Film Writing Nov. 2016 – April 2017

It’s been awhile. Work obligations, as well as personal projects and other responsibilities, have taken precedence over updating my blogs. Of course, you can always find me on my Tumblr as well as Twitter & Facebook. Before I let another month get away, I thought I’d finally share an update to the film writing I’ve done for the last 6 months.

I’ve broken topics up into 4 categories (Horror Cinema, British Cinema, Japanese Cinema and Other) since I tend to focus on 3 subjects more than any others. Hopefully, it will make it easier for readers to find what they’re looking for. As always, I write about film every week for FilmStruck’s Streamline blog and you can find my latest updates here: http://streamline.filmstruck.com/author/cinebeats/

ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968)

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Horror Cinema:
Devil’ Advocate: Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Venomous Snakes & Poison Ants: Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
A Double Dose of Boris Karloff
The Devil Made me Do It: La Main Du Diablo (1943)
An Actor’s Revenge: Theatre of Blood (1973)

LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER, THE (1962)

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)

British Cinema:
Angry Cinema: The British New Wave
Losey Let Loose: The Criminal (1960)
Margaret Lockwood is The Wicked Lady (1945)
Equal Shares For All: The League of Gentlemen (1960)

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Belladonna of Sadness (1973)

Japanese Cinema:
– Screen Sorcery: Belladonna of Sadness (1973)
Nippon Noir: Celebrate #noirvember with FilmStruck
Everyone’s Gone Crazy: Violent Cop (1989)
Tokyo Gone Gagaga: Otaku (1994) The film is actually an international production directed by French filmmaker Chris Marker but the focus is on Japan

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Red Desert (1964)

Other:
Surveying the Red Desert (1964)
My Melancholy Valentine: Dans Paris (2006)
There Are No Safe Spaces: An Arturo Ripstein Double Feature
Adventure in Istanbul: Topkapi (1964)
Joan Bennett: Fritz Lang’s Muse
Stranger Than Fiction: The Baron of Arizona (1949)
Creative Collaboration: Jane B. par Agnès V. (1988)
Adolescent Adventure: The World of Henry Orient (1964)
The Search for Common Ground: A Separation (2011)
Strokes of Genius: Moulin Rouge (1952)
The Future is Now: Remembrance of Things to Come (2001)

Six Months of Movie Morlocks: May – Oct. 2016

It’s been an interesting, busy and to be honest, an extremely stressful year due to some ongoing medical issues I’m dealing with that you can read more about here: Vertigo: Hitchcock was wrong.

In turn, I’ve been terribly lax about updating the blog but due to looming work related developments that I’ll be sharing soon, I thought it was time to finally play catch up with Cinebeats’ readers. What follows are links to some of the most interesting (in my estimation) writing I’ve done for TCM’s Movie Morlocks blog during the past six months.

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Spotlight on AIP with Roger Corman
Mistress of Menace: Barbara Steele in The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
Sexual Revolution on Campus – Three in the Attic (1968)
Robert Fuest & His Abominable Creations
Revisiting The Terror (1963) on Blu-ray
TCM Star of the Month: Olivia de Havilland @ 100
Summer Reading Suggestions

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The Whole World is Watching: Medium Cool (1969)
Poster Gallery: Remembering Jack Davis 1924-2016
Fay Wray: The Clairvoyant (1934)
Roddy McDowall: Celebrity Photographer
Angie Dickinson in Cry Terror! (1958)
A Grand & Moving Thing: The King and I (1956)

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Offbeat Otto: Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon (1970)
52 Films By Women: #52FilmsByWomen
Out of the Closet: Tab Hunter Confidential (2015)
My Visit to the Francis Ford Coppola Winery
Paranormal Police Procedural: Nothing But the Night (1972)
The Amazing, Amazing Mr. X (1948)

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March & April at TCM’s Movie Morlocks

Links to some of the writing I did for TCM’s Movie Morlocks blog in March & April 2016.

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Warning! TCM’s Condemned Film Festival is Here
Excerpt: “It’s probably not surprising that TCM’s Condemned Film Festival has come under scrutiny from some sources and individuals who find the programming objectionable and Sister Rose Pacatte’s involvement unacceptable, particularly during Lent and the run-up to Easter Sunday. To provide more insight on this upcoming series I decided to contact TCM programmer Millie De Chirico, who kindly answered my questions and Director of Program Production Scott McGee, who allowed me to quote from an insightful interview he did with Sister Rose. I hope it might encourage viewers of all types and stripes to tune in, no matter what their religious affiliation may or may not be.”

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Beware of Birds: Crow Hollow (1952)
Excerpt: “Crow Hollow (1952) is a little seen low-budget British B-movie typically categorized as Film Noir in the few books where I’ve seen it mentioned. After catching up with it recently I discovered that it had much more in common with Gothic mysteries, Gaslight (1940) inspired thrillers and classic “Old Dark House” movies. Directed economically by Michael McCarthy, who excelled in television and made a number of suspenseful WW2 dramas such as The Accursed (1957) and Operation Amsterdam (1959), the film lacks the stylish flourishes and sophisticated set pieces that the material cries out for. But it is held together by some sharp performances and a twisty plot based on a book by Dorothy Eden and it’s Eden’s involvement that drove me to watch Crow Hollow.”

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Six Irish Tales of Terror & Imagination
Excerpt: “To celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day I thought I would share a collection of outstanding short Irish horror and dark fantasy films that readers can view online free of charge. The six films I’ve selected showcase the talents of some up-and-coming Irish filmmakers who frequently incorporate Irish folklore and legends into their work. These films also demonstrate how potent a succinct shock to the system can be when it is thoughtfully executed by creative writers and directors. In fact, some of these short films are so accomplished and effective that you might find yourself wishing that they were full-length features.”

