Saturday, December 29, 2007

For Auld Lang Syne

New Year's means two things to me (movie-wise). The Marx Bros. and Ginger Rogers in Bachelor Mother (1939).

The ritual of watching The Marx Bros. movies around New Years started a couple of years ago with a Marx Bros. marathon on TCM (I'm convinced TCM is less a channel and more a lifestyle). I had so much fun, counting down the hours to a brand New Year, by watching the hilarious antics of Groucho, Harpo and Chico (sometimes Zeppo). Duck Soup (1933), A Day at the Races (1937), Horse Feathers (1932), just to name a few. All of the films made during Thalberg's lifetime of course. Irving Thalberg was a big supporter of the Marx Bros, and films made after Thalberg's death in 1936, lack the luster of the great originals.

I have yet to see the Holy Grail of the Marx Bros. movies, A Night at the Opera (1935), and saved that for this New Years. Fingers-crossed, I'll get to watch that in a real-life theatre, on a big screen on New Year's day. What better way to ring in the New Year with the hilarious romps of those silly brothers!

Bachelor Mother (1939) is a personal pleasure of mine. Ginger Rogers plays a young, independent women who loses her job at the toy deparment of a major department store. She stumbles upon an old lady leaving a baby on the steps of a foundling home, only to be confused later as the mother of the baby. She cannot convince anyone that the baby is not hers, especially David Niven, who plays one of the head of the department store, who gives her, her job back and consquently falls for her and the baby.

Its a wonderful movie. There is one particular scene when Niven asks Rogers out for New Years (as a last minute option) and she hasn't a thing to wear. He gets a brand new dress, scarf, shoes, stockings and even a mink coat from the store for her. They go out to a fancy dinner and she pretends to be Swedish so she won't have to talk to his society friends. He can't get a moment with her because all of his friends whisk her away to the dance floor. He finally wrangles her out of the restaurant they go out to Times Square to ring in the New Year. They get lost in the chaotic arms only to find each other at the moment the clock strucks midnight and they kiss. It's just a wonderful wonderful part of a spectacular movie. It epitomizes New Years. Going out, living it up and having a ball so that you can start a new year afresh!

Happy New Years to you and yours!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Ultimate Story: The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1928)

Imagine a young prince, very young, still fresh with youthful ideals and not yet tainted by the burden of royal duty. Then comes a long a beautiful young girl, a commoner only in status, but marvellous in all other respects. The young prince meets the young girl and they fall in love. All seems right until the royal burden puts a damper on their romance. They have arrived at a crossroads in their romance and their fate depends upon the prince making a major decision about his future.

This story has appeared in the history of mythology, literature and film in many forms and variations (Cinderella anyone?). Personally, I have very little information about its history, but I feel that I've come across it so many times that I have a somewhat good understanding of it. I didn't make much of this story until I read about The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1928) and after much waiting, got the chance to watch it when TCM aired it a couple of months ago. Norma Shearer plays Kathi, a maid at a beergarten who falls for the young prince Karl Heinrich, played by the very handsome Ramon Novarro, who happens to be lodging at the beergarten as a temporary escape from the palace. When the king dies, and young prince Karl takes over the throne, he has a very important decision to make. Whether to follow his heart and marry young Kathi or to honor his father's memory by fulfilling his royal obligations and marrying Princess Raquel (yes, Raquel, I did a double-take when I saw her name written on the marriage contract!).

So I thought about all the other places this story has appeared in film. With its name "The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg" it was released in 1919, 1928 and 1954. The most recent incarnation of this story is Prince & Me (2004) with Julia Stiles. In that variation, the girl doesn't know that the guy she is falling for is in fact a prince. There have been subsequent sequels of that film, sans-Julia Stiles. If you are a Marilyn Monroe fan like I am, you may also recognize the story in The Prince and the Showgirl (1957). Its also appeared as a sub-story with minor characters in other films, such as Black Narcissus (1947). Since monarchy is an ever-dying establishment, today we seek this same story in other types of authority figures. Like the unrealistic romantic scenarios involving single presidents or prime ministers. Take for example, Michael Douglas in The American President (1995) or Hugh Grant as prime minister in Love, Actually (2003).

So why is this story so important? I don't really know. Is it a way for us to sympathize with royalty? Or does its sole purpose serve to give little girls the hope that they one day may become a princess, regardless of their current status? I'm interested enough to keep exploring the mythology of this story in film and in literature, to see how its become our ultimate story.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

On the Waterfront (1954): Mother and Daughter Reaction

My mother and I watched Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront (1954) recently and I think our reaction to the film, as spoken to each other when the film ended, pretty much sums up our experience.

