Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Fleischer Popeyes Hit DVD




The new DVD set of 1933-1938 Popeye cartoons, mastered from the original negatives, receives its official release today.



Indeed, this is an amazing treasure trove for film buffs and includes a host of intriguing extras. If you're an animation or classic movie buff, just buy it and enjoy.





Kudos to Jerry Beck and many others who made this happen!

Monday, July 30, 2007

THRILL-O-TRONIC FILM SHOW, EL CERRITO, AUGUST 4


We will soil the beautiful Cerrito Speakeasy Theatre with the aforementioned matinee this Saturday at 2:00 p.m.

I get asked what our "themes" are in these programs (and ask myself, "you mean, we have themes?"). Well, here goes. . .


  • non-union actors in cardboard robot suits


  • non-union actors dressed as aliens


  • non-union actors dressed as gorilla suits


  • trailers from horrid movies


  • calypso music


  • swing music


  • early rock music


  • showgirls


  • car, cigarette and theatre snack bar commercials


  • any film we can find with unsubtle double entendres


  • surreal and psychedelic 1930's cartoons


  • 1950's "duck and cover" films


  • "educational" films that went horribly, dreadfully wrong


  • anything that provokes the response "what were they thinking?"


  • general mayhem and political incorrectness


  • and, yes, showgirls



I think that's a start. See you there.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Felix The Cat in Comicalamities (1928)



Felix breaks "the third wall" before Bertolt Brecht, before Tex Avery, before Olsen and Johnson, before Ernie Kovacs, in this remarkable 1928 cartoon by Otto Messmer. Disregard the cheesy soundtrack.

If this just isn't enough Otto Messmer for you, ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive has posted these excellent Felix The Cat comics.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Felix The Cat by Otto Messmer




Felix The Cat goes Dutch in Two-Lip Time (1926), a classic cartoon by the incomparable Otto Messmer. I have also heard that early animation stalwarts Bill Nolan and Raoul Barré worked on this cartoon (if any of you experts and historians out there in cyberspace can confirm or deny this, by all means leave a comment).

The silent Felix series manages to be simultaneously cartoony, minimalistic and otherworldly. And they still deliver the goods with audiences - I've witnessed this first hand. While the subsequent retirement in 1927 of pioneering animator Raoul Barré couldn't have helped matters for the Pat Sullivan Studio, the series nonetheless continued its winning streak.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Saved From The Flames


My last entry covering the 12th San Francisco Silent Film Festival will attempt to explain something that totally defies rational explanation: the fascinating yet disturbing allure of ultra-rare time capsules from the earliest days of cinema. How early? Imagine movie buffs watching Ratatouille in, say, 2111-2114 - that's how early!


Serge Bromberg, founder of Lobster Films, presented one of his celebrated Retour de Flamme (Saved From The Flames) programs - an annual tradition in Paris - for this year's fest. While the show included a very funny 1928 short about a drunken, showgirl-crazy fireman who saw naked Folies-Bergere dancers, including a somewhat more clothed but always witty and striking Josephine Baker, everywhere he looked, most of the 35mm French rarities dated from the turn of the 20th century. The core of the program spotlighted ultra-rare "trick films" by Georges Méliès, Gaston Velle, Segundo de Chomom, Ferdinand Zecca and others.


The modus operandi of the earliest trick films is "hey, look - we can do this", and draws from magic tricks, vaudeville and Grand Guignol. One very early "short short" solely featured a guy getting his head chopped off, while another (more entertaining) later trick film had a fellow's barber decapitate and re-capitate him - something I'm pretty sure was not taught in barber college. Another trick film portrayed an overenthusiastic musician who, incessantly playing his clarinet for captive audiences, suffered an accident that shoved the instrument through and out the top of his head; the big joke, even better than Steve Martin's arrow-through-the-head gag, was that he continued playing. Still another sublimely ridiculous reel consisted entirely of a zaftig showgirl doing a series of little dances with an actor in a giant pig costume.


