Sight and Sound Top 250 #185 – Paris, Texas (1984)

As we finally get back to our trip through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Movies of All Time list, we come to #185, Wim Wenders’s Paris, Texas. And as always I’ll note that for those just joining us, you can find a full introduction to what the Sight and Sound Top 250 list is, and a look at the complete list of the movies on it, along with links to the ones I’ve already written about here. And, if you want to be sure not to miss any of these posts, just head on over to the Facebook page and give it a “like”or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are also in the sidebar) where I post anytime one of these – or anything else on the blog, along with just random other links and thoughts that may not make it into full posts – goes up. Trust me, if you’re not following one or the other (or both), you’re not getting the full Durmoose Movies experience.

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ptp01Paris, Texas isn’t a place on a map, it’s a place in the soul.

Yeah, I know, sounds like a bit of advertising copy, doesn’t it? For all I know, it could very well be. (Hey, anyone out there looking for blurbage for your film? Drop me a quick message.)

There are some actors who I love seeing in the cast list for a movie because I know that no matter how bad the movie itself may be, at least that actor is going to give me an enjoyable performance. One of those actors is Harry Dean Stanton. I can’t exactly put my finger on why it is that I have that reaction, but there it is, And hey, there’s HDS’s name right a the top of the billing for Wim Wenders’s 1984 outing Paris, Texas. Okay, I tell myself, at least I know I’m in for something I’m going to like about this film.

And the truth is that there’s actually quite a lot to like about it.

Paris, Texas is the story of Stanton’s Travis Henderson who disappeared from his family’s life four years earlier. When he turns up on the edge of a south Texas desert, dehydrated and either unable or unwilling to talk, he is taken in by a doctor who contacts his brother, Walt (played by another favorite character actor, Dean Stockwell), who agrees to come pick him up. Since Travis refuses to travel by plane, the two brothers drive back to Walt’s home in Los Angeles where he lives with his wife Anne and Travis’s son Hunter. Walt and Anne have been raising Hunter as their own since Travis and his wife Jane disappeared.

pt003Along the road, Travis slowly begins to open up to Walt, and we find out a lot about what has happened to him in the time he has been missing. Upon arriving at Walt and Anne’s house, the relationship between Travis and Hunter is at first strained, but eventually begins to thaw as the two learn to trust each other, and they begin to bond. Eventually Anne reveals to Travis that though they’ve had no contact with Jane since she left, she has been making regular deposits in a bank account for Hunter and that those deposits have been made on the same day each month at a bank in Houston. When Travis decides to go to Houston to try to track her down, Hunter declares that he is coming along too.

pt004I think that’s about as far as I want to go with a plot synopsis, because to go any further, I’d have to give away too many of the twists that lie further along the road.

As I said at the top, I expected from the beginning to be entertained by the performances of both Stanton and Stockwell, and I definitely was. As Travis, Stanton puts in a near-perfect performance as a lost soul slowly regaining both his memories of and his connections to his past. For his part, Stockwell displays just the right combination of love for and exasperation with his brother. Of course, much of the credit for both of these performances must go to director Winders who gives this relationship just the right amount of room to breathe.

pt001Probably the most surprisingly good performance in the film comes from young Hunter Carson who plays Travis’s son Hunter. In a role that could have come off as mawkish or annoying, the young actor instead shows just the right amount of self-confidence to be neither.

As far as the look of the movie, one of the most striking aspects of the film is Wenders’ use of color. From the striking blue skies of the outdoor scenes to his palate choices for the various characters to his lighting choices which highlight each, this is a tour-de-force example of what can happen when a director is in sync with his cinematographer, as Winders obviously was with long time collaborator, Robby Mueller.

pt006If there is any nit to be picked with this film, it might be the ending which I can see some as finding too ambiguous for their taste, but in my book strikes just the right note of both hopefulness and loss. Interestingly, according to Wenders, he actually started shooting with only half of a script, with screenwriter Sam Shepherd wanting to see how the main characters played off of each other before he finished the writing.

One other aspect of the film that I have to make note of is the completely fitting score which was recorded by blues guitarist Ry Cooder and works perfectly to set the mood for the film and is completely in place for the atmosphere the director is trying to achieve.

It’s often said that for many people on a long trip it’s not so much the destination, but the journey. Whichever is your preference, I highly recommend this Texas road trip.

Here’s your trailer (which, I feel I should point out, really doesn’t do all that good a job of giving you a true feel for the actual movie, as is all too often the case.):

(Un)Happy Public Domain Day – 2017 Edition

puub17So what do the founder of the Surrealist movement, a star of the silent film era, the Japanese author behind the popularization of Buddhism in the West, two female writers at the heart of the Modernist scene, and one of the “fathers of science fiction” have in common this year?

If you guessed that they’re among the creators whose works will be entering the Public Domain this year in other countries but not in the U.S., then you’re right.

