2017 – Your Recommendation For Future Students of This Course

What would you recommend future students to do in order to get the maximum out of this course and gain a good grade? Any dos and don’ts?

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2017 – Your Final Word

This trimester will end very soon, so please let me know how you feel/felt about this course. You could write here, for example, about particular content you did not know at the beginning and have learned about in this class, moments in the class you were surprised about or felt challenged with, points you think that could be improved or just simply look back at all films and how you think about them now, etc. I personally would be also very interested about your opinions concerning full length screenings vs. many different clips. Which did you prefer? Which were the most memorable ones? Thank you so much for this semester, your blogging and making this course better and better!!!

2017 – Breakout Session #6: Modern Cinema and Future Perspectives

In this last breakout session we will examine the production mechanisms and characteristics of the post-modern, producer-driven cinema of today. Key words are High Concept and Pastiche, marketing is a major factor for lowering the financial risks of studio productions, may it be blockbusters or B-Movies. On the other hand, fringe film making is shifting to the internet. US cinema generates still high revenues worldwide, but has it kept topical and artistic variety? What can we expect from American movies in the future?

2017 – Breakout Session #5: New American Cinema

Encouraged by the great success of fringe films with the audience, more and more major studio producers invested into director-driven projects (“auteur-style”) by the end of the 1960s and beginnings of the 1970s. The films produced during this period still stand out through their edgy topicality, radical aesthetics, and sometimes unique philosophy depth. New about this generation of filmmakers were not only their ideas but also their approach to film making. While their predecessors usually had to learn their craft through working as assistant directors in the studios, they  learned the art as students in film schools.

In our breakout session, we will look especially into Richard C. Serbian’s Vanishing Point (1971) and Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask (1972).

Vanishing Point: Professional driver Kowalski (Barry Newman) takes a bet to ride his Dodge Challenger R/T from Colorado to San Francisco in less than 15 hours. On his way he fights obstacles and gains supporters, like a blind radio DJ (Cleavon Little) who is able to scan the broadcasts of the police… A typical example of a cult movie, this film was a critical as well as a financial failure upon its release in the US. However, after being successful in Europe, the film was re-released in a double bill with The French Connection (1971). Running in drive-in theaters and on TV afterwards, the film since then has gained a respectable cult following. Steven Spielberg has named it among his favorite movies (there are some analogies to his 1971 film Duel), and Quentin Tarantino paid his homage to it in Death Proof (2007). A remake was done for TV in 1997, and Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly seems currently to plan another remake for the big screen.

The film was shot on a low budget of 1,6 Million US $, but gained over the years more than 12 Million US $ at the box office. Despite its many locations, the film was shot in just 38 days (instead of 60 planned days due to a sudden budget shortage through the studio) with – for its days – light-weight ARRI II cameras and a small crew of 19 (excluding actors).

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask: A descendant of Russian and Austrian Jewish immigrants, Woody Allen started his career as a writer for jokes and became successful as such at the early age of Seventeen. After his graduation he became a playwright, and wrote his first movie script in 1965 for the comedy What’s New Pussycat?. A year later he took the opportunity to direct his first first film What’s Up Tiger Lily? in which he took an existing Japanese spy movie (Kokusai himitsu keisatsu) and re-dubbed it in English with new comic dialogue. After Allen directed, starred in, and co-wrote Take the Money and Run in 1969, he got a deal with United Artists for several films, including Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex…, which became one of his biggest financial hits grossing domestically 18 M US $ against a 2 M US $ budget, ranking on place 13 among the year’s highest grossing films. Since then, Allen, who also could be considered as the father of the modern romantic comedy, has received four Academy Awards (Best Original Screenplays for Annie Hall, 1978, Hannah and Her Sisters, 1987, and Midnight in Paris, 2011, and Best Director, again for Annie Hall) and more screenwriting Academy Award nominations than any other writer. And although he had hits and misses at the box office and a row of sexual scandals, he fully has recovered with Midnight in Paris (2011) gaining more than 50 M US $ revenues on the domestic market. Despite friendly recognition from the Academy, Allen has consistently refused to attend the ceremony. Back in 1974, Woody was quoted by ABC News as saying, “The whole concept of awards is silly. I cannot abide by the judgment of other people, because if you accept it when they say you deserve an award, then you have to accept it when they say you don’t”.

