When You Get Really Close to a Movie Screen, Film Emulsion Looks like…
Boiling Sand

So this is ATLAS SHRUGGED. I have to confess that I never read Ayn Rand’s epic tome on selfishness:  I’m a glacially-slow reader, so a commitment to wading through a 1,000+ page book (whose prose style has been given just qualified praise by even her most devout acolytes) would last longer than some of my […]

Memory comes like a rope let down from heaven, to draw one out of the abyss of unbeing.          — Marcel Proust Not long ago I was sitting at a bistro in an upscale mall on the South China Coast where I had coffee with a former lover. Ours wasn’t a great romance, no great chemistry […]

A great many fans of Elizabeth Taylor declare that 1974’s THE DRIVER’S SEAT is her worst film.  It isn’t — but it’s probably the least middlebrow thing she ever did. It’s a pedigreed package:  based on a Muriel Spark novella, filmed by a Neopolitan opera director with images burnished by master cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, featuring […]

In film school, one teacher explained the curious connection between Thomas Edison inventing the movies in New Jersey at the same time the Lumière Brothers were doing the same thing in France and William Friese-Greene in Britain by giving the mytho-poetic explanation, “There was something in the air.”  He went on to state similar synchronistic […]

One of the mystical, personal treasures of loving film is the cyclical timing of the appearances and reappearances of movies.  It can take many forms:  a feel-good favorite from your early years can show up on cable; a movie you saw in an empty theater 20 years ago –one that everyone else avoided — can […]

It was one of those days the expats where I lived called a “Bad China Day.”  This was a day when the commonly high-strung population of our city on the South China Coast seemed unusually aggressive in their pushing and shoving and shouting on the streets — like the crowd of extras clustering to jump […]

There’s one obsession I’ve long pursued, while another obsession — for decades — has followed me around.  They finally collided. Artwork influenced by movies has been a personal obsession:  in the days before home video, I searched eight years for a public screening of Joseph Cornell’s ROSE HOBART; I spent last Christmas Eve at the […]

Over the years, I’ve often wondered what the story was behind the Rochester-based creative team of Watson and Webber, who made experimental, avant-garde films in the 1920s and 30s.  James Sibley Watson was an M.D. with connections to early 20th Century modern poets such as E. E. Cummings and Marianne Moore.  The less-documented Melville Webber, […]

If I were using the old rule of judging a book by its cover, I shouldn’t be able to tolerate this movie. For most of the studio era, Twentieth Century-Fox generated tons of awful musicals, with listless plots, sexless dancing, and brassy orchestrations.  When Veronica Lake told Joel McCrea in SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS that “musicals hurt […]

[This review is dedicated to the gifted show business survivor, June Havoc, who passed away March 28th. –DB ] In Hollywood many years ago, I heard stories of life on the set of movies directed by W. S. Van Dyke.  One story went that every afternoon a portable cocktail bar was rolled onto the soundstage and […]

Los Angeles in the days of New Wave totally kicked ass:   The Police (including an impossibly young Sting) gigging at the upstairs bar of Madame Wong’s in Chinatown; Pee-Wee Herman developing his act at clubs on Sunset Boulevard; Andy Warhol snapping Polaroids of hipsters waiting on the street to get into Club Lingerie; future […]

On December 30th, 2009, the Library of Congress announced the next twenty-five films chosen for preservation in the National Film Registry, merited on their “enduring importance to American culture.”  On the list was the 1975 animated short QUASI AT THE QUACKADERO by Sally Cruikshank. As the Library of Congress announced: “Quasi at the Quackadero” has […]

When Francis Coppola’s RUMBLE FISH was released in the early 1980s, I read a report that throughout the production the director would repeat, “This is my student film.” I’m a former film student and ex-professor to film students, so I understand how that phrase crystallizes a unique aesthetic and precious experience in film viewing:  the […]

On a snowy, slushy day in Chicago, gazing out the plate glass window of a Starbucks, I’m thinking of the New Jersey native who embodied all things sunny and casual:  Sandra Dee. “Ms. Dee defined a new kind of natural, sun-soaked innocence that America, and much of the rest of the world, quickly embraced as […]

I don’t do Top Ten lists. I think they’re ridiculous.  As a frequent film festival juror, I’ve seen films that never got a commercial release (or sometimes even a festival screening timeslot) that were much better than anything distributed during the year.  A similar scenario:  about a decade ago, J. Hoberman listed Lawrence Brose’s DE […]

Last Friday, I had morning coffee at a cozy westside cafe in Manhattan while trying to find words that attempt to articulate my appreciation of the legacy left behind by actress Jennifer Jones, who died last week at the age of ninety. When I first heard the news, I went into a little bit of […]

The second most surprising animation I’ve seen during this stay in China was a blast from my childhood:  the “Silly Rabbit” hawking TRIX cereal is now a primetime bunny on China’s Saturday night commercial slots. But the strangest cartoon in Sino-world has been an ‘educational’ video on the H1N1 virus, shown as part of the […]

I was sitting in Shanghai’s domestic air terminal this week, flipping through a Chinese fashion magazine.  While looking at photos of clothes (an art form that pingpongs between decorative and functional elements, overload and restraint) I decided to grapple with the merits of a lame / fascinating / bizarre / ho-hum movie from 1963. Perhaps […]

I’M NOT A FILM ARCHIVIST but the three-headed monster known as my career (making media, writing and assessing media, managing media) has always kept me one or two degrees away from the field.  So I’m happy to report that I’ll be blogging from the conference of the Association of Moving Image Archivists, held this year […]

I’m in Houston today:  North America’s fourth largest city, frequently named an overlooked gem in the New York Times’ travel section, and home to many cultural treasures including the Mark Rothko Chapel. I just left the Rothko Chapel, where I had a strong, cleansing meditation — sitting twixt a frail, elderly Asian woman in a […]

You know how it goes:  you look for something on the Web and before you know it you’ve hypertexted yourself into a totally different realm of information. That’s how it was for me one night when I found myself on the IMDB User Comments page for Peter Watkins’ PUNISHMENT PARK.  I was amazed at the […]

Star vehicles can be a twonky trip when you know zip about the star it’s carrying.  Worshipful costuming, dramatic entrances and exits, and deifying lighting plans can help you interpret what kind of characters this actor generally plays, what fantasy audiences project upon him.  Indeed, few things illuminate Marshall McLuhan’s axiom that “the medium is […]

By coincidence BOILING SAND went live on the 10th of October, the birthday of 1950s cult film director Ed Wood.   To commemorate both their introductions to the world, I’m re-posting a personal memoir of my early days in Hollywood and of knowing Wood’s makeup man, Harry Thomas. Have you ever heard Charlie Parker’s 1947 […]

When I was a young pup working in the film/tv production industry, I was flipping through the Lowel lighting equipment catalog during a break and read that the company invented Gaffer’s Tape in 1959. No, way!! — I thought — How could GONE WITH THE WIND have been made without Gaffer’s Tape?!?!?   How could […]



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