Archive for May, 2013


MOVING PICTURE WORLD

Thoughts today as as wistful look as to why myself and others watch ‘classic Film”? Why do we see these celluloid examples of stories past with an affection when others that we talk to stare at us in disbelief that we would dare to watch ” a movie without color”. I had someone say that to me with the remark that he was ‘not as old as me”. Got me to thinking do you need to have some sort of life experience no matter what to watch these pictures. So why do we fill our PVR’s, buy dvds and blurays of the same films just get a commentary or a few new scenes added of long dead people from a place that doesn’t for the most part exist anymore. I don’t pretend to have the answer for all or maybe even for some but I have ideas and feelings.

My day began like any other day at my job however the morning check of facebook brought a very sad story to my attention. The simple story of a small neglected kitten that had died at a rescue home after being unable to have enough nourishment in time from its barbaric biped owners. Was amazing the effect the little photo of the kitten being fed by an eyed dropper desperately trying to undo the work of irresponsible humans. This got me thinking regarding the passage of time, how some don’t have a chance when younger through circumstances, how I had chances and missed chances without regret. What does all this have to do with ‘Classic Film” is moments of timelessness in every film.

Many of these pictures called “Classic” were in fact no classics when they we first released such as THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939), CITIZEN KANE (1941) and ITS A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946) plus many others. These titles have grown in stature now as we know to become for some the definition of “Classic Film”.

The definition of one frame of film subjectively is a moment held in time forever unless on nitrate stock. When these frames are projected in sequence you get a flow of events on screen. For some people and for myself I can say that these ‘ classic films’ as they are called are very much like a visit from a old friend who hasn’t perhaps changes yet your impression of them has through the years. You watch a picture now as you are today an perhaps feel or see something different then you first did. You see familiar places, faces and situation that you somehow know will work itself out in the end. Resolution in 90 minutes depending on the era of picture making.

Months back I found actress LOUISE BROOKS in a book I was reading on screen writer ANITA LOOS. I found Brooks fascinating as a ‘ rebel of Hollywood” who left Hollywood to work in Europe long before it was cool to do. I saw stills in the book of this wonderful person in bobbed hair and brilliant eyes. I was fortunate to find a copy of PANDORA’S BOX (1929) from local library brought it home a dropped it in to check the quality. Nothing at all prepared me for Brooks’s first screen appearance. Its was like the woman has stepped back in time and I had seen here many times on the street. The eyes, the hair the smile from images record in 1929 did reach across time.

Movies reach across in the dark no matter what genre to tell stories. Pictures do at times cast us back on our personal journey to when we were younger, friends and family were alive and life was simpler. Your parents, your spouse or significant perhaps took you to this title your are viewing today all those years ago. Life events framed by what was on a screen.

The tragedy is that film can sometimes be a persons only companion. Those people though no fault or perhaps entirely their fault have no one except what is being projected in flickering frames. I have always thought and some believe it is silly of me that when I see a person going to a film by themselves or sitting by themselves in a theatre I feel a tinge of sadness for them. I wonder if for this little activity of society why they are alone.

So why do myself and others watch “Classic Movies”? No special answer in that it is social, its perhaps a memory trip to once was in your life. Events of sadness or great joy that have happened to you. Still others learn by watching and listening at what has been done in the past so they can create new moments. They are visits from Old friends, welcome guests and for a moment time will stop as you cheer, cry,laugh, scream, duck or talk through what is unfolding for you. We find collective personal comfort in the experience through the years. The downside is that the Past can get romanticized to a point of unreality or worse a blurring of what is real and what is not. We don’t have music under scenes of our everyday lives as we go about our time here.

It is said that at the moment of our impeding passing a “movie” of our past lives will run in our heads. Sort of strange collection of final credits. I wonder if that happened in some form to my little neglected kitten that I saw that morning on facebook that passed away from neglect. I wrote a simple message that morning to the person from the Rescue facility ( I was the only male who wrote a comment at that time) …Be safe little one.

