Cinema – Episode 6: Landscapes and Horizons

Welcome Back!

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*epic music*

Landscapes and Horizons: 1950-1960

FADE IN:

EXT. DAY. AN ENDLESS BEACH.

Your HOST waves to you from a grassy hill while the camera zooms out, taking in the sweeping panorama of the seascape in the background.

~~~

This is one of my all-time favorite decades in terms of film history. After the introspective 40’s, cinema found its optimism again, but it was a more mature optimism filled with plenty of hardship and just as many sweeping triumphs. Plus, we get some of the COOLEST movies of all time ever which were made cooler by the face that screens (and film) got WIIIIIIIIIIDER and movies got BIGGER. The epic, which had its start super early, came back in a big way. Also, the musical returned with a fierce vengeance (which is pretty swell, in my book) thanks to some HUGE legendary names.

Noir would stick around through the decade, such as in Billy Wilder’s iconic Sunset Boulevard (1950).

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She’s nuts, by the way.

The tension and atmosphere of the genre would also influence Alfred Hitchcock whose career had no intention of slowing down any time soon. This decade gave us Strangers on a Train (1951), Dial M for Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958)–which recently ousted Citizen Kane as the greatest film ever made–and North By Northwest (1959). For someone whose career has been going strong since the 20’s, this is crazy impressive. We won’t see another director with this kind of staying power again until we get to the 1970s.

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Vertigo is totally weird, but crazy good.

Also, in the lower-budget end of things, sci fi edged out horror as the prevailing genre thanks, in part, to the Space Race, culminating in Russia’s awesome launch of Sputnik I in 1957. We get some super awesome films in this genre such as The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and Earth vs. The Flying Saucers (1956). The latter featured legendary creature animator/innovator Ray Harryhausen who really started turning people’s heads in this decade.

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My favorite part of this movie is where the accidental recording of the saucer’s ooeeooee noise doesn’t pickup any of the conversation going on at the time it was recorded.

The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958), another huge Harryhausen picture also capitalized on the super popular monster movie genre which exploded into being in this decade. The king of all monsters, of course, is Godzilla, and he first shows up as Gojira in 1954 and messes Japan up something fierce, but then he becomes a sort of hero and ends up saving Japan from a bevy of increasingly dangerous foes (the coolest, of course, is Mothra, who’s awesome). Godzilla’s the best ever and if you don’t love him, you’re wrong.

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“Raaaaaaawr!”

Not really.

Anyways, the other super cool part of this decade is the introduction of SWEEPING PANORAMAS! CinemaScope is cool because it uses different lenses and bigger film to capture a wider image. It was a rocky process and different studios tried out different technologies (some that worked, others that didn’t) but it was clear audiences responded positively. Part of the reason why this was such a success was that TV was now a thing and was pulling people away from theaters, so CinemaScope (and color, which became much more common in this decade) brought people back to theaters with spectacular visuals they couldn’t get at home. Theaters briefly experimented with 3-D (such as with The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)), but the fad didn’t stick around. CinemaScope, on the other hand, became more than a fad. It became an expectation.

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So. Pretty.

Films like The Ten Commandments (1956), The Searchers (1956), and Ben Hur (1959) used the sweeping scope to its full effect, bringing massive landscapes and huge sets to life. This is also the time when Rodgers and Hammerstein brought their musicals to film starting with the Oscar-winning Oklahoma (1955) which was the first 70 mm widescreen film (technically, State Fair (1945) was their first movie musical, but Oklahoma was the gamechanger). They followed it up with Carousel and The King and I from 1956 and South Pacific in 1958. Aside from becoming hugely popular, these films changed how musicals, and films in general, looked and felt.

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I will never be that graceful. Ever.

It wasn’t just R&H who rode the musical’s meteoric return to form. This is also when we got, among others, Annie Get Your Gun (1950), An American in Paris (1951), which features a MASSIVE ballet sequence at the film’s climax, Singin’ in the Rain (1952), Kiss me Kate (1953), and the controversial Guys and Dolls (1955)–which featured an inexplicably singing Marlon Brando. Musicals were bigger than ever, but with more of a soul than the frothy confections of the 1930’s. Decades after this would try (and sometimes succeed, such as The Sound of Music and West Side Story in the 60’s) to outdo the grand musicals of this decade, but they wouldn’t quiiiiiite make it since musicals would sort of fall out of favor with most audiences at the end of the decade (but like they won’t ever go away completely).

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Yes, Gene Kelly, whatever it is, I’ll do it.

This was also the decade when Disney would return to form with Cinderella (1950), which was a huge success and featured a new abstract art style for its backgrounds. Alice in Wonderland (1951)–the best version of Alice in my humble opinion–was a triumph of visual art, but wasn’t appreciated by initial audiences. Peter Pan (1953), on the other hand, was a success both with audiences and critics, as was Lady and the Tramp (1955), the first Disney film released in CinemaScope.

At the end of the decade, Sleeping Beauty (1959) was a HUGELY ambitious work of visual art that pushed the limits of what animated backdrops could be, thanks to the highly detailed paintings of artist Eyvind Earle whose work was showcased with massive 70mm Technorama film. The artwork is gorgeous, but the film was so expensive to make that it nearly ruined Disney. Throw in a lukewarm audience reaction and bland critical reception, and the Disney fairy tale would fade away for the next three decades until the Disney Renaissance would bring princesses back. Sleeping Beauty has since been recognized for its ambitious art style and has become one of Disney’s greatest films.

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You could frame every shot and hang it on your wall.

Outside of animated films, Disney branched off into live-action films in the 40’s (often featuring a mix of animation and live-action), but their releases in the 50’s including Treasure Island (1950) and the AMAZING 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), are still considered classics in their own right.

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Peter Lorre’s great, of course, but James Mason and Kirk Douglas are entirely too hot to appear in the same shot together. i can’t handle it.

Another thing that happened in this decade was the rise of teens as film demographics. B movies catered to the teen crowd, as did cult favorites featuring rebellious youngsters such as the iconic James Dean vehicle Rebel Without a Cause (1955). The monster movie craze also hit the teen market with films such as I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957) starring Michael Landon, and The Blob (1958) starring Steve McQueen.

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It’s super sad James Dean wasn’t with us longer.

Overall, this was a SPECTACULAR decade. Screens, film, and audience demographics expanded to massive heights and movies weren’t the same since. Television tried to take over, but it instead found its own immovable place in culture alongside movies (though film would end up fighting TV pretty severely in the next decade).

And with that, I will bid you adieu until next week when we look at the 60’s!

Sources:

Dirks, Tim. Film History of the 1950s

Flaxman, George A. A Brief History of Cinemascope.

NASA. Sputnik and the Dawn of the Space Age.

and The Ray Harryhausen Creature List

Along with IMDb, of course.

Cinema – Episode 5: Into the Shadows

Howdy again!

MALTESE FALCON, THE (1941)

You can practically hear the ominous music…

Into the Shadows: 1940-1950

FADE IN:

EXT. NIGHT. A DARKENED STREET.

Your HOST steps out of a murky shadow, wearing a trench coat and a wide-brimmed hat. He approaches you slowly, lights a cigarette, and then trips on the edge of his coat. Giggling, the mood completely ruined, he gestures for you to follow him inside where he has a pot of tea waiting…

~~~

The 40’s were an odd decade. WWII showed up and put film production almost to a standstill while resources and manpower went to serving the war effort. So we get the decade starting off incredibly with the likes of Citizen Kane and Casablanca, which I’ll get to in a bit, and then tapering off and then returning in full force with a bunch of incredible films in the late 40’s that send Hollywood hurtling headlong into the monumental grandeur that will characterize the 50’s.

