Monday, October 31, 2011

Dracula & Drácula ("Fixing a Hole")


As with Frankenstein, which kicked off the series, I've commissioned another writer to conclude "Universal Horror Month." Jaime Grijalba, a native of Chile and author of Exodus 8:2 (where he is currently wrapping up an ambitious "31 Days of Horror" series), uses his love of horror and knowledge of both Spanish and English to examine the two versions of Dracula, shot simultaneously in different languages back in 1931. I've provided a tantalizing taste of his engaging piece, and a link for you to read the whole thing.

Happy Halloween!


"And maybe that’s the reason why Drácula, the Spanish version of the classic film, is so fresh to the eyes and the mind. It’s different. You react to it in a different manner; the film feels like when you remember a half-forgotten dream, when you see a full vision of what a parallel universe could’ve been if you’d chosen the blonde and not the brunette. Because it is the full vision and scope of what Dracula, the legendary character and its story, can be, this version being far more complete, especially when you watch these two back to back in what can be one of the most splendid double features. While you are in awe due to the visual and poetic nature of the English version, then you are surprised and admiring the longer and more paused plot of the Spanish version, as well as its bold visual and camera style."

Reality Cinema 2002 - 2006 • "32 Days of Movies" Day 31


Thirty-first chapter in "32 Days of Movies", an audiovisual tour through 366 films
(2015 update: included Vimeo embed after the jump)

The first clip contains footage from inside the World Trade Center on September 11, and the third includes images of a violent bus hijacking in Brazil. Neither contains graphic content, but as with the Rodney King footage from Chapter 27, it may not be something people are comfortable watching in this context.
Reality Cinema

This was the age of ubiquituous "reality" - reality TV of course, but also a slew of film documentaries, a form that had never been more popular or prolific. This entry contains more documentaries than any other, from historical subjects to on-the-spot current affairs to raw cinema-verite-style concerts. Some of the non-documentary clips reflect this fascination with reality as well, from ultra-low budget "home movies" to the stylized humanism of a prolific and creative Asian cinema.

Yet there's an element of escapism too, not the old-fashioned bang-bang kind, but something more ethereal and moody - a sort of impressionistic daydream stylization reflecting the era of iPod and internet, in which inner space expanded to swallow up a whole generation. Sometimes the two trends (impressionism and realism) merge, as they do in the last clip, a sad and brilliant sequence mirroring the first clip across an unbridgeable gap of time and space. To a certain extent, today's chapter plays like a fitful waking dream, mixing fragments of memory, fantasy, and reality.

Before reverting to a more straightforward title, I considered calling Chapter 31 "Screening Reality" as a play on words, because this was a time not only of reality onscreen but filters and strategies applied to take the edge off of it.

(continued below, along with NSFW warnings)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Millennial Mood 1999 - 2002 • "32 Days of Movies" Day 30


Thirtieth chapter in "32 Days of Movies", an audiovisual tour through 366 films
(2015 update: included Vimeo embed after the jump)


View "Chapter 30: The Millennial Mood"


The Millennial Mood

From optimism to despair (which arrives next week), the fleeting mood of the new millennium can sometimes seem longer ago than ten years. Yet we are still living in its aftermath - here are several movies stylized to the nth degree, in a fashion that would come to characterize the new century. The clips tend either towards a candy-colored lightness or (more often, at least in this early stage) a grim, monochrome palette - color photography is more than ever a tool to capture an impression rather than a filter to catch reality.

(continued below, along with NSFW warnings)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Living in the Nineties 1995 - 1999 • "32 Days of Movies" Day 29


Twenty-ninth chapter in "32 Days of Movies", an audiovisual tour through 366 films
(2015 update: included Vimeo embed after the jump)


View "Chapter 29: Living in the Nineties"


Living in the Nineties

When I was in jr. high, I used to see infomercials for a CD compilation called "Living in the 90s." It struck me as absurd at the time - nostalgia for a decade that was still unfolding - but it also made me think. How would people remember the nineties? From the standpoint of 1997 or so, the decade seemed hard to classify. The eighties were gaudy, flashy, and plastic, the seventies shaggy and mauve, the sixties bright and psychedelic. Of course it was easy to think this way when I'd more or less missed out on these eras and could only soak up the pop culture's later depictions of them. Yet I had to wonder: would later decades be able to classify and identify the nineties in such a way?

I'm still not so sure we can - partly because the pop culture had become too self-aware and fast-paced to fall into a "natural" groove, partly because there were few larger-than-life events (with the Cold War over, economic prosperity fostering complacency and inward absorption) to unify cultural experience. Yet if the nineties can be characterized, I think these clips capture some of its spirit.

(continued below, along with NSFW warnings)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Name That Film


First off, apologies to those who tried to visit "Pulp and Popcorn", the latest entry in "32 Days of Movies" this morning. The video link was not working, but it has been fixed.

Since some people were curious/baffled/frustrated about what movies were used in the rapid-fire "60 Years of Cinema (in 40 Seconds"), I created a video post to "decode" it. Truth be told, it's a bit redundant for readers of this blog, as you can find out the films simply by checking out my video series, but you may enjoy the screen-caps and music anyway, or find it simpler to look here than look through every chapter and find out the films right now (though I hope you'll keep returning to do so over time!).

