Cinema Silhouette #2

Citizen_kane_1941_2

Let's continue the periodic silhouette shots feature with one of those images ingrained in our collective cinema consciousness from Citizen Kane (1941). In this frame it looks as though Thompson (William Alland, left) is getting the third degree, but he's actually getting the assignment to investigate Rosebud. I find the image fascinating because the light from a film projector forms the silhouette and is directed at us from the screen even as the image itself is thrown on the screen by the light from a film projector behind us (if we were watching this in the theater). Great stuff.

It

I began the day sitting outside, enjoying the cool morning air and sharing a cup of coffee with a nearby Steller's Jay. Then I booted up the laptop and checked my e-mail only to discover that once again (maybe for the last time) I've been tagged to play along with a meme, which means , according to the dictionary, "an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation." Or as Pierre Fournier (the rascal who tabbed me for the meme) of the gruesomely great Frankensteinia blog puts it, meme is a fancy word for "Tag, you're it!" Thanks Pierre.

Here's what I had to do:

1) Pick up the nearest book.
2) Open to page 123.
3) Locate the fifth sentence.
4) Post the next three sentences on your blog and in so doing...
5) Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

Well, I was outside and not near any book so I figured, "I'll pass on this one." Then I remembered how much I missed feeling part of the blogosphere when I was without a computer for a month or two. Here was an easy way to re-connect. Oh, what the heck...

The_playboy_interviewsSo, back inside I go to pick up a book sitting on the coffee table...oh this is too perfect: The Playboy Interviews: The Directors (recommended earlier this year by Michael at The Evening Class). Flipping down to page 123, we find ourselves smack dab in the middle of an interview film critic and cinema professor Arthur Knight conducted with actor/director extraordinaire, Clint Eastwood back in 1974. Counting five sentences down from the top (including one partial sentence from the previous page) leads to the following three sentences...

Eastwood: I've got a six-pack of beer under my arm, and a few pieces of paper, and a couple of pencils, and I'm in business. What the hell, I can work in a closet.
Playboy: What does Malpaso mean?

Could that have turned out more mysteriously? I mean, what the hell is Clint doing writing in closet with a six pack of beer? And just what does Malpaso mean? Well, there's no use in trying to resist. Back out on the deck I go with a fresh cup of coffee to read the complete interview with Eastwood. Hey, that Steller's Jay has brought along a few friends. Wish they'd pipe down; I'm trying to read...

Five bloggers tagged for the meme (let us see what's in the book nearest you guys):

Jennifer MacMillan, who sees through Invisible Cinema
Brian Darr, who raises Hell on Frisco Bay
Mike Phillips, who fearlessly composes the Goatdogblog
Adam Ross, who always entertains us with great DVD Panache
Shahn, who shakes up Six Martinis and the Seventh Art


(*it means bad pass or bad step.)

Previews and Cinema Silhouette #1

Last_of_the_mohicans

A few of the things planned for Film of the Year:

With everything back up to speed and recovered (as much as possible) after the loss of the computer I'm ready to move on to 1946. It will feel good to finally get back to the one-film-per-year reason that this blog exists. I'll post that sometime later this week.

I'm not just a fan of films of the past; I also like the DIY and experimental independent filmmaking aesthetic (which carries on the adventurous tradition of some of the great early filmmakers, imho). From time to time I'm fortunate enough to have the chance to preview cinema created by independent voices, so I figured it's time to put a new category on the sidebar for (you got it)...Independent Cinema. Let's see where it goes from there. As a matter of fact, indie fans will want to check back for an interview that's coming up...

Next, you might have heard about Chris Cagle's new Film of the Month Club already, but let me plug it again here. A group blog open to discussions about all sorts of cinema is a superb idea. Even better is the idea to have each member choose a film as the topic for discussion by the whole Club. It's like a neverending blogathon. I just had to join! Hopefully we'll see you there too.

Finally, above is the start of a new screencap feature I'm planning to post periodically. While traveling through film history on this blog I've discovered I have a passion for silhouette shots. Clenched fists in a thriller, a shadowy monster in a horror film, a gangster in a fedora backit on the gritty streets of film noir, whatever; I love the feeling of mystery inherent in those type of shots. So I figured why not share some of my favorites with the blogosphere. First up: long time readers and/or cinephiles might recognize the poetic looking screencap above from Clarence Brown's and Maurice Tourner's beautifully shot version of The Last of the Mohicans (1920). Silhouetted by the evening sun (or is it the moonlight?), Uncas (Alan Roscoe) keeps a look-out from the mouth of a cave wherein Hawkeye (Harry Loraine) and the Munro sisters (Lilian Hall and Barbara Bedford) have taken refuge from the forces of Magua (Wallace Beery). Sublime.

Notes from the Bunker

Over the past few months I've taken a detour from the modus operandi of Film of the Year and focused solely on war films released during World War II in order to broaden my knowledge and understanding of how the most significant event of the twentieth century was interpreted on film at the time it was happening. I had to leave my one-film-per-year rule behind (though I more-or-less stuck with it for the blog) because of the sheer number of films I wanted to see. I found it very difficult to locate DVD versions of many films from Germany, Italy, Japan, France and the U.S.S.R. from this period so I focused on American and some U.K. releases.

Below is a summary of all the pictures I viewed for the project. Like all of the material here on my open journal it is intended for my own reference, but may aid others looking for films from the WWII era.

Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939), the first feature film by a major Hollywood studio to warn that Nazism was an international threat with agents working to overthrow the government of the United States. The combination of documentary and fiction filmmaking styles, reminiscent of newsreels and docudramas like The March of Time series, predicts techniques used in indoctrination documentaries and Hollywood war films. At least one historian (Birdwell) has written extensively about it, and I'd like to expand on that work by exploring the real spy case that the film was based on, determine how the film's style and structure works/fails to work on the viewer, and its influence on documentary and fiction filmmaking.

also watched:
Hitler, Beast of Berlin (1939), pro-intervention sensationalism
The March of Time: Inside Nazi Germany (1938), controversial exposé
The March of Time: Nazi Conquests-No. 1 (1938), controversial exposé
Peace on Earth (1939), pacifist cartoon
Mr Moto's Final Warning (1939), b-picture, sabotage film

The Great Dictator (1940), a slapstick comedy that satirizes the nazi and fascist regimes of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. International star and independent filmmaker, Charles Chaplin uses comedy to attack fascism, anti-Semitism, lynching, genocide, the overthrow of nations--things that none of the Hollywood studios, jealously guarding their European markets, dared to touch at the time. Oddly, one film historian (Alan Dale) argues that by playing both the cruel anti-semitic dictator Hynkel and the persecuted Jewish Barber Chaplin divides audience sympathy until we ultimately identify with the most persecuted character, Hynkel.

also watched:
You Nazty Spy! (1940), short slapstick satire on Hitler and the Nazi regime
Contraband (1940), anti-Nazi UK espionge film
London Can Take It (1940), pro-intervention UK documentary
The Mortal Storm (1940), anti-Nazi melodrama
Escape (1940), anti-Nazi melodrama

Sieg Im Westen (1941) One of the few campaign documentaries produced by the Nazis to be released in the United States, this film documents military invasions of Czechoslovakia, Austria, Poland, Norway, Holland, Belgium and France by Hitler's troops. The combination expositional/observational style builds off of World War I combat films and newsreels. The ceaseless forward momentum narrative is reflected in the style of many later combat report documentaries. My own research, conducted entirely online, revealed that the Nazi government sought to use the picture as a tool of extortion to weaken the resistance of government officials in countries the Nazis planned to attack. I'd like to expand this research into a larger and more carefully written article on both the film and its historical context.

Sgt. York (1941) is a World War I drama/bio-pic that portrays the conflict between an American hero's religious-based objections to killing and his sense of obligation to his country. The conflict is resolved when Alvin York (Gary Cooper) is convinced that sometimes war is necessary in order to stop killing by an aggressor nation, and therefore his religious beliefs and the needs of his country are compatible. In a larger sense, York's objections to killing are symbolic of the objections isolationists and anti-interventionists held against U.S. entry in World War II before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

also watched:
Ohm Krüger (1941), anti-British Nazi historical film
49th Parallel (1941), anti-Nazi, UK preparedness film
Listen to Britain (1941), morale boosting UK documentary
From the Four Corners (1941), morale boosting UK short
The March of TIme: The Ramparts We Watch (1941), pro-intervetion documentary. Interpolates the Nazi combat report documentary Baptism of Fire (1940)
Prelude to War (1943), The Nazis Strike (1943), Divide and Conquer (1943), Why We Fight indoctrination films series.

Mr. Blabbermouth (1942) an example of pedagogical short films produced by the studios and distributed through the War Activities Committee for the Bureau of Motion Pictures of The Office of War Information to movie theaters nationwide to keep the public informed about the war. Not as overbearingly didactic as some of the films produced by the Bureau itself or other gov't agencies, this short is nonetheless information and propaganda at the same time. It illustrates that the government saw a need to keep the public informed, but also wanted to carefully control the information disseminated. I'd like to get do an omnibus article on the entire output of the American Speaks series and other victory shorts.

also watched:
Various OWI shorts
Der Grosse Konig (1942), Nazi historical epic
Mrs. Miniver (1942), pro-British war drama
Casablanca (1942), pro-intervention war drama
In Which We Serve (1942), UK war drama
Wake Island (1942), US combat drama
December 7th (1942), pro-war documentary
To Be or Not To Be (1942), anti-Nazi satire


Münchhausen (1943) The greatest number of releases in both the United States and in Nazi Germany during the war were so called escapist pictures, musicals, comedies, romances, drama and even horror pictures. This Agfacolor fantasy adventure proved a welcome break from a massive number of war pictures I took in from 1943. It could be argued that the Nazi ideology bubbles underneath the surface through the forceful male protagonist projecting himself upon the world, but I didn't worry about that; I just sat back and enjoyed the unexpectedly naughty ride.

also watched:
Fires were Started (1943), morale boosting UK documentary
Bataan (1943), combat drama
Air Force (1943), combat drama
Report from the Aleutians (1943), combat report documentary
Desert Victory (1943), combat report documentary
The Battle of Britain (1943), combat report documentary
Combat America (1943), training documentary
This is the Army (1943), musical
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), UK satire on military/politics/war
The New Spirit (1943), didactic cartoon from Disney
Tender Comrades (1943), homefront drama
Gung Ho (1943), combat drama

The Memphis Belle: The Story of a Flying Fortress (1944) A combat report documentary filmed aboard B-17s during bombing missions over Europe about the necessity of teamwork in the face of death.

The Most Beautiful (1944) A sentimental look at the desperate lives of women relocated to Tokyo to work in war factories. An indoctrination film about one ideal worker's undying determination to sacrifice everything to serve the needs of the state.

Days of Glory (1944) stems from a very brief wartime surge of Soviet front movies produced by Hollywood. Theatrical sets, trite script, maudlin romance, and unusual battle sequences fail to mix well, and extend little real sense of the Russian guerilla fighter's war.


also watched:
The Battle of Russia (1943), Why We Fight pro-Soviet indoctrination documentary
Since You Went Away (1944), homefront drama
The Battle of China (1944), Why We Fight indoctrination documentary
The Marines at Tarawa (1944), combat report documentary
The Battle of San Pietro (1944), combat report documentary

G.I. Joe (1945), one of Hollywood's finest attempts during the war at extending some sense of what the war might have looked like and felt like to the men fighting it. With studio efficiency and creative artistry this film centers on the lives of soldiers before, during and after combat through stylized realistic sets, dramatizations of real battles, a helping of documentary footage, actual U.S. soldiers, and earthy dialogue. I'm outlining a new writing project about this one.

also watched:
Operation Burma (1945), combat drama
They Were Expendable (1945), combat drama
Open City (1945), Italian resistance drama
Kolberg (1945), Nazi historical epic
The True Glory (1945), combat report documentary
Hitler Lives (1945), anti-Nazi short

The Modern Prometheus

Buttongowhite

Are you keeping up with cartoonist, illustrator, writer, and blogger extraordinaire Pierre Fournier's Frankensteinia? The blog covers all things related to Mary Shelley's masterwork of fiction including books, action figures, paintings, Pez dispensers, magazines, and, of course, movies. Long-time readers here might recall that I'm a fan of James Whale's film version of Frankenstein (1931). I thought I knew a lot about Frankenstein the novel and Frankenstein the film icon--until I began reading Pierre's addictive, regularly updated blog, that is, and discovered that the tale of the modern prometheus has its clammy grasp and influence all over pop culture.

