Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Jerry Maren: The broken filament to a darkening past

Part of the appeal of “The Wizard of Oz,” at least for those of us who are a certain age, is that it was available to watch just once a year, sometime in the spring, I believe, and like the Charlie Brown Christmas special and the annual airing of “The Ten Commandments” at Easter, once the movie ended that was it for another year. It was a situation one accepted with some melancholy; there was nothing to be done about it, after all, at that time. But it made you watch the movie. You wanted to fully absorb it, because it was going to be a long time before it came around again.

The annual viewings allowed more attentive viewers the opportunity to anticipate when the first commercial would come up (I remember it being just as the tornado was about to arrive, and Prof. Marvel says of Dorothy, “Poor little girl, I hope she gets home all right.”) and to wait with great anticipation for one's favorite lines and scenes.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The most profound, most prophetic moment in “2001: A Space Odyssey"

By Lars Trodson
There is just one scene in Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" that truly, profoundly prophesied how technology would impact human behavior in the 21st century.
It comes during the “Jupiter Mission: 18 Months Later” sequence: 
Two men, sitting two feet from each other, simultaneously watch the same BBC broadcast, on two different screens.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Oskar Fischinger and the animation revolution that never was

Oskar Fischinger's short film, "An Optical Poem," was released by MGM in February of 1938, and that was that. Or not.

By Lars Trodson

There was no studio with more prestige or box office power in the late 1930s than Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, but it was lagging in two crucial lucrative markets: short films and cartoons. Stung by the continuing success, and innovations, coming out of the Walt Disney Studios, MGM wanted to get in those spaces.

In the busy year of 1937, MGM launched an in-house magazine called "MGM Short Stories" to promote its renewed commitment to these genres. This glossy was distributed to Loews theater owners and theater managers each month in order to provide background on the short films and cartoons MGM would be releasing, as well as recommendations on how these films could be promoted to boost their box office potential.

The studio had also hired two men, Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising, to lead a reinvigorated short film department. Fred Quimby was overseeing the animation unit.

The October/November 1938 issue of “MGM Short Story” included a profile of Harman and Ising titled “Harman and Ising Is Their Name.” The unsigned piece announced the studio’s intentions and aspirations.

Cartoons... offer a medium which has infinite opportunity for expressing things to vast film audiences which heretofore could never have been told. The gift of the human characteristics of thought, speech and action, to birds, animals and imaginative beings is only one of the possibilities of this plastic medium, which permits movement and rhythm of form and line with sound and color. It is a form of graphic and audible art, such an art as the Michelangelos and Chopins of the past might have envisioned,” the article states. 

“Continuing in this vein, Harman and Ising express the conviction that animated drawings offer, in many cases, the same superiority that the painting or illustration has over the photograph, delineating truer and more expressive illusion. It offers a freedom and flexibility that can achieve almost miraculous results in the hands of those sufficiently adept in its technique. It furnishes the means of creating character and apparent life where before no life existed; the means of exaggerating beyond the wildest reality. It is an instrument to play upon all the emotions from the humble funny-bone to the ecstasy aroused by an immortal symphony.”

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Movie ads from the 1960s and 70s

In my random rummaging through materials I've collected over the years, I found these movie ads that were cut out from newspapers, old and yellowing now. It was most likely my aunt who cut them out. There doesn't appear to be any real reason why these particular movies were selected, but we certainly don't see these kinds of ads any more.

The Conversation, 1974

Very few American directors had a decade like Francis Ford Coppola did in the 1970s. It began on a high note — winning an Oscar for co-writing the screenplay for 'Patton,' to the enormous success and influence of 'The Godfather' movies, and capping off the decade is the magnificent, epic, delirious 'Apocalypse Now.' Stuffed in the middle of all that was this genius little film, 'The Conversation.' Quietly eerie, almost surreal at times, Gene Hackman plays Harry Caul, a surveillance expert who eventually succumbs to the surrounding paranoia. It has to do with secret recordings, which was the the topic of the day. The film, released in 1974, also stars the late marvelous John Cazale. Coppola competed against himself in the Best Picture category that year, but as we know 'The Godfather Part II' picked up the statuette.

The only film Bruce Lee completed as a director. Released as 'Way of the Dragon' overseas in 1972. Lee died in July 1973, aged 32.

Here's something you definitely don't see any more. An ad for an explicitly pornographic movie in the pages of your local paper (although this is almost certainly from The New York Times), with critics unashamedly weighing in the quality of the work. This is from 1972. The film's star, Marilyn Chambers, died in 2009 at the age of the 56.

Friday, December 15, 2017

New images: Beautiful Block Island

Block Island expresses itself in many different ways; it's not just a sandy beach and a cool blue sea. There are nooks and crannies that seem like a landscape from another place entirely, such as these two horses, quietly enjoying their grazing, in a small open space off Payne Road. (Click on the images to enlarge.)

The sky here looks like it was painted by Maxfield Parrish. Taken toward the end of the day on Dec. 10.

This is a Maxfield Parrish painting:

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Grandfather of all lens flares

Ah, the lens flare.

An exciting effect, a beautiful image, now reduced to another keystroke in a suite of special effects in the digital cinematography platform.

I was watching a routine, earnest film called “Denial,” when, near the end of the movie, the director Mick Jackson and his cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, all of a sudden seemed to have discovered the lens flare. None appeared in the first 100 minutes of the movie, but in a few scenes in the last 10 minutes? Blue and golden horizontal streaks suddenly appear. It was as though they had just watched a 'Star Trek' reboot. (A better title for this earnest melodrama would have been 'Denied!')

Monday, April 24, 2017

Beautiful little things: Ben-Day Dots (updated with new images)

I've been scanning in color and black and white cartoon images from old newspapers (1940s, 1950s) and when seen up close, they have their own kind of raw beauty. (Click on the images to enlarge them.)

An off-registration panel from the early 1950s:

Lichty's Grin and Bear It:

Two panels from a color cartoon published in 1952:

Iconic comic strip heroine, Nancy, created by Ernie Bushmiller in 1933. Nancy actually had a last name, Ritz.

This is what a small image from a magazine - perhaps 1"x1" - looks like when it's blown up: