15 Jan 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Friday Minute
No. 11 | January 15, 2010

At the Movies

Our theme this week
Movies set in movie theaters

Featured this week
Monday         —   Sherlock Jr.
Tuesday         —   The Purple Rose of Cairo
Wednesday    —   The Last Picture Show
Thursday        —   Inglourious Basterds

Cinema Paradiso

The essentials
cinema_paradisoCinema Paradiso is a beautifully rendered love letter to the movies.  It could be described in other ways—a coming of age story, a nostalgic look at the past—but above all it seems to me a deeply felt movie about movies.  It gets to the power that cinema has, a window to learning the important things, a force that can move us as few things can.

No surprise for a film of this much feeling, Cinema Paradiso is Italian.  Director Giuseppe Tornatore made the film in 1988 (released in the U.S. in 1990), and much of the story, told in flashback, is set in post-war Italy, a time when Italian film was flourishing.  Tornatore no doubt was deeply touched by the films of the era.  The theater in this film is more than just a place for entertainment or escape.  It’s a place where the important things in life happen.  It’s a place of discovery.  It’s a place of worship.

Toto (Salvatore Cascio as a boy, Marco Leonardi as a teen) is a fatherless boy who loves movies and loves spending time at the Cinema Paradiso, the local movie house.  He befriends Alfredo (Philippe Noiret), the projectionist, then serves as Alfredo’s apprentice, and after a time becomes the projectionist himself.  Toto learns about life from Alfredo, and from the movies.  Toto grows up, leaves his small town, and becomes a famous film director.  Years later, Toto, now Salvatore (Jacques Perrin), learns that Alfredo has died, and he pays a visit to his old village.  It’s his first time back in decades.  He discovers that Alfredo has left him a gift, a reel of film.  It’s a collection of clips from movies of the past, scenes that were censored at the time, scenes of passion and love.  As Ennio Morricone’s beautiful score plays, Salvatore watches the clips, transfixed.  For many who watch Cinema Paradiso, it’s hard not to have the same reaction.

Beyond the final credits
In one scene in Cinema Paradiso, a fire breaks out when a film strip is overheated.  That was a real danger with old films.  Celluloid was first developed in the mid-1800s and used for film photography beginning in the 1880s.  As a nitrate-based compound it was useful but also highly flammable, and fires in theater projection booths were not uncommon.  A French movie theater caught fire in 1897, killing more than 180 people.  In 1927, a fire broke out during a movie in Montreal, killing 77 children.  A 1937 fire destroyed all the original negatives of pre-1935 films released by Fox Pictures.  In 1978, a fire at the U.S. National Archives destroyed the original negatives of more than 300 films.  No need to worry, though—it’s not a concern when going movies these days.  The industry converted from nitrate film base to flame-resistant acetate and polyester film bases during the 1950s. 


Cinema Paradiso (1988)
Jacques Perrin


Quote of Note
“You are not in Kansas anymore. You are on Pandora, ladies and gentleman.”
— Colonel Miles Quaritch (Steven Lang),  Avatar (2009)

…58…59…60.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 09 Jan 2010 @ 10:49 PM

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 14 Jan 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Thursday Minute
No. 10 | January 14, 2010

At the Movies

Our theme this week
Movies set in movie theaters

Featured this week
Monday         —   Sherlock Jr.
Tuesday         —   The Purple Rose of Cairo
Wednesday    —   The Last Picture Show

Inglourious Basterds

The essentials
inglorious-basterdsOnce upon a time, you could count on a few things in a World War II movie.  Good guys who fight fair and square, bad guys who don’t, and most of all, a certain chronology of events.  That’s not this kind of movie.  This is a Quentin Tarantino movie.  It’s hardly the first movie about the Big One to play loose with the facts, but any limits that may have applied in the past are blown to smithereens here.

Inglourious Basterds is a revenge fantasy.  It’s got a bit of history, a lot of killing, and yes, even a movie theater.

Le Gamaar is a small Parisian cinema operated by Shosanna Dreyfus, a French Jew whose family was murdered by Nazi Colonel Hans Landa in 1941.  The theater has been Shosanna’s sanctuary during the war.  When she meets German war hero Fredrick Zoller, the star of his own cinematic life story, a propaganda film called Stolz der Nation (“pride of the nation”), he insists that the world premiere be held at her theater.  Attending the premiere will be not only Landa but also much of the German high command, including Joseph Goebbels and Adolph Hitler.  Shosanna plans to make the premiere, and Le Gamaar, the venue for her revenge.  Meanwhile, “the Basterds,” a rogue band of Jewish soldiers led by Southern boy Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), learn of the event.  They storm their way to Paris with their own plot for payback.

