Friday, October 24, 2014

Missing Reels by Farran Smith Nehme


Missing Reels
by Farran Smith Nehme
The Overlook Press
352 pages - 9781468309270
November 2014


Barnes and Nobble
Powell's
IndieBound - Your local independent bookstore.

You know her as the Self-Styled Siren and film critic extraordinaire. Now Farran Smith Nehme can add “published novelist” to her resume. Nehme’s debut novel Missing Reels goes on sale in a few weeks but I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting Nehme at Book Expo America earlier this year and received a signed advance readers copy of the book.


The story takes place in late 1980s New York. The heroine, 21-year-old Ceinwen (pronounced kine-wen), works at the vintage clothing shop Vintage Visions. She has two roommates Jim and Talmadge and her free time is consumed with all things classic film. Ceinwen is curious about Miriam, the elderly woman living in her apartment building on Avenue C in New York City. When Ceinwen finds out that Miriam is really actress Miriam Clare, the star of a long lost silent film adaptation of The Mysteries of Udolpho, she’s determined to find out more. She wants to learn everything about Miriam’s short-lived acting career and her tragic romance with director Emil Arnheim. Ceinwen gets an important clue about the existence of a director’s cut of The Mysteries of Udolpho and she becomes hell-bent on finding it. You’d think have the film’s leading lady in the same building would be an asset to Ceinwen. However, Miriam is very suspicious of Ceinwen’s motivations and offer her little help. But Miriam gives her enough information to lead Ceinwen on the chase for the lost film.

Missing Reels is a mystery and Ceinwen is the story’s detective. Her love interest, the brilliant yet romantically unavailable mathematician Matthew, is her sidekick and is integral in helping her solve the mystery of the lost film. The new-person-dynamic of Matthew coming into Ceinwen’s life is crucial to the story. He introduces her to the important people who will guide her in her quest. My favorite character is Harry, an older gentleman and mathematician at NYU where Matthew is doing his postdoc. Harry is the anti-thesis to Miriam, takes a liking to Ceinwen and opens up a lot of opportunities for her. Plus his passion for old movies will endear him to any classic film fan. I love this line from the book: “You had to find another love, if you were a mathematician, or you’d have nothing to talk about with regular people.”

There are two distinct audiences for this book: classic film enthusiasts who will understand Ceinwen’s motivations and get all the movie references and a general audience who will appreciate good story-telling and the mystery elements and might learn a few things about film history. There are a lot of movie references: titles, actors, actresses, directors, studios, etc. Folks not well-versed in film history might complain that they don't recognizes the names and titles that appear throughout the text. But I make the same case as I do with Junot Diaz and his usage of Spanish in his short stories and novels: look up what you don’t understand and maybe you'll learn something.

A note to fans of the Self-Styled Siren blog, look for the the Joan Fontaine reference towards the end of the book. Nehme is a big Fontaine fan and I knew there would be at least one reference to her in the novel.

While many of the movie references are real, the “missing reels” in question are fictional. The Brody Institute for Cinephilia and Preservation (archivists and preservationists), The Mysteries of Udolpho (film), Emil Arnheim (director), Miriam Clare/Gibson (actress), Civitas (film studio), etc. are straight from Nehme’s imagination. When you read the book though, they feel like real people and you’ll have to stop yourself from Googling the Brody Institute.

This novel really speaks to Nehme’s devotion to film preservation. When films become destroyed and lost, we lose part of our history along with them. It’s important to preserve them and to keep looking for the lost ones like Ceinwen did with The Mysteries of Udolpho. I love that nitrate is a plot device in the book. It’s flammability and the risk of deterioration adds an element of drama and urgency to the story.

True classic film enthusiasts will appreciate Ceinwen's obsession with finding the lost silent film. In a time before Turner Classic Movies, the internet, DVD, Blu-Ray, Netflix and pretty much everything else, Ceinwen indulges her passion for old movies by watching them on VHS, live broadcast TV and at repertory houses. Her research is done at universities, archives, institutes, by phone, by mail and in person. There is no IMDb, no Wikipedia, no blogs and no online archives.

