Tuesday, August 23, 2011

CINEMA GALLERY August 2011--25 New Frames

I tried to make a creepily unsettling entry here for the CINEMA GALLERY this month. These 25 frames just SHOULD NOT go together. But here they are. As always, click on the frame you want to see large-like. These make GREAT screen backgrounds. And remember to visit the entire gallery HERE. Have fun, film fans, and see if you can guess the movies these frames hail from. The answers are at the end of the post!

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1. Nights and Weekends (Greta Gerwig and Joe Swanberg, 2008)
2. Rejected (Don Hertzfeldt, 2000)
3. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Michael Schultz, 78)
4. Bubba-Ho-Tep (Don Coscarelli, 2002)
5. The Decline of the Western Civilization (Penelope Spheeris, 81)
6. Alice in Wonderland (Clyde GeronimI, Wilfred Jackson & Hamilton Luske, 51)
7. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 41)
8. La Vie En Rose (Olivier Dahan, 2007)
9. Prizzi's Honor (John Huston, 85)
10. Monsters Inc. (Pete Docter, David Silverman and Lee Unkrich, 2001)
11. Elephant (Alan Clarke, 89)
12. I Heart Huckabees David O. Russell, 2004)
13. Monty Python's Life of Brian (Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam, 79)
14. The Car (Elliot Silverstein, 77)
15. The Brood (David Cronenberg, 79)
16. Parents (Bob Balaban, 89)
17. Desperate Living (John Waters, 77)
18. In the Year of the Pig (Emile de Antonio, 68)
19. The Sniper (Edward Dmytryk, 52)
20. Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 77)
21. The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 74)
22. Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone, 69)
23. Neighbors (John G. Avildsen, 81)
24. The Yes Men Fix the World (Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, 2009)
25. Field of Dreams (Phil Alden Robinson, 89)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

GONE WITH THE WIND and its premiere: 1939, downtown Atlanta.

See it...LIVE it. This is amateur filmmaker Russell Bellman's recently discovered Kodachrome 16mm footage of the premiere of what is still, adjusted for inflation, the biggest-grossing movie of all time. This footage (minus the Erik Satie soundtrack) needs to be in admitted in the National Film Registry's archives. I don't think it has been yet. This monumental event occurred within a 3-minute train ride of where I live now, and was a seminal note in the life of a city I call home. It is also such a note in the life of this country and this medium I love. Looking at it now, it somehow seems it could have happened yesterday. But this is the effect of film. Or is it merely a truism of time? In the larger scheme of things, I suppose 80 years ago IS yesterday...



Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Cynical Girls on Film

The truly excellent song is by Marshall Crenshaw, and it's from his self-titled debut album (which is a listen-straight-through must for anyone who doesn't already own it). The video was smartly compiled by Rick Thomas (and I would only make a few slight cutting changes). I just felt the immediate need to post this on FILMICABILITY, because it's so ultra-cool.



Saturday, August 13, 2011

Happy Birthday, Alfred Hitchcock!


Yes, he was the Master of Suspense. But on 113th anniversary of his birth today, I prefer to focus not on his films, but on the man himself--particularly, his intelligence and indubitably dry wit. These aspects of his personality--coupled with his love of the macabre and the unending power of his films, of course--were what made him into a superstar. I believe that when informed people think of the word or the profession "director," they think of Alfred Hitchcock. As an explanation to why this is so, here are ten clips that I also offer as tribute to this unique artist who truly changed how we see the world:

Here he is, in 1954, as the mystery guest on the TV game show What's My Line? As he signs in, we get to see Hitchcock compose the famous, impossibly elegant 9-line caricature this one-time storyboard artist wryly concocted for himself (here, it's an 8-line drawing--he omits that slight hairline on the show's blackboard). I love his references to Grace Kelly at the end of the clip--"What did you do about it?" This tells us so much about the man.


I imagine TV execs really got a hungry sense of Alfred Hitchcock's surprising on-screen dynamism while watching him on What's My Line. The following year, in 1955, he began hosting his own anthology series, suitably called Alfred Hitchcock Presents. His appearances on the show--in which this devotee of cinema often derided the necessary trappings of TV (particularly its need for commercials)--are what I think made him an even more stellar household name than he already laid claim to being. This intro, from 1955's episode titled "The Other Sister," is a fine example of his unforgettable hosting style.


