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Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Word About VHS

It's no secret that I love a bargain.  I furnished my house for less than $1000 just by collecting things from estate sales and swap meets; furniture left on the side of the road and whatever I could convince friends and relatives to part with.  It really amazes me what people will just throw away.  Being on the outside looking in at Consumer Culture provides a unique perspective.  It would be SO EASY to overthrow the system if everyone just stopped buying new stuff and bought things used or repaired what they already had.  The kicker is that nobody would really want for anything, thrift stores, garages, storage units are all stuffed full of perfectly serviceable things.  If everyone knew what I knew about the art of hunting, bargaining and giving things away; and weren't so obsessed with getting the shiniest, newest thing, we could shut down the production of everything except food, energy and techie gadgets (because sometimes the cool new thing really is better than the lame old thing.)  Oh, and paper cups and napkins and other disposables and consumables.  But I digress.  This isn't supposed to be a platform to air my thoughts on unsustainable economic and manufacturing practices. 

I wanted to talk about my last big score at the Sun Thrift.

I like cassette tapes.  DVDs are good for some things, TV shows for one, saving shelf space for another.  Blu-Ray has its merits if you have a boss home theater system, but I don't.  My TV is a hand-me-down.  It's actually gotten to the point that I find nicer sets than mine sitting out on the curb on trash day.  (wtf?  throwaway culture!)  I wish that was just a joke, but I'm serious. 

Cassettes are cool because, if you get tired of watching something, maybe you saw Scully's bra and you wanna take a porn break or something, you can take the tape out of your VCR and it holds your place.  Amazing!  You can't do that with a DVD; you gotta find your remote, wait for the menu, REMEMBER where you left off, mess around with the menu some more, then the cat sits in front of the DVD player and it won't get signals from the see?  It's just such an unnecessary hassle.

Also, cassettes are CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP.  I got these babies for 50 cents a piece.  That's cheaper than a rental.  Even if I decide that I don't want to keep any of these and donate them back to the same thrift store where I bought them, I've still saved money. 

If you live in the United States, I can guarantee that your local thrift store has hundreds of titles on cassette that can be yours for a few coins.  Granted, you probably won't find anything that was released after 2001, but the more well-loved the movie, the more likely you are to find at least 3 copies.  When is the last time you saw Wayne's World?  My thrift store has 6 copies (that I found without having to get a step-stool.)

And that is why a $10 used VCR is a worthwhile investment. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Apartment

Ahh....December.  It's the worst month for getting ordinary things done.  Who has time to write a blog post on some old movie? Well, I do.  Let's call this my Christmas post.

The Apartment.  This movie should be of great interest to the readers as of late.  It begins with C.C. Baxter, loser.  He is the worst kind of nice guy who lets anyone and everyone walk all over him.  He's an office drone who allows his bosses to use his apartment for their extramarital affairs.  In turn, they dangle a promotion above his head.

Personally, I'd take an issue with other people having sex in my bed, but that's me.  Also, this movie was released in 1960 and may--or may not--have set the premise for Mad Men, what with all the skanky broads and New York heavies sleeping with a new one every night.  But I digress.

For a such a tragic film, I'd say the jokes are pretty good

--A cab?  Why do all you dames gotta live in the Bronx?
---You mean you bring other girls up here?
--Certainly not!  I'm a happily married man.

Anyway, C.C. Baxter has a crush on his building's elevator operator, Fran Kubelik, supposedly a nice girl who doesn't respond to any of the boys in the office.

Baxter gets a call to report to the office of Jeff D. Sheldrake, douchebag.  He's the VP or something and an absolute scumbag.  But more on that later.  Sheldrake lets Baxter believe he's in trouble, since he's been recommended for a promotion by 4 different managers and there is a rumor of a mysterious key floating around the office.  Baxter spills all, thinking he's been caught.  But Sheldrake has aspirations to use the apartment for himself.  He even pretends to be nice about it mentioning a "shift in personnel" and offering tickets to The Music Man in exchange.  How nice.

Baxter decides to ask Miss Kubelik to the show that night, but she has to meet a man-friend for a drink.  She offers to meet him at the theater after.  Baxter is ecstatic.  Meanwhile, guess who that man friend is.

