"Now Listen to Me..."
Just some thoughts on current happenings:
There are 12 recommended films to watch on Turner Classic Movies in the U.S. this month:
Director Howard Hawks was known for his confident, straight-forward westerns like Rio Bravo, El Dorado and Red River which is perhaps his finest. Selected and reviewed as one of the Top Ten (#6) westerns here, the story concerns the opening of the Chisholm Trail, used after the Civil War to drive cattle from Texas to Kansas. John Wayne plays one of his darker, least heroic characters most earnestly. The "drive" will begin on TCM Saturday, August 6 at 5pm PST.
Some have identified my next selection as a western. Whether that's true or not, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is certainly one of America's finest motion pictures and has been highly recommended here. This cinematic treasure can be discovered Tuesday, August 9 at 5pm PST.
Although many have compared the re-make unfavourably to a previous version released a decade earlier, 1941's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has many attributes as well including a noir-like focus on the title physician's more beastly and repressed thoughts and desires. This previous TCM recommendation has been reviewed here. The psychological terror will begin Thursday, August 11 (early morning) at 4:30am PST.
MGM's 1952 musical Singin' in the Rain was not adapted from a theatrical production, though the film was later turned into one, being first presented on stage in 1983. Its abundant creativity, innovation and driving energy place this film at the top of all musicals ever produced. Singin' in the Rain will be reviewed below as this month's Blu-ray selection and will dance its way onto TCM Sunday, August 14 at 11am PST.
Later that same evening TCM is showing one of film noir's greatest treats: Tension, the commonality with Singin' in the Rain undoubtedly being the presence of actress Cyd Charisse. This is also a prior TCM recommendation previously made here and can be felt Sunday, August 14 at 11 pm PST.
In 1963 the colossally troubled production of Cleopatra was finally released.
The film's director/writer Joseph L. Mankiewicz hoped his work would be presented as 2 separate pictures running 3 hours each. 20th Century-Fox decided instead to cut the almost 6-hour film to just over 4 and had the $44 million-dollar epic exhibited as a single film. Since then, Cleopatra has been derided by numerous film critics (Judith Crist's career was launched based on her scathing review) unfairly I might add, considering its epic scope, compelling characters, intelligence and mature thoughtfulness. Mankiewicz was a master at conveying enthralling drama through the spoken word and here, as in All About Eve, his dialogue fuels the fiery conflicts most assuredly. Surprisingly, the motion picture did well at the box office and in 1966 when ABC-TV paid $5 million for two showings, the film's cost was more than recouped. Two hours is a lot to lose from a narrative but when this happened, another 49 pages of re-shoots were made that provided an even flow to its highly literate and engaging historical portrayal. I have previously written about this film here with a distinct focus on, and deep appreciation for, the outstanding musical score provided by Alex North. Cleopatra will make her grand entrance onto TCM Monday, August 15 at 10:45pm PST.
There's little that compares to the thrilling sensation generated by the elite of classic films noir (the time period between 1940-1959). Even the best of neo-noir (those psychological crime films that followed) were primarily emulating their style. Most offered little worth remembering... except for a British filmmaker's tale of a crook shot dead by his best friend. The reason being he needed a greater share of the stolen cash to buy his way back into the L.A. mob and maintain an infidelity with the victim's wife. Little did he know the aptly named 'Walker' would rise from the dead, make his way out of a deserted Alcatraz Island, and hunt him down with a Terminator-like vengeance... or "was it a dream?" 1967's Point Blank is a previous Blu-ray recommendation here and will hit its mark with all the impact and precision of its title on TCM Thursday, 5pm PST.
There were quite a few "musicals" produced in the '30s about "putting on a show" but this one has to be the most inventive, daring and fun all-around. Part of this entry's success (at least compared to the others in the 'Gold Digger' series) is due to its pre-code origins. This is a previous TCM recommendation here. Please have a read and see why Gold Diggers of 1933 is as enjoyable and pertinent as the shows these spirited characters struggle to produce. "The show must go on" Friday, August 19 at 3pm PST.
This next film is one a few of you may have heard about: 1944's Academy Award Best Picture Winner Casablanca. This choice may come as a surprise to readers more familiar with my past articles since it is included on a list of overrated films (previously reviewed here). There is no denying the fact that Casablanca casts a magical spell and is more than capable of sweeping one up in an appealing blend of romance, sacrifice and political intrigue. Besides, for those who haven't seen or seen enough of this recognised classic, how are they to know if my criticisms are sound? This 1942 classic, one of Hollywood's proudest, airs Saturday, August 20 at 11am PST.
Approximately 5 years after the release of Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart starred in a thrilling film noir adapted from David Goodis’ novel and directed by Delmer (3:10 to Yuma) Daves. Co-starring Bogart's partner in love, Lauren Bacall, Dark Passage combines the best of romance with the best of noir in the best location for both: San Francisco. Previously recommended as a Blu-Ray release here, Bogart will make his "dark passage" on TCM Saturday, August 20 at 1pm PST.
Jean-Luc Godard, together with his frequent "New Wave" cinematographer Raoul Coutard were known for their avant-garde, cinema-verite style expressed in films such as Breathless and Pierrot le Fou. The pair also made, along with writer Alberto Moravia in 1963's Contempt, a different kind of film: less experimental, more contemplative, formally structured and purposeful with interrelated topics of romantic decay, personal, business and artistic compromise, observing their various influences on the individual human spirit.
