Get Your Read On ~ Classic Film Books for the Fall #classicfilmbooks

Here is a selection of classic film related books due to go on sale this Fall. A few of them are previously published and either being reissued or put into paperback but pretty much all of them are new. I will be reviewing a selection of them here in the coming months so stay tuned.

by Patrick McGilligan
July 2011
It Books






by John Fricke
August 2011
Perseus






by Patricia Bosworth
August 2011
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt






by Jeffrey Meyers
September 2011
Random House Crown Archetype






by Marc Eliot
October 2011
Random House Crown Archetype






by Piper Laurie
November 2011
Random House Crown Archetype






by James Garner with Jon Winokur
November 2011
Simon & Schuster






by Jennifer Curtis
December 2011
Trafalgar Square
Reissue from 1997 version





by Dyan Cannon
September 2011
It Books






by Geoffrey Wansell
October 2011
Skyhorse






by Stephen Weissman
October 2011
Skyhorse
Paperback





by Yunte Huang
August 2011
W.W. Norton & Company
Paperback




by Brian Taves
November 2011
University Press of Kentucky






by George Perry
January 2012
Trafalgar Square







Check out the list of upcoming titles that Laura of Laura's Miscellaneous Musings posted. She included one very interesting title that I missed! A Spencer Tracy biography, that will be an interesting read indeed.

Spencer Tracy: A BiographySpencer Tracy: A Biography
by James Cuurtis
October 2011
Knopf (Random House)

Even More Buster Keaton and Live Musical Accompaniment at the Somerville Theater








Previous posts
Interview with Jeff Rapsis
Buster Keaton and Live Musical Accompaniment at the Somerville Theater

What an excellent opportunity it was to be able to watch 3 more Buster Keaton films (2 shorts and a full-length film) on the big screen with the uber-talented Jeff Rapsis accompanying the films with his special brand of improvisational music. Jeff doesn't just play music to the films. He talks to us about the films before and after the screening. I think his speech before is most crucial for the audience's appreciation and enjoyment of the film. Jeff takes the time to talk to us about what he does and why it's important to watch these silent films on the big screen, with an audience, with live music, on 35mm and with the correct aspect ratio. He also gives us background on Buster Keaton and he contextualizes the films by giving us some information that helps us understand key scenes. Sometimes we are blinded my 21st century perspectives and we lose some of the understanding of early films over time. Mostly because society, customs, fads and culture all change as the decades pass. And while we can laugh at Buster Keaton's excellent skills as a physical comedian, there are some things that are trapped in the 1920s that we in the 2010s can't quite understand.

In the first film Cops (1922) , Buster Keaton plays a young man in love with the mayor's daughter. She won't marry him because he's not a well-to-do business man. Keaton sets off looking to make something off himself but instead gets tricked into taking on all this furniture (which he thinks he purchased but really he was swindled). He buys a horse for $5 (another swindle) and has the horse pull the cart full of furniture to his intended destination. But it's a big load for the horse to carry and mid-way the travel becomes a struggle. Keaton and the horse just happen to stop in front of a Goat Gland Specialist shop. Keaton looks at the sign out front, thinks for a moment and drags the horse in to the office only to be kicked out almost immediately upon entering. In 1922, this scene would have been hilarious but in 2011 it's just a head-scratcher. What the heck is a Goat Gland specialist and why did Keaton bring the horse there? This is where Jeff Rapsis comes in. Before the screening, he told us that Goat Glands were the 1920s answer to Viagara. These specialists would insert Goat Glands (ick) into men in order to revitalize the man's virility. Rapsis didn't tell us why we needed to know this but once we got to the Goat Gland-Keaton-Horse scene, it all made sense. And we knew why it was funny. Keaton brought the horse to the specialist in hopes that an operation and new-found virility would make the horse more effective in pulling his cart. Ha! Hilarious.

Jeff Rapsis gave us some information about all three films screened: Cops (1922), The High Sign (1921) and Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928). We learned that in the early 1920s, Americans feared anarchists in the same way we fear terrorists today. This explains a crucial scene in Cops. We also learned that gangs in the 1920s often had secret hand signs like in The High Sign and that Keaton did all his own stunts and served as a stunt double for other actors in his own films (neat!). After the screening of Steamboat Bill Jr., we learned that the film had no script, just a basic concept and some key stunt scenes and the story just developed from there.

