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Entries in silent films (28)

Thursday
Feb132014

17 Days Til Oscar

Today's Useless But Fun Oscar Trivia Numbers Chain!

17 years ago The English Patient (1996) won 9 Oscars, driving Julia Louis-Dreyfus Elaine to the brink of madness "quit telling your stupid story about the desert and just die already. die!!!" and making it one of the seven most-Oscared films of all time. (Only Titanic and Return of the King have since beat it). Can Gravity, which has 10 nominations but will definitely lose Best Actress, tie The Patient's record -- it would have to win ALL of its other nominations -- or do you foresee a "spread the wealth" year?

Sal Mineo is the only 17 year-old of either gender ever nominated for an Oscar. That nomination came for his role as "Plato" in Rebel Without a Cause (1955). Mineo also holds the record of youngest (male) actor to two nominations as he was nominated for Exodus (1960) by the age of 22. He would have turned 75 this very year had he not been murdered at the age of 37 in West Hollywood.

• Nomination #17 was the lucky number for Meryl Streep with The Iron Lady, finally giving her her controversial and long-awaited third win (2011). If it had only been for The Devil Wears Prada (2006) instead!

• There are only three people who've ever been nominated for an Oscar exactly 17 times. Those lucky souls are the production designer George W. Davis who won Art Direction Oscars for The Robe (1953) and The Diary of Anne Frank (1959),  the composer Miklós Rosza who won Best Original Score for Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945), as well as A Double Life (1947) and Ben-Hur (1959) and, finally and most recently, Gary Rydstrom who has been nominated in three different categories (Animated Short Film  and both Sound categories) and has won 7 Oscars! 

• In 1917 the Oscars hadn't been invented yet but if they had I'm reasonably certain that Mary Pickford would have won Best Actress unless scary Theda Bara had intervened (Pickford had at least three hits that year and then we could have been spared her career-tribute Oscar win for Coquette which so embarrasses Oscar historians!) 

And finally I made this photograph (and also the snowballs) this morning which I have christened

SEVENTEEN SNOW DAYS TIL OSCAR  

I had planned to do something far more elaborate an hour or two afterwards. (Yes, I am one of those sick sick people who loves winter and the snow) but then it quickly turned to sludge. Boo! 

Thursday
Feb062014

A century of tramping

Hi all, it’s Tim, here to celebrate a milestone of particular significance in the history not just of movies, but of pop culture generally. This weekend marks a centennial of one of the most iconic figures of the modern world: silent comedian Charles Chaplin’s legendary Little Tramp, who premiered in a pair of short comedies that released 100 years ago by Keystone Studios. The second to be shot, but the first to be released, was the half-reel comic short Kid Auto Races at Venice, Cal. on February 7, 1914; two days later, it was followed by the single-reel Mabel’s Strange Predicament, during the production of which Chaplin threw together a costume on the fly made of too-large shoes, baggy pants, a tight jacket, and a bowler hat. Within months – if not, indeed, within weeks – the character thus assembled through a quick burst of inspiration had become a sensation with audiences, and by the end of 1915 would be firmly entrenched as the most internationally beloved face in movies.

The Tramp, at the time of his birth, bears very little resemblance to the figure that he’d become over the next few years as Chaplin gained more artistic autonomy and developed a clearer sense of what he wanted to do with the character. In Kid Auto Races, he’s a belligerent bystander trying to ruin someone’s newsreel footage of the race (in addition to its freewheeling violation of the fourth wall, the film is claimed to be the first time that a movie crew was shown in a movie) – you can see on the faces of the race bystanders (the film was shot guerilla-style in an afternoon) that they’re a little confused and a lot delighted by the weird little figure. In Mabel’s Strange Predicament, he’s a drunken lech in a hotel lobby trying to assault a pajama-clad 19-year-old Mabel Normand (who also directed), forcing her to hide under a bed. The Keystone slapstick comedy formula was not, after all, very sophisticated: it was built on the twin pillars of people falling down, and people getting hit in the face. In the early going, Chaplin’s gift wasn’t to subvert these tropes, but to execute them as flawlessly as possible, and the Tramp made for an easily-mocked figure whose pratfalls were played with acrobatic skill that remains fresh and wildly physical, even after a century.

Somewhere along the line, though, Chaplin began to find something fuller and richer to do with the character, and that’s the Tramp we know and love today. The put-upon everyman with an eternal sense of optimism, who no matter how often he got knocked down, was always ready to dust himself off and trudge on to the next fight. Which he’d also probably lose. He represents the best instincts of humanity found at the lowest rung of society, a pathetically admirable figure. The early Tramp is a loser that we laugh at because he’s also kind of a jerk; the late Tramp is a loser that we laugh at because he let us laugh at our own failings without criticism.

That overwhelmingly generous human spirit animates all of the late silent masterpieces: The Gold Rush, City Lights, Modern Times. They’re funny, though not by any means the funniest of all silent comedies; but they are probably the sweetest and warmest. They are the works of an artist who could look at the world and say, “this is wrong”, but instead of being angry and depressed about that, follow with, “and here’s how we can make it better”. That has been the Tramp’s legacy: he is cinema’s finest portrait of our best selves as humans. On his one-hundredth birthday, I’m happy to remember all of the great experiences I’ve had watching his stumbles and small triumphs, and I’m pleased to think of all the films in his lengthy career that I still get to see for the first time.

