Friday, February 27, 2015
In the general mourning over the loss of Leonard Nimoy, a friend of ours let us know that a rare tape of an Austin radio interview had recently been digitized. Here is that tape in its entirety. It was recorded when Nimoy was teaching acting at St. Edward's University.
It's always awfully nice to hear Nimoy's beautiful deep voice, and it's good to know he blessed Austin with his presence for a little while. If anyone has any more information about Nimoy's Austin sojourn, please share in the comments below.
Thursday, February 26, 2015
Here are a couple of guests for a dream dinner party in the afterlife. Mary Woronov is still with us and we value her more than ever, but Paul Bartel left us in 2000. Woronov and Bartel worked together four times prior to Richard Blackburn's EATING RAOUL (1982) and many times subsequently, but RAOUL is kind of the ultimate Paul and Mary movie. They were one of those natural comedy teams that work because you feel so much love between them.
Ironically, many people thought they were a couple in real life. They weren't but that was mainly an accident of birth - he was gay. They made beautiful music together and you can see how much they enjoy each others' company in this 1982 interview.
If you haven't seen EATING RAOUL, it is available as part of the Criterion Collection (!!!) and widely available. See it!
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
In 1954, a 31-year old former model, nightclub coat-check attendant and necktie painter named Maila Nurmi attended a Hollywood party with her husband, actor-writer Dean Riesner. She made her own vampire costume, inspired by the cartoons of Charles Addams, out of fabric scraps.
She must have cut quite a profile because months later another attendee at that party still remembered her. He was Hunt Stromberg, Jr, the newly installed program director at WABC-TV in Los Angeles. At the time, movies were shown only infrequently on television. The major studios were not much interested in cooperating with the small screen - and in fact considered it a mortal threat - so most of the feature films available to broadcast were from such "poverty row" operations as Monogram and PRC.
Stromberg's idea was to add some sex appeal to his channel's late night horror movie screenings. He remembered the vampiric Nurmi but he did not know her name, or how to get in touch with her. Fortunately the designer Rudi Gernreich remembered her name and Stromberg hired her to create a vampire character who would not, however, infringe upon any existing copyrights or trademarks.
Nurmi got to work at once on a look for her character, which she christened Vampira. She combined elements of Snow White's Evil Queen, a comic strip dragon lady and under-the-counter bondage models. To exaggerate her already waspish waistline she strapped a flesh-wasting poultice of meat tenderizer to her midsection with a tightly-bound rubber inner tube. Her measurements were advertised as 38-17-36.
She took to wearing Vampira drag whenever she left the house, and even rented an appropriately funereal looking black Packard convertible for her jaunts around town. She became a celebrity in the nightclubs and jazz-clubs of LA. It was here that she met James Dean, who became fixated on her. The feeling was mutual, and they became close companions, often cruising the late night dives together and telling morbid stories to one another - Nurmi was no competition in this department for the death-obsessed Dean.
Eventually the Vampira character became so popular that WABC decided to take ownership of it, and asked Nurmi to sign it over to them. She would not and the show was terminated, scarcely 8 months after it had begun. She still made public appearances, and reprised the role in 1959's PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, but the Vampira character had passed into popular mythology by this time. Nurmi continued to attract weirdos though. In 1975 she told an interviewer, "I couldn't attract anyone who wanted to live." When one of her followers asked her to a Halloween party in 1975 she said, "Leave me alone! My whole life has been a Halloween party!"
The stories above are drawn from David J. Skal's essential book "The Monster Show: A Cultural History Of Horror."
Monday, February 23, 2015
Abel Gance is today maybe best known for a film that has been properly seen by only a relative few - his monumental and ambitious NAPOLEON (1927, and revised endlessly). It was to have been part of a six film series, though only the first chapter was made. Its climactic last reel was to be exhibited in a three-projector, three-screen triptych arrangement which is, needless to say, difficult to mount, though it has been done. The duration of the films many different cuts vary from under two hours to nine and a half (!!!) hours. This NAPOLEON is as difficult to pin down and as irascible as its subject.
He made many other films as well, and some are also well-known, like his anti-war classic J'ACCUSE (1919), his earlier long-form epic LE ROUE (1923), and his planet-in-peril sci-fi movie END OF THE WORLD (1931).
Here is one of his first short films, made in 1915. It's a bit of a goof, like a cartoon dashed off in a few hours, but Gance managed to invent a few new techniques for it. Films like this - minor ones, with nothing earthshaking to say - can bring us closer to their times, because we can all abide in the same ridiculousness together, even though we are separated by a century - and a pretty dark one. We haven't had the silliness shaken out of us yet.
