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More Star Specials on TCM – Grand Illusion, Red River, Cary Grant… and Dobie Gillis

After today’s Bogart marathon—all day today, 13 films and 1 documentary—TCM’s “Summer Under the Stars” with Jean Gabin on Thursday, Debbie Reynolds on Friday, Montgomery Clift on Saturday and then Cary Grant on Sunday. The program then continues for the remainder of the month (full schedule here).

With stars like that, and more than a dozen of their films each day, there’s no shortage of highlights. Here, though, are some of the highlights of the highlights:

Grand Illusion (1937) – directed by Jean Renoir, with Jean Gabin as a French prisoner in a WWI German camp, commanded by Erich von Stroheim – showing Thursday, Aug 18 at 7pm. One of the great classics of world cinema, Roger Ebert called it “a meditation on the collapse of the old order of European civilization.” It’s followed by another film by Jean Renoir and starring Jean Gabim, La Bete Humaine (1938), based on the novel by Emile Zola.

Singin’ In The Rain (1952) – directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, and starring Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds – showing Friday, Aug 19 at 11:15pm.  Kelly and O’Connor play a couple of song and dance men who are trying to make the transition from silent movies to sound. Reynolds is a club dancer and movie fan. A sparkling script by Betty Comdon and Adolph Green. Roger Ebert says Singin’ “is a transcendent experience, and no one who loves movies can afford to miss it.” Leonard Maltin called it “the greatest movie musical of all time.” Selected as one of top ten films of all times in the Sight & Sound critics’ poll.

And yet… And yet… You’ve probably already seen it, so maybe you should check out The Affairs of Dobie Gillis (1953) with Debbie Reynolds and Bobby Van, Hans Conreid (The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T) and Bob Fosse – showing first in the Debbie Reynolds marathon, at 3am. The film on which the TV series The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, featuring pop culture’s first beatnik, Maynard G. Krebs, was based.

Red River (1948) – directed by Howard Hawks and starring John Wayne and Montgomery Clift in one of the greatest Westerns of all time – showing Saturday, Aug 20 at 10am.

Saturday, August 21, features 13 movies starring the incomparable Cary Grant, including many of his greatest. The top picks:

4:30am: I’m No Angel (1933) – with Mae West

6 am: My Favorite Wife (1940) – with Irene Dunne

12:30pm: The Philadelphia Story (1940) – directed by George Cukor, with Katharine Hepburn and James Stewart

2:30pm: North By Northwest (1959) – Alfred Hitchcock once said that Cary Grant was the only actor he ever loved. The two made four films together, and this is the last.  It might also be the least. It’s spectacular, with some amazing cinematography—including the wonderful shots at UN Plaza and the scene with the crop duster. But it also has Hitchcock’s weakest blonde, Eva Marie Saint—though perhaps she only seems weak in comparison to Grace Kelly, who’d been in Grant and Hitchcock’s previous outing together, the sparkling To Catch a Thief. Still, immensely satisfying.

7:15pm: Only Angels Have Wings (1939) – another one directed by Howard Hawks, and a personal favorite of mine – with Jean Arthur.

1:15am: Bringing Up Baby (1938) – an another by Howard Hawks, probably a personal favorite of just about everyone. The classic screwball comedy starring Grant as a mousy professor and Katharine Hepburn as a scatterbrain heiress. Clearly TCM wanted to finish their day of Cary Grant on a very high note.

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Song of the Day: A Fine Romance

One of the finest songs in one of the two finest of all the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals, Swing Time – from the charming beginning where Fred pretends he can’t dance so he can get a lesson right up to the end, a perfect time, and the chemistry between Rogers and Astaire has never been fresher or more vivid.

Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, “A Fine Romance” – from Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers At RKO: Motion Picture Soundtrack Anthology

The music is by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, and while it may not have the most famous songs of Astaire’s film career, it includes three marvelous numbers. In addition to “Fine Romance,” there’s the Oscar-winning “Way You Look Tonight” and the under-appreciated “Never Gonna Dance.”

Here’s a bit from the beginning, when Astaire is still pretending not to be able to dance:

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Film Noir, the OK Corral, Fred Astaire and the Pink Panther

On TCM in the coming week, Nov 1-7, 2010: some highlights from the schedule, with commentary

Phew. Halloween is over. Just returned from an exhausting trek with a friend and her kids along D Street in Petaluma—jammed sidewalks and houses that had really gone all out with haunted houses, masses of decorations, movies being shown on walls and in windows, sound effects and dry ice fog.

It’s been a busy time for movies as well, this past week, and while I got to see at least one film each with Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf-Man and the Mummy—plus the Creature from the Black Lagoon (which was on AMC a couple of days ago)—there were a couple of Halloween shows I missed. Was the Charlie Brown “Great Pumpkin” special on this week? Anyway, all those monster movies really made me nostalgic for the old “Creature Features” show, where I first saw so many of those films, and lots of science fiction as well. But now, after a week full of frights, we return to our regularly scheduled programming… for a week or two at least, after which the Christmas movies will probably start.

The month of November starts off on TCM with a sort of mini-survey of great, but lesser known genre directors of the post-war period, beginning at 4:15am on November 1:

Dark Passage (1947) directed by Delmar Daves;
White Heat (1949) by Raoul Walsh;
They Live by Night (1949), Nicholas Ray; and
Side Street (1950) by Anthony Mann.

The first three of these are justly considered classics. Walsh is best known for his crime pics; the other three worked in a variety of genres though Mann and Daves did what I think is their best work in Westerns. Ray’s best known film is Rebel Without a Cause with James Dean, but he also directed the famous (at least with film buffs) and somewhat perverse Western Johnny Guitar, with Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden. Yes, yes, I know—you’ve had enough of Westerns. Well, the holidays are more of a time for musicals so you should soon have me banging on at great length about that genre, which really is my favorite.

But the movies showing Monday morning are neither Westerns nor musicals. Besides being an intro to these lesser known but important directors, these films constitute a mini festival of another terrific and quintessentially American genre, film noir. They aren’t among the most powerful or best-known instances of the genre—films like Out of the Past or Double Indemnity—but they are excellent in their own right as well as examples of one of the more interesting and original of American film genres.  White Heat, starring James Cagney, is particularly interesting as a cross between the gangster cycle from the 1930s and film noir. Dark Passage is a chance to see Bogie and Bacall together, always a treat, in a film not directed by Howard Hawks—who introduced the world to them, and them to each other, in To Have and Have Not (1944).

