Friday, November 1, 2019

Image Makers: The Adventures of America’s Pioneer Cinematographers




When we talk about the art of classic film many of us tend to focus on the work of the director. It's easy to do that. Their names are directly linked with their work in a way that other crew members, beyond the cast, are not. It's easy to ignore the contributions of the cinematographers who do so much with framing, composition, lighting, focus and movement of the camera to create the masterpieces we love.

Director Daniel Raim's new documentary Image Makers: The Adventures of America's Pioneer Cinematographers celebrates the work of seven early visionaries who learned their craft through practice, curiosity and invention. Their work is simply incredible because there was no precedent. Cinematographers developed their art form from scratch and their techniques would lay the foundation for technicians for decades to come. The film calls them a "fraternity of light" and they would share their craft with their fellow cinematographers through apprenticeship and collaboration.

Image Makers spotlights seven notable cinematographers from the 1910s to the 1950s. These seven include Billy Bitzer, Charles Rosher, Rollie Totheroh, William Daniels, Karl Struss, Gregg Toland and  James Wong Howe. Bitzer was one of the early pioneers who came from nothing to establish a career working with D.W. Griffith. Totheroh was a former baseball player who had a background in illustration and his talent for being able to frame a shot lead to his long-time collaboration with Charlie Chaplin. Rosher had a background in photographer, gained the trust of Mary Pickford and became a master at lighting. Daniels worked with Greta Garbo at MGM developing techniques to best display Garbo's stunning countenance. Struss collaborated with Rosher on Sunrise (1927), used German camera movement techniques and even invented his own lens. Toland tragically died young at the age of 44 but during his short career photographed some majors including Citizen Kane (1941), Wuthering Heights (1939) and The Grapes of Wrath (1940). Wong Howe developed a love of photography as a child and after a brief career as a boxer found himself working in the film industry and quickly adapted to sound, color and widescreen working through the 1930s and into the 1970s.


"Cameraman Billy Bitzer and director D.W. Griffith ignite Hollywood spectacle with Intolerance (1916)"

"Cameraman James Wong Howe trailblazes on roller-skates for his breakthrough boxing film Body and Soul (1947)"

"Greta Garbo surrenders lovingly to William H. Daniels’ camera for the pre-code talkie Romance (1930)"

Film discussed at length include Intolerance (1916), Way Down East (1920), The Kid (1921), City Lights (1923), Greed (1924), Flesh and the Devil (1926), Sunrise (1927), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931),  The Thin Man (1934), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), Body and Soul (1947) and Hud (1963). Other cinematographers mentioned include Karl Freund (the inventor of the unchained camera technique) and Harry Stradlings.

The documentary is directed, produced and edited by Daniel Raim. I really enjoyed his film Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story and the focus of his work is primarily on those in the industry who work behind the scenes. Illustrator Patrick Mate, who did wonderful artwork for Harold and Lillian, fills in the blanks with vibrant and expressive illustrations. They are always such a joy and add a unique energy to the documentary that archival images just cannot by themselves. The film has plenty of film clips, behind-the-scenes photographs and archival audio clips of cinematographer interviews in addition to the illustrations. 

Image Makers is narrated by Michael McKean and features interviews with various experts including the father of silent film research Kevin Brownlow as well as film historian and critic Leonard Maltin who wrote the book The Art of the Cinematographer (which I need to get my hands on!). Other talking heads include cinematographers John Bailey and Rachel Morrison, director of the Margaret Herrick Library, curator of the ASC Camera Museum Steve Gainer, David Totheroh, grandson of Rollie Totheroh, Lothia Toland, daughter of Gregg Toland, among others. One of the highlights of the film is a scene with Kevin Brownlow and David Totheroh as they geek out over a makeshift camera projector that Rollie Totheroh and Charlie Chaplin used back in 1916. 

Image Makers is an enlightening and informative documentary that shines a much needed spotlight on the work of early pioneers in cinematography. TCM fans, especially those who want to learn more about film history, will definitely want to check this one out.






Image Makers: The Adventures of America’s Pioneer Cinematographers is a TCM original documentary and premieres on the channel on November 6th. Check your local listings for air times.


Check out my interview with the director Daniel Raim on the TCM website!

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Ida Lupino: Filmmaker Collection




Now available from the good folks at Kino Lorber Studio Classics is Ida Lupino: Filmmaker Collection, a Blu-ray boxed set featuring four films directed by Ida Lupino: Not Wanted (1949), Never Fear (1950), The Hitch-Hiker (1953) and The Bigamist (1953). Each of the four films has been beautifully restored and the discs includes a selection of special features. The Blu-rays are available individually too but the boxed set comes with a stylish slipcase and an exclusive booklet which republishes former Variety film critic Ronnie Scheib's article Ida Lupino: Auteuress.

I was particularly excited for this boxed set because I'm very interested in Ida Lupino's work and with bad copies of these films have been making the rounds it was high time they be presented at their very best.



Not Wanted (1949)

Ida Lupino's directorial debut came without an onscreen credit. She had taken over for Elmer Clifton when he suffered a serious heart attack and was too ill to continue. He died shortly after the film was released. Not Wanted stars Sally Forrest as Sally Kelton, a wide-eyed and naive young woman who falls for an older man, a piano player named Steve (Leo Penn). Much to her parents dismay, Sally runs away from home and follows Steve who only has a passing interest in her. Drew Baxter (Keefe Brasselle), a gas station attendant with an injured leg, falls for Sally only to have her runaway again. Turns out Sally is pregnant with Steve's child and hides out at a home for unwed mothers to decide her future. Lupino co-wrote and co-produced the film. This is a fantastic little drama that doesn't cast judgment on its protagonist. Rather it beckons the audience for some sympathy. Lupino's sister Rita has a small role as Joan, a fellow unwed mother who bonds with Sally.

