Friday, April 18, 2014

TCMFF 2014: MATTERS OF LIFE AND DEATH

 
 
Last year at the TCM Classic Film festival I had a filmgoing Friday for the ages—seven movies starting at 9:00 a.m. and ending at 2:00 a.m., consisting of The Swimmer, Voyage in Italy, I Am Suzanne!, It Always Rains on Sunday, Ruggles of Red Gap, Hondo (in 3D) and Plan Nine From Outer Space. When it was over (and after I recovered), I ended up thinking of it as maybe the single greatest day of my life ever spent entirely in front of the silver screen.
 
Well, last weekend at TCMFF 2014, I only saw six movies on Friday, but in terms of sheer quality it was a day that will stand proud in my memory right alongside last year’s glory—On Approval, Make Way for Tomorrow, A Matter of Life and Death, Double Indemnity, Blazing Saddles and, just when the delirium of the day was peaking, Eraserhead.
 
The rest of the fest? 5th Avenue Girl, Johnny Guitar, Godzilla, How Green Was My Valley, Written on the Wind, Tokyo Story, On Approval (again!), Employees’ Entrance and, finally, Alan Ladd as The Great Gatsby. Not bad for a long weekend!
 
And I’m proud to report that my account on the festival is now up and running at The House Next Door.
 
It’s not one to match the length of the 20,000-word epics from past fests—it’s only 3,000—but I think it gets at what I found fascinating and thrilling about the festival—unexpected connections!—and raises a question or two about where the festival might be going and challenges it might be facing when it gets there.
Click on over for some good weekend bathroom reading! Hope you enjoy it!
 
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Thursday, April 10, 2014

LA GRANDE BOUFFE: PERUSING THE MENU OF THE 2014 TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL



Well, the day has finally arrived. In a couple of hours, after finishing up my office work and the last of the housework, time to hop the train to Hollywood and the first official day/night of the 2014 Turner Movie Classics Film Festival. It’s hardly to believe that the festival is five years old this year. What’s even harder to believe, especially for me, is that I’ve been there for every day of every year so far (thanks to the generous sponsorship of Keith Uhlich, Ed Gonzalez and Slant Magazine).

And some of the memories made there are ones that I will carry with me and recount and brag upon for the rest of my life— Esther Williams and Betty Garrett interviewed poolside at the Hollywood Roosevelt on the inaugural night of the festival in 2010, after a synchronized swimming display and just before a screening of Neptune’s Daughter; that same year, Donald Bogle introducing an eye-opening series of out-of-circulation cartoons, including the notorious “Coal Black and De Sebbin Dwarves;” in 2011, getting up at the crack of dawn for an 8:00 a.m. screening of the great pre-code Jimmy Cagney melodrama Taxi and feeling, along with the half-filled house, like we were the diehardiest of the diehards; that same year, rare screenings of Went the Day Well? and, initiating a Clara Bow crush that has yet to subside, Hoop-la; having my eyes opened in 2012 to Paul Fejos’ Lonesome (1928) and (Clara Bow again!) John Frances Dillon’s rip-roaring Call Her Savage, Black Narcissus looking more magnificent than ever, and seeing Rio Bravo in the presence of Angie Dickinson; last year, watching Deliverance after a moving and often hilarious Q&A featuring Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty and John Boorman; and best (and most exhilarating/exhausting of all), having the single greatest movie-going day of my life on the Friday of last year’s TCMFF, starting with The Swimmer at 9:00 a.m., followed in tight succession by Voyage to Italy, I Am Suzanne!, It Always Rains on Sunday, Ruggles of Red Gap, Hondo (in 3D!) and the capper of all cappers, Plan Nine from Outer Space at midnight.

If 2014 at TCMFF is anywhere near as good as even that one day last year, I expect to be treated very well indeed. In fact, I stand to take in, if all goes well and nothing get sold out and my regimen of vitamins and energy bars does its magic, about 20 movies this year, which would be a record for me. (Last year, just that one Friday, which held seven movies, left me the next morning feeling like I’d been leveled by a very big truck.) And make no mistake—I am expecting big things. This is, for me and many film fans, the big blow out, the grande bouffe of the year. (I look forward to the utterly appropriate screening of Marco Ferrerri's film at some future festival.)

