12/13/17

"THE HOME ELECTRICAL": A GENERAL ELECTRIC. JOINT



Behold "The Home Electrical", an informational film produced by General Electric in 1915 demonstrating all the new, modern and convenient devices one could now litter there home with, thus making the home 'electrical'. It's a fascinating view into another century (actually two centuries since the film was made early enough in the 20th century to qualify as belonging in many ways to the late 19th century) and a reminder that, once upon a time, not only did we survive without cellphones, but we survived without strange contraptions like the one shown at five minutes and thirty seconds in, which has no modern utilitarian use as far as I can tell.

Indeed, many of these new electric innovations are a bit puzzling. The vaccuum cleaner system is somehow located in the basement, the lunch is called a 'chafing lunch' (hmmm), the cigars are lit with a lovely looking device that appears to be an electric lighter, the master of the house's workshop contains a strange hanging tool that looks more like a torture device than anything else and the final shot is of the Wise's sitting by what appears to be a heating device but is shaped like a large table with a very pretty GE logo on the side. (There must be one of these things on E-Bay). Even the car that we see in the opening of the film (a Studebaker I believe) is referred to as 'my electric' by the owner. Is this true? What the hell?

Like all antique movies, much of the pleasure in the viewing experience lies in the 'meta-film' experience; Whose house was it shot at and where was it located? (For Edison-like reasons, my vote is somewhere in New Jersey). Who were the actors playing 'Mr. Newhouse' (he's the one who's thinking of updating his house to the new electric standard--get it?Newhouse?get it???) and Mr. and Mrs. Wise (oh, please)? Who directed it? Who wrote it? (Rumor is that George Bernard Shaw did the first draft with a polish by Willa Cather). For whom was it made--salesmen or the general public? And if the latter, then where was it shown? (In an electric theater, of course). Why do they stay on shots so long after they've served their purpose--did the editor fall asleep or something? (Perhaps they edited the thing with that weird device shown at five minutes and thirty seconds). Did they have a wrap party where they all got blotto and started wrecking the appliances? My guess is the woman playing Mrs. Wise was  the girlfriend of the director, who promised her bigger and better parts in the future,,,only first she had to watch him take a shower.

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12/5/17

ON A MISTY DAY, HERE'S WHAT I LOVE AND I LOATHE...



Given the vast simplification of many issues now facing us in this dark and peculiar time, I've decided to not buck the trend and instead make a few simple pronouncements about what I love and what I loathe. Note that, in keeping with the times, there is no in-between--only acceptance or rejection--and that the connections made between various things are tenuous at best, thus allowing the reader (aka the gullible public) the ability to scan things quickly on their phone...device...thing...whatever...and feel like the whole world is as connected as they are. Covfefe!

I Love: Swing Music.
I Loathe: Swing dancing types.

I Love: Cheap Smirnoff Vodka.
I Loathe: Overpriced  Chopin Vodka.

I Love: Frederic Chopin.
I Loathe: Putin Vodka

I Love: Cyd Charisse in 'Silk Stockings'
I Loathe: 'Silk Stalkings,' the TV show created by Steven J. Cannell.

I Love: Anthony Benedetto (aka Tony Bennett)
I Loathe: Anthony Scaramucci (aka Tony Self-Sucker)

I Love: 'Covfefe'.
I Loathe: Confetti. And Corvairs.

I Love: This blog.
I Loathe: Facebook.

I Love: Paulette Goddard.
I Loathe: Pam Anderson.

I Love: Vanilla Egg Creams.
I Loathe: Pam Anderson.

I Love: The lengthy comments that outraged NY Times readers post online about Donald Trump.
I Loathe: The Trump building that screwed up my view of the Chrysler Building on Lexington Avenue.

I Love: My thirteen year old son.
I Loathe: Packs of thirteen year old kids who scream on the subway.

I Love: Filmmaking.
I Loathe: Filmmaking.

I Love:When Autumn comes and 6PM becomes 5PM.
I Loathe: 6PM or 5PM without that Smirnoff.

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11/24/17

OBSCURE TELEVISION SHOWS THAT DON'T PISS YOU OFF MUCH (PT.1)



Behold "The Losers", a 1962 one-hour episode that aired on the anthology show 'The Dick Powell Theater'. It stars Lee Marvin, Keenan Wynn and Rosemary Clooney and was directed and co-written (with Bruce Geller) by Sam Peckinpah. It was Peckinpah's first piece of work after completing his second feature, the highly regarded 'Ride The High Country'. Unfortunately, that now-revered western had been poorly released by MGM as the bottom-half of a double bill paired with a Frankie and Annette beach party movie. Peckinpah was forced to go back to television, where he had toiled for a decade prior to his feature career. TV was not the 'thing' that it's become since--it was a definite step down the food chain. Nonetheless, Peckinpah--never one to not take his work seriously--dove back in with relish and created the above-posted very funny, quite eccentric and ultimately moving one-hour 'featurette'. I recall seeing it years ago and then not being able to turn it up again anywhere. The above was posted quite recently and has attracted only a few thousand hits.

