FilmBuffOnline » History For The Complete Movie Fan Wed, 01 Oct 2014 16:47:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Producer Gary Kurtz Debunks Some Of The Legends That Have Sprung Up Around The Original STAR WARS Trilogy Mon, 29 Sep 2014 21:16:04 +0000 StarWarsKurtzHamillFord

To many who have studied the behind-the-scenes creative process of the original Star Wars trilogy, one name looms above all of creator George Lucas’s collaborators – producer Gary Kurtz. Kurtz, who had already teamed up with Lucas for American Graffiti, was seen as someone who helped mold Lucas’ creative visions and tempering them into something that more balanced both the business and artistic needs of film. He finally split from Lucas towards the end of the production of The Empire Strikes Back when it was starting to become clear that the factors driving the next installment of the franchise would be more beholden to such concerns as merchandising than it would be to storytelling. And some fans will tell you that things have been downhill ever since.

In doing the research for his upcoming book How Star Wars Conquered The Universe which goes on sale tomorrow), writer Chris Taylor had long conversations with Kurtz and his role in shaping what would be come one of the biggest pop culture phenomenons of all time. Along the way, Kurtz managed to shed new light and dispel some of the long-persisting rumors about the franchise’s earliest days. Taylor shared a few of these stories at Mashable over the weekend and upon reading them you may just find yourself questioning what you think you know about the creation of the iconic film franchise.

First off Kurtz addresses the long-held belief that Star Wars only came about because George Lucas wanted to make a film adapting the classic science-fiction comic strip hero Flash Gordon

I’m sure you know the stories. We tried to buy the rights to Flash Gordon from King Features [in 1971]. They weren’t adverse to discussing it, but their restrictions were so draconian that we realized right away that it wasn’t really a great prospect at the time…

The last proper space opera type of science fiction was probably Forbidden Planet in 1955. Since then, all the science fiction seemed to go downhill towards either Creature from the Black Lagoon type-horror, or alien invasion from space, or just this dystopian kind of depressing stories about post-apocalyptic society. And none of that was fun.

It was just the idea of capturing the energy of the Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers style of space opera, which hadn’t been done for so long. It was really during American Graffiti that we discussed it a lot, because it was on the paperwork when we made [an earlier, soon-abandoned] deal with United Artists for two pictures. One was a 1950s rock and roll movie, and one was an unnamed science fiction film.

That was about the extent of the description at the time. There was no idea of what that science fiction movie would be like. We did discuss Flash-Gordon-type stories at great lengths.

Kurtz also states that the idea of Lucas being inspired by the writings of Joseph Campbell is a bit overblown. (Emphasis in the first paragraph mine.)

The whole idea of Star Wars as a mythological thing, I think came about because of [later Lucas] interviews that tied it to The Hero with a Thousand Faces [which Lucas didn't read until he'd almost finished Star Wars].

Actually, if you look carefully at it, all coming of age stories fit [Campbell's model]. Hollywood has done those kind of stories since the beginning, since the 1920s. So there are many, many examples of stories that fit the model of that hero.

I think it did kind of cloud it a bit, that Star Wars got so closely tied to that. It was even more so when George did a long interview about the book and about the connections. There are definite connections there, but I think that’s a bit too analytical.

The long held belief that Lucas merely took his overly long first draft of The Star Wars, cut it into thirds and lifted the middle section out for what would become the first film also comes under fire from Kurtz.

That’s not true. There were a lot of little bits and pieces that were reasonably good ideas and that ended up being in the final draft. But once the final draft was actually locked and the Huycks did their polish on it, there wasn’t enough material to do other movies.

There were some odd ideas that got thrown out, like the Wookiee planet; that was a cost factor. There were some other ideas that might have been included if there was more budget. Some of those ended up in later films. But [George's story on how it is written] is perpetuated by the fact that he and I did interviews at the time of the opening of Star Wars, saying we took a section out of the middle because there was too much material and we want to do more films.

