May 27, 2014

SIFF 2014: Chaplin Shorts and a Silent Chinese Classic

Chaplin in Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914)
This Sunday was one of my most enjoyable experiences at SIFF 2014 so far. I started the day at a Secret Festival screening (can't tell you about it or I'll be sued, sued, sued!) in the newly re-opened Egyptian Theater on Capital Hill. Then it was on to the Uptown Theater in Queen Anne, where as on Saturday, I got my silent film fix, this time with two great programs. Both were presented by SIFF board member and Chinese film expert Richie Meyer and accompanied by world-renowned silent film musician Donald Sosin.

Four Chaplin shorts: Kid Auto Races In Venice (1914), One A.M. (1916), Easy Street (1917), The Immigrant (1917)

One of my favorite memories of SIFF 2013 was seeing a gorgeous restoration of Harold Lloyd's Safety Last! (1923) with my then five-year-old daughter. It was the first time she'd seen a classic film in a theater, and while there were some squirmy moments, she loved the movie.

This year, my more seasoned cinephile had a lot more theater experiences under her belt, and she was pleased to show me she knew the drill this time around. The program of four restored Charlie Chaplin shorts was her favorite silent film screening so far ("I liked Peter Pan [1924] Mom, but it was sooo long!") It was a lot of fun to hear a 6-year-old laughing so hard at these 100-year-old movies.

All four digital prints were beautiful--yet another series of brilliant restorations by the always reliable Lobster Films. Chaplin shorts are so easy to see: on YouTube, from the library, on streaming sites, that I never think of trying to see them in a theater. I'm glad I did though, because more than any other film comedian of the age, Chaplin is much funnier on the big screen.

I liked the diversity of the program. Kid Auto Races In Venice (1914) was the simplest; a one-joke concept, though it was a funny joke. One A.M. (1916) was our favorite; the wall-to-wall slapstick of that one was so much fun to experience in an audience. Easy Street (1917) and The Immigrant (1917) had a bit more plot, with the former very rough-and-tumble while the latter had a few moments of that famous Chaplin pathos.

When Meyer introduced the films, he had a good time showing off Sosin's considerable skills on the keyboard. He had him play short passages to demonstrate different moods and characters: The Heroine, The Hero, A Happy Ending, A Sad Ending, etc. It was a lot of fun, and probably a great warm-up for Sosin.

I was impressed with how much the electric keyboard Sosin played sound like a real piano. He cleverly changed the setting to organ during a scene in The Immigrant when Edna Purviance tickled the ivories for a church service.

After the program, we went up to thank Sosin for his performance. He said that the keyboard he had played was similar to his own instrument at home, hence his ability to navigate the instrument so well. I can see why the man is in such high demand; he approaches his art with great confidence and skill. I think he's the best silent film accompanist I've ever seen. I also appreciated him chatting up my daughter and even just about getting her age right!

The Song of the Fisherman (Yu guang qu) (1934)
Directed by: Cai Chusheng
Starring: Wang Ren-Mei, Kwah-Wu Shang, Tianxiu Tang, Langen Han, Peng Luo

Meyer and Sosin were back for an evening screening of this Chinese drama. It is the first film from that country to win an international award, at the 1935 Moscow Film Festival. Its story of a struggling poor family and their rich master was typical of the age.

Before the film began, Meyer once again showcased Sosin's abilities. This time he had the audience shout out a year, country, genre and director and had the accompanist improvise a snippet of how a score for a film with that pedigree would sound. His minimalist version of a Russian Scorsese porn film from 1972 was hilariously perfect.

Meyer also repeated the same hero/heroine game as with the Chaplin screening, but Sosin was not as docile a participant this time around and it was fun to see the two playfully tangle with each other. Fun because the film to come, while fascinating, was anything but light.

Song of the Fishermen follows the hardships of boy and girl twins born into a poor fishing family and the wealthy son for whom their mother was a nanny. The trio grows up together and they are loyal to each other, but no matter what they do, they seem trapped into a certain life by their class. While the wealthy boy goes to school and enjoys a life of luxury, his poverty-stricken pals are hit by one tragedy after another.

