Wednesday, December 31, 2008

NEW YEAR'S EVE. As we prepare to put 2008 safely in our rearview mirrors, we can only take a deep breath and hope that 2009 is a little less rough for all of us. Most people I know have been through a hell of a lot this year and I just wanted to wish you all a much better new year. Coincidentally, this just happens to be the 600th post on this blog and in the spirit of new beginnings I'd like to start right here with a little feature I hope to continue all through 2009. Here goes...
One of my favourite books as a kid was the Duncan Emrich compiled treasure trove called THE HODGEPODGE BOOK (seen here on a background of a quilt my grandmother made before I was even born) which contained, according to the cover blurb, "all manner of curious, interesting, and out-of-the-way information drawn from American Folklore". It was this book that probably peaked my interest in folklore very early. In the author's own words: "There are things in this Hodgepodge which are very, very true, or almost always true. For example: 'A bee never gets wet', or 'Rain before seven, stop before eleven,' or 'A penny saved is a penny earned.' Then there are other things here which are true, but in a different sort of way. Examples: 'A ghost is never seen without mittens,' (Have you ever seen one without mittens?), or 'If you can keep your tongue out of the hole where a tooth has been pulled, a gold tooth will grow in its place'. And then there are other things which are halfway between. You can believe them or not. 'If you want to get rid of your freckles, wash your face with buttermilk'..." And so on. The book, then, is filled with old-timey wisdom and folklore which to my mind always evoked the Victorian age and VERY early 20th century. Think of the movie "Meet Me in St. Louis" and you've got the image. So I hope to dig out folky wisdom throughout the year appropriate to the time or season and post them here for your amusement or edification. And since this 1972 out-of-print book was written for children, you can share these with the little munchkins in your life.
That leaves us with New Year's Eve. That's where I'm going to start. According to The Hodgepodge Book:
  • On New Year's Eve place a loaf of bread, a silver dollar, and some salt on the table, and you will have bread, money, and good luck throughout the coming year.
  • Just before midnight on New Year's Eve, set a tub of water out in the yard and into it drop a penny. You will be lucky in money matters for the next year.
  • Watch closely at midnight on New Year's Eve and you can see an old man leave your house and a young child enter.
  • On New Year's Eve, sleep with a horseshoe under your pillow and at midnight, when the bells are ringing, make a wish.
  • Ring out the old,
  • Ring in the new,
  • Ring out the false,
  • Ring in the true!

There you have it; straight from The Hodgepodge Book which, again according to the author, emphasizes "...beliefs and superstitions . . . customs and traditions belonging particularly to children and which contribute to making up their very special and delightful world". I hope these wonderful, old-fashioned excerpts will appeal to the child in all of us. Join me back here tomorrow for New Year's Day!