Five Essential Little Tramp Films
The Floorwalker (1916, two-reel) - YouTube
The Pawnshop (1916, two-reel) - YouTube
The Immigrant (1917, two-reel) - YouTube
The Gold Rush (1925, feature)
City Lights
(1931, feature)

Five titles, of course, is barely even scratching the surface, so I'll throw it out there: what's your favorite Little Tramp movie?

Thursday
Dec052013

Silent Linking

Variety glorious piece gently berating Disney for their self-loathing Frozen marketing ('no, this isn't about girls and it's not a musical, either!')
Towleroad James Franco's '50 Shades of Batman & Robin'. Ha! I know a lot of people hate Franco's absurdities and his ubiquity but I love that he has turned the boredom of professional acting (all that time not acting on film sets or between jobs) into performance art.
EW Marcia Gay Harden will play Christian Gray's mother in 50 Shades of Gray. Can the movie just be about her instead?
MNPP which is hotter retro reminder: American Hustle's JLaw or... 

Vanity Fair Katey wonder whether Lena Dunham or Kristen Stewart have the Sundanceiest Sundance movie
Time Wispy beautiful Gal Gadot from Fast and Furious 6 will play the world's most famous Amazon warrior, Wonder Woman. Or at least Diana Prince in that likely-to-be-terrible Man of Steel 2 Men of Steel? Batman vs Superman? World's Finest. (I don't care what it's called. So bored of superhero movies... especially Batman. He's been on movie screens regularly since 1989... hibernate in the cave for a bit, PLEASE. Make us miss you)
Cinema Blend Two competing live action version of The Jungle Book are headed your way. It's Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu vs. Jon Favreau. I can't be the only person who still remembers the 90s live action version with Jason Scott Lee, can I?
The Wire Joe Reid on Her's NBR win
Hollywood Elsewhere Jeffrey Wells is grossed out by some hearsay that someone somewhere who is savvy about Oscars thinks Saving Mr Banks is going to win Best Picture. (P.S. You can find someone somewhere who thinks anything... even among people who are generally not completely dumb about the Oscars)
Coming Soon a new Ira Levin adaptation is coming: Veronica's Room. If it's anywhere close to as good as previous Levin adaptations like Rosemary's Baby or The Stepford Wives (original) than we are in for a treat.

Today's Must Read
Gawker Tom Scocca's essay about "Smarm" and social media. A lot of food for thought. Don't dismiss it unless YOU'VE written a 9,253 word thinkpiece...

Finally... 

Library of Congress findings on Silent Films

Finally, I'm noticing a lot of news sites suddenly reporting about these awful stats about the survival of silent film... or the lack thereof that is. This chart and many of the articles, are stemming from a September 2013 report from the Library of Congress which you can read in full here.

Monday
Sep162013

The Story Of Film: An Odyssey

Anne Marie here with a mixed blessing for film lovers. Turner Classic Movies is hosting the American premiere of The Story Of Film: An Odyssey, a fifteen part documentary on the history of film by documentary filmmaker Mark Cousins. Cousins, who looks like the Scottish love child of Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch, spent 6 years researching and filming for his documentary series, and his efforts paid off. The Story Of Film: An Odyssey is even more fun (and informational) than a World Film college course.

 

Cousins does a great job of connecting moments in film to each other. He shows how the visual language of film was formed, and builds each step in the development of modern filmmaking. For example, in the premiere episode, Cousins shows us the first example of a closeup from a 1901 short called The Little Doctor and the Sick Kitten, in which a closeup is used to show in detail a sick kitten being fed. Then, Cousins shows how the closeup has evolved into something more powerful, first with a scene from an Eisenstein film, and then with a scene from Once Upon The Time In The West. Cousins narrates each episode in his own distinct style.

While you can enjoy and take notes from Cousins's extensive knowledge of world film history (as I have; who knew Swedish silent cinema was so cool??) keep in mind that every filmmaker is biased. Cousins's bias is against Hollywood. While I understand that he's attempting to expand his viewers' perspectives outside conventional Hollywood cinema, I disagree with his methods. Last week's episode was devoted to early Hollywood, and Cousins's favorite image to repeat is a Christmas ornament shattering on the rocks near the Hollywood sign. It gets heavy-handed. He also fails to define his terms, dubbing most of Hollywood "Romantic" cinema but then failing to discuss what constitutes "Classic" or "Realist" cinema, though he throws the terms around a lot. He does, however, call Erich Von Stroheim a "Realist" director. Von Stroheim was many things - an auteur, a fetishist, an innovator, an egoist - but he definitely wasn't interested in reality. But now I'm just showing you my bias.

Turner Classic Movies shows a new segment of The Story Of Film: An Odyssey every Monday night, with an encore every Tuesday. Also on Monday nights, TCM has a lineup of some of the films discussed by Cousins. The 15 part series will run into December, so if you're looking for something to do on Mondays besides laundry, definitely check it out!

Sunday
Feb172013

Small Talk With Nosferatu

silent sunday

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