The 30’s are considered Hollywood’s Golden Age. One of my sources, David Shipman’s The Story of Cinema, devotes three chapters to looking at the Golden Age in depth by studio. As we saw last week, the Golden Age was characterized by spectacular sets, iconic characters, lush visuals, and the perfect iconography for a culture desperate to escape from the reality of the Depression.  But once this focus on spectacle and beauty began to wear on people (because let’s be real, too much sugar causes diabetes), the trend was to more thoughtful, more introspective films that spoke to people about topics with greater meat in them. This is also where we see the noir genre, which would have as much of an impact on American culture as jazz music, flower into being (though I admit it is a shadowy, cynical flower pinned to the hat of a sultry femme fatale).

This metaphor isn’t the best, so I’ll leave it there.

Let’s start with Disney because the 40’s were an odd time for that studio and I REALLY like what they did then.

 

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) gave Disney MAD amounts of street cred and so he went on to make Pinocchio (1940) and Fantasia (1940), leaping back and forth between the two projects (and even leaping ahead to a future project, Bambi (1942). Pinocchio was a million times bigger than Snow White, but it was almost too ambitious at times. Fantasia was highly experimental and strange (classical music set to animation that ranged from the abstract to the highly narrative?) but it kept drawing Disney’s attention away from Pinocchio because he felt that animation needed to be taken seriously as art and not just entertainment and Fantasia was the chance to prove that.

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MWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! NOW YOU WILL TAKE MY ART SERIOUSLY!

Well, Pinocchio failed to impress audiences (even though critics adore it now for its incredible visuals) and nearly bankrupted Disney. Fantasia, also, stumbled on its release as it was never able to reach the European market due to the outbreak of WWII, and its expensive theatrical technology (called Fantasound) kept it from really making a splash with the public (even though critics at the time greatly respected the film). Things weren’t looking good.

So they made Dumbo (1941), another idea that had been bandied about in previous years. The plus was that Dumbo was short and was very inexpensive to make. It was a back-to-basics story that kept the focus on the heart of the story (I DARE you not to cry during the “Baby Mine” sequence. *sniff* I tear up just thinking about it…) and it worked. It was a smash success and saved the studio who went on to make Bambi (1942), which tragically did not wow audiences, despite the fact that it won three Oscars and is one of the most beautiful Disney films ever made (I’m a bit biased because I love it, but whatever).

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Seriously, this whole film is hang-on-your-wall worthy

Anyways, the years after Bambi were weird and saw the release of a series of anthology-type films like The Three Caballeros (1944) and Make Mine Music (1946) which allowed the studio to keep creating films with a reduced staff (as America had entered WWII by this point and many animators left to fight in Europe). Disney wouldn’t make another full-length animated feature film until 1950’s Cinderella, but that film would never have been made without the funding garnered from the anthology films before it that managed modest success.

Outside the world of animation, lots of good stuff was also going on.

The beginnings of the 40’s were incredible. Even if you haven’t seen Citizen Kane (1940), you’ve heard of it. Until a few years back, it was considered the greatest film ever made., and when you watch it, you can immediately tell why. Every visual cliche that we see in every single movie nowadays can be found in this film. My college film teacher told us that Citizen Kane might appear sort of boring and ordinary upon first viewing because so much of its visual vocabulary has become idiomatic by now. But at its time, the New York Times hailed it as “far and away the most surprising and cinematically exciting motion picture to be seen here in many a moon.”

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Again, every frame is art.

It has the opulent grandeur of the 30’s, but there’s an intense criticism of said grandeur. Whereas amidst a Fred and Ginger dance number, that kind of beauty was transporting, in this one, it seems hollow and empty. Charles Foster Kane lives the American Dream to its fullest heights, becoming obscenely wealthy and powerful and losing touch with all the people in his life, dying lonely and unfulfilled. His mysterious final word, “Rosebud” becomes the spark that lights an intense investigation to figure out just who he was, revealing the story of his rise to power in the process. It’s a FANTASTIC film and you need to watch it if you haven’t.

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Listen to this guy, even though he’s bad with people…

It demonstrated a dramatic shift in what film could be. It could be cynical and it could plumb some pretty bleak depths that weren’t disguised by a vampire or other defeat-able foe. I don’t know if this is the film that actually spawned the move towards darker more thoughtful films, but it definitely signaled that change.

Another one that bears notice is Casablanca (1942), a beautifully crafted film that literally tells the story of WWII in microcosm. Humphrey Bogart’s world-weary Rick is literally America not wanting to get involved in the war…but like he has to. It has a stage theater feel to it that really connects you to its amazing cast of characters (I’m especially fond of Claude Rains’ Louis Renault, the corrupt French officer who follows whoever has the biggest gun). There are no fairy tale endings, and the film’s sole “big” musical number has an angry but proud nationalistic fire that makes you wish you were French just so you could sing and sob along with Yvonne. The New York Times called it a “rich, suave, exciting, and moving tale,” and it hasn’t lost any of that awesomeness in the subsequent years.

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We really need to bring hats back in fashion.

But I mentioned film noir earlier, didn’t I? Where did that actually start?

It actually started with The Maltese Falcon (1941), a delightfully atmospheric detective story featuring Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, who is trying to get to a priceless artifact before the competition (a trio of sneaky and dangerous villains) gets to it first. Shadowy lighting, unusual camera angles, and morally ambiguous characters were nothing new before this. We’ve seen them plenty throughout film history, but with this film, those elements came together in such a way (under the expert direction of newcomer John Huston who planned every shot diligently) that it had a profound effect on audiences who were seeking to understand the anxiety creeping through the world as WWII grew nearer and nearer.

Once the Pearl Harbor attack brought America into the war, Hollywood’s output shifted to supporting the war effort. Instead of the distracting musicals of the 30’s, many films during WWII dealt directly with the war. There were exceptions, of course (I’m looking at you, Meet Me In St Louis from 1944!), but it’s obvious, for the most part, stories of underdogs triumphing over the Nazis and other Axis powers were what people wanted to see. The end of the war was a period of triumph, but America’s exposure to the effects of insidious and dangerous ideology in Europe led to a persistent era of anxiety over communist and Nazi influences in America that persisted into the 1950s.

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Check out this ominous lighting in Double Indemnity!

It was in this postwar period that film noir really took off. It was the perfect metaphor for a wounded generation of surviving soldiers and their families. Morally ambiguous characters who were well aware that life wasn’t all musical numbers and flashy dresses became the favorites. This is where we get directors like Billy Wilder releasing films like Double Indemnity (1944) which features a gorgeous wife plotting to kill her husband to claim the insurance money, and Edward Dmytryk’s Murder, My Sweet (1945), a Raymond Chandler adaptation featuring a complex web of deceit, murder, and theft. These movies are FANTASTIC and make cynicism seem like something so slick and trendy that you must garb yourself in it and then pose dramatically in a shadowy corner, waiting for a detective to burst into the room and find you.