I actually still think that if the ‘Studio System” as it was called was run today benignly it would be a brilliant success. Wishful thinking because technology of film production, the world itself and the audience have a changed. The way that the Studio ran the lives of people, shaped careers, created images and stories all for the sake of publicity have shaped a dominating legacy. This system was as we know not without its problems it s control mechanism to destroy or shape a life or a career. One such case was that of Marie Provost.
Marie was a promising Canadian born comedian who was discovered by Mack Sennett another Canadian in over 121 pictures both talking and silent to great success had a career cut short because a ‘slight’ to Louis B Mayer . If this is “urban legend’ then it is hard to disprove as Mayer never forgot a wrong or a kindness. Provost’s career floundered till she was forced to work in a hospital comforting people for little or no money. Marie never received much comfort in her life so she wanted to repay it. She passed away in 1937 with an estate valued at 300.00

Indiscretions were handled sometimes at great expense with teams of lawyers. Would that have happened today in this age of knowing every move sometimes before it happens. The resulting loss of a ‘star” to the screen and to television is rarely as catastrophic as it was in Hollywood’s Golden Age. You wonder now today if there is the same moral code in the film colony of today. There is a the written word of course as studios have to protect investments but I ask is there an unwritten Moral code for the sake of the Art.

A “morals clause” allows advertisers, television networks, and movie studios to terminate a talent agreement when an actor’s conduct is detrimental to the buyer’s interests, or otherwise devalues the performance due. In the 1950’s, these clauses were infamously used by Hollywood studios to fire suspected communists and uniformly upheld by courts. Today, the morals clause remains a standard term in advertising, motion picture, and television talent agreements.

Blond Bombshell Jean Harlow (Known as The Baby to some because of her sweet down to earth personality with all people.) who died of kidney failure in 1937 was involved in the famous Paul Bern murder case in 1932. Its was said that Louis B Mayer had some much power that he and his studio heads where at the murder scene first before the police had arrived. The famous Paul Bern suicide note was changed certain articles were moved before the police were called.

Harlow’s own death of kidney failure in 1937 was also changed. Rumours were that here death was caused by the hair dye solution which was applied every few days, a botched abortion yet it had recently come to light or legend that she did die of kidney failure. She could have been saved by today’s technology. Harlow’s troubles were misdiagnosed by the first Doctor that attended here with the failure to far gone to be changed. The second Doctor discovered the true diagnosis refused to the true story for years to protect the other Physican whom he knew as a long time friend and a ‘Good Doctor” The secret was carried to the grave.

Errol Flynn’s famous statutory rape trial in 1942 which he was acquitted on due to the fact that the victim’s story was proved false. Seventeen year old Betty Hansen had been unable to give the correct height of bed in the cabin that she was said to have been forced onto. The court had the bed height from the floor measure and found its to be impossible to have that happen as it was off the ground at great height that one needed stairs to get to it. This scandal apparently replaced World War two on the front page of pages. The aquittal resulted in Flynn forever being thought of a ‘phallic symbol” when he deeply wanted to be thought of as serious actor thus one of the factor in the downward slide of someone whom should receive a Honorary Oscar.

My most stunning Flynn story is that his battling relationship with Jack Warner was a fake along with the allegations that he was a Nazi spy during the war. The Jack Warner feud was put on as the two men working together to trap actor Peter Van Eyck who’s brother was a real high ranking German officer.

Flynn made anti Jewish remarks aloud many times in public that Van Eyck fell for it and recruited him to steal the plans for the Norden Bomb sight. Flynn told Jack Warner who built a studio set along with fake measurements for a bomb sight that Flynn photographed and gave to Van Eyck. The result was the German Military spent huge amounts of money trying to duplicate the fake sight. It was all a good laugh that Flynn and Warner on many social occasions over drinks in private.

If these an other stories are the results of fabrication then that is matter of opinion. The fact remains there was control over all things by the studio. Today’s people with like Lindsey Lohan, Charlie Sheen, the unfortunate River Phoenix and other have something in common with the people of the past yet are different. Today you get a second, third and forth chance at your career or you make a new one simply being ‘bad’ and collecting more money then you ever dreamed or you end up dead. Today there are no Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle cases that destroy career due to morals and trials that go one in the media.

No Lionel Atwill’s who was know as “Pinky” to his friend. Atwill had a brilliant through erratic career ye his know in social circles of the day to be famous for his peculiar sex orgies that where the talk of people. A fact he did not deny when caught

In retrospect that should be a good thing as the studios are at the mercy now of the collective media of the internet or just doing a better job of covering things up before they happen. Hollywood is the stuff that dreams are made of. To that end… sometimes its better not to know.

