Thursday, April 30, 2020

Godard Instagram Interview with subtitles

The Instagram interview with Jean-Luc Godard that I mentioned in an earlier post is now available with English subtitles.

I've been re-watching some of his films lately, including A Married Woman and Pierrot Le Fou, so it was a good time to watch this:

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The Squeaker (1937)

I watched the 1937 British crime drama The Squeaker (aka Murder on Diamond Row) last night. This was a stylish Korda production starring Edmund Lowe as an alcoholic detective who has to bring down a prominent citizen at the center of a smuggling ring. Two terrific supporting performances by the great Alastair Sim and Robert Newton.

It's based on a story by Edgar Wallace and directed by William K. Howard. Also featuring Sebastian Shaw, Ann Todd, and Tamara Desni.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Allen Daviau R.I.P.

Allen Daviau, the cinematographer of such films as E.T., The Color Purple, and Empire of the Sun, has passed away. Here is his obituary in the Hollywood Reporter:

He was also cinematographer on Spielberg's short film Amblin', which contains some of my favorite cinematography, particularly in the opening title sequence with the shots of the sun rising over the shots of the southwest.

Daviau was interviewed in the 1992 documentary Visions of Light, which I saw when I was a budding film enthusiast and gave me a great deal appreciation for the art of cinematography.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Roger Corman on Battleship Potemkin

This is an excellent video I watched this morning, while look at some videos about Sergei Eisenstein on YouTube. In it, Roger Corman provides an analysis of the Odessa Steps sequence from Battleship Potemkin. It's one of the most concise and appreciative analyses I have heard of this iconic scene, a scene that has been shown and discussed endlessly over the years.

As Roger Ebert said in his review of Potemkin:
"If today it seems more like a technically brilliant but simplistic 'cartoon' (Pauline Kael's description in a favorable review), that may be because it has worn out its element of surprise--that, like the 23rd Psalm or Beethoven's Fifth, it has become so familiar we cannot perceive it for what it is." (

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Peter Greenaway interview

This is an interesting interview that I came across tonight, with filmmaker Peter Greenaway discussing history, art, cinema, Eisenstein and Stalin.

I had just recently watched Greenaway's film about Eisenstein's time in Mexico.

Seymour Stern on "Way Down East"

This is an excellent series of videos from a lecture given by Seymour Stern, given at Harpur College in 1970, on Ira Gallen's TVDays YouTube channel. Stern (1908-1978) was Griffith's biographer, having had firsthand experience knowing and working with the director (he appeared as an extra in Griffith's America). Stern devoted most of his life to researching Griffith. This lecture is dedicated to discussing Griffith's Way Down East.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Metropolis Medley by Gottfried Huppertz

This is an early soundtrack recording of themes from Gottfried Huppertz's score for Metropolis, recorded the same year as the film was released (1927) and conducted by Huppertz himself:

Simple pleasures

Late last night, before heading off to bed, I happened to watch a couple of Charlie Chaplin shorts on YouTube, The Bank and His Musical Career. These are what I'd call "simple pleasure" movies -- the kinds of enjoyable, reliable movies you can come back to again and again and again over the years and they never fail to make you laugh and bring you joy.

It was fun watching His Musical Career again after recently looking at Laurel and Hardy's The Music Box. I'd forgotten how much the latter owes to the Chaplin film beyond just the basic premise of two moving men carrying the piano up a flight of steps. There's a great sight gag of the moving cart being pulled by a donkey, who is lifted off the ground by the top-heavy weight of the piano. And there's a hilarious moment when the heavy piano is dropped down on to Mack Swain's back. Maybe my favorite bit is when Chaplin is carrying the piano on his back, and he is so bent over and stiff that he can't straighten back up again. And of course there's the gag involving drinking a can of varnish by mistake!

I could go on...but these are the great little moments that makes films like this such reliable and inexhaustible pleasures.

Now sit back and enjoy them for yourselves!

Monday, April 13, 2020

On Adaptations and Swiss Family Robinson

I'm currently reading Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss. I love re-visiting the classics, and have fond memories reading this story as a kid (albeit in an abridged version). I also greatly enjoyed the 1960 Disney film adaptation, starring John Mills. Re-reading the novel now, I am struck by how much the script for the Disney film adapts the story in to a much more traditional narrative. There is a great amount of detail in the book describing the plants and wildlife found on the island, along with meticulous descriptions of how the family adapts to their new surroundings.