Finally, before we leave this decade I wanted to mention the revival of the Western, one of America’s most enduring film genres, in the 40’s. It would reach pretty amazing heights in the decades that followed, but after WWII, it makes sense why people would want a little escapism, but not too much. Westerns like Red River (1948), starring John Wayne and Montgomery Clift, showed a tough world steeped in conflict (not just conflict between human and nature and good guy and bad guy, but also, in this movie, between father and adopted son, a conflict which eventually come to blows in one final scene) where personal journeys are as important as cross-country treks. I don’t think Westerns ever really went away, but they do sort of fade in and out at times, and this is definitely when we see Westerns fading back in.

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This is kind of how America felt at the end of the 40’s

Next week, we’ll see movies get a zillion times bigger and grander and awesomer, but we should appreciate this decade for injecting introspection, the grit of reality, and a splash of genuine danger into the film landscape. We’ll see the influences of this decade for years to come.

Until next time!

 

Sources:

Canby, Vincent, and Janet Maslin. The New York Times Guide to the Best 1000 Movies Ever Made.

Gabler, Neal. Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination.

Shipman, David. The Story of Cinema.

Sklar, Robert, A World History of Film.

And, sigh, Wikipedia… *throws up hands*

 

Cinema – Episode 4 – The Farm Girl, the Princess, and the Housekeeper

And we’re off again!

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The Farm Girl, the Princess, and the Housekeeper: 1930-1940

FADE IN:

INT. NIGHT. A SMALL HOUSE.

