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Happy Birthday, Lisa Lu: The Veteran Actress Turns 95!

19 Jan

Actress Lisa Lu turns 95 today, January 19, 2022. I’ve written about her four previous times, the last one being a celebration on her 90th birthday five years ago. It’s great to celebrate someone’s career while they’re happily still with us. Since that last post, she had a major supporting role in CRAZY RICH ASIANS (2018), marking her 60th year in the film/TV industry. In the film she played the mother of Michelle Yeoh’s character and the grandmother of the male lead played by Henry Golding, who struggles to get their approval of his marriage to a Chinese-American woman (Constance Wu) who is considered by his wealthy family to be beneath their station. Here’s what I wrote about her and Yeoh after I’d seen the film: “It’s great to see Michelle Yeoh and Lisa Lu onscreen together, but they’re so antagonistic to the poor heroine that I found it jarring. I’ve never seen them in roles like that before.”

Lisa Lu, Henry Golding in CRAZY RICH ASIANS (2018)

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Silent Naruse: STREET WITHOUT END (1934)

17 Jan

Last year I saw eleven films directed by Mikio Naruse, raising to 24 the number of films I’ve seen by him. So far this year I’ve seen two more, making it 26 total. Before 2017 I’d only seen three of his films. I’ve rapidly come to the conclusion that he is one of the four greatest Japanese filmmakers, on a par with Kurosawa, Ozu and Mizoguchi and I may even have seen more of his films that I’ve seen by the latter two. (And not just the greatest Japanese filmmakers either, but four of the greatest filmmakers in the history of world cinema.)

My most recent Naruse viewing is STREET WITHOUT END (1934), Naruse’s final silent film and part of Criterion’s Silent Naruse box set. (The newly-composed accompanying score on the disc, by Robin Holcomb and Wayne Horvitz, consisting of piano and violin, is excellent.)

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Deanna Durbin Centennial

4 Dec

December 4, 2021: Deanna Durbin would have turned 100 today. Here’s a link to a post I did earlier this year on her connection to Japan: Deanna Durbin and Her Japanese Fans. And the following is a post I did in 2013 on the occasion of her death at the age of 91.

Brian Camp's Film and Anime Blog

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…

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Dean Martin: King of Cool (2021)

24 Nov

“Dean Martin: King of Cool” is a new documentary about the celebrated actor, comedian, singer, movie/TV/recording star and member of the legendary Rat Pack. Directed by Tom Donahue, it offers a sympathetic and compelling 107-minute portrait of the entertainer that tries to find out what made the man tick and what he was guarding from the outside world. A “Rosebud” angle, drawing on CITIZEN KANE’s use of its subject’s deathbed utterance, is inserted tentatively at different points to try and find out what Dean’s “Rosebud” was and a plausible answer is provided late in the film by one of its main interviewees. The general consensus of the dozens of interviewees, some of whom knew and worked with him and many of whom didn’t, is that the façade he maintained was generally impenetrable. He did not want people to know him.

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Charles Bronson Centennial

3 Nov

He was an iconic action star who was one of The Magnificent Seven, one of The Dirty Dozen and one of three who made good The Great Escape. He was Charles Bronson and November 3, 2021 marks his centennial. (He died in 2003 at the age of 81 after a 48-year acting career.)

I first saw Bronson on the big screen in John Sturges’ THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963), where he was among the 76 POWs in a German prison camp during World War II who made a dramatic prison break in 1943. He played Danny, the “tunnel king,” whose background in coal mining propelled him to take a major role in digging the escape tunnels. Bronson himself had worked as a coal miner in Pennsylvania before military service in WWII. In the movie his character was one of the three who successfully reaches neutral territory without being recaptured. The other two were played by James Coburn and John Leyton.

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Bruce Lee Comics (1994)

22 Sep

In looking through boxes of comic books I purchased in the 1990s, I found five issues of “Bruce Lee,” a comic series from 1994, published by Malibu Comics. I have issues #1, 2, 4, 5, and 6. I’m not sure how long the series lasted, but it’s about a character named Bruce Lee, whose similarities to the actual Lee involve getting jobs in the film industry and setting up a school to train students in jeet kune do, a martial arts philosophy Lee devised from his own synthesis of varied fighting styles and methods. The similarity pretty much ends there.

The story is set in southern California at the time it was published, 1994, and not the 1960s when the real Lee was a young aspiring actor and martial arts champion who trained select students, first in Seattle and then in Los Angeles, and took various film and TV acting and fight direction jobs before achieving a short-lived burst of international stardom in the early 1970s, ended tragically by his untimely death from cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 32 in 1973.