After the film opened, Fox said, “Can you do another one?” And we said it’s possible, but for cost purposes it would be better if we committed to two more because we can amortize the cost of sets and everything that way. So that’s really what happened. But the story material was not fully formed.

Kurtz also explains how factors outside of storytelling concerns were already starting to shape the course of the film franchise and how that lead to him moving onto other projects.

In the meantime, George had worked with Stephen [Spielberg] on Raiders of the Lost Ark. He was convinced by the end of Empire that it needed less serious stories and more rollercoaster ride. He changed the story outline for Jedi and we had a kind of mutual parting of the ways, because I just didn’t want to do another attack on the Death Star.

The original story outline that we had for the third film I thought would have been great. It was darker and it ended up with Luke riding off into the sunset, metaphorically, on his own. And that would have been a bittersweet ending but I think it would have been dramatically stronger.

It wasn’t ever that way and it never was shot that way. That was just a discussion. This all came up at the time that Empire was being written, because the idea was that they had to tie together.

I had some written materials somewhere. It was about how are we going to resolve the story of these three people; one of the discussions was about Han Solo’s character being killed in one of the raids in the middle of the story. Harrison wanted it to be that way. He wanted his character to end that way. So there was that and there was the princess having to take control of what’s left of her people, and be crowned queen.

But I think what happened was that there were discussions with the marketing people and the toy company. They said, “Oh, no, you can’t do that. You can’t kill off one of your main characters. It’s too salable.” In a way that still happens today with superhero movies. There’s no poignancy anywhere. It’s just a lot of action. But there’s no threat to any main characters. I guess that’s inevitable in this kind of situation where nobody wants to lose anything like that that’s important.

Anyway, I’m not sure that that ever got down to a complete story outline. It was dismissed very early on as being possibly too melancholic and not upbeat enough for big endings.

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Academy Award Statue Sells For $79,200 Wed, 25 Jun 2014 00:42:26 +0000 AcademyAward

The Academy Award statuette won by Joseph C. Wright for Best Color Art Direction for 1942’s My Gal Sal sold at auction last night in Rhode Island for $79,200, including purchaser’s premium. The Oscar, put up for auction by one of Wright’s heirs, fetched more than twice its evaluated worth of $5,000 to $30,000.

In 1950, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences mandated that all Oscar statues being awarded going forward could not be sold be the award winner or their heirs without first offering to sell them back to the Academy for the nominal sum of $1.00. The rule doesn’t apply to statuettes awarded pre-1950 and the last several years have seen the Best Picture Oscar for Gone With The Wind (1939) fetching $1.5 million at auction while its star Vivien Leigh’s Best Actress statue went for $550,000.00. In 2012, Michael Curtiz’s Oscar for directing Casablanca sold for $2 million.

Due to the Academy’s strictures on selling Oscars, less than 200 have come up for auction over the decades.

The 1942 Academy Awards ceremony was a good night for Wright, as he also claimed the Oscar for Best Black And White Art Direction for This Above All. Over his career he would receive another 10 Academy Award nominations.

The Oscar was purchased by an anonymous buyer from California. Director Steven Spielberg has previously shelled out six-figures for pre-1950 Oscar statues awarded to Clark Gable and Bette Davis in order to donate them back to the Academy in perpetuity. He also lives in California. Just saying.


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Here’s How Warner Brothers Sold A Serious BATMAN Movie To Merchandising Partners In 1988 Mon, 23 Jun 2014 21:00:52 +0000 Tim-Burton-Batman

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the release of Tim Burton’s Batman, the film that could arguably said to have launched the modern age of comic book adaptations. And while in hindsight it is easy to see why the film was a huge success, at the time there was still some skepticism how it would turn out. After all, we were looking at a film being directed by the guy who did Pee-wee’s Big Adventure starring the guy from the comedy Mr. Mom. Sure, the marketing lead up to the film’s release did seem to indicate that the film was going to be much truer to the comic book iteration of the character than the campy 1960s TV series that was still somewhat fresh in the public’s mind, but some suspicions remained.

