String of Pearls

At Chez Gallagher, we’ve been listening to String of Pearls. Film lovers of Hollywood’s golden age will enjoy this broadcast of “music from the golden years of entertainment”. BBC Wales host Dewi Griffiths’s program could be called stream of consciousness radio.  Like a string of pearls where one pearl leads to another, one song leads to another. Griffith’s encyclopedic collection of trivia and personal reminiscences connect each song. Many featured songs were featured in classic era films, so Griffiths discusses as much film history as musical history. Selections come from the 1920s through the 1950s, making the show perfect for nostalgics even if they never lived in the eras they miss.

In Memoriam

I went to the Cerrito Oscar party. Last year was my first time attending. Once I saw the Oscars on the big screen, I couldn’t go back. I love the audience interaction with the telecast. Shushers are not welcome because they’d only interrupt the communal experience. Old time audiences were not silent. They vocally shared their reactions, and the Cerrito audience didn’t disappoint.

I was disappointed with this year’s In Memoriam. That clip reel is my favorite part of the broadcast. I eagerly await the tribute, and I wish the Oscars producers would lengthen it. They could find the time if they cut a song and dance routine or dropped a bad skit.

This year Queen Latifah introduced the montage and sang over at least half the footage. Her voice overpowered the clips. She was too much at the forefront, overshadowing the departed. Worse the live music meant the editor couldn’t feature much dialogue. Film may be a visual medium, but dialogue punctuates the experience.

I plan to ask a friend who attended in person how she experienced the visuals. Even blown up on a theatre screen, the use of multiple monitors to display the deceased and their work diminished them and their moment. I was confused where to look, and the images flew by too quickly. I imagine the impact was worse for those watching on televisions at home.

One YouTube poster tried to solve this problem by editing together his or her own version of the montage:

I like to see cinema’s history honored and its participants remembered. I listen for the Academy audience’s reaction to certain individuals. Obviously there are gaps in their knowledge. A Van Johnson doesn’t get as much applause as a Paul Newman because the latter worked more recently, but the former was no less important in his day. He kept his studio afloat with big box office results.

Perhaps some actors are chilled by the fear of being forgotten. Not all want to pull a Deanna Durbin and retire when big and wealthy. Many aim for screen mortality, and a forgotten big deal hints that they too may be forgotten one day.

Worse is the exclusion of people who really contributed to film. Last year Yvonne De Carlo earned no mention, but she was a box office babe during Hollywood’s golden era. The latter part of her career as a television star (and as Lily Munster) seemed to eclipse her Hollywood contributions. The industry’s memory can be fickle, and its history constantly rewritten.

Sometimes social politics come into play. Brad Renfro wasn’t included in this or last year’s clips. He died before Heath Ledger. Both men reportedly had trouble with substance abuse; one died of illegal drugs, and one died from perscription drugs. Renfro contributed to the industry since his childhood, but he died during a career downturn. Since Ledger went out on a career high, he was the one showcased last year, while the Academy chose not to mark Renfro’s passing due to “time constraints”.

The 2009 Screen Actors Guild Awards featured a more extended reel:

Yet there are notables missing like Ann Savage. Her overall filmography may not have earned her an award or an extended career, but her work in the film noir cult favorite “Detour” immortalizes her. She will inspire others to act and to make film, and she was rediscovered in time to die a working actress, so she must have been a SAG member. I haven’t seen her last screen appearance in Guy Maddin‘s “My Winnipeg” yet, but I will.

At least Savage knew she was appreciated before she died. I found a clip of her last day on Maddin’s set where those around her devolve into fangirls and boys:

Savage is lucky another way. The Film Noir Foundation is rectifying her slight. The final day of Noir City in Los Angeles pays tribute to Savage with guest speakers, film clips, rarities, and her last film.

Someone needs to champion those behind the scenes like Irving Brecher. Despite penning many notable scripts like “Meet Me in St. Louis” and the Marx Brothers“At the Circus” , he warranted no mention, and he leaves a widow who may have felt the snub.

