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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Classic Hollywood

John Huston's 'Let There Be Light' online: Kenneth Turan's pick

May 24, 2012 |  9:28 am

This week's DVD pick is not a DVD at all, but a free video on demand streaming and downloading of one of the most significant of American documentaries, a controversial film that has been restored in a very specific way.

That film would be 1946's "Let There Be Light," John Huston's groundbreaking documentary that was one of the first, decades before post-traumatic stress disorder was a term, to document the terrible things combat did to the minds of soldiers.

The candor of this film helped get it almost immediately pulled from distribution, and it was not until 1980 that its release to the general public was authorized.

One problem with the film that did not go away was that many of the soldiers interviewed were hard to understand because they mumbled or whispered their stories. Now, as a result of a National Film Preservation Foundation grant, the National Archives has restored the soundtrack, and the result, easy to hear for the first time, is available courtesy of the NFPF's website (www.filmpreservation.org) starting Thursday.

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-- Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic


LACMA film series celebrates California noir

May 17, 2012 |  5:00 am

Kiss me deadly lacma noir california

Los Angeles is the city of sunshine and light, the city that's like a day at the beach, the city that ... you get my drift. That line of chat may work with the suckers, the tourists and the rubes, but if you live here, you know there's a corrosive darkness lurking below the surface in perpetually sunlit L.A., a spiritual malaise that makes this town rotten to the core.

Hardly the City of Angels, this is a place where bad people come to do worse things and live to tell the tale. Or so the crackerjack films featured in “The Sun Sets in the West: Mid-Century California Noir” would have you believe.

Starting Friday at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Bing Theater, in conjunction will the museum’s “California Design, 1930-1965” exhibition, “California Noir” features a superb selection of 10 little-seen films that benefit greatly from the widescreen, 35mm treatment. Though the films are squeezed into four packed nights, it’s genuinely exciting to have a classic repertory series back at LACMA, especially one of such first-rate quality from beginning to end.

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TCM Classic Film Fest: Stanley Donen on Hepburn, censors and more

April 13, 2012 |  9:00 am

Stanley donen tcm festival
When director/producer Stanley Donen took home an honorary Oscar in 1998, “in appreciation of a body of work marked by grace, elegance, wit and visual innovation,” he turned on the charm at the Academy Awards, hoofing it up and singing “Cheek to Cheek.”

A former Broadway chorus dancer, he made his mark on Hollywood co-directing and choreographing musical classics with Gene Kelly — 1949’s “On the Town,” 1952’s “Singin’ in the Rain,” and 1955’s “It’s Always Fair Weather.” Beginning with 1951’s “Royal Wedding” — best known as the film in which Fred Astaire dances on the ceiling — Donen also had great success as a solo director. He went on to helm 1954’s “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” with Jane Powell and Howard Keel; in 1957 he came out with both “Funny Face” with Astaire and Audrey Hepburn and “The Pajama Game,” starring Doris Day. In 1958 came the romantic comedy “Indiscreet,” with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, and later the 1963 romantic thriller “Charade” (with Hepburn and Grant) and the 1967 romantic drama “Two for the Road” (with Hepburn and Albert Finney).

Donen, who turns 88 on Friday, is appearing three times at the Turner Classic Movies Festival in Hollywood this weekend for screenings of “Funny Face,” “Charade” and “Two for the Road.” We caught up with him recently.

The TCM Film Festival is screening all three movies you did with Audrey Hepburn. She is my favorite actress. I hope you had a great time working with her.

She was wonderful.... We only had one disagreement.... On “Funny Face,” there was a scene where she danced in a black slacks and top. She said [I want to wear] black socks and I said no, white socks. She said it will ruin [the uniformity]. You can’t have white socks. I made a test with her in the white socks and she kept saying black socks. We were right up to the moment of starting the sequence. I went into her dressing room and said, “Audrey. We are never going to agree — you will have to wear the white socks.” She said all right. When the rushes came in she wrote me a little note: “Dear Stanley, you were right about the socks.” She was glorious looking. She was a lovely, lovely person. We stayed friends.

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TCM Classic Film Fest: See home movies made by stars

April 13, 2012 |  7:45 am

Long before reality shows, viral videos and TMZ, Hollywood types loved to make home movies of their lives — on sets, hanging out at their mansions in Beverly Hills, relaxing on their boats in the Pacific, visiting Disneyland.

