Paris is a Movie Lover’s Town, Part 2

20 Jul

Sunday, my last full day in Paris, found me in the morning waiting on line in the rain to enter the Musee d’Orsay, where a Van Gogh exhibit awaited.

It was the last day of the exhibit, so I’m glad I got to see it even though I had to wait on line a second time inside the museum to see it. I’ve seen Van Gogh paintings before, but not so many of them in one exhibit–and in Paris where most of these paintings originally found their home! No photography was allowed in the exhibit, so I didn’t get any shots, but here’s a famous one that was included:

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Paris is a Movie Lover’s Town, Part 1

14 Jul

I spent a week in Paris, July 1-7, and even though I wasn’t there to see movies, I did photograph a number of theaters and movie posters and various locations attesting to the city’s ongoing cinephilia, including a visit to a treat-filled video store up the block from my hotel. And I did get to see one movie while I was there.

Me and Bette on a Paris street

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PAINTED FACES (1988) – The early days of Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung

30 Jun

I bought PAINTED FACES (1988) on VHS at a Chinatown video store in 1999 and only just got to see it a week ago. It’s a drama about a Peking Opera troupe in Hong Kong in the 1960s and the efforts of its stern instructor, Master Yu, to train a group of boys, all sent there by their hard-pressed parents, in the dying arts of Peking Opera performance. Three of the boys just happen to be Jackie Chan (called “Big Nose” by the other characters), Sammo Hung (called “Sammo” by the others although he didn’t get that name in real life until he was an adult), and Yuen Biao, three performers who would revolutionize Hong Kong cinema in the 1970s and ’80s with their stunt-filled action and martial arts comedies. The three starred in a number of 1980s films themselves, including PROJECT A, PROJECT A II, DRAGONS FOREVER, WINNERS AND SINNERS and WHEELS ON MEALS. Chan and Hung became important directors of their films as well.

L-R: Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao in PROJECT A (1983)

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VHS Preservation, Part 2: Classics of Historical Anime

9 Jun

An Olympic Fable: Run for Life

One of the most obscure anime titles in my VHS collection was found in a battered case in a used video bin at a now-shuttered video store back in May 1998. At the time I had no idea what its exact origin was, but I was sure it was Japanese animation, thanks to the © 1983 Harmony Gold credit on the case and the style of art seen in the intriguing image of a young man in Ancient Greece running with a look of urgency on his face. Harmony Gold is the U.S. company that crafted the 85-episode syndicated series, “Robotech,” in 1985 by stringing together three unrelated anime sci-fi series from 1982-84 and adapting the dialogue so that the stringing together made sense. The title on the case of the videotape I bought is “An Olympic Fable: Run for Life,” while the onscreen title on the tape itself is just “Run for Life.”

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The Poetry of Kaiju: Godzilla vs. Mothra (1964)

1 Jun

At the end of my previous entry, a critique of GODZILLA (2014), I offered a teaser of this one, with five images from the first classic Godzilla movie I went back to after seeing the new one. After taking a number of screen grabs, I thought I’d make an entire entry composed of scenes from the film to show how poetic imagery infused the entire film (and other Japanese kaiju–giant monster–films) in a way that seems alien to the creators of the remake. By happy coincidence, I’ve been reading a book of academic essays called In Godzilla’s Footsteps: Japanese Pop Culture Icons on the Global Stage (Palgrave Macmillan 2006), edited by William M. Tsutsui and Michiko Ito, and it happens to contain an essay called, “Mothra’s Gigantic Egg: Consuming the South Pacific in 1960s Japan,” by Yoshikuni Igarashi. The essay looks at the first two Mothra films, MOTHRA (1961) and GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (1964, aka GODZILLA VS. THE THING, as it was called in its U.S. release in 1964), and discusses Japan’s relationship to the South Pacific, where Mothra originates, in its history and popular culture and how the South represents an “innocent past” and a “mirror of Japan’s desire to escape the effect of its economic success—consumerism.” Igarashi goes on to discuss GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA and how Godzilla “represents a threat to Japan’s postwar prosperity” while Mothra has become “an emblem of Japan’s consumerism.”

Following are images from the film interspersed with excerpts from the text of Igarashi’s essay:

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GODZILLA 2014: Monster Movies in the CGI Era

25 May

I’ve seen every Godzilla film, most of them multiple times. As a child I saw the first one in its English-dubbed version, GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS, when it was first shown on TV 56 years ago. When I first heard about the new Hollywood version of GODZILLA, I was skeptical. We all know what the 1998 Hollywood version was like. What further damage could they do now? When I saw the first trailer where we got to see what he looked like, I was pleased that they kept the design of the original Japanese Godzilla, but they’d made him way too big. I started thinking about the physics of a creature like that. What did he eat? How did he stand up? How’d he have enough energy to propel himself? Wouldn’t he have gotten more easily tired or exhausted at that size? I’d never had questions like that when watching Japanese Godzilla movies. I knew what he ate. At lunchtime, Haruo Nakajima, the actor who put on the rubber suit to play Godzilla in the first ten Godzilla movies, would take off the Godzilla head and remove the Godzilla gloves and get a pair of chopsticks and eat a Bento box lunch like everyone else on the crew, followed by a cigarette, and then put the costume parts back on and go back to knocking down buildings in a miniature city on a Toho soundstage. The character was human-scaled. He moved like a living being because—guess what?—he was played by a living being.

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VHS Preservation, Part 1: CHINATOWN KID (1977)

14 May

What happens when remaining copies of particular films or particular versions of films exist only on VHS tape in individual collections and the copyright owner or rights holder has either gone out of business or abandoned the property altogether? I have quite a few VHS editions of films and TV shows that are not readily available in other formats, mostly English-dubbed Japanese anime and Hong Kong kung fu movies, but probably quite a few other foreign and animated films as well, including many Italian genre films. These are titles that were once distributed on home video in the U.S. or syndicated to television, but are no longer officially available for one reason or another, including the fact that so many companies that once distributed to niche markets are now out of business and the rights holders in Japan and Hong Kong, if they’re still in business at all, have either been unable to find new licensees for these titles or are completely uninterested in any further distribution overseas. Or, as in the case of the film in question here, if the copyright owner is still active, they are unable to find a complete print of something that once got distribution in the U.S.

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