27th 08 - 2009 | 15 comments »

15 Favorite Dancers Meme

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By Marilyn Ferdinand

It’s time for Ferdy on Films to send a meme out into the world and watch it grow! Everyone knows how much I love dance. I’m here to tell you who my top 15 dancers in the movies are. And I’d like to know yours as well. Simply come up with a list, put your link in the comments, and link back to this post on your blog. I’ll link up everyone who participates. And don’t forget to tag four (4) more blogs. (I tag Pat at Doodad Kind of Town, Greg at Cinema Styles, Rick at Coosa Creek Cinema, and Nathaniel R at The Film Experience.)

In no particular order:

1-2. Cristina Hoyos/Antonio Gades
This smoldering couple from Spain mesmerize movie audiences, most significantly in the dance films of Carlos Saura. Each dances individually to great effect, but together they put the flame in flamenco:

3. Cyd Charisse
This tall drink of dynamite from Texas brings a ballerina’s grace to every type of dance style she’s called upon to perform. I like this clip because it shows how beautifully she adds an extra-long train on her costume to her performance. It looks easy, but it ain’t.

4. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
This legendary duo is really a single entity. Fred had a great career as a dancer with other partners and when dancing alone, but he and Ginger formed that perfect union on film everyone remembers best. Here’s a favorite dance from my favorite Astaire-Rogers film, Swing Time.

5-6. Gene Kelly/Donald O’Connor
Both of these dancers have energy and personality cubed. I give just a slight edge to Kelly for technique, and a small lead to O’Connor for being more fun to watch. Together, they can’t be beat.

7. Moira Shearer
This lovely prima ballerina was enticed into pictures when Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger hinted that they really wanted someone else to play the lead in The Red Shoes. She liked it so much, she came back for more. Here she is in their The Tales of Hoffman in a simply charming role that shows she was a great actress through her dancing.

8-9. George Chakiris/Rita Moreno
George Chakiris is one of the most technically accomplished dancers in musical theatre and movies, as well as being a handsome and compelling presence. Rita Moreno is life itself on a stage. Together, they make West Side Story’s “America” the most electrifying number in a film full of them.

10. Eleanor Powell
A whirling dervish with the fastest feet I’ve ever seen, Powell “laid ‘em down like a man,” according to the dancer she most compares with, Fred Astaire. This ego-free dance shows she’d even dance with a dog; in fact, she trained him and is performing in her own living room.

11. James Cagney
There was nothing James Cagney couldn’t do, and that includes dancing. He didn’t get many chances to do it, but when he did, sparks flew off his feet just as strongly as they came out of the barrel of his gun. His eccentric dancing style is quite a bit more controlled than Bob Hope in the duet at the end of this clip.

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12.Gregory Hines
Hines always invests his tap dancing with a lot of emotion. In this scene from The Cotton Club, we feel the intensity of Hines’ thoughts as he performs a tricky dance sequence that is intercut with his own memories.

13. Leslie Caron
Leslie Caron was a lovely ballerina whose greatest gift was the feeling she put into her dance. I chose this clip to show that dance can be great without all the pyrotechnics we’ve become conditioned to expect. The final minute-thirty of this dance is gut-wrenching.

14. Vera-Ellen
She of the tiny waist, Vera-Ellen has a lightness to her dancing that makes tap dancing on her toes seem a logical extension of her comfort in the air. Every move she makes is finished, the mark of a flawlessly trained and dedicated dancer.

15. Bob Fosse
Fosse’s film career saw him move from an accomplished dancer, to a budding choreographer evolving his style, to this: Fosse fully formed in The Little Prince.

Pat’s list is now up at Doodad Kind of Town.

Greg’s list is now up at Cinema Styles.

Here’s Miranda Wilding’s list at Cinematic Passions.

Rick has posted his at Coosa Creek Cinema.

See Ryan Kelly’s list of favorite dances here at Medfly Quarantine.

Doug Bonner from Postmodern Joan is a new visitor here, and I have a feeling he and I are going to be hanging out at each other’s blogs from now on. Here is his inspired list of dancers/choreographers. Thanks, Doug.

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4th 06 - 2009 | 15 comments »

What I’ve Learned as a Film Blogger Meme

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By Marilyn Ferdinand

Greg Ferrara, the blogger formerly known as Jonathan Lapper, has been plunging headlong into the mainstream of film blogging. First, he revealed his real name. Then he decided to host his first blogathon. Now he’s started a meme, something Ferdy on Films, etc. has yet to do. This one should be interesting to think about. Here’s what Greg says:

I’d like to know what my fellow bloggers think matters about cinephilia. A list, a paragraph, a thought or two. However you want to do it. Just a little bit of what you think is important about studying film, loving film, and discussing it with like minds. Basically, what have you learned? I know I’ve learned more than I ever did from decades of reading film books. How about you?

