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Monday, September 04, 2023

Stills That Speak #2


STS: The Great Audience, The Wonderful Thing, Attack of the Crab Monsters, and Atragon

THE GREAT AUDIENCE --- Infinitude might be defined as ways an audience can behave badly, carry-on digital doo-dads but latter means by which watchers torment one another. Is this what emptied cinemas? I’ve barely attended since cells became prime menace, not my reason for quitting, though it will do for starter. Is concentrating on any movie a past thing? Television as forum for film was doomed from outset, the more where commercial breaks were rife. Home alone with your show permits full absorption, but what of the “audience experience”? Would you sit content among the jammed lot shown here? OMG, think of the germs. People didn’t used to worry so much about such things, so elders claim. I on the other hand would expect to exit such auditora with whooping cough at least --- and what about the smell? Don’t forget many places did not have air-conditioning until well after the war, seats off Iron Maiden blueprint before “luxury” or rocking-chairs protected rears from insult of hard surface. Remember feet and legs violating sanctity of space? I’ve been kicked like by mules from behind, had wad-up wrappers whizz past or upon me. Movie theatres --- who needs them? Some would appear to, says attendance to Barbie and isolated others. We walked up from “The Dispensary” (drug store converted to a restaurant) for peek into the Liberty, still (and surprisingly) operative. I spoke with the popcorn attendant and he invited us to peep into one of twin screen rooms (the Liberty was bisected in 1975 and you may imagine result). There was scant attendance for Barbie, her largely played out after initial weekend, several frames ago. I knew the glimpse would be bittersweet so should have spared myself. Who’s for going back to stuffed tuna cans? I'll take vanilla that is home viewing, Barbie perhaps the better for wait till gift that is streaming.

THE WONDERFUL THING (1921) --- Still await melodrama gaining respect. Who’s to say The Wonderful Thing is not a wonderful thing? I assumed it lost before reading online that The Wonderful Thing is “abysmal,” so perhaps it is extant. Was problem Norma Talmadge as “the daughter of a hog farmer”? We, at least me, might prefer her some other way, image here enough to sum up what is best about The Wonderful Thing. I’m for Norma in regal pose, ordering out what appears to be a loathed creditor. “You’re paid in full. Go!” says she, as a cowed (presumed) husband avoids either’s sightline. Did the miser in jodhpurs stop enroute to fox hunting? Had he suggested other means by which Norma might square the debt? It could explain her high moral dudgeon. Assuming that's the case, the husband should deck him or at least be at point of doing so, else Norma repair back to the hog farm. I admire acting such as Ms. Talmadge engages here. There should be more such today. Won’t reiterate how her films are shamefully ignored, because then we’re obliged to mention Gloria Swanson, Billie Dove, Corinne Griffith, plenty more who silently emoted and lived to see work not just fade away, but rot so. No one wanted talk-less movies once talk came, save some of slapstick they figured for fun minus caring what anyone on screen said. Melodrama stood for worst excess of the era unless Chaney or maybe Garbo came with it. Lamps shined seasons back when Beyond the Rocks surfaced, more for Valentino than Gloria Swanson. I see old newspaper ads and long for alleged 90% of silents since decomposed. Abysmal or not, surely they merit at least one sit.

--- Ann asked what I watched at the Parkland with my popcorn. “Something with unexpected depth, a surprisingly complex narrative that fully immersed me for 63 minutes,” said I. "Well, what was it?" replied she. Attack of the Crab Monsters … at which point I was invited to vacate her presence. Oh, ye all of such little faith who are yet to know Attack of the Crab Monsters for quality it embodies. My ardor grows with each watch. Startling for you-are-there quality is this color capture of Pamela Duncan fronting a woebegone crab that looks run over by a truck en route to Bronson Caves where this crew has gathered. Note the Hollywood sign in smog-free distance. When did that atmospheric condition become a problem for Los Angeles? Maybe there was smog here and I’m not seeing it. California was a fun place to visit but I'll (again) take vanilla that is NC. Did they construct a single crab and have him/her play all the other crabs? I never saw two in a same frame so am convinced that yes, such was (half) measure taken. Credit Roger Corman as capable director who did better work than anyone else could at his speed. Richard Garland had a shifty and somewhat Ray Danton thing going. Beverly Garland was married to Richard (hence her last name), said one day he just split and she never knew why. How could gals lovely as Beverly or Julie Adams rely on guys like Richard and Ray? On the other hand, there were times I sought to be shifty, though not blessed with Richard/Ray’s cruel good looks, came a cropper. Was it a passerby fan who got this snap of Crab and crew? If so, we owe that onlooker our eternal gratitude.

