Model Shop

Written by Joe D on April 9th, 2014

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Jacques Demy came to L.A. in 1968 and made a film, Model Shop. I knew nothing about this film when I watched it and I suggest you watch it in the same state of innocence, you will be rewarded with a delicious surprise. Like other European directors who came to Hollywood to make a film, Demy finds the extraordinary in our ordinary, beauty in plain sight, yet invisible to most Americans who take it for granted or in the case of L.A. (where Model Shop is filmed) downright hate it. The comparison that comes to mind is Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point, a much maligned film that I like. Both of these films were flops at the Box Office but so what, they capture a Los Angeles at a point in time like a fly trapped in amber.
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With the sucess of Easy Rider and other counter culture films, producers were desperate to cash in on the youth craze and gave young directors like Demy a shot. Anouk Aimee is wonderful, so beautiful, so feminine, so mysterious.
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Do yourself a favor , do not watch the trailer or read anything about Model Shop, just watch it. It’s photographed by an ex-pat Frenchman who moved to Hollywood, Michel Hugo and he does a wonderful job, the Technicolor portrait of L.A. is stunning, and the locations are great. It looks like they filmed in the real places in the story. I met Michel many years ago when he was teaching a cinematography class. He also shot the 1st Kolcack, The Night Stalker, one of the best TV movies of all time. Gary Lockwood is good, enigmatic, handsome. All American. He was fresh off his big role in Kubrick’s 2001,
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Demy wanted an unknown actor he found, Harrison Ford but the studio said no, here is some footage from a screen test Ford did for Demy.

I guess Anouk was reprising her character from Demy’s first film Lola, but I haven’t seen it yet so I’ll report back after checking it out. Anyway take a trip down Memory Lane, the 60’s , psychedelia, Vietnam, the music of Spirit and check out Model Shop.

Anthony Mann Retrospective

Written by Joe D on February 3rd, 2014

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The Mann Himself directs Mia Farrow

UCLA is screening a retrospective of the films of Anthony Mann. Mann, a broadway actor turned film director was highly regarded by European filmmakers like Godard and Wim Wenders. His films are visually stunning and well paced, being an actor he got some great performances from his casts. He started making noirs at Republic ,PRC, Eagle -Lion and RKO, doing a lot with a small budget. His noirs are noteworthy for his collaboration with the great cinematographer John Alton. Then he graduated to Westerns, teaming with Jimmy Stewart for several stand out films, like Winchester ‘73 and The Naked Spur. Here is a link to the films and showtimes, see you there!
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Tomas Milian dubs for Sergio Corbucci

Written by Joe D on January 20th, 2014

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Here is a fascinating segment showing the great Tomas Milian dubbing a film for his frequent collaborator maestro . I love that Corbucci and the engineer are laughing at Tomas’ funny performance and that Corbucci is wearing shades in the recording studio. Also check out the Italian foley artists at the end, so cool. I think that films where the entire soundtrack is created in post have a fascinating atmosphere, especially the Italian ones from the 60’s but also films like the dubbed Mexican Horror films, the Braniac, Curse Of the Crying Woman, The Witches Mirror, and parts of Plan Nine From Outer Space. The film they are working on here is Sonny and Jed.Thanks to my friend Eric Zalvidar for turning me on to this clip.

Here’s a trailer for the film they’re working om.

Luis Bunuel- Maestro of Cinema

Written by Joe D on December 4th, 2013

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Here for your viewing pleasure is a delicious documentary about the great Luis Bunuel. I really like how it’s made, very funny edits, a question is asked or a statement is made and the next shot refutes it or answers it, very creative. You can listen to one of the Giants of Cinema discuss his Art, there is a wonderful discourse on Nazarin, a beautiful film, that is worth the price of admission all by itself. This film was part of a French Television series called A Filmmaker of Our Time. Who would they profile today?

