May 30, 2013

Book Review--Musicals on the Silver Screen: A Guide to the Must-See Movie Musicals

Musicals on the Silver Screen: A Guide to Must-See Movie Musicals
Leonard Kniffle
Huron Street Press, June 2013

Musicals on the Silver Screen packs a lot of information about movies into its 160 pages, and it shares its treasures in a lively, entertaining way. It's spinach that tastes like cotton candy. Now I want all my film reference books to be fun

The format of the book is straightforward: short blurbs about musicals arranged chronologically and with a section for each decade. The length of these entries vary, from a few sentences to half a page, depending on the significance of the musical or the interest of the author. Sometimes I craved more information, but usually the length fit the worthiness of the film. There are also little symbols indicating which titles are biography, animated and included in the National Film Registry. My Virgo heart did a little squee when I saw the check boxes by each entry for films already seen.

While your can pick and choose among entries, I found it most interesting to read Musicals cover-to-cover. Experienced this way, it reads like a history of film musicals, rather than an unconnected series of thoughts. Kniffle occasionally refers to previous entries and he always strives to put each movie in historical context. Sometimes I found that effort excessive. I didn't feel the need to know about every unfortunate racial reference, and I would think anyone watching a classic film would expect these moments. Still, I could see how that might help someone new to classics to ease into that world.

Musicals is a particularly good book for those with little knowledge of classic film. I would have loved this when I was first discovering Busby Berkeley movies on TV as a kid. While I had heard of most of the titles, I did pick up some new viewing suggestions. I also enjoyed the interesting movie history tidbits scattered throughout the book. How did it take me so long to learn why it is called the silver screen?

The book has a strong dose of Kniffle's personal opinions, which I enjoyed. I'm sure that's why I found it such an smooth, entertaining read. I felt like I was being given a whirlwind tour by an animated guide. Making a reference book from a single perspective like that can be tricky, but I think there are enough straight facts here to satisfy those who may not appreciate the extra commentary.

Whether as a concise reference or a fun read, I recommend Musicals on the Silver Screen to anyone curious about the genre.

Many thanks to Huron Street Press for providing a review copy of the book.

May 29, 2013

SIFF 2013: Kalpana (1948), A Rediscovered Gem

(d: Uday Shankar c: Uday Shankar, Lakshmi Kanta, Usha Kiran, Amala Shankar, India 1948, 160 min)

The screening of the Indian dance epic Kalpana (1948) at Seattle International Film Festival 2013 held a rapt audience in its spell. This surreal fantasy mesmerized with its inventive production numbers, while passionately speaking for Indian culture and strength in a quirky mix of poetry and politics.

I always wonder how many long lost treasures there are hiding away in film archives, attics or even buried under old theater sites. Kalpana is one of those movies, it didn't make a huge splash upon its release, but is worthy of rediscovery for its influential choreography and the fact that it was the only film made by Uday Shankar, a pioneer of modern Indian dance. The film was found in an archive by Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Foundation and restored in 2012. Like many Hindi films, its length tests the bladder, but it never fails to excite the senses.

Kalpana is one of those movies where a plot description will not get you far, but at least it is a start. Shankar (brother of sitar legend Ravi) is a ballet troupe owner in the middle of a love triangle who fights for purity of art and spirit as he struggles to maintain his group while staying true to his beliefs. The movie follows him from childhood to the moment he asks one part of the triangle for her hand in marriage. All of this is pretty much beside the point, because Shankar has other ideas to share.

This barest of set-ups sustains an epic that is almost indescribable in its variety. It moves through dance numbers in an almost careless fashion, catching them already in progress, and cutting away randomly. The feeling is as if the movie itself is following its own whims.

The dances are powerful, apparently a mixture of traditional styles and Shankar's own choreography, a style which would use to bring international attention to Indian dance. Minimalist music, and moments of violence and horror give these numbers an edge, almost a feeling of dread, even though they are often played for laughs. In one scene, a dancer costumed as a lion attacks its prey and rips out a long string of yarn entrails. In another, a young man grabs ahold of his lover's arm, only to have it twist off into his hands. These moments are made all the more alarming because the camera doesn't linger, and you're left wondering just what you saw.

