9/20/13: Fight Club

Today’s Classic Movie Blog is of David Fincher’s Fight Club. In 1999, when this film was released, projectionists played a very important part in every cinema. Almost all movies on the big screen now are digital. But back then, they were on film. “So you see, the projectionist had to be there to switch the projectors at the exact moment one reel ended & the next one began. He would watch for little dots (called cigarette burns) in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. They were his cue to make the reel changes. He flipped the projectors & the movie would continue seamlessly. We still sometimes show films for the Classics Series where I work, at the Rave Cinemas Buckland Hills 18+ IMAX in Manchester CT. They’re held on Sunday afternoon at 2:00 and Wednesdays at 2:00 & 7:00. Go check it out if you get a chance. But be forewarned: Sometimes our Classics projectionist splices in single frames of naked chicks into the movies. If this offends you, his name is Michael Dymski! His name is Michael Dymski! His name is Michael Dymski!”

Fight Club

Anyway, Fight Club stars Edward Norton as an insomniac 9-5’r who hates his job. Desperate for sleep, he sees his doctor (Rosanna Arquette’s brother, Richmond) looking for meds to alleviate the problem. The doctor refuses & tells him to go to the testicular cancer support group on Tuesdays at the First Methodist if he wants to see real pain. He decides to go & it works – his insomnia is relieved. He’s already addicted to support groups when he clashes with another phony, Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter). They agree to split up the groups between them to avoid one another. Then one night, while on the return flight from a business trip, he meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), a hip hand soap salesman who gives him his business card. When he gets to his apartment, he finds it destroyed by an explosion. He calls Tyler & they meet at a bar for drinks. On their way out, Tyler invites him to stay at his place and requests that he punch him in the face to release stress. They throw down right there outside the bar, and so starts their Fight Club.

Fight Club - Norton     Fight Club - Doc

Fight Club - Marla     Fight Club - Tyler

The movie’s sound effects are so great that, despite its reputation as a cult film, it was nominated for that Oscar in 2000 at the 72nd Academy Awards. Jim Uhls adapted the screenplay from Chuck Palahniuk’s novel of the same name. While camping one weekend, Chuck got beat up by neighboring campers when he objected to the volume at which they were listening to music. When he returned to work, no one even mentioned the bruises & the idea for his book was born.

Fight Club - Uhls     Fight Club - Chuck

The Fight Club trailer is embedded at the bottom of the Blog. You’ll notice early on that it contains a lot of product placement. The movie itself is teeming with it. While most people think this is a new way of funding films, it dates all the way back to the beginning of the art form. In fact, when films were first introduced to the public at fairs, side shows, and after auditorium concerts, most were just advertisements. In 1897, a 30 second ad called Admiral Cigarette was released. In 1903, the short Streetcar Chivalry was produced & released by Edison Manufacturing Co. In it, men give up their seats for attractive women but not for an ugly one. The streetcar’s placards are ads for Edison’s products such as Kinetoscope, a motion picture viewer the genius invented. The marketing idea worked & continues to today: The first Best Picture Oscar Winner, Wings, had a Hershey’s chocolates plug; It’s a Wonderful Life included a National Geographic magazine; and 2012’s Skyfall raised $45 million from product placement, the most money to date. So come up & see some of our Classics at at the Rave Cinemas Buckland Hills. But don’t expect to see any of Michael Dymski’s spliced in nudies: I made that part up! But we did show David Fincher’s Fight Club, which I gave 4 Stars! Go to your local library & borrow a copy. You will too!

Fight Club - Cig     Fight Club - Edison     Fight Club - Wings Fight Club - NatGeo     Fight Club - Skyfall

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9/14/13: 2001 – A Space Odyssey