The folks at Warner Brothers seemed to know this early on and commissioned advertising agency Creative Partnership to create a 20-minute behind-the-scenes look at the film’s pre-production, before actual shooting had begun. The film was taking to meetings with various advertising and merchandising partners to showcase the serious tone that Burton would be taking with the film. It would have been great if they released it out to the public as well, it would have assuaged many fans’ concerns.

What’s really amazing about the featurette is the look it gives us of the blocks-long outdoor Gotham City set still under construction. One really gets an idea of the mammoth scope of the set, perhaps even more so than in the film itself. It also focuses on some of the unsung heroes of the production, particularly Anton Furst, whose designs for Gotham City, elaborating from screenwriter Sam Hamm’s page one description of “… as if hell had erupted through the sidewalks and kept on growing” and creating one of the most iconic fictional locales in cinema history.


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See ET’s Forerunner, An Evil Alien From The Unproduced NIGHT SKIES Fri, 23 May 2014 01:00:36 +0000 NightSkiesHeader

If you’re familiar the backstory of Steven Spielberg’s classic E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, then you know that the film had its roots in another project he had been developing – Night Skies. Working from a news story where a rural Kentucky family claimed that their home had been attacked by aliens, Spielberg and writer John Sayles set about developing a film which Sayles stated also drew inspiration from the classic western Drums Along The Mohawk. But the pair was never able to crack the story to Spielberg’s satisfaction, and the director split some of Night Skies‘s story elements off into two films. The aliens he made benign visitors for ET while he took the idea of a family under attack in their own home and spun that into Poltergeist.

While Spielberg and Sayles worked on the screenplay, makeup creator extraordinaire Rick Baker was working on creating a look for the aliens attacking the script’s helpless family. But while the story about how Night Skies morphed into ET and Poltergeist, to my knowledge, Baker’s alien design has never been seen outside of the circle of people involved in the development of the film. This may have been due to Baker being upset with Spielberg deciding to pass on the project after Baker had spent some $700,000 in developing and designing animatronic prototypes for the aliens.

Over the last three decades, Baker must have decided to let bygones be bygones and earlier today he tweeted out a picture of one of the sculpts he did for a Night Skies alien. So what do you think? Would this have been terrifying to audiences back in the early 1980s? In Spielberg’s hands, most definitely. Look what he managed to do with a rickety, malfunctioning mechanical shark just a few years earlier. And is it just me, or does the alien’s mouth remind you just a bit of Edward G Robinson too?

But in the end, everything worked out for everyone. Sayles went on to do who his own riff of a gentle alien visiting Earth in his film Bother From Another Planet. Baker would go on to receive the first Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling for his work on An American Werewolf in London, the first of a record-breaking total of 11 nominations and eight wins. Spielberg’s career certainly didn’t suffer by moving on to ET. And in the wake of that movie’s success he would once again revisit the ideas in Night Skies when he took some time to try and develop a sequel to ET before ultimately abandoning the idea.


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Listen To The Banned Commentary Tracks From Criterion’s James Bond Laserdiscs Sun, 11 May 2014 13:48:50 +0000 ConneryDrNo

The Criterion Collection has a reputation among film fans for releasing films on DVD and blu-ray that are accompanied by special features that take a deeper and more critical look at the film in question than the usual “Making Of” featurettes normally found on discs. And it has been that way even back in the early 1990s when laserdiscs were the format of choice for cinephiles.

But sometimes that hard analysis leads to an honesty that some might not be ready for. At least that’s the thinking behind the withdrawal of a trio James Bond Criterion laserdiscs released in 1991. Shortly after Criterion released the first three Bond films – Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger – the company was asked by Bond franchise producer Eon Productions to withdraw the discs from the market. Needless to say, that move caused the discs to become much sought after collectors items.

