A Note on Spoilers

I decided it might be a good idea to make what’s known as a “sticky post” here on the front page for those coming in who might be concerned about spoilers. In these posts I’m going to be talking about varying aspects of movies that I’ve been watching, This may include writing about things that some would consider spoilers, including, at times, the endings of these movies. Those who are particularly spoiler averse may want to avoid reading these posts if they are planning to watch the movie in question. In certain circumstances where I will be discussing events towards the end of the movie, including the ending in at least a vague way, or when a movie contains a particular plot twist that might be considered major, I will try to post a more specific spoiler warning, because I do recognize that even though I may be writing about a movie that is decades old, it’s still going to be new to some people. Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get on with it, shall we?

When A House Falls Silently, Twice – The Fall Of The House Of Usher (1928)

Edgar Allen Poe’s The Fall of The House of Usher has been the subject of a number of filmic adaptations over the years, and while most fans of horror films consider Roger Corman‘s 1960 take to be the go-to version, I’d like to submit a couple of other, much earlier versions for your consideration.

Surprisingly, the year 1928 produced not one, but two different takes on Poe’s iconic tale, one American, and the other French..

usher1First up is the American version, directed by  James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber and starring Webber along with Herbert Stern and Hildegarde Watson. Employing a number of different camera tricks and techniques, including prismatic shots and words which flow and float across the screen, this truly avant-garde take provides quite a unique, almost surreal take on Poe’s story and uses its scant 12 minute running time quite effectively.

usher2At the same time, in France, director Jean Epstein was producing La Chute de la maison Usher. The film was co-written by Luis Buñuel, whose own directorial career would ultimately eclipse that of Epstein. Much longer than Watson and Webber’s take, clocking in at 63 minutes, this version does provide much more background and delves deeper into its characters, while remaining quite atmospheric throughout.

The version I’m presenting here retains the original French intertitles without an English translation, but really for a story like this, no translation is, I think, needed.

I really have no explanation as to why 1928 proved such a popular year for adapting this particular Poe tale, but the fact that it did is quite interesting because it provided a very interesting Halloween double feature, along with an intriguing look at how different directors can take the same story and make two completely different films from it.

Howl(oween) At The Moon With The Oldest Survivng Werewolf Movie – Wolf Blood (1925)

wb1Predating Universal’s The Wolf Man by sixteen years, George Cheesebro and Bruce Mitchell directed Wolf Blood in 1925. While it’s not actually the first werewolf movie – that distinction supposedly goes to 1913’s The Werewolf, but since that film is considered lost, this is the earliest surviving werewolf movie. (By the way, Cheesbro also stars in the film as protagonist Dick Bannister.)

One of the  most interesting things about the film is the actual origin of the werewolf. Instead of the (now) familiar trope of being infected with the curse by being bitten by another werewolf, instead Bannister, a logger, is attacked by a rival logging gang and left for dead. When none of his crew will step up to provide blood for a transfusion, the doctor treating him decides the best course of action is to use wolf blood instead.

Perhaps that’s not the best idea after all…

 

Classic Television Thursday #011 – The Halloween Special Halloween Special

htvTomorrow is Halloween, and, like many holidays, Halloween means Halloween specials on television. Whether it’s an actual special such as 1966’s It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown or just a Halloween-themed episode of an ongoing series, the celebration of all things spooky has probably been a part of television ever since the medium has existed.

So today, instead of a look at one particular series or episode, I thought I’d pass along a little treat in the form of a celebration of some of these classic Halloween specials.

(Of course, I suppose I should give you fair warning that there might be a trick or two in here too. But which is which may only depend on your particular taste.)

Also, fair warning: the source for some of these shows is not always the best, as will become pretty immediately apparent, but I’ve done what I can to find the best available copy.

First up, here’s a show that up until a few years ago I was unaware that it even existed. It has quickly, however, become an absolute favorite for reasons which should quickly become apparent. Your mileage may, however, vary:

What Halloween would be complete without a visit from the late, great Vincent Price? Here he is on The Muppet Show.

Of course, we all know How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but were you aware that Halloween is Grinch Night?

Here’s one of those Halloween-themed episodes I mentioned, from season two of Happy Days:

The Beverly Hillbillies get in on the fun with an episode from Season 7: The Ghost of Clampett Castle:

Dennis the Menace proves true to his nickname as “Dennis Haunts a House”

This may not necessarily be Halloween themed, but any excuse to watch an episode of Lights Out is good with me:

And the same is true for One Step Beyond

Sometimes all you need to know is the title, and this one is from 1972 (as it really would have to be): Daffy Duck and Porky Pig Meet the Groovie Goolies

Tales of Tomorrow presents a version of Frankenstein from 1952 which stars Lon Chaney Jr. According to TV legend, Mr. Chaney thought this was a rehearsal instead of a broadcast, which explains some of his odd behavior. Of course, other explanations have also been forwarded, but we’ll just go with that one:

Of course, The Monkees had to get in on the fun:

And finally, does it get any more classic than The Lucy Show? Let’s wrap things up with an episode entitled “Lucy and the Monsters”

So how about you? What TV shows do you like to watch around Halloween? Any favorite specials? Let me know in the comments below.