The production of the film was as grueling as the lives of its characters. In his introduction, Meyer shared that over the four week shoot, many on the crew became seasick and one worker was even killed. In the opening credits, the film is dedicated to this crew member who gave his life for film.
The mesmerizing Wang Ren-Mei

One of the most remarkable aspects Song of the Fishermen was the three renditions of the title tune, one sung by the sister as a child, the other two by star Wang Ren-Mei. All three versions of the song were lovely, sad, wistful and perfectly in tune with the story. Sosin would fade out his playing while Wang's voice rang out on the soundtrack, the only moments of sound connected with the film. It was eerie and beautiful to hear her voice in those isolated moments.

At 57 minutes, the film is too brief and fast-paced for you get to know the trio at the center of Song of the Fishermen very, but it is substantial enough to make you care about them. The wrenching performances are overflowing with the high emotion of Asian cinema. You want so much for the twins to find happiness, but know that they haven't got the strength to fight fate. It's all so beautifully done that you can almost forgive director Chusheng for breaking your heart.

Check out my SIFF Gameplan to read about the other classics I plan to see at this year's festival.

Book Review--Pola Negri: Hollywood's First Femme Fatale

Pola Negri: Hollywood's First Femme Fatale
Mariusz Kotowski
University Press of Kentucky, 2014

I have survived two wars, four revolutions and five marriages.

-Pola Negri in The Moon-Spinners (1964)

While the line above was written for a fictional movie, it speak a great deal of truth about Pola Negri. She stopped at two husbands, but otherwise, this tidy statement forms the basic framework for a life that was both blessed and cursed, devastating and intensely enjoyable. With his new biography, Mariusz Kotowski gave me my first proper introduction to Ms. Negri, and she was much more complex and sympathetic than I expected.

Negri and Valentino
Though Pola Negri was one of the most popular Hollywood stars of her day, right up there with Pickford, Chaplin and Swanson, she is probably most famous today for the way she behaved when her lover, and reportedly fiancée, the overwhelmingly popular Rudolph Valentino died suddenly at 26.

The country, maybe even the world, lost its mind, but Negri out-grieved them all. There is the rumor that she fainted for the cameras at each train stop across the country as she traveled to the funeral . She wept, swooned and leaked sorrow from every pore at the service. Her fans thought she had lost her mind. Some sniffed that she was putting on a show, inappropriately grabbing for attention during an occasion of grief. Her reputation never fully recovered.

This was all I knew of Negri until I saw a Disney film called The Moon-Spinners (1964) a few years ago. I didn't know she had a cameo role in the Hayley Mills jewel caper; she just suddenly appeared, and it was impressive. Looking like the bust of a goddess, fully ripened into her sixties, Ms. Pola immediately stole the movie. She was cool, clever and beautiful in a way that was not only decorative, a force of nature. It took only that appearance for me to understand that Negri was deserving of more attention than as an emotional mourner.

In Hollywood's First Femme Fatale, you get to meet both of these Polas. She was certainly the emotional woman of the Valentino funeral. Some of the theatrics were cultural, an honest Polish reaction to pain. Still, it is odd that her audience should react so negatively to her dramatics. Isn't that what an actress was supposed to do? She was also the cool cat stealing every scene from Hayley Mills: intelligent, poised and well-practiced when it came to her craft.

Gorgeous and hilarious in Hi Diddle Diddle (1943)
Kotowski examines all of these aspects of Negri and tells an interesting story, if not one that goes very deep. She was a hard worker, taking to the stage as a teenager to support her mother and doing what it took to learn her trade. While she could put on airs once she became a star, and she insisted on luxury befitting her position, she never took it to extremes. There was a part of her that always remained humble. In a life of both horrible and brilliant luck, she often stacked things in her favor by simply being a generous soul and a great friend to many.

Negri was confident in herself and was thus never threatened by other performers. She presented herself as a product, much as Marlene Dietrich would later do, and this allowed her to remove her ego from her image. She befriended actresses as diverse as Marion Davies, Mabel Normand and Gloria Swanson, offering them support and sometimes getting it in return.