No official reason was ever given for the recall, but fan speculation zeroed in on the commentary tracks featuring directors Terence Young and Guy Hamilton, editor Peter Hunt, designer Ken Adam, screenwriter Richard Maibaum, critic Bruce Eder and movie historian and The James Bond Films author Steven Jay Rubin being a bit more honest than maybe others, i.e. the Eon Productions folks, were comfortable with. The smoking gun? The fact that subsequent releases of the video never carried over the tracks. (The HMSS Weblog has a run down of some of the more salacious comments.)

And what was so bad about the tracks? Well, it turns out that you can judge for yourselves. The folks at Bond franchise fansite 007Dossier have managed to rip the rare tracks off the laserdiscs and have posted them for your listening pleasure. Additionally, they have also posted the Criterion Discs’ “Music and effects only” isolated audio tracks from Dr. No and Goldfinger.

So if you’re interested in hearing what was said in those commentary tracks but don’t have a laserdisc player and the money to pick up the discs off of ebay, head over and download the tracks. As they’re MP3s, you could listen to them as podcasts or synching them up to play on your computer while screening the films, a la RiffTrax.

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Watching STAR WARS At Home Before VCRs Sun, 04 May 2014 21:29:18 +0000 StarWars8mm

In the days before home video cassette players, it was awful hard to see a movie once it had screened at your local theater. But for collectors of 8mm films, it was as easy as setting up a screen and threading a small projector. Eight millimeter films and projectors were the home entertainment precursors of video tape and were not that uncommon among families in middle America. In addition to cameras and film sold to consumers so that they could film family events, holidays and vacations, reels of edited highlights from popular movies were also available for purchase.

YouTube has two different versions of Star Wars that were released for fans in those pre-VCR days. The first is a 10-minute, silent black and white reel that features two sequences from the film. The first is where Obi-Wan Kenobi tells Luke about his father, the second the escape from the Death Star. Subtitles help to describe what is going on in each scene. The second is in color and has sound and is a compaction of nearly the entire film down to eighteen-and-a-half minutes.

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TCM Salutes Mickey Rooney Tomorrow Sat, 12 Apr 2014 21:58:42 +0000 MickeyRooneyThe film career of Mickey Rooney, who passed away last weekend and the age of 93, will be highlighted tomorrow on Turner Classic Movies with a 24-hour marathon of some of the actor’s greatest roles. The films are all picked from the absolute heyday of the actor’s years at MGM during the 1930s and `40s and all are required viewing.

Interestingly, while Rooney is best known for his Andy Hardy series, the two entries from the franchise that TCM is highlighting A Family Affair and You’re Only Young Once (both 1937) are the earliest, before Rooney’s character really became the focal point. Another interesting choice is to air one of Rooney’s many popular pairings with Judy Garland, Babes On Broadway (1941), at the late night/early morning time slot of 4:30 am, though I would suspect that maybe the fact that the big musical finale of the film features a segment done in blackface.

Here is the complete schedule for tomorrow’s films.

6:00 AM – Broadway to Hollywood
7:30 AM – The Devil is a Sissy
9:15 AM – A Family Affair
10:30 AM – You’re Only Young Once
12:00 PM – Captains Courageous
2:00 PM – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
3:45 PM – The Human Comedy
6:00 PM – Killer McCoy
8:00 PM – Boys Town
10:00 PM – Men of Boys Town
12:00 AM – National Velvet
2:15 AM – Babes on Broadway
4:30 AM – A Midsummer Night’s Dream

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IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD Locations Then And Now Mon, 27 Jan 2014 16:40:07 +0000 It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World

So last night during a fit of channel surfing, I came across Stanley Kramer’s all-star, comedy epic It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World on MGM-HD and as I watched Phil Silvers, Mickey Rooney, Sid Caesar, Milton Berle and the rest rampage across southern California in a race to uncover $350,000 in stolen loot, I started to wonder about how the myriad locations used in the film have changed over the years. Lo and behold, this morning I stumble across this video, posted by the folks at the Criterion Collection just this past Friday highlighting the half century of changes that many of the locations have gone through. (And I am sure that it has nothing to do with the fact that they have just put out a new blu-rayof the film. OK, maybe just a little bit.) I think that the most amazing thing is how built up some areas became over the last 50 years as California has continued to expand while others have remained virtually unchanged over time.