There are some things that make cinema vitally important—as Gene Siskel said, a film critic has the American Dream beat—in terms of what it reflects about the way we live, how we see ourselves and others, and what fires our imaginations. Cinephilia, however, is full of a lot of nonsense, in my opinion, like compiling lists, watching box office returns, and overtheorizing what the filmmakers themselves saw as factory work done for dough. Blogging about film is a whole other animal. Bloggers have been taken to task by traditional media for everything from bad writing to destroying the economy. But what do they know? They don’t live here—we bloggers do.

So here’s what I’ve learned about film, blogging, and the Internet since starting Ferdy on Films, etc. more than three years ago.

1. You can get free shit and press passes just as easily as a blogger as you can as a print or broadcast journalist. You just have to grovel a little more at the beginning.

Snob.JPG2. There are three major camps in the film-blogging world: the young geeks who tend not to write very well, normally don’t consider any film older than 1990, and usually only read their own kind; the snobs who write pretty well, but impenetrably, and stick with their own kind because to do otherwise would be to lower their status in the film community; the rest of us, a decidedly mixed bag, who aren’t on the make and don’t necessarily give a hoot what people think of what we’re doing.

Olbermann.jpg3. Cable “news” has had a bigger effect on blogging than anyone would care to admit, as evidenced by a lot of tempests brewed in teapots all over the blogosphere just to drive traffic.

4. Film bloggers know how to build a sense of community with memes and blogathons, but when they’re over, we tend to go back to the dime or so blogs we usually read.

5. There are a lot of good writers out there with a lot of knowledge about film. Although I have some unique things to offer and Rod and I make a pretty formidable team together, I’m not so special, and that actually isn’t a bad feeling. The world isn’t full of yahoos after all!

6. You never know who is going to read your stuff, what’s going to be popular, or why. I’m still getting hits to How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman from a Russian discussion forum well more than two years after they posted the link.

Crazy%202.JPG7. Comment sections are among the best things on a blog. They can be witty and irreverent, more informative than the original post, and include people you never thought would show up. I’ve had the son of the director of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, a full-blown family feud in the comments for the Hank Garland biopic Crazy, and a filmmaker or two, in addition to my usual posse.

8. It’s very satisfying to be the first external review of a film on IMDb. A lot of these films deserve more attention.

9. Once you start a blog, it’s hard to stop or slow the pace of feeding the beast…

10. …leading to Internet fatigue hitting me more frequently than it used to. I just want to turn everything off.

11. Reviewing and theorizing about cinema can be fun, but it’s not really that important in and of itself. It’s more important to me to show how cinematic images shape our attitudes and the world in which we live, and thereby influence hearts and minds.

Apple.bmp12. Macs are hundreds of times better than PCs.

13. Having people assign films for me to view is both exciting and painful. So far, maximum pain has not been inflicted on me by anyone.

14. What is it with people clicking a link to this site, reading what’s here, and going back to the original site to comment?!

Censorship.JPG15. People you don’t know want to control what is said about everything. A blog is one of the best ways to fight back.


28th 05 - 2009 | 4 comments »

The Favorite Movie Period/Place Meme

By Marilyn Ferdinand

A few days ago, Daniel Getahun at the glorious blog Getafilm challenged me and several other bloggers to come up with a post for a meme he dreamed up. We were to choose a place (real or imaginary) and a time (past, present, or future) depicted in one or more films that we’d most like to visit and explain why. Here is what I chose.

Place: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Time/Period: 1959
As Seen In: Bossa Nova (2000)

This movie is a bit of a cheat as a representative of the period I’ve chosen. It actually takes place in 2000, but the director, Bruno Barreto, meant it to be an homage to the Rio of Antonio Carlos Jobim, a sun-filled, lively boulevard of music and magic. Whether that place ever existed outside of a travel brochure, there is a place in my heart that fervently hopes that it did and that I could drop in at will.

Rio, of course, is graced with natural beauty even today. Its gorgeous white beaches and the creatures who inhabit them inspired the bossa nova classic “The Girl from Ipanema.” In 1959, bossa nova music was breaking through in Brazilian society:

The bossa nova appeared in Rio de Janeiro in the late 1950’s. At first it was played as an intimate music in the apartments of Rio’s middle and upper-middle classes. The music mingled the Brazilian samba beat with American jazz. Later on, bossa nova became a trademark of a new concept of music – a little sad, sometimes sung off-key, and where the lyrics have great importance.