Here's what's on tap for today.


After I pick up my credentials this afternoon, I’ll grab some lunch and had over to the Hollywood Museum where Joe Dante and Rick Baker will be hosting a presentation called “Sons of Gods and Monsters.” I don’t need to know any details. Just those two names and that title is enough to make this the first must-see of the festival. Tonight’s first movie will be Gregory La Cava’s Fifth Avenue Girl (1939) starring Ginger Rogers and Walter Connally. But the big attraction tonight is the reportedly eyeball-burstingly gorgeous restoration of Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar (1954), hosted by producer and movie historian Michael Schlesinger. Starting from the first year of TCMFF, I established a rule I’ve followed each year that has never steered me wrong—follow Schlesinger wherever he goes. In previous years he’s introduced such personal festival highlights as Murder, He Says, Who Done it? and one of my all-time favorite movies, Billy Wilder’s One Two Three. I say, if Schlesinger’s introducing it, I’m seeing it.


This year’s Friday, on paper, looks like this: Clive Brook’s On Approval (1944), which wins a slot because a) I’ve never seen it (always go with the unknown and the rarities) and b) it stars Googie Withers, whose grand spirit has hovered around the festival for a few years now, no more gloriously than in last year’s It Always Rains On Sunday. I’ll follow with Make Way for Tomorrow (Leo McCarey; 1937), A Matter of Life and Death (Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger; 1946) and Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder; 1944) I know, I know, the Billy Wilder classic is kinda familiar, but Barbara Stanwyck trumps all, and it’s been shown in the same auditorium-- the big (newly renovated) Chinese-- as my follow-up feature, which will make it easy to get in line for a good spot to see… Blazing Saddles (1974) introduced by Mel Brooks. When I was a kid, I dreamt of coming home to Los Angeles, walking down and magically bumping into Mel Brooks just so I could tell him how crazy I was about his movie. In 1987 I actually did bump into him in a movie theater, but I restrained myself. And I suspect I will do so again tomorrow night. But, man, of all the opportunities I cannot miss, to hear Mel talk before Blazing Saddles, and then to see one of my favorite movies, and hear an audience roaring at it again, all in the very theater in which the climax of the movie takes place—well, just don’t get in my way, that’s all I have to say (for now). And Friday night gets topped off by Eraserhead (David Lynch; 1977), which I believe will be the very first time I’ll have seen this notorious midnight movie classic… at midnight.


Saturday, if I’m till ambulatory, looks like it might shake out something like this: a date with Barbara again for Stella Dallas (King Vidor; 1937); followed by a 60th-anniversary restoration of the original Japanese version of Godzilla (Ishiro Honda; 1954—and how it thrills me to know that an Ishiro Honda movie is playing at the TCMFF); Maureen O’Hara will be present to speak before a beautifully restored How Green Was My Valley (John Ford; 1941), screening at the magnificent El Capitan Theater; then it’s back across the street for Written on the Wind (Douglas Sirk; 1956), which I can’t wait to see big and wide—this and Johnny Guitar promise to be the Tru-color/Technicolor marvels of the festival; after Sirk, a fairly rare pre-code Ginger Rogers comedy, Hat Check Girl (Sidney Lanfield; 1932), a heretofore unknown-to- me World War II romance from Edgar G. Ulmer called  Her Sister’s Secret (1946) and, if my stamina holds up, a midnight screening of Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932), which I’ve never seen projected.


Sunday starts off slowly at 9:00 a.m., with Tokyo Story (Yazujiro Ozu; 1953), which I have also never seen on the big screen, the perfect and only way to fully immerse oneself, I would think, in the stillness of Ozu’s frames. After that, I’ve given the entire afternoon over in hopes of catching some of the films I had to pass up on the previous three days during the traditional Sunday afternoon slots that, at this writing, have seen yet to be announced. (The announcements usually don’t start trickling in until sometime on Saturday.) And for the closing night feature, I haven’t yet decided whether to see the restoration of Alfred Hitchcock’s silent classic The Lodger (1928), featuring live accompaniment of the score performed by the Mont Alto Motion picture Orchestra, or to make my choice Hobson—Hobson’s Choice (David Lean; 1954), that is. A bunch of people I know are headed to Hobson, so I may take comfort in company as the fifth-annual TCMFF winds to a close.

Then it’s a final train trip and off to my hospital bed and a nice, steady IV drip, where I will begin prep for TCMFF 2015.

I’ll be in touch here and there, with a full article for Slant ready to go early next week. Talk to you then! And I’ll definitely watch one for you!

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Friday, April 04, 2014

ROBERT ALTMAN IN THE REAR-VIEW MIRROR

 

On the short list of film directors whose work helped develop and change my way of watching film, receiving imagery, and then processing the ethereal, combustive collision of often melodious, often contradictory impulses generated by the world of the film itself, Robert Altman has to be at the top. Altman changed not only the way I saw movies-- his movies helped change the life I lived while I was watching them. When I entered college, Altman's films (at least the two or three I’d seen up till then), and especially the chattering of his enthusiastic disciples, were to be endured, momentarily rest stops on a journey of learning and consuming all the sorts of cinema and literature I already knew that I loved. By the time I left my university world behind, Altman’s movies had transformed for me into dreamscapes of satirical, cacophonous beauty and brazenness and bad behavior, worlds worth not only stopping for but diving into. And they had helped transform me into a more thoughtful viewer, someone capable of more easily embracing a perspective on the world that differed from the one I was used to, someone more willing to bring my own intelligence to the party and understand that that was where the greatest pleasures of the movies lay in wait.


A little over seven years since his death and release of his last moviemost of Altman’s output is available through the usual home video formats—DVD, Bu-ray and streaming are the ways we end up seeing the greatest variety of films in 2014, though it’s hard for me to imagine that it’s even possible to appreciate the crowded splendor and aural fascination of Nashville or McCabe and Mrs. Miller or Buffalo Bill and the Indians on an iPhone. Finding an opportunity to see them projected, as they all were upon their initial releases and throughout the checkered history of repertory cinema in the 40-or-so years since, is a much spottier enterprise, so much so that any opportunity to be there when it happens in this grand digital age should be seized without hesitation.

Such an opportunity has arrived for viewers in Los Angeles, courtesy of the UCLA Film and Television Archive. Beginning tonight and stretching through June 29 the archive has mounted an impressive career retrospective of the innovative, challenging, maddening and rapturous work of Robert Altman, all films screening at the Billy Wilder Theater with the Armand Hammer Museum in Westwood. The schedule is far-ranging and satisfying, even if it is perhaps incomplete—several of his lesser-regarded features from the mid ‘80s, such as H.E.A.L.T.H, Streamers, Fool for Love, Beyond Therapy and O.C. and Stiggs, have been left out, as have been the Pinter adaptations of The Laundromat and The Dumbwaiter which aired on ABC during this same period. But any Altman program which includes a slot headed up by Pret-a-Porter (1994), widely considered to be one of the director’s flimsiest, most misguided trifles (I love it, by the way), cannot be accused of hiding under the covers. (Easily my favorite pairing of the entire festival is the inspired matchup of McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Quintet.)
 


Perhaps the greatest lure for fans of Altman’s work, who have voraciously consumed books like Patrick McGilligan’s biography Jumping Off the Cliff or Mitchell Zuckoff’s more recent Robert Altman: The Oral Biography is the chance to see some of the director’s earliest achievements as a filmmaker, culled from the catalog of industrial films he did in Kansas City for the Calvin Company while building up to his big break in Hollywood. These rarities, borrowed directly from the director’s own collection which was donated to the UCLA archive after his death in 2006, provide glimpses of the birth of the Altman style, and they include gems like Modern Football (1951), considered to be the director’s first real movie, The Perfect Crime (1955), A Honeymoon for Harriet (1950), The Model’s Handbook (1956), The Kathryn Reed Story (1965), a short Altman made about his wife, and a restoration of a bare-bones backstage musical co-written by Altman called Corn’s-a-Poppin’ (1956). There’s also a collection of Altman’s work for television, including episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Route 66. And speaking of restorations, among the festival’s many highlights are two full-scale restorations performed by the UCLA Archive—the disturbing psychological drama That Cold Day in the Park (1969) and 1982’s Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.