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It’s A Wonderful Communist Plot Mon, 23 Dec 2013 15:44:34 +0000 wonderfullife

It has been hailed as an American classic and placed on the American Film Institute’s List of 100 Greatest American movies and the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry, but would you believe that It’s A Wonderful Life was once considered communist propaganda? From 1947 to 1956, Frank Capra’s iconic film was under suspicion by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as being a ‘carrier of political propaganda.’

During post-World War Two years, a wave of paranoia swept across the country about possible communist infiltration into various aspects of American life, with Hollywood and the film industry falling into firmly into the crosshairs of such hysteria. People working in the film industry were investigated for possible communist affiliations, often based on the either a passing interest in the political philosophy from years or even decades earlier or on the unsubstantiated word of an informer. In 1947, the FBI undertook an analysis of several recent Hollywood films, It’s A Wonderful Life being one of them. (Also included in the study were the 1945 Academy Award nominated Pride Of The Marines, the 1946 seven-time Oscar winner The Best Years Of Our Lives and the 1947 Abbott and Costello comedy Buck Privates Come Home.) The results were compiled into a file titled Federal Bureau of Investigation file no. 100-HQ-138754 “Communist Infiltration of the Motion Picture Industry” or COMPIC. From this file, the FBI has released 2008 pages, some heavily redacted, which can be viewed at the Internet Archive.

The portion regarding It’s A Wonderful Life can be found in Section IV: “Communist Influence in Motion Pictures,” under the subsection titled “Analysis of Motion Picture Disclosing Communist Propaganda Therein.”

According to the Informants [REDACTED] in this picture the screen credits again fail to reflect the Communist support given to the screen writer. According to [REDACTED] the writers Frances Goodrick and Albert Hackett were very close to known Communists and on one occasion in the recent past while these two writers were doing a picture for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Goodrick and Hackett practically lived with known Communists as Lester Cole, screen writer, and Earl Robinson, screen writer. Both of these individuals are identified in Section I of this memorandum as Communists.

With regard to the picture “It’s A Wonderful Life”, [REDACTED] stated in substance that the film represented a rather obvious attempt to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as “scrooge-type” so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists.

In addition, [REDACTED] stated that, in his opinion, this picture deliberately maligned the upper class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters. [REDACTED] related that if he had made this picture portraying the banker, he wold have shown this individual to have been following the rules as laid down by the State Bank Examiners in connection with making loans. Further, [REDACTED] stated that the scene woundn’t have “suffered at all” in portraying the banker as a man who was protecting funds put in his care by private individuals and adhering to the rules governing the loan of that money rather than portraying the part as it was shown. In summary, [REDACTED] stated that it was not necessary to make the banker such a mean character and “I would never have done it that way”.

The analysis noted one of their redacted informants trying to draw a parallel between the film and a Russian film from “approximately 15 years” titled The Letter in which a banker is also the villain. Perhaps the FBI could have benefited from the internet being in existence back then as I can find no trace of such a film on the IMDB or via a Google search.

Interestingly, one of the people who helped the FBI develop the standards by which they “analyzed” It’s A Wonderful Life and other films was none other than Ayn Rand, whose political-themed novel The Fountainhead was already starting to gain her notoriety. However, when Rand appeared in front of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) in October 1947, she was considered an “expert witness” on Hollywood, based on the fact that she had done some work for the studios intermittently. Her testimony wasn’t about It’s A Wonderful Life, but instead concentrated on the 1944 war film Song of Russia, produced by MGM at the height of the United States wartime alliance with the Soviet country.