The book presents a much more methodical document of the survival process, even if it does take a great deal of liberties with the realistic availability of supplies and resources on the island, as well as the father's knowledge of them and how to utilize them. In contrast, the screenplay adapts the family's adventures in to a much more concise story, punctuated with memorable set-pieces of the kind that tend to run together amid the many details in the book.

Purely as drama, the Disney film is far more satisfying for me. There is also a 1940 version, narrated by Orson Welles, which I have yet to see.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Mack Sennett Studio Tour

This is a fascinating video essay giving a virtual "tour" of the old Mack Sennett Studio, including "then and now" view of the surrounding area today:

Camera Moves in Osaka Elegy (1936)

I watched Mizoguchi's Osaka Elegy (1936) last night, and was absolutely entranced by the sublime camera moves. It was, without doubt, one of the most beautifully-photographed films I have seen.

Here is a clip from the film that provides an example of how gracefully Mizoguchi moves his camera:

Bruce Baillie R.I.P.

The New York Times is reporting that experimental filmmaker Bruce Baillie passed away on April 11:

This seems a good time to share one of my favorite short films, All My Life, made by Baillie in 1966. A beautiful, poetic film set to a recording by Ella Fitzgerald.

His obituary in Artforum has this to say about All My Life:
"The impetus behind his three-minute, Ella Fitzgerald–soundtracked short All My Life (1966), which slowly pans on a wooden picket fence framed by blue skies and red roses, was 'the quality of the light for three summer days' on the Northern California coastline. After days of admiring the light, he and a friend had started driving back to San Francisco, when suddenly he decided 'No, I cannot turn my back on this!' and took out his tripod." (source:

Saturday, April 11, 2020

David Lynch and Lumiere Camera

This is an interesting segment from the anthology film, Lumiere and Company (1995), featuring the segment directed by David Lynch, along with behind-the-scenes footage of Lynch directing it. The idea was that a number of leading filmmakers were asked to make a short film using an original Lumiere camera, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of movies. I've seen a couple of the other segments but it would be interesting to see the entire film someday. I'd love to see what each of the directors came up with.

The Flying Deuces

Watching Laurel and Hardy always brings back great memories. I always have a special fondness for The Flying Deuces, a family favorite from when I was a kid. We watched this one together often and shared many great laughs over it.

I saw it on "The Laurel and Hardy Show" on the Movies TV network this morning. I always love the scene where Hardy sings "Shine On Harvest Moon". That's one of the things I love about their movies -- the relaxed pace, finding time for enjoyable little interludes like this, and making it all look like so much fun.

This one also has one of my favorite Laurel and Hardy scenes, when Stan keeps bumping his head on the low ceiling of their hotel room. When Oliver admonishes him for being so stupid as to stand there and continue to bump his head, you know it's only a matter of time before Hardy's head hits the ceiling!

Friday, April 10, 2020

Color in Cries and Whispers (1972)

Turner Classic Movies used to (and may still, for all I know) air foreign films in the wee hours of the morning on Saturdays. As a teenager just immersing myself in all of the world cinema I could find, this was an excellent opportunity to see a lot of movies that I couldn't find elsewhere at the time, and to see many landmark films for the first time. One of these was Bergman's Cries and Whispers. I just re-watched the film last night for the first time in over twenty years. What I remember about seeing it for the first time on TV late that night was the color. That's what everyone talks about with this film, of course -- the stunning, deep reds. Watching it through bleary eyes at 2:00 in the morning, I just remember being so taken with the color and the compositions. I had seen a still from the scene above (not this exact still, but from the same scene) in Gilbert Adair's book Flickers: An Illustrated Celebration of 100 Years of Cinema, in which he selected Cries and Whispers as the representative film for 1972. It still makes quite an impression on me.

Sound in "Stalker"

This is a good video essay on Tarkovsky's use of sound in Stalker.

A modern silent comedy

This is a fun movie I wanted to share here. It's called Flickers: A Silent Romantic Comedy, directed by Robbie Chafitz. I saw this back in October 1995 at the Orpheum Cinema in Baltimore. It was a local production, and as both a budding filmmaker and silent film enthusiast, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing this at the time. It's still a lot of fun, a nice tribute to silent comedy with a mix of the comedy styles of Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd. Shot in black and white with a piano score, it also does a great job of re-creating the look and feel of the silent comedies. I always remember the opening shot of the Weinberg Center for the Arts in Frederick, MD, and the camera cranes down to reveal the marquee with the names Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd on it. It's a great shot and a great way to open this tribute to silent film comedy.