Kotowski lays out the facts of her life, friendships and work, demonstrating that she was not the hysterical diva of Hollywood legend. He finds that she was for the most part she was practical, a sound businesswoman and a magnetic presence on the screen even into the sound age. It's a balanced portrait, revealing both the missteps and the triumphs. As many of the people connected with Negri are now gone, he relies heavily on interviews with fellow film historians and biographers, which offer many interesting tidbits, though these sometimes lengthy passages can have the feeling of giving the story over to another author.

There were also multiple easily-detected errors in the text. Kotowski writes that Washington D.C.-born actress Ina Claire struggled in talkies because of her "Bronx honk"--he seems to have mixed up this stage actress with Clara Bow, whose voice has inspired that description. He also claims that alcoholism killed John Barrymore in 1936, though the actor passed in 1942. Again, this appears to be a mix-up as John Gilbert died in '36.
With Hayley Mills in The Moon-Spinners (1964)

Kotowski also mentions that Loretta Young's daughter "Gretchen" cared for actress Mae Murray when she fell on hard times in her later years. Young did have a daughter, but her name was Judy. Gretchen was Young's name at birth.

These errors were disappointing, because there is so much that I like about this book. As one new to Negri, it was a brief, but fascinating introduction to the actress. However, if there were so many obvious inaccuracies, I have every reason to be unsure of the rest of the content.

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

May 25, 2014

Quote of the Week

Billy Wilder is too cynical to believe even his own cynicism.

-Andrew Sarris

Quote Source, Image Source

May 24, 2014

SIFF 2014: J'Accuse (1919), An Intimate Epic

J'Accuse (1919)
Directed by: Abel Gance
Starring: Séverin Mars, Romuald Joubé, Maryse Dauvray, Maxime Desjardins, Angèle Guys

…war is futile. Ten or twenty years afterward, one reflects that millions have died and all for nothing. One has found friends among one's old enemies, and enemies among one's friends.

-Abel Gance

Called a great pacifist film, Abel Gance's J'Accuse certainly covers its bases as it exposes the ravages of war. Death, rape, post-traumatic stress and other horrors ensure that no one wins once the battle begins. At the center of it all is a gentle housewife, her abusive husband and the poet she loves. This silent French epic played to a packed house on a Saturday morning. I dreaded the one-two punch of a nearly three-hour film about such a devastating subject, but watching it was a remarkable, moving experience.

The digital print was provided courtesy of Netherlands Film Museum, and was restored by Lobster Films. I'm always in awe of the work this company does to protect and preserve silent films. I couldn't believe I was watching a film that was almost 100 years old. The picture quality was even, with light scratches and beautiful contrast. It was good enough that I didn't spend much time thinking about the print; I was able to escape into the story.

I was constantly reminded of D.W. Griffith as I watched J'Accuse, which was made only a few years after the American filmmakers controversial classic Birth of a Nation (1915). Gance seems to have taken Griffith's close-ups, action scenes and intimate flourishes and amped up the artistry of all. While the scope of the film is epic, it is often intimate, moving close to its subjects, catching them in poses and lighting worthy of a portrait.

These moments are juxtaposed with painfully tense battle scenes, parts of them actual footage of US soldiers fighting the Battle of Saint-Mihiel in World War I. You get a real sense of the way fear ripped so deep into these soldiers that they would sometimes stop caring about the danger around them. They had seen the limits of their terror.

The battle scenes are especially devastating because many of the extras Gance used were on leave from active duty. These men knew they would probably die upon return to the front. As it turned out, most of them did. That reality is reflected in the urgency of the director's message.

The three points in the love triangle that forms the emotional center of the movie represent the different ways war can destroy individuals, their relationships and the community around them. While they are well-defined types, they are allowed to be complex and even contradictory. The brute is not all bad; the gentle poet can also be heroic and no one is promised a happy ending because they have fought honorably.

Gance's often repeated phrase "J'Accuse" (I accuse) is directed towards those who have blithely profited from the war, or who have otherwise behaved insensitively and failed to remember the sacrifices made by the soldiers who have fought for their freedom. In the film's most famous sequence, an army of the dead rises up to shame a group of villagers because they have not properly honored their fallen loved ones. It's a chilling scene, one of many that justify the IMdB classifying this film as horror.