Friday, December 26, 2008

THE BUTCHER'S BILL 2008. As is my custom at every year's end, I take time out to remember those who have departed during the preceding year. And as a special addition, this being the first year I've done this during the existence of our sister audio blog, you will be able to go over to BATHED IN THE LIGHT FROM ANDROMEDA and listen to those musicians who died during 2008. But for now, here is a list of those we've lost in 2008:
  • MORT GARSON, musician/songwriter "Our Day Will Come", "The Wozard of Iz"
  • MAILA NURMI, actress "Plan 9 From Outer Space", "Vampira the Movie"
  • SIR EDMUND HILLARY, explorer
  • BRAD RENFRO, actor "The Client"
  • REVERAND LYNN LEMON, actor "Plan 9 From Outer Space"
  • BOBBY FISCHER, chess player
  • GEORGE KEYMAS, actor "Twilight Zone - Eye of the Beholder"
  • CAROLE LYNN, actress "The Ghost Train"
  • ALLAN MELVIN, actor "The Brady Bunch", "All in the Family"
  • LOIS NETTLETON, actress "Twilight Zone - The Midnight Sun"
  • SUZANNE PLESHETTE, actress "The Birds", "The Bob Newhart Show"
  • ROBERT DOQUI, actor "Coffy"
  • SHELL KEPLER, actress "General Hospital"
  • JOHN STEWART, folk singer "The Kingston Trio"
  • HEATH LEDGER, actor "The Dark Knight", "Brokeback Mountain"
  • MARGARET TRUMAN, author /daughter of Harry S. Truman
  • BARRY MORSE, actor "Space: 1999", "The Fugitive"
  • MAHARISHI MAHESH YOGI, guru
  • JOHN MCWETHY, ABC news reporter
  • ROY SCHEIDER, actor "Jaws"
  • STEVE GERBER, comic book writer "Howard the Duck", "The Defenders"
  • DAVID GROH, actor "Rhoda"
  • PERRY LOPEZ, actor "Chinatown", "The Two Jakes"
  • JOE GIBBS, reggae producer
  • BEN CHAPMAN, actor "Creature from the Black Lagoon"
  • STEVE WHITAKER, comic book colorist "V For Vendetta"
  • BUDDY MILES, musician "Them Changes"
  • MIKE SMITH, singer "The Dave Clark Five"
  • WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY, columnist
  • GARY GYGAX, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons role playing game
  • LEONARD ROSENMAN, composer "Lord of the Rings"
  • NORMAN "HURRICANE" SMITH, singer "Oh Babe, What Would You Say?"
  • DAVE STEVENS, comic book artist "The Rocketeer"
  • ANTHONY MINGHELLA, director "Truly Madly Deeply", "The English Patient"
  • IVAN DIXON, actor "Hogan's Heroes"
  • ARTHUR C. CLARKE, author "2001: A Space Odyssey"
  • PAUL SCOFIELD, actor "A Man For All Seasons", "The Crucible"
  • BRIAN WILDE, actor "Last of the Summer Wine", "Night of the Demon"
  • RICHARD WIDMARK, actor "Pickup on South Street", "Kiss of Death"
  • JOHN LIST, murderer
  • NEIL ASPINALL, The Beatles' road manager/driver
  • SEAN LEVERT, singer
  • JULES DASSIN, director "Night and the City"
  • JOHNNY BYRNE, writer "Doctor Who", "Space: 1999"
  • CHARLTON HESTON, actor "The Ten Commandments", "Ben-Hur"
  • CEDELLA BOOKER, mother of Bob Marley
  • HAZEL COURT, actress "Curse of Frankenstein", "Masque of the Red Death"
  • OLLIE JOHNSTON, Disney animator "Snow White", "Fantasia"
  • KAY LINAKER, actress/writer "The Blob", "Drums Along the Mohawk"
  • AL WILSON, singer "Show and Tell"
  • PAUL DAVIS, singer "I Go Crazy"
  • JOY PAGE, actress "Casablanca"
  • BEBE BARRON, composer "Forbidden Planet"
  • JIMMY GIUFFRE, jazz musician "Jazz on a Summer's Night"
  • TRISTRAM CARY, composer "Quatermass & the Pit", "Doctor Who"
  • ALBERT HOFFMAN, inventor of LSD
  • JULIE EGE, actress "Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires"
  • EDDY ARNOLD, country singer
  • ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG, artist
  • JOHN PHILIP LAW, actor "Barbarella", "Golden Voyage of Sinbad"
  • ABBY MANN, writer "Judgement at Nuremberg"
  • JOHN FORBES-ROBERTSON, actor "Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires"
  • WILL ELDER, comic book artist "Mad Magazine", "EC Comics"
  • ALEXANDER COURAGE, composer "Star Trek"
  • JOSEPH PEVNEY, director "Star Trek - The Trouble with Tribbles", "Star Trek - Amok Time"
  • UTAH PHILLIPS, folk singer
  • DICK MARTIN, comedian "Laugh-In"
  • SYDNEY POLLACK, director "Tootsie", "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"
  • HARVEY KORMAN, actor "High Anxiety", "The Carol Burnett Show"
  • YVES SAINT-LAURENT, fashion designer
  • BO DIDDLEY, singer
  • MEL FERRER, actor "Fall of the Roman Empire", "War and Peace"
  • JIM MCKAY, sportscaster
  • BOB ANDERSON, actor "It's A Wonderful Life", "The Bishop's Wife"
  • BRUCE PURCHASE, actor "Dr Who - The Pirate Planet", "I Claudius"
  • TIM RUSSERT, TV newsman "Meet the Press"
  • TONY SCHWARTZ, sound recorder "New York Taxi Driver", "Nueva York"
  • STAN WINSTON, special effects artist "Aliens", "Terminator 2"
  • CYD CHARISSE, actress "The Band Wagon", "Singin' in the Rain"
  • DODY GOODMAN, actress "Grease", "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman"
  • GEORGE CARLIN, comedian
  • DON S. DAVIS, actor "Twin Peaks"
  • ELISABETH SPRIGGS, actress "We, the Accused", "Spider's Web"
  • LARRY HARMON, Bozo the Clown
  • JESSE HELMS, Bozo the Senator
  • EVELYN KEYES, actress "The Seven Year Itch", "Before I Hang"
  • JO STAFFORD, singer "You Belong To Me"
  • ESTELLE GETTY, actress "The Golden Girls"
  • ERIK DARLING, singer
  • JACK KAMEN, comic book artist "Tales From the Crypt", "Vault of Horror"
  • ROBERT HAZARD, singer "The Escalator of Life"
  • BERNIE MAC, comedian
  • ISAAC HAYES, singer/actor "Shaft", "South Park", "Wattstax"
  • JOHN ESMONDE, writer "The Good Life aka Good Neighbors"
  • JERRY WEXLER, songwriter/producer "Atlantic Records"
  • JOHNNY MOORE, trumpeter "The Skatalites"
  • LEROI MOORE, musician "The Dave Matthews Band"
  • PERVIS JACKSON, musician "The Spinners"
  • BILL MELENDEZ, animator/producer "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown"
  • DON LAFONTAINE, voice announcer
  • MICHAEL PATE, actor "The Black Castle", "The Strange Door"
  • JERRY REED, singer/actor "Hot Stuff"
  • ANITA PAGE, actress "The Broadway Melody"
  • NORMAN WHITFIELD, songwriter "I Heard It Through the Grapevine"
  • CONNIE HAINES, singer "The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra"
  • PAUL NEWMAN, actor "Nobody's Fool", "The Hustler"
  • PETER COPLEY, actor "Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed", "Quatermass & the Pit"
  • NICK REYNOLDS, folk singer "The Kingston Trio"
  • ALTON ELLIS, reggae singer
  • NEAL HEFTI, composer "Batman", "The Odd Couple"
  • CHRISTOPHER WICKING, screenwriter "To the Devil-A Daughter", "Scream and Scream Again"
  • EDIE ADAMS, singer/actress "The Ernie Kovacs Show", "The Apartment"
  • LEVI STUBBS, singer "The Four Tops"
  • DEE DEE WARWICK, singer "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me"
  • RUDY RAY MOORE, comedian "Dolemite"
  • STUDS TERKEL, author
  • DELMAR WATSON, actor "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington"
  • ESTELLE REINER, actress "When Harry Met Sally"
  • YMA SUMAC, singer "Voice of the Xtabay"
  • MICHAEL CRICHTON, author "The Andromeda Strain", "Jurassic Park"
  • MIRIAM MAKEBA, singer
  • MITCH MITCHELL, drummer "The Jimi Hendrix Experience"
  • IRVING BRECHER, screenwriter "Go West", "The Big Store", "Bye Bye Birdie"
  • JOHN MICHAEL HAYES, screenwriter "Rear Window", "The Trouble With Harry", "To Catch A Thief"
  • PAUL BENEDICT, actor "The Jefferson"
  • ODETTA, folk singer "No More Auction Block For Me", "Water Boy"
  • FORREST J. ACKERMAN, writer/editor "Famous Monsters of Filmland"
  • NINA FOCH, actress "Executive Suite", "My Name is Julia Ross"
  • BEVERLY GARLAND, actress "The Alligator People", "It Conquered the World", "Not of This Earth"
  • SUNNY VON BULOW, heiress
  • BOB SPIERS, director "Absolutely Fabulous", "Fawlty Towers", "Are You Being Served?"
  • DENNIS YOST, singer "Classics IV"
  • ROBERT PROSKY, actor "Hill Street Blues", "Mrs Doubtfire"
  • BETTIE PAGE, pin-up queen
  • VAN JOHNSON, actor "The Caine Mutiny"
  • KATHY STAFF, actress "Last of the Summer Wine", "Open All Hours"
  • MAJEL BARRETT, actress "Star Trek"
  • SAM BOTTOMS, actor "Apocalypse Now", "The Last Picture Show"
  • ROBERT MULLIGAN, director "To Kill A Mockingbird"
  • EARTHA KITT, singer/actress
  • ANN SAVAGE, actress "Detour"
  • DELANEY BRAMLETT, musician "Delaney & Bonnie & Friends"
  • FREDDIE HUBBARD, musician "Hub-Tones"
  • DONALD E. WESTLAKE, author

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

THE 2008 PENGUIN AWARD WINNERS! Just in time for Happy Krimble, we're going to announce the winners a tad early. Before we being, if you'd like to refresh your memory as to the nominees you can click right here and see them all. Go ahead, I'll wait.
OK, I see you're back. Now turn around so I can see the rest of ya! Ahem. Alright, enough bandlyhoo, let's get on with the winnahs! I must say that the fields for SONG OF THE YEAR and ALBUM OF THE YEAR were both refreshingly crowded this time. Can this mean the music industry is improving?!?!? Well, let's not get silly. But unlike recent years, there was a much stronger competition in these two categories. But typically for recent years, the categories of DUET and COVER SONG OF THE YEAR have again been relatively thin on the ground. That may account for the sure-to-be controversial winner of the DUET OF THE YEAR. But we'll get to that in a moment. First. . .here are the winners.
WINNER OF SONG OF THE YEAR:
STEPPING STONE by DUFFY
Listen to Duffy's Stepping Stone here
WINNER OF ALBUM OF THE YEAR:
ROCKFERRY by DUFFY
Listen to Distant Dreamer: a song also nominated for song of the year from the Penguin Award winning album Rockferry
WINNER OF COVER SONG OF THE YEAR:

YOU AIN'T GOIN' NOWHERE by GLEN HANSARD & MARKETA IGLOVA

Listen to You Ain't Goin' Nowhere here
WINNER OF DUET OF THE YEAR:

SAILING TO PHILADELPHIA by MARK KNOPFLER & JAMES TAYLOR

Listen to Sailing to Philadelphia here

WINNER OF BEST ALBUM COVER ART:
Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust by SIGUR ROS
So there you have it. For the second year in a row, the song and album winner is from the same artist (an occurrence which rarely happened in the history of the Penguin Awards). Last year Amy Winehouse won song and album. This year it's a Welsh wandswide (hey, who let the ravishing Kay Francis in here?!?) with Duffy taking the two top prizes. The race for album of the year, though very strong, was really no contest since Duffy's album was played endlessly on my metaphorical turntable this year. However, the race for song of the year was tortuously difficult for me this year. Literally at any given time there was a different front runner: The Guggenheim Grotto's VERTIGO, Sigur Ros' VON (LIVE) and Declan O'Rourke's GALILEO being the strongest challengers. But once again, the sheer repeated plays of STEPPING STONE demonstrated to me the staying power of Duffy's song and it's inevitable place as song of the year. Bizarrely, on more than one occasion, I was known to put the song on endless repeat in my car and I listened to that song over and over for an hour without shutting it off. If that don't say somethin' about my unhealthy attachment to the song, I don't know what done do!
The much weaker field for Cover Song of the Year saw really only one front-runner: Glen & Marketa's cover of Bob Dylan's YOU AIN'T GOIN' NOWHERE just lifted me up every time I heard it. I guess that's why they won an Oscar, innit??? Well, now the pair can add a Penguin Award to their mantle.
As for the winner of DUET OF THE YEAR, you may have noticed that the particularly weak field of nominees has resulted in a song from the year 2000 winning the Penguin Award in 2008. But, as those of you familiar with the Penguin Award by-laws (codified in the year 1622) a nominee of winner of a Penguin Award does not necessarily have to have been recorded in that year. And this Mark Knopfler & James Taylor song (relating the true origin of the Mason-Dixon line) from 2000 is something I simply never heard before this year; hence it is eligible. While I usually weight those songs made this year more than older songs, if the older song manages to demolish all the others -- it wins! And so SAILING FOR PHILADELPHIA did.
Finally, we come to the best album cover. I don't know about you but nekkid asses make me laugh. And the cover of Sigur Ros' album "Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust" really depicts the wacky abandon of the album title which translates as "With A Buzz In Our Ears We Play Endlessly".
So once again, congratulations to all the nominees and winners as this year's Penguin Awards now take their place in the history of modern music as we know it, already! See ya next year. Happy listening!

Friday, December 19, 2008

IT'S CHRISTMAS OVER AT OUR SISTER BLOG: BATHED IN THE LIGHT FROM ANDROMEDA. Why don't you sprinkle a little tinsel on yourself and head on over. Click here and Santa's sleigh will whisk you away! They got egg nog over there, I hear.

