Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Alphabet Game: The Cinephile Edition, Pt. II

Hello, and welcome to The Alphabet Game, where I take a look at 26 different things in one common category. This edition is a second take on our very first Alphabet Game, the Cinephile Edition, Pt. II. Have fun.

A is for Awards Season - Ah, that wonderful time of the year when Hollywood begins patting itself on the back for a job well done. Many people bitch and complain about such self-congratulatory behaviour (Woody Allen has said they do nothing but give out awards in Hollywood - this from a guy who has won several Oscars) but I like it. Beginning in early December, traditionally with the National Board of Review announcing first (though both the NY and LA critics groups have tried to jump in first as of late) and culminating in February or March, with the biggie, the Academy Award, Hollywood Awards Season is a three month+ gala extravaganza. My lovely wife and I have been known to throw a hopping Oscar Party now and again. I've even taken to live Tweeting the event lately. The Oscars are sorta our Superbowl. haters be damned!

B is for Backlots - Nowadays everything is shot either on location somewhere or in a studio, in front of the all-powerful green screen. Even TV shows are becoming more and more an on location thing. But back in the day, the golden days of Hollywood yore, it was the studios and the backlots where most films were shot. Located (of course) behind the studios, one could walk through wonders, from a New York City street to a train station to a World War II foxhole to a small town street corner - all within a short walking distance from each other. I would love to be able to go back in time and walk this walk of the backlots of old Hollywood.

C is for The Cannon Group - Beginning in 1967 and dissolving in 1993, The Cannon Group, especially while under the ownership of Manahem Golan and Yoram Globus during the early 1980's, was known for buying up bottom-of-the-barrel scripts and making equally bottom-of-the-barrel films out of them. When the Cannon logo came up on your movie screen, you knew you were in for a great film.And yes, that statement was meant as sarcasm. Though Cannon did dip their toes into foreign and art films on occasion, they are mostly known for things such as Missing in Action, Delta Force, the Death Wish sequels (but not the original one, the actual good one) and the classic masterpiece, Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo. Yeah, that too may be sarcastic.

D is for De Palma!! - As a young cinephile, lo those many years ago, I never really took all that much heed toward Brian De Palma. Believing him to be a mere Hictchcock wannabe, I kinda blew him and his films off, in lieu of concentrating my cinematic studies on more respected auteurs. Boy what a silly goose I was. Over the years, I shed my film snobbery ways, and began to embrace the so-called kitschier side of cinephilia. Directors such as Douglas Sirk and Nicholas Ray, and of course, Mr. Brian De Palma. These days two of the auteur's films (Blow Out and Phantom of the Paradise) sit amongst my top 100 favourite films list (which can be viewed here, by the by) and I count many of his other films (Sisters, Scarface, Body Double, Dressed to Kill, Carrie, Carlito's Way, Femme Fatale, The Black Dahlia, Obsession, at least parts of The Untouchables and Casualties of War, and his early experimental films like Hi Mom! and Murder a la Mod) as favourites as well. It took my long enough, but here I finally am. Viva la De Palma!!

E is for the Eye Patch - For an industry built around visuals, there sure have been an unusual number of eye-patch wearing directors over time. You have the likes of John Ford, at least when he was older, Nick Ray, though his may have been just an affectation, and Raoul Walsh, who really did lose an eye, and even Andre de Toth, who made the first big 3D film, House of Wax, a film, thanks to his own eye patch, he could never actually see properly in 3-D. But even beyond all these guys, the best eye patch in Hollywood has got to be the one on the face of Fritz Lang. An eye patch on one eye and a monocle in the other. Just check him out in the pic right next to these words. Top that guys!

F is for Freaks - Not only one of my all time favourite horror films, but one of my all-time faves, no matter what genre. Tod Browning was a very underrated director both in his time and in hindsight. The man made a Hell of a lot of films, though many are long lost silents, and even though films such as The Unholy Three, The Devil-Doll, London After Midnight, his Dracula, and especially The Unknown (another of my all-time faves) are classics, or at least should be, it is the 1932 film, Freaks, that stands out as the filmmaker's best work. One of us, one of us!!! I'm proud to be one of them. Yeah!

