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Exploring the Artifacts #9: The Missing Links Part 1

 

Exploring The Artifacts is a series in which I examine some unique and significant components, or by-products, of cinema storytelling that are often under appreciated. 

 

The subject of this article is an editing technique that implies a hidden meaning specifically between two shots or scenes in a narrative. These transitions can draw a connection between story fragments in an obvious way or act as a subtle association between the instantly changing visuals. Even though this rather sophisticated device has been used sparingly in the past, it adds an intellectual depth to the stories that only motion pictures can so effectively convey.

 

We'll begin with one of the most famous and apparent transitions in the history of cinema. It contains the final image from the film's lengthy "Dawn of Man" opening segment: A bone, learned to be used as a weapon, is thrown into the air as a celebration of power. This is a culmination of events during which a group of primates encounter, and learn how to overcome, various adversaries including each other. At one point the apes are confronted by the shocking appearance of a giant monolith signifying the unknown, that stimulates both their curiosity and hostility. Perhaps the giant object can never be fully understood, no matter how far man "progresses". This final "cut" in space achieves its power by bridging a vast, immeasurable amount of time and human achievement in the blink of an eye.

2001: a Space Odyssey (1968)

Director: Stanley Kubrick

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next example from the same director, is a far more subtle way of drawing contrast between two scenes. This edit highlights the use of sounds to demonstrate the tragic disparity between the events depicted. In the first scene the filmmakers conclude with a violent blast of gunfire used to execute three soldiers previously convicted of cowardice in the face of the enemy. Cut to the comforting sounds of breakfast enjoyed by the Generals who organized their execution.

Paths of Glory (1957)

Director: Stanley Kubrick

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my recent review of Vertigo, I described a scene where our protagonist (Scottie Ferguson) strongly objects to taking on an assignment for a friend (Gavin Elster) providing several justifiable reasons. Gavin persists in trying to convince the retired detective to follow his wife during the day while he's at work because of her strange behaviour suggesting she's possessed by a deceased relative's spirit. Scottie finally agrees to find someone else for the job but Gavin wants him and insists on it. Finally Gavin asks Scottie to have a look at her before making up his mind and he agrees! Scottie's curiosity must have gotten the better of him since as a professional, her appearance should have nothing to do with whether or not he takes the case. The bridge of real importance, however, occurs after Scottie sees Madeleine Elster at a popular restaurant. Then, in the very next scene, Scottie is in his car waiting for Gavin's wife to leave her apartment. No more discussion, thoughts or decision making processes are necessary. Scottie has had a look, and that's it: Viola, he's on the case! By connecting those two scenes in that way, there's nothing more to it: Madeleine's beautiful allure, (enhanced by the music and lighting), is the reason he's changed his mind; another "missing link" has been uncovered, one that's proven to be most effectively utilized.

Vertigo (1958)

 

 

 

 

 

Another famous link from Vertigo's director, this time one of humorous sexual innuendo, occurs at the very end of its story. The director said (if one takes him seriously) it was the only time he used symbolism in any of his films:

North by Northwest (1959)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

 

 

 

A.G.

 

Next Time in Part 2: More missing links are uncovered between scenes in The Asphalt Jungle, Planet of the Apes, The Wild Bunch and Love and Death.

"Now Listen To Me..."

 

Just some thoughts on current happenings:

 

There are six recommended films to watch on Turner Classic Movies in the U.S. this month:

The first 3 all hit fast and hard and consist of a Sterling Hayden triple-header.

 

The line up begins with The Killing, Stanley Kubrick's knock-out caper film previously recommended here.  It starts the crime spree Wednesday May 6, at 5pm PST.

 

 

 

 

 

Immediately thereafter is the film that began the international heist movement, The Asphalt Jungle, also previously reviewed here. It will air at 6:45 pm PST (Wednesday May 6).

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the last of tonight's noir triple-threat, Hayden jumps the fence: Unlike the hardened criminals he portrays in the two previous films, Crime Wave's Hayden has him playing hardened cop Det. Lt. Sims. He puts the squeeze big time on parolee Steve Lacey (played appropriately close to the vest by Gene Nelson). Sims hopes to catch three recent prison escapees and suspects they'll try to contact their former prison buddy Lacey and is he right! One of the imposing three bad guys has a gunshot wound plus ringleader 'Doc' Penny has a new caper all planned. He'll threaten Lacey with his wife's safety if he doesn't help out. This puts Lacey, who's trying to go straight, in a real bind because if he does, he'll go back to prison and if he doesn't, his wife will most likely be killed.