Godard additionally explores the subject of art versus commerce vis-à-vis the fictional film three distinctive and multi-culturally diverse collaborators are attempting to make: Homer’s 'Ulysses', the story of which will closely parallel the writer’s declining marital relationship and wife's subsequent romantic entanglement with the film’s producer. The settings, music, shot compositions, faithful performances, and colour scheme all contribute to enhancing the shifting moods and emotions expressed by, and brewing under the surface of, characters, who although privileged, are seemingly transforming into lives less resolute than what they previously envisaged. Contempt is a film filled with humour, pathos, irony, elegance, maturity, visual and aural splendour. Its complex themes, creatively and subtly interwoven throughout a brilliant, multi-dimensional narrative, are grandly communicative. They are also tonally variable. So much so, one can come away from this subsuming movie with a wildly varying response, anything from contempt to contentment, even from the same person during separate viewings. Contempt's indelible impression can be experienced Tuesday, August 23 (late in the evening) at 1am PST.
My final TCM recommendation is a previous one made here, the rapturous musical Guys and Dolls all of whom will make their gambling way onto TCM Tuesday, August 30 at 2:15pm 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.
A Happy Birthday shout-out to the brilliant actress Vera Miles who turns 87 on August 23rd.
Her considerable performances have enlivened such classic Hollywood fare as For Men Only, Wichita, The Searchers, The Wrong Man, The FBI Story, Psycho, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Hellfighters, and Into the Night amongst other motion pictures and notable TV series.
This month's Soundtrack recommendation conatins the music to the fairly camp but enormously expensive-looking sci-fi cult film 1997's Starship Troopers.
The film's plot credibility is challenged by its shifting temperaments but Basil (Conan the Barbarian) Poledouris' thunderous and driving score is never less than serious, delivering an awesome listening experience that mixes celestial magnificence with military might, desolate sublimity and suspense, with or without the film. A far from complete soundtrack was made available when the film was released. Courtesy of Varese Sarabande's CD Club, we now have this expanded 2 CD deluxe edition that includes for the first time, the epic 10-minute end titles! Keep in mind, this is a limited (3000 only) supply that's likely to go out-of-print very soon. More information including international ordering can be obtained by clicking on the image.
I recently read a fascinating article, the subject of which concerned the negative effects older film viewings often have on modern audiences. Two people were singled out, who probably attended a screening of The Birds to purposely cause a disturbance. There is not much that can be done about those pre-determined to ruin the experience for others (except of course to warn and then possibly remove the instigators) especially since this is an often employed, rather juvenile knee-jerk reaction, i.e. making fun of movies that might otherwise be too uncomfortably terrifying… (I noticed the article’s predominance of horror films on the list of public screenings where loud disruptions occurred).
There are, however, several easy ways of prepping a younger audience willing to give these older films a chance (and one would assume that if the uninitiated are present, they would). First and foremost is to remind them that all cinema is a form of storytelling like literature and theatre but more complex. Artists or craftspersons use the tools and techniques available to them and are subject to the various constraints of their time. Second, first-time viewers of motion-picture classics should be questioned about their thoughts on contemporary cinema's failures. They may have a lot of shortcomings to talk about and if say CGI or shaky-cam is mentioned, perhaps their absence can be favourably embraced. Knowing of the theatrical origins of older films may help newer audiences adapt to acting’s predominant classically-trained approach, like a less elaborate form of Shakespeare, but one that often utilises an enhanced form of communication. Additionally, a reminder that poor acting can plague contemporary film and television shows may keep the less familiar style of performances from being myopically singled-out. Another assist in welcoming classic films is an awareness of the enormous flux of past literary, stage and film adaptations in contemporary cinema compared to their earlier cinematic translations which often offer fundamentally better storytelling. The younger generation's appreciation might also be increased by knowing of their many peers and contemporary artists’ high regard for, and deep love of, classic films and their historical relevance. Speaking of contemporary TV, mentioning shows like Mad Men that occur during an earlier time period might help newcomers focus on the inherent drama or comedy taking place in cinematic stories of the past instead of what might otherwise be perceived as their "dated" settings.
Those who have less familiarity with the arts deserve recognition too and should not feel snubbed because of their lack of exposure to the earlier medium's accomplishments. As with everyone's perception of art, there's a "learning curve." Once the always present younger viewers know what to look for and how better to appreciate these classics, more of us may find ourselves "preaching to the converted." There shouldn't simply be accolades preceding these publicly presented classical film demonstrations with an exponentially growing number of new faces in the crowd. They deserve to be informed and treated with respect, not just expected to show it.
The article also mentioned Singin' in the Rain, my Blu-ray recommendation this month, and the film’s negative reaction from some of its younger, contemporary audiences which is ironic given the film's setting and parody of an earlier silent era and their filmmakers' overly embellished dramatic productions.
As for "realism", this is a musical after all: one that set the template and pushed boundaries for those that followed and presents a fantasy world just as imaginatively inspirational as an episode of Game of Thrones portrays in its universe.
I wonder if these first-time detractors realise how vastly influential Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen's ground-breaking routines have been on contemporary choreographers, performers, shows like Glee and artists like Usher and Paula Abdul. Perhaps knowing that the many and often current theatrical productions of Singin’ in the Rain and 42nd Street, for example, originate from their cinematic counterparts and not the other way around, might alter their unfavourable perspectives.
Anyway, Singin’ in the Rain is a fabulous production. All of the film's creative, energetic and imaginative juices flow like wine at a Bacchanal. If you’ve seen this exuberant musical, further praise is unnecessary. If you haven’t, best you discover for yourself the picture's wondrous attributes. The Blu-ray transfer is the way to go. Its sights and sounds are stunningly presented in HD. More information can be had by clicking on the image. It awaits you. Enjoy!