Sunday, January 25, 2015

Zazie dans le métro

TCM is spending Monday morning and afternoon in Paris. One of the movies that I don't think I've blogged about before is Zazie dans le métro, at 9:45 AM.

Zazie (credited to Catherine Demongeot) is a 10-year-old girl who lives with her divorced mother in some provincial town in France. At least, she does when Mom isn't trying to woo another in a long string of boyfriends that requires Mom needing some time to herself and the boyfriend. The movie opens with another of those times. This time, Mom drops Zazie off with her uncle Gabriel (Philippe Noiret) for a couple of days. Gabriel works in the show at the nightclub, which you'd think isn't the best place to leave a kid, but then Zazie is no ordinary kid, giving as good as she gets.

Zazie apparently hasn't been to Paris before, because she informs Uncle Gabriel that she wants to ride the métro, or subway. And boy is shoe going to pester him to make certain he eventually takes her on that subway ride! You'd think they'd have to take the subway eventually, like any normal person in a big city with a bunch of subway lines, and so the little girl can just cool her heels for a bit. Zazie apparently just wants to ride the rails for fun, though. So eventually she makes her way to the nearest métro station and learns something shocking: the workers have gone on strike, and the system is hsut down. No subway ride for poor Zazie!

What's a girl to do? Well, Zazie, headstrong thing that she is, decides she's going to turn the city upside down if she can't have her way and get that subway ride. She proceeds to turn the city upside down, leading Gabriel on a series of adventers through markets, through crowded streets, and up and down the Eiffel Tower, among other things. Generally, she spends the day making life a nightmare for her poor uncle who has to take care of her. You can see why Mom would want to drop her off with a relative for a couple of days.

It's all told in a zany style, and that may be a problem for some viewers. Some of the reviews on IMDb say that Zazie dans le métro compares almost to a Looney Tunes cartoon come to life, and that's not such a bad description. There is a lot of humor to be had here, but there are also times when the way in which that humor is presented may be a bit over the top for some viewers because it's so overwhelmingly zany. On the plus side, the zaniness covers up the fact that Zazie, when you get down to it, is a bit of a spoiled brat and the sort of child character one might not like otherwise if the movie weren't as zany as it is.

Ultimately, I think Zazie dans le métro is one of those movies where its better to know what you're getting into when you watch it. If you sit down expecting something absurd, I think you'll really enjoy it. But if one were to watch not knowing the movie was going to turn absurd, I can understand people feeling a bit on edge.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Post 3000

I should probably be holding off on any self-congratulation for another couple of days, when I reach the seventh anniversary of my first post, but I note that this is my 3,000th post. Somehow, I don't think I'm going to make it to 30,000 at the rate I'm going, since that would take another 63 years. The only movie I could think of that would fit my 3,000th post is the baseball movie Mr. 3000. Strangely enough, this is one of those films that I haven't seen, although the plot is something easier to remember than some of the movies I have seen.

Bernie Mac (I can't believe he's been dead six and a half years now) plays a retired baseball player who retired with exactly 3,000 hits, which for those of you abroad who don't follow baseball, is the big odometer number as opposed to 2,000 (not too difficult to reach) or 4,000 (only two or three players have done that). Just like the odometer number of 500 home runs, it's also one of those goals that makes getting into the Hall of Fame a near certainty. Or, it did before the extent of steroid use in the game became known and the baseball writers who cast the Hall of Fame ballots wanted to show their hypocritical indignation. But that's a topic completely unrealted to a movie blog.

Bernie Mac's now retired player takes the nickname "Mr. 3000", and uses that to go into business and become successful in business. But something comes up that would never happen in the real world. A recalculation of his statistics reveals that in fact "Mr. 3000" only has 2997 lifetime hits. Now, it does sometimes happen that the official scorers of the game get a call wrong and change it during the game, and on even rarer occasions the change is made a day after the game. But there's no way it would take the official people who do this stuff over a decade to do it, especially when the player is closing in on the big target number and in the age of onstant coverage of sports. But "Mr. 3000" goes back to being a major-league player, trying to get those three hits, and learning a few things about life along the way according to the fuller plot synopsis.