ATRAGON (1963) --- I doctored this image on Photoshop, removing graphics AIP-imposed. Atragon was Toho-made but had no monsters but for one seen briefly undersea and easily disposed of, reminiscent of Reptilicus which then or now was not necessarily a good thing. Colonel Forehand gave me the pressbook for Atragon and I fell hard for Reynold Brown’s artwork, a super submarine that drills through rock and flies besides. Monsters to boot would be mere window dressing. Atragon had a mid-week date at the Liberty which was somewhat prestigious. I saw it midst heartache of an after school live performance (Hansel and Gretel) which the girl of my fifth-grade dreams chose to attend with a rival. Well, at least I got to see Atragon and they did not, so there. Fact is, a great many others missed Atragon as well, it earning but $222,000 in domestic rentals from 4778 engagements, very poor indeed for a color AIP. I’m guessing a dearth of dinosaurs did it in, or maybe Toho imports were losing their fizz. I enjoyed Atragon and still do, a final third especially good. Lost civilization stuff reminded me of The Mole People at the time, having seen that at the Liberty shortly before Atragon showed up. We can acquire Atragon on DVD, just not the AIP-released version, which I prefer for its being what unspooled before awestruck boyhood eyes. As was case with others Jim and Sam brought across, there were changes, cuts, and perhaps a new score grafted onto Atragon. The Japanese original is fine, but this is one time I’d opt for bastardized AIPillaging seen in ’64. 


Blogger John McElwee said...

Richard M. Roberts gushes on about Pamela Duncan and other aspects of ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS, which surprise to many including myself was not an AIP picture, but an Allied Artists one. With regard "blue haze," I live among foothills of the Blue Ridge Parkway, where we don't know from blue haze, or, thanks be, smog.


Your post on ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS has now made you an official card-carrying film nerd: you gush on about the papier-mache and chicken-wire crab and the Hollywood Sign in the background (wondering when smog came to Los Angeles, what do you think that blue haze diffusing the sign in that picture is?) and barely make mention of the only thing my eyes see when I scan that shot: Pamela Duncan in a swimsuit!!!!!

"unexpected depth, a surprisingly complex narrative that fully immersed me for 63 minutes,” ? All I ever have fondly recalled from that good-old AIP time killer is that Pamela Duncan gives Julie Adams in CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON a run for the money for the best performance spent mostly in a swimsuit. She was a honey, and sadly didn't have the career she should have had, but she livens up a lot of late 50's-early 60's television and was still a lively old lady in her last appearance in Chuck Braverman's CURTAIN CALL (2000) when she was living in the Actors Fund Nursing home on the East Coast.

Apart from Pamela, CRAB MONSTERS is another solid AIP bit of fun, but I don't think it is really going for that much depth, Corman and screenwriter Charles B. Griffith do their usual job of finding interesting ways to keep from having to show the silly looking monster as much as possible and they do a great job with that. And also as usual, Corman has good actors who are able to sell the material, something that always kept the AIP product a cut above a lot of the other drive-in dross from the late 50's.

I always figured they had to add MONSTERS to the title, because ATTACK OF THE CRABS brought a whole new meaning to the film.


8:57 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

It took Covid to finally shake up our theater going habits. In the 90's and early 2000's we had a pretty steady Friday night date with another couple, almost always finding something to watch on the big screen. By the twenty-teens the routine had shifted and now we, that couple and another pair of marrieds would just do dinner out on Friday, usually just pizza or sandwiches. But Jean and I still took in a movie at least twice a month. Comes the pandemic and everything comes to a stop. Now the health-scare is ebbing but streaming, big screen TVs, not to mention big ticket prices make every visit to the multi-plex a major decision ('can't we just catch this one at home?')

This summer we did see a few at the theater. Retirement means catching the must-sees on matinees. The afternoon audiences for BARBIE, OPPENHIEMER and ASTEROID CITY were tiny, but that last one was in a restored 40's era theater (our town actually has two!)

