Top 250 Tuesday: #010 – 8 1/2 (1963)

Continuing to wend my way through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Greatest Movies of All Time. This week, it’s #10 on the list, Federico Felliini‘s 8 1/2. For a longer introduction 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 in the sidebar) where I’ll be posting that info later in the day.

8It’s not that I didn’t “get” Federico Fellini‘s 8 1/2. It’s not even that I didn’t enjoy it. The truth is, though, that it’s simply one of those films that, now that I’ve seen it, I have a feeling that, unlike a lot of the movies at the top of this list, I probably won’t feel that need or desire to visit again, and certainly not any time soon.

8 1/2 (the title is a translation of its Italian original, Otto e mezzo and is a reference to its being the creator’s eight and one-halfth feature film) is the story of film maker Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) who is experiencing an incredibly severe case of writer’s block as he tries to figure out exactly what his latest movie is all about. This problem is only exacerbated by the fact that he is currently actively engaged in the production of the film. It’s also the story of a man going through a mid-life crisis as he tries to figure out what his priorities really are and how to balance his reputation as an innovator, a charismatic lover, and his supposed deep-felt love for both his mistress and his wife.

It’s also something of a surrealistic film that continuously and actively works to pull the rug out from under the viewer by presenting its story not only through flashbacks and dream sequences, but also through images on the set of the film and parts that seem to be taking place only in Anselmi’s imagination, and though there are clues as to how these disperate parts all come together, in the end, Fellini leaves much of the interpretation of what is presented on the screen – and the reality or unreality of it – to the interpretation of the viewer.

8 1/2, Marcello Mastroianni, 1963As a film, 8 1/2 is considered a masterpiece, and it’s easy to see why. It is impeccably and imaginatively shot, and while there are definitely times when, especially on a first viewing and without further consideration, the viewer may very well find himself feeling lost or even thinking perhaps that Fellini, much like his protagonist, may have lost control of his creation, it is easy to see by the end that it all comes together quite well. It is also a movie that does what every truly great film does, in that it melds sight and sound – the images on the screen, the dialogue, even the music and sound effects – into a singular whole that could not be separated or presented in any other way or format.

It is also a movie that has, over time, been incredibly influential on other film makers, probably most notably and directly at least for modern American audiences Bob Fosse‘s 1979 musical All That Jazz which parallels this film in so many ways it could probably be the closest thing to a remake that one could think of without actually being one – though that is far from the only one.

8.2So why did I say at the beginning of this article that now that I’ve seen this film I probably won’t be watching it again or delving deeper into it anytime soon? I suppose the reason is that for all of it’s technical “rightness”, for all of it’s innovation and creativity, there is one thing that, in the end, it seems to be lacking. A heart. Perhaps this is also a choice on the part of Fellini, it does parallel one of the problems facing it’s protagonist who is often questioned about and seems himself to question, whether he is truly capable of being a loving person or even if he knows what love is. Even if that is the case, however, it also serves to undercut the actual heart of the film and leaves it feeling more like an exercise in technical brilliance and achievement than the truly personal statement that one rather wishes (and suspects Fellini intended) it to be.

Nonetheless, it is a film that I recommend viewing, and one that I am glad that I have. Bot for now, for me, I think once is enough.

Here’s the trailer:

So what are your thoughts on 8 1/2? Is it a movie that you’ve seen or would like to? If you have seen it, is it one that would make your own Top 10 list? Or would it not even crack your Top 250? Let me know below.

For The Love of Film – These Amazing Shadows (2011)

“Somebody says ‘Why would you save movies?’ and I ask those people back ‘Why do you save your family pictures?'”

TAS_Poster_view-2_LATER_IN_THE_DAYThat’s the closing line from the above trailer, and it pretty well encapsulates what this documentary is all about. These Amazing Shadows is a 2011 documentary produced by Christine O’Malley and directed by Paul Mariano and Kurt Norton. It is ostensibly a history of the National Film Registry, but what it really is is a love letter to Americsn film and those who care about films past, present, and future.

