Edgar Ulmer’s Detour on TCM

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If you like down and dirty film noir, set your DVR for 4:45pm (ET) to catch Detour. Edgar Ulmer’s bargin basement noir is poverty row film making that rises to the level of art.

You can read more about Detour and other noirs it in my ebook Film Noir at Twenty Four Frames per Second. Available at Amazon. BUT be sure to set your DVR!

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Abel Ferrara’s New Film includes My Photograph

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Back in the 1970s and living in New York City, I did a lot of street photography. Being a movie fanatic, I went thru a period of photographing the exteriors out many of the movie theaters around the city. Most are now long gone. One of those photographs was of the Baronet/Coronet theaters on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Those two theaters along with the Cinema One and Two were located on the same block, on 3rd Avenue between 59th and 60th street. Back then they most sort after theaters for filmmakers to showcase their films in the city. The Baronet/Coronet photo was taken in 1976. The film, playing in both theaters was Brian DePalma’s Obsession.

Since the age of the internet, I have posted the photograph online a few times. A couple of months back I received an email from a representative of film director Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant, King of New York, Ms. 45, Body Snatchers) who was currently making a documentary called The Projectionist. The film follows the experience of longtime cinema owner Nicolas Nicolaou and records the changes in the city’s theatrical landscape over the years. My photograph came to the attention of Ferrara, and he was interested in using it in his film.

The-Projectionist_Courtesy-of-Faliro-House_1_SM_FBIG_LR_BG-1-1I recently was officially notified that the photograph is included in the film and I am getting a screen credit. I am also hoping to get a screener of the film to review. As you probably suspect this is a low budget film that will play the Film Festival and College circuit. It won’t be coming to a local AMC or Regal cineplex near you or me. Its world premiere is this week as part of the Tribeca Film Festival and on May 6th the film will having a showing at MOMA (Museum of Modern Art).

 

Best Years of Our Lives on TCM

Best Years of Our LivesWilliam Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives will be on TCM Tuesday at 8pm.  Veterans returning home from war find their lives are changed forever. Though this film is more than seventy years old, it is as relevant today as it was as 1946. There are still lessons to be learned.

Read about its influence in Lessons in the Dark. Available at Amazon.

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Catch-22: A Life Changing Experience

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Ever asked what is your favorite book? Mine is Joseph Heller’s brilliant satire Catch-22. Published in 1961, Heller’s novel was prophetic portrayal of the rise of corporate power, greed, and war.  At the time of its publication many were offended, some were confused. (1) This superb anti-war novel changed my life and the way I thought. I wrote about the book and film a while back on another blog and decided to post it here.

”You mean there’s a catch?”

“Sure there’s a catch,” Doc Daneeka replied. “Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.”

“There was only one catch, and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to, he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.”
“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed.

“It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.    (Joseph Heller, Catch-22)

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I first read Catch-22 when I was 19 years old. This was in the late ’60s just before being sent to Vietnam. It was the one book I took with me. Sometime during that deployment, I lost the book, but never its spirit.

Author Joseph Heller joined the U.S. Army Air Corp in 1942. He was 19 years old. In 1944 Heller found himself in Italy as a B-25 Bombardier. He flew 60 missions. For most of those flights, he encountered little or no enemy fighters or anti-aircraft artillery. He later categorized them as “milk runs.” His military experience and background would come to use later in his epic novel. His anti-hero Yossarian was a Bombardier just like him.

The illogical logic of Heller’s brilliant anti-war satire reveals the insanity of war. Yossarian (Alan Arkin) is an American Bombardier stationed in Italy. He’s convinced everyone wants him dead, not just the Germans, but his own officers. They keep sending him on dangerous missions! To stop flying these insane missions, his higher-ups inform him he needs to complete a certain number of missions. The only problem is when he or any other bombardier come near the magic number of missions required, his commanding officer raises the number of missions required to be rotated out. Yossarian insists the entire world is crazy including him. And if he is insane, he should not be flying these missions; however, the flight surgeon (Jack Gilford) declares that anyone who understands the insanity of the situation cannot be insane! Subsequently, Yossarian must continue to fly more missions. Like with many things in life, there is no escape.

Catch-22, the movie, and the book is a surrealistic trip that captures the absurdity of war, and a bureaucratic society in general, frame for frame, a mix of satire, comedy and tragedy. Though set during World War II the film, released in 1970, captured the spirit of the late 1960s: the Counterculture, the Vietnam War and the Rock Generation. Heller’s novel, published in 1962 was a progressive masterpiece that only gained in popularity, and cult status as the sixties moved on into the later years of the decade. When it was announced Mike Nichols would direct the film version, it was met with high expectations, so high that it almost guaranteed failure. Critics of the day were split. Roger Ebert called it “a disappointment.” He went on, “the movie is essentially a parasite, depending on the novel for its vitality…” On the other side of the coin, Vincent Canby writing in the New York Times said, Catch-22 “is quite simply, the best American film I’ve seen this year.” Either way, the film died at the box-office.