On Saturday evening, the TCM Classic Film Festival will be screening a selection of such home movies at  the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel — you can see Esther Williams teaching her children how to swim, Steve McQueen taking his two kids to Disneyland, and Fred MacMurray and his family relaxing and having fun at home.

The films are from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ archive. Randy Haberkamp, managing director, programming, education and preservation at the academy, and Lynne Kirste, special collections curator at the archive, will present the one-hour treasure program of silent 8mm and 16mm films.

Film history professor Bob Koster, the son of veteran director Henry Koster (“Three Smart Girls,” “The Robe,” “My Cousin Rachel”) will be appearing at the program commenting on behind-the-scenes footage his father shot of two Margaret O’Brien films he made for MGM: 1944’s “Music for Millions” and 1947’s “The Unfinished Dance.” The former child star O’Brien will also be talking about her experiences on the films. Also participating will be McQueen’s ex-wife, Neile Adams McQueen Toffel.

The program, said Haberkamp, calls attention to the academy archive “and specifically home movies, because it’s such a unique thing — when you get these home movies, particularly that were shot by or featuring celebrities, it is a unique window [into their lives]. You have people just being themselves. You get to see them as kind of how they are as opposed to being in a role or being a star. It’s fun to see that ‘normal people’ reflection.”

Koster said that his father was “almost a compulsive picture-taker. We have about 10 hours of movies. There is altogether way too much stuff of me as an infant playing on the lawn.”

Hollywood’s elite loved taking home movies, said Koster, because “don’t forget people in the movie industry, and this is not meant in any pejorative way, but in order to be successful they have to have a tremendous sense of themselves. They have to have an ego much larger than the average Joe. So of course they wanted to take movies recording what they did because it fed their ego. It was satisfying to them to have this record of their lives and work.”

Kirste said that the academy archive has some 2,000 reels of home movies. “They vary in length,” she said. “We probably have several hundred hours. We are getting more all the time.”

She noted that unlike many of the films these Golden Age of Hollywood stars appeared in, these home movies are in color. “There is great color footage of people you have only seen in black and white up to that point,” she said. “I have never seen Fred MacMurray in color in 1936. We have footage where you see [actors] really young and in color.”

The behind-the-scenes footage shot on productions were also shot in color. “We are going to show some behind-the-scenes of ‘Heidi’ with Shirley Temple,” said Kirste. “The film is in black-and-white but the footage is in color. There is something really great about that. It kind of brings it to life in a different way.”

For more information on the event, go to tcm.com/festival.

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Around Town: 'Last Picture Show' and Duncan Jones

November 17, 2011 |  6:00 am

Duncan
A 40th-anniversary reunion screening of “The Last Picture Show,” a tribute to the vintage TV series “Insight” and a personal appearance by filmmaker Duncan Jones with screenings of his films “Moon” and “Source Code” are among the offerings this weekend.

Director Peter Bogdanovich and stars Cybill Shepherd, Cloris Leachman, Timothy Bottoms and Eileen Brennan join host Luke Wilson on Thursday evening at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Samuel Goldwyn Theater for the special presentation of “The Last Picture Show.”

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Jane Russell, an outlaw in more ways than one, dies at 89

February 28, 2011 |  8:24 pm

Among the many striking facts about Jane Russell, the mid-20th century screen siren who died Monday, is that soldiers named pieces of geography after her: Russell was "a bona fide star and a favorite pinup girl of soldiers during World War II. Troops in Korea named two embattled hills in her honor," The Times' obituary of Russell notes.

Russel Of course that's far from the most striking thing about her. Russell -- who died at 89 in Santa Maria, Calif., after a battle with a respiratory illness -- was the actress who changed much about movie marketing when her role in, and publicity photo for, the Howard Hughes western "The Outlaw" drew the ire of production-code censors.

The 1943 movie, which highlighted Russell's full figure, was eventually released without code approval and made millions, prompting directors such as Otto Preminger to follow suit and setting the stage for much of what is now a given in contemporary moviedom, which cleverly (and sometimes not-so-cleverly) uses sex to sell new releases.

Anyone who grew up during and after World War II knew her, and modern actresses -- not to mention movie marketers, who've borrowed often from the controversy-as-selling-point playbook -- owe plenty to her.

Despite more than three decades on stage and on screen, with roles in films such as "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" -- where she often played a character amusedly aware of her own vixenish qualities -- Russell never evolved into an A-list actress. "Except for comedy, I went nowhere in the acting department," she acknowledged in her 1985 memoir. "I was definitely a victim of Hollywood typecasting."

