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Posts Tagged ‘The Los Angeles Times’

Treasure Trove of Silent American Movies Found in Amsterdam

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

A group of extremely rare American silent films has been found at the EYE Museum in Amsterdam.

As Susan King reports in The Los Angeles Times, “Long-missing comedy shorts such as 1927’s Mickey’s Circus, featuring a 6-year-old Mickey Rooney in his first starring role, 1917’s Neptune’s Naughty Daughter; 1925’s Fifty Million Years Ago, an animated introduction to the theory of evolution; and a 1924 industrial short, The Last Word in Chickens, are among the American silent films recently found at the EYE Filmmusem in Amsterdam. EYE and the San Francisco-based National Film Preservation Foundation have partnered to repatriate and preserve these films — the majority either don’t exist in the U.S. or only in inferior prints.

The announcement was to be made Sunday in Amsterdam at EYE Museum with a public screening of the first film saved from the project Koko’s Queen [see image above], a 1926  Out of the Inkwell cartoon, which had been available in the U.S. only in substandard video copies. Annette Melville, director of the National Film Preservation Foundation, said EYE came to them after learning of NFPF’s partnership four years ago with the New Zealand Film Archive, which repatriated nitrate prints of nearly 200 silent U.S. films, including a missing 1927 John Ford comedy, Upstream. The following year, the NFPF and the New Zealand archive also identified the 30-minute portion of the 1923 British film The White Shadow, which is considered to be the earliest feature film in which Alfred Hitchcock had a credit.

‘We had so much on our plate,’ said Melville. ‘We took responsibility for funding the preservation of a good number of the 176 films. We didn’t want to bite off more than we could chew. There are a lot of resources involved in bringing the films back and preserving them. Most of this work is funded through grants.’ With support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the NFPF last year sent researcher Leslie Lewis to Amsterdam, where she spent two months examining more than 200,000 feet of highly combustible 35mm nitrate film. A veritable Sherlock Holmes of celluloid, Lewis also was one of two nitrate experts dispatched to identify the films in the New Zealand Archive.”

You can read the entire story by clicking here, or on the image above.

Low Budget Films Dominate Summer Box Office

Saturday, July 20th, 2013

Just look at this chart; the smaller budgeted films are winning; audiences are rejecting big budget bloat.

As Steven Zeitchik and Amy Kaufman of the Los Angeles Times observe, “Summer moviegoing is usually about the stars, the spectacle and the sizzle. But in a trend that’s mystifying Hollywood, this summer’s box office is being driven by films with modest ambitions, including relatively inexpensive comedies, lower budget animation and horror pictures. Call it the summer of the B-movie. Like the quickie flicks the studios used to crank out for the back end of double features, these new hits —The Purge, The Heat, Grown Ups 2, Despicable Me 2 and, as of this weekend, The Conjuring among them — are drumming up business while bigger-budgeted offerings such as The Lone Ranger and Pacific Rim struggle to sell tickets.

It’s these smaller films that have helped summer box-office receipts climb by 14% over last year, defying the conventional wisdom that summer is the time when audiences mainly want to see movies that are big, loud and laden with costly special effects. Several factors may be behind the turnabout, according to Hollywood analysts, including studios doing a better job of serving niche audiences and consumers experiencing blockbuster fatigue. ‘Everything looked watered down and the studios were left trying to distinguish their movies,’ said Ted Mundorff, chief executive of Landmark Theatres.

This weekend the trend seems to be hitting its apex. R.I.P.D., a supernatural science fiction comedy starring household names Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges that cost at least $130 million to make, is projected to take in less than $15 million at the box office. Meanwhile, The Conjuring, a paranormal-themed film made for the horror faithful at one-seventh the budget, is expected to collect as much as $35 million.”

None of this surprises me; when I look at my own viewing, the unexpected hits are the ones I’ve been seeing, and blogging about, and the other films strike me as boring and unimaginative. When you have too much money, you take fewer creative risks because too much is at stake. Too many people become involved, and you just keep throwing money at the film until it’s finished, as with The Lone Ranger, even if the entire project has gone off the rails.

When you have $4 million, as with The Purge – I heard $3 million, actually – you have to use your creativity and improvise on the spot, because you don’t have the time or the money – you have to get it and move on. All the money in the world, and all the empty spectacle in the world, can’t make up for original ideas, craft, passion, and energy, which usually comes from having less to fall back on.

The studios need to rethink their strategy, which is a throwback to the 1950s, when television threatened theater attendance. 20th Century Fox decreed that all future films would be made in CinemaScope, Warner Bros. rushed House of Wax into theaters in 3-D, and Cinerama was born. It worked for a few years, and then burned out. And after the fall, what was the Academy Award winner for Best Film of 1955? Marty, a small little film that could just as easily have worked on television, but audiences wanted to see it, so they went out to theaters in droves, making the modest little film a hit.

Marty even won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. But Hollywood still thinks bigger is always better, and that bombastic CGI effects will always stun audiences into submission, but that strategy is beginning to play to diminishing returns: the “wow” or dazzle factor has worn off. People are getting tired of destruction. The studios always want to cash in on the past, as if by simply remaking a hit film, the same thing will work in the future. Sometimes it will, as with the Bond franchise, but sometimes it doesn’t — and a little bit of creative energy is more than welcomed by both audiences and critics. I hope it’s the start of a trend.

You can read the rest of their excellent piece by clicking here, or on the image above.

