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Monthly Archives: February 2011

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Byrrh and Fluffo

Yesterday I came across AdViews, an archive of high quality digitized vintage TV commercials, on Boing Boing and seemingly have never left. They have a ton of ads dating from the ’50s up through the ’80s. Although one has to go through iTunes to view them, it’s easy enough to download a huge batch and burn ’em onto a DVD. That’s exactly what I did with their 100 or so Grape Nuts ads (why I started with Grape Nuts, who knows).

The cereal commercials alone are fascinating. This one shills a Post product called Size 8, a cereal packaged in a uniquely mod swirl festooned cylinder. How very ’60s!

Flick Clique: January 30 – February 5

Camille (1936). Another lavishly produced goodie from the Greta Garbo DVD box set I recently got. I last saw this one circa 1994, and although I remember enjoying it the film didn’t grab me the same way Garbo vehicles Queen Christina, Anna Karenina and even her Grand Hotel scenes did. It goes without saying that Camille is one of the iconic Garbo performances and George Cukor’s assured direction played a big part in her success. Her Marguerite Gautier is a perfectly realized party gal turned tragic heroine, even if the actress doesn’t quite have the right hedonistic quality for earlier scenes in which she burns the candle at both ends with wonderful, fluttery Laura Hope Crewes. Robert Taylor holds his own as love interest Armand Duval; his earnestness here is much more appealing than the cad he played in Magnificent Obsession. I also enjoyed the obscure Leonore Ulric as Garbo’s conniving rival. A beautifully produced film that nevertheless I can stand revisiting once every fifteen years or so.
poster_firemensballThe Firemen’s Ball (1967). Rambling, sporadically funny film notable as the last project Milos Forman did before leaving Czechoslovakia for the greener pastures of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Hair. In this ensemble comedy, a small town’s fire department holds a banquet dance and charity auction in honor of the workers’ retired former boss. Over the the eventful night’s course, auction items get stolen, people dance and drink, young women get awkwardly chosen for a beauty pageant, and a farmer’s homestead burns to the ground. This was recommended on a Yahoo group devoted to the cult comedy Smile, but aside from the episodic format and pageant theme there isn’t too much to compare between the two. Although it has a few funny bits, mostly its appeal eluded me (bizarrely, it also won a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar). The Foreman interviews included on Criterion’s DVD edition of this film sheds some light on the film’s background and the subversive, anti-Communist message the director snuck by Czech authorities. Big plus: it’s short.
Twelve (2010). Joel Schumacher’s tale of drug abuse amongst the rich, young and pretty met a mixed fate last year, mostly because the story had already been done under the title Less Than Zero. This one revolves around the character of White Mike (Chance Crawford), still recovering from the death of his mother and the ensuing bankruptcy of his father’s business, as he introduces a potent drug called Twelve to the shallow crowd he used to hang out with but now loathes. While not horrible, this film wasn’t particularly good, either. Most of its faults lie with Schumacher’s stylizations, including Kiefer Sutherland’s obtrusive narration, which has the unintended effect of making these rather heinous people seem glamorous. No matter how sympathetic they attempt to portray him, White Mike is a total a-hole pretty boy, pissing away his life. It doesn’t help that Crawford seems too lightweight and L.A.-ish to be completely believable in this role. There are some good supporting roles, starting with Rory Culkin and handsome Billy Magnussen as combative brothers. But, really, aren’t movies and TV shows about pretty young things getting to be so old hat?

Window Into the ’50s

Old Super 8 home movie footage is so fascinating, especially when it covers Old Hollywood. That in mind, let’s check out some remarkable video I stumbled across on YouTube. The first half of this silent color footage is of Fred MacMurray and a chic Barbra Stanwyck filming Douglas Sirk’s 1956 melodrama There’s Always Tomorrow in Apple Valley, California. The second half is of Ann Blyth’s wedding day, which according to her IMDb bio happened in June 1953. In the final bit of footage, a parade of well-dressed famous folk appear (at Ann’s wedding?) which include Jeanne Crain, Danny Thomas, Irene Dunne and Jack Benny. Who filmed this, and where did it come from?

She’s a Hoo-, Um, Looker

We had another cheeseball ’80s movie night recently with Michael Chricton’s 1981 thriller Looker. It’s always interesting to watch this futuristic stuff and analyze what they got right or wrong. The story opens with the mysterious deaths of several beautiful young models who are clients of plastic surgeon Albert Finney. The police are on Finney’s tail, but it’s after getting together with the stressed yet strangely poised Susan Dey that the truth is uncovered — the deaths are part of a shady plan hatched by James Coburn’s media conglomerate to replace live actors with sophisticated computerized counterparts. Chricton’s script took a hard look at advertising, image manipulation and the prevalence of computers at a time when all three were just starting to converge. It’s meant to be thought provoking, but the combination of quaint technology and gaping plot holes make the film more of a curio than anything else. At climax, the weirdly miscast Finney gets chased around various TV commercial sets by a gun slinging meanie who looks like the twin of Will Farrell in Anchorman. Now that’s entertainment.