Forever Autumn: Year of Bests – 2014
A couple of years back, I did not publish a year-end piece on those articles I most enjoyed reading for the period. Routinely, my online browsing turns up a number authors and write-ups that exceed whatever threshold I have in my head. I promised not to get caught flat-footed again. So, I rectified the issue by gathering them up and presenting each quarterly. This the third of such for 2014.
Shall we get ready for the Fall then?
Once again the quarter got going with another Art of the Title piece. Their splendid examination of the 60s looking at the “…decade-long game of chicken between Hollywood and its patrons…” that resulted in the many memorable and dazzling opening titles sequences:
Belted, Booted and Buckled: B-Movie Title Design of the 1960s – The Golden Age of the American B-Movie Title Sequence
Part 2: The End of the Production Code
“The ’60s were a time of change, not only in politics and social norms, but also the arts, and cinema in particular. Hitchcock’s Psycho, released in 1960, became the first box office blockbuster to be distributed without official approval from the Motion Pictures Distributors Association of America (MPDAA), which set rigid guidelines for sex and violence in American film.”
Fifty years. 50. Five decades. Sounds like a long time, doesn’t it? For some things, it is. For those that marked us, seems only like yesterday. A few films hold that distinction. This would be one that holds me in its grip as I do it. Stephanie Zacharek writing for The Village Voice described why that is:
Fifty Years On, A Hard Day’s Night Is Still Revelatory
“That’s the beauty of A Hard Day’s Night, and the source of its eternal freshness. For a 50-year-old movie, it still looks impossibly youthful, especially in this restored version: In all its satiny black-and-white splendor, it feels more like today than yesterday. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be watching, in 2014, A Hard Day’s Night for the first time. I didn’t catch it during its original theatrical release — I was a bit too tiny for that — but I saw it not so long afterward on television, an event that occasioned much jumping around and faux fainting on the living room couch. I have watched it many times since, each time seeing new things. But this is the first time I’ve viewed it knowing that there’s more of my life behind me than ahead of me, and now more than ever, I understand the faces of those girls.”
If you’ve a dog in your life, dalaffalolz‘s tickld post will mean something to you.
“Dogs never die. They don’t know how to. They get tired, and very old, and their bones hurt. Of course they don’t die. If they did they would not want to always go for a walk, even long after their old bones say: “No, no, not a good idea. Let’s not go for a walk.” Nope, dogs always want to go for a walk. They might get one step before their aging tendons collapse them into a heap on the floor, but that’s what dogs are. They walk.”
Back in July, one of my long-time favorite actors passed away. James Garner came to define someone I admired, watched, and wished I could be more like. Never happened for me, but it never changed for this man. Mary McNamara, writing for the L.A. Times expressed why:
Appreciation James Garner dies; actor changed what a hero could be like
“Garner, who died at home Saturday at age 86, effortlessly combined strength and humility, humor and capability, frankness and empathy to create an ideal Alpha-male, of the sort that hadn’t existed before, at least not in drama. He constructed a new kind of hero, one who would much rather be playing cards or going fishing. But all right, if no one else was going to save the girl, or solve the case, or prevent the crime, well, then — here, hold this for a second — he’d do it.”
Easily, the wildcard movie of the summer, which paid off enormously by the way, was Marvel’s August blockbuster. Part of its success was the film’s soundtrack, and Cinema Blend‘s Gabe Toro noted why it complemented the movie perfectly:
The Score Board: The Guardians of the Galaxy
“You get the feeling with the Marvel films that, thus far, the composers have been aided by the fact that the heroes of certain films were more understandable, well-defined, leading to mildly anthemic compositions. But no one really knows the Guardians, which means Bates needed to find a meaning to a relatively amorphous team concept. What couldn’t have helped was Gunn’s insistence that Bates record a few of the tracks in advance so that they could film with the original core.”
Always good to know what the professionals think of their field of study. And when it’s represented by its own genre of film, one that continues to fascinate, it doesn’t get any better than that. From the Long Island Spy Museum for the Sabotage Times (great title for a web site, if I do say so):
The Greatest Spy Movies (As Chosen by Ex-Spies)
“Spies love this movie because of the unexpected twists and turns; something that is ‘par for the course’ in the world of espionage. There is an old saying used by spies all over the world – ‘It’s a great plan until the first shot is fired!’ Any self-respecting spy will tell you that adaptability is critical in the field.”