Top 250 Tuesday – #015 Late Spring (1949) – Part Three

Continuing to wend my way through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Greatest Movies of All Time. This week, it’s #015 on the list,  Yasujirō Ozus Late Spring. For a longer introduction to this series and a look at the full list, just click here. And if you want a heads-up on what I’ll be watching for next week in case you want to watch along, just head on over to the Facebook page or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are also in the sidebar) where I’ll generally be posting that info later in the day.

ls7Here we are with a third week spent looking at Yasujirō Ozu’s Late Spring. In case you missed the first two parts, you can get caught up by clicking here for part one and here for part two.

Last time out I spent a lot of time writing about the performances that Ozu was able to get from his various actors, and my feeling that that alone would not only place him very high on the list of master film makers and certainly earn this film its place high on the list of greatest movies of all time. (Just as an aside, by the way, this movie is actually not even Ozu’s top-ranked film on the list, with that honor going to the director’s Tokyo Story, which sits at number 3, and which having now watched this movie I can’t wait to delve into.)

Nonetheless, there aree still a couple of other aspects of this work which speak to both the director’s style and his editing choices that I feel I would be remiss not to touch on, and which inform the structure, design, and themes of the film, while at the same time raising questions of their own.

The first of these is the choice of scenes that Ozu chooses to include and in one particularly striking case, all things considered, not to include.

The first of these choices comes right at the beginning of the movie, where we spend what seems at first like a much longer than needed time at a tea ceremony which, while it does serve to introduce the characters of Noriko and her aunt, does absolutely nothing to actually forward the plot at all, nor does the film ever directly return to this scene nor even reference it again. One might even question then not only the reason for the length of time te director spends on this scene, but even its inclusion in the film in the first place.

ls34In my mind, however, it does actually serve a very practical purpose when it comes to establishing the atmosphere and main conflict of the film. If one takes the main thrust of the movie as not so much being a straight forward will she or won’t she (Noriko) accept the notion of agreeing to an arranged marriage that she is actually opposed to and more about the tension between traditional ways of doing things and those of a more modern world beginning to insinuate themselves into Japanese society, then it is important for Ozu to spend this time establishing those transitions and the pleasure that Noriko takes from being a part of them.

Even more questionable, perhaps, is the amount of time that Ozu chooses to spend on three other activities which take place outside the Somiya home and indeed again outside the direct narrative thrust of the film. These are the play attended by Noriko and her father, a concert at which Noriko is not even present, and a bicycle ride taken by Noriko and her friend Hattori (who is also the Professor’s assistent) which at first makes it seem as though he might be a potential love interest until it is revealed that he is already engaged to someone else, a fact that Noriko is aware of, but many of the other characters are not.

ls33Again, however, as one considers that the real intention of Ozu’s work is not necessarily to simply keep his actually rather thin plot moving forward but to consider the implications of it and the tensions that it creates not only for this one family but for broader Japanese society, it becomes apparent that these scenes are actually quite important as they again highlight the tension between the old world and the new and how each impinges on the other.

In contrast to these scenes, which may seem overly long in a casual viewing, Ozu also seems to make an odd choice in never actually showing any scenes at all taking place during Noriko’s wedding instead jumping from directly before the wedding to scenes taking place afterwards. Of course, this can partly be marked as an accession to Japanese censorship rules at the time, which forbade such scenes (actually, even the discussion of traditional marriage was against the strictest interpretations of the rules), but one suspects perhaps that even had this not been the case, Ozu would not have spent any time at all on the ceremony, because, again, while perhaps it might be seen a central to the plot of the movie, it is actually of little import to the discussion that Ozu is interested in fostering with his audience.

ls30Finally, in keeping with the idea of choices that Ozu, as director, chooses to make as far as what to include and where within the film they should go, there are a number of shorter shots, some of them of seeming irrelevance, which are scattered throughout Late Spring.

First, allow me to take this particular moment to acknowledge the expert camera work of Ozu’s cinematographer Yuuharu Atsuta. These shots, along with the entire rest of the film, are strikingly composed and gloriously shot, and they truly make the most of and showcase the glorious palette that can be achieved even without the use of color. It actually feels throughout the film that the addition of color would be more of an intrusion than an enhancement.

That said, there is still the question of why Ozu decided to include these shots in the first place. I suppose some of them could be written off as simply giving the viewer a sense of place and the surroundings within which his narrative is taking place, though none of them really seem to serve the purpose of a traditional “establishing shot”. Instead, while at times these so-called “pillow shots” can be seen as transitional either in time or space, at times they also seem almost intrusive.

ls32Perhaps the most famous of these, and the one which has certainly generated the most discussion, is the vase shot which occurs during Noriko and her father’s last trip to Kyoto. Just as the pair is settling down to sleep, the director takes the focus away from Noriko to include what seems to be a random shot of a large vase and the window behind it, returning a few seconds later to Noriko who has a different look on her face. After a moment focused on her, the director again returns his eye to the vase, but this time, instead of following it with another shot of his protagonist, he uses the shot as a transition to the next day.