Mr. Hitchcock was a pioneer, too, in the construction of film trailers, even though no director--even Steven Spielberg--has ever attempted to do what he did with them. This development in his on-screen personality become more intense after his TV show became a long-running hit. As a result, his home studio Universal allowed him to indulge in unusually long trailers for his films. The Psycho preview is justifiably famous. But so should be this advanced look at his 1963 effort The Birds, in which not even one actual shot from the film is shown (even the glimpse of lead actress Tippi Hedren was filmed specifically for the trailer).


Hitchcock wisely dissects what frightens people here in 1964, on the BBC interview show Monitor. I love how Hitch's handsome facial profile is captured here.


The film-specific crafts of editing and scoring are smartly used in this 1965 segment shot for French television, in which Hitchcock pointedly discusses the dynamics of arguably his most famous film Psycho and then deftly practices his impeccable French on the interviewer.


On the director's 1970 appearance on The Dick Cavett Show (in one of the best episodes of that series, available on Cavett's Hollywood Greats DVD collection), Hitchcock comments correctly on the effects of sex on the Hollywood elite, and then defiantly admits to one of his favorite forms of repartee, in a statement with which I wholeheartedly agree.


Another Hitchcock trailer, this time for his 1972 tale of murder called Frenzy (his late-career return to British filmmaking and still his most personal film, if you ask me). The initial sight of Hitch floating on the Thames is highly amusing. "How do you like my tie?"


Part one of Tom Snyder's very revealing 1973 interview with Hitch on the Tomorrow show; Snyder starts by asking Hitch what scares him. The other five parts are on You Tube.


One year before his death in 1980, Alfred Hitchcock was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute. Surrounded by a truly astounding collection of moviemaking royalty, he is, as usual, hilarious and articulate. But here he is also unexpectedly touching, as he pays tribute to his wife and collaborator of 53 years, Alma Reville Hitchcock who, dutifully sitting by his side, is visably moved throughout.


And, finally, no tribute would be complete without noting the director's famed cameos in his own films. This You Tube post from royvanderzwann collects all but eight of them, and deftly points out each of Hitchcock's sometimes imperceptible on-screen appearances, backed with French composer Charles-François Gounod's "Funeral March for a Marionette," which of course forever became Hitch's instantly recognizable theme song.


Happy birthday, Mr. Hitchcock, wherever you are. And thank you, for everything.

(John Candy as Hitchcock on SCTV--to fully view the segment, click here.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Review: RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES


Okay. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. The review is simple. The shots in which there were apes--and ONLY apes--were brilliantly directed (by someone named Rupert Wyatt, who hasn't done a film you or I are likely to see were it not for this movie). The shots in which ANY humans appeared were day-old-bread bland. Andy Serkis, playing the lead ape in its adulthood, was superb--so much so that I think he was underused (he doesn't contribute to two-thirds of the film). Nevertheless, you can feel a palpable rise in attention whenever his input is evident. Many filmgoers will at least subliminally recognize the change in the film's quality when his fully-grown Caesar arrives on-screen. I believe there's an entirely great performance here that deserves recognition (particularly given Serkis' insanely superb past experience with this kind of role, as with his Gollum in the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy and with his title character in KING KONG). Though I neither want to posit the addition of a special "motion capture" category at the Oscars, nor do I want to include Serkis in with the regular actors' categories, I do think there should be some consideration given to Serkis as the recipient of a Special Achievement Oscar for his body of motion-capture work, in which he is an absolute pioneer. The New Zealand FX team WETA deserve much credit for what wispy power the film possesses; however, things are still not perfect. Digital characters remain looking as if they're moving about underwater. They have a slight slowness to them that takes me out of the illusion. I know this is an ongoing problem with digital figures in film--it's a glitch in the program that apparently cannot be brooked now. But I mention this because...let's not fool ourselves, okay? These FX do not look TOTALLY real. Many genre fans might want to say that they do, but they don't. Face it. More work needs to be done before we get to where we really wanna be. So let's not go landing on the moon just yet. And, still, Andrew Lesnie's cinematography in RISE is sterling, the film's in-house editing veteran Conrad Buff does well and, above all, Serkis' leavings are absolutely notable.


