Progress Not Perfection

Spoiler warning: if you have never seen Billy Wilder’s Some Like it Hot, do not play this initial video. It’s a huge spoiler & I wouldn’t want to kill that film for anyone. This clip is only meant to enhance my piece and is not essential  to the comprehension of the rest of the entry.   

I was told recently by someone who I highly respect that we are all works in progress.

While there hasn’t been much to make me feel positive about my situation as of late, to an extent, this statement (and the person it was coming from) did. It came on the heels of having spent an incredible summer day with the women that I went to Catholic-all-girls-school with. Most of them are married, with babies, good jobs, productive lives. Hell, even my punk rock math teacher was there, reminding me that I had been in honors’ math (me?? honors math?? I can’t even figure out a proper tip at dinner with friends anymore! I was good with numbers at one point in my existence???) and quoting the Descendents. Man, she was a great teacher.  I sat there, we laughed, caught up, talked about the things that we got out of our schooling that few others did- why do women these days seem to hate each other so much? And why do they think it’s “cool” to smack each other down and say “Well, I like having guys as friends better”? You need your ladyfriends, yo. Just like guys need their guys! It was a great afternoon talking about how we were inadvertently trained to develop a very strong idea of sisterhood that has lasted us throughout our lives.

We are in our mid-30s. We have known each other since we were 12/13. That’s a fucking long time. Every one of us has made inordinate amounts of mistakes. Pissed our friends and lovers off, learned to fix it. Then learned that each “fixing” method changes for each person. We’ve changed careers, regretted treating our parents or family members in certain ways, learned that maybe certain friends or family members were incredibly toxic and it was our responsibility to play Personal Doctor (we know our own bodies best- mental and physical) and cut out that tumor before it became a larger cancer and destroyed larger portions of our Lifebody.

This is what we call Progress. None of us will EVER EVER be perfect.

I keep thinking of this film by Christine Lahti that I love, called My First Mister. It stars Albert Brooks and Leelee Sobieski.  I cannot count how many times I’ve watched that film. If you haven’t seen it, it will simultaneous make you fall in love with life, laugh and cry. It is one of my all time favorite pieces of film work, and I don’t say that very often. Friends, you can judge me for my excitement and frequent hyperbole when it comes to cinema, but certain films? This is on my list of Films I Would Marry. Come to think of it, I should write up a list like that sometime. But back to My First Mister.  I probably like it because I see bits and pieces of myself in Leelee Sobieski’s character (especially the scene that was shot in Retail Slut on Melrose, RIP). But Albert Brooks character serves as just as much of a mirror. It’s a heartbreaking and heart-fixing story about two broken off-kilter people who walk around limping and frowning through life until they find that other person who makes them laugh and dance. But it is not a love story. The film is a perfect story about how people are simply not and that is a beautiful thing.

My First Mister explores the ways in which we make progress with each other and relationships in ways we never counted on. Did I ever think that 20 years after meeting these women I would be sitting in the sunshine with their babies and realizing that we all basically look the same and are just as sharp-witted, strong, loving and quirky as we were in 7th grade? No way. I would’ve laughed if you had told me that a few years ago. But that’s progress. Progress is also the realization that I need these women in my life. They are so good for me. I hesitate to say it, but I feel like the insecurity that I have now was all received because I was put in an environment that was not as progressive and diverse as that which I spent my early teen years. Not to say that we weren’t all normal jerky teen girls (we totally were, in our own ways), but we also related to each other in a different way. I’m romanticizing it a little, but I think of the way that I entered that school and I remember the way I left and the people I have now. I look up to them. Those relationships were hibernating building blocks. I’m glad that they were awakened.

Internet radio has decided to play “Under Pressure” by Queen right now. It couldn’t be more appropriate.

I graduated from my moving image archive studies program in June. It’s about to be September. In my albeit small graduating class, every single person I have spoken to or heard about already has a full-time job but I do not. The minute that my classes were completed, I applied for unemployment and I was denied. I have appealed the decision, gone to court, and been dealing with this for months now. I have had EDD employees tell me that leaving a full-time job  to complete grad school and do freelance online journalism was a “bad decision” and if I hadn’t done that I wouldn’t be in this situation now. I have had them tell me that freelance work and online journalism/writing wasn’t “real work” so that’s why they didn’t count it. They basically yelled at me and told me that my current state was of my own making, and had I done the smart thing and kept the “real job” and not gone back to school, everything would be fine.

Of course, this woman’s rant just seemed to realize all of the fears and terror-dripped paranoias that I have been pouring out to my boyfriend for the last few weeks, as my job applications kept getting sent into these black holes and no interviews or interest has been shown. He’s a great guy, but it’s frustrating for him. He wants to fix this situation and make me feel better. He just wants to fix everything, just wants me to feel better and see the woman that he sees. But this isn’t a “fixable” situation. And what a terrible thing to lay in the lap of a basically new relationship, right? Poor guy has to listen to me cry about how I wish that I hadn’t gone to grad school and how I feel like I’m no good at what I do. Logically, of course, I know that both of these statements are patently untrue but I feel completely helpless when I cannot do anything for myself economically and when I am not working. The me that I like the least is the unemployed, unassignment-ed, undeadlined me. I am at my most shining when I am powered up and whirlwinding through tons of stuff, 100mph. I glow. Right now, I feel dejected, rejected and like I’m doing nothing.

Another one of my favorite films that I have basically memorized comes to mind at this juncture. Noah Baumbach’s Kicking and Screaming. A brilliant film about the foibles and follies that befall a group of (yup, indeed) college graduates, right after graduation, and coming to term with adult life. If you have not seen this film, SEE IT. But, basically, right now I feel a hellovalot like Max.

Thing is, I’m not Max. I do many things. It’s just all volunteer work. I’m the chair of a committee and have been diligently working on that as things have been moving forward. I volunteered for Outfest, the LGBT film festival, and worked like crazy for that. I recently began involvement in another project for cataloging standardization as well. Pure and simple, applying to jobs is work and, to be frank, new relationships are work. I seem to push all these things to the back of my mind because the only thing that counts in my eyes is getting that “real” job out of school, getting the “real” work that everyone else is getting. This, of course, backfires completely on me because what is “real”? What is that qualifier? Who is to decide? It seems that the qualifier is The Paycheck and that discounts the very real work that I have been doing elsewhere.

I’m working on this, though. Slowly but surely. Because while I am not perfect, the one thing that I have the utmost faith in is my ability to make progress and be productive.

I’m not going to lie. I’m scared.

But I’m scared because I actually care about this. It would say quite a bit if I wasn’t scared. This is my dream and my greatest love. It irritates my guy when I say that, but it’s a different kind of love than I got for humans in my life; I can’t explain it. Film will always be That Thing for me. I am the most fulfilled, the most ME I can be when I am within that realm. I would be disturbed if my unemployed status wasn’t causing a pre-ulcerous condition. I’ve never found any career path that I gelled with like I do this one.

So I have one basic option: keep making progress. And this involves a variety of things.

1) Be realistic: the things that are being done are not nothing. They exist and they contribute to larger bodies of work. My place in the field is important, whether I am actually employed or not. Dropping out is not an option. The healthiest addiction I have ever had is being addicted to film archiving & preservation work and not being able to keep my mouth shut about needing to be active in these pursuits. This isn’t a bad thing.

2) Be grateful: the new people who have entered and re-entered my life are some of the most charming and supportive people I have ever met. And they are adults. Change is good, change is progress. Many times, positive progress comes from the most unlikely of places (see: My First Mister).

3) Listen to Wilder: Billy didn’t write bad dialogue. Always listen to him for advice. Every time my brain is arguing with me on the things that I can recognize are untrue, I will simply revisit Some Like it Hot and get smacked in the face by the reality of me being, as my boy is wont to call me every so often, a silly goose.

I realize that this is a bit more personal than some of my other entries, but sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. Thanks for listening.

Sam Fuller: Cinema of Conflict and Contradiction

It is currently June, 2011.  I’m almost to the 10 year mark of when I graduated from UC Santa Cruz.

When I was at UC Santa Cruz, I did the normal school thing, but I also wrote for a film magazine called EyeCandy. It was a fun little journal, just a few of us, and I was really able to introduce folks to cinematic areas that they may not have encountered before.

While we were separated for a spell, I am glad to have “hooked up” again with writing as my primary partner. It’s a good one. While film will always be my boyfriend, writing about film makes a good life partner for me.

One of the things that came up recently around the internet was the screen test that Sam Fuller did for The Godfather part II.  When that came up, I realized that I wanted to go back and reread the article I had written for EyeCandy on Sam Fuller oh-so-many-years-back…see how it held up and IF it held up. All I remembered about that time period of my life was being very passionate about Fuller and having most other film students I knew being extraordinarily passionate about, oh, Kevin Smith or (if I was lucky) some of the more interesting queer film makers like Tod Haynes.

