Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The secret life of links

First off, I wanna say the blog has experienced an upsurge in readership dating back to last winter. The page count total for May was the highest in almost four years. That's pretty amazing, and it's because of you, so thanks so much for sticking with me. I really appreciate the support.

I did not realize Anton Yelchin was actually Russian. I suppose the name should've been a tip off, but I never gave it much thought. His Chekov was a sharp departure from Walt Koenig: a little younger, a little more manic, much more of a prodigy. What I will remember most is him running down the Enterprise hallways like a madman, trying to figure out how to rescue Kirk. He did a decent job of stepping into the boots of an iconic science fiction character. I'm grateful for his contribution. This Variety piece summarizes his pre-Trek career.

Here's something you'll get a kick out of: last week I returned to Brooklyn's Videology, the video rental store turned bar and screening room (and, amazingly, is still a video store as well) for a movie trivia night! I was there at the invite of Jen from my writer's group, who is a big fan of pub trivia nights and party games in general. She was there with her friend Laura, whom I had met before. For a Tuesday night, the place was packed - but then, the impression I got was that this regular event was quite popular. We shared a table with three other people and we partnered with them for the duration of the contest.

There were several rounds of varying degrees of difficulty. In addition to answering questions, we had to also identify stills, audio clips and video clips. You couldn't be a lightweight, either - the questions the hosts provided really did test your movie knowledge. I think Jen and I would've preferred more classic movie-related questions than we got (though there was one about Judy Holliday which I'm proud to say I knew instantly), but our newfound teammates pulled their weight and then some. They knew their stuff too.

Regrettably, it was not enough in the end. Our team floated in the top five at one point before fading out of contention in the later rounds. I think we finished tenth out of somewhere between 15-20 teams (I told you the place was packed). It was fun, though. Too bad the grand prize was only free drinks!

Your links:

Jennifer examines the history of Buffalo Bill in film.

Kristina is in a French New Wave mood.

Le says Harold Lloyd was cinema's first nerd.

Did you know Y-nk-- hall of famer Lou Gehrig appeared in a Western? Paddy knew.

Retrospace looks at two B-movies about space princesses on Earth (NSFW).

Paramount releases their guidelines for Star Trek fan films. I'll talk more about this next month.

Yes, one day, even schlock cinema will be preserved.

A bit of local news: Kaufman Astoria Studios is expanding.

Enjoy the holiday weekend, everyone. I'll be back July 7.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Books: The Thin Man

The 2016 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge is an event in which the goal is to read and write about a variety of books related to classic film, hosted by Out of the Past. For a complete list of the rules, visit the website.

I picked up Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man in a used bookstore on an impulse. It wasn't like I had any great desire to read it. For a brief period years ago, I had an interest in classic crime fiction, but it didn't last long. The thought of this blogathon did cross my mind, but mostly I was curious about the book. I had written about Hammett last winter in relation to Lillian Hellman... and, of course, I've seen the movie.

Dashiell Hammett
The first thing I noticed was that the ridiculous amount of drinking William Powell and Myrna Loy do in the film is no exaggeration. Nick and Nora really do drink that much in the book! It's almost comical how often Hammett writes them drinking, mixing a drink, receiving a drink, recovering from a drink, wanting a drink... Seriously, I almost thought this was meant to be read as a parody!

The next thing I noticed was how heavy the book is on dialogue. Hammett gets away with a bare minimum of narrative description of people and places. If he were a member of my writers group, I'd probably call him on that, but it didn't bother me that much. Nick Charles as written in the book strikes me as a man not easily perturbed by the things going on around him. Nora is as I imagined her from the movies - the sensible gal Friday with the droll humor.