Special features:
New 4k restoration in conjunction with the Academy Film Archive
Audio commentary by Barbara Scharres, Director of Programming at the Gene Siskel Film Center and filmmaker/historian Greg Ford
English subtitles
The Wrong Rut - hygiene reel
Various Kino Lorber Classics movie trailers




Never Fear (1950)

Lupino's next picture Never Fear was a personal one. The film reunites Sally Forrest and Keefe Brasselle as Carol and Guy, a pair of dancers on the brink of success. Just as Guy proposes to Carol and they book their next big job, Carol comes down with a case of polio which partially paralyzes her legs. She's sent to a rehabilitation center, Kabat-Kaiser, where she struggles with feelings of self-pity and despair. There she meets fellow polio patient Len (Hugh O'Brian) who has a much better attitude about his condition. Lupino's sister also appears in the film in a similar role to that she played in Now Wanted as one of the protagonist's peers who offers some perspective with her experience. At the age of 16, Lupino herself suffered from the disease which paralyzed her right hand. This was during one of the major polio outbreaks in California. The polio vaccine was still a few years away and this film was one major way Lupino brought awareness to the disease. Never Fear is a taut and compelling drama that feels authentic even if you didn't know the backstory. It was filmed at the Kabat-Kaiser facility in Santa Monica and the extras were real patients.

Special features:
New 2k restoration in conjunction with the BFI
Audio commentary by film historian Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
English subtitles
Various Kino Lorber Classics movie trailers




The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

Perhaps Lupino's best known and most acclaimed work, The Hitch-Hiker proves that a female director could work beyond the scope of what would be considered women's pictures. Lupino not only directs but she also co-wrote the screenplay with ex-husband and frequent collaborator Collier Young. The story revolves around three male characters. Roy (Edmond O'Brien) and Gilbert (Frank Lovejoy) are best buds out on a fishing trip in Mexico. They pick up a hitch-hiker Emmett (William Talman) who unbeknownst to them is a deranged serial killer who is targeting unsuspecting motorists. What ensues is a frightening road trip that keeps audiences at the edge of their seats. The dynamic between the three actors is palpable and Talman is absolutely terrifying as Emmett.

Special features:
New 2K restoration in conjunction with the Library of Congress
Audio commentary by film historian Imogen Sara Smith
English subtitles
Various Kino Lorber Classics movie trailers




The Bigamist (1953)

For Lupino to have worked on The Bigamist to me meant she was the ultimate professional. Why? Not only was she the director, she also directs herself as one of the stars. Also she collaborates again with her ex-husband, writer/producer Collier Young who was at the time married to the film's other star Joan Fontaine. I'm not sure I would have been capable of all that but Lupino did so and the end result was this fine drama. Edmond O'Brien stars as Harry Graham, a salesman who travels back and forth from San Francisco and Los Angeles. It turns out he has two different women in each city, his wife Eve (Joan Fontaine) at home and his girlfriend Phyllis (Ida Lupino) in L.A. His secret comes to light when Mr. Jordan (Edmund Gwenn), an adoption coordinator, investigates Harry. The conceit could have lent itself to melodrama but instead Lupino and her crew offer a sensitive portrayal of a man in love with two women. We know how it will all end but we enjoy the journey anyways.

Special features:
New 4k restoration in conjunction with Paramount Pictures
Audio commentary by film historian Kat Ellinger
English subtitles





When you use my buy links you help support this site. Thanks!


Kino Lorber Studio Classics Ida Lupino: Filmmaker Collection will make a fine addition to your home library of classic films. This is a must-have for any Ida Lupino fan or anyone who enjoys 1940s/1950s dramas and film noir. My one complaint about the set is the formatting of the booklet which makes it difficult to read. I wish some more effort to design it as a proper book had been taken.

Thank you to Kino Lorber for sending me a copy of this set for review.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

DVD Netflix Giveaway: 5 Billion Discs Celebration


This post is sponsored by DVD Netflix.



Congratulations to DVD Netflix! On August 26th they delivered their 5 Billionth disc. What disc was that you may be asking? It was Rocketman (2019) delivered to member Becky in Seattle! I have been a subscriber of the service since I was a college undergrad in 2002. You can read about my journey in my blog post here.

DVD Netflix still boasts over 2 million members who look forward to receiving that bright red envelope in the mail. While the company’s streaming service has eclipsed the DVD/Blu-ray rental service, many of us classic film fans who treasure physical media still rent discs. Why? Because their catalog still has many classic film options and we don’t have to worry about which streaming service carries the film or not. I use the service a lot for my classic film research. I also add new Criterion Collection releases to my queue to check them out before I decide whether I want to purchase them or not. While the streaming service lacks classic films (are there even any on there anymore?) the rental service still has loads! I also use DVD Netflix to catch up on new releases that I missed at the cinema. And frankly I miss a lot so it helps me keep up on things.


Here is the current breakdown of monthly DVD Netflix plans:

1 disc out at-a-time (unlimited) - $7.99 for DVD/$9.99 for Blu-Ray and DVD
2 discs out at-a-time (unlimited) - $11.99 for DVD/$14.99 for Blu-Ray and DVD
3 discs out at-a-time (unlimited) - $15.99 for DVD/$19.99 for Blu-Ray and DVD
1 disc out-at-a-time/limit 2 exchanges per month - $4.99 for DVD/$5.99 for Blu-Ray and DVD

To celebrate this new milestone I’m hosting a special DVD Netflix giveaway. Enter for a chance to win a $100 DVD Netflix gift card and a bright red tote bag! I’m giving three of these prize packs away. This is a wonderful opportunity to try out the service for the first time, to continue to membership or to subscribe again if you haven’t in a while.




