Thursday, September 03, 2015

All Wet Crazy Irishman

Well, I'm half Irish. But this post isn't about me. It's about Leo McCarey. I watched a few movies lately, so it's time to post!

  • Have been reading this lovely old tome: Who the Devil Made It by Peter Bogdanovich 

This book has always been one of my greatest inspirations for my enthusiasm for silent film and classic film and, of course, great directors. There's probably nothing more engaging than the first interview in the book, the one with director Allan Dwan, which takes you through the birth of the silent era as if you were there. Anyway, yesterday I realized I hadn't read everything in this book, despite owning it since it came out! So I read the segment on Leo McCarey, the Crazy Irishman, as his section is headed. I think I avoided it because I haven't seen that many of his films, nor had he made much of an impression. However, it was great to read it. Now that I've gotten involved in sketch comedy writing and performing, as well as screenwriting, it was really fascinating to see how they came up with ideas so quickly and turned them into Hollywood movies almost on the fly sometimes. This matches my experience now in real life, to some degree, even though many stories are written carefully with more forethought as well. Both situations can create valuable work. When the inspiration for ideas is lightning quick, it is best captured when you are fortunate enough, like Leo McCarey, to have a job that is paying you to come up with those ideas.

Otherwise, for those poor fools (the rest of us!) toiling away trying to come up with one great indie movie idea, it's really a lot harder, and we can't seem to have the luxury of rapidly snatched ideas tried many times over the years. No one's paying us to snatch those out of the air, and they just kind of pile up until you lose enthusiasm for capturing them-- because there isn't a directly palpable outlet for them. It is almost equally important to develop and tweak those ideas with quick additions made on the fly during writing and even on the day of filming. An interesting tidbit from this interview that proves that point was Leo liked to stop filming and play piano on set while he waited for inspiration to solve a problem or get a particular bit of business just right. This reminded me of Jean-Luc Godard on Breathless (1959) writing for the entire morning of shoot days and then only filming in the afternoon. So brazen on a first film, can you imagine?! In this manner, previously written ideas get better. I have also realized this in writing live sketch comedy: by working with the actors, and seeing it on its feet, and then also utilizing their great ideas, the ideas finally start to achieve a comedic reality. It's a true collaboration-- always. And to stare at the blank page and hope it will fully come to life-- well, unfortunately there's not anything else for the struggling feature screenwriter to do, but oh, how there is still so much more to be done when it gets into the hands of the actors and director! The "idea," the script that we write-- that isn't a finished product. Only the film is, and that is a different animal, so of course "writing" essentially continues in a very different way. Directing and shaping performances can almost rewrite a scene without changing a line.

This book continues to be a great inspiration, and I luckily nerdily owned so many Charley Chase DVD sets that I was able to pop in one of the short silent films that Leo McCarey directed and watch it immediately after reading his interview. So that was really fun, and it was quite a fun Charley Chase comedy, although seemed only half survives of the 2-reeler. It was "All Wet" (1924) (thus my title above). Oh, darn, as I was checking that date on IMDB, it claims Janet Gaynor is an extra in it! Bollocks, have to go back and watch it again..! It was a fun movie despite only half surviving, with a really great gag with a car getting pulled further into the mud than you can imagine. It was not McCarey's first film directing. He directed some days on sets of Tod Browning features, but his own fully directed first feature (at least according to Bogdanovich's book) was Society Secrets from 1921, and I do not know if that one survives.

And embarrassing admission time now, all the most famous Leo McCarey movies, I haven't seen them! Really not sure how I missed so many films by a fellow Irishman! Maybe because he was born in California, so can't really trust that type of Irishman, can ya? My sad report is I had seen only Duck Soup and The Milky Way, plus the Charley Chase silent shorts and many Laurel & Hardy silents that he either directed or more often was supervisor (with frequent story origination or collaboration via oversight). So I feel well-steeped in his comic sensibilities from those Laurel & Hardy and Charley Chase films, but I guess it's time to watch his most acclaimed films that you've probably all already seen, but here are some of the bigger hits if you didn't know: The Awful Truth (1937), Make Way for Tomorrow (1937), Going My Way (1944), The Bells of St. Mary's (1944), An Affair to Remember (1957), Ruggles of Red Gap (1935), and Love Affair (1939).

But mainly just thanks to Peter Bogdanovich for writing such a great book and taking the time to interview all these directors, even when they were coughing on their deathbeds, as Leo McCarey was-- he practically helped kill him?! It's a pretty amazing thing when a book can inspire you to rush right out and try to watch the person's movies.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Moment of Truth (1965, Francesco Rosi) and Last Holiday (1950, Henry Cass)

Shorter posts better than no posts?

I watched two films from the amazing Videotheque rental store in Pasadena, CA

The Moment of Truth (1965, Francesco Rosi) severely disappointed, was quite boring. It wasn't shocking when I watched the bonus interview and he said he shot without a script! 
This is a go-nowhere, predictable bullfighting movie with excellent bullfighting footage.
It may be unduly praised for breaking ground in the latter, documenting something important in detail
and capturing all the elements of it.

But... it doesn't document the emotions of bullfighting, or the philosophical questions it can engender,
which I think Budd Boetticher does much better in Bullfighter and the Lady (1951) and The Magnificent Matador (1955) with Anthony Quinn. I really would skip this and watch other Rosi like Hands Over the City (1963) and Salvatore Giuliano (1962), which are far more rewarding.

