"Now Listen to Me..."
Just some thoughts on current happenings:
I only have one topic to comment on concerning the Oscar show this year and that's the exclusion of actress Lizabeth Scott from the In Memoriam segment. The Academy does admittedly have a dilemma in deciding who of the well over 200 important craftspeople to honour in a short tribute that can only realistically handle a quarter of those lost to us. Lizabeth Scott was, however, a leading lady, a true star whose on and off screen persona was full of class, conviction and style, besides being one of the dwindling few representatives left from that bygone era many of us still fantasise about. Regardless of what anyone thought of the films she starred in, she should have at least been included because of who she starred with, namely Bogart, Lancaster, Douglas, Heston, Mitchum, Dick Powell, Alan Ladd, Elvis Presley and Michael Caine, et al. Louis Jourdan who died a few weeks later was mentioned so we know it wasn't a timing issue. It's a real shame since an inclusion would have drawn Scott to the attention of a younger generation interested in discovering more about an actress they know nothing about but whose on screen accomplishments live on and so convincingly speak for themselves. Scott's omission was also sadly ironic since her formidable contribution to quality film making was basically overlooked during the later part of her career and largely forgotten about after her retirement. Whether it was an oversight or downright snubbing, this was a missed opportunity to shine a little light on a neglected talent of magnitude earning a real black mark against the Academy. Perhaps enough outraged fans like myself will encourage them to include her in next year's tribute. I hope so. More on the iconic actress can be read by clicking on the image.
#Edit: She was included in 2016's Academy Awards In Memoriam Tribute, so much appreciation to the Academy for correcting their previous oversight.
For classic film lovers in or around Los Angeles this month (including those who have the time and means to travel there), TCM is having their yearly festival in the Hollywood area from March 26-29 with loads of special screenings, interviews and surprises. For all of the exciting information on this sacred event, click on the image. Envious of those who are planning to attend, I will nevertheless strongly recommend a couple of highly enticing screenings:
The Grim Game (1919) stars (believe it or not) Harry Houdini and was thought lost until a print turned up, held by Houdini fan Larry Weeks. Festival attendees will be able to see the world premiere of the complete, fully restored film. More on this fabulous discovery can be read by clicking on the image.
Australian actor George Lazenby will courageously be presenting his only motion picture performance of James Bond: On Her Majesty's Secret Service, probably the most action filled, enthusiastic and well-crafted entry in the entire Bond franchise!
Of course anyone replacing Sean Connery for the first time was bound to disappoint but Lazenby's ease and comfort in the role allowed his engaging personality to infuse Bond with a shrewd combination of serious intent, vulnerability, glibness, and still deliver a substantive romantic emotional response (the last quality being something even Connery was never asked to convey). These affable personality traits proved Lazenby to be one of the better Bond's compared to those actors who came afterward. Looking back, it's a shame he never returned in the role. He was assisted of course by the unsung hero behind all of the previous Bond films, here officially making his debut in the director's chair: Peter R. Hunt who noticeably upped the directorial showmanship with enough flair and pizazz to create for 007 fans, a whole new level of engagement. Ditto for John Barry's exceptional score! For more information on this screening, click on the corresponding image.
There are 3 recommended films to watch on Turner Classic Movies in the U.S. this month:
The first is Sam Peckinpah's Ride the High Country. The famous director's love for his characters and the Western frontier they inhabit greatly enriches this compelling tale (metaphorically suggested by the film's title) of moral redemption. The casting is inspired, not only of the actors but the technical crew as well. This is Top Ten Western #4 and has been previously reviewed here. It airs Saturday, March 14 at 7pm PST.
My next recommendation is The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.