Tuesday Nov 2 is Burt Lancaster day, with seven movies in a row starring that actor, starting at 3am. Two are particularly note-worthy:

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) starring Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, and directed by John Sturges. Yet another version of this oft-told tale, which also served as the basis of John Ford’s masterful western, My Darling Clementine, with Henry Fonda, and the more recent Tombstone with Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer as Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.

Seven Days In May (1964), again with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. Directed by John Frankenheimer, who is probably best known for The Manchurian Candidate (1962), a political thriller about Korean War soldiers brainwashed to act as sleeper assassins. That film stars Frank Sinatra, and there have long been rumors that he squashed distribution and screening of it in the wake of JFK’s assassination. Frakenheimer also directed another controversial film, Seconds, starring Rock Hudson as a man who is given a new face and a new life and then must live a sort of closeted identity. The rumor here is that distribution of this movie was restricted because it cut far too close to the truth of Rock Hudson’s homosexuality, an open secret in Hollywood but unknown to the movie-going public.

Wednesday (Nov 3) is a real change of pace, with musicals playing much of the day. Two good, but not great or well-known ones are showing: Annie Get Your Gun (1950), with Betty Hutton and Howard Keel, and Blue Skies (1946). Annie Get Your Gun is a fairly early example of the sort of musical that would come to dominate from the 1950s on, “integrated musicals”—mostly based on Broadway shows, with settings outside the world of stage and theater, in which people burst into song in their normal surroundings (and in which this is treated as entirely normal rather than deranged behavior). This movie is based very loosely on the life of Annie Oakley, a female sharpshooter from the late 19th Century, and follows the stage musical about her written by Irving Berlin which is notable for having introduced the song, “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” For me, the other standout song in the musical is “Anything You Can Do”—which among other things has a nice feminist slant.

An example of the other main form of musical, the backstage musical, Blue Skies features Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire as two vaudeville stars in love with the same girl, and features the music of Irving Berlin—just like  Holiday Inn (1942), which also starred Astaire and Crosby as two song and dance men in love with the same girl, with songs by Berlin. Blue Skies is not a great musical, but it’s very good, and it has some great numbers—and it’s interesting for other reasons as well.

It was originally meant to be Astaire’s final film, and indeed was billed as “Astaire’s last picture”—but of course he went on to make a dozen more movies over the next two decades, including Royal Wedding, which I wrote about earlier. Some other trivia: Fred Astaire was brought in to replace the dancer originally meant for his part, while Judy Garland, who was originally cast in the role of the girl the two men love, bowed out due to illness. Two years later, Fred Astaire would take the part originally intended for Gene Kelly in Easter Parade—also starring Judy Garland. A funnily literal kind of “musical chairs.”

One of the standout musical numbers in the movie is “Puttin’ on the Ritz”:

The original lyrics to this song—which came out in 1929—seemed a bit racist, or at least controversial, by the time this movie was made, and Fred Astaire reportedly insisted that they be changed. Like other Astaire fans, I think, I feel a bit ambivalent about this musical number, and that great number in Royal Wedding where Astaire dances on the walls and ceiling of his hotel room. These numbers, while great in many respects, rely for that greatness to a certain extent on the special effects used to jazz up Astaire’s routines. I tend to feel that Astaire was a special effect in his own right, all by himself, and that it’s best to see him that way, without the distraction of other, lesser forms of movie magic.

Thursday (Nov 4) features a few movies worth singling out:

Fanny (1961) reunites Leslie Caron and Maurice Chevalier from Gigi (1958)—the musical based on the novel by Colette, that features the song “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” (and which I wrote about in an earlier post on TCM’s weekly schedule). They’re both interesting actors, and Fanny is based on a play by Marcel Pagnol, but I tend to think this film’s only real interest is in relation to the earlier pairing of Caron and Chevalier, which is a flawed but amusing musical. An amusical?

Alfie (1966) – with Michael Caine. Famous film, one of Caine’s most memorable performances and along with his thriller from the previous year, The Ipcress File, the movie that made him a big star. Not screened often enough and not to be missed. The title song was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and is sung by Cher over the film’s closing credits, but it became a hit for British singer Cilla Black in a version released the same time as the film.

Downhill Racer (1969)—an interesting but seldom seen/screened film with Robert Redford that came out the same year as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Friday (Nov 5) has got three movies in a row starring Joel McCrae, produced over the course of a decade, all great movies, all very different, so an interesting way to explore the career of this actor:

The Most Dangerous Game (1932) at 11:30am—with Fay Wray of King Kong fame

Foreign Correspondent (1940) at 12:45pm—directed by Alfred Hitchcock

The Palm Beach Story (1942) at 3pm—with Claudette Colbert and directed by Preston Sturges

In the evening, you can watch one of those famous film epics, this one about World War II rather than Egypt or Rome: The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957), starring Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars, as well as a zillion other great performances) and directed by David Lean—who also did Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago.  Lean had a thing for epics about love and war.

But, perversely, the movie I am most looking forward to from TCM’s screenings this day is another WWII movie that is pretty much the exact opposite of Bridge on the River Kwai—a short, minor B movie, Joe Smith, American (1942), showing at 8:45am—”Nazi spies in search of government secrets kidnap a munitions worker.” One of the many, many films of this kind made during World War II: short—this one comes in at just over an hour—and quickly and cheaply produced, with this one apparently being made in three weeks, and with WWII as both the subject and object. Subject, obviously, in that these movies are about aspects of the war; object in that they all have more or less overt propagandistic aims, and produced quickly and cheaply as part of both wartime austerity and the need for lots and lots of distracting entertainment. These are not movies of moral or political ambiguity, or with depressing outcomes; they are clear about right and wrong, and the good guys come out on top in the end.

I watched another one of these films a few days ago that I had recorded off TCM earlier: The Avengers (1942) with a charming Hugh Williams as a British war correspondent in Norway who gets caught up in thwarting the Nazi occupation. The film features two better known co-stars, Deborah Kerr as the Norwegian love interest and the terrific English actor Ralph Richardson as a veteran reporter whose death covering the war acts as a spur for the main character. Like many of these movies, The Avengers features actual war footage, from newsreels and propaganda films, particularly of Nazis; the quality and style of these movies is such that the newsreel material tends to integrate pretty well.