The roots of cinema novo were sprouting, producing exciting films that were giving the French New Wave a run for its money, combining real people and locations with the Brazilian Tropicalism movement that rejected European influences—particularly sexual inhibitions.

In Bossa Nova, the colors are bright, the sea is inviting, the beaches are pristine places to walk and play, the men are passionate and romantic, the women are assertive and comfortable with their sexuality, and everyone seems to be drunk with the love of life. A palpable nostalgia echoes with the strains of the sad, minor-key bossa nova, as Brazil stood poised to move into a socially progressive era that would be suppressed by dictatorship in only a few short years. 1959 was that perfect moment, the carefree pause between the inhale and exhale of history. That’s where I want to be.

For more about Brazilian history and culture:
Travel Pulse
South Travels

As usual, I’ll forgo tagging anyone. If you want to do this anyway, link back to Getafilm. l


8th 04 - 2009 | 20 comments »

10 Favorite Character Meme

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By Marilyn Ferdinand

Both Greg and Flickhead tagged me for this meme. I thought it would be fairly easy, but as with all things “favorite,” I’m reminded of why I avoid that word when it comes to movies. Here are my “favorites” in alphabetical order:

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Lily Bart. Lily hopes to trade on her beauty for money and social significance, but she’s far too honest a person to survive in “polite” society. A woman trained to be an ornament, revealing how destructive society is to women, she remains an example of personal integrity to me. Gillian Anderson impresses in this role in The House of Mirth.

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Virginia Brush, played by Rita Hayworth as the perfect bombshell-next-door in The Strawberry Blonde, is the opposite of Lily Bart, yet she ends up with my admiration, too. Socially correct, she can’t quite hide that beating heart of passion and ambition. She never counted on marrying money and a hypochondriac, but somehow she remains magnificent, exacting a small revenge and realizing how foolish her goals were.

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Cowardly Lion. Bert Lahr created a loveable king of beasts whose fear we can all relate to and whose eventual show of courage surprised even him. A great character, particularly for kids.

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Daffy Duck. Cocky and foolish, irrational when things inevitably go wrong, Daffy keeps me chuckling no matter what he’s up to. And what a great, great voice and crazy quack!

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Ed from Shaun of the Dead, played by Nick Frost, is lazy, oblivious, and casually courageous. And he plays a mean Playstation. Everyone’s “I like him in spite of himself” kind of friend.

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M. Hulot, Jacques Tati’s comic creation, is like a newborn babe in a trenchcoat, his ever-present pipe available to chew on as he ponders the mysteries of modern life. I know how he feels.

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Ulee Jackson. Not a very well-known character created by not a very good actor, Peter Fonda, yet he really got to me in Ulee’s Gold. He feels both the negative and positive effects of age—physical infirmity and wisdom—does what he has to do, and truly loves his work as a beekeeper. The hubby and I have become acquainted with an Illinois beekeeper, and he’s just like Ulee. Great guy, great character.

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Merlin, as played by Nicol Williamson in Excalibur. One of the truly eccentric performances on film, Merlin seems half-drunk most of the time. He sees the writing on the wall that the age for his type of being is past, but would rather not acknowledge it in full. He becomes more relevant to me with each passing birthday.

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Scarlett O’Hara. A real Sourthern belle (played by a real English diva, Vivien Leigh) who’d just as soon shoot you as look at you. Fiddle-dee-dee, I wish I were so pretty and plucky.

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Max Schreck, aka Dracula, in Shadow of the Vampire is comic and melancholy all at the same time. You really feel for him when he says how sorry he felt for Dracula in the Bram Stoker book for being so lonely. You can also imagine F.W. Murnau telling him not to eat the writer. Willem Dafoe created a memorable vampire in a crowded field.

As usual, I tag no one.

Scrat of Ice Age tops this entry.

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11th 12 - 2008 | 22 comments »

20 Actresses Meme

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By Marilyn Ferdinand

Another day, another meme. I was tagged by Rick Olson for the 20 Actresses Meme, which is the brainchild of Nathaniel at The Film Experience.

Once again, I was faced with trying to come up with some criteria that could help me choose 20 noteworthy actresses. Should they be the most beautiful? Should they be the finest at their craft? Should they be of a certain age? Again, I decided to choose 20 actresses I find fascinating to watch, actresses who draw my eye to them no matter what else might be going on, actresses whose work I’m always ready to sample. Here they are, in alphabetical, order.