2001

On 11/24/13, Cindy & I attended a screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey with a post-film discussion by Foster Hirsch & Keir Dullea at & to benefit Lyric Hall, Whalley Ave., a tiny theatre that started as a silent movie house. The event concluded with a Keir Dullea Meet & Greet Dinner Party at Pat & Kas Kalba’s house in the Westville section. There I asked him what it was like to work with Kubrick and “the symbolism of him breaking a wine glass in the Star Gate Sequence. [Thesbian] ‘Well, Stanley’s enormous responsibilities on the film included full control of the ship & watching over the cast, crew & entire 2001 nation. Yet, he never demonstrated a lack of confidence. He’s like the 9000 series in the film, the most reliable computer ever made; he never made a mistake or distorted information. Kubrick was foolproof & incapable of error.” As far as the wine glass is concerned, I suggested that to him because I felt the scene was too sterile. I said, ‘It’ll open the post-Stargate pod scene more, Stanley!’ [HAL] ‘I’m sorry, Keir. I’m afraid I can’t do that.’, he replied. ‘What’s the problem?’ ‘I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do, Keir.’ ‘What are you talking about, Stanley?’ ‘This movie is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it. Keir, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.’ ‘I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, & think things over.’ The next day he said, ‘Yeah, it looks like you’re right. I agree.’ ‘Hmm, I always thought Kubrick was showing us how fragile life is; how in the blink of an eye, our lives shatter & we’re old, alone & dying in bed, Keir.’”, I told him. ‘No but I like that better. You Kubrick guys always seem to really come up with somethin’.’

 

Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey begins at the Dawn of Man. Pre-humans discover a huge, black monolith. It’s as importance as any character other than Dr. Dave Bowman (Keir). From the opening sequence, we move to the year 2001 & space travel. Discovery One is on a secret mission to Jupiter. Just 2 of its 5 crew members are not in hibernation, Dave & Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood). The ship is under the control of a HAL 9000 computer (voiced by Douglas Rain), the personification of emotionless logic. 2001 is full of weird birthing, vaginal, phallic & other sexual imagery; the color scheme is generally bright white & glaring red; and everything is constantly spinning.

 

2001 was nominated for 4 Oscars in 1969 at the 41st Academy Awards, including Best Director and Original Screenplay (Kubrick & Arthur C. Clark). It won just one Award, Stanley’s only Oscar: For the film’s Special Visual Effects. The Visual Effects Oscar has an interesting history. It was first given in 1940 honoring the greatest year in film, 1939. Incredibly, that Oscar went to The Rains Came, not The Wizard of Oz. The Special Effects Award honored both sound & visual effects until ’64 when the new Oscar for Sound Editing was established. From ’73 – ‘77, Visual Effects was dropped & given only as an Honorary Award. In 1977, Star Wars was released which resulted in the official re-institution of the Visual Effects Oscar at the 50th Academy Awards. No Visual Effects award was given in just one year since its establishment, 1974. However there were some special visual effects at those Academy Awards when streaker, Robert Opel, ran across the stage completely naked, flashing everything for the world to see, including a peace sign.

 

Don’t worry if you didn’t completely understand the movie. Arthur C. Clarke, who wrote the novel while helping Kubrick with the screenplay, said, [Baritone Brit] “If you understand 2001 completely, we failed. We wanted to raise far more questions than we answered.” Oh, and Also Sprach Zarathustra! Watch the trailer, then stream it on Netflix. 4 Stars!

2001 - Also

9/13/13: To Kill a Mockingbird

TKAM

[As Gregory Peck] “I have a few minutes still. TKAM - Watch Did I ever tell you good people about The Meanest Man That Ever Took a Breath of Life? When my Daddy PW - Dad was a boy in the Depression,

TKAM - Depresssionthere was a young man they called The Mongoloid Across from the City Stairs.”

 Until the ‘70s, Mongolism was the official name for Down Syndrome. TKAM - Downs “The Mongoloid was The Meanest Man’s son, who he kept chained under the front porch, in the crawl space behind the front steps of their house, across the street to the immediate northwest of the top of Waterbury’s City Stairs. The house has been greatly remodeled since, but the original concrete stairs still lead up to wooden stairs in front of the lattice-work frame of the crawl space, refurbished but design-unchanged. 

 Daddy went to that house to see where that they locked that young man up. He said his teeth were yella & rotten, his eyes popped & he drooled most of the time. There was a maniac that lived in that house. But it was The Meanest Man not The Mongoloid that was dangerous. I know folks were afraid of the intellectually disabled in those days. And The Meanest Man was probably afraid to even let his son sit in the living room & cut up paper with a scissors. Scared that he’d stab himself in his leg, pull ‘em out & go right on cutting the paper. Maybe he wanted to send him to an asylum but didn’t have the money. And maybe you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin & walk around in it. But he locked his son up & chained him under the porch! EVEN IN THE WINTER! Probably nearly died of the damp. Lord knows what that man was thinkin’. And that’s why he’s The Meanest Man That Ever Took a Breath of Life. Sure, The Meanest Man was the victim of cruel poverty & ignorance. But my pity on him does not extend so far as putting his son’s life at stake. That young man was a human being. Mistreating someone who’s disabled is 10 times worse than mistreating someone fully abled. And the assumption that the intellectually disabled are basically immoral beings who are not to be trusted around others & cannot be left alone is evil. We have an intellectually disabled nephew who’s 34. Tommy’s over 6.5’ tall & weighs about 325 lbs. As a boy, he was even bigger than that comparatively speakin’; and hyper! Our kids are younger & ‘though we were nervous that he might accidentally hurt ‘em growing up, we showed him only kindness. He only did 1 thing: Just try his heart out to make us happy & love The Gentle Giant. TKAM - Tommy To be mean to Tommy is To Kill a Mockingbird, isn’t it? 