I found that I could get lost in the world of Kalpana once I accepted that I was watching a dance performance. It was in this way that I stopped concerning myself with what the plot was cooking and settled in to admire the spectacle. That doesn't mean Kalpana was all performance though. I was surprised and impressed by the way Shankar managed to weave his political and social views into his art. He's not subtle about it. There are lots of long speeches, and passionate reminders that "we are the future of India" and "it's not poverty that's unfortunate, but the fake splendor of the rich." It gets preachy, but the overall magical, unpredictable mood of the film keeps it from dragging.

I could feel the audience becoming restless, and saw lots of people checking phones for the time as the film came to a close, but there were always moments that would draw the crowd back. It was remarkable the way a particular dance or the ominous percussive elements in a particular scene would make everyone still again. There were also several moments when I saw people leaning forward, mesmerized by what they saw on the screen. I don't know if I would call Kalpana a classic, and it could seriously try the patience of one not familiar with Indian film, because I think my own love of Hindi movies enhance my enjoyment of it, but I don't know if I've ever seen an audience so stunned by a movie. It's almost too strange and marvelous to belong to the world of film, and I am sure it will haunt my memory for a long time.

Click here for more information about the films at SIFF 2013.

And here is my full coverage of the event.

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May 28, 2013

SIFF 2013: Safety Last! (1923) Restored

(d: Fred Newmeyer, Sam Taylor c: Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis, Bill Strother, Noah Young, Westcott Clarke, USA 1923, 67 min)

I'm so glad I waited to see Safety Last! (1923) on the silver screen at Seattle International Film Festival 2013. It had always been on my list of movies to see, and I'm not sure why I hadn't checked it out yet, but when I found out this new Janus restoration released by Sony was touring, I knew that had to be the first time I saw Harold Lloyd's most famous film. It was amazing to see this great comedy in a print so clear and sharp I had to keep reminding myself that the action I watched was filmed nearly 90 years ago.

I was delighted to see that SIFF was categorizing Safety Last! as a family film, because upon hearing it was playing the festival, I decided I had to take my five-year-old to check it out. She's been digging Keaton, the Marx Brothers and Laurel & Hardy lately, so I figured it was time to introduce her to the young man with glasses.

When I go to the movies, I usually sit in the top middle of the theater. I've always felt like being to close to the screen was overwhelming. Well, my daughter insisted on sitting closer, front row. She could not understand why I wanted to be so far from the big TV (yeah, I don't take her to enough movies).

So fourth row was the compromise. And I stand corrected. It's better to be close, because you can focus on the movie. If you're in the back row, you focus on the people in the audience too, and people in movie theaters usually drive me crazy. This is why you have kids. Once you get past the wanting ice cream for breakfast thing, they are so practical.

The program started with the 1917 short Bliss, costarring Bebe Daniels. This is one of my favorite Lloyd shorts, because it is the perfect example of how he in his onscreen persona was not only enthusiastic and determined, but a huge opportunist. The whole thing is basically Lloyd taking advantage of one situation after another, without a breath of air in between, until he gets a wedding ring on his girl's finger. It's the best, but I felt so cranky watching it, because the print in circulation is so bad you can barely see what's going on. It made me realize how spoiled I have become by all these amazing restorations in the fast few years. Archivists are truly heroic people.

It was astonishing to see the difference in quality between Bliss and Safety Last! There were only six years between these films, but the new print made the latter seem so much more modern and fresh. I think restoration brings more people to classic films, because it not only makes them more accessible, but we realize that the people we're seeing on the screen are really not much different from us when we don't have the dinginess of a shabby print to remind us of its age.

Safety Last! definitely has a bright, modern flair. It takes Lloyd's eager young man to the city, where he toils behind the fabric counter at a department store to make enough money to marry his girl. She waits in their hometown, hopeful, and Lloyd tries to keep her spirits high by sending expensive gifts that he can't afford. In fact, he's starving. Thinking he must ready for her, his girl goes to surprise him at work in the city, and if things haven't been silly before, they get outrageously goofy going forward.