Back to the movie: the script was resolutely lazy. The film was boring for its first 40 minutes. No one cares about James Franco or his father (John Lithgow), whom scientist Franco is trying to save from a slide into Alzheimer's by developing a serum that, when tested on the apes, makes their IQs go way up. One thing: why do all summer movies have to come down to the love of a son for a father, or the love of a father for a son, or the love of a father for a daughter, or the love of a daughter for a father, or the love of a wife for a husband or...on and on it goes. What the fuck is going on here? Is every screenwriter in Hollywood feeling some sort of crippling guilt for how shittily they've treated their nearest family members? Jesus Christ, this is such a tired plot trope. To boot, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES' pointless dialogue was uber-filled with those "motivational" words "I need"--these words come about in almost all genre movies or TV shows (the TV show LOST was replete with these two words)--"I need" you to do this, "I need" this chance, etc. (This phenomenon in movie writing has a lot to do with gaming culture, which is built on having a "need" that "needs" to be fulfilled. I would recommend film writers find a thesaurus.) On the positive side, the film had a refreshingly restrained use of scoring--many scenes that, in a less well-directed movie, would have been scored wall-to-wall, were actually only augmented by the sounds of the apes. Lest we forget: we came to the movie to see the apes. Let them take it.


The picture's miniscule "villains" (David Oyelowo's pharma-business-prick Steven Jacobs, Tom Jacobs' goony teen cagemaster, and even the usually reliable Brian Cox's lackadaisical ape boss) were unfulfilling. I was so bored by them all, I spent the whole movie trying to determine whether Jacobs was actually Aaron Paul from BREAKING BAD, and wondering if they approached Chiwetel Ejiofor for the Steven Jacobs role--mind you, this is a negative that's not the movie's fault, however I would like to take this opportunity to IMPLORE summer movie filmmakers to add credits to the BEGINNINGS of their movies, if only for us fanboys...uh, er, film geeks.


My 2nd biggest complaint with the film--after the limpness of its human participants (including the dull Frieda Pinto, the googly-eyed Lithgow, and the sleepy, strangely Adam-Sandler-haired Franco) has to do with the numerous, and I assume fanboy-inspired references to the original PLANET OF THE APES. Jacob's "damn dirty ape" line, in particular, was absolutely embarrassing and unnecessary; so was the televised cameo from Charlton Heston as Moses (geez, no TV station is playing THE TEN COMMANDMENTS these days, unless maybe it happens to be Easter), and the "it's a madhouse" reference; also the cops on horses in the climax was an unrealistic element. Cops on horses? I mean, though it can be defended on purely technical terms--how else could they make their way through the stranded cars--still, cops on horses is a now-ancient concept in USA terms; why not use motorcycles? And so the inclusion of cops on horses was obviously a PLANET OF THE APES reference (as was the weaponed use of the water hose, though fans will breathlessly tell you, as if they've solved a theorem, "They're setting up the world of the apes!"). And, though the shots of the apes high above the city impress us, the film disappoints by setting the final entire conflict on the Golden Gate bridge. You get no sense that the entire city of San Francisco has been taken over; hell, there are only four sets in the movie (the house, the ape prison, the lab, and the bridge). One more minute with that helicopter machine gun (which should have been BLACK HAWK DOWN powerful) in the climax would have erased the entire damn dirty ape problem. And, by the way, those spears that the apes had? How did they wrest even one, not to mention so many, of these spears from that one zoo cage? This element was totally goofy. I kept wondering, if the apes were so smart, why didn't they just grab the guns? (The whole "let's not kill humans" thing was bizarrely disingenuous; as such, one of the only humans that dies in the movie is, of course, the sweet fat guy at the beginning who catches the disease and ends up sneezing blood; as usual, the fat guy always dies in movies because, really, who gives a fuck if a fatty bites it?)


Still, in the sea of generally stinky swill that is most of summertime moviegoing, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is a not entirely failed effort. It is hobbled, yes--but not failed (I rank it a C+). But may I remind you: with that "summertime" caviat, we're grading on a curve. This is NOT one of the best films of the year, as it is being deemed by so many online nerds (of which I am one, though I am one with unpopular tastes). However, I hope for a better film to follow. When the sequel does go into production, I would recommend it contain only only ONE human in it. After all, the humans have ALWAYS been the downfall of the series. With this recent overpraised effort, I hope the filmmakers have learned this lesson.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The 30 Day Cinephile Challenge: My Answers (Part 1)

On Facebook, there are multitudes of 30 day movie challenges (which consist of one probing movie question a day for...well, you know). I wanted to participate, but most of them bored me. It wasn't until I encountered the 30 Day Cinephile Challenge, with its vastly more inventive queries, that I opted to take part in one. My cohorts on this challenge, by the way, are extra worldly and so, by participating in this business, I'm learning much more about the global film scene than I ever expected. Anyway, just in case you're not one of my FB friends, and on the outside chance you perhaps wanted to know more about me, I thought I'd relay these questions and my answers to them here on filmicability. So here we go...