The story, however, didn't grab me. As much as I tried to imagine Powell and Loy acting their way through this complex murder mystery with a large cast, I didn't care much for what was going on. I didn't see why the murder mattered, and while everyone's motives were laid out in the open all nice and neat, it still didn't make them that appealing as characters. The same might be true of the movie, but at least you had Powell and Loy to make it all watchable. I think I'll stick to Dennis Lehane from now on.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Bread and Circuses: action Trek vs. mental Trek

“You can’t make a cerebral Star Trek in 2016. It just wouldn’t work in today’s marketplace. You can hide things in there – Star Trek Into Darkness has crazy, really demanding questions and themes, but you have to hide it under the guise of wham-bam explosions and planets blowing up. It’s very, very tricky. The question that our movie poses is “Does the Federation mean anything?” And in a world where everybody’s trying to kill one another all of the time, that’s an important thing. Is working together important? Should we all go our separate ways? Does being united against something mean anything?
With the new movie coming next month, and a new TV series further down the pike, it seems like a good time to talk about what, exactly, should we expect from Star Trek in the future. The issue that Chris Pine brings up is a dichotomy that the franchise has had to contend with from Day One, fifty years ago.

When Gene Roddenberry wrote the first Trek pilot, "The Cage," it was in the spirit of traditional science fiction: a story with Big Ideas that says something about who we are and who we aspire to be, but the world wasn't ready for it yet. At least, NBC wasn't. Though they liked the premise, they considered the execution too cerebral, too progressive. They were willing to give Roddenberry another chance, though, and it was good for us that they did. The result was an unprecedented second pilot, "Where No Man Has Gone Before," which retained the same basic premise but had a greater emphasis on action. Star Trek was sold as a series, and the rest is history.

Even the first two movies followed this pattern. The Motion Picture was a thoughtful, character-driven piece that got a lukewarm reception, but The Wrath of Khan was a plot-driven adventure with ships fighting in space and a villain to struggle against, that became a modern classic.

The Voyage Home emphasized the familiar characters and their
relationships in a movie with a message...
When Pine says "a cerebral Star Trek... wouldn't work in today's marketplace," I believe he's talking about the movies and not television, so let's go in that direction, because what's behind that statement lies a fundamental question: what do we expect from our movies?

Dramatic, intelligent films like Spotlight may win Oscars, but it's the Jurassic World-type movies that dominate the box office. This is not news. Once upon a time, the disparity was not so pronounced, but the market, as Pine acknowledged, has changed. Intelligent movies, however, will still get made, because there will always be an audience hungry for such material - and yes, it is entirely possible to enjoy both kinds of movies. No one's disputing that. One likes to think if the Spotlights of the world had wider distribution and better marketing, they would each make $100 million also - quality should be all that matters in the end - but it's no longer that simple, if indeed it ever was.

As for Trek specifically, it's a bit different. A movie like The Voyage Home, a character-driven message piece with no villains, was a huge money maker, but as time goes by, it has come to look more and more like an outlier. All of the other Trek films following Khan have assumed the action-with-a-villain model, to varying degrees of success. Therefore, in a sense, what Pine says is nothing new. Despite the popularity of Voyage, Paramount has shown no interest in capitalizing on its storytelling model.

And yet, in recent years, cinematic sci-fi has taken a turn towards more Big Idea-type material, from Interstellar and The Martian and Inception to Ex Machina and Her and District 9. If movies like these can capture the hearts and minds of critics and audiences, shouldn't a Trek movie done in this fashion do well also?

...but most Trek movies, such as First Contact, tend to lean
more towards the action end of the spectrum.
I say it can. Trek, more than any other multimedia franchise, has had a profound impact on not just our culture, but the way we've shaped our technology, the way we view scientific achievement and politics and religion and a host of other things. Trek has always striven to make us think as well as to entertain us, and if any franchise can make a "cerebral" film work, it's this one. I would go so far as to say it might even be their responsibility to make one eventually, though that might require a bigger shift in the zeitgeist.

Whether or not it'll actually happen, though, is a question only the powers that be at Paramount can answer. I'll say this much: studios are risk-averse. If Paramount was to make a "cerebral" Trek movie, they would need a good reason to do so, one that would mean money in the bank for them.