Mom: "Wow!"

Me: "Wow! Eso fue una buena pelicula!!!" (Wow! That was a great movie!)

Mom: "Raquel! Yo ni me dormi!!!" (Raquel! I didn't even fall asleep!)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Robert Mitchum's Sad Eyes: Holiday Affair (1949)

I'm not quite sure how I had forgotten about this film, seeing as its really my most favorite Christmas film, but I did. Luckily, I rediscovered it when TCM had it on rotation and On Demand this month. This absolutely a superb, quiet and heartfelt Christmas movie. The story goes that Howard Hughes wanted to clean up Robert Mitchum's reputation after the whole marijuana/jail scandal. So he took him out of his usual tough guy roles and put him in a sweet romantic Christmas story. Hughes also had a huge crush on Janet Leigh and borrowed her from MGM so that she could be in this RKO film. The result: amazing!! I don't feel that I express my love enough for Robert Mitchum. That is quite a shame because he is by far my most favorite actor ever! There is no one, and I mean no one that tops him in my book. His acting style was so effortless and his charm so intoxicating that anytime I watch one of his films, I feel like I've been privileged to see something very grand. In Holiday Affair (1949), Robert Mitchum plays Steve Mason, a toy shop employee who is saving money to move to California to build sailboats by taking odd jobs in Manhattan. Janet Leigh is the widowed mother of one, who falls for Mitchum, but has to deal with the complicated dynamic of already have a psuedo-fiancee, not being able to let go of her dead husband's memory and her young son's idealism. We get to see wonderful sides of Mitchum here. He is romantic! He is self-sacrificing! He is good with children! He is kind! What more could a fan like me who hearts Robert Mitchum to the nth degree ask for? ::swoon::

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Arrangement (1969)

As the DVD sat snug in its Netflix sleeve, I was reluctant to take the extra step and to put The Arrangement (1969) into my DVD player. Approaching a movie you know nothing about is almost like going on a blind date, there is that internal conflict of either seeking security and safety and not going through with it, in case the experience would turn out to be traumatic, or taking a risk hoping that this time things might work out in your favor. In this case, what I thought might be a strange, weird '60s film that I wouldn't enjoy, would turn out to be a strange, weird '60s film that I did enjoy.

Based on his own novel, The Arrangement (1969) is a lesser-known Elia Kazan classic. Its a film that contemporary film afficianados might enjoy because of its chaotic, psychadelic, A.D.D. type of cinematography. Shots come at all sorts of strange and interesting angles and any remotely chronological timeline is thrown askew my patches of memory flashbacks. Watching this film felt new, fresh and invigorating in a way older films don't usually.

The story is about an ad executive, played by the ever superb Kirk Douglas, who suffers a major mid-life meltdown. He is torn between the life he leads, with his idyllic wife, played by Deborah Kerr, and his current job and the life he wants to lead, as a bohemian free-spirit with his lover, played by Faye Dunaway. The viewer is trapped in his mind, which is terribly chaotic making for amazing sequences.

I don't know how else to intrigue people enough to watch this film. So instead of rambling on and on about its merits, I'll simply leave you with a few crazy shots that I enjoyed in hopes that they might pique your interest.

1) Kirk Douglas hallucinating by the pool with a bunch of grapes which he dangles over the water's surface. In his imagination, the mythic Faye Dunaway emerges from the water to take a bite.

2) Kirk Douglas, again hallucinating, but this time flying an airplane over the city. The scene to which my mother reacted by saying "Ay yay yay! El loco va en un avion!" (Ay yay yay! The crazy guy is flying an airplane!)

3) After Deborah Kerr, tears up the naughty pictures she finds of Douglas and Dunaway at the beach, a neat camera trick shows live action in the scraps of the pictures left behind.