When I saw this at the Orpheum, it was shown on a double bill with Buster Keaton's The Cameraman, and a live vaudeville show featuring local performers. One of my favorite moviegoing experiences.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Tarkovsky Shooting "Stalker" (1979)

This is some amazing behind-the-scenes footage of Andrei Tarkovsky directing Stalker (1979), which recently surfaced on YouTube. It provides a fascinating glimpse in to the production process of the film:

Sylvia and the Phantom (1946)

What a delightful, whimsical fantasy-farce! On the eve of her 16th birthday, a young woman living with her family in an old castle yearns to see the ghost of her grandmother's lover, immortalized in a painting that hangs in her bedroom. After he is forced to sell the painting for money, her father decides to give his daughter her wish for her birthday, setting up an actor to play the ghost at her party. For reasons too complicated to get into here, her two suitors also end up impersonating ghosts at the party, and the real ghost (played by Jacques Tati, in a masterful pantomine performance), ends up making an appearance to everyone's surprise.

It's the kind of farce plot that could have been way too silly, but it's played with an earnestness and sweetness that takes it into another realm (no pun intended).

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

David Lean

I was watching a doc on David Lean this morning. He shared a story of how he got started as a cutter in the British film industry.

He was working as an assistant at the studio, having worked his way up from teaboy, serving the tea during the afternoon break. One day, when the studio was making its first sound film, he learned that the film editor didn't know how to synchronize dailies. The only person who could do that was the newsreel editor, who spared two hours to show the editor the basics of syncing dailies. Lean watched intensely and learned the entire process from seeing the demonstration. The film editor continued to struggle with the process, and since the newsreel editor was occupied with his own responsibilities, Lean -- who had the whole process down pat -- stepped up to do the job and instantly rose to position of film editor.

It's like Mardik Martin said, "If you're a shrinking violet who sits in the corner, no one's going to give a shit about you. You've got to present yourself."

The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941)

American Gothic take on the Faust legend, about a poor New England farmer who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for material wealth, which ultimately corrupts him.

Directed by William Dieterle, who appeared in Murnau's 1926 film of Faust, the style here is heavily infused with the influence of German Expressionism, particularly in the shots of the light falling across the farm at night which recalls Murnau's Sunrise. The rural Gothic horror element also looks forward to The Night of the Hunter, especially the eerie image of the devil as seen by the farmer from his window at night.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Laurel and Hardy Home Movie Footage

Cinémathèque de Nouvelle-Aquitaine has posted some rare 8mm home movie footage of Laurel and Hardy on the set of their film Atoll K in 1951. It's always fun to see new footage of The Boys, especially behind-the-scenes footage like this. The footage is brief, only 33 seconds long, but nonetheless it's fascinating for Laurel and Hardy fans:

Godard Interviewed on Instagram

Jean-Luc Godard was interviewed live on Instagram today. Someone posted the entire interview video on YouTube. It's not subtitled but perhaps someone will add captions on the YouTube video at some point.

Made in U.S.A. (1966)

I'd never seen this Godard film before until I watched it last night. It's relatively obscure in his filmography, I'd say, at least compared to his other earlier, pre-1968 works. That's likely because it didn't receive an official release in the US at the time it was made, due to a lawsuit brought by author Donald Westlake, whose novel "The Jugger" was the source for this unauthorized adaptation. (It didn't have a proper release here until 2009).

It's also a very difficult film to appreciate in translation, and it seemed to me to be a film that one really needs to experience in the native language to get the full effect. It's filled wall-to-wall with endless wordplay, much of it silly, but nonetheless the kind of thing that would be almost impossible to effectively translate into another language. Sort of like the Marx Bros.

The premise involves Anna Karina going to the fictional "Atlantic City" and ends up getting involved in an investigation in to the death of her lover. She refers to the investigation as being like a Walt Disney movie with Humphrey Bogart. That gives you an idea of what to expect.