The most famous part of the movie is that shot of Lloyd hanging from the face of a clock at the top of a tall building. This is part of a climb our eager young man makes up the side of the department store in an effort to bring attention to his employers and make a big bonus for himself. He hadn't planned to make the climb himself, but this is comedy, so he does.

My daughter was stressed out during the long climbing scene, which is both hilarious and gut clenching. I had to remind her that in a comedy, the guy doesn't end up splattered on the pavement. At least before they got a bit more black, but I'll save that for later.

This was a great family film. There were a lot of little people in the theater, and except for a few questions here and there the only noise in the theater was laughter. I don't think I heard many kids laughing, but they were definitely attentive and very curious about what was going on. It was wonderful to see that.

If you've get a chance to see this new restoration, grab it. I hear this is just the start of Sony's Harold Lloyd revival. It's about time this timeless comedian enjoyed a widespread rediscovery.

Check out the rest of the great classic films coming up at SIFF 2013.

May 26, 2013

Quote of the Week

Acting, no matter what they say, is the same kind of art as a pianist or a violinist. We are interpretive artists, we interpret the script; the major thing is the script, the play. And we are as good as the scriptwriters.

-Vincent Price

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May 25, 2013

Children in Film Blogathon: Gigi Perreau

This post is my entry in the Children in Film blogathon taking place May 24-26 at Comet Over Hollywood. Head on over to the site for links to more kiddie movie star fun.


Gigi Perreau came to me out of nowhere, a pleasant surprise. To me, she embodies one of the most delightful things about the movies, those little moments that unexpectedly touch you in the midst of a larger, more elaborate story.

I ran across Perreau while I was researching the actress Teresa Wright for a profile. Wright had starred with David Niven in the little known, but deeply touching costume drama Enchantment in 1948. Gigi played the younger version of the actress. 

I'm usually a bit bored during origin scenes like these, and if I pay any attention to the child actor, it's typically because I'm trying to decide if there's any resemblance to the star they're portraying. In a brief scene Perreau was so beautifully, dare I say enchantingly, different that I couldn't shake her memory for the rest of the movie.

She plays a young orphan who has been taken in by a wealthy family. Her new older sister is immediately threatened by her presence, and with a few haughty words, she sends her running from the dinner table. Dismayed by his sister's behavior, her new brother (who is Gigi's real brother) follows her and tries to cheer her up.

I've known kids who express sadness in the way she expressed in this scene, they really do shrink into themselves and push you away, all the while wanting you to help them. When she eventually smiles, it feels like the greatest victory. It's such a remarkable moment between these two young performers.

I later read that the crew was so impressed by young Gigi's performance that they applauded after her final take. That can't happen too often among these technical professionals who see moviemaking nearly every day. It's even more amazing that the praise was for a child.

I wasn't able to dig up much information about Perreau, but it appears she has acted frequently throughout the years. She started in the movies at two-years-old, when her older brother Gerald (stage name Peter Miles) was discovered by an agent, and the rest of the family, including her two sisters, got into the act. She appeared in several movies in the 40s and 50s, often as the offspring of big stars like Greer Garson and Bette Davis.
As she left her toddler years, Perreau developed into a sensitive young performer, always able to grab you in her brief scenes. After that lovely introduction in Enchantment, I'd run across her in films like My Foolish Heart (1949) and marvel at the way she could make you feel for her character. She added television to her repertoire in the 50s, where she made her mark in shows like The Betty Hutton Show, Follow the Sun and many guest appearances.

Late career highlights include a decade performing in various productions on Broadway, and a long tenure teaching drama at Immaculate Heart High School in Hollywood, which was her alma mater. She also served as Vice-President of the Drama Teachers Association of Southern California and on the Board of Directors of  her former co-star Donna Reed's foundation. She was recognized for her achievements as a child star by the Young Artist Awards in 1998. Perreau has also done a bit of voice work in recent years.

In 1960 she was award a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contributions to television, which she had earned by then, but more than earned when she played a teacher  on whom Greg Brady had a huge crush:

I'm glad to see that that little girl, who was too sensitive a performer to be a showy star in the Shirley Temple style, has still kept a significant connection with the craft she loves.