 

This is solid gold noir: Seasoned and determined tough guys on both sides of the law with our hero caught in the middle. When a final bank heist takes centre stage, the suspense ratchets up, with our sympathetic ties to Lacey tightening as well. The tension builds to a surprising but welcome conclusion with the multidimensional cop Sims being a bonus surprise for this genre.

 

 

 

Andre de Toth (1912 - 2002)

Andre de Toth (1912 - 2002)

The director is ace craftsman Andre De Toth who has excelled in both the western (The Day of the Outlaw, Ramrod) and noir (Pitfall, Dark Waters) genres, completing this tight little thriller's shooting schedule in a record breaking 13 days! Aside from a few recognizable faces from The Killing like Ted de Corsia and Timothy Carey, there are also vivid well-rounded characterizations provided by actors Phyllis Kirk, Charles Bronson, Jay Novello and Dub Taylor amongst others. Crime Wave is scheduled to follow The Asphalt Jungle at 8:45 pm PST (Wednesday May 6). 

 

 

 

 

 

My next TCM recommendation is not just a rare foreign film broadcast for this channel, it's a rare foreign film, and presents a precious opportunity to witness an exceptional work of art from Russian director Larisa Shepitko, the story of which occurs during WWII. Be warned, this is a violent, astonishing tragedy of biblical proportions but rewards its viewers with an underlying spiritual strength like nothing ever seen before on the screen. It is Hidden Gem #3: The Ascent a.k.a. Voskhoz hdeniye (1977, Soviet Union) and is scheduled to air on Sunday May 10, at 1:45 am PST (technically Monday morning).

 

 

 

 

The next recommendation is another Hidden Gem (#40: Big Business 1929, U.S.A.) but it's of a completely different nature than the previous one: A Laurel and Hardy film in which a war does take place but instead of resulting in tragedy, it's all out hilarity. Stan and Ollie are Christmas tree salesmen who pick the wrong customer (James Finlayson) to call on and the situation escalates from a simple misunderstanding to total annihilation. This is probably the duo's funniest film of all, and it's only 19 minutes in length. It will air (along with some other Laurel and Hardy shorts) on Sunday May 17 at 9:15pm PST.

 

 

The final TCM recommendation for the month of May is Robert Altman's wild take-off on an L.A. private detective of the 40's transposed to the chaotic and narcissistic world of the then contemporary 70's: The Long Goodbye. Elliot Gould plays Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe unlike any actor has in the past: He's unkempt, makes goofy faces and seems kind of purposely out of touch with reality, possessing a kind of witty sarcasm toward those he encounters, repeatedly saying "It's okay with me." I can see how if one expects the Marlowe character or his reactions to be anything like past Marlowe's (in book or film form) they can be hugely disappointed. I recall vividly the two completely opposing views of this film by esteemed L.A. Times film critics Charles Champlin (See: End Credits #25), who vehemently disliked The Long Goodbye and Kevin Thomas, who loved it, basically resting on this same premise of expectancy. Champlin even said as much when he spoke to me about the film in person!

 

Personally I love the film but then I approached it on its own terms with no previous expectations and found it fresh, fun and engaging. Criticisms for its lack of faithfulness to the genre or character are apt: For bad direction, character continuity etc. they’re not. This is practically a parody of noir conventions while still honouring them. As to an even more controversial ending, its surprise final moments fit like a glove, as long as you perceive everything through Altman's Marlowe instead of reverting to Chandler's. Keep in mind this is a guy who is used by practically everyone he meets and that final insult proves too much for him to shrug off as he typically does throughout his investigation. Before it's resolution, however, there's Altman's crazy world of remarkable and fascinating characters engaged in some recognizably L.A. situations, (albeit dramatically enhanced) both intriguing and incongruously humorous. The screenplay of Chandler's novel is by noted screenwriter Leigh Brackett and again, it's quite a departure from past Chandler film adaptations but perfectly balanced between authenticity and irreverence. Plus it has Sterling Hayden who once again scores a knockout performance. As long as viewers can accept and go with it, they'll have a great time. It arrives Wednesday May 27, at 8:45pm PST. 

 

TCM's current monthly schedule can be confirmed by clicking on any of the above images. For those who live in parts of the U.S. other than the western region, the time zone can be adjusted in the upper right hand corner of TCM's programme.

 

 

 

May’s soundtrack recommendation is Jerry Goldsmith’s exciting, Latin flavoured composition to Under Fire, one of the most well crafted films he scored.  It’s boldly thematic, rhythmically infectious, and held in high regard as a self-contained work. Goldsmith's popular music can be heard periodically in trailers for other films and is prominently featured in Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained. In addition it features some virtuoso guitar playing by Pat Metheny. The soundtrack has been issued by Film Score Monthly and is a limited edition. More information about the score, MP3 samples and ordering details are available from Screen Archives Entertainment by clicking on the image. 

