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Category Archives: Celluloid

Felix the (Silent) Cat

Watch Felix In Hollywood (1923) — one of 10 silent Felix the Cat cartoons nicely supplied by Bibi of Bibi’s Box. It’s cool to see this early, primitive animation — more like a moving comic strip, actually. I singled this one out since I saw it theatrically last year and its depictions of now-obscure movie stars are fun.

The Literate Cinéaste

Film critic Jim Emerson’s list of 101 102 essential films serves as a handy guide to the greats, or at least what the consensus has decided is great (via Kottke). Looking over the list, I find that I’ve seen 79 of the 102 films. Many I haven’t seen in decades, and many other I’ve just gotten to in the past year or two (mostly because I could never stand watching cropped and chopped widescreen movies on TV — thank you, DVDs). I still haven’t seen Dr. Strangelove, Persona, Red River and many other undisputed classics. The Road Warrior is another one which has eluded me, although I really don’t know how that ended up on Emerson’s list. How many have you seen?

What a list like this ultimately proves is that enjoying anything is very subjective. There are always examples where I prefer something else by the same filmmaker over that which everyone decided is the classic (like Manhattan over Annie Hall). And there are other, isolated examples where I completely can’t get a grip on why a filmmakers’ work is considered classic. Such as:

  • Charlie Chaplin. Too obvious and sentimental. Buster Keaton basically kicks his butt in the silent comedy dept.
  • The John Ford/John Wayne collaborations. Liked The Searchers and The Quiet Man, but Ford confirms my view that Westerns are only interesting when they have some subversive element to them (Johnny Guitar; Sergio Leoné).
  • Ernst Lubitch. Trouble In Paradise and The Shop Around the Corner are mildly amusing, but his other work seems insufferably cute.

Zip A Dee Diddly Squat

An item at the fun My Name Is Earl Kress weblog give a little bit of info on Disney’s ongoing Song of the South saga. Apparently Disney prez Bob Iger has decided to bow to stockholders’ concerns and pull it from the schedule. That’s a pisser. I can remember seeing this film during its 1980 re-release, but honestly I don’t remember anything potentially offensive about it at all. It had nice Technicolor photography and the animated sequences were enjoyable in a mid-level Dumbo or Cinderella way. The film’s portrayal of black characters was similar to what you’d find in Gone with the Wind or other fancy films from that period — somewhat stereotypical, but more well-rounded than usual. I even thought the Uncle Remus character was very warm and benevolent, serving as a surrogate dad for the two kids. What’s so offensive about that? A comprehensive DVD with warnings that it’s the product of a different era would ultimately do more good than harm for the company’s image — but I guess Disney doesn’t want to risk the bad p.r. and would rather release Bambi 6: The Spawning or Not Another Crappy Tween Musical instead. Whatever.

Now’s a good time to point to Song of the, which contains everything you’d want to know about the movie.

Summer Camp

After five years of DVD watching, I’m inclined to think that commentaries are at their most interesting when the commentator has nothing to do with the film he’s commenting on. Directors and/or actors handing out heaps of self-congratulatory B.S. to even the worst of films are the usual commentary fare (a trend that the A.V. Club’s Commentary Tracks of the Damned gets lots of mileage from), but I prefer the more spontaneous kind of track that comes from a knowledgeable fan’s perspective. Even better are the rare instances where fans offer insights on really, really bad films. DVD companies are just starting to realize the potential of this — witness the special editions of Mommie Dearest, Valley of the Dolls and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls coming out this June.

The Mommie Dearest SE will have a commentary from John Waters. That could be a hoot and a half. You can bet that Mr. Waters will not be spending a lot of time observing Frank Perry’s subtle and artful direction of the rosebush scene. Valley of the Dolls will have a track from Advocate arts and entertainment editor Alonso Duralde, which will likely address that camp classic’s eternal appeal for gay men. Beyond the Valley will sport a commentary from none other than Roger Ebert. Unlike the other two, Mr. Ebert actually did have something to do with BtVotD (he wrote the screenplay). Personally, I will be looking forward to hearing how he came up with chestnuts like “This is my happening and it freaks me out!”

Glorious Technicolor and Stereophonic Sound

Film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum offers his ten favorite offbeat musicals (via Something Old, Nothing New). Thanks to his list, I put Red Garters on my Netflix queue and will have another opportunity to marvel at the underrated comic appeal of Jack Carson. And it’s nice to see some love for That’s Entertainment! III, the ignored stepchild of that filmic trilogy.

Pettin’ in the Park

My Mindjack Film review of the new 6 DVD set The Busby Berkely Collection is up. Cool, cool set. I’ve said it here before, but these DVDs also include period shorts and cartoons which capitalized on the music in these movies. Love how those early Merrie Melodies have a different feel from the later, more familiar Looney Tunes — they open with jazzy music and close with one of the characters shouting “So long, folks!” I especially enjoyed I’ve Got To Sing a Torch Song, with caricatures of such distinctly ’30s personalities as George Bernard Shaw and The Boswell Sisters. And the “So long, folks” line is delivered by Greta Garbo!