Plus, this offers a sneak preview of the picture post going up Wednesday, in which twice as many screen-caps with titles will be compiled for a picture directory linking directly to the videos that incorporate that particular film (albeit to the beginning of the chapter, as I couldn't create bookmarks).

Without further ado, then, here are "The Answers for 60 Years of Cinema (in 40 Seconds)":

Pulp and Popcorn 1993 - 1995 • "32 Days of Movies" Day 28


Twenty-eighth chapter in "32 Days of Movies", an audiovisual tour through 366 films
(2015 update: included Vimeo embed after the jump)


View "Chapter 28: Pulp and Popcorn"


Pulp and Popcorn

Here is where the history of the movies truly begins to coincide with my own personal movie history. I was ten years old in the fall of 1993, and already an avid movie buff, combing the weekly listings to see what was coming out, studying the box office reports as if they contained esoteric messages from the beyond, and wandering down the hallway of coming attractions at the local movie theater to study the teaser posters. That said, I think I only saw one of these films in theaters at the time - however, I was aware of the presence of all of them, and it was only a few years later that I would see them on video as a teenager.

(continued below, along with NSFW warnings)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Musical Countdown - An American in Paris


This is an entry in the Wonders in the Dark musical countdown - an epic enterprise; make sure you check out the whole thing!
An American in Paris (1951/United States/directed by Vincente Minnelli & choreographed by Gene Kelly)

stars Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant, George Guetary, Nina Foch

written by Alan J. Lerner • photographed by Alfred Gilks (ballet photographed by John Alton) • designed by Preston Ames, Cedric Gibbons • music by George Gershwin, Conrad Salinger • costumes by Orry-Kelly

The Story: Wealthy, debonair Henri (Guetary) loves pretty young Lise (Caron), a girl he cared for during the war. Lonely heiress Milo (Fochs) loves cheerful yet skeptical artist Jerry (Kelly). Unfortunately Lise and Jerry love one another and as they dance their way into each others' hearts against a romantic Parisian backdrop, they must struggle between the pull of money and loyalty on the one hand, and true love on the other.
_____________

First of all, this isn't just an American in Paris, it's an American Paris - not a City of Lights that is or ever was, but rather a Paris dreamed of across miles and miles of sea and continent, far away in Hollywood. That's an important point. This Paris is full of authentic touches (productions of the time attempted to reproduce specific areas on soundstages) and cultural references, but it's also purposefully artificial. Likewise, Jerry is more an idea of a painter than an actual painter - we only glimpse his canvases, and his patter consists of the cliches of bohemian artist life (though Kelly's a rather clean-cut bohemian) rather than technical insight or the passion of vision. For those who don't like musicals because of their gap from reality, this is not the musical to win you over. But for those who love bravura dancing, full of machine-gun-fire taps and the gracefully propulsive gestures and flexes Kelly specialized in, or intensely creative choreography and stage direction, replete with artfully tangling and untangling bodies and sensuous, eye-popping colors, An American in Paris is right up your avenue. And yet it isn't all make-believe.

A Dark Dawn 1990 - 1993 • "32 Days of Movies" Day 27


Twenty-seventh chapter in "32 Days of Movies", an audiovisual tour through 366 films
(2015 update: included Vimeo embed after the jump)

Today's chapter includes footage from the Rodney King assault, an essential element of the scene that incorporates it; that sequence is an important part of both American and cinema history, but not something everyone will feel comfortable watching in this context. So fair warning.
A Dark Dawn

The early nineties was a time that Dickens could have written about, full of hope and promise alongside frustration and worry. The Cold War was over and Mandela was sprung from jail, but an uncertain world - characterized by the Gulf War and violence in the Balkans - was cause for concern as well as relief. In America, the economy slumped while police brutality and racial violence dominated the headlines - yet there was also a certain optimism in the air, an excitement about a new era, characterized by new forms of pop culture, from hip hop to postmodern TV shows. This spirit, a continuation of yesterday's but with a darker edge, found its expression in the cinema too.

(continued below, along with NSFW & spoiler warnings)


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

New Age 1987 - 1990 • "32 Days of Movies" Day 26


Twenty-sixth chapter in "32 Days of Movies", an audiovisual tour through 366 films
(2015 update: included Vimeo embed after the jump)


View "Chapter 26: New Age"


New Age

There was something in the air. Perhaps it was the breeze of "Glasnost" spreading outward from Russia, as the Soviet government once hoped Communism itself would. Maybe it was the end of the Reagan era in America, with a restless populace hoping to move away from the dominant spirit of hardheaded materialism (well-represented in today's second clip). Or it could have been generational - after all, these were the years when the baby boomers, onetime youthful rebels now on the cusp of middle age, with families, mortgages, and careers, came into their own, culturally speaking.

The engineers of pop culture are always going to be people between about thirty-five and fifty-five and the boomers were just entering that age group. Sure enough, more than half the filmmakers in this chapter were born between 1946 and 1954 - and most likely this new, entirely postwar generation brought a new perspective to film. Anyway, for whatever reason, there was a loosening, a freshness, and a spirit of wondrous inquiry to cinema, television, and pop culture in general in the late eighties and well into the early nineties. You could call it a mood of curious mysticism.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Musical Countdown - 42nd Street




This is an entry in the Wonders in the Dark musical countdown - an epic enterprise; make sure you check out the whole thing!