!!!THE CONTEST IS NOW OVER!!!

The winners are:

Gigi H.
Thomas P.
Mary M.

Rules and Regulations 

  1. For a chance to win, leave a comment below telling me why you treasure physical media. I’m looking for 3-4 sentences or more and the writing must be original and unique to you. Also include your e-mail address in the comment so I can contact you if you win. If you don't include an e-mail, your entry is automatically invalid.
  2. Three winners will be chosen at random from the qualifying entries. Prize is a DVD Netflix totebag (red) and a $100 DVD Netflix gift card.
  3. US ONLY! DVD Netflix is not available internationally.
  4. Contest ends September 30th at 11:59 PM EST. Winners will be announced here and contacted via e-mail within a few days.



For privacy reasons, after the contest is over I will copy and paste all the entries into the body of this post, remove the e-mail addresses and delete the comments. Unless DISQUS lets me edit the comments. If they do then I will edit out the e-mail.


Disclaimer: As a DVD Nation director, I earn rewards from DVD Netflix.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Summer Reading Challenge - Final Round-Up and Winners

The 2019 Summer Reading Challenge is officially over! Congratulations to all the participants whether you read and reviewed 1 book or all 6, I'm very proud of your work. It was great to see the breadth and depth of books selected and to read all your thoughts. Below is the last batch of reviews. I encourage you to read them all. There is a great variety here.


Photo Source: Sarah on Twitter

Andy of AndyWolverton.com
Of All the Gin Joints by Mark Bailey and Edward Hemingway

Erin of Always Classic
Julie Christie by Melanie Bell
Julie Christie by Michael Feeney Callan
To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway

Gabriel on Goodreads
William Cameron Menzies: The Shape of Films to Come by James Curtis

Karen of Shadows and Satin
Golden Boy: The Untold Story of William Holden by Bob Thomas
The Hollywood Scandal Almanac by Jerry Roberts
Margaret Sullavan: Child of Fate by Lawrence J. Quirk
Red-Headed Woman by Katherine Brush
Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Kate Gabrielle of The Films in My Life
Fay Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood Memoir by Victoria Riskin

Le of Critica Retro
Miss D & Me by Kathryn Sermak and Danelle Morton



Raquel of Out of the Past
Finding Zsa Zsa: The Gabors Behind the Legend by Sam Staggs

Robby on Instagram
He Ran All the Way: The Life of John Garfield by Robert Nott

Sarah of Goodreads
Forbidden Hollywood: The Pre-Code Era (1930-1934): When Sin Rules the Movies by Mark A. Vieira
The Million Dollar Mermaid by Esther Williams and Digby Diehl

Steven of Goodreads
The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era by Tom Schatz
The Glass Key by Dashiell Hammett
High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic by Glenn Frankel
Hitchcock by Francois Truffaut


*** FINALISTS! ***

Seven participants successfully completed the challenge of reading and reviewing 6 books within the given time frame. To qualify you have to have submitted all the reviews through the book review link form. The finalists are:

Andy of AndyWolverton.com 
Erin of Always Classic 
Karen of Shadows and Satin 
Robby on Instagram 
Sarah on Goodreads 
Steven on Goodreads 
Vanessa of Super Veebs


*** WINNERS! ***

Using Random.org I chose three winners for the prize of one single disc DVD-MOD from the Warner Archive Collection. Please note that this is not sponsored by WAC and the prizes are purchased by yours truly. The winners are:

Andy of AndyWolverton.com 
Erin of Always Classic 
Steven on Goodreads

Thanks again to everyone who participated!

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Finding Zsa Zsa: The Gabors Behind the Legend by Sam Staggs

Finding Zsa Zsa
The Gabors Behind the Legend
by Sam Staggs
Kensington Books
July 2019
448 pages
Hardcover ISBN: 9781496719591
AmazonBarnes and Noble Powells

Before the Kardashians there were the Gabors. Zsa Zsa, Eva, Magda and the queen of the tribe Jolie, the Gabors were a force to be reckoned with. Between the four of them they had over 20 husbands. Their family name was synonymous with glamour, wealth, jewels and fame. When they came over from Hungary, they took America by storm.

Jolie was the strong-willed matriarch who commanded her daughters' respect and taught them to crave the good life. She ran a well-known jewelry store in New York. Magda was the serious, quiet one. She saw the horrors of WWII and helped smuggle soldiers, civilians and goods in and out of Hungary. By way of Portugal she was able to get herself and her parents out of Europe and away from the Nazis. Eva Gabor was the youngest of the brood and between Zsa Zsa and herself she took acting the most seriously. She worked in films and television throughout her life but always felt her thick Hungarian accent held her back. Then there was Zsa Zsa. The most famous of them all. Between her movie career, nine husbands, arrests and public scandals, she became a tabloid regular and a living legend. She suffered from bipolar disorder and her notoriety fascinated the public. She domineered the story of the Gabors and still does to this day.

Finding Zsa Zsa: The Gabors Behind the Legend by Sam Staggs is the cradle to grave story of the four Gabors. But like in real life, Zsa Zsa dominates the book because frankly she was the most interesting. However, Staggs gives all four ladies their chance in the spotlight. Staggs breaks down misconceptions of the Gabors as being famous for being famous. All four ladies were hard working and ambitious. The least ambitious was Zsa Zsa who was more preoccupied with glamour, parties and husbands than she was a career.