G is for Guy Kibbee - Part of the Warner Brothers stock company of the 1930's (the studio's hey day, both pre and post code) the pudgy, rosy-cheeked Guy Kibbee was in pretty much every Warners film of the period. This may sem like hyperbole, but trust me, if you happen to be watching TCM some night and the 1930's styled Warners logo pops up, you can almost be guaranteed that you are about to see those aforementioned rosy-cheeks of the great Guy Kibbee. Hey, and the guy began his career entertaining on Mississippi riverboats as a younger man. Can't beat that. Go Guy, go!

H is for Hitchcocko-Hawksian - This term refers to a certain outlook in film criticism, that stems from the Auteur Theory (look it up if you don't know what the Auteur Theory is - I'll wait). Talking about early French critics like Godard and Truffaut, as well as America's bad boy, Peter Bogdanovich, the term Hitchcocko-Hawksian, combining the names of two of the greatest Hollywood auteurs, is also how I describe my own critical outlook. So much so that I even list it as my official political view on Facebook.

I is for Indie Film - For many years, movies meant Hollywood. Sure, there have always been indie films around. Basically everything made prior to the studio system coming into power in the late teens, can be considered independent cinema. There has also been many indie experimental cinema throughout the years, but it wasn't until the late 1980's and early 1990's, that indie cinema truly burst through. With filmmakers like Jarmusch, the Coen Brothers, Tarantino, Linklater, Anders, and others, the indie scene began to boom. Granted, in more recent days that line between indie cinema and studio financing has blurred quite a bit, but hey, we still have the hey day of American Indie Cinema, and the films that made it so special. Films like Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Slacker, Clerks, Dazed and Confused, Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing, Mystery Train, Night on Earth, etc. etc. etc.

J is for JLG - Speaking of the French New Wave (and we were back in the Hitchcocko-Hawksian section) the supposed king of that wave was a man called Jean Luc Godard, or JLG as we shall call him henceforth. Yeah, some may claim Truffaut as the king, which is why I used the descriptive supposed. Anyhoo, Godard was once one of the greatest directors around. From Breathless in 1960 to Week-end in 1967, he made pretty much nothing but great films, some even masterpieces. In the auteur's latter days (as in the last twenty years or so) he has turned his eye to experimental, non-narrative essay-like films. I must say I am not much of a fan of these latter day films (his latest one, in 3D no less, I have yet to see) but any guy who once made Contempt AND Alphaville, can get a pass in my book.

K is for Kevyn Knox - Yeah, that's right! I added myself to this post. Whatchya gonna do about it!? Seriously though, I include myself here as an example of that titular cinephile. But I don't think of myself as the typical snooty cinephile. I'm not the kinda cinephile who thinks Tarkovsky is a God and so-called B-movies are lesser creatures. Those are what we call film snobs. I have a friend like this. If it ain't in the canon, then it ain't worth watchin.! Sure, my favourite films list include canonical films such as Citizen Kane, Vertigo, City Lights, Taxi Driver, and so on, but it also has obscure Pre-Code films like Safe in Hell and The Last Flight, as well as more "pop" films like Blow Out and Blade Runner. Hell, I even have Dazed and Confused and Bogdanovich's Targets in there. So yeah, no film snobbery here. Did I mention Samson and Delilah was in there too?

L is for Linklater - Speaking of Howard Hawks (and again, we were back at the Letter H) one could say, and one has said, that Richard Linklater is the modern day Howard Hawks. Yeah, I have said that. Just as the great Hawks spread his abilities out of the entire spectrum of genres, from westerns to screwball comedies to buddy films to musicals to straight-up dramas, Linklater goes the way of multitudes of genres. Along with the westerns and comedies, Linklater has made coming of age films (the BEST coming of age film actually!!), romantic comedies, socially conscious films, experimental doo-dads, and even a couple of animated films. And the guy might even win an Oscar this year for Boyhood, his 12-years-in-the-making grand opus.

M is for Winsor McCay - The founding father of film animation, McCay began as a cartoonist, writing and drawing Little Nemo, one of the earliest newspaper comic strips back in 1905, before turning to the brand new film genre of animation. His Gertie the Dinosaur was one of the most beloved cartoons of the silent era. He also made one of my all-time favourite animated films, The Sinking of the Lusitania. Without McCay there would be no UB Iwerks, no Walt Disney, no Fleischer Brothers, no Walter Lantz, no Tex Avery. So there!