While I was fascinated by J'Accuse throughout its lengthy running time, I don't think its story needed three parts to be told. There were a few times where I thought I was watching the end, only to have another scene unfold. Given that this was 1919 though, I'm chalking up some of that to the challenges of learning how to edit an epic film when not many had been made. It's only more evidence that Abel has created something timeless, because it is otherwise beautifully crafted and emotionally wrenching, and it can be difficult to believe this was a pioneering effort in so many ways.

Check out my SIFF Gameplan to read about the other classics I plan to see at this year's festival.

May 21, 2014

SIFF 2014: Last Year at Marienbad (1961)

Last Year at Marienbad (1961)
Directed by: Alain Resnais
Starring: Delphine Seyrig, Giorgio Albertazzi, Sacha Pitoëff

It was great to see a packed house last night for this most mysterious of Alain Resnais' films. That marvelous turnout felt like a tribute to the director, who died this March. The restored 35mm print was gorgeous, and so nearly flawless that the film felt almost modern, though timeless has always been the best way to describe it.

The story is simple, and the meaning behind it can be too, depending on your interpretation. A woman (Delphine Seyrig) taking a vacation in a hotel housed in an enormous chateau is pursued by a man (Giorgio Albertazzi, ) who swears they met and had an affair the year before. She is there with a husband (Sacha Pitoëff), or boyfriend, or is it a doctor? who seems to challenge the man in a deliberate, passionless manner.

It is never clear what exactly happened the previous year. Did they have a consensual affair? Or did the man rape her? Perhaps they didn't meet at all. It unfolds like a dream or the untidy patterns of thought. This is one of those films where it is endlessly fun to discuss what it all means. It becomes less amusing when you try to find a single solution. While it does engage the intellect, Marienbad is sometimes best left to the emotions.

I like to say that Last Year At Marienbad is my favorite zombie movie. There's no groaning or tearing of flesh, but plenty of blank-eyed, pale-skinned people with bags under their eyes stalking around. With the occasional exception of the three leads, the cast is essentially dead. They are beautifully dressed, perfectly groomed, with expensive jewelry and sleek, dark evening clothes, but you can almost see the decay from within. They are the idle rich, with nothing but luxury and endless entertainment to occupy their time.

While Marienbad has been compared to films like The Shining (1980) and Inland Empire (2006), and I can see the influence in both, it always reminds me of Carnival of Souls (1962). I don't know if director Herk Harvey could have even accessed the film before he made his one-off horror classic, but there are some remarkable similarities. A scene in Resnais' film where hotel guests dance stiffly, in spooky unison, is strikingly similar to Harvey's dance of the dead in the carnival pavilion scene. It's more glamorous, but the tone is very much the same. Amusingly enough, both flicks are also known for their ominous organ soundtracks.

That organ deliciously sets the tone for Marienbad. It's a bleary, doom-filled score, perfectly keyed to the camera that glides around like a specter, examining its static subjects impassively. Composer Francis Seyrig is the brother of the film's leading lady. I wonder how much that has happened in film? Apparently it is not the only time he wrote a score for one of his sister's films.

For the bulk of the movie, there isn't much difference between an immaculately-tended shrub in the lavish hotel garden and a woman in a Chanel cocktail dress. In pursuing the woman he swears to remember, the man brings passion to an otherwise airless atmosphere. For a rare moment, strings erupt on the soundtrack as the woman begins to react, to feel in a place where there is no emotion. She breaks a cocktail glass in a crowded room and it as if it never happened. The change in her never affects the other guests. While it may not be clear what exactly is happening, you feel the shift.

It's all puzzling and oddly understandable at the same time. A challenging, but pleasurable journey into mystery.

Check out my SIFF Gameplan to see what other classics are scheduled for this year's festival.

May 19, 2014

SIFF 2014: Rowdy Life with The Lusty Men (1952)

The Lusty Men (1952)
Directed by: Nicholas Ray
Starring: Robert Mitchum, Susan Hayward, Arthur Kennedy, Arthur Hunicutt

There were so many reasons The Lusty Men was one of the films I was most looking forward to seeing at SIFF 2014. I love director Nicholas Ray, and stars Robert Mitchum and Susan Hayward. I was intrigued by the idea of a modern western, especially one set at the rodeo. And then there was the title: I knew I couldn't go wrong with a name like that. All these elements did melt together into something exciting, but it was a much more intense experience than I expected. I'd heard rodeo life could be tough, but this film showed me why.

