I’ve been thinking about this film lately so I watched a few clips on Youtube, I have a Japanese import dvd somewhere but I haven’t run across it in a while. The shots in the party scene are so amazing, so fluid, so space delicious , I don’t think their baroque splendor was reached until Fellini’s 8 1/2 and this was Welles 2nd film! The interesting sequence of Joseph Cotten trying on different types of clothing, shoes, hats illustrating the evolution of sartorial styles is unique in Cinema. The wonderful opening shot of the house and the horse drawn carriage that comes by and the orchestrated movement in the frame is unequalled in timing, simplicity, complexity. It’s not boring one shot that doesn’t move with a kind of Victorian vignetting, incredible. I read some where that Welles, enfant terrible of radio, recorded the dialog for the big dance scene as a radio play, worked with the actors till the timing was perfect, then played back the dialog on the set as they filmed and the actors had to say their lines in sync with the recording! It seems impossible but the scenes are obviously(to me) dubbed. And these are some intricately choreographed moving shots! With overlapping dialog no less. It really is unbelievable.
The way characters move from light into darkness, become silhouettes, then are illuminated again, so beautiful, tenebrae is the term for this dramatic lighting effect. The wonderful performances, all great.
The movie does have a kind of a downer tone that was out of sync with it’s time, WWII and all, probably why it tested poorly, but it was ahead of it’s time, it plays better now. Watch Joseph Cotten’s speech about the impact of the automobile on civilization, brilliant .
The idiotic regime that replaced Schaffer at RKO hated Welles, so did a lot of people in Hollywood, they resented this upstart and they didn’t understand him so they tried to destroy him. And they did a pretty good job, even though it was at a high price to themselves! If they had not reclaimed the silver from the original negative of Amersons by melting it down, they would have been able to release the Directors cut in theaters all over the world, on VHS, dvd, Blu Ray. They would have made a fortune from it. As a fortune was made from Citizen Kane over the years. I can think of no other lost film I would rather see than Welles cut of Ambersons. It’s like a dream, the idea of going into a theater and seeing the whole thing. Welles went to Rio to shoot “IT’s All True” before Ambersons was completed. Franklin Delano Roosevelt had persuaded his friend to take on this project to foster good feelings between South America and the USA, keep them from joining the Fascists. I read that Robert Wise sent a work picture and track down to Rio for Welles to watch and comment on. No one seems to know what happened to that print. Could it still be down there in rusty cans, in storage somewhere, in an old warehouse. The heat and humidity might have turned the nitrate film stock into highly explosive goo but maybe there’s a chance it was put in a cellar somewhere, a vault, and it exists. Lying there in the darkness ,the plastic realization of a young man’s genius, like frozen thoughts, Donovan’s Brain in it’s fish tank, waiting.
Welles on the Ambersons set, Robert Wise the editor 2nd from left. Welles blamed him for the hatchet job
Ambersons was one of the favorite films of Jean Pierre Melville. He speaks of it in a book of interviews I once read. He comments on a scene between Joseph Cotten and Anne Baxter (playing his daughter). How Mellville remembers seeing the “cottony trees” they were walking through even though the scene is in a close 2shot and you don’t get a good view of the surroundings, Welles created this unseen world in the viewers minds by the actors voices, a direct link to Radio.
Holt never really wanted to be an actor but he was born into it, Hollywood Royalty, a member of the Beverly Hills polo club. This was a big year for Tim, he appeared in Ambersons and The Treasure Of the Sierra Madre, not bad!
Welles did not appear in Ambersons but he did the voice over, and narrated the credits at the end, one of the first times a film appeared with no letters on the screen (other than the RKO logo and the main title). Once again Radio rears it’s antennaed head.
Future filmmakers beware! Never walk away from your film before it’s finished! Even if FDR and Rockefeller are beseeching you to do so! This action on Welles part not only “ruined his best film” but put a huge dent in his fledgling yet stratospheric career. A pattern that repeated itself throughout his films, he left Touch Of Evil to go down to Mexico to set up a new project, but that film fared much better than Ambersons, they even recut it following a 100 plus page memo Welles left behind. Oh well if only somebody stumbling out of a World Cup match wanders by mistake into an old film vault and kicks over a box and cans marked RKO spill out otherwise we’re left with the image from the end of Citizen Kane but it’s not Rosebud that’s consigned to the flames, it’s the missing negative of The Magnificent Ambersons.
Here’s some interesting documentaries on that super genius Orson Welles that I discovered on Youtube. They are really worth watching, the one about Citizen Kane demonstrates how little Orson knew about film grammar when he arrived in Hollywood. But he surrounded himself with talented people and absorbed everything like a sponge.
Here’s a piece about the restoration of Touch Of Evil.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Bunker Hill is old town, lost town, shabby town, crook town.” Raymond Chandler.
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.
If you look closely you can see Seymour getting off an Angel’s Flight car.
“My name is Leonora Clyde”. Mel Welles (Gravis Mushnick’s) real life wife, Meri Welles.
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.
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.
Added Halloween Bonus - Color Still from Griffith and Corman’s Attack Of The Crab Monsters
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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