Michael Eisner is….right?

mgm-1943 stable of stars
Mr. Eisner, can you pick out the beautiful, funny women in this picture?

The Former CEO of Walt Disney, Michael Eisner, is so right. It’s almost impossible to find beautiful, funny women to star in major motion pictures. Just ask: Carole Lombard, Mae West, Jean Arthur, Irene Dunne, Jean Harlow, Ann Sheridan, Myrna Loy, Ginger Rogers, Marilyn Monroe, Maureen O’Hara, Doris Day, Jane Fonda, Lucille Ball, Judy Garland, Katherine Hepburn, Kim Basinger, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock, Meryl Streep, Tina Fey, Drew Barrymore, Julia Roberts, Amy Poehler, Meg Ryan and a whole host of women, living and dead, who have starred in and sometimes produced hit comedies.

The list is incomplete, but the point is that while Mr. Eisner was trying to heap praise upon Goldie Hawn, another name on this list, he decided to make a statement that speaks volumes for the way women are valued in Hollywood groupthink. They are commodities, traded like baseball cards (actors are treated this way too if they don’t have enough clout to take creative control of their projects).

Being an actor is tough, but being a female actor, much less a person of color, is even harder. These days, there are less “good ol’ boys” in the room to slap you on the back and wink and nod. There’s the rub, Mr. Eisner. Save those comments for the Palm Beach Country Club rub down and let these talented women with their volume of work speak for themselves. In other words, leave the intelligent TED talks to the big girls, ok?

Montgomery Clift and the LGBT Connection

Mont cliftIn light of the recent Supreme Court decision regarding same-sex marriage, it comes to mind that many younger people have no idea who Montgomery Clift was. He was a tortured soul and a fearless actor. He was also before his time in so many ways. He was loved by both men and women, who saw the vulnerability that shone out of his eyes. He made us love him for the man he was, not the Hollywood pinup that was presented to the world at large.

His performance in films of the fifties made him a worthy contemporary and competitor of Marlon Brando. Montgomery Clift was also bi-sexual, and because it was the fifties in America, Clift was forced to live his life in the closet, never openly acknowledging his sexuality. Perhaps it even made his acting more intense, but for whatever reason, his films are still gripping and highly recommended viewing.

A tragic car accident sidelined his career while he was still at the height of his fame, and the aftermath and recovery made him face those inner demons. Addicted to pain killers and alcohol, Monty Clift suffered an inner torment along with his outward pain in his final years.

Yet his body of work is remarkable. Clift is superb in so many films, beginning with the adaptation of a Theodore Dreiser novel called A Place in the Sun with Elizabeth Taylor. He then manages to make a boiler-plate B movie, The Search, somehow become one of the most heart-rendering stories of suffering that came out of the post-World War II era. He was able to convey onscreen what was felt by millions of displaced families living in the ruins of Europe at the end of the second World War.

Clift went on to give stellar performances in The Young Lions, Red River and Miss Lonelyhearts, and with each part he played the vulnerability and the pathos are on full display. A man who lived ahead of his time, each performance was in the moment and spot on in conveying the torment and inner angst that so many in the LGBT community have known and felt for so many years.

Those who have not discovered Montgomery Clift and his body of work, I would highly recommend an intensive session for the “Armchair Film Festival”. Don’t delay in screening some of Clift’s classic performances found on DVD or shown on Turner Classic Movies.

Hitchcock’s Vertigo plays Sunday at Tampa Theatre

 

Vertigo 1

Vertigo was released in 1958 to a mixed reception. It was later heralded as one of Hitchcock’s greatest works. It’s a complex, psychological thriller starring the venerable James Stewart, a Hitchcock favorite along with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. Vertigo was part of a nine-picture deal that Hitchcock made in the fifties that included many of his most famous films like Rear Window, North by Northwest, Psycho and To Catch a Thief.

*Hitchcock was an early master in the art of Marketing a Movie. He marketed Pyscho brilliantly, and refused to allow reporters to see advance drafts of the film. He had a trailer for the film where he teases audiences by taking them on a tour through the Bates Motel and he followed that up with his famous decree to theatre owners stipulating that patrons were not allowed into the theatre once the film began. This unusual practice both intrigued and piqued the moviegoers interest.

Hitch’s TV Show “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” was further proof of his marketing savvy. He not only designed the signature silhouette of himself, he even picked the opening music for the series. The now familiar strains of Gounod’s“The Funeral March of the Marionette”are forever associated with Alfred Hitchcock Presents….