Day 1: My favorite opening scene
The Music Man (Morton DeCosta, 62). The original (white) rap, written by Meredith Willson and, amazingly, our hero Harold Hill doesn't even appear on-screen until the scene's tail end! An incredible rant about the values and pitfalls of the free market, and it still moves and rocks me years after I learned every line while listening to a homemade recording of the film on cassette tape. A powerful first scene.



Day 2: My favorite closing scene
The 400 Blows (Francois Truffaut, 59). An escape to freedom, but with nowhere to go. It still gives me goosebumps!



Day 3: My most underrated filmmaker of all time
Peter Watkins. Every one of his films displays a fresh, chilling, immediately recognizable worldview, iced with an utter mastery of film craft. Even my least favorite film by him, Privilege, is something unique. But The Gladiators, Culloden, Edvard Munch, The War Game (for which he won an Best Documentary Oscar in 1965), La Commune (Paris 1871) and especially the radically scary Punishment Park are each uniformly magnificent, even if most people haven't seen them.



Day 4: Most overrated filmmaker of all time
James Cameron. Though I like The Terminator, Aliens and The Abyss well enough (the director's cut of the latter is his best film), the heaps of praise, awards, and cash dumped on to this guy for his other travesties literally makes me sick to my stomach. Avatar was so bad that it made me question the sanity of a world that would flip its shit for it. Cameron is quite an inventor, though--he should just stick to that and leave the moviemaking to others.


Day 5: The best movie from my favorite filmmaker

Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Whether you think it boring or not, it's the greatest movie that has been made or will be made. It is completely successful in dramatizing the history of man from ape until superhuman. No other movie will ever even attempt to do such a thing without being compared to this progenitor. And no movie could ever do it, anyway.



Day 6: The biggest disappointment from one of my favorite filmmakers

Gangs of New York (Martin Scorsese, 2002). I knew it was a project that he and Jay Cocks had been contemplating for over 20 years. When it arrived, with that awful U2 score over its opening scene, I was mortified. Daniel Day Lewis does his very best (and it is almost enough), but even he cannot save this misfire. The casting of DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz is laughable, and this faux-operatic movie just plods on and on. I'm sorry, but this much lauded battle sequence was ridiculously phony to me.



Day 7: A film I would love to share with everyone
A Little Romance (George Roy Hill, 79). The finest film ever made about the possession of a deep intelligence and the encountering of a soulmate. It never ceases to amaze me how deeply it affects me each time I watch it; I'm a weeping mess at its end. It says so much about me--as a romantically-minded film fan--and about humanity. But still it remains a minor cult movie at best. It should be required viewing in every film school class, I believe.



Day 8: My favorite experimental film
Mothlight (Stan Brakhage, 63). Brakhage had no film stock available, but he didn't let that stop him. He took strips of 16mm editing tape and embedded in them pieces of moth wings and grass. I heard about this film in my 20s, but didn't get to see it until YouTube arrived. It was worth the wait. It's dazzling.



Day 9: My favorite North American filmmaker of all time (includes U.S.A. and Canada)
Barring the American Kubrick, who did his best work in Britain, I'll pick Orson Welles. No explanation necessary.


Day 10: My favorite Latin American filmmaker of all time
Mexico's Alfonso Cuarón. Like many others, I discovered him with the gorgeous A Little Princess. As a longtime love of the David Lean original, I avoided Great Expectations for a long time, but admired Cuarón's cheekiness greatly it when I finally saw it. Y Tu Mama Tambien is absolutely beyond reproach. He made the best Harry Potter series entry with The Prisoner of Azkaban. And Children of Men is a stone-cold masterpiece of the first order. I look forward to whatever he does in the future.


