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Archive for October, 2011

Copyright © 2011 by James Clark

    We first encounter the protagonist at home, attending to some business on the phone while looking out his apartment window as evening overtakes towers and groves of the city. On the TV, a basketball game between two of the less storied franchises—the Clippers and the Raptors—is in what could loosely be called progress. Then he is in his car, and damn if he doesn’t have that game on his radio! The LA announcer—perhaps an actor between jobs—gives the fantastical impression that it’s a vital playoff match. That aside, we’re struck by the Driver’s own game face, millions of light years from the Clippers and the Raptors. Now that he’s in the thick of the game he was joining at the window, namely, driving with total indifference a pair of professional thieves from their assignment point to the point of joining the innocents coming from watching the Clippers, we have to pause, first of all, on noticing that the kind of wide-eyed, silent impassivity and, at the same time, expectant strike of his athletic young man’s face and body, while moving at stratospheric speeds in a souped up “Plain Jane” Chevy Impala, and into very sharp turns, stops and pivots, is no different from how he looked when at home. Right from the start, therefore, we’re caught up in a full-court press complicating our understanding of the league (one of the breakaway moves, vis-a-vis police raptors thudding all around, is a cut behind a parked truck, followed by a veer to free space—a kind of pick and roll, in other words) this gamester finds himself occupying. (more…)

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by Joel Bocko

This entry consists of an essay and a video piece (not just a scene from the movie intended as an addendum, but something I actually created as an important part of my contribution to the countdown). You can take it any order, but I open with the video to highlight its relevance to this entry. It shows through juxtaposition and structure what I am saying in the essay itself, and maybe makes my point better than words can do.

The five-minute video opens with dialogue from the film, follows with a rehearsal montage set to “Getting to Be a Habit With Me” (showing the progression from casting call to finished production), and closes with the dance sequence of “Young and Healthy” in its entirety, just to show what the film was building up to. Altogether the video demonstrates how the raw and often frustrated urges of the characters for sex and power are sublimated and transmuted into the discipline of a creative act, and then shows the end result in all its glory. The essay pursues the same theme.

And don’t worry – they’re both fun!

42nd Street (1933/United States/directed by Lloyd Bacon & choreographed by Busby Berkeley)

stars Warner Baxter, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Bebe Daniels, George Brent, Guy Kibbee, Una Merkel, Ginger Rogers

written by Rian James, James Seymour and Whitney Bolton from Bradford Ropes’ novel • photographed by Sol Polito • designed by Jack Oakey • music by Al Dubin & Harry Warren • edited by Thomas Pratt & Frank Ware

The Story: Determined to direct a hit show, even if it kills him, Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter) struggles with romantic entanglements, last-minute injuries, and a nervous ingenue named Peggy (Ruby Keeler). Will the curtain open or come crashing down on “Pretty Lady”?

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“Pretty Lady” – the stage extravaganza at the center of 42nd Street – owes its existence solely to sex. Well, don’t we all? Some musicals present themselves as good, clean fun but 42nd Street, God bless its dirty face, is not one of those musicals. At the root of its massive appeal, kinetic energy, and increasingly exciting narrative and musical structure are three simple motivating factors: sex, sex, and sex. Well, a fourth too: money – and in this film the two are wound around each other like the two strands of DNA.

As Chaos Theory holds that a butterfly need just flap its wings to spawn a typhoon halfway around the world, so Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels) has only to spread her legs. Thus is birthed a larger-than-life production, upon which the career of a broken, possibly dying director relies, through which a naïve young ingénue will become the biggest name on Broadway, and from which two hundred hustling, horny, hungry human beings will draw their daily bread (and dreams of glory). Dirty old man, sugar daddy, and cuckold Abner Dillon (Guy Kibbee) tells Dorothy he’ll do something for her (finance the show she wants to star in) if she’ll do something for him (guess what?). And with that, we’re off!

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by John Greco

New York! New York! It’s a wonderful town!

The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down

The people ride in a hole in the ground

New York! New York! It’s a wonderful town!

And with these words “On the Town” gets off to a rousing start gliding us through a montage of three sailors on a one day pass seeing the sights of the city, New York City. The Brooklyn Bridge, the Village, Little Italy, Chinatown, the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Central Park, the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center. It’s a world wind tour, a sparkling pioneering opening and possibly an early inspiration on music videos. Based on the 1944 hit Broadway musical with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. The book, also by Comden and Green, was based on an idea for a ballet called “Fancy Free,” by Jerome Robbins who choreographed the stage production. In 1949, MGM brought the musical to the screen and of course had to change things including dropping most of the original songs and adding new ones (Bernstein’s music was considered too highbrow for movie audiences), this despite the fact that MGM was an investor in the stage production! Only four songs survived and, of those, the opening number had to be “toned down” (the line New York, New York, It’s a hella of town was change to read it’s a wonderful town) to appease the censors and blue noses. Additionally, the storyline was changed, enlarging and focusing more on Gabey (Gene Kelly) and Ivy (Vera Ellen) than Ozzie (Jules Munshin) and Claire (Ann Miller). (more…)