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New on Blu-ray: Roger Corman’s The Trip (1967)
Excerpt: “Conceived by Corman and written by cohort Jack Nicholson, who had appeared in five of the director’s previous films (The Cry Baby Killer; 1958, The Little Shop of Horrors; 1960, The Raven; 1963, The Terror; 1963 and The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre; 1967), The Trip was one of the first movies to explicitly deal with drug use without moralizing the act. Intentionally or not, it also acted as a sort of road map for anyone considering taking their own drug induced ‘trip.’ At the time, LSD was infiltrating L.A. cocktail parties and Hollywood thrill seekers such as Cary Grant, John Huston, Rita Moreno, Steve McQueen and James Coburn reportedly experimented with hallucinogenics. Jack Nicholson also enjoyed using LSD and his personal ‘happenings’ embellish the script but he wasn’t the only one involved with the film who had dabbled with drugs. The movie’s stars, including Peter Fonda, Susan Strasberg and Dennis Hopper, had all experimented with psychedelics and Roger Corman took his own ‘trip’ before shooting started so he’d have a deeper understanding of the material.”

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Bob Peak: Poster Artist
Excerpt:”One of the best movie posters I own is a U.S. design for Joseph Losey’s Modesty Blaise (1966) featuring a gorgeous eye-popping illustration by Bob Peak. Recently I decided to do some research into Peak and was surprised and delighted to discover that he had illustrated many of my favorite movie posters made during the 1960s and 1970s. I also learned that the artist’s son, Tom Peak, had been keeping his father’s memory alive by maintaining a website celebrating Bob Peak’s artistic achievements and publishing books that feature his work. Today I thought I would share some of what I’ve learned about Peak with our blog readers and showcase some of his best movie poster designs.”

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Death Walks Twice: A Giallo Double Feature
Excerpt: “Both films were directed by Luciano Ercoli and feature Ercoli’s wife, actress Susan Scott (a.k.a. Nieves Navarro). Like many of the best Italian thrillers, these two budget conscious productions look more luxurious than their American counterparts thanks to the creative direction, exotic European settings (Milan, Paris, London and Catalonia) and their innovative use of period specific aesthetics and attitudes including the music, architecture, fashions, and shifting sexual mores of the times. Comprised of labyrinth-like plots inspired by classic Alfred Hitchcock movies and the best Film Noir, Arrow’s new Death Walks Twice box set should appeal to genre novices as well as seasoned giallo fans.”

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Barrymore Best: The Spiral Staircase (1946)
Excerpt: “Merging various genres and subgenres including gothic horror, classic Old Dark House mysteries and atypical Film Noir, Siodmak was able to concoct a potent cinematic cocktail that has inspired countless imitators and admirers in the U.S. and abroad. Films such as Alfred Hitchock’s The Lodger (1927), Fritz Lang’s M (1931) and Richard Thorpe’s Night Must Fall (1937) had explored the sordid world of serial killers before and incorporated some of the same visual motifs. But The Spiral Staircase with its gloved killer, POV photography, violent depictions of death, obsession with dead animals, unrelenting suspense, atmospheric score, compelling use of location and the unabashed use of dream logic that’s integral to the narrative, became a sort of prototype for giallo.”

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On the Waterfront (1954): A Poster Gallery
Excerpt:”If you’ve never had the opportunity to experience this powerful and provocative movie on the big screen I highly recommend doing so. You might think you understand what made Marlon Brando such a commanding screen presence but until you’ve had the opportunity to see him strut and fret for more than an hour on the big screen, I don’t think you can fully appreciate what made him a Hollywood trailblazer and acting heavyweight. But don’t just come to watch Brando at his best. There are many more reasons to see On the Waterfront including Elia Kazan’s outstanding direction, Boris Kaufman’s moody black and white cinematography, Budd Schulberg’s potent script, Leonard Bernstein’s compelling score and a top-notch cast of supporting players that include Karl Malden, Eva Marie Saint, Rod Steiger and Lee J. Cobb firing on all-cylinders while delivering some of their finest screen work.”

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Star Scents: A Pictorial of Classic Film Star Fragrances
Excerpt:”I decided to try and track down as many movie star scents as I could and what I discovered genuinely surprised me. What follows is a select pictorial of perfumes made famous by the actors who inspired, promoted and occasionally played a part in creating them.”

The Return of Modern Mondays

I’ve been inspired to write brief bits about some of the new films I’ve seen recently. I normally post my thoughts on Letterboxd but thought I’d start compiling them here every month or so depending on how much I write and if I have anything worthwhile to say.

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Breathe (2015)
The worst bullies I’ve encountered in my life have all been women and some of them started out as friends. Cold, calculating, flat out vicious and mean spirited women who get their power (or attempt to reclaim it) by isolating, manipulating and emotionally abusing vulnerable fellow females. Apparently French director and actress Mélanie Laurent has also experienced this phenomenon firsthand and she does an excellent job of illustrating the complexities between so-called “frenemies” – a cute term that too often masks the genuine ugliness found in aggressive or passive aggressive relationships shared between women and girls.

The film is beautifully composed making creative use of the cloistered environment it builds while maintaining a mournful tone throughout as the girl’s burgeoning friendship blossoms, thrives and finally dies on the vine. We follow them through exhausting school terms, lazy summer days, late night parties and awkward encounters with boys who make poor replacements for missing (or abusive) fathers while Laurent’s intimate camera work invites us to care deeply about their predicament. This intimacy, as well as the young lead’s (Joséphine Japy & Lou de Laâge) shared commitment to their roles, makes the shocking finale particularly brutal and heartbreaking. A dark, dark film and an impressive directorial debut that should have gotten a hell of a lot more press coverage last year.