I know I have been going on about this somewhat, but I want to stress that one of the things that interests me about movies like Joe Smith, American and The Avengers is that it is films like this that compromise the bulk of English-language filmgoing experience over the years. When we only watch Casablanca and It’s a Wonderful Life we don’t get an accurate picture of what movies were like, what they meant and how they meant it, during the golden era of Hollywood and the cinema. If all you want to do is watch great movies, stick with Casablanca; if you want to understand movies and what they mean and meant, then watching films like Joe Smith, American is useful.

In discussing this issue previously, I’ve singled out The Bowery Boys, and there’s another one of their films showing on TCM on Saturday morning (Nov 6): Loose In London (1953)—”The Bowery Boys take on British crooks when one of them thinks he’s inherited a title.” You don’t need to see every Bowery Boys movie by any means, but you should see a couple (though I’m not sure if this is one of the better ones). The one other thing on Saturday I want to highlight is the original Ocean’s Eleven (1960). It’s the Rat Pack: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop. You’ve heard about them, now see them in all their glory. I have to confess I’ve never seen this movie, and am mildly curious.

On Sunday (Nov 7) at 1pm, TCM is showing the second of the original “Pink Panther” movies, A Shot In The Dark (1964). Peter Sellers returns in the role of the bumbling Inspector Clouseau, first introduced in The Pink Panther (1963). Shot in the Dark introduces the two other recurring characters in the original series—Clouseau’s servant, Kato/Cato (Burt Kwouk), with whom Clouseau has highly destructive training bouts, and Commissioner Dreyfus (Herbert Lom) who is eventually driven mad by Clouseau’s many misadventures and sets out to kill him.

The Prime Time Feature on Sunday focuses on the work of the Austrian director Fritz Lang and includes his two greatest movies, both justifiably classics of world cinema: Metropolis (1927) at 5pm and M (1931)at 11:30pm.

Either of these would be an obvious and excellent choice for “must see” movie of the week, but as I have seen them both recently—Metropolis on the big screen twice in past few months—they are not what I would pick for myself. For me, the must see pick is something entirely different: “What’s it all about, Alfie?”

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Horror for Halloween… plus a few musicals

Some of the highlights from TCM’s schedule for the week leading up to Halloween, October 25-31… In addition to all the expected chills and thrills, this week features two wonderful films from the 1950s, Roman Holiday and Black Orpheus, as well as a kind of mini-festival of the work of the choreographer and director Busby Berkeley. Read on for more on the filmic pleasures this week affords…

It’s the week leading up to Halloween and TCM is showing a whole raft of horror and monster movies in celebration. Tonight (Sun. Oct 24) has got the original of them all, pretty much: the very first Dracula movie, F. W. Murnau’s silent masterpiece Nosferatu (1922), followed a bit later by one of the vampire pictures starring Bela Lugosi as Dracula, The Return of the Vampire (1944). (If you miss Nosferatu on TCM, you can watch online at a variety of sites: Google VideoInternet Archive, or YouTube.)

Leaving the horror theme for a moment, three of my all-time favorite movies are showing this Monday (Oct 25). In the very early hours (3:30am PT) is a classic of world cinema: Black Orpheus (1959), directed by Marcel Camus. It relocates the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice—the story of the beautiful singer who descends into the underworld to rescue his love—from ancient Greece to Rio de Janeiro during Carnaval. Black Orpheus won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and the Academy Award and Golden Globe for best foreign film.

The soundtrack introduced many people to bossa nova and Brazilian music, and is perhaps as well known as the film. I’ve known people who owned the soundtrack, but had never seen the movie. In addition to the bossa nova sounds composed Antônio Carlos Jobim, it features a song by Luiz Bonfá, “Manhã de Carnaval” (“Morning of Carnival”), that became something of a hit. The famous San Francisco coffee shop, Caffe Trieste, had this song on their jukebox for many, many years and it was a favorite of the poets and others who frequented the place. (I have to check and see if it is still on the jukebox the next time I am in there.) You can listen to it here.

Later in the day (1:15pm) is the movie that introduced Audrey Hepburn, Roman Holiday (1953)—also starring Gregory Peck and Eddie Albert. Hepburn plays a young princess on an official visit to Rome, who grows tired of the restrictions placed on her and breaks out of her palace to experience something of normal life. And runs into an American wire service reporter played by Peck, who recognizes her, and what a story she represents. I’m not going to say much about this movie except that it makes me more happy than just about any other movie. So happy that I have to limit my viewings, save it for when it is really needed.  The last time I watched it was in Rome, during the same visit on which I watched The Red Shoes. I’m going to hang onto that for a while longer—but there’s no reason you shouldn’t watch it this week. If you have a teenage daughter who’s not hopeless lost to the mindlessness, glitz, and cynicism of contemporary pop culture, you might watch it with her.

Finally, just after midnight (at 12:15) is one of the great backstage musicals, the movie that pretty much defined the genre, 42nd Street (1933)—with Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler, Guy Kibbee, and Ginger Rogers, before she became a huge star partnering with Fred Astaire. The choreography is by Busby Berkeley. Beyond defining the “backstage musical,” this film really set the stage (if you’ll forgive the pun) for all the musicals of the 1930s and 1940s. Crucial viewing for anyone with an interest in the genre.

A lot of people have heard of Busby Berkeley and have an idea of what his stage numbers are like—the geometrically choreographed arrangements of ranks of chorines and all that—but have never actually seen a Busby Berkeley film. If that’s you, you can find out what you’re missing this week with five other films, three directed by Berkeley, in addition to 42nd Street: Hollywood Hotel (1937) starring Dick Powell, is showing Monday night; (10:15pm); I Live For Love (1935) featuring Dolores del Rio is on late Monday/early Tuesday (1:45am); Gold Diggers Of 1935 (1935), with Powell and Adolphe Menjou, is on at midnight Wednesday (Oct 27); and Gold Diggers of 1937 (1936)—the fourth in the “Gold Diggers” series from Warner Bros.—on Wednesday night/Thursday morning (Oct 28, 1:45am).