[Normal] Robert Mulligan’s Classic is set in 1932 Maycomb AL when money was scarce & fear rampant, even though they’d recently been told that they had [FDR] nothing to fear but fear itself.” [Normal] Or so Scout As an Adult (uncredited Narrator Kim Stanley), TKAM - Kim Atticus Finch’s (Gregory Peck) TKAM - Peck daughter tells us in the opening prologue, even though, anachronistically, FDR’s famous quote came on 3/4/33 during his first inaugural address. TKAM - FDR Atticus is a widowed lawyer assigned to defend Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), a black man TKAM - Atticus & Tom accused of raping white teenager Mayella Ewell (Collin Wilcox). TKAM - Atticus & Mayella His kids, Scout & Jem (Mary Badham in her only Oscar-nominated performance, and Phillip Alford), TKAM - Atticus & Kids are fearful of & curious about their neighbor Boo Radley (Robert Duvall in his first confirmed movie role), a young man who’s different in more ways than his albinism that isn’t allowed to leave the house. TKAM - Boo The film won 3 Oscars in 1963 at the 35th Academy Awards: Best Actor; Art Direction; and Horton Foote’s Adaptation of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name. Mulligan’s direction, TKAM - Foote Best Picture, Elmer Bernstein’s (no relation to Leonard) Substantially Original Score TKAM - Bernstein, and Russell Harlan’s Black & White Cinematography

TKAM - Harlan also received nominations. 

Harper Lee died of a stroke on 2/19. Before its publication last year, her other novel, Go Set a Watchman, was really just a first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird that she finished in ’57. It was almost released as an on-the-heels sequel to her 1960 bestseller. When she finished To Kill a Mockingbird, she accompanied her lifelong friend Truman Capote, TKAM - Capote on whom  Dill Harris (John Megna) TKAM - Dill is based, to Holcomb KS to help him research In Cold Blood, the 1st ever non-fiction novel. In ’66, LBJ made her a member of the National Council on the Arts; and 4 years earlier, she befriended Gregory Peck. TKAM - Harper So watch the trailer below, then go to Netflix to stream [Peck] Robert Mulligan’s To Kill a Mockingbird, starring the man with the golden voice, Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in his only Oscar-winning performance. 4 Stars!!!

9/3/13: Paths of Glory

 PoG

Stanley Kubrick’s first true masterpiece is his 1957 anti-war film, Paths of Glory. It’s an examination of the stark difference between the French soldiers & officers doing battle in the trenches of France during World War I, and the big brass conducting the war. Every aspect of their lives are perpendicular: Their military roles; where & how they live; what they eat; their daily routines; their hopes & dreams; even how they entertain themselves. “I’m a coward but I still can’t understand these armchair officers fighting a war from behind a desk while their soldiers dig paths of glory that lead to their grave”.

PoG - Stanley

Though set in World War I, Paths of Glory can be applied to any war. And it’s probably no coincidence that it was released during America’s roll-up to the Vietnam War. The story centers around the 701st Regiment’s mission to retake The Anthill from German control. Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) & all his men know the mission is suicidal. However, General Mireau (George Macready) has been promised another Star by his superior officer, General Broulard (Adolphe Menjou) when the The Anthill is secured. Mireau’s evil goes beyond mere ambition: In a classic scene that is both taken from the life of General George S. Patton & mirrored by George C. Scott 13 years later in Franklin J. Schaffner’s film, Mireau slaps a Shell-Shocked Soldier (Fred Bell) then expels him from the Regiment, claiming that no such condition really exists. I am not familiar with Humphrey Cobb’s novel of the same name from which the screenplay was adapted so I’m not certain of the genealogy of the scene: Was it part of the 1935 book which Patton read?; or, as I suspect, did Stanley have this added into the screenplay to make Mireau all the more sadistic & force the viewer to confront the duality in the personality of one of America’s great military leaders. Among the plethora of the other excellent performances in the motion picture are: Timothy Carey as Private Ferol, 1 of 3 soldiers selected as examples for the Regiment’s inability to take The Anthill; Wayne Morris as the drunken Lieutenant Roget; and Susanne Christian, the only female in the movie, who performs an amazing version of the German folk dirge The Faithful Hussar at the end of the picture. Her real name at the time was Christiane Harlan. She & Stanley first met on the set and within a year he divorced his second wife to marry her. They stayed together until he died in 1999. Her brother, Jan, directed the documentary, Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures.