That's right.  Jeff D. Shelldouche.  Actually, what follows is a magnificent scene with some fantastic writing and excellent delivery by Shirley MacLaine.  She calls Shelldouche out on his bullshit and his lying and his stringing her along, but then he drops the bomb:  he is leaving his wife.  (of course he's lying)  And so they go to the apartment.  And Baxter gets stood up.

Fast forward, Baxter gets his promotion and a nice office while Miss Kubelik is getting screwed in his apartment.  At the office Christmas party, Sheldrake's scorned secretary gets drunk and tells Fran all about Sheldrake and his lying, cheating, scummy-scum-scumminess.  Later on at the apartment, she is "celebrating Christmas" with Mr. Sheldrake and she gives him his present, a record that would have made a very thoughtful gift if Mr. Sheldouche had ever had an honest bone in his body in his entire wretched life.  He forgot to get her anything, so he gives her a $100 bill.  He leaves and Fran decides to take an overdose of sleeping pills.  (see?  this is a Christmas post.)

Meanwhile, C.C. Baxter is getting drunk in a bar downtown where he meets a young lady of questionable character.  (She's actually married, but her husband is in jail.  BTW-her husband is a jockey, we never see him, but the whole scene is peppered with jockey jokes, which I love.  Jockeys are creepy mo-fos.  I once took a spin class that was taught by a jockey, a wisp of a guy with way too much energy who kinda made me wish I were on a real bike so I could frantically ride far far away from him and his jock jams.  But I digress.  Again.)  They close down the bar together, so Baxter decides to take Mrs. Jockey home with him.  But his romantic endeavors are stalled by a nearly-dead Fran Kubelik.

Luckily, his neighbor is a doctor and they manage to save Fran (or else this would be a very different kind of movie and the jockey jokes would have been in pretty poor taste.)  Baxter has been taking the rap for his coworkers' indiscretions this whole time, so Fran's case is no exception.  Everyone in his building berates him for ruining that poor girl.  He takes it upon himself to nurse her back to sanity.

Thus begins the transformation of C.C. Baxter.  It is interesting to watch him grow a pair and stop being such a loser.  He gets another promotion, but it's short lived because he stands up to Sheldrake and refuses to let him use his apartment.

Actually, I've only described about half of the movie.  I won't ruin it for you.  Though it shouldn't be hard to guess at.  Rom-com scripts tend to follow the formula, though this one being a Billy Wilder project and all, it's fairly believable for what it is and brilliantly written.  Highly recommended.

And with that, some pictures for your viewing pleasure....

I found this picture of Billy and Shirley on the interwebz.  I think it's cute.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Thank you, Internet, for connecting continents and generations.

The internet is a gold mine for a film geek like me.  As much as I may wax nostalgic for the early 20th century, I am SO grateful to have been born on the cusp of the 21st.  I wish I could go back in time and show a 1950's film snob what it's like to watch Un Chien Andalou on my phone.  Whenever I want. 

If it weren't for the internet, I would never have discovered this amazing 1960s band that does great arrangements of 1920's jazz standards.  They're nearly impossible to find in the US.  I'm hoping that, by posting this video, they will become popular enough that I can buy an LP at Amoeba. 

And now...The Temperance Seven

Monday, December 5, 2011

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Last night I went over to visit an old friend at her parent's house for dinner and a movie.  One of the interesting things about growing up in Los Angeles is that sometimes the guy who used to drive you home from swim practice is a card-carrying SAG member.  (I think).  Lisa's parents are Bob and Marsha, industry people, or at least, they were before they had kids.  This family takes movies very seriously.  I have to give them a lot of credit for piquing my interest in old movies at such a young age.  Anyway, last night we watched What Ever Happened to Baby Jane.  Lisa's been trying to find a horror movie that scares me for years and if she can't scare me, she at least wants me to be disturbed.  Unfortunately she is destined to fail because I have read Geek Love in it's entirety and I thought it was awesome. 

And so...
the most disturbing movie poster I could find.

The most disturbing thing about this film is Bette Davis' face/costumes/hairstyle/cackle/singing/heart-shaped-mole/overall performance.  She is absolutely brilliant.  Joan Crawford is good too, but her role as Blanche Hudson is such a subtle character that she is effectively upstaged by Baby Jane. 