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The Invitation (2015)
The Invitation is one of the best films I’ve seen this year with an impressive central performance from Logan Marshall-Green. Grief and malaise run rampant in the Hollywood Hills turning a dinner party among old friends into a incredibly unnerving and flat out creepy affair.The atmosphere of dread and unease that permeate the proceedings is so thick you can cut it with a serving knife thanks to Karyn Kusama’s taught direction & Theodore Shapiro’s eerie score. A great slow-burn horror feast that didn’t get a wide release so you’ll probably have to catch it streaming online if you want to see it. Best to go into the movie blind with as little info as possible if you want to get the most bang for your buck.

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Pee-wee’s Big Holiday (2016)
I was prepared to hate Pee-wee’s Big Holiday when I spotted Judd Apatow’s name in the opening credits but I was pleasantly surprised by this romantic comedy that has our hero finding true love with the muscular, motorcycle riding Joe Manganiello. The film is surprisingly sweet and gently subversive. It also references some classic movies such as Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and Christopher Strong, which will delight observant film buffs. This might be the first gay love story aimed at kids of all ages and it’s adorable!

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The Witch (2016)
Spent Oscar night watching The Witch with a small but enthusiastic crowd at a local theater that politely clapped after the credits rolled. I liked the film a lot, particularly the way it creatively weaved folklore elements into the narrative. With all the hoopla surrounding the film I wasn’t expecting much but I was impressed by the adult nature of The Witch and some of the unusually grim twists and turns the film took. Surprised this got a wide release but I hope that’s a sign of good things to come. So many of the best horror films I’ve seen in recent years (such as last years Aleluia, Cub and Naciye) never make it out of New York or the small festivals they’re shown at. Don’t know how The Witch has managed to get so many breaks and such wide acclaim but it makes my black heart happy.

Jan. & Feb. 2016 at TCM’s Movie Morlocks

Links to some of the writing I did for TCM’s Movie Morlocks blog in Jan. & Feb.

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Jan. 7: William Cameron Menzies: Chandu the Magician (1932)

Excerpt: “In recent weeks, you might have heard about the upcoming Doctor Strange film currently scheduled for release in November of 2016. The news caught my attention because I’ve always liked the comic book character and the cast, which includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton and Chiwetel Ejiofor, is impressive. I mention all this because tonight TCM is launching their month-long spotlight on legendary production designer and director, William Cameron Menzies. Some classic film fans might balk at the idea of mentioning the upcoming Doctor Strange movie and William Cameron Menzies in the same paragraph but there are slender threads that connect the two thanks to Menzies’s creative contributions to Chandu the Magician (1932)”

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Jan. 14: 15 Favorite Films of 2015

Excerpt: “Many of the best performances I saw last year were given by actors who were 65-years old or older suggesting younger generations of performers could still learn a lot from actors like Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay, Ian McKellen, Richard Jenkins and Kurt Russell (who will be turning 65 in March!). I hope it also encourages future filmmakers to create roles that allow these veteran actors to strut their stuff.”

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Jan. 21: ’60s Spy Stories: Gila Golan

Excerpt: “Femme fatales are as important to ‘60s spy films as they are to Film Noir but one of the most frequent criticisms of the genre is its questionable depiction of women. While it’s true that they’re often treated as mere sexual objects in these espionage romps and are regularly introduced into the paper-thin plots to give the male leads something to ogle, the particulars are a bit more complex than that. If you watch enough of these panache productions you begin to notice how subversive many of them are. Sure, the women might dress in sexually suggestive clothing and use their feminine wiles to lure men to their doom, but they are frequently put in positions of power. They’re also regularly portrayed as being smarter or at least as capable as the men they encounter and occasionally save the day. If and when they decide to fall into the hero’s arms they’re often the ones initiating the relationship and control much of the action.”

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Jan. 29: A Minor Picture Compendium of Classic Movie Nurses

Excerpt:”Movie nurses come in all stripes. They can be mean and cruel like Nurse Ratched or gentle as doves like Audrey Hepburn’s character in The Nun’s Story. They can also be sexy, smart, compassionate, laugh-out-loud funny and ruthless blood thirsty monsters. What follows is a picture gallery featuring some of my favorite movie nurses.”

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Feb. 4: Melvin Van Peebles: The Story of A Three-Day Pass (1967)

Excerpt: “Seemingly Influenced by both the French and British New Wave, including the early films of Godard and John Schlesinger, Melvin Van Peebles first full-length feature film subverts conventional narrative methods to delve deeper into its characters conflicted psyches. The Story of A Three-Day Pass bounces, pops and glides like a musical composition and the innovative freewheeling nature of the film mirrors its jazz inspired score. Van Peebles uses a number of experimental film techniques including dolly shots, freeze frames, jump cuts, jarring dissolves, split-screen and lengthy POV shots that impart the film with an intimacy and immediacy that immediately draws you in and demands your attention. We’re encouraged to see the world through Turner’s eyes and we experience the bigotry he faces in a very direct way. It was refreshingly straightforward and progressive stuff in 1967 that retains its power to shock and provoke audiences today.”

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Feb. 11: Jean-Claude Killy in Snow Job (1972)

Excerpt: “Snow Job was filmed on location in the Italian and Swiss Alps by American director George Englund (The Ugly American; 1963, Zachariah; 1971, etc.) and Hungarian cinematographer Gábor Pogány (Two Women; 1960, Bluebeard; 1972, Night Train Murders; 1975, etc.). According to interviews, they used helicopters extensively throughout the shoot, which allowed them to capture all the action on the slopes. The camerawork is occasionally breathtaking as we watch Jean-Claude Killy jump and drift across the alpine landscape like an agile bird while risking serious injury or even death. Killy insisted on doing all his own stunts and it’s remarkable that he got through filming unscathed. If you appreciate seventies heist films with dynamic action sequences or the kind of risky professional skiing typically reserved for Warren Miller documentaries, you should find Snow Job a particularly rewarding and enjoyable watch.”

