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On TCM Oct 12-18: David Niven, Powell & Pressburger, Droogs, Punks, and Silents

TCM continues its look at the Star of the Month: David Niven with a couple of my very favorite movies.

A_Matter_of_Life_and_Death_Cinema_PosterOn Monday at 5pm (PT), they’re showing one of the greatest films to be made by the British film-making team of Powell and Pressburger, A Matter of Life and Death (1946; released in the USA under the unfortunate title, Stairway to Heaven).

In 1999, A Matter of Life and Death placed 20th on BFI’s list of Best 100 British films, and later was ranked 90th on their Critic’s Poll of all films.

A Matter of Life and Death is stuffed with issues. It addresses some of the strains between US and UK forces coming at the end of World War II, and takes on metaphysical questions on top of that. The juxtaposition of black and white, for the heaven sequences, and (gorgeous) Technicolor on Earth recalls a similar, though in some senses opposite, juxtaposition of B&W and color in The Wizard of Oz (1939). J. K. Rowling and Daniel Radcliffe both identified it as one of their favorite films, and said it influenced the afterlife scenes in Deathly Hallows.

It won’t be screening on TCM again until December 12. The full film is available on YouTube, but this is such a beautiful film that even watching it on a good TV, as opposed to the big screen, is a bit to be regretted. If you think there’s any chance you’ll be able to see a good print in the theatre any time soon, wait for that. But do see it.

A Matter of Life and Death is followed by one of my personal favorite holiday films, The Bishop’s Wife (1948) at 7pm (PT). Cary Grant is typecast as a charming angel sent to Earth to help a stuffed-shirt bishop (David Niven) who’s having difficulty raising the funds for a cathedral. It’s not a religious movie and misunderstandings about that appeared to damage its box office. It’s a Christmas movie, and a warm and charming one. The supporting cast includes Elsa Lanchester. TCM will be screening The Bishop’s Wife again on Christmas Eve at 2pm (PT), which for me will be a perfect time to watch it.

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What can I say about Kiss Me, Kate (1953), screening at 11am, Tuesday, October 13? It’s a backstage musical with songs by Cole Porter and choreography by regular Fred Astaire collaborator, Hermes Pan, built around a production of a musical version of Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew.” Filmed in 3D, and often credited as the first 3D musical (though it was beaten out by Those Redheads From Seattle, released a month earlier), it’s generally considered one of the best Hollywood films made with the polarized 3D technique. The 3D version has screened occasionally at the Castro Theater in San Francisco, where the song “I Hate Men” always gets an uproarious reception. Ann Miller’s “Too Darn Hot” is predictably a knockout, and there’s the witty and funny “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,”

Crossing Delancey (1988)—Tue, Oct 13, 5pm (PT)—is a charming romantic comedy starring Amy Irving as Isabelle Grossman, an upscale, literary woman who gets fixed up by her bubbie and a yenta with a lower East Side pickle vendor, played by Peter Riegert with the same low-key, deadpan comedic style used to such good effect in Bill Forsyth’s 1983 film, Local Hero. If you only know Riegert from Animal House, be sure to check him out in this and especially in the charming, quirky, and terrific Local Hero. And Yiddish stage actor Reizl Bozyk, in her only film appearance, is a revelation as Isabelle’s bubbie.

I’m really fond of this movie. It’s a sweet gem of a romantic comedy, with songs by The Roches, and I don’t understand why it’s shown so rarely. I’m definitely DVRing this one to share with friends.

On Wednesday, Oct 14 at 9pm (PT), TCM is showing A Clockwork Orange (1971)—Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of the book by Anthony Burgess, starring Malcolm McDowell. A trailer—with some brief shots that some may find disturbing—is available here.

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This film is difficult to watch and is considered a landmark in the relaxation of the depiction of violence in mainstream films, though the amount of graphic violence in so much recent cinema may mean it doesn’t seem as extreme now as it did then. But I don’t know—I still find it very hard going, which may be a testament to Kubrick’s skill as a director and to McDowell’s performance. Critical response at the time of its release was somewhat mixed—Pauline Kael thought it was bad pornography—but in the years since, it’s come to be more well regarded, and seen as an important and successful work, and it appears on a number of AFI’s 100 Best lists and on Sight & Sound’s “Greatest Films Poll.”

still-of-malcolm-mcdowell,-warren-clarke-and-james-marcus-in-a-clockwork-orange

It’s a testament to the power of the film, I suppose, and certainly to its penetration into popular culture, that a number of Clockwork Orange costumes are available for purchase, so you can go to parties as a member of Alex’s gang of sociopathic droogs.

On Thursday, Oct 15 at the ungodly hour of 6:45am (PT), you can catch Gold Diggers of 1933, directed by Mervyn LeRoy and featuring Ginger Rogers, the popular musical duo of Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler, great character actors like Guy Kibbee and Ned Sparks, and choreography by Busby Berkeley. A bunch of portmanteau musicals were made in the 1930s, but this is one of the best.

A very different musical is showing at the other end of Thursday, at 11:45pm (PT): The Decline of Western Civilization (1981), Penelope Spheeris‘s documentary about the Los Angeles punk scene of the late 70s and early 80s, with performances by Black Flag, Fear, Circle Jerks, X and more. It’s awesome, and like Crossing Delancey I have no idea why it isn’t shown more often. Like all the time.

Spheeris followed this up with Suburbia (1984), a fiction film set in the same punk milieu, and with two more Decline documentaries, chronicling late 80s heavy metal and the gutter punk scene of the late 90s, respectively. And, oh yeah, she directed Wayne’s World (1992). (So stop ragging on her about the Beverly Hillbillies and Little Rascals movies already.)

Three interesting silent films are showing on Sunday, October 18. At 6:30pm (PT) is a 1916 film version of Sherlock Holmes from Essanay Film. As early as this film is, it isn’t even close to the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes on screen, who is widely considered the most prolifically depicted character in the history of cinema.  Both before and after Sherlock Holmes, at 5pm and 8:45pm (PT) is The Grim Game (1919), one of only five films in which the great escape artist/magician Harry Houdini appears.

Then, at 11:30pm (PT), you can catch The Life of the Party (1920) with Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, who is now best known in relation to one of the most prominent early Hollywood scandals—a party he threw in San Francisco at which a young actress was raped, subsequently dying as a result of injuries sustained. The scandal around this tragedy and the publicity generated by the three trials of Arbuckle for his involvement were a significant factor in the creation a few years later of the Hays Code.

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zerode by nick chapman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Oh - and hello to Jason Isaacs.

The 400 Blows

zerode

is an over-caffeinated and under-employed grad school dropout, aspiring leftwing intellectual and cultural studies academic, cinéaste, and former poet. Raised in San Francisco on classic film, radical politics, burritos and soul music, then set loose upon the world. He spends his time in coffee shops with his laptop and headphones, caffeinating and trying to construct a post-whatever life.

 

What's in a name... The handle "zerode" is a contraction of Zéro de Conduite, the title of Jean Vigo's 1933 movie masterpiece about schoolboy rebellion.

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