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Louise Brooks is the American Garbo, but with more range. She could play temptresses with an American wildness Garbo lacked, but also was believable in comedic and sentimental roles. And, she’s stunning!

Billie Burke always captivates me with her birdlike voice, her apple cheeks, and her charm. She’s one of the great character actresses of the 1930s who deserves to be remembered for more than playing Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz.

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Leslie Caron has the gamine appeal that I am always attracted to in actresses. Beyond that, she is the definition of grace, with a wise innocence that comes through in her best films. I could watch her in Gigi over and over and over.

Peggy Cummins is a face you see every day on this blog. I was so taken with her in Gun Crazy and I so wanted to project what she had in that film, that I took her as my stand-in. As you can see in this picture, she’s not only naughty, she’s also nice, very nice.

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Laura del Sol may not be a familiar name and face unless you have seen the dance films of Carlos Saura. Once viewed, she’s unforgettable—an intense beauty and passionate dancer. I’ve seen Carmen more times than I can remember. She’s just amazing.

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Catherine Deneuve is easily one of the most beautiful and talented women who ever lived. She can delve deeply into sexual perversion, madness, and bitterness. She can also take a bourgeois character and bring out unknown courage. I always want to go wherever she leads.

Gloria Grahame has a face you never forget. Interestingly beautiful, she often played women whose looks play strongly into their fate, from Violet in It’s a Wonderful Life to Debby in The Big Heat. I can’t pass on a film she’s in.

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Shirley Henderson is an actress you’ve seen more than you think you have. She’s been in Trainspotting, 24-Hour Party People, Yes, and even one of the Harry Potter films (as Moaning Myrtle). I was completely captivated by her performance in Topsy-Turvy, where she works her beautiful soprano voice and coquettishness as an alcoholic singer who is the personification of Yum Yum in The Mikado. She puts me into a trance whenever I watch her.

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Wendy Hiller is a versatile actress who has had a long career, still as interesting today in look and demeanor as when she was a fresh-faced, cheeky Scots actress in Pygmalion and I Know Where I’m Going. I like her a lot!

Isabelle Huppert is a force to be reckoned with in any film she’s in. Utterly fearless and frequently diabolical and intimidating, she lends authority to any film in which she appears. She’s a miracle.

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Milla Jovovich is a little hard to explain. Yes, she’s beautiful and charismatic. But even in her strictly popcorn films, she brings something more than a model’s presence to bear. She’s got a kind of vulnerable command that I find very compelling. So sue me.

Katy Jurado has charisma up the yin yang. It is impossible to take your eyes off her when she’s on screen. She even managed to upstage Grace Kelly in High Noon. She’s a singular and memorable actress.

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Nancy Kwan burst on the scene in The World of Suzie Wong. It was a memorable debut film for one of the iconic actresses of the 60s. How can you not enjoy her being a girl!

Angela Lansbury, the thoroughly pleasant Jessica Fletcher on TV, often shows up on most evil villian lists for her turn in The Manchurian Candidate, one of the few women to have this distinction. I love her ruthless Mrs. Iselin, but she always breaks my heart as sweet, doomed Sybil Vane in The Picture of Dorian Gray.

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Anna Magnani wears her heart on her sleeve, her hips, her legs, and most especially, her face. A symbol of martyrdom in Rome: Open City, her natural intensity and earthiness were often on display in such films as The Rose Tattoo. She’s simply unforgettable.

Colleen Moore just had to make my list, didn’t she. My love of her is well known and will continue as long as I can watch her perfect comic sensibility and adorably versatile face in action. And then maybe longer.

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Cathy O’Donnell is one of those actresses who always seems to pop up in older movies, and I’m always delighted to recognize her. They Live By Night, Side Street, and of course, The Best Years of Our Lives reveal her as a sympathetic, sweet presence. I just always feel warm when she’s around.

Christina Ricci is my favorite contemporary actress. There’s nothing she can’t do. She even made being tied up half-naked in Black Snake Moan interesting. She’d be my only choice for the part of Molly O if The Man with the Golden Arm is ever made into a decent film. I just wish she hadn’t gotten so skinny.

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Theresa Russell is a subtle, mysterious actress I’m completely fascinated with. Black Widow is a minor masterpiece of the 1980s because of her duel with Debra Winger.

Michelle Williams is not an actress I ever thought I’d find so watchable when I saw her first film forays. She’s grown into a mesmerizing presence for me, and has improved exponentially as an actress. Only a little more time and she’ll lose all those youthful mannerisms and enter the major leagues.

