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Posts Tagged ‘film history

“Dying is easy, comedy is hard”*…

 

neighbors-keaton

Neighbors. Dir. Edward F. Cline/Buster Keaton. Perf. Buster Keaton, Virginia Fox, Joe Keaton. Metro Pictures, 1920.

 

As he migrated from vaudeville stage to movie set, [Buster] Keaton realised the comedy itself did not need changing, though the opportunities afforded by the camera could extend the world in which the spatial interplay he had developed since childhood took place.

“…the greatest thing to me about picturemaking was the way it automatically did away with the physical limitations of the theatre. On the stage, even one as immense as the New York Hippodrome stage, one could only show so much. The camera had no such limitations. The whole world was its stage. If you wanted cities, deserts, the Atlantic Ocean, Persia, or the Rocky Mountains for your scenery and background, you merely took your camera to them.”

Keaton’s comedy derives largely from the positioning —and constant, unexpected repositioning— of his body in space, and in architectural space particularly. Unlike other slapstick performers who relished in the close-up and detailed attention to the protagonist, Keaton frequently directed the camera to film with a wide far-shot that could contain the whole of a building’s facade or urban span within the frame. Proud of always carrying out his own (often extremely dangerous) stunts, this enabled him to show the audience that his actions were performed in real-time —and real-place— rather than simply being tricks of the camera or editing process. It also allowed him to visually explore the many ways in which his body could engage with the urban form…

An appreciation of that greatest of all silent comedians: “Buster Keaton: Anarchitect.”

* variously attributed to actors Edmund Keane, Edmund Gwynn, and Peter O’Toole

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As we take the fall, we might send delighted birthday greetings to Stanley Donen; he was born on this date in 1924.  A Broadway dancer (who befriended a young Gene Kelly), Donen followed Kelly to Hollywood as choreographer, then a director– of such classics as On the Town (1949) and Singin’ in the Rain (1952), both of which starred Kelly who co-directed.  Donen’s other films include Royal Wedding (1951), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954),  Funny Face (1957), Indiscreet (1958), and Charade (1963).  Credited (with his rival, Vincent Minelli) with having transitioned Hollywood musical films from realistic backstage dramas (a la Busby Berkeley) to a more integrated art form in which the songs were a natural continuation of the story, Donen is highly regarded by film historians.

One might note a kinship between Keeton’s astounding physical relationship to his surroundings and that of Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Fred Astaire in Donen’s films…

Stanley_Donen_(cropped) source

 

Written by LW

April 13, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Not too big, not too small… just right”*…

 

dimensions

Dimensions.Guide is a comprehensive [and free]reference database of [thousands of] dimensioned drawings documenting the standard measurements and sizes of the everyday objects and spaces that make up our world. We offer our resources to professional designers, students, and the public alike as a way to enhance our global collective awareness of the parameters and dimensions of the things around us…

For example…

Screen Shot 2019-02-02 at 3.24.06 PM

Browse at Dimensions.Guide.

* The Goldilocks Principle

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As we size it up, we might recall that it was on this date in 1921 that Charlie Chaplin released the first feature-length film in which he both starred (as “The Tramp”) and directed, The Kid.  Chaplin also wrote and produced the film.

Widely considered one of the greatest films of the silent era, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

 

Written by LW

February 7, 2019 at 1:01 am

“I am big! It’s the pictures that got small.”*…

 

Romaine Fielding

Romaine Fielding got famous making a bunch of films in nothing flat—something like 100 films in just four years, from 1912 to 1915. Some of the films were probably awful. Others were showered with critical praise. Film was a fledgling medium still trying to find its voice, still battling to evolve from novelty to art. But Romaine rose above the melodramatic din of the silent film era. He was, by some accounts, America’s first movie star and, by even more accounts, among the medium’s first true visionaries…

Romaine had already lived a lot of life when he began making films in 1912. There were only a dozen film companies in Hollywood. The magazine that would launch our nation’s rabidity for celebrity culture, Photoplay, had just published its first issue. Romaine was 43 and on his fourth name by then: baby William Grant Blandin became Royal A. Blandin became Romanzo A. Blandin who made the leap finally to Romaine Fielding at the dawn of the 20th century.

There are lots of reasons for adopting pseudonyms and these include shame or aspiration or fear of legal recourse or extralegal recourse or confusion about identity or certainty about identity or general restlessness and for some it is all of this plus the usual feeling of fraudulence and an overdeveloped flair for the dramatic. In 1867 Romaine was born out of wedlock in an Iowa that wouldn’t stand for it and so his first name change was the projection of others’ shame. For the rest of his life he layered on identities, ever grander, though never entirely disingenuous…

After the success of The Toll of Fear (one of the first great psychological thrillers, made in 1913) Romaine made the cover of Motion Picture Magazine. He was voted America’s Most Popular Player by the magazine’s readers, snagging over 1.3 million of the 7 million votes cast by film buffs.

This award was a remarkable accomplishment in the pre-Oscars era. He beat out Mary Pickford, an early cinema powerhouse and eventual cofounder of the famed United Artists studio. He beat out Bronco Billy, who had starred in The Great Train Robbery (1903), arguably the first ever Western film…

The genuinely remarkable tale of an American original: “The Lost Apocalypse of Romaine Fielding.”