I wrote about Lee here in 2013 on the 40th anniversary of his death: https://briandanacamp.wordpress.com/2013/07/20/bruce-lee-40-years-ago-today/#more-1328

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VICE SQUAD (1953) – The Real “Dragnet”

17 Sep

VICE SQUAD (1953) is a sharply-directed, fast-paced black-and-white crime thriller that follows a full shift in a day’s work for a police captain in the Vice Squad of the Los Angeles Police Department. The filmmakers shot it largely on location on a tight schedule and sought authenticity in every scene, adopting a semi-documentary approach that makes it one of the more believable police dramas of the era. As such, it offers a sharp contrast to the popular TV series of the time, “Dragnet” (1951-59), which, as much as I like it and as much as it was based on true cases, has always seemed to me quite stylized in its depiction of the LAPD through the quirky sensibility, off-kilter humor and incessant moralizing of its producer-director-star, Jack Webb, who played Sergeant Joe Friday in the show. I can imagine a conversation among the director, writer and producers of VICE SQUAD, where they wondered what “Dragnet” would look and sound like with someone in the central role who didn’t make speeches to all and sundry and wasn’t immune to bending the rules and making compromises to get the desired results in a case, i.e., someone less like Sgt. Friday (Webb, pictured below) and more like the actual police captain they consulted before making the film.

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Deanna Durbin and Her Japanese Fans

15 Aug

I was watching THE WHOLE FAMILY WORKS (1939), a Japanese film directed by Mikio Naruse about a family with seven kids trying to make ends meet in contemporary Japan, when I was struck by a scene 20 minutes into it where the second oldest son, Genji, who has left school to work, opens a magazine or workbook of some kind during a scene where he’s helping his younger brothers study in the room they share and reveals a photo of American movie star Deanna Durbin that he’s hidden in the book.

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“I will never grow tired of hearing stories told” – Quotes from Orson Welles

6 May

The great actor-writer-director Orson Welles would have turned 106 today, May 6, 2021. I did a centennial piece on him six years ago. Thanks to the release of MANK last year, which offered a questionable treatment of Welles’s role in the writing of CITIZEN KANE, I’ve been eager to read Welles’s own account and wound up re-reading three different books of interviews with him and soon forgot all about MANK. Welles is never boring and never predictable and shares extraordinary insights into life, the arts, society, history, and culture. He loved the act of creation, no matter which medium he worked in: film, theater, television, radio, painting, essays, etc. and he loved watching other human beings invested in creating. I’ve been reading portions of lots of other books about celebrated film personalities lately, mostly directors and movie stars, and I’m constantly finding instances of behavior that absolutely appall me. Some directors thought nothing of putting their cast and crew members in situations of great danger and discomfort or simply treating them horribly. These include some of my favorite directors, so I don’t want to name names. Some movie stars made life miserable for other cast members and their directors. But I’ve never heard anything like that about Welles. He seems to have loved working with people and put himself fully into every one of his creative endeavors. Here’s a quote from a 1964 interview done in Madrid that ends with a sentiment I wish more directors had endorsed:

Q: How do you work with actors?

Welles: I give them a great deal of freedom and, at the same time, the feeling of precision. It’s a strange combination. In other words, physically, and in the way they develop, I demand the precision of ballet. But their way of acting comes directly from their own ideas as much as from mine. When the camera begins to roll, I do not impro­vise visually. In this realm, everything is prepared. But I work very freely with the actors. I try to make their life pleasant.

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50 Years in Times Square: Kurosawa and his Western Remakes

8 Apr

On April 8, 1971, 50 years ago today, I made my first trip to see a Japanese movie on the big screen. It was Akira Kurosawa’s SEVEN SAMURAI (1954) and it may have been the first time the full three-and-a-half-hour cut of the film was shown on the big screen in New York. It was also the first fully foreign-language film with English subtitles that I would see in a theater. The theater was the tiny Bijou Cinema on West 45th Street, between Broadway and 8th Avenue in Times Square in Manhattan.  Interestingly, just over two months earlier, on January 28, 1971, I’d seen John Sturges’ THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960), a western remake of SEVEN SAMURAI, for the first time at a theater around the corner from the Bijou, the Victoria on Broadway and 46th Street. On May 20 of that year, I would see Sergio Leone’s A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964), the first in the Italian director’s “Man with No Name” western trilogy starring Clint Eastwood, at the Astor Theater, adjacent to the Victoria on Broadway between 45th and 46th Streets. A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS was an Italian western remake of Kurosawa’s YOJIMBO (1961), which I would then see on July 17, 1971, at the Bijou Cinema around the corner. So I saw Kurosawa’s two greatest samurai films and their western remakes in a six-month time period on one strip of real estate in Times Square, all while I was still in high school. Where else and at what time period could that have happened? I was so lucky to be coming of age as a film buff at just that time.31337908446_1655225bc8 Continue reading