The Library of Congress just named their 2008 inductees of culturally important films to be included in the National Film Registry. These are always interesting, because among the expected Hollywood classics they also include art films, animated shorts, forgotten silent footage and other stuff which might be considered ephemeral. One of this year’s choices, for example, is some totally charming silent home movie footage documenting the results of a happy ’50s suburban family’s winning sweepstakes entry — a trip to Disneyland! From the Library of Congress site:
The Barstow family films a memorable home movie of their trip to Disneyland. Robbins and Meg Barstow, along with their children Mary, David and Daniel were among 25 families who won a free trip to the newly opened Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., as part of a “Scotch Brand Cellophane Tape” contest sponsored by 3M. Through vivid color and droll narration (“The landscape was very different from back home in Connecticut”), we see a fantastic historical snapshot of Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Catalina Island, Knott’s Berry Farm, Universal Studios and Disneyland in mid-1956. Home movies have assumed a rapidly increasing importance in American cultural studies as they provide a priceless and authentic record of time and place.
The entire film is available for downloading/viewing here (thanks to loyal Mark Evanier reader Christopher for the heads-up). It is a fascinating little document of the park, looking sparse and ultra-clean only a year after it first opened.
The L.A. Times reports on the online backlash against Ben “I Am Legend is one of the greatest movies ever made” Lyons. I stopped watching At the Movies when they retooled the once intelligent show into glossy tripe with a bunch of gold comets flying everywhere. I think the telegenic Ben epitomizes where the media wants film criticism to go — replace smart discourse with smarmy celebrity ass-kissing. Don’t dare touch foreign films or anything with complex themes. Smile often. Name-drop your actor friends if possible. Even though At The Movies‘ ratings have dropped since Lyons’ addition and most people hate his guts, his bosses apparently want to keep him on. Consult the blog Stop Ben Lyons for more evidence of why this guy needs to be ghettoized into the after hours slot on the E! network.
The Cheaters (1945). We gave this a cursory viewing when it showed up on Turner Classic Movies — twice — on Christmas night. From Robert Osborne’s glowing introduction, you’d think we were in for an undiscovered Yuletide cinematic gem. Instead, what we got was a dismal screwball comedy that tried way too hard to please. The plot revolved around a rich, dimwitted family who adopt a down-on-his-luck actor (shades of My Man Godfrey), all the while attempting to thwart a family inhertance. In the process, they learn What Life Is Really About and the viewer tries to suppress an upchuck. True, Billie Burke and Eugene Pallette are their usual, delightfully stereotypical selves as the parents, but this one only proved that Republic Pictures was better off sticking to Westerns.
I’ll See You in My Dreams (1951). This musical biopic was very competently directed by that powerhouse of Warner Bros., Michael Curtiz. Danny Thomas was an odd choice to star as lyricist Gus Kahn, but he’s surprisingly good and Doris Day is her usual perky self as Kahn’s supportive wife, Grace. This is the usual sort of malarkey in which songs seemingly spring up out of thin air, but (aside from being too long) it was fun and sweet without being too sickeningly sentimental.
Mamma Mia! (2008) and ABBA — Voulez-Vous. What to say about the film version of Mamma Mia!? I’m a true blue ABBA fan, but I’ve never seen the stage version before — something about it (the estrogen-heavy cast?) just seems so unappealing to me. The film version confirms those suspicions. First off, this exists as a plea to Hollywood to please stop casting non-singing actors in musicals. Meryl Streep has a thin but decent singing voice (even turning in a lovely performance with “Slipping Through My Fingers”), but these tunes are way out of her range. To compensate for what she lacks in voice, she overplays everything else to an embarrassing degree. This applies to the rest of the cast as well. The music is fun (if unimaginatively arranged) and having it filmed on a real, picturesque Greek island was an excellent idea — but those are about the only positives going for this lousily directed thing. Having sat through the movie, I downloaded ABBA’s 1979 LP Voulez Vous and now it is my second favorite album of theirs (after The Visitors). Fans call this one their “disco album,” but in actuality its the usual ABBA brilliance adapted to the disco sound, impeccably arranged and sung with an almost creepy perfection. Except for the drippy ballad “I Have A Dream” (that and “Thank You For The Music” are the only two ABBA tunes that I really can’t stomach), it’s a perfect album. “Does Your Mother Know” and “Kisses Of Fire” elicit strong deja vu feelings, since my dad actually bought that single for me when it first came out nearly thirty years ago. Why bother dealing with Mamma Mia! when the real thing is so easily available?
