Showing posts with label Movies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Movies. Show all posts

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Behind the scenes with Kukla, Fran and Ollie

Burr Tillstrom began making puppets and having puppet shows in the 1930's.  In 1947, he joined forces with radio singer Fran Allison and began broadcasting Kukla, Fran, and Ollie in Chicago.  Kukla was a bald clown, and Ollie was a dragon.  Tillstrom operated the puppets behind a scrim that reflected projected light, but you could see through it on the other side,  and looked at a television monitor behind the puppet stage with him to monitor the performance. 

In 1953, the dynamic of a girl talking to puppets was combined with a short story, "The Man Who Hated People," and his novella "Love of Seven Dolls," by Paul Gallico, to produce the film LiLi with Leslie Caron and Mel Ferer (Audrey Hepburn's Husband).  The same story was used to write the musical play "Carnival."

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

First Look at Poor Things

As you've probably gathered from the trailer, this year's "Poor Things" is a reimagining of Frankenstein, with Emma Stone playing the role of the reanimated corpse.  In this version, her body is that of a young pregnant woman who took her own life, reanimated by a scientist who replaces her brain with that of her unborn child.

You'll hear a lot about how the film handles social roles, particularly sexual roles, and the frank way the creature discovers the world through her attempts to understand sexuality.  You'll also hear a lot about the arresting visual style of the film.

Most of my thoughts watching the film were about comparing how Boris Karloff handled this character in the 30s vs how Emma Stone handled it today.  

Monday, January 8, 2024

William Tuttle

 Every artist has a very recognizable style.  William Tuttlel was responsible for some of the most remarkable prosthetic makeups in film (prior to Planet of the Apes). Here are two examples of his work.  Eye of the Beholder, an episode of The Twilight Zone, and a Morlock from The Time Machine.  

Friday, August 18, 2023

The Ritual Killer Review

Last night my friend Tom messaged me that Morgan Freeman was giving a lecture at Millsaps in a movie.  “The Ritual Killer,” now streaming on Hulu, was shot in Jackson during the time when I was still really sick, so I guess I missed a lot of information about it.  The film was shot in Italy, Jackson, Clinton, and the Pearl River Reservoir.  It’s a psychological thriller with Cole Hauser from Yellowstone playing a Clinton, Mississippi Homicide Detective (the Clinton Police Force may not have homicide detectives.  It’s only about 20 guys.)  Morgan Freeman plays a professor of African History at a small college in Clinton.  There actually is a small college in Clinton, but they shot the film in Jackson at Millsaps instead.

The Ritual Killing referenced here is African shamanistic medicine, which in some instances, requires human body parts for the more powerful rituals.  There was a rash of these sorts of killings in Africa a few years ago.   In the film, a powerful businessman hires an African shaman to come to Clinton, Mississippi, where he lives, and conduct these rituals to make him more powerful, rituals that require the sacrifice of two children and a teenager, which is where the homicide detective comes in.

Morgan Freeman plays an anthropology professor.  The first scene with him has him lecturing in the Heritage Lecture Hall in the Ford Academic Complex.  With all its geometric shapes and brick patterns, the building photographs really well.  One of the students in his class is Claire Azordegan, who was in the Spring Show last year.  She doesn’t have any speaking lines, but she does a good job of looking like she’s studying really hard.  I expected to recognize other players in the production, but most were out-of-towners.  Bill Luckett as the crime scene scientist, did make me smile.  Bill died two years ago, and we still haven’t anyone like him yet.  Covid and other issues delayed the release of the film.  

The writing credits for this film look like a house party.  IMDB lists seven different writers.  None of the writers are from here, which is why, most of the time, it feels like they just threw a dart at the map and chose to set the film in Clinton.  Although they did a fair amount of research into African Culture, they did zero research into Southern Culture.  This film could just have easily been set in Chicago or Fresno, or any city.

To write a film about voodoo killings and not even have some of it set in New Orleans is a huge missed opportunity.  There are a few exterior shots toward the end that were apparently shot in Baton Rouge (there are no riverside warehouses on the Pearl River.)  A film about African culture set in Mississippi is such an obvious opportunity to discuss the exchange between African and European cultures that makes up the state culture of Mississippi, but one the screenwriters completely ignore.  There’s absolutely no story-driven reason to set the film in Mississippi.  It’s just a place.

That being said, they photographed Jackson and Millsaps beautifully.  There are a few exterior establishing shots actually done in Clinton, but nearly the entire film is shot in Jackson, including a police chase through the Lamar Life Building and a couple of really good scenes shot in Hal and Mals.  I feel like the Mississippi Film Office just gave them a list of filming locations, and the director said, “Sure.”  It works too.  The film feels very much like it’s set in Middle America, which I suppose was the objective, but they left an awful lot on the table.

Most of the scenes shot in Italy could have been shot anywhere too.  The writers don’t seem to have any sense of place at all.  It’s like they wanted an excuse to spend two months filming in Rome, so they wrote it into the movie.  I know a guy who actually did that.  The movie is 20 Million Miles to Earth.  Check it out sometime.  Shooting it in Rome gave Ray Harryhausen a pretty great honeymoon.

Morgan Freeman’s role is very similar to the character he played in Se7en and Kiss the Girls.  I”m sure Cole Hauser can be a fine actor, but in scenes with Morgan Freeman, you can tell he’s scared to death and comes off as really wooden and not committed to the scene at all.