This story blends the four biographies together in a fairly seamless way. It's for the most part chronological but dips back in time occasionally depend on the subject. The book can be a bit salacious especially when it came to the romantic lives of the Gabors (both Zsa Zsa and Magda were married to actor George Sanders). There are a lot of juicy details there but I never felt like the author went too far or was trying to be hurtful. The author does interject with various quips and opinions about various matters which I took with a grain of salt. Overall the book reads like a novel which makes the 400+ pages fly by.

I have a personal interest in the Gabors. My father lived in California during the early 1970s and once met Zsa Zsa Gabor when he was working on her pool. He was from Portugal so I was particularly fascinated by Magda's story of her connections with the Portuguese embassy and how she was able to get her family out of Hungary. On the flip side of this, my mother is Dominican and was born into dictator Trujillo's regime. Reading about Zsa Zsa Gabor's romance with Trujillo's son Ramfis and former son-in-law Porfirio Rubirosa left a bad taste in my mouth. Zsa Zsa benefited financially from these romances during a time when Trujillo was ordering the massacre of Haitians and killing Dominicans who opposed him.

The saddest figure in the book is Francesca Hilton, the only child of Zsa Zsa Gabor. Her paternity was never verified but Gabor's husband Conrad Hilton is known as the father. She was never fully embraced by the Hilton family and Gabor's last husband ostracized her. She died in poverty. The author was in contact with Francesca for several years while working on the book and she's a main source of information. One thing I appreciated about the book is how well-researched it is. Staggs references the Gabor's memoirs but fact checks or finds alternate sources to verify stories or at least offer various scenarios. The Gabors were very preoccupied with how they presented themselves to the world so their accounts were often fabricated or exaggerated.

There is some information about Eva and Zsa Zsa Gabor's Hollywood careers. I was particularly interested in Eva who seems fairly misunderstood. She wanted to hone her craft but her accent and family notoriety got in the way.

Finding Zsa Zsa: The Gabors Behind the Legend by Sam Staggs dives deep into the lives of one of the most glamorous families of the 20th century. It offers a compelling blend of storytelling, gossip and facts which will keep readers turning the page. The salaciousness might turn off some readers and if you're looking for an examination of the Gabors' Hollywood career, look elsewhere.



This is my fourth review for the Summer Reading Challenge.

Friday, September 13, 2019

TIFF: Seberg (2019)


We all recognize the iconic image of Jean Seberg in Jean Luc Godard's Breathless (1960) walking the streets of Paris and wearing her New York Herald Tribune shirt. For those with a richer knowledge of film history we know her film career started with a tortured performance as Joan of Arc in Saint Joan (1957) followed by a very different performance as Cecile, the bored rich kid in Bonjour Tristesse (1958), both directed by Otto Preminger. But what may not be as closely associated with Seberg is her involvement with Black Panther activist Hakim Jamal and the FBI investigation that ensued. They were relentless. Between the character assassination and the invasion of privacy, the FBI basically destroyed her. Jean Seberg called this time in her life a "nightmare" and she never fully recovered from it or the loss of her baby girl in 1970.

Written by Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse and directed Benedict Andrews, Seberg follows the story of Jean Seberg during the most difficult time of her short life. She's back in Hollywood after working in France for some years and while she wants more significant acting roles she finds herself auditioning for parts in Paint Your Wagon (1969) and Airport (1970). While traveling first class with her agent, she meets Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie) who bursts into the cabin demanding a better seat for Malcolm X's widow. Seberg is taken by Jamal and when the fellow Black Panther members pose in front of press upon arrival, Seberg joins in. This puts her on the radar of FBI agents Carl Kowalski (Vince Vaughn) and Jack Solomon (Jack O'Connell). As Seberg becomes politically and romantically involved with Jamal, Jack and Carl become more and more intrusive as they gather intel on Seberg. When news breaks of Jamal and Seberg's affair, officially ending her marriage to Romain Gary (Yvan Attal), Seberg becomes increasingly paranoid that someone is out to get her.

Seberg is a mixed bag of a biopic. On the one hand it's an incredibly important story and a warning to the future. This abuse of power and invasion of privacy is frightening. We should always remember what happened to Jean Seberg. But on the other hand this film felt overly conventional and a bit cheesy. Critics have praised Kristen Stewart's portrayal of Seberg and while I like her as an actress I don't think she was a right fit for the role. For me it's all in the eyes and demeanor. Stewart has the weight of the world on her shoulders, a restless spirit and a brooding countenance. Seberg had these sad, soulful, glossy eyes and a lightness of being. Even Stewart herself said that Seberg had a "sprawling energy" and director Andrews would often remind Stewart of Seberg's natural effervescence in his direction. You can see Stewart trying to capture this but it felt forced. Before the die-hard Kristen Stewart fans come at me just note that I believe Stewart really did give her all for this part but there was just a disconnect that I couldn't quite get over.

The script writing team Joe Shrapnel (grandson of Deborah Kerr) and Anna Waterhouse put in a lot of research, poring over the FBI files and including many of real techniques used by the FBI even if the agents themselves are fictional. There are plenty of classic film references in the film. Otto Preminger, although not physically in the film, is mentioned throughout as a source of early trauma for Seberg. Also Stewart recreates scenes from Breathless and Saint Joan and we see her prepare for Paint Your Wagon.


I attended a press conference for the film which you can watch on TIFF's YouTube channel. See below.