Your HOST leads you to the door and opens it, revealing a landscape of lush colors and soft light. He flashes you a smile before running out to frolic.

~~~

The addition of color to film wasn’t really the game-changing revolution that sound was. With sound, the transition happened over the course of a year and silent films were obsolete within months after that. When color was introduced to film, it would be a good thirty years hence before the black and white film fell out of fashion (and even then, it never completely went away since some directors continue to shoot in black and white for artistic reasons.)

So, this decade isn’t REALLY all about color and how amazing it was. Instead, it’s more about how cinema became REALLY important to audiences during the Great Depression. There’s some great stuff that happens here.

The Great Depression sucked for a great many people in America. So, when life sucks, what do you do? You go to the movies! And when you get there, you don’t want to think about hardship or the unfairness of everything. You wanted fantasy.

And since audiences reacted so well to The Jazz Singer, studios figured music was what kept bringing people back. And they were right!

And thus, the gooey movie musical was born!

Musicals in the 30’s were often very light on plot and heavy on spectacle. It was pure fluffy escapism at its best. Enter Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers! Their films aren’t known for their complex thought-provoking plots or their deep nuanced characters. We remember them for their AMAZING dancing. These two were a match made in the ether of divine perfection. Even the most cynical of folks would find it hard to ignore their flowy footwork and electric chemistry.

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Swing Time is maaaarvelous and you should watch it!

The two starred in nine films for RKO during this era, dancing to music by some of the greatest musical minds of the day, including Cole Porter and George Gershwin.

If you’re looking to sample the magic of these two, you should check out Top Hat (1935) and Swing Time (1937). They’re pretty much exclusively fluff, but its super pretty fluff.

While I’m on the subject of musicals, I should also mention Busby Berkely, a choreographer who, with his talent for extravagant dance numbers featuring scads of beautiful chorus dancers, moved musicals away from the stiff affairs they had been in the early days of talkies (thank goodness for the invention of the boom mic, which allowed actors to actually move around instead of sticking close to only one area). He also established film performances as different from stage performances, using the camera to give the audience an experience they couldn’t get on stage (think of the iconic shot from his 42nd Street (1933) where the camera passes between the legs of a line of dancers).

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This isn’t something you could get watching a stage show without being thrown out of the theatre

42nd Street is an absolute delight and a favorite of mine, but you should also check out Gold Diggers (1933) and Footlight Parade (1933). Berkley was apparently a very busy man in 1933…

On the subject of huge poofy musicals, I also have to mention The Great Ziegfeld (1936). In the annals of huge ridiculous musical sequences that comprise nothing but pure spectacle, I should direct your attention to the song, “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody.” The song had been around for a little over a decade (one of Irving Berlin’s), but this version of it is insane. If I remember correctly (it’s been a few years since I’ve seen it) the whole thing is done almost in a single shot, spiraling up the levels of a gargantuan wedding-cake-like structure packed with costumed chorus members all singing, dancing, and acting out mini scenes as the giant cake rotates, carrying the camera up and up and up as the song reaches explosive heights, culminating in a woman in the BIGGEST dress ever perched atop the highest point, surrounded by curtains and a chorus of women in poofy gowns. The song hits “The Beautiful Blue Danube” waltz, the famous tenor aria from Pagliacci, and Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” along the way. The final scene where the camera pulls away from the massive rotating structure as the spiral curtains descend back onto it is pretty spectacular, even if it’s completely devoid of narrative meaning.

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This is only about a tenth of the entire structure…

Here’s a link. It’s cray.

It makes the next film I want to mention seem restrained by comparison.

Of course, I have to mention The Wizard of Oz (1939), one of my all time favorite movies. Unfortunately, despite what many believe, it wasn’t the first color film. Color was actually considered a gimmicky and silly diversion that, while fun, was too airy to be of much significance (this was obviously when people began to grow weary of fluffy plot-lite musicals). The movie wouldn’t become the iconic American classic it is today until it became an annual television event in the 1950’s where, ironically, it was shown fully in black and white.

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The yellow brick road is made for skipping, not walking or trudging. Skipping only.

But getting back to my point, color preceded Oz. Technicolor, a three-color process by which film could show a relatively full spectrum of color on screen, was invented by this cool guy named Herbert Kalmus. Before Technicolor, there was color in films but it was either a two color process (which created a sort of sepia-ish cast with only a little color variation) or splashes of color here and there for visual effect (early silent films used that here and there). The first full film made with Technicolor was this blaaaaaaand film called Becky Sharp (1935) adapted from the novel Vanity Fair. But it was boring as all get out and nobody really cared about it. Before studios got brave enough to use Technicolor in feature films, Walt Disney’s groundbreaking cartoon Flowers and Trees (1932) used the new three-color Technicolor process to beautiful effect. Here’s a link if you want. It’s a cute cartoon that delves into surprisingly dark territory. I’ll get back to Disney in a bit.

The Wizard of Oz was one of the first color feature films to really show off how brilliant Technicolor could be. By starting out in a sepia-toned world, the transition to color when Dorothy opens that door into Munchkinland is that much more amazing. My mind is boggled at the thought of critics and audiences going, “Meh…” when it first came out. I think they were expecting it to be huge and meaningless like many previous musicals, and so nobody took it seriously. Color was very much considered a fad that wouldn’t last. By then, the worst of the Depression was beginning to level out and people were able to worry about the rumblings of what was going to be WWII. Cinema in the next decade would become very realistic and sharp-edged, so it’s easy to see how Oz came about a little too late to really make a splash. But it’s all good because Dorothy and the Wicked Witch would become Pop Culture Icons eventually.

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Is it bad that I love them both equally?

I could EASILY go on for literal days about how much I love Oz, but we’ll move on because we’ve got a lot to cover, still.

On the flip side of the soft lights and glittering sequins of the musical realm, there were the dark atmospheric horrors of Universals iconic monster movies (which are AMAAAAAZING). Like the musicals, these films offered an escape from the bleakness of reality by presenting people with monsters that could be defeated. Poverty and an uncertain economy felt like they wold always be there, but Boris Karloff’s Mummy could be defeated by the reincarnated Ankh-es-en-amon praying to Isis, Dracula could be staked in his lair by the cunning Abraham Van Helsing, and the Wolf Man was vulnerable to silver. These films are pretty tame by today’s standards. many people don’t even see them as horror films, but you’ve got to admire the cinematography and the use of light and shadow.

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The Mummy (1932) is one of my faves, mostly because Boris Karloff is amazing

Karl Freund, who directed The Mummy (1932)–one of my all time favorites–is so good at creating an eerie atmosphere that you don’t really notice that there isn’t much in the way of peril. It’s atmospheric and transporting nonetheless. The same goes for Todd Browning’s Dracula (1931) as well as the (in many ways) superior Spanish language version directed by George Melford.

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The Spanish language version of Dracula is wonderful

The most iconic of these is probably James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931) and its sequel The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Of all the early Universal monster films, these two probably get the closest to being genuinely terrifying by today’s standards. The sets are spectacular, drenched in shadow, and the monsters represent a genuine threat to the order of things. Taking pages from the books of the German filmmakers who experimented with surrealist imagery, these films have embedded themselves in the public consciousness. Everyone knows OF Dracula in his various incarnations, but everyone KNOWS what “It’s aliive!” comes from without you ever having to say it.

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This whole film just drips with stmosphere

They didn’t have huge budgets, but these films really worked with what they had and showed everyone just how effective black and white films could still be. There’s no doubt that the effectiveness of black and white film’s ability to heighten mood and tension in these films inspired later decades as they gave life to the noir film genre (but we’ll talk about that later).

Moving back into the light, I wanted to come back to Disney. The 30’s is when Walt Disney really showed the world what he could be. I mentioned Flowers and Trees which pioneered a new cutting edge color process. Another short deserves mentioning and that’s The Old Mill (1937), a beautifully animated atmospheric piece which showcased a new technology that reinvented animation: the multi-plane camera. Here’s a link to the short. The multi-plane camera allowed for depth in a cartoon by shooting down through stacked layers of glass, each layer getting a different celluloid representing different parts of the image. You could have mountains actually be in the distance. You could have foreground objects move faster when passing them by. You could have trees part to allow the viewer to move into a spooky forest. The effect was amazing, and Disney put it to use in his first feature-length Technicolor cartoon, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).

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Snow White’s OK, but the Evil Queen has STYLE.

People thought Disney was crazy to try for a full-length cartoon, since at that point, cartoons were filler, showed in theaters between newsreels or other films. A full length animated musical seemed bizarre, but it was an incredible success and got Disney started as a world-renowned animation titan. He would have a very up-and-down road to success after this, especially in the 40’s, but his success with this film gave him the confidence to get more daring later on.

Another film which made a huge splash, of course, was Victor Fleming’s 1939 Civil War epic Gone with the Wind. This one impressed audiences a lot more because it didn’t shy away from depictions of brutality (the bloody scene where Scarlett O’Hara, Queen of Sass and Amazingness, shoots a creepy burglar and possible rapist in the face is still pretty effective) and much more frank depictions of sex, pregnancy, and the horrors of war. Now, granted, the fact that the film idealizes slavery and casts all the slave characters as silly and happy with their lot in life is troubling, and it’s necessary to view this film with a VERY critical eye. But it is notable that the film did get the ball rolling a bit faster in terms of how African-Americans were depicted on film.

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In fact, this film led to the first African-American person winning an Academy Award. The sensational Hattie McDaniel (who played Mammy) had to walk to the stage from the segregated eating area where she had to sit at the Oscars (and even that was a concession since the hotel didn’t allow black people in at all), but she won that award and she deserved it. There were some who were angry that they felt she won that award only by playing into a stereotype that continued to demean the black community (and that is true), but it was a step in the right direction, even if it was a small one. Things didn’t change quickly (they’re STILL changing, unfortunately), but this film DID contribute, in at least a small way, to getting black actors to be taken more seriously in the world of film, troubling racial depictions and all.

Gone with the Wind is a marvelous sweeping film that definitely heralded the upcoming decade’s aesthetic. In that final scene where Rhett Butler, incurable scallawag, vanishes into the mist of a darkened street seemingly out of Scarlett’s life and she decides that that is just NOT how things are going to happen and runs after him, it’s almost like they’re moving into the film noir era, leaving the bright colors and poofy gowns of the escapist films of the 30’s behind.

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Iconic!

You should totally rewatch it ! I’ll even come over and watch it with you. We can talk about how Scarlett is the Queen of Sass and is amazing and how Ashley is boring as moist bread and Rhett is hunky and Melanie is entirely too pure for the world and Mammy is not one to hold her opinions back, and we can stand up and hug each other as Scarlett basically punches the post-war devastation (and by extension the Great Depression) in the face, screaming to the heavens, “As God as my witness, I’ll never go hungry again!”

And on that rousing note, I will bid you goodbye until next week when we will start looking at the 1940s!

Until then!

Also, as always, here are my sources.

Gabler, Neal. Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination.

Shipman, David. The Story of Cinema.

Sklar, Robert. A World History of Film.

As well as a few clips on Youtube and Dailymotion.

Cinema – Episode 3: The Sound Revolution!

Welcome back!

The Sound Revolution: 1920-1930

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Steamboat Willie (1928) showed us how important a whistling mouse could be!

FADE IN:

EXT. DAY. A BUSY STREET.

Your HOST approaches you, waving amiably while being jostled by the crowd.

Intertitle: “I’m glad you could join me!”

Your host waves you inside a quieter building…

~~~

I’m sure, in the 20’s, people just assumed that all movies were going to be silent forever. If a time traveler approached a person and said, “So guess what! In my time, all movies have sound and they keep rebooting Spiderman!” The person would go, “What’s a spider man? And why would they need sound?? We can understand films just fine!”

But then, once they SAW a film with sound, jaws hit the floor en masse and the idea of a silent film became as passé as Baroque architecture pretty much overnight. Cinema changed irrevocably, and only looked back when it wanted to spoof or wax nostalgic about the genre.

But before this game changer exploded everyone’s brains, silent films reached their grandest, funniest, scariest, and most incredible heights.

This decade was AMAZING.

Charlie Chaplin, legendary funnyman, got his start at the end of the last decade, but it was in the 20’s that he was really able to blow everyone away. In his early film career, he was churning out something like a film every week at some points. They were two-reel affairs, nothing spectacular. But audiences saw something in him that just drew them back to theaters again and again, so when he made the transition to feature-length films (once Americans realized it was OK to have a film longer than two reels) with The Kid (1921), his popularity was so well established that he became a legend. He reached pretty amazing heights in The Gold Rush (1925), a comedy which featured his iconic tramp character in his most memorable role. You may never look at shoes the same way…

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Mmm, tasty…

While we’re on the subject of comedy, one can’t ignore the sheer geniuses that are Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. If you haven’t seen Sherlock Jr. (1924) or Safety Last (1923), you are missing out on some pretty incredible comedy that is STILL hilarious today. A lot of the very early silent films, pre-1920’s, had a stiff quality to them as actors got used to the different needs of the camera as opposed to a needs of a stage audience, but by this point, actors knew how to work that camera. Safety Last is one of those movies that makes you cackle with hysteria while screaming in terror as the bumbling hero ends up scaling the side of a building and very nearly plummeting to his death on several occasions.