This post consists of an essay and a video piece (not just a scene from the movie intended as an addendum, but something I actually created as an important part of my contribution to the countdown). You can take it any order, but I open with the video to highlight its relevance to this entry. It shows through juxtaposition and structure what I am saying in the essay itself, and maybe makes my point better than words can do. 

The five-minute video opens with dialogue from the film, follows with a rehearsal montage set to "Getting to Be a Habit With Me" (showing the progression from casting call to finished production), and closes with the dance sequence of "Young and Healthy" in its entirety, just to show what the film was building up to. Altogether the video demonstrates how the raw and often frustrated urges of the characters for sex and power are sublimated and transmuted into the discipline of a creative act, and then shows the end result in all its glory. The essay pursues the same theme.

And don't worry - they're both fun!




42nd Street (1933/United States/directed by Lloyd Bacon & choreographed by Busby Berkeley)

stars Warner Baxter, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Bebe Daniels, George Brent, Guy Kibbee, Una Merkel, Ginger Rogers

written by Rian James, James Seymour and Whitney Bolton from Bradford Ropes' novel • photographed by Sol Polito • designed by Jack Oakey • music by Al Dubin & Harry Warren • edited by Thomas Pratt & Frank Ware

The Story: Determined to direct a hit show, even if it kills him, Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter) struggles with romantic entanglements, last-minute injuries, and a nervous ingenue named Peggy (Ruby Keeler). Will the curtain open or come crashing down on "Pretty Lady"?
_____________

"Pretty Lady" - the stage extravaganza at the center of 42nd Street - owes its existence solely to sex. Well, don't we all? Some musicals present themselves as good, clean fun but 42nd Street, God bless its dirty face, is not one of those musicals. At the root of its massive appeal, kinetic energy, and increasingly exciting narrative and musical structure are three simple motivating factors: sex, sex, and sex. Well, a fourth too: money – and in this film the two are wound around each like the two strands of DNA.

As Chaos Theory holds that a butterfly need just flap its wings to spawn a typhoon halfway around the world, so Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels) has only to spread her legs. Thus is birthed a larger-than-life production, upon which the career of a broken, possibly dying director relies, through which a naïve young ingénue will become the biggest name on Broadway, and from which two hundred hustling, horny, hungry human beings will draw their daily bread (and dreams of glory). Dirty old man, sugar daddy, and cuckold Abner Dillon (Guy Kibbee) tells Dorothy he’ll do something for her (finance the show she wants to star in) if she’ll do something for him (guess what?). And with that, we’re off!

The Weird Eighties 1984 - 1986 • "32 Days of Movies" Day 25


Twenty-fifth chapter in "32 Days of Movies", an audiovisual tour through 366 films
(2015 update: included Vimeo embed after the jump)


View "Chapter 25: The Weird Eighties"


The Weird Eighties

On the morning of my fourth birthday, I innocently tuned in to a Saturday morning cartoon based on "The Pied Piper of Hamlin." Apparently I was not familiar with the story, because when the piper led all the children off to, well, candyland, or death, or oblivion or whatever awaited them away from the safety net of parental observation, I became greatly distressed. As I recall I even wanted to put off my birthday party, though by the time the guests (and their presents) had arrived I had moved on. The version of "Pied Piper" I saw was, I recall, a fairly straightforward animation and thus not the version you will see in today's chapter.

If I'd seen that in my tender youthful condition I probably would not only have postponed that day's party, but all future ones as I curled up in a ball in my room, a nervous wreck for all time (seriously, it's pretty creepy - and cool; see for yourself). But the film featured below reminds us of a crucial fact, and one that ties in to some of my other childhood frights (namely the bizarre and ghoulish "Hansel & Gretel" episode of Shelley Duvall's "Faerie Tale Theatre"), if not this particular one. It's a fact that people sometimes forget but those of us who were young enough to live through the era with the fresh, easily perplexed eyes of childhood certainly remember: the eighties were weird.

(continued below, along with NSFW warnings)

Monday, October 24, 2011

60 Years of Cinema (in 40 Seconds)


The twenty-fourth chapter in "32 Days of Cinema" already went up this morning, but I'm bumping it (still check it out though! I think it's one of the most interesting ones) to mention something else, albeit related to the series. Saturday night I put up an extract from Chapter 19 on Wonders in the Dark: the rapid-fire video montage which concludes a leg of the series by recapping everything already covered in well under a minute (each film appears for just four frames). This fragment, titled "60 Years of Cinema (in 40 Seconds)" seems to have been a hit; it was praised in all too flattering terms by fellow blogger Srikanth Scrivasson, who also said it "plays out like the output of a malfunctioning super-projector in its final minutes of operation." This afternoon it was linked up on Huffington Post and got some tweets, so I thought I would share it again here. Those of you who've seen Chapter 19 (which, to be honest, is an audience in the single digits) will have already seen it, but the You Tube clip is cleaner and higher-quality, crucial since the images flash by so quickly. Hope you enjoy it again, or for the first time:


You can also view the segment in its original home, as the climax to Chapter 19, and check out all the entries in the ongoing "32 Days of Cinema series" in my Video Gallery.

