“Wait a minute... Wait a minute... you ain’t heard nothin’ yet.”
In 1927, Al Jolson spoke those words in The Jazz Singer, marking the end of the silent film age. (Of course, that film also featured Jolson in blackface which unfortunately was common at the time.) From The Guardian:
Just a year before (The Jazz Singer), Warners had made Don Juan, starring Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Astor, which didn’t exactly set the Hudson river on fire, despite sound effects like the clash of swords or chairs being thrown – all to the accompaniment of the New York Philharmonic.
The reason Sam Warner, the technical genius of the brothers, thought that adding a human voice would make all the difference was a series of shorts brought in as a late addition to the Don Juan programme. Giovanni Martinelli, principal tenor at the Metropolitan Opera, sang Pagliacci. The leader of the Philharmonic played his violin and Al Jolson sang When the Red, Red Robin (Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along).
They were a secret success. The New York press hardly noticed, but audiences did – and loved them. What would be known as “the talkies” were coming out of the fairground.
It was Sam Warner’s idea to team up with the Western Electric company to buy its Vitaphone synchronising system. He had the faith that few others possessed, but sadly died of a mastoid infection of the brain the day before the hugely successful premiere of The Jazz Singer.
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In 1962, Mel Brooks attended a screening of an abstract animation by Norman McLaren. He overheard an older fellow chattering and complaining through the whole thing. Inspired, Brooks and director Ernest Pintoff created this wonderful short film, "The Critic." Amazingly, Brooks improvised the narration while watching the animation. The film won a 1964 Academy Award in the category of Short Subjects (Cartoon). Read the rest
Director Harmony Korine’s newest feature, The Beach Bum, seems the likely follow-up to his 2013 candy-coated crime caper Spring Breakers. Substitute your Vanessa Hudgens for Zac Efron and your James Franco for Matthew McConaughey and the casting decisions to break away from type seem borderline formulaic. Tonally, the films are similar, with wandering, boozy shots and dialogue seemingly lifted right from your acid casualty neighbor and color cues taken from him as well.
Where Beach Bum diverges, however, is in substance. While leisure and pleasure seem the ultimate goal of both McConaughey’s Moondog and the girls of Breakers, the method of getting there differs wildly. Crime sprees and social climbing are the girls' preferred method. Laying back and taking the world in one toke at a time is Moondog’s. While heavy smoking and sleeping around might seem like a philosophically void path to enlightenment, it’s really the only way there in an America who’s ethos is to constantly tell you to want more, buy more, be more.
Every Hollywood movie builds up this idea, from foundational kids' animation to aspirational teen drama to middle-aged career comedy and beyond. And what better way to respond to that constant pressure than to do and be nothing at all? Sure, Moondog has written fairly successful poetry and given the odd public speech, but the practice he preaches is the one he lives, a sort of contagious cosmic hedonism. Partying with him will leave you a happier, more content person, even if you happen to lose a foot, a husband or a few million dollars in the process. Read the rest
In the course of my work as a documentary filmmaker, I sometimes find hidden gems. Samuel Fuller’s “The Naked Kiss” is one of them. Read the rest
In 1927, folks in the Fresno, California area went down to the local cinema to learn how to use those new-fangled dial telephones that everybody was talking about. This is the charming footage, a combo of live action and cartoons, created by the American Telephone and Telegraph Co. (AT&T) that they saw 91 years ago.
The AT&T Archives writes:
In 1922, New York City was introduced to dial. The first popularized dial telephone was a desk set candlestick model; the smaller, more familiar desk set came later.
It took decades for dial to sweep the entire Bell System. The last holdout was Catalina Island, off the coast of California, which finally converted to dial in 1978. In Camp Shohola, Pennsylvania, an internal automatic switch system still connects campers with the outside world, it's the oldest functioning Strowger switch in the world.
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In filmmaking, they say you make three films: the film you write, the film you shoot, and the film you screen. YouTuber Script to Screen takes bits of iconic films to show how the as-produced scene differs from the original screenplay. In some cases, actors might ad lib a great line; in others, the scene may use an alt take for time or simplicity. Read the rest
This commentary titled Never Just A Car is a nice montage of iconic cars in films, making it fun to guess the film as each car whizzes by. Read the rest
CinemaScore is basically an influential exit poll at movie theatres. Despite over 30 years of scores, only 19 films currently hold the dubious distinction of getting an F. Vulture's Kevin Lincoln found a few patterns. Read the rest
Diamond Route Japan went all in on this gorgeous series of tourism ads. Their living samurai spirit ad taps into the romantic view of Japan depicted in their renowned epic period films. Read the rest
Race through some of the most iconic shots in film history with this lovely tribute to the art of cinematography. Read the rest
Wes Anderson is raffling a chance to make dog sounds for his upcoming film Isle of Dogs, among other cool prizes. Proceeds benefit the non-profit Film Foundation, which has restored nearly 700 films. Read the rest
Jacob T. Swinney compares the short film "Whiplash" with the feature it became.
It's an interesting study in the shot-for-shot remake. With the exception of the location and the switch to Miles Teller as Andrew, nearly everything else is the same. Read the rest
Dino Everett of USC's Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive shows off a nifty little gadget: a working 3mm movie camera developed by Eric Berndt in 1960 for NASA's Mercury missions. Read the rest
Whenever I think I've exhausted the possibilities of Netflix or Amazon Prime, I jump on Cinesift and use their handy filters for a deep dive into the vaults.
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Setsuko Hara. It’s unlikely you’ve heard her name or seen any of her numerous films, yet she was the muse of one of the world’s greatest filmmakers: Japan’s Yasujiro Ozu. And you may well not have heard of him, either, since none of his films were released in the United States during his lifetime; it was thought they were “too Japanese.” During the 1960s Akira Kurosawa was the director thought to be more accessible to western cultures. While little known to the average person, among cinephiles Ozu is one of the most highly-regarded directors in the history of film, and his movie Tokyo Story is ranked in the top tier of the greatest films ever made, along with Citizen Kane and Vertigo.
Welles, Hitchcock, and Ozu.
Like most of Ozu’s films, the plot for his 1953 masterpiece Tokyo Story is deceptively simple: an elderly couple travel to Tokyo to visit their children, who have little time to spend with their parents. Only one, the widow of their son who died in the war, is genuinely happy to see them. She is played by Setsuko (pronounced Sets-ko) Hara with a restrained warmth that is unforgettable. The forward movement in Ozu’s films is almost entirely born of emotion, not action. The camera rarely moves.
Tokyo Story drapes a blanket of melancholy over its audience and was inspired by Leo McCarey’s 1937 film, Make Way for Tomorrow, which is even more bleak if such a thing is possible. Of McCarey’s film Orson Welles is reputed to said, “Oh my God that’s the saddest movie ever made … It would make a stone cry.” Read the rest
"Indiana Jones 4 and the Echoes of the Past" Read the rest
It's an age-old complaint about video games and films: bad graphics make them suck. But plenty of classic entertainment holds up even if the effects don't. RocketJump Film School examines the issue in a brisk overview. Read the rest