Apr 29, 2020

Podcasts for Classic Film Fans: April Roundup

Since I've been at home for over a month, I've had a lot more time to listen to podcasts. As a result, I have more episodes than usual to share this month. I've already seen some eyerolling on social media over the prospect of there being even more podcasts sprouting due to social distancing, but I say bring them on! If you have started a show recently, please feel free to share in the comments. I applaud anyone who can create in these strange times. Here's what grabbed my interest this month, episode titles link to the show:

TCM: The Plot Thickens
Peter Bogdanovich
April 28, 2020

During the TCM Home Edition of TCM Classic Film Festival, the network relentlessly plugged its new podcast, the first season of which features the best moments of fifteen hours of interviews host Ben Mankiewicz conducted with Peter Bogdanovich. With his close friendships and numerous book projects with great studio era stars and directors, there is probably no living filmmaker better connected to the great talents of classic Hollywood. So far the podcast is a compelling biography of the director, slickly produced and sure to be a hit with fans of TCM.

And the Runner Up Is…
A Letter to Three Wives (feat. Murtada Elfadl)
February 26, 2020

I love the concept of this show: discussing Oscar-nominated films that didn’t win and determining whether or not they deserved the award. This episode was especially interesting to me because I didn’t know there were an additional two wives in the source story and that one of their stories got cut from the film. Great history and analysis.

Behind the Screen: The Hollywood Reporter
The Irishman—Thelma Schoonmaker
Episode 58

January 31, 2020

More of a career overview than a full discussion about The Irishman, this episode lays bare film editor Schoonmaker’s brilliance and charm as she shares stories of getting her start in the industry, her mutually supportive working relationship with Martin Scorsese, and her views on filmmaking.

Classic Movie Musts
The Divorcee (1930) w/ Special Guest Mark Vieira
Episode 114

April 10, 2020

An engaging Mark Vieira (Forbidden Hollywood: The Pre-Code Era (1930-1934): When Sin Ruled the Movies) shares the story of the production of the scandalous pre-Code The Divorcee (1930), including how MGM managed to adapt the salacious novel to the screen and how Norma Shearer subverted her wholesome image to win the lead.

Pure Cinema Podcast
Something Weird Video
March 15, 2020

I loved this tribute to the cheaply-made, but culturally fascinating films released by the Something Weird video company. Started in Seattle by Mike Vraney and cultivated with his wife Lisa Petrucci, the company has kept exploitation directors like Doris Wishman and Herschell Gordon Lewis in circulation and introduced thousands of unusual flicks to generations of film fans. The movies shared here go deep into the company’s catalog. I found lots of new titles to seek out, as I always do listening to PCP.

Book vs Movie
All About Eve
Season 6, Episode 29

March 28, 2020

I’m a longtime fan of this lively show in which friends Margo P. and Margo D. compare movies with the books that inspired them. I’m delighted that they have branched out into short stories in order to offer a weekly episode schedule during quarantine. Their discussion of the Mary Orr story that inspired Joseph Mankiewicz’s widely adored film is a lot of fun. 

Apr 22, 2020

On Blu-ray: Debbie Reynolds and Glenn Ford in It Started with a Kiss (1959)

While it has its charms, It Started with a Kiss (1959) is best remembered as the film that introduced the bizarre vehicle that would one day be the Batmobile. Stars Debbie Reynolds and Glenn Ford are charming, but they are often adrift in this unfocused romance. I recently watched this mixed bag of a movie on a new Blu-ray release from Warner Archive.

Reynolds is Maggie Putnam, a clever showgirl on the hunt for a millionaire husband. While on the prowl at a lavish charity event, she instead meets Air Force Sergeant Joe Fitzpatrick (Ford), who has new orders to report for duty at a base in Spain. They have a whirlwind romance before he leaves, resulting in their marriage, which is bumpy from the start. To further complicate matters, Joe wins a luxurious Lincoln Futura prototype which draws plenty of unwanted attention.

Reynolds and Ford are an odd match. Despite Ford’s use of persistent courtship tactics that have dated poorly, the pair seems to have chemistry at first. Their first date is relaxed and fun, with conversation that has a rambling, casual quality that feels real. They are unable to sustain the feeling of those early scenes though.

The bland story and poorly written script are mostly to blame, but part of the problem is that Reynolds was 27 and looked younger and Ford was 43 and looked older. Of course, that never mattered with Bogie and Bacall, but here it is unsettling. They’re both attractive, but there’s no sizzle between them and in some respects that’s a relief, because they look more like an uncle and his niece than a married couple.

For most of its running time, It Started with a Kiss is a confused mess. There are misunderstandings, arguments, bland flirtations, and an overall feeling that everyone is waiting for some direction. Harry Morgan and Eva Gabor are a pleasant addition to the supporting cast, but they seem to be politely playing along while searching for the point of it all.