Easily, the one non-summer-blockbuster film release I most anticipated was also the motion picture I’m still thinking about these many weeks after its initial screening. A review by The Mookse and the Gripes was as good as any on the subject:
JOHN MICHAEL MCDONAGH: CALVARY
“McDonagh, as we approach the end, can’t resist a bit of Western grandeur, widescreen immensity, and a pay off that one or two critics have taken issue with. I can understand that to an extent, but I disagree: the film can hardly avoid inevitable drama of a certain scope if it’s to deal with it’s opening setup, and McDonagh has already dealt with some of the grandest imaginable themes. There were similar gripes about Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven denouement, which, it was said, ran against the film’s message (as those critics saw it) by reverting to a grandstanding, blood-soaked conclusion.”
One of my favorite film gurus over at Trailers From Hell, the eloquent Brian Trenchard-Smith, wrote a marvelous historical piece. Involving his experience, and the industry’s, with ‘the long knife’ and its impact on cinema. From the site’s blog, it is a must-read for sword fight aficionados, I say:
“When I was 10, my school screened a 16 mm print of the The Mark of Zorro – 1940 version, starring the dashing Tyrone Power. The clash of steel, the dynamic yet graceful athleticism of the hero as he righted wrongs, attracted me, as it did many boys of my age… I wanna do that. Luckily my next school offered fencing lessons from an instructor at the nearby Sandhurst Military Academy, and my inner Basil Rathbone was set free to ultimately Captain the school team. I saw every sword fighting movie I could and still do. Yet the only duel I have ever filmed had to be shot in 3 hours… The history of the genre could fill many volumes, but here is a short introduction to Sword Cinema.”
Since my duo post partner and I look at books and their film adaptations from time-to-time, I always wonder what the authors think of them. Now I know (for at least 30) via a The Short List piece:
30 AUTHORS ON MOVIE ADAPTATIONS OF THEIR WORK
“Some writers are not returning Hollywood’s calls while others have Hollywood on speed dial.
Here we take a look at thirty quotes from authors about adaptations of their work, some backslapping, some backbiting…”
My good friend and author John Kenneth Muir made a more than strong case for his favorite, and my close second, James Bond film over at his blog, Reflections on Cult-Movies and Classic TV:
James Bond Friday: From Russia with Love (1963)
“The most impressive of the visuals showcasing the “hidden” menace tracking Bond, however, arrives at a train station, late in the film. Bond is off the train, seeking to make contact with another agent. He walks among a crowd of travelers, and in a careful tracking shot, we see Grant on the train, moving with him, observing his every movement and word. Bond is not aware of the danger. We are. And the film’s sense of suspense goes right through the roof.”
Good friend, and TCM maven, Aurora reels us in with some mighty suspicious behavior. That’s okay, as along as it involved one of the best actor-director pairings of all-time over at Once upon a screen…:
Cary Grant: The Road to Suspicion
“Suspicion, Alfred Hitchcock’s fourth American film shows a different kind of Cary Grant. Still romantic somehow, he now has a killer instinct. Or, we suspect he might have. Production on Suspicion began on February 10, 1941, only a few weeks after Grant finished Penny Serenade but the production dragged for months. Hitchcock fought constantly with David O. Selznick over the portrayal of Johnnie Aysgarth, Cary Grant’s character. The clash had to do with whether audiences would buy into Grant in the role. As Hitchcock later said, “The consensus was that audiences would not want to be told in the last few frames of film that as popular a personality as Cary Grant was a murderer, doomed to exposure.””
Okay, George Lucas gets loads of grief for continually updating his space saga. Even more for his prequel trilogy of films. I’m sure he’s cries all the way to the bank. But Nivenus, writing for io9.com offered some insightful relief for the richest USC film school grad, and us:
5 Things the Star Wars Prequels Did Right
“Yeah, that’s right. The prequels didn’t do everything wrong. They’re not a complete and unmitigated disaster, not in my book anyway. I’m not saying they’re the equal of the original trilogy or even necessarily good films, but they’re not completely irredeemable either. And so I think it’s worth taking a look not just at how they failed but also how, on the rare occasion, they succeeded (or came close to success).”
Glendora’s own, Richard Kirkham is a local blogger and a friend. I’m not just saying that because he attended the same university as my wife (USC). It’s his writing. We might not agree on everything, but on one unexpected thriller by Clint Eastwood we surely do. From his 30 Years On: 1984 a Great Year for Movies site:
“There is a lot to recommend “Tightrope”, most of which has to do with Clint Eastwood and his performance. The script develops the character well and the background of the crimes is explored in an interesting way. The resolution is a little too typical and the moments of action almost feel tacked on at the end of the story. Wes Block is an imperfect man and an imperfect cop. The way those issues get resolved is a lot more effective that the resolution of the crimes he is investigating.”