To see more of the many roles Gigi Perreau had over the years, check out this gallery.

May 23, 2013

Book Review: John Gilbert by Eve Golden

John Gilbert: The Last of the Silent Film Stars
Eve Golden
University Press of Kentucky, 2013

It's so great to be a part of anything like this. I can't believe I'm actually here.

-John Gilbert, 1924

I've had a writer crush on Eve Golden for a long time. With a background in journalism and a lifelong dedication to classic film geekery, she is truly meant to write about the golden age of Hollywood. She clearly loves her topic, which makes reading her books as enjoyable as having a cup of coffee with a fellow fan.

I'm particularly fond of Golden's biographies of Jean Harlow and Theda Bara, which cleared up a lot of misperceptions about these actresses. For that reason, I was delighted to receive her recent biography of John Gilbert. Now here was a man who needed someone to clarify his past.

Like Clara Bow, I think Gilbert had such a dreadful childhood that he was never going to be very happy. The fact that he found enormous success in the profession of his choice, and some fleeting personal and professional pleasures is miraculous. He may have suffered deeply, but he also pulled himself up to great heights with very little support.

The book begins with his early days as a theater tot, following his actress mother Ida Pringle on the road. His father, also on the stage, was known as Johnnie Pringle and was mostly absent from his childhood. Ida carved out a decent career for herself, but her success did not extend to parenting. Often she would tire of young Jack and lock him away in the closet for hours. On occasion she would also wake him in the middle of the night to introduce her to a new beaux, calling him his new father. This understandably made Gilbert a bit bitter. He found better support from his stepfather Walter Gilbert, who would eventually use his connections to help him break through in the movies.

When Jack decided to make a go of acting onscreen, he jumped in with both feet, mingling with Chaplin and Richard Barthelmess at the Athletic Club in Hollywood and working long hours on any aspect of filmmaking at whatever studio would hire him. He soon found himself in front of the cameras at MGM, working opposite Lon Chaney and soon-to-be lifelong gal pal Norma Shearer for the circus drama, He Who Gets Slapped (1924).  

A glorious career at MGM followed, with classics including WWI epic The Big Parade (1925), The Merry Widow (1925) and his legendary romances costarring Greta Garbo, Flesh and the Devil (1926) and Love (1927). Gilbert became the ultimate matinee idol, on top of the box office and payroll, though fiercely hated by his boss Louis B. Meyer. There have been lots of rumors about the rivalry between these two over the years, including shouting matches and fistfights. Golden does her best to uncover the truth, but since there is no way of definitely determining what made these two clash, she lays out the facts and cautions the reader not to rush to conclusions.

Another legend about Gilbert: his torrid--or maybe not?--romance with Greta Garbo. He clearly loved her, but the Swedish star seems to have found him mildly amusing to annoying. There has long been a rumor that Garbo left Jack at the altar. Golden refutes this, and notes there is no proof they even went to bed together.

It is a little more clear why Gilbert flailed when the talkies came to town. Basically, a lot of horrible things happened, but his voice was not necessarily one of them. We all can hear for ourselves that he spoke quite well in movies like Queen Christina (1933) (a role he won thanks to the insistence of Garbo). The problem seems to be that he was so nervous to be recorded that the quality of his entire performance, including vocals, was affected. It did not help that Mayer was out to destroy him and the purple prose from the title cards in his old romances sounded so silly when spoken that it turned his early talkies into unintentional comedies.

I think Gilbert could have gone on in talkies somehow, but he just didn't have the strength to find his way. Amazing opportunities slipped away from him, such as the leads in Grand Hotel and Red Dust. Losses like these hurt him deeply; he was too sensitive to manage the pain of failure and move on. Instead he drank so much that he gave himself bloody ulcers. Finally, his body could no longer take the abuse. He died of a heart attack at home in 1936.

This was a story which required delicacy in the telling and I felt that Golden was a sympathetic guide. Gilbert was a storyteller, and she picks through his tall tales carefully, finding the truth where possible and making a few educated guesses as to what motivated the lies. It's a complex story and that attention to detail was crucial.

