Saturday, July 30, 2011
Happy 90th birthday, Frank De Felitta. I've posted the front cover of the first edition of your best known work, the 1976 occult thriller "Audrey Rose" (pan left) and I've posted the last three parts of "The World Of The Teenager", your undeservedly forgotten 1965 documentary about pre-Vietnam teenage angst in the town of Lexington, Massachusetts.
A lifetime of varied, fascinating, paradoxical and always well-crafted work. I do hope somebody one day studies the many facets of your career. Other than me, natch.
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 7:42 PM
Monday, July 25, 2011
Welcome back to "The Films Of Frank De Felitta", a look at the documentary films made by my father for NBC news in the 1960's. Posting these movies has been a real joy and--it turns out--has cost me quite a bit of money; for after posting "Mississippi: A Self Portrait" a few months ago I wound up--largely due to the internet traffic and its subsequent revelations--beginning my own documentary follow-up to that film. More on that later, however.
My father is alive, well and truly happy that these films--which were clearly made with love, care and careful deliberation--are having a second life on the internet. NBC never aired them again and as far as I can tell my fathers cherished sixteen millimeter prints are the only evidence of their existence.
So: here comes "The World of the Teenager". Shot in Lexington Massachusetts in 1966, the film is a fascinating and by no means square or dated look at a turning point in our culture which may or may not have been evident during the films making; the teenagers depicted are half fifties goody-goods (with a dash of rebel-glam element thrown in) and half sixties renegades in the making--with Beatles haircuts to prove it. Still, we are a year or two shy of what we generally think of now as "sixties youth"--none of these kids is about to burn a draft card, grow their hair too long, journey to Haight-Ashbury or drop acid. Or if they are they are not yet wearing their rebellion proudly for my father's cameras. As a period piece, "The World Of the Teenager" is a fascinating time-capsulized look at the moment before a bubble burst--in this case the bubble of a perfect, happy, all-American existence. Soon the charade was exposed, the kids were cut loose and the towns like Lexington Mass. were nostalgic for the "problems" they had when my father and the news people showed up to document this relatively innocuous time.
The volcano hasn't exploded but it's about to. Dig parts one and two of "The World of the Teenager". As always, if you're interested in seeing the film in one big gulp, go to my youtube channel where it's posted. Enjoy!
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 6:14 PM
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Here's a Stooge short from their Art Deco period--"Healthy Wealthy and Dumb". The film feels very "My Man Godfrey"/"Nothing
Sacred"-esque both in its subject matter (sudden wealth bestowed upon the hoodlum depression-era trio) and in the symbolic trappings of wealth that suddenly surround them (a hotel suite in the "Costa Plenta"). I love the idea that the screenwriters--Elwood Ullman and Serle Kramer (and with those names shouldn't they really have been Pulitzer Prize winning playwright's?)--had probably just seen and soaked up the aforementioned big studio productions and decided to plug the Stooges into the zeitgest of depression era wish-fulfillment cinema. The boys enter their absurd suite wearing top hats and smoking cigars. When Larry takes a bath, balloons are incongruously floating in the water next to him. Buckets of champagne are consumed and the three golddigers next door (natch) have a pet monkey named Darwin (evolution theory anyone?) bizarrely clad in a silk pajama outfit (a reference to the leopard in "Bringing Up Baby"? Or am I off by a year?)
It's meaningless to parse these films in any real detail--the randomness of the plotting (Curly wins a radio contest providing the boys with their sudden windfall--but he also appears to be illiterate) and the sudden, inexplicable ending of the film (which feels as if they simply ran out of time while shooting) make anything remotely resembling dramatic criticism null and void. Nonetheless there are formal pleasures to be had: the careful setting up of the Ming Vase which Moe winds up destorying is expected; but it's Moe's mortification at it being his fault and his sullen blaming of Curly for not handing him a "softer board" that gives the joke its humanity. And Curly getting the DT's has an uncomfortable personal air to it for those who prefer their criticism to be of the biographical variety. Del Lord directed with his usual grace given the circumstances. And when the gold-diggers hatch their plan to steal the boys money, they deliver a 1937 bit of slang meaning desertion that I don't think I've heard before. You've heard of leaving them "high and dry", or of "giving them the grand go-bye." But have you ever heard of "giving them the Ozone?" Proof that the most fragrant of flowers can grow in arid soil...
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 7:05 AM
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
After further viewings of "Swinging The Alphabet" (yes, I do have better things to do...but what are you doing reading this, anyway?) I think I have a theory as to why Curly's close up is sung at a faster tempo. It was probably a reshoot. Perhaps after viewing the number without the Curly insertion it was determined that the song was a bit monotomous (which it certainly is...albeit in an addictive kind of way). Since there's only piano accompaniment and since the rest of the song is clearly being performed to playback (i.e. a pre-recording of the song being sung which the on-camera talent moves their mouths too) it would figure that a hasty re-take (and everything about the Stooge movies were hasty--the shooting schedules, the scripts etc.) would dispense with the pre-recording step and simply capture Curly singing "live" with a piano accompaniment behind him. Indeed when you look at the close up you can see that his mouth movements and the singing are too accurate to have been done any other way. So they approximated the tempo, got it wrong, and wound up with a close up of Curly performing at a faster tempo. The background voices for the shot were then minutely sound edited (which you can hear if you listen closely) to keep the two tracks relatively in sync.