There are some perks: gorgeous costumes, beautiful Spanish scenery, and a pair of leads who are immensely appealing if not too hot together. The Lincoln steals the film though. With its bubble glass roof, bright red interior, and sharp tail fins, it looks like a grounded Jetsons space craft. Painted cherry red for the film, it would eventually be made over as the famous Batmobile on the Batman television program starring Adam West. It was a lot of fun to see an early version of this famous car. 

This is a film strictly for car fiends and devoted fans of Ford and Reynolds.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

Apr 14, 2020

TCM Classic Film Festival Home Edition: Memories and Plans

Nothing can match the feeling of community and excitement about classic films you find at the TCM Classic Film Festival. When I first attended in 2014, I decided almost right away that I had to return the next year. The glow you get from this event stays with you throughout the rest of the year.

While I am disappointed that I will not be spending my seventh festival in Hollywood, I'm impressed by the Special Home Edition that TCM has put together. The schedule, which you can find here, is a beautifully-crafted collection of films and interviews which serve as a sort of greatest hits of the past ten years of the festival.

For those who have not attended, it offers a taste of what the event has to offer. For past attendees, it is a bittersweet brew of nostalgia, full of happy events, though many of the guests featured here are no longer with us.

At a media roundtable this morning, TCM General Manager Pola Changnon said that they will be closely monitoring the response to the home edition to gauge whether it may possibly continue alongside the Hollywood event, which is an exciting possibility for those who cannot make it to California for the festival.

I'm planning to have TCM on throughout the four days of the event, but there are a few things that I am going to make a point of watching with extra attention.

On first glance at the schedule, I decided I had to revisit these moments:

Friday, 4/17, Grey Gardens (1975): One of first films I saw at the festival. I had the magical opportunity to see Albert Maysles who was was physically frail, but still had a razor sharp mind and memory.

Saturday, 4/18, Mad Love (1935): Witnessing Bill Hader's Peter Lorre impression made this screening one of the best of 2019. I also adore this absolutely bonkers horror flick.

Saturday, 4/18, Vitaphone Shorts: As Ron Hutchinson of the Vitaphone Project has now passed, I am especially glad I got to see him present this entertaining program of shorts at the 2016 festival. His passion for these groundbreaking sound films thrilled the audience.

Sunday, 4/19, Red-Headed Woman (1933): I will watch any pre-code, but watching this film at the Egyptian was one of my favorite festival experiences just to hear the reaction of the crowd to Jean Harlow's audacity as a home-wrecking secretary.

New to me picks:

I'm pleased that several of the selections were things that I didn't have the chance to see at previous festivals. These are films and interviews I am especially excited to see for the first time:

I still haven't seen the version of Metropolis (1927) with the restored footage found in Argentina, so this is a must-see.

I have seen a recording of Luise Rainer: Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival (2011), but it's such a remarkable interview: her hearing aid wasn't working, but Robert Osborne and Ms. Rainer made it all work. 

I'm seriously considering watching Neptune’s Daughter (1949) in the bath since this was a poolside screening at TCMFF 2010.

As festival guest Max von Sydow has recently passed, I want to pay tribute by watching The Seventh Seal (1957), which I haven't seen for a long time.

I was disappointed to miss the screening of Sounder (1972) at TCMFF 2018, so that is another must-see.

The one-two punch of Eva Marie Saint:  Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival (2014) and North by Northwest (1959) should be great. I saw Ms. Saint at another festival and she is a witty and charming interview subject.

After hearing raves about Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story (2015) for years, I'm looking forward to finally watching this documentary.

I also can't wait to see the pre-code Night Flight (1933), followed by Kim Novak: Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival (2013). I saw Ms. Novak before a screening at the 2014 festival and appreciated her refreshing honesty about Hollywood and the life of a film star.

The pre-code Double Harness (1933) is notorious among TCMFF regulars for having two screenings with overflow crowds. Lots of humor in making this programming choice.

I nearly passed out when I realized Norman Lloyd was behind me at a screening of Panique in 2017. I've never been able to make one of his interviews before though, so I am looking forward to Norman Lloyd: Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival (2016).

On the last day of the festival I will be most attentive during Peter O’Toole, Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival (2012) and Floyd Norman: An Animated Life (2016), but as with the rest of the line-up, I will have a hard time tearing myself away from this amazing selection of films and interviews.

Check out the TCMFF Home Edition page for more information about the schedule and links to many opportunities to watch content by the TCM hosts and connect on social media with other fans. It is going to be a great four days!

