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Monday, June 28, 2021

Always Out To One-Up The Past

 When Did Movies Stop Being "Better Than Ever!"?

Whatever our last attraction did, our next can do better, spew from studios always on alert for fresh money over/above what we spent with them a season before. Will Honky Tonk (1941) top Boom Town? That was for you to determine after paying to see one, then after twelve months, the next, which of course is promised to top the first. Same for 25 years later Thunderball, Here Comes The Biggest Bond Of All!, which had slight-more truth in advertising, for ads did not propose Thunderball as a “Best” of Bond, merely a “Biggest,” which it actually was, but who of us exiting cinemas in 1966 could/would say Thunderball surpassed Goldfinger? But forget Goldfinger, at least until it came back the following year with Dr. No. The Bonds had to swim like sharks or die, each poised to K.O. the last because to do otherwise might spell decline for the series. The Spy Who Loved Me had not spoke out of turn when declaring, It’s The Biggest. It’s The Best. It’s Bond. And Beyond. We were at least spared exclamation marks. This was by all account rebirth for 007, all knowing peril Bond faced for previous and pathetic two, The Man With The Golden Gun and Live and Let Die. I for one had sworn off the series, Golden Gun seen a first time in 1977 courtesy HBO on a tube small as a bread box, accommodation good as such refuse deserved. Not paying heed to modern marketing, I wouldn’t know if recent superheroes propose advance upon the last, assuming one can be distinguished from the other. None of such promotion is new. We were always assured that Movies Are Better Than Ever, question being, Did We Truly Believe It? Each innovation bespoke triumph to shade what went before: Talk, Width, Depth, idols but momentarily worshipped, the base question an eternal one: Had movies improved, or was there a point beyond which we could no longer be impressed?

Most think nickelodeons were dismal setting for first steps film made toward daylight that is cinema today. If theirs was wretched flicker, mute and overstated, why did millions jam into storefronts to watch? Best way to learn is by examining what a nickel bought in 1912. I tried two subjects, picked from random, The Voice of Conscience and In a Garden, both from Thanhouser, on You Tube and available on DVD. Neither are regarded special. I never heard of them before loading the disc. Must admit to quirk of mine that make these single-reel subjects so enjoyable … they are like fables a wise sage might tell if one has fifteen minutes to listen, glimpse on life, people, aspects of humanity that never change. Are we too far beyond such basics to pay heed? Fact they compel makes me wonder if movies overall are materially better than in 1912. But why start there: Name ones to surpass even earlier The Great Train Robbery or A Trip To The Moon, in their day or since. Here’s what nickel shows had that we since lost: Total immersion in action on the screen, the “hypnosis” effect Frank Woods wrote about. I pay rapt attention to The Voice of Conscience and In a Garden, never mind snacks brought along for accompany, these ignored in deference to drama onscreen. Any four folks in a frame will play out that many conflicts at once as viewer eyes dart from one to another, foreground to often deep background. 1912 cameras did not guide emphasis as in close-ups or edit to what we “should” notice, idiot-proof viewing not yet in place, duty ours to focus where it counts, interpret for ourselves where events are headed. I like demand that nickelodeon shorts make, and will not be convinced that initial audiences were anything but fully up to meeting each narrative challenge. Do stories end as expected? Sometimes maybe, as often not. Refreshing was this era before cliches were baked in. Pocket dramas throw me curves like nothing made afterward when films settled down to rote. I so often will say, “Are they really doing that?” and yes in most instance, they are.

Much would change in the name of progress. Nickelodeons did not last, as who needed nickels when there were dollars to be had? Purpose-built auditoriums saw to that, but it took longer movies to make a night out seem worthwhile. Tinkly keyboards gave way to orchestras. Dress was optional, but more and more you’d be noticed where not clad to expectation. Straight line from fish markets to the boxoffice were being erased. This was naked grab for a better class of patronage, and it worked. New York’s Strand opened in 1914, a features-only policy now that longer forms were embraced. Gone was day of plopping into five cent seats to while away an hour before struggle of life recommenced at home or on streets. Organized interests went seriously after serious money. Was more taken away than was giveth? Informality as nickelodeons knew it was among early casualties, more expected from of Strand viewership than ones what ate peanuts and shucked shells as they watched. We had a steak house where this was part of lure … drop at leisure, we’ll clean your mess. Well, by mid-teens, theatres were all through being messy. Movies as big business looked to Broadway, a model close as any for what they sought to be. Trade-offs were applied, give this, take away that, and hope the loss would go unnoticed. Goal was to increase mass from a developing mass audience, to which add respectability a family trade implied. Freshness and fun, plus tickets a fraction of legit, made cold calculation easy to overlook, but had screen content improved? Certainly it was more polished. A 1915 exhibitor would no more run a 1909 subject than lie down in front of a streetcar. Discard of the old began here, clear decks, what was new was better just for being new.