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Feb. 18: Jack Palance: Horror Star

Excerpt: “I first saw the tall, broad featured and chiseled actor in Man in the Attic (1953) where he played Jack the Ripper in this fourth film adaptation of Marie Belloc Lowndes’s 1913 novel, The Lodger. I was only a kid at the time but Palance’s quietly seething performance impressed me due to the sympathy he was able to generate for his unlikable character. Jack the Ripper is typically portrayed as a cold-blooded maniac or sexually motivated monster but Palance, despite his menacing presence, was able to imbue his Ripper with a complex psychology that was thought provoking and surprisingly contemporary. As a seemingly harmless killer with an unmanageable Oedipus complex, Palance’s Ripper prefigures the often-cited character of Norman Bates in Hitchcock’s Psycho.”

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Feb. 25: Douglas Slocombe: A Tribute

Excerpt: “What follows is a gallery of some of my favorite screen shots from Douglas Slocombe’s distinguished oeuvre. They demonstrate that the accomplished cinematographer was much more than an artless journeyman or technician who simply took orders from a director. The images I’ve gathered are linked together by a unique creative vision that spans the length of his 50-year career in film.”

Regular visitors to Cinebeats over the years might recall my affection for many of the films Slocombe worked on, which I’ve written about here including The Third Secret, Boom! and The Servant. An image from The Servant even graces my “testimonials” page.

RIP Mr. Slocombe.

Happy New Year! + Nov. & Dec. at TCM’s Movie Morlocks

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Happy New Year. So much to say and so little time to say it. Instead, I’ll save my rambling end of the year diatribe for another day and leave you with some links to the film writing I’ve done at TCM’s Movie Morlocks blog during the past few months. Cheers!

November:
Another Hole in the Head 2015: 11 Days of Indie Horror, Sci-Fi & Fantasy in San Francisco!
Excerpt: “In the words of festival programmer Michael Guillen, Another Hole in the Head is “characterized by a scrappy, DIY aesthetic that eschews big studio content and recent trends towards elevated genre. Holehead’s programming remains curatorially committed to the genre’s graphic roots in shockploitation, visceral thrills and gleeful mayhem.” As a genre film fan with a particular interest in horror I was intrigued by Guillen’s joyful and graphic description so I decided to ask him a few questions about the festival and his programming selections this year.”
Federico Fellini: The Cartoonist
Excerpt: “Fellini’s propensity toward the absurd emerged early in life. As a child, he began drawing caricatures of film stars he saw in movies and as a young adult he found work as a cartoonist and gag writer for a number of Italian newspapers, humor publications and comic books. He eventually began writing comedy scripts for radio but WW2 derailed his writing career and following the Allied liberation of Rome in 1944, Fellini opened the Funny Face Shop where he worked as a caricature artist and expressed an interest in animation. It was here that Fellini met the renowned filmmaker Roberto Rossellini who was so impressed with his sense of humor that he was asked to co-write the film script for Rossellini’s Rome, Open City (1945) and the rest, as they say, is history. Fellini soon began working as an apprentice for Rossellini and ultimately started directing his own films but he never stopped drawing cartoons and caricatures.”
Life Advice from Douglas Fairbanks
Excerpt: “The ideas expressed in the books are often ridiculously simplistic and there is a lot of focus on physical fitness, which preoccupied much of Fairbanks’s time. The actor’s fixation with exercise and maintaining his health is typical of someone whose career relies on him being physically fit but it’s also a rather modern approach to living that predates our current preoccupation with good health and Hollywood’s obsession with body image. In retrospect, Fairbanks’s health advice seems somewhat ironic considering we now know he died at the young age of 52 following a heart attack. It’s an unfortunate reminder that despite our best efforts death is unavoidable and waits for no one.”
Remembering Bruce Lee on his 75th Birthday
Excerpt: “My own affection for Bruce Lee began when I was just a kid. I became aware of the actor and director when he died in 1973, which was the same year I lost my own father. For a number of reasons, including their similar age and the fact that Lee’s passing garnered massive publicity at the time, their deaths were inevitably linked in my head and heart. There were plenty of other celebrity deaths in 1973, including Lon Chaney Jr. and Edward G. Robinson, but neither generated the kind of worldwide public mourning and media attention that followed in the wake of Bruce Lee’s passing. Afterward the celebrated martial artist was catapulted into sainthood while my father remained a saint in my own mind. However, when I think of one man I frequently think of the other. Both left this world suddenly, without warning, and much too soon.”

