45 years ago this month, I went to see the fifth James Bond movie, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967), when it finally came to the Fairmount, one of my neighborhood theaters. It was a single feature, very unusual for this theater, but interest was so high they didn’t have to book a second film (although other theaters in the neighborhood ran it with second features). They’d even raised the prices for this showing so I wound up paying kids’ price even though I was 14 (I was short enough for my age to get away with it) and sat with my 12-year-old sister Claire in the children’s section, presided over by a matron in a white dress and white gloves and wielding a flashlight. This film marked the first time American audiences got to see ninja action in a mainstream studio film. We’d never even heard of ninjas before this film. It was also the first time most kids got to see people fight with samurai swords in an action scene in a big-budget feature film. When the climactic assault by Bond and the ninjas on SPECTRE’s volcano rocket base began, the crowd in the theater went completely nuts. We’d never seen anything like this before and kids were roaring and applauding and cheering and jumping up and down like I’d never seen an audience react before. (Two little wise guys behind me simply exclaimed “Ooooh!” in unison every time something happened.)
Akira Kurosawa’s wartime film, THE MOST BEAUTIFUL (1944) is a propaganda drama that was designed to glorify the efforts of teenage girls recruited to work on the production of implements for Japan’s combat with Allied forces. Here they work in a factory making lenses for bomb sights and all live together in a dormitory. They are shown embracing their work and plunging into it with wholehearted patriotic fervor. The film plays like Soviet propaganda of an earlier era or Chinese Communist propaganda of a later era, but with characteristic Kurosawa touches, including a succession of great closeups and a focus on the human element even in the midst of celebrating the collective spirit.
On Sept. 5, I went to see the new documentary, SIDE BY SIDE, about digital filmmaking, at the Quad Cinema in Manhattan. Directed by a post-production supervisor named Christopher Kenneally, it offered actor Keanu Reeves functioning as the on-camera interlocutor for a series of interviews with directors, cinematographers, editors and other film industry personnel, some of whom talked about their preferences for film or digital formats in making movies, while others simply waxed rhapsodic about the new digital tools available to them.
I’ve been reading “The Disney Version,” Richard Schickel’s critical biography of Walt Disney, and after I finished the chapter on SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, which was released 75 years ago this December, I pulled out my DVD copy of the film and watched it. It may be the first time I’ve seen this since I took my daughter to it when it was theatrically re-released in 1987. Before that I’d seen it in two other theatrical re-releases: in 1958, when I was four and 1967, when I took my younger brothers. And I bought the DVD in 2001.