In any case, back in 2001, I was a one-woman-Sam-Fuller-conversion-machine. So…I wrote a silly article to try to educate people and cajole them into joining Team Fuller. Do you know HOW  many arguments I had over the naming of Short Round in Indiana Jones? Yeah, sorry boys at UC Santa Cruz in the late ’90’s/early ’00’s, SOMETIMES girls can be right about films involving your geek heroes. *ahem*

Maybe you’ve read the other stuff on here, maybe not. In any case, here is what my writing looked like back in the Spring of 2000. I have added some pictures (because I can), but otherwise, I’ve left it essentially unchanged. In a sense, I am also using this space to archive my own writing and past work. Hey man, my blog, my rules.

While I edited a little bit for grammatical errors that my own conscious could not abide with the publication of, I would hope that you would be slightly kind…I did write this 10-ish years ago. It’s not terrible, but it’s not something I would hand to Fuller himself. Aside from Billy Wilder, when people ask me who my favorite director is, I think I would have to say it’s this guy right here. When I found him in my late teens/early 20’s,I got obsessed. He uses some of my favorite actors, introduces me to new ones, screws with people’s concepts of what things should/shouldn’t be, and does what he thinks is right. His ethos is strong and, most important of all, entertaining. And as an added bonus, he has some really kick-ass women characters! So here you go. Enjoy the way I tried to introduce Santa Cruz to Sam Fuller.

I wish I could get a larger size of this, but this was the cover for one of the magazines. Not bad, eh?

“You can’t show war as it really is on the screen, with all the blood and gore. Perhaps it would be better if you could fire real shots over the audience’s head every night, you know, and have actual casualties in the theater.”—Sam Fuller

Sam Fuller was a real American. He was a reporter and he fought in the war. He was also, however, a filmmaker. Within his chosen cinematic occupation, he worked towards the portrayal of the country he killed and could have died for. He was extremely patriotic. However, Fuller’s patriotism worked in a very different way than the traditional stars-and-stripes, Fourth-of July barbecue patriotism. Sam Fuller worked to rupture America open, and show what was really inside: the contradictory situations portrayed in his films only exposed the deep-seated issues that lie within American society, but are not polite to discuss. But Fuller was not polite about it either. It has been written about Fuller that he “doesn’t flatter his audiences; he rubs our noses in our own dirt.” One could not mistake a Fuller film. He has an exceptionally unusual style of filmmaking, especially for the time.

One of the most fascinating issues about Sam Fuller is the question that comes up every time when viewing his films: How was he allowed to make that?  For the 50’s and 60’s, Fuller’s films were exceptionally radical, and decisively individual. In a time where almost everyone else was being forced to homogenize their films, Fuller was a complete anomaly. One possible explanation is that his films were primarily “B films”. As a result of that reduced budget and economized shooting schedule, that may explain why he got away with everything he got away with. As well, it must be considered that mainstream Hollywood saw “B” films to be merely secondary cinematic fodder alongside the “A-list films”, opening up opportunity for a great deal more personal expression.

A Sam Fuller film can deal with anything from pedophilia to racism, interracial romance to insanity. His stories were unique in their dealings with women, as he portrayed them as sexual free agents, as well as independent heroines who were not about to “wait around.” He utilized Asian-Americans as real and central characters within his films, instead of portraying them as ethnic stereotypes.

This was still a major revolutionary narrative for the time. CRIMSON KIMONO (1959)

In Crimson Kimono (1959), we can see a perfect example of the ways in which Fuller plays with racism and our own socially constructed stereotypes and expectations. The plot is that of a Japanese-American man and a Caucasian man who fought together during the war, and became inseparable friends as a result of one saving the others life. They return to the US and get an apartment together in LA and become private investigators. The twist in the film comes when they both fall in love with the same Caucasian woman, and she, in turn, falls in love with the Japanese-American man. Pretty weighty stuff for 1959! Not only does this deal with the extremely controversial topic of interracial romance, but it also is a forerunner of the ideology within Sam Fuller’s films that woman should have the same freedom sexually and romantically as men. They should be able to choose, not be chosen.

Fuller’s filmmaking style and plot development are a cinematic war being waged against the things within society that are accepted but are unacceptable. The Fuller landscape is harsh and confusing, placing emphasis upon the aspects of the world that require a more in-depth consideration, such as race, the role of women, and corruption.   It is an offensive action, striking against social mores, and traditional roles.

Fuller’s cinema is one that is overtly contradictory. But he utilizes those contradictions in order to point out the traditional concept of things not always “being as they seem.” However, Fuller’s films are anything but traditional. His characters vary from strippers and prostitutes to journalists and soldiers. The one commonality that most of his films seem to contain is the alternative portrayal of corruption. In his films it is the strippers and thieves that are ethical and good, and the policemen and other “uprights” that are morally bankrupt. This is accurate about every film he has made. In Naked Kiss(1963), it is not the prostitute who is the corrupt, evil force, it is the very paragon of society within the town, and he’s capable of some pretty nasty stuff!

Fuller is the master of irony. In Shock Corridor (1963), a film based primarily within a mental institution, the main character is a journalist who is obsessed with winning the Pulitzer prize. In order to do this, he gets himself committed in order to investigate a murder that occurred within the asylum walls. While inside, he meets the main witnesses of the crime. The first one he meets is Stuart, a young man who, in the outside world, became involved in the Communist party due to his participation in Korea. However, he was placed in the institution because he is no longer involved with Communism, and he was dishonorably discharged due to his affiliation with Communist influences so…he now thinks that he is a general in the Confederate army!

I know why I went over to the commies— ever since I was a kid my folks fed me bigotry for breakfast, and ignorance for supper.

Then he meets Trent, a young man who was one of the first people in his area to be placed into the situation of racial integration in his school.  Tragically, he cracked under the pressure. This young African-American student thinks that he is a leader in the Ku Klux Klan.

In films like Naked Kiss (1963), and China Gate (1957), Fuller gives unusual depictions of strong, independent women, who were allowed to be sexual without being punished for it, and were not ashamed of any of their actions. They took these things in stride, and never required help from a man, because they could do it by themselves. Once again, Fuller called it as he saw it, knowing that this was the “unacceptable” ideology of the time, but knowing that it was the reality of the situation.

Fuller said that camera movement, and actors’ movement was inconsequential, and “what matters is that the emotion of the audience should move…” In the end, it is really up to the viewer to let the film take its effect. His films revolve around making you think about and question realities and truths. He states that this battle is endless. At the end of a few of his films, the closing titles read “the end of this story will be written by you” or “this story has no end.” This intelligent Fuller ambiguity only serves to have the pin pulled out and the grenade thrown to you.

This is the Night (and the Days!): TCM Classic Film Festival, Part II

Some people collect stamps. Others go in for Fabergé eggs. I seem to be one for collecting film viewings…on 35 or 16mm, preferably, and on the big screen (of course). Thus a film festival like the Turner Classic Film Festival is really and truly my venue. So after the amazing viewings I had already aggregated, I was ready, willing and able for more.

:::DAY 2:::

“You know there ain’t no forgetting…”—THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES

Saturday morning, bright and early, I grabbed some coffee and a breakfast sandwich from my local shop, and headed out to Hollywood Blvd on my bike once more, arriving just in time to grab my seat for This is the Night (1932). Directed by Frank Tuttle, this little pre-code gem was Cary Grant’s first picture and couldn’t have been more delightful if it had TRIED. Generally, if I have a passing thought during a film that keeps coming back, I will have that be my theme. The one I had for this picture? I haven’t laughed this hard since Animal House (1978). I happen to think that Animal House may well be one of the perfect films in the world so…this was a pretty high compliment. Literally, my sides were aching by the time the film was over. I have not enjoyed myself that much in the theater in ages.

This Is The Night was the first screening I went to that was TOTALLY sold out within a few minutes of me sitting down. It was CRAZY!

The acting was perfect, the construction and comic timing was just insanely smart, and I was left feeling remarkably depressed that there are literally dozens upon dozens of films that I have come across that use virtually the exact same story line with some of the identical gags and they are JUST not done as well. It was definitely a “good morning” to me. Not that this was news to me, of course, but a decent reminder. It instantly became one of my all-time favorite pre-code films and…when I say that I’m obsessed with pre-code films? I like pre-code films like bees like honey and scandal loves politicians.

In addition to the film, Foster Hirsch was there to conduct a Q&A with Cary Grant’s daughter, Jennifer (who is the spitting image of mom, Dyan Cannon with a bit of Cary thrown in…needless to say, she’s no slouch). Hirsch is a favorite of mine from way back due to his amazing noir writings and he’s a great guy for a Q&A. Smart, funny, and charming, he discussed things with Jennifer and let her tell interesting tidbits without prying. It was a good Q&A.

Then it was time. Time for what? Time to check one off the list. A notch on my cinematic bedpost. Part of my collection, as it were.

Last year, after seeing Eli Wallach do a Q&A for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly  and then seeing the film in the big Chinese, I made a solemn swear to myself, right then and there, that I was going to do EVERYTHING in my power to see EVERY Clint Eastwood movie (primarily Westerns, but all the stuff I missed which is…well…most of the early stuff, to be 100% honest) in the theater. The Good, The Bad & the Ugly  made me cry because it was SO. DAMN. BEAUTIFUL. Beautiful? Yes, beautiful. It is film-making at its finest. The music, the visuals; it is a veritable ballet or symphony. With that in mind, the minute I saw that Josey Wales  was on the schedule, digital or not, I was going to see the film. And see it I did!