The fascination in such wonderfully bizarre relics is self-evident, but what causes me to describe them as disturbing? It isn't the content, but the visceral experience of seeing living history: walking, breathing people who lived and died long ago in a 19th century Victorian world so very different from our own. Some of this rings true in the more advanced pre-WWI silent cinema of D.W. Griffith, Max Linder, G.M. "Broncho Billy" Anderson and others, but it's really resonant after experiencing 90 minutes of pre-1905 movies - and brings one vividly in touch with that pesky, nagging topic of mortality.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Burt Bacharach Day

In the middle of all these postings about last weekend's San Francisco Silent Film Festival comes. . . the 20th of this month, so that means it's Burt Bacharach Day.

Alas, Burt wrote nothing (that I know of) to accompany silent movies, but I'll pay tribute to the great pop composer-arranger-songwriter anyway. This month's clip, of L.A. psychedelic-garage-folk-punk rockers Love performing Bacharach and David's "My Little Red Book" on American Bandstand, is precisely the kind of unorthodox treatment of Burt songs I like.


It's unlikely that Burt and Hal liked this rocked-out 1966 variation on this tune, but who cares - it ties in with the stretch of Arthur Lee and Love related material I posted earlier this month.

I'm still waiting for Elvis Costello's variation on "My Little Red Book".


Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Unknown Silent Comic


The funniest film shown at the 12th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival featured a comic only known to the most devoted of classic movie buffs: Max Davidson.



You won't hear much about Max (1875-1950), whose career dated back to D.W. Griffith's heydey at Biograph, these days. The Berlin-born comedian's stock-in-trade was a Yiddish stereotype, rarely seen today, but absolutely rampant in the silent era. Max played a 60+ immigrant straight off the boat (having that in common with tens of thousands of new arrivals to post-WW1 New York City), deeply frustrated by this strange new land. Inhabiting his blustery characters with subtlety and nuance, Davidson played numerous supporting roles with Mabel Normand and other headliners at the Hal Roach Studio.



In Max' very funny starring series of two-reelers for Roach, produced in 1927-1929, he's even more vexed, as patriarch "Papa Ginsberg" by his unendingly goofy family.



The San Francisco Silent Film Fest showed a 35mm restored print from UCLA Film And Television Archive of THE BOY FRIEND (1929) as part of last Saturday's Hal Roach Studio tribute. Since it is both timelessly wacky and the least "ethnic" Davidson comedy I've seen (I didn't catch a single joke about his heritage in the entire film, and that's fairly rare for 1920's-era humor), this will be the one that gets revived and perhaps chosen for DVD release. The premise - not wanting their young daughter to get married anytime soon, the Davidsons act loony when the boyfriend visits - is simple, and brilliantly realized by Max and co-star Fay Holderness.




Why are we even talking about Max Davidson? First, unlike a lot of other comedians who depended on stereotype schtick, he was a most talented actor, very funny, fully capable of transcending the limitations of these roles. Secondly, in a brief stretch between history-making stints creating the Charley Chase and Laurel & Hardy two-reelers, Leo McCarey contributed inspired direction and writing to the Davidson series. THE BOYFRIEND and the devastatingly funny PASS THE GRAVY (1928) stand out as unrelentingly hilarious examples of the Roach Studio style.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Beery Brothers

No, this is not a reference to my homebrewing past, but yet another entry about last weekend's 12th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Fest. And the brothers are not happy guys well-fortified with Monkshof Kloster-Bock, but those ubiquitous character actors from the silent and early sound era, Wallace and Noah Beery, who held prominent roles in two films shown in the festival.

In "Wild Bill" Wellman's Beggars Of Life (1928), Wallace Beery absolutely nailed a plum role as a "good bad guy", while his half-brother Noah exemplified slimy, despicable villainy as "The Brute" in the festival's closing opus (by that master of mayhem, Cecil B. DeMille). As "Oklahoma Red", larger-than-life godfather of the rail-ridin' hobos, Wallace stole the picture and got top billing in the main titles. Noah Beery played one sicko juvenile detention prison guard - sadistic and a craven coward to boot - and really gave audiences a "man you love to hate" in The Godless Girl.


Although both films were conceived as "part-talkies" (only silent prints exist today), The Godless Girl exemplifies the acting approach and visual style of a silent movie, while Beggars Of Life definitely points forward towards the sound era. If you could have heard Wallace Beery, the voice that accompanied those nuanced movements and magnificent facial expressions, backed by the stirring soundtrack by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, it would have been the best of both worlds.

The story after these two late-1920's features, of course, holds more tragedy and drama than the films themselves. Only the directors and the two Beeries would continue, unabated, in "talkies".