Here’s the full schedule. You can click on the links for tickets and more information.


April 4 (tonight!): Nashville (1974), plus four-minute short Color Sonics CS-2010: The Party. In attendance: Kathryn Altman, Richard Baskin, Ronee Blakely, Elliot Gould.

April 5: The James Dean Story (1957) and The Delinquents (1957), plus Alfred Hitchcock Presents "The Young One." In attendance: Lew Bracker

April 7: A Perfect Couple (1979) with The Kathryn Reed Story (1965). In attendance: Paul Dooley.


April 11: Brewster McCloud (1970), with Behind the Scene s of Brewster McCloud, some silent footage of Altman and crew on the set of the film working with some of the complicated mechanical effects needed for the movie’s conclusion in the Houston Astrodome. In attendance: Rene Auberjonois.

April 13: 3 Women (1977) and Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982). In attendance: Dennis Christopher

April 19: Countdown (1968) with Modern Football (1951)


April 26: M*A*S*H (1970) with Pot au Feu (1965), a four-minute short starring Altman and others in which they expound upon a glories of the everyday joint. In attendance: Michael Altman, Corey Fischer, Danford B. Greene, Tom Skerritt.

May 3: Pret-a-Porter (Ready to Wear) (1994), with two rarities: Altman’s Color-Sonics short Girl Talk (1965) and Go to Health (1980), a rarely-seen promotional documentary on the set of Altman’s even more rarely-seen feature comedy H*E*A*L*T*H.

May 4: A night devoted to Selected Industrial Films from the Calvin Company, including Corn’s-a-Poppin’ (1956), A Honeymoon for Harriet (1950), The Magic Bond (1956), The Sound of Bells (1952), The Model’s Handbook (1956) and The Perfect Crime (1955).

May 11: A Wedding (1978), plus a 1978 segment from the Dinah! show in which hoist Dinah Shore interviews Altman on the set of A Wedding and gets more than she expected from her subject. In attendance: Dennis Christopher and Paul Dooley.


May 17: Secret Honor (1984), plus a film of Frank South’s play Precious Blood (1982), directed by Altman on the stage and starring Guy Boyd and Alfre Woodard. In attendance: Phillip Baker Hall.

May 29: California Split (1974) and The Long Goodbye (1973), plus Color Sonics short Ebb Tide (1966) featuring burlesque dancer Lili St. Cyr.

May 31: The Player (1992)

June 1: Altman and Television (Free admission): Alfred Hitchcock Presents "Together" (1958) starring Joseph Cotton; Route 66 "Some of the People, Some of the Time" (1961) starring Martin Milner, George Maharis and Keenan Wynn.

June 1: Kansas City (1996), plus Robert Altman’s Jazz ’34 (1997).

June 7: Short Cuts (1993), plus Color Sonics short "Speak Low."


June 8: Popeye (1980) Free admission.


June 15: Images (1972) and That Cold Day in the Park (1969), plus Damages (2001), a 16mm movie shot on the set of Images.

June 20: In advance of its cable screening, Ron Mann’s documentary entitled Altman (2014), an original movie shot for the EPIX channel examining the legacy and influence of Robert Altman, with appearances by Paul Thomas Anderson, Philip Baker Hall, Lyle Lovett, Michael Murphy, Lily Tomlin and more.

June 25: Vincent and Theo (1990), plus Zinc Ointment (1971), another short 16mm film by Marianne Dolan (Damages), this one shot on the set of McCabe and Mrs. Miller.


June 27: McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971) and Quintet (1979).

June 28: Gosford Park (2001).

June 29: The Company (2003) and A Prairie Home Companion (2006).

For more on the individual films from my perspective, I direct you to one of the first major undertakings of this blog, a four-part tribute to and account of my personal history with the films of Robert Altman, some of which, as in the case of McCabe and Mrs. Miller, has been seriously augmented since this writing on the occasion of his 81st birthday in March 2006. Also, there is below a link to the impromptu words dashed out upon hearing of his death just a few months later, in November 2006.