December:
Movie Book Round-Up: The Holiday Edition
Excerpt: “Since I began writing for the Movie Morlocks five years ago I typically compile a blog post with summer reading suggestions or a list of favorite film related books released at the end of the year. This year I’ve had access to so many great books that I decided to compile two book lists . . . What follows is my ‘Holiday Edition’ where I share some of the best books (pictured above) that I’ve encountered since July. I hope both lists will encourage you to do some reading during the holidays or provide you with some shopping suggestions while you’re purchasing gifts for fellow film buffs.”
Nippon Noir: Snow Trail (1947)
Excerpt: “Senkichi Taniguchi’s Show Trail aka Ginrei no hate (1947) begins with a bang. A montage of shadowy figures and fragmented images bombards viewers during the film’s opening credits while guns fire, alarms ring, windows break, trains whistle and sirens scream. We soon discover that three desperate men (Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura and Yoshio Kosugi) have just robbed a bank and in a bold attempt to dodge authorities they make a dangerous trip to Northern Japan where they hope to lose their pursuers in the snow covered Alps . . . This highly suspenseful, genuinely moving and remarkably inventive film marks the screen introduction of many notable talents. Chief among them is 27-year-old Toshiro Mifune who makes his screen debut here and would eventually become one of Japan’s most acclaimed and beloved actors.”
Pioneering Women: Disney Artists Mary Blair & Thelma Witmer
Excerpt: “While pursuing the credits for So Dear to My Heart and the animated short Corn Chips I noticed that they included work done by two female animation artists I admire, Mary Blair and Thelma Witmer. Women are not typically associated with animation and they tend to be excluded from histories about the subject but thanks to a number of recent books and exhibits, Mary Blair’s career has gone through a reevaluation and she’s become widely recognized as one of Walt Disney Studio’s most original and influential talents. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of background artist Thelma Witmer who worked with Disney for more than 20 years but remains largely unknown.”
The Thin Man Marathon: Conjugal Concord
Excerpt: “There are many reasons to love the Thin Man films. They’re smart, funny, sophisticated and flat out entertaining mysteries but I’m particularly fond of the way they make marriage look so damn fun. Nick and Nora are best pals as well as romantic mates and their breezy back-and-forth banter suggests an intimacy that is sadly missing from many depictions of marriage on screen. Best of all, they share a similar sense of humor and as the old maxim goes, ‘a couple that laughs together, stays together.'”

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I’ve also been doing some promotional writing for TCM’s new Wine Club including a brief piece about wine in the movies that you can find here:
A Brief History of Wine in the Movies

Sept. & Oct. at The Movie Morlocks

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It’s that time again. Time to collect & share links to the writing I’ve published on TCM’s Movie Morlocks blog in the past few months. In September I spent a lot of time obsessing over TCM Star of the Month Susan Hayward. I reference her in at least three of the pieces I wrote that month and I refer to her again in my first October post about the neglected Gothic thriller, THE LOST MOMENT (1947). As usual, I spent the rest of “Shocktober” focusing on darker fare including horror films and morbid mysteries. Follow the links to read more.

September:
Susan Hayward in Her Own Words
“I didn’t know much about TCM’s current Star of the Month so I decided to delve into her past recently and was somewhat surprised by the way Susan Hayward had been portrayed (and ignored) by the media since her death in 1975. Nicknamed the “Divine Bitch” following the release of a similarly titled biography, the four-time Academy Award nominated actress didn’t make a lot of friends in Hollywood and is rarely described in flattering terms by studio executives and costars so the general picture we have of her seems somewhat skewed. I’m a firm believer that there are usually two-sides to every story so I decided to explore newspaper and movie magazine archives in an effort to learn more about the redheaded screen siren in her own words without the opinions of her biographers and colleagues getting in the way. In the process I discovered a complex woman whose turbulent real life was often more sensational than the fictional lives of the characters she portrayed.”

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Alberto Vargas in Hollywood
“If you love vintage pin-up art as much as I do you’ll probably recognize Alberto Vargas’s name. Between 1920 and 1975 the Peruvian artist created some of the most celebrated and recognizable pin-up art in America while working for the Ziegfeld Follies as well as Esquire magazine and Playboy . . . What classic movie fans might not know is that Alberto Vargas also had a brief but lucrative career in Hollywood painting celebrity portraits, working for film industry magazines and creating movie posters. I enjoy playing detective so I decided to dig through various archives and books in search of Vargas’s film related work and what I found surprised me. The Latin artist made a much bigger impact on Hollywood than I’d previously been led to believe.”

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Every Dog Must Have His Day
“The film is weighted with biting social commentary as well as religious and political allegory but at its heart, WHITE GOD is a rather simple and profoundly sad story about a helpless dog that learns he must rely on himself and rebel against authority if he wants to survive in a dog-eat-dog world. It also doubles as a sensitive coming-of-age story about the young dog owner who learns a similar lesson although the perils and circumstances she faces are much more privileged and forgiving . . . While watching WHITE GOD I was reminded of a few other films I admire that center around dogs like Hagen who were forced to take similar journeys while suffering the consequences of man’s inhumanity to man and animal alike”

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The Power of the Pantsuit
“The entire scene, between the time Hayward enters the bathroom and leaves it, only lasts about 2 minutes but she and her paisley pantsuit completely own it. It’s a spectacular exit and although plenty of people like to point out the campy elements in VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, Hayward’s sincerity is undeniable in that moment. She was living in Helen Lawson’s skin and it’s evident that she deeply related to the character’s desperation and disappointments as well as her success. And that dazzling suit she wears represents her achievements.”

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October:
Nameless Fear: The Lost Moment (1947)
“The film is wrapped in a shimmery fog and lit mostly by candles that dance off dusty walls. And the house at the center of all the drama, with its spectacular canal-side setting, long twisting hallways, dark balconies, spiraling stairs and decomposing garden, evokes plenty of ghosts. It may not be a typical horror film but this Gothic romance about conflicted characters, doomed romance and ever-shifting identities will haunt you . . . It’s a terrible shame that The Lost Moment was neglected for so long. If critics had been kinder and audiences more receptive, there’s a high probability that director Martin Gabel would have continued making movies and he might have been remembered alongside some of the more interesting filmmakers who were working at Universal in the late forties and fifties. But when he died at age 73 in 1986 after suffering a massive heart attack the New York Times didn’t bother to mention his singular directing credit in their obituary.”

