Thursday, January 21, 2016
The long-awaited annual tribute to cinema chiaroscuro, Noir City, returns to San Francisco's palatial Castro Theatre for its 14th edition, starting with some cool Sir Alfred Hitchcock flicks tomorrow night.
This year's theme is The Art Of Darkness and if one spends this existence on Earth as a writer, musician, dancer, filmmaker/animator, photographer or painter/illustrator/sculptor, the concept that the act of creation can lead directly to a dangerous, scary place or two (or three) provokes a "yes, indeedy" response.
Eddie Muller, Noir City producer/co-curator, host and Film Arts Foundation head elaborates: "We're expanding the limits of traditional noir to enhance this year's theme. There's always been a dark side to the way The Arts are represented in film, and I thought it would be intriguing to include some unexpected films, like Love Me or Leave Me, The Red Shoes, and Blow-Up, that have trace elements of noir in the way they explore the more treacherous aspects of creativity."
The 2016 Noir City paints from an expansive palette - and, after all, The Picture Of Dorian Gray is part of the festival's lineup. There are films from Sweden (The Girl With Hyacinths), Great Britain (Corridor Of Mirrors) and Argentina (The Bitter Stems a.k.a. Los tallos amargos).
Such famed corrosive noirs as In a Lonely Place and Scarlet Street will be alongside movies from other genres that are characterized by more than a hint of foreboding and dread (and we don't mean natty dread - that's another topic for another post). The festival includes enduring mega-stars Bogie and Stanwyck in The Two Mrs. Carrolls, as well as the ever-versatile actress and future comedy queen Lucille Ball in The Dark Corner.
The Noir City XIV spotlight is on the innovative producer-director-writer Michael Powell, whose highly creative use of color cinematography on the surface differs from the subterranean black & white world of film noir, but whose story choices and themes frequently can be as dark, violent and obsessive as a gun-wielding femme fatale in a Joseph H. Lewis picture.
The last night of the festival will include what this writer considers arguably the single creepiest film ever made - a gritty psychological thriller that makes Hitchcock's movies look like Mary Poppins by comparison - Powell's brilliant, frightening and highly disturbing Peeping Tom.
Who: Host and curator Eddie Muller, a.k.a. The Czar Of Noir
What: Noir City 14: The Heart Of Darkness
When: January 22-31
Where: Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street (at 17th)
Why: Proceeds benefit the splendid film preservation efforts of The Film Noir Foundation - and the fact that Noir City is by far Your Correspondent's favorite film fest (that he doesn't personally provide footage for)
Tickets: Brown Paper Tickets
Info: Noir City website
As with yours truly's KFJC Psychotronix Film Festivals, be there or be oblong - and pass the popcorn, please.
Friday, January 15, 2016
The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum will be paying tribute on Saturday and Sunday to one of the first child stars in movies, Diana Serra Cary, a.k.a. Baby Peggy.
The museum's Baby Peggy Movie Weekend includes her 1924 starring vehicle Captain January (made 12 years before the version starring Shirley Temple), the 1925 Universal film The Family Secret and a documentary on her career, The Elephant In The Room. Funds raised from the Saturday and Sunday shows will help Ms. Cary out with her basic living expenses.
Besides her exploits on the silver screen, Diana Serra Cary is a prolific author and historian who has penned the following splendid and informative books about Hollywood:
- What Ever Happened to Baby Peggy: The Autobiography of Hollywood's Pioneer Child Star
- Jackie Coogan: The World's Boy King: A Biography of Hollywood's Legendary Child Star
- Hollywood's Children: An Inside Account of the Child Star Era
- The Hollywood Posse: The Story of a Gallant Band of Horsemen Who Made Movie History
With the passings of Barbara Kent, Mickey Rooney and Our Gang's Jean Darling, Ms. Cary, now 97, is also the last person standing who starred in silent films.
The shows hold forth at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum's Edison Theater at 37417 Niles Boulevard, Fremont, CA 94536-2949.
Wednesday, January 13, 2016
On the heels of the Classic Comedy Festival presented by the Kobe Film Archive last weekend and preceding the Noir City extravaganza later this month comes Saturday's Classic Science Fiction Film Fest at The Rheem Theater on 350 Park Street in Moraga. This year's festival features two of this blogger's favorite films, The Time Machine and When Worlds Collide.
