Staff Picks December 2018

STAFF Picks (1)

Dragana’s Picks:

Movie: Tosca’s Kiss

toscas kiss“Captures the world of the ‘Casa di Riposa’ in Milan, the world’s first nursing home for retired opera singers, founded by composer Giuseppe Verdi in 1896. Featuring Giuseppe Manacchini, Leonida Bellon, Salvatore Locapo, Giovanni Erminio Puligheddu, and Sara Scuderi, its inhabitants are singers many of whom had significant careers on the opera stage, re-living and re-enacting their triumphant roles of the glorious past.”

CD: Carreras, Domingo, Pavarotti: Christmas Favorites from the World’s Favorite Tenorscarreras domingo pavarotti christmas

A collection of classic holiday songs performed by three of operas brightest and most beloved stars.

Emily’s Picks 

Movie: Gremlins

A great horror-comedy for those who want a more off-the-beaten-path holiday movie (or gremlinsjust a fun creature flick to watch anytime). A few good scares, lots of laughs, and great practical effects that still hold up today– all with a yuletide backdrop. It’s pure fun!

Audiobook: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaimanocean at the end of the lane

A wonderful fairytale for adults. Equal parts enchanting, frightening, and somberly reflective. You won’t be able to put this one down, and before it’s over it will make you laugh, shiver, and maybe even cry.

Jessie’s Picks

Movie: The Muppet Christmas Carol

muppet christmas carol“Miser Ebenezer Scrooge learns the true meaning of Christmas and reforms his heartless and money-grubbing ways after being visited on Christmas Eve by four ghosts.”

CD: Christmas Songs by Diana Krall diana krall christmas

A collection of Christmas classics performed by Krall, in her wonderful jazzy style.

 

Kim’s Picks

Movie: Southern Comfort

southern comfortWalter (The Warriors) Hill-directed cult film pitting perplexed National Guard soldiers against territorial Cajuns in a Louisiana swamp. A game of survival.

Audiobook: Strip Tease by Carl Hiaasen

“Murder, politics, and G-strings collide in this caper from the strip tease hiaasenbestselling author of Tourist Season. Hilarity and chaos break out in a strip joint when a bachelor party gets out of hand, making the drunken guest of honor a threat to ‘big money’ and ‘big government.’”

Mary’s Picks

Movie: Santa Claus: The Movie

santa claus the movie“This is the story of a master toymaker who discovers a magical kingdom of elves at the North Pole. He is entrusted with special powers to become Santa Claus! He meets Patch, an eager-to-please elf who becomes mixed up with a dastardly toy tycoon’s plans to take over Christmas.”

CD: The Nutcracker by Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky nutcracker highlights

The Berlin Symphony Orchestra performs highlights from Tchaikovsky’s timeless holiday classic.

Stephanie’s Picks

CD: Christmas Classics by Bing Crosby

bing crosby christmas“Some of Bing Crosby’s greatest holiday classics have come together for Christmas Classics. This collection includes White Christmas from the Frank Sinatra show in 1957, as well as his 1977 collaboration with David Bowie.”

Movie: BlackkKlansman blackkklansman

“Ron Stallworth, an African-American police officer from Colorado, successfully managed to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan and became the head of the local chapter.”

 

All quoted summaries by catalog.ccls.org .

Christmas ’68: Oliver!

“O stands not only for ‘Oliver!’ but also for Originality.  Like all the great works of the modern theater and screen, that’s what ‘Oliver!’ has.  ‘Oliver!’ is an original.  In the nearly ten years between the time Lionel Bart first set pen to paper to create its book, music and lyrics and the time of the release by Columbia Pictures of the lavish film version of the long-run, internationally-acclaimed stage success, there may have been many other attempts to capture that special blend of innocence and sophistication which is the essence of ‘Oliver!’s art but hardly one has come close.  That is why when you see ‘Oliver!’ it is an experience unlike any other.”

Nathan Weiss

 

It’s been 50 years since the musical film version of Oliver! premiered.  That was oliver posterDecember, 1968, in time for Christmas although the Dickens story is not specifically holiday-oriented and has a grim ending for Nancy (Shani Wallis) and her nefarious boyfriend Bill Sikes (Oliver [!] Reed, nephew of the film’s director, Carol Reed.)  Note that nephew Reed had previously been shot off a rooftop in 1961’s Curse of the Werewolf, so if you were looking for a nimble rooftop climbing thespian….

Director Reed would seem an unlikely choice to helm a big musical, said to be the largest ever mounted in England.  After all, he’d made his reputation with wartime documentaries like The True Glory and such suspense films as Odd Man Out, The odd man out posterFallen Idol, and The Third Man.  However, he had some experience with Jessie “The Dancing Divinity” Matthews in the thirties.  See Climbing High.

In Philadelphia, Oliver! played its months-long run at the Midtown Theater.  Tickets in the Orchestra for this reserved-seat roadshow were $3.00.  As with all roadshows the 60s, the colorful, information-packed program cost a mere $1.00.  In London, about 4,000,000 citizens attended Oliver! during its first year, generating over $3,600,000 in revenue.  The soundtrack was also a monstrous success.

The 60s were a time for musical roadshows that won the Best Picture Academy Award:  West Side Story (1961), My Fair Lady (1964), The Sound of Music (1965), and Oliver!, the next to last musical roadshow that was exceedingly sound of music posterenjoyable and received predominantly favorable reviews.  Wanda Hale of the New York Daily News praised it as “the best musical I have ever seen.”  The last roadshow musical to duplicate such success was Fiddler on the Roof (1971).  Like those other musicals, Oliver! had a plethora of exceptional songs that included the spectacular production numbers “Consider Yourself,” and “Who Will Buy?” plus “I’d Do Anything,” “As Long As He Needs Me,” “Oom-Pah-Pah,” and “Be Back Soon.”

It might seem curious that Oliver! won a Best Picture Academy Award in the year of 2001:  A Space Odyssey, but wait, 2001 was not even nominated!  So there’s little cause to complain.   Oliver! was as compelling and entertaining as the other nominees:  Romeo and Juliet, Funny Girl, The Lion in Winter, and Rachel, Rachel.