The first portion of the film resembles nothing so much as a Del Lord directed 1930s Three Stooges comedy, with much slapstick, an extended card playing sequence, a car getaway melee, all accompanied by honky-tonk faux-ragtime piano music. Peckinpah gets Marvin into a rare playful space--he seems to genuinely be enjoying playing the broad comedy. Alas, the story eventually sets in around twenty minutes in and things slow down quite a bit. I have a feeling that much was probably made by the story editors and producers of the show about giving the main characters 'redemption' and making them 'sympathetic' i.e. 'lets make them boring after giving them an interesting start'. Filmmaking never really changes much.

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11/17/17

MOVIES THAT PISS YOU OFF (PT. 2)



When I was a pre-teen, I was given a Super 8mm camera and editing machine for Christmas one year. I was already deeply into filmmaking and wasted no time in beginning my oeuvre--which turned out to be loose remakes of Three Stooges shorts starring friends of mine from school. The Columbia two-reeler format was my bedrock of film education (for some reason). But sometimes, in between films, I'd restlessly piece together some scraps of footage just for fun--no actors, no scripts! Just me and the editing machine. I'd shoot footage of 'I Love Lucy' off the TV. I'd shoot strange, arty shots of my cat Rusty. Once I shot a piano roll playing--the slits on the paper that represent the notes being played were quite mesmerizing. I'd also grab some outtakes from my latest Three Stooges remake and jumble it all together. It was weird and stupid fun. Like I said I was thirteen.

What I didn't realize at the time was that I was actually participating in the movement known as Avant-Garde Cinema and that I could very likely have been discovered as the worlds youngest protege of the AGC's Crown Prince filmmaker Stan Brakhage. If you read my previous post (scroll down, you brainiac) you'll see how I finally was introduced to the infuriating world of AGC  and my extremely averse reaction to it. While the previously posted Michael Snow film 'Back And Forth' is an outrage, the above posted Brakhage film "Murder Psalm" is a mystery not worth solving.

Some of the questions you'll be asking yourself as you watch the fifteen minute film are: Why is their no sound? What's with all grey stuff? Why does a boy wandering in a forest occasionally appear? Whats with the gory shot of what appears to be a human heart being fondled? Is it funny to show shots of old TV commercials or is it a solemn comment on something that eludes me? Who paid for this crap? Who watched it and who posted it on Youtube? Why is it called "Murder Psalm"? Why a psalm to begin with? Why is it fifteen minutes instead of four seconds or nine hours, either which would have made equal sense? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?

Ladies and Gentleman, it's no use. I hate this Avant Garde stuff. Always have, always will. So why am I posting it? I dunno. A trip down memory lane I guess. An experiment in nerve-testing and will. Think of me as Gordon Liddy sticking his hand in the fire--I feel stronger as a result of revisiting these things. This is art spelled with a capital F and I dare you to challenge me on this. Nonetheless, it is cinema and its existence must be respected on some level. On that note, I advise you to roll a fatty and stare at your computer for a few minutes, taking in one of Brakhage's numerous exercises in filmmaking-as-torture-delivery-system. I wish I still had my versions of 'Murder Psalm..."At least they had Lucy Ricardo in them...


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11/2/17

MOVIES THAT PISS YOU OFF--PT. 1



When I was a young man going to Bard College I took a course in the history of avant-garde
cinema, about which I knew nothing. Having come from a Hollywood family that thrived on classic movies, and having already become a certified movie-geek myself, I was curious to see what this other side of the cinematic universe had to offer.

At first the films confused me. Maya Deren, Sidney Petersen and others of their ilk were making their strange little films in the 1940s. A little esoteric, a little boring but worth puzzling through. Then as the work progressed I grew steadily more annoyed--Stan Brakhage, the AG cinema's saint, threw me completely with his stuff--painting on film? Really?

But it was Michael Snow's 'Back And Forth' (posted above) that finally unleashed the torrents of hatred and contempt that I felt for the whole Avant-Garde cinema movement. And I wasn't alone. I recall sitting in the unheated barn of a theater that we watched these films in (the 16mm prints were always  execrable) and, as a group, the audience began to revolt. Watch 'Back and Forth' (or at least as much of it as you can bare) and you will experience the true cinematic equivalent of nails scraping a chalkboard. It runs fifty minutes and I won't tell you what the gimmick of the movie is--I'll let you experience it yourself.  I remember the gradual astonishment that came over the audience as we began to realize what it was we were going to be subjected to for almost an hour. People started yelling at the screen. Or walking out, cursing loudly. I didn't make it through the whole thing then and I didn't now...but with age comes a modicum of wisdom and perhaps our reactions to the film were precisely what Michael Snow wanted them to be. Pretty frigging avant-garde. What a load of crap.

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