The “baker’s dozen” silhouette at the beginning of this article is Greta Garbo.

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9th 11 - 2008 | 9 comments »

The Alphabet Meme

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By Marilyn Ferdinand

OK, so Piper tagged me for this meme started by Fletch at Blog Cabins. The meme’s simple concept is to pick a favorite film for each letter of the alphabet. Simple for some letters, of course, like “X,” not so easy for others. In order to whittle down my choices, I set myself a few rules, the first of which I broke because it was simply unavoidable:

1. Exclude films I have reviewed on this site.
2. Choose films that I truly enjoy viewing over and over again.
3. Use English title translations unless the title was a proper name or the term had become common in the English lexicon.

What I found by being honest with myself and sticking with these rules is that a lot of the films I greatly admire, the ones that would assure my cred as an astute cinephile with impeccable taste, didn’t make the list. This is a very personal list that includes, I think, some very fine films that even the snobbiest cinephile would approve, and others that maybe nobody but I can enjoy repeatedly.

Note: This list has been revised to be more accurate, changing “A” and “J”. I have included the original entries at the bottom of the list.

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American Graffiti (1973). It’s hard to believe I forgot this classic from Francis Ford Coppola. Like The Outsiders listed below, it’s an archetypal teen story with a load of actors who would later become household names. The soundtrack is one of the greatest ever.

Bossa Nova (2000). I love the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim, and this romantic Brazilian film that was a gift of its director Bruno Barreto to his then-wife Amy Irving is chockful of it. Wouldn’t you love to have a man woo you by making a beautiful tangerine blouse for you?

Crossing Delancey (1988). Another Amy Irving film, I watch it again and again mainly for the evocation of Jewish life in New York and the pretensions of the literary crowd it skewers. Interestingly, Amy is also wooed in this film with a garment (“Vat is voo?”).

Dark Victory (1939). I’m a sucker for this film of a caustic society girl (Bette Davis) who finds love only after she learns she’s dying. Great last scene that always delivers no matter how many times I see it.

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El (1953). This isn’t Luis Buñuel’s best film, but it is, for me, his most memorable. Arturo de Córdova is perfectly ridiculous as the obsessed buffoon who actually plots to sew his wife’s vagina closed to keep her from straying. Yowza!

Funny Face (1957). Fashion, Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn, and Paris. Need I say more?

Gregory’s Girl (1981). This was the first Bill Forsyth film I ever saw, and it’s still my favorite. Will Gregory get the most popular girl in school—who’s also the best soccer player on the school team—to go out with him? Will spelling “Caracas” correctly on their homemade sign help Andy and Eric hitch a ride to Venezuela? Will the kid in the penguin costume ever find the right room?

High Noon (1952). A savage study in hypocrisy filled with suspense and dread, this is my all-time favorite Western. Gary Cooper was never better.

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Ikiru (1952). Akira Kurosawa’s moving film about an ineffectual bureaucrat who decides to make a difference only when he learns he is dying gives a deep and persuasive look at what life really means.

Jour de Fête (1949). The first film by Jacques Tati I ever saw on the big screen, its silent-film qualities, including a Ben Turpin lookalike, won me over and made me a rabid Tati fan.

Kiss Me Deadly (1955). The ultimate film noir for the nuclear age, I never get tired of watching Velda open her Pandora’s Box or of Cloris Leachman darting in front of a car, her thin arms raised high to get the driver to stop.

Lolita (1962). Stanley Kubrick’s wry and worldly comic adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s study of, basically, a pedophile and the nymphet who does know her own strength is the work of a cinematic dream team composed of James Mason, Shelley Winters, Peter Sellers, and wonderful newcomer Sue Lyon. Oh, and Nabokov wrote the screenplay.

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Monsieur Verdoux (1947). A late Chaplin film has amusement and passion in equal doses. When Charlie hooks up with Martha Raye as one of his long line of wives murdered for their money, you really can’t wait for it to happen.

New Leaf, A (1971). Simply the funniest movie I’ve ever seen. Elaine May is as strong a director as she (always) is a comic lead opposite one of the best comic actors in the business, Walter Matthau. Now that I found a copy of it, it’s a regular in the VCR.

Outsiders, The (1983). I’m a relative newcomer to this teen classic, yet it hooked me right away, and watching so many of the next generation of A-list actors near the start of their careers is a lot of fun.

Pandora’s Box (1929). Fritz Wedekind’s mesmerizing story of the amoral Lulu inspired an opera by Alban Berg. But it was G.W. Pabst’s 1929 film that made Lulu an icon through the abandon of the beautiful Louise Brooks.

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Quiet Man, The (1952). I’m not a big John Wayne fan and have mixed feelings about John Ford, but this American in Ireland tale shows off a comedic side of the Duke in a way only Ford could have captured. And it has the lovely, red-haired colleen Maureen O’Hara to add fire to the fuel.

Romeo & Juliet (1968). A story filmed many times, Italian Franco Zeffirelli’s version found the passion in this tale set in his home country and cast the most attractive, charismatic star-crossed lovers by far in film history—Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey. Flawless.

Sweet Smell of Success (1957). A terrific, highly quotable screenplay by Clifford Odets (“In brief, from now on, the best of everything is good enough for me.”) gives Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster lots to work with as an ambitious flak and the New York gossip columnist he wants to replace.

Trouble with Angels, The (1966). Hayley Mills was the Hillary Duff of my generation, and she was never better than in this exceptional movie about girlhood pranks, friendship, and the dawning of maturity, all set in a convent school. Scathingly brilliant. Ida Lupino directs.

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Universal Horror (1998). Film scholar Kevin Brownlow directed the must-see documentary for anyone who loves the classic horror films made at Universal Studios.

Vera Drake (2004). This is a pretty depressing film, yet it fascinates me, depicting as it does the era of the illegal abortion in Britain and the abortionist who doesn’t see it as a crime to help girls in trouble.

Written on the Wind (1956). When is a model of an oil well not a model of an oil well? When Dorothy Malone runs her hands up and down it. THE women’s film from Douglas Sirk.

X-Men 2: X-Men United (2003). I imagine if you’re at all a fan of the X-Men films, this would have to be in your meme as one of the few films that starts with “x”. Even so, this second entry in the franchise is truly exciting, suspenseful, and unpredictable, and Jean Grey is a terrific character well realized by Famke Janssen.

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Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942). I’ve watched this flag-waving musical more times than I can remember, but I never get tired of James Cagney singing and dancing in this, his only Oscar-winning performance.

Zoolander (2001). A model named Hansel. Male models frolicking with pump hoses in slow motion in a gas station and then lighting a cigarette. It doesn’t get much better than this!

Replaced from my first draft of this post:
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Afterlife (1998). An intriguing, gently humorous look at what happens to us after we die is a film like no other from a Japanese director, Hirozaku Kore-eda, whose films are touched by grace.

Juliet of the Spirits (1965). My love of Fellini has grown exponentially over the years, and when I finally saw this film, I knew I’d found my favorite. The love triangle of the film involving Fellini’s wife Giulietta Masina and his lover Sandra Milo is another case of art imitating life in a Fellini film.
As usual, I’m not tagging anyone. l

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22nd 09 - 2008 | 10 comments »

My Holy Grail: The 12 Movies I Need to See Meme

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By Marilyn Ferdinand

Yes, it’s another meme, this one courtesy of MovieMan at The Dancing Image. The idea is to choose 12 hard-to-get films that we want to see, name them, and tell why we have chosen them as part of our holy grail. Pat at Doodad Kind of Town tagged me. I didn’t think I could do it, but I was wrong. Some of these films are very hard to impossible to get, others not so much. Here they are, in no particular order.

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All I Desire (1953)
Director: Douglas Sirk
I had a chance to see this Barbara Stanwyck vehicle on the big screen and just totally blew it. The story of a mother who abandoned her family coming back into the picture sounded delicious, and it’s by Sirk, one of my favorite directors.

India: Matri Bhumi (1959)
Director: Roberto Rossellini
A very bad print of this film was brought to Chicago early this year for an extremely rare showing. It sold out, and another showing was added. I was out of town and missed my chance to see it. Reputed to be Rossellini’s masterpiece. Someone has to restore it someday…

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Stromboli (1950)
Director: Roberto Rossellini
Another Rossellini I have been wanting to see since Martin Scorsese pointed it out in his documentary on Italian filmmaking. I can get a copy on VHS, but so far, I haven’t.

The Apu Trilogy (1959)
Director: Satyajit Ray
I tried to see this monumental trilogy once, but it was on VHS and the print was terrible. I gave up. It’s available on DVD now, but I haven’t laid my hands on it.

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Flaming Youth (1923)
Director: John Francis Dillon
The film that supposedly defined Colleen Moore as a flapper is, like all her other flapper movies, said to be lost. I’ve only seen her comedic roles, and I’m dying to see her in another light. They said Her Wild Oat was lost, but it was found. I’ve got my fingers crossed on this one.

