Friday, February 27, 2009

Poll's closed #2

Best Marx Brothers movie?

My visitors voted Duck Soup (1933) as the masterpiece, winning with 54 %.
The second place is shared between A Night at the Opera (1935) and Animal Crackers (1930) with 18 % each.
And last: Go West (1940) with 9 % of the votes.

Next poll: Best film by Frank Capra?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Men and cigarettes

David Niven (1910-1983)
(Lou Gehrig's disease)

Clark Cable (1901-1960)
(coronary thrombosis)

Paul Newman (1925-2008)
(lung cancer)

Rudolph Valentino (1895-1926)
(perforated ulcer, blood poisoning)

Gary Cooper (1901-1961)
(prostate cancer)

Steve McQueen (1930-1980)
(heart attack following surgery)

Cary Grant (1904-1986)
(cerebral hemorrhage)

James Dean (1931-1955)
(road accident)

Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957)
(throat cancer)

Charles Chaplin (1889-1977)
(natural causes)

Marlon Brando (1924-2004)
(pulmonary fibrosis)

Yul Brynner (1920-1985)
(lung cancer)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Soap Opera (1964)

Soap Opera (The Lester Persky Story)
Director: Andy Warhol
USA 1964
47 min

There isn't very much imformation about this Warhol short. It is a silent (!) soap opera. cut into pieces by commercial segments (with sound). The technique is on purpose very simple and even really bad. White dots appear on the screen to and fro, the sound is scratchy, the picture is not always in focus and sometimes the grayscale is too dark or too bright. Very artistic, in a weird way. The Andy Warhol way.
All trivia I know about this little film is that it is the first film that Baby Jane Holzer did for Andy Warhol, and that the title "The Lester Persky Story" is taken from the producer Lester Persky, from whom Warhol used the 1950's commercials.

I don't know whether you're supposed to understand Andy Warhol's art or not, but I definitively don't. I like his work, though. And still, you can always have an idea of what this film tries to say. For example:
By mixing the soap opera with commercials, is Warhol trying to imitate television?
Does he try to say that they have the same meaning, that soap operas and commercials have as much content as the other?
And why is the soap opera silent, but the commercial isn't?
Is the dialogue that unimportant in a soap opera, that you simply can do without it?
Or does he want to say that baboons are aliens in disguise?

What ever the real intention was, Soap Opera is an entertaining and confusing experimental short film. It begins with a TV chef selling a home grill that you simply must own. And for only $ 4.95!

Two men, sitting next to each other. Smoking. The first man looks at the other man, then looks away. Right after that, the other man turns and takes a look on the first man. After a while, their eyes meet each other. They both look away.

Eight... seven... six... five... four... three...

... crazy woman! But her hair is just perfect, even after seven days of rain and storm! You only have to do your hair ones, and it will last soft and curly for seven days! (For some reason this commercial is shown twice.)

Baby Jane Holzer speaking on the phone.

Do you want to avoid stinking armpits? Use Secret and feel fresh and dry all day long!

Jerry Lewis, shooting a child in a commercial for his charity fund-raising for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA).

A hairy man, lying in his bed, smoking and talking on the telephone. Perhaps with Baby Jane Holzer...?

From a headless man groping himself on the dancefloor, to an innocent child eating a very easily done birthday cake.

Baby Jane Holzer tries desperately to receive some love from her boyfriend, but he seems to be more interested in a newspaper article about Frank Sinatra. (He might also have gotten an appetite for the brunette he so violently made love with earlier. See the first photo.)

The Wondascope! A fantastic invention - A powerful microscope, a long distance telescope, binoculars and pharingoscope, all in one!
You can inspect the quality of diamonds and stamps! You can watch the stars and read the newspaper a little closer! And if you've got something in your eyes - just use the pharingoscope! You can easily carry it in your pocket, wherever you go!
And the best thing? This little thingy you just can't live without only costs $ 2.49!