As a psychological thriller, I’m pretty pleased with the film.  It has a nice, even tension to it, and you end up feeling pretty strongly about the leads finding a resolution to the action.  It’s kind of like dinner at a Chinese restaurant, though; you’re hungry an hour later.  If you’re from Jackson or at all involved with Millsaps, it’s worth watching just so you can pick out locations you know.  

With New Orleans so nearby, nobody has ever done a movie about Voodoo in Mississippi before.  We have it, though.  There was a time when one of our store managers fired an unreliable delivery guy, and there were chicken bones left in the doorway to the building for a month.  

Nearly everybody has Hulu these days.  It’s worth a night at home watching movies.

Friday, August 11, 2023

Troop Zero

 Mckenna Grace is one of the most popular actors under twenty working today.  She has produced at least one major role per year since she was eleven, with Ghostbusters and Young Sheldon being the most famous so far.  Hopefully, she’ll escape the dreaded child star syndrome because I really do enjoy her work.  She plays nerds, particularly science nerds.  While typecasting is never good for an actor, the type of roles she plays can mean a lot to awkward kids dealing with some of the same issues.

The Voyager Space Craft, launched in 1977, did something no other mission in any of the terrestrial space programs did before.  It openly made an effort, no matter how futile, to communicate with intelligent life outside of Earth.  This was the very first time any governmental program admitted to the possibility that we are not alone.

The purpose of Voyager 1 and 2 was to conduct near fly-bys of our gas giant neighbors, Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus, and send back photographic and radiometric data.  Since the devices would continue to function as they left the solar system, physicist Carl Sagan suggested affixing a message to the spaceships in case some distant intelligent life encounter them.

A committee led by Sagan developed the idea that they could make disks to affix to the spacecraft, made of solid gold so it never corroded, with mathematical principles and a map to our solar system on one side and the other side a phonograph, with messages from earth.  One of these messages being a recording of a child (Carl Sagan’s Son) saying, “Hello from the Children Of Earth.”

Playwright Lucy Alibar, most famous for “Beasts of The Southern Wild” and “Where the Crawdad Sings,” wrote a play in 2010 called “ Christmas and Jubilee Behold The Meteor Shower.” which became the basis for the film Troop Zero, which she adapted for the screen.  

In it, Christmas Flint, thirteen years old, spends most of 1976 missing her recently passed mother while living with her earnest but unsuccessful father in a trailer park in Wiggley, Georgia.  Christmas is played by Mckenna Grace.  Christmas spends every night staring at the stars in the Milky Way, hoping for some sign of alien life, believing that her mother is with them, out in space.

A man from NASA comes to her school to announce that a recording to go on the Voyager record will be recorded using the voices of whoever wins the Birdy Scout (Girl Scout) Jamboree in the Spring.  The actual recording was made by Sagan’s young son, a year younger than me, but that’s not important to the movie.   

Obsessed with space and science and the idea of communicating with aliens, Christmas is determined to win the Jamboree and have her voice be the one going out into the universe to welcome the aliens and (she believes) her mother’s spirit.  

Being a socially awkward misfit and living in the trailers, the Birdy Scout troop laughs at Christmas when she says she wants to join.  Undaunted, Christmas gets a copy of the Birdy Scout handbook from the library (her favorite place) and learns that if she can get four more girls to join and an adult sponsor, she can make her own troop to compete in the Birdy Scout Jamboree.

Christmas gathers together other misfit girls living in the trailers and asks her father’s seldom-paid secretary Rayleen (played by Viola Davis), to be the troop's den mother sponsor.   When she approaches the school principal who sponsors the main Birdy Scout Troop that rejected Christmas, she’s resistant to the idea but can’t find anything in the rule book to prevent Christmas from having her own troop.  As rude as the girls in the main Birdy Troop, Miss Massy assigns the new troop the number zero and admits them into Birdy Scouts.  If the members of Troop Zero can earn one merit badge each, then they qualify to enter the Jamboree, where Christmas hopes to win a spot on the Voyager record.

The next two acts of the film follow the misfit members of Troop Zero as they each find the thing that makes them special and uses that to earn their merit badge, despite the efforts of the other girls to prevent it, including constantly calling Christmas a “bed wetter” which she denies, even though she has been having problems with incontinence when she gets nervous since her mother died.

Coming of Age stories are usually a version of Campbell’s monomyth where the hero finds their special ability through a series of mentors, tests, and challenges.  Alibar follows that pattern here pretty closely, with the Viola Davis providing the meeting with the mentor in the narrative.  The scene in the belly of the whale takes place when Christmas is determined to win her wilderness survival badge.

I was attracted to watch this film because the trailer had a shot of the Voyager record, which I recognized.  The fate of the Voyager spacecraft is the subject of a fair amount of science fiction stories, including the first Star Trek film.   

This essentially is a story about misfits finding their place, not a story about science, but there’s enough science in it to keep me interested.  The end of the story has Christmas looking out into space during the Perseid Meteor Shower of 1976, which was exceptionally vivid, with between six and twelve meteors crossing the night sky per hour.  I know this because I was thirteen years old in 1976, sitting in the backyard of my mother’s house, watching the meteors and wondering about aliens.   

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Moonwatcher and Oppenheimer

In the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C Clarke introduces the character of Moonwatcher, a proto-human and the alpha male in a tribe of ape-men who are in conflict with another tribe of ape-men over access to a water source.  A fight for survival.