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Michelngelo Antonioni’s La Notte, Fellini’s La Dolce Vita

Written by Joe D on November 15th, 2013

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I just got the Criterion Blu Ray release of La Notte, it is fantastic. If you are at all interested in this film, get it you won’t be disappointed. Such a visually stunning film, set in Milan in 1961, the center of the Italian Economic Boom, it contrasts the old and the new city in brilliant ways. In a way this is what the film is about, the characters in this changing landscape, this changing, evolving world, and what it does to them. An investigation into the function of human emotions in this rapidly changing theater, do they still make sense? Do they have to evolve as well? These characters, figures in a landscape, that are so cut off from everything. Three of the greatest Cinema actors of all time grace this production, Marcello Mastroianni, Jean Moreau, and the sublime Monica Vitti, Antonioni’s Muse.
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Marcello and Moreau were unhappy with this film, probably because Marcello has never seemed so weak, so dissatisfied, so nothing. Moreau on the other hand is much more alive, curious, searching. Her intelligence and sensitivity are revealled in snatches of conversation, a monolouge, glances, gestures.
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Antonioni celebrates the power and intelligence of women better than anyone else, especially considering the time and place this film was made, Italy,1961, a male dominated culture. His women are so much more interesting than his men, he saw the gifts and insights women have to offer and illuminated them so clearly. A sign of his maturity as an artist and human being. All this and more is expressed by the incredible camerawork of Gianni Di Venanzo. This guy has become my favorite cameraman of all time, such a genius,his framing is so unorthodox and powerful, his use of Black, amazing, people are always turning off lights and becoming inky silhouettes, or moving through darkness and light. Plus this film has many wonderful mysterious reflecting surfaces, sometimes you can’t tell what’s real, people become ghosts floating through Architecture. Bravo Gianni! A Poet of the Eye, the camera.
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There is a little booklet that comes with the Criterion release, in it Antonioni speaks about the gestation of the film. He had the idea before L’Aventura and had begun working on it. He thought a less attractive woman would be good for the lead, so he went to see Giulietta Massina, wife of Federico Fellini and talk to her about the film. Fellini loved the idea and said it would make a fantastic film. But Antonioni didn’t make it at that time and changed his mind about the lead, using the compelling Jean Moreau.
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Fellini went on to make La Dolce Vita with Marcello Mastroianni, a film that shares many elements with La Notte. The male leads are both writers, alienated, losing their creative spark. Both films have important characters that are encouraging to the artistic sides of the writers, friends that wind up dead. Steiner in La Dolce Vita, Garani in La Notte.
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There are scenes in nightclubs featuring exotic dancers in both, fetishistic, sexualized performances by people of a different race. Monica Vitti is the bored beautiful daughter of a super rich businessman that firts with Marcello, Anouk Aimee plays that part in La Dolce Vita. Vitti has a reel to reel tape recorder she plays with, recording her spoken thoughts that she erases, Steiner has a reel to reel also that almost reveals his innermost thoughts. A working woman at a snack bar on the edge of town, in kind ofa run down area tells Moreau of a nearby hotel she can use for an assignation, Anouk takes Marcello to the run down apartment of a prostitute to have sex with him. They both have climactic scenes at a huge party on a big estate that wind up with decadent games. Both end at dawn after the party, even the cmaera movement through the trees in the final scenes is similar.
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Ennio Flaiano was a screenwriter on both. La Dolce Vita was a huge hit, probably because of the controversy surrounding it, the Church banned it, people were forbidden to see it, a sure way to increase ticket sales. I don’t know how La Notte did at the box office, it is an uncommercial film but it is interesting to compare them, these two artists obviously inspired one another, I wonder what their relationship was like? In any case see La Notte. A vision of the future of Makind from 1961.
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Griffith and Corman’s Little Shop Of Horrors- Happy Halloween!

Written by Joe D on October 29th, 2013

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I’ve always loved this movie ever since I saw it on ABC’s afternoon movie or whatever that show was called. I watched it again recently and I still dig it. First off the music of Fred Katz, kooky, idiosyncratic Jazz brilliantly arranged and a lot of fun. And unique I can’t think of any other music that sounds like it. The credits are sort of animated to the music with theses appearing, disappearing dots and then this pan of a gigantic drawing of skid row in a kind of Gottlieb style, super cool.