By Kim

 

References

Holston, Kim.  Movie Roadshows:  A History and Filmography of Reserved-Seat Limited Showings, 1911-1973.  2013.

 

Pimpernel Smith (1941)

Generally overlooked and underrated is this amusing, exciting and lightly propagandistic 1941 British film released in the U.S. in February, 1942, two months after Pearl Harbor. Scarlet Pimpernel, The (1934) A modern rendering of the old chestnut The Scarlett Pimpernel, the 1934 film version of which also starred Leslie Howard, this iteration features the actor as archaeologist Dr. Horatio Smith, surreptitiously spiriting from the Continent those considered undesirable by the Nazi regime.  Smith confounds Gestapo chief Van Graun (Francis Sullivan, a sort of British Sydney Greenstreet) at every turn, cheerfully baiting him on the subject of Aryan superiority and trying to convince him that Shakespeare was really the Earl of Oxford, “a very bright Elizabethan light, but this book will tell you he was a good deal more than that.”  Plus, “Perhaps you’d care to read about the Earl of Oxford.”  And, “The Earl of Oxford wrote that, you know.”  (Critics of those propounding this view generally say that no major actor ever supported it, neglecting to mention that Howard—and Chaplin, Orson Welles, Derek Jacobi and Academy Award-winning Mark Rylance—was a proponent.)  At the end of the film, withdrawing into the fog at the railway station, Smith’s words to Von Graun are oddly prescient:  “Don’t worry, I shall be back.  We shall all be back.”

PimpernelSmith1941PosterThe film helped inspire Sweden’s Raoul Wallenberg to begin rescuing Hungarian Jews.

Howard lost his life in 1943 when a plane carrying him and others from Portugal to England was shot down by German fighters.  According to David Shipman in The Great Movie Stars:  The Golden Years (1975), no British citizen was mourned as much as Howard.

By Kim

That Sort of Monster: Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

[SPOILER ALERT!  Some major plot elements are included in this analysis.]

“Yes, she was that sort of monster.  A woman who sought to possess everything she loved.  Who loved only for what it could bring her.  Whose love estranged her own father and mother.  Whose love pressed her father until he couldn’t call his soul his own.  Who by her own confession to me killed my brother, killed her own unborn child.  And who is now reaching out from the grave to destroy her own innocent sister.  Yes, she was that sort of monster.”

Cornel Wilde to Vincent Price

To someleave her to heaven, Leave Her to Heaven is a “ladies picture,” to others a bona fide film noir.  Certainly it has a definitive femme fatale in Tierney’s Ellen Berent, who demands unadulterated love from whoever she loves, and that’s a small pool:  her father and Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde), who bears a mild resemblance to her late dad.  We can only guess at the exact cause of her father’s death.  Heart attack?  Stroke?  Suicide?

The film opens outside Taos, New Mexico, where with her mother Mrs. Berent (Mary Philips) and adopted sister Ruth (Jeanne Crain) looking on, Ellen gallops around the crest of a mesa, letting her father’s ashes spill onto the ground before stopping her majestic palomino and leaning forward in silent grief.  Also observing from a distance is Richard.  A popular author, he is curious about the unfortunate death in the family that occasioned this ritual.  After a brief courtship, he and Ellen marry and visit Richard’s young brother in Warm Springs, Georgia.  Danny (Darryl Hickman) is making heroic attempts to walk.  Moving on to the lakeside Back of the Moon, an isolated Maine lodge, Richard continues his writing when not interrupted by Ellen, who begins to show signs of obsession.  She even suspects that her sister Ruth is vying for Richard’s affection.  Nor is Danny immune from her misguided suspicions.  In her world, no one is allowed to usurp her position as Richard’s perfect wife.  Eventually Ruth reveals how imperfect Ellen is:

“I don’t envy you, Ellen.  All my life I’ve tried to love you, done everything to please you.  Always have.  Mother, father and now Richard, and what have you done?  With your love you wrecked mother’s life.  With your love you pressed father to death.  With your love you’ve made a shadow of Richard.  No, Ellen, I don’t envy you.  I’m sorry for you.  You’re the most pitiful creature I’ve ever known.”

In addition to leave her to heaven 2Alfred Newman’s theme and score and the Technicolor cinematography (unusual for a noir but not unheard of), there are striking scenes beyond the early ritual on the mesa, in particular the finale:  Richard canoes to Back of the Moon.  Spying him paddling across the lake, Ruth rushes to the dock.  In a long shot that has the look of a painting, we observe his arrival and her anticipatory stance.  A closer shot shows her still planted to the spot, hands at her side, while he slowly exits the canoe.  Pause, then embrace.  It’s the “genius of the system,” i.e., the art of the classical Hollywood system before it bowed to changing times and supposedly more realistic filmmaking.

Note:  the razor's edgeGene Tierney was 20th Century-Fox’s leading lady in one of the studio’s top grossing films of 1944, Laura.  She was leading lady in the two top-grossing 20th Century-Fox films of 1945 and 1946:  Leave Her to Heaven and The Razor’s Edge.  In 1947 she got star billing over Rex Harrison in another of Fox’s successful films, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.  Although ranked a unique beauty and like many others possessed of a fine resume, Tierney is still neglected when it comes to the pantheon of great stars.  Wrote James Robert Parish in The Fox Girls (1971), “As a promising Broadway actress, Gene Tierney was wooed to Hollywood in 1940.  At Twentieth Century-Fox, she soon emerged as a carefully groomed screen figure, with aristocratic features.  Yet no matter what type of role she attempted, her good breeding and icy hauteur shone through.  As a consequence, she became typed as a one-dimensional chic stock figure.  She was at her best essaying highly emotional, impersonal characters.”

By Kim

August Staff Picks

STAFF Picks (1)

Dragana’s Picks
tunnel.jpgTV Series: The Tunnel
Remake of Danish-Swedish TV series The Bridge, but this time, a British and a French detectives must work together to resolves crimes. It casts old European enmities in a new light.mefistofele

CD: Mefistofele by Arrigo Boito
Not very known opera of Arrigo Boito, Verdi’s greatest librettist. Based on the tragedy Faust by Goethe. Excellent performance recorded in 1995, at Teatro alla Scala.

