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Category Archives: Celluloid

The Feel-Good Feud of the Summer

This Joel Siegel vs. Kevin Smith thing? Hilarious. Siegel’s always been a hack, and now he’s a rude hack. Smith’s a sloppy filmmaker and I don’t really get his appeal, but at least his response to the situation was refreshingly honest. Two thumbs up, dudes.

Look On Up at the Bottom

I dug this hilarious Beyond the Valley of the Dolls recap with an ample supply of screencaps. The writer on Dolly Read’s voice: “Kelly’s accent goes from cockney to Cali in two seconds. It’s like a 4-second, one-woman production of My Fair Lady set in L.A. And who wouldn’t want to see that?” The weblog entry even has a comment from the film’s Casey, actress Cynthia Myers. (via Jonno)

Black and White World

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Me and the mister got with a couple of friends yesterday and trekked all the way out to Scottsdale to see the film Wordplay. I knew I was going to enjoy it since crosswords and puzzling have always fascinated me, but this documentary is one of the livelier and better made ones I’ve seen in recent years. Movies that have genuine heart and make you leave the theater with a smile are hard to come by, and this one has that in spades. Basically it covers all aspects of the current crossword puzzling world, with New York Times puzzle editor Will Shortz guiding the viewer through a brief history of crossword (including a nice section on the Times‘ puzzling grande dame, Margaret Farrar) and what goes into the making and editing of puzzles. As editor of Games magazine in the ’80s, Shortz was responsible for popularizing a new kind of crossword that sparkled with overriding themes, cleverly worded clues and a sense of whimsy — qualities that make the Times puzzles in particular so addictive for their many fans. The film’s second half follows the major annual crossword puzzle tournament with an increasing intensity. The contestants profiled were appealingly geeky and not borderline-freaks like the Scrabble tournament players in Stefan Fatsis’ Word Freak and its companion documentary, Word Wars.

Based on this movie’s appearance of famous puzzlers like Jon Stewart and Bill Clinton, I have a theory. Crosswords tend to attract a more liberal, intellectually curious audience, while devotees of the inexplicably popular sudoku tend to be a more Republican bunch. That’s the only way I can figure it.

I’ll Plant My Own Tree

My reviews of the Valley of the Dolls and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls DVDs have been posted at Mindjack Film. The writeup is my happening and it freaks me out.

Since doing that I’ve become sort of obsessed with Dory and Andre Previn’s song “I’ll Plant My Own Tree”, which Susan Hayward memorably performed in the original Valley of the Dolls. The new issue of Entertainment Weekly calls it the world’s worst song — obviously they don’t know about Lil’ Markie’s “Diary of an Unborn Child”. Personally, this “Tree” invigorates me into making wild drag queen poses with my arms all akimbo every time I hear it. All told, I’ve found that versions of the song were recorded by Judy Garland (originally cast in Hayward’s part), Margaret Whiting (dubbing Hayward in the film), Eileen Wilson (when Whiting couldn’t appear on the soundtrack LP for contractual reasons, Wilson stepped in), and Valley stars Patty Duke and Tony Scotti. If anybody might possibly know of other recordings, I’d love to hear of them!

Above and Beyond the Valley


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File it under the Kitsch A-Go-Go department: 20th Century Fox recently sent me their deluxe DVDs of Valley of the Dolls and its non-sequel, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. I’ll be posting a more complete review of these at Mindjack Film pretty soon, but overall I think Fox did an excellent job for a pair of films that have had little more than a mid-level (but very enthusiastic) cult audience. The movies are both unintentionally hilarious camp classics, for sure, but these DVDs also manage to place them within the context of the very different times they were made. Say what you will about Valley‘s horrid script and leaden direction, the movie remains totally watchable (and re-watchable) due to its swanky ’60s aesthetics. I love all the fashions, the crazy-cheesy musical numbers and montages, the kickass furniture (including a George Nelson coconut chair and a Bertoia diamond chair upholstered in fire engine red). I almost forgot how unbelievably lousy Patty Duke was as Neely O’Hara, but Barbara Parkins and Sharon Tate both give surprisingly decent performances as, respectively, starchy Anne Wells and sexy Jennifer North. The picture quality was pretty nice, although I noticed a little dust on the screen. And I loved seeing the widescreen image of Susan Hayward lip-synching “I’ll Plant My Own Tree” inside a crazy-ass spinning mobile.


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As nice as the extras on Valley were, the overall package on Beyond the Valley of the Dolls winds up being even more impressive. The producers managed to snag not only most of the cast members, but screenwriter Roger Ebert also chimes in for the DVD’s requisite making-of docs. All involved have fond memories of working with boob-obsessed director Russ Meyer on his first big budget studio film, which is nice since I gathered that the original Valley wasn’t too pleasant an experience. Where Valley trafficked in a more upscale look, Beyond goes all out for a wild and wooly “hippies gone crazy” feeling that practically screams 1970. Even the slow spots are fun. Though the film is very dated with Ebert’s slang-heavy script and the storyline of a girl rock group trio, it actually holds up pretty well thanks to Meyer’s rapid-fire pacing and an energetic cast of unknowns. One thing I never noticed before is how actress Dolly Read’s British accent occasionally peeks through her performance — especially in scenes where she’s supposed to be angry. Also, the decor in this film has to be seen to be believed. I loved the different styles in the main trio’s apartments: Kelly (Read) has a way-out pad filled with plastic furnishings and op-art colors, while Casey (Cynthia Myers) lives in a relatively subdued abode of gold and Asian accents, and the home of “soul sister” Pet (Marcia McBroom) sports a pukey neo-Colonial look which might have been pilfered from the set of Bewitched. Yuck. I haven’t even mentioned The Carrie Nations’ weird and wonderful musical performances. Anyways — good DVDs, look out for the more complete reviews coming soon.

My Hero


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It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s … the Max Fleischer Superman cartoons from 1941-43. Whenever Time-Warner regurgitates yet another dull version of its caped cash cow, I always go back to these original screen versions. They’re the coolest, certainly the most handsome looking, and they adhere best to the patriotic “can do” spirit of Siegel and Shuster’s original comics. Buildings, vehicles and even humans are modeled with Streamline Moderne crispness. Lois Lane is characterized as the chic yet plucky ’40s gal we all remember, and every cartoon winds up with the shot of Clark Kent all smug and happy that he fooled Lois again. The storylines are often ridiculous — The Arctic Giant with a giant dinosaur on the loose is typical — but I love the economy of storytelling and the variety of dramatic angles, pans and that sort of thing. These cartoons are amazingly sophisticated, even by 1940s standards.

Luckily, since Paramount let these films lapse into public domain, most of them can be viewed online. Archive.org hosts 14 of the original 17 cartoons for download. Wikipedia’s entry links to each of them. This page of production sketches from the 1944 effort Terror on the Midway gives some indication of the incredible visual detail that went into each production. Up up and away!