8/29/16

NEW YORK IN 1938



Here's a nice little silent collection of New York City footage shot in 1938. Nothing spectacular but nice views of midtown, Harlem (warning: contains footage of young kids tap-dancing and eating watermelon), the then-new George Washington Bridge, the not yet built west-side highway area (which looks like an elaborate park), pretty views of Rockefeller Center and a strange shot of the Rockettes rehearsing a dance number on the roof of the Radio City Music Hall. A peacefully quiet video with no mis-selected music to distract your attention from the reverie of another era.

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8/25/16

"THE ARRANGEMENT": A FILM BY MY PARENT'S NEIGHBOR ELIA KAZAN



The above is a long-ish theatrical trailer for Elia Kazan's 1969 film "The Arrangement", starring Kirk Douglas and Faye Dunaway and based on Kazan's bestselling novel. The trailer begins in an unusual way, focusing on Kazan himself as the subject of interest. Gradually we get into some very swinging looking scenes, both indicative of and mocking toward the period the film takes place in, which is the time it was made during. My impression from the trailer is that Kazan looked upon the late 1960s with something of a jaundiced eye even as they were occurring under his own watch. Certainly the swagger of the design and speech belies a suspicion of all that was current and mod.

Kazan disliked the film and speaks ill of it in his superbly compelling autobiography, the starkly titled "A Life". He'd wanted Brando and he got Kirk Douglas. His sense from the beginning of the shoot was that they were going down the wrong path and all he could do was "finish the job...I was in for nine weeks during which there'd be a gnawing at my stomach every morning...as always the crew saved me...". But I wonder. The film looks quite interesting and the trailer has encouraged me to make more than a half-hearted attempt to locate and watch it.

Now here's where my parents (and I for that matter) come in. In the 1960s, we lived on West 67th Street, right off of Central Park West. Kazan and his wife Barbara Loden lived in a brownstone on West 68th, a mere block away. My mother would wheel me around the neighborhood in my baby carriage and often see the famous director taking a walk. He would nod pleasantly to her and smile at me. She'd smile back. (I don't remember what I did). No words were ever exchanged--just neighborly recognition that they were both denizens of the same Upper West Side neighborhood. Cut to 1969. My family relocated to California and bought a home in the Hollywood Hills. It had a split driveway--each house shared half of the driveway before veering off into their own parking areas. No sooner had we moved in than my parents found out that the house across the driveway was being rented by a famous director who was in Hollywood shooting a big Kirk Douglas movie. Yes, it was the Kazans who lived across the way. My mother remembered seeing him by the mailboxes at the bottom of the hill several times. She smiled timidly at him, not mentioning their former silent encounters three-thousand miles away. Kazan would smile back but with a slightly puzzled look; wasn't that the woman who...? For years my mother feared that Kazan thought we'd stalked him across the country, determined to not let him live more than a few hundred feet from us. No explanation was ever given. None was possible...

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8/22/16

D.O.A. FILM FESTIVAL RISES AGAIN



Above is an informative little ten-minute made-for-youtube doc concerning ten high-profile movies that never got released. It's a subject I find fascinating for some reason (Schaudenfreude perhaps? Am I really that low?) and as a result I've decided to revive my D.O.A. (Dead On Arrival) Film Festival, which I introduced in November of last year and promptly abandoned. The rules are quite simple: the film must have begun shooting (and not have been abandoned in prep) and needs to have a real budget and well-known actors. The above movies were actually finished and then locked away in embarrassment, which is a slightly different thing than our festival generally deals with but I'm thinking of expanding things along these lines. The difference between unfinished films and unreleased films is an important one--it's a disaster to close a movie down during production but there is the chance of an insurance recoupment assuming the producers had the good fortune of having one of the actors die after too much footage had been shot. But paying for the whole thing and then, upon viewing it, deciding to torch it is at best a dead loss. Either way it's a filmmakers worst nightmare. As always, the winner of the D.O.A. Palme D'Or will take home the 'Orson Welles Trophy for Best Incomplete Work.' Watch for more abandoned works over the coming weeks...if I don't decided to abandon the festival of abandonment, that is.

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8/19/16

"LOOK AT LIFE" PRESENTS "GOODBYE PICCADILLY": A RANK JOINT (LITERALLY)



"Look At Life" was a series of ten-minute infotainment films produced by the J. Arthur Rank organization for showing in their theaters before the main feature, beginning in the late 1950s and continuing well into the following decade. (Television had usurped the need for newsreels, you see). Above is a very cool episode titled 'Goodbye Piccadilly'. It features wonderful mid-sixites views of the area and appears to have been intended as something of a nostalgic farewell as a massive new building project was about to decimate the square--a project that seems never to have taken place. The period is just on the cusp of the soon to be swinging London--a mite on the side of the previous era--with well-dressed young and middle-aged working folks predominating the landscape (although the occasional pre-mod swankster can be spotted). There are nice views of the underground (including the sub-subway--the guts of the system) and occasional marquees reference the hits of the day i.e. "Oliver", "Doctor Zhivago" etc. One of the Youtube posters makes a curious reference to the lack of obese people visible in the film and I have to say I see his/her point. Everyone seems quite fit and slender. It must be a combination of the then abominable English food, perhaps with a hangover habit of the previous decades need for rationing. Add to that the pints of Ale and packs of 'fags' and perhaps we've developed the newest and least healthy diet fad: the 'Piccadilly Diet'.

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8/17/16

GONE WITH THE WIND: SCREEN TESTS AD INFINITUM, AD NAUSEUM



Here's a fascinating ten-minute reel of a handful of the ridiculous amount of screen tests that David O. Selznick ordered while casting 'Gone With The Wind'. The ballyhoo for the 'search for Scarlett O'Hara' was a masterstroke of publicity, designed to keep interest in the project alive during the very extended (almost two years) preparation process before filming finally got underway. As a result, there are a lot of actresses testing for Scarlett and Melanie who are clearly nowheresville, though all give it a gamey try. But really: Lynda Watkins? Francis Fuller? Mary Kent? The young Lana Turner gives Scarlett a try and bricks heavily. Her partner is Melvyn Douglas (playing Ashley Wilkes) and I dare say he makes a less silly/prissy Ashley than Leslie Howard, though ultimately he would've looked too much like Gable for it to have worked. Most stunning of all, though, is Paulette Goddard who apparently had a real shot at Scarlett. She's mesmerizingly beautiful and fetching, 'naughty' in a very period come-hither way. She would have been a more seductive Scarlett than Vivien Leigh (whose screen test comes near the end of the reel) but minus the neurotic, spoiled-bitch element that Leigh heaped upon the role. Also tested was a young woman with the schoolmarm-from-the-midwest name of Edith Marriner. Later she became Susan Hayward...

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