“Classical Narrative” as guiding principal revved up films as they became more industrialized. Pretty soon you could chart movement/pace of movies like a railroad schedule. That was good to extent of assembly lines being good, so long as they got product out, which they had to for insatiable demand to be met, the movie habit becoming more habitual. Idea was less to make exceptional photoplays than to avoid ones that were really bad. Bland acceptance was the goal sought, drumbeat of movies always on the march, always on an upswing, what went before buried to avoid honest comparison. I remember on the porch when my mother casual-said that movies were best, at least much better, around 1949, our conversation circa late-60’s. I took her words to heart and redoubled effort to see what 1949 offered, not so easy where black-and-white was ruthlessly pushed aside in favor of color to service everyone’s new home set. Again, the big broom. New is so often callous to old. They were already ridiculing nickelodeon shorts in the 20’s, with invite to laugh, almost insistence on it, whenever one surfaced as novelty or for jeering purpose. This is part-why so little survives. Why preserve a thing to be spat at? Worse was talkie arrival to plunge whole of prior achievement down skunk holes. Talk about transition … this was tear-down of what was past to greet an all too uncertain future.

And how those early talkies got a bum’s rush once kinks were ironed out! I checked a Blu-Ray of 1929-30 Our Gang shorts. Frightful. How did anyone watch Small Talk, let alone over and over, when Channel 3-Charlotte had it on a 60’s loop? But we were taught to respect elders, including those captured on film in dawn day of sound. A lot of favorites in the late 20’s were no longer favorites once they talked. So much of what went down was unutterably cruel. Imagine how John Gilbert felt once ice was under him. Patrons were encouraged to discard much of what they once loved. Silents were for saps, or those unreasonable enough to still want them. Many declared movies to have truly arrived with talk. Now they would compete with the stage on fully equal terms. Such was Hollywood’s economic mastery that they stole actors from Broadway with impunity. You now could argue that Movies Are Better Than Ever and be believed across boards. No one who wanted to stay in the business could plead otherwise. Whatever of an audience thought outside this box, or microphone, could satisfy mute preference elsewhere, maybe sit home staring at their radio without turning it on. Here was revolution everybody had waited for. Radio, public address, and long-since telephones made film with talk overdue, a vast improvement over everything that had gone before. Let silence go meekly out … we would not be bothered by it again.

Lay a 1931 release beside one from 1939. The difference is astonishing, like a steam engine beside the Super Chief. I asked Conrad Lane if he knew a year wherein movies really seemed better than ever. He said that for him, 1939 came a closest. Things like The Wizard of Oz, Gunga Din, and especially Gone With The Wind, suggested a whole new game, or art form, was afoot. GWTW was, for his generation, filmgoing at a new summit. If there had ever been anything finer, then show us, all of 30’s to that point mere growth years, a reach for levels Hollywood now could grasp. Polish alone seemed to bear this out. Warners tried recapture of 1954's reissue success of Little Caesar with The Public Enemy (both from 1931) by test ballooning The Roaring Twenties with Smart Money (1939 and 1931 respectively). The latter pair failed, and I wonder if that was due to contrast so alarming, The Roaring Twenties a chrome-plate model of formula efficiency, Smart Money a hopeless creak made so by mere eight years that had passed between it and The Roaring Twenties. Movies, especially “A” ones, had taken on a soulless sheen, perfection something audiences presumably wanted … until they got it. Wine too fine can be indigestible. An All This and Heaven Too or 1940's Waterloo Bridge told stories pre-coders might have woven in half the time with twice as much verve. Can too high gloss blind? Hollywood output was better only in a surface sense, “production values” well-named for giving what seemed a greater value for our admission dollar. To be overproduced was often an asset. You’d not reserve a seat for less than a leviathan to look at. Being respected became preferable to being enjoyed. Crowds trance-walking out of For Whom The Bell Tolls were less banqueted than bludgeoned. If this was movies being better, what would a future bring?