Once again, I met up with Dennis before the show began. I went inside the Chinese, and he came down with some friends and we all sat and chatted together about things we’d seen so far, and other assorted things. I remember thinking, GOD, I LOVE TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL!! and then Ben Mankiewicz came up and introduced the film. He talked about how Josey didn’t quite have the popularity or recognition back when it was released that it has now. It was called a “Prarie Death Wish” and that it came out at slightly the wrong time, yet it made money. However, the most incontrovertibly interesting part of the entire introduction was Mankiewicz’s discussion of the author of the original Josey Wales material, Asa Carter.

The Outlaw Josey Wales, in the big Chinese?? THAT is the way that film was intended to be seen. SERIOUSLY.

Carter was not only a supporter of George Wallace, but he was kind enough to start his own section of the KKK. A few years later, he was on Oprah’s best-seller list. Due to the fact that he wrote under the name “Forrest Carter” and people are excruciatingly poor researchers, not to mention that they have zero memory, no one remembered the “Asa Carter” and only saw this fabulous piece of literature lauded by Oprah, The Education of Little Tree.

While I think that the literature is possibly quite good, I’m not sure it can override or forgive Asa’s personal activities. But they can be held in separate places, perhaps. I don’t know. I’d have to read Little Tree  first. In any case, this personal data about Asa Carter made me wonder about the film that Eastwood had created. Since I am always fascinated by adaptations, upon seeing Josey Wales I had to stop and wonder about the similarities and divergences. I found Mankiewicz’s discussion of the film’s genesis remarkably funny and revelatory, not to mention quite original as far as an introduction to a film was concerned.

The film itself was everything I could have asked for…and more. It was funny and generously beautiful. Eastwood was gracefully stolid to a fault, and the phrase that kept coming to my mind, over and over during the film was “character jambalaya.” Not having seen the film before, it was a joy and a pleasure to be able to witness what I did on a screen like the Chinese.

Josey Wales is like a really good chunky soup, like a jambalaya. It is chock full of substantial bits and pieces of things, sometimes the very same elements (the soup analogy would be carrots, meat, etc), and each time you dip your spoon in for more? You come up with a different combination. Sometimes you’ll get the same bits with each bite, but sometimes you’ll be missing the carrots or you’ll run out of meat (the film equivalent would be the dismissal of a certain character, through whatever means that character gets, well, dismissed). Needless to say, I loved it and am eagerly awaiting my next chance to fill in the spaces on my Clint Eastwood movie dance card.

Immediately upon the cessation of the film, Dennis and I had to leave to catch what was to become one of the hits of the festival: a little-known British war film called Went the Day Well? (1942). There were a large amount of reasons I wanted to see this film. As a film scholar and Viewing Collector, it was rare. Those were the first reasons. However, more importantly, as a burgeoning film archivist/preservationist, I felt insanely guilty over not going to Kevin Brownlow’s in-person panel over at the Roosevelt Hotel (I couldn’t!! I had to see Outlaw Josey Wales!!) and was bound by my own personal decree to hear him present this fine piece of celluloid. And WHAT a piece it was!!

Seeing Kevin Brownlow speak was inspirational. I have to say that growing up in Hollywood like I have, I have been lucky enough to come into contact with a great deal of extraordinary people. While I was impressed by each of those on a separate basis, seeing Kevin Brownlow speak was pretty awesome (in the true sense of the term, let us make Harlan Ellison happy). He is not only jovial and self-effacing, but incredibly entertaining and, from my perspective (hell, from any self-respecting film lover’s perspective), a substantial figure of pride for film preservation everywhere. Good grief, the man is the only guy in his field to have won an Oscar for what he does! Because of this status, I knew the film was also going to be special. I figured he wouldn’t talk in front of just any old film. I figured right.

Kevin Brownlow is a rockstar. SERIOUSLY.

I knew from the outset that it was going to be grim and gritty. I don’t think that anything that Graham Greene has had a hand in has ever not been at least a teensy bit brutal in that respect. And if you know me…well, you know I like brutal. So, I was VERY MUCH IN. Call me crazy or just an old-fashioned girl, but I’m a sucker for old school nihilism! And I got it. In spades.

This film was so good I very much considered going to see it when they screened it a second time on Sunday. But…so many films, so little time! It played INCREDIBLY well with an audience. Some of the best audience reactions I’ve heard in a very long time and by far the best audience reactions from the entire TCM Classic Film Festival. While it was indeed a packed house, a packed house does not always guarantee a reaction. The film must provide that. This film gave it to us hard and spared no one. Somehow this film sits squarely between the hips of  really messed up “home invasion” flick and war-time/patriotism-spy stuff. Went the Day almost invents its own damn genre.

I hesitate to truly describe anything about the film as I am deathly afraid of saying too much. The horrific aspects were enough to satisfy a gorehound like me, and the driving, pounding suspense was enough to drive even a Hitchcock junkie to nail-biting. Yep, this movie totally won.

On the way out, we ran into the always amazing, wonderful and lovely Michael Torgan, my long-time good friend and head of the New Beverly Cinema.

Film Fans Unite and Take Over!!

We all chatted for a bit and then all went our separate ways for a while, Dennis and I agreeing to meet back up for our next agreed feature. What can I say? The man has AMAZING taste and he’s more fun to hang out with and watch movies with than almost anyone I’ve ever hung out and watched movies with. Being TCM Classic Film Fest buddies with Dennis ruled!! I felt like the cool kid in school, man!

I believe that at this point we had run into my super great pal Peter, as well.  I had run into him several times during the festival, but due to Festival Craziness, I cannot for the life of me remember what movies it was between! However, I do know that he got to go and see Reds (1981) and he and I chatted about that for a while. He said the Q&A with Beatty and Baldwin was pretty epic!

After a short interim, I returned to the Chinese and the cinema for Pennies From Heaven (1981). I wanted to see this film for many reasons. Primarily because I had never seen it on a big-screen before and the Busby Berkeley-ness of it all made me want to know how that would go down…in color. Additionally, let’s get blatantly honest here- I wanted to see the Christopher Walken dance/striptease large and in-charge. He is such a magnificent dancer and on a big screen…I did want to see that play out. Those things said, I’m not certain that I made the right choice. This is the only film during the entirety of the festival that I feel a little badly about, due to the fact that another film was playing at the same time that I would’ve loved to have seen on a big screen-Niagara (1953). But… what can you do, right?

Why am I disappointed? Well, Pennies isn’t a bad film, per se. I just…don’t know. Somewhere it sits with me wrong. I think that perhaps that is where it has its glory? Perhaps its disjointedness and its dark mutilated humanity is where its beauty lies? I’m just not sure. It is an uncomfortable film. And perhaps I was just not entirely prepared for that after the smooth cinematic excursions I had been traveling on. In any case, I may do a further study on the film, but suffice to say that, while I enjoyed it, it wasn’t as wonderful an experience as I wanted it to be and I will take full responsibility as that may simply be my Terms of Viewership coming in.

But there’s room for one “off” film. Especially when the next film is as good as it was!!! When Dennis and I had been exchanging emails previous to the festival about our possible schedules, the one thing that we BOTH knew was where we were going to be Saturday night at 9:30pm. I sacrificed for this screening, man. Not only did I miss my friend’s birthday gathering for this, but that very same gathering was also partially a high school reunion full of people I actually wanted to see (I know- imagine that, if you will…hard to believe). Yeah, One, Two, Three (1961) was definitely a viewing that I needed to collect!

Michael Schlesinger introduced the film and he did it with style, candor and charisma. Indeed, his knowledge on Wilder and the film itself was impressive and extremely well-presented, both for Wilder-scholar and amateur alike. He branded One, Two, Three  as Wilder’s “testament movie” and discussed how, not unlike Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959), this picture was almost a “greatest hits” piece as it seemed to gather all of his favorite filmic themes (men in drag, political commentary, sex humor, etc) together and put them within one narrative piece.

It was a bit of an understatement to say that I was thrilled. Indeed, our love (and excitement) for this film was so great that we sat there before the film started, deeply concerned about the masking. We knew, after all, that this was a ‘Scope movie, and it hadn’t yet been prepped  for that! I was a bit nervous! But, all fears were assuaged as the curtains gently rescinded from the screen, and Jimmy Cagney appeared, swift-talking and sharp as ever! What a gorgeous print it was too!!

Giggling like a school girl & occasionally looking at Dennis & the rest of the audience for their reactions (I get high off Billy Wilder Audience Reactions- it’s, like, my favorite drug) I blissfully made my way through that film and could’ve gone home a happy camper. Beyond happy, even.

But no. Not an option.

Not even close.

If I had missed The Mummy (1932) at the Egyptian Theater I would have been a flaming idiot. Thankfully, I did not because I’m a very smart young lady.

Tragically, the theater no longer looks the way it did when I was a child, which to me is always a little saddening. The walkway into the theater used to be lined on both sides with sarcophagi and I seem to remember being covered by a kind of tent-like overhang amongst the other sundry Egyptian decorations inside.

Egyptian, circa 1989. It was closed for "maintenance" around 1992, then Mother Nature decided to go further with the 1994 earthquake. It reopened as the American Cinematheque in 1998.