And then comes the stunning moment when the all girl chorus interrupts him with the immortal "Curly's a dope!" Was this added later as well? If not it explodes the above theory entirely. Since we'll never know, lets leave it as is--and assume that I'm right.
Oh. In the TMI department, do you know who wrote "Swinging The Alphabet"? According to Wikipedia, "in 2005, film historian Richard Finegan identified the composer of the song as Septimus Winner (pictured above), who had originally published it in 1875 as "The Spelling Bee"."
And who was Septimus Winner? Why only one of the 19th century's most successful composers--he brought us "Ten Little Injuns" and "Listen To the Mockingbird" as well as the lesser known "I Set My Heart Upon Flower" and the delightful "Carry Me Back To Tennessee".
While we're at it, let's have the complete lyrics:
B-A-bay, B-E-bee, B-I-bicky-bi, B-O bo, bicky-bi bo, B-U bu, bicky bi bo bu.
C-A-cay, C-E-cee, C-I-cicky-ci, C-O co, cicky-ci co, C-U cu, cicky ci co cu.
D-A-day, D-E-dee, D-I-dicky-di, D-O do, dicky-di do, D-U du, dicky di do du.
F-A-fay, F-E-fee, F-I-ficky-fi, F-O fo, Ficky-fi fo, F-U fu, ficky fi fo fu.
G-A-gay, G-E-gee, G-I-gicky-gi, G-O go, Gicky-gi go, G-U gu, gicky gi go gu.
H-A-hay, H-E-hee, H-I-hicky-hi, H-O ho, hicky-hi ho, H-U hu, hicky hi ho hu.
J-A-jay, J-E-jee, J-I-jicky-ji, J-O jo, Jicky-ji jo, J-U ju, jicky ji jo ju.
K-A-kay, K-E-kee, K-I-kicky-ki, K-O ko, Kicky-ki ko, K-U ku, kicky ki ko ku.
L-A-lay, L-E-lee, L-I-licky-li, L-O lo, Licky-li lo, L-U lu, Curly's a dope
M-A-may, M-E-mee, M-I-micky-mi, M-O mo, Micky-mi mo, M-U mu, micky mi mo mu.
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 5:43 AM
Monday, July 4, 2011
Thanks to the fortuitous interest of my six (soon to be seven) year old son, I've been rediscovering the exuberantly crude joys of the Three Stooges, particularly the rich early-middle to middle Curly period. This runs from roughly 1937-1943--the years prior to '37 (from 1934 when they began their Columbia shorts series) are filled with interesting things but on the whole feel sluggish, spotty and present the Stooges as a not quite on their game comedy team. Having said that, there's something curiously archeological in discovering ancient finds such as "Restless Knights" and "Uncivil Warriors"--both poorly paced but interesting sketches of what the Stooges would soon "blossom" into. But truly the boys kick into gear somewhere in late '36 and peak through the end of the decade and into the early forties.
Three directors handled the chores in this period more or less. Del Lord--a former Sennett Keystone Kop stuntman (so the legend goes), Jules White (who headed the shorts department for Colunbia) and the comedian Charley Chase who proved to be a very fine and oddly subtle director for the Stooges. His work with the Stooges can be seen to best effect in the football comedy "Violent Is the Word For Curly", the title a play on the then popular film "Valient Is the Word For Carrie" (Gladys George as a former prostitute trying to reform). The song "Swinging The Alphabet" makes its notorious appearance in the film and as you probably already know is one of those once-heard-never forgotten ditty's that you wind up remembering for most of your life. Note how Curly's "solo" section of it is taken at too quick a tempo--he's lipsyncing so it must have been pre-recorded at this incorrect tempo...but why? How?
Charley Chase deserves his own post (or two) and I'll get to him in a minute. His career as a comedian/writer/director was primarily conducted for Hal Roach--and a number of comedies hold up remarkably well. They also contain quite a few for then sophisticated gay-inspired jokes and characters which, when taken with the testimony of Billy Gilbert (in Leonard Maltin's "Great Movie Shorts" section on Chase) that the comedian was unhappily married and lived alone at a "gentleman's club" begins to paint a picture of a pained in-the-closet figure doomed to an early alcoholic death (Chase died in 1940 after telling a friend that if he couldn't drink he didn't want to live).
Below is his best collaboration with Stooges More on Chase and more on the rich Stooge early-middle period to follow.
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 7:33 AM
Friday, July 1, 2011
What's with me? I look at the below clip and the fab chick enclosed in glass writhing away her adolescence and can only think: where is she now? Did she have children? How many? And what do they think of mom, now a sixty-something woman somewhere out there in the world?
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 4:58 AM