Day 11: My favorite African filmmaker of all time
Ousmane Sembene, from Senegal. Mandabi is a brilliant but sad comedy, Xala is vibrantly terrific, and Moolade is a complete shocker. I sure would like to see more films by him, but they're hard to find. And I'd like to see MORE African films, in general.


Day 12: My favorite Asian filmmaker of all time
Akira Kurosawa, of course. Why say anything else? Although I must say that Apitachapong Weerasethakul, from Thailand, is impressing me more and more these days.


Day 13: My favorite European filmmaker of all time
Ingmar Bergman, naturally. No one else even comes close.


Day 14: My favorite filmmaker of all time from Oceania
I could easily go with Peter Weir, and perhaps should, but few filmmakers make me more excited now than Andrew Dominick. With both Chopper and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, he's a shining voice in 21st Century world cinema. With his next movie, due in 2012, being about Marilyn Monroe, it's clear he's fascinated with the trappings of fame, and how it affects the famous and everyone surrounding them. This is a perfect subject for our media-driven age, and thus makes Dominick a supremely relevant director.


Day 15: Two directors I would like to see working together on a film
Shane Meadows (Somers Town, This is England) and Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy). One is uniquely British, the other uniquely American, but both are similarly understated and humanistic in their approach to character-driven storytelling. I envision a film about two British brothers (12 and 14) being transplanted to New England, circa 1982.


Day 16: My favorite female filmmaker
Joan Micklin Silver, the vastly underrated director of Bernice Bobs Her Hair, Between The Lines, Hester Street, Chilly Scenes of Winter, Crossing Delancey and Loverboy. No one writes better dialogue and has such a winning way with actors. And she really knows how to build a complex story without dropping the many pins she's juggling.


Day 17: My second favorite female filmmaker
Kelly Reichardt, director of River of Grass, Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy, and Meek's Cutoff. To me, she is now one of our primary filmmaking talents. She has a loving view of people with differing opinions on how their world is progressing, and what their place is in such a world, and I adore that about her. Plus, she has an unassailable vision of American life, and a smart cinematic prowess.



Day 18: My third favorite female filmmaker
I originally went with Lina Wertmuller, only for her exquisite, profound and hilarious Seven Beauties. But now I am rethinking this and am deciding upon Diane Kurys, whose three autobiographical movies Peppermint Soda, Entre Nous, and C'est La Vie, are remarkably frank chronicles of her rocky childhood as the daughter of divorced parents. I haven't seen any of her other works, but these three are enough for me, though I'd love to see more.


Day 19: My favorite British filmmaker
Leaving out Hitchcock, who did his best work in America, I have to go with Mike Leigh, whose detailed examinations of London life, across all strata of time and class, continue to astound me. None of his 19 feature-length films (many of them produced for UK television) are anything less than resolute genius, but I must confess a special love for Life is Sweet, Topsy-Turvy, All or Nothing, Vera Drake, High Hopes, Naked, and Abigail's Party. Leigh is currently my favorite filmmaker working right now. I believe he can do no wrong. This is a devastating scene from his 2002 film All or Nothing, with Timothy Spall as a despondent husband and Leslie Manville as his in-denial wife. In its simplicity, it is a wrecking ball.



Day 20: Best quote from a filmmaker
"Always make the audience suffer as much as possible" -- Alfred Hitchcock


Day 21: An actor you love who became a filmmaker
I could easily go with Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen, Warren Beatty, Sidney Lumet, Robert Redford or Orson Welles. But I side with Bob Fosse, an actor/choreographer in Kiss Me Kate and Damn Yankees who's remarkable genius blossomed into a sadly short filmmaking career that gifted us with four unique, dark show-biz-related masterpieces: Cabaret, Lenny, All That Jazz and Star 80. Here he is, more than a decade before his 1969 directorial debut with Sweet Charity, doing the "Who's Got The Pain" number from Damn Yankees with his one-time wife and lifelong collaborator Gwen Verdon.



Day 22: A filmmaker who is also a good actor that you love
There is, of course, John Huston. And Francois Truffaut is superb in both Day for Night and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But I'm going with actor-turned-director-turned-actor-again Sydney Pollack, who impressed me in Tootsie, Eyes Wide Shut and especially in Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives. Here he directs himself, playing Michael Dorsey's humorously harried agent in 1982's Tootsie.



