Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tony and Natalie in 1964


Still one of my all-time favorite movie couples...we just don't have anything like them on the screen anymore.
I thought I was going to meet Tony Curtis a couple of years back, as he was scheduled to appear at an Elvis conference I was attending in Memphis. Sadly some health issues prevented it, but he was kind enough to call the event and we were thrilled to hear his voice on the phone wishing us well and sharing his memories of the young singer that he inspired so much in the fifties. Tony Curtis was the real deal, an unforgettable force on the screen...and he lived a life! I'm sad but I'm thankful as he left such an incredible legacy. Bravo Tony Curtis...Viva Tony Curtis!

Operation Screenshot (Films of the Sixties) Arthur Penn's Bonnie And Clyde (1967)

I've documented my longtime love-affair many times for Arthur Penn's Night Moves here and here, so I thought a tribute to his most landmark film in remembrance of his remarkable career would be fitting this morning. Bonnie and Clyde remains one of the most important works in film history and it was one of the pivotal works of my teenage years, during which I probably watched it close to twenty times or more.



















Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sally Menke: R.I.P.


I am absolutely shocked to hear the terrible news that the amazing Sally Menke has passed awayat the age of just 56 years old. Menke was, simply put, one of modern cinema's greatest assets and one of the best editors on the planet. To say the films of Quentin Tarantino wouldn't have been the same without her cutting skills is an understatement. Menke lent her extraordinary and inventive cutting skills to all of Tarantino's films (including Jackie Brown, which is one of the most beautifully edited works I have ever seen) as well as pictures by Oliver Stone and Billy Bob Thornton. This is tragic news and I offer my best to her friends, family and colleagues.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Notes on my Favorite Films (Year By Year) Topper (1937)



Freewheeling couple George and Marion Kerby really like to mix it up. Life is a never ending party for the Kerby’s as they burn the candle at both ends on a nightly and daily basis, but the party ends when they are killed in a auto-accident…or does it? Proving not even death can stop their madcap ways; the Kirby’s come back as two prankster ghosts who set their sites on an uptight president of bank, that they held stock in, named Cosmo Topper.
Topper, scripted by Jack Jevne, Eric Hatch and Eddie Moran from a novel by Thorne Smith, is the hilarious and chaotic supernatural tale from underrated comic director Norman Z. McLeod. Originally released in 1937 to immediate critical and popular success, Topper can still stake a claim as being one of the flat out funniest and most purely entertaining works of the American depression era. It’s also one of the best ghost stories and it’s no wonder that the material has been visited so many times in the decades since it first played to packed houses across the country.

Like the characters he celebrated in many of his works, novelist Thorne Smith was a heavy drinking free-spirit and lover of life who tragically passed away just a couple of years after turning forty in 1934. The Maryland born Smith had been kicking around the literary world since the late teens with very little notoriety but he hit pay-dirt in 1926 with the publication of Topper, a work that would cement his reputation as one of the finest supernatural comic writers in the country. Many works followed the success of the book and eventual film version of Topper but only 1941’s The Passionate Witch (the inspiration for I Married a Witch, Bell Book and Candle and Bewitched) came close to matching its success. McLeod’s film version of Smith’s side-splitting book thankfully more than did justice to the original very-fine source material.
Prolific director McLeod might not have had any Oscars on his shelf, and his name never became as synonymous with comedy as Lubitsch or McCarey, but he was an absolute master at the kind of breezy (if sometimes chaotic) American comedies that populated the thirties and forties. Michigan born McLeod worked with everyone from The Marx Brothers to Hope and Crosby in his career that spanned five decades, but few of his popular works could match the quite daffy and joyously subversive Topper, a work which champions individuality and personal happiness over conformity and corporate greed at every turn.