Model Shop (1969). This intriguing but ultimately disappointing film served as the only American venture from famed French director Jacques Demy. It follows an aimless young man as he deals with the possibility of being drafted and breaking up with his wannabe actress girlfriend in sun baked late ’60s L.A. Eventually he meets a mysterious French woman who works in a place where pervy guys can rent cameras and take photos of models in private rooms. Demy has a unique visual flair and I enjoyed his views of tacky California streetscapes (in that respect, this is of a piece with Point Blank and Targets), but the script is endlessly dull and they couldn’t have had a more charisma-free leading actor than Gary Lockwood. Anouk Aimée is fetching as the object of Lockwood’s fascination, but even she is wasted. There’s a fine line between conveying moods of cool detachment and utter boredom — this movie crossed that line too many times to count.
Mildred Pierce (1945). Shortly after we met, Christopher and I bonded over our mutual love of Joan Crawford and everything else about this particular film. Yeah, it is pretty much the apex of studio film making in its Golden Age — but how does it hold up when shown to friends who only have a casual interest in old movies? We had some company over yesterday and decided to show them this DVD as denouement to a savory ham meal at our place. Although they generally enjoyed it, they also found the film overlong and filled with too many unlikable characters. Can ya believe that? We might need to find some new friends.
When it comes to yuletide cartoons, honestly, how can you pick just one? The 1941 Tom & Jerry cartoon short The Night Before Christmas was C’s pick for some holiday-themed viewing last night. Sweet sentiment, wonderful background paintings, and classic animation are in abundance on this one. It’s available commercially on the Tom & Jerry Spotlight Collection, Vol. 2 DVD set. Happy holidays, everyone!
The New York Times compiles the Buzzwords of 2008. From a designer’s standpoint, they did a great job with the type treatment (by Jessica Hische).
Also (sorta) via the NYT: method lust, a weblog devoted to Method cleaning products.
Time for another mishmash, and all I want to do is try and figure out why the shooting victim in Trauma Center: New Blood keeps dying on me. Oh well…
The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969). Another live action Disney discovery courtesy of TCM. This was the first of three films starring Kurt Russel as happy-go-lucky college student Dexter Reilly. This outing finds an electrical accident giving Dexter the knowledge of a computer, in a plot that appears to be Tron in reverse. Silly hijinks of the type found in a typical I Dream of Jeannie episode ensue. Overall, I preferred the third Dexter Reilly movie (The Strongest Man In The World) to this one, but like Ivan I found this a pleasantly brainless experience. Hands down my favorite part of the movie was the opening credits sequence, featuring vintage computer-y visuals and a title theme with some of the weirdest tongue-twisting lyrics ever. “Never met a groovier dude, an electric kind of guy” — yeah, baby!
Oh, and everyone needs to check out TCM’s beautifully done documentary The Age of Believing: The Disney Live Action Classics. It repeats on December 28th. Don’t be fooled by the toothache-inducing subject matter; it’s excellent.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007). Heard a lot of good things about this when it turned up on several critics’ “Best of” lists last year. This grim Romanian drama follows two college co-eds as they attempt to arrange an illegal abortion. Although the film is a period piece set in the ’80s, it reaffirms the fact that Romania is one of the few places on earth doing original, thought-provoking films. Not an uplifting piece, for sure, but I loved the aching, lovingly detailed milieu Cristian Mungiu sets forth with a small cast of fascinating characters. The film is deliberately paced but never boring, and beautifully photographed with many long unedited takes. One scene in particular, with actress Anamaria Marinca dutifully attending her boyfriend’s family dinner party while her mind is obviously elsewhere, is an understated marvel.
Sprecher Cherry Cola. I’ve been falling behind on my soda reviews, but just wanted to mention this super-sweet delight from a bottler in Wisconsin. Ever have a Coke with a shot of cherry at Sonic? This concoction is like one of those with ten shots of cherry. It’s cherrilicious to the point that the cherry taste bludgeons the cola taste to death. Just thinking about it again makes my mouth water.
10,000 Maniacs — In My Tribe and The Ramones — Ramones. A couple of classic albums to fill out my iTunes library. Amazon had the digital edition of In My Tribe, an album whose grimy cassette I wore out during my college years, for just $1.99 this week. Revisiting confirms that it has not a single dud track, although Natalie Merchant’s earnest preachiness grates more easily now than it did in ’87. This particular download lacked the band’s cover of Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train,” but I did manage to find it elsewhere (sure, it seems like a label-induced sales gambit, but the album doesn’t feel complete without it). I always wanted to hear the Ramones’ debut. Although the album cuts don’t measure up to iconic tracks like “Blitzkrieg Bop,” the album is as raw and goofy and fun as everyone has said. I liked the extras on the CD edition, too — strangely enough, the early version of “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” might be the only example of a song where the demo is more polished sounding than the final product!