But the standout film, the other one to watch in addition to 42nd Street, is on Wednesday night (Oct 27, 10:15pm): the second in the “Gold Diggers” series, Gold Diggers Of 1933 (1933). If you watch both it and 42nd Street, you might feel a certain deja vu—they have almost identical casts, and some strong similarities in the Busby Berkeley numbers. But they are both marvelous and must sees for anyone with an interest in musicals or movies of the 1930s.

Tuesday (Oct 26) features a whole raft of baseball pictures, presumably in honor of the World Series. I have nothing to say about any of them. I’m not sure what my favorite baseball picture is—it might be The Sandlot (1993), a kid’s picture about backlot baseball and childhood, or maybe Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1949), directed by Busby Berkeley (!) and starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. But whatever it is, it’s not Field of Dreams. They may have built it, but I just don’t come… The show that comes to mind as having one of the best depictions of the love of baseball is not a movie at all, but rather an episode of the TV show, The X-Files: “The Unnatural,” from Season 6, one of the most popular episodes, in which Mulder learns about an alien who disguised himself as a black minor league ball player back in the 1940s.

Thursday morning has got a half dozen films starring Rosalind Russell—though not my favorite, His Girl Friday, which they showed a few weeks back…

Friday (Oct 29) is all horror, all day. Most of them are minor pictures, but a few are worth considering, for instance for their place in film history or the career of interesting actors and directors. Like Doctor X (1932), showing at 3am Thursday night/Friday morning, starring Fay Wray, who became a big star with another of her pictures from the same year, King Kong. Doctor X was directed by Michael Curtiz, who would go on to direct The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and, of course, Casablanca (1942).

Friday evening is the latest, and presumably the last, installment in TCM’s focus on Hammer Horror—this time featuring four of their Frankenstein pictures, all directed by Terence Fisher and starring Peter Cushing. The first is the best: The Curse of Frankenstein (1957).

The screams continue Saturday, beginning with three relatively minor Boris Karloff pics in the predawn hours. These are followed at 7:30am by The Bowery Boys Meet The Monsters (1954). I haven’t seen this, but I pretty much always enjoy the Bowery Boys and I want to push them on you as another aspect of the now past, traditional culture of American movies—the classic Hollywood of the studio system and the movie-going that went with it. Luxurious movie palaces and b-movies, double features, shorts and news reels, everyone going to the movies, often more than once a week. It’s a lost world, for all sorts of reasons, and I miss it—even though it was lost before I was born. Watching these old movies, these not famous features, short films and b-movies, gives us just a hint of what that moment and experience might have been like.

The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters is a sort of “team up” movie, of which their are a number around this time, in which a couple of studio properties are combined in one picture, generally a quickie designed to make some money and fill up the schedule. Another famous comedy film team, Abbott and Costello, did a bunch of these, the first of which is probably the model for the Bowery Boys film: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), in which the duo encounter not only the titular monster, but Dracula and the Wolf-man as well. Predictably, horrible hijinks ensue.

I somehow saw this movie when I was around five or six and had nightmares for years that were based on an extended sequence—played for laughs in the movie, obviously—in which the monsters chase Abbott and Costello around the castle. Something to keep in mind during this week of horror movies if you have children. Even the jokey ones can scare very young and impressionable children.

The Bowery Boys are followed by five films directed by the cult director of b-movie horror, William Castle, including one of his most well-known, Mr. Sardonicus (1961). Castle is probably best remembered these days for a film showing on TCM the following day, The Tingler (1959)—but not for the movie itself so much as one of his characteristic gimmicks which he used to promote it: seats were reportedly wired to provide a shock at certain key moments. (Actually, the seats were simply equipped with giant versions of joy buzzers, rather than being actually wired.)

5pm on Saturday is a classic, one of the best of all the “horror” movies showing this week, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) with Charles Laughton. There have been a number of versions of Victor Hugo’s “Hunchback” over the years: this one, the earlier silent version with Lon Chaney Sr, the later Disney animated retelling, a surprising number of other movie versions, a musical, even a couple of TV series. The silent version is considered by many to be a masterpiece, rightly so, but I think this movie is the standard, the one most people think of, visualize, when hearing the name. Well, older people. I suppose it’s been supplanted by the Disney version for younger crowds.

Finally at 11pm on Saturday, TCM is showing Cat People (1942) again, the quirky Jacques Tourneur psychological horror film. Tourneur’s follow-up, The Leopard Man (1943), is showing a bit later at 2am.

Halloween—Sunday, Oct 31—is, of course, given over to horror movies, mostly lesser known and somewhat cheesy ones, but with some real gems. There’s a few by Tod Browing, William Castle’s The Tingler, a few by that other famous b-movie maker, Roger Corman, and five in a row starring Vincent Price. The standouts are:

  • Freaks (1932) – 3:15am – the cult classic directed by Tod Browning
  • The Tingler (1959) – 12 noon – starring Vincent Price and directed by William Castle; don’t wire your seats – that’s dangerous – but you could lick a nine volt battery at strategic moments; not a great movie, or even a great b-movie, in my estimation – watch for film buff points
  • House Of Wax (1953) – 3:15pm – “A scarred sculptor re-populates his ravaged wax museum with human corpses” – Vincent Price in perhaps the most famous horror picture he made during this period; a “must see” if you have any interest in this sort of thing – but definitely too scary for anyone under the age of around 13

The evening’s focus is on haunted houses and it has two of the classics of the genre: House On Haunted Hill (1959), another one directed by William Castle and starring Vincent Price, at 5pm; and The Haunting (1963), a terrific movie directed by Robert Wise, about a team of psychic investigators who go to investigate a haunted house, which then destroys them.

These are followed by a more modern version of the haunted house story, a suburban nightmare: Poltergeist (1982), starring Craig T. Nelson and Jobeth Williams, and directed by Tobe Hooper (best known for the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre—ick). Poltergeist is often thought of as a Steven Spielberg film—understandable since he wrote the story and screenplay, and produced, but more than that, the movie powerfully reflects his characteristic interests and shows a lot of his directorial style; there’s actually a bit of controversy over just how big a role Spielberg had in the directing, but you can judge for yourself if you watch. Does it seem more like ET or Texas Chainsaw?

