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WEST SIDE STORY: A Look Back

15 Oct

The recent centennials of Leonard Bernstein (August 25) and Jerome Robbins (October 11), composer and choreographer/co-director, respectively, of WEST SIDE STORY (1961), and the press coverage of Steven Spielberg’s planned remake compelled me to dig out my file of b&w stills from a press kit for a late 1960s reissue of the film that I’d acquired in 1969 from United Artists. I scanned them all and am posting them here along with color stills found on IMDB. I’m fascinated by the way publicity stills, staged for the still camera and not taken during the actual shooting of a scene, offer an alternate version of the film or images that can seem like deleted scenes.

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The Weirdest Double Feature Ever?

7 Oct

The above ad appeared in The New York Times on Sunday, March 30, 1969.

Imagine going to a movie theater and seeing these two posters advertising the evening’s double bill:

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The Films of 1968, Part 1: What We Were Seeing 50 Years Ago

21 Aug

In 1968, Hollywood was undergoing quite a turbulent period. The studios continued to turn out lightweight studio entertainment as if it were 1938, while also contending with audience demand for greater frankness, more mature subject matter and fewer restrictions on language, nudity and violence. Foreign films and independent films were gaining greater critical and audience acceptance. The Motion Picture Association of America, long the guardian of the Production Code, with which films had to comply in order to get an MPAA seal of approval, first introduced a tag, “Suggested for Mature Audiences,” in late 1967 and then, when they realized that wasn’t enough, installed a full-blown ratings system for films in October 1968: G for General Audiences, M for Mature subject matter, R for Restricted, and X for adults only. So you had films like Robert Aldrich’s X-rated THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE, about a lesbian romance, and Christian Marquand’s  CANDY, about a young girl’s sexual awakening (invariably involving slumming over-forty Hollywood stars like Richard Burton, Marlon Brando, James Coburn and Walter Matthau), alongside sugary assembly line fare like Elvis Presley songfests; family comedies starring Doris Day, Jerry Lewis and Don Knotts, adaptations of Broadway musicals like FINIAN’S RAINBOW, FUNNY GIRL, and OLIVER!; and live-action Disney family features, five of them released in 1968: BLACKBEARD’S GHOST, THE ONE AND ONLY, GENUINE, ORIGINAL FAMILY BAND, NEVER A DULL MOMENT, THE HORSE IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUIT, and THE LOVE BUG. Continue reading

Robert Aldrich Centennial

9 Aug

Robert Aldrich was born on August 9, 1918 and would have turned 100 today. (He died in 1983.) He was one of my earliest favorite movie directors. By the time I saw THE DIRTY DOZEN (pictured above, with Aldrich in the red sweater directing, with Charles Bronson on the right) in high school, I’d already seen three of his earlier films, two in theaters (THE LAST SUNSET, HUSH HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE) and one on TV (VERA CRUZ), and I loved DOZEN so much I made it a point to seek out every one of his films as they came out. In fact, just three weeks after I first saw DOZEN, I went to see his newest movie, TOO LATE THE HERO (1970) when it opened on Broadway. I missed the next one, THE GRISSOM GANG (1971), when it opened, but starting with ULZANA’S RAID (1972), a cavalry-and-Indians western starring Burt Lancaster, I saw every one of his remaining films in theaters on their original release. Also, as I began taking film classes in college and seeing movies in repertory theaters in Manhattan, I sought out Aldrich’s older films, especially as I learned of the high esteem he was held in by auteurists, and discovered for myself some of his very best films, including KISS ME DEADLY (1955), ATTACK (1956), and WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962), not to mention the chance to see VERA CRUZ (1954) on the big screen. At the beginning of 2018, I finally caught up with Aldrich’s debut film, THE BIG LEAGUER (1953), a baseball drama starring Edward G. Robinson, and, as of this writing, I have only one Aldrich film left to see, the rarely-screened lesbian drama, THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE (1969).

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Stanley Kubrick: Early Photos and New York Noir

24 Jul

Filmmaker Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) would have turned 90 this coming Thursday, July 26, 2018. Known for such works as PATHS OF GLORY, DR. STRANGELOVE, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, THE SHINING, FULL METAL JACKET and EYES WIDE SHUT, he began directing features in 1953, but started working as a photographer doing human interest stories for Look Magazine eight years earlier while still a student at Taft High School in the Bronx. He eventually directed three documentary shorts, the first of them, “Day of the Fight” (1951), based on a photo story about a boxer he’d done a couple of years earlier.

The Museum of the City of New York is currently offering an exhibit of Kubrick’s early photographs under the title, “Through a Different Lens: Stanley Kubrick Photographs,” which runs until October 28, 2018. The exhibit gives us a chance to see what interested Kubrick in his formative creative years and how he chose to frame it. It also looks forward to his first “real” movie, KILLER’S KISS (1955), which he made on a shoestring on New York locations, drawing on his experience as a street photographer. He then went to California to make THE KILLING, a full-fledged Hollywood crime thriller with a cast of name actors (topped by Sterling Hayden) and the rest, as they say, is history.

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In Glorious Black-and-White

14 Jul

Recently, a thread on the Home Theater Forum asked participants for their “all-time favorite movie process.” While others picked things like IMAX, 3-D, Cinerama, Todd-AO, Vistavision, Ultra Panavision 70 and the like, I was the only one to declare Academy ratio black-and-white as my favorite “process,” although “format” would be a more appropriate term. Here are the images I posted:

The Academy ratio of 1.37:1, sometimes referred to as 4:3, was the standard ratio for the motion picture frame from 1932 right up until the conversion to widescreen began in earnest in 1953, after which wider aspect ratios were used to give audiences a sense that they were getting something they couldn’t see on television. Television had adopted the ratio of 1.33:1, which had been the standard for movies before 1932 and was close enough to the Academy ratio to allow movies shot in that ratio to air on television without necessitating cropping (not that the full image was ever exactly shown, but that’s another story).

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June 29: Bernard Herrmann and Ray Harryhausen

29 Jun

Composer Bernard Herrmann and special effects creator Ray Harryhausen shared a birthday–June 29. Herrmann was born in 1911 and died in 1975, while Harryhausen was born in 1920 and died in 2013. (I did a tribute to Harryhausen here.) The two artists collaborated on four films. My first exposure to both men was THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, which I saw in a theater when I was five years old. It took a few years for me to learn their names, but I became a huge fan of both by the time I was an adolescent. Following SINBAD, they collaborated on THE THREE WORLDS OF GULLIVER (1960), MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961) and JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963). I saw GULLIVER and JASON in theaters when they came out as well, but I would have to wait till a TV showing on Thanksgiving in 1964 to catch MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, which became my favorite of the four. I would eventually see all of Harryhausen’s films and all but two of those that Herrmann composed the scores for.

Seven years ago, I did a piece on Herrmann’s centennial on the J-pop blog I was doing then. Harryhausen was still alive at the time. I’ve pasted that piece here in its entirety:

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