Day 23: A film, short or clip of your own making; if you don't have one, your favorite film or short clip from someone close to you
Here I am on an early episode of The Latest Show on Earth, with Joe Hendel, talking about the 2008 Oscars and some great midnight movies to rent. I've made films, but I'm not a filmmaker.



Day 24: A pretentious film
UK Filmmaker Peter Greenaway is unfailingly gassy, and I thought of including his stilted stink bomb Prospero's Books as my entry. But then I remembered one of his UK contemporaries, Derek Jarman, and his silly movie Blue, which consists of a blue screen for 90+ minutes, with a yawning audio background. It makes Andy Warhol's Empire look like Die Hard. This is where film experimentation goes too far, friends.



Day 25: An actor/actress whom you feel is wasting his/her talent on crappy films

Many people dismiss her talents, but let's not forget than Jennifer Aniston has been sublime in Brad Bird's The Iron Giant, Miguel Arteta's The Good Girl, Nicole Holofcener's Friends with Money, and Peyton Reed's The Break-Up. Somehow, despite her glamor, she's landed at the start of the 21st Century as American cinema's premier everywoman (though Kristen Wiig deserves a shot at that prize). But Aniston keeps taking below-par assignments in sad shit like The Bounty Hunter, The Switch, He's Just Not That Into You, Management, Just Go With It, and the terribly overrated Horrible Bosses (although at least with the last film she was trying something different). Her career desperately needs to meet another turn in the road.



Day 26: A lousy actor/actress who keeps appearing in good films
Every time I see Tom Sizemore, I wince. Such a small bag of tricks he has--he's always either a scummy cop, a scummy criminal or a steadfast but doomed soldier. Luckily, his stock has gone way down in the past decade, after appearing in such 1990s classics as Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down, Heat, and Natural Born Killers. Still, when he pops up in movies like the Brian Cox starrer Red, I roll my eyes.


Day 27: A filmmaker you would like to work with
I wouldn't deign to work with any filmmaker I respected--I'm just not worthy. But I'd be content to be a mere fly on the wall on any set that Terrence Malick was in control of. I just wanna see what this guy is like.


Day 28: A film you wish you had made
Noah Baumbach's Greenberg. No other movie out there seems to be portraying ME quite as much as this film seems to be. While watching it, I felt like I had been spied on. It's the one and only time in which I felt the filmmaker was speaking DIRECTLY to me. It says so much about how I view the world, it makes me cry and, also, shudder.



Day 29: A filmmaker you would like to make love to
I'm speaking only from a purely physical standpoint here (although I think she's terrifically smart and talented): Kathryn Bigelow. ROWRR!


Day 30: A country from which you would like to see more films
Ingmar Bergman's movies made me fall in absolute love with the cadence and poetry of the Swedish language. But now that he's gone, we here in the USA can only hear the language in the films of Lukas Moodysson, reliably (Let the Right One In's Tomas Alfredson seems to have been seduced by Hollywood). I'd like to see more films from Sweden, thank you very much. This scene (not included in the theatrical version of the film) is from Bergman's Fanny and Alexander; please notice, primarily, the lilting beauty of the language itself.



The 30 Day Cinephile Challenge now extends to another month, effectively becoming a 60 Day Cinephile Challenge. I now embark on answering 30 more questions, much to my delight. I will post my answers to these as well and, when I am done with them, will try to provide a link for them here.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Forgotten Movie Songs #27: "Drifting and Dreaming of You" from WHITE LINE FEVER


I finally got to watch Jonathan Kaplan's 1975 film White Line Fever again, for the first time since I was a kid watching it at the drive-in. It's an exacting, often exciting blue-collar drama from a terrific director who's made one of my top films of all time, 1979's Over The Edge. At the end of Over the Edge, we're treated to an unusually gentle tune--a cover of The Five Stairsteps' "Ooh Child," sung by one Valerie Carter. Even though it wasn't the filmmaker's first choice for a closing song, I always felt it worked well with the wistful ending to that hard-as-nails movie. And I always wondered how they decided upon Valerie Carter as the artist to vocalize the final moments to a film that has such a rock-oriented source music soundtrack with contrasting contributions from acts like The Ramones, Cheap Trick, and Van Halen. But now I know...