And despite her legacy as someone who challenged a repressive status quo, there was this fact: Russell was actually a deeply religious political conservative.

More on a colorful career here.

--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: A publicity photo from "The Outlaw." Credit: Reuters

 

 


Does today's Hollywood stack up to the Hollywood of decades past?

October 29, 2010 |  6:43 pm

Gone
One of the perks, or hazards, of writing about contemporary films is that you often get letters and messages from readers about the weakness of said films. Nothing today, goes the refrain, is as original/good/uncynical as it once was (which is probably why the remake trend both exists and gets people so riled up).

Like analyzing World Series teams from different eras, these are questions entirely without resolution,  but not without arguments (and arguers). Are "Inception" and "Avatar" as groundbreaking in this era as "The Wizard of Oz" and "Gone With the Wind" were in theirs? Could Humphrey Bogart or Marlon Brando act circles around Matt Damon or Javier Bardem?

The cable network TCM has now tried to see how pervasive these feelings really are. To commemorate its upcoming airing of the seven-part series "Moguls and Movie Stars: A History of Contemporary Hollywood," the channel polled 1,000 people (nearly half of whom self-identified as “classic film enjoyers”) to see how the current film era measures up in the popular imagination.

Certainly there are some achievements that, quite literally, can't be compared. Even if an overhwhelming number of respondents (71%) believe that Denzel Washington "carries on the tradition" of Sidney Poitier, most of them wouldn't deny Poitier faced obstacles few contemporary black actors do.

And one hopes that some of the findings aren't representative -- such as when nearly 25% of respondents said they believe that Antonio Banderas exemplifies, more than anyone else, Errol Flynn in the modern era. (The survey design may also skew the results, as the questions cite the older era but all of the multiple-choice answers come from the present-day; it might have been more instructive to include choices from a number of eras and see where each landed.)

Still, in many respects the survey shows that we believe the present is, in fact, just as good as the past.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents, for instance, believe that Steven Spielberg's influence matches that of Alfred Hitchcock. And 73% were willing to say that modern power couples such as Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt or Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones stack up favorably to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

There may be a kind of cognitive dissonance at work here. In the abstract, we might think that the old days were better. But when we actually get down to specific comparisons, we rather like our current stars and films.

There were, of course, some exceptions. When asked if there was a contemporary version of Marilyn Monroe, "None of the Above" outranked everyone, even Jolie. Some things really were better in the past.

-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Gone with the Wind. Credit: MGM.

 


Kenneth Turan's critic's pick of the week: Music Box Steps Day Film Festival

October 21, 2010 |  8:45 am

The-Music-Box
There are numerous iconic film locations in Los Angeles, places like the Griffith Park Observatory,  beloved by fans of  "Rebel Without A Cause." But for sheer joy, it's hard to top a certain 133 steps in the Silver Lake area.

As all fans of Laurel & Hardy know, those stairs were the site of the classic short "The Music Box," a one-of-a-kind opus showing the hard time these two had moving a piano on that unforgiving terrain.

Celebrate that film and those guys at the 16th annual Music Box Steps Day Film Festival on Oct. 23 between noon and 3 p.m. The location is just across the street from those stairs at Laurel & Hardy Park, between 923 and 935 Vendome St. in Silver Lake.

In addition to showings of the film, there will be a raffle, crafts, free refreshments and Laurel & Hardy lookalikes. In other words, fun for the entire family.

-- Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic

Photo: Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in a scene from the 1932 film "The Music Box." Credit: file photo


At an academy tribute, Blake Edwards gets himself out of a fine mess

October 1, 2010 | 10:44 am

Blake Edwards, the filmmaker best known for his sexy and stylish comedies, always did things his way. Which makes it fitting that, as the audience at his academy tribute Thursday night welcomed him to the stage with a standing ovation, his first words were: "Can I go now?

Edwards got serious quickly, though, replying to an early question from his frequent producer and collaborator Walter Mirisch with, "I'm having a kind of hard time tonight because I did five films with Tony Curtis and he passed away recently -- today, I guess -- and it's a little hard to accept, to be humorous about myself and my career. I just want to say before I do whatever it is I'm going to do here, to think of Tony and wish him well. I'll miss him."

