The Weekend Read is weekly roundup of some top notch film articles that we think deserve your attention.
Sam Raimi’s Oz, The Great And Powerful is still doing some gangbuster business in its third weekend of release with the prequel to the literary The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz being poised to easily pass the $200 million mark in domestic ticket sales over the coming week. But what of other cinematic trips over the rainbow to author L. Frank Baum’s magical land? Over at the George Eastman House blog, there is a short post about how the museum is preserving not only the original Technicolor camera negatives to the classic 1939 MGM The Wizard Of Oz but also their preservation of the only known print of a silent 1910 Wizard Of Oz film.
And speaking of film restoration, Some Came Running has an excellent, in depth interview with British film restorationist James White about his work in preserving the likes of Hitchcock’s silent thriller Blackmail and Lucio Fulci’s notorious Zombi. The conversation covers the transition from the more traditional methods of photochemical film restoration to work that is now being all done in the digital realm and what dilemmas that can pose for those doing the work.
And while digital distribution and presentation is clearly the future of the moviegoing experience, Open Space, the blog at the San Fransisco Museum of Modern Art extolls the virtues of the film print by talking about their first viewing of Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece Vertigo in its original imbibition Technicolor format.
And to finish things up, the New York Times has an appreciation of the nearly forgotten comedy duo of Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey to coincide with the release of the nine film Wheeler & Woolsey: RKO Comedy Classics Collection from the Warner Archives Collection. If you have a love for other early film comedy the likes of Laurel and Hardy you should find something to like here. The Warner Archive has also posted a portion of the films online.
Hugh Jackman and director Gavin Hood on the set of X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE.
It has been no secret that former 20th Century Fox honcho Tom Rothman liked to put his two cents into the production of various comic book adaptations put out by his studio. But filmmakers have been rather loathe to discuss it probably out of concern about working at the studio again. And audiences were left with the results – films like The Fantastic Four and X-Men Origins: Wolverine that didn’t live up to their expectations and weren’t particularly liked by critics.
Perhaps spurred on by Rothman’s retirement at the end of last year, cinematographer Don McAlpine, who shot X-Men Origins: Wolverine for director Gavin Hood, has come out in a recent interview with the Australian Cinematographer’s Society’s AU Magazine, and described the shooting of the film as a “political minefield.”
I think basically one of my main functions on that film was to help Gavin through the political minefield that he’d found himself in the midst of. You know, a first time director at any of the major studios is just considered “game”! [laughs]
And so we had an endless struggle to try and make the film that he wanted. I mean they actually asked him to do this Wolverine as more of an adult drama. And of course after the first week they realised they didn’t want that, and they wanted it to be just the classic kiddies’ action movie. So to still make a presentable movie and stay employed by the studios was quite an interesting battle.
It will be interesting to see if any other filmmakers come forward with their own stories of working with the studio and how that affected the final product. It should also be interesting to see if that with Rothman’s departure there will be a change in how management deals with its talent who are making the films.
There are times when you watch a new film and you instantly know that it is going to be considered a classic. And there are sometimes when you just don’t realize it. That’s the position that Tandem Productions’ Jerry Perenchio, Bud Yorkin, and Robin French were in when they began reviewing rough cuts of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Although they presumably read the screenplay that Scott brought them to finance, they certainly seemed to be disappointed in the film that Scott returned with if the recently discovered studio notes are any indication.
Reddit user VanTrashcan (via SlashFilm) has brought the sheet of notes from an early 1982 screening of the film to the internet’s attention and boy were these guys not impressed with what they saw. Rough comments range from “This voice over is terrible, the audience will fall asleep,” to “Why did they put in more slow motion in Zhora’s death?” to “This movie gets worse every screening.” Damn.
What’s really interesting is that these notes are from the screening of what is Scott’s third edit and the producers are still not happy with what was being turned in. There’s some brief discussion about taking the film out of Scott’s hands and assigning another editor on the film, which leads to speculation as to how disastrous that would have worked out.
There is a long history of hiding Mickey Mouse in various Disney films from 1982’s TRON to various Pixar films. But this is probably the first time that a Mickey Mouse cameo has been discovered in a film from three decades before it became the property of Disney.
The blog at the official Star Wars site has discovered something in a handful of background scenes in The Empire Strikes Back – computer displays that resemble Mickey’s silhouette. You can see them in the screen grabs below.
Now, I don’t think that anyone is saying that George Lucas was already hinting that he was thinking about selling his Lucasfilm empire to the House of Mouse way back then. It’s just a fun coincidence. Hopefully you’ve gotten a chuckle out of it like I did.
Paramount would love a new Jurassic Park film. The first three have proved popular and profitable enough that it seems like a no-brainer to continue the series and there have been on-and-off attempts to bring a fourth installment to the screen, though they have all stalled out.
Perhaps the most infamous attempt was one back in 2005 that featured dinosaurs genetically modified with dog and human DNA to create a very deadly hybrid by a mysterious corporation. The screenplay, which does sound like it owes at least a small debt to the similarly themed Alien: Resurrection (1997), was by John Sayles and a pre-The Departed William Monahan and the studio was reportedly interested in pursuing this story. But that changed once they saw the dino-human concept art created by concept artist Carlos Huante and sculptor Andrew Cawrse. While I am sure that the cost to realize the hybrids on screen was a factor in their decision, I have to think that they just thought the concept was too strange for audiences to accept. You be the judge by looking at some of the concept art that has started to pop up online over the last day or so (via Jurassic Park Legacy).
At last check, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver were the most recent to be given a chance to revive the series. In the meantime, we have the 3D re-release of Jurassic Park to look forward to next April 5.
Some filmmakers like to drop little hints that some or even all of their films exist in a shared universe. The most obvious examples of this are the films of Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino as well as the Marvel Studios superhero films.
But is Ridley Scott silently creating a cohesive future history with his own science-fiction films? He could be based on this screenshot from the blu-ray release of Prometheus, Scott’s latest film. We know that the film is a functioning prequel to the Alien series, which Scott launched, but it appears now that it is also linked to his 1980 science-fiction classic Blade Runner.
Let’s look at the facts. Blade Runner is set in 2019. Prometheus is set seventy years later in 2089. The writer of the memo is Peter Weyland (Guy Pierce), who, given his advanced age in Prometheus, could very well be over 100. And it is very obvious to anyone who has seen Blade Runner (And you have, haven’t you?) that the memo is referring to the Blade Runner character of Dr. Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel).
This wouldn’t be the first time that a creator retro-actively included several thought to be separate works into a shared universe. Towards the end of his career, science-fiction grandmaster Isaac Asimov managed to link his up-until-that-point individual Robot and Galactic Empire/Foundation series of short stories and novels.
Granted, this could just be the inclusion of a joke by a graphics designer on the film, but there is a certain amount of fun in the thought that the two are actually related. And with Scott actively developing both Prometheus and Blade Runner follow-ups, perhaps we’ll see more connections in the future.
The term “cameo appearance” was coined by producer Michael Todd to describe the number of small roles filled by big name stars in his 1956 film Around The World In 80 Days. But Todd was merely putting a name to something that had been a part of films all the way back to the Silent Era and would continue right to the present day. Here is a chronological look at perhaps the greatest of the hundreds and maybe even thousands of cameo appearances that have been made in the movies.
Elinor Glyn In It (1927) -As described in a two-part Cosmopolitan Magazine serial by Elinor Glyn, “It” is “that quality possessed by some which draws all others with its magnetic force. With ‘It’ you win all men if you are a woman and all women if you are a man. ‘It’ can be a quality of the mind as well as a physical attraction… The possessor of ‘It’ must be absolutely unselfconscious and must have that magnetic ‘sex appeal’ which is irresistible..” When Paramount decided to turn Glyn’s piece into a film, there was only one starlet in their studio they knew they cast in the role of the girl with “It” – Clara Bow. And to help explain the concept of “It” to other characters in the film and the audience, the studio had Glyn appear in the movie herself. Not only that, in one of the first instances of product placement, issues of Cosmopolitan are also seen. Although Bow was a star at the time of its release, the film proved such a sensation that the actress was ever after known as “The ‘It’ Girl.”
