Monday, September 25, 2017

Rod Taylor: Pulling No Punches (2016)

Rod Taylor: Pulling No Punches

"He's a man's man. He's a woman's man. He's an ideal man." - Angela Lansbury

Australian actor Rod Taylor burst upon the Hollywood scene in the late 1950s but it wasn't until his seminal film The Time Machine came out in 1960 that he became a major movie star.  Good looks coupled with a talent for comedy and drama, Taylor was a force to be reckoned with. He had an artistic soul beneath a rugged Aussie exterior. He was a born adventurer and up for anything. Taylor did his own stunts, was an expert at accents and had a charisma that translated well on screen. As one of the top leading men of the 1960s, Taylor paved the way for Australian movie stars to come.

Born in a suburb of Sydney, Rod Taylor was raised by a very Aussie father and a very British mother who both had a profound influence on his creative pursuits. At a young age he pursued drawing, painting and pottery as his artistic trade. It wasn't until he heard a radio program that he realized he could be an actor. He worked on radio and on some movies in his homeland and was quickly scooped up by American filmmakers and lured to Hollywood. His early work consisted of small parts in big pictures. He worked alongside many greats including Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, Montgomery Clift, Ernest Borgnine, Debbie Reynolds, Bette Davis and more. When The Time Machine came out in 1960, Taylor was already dabbling in TV work with his series Hong Kong. Both made an impact on audiences and Taylor's life as a major movie star began. He continued to work throughout the 1960s and 1970s in some great parts with some of the best in the business. Even parts he didn't particularly care for helped him in one way or another. Taylor was driven by the love of his art, his adventurous spirit and as he liked to say "a bit of ego thrown in."

Rod Taylor

Rod Taylor: Pulling No Punches, a new documentary by Robert de Young and Stephan Wellink, sets out to not only to tell the story of Taylor's acting career but to capture the essence of the man. Told through interviews, photographs and movie clips, we see the span of his work and talent. It benefits from having the man himself, Rod Taylor, as the main interview subject. The filmmakers interviewed him over two days at Taylor's home in Beverly Hills. Taylor passed away in early 2015 making this documentary a timely treasure. (We even get to hear a bit about Taylor's former love interest Anita Ekberg who passed away only a few days after he did.) Several other talking heads in the documentary, all of whom were important figures in Taylor's life, include Angela Lansbury, Tippi Hedren, Maggie Smith, Baz Luhrmann, Stephan Elliott, screenwriter Peter Yeldham, Susie Porter, Keitch Michell and others like Taylor's biographer, manager, lawyer, etc.

Films discussed at length include: The Catered Affair (1956), Raintree Country (1957), The Time Machine (1960), Colossus and the Amazon Queen (1960), 101 Dalmations (1961), Seven Seas to Calais (1962), The Birds (1963), The V.I.P.s (1963), Sunday in New York (1963), The Liquidator (1965), Young Cassidy (1965), The Glass Bottom Boat (1966), Dark of the Sun (1968), The Man Who Had Power Over Women (1970), The Train Robbers (1973), Welcome to Woop Woop (1997) and his final film Inglorious Basterds (2009). You'll hear Rod Taylor himself tell you stories about working on each of these. Taylor seemed to be a fun-loving guy who really enjoyed his work and looked back fondly on his career. He was a colorful character and that definitely shows through.

Rod Taylor: Pulling No Punches reinvigorated my interest in Rod Taylor. I was instantly hooked. Taylor was an immensely captivating figure and it doesn't hurt that his blue eyes, with just a hint green in them, are simply mesmerizing. I've always been drawn to Rod Taylor films. I thought I had seen quite a lot of them until I watched this doc and realized I had to dive further into his filmography. I enjoyed the graphic design elements of the documentary and how it was sectioned by theme in a sort of chronological order. It was aesthetically pleasing and a lot of fun to watch.

Rod Taylor Pulling No Punches is a thoroughly enjoyable documentary that captures the essence of the Australian movie star who charmed audiences around the world. Highly recommended.

Check out the official Facebook page for more details about the film. I hope a DVD and Blu-Ray release will be in the near future. It recently won Best Feature Documentary at the Burbank International Film Festival.

My good friend Jessica reviewed the documentary and interviewed the director and producer on her blog Comet Over Hollywood. I recommend you read it. She introduced me to the film!

Many thanks to the filmmakers for the opportunity to review the screener.

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.

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