Friday, December 12, 2008

BETTIE PAGE (1923 - 2008). There was never any supermodel nor any pin-up queen who could ever approach the earth-shaking iconic status of the great Bettie Page. She never appeared in public once her legendary fame attained cult status because, she said, she wanted all her fans to remember her as she was at her height, in all her glory and youth. In that manner, I'd like to present this pictorial tribute to the breathtaking Bettie Page; who died today at the age of 85.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A YEAR IN MOVIES 2008. In 2008, I watched a WHOLE LOT of movies. Some of them were old favourites but many were movies I was watching for the very first time ever. Last year at about this time I made a list (yes, ANOTHER list) of my 25 favourite films which I had seen for the first time in 2007. These were movies, old and new, which I had never seen until that year. If you want to see what I had newly discovered in 2007 click here. Well, this year I spent much time (and considerable filthy lucre) acquiring movies I had never seen before. So, because of that, this year I've had to expand the list to 50! And believe me, I still had to agonize over which movies did not make the cut. But in my ever-widening quest to track down and see more and more "must see" films, the year 2008 brought these films to my eyes -- movies I had never seen before this year but have now become new favourites. At the end of each brief description, I will also attribute credit to those who encouraged me to seek out the film. So, with your kind indulgence, I would like to once again list (in alphabetical order) these new favourites which I saw for the very first time in 2008:
  • AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD (1972) -- Klaus Kinski, the maddest of madmen, stars as the equally mad Spanish conquistador futilely tracking through the jungle to find the lost city of El Dorado. Apparently both director Werner Herzog and Kinski pulled guns on each other during the filming. Loaded with many haunting images, the final shot of the raft swarming with monkeys is one of the best evocations of madness and futility I've ever seen! Utterly delirious fever dream of a film. Who made me watch this?: Danny Peary's CULT MOVIES book recommended by Terry Frost of Paleocinema.
  • ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS (1955) -- Oh, what melodrama from director Douglas Sirk. Jane Wyman is the widow who falls for younger man Rock Hudson only to have her children, her friends . . . hell, the entire town disapprove and try to ruin their only chance for happiness. Completely soppy and damned effective, too. Who made me watch this?: Martin Scorsese.
  • AMERICAN MADNESS (1932) -- The Frank Capra film that probably none of you have seen. This is the first truly "Capraesque" Capra film which finds Walter Huston heading a bank by using the "personal touch". However, when a Depression-panicky public embarks on a run on the bank, Huston's altruism is tested. The "run on the bank" scene is technically brilliant. This film is particularly appropriate to watch now that the economy has tanked here in 2008!
  • ATTACK! (1956) -- One of the best war movies I've ever seen -- and that's something since I usually don't LIKE war movies. Robert Aldrich directs a superb cast including Jack Palance, Eddie Albert and Lee Marvin. An incompetent Captain is getting his men killed while the higher brass refuses to do anything about it. Gripping, suspenseful and mesmerizing. Who made me watch this?: Weaverman over at FLEAPIT OF THE MIND.
  • L'AVVENTURA (1960) -- The first in director Michelangelo Antonioni's groundbreaking "trilogy". A group of friends go off for a day trip to a deserted Mediterranean island and one of the group disappears mysteriously. A truly revolutionary film beautifully shot and starring the sublime Monica Vitti! Who made me watch this?: Martin Scorsese.
  • THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (1952) -- Surely one of the best movies about Hollywood. Director Vincente Minnelli is blessed with a superior cast: Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Dick Powell, Walter Pidgeon, Barry Sullivan and Gloria Grahame (who won an Academy Award for this one). Tinseltown wheeling and dealing beautifully presented. Who made me watch this?: Terry Frost from Paleocinema.
  • THE BIG RED ONE (1980) -- Yet another war movie on my list. What's going on?!? This is director Sam Fuller's restored DVD version and it's an epic! This is a depiction of World War II from the dogface point of view; from a director who actually fought in World War II. All Fuller's crusty humour and forthright truthfulness is evident. Lee Marvin is a wonder. Who made me watch this?: Martin Scorsese.
  • A CANTERBURY TALE (1944) -- This Powell & Pressburger classic has made it's way on to my top ten list of all time. A gentle little tale concerning some English travelers during the Blitz who encounter a mysterious assailant who throws glue into women's hair. But not really. It's about much more than that; the glue hurler is just a maguffin to get the movie started rolling. A truly sublime and spiritually surprising film. Who made me watch this?: Weaverman.
  • COTTON COMES TO HARLEM (1970) -- One of the first of the 70's "blaxploitation" movies and one of the best. This one was actually based on a novel by Chester Himes featuring his two famous detectives Coffin Ed and Gravedigger (Godfrey Cambridge & Raymond St. Jacques respectively). The film is jam-packed with great character actors: Calvin Lockhart, Redd Foxx, John Anderson and Cleavon Little among them. The late Ossie Davis directs with flair and humour.
  • CUTTER'S WAY (1981) -- A bizarre film with no real likeable characters that still manages to hold one's interest. John Heard plays a badly wounded Vietnam vet and Jeff Bridges plays his male hoyden friend who witnesses someone dumping what looks like a dead body in an alley. Heard becomes obsessed with proving a local bigwig has committed the murder while Bridges does everything he can NOT to help him. A true cult movie. Who made me watch this?: Danny Peary in his CULT MOVIES books via Terry Frost.
  • LES DEMOISELLES DE ROCHEFORT (1967) aka YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT -- Infectious French musical with great Michel Legrand songs, directed by Jacques Demy with exploding colour and starring scintillating Catherine Deneuve, Francoise Dorleac, Michael (WEST SIDE STORY) Chakiris and Gene Kelly himself; giving the production some real MGM musical cache! You can't stay depressed if you watch this movie! Who made me watch this?: Terry Frost.
  • THE DIVORCEE (1930) -- A pre-code Hollywood movie that doesn't pussyfoot around delicate subject matter. Norma Shearer and Chester Morris are a married couple very much in love until Shearer discovers that Morris has had an affair. Norma decides what's good enough for him is good enough for her and promptly goes out and starts sleeping around. Startling movie if you're not used to pre-code Hollywood.
  • L'ECLISSE (1962) -- The third in Michelangelo Antonioni's "trilogy", this has now become my favourite film of all time. I saw it for the first time this past January and I've watched it 11 times so far this year. Monica Vitti returns along with Alain Delon in a film impossible to describe. Even more groundbreaking than L'AVVENTURA, the final 10 minutes is stunning! Who made me watch this?: Martin Scorsese.
  • EXECUTIVE SUITE (1954) -- Nothing could be more boring to me than the world of high finance. Which is why this Robert Wise film surprised the hell out of me by being so absorbing. The head of a manufacturing company drops dead without naming a successor. His entire board of directors begins jockeying for position as if they were in a Shakespearean play or the medieval court of King Henry II! Absolutely perfect cast includes William Holden, Barbara Stanwyck, June Allyson, Walter Pidgeon, Fredric March, Shelley Winters, Nina Foch, Louis Calhern and Paul Douglas. Who made me watch this?: Peter Biskind in his book excellent book on 50's films SEEING IS BELIEVING.
  • FIDO (2006) -- Billy Connelly is perfectly cast as a zombie (he has no dialogue and yet is excellent) in a world where zombies have been domesticated and utilized as servants. Andrew Currie directs with real comic flair. Who made me watch this?: Terry Frost.
  • FRANCESCO, GUILLARE DI DIO (1950) aka THE FLOWERS OF ST. FRANCIS. A religious movie that is truly beautiful and not the slightest bit preachy. Based on a medieval work describing incidents in the life of Francis of Assisi, this movie can truly be called sublime. Robert Rossellini directs from a Frederico Fellini screenplay. A beautiful, beautiful, beautiful film! Who made me watch this?: Martin Scorsese.
  • FREEWAY (1996) -- If you told me I'd watch and love a movie with Reese Witherspoon in it, I would've called you a doity boid. However, this is the one to watch. When she still had "acting cred", Reese stars as a delinquent who encounters a serial killer. The clash of these two immovable objects is jaw-dropping. Basically a twisted retelling of Little Red Riding Hood that also stars Kiefer Sutherland and a surprisingly good Brooke Shields. Who made me watch this?: The Finkmaster Flash, that's who!
  • THE FURIES (1950) -- A Western Gothic that plays like King Lear. Walter Huston plays an all-powerful cattle baron in New Mexico territory battling with his strong-willed daughter Barbara Stanwyck. Another magnificent Western directed by Anthony Mann which also features a stellar cast: Judith Anderson, Wendell Corey, Wallace Ford, Gilbert Roland, Thomas Gomex , Beulah Bondi and Albert Dekker among them. Who made me watch this?: Martin Scorsese.
  • GIANT (1956) -- Sprawling adaptation by director George Stevens of Edna Ferber's epic novel of powerful Texas cattle rancher Benedict clan encountering the challenge of newly discovered oil. Notable as James Dean's last film, also starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, Mercedes McCambridge, Carroll Baker, Chill Wills, Dennis Hopper, Sal Mineo, Rod Taylor et. al. Who made me watch this?: Peter Biskind.
  • HANK WILLIAMS: THE SHOW HE NEVER GAVE (1980) -- Canadian country singer Sneezy Waters is spellbinding as country great Hank Williams. The film concerns an imaginary "last concert" in a honkytonk bar on the final night of Hank's life. The songs are great, of course, and the performance really gets to the heart of the man. Who made me watch this?: Weaverman.
  • HEIMA (2007) -- Concert film of Icelandic group Sigur Ros as they tour Iceland giving free, impromptu concerts for the locals. Breathtaking photography of the beautiful Icelandic terrain is accompanied by equally spectacular musical performances -- particularly the live version of their song "Von" given in what looks like a school cafeteria that sometimes reduces me to tears.
  • IKIRU (1952) -- Akira Kurosawa's meditation on death and the meaning of one's life as it has been lived. Takashi Shimura is a revelation as a bureaucrat who develops stomach cancer and looks back on a wasted life. Can he manage one great task to leave his mark on the world he's about to leave? Who made me watch this?: Weaverman.