Sherlock Jr., my favorite Buster Keaton film, has a poor projectionist failing to catch a robber and then dreaming himself into a Sherlock Holmes film that he’s showing. He’s such a sad-faced guy, but he expresses EVERYTHING with his stance and gestures, and, as this wonderful article points out, the whole thing has a Wes Anderson-esque symmetry to it, which is crazy pleasing to the eye. It’s so delightful, and the stunts are pretty insane. Keaton seriously injured his neck while performing this one scene involving a water tower and a train, which is pretty metal. If you like Keaton (and you should!), you also need to check out his Civil War era comedy The General (1927).

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Just check out the composition of this scene from Sherlock Jr. (1924)!

There’s a lot of amazingness that happens in American film at this point (like the rise of Cecil B. deMille, Gloria Swanson’s and Greta Garbo’s compelling relationship with the camera, Lon Chaney’s iconic horror roles, the beginnings of Walt Disney’s animation studio, etc.) but we’re going to make a jump to some other stuff.

It’s nearly impossible to find these films, but during this decade, African Americans, long kept out of the film industry except as background actors here and there, started creating their own films on meager budgets (they didn’t have the support of any studios, mind you) and there’s some good stuff that was made, despite the limitations. One such surviving film is Body and Soul (1925) by Oscar Micheaux, a psychologically twisty film about two people, one good, one evil, who are played by the same actor. But the evil one ends up being revealed as the nightmare of one of the women. It’s nearly impossible to find now, but it’s a testament to all the many films that WEREN’T preserved during this time. It would be a LOOOOONG time before black filmmakers were able to make the films they wanted to make with the support of some sort of studio, but these early folks should be remembered.

Also, while American cinema was doing its thing, Swedish, German, and Soviet cinema was pushing boundaries as soon as they popped up. There’s this dude named Victor Sjöström who is most well known for his film The Phantom Carriage (1921), which featured the cool use of double images to convey moving between the world of the living and the dead, but he made several films during the 20s that displayed a real understanding of what film could be, especially in regards to his more naturalistic approach.

Sadly, not many of his films were ever shown in America (now the undisputed home of the film industry as WWI basically blew up Europe) until later on when he began making American films under the name Victor Seastrom. One GREAT film of his that I really like is The Wind (1928), a silent film featuring the legendary Lillian Gish as a woman living alone in the frontier, facing down irrational fear and brutal windstorms and coming to understand her own inner strength. It’s great, but people remember this one for Gish and not for the Swedish director who was way ahead of his time. Swedish cinema wouldn’t be REALLY noticed until later, sadly. Germany, on the other hand, grabbed America’s attention earlier on.

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Pictured: Germany grabbing America’s attention with Nosferatu (1922)

There’s a misconception that German films at this time were expressionist. The truth was that the films that Americans noticed had a surreal quality to them that people responded to. Think of Nosferatu (1922) directed by F. W. Murnau, a creepy take on the Dracula story that’s hindered by the fact that none of the night scenes were shot at night. But nonetheless, the exaggerated visual style is super cool and folks across the pond loved. The other was Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari (1920), whose bizarre sets stemmed from restrictions on materials and power set down by the German government at the time. To save money, they went for a cardboard theater look, accidentally creating an aesthetic that folks liked because it felt fresh. At this point, modernism was in full swing, and the search for something new was all that mattered. But there were many German films made during this time that weren’t expressionistic/surrealist.

The thing that really makes this era and place cool is that filmmakers were reacting to a time of crazy change in Germany. The country had gone from falling apart after WWI to fighting to reassemble itself with the help of a political party that, by the 1920’s, would be led by a scary fellow called Adolf Hitler (you may have heard of him). During this time, there was this false sense of success that pervaded German life. Their defeat could be blamed on the Jews, but since they wouldn’t be a part of the picture soon (according to the propaganda) they figured Hitler could make Germany great again. So there was this weird contrast between the hedonistic joy of those who were celebrating Germany’s revival as a great nation and the reality of what was really going on. German filmmakers had a lot of material to explore.

This leads me to Metropolis (1926), a crazy cool film by legendary director Fritz Lang, that works because of its layers of metaphor and meaning. It was very obviously commenting on current events, but the Nazi’s didn’t mind it because the evil mad scientist at the center of it was portrayed as a Jew (or at least suggested to be a Jew as the Star of David features into his decor). Man as a piece in a heartless machine, robot women, overt sexuality that would make modern audiences squirm, unrest of the worker class facing replacement by machines, corruption of the wealthy class, crazy sets, and a nightmarish visual quality make this one a fun film to unpack. There’s a lot going on, and what makes me both happy and sad is that this film continues to be relevant to current events.

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And we’re still dealing with robot gals and Nazis…

You’d think we’d learn, but whatever.

It’s a huge magnificent movie, and is one of the greatest silent films of all time (even though many critics would disagree, saying it’s too heavy-handed and focused on visuals instead of story).

Before we move on to the movie that broke the Silent Era, I need to mention Bronenosets Potemkin (the Battleship Potemkin), a Soviet silent film from 1925 directed by a fellow named Sergei Eisenstein (who is AMAZING). It’s a brutal depiction of an unsuccessful pre-Revolution uprising that of course casts the monarchy and their soldiers as the brutal unfeeling villains while the revolutionaries who are slaughtered are depicted as heroes. It’s an exaggerated take on history, marinating in propaganda, but it does capture the spirit of those in Russia who were tired of being treated poorly by those in charge. Eisenstein blew everyone away with his editing style, which created character and mood by cutting together quick and powerful shots in epic montages. The most devastating scene is the famous Odessa Steps scene where women and children are gunned down by Imperial soldiers. It could easily be a chaotic mishmash of closeups and long shots, but it works really well and moves the story along with brutal efficiency. It’s an intense film that definitely deserves a watch.

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I dare you to not hold your breath during the Odessa Steps sequence. It’s gripping…

Alright, so with a film about revolution, we’ll move on to the film that changed everything with a sort of revolution of its own.

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But what a fun revolution The Jazz Singer was! If you ignore the blackface scenes, that is…

Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer (1927) changed everything when its title character says, “Wait a minute, wait a minute. You ain’t heard nothing yet!” Studios had experimented with sound before, but it was difficult to get the sound and film to synch up. It wasn’t until film that could record sound was invented that things really took off. After The Jazz Singer, Walt Disney made the first cartoon with synchronized sound, Steamboat Willie (1928), that refined the film-sound relationship. Then Alfred Hitchcock got in on the game with Blackmail (1929) (and since it was Hitchcock, it was amazing).

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Blackmail was cool because it uses sound to distort reality and demonstrate people’s psychological states.

