Tuesday, February 21, 2017
As all of those folks who joined us last year for our screening of Penny Lane's excellent animated documentary NUTS! know, the story of John R. Brinkley is, well, nuts. Last week it was announced that Richard Linklater and Robert Downey have optioned an episode of the Reply All podcast about Brinkley to make what will certainly be a jaw-dropping narrative feature about the strange "doctor."
An ambitious quack with a degree from an institution called "Eclectic Medical University," Brinkley made quite a name for himself in the '20s and '30s as the "goat gland doctor." The idea was, that make impotence could be easily cured by placing goat testicles inside a man's scrotum. It sounds ridiculous, and is without medical basis, but it became a very popular treatment and made Brinkley a rich man. Additionally, as an early believer in radio advertising, he built his own massively powered radio station to advertise his treatments, alongside a very unusual slate of other programs.
The medical review boards brought it all crashing down around him, and Brinkley went into politics to lash out at his political enemies, running as a populist candidate for Governor of Kansas and espousing any number of "alternative facts." He did not quite succeed, though he got closer than anyone expected.
The next chapter of his life took him to the Mexican border, where he was given a license by the Mexican government to operate a massive radio transmitter. He lived in Del Rio, Texas and conveyed his messages across the border by several means, all of which were eventually outlawed, and he was forced to cede the station, but not before popularizing the "border radio" station, which would have a major cultural impact through the middle years of the century.
I'll let the Reply All podcast tell you the rest of the story here. NUTS! filmmaker Penny Lane and Brinkley biographer Pope Brock are interviewed on that podcast as well.
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
The real Homer. Homer Groening, that is.
Back in 1969, filmmaker Homer Groening enlisted his kids to star in a short film called THE STORY. It follows the children on a visit to the zoo, as the older brother Matt Groening (born on this date in 1954) tells a roundabout tale about the different animals to his younger sisters Lisa and Maggie.
You don't have to be a SIMPSONS fan to be enthralled by this, but it sure helps. Thanks to the great Skip Elsheimer of AV Geeks for saving and sharing this film.
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Director Oscar Micheaux lines up a shot
These, with some important exceptions, were films made for African American audiences, to be played exclusively in theaters which catered to a black clientele, as such these films provide a fascinating glimpse into a popular culture that was not visible by society at large, mostly until now.
We're honored to present two programs of selections from these materials, co-curated and hosted by Professor Mark Cunningham, Ph.D, of Austin Community Colleges Radio-Television-Film Department.
For the first installment, screening at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum's Spirit Of Texas Theater on Sunday, February 19 at 4pm, we present the following program:
1) DARKTOWN REVIEW (1931, 18 min): From legendary African American director Oscar Micheaux, his most unusual, free-wheeling film, a recontextualisation of a traditional black-face minstrel show, in an attempt to reclaim the tradition from its racist purveyors.
2) SCREEN SNAPSHOTS: (Micheaux Footage Excerpt) (1920, 1 min.): This extremely rare newsreel footage shows the director Oscar Micheaux at work on one of his early productions.
3) HOT BISKITS (1931, 10 minutes): Spencer Williams was as different a filmmaker from Oscar Micheaux as can be imagined, but still a very important pioneer. In this comedy short, we witness how a pair of bickering rivals settle their differences in a game of miniature golf.
5) THE BRONZE BUCKAROO (1939, 58 min.) Fascinating in its special way, this is a by-the-book singing cowboy B-Western with the important distinction that the entire cast, headed by the 'Bronze Buckaroo' himself, big-band singer Herb Jeffries, is African American. It is very instructive to see how the comic relief character in this film differs in tone and substance from his counterparts in films made for white audiences.On Sunday, February 26, Professor Cunningham will return to screen the following program, also at the Bullock museum:
1) An excerpt of footage from Commandment Keeper Church, Beaufort, South Carolina, May 1940 (15 min.) The great author and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston documented a Gullah church service in the Sea Island community of South Carolina. This fascinating footage has been selected for the National Film Registry of the Library Of Congress.
2) Rev Solomon Sir Jones Home Movies (1924-28, 16 min.) During the '20s the Reverend Solomon Sir Jones, using an amateur 16mm camera, documented African American church services throughout Oklahoma. These communities, a mere three generations removed from slavery, have been little depicted in any form of historical recollection, making these films all the more valuable.
4) BLOOD OF JESUS (1941, 57 min.) This is one of the best-known "race" films and the first full-length feature made by actor/producer/director Spencer Williams. Because of the very low budgets of most of the films in this category - which after all, were expected to make their money back in very few locations - there was little room for stylization and experimentation, but in this extraordinary drama, Williams explores a spiritual motif in surprising and poetic ways.
