Kubrick On Kubrick – Stanley Kubrick: The Lost Tapes

skStanley Kubrick: The Lost Tapes is a short documentary which was compiled by Jim Casey from a series of tape recordings made by Jeremy Bernstein in 1966. At the time of the recordings, Kubrick was in the midst of making 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Bernstein was writing a profile on the director. Casey has taken excerpts from the tapes and edited them together with clips from the director’s films and behind-the scenes photographs to form a very good self-narrated profile of the director from his childhood through his early films, and on until the making of 2001.

Even for those who may not have a particular interest in the films of Kubrick, the documentary is interesting because the director spends quite a bit of time talking about how he managed to get his start and how he went about getting the equipment and financing for his earliest films, and it also provides some interesting insight into scripts that he wrote and film projects that were either started and abandoned or for which he wrote scripts but then were actually, for one reason or another never made.

The films covered in the documentary include:

1951 – Day of the Fight (Documentary short)
1951 – Flying Padre (Documentary short)
1953 – Fear and Desire
1955 – Killer’s Kiss
1956 – The Killing
1957 – Paths of Glory
1960 – Spartacus
1962 – Lolita
1964 – Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
1968 – 2001: A Space Odyssey

What is perhaps most surprising about these tapes is how candid the director is about what he sees as his own failings, and also how he responds to some of the criticisms of his early works, especially Lolita.

You can watch the entire documentary below.

How Propaganda Is Made Today – Merchants Of Doubt (2014)

mod1Not too long ago on my main Facebook page, I linked to this io9 article detailing just how author John Bohannon was able to not only get a fake study that “proved” that adding dark chocolate to one’s diet aids in weight loss, but also to get it picked up and carried by and into mainstream media and reported as scientifically valid.

Actually, that’s not quite a fair assessment. The study was valid, it’s just the resulting analysis and paper that were bogus. But anyway…

Here are a couple of quotes from the article:

These publications, though many command large audiences, are not exactly paragons of journalistic virtue. So it’s not surprising that they would simply grab a bit of digital chum for the headline, harvest the pageviews, and move on. But even the supposedly rigorous outlets that picked the study up failed to spot the holes.

Shape magazine’s reporting on our study—turn to page 128 in the June issue—employed the services of a fact-checker, but it was just as lackadaisical. All the checker did was run a couple of sentences by me for accuracy and check the spelling of my name. The coverage went so far as to specify the appropriate cocoa content for weight-loss-inducing chocolate (81 percent) and even mentioned two specific brands (“available in grocery stores and at amazon.com”).

So why should you care? People who are desperate for reliable information face a bewildering array of diet guidance—salt is bad, salt is good, protein is good, protein is bad, fat is bad, fat is good—that changes like the weather. But science will figure it out, right? Now that we’re calling obesity an epidemic, funding will flow to the best scientists and all of this noise will die down, leaving us with clear answers to the causes and treatments.

mod2Or maybe not. Even the well-funded, serious research into weight-loss science is confusing and inconclusive, laments Peter Attia, a surgeon who cofounded a nonprofit called the Nutrition Science Initiative. For example, the Women’s Health Initiative—one of the largest of its kind—yielded few clear insights about diet and health. “The results were just confusing,” says Attia. “They spent $1 billion and couldn’t even prove that a low-fat diet is better or worse.” Attia’s nonprofit is trying to raise $190 million to answer these fundamental questions. But it’s hard to focus attention on the science of obesity, he says. “There’s just so much noise.”

You can thank people like me for that. We journalists have to feed the daily news beast, and diet science is our horn of plenty. Readers just can’t get enough stories about the benefits of red wine or the dangers of fructose. Not only is it universally relevant—it pertains to decisions we all make at least three times a day—but it’s science! We don’t even have to leave home to do any reporting. We just dip our cups into the daily stream of scientific press releases flowing through our inboxes. Tack on a snappy stock photo and you’re done.

I was reminded of this while watching the trailer for the 2014 documentary Merchants of Doubt. The film, directed by Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Robert Kenner is based on the 2010 book of the same name by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway. Here’s a description of the book, subtitled How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, courtesy of Wikipedia:

It identifies parallels between the global warming controversy and earlier controversies over tobacco smoking, acid rain and the hole in the ozone layer. Oreskes and Conway write that in each case “keeping the controversy alive” by spreading doubt and confusion after a scientific consensus had been reached, was the basic strategy of those opposing action. In particular, they say that Fred Seitz, Fred Singer, and a few other contrarian scientists joined forces with conservative think tanks and private corporations to challenge the scientific consensus on many contemporary issues.