Collector/historian Marty Kearns used to cart 16mm prints to old folk homes during the 70/80’s where he would set up a screen and give shows he thought residents would enjoy. Being as how seniors, and a lot of others, carp always that movies aren’t as good as they used to be, Marty figured they would want 30/40’s fare. No, they chose 50’s, not so long ago at the time and in fact more a coming-of-age era for Marty than for elder crowd he played to. Proof again that lots don’t like film to go back too far even in their own lifetime (cue my mother’s dismiss of Gone With The Wind after taking me to the ’68 reissue). Conrad tells of residents to a man/woman in his retirement facility saying movies were not like they used to be, but would they necessarily want to re-watch movies they used to watch? Seems everyone that lived since 1900 got around to declaring that films aren't what they were. Guess this comes under umbrella of ultra-stating the obvious, but who wants movies, or any aspect of life, to stay a rigid same? (Don’t answer, no doubt lots do, including me sometimes). I’ll opt for status quo in terms of keeping alive, and past that, minor accommodations like continued electricity and Internet not fritzing out.

With war’s end came a year (1946) where grosses, if not quality, set a higher than ever bar. Trouble was sensed by those that knew returned service personnel had things on their mind other than going to shows. Gilbert Seldes said we’d grow out of films by age 20 --- it had always been that way --- by the late 40’s, you’d think everybody had just turned 20. An experience for Conrad summed things up so far as illusion of movies improving, let alone being best-ever. He went to see Whispering Smith in early ’49, was put way off by plummet from standards earlier set, distance since fine westerns like Dodge City, Stagecoach, and Jesse James a yawning chasm despite only ten years gone. So concerned was Conrad that he wrote an article detailing the malaise, submitted it to Collier’s, but how many mags, especially those reliant on industry ads, bit hands that fed them? Much rode on what age you were when movies became meaningful. Chances are a boy turning twelve in 1948-49 found Whispering Smith plenty swell, as what did he know from Dodge City? Conrad by then was eighteen, sensed movies headed down, rather than up, slopes. Hope sprang eternal, however. He’d not be one of those who dropped films in favor of other recreations. Conrad cheer-led for This Is Cinerama, inveigled friends to join him on four at-least occasions when he saw it in Frisco. If “Better” was defined on wow factor alone, then Cinerama was the show to beat, even if it was less movie than circus attraction. The studios tried getting in front of 50’s slump by allied flag-raise of “Movies Are Better Than Ever,” joint millions spent to put across that doubtful message, at least to counter conviction that no, they were actually worse than ever. Either way, most of whoever went in good old days weren’t going anymore, movies, if an urge, one to be satisfied on new-acquired TV’s.

Did anyone exit Bwana Devil with renewed hope for movies? Cinemascope and stereo were a jolt to senses, but Fox rental figures at record highs from late 1953 and through ’54 gave way to ice formed by 1955. Few kidded themselves that films would do more than tread water, if that. Old movies were showing up on television to show up new movies. Great films were referred to in past tense. Attitude adjustment came in spades that was nostalgia for how we were entertained better back in respective day. Local channels said outright that Movies Were Worser Than Ever, Chicago’s WGN initiating a long-run series (1975-1985) frankly called “When Movies Were Movies,” as in they really were not anymore. Shifts in style with the 60’s, deepening in the 70’s, alienated many accustomed to sameness. For them, oldness was comforting, younger folk caring less if movies swam or sunk. Priorities were changed, and who could you blame for that? Seemed my own peer group was more into rock concerts or hemp harvesting. Friend at college: Hey John, want me to pick you up a dime bag on the frat hall upstairs? Me: Heck no, Roy. $10 is 7.69% of $130 I need for a bootleg Black Cat on 16mm!” So really, who was the odd duck here? Certainly not Roy. Whether movies were better than ever was no longer a point worth debating, for who felt strongly either way? Anyone who loved film carved out their own preferred era and stayed within it. For me, it was silent, or 30/40’s. By the 80’s, I sort of let in the 50’s, the 60’s barely OK because I had seen a number of those first-run. Hard to recall a last time watching anything from the 80’s, and whatever has been revisited after that, well, I forget. In the end, it is all so personal, and who can be expected to defend a stance based upon that?


Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

In the end, it is all so personal, and who can be expected to defend a stance based upon that?

Bravo. A tagline for the ages, and it sums up the experience of every viewer, collector, and fan.

7:53 AM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Anecdote: My father was born in the silent era, and the family ran a movie theater in Minneota, Minnesota (think Lake Wobegon). Mom was old enough to only remember talkies. Once I got my parents a VHS of Mary Pickford in "My Best Girl", a pleasantly silly romance of nice shopgirl and boss's son pretending to be poor. They enjoyed it, but Mom reported that throughout, Dad kept assuring her most films of that period were far more mature and intelligent.

Having managed to see a fair amount of 1920s product, I suspect "My Best Girl" is in fact closer to the mean. Recently viewed a couple of Colleen Moore films, and while she was appealing and production was slick, the movies were formula at best; mere outlines of formula at worst.

I've grown fond of product from the days when Hollywood worked like McDonald's: They knew the customers would show up so long as they didn't actually make them sick. And there was no real need to differentiate this week's Big Mac from last week's, aside from making it fresher. In fact, the latest Abbott and Costello, or Bob Hope, or Martin and Lewis had better include all the specific ingredients as the last one. There's something to be said for a movie or cartoon or short that promises little and delivers same, not tying up your whole brain.

1:37 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Growing up, my local TV stations never seemed to run anything made before 1940 or later, which irritated me to no end. For some reason, 1935 was my cut-off year as far as interest was concerned. And while "The Roaring Twenties" and "White Heat" are a fine evening's entertainment, Cagney's obscure 1931-1935 releases are terrific fun. Like you said, the pre-codes could tell the same story in half the time. 70 to 75 minutes is the ideal running time for me.

Thanks to TCM, I've widened my movie decade choices, and discovered first rate product from 1940-1959. Who'd have thought? I've also caught up on 1970s movies I missed the first time around, thanks to being an adolescent then. Although I did see "Dog Say Afternoon" on its original release; it was the first time I thought that movies could be more than mere entertainment.

The RCA TV ad you posted reminds me of the series that switched to color -- Andy Griffith and Man from UNCLE to name to -- were never as good as they were in black & white.

One more thing. I love old movies more than anybody but you. But I couldn't watch more than the first ten minutes of Mary Pickford's "Coquette" without turning it off, never to try it on for size again. Surely that moviw can't be better than her silents, can it?

2:53 PM  
Blogger Beowulf said...'s "Dog Say Bark."

4:54 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer feels the love for nickelodeon shorts:

I understand where you are coming from, with your appreciation of nickelodeon one-reelers. Years ago, the Pennsylvania Academy of Music in Philadelphia had a showing of films D. W. Griffith made for Biograph. The 16 mm prints were passable in quality but the setting was miserable. Sunlight seeped past the window blinds, the projector mechanism clattered off the plaster walls, and there was no musical accompaniment, just the pure, raw images of the films.

They were fascinating.

As you put it, each one was like a fable. “A Corner in Wheat,” “The New York Hat,” The Musketeers of Pig Alley”—about a dozen in all—and each one telling a story drawn from some part of the human condition. Greed, lust, envy, yearning, and, yes, love, all captured with an immediacy that reached out to me despite the years that had passed since they were made. Of course, I noticed how differently the characters were dressed from me, or the way they moved, or their manners or the underlying social mores. They were no less human for that. My own life could appear within such a frame, if there was someone with the same skill and understanding of the human heart as this first great master of the film.

I imagine the original audience for these pictures were enthralled, looking at the screen and seeing with wonder something very much like themselves.

6:30 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

I've gotta take a second look at my comments before posting.

9:54 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

There's been an internet meme of, name movies you've seen more than 5 times. What amazes me is how many people have seen movies that I was sort of ennh, not bad about. Broadcast News was all right, but 5+ times? Is Zoolander so hilarious you'd sit through it five times? (Okay, I might be getting close with Talladega Nights.) Anyway, given infinite choices today, who feels the need to see anything five times, even things you really liked? For me, a second reviewings to savor top moments or share with one of my kids is the most a movie can hope for.

