DOASKDOTELL Reviews of films about the movies

Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography (1992, Fox/AFI/NHK) is a documentary tracing film as an expressive medium since its origins. The underlying concept, of course, is expression of concept, plot or character with moving images and settings rather than just words.  The idea of black-and-white as an “abstract” medium (as with film noir) is explored. Over 125 film clips from major Hollywood landmarks are shown, about half in black and white.

 Edge of Outside (2006, TCM, dir. Shannon Davis) is a Turner Classics documentary about independent filmmakers. Orson Welles, John Cassavetes, Ed Burns, Sam Peckinpah, David Lynch, and Stanley Kubrick ("Lolita", which seems just quirky today, was quite a challenge to the decency police) are all shown. The "credit card syndrome" is mentioned, and apparently some indie filmmakers have sold blood or platelets  (no gay men for that) for movie money. Many people don't realize that United Artists, now the "boutique" label for MGM, was at one time the vehicle to release large films from independent filmmakers, to the point that UA films were regarded as "Hollywood mainstream" even though they weren't. Burns talks about listening to am MBA beancounter telling him what is wrong with his screenplay (it will cost too much).

This is Cinerama (1952, dir. Merian C. Cooper, Gunther von Fritsch) was the famous early widescreen experiment with three projectors. The film started with the Coney Island roller coaster and documented various other adventures with Niagra Falls, an opera house, and Cypress Gardens in Florida. I saw this at the Warner Theater on Pennsylvania Ave in Washington DC. The film was followed up in 1955 with Cinerama Holiday, which opens with a plane ride through the Alps, and it almost cause me to get airsick (which never happens on real flights).  Then in 1956 Lowell Thomas narrated Seven Wonders of the World (dir. Tay Garnett and Paul Gantz). For some web references on aspect rations, go to http://www.dvdaust.com/aspect.htm or http://www.geocities.com/SiliconValley/Bay/2933/movieaspectratio.html or http://www.widescreen.org/aspect_ratios.shtml  There is more also at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinerama

How the West Was Won (1962, MGM / Cinerama, dir. John Ford, "The Civil War"; Henry Hathaway, "The River", "The Plains", "The Outlaws"; George Marshall, "The Railroad", Richard Thorpe, transitions, 155 min + intermission, PG)  was apparently the first "story" movie in the three-projector Cinerama process. The DVD shows the three parts of the image, and in some scenes the effects are odd, as on a flat screen the edges trail away (as in a shot of the Golden Gate Bridge at the end as the modern western cities are shown as of 1962). The movie has an all star cast of Gregory Peck, George Peppard, James Stewart (as Linus Rawlings), Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb, Debbie Reynolds, Carroll Baker, Henry Fonda, Carolyn Jones, Eli Wallach.  The script is episodic, as it starts before the Civil War and ends with the building of the railroads. The last sequence, where outlaws attack a train (that was the "terrorist" danger of the time) is breathtaking. Many lines of dialogue depict the social values of the times, and one wonders if the film's creators were cognizant of how fragile these values were already becoming. In one scene, a landowner begs a woman to marry him and because he is sure she is fit to bear children. In another early scene, a woman wants to go back East where she can have nice things, but she still wants "a Man."  People did not question the morality of driving native Americans out of their land or of family solidarity. By Pony Express, a letter cost $5 to go across country, taking weeks until the railroads were connected. The DVD includes a fifteen minute featurette "Cinerama: Behind the Scenes" (1999, Turner Classic Movies), narrated by Bill Toutant, to trace the history of Cinerama, which the studios invented in response to the competitive threat of television after World War II. The short does show how stunts were done in filming HTWWW, which, at the time, was the third most expensive movie ever made. The short shows the Neon Theater in Dayton, Ohio where an entrepreneur named John Harvey sometimes shows the film in the original three-projector Cinerama. 

It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963, MGM / United Artists, dir. Stanley Kramer, 154 min, G) was shot in Ultra Panavision 70 and presented as a single strip Cinerama, supposedly the first movie to do so. When crook Smiler Grogan (Jimmy Durante) crashes he gives word of a cache of "a little bit of money" and the slapstick of the rest of this long scenic demonstration follows around the scenery in the California and Nevada deserts. The idea reminds us today of Coen Brothers ("No Country for Old Men") but the effect is totally different, just wacky, to the very end where the greedy cast hangs on a fire escape, to be flung around downtown LA by a fire ladder while the money falls to the ground for common people like pennies from heaven. There are a lot of comic lines about sharing the wealth and about keeping away from tie IRS, which taxes crooks, so this also sounds like a good "libertarian" movie.  Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Sid Ceasar, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman. A Hollywood free-for-all.

Windjammer : The Voyage of the Christian Radich (1958, National Theatres/ Cinemiralce, dir. Bill Colleran, Louis de Rochemont III, wr. James L, Shute) was presented in a Cinerama variant called Cinemiracle, a three 3-strip process evenutally shown as Cinerama. This is a documentary of a school ship voyage round trip across the Atlantic from Oslo.  The music score by Morton Gould became well known as a concert suite.