Apr 8, 2020

Book Review--The Short Story of Film: A Pocket Guide to Key Genres, Films, Movements & Techniques

The Short Story of Film: A Pocket Guide to Key Genres, Films, Techniques and Movements
Ian Haydn Smith
Laurence King Publishing, 2020

I’m a fan of Ian Haydn Smith’s concise film guide Cult Filmmakers: 50 Movie Mavericks You Need to Know. With his new book The Short Story of Film: A Pocket Guide to Key Genres, Films, Techniques and Movements Smith is similarly adept at introducing important aspects of cinema with quick brush strokes and great clarity.

The book is arranged as its subtitle reads, with sections devoted to genre, fifty key films, some of the key movements of cinema, and various filmmaking techniques. It was wise of Smith to include a visual guide to how to approach the book, because there is a lot to each page. Each entry consists of four sections, which, depending on the category, can include a list of influencers at the top of the page, a brief explanation of the subject, a sidebar which highlights important advances or moments for the subject or filmmaker, and then a list of cross-referenced subjects to be found in the book across the bottom.

While the busy feel of this kind of organization doesn’t make for a streamlined reading experience, it does enable a reader to easily select which aspects of a subject to explore. It is a lot like an app or a website with all of its menus exposed.

As with his previous book, Smith has clearly made an effort to be inclusive in his brief survey of cinema. His selections cover a diverse range of films and filmmakers which encompass gender, nationality, and race. While he acknowledges the strong influence of Hollywood cinema, his coverage captures a satisfying array of international films, filmmakers, and movements.

While the Technique section was interesting in itself, I found it to be the weak spot of the book. In itself it was a less cohesive category, with a jarring confluence of categories from costumes and special effects, to camera techniques like zoom and slow motion. It also didn’t feel smoothly integrated into the book itself, which for the most part focused on the artistry of film.

Overall this would be an extremely valuable resource for an emerging cinephile. It’s brief, but dense with information. As a lifelong movie lover, I realized how many gaps there were in my own cinematic knowledge when I explored the sections on subjects like Iranian film and the Japanese period drama genre Jidaigeki. There’s great passion and knowledge within these pages and I could see the spark of a lifelong obsession with film being born of it.

Many thanks to Laurence King Publishing for providing a copy of the book for review.

Apr 1, 2020

On Blu-ray--3-D Rarities: A Collection of Ultra-Rare and Stunningly Restored 3-D Films

What struck me about Flicker Alley’s first edition of 3-D Rarities, a compilation of rare, vintage three dimensional films from 3-D Film Archive, was that the films were of such high quality that they were entertaining whether or not they were viewed in 3-D. I found the same to be true of the label’s second compilation, which in addition to offering a delightful and occasionally bizarre collection of beautifully-restored films includes two fascinating galleries of stereoscopic photography.

The shorts in the collection demonstrate a few different approaches to the medium. A Day in the Country (1941) is a rural patchwork of “coming at ya’” moments, with all matter of objects flying at the camera to the extent that it becomes comical. In a film more focused on artistic depth than novelty, The Black Swan (1952) features a series of excerpts from the ballet Swan Lake presented as seen on the stage; no pointed toes thrusting at the camera here.

The galleries of stereoscopic photography are a highlight of the set: one the relentlessly cheerful Mid-Century Memories in Kodachrome Stereo, presented with corny flair by Stereoscopic Anthropologist Hillary Hess and the other a series of images taken by silent film star Harold Lloyd, presented by his granddaughter and devoted historian Suzanne Lloyd Hayes.

Hess’ presentation reveals a tinsel-draped world of mid-century, middle-class placidity, for the most part snapped by photo hobbyists looking to capture everything from the kids by the Christmas tree to an every day trip to the gas station. It’s a fascinating look at a long lost world, where images that were once ordinary become fascinating decades later.

The Lloyd presentation was my favorite part of the collection, because I didn’t realize how varied the former silent star’s photography had been. While I knew that he had happily spent his retirement taking pictures of buxom starlets and increasing his expertise in photography, I didn’t realize he had also traveled extensively and in the process captured stunning images from around the world. Lloyd’s empathy is evident in the scenes he has recorded, which show the beauty of ordinary people and the simple elegance of daily scenes in city streets. Some of the shots are so well composed that they look like paintings.

Included in the set is a gorgeous 3-D Film Archive-produced 4K restoration of Mexico’s first full-length 3-D film, El Corazon y la Espada (AKA The Heart and the Sword or The Sword of Granada, 1953). It was a treat to see frequent Hollywood supporting players Mexican actress Katy Jurado and the American actor Cesar Romero take leading roles in this historical swashbuckler. As part of a Spanish team pursuing gold, fighting Moors, and becoming entangled with a captive padre and a graceful princess, the pair are charismatic, dashing, and lots of fun. The three dimensional effects are smoothly integrated into the story, with sword and spear jabs aplenty in the rousing action scenes.

This second set was as fun as the first. I can’t wait to see what the 3-D Film Archive comes up with for volume three.

Many thanks to Flicker Alley for providing a copy of the disc for review.