(NOTE FOR ADDED EFFECT. START THE U TUBE CLIP IN THE ARTICLE, LET THE MUSIC ESTABLISH ITSELF THEN SCAN TO THE TOP AND READ SLOWLY)

Those of you out there that enjoy a good read concerning History of Hollywood in the Golden age which I do not seem to get tired of then I can hardily recommend THE ENTERTAINER, MOVIES, MAGIC AND MY FATHER’S TWENTIETH CENTURY by Margaret Talbot. This blog is more about pictures and some good unabashed opinions then books and how they are written so I will not be going into the specifics of the volume. Suffice it to say that it was a very interesting, easy summer read that even went with me on a recent trip. It is basically a story of Lyle Talbot, character actor, never quite a star yet made hundreds of pictures, television shows, plays and radio. The type of actor that you have seen many times in many things yet perhaps would not recall his or here name or face till you say him and went ‘Oh that guy. I have seen him or her somewhere before.”

Hollywood is filled with those types of people in pictures and in real life. Those that toil behind the scenes and in the scenes that never get shown or have their names be a brief flash on the screen at the end. Today those names are rolled by with the thousand or so effects people, second, third and fourth units, foreign units and like the role call of a small city census. So many to make so little sometimes. I thought of the many faces we see in pictures we have watched over the years that we miss then see again.

Lyle Talbot was one of these people in these pictures, sometimes a leading man more then anything he would be the tough hood, the do -gooder, the buddy, the trusted friend who populated a story and made it interesting. Supported players are often acted upon by the leads or add color, texture to bring out a section of story. Without them there is is no world except in NOIR where they are the world sometimes along with the leading man and of course female. Talbot was never a large star yet he was known by many, paid good solid money,partied with them, worked all the time except perhaps toward the end of his career. Scored it big in early television with FATHER KNOWS BEST and at the same time got to do Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda. Talbot even had his own fan club with fan produced newspaper called THE TALBOT TIMES. He also found the time to be one of the central figures in the creation of the SCREEN ACTORS GUILD along with many others meeting in secret out of fear. Yet he was never a “star” as his own daughter puts because he lacked in intangible that you cannot teach …charisma. In fact his contract was not renewed because of this fact sending him out to the new and what was the second class world of Television.

One other famous face we have all seen and I am sure loved is that of ELISHA COOK JR or as he became known the “eternal fall guy” He would usually be the over zealous henchman, the guy that goes to the wrong place at the wrong time doing the wrong thing. Countless films and TV appearances. I personally saw him for the first time in the ORIGINAL STAR TREK EPISODE ..COURT MARSHAL where he played the “Luddite” attorney Samual T. Cogley. I saw him years later in MALTESE FALCON and later may other roles as bar tenders, messengers, small time crooks, car driver on capers. Read somewhere that he lived away from Hollywood on a lake, tied his own fishing flies and had no phone. If you wanted him for a role you had to drive out into the wilderness.
As I saw him he became like an old friend because you knew what he was doing was effective if not brief. For that split second when he came on screen with those Elisha Cook eyes and distinctive slightly high pitched voice no matter what character he was, whatever part of the story I went and perhaps you thought ” Hey that’s Elisha Cook” and smiled.

These and others color the world of a picture and give the world substance and depth. Film Noir makes them more conspicuous with absence yet when a scene shifts to a Diner or tavern or night club with others present then placement and actions stand out even more. Many examples of this in film as we know and have seen which all again adds to the all important atmosphere of the story. A good example of this would be on the stage you have an empty room that never becomes truly empty until you put one object in it that is noticed by the audience.
One of the most effective use of crowds and action within in my opinion is the railway station group scenes in William Wyler’s 1946 picture THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES. It is brilliant film that is very under rated today. One of my all time favourites all you have to do is watch the faces and the gestures in the below clip. Next time you see the full film watch the train station scenes closely and you will see little dramas of life being played out by the people’s faces and movements. You see joy as one rushes to find a loved one, frantic searching for another who may not have come home, expectation, regret, rapture, sadness and comedy all in a few moments as the camera captures it. A sea of post war experience in which the three stories of the main focus are played out giving them placement in the larger world of events that in fact was going on around the audience when the lights went up.

When you watch sometime take a moment to notice the background people that you see blur by you today (I hope you stay for credits, I do) You will see names in “Classic Hollywood” films of any genre that you will have seen before and will see again like old friends. Many of them made entire careers out of being policemen, judges, bartenders, taxi drivers. Some even became Directors, Editors etc. again not all “A” list films. Many however were never noticed at all became ignored or forgotten.

Like an old male or female character actor out late at night in a bar looking up at the TV and seeing a film they were in years ago. Having the time flow away and they remember with perhaps slightly moist eyes when they were younger, fitter, full of ambition and perhaps absent friends and lost loves. That actor could truly say ‘Hey I never made the big time but I was in that scene”.

Salute them vocally in your home or silently if you can while out… don’t disturb the others in the theatre.