The influence of a powerful director could be one reason. Say what you will about JJ Abrams, but he was brought on board because he had a proven track record as a genre writer-director, and it was believed he could turn the fortunes of a franchise in a downward spiral around. He did - but he doesn't make heady genre films. Not many do, at least not those that a studio would see as a proven money maker.

If Trekkies want innovation and Big Ideas, I suspect we'll have to look to the forthcoming series instead. Trek is rooted in television, after all, and most of its best moments have come through the shows. Perhaps that's as it should be.

Axanar and fan fiction
William Shatner's 'Leonard'
Two Nimoy docs
Lin brokers Axanar settlement

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Finding Nemo/Finding Dory

Finding Nemo
seen @ Fort Greene Park, Fort Greene, Brooklyn NY

Finding Dory
seen @ Movieworld, Douglaston, Queens

It had been a long time since I had last seen Finding Nemo, and with the sequel, Finding Dory, due soon, I figured it was a good time to revisit this film. The Alamo Drafthouse sponsored the outdoor screening of the former at Fort Greene Park, which made sense, since the theater chain is opening a new location a short distance away in the downtown Brooklyn area.

I've written about Fort Greene before, but not about its park. It's largish; its most distinctive feature being the great column at the top, the Prison Ship Martyr's Monument, a Revolutionary War memorial standing 149 feet high. The park is basically one big hill, and it is steep! Scaling the paths leading upward to the top sometimes reminds me of the summer camp I worked at where once, our bunk was atop a similarly steep hill which we had to traverse every day. I suppose the view from high above is worth the effort, but most of the time I don't need to enjoy the view that much. Otherwise, it's a very nice park.

Friday, June 17, 2016


TCM viewing

One of the great highlights from last year's extended foray into classic Hollywood for me was my conversation with Jacqueline about her Ann Blyth biography. It has gotten good reviews, and it must be selling decently for a self-published indie because Jacqueline's expanding into the realm of audio books. Ann Blyth: Actress Singer Star will soon be available in this format, complete with a legitimate Hollywood actress to do the reading!

Outside of her star-making turn in Mildred Pierce, I doubt if Blyth would be an actress I'd be aware of if not for Jacqueline, but then, this is hardly unprecedented. I've written before about how she got me interested in another little-known Golden Age actress, Alexis Smith, and that was just one blog post. Blyth required a whole year devoted to her! So I figured I should take the time to check out some of her other films.

I had started watching Kismet once before and was unable to finish, but this is one that TCM plays a lot, so I knew it was only a matter of time before they played it again. It's a musical, directed by Vincente Minnelli, set in old Baghdad. Howard Keel stars as a petty beggar and con man who gets caught up in a case of mistaken identity and is drawn into some palace intrigue in the court of the caliph. Blyth plays his daughter, who falls for a dude who is not what he seems.

The whole thing is as fluffy as you can imagine, and to be honest, I started losing interest halfway through, but the exquisite costumes and set design make for terrific eye candy, especially in CinemaScope, and some of the songs are decent. Keel had a powerful baritone voice and he gets many opportunities to show it off. Also, pre-MASH Jamie Farr in a bit part.

One of the things about Blyth's career I found interesting was how she was able to avoid being typecast as the bad girl, only to have the pendulum swing in the opposite direction. Jacqueline told me that the studio publicized her as a good girl to the point where it was difficult to imagine her in any other kind of role:
...she was praised for her work as Veda Pierce [in Mildred] at the age [of] sixteen when nobody knew anything about her. A decade later, she was mocked for wanting to play the alcoholic [singer] Helen Morgan (despite the fact of Morgan's being demure, soft-spoken, charitable, and a Catholic convert).... Even when she won the Helen Morgan role, she wasn't allowed to sing in the movie because by that time, she had done a few lightweight operetta-type musicals and the press smirked at the thought of her being a torch singer with that type of trained voice. The studio caved.
I can see how someone could make that mistake. Blyth's voice was in the tradition of cinematic sirens like Jeanette MacDonald, very well suited for Broadway or for an old-fashioned, European-style movie musical. It's great, but if I were a producer, I doubt she'd have been my first choice for Helen Morgan either.

