Friday, November 24, 2017

HITCHCOCK & HERRMANN: "NORTH BY NORTHWEST" COMES TO THE SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY


On Friday, December 1 and Saturday, December 2, The San Francisco Symphony will present the Alfred Hitchcock blockbuster, North by Northwest (1959), featuring Bernard Herrmann's iconic score, in evening performances at Davies Symphony Hall. As with all SFS film series presentations, North by Northwest will be screened with its score scrubbed from the soundtrack and instead performed live by the symphony orchestra.

North by Northwest was one of Hitchcock's biggest hits. It's the film that put the exclamation point on the end of his amazing run of Technicolor classics of the 1950s, and is the movie Cary Grant once said was the one his fans mentioned most often as their favorite. The film garnered three Academy Award nominations, Ernest Lehman's screenplay is among those listed by the Writers Guild as one of the greatest ever written, and North by Northwest also boasts one of composer Bernard Herrmann's great signature scores.

The symphony's film series presentations are always must-see events. Having had the thrill of watching North by Northwest once before on the big screen, I know that that alone is an exciting experience. But to see a newly-restored print while listening to Herrmann's score performed live by the San Francisco Symphony...well, that will be out of this world. Meanwhile, for an idea of what the big-screen experience of North by Northwest is like (and more), here's some of what I wrote about it in 2011:

"At noon on Sunday, September 5, the Rafael presented North by Northwest as part of its quarterly "Everybody's Classics" series. By 11:40 a.m. the line was long, but good seats were still to be had. By show time Theater 1 was packed and anticipation ran high.

Then Bernard Herrmann's pulsing score began and the crisscrossing lines of Saul Bass's title sequence filled the screen. North by Northwest was upon us and in just a few exhilarating moments I was whisked into the adventure.

Cary Grant - the adventure begins
Possibly Hitchcock's quintessential thrill-ride, North by Northwest incorporates many familiar themes and plot devices - an innocent man accused, a romance complicated by mistrust and betrayal, a double chase (the police after the innocent man and the innocent man after the true villain), a backdrop of international espionage...

North by Northwest has been linked to two of Hitchcock's earlier classics, The 39 Steps (1935) and Notorious (1946), but by 1959 the director, at the height of his powers, was in a position to control just about every aspect of his films, much more so than he had been 10 and 20+ years earlier.

He was able to cast his favorite actor/star, Cary Grant, in the lead. And though he was unsuccessful in enticing Princess Grace back to the screen as his leading lady, he transformed Academy Award-winning method actress Eva Marie Saint into a stunning and complex femme fatale. James Mason, Martin Landau, Leo G. Carroll and Jessie Royce Landis rounded out his first-rate cast.

Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint, hands on
Bernard Herrmann, who by now had worked with Hitchcock on several films, was just completing the score for the pilot of "The Twilight Zone" when he began North by Northwest. Ernest Lehman wrote the sophisticated and clever script that earned an Oscar nomination. Academy Award winning cinematographer Robert Burks, production designer Robert F. Boyle (also Oscar-nominated for this film) and other Hitchcock stalwarts joined in the collaboration.

All of these ingredients plus glorious VistaVision and Technicolor added up to produce one of Hitchcock's most successful and exciting films.

I'd seen North by Northwest on the small screen countless times and felt I knew the film well, but to finally see it on a movie screen was akin to seeing it for the first time.

To begin with, Cary Grant's starpower was almost overpowering - his screen presence was that commanding. What grace, what confidence…and how impossibly handsome he was. It's not surprising that Bernard Herrmann adjusted his score to match what he described as Grant's "Astaire-like agility."