Saturday Morning (1971)
Director: Kent MacKenzie
This documentary (no picture available) is the only other completed film by Kent MacKenzie, whose The Exiles was such a moving experience. A week of group-therapy sessions featuring 20 teenagers from the California of the late 1960s may not sound like everyone’s slice of heaven. I’m sure that in MacKenzie’s capable hands, it’s a knockout.

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Retribution (Sakebi, 2006)
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
This was the film that played at the 2006 Chicago International Film Festival I most wanted to see and didn’t. I’ll see it one day.

Invitation to the Dance (1956)
Director: Gene Kelly
One of Kelly’s few failures, Invitation to the Dance sounds like a bold idea. I suspect that I would love spending an entire movie looking at nothing but dancing. It’s probably available, but I haven’t gotten to it yet.

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Napoléon (1927)
Director: Abel Gance
I missed my chance to see this at the Chicago Theatre palace with a live orchestra when the restored film was touring around the world. I want to see it live. Maybe I’ll get a second chance.

17th Parallel: Vietnam and War (Le 17e parallèle: La guerre du peuple, 1968)
Directors: Joris Ivens and Marceline Loridan Ivens
I’m not too familiar with Joris Ivens, but he seems to have a very singular vision and the courage to go where others don’t. I’ve never seen the Vietnam War from the perspective of the peasants of the North, but I’d really like to. Not sure how available this is.

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The Story of a Clumsy Clerk (Der Stolz der Firma, 1914)
Director: Carl Wilhelm
No other reason I want to see this than it stars Ernst Lubitsch in a dual role (that’s him above). It’s not lost, but not readily available.

The Wrong Box (1966)
Director: Bryan Forbes
Technically, I have seen this film before, but it was so long ago that I might as well not have. I loved this book and remember loving the film. I’d like to revisit my childhood with this English comedy with an all-star cast (Michael Caine, John Mills, Peter Cook, Ralph Richardson, Dudley Moore).

Sorry, no more tags.

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28th 07 - 2008 | 12 comments »

The 12 Movies Meme

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By Marilyn Ferdinand

Pat Piper over at Lazy Eye Theatre has come up with a new meme and, once again, he’s tagged me to participate. Here’s the pitch:

1) Choose 12 films to be featured. They could be random selections or part of a greater theme—whatever you want.

2) Explain why you chose the films.

3) Link back to Lazy Eye Theatre so I can have hundreds of links and I can take those links and spread them all out on the bed and then roll around in them.

4) The people selected then have to turn around and select 5 more people.

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Lake Placid (1999)/Crocodile Dundee (1986)
Directors: Steve Miner/Peter Faiman

Two ridiculously fun crocodile films that play much better than you’d imagine. Betty White as the innocent-seeming midwife of monster-sized crocs has more fun than a barrel of pythons. Even moving Paul Hogan to Manhattan near the end of Dundee works beautifully (“That’s not a knife. THAT’S a knife.”). These films put me in a good mood.

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Baby Face (1933)/A Question of Silence (1982)
Directors: Alfred E. Green/Marleen Gorris

Barbara Stanwyck sleeps her way to success in a late pre-Code film in which women were never stronger or more sexually self-possessed. The weighty hand of patriarchy would start a squeeze thereafter that has really never let up. One lovely blow against this stifling presence is feminist director Marleen Gorris’ completely satisfying tale of female revenge. I watched both films with relish. I walked out of A Question of Silence grinning malevolently at the men in the aisle. What fun!

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The Perez Family (1995)/Lucky Miles (2007)
Directors: Mira Nair/Michael James Rowland

Two stories about illegal immigration, the first a romantic comedy with uncommon wisdom and knock-out performances by Anjelica Huston and Marisa Tomei and the second a comedy that communicates the desperation of refugees who cannot find a safe haven. Both films make me laugh and think.

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All the President’s Men (1976)/Secret Honor (1984)
Directors: Alan J. Pakula/Robert Altman

The film that launched a thousand journalism careers meets the president whose break with reality gave us the herculean performance of Philip Baker Hall. Both films are important studies of an important time with all the drama any film fan could ever want.

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Days of Wine and Roses (1962)/I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955)
Directors: Blake Edwards/Daniel Mann

Alcoholics often make compelling, and sometimes repulsive, film subjects. Days of Wine and Roses is a tragic love story as one drunk (Jack Lemmon) converts his naïve girlfriend (Lee Remick) into a bigger souse than he is and loses her down the bottle. It’s a killer. Susan Hayward plays the show-stopping drunk Lillian Roth in a women’s picture of traumatic proportions. Sometimes the film goes over the top, but when Roth is at her lowest, Hayward’s performance pulls the mask off the true ugliness of alcoholism.