I think I've seen the title show up on my box guide on the Major League Baseball channel, but there it would be chewed up with a bunch of commercial breaks, and possibly edited to get rid of any bad language the film might have. (As I said, not having seen it, I don't know how much content there is that the commrecial channels would edit for airing.) It's also coming up three times on Monday on Starz Black and twice on Thursday on Starz Edge if you've got the Starz/Encore package; check listings.

Friday, January 23, 2015

1912 Cinema Etiquette

This week's Friday Ephemera frmo the always-interesting David Thompson included an interesting link: Cinema Etiquette, 1912. The page at Visual News includes a link to the Library of Congress, so I have no particular reason to believe that these photos are a hoax. (NB: The photos are at the Visual News link; David Thompson's Friday Ephemera has a bunch of other interesting, but not necessarily movie-related, stuff.)

There are a couple of photos pointing out that women should remove their hats, which are much fancier than the one that Greta Garbo fell in love with in Ninotchka. Of course, there's nothing telling people to turn off their cell phnnes, since nobody could even dream of such a technology back then.

And then there are some that seem quaint: "Ladies and Children are cordially invited to this theater. No offensive pictures are ever shown here." Everything has somebody who will consider it offensive. I'm sure some people of today would look at the movies exhibited in 1912 and scream about ethnic stereotypes or if there aren't any of those complain about the lack of black people on screen. But, as another of the cards reads, "If annoyed when here, please tell the management."

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Copyright and the movies

I came across an interesting article on director Steven Soderbergh courtsey of the Washington Post's Volokh Conspiracy blog yesterday:

Actor-director Steven Soderbergh has been getting a great deal of attention recently for posting his newly-edited versions of classic films [...]. But as Mike Masnick points out over at Techdirt, Soderbergh has been a prominent copyright maximalist, testifying before Congress on behalf of the Director's Guild of America in favor of a harsh "three strikes and you're out" policy for online copyright infringers.

And both more peculiar, and closer to the point here, Soderbergh was the lead plaintiff in the 2006 case of Soderbergh et al v. Clean Flicks of Colorado et al. (433 F.Supp.2d 1236). Clean Flicks (and the other defendants) were in the business of preparing and distributing edited versions designed to be more "family friendly" (i.e. with the nasty stuff edited out) of previously-released motion pictures....The plaintiffs—Soderbergh included—were successful at shutting the operation down, on the grounds that the edited versions prepared by Clean Flicks violated their rights under sec 106(2) of the Copyright Act to create "derivative works" of the films[....]

Now, one could ask questions about what constitutes fair use. If I post a screencap from a movie, I'm technically using copyrighted material without permission. But should it really be a violation of law to use a screencap to illustrate who a character looks, as I did yesterday with my photo of Montgomery Clift at the beginning of A Place in the Sun? Soderbergh and his defenders would argue that what he does is not for profit, although I'd suggest it's aiming at the ancillary benefits of publicity and future business by showing Soderbergh's skills at redirecting and re-editing movies. I'm reminded of the letterboxing piece on TCM where one of the directors says that when you're panning and scanning, you're technically redirecting the movie. One of the differences is that the studio would have owned the copyright, and would have been the ones making the print for broadcast TV.

One of the articles I read said that what Clean Flicks did required people to buy the original movie on DVD and then send that DVD in to the company to be edited. Or something like that; I'm not the sort of person who would have used such a service. The implication, however, is that the original copyright holder was getting the proceeds from the sale of the original DVD anyway. And there is a good question to be asked of, if you buy compyrighted material, can't you do what you want with it for your own private pleasure? Not that this necessarily makes Clean Flicks right, but the users of Clean Flicks are much less in the wrong. I'm reminded of what Melina Mercouri did with public domain material in the amphitheater scene in Never on Sunday


And then there's the whole issue of copyright to begin with. Copyrights and patents are explicitly allowed in the Constitution as one of the functions that Congress was supposed to set up:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

Note the use of the word "limited". Copyright lengths have consistently been going up. There's a good chart on Wikipedia in one of the copyright articles showing this. Before the copyright reform of, I believe, 1976, copyrights were for a term of 28 years, renewable for another 47, or 75 years in total. The failure to renew is how some movies wound up in the public domain for a time. But another reform about 15 years ago lengthened the copyright term. If they hadn't, stuff from 1940 would be entering the public domain this year. But now it's up to I think 120 years, with the copyrights being extended to stuff from 1923 and beyond. (Disney, who wanted to keep Steamboat Willie from entering the public domain, were one of the drivers behind the change.) So clearly there's a fluidity to what consititutes a copyright violation.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Have I not blogged about A Place in the Sun before?