81 Candles for Robert Altman (Part 1)
81 Candles for Robert Altman (Part 3)
 
Goodbye, Mr. Altman (November 21, 2006)

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

SOMETHING SCREAMING ACROSS YOUR MIND: A GREEN SLIME GALLERY



"Open the door you'll find the secret
To find the answer is to keep it
You'll believe it when you find
Something screaming 'cross your mind
Green Slime

What can it be, what is the reason
Is this the end of all that breathes, and
Is it something in your head?
Will you believe it when you're dead?
Green Slime, Green Slime, Green Slime

What can it be, what is the reason
Is this the end to all that we've done?
Is it something in your head?
Will you believe it when you're dead?
Green Slime, Green Slime, Green Slime..."


(lyrics to the theme song from The Green Slime, sung by Richard Delvy)

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Maybe you saw it screen on Turner Classic Movies last night, the esteemed channel’s past-midnight offering as part of its weekend “TCM Underground” series. (On a double bill with Zardoz, no less!) Perhaps you own a copy of the smashing Warner Archives DVD released last year. Perhaps you saw it on its original release, way back in the dinosaur days of 1968-1969. Or perhaps… perhaps you’ve yet to see The Green Slime at all.

If the latter is your situation, I highly recommend you getting your hands on that DVD as soon as possible, for a nifty little treasure awaits inside that plastic case. But whether or not you’ve seen it, I’m proud to direct you to to the essay I wrote, which was commissioned and freshly posted today by the good and erudite folks at Trailers from Hell, no slouches in the appreciation of movies both disreputable and culturally christened. The Green Slime most definitely belongs in the former category, though it seems to me its reputation as a “so-bad-it’s-good” movie, or as simply bad, has been perpetuated largely thanks to the easily observable fact of its rather obvious rubber monsters and other less-than-“realistic” special effects.

If you’re willing to take a closer, more open-minded look, you might discover the movie I loved when I saw it as very impressionable eight-year-old, a movie that holds up delightfully well as a solid piece of genre filmmaking, one that holds a space station’s worth of visual marvels, provided you can keep your snark in check and come to the movie on its own terms.

That’s what my Trailers from Hell piece is about. And when I wrote it, I culled lots and lots of screen grabs from the DVD to provide illustrations, and of course they couldn’t use them all. And since I have given TFH my piece to publish, I’ve decided to create a sort of Green Slime gallery here out of all those extra grabs, all dedicated to the movie’s primally beautiful pop art wonders, as well as its appeals to childlike imagination which lays dormant in some viewers, less so in others.

Without further hesitation, I present my Green Slime gallery for your enjoyment right now—why wait, after all, to enjoy it, or to believe in Kinji Fukasaku’s nifty movie, until you’re dead?

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The original lobby card from the movie’s 1968 release—I always loved that vaguely mod font used for the logo, as well as the catchphrase “Invaders from Beyond the Stars!”

 

And the cover of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine that caught my eye long before I ever saw the movie and stoked the fires of my anticipation long before I had a chance to see the movie for myself.



As Richard Harland Smith so astutely observed, "This movie is like the Major Matt Mason Space Station play set come magically to life!"






From this...



...to this...




...and later to this as the Green Slime begin to replicate out of control.









One look at the way Fukasaku stages a simple confrontation between Commander Vince Elliott (Richard Jaeckel) and Commander Jack Rankin (Robert Horton), who has usurped Elliott’s authority over the doomed Gamma 3 space station during a time of unprecedented interstellar crisis, reveals that the movie, often dismissed as inept, has actually been directed with a fine eye toward pacing and the way images work together to create dramatic momentum and tension...














...to say nothing of how it manages to work in momentary relief and repose…



…before all hell breaks loose again.




I’ll bet Peter Max loved the shots of men in space in this movie.


The grandeur of The Green Slime’s pop art design at its peak. What a dynamic image, enhanced immeasurably by the sights of hundreds of Slimes swarming the surface of the space station as the surviving humans abandon their posts…



…and send the Gamma 3 into oblivion.


Salute, maestri! Yoku de kimashita!



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