There are other great movies showing this week, of course—like Mildred Peirce on Wednesday evening and Rebecca (1940), starring Laurence Oliver, on Thursday. But you’ve probably seen them already or at least heard of them—I feel like it’s more important to draw your attention to Black Orpheus, Busby Berkeley and the Bowery Boys.

The obvious “must see”—must see again and again, really—is Black Orpheus.

Limiting it to the horror films, the “must sees” are, I think, Nosferatu, House Of Wax, The Haunting, and The Curse of Frankenstein. You have to watch at least one movie with one of the classic monsters—Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf-man—to honor the holiday. I’m not including The Hunchback of Notre Dame because it feels only marginally like a horror movie, and doesn’t really have that Halloween quality.

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On TCM Oct 4-10: Tony Curtis, Musicals, Science Fiction, Garbo

As I’m sure you’ve already heard, Tony Curtis died a few days ago, on September 29. TCM is devoting Sunday, October 10, to a memorial to this wonderful actor. They’re showing a dozen of his movies, including some of his greatest: The Defiant Ones (1958), with Sidney Poitier, and Operation Petticoat (1959), directed by Blake Edwards and starring Cary Grant.  Okay, the latter is probably not really one of his “greatest”—except maybe to me—but it’s a charming comedy and if you haven’t seen it, you’re in for a treat. The Defiant Ones is a more generally accepted “great”—a gritty film, directed by Stanley Kramer, with one of the best performances of Curtis’ career.

If possible, you should round out your own Tony Curtis tribute by watching Some Like It Hot (1959), the brilliant comic masterpiece, “one of the funniest pictures ever made” (Phillip French), co-starring Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe and directed by Billy Wilder.

Well, I said that despite all my attention to Westerns, I actually prefer other genres, particularly the musical. And, as if to help me prove my claim, TCM is showing a batch of musicals on Monday morning (Oct 4): Kiss Me Kate (1953), The Eddy Duchin Story (1956), Pal Joey (1957), and Bye Bye Birdie (1963). These were all directed by George Sidney and are part of a full morning devoted to that director. They aren’t great musicals—TCM’s catalog is a bit thin when it comes to musicals—but they are not without interest—in particular, the first and last.

Kiss Me Kate (1953) is a “backstage musical”—a musical about putting on a musical, generally a stage musical. (Singin’ in the Rain is a sort of backstage musical film about the making of a musical film.) In this case, it’s about a theatre company putting on a stage musical version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. That musical version of “Shrew” doesn’t really exist, but the movie is a filmed version of a stage musical:

Kiss Me, Kate is a musical with music and lyrics by Cole Porter. It is structured as a play within a play, where the interior play is a musical version of William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. The original production starred Alfred Drake, Patricia Morison, Lisa Kirk and Harold Lang….

Kiss Me, Kate was a response to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! and other integrated musicals, and it proved to be his biggest hit and the only one of his shows to run for more than 1,000 performances on Broadway. It won the first Tony Award presented for Best Musical, in 1949. (via Wikipedia.)

In an “integrated musical,” the songs and production numbers are incorporated into the narrative – people burst into song and dance wherever they happen to be, as if this were natural – as opposed to performing on stage, which is how musical numbers are generally shown in backstage musicals such as Kiss Me, Kate. Classic integrated musicals include, in addition to Oklahoma!, On the Town (1949) and An American in Paris (1951) – both starring Gene Kelly and produced by Arthur Freed. Also starring Kelly and produced by Freed, Singin’ in the Rain (1952) is generally considered an integrated musical, but has elements of backstage musical about it, and it can be argued that the film is working consciously on—commenting on—the distinction.

Sometimes mentioned as another subgenre of the musicals, the “backyard musical” – as epitomized by Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney films such as Babes in Arms (1939) – is really a kind of backstage musical in which the musical is put on in a more ad hoc situation – kids getting together to “put on a show” in the barn or backyard.

As befits a musical written by Cole Porter, there are some sparkling, witty songs in Kiss Me, Kate – including “Too Darn Hot” and “So in Love.” The song “I Hate Men” always gets a big audience response when this film shows at the Castro Theatre, as it has done a number of times. My favorite song, though, is “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” – which is sung by a couple of lovable gangsters… Here it is being done by Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, stars of the TV version of The Odd Couple.

I’ve written about Bye Bye Birdie (1963) previously, albeit briefly – a hoot of a movie starring Ann-Margaret and Dick Van Dyke – a comedic loose retelling of Elvis fandom’s response to him joining the Army.

Monday evening features a TCM Spotlight on “Critics Picks” which includes two must-see movies: Touch Of Evil (1958), a terrific Orson Welles movie starring Charlton Heston with a cameo by Marlene Dietrich that I think is her last screen appearance, and I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang (1932), a grim “pre-Code” classic that is important to both the gangster and film noir genres.

On Tuesday night (Oct 5) at 11:15pm you might want to check out …Tick…Tick…Tick (1970), starring Jim Brown, who had a distinguished career as a football player before going on to do a number of films, including some blaxploitation classics that established him as something of a black cultural icon. This one seems to be kind of forgotten—I’d never heard of it before—and it sounds like it doesn’t fit entirely within the blaxploitation genre, but it may be worth watching for any fan of that genre.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the the less-well known screwball gem Nothing Sacred and the marvelous Carole Lombard. Lucky us: on Wednesday (Oct 6), TCM is featuring a “Birthday Tribute” to Lombard, with seven of her films, including a real masterpiece: Twentieth Century (1934), directed by Howard Hawks (and you know how I feel about him). If you can only watch one other film from this tribute, it should probably be Fools For Scandal (1938). As I said previously, few things in life give as much pleasure as the comedies of the 1930s.

And talk about embarrassment of riches! After that day of Carole Lombard, TCM is showing a selection of some of the greatest movies of all time on Wednesday night: Citizen Kane (1941), Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957), The Third Man (1949)—directed by Carol Reed and starring Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles—and the two final films of the great Max OphülsThe Earrings of Madame De… (1954) and Lola Montes (1955). Reviewing Earrings as one of his “great movies,” Roger Ebert wrote of Ophüls:

His films are one of the great pleasures of the cinema. ”Madame de…” is equaled by ”La Ronde” (1950) and ”Lola Montes” (1955) as movies whose surfaces are a voluptuous pleasure to watch, regardless of whether you choose to plunge into their depths.