Left to right: Writers Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse, actress Kristen Stewart and director Benedict Andrews



Seberg had its North American premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

TIFF: Judy (2019)

Image courtesy of TIFF

Directed by Rupert Goold, Judy avoids the cradle-to-grave story and focuses on two of the most difficult periods in the life of Judy Garland. The story flashes back to 1939 when a teenage Judy Garland (Darci Shaw) is on the MGM lot making The Wizard of Oz (1939). It's there that she faces long working hours, an overbearing mother and a temperamental Louis B. Mayer. To maintain her weight she's restricted from eating the foods a teenager would typically indulge in and is put on a regimen of pills to reduce her appetite and to help her sleep. It's clear that Judy loves the spotlight but seeks the happiness that comes with living a normal life. As the years pass her two desires seems to be mutually exclusive.

Present day is the last months of Judy Garland's (Renee Zellweger) life. It's 1969 and Garland is struggling to make ends meet. She's forced to come to the decision to leave her children Lorna (Bella Ramsey) and Joey with their father Sidney Luft (Rufus Sewell) and take a job in London. It's there that she finds a welcoming audience of devoted fans. But she's struggling with anxiety, sleepless nights, anorexia and a dependency on pills and alcohol. Her new assistant, the strait laced Rosalyn (Jessie Buckley) is her rock, helping her get on to that stage when no one else seems to be able to. Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock), a young man she met at her daughter Liza's (Gemma-Leah Devereux) party comes to London to sweep her off her feet. Their whirlwind romance is over as soon as it started. As Garland starts to decline, she must leave London but not without making one last splash, with the help of some good friends.


Image courtesy of TIFF

Judy was adapted by Tom Edge and Peter Quilter from the stage play End of the Rainbow. Zellweger really gives her all to play the part of Judy Garland. She hones the voice, the mannerisms and the presence which is no small task. Zellweger sings in the film and while she's no Judy Garland in the voice department it does add a layer of authenticity to her performance. This depiction of Judy gave me a real appreciation for the legend and why we love her and continue to love her as we do. She was just so genuine. She had an amazing talent, one that superseded anything us mere mortals could ever dream of. But at heart she was just a woman who wanted happiness and love. The story includes her time with her children and we see the pain she feels being away from them. They also added a plot line where she befriends two fans, a gay couple, to drive home the point that she was not only a gay icon but felt deeply for others.

By the end of the film I was really emotional. I found myself swept into this world and deeply moved by the legend of Judy Garland. I did feel the story was overly simplistic especially in how it depicted old Hollywood. Everything was presented as good or bad with very little in between. Mickey Rooney shows up in those early scenes as Judy's first crush and her MGM co-star but we don't see much about their lifelong friendship.

Does a Hollywood biopic have to be factually accurate to capture the true essence of a movie star? With so many biopics coming out we have to wonder if telling the truth is even the point. Or is it necessary to have a blend of fiction and reality to make magic on screen? I'm no Judy Garland expert so I can't speak to the inaccuracies but I do think die-hard Garland fans will take issues with the fictional parts and the focus on Garland's darkest days. I hope they see beyond that and give the film a shot.

This film did remind me of Stan & Ollie, the Laurel and Hardy biopic which also travels to the other side of the Atlantic and tells the story of the legends' last hurrah. I reviewed that film here and also discussed the film and the inherent problems with biopics in my discussion with Carl Sweeney over on The Movie Palace Podcast.

Judy explores the darkest days of Judy Garland's life while also capturing what made her such a beloved legend. Zellweger shines despite the film's flaws.



Judy had its Canadian premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Coquette (1929)




Directed and produced by Sam Taylor, Coquette (1929)A Drama of the American South stars Mary Pickford in her first ever talking picture. Pickford plays Norma Besant, a "silly little coquette", as she calls herself, who enjoys being the toast of the town. She's the beloved daughter of Dr. John Besant (John St. Polis), and the sister of the equally frivolous Jimmy (William Janney). Norma comes from a wealthy family and could have any guy she wants, including Stanley Wentworth (Matt Moore) who is absolutely smitten with her. Instead she's fallen in love with Michael Jeffrey (Johnny Mack Brown). He's from the bad part of town, has never had a steady job and can't afford the suit he'd be required to wear to take Norma to the Summer social. And Dr. Besant wants nothing to do with him. It's clear that their relationship is not off to a great start. Determined to earn Norma's affection fair and square, Michael leaves for a few months to make something of himself. He returns earlier than expected and the two lovebirds are reunited. When a scandalous rumor makes its way through the town, Michael and Dr. Besant come face-to-face and a tragic incident changes Norma's life forever.



"He's a diamond in the rough."

Coquette was based on Jed Harris' stage play and adapted by George Abbott, Ann Preston Bridgers, John Grey and Allen McNeil. Sam Taylor contributed to the dialogue and the film was produced independently and distributed by United Artists. Sets were designed by William Cameron Menzies.

This film's historical significance is more interesting than the film itself which I found to be quite dull and lifeless. The period between 1927-1929 was crucial as the industry was transitioning away from silents. A talkie debut was a big deal. For Mary Pickford it launched the next leg of her acting career and won her an Academy Award for Best Actress. The Academy Awards were still brand new and Pickford, ever the visionary, decided to campaign for the coveted prize. She did a publicity tour to drum up interest in the movie as well as in her nomination. This is commonplace now but was a brand new concept back then. Pickford's plan worked, the film was a success and she won the award. However, because Pickford was a founding member of the Academy, some felt that favoritism came into play.