With McLeod’s breezy direction, the uncredited but fine music of Marvin Hatley, the beautiful black and white cinematography of Norbert Brodine and the innovative Robert Fulton conceived special-effects, Topper would have been an at least partial success no matter who had been put on the screen, but the superlative cast gathered for the film transformed it into a comedic masterpiece of timing, innovation and originality.
In all seriousness you could have taken Cary Grant and Constance Bennett in 1937 and filmed them for 90 minutes staring at each other in front of a plain white wall and it would have been a film overflowing with style, wit and vivacity. You put the two of them in a sharply written work with a winning supporting cast and top of the line crew and you have absolute cinematic magic. The team of Grant and Bennett are eye-popping in how utterly fabulous they are as the irrepressible but charming Kirbys. They are gorgeous, funny, charismatic and oh so freaking sophisticated, even playing such an anarchistic pair. The often undervalued Bennett is especially endearing as Marion Kerby and its hard to take your eyes off her all these years later, even though she is often standing next to one of the most perfect leading men in Hollywood history.
Topper is far from just a two person show as McLeod and crew were blessed with one of the best supporting casts of the period, including scene-stealing Roland Young as the title character and Billie Burke as his wife. Also popping up are Alan Mowbray, Hedda Hopper and in a blink and miss early cameo, Lana Turner. The whole cast just has a real fall into place feel about them, making Topper one of the most wonderfully realized and executed films of 1937.

Topper would snag two Oscar nominations in 1937, including one for Young’s supporting turn and it would prove popular enough to inspire a couple of (ill-conceived) sequels, a television series and a TV-movie. None of these came close to measuring up to the original and the rumored upcoming Steve Martin remake will no doubt fail to capture the magic either. Topper would enter into some unfortunate infamy when it was the first major film colorized back in 1985, an absolutely disastrous release that should be avoided at all costs. The film has sadly slipped into the public domain, which makes tracking it down easy enough, but more often than not the quality of its presentation is sadly lacking. How I wish Criterion would get a hold of this and grant it the deserved place it deserves on home video.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Criterion's Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence Out Tuesday

Just a quick note concerning the fact that Tuesday marks the release of Nagisa Oshima's Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence on DVD and Blu-Ray from The Criterion Collection. This remarkable film starring David Bowie and Takeshi Kitano was unfairly critically maligned at the time of its release so this new release is an important one. Here are the Criterion's specs (taken from their site) for the discs:

New, restored high-definition master (with DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition)

The Oshima Gang, a 1983 making-of featurette

New video interviews with producer Jeremy Thomas, screenwriter Paul Mayersberg, actor Tom Conti, and actor-composer Ryuichi Sakamoto

Hasten Slowly, an hour-long 1996 documentary about author Laurens van der Post, whose autobiographical novel was the basis for the film

Original theatrical trailer

New and improved English subtitle translation

PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Chuck Stephens and reprinted interviews with director Nagisa Oshima and actor Takeshi Kitano

Paul Thomas Anderson Film Poll Results

Here are the results for the Paul Thomas Anderson Film Poll. This turned out to be the most popular poll I have ever hosted here, so thanks to all that voted. Thanks again also to all that participated in the Blogathon and visited here throughout September. Here are your pics for your favorite P.T.A. films:

1. There Will be Blood: 88 Votes

2. Magnolia: 75 Votes

3. Boogie Nights 70 Votes

4. Punch-Drunk Love 62 Votes

5. Hard Eight 25 Votes

For those curious, here are my personal favorites:

1. Boogie Nights

2. Magnolia

3. Punch-Drunk Love

4. Hard Eight

5. There Will be Blood

The recent news that Anderson has had to put his upcoming film, The Master, on hold has been depressing to say the least. It has also made for a sobering look at the sorry state of the American film in 2010. One wonders if a film like Magnolia could have even been funded and released right now. I have all the faith in the world that Paul will eventually get The Master made, I am just sorry that it is obviously going to a major battle for him. I have no problem stating that I think Paul Thomas Anderson is THE Great American filmmaker of his generation and the fact they he is having trouble getting his next project off the ground is absolutely infuriating.