The day of big screen fun will also include classic 1950's time capsules featuring giant bugs and that recurring theme (especially beloved and repeated by Bert I. Gordon) of miniaturization.
The esteemed Lord Blood-Rah will host a program that is sure to be a blast, as well as an opportunity for science fiction and classic movie buffs to hang out. To contact the box office of The Rheem Theater, call (925) 388-0751. Main office: (925) 388-0752.
Saturday, January 09, 2016
The last post about pianist Victor "Yes, There Can Be Humor In Music" Borge reminds me that there are all kinds of 20th century comedians - some sophisticated, others not so sophisticated, still more wonderfully lowbrow - who are fundamentally musical. We begin this Saturday cornucopia of clips with. . .
The Wiere Brothers
Victor Borge was not the only performer to combine classical music with comedy. It's often the modus operandi of the trio this writer first read about eons ago in Leonard Maltin's indispensable Movie Comedy Teams book: The Wiere Brothers. Here they are combining the music of Frederic Chopin with silent comedy on the April 26, 1951 episode of "The Ford Festival."
Harry (1906-1992), Herbert (1908-1999) and Sylvester Wiere (1909 – 1970) had a five decade career, beginning in vaudeville and then mostly on stage, but occasionally seen onscreen in feature films and periodically on television as well. Their act goes back to the 1920's. Billed as The Continental Trio, here they are, in early acrobatic dancing form, captured in these time capsule clips from The British Pathé Collection.
The team appears in Bob Hope & Bing Crosby flick Road To Rio (the Wieres' dance, starting at 1:50, sets up a sequence involving the spectacle of Bob Hope in drag), as well as the Roy Rogers western Hands Across The Border and the 1967 Elvis Presley vehicle Double Trouble.
The following Wiere Brothers television appearance presents their act, performed hundreds of times over decades. Herbert plays classical music on the violin while Harry and Sylvester muck up his performance by changing the tune and "going hillbilly." Then all three perform acrobatic derring-do involving stringed instruments. Well, hold the mayo and the Stradavarius - one hates to ponder if any bass violins bit the big one while the boys rehearsed this bit!
There was an attempt at a Wiere Brothers TV series in 1962. While this writer has not seen any of the 12 episodes of Oh! Those Bells, one would surmise that, as producer Jules White did frequently when directing Columbia Shorts Department 2-reelers starring headliners other than The Three Stooges, by casting The Wiere Brothers in slam-bang slapstick, the producers may have missed out entirely on what was wonderful about Herbie, Harry and Sylvester in the first place.
Spike Jones & His City Slickers
Since it remains utterly beyond Your Correspondent's powers as a wordsmith to describe the musical lunacy of Spike Jones & His City Slickers, we'll show you with clips, jam-packed with jokes about sound and music, from the band's appearances on the early 1950's live comedy show All-Star Revue.
The casts of Your Show Of Shows and Caesar's Hour
Nobody, not even Victor Borge, has taken on classical music quite like the ridiculously talented casts of Your Show Of Shows and Caesar's Hour.
One could make a strong argument for Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca as the greatest and most versatile pure comic talents to ever headline a television program.
When Imogene left the cast after Your Show Of Shows, her successor was the stalwart musical comedy gal from stage and screen (The Band Wagon) the mighty Nanette Fabray.
Two decades later Ms. Fabray would be a frequent guest star on a variety program modeled to a significant degree on Your Show Of Shows - yep, The Carol Burnett Show.
The Ritz Brothers
Seems like a good idea to follow Sid Caesar with a comedian who clearly influenced him - and his intrepid writer cohort on Your Show Of Shows and Caesar's Hour, the inimitable Mel Brooks - in a big way, the legendary Harry Ritz (in the act, "the guy in the middle").
While the wacky Ritzes - led by rubber-faced alpha goofball Harry - do not play musical instruments as Harpo and Chico Marx did, their comedy is not about jokes per se, but all about music and dancing.
As is the case with musical comedy guys Ray Bolger and Donald O'Connor, the humor is frequently in how they sing, as well as all about how funny their movements to the music are. This excellent production number from the Alice Faye vehicle On The Avenue would be this blogger's answer to the question, "just what did people find funny about The Ritz Brothers?" Harry's bravura vocal is followed by a series of skillful and indescribably funny dance moves by the trio - the bit where they mimic penguins is tops!