For those who don’t know, the National Film Registry is a list of films selected by the United States National Film Preservation Board for preservation in the Library of Congress. The Film Preservation Board, in turn, was established by an act of congress known the National Film Preservation Act of 1988. Each year, the NFR presents a list of up to 25 American films to the Librarian of Congress for special recognition, and he may then modify the list as he sees fit. The only requirements for inclusion on the list are that they must be at least 10 years old (though this was not true for the first year’s selections), and that they be considered “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. There are no requirements as to length, genre, or any other consideration. As a matter of fact, a film does not even have to have had a theatrical release in order to be included on the list. This has led to an incredible amount of diversity among the films included, and now the Registry includes everything from newsreels to Hollywood blockbusters, from silent films to music videos, from short subjects to serials. As Dr. James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress who has overseen the registry since its inception has stated,

Taken together, the … films in the National Film Registry represent a stunning range of American filmmaking—including Hollywood features, documentaries, avant-garde and amateur productions, films of regional interest, ethnic, animated, and short film subjects—all deserving recognition, preservation and access by future generations. As we begin this new millennium, the registry stands among the finest summations of American cinema’s wondrous first century.

But all of that is really just background. As I said earlier, what this documentary really is is a love letter to the glory of American films, a reminder of where they (and we as film lovers) come from, and a celebration of those who are trying to keep that past alive. In some ways, there’s really nothing “new” in the actual information presented here, especially for those who have been following the fight for better preservation of our film heritage, but for those who haven’t, it certainly can be an eye-opener.

800px-FilmRegistryLogoAlso, it’s just a fun look back at not only some great movies that you may remember, but an introduction to ones that you may be completely unaware of.

One of the things that the doc also focuses on is that it’s not just the quote big unquote movies that deserve attention, but a lot of times the smaller or completely overlooked items, even home movies, that deserve attention, protection, and preservation, because a lot of times it’s those little items that really serve to provide a kind of “time capsule” of where we have been and where we are as a country and as a people, and that can help to remind us of the past and what it was truly like.

Sadly, as the film also points out, even being named to the registry doesn’t ensure that these films will actually be preserved, and there are a lot of others that are in danger of being, or already are, lost to the ravages of time and will never even be known or seen again.

In the end, These Amazing Shadows is very much worth watching if you consider yourself a film buff. But even if you don’t, it’s still worth your time, and who knows, maybe after watching it, you will come away remembering the effect that some of these movies have had on you in the past, and a sense of wonder at what else might be out there that might be worth taking a look at and why preserving our film heritage is so important, not only for their entertainment value, but for the link that they can provide to our culture and our humanity.

(Post script: I’m providing below what appears to be a shortened version of the film that was cut for presentation on PBS. I haven’t watched this version for comparison to its full-length counterpart, which i really recommend seeking out, but if you don’t want to do that, you can at least check this out.)

Saturday Double Feature: The Wolverine (2013) and…

Saturday on the blog means Saturday Double Feature, right? Remember, the basic idea here is to take a movie that is out in theaters now, and pair it up with another movie from the 1980s or before.. Sometimes the connection will be obvious, and sometimes it’ll be a little less so, but that’s part of the fun.

The Wolverine. Yep, that’s the big one this weekend, isn’t it? Hugh Jackman, claws, superpowers, ninja, swords, lots and lots of other weapons, I mean just look at this thing:

Let’s face it, movie goers this weekend are gonna be in for (hopefully at least) some crazy mutant on ninja action. But you know, when I really think about crazy ninja action, my mind drifts back about 30 or more years to the late 70s and early 80s, when the Shaw Brothers were churning out all kinds of wild martial arts flicks. You guys know the ones I’m talking about. the ones that featured claws, superpowers, ninja, swords, lots and lots of other weapons. The ones that would come into our homes on a lazy Sunday afternoon under the guise of “Kung Fu Theater” or whatever title the local station would give it. Yeah, I’m thinking one of those would probably fit the other half of a double bill pretty well.

So which one to pick? Well, obviously there are probably hundreds to choose from, and even narrowing down the pack was tough, but I think I finally found one with just the right elements (pun unintended) to stand toe to toe with its modern counterpart. Heck, it’s even got a guy with claws in it. (Okay, they’re actually claw gloves, but still…) Its title is usually translated as Five Element Ninjas (or alternately Super Ninjas), it’s from 1982, the director is Chang Cheh, and it stars Lo Meng, Michael Chan, and Rickey Cheng. Here, see what you think:

Yeah, I don’t know about you, but I’d go see a double bill with that and ol’ Wolvie. But what about you guys? anybody out there got a better “crazy martial arts” flick than this one that would make a good pairing? Or how about just one that’s a favorite? I’d love to get some feedback on this one and maybe if you’ve got some memories of watching these kind of films “back in the day”, I’d love to hear those, too. Just chime in in the comments section and share. And also let me know of any other upcoming movies you’d like to see “double featured”. Consider it, if you will, your chance to challenge me to come up with an interesting pair.

Until next time, Happy Viewing!

Site Update – Durnmoose Movie Musings Is Now A Member Of The Classic Movie Hub’s BlogHub

CMHLogowithTagVersionHomePageFinalIf you look to the sidebar at the right of the page, you may notice something new today. That’s right, Durnmoose Movie Musings is now a proud member of the Classic Movie Hub’s BlogHub. What is the Classic Movie Hub? Well, in the words of the site’s creator and curator Annmarie, it’s designed to be

the one-stop Classic Movie Curator — where you can browse, discover and share ‘all things’ classic-movies. Classic Movie Hub contains information on tens of thousands of classic films and movie stars, plus classic movie trivia, fun facts, quotes, books, travel sites and much, much more. In addition, Classic Movie Hub is the home of BlogHub ™ where classic movie fans can rate and share the best in Classic Movie Blogs and Blog Posts from veteran and emerging classic movie bloggers.

Personally, I first became aware of the CMH as a result of my participation in the recent Dynamic Duos in Classic Film Blogathon (and if you missed those posts, where I wrote about the movies of Abbott and Costello, you can find them here and here, and more information on the blogathon itself, including full lists of the articles and participating sites can be found on the pages of the blogathon’s co-hosts, the CMH and Once Upon a Screen), and I was really impressed with what Annmarie was doing there. This is far from being just another amalgamating site that turns out to be just a list of links without any guidance whatsoever. Instead, the site truly does seem a labor of love created by a classic movie lover for classic movie lovers. There are also some great databases that are incredibly searchable and sortable, making it a great place to find information on a particular aspect of classic film that might be of interest to you.

Anyway, as I said at the top, I am very pleased to be able to say that this site will now be featured there, and encourage you to check out not just the DMM page there, but to click around and look at all the other goodies to be found. And I wanted to say a special public thanks to Annmarie for allowing me to be a part of what she’s got going on there.

Old Time Radio Thursdays – #005: Bold Venture (1951-1952)

The short intro: For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, Old Time Radio is the phrase generally used to refer to the time when radio was (mostly) live, and was full of a variety of different shows, as opposed to simply being a means for record labels to use robots to promote the top records of the day. Old Time Radio Thursdays is my chance to explore some of those old radio shows, their connections (both old and new) to movies, and hopefully to encourage some of the rest of you to take a look at a probably unfamiliar source of entertainment that I truly love. If you want more info on OTR, and some examples of the variety of shows that were made, be sure to check out this introductory post.

Bold Venture! Adventure! Intrigue! Mystery! Romance! Starring Humphrey Bogart! And Lauren Bacall! Together in the sultry setting of tropical Havana and the mysterious islands of the Caribbean. Bold Venture! Once again, the magic names of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall bring you Bold Venture and a tale of mystery and intrigue…

51-04-10-Storz-Beer-spot-adHumphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall together on the radio? In a weekly dramatic adventure show? Set in the Caribbean? Yep, that’s exactly what Bold Venture promised, and that’s exactly what it delivered.

1951 had to have been a busy year for one of Hollywood’s most popular couples. Bacall was pregnant with the couple’s second child, and they would soon be off to “deepest darkest Africa” where Bogie would be filming his Academy Award winning turn as Charlie Allnut in The African Queen. Nonetheless, the couple managed to record 30 episodes of the radio show before their departure, and supposedly another 48 upon their return.

Bold Venture is the story of Slate Shannon (Bogart), who runs a hotel and fishing boat rental service in Havana and his “ward”/sidekick/possible love interest Gail “Sailor” Duval (Bacall) as they scrape and scrap their way through stories involving everything from spies to lost love. The setting obviously was designed explicitly for the couple, as “Shannon’s Place” might just as well be “Rick’s Cafe” from Casablanca, and the fishing boat set-up is obviously a combination of To Have and Have Not and Key Largo.

1-bold-ventureIn reality, however, the show probably could have been set almost anywhere, because the real draw for listeners, and the real appeal, is obviously the interaction between the two stars, and in that aspect the show definitely doesn’t disappoint. The natural chemistry between the two shines through, even when the scripts are on the weak side or when the plot becomes somewhat muddled. This is definitely a show where the leads were able to bring even a mediocre script – and there were, unfortunately, more than one of those, though when the writing shines, it really does shine – to a much higher level. Which is exactly what one would expect from stars of this calibre and level of intimacy.