Comic books are one of the many artistic mediums that offer creative interpretations of Frankenstein, as Pierre should know. He's a veteran comics creator of Michel Risque, Red Ketchup (which may yet appear on the big screen someday), Capitaine Kebec and more.

One of my own prized possessions is a comic book I saved from my youth that features a variation of Frankenstein's monster battling in World War II (the present preoccupation of Film of the Year). Pierre has been kind enough to allow me to indulge my own passion for all things Frankenstein with a guest post about that very comic book on his blog. Writing about it is a thrill for me, and I hope you'll enjoy reading about it too. Now, what are you waiting for? It's time for some gruesome fun. Jump over to Frankensteinia! Muahahahahaha!

I Had the Craziest Dream

I don't know if it was the manicotti or the Münchhausen, but I had the strangest dream about some kind of Cronenbergian film exhibition device that meshes digital cinema exhibition technology with computer voice command input and editing technologies in such a way that the viewer can make suggestions aloud as the film is playing, and a computer edits the film playing on the screen accordingly. The new version of the film then plays for the next viewer, who has the same option to voice changes, and so on. If the first viewer returned to see the same film later it might be a somewhat similar or a completely different movie depending on how many others had viewed and given their input. The result is an exhibition scenario in which the audience has almost as much creative input as the filmmakers; movies that change with each new viewer; films directly and irrevocably affected by the viewing experience just like the audience--films that are never experienced exactly the same way twice.

See, told ya...

A couple of weeks back I had the temerity to point to an awkward cut that crosses the stage line in my post about the greatest of the greats, Citizen Kane (1941). Some cinephiles sniffed the air and walked past the post without reading further. Oh, they clucked their tongues, stroked their beards and asked "what's to be done about this Film of the Year guy?"

Well now it seems that the edit is on the other reel 'cause bloggin' Bob Turnbull's Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind and a post about the animated mindbender Paprika (2006) has this blogger's back...

Cool. It's kinda like the director of "Paprika" saw Thom's post, agreed with it and decided to document it.

Well, the producers did call and schedule a few lunch meetings so we could iron out the whole "crossing the line of action thing..."

Seriously folks, it's great of Bob to note such synchronicity in our viewing experiences. Now, I'm off to rent Paprika...Thanks Bob.

:D

Who's Louis Malle?

Picture_2Since I'm in the middle of watching and writing about a number of movies made about World War II for this blog, I plan to revisit director Louis Malle's Lacombe Lucien (1974) showing Wednesday, October 24th on Turner Classic Movies. It turns out that TCM is broadcasting ten films by Malle tonight and tomorrow, as part of Louis Malle's 75th Birthday Tribute. Looking over the list of ten films I realize that I haven't seen a single one besides Lacombe Lucien. To rectify that situation, I'm planning to DVR all ten movies and watch them when I can devote more time to each one. I'd like to hear from any Louis Malle fans. What makes his films special? Any recommendations? Which films should I be sure not to miss? What are some of your favorite scenes? Does any particular shot or look identify a Malle film from any other director's film? Is the director known for particular technique, style or genre? How does he compare with other directors like Welles, Hitchcock, Renoir, Lang, etc.? I'd also appreciate links to any posts you might have written about the man and his work.

Podcast Questions

An open question to anyone who enjoys the Film of the Year blog: What are your thoughts about podcasting? I've been toying with the idea of doing podcasts instead of blogging my journey through film history. Would you prefer listening to Film of the Year instead of reading it?

Some pros and cons of podcasting here:

Pro - I have recording experience so there's no learning curve for me as far as acquisiton and editing goes.
Pro - I have all of the equipment necessary to record and edit podcasts.
Pro - podcasting will allow me to add dialogue directly from films or other audio into each podcast.
Pro - podcasting will allow me to have conversations with other bloggers or film buff in the podcasts.

Con - podcasting is a much more one-way communication than blogging. There's no post-response-feedback to it.
Con - fewer people might be equipped and/or have the opportunity to listen to each cast (say at work) than read and maybe comment on a post.
Con - I'd probably spend more time recording and editing the podcast and less time researching and writing.
Con - it would be cool to podcast, but not really helpful (I couldn't add footnotes to aid in further research, etc).
Con - I really enjoy research and writing. Sure, I'll write the scripts for each podcast, but it just wouldn't be the same.

I'm still undecided so I thought I'd throw the question out there. What are your thoughts/opinons/experiences with podcasting?

Coming Up & Two Reasons Why We Watch Snow White

Snow_white

A few things on the horizon for this blog:

So many suggestions poured in for my call for titles from 1938 that I'm toying with a different approach than the one-film-per-year standard for the next post. In fact, with so many great films from that year too bad I didn't set up a blog-a-thon. Ah well, I'll store that idea away for a future date...

Speaking of blog-a-thons, fellow film blogger Mike (goatdog) Phillips e-mailed the other day to say that he's scheduling a William Wyler Blog-a-Thon for September 21-23. Though I don't see an official announcement/sign-up post at his blog yet, I'm going to start watching Wyler films anyway so that we don't all end up fighting over Roman Holiday (1953) and the remake of Ben-Hur (1959). :D

Sooner than later I'll step into the strange looking contraption George Pal seems to have left in my garage and travel from 1937 to 2007 to review Lucas McNelly's gravida which will have its premiere in just a few days.

More good news: Andy Horbal's new blog project Mirror/Stage is up and running. Time to update the blogrolls, folks.