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Fatal Charm: Cast a Dark Shadow (1955)
“The picture opens with a striking scene shot inside a funhouse ride at a carnival. Dirk Bogarde’s character is sharing his seat with his wife and future murder victim (Mona Washbourne) when the camera focuses in on his face hidden by shadows while his pupils appear to light-up. It’s a startling effect that makes Bogarde look like a hungry demon with hellfire in his eyes. In this clever title sequence, director Lewis Gilbert and cinematographer Jack Asher signal to film audiences that their male protagonist is a monster before he ever opens his mouth.”

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10 Trailblazing Horror Films Directed by Women
“All month long TCM has been airing films made by women on Tuesday and Thursday night as part of their groundbreaking Trailblazing Women series hosted by Illeana Douglas. According to Charles Tabesh, senior vice president of programming for TCM, the goal of Trailblazing Women is to “Highlight the impact of female filmmakers throughout history and encourage future female filmmakers.” The response has been overwhelmingly positive and it’s heartening to see TCM’s resources used to educate, inform and inspire viewers . . . I’ve been enjoying a lot of the Trailblazing Women programming myself but since we’re in the middle of Schocktober, I thought I’d set aside some time to highlight some of my favorite horror films and thrillers directed by women who have left their macabre mark on a genre that many mistakenly assume is not very female friendly.”

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Double Your Pleasure with a Dracula Double Feature
“Tod Browning’s DRACULA is rightly hailed as a horror classic while the Spanish version directed by George Melford was assumed lost and went largely unseen by modern audiences following its initial release until it was restored and distributed on home video in 1992. Both films were shot at the same time using the same sets but with different casts, which was a typical practice by studios in the early 1930s. Their goal was to appeal to international audiences eager to see new-fangled sound films in their own language. The idea quickly went out of favor due to the high cost of producing multiple movies but the Spanish language version of DRACULA is one of best examples we have of this popular practice.”

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Wine & Wolves: The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)
“This unique Gothic horror from Hammer is part love story, part social allegory and part monster movie. John Elder aka Anthony Hinds’s script was loosely based on a book by Guy Endor (The Werewolf of Paris) and it takes a grim but very modern view of life by stressing that the werewolf is a product of his environment and circumstance instead of just a supernatural beast. The impressive sets, which were borrowed from previous Hammer productions, still look fresh and are accentuated by Terrence Fisher’s direction. This is somewhat of a staid film for Fisher and lacks the abundant style that the director brought to The Brides of Dracula (1961) made the same year. Instead, the film becomes a creative showcase for Oliver Reed’s performance and he’s spectacular as well as deeply moving as the cursed werewolf. The film also provides a nice backdrop for some of the studio’s best make-up effects designed by Roy Ashton. Reed’s transformation from a handsome young man (he was just 21-years-old at the time) into a ferocious wolf is particularly startling but it’s matched by the makeup used to age and disfigure the beggar and the Marquis. The two men are not typical monsters but as their souls seemingly wither and die; their decaying faces illustrate the ravages of time and the darkness that has suffocated their hearts.”

The National Film Registry: Little Big Man (1970)

I was recently extremely honored to be contacted by an employee of the Library of Congress who told me that my 2010 essay on Arthur Penn’s controversial film LITTLE BIG MAN (1970) had been selected by the National Film Preservation Board to be included on the National Film Registry website as part of their ongoing work to “ensure the survival, conservation and increased public availability of America’s film heritage.” LITTLE BIG MAN was one of 25 films that the National Film Registry preserved in 2014 and it’s a film that’s near and dear to my heart. Not only is it my favorite Arthur Penn film but as the step-grandchild of a Native American grandfather who treated me as if I was his own flesh & blood and played an important part in making me the woman I am today, I have a very personal connection to LITTLE BIG MAN.

My essay (which I originally wrote for Turner Classic Movies) is highly critical of the U.S. Government’s treatment of Native Americans as well as the Vietnam War so I’m rather surprised that it was selected as a text that’s now officially associated with the film. And as a history buff who spends much of her time watching PBS specials & reading non-fiction books about America’s past I honestly can’t think of a higher honor than to have something I wrote affiliated with the Library of Congress and the important work done by the National Film Preservation Board.

So without further ado, I’ve decided to re-post my essay below and you can find my original text on the TCM website.

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LITTLE BIG MAN’S BIG IMPACT by Kimberly Lindbergs

Few film genres have captured the imagination of movie audiences with the same kind of power and persuasiveness as the American western. For decades Hollywood mixed facts with fiction and created a kind of celluloid mythology that made heroes out of cowboys, would-be settlers and the U.S. Cavalry. Unfortunately this myth-making led to the vilifying of Native Americans who experienced incomprehensible suffering and losses that went undocumented in our history books and were unseen in our movies. Occasionally Hollywood would offer up subtle suggestions of the injustices and racism that Native Americans experienced but the limited scope of these films often marred our general understanding of the people who once populated this beautiful country. In 1970 that all changed.

The decade began with an important event in Native American history. On November 20, 1969, 79 American Indians began a 19-month long occupation of the abandoned prison on Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay. The occupiers demanded the return of Alcatraz Island and expressed their desire to have an Indian cultural center and university built there. The U.S. Government ignored their demands and on June 11, 1971 the occupation of Alcatraz came to an end but the event brought world-wide attention to the plight of American Indians and helped strengthen the resolve of AIM (American Indian Movement).

During the occupation of Alcatraz, Dee Brown published his unprecedented Indian history of the American west, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. This best-selling book detailed the genocide of the American Indians and changed the way Americans perceived their country’s complicated past. At the same time a new type of western was taking shape in Hollywood that challenged the way American Indians had been depicted in previous films. These revisionist westerns included A MAN CALLED HORSE (1970), SOLIDER BLUE (1970) and Arthur Penn’s LITTLE BIG MAN (1970).

