For the Love of Film Blogathon: The White Shadow

[I’m reprinting this article I posted on The Frame yesterday in support of the For the Love of Film blogathon and fundraiser, which continues until tomorrow. This year, hosts Marilyn Ferdinand, Farran Smith Nehme and Roderick Heath have dedicated the week to Alfred Hitchcock, whose early (non-directorial) work The White Shadow will be the beneficiary of any money earned during the event, to support the National Film Preservation Foundation’s desire to stream the film online for free. Be sure to donate so you can see this very-nearly lost film yourself!]

We excitedly gathered on the sidewalk, anticipating being let into the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ own screening room, the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills. VIPs slipped by, headed toward the bar or lounge in their finery, while the rest of us waited, patient but anxious to begin the evening’s entertainment. Any screening at the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre is a treat, a step into a more opulent past presented by the self-appointed guardians of Hollywood history, but this was no ordinary screening. This was the very first appearance of an early, long-thought-lost Hitchcock film pretty much since its original release in 1924. Well, technically Hitchcock was the Assistant Director on the film (and he tended to get in on every part of production he could in those early days, so likely he was doing much more), the second of two collaborations with director Graham Cutts and actress Betty Compson, apparently rushed into production to capitalize on the popularity of the first, Woman to Woman. According to producer Michael Balcon, “it was as big a flop as Woman to Woman had been a success.” But Woman to Woman remains a lost film, and in any case, The White Shadow could’ve been a terrible movie and we still would’ve been ecstatic to see it.

Our excitement was first of all out of curiosity to see if we could see any glimpses of Hitchcock in the film’s style, but also simply because here’s a film that has been thought lost for decades, turned up (partially at least) in an archive in New Zealand, along with a bunch of other long-lost films. If we can still locate treasure troves like this in 2011, what else might still be out there, waiting for intrepid archivists to find it, figure out what it is, and restore it so the world can rediscover it?

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Finite Focus: Battling the Elements for 116 Years [Buster Keaton]

Well, not quite 116 years. Buster Keaton would’ve turned 116 today, and his films have been delighting audiences for 94 of those years. One of the three great silent comedians (along with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd), Keaton’s name doesn’t always strike the immediate recognition among mainsteam audiences that Chaplin’s might, but for me, and for many who have seen his films, Keaton’s particular brand of stone-faced endurance against any and all elements that would seek to do him in – from enemy soldiers to angry fathers to hordes of cops to nature itself – can hardly be beat.

Keaton was a genius at physical comedy, and though Chaplin practically has a patent on the word “pathos,” Keaton’s stoicism manages to get just as much or more true emotion. You feel for him because he refuses to ask for your empathy. Meanwhile, he was busy working through some of the most incredible stunts ever put on film, which he did all himself. The first “whoa” moment watching a Keaton film is always “whoa, they did this before they had computers and stuff,” and the second is always “whoa, he’s doing this himself without stunt double to fill in.” Chaplin did this too, don’t get me wrong, and I love Chaplin to bits, but I get a sense of real danger with Buster that’s quite exhilarating without ever failing to be funny.

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Guy Maddin Blogathon: Confessions of a Maddin Newbie

[Part of The Maddin-est Blogathon in the World! Contest Head over to that link for more Maddin-ness.]

Nobody can really tell you what watching a Guy Maddin film is like. Or maybe nobody really tried to tell me. My first Maddin experience was Brand Upon the Brain!, and it was less than a year ago. Despite having heard about Maddin from Marina and Kurt for years, I had no idea what I was getting into. Watching a Maddin film is like jumping into another world, and not just in the way that all cinema is a window into another world. Maddin makes films like none I’ve ever seen before, somewhere on the line between narrative and avant-garde, evoking very early cinema but with a soft edge of surrealism that most primitive films only gain through the degradation of nitrate stock, and infusing that very old style with a preoccupation with memory, repression, and sexual anxiety.

Thinking back now on Brand Upon the Brain! and Careful which I watched soon after is like looking through a mirror filled with murky memories – I remember snatches of Isabella Rossellini’s narration, and matted images harkening back to Maddin’s eponymous character’s childhood. I remember muted colors and highly stylized acting. I remember butler school and a lighthouse. I remember troubling mother issues and ghosts and cats. My memories of the two are not mixed up, because though both use a throwback visual style, they’re very different from each other. But both exist in the hazy nether regions of visual memory rather than as fully-formed narratives. Perhaps that’s appropriate. My memories of Maddin films, even ones I’ve seen within the past several months, approximate Maddin’s own slipstream way of visualizing and editing his films with a dream logic all their own.