PoG - Dax&BroulardPoG - MenjouPoG - Patton PoG - SSSPoG - FerolPoG - MorrisPoG - Christiane

Kubrick’s only Oscar in 13 nominations came in 1969 for Best Visual Effects for our next movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Paths of Glory received no Oscar nominations, but was entered into the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry in 1992. It was the first of 2 films on which he worked with Kirk Douglas. On the other, Spartacus, Douglas both starred & was Executive Producer. The Executive Producer, or EP, of a movie: Provides and/or secures its financing; initiates its development; and hires the Producers who control the budget, then usually moves on to another project. But on Spartacus, EP Douglas: Fired Director Anthony Mann; had Kubrick brought in to replace him; and continued influencing the production through its release. Since Kubrick insisted on total control of his films, they never worked together again. But they did get along well enough in Paths of Glory to make movie magic together. I’ve added an unofficial trailer that includes the Shell Shocked SOldier scene below. Waddaya say you watch it then head over to your local library & borrow a copy? At just 88 minutes, it’s a short piece, particularly for Kubrick. 4 Stars!

9/6/13: Some LIke It Hot

SLIH

Billy Wilder’s 1959 romantic comedy, Some Like It Hot, opens in Chicago in February of ‘29. Joe (Tony Curtis) is saxophonist, a ladies man & always ready for good times. His best friend & roommate, Jerry (Jack Lemmon) the fiddle bass player, is more straight-laced. Their landlord & creditors are already on their tail when they’re caught accidentally witnessing the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre by the perpetrators, Spats Colombo (George Raft) & gang.  After escaping the garage, they have to get out of town or suffer the same fate as Spats’ rivals. They dress in drag (Joe as Josephine & Jerry as Daphne) and join Sweet Sue (Joan Shawlee) & Her Society Syncopators, an all female band headed by train to Miami. The Syncopators features the sexy Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe) on vocals & ukulele. “When Sugar isn’t singing, the Syncopators play mainly fast music: Hot jazz. I guess some like it hot. Personally, I prefer Jerry.” Sugar Kane immediately sparks Joe’s interest but she thinks he’s a woman, so he has to take on a male role to romance her. He chooses to be oil heir, Junior, who looks, dresses, acts & especially sounds just like Cary Grant. Tony Curtis is Joe pretending to be Josephine pretending to be Cary Grant pretending to be Junior the oil baron. WHAT!!

SLIH - boys SLIH - St V SLIH - girls SLIH - Sue SLIH - Jer SLIH - Cary 

The film won noted Costume Designer, Orry-Kelly, the Oscar for Black & White Costume Design in 1960 at the 32nd Academy Awards. Some Like It Hot was nominated for 5 additional Oscars: Black & White Art Direction; Black & White Cinematography; Jack Lemmon for Best Actor; Wilder for Director; and Wilder & I.A.L. Diamond for Adapted Screenplay.