In filming this section of the book, Stanley Kubrick used the same actors and the same ape-men costumes to represent both Moonwatcher's tribe and their enemies.  Moongzer's mask was different, more articulate, and more detailed than the others, but all the other masks were taken from the same mold.  Kubrick calculated (correctly) that by having the actors play double roles, both as the protagonists and the antagonists, it would look like he was using more ape-men than he actually was.  

Despite Kubrick's clever means of filming the sequence, Clarke had a different point in mind.  Clarke wanted to show that these proto-humans were extremely similar genetically; what tiny differences there were made them mortal enemies, and extrapolating that point out tens of thousands of years, Moonwatcher's tapir bone weapon used to kill his enemy becomes a satellite loaded with thermo-nuclear weapons, pointed at earth.   There are minute genetic differences between us and the Russians, and yet we stand (as we actually did stand at the time of the film) moments away from destroying each other.  Moonwatcher is both Kennedy and Khrushchev.

Although we see a leopard kill and eat one of Moonwatcher's tribemates, the real threat, the difference between extending his genetic material and oblivion, was the other ape-men.  

A principal theme of the 1960s was xenophobia on many levels.  Arabs hate the Jews.  Russians hate the Americans, whites hate the blacks, and North Koreans hate the South Koreans; all genetically very similar, but all are perceived as a mortal threat by their counterpoint.  In 1967, when Kubrick and Clarke were making 2001, in Mississippi, some white men in a truck set bombs in the office of Perry Nussbaum in the Beth Israel synagog in Jackson.  After tens of thousands of years, ape-men were still willing to kill each other over access to water they could have shared.

Clarke was a very prolific writer.  Much more prolific than I.  Of all his works, 2001 remains his most famous by far.  It's hard to say if it's a hopeful work or not because the aliens make us take the next evolutionary step even though we still have death pointed at each other.  He discussed the matter further in 2010, but not that many people read it, and even fewer saw the movie.

This weekend, when Oppenheimer comes to Jackson, I'll see it at the Capri.  I'll also spend some of the time thinking about Arthur C Clarke and Moonwatcher.  We can't seem to escape what he said about us.  

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Bogart and the Anti-Hero

In 1935, a young actor named Humphrey Bogart (his real name) got his first starring role on Broadway in a play called "Petrified Forest" with costar Leslie Howard at the Broadhurst Theater.  Lance Goss directed the play at Millsaps several times, with the last one in the 90s with Paul Hough as Duke Mantee.  It would be Bogar's last major role on stage.

Bogart played a few small roles in films, some so small they were uncredited, but in 1936 he returned to Hollywood with a triumphant contract with Warner Brothers and shot "The Petrified Forest," again with Leslie Howard and introducing Bette Davis as Gabby, a role played by Christine Swannie at Millsaps.

Over the next five years, Bogart made almost fifteen films, all variations on the criminal he played in Petrified Forest, including his stint as a crooked lawyer in "Angels with Dirty Faces," and the Science Fiction thriller "The Return of Doctor X."  Bogart never doubted his abilities and fought with Warner Brothers to let him try roles that weren't criminals.  

In 1941, Bogart received the big break he wanted playing a new kind of character, dubbed the "anti-hero" he played the hard-boiled detective in "The Maltese Falcon" based on the hit novel by the same name by  Dashiell Hammett and also introduced Sydney Greenstreet who would act against Bogart again.  

Sam Spade reinvented Bogart as an actor and reinvented the entire genre of crime drama.  There are just a few films you can point to and say, "This changed the direction of the art form,"  "The Maltese Falcon" is one of those.  Again, Bogart would spend the next several films mostly typecast again, this time as the anti-hero detective, but his career was starting to be on his own terms. 

The success of Sam Spade did allow Bogart his first chance to really act against type.  In 1942, a small play called "Everybody Comes to Ricks" was the subject of the rising patriotism and anti-fascism in America as a result of the Pearl Harbor invasion.  Bogart was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for playing Rick Blaine in "Casablanca."

In 1944, Bogart won the role of Harry "Steve" Morgan in the screen adaptation of Hemmingway's "To Have and To Have Not."  Hemmingway refused to write the script himself, so director Howard Hawks hired Jules Furthman to pen the first script.  Not pleased with the final product, Hawks hired Mississippi novelist William Faulkner to mend the script.  This film is perhaps most notable for introducing a nineteen-year-old Lauren Bacall to the world as Slim.  In his forties, a spark between Bacall and Bogart struck up that became a  Hollywood legend.  Humphrey Bogar and Lauren "Baby" Bacall made an unlikely love affair for the ages.

Bogart went on to play many more anti-heroes, but 1951's "African Queen" with John Houston and Katharine Hepburn, shot on location in Africa, remains one of Bogar's most memorable films.  Bogart finally got his Best Actor statue for playing Charlie Allnut.

In 1955, Bogart released "We're No Angles,"  still playing an anti-hero, but this time a comedy.  Co-starring Aldo Ray, Peter Ustinov, and Basil Rathbone, "We're No Angles" has been one of my Christmas tradition films since I first saw it on TNT in 1980.  

Bogart would make three more films, but a heavy smoker and a heavy drinker, he would die of esophageal cancer in 1957.  

