I am a contributor to the latest Classic Movie Blog Association eBook, Femme/Homme Fatales of Film Noir. Available at Smashwords for free! Also available on Amazon for .99 cents with proceeds going to Film Preservation.
I recently posted a list of some of my favorite and grittiest of New York City films from the 1970s. This time around I thought I select some crime films from the combined states that make up New England. As you may suspect Massachusetts, Boston in particular, makes up the majority of the films and the grittiest. Not all these films are gritty or from the 70’s but they are films with criminal elements.
The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Massachusetts)
Dolores Clairborne (Maine)
Mystic River (Massachusetts)
The Stranger (Connecticut)
Gone, Baby, Gone (Massachusetts)
The Stepford Wives (Connecticut)
The Trouble With Harry (Vermont)
American Buffalo (Rhode Island)
The Departed (Massachusetts)
To Die For (New Hampshire)
The Boston Strangler (Massachusetts)
Shutter Island (Massachusetts)
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!
For those who have seen Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, you will remember “Devil’s Tower” as one the film’s locations. Photographed it back in 2012.
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.
I 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).
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)
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.
Far 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.
My ebook, “Film Noir at Twenty Four Frames Per Second,” is now only 99 cents at Amazon.
First in a series I am doing on real life photographers who made it to the movie screen.
Photography was in its infancy when Abraham Lincoln was running for President. It was a cumbersome and deliberate process. Cameras were these large boxes, set upon sturdy bulky tripods, using wet plates and a slow exposure making the possibilities of the sort of images captured limited.
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