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Posts Tagged ‘film history

“I knew I shoulda taken that left turn at Albuquerque”*…

Looney Tunes without Looney Tunes: “Looney Tunes Backgrounds.”

[TotH to This Isn’t Happiness]

* Bugs Bunny

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As we contemplate context, we might send uncertain birthday greetings to Werner Karl Heisenberg; he was born on this date in 1901.  A theoretical physicist, he made important contributions to the theories of the hydrodynamics of turbulent flows, the atomic nucleus, ferromagnetism, superconductivity, cosmic rays, and subatomic particles.  But he is most widely remembered as a pioneer of quantum mechanics and author of what’s become known as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.  Heisenberg was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for 1932 “for the creation of quantum mechanics.”

During World War II, Heisenberg was part of the team attempting to create an atomic bomb for Germany– for which he was arrested and detained by the Allies at the end of the conflict.  He was returned to Germany, where he became director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics, which soon thereafter was renamed the Max Planck Institute for Physics. He later served as president of the German Research Council, chairman of the Commission for Atomic Physics, chairman of the Nuclear Physics Working Group, and president of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

Some things are so serious that one can only joke about them

Werner Heisenberg

 source

“The nations of the world must now stay united in the struggle against unknown forces instead of fighting each other”*…

Toho’s [see hereThe Mysterians (1957) is a mammoth sci-fi spectacle, featuring giant lasers, flying saucers, underground domes, alien invaders, and robot monsters. Lying beneath its visual prowess is a set of questions, themes, and ideas that elevate The Mysterians as one of the decade’s most fascinating films. It asserts a warning for humanity: don’t misuse science. For 1957, in the midst of a spiraling nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union, the film is chilling; but when examined through the lens of 2020, The Mysterians is arguably even more frightening today.  

In the film, a series of earthquakes and forest fires precedes the appearance of a giant robot, Mogera. The mechanical monster wreaks havoc before it is blown up by the self-defence forces. The next day, a gigantic dome emerges from the ground, and we are introduced to the robot’s creators: the Mysterians. They beckon key scientists to meet them in their base, where they explain themselves as a race ravaged by atomic war. The Mysterians want three kilometres of land on which to live, but they also have an unpleasant stipulation. The Mysterians’ bodies are so damaged by radiation that they can no longer birth healthy offspring; and so, they want to mate with human women. Having already used Mogera to show that conflict is useless, the Mysterians appear to have the upper hand. However, forces from East and West unite, and Earth is poised to take on the Mysterian menace. 

The Mysterians features Akihiko Hirata in a role similar to his turn in Godzilla (1954). Hirata plays the enigmatic Shiraishi, a scientist who discovered the home planet of the Mysterians, Mysteroid. Shiraishi disappears before the Mysterians emerge, and we later discover that he has joined them. Seduced by their scientific achievements, Shiraishi admires the Mysterians; he believes that they simply wish to stop mankind from destroying itself, ignorant to their real plans for conquest. His assertion of science above all else prevents him from considering the ethical horrors that come with the Mysterians’ terms.  

Shiraishi is the personification of director Honda’s concerns over the misuse of science. “At that time I feared the danger of science, that whoever controlled it could take over the entire Earth”, Honda observed…

There’s also something else that makes The Mysterians all the more chilling today. The film’s concern that we could become like the Mysterians may have already come to pass – though not in a way that’s immediately apparent. The Mysterians have gone through an unimaginable horror in the form of atomic annihilation; and yet, they haven’t learned from their own nightmare. Instead of renouncing war or seeking peace, the Mysterians have looked to further conquest. For them, there is no recognition of the horror of war, just the restart of its engine.  

At the film’s climax, when the Earth has successfully fought back the invaders, we see scattered Mysterian bodies in their decimated dome. Many of their helmets are cracked and split, revealing their faces; they look human, with very little to distinguish them from us except their wounds and radiation scars. One looks at their damaged faces and sees a miserable, endless cycle…

The Mysterians is also striking in its depiction of a united Earth, with both Russia and America working side by side. The nations of the world join to fend off the new danger, with earthbound conflicts rendered banal in the face of collective oblivion… Director Ishiro Honda’s [see here] concern was in presenting a united planet – a recurring tenet of his genre work. Of The Mysterians, Honda said, “I would like to wipe away the [Cold War-era] notion of East versus West and convey a simple, universal aspiration for peace, the coming together of all humankind as one to create a peaceful society.” As noted by his biographers (Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski), the visual composition of scenes involving international meetings shows a symmetry that affirms Honda’s egalitarian view; no one country is seen above or below another…

From Christopher Stewardson (@CF_Stewardson), an appreciation of a classic that’s all-too-timely again: “Thoughts on Film: The Mysterians.”