Baby Bacall was thirty-two when Bogart died.  Bogart was fifty-seven.  Bacall bore Bogart two children.  A son named Stephen, named for Bogart's character in "To Have and To Have Not." and a daughter named Leslie Howard for Bogart's co-star and friend.  Hepburn and Spencer Tracy would visit Bogart in his final days.

Bogart and Bacall were both liberal democrats and fiercely anti-fascists.  Like many Hollywood liberals, Bogart was called before the Committee on Unamerican Activities to defend his political viewpoints.  Afterward, he wrote an article entitled "I'm No Communist," defending not only himself but those found in contempt of the hearings.

I've profiled a lot of actors, but Bogart is one of my favorites.  His is a very American story.

Monday, May 23, 2022

My White Plume

It's come to my attention that there are those who have never known the name Hercule Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac.  Why should they know him?  Edmond Rostand wrote the play in 1897 and he wrote it in French, of all things.

A secret few know that I have two totems in literature: one is the creature-god Kong, and the other is Cyrano.  I've never denied it.  I have seen and studied every possible production of the play that came within my grasp.  The most recent production in 2021 adds two remarkable new facets to the story: its music and the actor Peter Dinklage.

Rostand's play tells the story of Cyrano, a brilliant and gallant soldier who secretly loves his oldest friend Roxanne.  Secretly because despite his many gifts, Cyrano is deformed.  Traditionally portrayed with an enormous nose, but in 2021 as a dwarf.

At a play, a cadet in Cyrano's regiment named Christian de Neuvillette sees Roxanne and instantly falls into infatuation, as she does with him.  Later, Christian confesses his love for Roxanne to his commander Cyrano and asks for help making Roxanne love him.  Christian is shy and uses words poorly.  Cyrano knows Roxanne loves wit and poetry.  He also knows that Christian is brave and as beautiful as Roxanne herself.  He agrees to write letters to Roxanne, pretending to be Christian, so that Roxanne may fall in love with him.

The plot works.  Roxanne confesses to Cyrano that she loves Christian, not knowing that the words she loved were of her friend, Cyranos's own devotion for her, not Christian's.  

Cyrano's regiment goes to war.  Cyrano uses all his skills and all his bravery to ensure the cadet Christian's survival.   He also risks his own life by secretly delivering letters to Roxanne pretending to be Christian but telling of his own love.

Ordered into a suicide mission, Cyrano's skills grant his own survival, but despite them, Christian dies.  Roxanne has one last letter from Christian that she keeps on a ribbon around her neck, stained with tears she believes are his, and her own.

Many years later, Roxanne lives in a cloister.  Still faithful to her beloved Christian, she never took another suitor.  Regularly, her friend Cyrano visits her and delivers the news and styles of Paris.  

On this day, he is mortally wounded by bandits.  He hides the scar under his hat and meets one last time with the now older Roxanne.  Knowing he is dying, he asks Roxanne to read Christian's last letter; he knows she keeps it close to her breast, aloud to him.  The letter he wrote himself.  I won't give away the end.

Besides switching Cyrano's nose for Dinklage's dwarfism, what's remarkable about this production is that it's based on a stage version written by Erica Schmidt, Dinklage's own wife.  Many great actors have sought to play Cyrano as they do Hamlet and Othello and Lear, a privilege denied to Dinklage because of his condition.  The play is Schmidt's love gift to her husband.

After a successful run, funds became available allowing them to mount a film production, but Covid prevented its broad distribution.  It's not available on any of the streaming services, but you can rent it from either Youtube or Amazon for just a few dollars.

It's worth the viewing based on the performance by Dinklage and Haley Bennett as Roxanne.  The locations and cinematography are beautiful, and the music is memorable and charming.  It's nominated for several awards, including BAFTA, Golden Globes, and Academy Awards for acting and music.

Of the many interpretations of Cyrano, this may be my favorite, based mostly on Dinklage's performance.  I also found the audacity of mixing up a piece considered a classic a brave move, fittingly inspired by a real-life true love.  

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Deville Theater Adventures and Lessons

Technically, my first theater was the Lamar downtown because they had Disney movies.  The very first movie I can remember seeing was Toby Tyler, which I remember more for the painted walls and staircase in the lobby than anything else.  There was a scene in Toby Tyler where a monkey gets hold of a pistol and started acting up that scared the bejesus out of my little sister, who saw the rest of the movie from the crying room, while I sat in the big seats with my grandmother who we called Nanny.   We also saw Snowball Express and the revival of Dumbo there.

Besides the Lamar, the best source for movies when I was a kid was the Deville Cinema, off the recently constructed Interstate 55.  It was closer and newer.  It had a single screen and a capacity of six hundred kids.  Technically, it was close enough for me to ride my bike, but that involved crossing Ridgewood road, so I wasn't allowed to very often.

Deville had a summer Saturday matinee revival series.  For five dollars, a kid like me could see a movie with a coke and a red and white striped box of popcorn.  And, oh what movies they had:  Godzilla vs the Smog Monster, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, The Mysterious Island, The War of the Gargantuas, Destroy All Monsters, Gorgo, King Kong Escapes, and more.  Every boy I knew would be there.  It's possible there were girls too, but I don't remember any.  In those days, girls who liked Godzilla were pretty rare.

Besides the matinees, they had some of the most important first-run movies of the seventies at the Deville.  I saw Star Wars there as many times as I could talk somebody into taking me.  Rocky played there for months, as well as Logan's Run and Westworld.  Johnny Kroeze was my most common co-conspirator in those days, and we saw pretty much everything that didn't have much girl stuff in it.  There was one girl in Star Wars.  That was enough.