As I noted above, this sequence is one of the most questioned and discussed not only within Late Spring, but within the director’s entire career, and while I won’t, at this point, venture my own opinion, leaving that to those who have spent more time with and have much more familiarity with and immersion in the director’s techniques, I will simply note that even though again, it may seem a random thing to include considering the situation, it is done with such skill and such perfect timing that it doesn’t come off to the viewer as intrusive at all, but instead seems somehow fitting within the overall experience of watching the film.

ls31Which, I suppose, after all these words, seems a fitting point at which to end this particular write-up, because it neatly sums up everything that makes Late Spring and its director great and definitely worthy of its high place on this list of all-time best films. As I said at the start, this work is a true masterpiece which showcases a master film maker making the most of his creative power. It is both gorgeous and thought-provoking in the way that only the best films are, and is one of the reasons that I’m truly glad that I decided to embark on this journey through this list, because without it, Ozu might well have remained a name that was always on the periphery of my viewing experience, but never truly a part of it. Instead, now that I’ve had a taste of his work, had my palate expanded as it were, I find myself quite eager to delve further and see what else he has to offer.

Again, rather than an outright trailer for the film, here is a clip of the nih play scene described above:

 

 

Sarurday Breakfast Serial 001 – The Crimson Ghost (1946) Chapter 1

cg1First off, an apology for those who might have come here this morning looking for another Saturday Morning Cartoon installment, but the truth is, while I would have loved to continue the feature, it was simply too hard, due to copyright concerns, to find really good examples of a lot of the shows that I had hoped to feature, so instead I’ve decided to change things up a bit and shift focus to those great movie serials of the past. Just as in the theater, each week I’ll give you a new chapter of an ongoing serial, and along with it, some commentary either on movie serials in general, or on the one we’re watching at the time.

Today we’re going to begin one of the more famous and well-respected of the Republic serials, The Crimson Ghost. This 12 chapter serial was first released in 1946, but it’s also seen a number of different versions released over subsequent years. It was cut down and re-edited for broadcast as a television series in the 1950s. There’s a 100 minute TV film version which was released in 1966. It was even released yet again in a color version during the height of the colorization fad of the 1990s.

Okay, that’s enough from me for this morning I think, so I’ll just get out of the way and let the punches start flying.

Next time: Chapter 2: Thunderbolt! Plus more info on the history of movie serials. See you then!

Batman Teams With LBJ To Sell US Savings Bonds And Stamps

bats2Yesterday I posted a bit of a rant about Batman and heroism today. (Trust me when i say it was only “a bit of a rant” I easily could have gone on on the topic much longer.)   Now, I’m not necessarily suggesting that we need the pendulum to swing back the other way as far as what we see in the video below, but it’s hard to imagine the president of the United States calling upon the creature depicted in that post to appeal to kids to help their country by buying savings bonds and stamps. Unless, of course, the message was along the lines of a growling “Buy these bonds or I’ll come to your school and beat all your little heads in!”

Of course, it’s also tough to imagine today’s “heroes” selling Twinkies and Hostess cupcakes and the like either, but that’s another post for another time, I think.

Batman Delivers A Beatdown On Surrendered Criminals – But That’s What Makes Him A Hero, Right?

If you’re one of my friends on my personal Facebook page, then this little rant may seem familiar, since I first posted it there yesterday. After a bit I decided I’d also edit it just slightly and share it here, in order to reach a bit of a different audience.

So yeah, there’s this page from one of the 237 batman comics out today (specifically Arkham Manor #1), and it perfectly illustrates what’s wrong with our take on “heroes” today.

bats

The criminals have surrendered, they’ve even apologized to the woman whom they (apparently) mugged, they’re completely ready to be turned over to the cops, and yet bats still proceeds to give them a beat-down that he knows beforehand will be so bad that he tells the woman to call 911 for them.

Woohoo! Now that’s what I call a hero! He’s certainly someone I want my children to look up to and emulate.

am1Yes, I know as well as anyone that “comics aren’t [necessarily] for kids anymore” and all that – Heck, I was around and buying comics off the racks and in the comic book shops when Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, which pretty well began the most recent “grim and gritty” take on Batman was coming out as a (kinda, there were delays) monthly series, and was one of the ones at the time cheering the more “adult” take of some of these characters on – and that this is just part of an ongoing trend, etc. etc… But really, that’s part of the point. Or maybe it’s the point.

It’s not just this comic, and it’s not just Batman. It’s that this type of thing has become the rule instead of the exception. Again, that’s what made Miller’s Dark Knight (and for that matter, his take on Daredevil, which was such a radical departure from what had come before) so much of  a standout. But it’s also one of the reasons why I no longer spend any money on comics except for the very rare exception (well, that and the fact that most comics on the stand are going for $4 to $5 a pop, but that’s a completely different rant) even though I do still keep up with what’s going on with them (obviously).

Oh well, at least we’ve got the upcoming new Superman movie to look forward to. After all, he’s always been referred to as the “big blue boy scout” of comics and held up as a role model for kids around the world, so DC and Warners would never go “dark” or “grim and gritty” with him.

What’s that? Man of Steel? Oh… yeah…

Y’know, forget it… just forget it…