Dawson City: Frozen Time (2016). 120 minutes. Written, directed, and edited by Bill Morrison. Music by Alex Somers.
Dawson City: Frozen Time is a documentary that is equal parts history of the late nineteenth-century Klondike Gold Rush, exploration of the early film industry, and exhibition of a major silver-nitrate silent movie horde discovered buried in an old swimming pool in Dawson City, Canada (a Gold Rush boom town). The movie explores how the fate of this valuable silent film collection came to be intertwined with its small-town community and how they were similarly affected by the ravages of time. That it manages to treat all of its topics with equal consideration and resourcefulness is a real feat, but that it does so while infusing its narrative with wonder and appreciation for the fragility of both film and human life is an unexpected gift.
The film broadly tells the story of the gold fever that swept North America in the … Read the rest
Synopsis: Erin Elisavet Kozak, “The Marx Brothers’ ‘Everyone Says “I Love You’” in Film and Popular Music.” Published in The Discographer Magazine, vol. 3, no. 5 (April 2016): pp. 3-12.
When Peter Bogdanovich spoke with director Leo McCarey in the late 1960s about McCarey’s film Duck Soup (1933), Bogdanovich remarked: “A lot of people think it’s [the Marx Brothers’] best picture: there’s no harp or piano playing, no interludes, no love interest—those things slowed up their other comedies terribly…” The earlier Marx Brothers picture Horse Feathers (1932) contains all of the elements that Bogdanovich singles out as weaknesses, in particular musical interludes; but while many people might consider Duck Soup to be the Marx Brothers’ greatest cinematic achievement, the musical sequences in Horse Feathers, featuring Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby’s “Everyone Says ‘I Love You,’” boast some of their most memorable material.
In the first half of this article, I argue that the musical interludes of Horse Feathers… Read the rest
I recently had the opportunity to view the 1930 Eddie Cantor musical comedy Whoopee!, and while I cannot recommend watching it in its entirety (due to its not being a fine example of the genre and its extensive racism), I must say that there is something very interesting about the way it was filmed. I am talking about the two-strip Technicolor process that it and more than 35 other full-length feature films employed between the years of 1929 and 1931, when Hollywood was aggressively experimenting with techniques to maintain and bolster movie attendance in the early days of sound film.
During this period, musicals were the novelty of the moment, and Hollywood produced them in abundance, although audiences quickly overdosed on them. Whoopee! boasts a number of still-recognizable songs, such as Eddie Cantor’s performances of the suggestive “Makin’ Whoopee” and the tamer “My Baby Just Cares for Me.” There is also dancing, with a chorus of cowboys and cowgirls … Read the rest
Review of two Marx Brothers memoirs: Groucho and Me by Groucho Marx (1959) and Harpo Speaks! by Harpo Marx and Rowland Barber (1962)
If you are searching for information about how the Marx Brothers made their films or how some of their most famous routines developed, you will probably be disappointed by both Groucho and Me and Harpo Speaks! In their respective autobiographies, neither Groucho nor Harpo Marx is really interested in providing us with a behind-the-scenes look at their film work. Harpo is, it must be pointed out, particularly generous with descriptions of the siblings’ theatrical tenure and their early days on the road. Astonishingly, though, neither brother really spends much time dissecting his later work in Hollywood.
Yet there is so much rich and wonderful detail given here about the private lives of these two famous Depression-era film stars. Harpo focuses much of his narrative on his youth in New York and subsequent astonishing entrance into the famed … Read the rest
On February 12, 2016, the San Francisco Symphony screened Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) at Davies Symphony Hall with live orchestral accompaniment. Live accompaniment is a popular trend in vintage movie presentation: in similar fashion, a national tour of The Wizard of Oz with live orchestra made the rounds in the summer of 2015, and the San Francisco Symphony plans to perform the ET soundtrack in March of 2016. It seems to me that Vertigo is probably one of the most desirable films to see and hear in this way. Its astonishing score by Bernard Herrmann, Hitchcock’s frequent collaborator, is a symphonic landmark and Herrmann’s personal favorite of his many compositions. Given the high quality of the music (let alone of the film itself, which was ranked number one on Sight and Sound’s 2015 poll of the greatest movies ever made), this seemed the perfect opportunity for me to explore the phenomenon of live soundtrack recreation.
Live accompaniment in the … Read the rest
Richard B. Jewell published The Golden Age of Cinema: Hollywood, 1929-1945 in 2007 because, as he says in the introduction, he was frustrated by the absence of anything like it on the book market. Jewell is the Hugh M. Hefner (yes, that Hugh M. Hefner) Professor of American Film at the University of Southern California and teaches Golden Age cinema there.
The book has many virtues, and its content tends to be helpful and instructive. Of particular note are the chapters on technology and censorship. Both do a marvelous job of making complex processes fairly cogent: the early attempts at color and sound film on the one hand, the intricacies of the Production Code Administration (a.k.a. the Hays Office, Hollywood’s internal and voluntary censorship office) on the other. The details about the Code, in particular, are fascinating; Jewell excerpts a large portion of the Code itself for our perusal—it is astonishing. I also appreciated the chapter on the star system, … Read the rest
After my previous unsuccessful attempt to see the Alfred Hitchcock film Rear Window (1954) at a Bay Area theater, I was delighted to learn that the very same movie would be screened in late April at the Paramount Theater, the glorious art deco movie palace in downtown Oakland. The screening began at 8:00pm, but the theater opened at 7:00pm. Believe me, anyone who sees a movie at the Paramount as part of their classic film series will want to get there early as there’s so much to see. People start lining up on the street at about 6:30pm, but the theater seats many thousands of people and the screen is one of the largest anywhere, so those who come later are in no danger of missing out on a good seat.
You will, however, want to enter the theater at 7:00pm so that you can tour the gorgeous, multi-floor structure at your leisure, gape in awe at the sublime … Read the rest
I learned that Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) was coming to a theater near my Bay Area residence as part of a nationwide special screening of the film in digital format organized by Turner Classic Movies. A friend and I made time to trek out to the matinee screening on March 25. Oh, dear reader: that afternoon was such a sad commentary on the modern theater-going experience. I distinctly got the feeling that no one was working hard to maintain the gargantuan multiplex that was showing the film. The machine that printed the tickets necessary for admission broke as the clerk was attempting to use it. The manager was called over but could not fix it. It was determined that we would simply be let in to the multiplex and sent to our theater, ticketless, but the staff could not determine through the computer which theater Rear Window was playing in. Phones were produced in an attempt to find the … Read the rest