The Exorcist played at the Deville.  I wasn't allowed to attend, but I remember the reports on the news and in the paper of the protests.  A movie about the devil in Jackson Mississippi in the seventies had no choice but to draw some heat.  I suspect the hullabaloo increased ticket sales by a factor of ten at least.

Many people from Jackson remember Deville for its Saturday night midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show that ran through the seventies into the early eighties.  I was aware of it too.  I heard it was a gay musical making fun of science fiction and horror movies, and I wanted nothing to do with it.

I didn't know much about homosexuality in those days.  I heard a guy from my church lost his job when he got arrested for "loitering" at Smith Park.  I don't know if he was doing anything nefarious or actually just loitering, but anything involving Smith Park at night could get you in trouble.

There were a couple of times when I would pick my little sister up from United Methodist Youth Fellowship and get catcalls of "Hey!  We're over here!" from the interior of Smith Park.  They didn't seem all that dangerous, but I wasn't taking any chances.

In high school, I couldn't name one single person who admitted to being gay.  In college, I knew precisely one.  Andrew Libby ended up teaching me a lot about that side of life.  He was my first gay ambassador.

Later in college, I met a girl who often got me into trouble.  Maybe more than one, but this one really had my number so I was doomed.  Deville had a one-weekend revival of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and she not only wanted to go, but she wanted me to go as well.  I won't say her name because she might be reading, but she was from the Delta and had green eyes, and had she asked me to put on a dress and go to a dog fight, I most likely would have.  That probably gave it away.

We packed up our little group to go, including her friend, whom I was equally taken with.  She had skin like alabaster and hair like obsidian and was slightly less likely to get me into compromising situations.  Slightly.  Who am I kidding?  She was just as bad.  Their powers combined, I was pretty much condemned to seeing the whole movie.

They had newspapers, and toast and rice and water guns ready for the performance.  I had a bad attitude and lots of doubts.

The lights went out, and the screen lit up with a pair of lips...

Michael Rennie was ill
The day the Earth stood still
But he told us where we stand
And Flash Gordon was there
In silver underwear
Claude Rains was The Invisible Man
Then something went wrong
For Fay Wray and King Kong
They got caught in a celluloid jam
Then at a deadly pace
It came from outer space...

Holy shit! 

 The scales fell from my eyes.  Gay or not, this was my people.  This was my tribe!  It would be another five or six years for me to learn that my beloved Fay Wray was a gay icon, but just the mention of her name made me open my heart a little bit and accept, not just a new movie, but a who new body of human beings.

Toward the end of the movie, Frankenfurter sings, "Whatever happened to Fay Wray?"  I knew the answer!  She was living in Beverly Hills with her last husband, the surgeon.  Her son had a pretty famous music store there, and her daughter was in New York becoming a writer and teacher.

In the years to come, I would see Rocky Horror in something like twenty different theatres and live at least five times.  I owe it all to two little girls from Millsaps, who knew better what I liked than I did myself.

In the years that followed, multiplex movie theaters took over the business and The Deville faltered.  The last movie I ever saw there was The Nightmare Before Christmas, in 1993 with Jay Cooke.  I loved the movie and Jay was possibly the only person I knew who could have appreciated it like I did, but that was the swan song for the Deville.  

I do love single-screen theaters.  Jackson had some grand ones.  Except for the Capri, they're all gone now.  They hope to keep the Capri going by making it as much of a restaurant as a movie theater.  I hope fortune shines on them.

In the years that followed, the Deville became a pretty popular store for china and whatnot, and a nightclub after that.  It makes me a little sad to drive by it now.  So many memories.  So many movies.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Tarzan Not Talk Like Frankenstein

 Tarzan not stupid.  Tarzan learn English and French from book before Tarzan meet Jane.  Movie Tarzan very different from book Tarzan.

Seriously, I don't know how Johnny Weismuller became so popular.  Besides the jungle setting, Weismuller's Tarzan is nothing like the character in the books.  Come to think of it, the creature in Shelly's Frankenstein didn't talk like that either.  Maybe audiences in the 30s had a thing for mute strongmen.  

Tarzan of the novels was very articulate and possessed almost super-human intelligence.  He learned to read and write from the books in his father's treehouse, without any other human interactions.   When Tarzan visits America in the first novel, he behaves like an exemplary English gentleman, a far cry from Weismuller's nearly wordless interpretation.

Besides the fake ears they made for the Indian Elephants to make them look African, the best thing about Weismuller's first Tarzan film is Maureen O'Sullivan in her 1932 costume.  (Much more leather was added to her buckskin bikini by the next film.)  Subsequent films ended up almost a parody of the character from the first film.

Weissmuller's Tarzan introduced the trope of the chimpanzee sidekick, which actually isn't in the novels.  Although several chimpanzees have been reported as the original Cheetah through the years, they likely used several throughout the different films, as chimps get pretty dangerous to work with as they mature. The Cheetah you see on screen never seems to grow, even though sometimes a few years pass between productions.  Chimps are notorious poop-throwers and biters.  Many trained chimps had their canine teeth removed to make them slightly less dangerous.  Training methods often involved dramatic beatings and occasional drugs.  They solved this problem for 1984's Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, by having Rick Baker create all the apes using human actors.  Even today, Baker remains Hollywood's greatest gorilla man.