Adrian McKinty is one of my favorite crime writers (finishing The Dead Yard as I write this). Aye, the Northern Ireland author (now living down in Oz) is one marvelous, and devious, scribe. His heritage and history give him unique insight for the centuries old conflict of his native land in the characters he puts on the page. So, when he listed on his the psychopathology of everyday life blog the worst that have used it as a plot point on film, we’d better take note, if we know what’s good for us:
“For my sins I’ve seen quite a few of these films (Fifty Dead Men Walking was the latest) some are MUCH better than others & some are so bad they are actually kinda good. I do think Terry George, Daniel Day Lewis, Jim Sheridan and Neil Jordan are hugely talented people and as you’ll see the way I’ve presented this list is for comic effect so no hate mail please
6. The Jackal – Richard Gere plays a conflicted IRA man driven to his crimes by evil Brits. (Gere’s accent work here is the comic high point of his career, I reckon.)”
Given my varied history now that I’ve crept up on 60, I still cling with some pride to the fact that once, in the 70s, I was a movie projectionist. So, any article that examines the state of this trade will always gather my interest. Michael Guarneri for Indiewire looked at a troubling aspect in the dint of digital:
Are Projectionists Dinosaurs in the Age of Digital Cinema?
“Once upon a time, film projectionists were stars. Between 1895 and 1897, people would pay in order to see the brand new technology that allowed moving images to be projected on a screen. But more than 100 years later, film projectionists are a dying breed. Indiewire spoke to projectionists at the recent Locarno Film Festival about their craft and their future in the age of DCP.”
My colleague Rick Ouellette, in the wistful music spirit that always draws me, waxed poetic and nostalgic over at his Reel and Rock blog for a time of youth and radio playlists:
TRANSISTOR HEAVEN: THE SECRET HISTORY OF A TOP 30 COUNTDOWN, 1971
“At 13 years old, you’re old enough to leave the house and mess about on your own, but not quite old enough for a real summer job once school vacation rolled around. Back in 1971, a paper route or mowing the odd lawn would be enough to keep you in cream sodas and 45s for the time being. It was the type of singles below that would infatuate us later baby boomers either on our record players or over the humid airwaves on stations like the old WMEX 1510 AM, whose playlists I once collected and managed never to lose. With the transistor radio pressed to the left ear with one hand, while the other flung copies of the old Boston Evening Globe at suburban ranch houses, here is how it went down 43 years ago today—a typically great countdown of the post-Woodstock, pre-disco age.”
The Taste of Cinema has pulled me in with their various film lists online via Facebook. Here’s one by Jason Turer from the summer that caught my eye:
15 Famous Movies That Have Subtle Hidden Meanings
“The meaning behind this seemingly innocuous little Canadian horror movie [The Brood] wouldn’t be that hard to see if one wasn’t distracted by all the violence and gruesome imagery. In truth, making the film was a cathartic experience for Cronenberg, who had been entangled in a bitter custody battle prior to writing the script. He has called the film autobiographical, even going as far as to partially model Eggar’s character on his now ex-wife. One can observe Cronenberg’s tendency to obliquely address important societal issues in subsequent films of his, be they the slow and horrifying progress of disease in The Fly (1986), or the nature of sexual fetishism in his notorious 1996 film, Crash.”
I’ve been looking forward to Tuesdays of late, primarily because Sergio has been writing Tuesday’s Overlooked Film series on his site, Tipping My Fedora. As we nudged into September, he sent me back in time for one of those great and underrated 70s films I saw first-run. The movie from a truly underappreciated actor-director collaboration (they did five together), Sean Connery and Sidney Lumet:
The Anderson Tapes (1971) – Tuesday’s Overlooked Film
“Given how surveillance culture has jumped to the very top of the political agenda, I thought it might be intriguing, and possibly even salutary, to look at a novel and film that got there very early, even before the Watergate scandal made bugging the stuff of everyday meetings. Lawrence Sanders made his Edgar-winning debut with this satirical caper story, told entirely through transcripts of one kind or another with just the occasional contextual intro from the author.”
Back to The Taste of Cinema once more, this time with James Davidson taking a look at my favorite decade of film. The emphasis this time on thrillers:
20 Overlooked 70s Thrillers That Are Worth Your Time
“Walter Matthau made his name play Oscar Madison, the slovenly roommate in The Odd Couple, and by 1973 Matthau was eager to break out of the comedic mold by playing tough guys, which he did in both this film and Charley Varrick. Bruce Dern and Louis Gossett, Jr. were also along for the ride, and the film was set in scenic San Francisco and directed by Stuart Rosenberg, who also did Cool Hand Luke.
Audiences didn’t appear ready for the change of direction of Matthau, and the film died an abysmal death at the box office, so Matthau returned to comedy and found success again a few years later in The Bad News Bears. The Laughing Policeman, though, is an unheralded hard boiled gem that now demands to be seen and appreciated by audiences at last.”