This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006, IFC/Netflix, dir. Kirby Dick, NC-17, 97 min) is a documentary exposing the secrecy and collusion of the (Motion Picture Association of America and National Association of Theater Owners) MPAA ratings board and system. The director Kirby hires two female private investigators to "stalk" the comings and goings of the gated ratings board headquarters in Encinco, CA. With binoculars and license plate tracing, and by following people around and listening in restaurants, they gradually identify the ratings board members. You have to have kids to be employed as a rater. But many of the raters' kids are grown. The film presents the ratings system as a component of a secretive monopoly operated by a cartel, so powerful that no government will challenge it. Toward the end, this film is submitted and gets the NC-17, and then it goes to the appeal board. The film has many explicit sexual clips from many movies, sometimes blotted out. During the titles, the background looks like a male shaved chest. Explicit sexual content is much more likely to be rated severely than violence, and gay sex is more likely to get the NC-17 than the equivalent straight sex. That seems to be a reflection of the values of American culture, in contrast to Europe where violence is much more objectionable. Films that get an NC-17 are normally not shown in major theater chains (other than independent chains or as special presentations like AMC "Select"), and the DVDs are not sold in major retailers like Wal-Mart. In that sense, the cartel can control artistic expression, but technology is always forcing the issue. The film also discusses the controversy around piracy and the DMCA. At one point, there is a comparison of film porn and Internet porn, and one producer says something like, "All teenagers look at porn in their bedrooms when their parents aren't looking, it's no secret"; that remark would sound relevant to the COPA (Child Online Protection Act) litigation. A Ms. Graves runs the ratings board, and she is presented in a split-screen cartoonish caricature in a phone confrontation. Film companies pay thousands to have their films rated (sometimes to attract distribution), and I don't recall that point being made.

That's Entertainment (1974, MGM, dir. Jack Haley, Jr., 134 min) is a big wide-screen retrospective bash as stars from MGM films present musical ditties from a half century of the studio's history. Since then, MGM has gone through perambulations, being acquired by Sony, which would keep the famous Cat - roaring Lion trademark and use it for somewhat smaller films, sometimes in conjunction with The Weinstein Company (which split off of Miramax). I saw this at the oversized Ziegfeld in New York City with a friend in 1974, right after moving in to the City.

A Pervert's Guide to Cinema (2007, Film Four, dir. Sophie Fiennes, 150 min, UK, R) is a somewhat tedious lecture by Slavoj Zizek, analyzing the psychological aspects of the way film deals with erotica and psychological issues. It could have been called a "psychologist's guide" rather than "pervert's guide", as there is no discussion of pornography or excessive gratuitous sex (straight or gay). He presents clips from 43 films going back to the 1930s, with particular emphasis on the films of Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch. For example, he summarizes the plot of Vertigo (1958) in terms of appearances and reality as they relate to polarities. The feminine is all knowing, and male power is a bit of a myth. He also talks about fantasy and reality as opposite zones, each of which "lures" someone too weak for the other zone. There is a great rendition of the toilet commode scene from "The Conversation." 

Show Business: The Road to Broadway (2007, Regent, dir. Dori Bernstein, 102 min, PG) presents the evolution of four major Broadway musicals. "Wicked" "Caroline, or Change"  "Avenue Q" "Taboo".

Blogger review: http://billsdramareviews.blogspot.com/2007/06/show-business-road-to-broadway-film.html

There's No Business Like Show Business (1954, 20th Century Fox, dir. Walter Lang, story by Lamar Troti, prod. Sol Siegel, music by Irving Berlin, sug G, 117 min) is an early Fox Cinemascope musical. The aspect ratio is the full 2.55 to 1 and the Fox DVD preserves it. Hardly any other widescreen movie so fully fills up the sets (except maybe La Dolce Vita), as in the final closing number, magnificently choreographed, or in other scenes, such as one where a model T is on the left side of the screen and would be cropped out without full access to the aspect ratio. The De Luxe color is magnificent. Most of the scenes are like stage-play or Broadway musical scenes, but the mix of tints and shades of color, including grays and whites, is fascinating. It seems that no filtering was used, and the detail is magnificent. In its day 20th Century Fox was a technical leader, and we wish it were so today.  The cast includes Ethel Merman, Marilyn Monroe (yes!), Mitzi Gaynor, Hugh O'Brian, Donald O'Connor, Dan Dailey. The story starts in 1919 and concerns a vaudeville family, The Five Donahues, whose act has to survive the depression and re-emerge on the White Way. When Tim (O'Connor) meets Vicki (Marilyn) the family solidarity and sense of propriety (these were the days of twin beds) falls apart, as in a funny scene where mother washes son's head and puts him to bed. The musical numbers are numerous, and some are a bit risky for the day, such as "A sailor's not a sailor until he's been tatooed." That scene allows the dancer a hairy chest, daring in 1954 when men didn't show what nature bestowed them. The words of the theme song, taken literally, are most inviting. Show business may be the final tool to lift the military gay ban. What an irony. The theme song also appears in All that Jazz.  

You Must Remember This: The Warner Brothers Story (2008, PBS, 6 hr), blogger.

Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures (2001, Warner Bros., dir. Jan Harlan, 142 min) a documentary about the visionary director, most often associated with Warner Brothers. Blogger.

Cinema's Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood (2008, New Line, PBS). Blogger.

The Slanted Screen (2009, Center for Asian American Media, dir. Jeff Adachi, 50 min) a documentary about the role of Asian actors in American film, including Sessue Hayakawa and Bruce Lee. Blogger.

The Cutting Edge: The Art of Film Editing (2004, Starz Encore, dir. Wendy Apple, 99 min). Blogger.

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