Jamie’s Picks
Thor-Ragnarok-Poster(2)Movie: Thor: Ragnarok
The best of the Thor movies; Taika Waititi brings his signature style (also directed What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople) to the superhero movie to great effect. This movie is hilarious and so much fun. I told my husband in the middle of it that I never wanted it to be over!room on fire

CD: Room on Fire by The Strokes
A classic album for early 2000’s pop rock. Punchy and catchy on the surface with somewhat melancholy lyrics. This album cemented The Strokes as a giant in indie rock.

Jessie’s Picks
black pantherMovie: Black Panther
This movie takes place after “Captain America: Civil War” and follows the new Black Panther as he becomes King of Wakanda. The great cast brings to life the complex characters of the wondrous kingdom of girl waits with gunWakanda.

Audiobook: Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart
Based on the true story of one of the first female deputies, this mystery series debut has humor, intriguing characters, and suspense. A good read for fans of historical mysteries!

Kim’s Picks
the killersMovie: The Killers
Talk about a debut. One-time trapeze artiste Burt Lancaster gets the lead role in this classic 1946 film noir featuring screen siren Ava Gardner and a host of great supporting and character actors. The action takes place in New York, Philly and Pittsburgh, where Edmond O’Brien’s insurance investigator orders a steak sandwich that looks more like creamed chipped beef on toast and proceeds to eat it with a knife and fork.

Audiobook: The Earth is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the the earth is weeping.jpgAmerican West by Peter Cozzens
This is a full-scale treatment of a long and violent episode in U.S. history. The major players are here: Sherman, Sheridan, Miles, Grant, Red Cloud, Captain Jack, Cochise, Geronimo, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse. The battles and massacres are here: Sand Creek, Little Big Horn, Wounded Knee. The tribes are here:  Modoc, Comanche, Apache, Shoshone, Nez Perce, Crow, Lakota. Cozzens investigates the effects of the press, racism, and the misunderstandings that ensued when a stone age and diverse culture confronted a more homogeneous and increasingly technological society convinced of its Manifest Destiny. One of many takeaways: cessation of the Northern Pacific Railroad’s construction was not caused by Indian attacks, rather the stock market Panic of 1873.

Mary’s Picks
the money pitMovie: The Money Pit
Great comedy from the 80’s. Classic Tom Hanks when he was just life of pibecoming famous.

Audiobook: Life of Pi by Yann Martel
When reading you first think this is just about a boy’s adventure stranded in the ocean, but by the end realize the story is much more complex with a lot of symbolism.

Stephanie’s Picks
white oleander.jpgMovie: White Oleander
An emotional drama centered around crime, foster homes, and the love between a mother and daughter.a colony in a nation

Audiobook: A Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes
Deft and thoughtful exposé on race and the “Two Americas” that we inhabit.

All quoted summaries from catalog.ccls.org.

Musings on Film Genre: The Minimalist View

Film genres blog post (1)

During recent decades it has been customary for film critics to scatter movie genres willy-nilly, e.g., “Buddy Movies,” “Disaster Films, “Epics,” “Biopics.”  But aren’t these really subgenres or components of already existing genres?  Buddy movies are usually Comedy or contained in the Crime, Mystery & Suspense genre.  Disaster movies are encompassed within Adventure & Historical; or Drama; or Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror.  Epics come under Adventure & Historical or Western, maybe War.  (Think The the great ziegfeldDevil at 4 O’Clock, How the West Was Won, The Longest Day).  Biopics are about real people but can take place in any time period, and the person in question could be a western lawman (Wyatt Earp), a medieval world conqueror (Genghis Khan), or a scientist (Louis Pasteur).  Biopics do not constitute a genre.  They are Drama—unless they are Western, like Wyatt Earp.  Or Adventure & Historical, like Alexander the Great.  Or Musical, like The Great Ziegfeld.  A biography of a singer or dancer is a Musical—as long as there is singing and dancing.

So what makes a film genre?  Writer Neil Gaiman contends that subject matter does not a genre make, but perhaps he’s applying this only to literature.  For the cinema, the number of movies made on a certain subject seems entirely appropriate to genre definition.  In other words, if hundreds or thousands of movies deal with, say, the winning of the west, the Western becomes a genre.

For in-depth, highfalutin analysis of film genre, see Film Genre Reader (1986) edited by Barry Keith Grant.  This investigates classification, the auteur, conventions, and so on.  In “Chapter 9. Genre Film:  A Classical Experience,” Thomas Sobchack refers to An Illustrated Glossary of Film Terms in which Harry M. Geduld and Ronald Gottesman “define genre as a ‘category, kind, or form of film distinguished by subject matter, theme, or techniques’.”  For those authors there are 75 film genres!

The minimalist, while not denying overlap, recognizes only 8 authentic film genres:

Adventure & Historical
Comedy
Crime, Mystery & Suspense
Drama
Musical
Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror
War (Combat)
Western

Let’s look at each.

Adventure & Historical.

Sometimes action is equated with adventure and the genre called Action Adventure, but action is not a genre because it can permeate such other genres as Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror; War; and Western.  Even Adventure, which might be defined broadly as a perilous journey where the characters overcome natural and/or man-made obstacles, is compromised on occasion by films in which the protagonists do not move.  For instance, The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) takes place in King John’s castle and nearby Sherwood Forest.  Garden of Evil (1954) is a Western first although it involves theraiders perilous trek. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is certainly Science Fiction yet it meets the criteria for Adventure:  again, a perilous trek.  Pirate movies fit here, don’t they?  But what about Pirates of the Caribbean?  Voodoo, ghost crews, and various oceanic monstrosities must relegate this franchise to the Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror genre.  Strictly speaking, Raiders of the Lost Ark is not Adventure.  A major supernatural element inhabits each Indiana Jones outing.

What about using true events to signify Adventure?  That ties it strongly to Historical.  What of The Last Valley (1970), which takes place during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) but is based on a novel?  Ditto A Tale of Two Cities (1935), which uses the French Revolution as backdrop but Dickens’ fictional characters in the prime roles.  Alexander the Great (1956) certainly covers a lot of geographic territory, so it’s Adventure and Historical.