Alfred Hitchcock in Rebecca (1940) – If anyone’s name is synonymous with cameo appearances it would be director Alfred Hitchcock. Hitch knew the value of self-promotion and through his walk on roles in his films and appearances in his films’ trailers he was as easily recognizable as any big star of the time. He made his first on screen appearance in a newsroom scene in 1926′s The Lodger but would only appear sporadically until his move to America. Beginning with his first Hollywood studio film, Rebecca, where he stood behind star George Sanders in a phone booth, Hitchcock would make an appearance in every single one of his films for the rest of his career. Sometimes that would prove to be a tricky proposition, such as for Lifeboat, but it was a savvy move that helped insure that his name became its own brand.
Raymond Chandler in Double Indemnity (1943) – As creator of the detective Philip Marlow, Chandler was one of the shapers of the hardboiled detective genre. It seems only natural that when Chandler began working in films, his first screenplay would help define cinema’s equivalent – the film noir. By all accounts Chandler and Double Indemnity director Billy Wilder never did get along all that well, so it came as a bit of a surprise two years ago when it was realized that the gentleman reading a newspaper whom star Fred MacMurray walks past at an early point in the film is Chandler himself. Given their contentious relationship, it is not surprising that neither Chandler nor Wilder ever mentioned the appearance. It is a shock, though, that Chandler’s obvious cameo went unnoticed and unremarked upon for nearly 67 years until it was finally discovered in 2009.
Jack Benny in It’s In The Bag (1945) – One of the most famous show business feuds from the 1930s and 40s wasn’t really a feud at all, but a running gag between two friends. Jack Benny and Fred Allen were comedians who got their start in vaudeville, where they formed a lifelong friendship. By the mid-1930s, they each had their own popular radio shows that aired on Sunday evenings, albeit at different times. During a 1937 broadcast, Allen made took a swipe at Benny’s ability to play the violin. (Benny’s bad violin skills, as well as his vanity and cheapness, were all part of his comedy persona only, and by all accounts were pretty much exactly the opposite of the comedian when he was off-mic.) Benny heard the comment, and made a good natured jab at his friend on his own show later that evening and the back and forth continued for more than a decade. Never mind the fact that they each appeared on the other’s programs, people believed that they were actual blood enemies. That perception was furthered by the 1940 comedy Love Thy Neighbor in which both comics starred as their feuding radio personas. But for as funny as that film was, it is outdone by Benny’s single scene in Allen’s 1945 comedy It’s In The Bag. Allen stars as a man who realizes that the key to a $12 million inheritance lies in one of the five chairs he just sold. Guess who happens to have come into ownership of one of the chairs.
Bryan Forbes in A Shot In The Dark (1964) – Hiding behind an acoustic guitar and the screen name of “Turk Thrust,” British actor/writer/director Forbes makes his appearance in the second Pink Panther film as guard at a nudist camp that Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers) and Maria (Elke Summers) are attempting to gain entrance to in the course of their investigation. Forbes was a friend of Sellers and had created a pop star persona with the name of Turk Thrust for him. Sellers never used the character although he did go on to do – more films as Clouseau. Forbes went on to direct such films as King Rat (1965) and The Stepford Wives (1975) while Turk Thrust made a reappearance of sorts in The Curse Of The Pink Panther (1983) when Roger Moore made a quick cameo under the nom-de-screen of Turk Thrust II.
Graham Greene in Day For Night (La Nuit Americaine) (1973) – Sometimes a cameo appearance can go unrecognized by a film’s audience. It is another thing for a cameo to go unrecognized by a film’s director. While Francois Truffaut was filming his story of a filmmaker struggling to complete his latest project, Greene was introduced to the director as a retired English businessman living on the Cote d’Azur. Trufaut cast the writer in a small role as a British insurance company representative who arrives at the Victorine Studios in Nice. Reportedly, Trufaut was upset to learn that the British man was actually the famous novelist and critic, as he was a fan and would have loved to talk with him.
