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Martin Scorsese's Ten Favourite Films

6/3/2020 4:05:00 PM

From Ashes and Diamonds to BlacKkKlansman

Martin Scorsese is not only one of the greatest living film directors of our time, but  also an avid cinephile. His non-profit organization Film Foundation is dedicated to restore rare classics. His educational documentaries including “A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies” reflect his deep love and passion for film history. Here are the director’s favourite ten films in no particular order:

 

8½ (1963)

A harried movie director retreats into his memories and fantasies.

Director: Federico Fellini

 

The Haunting (1963)

Hill House has stood for about 90 years and appears haunted: its inhabitants have always met strange, tragic ends. Now Dr. John Markway has assembled a team of people who he thinks will prove whether or not the house is haunted.

Director: Robert Wise

 

Ashes and Diamonds (1958)

As WWII and the German occupation ends, the Polish resistance and the Russian forces turn on each other in an attempt to take over leadership in Communist Poland.

Director: Andrzej Wajda

 

The Exorcist (1973)

When a 12 year-old girl is possessed by a mysterious entity, her mother seeks the help of two priests to save her.

Director: William Friedkin

 

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

A rebellious young man with a troubled past comes to a new town, finding friends and enemies.

Director: Nicholas Ray

 

The Leopard (1963)

The Prince of Salina, a noble aristocrat of impeccable integrity, tries to preserve his family and class amid the tumultuous social upheavals of 1860's Sicily.

Director: Luchino Visconti

 

BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Ron Stallworth, an African American police officer from Colorado Springs, CO, successfully manages to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan branch with the help of a Jewish surrogate who eventually becomes its leader. Based on actual events.

Director: Spike Lee

 

Woman Is the Future of Man (2004)

Two college friends get together and reminisce on the woman they both fell in love with at different times in their past, and are thus propelled to find her.

Director: Sang-soo Hong

One-Eyed Jacks (1961)

After robbing a Mexican bank, Dad Longworth takes the loot and leaves his partner Rio to be captured but Rio escapes and searches for Dad in California.

Director: Marlon Brando

 

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

After discovering a mysterious artifact buried beneath the Lunar surface, mankind sets off on a quest to find its origins with help from intelligent supercomputer H.A.L. 9000.

Director: Stanley Kubrick

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COMMEMORATING 30 YEARS OF TFF

5/27/2020 12:00:00 PM

I don’t remember the first Albert Lewin film I saw or how old I was when I saw it, but I was immediately entranced. I was taken with his literate and touchingly formal approach to moviemaking, his moving adherence to and belief in high culture and its trappings, his powerful sense of myth, his exacting production design, and his pull toward brooding and meditative quietude. He shared many of these qualities with Val Lewton. Both men had come out of the studio system and served as right-hand men to superstar production executives—Lewton worked for David O. Selznick, Lewin for Irving Thalberg—and both of them went in far more individualistic directions than their former mentors. And apart from the respective levels of their budgets and shooting schedules, there was one crucial difference. Lewton exerted a powerful and unmistakable influence on each of the films he produced, but he never directed. He preferred to stay in the background. Lewin also produced some truly beautiful films, but when he became a director, he declared himself as an artist. You can hide as a producer. But to quote David Fincher, if you think you can hide as a director, you’re nuts. The mythic undertones and overtones, the swooning romanticism, the idiosyncratic and occasionally awkward grammar and pacing—he unashamedly owned all of it.

The Film Foundation has helped to facilitate the restorations of three films directed by Lewin—The Moon and Sixpence, The Private Affairs of Bel Ami, and his greatest, the hypnotic and throbbingly beautiful Pandora and the Flying Dutchman—in addition to So Ends Our Night, a lovely adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s Flotsam. I like to celebrate Lewin, because his films are very special to me, and because at this particular moment in our culture, when people are so cavalier about shutting the door on the past, they seem particularly fragile. To see the films of the past only through the lens of the present, as opposed to allowing every film to fully reveal itself and thereby illuminate the moment of its making, is a great sadness. Especially when it’s used as a means of marginalizing such soulful films.

- Kent Jones

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Blu-Ray Review: Mystery Of The Wax Museum (1933)

The Hannibal 8

5/26/2020 12:00:00 PM

Directed by Michael Curtiz
Screenplay by Don Mullaly and Carl Erickson
From the story by Charles S. Belden
Photography by Ray Rennahan
Art Director Anton Grot
Edited by George Amy
Gowns by Orry-Kelly

Cast: Lionel Atwill (Mr. Igor), Fay Wray (Charlotte Duncan), Glenda Farrell (Florence), Frank McHugh (Editor), Allen Vincent (Ralph Burton), Gavin Gordon (George Winton), Edwin Maxwell (Joe Worth), Holmes Herbert (Dr. Rasmussen), Arthur Edmund Carewe (Darcy/Sparrow)

There’s something about a “lost” film that magically lifts it above the usual concerns about quality. It’s lost, good or bad doesn’t matter anymore. Same goes with what it looks like — we’ll take anything, it’s lost!* When a 35mm Technicolor print of Mystery Of The Wax Museum (1933) turned up in Jack Warner’s personal archive (about 50 years ago!), all that mattered was seeing it. It once was lost, but now it was found.