Searching For Answers 1980 - 1983 • "32 Days of Movies" Day 24


Twenty-fourth chapter in "32 Days of Movies", an audiovisual tour through 366 films
(2015 update: included Vimeo embed after the jump)


View "Chapter 24: Searching For Answers"


"I just need time to think things over!" "Why is it necessary to have more than this, or to even think about having more than this?" "What did he say?" "We're sick...I think we're dying..." And then there are the scenes with little to no dialogue: an eerie occult ritual led by a beautiful woman, stepped right out of an Egyptian hieroglyph; a moody man pensively staring out the train window, stranger in his own sprawling country; a girl and her boyfriend sharing a note and then awkwardly separating, perhaps for the last time, as cars whiz by on the highway; a globetrotting camera, capturing dogs on an African beach and a traditionally-dressed Japanese standing silently "in the midst of the long moving shadows that the January light throws over the ground of Tokyo." Like "A Violent Release" early in the series, it's simply uncanny, and unexpected, how perfectly all of today's clips merge into a single theme: the quest for answers, and the mixed messages one gets in return.

(continued below, along with NSFW warnings)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

'Neath the Marquee Moon 1976 - 1980 • "32 Days of Movies" Day 23


Twenty-third chapter in "32 Days of Movies", an audiovisual tour through 366 films
(2015 update: included Vimeo embed after the jump)
'Neath the Marquee Moon

A decadent chapter for a decadent decade, but whereas disco, leisure suits, and cocaine excess dominated late seventies pop culture, these clips have a bit more class. Okay, coke features a couple times, but so do lush color (and even lusher black-and-white), artfully nightmarish imagery, and killer music. There's an otherworldly feel to today's selections, from the blue lasers of a final concert to the surreal, almost lunar landscapes of two different warzones to the Manhattan skyline twinkling like an earthbound Milky Way...indeed the (original, thank you) scene with an actual alien may be the least far-out of all. Though we only see the Moon once (or twice, if you want to be clever about it), it seems to exert a tidal pull on the zeitgeist, at least as represented here.

(continued below, along with NSFW & spoiler warnings)

The Old Dark House




The Old Dark House (1932/United States/directed by James Whale)

stars Boris Karloff, Ernest Thesiger, Charles Laughton, Melvyn Douglas, Gloria Stuart, Lillian Bond, Raymond Massey, Brember Wills, Elspeth Dudgeon

written by R.C. Sherriff and Benn Levy from J.B. Priestley's novel • photographed by Arthur Edeson • designed by Charles D. Hall • music by David Broekman • edited by Andrew Cohen

The StoryOn a dark and stormy night, a married couple and their bemused third-wheel friend are forced to stay the night at a gloomy old home, inhabited by the very strange Femms, a family full of neuroses and dark secrets.

_____________

See a movie called The Old Dark House and you think you know what to expect. Well, unless you’re psychic, half-mad yourself (you’d have to be to come up with this scenario), or have already seen it, you’d be dead wrong. Sure, there’s an old house on a hill. Okay, a bickering young couple and their friend wind up having to spend the night there. Yeah, the residents of the house are a bunch of freaks, weirdos, and psychopaths. But the devil’s in the details and if the outline sounds familiar, the details are anything but. Every line of dialogue, every gesture, every plot development is unexpected and off-the-wall.

Who could predict the lesbian onslaught of sister Rebecca Femm (Eva Moore), pausing every now and then in her overbearing religiosity to a cop a feel from the heroine? Who would expect the appearance of 102-year-old Sir Roderick Femm, bedridden, cackling, and despite the misleading cast listing (actor’s name supposedly “John Dudgeon”) quite clearly an old lady with a scraggly beard glued to her wrinkly chin? And best of all, who should foresee the climactic revelation of Saul Femm (Brember Wills), outcast brother locked in his room for twenty years, set free to plead sanity – almost convincing us (we’ve certainly seen how nuts his siblings are) before the hero turns his back and Saul’s meek expression dissolves into a mask of fantastically cunning dementia?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Pray For Us Sinners 1974 - 1976 • "32 Days of Movies" Day 22


Twenty-second chapter in "32 Days of Movies", an audiovisual tour through 366 films
(2015 update: included Vimeo embed after the jump)


View "Chapter 22: Pray For Us Sinners"


Pray For Us Sinners

The social spillover from the sixties continued into the mid-seventies. Whereas initially the frustration and alienation had been countered by a sense of excitement and community, by this time it just felt like rot. Watergate exemplified the United States' disillusionment with itself and its institutions, yet perhaps the country's misfortune was the cinema's good fortune. After focusing on Europe and Asia for several entries, today we return to America; for the first time in ten chapters, Hollywood films dominate the selections. But what a difference! If in 1959 the clips seemed to be quietly escalating their style and tiptoeing toward a more adult content, fifteen years later the American cinema has passed completely into a dark, radical maturity (fair warning: much of today's chapter is not safe for work).

