Monday, September 18, 2017

Final Summer Reading Challenge Round-Up

Congratulations to everyone who participated in this year's Summer Reading Challenge. It doesn't matter if you read one book or all six, I'm proud of the work you've done and your commitment to participating. I've had such a blast reading all of your reviews, seeing your blog posts, Instagram photos and more.

A special shout out to those who completed the challenge. I was so happy to finally finish this year (even though it was by the skin of my teeth). I'm definitely in good company with the following:

Sarah of Goodreads
Raquel of Out of the Past
Vanessa on Goodreads 

These participants (except for me of course) are eligible to win my contest. Instead of doing one winner and a runner-up I decided to randomly select three winners. And they are:

Andy, Emily and Robby

You all get your pick of one Warner Archive DVD (single disc). I'll be contacting you with details.

If you have any recommendations for how I can improve this challenge for next year please let me know in the comment section below!

Please make sure you visit my previous round-ups (First and Second) to read all the contributions by the participants.

Now on to the reviews:

Daffny of A Vintage Nerd
My Way of Life by Joan Crawford

Emily on Instagram
Dolores Del Rio: Beauty in Light and Shade by Linda B. Hall
Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews by Carl Rollyson
Judy Holliday: An Intimate Life Story by Gary Carey
Lupe Velez: The Life and Career of Hollywood's "Mexican Spitfire" by Michelle Vogel

Jay of Thirty Hertz Rumble
Don’t Disturb the Dead: The Story of the Ramsay Brothers by Shamya Dasgupta

Karen of Shadows and Satin
52 Must-See Movies and Why They Matter by Jeremy Arnold
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
Dinner at Eight: A Play in Seven Scenes by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber
Laura by Vera Caspary
The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman
Whatever Became Of...? by Richard Lamparski

Lauren of Lauren Semar: Hollywood Party
A Book by Desi Arnaz 
Hello, Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand by William J. Mann
Rock Hudson: His Story by Rock Hudson
Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

Molly of Dreaming in the Balcony
Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3 by Robert Matzen
Joan Blondell: A Life Between Takes by Matthew Kennedy
Sophia Loren: Movie Star Italian Style by Cindy De La Hoz

Raquel of Out of the Past
Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War by Mark Harris
King of Jazz: Paul Whiteman's Technicolor Revue by James Layton and David Pierce
William Cameron Menzies: The Shape of Films to Come by James Curtis

Rob on Instagram
Public Cowboy No. 1: The Life and Times of Gene Autry by Holly George-Warren
Michael Douglas: A Biography by Marc Eliot
Karl Malden: Where Do I Start? A Memoir by Karl Malden

Sarah of Goodreads
Memoirs of a Professional Cad by George Sanders
Miss D and Me: Life with the Invincible Bette Davis by Kathryn Sermak with Danelle Morton

Friday, September 15, 2017

William Cameron Menzies by James Curtis

William Cameron Menzies: The Shape of Films to Come
by James Curtis
November 2015
432 pages

Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powell's

"His name is William Cameron Menzies, whose name wouldn't cause a ripple among the screen's cash customers, but he is certainly one of the most important creative figures in Hollywood." - Irving Hoffman

Imagine the most entrancing movie scene you've ever laid your eyes on. You might credit the director or the cinematographer. But chances are that much of the credit should go to the production designer.  William Cameron Menzies took on my roles in his long career in Hollywood. Director, art director, producer  and even writer, he wore many hats and worked on many films. From the silent era until the late 1950s, Menzies contributed a vast amount of his enormous skill as a visual artist. His contributions varied from small to overwhelming and he worked tirelessly to create movies that enchanted audiences with their visual grandeur. Menzies was the master of forced perspective and set design. Sometimes he was a victim of his own talent and focused more on his art than on the functionality or bringing out the best in the actors. However Menzies single-handedly gave birth to the job of production designer and set the course for decades of films to come.

"As an art director I am interested in the photoplay as a series of pictures -- as a series of fixed and moving patterns -- as a fluid composition, which is the product of the creative workers who collaborate in production." - William Cameron Menzies

Author James Curtis took on the enormous task of telling the story of William Cameron Menzies impressive and lengthy career in Hollywood. Much like with his excellent book on Spencer Tracy, Curtis received help from the Menzies family, most notably Menzies' youngest daughter Suzanne. He had access to the family's collection of Menzies' art and letters and with all of that source material he was able to create a rich and thorough account of Menzies career.

While this book is less than 400 pages of actual reading, it is crammed with details that will take some time to absorb. It's also full of storyboard art, sketches, paintings, production stills and other photographs that illustrate Menzies' skills as a production designer and art director. These are presented in black and white images throughout the book as well as in a few full color inserts.

And the movies covered? There are so many. Most notably you'll learn about Menzies work on the following: The Thief of Bagdad, The Son of the Sheik, Bulldog Drummond, Puttin' on the Ritz, Chandu the Magician, Alice and Wonderland, Things to Come, Our Town, Kings Row, For Whom the Bells Tolls, The Pride of the Yankees, Spellbound, The Story of Ivy, It's a Wonderful Life, Reign of Terror, The Whip Hand, Invaders from Mars... oh and a little movie called Gone With the Wind.