Kismet is really more of a vehicle for Keel. Blyth's role isn't as big as I expected, but she gets her moments. In her post on the movie, Jacqueline does a nice analysis of the scene where Blyth performs "Stranger in Paradise" with Vic Damone, noting the color scheme and the staging. I was pleasantly surprised to realize I recognized the song; apparently it has become a standard. Jacqueline says "Baubles, Bangles and Beads" is a famous number also. I liked that one too.

Kismet isn't among the greatest musicals I've ever seen, but for what it was, it was a pleasant enough way to spend two hours. I can see why Blyth was a star. It couldn't have been easy to overcome the shadow of her great performance in Mildred, especially as a teenager, but she did it.

If I had to compare Blyth to a modern actress, I might go with Anne Hathaway: former teen starlet; breakthrough role in a dramatic film (Brokeback Mountain); alternates between heavy drama and light comedy; finally given a chance to sing and she shines (Les Miserables), although unlike Blyth, Hathaway hasn't had a lot of singing roles since. Then again, movie musicals these days are not as popular as they used to be.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Breathless/The Red Balloon

Breathless (A Bout de Souffle)
The Red Balloon
seen @ Flicks on the Green, Central Park, New York NY

Okay, I understand that Jean-Luc Godard is an Important Filmmaker and Breathless is an Important Film. I spent a week writing about the French New Wave several years ago; I know the kind of filmmaking JLG and his peers made was unlike anything that came before, and I recognize that in this movie.

I dug the location shots on the streets of Paris. Combined with the hand-held cinematography, it made the whole thing look very modern. I didn't expect the jump cuts to be used as rapidly as they were in places, but that, too, was clearly a dramatic departure from the way films had been made before, and I can appreciate that. I would not dream of denying JLG his place as a radical director who helped kick-start a cinematic revolution. All that said...

...I hated this movie! First of all, it didn't help that I watched most of Breathless while needing to pee. The clearing in Central Park where the movie was shown somehow neglected to include port-o-potties in its set-up, so I had to hold it in for maybe three-fourths of the movie until I said the hell with it and packed up my blanket and left, so I could find a tree to pee behind. And did I mention how cold it was? I wasn't watching under the best of circumstances...

...but I would've put up with it if I had liked the movie more. Jean-Paul Belmondo's character is an ugly man who thinks he's God's gift to women, when in fact all he does is sponge off of them and use them for sex - and they LET him! This actually made me angry; that chicks, including those in the audience, would find a guy like this "witty" and "charismatic," when in real life he'd be called on his bullshit before he made it to first base. Actually, if the chicks in the audience did think he was funny, maybe his schtick really would work, but any girl who falls for a dude like that is no girl I would want.

Which brings me to Jean Seberg. There's this one long and dull scene in her bedroom with her and Belmondo that stops the film dead in its tracks. All they do is talk about useless crap, and she's constantly beating his grabby hands off her. What does a foxy chick like her see in a shallow, horny Lothario like him? For the life of me, I could not figure it out and after awhile I stopped trying. I fiddled around on my cellphone (which I wouldn't have done if this wasn't an outdoor movie) until the scene mercifully ended. The rest of what I saw before I walked out didn't do much for me either.

The night wasn't a total loss, however. I also got to see a short film I hadn't seen in ages, The Red Balloon. It played in front of Breathless, and boy, was I happy about that. I feel fairly confident in saying this may be the first foreign film I ever saw, and the memory is still strong. I was in grade school, maybe third grade, and we were on a class outing to our local library. We were shown around the place and told how it worked, and then the librarian showed us the movie - which must have been on 8 or 16mm or something like that. Home video was still several years away.

It's an almost-silent short about a kid and a balloon with what appears to be a mind of its own. Looking at it now, it reminds me somewhat of Little Fugitive in that we're following an unsupervised child all over city streets and he doesn't appear to be in grave danger. The streets and alleys of Paris are well put on display in lush Technicolor.