The screening was a lot of fun. It was a packed house of at least 200 or more people. More than double from the last time. I was so happy to see this and I hope my blogging efforts helped put a few people in those seats (I know I at least got myself, Carlos and my good friend Kevin there). After the screening, Jeff got a huge round of applause which was very well-deserved. We went to speak to him afterwards but had to wait awhile until all the "groupies" got to him first. Jeff got lots of questions and I overheard a few. I learned that he'll only watch a film once or twice before he performs so that he doesn't anticipate things. This allows for more freedom in improvisation.

Jeff will be back in the Fall to the Somerville Theater to play more silent films with live music. So make sure you check out his website JeffRapsis.com for his schedule. Special thank you to Jeff Rapsis and the Somerville Theater for this amazing evening.




Ninotchka (1939) at the Somerville Theater




Ninotchka (1939) was screened this past Sunday at the Somerville Theater as part of their Summer Classic Film Series. I singled out the two lesser known films in the series, Captain's Courageous and Ninotchka, to watch and made the trek out to Somerville on Sunday mornings to see them both.

I propose that this movie have a new subtitle. I would call it Ninotchka: A Capitalist Love Story. This film is a great example of American propaganda in the form of entertainment. Even though the story takes place in France, Russia and Turkey, the main star Greta Garbo was from Sweden and the director Ernst Lubitsch was from Germany, this is an American film with an American message in mind for it's American audience. Or is it?

The story starts with 3 emissaries from Russia who travel to Paris in order to sell royal Russian jewels in exchange for money that they can bring back to support their country's cause. The three loveable Soviet Comrades get a little caught up in the titillating life in Paris. Turns out, the jewels actually belong to the deposed Grand Duchess Swana (Ina Claire), whose boyfriend is Count Leon (Melvyn Douglas). The Duchess wants her jewels back but the three Soviets need to sell them. Ninotchka (Greta Garbo) is sent to Paris to fix the whole mess. She arrives to discover that her 3 comrades are staying in the most expensive suite in the most expensive hotel in Paris. Staying in the room for a one week is equal to purchasing 7 whole cows in Soviet Russia, and she imagines how much many people that would feed. Ninotchka, at first very repulsed by the Capitalist lifestyle of excess that she sees in France, falls for Melvyn Douglas' Leon, who is the epitome of upper class excess. Can she sell the jewels before the Duchess gets to them? Will she go back to Soviet Russia or will she stay in Capitalist France with Leon (Melvyn Douglas).

The witty back-and-forth between stern Garbo and free spirited Douglas is very funny (Billy Wilder was one of the writers). The two characters are polar opposites of each other so it's amusing to watch them clash as they fall hopelessly in love. The over-arching political message dampens the humor of the film a bit. At it's foundation, this film is really pitting Capitalism against Socialism/Communism. While it doesn't show Capitalism in the best light, it shows Communism in the worst. Why can't Garbo have her hat, her champagne and her 7 cow hotel room? Why can't she have the silk negligee and the love letters from France? How dare the Soviets deny her of this! Is the pro-Capitalism message something that MGM felt they needed to reinforce or was it just supporting an already established belief in the good of Capitalism that America held during WWII. Capitalism is great for the Duchess and the Count, but what about the Count's Butler. The one that Garbo calls "little father"? The Butler is at an advanced age, has been working without pay for 2 months and as the beck and call of the Count. Is this the fruits of Capitalism? Like many films from the late 1930s, there is a major "fix" in the film. It corrects any notion you may have of Capitalism being bad by showing you how the Soviets feed off of Capitalism in other countries for their own welfare. Any subversive message about negative aspects of Capitalism are quickly corrected with a nice final fix. Besides, it's a love story. How dare those Soviets get in the way. Capitalism will show him who is boss!

I'm not political. Really I'm not. However, I kept thinking of the American debt crisis while I was watching this film. And the fact that I had read that Apple has more cash than the United States (eek!). How would modern audiences interpret the representation of Capitalism in this film? Especially those scenes in which the older butler (past retirement age), is working without pay for Count Leon (Douglas) who himself has no money and lives off his title and the illusion of wealth that he created and perpetuates. I don't feel right exploring this topic further because as I said, I'm not very political. However, it's food for thought.


Leon: What kind of a girl are you, anyway?
Ninotchka: Just what you see. A tiny cog in the great wheel of evolution.
Leon: You're the most adorable cog I've ever seen.


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