All of these things really made the entire journey into the cinema a true trip into some fantasy historic realm called ancient Egypt where…you could see movies?? Yeah, I don’t know. I loved it. It is entirely possible that I entered the land of Tutankhamun to see pretty much any of the 20th Century Fox films being released at the time, which meant I likely saw Spaceballs (1987), The Princess Bride (1987) and possibly Willow (1988) there, which rocks.

I know, I know. You guys were all watching Aliens (1986), Predator (1987), and Robocop (1987), but I didn’t get to be that cool yet.  I got that cool later. But hell- my memories of going to the Egyptian theater are like the Holy Grail to me. I wouldn’t part with them for the world. Not even having gotten to see Big Trouble in Little China (1986) before my folks would let me…well, maybe that one…!!!*

[*disclaimer: have no real idea if/how many of these flicks actually played the Egyptian, but, ya know, artistic license and all that!]

At any rate, back to the main event, right? I’m not complaining about what the place has now, as it’s an amazing theater and I go there every year for the Film Noir Festival and MANY other events, but…if you remember from part I of this saga, I do have that 13-year-old boy living somewhere inside me, and he thinks it would be really COOL to have mummies and themed stuff like that around as much as possible, especially on a night like that one at the TCM Film Fest when I was going to go see Boris Karloff do his thing!

I rushed over from the Chinese and was able to run into my friend Andy who had been working the event. Tired as he was, he said that there was no way that he was going to miss The Tingler from the previous night. So he got to tell me how cool it was and, essentially, how much I had missed. My William Castle-gene was feeling mighty depressed at that point, lemme tell you. Agreements have since been reached, but it was quite bitter at me for missing the event.  Looking at the time, I departed from Andy’s company, quickly locked up my bike, and ran inside, once again pouncing on a seat that was nice and close to the stage, as one of my favorite working actors (and crushes) today was presenting the film: Ron Perlman.

Perlman noted that Karloff's performance was nuanced and genre-transcendent, yet still said, "He complained about spending a lot of time in make-up? Eh. I've spent more!"

I love me some Perlman. Ohhhh boy, am I a sucker for him!  It helps considerably that I have an extremely healthy love affair with Hellboy (comic and film) and that Jean-Pierre Jeunet has a big ol’ place in my heart. Even so, Sons of Anarchy is a great TV show that has had people like Tim Hunter (River’s Edge) and Chris Collins (The Wire) work on it, so…not so shabby. In any case, Perlman was fantastic. He was relaxed (although I may be mistaking exhaustion for relaxation, but hey-splitting hairs, right?), intelligent and ever-so-elegant.

He did a little Mummy history lesson, harmonized with some Karloff critique, and then said “Hey! What’s up guys! Let’s watch this thing!” It was wonderful. Charming, friendly and enjoyable. There was also a real sense that he very much enjoyed the film even if he had only revisited it very recently.

So I settled into my seat, the film came on, and I realized exactly what The Mummy is, and laughed to myself with a glow of affection that I had never had before: it’s a horror film for archivists.

The last time I watched this film, I was simply a horror fan. There was not a preservationist bone in my body. Now? Well, the word “ridiculous” comes to mind. All I could think about was how the terminologies and methods used within the film were (more or less) on the mark, and I got the biggest thrill ever. You know when you see a film and due to the innate human tendency towards egotism you think “My god! This film is about ME!”? Well, that was me at midnight at the Egyptian. Should I discuss how the film was brilliant in the make-up or the historical sensibilities or…?

Screw it.

It was about archeologists who totally mess up, mishandle their preservational work and suffer the consequences!!! See what happens when you mess with the wrong shit? Yeah, that’s right. Uh-huh. SO GOOD. Ok, so this is an excruciatingly nerdy angle to take, but welcome to my world. I like a good beer, a great punk show, and to save 35mm film. Got a problem? Horror cinema is one of my favorite genres to discuss because it is so multi-faceted (to me). It shows one thing while it clearly talks about another. The Mummy is fun for me because it is a film that explores historical restoration and preservation and science in tandem with nostalgia and great emotion. As a budding archivist/preservationist, any film that figures in characters within that profession, be they living or dead, is pretty damn cool.

I’ve heard people say that they think Mummy  is relatively slow and boring. Well, I’m sure that most people wouldn’t want to catalogue that Scroll of Thoth, either, so I suppose that makes sense. I disagree. I think it’s a wonderful film. Karloff gives the film enough of a jolt that any “slowness” someone might experience is solved by his creepiness (and it is creepy! Make no mistake!!). Either way, I got more joy out of this than I had ever gotten before. It is totally subjective and fully personal and dorky as all get out, but that is just fine with me. While James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931) will always be my favorite Universal horror film, this film, in one night, became my second-in-line.

:::DAY 3:::

“Good. Better. Best. Bested.” –WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?

And then…as soon as it had begun, it was over. It was the last day. And I was a horrible mix of excited and depressed. Excited at the prospect of what my final choices on my final day were to be, horrifically depressed as I knew that it was all about to come crashing down on my head. No more full days of wall-to-wall film, running or biking from theater to theater on little-to-no sleep, bits and pieces of food (when there was 5 minutes or so) and a bucket full of coffee in my bag. No more terrific conversation with fabulous gay men from Baltimore or invitations from gentlemen asking me to dinner with his sister and himself complete with the all-important Elwood P. Dowd “business card”  accompanying the invite.

If this is confusing you at all, please see the film Harvey (1950). It will become much more clear at that juncture.

What would I do when this was all OVER??? I didn’t know, truthfully. So, as that gorgeous green-eyed dame said,I decided to “think about it tomorrow” and enjoy my final day!

My first film was something I was really enthusiastic about. If you don’t know who Ross Lipman is, you really should. He is an extremely brilliant gentleman and UCLA film archivist who specializes in some of the most unusual and cool stuff around. Not only has he worked on restoring some of Kenneth Anger’s work (already a big “hellllooo! You rock!” in my book) but his other work reaches levels in film preservation that are (in my mind) deeply necessary.

His interest in preserving and restoring the underrepresented and neglected areas/subjects of cinema is something that I am always deeply grateful for and, in this case, incredibly happy to see at the TCM Classic Film Festival. Lipman’s work, represented by such wonderful pieces as Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep (1981) (which he won an award for, incidentally), Barbara Loden’s Wanda (1970) , or the presentation for TCM’s festival, The Sid Saga- Parts 1, 2, 3 (mid-1980’s) is really important. I think if we didn’t have Ross around to grab some of this stuff and make sure it was nursed back to filmic health, we’d be a much sadder place. Plus, the added bonus? The films don’t suck!

So the films that he presented and the stories that went with them were almost unbelievable. The Sid Saga- Parts 1, 2, 3 (mid-1980’s) is created from a number of smaller films that a man made over his lifetime. I would say that he’s just like your grandfather, and perhaps he is…if your grandfather had done everything from carpentry and a Fuller Brush salesman to being a (literal) one-man-band and a rocket scientist. Then…he made films about all of it. With animation!! The funny thing? It was conducted with some of the most romantic life-honesty I’ve ever seen. For all intents and purposes, much of the evolution of these films serves as a love story to his wife, Adelaide, in a way that many documentary films simply cannot dream of negotiating.

On the preservation aspect,  damn I love Kodachrome. There will never be anything like that. Sid shot some absolutely incredible nature films that just yelled “Hey! It’s Kodachrome here! Do ya miss me yet?? Huh?? Do ya??” All I wanted to do was reach out my arms and cry out: “Yes! Come back! Please! We made a mistake!” But the films themselves looked phenomenal.

Lipman discussed that the preservation was fairly labor intensive, which seemed to make sense. Not only was there a veritable plethora of media to contend with (Sid used still photos, home movies, audio bits, newspaper clippings, animation sequences…the kitchen sink, maybe?) but some of the stock was fading and, while Sid had done all the editing work, he had never completed a full composite print!! Without getting too complicated, suffice to say that, while difficult, they were successful in their endeavors to complete a beautiful version of these films using all of the various sources that Sid provided them. It must’ve been work, but it certainly paid off in my eyes- literally.

I can only say this: if you possibly get a chance to see these (or really anything that Ross presents- he has excellent taste, and in addition to the stuff I said before, he’s a very entertaining speaker) please do. They will make you laugh, cry and entertain you in a way that most documentaries don’t and the vast majority of independent and experimental cinema can’t. In my eyes, there was more life and joy gushing from each frame of this piece than I have seen in quite some time. It was a wonderful experience to meet Sid through this film, and I am a better woman because of it.

I wish that I could tell you that I went and saw something BRAND SPANKING NEW right after The Sid Saga. But I totally didn’t. I totally went to This is the Night  again and laughed myself silly, and had a blast sitting next to Dennis as he laughed himself  to pieces, too. It was just as much fun the second time around. Man, I love that movie.

Bouncing from pre-code to pre-code, we left Night and went straight to the screening for Hoop-La (1933). I was so thrilled to see this on the bill again for Sunday with the people who had been presenting it before, as writer David Stenn is a fabulous historian on Jean Harlow and Clara Bow, and I had experienced the awe-inspiring coolness of MoMA film archivist Katie Trainor the first evening of the festival.

