Tag: film history

Screwtape’s Screening Room

 

Welcome to the first in a sporadic series of posts about how films and TV shows use dramatic tools to provoke or suppress reactions to manufactured truth. The word Propaganda has such a negative connotation, doesn’t it? We’re going to take the mystery out of it. It’s a word innocently derived from The Society for the Propagation of the Faith. Uncountable publicists, propagandists, and PR men over the centuries have sympathy with the avaricious French poet who sarcastically declared “Here lies the Cardinal Richelieu. And—more’s the pity—my pension died with him.”

From time to time our clinical dissection of an ‘admirable’ bit of craftsman-like deceit is going to seem cynical, even amoral. It’s the old showbiz switcheroo: in Screwtape’s Screening Room, the Ricochet virtuous will pay a limited degree of ironic tribute to vice.

’92: Riots and Disney’s Fate

 

You’ve read and seen twist-of-fate fantasy stories about an innocent, even well-meaning person who inadvertently becomes part of a chain of actions that lead to evil. A courtly man loses his hat, a stranger finds it for him, but the man is John Wilkes Booth on his way to Ford’s Theater. Or a British WW1 sniper gallantly looks aside and lets Hitler live. You may have seen “The Howling Man”, a classic 1960 Twilight Zone about a turn of the century visitor to a European monastery who mercifully unlocks the cell of a helpless captive. Within seconds, that captive strikes him down and transforms into Satan.

I have an eyewitness story like that. It involves the Los Angeles riots, the end of apartheid in South Africa, a lavish event at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Harvey Weinstein, and the beginning of the end for the Disney we knew as kids. Here’s how it all happened, in the spring of 1992.

Kubrick’s Grandest Gamble

 

That’s what the headline read on the cover of Time Magazine, and they were right. It was December 1975. The nation was ready and waiting to celebrate the Bicentennial. As usual with one of his films, there wasn’t much advance information about Barry Lyndon. All we knew was, it was about a gambler; it was set in the late 1700s. In time, it would be regarded as an elegant, one-of-a-kind glimpse into a distant era that gave birth to the modern world.

The Christmastime weather was especially beautiful that year. I was 23, a movie fan and a fan of Stanley Kubrick in particular. I climbed aboard my motorcycle and headed for the Ziegfeld Theater. The movie got good reviews, some very positive, and it made money for its studio, Warner Bros. But not a whole lot compared to his previous two, 2001 and A Clockwork Orange, and there hangs a tale.  It acquired the not-entirely-deserved reputation of being “Stanley’s flop” and that’s what people remember, if they’ve heard of it at all.

Flip the Script

 

Here’s the pitch: mid-budget political thriller, set in the very near future. Clashing mobs of demonstrators are rioting outside the White House. The president’s approval ratings are being hammered by a concerted campaign to undermine him, and his controversial peace treaty with Russia. In televised hearings, top military officers in glittering dress uniforms denounce the new policy, stepping over the line of insubordination right into sedition.

One lone, loyal colonel discovers that rogue elements within the government are poised within days to take physical control of all networked communications in the United States. The president will be deposed. It will take incredible courage—and luck—to stop them. I bet you’ve already caught on to what I’m describing: the plot of Seven Days in May, 1963, a crisp, well-made Hollywood thriller loved by well-meaning progressives in its day. But now…flip that script!

What’s a Film Director?

 

In the beginning of film, there were no directors; there were only cameramen. The first movies had no plot, only the real-life silent spectacles of 1890s street traffic, ballerinas dancing coquettishly, armies on parade, and most famously, in 1895, a locomotive that seemed to be bearing down on the thrilled, frightened audiences of the fairgrounds.

By the turn of the century, two new elements would give lasting shape to what we came to call “the movies”: scripts and actors. They’d been together in the theater practically forever, of course, and now those masks of comedy and tragedy had a technician with a cine camera to record them for distant audiences. Well into the first decades of silent, ten-minute films, their production was loosely supervised, usually by the main actors.

Visual Effects: Morphing to Digital

 

George Lucas was never satisfied with the technical tools of filmmaking. Suddenly, he had the money and the power to change them. Crucially, he was willing to share these new tools with other filmmakers at a price—generally, commanding a very high one.

Using electronic tools to edit or alter images was one thing. Creating the images was another, far harder job. Old-school analog TV didn’t have nearly enough detail to stand comparison with movies. Not even close. Optical scientists experimented to determine just how much better television would have to improve to equal the appearance of film. The difference in visual resolution between the two was so great, it was hard to even measure it meaningfully. It would be like trying to reach the Moon by climbing a higher tree. Or so it seemed–at the time. That verdict would change.