Thursday, February 19, 2015
Alfred Hitchcock was in the Alfred Hitchcock business, which meant that he was eager to push his media image as the dry-humorous master of the macabre. He sold books, magazines, a television show and of course his films with this persona. It worked for him, but in later years he was disinclined to be serious in interviews. The great book that Francois Truffaut published of interviews with Hitch is terrific and insightful, but there aren't many really technical and specific interviews with him.
Here's a 20 minute segment of an interview that Hitchcock gave in 1966. He goes over some of his trademark laugh lines, but he also gives some pretty good technical details as well as a good insight into his philosophy of suspense.
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Here's a geometric composition, created with algorithms on a computer, that manages to create a near-psychedelic trance state. Give yourself a few hours after watching this before you start driving or operating a crane.
Here's a whole playlist of films Jodoin made himself or in collaboration with others.
The NFB site is a bonanza of great short films and you can, and probably should spend hours on it.
Monday, February 16, 2015
It's been a busy day and there hasn't been time for a full-on, brilliant post about the changing landscape of Hong Kong film since 1997 or the obscure brilliance of silent-movie comedian Mabel Normand, so enjoy these fantastic, lurid Mexican exploitation posters from the '60s and '70s.
Thursday, February 12, 2015
"Be in a place where you can bring all the parts of you into the room."
Producer Bonnie Curtis is one of the best around. She has worked on films as diverse, excellent and challenging to make as JURASSIC PARK, SCHINDLER'S LIST, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, ALBERT NOBBS and the new 5 TO 7. She is one of the world's most highly respected film producer and an expert on every aspect of the job, so when she speaks everyone who cares about film - and particularly about a career in film should listen.
Here is a solid, informative and energizing talk she gave a few months back as part of Chicago Ideas Week.
She starts her talk off with a clip from APOLLO 13 - the part where all the NASA technicians are trying to figure out how to cram a square filter into a round aperture - and she equates the work of the a producer with this task, again and again and again.
Curtis joins actress Bérénice Marlohe and writer/director Victor Levin (MAD MEN) for the Texas premiere screening of her new film 5 TO 7 at AFS @ The Marchesa on Friday February 13.
She will also be inducted into the Texas Film Hall Of Fame during the Texas Film Awards on March 12.
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
A couple of weeks ago AFS Director of Programming Chale Nafus visited with BOYHOOD star Ellar Coltrane and Photographer Matt Lankes as part of the Talks At Google lecture series.
It's a great opportunity to hear more from Coltrane than the usual sound bites about the process of making a film over the course of 12-years. Also, Lankes, who was the set photographer throughout the process shares his memories from the set.
Over 200 of Lankes' photographs, along with texts by Coltrane, Richard Linklater, and many other cast and crew members, are collected in the new University Of Texas Press book "Boyhood - Twelve Years On Film".
Here is their conversation:
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
From left: Anita Pallenberg and Mick Jagger, living la vida coca.
Studios used to prepare short, behind-the-scenes promotional featurettes advertising their upcoming films. These featurettes could then be played between double features or distributed to TV stations for free play.
Here's one advertising Mick Jagger's participation in Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg's bizarre gangster fantasy PERFORMANCE (1970). You'll see Mick Jagger preening on set and playing the patch-bay of a Moog synthesizer while an ultra-square narrator drones on, saying things like "the synthesizer is an electronic device capable of producing any sound in the world."
The video cannot be embedded because of the uploader's settings, but you can view it here. And by all means, if you haven't seen PERFORMANCE, check it out. It's crazily indulgent and fascinating.
Here's the trailer:
Monday, February 9, 2015
For those of us who love and cherish cinema history, Kevin Brownlow is a hero. He has preserved so much of the history of the silent era in his books, through his interviews with the people who were there, and in his restoration work.
In 1980, along with his valuable collaborator David Gill, Brownlow expanded his essential Hollywood history "The Parade's Gone By" into a miniseries for Thames television. It is probably the best documentary about this era we will ever have - it features many rare film clips, interviews with then-living participants and Brownlow and Gil's words narrated by James Mason.
It's outstanding and now it is all on YouTube. This is more than a crucial cultural resource, it is great storytelling and great history.
And so on, follow the links on YouTube to get to the rest. Enjoy!
Friday, February 6, 2015
Happy 93rd birthday to the truly great cinematographer (and director) Haskell Wexler. In addition to being a model of living one's beliefs and making the industry a better place wherever he touches it, Wexler is also one of those special cinematographers who makes every film they shoot a must-watch.
Consider the following credits and know that this is just a selection: THE LOVED ONE, WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, FACES, MEDIUM COOL (he also directed), ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, BOUND FOR GLORY, COMING HOME, MATEWAN etc.
