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Posts Tagged ‘film history

“Symbolize and summarize”*…

 

Saul Bass was one of America’s premiere graphic designers through the second half of the Twentieth Century. He created some of the best-remembered, most iconic logos in North America:  e.g., the Bell Telephone logo (1969) and the successor AT&T globe (1983), Continental Airlines (1968), Dixie (1969), United Airlines (1974), and Warner Communications (1974).  

But for your correspondent’s money, his major contribution was his extraordinary series of movie titles and posters, created for the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger, Billy Wilder, Stanley Kubrick, and Martin Scorsese.  Prior to Bass, movie title sequences had largely been a series of “credit cards,” functioning in effect as title pages.  Bass developed the opening as a way to set the emotional stage for the film to follow.  As screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi said of Bass and his second wife and collaborator Elaine, “you write a book of 300 to 400 pages and then you boil it down to a script of maybe 100 to 150 pages. Eventually you have the pleasure of seeing that the Basses have knocked you right out of the ballpark. They have boiled it down to four minutes flat.”

In the broadest sense, all modern opening title sequences that introduce the mood or theme of a film can be seen as descendent of Bass’s innovative work. In particular, though, one can detect the influence of Bass in the title sequences for some recent movies and television series (especially those set in the 1960s) that have purposely emulated the graphic style of his animated sequences from that era: e.g.,  Catch Me If You Can (2002), X-Men: First Class (2011), and the opening to the AMC series Mad Men.

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See a more complete frame board of Bass’ North By Northwest opening here; browse more of his extraordinary canon here– all courtesy of our old friend Christian Annyas.

* Saul Bass

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As we mute our cell phones, we might recall that it was on this date in 1956 that Alfred Hitchcock’s muse, the Oscar-winning actress Grace Kelly, became Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco.

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Written by LW

April 19, 2014 at 1:01 am

“He was a wise man who invented beer”*…

 

In the age of Amazon, when much of the world is but a click away from having any product they can imagine shipped to their doorstep in just two days, beer is stubbornly anachronistic, a globalization holdout that’s subject to the physical locations of breweries, along with the regional patterns of alcohol distributors.

It’s a picture painted well by the team from Floating Sheep, who compiled a million tweets, scanning for words like “beer” and “wine” to plot the alcoholic preferences across the U.S. What they uncovered is essentially the United States of Cheap Beer–a map of the generic, though perfectly tasty, lagers and pilsners that we loyally drink region by region…

Read more at “The Cheap Beers People Drink Across The U.S.

Special Spring bonus:  how adding beer to one’s barbeque slashes the risk of cancer

* Plato

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As we pour into a canted a glass, we might recall that it was on this date in 1953 that Man in the Dark was released.  In November, 1952, United Artists had released an independent production, Bwana Devil– the first full length color film released in English in 3-D.  A surprise hit, Bwana Devil spurred the major studios to scramble to field their own 3-D flicks.  Man in the Dark, from Columbia, was for to the screen. A film noir thriller starring Edmund O’Brien and Audrey Trotter, the film sank like a stone…  leaving House of Wax, from Warner Bros., released two days later, a default claim to be “the first feature produced by a major studio in 3-D.”  These three films kicked off the first period of enthusiasm for 3-D films; the second was a year-long period in the 70s.  We are, of course, currently in the third.

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Written by LW

April 8, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Never make predictions, especially about the future”*…

 

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Leonard Richardson likes old books of futurism. In 2008, he borrowed one from a friend, a classic from 1967: The Year 2000: A Framework for Speculation on the Next Thirty-Three Years, by Herman Kahn and A. J. Wiener.  Richardson color-coded the authors’ predictions, summarized in three tables near the front of the book, with his subjective impressions of whether each was a hit, a partial hit, or a miss.  For example…

Table XVIII: One Hundred Technical Innovations Very Likely in the Last Third of the Twentieth Century

  1. Multiple applications of lasers and masers for sensing, measuring, communication, cutting, heating, welding, power transmission, ilumination, destructive (defensive), and other purposes
  2. Extreme high-strength and/or high-temperature structural materials
  3. New or improved superperformance fabrics (papers, fibers, and plastics)
  4. New or improved materials for equipment and appliances (plastic, glasses, alloys, ceramics, intermetallics, and cements)
  5. New airborne vehicles (ground-effect machines, VTOL and STOL, super-helicopters, giant and/or supersonic jets)
  6. Extensive commercial application of shaped-charge explosives
  7. More reliable and longer-range weather forecasting
  8. Intensive and/or extensive expansion of tropical agriculture and forestry
  9. New sources of power for fixed installations (e.g., magnetohydrodynamic, thermionic and thermoelectric, and radioactivity)
  10. New sources of power for ground transportation (storage battery, fuel cell, propulsion [or support] by electro-magnetic fields, jet engine, turbine, and the like)

Out of 135 predictions there are 27 hits and 22 partial hits. Read the three lists in their entirety at “The Year 2000“… then ponder what our lists, looking out to 2045-2050, might contain.