[Member Post]

 

With 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick showed the way to a new level in film special effects. His techniques opened a door. Nearly a decade later, George Lucas walked through that door. George followed the Stanley playbook in some very important respects, among them: he didn’t farm out his special effects to specialized outside […]

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Aldrin on Stage, Heinlein on Film

 

Sunday, June 5, 2005. My wife reminded me that there was a two o’clock show of Destination Moon at the Aero Theater, an old-time neighborhood movie theater with an interesting history. This film rarely plays anywhere but on video; its last L.A. screening had been during our overnight movie marathon in 1995. We didn’t expect much bustle on a Sunday afternoon. To our surprise, there was a crowd spilling out into the street. Then I read that Destination Moon would be preceded by a question-and-answer session with Buzz Aldrin.

That’s right, Edwin Aldrin Jr., General, USAF (Ret.)—the lunar module pilot who made the first moon landing. The moment was certainly unreal.  This movie theater, the Aero, was built during the war specifically for 24-hour, three-shift use of aircraft assembly workers, hence its name.  Buzz Aldrin flew in World War II, and was still alive to stand in front of us.  Then he went on to defy death in Korea.  Then he went into space with Gemini.  Then…

When the Star Dies Suddenly

 

I wrote an earlier Hollywood R> post, When the Star Gets Fired. When a high-profile firing happens, it’s bad, it’s a big deal, but it’s rarely much of a surprise. Studios have a much tougher time dealing with unexpected situations where the pink slip of termination has been abruptly sent by the Almighty Himself, with a total lack of regard for the almighty production schedule. When it happens to a star in the middle of making a movie, a studio has to make some very hard, unpleasant financial choices, and quickly.

If the movie is nearly finished, some tricks and cuts will usually get them to the finish line. With a film that’s more like 70% complete, it might be possible, using real filmmaking ingenuity. On the other hand, if the movie has barely started filming, the easy, sensible call is to bail out now, shut down production, file an insurance claim, and absorb some losses. It’s the cases in-between that are tough judgment calls. Costs are accruing at a rate of millions of dollars per week, whether the cameras roll or not. An expensive picture that’s only 40% complete is agony to walk away from, but you have no real choice, even if it contains Marilyn Monroe’s one, never-to-be-seen-till-now nude scene, in sparkling color and glorious CinemaScope.

[Member Post]

 

Jerry racked up the win in last week’s fight about obscure movies that deserve a remake. Maybe we’ll see an updated version of Charly someday, but for now it simply means Jerry gets the honor of asking: What is your favorite movie set before the year 1000 AD?The Rules: Post your answer as a comment. […]

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[Member Post]

 

Stiff competition last week between Helen Mirren and her .50 cal versus Audrey Hepburn and her wit and ice cream, but then Meryl Streep stepped in and did what she does, win, giving JudgeMental his first victory. JudgeMental asks: What is the worst or most obscure pre-1970 movie that deserves a quality remake, and why? […]

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[Member Post]

 

Last week we delved into the psyche of our members, exploring the movies they love (or hate) and how they were impacted by them. GLDIII Purveyor of Splendid Malpropisms (great handle) provided the best answer, just nudging Eustace Scrubb away from win #300 or something. This week GLDIII asks: Since WWII who was the greatest […]

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[Member Post]

 

Last week we all agreed that Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber was the best first performance for an actor in a feature film. It was a fight that was over before it began. This week I’d like to take it easy and have one of thoughtful, movie-lover discussions. This week the question is: What film had […]

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[Member Post]

 

Last week’s fight became a slugfest between myself and Addiction Is A Choice and I loved it. That’s what RMFC is all about: bashing your friends in the face over pointless questions. We ended up in a tie between Dr. Strangelove and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The rules state that the member who […]

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[Member Post]

 

We had a runaway victory last week for Doug Kimball and Master and Commander, a movie which always seems loved whenever it gets mentioned around here. It was Doug’s second win in three weeks. This time he asks:  What is the best film that features an actor or actors who play multiple roles. Like Arnold […]

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[Member Post]

 

Last week we discussed spy movies. LC got a runaway winner in comment #1. with North By Northwest. Today, LC asks: What movie really needs or deserves a sequel? The Rules: Post your answer as a comment. Make it clear that this is your official answer, one per member. Preview Open

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[Member Post]

 

Last week we spent some time on the river. We quickly settled on two movies as the best of the genre, Bridge on the River Kwai, and The African Queen. It ended in a tie with Doug Kimball getting the honors of choosing the winner. He chose Hepburn and Bogie, which means he chose Cazzy, who […]

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[Member Post]

 

Since most of you would just love to see George C. Scott in a musical rendition of Patton, Douglas Kimball gets to decide todays RMFC discussion, which is this: Rivers are often featured in epic movies.  Submit your choice for the best movie ever in which a river plays a major role.The Rules: Post your […]

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[Member Post]

 

It’s been a while since this scenario played out, but last week’s winner, PresidentDonaldTrump, is incommunicado. I has been a long week for him.  When that happens we just move on to the runner-up, and DrewinWisconsin has one you’re going to have to think about: Pick a movie that’s not a musical and reimagine it […]

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