* “Norma Desmond” (Gloria Swanson) in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard

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As we see stars, we might spare a thought for Herbert Eugene Ives; he died on this date in 1953.  A scientist and engineer who headed the development of facsimile and television systems at AT&T in the first half of the twentieth century, he is best known for the 1938 Ives–Stilwell experiment, which provided direct confirmation of special relativity’s time dilation (though Ives himself did not accept special relativity, and argued instead for an alternative interpretation of the experimental results).

But relevantly to this post, Ives also led AT&T’s development of video and television. His 1927 transmission–  of images of then-Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover, from Washington, DC to New York– was the first successful long distance demonstration of television. Two years later, he achieved the first successful long-distance transmission of color images.

220px-Ives_3819812229_f084c217d1_o source

 

Written by LW

November 13, 2018 at 1:01 am

“In India we celebrate the commonality of major differences; we are a land of belonging rather than of blood”*…

 

As The Guardian reports…

One candidate is “hiding in the bunker of secularism”; another invokes God to preserve India from her opponent’s economic model. A politiciking yoga teacher with millions of followers is investigated for hate speech; the youngest adult member of the country’s foremost political dynasty calls the opposition “baffled rats”. And the Indian election moves into its fourth week.

The Hindu nationalist opposition Bharatiya Janata party, led by Narendra Modi, looks on course for a big victory, though quite how big is still unclear. The incumbent Congress party is facing a crushing defeat, with only around 100 of the 543 elected seats in the lower house of the national assembly…

But while the main event is Modi’s nationalistic challenge to the incumbents, the BBC reminds us the the election’s “color” is much more varied…

In April, India’s 814 million eligible voters are due at the polls. There are more than 1,600 registered political parties – some with very unexpected names.

B Kumar Sri Sri launched the Indian Lovers Party on Valentine’s Day 2008. His bubble-gum pink posters announce the party’s resolve to fight for star-crossed lovers from different castes and religious backgrounds, whose parents don’t approve of their relationship…

Read more about the Poor Man’s Party, The Yours-Mine Party, The Oceanic Party, The Pyramid Party, and the Stay Wake Party at “Indian political parties with strange names.”  And lest one think that India has a hammerlock on creative party names, consider the active parties in Australia (which include the Party! Party! Party! Party) and in the U.S.

 Shashi Tharoor

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As we exercise our franchise, we might send elegiac birthday greeting to Satyajit Ray; he was born on this date in 1921.  He was a writer, publisher, illustrator, calligrapher, graphic designer and film critic, but is best remembered a filmmaker.  Considered on the greatest auteurs in world cinema history, Ray directed 36 films, which earned scores of awards, including 32 National Film Awards by the Government of India.  He was one of only three filmmakers to win the Silver Bear for Best Director at the Berlin Film Festival more than once, and holds the record for the most number of Golden Bear nominations, with seven.  At the Venice Film Festival, where he had previously won a Golden Lion for Aparajito (1956), he was awarded the Golden Lion Honorary Award in 1982. That same year, he received an honorary “Hommage à Satyajit Ray” award at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival.  The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded Ray an Honorary Oscar in 1992 for Lifetime Achievement.  He is the second film personality after Chaplin to have been awarded an honorary doctorate by Oxford University.

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Written by LW

May 2, 2014 at 1:01 am

“The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague”*…

 

In order to see the appeal of the forthcoming Morbid Anatomy Museum, you have to understand the death-centric collection—think skeletons, taxidermy, medical oddities— as neither kitschy nor creepy.

“I like to think about how our attitudes about things have changed; and in particular our attitudes about death, because I think that is the most fertile thing to examine,” says Joanna Ebenstein, the founder of the Morbid Anatomy Library, which is the basis of the museum. “The way we think about death now, these images seem completely inappropriate. It seems voyeuristic and wrong and horrible. But I would argue, in some ways, that they were dealing with grief in ways that we don’t really have a capability with any longer because we think it’s so inappropriate.”…

“It really speaks to how much we’ve changed as people that this could become exotic and other. It never was before; there was never a period in history where death was so other than now.” Confronting that chasm is, in part, the purpose of the museum…

The Morbid Anatomy Museum opens in Brooklyn next month, when it will feature its permanent collection (sampled in the photo above), a 2500-volume library, a lecture series, classes (e.g., taxidermy), and special exhibits (like Water Potter’s “Kitten Wedding,” from the 1890s, pictured below).

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Read more at “Coming Soon to Brooklyn: The Morbid Anatomy Museum.”

* Edgar Allan Poe

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As we memento mori, we might we might send rebellious birthday greetings to Jean Vigo; he was born on this date in 1905.  The son of Catalan anarchists, Vigo migrated to Paris and became a film maker.  A founder (with Jean Renoir) of “poetic realism” in film, Vigo is best remembered for two films, both hugely impactful on French and world cinema: Zéro de conduite (1933) and L’Atalante (1934).  The former– a tale of rebellious school boys– was the inspiration for Lindsay Anderson’s marvelous If…; the latter– the story of a marriage falling apart, then healing– was chosen as the 10th-greatest film of all time in Sight & Sound’s 1962 poll, and as the 6th-best in its 1992 poll.  He’s widely considered the “grandfather” of the French New Wave, on whom he had an enormous influence.

Writing of Vigo’s death in The New York Times, film critic Andrew Johnston judged: “The ranks of the great film directors are short on Keatses and Shelleys, young artists cut off in their prime, leaving behind a handful of great works that suggest what might have been. But one who qualifies is Jean Vigo, the French director who died of tuberculosis at age 29 in 1934.”

 source

 

Written by LW

April 26, 2014 at 1:01 am

“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

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