  • THE INFORMER (1935) -- John Ford won a Best Director Oscar for this film which, in many ways, is very unlike a John Ford movie. Ford ventures into German Expressionistic shots in depicting a down-on-his-luck man turning in his Irish rebel friend for money. The evocation of the 1922-era "Irish troubles" is a subject close to Ford's heart. Victor McLaglen won a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of informer Gypo Nolan. Ford would tell McLaglen that he would not be shooting any scenes that day and then suddenly roll the cameras on him; resulting in a frantic quality in McLaglen's performance which is heartfelt and real.
  • JOHNNY GUITAR (1954) -- Another Gothic Western shot with a bizarre colour palette by director Nicholas Ray. Starring grande dame Joan Crawford as Vienna: a "takes no shit from nobody" saloon keeper who clashes with the strait-laced puritanical townfolk lead by Mercedes McCambridge. Sterling Hayden, Ward Bond and John Carradine also star. Who made me watch this?: Martin Scorsese.
  • JUNGFRUKALLEN (1960) aka THE VIRGIN SPRING -- Director Ingmar Bergman takes us back to medieval Sweden as he retells an old folk tale concerning a young girl who sets off to deliver candles to church and is set upon, raped and murderer by three toughs. Unflinching and bold, this won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film. A literally breathtaking final reel caps off a surprisingly spiritual film.
  • KUNDUN (1997) -- Martin Scorsese's overlooked depiction of the life story of H. H. the Dalai Lama, his discovery as a young boy and the eventual takeover of Tibet by Communist China. Visually beautiful film.
  • LADRI DI BICICLETTE (1948) aka THE BICYCLE THIEF -- One of the most famous of Italian Neo-Realist cinema, Vittoria De Sica's film about a destitute man who can only land a job if he's got a bicycle; and then someone steals his bicycle. The man and his son search for the bicycle. From this we get an immensely moving and powerful film. Who made me watch this?: Martin Scorsese.
  • A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (1946) -- Yet another superb Powell & Pressburger masterpiece set during World War II. American servicewoman Kim Hunter picks up a radio call from British airman David Niven as his shot-up plane is going down in flames. He has no parachute and bails out to certain death. Only he survives. The battle is then on between those powers in Heaven who demand that Niven head straight for the afterlife and the living who try all they can to let him stay on Earth. Those scenes taking place in the afterlife are shot in black & white while the Earth-based scenes are shot in vivid colour. No one made 'em like Powell & Pressburger. Who made me watch this?: Weaverman.
  • IL MIO VIAGGIO IN ITALIA (1999) aka MY VOYAGE TO ITALY -- Martin Scorsese's documentary examining the groundbreaking Italian movies of the 40's, 50's and 60's by such directors as Rossellini, De Sica, Antonioni, Fellini, etc. Every Italian film on this list is there because of this monumental documentary. Who made me watch this?: Terry Frost.
  • THE NAKED SPUR (1953) -- Another wonderful Anthony Mann western featuring James Stewart giving a rather dark performance as a bounty hunter trying to bring back desperado Robert Ryan. Janet Leigh, Ralph Meeker and Millard Mitchell round out the cast of flawed characters in this western character study. Who made me watch this?: Martin Scorsese.
  • NATTVARDGASTERNA (1962) aka WINTER LIGHT -- Now officially my second favourite film of all time, this Ingmar Bergman masterpiece concerns a pastor's crisis of faith. Devastatingly vivid performances by Bergman regulars Gunnar Bjornstrand, Ingrid Thulin and Max Von Sydow anchor this bleak depiction of three hours on a wintery afternoon. Masterful, thought-provoking and emotionally raw. Who made me watch this?: Weaverman.
  • THE NINTH CONFIGURATION (1980) -- William Peter Blatty wrote and directed this bizarre film which initially appears to be a cross between M*A*S*H* and ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST but, before you know it, reveals itself to be about much more deeper subjects. Surprisingly spiritual as well as funny. Stacey Keach takes over the running of a military insane asylum. Co-starring Ed Flanders, Jason Miller, the magnificent Scott Wilson, and Robert Loggia. This is a movie you want to immediately re-watch after your first viewing. Who made me watch this?: my dear wife Ilsa*.
  • NOTORIOUS (1946) -- Alfred Hitchcock's tale of espionage took a second viewing before I really appreciated it. Party girl Ingrid Bergman is convinced to spy on a South American group of Nazis by US agent Cary Grant. Claude Rains plays the Nazi whom Bergman is asked to romance.
  • OM SHANTI OM (2007) -- The biggest moneymaker in the history of Indian film, this Bollywood musical spectacular is unlike any other Bollywood production I've ever seen. It stands on it's own as a top notch musical. I've never been a particular fan of Bollywood movies but this one surely blows them all out of the water. The ravishing Deepika Padukone co-stars with Indian superstar Shakrukh Khan in this musical which is genuinely funny as well as tragic and romantic. Also famous for cramming 30-some hugely famous Bollywood movie stars into a single dance number. This one's got it all.
  • A PERSONAL JOURNEY WITH MARTIN SCORSESE THROUGH AMERICAN MOVIES (1995) -- This documentary is Martin Scorsese's direct riposte to the famous AFI list of 100 Greatest Films. There isn't a much more infectious movie fan than Scorsese and going along with him as he looks at the entire history of American film is a dream come true. Packed with billions of movie clips, this film will send you racing to the DVD store. Who made me watch this movie?: Terry Frost.
  • THE PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES (1955) -- This is a terrible movie. Grade Z production budget and acting. But somehow I love it. A goofy underwater monster is butchering people. However, the movie seems to forget the monster for long stretches of ridiculous tomfoolery masquerading as a screenplay. This movie features Cathy Downs (Clementine herself from John Ford's MY DARLING CLEMENTINE) slipping waaaaaay down the Hollywood ladder to this film. Pure fromage!
  • PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (1975) -- This dreamlike movie dreamily directed by Peter Weir retells story of a group of students & a teacher at a young women's college in 1900 who go out on a daytrip to "Hanging Rock" and mysterious disappear. There is a real sense of eerieness evoked in this film which can't be explained. Rachel Roberts is notable as the crumbling headmistress.
  • RED RIVER (1948) -- Classic Howard Hawks western starring John Wayne and Montgomery Clift battling each other over the first cross-country cattle drive in American history. This epic western saga is one of the best!
  • SASOM I EN SPEGEL (1961) aka THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY -- Ingmar Bergman's searing chamber piece about a family of four on an island dealing with insanity. All four actors (Max Von Sydow, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Lars Passgard and particularly Harriet Andersson) give great performances. Andersson's portrayal of mental illness is one of the best performances in screen history. Ever.
  • THE SCARLET EMPRESS (1934) -- If not THE BLUE ANGEL, then this movie is the quintessential statement of the Josef von Sternberg/Marlene Dietrich movie partnership. Deliriously decadent and sumptuously shot, this film traces the life story of Russian Empress Catherine the Great from shy girl to powerful monarch. Dietrich is breathtaking and perfectly cast while Sam Jaffe is superb as her dimwitted consort. Who made me watch this?: Martin Scorsese.
  • SERGEANT RUTLEDGE (1960) -- John Ford's little known film about black cavalry officer Woody Strode standing trial for the rape and murder of a white woman. Part Civil War-era western and part courtroom drama. Jeffrey Hunter and Billie Burke co-star.
  • SMULTRONSTALLET (1958) aka WILD STRAWBERRIES -- Another Ingmar Bergman masterpiece. An elderly doctor (Victor Sjostrom) is being given an award and drives to receive it along with his estranged daughter-in-law Ingrid Thulin. This film deals with strained family relationships, past regrets, approaching mortality and crippled emotions. Bibi Andersson and Gunnar Bjornstrand co-star. Who made me watch this?: Weaverman.
  • STROMBOLI (1950) -- Robert Rossellini directs and Ingrid Bergman stars as a woman who marries an Italian fisherman in order to leave a prison camp. She goes to live on his home island of Stromboli and immediately hates it. Vivid character study of people who know nothing about each other and understand each other less. Who made me watch this?: Martin Scorsese.
  • SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957) -- Another classic film about the seedy wheeling and dealing that goes on in the show business world. Burt Lancaster plays a ruthless, all-powerful newspaper columnist who can make or break careers. Tony Curtis is the small-time reporter who wants to be something more. Exceedingly acidic portrait of New York celebrity nightlife.
  • THE TALL T (1957) -- The best of the Budd Boetticher/Randolph Scott westerns. Scott plays an aging cowpoke who stumbles into a deadly situation. Based on a novel by Elmore Leonard. Richard Boone is fantastic as the head desperado. Who made me watch this?: Martin Scorsese.
  • THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1940) -- Epic fantasy film with still-incredible special effects, brilliant colour, charming lead part for young Sabu, marvelous villainous performance by Conrad Veidt and magical whimsy. A stunningly perfect fantasy film. Who made me watch this?: Terry Frost.
  • TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI (1955) aka HANDS OFF THE LOOT! -- Classic French gangster film which brings back aging tough guy Jean Gabin (Pepe Le Moko himself) in a terrific gangland movie. Who made me watch this?: Weaverman.
  • TROUBLE IN PARADISE (1932) -- My favourite Ernst Lubitsch film. That's right; even better than NINOTCHKA. Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins play two cat burglars who fall in love and join forces to burgle rich hottie Kay Francis. But while attempting to swindle the wavishing Kay Fwancis, Marshall instead falls in love with her. A movie that sparkles like good champagne. It's pre-code status also makes it more daring than you'd think. Urbane and classy to the nth degree. Who made me watch this?: Ilsa*.
  • UMBERTO D. (1952) -- Another classic Italian neo-realist film which will tear your heart out. Director Vittorio De Sica dedicated the film to his father. Carlo Battisti plays an old age pensioner about to be thrown out of his cheap apartment; his only friend is his little dog. With nowhere to go and no money at hand, Umberto becomes desperate. Beautifully heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. Who made me watch this?: Martin Scorsese.
  • VIAGGIO IN ITALIA (1952) aka VOYAGE TO ITALY -- Masterful Roberto Rossellini film which stars Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders as an estranged married couple who go to Italy upon inheriting some property. Wonderfully acted character study finds both Bergman and Sanders in top form. Who made me watch this?: Martin Scorsese.