Tributes like the Oscars’ are enjoyed by the living, so maybe the Academy should make sure to honor Hollywood’s old timers before their actual passing, so they know they are remembered and not discarded like yesterday’s memorabilia. Maybe Hollywood would make better product if more of its denizens learned its real/reel history and extended their collective memories past less than twelve years ago.

Europa Film Treasures

Even if you’re not stuck inside due to snow or a cold, you must make time to visit Europa Film Treasures. The site offers cinéastes access to twenty-eight European archives and cinémathèques for far less than the cost of a transatlantic flight–for FREE. Films are streamed on-demand, and the offerings encompass all eras and genres. Silents feature scoring by Lobster Films. While films remain in their original language, subtitles are available in five languages. The database is highly searchable. You can conduct look-ups by archive, time period, country, genre, film stock color, soundtrack, and keyword. You can entertain yourself for hours with these world cinema rarities.


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Er’way in-hay the oney-may.

I’ve been reading Ginger: My Story by Ginger Rogers. My favorite parts of the book are the behind-the-scenes scoop. Rogers doesn’t offer too much gossip. She focuses more on the making of her films and stage shows. Driven, she sought comfort in work even when her personal life went on the fritz. Sometimes she skimps on the personal details, and I can’t decide if she’s witholding some material to protect her privacy or if the details simply weren’t important to her. Even though she wrote a memoir, self-reflection doesn’t seem as key to her as telling her story and witnessing her faith. Occasionally she sets the record straight about an infamous incident or her celluloid contributions.

For instance, she reveals the pig latin sequence in Gold Diggers of 1933 was her idea:

One day on set, I was handed the opening song and told to learn it by that evening. The scene was to be shot the next day and we had to be up on the number. I pleaded with Malcolm Beelby, the pianist, to forsake his lunch hour to help me learn my lyrics. Malcom kindly obliged. We went into a corner of the sound stage and started to rehearse. After about three hours, I started getting a little slap-happy, so instead of singing the lyrics as they were written, I translated them into pig latin.

Darryl F. Zanuck observes her, likes it, and has the improv put into the final film.

The pig latin bit makes that production number. In close-up, Rogers the beautiful girl has enough American chutzpah to make light of all the money her depression era audiences didn’t have enough of. She’s verbally winking at them, saying I am one of you, that things will be okay as long as we can have fun. We may not be in the money, but we are in on the joke. For a moment we are her conspirators, the wall has broken down, and we are taken away from our troubles.
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Event: The Pre-Code Follies

The highlight of my weekend mail was the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum Newsletter. Each month I scan their listings looking for goodies. Lately they’ve been experimenting with their offerings. They used to hold screenings only on Saturdays, and they’ve expanded to Sundays and even the odd Friday. They’re also veering away from movies mostly from the teens and early twenties. Now there are even some sound films on their schedule.

Here’s my pick of the month from their offerings:

The Pre-Code Follies
Friday, January 30 at 8:30 PM
Edison Theater
37417 Niles Blvd, Niles (Fremont), CA
Suggested Donation $9

Get royally bent and inspired with Busby Berkeley clips, lecherous 1930s comedy shorts, Cab Calloway, salacious soundies, Betty Boop cartoons and more, hosted by the fabulous Kitten on the Keys. Enjoy a great evening of music, comedy and outrageous classic movie fun.

I imagine cartoons like the following on the programming.

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Cause for Alarm!

Cause for Alarm Poster

Cause for Alarm! (1951)
Directed by Tay Garnett
Written by Larry Marcus, Mel Dinelli, & Tom Lewis
Starring Loretta Young, Barry Sullivan, & Bruce Cowling

This film mixes camp and noir, so purists may not like it, but I enjoyed it. Loretta Young’s character Ellen Jones does everything wrong. She dotes over her sleazy husband even when he turns maliciously unstable. She changes from doormat to victim when he accuses her and his doctor best friend (and her former suitor) of attempted murder in a letter. Jones spends the majority of the film vainly attempting to retrieve what becomes an increasingly incriminating accustation. Young starts out the picture of the perfect housewife only to descend into sweaty, hysterical desperation by film’s end.
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