When the idea of a television show was first proposed to Hitchcock, he was hesitant. But he agreed after he was allowed to introduce each episode and also given script supervision. Not only was Hitchcock given a platform to promote his upcoming films, but he also was allowed to make fun of television and advertising, which further delighted both him and his audience.

Hitch highlighted his own paranioa in films like Vertigo and North by Northwest. He had a fear of being stopped by the police and therefore he didn’t drive a car.

hitchhandcake Hitch & Blue Food 2015

*Hitchcock had a sense of humor that was highly unusual. His favorite dinner party was one where the food was entirely blue. Hosted in the thirties for the actress Gertrude Lawrence. Hitchcock said of the dinner, “”Even when you broke your roll. It looked like a brown roll but when you broke it open it was blue. Blue soup, thick blue soup. Blue trout. Blue chicken. Blue ice cream.”…..

6 Degrees Armchair Film Festival

168816805 FOR 6 DEGREES COVER PHOTO SHOT

It’s summertime at the movies! That means vacations and lighter fare and blockbusters and perhaps lots of different memories for many of us. Beach movies and films from our high school years and summer fun.

There are so many different film festivals out there it’s hard to keep track. One thing in this age of video that is definitely a bonus is the discovery of so many great films and great performances that you can see on demand and on video. For instance, I fell in love with Russell Crowe and Peter O’Toole and Clive Owen at the movies and subsequently became a fan after watching so many of their older films that were available on video.

Russell Crowe

Russell Crowe, before he became a big star, was in some great movies like Proof from 1991, The Sum of Us (1994), Virtuosity (1995), and his big break into A-list films in 1997’s L.A. Confidential.

Clive owen
Peter O’Toole’s best performances were often in films not widely seen today like Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim or the comedy, How to Steal a Million with Audrey Hepburn. Clive Owen, who has suffered (and made me suffer) through some real clunkers in recent years, was brilliant in the movie based on the play Bent (1997), the made for TV movie Second Sight (1999), Greenfingers (2000), Robert Altman’s Gosford Park (2001), the film noir movie I’ll Sleep when I’m Dead (2003), and Beyond Borders with Angelina Jolie also in 2003. He was best known to audiences in the 2004 King Arthur film and then was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in Closer, also from 2004.

All of these actors and many more are seen in what I call the “Armchair Film Festival”. If you are a fan of Film Noir, then you’re in luck.  TCM shows some of the greatest film noir classics and is even offering a class online that’s free and open to the public!

Mont clift

Turner Classic Movies has a featured star each month and will show many of their greatest films. For example , the work of actor Montgomery Clift can be seen on TCM as he is featured this month in A Place in the Sun and Hitchcock’s I Confess.

If you are interested in the history of the Civil Rights Movement and films dealing with Human Rights issues, then you should watch A Gentleman’s Agreement and To Kill A Mockingbird, both starring Gregory Peck, and Judgment at Nuremberg with Spencer Tracy.

annie hall

**Woody Allen at the Movies: Woody is worthy of volumes and is definitely recommended for Armchair Film Festival viewing. His early comedies and transition from comedy to drama would give any film lover enough material for several retrospectives on his work. TCM is showing showing Annie Hall and Hannah and her Sisters  this month.

s mcqueen bulllitt

**Steve McQueen, another actor worthy of an Armchair Film Fest retrospective, is featured in Bullitt and The Sand Pebbles. Bullitt is one of my favorite films. It’s one of McQueen’s best, and the car chase sequence is probably the granddaddy of all those car chase scenes featured in countless pictures for generations. Bullitt set the standard and it added a touch of authenticity to the screen just knowing that Steve McQueen loved to race cars and was known for doing many of his own stunts.

Sound of Music

Fans of The Sound of Music may recognize some of director Robert Wise’s trademark work in the Film Noir classic, The Set Up. If you can appreciate Wise’s use of shadows and light in The Sound of Music, you’ll know he was attuned to the process from his history with so many film noir features.

**6 Degrees readers, stay tuned as we look at a star or a film genre to recommend each month in the Armchair Film Festival.

Memories of the historic Tampa Theatre

 

Tampa Theatre

My personal history of Tampa Theatre dates to the reopening of the theatre in the seventies. January of 1977 was the debut of the refurbished downtown landmark theatre. I remember seeing Blondie on tour at Tampa Theatre, plus holiday showings of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and other classic films. In addition to small venue concerts and classics, innovative films like “Pulp Fiction” were (and still are) screened there.

One of the funniest experiences I remember at the theatre was a unique showing of “13 Ghosts”, a film by director William Castle, whose trademark was using lots of gimmicks and that included personally introducing his films to the audience before they screened. The theatre provided the 3D glasses as Castle explained that one side of the glass lens would show the film without the ghosts, and the other lens projected the image of the ghosts streaming past. It did work!