The Hour of the Wolf (1968)

Watched this one for the first time last night. It's from a period of Bergman's career I greatly admire, with Persona being my favorite of these. The Hour of the Wolf is a horror psychodrama about an artist (Max von Sydow) and his wife (Liv Ullman) living on a remote island whose relationship becomes strained as the artist is haunted by bizarre visions. Bergman creates a thoroughly unsettling, haunting atmosphere, heightened by the sense of isolation on the island and the growing sensation that nothing is quite what it seems.

The Cameraman's Revenge (1912)

This is an early stop-motion animated film from Russia, directed by Wladyslaw Starewicz in 1912. It's quite impressive, especially considering that Starewicz used dead insects as his models to create their own little world.

Monday, April 06, 2020

Eisenstein and Disney

This is an interesting video essay about the unlikely friendship between Sergei Eisenstein and Walt Disney. The two met during Eisenstein's stay in Hollywood in 1930, and Eisenstein considered Disney perhaps the greatest artist working in film, and would later call Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs the greatest of all films. It has been argued that Disney's style had a big influence on Eisenstein's approach to making both Alexander Nevsky and Ivan the Terrible Parts 1 and 2.

Eisenstein in Guanajuato (2015)

In 1931, after an aborted attempt at making a film in Hollywood, acclaimed Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein received funding from author Upton Sinclair to go to Mexico and make a film there with his regular collaborators, co-director Grigori Alexandrov and cinematographer Eduard Tisse. That resulting film, Que Viva Mexico, was never completed (a version was edited together in 1979 by Alexandrov, to give an approximation of Eisenstein's vision). At the time, Eisenstein was riding high on the worldwide success of his trio of revolutionary films Strike, Battleship Potemkin, and October, and the trip across the European and American continents provided an opportunity to meet with luminaries in all fields across multiple countries.

However, his stay in Mexico proved to be a transformative experience for Eisenstein, as he immersed himself in the culture thousands of miles from Soviet Russia and Stalin. It is this experience that Peter Greenaway explores in his avant garde biopic, Eisenstein in Guanajuato (2015). Greenaway focuses not on the making of Que Viva Mexico, which quickly becomes almost a footnote to Eisenstein's trip. Rather, he examines Eisenstein the man (played by Finnish actor Elmer Back in a splendid performance), whom we initially see as a flamboyant, bombastic man in total charge of his public image. As production on his film continues to drag out, Eisenstein becomes intoxicated on the local culture and his admiration for the country's own recent revolution, but is also revealed to have extreme self-doubt about his body and his sexuality. It is through his relationship with his Mexican guide, the intellectual and academic Palomino Canedo (Luis Alberti), that Eisenstein goes through this personal transformation coming to terms with himself.

I had not heard of this film until doing some recent digging on the web about Eisenstein, and decided to watch it after just having viewed the entirety of Eisenstein's filmography. I wanted to see it while his films were fresh in my mind. Greenaway's avant garde approach is very well-suited to the subject of the revolutionary filmmaker, and conveys the swirling events that Eisenstein experiences as a stranger in a strange land.

It's interesting how this brief period of Eisenstein's life continues to hold such a fascination. Several years ago, film scholar Mark Cousins made a documentary video essay about his own stay in Mexico City, called What is This Film Called Love (2011), in which he walked around the city with a photograph of Eisenstein, attempting to experience something of Mexico as Eisenstein experienced it.

Sunday, April 05, 2020

WWII Archival Footage of Bletchley Park Uncovered

CNN is reporting that previously unseen "secret" footage dating from World War II and filmed at the codebreaking facility Bletchley Park, has been unearthed and published online:

"The 11-minute video is thought to be a compilation of footage shot at the Whaddon Hall facility used by communication staff from the UK's Special Intelligence Service (SIS) -- also known as MI6 -- from 1939 to 1945, according to a press release from the Bletchley Park Trust published Friday."

Archival discoveries like this are always fascinating, especially when it provides us with glimpses of such rare subjects.

You can view the footage on the Bletchley Park YouTube channel here:

Adaptation (2002)

I remember back in the early 2000s, in the wake of the success of Being John Malkovich, there was a great deal of interest in the work of Charlie Kaufman. I haven't heard much about him lately, and couldn't tell you the last film that he wrote. I had seen Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in theaters, but had missed Adaptation, which I recall was released with a great deal of anticipation after all the interest in Being John Malkovich (just looking up his filmography, I realize I do not recall the film Human Nature, which he wrote in between Malkovich and Adaptation).