The print was a 35mm restoration funded by Martin Scorsese's Film Foundation Conservation Collection at the Academy Film Archive. This was only the second time it had been shown, the first at a previous TCM Film Festival. While I don't object to digital movies, I can't imagine this particular screening being nearly as sensual an experience had it not been on film. I've never appreciated that distinctive grain more, and how soft it made the movie look, from skin to landscapes. I wanted to touch everything.

Not that I wouldn't have wanted to touch some things in this film anyway (wink). Mitchum is Jeff McCloud, a worn-down rodeo star who decides to retire after a nasty run-in with a bull. Feeling nostalgic, he travels to his childhood home, where he meets Wes and Leslie Merritt (Kennedy and Hayward respectively) a married couple who are determined to buy the property. When aspiring rodeo rider Wes catches McCloud's name, he finds him a job at the ranch where he works, and eventually convinces the downtrodden star to teach him how to ride.

Against Leslie's wishes, the couple hits the rodeo circuit, with McCloud along for guidance. He also gets half of Merritt's winnings, a pretty slick deal for a guy who is all advice while his student constantly faces death in the ring. The easy money, fame on the circuit and high rodeo living predictably turn Wes into an ass, no matter what Leslie does to try to keep him in line. McCloud just flirts with Mrs. Merritt, as dreamy about her perfect pot roast as he is her.

Though there are a lot of predictable elements in the drama, they're balanced well. The script has bite, with lots of barbs and snappy comebacks. There's just enough humor to keep things from getting soapy or too heavy. In this world, if you don't like what someone says, you punch them, or dump a drink on their head, and no one thinks much of it. Consequences are for the ring.

Mitchum steals everything and doesn't look like he's trying at all. He's too cool to care, but then he grabs at you because you know he does care, more desperately than anyone. Hayward seems to be wise to this, and rather than tangle with him, she comes as close to underplaying as I've ever seen. She's got some of the sharpest lines though. This housewife is not waiting around for her husband to ruin everything, she's tough, funny and sexy.

The other, more physically brutal drama is in the ring and The Lusty Men plunges right into the rodeo action. Men are tossed from horses, trampled by bulls and dragged around when a boot gets caught in a stirrup. It's scary to watch. You can practically hear bones breaking and flesh tearing. In a tense, but quietly moving scene, Leslie sits on her trailer steps listening while her husband takes a beating in the ring, unable to watch, but ready to run to her man should he need her. You understand why she is so frightened.

I would have shown up for this one just to be a Mitchum or Ray completest, but the film is much richer than that. With a lively supporting cast and everything paced just right, it's a rough, exhilarating ride and a great way to start my SIFF 2014 experience.

Check out my SIFF 2014 Gameplan for more movies to come.

May 17, 2014

My SIFF 2014 Gameplan

The 40th annual Seattle International Film Festival had its gala kick-off two nights ago and this city is ready to celebrate movies! I had a pesky gallbladder that needed to be removed earlier this week, but I'm determined to start reviewing films this Sunday. Funny how the promise of seeing Robert Mitchum on the big screen can speed up that healing.

I thought I'd share a little more about the films I plan to see this year, ten of the amazing fourteen titles selected for the SIFF 2014 archival category:

The Lusty Men (1952)
May 18, 5:30pm, SIFF Cinema Uptown

With a title like that, and Susan Hayward in the cast, I'm not expecting much underplaying in director Nicholas Ray's modern western. Robert Mitchum may even resort to some nostril flaring as a retired rodeo rider who trains an aspiring rider while becoming infatuated with his wife (Hayward). This one should be a real treat: it isn't available on DVD and the Film Foundation Conservation Collection at the Academy Film Archive is providing a restored print.