Speaking of stars, special note also has to go out to supporting actor Jester Hairston who played “King” Moses on the show. If Bogart was reprising Rick Blaine, then King was his Sam, and one of the more intriguing aspects of the show was that after the first commercial break, King would provide the listener with an up-to-this-point plot summary in the form of a calypso verse, which was an interesting way to play up the Cuban setting even when the script really didn’t otherwise call for or allow much reference to the island nation.

One thing that you may have noticed earlier when I noted the number of episodes recorded before and after the shooting of The African Queen is that I said “supposedly another 48 upon their return”. Bold Venture is what was known as a syndicated series, meaning that rather than going out live, the episodes would be recorded before hand and then sent out (usually on lacquer disks) to the local stations who would then slot them into their schedules with local sponsors buying individual spots. Unfortunately, this has led to some confusion over just how many episodes were actually produced, the sequence they were aired in, the dates they would have originally aired, and even the titles given to the episodes. This is unfortunately the case with many radio shows of the period, especially since the disks themselves were often supposed to be destroyed after their broadcast – remember, this was a time when there was no secondary market for these programs, and there was no value seen in the shows beyond their initial broadcast.

Humphrey-Bogart-Lauren-Bacall-1This has led to the unfortunate situation where many of these early radio shows are simply lost to our generation, and many of the ones that do survive exist only in the form of recordings made of the actual on-air broadcasts by enthusiasts who would set up tape machines to capture their favorite shows. Also it means that those trying to research these shows often have to piece together snippets of information or advertisements from various newspapers or magazines in order to try to make some sense of exactly which shows do still exist and other information about them.

In the specific case of Bold Venture, the syndicator’s records indicate that a total of 78 shows were recorded, but of those only 57 have been verified to still exist and are “in circulation” – meaning they are available to collectors and/or listeners. There may very well be more recordings out there, but if so, they are either in the hands of private collectors or may even simply be sitting on a shelf without the owner even realizing the treasure they have.

This is, of course, yet another thing that these old radio shows have in common with early films and television shows.

Anyway, we fortunately do have those 57 shows available to listen to, and the full collection of them can be found here.

And now, once again, I invite you to sit back, close your eyes, and let the magic of Bogart, Bacall, and Old Time Radio take you on your own Bold Venture.

As always, I hope you’ve enjoyed this little trip into radio’s past, and today’s focus on Bold Venture. Next week? Well, next week we’ll take a look at one of Hollywood’s most notable horror icons as he steps into a much more… “saintly” role.

Top 250 Tuesday: #166 – Vampyr (1932)

Continuing to wend my way through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Greatest Movies of All Time. This week, it’s #166 on the list, Carl Theodore Dreyer‘s Vampyr. For a longer introduction 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 in the sidebar) where I’ll be posting that info later in the day.

vampyr_poster_01It’s easy to imagine why audiences in 1932 had such a hard time accepting Carl Theodore Dreyer‘s Vampyr. Even today, it’s more the atmosphere of the movie, with it’s very odd use of shadow and overlapping images that makes it a standout, but it can also be very off-putting. This is very much a film filled with the diabolical, where shadows exist seemingly on their own; where time seems to run at it’s own pace, sometimes too slowly, sometimes too quickly, sometimes even backwards; where logic often does not pertain, and the very idea of cause and effect is completely thrown out the window. In short, it is a film that is designed not so much to terrify as to disturb, and it is one that succeeds very well at doing just that.

Coming off of his 1928 masterwork The Passion of Joan of Arc, Dreyer was already an acclaimed director who was obviously looking for something completely different to turn his attention to, and for new ways to challenge his skills. With this in mind, he decided to turn to the field of horror to see what tales he could use to give audiences a chilling sensation. Eventually he decided to turn to a collection of short stories by Sheridan Le Fanu called In a Glass Darkly. From that book, he decided to incorporate two stories into his film: “Carmilla“, and “The Room in the Dragon Volant”.

vampyr460Though it’s easy to see the influences of both of these stories in Vampyr, it really can’t be cosnidered a straightforward adaptation of either. The former story is one concerning a lesbian vampire, and the latter being about a premature burial, there are elements of each contained within the film, but it definitely tells a tale all its own.