Soap Opera ends with a naked girl dancing in front of a mirror. The quality of the film in this section is, obviously on purpose, very pale and grainy.
The last seconds of the film shows a very surprised and shocked man, witnessing the beautiful and exciting scene.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Beyond The Rocks (1922)

Beyond the Rocks
Director: Sam Wood
USA 1922
80 min

A film adaptation of the Elinor Glyn novel (author of It, filmed with Clara Bow in 1927, and Three Weeks), directed by Sam Wood (director of the Marx Brothers movies A Night at the Opera from 1935 and A Day at the Races from 1937). Elinor Glyn accompanied at the shooting of the film.
For most of the 20th century this film was thought to be lost, but was found 2003 in a private collection in the Netherlands. (A short and fascinating documentary of the restoration is included later on in this post.)

It was great news when this film finally was found since it contained two of the greatest star of that era, the only time they acted together on screen - Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino.
The film begins with a young girl, Theodora Fitzgerald (Swanson), who falls out from a rowing boat. A handsome, rich young man, Lord Hector Bracondale (Valentino), sees her from his boat and quickly jumps into the water to her rescue.

Lord Bracondale jumps for Theodora's rescue.

Theodora give Lord Bracondale a narcissus flower.

Theodora's half-sisters wants her to get married to a rich man.

The dramatic incident is soon over, and Theodora thanks her hero by giving him a narcissus flower. They say goodbye and Theodora follows her father home.
While at home Theodoras half sisters convinces her that she has to get married soon, to a rich man who can restore their lost family fortune. Not wanting to hurt her father, she acts when an opportunity comes - a rich old man, Josiah Brown (Robert Bolder), proposes to her and she accepts.
They go away for their honeymoon, spending it in "a quaint inn, high in the snow-clad Alps".

The scent of narcissus brings the youth together.

However, fate seems to want Theodora and Lord Bracondale to get together ones again. It happens that Lord Bracondale, his mother and his fiancée spend their holiday at the same place at the same time.
In the dining room, a waiter finds a lost handkerchief next to Lord Bracondales table, and asks the company if it belongs to them. It doesn't but Lord Bracondale recognizes the perfume, even though he at first can't replace it.
However, the handkerchief finds its rightful owner. Lord Bracondale follows it with his eyes, but since Theodora sits with her back to him, a bell doesn't ring.

Theodora recognizes her hero.

The next morning, Theodora and her lady friend Jane McBride (Mabel Van Buren) go mountain climbing. In an attempt to take a picture of her friend, Theodora takes one too many steps back, and falls over the cliff.
From a distance, Lord Bracondale happens to see the woman hanging in a rope around her waist, fainted. He quickly runs for her rescue, again, and ends upp at a cliff alone with Theodora while the other in the company go back for help.
All alone on that cliff together, recognizing each other, forbidden feelings start to grow.

For a start Theodora enjoys Lord Bracondales company, but when she no longer can control her feelings she gets scared. She made a vow when marrying Josiah Brown, that she fears she is going to break. She decides that she and Lord Bracondale must never see each other again. But even if not fate wanted otherwise, Lord Bracondale surely wouldn't give up the love of his life that easy.

I can't express how grateful I am for the restoring of Beyond the Rocks, which in my meaning is an immortal classic for every silent era devotee to see. The cast is brilliant, and Valentino (who I always thought was a little androgynous) in this picture is extremely handsome, if not even smoking hot! (But I guess I'm not a normal woman, either.) I understand the panic among his devoted fans when he died.
At two occasions there are historical retrospects (or perhaps the characters imaginations and fantasies running a little wild); one takes place in the 18th century, and the other in Ancient Egypt. They add a little humour and glamour into the movie, and even though they might be a little odd, they are not in the least negative in any way.

See this film if you get a hold of it. A romantic drama with Swanson and Valentino can't be missed!


[to Lord Hector Bracondale]
Theodora Fitzgerald: Fate seems to send you to me when I most need you, Lord Bracondale.

[when smelling a narcissus]
Lord Hector Bracondale: I shall always associate this wonderful perfume with you.

Theodora Fitzgerald: I could never live under the shadow of my broken word!

Lord Hector Bracondale: Darling, we have passed the rocks and here are the safe waters beyond.

Documentary: The restoration of Beyond the Rocks.

Below: A picture from the filming of Beyond the Rocks, with a yawning Gloria Swanson to the left, Valentino with the script, author Elinor Glyn with the big hat and director Sam Wood to the right. (Click for a larger picture.)