2016 – Screening #6: Vanishing Point (1971) – 105 min.

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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

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2016 – Breakout Session #5: Blaxploitation Movies and Minorities in U.S. Cinema

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Our next breakout session was focused on films that fall under the category of Blaxploitation Cinema. Afterwards I tried to reveal some connections between the organization of the American mainstream film business and how women, racial minorities and transgender people have been/are being portrayed in U.S. cinema. Although eventually Blaxploitation films were strongly opposed by African-Americans because of the rather frequent negative stereotyping of their protagonists as gangsters (and therefore possibly tarnishing the image of African-Americans in society in general), they helped African-American talent (actors, directors, composers etc.) to emerge and become an established part of the U.S. film industry!

2016 – Breakout Session #4: Exploitation Movies and Other Forms of Off-Mainstream Cinema

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After our session on B-Movies (with special focus on the genres of Monster and Martial Arts), we had further excursions into the diverse facets of Paracinema, especially Fringe Films (C- and Z-Movies): Early Exploitation Films outside the Hays Code like Reefer Madness (1936), and Sexploitation Cinema. Clips were shown from “Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” (1965) by Russ Meyer, the “educational” movie “Teenage Mother” (1967) and the sexploitative B-Movie “Angel” (1984). In the next two lectures we will add Midnight Movies (artsy and/or crazy independent films that became Cult Movies) and Blaxploitation to our knowledge base!

2016 – 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

2016 – Breakout Session #3: B-Movies and Monster Movies

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After talking about the spectacular Historical Epics of Golden Hollywood, we took a look into the darker world of B-Movies, especially Monster Movies. Before we saw the biopic of Z-grade director Ed Wood.

2016 – Breakout Session #2: Hollywood’s Historical Epics

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After the screening of “Sunset Boulevard” (1950), I took 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!

2016 – 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

Just as an interesting coincidence, today 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

2016 – Mini Discussion: “The Great American Man”

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Today we had a mini discussion about actors of he past who represented not only the desirable looks but also incorporated praiseworthy traditional virtues (righteousness, sense of justice, readiness to sacrifice oneself for a higher cause, empathy, protection of the weaker, mental and physical strength, excellence in skills and leadership etc.) in the American heroes they portrayed in film. One could argue that American movies did successfully carry American culture to foreign countries, and after WWII a part of this was due to “monumental” actors like John Wayne, Gary Cooper, James Stewart, Charlton Heston or Henry Fonda who became the icons of “The Great American Man” that the world should (and did!) look upon. On the other hand, there existed a group of very handsome actors that embodied the male beauty ideals of their times, and who tended to be cast as rebellious but somehow sensitive and fragile personalities in their films. Their popularity  often surpassed – albeit for a limited period – those of the forementioned veteran actors, and drew a new, young audience into the cinemas. Some of them had great acting skills, but faced great hardships to get deeper roles in Hollywood. James Dean, Montgomery Clift, Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis, Marlon Brando and Tyrone Power, to name just a few.  (Hollywood actresses often represented exceptional beauty, but might never have gained recognition as “ambassadors” of American values through film.)

I was wondering in class if you could single out present day actors of the former type: The “Great” American Man (or Woman, if you would be able to appoint one). We are so many and did not have enough time, so I would like to give you here an opportunity for additional input! (I absolutely agree with the idea of “Captain America”, although I kind of feel that it is rather the Marvel character who represents the Ideal American than the actor. What do you think?)

2016 – Breakout Session #1: The Western Genre

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After the screening of “Jesse James” (1939), I took the opportunity to talk about the Western Genre and its world-wide influence. Any comments on this breakout session will be welcome!