* Casey Stengel

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As raise our eyes to the horizon, we might send mutable birthday greetings to Leonidas FrankLon” Cheney; he was born on this date in 1883.  The son of two deaf parents, Cheney was skilled at pantomime from an early age, a talent he parlayed into a successful vaudeville act.  A scandal (his first wife’s attempted suicide) forced him from the theater into the nascent film industry– where he became a successful character actor. Cheney developed deep skills in make-up to complement his pantomime skills, and created some of the most memorable characters in the golden age of silent film– among them, The Phantom of the Opera and Quasimodo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame).  In an interview reviewing his work in over 100 films, Chaney referred to his gifts in using make-up and contortion to portray his subjects as “extraordinary characterization”; in the industry he was known simply as “the man of 1,000 faces.”

Cheney in The Phantom of the Opera

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Written by LW

April 1, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Dinosaurs are nature’s special effects”*…

 

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The Lost World, released in 1925, was a silent film adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 novel of the same name.  Public Domain Review elaborates:

Directed by Harry O. Hoyt and featured pioneering stop motion special effects by Willis O’Brien (an invaluable warm up for his work on the original King Kong directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack). In 1922, Conan Doyle showed O’Brien’s test reel to a meeting of the Society of American Magicians, which included Harry Houdini. The astounded audience watched footage of a Triceratops family, an attack by an Allosaurus and some Stegosaurus footage. Doyle refused to discuss the film’s origins. On the next day, the New York Times ran a front page article about it, saying “(Conan Doyle’s) monsters of the ancient world, or of the new world which he has discovered in the ether, were extraordinarily lifelike. If fakes, they were masterpieces”.

It is a film of many firsts: first film to be shown to airline passengers, in April 1925 on a London-Paris flight by the company Imperial Airways; first feature length film made in the United States, possibly the world, to feature model animation as the primary special effect, or stop motion animation in general; first dinosaur-oriented film hit, and it led to other dinosaur movies, from King Kong to the Jurassic Park trilogy.

See The Lost World at The Internet Archive, or download it: Ogg | MPEG4 | Torrent

* paleontologist Robert T. Bakker

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As we lavish love on lizards, we might send dusty birthday greetings to paleontologist Barnum Brown; he was born on this date in 1873 in Carbondale, Kansas.  Brown (who was named after the famous showman) discovered the first documented remains of Tyrannosaurus rex during a 66-year career in which he became the most famous fossil hunter in the world.

Though most of his work was sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History (where most of his finds reside), some was underwritten by the Sinclair Oil Company– which adopted an image of the Apatosaurus (then known as Brontosaurus) in its logo.

Brown, who often worked on-site in fur coat, tie, and fedora, in the field in Montana in 1914

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Written by LW

February 12, 2014 at 1:01 am

Meet the Beetles!…

 

In 1912, Ladislas Starevich, serving then as Director of the Museum of Natural History in Lithuania, set out to film the combat of stag beetles, but the nocturnal insects kept shutting down when the lights went on.  His solution, inspired by the work of Émile “Father of the Animated Cartoon” Cohl, was to use dead beetles…

Starevich went on to develop theatrical narratives and story arcs for his “actors,” creating the likes of the dreamy-but-eerie film you can watch here:

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Read the full story at the ever-educational Dangerous Minds.

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As we recall that Starevich had lots of actors from which to choose, we might send carefully-sculpted birthday greetings to Joseph Constantine Carpue; he was born on this date in 1764.  A surgeon and anatomist, Carpue performed the first rhinoplasty in England, adapting a technique developed centuries earlier in India.  In 1814, after practicing on several cadavers, Carpue operated at the Duke of York’s Hospital, Chelsea, on a British military officer who had lost his nose to the toxic effects of mercury treatments for his liver, though his nasal bones were intact, and on another whose nose and cheek were mutilated by a sword. These two successful operations are considered the birth of modern plastic surgery. (In fact, in the late 16th century, a Venetian surgeon had used arm/shoulder skin– as opposed to the forehead skin used by the ancient Indians and Carpue– but his procedure was never adopted.)

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Written by LW

May 4, 2013 at 1:01 am

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