I’m not really sure what to say about an evening line-up like that. It’s almost too much. Except for Lola Montes, all are reviewed by Roger Ebert for his series of “great movies”: Citizen Kane, The Seventh Sea, Earrings and The Third Man. Among other things, three of these movies have truly amazing b&w cinematography. However, gushing aside, none of these movies should really be seen on the little screen for the first time—so if you haven’t seen them already, and think you have any chance of seeing them in a proper movie theater, don’t watch them here.

TCM really is working to help me dispel any sense that the Western is the only genre to which I’m devoted. They started the week with a selection of musicals—which I love—followed it with some great screwball from Carole Lombard, and on Thursday (Oct 7) the “Prime Time Feature” is devoted to a selection of films from another of my favorite genres, science fiction. Their “Adventures in Space” features two of the classics of the genre, Forbidden Planet (1956) at 5pm (a bit early for prime time…) and Alien (1979). Not a classic, but something you’re more likely not to have already seen is From The Earth To The Moon (1958), starring Joseph Cotten (from The Third Man), Debra Paget and George Sanders, showing at 1:15am.

Since we’re talking about Forbidden Planet, I want to mention that on Monday night/Tuesday morning at 2:30am TCM is showing MGM Parade Show #28 (1955), in which one of the film’s stars, Walter Pidgeon, interviews one of the most memorable of the film’s many attractions, Robby the Robot.

Alien (1979) was the second film directed by Ridley Scott and it made his reputation. He followed it with another science fiction classic, Blade Runner (1982), based on a novel by Philip K. Dick and starring Harrison Ford. It’s an extraordinary pair of films: both very successful—eventually—and extraordinarily influential. Blade Runner became a touch point in cultural criticism, and Alien spawned a whole franchise, which is notable among other things for having a sequel—Aliens (1986), directed by James Cameron—that is an excellent movie in its own right, one of the very few exceptions to the rule that movie sequels suck.

Weirdly, Scott hasn’t done a science fiction film since those two. Despite lots of commercial success (read, filthy lucre) and three Oscar nominations, I would argue he hasn’t done anything as good since then. Both films are among Ebert’s “great movies,” but none of Scott’s other work. You’d think he’d be tempted to revisit the genre for the success and acclaim it brought him.

Friday night features another collection of horror films from Hammer. Not Dracula films, with which that studio is most strongly associated, but some lesser know movies, among which the standout might be The Gorgon (1964), with both of the Hammer Horror stalwarts, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Perhaps because I grew up watching Creature Features and going to see double-bills of classic movies at rep cinema houses like Berkeley’s UC Theater, I think horror movies are best watched in pairs; four in a row might be a bit much, but a chance to see a big chunk of Hammer Horror, late on a Friday night, is not to be missed.

However, the real gem on Friday is earlier in the day (8:30am) and of a very different character: Queen Christina (1933), with Greta Garbo. For me, it is a toss-up which is greater—this or Garbo’s later masterpiece, Ninotchka (1939). Both… Well, I love these movies to distraction. In Queen Christina, Garbo plays the Queen of Sweden (a real historical figure) during the time of the Thirty Years’ War. Proud and lonely. Out riding one day, incognito and dressed as a young man, she chances upon the Spanish envoy Antonio, played by John Gilbert. The two strike up a friendship that turns to passion. Antonio is vastly relieved to discover that this person he has fallen for is in fact a woman rather than a young man, though he only discovers the full truth of her identity after their night together. The two fall in love, but ultimately Christina must choose between her love and her throne.

Queen Christina was the subject of one of the better volumes of the generally excellent BFI Film Classics series of short books of critical commentary (here). It’s a movie worthy of careful study, but I find that the heart of it—Garbo’s performance—defies analysis. One of the most acute discussions of Garbo is by the French philosopher and cultural theorist, Roland Barthes, in “The Face of Garbo” (collected in Mythologies) where he writes specifically on Queen Christina:

Garbo still belongs to that moment in cinema when capturing the human face still plunged audiences into the deepest ecstasy, when one literally lost oneself in a human image as one would in a philtre, when the face represented a kind of absolute state of the flesh, which could be neither reached nor renounced.

Comparing Garbo to Hepburn, he concluded “Garbo’s singularity was of the order of the concept, that of Audrey Hepburn is of the order of the substance. The face of Garbo is an Idea, that of Hepburn an Event.”

Queen Christina features two of the biggest stars of the silent screen in talking roles—John Gilbert starring alongside Garbo, in his second-to-last screen appearance and one of only a handful from the talkies. Garbo and Gilbert had made three silent films together and also had a very public relationship for a time, though ultimately Garbo left Gilbert. It’s instructive to see these two silent greats side by side. For me, Gilbert and his acting style don’t really work. They seem anachronistic here, dreadfully so at times, while whatever it was about Garbo—her face, that Idea that “plunged audiences into the deepest ecstasy”—still works absolutely, then as it does now.

Gilbert’s performances in his few talkies were so out of step with the times that his ardent wooing in an earlier sound film, His Glorious Night (1929), was laughed off the screen by audiences—an event recreated, wonderfully, in Singin’ in the Rain, where Gene Kelly plays a character that seems in part based on Gilbert, but who makes the transition to talkies successfully—by singing and dancing.

Weirdly (though perhaps it was planned), a bit later in the day on Friday TCM is showing the musical remake/retelling of Ninotchka, Silk Stockings (1957). Actually, it’s not so weird: both Queen Christina and Silk Stockings were directed by Rouben Mamoulian and are being shown as part of a selection of five movies from this director.

Silk Stockings stars Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. I love musicals and adore Fred Astaire, but I’ve never really warmed to this movie. I suppose in part precisely because it is a remake of Ninotchka, for which I have so much affection. There’s another one of these pairs of great movie + disappointing musical remake: The Philadelphia Story (1940) with Katherine Hepburn, James Stewart and Cary Grant, was remade as High Society (1956), with Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. Both of these pairs are proof of another rule of movies that—like sequels—remakes usually suck. It’s a hard thing to say about movies with such sparkling casts, but both Silk Stockings and High Society seem like pale imitations of the films they remake. They don’t suck, but don’t come close to measuring up to the antecedents. Then again, how could they?