Sigh…

Yep, once again, in what has become an annual tradition, it’s time to not celebrate Public Domain Day.

pub001What’s Public Domain Day? Simply put, it’s the day that we recognize the deleterious effects of the changes in copyright law since it was changed in 1978 and subsequently which have kept most of the things that would have gone into the public domain from doing so, and will continue to keep anything new from entering it until at least 2019, and in many cases even longer. As a matter of fact, that 2019 date only applies to the earliest works that will be eligible to enter the public domain. The ones that would be joining it this year most likely won’t actually become a part of it until 2056. And that’s if Congress doesn’t shift the dates on us again, which is altogether likely to happen. This is true for the U.S., though it is not necessarily so in Canada and much of the EU or other parts of the world.

For those of you wondering about the names of the individuals included in the list above, here’s a partial list of this year’s “honorees” courtesy of this page: André Breton; Buster Keaton; László Moholy-Nagy, Gertrude Stein; H. G. Wells; Frank O’Hara; Alfred Stieglitz, Evelyn Waugh; D. T. Suzuki; Paul Nash; Mina Loy, Walt Disney,  W. C. Fields, Lenny Bruce, an C. S. Forester. An that’s just a snippet of the list of authors whose works would be eligible. (More information about each them can be found at the link above or at their respective Wikipedia pages.) As far as movies go, the list includes: The Time Machine, Psycho, Spartacus, Exodus, The Apartment, Inherit the Wind, The Magnificent Seven, Ocean’s 11, The Alamo, The Andy Griffith Show (first episodes) The Flintstones(first episodes).

So what would these works being in the public domain mean in practical terms? As the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke Law School puts it:

pub002Readers interested in iconic stories of courage in the face of racial injustice, or middle class America in the late 1950s, or just great literature, would have something to celebrate. In the current political climate, Shirer’s work, and also those of Hayek, Bell, and Schlesinger, might provide food for thought. And Dr. Seuss’s beloved books would be legally available for free online for children (of all ages).

You would be free to use these books in your own stories, adapt them for theater, animate them, or make them into a film. You could translate them into other languages, or create accessible Braille or audio versions. You could read them online or buy cheaper print editions, because others were free to republish them. Empirical studies have shown that public domain books are less expensive, available in more editions and formats, and more likely to be in print—see here, here, and here. Take, for example, The Conscience of a Conservative by Barry Goldwater—like the works listed above, it was published in 1960; but unlike those works, it’s in the public domain because the copyright was not renewed. You can legally download it for free, and the purchase price for an eBook is $0.99, instead of $10 or $20.

Imagine a digital Library of Alexandria containing all of the world’s books from 1960 and earlier, where, thanks to technology, you can search, link, annotate, copy and paste.

Beyond even that, though, our film heritage is suffering even more. Again, from Duke Law:

The case of film preservation is particularly troubling because older films are literally disintegrating, soon to be lost forever. The overwhelming majority of our cinematic heritage consists of orphan films — they are covered by copyright but have no ascertainable copyright owner. They include newsreels, documentaries, anthropological films, portraits of minority life in the United States, instructional films, and even some Hollywood studio productions. Because copyright law prevents scholars and citizens from using these orphan films (including copying and restoring them for preservation), the existing copies are actually disintegrating. This is because the cellulose nitrate base on which they were made makes them prone to shrinkage, to outgassing that destroys the film’s emulsion, and even to spontaneous combustion. The vast majority (upwards of 90%) of films from the 1910s have already decayed beyond the possibility of restoration. The numbers are only slightly better for works from 1920 to 1950. And the number of orphan films is staggering. As of 2005, of the 13,000 films housed at the Museum of Modern Art, over half were orphan works unavailable to the public. Vast numbers of the 150,000 titles held at the Library of Congress and the 46,000 tiles at the UCLA Film and Television Archive were also orphan films. (For more information, see the 2005 Report on Orphan Films submitted by the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at the invitation of the Copyright Office.) The law does allow libraries and archives (not preservationists generally) to digitize films during the last 20 years of their copyright term, but only in limited circumstances: the library or archive first has to determine through a “reasonable investigation” both that the work is not being commercially exploited, and that they cannot obtain another copy of it at a reasonable price.

Learn more about the situation in the U.S. and why the public domain is important in this article in Huff Post Books and this from the Duke Law School’s Centre for the Study of the Public Domain.

Throwback Thursday – The Outlaw (1943)

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back.

Since the big movie opening this past weekend was the remake of The Magnificent Seven, I thought it might be appropriate to take a look back at one of the most notorious westerns of it’s time. Thus this post from The Professor’s page from 2010. I should note that the original post had a different clip, and I’ve edited the text slightly in introducing the new one. Other than that, it remains as written then.