  • The film's comely yet androgynous co-star, that most original maverick actress known as Louise Brooks, would soon leave for Europe and achieve silent screen immortality in Pandora's Box and Diary Of A Lost Girl, two notably dark, corrosive Weimar Republic-era time capsules by director G.W. Pabst.


  • The prolific Cecil B. DeMille would recover from the commercial disappointment of The Godless Girl and hit the talkies with a bang, producing two even more hysterical, ridiculous and provocative films, Dynamite and Madame Satan, in 1929-1930.


  • Reputedly having a New England accent that limited her options in talkies, Marie Prevost drew the "bad luck" card, big time, which ultimately cost the successful silent movie star her life. The fates being cruel, audiences would be deprived of her warm and likeable screen presence in character roles.


  • After striking paydirt at Warners directing "little tough guy" Jimmy Cagney in Public Enemy (1931), Wild Bill Wellman would return to the thematic territory of Beggars Of Life with the Depression era drama, Wild Boys Of The Road (1933)

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Solo Camille


Alla Nazimova, with Rudolf Valentino in Camille (1921).

"It's all about suspension of disbelief." Johnny Depp in Tim Burton's Ed Wood (1994)

Silent screen diva Alla Nazimova basked in the calcium light once again last Saturday evening at the 12th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival, with her 1921 version of Camille, co-starring Rudolf Valentino.

After her training at Stanislavsky's Moscow Art Theater, the Russian-born actress was a legendary star of the American stage and premier interpreter of Ibsen's work, before signing a contract with Metro in 1917. Nazimova soon became the highest paid movie actress of the time and, following the lead of actress-producer-mogul Mary Pickford, gained complete creative control over her productions.

Known for her lavish, flamboyantly gay (in both senses of the word) lifestyle, Nazimova threw spectacular parties for movie stars, jetsetters, movers and shakers - and fawning female groupies - at her opulent estate, known as the Garden Of Alla. She was a rock 'n' roll star.

As for the film itself, 98% Nazimova and 2% Dumas, the combination of the then ultra-modernist settings and costumes (by the equally legendary Natasha Rambova) with heavy-duty melodramatics becomes quite a bit of fun, as long as you don't waste energy on resistance. Even though the only honestly erotically charged moment in the picture happens when Camille meets a girlfriend - it really looks as if Nazimova and Patsy Ruth Miller are going to just ditch Rudy and the boys, pull the shades and just go for it - once you just relax and go with the flow, it is possible to have quite an excellent time.


Amidst the splendid, striking and stylized art-deco trappings lies an intriguing contrast between the two silent screen icons. Valentino, a few years away from chewing up serious scenery in "The Sheik", is by comparison low-key and naturalistic, and at times even leads the scenes. While his performance works quite well, Valentino's screen presence was not lost on Nazimova, who makes this largely a solo Camille and shares as few scenes as possible with the up-and-coming star.


While aware every moment that I was being manipulated by the most shamelessly over-the-top theatrics, I still found myself moved at times, unexpectedly misty instead of thinking "OH - JUST GET IT OVER AND DIE ALREADY!" during the grand finale. Alla Nazimova won. She got to me. Her artistry had me referencing my own (never entirely healed) broken heart: the painful losses and the ones who got away.


And, as a postscript, the screening's emcee, Robert Osborne, splendid and informative host from Turner Classic Movies, mentioned that Nazimova made brilliant - and entirely different - appearances in sound movies, in brief but memorable character roles. In such classic 1940's flicks as Blood And Sand and Since You Went Away, Alla Nazimova emphatically demonstrated that even after the passing of her stardom and fame, she still had her chops.

Silents Please


I just spent most of the weekend at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, an amazing event that holds forth every July at the grand art-deco movie palace The Castro Theatre.


The joint was packed for every show, and you could literally spot internationally reknowned film historians, authors and archivists everywhere.


Still recovering from the last opus of this year's festival, one doozy of a Cecil B. DeMille spectacle, The Godless Girl (1929) starring Marie Prevost (yes, Nick Lowe fans, that Marie Prevost), I will need a day or two to collect my thoughts on this mind-blowing trek through the way-back machine.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The 13th Floor Elevators

After these recent posts about Arthur Lee And Love (in my estimation, the indispensible aesthetic link between the folk, psychedelic and punk eras in rock music), I tried to think of something - anything - comparable.