Coquette is a silly Southern drama that I found needlessly frustrating. There is a lot of talk especially between Johnny Mack Brown and his rival for Mary Pickford's attention, John St. Polis, but no real action or reaction. Michael is never given a chance to prove himself and Dr. Besant is an elitist jerk. Overall the film lacked the emotional gravity and nuance that would have me feeling invested in the characters and their journey.

Watch Coquette for the delightful Mary Pickford's talkie debut, for the utterly handsome and underrated Johnny Mack Brown and for Louise Beavers who has a small role as the Besant family maid and Pickford's confidante.



Coquette (1929) is available on DVD-MOD from the Warner Archive Collection and can be purchased at the WB Shop. When you use my buy links you help support this site. Thank you! 

This is Coquette's DVD debut. George, D.W. and Matt of the Warner Archive Podcast discuss this film in the Dynamite Dames episode.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I feature titles from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me copy of Coquette (1929).

Monday, August 19, 2019

Summer Reading Challenge - Second Round-Up


Photo Source: Vanessa of Superveebs
We've all been busy bees this summer (or winter!) diving into our classic film books and soaking up all that knowledge (or being entertained if you're reading novels!). I'm so impressed by how many wonderful reviews have come through so far. This has been the most active and the most consistent summer reading challenge to date! And we hit a new milestone with our first ever podcast entry thanks to Carl over at the Movie Palace Podcast (I'm on the episode too!).

Here is the second batch of reviews. I encourage you to read them and share them far and wide.

If you're participating in the challenge, please make sure you submit your reviews to the link form on the summer reading page! Only submitted reviews count for the challenge.

Happy Reading!


Andy of AndyWolverton.com
Ice Station Zebra by Alistair MacLean
Reinventing Hollywood: How 1940s Filmmakers Movie Storytelling by David Bordwell




Carl of The Movie Palace Podcast
(all three are discussed in the podcast)
Hollywood Black by Donald Bogle
Dynamic Dames by Sloan De Forest
Forbidden Hollywood by Mark A. Vieira


Erin at Always Classic
Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse



Lee at Hooks and Pages on YouTube
The Groucho Letters by Groucho Marx
Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler

Photo Source: Welcome to Classic Mollywood
Molly of Welcome to Classic Mollywood
Forbidden Hollywood by Mark A. Vieira



Raquel of Out of the Past
Hollywood Black by Donald Bogle

Rich from Wide Screen World
Banished from Memory by Mary Sheeran

Photo Source: Robby on Instagram

Robby on Instagram
Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success by Joseph McBride
Gregory Peck: A Biography by Gary Fishgall

Samantha of Musings of a Classic Film Addict
Seen from the Wings: Luise Rainer. My Mother, The Journey by Francesca Knittel Bowyer (plus interview!)

Sarah on Goodreads
Dark Pages by David Goodis

Steve on Goodreads
An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood by Neal Gabler
We'll Always Have Casablanca: The Legend and Afterlife of Hollywood's Most Beloved Film by Noah Isenberg

Vanessa of Super Veebs
Dark Star: The Untold Story of the Meteoric Rise and Fall of Legendary Silent Screen Star John Gilbert by Leatrice Gilbert Fountain
Dynamic Dames by Sloan De Forest

Walter of Walts Popcorn Bytes
The Making of Casino Royale (1967) by Michael Richardson


Friday, August 16, 2019

Cinema Shame: Tom Horn (1980)


This post is sponsored by DVD Netflix. 

The completist in me has spoken and I must finish Steve McQueen's filmography. Even if that means watching a terrible movie like Tom Horn (1980). And yes it is indeed terrible. 

This film is part of my Cinema Shame Challenge for 2019 in which I watch 10 movies from my birth year 1980. If you want to participate in your own Cinema Shame challenge whether it by theme, month, year, whatever, visit the official website for more details.




Tom Horn (1980) was directed by Don Siegel. Then Elliot Silverstein. Then James William Geurcio. Then eventually Steve McQueen took over but because the Directors Guild of America (DGA) didn't allow actors to take director's credit after the film had already started, William Wiard was brought on to finish things up and give the film a final director's credit. The end result of that complicated production was a total mishmash of scenes. This aimless Western didn't capture my attention or my interest.

This was Steve McQueen's second to last film and he was already ill from the cancer that would eventually kill him in 1980. In fact McQueen died the same month I was born so I feel this weird connection with him. In Tom Horn, McQueen stars as the title character, a frontier scout with a legendary reputation. He worked for the Teddy Roosevelt administration, for the Pinkerton agency, was known for catching Geronimo, etc. He waltzes into town and gets off on a bad foot when boxer Jim Corbett beats him up. He's eventually hired by cattle farmer John C. Coble (Richard Farnsworth) to help catch (well, kill really) the cattle thieves that are a plague on other farmers. While he's cleaning up the joint, he meets Glendolene (Linda Evans), a local schoolteacher who is instantly smitten with him and the two have a sweet romance. Unfortunately Tom Horn is causing too much destruction and in an effort to get rid of him someone frames Tom for the murder of a young boy. The film follows Tom as he goes to trial for a crime he most likely did not commit. The real life Tom Horn was convicted yet later exonerated for the murder in 1993, 90 years after his death.

The film has a great cast: Steve McQueen, Richard Farnsworth, Linda Evans, Elisha Cook Jr. plays a stable hand at a horse ranch and Slim Pickens plays the town Sheriff who has a soft spot for Tom . The story suffers from woefully underdeveloped characters. The Evans-McQueen romance feels forced and false. There were some moments in the film where it tries to establish some personality traits for Tom Horn including a scene where he eats lobster for the first time or the different charms he carries with him that he ends up using to escape jail. In the end, Tom Horn is a flat and uninteresting character and McQueen was not in the position with both his career and his health to really invest himself in the role. If you're a Steve McQueen fan like I am, give this one a watch to check it off your list and move on.