LITTLE BIG MAN, which was based on Thomas Berger’s novel of the same name, chronicled the long and troubled history of Jack Crabb (Dustin Hoffman), a 121-year-old man whose family was killed by the Pawnee Indians when he was only 10. He’s saved by the Cheyenne Indians (longtime enemy of the Pawnee) who raise him as one of their own tribe members. Jack comes to love and respect the Indians who refer to themselves as “human beings.” Throughout the film Jack Crabb is torn between two worlds. The world of the white men who are often depicted as religious hypocrites, murderous gunslingers, racist brutes and money hungry capitalists willing to do anything in order to make a buck. And the more earth conscious world of the Native Americans who are trying to survive while their own way of life, identity and human dignity is being stripped from them by the U.S. Government.

If my description of the film seems heavy-handed it’s because LITTLE BIG MAN is often a very heavy-handed film. Arthur Penn wasn’t merely interested in making a movie that challenged the way Hollywood had mythologized the history of the American west. The director was also responding to the war in Vietnam that had led to well-publicized atrocities such as the My Lai Massacre that took place in 1968. Penn had never shied away from showing violence in his films before but the relentless brutality depicted in LITTLE BIG MAN bothered some of the nation’s leading film critics. The movie detailed an ugly and little seen side of war that often led to the killing of innocent civilians including unarmed mothers and their children but it didn’t stop there. Indians were shown viciously killing one another while children coldly murdered adults and animals were brutally slaughtered by the Indians for food as well as by fur trappers for mere profit. Death was usually depicted as violent, sudden and bloody in LITTLE BIG MAN, which led critics like Vincent Canby of the New York Times to say that the film “wears its social concerns so blatantly that they look like war paint.” And the respected critic Pauline Kael, who had championed Penn’s previous film BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967), thought that LITTLE BIG MAN was “just crude, ideological filmmaking.”

Thankfully the movie did have its defenders and audiences flocked to it. The American public was eager to experience an anti-establishment western that questioned everything that had come before it, even if Penn’s sledgehammer approach to his subject was often seen as crude and self-conscious. The criticisms of LITTLE BIG MAN seem rather ridiculous now when you consider the decades of misrepresentation that Native Americans had to suffer through. Arthur Penn knew that he needed to hammer home his point in order to breakdown the seemingly impenetrable wall of ignorance that had been built around the history of the American west. But the film softened its bold attack on Hollywood myth-making with humor and human pathos.

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Penn shot LITTLE BIG MAN on location with help from cinematographer Harry Stradling Jr. and their use of actual historic sites, including Little Bighorn as well as Indian Reservations in Montana, gave the film a realistic edge that was rarely seen in previous depictions of the west. Penn clearly enjoyed playing with the public’s perception of historical events in films like THE LEFT HANDED GUN (1958) which focused on the outlaw Billy the Kid as well as his critically acclaimed hit BONNIE AND CLYDE but LITTLE BIG MAN was a more urgent and angry movie. It illustrated an epic tragedy of immeasurable proportions but still managed to be one of the director’s most entertaining and personal films.

The film also provided its star with one of his most challenging roles. Dustin Hoffman had become a popular counter-culture figure thanks to parts in memorable movies such as THE GRADUATE (1967) and MIDNIGHT COWBOY (1969). His impressive acting skills, short stature, self-depreciating humor and universal appeal had made him a world-wide star who didn’t fit neatly into Hollywood’s idea of a typical leading man. The role of “Little Big Man” seemed tailor-made for Hoffman and he is unforgettable as Jack Crabb. Unlike many films that turned their leading men into heroic outsiders who lead the Native Americans out of danger, Hoffman’s character is a fumbling, weak-willed anti-hero who rarely succeeds at anything that he attempts to accomplish. The 33-year-old actor had to age 88 years in the movie which was achieved by using the services of skilled makeup artist Dick Smith. Hoffman also spent an hour screaming at the top of his lungs before shooting so his voice would sound as ragged as he looked. As good as Hoffman is in LITTLE BIG MAN, his extraordinary performance in the film is occasionally eclipsed by his costars.

Faye Dunaway is well cast as a reverend’s wife who turns to prostitution after her husband dies and Martin Balsam does a terrific job of playing a resilient con man. I also appreciate Jeff Corey’s portrayal of Wild Bill Hickok and Kelly Jean Peters is very good as Hoffman’s Swedish wife. One of the film’s most memorable performances is delivered by Richard Mulligan who plays General George Armstrong Custer. Mulligan was a brilliant comic actor who depicted General Custer as an egocentric madman hell-bent on the destruction of Native Americans. In previous films Custer was typically presented as an untarnished hero but Mulligan’s crazed performance gave the public a very different version of Custer to consider.

What really set the film apart from so many previous westerns was its depiction of Native Americans. The Cheyenne are not merely noble savages or bloodthirsty Braves in LITTLE BIG MAN. The tribe that raises Dustin Hoffman’s character is made up of gay Indians (Robert Little Star), angry lunatics (Cal Bellini) and sexually motivated squaws (Aimée Eccles, Emily Cho, Linda Dyer, etc.). These would have been fringe characters in any Hollywood film made in 1970 but their appearance in a western was truly groundbreaking. Penn’s film humanized Indians in a way that few Hollywood films had dared to in the past and they suddenly seemed as complex and divided as their white brothers and sisters. They were our neighbors, our friends and family members.