Well, here's something at least semi-comparable: a rare clip featuring my other favorite short, fast and loud single from 1966, You're Gonna Miss Me by Austin's finest rock 'n' roll band, The 13th Floor Elevators.

There, screaming it out in all his glory, is Roky Erickson, the father of Texas psychedelic grindhouse garage-punk rave ups. Roky will be rocking Dallas' El Grenada Theatre, backed by his current band, The Explosives, this very Saturday, July 14.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Still More Love With Arthur Lee


Enjoy this 2002 Arthur Lee/Baby Lemonade performance of Bummer In The Summer, a classic tune from Forever Changes. Mike Randle contributes the tasty yet economical guitar solo.

The original 1967 recording features Arthur's rap, which pre-dates The Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron, The Sugar Hill Gang, etc. . . (although its cadence reminds me of Bob Dylan's "talkin' blues" spoken word numbers). Heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali, however, may well have beat Arthur - and everyone else, with the possible exception of some 1960's Jamaican reggae vocalists - to the punch on that "first rapper" claim.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

More Love With Arthur Lee

While on the topic of Arthur Lee and Love, here's a clip from the Danish television show En gruppe ved navn Love (a group by the name Love), originally broadcast on July 17, 1970.


In this March 12, 1970 performance at Tivoli Koncertsal in Copenhagen, "Doggone", an almost sea chanty-like folk ditty (albeit with lyrics, typically, more reminiscent of Captain Beefheart) from the Out Here album, segues into "August", a very cool slice of improvisational "prog rock". While the considerable talents of singer-songwriter Bryan McLean (who wrote "Alone Again Or") and Johnny Eccols' idiosyncratic lead guitar from the original Love band are certainly missed, this really rocks.

Assembled after the meltdown of the original lineup, this version of Love delves into the hard rock end of psychedelia, at times exploring Hendrix/Cream/Zeppelin/Allman Bros. territory. It is completely different from the band that recorded Da Capo and Forever Changes.

I consider this Arthur Lee And Love lineup underrated, much as the contemporaneous version of The Byrds (featuring the remarkably gifted Kentucky Colonels guitarist Clarence White) was, and for the same reasons: neither group played in the folk-rock style associated with their celebrated 1965-1967 albums.

'Twas a shame that Arthur's friend Jimi Hendrix did not tour incognito with this version of Love. Then again, perhaps it's just as well; the spectacle of Lee, Jimi and Jay Donnellan all playing wild guitar in the same band would have caused way too many Fender Stratocaster fetishists to spontaneously combust.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

7 And 7 Is



What can you post on 7-7-07? A tribute to the greatest rock 'n' roll single ever, "7 And 7 Is", recorded in 1966 by the late, great Arthur Lee and Love.



Here's a nice montage of Arthur Lee & Love memorabilia, backed by the original 1966 track.


For a short time in the mid-1960's, the legendary psychedelic-flower-punk-folk band were the kings of the Sunset Strip, following
The Byrds and preceding The Doors. Love's 1967 album Forever Changes combines elements of everything from Broadway to L.A folk-rock to flamenco to Hendrix with Lee's cryptic yet poetic lyrics. It is still an amazing piece of work, and, like Brian Wilson's SMiLE, only reveals its multiple layers of artistry after many listenings.

Lee, like Brian Wilson and Fleetwood Mac co-founder Peter Green, was a visionary who, after an extended stretch of hard times, re-emerged, revitalized and returned to performing more than three decades after his 1960's exploits. The following clip, from the January 15, 2003 Royal Albert Hall performance (adeptly accompanied by Baby Lemonade and The Stockholm Strings N' Horns), is available on the highly recommended Forever Changes Live DVD




Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Some Genteel Pre-July 4 Comedy


For all you Noel Coward fans out there, Moe, Larry and Shemp in Goof On The Roof, directed by the infamous Jules White.

And, for the handful of comedy fetishists who fancy only the most obscure trivia, the little guy who shows up with his big, beautiful, blushing bride (Maxine Gates) in the last minute of this opus is Frank Mitchell, formerly of the knockabout comedy team Mitchell and Durant. . . you know, the two boxers-turned-comedians who beat the crap out of each other on stage and screen in the 20's and 30's.