A great find for me last year was The Devil and Miss Jones, a big hearted comedy with Jean Arthur at her most winsome, but I find it hard to calculate remaining years and expect four more viewings to happen in my lifetime. It's just not the world where we all went to see Blazing Saddles every time it turned up again at a theater, because what better choice could we have for a Tuesday night?

11:02 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Ohhhh, now the door is open about "movies you've seen more than five times." Every Laurel & Hardy picture, for sure. My personal record is for their silent short TWO TARS, which I have seen some 1,300 times. (Six prints over five years -- I was a projectionist!)

Funny thing, I saw their feature BLOCK-HEADS in a theater where half the audience were Laurel & Hardy fans and the other half were general admissions. The place was packed, and of course the fans knew the movie very well, but the non-fans were laughing like crazy and the effect was contagious. Even the diehards who had seen the movie umpteen times just let go and laughed at everything. Wonderful experience.

7:32 AM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

The way that movies sought to be "the biggest and best ever" in the 1970s and later was partly mere advertising puffery, and partly an attempt to draw their audiences back by providing what movies alone could provide: grand and spectacular action on a large screen, which has always and ever been expensive to produce if its desired effect on the ever-more-sophisticated cinema audience was to be achieved. Part of the movie audience, and perhaps a large part of it (and I admit to being a part of that part) wants ever-new and ever more spectacular special effects from our ever-new and ever-better film production technologies, and is quite willing to pay for it: that's the lesson I draw from the continuing popularity of sci-fi and action movies wherein the laws of physics are routinely shown being spectacularly violated. I also note that most of the top-grossing action films now play first run in the cinemas in 3-D, which enhances those latest and greatest special effects.
If however the audio-visual special effects aren't the absolute latest cutting-edge effects, never before seen, there had better be some plot elements, maybe even a story, that makes the film otherwise worthwhile: I think cinema audiences won't go to the cinema just for special effects alone unless those really are of the never-before-seen type, as was the case with '2001: A Space Odyssey' and the pre-Disney George Lucas-produced 'Star Wars' movies.

9:26 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Older times and movies and stars...sigh.

For the umpteenth time: "Who is Steve McQueen?" "Get me Steve McQueen." "Get me a young Steve McQueen." "Who is Steve McQueen."

Years ago our friend Ed Sullivan had to put up with people reacting humorously to his name. Later, we would say it to someone and draw a blank stare.

When I first showed PSYCHO to my classes, people laughed near the end when Ted Knight appeared in a small role as deputy in the jailhouse. "Hey, that's Ted Baxter from Mary Tyler Moore!" A few years later no one noticed him. Back to obscurity.

Old: "Hey, did you know Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings?"
New: "Who is Paul McCartney?"

11:12 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer remembers going to movies with his parents, and other things:

I shall always regret that I never really talked to my parents or grandparents about their movie-going experiences. What I seek out now with a sense of wonder and discovery was part of their everyday lives. They could have told me so much, and if the movies were only some commonplace experience for them, they could have also told me why that was so.

My mother did recount for me one of her favorite experiences as a young woman, of going to Chicago from time to time to see a show with her sisters and their friends. They would take the Electric Train from Gary--in itself a thrill--in time for a matinee at one of the downtown Chicago theaters. There would be a program of short subjects, maybe a cartoon, a newsreel, the feature, and a stage show with dancers or a big band. Afterwards, they would stop to have ice cream at a drug store fountain and then return by train to Gary.

It still sounds like a lot of fun, and I imagine that the movies had a special appeal for her then, given the snapshots I still have of her lounging in movie star poses probably copied from pictures in the fan magazines.

I do have an idea of the sort of movies my mother and father sought out after when were young marrieds, because they often took my sister and me with them, probably to avoid having to hire a baby sitter. The earliest ones I remember were "Moby Dick," "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral," "Bridge Over the River Kwai," "Take the High Ground," and "The Hanging Tree," So, this was serious adult fare of the time, and yet it was probably no more than an evening out for them and the movies themselves only entertainment.