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Le Grand Voyage (2004)/Le Fils (2002)
Directors: Ismaël Ferroukhi/Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

Fathers and sons are the subjects of these two films. The first is an unforgettable road trip a Muslim makes with his very modern son from Paris to Mecca. The beauty of their relationship, the experiences they have on the road, and the rarely filmed and wonderful sight of Mecca full of pilgrims inspires awe. Le Fils (The Son) is another one of the Dardenne brothers’ intense portraits of troubled souls that collide. This one has a tension and urgency that make me feel very alive and raw.

I’m afraid my end of the meme stops here. Carry on. l

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9th 01 - 2008 | 10 comments »

Persons of Interest: Fred Waller

A semi-regular feature on the underappreciated, the promising, and the very cool

My Dinner with… Fred Waller

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By Marilyn Ferdinand

I know in this “look at me” world in which we’re living, the lot of those who largely remain in the shadows may not seem to be a very happy one. Certainly some resentment at being overlooked can’t be avoided, but as a person who is very attracted to the world behind the scenes, I can say that, in general, standing a bit below eye level is a wonderful place to be. As part of the Lazy Eye Theatre Meme: My Dinner With…, I’ve chosen to break bread with one of the most fascinating movie persons you’ve never heard of: Fred Waller.

fredwaller-r.jpgWaller cut his teeth in the film business as cinematographer for five silents by the estimable director Frank Tuttle. He also did visual effects for D.W. Griffith’s The Sorrows of Satan. He turned his hand to directing in the ’30s. He specialized in making short music films featuring America’s great jazz musicians, beginning with Duke Ellington in A Bundle of Blues in 1933. The man had great musical taste, the foresight to see that these great performers needed to be captured on film for future generations, and an uncommon notion that filming African Americans being themselves was nothing out of the ordinary.

But what really sets Waller apart for me—in the immortal words of Henry Graham, “Every science has its fans.”—is that he was an engineering wizard. You’ll see the link for the American Widescreen Museum site on my blogroll, alphabetically first but also one of my very favorite websites, period. Fred Waller is responsible for that site’s very existence because he invented widescreen movie formats. He debuted the first widescreen process, called Vitarama, at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, where it made a huge sensation. He later extended and refined that process by inventing the most famous widescreen technology of them all—Cinerama. Listen to Waller describe the process.

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That’s Clara Bow on the left hawking Waller’s AKWA SKEES.

Waller’s mind was too active to give it just to Hollywood. For example, if you had a relative who was a WWII pilot who returned safely from the war, you both probably can thank Fred Waller for helping to make that safe return possible. He invented the first virtual-reality technology, based on the Vitarama process, and applied it to flight simulation, allowing pilots to gain valuable flight time. Oh, and if you’ve ever water skied, yes, thank Fred Waller for perfecting and patenting the first water skis. In all, Fred Waller held about 1,000 patents. He’s as close to a modern-day Leonardo da Vinci as they get.

I’m a pretty good cook with a brand-new kitchen and a love of entertaining, so naturally, I’d invite Mr. Waller to my home. I’d set out all the good crystal on the formal dining table and set up lots of jazz from the ’30s and ’40s for the CD player. I imagine Mr. Waller would like fine American food, so I’d serve cider-onion soup, homemade rustic bread, herbed lamb chops over orzo, and candied yams—all served with a medium-aged Beaujolais. For dessert—cherries jubilee and cognac.

I’m not one for a list of questions normally—I like to see where the conversation leads—but Piper asked me to, so I’d ask:

1. Mr. Waller, tell me why you decided to film jazz musicians and what the musicians you worked with were like? Any good stories to tell about them?

2. What were the challenges of transitioning to sound, and particularly, recording musicians? Did you invent anything to improve sound recording quality and reliability to help you and others?

3. What do you see as the purpose of movies?

4. As someone who spent a lifetime trying to improve movie images, are you a believer in the primacy of the picture in motion pictures? Why or why not?

5. Tell me more about your favorite inventions, what they do, how they work, and how long it took you to invent them? What drew you to want to solve these particular problems?

And wait for all the answers—for as long as it takes!

The six bloggers I have invited to participate in the meme are:

Joe Valdez of This Distracted Globe
Pat at Doodad Kind of Town
Peter Nellhaus of Coffee, Coffee, and More Coffee
Ed Howard at Only the Cinema
Campaspe at Self-Styled Siren
Kimberly Lindbergs at Cinebeats


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