The mighty Wurlitzer organ is a staple of the auditorium and classic films are still screened at Tampa Theatre. This year, they are featuring a Summer Film Series with screenings of:

The Wizard of Oz-June 7
Key Largo-June 14
Caddyshack-June 21
Vertigo-June 28
Back to the Future-July 5
Top Hat-July 12
Breakfast at Tiffany’s-July 19
Sing a long Sound of Music-July 26

The history of the theatre remains a rich and unique one. Tampa Theatre was built in 1926, at the height of an era where lavish movie palaces flourished throughout the states. Well known theater architect John Eberson designed the interior, where the moviegoer was transported into an old-world style of Mediterranean architecture, replete with gilded statuary and gargoyles. The signature characteristic of the theater is the beautiful night sky that encompasses the venue and surrounds the patrons with twinkling stars. (I’ll admit there have been a few “clunkers” of movies that were made bearable by simply sitting back and taking in the aura of the unique night vista that surrounds you!)

For the average movie goer of the late 1920’s, it would have been a glorious treat to go to a movie palace for 25 cents and escape into the wonderland that is imagined in one of these beautiful old theaters. Tampa Theatre was but one of several elegant movie palaces that were built in downtown Tampa. The first time I saw “The Sound of Music” was at the old Florida theatre where we watched the film in one of the beautiful balcony seats. Sadly, the Florida is no more. So many of these places were knocked down to make way for modern buildings. But the good news is that many of these places out of time have been preserved throughout the United States.

The history of the renovation of Tampa Theatre is well documented. But the history of all of these old movie palaces is preserved in the League of Historic American Theatres. (LHAT). The website showcases and documents an impressive number of old movie palaces and wonderful restorations from a bygone era. The League is active throughout the United States and even in Canada!

In Tampa, there was a listing of at least 67 landmark theatres and buildings listed on a website called Cinematreasures.org. They included theatres that were demolished and some that are still in use. Drive in movies are also on the list in keeping with our American heritage which includes going to the movies.

Residents of the Tampa Bay area may be interested in checking out some of the other sites preserved in the area, the Cuban Club and the Ritz theatre in nearby Ybor City, and the Friday Morning Musicale in Hyde Park, which still hosts small musical performances and events.

Please let me know if you have fond memories of a particular film or event at Tampa Theatre in years past. The Tampa Natives group in particular may have some stories to tell of special times at the Theatre! Leave your comments here or e-mail me at mljtpa@6degreeswriter.com. Look forward to hearing from you!

The Wizard of Oz showing Sunday at 3:00 pm at Tampa Theatre

 

**The Wizard of Oz will be shown this weekend, Sunday September 4th, at Tampa Theatre. This is a reprint of an earlier post… Here’s the link to another Wizard of Oz post-this one is definitely on my top 10 list of Favorite Films of all time!

Wiz of oz 1

So much has been written about this very special film. And when someone recently asked me, a person that has screened hundreds if not thousands of movies through the years, what my favorite film is, The Wizard of Oz just popped out. It came out in a year, 1939, when so many spectacular films were released, that it could have simply disappeared if it had not been so dynamic and magical.

But the cast and crew were perfectly suited to the material. And the fantasy seemed to work for a world on the verge of a horribly cruel war. The timeless innocence of the characters and the beautiful colors and memorable scenes all melded together to create this magical vision of a life beyond our own plane of existence.

In some ways, the Cinematic Universe that many have credited George Lucas with creating in Star Wars is a place that was already imagined in this realm somewhere over the rainbow in another galaxy far, far away. The validation for our love of this film comes when we hear that many new devotees of the film are citizens of the international community as they screen this movie for children and adults who are living in refugee camps. The timeless quality of this film transcends the boundaries of speech and culture.

Here is one amusing note about the origins of the characters in the Wizard of Oz. Of course, the film is based on a series of children’s books by L Frank Baum. And when it was published in 1900, the characters of the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion were said to have a dual meaning.

The Wizard of Oz story was seen by some as a parable for the US Gold Standard in the late 1800’s. The Scarecrow represented the US Farmers. And the Tin Man was representative of the industrial workers, who faced a staggering unemployment rate of 18%! Hence, the Tin Man is seen as beleaguered and completely frozen.

