week

We are what we are in the opinion of others. It's up to them to make up their minds as to what we are.  

-Cary Grant

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Jul 5, 2012

App Review: Glamour of the Gods

MAPP Editions on Itunes

Lately it's been driving me crazy to see all these interesting iPad apps come out and not to be able to access them. You see, I am iPadless.

Anyway, I finally got my hands on a loaner, so I could try out the marvelous Glamour of the Gods app.

In July 2011, the Glamour of the Gods exhibition opened at the National Portrait Gallery in London . It consisted of hundreds of photographs featuring classic movies stars and scenes from the 1920s to the 1960s, all from the John Kobal Foundation. Now with the app of the same name, you can enjoy the show electronically.

John Kobal was a devoted collector of portraits and stills from the golden age of Hollywood. He was one of the first film historians to focus attention on film industry photographer and the promotional power of the images they captured.

The app is a rich compilation of text, video and, most importantly, images. A great place to start is the 45 minute video tour of the gallery, which includes an overview of the exhibit and further exploration of select shots. Another clip explores Kobal's collections. Three extensive essays, one about pioneering Hollywood studio photographers, the other two about Kobal and his collection work both as reference and fascinating entertainment.

There's also a general biography of Kobal which I found interesting and amusing. The collector met many classic stars as a teenager. Apparently he was especially adored by the grand old actresses of the golden age.

The best part of the app, the part that had me drooling all over my poor sister-in-law's iPad screen, was the photo gallery. It has over 230 shots from Kobal's collection. I couldn't believe how beautiful they were!

Many legendary stars are included in this collection, such as Rudolph Valentino, Greta Garbo, Clara Bow and Mary Pickford. Some shots even looked familiar, though much sharper in this format; others were totally new to me. Though the shots were all wonderful, I especially liked that less well-remembered stars such as May McAvoy and Evelyn Brent got some space among the greats.

There are lots of little treats in this collection, some of my favorites: a lovely blue-tinted shot from The Ten Commandments, an artsy shot of Carole Lombard half nude in 1929 and a wonderfully campy pic of Nita Naldi in a glittering snake costume for Cobra (1925).

I imagine this gorgeous coffee table book app is as close as you could get to the exhibition without actually being there. If you check it out, enjoy the photos, but don't forget to check out the essays, because the story behind them and their collector is just as fascinating.

Thank you MAPP Editions for providing access to the app for review.

Thank you to Beth for lending me your iPad. I hope I didn't break anything.

Jul 2, 2012

Book Review: Classic Hollywood Detective Walter Steale

Ten-a-Week Steale
Stephen Jared
Solstice Publishing

I like Stephen Jared's novels, because they're sort of like classic movies in print. In his first book, the lively and romantic Jack and the Jungle Lion, he played with the adventure genre. This time, he goes grittier and darker with the 1920s-set detective story Ten-a-Week-Steale.

The title refers to detective Walter Steale, a good-hearted, but traumatized veteran of the Great War. Steale lives on the edges of the glittering silent film colony in Hollywood. He's sweet on Virginia Joy, a clever platinum blonde who also happens to be a Harlow-like movie star with a similarily hovering mother. His brother is corrupt Lieutenant Governor Sam Steale.

Walter takes an ill-advised job providing muscle for his brother, and finds himself framed and a fugitive from the law. Things get dirty, but this detective knows dirty, and he can wrestle with the worst of them.

Though Ten-a-Week Steale is sexier and more violent than your typical golden age flick, it has the zest of a 1920s flapper pic, dialogue with a 1930s snap and an aura of 1940s noir doom. Somehow, all of that fits together. There are even movie star cameos, from Nazimova to Adolph Menjou.

The betrayed man on the run plot is familiar, but Jared gives it a boost with juicy characters and sharp wit. There are also a few novel touches. I certainly see brandy in a different light after reading a particular fight scene.

And holy cow, those action scenes! The brutal detail and twisty pacing really hit you in the gut.

Ten-a-Week-Steale is a fast-paced, engrossing story. I'd like to see more of Walter Steale and Virginia Joy. (The upcoming sequel to Jack and the Jungle Lion can't come out fast enough either!) Thank you to Stephen Jared for providing a review copy of the book.

Jul 1, 2012

Quote of the Week

I could still sing until I got bronchitis. I had a very, very bad attack a couple of years ago; I thought I would never get over it. That's why I sound different. But sometimes I sing along with something, and I think, "That wasn't bad." I wonder sometimes if I could start vocalizing.

-Doris Day, in 2011

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