If a film can have a soul, that part was played by Chief Dan George who portrayed Dustin Hoffamn’s adopted grandfather Old Lodge Skins. Originally actors as diverse as Marlon Brando and Lawrence Olivier had been considered for the role but thankfully they turned it down. Hollywood had rarely employed actual Indians in the past but Chief Dan George was the real Chief of the Burrard Band of North Vancouver in British Columbia. He brought his personal experience to the role and gave a voice to Native Americans everywhere. His sensitive and humorous portrayal of Old Lodge Skins won the hearts and minds of movie-goers around the world and he was nominated for many awards including an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Today LITTLE BIG MAN is often dismissed as a dated relic and when the movie is written about or mentioned it can’t seem to escape the shadow of the Vietnam war but Arthur Penn’s film is much more than just an angry anti-war tirade. It universally changed the way that audiences viewed Native Americans and it helped to broaden our understanding and interpretation of American history. Few films can make such lofty claims but I don’t think the importance of LITTLE BIG MAN should be underestimated. Sometimes a rare film comes along that actually changes the world and makes it a more interesting place to live in. Arthur Penn’s LITTLE BIG MAN is one of those films.

Jan. & Feb. 2015 at TCM’s Movie Morlocks

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Links to my writing at TCM’s official Movie Morlocks blog in January & February.

15 FAVORITE FILMS FROM 2014
Excerpt: “I know what you’re thinking. Another list?! Forgive me my trespass but as a member of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists I’m asked to compile a list of my favorite films each year and I wanted to share some of my viewing highlights with you. These are the films that have been occupying my thoughts in recent weeks and many of them haven’t gotten the critical attention that I think they deserve.”

NIPPON NOIR: I AM WAITING (1957)
Excerpt: “Viewers will easily spot the influence of early American as well as French Film Noir on I AM WAITING. From its jazz infused score by the brilliant Japanese composer Masaru Sato to the dark and shadow lined cinematography of Kurataro Takamura and the surprisingly gritty script by Shintaro Ishihara, almost all traces of old Japan are missing from the film.”

ROBERT REDFORD & SYDNEY POLLACK: A CREATIVE PARTNERSHIP
Excerpt: “In the years that followed Redford would continue to develop this persona as a sort of amorous outsider who finds himself in difficult relationships that usually end badly or abruptly. As handsome as he was, Redford rarely got to keep the girl who was often hard won. This kind of romantic cynicism became typical in the decade that followed as the country’s growing mistrust in everything, from government bureaucracy to the family structure, begin to take its toll on the American dream. And few actors seemed to represent that sea change better than Robert Redford. As the 60s gave way to the 70s, the beloved blond, blue-eyed movie star was surreptitiously becoming the face of American dissatisfaction”

END OF AN ERA: THE PHANTOM OF HOLLYWOOD (1974)
Excerpt: “Unfortunately for classic film fans THE PHANTOM OF HOLLYWOOD (1974) isn’t 100% invention. In fact, many aspects of the telefilm’s plot are taken right from news headlines at the time. The fictional Worldwide Films studios are actually a stand-in for the world renowned Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios, which began systematically selling off its backlots in the early 1970s while auctioning off costumes and props from the beloved films they once produced. Director Gene Levitt and writer George Schenck managed to capture the appalling demolition of MGM and turn it into a melancholy made-for-TV movie that borrows generously from Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera.”

LAUGH RIOT: I’LL GIVE A MILLION (1938)
Excerpt: “This lighthearted comedy of errors should appeal to fans of similar depression-era comedies such as HAPPINESS AHEAD (1934), THE GAY DECEPTION (1935) MY MAN GODFREY (1936), IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934), MERRILY WE LIVE (1938) WISE GIRL (1937) and SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS (1941) that thoughtfully used humor to illustrate the disparity between the wealthy and the less fortune at the time. It’s also just a real treat for fans of Lorre and Carradine who should enjoy watching these two young and charismatic performers playing a couple of hapless hobos who get into trouble with the law. They make a very funny and endlessly entertaining duo as they bumble their way through a series of silly situations.”

OLIVER REED AT 77: A CONVERSATION
Excerpt: “Feb. 13th marks what would have been Oliver Reed’s 77th birthday if he was still with us. Reed died in 1999 but he has long been one of my favorite actors so to honor his memory I decided to contact filmmaker Kent Adamson who worked with Oliver Reed in the 1980s and is friendly with the actor’s son (Mark). What follows is a lengthy Q&A where Kent generously shares his own recollections and thoughts about the actor’s life and career.”

BEWARE! LOUIS JOURDAN IS HERE
Excerpt: “The characters he played were often hard to read and I found myself constantly questioning their motives. This is undoubtedly due to his exceptional performances in films such as LETTER FROM AN UKNOWN WOMAN (1948) where he plays a self-absorbed pianist who breaks Joan Fontaine’s heart and THE BEST OF EVERYTHING (1959) where he drives the gorgeous Suzy Parker mad with jealousy or JULIE (1956) where he stalks and terrorizes poor Doris Day. In retrospect Jourdan was incredibly apt at portraying men with questionable motives and he had a viper-like way of honing in on naive young women who became easy prey. It doesn’t surprise me that he eventually ended up playing a comic-book villain in SWAMPTHING (1982) and a James Bond baddie in OCTOPUSSY (1983). But if I had to select his most fearsome role I’d single out Jourdan’s outstanding turn as the infamous bloodsucking Count in COUNT DRACULA (1977).”

REGRETTABLE VIEWING EXPERIENCES? I’VE HAD A FEW!
Excerpt: “I sat through most of the film with my mouth agape being astonished by its badness but after the first unbelievable hour passed my shock turned to disappointment and disgust. I couldn’t stomach anymore so with only 20 or so minutes remaining until the credits rolled I abandoned my seat and my viewing companions and headed to the lobby where I blew off some steam playing video games. I’ve never regretted my decision. It rates as my worst movie theater experience, bar none.”