As might be expected, the suspense seemed magnified on a theater screen, and so did everything else - the humor was more direct and the seduction scenes more intense in their intimacy and erotic implications. The film’s pacing is acutely precise – with suspense building to an exquisite pitch, then, at just the right moment, relief - via wit or romance. Then, once more, the suspense begins to build…

Climax of a classic chase scene
The crop-dusting sequence with its truck-in-flames finale and the moonlit chase across the face of Mount Rushmore are striking set-pieces on a screen of any size. Via the big screen I could almost feel the heat of the truck’s explosion and smell South Dakota’s night air. These scenes are legendary and, for obvious reasons, much imitated. The early James Bond films emulate the crop-dusting scene... Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters (1977) includes a well-known homage with its replication of Hitchcock's night-time Black Hills.

Alfred Hitchcock has been widely acknowledged for his matchless ability to maneuver an audience's emotions and point of view with ease, and it's hard to maintain much distance from Hitchcock's best films. This could be why I enjoy the experience of his films as much as I enjoy the exercise of studying them.

As with all Hitchcock films, North by Northwest has a few things going on beneath its slick surface. But last Labor Day weekend, inside a darkened theater filled with laughing, sighing, cheering people, I was a child again for a while. Happily immersed in a suspenseful, clever, sexy adventure, I didn't really notice that, from the first note of Herrmann's score to the final shot of a darkened railroad tunnel, I was being swept along as if aboard a sleek 20th Century Limited under the command of a very crafty locomotive engineer."

~

For more ticket and other information on the San Francisco Symphony's presentation of North by Northwest on December 1 and 2, click here.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

FASCISM, NATIONALISM and the BANNED FILMS of MARLENE DIETRICH


This is my entry for the Classic Movie Blog Association's Fall 2017 blogathon, Banned and Blacklisted, for links to all contributions, click here.

Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel
In 1930, 29-year-old Marlene Dietrich created a sensation with her breakout performance as cabaret temptress Lola-Lola in Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel (Der blaue Engel), the tale of a straitlaced professor bewitched by a low-rent vamp.  It was Germany’s first sound picture, produced in both German and English versions, and made for Ufa, the country’s once great and celebrated film company. Brand spanking new toast-of-Berlin Dietrich departed that city for Hollywood the morning after the film’s premiere. She was signed by Paramount with the hope she would be its answer to MGM’s Garbo, and she quickly rocketed to worldwide fame, earning a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her next performance, in Morocco (1930). Dietrich would stay in Hollywood, go on to apply for U.S. citizenship, and eventually achieve international stardom that would last until the end of her life.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

"Mademoiselle" (1966) starring Jeanne Moreau, directed by Tony Richardson

MADEMOISELLE NOT TO BE MISSED AT SAN FRANCISCO'S 4TH FRENCH FILM NOIR FESTIVAL


In Francois Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black (1968), Jeanne Moreau portrayed a woman driven to kill by the reckless accidental shooting of her new husband. In that film, one of Truffaut’s Hitchcockian exercises, her character relentlessly pursues revenge, methodically seeking out and taking out the men responsible for her groom’s death. Two years earlier, in Tony Richardson’s Mademoiselle (1966), Moreau took on a similar but different sort of angel-of-death role. In this film the character is more sinister, her motives less clear and far more ominous.

Friday, October 13, 2017

FRENCH NOIR RETURNS TO SAN FRANCISCO NOVEMBER 3

Jean Gabin and Jeanne Moreau in Gas-Oil, screening on "Rare Gabin Saturday," Nov. 4 

 

4 DAYS/13 FILMS: "THE FRENCH HAD A NAME FOR IT 4"


San Francisco's venerable Roxie Theater will host the 4th installment of THE FRENCH HAD A NAME FOR IT, a leading-edge festival of French film noir pioneered and presented by Mid-Century Productions and its executive director/programmer, Don Malcolm. Thirteen French noirs will light up the screen over four days, from Friday, November 3 through Monday, November 6. Here's a quick look at an exciting schedule...