4) Kirk Douglas, hallucinating, (does he do anything else?). But this time its Kirk Douglas dressed as an ad executive, in bed with Kirk Douglas, in the buff as they both smoke cigars!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Breaking the Code Boxed Set: Final Grade

I got an A- in my desktop pub. class. This grade include my class participation, my mid-term project and my final project. I'm happy that I'm in the "A" range (which is only "A" and "A-", no "A+"), although I really wish my grade didn't have that pesky minus sign. This new grade brought down my GPA by about .03 points (boo!). I think that minus is because I didn't proactively seek help or assistance in my project from the professor. I'm sure he probably had ways he would have liked to advise me to improve my various pieces, but I'm sure they would have been changes that I would have just rejected anyways. I guess in the end, what really counts is that I'm really proud of my project and that it is all my own independent work.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Queue Chaos Management

My Netflix queue was at ::gasp:: 334 movies!!! 334! There is absolutely no way I can humanly watch that many movies in the forseeable future. When I'm in school, I usually watch comfort shows and films for respit (usually repitions) and an ocassional new film (or old as it usually is the case). When I'm out of school, I try to devour as many films as I can. But my queue of taped films (those movies not available on DVD) AND my Netflix queue are overwhelming me.

So what did I do today? I cleared out my Netflix queue. I blindly took everything out and added 10 titles I really want to see. My queue is now clear for the addition of films I really want to see and those that were personally recommended to me. And this way these films don't get lost in the chaotic shuffle of my too long queue.

Anyone else have this problem? An itchy "Add" trigger finger? The constant need to add to your own to-be-watched list?
Here are the 10 movies now on my new shortened queue:

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Breaking the Code Boxed Set: Final!

Yay! It's so pretty. When I printed it out, pasted it together and assembled it I did a special happy dance of joy! I presented it last night to the class, with awesome results. Let's hope I get an A!

Check out my slideshow to your right. It contains an album of all the pieces of my project.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Breaking the Code Boxed Set: Web Banner

The web banner is complete. And I have to say, I'm really happy with it. The whole concept is Christmas/Winter and that the boxed set is the perfect gift if you've run out of ideas of what to get someone. I love it. I ashamedly stole the snowflakes off a particular website. Eek! I hope they don't find out.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Breaking the Code Boxed Set: Booklet

The booklet is complete! Since this is probably the most complex out of the 4 parts of the project, I'm very happy that its done. My project due date is Tuesday the 18th, so I'll be working on the boxed set slipcase and web banner until then!

I couldn't include the last spread because its an advertisement for a particular channel's website. On that last spread I suggest 6 other controversial classics from the 1960's. These include: A Patch of Blue (1965), The Children's Hour (1961), The Americanization of Emily (1964), Blow-Up (1966) , Lolita (1962) and Pressure Point (1962).

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Breaking the Code Boxed Set: Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Are you sick of my boxed set? Too bad. Because I'm not. The postcards are final. What you've seen is what it is. I'm not fussing with it anymore.
Also I decided not to post an article about Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) mainly because the one I used in the booklet is a re-hashing of this previous post.
So here is my embarassingly crude and brazen article on Anatomy of a Murder (1959). This is the last of the five movies. Woohoo!

Broken Code: Rape should never be more than suggested.
Otto Premminger’s Anatomy of a Murder is arguably one of the most outspoken film of the late ‘50s. "Outspoken" being the operative word here as the controversy behind this movie was the language it so brazenly used. Terms like "rape", "slut", "climax", "intercourse", "sperm", "penetration", "contraception" and most notably "panties" were bandied about in the movie. These words were not just highly suggestive, they were downright specific going against the Production Code’s careful restrictions on the use of language. Initially the film is as coy as the main protagonist, James Stewart’s character, defense lawyer Paul Biegler. There is a sense of being cautious. It tip-toes around the story’s central plot which involves a rape that incites a murder. Yet, later in the movie, there is this great scene with Lee Remick’s character, Laura Manion, the rape victim, as she is describing more details of the incident to Biegler. The one key evidence is a pair of ripped underwear. Biegler is cautious about referring to the item specifically. Sexy Manion beckons him to just say it. Say "panties". In James Stewart’s special brand of aw-shucks self-consciousness, he is mesmerized by her seductive charm and brazen sexuality and manages to mouth the word.