Our two evening visits this summer were both one-night-only oldies at the small independent; HARD DAY'S NIGHT and PEEWEE'S BIG ADVENTURE and, yes, both shows packed.

That ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS shot is a knock-out! Hard to imagine that movie was ever shot in a full color world! I believe the rule of thumb as to Roger Corman's 50's output is anything released through AIP was probably a union shoot. The non-union stuff was through Filmgroup or some other entity.

11:43 AM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Apologies to those who've encountered some variant of this rant before.

Cinemas used to be theaters. Sure, they weren't all downtown palaces and Cinerama domes, but most humble neighborhood house had a bit of showmanship about it. Neon marquee, posters, and classic snack bar. The screen was framed by at least a simulation of a stage, often with functioning curtains. And it was generally located within a short walk of coffee shops and other good-enough eateries, making for a nice evening out once you found a parking space.

Now we have gigaplexes that function like airports, beginning with showtimes on what looks like a departure schedule. Buy your ticket, have your refreshments rung up in a 7-11 sized snackery, then report to a numbered door. Screenings for different films are continuously beginning and ending, so there's not that buzz of everybody anticipating a shared entertainment.

It's less Going to a Show than consuming fast food. And perfectly suited for movies that ARE fast food. They use the word Franchise for a reason.

The paradox is that access to films, new and old, has increased exponentially as the opportunities to see them in a proper Theater has steadily declined. Granted, there's something to be said for experiencing movies, shorts, and cartoons without simultaneously experiencing the Depression, WWII, the Cold War and the rest.

Well, that's out of my system for a while. Now to take a walk and complain to strangers about lower back pain.

4:44 PM  
Blogger William Ferry said...

I'm old enough to remember The Great Twinning (or Triplexing) of the 70s and 80s. Sad memories of the once mighty Loew's State in Jersey City, and being once in the former balcony. It looked as if someone jerry rigged the project following a weekend visit to the Home Depot. Happily, it has since been restored to its full glory. Side note: I also remember riding the NY bound PATH train from Journal Square; you could still make out the painted ad covering the entire outside wall of the theater, to wit:


5:27 PM  
Blogger Ed Watz said...

William Ferry's post reminded me how the Loew's State in Jersey City was indeed beautifully restored in the early 2000s, when the missus and I attended a showing of WAY OUT WEST, COME CLEAN, and Charley Chase's FOUR PARTS in beautifully restored 35mm prints. A friend of my wife's visiting from Australia was so overwhelmed by the total experience - Stan, Ollie, Charley, the 1929 movie palace - and remarked, "It's so wonderful I could cry!" The Loew's classic art deco look made me feel as though Tiny Sandford was going to march down the aisle with a carafe of water, to stifle audience hiccups.

Incidentally, the El train I used to take to work from Queens to Brooklyn passed by the old Bushwick Theater, where you could still make out the painted sign on the wall:


3:58 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

I saw the first ever matinee at the new CINEMAS in Dead Center PA back in, I think, 1972. It starred Lee Marvin in POINT BLANK. Years later it became a five-screen theater. In winter, the first theatre was too hot; the second was warm; the third was just right; the fourth cool; and the fifth was cold. It just reversed in the summer.

9:28 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

The best melodrama in movies circa 1925-1935 can be quite moving; there's nothing cynical or ironic about it. If one is open to them, they can touch your emotions in a way few, if any, contemporary movies can.

As for the moviegoing experience... forget it. My only exceptions of the last few years were "Oppenheimer" in IMAX and "The Irishman" at a Broadway house. I knew the audiences would be respectful, and they were. Otherwise, a nice HDTV and a good dinner is my favorite way to watch a movie, new or old. ("Oppenheimer" doesn't need to be seen in IMAX, by the way.)

12:02 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Greenbriar's favorite Blu-Ray reviewer and columnist Glenn Erickson supplies on-the-spot insights re smog over Hollywood, then and now:

Hi John —

Enjoyed your today (9-05) post … especially the reminisces of the AIP and AA pix.

In the (colorized) photo from CRAB MONSTERS, it’s probably Los Angeles haze that’s softening the Hollywood sign. That still socks in here in June, sometimes leaving semi-overcast days when we want the Endless Surfing Summer to begin (for the surfer types, of course).

