Screening #9: Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex * But Were Afraid To Ask (1972)

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Because of the surprising success of the “auteur” movies of American New Cinema with the audience, in the early Seventies the Hollywood studios became ready to finance films like this masterpiece of the absurd by Woody Allen.

New about Allen’s generation were not only their ideas but also their approach to film making. Predecessors had to learn their craft most of the times by working as assistant directors in the studios,  but Allen had learned the art as a graduate student of communication and film at New York University.

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, 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”.

IMDb link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0068555/?ref_=nm_flmg_wr_50

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Screening #8: Vanishing Point (1971)

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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…

For this class I choose the uncut version that only was released in the UK and is seven minutes longer than the US movie. 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 by director Richard C. Serafian 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). I will leave the end of this film up to your interpretation (before you will hear mine of course). But it might be helpful for you to consider what Barry Newman has pointed in an interview: “… no matter how far they push or chase you, no one can truly take away your freedom…”

IMDb link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0067927/?ref_=nv_sr_1

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

Screening #4: Jesse James (1939)


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The ordinary farmer boys Jesse and Frank James turn into the country’s most notorious outlaws when ruthless railroad agents try to take away their property.

Based on real life characters, the James brothers became one of Hollywood’s idealized and  glorified symbols for righteous people that were forced to get on the wrong side of the law.

Jesse James was directed by Henry King (“David and Batsheba”, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” a.o.). A very handsome Tyrone Power can be seen in the role of  the main character. He is supported by legendary character actor Henry Fonda as the older brother Frank, western star Randolph Scott as Marshall Will Wright, and horror legend John Carradine as Bob Ford.  Over the years this story was adapted many times for the big screen, and although recent portrayals have become more and more realistic, from this film on it stayed to be a Hollywood tradition to use some of their coolest and best looking guys for this part:

Roy Rogers (“Jesse James at Bay”, 1941), Audie Murphy (who actually played Jesse twice in “Kansas Riders”, 1950, and  “A Time For Dying”, 1969!), Robert Wagner (“The True Story of Jesse James”, 1957), Ray Stricklyn (“Young Jesse James”, 1960), James Keach (“The Long Riders“, 1980), Kris Kristofferson (“The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James”, 1986), Rob Lowe (“Frank and Jesse”, 1994), Colin Farrell (“American Outlaws“, 2001), and eventually Brad Pitt (“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford“, 2007).

However, despite these idealizations of the American outlaw in film, Jesse and Frank James were tough gangsters who were merely caring for themselves and their families than others who were in need. So, what do you think was the reason for such a positive portrayal?

IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0031507/?ref_=fn_al_tt_3

Screening #3: Angels With Dirty Faces (1938)

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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 about actors: “Without you, they have an empty screen. So, when you get on there, just do what you think is right and stick with it.” He 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.

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