Well, there you have it: the best 50 films I saw for the first time in 2008. Trust me, there could've been about 25 more other top contenders but I vowed to keep it down to just 50. I can't recommend these movies highly enough and, again, if you ever find yourself at a loss as to what to watch, do yourself a favour and seek some of these films out. I don't think you'll be sorry you did.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

ALPHABET MOVIE MEME THINGY. Good buddy and Surrogate Daddy Pax over at the horror blog Billy Loves Stu was recently tagged by another one of those memes. Like the true gentleman he is, he declined to tag 5 other people and simply put his list up for all of us to see (and quite a great list it IS, too)! For the heck of it, I thought I'd give it a try; you know how us boys love lists! The original Alphabetical Movie Meme originated here and you'll find the rules in detail. In miniature, the rules are as follows: in short, list your favourite movie for each letter of the alphabet. Simple, huh? Until the agonizing over which movie to choose, that is. Daddy Pax stirred things up interestingly by adding a theme: one "guilty pleasure" movie for each letter of the alphabet. One more rule is that you don't use the words "A" or "The" as the first letter of the movie, natch. There you go. I too will not "tag" anyone but feel free to make your own list is you're so inclined. However, like Daddy Pax, I too am going to tweak the meme a little. First I will list my favourite films of each letter in the alphabet. Then I will list my favourite HORROR films of each letter of the alphabet (what could be more natural on THIS blog?!?). And finally, I will list those movies which I'm sure most of you reading this have never seen but should -- those favourites of mine which might be a little more obscure -- for each letter of the alphabet. So here goes:
MY FAVES FOR EACH LETTER OF THE ALPHABET:
MY FAVOURITE HORROR FILMS FOR EACH LETTER:
MY FAVOURITE "OBSCURE" FILMS YOU PROBABLY HAVEN'T SEEN
(BUT REALLY SHOULD!):
So there you have it. As you've no doubt noticed already, those films which I'll bet most of you haven't seen (but should) have links so that you can go take a look and see what they're all about. I heartily recommend all the movies up there and, when you're stuck for something new to watch, try a few.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

FORREST J. ACKERMAN (1916-2008). Please join us over at our sister blog BATHED IN THE LIGHT FROM ANDROMEDA where we will have a special audio tribute to the late great Forrest J. Ackerman: creator of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND magazine and major champion of the horror and science fiction genre. Very few have had the major impact on the genres we love so well as Forrest J. Ackerman. FAMOUS MONSTERS debuted in 1958 as the world's first magazine about horror and science fiction movies. Back in the 50's, 60's and 70's, FM was the bible of every monster fan who devoured every new issue like the Creature from the Black Lagoon presented with a bowl full of scientists! The movie stills were treasured and the Ackermonster's notorious puns were legendary. Countless horror movie fans had their initial love for the genre confirmed and strengthened by Uncle Forry and his magazine: from nameless, faceless fans like myself to slightly more well known devotees like Steven Spielberg, Jon Landis and Stephen King. I can't think of anyone else who carried the flag of horror and science fiction better or longer than our dear old Uncle Forry. His passing leaves a space in the world of horror fandom which no one else can fill.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