One of the things I really love about the novel it demonstrates the way classic films infiltrate our lives. We compare real life events to scenes from movies. We spot resemblances between people in our lives and Hollywood stars of yesteryear or the characters they played. I also was intrigued by how many of the characters in the book pursued their interest in classic film outside of work. Ceinwen’s day job is in the realm of her interests but its in a toxic environment thanks to her horrible boss. Readers might wonder why Ceinwen devotes so much of her free time to finding the lost silent film. She devotes so much time to it it’s almost like a second job. Classic film fans, especially bloggers, will understand Ceinwen’s motivations. Very few of us make a living off of our interest in film history (in fact only a couple of the characters in the book actually do). In many cases, that’s a good thing. We are not bound by the regulations of a company and can pursue our hobby with complete independence. There is no one telling us what to watch or what to study or what to pursue. It’s the ultimate freedom.

Don’t mistake Missing Reels as just being a missive for the love cinema. It can be appreciated as a good work of straight storytelling and a fine mystery.

Kudos to Farran Smith Nehme for writing a wonderful novel that many of us classic film lovers will enjoy.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Warner Archive Wednesday ~ The Lusty Men (1952)


Lusty Men, The from Warner Bros.


The Lusty Men (1952) is a rodeo film exploring the reality and danger of the sport. It was produced by RKO and directed by Nicholas Ray (and also by Robert Parrish for a few days while Ray was ill).

Robert Mitchum in The Lusty Men (1962)
"A strong back and a weak mind." - Jeff McCloud

Robert Mitchum plays Jeff McCloud, a rodeo star who has just retired from the ring. Recently attacked by the last bull he rode, McCloud is tired of the injuries and the transient lifestyle that comes with the sport. He travels to his hometown of Spring, TX to seek out the permanency that's been missing in his life.


He meets Louise (Susan Hayward) and Wes Merritt (Arthur Kennedy). Wes works as a ranch hand and together they're saving up money to buy their own ranch. Louise dreams of a stable life because of her chaotic upbringing. Wes is enchanted by the lifestyle Jeff has left behind and bored with the steady and monotonous work of being a ranch hand.

Susan Hayward in The Lusty Men

At first Wes only wants to do compete in rodeo to earn enough money to buy the ranch he and Louise dreamed of. Jeff guides Wes and shows him the literal ropes of working the rodeo. Wes is quickly enchanted by the adoration and the quick cash that comes with the rodeo. He abandons his dreams of a ranch to achieve the level of fame and recognition Jeff once had.

Louise sticks by her husband but from the very start she hates rodeo life. It's the antithesis of what she thinks a happy life should be. She sees Jeff McCloud as the bad role model that lured her husband away. Wes begins to neglect Louise and pays more attention to rodeo work, booze and other women. Jeff is the third wheel, teacher to Wes and stand-in husband to Louise. There is escalating sexual tension between Jeff and Louise as she and Wes draw apart from each other.

Susan Hayward about to kick some butt. Literally.

The Lusty Men is a fantastic film; the quintessential rodeo movie. It's filled with real footage of the rodeo ring and gorgeous shots of San Angelo, TX. It's a stark look at the reality of the sport; the physical dangers, the complicated relationships, the gambling addictions and the transient lifestyle. It doesn't sugar coat the truth. Events such as calf-roping, bare back, bull dogging and saddle-bronc are exciting to watch. And despite the imminent danger of bodily harm, the fame, glory, money and the ego boost from battling untamed beasts keeps the circle of the rodeo going.


The Lusty Men is beautifully shot. Most scenes are filmed on location in San Angelo, TX and some in San Francisco. There is plenty of symbolic imagery. I particularly enjoyed the shot of Robert Mitchum, after his last bull ride, walking across an empty rodeo ring (see above). Fences and gates are often closed to symbolize the separation between what the rodeo audience sees and what really goes on.