National Film Registry Selects 25 Films for Preservation

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

As Susan King reports in today’s LA Times, “A gripping western, a beloved holiday film, a 115-year-old movie capturing a famous boxing match, a memoir of a Holocaust survivor and a visionary science-fiction thriller in which Keanu Reeves utters the word ‘whoa’ are among the 25 films selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

Congress established the National Film Registry in 1989 to highlight the need to preserve U.S. film heritage. Under the conditions of the National Film Preservation Act, the librarian of Congress names 25 films yearly that are ‘culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.’ The films must be at least 10 years old. The films selected for 2012 are:

3:10 to Yuma (1957): Delmer Daves directed this western based on a short story by Elmore Leonard.

Anatomy of a Murder (1959): Otto Preminger directed this courtroom thriller that made headlines for its frankness in language and adult themes.

The Augustas (1930s-1950s): A 16-minute film by traveling salesman Scott Nixon, who was a member of the Amateur Cinema League, chronicling some 38 streets, storefronts and cities named Augusta.

Born Yesterday (1950): Judy Holliday won a best actress Oscar as not-so-dumb-blonde Billie Dawn in this political satire directed by George Cukor.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961): Audrey Hepburn plays one of her quintessential roles — the quirky Manhattan call girl Holly Golighty — in this romantic dramedy based on Truman Capote’s novella.

A Christmas Story (1983): Humorist Jean Shepherd narrates this classic holiday comedy based on his memoirs of growing up in Indiana and hoping to receive a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas.

The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Title Fight (1897): Chronicle of the famed boxing match between James J. Corbett — aka “Gentleman Jim” — and Bob Fitzsimmons that was held on St. Patrick’s Day in Carson City, Nev.

Dirty Harry (1971): Clint Eastwood introduced his iconic role as maverick San Francisco Det. Harry Callahan in Don Siegel’s influential action-thriller.

Hours for Jerome: Parts 1 and 2 (1980-82) : Experimental filmmaker Nathaniel Dorsky’s silent tone poem.

The Kidnappers Foil (1930s-1950s): Dallas native Melton Barker traveled through the South and Midwest for three decades filming local kids acting, singing and dancing in two-reel films he called The Kidnappers Foil. A few weeks after shooting, the townspeople would get a copy of the film for screening at the local theater.

Kodachrome Color Motion Picture Tests (1922): The two-color (greenish blue and red) film was the first publicly demonstrated color film to attract the attention of the film industry.

A League of Their Own (1992): Penny Marshall’s box office hit comedy about the All American-Girls Professional Softball League of the 1940s and early 1950s.

The Matrix (1999): Andy and Lana — then known as Larry — Wachowski directed this visually groundbreaking sci-fi thriller starring Keanu Reeves and Lawrence Fishburne.

The Middleton Family at the New York World’s Fair (1939): Technicolor industrial film produced for the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

One Survivor Remembers (1995): Oscar-winning documentary short about Holocaust survivor Gerda Weissmann Klein.

Parable (1964): The Protestant Council of New York produced this controversial, acclaimed silent allegorical Christian film for the 1964 New York World’s Fair.

Samsara: Death and Rebirth of Cambodia (1990): Ellen Bruno’s Stanford University master’s thesis documents the struggle of the Cambodian people to rebuild their shattered society after Pol Pot’s killing fields.

Slacker (1991): Richard Linklater’s indie comedy follows a group of diverse characters over the course of one day in Austin, Texas.

Sons of the Desert (1933): Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy star in one of their funniest vehicles.

The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973): Ivan Dixon directed this controversial thriller about an African American who infiltrates the CIA in order to create a black nationalist revolution.

They Call It Pro Football (1967): The first feature from NFL Films utilized Telephoto lens and slow-motion to offer a primer on the game.

The Times of Harvey Milk (1984): Academy Award-winning documentary about San Francisco’s first openly gay elected city official who was slain in 1978.

Two-Lane Blacktop (1971): Director Monte Hellman’s existential road picture.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1914): This silent adaptation of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s landmark 1852 anti-slavery novel is said to be the first feature-length film that starred an African American actor — Sam Lucas, who had appeared in the 1878 stage version.

The Wishing Ring; An Idyll of Old England (1914): Maurice Tourneur’s charming cross-class romance.”

I’m particularly happy to see Nick Dorsky included, not only because he’s a friend, but also because more attention needs to be paid to experimental films in general. But this is a really interesting cross-section of films; a great series of essential works.

Digital vs. Film — Cinematographers Weigh In

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

Martin Scorsese on the set of Hugo.

In today’s Los Angeles Times, Mark Olsen has a fascinating piece on the differences between digital cinematography and working with conventional 35mm film, as discussed by some people who really know what they’re talking about; the 2012 Oscar nominees for cinematography.

As Olsen writes, “This year’s Oscar nominees for cinematography present a particularly varied cross-section of contemporary filmmaking at a time when the very infrastructure of how movies are made and seen is in transition. Consider: 35-millimeter film prints are being phased out in favor of digital projection. Consumer still cameras can be used to shoot high-definition digital video. Video on demand is becoming a popular viewing option. Even the venerable Eastman Kodak, which produces the film stock on which many movies are made, recently filed for bankruptcy protection.

The Scandinavian-modern The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was shot with digital cameras; the World War I-set War Horse was shot on film. Hugo was shot in digital 3-D to portray 1931 Paris, while The Artist was shot on color film, then transferred to black-and-white to evoke the end of the silent film era in Hollywood. The Tree of Life used footage shot both on film and digital and integrates nature photography into its storytelling. (That three-on-film, two-on-digital split is likely an approximation of Hollywood production overall, though changes are evolving rapidly.) As this moment of transition challenges distributors, exhibitors and even audiences, cinematographers are on the front lines of those responding to the changes. Many of them recognize just what a unique window this particular time presents.”

You can read the entire article here; a remarkable meeting of the minds. And as cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, the DP on The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, notes, “In all fairness, we’re at the infancy stage of digital cinema.”

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of numerous books and more than 70 articles on film and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu.

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