I'VE ALWAYS BEEN A BIG FAN OF THE BRIBE (1949) and the recent review of the film on the excellent Paleocinema podcast a few weeks ago got me thinking about it once again. And serendipity saw to it that a week after Paleocinema spotlighted the film, TCM aired THE BRIBE so that I could see it once again. THE BRIBE has been thoroughly neglected and is little known. Terry Frost was right in that it doesn't usually appear in reference books; a cursory glance made by yours truly through three film noir reference books found no mention. However, it is definitely a film noir and one of the better ones so this blindspot is particularly puzzling to me. I first became aware of the film back when it was inserted into the pre-CGI Steve Martin comedy DEAD MEN DON'T WEAR PLAID in which scenes and actors from classic films noir were made to interact with Steve Martin. That was a fun film I really enjoyed and it relied rather heavily on elements and clips from THE BRIBE. So, when an opportunity came to see the original film years later, I took it and greatly enjoyed THE BRIBE in its original form. The film features a marvelous cast: Robert Taylor, Ava Gardner, Charles Laughton, Vincent Price, John Hodiak (of Hitchcock's LIFEBOAT), Samuel Hinds (Peter Bailey in Frank Capra's IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE -- this was the actor's final film) and John Hoyt (who liked to shrink people in ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE). It's got a crackling script by Marguerite Roberts (TRUE GRIT as well as uncredited work on the rather good Katharine Hepburn/Robert Taylor/Robert Mitchum noir UNDERCURRENT) and features top notch German Expressionist noir photography by Joseph Ruttenberg (who shot everything from GASLIGHT, MRS MINIVER, ON BORROWED TIME, THE BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940, THE WOMEN, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY and the Terry Frost fave THE OSCAR).
The film opens with a federal agent by the name of Rigby (Robert Taylor) brooding in a hotel room being buffeted by a tropical storm. Shades of KEY LARGO! There are a lot of storm and rain scenes in the picture which makes for a wonderful atmosphere. Rigby is conflicted about his secret mission to track down a group of smugglers who are secretly importing airplane engines among scrap metal without paying their taxes. This graft annoys Uncle Sam (in the form of Rigby's boss played by John Hoyt) and Rigby is sent to collar the crooks. Rigby is told that the most likely suspects are married couple Tugwell & Elizabeth Hintten (John Hodiak and Ava Gardner) and the agent is sent to the Latin American island of Carlotta to get the proof. Tugwell is a mess: an alcoholic with a bad heart. Elizabeth is a singer in a club (shades of CASABLANCA and TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT) who may or may not be in on the criminal activity. Elizabeth is quite belligerent to Rigby at first but eventually the two fall for each other. There is also a "pie shaped man" named J. J. Bealer (a standout performance by Charles Laughton) who slouches around the joint complaining about his bad feet. Bealer soon offers Rigby a bribe on behalf of the smugglers to look the other way and get the hell outta Dodge. Later, a mine owner named Carwell (a young Vincent Price) that Rigby met on the plane ride south, turns up in Carlotta and goes marlin fishing with Rigby. Accidentally on purpose, Carwell guns the boat engine so that Rigby is propelled into the sea. The young boat owner Emilio jumps in to save him and becomes a shark's lunch. Obviously, Carwell is one of the baddies (why ELSE would you cast Vincent Price?!?) and Emilio's father agrees to help Rigby prove it. Tugwell takes a turn for the worse and is bedridden. This causes the crooks to work on Elizabeth (who has been ignorant thus far of the illegal activities) to get her to take over for her sick husband. Rigby, meanwhile, is wrestling with the offer to take the bribe in order to save Elizabeth from harm or prosecution. The various paths of all the principals intertwine into one messy knot which needs to be solved by the final reel.
THE BRIBE is frankly a rather top notch noir which doesn't deserve to be forgotten like it is. It is, in fact, better than some noirs which routinely get written about in many reference books. The film is practically dripping with style: the humid Central American island location constantly swept by rainstorms alternating with oppressive heat is almost palpable. Much use is made of mirrors and reflections; at one point a ghostly image of Ava Gardner is superimposed over Robert Taylor's reflection in a window. All this and the film ends with a spectacular fireworks-laden climax. Director Robert Z. Leonard (who started in silents and directed Greta Garbo's first screen test) pulls out all the noir stops while DP Ruttenberg's use of chiaroscuro lighting, deep shadows and slashes of horizontal lines (provided by the shadows of blinds and door slats) is textbook noir photography before the style was even codified by later French critics. There is also one particular scene in which our four main protagonists, good and bad, are together in a room brandishing guns when the lights go out during a storm. The room is pitch black but we see a pair of almost glowing eyes floating in the darkness -- I believe they are Robert Taylor's eyes -- and the effect is truly startling and unnerving! This is one slam bang noir which finds lead Robert Taylor actually perfectly cast as the typical deadpan protagonist (with his flat voice perfect for the voice-over narration so prominently featured in THE BRIBE) and impossibly beautiful Ava Gardner perfect as the "is she or isn't she a crook" femme fatale/love goddess. John Hodiak portrays petulance and drunkeness expertly while Vincent Price turns in one more splendid villainous performance. But the main attraction here has to be Charles Laughton who is remarkable as "the pie shaped man". The actor portrays Bealer with many layers; at first you assume he's some pathetic slob (which he is) but Laughton soon reveals there is more to the character. Bealer is no Wilmer in THE MALTESE FALCON; he is no pawn or stooge. Bealer subtly reveals some real intellect amongst his pathetic complaining about his feet; he shows he can twist the figurative knife of the bribe not only in Robert Taylor's back but later in Ava Gardner's as well. This pathetic slob shows himself remarkably capable of putting the screws to people. Laughton portrays his character as more than one-dimensional and it is fascinating to watch the actor roam through this movie.
THE BRIBE is a film noir well worth seeing. It certainly doesn't deserve to be neglected. It is for this reason that I'm adding my voice to Terry Frost in his recent review of the film at Paleocinema; a movie this deserving can't be plugged enough. The next time you see THE BRIBE in your TV listing do yourself a favour and tune in.
DID YOU EVER FIND YOURSELF ON A GREY, WINTERY DAY -- the kind of day that's slightly rainy and mostly misty -- the kind of day which found the world's greatest consulting detective reaching for his persian slipper filled with tobacco while his faithful chronicler Dr. Watson peered out the window of 221B Baker Street at the roiling fog -- the kind of day where the raindrops hang from the bare tree branches with no sign of falling away?
Yesterday I found myself with an entire day stretching before me. I wanted to watch something but I was just not in the mood to watch movies. Can you believe it?!? No, I didn't think you would. So, what's a film nut to do? Something really weird, apparently. Because this is what I did and I found it oddly satisfying and something which I actually recommend. I simply went to the vault -- to the shelf of DVDs starting with "A" -- and I went right down the line grabbing each DVD which contained halfway decent special features and watched all the documentaries about the movie -- without watching the movie itself. Now, I don't know about you but I usually watch the movie and then the special features on the dvd at the same time -- or else, I watch the movie and don't watch the documentaries. But this time I reversed that. Now, I was particularly choosy with which documentaries I watched; I didn't watch any of the delected scenes or any of that other rot. I only watched things that could really be called documentaries. Some were feature length while others could last only 10-15 minutes. However, it had to be something which actually counted as a documentary. And it was quite nice for the day. I enjoy a nice documentary. And this way I got a whole lot of movie talk by a lot of movie people. Not a bad way to spend the day.