And here’s the trailer:

Of course, we all should have our doubts whenever we see or read about one of these scientific studies or whenever we hear the phrase “teach the controversy”, but to have these things brought into such stark focus and brought so sharply out into the open is something that really should remind us all that all of these should be taken not just with a pinch, but more like a bucketful of salt.

When Donald Duck Was Nominated For The Oscar For Best Documentary – The New Spirit (1942)

ns1A Donald Duck short nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature? Yep it happened.

You see, because of the various rate changes and income brackets introduced in the Revenue Act of 1942, which was passed in order to help finance America’s part in World War II, approximately 15 million Americans would be asked to pay income taxes for the first time. In order to encourage the public to not only pay this new tax, abut to do so properly and on time, and to explain why the government needed the money, then Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr. approached Walt Disney to produce a propaganda film to cast the concept in a positive light and perhaps make biting the bullet just a little easier.

At first, it was proposed that a new character to simply be known as “Mr. Average Taxpayer”be crated for the short, but Disney, who certainly was one who understood the American moviegoer and what would appeal to them much more than Mr Morganthau, countered that Donald, who was at that point Disney’s biggest star, would be more appropriate for the task. After all, if even the irascible duck was willing to pay his fair share. then perhaps it would help the rest of the public see doing their part as the good and patriotic thing to do also.

ns3Thus was the short film The New Spirit born.

Directed by Wilfred Jackson and Ben Sharpsteen, and featuring Clarence Nash as the voice of Donald, Fred Shields as the radio announcer, and Cliff Edwards singing the theme song, while this was the first propaganda film Disney produced to aid the war effort, it would be far from the last.

“Interestingly, the financial information included in the short are accurate if one takes Donald’s salary of $2501 as accurate. Donald files as Head of Family since he is single and able to claim Huey, Dewey, and Louie as his dependents, sog his payment of $13 authentic according to the tax bracket. Interestingly, we also see that Donald’s address is 1313 Hollywood Boulevard. and we even get a look at his bank and check numbers

ns2Anyway, the next year, at the 15th Academy Awards, 25 films were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, – this was obviously a huge year for propaganda films, and both feature films and shorts ere included in the nominations and The New Spirit was one of them. Unfortunately, it was not one of the four winners, which were The Battle of Midway, Kokoda Front Line!,  Moscow Strikes Back, and  Prelude to War.

Still, one can only wonder just how different Donald’s mantelpiece would have looked with a bight shining Oscar on top of it. Assuming, of course, his nephews didn’t just take it outside to play football with.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Q: What Is Film Noir? A: Watch These Two Documentaries And Find Out

fn1I’ll be honest, I love a good film noir. As a matter of fact, I often love a bad film noir. Yeah, it’s just kind of that way. We all have those genres which we are willing to give more leeway to than others, I suppose.

So what exactly is it that makes a particular movie a “black movie” (that is, after all, what the term film noir translates to)? What separates it from other, more straightforward detective stories? What are its origins, its influences, its “rules”, and its repercussions? And why are there no really modern films noir? Or are there? (Personally, I’d argue that there are, and that I’d like to see more, but that, I suppose, is a post for another time.)

Those are some of the questions that these two documentaries, one from PBS’s American Cinema series, the other produced by the BBC, set out to answer. Though there is, obviously, and necessarily, quite a bit of overlap between the two, I didn’t find them as repetitive as you might expect. They each have their own approach to the subject, and vary quite a bit in some of the examples that they use to illustrate their various points and in the filmmakers and scholars that they interview on the subject.

Taken together, they provide both a good framework for further exploration of the genre, and a number of movies that you might want to add to your Netflix queue or find in other ways. (Here’s a hint: not unsurprisingly, a number of these films, along with other good examples of the genre, are readily available on YouTube.)

Anyway, for now I simply invite you to sit back and take a couple of hours to walk the mean streets and back alleys of a genre I love. But be wary: there’s a lot going on in those shadows, and as always, cherchez la femme.

First, from PBS’s American Cinema series, an episode simply titled Film Noir:

Second, from the BBC, The Rules of Film Noir:

Enhanced by Zemanta

This Truly Is A Concise History of the Origins of Cinema, And That’s A Good Thing.

This not-quite thirty minute long feature is pretty much exactly what it sets out to be: A Concise History of the Origins of Cinema. It maps (literally) the many advancements that came together to bring us a short yet well constructed history, going the shadow puppet plays of early China through to the development of  the “talkies”, and it does so in a very well-structured and easy to follow format.