N is for Mike Nichols - As I was compiling this list, the news came that Mike Nichols had died. For those who don't know (and you really should), Nichols was the director of such films as The Graduate, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Catch-22, Carnal Knowledge, Silkwood, Working Girl, Primary Colors, Postcards From the Edge, and Closer. Pretty damn fine filmography if ya ask me. Farewell Mr. Nichols.

O is for Oklahoma! - When one thinks about the hey day of the Hollywood Musical, one invariably thinks about fun, brightly coloured musical numbers and inevitable happy endings. Sure, Oklahoma! has songs about surries with fringes on top and how the corn is as high as an elephant's eye, but the film also has Gordon MacRae trying to talk poor hapless Rod Steiger into hanging himself - and it's all done in song. Yeah, this musical has suicidal tendencies, fallen women, and even an actual death. Fun stuff indeed.

P is for Peg Entwistle - The tragic tale of poor Peggy Entwistle. The young stage actress had come to Hollywood in the early 1930's to try to break into the movie industry. In 1932 she got her first role in a film, a small role in the RKO picture, Thirteen Women. Alas, a few months before the film was released, Peg Entwistle climbed up Mt. Lee, made her way to the top of the H in the Hollywoodland sign, and leapt to her death. According to her friend Bette Davis, just beginning to make a name for herself at the time, Entwistle was on the verge of making it in the biz. Alas, poor Peggy Entwistle.

Q is for QT, aka Quentin Tarantino - Yeah baby! QT is in da house! There are some mighty rabid Tarantino haters out there. The guy seems to instill either a great love or a grand hatred in moviegoers. I personally love the guy. Back when I was running a place called Midtown Cinema, I used to have to mail back some of the 35mm prints we got in. yeah, that's right kids, 35mm prints. Anyhoo, when I would take these prints into the local Fed/Ex store, there was this lady working there who thought I was Quentin tarantino. I guess there's a slight resemblance, but only slight. No way should anyone think I am him, but nonetheless, this woman did indeed think I was him. Of course, I didn't help matters with my snide comments about working on the Kill Bill 3 script. Oh well.

R is for the Railroad in Film - The railroad in film goes back pretty much as far as film itself does. One of the first films ever shown to a paying audience was a film by the Lumiere Brothers, of a train entering a station. The film was less than a minute long, but it was, as they say, groundbreaking. Ever since, cinema's love affair with trains and the railroad has soared. From 1903's The Great Train Robbery to films like The General, The Lady Vanishes, Strangers on a Train, North by Northwest (gee, Hitch really loved his trains!), Murder on the Orient Express, Shanghai Express, Twentieth Century, Cairo Station, Brief Encounter, Union Depot, The Apu Trilogy, ad infinitum. Hell, we even have films like Throw Momma From the Train. Huzzah!

S is for Swashbuckling! - Saturday matinees are filled with them. Well, at least they used to be. Saturday and Sunday afternoon TV was too. The swashbuckling you get now is just preening shots of Johnny Depp dressed like a hipster pirate, doing his usual Johnny Depp schtick. But back in the day. Oh boy, back in the day of Tyrone Power and basil Rathbone, and of course, the great Errol Flynn. Yeah, these were the true swashbuckling days. And back then the prize (ie. the damsel not so in distress) wasn't the howling screech monkey Keira Knightley, but someone like Olivia de Havilland or Maureen O'Hara. These were the days.

T is for TCM - If classic film be your thing, than Turner Classic Movies, or TCM, is just the right spot for you. Simple as that. With legendary host, Robert Osborne (that's right - legendary!!), TCM has been a godsend for classic film lovers and discerning cinephiles for 20 years now. Yeah, TCM plays the heralded classics of course, but where else on TV are you going to get to see some of these often obscure films the network plays at 3am or so. great times.

U is for Una Merkel - Adorable as all get out, Part of the same company stock that included the aforementioned Mr. Kibbee, Una made a career out of playing the sassy, saucy, ofttimes a bit dimwitted sidekick to the main star. Never getting the attention of costars like Jean Harlow, Ginger Rogers, and the like, Una Merkel is pretty much forgotten these days, save for those (like myself) who love the Pre-code era of filmmaking. And not only does she not get enough attention for her talent and comedic timing, this snarky little gal is also often forgotten when it comes to talking of the great beauties of the day. But hey, the girl was a knockout. I even just listed her on a sexy classic film star list I did on this blog. So take that!