White Line Fever begins with a lovely country song, impeccably sung by Miss Carter and written, I assume, by the film's composer David Nichtern (no song credits are attributed in the film's opening). I find I almost like the song better than I like the movie, which is saying a lot (as with most of Kaplan's films, like the Isaac Hayes vehicle Truck Turner and his 1983 Shirley Muldowney biopic Heart Like A Wheel, it is intelligent but it never sacrifices that quality to entertainment). "Drifting and Dreaming of You" is a lazily rambling tune, played over star Jan Michael Vincent's homecoming (from Vietnam, I suppose), and this means the song has a structure that doesn't become quite clear until it's over. Still, throughout, Carter's vocals are superb--lilting, longing and superb.

The song is called "Drifting and Dreaming of You." It is sung by Valerie Carter. The music and lyrics are presumably by David Nichtern.

Presumably, by the stupid Internet rules, this movie is hard to see.  But HERE you can see the film again...continue as free user, click to play, and after the short prologue, the song appears around 2 minutes in.  It's definitely worth the wait, and the movie is superb, too. (BTW, is this movie being suppressed because of the early gun talk, and because of the film's anti-authoritarian stance?  I think that is supremely unfair.  It's a wonderful film.)

Long, lonely years here without you
Long years to call out your name
Wandered alone through the desert
Lord, how I prayed for the rain
Long years and finally it came
Darling, it's so good to hold you again

Fear was my constant companion
Holding me sleepless each night
Memories danced in the shadows
Danced by the first rays of light
But how can you hold a shadow tight
I wanted to hold you with all of my might

Friends and neighbors came to call
And found me staring at your picture on the wall
They would talk to me like old friends do
But I was drifting and dreaming of you

(Humming - Instrumental Break)

Darling, it's so good to hold you again

Friends and neighbors came to call
And found me staring at your picture on the wall
They would talk to me like old friends do
But I was drifting and dreaming of you

But I was drifting and dreaming of you

Monday, August 1, 2011

Film #146: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof


Surely, the recent passing of superstar Elizabeth Taylor is reason enough to check out Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Taylor’s sultry, skimpily-dressed Maggie The Cat is one of her most iconic performances, and is certainly the definitive filmed (or televised) portrayal of scribe Tennessee Williams’ cunning heroine.

Still, the film version of Williams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning 1955 play could be better. In it, Paul Newman plays Maggie’s husband Brick, a former football star who’s literally been crippled by booze (he spends the whole film hobbled by crutches). Living on his bloated, bellowing father’s “plantation,” he’s constantly getting jabbed from all sides. His needling father and mother (the excellent Burl Ives and Judith Anderson) are wondering why he and Maggie don’t have any children while his brother Gooper (the always goofy but big-hearted Jack Carson) has had a whole passel of kids with his woman (Madeleine Sherwood). Meanwhile, Maggie has moved into full seduction mode; the play takes place on a hot summer day, but that’s not the only reason she’s often seen in her skivvies. She’s trying all she can do to put the fire back into their romance. But Brick won’t have any of it; the idea of he and Maggie together has become distasteful to him, because he still blames her for driving his best friend to suicide.

The problem with the film version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof comes with this final detail. In the original play, it was pretty clear that Brick and his friend, Skipper, were engaged in a homosexual relationship, and that Maggie slept with Skipper in order to break the duo up. But none of this is alluded to in the film, because it was 1958 and the studio, MGM, would have none of it. So the central conflict in the film is incapacitated, just like Brick (Williams himself was disappointed with the film version, telling the press that the movies “would set the industry back 50 years“). And yet Paul Newman wisely conveys some pained undertones that let us know what was REALLY going on.

The film bogs down in its middle, too, but it’s always handsome to look at, thanks to the Oscar-nominated color cinematography by William Daniels. And it boasts of one of the finest supporting performances in any Tennessee Williams adaptation: that of Burl Ives, reprising his Broadway triumph as the imposing Big Daddy Tabbitt, bemoaning the family’s danged “mendacity” while suffering, as a terminal case, through what might be his last birthday celebration. Somehow, Ives escaped an Oscar nomination himself, but Taylor and Newman got one, as did the film, its director (Richard Brooks) and its screenplay (by Brooks and James Poe).

In the end, though it’s not entirely successful, the main reason to see Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is for Ives and for Taylor. Both are forces of nature, but for wildly different reasons, of course. Ives blusters magnificently, while Taylor slinks around, on beautifully lit sets, like the graceful kitten she once was.