Sadly, the 16mm color prints (pulled from Jack’s 35) that made the rounds of colleges and film festivals weren’t much to write home about. (The story goes that the picture’s cinematographer, Technicolor artiste Ray Rennahan, attended one of those screenings, and he was so dismayed by what was on the screen, he left.)

Well, enough time’s gone by that Mystery Of The Wax Museum isn’t a lost film anymore. To most folks, it’s just a creaky, creepy old horror movie with weird-looking color. In fact, it’s probably better known now as the movie House Of Wax (1953) was a remake of. But thanks to Warner Archive’s new Blu-Ray — from a miraculous restoration by UCLA and The Film Foundation, with funding from The George Lucas Family Foundation, it’s certainly not lost. It’s not nearly as creaky. And its color, while still a little weird, shines like a diamond (or an emerald since there’s so much green). And I’m happy to say, man, this thing’s creepier than ever.

Come to think of it, it’s like it’s been found again! We don’t have to look past or through anything anymore. We don’t have to imagine what it looked like back in ’33. We can just enjoy it for what it is. This restoration (a second print was later discovered in France) levels the playing field to let it compete with its ghoulish gang of contemporaries — 30s horror masterpieces like Frankenstein (1931), White Zombie (1932), The Black Cat (1934) and so on. And while it might not reach some of those lurid, lofty heights, it really holds its own. 

We all know the plot by now. A sculptor (Lionel Atwill) is disfigured when a London wax museum is burned by its owner for the insurance money. Years later, that sculptor has relocated to New York and is about to reopen a new museum with recreations of his greatest works. A young reporter (Glenda Farrell) notices that the Joan Of Ark figure looks a lot like a young women who died a few days ago, and whose body disappeared from the morgue. (Obviously, House Of Wax was a very faithful remake.) Then, as luck would have it, Fay Wray wanders into the museum, and she’s the spitting image of Atwill’s melted masterpiece, Marie Antoinette. From there, things get even weirder and far more sinister as Atwill’s evil plan and despicable working methods are discovered.

Seeing it look this good, and with its sound cleaned up to an astonishing degree, there are some things about the film that really strike you. The dialogue has that snappy early-30s cops and reporters repartee going on, which we know from pictures like The Front Page (1931). Some of it’s a real hoot — and some a little suggestive, which helps remind you that this is a pre-Code picture.

The picture seems to wallow in its more lurid aspects. Atwill’s employees are quite a seemly, leering bunch. One, Darcy (Arthur Edmund Carewe), is a junkie who the police question until his DTs cause him to spill. There’s a bit of talk about bootlegging. And we get to spend time in the morgue, with a body rising to a seated position, an eery result of the embalming process. And of course there are numerous opportunities to gawk at Fay Wray’s legs. It’s all part of the fun. 

Ray Rennaham (behind camera), Lionel Atwill and Michael Curtiz.

There are times when it’s quite obvious the wax figures are played by people. The hot lights needed for Technicolor photography didn’t get along with the wax figures. Queen Victoria blinks. Joan Of Arc’s lip twitches. 

Speaking of those hot lights. Mystery Of The Wax Museum was the last feature shot in two-color Technicolor. Ray Rennahan and set designer/art director Anton Grot worked with the process’ limited color palette to create plenty of atmosphere. As we see the picture today, two colors were not a handicap for these folks. The odd color enhances the odd nature of the story, especially the vivid greens in a few creepy closeups. It’s surprisingly stylish.

Mystery Of The Wax Museum has always been a favorite, and I cherish my laserdisc of it paired with Doctor X (1932), another creepy two-color picture from Atwill, Wray, Curtiz and Rennahan. (Would love to see Doctor X get a similar restoration.) Seeing Mystery Of The Wax Museum on Blu-Ray is a revelation, making it quite obvious that the damage and semi-color were a real detriment to how much we enjoyed it over the years. The extras — a tribute to Fay Wray, a before/after comparison of the restoration and two commentaries — make for a nice package indeed.

Film history nuts (especially those fond of the technical stuff), pre-Code fans and those of us who just can’t get enough classic horror really need this Blu-Ray. It shows what can be done these days to bring a beat-up old movie back from the brink — and lets us sit back and really enjoy this creepy old thing like never before. Essential. 

* If London After Midnight suddenly turned up, would you care what kind of shape the print was in — or if the movie was actually any good? I didn’t think so.

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Celebrating 30 Years

4/29/2020 11:00:00 AM

In 1990, Martin Scorsese founded an organization whose stated mission told the world, in no uncertain terms, that movies mattered, that the art of cinema and its history mattered. 30 years later, let’s remember some of the 850 restorations that The Film Foundation made possible, once a week throughout the year, beginning with one of the titles that set the glorious machinery in motion. Abraham Polonsky’s FORCE OF EVIL is a one-of-a-kind film, an intensely concentrated drama (in blank verse!) of self-deception and betrayal, set in the world of the New York numbers rackets and largely shot on the streets of this city, our city, at this moment devastated but standing in solidarity. FORCE OF EVIL, one of five Republic titles restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive with TFF’s support, was made by four artists—Polonsky, co-writer Ira Wolfert, producer Bob Roberts and star John Garfield—who were soon brought down by the blacklist. But together, they left behind one of the great, enduring works of American moviemaking.

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