Marshal McLuhan in Annie Hall (1977) – In Woody Allen’s classic comedy about New York and New Yorkers, the characters played by the director and Diane Keaton are standing in line for a movie when he hears a man in behind him pontificating about Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan. Annoyed that the man is getting his facts wrong, Allen steps out of line, breaks the film’s fourth wall and begins telling the audience how irritated he is. The man notices, steps up next to Allen and tries to speak to the audience in his own defense. The two begin to debate until Allen trumps the man’s argument by pulling McLuhan out from behind a lobby display to affirm that he and not the other man is right about McLuhan’s work. Not only does the scene work in conjunction with several other comedic scenes that break the reality of the love story that Allen is telling, there’s an added layer of humor if one is familiar with McLuhan’s theories about how society shapes media and media shapes society. And besides, who hasn’t agreed with Allen’s scene capping line “Don’t you wish reality was really like this?”
Steve Martin in The Muppet Movie (1979) – Jim Henson’s delightful The Muppet Movie is chockablock full of big name stars in fleetingly small roles – from Dom Deluise as the Hollywood agent vacationing in the Florida everglades who tells Kermit the Frog he needs to head to Los Angeles to become a movie star to Orson Welles as the studio head Kermit and his pals eventually meet (“Get me the standard ‘Rich and Famous’ contract!”). Along the way they meet the likes of Milton Beryl, Paul Williams, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Mel Brooks and more. But by far, the funniest cameo of the bunch is Steve Martin’s surly waiter. As Kermit and Miss Piggy try to have a romantic dinner, Martin’s waiter sneers at them while bringing them the cheapest item on the wine list (“Sparkling Muscatel, the best wine Idaho has to offer.”). It cracked up the seven-year-old me who saw it when the film was first released and it still makes me laugh today.
Susan Backlinie in 1941 (1979) – The opening of Steven Spielberg’s classic Jaws (1975), in which a late night skinny dipper becomes a midnight snack for the titular shark, was so powerful that it instantly became an iconic moment in cinema. So much so that just a few years later, it was parodied in the equally iconic, though for far different reasons, disaster spoof Airplane! (1980). But Spielberg beat them to the punch by a year, poking fun at himself in the opening to his 1979 comedy 1941. While the Airplane! parody featured a jetliner’s tailfin cutting through clouds with a variation of John Williams’ classic ominous two-note tuba score playing on the soundtrack, Spielberg opened 1941 with a midnight swim being interrupted by the arrival of a rather lost Japanese submarine. And Spielberg, being Spielberg, asked Backlinie, who played the unfortunate swimmer in Jaws to come back and recreate the scene for the gag. Unfortunately, Spielberg’s sense of humor was perhaps a bit more developed than his ability to direct humor, as 1941 didn’t particularly turn out to be the comic masterpiece one would expect with a cast including the likes of John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and Animal House’s Tim Matheson. The movie wound up being one of the director’s rare critical and box office failures. Don’t feel bad for Spielberg, though. I understand his next film, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, did a bit better at the box office.
Ethel Merman in Airplane! (1980) – I’ve often said that the Zucker-Abrams-Zucker comedy Airplane! is perhaps the funniest 86 minutes of celluloid ever. It is certainly the one most densely packed with comic material with puns, sight gags and bizarre non-sequiter jokes coming at the viewer in rapid fire succession. But perhaps one of the funniest is nestled in a flashback where we find Ted Striker (Robert Hayes) recovering in an Army hospital from his traumatizing war experiences. As he points out to his girlfriend Elaine (Julie Hagerty) some of the other soldiers suffering from trauma on the ward, he indicates “Poor Lt. Horowitz. He thinks he’s Ethel Merman.” The camera pans over to the famous Broadway singer who suddenly bolts upright in her bed and starts singing “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” until orderlies rush in and tranquilizer her. You have to hand it to Merman for being able to spoof herself like that. And by placing herself in the hands of a trio of first-time directors, she landed herself a dual spot in the cameo and comedy halls of fame.