Readers of this blog will not be unfamiliar with the notion of movies as entertainment, or a time when their importance in that regard was far greater than it is now. But I never asked them, so now it would only be speculation on my part, as to what the movies meant to them.

Very late in my mother's life, my wife and I would take her on New Year's Eve to see a picture. One of the last was a version of W. Somerset Maugham's "The Painted Veil," about an illicit affair in 1920s China during a cholera epidemic, with much physical and emotional anguish. As we were leaving the theater, she paused and then said, "You know, there weren't a lot of laughs in that one."

I do think that she could have told me quite a bit.

3:32 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

I love the 1960's sword 'n' sandal trailers when the narrator screams, "NEVER BEFORE!"

7:40 AM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

My late parents would never watch a movie they had already seen once. No repeats was their policy. In that, I suppose they were like most main street movie theaters were back then - once a movie had played, it never came back.
They lived into their nineties, but as far as I know they never re-watched any movie, ever - if they had seen it before, they wouldn't go to see it again, and if it was on TV they would change the channel or turn off the set and go do something else with their time.
They'd go out to the movies once in a while, before the vicissitudes of age prevented them from getting out and about, and the only time I can ever recall either of them expressing an opinion as to what they had seen was but once, when I was a very young child, one of my elder siblings asked them in my presence how they had liked the movie they had just come home from seeing, that movie being the Roman Polanski film "Chinatown".
I remember my mother saying that she hadn't liked it - she felt it was, by implication from its closing lines of dialogue, insulting to the Chinese people living in the USA.
And now that I've seen the film, I agree with her.

10:34 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Really? Wow.

2:25 PM  
Blogger MikeD said...

Mike Cline; I can hear that in my head now. It sounds like Art Gilmore, voice of Highway Patrol.

3:34 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

"The Devil and Miss Jones" is one of those movies that might be much better known but for an infamous porn film with almost the same title. Embarrassing moments at the video store (was the Jean Arthur movie ever on VHS?), and probably a few outraged phone calls to any revival house or TV station that advertised it. Not a perfect comedy, but oddly timely in its story of a CEO (Charles Coburn) who becomes an Undercover Boss in a department store. Much of the film centers on his friendship with labor activist Arthur (each sees the other as somebody who needs help), but it also gives Coburn an age-appropriate romance (Spring Byington) and even a rival.

Speaking of films that were huge firsts in their day, "Tron" holds up better than its technologically superior sequel and spinoffs. The actual computer animation was limited, and a lot of effects were achieved by mechanical and optical means. And the story was, of course, as simple as an early computer game. But it DID deliver a look and feel we hadn't seen before, one that hasn't been run into the ground by imitators. Ironically, CGI soon became too good to bother. By the time the sequel happened, CGI visuals in and of themselves no longer dazzled. Now it was easy spectacle and the usual clutter of "world-building" that goes into every would-be franchise.

Back in the day, James Bond always Saved the World, period. There was, by current standards, minimal continuity between films and we never worried whether the stakes were higher or the villain more objectively dangerous. It was enough that each film was Bigger and managed some sort of novelty: a new exotic locale, a more outrageous stunt, a smirkier name for a Bond girl. Now, after a nifty run of movies that led to the first Avengers, the Marvel movies are a convoluted soap opera that may ultimately lose audiences who haven't committed to seeing every single one of them. And what do you after two outsized all-star epics where they Save the Entire Universe and Time-Space Continuum? Going from that to picking off mad scientists and master criminals, even ones capable of wrecking the planet, is a comedown.

3:59 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

My kids loved Tron when they saw it c. 2012, it's retro now and thus cool to them, like getting out my Apple Iic and playing Lode Runner.

To echo so many here, movies are all so huge now that promising hugeness is more threat than promise-- an even bigger Pirates of the Caribbean movie, is there enough mass in the universe to allow that to be manufactured? And what would the running time have to be, nine hours? The last thing that wowed me with scale and scope was probably the Lord of the Rings movies, maybe half a point to Interstellar. But by and large I much prefer economical cleverness these days to blowing up cities and annihilating an army of thousands, because those are just too easy. Use the step and repeat pulldown.

11:37 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

I remember the Bonds mentioned by GPS as not being very good - 'Live And Let Die' and 'The Man With The Golden Gun' - were both ballyhooed at the time for their "first time ever on screen" vehicle stunts, the first for its boat races through the swamps of Louisiana and the second for a "Helldriver"-style twisty car jump, never before attempted.