The climax takes place while war scenes unfold in the film-within-a-film before the opening night audience.  No surprise, the action isn’t all onscreen, as the theater erupts in fire, gunfire, and explosions.  Shosanna gets her revenge.  So do the Basterds.  Perhaps most of all, so does Tarantino.  No telling just what it is that drives him, but what he delivers is stunning moviemaking, the kind that grabs you in the first scene and never lets go.

Beyond the final credits
One of the more grisly and commented-on aspects of the film is the scalping.  It’s the Basterds’ way of doing business (100 scalps apiece is the order).  That’s a new twist for World War II films, which generally adhere more closely to the historical record.  It’s a genre-bending invention from Tarantino, and the director, in a cameo role, plays one of the Germans who loses his head, so to speak.  In a second bit part, Tarantino plays an American sergeant in Stolz der Nation.


Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Trailer


Point of View

“Cinema should make you forget you are sitting in a theater.”
— Roman Polanski

…58…59…60.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 13 Jan 2010 @ 10:12 PM

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 13 Jan 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Wednesday Minute
No. 9 | January 13, 2010

At the Movies

Our theme this week
Movies set in movie theaters

Featured this week
Monday         —   Sherlock Jr.
Tuesday         —   The Purple Rose of Cairo

The Last Picture Show

The essentials
last_picture_showThe Royal is an old movie house that sits along a dusty, wind-blown road in small-town Texas, circa 1951.  Though several shots of the exterior are seen during the film, just two scenes take place within the theater.  They’re important ones, one near the beginning of the film, another near the end.  The cinema is a key focal point, from which The Last Picture Show draws its name.

Director Peter Bogdanovich selected a couple of very different films for the movies that are playing within his 1971 period piece.  The first is Vincente Minnelli’s Father of the Bride (1950), a story many miles from the reality of this Texas town.  High school senior Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) meets his girlfriend at the theater, and while his lips are kissing hers in the back seats, his eyes are following the glamorous Elizabeth Taylor on the big screen.  The other film is Red River, the 1948 western from Howard Hawks, with John Wayne and his men about to begin an adventurous cattle drive north to Missouri.  It’s a cowboy story, much closer to home, but hardly within reach for Sonny and his friend, Duane (Jeff Bridges).  A year has passed, and both teens have learned the damage that a pretty girl in a small town can do.  Their friend Sam is dead, a boy has been killed, and the Royal is closing.  Duane is leaving Sonny for the war in Korea.  Sonny has no one left but the older woman who he’d had an affair with, then abandoned.

The Last Picture Show is hardly the kind of happy fantasy that movies often depict.  Among other things, it’s a reminder of the great gulf between the heroic lives playing onscreen at the local cinema and hard-bitten reality of the people who watch them.

Beyond the final credits
The Last Picture Show was the third novel by Larry McMurtry, who had many books adapted for movies.  In 1987 McMurtry wrote a sequel called Texasville, picking up the stories of the characters a couple of decades later.  Bogdanovich directed the screen version in 1990, reuniting much of the cast, including Bottoms, Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Cloris Leachman, Randy Quaid, and Eileen Brennan.


MAD Announcement:
MAD Puzzle No. 2 has arrived.  If you like crosswords (and even if you don’t), you can find it at the Puzzles page.


The Last Picture Show (1971)
Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, and Red River

 


MAD FilmFest 101 Hint:
Two movies released 30 years apart share the same title, each featuring a different Our Gang actor.  (There’s one other film title with an Our Gang actor.)


Quote of Note
“You fathers will understand.  You have a little girl.  An adorable little girl who looks up to you and adores you in a way you could never have imagined.  I remember how her little hand used to fit inside mine.  Then comes the day when she wants to get her ears pierced, and wants you to drop her off a block before the movie theater.  From that moment on you’re in a constant panic.  You worry about her meeting the wrong kind of guy, the kind of guy who only wants one thing, and you know exactly what that one thing is, because it’s the same thing you wanted when you were their age.”
— George Banks (Steve Martin), Father of the Bride (1991)

…58…59…60.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 13 Jan 2010 @ 12:34 AM

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 12 Jan 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Tuesday Minute
No. 8 | January 12, 2010

At the Movies

Our theme this week
Movies set in movie theaters

Featured this week
Monday         —   Sherlock Jr.

The Purple Rose of Cairo

The essentials
purple_roseThe blurring of reality and illusion has been a ripe theme for filmmakers.  Inspired by Buster Keaton et al., Woody Allen pulled the reverse trick of Sherlock Jr. in The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). 

Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels), the hero of a Depression-era black-and-white film, sees Cecilia (Mia Farrow) sitting in the theater where she seeks escape from her empty marriage.  He breaks the fourth wall, stepping into the world of color and into her life.  The two of them fall in love, a problem for the movie characters that he leaves behind, who cannot go on with their story without him.  The movie producer summons Gil Shepherd (Daniels again), the actor who plays Baxter, who instead of saving the day becomes part of an unusual love triangle.  Cecilia must decide between two lovers, the actor and his movie character.  She discovers that there’s no escape from the reality of her life, but there is solace in what she loves most, the movies.  She goes to see Top Hat.  As Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers sing and dance, for a while at least, Cecilia doesn’t have a care in the world:

Heaven, I’m in heaven
And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak
And I seem to find the happiness I seek
When we’re out together dancing cheek to cheek

The Purple Rose of Cairo is a complex story with a masterful screenplay.  The performances are well worth watching too, especially the two leads, Farrow and Daniels.

Beyond the final credits
The breakup of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow’s twelve-year relationship was a painful event for all involved, and got lots of publicity at the time.  Their working partnership had been especially productive.  They made 13 films together.  A few of their other films include Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), and Alice (1990).


The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
Mia Farrow, Jeff Daniels


Movie Lexicon
One-sheet:  a movie poster used for theater displays and other advertising, typically about 27″ by 40″; one-sheets are popular collectibles among movie fans.

…58…59…60.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 08 Feb 2010 @ 12:07 PM

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 11 Jan 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Monday Minute
No. 7 | January 11, 2010

At the Movies

When Norma Desmond says, “It’s the pictures that got small,” she’s not talking about the size of the screen.  Yet I think it’s fair to say you’d never catch her watching a movie on a smartphone.  But you can.  You can take your movies with you and watch them wherever you go—that is, if you don’t mind watching on a 3.5-inch screen.  Hard to imagine watching Avatar that way, or any other film you want to see, but people are mobile these days, and movies are too.  (And if you’re ever stuck in an elevator for hours, you’ll find the new technology especially handy.)

Given the choice, I’d still rather watch a movie the old-fashioned way—in a theater.  There’s something special about seeing a movie on the big screen, in the dark, with a roomful of strangers.  In Norma’s day, the picture house was the only game in town.  Now we have many alternatives, but for new releases—or, say, the IMAX 3D experience—the theater is still the place to go.

We’re used to seeing movies in theaters, and it’s no surprise we sometimes see theaters in movies.  Generations of filmmakers have spent countless hours at the movies.  The theater for them is not just another setting—it’s personal.  It may have been their window to another world, or their sanctuary, or where they learned to dream.  Whatever it may be, the theater is a place for which moviemakers hold a certain fondness, as you can see in the movies we’ll feature this week.  (It’s not likely the smartphone will be getting the same treatment on film anytime soon.)

Our theme this week
Movies set in movie theaters

Sherlock Jr.

The essentials
sherlock_jr_boothSherlock Jr. is a gem of a comedy from Buster Keaton, one of his best.  Made in 1924, the movie runs 44 minutes, about double the length of Keaton’s two-reelers, though shorter than the features he’d be making later in the decade (e.g., The General, The Cameraman, Steamboat Bill Jr.).  Not a second is wasted.

For Keaton, the movie theater is the place of dreams.  (Literally.)  Keaton’s film projectionist falls asleep during a movie and soon he sees himself as part of the action.  He leaps from the stage into the scene onscreen.  An unwelcome intruder, he’s tossed out a moment later.  When he jumps back into the movie, the scene changes and he’s no longer in the parlor he thought he was entering into but outside the front door.  He steps off the porch and falls in a garden.  He sits on a bench and rolls over in a busy street.  He walks down the street and almost falls off a cliff.  He looks over the edge and finds himself standing between two lions.  And so it goes, from one improbable shot to another.  The sequence may not make complete narrative sense, but then dreams often don’t.  It all adds up to an astonishing moment of movie magic served up by one of the masters.

Sherlock Jr. has plenty of sight gags and trick shots.  There’s slapstick, romance, and action, with Keaton playing dual roles, the “world’s greatest detective” and the hapless hero.  In the end, he wins his love, taking cues from the movie playing in the theater.  As that film closes, so does Keaton’s, finishing with an amusing visual punch line.

Beyond the final credits
Silent stars such as Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd were more than just comedians.  They were action heroes too, and they often performed their own stunts.  The common use of stunt doubles came later.  In Sherlock Jr., Keaton hurt himself badly during one stunt at a rail yard water tank.  He suffered painful headaches for days afterward, yet continued to work on the film.  He didn’t learn until years later that he had in fact fractured his neck.  (The sequence takes place right after the 15:00 mark in the film, which you can watch at the link below.)


Sherlock Jr. (1924)
Buster Keaton

Sherlock Jr. (44:00)
sherlock_jr_motorcycle 


Quote of Note
“Wait a minute,  haven’t I see you before?  I know your face.”
“Get out.”
“You’re Norma Desmond.  You used to be in silent pictures.  You used to be big!”
“I am still big.  It’s the pictures that got small.”
— Joe Gillis (William Holden) and Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson),  Sunset Boulevard (1950)

…58…59…60.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 09 Jan 2010 @ 10:57 PM

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