On March 9, 2013, I went to the New York International Children’s Film Festival (NYICFF) to see a new animated film, WOLF CHILDREN (2012), by Japanese director Mamoru Hosoda, who appeared after the screening for a Q&A with the audience. I had seen Mr. Hosoda’s previous animated film, SUMMER WARS (2009), when it had premiered at the NYICFF on the night of a blizzard in February 2010 and Mr. Hosoda had appeared and done a Q&A there also. Before these two films, Hosoda had directed THE GIRL WHO LEAPT THROUGH TIME (2006) and the first two movies spun off from the Digimon animated series, DIGIMON ADVENTURE: BORN OF KOROMON (1999) and DIGIMON ADVENTURE: OUR WAR GAME (2000).
For every single Japanese animated series or film released in the U.S. in an English-language edition, there are dozens that have never been released and are not likely to be. I’m curious about anime I haven’t seen and have looked for intriguing examples, either on tape or DVD, in Japanese video stores in Manhattan. When the price has been right, I’ve picked it up. There are many classic series I’ve heard of but never seen, so those get high priority, but there are many I learn of for the first time when I encounter them on the shelves at Book Off or HQ Video in Manhattan.
Ray Harryhausen died on Tuesday, May 7 at the age of 92. He had a good run, starting out by animating stop-motion models of dinosaurs, inspired by KING KONG (1933), for short color 16mm movies made in his parents’ garage while he was a teenager in the 1930s and ending with the Greek mythological epic CLASH OF THE TITANS in 1981. In between, he did the “technical effects” as billed on his first feature, or “special visual effects” as they were usually billed, for some of my all-time favorite movies. I was lucky to have seen many of his movies on the big screen when they were first released, starting with THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958), which my father took us to see on Lincoln’s Birthday in 1959, when I was five. Even though I’d seen Disney features in theaters before then, as well as a memorable double bill of THE ROBE and DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS, I believe it was SINBAD that first triggered a love of the motion picture art form, particularly the more fantastic genres. The Cyclops was a truly formidable monster and done in such a vivid and exciting manner that there was something consistently compelling about him and the way he reacts to having his domain invaded by these pesky humans. I don’t know that I’ve seen another movie monster quite like him, not even in Harryhausen’s other films.
First Annette and now Deanna Durbin, who was, in a way, the Annette Funicello of the 1930s (but way more popular). According to the New York Times obituary of May 1, 2013, Ms. Durbin died “a few days ago.” (As of this writing, IMDB still doesn’t list a death date, presumably because it still doesn’t have one!) Legend has it that Deanna’s film musicals, filled with youthful exuberance and musical cheer, starting with THREE SMART GIRLS (1936) and 100 MEN AND A GIRL (1937), were so popular they saved Universal Pictures from bankruptcy and kept the studio solvent until Abbott and Costello came along in the 1940s. (Deanna and Annette connection: both co-starred in movies with Robert Cummings.)
Deanna Durbin (born Dec. 4, 1921) was one of the few major Hollywood stars to turn her back on the industry and walk away from it and live happily ever after. She moved to France in 1950 with her third husband, French director Charles David, after having made her last film in 1948 at the age of 26, and never looked back. Before that, she made a total of 21 features, mostly at Universal, from 1936-1948. As far as I know, she sang in every one of them.
News of Annette Funicello’s death after a decades-long battle with multiple sclerosis was announced yesterday. I first knew “Annette,” as she was commonly known, from her tenure on “The Mickey Mouse Club” on TV when I was a child in the late 1950s. However, I didn’t come to appreciate her fully until I was a little older and saw BEACH PARTY when it opened in the Bronx in October 1963 (50 years ago this fall) on a double bill with Roger Corman’s race-car drama, THE YOUNG RACERS. Annette was absolutely beautiful in the film and even though I’d have to count Natalie Wood in WEST SIDE STORY, first seen earlier that year, as my first movie star crush (and the one that directly influenced, consciously or subconsciously, my future choice of mate), I have to say Annette imprinted herself on my consciousness that day as the ideal woman, particularly in the scene where her mirror image sings back to her, “Treat Him Nicely.”
Recently, a song was played on the radio entitled “Merry Go ’Round,” by up-and-coming country singer Kacey Musgraves, and it reminded me of the kinds of songs that used to be featured on movie soundtracks in my youth. In these films, there was usually a sequence where the song played over a piece of action as a character is traveling or making stops or having a lovers’ rendezvous and the lyrics usually commented on the action, either directly or obliquely. The songs that came to mind right away were the following: “Everybody’s Talkin’” performed by Nilsson in MIDNIGHT COWBOY (1969), “Come Saturday Morning,” performed by the Sandpipers in THE STERILE CUCKOO (1969), and “I Got a Name,” performed by Jim Croce in THE LAST AMERICAN HERO (1973).
On Sunday, March 10, 1963 (50 years ago today, which is also a Sunday), I had left Tremont Methodist Church in my Bronx neighborhood to go to the movies at the Tremont Theater on Webster Avenue two-and-a-half blocks away. My plan was to see Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe-inspired horror comedy, THE RAVEN, starring three horror greats of the time: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and my favorite of the three, Boris Karloff. It would be playing with two co-features. The Tremont, which I’d been attending regularly with my siblings since May of the previous year, ran triple features of older movies, including some from as far back as the 1930s, although the oldest movies I saw at the Tremont were all from 1952. When I got to the theater that Sunday, I pondered the choice I had. There was a new double feature playing at the Deluxe some seven blocks away up Tremont Avenue: SAMSON AND THE SEVEN MIRACLES OF THE WORLD, an Italian muscleman movie starring Gordon Scott, and WARRIORS FIVE, an Italian war movie starring Jack Palance. I had just started paying more attention to movie ads and reviews in the New York Post, especially, and wanted to follow new movies coming out instead of just relying on the Tremont’s eclectic schedule (which I’d been enjoying tremendously). So, at the last minute, I opted not to pay the 35 cents admission for the Tremont and instead went up to the Deluxe to pay my full allowance allotment of 50 cents at the Deluxe. I was by myself and all of nine years old. (It was the first time I went to the movies without a sibling.)