Sean Connery in Time Bandits (1981) – They say that the best thing about screenwriting is that you can write anything in your first draft. It’s only later that you have to worry about pesky things like how much it will cost to bring your vision to life on the big screen. And so it was that Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin, with just a few keystrokes, introduced the character of the Greek warrior king Agamemnon into their classic time travel comedy with the words “removing his helmet, revealing himself to be none other than Sean Connery. He grins as only Sean can. (This is the sort of creepy stage direction that helps get the stars interested.)” Creepy or not, Gilliam was able to land Connery for a role far smaller than one would have expected from the former James Bond at the time.
Bob Hope in Spies Like Us (1985) – While not the best comedy on director John Landis’s resume (that would be The Blues Brothers), Spies Like Us is an enjoyable enough Cold War riff on the old Hope and Crosby Road movies with Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd standing in for Bob and Bing. It only makes sense then that Hope pops up as himself for an absurd gag referencing those comedies. Landis loves to feature his filmmaking friends in his movies, so also keep a lookout for some notable behind-the-cameras luminaries appearing here including a young Sam Raimi as a guard at a top secret government installation and Terry Gilliam and Ray Harryhausen as part of a group of doctors on a mercy mission in Afghanistan. In fact, you can see them in the clip below right before Hope’s cameo.
Sean Connery in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves (1991) – Yes, Connery gets two mentions on this list because, well, he’s Sean Connery. This wasn’t the first time that Connery had appeared in a Robin Hood film. Fifteen years earlier he played the titular folk hero at the twilight of his years in Robin And Marian. This time around, he makes an appearance at the end of the film as King Richard the Lionheart, recently returned from the Crusades. As Robin and his Merry Men have spent much of the preceding film fighting the King’s evil, despotic brother, the monarch arrives to offer his thanks in a scene very similar to the finale of the classic 1938 version starring Errol Flynn. Connery was on one of his career highs at the time and critics who saw advanced screenings of the film were sworn to secrecy to preserve the surprise of his appearance.
Alec Guinness in Mute Witness (1995) – When makeup artist Billy Hughes (Marina Zudina) is in Moscow working on a film shoot when she accidentally sees a Russian film crew shooting a snuff film. This doesn’t sit well with the Russian mob with a gangster known only as The Reaper ordering her death. Although the actor is shrouded in shadows when on-screen, there is no mistaking his voice as belonging to Sir Alec Guinness. What’s not so apparent though, is that Guiness actually shot his scenes nine years earlier! Director Anthony Waller was in the midst of trying to get Mute Witness made when met Guiness in Hamburg, Germany in 1985. Asking the actor if he would mind shooting a quick scene for the film, he was surprised when Guiness offered to do it for free. The only catch was that since his schedule was so busy they had to shoot it in an underground car garage the following morning before Guiness had to catch a plane. And since it took Waller nearly a decade before he was able to get the film into production, the scenes he quickly shot with Guiness that day became the actor’s last screen appearance.
Stan Lee in The X-Men (2000) – Perhaps the person who has made the most cameo appearances in films without being named Alfred Hitchcock is Stan Lee. As a writer and publisher at Marvel Comics in the 1960s and 70s, he had a hand in creating a majority of the publisher’s most iconic characters. Now, as those superheroes are being turned into big screen franchises, it has become a tradition to feature Lee in a don’t-blink-or-you-may-miss-him walk-on as a Time Square vendor, a security guard, the Fantastic Four’s mailman or some other small bit part. Although he had a small role in the 1989 TV movie The Trial Of The Incredible Hulk, as the jury foreman of course, the tradition of Lee’s big screen appearances started here in Bryan Singer’s The X-Men, with him as a beach hotdog vendor. Given that X-Men’s box office performance exceeded many people’s expectations, Lee’s continual appearances seem as much for good luck as they are a token of respect.