Friday, February 10, 2017
The Internet Archive has become quite a helpful repository of bizarre moving images, from entire features to community television to television commercials to experimental 8mm films - and all points in between. Exploring the archive can be quite an adventure. One relatively recent addition to the collection is a sub-group of historic student films from The Art Academy Münster.
As you can see from this film, German art students of 1970 were into some fairly odd head spaces. While we cannot fully condone the art of mime, we do appreciate the ability of mimes to make any weird situation even weirder and this film, entitled MAMBO, is about as weird as anything to be observed outside of the White House briefing room right now.
Enjoy, and if you have an explanation, please leave it in the comments field.
Monday, February 6, 2017
Novelist and journalist Norman Mailer was, in addition to being one of the finest writers of his era, a truly difficult man, who, among other things, exalted violence as a means of achieving existential purgation. He was a fascinating, contradictory person, writer, would-be politician, and even filmmaker.
For his third film, MAIDSTONE (1970), a loose and experimental political film, Mailer himself played a presidential candidate whose campaign is shadowed by a documentary crew. Mailer hired actor Rip Torn (born on this date in 1931 in Temple, Texas) to play his half-brother in the film. Torn, whose reputation as a fine actor is accompanied by an equally notorious reputation as a hell-raiser, did not disappoint on either count. The situation between Mailer and Torn became more and more tense as filming continued, and, on one beautiful day, as Mailer's family cavorted in Provincetown, Torn attacked. Literally. The whole thing is captured in the final film.
As cinematographer D.A. Pennebaker films in long shot, we see Torn hit Mailer with a hammer. They wrestle and tumble to the ground as Pennebaker closes in for a tight shot. True to his documentary roots, Pennebaker does not intervene in any way. This is rough, tough stuff, as Mailer bites Torn's ear, drawing blood and the two are locked in a death grip. Mailer's family and friends intervene and they have a tense stand-off. Mailer tells Torn he won't include the footage in the movie. Torn repeats, "Norman, you know this is what I had to do" several times. Then, as Mailer comforts his hysterical children, Mailer's wife Beverly, screams and threatens Torn. It's tense and violent stuff.
Watch the scene here. Warning, this real violence may be disturbing.
When I saw it, I realized I had to put it in. It was just too damn good. I hated it, but I felt I had to put it in. Rip was right. I was making a movie about assassination. How could I not have an assassination in it?Of Pennebaker's hands-off attitude, Mailer says:
I remember afterwards I was furious with him and I went up to him and said, “Well, would you photograph my last gasps?” He had a work ethic just as I did and we discovered that his work ethic and mine had nothing to do with one another. At that point my work ethic was, the film’s over, let’s congratulate the director. His work ethic is finding a scene so he stayed with the scene. On balance, he may have been right. I think he probably would of intervened at some point, but it would have been way down the road.Rip Torn, a University of Texas alumnus, was inducted into the Texas Film Hall Of Fame in 2011.
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
We'll take good news wherever we can find it nowadays. And the news that Mark Harris is beginning a regular column in Film Comment is some of the best news we've heard in ages. Harris has written one of the best film books ever, "Pictures At A Revolution," which examines Hollywood, America, and the world through the prism of the five Hollywood films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in 1968.
In Harris' new column in Film Comment, Cinema '67 Revisited, he returns to that fruitful period in a series of biweekly articles.
He begins, as might be expected, with Michelangelo Antonioni's ode to swinging London, paranoia and mimes, BLOW-UP.
"With Blow-Up, however, it was clear: Antonioni had compromised nothing. The film starts as a quasi-Hitchcockian thriller about a London fashion photographer who witnesses the aftermath of a murder, but ends as something more metaphysical, environmental, and philosophical. “The English thought me mad,” he told Rex Reed, “But I thought them mad, with all their unions and rules . . . Now everyone talks of the wonderful grass and the wonderful trees, but I painted the grass with green paint and I painted the streets and the buildings with white paint. I even painted the tree trunks. Everything.”This week, for his second installment, Harris tackles a wild card, the second-tier star-studded soaper, HOTEL.
Hotel is junk, but it is fascinating, revealing junk, heavy with an anxious, dawning knowledge that its era is about to end; the nominally opulent production values hang on the film like a slightly stale cologne that’s been slapped on to mask something worse. The sheen of flop sweat is palpable right from the poster, with the effortful, mostly incomprehensible slogan, “You straightened out the room in broad daylight…but some things still breathed and pulsed with what had happened the night before—“ (It ends like that, with a dash, because even it has no idea where it means to go from there.) The roster of actors—Rod Taylor, Catherine Spaak, Karl Malden, Richard Conte, “and Merle Oberon as ‘The Duchess’”—suggest not an all-star cast but the choices one would make after being turned down by an all-star cast.