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2017 – Breakout Session #4: Exploitation and Other Forms of Off-Mainstream Cinema

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After our session on B, C and Z-Movies (with special focus on Monster flicks), we will further dive into the depths of Paracinema, this time focusing on exploitation, sexploitation and blaxploitation. We will experience taboo topics brought up by exploitation films that were produced on the fringe outside the studio system and under the radar of the Hays Code, like Teenage Devil Dolls (1955). Then study some examples of the “masterpieces” of sexploitation cinema, like “Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” (1965) by Russ Meyer. After that, we will see some clips of so-called Midnight Movies (artsy and/or crazy independent films that became Cult Movies) and add glimpses of Blaxploitation to our knowledge base!

2017 – Breakout Session #3: Monster Movies

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After talking about the spectacular Historical Epics of Golden Hollywood, we will take a closer look into the dark world of Monster Movies. This horror movie subgenre has had at least four cycles (after King Kong in the 1930s, then atomic age monsters in the 1950s, giant sharks and sea creatures after Jaws in 1975, and space monsters since Alien in 1979, which successfully had merged the Monster Movie with the Science Fiction genre). Although only rarely the story centers around them, monsters can play an important part in fantasy films as well, like in the Lord of the Ring or Game of Thrones series.

2017 – 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.

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 transgender persons. Many of his films are also “So Bad It’s Good” type of movies being very enjoyable for an exclusive 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 🙂

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 his 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.

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

Watch on YouTube in Spanish: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WqNjBm_5Pk

I did not have the time to show it in class, but someone had the same idea like me and compared Tim Burton’s reenactments of Ed Wood’s film scenes with their originals, and their edit on YouTube is actually nicer than mine (using split screen): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-bgPKjasdA

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2017 Mini Screening #1: Them! (1954) [35 min. Edit]

1954’s “Them!” is a landmark SF/Horror movie directed by workhorse Gordon Douglas (famous for the minor classics “Yellowstone Kelly”, “Rio Conchos”, “Sylvia”, “Stagecoach”, “In Like Flint”, “Lady in Cement”, “Barquero”, “They Call Me Mister Tibbs!”, “Necvada Smith” a. m. o.). It was released at the same time as the first Godzilla film in Japan (which was shown in the U.S. two years later in 1956), triggered by the same fears of nuclear weapons and the possible breakout of another world war. Preceded by the smash hit “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” (1953), the first nuclear monster movie (with special effects by “Gwangi” animator Ray Harryhausen),  “Them!” is the silver screen’s first “giant bugs” film, as well as a smart genre-mix of horror, SF, action, and detective film. It became surprisingly one of the highest grossing films of Warner Bros. Studio that year, and received an Oscar nomination for the Best Special Effects. Starring character actors James Whitmore, James Arness (later famous for the TV Western series “Gunsmoke”), Edmund Gwenn (“Miracle on 34th Street”) and singer Joan Weldon who states about this movie: “I didn’t think much of Them! when I read the script. I just knew that [my character] was a scientist, and I was hoping that somewhere along the line there would be some romance or love interest. But Gordon Douglas didn’t want to refer to any kind of romance whatsoever. It was totally devoid of any interplay with anybody. The ants were supposed to be the star.” [Quote from IMDb]

IMDb Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0047573/

Watch on Vimeo: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x3g4v34

2017 – Breakout Session #2: Hollywood’s Historical Epics

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After the screening of “Sunset Boulevard” (1950), I would like to take the opportunity to talk about Historical Epics which represent the heights of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Any comments on this breakout session will be welcome!

2017 – SCREENING #4: SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950) – 110 MIN.

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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 fond of this motion picture, Sunset Boulevard 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

Watch on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGqWCF_EDws

Just as an interesting coincidence, last year one of the famous mansions of the grand old Hollywood glory was offered to be sold. Director Billy Wilder is also being quoted in the article: http://www.latimes.com/business/realestate/hot-property/la-fi-hotprop-gary-wilson-holmby-hills-79-million-20161004-snap-story.html