***

Before moving on to 1938 I decided to re-watch one of my favorite films from 1937/38, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Disney's first feature length animated film was reportedly screened in some forty-one countries, translated into at least ten languages, and made its initial investment back nearly five times over by 1939; it's influenced screen animation ever since. I took a look at it again this week, the first animation I've looked at since Lotte Reiniger's feature The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926), I think. The smooth life-like animation here is very different from Reiniger's silhouettes and is still as much fun to watch as when I first saw it as a wee tot. I'm impressed that the animators give every individual character, Snow White, the Dwarfs, all of the different animals, etc., a distinct way of moving based on its particular body type and center of gravity. I also like all of the echoes in the movie. For example, Snow White duets with herself by singing "I'm Wishing" down a well, and the Dwarfs' show off a call and response vocal style in the mine. For me, these echoed lines provide aural support for the mirror motif.

After viewing, I sifted through contemporary reviews to find out if anyone back in the day mentioned the echoes/mirrors thing that I see in the movie. I didn't find support for that, but I'd like to share two very serious attempts made after the film's initial release to explain its success with the public (I find this stuff amusing and maybe you will too) found in the article "Whole World Held Taking Up Fantasy," published in the New York Times, June 28, 1938. First, in his 1938 annual report to the industry, Will Hays, head to the MPPDA, claimed that the public demanded motion pictures with social significance. Asked to explain how that could be so if no such concerns were evident in the most popular film of the year, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Hays responded that the world was full of "eudemonists." Um, ok. Meanwhile, Dr. Stuart Rice of the United States Central Statistics Board suggested that audiences who paid to see Snow White were seeking escape in a dream world from "fear of universal warfare and the general breakdown of existing social systems."

Could be. Or maybe we all just like singing along with "Heigh-Ho."

Thinking Blogger Award Meme

I returned to the film blogosphere this morning playfully scrolling through my blogroll with that eye-opening first cup of coffee. My blogroll is sorted alphabetically so first stop was the top link, 100 Films, a blog penned by Lucas McNelly, a multitalented, proudly indie filmmaker and film blogger. His site features insightful film reviews and updates about his own film projects such as his latest, Gravida (2007). Reading on I discover that Lucas received a "Thinking Bloggers Award" and was charged with extending the same to five other bloggers he considers worthy of the designation. Turns out the writer of Film of the Year is one of them:

Also not writing about crappy horror films (well, at least not yet) is Thom Ryan over at Film of the Year. Starting all the way back in 1909 (earlier?), Thom is methodically working his way through film history, writing a thoughtful, educational post about one film per year. He's already up to 1936's Sabotage. If you're gonna jump on the Thom Ryan bandwagon, now's the time to do it, because he's starting to write about films you've heard of. But if you're lucky like me, you can always say, "Man, I used to read Thom back when it was 1909." We call that film snobbery for the indie aesthetic.

My humble thanks to Lucas. Over the past year this blogging tradition has gone from weekend project to weekly preoccupation to always-on-my-mind obsession. Admittedly, I had selfish reasons for starting the project, but sharing these articles with the film blogosphere is more rewarding than I ever expected. The amount of regular readers here vastly exceeds my expectations and I savor the helpful feedback I receive; I value online relationships that have developed with fellow bloggers like Mike (goatdog) Phillips, Squish Lessard, and others; taking part in Adam Ross' Friday Screen Test and working out a blog style guide for film titles with Andy Horbal (and Lucas too if I recall) was fun; seeing my posts featured in places like GreenCine Daily is especially rewarding. Now it's my turn to spread the Thinking Blogger's Award meme.

If you accept the award and choose to participate, please make sure you pass this list of rules to the blogs you are tagging:

1) If, and only if your blog is one that is tagged on my list below, you must write a post with links to five other blogs you like that consistently make you think (hence, the Thinking Blogger’s Award).

2) Link to this post so people will know whose good idea all this was.

3) Proudly display the “Thinking Blogger Award” logo with a link to the post you wrote.

Thinkingblogger2ql6

I'll display the award logo and carry on the meme because anything that encourages thoughtful writing and increases the exposure of thinking bloggers is heartily endorsed here. Now for the tough part: No, not tagging five bloggers that consistently make me think, but selecting only five. I can double that number for sure, but I'll follow the rules this time. Below I've tagged five bloggers for the Thinking Bloggers Award meme.

Girish Shambu
You're not likely to read a blog that makes you think more than Girish Shambu's eponymous site. Girish is the film professor I wish I had in college because I would've taken every one of his classes and probably become a film major myself. By posing stimulating questions and offering new ideas about film theory, film history, and filmmakers, Girish's blog offers a more scholarly discourse that isn't reserved for academics—something rare in the film blogosphere. I sometimes get the notion that he posts a thesis and then the rest of us collaborate to write a response paper by commenting. That's the reason Girish deserves this award: I learn something about the art and science of cinema every time he posts, both from the author himself and from those of us responding to his latest topic.

Invisible Cinema
Even the title of Jennifer MacMillan's blog makes you think. Jmac's ode to experimental film and video was one of the first blogs that attracted my attention when I closed my eyes, held my breath and cannonballed into the film blogosphere about a year ago. Though a "Thinking Bloggers Award" might conjure up images of something bookish and analytical, Invisible Cinema is poetic and artistic, an alternative to all of those blogs filled with formal film analyses, canonical lists, technical details, movie stars, audience reaction, and box office figures. You might discover a poem, original film, book excerpt, or hand painted frame. This is thought-provoking blogging for the right side of your brain; something as welcome as it is refreshing. Jmac put her blog on hiatus in the spring to devote more time to poetry and other pursuits, but when she returns from time to time she gently inspires us to think about cinema in alternative ways.