Tonight on TCM is a night of "Bob's Picks". Robert Osborne's first selection is A Place in the Sun at 8:00 PM. Apparently I've never done a full-length post on this one before, and the TCM schedule claims it's not available from the TCM Shop, so now might be a good time to recommend the movie

As the opening credits come up, we see Montgomery Clift hitchhiking along a highway trying to get to town. It turns out that the young man's name is George Eastman, and the place that he's going to is a business called... Eastman Industries. No, George doesn't own the place. Instead, it's his uncle Charles who owns the place, and George is looking for a job at the bottom of the ladder. Apparently, George's father and the rest of the Eastmans didn't get along all that well: Mom is working at the mission in one of the big cities in the midwest while the rest of the familiy is wealthy. It's not just that George's parents (Dad presumably died as we don't see him) are doing charity work; they really seem to belive the whole probably non-mainstream branch of Christianity stuff. But uncle Charles and his son Earl give George a job on the assembly line boxing shirts and blouses.

Most of the workers here are women, and Earl lets George know about the company policy in no uncertain terms: no romantic liaisons between the male and female employees. Not that they thought about sexual harassment back in those days; it was just easier not to have to deal with workplace romances. You can argue that it's good advice, but the policy is given so obviously that you just know George is going to fall in love with one of the workers there, which soon enough happens as he's walking home from work with Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters). In theory, a workplace romance might not be such a bad thing if one of them can get a job someplace else or if they can get married and the woman can become the housewife as would have been the expected thing back in 1951 when the movie was released. But of course the movie isn't going to work out that way.

George, being the nephew of the factory owner, eventually goes to meet his uncle Charles at the Eastman estate. While waiting for Charles in the billiard room, in walks young debutante Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor). She's taken by George's raw manliness gained from having worked blue-collar jobs instead of a life of leisure that all the other young men she's ever known would have had. George falls for Angela because, well, she's played by Elizabeth Taylor, who really was a stunning looker up until about Butterfield 8. Of course, there's a problem in that George already has that relatinoship with Alice Tripp, and probably another problem in that George isn't really the right social class for Angela and her family. That latter problem could probably be solved, or at least ameliorated, if George can get his uncle to give him a promotion.

But the former problem is about to get much bigger. Alice informs George that she's going to have a baby! George is trying to have a relationship with Angela now, but having knocked up one's ex really throws a monkey wrench in the works. And Alice is making no bones about it. Do something now, or I'm telling everybody about our relationship. What's a young man to do? George decides to take Alice up to the lake for Labor Day, where he's going to rent a canoe, and let nature take its course, or perhaps push nature along. The story strongly implies that George is planning to murder Alice, but the way the scene is played deftly makes it ambiguous as to whether he murdered her, or whether she really fell out accidentally and then George committed negligent homicide by doing nothing to try to save Alice. Either way, though, George is going to have to pay, thanks to the Production Code.

Even though we know where the movie is going to wind up thanks to the strictures of the Production Code, it's still an excellent movie even after is starts the path along that preordained denouement. The story before that is top-notch and the last third is not bad at all. Elizabeth Taylor is OK, although her character is for most of the movie given fairly little to do other than look good and make it obvious why George would fall for Angela. And when you look as good as Elizabeth Taylor did back then, that's not hard. But then Taylor gets her finale and shows that was was going to blossom into much more than just a juvenile actress. Montgomery Clift is very good, playing the difficult role of the man who's gotten himself caught between two women and between two worlds, and has made a complete mess of his life. I've never considered myself the biggest fan of Clift's work, and yet every time I see one of his movies I find that there's an extremely high-quality movie to be had, and it's not as if he's detracting from that one bit. The reveltion, though, is Shelley Winters, who is very, very good, up until she announces that she's pregnant, at which point she's fabulous. It's just too bad that her character has to die off two-thirds of the way through the movie. Winters and Clift were both nominated for Oscars, although they both lost (to Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen and Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire respectively). The movie won several awards, however, for George Stevens' direction, the screenplay, and the lovely black-and-white cinematography, among others.