This movie is pretty famous so I don't think I need to do a synopsis.  Jane Hudson was a child star while her sister Blanche was a big fat nobody, but then later, Blanche Hudson was a glamorous movie star while her sister Jane was a washed-up, alcoholic, has-been.  There was a mysterious car accident...and then in the "present", 1962, the sisters are living in a dilapidated old mansion.  Blanche is a paraplegic recluse and Jane is still an alcoholic has-been.  A local TV station has started showing all the old Blanche Hudson movies, generating some fan mail which makes sister Jane jealous, which triggers a series of psychotic episodes.  There.  That's all you need to know.

If you get a chance, pay attention to the character's shoes in the movie or any Joan Crawford movie for that matter.  She must have had a shoe clause in her contract that provided amazing shoes for the cast.  It's prevalent in Mildred Pierce where everyone is wearing gorgeous shoes, including Butterfly McQueen who plays a maid teetering around in nose-bleeder stilettos. Obviously JC couldn't wear shoes in this movie since she plays a cripple, but everyone else got to show off a nice pair.  (I apologize for this tangent, but the internet being what it is, maybe somebody else noticed it.  Or else, I just have a simmering shoe fetish and it's a really good thing that I don't use credit cards.)

Did you know Miss Jane has been going through your mail and throwing it in the trash?
Sorry Blanche, but your pet parakeet flew away.
lol j/k I cooked it for your lunch
and I've decided to revive my old vaudeville act.  I've always looked great in giant hair bows.
uh-oh.  I forgot to feed my sister and she's dying.  "let's go to the beach and make sand castles before you die, k?"

Baby Jane is 133 minutes of exquisite gothic horror with a pretty awesome twist at the end.  It's also a black comedy with a lot of train-wreck-appeal.  If you haven't seen it, go see it now.  If you have, share your thoughts in the comments section. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Road to Whatever

If you've ever watched Family Guy, you know all about Road To... movies.  They use Brian and Stewie to spoof them all the time.  (Actually that's how I knew that Seth MacFarlane is the man of my dreams.  Seriously.  If you're reading this, leave a comment.) (It's a long shot, but worth trying.)

The Road To.. series was a popular franchise in the 1940s starring Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour.  There were 7 films in all, but the plots are all the same.  Hope and Crosby are either some kind of con men or they desperately need money, Crosby devises a scheme to get some and then Dorothy Lamour shows up as a princess or something and they boys fight over her and then at some point Hope and Crosby end up kissing each other or married to each other or if they're really lucky, they get in on a threesome with Lamour.

Basically, the plot is irrelevant.  It's just a vehicle for Hope and Crosby to tell jokes and be ridiculous.  But they're funny.  And their brand of humor translates quite nicely into the 21st century.  I think its safe to say that Road To... is the original bromance.

Just a couple of straight men singing a song on a camel.

Tonight I watched Road to Morocco.  In this one, the boys are cousins or something who find themselves shipwrecked because Hope decided to smoke a cigarette in a room full of gun powder while they were stowaway-ed on a freight vessel.  They find themselves washed up on the shores of Northern Africa and on the Road to Morocco.  Dorothy Lamour is some kind of princess who is engaged to a trigger-happy desert sheik, but she has a private astrologer who predicts that her first husband will die a violent death within a week of marriage but her second will live a long and fruitful life.  And of the boys gets to be the first ex-mr-Dorothy-Lamour and of course they fight over it.  Actually, I'm not going to talk about the movie any more.  I'm just going to post a clip where Bob Hope pretends to be a retard with hilarious results.  Enjoy.

There.  I think that's all you really need to know.  Go rent the movie.  Or better yet, buy it.  I got mine for $2 on amazon. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Life with Father (1947)

So I've decided to do another old favorite of mine today.  I don't remember how I discovered this film, TCM probably, but I've loved it for years.  I bought the book at the swap meet the other day and in all probability, it's infinitely better than the movie, so before I go and ruin one of my favorite movies for myself, I'm going to review it.

Life with Father is based on a play by the same name, so the film version is very stage-y.  There isn't a lot of action so this isn't a good pick for someone who demands a lot of sex/explosions/guns from their movies.  If you like sophisticated comedy, read on.  Life with Father is like the shitmydadsays of the 1930's.   It's mostly from the perspective of Clarence Day Jr. and relates stories of growing up with his eccentric stockbroker father in 1890's New York City.