This was the second time I'd seen the lovely Alec Guinness film Last Holiday (1950), but I oscillated between like and dislike. First, delighted glee at how much fun it is, primarily with the main concept of how well he does once he no longer has anything to live for. Fascinating concept, but this time I noticed, despite his brilliant acting, ever engaging to watch, the script pops in a few contrivances and adds bits of business not that is not very well honed to a single main theme and muddies the sharpness of what could have been an intimate masterpiece. Some delightful character actor appearances, but I now swing back to my own British roots (born there) and join my British brethren at the time of release who found it a bit of a miss, as opposed to my original American reaction (I've lived here way longer!) which originally thought it was a masterful overlooked gem. Although this was a second viewing, so I think for theme and performance it is a compelling enough film to still warrant a hearty recommendation for a Saturday evening viewing.

Cheers, and I'll try to write more later!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Andy Warhol SLEEPover

Check out this exciting screening:

Watch Andy Warhol's Sleep, 5 hours!, nighttime screening, "bring pillows"!

Also, got a film? Screen it at Echo Park Film Center's "Open Screen" coming up Thursday Dec. 5.
Thursday, December 5 – OPEN SCREEN – 8 PM
Our cinematic free-for-all dares you to share your film with the feisty EPFC audience. Any genre! Any style! New, old, work-in-progress! First come, first screened; one film per filmmaker; 10-minute maximum. DVD, VHS, mini-DV, DV-CAM, Super 8, standard 8mm, 16mm.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Jean Rouch Films at UCLA Jan 25, 2013

This is a great and rare opportunity to see the highly-praised films of Jean Rouch. Finally Criterion is releasing his Chronicle of a Summer (1961), but before that, there was nary a single Jean Rouch film anyone could find on video. I first got all jazzed on him, without seeing anything, by reading the Cahiers du cinéma critics heaping praise on him in their '60s articles, available in translation from various sources. So far I only had one chance to see a film by him, which I think if memory serves was "Les Maîtres fous" ("The Mad Masters") at a rare screening in L.A. at Pacific Design Center. And it was great! It was a cultural anthropological documentary on the native rituals still being performed by a very isolated African tribe. Great stuff.

But now, the opportunity arises to see not one, not two, but a whole mess load of Jean Rouch films-- predominantly on film, for those who care--  and see if those Cahiers du cinéma boys were on to anything with this fellow. At the very least, you can go back in time and immerse yourself in the heady intellectualism of 1960s French cinema as it intermingled with new philosophical currents. Don't miss it! Criterion may be releasing one film by him, but I've been waiting at least 15 years since first reading about him to see anything other than that one short film, so let it be known, this is rare, rare, rare, cinephiles!

And okay, so maybe you don't know me from Adam, so I'll let Werner Herzog convince you (from the UCLA site):
"Les Maîtres Fous—The Mad Masters—one of the truly great films." - Werner Herzog
Here is all the info, thank you UCLA screening series for always being awesome!

I can't figure out how to quote a full Web page yet, so these are cut off, just click to read the full version.

PS - I am remiss in just noticing now that additional screenings are taking place at Redcat and L.A. Film Forum Even better!!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Alain Resnais interview

Great little interview with Alain Resnais!

I'm pretty sure this is taken from some Criterion bonus material.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Charles Dickens and Silent Cinema, Plus Ultra-Rare Works by Dziga Vertov

Here is a very cool intro to what was going on in the early days of silent cinema, especially for those who have become curious about the early days of movies after learning about Georges Méliès in Scorsese's Hugo.

In other news, UCLA is hosting a jaw-dropping showcase of ultra-rare films by the incomparable film experimenter Dziga Vertov. While best known for Man with a Movie Camera (1929), his other work is perhaps even more incredible, especially his Kino-Pravda newsreels, in which he displays an eye for composition and montage that is more modern and unique than even some of the most experimental filmmakers we have today.

Vertov screening info here.

If you were not aware, he was also a huge influence on Jean-Luc Godard, who formed "The Dziga Vertov Group" with Jean-Pierre Gorin in 1968, during his most political period of filmmaking.

The only negative about the show — and it is a huge one — is that unless you live there, the UCLA Billy Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum is nigh impossible to get to. With some screenings brilliantly scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at the height of Friday night rush hour, these great works may go unseen. If you live there, please take advantage of this treasure trove of the rarest work by one of the greatest Soviet montage artists of all time. For the rest of us, we just have to be in Westwood already earlier in the day, or else allow two hours if you live on the east side or Valley. Or petition the theater to adopt a more sensible 8:30 p.m. screening time; they would start to attract bigger crowds. All L.A. theaters should consider doing this, even the Egyptian, which should know very well the traffic and parking bottleneck it sits square in the middle of!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

New Reviews

I started reviewing for this British Web site.
Check out my first three reviews here:

L’Enfance-nue is a deeply moving film with a compelling cast of amateur performers, confidently guided by Maurice Pialat. He achieves an understated portrayal of foster care life that has the deep ring of truth that only great art can achieve. Pialat has a lovingly humanist artistic vision, and this series of Masters of Cinema releases showcasing his work invites a well-deserved reconsideration of this great director. Keep your hankies on hand!

La Pointe Courte
A full three years before the French New Wave began, Agnès Varda directed this rarely-seen film on a shoestring budget, edited with the help of Alain Resnais, and now acknowledged as a key stylistic precursor to the New Wave. La Pointe Courte also features Philippe Noiret’s first significant appearance, essentially his debut, in the co-lead role.

Kuroneko is a well-made and exciting sample of the Japanese ghost fable genre – a cultural hallmark everyone should experience at least once. While it may not earn a place in the pantheon of the greatest Japanese films, if you’ve never experienced a film by Kaneto Shindo, you owe it to yourself to give a listen to yet another talented voice from the rich history of Japanese cinema.