Also of note is the film Applause (1929), directed by Rouben Mamoulian, which got around a lot of the technical necessities that made many early talkies feel sort of flat. Normally, the new microphones were locked into a single place, so for the dialogue to be picked up, the actors had to stay near the microphone, which sent films back to the early film days where everyone acted as though they were on a limited stage space, losing so many of the amazing film innovations that silent film directors had pioneered. But Applause actually allowed for a moving camera once again by using early looping and sound editing. Another amazing film was Hallelujah (1929), notable for featuring an all-black cast, which expanded further the limits of sound technology by creating a whole sound landscape, not just with dialogue and some music.

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I really need to get my hands on this one, eventually. The Jazz Singer gets the credit for starting this, but Hallelujah feels more innovative.

After that, film was never the same. The speed by which people embraced sound, sometimes at the expense of the stars who were unable to adapt to the changing requirements of talkies, was so abrupt and jarring that it’s become a film trope, showing up in movies like Sunset Boulevard (1950), Singin’ in the Rain (1952), and The Artist (2011).

But we’ll get there later!

This has been a crazy decade, so thank you for putting up with this extra long post. There’s a LOT that I had to leave out.

See you next week!

Sources:

Gabler, Neal. Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination.

Shipman, David. The Story of Cinema.

Sklar, Robert. A World History of Film.

And This Article by Noel Murray, Keith Phipps, Nathan Rabin, and Scott Tobias

Cinema – Episode 2: The Rise of Hollywood

Hello again!

The Rise of Hollywood: 1910-1920

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From The Lonely Villa (1909), featuring a young Mary Pickford (in the back)

FADE IN:

INT. NIGHT. AN OLD THEATER.

Your HOST approaches you in old fashioned attire and beckons you to a dusty seat. Once he’s sure you’re comfortably situated, he moves to the projection room and starts up the ancient machine…

~~~

Now we’re in the heyday of the Silent Era! Whoo! Actually, I should specify that we’re now in the heydey of the AMERICAN silent era. France and Italy were killing it already, but American filmmakers lacked the finesse that made the French and Italian films so ahead of their time. One cool film American studios put out before this was The Great Train Robbery (1903) by a dude named Edwin S. Porter (one of Edison’s people). His career in film didn’t last super long, but he pioneered the jump from cinema as real-life spectacle (filming everyday events like crooks getting arrested or firemen working) to something with a story! The Great Train Robbery was pretty cool, (yay, first Western film!) but it would be a while before American cinema would be able to stand up to European films and actually attain the level of actual art.

The means by which that was accomplished is kind of a fun story.

And by fun story, I mean World War I happened and blew up Europe and America kind of came out on top by default…

So, basically Hollywood (which came into being in this decade, but I’ll talk about that later) got a free pass early on and it’s been riding that wave for a while.

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D. W. Griffith basically lied about everything but was talented enough to become crazy successful… I guess that’s the American dream?

But while we’re talking about American films, let’s talk about a dude named D. W. Griffith, who was STOKED at riding the new film trend to its height. Now Griffith was a bit of a huckster, but nobody really cared much about his wild claims that he single-handedly came up with most of the filming and acting techniques that made film so cool because he was a legitimately good director. Cross-cutting was his trademark, jumping back and forth between two scenes to ramp up tension. The Voice of a Child (1911) was only 14 minutes long, but it used 90 separate shots, which is crazy excessive compared to the 30-40 shots in most films of the day.

Another film that was pretty important was The Lonely Villa (1909), which Griffith legit stole from Pathé (remember him from last week?). He used the same story (the original was called Physician of the Castle )and reshot it with new actors and locations. But Griffith’s version feels more like a movie and not just a filmed stage show (which many early films felt like). Cross-cutting and a focus on atmosphere went a long way towards establishing the FEEL of a movie as a separate thing from theater.

So I guess the moral is only steal something if you can do it better?

No, don’t do that. Stealing is wrong.

Borrowing is OK, though.

Anyways, Griffith’s focus on USING the camera as a narrative tool was awesome because it meant that you could tell a story without it having to be explained (which many early films required). This is also the time when intertitles become the norm, either for showing a line of dialogue that can’t be implied or commenting on the action or whatever).

Now, another cool thing that happened in this decade was the shift toward longer films. In Griffith’s early days, the norm was single reel films (ten to fifteen minutes). In Europe, there were some longer films, obviously, but they weren’t taken seriously in America until this sweet Italian dude named Giovanni Pastrone made this super cool two-reel film called La Caduta di Troia (The Fall of Troy) in 1910. It was pretty legit. It even featured color-tinted scenes to suggest environment or atmosphere. So, naturally, people were all, “We want more of that! That’s cool!”

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La Caduta di Troia (1913) featured some sweet sets and pretty costumes

Another cool epic was Quo Vadis? (1913) an adaptation from the famous novel about Christians and Pagans in Rome. It was directed by Enrico Guazzoni, and was so huge and amazing and elaborate that the thought of going back to teeny tiny one-reels made as much sense as trading in horse drawn carriages for thin walking shoes.

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Quo Vadis? was kind of a big deal, you guys. And it would be remade later on during another period of obsession with really Big Epics

So, D. W. Griffith, his ego bruised at the amazingness of the Italians, was all, “Yeah, well I can make a huge cool epic! Just you watch! I invented all of this! So, he made The Birth of a Nation (1915).

Sigh.

I guess I should explain that sigh. OK, so America made some great progress after the Civil War, and the slaves were freed and things still sucked for them, but at least now the African American population had some allies in the government (kind of). But move forward to 1915 and America had become WAY more racist. Like, full on white supremacy and people believing in a Nazi-esque obsession with racial purity. Segregation became more highly enforced around this time. So, since Griffith was happily ensconced as a racist piece of garbage with all his money and position, he realized that his version of history would be important because he believed that desegregation was super dangerous because white women would be in greater danger of being raped.

Hence the sigh.

So, in his version of American history, the Ku Klux Klan are the heroes, fighting to save America from the “barbarian” tendencies of the black people, who were all depicted as stupid and evil stereotypes. It’s so gross that this film is so highly regarded from a filmmaking standpoint because its subject matter is so awful. In one sequence, Klan members are seen rushing to save a white woman from being defiled by “evil black people.” At the time of its release, the brand new NCAACP (the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) were justifiably horrified by the film and fought to get it banned, but of course that didn’t happen.

The film made millions of dollars from enthusiastic viewers.

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Note the use of the word “supreme” on the poster…

Just remember, folks: Swastikas are banned in Germany, but The Birth of a Nation is just considered “controversial” in America even though it is literally a hate crime in film form.

Allow me another sigh.

OK, so let’s move on to other matters.

Hollywood.

This decade is when Hollywood became a thing. And the way that happened is actually pretty funny.

So, films were super popular with regular folks and it wasn’t considered a “high class” thing like going to the opera or symphony. So of course people began to rail on about cinema being an “immoral” thing, corrupting people with scenes of violence and sexuality that were going to make them into terrible people. So, the National Board of Censorship of Motion Pictures was created to control the production of films. But it wasn’t able to do much. That honor eventually went to The Motion Picture Patents Company (a trust of several early film magnates including Edison and Kodak) who tried to standardize American film and make American films able to compete with the more awesome European films. They also had the most power to control what was made because they controlled the film materials and distribution.

Well, this eventually became restrictive and folks migrated as far as they could away from the Patents Company because they wanted to make their own films without having to kowtow to the limitations of the Company. One person who fought the influence of this trust was William Fox (yes, that Fox), a theater rental company owner (and German-Jewish immigrant from Hungary), who was powerful enough to oppose them. He sued the company for restraint of trade and toppled the trust’s monopoly on film distribution. Fox himself went on to become an independent filmmaker in 1912, and then formed the Fox Film Corporation in 1915 (the “Twentieth Century” was added in 1935).

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The next time Fox News complains about immigrants ruining everything, someone should remind them that they are literally named after an immigrant…

Another opponent of the Patents Company was Carl Laemmle, future creator of Universal studios. He was also a German Jewish fellow who started out as a book keeper. He created his own film production company, The Independent Motion Picture Company (IMP), in California. In 1913, IMP became Universal. Like Fox, he chose California because it was far away from the Patents Company (remember, this was before widespread globalization and such a thing was possible). They chose the L.A. area because it was close to the Mexican border. If the Patents Company filed any formal charges against them, the independents could easily slip across the border away from their influence.

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Proof that running away from your problems can sometimes be a good thing.

The area they chose was informally called Hollywood and the name stuck. It was also around this time that the star system began to take hold, with studios advertising films based on their stars rather than their content or their directors.

Before I wrap this decade up, I wanted to mention that “silent” films weren’t all that silent. The film itself couldn’t record sound, but the screening of a film was accompanied by live music (not just a piano, but sometimes bands or small orchestras), sound effects, narration, and even spoken dialogue by actors to accompany what was said on the screen. They were engaging three-dimensional productions that were a far cry from the bouncy piano we often associate with silent films.

Silent films were pretty rad.

Next up, we’ll be heading into the 20’s, which is where films get MASSIVE.

I’m excited.

See you then!

Also, here are my sources! I’m only as smart as the books I hijacked (legally) from the library, after all!

Shipman, David. The Story of Cinema.

Sklar, Robert. A World History of Film

Cinema – Episode 1: The Dawn of Film!

New series!

So, I’ve been itching to do something research-y. And so here we go! Each week, I’ll look at a specific decade in film history, and it’s going to be EPIC. I’m stoked.

So let’s do this!

The Dawn of Film: Beginnings to 1910

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August and Louis Lumiére being BAMFS!

FADE IN.

EXT. DAY. A FIELD.

Your charming HOST approaches you, his magnificent black coat flapping heroically in the breeze. You don’t know what to expect…