Sunday, June 18, 2017

One-of-a-Kind Celebrity Dolls, Pt. 3: More Creations from Amazing Artists

Lauren Bacall by Cyguy
In this better-late-than-never third and final installment in our series on "OOAK" (One-of-a-Kind) celebrity dolls, we'll peruse the work of some highly accomplished and well-respected artists; Pt. 2 featured the work of prolific "repaint" artist Noel Cruz and Pt. 1 focused on the history of celebrity dolls.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

CASABLANCA at 75, Let the Celebrations Continue



Casablanca - winner of Best Picture, Best Director (Michael Curtiz) and Best Screenplay (Julius and Philip Epstein and Howard Koch) Oscars and possibly the film from Hollywood’s golden era that has aged better than any other “as time goes by” - turns 75 this year. Casablanca was honored at the 8th annual TCM Classic Film Festival in April with a screening on the final night of the event at the TCL Chinese Theatre, that opulent icon of glamorous days gone by that is just now celebrating its 90th year.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Underseen & Underrated: "Unfaithfully Yours" (1948), from the Madcap Mind of Preston Sturges



Preston Sturges’s final remarkable comedy, the deliriously dark Unfaithfully Yours (1948), screened twice at this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival, on April 7 and on April 9, the last day of the annual event. That it screened a second time speaks to the impact of this lesser known Struges jewel the first time it was shown; many of the screening slots on the festival’s final day are held open for repeat showings of “smaller” films that proved to be especially popular on their first run.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

PANIQUE (PANIC), a Timely French Noir from Julien Duvivier



This article is also featured in the May/June 2017 issue of THE DARK PAGES film noir newsletter edited by Karen Burroughs Hannsberry. For information on the bi-monthly publication, Click here.

 During Turner Classic Movies’ 8th annual film festival in April, more than 75 films were shown over the event’s four day run. All films screened were classics and almost all of them appealed to me. But there were two that I was determined to see: The Powell/Pressburger tour de force Black Narcissus (1947), presented on nitrate-based film stock, and the less well known newly restored French film noir, Panique (1946), from director Julien Duvivier (1896 – 1967).

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Rare Noir is Good to Find 2, San Francisco's Second International Film Noir Festival - Coming in May


For four days in May, twelve mostly rare films noir from eleven countries around the world will screen at San Francisco's Roxie Theater in the heart of the city's Mission District. The event, A Rare Noir is Good to Find 2, is the second international film noir festival to be presented at the Roxie by Mid-Century Productions, the company that has already staged 3 annual French film noir festivals there. Says Don Malcolm, Mid-Century's veteran noir programmer, "As astonishing as it is to know that there are hundreds of French noirs awaiting rediscovery on American movie screens, it's even more amazing to see just how prominent film noir was in just about every significant filmmaking nation in the years following World War II."

Camino del Infierno (The Road to Hell) from Mexico, 1951

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Nitrate Experience, BLACK NARCISSUS at TCMFF 2017

Kathleen Byron and Deborah Kerr in Black Narcissus, a production of The Archers

One of the truly unique experiences (and there were many) of this year's TCM Classic Film Festival was the joy of viewing a nitrate print of The Archers' (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger) great masterpiece Black Narcissus (1947) on the big screen at Hollywood's Egyptian Theatre.

Black Narcissus is a breathtaking film, one of the most spectacular examples of mid-century Technicolor films ever produced. I could hardly imagine that its often voluptuous, frequently Vermeer-like imagery could possibly look any better than I had previously seen. Little did I know that I would be transported to a realm of color that could be called other-worldly. The adjective "awesome" has been entirely worn out for decades, and so I'll simply say that the impact of seeing the film's lush Technicolor photography on nitrate-based film stock was awe-inspiring.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

OOAK Dolls, Pt. 2: Repaint Artist Noel Cruz


 

Noel Cruz is one of the most highly acclaimed among OOAK doll repaint artists on the scene. A Filipino-American based in Anaheim, California, Cruz’s reputation rests upon his talent for fashioning repainted dolls that bear amazing likeness to their subjects. His specialty is character and celebrity dolls, dolls produced by manufacturers like Tonner and Franklin Mint that Cruz strips of their original paint and repaints with infinite care – and with stunning results. His creations are much sought after, and some have sold for more than $2,000 via his EBay store.