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Guy Maddin Blogathon: Rank ‘Em: Guy Maddin’s Films

[Part of The Maddin-est Blogathon in the World! Contest Head over to that link for more Maddin-ness.]

I remember the day I discovered Guy Maddin. I was filling a gap in my film festival schedule and The Saddest Music in the World happened to fit. What I didn’t bargain for was Maddin’s style. Here was a director, Canadian no less!, making a movie unlike anything I’d seen before. It looked old, it sounded old, it was melodramatic and every moment was enjoyable. In a sea of film that all looked alike, this was something new and refreshing. That was my first run in with Maddin but not the last.

Over the years I’ve seen a dozen or so films from Maddin’s long filmogaphy and though I’m sometimes happy to simply let them wash over me in a haze of grainy film and crackling music, there are a few that I have come to love. Enter my list of favourite Guy Maddin films.
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Guy Maddin Blogathon: CAREFUL!

[Part of The Maddin-est Blogathon in the World! Contest Head over to that link for more Maddin-ness.]

Outside of the pitch perfect, six minutes of pure cinematic bliss that is Heart of the World, 1992s Careful is very likely Guy Maddin’s best work – at the risk of splitting hairs, it is for me his best feature length film. A culmination of many of the things which keep film-lovers coming back to the Winnipeg maestro’s work: Melodrama heightened to the high of pure comedy, Freud punchdrunk on a cocktail of speedballs and laudanum, flirtations with genre, and the aesthetic of the primordial days of filmmaking at the turn of the 20th century. Although it should be noted that things are done with a subtle modern editing techniques and executed with more-than-a-hint of the grotesque generally not afforded at the time. When you enter the alien world of Tolzbad, leave reality at the door and soak in image and sound boiled down to an essence before being reconstituted as pure fantasy. The surrealism and idiosyncratic personality of Maddin’s work is often compared of David Lynch, but his idiom of resurrecting and reconstructing forgotten sub (-sub-sub) genres puts him in the vein of Quentin Tarantino with hints towards Powell and Pressburger by way of Fritz Lang and Jim Jarmusch. And lest I be branded some sort of leper for suggesting the first name in the previous comparison, I do not mean to imply the rock-star or mainstream appeal of the ‘Pulp’ director, but the idea of a filmmaker that pleasures himself in a video archives for days, weeks, months on end to soak up the juices of cinema before mixing and batching his own, unique and pleasurable concoction. For those of us who have drunk the Kool-Aid, we feel you should too…

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Jean Harlow: The Original Smart Blonde


If Hollywood luminaries’ lives lasted a length commensurate with the brightness of their stars, Jean Harlow would have been blowing out her own candles for her 100th birthday yesterday. As it is, the opposite is often true, and Harlow died much before her time at the age of 26, leaving behind a timeless legacy in her brief nine years as a Hollywood actress, comedienne, and sex symbol. That legacy is being celebrated by a blogathon sponsored by The Kitty Packard Pictorial, named after Harlow’s memorable character from Dinner at Eight. The blogathan has already been going on all week, and I’ve been avidly reading the entries thus far, most of which are by people far more knowledgeable about Harlow and her films than I. So I recommend checking those out (all are linked from the Kitty Packard Pictorial), but I wanted to throw in my two cents as well for the original Blonde Bombshell, the prototype for Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Brigitte Bardot, Madonna, and many others.

The first Harlow movie I remember seeing was Red Dust (1932), a pre-Code affair with Harlow’s frequent costar Clark Gable, so for a long while to me she symbolized pre-Code sensuality and naughtiness. Set in the jungles of Indochina, the film stars Gable as the boss of a rubber plantation and Harlow as the vaguely bad girl who turns up and stays a while. The ostensible main plot concerns Gable’s relationship with Mary Astor, the high-classed wife of one of his workers, but Harlow has pretty much all the really memorable moments. Set up in contrast to Astor’s refined character, Harlow is the kind of girl who travels from place to place because she keeps getting into “a spot of trouble” everywhere she goes. Gable treats her like a whore, carrying on a relationship with her in the early part of the film (before Astor’s arrival), then paying her off when she leaves, temporarily as it turns out. When she soon returns, the comparisons between her and the recently arrived Astor abound, jean harlow red dust 7.jpgnone more obviously or humorously as when Astor insists on a curtain for the bathing area but Harlow shamelessly bathes with the curtains up, teasing Gable every inch of the way.