Have you seen Tom Horn (1980)? What did you think? 




Disclaimer: As a DVD Nation director, I earn rewards from DVD Netflix. Tom Horn (1980) is available to rent on DVD.com

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Hollywood Black by Donald Bogle

Hollywood Black
The Stars, The Films, The Filmmakers
by Donald Bogle
TCM and Running Press
Hardcover ISBN: 9780762491414
264 pages
May 2019

AmazonBarnes and Noble Powell's

“Hollywood Black presents a gallery of important talents, both in front of the camera and behind it – actors, actresses, writers, directors, producers – who struggled against the odds to make unique statements on-screen.” - Donald Bogle

If ever there was a primer on the history of African American cinema, Hollywood Black by Donald Bogle is it. This new book out from TCM and Running Press offers a comprehensive look at the contributions made by black performers and filmmakers from the birth of cinema to the present day. Bogle offers insights, breaks down misconceptions and fills in the gaps of knowledge. This book is perfect for anyone who wants to learn more about black film history whether they know little or a lot. It offers a bounty of information without being overwhelming. The hybrid format of a coffee table book meets non-fiction history book makes it as approachable as it is educational.





For me context is key and Hollywood Black offers that it in its chronological approach to telling the history of African American cinema. We learn about the trends, the milestones, the movements, the struggles and how far we've come and how far we still have to go. Each chapter is devoted to a particular decade from the silent era to modern day. We learn about how black representation in film changed and evolved through the Great Depression, WWII, the Civil Rights movement, etc. Within each chapter are themed essays with a focus on one or two particular players.

Subjects discussed include:
Stepin Fetchit
Bill Bojangles Robinson
Hazel Scott
Theresa Harris
Herb Jeffries
Clarence Muse
Hattie McDaniel
Lena Horne
Dorothy Dandridge
Ruby Dee
James Edwards
Ethel Waters
Sidney Poitier
Harry Belafonte
Eartha Kitt
Sammy Davis Jr.
Cicely Tyson
Pamela Grier
Melvin Van Peebles
etc.

Each decade is given equal amount of coverage which becomes a problem when we get to the 1970s and beyond because there are many more movies and filmmakers to discuss. However it's necessary to include every decade to appreciate the depth and breadth of this history.

Hollywood Black features a foreword by the late, great John Singleton which I found to be quite touching. This is book would serve as a fine addition to any home library but could also be great for an introductory course to African American cultural or film studies.

If you want to learn more about how the book is structured, watch my video book review below. And make sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel! I'm trying to reach the milestone of 1,000 subscribers and every little bit helps!




You can hear me chat about Hollywood Black and other film books with Carl Sweeney host of The Movie Palace Podcast here.




Thank you to TCM and Running Press for sending me a copy of Hollywood Black to review.



This is my third review for the Summer Reading Challenge.


Sunday, August 11, 2019

Cinema Shame: Xanadu (1980)


This post is sponsored by DVD Netflix.

When I was crafting my Cinema Shame list for 2019 Xanadu (1980) was the first film that came to mind. A roller skating disco fantasy? Yes, please! If you're unfamiliar with Cinema Shame make sure you visit the official website for details. Cinema Shame is a way to challenge yourself to watch those movies you've been meaning to but haven't gotten around to yet. My challenge for this year is to watch 10 films from my birth year 1980.

Directed by Robert Greenwald, Xanadu follows the story of Sonny Malone (Michael Beck), a painter/designer who has a chance encounter with the beautiful and elusive Kira (Olivia Newton-John). What he doesn't know is that she's not a real girl. She's one of the nine muses and has appeared in his life to inspire him. Sonny works an unfulfilling job at an artist's studio. One day when his overbearing boss becomes too much for him Sonny heads out to the beach where he meets clarinet player Danny McGuire (Gene Kelly). Danny was a member of the Glenn Miller Orchestra and has a passion for big band music. Danny and Sonny become fast friends and we learn that Danny had his own Kira/muse back in his day. As Sonny begins to fall for Kira, she holds back but stays with him long enough to inspire him to collaborate with Danny. Together they combine their love for big band music and rock n roll and transform an abandoned auditorium into a roller skating disco palace.






Xanadu is loose adaptation of Down to Earth (1947). The story takes place in Hollywood and was filmed there as well as in Beverly Hills, Malibu and Venice Beach. The run down auditorium in the movie was the Pan-Pacific Auditorium in Fairfax. The intention was to drum up interest in the building to fund its restoration and give it a new life. Much like what happens in the film. Unfortunately Xanadu tanked at the box office and the Pan-Pacific eventually fell into more disrepair. After a series of small fires, a large one destroyed it for good in 1989. Xanadu is essentially the last hurrah for this gorgeous Art Deco building.

Xanadu is total confection. The film explores themes of old versus new and the timelessness of imagination and creativity. It's 100% ridiculous. Very little of it makes sense and the only reasons you should be watching it are for Gene Kelly, Olivia Newton-John, music by the Electric Light Orchestra, a couple of the musical numbers and to take a time travel trip back to 1980's SoCal.

I hate to single out a particular person for the downfall of a movie but Xanadu would have been 10 times better without Michael Beck. Singer Andy Gibb was slated to play Sonny Malone but had to drop out. Gibb's known drug abuse problems might have been a factor. So they found an Andy Gibb look-a-like instead. Gibb could sing, dance and had charisma, all of which Beck lacked. Olivia Newton-John is left to her own devices in several song and dance numbers. Gene Kelly comes to the rescue for a couple of them but Beck is pretty much useless. It's not his fault really. He wasn't the right fit for this role. They really should have nixed the idea of finding a Gibb look-a-like and went with a song-and-dance man instead.