(continued below, along with NSFW & spoiler warnings)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Welcome to the Arthouse 1972 - 1974 • "32 Days of Movies" Day 21


The twenty-first chapter in "32 Days of Movies"an audiovisual tour through 366 films
(2015 update: included Vimeo embed after the jump) 
 


View "Chapter 21: Welcome to the Arthouse"


Welcome to the Arthouse

Artistic expression, rather than pleasing a wide audience, seems to be the guiding spirit behind most of today's selections, although increasingly the two could go together. There are three genre pictures (a German sci-fi, a British horror, and an American gangster movie), yet these too wear their "artsy" ambitions on their sleeves. This was a period when attendance of "art houses" - those theaters devoted to playing foreign films, serious dramas, or eccentric comedies - thrived, and when even mainstream Hollywood movies were darker, more complex, more aesthetically sophisticated than they had been ten years earlier. It was a golden age for American film, but we'll see more of that tomorrow; today, the offerings are almost exclusively European (with an exception each from the U.S. and India).

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dispersed into the Seventies 1970 - 1972 • "32 Days of Movies" Day 20


The twentieth chapter in "32 Days of Movies"an audiovisual tour through 366 films
(2015 update: included Vimeo embed after the jump)


Dispersed into the Seventies

The sixties had ended. No "seventies" would replace them, at least not in the same sense. In society as in cinema, there was a turn inward, a slowing of that radical escalation, a dimming in the intensity, a muting of common purpose or collective identity. Young filmmakers of the sixties, however disparate their styles or themes, often spoke of one another as fellow travelers on some vague, unknown, but deeply felt common path. Not so much anymore. I hinted at this in Chapter 16, yet for a time the era's explosive energy concealed cinema's divisions and forked paths.

Around 1970, the tide went out, the counterculture, New Left, and youth movement all fragmented, and the hyped-up intensity of the sixties dissipated. Some contend that society never recovered, but for the cinema at least, this turned out to be as strong an era as the previous one, perhaps even stronger.

(continued below, along with NSFW & spoiler warnings)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

To Become Immortal, and Then, to Die. 1969 - 1970 • "32 Days of Movies" Day 19


The nineteenth chapter in "32 Days of Movies"an audiovisual tour through 366 films
Stay tuned through the credits today, as there will be a surprise at the end
(2015 update: included Vimeo embed after the jump)
To Become Immortal, and Then, To Die.

Chapter 13 began it. Chapters 16 - 17 shifted it into full gear. Today, in Chapter 19, the sixties come to an end. I will let the images (and sounds) speak for themselves, but would like to note that this is my favorite chapter, in terms of its construction (there are no loose ends, everything adds to the building theme and aesthetic flow), its references (this is to me one of the most exciting, poignant, and fascinating periods in history, cinema or otherwise), and its ending. Or rather its endings...

(continued below, along with NSFW specifications & other warnings)


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Shadow of '68 1968 - 1969 • "32 Days of Movies" Day 18


The eighteenth chapter in "32 Days of Movies"an audiovisual tour through 366 films
(2015 update: included Vimeo embed after the jump)

Shadow of '68

For four chapters, the energy of the sixties built and built, until yesterday it exploded, the sort of explosion that only builds upon itself, growing larger and larger. Today, in the chapter representing 1968 - 1969, we might expect to find its climax. After all, the whole world was in the throes of uprising, revolution, war, changing consciousness, rebellion - from the Tet to May '68 in Paris to the Prague Spring (and subsquent repression) to Chicago to...well, you all know the litany.

But on this screen today you'll find few Molotov cocktails, little long hair, no drugs. There'll be plenty counterculture tomorrow, in the last sixties entry, but today's chapter embodies cool restraint, dark intensity, and collected contemplation. Several scenes feature suited squares acting as if the whole world isn't falling down around them. This is not the surface tumult we are all familiar with, but rather its shadow, in several senses.

Monday, October 17, 2011

There's Something Happening Here... 1966 - 1968 • "32 Days of Movies" Day 17


The seventeenth chapter in "32 Days of Movies"an audiovisual tour through 366 films
(2015 update: included Vimeo embed after the jump)

There's Something Happening Here...

We begin exactly where we left off yesterday, actually a split-second earlier, repeating that gunfire as if reliving the Big Bang for one brief, unexpected moment. And then it's on to the future - a girl tosses an apple in the air, holds it in her hands, and takes a big forbidden bite. With that the world bursts into glorious color and catches fire. Today black-and-white starts to disappear: most of these clips are in color and from now on, just like that, color will be the default for every chapter. This is only the most obvious aspect of gigantic swerve.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Black Cat


The Black Cat (1934/United States/directed by Edgar G. Ulmer)
stars Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi

written by Edgar G. Ulmer, Peter Ruric, and Tom Kilpatrick from Edgar Allan Poe's story • photographed by John J. Mescall • designed by Charles D. Hall • music by Heinz Roemheld • makeup by Jack P. Pierce

The StoryOn a dark and stormy night, the Allisons, a honeymooning couple, find themselves sidetracked by an auto accident. Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Lugosi), whom they met on the train, takes them the home of architect Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff), a camp commandant who mistreated Werdegast during World War I. The two men fight a battle of will and wit, with the hapless newlyweds caught in the middle.
_____________