“Costumers” is old lingo for historical flicks and is almost an insult in that such films may have little or no action. Think Forever Amber (1945).

Comedy.

If one wants to be truly minimalist, everything is either Comedy or Drama although Musical would subsume them both.  Many modern films are touted by the studios as comedies but are in fact in the crossover realm, Comedy-Drama.  See, for example, The Apartment; The Courtship of Eddie’s Father; Soldier in the Rain; The World of Henry Orient; Goodbye, Columbus; Crossing Delancey; Manny & Lo; The Family Stone.  The Comedy-Drama is hard to balance.  The Landlord (1970) begins amusingly but descends toward a gloomy denouement.

Comedy is rife with subgenres:

Black/dark comedy (The Loved One, Eating Raoul, Harold and Maude)
bringing up babyComedy-western (Along Came Jones, The Paleface, Cat Ballou, Texas Across the River, The Hallelujah Trail)
Romantic comedy (It Happened One Night, When Harry Met Sally, Notting Hill)
Satirical comedy (Dr. Strangelove, Being There, The King of Comedy)
Screwball comedy (Bringing Up Baby, The Devil and Miss Jones, The Lady Eve)
Service comedy (Operation Mad Ball, Imitation General, Don’t Go Near the Water, The Last Time I Saw Archie)
Sophisticated comedy (Trouble in Paradise, The Philadelphia Story, The Palm Beach Story)
Spy comedy (Our Man Flint, The Silencers, The Last of the Secret Agents?)

Question:  Is Being John Malkovich a Comedy or is it Drama?  Science Fiction?  Fantasy?

Crime, Mystery & Suspense.

It’s all about murder.  Other than comedic spoofs like Our Man Flint and The Silencers,anatomy of a murder.jpg espionage films fall here.  Trial films are properly in Drama because the crime itself is tangential to the story and usually not seen, e.g., 12 Angry Men, Anatomy of a Murder.  Film noir is not a genre, it is a style.  Terror movies without supernatural elements go here, e.g., Psycho; Die! Die! My Darling; Manhunter; The Silence of the Lambs.

Subgenres include heist (The Asphalt Jungle, Five Against the House) and prison (Brute Force, Riot in Cell Block 11) films.  Should prison films that do not feature riots and whose plots are not predicated on murder (Caged, Chained Heat) be designated Drama?

Drama.

streetcar.jpgWe know it when we see it, presumably.  Definitive dramas include The Good Earth, Kings Row, Gentleman’s Agreement, Death of a Salesman, A Streetcar Named Desire, Executive Suite, The Rose Tattoo, The View from Pompey’s Head, Sweet Smell of Success, Look Back in Anger, David and Lisa, The Sterile Cuckoo, Love Story, Play It As It Lays, The Paper Chase, Norma Rae.

Modern age biopics fit here, e.g., A Beautiful Mind.

Musical.wizard of oz

The musical genre is easiest to identify.  If there’s singing and dancing, it’s Musical.  Musical subsumes into its bailiwick all other subjects.  Thus The Wizard of Oz is Musical first, Fantasy second.

Tricky:  is a musical biography in which there is little or no singing a Musical or Biography, thus Drama, e.g., The Glenn Miller Story, The Eddy Duchin Story?

Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror.

Horror here is Supernatural horror, not merely “terror,” e.g., Psycho, Homicidal, The the thing.jpgSilence of the Lambs.  Those fit into Crime, Mystery & Suspense.

Science Fiction and Horror often overlap. Frankenstein is generally considered Horror, but the good doctor uses scientific means to create the monster.  Fantasy, too, may have elements of supernatural horror. The Thing from Another World (1951) is about a UFO and its dangerous passenger found in the ice, but the occupant acts like the Frankenstein monster—or Dracula, as it grows offspring using human blood.

War (Combat).

For the minimalist, War is the modern combat film, the hard helmet school as it were, thus beginning with World War I. Films dealing with pre-WW I battle belong in Adventure & Historical, e.g., The Crusades, Spartacus, Waterloo, Zulu, Kingdom of Heaven.

Subgenres include aerial dogfight (The Dawn Patrol, The Blue Max), submarine (The Enemy Below, Run Silent, Run Deep), POW escape (The Colditz Story, The Great Escape),great escape wartime planning (Command Decision, The Man Who Never Was), and wartime espionage (Pimpernel Smith, The Man Who Never Was, The Counterfeit Traitor).  Casablanca probably goes here even though there’s no real espionage going on.  People are fleeing the Nazis, not spying on them or waging a guerilla war, at least during the time of the film itself.  Should War be divided into Combat and Non-Combat? From Here to Eternity is, except for the attack on Pearl Harbor finale, a Drama of pre-World War II army life.

Western.

The Western, a distinctly U.S. genre, can be defined by geography and/or time period.  A Western should take place in North America, i.e., the United States, Canada or Mexico.  South America and Australia might deserve some consideration. See 1955’s The Americano with Glenn Ford and 1990‘s Quigley Down Under with Tom Selleck.

The time period is more problematic. Is The Alamo Western or Adventure & Historical?  northwest passageThe actual siege took place in 1836 in Texas. What about films set in the Colonial period? Northwest Passage or The Last of the Mohicans, for instance?  There are Native Americans in these films. But they are more properly Historical (based on a novel based on a good deal of fact). One often sees Civil War films classified as Western, but they are really Historical. However, there is a subgenre of movies in which Yanks and Rebs join forces to track (Major Dundee) or fight off the indigenous tribes (Under Two Flags).

Does the presence of Native Americans automatically make a film a Western? If so, the Floridian-set Distant Drums and Seminole are Westerns.

It is difficult to designate a starting time for Westerns. One might use the Civil War’s conclusion and the rapid expansion into the interior, but that was already underway almost as soon as Europeans entered the Continent, and the Oregon Trail became a way west for settlers in 1836.  (Trappers and traders had been out there for many years.)  Bad Company (1972) takes place during the Civil War, when the Union is rounding up young men in the hinterland and on the frontier for the army.  The protagonists, played by Barry Brown and Jeff Bridges, fleeing conscription, hightail it across the Mississippi and into the West.  The end of the Western?  Purists scoff at the notion that films set in the West and feature automatic weapons and cars (Big Jake) are to be included, but who can deny The Wild Bunch (1969) a honored place in any discussion of great westerns?  Or The Professionals (1966)?