Hell on Frisco Bay
At Hell on Frisco Bay Brian Darr covers the large number of cinema and cinema-related events in his stomping grounds, the San Francisco Bay Area, and also encourages us to think about things as disparate as international film festivals, air quality standards, and public transportation. He hosted the Friz Freleng Blog-a-Thon, an event that got me thinking about the history of screen animation enough to write about it a few times. He's a generous writer who regularly contributes insightful comments on this blog. I look forward to his responses more and more because just when I feel like there isn't more to say about a film or filmmaker Brian will post a comment that unpacks a whole new set of ideas. A thinking blogger indeed.

The Evening Class
Few bloggers can out-perform San Francisco-based author Michael Guillén. Not only is the author of The Evening Class one of the most prolific writers I've come across in the blogosphere, but his work is consistently of the highest caliber in terms of technique, content and style. I've been faithfully reading his work since we crossed paths at the Avant-Garde Blog-a-Thon, marveling at his developing interviewing skills and his proficiency with language. His output makes me think about how to improve my own writing. I once commented that he communicates more in a single sentence than I do in a whole paragraph (in fact, he'd probably have this piece finished by now). When Michael accepted a position at SF360 I feared we might lose his unique presence in the film blogosphere. I should've known better; his blog is active and as excellently written as ever.

Category D
Just as I've tagged bloggers who I've been reading for some time I also want to include one who's relatively new—at least to me. Though I've only recently discovered Chris Cagle's scholarly writing about post-war films at Category D his blog is one that makes me think the most. Dubbed the 1947 Project, the blog was created to service his research into the history of the social problem film. I find I lurk there rather than post comments because Chris presents his ideas very clearly and illustrates them with multiple specific screen grabs. A film blogger of the most learned variety, Chris inspires a more rational and carefully constructed analysis from those of us outside the academy.

Congratulations!

One for the Blogroll

Ever since Girish told me about Chris Cagle's 1947 Project at Category D a couple of days ago I've been voraciously digesting it. He created the blog project to aid his research into the history of the social problem film for a book manuscript, and the rest of us get to benefit from his scholarly analysis of postwar Hollywood filmmaking. I'm anticipating the occasion when our blogs cross paths once I catch up to '47 and plan to reference Chris' valuable insights when I do. Will I continue reading Category D in the meantime? You bet your sweet clapstick I will—I'm hooked!

Is This Your Homework?

Lebowski
If you're already familiar with Adam Ross' DVD Panache you know that he has a way with words and a broad perspective on film. This guy can spark a brainstorm, power a debate, and sneak us into the backroom where they keep those flicks we never get to see. Somehow he makes time for his fellow film bloggers too, and offers us a closer look at one of them every Friday. A few weeks ago I took Adam Ross's Friday Screen Test and the results are now living at DVD Panache for all the world to see. This may be the best test I've ever taken in my whole life—'cause I knew all of the answers! Hmm, I wonder if anyone reading it has figured out the theme of the Friday night line-up at my fantasy revival theater (under the Strict But Fair heading on my Test)? Thanks again, Adam, for inviting me to take part in one of my favorite weekly reads in the film blogosphere!

Below are the questions from the test. See if you can match 'em to the answers at the Friday Screen Test.
Describe the frequency of your movie watching
Is there a movie for you that epitomizes the phrase "so bad it's good"?
You have your own revival theater, describe a movie marathon, double bill or themed week of programming you would show.
You are about to move to a foreign land, what movie(s) do you take with you, knowing that they could be enjoyed by someone who does not speak that film's language?
Are there movies that you prefer to watch at certain times of the year?
Have you ever embarrassed yourself while watching a movie?
Is there a scene in a movie that will always give you goosebumps no matter how many times you see it?
Are there movie quotes that have made their way into your regular lexicon?
Do you believe in walking out on a movie, and if so what movie reaffirmed this practice for you?
Is there a year that was particularly memorable for you as a film watcher?

Loitering Depression Style

Jc212
Strand Theatre, New York City, circa 1930. Photo by Thomas Lamb. Copyright © 2007 Theatre Historical Society of America.

When is a long line in front of your movie theatre not a good thing? When there's a Great Depression on, apparently. In the wake of the 1929 stock market crash, banks failed, savings were wiped out, factories ceased production, people lost jobs. It's shocking to read, at the web site I linked to above, that one out every four Americans was unemployed by 1932. We're familiar with the images of unemployed men and women standing in long breadlines during the hard times of the 1930s, but I'll wager we don't think too much about ticketlines. I just stumbled across this strange description while researching the next film of the year:

"In New York the doors of some of the film houses open at 10 o'clock in the morning and remain open until midnight with a continuous show going on. There are hardly any [shopping] baskets nor can housewives be distinguished in the throngs. In some cases the unemployment situation, especially in relation to stenographers and clerks, is gauged by the length of the early morning queues" ("Projection Jottings," New York Times (23 March 1930): X5)

This would have us believe that the some of the surge of unemployed in New York City in 1930 spent at least some of their time at all-day shows. I guess if you're looking for a place to rest, sleep, search the employment ads or wait for work, and can afford the 50¢ or less, an all-day movie exhibition is an attractive option. I've read articles about the effect of the Depression on attendance but, I wonder if anyone has done a study comparing unemployment figures with movie attendance figures in major cities during that time?

I Dare You to Take the Test

Are you keeping up with Adam Ross' Friday Screen Test at DVD Panache? It digs beneath the surface to uncover the viewing habits, personal tastes, and embarrassing movie-related memories of some of our favorite bloggers. Andy Horbal's Test is a fav, indie filmmaker and Lovesick Blog-a-Thon hostmaster Lucas McNelly of 100 Films revealed himself only yesterday, and Adam promises that soon Dennis Cozzalio of the outspoken, thought-provoking Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule will give it a try. So, when Adam threatened and peer-pressured me to take the Test I relented (ok,the truth is I was very flattered and caved in before he could even finish asking me). It was waaaay more fun than I expected and you can't imagine the questions I had to answer (my Test goes live May 11). See everyone's answers to Adam's probing questions at the Friday Screen Test. And think about getting yourself Tested too.

What's in a name?

Ever notice that some movie character names fit the character so perfectly? So perfectly that you just can't imagine that character having any other name (try to imagine Vito Corleone or Borat with a different monicker)? Here's a short list of some perfect movie character names that spring to mind. What are some of your favorites?

