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

Ideological and archetypal concepts battle wildly with each other throughout M-G-M’s REUNION IN FRANCE from 1942. Executive produced by a Republican and directed by a Leftist, cast with leads whose bodies of work have nothing in common, this flag-waving tribute to the French Resistance both praises and damns la belle France while trying to engender […]

Watching old Paramount movies on TV as a teenager, I thought — out of all the major studios’ films — theirs were the most racist :  Fred MacMurray and Madeleine Carroll’s interactions with the ‘plantation darkies’ in VIRGINIA, Bob Hope’s bizarre (in retrospect) relationship with his ‘boy,’ Willie Best, in THE GHOST BREAKERS, or even […]

When Hollywood (as Gloria Swanson rapturously proclaimed in SUNSET BOULEVARD) “had the eyes of the world,” it also had the power as a Culture Industry to discriminate in representing other forms of American popular entertainment that competed with filmdom’s market share. For example, Putt-Putt Golf was a hugely popular entertainment during the Great Depression, drawing […]

“BOOBIES!! BOOBIES!! BOOBIES!!” shouted the inebriated Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke) to no one in particular as she stumbled down a scuzzy street of strip bars and adult theaters in 1967’s VALLEY OF THE DOLLS.  Self-consciously appraising her own dimensions against the aggressive images of the adult-entertainment placards, she summed up the state of show business […]

Experimental / avant-garde filmmaking became a fertile, serious art movement in the United States with the creation of MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON by the husband and wife team of Alexander Hammid and Maya Deren in 1943.  Experimental shorts had been made before MESHES, however this black-and-white film of dark Freudian imagery, filmed in bright Los […]

There were a lot of Hollywood talents from the studio era whose names were associated with the “factory” aspects of that time:  making one film after another of varying quality, jumping from genre to genre, producing “good Hollywood fare.”  The output of these industry creatives tended to be lumped together, the good with the bad, […]

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 […]

Categories: Classic Film | 7 Comments

Running down the résumés of BURN, WITCH, BURN!‘s cast and crew, I couldn’t tell which artistic/commercial direction this film would lead me.  It could land in one of two distinct territories:  a flimsy story with fake blood and occasional flashes of tits, or it could be a thinking man’s gothic opera. BURN, WITCH, BURN!‘s director, […]

Americans are believers. The emotional comforts of fiction and the psychic fuel of wishing are, ironically, both our common cultural trait and the wedge that keeps the nation out of unity.  The United States’ highly-touted Freedom of Choice is most frequently exercised by its citizens in Choosing To Believe:  to believe pundits, conspiracy theories, articles […]

I have a single, personal mathematical equation that applies to the entire History of Film:  Cecil B. DeMille = Butt-Aches. Moribund and overblown movies such as THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH set me fidgeting after the first quarter-hour.  A movie-loving friend summed up the director’s tastes by pointing out DeMille’s movies […]

Remember at the end of 1946’s THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES when the characters played by Dana Andrews and Teresa Wright, despite their challenges of underemployment, post-war stress, and scant time knowing each other, decided to get married?  Did you ever wonder what sorts of lives and marriage that couple would be sustaining a […]

Documentary Film experienced a sea-change during the 10-year period from 1980 to 1990.  As video cameras entered the mass-retail market, many who felt they had something to say quickly embraced video as the medium for getting their message to a large audience.  The result was an exponential number of offerings, voices never allowed cultural space […]

“Who was Frank Ryan??” I’ve been asking that question for a decade and haven’t come up with an acceptable answer. Ryan co-directed a comedy at RKO, then helmed four features at Universal.  One of the few verified facts I’ve found on him only increases the Ryan Enigma:  he died a few weeks after his 40th […]

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, […]

I’m not joking:  GODZILLA vs. THE SMOG MONSTER is a multi-layered, supremely heightened movie experience that can bless an appropriately receptive viewer with enormous gratifications by the final fade-out. However — the producer of the Godzilla series, Tomoyuki Tanaka, disagreed.  Hospitalized during the film’s production, Tanaka went virtually apoplectic when he saw the finished work, […]

Most Film Noir has some sort of philosophical / existential aspect woven into it:  the private dick’s jaundiced look at love and morals, an old drunk’s musings on life slipping through his hands, etc.  But REPEAT PERFORMANCE is entirely built on a fatalist / defeatist foundation, and although it has elements of fantasy, it’s also […]

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 […]

Since I’ve worked over many years in several aspects of the Industry, most of my posts approach a movie as more than an end product:  they also look at the work culture of making a film plus the bottom-line realities of how everything up on the screen had to be paid for one way or […]

While in New York recently, I caught the Tim Burton retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art.  In addition to the staggering displays of prized artifacts, MoMA hosted a screening series of Burton’s favorite films, including Disney’s post-War animated delectation THE ADVENTURES OF ICHABOD AND MR. TOAD, the 1974 all-star disaster (in more than one […]

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 […]

Director Gregory LaCava left a far greater imprint on Hollywood history than just his chef d’ouevre MY MAN GODFREY.  A graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago, LaCava broke into the industry as an animator.  Soon he was recruited for William Randolph Hearst’s new animation studios where he adapted the Hearst Syndicate’s comic strip Katzenjammer […]

The ultimate spoiled rich kid, Kim Jong-il, is also a wannabe movie maker. In addition to being the national movie critic, he has written a Marxist book on the art of cinema.  Yet his personal tastes in cinema have been anything but Marxist:  the sketchy information gleaned from the other side of the Bamboo Curtain […]

[This post was written in conjunction with the For the Love of Film:  The Film Preservation Blogathon this week.  Please DONATE to the National Film Preservation Foundation.] The need for film preservation eventually reduces to a discussion of film stock.  It’s the effects of age and the unstable chemicals in the physical elements of film […]



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