As the two began their intro to the film, I think Dennis must’ve thought I was a little crazy when I practically leaped out of my seat in pure, unadulterated excitement upon the discovery that this film was a Carnie Film. I have…a thing about freakshows, circus-life, carnivals, and their representations in cinema. I love anything having to do with that world. From Freaks (1932) and Nightmare Alley (1947) to Ghoulies II (1988), I love the carnival. So a pre-code with Clara Bow set in the circus world?? SIGN ME UP! And to be honest? Hoop-La was everything it claimed to be and more.

We were the second audience to ever see this print. The first audience had seen it a few days earlier. It originated from nitrate prints that Fox had given to MoMA that had been then blown up to 16mm and printed. The only other print in existence up until this point had been at the Cinematheque Francais, and it’s apparently not very good at all. But this print looked amazing. They clearly have put a good amount of love, time and energy on making this beautiful piece of history last.

Clara Bow was always breathtakingly gorgeous with a killer body to boot, but she has never looked as sexy and delicious as she does within the frames of this film. I felt extremely lucky to be one of the first audiences to get to see the premiere of this film’s restoration and to hear such wonderful scholarly discussion on the subject from Bow’s biographer and from the woman who made the final call and decision to select the film for preservation and restoration.

From Hoop-La to…Haskell- Wexler, that is! There was a break for a bit, but then it was time for the Final Film of the 2011 TCM Classic Film Festival. There was really no question for me as to what it was going to be when it was announced: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966) with Haskell Wexler in conversation with Leonard Maltin. Maltin may have an obsession with films being unnecessarily short, but he’s not the worst guy at a Q&A, and I was eager as hell to hear Wexler discuss…well, anything! Additionally, I had only seen this film once before in my life and all I remembered about it, as I laughingly related to Dennis, was that it’s a film that has “a lot of yelling in it.”

The discussion with Wexler was simple and fantastic. He is a tall and elegant man who is profoundly humble and seems almost unaware of how much of an impact he has had on other people. He went up to the table and sat down, answered a few questions, and then stated, “But I’m sure you didn’t come here to see me, so perhaps we should just watch the film…” The audience response was emphatic! Yells and clapping and people stating how much they had come just to see him speak. It was lovely.

He said it was his first studio film and he said that they wanted to fire him. He said that they told him that everything was “too dark.” I laughed when he said this. I laugh even more now, as I write this. Too dark? Virginia Woolf? Really, guys?

Wexler also said that while he may have gotten the Academy Award that year, he gave Nichols a percentage of the credit. “He knew more about filmmaking,” Wexler shrugged. He also said that in his acceptance speech, he appealed to the audience to be able to “use our art for peace and love” due to the fact that Vietnam was hot and heavy. Unfortunately, that didn’t work too well in tandem with what he had won for- he got letters back from people who said, “Oh yeah? Use our art for peace and love? Like Virginia Woolf?”

So there we were. Ready to go into the final, final stretch. Sad, tired, and cinematically-fulfilled, but ready for Albee and the machine-gun-onslaught that is Burton/Taylor and company. Or were we ready? I’m not certain that I was. Things are different on a big screen. Things are also different with less sleep and less food, but I believe in this case it was Wexler’s photography in tandem with the large-screen presentation that made me as vulnerable as a small orphaned child.

Dear lord, that is a rough and brutally gorgeous movie. It has all the intensity of a river rafting trip gone suddenly wrong in the most desperate way. Yet that river? It’s still in the middle of nature and therefore breathtakingly beautiful. To be honest, for a good percentage of that screening, I’m not certain whether I was crying, breathing, or if I ever took my hands away from my face. The impact of that film on me was strong as hell and will probably remain so for the rest of my life.

There are certain big-screen viewings that you will remember forever. They become like lovers or family members in your life. I left that theater with a new addition to my circle, without a doubt.

As Dennis and I left the theater and prepared to say our goodbyes, we were approached by a fellow TCM festival go-er.

“Did you hear what happened???” She asked, clutching her friend, both of them shaking, eyes wild with a strange and uncomfortably odd kind of excitement.

Normally in this situation, approached by a random stranger, I would likely respond with something mildly smarmy about having been sitting in a movie theater for the last 10 hours. I was pretty drained. I looked at my compatriot to see if he registered anything/knew anything, but he seemed as blank as I.

“Bin Laden has been killed!” she continued, barely even waiting for our response, “Can you believe that? While we’ve been sitting in all of these films for hours and hours on end, the world has changed completely! And we didn’t even know it!”

Dennis and I looked at each other, stunned to our eye-teeth. I believe that we might have stuttered some kind of response to her, but really? What do you say to that? In any case, she seemed to want to alert the rest of the film festival, so off she ran, and we were left looking at each other.

“Well that certainly changes things, doesn’t it?” he said.

I nodded. It was definitely a “wow” moment.  We spent a few minutes considering the new information in tandem with the leftovers of Albee/Nichols/Wexler/et, al swirling about in our brains, and then we parted ways, him home to his family and me to the TCM Film Festival party.

When it comes down to it, all these weeks later, I have to think- did Bin Laden mean anything to me personally? Will his death personally effect me in the same daily way that seeing honor and relationships deconstructed in Becket did? In 20 years, will I be filled with some perverse joy  that a man who was a catalyst for others’ deaths was wiped out and will it feel as good as watching One, Two, Three or This is the Night? Somehow, I doubt it.

The world may have changed completely according to that woman, due to Bin Laden’s demise, but my life was changed completely by watching 16 films over the course of a few days, spending time with people of like-mind, and getting the rare opportunity to see some incredibly iconic figures discuss their work and creative intent. I’m pretty young still. But from what I have seen, I think that the real change will come when we start to look more at cultural objects as capable of change rather than people’s deaths.

I honestly don’t know how we will view Bin Laden’s death a few years from now. But do I think that people will still be talking about the latest film that they liked, whether it was The Hangover 8  or Nicholas Winding-Refn’s newest? Yes. Yes, I do. And as long as that doesn’t change, well…I’m A-ok.

TCM Classic Film Fest, 2011-Initial Preparations and Looking to the Past

And so it goes. A year passes, things change, and…here we are. About to enter the insanity that is the TCM Classic Film Fest once again.

I experienced it last year, and submitted my review to a local magazine. It ended up going unpublished,  however, that doesn’t mean I can’t post the review here, one year later, right? In short, I would like to share with you my experiences from the TCM Classic Film Fest 2010.

First of all, let me preface this by letting you know that when I wrote this, I was still on my “festival high” and the magazine audience that I was writing it for not nearly as advanced as I feel that this one is. So I apologize if the tenor of the piece feels somewhat…less. In any case, you are a forgiving audience (I feel), so I will give you the writing and hope that you will at least be cheerleaders along with me.

I will tell you this: The TCM Film Festival of 2010 was remarkable in so many ways that I have to publish this piece before I let you know what my plans are going to be this upcoming weekend. So here goes….

Firstly, I must confess: I am not a morning person. It takes me a while to get out of bed. However, the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) Film Festival that took place at Grauman’s Chinese and the Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Blvd, from April 22-25, was a whole different story. In fact, all I needed to know to jump out of bed that first day was: my breakfast is going to be made out of Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Dick Powell, and Gloria Grahame and cooked up by Vincent Minnelli in 1952. While most people I know can barely make it to work by 9:00am, I had gotten on my bike, booked it up to the Walk of Fame, bought a ticket, and was in my seat ready to watch one of my favorite films: The Bad and The Beautiful.   

And it was worth every little bit of sleep lost, as there was so much gained! First off, there was a Q&A with Robert Osborne and Cheryl Crane, Lana Turner’s daughter. Most famous for her, um, “run in” at 14 years old with mommy’s gangster boyfriend Johnny Stompanato, (she showed her approval of the relationship by stabbing him to death), Crane was actually most charming and spoke lovingly of Turner. But it had nothing on the film itself. This motion picture can knock any modern day movie trying to “expose” Hollywood’s evils flat on its proverbial ass. Twice. The bad?  Waking up early after being out way too late the night before. The Beautiful? Seeing a gorgeous 35mm print of this, pristine and larger than life…the way it was meant to be seen!

After this, I blasted through hell incarnate (read: tourists and people dressed like SpongeBob Squarepants) to get much needed sustenance and garner a spot for one of THE best and THE most cynical and downright nasty films ever placed on celluloid: Sweet Smell of Success(Alexander Mackendrick, 1957). It was in the Grauman’s Chinese, large and in charge, with a Q&A with one of the stars, Tony Curtis.

The man, the myth, the legend. See Sweet Smell of Success. Just do it.

I shouldn’t say much about this except that it was a disappointment and it was not Tony’s fault. The guy is 84 years old, and he’s more than welcome to ramble. But if you are the Q&A guy, your JOB is to keep him on track. Oh, and…try and make sure he keeps the microphone up to his mouth. It was tragic, as I would’ve liked to have had a good Q&A for this film. If you have never seen this film, you must. Mike Patton (Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, etc) really likes it. He’s used several lines from it in Tomahawk songs.