Milton Arbogast (Psycho)
Josh Baskin (Big)
Luca Brasi (The Godfather)
Foxy Brown (Foxy Brown)
Joel Cairo (The Maltese Falcon)
Harry Caul (The Conversation)
Mrs. Cobritz (The Fog)
Rico (Little Caesar)
Ann Darrow (King Kong)
Antoine Doinel (Les Quartre cents coups, etc)
Gaylord Focker (Meet the Parents)
Sammy Jankis (Memento)
Harry Lime (The Third Man)
Jack Lipnick (Barton Fink)
Fielding Mellish (Bananas)
Evelyn Mulwray (Chinatown)
Parvulesco (A bout de souffle)
Pedro de Pacas (Up in Smoke)
J.F. Sebastian (Bladerunner)
Seldom Seen (Kansas City)
Leonard Smalls (Raising Arizona)
Jeff Spicoli (Fast TImes at Ridgemont Hight)
Mark Thackeray (To Sir With Love)
Marsellus Wallace (Pulp Fiction)

Anticipation

BlogathonwingsOk, I give in. After ten months or so it's become evident that I not ever going to make my self-imposed update-every-Sunday deadline. I could claim that research takes more time now that I've hit a period in film history when there's more to research, but that's my stone to bear and I don't care for excuses. If you notice, I've already updated the "About Film of the Year" page to read "updated weekly." The idea is to take advantage of my weekday grind to write, write, write and stop pretending that I'm going to let blogging ever take precedence over weekend-ish activities over the weekend. Maybe I should give up the idea of a deadline, but the most common comment I receive (just got another e-mail yesterday) is "post more often" so I'm hoping that this adjustment will allow that to happen and keep my nose to the blogstone. Meanwhile, don't forget that the 1927 Blog-a-Thon is imminent and Goatdog would love your participation, Brian's Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors Blog-a-Thon is only a couple of days away upon us and chock-full of great writing, Andy is teasing us with a new blog, Adam's Friday Screen Test's are as fun to read as ever, and The Evening Class remains an eloquent read even as Michael adjusts to the role of superhero/reporter for SF360.

A 1920s Mixtape

Photoplay1929 end of the decade. This year-by-year exploration of the movies has offered so many chances to get to know the past. For instance, once the talkies arrived I was reminded that not only scores accompany movies but songs (like those in The Broadway Melody (1929)) are performed in them as well. I'll admit—though it's risking a demand that I change the title of my blog to nerd of the year—that I've been listening to songs from the 1920s chronologically as well as watching movies from each year. The musician and songwriter in me strongly feels that we can learn much about history from music. One thing I noticed is that the sounds of the decade could be as unpredictable, socially aware, scandalous and fun as the movies I viewed. Below I've arranged a chronological 1920s mixtape of some of the releases that I like, only one per year just like the blog, along with some films that they appeared in later (though typically not from the 20s). These are just the tip of song-berg for the decade, but if you're interested in exploring popular music from this era they'll get ya started.

1920 - I'll See You in C-U-B-A by Billy Murray. Irving Berlin's solution to the country "going dry" under national prohibition; a mini history lesson and film treatment in three minutes. I keep looking for it to turn up in a bootlegging/gangster flick, but so far no luck. Bing Crosby and Olga San Juan belt it out in Blue Skies (1946).

1921 - St. Louis Blues by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. A bandname that helped turn the word "jazz" from a verb into a noun? Gettin' down '20s style! :D Hear Woody Allen's take on it in Wild Man Blues (1997) or watch how a record helps to transform an image in Stella Dallas (1937).

The Obligatory Andy Horbal Not-Song. Al Jolson from The Jazz Singer (1927): "Wait a minute, wait a minute. You ain't heard nothin' yet! Wait a minute, I tell ya. You ain't heard nothin' yet. You wanna hear "Toot Toot Toosie?" All right. Hold on. Hold on."

1922 - Toot Toot Tootsie (Goo'bye) by Al Jolson. Forever connected in the popular imagination with The Jazz Singer and the introduction of talking motion pictures .

1923 - Yes! We Have No Bananas by Billy Jones. This tune was so ubiquitous back in the day that a protest song, "I've Got The Yes! We Have No Bananas Blues," was released, but you might remember Audrey Hepburn and Bogie playing around with it in Sabrina (1954).

1924 - Charleston by Arthur Gibbs & His Gang. Seems like there's a million variations on this song that defines the decade in many a movie soundtrack (and maybe in our minds too just try to listen to it and not think of the '20s). See Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst) and Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard) do the titular dance in the Hollywood murder drama The Cat's Meow (2001).

1925 - If You Knew Susie by Eddie Cantor. The adventurous full livin' free lovin' flapper is all rolled up (or down) into this infectious pop song. Gene Kelly and Ol' Blue Eyes put a variation over in Anchors Aweigh (1945) but it's performed Cantor style in The Great Ziegfeld (1936).

1926 - When The Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin' Along by Al Jolson. Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) eavesdrops on Ann (Cindy Willams) absent-mindedly singing a bit of this in The Conversation (1974). As the film slowly unfolds the playful tune becomes a kind-of requiem.

1927 - Are You Lonesome Tonight? by Vaughn De Leath. Forget Elvis' 1960 hit version for a minute, Illinois-born crooner De Leath (née Leonore Vonderleith)'s version is a cry of aching melancholy. I've been unable to find a screen performance of this one, but it could impact an audience as strongly as Lola Lola (Marlene Dietrich) singing "Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß auf Liebe eingestellt" in Der Blaue Engel (1930). I highly recommend it for a film soundtrack.

1928 - I Wanna Be Loved By You by Helen Kane (excellent podcast about Kane here). Kane charged that her stage and screen persona were appropriated by the creators of Betty Boop, but lost the case. Her signature naughty-but-nice song was mistreated to gruesome contrapuntal effect in Rob Zombie's trashy horror House of 1,000 Corpses (2003).

