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? Please let them know, as you remember, this was the first blog I have asked you to read…
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? Also, this semester I have introduced the group discussions between students. This was leading to a bit of a delay which resulted that I had to cut one full-length screening. Do you think these group sessions were effective for you? Your feedback will be greatly appreciated! Thank you so much for this semester, your blogging and making this course better and better!!!
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?
The diverse entries of the Paracinema and their success with a young, counter-culture oriented audience eventually led to the acknowledgment of the director-driven, so-called “auteur” film by the Hollywood majors in the early Seventies. This is the period of the New American Cinema which lasted for approximately one decade from the surprisingly lucrative “Easy Rider” (1969) until the monumental financial failure of United Artists’ “Heaven’s Gate” (1980).
We will watch a few clips from this influential period, including two excerpts from Woody Allen’s absurd masterpiece “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)” of 1972.
A descendant of Russian and Austrian Jewish immigrants, Woody Allen started his career as a writer for jokes and became a playwright, writing 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.
Allen and many of his contemporaries were (somehow) film-school educated, and not seldom descendants from the East Coast. They perceived themselves as artists, trying to push the boundaries of the medium. This resonated well with the intellectual and open-minded audience of the 1970s.
After our session on Monster flicks, we further dive into the depths of Paracinema, this time focusing on exploitation, sexploitation and blaxploitation. We will see minority characters and experience taboo topics brought up by exploitation films that were produced on the fringe outside the studio system 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!
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, monstrous creatures can play an important part in fantasy films as well, like in the Lord of the Ring or Game of Thrones series.
A landmark atomic age monster movies is 1954’s “Them!”, 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), world’s first nuclear monster movie (with special effects by stop motion 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
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 interestingly is another, different form of homage to Ed Wood!]. It also marks Burton’s first R-rated film.
Watch on YouTube in Spanish: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WqNjBm_5Pk