Balloon is one of those kind of tales where the magic of something like a sentient balloon is taken for granted, but that's part of its charm. I know it appealed to me as a kid, and I'm glad to know it still does over thirty years later.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Rock 'n' Roll High School

Rock 'n' Roll High School
YouTube viewing

I still remember the first time I heard the Ramones. I was a freshman in high school and my friend Eric played one of their songs for me. I don't recall whether I listened to it on his Walkman (or mine) or if I heard it at his place - might have been the latter - but the song was "Do You Wanna Dance?" I loved it instantly. I had never heard the original version before, but it wouldn't have mattered. Even when I hear their version now, it always makes me happy.

I have a vague memory of seeing Rock 'n' Roll High School on TV, specifically, WPIX Channel 11, back when they still played movies. I remember watching the concert scene, seeing them perform "Teenage Lobotomy," and thinking how convenient it was for the film to provide the lyrics for the song in subtitles. I was too young to know what a lobotomy was, or DDT for that matter, but I still sensed the song was kinda silly, and I dug that.

Seeing them in this deliriously fun movie now, I was reminded for a brief moment that all four original band members - Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy - are playing in Rock 'n' Roll Heaven now (though Marky was in the band when they made this movie, not Tommy) - but only for a moment.

The punk rock "look" is fairly commonplace now (don't get me started on how out of control ripped jeans have become), but seeing the Ramones that way, during their prime, one is reminded of how counterculture that look used to be once upon a time. I mean, between Joey's bangs and his dark glasses and his long hair, one wonders if he even had a face at times. It's like his head was a great big mop of hair with a nose sticking out!

Rock 'n' Roll High School is very much in the spirit of those movies from the late 50s and 60s that exploded in the wake of the mainstreaming of rock, usually with some popular band of the moment, a hepcat Allan Freed-style DJ, stone-faced authority figures, and lots and lots of teens.

Born of rhythm & blues music by black musicians, rock metamorphosed into something bigger once White America grabbed hold of it, and Hollywood was there to take advantage of the new trend: Rock Around the Clock, The Girl Can't Help It, High School Confidential, through the British invasion and A Hard Day's Night and its imitators.

Rock 'n' Roll High School shares with these movies an anarchic, gleeful, fun-loving spirit that embodies rock at its core. In a year in which we've lost two of its greatest practitioners, it's worth looking back to the time when rock meant something special, something important, because all you have to do is turn on the radio these days to realize that time is gone, and may not ever return. And that's sad.

PJ Soles and Dey Young are both total hotties, but I wanna talk briefly about two other cast members I love: Mary Woronov and Paul Bartel. I first discovered this husband and wife duo during my video store years, and seeing the two of them in anything was always a treat. His on-screen persona was like a slightly edgier Edward Everett Horton: fussy and uptight but susceptible to temptation. As for her, well, put it this way: I'm not into S&M or anything like that, but if I were, she's the one I'd want wielding the whip! The two of them together made for a potent mixture of virtue and vice.

So if you're in the New York area, you may have heard about the current exhibit at the Queens Museum devoted to the Ramones. It's glorious. It makes a fella proud to see how four local boys from Forest Hills conquered the world. The exhibit spans almost their entire lives, from candid pictures from their youth to lyrics scribbled on scraps of paper to flyers for their earliest gigs, amps and guitars and leather jackets, original album artwork, gigantic concert posters, photos from around the world, and more, all set to Ramones music constantly playing as you look. I can't recommend this enough. If the Ramones or rock in general mean anything to you, then take the trip on the 7 train and see this show while you can.

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Witness

The Witness
seen @ IFC Center, New York NY

I don't consider Kew Gardens "my" neighborhood, but it's one of the parts of Queens I like most, and within which I feel comfortable. A big reason why is the presence of the Kew Gardens Cinemas, which I've written about here lots of times, but there are other reasons: places to eat, parks, the nice houses. Yet for over half a century, this neighborhood has had to live with the memory of not only a brutal murder committed there, but a reputation for apathy that may not be entirely earned.