As a side note, in The Philadelphia Story, there’s quite a famous scene in which the reporter played by James Stewart, Macaulay Connor, woos Katherine Hepburn as Tracy Lord, telling her that there’s

A magnificence that comes out of your eyes, in your voice, in the way you stand there, in the way you walk. You’re lit from within, Tracy. You’ve got fires banked down in you, hearth-fires and holocausts.

I’ve never much cared for this. It doesn’t really seem to me to capture precisely what is so engaging, so magnificent about Hepburn/Tracy Lord, “holocausts” in particular striking a wrong note. And it seems a bit over the top, a bit much in this movie, even for a writer of fiction like Connor. It might work better, I think, if applied to Garbo, and as dialogue it seems more suited to the stilted Gilbert than the lithe, lanky Stewart.

Friday’s going to be a busy day for me (or my TiVo thing). Prior to the run of Rouben Mamoulian films, TCM is showing a selection of three minor movies by Howard Hawks (again, you know how I feel about him): The Criminal Code (1931), Barbary Coast (1935) and Come And Get It (1936).

Saturday (Oct 9) has got two must see movies: The Public Enemy (1931) at 11am; and Grand Hotel (1932) at 1am.  (They’re also showing Hitchcock’s Strangers On A Train (1951) and Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) with Humphrey Bogart, but you hardly need me to tell you about these.)

The Public Enemy was one of the films whose scandalous qualities contributed to the climate that led to the notorious Production Code a few years later. It features a knock-out performance by James Cagney—who’s never been a better gangster, and never been bettered as a gangster by anyone really. And it’s one of the key films, archetypal, in the gangster genre/cycle that was so big in the early 1930s. Like that classic from another genre that I wrote about a few days ago, The Thing, it was designated by the Library of Congress as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected for preservation by the National Film Registry. Grand Hotel stars Greta Garbo and is the source of her so often quoted line, “I vant to be alone.” What more could you need to know?

On a week with so many masterpieces—with Citizen Kane, Alien, Ingrid Bergman, Hitchcock and Howard Hawks—it’s impossible to pick a single movie of the week, but nonetheless: Queen Christina. Sublime.

For more…

Filed under: Movies, , , , ,

Fred Astaire’s “Royal Wedding”

An excuse to stay up late (which I never need) or, I suppose, get up early—or once again to simply set your recorder: TCM is showing Royal Wedding (1951) with Fred Astaire at 5am PT on Sunday (12 September).  Actually, that would never be staying up late, would it? That’s staying up all night. So TiVo that sucker.

Royal Wedding is a curious beastie. It’s a pretty late musical—1951—that feels like it was made much earlier. More like a 1930s or 1940s musical—not in any easily definable way, just in the overall feel. Though it is in colour. A strange and enjoyable cast with, in addition to Astaire, Jane Powell and Peter Lawford. But for me, the thing that makes this an important film (though of course anything with Astaire is important, if for no other reason than simply joy) is its director: Stanley Donen.

This film was his second outing as a director, the first being his work as co-director with Gene Kelley in On the Town (1949), one of the greatest musicals ever. Donen would go on to direct Singin’ in the Rain (1952), Funny Face (1957), The Pajama Game (1957), Indiscreet (1958), Charade (1963) and Bedazzled (1967), among other films. It’s a wonderful career, full of pleasure, and clearly indebted to Donen’s beginnings on stage as a song-and-dance man, and his skills as a choreographer.

In my opinion, Donen has never received anything like the acclaim and critical attention he deserves. Astonishingly, he was never nominated for an Academy Award, though he was given an honorary Oscar in 1998—a long-overdue recognition. His acceptance was one of the great moments in Academy Award history, Donen dancing with his Oscar statue while singing Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek.”

If Donen was behind the camera “the King of the Hollywood musicals” as some have argued, Fred Astaire was King on the screen, the embodiment of the purest strain of the American musical film, and the most graceful presence—and one of the most joyous—ever seen in cinema. Donen directed him twice: here, in Royal Wedding, and a few years later in Funny Face with Audrey Hepburn, on whom Donen clearly doted, directing her to great effect in three films. Funny Face is wonderful in all sorts of ways—Kay Thompson, “Think Pink” and “Bonjour, Paris!” to pick just three—but flawed as well, marred in particular by the disturbing disparity between Astaire and Hepburn, particularly in terms of age. So Royal Wedding stands out as the key pairing of Donen and Astaire, these two crucial figures in the history of the American musical.

And as befits a pairing of such terrific song and dance men, Royal Wedding has two of the most wonderful dances ever filmed with Fred Astaire, which is really saying something: Fred Astaire dancing on the walls and ceiling of his hotel room, weightless with joy; and his equally famous dance with a coat rack for a partner, an essay in dance:

This latter sequence could serve as a rebuttal to those who diminish Astaire’s achievements by noting that Ginger Rogers did everything he did, backwards, in high heels. Here, Astaire shows how in his arms even a coat rack can be imbued with grace. Not to diminish Rogers’ work—she was certainly no coat rack; she was a good dancer and a gifted comic actress, but she was also no Astaire, and never looked anywhere near as elegant or graceful in her other films as she did in his arms.

(When you’ve finished watching Royal Wedding, have brunch and go for a walk in the park—and then come home for perhaps the best Lassie film, Lassie Come Home (1943) with Roddy McDowell, showing at 11:30am PT. Then you’ve just got time for  lunch and another walk before one of the very best of the Spenser Tracy-Katherine Hepburn films, Pat And Mike (1952), directed by George Cukor (and featuring a brief appearance by a young actor who would go on to fame as Charles Bronson). What a nice way to spend your Sunday.)

Filed under: Movies, , ,

Growing Up in the Dark: movies and memories in San Francisco

The 1970s seem, in retrospect, like a sort of Golden Age for San Francisco film buffs. There were second-run movie houses and rep theaters all over town showing an incredible and constantly changing array of foreign, art and classic movies – like the wonderful UC Theater in Berkeley and Castro Theatre in San Francisco, as well as smaller places like the Fine Arts, Roxie, Red Vic, Lumiere and Cento Cedar Cinema, or the theaters along Mission St. like the Grand and Cine Latino that showed Spanish-language, kung fu and blaxploitation films. And the two non-network TV stations, Channel 2 and Channel 44, showed old movies regularly, as an important part of their line-up, during the week and almost to the exclusion of anything else on the weekends.