The Cowardly Lion was representative of William Jennings Bryan, the famous statesman who was also a strong proponent for keeping on the Gold Standard. And the Emerald City was said to represent Washington D.C., where one can only see through a lens of green (which meant money). The Gold Standard would be the famous Yellow Brick Road that Dorothy follows at the urging of the Munchkins. Following the Yellow Brick road would mean staying on the Gold Standard.

All of this is conjecture, but it’s a fun and different way to view a film most of us have seen many times before. Even after many viewings, the film still manages to stay fresh and endearing as it was at its debut back in 1939.

Some other facts about The Wizard of Oz. The famous film version with Judy Garland was actually the third movie adaptation of the book. The first film was made in 1910 and the second silent version, from 1925, featured a promising actor named Oliver Hardy who played the Tin Man.

Tampa Theatre will screen “The Wizard of Oz” this Sunday, June 7th at 3:00 pm.

Capsule Review: Notorious-The Greatest Cut of all…

 

Notorious

Notorious is one of Hitchcocks best films. Why? Not because of the well-known movie stars that grace the film. Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman are at the top of their game, but ironically, it’s not their performances that stand out in this movie.

In Notorious, Cary Grant’s character is that of a cynical and slightly skewed personality. He comes off as a tad less than his characteristically perfect self. The Ingrid Bergman character is one of a fallen woman. She’s the girl who’s “been around the block”. She’s seen it all, done it all and is not a candidate for the illusion of true love.

Yet, one of the most memorable lines in Notorious is delivered by an obscure Austrian actress named Leopoldine Konstantin. She plays the well-developed Hitchock-ian role of the obsessively dominant mother figure. Not only does she delivers one of the greatest lines in all of Hitchcock, it could be considered as one of the definitive cuts of all time

While the portrayal of Mothers in film usually conspire to be in a nurturing and protective role, as was so often the case with Hitchcock, the image of Mom is turned on its head. In this instance, “Mother” is someone who might give Lady MacBeth reason to pause, as the mom in Notorious is by far the more ruthless and calculating of villains in the piece. . That’s saying a lot, as the characters in the film are part of a group of Nazi sympathizers.

Hitchcock was well known for the type of woman/mother figure portrayed by Madame Sebastian. In Marnie., the character of Tippi Hedrin’s mother was responsible for her young daughter’s psychotic behavior. In The Birds, Tippi Hedrin was again plagued by the domineering and darkly possessive mother figure. Then comes Psycho, with the most famously disturbed mother/son duo since Oedipus. In so many Hitchcock classics, we see a different image of  a Mom; one who is less than sweet as apple pie in most cases. Such was the world of Hitchcock.

The line Madame Sebastian delivers is to her own son, Sebastian/Claude Rains, who comes to her in anguish over the discovery that his new wife, Alicia/Ingrid Bergman, is in fact a spy. Frightened of the ruthless gang of Nazi cohorts he is entwined with, he comes to ask his Mother, Madame Sebastian, for advice.

Madame Sebastian pauses a moment to light a cigarette, the perfect bit of “business” that lends credence to her next statement. She then tells her son that all is not lost. Why? Because, she says, “You are protected by the enormity of your stupidity-for a time .” It’s then up to dear old Mom to come up with the idea of slowly poisoning Alicia.

The line works so well because it is played in such a matter of fact manner and given just the right amount of understatement to make the subsequent actions so completely evil.

And now, so many years later, I am reminded from time to time of the cool and utterly ruthless cut given to Claude Rains. Most of the time, it’s a self-deprecating phrase I use to put myself in my place. And it’s a saying that works every time.

“No worries, my dear, you are saved by the enormity of your stupidity” It translates to mean that no-one could possibly fathom the thought that such a colossal mistake could be made. The Peter Principle in effect applies here. The notion that one almost always rises to the level of their complete incompetence. Of course no-one believes you are THAT incompetent! That is your saving grace…

It is the type of clever cut that never fails to make its mark. Perhaps, as put-downs go, it is one of the truly great ones.. In the end, we are all protected by the enormity of our stupidity!

Notorious is playing at Tampa Theatre this Sunday, July 10th at 3:00 pm.

 

Tampa Theatre

 

 

Casablanca: Who wrote what? An excerpt from upcoming “Six Degrees of Film”

Casablanca

Script authorship of Casablanca also was disputed, only this time it was writer versus writer who vied for the lone credits. Someone said about this B movie classic, “One of the charms of Casablanca lies in its awkwardness. Not only do the politics and romance sit side by side, but that there are two or three contrasting manners of style. There’s the comic-cynical, the soppy-elegiac, and the solemn-propagandist … [It’s] not so much a story as a stringing together of great moments to remember. How, and in what order we remember them is left to us, and this is part of why we like the film so much.”[i]

Four authors claim to be the true author of Casablanca. There is Howard Koch, who claimed he was brought in “to shape the film’s politics”; the brothers Julius and Philip Epstein, who wrote as a team; and Casey Robinson. Robinson said that he had the idea for a film “out of a ‘lousy play’ called Everybody Comes to Rick’s.”