There was the episode of AMC's Backstory on the ALL ABOUT EVE dvd detailing all the fun involved with the making of that Academy Awards blockbuster. Remember AMC's documentary series Backstory? Remember when AMC was worth watching at all? There was the enthralling tale of how Claudette Colbert was set to star when she injured her back and the role went to Bette Davis. I mean, seriously . . . who else could have played Margo Channing?!? Then there was the tale of Bette Davis falling in love with her leading man Gary Merrill and marrying him. Or the frosty feud between Davis and Celeste Holm which started when Holm said "Good morning" as Davis walked by. "Oh shit!", sneered Davis, "Good manners!"
Next there was the ASYLUM disc which featured a documentary all about Amicus called "Inside the Fear Factory" in which we're given a run-through of all those horror omnibus films from DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS on out. If nothing else, you've got to admit that studio boss Max J. Rosenberg was a character; given no other evidence than his on-screen interview. THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL dvd sports a feature-length TCM documentary entitled "Lana Turner: A Daughter's Memoir" which takes up the entire second side of the disc. The most startling facet of this doc is that it is hosted by Turner's daughter; yes, the one who knifed her gangster boyfriend Johnny Stompanato. That fact almost escapes you as you see her sitting there perfectly poised and coiffed discussing her mother's career. Classic MGM musical THE BAND WAGON features a nice doc on it's DVD which not only interviews those surviving cast and crew members but also features Fred Astaire's daughter (whom you don't see every day). Particularly nice is Nanette Fabares' recounting of the trouble she had with co-star Oscar Levant who would blame her for every mistake HE made. After new kid Fabares had enough and told Levant to go to hell, she never had another moment's trouble with him.
Then, of course, next on the shelf was the documentary which was the whole DVD itself: BETTIE PAGE: THE GIRL IN THE LEOPARD PRINT BIKINI. Any excuse to see Bettie Page shaking her moneymaker is OK with me! Another doc was the "pseudo-documentary" which appeared on TV during the theatrical release of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT purporting to tell the real legend of "The Curse of the Blair Witch". I still get a kick outta that whole Blair Witch scam which burned up the internet at the time. THE BEAST MUST DIE dvd features a short but interesting doc called "Directing the Beast" in which director Peter Arnett gives a nice reminiscence of his first meeting with the great Peter Cushing. The actor was finishing up on the film MADHOUSE down the road before he was scheduled to start on THE BEAST MUST DIE so Arnett went down to introduce himself. He knocked on the door and who should swing the door open but Vincent Price; heavily slathered in make-up with his face taped up to make him appear younger. Arnett then glanced over and saw Cushing made up the same way. "My God," he thought, "is this what they look like?" But Cushing, seeing Arnett's consternation assured the "dear boy" that they were shooting a flashback sequence taking place 30 years before. No, they didn't go around looking like Norma Desmond, thankfully!
Feature length TCM documentary "Cary Grant: A Class Apart" can be found on the excellent 2-disc BRINGING UP BABY dvd which naturally is a biography of the great actor. I think my favourite moment of this doc has always been Grant's former wife Betsy Drake addressing the "gay" rumours about Grant and Randolph Scott. Drake insists that she would have no reason to think about such things while she and Cary Grant were "busy fucking". The short but entertaining doc "Cole Porter: Begin the Beguine" appears on the BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940 dvd focusing mainly on the epochal final dance teaming of Fred Astaire with Eleanor Powell during the showstopping Begin the Beguine finale. It's charming to hear reminiscences about Astaire's nervousness about the prospect of dancing alongside the phenomenol Powell. The BULLITT dvd contains a second disc of two excellent docs: "Steve McQueen: The Essence of Cool" which is a feature length bio of the star and "Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing" which is a monumental study of the entire history of film editing. This extremely welcome bonus does a great job demonstrating the different techniques of film editing by the film editors themselves.
The DVD for A CHRISTMAS STORY features a rather fluffy documentary of the film itself (which sadly features director Bob Clark only a couple years before his fatal car crash) as well as a short documentary on the actual Daisy Red Ryder air rifle. The CITIZEN KANE disc includes a second dvd featuring the PBS series American Masters documentary THE BATTLE OVER CITIZEN KANE which is extremely well-done. The film parallels the lives and mistakes of publishing mogul William Randolph Hearst (whom Kane was transparently based upon) and Orson Welles -- and the two giants' inevitable clash in which neither one won. A second disc on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND also features a rather good feature-length doc on the making of that film. It is particularly fun to see little 3 year old Cary Guffey grown up in his thirties but still able to recall much of the shooting of the film. The strategy used by director Steven Spielberg to get the quality performance from the three year old is remarkable and obviously effective -- since the little boy quickly earned the nickname "One Take Cary".
The second box set of the Humphrey Bogart Collection features short documentaries on each of the disc included; all of which are worth a look. "Hollywood Helps the Cause" appears on the ACROSS THE PACIFIC disc and looks at the propagandistic stance Hollywood took during World War II. ACTION IN THE NORTH ATLANTIC features a doc called "Credit Where Credit Is Due" which looks at several little-known directors such as Vincent Sherman while the ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT disc sports "Call the Usual Suspects: The Craft of the Character Actor" which looks at everyone from Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet to Franklin Pangborne and Walter Brennan. A much longer documentary entitled "The Maltese Falcon: One Magnificent Bird" looks at the three tries Warner Bros. took filming the classic Dashiell Hammett book before they got it right with John Huston's Bogart version. Finally, the PASSAGE TO MARSEILLES disc includes another short doc examining "The Free French: Unsung Victors" which looks at Charles DeGaulle and the French resistance movement.
A DAY AT THE RACES includes a short doc entitled "On Your Marx, Get Set, Go!" which does a nice job going over the classic Marx Brothers comedy. "Making the Earth Stand Still" is a servicable doc appearing on the old DVD of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (there's a new one coming out almost immediately) which features the late director Robert Wise. Then there's where I ended up: the 2 disc Special Edition of THE GREAT ESCAPE which features an extensive documentary of the film which is disconcertingly split up into multiple parts which each includes an "end credit" roll which you have to sit through between the sections. God knows why they're split up like that because it makes for viewer annoyance. But the docs themselves are quite good. Then there is the real historical version of the escape entitled "The Great Escape: The Untold Story" which relates the real events that were "Hollywoodized" for the movie.
As I say, that's where I left off since today was jam-packed with things to get done and I had no chance to watch any more. However, this evening I suspect I'll continue where I left off because I'm finding this daffy idea very entertaining. Don't worry, I'll be getting back to the movie watching eventually. But for right now, it's all about the docs.