If you haven't seen A Place in the Sun before, I strongly recommend it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Mathematicians figure out what makes movies popular!

Well, maybe that headline is a bit of an overhyping. But the following showed up in one of my RSS feeds this morning:

Movie buff mathematicians crack classic cinema code

The history of cinema is littered with classic lines and images, and now a team of mathematicians in the United States has figured how a few memorable moments can turn ordinary flims into masterpieces. They've crunched the numbers of how often films are referenced in, or inspire, later movies. And their sums show the most frequently quoted movies often become the most critically aclaimed.

The story is reported by Australia's Radio National. There's a transcript of the story here. Or, if you want to hear the story, complete with movie clips, you can download it here; the audio file is about four minutes long and 1.9MB.

Personally, I'm not so certain I agree with the methodology, or the conclusions. There are a lot of movies that aren't critically acclaimed, like Plan 9 From Outer Space, that have also become cultural icons precisely because they're so awful. But it's an interesting idea.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Harry Davenport, 1866-1949

Harry Davenport in The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)

Today marks the birth anniversary of actor Harry Davenport, who became an extremely busy character actor late in life. Davenport. Davenport, like many, started his career on stage, simply because there wasn't a film career to be had back in 1890. He did make some silent movies during a period when he couldn't get work on the stage, but returned to the stage once roles were available. Davenport made a few talkies in the early 1930s, but it wasn't until he was 70 that he really became active in Hollywood, making some 100 movies in the final dozen years of his life.

Already being elderly by this time, Davenport played a lot of roles that seemed right for the older man, notably elderly small-town doctors in the days when small towns all seemed to have one doctor who had been working there all his life and who was beloved by the townsfolk. Probably the most famous of the doctors would be Dr. Meade in Gone With the Wind.

There were also a lot of grandfathers (Meet Me in St. Louis) and judges (You Can't Take It With You), but perhaps my two favorite Davenport roles are as Joel McCrea's boss in Foreign Correspondent, where he tells McCrea Europe needs a "fresh, unused mind", and "someone who doesn't know the difference between an ism and a kangaroo"; the other would be as the lone prospector living in the ghost town where James Cagney and Bette Davis wind up in The Bride Came COD, a movie I thought I'd done a full-length post on but really haven't.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Repeated shorts on TCM

I've stated quite a few times how I enjoy the shorts that pop up between the movies on TCM. For better or worse, a lot of them are things that I've seen multiple times to the point that I've blogged about them here. On the other hand, it makes it easier to compile a list post when several of them are showing up in a short period of time. Also, with tomorrow being Martin Luther King Day, TCM is showing a lot of the same race-relation themed films that get shown every year on the day. But there's also a fair bit of space for shorts, and quite a few will be airing tomorrow.

Decade For Decision airs overnight at about 3:43 AM, in between the two TCM Imports. It's an interesting look at what is now the University of Buffalo, part of the SUNY system, as it was back in 1957 when it was thought that there was a huge need for colleges to churn out science and technology graduates to keep up with the Soviets. Indeed, there's still some relevance today in that there's a belief that STEM (the E and M of course standing for Engineering and Mathematics) courses are more needed than low-demand things like puppeteering or "media studies", whatever the latter is. Probably what I do on the blog, and nobody's giving me a Ph.D. for it.

Lionpower From MGM can be seen at 7:29 AM tomorrow, or just after Intruder in the Dust, which as you can see I blogged about after seeing on MLK Day back in 2012. I still get a chuckle thinking about the breathless tone the narrator uses in describing the several seasons of "Lionpower" that lead to the movies mentioned being released.

It's only been a couple of months since I wrote a post on King of the Duplicators, which you can catch at 9:40 AM tomorrow, following ...Tick ...Tick ...Tick at 8:00 AM. This is a feature I actually haven't seen before. The short, though, is well worth a watch if you haven't seen it.

There's a short or two I haven't mentioned before. First is Salar, the Leaper, at 11:50 AM tomorrow. This is one of the RKO Sportscope, about fishing in New Brunswick. It really would have benefited from a tighter focus and Technicolor photography.