I appreciated the background details of both the time and Jack's life. It was useful to be able to place him among the scandals of the twenties. He had his issues, but Gilbert mostly stayed out of trouble. It was also fascinating, if horribly depressing, to learn of the ways various events, like the birth of the talkies, that rocked Jack affected the rest of the industry. I was especially saddened to learn of the hundreds of musicians who committed suicide when they were no longer needed to accompany films in theaters. Details like these bring richness to Gilbert's story, in addition to making a book an interesting document of early Hollywood.

Most of all, I liked the emphasis on Jack's successes. Yes, he endured a lot of tragedy, and things did not end well for him, but he was also a dynamic, talented and essentially decent man who lived an amazing life. You get that from the book, the bitter with the sweet. And isn't that Hollywood?

Deepest thanks to the University Press of Kentucky for providing a copy of the book for review.

May 21, 2013

SIFF 2013: Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970)

(d: Elio Petri c: Gian Maria Volonté, Florinda Bolkan, Gianni Santuccio, Italy 1970, 112 min)

Here is the soundtrack for the following three paragraphs. (This is actually a good rule of thumb: whenever possible, try to imagine things with an Ennio Morricone soundtrack):

A man stalks the outside of an apartment building. He's a hybrid of John Hamm and Tommy Lee Jones, scowly, shifty-eyed and super hero-square-jawed. His hair is neat and his suit is luxurious.

A sensually beautiful woman watches expectantly from her window. He climbs the stairs to her apartment, and lets himself in with a key. She asks him in a seductive voice, "how are you going to kill me today?" He tells her he is going to slit her throat, and for the first time, he means it.

The man is a powerful Roman police inspector. The woman, his mistress. He slits her throat. Then he carefully leaves several clues throughout the apartment implicating himself in the crime. Fingerprints on a bottle and in the shower, bloody footprints, a fiber from his blue silk necktie under her fingernail. He calls the police to report the crime, before going to that very station to celebrate his promotion from chief of homicide to top police inspector.

At a recent screening for Seattle International Film Festival 2013, this Italian classic looked sharp and clean in a new print from Sony Pictures. And what a good candidate for restoration it is. One of the most celebrated films of the seventies, Investigation won an Academy Award for best foreign film and the grand prize at Cannes.

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion begins like a genre flick, and so you anticipate a mystery plot, with the police closing in on our psychopathic inspector. Instead, it is a black-hearted satire of the whole darn system and the corrupt leaders who mold it.

Rather than trying to elude capture, Volonté stomps through Investigation in angry disbelief that he can't convince a soul to consider him for his crime. He wants credit for getting away with murder, and the impossibility of that reward infuriates him as much as the incompetence of his own police force.

The inspector confesses multiple times, always to dismissive laughter. He takes away a clue, only to replace it with another, playing an angry game with his men. He is told over and over that he is far too respectable to kill. Even the one angry revolutionary who believes him won't implicate him, laughing off the idea that it would make a difference.

In a moment of irritation Volonté barks "we all become like children when faced with law and order," and it's true, everyone trusts him to steer the ship, he is their patriarch. You sense that the people around him know he is guilty. They fear him, but also want desperately for him to be right, because if he turns out to be a villain, they fear the whole system will collapse. So they cower, obey and turn a blind eye to evil.

Gian Maria Volonté is never referred to by name in Investigation. He is the all-purpose corrupt official, moving through life with arrogance, cruelty and so much confidence that he can make the people beneath him mistrust the facts before their eyes. His performance is a great feat of barely repressed frustration, frightening, but also funny. He lets out these little puffs of air whenever another member of his force makes a blunder, giving him the uptight comic anxiety of Oliver Hardy enduring another pratfall.

Volonté is perhaps most famous to international audiences for his villainous roles in the Sergio Leone westerns A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and For a Few Dollars More (1965). Handsome as he is, the poor man does have an evil face. You can see why he played so many bad guys in his long career.