Last Year at Marienbad (1961)
May 20, 6:30pm, SIFF Cinema Uptown

I was pleased to see a title from the recently departed director Alain Resnais on the schedule. This mysterious, slow-moving flick has always mystified me. It is the story of a woman at a luxurious hotel who is tantalized and tormented by a man who claims he was her lover there the year before. I've never given much thought to the plot though. Marienbad just pulls me into its vortex and leaves me floating for a while. I'm curious to see what kind of spell it will weave in an immersive theater experience. It will also be fantastic to check out the new 35mm restoration.

J’accuse (1919)
May 24, 11am, SIFF Cinema Uptown

An epic, French silent which is considered to be the first great pacifist film. I've never had a chance to see an Abel Gance movie, and I'm looking forward to seeing his work for the first time on the big screen.

Charlie Chaplin shorts
May 25, 3pm, SIFF Cinema Uptown

My six-year-old will be joining me to check out these classic Chaplin shorts: One A.M. (1916), Easy Street (1917), The Immigrant (1917) and one of my favorites, the comedian's first onscreen appearance as the Little Tramp character in Kid Auto Races in Venice (1914). I'm looking forward to the live keyboard accompaniment by Donald Sosin, as well.

Song of the Fisherman (1934)
May 25, 7pm, SIFF Cinema Uptown

This Chinese silent about a family struggling through poverty intrigues me, because I know so little about it. I'm looking forward to being plunged into something entirely new to me. The commitment to world titles is one of my favorite things about this festival. It truly is "International" in the most thrilling way.

The Servant (1963)
May 29, 7pm, Harvard Exit

Dirk Bogarde is a not-so-servile servant and James Fox is his unsteady master in this quietly unsettling drama. It features a lush and seductive score by John Dankworth. I've always felt that smoky-voiced vocalist Cleo Laine was also a part of the cast, perhaps as a one-woman Greek chorus, with her rendition of the tragic All Gone which plays over the action. With lyrics by screenwriter Harold Pinter, it is as much a part of the drama as the actors before the camera.

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)
May 31, 1pm, AMC Pacific Place 11

I missed this new restoration from the original negative of the Capra classic when it played at TCM Film Festival this year. It'll be great to have another chance to see it.

The Stunt Man (1980)
June 1, 1:30pm, Harvard Exit

Though he's sliding past his pretty boy days here, I don't think I've ever found Peter O'Toole more dangerously sexy than in his role as a film director who offers dubious protection for a man on the run.

The Pawnbroker (1964)
June 3, 7pm,Harvard Exit

Another new print I missed at TCMFF. I'm just as eager to check out the score by Quincy Jones.

A Masque of Madness (2013)
June 3, 9pm and June 8, 8pm, SIFF Cinema Uptown

This experimental exploration of the many faces of Boris Karloff is the only new film I will be reviewing for SIFF 2014. I'm particularly interested that it is by the Austrian filmmaker Norbert Pfaffenbichler, as I'm always curious to see the foreign perspective on Hollywood.

Full archival program

May 11, 2014

Quote of the Week

Chaplin's a great artist—there can't be any argument about that. It's just that he seldom makes the corners of my mouth move up. I find him easy to admire and hard to laugh at.

-Orson Welles, to Peter Bogdanovich

Quote Source, Image Source

May 8, 2014

Ten Great Saul Bass Posters

Today is the birthday of Saul Bass; awesomely talented graphic designer, credit sequence king and filmmaker. I'm celebrating by sharing some of my favorite Bass-designed posters. Not all of these were actually used for advertising movies. The studios were often wary of Bass' minimalist designs, and lack of star faces:

May 6, 2014

Book Review--You Must Remember This: Life and Style in Hollywood's Golden Age

You Must Remember This: Life and Style in Hollywood's Golden Age
Robert Wagner, with Scott Eyman
Viking Adult, 2014

Robert Wagner has already tackled his own autobiography, in the 2008 book Pieces of My Heart: A Life, also written with Scott Eyman. With You Must Remember This, creates a wistful memoir of Hollywood in the golden age. The actor reflects on the way the town has changed in the nearly eighty years he has lived there, but his focus is on the days before aggressive paparazzi and blankets of smog.