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Monday Oaters – The Outlaw (1943) – Starring Jane Russell

out1bHiya, kiddies! Your ol’ host with the most Professor Damian here. Y’know, when you’ve got a western that features Billy the Kid, Doc Holliday and Pat Garrett, you’ve most likely got a winner. But, when you’ve got a western where all three of those gunslingers are overshadowed by their love interest’s outrageous endowments well, then you’ve not only got a winner, but you’ve got a lot of controversy. And that’s the story of today’s feature.

Produced in 1941 by famed recluse Howard Hughes, on paper, The Outlaw is actually a fairly typical B-grade western. In the movie, Pat Garrett (Thomas Mitchell) is the newly appointed sheriff of the town of Lincoln, New Mexico. One day he is visited by his old friend Doc Holliday (Walter Huston) who is tracking down a stolen horse. It turns out that the horse was stolen by none other than Billy the Kid (Jack Buetel). When they meet up, the two become fast friends, and when Billy is subsequently shot Doc decides to take him to recover at the home of his (Doc’s) girlfriend Rio (Jane Russell). Unfortunately, that’s where the real trouble begins, both for the characters and for the production itself.

Rio, you see, is played by Jane Russell. Now, Hughes, realising where the real draw of the picture was, decided not only to feature Ms Russell, but to do so in the most provocative ways that he thought he could at the time. Therefore we see the definitely full-figured Ms. Russell in a number of low-cut or open-necked blouses. and in a number of “damsel in distress” type situations, including at one point being bound between two trees.

out1aUnfortunately, this envelope-pushing by Hughes and Russell was more than those in charge of enforcing the Hays Code could tolerate. They insisted on Hughes cutting at a number of scenes, most of which featured Ms. Russell’s bosom. Even with the cuts, however, Hughes had trouble finding distributors willing to handle the film. Finally Hughes decided to stoke the flames of controversy himself, and the resultant outcry caused the film to finally be booked in New York. It only played for one week, however, before the censorship board exerted more pressure on the theaters and it was withdrawn. Finally given a wide release in 1946, the film, likely due in large part to its scandalous reputation, went on to be a box-office success.

For viewers today, of course, considering some of the images that are projected onto the silver screen in our local multiplexes, it may be hard to see what all the fuss was about. However, there is one thing that definitely stands the test of time in this film, and that is Ms. Russell’s beauty.

Once again, I wasn’t able to track down a proper trailer for the movie online, but here’s a series of clips that… well, I suppose you could substitute the word “bust” for “best” and it would work just as well. Anyway, it should give you a pretty good feel for the flick:

Ok, I guess it’s time for the skinny:
Title: The Outlaw
Release Date: 1943
Running Time: 116 min.
Black and White
Stars: Jane Russell
Directors: Howard Hughes, Howard Hawks (uncredited)
Producer: Howard Hughes

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

A Very Special Time Of Night – The Midnight Special

ms1On August 19, 1972 a special program appeared on NBC urging younger voters to get out and vote in the upcoming presidential election. Sponsored by Chevrolet, the special feature live acts performing their own music, something rather unique at the time since, like many appearances by acts on TV today, most of the time when acts like these appeared on television shows, they were lip-synching to pre-recorded tracks.

The special was produced by Burt Sugarman as a pilot for an idea he was trying to sell to the network. It proved such a hit that NBC decided to buy the program to run after Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show on Friday nights, and thus The Midnight Special was born.

The Midnight Special ran for 450 90-minute episodes and featured hundreds of musical acts during that run. It ran until May 1, 1981, when it was finally replaced by SCTV (short for Second City Television) as part of a negotiation by Dick Ebersol to take over the reigns of Saturday Night Live, which was floundering at the time.

Here are some highlights from the show which will give you a taste not only of the diversity of the acts presented, but for you younger readers a taste of the music of the time.

Enjoy!

Saturday Double Feature – Pete’s Dragon (2016) and…

p1Yep, it’s the return of what use to be a regular feature here on the blog, the Saturday Double Feature. the idea is to pair a movie that is out in theaters now with one from the past. The reason for the pairing can vary – sometimes it will be pretty obvious, for instance if the movie in question is a remake (though I generally try to avoid those if they’re particularly well known) or it could be thematic, or perhaps an aspect of the title that I just think could be use to connect the two, or at times it’ll just be something that occurs to me as I’m thinking about the new movie. Basically anything that makes me think that the two films would make a good pair for viewing together.

Usually fir the second film I try to choose one that was released in the 80s or before, but I’m making an exception in the case of this week’s duo.

So let’s start with the new movie for this week. Pete’s Dragon is, of course a remake of the 1977 Disney semi-animate adventure/comedy film, about a boy who is friends with… well, a dragon.