What do secluded mansions, wartime prison camps, violent fear of black cats, modernist architecture, satanic cults, semi-incestuous marriages, floating corpses, and sadomasochistic feuds have to do with one another? Not very much, come to think of it. Except that you can find them all in The Black Cat, along with wickedly stylized sets, idiosyncratic classical music, and - in their first pairing - two pitch-perfect larger-than-life performances from Universal’s biggest horror stars. Neither one cracks a smile or lets a wink betray that they’re in on the joke (though Karloff’s arched eyebrow occasionally suggests a saucy self-awareness), leading us to wonder if it is a joke at all. As he would later with the noir Detour, Edgar G. Ulmer twists genre conventions, stylistic norms, and tonal expectations into perfect pretzels, until we're left wondering whether the result is subversively brilliant or merely ridiculous.

That Total Film 1964 - 1966 • "32 Days of Movies" Day 16


The sixteenth chapter in "32 Days of Movies", an audiovisual tour through 366 films.
(2015 update: included Vimeo embed after the jump)



That Total Film

The films in today's chapter form an entity thrilling, melancholy, beautiful, and tragic - the end of a beginning and the beginning of an end. When asked to write about Fists in the Pocket forty years later, Jean-Pierre Gorin noted ruefully, "every scene ... with the convulsive beauty of its framing and composition, amply proves how much this period was made by people so steeped in classical culture that they fantasized it could be solid beyond its fragility, shaking it to the core and ultimately ushering in a world they could themselves hardly live in." Oh, you can see that all over the place today, in a chapter that - not accidentally - finds itself exactly halfway through the series, to the point where the closing clip is even divided in two, to be concluded tomorrow.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Tuning In 1963 - 1964 • "32 Days of Movies" Day 15


The fifteenth chapter in "32 Days of Movies", an audiovisual tour through 366 films.
(2015 update: included Vimeo embed after the jump)

Tuning In

Something in the cinema is simultaneously hardening and loosening. On the one hand, we have a claustrophobic, voiceless train ride; the aching beauty of a poem for a leper; and a hardbitten, sun-boiled trek up an endless mountain path - Sisyphus in Latin American hell. There is a restrained but emotional parlor scene and then...a restless youth party with flirtation and gameplaying, another train ride raucous rather than restrained, a moody walk in the free air along a canal, and then a slow-boil gaze full of explosive energy and dynamic colors. Unmistakable through all these selections is that feeling of frenetic anticipation, when time stands still yet you know in a moment everything will be thrown in the air, pieces end up where they may.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Runaway Cinema 1962 - 1963 • "32 Days of Movies" Day 14


The fourteenth chapter in "32 Days of Movies", an audiovisual tour through 366 films.
(2015 update: included Vimeo embed after the jump)

Runaway Cinema

A trio of friends racing across a bridge. A boy running cross-country and reflecting on his unhappy life. A woman fleeing terrible news through the city that has broken her heart. As the hero of one of our selections says, "All I know is you've got to run." Running toward, running away, running nowhere in particular. This sense of restless movement was in the air at the time these movies came out, and they all captured a spirit that was equal parts freewheeling and frustrated. Sometimes this run even turned to flight, yet with a nagging rope still tied around the floating freebird.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sixties Rising 1959 - 1962 • "32 Days of Movies" Day 13


The thirteenth chapter in "32 Days of Movies", an audiovisual tour through 366 films.
(2015 update: included Vimeo embed after the jump)

Sixties Rising

They called it a new wave. When a young boy skipped school and went for a spin, when party guests stood frozen as sundials in a chateau garden, when Anna Karina tossed her hair to and fro, it was hard to shake the image of a terrific tsunami crashing down upon an unsuspecting film world. There was the tremendous vitality of the images themselves: that whirling dervish seen through a dizzyingly subjective lens, those guests posed with gigantic shadows like something out of a Dali painting, the beautiful girl captured - or unable to be captured - by a handheld camera shooting casually on the street (contemporary audiences would have to wait for that particular image, as the film was banned; but there were dozens of others in the same spirit). Then there was something else, something beyond the visuals, as if the frame was a window through which one peered into a new state of ecstatic, thrilling consciousness. There was a certain je ne sais quoi in the air, and not just in France; all across Europe the promise of the late fifties was suddenly spreading its wings and soaring skyward.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Wide View 1957 - 1959 • "32 Days of Movies" Day 12


The twelfth chapter in "32 Days of Movies", an audiovisual tour through 366 films.
(2015 update: included Vimeo embed after the jump)

The Wide View

"Are we kids here or what?" Increasingly, the answer was "No" - for better or worse. As the fifties rolled to a close, American cinema underwent its first stirrings of adolescence. Puberty would strike with full force by the mid-sixties, crippling the movies for a time with growing pains, failed attempts at worldliness, and  alienated lassitude. Yet initially this onset of maturity offered many Hollywood films a valuable edge. Whether locking a steady gaze on the brutality of war, shining a harsh light on the cynical modern media, or nakedly exposing the sexual voyeurism of audience and auteur alike, today's selections show hints of the quantum leap in content and style which would seize a moribund industry in 1967.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