Based on a novel by Carson McCullers this story concerns a deaf-mute (John Singer) who travels to a nearby southern town to be closer to his similarly handicapped dear friend (Spiros Antonapoulos). Because of his mischievous, child-like ways, Spiros is institutionalised. There, in the local community, Singer encounters various inhabitants whose lives he will intersect and seriously affect. They all share their personal problems with him but find themselves unable to reciprocate any deeper feelings until it is too late. All of the characters and relationships depicted are so maturely presented, engaging and emotionally stirring, they resonate long after their stories end. The film stars Alan Arkin whose consummate performance as Singer is perfectly judged and balanced between heart and mind. His ability to subtly communicate so much astute consideration and profound feeling without saying a word is truly astonishing.
The story also centres around a young girl (Mick) beautifully enacted by Sondra Locke who lives at the house where Singer boards. Her coming of age awareness sensitively dovetails with Singer's selfless, giving nature. Tragically, his feelings turn to deep depression due to some unforeseen, and other perhaps misunderstood, circumstances. This heartfelt, unassuming film was directed by Robert Ellis Miller, strikingly photographed by James Wong Howe, and has a lyrical score by Dave Grusin. It was released in 1968. For the more character driven, personal cinematic stories, a majority of U.S. critics at the time tended to reserve their highest accolades for foreign fare as though a more singular authoritative approach would artistically overrule the collaborative method of motion picture making favoured at home. Although many critics slighted this emotionally profound masterwork, it ages like fine wine getting better as the years pass. In the U.S. at the time this film was made, the studio approach was starting to atrophy; so called "independents" were beginning to take over especially with commercial and critical successes like Easy Rider and Medium Cool boldly entering the scene. Maybe the studio system was a conceptually flawed way of making a film with "too many hands in the pie" so to speak. Occasionally, however, the results of a greater collaborative effort produced something truly remarkable: a picture capable of stripping away prejudices (the theme of this film really) that speaks directly to our fundamental emotions like The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. It is scheduled to air (updated) Friday, February 1 at 1pm PST. TCM's schedule can be confirmed, with its time zone adjustable in the upper right-hand corner, by clicking on either of the above 2 images.
Another TCM recommendation is Orson Welles' outrageously entertaining film noir curio The Lady from Shanghai.
I love this film more and more each time I see it. The Lady from Shanghai is convoluted for sure and the characters' behaviour inconsistent but their interactions are fascinating to watch and behind some rather bizarre words and actions, revealing of deep emotional authenticity. Welles' unbridled panache produces a wild ride (almost literally at the end) full of sensational dialogue, wicked cynicism, an amusingly self-deprecating narrator (Welles) and above all, a creative genius' twisted but infectious way of observing human frailties and dilemmas. My favourite scene?... The Picnic! It airs (updated) Monday, May 13 at (late evening) 1:30am PST.
TCM's current monthly schedule can be confirmed by clicking on any of the above 4 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.
The Soundtrack recommendation for this month is John Barry's smoking hot, sexy score to Body Heat.
This amazing 2 CD set is a limited edition issued by Film Score Monthly. It is currently available from Screen Archives Entertainment. More information plus some MP3 sound clips can be obtained by clicking on the image.
A belated Happy Birthday greeting to actor and table tennis aficionado Dean Stockwell who turned 79 March 5th. He's an extremely talented and prolific actor who helped make some really great films like Sons and Lovers, Long Day's Journey Into Night and Compulsion even greater!
This month's video recommendation is 2002's About Schmidt, one of the most estimable films of the new millennium.
It features a searingly committed performance by Jack Nicholson as Warren Schmidt, an insurance company retiree. After becoming a widower, he decides to take a road trip and visit his daughter, earlier than planned, whom he hopes to dissuade from marrying her intended husband. This road to discovery has many eventful scenes that perfectly combine pathos with humour, none more so than its final apotheosis which induces an extremely poignant reaction from Warren, drawing an even greater heart-wrenching response from the audience. This is what cinema does best: finish with an unexpected but earned emotional punch that enables our fullest understanding of the past events' meaningfulness while simultaneously overwhelming us with such a simple human truth. About Schmidt is on Blu-ray from New Line Home Video and can be ordered from Amazon U.S. by clicking on the image.