~~~

We have a few people to thank for getting this crazy train going, but I won’t list them all as the orchestra will probably play me off the stage. So let’s keep this simple.

Thank you, George Eastman for inventing celluloid roll film in 1888! You rock!

And thank you, Thomas Edison, for stealing other people’s ideas and taking credit for them. So thank you to Edison’s ASSISTANT, W.K.L Dickson, for developing the Kinetoscope, the first film viewer in 1890. Very clever.

And thank you to the Lumiére brothers, August and Louis, for inventing the first projector and for producing the first film in 1895! I’m sorry the public thought your films were boring…

But then, like fidget spinners and pogs, the novelty caught on! And films went from weird, “Let’s sit/stand in this awkward room and watch short scenes” affairs to a legit entertainment fad! And that brings me to the nickelodeons! Yes, kids, it wasn’t just a TV channel obsessed with slime and Spongebob!

But these films were basically just, “check out this sweet train” or “this is a tree,” or “you ever wanted to see Mary Queen of Scots decapitated? Well here’s your chance…just ignore the fact that it’s obviously a dummy” types of affairs.

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No but Hollywood has only been obsessed with violence in recent years! In the good old days, every movie was about bibles and hugs!

Then, a French dude by the name of Georges Méliès came along and injected narrative into these films! And it makes me feel less like a failure in life because he got started at the age of 34, which in those days was like, late middle age. So I’ve got time to invent some sweet world-changing thingamabob yet!

Anyways.

Méliès had a freaky side that I TOTALLY respect and he made such films as L’Escomtage d’um Dame (1896) in which a woman gets gruesomely transmogrified into a skeleton, or Le Chaudron Infernale (1903) which features dancing ghosts! he was also a huge Jules Verne fan (*fist bump*) and made a few shorts inspired by that wacky Frenchman’s awesome brain. One such film, Voyage à Travers l’Impossible (1904) was one of the first (if not THE first) film to use TWO reels instead of just one, which is pretty cool.

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Méliès’ Barbe Bleue (1901) a fun family-friendly adaptation of the Bluebeard story! Just with lots of dead women hanged in a secret chamber…

This is when people were all, “I freaking love this!” and cinema was a legit thing and not just a goofy sideshow act.

Méliès was also the inventor of the “dramatic televised court case” thing in which a trial is turned into sensationalized entertainment which people at home eat up like candy (think O.J. Simpson or Casey Anthony). His L’Affair Dreyfus (1899) was a reconstruction of a famous court case that dialed the drama up and tweaked reality to make it more exciting.

He also made publicity films for companies, another first. Advertising was obviously already a thing, but you can thank this guy for annoying commercials (“Head on! Apply directly to the forehead!”) since he went and got that ball rolling.

But moving on from Méliès!

Let’s talk about a dude named Charles Pathé (there’s a production company named after him, actually. They helped produce films like Slumdog Millionaire and Selma!). He was the great grandfather of the current studio model. Films were popular, but Pathé created the Film Studio *castle thunder sound effect* and turned film into an industry.

Also, if you think the current trend of remakes is a new thing, think again. They were there from the beginning. Rescued by Rover (1905), a film by a British dude, Cecil Hepworth, about a heroic dog who saves a lost child was so crazy popular that it was remade twice so more people could see it! Dogs are the best, so I totally understand them turn-of-the-century cinema-goers.

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Rescued by Rover (1905) – Lassie’s such a cheap knockoff of this handsome virtuous animal!

And, because I love animation, I’ll have to mention that, too. Animation popped up at the end of the aughts with Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (1906), The Haunted House (1908) and Gertie the Dinosaur (1914), which was later used in a wonderful vaudeville act in which the live dude, Winsor McKay (great name!) interacts with Gertie on the screen. Here’s a link through the magic of YouTube! It’s super cute. And I love the meta intro in which the animator bets he can make a picture move.

Now, I’m going to pause here to point out a shocking thing. I have discovered a bit of an inconsistency in which Wikipedia (*heaves*) is right and a book–a published authoritative book!–is wrong. I know. It’s horrible. So, one of my sources, David Shipman’s massive tome The Story of Cinema, says that Gertie the Dinosaur was released in 1909. But multiple other online sources, including Wikipedia, state that it was actually released in 1914. Some scholarly article way back when erroneously stated that Gertie came about in 1909 and everyone after that just kept repeating it, assuming it’s true. You’ll see this in scholarly articles written by Very Smart Poeple as well as cheapy sensationalist drivel. So, if you’re a college student and your teacher says that Wikipedia isn’t reliable, they’re still right, BUT you can counter that with, “But what if the information I find on Wikipedia is corroborated elsewhere??” My thanks also to this fantastic article on Gertie for reassuring me that I’m not crazy, and the loveable animated dinosaur did in fact come about in 1914.

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Check out this cutie!

Anyways, the end of the aughts.