1929 - Am I Blue? by Annette Hanshaw. Why so blue in 1929? Stock Market Crash, rising unemployment, economic and political uncertainty got ya down? Or is it something more personal? Ethel Waters' version is better (and better known), but Hanshaw ends the mixtape with her trademark "that's all!" Check out a slinky performance by Diane Lane and Richard Gere in The Cotton Club (1984).

SF360 Honors Five Bloggers

When great and complex forces come together the sum creates something beyond either individual effect in what used to be called synergy. SF360 is co-published by San Francisco Film Society and indieWIRE and features "new experiences from America's films and media frontier." Michael Guillén is blessed with a genuine facility for writing and interviewing, and he posts regularly at his blog, The Evening Class (warning: very addictive). Recently, Michael and SF360 decided to join forces to craft original perspectives on film and other media. When they published A Blogger's Best Five I was not surprised to see the talented writing of Girish, Brian Darr, David Hudson and Matt Zoller Seitz honored with distinction. I'm very flattered that Film of the Year was also included among such excellent company. A heartfelt thank you to both Michael and SF360.

Question

Should the value and accuracy of history on film history films be judged with the same criteria used to evaluate written history? Why/Why not?

Insomnia Movie Marathon

I just stumbled across a perfect description of that insomnia movie marathon experience that many of us suffer through (thankfully TCM plays a lot of great stuff between midnight and six a.m.). It's a line from a Little Nemo cartoon. I'll see if I can track it down and scan the exact panel.

"Slumberland is a long way off through many miles of weird scenes."
—Winsor McCay

Indeed.

***

I found it.
Nemo

The Origins of American Animation

CentaursRereading the posts about the contributions to film animation by Émile Cohl and Lotte Reiniger I realize that I haven't yet shared a link to a handy Library of Congress web site titled The Origins of American Animation. At first glance the site doesn't look like much but the simple layout belies the rich content—you can download over twenty videos of groundbreaking animation work by pioneers like J. Stuart Blackton, Howard S. Moss, and my personal favorite, Winsor McCay. You can also read notes on each film's history by Scott Simmon, and historical connections to the work of these animators (not unlike some of the content of the present blog). The site cries out for an update (better quality versions of the primary historical documents, more research and scholarly analysis are all recommended) but the fact that the LoC makes these rare films available free to download makes The Origins of American Animation a worthwhile stop for any online exploration of the history of animated films.

A Flower Opened

Garden

Thanks to the comments section over at Girish's (a film blogger's equivalent of party central) I just discovered that poet/filmmaker Jennifer MacMillan's hypnotic The Garden Dissolves Into Air (2006) can be screened at her blog, Invisible Cinema. The surreal imagery and droning soundtrack are the equivalent of floating in a forest pond on a warm summer's evening. Its wonderful. Turn off the lights and watch it at Invisible Cinema.

DVD Game for a Snow Day

Next time you have a snow day or an afternoon to kill try this easy to play game:

Play a DVD with the audio coming through your sound system and TV turned off. Now, try to follow the narrative while only listening to the movie. It's easier to play this game if you're also doing homework. cooking, organizing your CD collection, reading blogs, cleaning your bike—anything that keeps you from looking at the screen—at the same time as you listen to the film.

The easier it is to follow the movie's story without seeing the screen the more the film suffers from lazy filmmaking. Better crafted films will require you to see at least some of the images in order to follow the narrative. The most artistic movies have audio that is so beguiling you will succumb to an urge to turn the TV back on in order to see what is taking place.

Bonus points are earned if you've already figured out why this game will not really work with any of the films I've written about so far at Film of the Year.

Happy New Year 2007!

Wheat_2

2006 saw the advent of Film of the Year, which underwent a transformation from distraction to serious passtime to daily obsession. I want to thank the film blogging family for the warm welcome they shared when I began posting and for some of the most inspirational writing I've ever had the pleasure to read. Thanks to these intelligent and prolific writers I've rediscovered why I love cinema this year; next year I expect to fall under its spell all over again. Thanks to Jennifer MacMillan, Michael Guillen, Brian Darr, Girish Shambu, Squish, Andy Horbal, Dennis Cozzalio, Lucas McNelly, Will Luers, Goatdog, André Soares, and everybody in the film blogging community for the support and the inspriation that turned a lark into something I truly cherish. Happy New Year to one and all! Here's wishing that your very best post of 2006 pales beside your worst post of 2007!

Yuletide Movie Marathon

It's was rather quiet in the film blogoshpere over the Christmas weekend (or maybe I just didn't spend much time surfing the usual spots); this blog was no exception. One common complaint (and biggest compliment) readers share about Film of the Year is that I don't post often enough. I try to update every Sunday. Really, I do. Besides, I'll wager that even some of the most prolific bloggers are taking full advantage of the Yuletide holiday and haven't posted on schedule. Instead of blogging, and knowing I'll post something about 1921 next time, I sat down with a shaker full of Siberian Sleigh Rides (providing Christmas cheer) and screened a wonderfully assorted slice of movies from that far-off year: The Affairs of Anatol, The Wildcat, Camille, Seven Years Bad Luck, and The Sheik. I also have The Kid and Destiny in the DVD pile but I haven't gotten around to those yet—besides I ran out of Sleigh Rides. I had a ball watching these movies all in a row. None of them had anything to do with the holiday season and that was refreshing when an overabundant concentration of jingle-stuff threaten to make some of us lose the happy glow. The cinematic splurg has an unexpected side effect though: with so many films to choose from how will I pick a single one to write about next time? Looks like this blog's projected plan (only one film per year) has some merit to it after all. Well, one of these movies will be the subject of the next regular post, but as to which one we'll just have to wait and see after New Year.

That Book Meme

After reading Girish's and Andy's responses to the book meme I've been wondering what my answers would be. It's been gnawing at the back of my mind and the suspense finally became too much so I decided to just sit down and write what comes to me. The exercise turned out to be more fun than I thought it would be.