Produced and Written by Chris Mitchell and Narrated by Christy Meyer, it’s a great starter for those interested in just how all the various innovations that took place over the years and around the world came together to bring us the art form that we all love and that this blog is here to celebrate.

Definitely recommended viewing!

31 Days of Halloween – 004: The Real Story of Halloween

October marches on, and so does our countdown to All Hallows Eve. This year, rather than trying to do a full 31 film reviews or something truly time-consuming like that, most of what I’m going to be posting are favorite trailers, short films, some full-length movies, and other items just to kind of help get everyone in the spirit of what really is one of my favorite holidays.

I suppose it’s only appropriate as we wend our way towards the spooky holiday to take a look back at the history of the day, its origins, and how it has been celebrated over time. So, from the History Channel, here is The Real Story of Halloween:

If you’ve got any comments on this, or any ideas for other scary bits an bobs that you’d like to see featured in the countdown, let me know either in the comments below, or over on the Durnmoose Movies Facebook page which can be found here.

Want Some Fun With Your Horror Show? Check Out The Full-Length Doc American Scary (2006)

Nashville’s Own Sir Cecil Crepe

Here in Nashville when I was growing up, our local Horror Host was Sir Cecil Crepe, the host of a show called Creature Feature. Every week from his dungeon below the studio of local NBC affiliate channel 4, the good Sir Cecil would serve up some of the great – and not-so-great – horror B-movies of the past, along with skits featuring other characters and bits of information about the film. In a lot of ways, we kids (and our parents) were tuning in to see Sir Cecil as much as, or perhaps even more, than the movie he was showing. Nonetheless, it’s to Sir Cecil and Creature Feature (along with The Big Show, but that’s a post for another time) that I owe a debt of gratitude for turning me on to so many of these just plain fun movies.

Nor was Nashville the only city with such programming, As a matter of fact, there probably wasn’t a major city anywhere in the US at a certain point in time that didn’t have their own horror host, and there were even a few who managed to go national.

I still have my own Ghoul Patrol badge.
I still have my own Ghoul Patrol badge.

So what happened to the local horror hosts? Why are they no longer a fixture on American television screens? Well, there are a number of factors, but basically it comes down to what it always comes down to: money. It’s cheaper for local stations to fill their time with never ending syndicated re-runs of bad comedy shows than to produce this type of programming.

Anyway, in 2006, the documentary American Scary was released as a tribute to these hosts and to tell the story of their rise and fall. I actually picked up a DVD copy of the doc when it first came out, and now, thanks to YouTube, I can share this excellent video with you.

So, whether you are old enough to remember your own local horror host, or this is a new concept to you, come back in time with me and let your inner monster kid out for a little while to enjoy American Scary:

By the way, if you have your own memories of horror hosts from your younger days, or any current favorites (yes, the tradition is still carried on, though not as predominately as it once was, and Nashville even still has our own Horror Host, Dr. Gangrene, who carries on Sir Cecil’s legacy to this day) I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

From One Second To The Next (2013) – Werner Herzog’s Texting And Driving Documentary

Desktop-BackgroundAcclaimed documentarian and film maker Werner Herzog has added his voice to the “It Can Wait” campaign with this not-surprisingly beautiful yet heartbreaking 35 minute film on the dangers of texting and driving. Entitled From One Second to the Next, it focuses on how completely lives can be changed with a mere moment’s inattention, Herzog brings every bit of his craftsmanship to convey a very simple, yet important message: “Please don’t text and drive”.

The film shares the stories not only of those who were the obvious victims of these accidents, those who were or had family members who were hit by drivers distracted while they were texting, but also those who caused those accidents because they simply weren’t paying attention.

This is a film that deserves to be seen, and I encourage you not only to watch it, but to share it with your family, friends, and anyone you know who either texts or drives, but especially those who do both.

For more information on the film and the It Can Wait campaign, you can visit their website here.

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.)

What’s Up With Those Dang Black Bars? – A History of Aspect Ratio

This may sound pretty dry and boring, but if you’ve ever been curious about why certain movies look different on your TV (especially now that “widescreen” TV’s have become so prevalent) or why older films look so much different than newer ones, one of the main reasons is what is known as “aspect ratio”. Dunno what that means or don’t know how it’s changed? Well, the good folks over at Filmmaker IQ have just the thing for you. The Changing Shape of Cinema: The History of Aspect Ratio is a short feature that will provide you with simple explanations of all of these questions, and do it in a way that is quite entertaining.

This is actually only part of a course that you can find here, and I highly encourage you to check out the entire site. There’s lots of good info there for aspiring film makers, or really for anyone interested in the “hows” and “whys” of film making. Check ’em out!