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Chuck Griffith about to be eaten, he also supplied the voice of the monster plant

The writing of Chuck Griffith is at it’s off beat comic peak, so many bizarre character names, so much wordplay, really inspiring and funny. It’s kind of a re-tread of Bucket Of Blood, a nebbish becomes a famous Artist but has to kill people to create his Art, that character Walter Paisley is portrayed by Corman stalwart Dick Miller, who appears in LSOH as a flower eating buddinski Burson Fouch. There is some great wriying in BOB as well especially the Beatnik poetry that opens the film. Another thing about LSOH, the wonderful Bunker Hill locations featured in the scenes outside Mushnick’s Flower Shop.

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“Bunker Hill is old town, lost town, shabby town, crook town.” Raymond Chandler.

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Chuck’s real life Grandmother,Myrtle Vail, played Seymour’s mother

Seymour Krelboyn’s rooming house is right out of Kiss Me Deadly, the scene where Seymour meets Leonora Clyde, the hooker, looks like it was shot at the top of Angel’s Flight.

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If you look closely you can see Seymour getting off an Angel’s Flight car.

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“My name is Leonora Clyde”. Mel Welles (Gravis Mushnick’s) real life wife, Meri Welles.

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Then Seymour runs by a bar on a corner at the top of a steep hill, the bar has glass brick windows and I’m sure it’s in either Act Of Violence or Cry Danger, I’ll check and see.

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It’s funny when I was a kid I loved certain movies and always tried to catch them on TV, LSOH, Kiss Me Deadly, The Indestructible Man, all shot on Bunker Hill! The neighborhood that got erased. Anyway give yourself a Halloween Treat and watch Little Shop of Horrors, check out Jack Nicholson’s appearence as the maschostic mortician. Crazy Man.

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Added Halloween Bonus - Color Still from Griffith and Corman’s Attack Of The Crab Monsters

Two Men In Manhattan

Written by Joe D on October 10th, 2013

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A crazy film, maybe Melville’s transitional film between films of conscience ( usually coming from his time in the French Resitance) and his Crime/ Noir / Detective Period. A Classic detective film format, guys searching for someone, going from one colorful location to another on a search for clues. In this case the mythic playground of Manhattan at Night. Beautifully photographed like a memory of a dream, a dream with deep, rich blacks. First stop to interview an actress at the Mercurey Theater, a nod to Orson Welles company of the same name. Melville was a Welles fanatic, often quoting The Magnificent Ambersons as a big influence. Like the title says there are 2 men in manhattan, 2 characters on a quest, usually in the detective film there is only 1, Is Melville makiing a point? Both men are French ex-pats living in NYC, one is an alcoholic photographer willing to do anything to get the valuable picture, move a dead body and pose it for a more salacious effect, abuse an attempted suicide patient at a hospital to get some intel, sell out a hero of the French Resistance.

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The other guy is played by Melville himself, cool, dapper, digging the night life of Manhattan in all it’s shades and stratas of culture, legitimate theater to Brooklyn strip club and after hours jazz joint.

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But he draws the line at ruining the reputation of a French National Hero, even if the guy was stepping out on his wife, so what, 50 million Frenchmen can’t be wrong. In other words they all do it, it’s not a big deal. Still why are there 2 guys? Is it to show the different mind set of a Frenchman (melville) and an Americanized Frenchman? The differnt values systems? What happens to immigrants to a new country, how they take on the ethics of the new place? Could be. The film takes place in the course of one night, it ends on the streets in the early morning as the photagrapher wanders home, it really reminds me of a movie I saw once, the way it’s framed the location, even the way the character walks off, maybe it’s Robert Wise’s film Somebody Up There Likes Me? I’ll have to check. If you love Melville’s films, love the Romantic notion of Manhattan Past, love B&W cinematography then see the film, a lesser work from a Maestro of Cinema but intriguing and visually stunning.

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Michaelangelo Antonioni’s L’Eclisse

Written by Joe D on August 17th, 2013

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I just watched this on Hulu Plus, it’s not out on BluRay yet so I will wait to buy a copy, but hurry up Criterion! What a beautiful film, two amazing actors in their young, glorious prime. I’m speaking of the incomparable Monica Vitti and the super cool super handsome Alain Delon.