But not everyone who was hauled in front of HUAC saw the Red Menace in the film. Film critic and former screenwriter John Charles Moffitt (1944’s Passage To Marseille) also appeared before the committee in October 1947. A one-time member of the communist party, Moffitt went out of his way in his testimony to Chief Investigator Robert E. Stripling to dispel the notion that It’s A Wonderful Life contained any subtle communist messages.

MR. STRIPLING. The term “heavy” has been used here as a designation of the part in which the person is a villain. Would you say that the banker has been often cast as a heavy, or consistently cast as a heavy, in pictures in Hollywood?

MR. MOFFITT. Yes, sir. I think that due to Communist pressure he is overfrequently cast as a heavy. By that I do not mean that I think no picture should ever show a villainous banker. In fact, I would right now like to defend one picture that I think has been unjustly accused of communism. That picture is Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. The banker in that picture, played by Lionel Barrymore, was most certainly what we call a “dog heavy” in the business. He was a snarling, unsympathetic character. But the hero and his father, played by James Stewart and Samuel S. Hines, were businessmen, in the building and loan business, and they were shown as using money as a benevolent influence.

[Momentary interruption]

MR. MOFFITT.Well, to summarize, I think Mr. Capra’s picture, though it had a banker as villain, could not be properly called a Communist picture. It showed that the power of money can be used oppressively and it can be used benevolently. I think that picture was unjustly accused of communism.

It is not known if Moffitt’s testimony has any influence on the thinking of the FBI or the HUAC members, but it should be noted that the principal creators of It’s A Wonderful Life, director Capra and screenwriters Goodrick and Hackett, never were affected by the Black Listing that ruined the lives and livelihoods of other writers and directors during this period. It would be almost a decade from when It’s A Wonderful Life first came under suspicion until the Red Scare-generated Black List would start to crumble. Over the years, It’s A Wonderful Life would go on to become an American classic, an ironic fate for a film once considered to be “unAmerican.”

FBI Records via Aphelis.

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Lost Peter Sellers Short Films Redicovered Mon, 16 Dec 2013 15:08:02 +0000 PeterSellers

Two short films starring Peter Sellar thought to have been lost have been rediscovered in Southend, England. The two, 30-minute films, Dearth Of A Salesman and Insomnia Is Good For You, are currently undergoing some restoration and will be screened at the local Southend Film Festival next May.

Sellers scholars believe that the comic actor produced the two short films in 1957 as a means to showcase his talents as he tried to move his career into the movies. Although he had some small television and film roles already to his credit, Sellers was still best known for being one-third of the cast of the highly popular and influential BBC radio series The Goon Show. The films themselves are parodies of government-produced information films.

The BBC is reporting that the film reels were originally discovered in a trash dumpster in 1996. Robert Farrow was overseeing the clearout of Park Lane Films’ former office in London ahead of an upcoming refurbishment when he took 21 film canisters home with the thought of using them to store his collection of Super 8 films. When he discovered that there were films in the canisters he put them in a closet in his own home until he recently reexamined the containers while cleaning out his own home.

As he told the BBC (via Deadline) –

It was then I realised they were two Sellers films including the negatives, titles, show prints, outtakes and the master print. It was amazing.

Although the existence of the films had been known, up until the discovery of the films there was little known about them with only a script for Insomnia is Good For You still remaining from their production.

According to Mark Cousins of the Peter Sellers Appreciation Society the discovery of the films leaves just one last piece of early work form the actor missing.

These early films, although they’re only shorts, are quite important because they were really made before he hit the big time… They are missing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. [Sellers] is very well known for his later works such as Dr Strangelove and the Pink Panther films and these help to give people an appreciation of how he got there.

There has been no word yet as to if the short films will eventually become available via a home video or streaming release. But they have released a short clip from each film.

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