The film captures the anti-war message that was popular at the time and manages to convey the insanity of war, the hopelessness of the soldiers caught in the middle and the narrow-minded vision of the military mentality and its mindless gun-ho patriotic fever.

There was another anti-war film released that same year, Robert Altman’s M.A.S.H. a movie that was met with more of a universal reception and was a big hit. Though set during the Korean War, like Catch-22, it echoed Vietnam and its times.

Buck Henry who worked with Nichols on The Graduate was given the impossible task of adapting Heller’s novel to the screen, and many of the scenes are set-pieces. The cast of characters are colorful and portrayed for the most part with an absurdist bent. There’s Milo Minderbender (Jon Voight) who has set up his own business, selling valuable military gear. General Dreedle (Orson Welles) who spits out insane orders and expects them to be carried out exactly as ordered, Captain Nately (Art Garfunkel) who falls in love with a whore and Major Major (Bob Newhart) who will only meet with anyone when he is not there. Other cast members include Bob Balaban, Richard Benjamin, Paula Prentiss, Anthony Perkins, and Martin Sheen.

The film and the book are reminders that war is not glorious or heroic. Yes, men and women do incredibly heroic acts in dangerous situations and sacrifice a lot. Still, we should not glorify war. We should not make it attractive to our youth, to future generations. I know too many people who seem to relish war, in most cases as long as someone else is doing the fighting and sacrificing. They always managed not to go. But they are the first to raise the flag, hug it and yell sacrifice as long as it is not them.

(1) Read about genesis of Catch-22 here.

A Face in The Crowd on TCM

A FACE IN THE CROWD, Andy Griffith, 1957, afitc1957-fsct05, Photo by:Everett Collection(afitc1957-fsFar ahead of its time, Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd is a brilliant look at the media and its influence. Set your DVR for tomorrow at 1:45PM. Watch the film and then read about it in Lessons in the Dark,

Remember, classic films are not just nostalgia. They are avenues for learning and a passageway to take a look at ourselves as we were then and are now. Movies hold up a mirror to our past and our lives today. We can see how far we have come; the mistakes that we made, the choices we made, both the good and the bad.

 

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The Best Years of Our Lives on TCM


the-best-years-of-our-lives-still-526x295William Wyler’s superb film about returning veterans will be broadcast on TCM tonight at 10 PM eastern. The brilliant cast includes Dana Andrews, Fredric March, Myrna Loy, Theresa Wright, Virgina Mayo, and Harold Russell, A must see!

Read about it and more than 30 other important films in my my book, Lessons in the Dark. Available at Amazon. Just click here.

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Recent Read: Why To Kill a Mockingbird Matters

MockFew novels have proven to be as important and influential as To Kill a Mockingbird, and few films have become just as important as its source material. Tom Santopietro (The Godfather Effect, Sinatra in Hollywood, Becoming Doris Day) is one of the finest pop culture writers working today. In his new book, the author take a deep dive look at the cultural impact of both Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, published in 1960, and the now iconic film released in 1962. Over its more than 50 years existence, To Kill a Mockingbird has been both praised and banned. Criticized and hailed by both liberals and conservatives.

Santopietro paints a detailed look beginning with Harper Lee’s childhood in the tiny town of Monroeville, Alabama, the inspiration for Maycomb, the fictional town in Lee’s classic. It ends with the publication of Go Tell the Watchman, Lee’s original and extremely different first draft. In between, we get well known and little known details such as Spencer Tracy was originally considered for the role of Atticus Finch. We all know Gregory Peck landed the part in what would turn out to be the role of a lifetime. Who else can be Atticus Finch!

Almost sixty years after its publication, To Kill A Mockingbird remains one of the most read and influential books in America, required reading in many high schools. As relevant today as it was back in the 1960’s. It asks some,hard questions. Can a country that has fought to make the world safe from tyranny and fascism somehow save itself and live up to its potential as a democracy where there is justice and freedom for all. Today, we are failing. As the author  points out, substitute Muslims and Mexicans, along with other South Americans attempting to enter the country, for blacks and you have to asked yourself how much has really changed?

With over 40 million books in print, everyone whether liberal or conservative wants to have an Atticus Finch in his or her life.

 

Arthur Miller Writer (2017)

Miller4For years Rebecca Miller (Maggie’s Plan, The Ballad of Jack and Rose) had been researching, compiling, filming interviews and taking home movies of her father, Arthur Miller. From this wealth of material, Ms. Miller has produced a fascinating look at the life and career of one of America’s greatest playwright/writers.