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World Class Soprano Dame Emma Kirkby and Lutist Jacob Lindberg

by Sam Juliano

The creme of the crop of the musical countdown will be featured over the next two weeks as we move towards this spectacular project’s glorious conclusion.  Tons of comments and site hits are following each new post, and just this past week three posts attracted incredible attention.  The thread under The Sound of Music landed over 200 comments in one of the site’s top posts to this date.  Similarly both Jon Warner’s A Star is Born and the Oliver! post were exceedingly popular to the respondants.  But virtaully every review has been well-attended, and as always Jamie Uhler’s ongoing “Getting Over the Beatles” series continues toi amaze in its prose brilliance.  Joel Bocko has been turning on the gas, and this past week saw the latest exemplary essay in his Sunday “Fixing a Hole” series, as well as a delightful video post based on a poster of indellible film images.  And trudging away day in and day in the resilient Dee Dee with her tenacious sidebar updates for the musical countdown.  Bob Clark’s Saturday anime series always continues with high-quality entries.

Down at the offices of Catholic University in Chile the hardest of workers, Jaime Grijalba, is winding down his Halloween horror film series, which is updated everyday at the halls of Exodus 8:2.  The latest run of films has included Hammer Dracula entries and several in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise.  It’s definitely the place to be for horror fans as Halloween approaches. (more…)

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by John Greco

I have this thing for backstage stories. There is something magical about what goes on before the curtain rises on opening night. The creative puzzle of putting a show together with just the right pieces, the excitement, the panic before facing the audience, the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd, the tears of joy, or sorrow, depending on the show’s success after the curtain comes down. “Footlight Parade” is all about what happens behind the scenes. It remains one of Warner Brothers great Depression era musicals, filled with Busby Berkeley’s overly impossible yet miraculous production numbers forcing you to sit there stunned and say simply, wow!

James Cagney is Chester Kent, a penniless producer, with Joan Blondell as Nan Prescott, his trusty secretary and dependable right hand. Kent comes up with what he believes is an extraordinary idea. Talkies are the new rage so why not produce an extravagant live production that precedes the movie. Sophisticated audiences will come in droves. Taking it a step further, he will mass produce these shows, called prologues, to movie palaces all over the country! It’s a business paradigm that cannot miss, at least in the movies. (more…)

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Via an email exchange last weekend, Allan Fish revealed an awesome poster he had created, with 660 images representing a timeline of cinema history. By sheer coincidence, I had recently completed a similar venture: a rapid-fire video tour, albeit limited to 1912 – 1970 and contingent not on a canon but whatever I had on DVD. Nevertheless, similar spirit at work. Fish had fun trying to identify the clips from their brief appearances and later Shubhajit seemed to dig the montage too (after putting this post up, fellow blogger Srikanth Scrivasson said it “plays out like the output of a malfunctioning super-projector in its final minute of operation”, a description I can certainly get down with). So I’ve decided to reproduce it here for the Wonders gang.

Warning: not for the epileptic.

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by Joel Bocko

“Fixing a Hole” is a new series on Wonders in the Dark whose sole purpose is to review films that have not yet been covered on that site. The theme for October is “Universal Horror.” Some spoilers are discussed below.

The Old Dark House (1932/United States/directed by James Whale)

stars Boris Karloff, Ernest Thesiger, Charles Laughton, Melvyn Douglas, Gloria Stuart, Lillian Bond, Raymond Massey, Brember Wills, Elspeth Dudgeon

written by R.C. Sherriff and Benn Levy from J.B. Priestley’s novel • photographed by Arthur Edeson • designed by Charles D. Hall • music by David Broekman • edited by Andrew Cohen

The Story: On a dark and stormy night, a married couple and their bemused third-wheel friend are forced to stay the night at a gloomy old home, inhabited by the very strange Femms, a family full of neuroses and dark secrets.

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See a movie called The Old Dark House and you think you know what to expect. Well, unless you’re psychic, half-mad yourself (you’d have to be to come up with this scenario), or have already seen it, you’d be dead wrong. Sure, there’s an old house on a hill. Okay, a bickering young couple and their friend wind up having to spend the night there. Yeah, the residents of the house are a bunch of freaks, weirdos, and psychopaths. But the devil’s in the details and if the outline sounds familiar, the details are anything but. Every line of dialogue, every gesture, every plot development is unexpected and off-the-wall.