V is for Vive le Vigo! - With his first film coming in 1930 and his being dead by 1934 (at the age of just 29, to TB) Jean Vigo did not exactly have a long and storied career. He made just three short films, and just one feature in his short time on Earth, all of which were cut and in one case butchered by the French censors, but to watch these films is to watch unbelievability in cinema. His sole feature, 1934's L'Atalante is so beautiful it actually hurts to watch it. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.

W is for Wong Kar-wai - I remember, back in 2001, my lovely wife and I attended a screening of a film called In the Mood For Love. At the time, I had only ever seen one Wong Kar-wai film (Fallen Angels on VHS of all things), and my wife had not seen any. We sat in the balcony of the Carlisle Theatre, and as teh film progressed, my wife leaned further and further toward the screen. At one point I was afraid she might tumble off the balcony. Needless to say, the little missus was mesmerized by Wong's visual storytelling. And hey, I was too! Since this time, I have seen all of Wong's films, and even though they are all gorgeous works of art, In the Mood For Love is still my favourite, and still sits in my all-time list. Meanwhile, the aforementioned mesmerized missus tries to get everyone she meets to see the film. That's a good cause, if there ever was one.

X is for Xanadu - A roller skating movie musical with Olivia Newton-John, the final on screen performance of Gene Kelly, and the music of ELO, Cliff Richard, and The Tubes! How can this not be one of the kitschiest fun movies of all-time!? Simple answer: there is no way it couldn't be. Granted, legend has it, that this film was the inspiration for the creation of the Razzies, the annual awards for the worst in cinema. But what do they know!!?

Y is for Yippee Ki-Yay, Motherfucker - Yeah, that's right! Bruce Willis' iconic line from 1988's Die Hard. As I was gathering up different topics for each of the letters, I got stuck on the Letter Y. The only thing I could really think of was the line from Die Hard. Then I asked my lovely wife if she could come up with something cinematically-related for the Letter Y. Her first reply was that damn line from Die Hard. So here it is. Yippee Ki-Yay Motherfucker. Nothing more need be said.

Z is for Zeppo - Poor poor Zeppo. Everyone knows and loves big brothers Chico, Harpo, and Groucho (though no one ever remembers poor poor Gummo) but Zeppo never gets any love. It's obvious why though. Why Groucho, Harpo, and Chico got all the laughs, poor poor Zeppo was relegated to straight man for his brothers. Granted, other movie straight men, like Bing Crosby and Oliver Hardy did quite well, but then they had otehr talents. Perhaps it was because Zeppo had no talent, that his brothers felt bad and just let him tag along since they loved him. Poor poor Zeppo.

That's it gang. See ya 'round the web. Let's close out with an image from our Letter X.


  1. C: I think it's Delta Force 3 that I own on VHS. You can pretty much tell what stars would have gotten the main roles if they'd been able to cast the people they really wanted.

    D: I love The Untouchables, although it has relatively little to do with the real story. I think David Mamet described it as being "based on the legend."

    K: Who has a better right to be here? Ha.

    M: The man was a genius. I'd say that if he'd done nothing besides Little Nemo.

    N: What a loss... Loved Carnal Knowledge, to name one...

    U: Just saw her as Ann Rutledge in 1930's Abraham Lincoln.

    Great post!

  2. Glad to see Freaks here and the wonderful Una. I love that name:) Fritz Lang was one scary German with that eye patch and a monocle. I love Gertie and you are right about the animator and I guess I should watch Xanadu which I have not seen since it was in the cinema! Yes I am that old

  3. Hey, thanx for stopping by (again)!! Glad you like the inclusion of Una, and that you actually know who she is. Keep on keepin' on. See ya 'round the web.

  4. So you just had to put yourself in there, huh? So typical you. And just three (out of 26) entries are about women -- and one of those women killed herself, and another is an animated dinosaur. Oh you men and your patriarchal ways. I'm still not sure why I like you so much. I guess it is because even as misogynistic as you are, you are still better than most men.

    On a more serious note: I love these Alphabet Games you play. They must take a major slice of your time, and I for one appreciate the hard work. Even if you have a penis.

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