Miller1Though best known for plays like Death of a Salesman, All My Sons, The Crucible and A View from The Bridge, Miller never stopped writing throughout his life. He wrote 25 plays, numerous essays, short stories, novels and an autobiography (Timebends).

Miller’s film focuses on many aspects of her father’s life; his upbringing (his mother was the artistic one), his work, the House of Un-American Activities hearings(1) and his three marriages. He and his first wife, Mary Slattery, began to grow apart after Miller met Marilyn Monroe for the first time in 1951. There was no affair at this point, but they did exchange letters. The next few years were filled with personal struggles. Monroe was never out of his mind. In 1956, on his way to work each day he would pass the giant cutout of Marilyn above the marquee of the Loew’s State on Broadway; it was advertising her latest film, The Seven Year Itch. Miller had his own continuous Itch for the actress.  His letters to Monroe became more passionate, “I should really die if I ever lost you,” he wrote. He divorced Mary in June 1956 and married Marilyn later the same month. However, for all the passion, they divorced less than five years later. Marilyn would overdose shortly after in August of 1962.

While Miller’s marriage to Marilyn is best known, his third wife, Inge Morath, a well-known photojournalist, and Rebecca’s mother, was his most successful, lasting over thirty years. They met on the set of The Misfits. During their thirty years plus marriage, she would document their life together. The couple also collaborated professionally on a few books.

Ms. Miller had the unique perspective over a twenty-year period to document and record her father doing the simple everyday things around the house, from woodwork to carving the turkey, to discussing his art and his struggles with his later works being ignored by both critics and the public. When asked at the end of the film what he would like written about him when he died he said, “Writer.” That says it all.

Footnotes:

 (1) Miller’s play, The Crucible, on the surface was about the Salem witch trials, but was really an metaphor of the rampant McCarthyism taking hold of the country at the time.

Robert B Parker, Spenser and Jesse Stone

Parker imageBetween 2005 and 2015, nine direct for TV movies were made based on Robert B. Parker’s Jessie Stone novels. Recently, I have been re-watching many of them, seven so far to be exact. Parker was one of my favorite authors. He passed away in 2010.

Parker SpenserRobert B. Parker was best known for his Spenser novels. Spenser, a Boston based, ex-boxer, poetry reading, gourmet cook, wise-ass talking, sensitive guy and tough in a fight as they come P.I.  A fictional decedent of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and Hammett’s Sam Spade. Predictably, a TV series, Spenser for Hire followed starring a very dull Robert Urich. However, the problem was not just Urich; it was the scripts. Though the show has its admirers, on TV, Spenser lost a lot. He became just another vanilla filled version of every other TV detective seen before and after. Four made for TV films followed starring Joe Mantegna as our hero. They were an improvement on the series, though no one was going believe Mantegna was an ex-boxer.

Night PAIn 1997, Parker published his first Jesse Stone novel (Night Passage). Stone, an ex-L.A. detective, fired because of a drinking problem which began after his divorce from his wife, Jen. Jesse is hired as police chief of the fictional Massachusetts town of Paradise. The town council appointed him because they believed since he is damaged goods, they will be able to control him. Little did they know.

Night passThe first film (Night Passage) came out, as mentioned earlier, in 2005. Jesse is played by, with sharp assurance, by Tom Selleck. Jesse is damaged goods. He’s alcoholic, Johnny Walker Red his choice of drink. Moody, unwavering, iconoclastic and good at what he does.  Throughout the books, and the films, Jesse is a man coming to terms with himself. Though his divorce haunts him, he does go out with other women but admits to all them he is not a good candidate for a permanent relationship.

The first five films are based on Parker’s novels. The last four were originals stories written by Michael Brandman and Tom Selleck. The movies are consistently good without being great, nor ever slipping into the disappointing category. Visually, they nicely capture the atmosphere of small New England towns, though all of them were shot in Nova Scotia and the surrounding area.

After Robert B. Parker passed away, the Parker estate decided not to let Parker’s fictional anti-heroes die with him. They handed them over to other authors. Ace Atkins has been writing the Spenser series (six, so far with another coming out in May this year), except for one book (Silent Night) that Parker had begun, but did not finish before his death. The book was completed by Helen Brann, Parker’s literary agent, and close friend. Author Michael Brandman continued the Jesse Stone series. He was co-writer on most of the Jesse Stone screenplays, whether adapted from a novel or original. Brandman wrote the first three post-Parker Jesse Stone novels. Beginning with the publication of Blind Spot, Reed Farrel Coleman picked up the series. His fourth book in the series, Colorblind, with be published in September.

Banned and Blacklisted – New E-book

I am a contributor, along with nine other authors, to the just published ebook, Banned and Blacklisted: Too Hot for Hollywood now available at Amazon for only .99 cents. Proceeds from the sale of this book go to the National Film Preservation Foundation.

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