Life with Father stars William Powell in the title role, who is probably the most amazing actor of all time.  Check him out in My Man Godfrey and The Thin Man if you want to see him being super amazing.  Also starring is the lovely Irene Dunne.  The rest of the cast is a bunch of nobodies, except for a very young Elizabeth Taylor. 

So Clarence Day Sr. is a man who likes everything to be just so. He is eternally frustrated that his housekeeping staff, his cook, his wife, his children, his milkman, his creditors, his mailman and New York taxi drivers just fail to get it. 

The Day Family.  just-so

In a nutshell:  Mrs. Day's cousin comes to visit, which annoys Mr. Day.  She brings a young lady with her, Mary Skinner (Elizabeth Taylor) and she begins a flirtation with Clarence Jr., which annoys Mr. Day.  Junior and Mary discover that their love can never be because she is a Methodist and he is an Episcopalian so she begins prodding into Mr. Day's religious history, which annoys Mr. Day.  Mrs. Day discovers that Mr. Day was never baptized and so she begins panicking that her marriage is invalid and that her husband won't be going to heaven, which annoys Mr. Day.  And So On...

Hordes of Gypsies

It's the scenes and the dialogue that are funny, not so much the action itself.

This scene reminds me a lot of Justin Halpern's dad:  Mr. and Mrs. Day are having an argument over a bill from a department store. 

Mrs. -- I try to keep down expenses.  You know yourself Cousin Phoebe spends twice as much as we do.
Mr. -- Don't talk to me about your Cousin Phoebe!
Mrs. -- You talk about your own relatives enough.
Mr. -- That's not fair, Vinnie.  When I talk about my relatives, I criticize them.

And then there is the sub-story of Junior's flirtation with Mary Skinner.  It's horribly awkward, but charming.  And then Mr. Day gives Junior what is probably the best "facts of life" talk in the history of cinema. 

I've never seen the play version, but from what I've heard, it's better than the film because, of course, the censors had their way with it.  The last line is meant to be, "I'm going to be baptized, dammit!" but the "dammit" had to be omitted.  Directors, writers and actors back then had to be a lot more creative and subtle in how they told their risque jokes.  Pay attention when you watch old movies, sometimes an actors choice of words or gesture will seem a bit dirty, chances are, it's completely intentional.  Life with Father is full of them.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Scarface (1932)

Firstly, I have never seen the Al Pacino version of this film.  I know.  I know.  It's on my list.  I love gangster films so I thought I'd start at the beginning.  Ultimately, the joke is on you because I'll be the one who gets all the references to earlier films. 

So this is Scarface.  Produced by Howard Hughes who had a reputation for doing whatever the fuck he wanted.  Because he could.  Seriously, the man had so much money that he could afford to tell everyone on the planet to go fuck themselves and suffer absolutely no ill consequences whatsoever. 

You know it's a good movie because it starts with a disclaimer telling the audience that the film is not meant to glorify criminal life.  But let's be real.  All the cops and newspapermen are douchebags while all the gangsters, with the possible exception of Johnny Lovo, are badasses.  I don't consider myself a violent person, but if I had a driver and a tommy gun and a house full of's just such a shame that in an age of DNA testing, fingerprint databases, cell phone tracking and the patriot act; you just can't get away with shit like you could in the good old days.  And so we live vicariously. 

Tony Comante

This is Tony Comante (Paul Muni), just a small time thug who gets caught up with the usual suspects after the untimely assassination of Italian mob boss, Big Louis Costillo.  In all likelihood, he's guilty as sin, but he's cool.  He ain't afraid of no copper.  Under interrogation, he says, "What kinda mug ya think I am?  I don't know nothin'.  I don't see nothin'.  And I don't hear nothin'.  And when I do, I don't tell no cop.  Ya understand?" I love it.  So, Johnny Lovo's shady lawyer shows up and bails Tony out.  See, Lovo's got aspirations to take over the southside and he's making Tony his lieutenant.  Tony has a friend, Guino Rinaldo (George Raft) and a kid sister, Cesca (Ann Dvorak).  You can probably guess where that's going.  Anyway, he hooks Guino up with a job and some cash from Lovo. 