Yet though Harlow is set up as the “bad girl” in the film, she’s far nobler and more self-sacrificial in her love for Gable than Astor turns out to be, and her combination of frankness about her desires and self-deprecating willingness to let Astor have the upper hand (for a while at least) is quite refreshing. Plus she was already coming to her own as a wise-cracking comedienne. Only a year before this, in 1932’s Platinum Blonde, filmmakers weren’t quite sure what to do with her, even filmmakers as good as Frank Capra. In Platinum Blonde, Harlow is cast as the upper-class society girl that reporter Robert Williams falls for, though she’s ultimately less suited to him than his girl Friday Loretta Young. Though the film has its moments, Harlow seems imminently uncomfortable in the role of a refined society lady – though it was obvious that she had SOMETHING, an allure that led to the picture being renamed during production to highlight her character rather than Young’s, even though Williams and Young are the real leads. By Red Dust, it was becoming clear that her strength lay in playing brassy dames with smart mouths and more depth than you’d initially expect.

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Andrew’s Interview at “Only Good Movies”

Online blogger Shane Rivers spends a heck of a lot of time discussing and writing about movies on the site he founded, Only Good Movies. The site bustles with lists, news items and op/eds both in a blog format and also a forum. The site prides the site on finding nooks and crannies of the internet with which to interact. One such nook: RowThree.

So I took part in on ongoing series of interviews with various movie bloggers and critics over the weekend and the interview was just posted today. It’s probably the most exciting thing you’re going to read all day… nay, the week; so head over to the post in which I answer all manner of personal, movie related questions.

Apparently our own Mike Rot also has a segment coming in the weeks to follow, so we’ll be sure to let you know once that goes up.


For the Love of Film: Preservation Blogathon



I‘ve toyed on and off (mostly off) with the idea of working with film preservation – actually physically restoring aging films frame by frame before time and the elements destroy them. Theoretically film is timeless – it captures a moment in time and preserves it forever, allowing us to see actors, public figures, and our families and friends forever ageless. But physically, film is very delicate indeed; the nitrate stock used in non-digital film is highly flammable and prone to disintegration if not stored carefully. It’s estimated that over half of all films made before 1950 have been lost forever, and as many as 80-90% of silent-era films will never be seen again. With my love of classic film, those numbers horrify me. And while I haven’t actually gone into film preservation myself, Ferdy on Films and The Self-Styled Siren are setting up the opportunity to raise awareness and interest in it with an upcoming blogathon dedicated to the film preservation efforts of the National Film Preservation Foundation.

Here are a couple of paragraphs (copied from Ferdy on Film, copied from the NFPF’s site) about the NFPF:

The NFPF raises money, awards grants, and organizes cooperative projects that enable archives, libraries, museums, historical societies, and universities to work together to save American films. Since opening our doors, we have helped preserve more than 1,560 films and assisted organizations in 48 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. In 2009, we partnered with the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia to preserve and make available on the Internet several American silent films that no longer survived in the United States; another such project will be announced later in 2010.

A two-year study prepared by the Library’s National Film Preservation Board documented that American films are disintegrating faster than archives can save them. The types of motion pictures most at-risk are documentaries, silent-era films, avant-garde works, ethnic films, newsreels, home movies, and independent works. These are not Hollywood sound features belonging to the film studios, but ‘orphans’ that fall outside the scope of commercial preservation programs and exist as one-of-a-kind copies in archives, libraries, museums, and historical societies.

Because it is where the need is highest, the NFPF focuses on films that aren’t well-known, that don’t belong to a major studio, and that you’ve probably never heard of. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t important – these are the films that belong to the counterculture, to the individual, and to the world. These are films that will show the future that film doesn’t only belong to the big corporations, but to anyone who wants to make a film. And these are the films that preserve our history and our culture – but that won’t if they aren’t preserved themselves.

The blogathon starts officially in about a month, on February 14th. Keep an eye on Ferdy on Films and the Self-Styled Siren for more, as well as the site specifically set up for the blogathon, For the Love of Film. Thanks go to Greg of CinemaStyles for putting that together and creating the promotional banners. I’m not sure yet what the Third Row will end up contributing, but I for one at least am excited to see what everyone else comes up with.