As to my problem with 'Chinatown', it is found in its last line of dialogue (and it is the only problem I have with that very well-made film) which implies that corruption and evil are acceptable, or at least somehow the natural norm, in Chinatown, and furthermore, that there's nothing to be done about it.
What if instead of "Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown", the line was "Forget it Jake, it's Harlem", or "Forget it Jake, it's South-Central"? The racism would perhaps become more apparent; and although the line with its built-in racist implication is being voiced by a cop whom we have just seen execute an innocent woman, the film in no way indicates its disagreement with the sentiment he expresses.
I guess the film itself may not be racist, as it can be argued that the killer cop, the speaker of the line under discussion, is a racist character, and so he is simply uttering a statement reflecting his racist sentiments, the line thus being appropriate for the character being portrayed - and it is true that there is nothing in the rest of the film that puts down Chinese people - but that character's status as a racist isn't made clear in the film, and this line is what people carry out of the cinema with them and remember. There's nothing to be done about injustice and corruption in Chinatown, you say? We understand, do we?

To be truthful, though, my mother didn't voice any of this, I only remember her saying "I am ashamed to think of what Chinese people would make of that movie".

7:24 AM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

As a tango guy I can say that I prefer the noisier pre 1952 (when magnetic tape was introduced for masters) although there are still good things produced up until the early 60s. Then, despite high fidelity and stereo sound, all the artists were been defeated in sales by the reissues of their own 78rpm discs. This is so true that up to this day I actually don't care about stereo sound and high fidelity.

With movies a lot of these feels the same. I usually prefer the early work of certain stars than to the later one when they were already veterans. But I usually care more about filmmakers than actors these days.

Going to see something at a theater had become a very annoying experience with the pandemic and now with the streaming services and I actually don't care about what is released and when I do see something that is brand new I feel very disappointed. When I was watching In the Heights on HBO Max a few days ago I didn't like the movie, and it made me think about one Carlos Gardel movies for Paramount that is not among his best but it also takes place in New York, El tango en Broadway: it has some unfortunate sequences but at least his singing compensates a lot.

Watching old movies on television nowadays is harder, not only because TCM's stupidity to be overpriced in order to keep afloat lousy sport channels that don't deserve to exist, but I don't have patience for the same kind of repeated stuff. As a spectator, I know that the same kind of stories are repeated from the past and many times the filmmakers don't even know the existence of a previous film. Sometimes we learn about a certain title that has been or will be remade, but I usually don't want to watch something like that. My wife took me to Spielberg's War of the Worlds and I didn't like it as I didn't like the older film by George Pal.

The offerings available either by subscription or free are not appealing anymore. I remember that I grew up until I was 25 at least watching repeats of the same movies on the television Saturday or Sunday movie marathons (originally created to compete against the omnibus shows) and certain titles were rotated so many times that I don't care if today those are restored and available in BlueRay.

However, I still have fond memories of Comedy Capers, which I have been able to see by courtesy of people from Brazil and I even fixed some videos that they uploaded as I remember seeing them in Argentina. I would prefer those shorts all the time as well as their original versions so I can compare the changes that were done at the time.

9:48 PM  
Blogger antoniod said...

Now, 50s Film Noir did have even more bite and realism than it's 40s counterparts, but such films tended not to get as much advertising space in newspapers as color musicals did, and weren't as popular on afternoon TV as, say, THE DAUGHTER OF ROSIE O'GRADY, so the 50s tended to be misremembered as an era of sugary dross, not THE BIG KNIFE or ACE IN THE HOLE.

7:04 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

I wasn't there, but to borrow a thought from Charles Dickens, I figure the 1950s were like the 2010s, or the 1850s, or the 1790s. I'll let Dickens himself take the floor with his opening lines of 'A Tale Of Two Cities' first published in 1859, 162 years ago now:

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

9:19 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

We got our first TV set when I was eight years old. Those were not "lost" years--I often visited our neighbors to see their sets and catch old westerns and Howdy Doody. That 1966 RCA color set is the right year for our first color console. It MAY have been a Zenith, however.
In central/western PA it was known as a "keller" TV.

3:06 PM  

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