An International Era 1955 - 1957 • "32 Days of Movies" Day 11


The eleventh chapter in "32 Days of Movies", an audiovisual tour through 366 films.
(2015 update: included Vimeo embed after the jump)

An International Era

In the late fifties, the Cold War cooled and from the Khrushchev speech to the kitchen sink debate, the era many had expected in the wake of World War II - one focused on the United Nations and at least talking about peaceful coexistence - had begun to emerge. After a decade of fiercely agonizing over who and what was and wasn't "American", the nation seemed to have a renewed hunger for the exotic, the different, the international. This was reflected on its movie screens, as a taste for foreign films serendipitously (or conveniently) coincided with the rise of several truly great auteurs.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Restless Fifties 1953 - 1955 • "32 Days of Movies" Day 10


The tenth chapter in "32 Days of Movies", an audiovisual tour through 366 films. 
(2015 update: included Vimeo embed after the jump)

The Restless Fifties

Far from being a tepid, sedate period as is sometimes suggested, the fifties were full of dynamic energy. What distinguished the decade from the following one was the difficulties these energies faced in finding expression. You could see them in advertisements, magazine layouts, in widescreen movies (making their first appearance today) and live television, and especially the emergence of teen culture and rock 'n' roll. Yet somehow there seemed to be a deeper restlessness and rootlessness there, something left over from the war that couldn't quite fully flower.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Frankenstein ("Fixing a Hole")


Today's chapter in "32 Days in Movies" - called "A Violent Release" and featuring movies from the half-century mark with violent themes or elements - was posted this morning. But I also want to use today to announce a new series I am launching on Wonders in the Dark. Called "Fixing a Hole" its sole purpose is to review notable films that have not yet been covered on that site (thousands of films have been, but cinematic history is so rich that tens of thousands, including classics, obscurities, and controversial movies among them, have as of yet slipped through the cracks).

Every month will have a theme and this October is designated "Universal Horror Month." I will be writing several of the entries, but I've also invited guest writers to contribute and the inaugural entry is by one such guest writer, the passionate, knowledgeable, and extremely engaging Dennis Polifroni, whose personal pieces for the site I've always admired. I assigned him "Frankenstein" and he's hit the ball out of the park. Here's a sample, and then I encourage you to follow the link and take it all in!


"Karloff so perfectly infuses gentleness into his hand movements when pulling the petals off a daisy stem in his moment with the little girl by the pond that you forget this is just an actor in a costume and some very heavy make-up. In these moments you really believe it’s a being who is trying to recreate, for himself, the same kind of innocent whimsy that attracted him to the smile of this little child. You can see, in the way he crouches next to her and slowly inches his way closer to her, that he sees her as his mentor, someone with answers to his many inner questions, in what is beautiful about a life that has just begun for him."

A Violent Release 1949 - 1952 • "32 Days of Movies" Day 9


The ninth chapter in "32 Days of Movies", an audiovisual tour through 366 films.
(2015 update: included Vimeo embed after the jump)

A Violent Release

From the Russian A-bomb explosion to the Korean War, peacetime was not very peaceful. Around the world the focused energies of the antifascist fight had been scattered among myriad causes and directions. Clips this week come from a couple defeated Axis powers (their messages seem the most pacifist), a Cold War-minded America, and a Frenchman shooting in India with British actors and American money. Some days the chapters have a theme, sometimes they don't. Today they most certainly do.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Noir and Naturalism 1946 - 1949 • "32 Days of Movies" Day 8


The eighth chapter in "32 Days of Movies", an audiovisual tour through 366 films.
(2015 update: included Vimeo embed after the jump)


View "Chapter 8: Noir and Naturalism"


Noir and Naturalism

Waking up in the postwar world, it was as if all the jitters and anxiety that had been submerged for the war effort were now out in the open. Already, a new style/genre/sensibility/movement had been developing (though it was too unconscious and informal to fit some of those terms). Later dubbed "film noir," this perspective scanned the hardened landscape with jaundiced eyes, yet with an undercurrent of wounded romanticism that made this dark world something you wanted to plunge into again and again. Meanwhile, both overseas and Hollywood, an "opening" was occurring in the classically enclosed studio style.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Dreaming in Wartime 1943 - 1946 • "32 Days of Movies" Day 7


The seventh chapter in "32 Days of Movies", an audiovisual tour through 366 films.
(2015 update: included Vimeo embed after the jump)

Dreaming in Wartime

Today's chapter tells a definite story - we begin with a man in the air, determined to crash-land his bomber. It gets closer to the ground, closer, closer, and then... And then the strangeness begins, dreams and nightmares. A witch crashing into a burning pile of rubble. A lucid but depressive atheist wandering amidst crowd of candle-carrying Catholics. A cool, cool jazz band lounging in some never-never minimalist studio in the sky. See you on the sunny side of the street...