Guino Rinaldo
Cesca and Tony Comante

Kid sister Cesca is clearly a slut, but Tony dotes on her and is VERY protective.  He gives her some money too.  He doesn't realize that she's got a thing for his friend Rinaldo. 

Tony works in what you might call the "marketing department" of Johnny Lovo's southside gang.  His job entails going to speakeasies and informing them that he will be supplying their beer from now on.  If they have a problem with that, he shoots someone.  Not a bad job for a young Italian.  Unfortunately, he's a little too trigger-happy and the next thing you know, Lovo is getting a dead body delivered on his doorstep with a note attached, "Stay out of the Northside."  Now, Johnny specifically warned Tony to stick to his territory.  The Northside is controlled by the Irish mob headed by some guy named O'Hara.  But Johnny Lovo isn't really cut out for management.  Not only is Tony ignoring orders, but he's moving in on Johnny's girl, Poppy. 

...right under Johnny's nose.

And then we get to the film's first drive-by shooting.  O'Hara's gang drives by Johnny's headquarters and blasts them with machine guns.  Where most men would be defeated, or at least a bit shaken up, Tony's only thoughts are, "omg those are so cool where can I get one???"  So he gets himself a machie and heads out with his cronies to take over the northside, much to Lovo's dismay.

The next 20 minutes or so is mostly a series of drive-by shootings from Model Ts, collateral damage, firing squads and dead Irish mobsters everywhere.  O'Hara is pissed.  So is Johnny Lovo, but who cares about him?

whatever...I do what I want!

Meanwhile, sister Cesca is eager to prove that she's all grown up.  She shows up at the club in a slinky dress and starts hitting on Guino Rinaldo, who knows better than to bang Tony's sister.  Tony forcefully escorts her out of the club and takes her home where he roughs her up a bit.  He tears the strap of her dress, exposing more boob than you will see in a film until 1968.  Seriously, this is what pre-code films are all about. 

So...I won't ruin the rest of the movie for you, but basically, Cesca and Guino get married secretly, planning to surprise Tony later.  At the same time, Johnny Lovo puts a hit out on him.  Tony catches Guino with his sister in a hotel room and, clearly under a lot of stress, shoots Guino point blank.  Cesca tearfully explains that they'd been married and Tony is sorry, but not THAT sorry. 

At this point in the movie, the whole cast is dropping like flies.  You may wonder who will still be alive for the final battle.  Is there even going to be a final battle?  Maybe everyone dies and then the screen goes black.  No no.  If that were the case, you wouldn't need a disclaimer at the beginning. 

So let's take inventory.  Who is still alive?

Cesca.....and some cops.

Except Cesca wants to kill her brother.  But then she changes her mind and decides that she'd rather kill cops.  Nice girl.

and so...

Actually, there are 2 endings.  The censors hated both of them, so Hawkes went with the good one.  And boy is it a HONEY. 

Scarface is one of the shining jewels of the Pre-Code era, a short time just after the widespread distribution of talking pictures, but before anyone really gave a crap what filmmakers chose to portray in film.  Well there were some groups that cared, religious groups and such would boycott on behalf of the children.  And technically, there was the Hays Production Code prohibiting gratuitous violence and portrayals of sex and drugs, but Hollywood Producers hired a guy to be in charge of enforcing the code and then paid him off to do nothing.  The system worked quite well for the years between 1929 and 1933.  There is a very good documentary about the pre-code era produced by Turner Classic Movies that is very much worth watching if you're interested in this sort of thing.  Movies made during this time were much more adult, more violent, more risque, and absolutely fascinating to watch.  Also consider the time period, just after the wall street crash of 1929, these movies portray the general zeitgeist of the time more accurately than any film would do for a long time to come.  Despite being so titillating, pre-code films would often have more adult themes and were often intellectual as well as smutty.  Sadly, the Catholic Legion of Decency saved the day and a generation of children grew up believing that Andy Hardy was realism.  The production code had some really ridiculous rules, more ridiculous than Lucy and Desi's twin beds, that clever directors and writers would carefully slip past the censors, but that is a discussion for another time.