Florinda Bolkan is both seductive and unsettling as the mistress who seems to court danger as a last defense against boredom. She is the catalyst for the entire plot, including her own murder, as she pushes Volonté to prove the enormity of his power. Really, the movie is a duel between these two, and it is difficult to say who comes out on top. Everyone else is a game piece, from the revolutionaries to the bureaucrats.

This was an exciting start to the archival screenings at SIFF 2013. I can't wait to share the other movies with you all.

May 19, 2013

Quote of the Week

It is childhood and its environment which teaches us things that are poignantly influential on our later lives.

-Mary Pickford

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May 15, 2013

Fascinating Classics at the Seattle International Film Festival 2013

The Seattle International Film Festival 2013 begins tomorrow, and there will be so much for classic movie fans to enjoy! If you are in the area, I highly recommend checking out a film or two. I'm amazed by the variety of archival titles this year; it's an international mix of diverse genres, styles and directors. Many of these films are unique, even if they fit neatly into their various niches, and having the chance to see them on the big screen is a treat. Check out this line-up (title links go to ticket information and more detail about the films):

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970)
Italy, Drama
directed by Elio Petri
Starring, Gian Maria Volonté, Florinda Bolkan and Gianni Santuccio
May 18, 2:30pm, Uptown

Though he's left clues to implicate himself in the crime, a Roman police inspector who kills his mistress finds the murder investigation probes everywhere but the top. With a seriously ear-wormy Ennio Morricone score, multi-layered plot and sharp satire, this Italian crime drama has bite. To be presented in a 4k digital restoration.

Safety Last! (1923), USA
Direct by Fred Newmeyer, Sam Taylor
Starring Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis, Bill Strother, Noah Young, Westcott Clarke
May 26, 11am, Uptown Theater

This classic Lloyd flick (who doesn't recognize that clock scene?) is going to be shown in a DVP restoration that has been touring the US this year. The man in glasses plays a store clerk who comes to regret participating in a contest to climb the outside of a towering building. I'm so excited to have the chance to see this on the big screen! Maybe it is finally Harold Lloyd's moment for a revival?

Kalpana (1948), India
Directed by Uday Shankar
Starring Uday Shankar, Lakshmi Kanta, Usha Kiran, Amala Shankar
May 27, 2:30pm, Uptown

Ravi Shankar's brother is the director of this long sought after classic of Indian film which has had a slow build in reputation over the years. It is a ballet of operatic proportions, centered on a love triangle between two woman and a dance academy proprietor. I know very little about this film, but from what I have seen, it is poetic, surreal and unlike any other Indian film. The version to play at the festival was restored by the World Cinema Foundation at Cineteca di Bologna/L’Immagine Ritrovata.

A Man Vanishes (1967), Japan
Directed by Shôhei Imamura
June 2, 5:30pm, Uptown Theater

New Wave director Imamura was known for his fictional work when he filmed this documentary about the random disappearances of hundreds of people in Japan. He uses his grasp of storytelling to incorporate narrative techniques in a way that was innovative at the time, and helps to form the layers of this complex tale.

Port of Shadows (1938), France
Directed by Marcel Carné
Starring Jean Gabin, Michel Simon, Michele Morgan, Pierre Brasseur
June 8, 4:30, Harvard Exit

Carné’s seamy crime drama was noir before the idea occurred to anyone. It's not fair to call Gabin a Gallic Bogart, because he has his own particular star luster, but I can't help but think of Bogie's classic crime roles when I watch this film. He has that hangdog hero thing down. The film deals in grimy blackmail and twisted love affairs, but it has a sadness and beauty that gives it more weight than the mechanics of the plot. To be presented in a DVP restoration.

Phase IV (1974), USA/United Kingdom
Directed by Saul Bass
Starring Michael Murphy, Nigel Davenport, Lynne Frederick
June 9, 2pm, Uptown Theater

This is the only feature film directed by legendary graphic designer Saul "Mr. Google Doodle" Bass. I would love to know why he chose to helm a sci-fi flick about an ant colony evolving at an alarming rate. While the set-up screams fifties drive-in, the tone is moodier and the pace more deliberate. This uniquely bizarre film has its own character, set apart from typical sci-fi features and other productions of its era. While you might expect a Bass film to be a slave to design, and these elements are artfully executed, they are not pursued at the expense of the story and atmosphere. The effects with the real-life ants are also cleverly executed, occasionally making it look as if the little guys are trained! Expect a beautiful presentation; the print will be a preservation by The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and Paramount Pictures.