Rather than go with he obvious, however, and pair it with the original version, I thought I’d go with a lesser-known film that I feel deserves more attention: The Secret of Roan Inish from 1994. Like Pete’s Dragon, Roan Inish deals with the relationship of a young child an a mythical creature, however in this case the creature is one from Irish legend known as a selkie. According to legend, selkies are seals who can shed their skins and become human on the land.

Thee Secret of Roan Inish was produced by Sarah Green an Maggie Renzi, and was directed by John Sayles. It’s based on a children’s novel called Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry written by Rosalie K. Fry.

Here’s a trailer:

Like I said above, though it breaks the pre-90s rule that I usually try to follow, I really like Roan Inish, and truly think it should have more than the cult following that it seems to now.

So, have you seen The Secret of Roan Inish? If so, what did you think about it, and what do you think of it as a pairing with Pete’s Dragon? Is there another film that you think would make a good double feature with it? Let me know in the comments below.

Anime Entryway – They Were 11 (1986)

tw111I don’t write much about anime here, simply because I don’t watch that much of it nowadays. However, back in the 90s, when it was seeing its first real American boom thanks to a home video market that was desperate for all kinds of content, I did watch quite a bit and found a lot to like about the genre.

Recently, in a conversation with a younger co-worker, the topic came up, and I got to thinking about some of the various titles that I enjoyed from back then, and one of those was They Were 11, known in Japan as Jūichinin Iru!, so when I found that it was actually available on YouTube I decided to give it a shot and see how well it held up against my reminiscences.

I suppose the easiest way to describe the plot to an American audience is to suggest thinking of it as a movie focused on a group of cadets facing an entrance exam to Star Trek’s Starfleet Academy. We get a mixed-bag group of characters from different planets/races who are put together on a spaceship to test their abilities to survive an work together as a team. However, upon arriving on the ship, instead of the expected ten team members, they fin that there are eleven on them. This, of course, sets up the first mystery: who is the unexpected 11th crew member? Since none of them knew each other before, an they were assigned seemingly at random, there is really no way to tell.

tw112To make matters worse, the team soon discoverers that the derelict ship to which they have been assigned is filled with a poisonous plant which, at a certain temperature will release poisonous spores, an after an act of sabotage throws the ship out of orbit causing it to rift nearer to the sun it is currently orbiting, the team must find a way to work together to save all of of their lives.

Of course, there is a way out. On the ship there is a red “panic button” which will sen out an S.O.S. message, calling in a recovery team to rescue them. However, pressing the button means that the entire team will fail the exam, which they cannot then take again for three years, a choice most of them are reluctant to make.

tw115The movie is a nicely plotted sci-fi mystery/action adventure. The animation is on par for the time, an while I really can’t speak for the translation of the script, the dubbing in the version I watched was very well done, with one exception. While I can understand the decision to use a strong southern American accent to emphasize the backwoods/planet on the outskirts origin of one of the characters, it is nonetheless quite jarring against the other character voices, an really the kind of thing that can draw one out of the film.

Beyond being just an adventure film, however, the movie also tackles some interesting questions about race, genre identity, group dynamics, and class issues. At the same time, it never loses sight of the fact that above all else, a movie like this is meant to be entertaining, and at times, such as as during a food fight which breaks out and serves as a tension reliever not just for the crew but for the audience as well, breaks down into almost outright slapstick.

tw114I’ll also admit that there is one aspect of the ending that may irk some viewers considering the way attitudes toward genre representation have change in the ensuing years, but for myself, I think it’s handled quite well.

Overall, I’d say if you’re a sci-fi or anime fan, They Were 11 stands up well to the test of time. Or, if you’re not familiar with the gene an ae looking for a way in, it makes a good choice, as an entryway, as it has just enough familiar elements to make it easily accessible, while still showcasing what makes a good anime movie.

Since the movie may prove difficult to find (I’m not sure that it’s had a proper disk release in years), I’ve posted the entire film in its dubbed version below and encourage you to give it a look.

Quickie Review – Haunter (2013)

hau1Every once in a while I’ll be scrolling through my queue on Netflix or Hulu and run across a movie that I don’t really remember putting on there but know there must have been a reason. Sometimes it turns out to be who is in it, sometimes it’s because it’s one that is suggested by the service itself, sometimes it’s just because the trailer caught my eye or because I’ve seen or read a review of it that made me think it might be interesting. That’s what happened last night when I ran across 2013’s Haunter.

I still can’t really say for sure what made me put it in the queue, but I’m glad that I did. The film turned out to be a breezily atmospheric haunted house movie with just enough jump scares to make it unsettling, but also enough twists and turns to keep the viewer guessing as to just what is going on. This is one of those flicks that starts out looking like it’s going to be one thing but before long turns into something completely different.

I’m not going to say that it works completely, and I’m not going to say that it would hold up under a lot of in depth scrutiny, but the ending is satisfying, as is the journey getting there. As a way to pass a couple of hours on a quiet summer night, I found it to be just what I was looking for.