 SLIH - Orry

The film is very risqué for 1959. It was the only movie that year to receive a Condemned rating by the now defunct Roman Catholic Legion of Decency. Marilyn is very scantily clad throughout the picture. You may notice that she is a bit chunky. She was pregnant during the filming. Marilyn, as documented in Simon Curtis’ My Week With Marilyn, was a dominating screen presence. She was, however, notoriously difficult to work with & needed many takes to get a scene right. This despite her being a Method actress who’s personal acting coach was Paula Strasberg, the second wife of the most famous Method teacher & proponent, Lee Strasberg, who you’ll remember as Hyman Roth in The Godfather Part II. Method Acting is a highly acknowledged & widely used process created by Russian stage actor & director Constantin Stanislavski. With The Method, the actor becomes the character in all aspects of his life, not just while rehearsing & filming. Famous proponents of The Method include Marlon Brando, Joaquin Phoenix, Daniel Day-Lewis & Dustin Hoffman. For his Oscar-winning performance as Lincoln, Day-Lewis made everyone including his family call him Mr. President or Mr. Lincoln 24/7. Ironically, Cary Grant (who, I’m sure you noticed, looks just like me) was one of the ‘50’s most vocal detractors of Method Acting. Remember, at that time, Brando’s career was meteoric! With Curtis as Cary Grant, Wilder seems to be hinting at a little inside joke about traditional actors chasing the new generation of Method Actors. But enough about me: Click the link below to watch the trailer, then head over to your local library to borrow a copy of Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot to see legendary Marilyn Monroe at her sexiest! 4 Stars!

SLIH - MM SLIH - PS&MM SLIH - Roth        SLIH - Method SLIH - DDL SLIH - Paulie

8/8/13: The French Connection

TFC

Hello again, Readers. I know there aren’t a lot of you out there, but I can always count on a few of you to check in on my movie Blogs. I see my ol’ buddy Jim Akin is here again. Jim & I go back a long way. We met at a concert in Poughkeepsie on 5/1/09. “He was sitting on the edge of the stage pickin’ his feet. You still pickin’ your feet in Poughkeepsie, Jim?”

TFC - Jim

At any rate, today’s Classic Movie Blog is on William Friedkin’s 1971 crime drama The French Connection, the story of New York City Narcotics Detectives Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) & Cloudy Russo (Roy Scheider). They’re on the trail of a huge heroin shipment coming into the city from France. It’s a dramatization of the events of real life Officers Eddie Egan & Sonny Grosso, respectively, as documented in Robin Moore’s non-fiction book “The French Connection: A True Account of Cops, Narcotics, and International Conspiracy”. The Adapted Screenplay won Ernest Tidyman an Oscar in 1972 at the 44th Academy Awards even though much of the dialog was improvised. Friedkin’s masterpiece won 4 more Oscars: Director, Picture (Producer Philip D’Antoni), Best Actor (Hackman), and Editing; and was nominated for 3 others, including Scheider for Best Supporting Actor. Two additional excellent performances to watch for: Fernando Rey as Alain Charnier; and Frédéric de Pasquale as Devereaux. 

TFC - Friedkin TFC - Partners TFC - Charnier TFC - Devereaux

Notice that I haven’t mentioned any women at all. That’s the one rap on the otherwise tremendous decade of the ‘70’s in motion pictures – the films featured mainly men! Hackman, one of the greatest actors of his or any generation, won the Oscar, his first of 2 along with Best Supporting Actor as Bill Daggett in Clint Eastwood’s 1992 western, Unforgiven, without ever even auditioning for the part. That speaks volumes of Friedkin’s vision for the film. Hackman’s legendary performance also fills fast food bellies the world over & will for years to come, since Al Copeland named his Popeye’s Famous Fried Chicken chain after his character. The French Connection was the first R-Rated Best Picture winner, though the distinction is dubious since John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy won the Award 2 years earlier with an X-Rating. 

TFC - Popeye's

But let’s cut to the chase: The chase scene, the most famous scene in the picture, is considered one of the 2 best chases ever in the movies along with the San Francisco chase scene from Peter Yates’ Bullitt, also produced by D’Antoni. That cliché originated in the early days of film. The great producer Hal Roach is credited with coining the phrase. Quite often back then, directors would end their films with a chase scene to create a cliffhanger in serials or to otherwise keep their audiences riveted. With 5 minutes to go in a movie and no more dialogue in the script, the director would “cut to the chase” to fill up the time required for the film. So improv is very much part of the history of “the chase” & The French Connection is no exception. Its chase scene was almost entirely improvised: Shot out of sequence over a period of 5 weeks without the proper permits; there’s one accident – entirely real; and many of the near crashes are also real.

TFC - Chase TFC - Bullitt TFC - Roach

Let’s cut to the chase scene: Get over to your local library & borrow a copy of William Friedkin’s The French Connection. There is perhaps no better film ever made about obsessed cops on the edge of being criminals. Popeye & Cloudy are not above police brutality; they’re loyal & Popeye holds a grudge. A stark contrast to the equally vile but suave drug traffickers they hunt! 4-Stars!