I learned about the murder of Kitty Genovese through pop culture. There's a chapter in the famous graphic novel Watchmen which goes into the origin of the sociopathic antihero Rorschach. One of the reasons he provides for becoming a masked vigilante was shame over her story: as reported in 1964 by the New York Times, Genovese was attacked, raped and killed outside her Kew Gardens apartment late at night. 38 people allegedly saw or heard what was going on, but did nothing to prevent it happening. Within the context of the fictional superhero tale, I didn't recognize this as a piece of real-life history when I first read the book, and I was too young to even know about it.

Over time, I learned it was all too real, but it wasn't until recently that I was able to process it as something that happened in a part of town I knew. In the 2014 book Tomorrow-Land: The 1964-65 World's Fair and the Transformation of America by Joseph Tirella, a chapter is devoted to the slaying, which took place as Queens was preparing to put on a World's Fair that would put it in the international spotlight. Queens was put in a spotlight, all right, but not the kind it expected:
...Citizens, clergy, politicians, journalists and psychiatrists offered numerous opinions in an attempt to explain the horrible crime, and the larger issues it invoked. President (Lyndon) Johnson mentioned it on a radio address, as the murder of Genovese quickly became a symbol of all that was wrong with America's cities. The silence of those thirty-eight witnesses would be debated for decades to come; sociologists even gave a name to this new disease that was infecting urban America: Genovese syndrome.
Now comes a new documentary, The Witness, which looks at the murder through the prism of the surviving Genovese family members, specifically Kitty's younger brother Bill, who is the film's narrative center. Driven by a need to understand what really happened that night in 1964, when he was a teenager, we follow him as he examines old police records, visits the Kew Gardens street where it happened, as well as Kitty's old apartment, and talks to many people associated with Kitty and her death, including other siblings, police, lawyers, journalists, co-workers, her former roommate, the son of the killer, and most of all, Kitty's former neighbors, who may or may not have been among the infamous 38. We learn that the story of the 38 might have been an exaggeration, certain aspects of the story went unreported, and the story itself went unchallenged at the time.

Bill Genovese, Kitty's brother
I either hang out or pass through Kew Gardens a fair amount, mainly because of the movie theater. The neighborhood has become quite familiar to me. In my mind, it's difficult, bordering on impossible, to imagine something like this, an event the whole world knows about by now, taking place on a street I've walked up and down countless times. If you go to Austin Street now, there's no indication of what occurred that night, not that any should be expected. Other than the Long Island Railroad trains passing through every so often, it's a quiet community - not as diverse as Jackson Heights or as gentrified as Long Island City, but it's okay.

The Witness showed footage of Kew Gardens from the time of the murder, and I was amazed to not only see the neighborhood as it was over fifty years ago, but to see Kitty Genovese within it. The portrait the film paints of her is of a cute, lively, fun-loving young woman who was a cut-up around her friends and a confidant to her little brother Bill. I can easily imagine her as a friend.

Winston Moseley, Kitty's killer

There's a scene late in the movie where we see an actress, on Austin Street late at night, re-create Kitty's last moments, with Bill watching. When asked why he arranged to have that done, he cited his experience in Vietnam as an impetus. His fellow soldiers were there to save him when he got his legs blown off, but no one was there for his sister when she died. The reenactment was a kind of catharsis, to let Kitty's spirit know he is there for her. I suppose we all have our own ways of dealing with grief.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Birds

The Birds
Sundance Channel viewing

I'm not sure how old I was exactly - I have a feeling I was still in grade school - but I have this memory of going out somewhere with my mother and we sat down on a bench in a park. She paused to look up at the tree branches high above. When I asked why, she said she didn't want any birds leaving her presents. Ever since then, I've fallen into the same habit.

New Yorkers take birds, particularly pigeons, for granted because there are so many of them. Yeah, you see them everywhere within the five boroughs, but you don't really notice them - at least, not until they make a nuisance of themselves, like cooing all at once, or leaving presents. Sometimes you even see them in the subway stations underground. They might fly around in confusion for a little bit but I've never seen them do any harm.