Genre Crossover

Musical-Comedy.  What predominates?  Musical.  Again, if there’s singing, it’s a Musical.

To recap, biographical films cross genres, from Musical (The I Don’t Care Girl, The Eddy Duchin Story, The Rose) to Adventure & Historical (Alexander the Great, The Last Emperor, Lincoln).  Therefore Biography is not a distinct genre.princess bride

The Princess Bride is Adventure and Comedy, or, perhaps, amusement.  Adventure wins out.  Or does it?  There’s a perilous trek.  However….how about Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror with an emphasis on Fantasy?

Comedy-western or western-comedy?  For the minimalist, comedy takes precedence.

Discussion Questions

Where does King Kong (1933) fit?  The title character is a giant ape.  Are his nemeses, dinosaurs, which once lived, science fiction?  Is the film fantasy?  Maybe the genre of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror can encompass it.  Placing it in Adventure might not be out of bounds.  The Historical part sounds wrong, though.  It’s not based on fact.

Is Mark of the Vampire (1935) Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror?  In the end it is revealed that there were no supernatural blood-suckers.  So does it belong in Crime, Mystery & Suspense?  There is a murderOthers of this disreputable ilk include Curucu, Beast of the Amazon (1956), Macabre (1958) and I Bury the Living (1958).

How many songs must a film have to be a Musical?  Are a half dozen enough?

Elvis Presley’s Follow That Dream (1962) features songs but is otherwise a cute comedy apollo 13with darker elements (gangsters).  So it remains Musical, right?  Or Comedy-Drama with music that makes it Musical-Comedy?  It boggles the mind.

What is Apollo 13 (1995)?  It’s fact-based, therefore not Science Fiction.  It’s a prime candidate for the Adventure & Historical genre.

Does a jungle setting relegate a movie to Adventure?  Not necessarily.  The Naked Jungle (1953) mostly takes place on a plantation.  Only the army ants are going anywhere.

Conclusion

As this analysis demonstrates, most films fit without undue pressure into one of eight specific genres.  Others are more intractable.  Perhaps what is needed is a very large chalkboard on which, like mathematicians and theoretical physicists, film aficionados draw arrows and other symbols to establish relationships between genres.  Nevertheless, the nagging suspicion is that, as with 2001: A Space Odyssey, there is no final answer.

Written by Kim Holston

July Staff Picks

STAFF Picks (1)

Dragana’s Picks
history of ancient egyptGreat Courses Audio: The History of Ancient Egypt
You will definitely want to know more about the Ancient Egypt after listening to this Bob Brier’s enthusiastic, passionate and knowledgable story. Go back in time and learn about the pharaos, mummies, everyday life and influence of this amazing culture.220px-Justin_Timberlake_-_The_2020_Experience

CD: The 20/20 Experience by Justin Timberlake
This 2013 comeback album combines Justin Timberlake’s trademark shape-shifting digital funk with a warmer, more organic sound. Some big hits like “That Girl,” “Mirrors” and “Tunnel Vision.”

Jamie’s Picks
bourdainNonfiction DVD: Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations
Anthony Bourdain’s wonderful original travel show that uses food as a gateway to understanding a place, people, and culture. Bourdain shows that while fancy restaurants are well and good and there are chefs out there doing amazing work, it can be just as valuable and important to be invited into someone’s grandmother’s home for a great meal.siracusa

Audiobook: Siracusa by Delia Ephron
A story about domestic strife told via multiple perspectives with a somewhat unexpected ending that makes you wonder what you would do in that situation. A great beach read!

Jessie’s Picks
jumanji welcome to the jungleMovie: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
Hilarious adventure movie about four teens that get sucked into a video game and become their avatars. They then embark on a thrilling, and very amusing, quest to save Jumanji and get back home.circe

Audiobook: Circe by Madeline Miller
Miller wonderfully brings to life and retells the story of Circe, a daughter of a Greek god that plays an important role in Homer’s The Odyssey.

Kim’s Picks
it terror from beyond spaceMovie: It! The Terror from Beyond Space
Inspired by The Thing from Another World (1951) and inspiring Alien (1979), It! recounts an expedition to Mars (in 1973) to rescue the lone survivor of a previous mission who is suspected of murdering the rest of the crew so he could subsist on limited supplies until a rescue craft arrived.  To their eventual horror, an airlock is not closed before an unwanted passenger climbs aboard.  Soon it’s a fight for survival as the intruder thwarts humankind’s puny weapons as well as rays from the atomic pile powering the ship.  Rightly ranked by some as the best science fiction B movie of the 50s, It! might seem primitive to modern audiences but that doesn’t make it any less frightening.

Audiobook: Sapiens:  A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari sapiens
Unusual, superbly written history divided into four parts based on the continuum of physics to chemistry to biology:  The Cognitive Revolution, The Agricultural Revolution, The Unification of Humankind, The Scientific Revolution.  Harari astounds us with his insight, e.g., agricultural societies are more disease prone and work harder than hunter-gatherers, we live in a world of fictions, scientists who developed the atomic bomb should have received the Nobel Peace Prize for making future global wars nothing less than collective suicide, death by aging might become a thing of the past by 2050, neither invention nor a dogmatic belief in the inevitability of progress is true, humans might be advised to value the happiness of animals as much as themselves.

Mary’s Picks
War-horse-posterMovie: War Horse
An emotional and epic film for horse lovers with a great cast. Showing the trauma of WWI through the journey of a horse and the people he impacts.forever vienna

CD: Forever Vienna by André Rieu
Andre Rieu’s concerts are guaranteed to put you in a great mood. He is fantastic at really showcasing how wonderful classical music is.

Stephanie’s Picks
insecureTV Series: Insecure
Comedy series about two twentysomething best friends trying to navigate the navigate the tricky professional and personal terrain of L.A., while reconsidering their life choices.i see you

Audiobook: I See You by Clare Mackintosh
In this psychological thriller, danger lurks around every corner. You won’t want to stop listening.