Richard III (1955), United Kingdom
Directed by Laurence Olivier
Starring Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud, Claire Bloom, Cedric Hardwicke
June 1, 2pm, Uptown Theater

Watch Olivier in his best Shakespearean, and perhaps overall, screen role. As the scheming Richard III, he tries to replace his brother King Edward IV on the throne. Violence, betrayal and tragedy follow. To be shown in a DVP restoration from Janus.

The Wind (1928), USA
Directed by Victor Sjöström
Starring Lillian Gish, Lars Hanson, Montagu Love, Edward Earle, Dorothy Cumming
June 7, 7pm, Triple Door

Relentless gusts of sandy wind, and a trio of unwanted suitors, drive Lillian Gish bonkers in this MGM production from the tail end of the silent era. Seattle alt-country band The Maldives will debut its own score to accompany the screening. This is a return performance for the band, they accompanied Riders of the Purple Sage (1925) at SIFF 2010.


I hope those of you in the Pacific Northwest will come check out some of these screenings. I'll be sharing my impressions of the films as they are presented. SIFF 2013 is going to be amazing.

May 12, 2013

Quote of the Week

It's the loneliest life in the world.

-Joan Crawford, on movie stardom

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May 5, 2013

Quote of the Week

That voice of his sent shivers right through me. My only regret is that I was too young to be allowed to socialize with him alone. He was one of the truly great ones.

-Carmel Myers, about co-star Rudolph Valentino

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May 1, 2013

Book Review--Final Cuts: The Last Films of 50 Great Directors

Final Cuts: The Last Films of 50 Great Directors
Nat Segaloff
Bear Manor Media, 2013

Unlike their counterparts on the silver screen, real Hollywood stories often end badly. And so it follows that there are a lot of unhappy endings in Final Cuts, which covers the production history and response to the last films of some of the best directors in Hollywood history.

Some of these tragic tales have become legendary. What devoted classic film fan doesn't know how Orson Welles struggled to the end of his career? Others are of directors who, despite hugely successful careers, have not been celebrated themselves. (Look up Donald Siegel or Peter Yates. You probably love at least one of their films.)

Segaloff writes in the tone of a guy who has seen it all, and that's because he has. A variety of careers, including stints as a publicist and a journalist, gave him access to many of his subjects. This firsthand information brings a fresh perspective to what could otherwise be a depressing slog through one dying career after another.

Fortunately there are triumphs to go with the losses. Most of profiles have enough biographical history to give you a generally positive big picture, so that the almost inevitable decline of the subject has less edge. Even though it is devastating to hear how Vincent Minnelli failed to fulfill his vision when directing his daughter Liza in his last film, you also have the reminder that he was one of MGM's top directors.

That is not to say there weren't any happy endings. Some directors beat the odds and kept their spark until the end. John Huston directed a string of stinkers in the 80s, but he finished his career directing his daughter Anjelica in The Dead (1987), one of his most admired films. Robert Altman also ended on the upswing, with the laidback, but well-executed A Prairie Home Companion (2006).

It is sad that these successful swan songs were the exception in the collection, but overall it was fascinating to read how so many aging directors were determined to keep working, sometimes for the money, often to continue to pursue their cinematic visions. Some were able to change with the times, and maintain a fresh style. Others, like Billy Wilder, were hurt to realize they had fallen out of touch with their audience. I can imagine how painful that could be when you have spent so much of your life working for the approval of your public.

Segaloff earns his reader's trust with solid journalistic fact-checking. He tells the legend, and then says what he really thinks happened based on his own research, or even an interview he conducted himself. That insider knowledge keeps these 50 stories lively, informative and addictive.

Deepest thanks to Bear Manor Media for providing a review copy of the book.