 Tall, attractive, and an Olympic athlete, Weismuller looked the part, but any resemblance to the Tarzan in the books ends there.  Much has been made of the lengths MGM sound designers went through to develop Weismuller's famous Tarzan yell, but Weismuller insisted it was his own voice, and in later life, he was able to perform it live.  It can't be too much of a stretch to believe it was his own voice; after all, even Carol Burnett could imitate it. 

I'm not sure what I would have thought of Tarzan if Weismuller was my first exposure.  Willis O'Brien's Skull Island certainly made an impression on me, so maybe the MGM jungle would have been as memorable.  My first Tarzan, however, was Ron Ely.

Ely's Tarzan was in color.  He was articulate and educated like the Tarzan of the novels.  He's why I picked up my brother's copy of Tarzan and the Leopard Men (1932) and never looked back.  

Ely's Tarzan was set in the modern-day (the 1960s) and sometimes featured very modern concepts.  One episode even had computers.  There was no Jane for his Tarzan, (but I was six, so who cares?) He did have a son character, who was written as an orphaned Mexican boy.  They never explained how a Mexican orphan ended up in Africa.  Manuel Padilla Jr. played several television roles before Jai on Tarzan.  He could deliver his lines, and child actors you could work with were pretty hard to find, so he got the job I guess.

There were 57 episodes of Ron Ely's Tarzan.  He performed most of his own stunts, and he had the scars to prove it, including more than one lion bite.  After the initial run, they played in a re-run every Saturday afternoon until I was twelve or thirteen.  By the time I did see a Weismuller Tarzan, I was already under the spell of King Kong and obsessed with 1930s adventure cinema, so I soon saw all of them.  (Thank you, Ted Turner) 

After Tarzan, Ely was never out of work very long.  The next time he caught my eye was George Pal's, Doc Savage.  I loved the Doc Savage novels and had about ten of them.  Pal intended to do a straight version of Savage like in the books, but the finished product was pretty campy and did poorly with audiences.

Pal originally wanted Steve Reeves to play Doc Savage, but he was too old and unavailable.  Ron Ely was only too happy to get the role. Initially, Pal and Ely hoped to make several Doc Savage films and end Pal's storied career on a high note.  Fate had different plans, though. Doc Savage was released in 1975 and bombed.  It never played a first-run theater in Jackson, so I had to get someone to take me to the drive-in to see it.  

Ely never stopped, though.  He even ended up taking over the job of hosting the Miss America Pagent in 1980 when Bert Parks retired.  

There would be many more Tarzans after Ron Ely, but he was my first, and when I read the novels now, it's his voice I hear.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

What Is The Mississippi Delta

The good Lord made some people to heal us.  My new friend Jennifer gave me a copy of Delta Hot Tamales by Anne Martin.  Jennifer's mom runs Sollys in Vicksburg, so she knows a thing or two about Tamales.

You have to be careful with Delta girls.  They'll steal your heart, and you'll never get it back.  Lord knows, there are pieces of mine from Memphis to Natchez. I don't regret a minute of it.  Lightning can strike the same spot many, many times.

It begs the question, though, what exactly is "The Delta."   In season six, episode one of Andrew Zimmerman's Bizarre Foods about Delta cuisine, he covers Sollys in Vicksburg, but he also includes Jackson and reviews The Big Apple Inn and Walker's Drive-in.  Lord knows I love Big Apple Inn and Walkers, but is Jackson The Delta?  I never heard such, but The Food Network seems to think so.   

A geologist will tell you the Mississippi Alluvial Plain includes parts of Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.  Flooding the Mississippi River as it goes into the Gulf of Mexico creates it.  It only looks like a triangular delta when it gets to New Orleans.  Is New Orleans The Delta?

Fay Wray with Debbie Reynolds
Tammy and the Bachelor (1957)
You've probably heard that The Delta begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and runs to Catfish Row in Vicksburg.  Sometimes, it's the duck-pond fountain in the Peabody to Under the Hill in Natchez.  These definitions have been used so long that I"m struggling to find out who said it first.  It's often attributed to Twain, but I'm not ready to plant my flag there just yet.  

Fay Wray once told me she made a movie about The Delta with Leslie Nielson set in Natchez, so as far as I'm concerned, Natchez is in The Delta.  I'll take Fay Wray's side on anything. The film was based on the book Tammy Out of Time, written by Cid Ricketts Sumner, a Millsaps Alumni, and produced the hit Tammy's In Love, sung by Debbie Reynolds.  

Why the Peabody Hotel, though?  Before cotton was king, The Delta primarily grew tobacco.  Cotton was easy to grow but difficult to process. Ely Whitney changed all that with his Cotton Gin.  Once Mississippi started growing cotton, they had to get it to market.  The river flows north to south, so all our cotton and tobacco went downstream to New Orleans for many years, with growers cashing in there and making their way home with the profits as best they could by the Natchez trace.  

When the steam engine came to the Mississippi,  up-river was as easy as down-river, so the Cotton Exchange in Memphis became the financial center of the Delta economy, with the Peabody just scant blocks away.  Planters traded their cotton for coupons at the Cotton Exchange and spent them at Beal Street and the Peabody.  Don't ask what they spent it on.