All quoted summaries from catalog.ccls.org.

The Best (and Last) of the Bs

Cover imageIn common movie parlance, B stands for B, not A. The B movie could be made cheaply (“on a shoestring”), feature a cast of up-and-comers (Lee Marvin, Dennis Hopper), actors who’d found their niche (Randolph Scott, John Payne), character actors (Riot in Cell Block 11), or actors whose glory days were behind them (Van Heflin). Because of a tight script and competent behind-the-scenes personnel, B-movies could exceed expectations and even become classics. A prime example of this is Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), directed by low-budget master Don Siegel, produced by big-time Hollywood veteran Walter Wanger. B movies can have an edge major studio productions lack. Had they been large-scale studio films they might have been censored under the restrictions imposed by the Production Code until they were shadows of their former selves. The B movie was also termed a “programmer,” i.e., a small-scale production that could run as a matinee feature or part of a double bill with another B film plus cartoons and newsreels.

B movies have a heritage that goes back to the ’30s. Examples include the Three Cover imageMesquiteers western series, some of which starred the young John Wayne. “Poverty Row” studios like Monogram and Producers Releasing Corporation churned out innumerable B films in various genres, sometimes hitting a home run with the likes of PRC‘s Detour (1945).

It’s convenient, of course, to plot trends by decade, but it’s rarely true. The best and last of the Bs extended from the ’50s into the ’60s. Slowly TV took over as prime purveyor of film entertainment, helped when color became common by the end of the decade. Why go to the theater for a modest western when a modest western was on the tube every night? Double features and matinees were also on their way out. The “beach” movies petered out well before decade’s end. They were B movies to be sure, but hardly art or “good” except for the now iconic pop stars and groups who showed up to serenade the surfers, motorcycle men and molls, beach bums and assorted older actors and actresses generally slumming as crackpots or square adults.

The quality B movies released between 1951 and 1962 that are held in Chester County Library’s Multimedia Department are:

Cover imageFixed Bayonets (1951) — Gene Evans’ Sergeant Rock (!) doesn’t care if Corporal Denno (Richard Basehart) uses one or six bullets to kill a Commie, just do it!

The Prowler (1951) — Webb Garwood (Van Heflin) ingratiates himself with Susan Gilvray (Evelyn Keyes) after she complains about a peeping-tom. Adultery leads to murder and a slag heap.

When Worlds Collide (1951) — A star christened Bellus approaches the solar system and threatens life on earth. A rocket is constructed to transport a selected few to safety on Bellus’s orbiting planet, Zyra.

The Thing from Another World (1951) — A flying saucer crashes in the arctic. The Air Cover imageForce men who find it also discover its pilot, a very tall humanoid, frozen in a block of ice. Too late do they realize that an electric blanket has thawed out the less than benevolent visitor from space. “Keep watching the skies!” urges reporter Scotty.

Kansas City Confidential (1952) — A flower delivery man (John Payne) is set up to take the fall for a bank robbery in this intricately plotted heist film.

The Narrow Margin (1952) — Tough as nails police detective (Charles McGraw) escorts to a trial via train a prime witness who’s targeted for murder. Surprise ending.

Invaders from Mars (1953) — “Moo-tants! What would they want here?” is the anguished question Dr. Pat Blake (Helena Carter) asks the astronomer (Arthur Franz). But is it all a young boy’s dream?

It Came from Outer Space (1953) — Crash landing their spacecraft in the American Southwest (typical ’50s environment), aliens try to keep humans at bay while fixing their spacecraft. Richard Carlson helps them finish their task and tells teacher Barbara Rush they’ll return when the time is right.

Cover image99 River Street (1953) — John Payne again, this time as a one-time boxer turned cabbie framed for his shifty wife’s murder. With help from the underrated Evelyn Keyes (The Prowler), he proves his innocence and takes down the criminals.

Split Second (1953) — Murderous convict Sam Hurley (Stephen McNally) and his wounded companion take hostages in a Nevada ghost town the day before a scheduled atomic blast.

War of the Worlds (1953) — Although H. G. Wells’ classic adventure is updated to 1953 Los Angeles, it’s a decent rendering of the novel.

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) — The last of the now iconic Universal monsters Cover imagemakes his auspicious debut (he/it appeared in two other ’50s films) in the Amazon, where in a classic scene the creature parallels from underwater Julie Adams swimming above. Once again, it’s a beauty and the beast fable.

Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954) — Character actor all-stars in Don Siegel’s docudrama. Psychopathic Crazy Mike Carney (Leo Gordon) was actually incarcerated before becoming an actor and writer.

The Tall Texan (1954) — With a plot similar to the same year’s A production, Garden of Evil, this film features a bow and arrow sequence that is supremely dangerous.

The Big Combo (1955) — Subtext abounds in this gangster saga. Police Lieutenant Diamond (Cornel Wilde) aims to take down the criminal empire of Mr. Brown (Richard Conte) even as he develops a craving for his moll (Jean Wallace). Significant noir features Cover imagethe compelling hitmen duo of Lee Van Cleef and Earl Holliman.

Kiss Me Deadly (1955) — The threat of nuclear holocaust is the backstory in this noir classic featuring Ralph Meeker as Mickey Spillane’s uber tough private eye Mike Hammer.  How appropriate that his assistant is named Velda?

Shack Out on 101 (1955) — Propagandistic anti-communist tract is unintentionally hilarious tale set in a beanery on the California coast where hash-slinger Cottie (Terry Moore) dreams of working behind a desk in a great, big government building while fending off the advances of short order cook Slob (Lee Marvin), who just might have invented the V-neck t-shirt.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) The first and best of the “pod” movies features Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter as Santa Mira residents who discover their hometown has been infested by alien seed pods that recreate humans as emotion-less automatons. Where can you hide in a small town where everybody knows your name and residence?

Running Target (1956) — Modern-day western features a Colorado sheriff (Arthur Franz) reluctantly leading a posse to retrieve escaped convicts dead or alive.