But also, everything I read tells me that Los Angeles had a HORRIBLE smog problem in the 1950s. Raymond Chandler described it around 1950 as totally choking. There were thousands of smoke-spewing little factories in the metropolitan era — by 1954 they were cracking down on them and moving them out. Do you remember the heist movie PLUNDER ROAD? We see a little smelting operation given a ‘smog ticket’ for operating at the wrong time, or something.

They really cleaned this place up well — for the first two days after a good rain or wind it is really beautiful — you can not only see the Hollywood Sign clear as a bell from my house 1.7 miles away, you can see the mountains behind, sometimes with snow on them.

Then, when friends like Bill Shaffer visit, we’re always in the middle of hazy or smoggy days …

Yes, I believe that NC is God’s Country for weather —

Thanks for the fun articles.


1:00 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

I knew my theatre going days were numbered the night I attended a showing of the Jeff Bridges TRUE GRIT. My town has a nice theatre...14 screens (all very large), the smallest house is 250, so no closets disguised as auditoriums.

The house was full for TRUE GRIT the night I went.

The idiot sitting to my left spent the entire showing texting someone about nearly every scene in the movie (as it happened). The bright light from his cell phone could have been mounted atop a lighthouse and saved countless ships from smashing into the rocks.

After this about all I saw at Tinsletown (yep, that's the name of the place), were select TCM revivals.

My last trip was a Sunday afternoon viewing of TCM's KING KONG (1933). This was March 2020. Five days later, our $^#$%$ Governor shut down North Carolina for over a year.

When things thawed out and businesses re-opened, I decided I didn't need to return to theatre going. After all, I have a nice projection theatre in my home. Time for the movies I care about to come to me.

For someone who was born into the theatre business, grew up in the theatre business, was an exhibitor for seven movie theatre days ended that March 2020 Sunday watching KK & FAY.

Actually, a pretty damn good way to put it all to bed.

1:24 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

We stopped going out to theatres back in 1993 for health reasons, due to limited mobility and all that. But there's no doubt that the venue and the people you were with when you first saw a movie will always influence the memory of it - at least so it is for me.

That said, there's one thing about going out to the movies which I no longer have to put up with in my own "little theatre" - and that is the constant presence of a red illuminated "EXIT" sign; I know that public safety requires its constant display in darkened public venues, but I have nevertheless always resented its light competing with and distracting from the light reflected from the screen.

3:42 PM  
Blogger MikeD said...

Backyard incinerators where people burned their trash show up in My Three Sons, Highway Patrol, Ozzie and Harriet and a Charley Chase comedy where the ash man comes by to empty cans of ashes left on the curb. I don't know when people stopped using them, but I would imagine they didn't help the smog problem.

9:22 AM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Filmfanman: The Granada in Morgan Hill had the usual dull red EXIT sign to the right of the screen. Plus a clock with an illuminated white face, encircled by GRANADA THEATER in glowing letters. The screen was big enough that it wasn't intrusive. As a kid who was usually there for a double feature, it was useful to glance and see how much movie was left before intermission and the next film. Always wondered why I never saw such clocks in any other film venues.

MikeD: Burning piles of leaves used to be a thing in the suburbs. Linus emptied wastebaskets into an incinerator in Peanuts. Raised in a rural area technically within city limits, we had a pit where we'd burn leaves and other yard waste; nobody ever collected it. That ended in the early 60s while I was still a kid, replaced by piling the leaves on tarps for a truck to vacuum up. Also remember when, before any real environmental movement, smog was at once a serious worry and a go-to punchline (see "What's Opera Doc?").

5:07 PM  
Blogger MikeD said...

Yeah, my dad used to burn leaves and dried grass clippings at the curb as did many fathers in the neighborhood. Then one day (in 1963-64?) someone from the town or maybe fire department stopped by and told him that burning leaves at the curb was no longer allowed. I guess they were then just put in the garbage can. Now landscapers just blow them into the street or neighboring properties. Mine go in the compost pile out back.

9:25 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said... experience with POINT BLANK was clearly in 1967, not 1972. As I said it was the first film ever shown in the new (and generically named) THE CINEMAS (two screens).

12:03 PM  

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