So, does cotton define The Delta?  My great-grandfather grew an awful lot of cotton and corn outside of Kosciusko in Hesterville.  Is Attala county The Delta?  Many farms in The Delta don't even grow cotton anymore; soybeans are easier on the soil and often more profitable. What about catfish and rice?  India and China grow almost twice as much cotton as the United States. Are they The Delta?

Maybe The Delta is political.  Despite being yellow-dog Democrat for many years, the Mississippi Delta was one of the most conservative places in the United States.  Florida passed them years ago, and now the Mississippi Gulf Coast is far more conservative than The Delta.  

What about culture?  If you go by country of origin, Mississippi Delta citizens include African, American Native, French, Spanish, English, Scottish,  Irish, and Italian.  Toward the end of the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries, Jewish, Hispanic, Chinese, Indian, and East Asian peoples started populating The Delta.  Religiously, you'll find Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Methodists (united and independent), and don't forget about the Jewish, Muslim, Shinto, and Buddhist congregations.  

Shelby Foote is from Greenville, but some of the most famous writers about The Delta aren't even from there.  Eudora Welty is from Jackson, and William Faulkner is from New Albany. Is that The Delta?

If you're from here, you know many parts of Mississippi aren't The Delta if you're from here. There's The Coast, The Piney Woods, The Golden Triangle, and more.   But, If you're not from Mississippi, you probably think it's all Delta.

Maybe, The Delta is what you say it is.  Andrew Zimmerman and his producers seem to think so.  Try telling people not from here that Elvis was born in Lee County, not The Delta.    I don't want to start any arguments, and I'm not one to tell you how to think, but if you're from here, you really should have an opinion on this.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Godzilla and Perry Mason

 In 1954, Japanese studio Toho, released Gojira, a copy of America's Beast From 20,000 fathoms, remade with political and strong anti-nuclear overtones.  It quickly became the most attended, highest-grossing release in Japanese film history.  

The uncut film in Japanese found a limited release in the USA, almost exclusively in Japanese neighborhoods.  In 1956, American producer Joseph E. Levine paid Toho $25,000 for the American rights to distribute Gojira.  Gojira was a made-up word with no English equivalent, so Levine sounded it out phonetically and came up with "Godzilla."

Afraid American audiences wouldn't appreciate the film's political overtones, Levine trimmed out almost twenty minutes.  He then injected scenes shot in Los Angeles with American actor Raymond Burr with body doubles of Japanese characters in the original footage to try and match the existing Japanese footage.  He randomly picked Steve Martin's name for Burr's character many years before the banjo-playing comedian became famous for his song "King Tut".  

Adding the subtitle "King Of The Monsters", Godzilla was released to American Audiences in 1956 to the same baby boomer, drive-in audiences that fueled the 50's sci-fi craze and rivaled the success of many home-grown films.  

The original Japanese version was hard to come by in the US.  As monster obsessed as I was, I never saw it myself until bootleg versions became available on VHS in the 90s.  

In 1957, CBS hired Burr to play Perry Mason, one year after Godzilla King Of The Monsters.  Mason was a pulp novel character featured in over eighty novels beginning in the 1930s.  He appeared in films and radio with other actors before television.  

Perry Mason flipped the typical pulp novel detective formula by making the title character a defense lawyer rather than a policeman or a private eye.  Perry Mason never really defended anyone as we know it. His clients were never guilty.  He used detective skills rivaling Hercule Poirot and invariably proved his clients never committed the crimes they were accused of. Often he exposed the true culprit in the courtroom itself! 

Burr's original run as Perry Mason ran from 1957 to 1966, revived in the seventies, and several made-for-tv movies in the eighties.  Burr was tall, steely-eyed, and wore impossibly angular suits.  He had the looks of a matinee hero, and he was also quite gay, in a time when American men were being arrested just for being gay.

Burr had a short-lived, studio-arranged marriage to a woman he hardly met.  Following that, he simply lied and made up two more wives, both of which he invented melodramatic deaths for, making him a grieving widower in the public's eye.  

Burr's actual life partner was actor Robert Benevides.  They were together from 1960 until Burr's death in 1993.  Benevides was not a terribly successful contract actor who had small parts in The Outer Limits and The Monster That Challenged The World.  He gave up acting to do production work on Burr's projects, including executive producer of all the Perry Mason TV movies. 

After 1975's Terror Of Mecha Godzilla, the fifteenth Gojira film, Toho Studios put the character in abeyance for nine years.  In 1984, Toho considered reviving the character for its thirtieth anniversary.  Koji Hashimoto took over the reins as director, with the working title: Gojira Returns.  Hashimoto took the bold step of making his film a direct sequel to the 1954 original, ignoring all the intervening fifteen films.  

Roger Corman's New World Pictures purchased the rights to distribute Gojira Returns in the US.  Renamed Godzilla 1985, they again reached out to Raymond Burr to shoot American sequences to cut into the Japanese footage.  Burr was delighted to comply, expressing a fondness for the monster.  In the thirty years since Godzilla King of The Monsters, comedian Steve Martin became a star, so Burr's character was renamed just Mr. Martin.

Corman negotiated a deal with Dr. Pepper for product placement in the American shots.  Burr refused to comply, so another actor was shot constantly holding a Dr. Pepper can
.  Burr's scenes took a little over a day to shoot.  He reportedly wrote Godzilla's epilogue himself.  

Gojira Returns gave new life to the series and new Japanese and American Godzilla films continue to this day.  Perry Mason returns to television without Burr and both franchises thrive into the twenty-first century.