Mostly, this film is a being unto itself, not afraid to say what it needs to say and not afraid with how people will react or how they will interpret it. The storyline and its climax go against the very nature of the Code. The concept that a defense lawyer in his right mind can defend someone who’s intent was ambigiously justifiable, is probably a concept radical for its day. The normal chain effect of crime equals punishment does not necessarily apply here. The boundary between good and evil is blurred by the uncertainty of intention when brief insanity comes to play. Sexual tension is the root of the drama with all the film’s central character. Sex here has been used for not only just violence but also a method of manipulation for personal gain. Both Laura and Frederick Manion realize that Laura’s sexuality is what got them into this mess, so that is exactly what will be used to get them out. And the final outcome, is a film that has to be one of the greatest courtroom dramas in film history.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Breaking the Code Boxed Set: The Hays Code

Hays, or Hayes? I've been spelling it both ways lately. Its definitely Hays, so I don't know why I have a penchant from throwing in the extra "e".
I've been very sick the past few days (although the hospital tests have shown I do not have an ulcer, woohoo!) so I've gotten little to nothing done. Today I broke out of my misery fog, and managed a poor re-hashing of a history of the Hays Code. As listed below. Its meant to be boring I guess and the lay-out will be boring too. It will contrast with the fun-flashiness and literary quality of the following spreads. This article will appear on the first page or the first spread of the booklet.

The History of the Hays Production Code

After being rocked by many sex, murder and drug scandals in the 20’s, the movie industry took steps to clean up its image. William H. Hays, President Warren G. Harding’s campaign manager, wrote a set of strict guideliness for movies to follow in 1927. He spent the next several years trying to get it enforced. The newly formed Motion Picture Associate of America (MPAA) adopted the Hays Code in 1930. The Code was also backed up by the newly formed Catholic Legion of Decency which felt there was a moral obligation to the members of their church. In June of 1934, a Production Code Administration was created and the Code began to be enforced. Filmmakers had to preview their films to the administration, the result of which was either a certificate of approval that allowed for public viewing of said film or the call to the filmmaker to reshoot or edit their films for content.

The details of the codes were specific, denouncing many particulars of violence, sex and morality that would forbidden to be shown on screen. It functioned off of three basic principles. The first was the prevention of lowering the moral standards of any potential audience members. The second was to have films show "correct" standards of living in good light. The third was that law and authority were not to be ridiculed and thus encourage law-breaking of any sort.

In the late ‘50s, Hollywood filmmakers were under increasing competition from television and foreign movies for their audiences. Televisions were convenient and foreign movies were not under the Production Code’s regulations and the government could not prevent these films from being shown in American theaters. Because of this filmmakers, felt the pressure to give their films an edge, which often meant exploring subject matter that was controversial. In 1952, a US Supreme Court ruling under Joseph Burstyn, Inc v. Wilson overruled the 1915 decision that claimed motion pictures were not viable under First Amendment protection. This weakened the now dying power of the Code. The most outspoken director of them all was Otto Preminger, whose films such as The Moon is Blue (1953), The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) and Anatomy of a Murder (1959) seemed to give the middle finger to the Code.

At the turn of the decade, from the ‘50s to the ‘60s, films started to release even without the Code’s certificate of approval, weakening its authority. By the ‘60s, filmmakers started blatantly ignoring the code and exploring all sorts of themes including sex, race, culture, gender and violence. The reign of the code ended with the seminal film Blowup in 1967. It was released by MGM, who had been abiding by the Code for many years, without a certificate. After that, enforcement became impossible and the MPAA abandoned the Code in favor of the tiered rating system we have today (i.e. G, PG, PG-13, R, NC-17, etc).

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Breaking the Code Boxed Set: Preliminary Booklet Cover

Here is the preliminary cover (both the front and back) of my 12-16 page booklet. I think I have to change the color scheme to match the interior but this is the basic look.

The background text is actual language from the Hayes Production Code. I've made a layer on top highlighting particular words of importance to make them stand out.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Breaking the Code Boxed Set: Sexy Promotional Postcards

Here are my postcards. They are a bit naughty, for that I apologize for anyone who might think they are in bad taste. A few of them are actual quotes from the movies. My whole goal here was to give the postcards a young/hip/feminine/sexy vibe. The theme is "Spend the night with [insert channel name here]". I blacked out the actual channel's name so as not to have any copyright issues. I wanted a departure from that channel's regular style which is usually an older, gentleman-bachelor sort of feel. And I really believe they need to mix it up to broaden their audience scope. Hope you enjoy these as much as I enjoyed making them!

Breaking the Code Boxed Set: Project Details

Just to reiterate, this is what my whole desktop publishing project will consist of.

1) Boxed Set slipcase
2) 12-16 page Booklet
3) 5 Promotional Postcards
4) Web Advertising Banner

Because all of the films are in black and white, and I love love love to use color, I'm turning my pictures into duotones (black and one other color). I will give a select few photos a sepia-like tint as well. I have a color scheme for each of the films so they are consistent.