But don’t read this or watch the clip of Scorsese below until after you have seen the film. See it in your innocent state unaware of the treasures it holds, then come back and read this if you like, I don’t want to compromise the experience of seeing this film for the first time for anyone.

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A visionary director at the peak of his creative powers and my new favorite cameraman of all time, Gianni DeVenanzo,(what a genius!) There’s something about a director in love with his leading lady that can be stupendous. I am reminded of Godard and Anna Karina, they made such beautiful, honest, moving films together.

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Maestro and Muse
Here Antonioni does it with his Muse Monica Vitti, the love scenes that play out in this film are so real so immediate, I dare you not to be transported back to your own first stirrings of intense passionate love. it is all photographed so beautifully and allowed to breathe and live on the screen, to me when a film is really working, it’s like it comes to life on the screen before your eyes, like the characters can step off the screen and dance around the theater or the top of your Steenbeck. The film going through the gate seems to pulse with life, to breathe. This is true Cinema, the magical machine that captures the essence of humanity and preserves it like a fly in amber for all time. I don’t even care what this film is about, Italian stock market crash, white African neighbor, breakup of one relationship beginning of another, it’s the informed point of view of the filmmakers that really elevates it to the stratosphere, a point brought home by the amazing montage at the end of the film, it goes on for 10 minutes, it features none of the actors even though Antonioni plays a trick on the viewer by having a blond woman enter the frame during this sequence, is it Vitti? No it’s just some woman walking through the same spot where some of our story took place.

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This montage shows the culture alive at that moment recorded by an artist, it can’t help but convey his world view, his philosophy in a series of seemingly random images, but this is another basis of Cinema in the capable hands of an artist like Antonioni. Jess Franco had the ability to say so much with just an establishing shot of a European city, you somehow got more than some shots of buildings at dusk, a clock tower, whatever, it’s not just postcards when filtered through the mind of a genius.  It’s like a Jazz musician playing a riff on Civilization, improvising with images and ideas. And by the by these sequences are usually accompanied by music. Images and Music, does it get any better than that?

And here for your viewing pleasure and cinematic edification is  Martin Scorsese discussing Antonioni.

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Norman Foster’s Woman On The Run

Written by Joe D on August 5th, 2013

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Hey I’m on a Norman Foster kick. I just heard about this film. The czar of noir Eddie Mueller showed it recently to an enthusiastic crowd, it has great San Francisco locations and a wonderful final scene at an amusement pier complete with laughing fat lady dummy and roller coaster. An amazing roller coaste sequence that has some almost abstract photography shot from the moving coaster. Very effective, I watched it on YouTube and the quality is not good. Hopefully someone will put a dvd out soon, I’ll buy it!

Plunk your Magic Twanger Froggy and watch Woman on The Run

Norman Foster, Peter Lorre, Mr. Moto

Written by Joe D on August 4th, 2013

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I’ve been watching the Mr. Moto film series that was made at 20th Century Fox. They have all been digitally restored and released in a 2 volume dvd boxed set. Great Job by all involved, I really enjoy the special features, a short film about a person involved with the series.  The films are very well made, low budget productions shot on the left over sets from the high budget films. Because less money was at stake, and owing to the genre, the filmmakers were able to let their imaginations run wild and pull off some amazing content.

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First of all you have Peter Lorre, arguably one of the greatest Cinema actors of all time, just watch Friz Lang’s M or Hitchcock’s  The Man Who Knew Too Much. Lorre had to flee Nazi Germany, he wound up in Hollywood. It’s tough to re-establish yourself in a new culture, many emigre’s didn’t make the switch but Lorre did. Mr. Moto is an interesting character, he’s kind of like Batman, rich, super intelligent, tough as nails, Moto is a Jiu Jitsu expert, and ruthless. He routinely kills his adversaries ( usually ones deserving such a fate) He is also a combination of Good and Evil. During Think Fast Mr. Moto you are not sure what side he’s on for a lot of the picture. This adds a lot of dimension to the character and with an actor like Lorre you are assured of a great ride at the Cinema.