You'd think that a film about the rodeo would be dominated by male characters. However, this film has plenty of interesting female roles. Carol Nugent plays the spunky teenager Rusty Davis, friend of Jeff and daughter of retired rodeo legend Booker (Arthur Hunnicutt). (If Wes is at the beginning of the cycle of rodeo stars, Jeff is in the middle and Booker is at the very end. He represents the harsh realities of life after the rodeo.) Maria Hart plays Rosemary Maddox, a rodeo girl who takes Louise under her wing. I was particularly impressed by Lorna Thayer's character Grace Burgess. Grace is the window into Louise's potential future. Her husband is a rodeo star whose addiction to gambling and to the bottle is ruining his marriage. Grace is conflicted by her disgust for rodeo life and her dedication to her husband.

I wouldn't be a true fan if I didn't mention Robert Mitchum. One of the things I love about this movie is the gratuitous shots of Mitchum in the film. With his cowboy hat and tight pants, Robert Mitchum looks really good here. And he looks good doing everything! Here are some of my favorite Mitchum shots from the film.

Robert Mitchum in The Lusty Men (1962)
Robert Mitchum in chaps about to ride a bull

Robert Mitchum in The Lusty Men (1962)
Robert Mitchum on a fence

Robert Mitchum in The Lusty Men (1962)
Robert Mitchum in profile


Robert Mitchum in The Lusty Men (1962)
Robert Mitchum having a cup of coffee

Robert Mitchum in The Lusty Men (1962)
Robert Mitchum on a horse

Robert Mitchum in The Lusty Men (1962)
Robert Mitchum reading a magazine

Robert Mitchum in The Lusty Men (1962)
Robert Mitchum working the hay loft.

Robert Mitchum in The Lusty Men (1962)
Robert Mitchum ::wink::

I read that Mitchum was potentially interested in becoming a rodeo star. I'm glad he stuck to movies instead.

The Lusty Men (1952) is available on DVD-MOD from Warner Archive. I saw this film four years ago at the Harvard Film Archive and reviewed it here.



Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. I received The Lusty Men (1952) from Warner Archive for review. 


Sunday, October 19, 2014

New & Upcoming Classic Film Books (1)

 "I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book." - Groucho Marx

I've been on a reading frenzy lately and with so many good biographies and film books coming out I don't think I'll ever stop. It's so important for classic film enthusiasts to read and learn. It enriches the experience, develops the palate and informs the mind.

I've put together a list of new and upcoming classic film books. The publication dates range from September 2014 to March 2015 (specific on sale dates are subject to change). All title links lead you to the book's page on Goodreads. I've chosen a variety of books from big publishing houses to scholarly presses to small, indie and vanity publishers. This list contains biographies, reference guides, textbooks and more. Take a look through and maybe you'll find your next read.


edited by Randy Schmidt
Chicago Review Press
480 pages - September 2014


by Lesley L. Coffin
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers 
246 pages - September 2014 



by Gene D Phillips
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
204 pages - September 2014


John Wayne's Way: Life Lessons from the Duke
by Douglas Brode
Globe Pequot Press
128 pages - October 2014


A Companion to Fritz Lang
edited by Joseph McElhaney
Wiley-Blackwell
500 pages - October 2014


Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood
by William J. Mann
Harper
384 pages - October 2014


The 100 Greatest Silent Film Comedians
by James Roots
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
464 pages - October 2014


by Michael Slowick
Columbia University Press
400 pages - October 21st, 2014




by Peter Ackroyd
Nan A. Talese (Penguin Random House)
304 pages - On Sale October 28th, 2014




by John Kisch and Tony Nourmand
Reel Art Press
288 pages - On Sale October 30th, 2014




by William H. Mooney
Rutgers University Press
224 pages - On Sale November 3rd, 2014


by Marc Eliot
Dey Street Books
416 pages - On Sale November 4th, 2014


Hope: Entertainer of the Century
by Richard Zoglin
Simon and Schuster 
576 pages - On Sale November 4th, 2014


by Arthur Laurents
Applause Theatre & Cinema Books
192 pages - On Sale November 4th, 2014



by Ruth Barton
University Press of Kentucky
362 pages - On Sale November 5th, 2014


