Friday, May 11, 2018

"The Eyes of the Movie" by Harry Alan Potamkin

This is a public domain recording, courtesy of Librivox, of The Eyes of the Movie, an excellent Socialist critique of the Hollywood film industry in the early '30s, written by the brilliant Marxist film critic Harry Alan Potamkin (1900-1933). Although his writing on film only spanned six years (1927-33) he left behind a body of highly insightful and provocative work that demands to be re-examined.

You can listen to the Librivox recording of The Eyes of the Movie at the Internet Archive:

Saturday, May 05, 2018

The Lion's Den: New Independent Comedy from Ben Hozie

My friend and fellow independent filmmaker Ben Hozie has just released his latest film, the "video comedy of errors" THE LION'S DEN, available for free streaming on vimeo. This is a very funny and on-point satire about a group of Staten Island revolutionaries who plan to kidnap a high-power corporate CEO, but instead pick up a low-level accountant by mistake. And that's just the beginning, as the group of radicals begins to devolve into in-fighting and romantic jealousies.

You can learn more about Ben's other film projects at his website, Pretorius Pictures.

Check out THE LION'S DEN here, and support truly independent filmmaking!

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Phantom Lady (1944)

PHANTOM LADY is an atmospheric little thriller from Universal in 1944, directed with great visual flourish by Robert Siodmak. The premise is intriguing: a man's wife has been murdered, and the only person who can provide a concrete alibi for his whereabouts at the time -- an unknown female companion wearing a distinctive hat -- has completely vanished into thin air; even the witnesses who remember the man's presence in the bar, in the cab, etc. the night before swear that he was alone. When he is sentenced for his wife's murder, time starts running out to identify the woman and clear the husband's name.

This is the kind of sleek, economical picture the studios could do so well in the '40s, with the pistons firing on all cylinders -- unpretentious yet stylish, with a good cast and a smart script. Franchot Tone delivers a good performance with tongue just enough in cheek to suggest he doesn't take the proceedings too seriously, while Ella Raines and Alan Curtis make an appealing and earnest leading pair. There's a fun nightclub number, too, performed by Aurora Miranda (Carmen's sister). And Elisha Cook Jr. is in top form as a sleazy jive band drummer -- in one scene, he pounds away feverishly at his drumkit, obscenely stroking away so furiously that he appears on the verge of either a heart attack or an orgasm.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Guillermo del Toro on Alfred Hitchcock

This is an interview with Guillermo del Toro on Studio Q discussing the films of Alfred Hitchcock. This is one of the best discussions on Hitchcock's films I've heard in a long time. I would love to read a translation of his Hitchcock book someday.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Jonas Mekas on Sharing Film


Jonas Mekas on sharing film:
“If you love something, you want to share it with others. You want to preserve it so that it will be there later, so it won’t disappear. It’s a responsibility to the community, for others, for the art. If nobody is doing that, I have no choice. I have to do it!"
From "Catching up with the godfather of avant-garde cinema," DazedDigital.com (4 Oct. 2017):
http://www.dazeddigital.com/art-photography/article/37644/1/jonas-mekas-catching-up-with-the-godfather-of-avant-garde-cinema

Friday, April 20, 2018

D.W. Griffith: Master of Cinema by Ira Gallen

Ira Gallen's study of the early career of D.W. Griffith is one of the finest books on the subject of film published in recent years, and certainly one of the most thorough published about the complex, often contradictory, still controversial man who did more than any other figure to advance the art of film in the medium's formative years.

Gallen, a film & TV historian, collector, and archivist, has done tremendous work in recent years in championing Griffith's legacy, between authoring this book, and editing Seymour Stern's writing on Griffith's still-extremely controversial masterwork, The Birth of a Nation, which must certainly rank as one of the most important contributions to silent film scholarship. (He also has posted a number of videos of Griffith's Biograph shorts on his YouTube channel, contributing a valuable online archive of Griffith's early films.)

D.W. Griffith: Master of Cinema is focused on Griffith's early life and his career in film up through his final year at Biograph. By concentrating his study on this, the most fertile period of Griffith's career, Gallen provides a comprehensive overview of the innovations that the director was making in leaps and bounds during those years. This study, which contains analyses and production histories of key Biograph short subjects, clearly establishes Griffith's contributions to the development of film grammar, without either the hyperbolic and exaggerated claims that have been made in Griffith's favor in the past, or the tendency in recent years to downplay Griffith's contributions in favor of shining a (deserved) light on the achievements of other directors of the period.

The final sections of the book contain details about Griffith's producing arrangement with the Aitken brothers, which resulted in The Birth of a Nation, and a scrapbook of photos from the Biograph company. Gallen also includes commentary on Griffith's legacy from leading film historians such as Kevin Brownlow and Arthur Lennig, and addresses the cowardly and shameful removal of Griffith's name from the DGA's career achievement award in 1999, solely on the basis of the racism of The Birth of a Nation. Sadly, such an act seems somehow appropriate given the film industry's shabby treatment of Griffith during much of his own lifetime as well.

D.W. Griffith: Master of Cinema is a first-rate piece of film scholarship that does justice to the complexity and importance of its subject, and Gallen is to be commended for his in-depth study of this master filmmaker's formative years, which are really the formative years of the art of cinema.

Buy the book at Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/dw-griffith-ira-h-gallen/1123134988

Ira Gallen's Website: https://www.tvdays.com/

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Schindler's List, Gilliam, Porter


I watched SCHINDLER'S LIST tonight for what I realized was the first time in 21 years, the last time being when it aired, uncut, on NBC in 1997. I had picked up the DVD recently on a trip to Barnes & Noble, and was interested in revisiting the film as I've re-watched many of Spielberg's films in the past few years. I don't know why it's taken me so long to come back to this one, though. It's undoubtedly one of the strongest works in Spielberg's filmography -- powerful and moving while only very occasionally (near the end of the film) moving toward the kind of manipulative sentimentality that often mars his work. Technically it's brilliant, and in terms of the ideas, certainly one of Spielberg's most sophisticated (and sincere) films.

I remembered that Terry Gilliam had criticized SCHINDLER'S LIST for what he saw as Spielberg's neat and reassuring conclusion to the events of the film, and quoted Stanley Kubrick as saying that SCHINDLER'S LIST “is about success. The Holocaust was about failure”.

Without disputing his point, I'm not sure it's fair to criticize Spielberg for not making the film that Kubrick would have made.

There's also a very powerful visual touch -- the young girl in the red coat seen early on in the film, whose reappearance later on is made all the more visceral by the standalone use of color. This device recalls Edwin S. Porter's use of the hand-colored red coat worn by a little girl in his film, THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY, where the selective use of color was also an effective form of visual punctuation.