Another short that needed to be in color is The Car That Became a Star at 1:49 PM tomorrow. This is a promotional short for The Yellow Rolls Royce, looking at the vintage car that plays the title role. Well, that's only half of the short; the other half is a brief fashion show looking at fashions "inspired by" the car. Yeah, whatever. The car, the scenery, and the fashions all would have looked better in color, and the fashion show part looks pointlessly tacked on.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

How to make a film inappropriately

A couple of days ago I blogged about This Property Is Condemned and how I thought it had a whole bunch of inappropriately intrusive camera movements. Another movie with some real inapt workmanship that really intrudes on the rest fo the movie is Raiders From Beneath the Sea, airing tomorrow at 1:45 PM on FXM Retro.

Ken Scott plays Bill Harper, whom we first see at the beginning of the film dealing with a dissatisfied tenant, who wants the refrigerator fixed. Bill, you see, is managing an apartment building owned by his wife Dottie (Merry Anders). Then we see Bill going into a darkened workshop space, where he starts playing with a powerful industrial-strength magnet that he just bought. That is, until his good for nothing brother Buddy (Garth Benton) shows up.

Bill, you see, is managing that apartment because he had some trouble with the law and the IRS. They're going to garnish his wages, so there are only two ways that he can make money. One is to work more or less under the table, as he's doing managing the apartment building. The other is to engage in straight up crime. And that's whree that magnet is going to come in. Bill's previous job was as a scuba diver, and nobody down at the shore wants to deal with him. This includes his old friend Tucker, another former diver now servicing boat engines because he's got a bad heart. Bill shows up to tell Tucker why he's going to use that magnet. It turns out that Bill wants to rob the bank on Catalina Island the day after Labor Day, when it's about to send all the cash deposits the businesses have made to a bank on the mainland. The only way to get the cash off the island is to put it in a watertight container and then use a magnet to stick that container to the hull of the ferry that takes people between Catalina and the mainland. Yes, it's as daft an idea as it sounds.

This criminal plot is going to suffer from complications of course. One is the mysterious Purdy. Purdy shows up to ask Tucker some questions. It turns out that he's the one who originally came up with the idea for this bank robbery back in jail, and that BIll has stolen the idea from him. There's no honor among thieves, it seems. And then there's Buddy. He wants in on the plot too, and is going to hold that over Bill's head. Buddy has been living with Bill and Dottie, and has been particularly creepy, spending his days drinking beer and trying to peep into Dottie's bedroom window when she's changing! It gets even better in the climax, when he tries to seduce her and when she rebuffs his advances gives the game away about the bank robbery plot! What a dumb criminal. He's not the only dumb criminal, though, because the bank robbery actually involves Bill and Tucker going into the bank in full scuba gear, which means they have to walk though the main town on Catalina Island in that scuba gear, including harpoon guns. Is there any way to make criminals more conspicuous?

And to think when I said there was some inappropriate workmanship in this film, I wasn't talking about the screenplay. In fact, I had the score in mind. Almost the entirety of the score is one of those 1960s-style organs that you would hear in beach movements, or in a short like Stop, Look, and Listen. The music is jarring and nearly maddening every time it comes on. The only good thing to be said for the movie is that it's one of those films that's just so awful that it winds up being unintentionally funny. At least, if the music doesn't drive you nuts.

I don't know that Raiders From Beneath the Sea hsa ever been released to DVD. The suits at Fox probably wonder who would ever buy it.

A few upcoming things on TCM

I've got a full-length post on something over on FXM Retro coming up later today, but there are a few things not on DVD that are coming up on TCM in the next 24 hours or so which deserve another mention, or even a first mention. First up is Turnabout at 8:00 AM tomorrow. Hal Roach, who had generally produced a bunch of two-reelers and then brief B movies clocking in at about an hour, got some bigger stars in the form of Adolphe Menjou and Carole Landis for this comedy in which the two play a bickering married couple who wind up with a magic statue that grants their wish of changing bodies. Each of them learns how the other lives, and unsurprisingly discovers that perhaps things weren't so bad the way they originally were. It's reasonably enjoyable.

I could swear I had done a full-length post on Fun on a Weekenkd before, but a search of the blog claims I haven't. I really need to catalog the posts better. Eddie Bracken and Priscilla Lane play people who each have no money but decide to pretend they're married when they meet, which leads to getting all sorts of people to accept them unwittingly into high society. Fun con artists are a trope of movies of the 1930s and 1940s, and Bracken and Lane do a good job in this movie with an ultra-low budget.