ED WOOD (1994)

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Tim Burton pays homage to “world’s worst” fringe filmmaker Edward D. Wood Jr., featuring some reenacted scenes of Wood’s most infamous films: GLEN OR GLENDA (1953), BRIDE OF THE MONSTER (1955), NIGHT OF THE GHOULS (1959) and PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959).

The film not only focuses on the artistic struggles of this director, but also sympathetically portrays his obsessions, his love life, and many of his unusual friends.

Martin Landau was awarded the Academy Award and the Golden Globe as Best Supporting Actor for his role as the forgotten horror legend Bela Lugosi (“Dracula”, 1931). [The movie garnered its second Oscar for the Best Make-Up.] Wood is played by a very enthusiastic young Johnny Depp, and you can also enjoy Bill Murray, Patricia Arquette, Sarah Jessica Parker, Vincent D’Onofrio and other great character actors in this film.

Despite being critically acclaimed, this film is the first of Tim Burton’s legendary financial failures with only making back a third of its budget in the USA [the other ones are: “Corpse Bride”, “Dark Shadows”, “Frankenweenie”, “Big Fish” and worst of all “Mars Attacks!” which again interestingly is a different form of homage to Ed Wood!]. It also marks Burton’s first R-rated film.

For our course, this film marks a new beginning, and from now we will delve into more “modern” and adventurous forms of film production. It will be a break from the classics we have been watching so far, but despite being made in the 90’s, the films setting is the 50’s, and Burton choose to shoot it in B/W, probably aiming to look more “authentic”. It also will introduce you to a different type of film production away from the glamour of Golden Hollywood (despite those small production companies on “Poverty Row” being geographically relatively close to their big competitors).

Wood whose directorial efforts could be considered in the very best case as mixed pleasures, nowadays is admired by many for his strong independent spirit, being an “auteur” type of filmmaker, and having made with “Glen or Glenda” (1953) the world’s first “serious” film about transvestism and transsexualism. Many of his films are also “So Bad It’s Good” type of movies being very enjoyable for their cult audience. The University of Southern California is holding a yearly “Ed Wood Film Festival” in which students are competing to produce short films in Wood’s style. Wood’s films also have been shown in the TV program “Mystery Science Theater 3000″, and there exists even a new baptist group of “Woodites” who celebrate Ed Wood as their savior 🙂

IMDb link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0109707/?ref_=nm_flmg_dr_14

SCREENING #6: A PLACE IN THE SUN (1951)

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The first half of our lectures will be closed by the classic melodrama “A Place in the Sun”, directed by George Stevens (1904-75), which is based on novelist Theodore Dreiser’s “An American Tragedy”. The story is about a career-oriented young man of poor origins whose plain and pregnant girlfriend becomes source of his distress after meeting the blue-blooded girl of his dreams.

The stars of this film are Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor (2 times Academy Award winner), Shelley Winters (2 times Academy Award winner), Raymond Burr and Anne Revere (Academy Award winner).

Charlie Chaplin praised as “Place in the Sun” to be “the greatest movie ever made about America” and it won six Academy Awards (Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Score, Best Cinematography, Best Costumes and Best Editing) and a Golden Globe for the Best Picture (at the institution’s first installment it became the first motion picture in history to win this price).

Although the film was released in 1951, it was shot in 1949. Paramount Studios had already released its blockbuster Sunset Boulevard in 1950 when this film wrapped. The studio did not want what was sure to be another blockbuster in this film competing for Oscars with “Sunset Boulevard” so it waited until 1951 to release this film, which actually pleased the director, as he would use the extra time to spend editing the film.

Montgomery Clift was a method actor and top male star in the 50s, competing with Marlon Brando. He was planned to play Joe Gillis of Sunset Boulevard, but turned the role down to be too close to his real life (the role was written for him). In general, he was very picky for his roles and therefore stood out with great performances in great movies, for example in “Red River” (with John Wayne, 1948), “I Confess” (directed by Alfred Hitchcock, 1951), “Raintree Country” (with Elizabeth Taylor again, 1957), The Young Lions (with Marlon Brando, 1958), Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), The Misfits (with Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable, 1961) and Freud (1962). However, his private life was not a happy one (probably mainly because he was struggling to hide his homosexuality). During the filming of Raintree Country he experienced a serious car accident, which almost got him killed and from which he had never psychologically recovered. After plastic face surgery, he became dependent on painkillers and alcohol. When he appeared with Marilyn Monroe in “Misfits”, she famously described him in an interview as “the only person I know who is in even worse shape than I am.” Clift passed away at the young age of 45 in 1966.

On a side note, Anne Revere who plays Clift’s mother in A Place in the Sun, became of the victims of the “Second Red Scare” blacklisting because of her supposed “liberal” politics. After this film she did not appear in another movie until 1970.

IMDb link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0043924/?ref_=nv_sr_2

SCREENING #5: SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950)

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Famous silent movie star Norma Desmond’s career has faded to oblivion. Eager to make a comeback she chooses young B-Movie screenwriter Joe Gillis to fix her script. But during the process, Norma starts to fancy him. Financially dependent on her, it becomes more and more difficult for Joe to refuse her.

This film noir was directed by Austrian immigrant Billy Wilder (1906-2002) who is considered to be one of the top directors and writers during Hollywood’s Golden Age. Among his credits are classics like “Double Idemnity” (1944), “The Lost Weekend” (1945), “Sabrina” (1954) and “Some Like It Hot” (1959).

Although not all Hollywood “insiders” – some older movie stars and in particular MGM studio boss Louis B. Meyer – were very fond of Sunset Boulevard, it managed to garner 11 Academy Award nominations and 3 Academy Awards (Best Script, Best Art Direction, Best Score). The critical reception was tremendous, and also financially the film had a moderate success (it did well in the metropolitan areas, but poor in the countryside). In 1998, Sunset Boulevard was selected to be number 12 of AFI’s 100 best American movies.

Director Billy Wilder gathered a great crew – eight time Academy Award winner Edith Head for the costumes, composer Franz Waxman, art director Hans Dreier, make-up artist Wally Westmore – and cast: Gloria Swanson, herself a faded star from the silent era, as Norma Desmond, the up-and-coming William Holden as the young writer, and legendary silent filmmaker and actor Erich von Stroheim as Norma’s servant Max. In special appearances one can see other greats of the silent era: Comedian/actor Buster Keaton, director Cecil B. DeMille, actress Anna Q. Nielsen and British actor H.B. Warner.

The film’s story is said to be inspired by the life of actress Norma Talmadge – a superstar of the silent screen that did not succeed in making the transition to the talkies, had an affair with actor Gilbert Roland (who was 12 years younger than herself) and spent her later days in wealthy retirement. Another reference is to the mysterious murder case of film director William Desmond Taylor.

IMDb link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0043014/?ref_=sr_2