The Killing (1956) — One of director Stanley Kubrick’s early films is a heist saga told from different viewpoints. Needless to say, the race track robbers don’t quite succeed. Chalk up another topnotch escapade for Sterling Hayden (The Asphalt Jungle).

Slightly Scarlet (1956) — One of the few fifties noir films in color features John Payne yet Cover imageagain, this time fending off two redheaded sisters, Rhonda Fleming and Arlene Dahl, who has the best line: “Oh please call me Dor, won’t you? A frank and open door.”

The Brass Legend (1956) — Just before his stint as TV’s Wyatt Earp, Hugh O’Brian faced down outlaw Raymond Burr, so large we feel sorry for his steed.

Seven Men from Now (1956) — One-time sheriff Randolph Scott tracks the men who killed his wife during a freight office robbery. Complicating matters are a husband and wife heading west, Apaches, and a gunman. It all comes down to a showdown between Scott and Lee Marvin.

Decision at Sundown (1957) — Randolph Scott stirs up the residents of Sundown, where he intends killing John Carroll, whose affair with Scott’s wife led to her death—or did it?

Cover imageThe Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) — After a radioactive cloud envelops Scott Carey (Grant Williams) during a fishing trip, he begins shrinking. In short order he must beware of the cat and what has become for him a giant spider.

The Tall T (1957) — Taken hostage along with fellow stage traveler Maureen O’Sullivan, Randolph Scott ingratiates himself with kidnapper Richard Boone and sows dissention among Boone’s cadre comprised of Skip Homeier and Henry Silva. When Boone goes to collect the ransom and Silva follows to make sure he’ll return, Scott gets his chance to survive.

20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) — Returning from Venus, a U.S. spaceship crashes off the Italian coast. A small container holds a strange reptilian creature that proceeds to grow and terrorize the inhabitants.

The Blob (1958) — Seminal goo movie has a Cold War subtext.Cover image

Buchanan Rides Alone (1958) — Riding into the Texas-Mexico border town of Agry, Randolph Scott finds himself at odds with two feuding families and stymied in his attempt to start a ranch.

Fiend Without a Face (1958) — At a Canadian research facility, scientists inadvertently unleash swiftly-moving brains that feast on human ones. Excellent special effects.

Hell’s Five Hours (1958) — Prescient thriller features Vic Morrow as mentally deranged, hostage-taking terrorist intent on blowing up a rocket fuel plant.

It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958) — Sometimes ranked the best science fiction B movie of the decade, this film can be seen as an inspiration for Alien and was itself triggered by The Thing from Another World (1951).

Thunder Road (1958) — Robert Mitchum had hoped Elvis would play his younger brother Cover imagein this drive-in circuit cult favorite about moonshiners.

The 4D Man (1959) — Robert Lansing invents an “electronic amplifier” that allows him to walk through solid objects and naturally visit vengeance upon his enemies.

Ride Lonesome (1959) — Bounty hunter Randolph Scott captures James Best, who warns Scott about the toll his brother Lee Van Cleef will take. Enter Karen Steele, the ingratiating gunmen Pernell Roberts and his sidekick James Coburn (his first film), and Indians. And don’t forget, Van Cleef is still out there.

Terror is a Man (aka Blood Creature, 1959) — A U.S.-Filipino co-production version of H. G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau has atmosphere in spades and the gorgeous Ms. Denmark, Greta Thyssen, as she who soothes the monster in this beauty and the beast scenario.

Comanche Station (1960) — Jefferson Cody (Randolph Scott) buys a recently captured white woman (Nancy Gates) from the Comanches but needs the help of Ben Lane (Claude Akins) and his gunslingers to make his way back to civilization. Surprise ending.

Night Tide (1961) — On leave sailor (Dennis Hopper) encounters the seashore sideshow Cover image“mermaid” Mora (Linda Lawson), who just might be the real thing. Besides the story, this is a snapshot of a California entertainment pier in the early ’60s.

Carnival of Souls (1962) — One of those movies that are probably less than meets the eye but have influenced future filmmakers.

Panic in Year Zero! (1962) — Veteran star Ray Milland acts in and directs this thoughtful apocalyptic thriller where the protagonists make sensible decisions to stay alive after a nuclear attack.

Were there any foreign language B movies in the ’50s and ’60s? Yes. The Italian “sword and sandal” mini-epics spawned by Hercules (1958) and Hercules Unchained (1959), and the late ’60s and early ’70s spaghetti westerns generated by Sergio Leone and Clint Cover imageEastwood’s “Man with No Name” trilogy (but not the classier Once Upon a Time in the West, Red Sun, and Duck, You Sucker). Also horror like Italy’s Black Sunday (1960). Japan contributed Godzilla (1954) and its kin, such as Rodan and Mothra. As for Britain’s Hammer Studios, their Gothics may have been lower budget than more mainstream films, but the use of color, sets, music and excellent acting raise them to a higher level.

Post written by Kim Holston

The League of Alternate Superstars: Joseph Cotten

Although he’s not well remembered by most people, especially those under, say, 50, citizen kaneJoseph Cotten, 1905-1994) had a superior number of classic movies to his credit.  A member of Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater ensemble, Cotten joined Welles on the director’s Citizen Kane (1941) and immediately afterward starred in the wunderkind’s star-crossed The Magnificent Ambersons (1942).  With Welles uncredited, Cotten starred with him in Journey Into Fear (1942, U.K., 1943 U.S.)

That was quite an initiation for a novice film actor but the quality work continued throughout the ensuing decade.  (It is hardly ever noted that even the biggest stars, the legends, rarely appear in excellent and successful movies for more than a decade.  In this sense, David Shipman downplayed Cotten’s career in The Great Movie Stars:  The International Years.)

Next up for Cotten was Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943), the murder mystery that turned the star’s charming demeanor upside down.   As Teresa Wright’s Uncle Charlie, he ingratiated himself with his niece’s family, but she soon realized there was something terribly dark about him.

gaslightIn Gaslight (1944) Cotten was part of a triumvirate of topnotch stars that included Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer.  That same year Cotten returned to form, playing a naval lieutenant on leave who provides Claudette Colbert and her children (Jennifer Jones, Shirley Temple) a shoulder to cry on in Since You Went Away.