And the dreamers. Oh the dreamers - they're all over the place. Sleeping on the eve of a battle, watched over unbeknowst by their king. Chasing mirror-faced daemons in the cracked sunlight of a chillingly cloudless afternoon. Napping in the houses of murder victims and waking up to wonder if they're still dreaming. Climbing from beach to boardroom, or lying in a groggy state on dirt roads to be awakened by flashlights.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Storm Clouds Gather 1940 - 1942 • "32 Days of Movies" Day 6


The sixth chapter in "32 Days of Movies", an audiovisual tour through 366 films.
(2015 update: included Vimeo embed after the jump)




Storm Clouds Gather

In a quiet European cafe, a couple bicker and, by bickering, flirt. It is charming, wistful...and more than a little poignant: argument as gradual romance rather than violent dispute. In another establishment, in another European country, this same couple (or so it seems) find themselves surrounded by a bloodthirsty crowd, hands raised high in stiff salute, singing lustily about their glorious leader. Upon reflection, that cafe scene becomes even more poignant, tragic even. War has come to Europe, and by extension, to Hollywood.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Hooray for Hollywood! 1938 - 1940 • "32 Days of Movies" Day 5


The fifth chapter in "32 Days of Movies", an audiovisual tour through 366 films.
(2015 update: included Vimeo embed after the jump)




Hooray for Hollywood!

Depression lingers. War looms. Fascism marches across Europe. And yet here we are, hobnobbing with socialites and hanging out with callous adventurers, giggling at pratfalls and whizzing along in car chases, playing with children's toys and fighting off wild Indians. We're dazzled by Robin Hood, hushed by a mythic Lincoln, and assaulted by the last of the dodos.

Concluding our survey of the thirties (or at least that sliver of it captured in my collection), we dive right into the thicket of Tinseltown. In this chapter, America dominates, and by America we mean Hollywood, and by Hollywood we mean movie stars, and by movie stars we mean Henry Fonda, Katherine Hepburn and, in particular, Cary Grant (that unseen third wheel in the picture above). A narrow view, to be sure, but aside from the contingencies of my control group (recent boxset purchases filled gaps while also creating imbalances), this focus can be justified by the desire to display, if only once, the glamorous allure of the silver screen unalloyed by its other appeals and values.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Golden Ages 1935 - 1937 • "32 Days of Movies" Day 4


The fourth chapter in "32 Days of Movies", an audiovisual tour through 366 films.
(2015 update: included Vimeo embed after the jump)

It was a time of barnyard concerts in eye-popping color, giant silhouettes dancing in sync, and exotic swashbucklers vying for the attention of a beautiful woman. No wonder the thirties are considered the golden age for the American film industry, as much of the Hollywood mythos was established in this period. Yet my title is plural for a reason; with the technological hurdle of sound now overcome, this was a global golden age, not limited to Hollywood. France, Britain, and Japan all have something to offer in this entry, in a diverse array of forms: stop-motion fairy tales, humanist dramas, and shocking thrillers. Tomorrow the focus will narrow somewhat but today about half the films hearken from beyond the cozy confines of sunny California.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Talking, Singing, Dancing Pictures 1929 - 1934 • "32 Days of Movies" Day 3


The third chapter in "32 Days of Movies", an audiovisual tour through 366 films.


View "Chapter 3: Talking, Singing, Dancing Pictures"
(2015 update: included Vimeo embed after the jump)


Talking, Singing, Dancing Pictures

Creaky. Tinny. Stagebound. All of these adjectives have been used to describe the early talkies and, sure enough, many directors had no clue what to do with the new technology. Perhaps most did not understand sound at first (and one in this chapter, making his first appearance, didn't want to - at least for the time being). However, those who did understand used sound extremely well, perhaps even better than later filmmakers, who took it for granted. Sound can be a girlfriend screaming over the phone, a radio playing across an alleyway, a glutton burping, or the gutteral growls of a gorilla (two gorillas, actually). Or it could be the sublimely casual way someone asks, "Cigarette?"

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Jazz Age Visions 1926 - 1929 • "32 Days of Movies" Day 2


The second chapter of "32 Days of Movies", an audiovisual tour through 366 films.


View "Chapter 2: Jazz Age Visions"
(2015 update - includes Vimeo embed after the jump)


Jazz Age Visions

Following the first flush of discovery, when the miracle of movement held everyone in thrall, great directors began pushing cinematic boundaries. The tempo picked up, the effects became more elaborate, the techniques sharpened and personalized. This adventurous spirit reached its height in the late twenties - the films here provide name after illustrious name in the auteur canon. It would be another forty years before filmmakers had such freedom again, yet most of these young men would continue working, albeit often under difficult circumstances. Here was where they got their start - in the last, heady days of the silent era, as the Jazz Age boomed towards its bust and visions spoke louder than words.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Dance of the Silents 1912 - 1926 • "32 Days of Movies" Day 1


The first chapter of "32 Days of Movies", an audiovisual tour through 366 films.
(2015 update - includes Vimeo embed after the jump)


View "Chapter 1: Dance of the Silents"


Dance of the Silents 

In the early days, everything was difficult and anything was possible. Ingenuity and technical know-how were prerequisites, but all was new so imagination was unhampered by exhaustion or familiarity. Vampires glided into bedrooms, Babylonians paraded down colossal stairways, abstract forms danced across the screen, and bugs spied on one another's sex lives. There are quite a few masters in this first chapter, yet most of the films seem to have, alongside their boundless creative energy, a sort of elemental simplicity. Styles will grow more complicated, visions more elaborate in the next chapter, but at first, the wonder of the moving image seemed magic enough.