I remember chasing them as a kid, and yes, I really thought I could catch one. It always frustrated me that I couldn't, nor could I tell you why I wanted to grab one so bad. Chalk it up to ignorant childhood silliness - but it was fun! My mother always hated it when I tried to chase birds, though, because it meant I'd escape her grasp.

Pigeons sometimes feel like second-class citizens here in New York (along with rats and cockroaches), so I'd hate to see them try to attack humans en masse, like in The Birds. I had only seen bits and pieces of this movie before, so this was the first time I saw the whole thing from start to finish.

I wasn't sure whether or not to expect a full-blown horror movie. I guess I figured since this was Alfred Hitchcock, he'd try and class it up somehow - and indeed, the first half is a whole lotta character-building stuff, which wasn't all that interesting. Tippi Hedren's character struck me as a stalker and a pathological liar, which wasn't necessarily bad. I just wished it had meant maintaining her antagonistic relationship with Rod Taylor longer. That would've been more interesting. Once those birds start attacking, though, watch out! They were scarier than I had expected. These are the original Angry Birds!

Okay, so we now know that Hedren and Hitch's working relationship was less than professional, at least according to Hedren. If even half of the things she says about him are true, well, I guess we can add his name to the list of talented filmmakers who are also scumbags - and that would be a shame, because Hitch is one of the all-time greats. I'm not saying she's lying about him, just that we don't know his side of the story and we never will. Regardless, it does look as if Hedren's career wasn't as big as it could have been, despite the great success of this film and her follow-up, Marnie. One certainly hopes Hitch wasn't to blame for that, for her sake.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Athletes in Film Blogathon continues!

Welcome to Day Two of the blogathon. I recognize the irony in having a blogathon dedicated to athletes on the same weekend that Muhammad Ali dies. What can I say? Just one of those things. I don't think he ever acted in anything, not that it matters. I've seen both the documentary When We Were Kings and the Will Smith biopic about his life. Both excellent films. Both worth seeing. Ali was a giant among men. His legacy will be remembered for generations to come.

You can check out the Day One entries over at Once Upon a Screen, and in case you missed my piece on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, it's right here, and this is Aurora's entry, the Buster Keaton movie College. If you've got an entry for today, put in the comments and I'll help spread the word about it, both here and on Twitter. On behalf of Aurora and myself, thanks for taking part!

Jim Thorpe, All American

Breaking Away

The Color of Money

Pride of the Yankees

Headin' Home

The Freshman

The Stratton Story

Quarterback Princess

Saturday, June 4, 2016

He Got Game: The film career of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

The Athletes in Film Blogathon is this year's WSW event, co-hosted by the fabulous Aurora of Once Upon a Screen. Go to her blog and check out the list of participants for the first half of the blogathon, then come back here tomorrow for the second half!

If you were a basketball fan in the 80s, like I was, you probably remember well the brilliance of the Los Angeles Lakers. It was quite thrilling to watch them go through the playoffs year after year, and even though the Knicks held my main loyalty, I liked rooting for the Lakers, especially when they went up against their great rivals, the Boston Celtics. Magic Johnson was the face of the team during those championship years and an undisputed megastar, but there was another who was pivotal to the team's success - someone who'd been a superstar in his own right long before he put on the purple and gold of the Lakers.

The numbers tell the story of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and they speak volumes: 19-time All-Star; six-time MVP; member of six NBA championship teams, five with the Lakers and one with his previous team, the Milwaukee Bucks; two-time NBA Finals MVP; and still the NBA leader in points scored. Over the years, he parlayed his success on the basketball court into other avenues: he is the author of a number of books on a wide variety of subjects, and he was named a cultural ambassador for the US by Hillary Clinton, when she was Secretary of State.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as a Los Angeles Laker
KAJ also had a nice run of film and television roles, and not just as himself. His professional acting debut was on the TV detective show Mannix, in 1971. He played the missing son of a businessman, who hires Mannix to look for him. KAJ's character was a student at UCLA, the same school KAJ attended. As a Bruin, he was part of three consecutive collegiate championships back when he was still Lew Alcindor.