The irony here was that I spent the summer writing of the songs on my favorite music listening device that came by way of watching movies over the years. As soon as the series was done, Apple ended its production run of the Classic iPod. Matt Honan for WIRED followed up with a fine testimonial of the little music beast that kept many of us going:
“Then one day in October 2001, Apple invited a bunch of journalists down to see some new thing it had. I was working at Macworld magazine at the time. (Which, like the iPod, died this week. Pour one out.) We all knew it was going to be a music thing, and were even expecting an MP3 player. I remember wanting to go, and being envious of the people who were selected to cover it. It was intriguing and mysterious. What would Apple do? Would they release some little flash thing, or a giant jukebox?”
Man, I’m dating myself with this, but I go way back with The Man from U.N.C.L.E. 50 years, for chrissake. The 60s wouldn’t have been the same without it on television, even if it was an American’s attempt to fuse onto the James Bond phenomena. The A Shroud of Thoughts post by Terence Towles explained the appeal:
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Turns 50
“It will be 50 years ago tonight that The Man from U.N.C.L.E. debuted on NBC. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. proved to be a veritable phenomenon, easily the biggest television fad of the Sixties outside of Batman. It was also historic as the first American show in the spy craze of the Sixties. In fact, it would largely be responsible for inspiring further spy shows on American television, to the point that it was hard to find a night of the week when there weren’t spies on the small screen.”
Let’s throw a change-up for the penultimate item here since the baseball playoffs have started. Maybe Steven Soderbergh kinda retired from doing feature films of late, but he’s still making an impact. On his Extension 765 blog he highlighted a key aspect of filmmaking: Staging. And happened to do so by retooling one of the great George Lucas-Steven Spielberg films of all-time and showcasing it like never before:
“So I want you to watch this movie and think only about staging, how the shots are built and laid out, what the rules of movement are, what the cutting patterns are. See if you can reproduce the thought process that resulted in these choices by asking yourself: why was each shot—whether short or long—held for that exact length of time and placed in that order? Sounds like fun, right? It actually is. To me. Oh, and I’ve removed all sound and color from the film, apart from a score designed to aid you in your quest to just study the visual staging aspect. Wait, WHAT? HOW COULD YOU DO THIS? Well, I’m not saying I’m like, ALLOWED to do this, I’m just saying this is what I do when I try to learn about staging, and this filmmaker forgot more about staging by the time he made his first feature than I know to this day (for example, no matter how fast the cuts come, you always know exactly where you are—that’s high level visual math shit).”
Finally, we’ll close out the quarter with one more facet of my all-time favorite musical group. The Beatles. I know, a few of you will likely roll your eyes (yeah, I’m looking at you Adrian McKinty) as I written enough on The Lads, already. But, the Consequence of Sound republished Michael Roffman’s 2013 isolated vocal track article for the 45th anniversary of an LP that topped their list (as it still does for me):
Listen to The Beatles’ isolated vocal tracks for Abbey Road medley
“A few years ago, we named The Beatles’ Abbey Road as the greatest album of all time. Follow our breadcrumbs of reasoning and you’ll read about Paul McCartney’s final swan song: the medley. It’s a religious experience with an ensuing legacy that continues to influence musicians both new and old. Now, someone’s stripped away all the music and, instead, left its vocal tracks. What one should take away here is how synonymous the Fab Four really were, even amidst their forthcoming demise. “Match made in heaven” comes to mind, and really, aside from The Beach Boys, The Temptations, and The Bee Gees — it doesn’t get better than this. Stream below and lose yourself in the process.”
The entire series can be found here.
12 Responses to “Forever Autumn: Year of Bests – 2014”
Honored to be mentioned by you in such a way! Thank you! Terrific links I have to visit.
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My pleasure and you’re more than welcome, Aurora. Thank you 🙂
I am always amazed at the variety and breadth of the material you find on line to share with us. I’ve only seen a couple of these posts before and I look forward to exploring them all over the next few days. Thanks for including my work among all these distinguished writers. A shout out like this makes me think a little harder sometimes when I am writing, is this something that is worthy of recommending? Your answer makes me want to keep trying.
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Thank you very much for your kind words. Always happy to include your writing, Richard. 🙂
There is no such thing as too much Beatles. Wonderful, insightful and such well-chosen links.
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True. Very true, Alex 😉 Thanks, my friend.
What a stellar collection here Michael, and lots of great recommendations too, thank you!
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Lots of great writers out there. You included, Ruth Many thanks 🙂
Awww thank you Michael, very kind! Btw, hope you have a moment to take part in Five for the Fifth 😉
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Alway glad to join in on your monthly series, Ruth 🙂
Amazing post Michael, some brilliant articles on here, I’ll definitely be checking some of them out.
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Thank you very kindly, my friend 🙂