 

 

 

A most sincere Happy Birthday to that great dramatic actor Don Rickles who turns 89 on May 8th! He “carried” Clint Eastwood in Kelly’s Heroes and Robert De Niro in Casino (or so he says) and let’s not forget his substantial performances in Run Silent Run Deep and X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes! Oh and he can be funny too. 

 

 

 

 

 

This month's video recommendation is Hidden Gem #13: Investigation Of A Citizen Above Suspicion a.k.a. Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto (1970, Italy), a highly distinctive portrait of a police chief so obsessed with power he's willing to kill his girlfriend just to challenge his subordinates to identify him as the murderer! It's visually stunning and has a score by Ennio Morricone that perfectly matches the incredible imagery in driving energy. The Blu-ray by Criterion is Region A (North America) locked and is a superb transfer. It can be ordered from Amazon U.S. by clicking on the image.

 

A.G.

 

 

Top Ten: Cinema's Most Treasured Images Part 6 (#51 - 60)

I'll continue with some of Cinema's most treasured images bound to invoke a strong emotional response. Like the previous selections, these will be listed in ascending order with #51 as the most iconic. The narratives' indelible moments are the primary reason these captures were selected. 

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Time Out

This orchestra is incredible. I wrote a review of a different concert they did in October of 2013, (See: Treasured Appearances #3) The gorgeously romantic piece performed below is from That Hamilton Woman composed by Miklos Rozsa.

Golden State Pops Orchestra, conducted by Steven Allen Fox. Paul Henning - violin. Varèse Sarabande 35th Anniversary Gala - May 11, 2013. Warner Grand Theatre - San Pedro, California. http://www.GSPO.com

Sterling Silver Dialogue #17

 

Sterling Silver Dialogue From The Movies:  

Do you know where they're from? Answers coming soon.

 

"How tall are you, Yolanda?"
(reply) "With heels or without?"
(response) "With anyone. Me, for instance."
 

 

“Young lady! Are you trying to show contempt for this court?”
(response) “No. I’m doin’ my best to hide it.”

 

(about to gamble at cards) "Is this a game of chance?"
(response) "Not the way I play it, no."

 

 

“I didn’t make disparaging remarks about your steak.  I merely said that I hadn’t seen that old horse you use to keep outside around here lately.”

 

 

“You know I’ve been mad about you from the first time I laid eyes on you. Why, you’re my whole world! What do you want to do, drive me to the mad house?!”
(response) “No. I’ll call you a taxi.”

 

(announcing to several men at a bar) “It’s better to be looked over than overlooked”

 

“Great town St. Louis. You were born there?”
(reply) “Yes”
(response) “What part?”
(reply) “Why, all of me.”

 

"Ruby, I must have you... your golden hair, your fascinating eyes, your alluring smile, and lovely arms..."
(response) "Wait a minute. Is this a proposal, or are ya takin' inventory?"

 

“Are you in town for good?”
(reply) “I expect to be in town but not for good.”

 

 

"What if she's right - he didn't do it, and they give him the chair?"
(response) "Suppose they do? What difference does it make? There's too many people in the world anyway."
(reply) "What's the use of talking to you? You think everything's a joke."
(response) "My son, it is. If it weren't, life wouldn't be worth living."

 

 

(a substitute teacher announcing to his students) "It's gonna be a really tough project. You're gonna have to use your head, your brain, and your mind, too."

 

(to his “fellow” teachers during a meeting) “Those that cannot do, teach. Those that cannot teach, teach gym.”

 

(to his students) "Ok, here's the deal. I have a hangover. Who knows what that means?"
Frankie: "Doesn't that mean you're drunk?"
(teacher's response) "No. It means I was drunk yes-ter-day."

 

 

"What’s your nationality?"
(reply) "I’m a drunkard."

 

 

"Don't talk to me about self-respect. Self-respect is something you tell yourself you've got when you've got nothing else."

 

 

"Well, don't you even say 'Good night'?"
(response) "It's good-bye, and it's tough to say good-bye."
(reply) "Why is it? You've never seen me before tonight."
(response) "Every guy's seen you before somewhere. The trick is to find you."

 

 

"You see, if you make believe hard enough that something is true, then it is true for you."

Exploring the Artifacts #7: Slavko Vorkapich's Golden Lessons Part 3

Slavoljub "Slavko" Vorkapić (March 17, 1894 – October 20, 1976)

Slavko Vorkapich arrived in Hollywood in 1921. He was an actor, painter, film artist, editor and director, but most importantly to movie lovers and students who knew him, a Film Educator.

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End Credits #29: Cinema's 2015 Lost Treasures

I asked guest blogger Bob DiMucci if he would be so kind as to provide another of his informative and entertaining tributes to Lizabeth Scott and her cinematic accomplishments and he's come through like a champ. My sincerest thanks. (A.G.)

Born Emma Matzo in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Scott attended the Alvienne School of the Theatre. There she studied for 18 months, where she resisted attempts by the teachers to pitch her voice higher. During this time, Scott read Maxwell Anderson's "Mary of Scotland," a play about Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I, from which she derived the stage name "Elizabeth Scott." She would later drop the "E" from Elizabeth.

Scott appeared in road companies of several productions before, in 1942, landing the position of understudy for Tallulah Bankhead in Thornton Wilder's then new play, "The Skin of Our Teeth." A rivalry developed between Bankhead and Scott, and Scott left the production when Miriam Hopkins was signed to replace Bankhead.

The Films of Lizabeth Scott

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Close Encounters of the Treasured Kind #7: The Eccentrics Part 3

The three wonderfully distinctive personalities I encountered and will mention in this series were all outspoken, eccentric to be sure, but full of passion for the unusual things in life. They all shared a sharp and wicked sense of humour and a youthful exuberance that probably presented itself to most who crossed their paths. I'm fairly certain of this because I had friends who encountered them as well. I feel extremely fortunate to have met all three. Sadly they have all passed on.

 

Part 3:

For many years when living in Los Angeles, I regularly frequented a "macrobiotic"/Japanese restaurant called Inaka (which means "country style"). I began my relationship with this small but popular restaurant as a customer, motivated by becoming healthier through a diet consisting primarily of cooked grains and vegetables (with some beans and seafood also permitted). Years later I began marketing a naturally sweet rice drink I invented called Amashake, and exclusively for Inaka, a pudding made from that drink that used seaweed as a thickener and maple syrup as a sweetener. 

It was during this later period that I really took notice of comedian, actor and entertainer Andy Kaufman, also a frequent diner. As a customer myself, I had seen him in the restaurant many times before, and knew he was a regular performer on a popular TV series called Taxi, but since I had never watched the show or seen his comedic performances, took little notice. When he became enamoured with my Amashake chocolate pudding I came to know him fairly well. If my memory serves correct, he'd be at the restaurant every one of those nights when I delivered the product, anxiously awaiting its arrival, having eaten half a dozen or so, perhaps even more, of the last delivery. 

He was a strange one, always standing straight, looking a bit like he was in a trance. His typically shy, innocent demeanor (perfectly captured by Jim Carey in the excellent film Man on the Moon) also implied he knew something you didn't but, like a kid with a secret or a more subdued Harpo Marx, he wasn't gonna talk about it. 

His questions to the staff working at Inaka about the chocolate pudding availability became so frequent, I had the temerity to put on the wall menu one night "Andy Kaufman's chocolate pudding" without asking his permission. On the next night, just after he arrived, Andy asked (of course) about the dessert, and then looked at the wall menu. Afraid that he'd find my gesture offensive, I tentatively said "I hope that's all right" and he immediately replied "No, I'm flattered."

We became friends. He would talk about his favourite movie, A Miracle in Milan, relationships, people he met and even play little jokes on the staff at the restaurant, several of whom he became quite close to. His was a warm, beautiful spirit. It almost seemed like he was personally drawn to those who were perhaps a little down on themselves and needed a lift. He provided that.

One night he was talking to the owner of Inaka and dropped, for us, a bombshell by saying he'd have a steak, chocolate cake at a well known L.A. hotspot and then come into Inaka to "balance it out." I remember Jay (the owner) and I in unison shouting "NO ANDY! It doesn't work that way!"

Andy Kaufman (January 17, 1949 - May 16, 1984) R.I.P.

Andy Kaufman (January 17, 1949 - May 16, 1984) R.I.P.

Even later, when he contracted what was diagnosed as cancer, he visited the restaurant, once in a wheelchair. The chemo and the disease it was designed to fight had taken its toll. Andy sadly lost that fight. I miss him.

 

 

A.G.

 

 

I have included here Andy's first appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (03/03/1977) so that one can get an idea of his offbeat sense of humour and amazing talent.   

Of all the Elvis Presley impersonations, his was Elvis' personal favourite.