I remember when John Sayles and Maggie Renzi joined us here at AFS for a screening of their great film MATEWAN. They were knee deep in preparing MATEWAN and they needed a cinematographer. Maggie decided to try to get Haskell Wexler, even though he was way, way out of the movie's budget and prestige range. She left a message and when they got back to the hotel after a day of location scouting, the hotel clerk informed them that there was a call from "Hacksaw Waxkiller." He did the film, needless to say, and helped to make it an unforgettable one.
Here's the trailer for THE LOVED ONES which is full of Wexler's bright, diamond-sharp, high-depth fields:
Thursday, February 5, 2015
Back in 1995, filmmaker Jeff Krulik (HEAVY METAL PARKING LOT, LED ZEPPELIN PLAYED HERE) took his camera crew on the road with legendary actor Ernest Borgnine and his son Cris as they toured around the country in Borgnine's bus the Sunbum. The idea was that the combination of Borgnine's reminiscences and observations and his encounters with folks on the road could make for a good TV series. It never took off as a show - though I would have watched it every night - but the footage from the initial shoot is online thanks to Krulik.
This 50 minute cut was released as a straight-to-VHS documentary in 1996 as ERNEST BORGNINE ON THE BUS. I bought my copy at Wal-Mart and have treasured it for years.
But there's even more out-take footage thankfully. Watching this kind of long shot kind of makes me think of how much fun it would be to just have a long, aimless, friendly conversation with Borgnine. He riffs on funny town names, points out bits of scenery, toots his horn and talks about his grandkids. Some people will find this dull. It takes all kinds, I guess.
Here Borgnine looks for a Dairy Queen and meets some nice people.
Many, many more videos of Ernest Borgnine being great are here on Krulik's YouTube channel.
Wednesday, February 4, 2015
We would talk about Ida Lupino as one of the greats even if she never directed any movies. She was an excellent and versatile performer and she communicated a special kind of self-sufficiency on screen, even when the part as written called for a plot-driving arm-ornament. She was lovely to look at, and her initial success in Hollywood was greatly dependent upon her beauty, but she quickly won the admiration of her directors, even notorious tough guys like Raoul Walsh, even as she pushed back against bad scripts - she spent a lot of time on suspension for refusing bad parts or rewriting her lines to fit her conception of the character.
Her performances in HIGH SIERRA, ROAD HOUSE (especially) and ON DANGEROUS GROUND (which she partially directed, uncredited) establish her as a three-dimensional human being, and even in lesser films she brings more to the part than was likely intended, or expected. Audiences knew they could expect honesty from her and she held up her end of the deal.
But what really sets Lupino's story apart from the rest is her directing career. While on her numerous punitive suspensions she began to haunt the editing rooms and observe the day-to-day work of producers, directors and technicians with a more discerning eye. Eventually she made the plunge herself and wrote and produced a film called NOT WANTED. When the director, Elmer Clifton had a heart attack, she finished the film as director. She was good at it and went on to direct a number of fine films including the highly controversial OUTRAGE, which deals with the subject of rape; THE HITCH HIKER, a virtual model of noir suspense; and THE BIGAMIST, a dark melodrama in which she plays a leading role as well as directing.
Her great ability to deliver excellent material on low budgets made her a sought-after TV director and in fact she directed scores of television episodes, all the while serving as a mentor and inspiration for others who wanted to develop their talents without gender or other restrictions.
Ida Lupino stands tall as she directs RIFLEMAN star Chuck Connors
Tuesday, February 3, 2015
A few weeks back we had a combination screening and discussion show with writer Amy Gentry, who continually impresses us with her insightful Good Eye column in the Austin Chronicle.
The two movies shown were Jim Henson's LABYRINTH and Dario Argento's PHENOMENA. We talked a lot about the myth-making power of these two very different filmmakers, especially when considered in such an instructive head-to-head comparison - two movies, made a year apart, both utterly dreamlike and fantastic, and both starring Jennifer Connelly.
Our discussion ranges over some obscure and speculative territory - the conscious choice of David Bowie's crazily tight pants, Argento's weird daughter-thing, etc. I think we managed to look at these two films in some new and different ways.
Monday, February 2, 2015
Here the great French writer-director Jean-Pierre Melville is interviewed in the burned ruins of his film studio compound about his philosophy of cinema, how he works, how he came to love film and more.
Some of the pearls that issue forth here:
"Filming is absolutely horrible. I call it "tedious formality."
"I think the greatest difficulty is portraying sexuality. I represent virtue. In terms of censorship, I'm a puritan. That said, I can forgive anything as long as it has quality."
(Asked if seeing so many films hampers his filmmaking) "No, it's my sustenance. I could never live without it. Besides I hardly see anything these days, compared to 32, 33 years ago. Back then, I'd usually see five films a day. Fewer than five and I'd get withdrawal symptoms."