Edwards The 88-year-old Edwards seemed alert and thoughtful as he sat in a wheelchair (which at one point he railed against with an  "I hate this [gosh-darn] thing"). Following a reel of clips from 11 of Edwards' films, including four "Pink Panther" pictures, "The Party" and "Breakfast At Tiffany's," Edwards gave an affectionate shout-out to wife Julie Andrews.

"I never had a great deal of luck with permanent relationships with females until my current spouse of 40 years. Although she is to some extent a pain in the... she has so many virtues." He went on to say that he will often lie in bed at night "and hope to make a version of 'Saint Joan' for her to star in and to make sure it was a real fire."

Mirisch asked Edwards to recall the time they met with Peter Sellers in a New York restaurant to discuss the possibility of playing Inspector Clouseau in the first "Pink Panther" movie. "I've kind of blocked him out," joked Edwards, adding that Sellers was "a man who had nightly conversations with his dead mother, things like that which make it very hard to reminisce." And Edwards did get in a dig at fellow comedic filmmaker Billy Wilder. "Billy I admired," he said, before adding "There was for me a certain pomposity about him.... He didn't much care for me as a talent."

After Edwards again asked everyone to take a moment to remember Tony Curtis, the crowd rose to its feet for another standing ovation, and Edwards was assisted up out of his wheelchair, standing briefly as the applause swelled even louder.

A few moments later, the lights went down and a screening began of Edwards' 1981 film "S.O.B." A scathing satire of Hollywood morals -- or lack thereof -- the film features oddball directors, ground-down careerists, imperious starlets, pill-happy doctors, meddling studio execs and snoopy gossip reporters. As a fitting end to the evening's tribute to Edwards, the nearly 30-year-old film simply seemed to say that Hollywood, for better or worse, has been this way for quite a while.

-- Mark Olsen

Photo: Blake Edwards and Julie Andrews at the tribute. Credit: Valerie Macon/Getty Images


Tony Curtis' Hollywood legacy

September 30, 2010 |  5:29 am

Sweet

He was nominated for only one Oscar, but Tony Curtis leaves behind a big-screen legacy as few other actors have or, for that matter, probably ever will.

The actor, who died late Wednesday night at the age of 85 at his home in Nevada (you can read The Times' obituary here), was shortlisted by the academy for his role as a racist convict in "The Defiant Ones."

It was one of numerous parts that epitomized Curtis' career and shaped a filmgoing zeitgeist throughout the 1950s and '60s. In "Sweet Smell of Success" (1957), Curtis played a slick and shady press agent to Burt Lancaster's equally unscrupulous Broadway publicist. In the Blake Edwards' World War II comedy "Operation Petticoat" (1959), Curtis inhabits the role of a submarine officer with unorthodox motives and methods.

Billy Wilder's 1959 comic romp "Some Like It Hot" had Curtis and Jack Lemmon as struggling Chicago musicians who fled town while dressed as women to escape the Mafia. (A funny scene from that film, with Curtis and Lemmon in drag, is below.) In the screwball comedy "Sex and the Single Girl" (1964), Curtis plays a reporter for a men's magazine who impersonates a psychologist to get closer to a successful author (Natalie Wood).

Later in his career, the 1968 drama "The Boston Strangler" saw Curtis taking on the heady character of a disturbed serial killer.

The actor with the pin-up looks continued working well past the point when most performers would have hung it up and simply accepted lifetime achievement awards. (He was slated, at least according to some databases, to take on a role in an upcoming adaptation of the Edgar Allan Poe story "Morella.")

In his personal life, Curtis was almost as colorful as he was on screen, from his humble beginnings as the son of immigrants in the Bronx to numerous marriages, a stint in rehab, a second career as a painter and a stubborn refusal to go quietly into old age. Curtis' life and Hollywood history are  permanently entwined -- he played opposite iconic actors as diverse as Sidney Poitier and Marlyn Monroe. And of course he was married to Janet Leigh, with whom he fathered Jamie Lee Curtis.

But what's perhaps most remarkable about Curtis' career was his fluid ability to move between comedy and drama, and our willingness to embrace him in both. In the current era of typecasting, few even try, and those who do rarely succeed.

-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Tony Curtis as Sidney Falco in 'Sweet Smell of Success.' Credit: United Artists

[For the record, 6:10 a.m.: An earlier version of this post said Lauren Bacall played the successful author in "Sex and the Single Girl." She played the married woman who lives next door to Curtis; Natalie Wood played the author.]



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