According to Koch, the story was, “So they start shooting and Hal comes to me and says, ‘We need some help. There’s a little trouble.’ Bogart had said, ‘I won’t shoot this __________’; and he had used a very nasty word and gone home.”

Ingrid Bergman on the Casablanca shoot said this: “Every day, we were shooting off the cuff; every day they were handing out dialogue, and we were trying to make sense of it. No one knew where the picture was going, and no one knew how it was going to end … We said, “Well, who are we?” … and Curtiz would say, “We’re not quite sure … It was ridiculous. Just awful … Bogart didn’t know what was going on, so he retired to his trailer … I wanted to know who I was supposed to be in love with, Paul Henreid or Humphrey Bogart?”[ii]

The Epstein brothers had gone on to another project for Frank Capra and were not available, so they sent the script in from Washington page by page. Two scripts were floating around, one from the Epsteins and one from Howard Koch. Robinson was brought in to add the love-interest angle. It was apparent that “none of them knew he was working on a movie that would turn out to be something to boast about; all the signs were that Casablanca would be a stinker.”[iii]

The facts are this: The film used some lines from the play, Everybody Comes to Rick’s, including the line “Then play it, Sam” and the song As Time Goes By. The irony was that Julius Epstein was not proud of his part in scripting Casablanca. He called it “slick shit,” and said, “Casablanca is one of my least favorite pictures. I’m tired of talking about it after thirty years. I can explain its success only by the Bogie cult … I can recognize that the picture is entertaining and that people love it. The whole thing was shot in the back lot. Furthermore, there were never any such things as letters of transit around which the entire plot revolved. The movie is completely phony.”[iv]


[i] Adaptations from Short Story to Big Screen, Harrison, S. Three Rivers Press, New York, 2005

[ii] Adaptations from Short Story to Big Screen, Harrison, S. Three Rivers Press, New York, 2005

[iii] Adaptations from Short Story to Big Screen, Harrison, S. Three Rivers Press, New York, 2005

[iv] Mank: The wit, world, and life of Herman Mankiewicz, Meryman, Richard, Morrow, 1978

The Artist: Capsule Review for 6 Degrees of Film

The Artist is playing this weekend at Tampa Theatre. This review was originally published on 6 Degrees of Film in 2012. Here’s the updated version:

THe Artist T Theatre

One of the best sequences in “The Artist”, the Academy-Award winning black & white silent film, is the one where sound is used. That’s not to say that films without sound are not worth seeing. Some of the most moving sequences ever filmed have been moments that have no sound. Liam Neeson had the role in “Suspect” where he plays a mute, and it was apparent early on that he was the only one in a cast that included Cher with real acting chops. In “There Will be Blood” one of the most creative sequences in this dark look into the psyche of a self-made 19th Century robber baron was the opening of the film where Daniel Day-Lewis doesn’t speak for a good ten minutes into the film. In The Artist the scene where the very successful and extremely egotistical star dismisses the viewing of the “talkies” as a fad finds him waking up in a cold sweat in the night after he dreams of hearing sound on film where none had been before. That is perhaps one of the more creative moments in the film. This film stands really as a series of vignettes, a kind of homage to the way that early films were made.

They were short one-reelers and like the one and two-reelers, you could find the plot of this film written out on a half page of notebook paper. Boy meets girl, they fall in love; conflict ensues; they overcome obstacles to be together; the Denouement-Finis-The End.

That really is a short history of the movies encapsulated in this film. The power of silent film has been lost on so many generations that have missed out on much that was conveyed through film in the silent era, Actor and Comic Bill Murray recently spoke of watching a DW Griffith silent film in France that was totally riveting. It seems the French have a higher appreciation of the silent medium in general. I don’t believe that just everyone would simply fall in love with this movie. That is conveyed in the box office numbers, which show this film to be probably the least viewed of any Academy Award winner in recent years. It is not an action flick or a comedy or a chick flick. It is a film about film in the sense that it conveys some messages about the appreciation of a medium-silent film- that is not in existence save for a few random viewings on select cable channels. This is the nature of show business and this film is unique in that there are less than six degrees of association to arrive at the beginning history of film. It serves as a perfect example for anyone interested in the history of film, and it’s definitely a must see for those playing the game of “Six Degrees of Film!”