I’m not going to talk much more about the plot, because you can easily find that outlined elsewhere, and anyway it doesn’t seem that Dreyer was as interested in telling any kind of straightforward narrative (which is not to say that the movie doesn’t have one, it does) as he was in creating a tone – an atmosphere – which audiences then seemed to have a very strong negative reaction to, and which even now can give the casual viewer pause.

vampyr2nrDreyer is definitely on his “A” game here, as he brings a definite experimentalism to the film. Coming in at the very start of the “talkie” era, he has created what is largely a silent film, still relying very heavily on title cards and pages from a book on vampires to explain much of the backdrop and lore that he is using and to explain the nature of the creatures, and dialogue is sparse throughout. Once again, however, this is not a problem, because it is the imagery and atmosphere that is his obvious concern.

What makes the film even more interesting is that even though Universal’s much loved adaptation of Dracula had been released a year before this film, the location shooting and camera tricks that Dreyer utilizes manages to make its filmic predecessor just seem that much more stage- and hide- bound. (Of course, when Browning’s adaptation of the stage play is put to shame even by the Spanish-language version that was shot on the same sets at at night, that may seem less of an achievement, but still it does show that even that early on, film audiences were much more likely to turn to the familiar than the experimental, something that rings true even today.

All in all, at the end of the day what comes across is that Dreyer has given us a very successful, creepily atmospheric film of the type which, if given a chance and a proper re-release, I think could even give the right audience today a case of the shivers.

There don’t seem to be any real trailers for the film, but here’s just one of the many chilling sequences that can be found within it, which should give you a good taste of just what I’ve been talking about:

So what are your thoughts on Vampyr? Is it a movie that you’ve seen or would like to? If you have seen it, is it one that would make your own Top 10 list? Or would it not even crack your Top 250? Let me know below.

Conspiracy Theorists Need To Apply – The Parallax View (1974)

Parallax_View_movie_posterI’m not sure exactly why I decided last night’s movie would be 1974’s The Parallax View, or even when I put it in my Netflix queue. Still, there it was, and since I was in a kind of “what the heck” mood, I decided to give it a go.

Coming out at a time when political corruption, conspiracy theories, and political assassinations were all at the forefront of the American psyche, The Parallax View is according to Wikipedia, the middle film in director Alan J. Pakula‘s so-called “Political Paranoia Trilogy” which also includes 1971’s Klute, which I haven’t yet seen, and 1976’s All The President’s Men, which I have. (Though it has been awhile, and I probably should revisit it sometime soon.) This is not to say that the film relies on any knowledge of, or even directly relates to either of those films, as the link between them is one of theme more than plot.

The Parallax view stars Warren Beatty as Joseph Frady, a somewhat naive reporter who finds himself drawn unwillingly into a world of political intrigue and, yes. conspiratorial assassination. The guiding force behind these assassinations turns out to be the titular Parallax Corporation which actively recruits people like Frady, people who seem to be on the edge, to become assassins.

Or do they?

pSub2The movie is very much one of its time, making use of then-popular pop-culture tropes such as personality testing and visual brain washing. There is even a scene which echoes the forced retraining scene in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, with a very interesting video montage, though the scene itself is much less disturbing and intense than that of the Kubrick film.

And perhaps that’s the problem with the entire film, and why it was less well received and remains much less well remembered than Pakula’s two other films in this “trilogy”. It simply never manages to convey any real sense of intensity or immediacy. Under Pakula’s direction, scenes such as the opening fight on the top of Seattle’s Space Needle, which could have provided great tension seem much too removed and foreshortened to truly give it any sense of what is at stake, and that is something that carries through the length of the movie, making it seem rather disjointed and – while it’s not particularly hard to follow – jumpy, as Frady moves from point to point in following the conspiracy depending far too much on what seems coincidence.

pLight2Of course, it could be argued that these coincidences are not what they seem, but that is not a point that the movie really addresses, so the viewer is left at times having to play catch up just a bit too much.

As far as the acting goes, Beatty, whose talent onscreen was unfortunately for most of his career overshadowed by his offscreen reputation turns in his usual engaging performance. He is very ably backed by a supporting cast which includes Hume Cronyn, William Daniels and Paula Prentiss, all of whom are good here, but never seem as engaged as they would be in other roles.

In the end, The Parallax View is a pretty typical 70s conspiracy thriller, complete with a relatively nihilistic ending which was the going trend at the time. It is certainly worth the time if you have nothing better to do with an evening and are a fan of this kind of film, but at the same time, I can’t consider putting it in the category of a “must see”.

(The preceding review was, by the way, paid for by the Parallax Corporation, but you should not take that as any indication that it was designed to throw you off the scent of any ongoing assassination conspiracies or other ongoing schemes. Probably.)