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Harvey Parry
The stunts and fights are top notch, there is an interview with veteran stunt man Harvey Parry on one of the discs that is wonderful. Parry was a diving champion and national boxing champion who doubled for Lorre or as he called him Pete. A superb athelete he flings himself on his adversaries with such abandon it exhilarates the heck out of you. There is an amusing anecdote told by Louise Brooks about William Wellman’s Wild Boys Of The Road that I think involves Parry, (I’ll have to find it again and make sure I’m right before I include it.)

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Norman Foster
Finally we come to the amazing Norman Foster, an unsung hero of Hollywood. The Moto films that he co-wrote as well as directed (6 of the 8 ) are models of atmosphere, action, intrigue and efficiency. Usually starting with documentary footage from far off lands then plunging into action with Moto in one of his many disguises, they take off and don’t let up, the only dull spots are usually the romance angle between the two white leads. Moto doesn’t get to have a romance although their are some Asian women that work as his accomplices.

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Foster directed Journey Into Fear for Orson Welles during Welles tenure at RKO, Welles loved what Foster did with the Moto films.

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Sloan, Cotten, Welles, Mercurey Players

He also directed the My Friend Bonito, segment of Welles aborted It’s All True project. Later Foster wrote and directed the TV series Zorro for Walt Disney, The opening of Zorro is a tour de force of filmmaking. I heard Foster even wrote the Zorro theme song, which is memorable and features a great section with the word Zorro echoing at you from all angles, as if to say you never know where Zorro will strike next.

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Foster, Disney, Zorro
He directed Davy Crockett for Disney as well and that series created a phenomenal cultural effect, selling coonskin caps to all the kids. Foster also directed episodes of the Batman series, another work of cultural iconographic significance. And another story of an underdog, a loner fighting for Justice, a theme Foster excelled at. Interestingly enough Orson Welles spoke of his interest in making a Batman film back in the 40’s when the character first appeared. Strange that Foster would work on it .

There should be a book written about this great artist. I get the feeling he was not a big self promoter, that he put all his efforts into creating excellent films that blasted their way into our consciousness through sheer power of image making and storytelling. A critical study of this man is long overdue, let’s hope it happens soon.

David Lynch Interview

Written by Joe D on July 7th, 2013

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Here is a blast from the past. an interview with David Lynch from 1979. And it takes place at the location of Eraserhead, actually the early scenes of Henry wandering through an industrial waste land.

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The interesting thing is it’s an old oil field where the Beverly Center now sits, I always thought it was shot in Philadelphia, PA. There is also some great footage of people leaving the theater after seeing Eraserhead and their reactions to the film. You can see all this here.
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William T. Cartwright- Filmmaker, Editor . Saviour of The Watts Towers

Written by Joe D on July 1st, 2013

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I was saddened to learn of the death of William Cartwright. I didn’t know him but every citizen of Los Angeles and really every human being owes him a debt of gratitude. Mr. Cartwright was a filmmaker and editor, cutting some impressive documentaries while working for early TV maven, David Wolper. His work on  1964 ’s The Making Of the President won an Emmy. He also edited some feature films, produced and directed documentaries and had a long creative career. Bill was lucky enough to study at USC under the great Slavko Vorkapith, montage maker from the Golden Age of Hollywood and major Film Theoretician, a huge influence on American Avant Garde Films of the 50’s and 60’s.

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Vorkapich at work
But the (to me) most incredible thing Mr. Cartwright accomplished began back in 1958. He was going to visit a relative and he got lost driving around South Central Los Angeles, he turned a corner and lo and behold, a shimmering surreal vision appeared in the midst of a borderline urban tract, the Watts Towers!

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He was amazed and wanted to know more, soon he was buying the Towers from their owner, not the man that built them, Simon Rodia, but a neighbor that Rodia gave them to.
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Once purchased, he learned they were to be torn down so he conducted a stress test to prove to the City they could withstand an eartquake. They are still here thanks to this man’s efforts! ( and a lot of others he recruited to help) What a wonderful gift to the future citizens! If you haven’t been there, GO! They are a marvel, a testament tpo the Creative Spirit of One Man and the determination to preserve them of another.

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