The remainder of the festival was amazing. Later that first day, I saw Mel Brooks present The Producers, and that was phenomenal. He’s sharp as a tack, funny as hell, and had great stories.

Mel Brooks outdoes everyone and probably will...forever. Flanked by Mitch Glazer on the right and Vanity Fair's Sam Kashner (who, thankfully, let Brooks have centerstage as well he should have!)

I did another 9:00am run on Saturday to see Billy Wilder’s Sunset Blvd (but I’d do almost anything for a Billy Wilder screening…you should too), and Nancy Olsen was there, looking barely any older than she did in the film! It was impressive. I visited the Egyptian Saturday night to see Donald Bogle (read his book “Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks: A History of Blacks in Film”- educational and extremely well-written!) present some of the most exquisite 35mm transfers of out-of-circulation cartoons (such as “Coal Black and the Sebben Dwarves”)

The 35mm prints of these cartoons were magnificent and the historical discussion by Donald Bogle was beyond that.

done by folks like Bob Klampett and Tex Avery. That show blew my skull apart and made me simply ecstatic to live in a city where I could bear witness to this on a big screen!

Then there was Three Alarm Sunday. Heard of a three alarm fire? I have 3 alarms to wake me up. I used ‘em for Sunday. One was Good, one was Bad, and one was Ugly. Because that was the film I saw. It was life changing. Out of all the films I have seen in my life (and I have seen a ton), I had never seen this, and I had especially never seen it with 94-year-old Eli Wallach doing the Q&A. What do you want me to say? He was witty, funny, charming. He let loose an “I’ll stop acting when I die!”

"I'll stop acting when I die!"

and brought along a birthday card someone sent him that played the beginning theme from the film. The movie and the music were so beautiful that they made me cry. Not once, not twice, but several times. I felt lucky to have eyes and ears, and thanked Italy and Mr. and Mrs. Leone for having some sexy times to create Sergio. I walked out of Grauman’s a changed woman, and will never forget that morning.  While I saw several more films that day, including The Stunt Man (Richard Rush,1980), Murder, He Says (George Marshall, 1945) and one of my all-time-favorites, In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950), The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is a film that went beyond the pale, and really “tied the room together, man.” Thank you TCM, and thank you Los Angeles for providing me with a nice little film vacation! Can’t wait until next year!

And so we have come full-circle. It is now next year. I have been chatting excitedly with my good friends Karie Bible from Film Radar and Dennis Cozzalio of Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule and we all agreed in our different conversations that this year’s schedule is *just* as difficult to prioritize as last year’s. Realistically, the fact that I even have a pass to go to the thing makes me feel like Charlie Bucket getting a Golden Ticket to Willy Wonka’s factory.  That said, when you put certain things against each other at the same time, it truly is like a filmic Sophie’s Choice. That said, I am going to now present you with what I feel will be my schedule for the TCM Classic Film Festival 2011. Feel free to comment on it at will!

THURSDAY, April 28th

7:15- A Night at the Opera with What’s Opera, Doc? on 35mm, guests: Andy Marx and Robert Bader

-I’m not sure if I have seen a Marx Brothers film on the big screen before. So…I’m gonna make sure that I have.

10:15-The Devil is a Woman on 35mm, guest: Katie Trainor

-totally problematic, TOTALLY Von Sternberg/Dietrich, and to quote the TCM site- “When Spain threatened to ban all Paramount pictures over the film’s depiction of their police guard, the studio pulled it from worldwide distribution and destroyed the master. They also released von Sternberg from his contract prematurely ending a level of artistic freedom that the director would never enjoy again.”  This is the world premiere of a new restoration from MOMA. Can we say excited, boys & girls?

FRIDAY, April 29th

-9:00am, Becket on 35mm, Q&A/Discussion w/Peter O’Toole

-I am getting up SUPER early in order to be able to see this. If I do not get a good seat for this I will be crushed. I am soooooooo looking forward to this it’s kinda silly. As I have commented to friends of mine, this is kinda one of the first “bro” movies. But, as far as I’m concerned, it’s the kind of “bro” I LIKE watching. Peter O’Toole in person. Need I say more???

-12:45pm Bigger Than Life on 35mm, guest: Barbara Rush

-It’s on scope. It’s by Nicholas Ray. It’s got Walter Matthau. 2008 restoration. I’ve never seen it. It’s about drug addiction and the ripping apart of the “picket fence” thing. I’m SO IN.

-3:45pm The 7th Voyage of Sinbad on 35mm, guest: Bruce Crawford

-DUDE. Harryhausen. 35mm. Are you out of your mind?? I may resemble a female in all the ways I am supposed to, but when it comes to things of this nature, I WANT ADVENTURE AND BIG MONSTERS ON THE BIG SCREEN. I will not hide the 14-year-old-boy that resides in my brain. And he gets treated to some rockin’ good times with this. Thanks. I could lie and tell you that it was just because I wanted to write about the Bernard Herrmann music, but why beat around the bush???

-8:00pm Spartacus, digital, guest/Q&A: Kirk Douglas

-So I have dreamed of seeing Kirk Douglas in person since…oh…forever. I love that he is a man that doesn’t let anything keep him down and I love his dedication and his passion. I just want to see him in person. I have also never seen Spartacus on the big screen. There is something somewhat romantic to me about seeing it at the Egyptian. So…I am going to do this. I am *hoping* that it will let me out early enough to make the midnight at the Egyptian, however….

-12:00am The Tingler, 35mm, guest: Bruce Goldstein

-I love William Castle. I love Vincent Price. I make it a point to never miss a chance to see a Castle movie when it is being projected, if i can help it. So…if I can help it, I’m gonna try to make it! If I can’t then, ah well.

SATURDAY, April 30th

-9:30am This is the Night, 35mm, guest: Jennifer Grant

-It’s the film that launched Cary Grant’s career, got Thelma Todd in it (aka “Hot Toddy” who died under very mysterious circumstances), it’s pre-code-era, and it’s a new restoration from the UCLA Film & TV Archive. Sounds good for breakfast!

-12:00pm The Outlaw Josie Wales, digital

-Clint Eastwood. Big Chinese. Need I say more?

-3:45 Went The Day Well?, 35mm, Guest: Kevin Brownlow

-OK, so this is where it gets super painful for *me*…I need to see Outlaw Josie Wales so therefore I cannot go to the “Conversation with Kevin Brownlow” that they are having. This part SUCKS. If you don’t know who Kevin Brownlow is, he’s the guy I wanna be when I grow up. He got an Academy Award for the work he’s done with film preservation, ok? So instead of the “Conversation with…” I’m going to see this film. Don’t get me wrong. This film looks incredible!!! It’s loosely based on a Graham Greene story, it’s a North American premiere of a new restoration, it has all the right stuff. And Brownlow is going to speak on its merits! But…it’s playing at the same time as Carousel, one of my favorite musicals in the entire world, a film I have NEVER gotten to see on a big screen, and a film that never PLAYS on a big screen. Yeah, Sophie? You and your choices can go to hell. I’m still loving my Golden Ticket, though. Oy vey.

***here’s my two options that I haven’t decided on yet:

-6:15 Niagara, 35mm, guest: Foster Hirsch

-Love me some Hathaway, great dark Marilyn film, and Foster Hirsch is a badass mofo when it comes to film noir-y writing and that kinda stuff. I would LOVE to see him talk about this film. To be honest, 50% of the draw of going to Niagara is Hirsch. But…I haven’t decided yet.

OR

-6:30 Pennies From Heaven, 35mm, guest: Ileana Douglas

-Don’t think I’ve seen it on a big screen, wonderful film, Steve Martin…pretty irresistible. This slot is a REALLY HARD CHOICE. I may not know what I’m going to until a little while before I go…

-9:30pm One, Two, Three, 35mm, guest: Michael Schlesinger

-It’s Wilder. We do not miss Wilder. It is a rule. Kinda like breathing. ‘Nuff said.

-12:00am The Mummy, 35mm, guest: Ron Perlman

-I think I would have to be mildly stupid to miss seeing the 1932 film The Mummy at the Egyptian theater. If I can make it there in enough time from the Wilder…I’m there. Plus…uh, RON PERLMAN?????? Yeah.

SUNDAY, May 1st

-9:15am The Sid Saga, 35mm, guest: Ross Lipman

-I’m not going to lie. I’m going to this purely because of the film preservationist/restorationist. Ross Lipman is fantastic and everything he has worked on is so fascinating and to me that I pretty much trust his name at this point. He’s also an incredibly nice guy. I am very much looking forward to watching this piece. Once again, it looks like another really exciting and super cool film preservation achievement.

-12:30pm Bright Boulevards & Broken Dreams: The Story of Black Hollywood, Speaker: Donald Bogle

-I’m a sucker for a film academic who can entertain while also educate. And Donald Bogle fits that bill to a T. Therefore, I think I may go ahead and check him out again. He was awesome last year with the cartoons, so…sure! Let’s go for it!

-3:15pm A Place in the Sun, Guest: Rose McGowan

-Why Rose McGowan is the guest for this film…I have no clue. I know she was on TCM, so I have to conclude she digs this film a whole lot. To be perfectly frank, I’d rather have Alec Baldwin tell me why he likes George Stevens, but hey- not up to me, right? In any case, I’ve never seen the film and I just finished a book that uses it as a fairly central plot point, so I think it might be a good idea to finally see it.