Besides that amazing He Ain't Got Rhythm number, the best example of Harry, Jimmy and Al Ritz remains the episode of The All Star Revue they hosted on May 17, 1952. It presents a valuable record of their act, as The Colgate Cømedy Hour shows did for many comics (Martin & Lewis, Abbott & Costello) - and is also the reason this blogger has been known to utter the phrase "DON'T HOLLA - DON'T HOLLA" for no apparent reason. The Ritzes' anarchic spirit and musical comedy mojo reigns supreme throughout.
Both teamed with Dean Martin and as a solo, Jerry Lewis - whether lip-syncing to Mario Lanza's Be My Love on the Colgate Comedy Hour, performing a silent comedy routine to Count Basie & His Orchestra in The Errand Boy, conducting in The Bellboy or dancing up a storm with Sheree North in Living It Up - is fundamentally a musical comedian.
Along with Sid Caesar and Mel Brooks, Jerry Lewis strikes this writer as among the artistic progeny of Harry Ritz. As with The Ritz Brothers, the credo is: sound + music + image = laughs, big laughs.
The Typewriter Routine gets this correspondent laughing every time, as does the very funny sendup/homage by another gifted physical comedian, Martin Short.
The following sequence featuring Jerry as the conductor, demonstrates how Lewis' 1960 feature The Bellboy would make a splendid double bill with the 1957 Chuck Jones WB cartoon Baton Bunny.
One wonders whose tongue-twisting musical routines were developed first, those of Danny Kaye or Sid Caesar - or if they both got the bits from Harry Ritz.
They appear to be two entirely different performers working along similar artistic lines - in some respects comparable to saxophonists Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane in 1950's jazz. Chronologically, Danny got there first, with a breathtaking linguistic prowess comparable to Sid's.
When he sang and played the piano, the ol' Schnozzola was a remarkable musical comedian and a most endearing one, too.
Unfortunately, there are no film clips of Jimmy as part of the team of Clayton, Jackson and Durante, but we do at least have this bit starring 2/3 of the show-stopping vaudeville trio.
Ernie Kovacs and Edie Adams
There was no more creative comic mind than Ernie Kovacs and no more talented musical comedy gal than the Juilliard-trained Edie Adams. Arguably my all-time favorite musical comedy routine - well, maybe tied with the Wagnerian incarnation of Elmer Fudd singing "Kill The Wabbit" in What's Opera, Doc? - remains the sendups of opera performed brilliantly by Edie Adams on The Ernie Kovacs Show.
Perhaps the most wonderfully chaotic finale to a television program is the "topper" from the epic Kovacs On Music special.
Today's post closes with a comedian who wrote music but was mostly silent in movies - but NOT in this clip. Here he is, the guy who started the 20th century's first British Invasion, the greatest dancer on film not named Fred Astaire - and one who Michael Jackson definitely picked up at least a move or two from - the one, the only Charles Spencer Chaplin.
Sunday, January 03, 2016
At Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, we are equally enthusiastic about both B-movies starring giant malevolent irradiated insects and serious music (a.k.a. "culchuh") - and we begin the new year thinking of classically trained musicians who are also howlingly funny comedians. The list - after Bugs Bunny, of course - is short.
That said, Dudley Moore immediately comes to mind.
In this blogger's view, arguably tops on this very short list - as funny as he was a incredible musician - would be pianist Victor Borge, born on January 3, 1909.
There won't be an essay or lengthy meditation on Borge, a virtuoso pianist who largely much of his own material but also hired some pretty darn good scribes - Alan Jay Lerner, Neil Simon and the ever-cantankerous Henry Morgan among them - to write comedy for that he used in his act, both a heartfelt appreciation and gentle spoof of classical music and its conventions. There will be a bunch of clips and we'll start with a great one with Dean Martin - "Dino".
If one finds jokes based on sound howlingly funny, it will not be possible to hear too many of them.
No such thing as too much Borge - for music and comedy lovers.
Friday, January 01, 2016
Happy New Year from The Usual Gang Of Celluloid And Comedy Crazed Characters at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog!
We hope you had a fun and safe New Year's Eve, even if at some point totally blasted at The Happy Hour Club - and arrived home in one piece!
Are we happy to have lived to see a new year? Yep - you bet we are! As happy as Osgood Fielding?
Well, maybe not quite that happy. . .