SCREENING #5: ED WOOD (1994) – 126 Min.

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Tim Burton pays homage to “world’s worst” fringe filmmaker Edward D. Wood Jr., featuring some reenactments of Wood’s most infamous moments in film: 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

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SCREENING #4: SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950) – 110 MIN.

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

Screening #3: Angels With Dirty Faces (1938) – 97 min.

Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)

James Cagney, one of Hollywood’s greatest “tough guys”, plays opposite of Pat O’Brien in this classic gangster film about two former friends who had chosen different paths when growing adult.

Also starring the legendary Humphrey Bogart (who was selected by the AFI in 1999 for being US cinema’s greatest male star) and glamorous Ann Sheridan at the beginning of their careers.

The film is directed by Hungarian born director Michael Curtiz who won in 1942 an Academy Award as Best Director for the classic “Casablanca” (starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman).

Warner Bros. produced a number of other significant gangster films during the Thirties that have distinct themselves from the usual escapist entertainment of that period: Little Cesar (starring Edward G. Robinson, 1930), The Public Enemy (with James Cagney, 1931), Scarface (with Paul Muni, 1932), I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (with Paul Muni, 1932), The Petrified Forest (with Humphrey Bogart, 1936) and The Roaring Twenties (with Cagney and Bogart, 1939). Ten years later, James Cagney returned one more time to the portrayal of a gangster for Warner Bros. in the classic film noir “White Heat” (1949).

Angels With Dirty Faces received three Academy Award nominations for Best Director (Curtiz), Best Writing Original Story (Rowland Brown) and Best Actor in a Leading Role (Cagney).

James Cagney was strongly admired as one of the greatest actors of all time by many famous film professionals, among them Orson Welles, Marlon Brando, Stanley Kubrick, Clint Eastwood and Malcolm McDowell. Three times nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actor, he received it once for “Yankee Doodle Dandy” in 1942. He also received the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award in 1974, and was ranked #8 among the “50 Greatest American Screen Legends” in 1999. In the same year, the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp honoring him. Actor Charlton Heston called him “…one of the most significant figures of a generation when American film was dominant, Cagney, that most American of actors, somehow communicated eloquently to audiences all over the world …and to actors as well.”

IMDb link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0029870/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

2015/Screening #2: Gold Diggers of 1933 – 98 Min.

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During the Great Depression four poor actresses and a Broadway show unexpectedly get financial support from a young and aspiring musician. But from where did he get that much money?

Joan Blondell and Dick Powell (who were married from 1936-1944), Ruby Keeler, Warren William and a young Ginger Rogers (famous for her later partnership with Fred Astaire) are starring in this highly entertaining musical film directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Filmed on a budget of estimated 433,000 US $, the movie features four gorgeous dance sequences by legendary choreography Busby Berkeley (1895-1974). All songs are composed by Harry Warren, who gained in his career three Oscars and eight nominations and wrote many standards like “Jeepers Creepers”, “Chattanooga Choo Choo” or “Lullaby of Broadway”.

Gold Diggers of 1933 gained great commercial success, but was actually one of the first American films being altered before distribution in order to avoid state censorship. In 2003, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

IMDb link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0024069/?ref_=sr_2