So…there are a lot of TBAs still on Sunday, and I might catch Westside Story  or Manhattan, but I’m not sure. This is where my schedule is at this point. All I know is I’m going to be EXHAUSTED on Monday. This is like Comic Con, just less smelly and crowded and more (dare I say it?) nerdy! In any case it is equally so. And I cannot wait. So there you have it. That is my plan. Perhaps I will see you there?

Cover to Cover: The Palimpsestic Identity of Sin City

We’ve all heard it before- there are no new stories, just new storytellers. While people may buy into this theory, seeing only familiar plotlines, tired characters and repetitious outcomes, many times it is in the retelling of a familiar text that innovative styles and new diegetic constructions are born. Raymond Chandler once said that a good fiction “cannot be devised; it has to be distilled.”[1] And what is a distillation but a condensation or a purified form of something? Keeping Chandler’s argument in mind, we will explore the various and sundry ways by which stories travel.

Raymond Chandler

In the worlds of literature (which includes comic books), and film, a certain story or media item may bounce back and forth and back again. While we have recognized that there is the distinct possibility that all stories may be within the category of “already told,” the process of distillation and retelling catalyzes a new product that carries with it characteristics and features exclusive to that telling. One could almost say that these are simply new blankets out of old wool.

In his work Graphic Storytelling & Visual Narrative, Will Eisner explores the differences between film and comic books. He states that there is a “substantial and underlying difference,” between the two art forms, most notably in the way in which each separate text is consumed. Films, he says, are a non-participatory art form, while comics leave the reader “free to roam, to peek at the ending, or dwell on the image and fantasize.”[2] While Eisner’s definition of cinema spectatorship can be problematic, his conception of the active and participatory comic book reader is useful as far as comparing the different texts of Sin City . Within comic books, the reader must decide for him/herself how they are to interpret the visual representations of a car slamming its brakes, or a word balloon with the word “BAM!” in the center of it. Aural interpretation in film is not quite one of those aspects up for discussion. Brakes sound like brakes, and thunder sounds just like, well, thunder! The disparity between these two audience interpretations does seem to follow the idea that, as far as sound is concerned, there is more creativity and freedom within a literary text.

These differences in audience participation can also be applied to ideas of motion. To state the obvious, in the cinematic text, motion is the defining feature. Unlike painting, sculpture, or literature, it is this series of moving images that sets the cinema apart from all other art forms. Ricciotto Canudo wrote that movement in film “possesses the potential for a great series of combinations, of interlocking activities, combining to create a spectacle that is a series of visions and images tied together in a vibrant agglomeration, similar to a living organism.”[3] As a living organism, the function of each separate part is not as dynamic as the execution of the whole. While comic books work on a similar principle, Eisner’s idea of the “trapped spectator” of the cinema is applicable here. The time function of film, an aspect that has no bearing in the world of comics, does not allow for the luxury of individual image evaluation. One must experience all the images at once, sequentially and within the allotted cinema time, before any interpretation may take place. Tragically, this can be seen as Sin City’s undoing, as far as a successful interpretation of a comic is concerned. While the film may trump many other comic book films in its ability to faithfully take original imagery and project it cinematically, it also loses something in that process, due to the way that the audience is able to interact with the material. Long story short, there will always be a difference between the book and the film.

So what happens when a comic book, a forum meant for uninhibited and participatory readership, is put into cinematic form? What occurs when the boundaries are set? In the DVD commentary track for Sin City, Robert Rodriguez states that his selling point to Miller was the ability to translate the comics through new technological advances. Rodriguez states that he felt that the Sin City comic text was so similar to cinema, that, through the use of green screen technology, they would, in effect, be drawing the comic book cinematically. Essentially, all they needed to do was translate the comic book panels, and paint them onto the film, using a digital camera as a brush.[4] By doing this, the comic book was literally translated. But only visually. Eisner reminds us that there is more to comics than just the visuals. On the other hand, the painting that was created by Miller and Rodriguez was a crucial one to the development and future of comic book cinema.

It is worth noting that the key word that both Miller and Rodriguez use within the DVD commentary track is, in fact, translation.  The use of new media technology (few sets were built for this film, it was all done through computers and “green screen” use) and meticulously faithful visual replication done in conjunction with the artist/writer of the originating literary text, makes this film the closest visual representation of a comic book that Hollywood has ever produced. It is completely possible to read along with the graphic novel (one of which is conveniently included with the Director’s Cut DVD…can we say synergy, boys and girls?), and match panel to screen, with just about every shot. I know. I’ve done it.  Sin City, the film, looks EXACTLY like the comic book. As Nick Nunziata write, “Sin City isn’t a movie, it’s a pulp Frankenstein, black and white pages of comic book paper strapped to a gurney and electrocuted into pulsing life by the lightning of Robert Rodriguez and Miller himself…It isn’t an adaptation but a physical manifestation of the comic.”[5]

While Nunziata also states that what worked within the confines of a comic book doesn’t necessarily work within the moving picture format; the one thing that cannot be denied is the appropriateness of Sin City as a translational text. Born out of the melding of a multiplicity of different media forms and genres, it is only fitting that it be re-presented in the context of a melding of forms. It is Sin City’s nature, for better or for worse.

Out of the Past: Sin City’s Historical Precedent

Really, it all makes perfect sense. Sin City is a translation in and of itself. Frank Miller, a seasoned comic book professional, knowing full well what he was doing, decided to take on the film noir genre directly with Sin City. Why not? He had already been doing it in one form or another for years. He had spent time with Batman, in the seminal Dark Knight Returns, a character who can best be described in the way that Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton describe the private detective in noir films: “midway between lawful society and the underworld, walking on the brink, sometimes unscrupulous…fulfilling the requirements of his own code and of the genre as well.”[6] Before Dark Knight, Miller’s work with Daredevil had also proven his ability to create the ideal noir protagonist, as Matt Murdock (similar in many ways to Batman) was a “brooding, isolated individual…a deeply tortured soul, torn apart by his own internal contradictions as a lawyer and an extralegal vigilante.”[7] In other words, Miller had had enough practice. With the comic book Sin City, there was no pretense. He was not going to mask his love of pulp fiction under the guise of superhero comic, nor was he going to cater to traditional comic book visuals. He was ready to walk (or draw, in this case) down the famed “mean streets” that Raymond Chandler wrote of.

So he did. But to be perfectly frank (pun intended), as a comic book, Sin City not only broke ground in the way it was written and drawn, but also in that it was a translative experiment that went horribly, horribly right. If Miller had just wanted to take pulp fiction and make it into a comic book, he could have done just that. If he had just wanted to put film noir into comic form, he could have done that alone, too. However, what Miller did, was to breed the two texts into a third. Why not have your cake and eat it too? It is part of the magic of the comic book medium, after all. Sin City is a visual-literary work that combines all of the rough and terse dialogic properties of a Mickey Spillane novel with the existential angst of film noir characterization. Within the comic text, Miller manages to deftly mate the “hard-boiled” James M. Cain-style violence with the German Expressionist visual tendencies innate to film noir. This hybridic work translates the two artistically different forms into one. Is it a coincidence that this melding of forms mirrors a period in time where a series of films sought to translate gritty crime fiction and post-war anxiety into a highly stylized media format? I think not.

Visually, the comic book of Sin City kept the same cinematography through drawings that film noir had through a camera. Each panel has “constant opposition of areas of light and dark,” and the reader constantly bears witness to the bars of shadow that visually slice bodies up, and create “jail bars” for the characters. Additionally, as Janey Place and Lowell Peterson have noted about noir lighting, these small, tight areas of light, and the overwhelming spaces of black  serve to create a “closed universe, with each character seen as just another facet of an unheeding environment that will exist unchanged long after his death; and the interaction between man and the forces represented by [the] noir environment [are] always clearly visible.”[8] As Miller very clearly understood, the format and structure of sequential art, the panels themselves, can be used to emphasize the sense of claustrophobia and confinement that film cameras and lighting crews worked diligently to achieve.