Who could predict the lesbian onslaught of sister Rebecca Femm (Eva Moore), pausing every now and then in her overbearing religiosity to a cop a feel from the heroine? Who would expect the appearance of 102-year-old Sir Roderick Femm, bedridden, cackling, and despite the misleading cast listing (actor’s name supposedly “John Dudgeon”) quite clearly an old lady with a scraggly beard glued to her wrinkly chin? And best of all, who should foresee the climactic revelation of Saul Femm (Brember Wills), outcast brother locked in his room for twenty years, set free to plead sanity – almost convincing us (we’ve certainly seen how nuts his siblings are) before the hero turns his back and Saul’s meek expression dissolves into a mask of fantastically cunning dementia?

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by Mark Lester (a. k. a. Sam Juliano)

My name is Mark Lester and I am now nine-years old.  I just got back from America, after appearing at the Academy Awards, where the movie I starred in, Oliver!  won the Best Picture Oscar.  I flew in with my friend Jack Wild who received an acting nomination for the same movie.  Oliver! is about an orphan boy who lived in London a long time ago during a period they tell me was known as the “Victorian Age.”  Mind you, that boy wasn’t real at all.  He was imagined by a very famous writer named Mr. Charles Dickens.  He’s the same bloke who invented the story about that old miser Scrooge and the invalid boy Tiny Tim.  My dad has always told me how much he enjoyed reading other books that Mr. Dickens wrote.  One is called David Copperfield and another starts off with the words “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”  Mom loves watching some old black and white movie about a prisoner in a church yard, a young man named Pip, and an old hag known as Miss Haversham.  She said she read a book in school about some bleak house that had many secrets.  The book store is two blocks away from my house in the city of Oxford in the county of Oxsfordshire has all of Mr. Dickens’ books on sale for only five quid.  Mom said this was really the dog’s bollocks and she would be going there straight away to pick up the lot.

Anyway it all started almost a year ago when a a proper looking limey in his early 60’s came to my school to conduct interviews for a new movie he was planning to direct.  He first addressed the whole student body in the assembly hall, where I am told Winston Churchill once spoke during the war years.  He sounded dead serious when he said that the honor of Britain was at stake.  He identified himself as Mr. Carol Reed and he mentioned some of the older movies he had directed.  I can’t remember all the names but he seemed to be most proud of two: The Third Man and Odd Man Out.  Anyway those weren’t the kind of movies that a boy like me was interested in watching.  Give me “Doctor Who” and that American space show that features the officer with the pointed ears, anyday.  Black and white movies are uncool.  (more…)

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by Jon Warner

Judy Garland. There were always two sides of her. On the one side, there was the immense talent and capability to entertain an audience. Her visceral vibrato could grab you and shake you to your core, and the way she conveyed her joy of singing was always so heartfelt, connecting straight to the audience’s emotions. As a teenager, we saw her in perhaps the most iconic role in the history of cinema – Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz (1939), something most of us recall in a primordial sort of fashion, identifying with her sense of wonderment. On the other side was the immense tragedy. She may have been perhaps the most tragic figure ever created and tossed aside by Hollywood. It’s all the stuff of legend now though: the pills and drugs, the weight losses, the weight gains, the failed marriages, and the suicidal behavior. What’s amazing is that for most of her career, MGM was able to somehow separate the two Judys and glossed over her immense personal struggles, despite her wildly erratic work behavior, to only present us the talent; the good Judy. One film, though, captures all of Judy. All of her intense personal pain and unbelievable talent in one film. George Cukor’s A Star is Born is the film that dared to take Judy as she was, which was both one of the most talented entertainers to ever live and the most tragic of stars. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Based on stories by Ukranian writer Sholem Aleichem, the Harold Prince production of Fiddler on the Roof stands as one of the most beloved musicals in Broadway history, and has inspired productions all around the world.  The show debuted at the Imperial Theatre in New York in September 1964 and ran till July of 1972, amassing an impressive 3242 performances.  It has spawned four revivals, and has been regularly performed by school and community groups.  It’s beautiful score has produced some of the most widely-loved standards of the past fifty years, but perhaps most significantly, it has galvanized audiences worldwide, celebrating as it does the transcendent themes of tradition during change, homelessness and suffering and religious faith and doubt.  But as was aptly suggested in the recent documentary on the writer Sholem Aleichem, Laughing in the Darkness,  this is central work in the Jewish experience, as it poignantly chronicles religious persecution and the indominable spirit of  a people who stood steadfast in their devotion to God, community and family. Fiddler on the Roof, set in a Russian village, is a story set in a waylay station involving Jews moving to America at the turn of the century and of  the inevitable geographical transience that has occured with many ethnic groups at different times.   The musical’s title stems from a painting by Marc Chagall, one of many surreal works he created of Eastern European Jewish life, often including a fiddler.  The fiddler is a metaphor for survival, through traditional and joyfulness, in a life of uncertainty and imbalance. (more…)

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