Early Poverty Row Studios
Images of America Series
by  E. J. Stephens and Marc Wanamaker
Arcadia Publishing
128 pages - On Sale November 10th, 2014


Anxiety Muted: American Film Music in a Suburban Age
by Stanley C. Pelkey and Anthony Bushard
Oxford University Press
320 pages - On Sale November 12th, 2014


 Grace: A Biography
by Thilo Wydra
Skyhorse Publishing
340 pages - On Sale November 18th, 2014


Saul Bass: Anatomy of Film Design
by Jan Christopher Horak
University of Kentuck Press
492 pages - On Sale November 18th, 2014 


edited by Anthony Slide
Columbia University Press
448 pages - On Sale November 25th, 2014


by Tim Snelson 
Rutgers University Press
224 pages - On Sale November 26th, 2014


Columbia Noir: A Complete Filmography, 1940-1962
by Gene Blottner
McFarland & Co
277 pages - On Sale November 30th, 2014



by James L Neibaur
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
228 pages - On Sale December 1st 2014



by Brent Phillips
University Press of Kentucky
368 pages - On Sale December 2nd, 2014



Cecil B. DeMille: The Art of the Hollywood Epic
by Cecilia DeMille Presley and Mark A. Vieira
Foreword by Brett Ratner
Introduction by Martin Scorsese
416 pages - On Sale December 9th, 2014


Color and Empathy: Essays on Two Aspects of Film
by Christine Brinckmann
Amsterdam University Press
282 pages - On Sale December 15th, 2014



edited by Tom Hertweck
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
250 pages - On Sale December 16th, 2014



by Lea Jacobs
University of California Press

280 page - On Sale December 19th, 2014


Buster Keaton's Crew: The Team Behind His Silent Films
by Lisle Foote
McFarland & Co 
300 pages - On Sale December 31st, 2014


The Five Sedgwicks: Pioneer Entertainers of Vaudeville, Film and Television
by Michael Zmuda
McFarland & Co 
277 pages - On Sale December 31st, 2014



by Kristen Hatch
Rutgers University Press
208 pages - On Sale January 2015


Dalton Trumbo: Blacklisted Hollywood Radical
by Larry Ceplair and Christopher Trumbo
University Press of Kentucky
640 pages - On Sale January 13th, 2015

 Art Direction and Production Design
edited by Lucy Fischer
Rutgers University Press
272 pages - On Sale January 19th, 2015


Cinema Civil Rights: Regulation, Repression and Race in the Classic Hollywood Era
by Ellen C. Scott
Rutgers University Press
288 pages - On Sale January 28th, 2015


A Filmgoer's Guid to In-Jokes, Obscure References and Sly Details
by Matthew Coniam
McFarland & Co
On Sale January 31st, 2015


by Michaelangelo Capua
McFarland & Co
On Sale January 31st, 2015




By Peggy Caravantes
Chicago Review Press 
208 pages (juvenile) - On Sale February 1st, 2015


Follies of God: Tennessee Williams and the Women of the Fog
by  James Grissom
Knopf (Penguin Random House)
416 pages - On Sale March 3rd, 2015


Hitchcock Lost and Found: The Forgotten Films 
by Alain Kerzoncuf and Charles Barr
University Press of Kentucky
248  pages - On Sale March 6th, 2015



by William Wellman Jr.
Pantheon
608 pages - On Sale March 10th, 2015


Lois Weber in Early Hollywood
by Shelley Stamp
University of California Press
401 pages - On Sale March 13th, 2015


Hitchcock a la Carte
by Jan Olsson
Duke University Press
288 pages - On Sale March 20th, 2015


Alfred Hitchcock: The Man Who Knew Too Much
by Michael Wood
New Harvest
144 pages - On Sale March 24th, 2015

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