The most salient example of Sin City’s relation to the crime fiction and film noir worlds can be found within the very inhabitants of Sin City, itself. Almost every character in the diegesis is a crime fiction/noir archetype. The character of Marv literally depicts the figure that Robert G. Porfirio has called the “Non-Heroic Hero.” Marv is a man whose world is “devoid of the moral framework necessary to produce the traditional hero. He has been wrenched from familiar moorings, and is a hero only in the modern sense in which that word has been progressively redefined to fit the existential bias of contemporary fiction.”[9] Marv’s inclusion in this filmic category is evidenced by the remark made by Dwight, in A Dame to Kill For. His narration states, quite simply:

Most people think Marv is crazy, but I don’t believe that…There’s nothing wrong with Marv, nothing at all—Except that he had the rotten luck of being born at the wrong time in history. He’d have been okay if he’d been born a couple of thousand years ago. He’d be right at home on some ancient battlefield, swinging an ax into someone’s face. Or in a Roman arena, taking a sword to other gladiators like him. They’d have tossed him girls like Nancy back then.[10]

In addition to his “anti-hero” status, Marv also falls into the category of unreliable narrator, not unlike those described and written about in great detail by crime fiction writers like Jim Thompson, or those that figure prominently in films noir like Detour or In a Lonely Place. As defined by Philip Hobsbaum, the unreliable narrator “may be identified as one whose vision is disturbed…The unreliable narrator may not be insane, but he may, if we take the text as ‘centre’, be eccentric. The unreliable narrator tends to be embittered (rather than disillusioned); paranoid (rather than wary); inexperienced (rather than innocent); self-absorbed (rather than self- aware).”[11] In The Hard Goodbye, the first book in the Sin City series, Marv is searching for the person who killed Goldie, a woman he was enamored of. While driving along, he thinks he sees Goldie, and thinks to himself,

That wasn’t Goldie back there. I let myself get confused again. It’s okay when I smell things that aren’t there or even when I hear things. But it’s pretty serious when I see things…I got confused. I would’ve been all right if I took my medicine when I should have….I forgot to take my medicine. When you’ve got a condition it’s bad to forget your medicine.[12]

This excerpt, exposing his dependence on pills for coherence, and his off-hand admission of hearing voices/smelling things on a more than frequent basis establishes his position within both Frank Miller’s work as well as the noir world at large. Marv’s unreliable narrator and anti-hero status help to emphasize Sin City’s position as a new text that actually really is based “out of the past.”

Sin City as Palimpsest

Literally, a palimpsest is defined as a “manuscript, typically of papyrus or parchment, that has been written on more than once, with the earlier writing incompletely erased and often legible.”[13] Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City is nothing short of a cinematic palimpsest. From the original papyrus of hard-boiled fiction to the films in the 1940’s and ‘50s known as film noir to the most recent cinematic amendment in 2005, Sin City meticulously wends its way around all of these culturally significant texts, emerging as a multilayered work, containing not only the original “writings” but each subsequent “rewrite.”

Distinctive and dynamic, the gestation of this film is nothing short of organic. While it erupted onto the silver screen in 2005, its birth was the culmination and third stage of a very involved process. It can be argued that Sin City symbolizes the final step in the staircase of literary and cinematic crime fiction. The first rung on the ladder towards what Troy Brownfield refers to as the “noir movement,”[14] is the literary stage. This refers to the pulp fiction and detective novels that very heavily influenced Frank Miller’s work. These short stories and novels created a literary category that served as the foundation for the cinematic genre known as film noir.

As has been established by countless film academics, this literary tradition of crime fiction catapulted film noir into existence. Whether it was through film adaptations of books like Double Indemnity or The Maltese Falcon, or by the filmic participation of individuals whose identity was pre-established in the literary crime-fiction world, it is an undeniable fact that without these writings, the cinematic landscape of film noir would not have been fully realized. Through this second stage, the transition from book to film, the noir literary canon helped to establish a singular narrative style and technique of describing this dark world and its inhabitants. The effects of this can be seen not only in the dialogue of the films, but also in the plot structure and character dynamics.

This step pushes us forward onto the next stage in the process: re-membering and re-visualizing the literary and filmic products. Already a recombinant product, film noir was reunited with its bookish origins in 1995, when Frank Miller began his run of Sin City. Frank Miller, an avid fan of film noir and its lineage, took the literature and films and sewed them into a comic book text, maintaining and reaffirming the stylistic and thematic properties of both. As Brownfield aptly observes, “There is influence. Influence and tradition. Sin City swims in influence and tradition and Frank Miller knows it. His collection of mini-series and short stories are a modern monument to the hard-boiled school and film noir.”[15]

Leafing through the comic, one is exposed to literally dozens of references to the books and movies that made up this “movement.” Sometimes blatant, but always respectful, the film of Sin City displays its ancestry from the very beginning. The first scene in the film, taken from a short story that Frank Miller wrote entitled “The Customer is Always Right,” is a direct nod at Billy Wilder’s film, Double Indemnity (which itself was an adaptation of James M. Cain’s novel of the same name). As the film opens, we watch as a man and a woman stand on a balcony, blanketed in standard noir climate: darkest night and steady rain. The scene, complete with voice-over, matches the visuals and the dialogue in the comic, perfectly. The couple “tenderly embrace, and, as they do, he shoots her in the stomach. This reenacts the fatal embrace between Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray near the close of Double Indemnity.”[16] Opening the film in this manner introduces the viewer to the process by which Sin City, as a film, came into being. While the multi-textual references in this opening scene may not have been caught by the vast majority of the audience (tragically, not many folks out there do a whole lot of time with the work of Wilder or Cain), this scene graphically and contextually underscored the evolution of Sin City, both as homage and as palimpsest. By calling forth James M. Cain and Billy Wilder in one fell swoop, this scene shows us how Miller and Rodriguez intentionally reworked and involved the literary and film noir genres within the boundaries of new story structures.

As Frank Miller stated in an interview with the Comics Journal in 1998, working with established generic formulas should not be dismissed as a kind of “pandering. I believe that genre is a structure that one can work within.”[17] Using genre as his tool of choice, Miller constructed a world in which the written word as well as the highly stylized visual form held sway. In the previous incarnations of crime novels and films, this bifurcated power structure was not at all present. Miller’s comic rewrote the past, putting a new “skin” over these previous manuscripts. It was scarcely a hop, skip and a jump to the final stage in the process: the cinematic translation of the comic book text.

Frank Miller makes the statement that “[Sin City’s] springboard is film noir. There’s nothing nostalgic about Sin City, it does use echoes of old movies and old books but it uses them in new ways and I think that the result in this film is quite startling…very fresh…it does not reassure the audience…our hero does not end up being applauded by everyone in the room or getting a medal.”[18] In the final stage of comic to film, we can see this unusual history literally illustrated. From literary to film genre, from comic book series translated to film, there is a level of refraction that occurs in this process that establishes Sin City’s identity as a text that has experienced multiple inscriptions, all the while never erasing the remnants of that which came before.


[1] Chandler, Raymond. Letter, March 7, 1947. Raymond Chandler Speaking (1962). The Columbia World of Quotations. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996. www.bartleby.com/66/. (accessed on May 23, 2006).

[2] Eisner, Will. Graphic Storytelling & Visual Narrative. Tamarac: Poorhouse Press, 1996.

[3] Canudo, Ricciotto. “The Birth of a Sixth Art.” Quoted in Cinemas of the Mind: A Critical History of Film Theory. Ed. Nicholas Tredell. Cambridge: Icon Books Ltd., 2002.

[4] Rodriguez, Robert quoted in Sin City. Dir. Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller.  Feature Commentary with Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez. Perf. Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Bruce Willis, Rosario Dawson. 2005. DVD. Buena Vista Home Entertainment, 2005.

[5] Nunziata, Nick. “Review: Frank Miller’s Sin City.” CHUD.com- Cinematic Happenings Under Development. http://chud.com/index.php?type=reviews&id=2099 (accessed June 28, 2006)

[6] Borde, Raymond and Etienne Chaumeton. “Towards a Definition of Film Noir.” Film Noir Reader. Ed. Alain Silver & James Ursini. New York: Limelight Editions, 1996.

[7] Wright, Bradford W. Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.

[8] Place, Janey and Lowell Peterson. “Some Visual Motifs of Film Noir.” Film Noir Reader. Ed. Alain Silver and James Ursini. New York: Limelight Editions, 1998.

[9] Porfirio, Robert G. “No Way Out: Existential Motifs in the Film Noir.” Film Noir Reader. Ed. Alain Silver and James Ursini. New York: Limelight Editions, 1998.

[10] Miller, Frank. A Dame to Kill For: A Tale From Sin City. Milwaukie: Dark Horse Comics, 1995.

[11] Hobsbaum, Philip. “Unreliable Narrators: Poor Things and its Paradigms.” STELLA: Software for Teaching English Language and Literature andIts Assessment. http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk/SESLl/STELLA/COMET/glasgrev/issue3/hobs.htm (accessed on July 3, 2006)

[12] Miller, Frank. Sin City: The Hard Goodbye. Milwaukie: Dark Horse Comics, 1991.

[14] Brownfield, Troy. “Sin City’s Family Tradition.”  Newsarama. http://www.newsarama.com/movies/SinCity/SinCityAnalysis.html (accessed on June 28, 2006).

[15] Brownfield, ibid.

[16] McCartney, George. “Sin City.” Chronicles Magazine. http://www.chroniclesmagazine.org/cgi-bin/movies.cgi (accessed on June 27, 2006).

[17] Groth, Gary. “Interview with Frank Miller.” The Comics Journal Library-Frank Miller-The Interviews:1981-2003. Seattle: Fantagrahics Books, 2003.


[1] McCloud, ibid.

[2] Eisner, ibid.



[1] McCloud, Scott. Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc, 1993.

[2] Eisner, Will. Graphic Storytelling & Visual Narrative. Tamarac: Poorhouse Press, 1996.


[1] Sin City. Dir. Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller.  Special Features: “How It Went Down.” Perf. Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Bruce Willis, Rosario Dawson. 2005. DVD. Buena Vista Home Entertainment, 2005.


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