During his college years, he met someone who would become an influential figure in his life: martial artist and actor Bruce Lee. Under him, KAJ studied Jeet Kune Do. He described their relationship in a 2002 Lawrence Journal-World article:
We were friends. I trained with him. We hung out. We talked philosophy. He learned about different issues having to do with the civil rights movement, which he didn't know much about. He didn't really understand the background of it. He understood that blacks had a lot in terms of issues, but he didn't know why. I was able to explain it to him.
KAJ with Bruce Lee in Game of Death
It was Lee who encouraged KAJ to make his film debut in what would have been The Game of Death. Lee, however, died in 1973 of cerebral edema while making the film. Although over 100 minutes of footage was shot before he died, only eleven minutes and change was used in the 1978 revision, which was stitched together using stunt doubles and footage from other Lee films.

KAJ played one of several villains Lee must face within different levels of a pagoda. In an interview with the site Jeet Kune Do Library, he talked about working with Lee:
...I was not nervous but I did feel the pressure to perform - acting wise. We were making money and had to make it work. Since I had no lines we managed a good scene. It was my first full-length movie.... I thought Bruce was a superb actor. He had been acting since he was a child. His father was in the Cantonese Opera and that is how Bruce was born in San Francisco and that is also how he got into show business.
KAJ in Airplane!
In 1980, KAJ appeared in one of the greatest comedic films of all time, Airplane! The directing and writing triumvirate of David & Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams made this film partly as a homage to similar airplane-related disaster films. The casting of KAJ was meant to recall the film Zero Hour, which also featured a professional athlete as a pilot, football star Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch. Reportedly, they originally wanted baseball star Pete Rose, but he was unavailable, so they went with KAJ. He's not the most convincing actor, but he fulfills his role adequately, especially in this scene where he unexpectedly breaks character.

KAJ went on to appear in a variety of TV shows and films while playing in LA and after his retirement, whether as himself in movies like Fletch and Forget Paris, or in fictitious roles in shows like Diff'rent Strokes, 21 Jump Street and Saved By the Bell. He also got into producing, beginning in 1989 with an all-star special devoted to him, followed in 1994 with a James Earl Jones movie called The Vernon Johns Story.

KAJ today
In 2011, KAJ produced a documentary, On the Shoulders of Giants, about a pioneering all-black basketball team, the Harlem Rens (aka the New York Renaissance), that dominated their opponents, including all-white teams, for three decades during the early 20th century, and helped pave the way for integration in the NBA. The Rens were originally the subject of a 2007 book of the same name written by KAJ, and the film version includes interviews with basketball stars and other noteworthy figures, including Reverend Al Sharpton, Maya Angelou, Cornel West and Spike Lee. This article goes into further depth and includes video footage of KAJ talking about the film.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's basketball feats are the stuff of legend, but when added to his accomplishments outside the sporting world, he has become a true renaissance man, and an inspiration to many.

Films with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar:
Game of Death

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Teenage mutant ninja links

Summer is around the corner, and after an unusually cold spring, warm weather will be especially welcome this year - and thatmeans iit's time for outdoor movies. The ones I've picked out this year are mostly ones I've seen before, but that's okay. One notable exception will play Brooklyn Bridge Park in July: It Happened One Night. Never seen that one. Aurora and me are hoping to make an outing ofit with friends, which would be real nice. Just as long as it ddoesn't rain! Speaking of whom, our Athletes in Film Blogathon is coming this weekend, so stay tuned for that.

Not much else to say this month, so here are your links:

Ryan ponders the age old movies-vs.books debate.

Le traces the history, in movies and TV, of the archetypal top-hat-wearing, mustache-twirling villain.

Aurora has love for the cartoon bad guy Wile E. Coyote.

I don't entirely disagree with this alternate take on Purple Rain.

Five stories from one blogger about favorite movie moments.