William Cameron Menzies poses with some of his work from Gone With the Wind.

This was a fascinating book. I have to admit I have very little interest in GWTW which takes up a lot of the book. But it's the most important project Menzies worked on his career and the author is right to devote as many pages to it as he did. My list of to-be-watched films grew exponentially and I furiously took notes of what I wanted to watch.

Needless to say I highly recommend James Curtis' William Cameron Menzies: The Shape of Films to Come. Curtis is beloved in the classic film community and rightly so. This book is an spectacular achievement.

This is my sixth review for my summer reading challenge.

Monday, September 11, 2017

King of Jazz by James Layton and David Pierce

King of Jazz book
King of Jazz: Paul Whiteman's Technicolor Revue
by James Layton and David Pierce
foreword by Michael Feinstein
November 2016
304 pages
Media History Press

Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powell's

King of Jazz (1930) was an ambitious project. The darling of Carl Laemmle's heir Carl Laemmle Jr., it sought out to showcase jazz superstar Paul Whiteman. The bandleader's popularity was staggering, boosted by his penchant for publicity and his ability to add to combine jazz with symphonic style. His name carried so much clout that night clubs were eager to be connected with him. Even his sideline bands and his singing trio the Rhythym Boys, made up of Al Rinker, Bing Crosby and Harry Barris, were in high demand. In 1927, Whiteman was at peak popularity and with the advent of sound in the film industry the Laemmles pounced on booking Whiteman for King of Jazz. But what exactly would this movie be about?

At first Universal tried to give King of Jazz a plot but what stood in their way was Whiteman himself. He wasn't particularly good looking so a romantic lead would be out of the question. He also wasn't much of an actor. Universal tried several times to make a musical out of King of Jazz. One of my favorite directors, Paul Fejos gave it a shot. As did other directors and other writers. Nothing was quite right. It didn't help that Whiteman turned everything down. It wasn't until musical theater director John Murray Anderson came on board and King of Jazz became a musical revue instead of a musical movie with a plot that the film started to take form. It featured a bevvy of talents, including Paul Whiteman himself, some from Universal's stock including John Boles, and others from theater and vaudeville. After many delays, King of Jazz released in 1930. Unfortunately, the onslaught of musicals and musical revues in the early talkie era created a fatigue for this genre of film. There were major flaws with the final production and critics and audiences alike took notice. As a result, it didn't perform well at the box office. However, this two-strip Technicolor movie was innovative and served as a time capsule of the era's entertainment industry. It would prove to be a historically important film.

King of Jazz (1930)

In Layton and Pierce's follow up to The Dawn of Technicolor, this book explores all that went into the making of King of Jazz and beyond. Readers are treated to a history of Universal Studios, a full background on Paul Whiteman and a soup to nuts look at everything that went into the production of King of Jazz down to the smallest detail. For example, we learn all that took to make the Rhapsody in Blue number as blue as possible which was nearly impossible with two-strip Technicolor. Only red and green would show. In order to mimic blue, they juxtaposed a light green with silver. Also, did you know that Bing Crosby was going to have a bigger role in King of Jazz? He caused a car wreck and upset a judge which landed him in jail. He would be released from jail each day to work a bit on the movie only to go back after he was done.

We also learn about the film's release, subsequent re-releases and the nine foreign language versions. The film's legacy is a complicated one. King of Jazz was chopped up and prints and scenes went missing. It took decades to put it back together and it's still not fully complete. The authors also delve into the expensive and impressive recent restoration effort conducted by NBC Universal. I had the pleasure of seeing the restored film at last year's Capitolfest.

 (The video above is not from the restoration rather from the color corrected re-release. 
This is one of my favorite numbers from the revue.)

King of Jazz: Paul Whiteman's Technicolor Revue is a monumental feat. It's mind-boggling how much research went into this book. As I read through it I kept thinking to myself, what great lengths it took the authors to dig up all this information and present in such a composed and orderly fashion.

I contributed to the Kickstarter campaign for the creation of this book and am so pleased to see the final result. I loved reading The Dawn of Technicolor and I had high expectations for Layton and Pierce's new book. Needless to say these expectations were met and then some. This book is gorgeous. It's full of black-and-white photographs, drawings, sketches, music, portraits and color stills from the film. It's smaller in trim size than The Dawn of Technicolor which makes for much more comfortable reading. A lot of love and attention was put in this book and it shows from the self-cover down to the appendix.

For anyone who is interested in the early history of film, King of Jazz: Paul Whiteman's Technicolor Revue is a must-have for your library. Even if you have never seen the King of Jazz, the insights into the history of it will teach you a lot about this era in film making. Now maybe one day soon we'll get a Blu-Ray release of the fantastic restoration.

This is my fifth review for my Summer Reading Challenge.

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