The Three Faces of Eve (1957) - Orange
Baby Doll (1956) - Purple
The Night of the Hunter (1955) -Red
Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) - Green
Anatomy of a Murder (1959) - Blue

Friday, December 7, 2007

Breaking the Code: The Night of the Hunter (1955) Article

I don't like my article very much, but I do really like how it looks in my spread. This is the preliminary lay out for each of the 5 articles. I like it so much that I don't know if I'll change it at all, unless my professor has some really good insight on how to improve it. Once I've finalized them I'll post them here for viewing.

Broken Code: Ministers of religion in their character as ministers of religion should be used as comic characters or as villains.

The only film the legendary actor Charles Laughton ever directed, The Night of the Hunter is an allegorical tale of good versus evil with a creepy twist. Robert Mitchum plays Reverend Powell, an antinomian and religious fanatic who is a growling evil monster that feigns to hear commands of violence and crime from the voice of God. He’s hell-bent on recovering the money his prisonmate had hidden before being arrested for robbery. His history of manipulation and corruption make him a force to be reckoned with but he is no match for innocence in its purest form: children. Its the only thing that stands in his way and he finds himself outmatched when angelic Lilian Gish as Rachel Cooper comes to the children’s rescue. Beautifully directed and stylized, the film’s creepiness stems from its characters, night time settings, tall vertical and wide horizontal shots, sharp shadows, eery silences and religious singing. The film is best known for its main character who sports the letters "L-O-V-E" and "H-A-T-E" tattooed on his knuckles. Spike Lee fans will recognize a reference to this in his film Do the Right Thing (1989).

Highly underestimated at the time of its release, this film is a classic example of allegory told and shown throw realism. This film also demonstrates the growing need for realism in film. Audiences were being wooed away from movie theatres by TV and Hollywood was in direct competition of European cinema. Filmmakers needed an edge to survive and the Hays Code seemed like a needless obstacle in their way. The Night of the Hunter approaches gritty realism in two significant ways. The first is how its not afraid to show the hideous side of death. Refusing to follow the path of many bloodless death shots of previous films, The Night of the Hunter has a truly grotesque underwater shot of a corpse that is only preceded by the a similar, but much less horrifying in Sunset Bld (1950). However, the second and arguably most defiant way it approaches realism is through its focus of the use and abuse of religion. The Reverend Powell uses his own spirtuality to do evil and in his mania believes his actions are sanctioned by God. The idea of religious authority using faith for evildoing is revolutionary for film history.


1) Robert Mitchum once said this was his favorite film to make and Laughton was his favorite director.

2) Director Charles Laughton had a difficult time with children and was helped by Mitchum to direct the child actors.

3) Director Charles Laughton was horrified by the poor reception of the film to the point where he never directed a film again.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Breaking the Code Boxed Set: Preliminary Cover

Here is the preliminary cover. I was aiming for horizontal shots, but unfortunately all except two, involve people sleeping. I may switch images and change the font but this will be the drift and the color scheme.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Elia Kazan Lecture 11/29/07

What I learned at the Elia Kazan lecture...

1) Controversial figure throughout most of his life, many people refused to stand or applaud when he received his Honorary Oscar for Lifetime Achievement at the 1999 Academy Awards.

2) He revealed the name of 8 known Communists to the HUAC. 3 of which were friends of his and who gave him permission to name them.

3) He was part of the Communist party for 2 years but left as he didn't like the secrecy or the propaganda involved.

4) Marlon Brando was reluctant to work with him after the HUAC controversy.

5) As a director, Elia Kazan was known for filming on location instead of in a studio, for very long takes, encouraging actors to use props, exploring intimacy and emotional distance between characters, and helping actors from the Actor's Studio get their start in films (Andy Griffith, Carroll Baker, etc).

6) Modeled the father character in East of Eden (1955) more after his own father than John Steinbeck's version in the original novel.

7) He shared Marilyn Monroe as a girlfriend with Arthur Miller, who went on to be Monroe's last husband (tee hee!).

8) Did not work well with established film stars Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy on the set of Sea of Grass. They clashed artistically.

9) He was influenced by filmmaker Orson Welles.

10) Nicknamed "Gadget" or "Gadge", a name he would resent throughout his life.

11) Watch A Face in the Crowd (1957) . On pain of death. (Just kidding!)

Thanks Kevin!

(Just a Baby Doll (1956) shot I liked. Enjoy!)

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