The book opens in 2002, with Wagner waiting impatiently for Liza Minnelli and David Gest's infamous wedding to begin. All he wants to do is have a drink with his friend and seatmate Robert Osborne, but co-matron of honor Elizabeth Taylor is running over an hour late, and sending Michael Jackson to retrieve her has turned out to be a very bad idea. The way the event unfolds, and how Wagner becomes involved, is somehow both crazy and predictable. He uses the story to make a point about the way Hollywood has evolved, but it only made me hungry for more wild tales about famous people.

You will find plenty of unusual characters and anecdotes here, but Wagner's focus is on the culture, institutions and social whirl of the town. It's a tour of the past rather than a dishing session. That disappointed me at first, but the details of the world he described quickly drew me in. I'd like to get in a time machine and take a look for myself, but this will do.

Wagner begins his story in the first days of Hollywood, before he moved there with his family as a child. He talks about the way the ultimate company town grew, from its institutions and businesses to the quirky and dramatic architecture that sprouted in a community still finding its identity. He recalls the glamour of the nightclubs and the delicious meals he ate at high-class restaurants. His delectable food chapter is impossible to read on an empty stomach.

As Hollywood and its glamour were a part of Wagner's life from an early age, he slid into the culture of the film industry with relative ease. Successful, but never a huge star, he is in the perfect position to tell this story. You never feel that he is name dropping when he talks about his glittering social crowd, it is simply a record of his world, one in which he felt at home. He shares the high times, while also remembering the days when he depended on the kindness of restaurateurs who were willing to run a tab for starving actors.

It's a remarkably easygoing read considering how much historical detail Wagner shares. This is a history book, but it's holding a martini. There's a lot to learn here and it was fun taking it all in.

Many thanks to Viking Adult for providing a copy of the book for review.

May 1, 2014

Schedule Announced for Seattle International Film Festival 2014

I am delighted to once again have received media credentials for the Seattle International Film Festival. As I did last year, I will focus on screenings of classic films, an often overlooked, but important part of this diverse event. SIFF is showing major love for archival flicks this year with a whopping 14 classic movies on the program. That's almost twice as many as in 2013.

This year I won't attempt to view all of the archival offerings. More recent flicks like Queen Margot (1994), The Skin (1981), Serenity (2005), Wild at Heart (1990) and the Whole Wide World (1996) are too far out of the time range I typically cover at A Classic Movie Blog. I'm also very tempted to cover the festival's midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), but this classic cult favorite doesn't quite fit the vibe around here.

It's great to see the new prints of The Pawnbroker (1964) and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) recently screened at TCM Film Festival on the program. I'm especially excited that Nicholas Ray's, western The Lusty Men (1952) with Robert Mitchum and Susan Hayward has been included. That will be fantastic to see with an audience.

I was glad to see that Last Year at Marienbad (1961) will be shown; a great tribute to the recently departed director Alain Resnais. The unsettling, but deeply compelling Joseph Losey film The Servant (1963) is my favorite Dirk Bogarde film; it'll be great to see that on the big screen. While The Stunt Man (1980) edges into that time frame I typically avoid, I must write about Peter O'Toole in one of his most deliciously slippery, and scary, performances.

There will also be lots of silents at SIFF 2014, all of them with live musical accompaniment. Last year I took my daughter to see Safety Last! (1923), which she loved, though it probably would have really tried her patience if it were any longer. This year I'm hoping she'll be more occupied by a program of four Chaplin shorts, including Kid Auto Races in Venice (1914), the first appearance of the Little Tramp character and one of my favorites. I hope she enjoys it as much as I do.

Other silents on the schedule include the pacifist World War I epic J’accuse (1919), directed by Abel Gance, who is most famous for his also impressive Napoleon (1927). From China comes Song of the Fisherman (1934), which tells the story of a poor family struggling to survive near Shanghai.This one intrigues me simply because I've never heard of it before!

There will also be a new experimental film on the program with a classic focus. A Masque of Madness (2013) focuses on the many faces of Boris Karloff. It consists of only scenes featuring the actor edited together in a variety of ways. I'm especially curious to see this one, because it combines two things I adore: classic movies and experimental film.

As always, I'm impressed by the variety in this line-up. SIFF always fills me with hometown pride. It's going to be a great festival! I can't wait to share more details about these films and the screenings I attend.