Friday, April 29, 2022

The Offer Episode One


I watched the first episode of "The Offer" on Paramount Plus, and here's the review I promised.

It begins in the late sixties, an exciting time in the American movie business, on the rubicon of the early seventies, one of the greatest eras for Cinema.  It's a show made by Paramount, about a Paramount picture, with many scenes in the famous Gower Street Paramount studios, telling the story of how "The Godfather" came to be.  

Many people, myself included, consider "The Godfather" one of the greatest films ever made.  With all this rich material, the show is off to a good start.  First episodes are always awkward because you have to fit in a lot of basic character introductions and exposition. 

I felt the writers were struggling to fit it all in here.  They have to introduce the producers, Albert Ruddy and Robert Evans, the writers Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola, and real-life gangster Joe Columbo and set up the story's basic premise.  That's a lot to accomplish in an hour.  

The cast so far is competent but not bowling me over. It's too early to tell, though.  I did find Matthew Goode, playing Robert Evans, a bit annoying, but let's see how it goes.  The sets and costumes are also competent, and the cinematography is very good.

There are dozens of easter eggs strewn throughout this episode, both to movie fans of the era and Coppola fans.  One I enjoyed was seeing Coppola handling his wind-up 16mm camera.  His "home movies" shot on set are pretty well known to Godfather fans.

So far, I'm definitely in for another episode.  The show moves along pretty quickly and does not pull punches on some of the known issues associated with "The Godfather," like how Frank Sinatra reacted to the book.

The series is ten episodes, released every Thursday night on Paramount Plus.

Friday, April 22, 2022

The Real Carfax Abbey

 In Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula, we are told that Harker procures a Carfax Abbey in Whitby, London, England, for his client, Count Dracula, to reside.  Carfax Abby is an imaginary creation of Stoker but based on Whitby Abbey, an actual structure in the same location.

The initial construction of Whitby Abbey began in the 7th century.  It housed Benedictine monks until it was confiscated at the orders of Henry VIII in his battles with Rome in his efforts toward the dissolution of the monasteries (1536-1541).  It was abandoned after this and remains a ruin to this day.   

Stoker visited Whitby in 1890 and found the gothic ruins the perfect setting for a story. 

Henry Irving
At the time, Stoker worked as an agent for Henry Irving, the actor.  His first thought was to make his vampire story a play for Irving, but when Irving decided he had no interest in the part, Stoker used Irving's likeness and personality to create his vampire, Dracula.
There are other real-life locations used in the novel, but I thought you might enjoy a photograph as this one was so remarkable visually.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Movie Nicknames For Jackson Buildings

Ghostbusters Building
For years, Jacksonians nicknamed the Standard Life Building, the "Ghostbusters Building" after the 1984 comedy.  In the film, they used a real apartment building at 55 Central Park West, NY, that does have a reasonal resemblance to the Jackson structure, mainly because they both utilize the same architectural style and were built the same year (1929). 

The "Real" Ghostbusters Building
The Jackson Ghostbusters Building
I always thought the SLB looked more like the Empire State building, with a less elaborate finial.

Darth Vader Buildings
Some locals have taken to calling the City Centre development on Lamar St. (formerly the Milner and Petroleum Buildings) the "Darth Vader" buildings for their black glass and chrome exteriors.

Darth Vader Buildings

Saturday, April 25, 2009

100 Years of Magic Drawings

Sometimes artists many years apart have similar ideas.

Below is J. Stuart Blackton's The Enchanted Drawing, produced in 1900


Over one hundred years later, Dutch artist Evelien Lohbeck updates Blackton's idea to incorporate modern technology.

Noteboek from Evelien Lohbeck on Vimeo.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

I'm as Mad as Hell and I'm Not Going To Take This Anymore!

This is one of my favorite performances in the history of cinema. If you've never seen Network, I encourage you to see it as soon as you can. I'm not kidding. Many people consider it the greatest film of that decade, better than the Godfather films.

Peter Finch won an oscar for this performance, probably for this very scene, and he deserved it.

Howard Beale: I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job.

The dollar buys a nickel's work, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it.

We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV's while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be.

We know things are bad - worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.

Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad!

I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot - I don't want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad.

You've got to say, 'I'm a HUMAN BEING, Goddamnit! My life has VALUE!

So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell: I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!

I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell - 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!'

Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!

You've got to say, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!
Then we'll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it:


Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Colonel

A lot of times people don't really appreciate the true back story of every day things. Mel Gibson is a guy who's had his share of personal problems, but there's no question that he's a real genius when it comes to the bio-pic.

Gibson's latest project tells the story of a man who lost everything in America's most tragic war, but took that lost and built a life for himself from the ashes of the old and battles the dual demons of vengeance and loss.

Youtube: Link

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Woman Becomes Mermaid

Reposted from: Constant Monster

Weta workshop, the company who produced such films as King Kong and The Lord of the Rings, have granted a woman's wish and made her a mermaid.

Nadya Vessey lost her legs below the knee due to a childhood illness. She told a child once she had no legs because she was a mermaid and the idea stuck with her so she asked the New Zeland effects studio if they could make her dream a reality.

Working between films, Weta constructed the mermaid suit from plastic molds and wetsuit fabric, Vessey's mermaid tail looks and works much like the real thing.

Story Link:

Official Ted Lasso