Cotten would see much more of Academy Award-winner Jones, who became a lifelong friend.  First up was Love Letters (1945), followed by the western epic Duel in the Sun (1946), and in 1948 they co-starred in the romantic fantasy Portrait of Jennie (1948).  For that he received the Best Actor International Award at the Venice Film Festival.  (Cotten had co-starred with another Academy Award winner in 1947’s The Farmer’s Daughter:  Loretta Young.)

third manThe end of the decade reteamed Cotten and Orson Welles in the classic The Third Man (1949).   Everything revolved around Cotten despite Welles playing the title character.

Like Richard Widmark in Don’t Bother to Knock (1952), in 1953 Cotten may have been cast to help 20th Century Fox’s rising star Marilyn Monroe improve her acting.  The film was Niagara, a big success.

As the fifties progressed, Cotten, like so many others, found himself on TV and increasingly in character parts.  Nevertheless, on occasion he found some leading movie roles.  Based on Jules Verne’s novel, From the Earth to the Moon (1958) saw him as the leader of the expedition.

During this time Cotten continued doing radio programs.  In fact, he’d begun on radio in the 30s.  His voice was perfect for that medium as it would be when he narrated the 22 episodes of the 1963 TV documentary, Hollywood and the Stars.

lady frankensteinFollowing Vincent Price and Ray Milland into the horror genre, he battled Price’s maniac in The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) and that same year played Baron Frankenstein in the low budget but curiously compelling Italian horror movie Lady Frankenstein.  Then came another Italian horror film, Baron Blood, in which he menaced Elke Sommer.

About his life and career Cotten had no regrets.  He married actress Patricia Medina and closed his autobiography with, “I continue to love my wife passionately, spiritually, and completely.  That she calmly and unregretfully closed the door on a thriving and glamorous movie career to be at my side, tells of her love for me.  We are ordinary, extraordinarily lucky people.  For that, all I can say is ‘Amen’.”

By Kim

References

Cotten, Joseph.  Vanity Will Get You Somewhere.  1987.

Shipman, David.  The Great Movie Stars:  The International Years.  1972.

June Staff Picks

STAFF Picks (1)

Dragana’s Picks
art of the stealDocumentary: The Art of the Steal
This excellent documentary follows the struggle for controlling the art collection of Dr. Albert C. Barnes and the Philadelphia Barnes Foundation. It is about how you can steal art worth billions and violate Dr. Barnes last wishes.villa lobos

CD: Villa-Lobos Par Lui-Même by Villa-Lobos
This disc is for the Villa-Lobos lovers and has a lot of historical value. It is Villa-Lobos’s vision of his work and almost all pieces are conducted by himself. Recorded between 1954 and 1958, and performed by the Orchestre National de la Radio Diffusion Française.

Jamie’s Picks
Lady_Bird_posterMovie: Lady Bird
Funny and affecting coming-of-age story of a Sacramento teenager and her complicated relationship with her mother. Excellent acting by Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf.
when-they-call-you-a-terrorist-1
Audiobook: When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors
A powerful memoir that poignantly depicts what it was like to grow up black around LA at the height of the war on drugs and the generational effects of imprisonment and surveillance on a community.

Jessie’s Picks
cocoMovie: Coco
Heart-warming Pixar film about a young Mexican boy that loves music, but his family does not. He travels to the Land of the Dead, meets his musical idol, and discovers his family’s history.still life

Audiobook: Still Life by Louise Penny
The first book in the numerous awards-winning Three Pines mystery series. The characters and the setting, which makes you want to travel to small Quebecois towns, sets this series apart from other mysteries. In this book Chief Inspector Gamache travels to Three Pines to solve the murder of a retired school teacher/ amateur artist.

Kim’s Picks
panic in year zeroMovie: Panic in Year Zero!
Only months before the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, moviegoers were presented with this apocalyptic film about a middle-class California family on vacation trying to survive a nuclear attack and remain civilized.  Academy Award-winning actor Ray Milland (The Lost Weekend, 1945) directed this very compelling low-budget thriller.

Audiobook: The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story by Douglas Preston the lost city of the monkey god
Preston, a prolific author of crime (the Pendergast series), true crime (The Monster of Florence), and modern-day adventure (Talking to the Ground:  One Family’s Journey on Horseback Across the Sacred Land of the Navajo) here details another authentic contemporary saga:  the expeditions into the pristine Honduran department known as  Mosquitia in search of La Ciudad Blanca, the fabled “white city,” aka City of the Monkey God.  Writing for National Geographic, Preston accompanied the camera crew, archaeologists, sponsors, and two British ex-special forces men into a savage habitat replete with poisonous snakes, sucking mud, and disease-carrying insects.  The journey was only possible after the forest canopy was penetrated with lidar (Light Detection and Ranging).  The explorers paid a high price for their discoveries as many came down with the horrific and often fatal parasitic disease known as Leishmaniasis.  Despite the discovery of a lost civilization, serious issues must be addressed:  who created the white city and its satellite population centers centuries ago, what catastrophes caused the citizens to leave, and how can we combat the spread of tropical diseases and potential pandemics when deadly microbes take advantage of global warming to move north?

Mary’s Picks
divine secrets of the ya ya sisterhoodMovie: Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
A true chick flick, with a great female cast. After years of mother-daughter tension, Sidda’s mother’s friends kidnap her to try to bring them closer together.the secret

Audiobook: The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
Great introduction to the law of attraction, the power of positive thinking and how it effects your entire life. Listeneing to this audiobook just puts you in a good mood.


Stephanie’s Picks

young adult.jpgMovie: Young Adult
Raw and honest, funny yet uncomfortable to watch at times, Young Adult is the story of a writer of teen literature who returns to her small hometown to relive her glory days and attempt to reclaim her happily married high school sweetheart.

Audiobook: Defending Jacob by William LandayCover image
“Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney in his suburban Massachusetts county for more than twenty years. He is respected in his community, tenacious in the courtroom, and happy at home with his wife, Laurie, and son, Jacob. But when a shocking crime shatters their New England town, Andy is blindsided by what happens next. His fourteen-year-old son is charged with the murder of a fellow student.”

All quoted summaries from catalog.ccls.org.