[[TotH to our buddies at Boing Boing]

* “Dr. Tanjiro Adachi,” The Mysterians

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As we think globally, we might recall that it was on this date in 2018 that Sir David Attenborough (a naturalist and producer/host of the BBC’s epic Life on Our Planet) spoke at the UN’s climate summit in Poland. Sir David warned that climate change is humanity’s greatest threat in thousands of years, and that it could lead to the collapse of civilizations and the extinction of “much of the natural world.”

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“The cinema is an invention without any future”*…

Some lost films are more lost than others. There are very early works that no one now alive has seen, and we have little hope of recovering. While later silent feature films were duplicated and distributed widely, there are hundreds of short experiments by the first film-makers, movies no more than a few seconds long, that no longer exist even as a memory.

It seemed too good to be true, then, that lost films by Georges Méliès could really have been found by chance in a German bookshop in 2013. Yet a dogged research project by an independent scholar from France, Thierry Lecointe, has helped uncover miraculous images from lost films, not just by Méliès, but also by Alice Guy-Blaché.

The frames were preserved as images printed on to the card pages of tiny flipbooks. With digital technology, the flipbooks, known as folioscopes, have now become something like film fragments again. The photographer Onno Petersen shot each page in high-resolution and the motion-picture restoration expert Robert Byrne, from the San Francisco Silent Film festival, produced animations revealing such treats as a long-lost magic trick, dance, comic sketch or a train caught on camera more than a century ago

Some of the earliest experiments in film 120 years ago were reproduced as flipbooks for wider audiences. Now a painstaking restoration project has brought long-lost gems back to life: “What the flip! The chance discovery that’s uncovered treasures of the very earliest cinema.”

See also Variety‘s account of a similar reclamation project: “George Melies Flip Book Sets off Crowdsourcing.”

* Cinema pioneer Louis Lumière… who was, happily, wrong

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As we enjoy our popcorn, we might recall that it was on this date in 1942 that “Tweety,” the star of 46 Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons, made his official debut in “A Tale of Two Kitties.”

Originally created by Bob Clampett (who also created the first version of Bugs Bunny and went to to such marvels as Beany and Cecil), Tweety was redesigned by Fritz Freleng– who took over when Clampett left Warner Bros, reimagined Tweety, and crucially, added Sylvester the Cat. The first short to team Tweety and and his hapless nemesis, 1947’s Tweetie Pie, won Warner Bros its first Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Cartoons). Both Tweety and Sylvester were, of course, voiced by the great Mel Blanc.

In related news, there is a live action reboot of Tom and Jerry on the way…

“The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter”*…

 

maltesefalcon

 

The term “film noir” is typically credited to French critic Nino Frank, who apparently coined it in a 1946 essay published in the magazine L’Écran français to describe four American crime films: John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon, Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity, Otto Preminger’s Laura, and Edward Dmytryk’s Murder, My Sweet.

“These ‘noir’ films no longer have anything in common with the usual kind of police reel,” Frank wrote. “They are essentially psychological narratives with the action—however violent or fast-paced—less significant than faces, gestures, words—than the truth of the characters.”

The films in question grew out of the hardboiled detective genre birthed by novelists like Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, and Raymond Chandler. Notably, two of the movies Frank wrote about—Double Indemnity and Murder, My Sweet, based on novels by Cain and Chandler, respectively—were set in Los Angeles, a city whose glamorous reputation became laced with stories of crime, scandal, and corruption…

Laced with corruption in the 1940s and ’50s, LA became the birthplace of a literary and cinematic style: “13 of the best noir films set in Los Angeles.”

* Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart), The Maltese Falcon (in the sequence pictured above; source)

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As we celebrate the gum on our shoes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1929 that the first Academy Awards presentation was held.  The brainchild of Louis B. Mayer, the awards were meant to to unite the five branches of the film industry, including actors, directors, producers, technicians, and writers.  As Mayer explained:

I found that the best way to handle [filmmakers] was to hang medals all over them … If I got them cups and awards, they’d kill to produce what I wanted. That’s why the Academy Award was created.  (source)

270 people attended the ceremony, which was hosted by Douglas Fairbanks and held over dinner at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel; tickets were $5 (about $74 in today’s coin).  12 awards were presented in 15 minutes: the award for Outstanding (now “Best”) Picture went to Wings.

It was the only Academy Awards ceremony not to be broadcast on either radio or television.

220px-1stOscars_1929 source

 

Written by LW

May 16, 2020 at 1:01 am

“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

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