So as a pre-teen and teenager I got to see The Harder They Come, Ealing Studio comedies and Murmur of the Heart at local theaters – the latter, as you might imagine, having a pretty seismic effect on my adolescent psyche. I saw an Errol Flynn double-bill of The Sea Hawk and The Adventures of Robin Hood at the Cento Cedar that was, I am sure, a major factor in my developing a lifelong passion for the movies – not to mention for that Robin Hood in particular. (I also went to the first screening of Star Wars, first show, first day, at the enormous Coronet – we cut school. But that’s another story.)

I had my first encounter with Laurel and Hardy and Our Gang at the Lumiere when it was still under construction. The screen was simply a large sheet of material attached to the brick wall at one end of the medium-sized commercial space they were renovating. The projector was on scaffolding at the other end. In between, on the rough floor, sat friends and neighborhood kids. I didn’t appreciate at the time how closely that movie-going experience resembled the earliest days of the cinema, the very first movie theaters – primitive affairs, like the Lumiere, in working-class neighborhoods, with basic screens and projectors and in between benches for the audience. A piano off in the corner to accompany the silent films. When I started reading about the early history of film in the United States, it was with a sense of recognition.

The weekends… All those weekends when I would stay at home glued to the TV for much of the day. It was a crappy black-and-white set, but that wasn’t too much of a problem since most of the movies I was watching were black-and-white. (And though I wasn’t aware of this at the time, they were also films shot in a format, with a screen ratio, fairly close to that of the TV set – so I wasn’t missing out on big chunks of the movies, the way you did on a normal TV set with movies shot later.)

Weekends begin on Friday night, of course, and in the Bay Area at the time, Friday nights had one of the great movie shows of all time: Creature Features, hosted by Bob Wilkins. The typical Creature Features program that I recall consisted of two movies and one or more shorts. For a while, the show featured episodes of the Japanese series Ultraman, which I loved – so much cooler than anything on US television at the time. The main attractions covered the full-range of science fiction, fantasy and horror films. It was Creature Features that introduced me to Godzilla and Gamera, Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee, The Cat People and Island of Dr. Moreau, and a whole host of monsters and nightmares: the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, giant mutant shrews, the Mummy, Them and the Thing.

Saturdays and Sundays I discovered many of the famous pairings of film: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Bogie and Bacall, Spenser Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, Nick and Nora Charles in the “Thin Man” films, Abbott and Costello. And lots and lots of Westerns. So many Westerns.

A bit later, when I was an older movie buff in my late teens and early twenties, going to the cinema with friends who were also into movies, I began to get a sense of how lucky I was to have been able to see all those Westerns, one of the key genres of American Film. Because while rep theaters like the UC might show old musicals and comedies on a regular basis, and famous pairings like Bogie and Bacall were a staple of their schedule along with the great movies of world cinema, Westerns got comparatively little screen time.

Science fiction, fantasy and horror films – my favorite genre as a kid – faired better. I can remember a sci fi festival at the Taravel Theater, long gone, where they showed nothing but old science fiction and monster movies, back to back, for an entire weekend. My best friend and I stuffed our backpacks with supplies, grabbed some extra cushions for the seats, and spent most of that Saturday and Sunday in the dark, in the Taravel, reveling in Frankenstein and the Wolfman, giant mutant bugs and lizards, robots and flying saucers.

But when it came to Westerns, out of that vast back catalog, only the “usual suspects” tended to be shown at the theater. Great films, of course – there are so many great Westerns – John Ford, John Wayne, Stagecoach, High Noon – but I think I loved them more because of the hours and hours of Oaters I watched on TV. I suppose many if not most of those Westerns are available now on DVD, but for a long time it seemed like I had been given a rare privilege that few others would have in seeing all those B-movie Westerns. (These days, I sometimes have a glimmer of the same feeling when the ABC shows old British B-movies, with actors I’ve never seen or heard of, in the midnight time slot.)

Despite the privilege of seeing all those Westerns, they were never my favorite genre. Acceptable and enjoyable – unlike the film noir which as a kid I was not into (a regrettable lapse of judgement but forgivable because of my youth and inexperience). What I loved and lived for, what I had posters of up on my wall and acted out in the parks and playgrounds, were all those fantasy, adventure and science fiction films. After seeing Errol Flynn in Captain Blood, I managed to stab myself in the leg with a kitchen knife while pretend sword-fighting. The irony of the blood was lost on me at the time.

My love of musicals – and of Fred Astaire in particular – was something I kept a bit more quiet. Science fiction was the staple of our diet as adolescent boys, and comedies were, well, fun, but my pleasure in musicals was not as widely or as deeply shared. But of all my friends, the ones who grew up with a strong passion for film – who went on like me to pursue that interest as adults – were the ones who enjoyed musicals. There is a deep and fundamental connection between the musical and film. You can read science fiction novels, or mysteries, or Zane Grey. You can listen to thrillers and comedies on the radio. But the musical… the musical only exists on stage and, in its purest and greatest form, on screen.

The passion I have for film I owe to growing up in such a privileged – for movie-watching, and of course in many other ways – time and place. I owe it to Creature Features and to the programmers at Channels 2 and 44, and to the Cento Cedar Cinema and UC Theater. Likewise my love for particular films – both the great and the guilty pleasures. Indelible impressions: seeing Errol Flynn as Robin Hood for the first time; Bogie and Bacall in The Big Sleep; Peter Sellars in The Mouse That Roared; the love theme from Doctor Zhivago; the heaven sequence in A Matter of Life and Death; a Bruce Lee double-bill on Mission St.; spinach tennis in Murmur of the Heart; Godzilla teaching Baby Godzilla to breathe flame; Danny Kaye’s double role in Wonder Man; Bing Crosby singing “Would You Like to Sing on a Star”; Fred Astaire dancing.

(For more info on some of San Francisco’s old movie theaters, see: San Francisco’s Legacy Movie Houses.)

Filed under: Autobiography, Bay Area, Movies, , , ,



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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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