Film was now a legitimate industry and everyone was experimenting with new stuff. Would you believe that even close ups were considered weird and shocking at one point? Filmmakers didn’t think audiences would be able to accept an image of a person in motion unless all of them were visible, which is fun. But a number of filmmakers tried it anyways and people didn’t panic, so that’s nice.

Before I go, I have to mention L. Frank Baum, creator of The Wizard of Oz. The first book in the series (there were 14 ultimately) was published in 1900, and he had some crazy ideas about building a media empire around his fantasy creation (Walt Disney would make this a reality later on). But Baum is influential in that he explored many experimental means of bringing his story to life. A fun traveling show called the Fairylogue and Radio-Plays (1908) used trick photography, film, and stage actors to create a bunch of neat effects, but the production bankrupted Baum, who was HORRIBLE with money (I hear you, buddy). His earliest surviving silent film adaptation of his first book was released in 1910 as a way to recoup some of his losses, and it did OK, but it wasn’t the breakout hit he intended. It’s a weird one, though, featuring a zany cow and a crazy over-the-top witch. But it was successful enough that a few film sequels were made.

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Someday, I hope to command as much fear, er, I mean, respect as this witch here.

His dream of riding the new film fad to success would not pan out, tragically, but he saw the potential, and was just a little too ahead of his time.

We still love you, Baum.

And with Oz, we make it to the end of this chapter! Whooo!

Next up, we’re gonna check out the 1910’s!

See you then!

~~~

Sources (because I assure you I’m not just making this up!)

Canby, Vincent, and Janet Maslin. The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made.

Shipman, David. The Story of Cinema.

Sklar, Robert. A World History of Film.

and special thanks to the Silent-Ology blog by Lea S. for proving that one must always research and double-research facts!

 

In A Galaxy Far Far Away – The Force Awakens

This is the part where Leia comes stomping down the hallway, yelling, “I just cleaned up this galaxy! Look what you idiots did to it!”

It’s cool that Star Wars is continuing, but the very fact that this new trilogy exists kind of steps on the amazing celebration at the end of RotJ. So, it’s nice to know that the New Republic is doomed, the Empire is destined to be reborn, and Luke’s new Jedi Academy was a failure. Sigh.

But it’s OK! Because everything will fall back into balance eventually…hopefully. So let’s do this!

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Episode Number: 7 — Released: 2015 — Production Number: 7

A New New Hope

Anakin Skywalker’s story is complete, but now we’ve got his legacy, and people are messing stuff up. But we’ve got newbies! And they’re pretty great!

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Rey is awesome. I love her so much, but I have this horrible feeling that, as she grows throughout the series, she’s going to lose her giddy enthusiasm. I’m cool with her getting more confident and powerful, but I don’t want her to become dour and serious. We’ll see how things go.

Also, I get the feeling that the whole “mystery of Rey’s parentage” is actually a red herring. I’m pretty sure her parents were just nobody’s, and she’ll end up being adopted into the Skywalker/Solo clan and will play a part (probably) in rehabbing Kylo Ren.

I just finished reading the book Bloodline (which IS part of the new canon) and it was AMAZING, especially for fans of Leia (which, I’m sure we ALL are), but Luke and Ben were off doing their own thing the whole time and didn’t show up (I suspect they’ll get their own book once The Last Jedi comes out), and there was LOTS of reminiscing about the past, and nowhere did she mention a girl left on Jakku. She did mention Hux who had a place to play in the battle of Jakku, but no mention of Rey. So, she’s probably not a Solo. She may still be a Skywalker, but that seems unlikely. Unless, they’re going to have Luke give her an “I am your father” moment.

We’ll see.

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And Finn! He’s literally a Star Wars nerd made manifest in the Star Wars universe. He’s got a lot of potential angst that could really mess him up, but he still knows how to smile and be goofy and nerd out over cool stuff. Again, an orphan, though I don’t think his parentage is as important to the story since his big thing is he’s a faceless stormtrooper who rediscovers his individuality. Perhaps he has a bit of Force sensitivity which allowed him to fight through his mental conditioning, which allowed him to defect.

I heart Finn and can’t wait for the poor guy to recover in the next movie. He got pretty messed up in the last film…

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Shout out to Poe, also for being hunky and amazing, which is hard to do when one is named after a Teletubby. The eyes balance things out. And the fact that the filmmakers changed their mind about killing him off and transforming him from Plot Device to Actual Character. So we’ll see him again!

The Old Guard

It was cool to see Han again, but like, we’ve seen Harrison Ford in lots of stuff. But seeing Luke and Leia again was the real highlight of this one. I’m sad Leia doesn’t show up until a fair ways into the movie, but OMG she’s so wonderful. I feel like all the fans are going to just cry a whole bunch during The Last Jedi just because it will be Carrie Fisher’s last movie.

Here’s a picture of her because she’s so amazing.

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Luke is still a complete mystery. Obviously, he tried to rebuild the Jedi Academy and that didn’t go well… Poor Luke…

And Han… It’s awesome we got to see Han Solo in action one last time. *sobs* And we got to see him fix things with Leia. Still in the dark over exactly what happened between them. But Han and Chewie are still an amazing pair. And I really really want more material about Itty Bitty Ben and how Chewie was like his living jungle gym.

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No book or comic has dealt with Ben’s downfall yet, so we’ll have to see what’s up with that. Star Wars isn’t one for flashbacks, but there is a precedent for explanations from a Ghostly Obi-Wan. We can only hope Rey or Finn gets a visit from Obi-Wan or Yoda or even Anakin himself and some of the gaps about the ultimate fall of the Republic and stuff. In Bloodline, we see the New Republic give in to corruption and Leia does something about that (because she’s awesome) but the specifics behind how the changeover from Republic to First Order are still fuzzy.

But I remember that we used to freak out over who Sifo Dyas was and how he would fit into the RotS…and he’s literally never mentioned again because he wasn’t that important ultimately. So, I guess I’ll be patient. *vibrates in seat with giddy excitement*

Return of the . . . Well Not the Sith, but, like . . . the Dark Side

I’m just gonna say it: I like Kylo Ren. He was obviously shoved into this position of authority by Snoke who hopes to use his Force powers to suit his own needs. Ben would have obviously loved that even though he’s not old enough or strong enough to really pull it off. He’s crazy powerful in the Force, but he has no discipline. And that’s what makes him so dangerous. He’s a human bomb waiting to go off.

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I’m super excited to see how his story plays out. Will he be redeemed like Anakin? Or will they pull a Legacy and have him die at someone’s hands (probably Rey)? I’m super excited. I REALLY hope he’s redeemed and then becomes an ally in the fight against the First Order.

But we’ll see.

Conclusion

The biggest thing about this movie as it sits right now is that there’s not much to say because there’s so much of the story missing. Once we get more info, it will fit in the timeline a bit better. Right now, it’s like that map to Luke’s hiding place: incomplete.

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We need to hear from Luke what happened to his Jedi Academy. We need to hear from Leia how the First Order arose. And we need to hear from Maz Kanata that important story that she said she’d tell but didn’t.

We need answers!

Hopefully The Last Jedi provides said answers…

Our Next “In a Galaxy Far Far Away” will take place in December! See you then!

Next week we’ll have some fun new stuff!