When I saw Adaptation was available on the Criterion Channel, I decided to finally give it a watch. After 18 years(!) it was about time that I caught up with this film. It's a quasi-autobiographical story of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (played by Nicolas Cage) struggling to write an adaptation of a book, "The Orchid Thief" by Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep). In between flashbacks of Susan's experiences with the subject of her book, John Laroche (Chris Cooper), Kaufman works under great stress, anxiety and self-doubt as he tries to unlock the key to bringing the book to the screen. Meanwhile, his twin brother (also played by Cage) has decided to dip his toe into the screenwriting pool as well, and Charlie watches with a mixture of frustration and amazement as his brother, after attending a single screenwriting seminar, churns out a highly marketable screenplay for his first effort, which immediately gets optioned for a big movie deal.

Adaptation left me with a lot of think about. It's one of the most vivid depictions of the self-doubt and questions that so often arise during the creative process.

The Crimson Kimono (1959)

Watched this Sam Fuller film on the Criterion Channel last night. A white cop and his Japanese-American partner, best friends from their time in the army during the Korean War, find their friendship tested when they both fall in love with the same woman while investigating the murder of a stripper. Great production design by Robert Boyle and cinematography by Sam Leavitt showing off the nocturnal LA locations.

I'd been wanting to see this film for years since it played at the Orpheum Cinema here in Baltimore back in the '90s. I missed it then but the description of it in the local paper made me want to see it. It lived up to expectations. I remember it was shown on a double bill with Edgar Ulmer's Ruthless (1948), which I see is available on YouTube. Maybe I'll have to watch that one next...

"Unknown Number" on YouTube

Looking for something to watch? My new short film Unknown Number is now available to stream for free on YouTube:

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

The Thief of Bagdad (1940)

I watched this one last night for the first time in years. It was a childhood favorite, though to be honest, I preferred the Douglas Fairbanks version (which was my gateway into silent movies). This Alexander Korda production is a blockbuster that still impresses today for its scale, state-of-the-art special effects, and intoxicating sense of wonder.

This is one of those magic films where all of the elements come together and work in great unison. Despite having three credited directors (and other three uncredited), like Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, the overarching vision of the producer creates a cohesive experience out of the many individual parts. There is the cast: John Justin as Ahmad, June Duprez as the Princess, Sabu as Abu, and of course, the great Conrad Veidt as Jaffar. Justin and Duprez are appealing romantic leads, but it is really Sabu and Veidt who make the biggest impressions. Veidt does so much acting with his eyes in this film, and it's a testament to his ability to really embody a performance that he does it so well. If you've seen him in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and especially The Hands of Orlac, it's apparent that he was one of the greatest physical actors of all time, right up there with Lon Chaney, I'd go so far to say.

Special mention should also be made of Rex Ingram's unforgettable performance as the genie, a truly larger-than-life character that Ingram brings to life in ways that are both astonishing and frightening. The scenes in which he interacts with Sabu are a marvel of special effects, combining large-scale models and early bluescreen technology to completely defy your belief of what was possible to do in 1940. The scenes are still impressive today -- one can only imagine how they must have stunned audiences 80 years ago.

The fantasy world would not be complete without the sets to bring it all to life. Vincent Korda and an uncredited William Cameron Menzies (who'd worked on the earlier Fairbanks version) designed a sprawling, lavish Technicolor fantasy version of old Bagdad that seems to go on forever past the edges of the screen. There is also some interesting location photography taken in the Grand Canyon, of all places, that contributes a genuinely epic sense of scale to those scenes (due to mounting wartime conditions in Britain, Korda had to move the production to Hollywood in the middle of the shoot, and took advantage of the geography of the Southwest United States). 

A final note should be made of Miklos Rozsa's sweeping symphonic score, which would clearly later influence the work of John Williams on films like Star Wars. It's a prime example of that grand Hollywood tradition of scoring that includes Max Steiner's soundtrack for King Kong and Erich Wolfgang Korngold's score for The Adventures of Robin Hood.

All of the pieces come together to form an unforgettable experience that has enchanted generations of moviegoers. I've often said that Alexander Korda knew better than almost anyone else what really made a good movie. If you look at his filmography, he produced one crowd-pleasing, timeless classic after another. The Private Life of Henry VIII, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Elephant Boy, Jungle Book, The Four Feathers, To Be Or Not To BeThe Third Man...the list goes on. The Thief of Bagdad takes it place firmly alongside these other Korda classics.