The Elizabeth Taylor doll shown above depicts her as Angela Vickers, the character she portrayed in A Place in the Sun (1951). Cruz's transformation of the original factory doll is dramatic. The original bears some passing resemblance to the actress, but is essentially lifeless, where Cruz's makeover is uncannily lifelike.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

OOAK Dolls: So Real They're Unreal



Bette Davis by CyGuy

Celebrity dolls, I discovered, have been around for a long, long time. According to Ellen Tsagaris of Dr. E's Doll Museum blog, the first commemorative doll is more than likely the Venus of Willendorf and other Venus figures discovered in Europe and said to be between 25,000 and 40,000 years old. Creation of tribute dolls continued through the ages, but it was during the reign of England's Queen Victoria that the popularity of such dolls surged. Royals, celebrated beauties and military heroes were all commemorated with dolls in their likenesses and prima ballerinas were memorialized as paper dolls.

With the arrival of movies in the 20th century came the manufacture of dolls based on film stars; the first Chaplin doll appeared in 1915. The runaway popularity of the Shirley Temple doll produced by Ideal in 1934 brought the production of more dolls based on popular stars like Sonja Henie, Deanna Durbin and others.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The End of An Era



I, we, had hoped he would return. Robert Osborne had gone on hiatus from his hosting duties at TCM before and had always come back. Surely he would return again. But now we are told that he is gone forever and the world, especially the world of classic film, seems to have tipped on its axis.

Monday, February 13, 2017

TCM's 2017 Classic Film Festival


TCM's 8th annual Classic Film Festival is set for April 6 - 9 in Hollywood, and this year's central theme is Make 'Em Laugh: Comedy in the Movies...if there was ever a year we needed some laughs...

Joel McCrea, Claudette Colbert and Rudy Vallee in The Palm Beach Story
Among the comedy classics to be screened are two of my favorites from writer/director Preston Sturges, The Palm Beach Story (1942) and Unfaithfully Yours (1948), with Rex Harrison and Linda Darnell. Also on the program: Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), Born Yesterday (1950), The Front Page (1931), Red-Headed Woman (1932), Harold Lloyd's Speedy (1928) and Twentieth Century (1934). A special presentation, Beyond the Mouse: The 1930s Cartoons of Ub Iwerks (2017), will feature several rarely seen short animation films by Iwerks, an early collaborator and partner of Walt Disney.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Lady Gaga for "La La Land"


Or: Lady Eve Goes Gaga for La La Land

I stepped up to the ticket window at the Century Regency 6 on a Wednesday morning earlier this month intending to purchase an early bird ticket to a film that was in the last days of its run at the multiplex. But Fate would have it otherwise; the movie had already begun 15 minutes ahead of schedule for some logistical reason or another. When I asked if there was another film that hadn’t started yet but would soon, I was told, “Well, La La Land is starting right now.” Ah, one of the other movies I wanted to see. So I grabbed a ticket and hurried into the theater. The opening scene, a splashy and jubilant musical number set on a present day traffic-jammed L.A. freeway, was already in high gear. Taken by surprise at the hoopla onscreen, a near-over-the-top homage to a film genre so very long gone and out of fashion, I wasn't sure whether I was going to like this movie or not, but then...

Monday, January 9, 2017

HAPPY NOIR YEAR!


The 2017 film noir festival season kicks off in the U.S. on January 20 in San Francisco when the Film Noir Foundation's Noir City 15 opens at the city's historic Castro Theater. Satellite Noir City festivals will follow through the year in L.A., Chicago, D.C., Seattle, Kansas City and Austin.