Joan Crawford’s Best Actress Academy Award for her performance in the 1945 film Mildred Pierce sold yesterday at auction for $426,732.
Since it was won before 1950, the Academy Award statue did not fall under the stipulation that Oscars must first be offered back to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences before they can put up for sale. Last December, Orson Welles’ Best Screenplay Academy Award for Citizen Kane sold for over $800,000.
When nominated for her role as a restaurant owner struggling to raise her daughter in Mildred Pierce, Crawford’s career was on the skids. A string of several bombs had earned the actress a reputation as box office poison. Seeing Ingrid Bergman’s performance in The Bells Of St Mary’s as the surefire winner in the category, Crawford elected to skip the March 1946 Academy Awards ceremony and just stay at home, excusing herself by saying she was sick. Mildred Pierce director Michael Curtiz accepted the award for that evening.
When she found out of her win, Crawford summoned reporters to her home where they photographed her accepting her Oscar statue while still in bed. She was quoted as saying, “Whether the Academy voters were giving the Oscar to me, sentimentally, for Mildred or for 200 years of effort, the hell with it — I deserved it.”
A rather underrated comic-strip adaptation is actor/director Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy. Although the screenplay may be a bit thin, the film itself was designed and art directed to within an inch of its life and the results were absolutely stunning.
Another thing that it did well was how it adapted many of the comic strip’s distinctive-looking gangsters as designed by Dick Tracy’s creator Chester Gould. That is, all but one. The big chief bad guy of the film, Big Boy Caprice, was created just for the movie and Beatty allowed actor friend Al Pacino to design his own look for the character. Below is a look at some of the test makeups that Pacino worked with before settling on the one used in the movie. I’ve also added a clip of Pacino in the film as Caprice freaking out over the losses that Tracy has inflicted on his organization. Its delightfully over the top and the makeup helps the performance immeasurably.
Hopefully we’ll be getting a blu-ray release of the film soon so we can really luxuriate in the film’s look.
For the last five decades, Sight and Sound magazine’s every-ten-year-poll of film critics and filmmakers has always reached the same consensus – That Orson Welles’s 1941 film Citizen Kane was the greatest film of all time.
But the pillars of cinematic heaven were shaken today when Sight and Sound released the results of their latest poll which states that Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 thriller Vertigo has taken the top spot, bumping Citizen Kane down to number two. Vertigo first made it onto the poll in 1972 where it tied at #11. By 1982 it was able to claw its way up to #7. In 1992 it had jumped to #4, and in 2002 it jumped again to #2.
Sight and Sound polled over 800 “film critics, academics, distributors, writers and programmers from all corners of the globe” in order to achieve the rankings announced today. (Disclosure – I was not asked to participate. The nerve.)
Here is the poll’s Top Ten -
1. Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958)
2. Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)
3. Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953)
4. La Règle du jeu (Renoir, 1939)
5. Sunrise: a Song of Two Humans (Murnau, 1927)
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968)
7. The Searchers (Ford, 1956)
8. Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929)
9. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer, 1927)
10. 8 ½ (Fellini, 1963)
You can read all of Sight And Sound‘s coverage of their annual poll here.
I have to admit that I am a bit surprised by this turn of events. Not so much that the critical group-think has shifted somewhat. That was bound to happen over time. I’m just mildly surprised that the film to unseat Welles’s masterpiece was Vertigo as I frankly don’t think it is his best work. Sure, I would put it in his top five, where it would be sharing space with Strangers On A Train, Notorious, Psycho and North By Northwest. Granted these are based on personal preference, but in a way, aren’t all these lists?
Vertigo certainly wasn’t a big hit with critics when it was first released and even when the critical move to re-evaluate Hitchcock as an artist rather than as a showman started in the 1960s, the film was not one that would be part of those discussions. But Vertigo was one of five of Hitchcock’s films that were taken out of circulation in 1973 and I am forced to wonder if its reemergence to public view ten years later led critics to embrace it a bit more enthusiastically due to its renewed availability.