"Just pretend it's 1945." - Kira
"I don't have to pretend. It is 1945 all over again." - Danny

As someone who loves 1940s culture, I was surprised to see how much that decade played in this otherwise very 1980s movie. Kelly and Newton-John have a love tap dance/big band number with Newton-John dressed in a WWII service uniform. Danny lives in a silent film star's old mansion and his passion for big band is juxtaposed with modern day rock n roll. Also I'm one of those weirdos who lives for the 1980s interpretation of the 1940s. That decade's style made a comeback in the '80s and in the big band/rock n roll song and dance number the '40s costumes are vintage with a modern twist. So fun!

Have you seen Xanadu? What did you think about it?



Disclaimer: As a DVD Nation director, I earn rewards from DVD Netflix. Xanadu (1980) is available to rent on DVD Netflix.

Friday, July 26, 2019

GIVEAWAY: Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II by Robert Matzen




A couple of months ago I attended Book Expo in New York City and I was on the look out for some good classic film books. Author Robert Mazen was there to promote his new biography on Audrey Hepburn. As a treat for my readers, I grabbed a sign copy to give to YOU!






About the Book:

Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II 
by Robert Matzen
400 pages
GoodKnight Books
April 2019

From the publisher: Twenty-five years after her passing, Audrey Hepburn remains the most beloved of all Hollywood stars, known as much for her role as UNICEF ambassador as for films like Roman Holiday and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Several biographies have chronicled her stardom, but none has covered her intense experiences through five years of Nazi occupation in the Netherlands. 

According to her son, Luca Dotti, “The war made my mother who she was.” Audrey Hepburn’s war included participation in the Dutch Resistance, working as a doctor’s assistant during the “Bridge Too Far” battle of Arnhem, the brutal execution of her uncle, and the ordeal of the Hunger Winter of 1944. She also had to contend with the fact that her father was a Nazi agent and her mother was pro-Nazi for the first two years of the occupation. But the war years also brought triumphs as Audrey became Arnhem’s most famous young ballerina. Audrey’s own reminiscences, new interviews with people who knew her in the war, wartime diaries, and research in classified Dutch archives shed light on the riveting, untold story of Audrey Hepburn under fire in World War II. 

Also included is a section of color and black-and-white photos. Many of these images are from Audrey’s personal collection and are published here for the first time.




*****GIVEAWAY*****

RULES AND REGULATIONS

  • Must be 18+
  • Open Internationally
  • Maximum 3 entries (one required and two optional) per person
  • Must provide e-mail address in comment.
  • False or incomplete entries will not be accepted.
  • Contest ends Wednesday July 31st at midnight EST.
  • 1 winner will be selected and contacted via e-mail. I will also announce the winner in this post.
  • Prize is one autographed copy of the book.

HOW TO ENTER
  • REQUIRED: Leave a comment below telling me what your favorite Audrey Hepburn movie is AND why you love it. Make sure you leave your e-mail address too so I can contact you if you win.
  • OPTIONAL: For one additional entry, follow my movie themed Instagram @QuelleMovies and in your comment leave your Instagram user name.
  • OPTIONAL: For one additional entry, subscribe to my YouTube channel Out of the Past and in your comment leave your YouTube user name.

You can leave one comment with 1-3 entry options. Doesn't have to be a separate comment for each entry. I will edit out e-mail addresses and user names after the contest is over.

 Good luck!


***CONTEST IS OVER***

The winner is Amanda O.! 

Thank you to everyone who entered. Disqus wouldn't allow me to edit out the information so I copy and pasted the valid entries below and deleted the comments.


Amanda O. - Honestly for me it’s a toss up between “Roman Holiday” and “Charade” for my favorite Audrey film. Roman Holiday was the film that really got me into classics. I rented it when I was probably 13 or 14 and just fell in love with it and Audrey. And it led to me watching other classic films and falling in love with other classic actors and actresses. So it will always be special to me. My other favorite, “Charade”, is a comfort movie for me. No matter what mood I’m in or how bad a day I’m having that scene when Cary Grant showers with his clothes on always cracks me up and makes me happy and my day better. I love it so much! Thank you for having such a fun and interesting blog! I always look forward to your posts! 

Gillian K. -  I LOVE all of Audrey's films but if I had to pick one, I'd say Sabrina as it has an interesting plot twist, her character is so adorable and what a wardrobe she obtains in Paris! 

Helena G. - Audrey Hepburn is my all-time favorite actress. I absolutely cannot pick just 1 favorite film, but for this contest, I will explain how much I love her first starring role: Roman Holiday. She played an enchanting princess who wanted to experience normal life and was able to do so briefly before returning to her duties. The final scene where she stops being diplomatic to tell the press that Rome has her heart (and to let her love interest in the film know her true feelings) is legendary. She held her own alongside Gregory Peck and won an Oscar for her portrayal of strength alongside vulnerability, which I feel is the hallmark of her acting career and explains her passionate advocacy for UNICEF, since she had to be strong while a most vulnerable child during WW2. 

debra512 - My favorite Audrey Hepburn movie (even though I love so many), is Two For the Road. I loved her chemistry with Finney, I loved how mature and different it was for the time and for her. I also loved the theme song. She was so natural and funny and lovely.. I wish I could enter the other two but I don't like giving out social media names on other forms of social media for contest purposes- so sorry! But I would love the book as I think that time in her life shaped her so much and want to know more. 

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