1. One book that changed your life? I don't know about life changing, but there were a couple that nudged me into unexpected directions like The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac, The Art of War by Sun Tzu, Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. The most recent was Telling the Truth about History by Joyce Oldham Appleby, Lynn Hunt, Margaret Jacob.

2. One book that you have read more than once? I read Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges over and over. No matter how many times I get lost in his labyrinths I always come back for more. But, the most truthful answer is probably The Guitar Handbook. I've found that paying the guitar is like having a conversation with yourself. You can tell a lot about what is going on inside by how you play at a given moment— once you've mastered the basics, that is. This book is like the wiser guitar-playing older brother that I never had.

3. One book you would want on a desert island? Well, a complete set of encyclopedia would help pass the time best but if I have to choose one book to spend the rest of my days with on a desert island I'd better choose something that would help me keep my sanity and still be amusing over the years. Maybe The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book or The Arabian Nights.

4. One book that made you cry? A cookbook. (Onions, get it? ahem.) Seriously, it has never happened. Where The Red Fern Grows should have produced tears when my teacher read it aloud to the class, but I probably was busy drawing pictures of Spider-man or something and not paying attention.

5. One book that made you laugh? Naked by David Sedaris

6. One book you wish had been written? The story of my life so I could sneak a peek now and then to see if I'm making the right decisions.

7. One book you wish had never been written? I wouldn't banish any book from reality even those of which I disapprove. Poorly written works or ill-advised ideas will only reveal their shortcomings when read so I don't see the point in opposing their existence.

8. One book you are reading currently? I'm enjoying a few right now: From Hitler to Heimat: the Return of History as Film by Anton Kaes, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States by Charles Beard, Vamp by Eve Golden, and I'm anxious wating for the postman to deliver BFI Companion to Eastern European and Russian Cinema by Richard Taylor.

9. One book you have been meaning to read? That list is too big, but here's a few: What Makes Sammy Run by Budd Schulberg (suggested by Betty Davis on TCM's recent replaying of the Dick Cavett show), Rereading Frederick Jackson Turner: The Significance of the Frontier in American History and Other Essays by Frederick Jackson Turner, Beds by Groucho Marx (hunting this one down), Hitchcock by Francois Truffaut, Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory by Edward J. Larson and most recently added to my list of must-reads, Poetics of Cinema by Raul Ruiz.

10. Pass it on. Open to all. Jmac have you done this yet?

I'm Not Worthy

It's my privilege and great pleasure to have Film of the Year receive praise from Andre Soares at the esteemed Alternative Film Guide.

Though he points out that I've neglected to identify myself thus far on this blog (oops, I've remedied that oversight in the sidebar) Mr. Soares also flatters the work that I've been doing here:

"[Film of the Year]...tracks the history of cinema from its very beginnings to — thus far — 1910. Chock-full of fascinating information on the films [Thom] has watched, and highly entertaining."

Thank you Andre.

1909 (part 1): On The Beaten Pathé

While researching this week's Film of the Year, A Corner in Wheat (1909), I came across an article in the January 3, 1909 issue of the New York Times about the “nation-wide wave of moving pictures.” The piece describes the state of the American film industry at that time through technical and economic stats. You probably don't want to waste your time digging through old newspapers (what's wrong with me, anyway?) so I’ll share some of the info:

• Average cost to open a nickelodeon: $4,000
• Number of theaters in U.S. : 10,000
• Exhibitors' employees: 100,000
• Weekly attendance: 45 million
• Price of admission: 5¢ or 10¢ (depending on location)
• Estimated weekly income of all box offices: $3,000,000

45 million weekly admissions in 1909? Wow. That comes to 2.34 billion for the year, or over 900 million more admissions than U.S. movie theaters reported in 2005! Those numbers give us some idea of how popular the cinema was back in the day (and how lucrative- that box office is in 1909 dollars!). Reading Richard Abel's The Red Rooster Scare increases the significance of these figures because the book reveals that at the time—the only time in history—a foreign power dominated the American cinema market. These days Hollywood films outnumber local output in many countries and U.S. companies dominate worldwide distribution, but that trend was once just the opposite. In the early part of the 20th century Pathé Freres of France was the top producer of films screened in America. That's right, most of the money described in that Times article was going out of the country and filling pockets in Europe. If you're wondering how this came to pass, read on.

The success of Georges Méliés’ trick films in the vaudeville circuit and the vast popularity of other films like The Great Train Robbery (1903) encouraged American entrepreneurs to construct buildings for the sole purpose of showing movies all day long. The theaters were dubbed nickelodeons, and by 1909 there 500 in New York alone; every town of any size had at least one. To keep patrons spending nickels in them the owners needed a steady supply of new films. As discussed in an earlier post, France's Pathé Fréres was the only company in the world with the resources to produce enough quality films to answer this demand. Technically and artistically, American film companies were lagging behind partly because many were focused on fighting each other in court over patents and licensing instead of making movies.

To find out how the U.S. companies wrestled control back into American hands, read 1909 - part two.

This essay written by Thom Ryan
© 2006 Thom Ryan Some rights reserved

Film Bloggers, Agree on a Style

I'm breaking the regular flow of this blog in the hope of making the film blogosphere a more reader friendly place. At a recent discussion at No More Marriages Andy, Lucas and I (ok, mostly me but I want to share due credit/blame) proposed the adoption of a common style for film titles in blogs. We've seen film titles bold, italicized, with single or double quotes, all caps, various combinations, etc. While a style exists for the print world a unique style can address needs peculiar to blogs. We’re proposing that film titles in blogs have the following style:

The first instance of a film title is bold and italicized followed by the year in parantheses: Casablanca (1942). Subsequent instances are italicized bold but do not include the year: Casablanca.

The same style is used for hyperlinked film titles: Casablanca (1942)

When footnoting only use italics and add the year for the first instance only: [1] See Casablanca (1942).

Why these style choices? Bold titles allow speedy identification of the film being discussed in a blog post. Italics set off the word(s) as a title. Quick adoption of this style in film blogs will contribute to a more choesive film blogosphere, and enable us to communicate faster and more efficiently with our readers. Thoughts? Ideas? Input is welcome requested.