Frank Tashlin (1994, BFI)

This must be the best book I’ve read on the work of a director. It’s organized just how I’d like, with articles covering all aspects of Tashlin’s work (with little overlap), interviews with Tashlin and with others about Tashlin, excerpts from his cartoons, plenty of photographs, critical write-ups of each film he directed and detailed chronology and filmography of all his work. I read the library copy straight through. Gotta adjust myself to not being able to put it on my shelf of film books since it’s so far out of print… can’t own everything, ya know.

Some edited excerpts:

Jonathan Rosenbaum:

It seems to me that “Tashlinesque” can mean one or more of five different strains in the contemporary cinema which I will list below, with appropriate examples…

A. Graphic expression in shapes, colors, costumes, settings and facial expressions derived from both animated and still cartoons and comic books: The 500 Fingers of Dr. T., I Want To Go Home, Dick Tracy

B. Sexual hysteria – usually (if not invariably) grounded in the combination of male adolescent lust and 1950s’ notions of feminine voluptuousness: Seven Year Itch, The Nutty Professor, Lord Love a Duck, The Man With Two Brains

C. Vulgar modernism: a “popular, ironic, somewhat dehumanized mode reflexively concerned with the specific properties of its medium or the conditions of its making” (Hoberman): Duck Amuck, Hellzapoppin’, Sullivan’s Travels, The Patsy, Real Life, The Purple Rose of Cairo

D. Intertextual film references: Shoot The Piano Player, Zazie dans le metro, Celine & Julie Go Boating, Who Framed Roger Rabbit

E. Contemporary social satire: products, gadgets, fads, trends: Christmas In July, A King in New York, Mon oncle, Tampopo

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J. Hoberman

Tashlin’s films ultimately have less to do with the production of cultural forms than with their packaging and consumption. His America is a nation of robotic image junkies whose minds have been colonized by the media. Jerry Lewis’s landlady in Rock-a-Bye Baby does exactly what TV commercials tell her to do, even to the point of dying her hair vermilion; the movie fans in Hollywood or Bust and Rock Hunter are little more than popcorn and fan-mag consuming zombies. The protagonist of The Girl Can’t Help It is made to hallucinate singer Julie London every time he hears one of her records on a jukebox.

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Bernard Eisenschitz

Although Truffaut and his colleagues at Cahiers knew little English and even less about contemporary trends in American theater and jazz… they were not caught unawares by The Girl Can’t Help It and Hollywood or Bust. Rivette, Rohmer and Truffaut rated them “masterpieces” in the same month as The Wrong Man and Chikamatsu monogatari. A phantasy view of America to be sure, but no less valid than the recent sociological approach, in which films have little place. Tashlin not only identified and denounced the contradiction of American cinema, but also embodied it, since the ambivalence of his films makes it impossible to say which side he is taking, or to be sure that he is not exploiting the very thing that he is denouncing. The Cahiers group did not only see Tashlin as radically destructive, they also appreciated the sheer beauty of what he showed.

Playing to the French title of Hollywood or Bust, Charles Bitsch wrote, “A true movie nut, Tashlin is the first to have made films for other true movie nuts.”

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Tashlin in 1964

Cartoons are a very stimulating medium. For animators, the joke reigns supreme. But it’s also a world of enslavement. The world of an animator, no matter how fertile his ideas may be, is in the end, a confined frame, a tiny glass cel where his creations come to life. It’s as though the whole universe were reduced to a series of postcards. You spend your whole life splicing, flipping through cel sheets, drawing frame by frame. After a few years the whole thing becomes so debilitating that you lose all contact with the real world.

same interview, after he’d quit working at Disney in 1941…

I sought refuge at Leon Schlesinger’s where I worked on the Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes cartoons, then went to Screen Gems at Columbia where John Hubley and I developed the “Fox and Crow” series. I became a gagman for Harpo Marx in A Night In Casablanca. The mirror sequence, which I invented specially for him, was a series of variations on an old gag … Then I worked for Eddie Bracken, and later for Bob Hope.

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Tashlin in 1962

I really hate television. It’s no experience. You sit at home, you don’t get dressed and go out. It’s free – the audience doesn’t participate – they sit there and turn the dial and be critical. I detest it.

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1994 interview with Bill Krohn and Joe Dante:

BK: So much live-action filmmaking today is influenced by cartoons which he was the first to do, but so little of it has any social pertinence.
JD: That’s because he was influenced by better cartoons. The people who are doing cartoons today are basing them on The Flintstones. That was the nadir; cartoons were disappearing as cartoons and becoming radio shows. Doing live-action cartoons – movies like L’il Abner, Popeye – it’s a very tough thing to do. But the Flintstones themselves were so uncartoonlike that it’ll be a little easier to translate them into live action. Whereas to do Bugs Bunny, or to do characters that really are fanciful, you just can’t do that in live action.

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Mike Barrier interviews Tashlin in 1971

MB: I understand you worked on the very first development of Lady and the Tramp too.
FT: That’s right, Sam [Cobean] and I did that whole story; I’d forgotten about that.
MB: Were you working from the story that Ward Greene wrote?
FT: I don’t recall the book. Joe Grant had modeled the dog, Lady, and Sam and I did a story. I never saw the film… I think we had rats coming after the baby at the end… did they have that? Then that’s what we did.

MB: You’ve mentioned that when you made your cartoons, you were looking forward to feature work. Now that you’ve been making features for many years, have there been occasions when you’ve looked back to your cartoon work and tried to get a cartoon flavor in some of your films?
FT: Oh I guess quite often, because all the reviewers – Truffaut and Godard and all these people when they were reviewers on Cahiers du Cinema, they always treated my films, my Jerry Lewis films and all, as a cartoon. I did a picture with Tom Ewell and Jayne Mansfield [The Girl Can't Help It] and as far as they were concerned, that was a Tom and Jerry cartoon, and the fact that his name was Tom and hers was Jerri – which I never thought of – they said, “She is the cat and he is the mouse.”

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From the chronology:

1952 – Tashlin spends nearly six months working with Robert Welch on the script for “Sapphire Sal,” later re-titled Red Garters. Tashlin is originally set to direct, but when he checks off the Paramount lot in late August the production is put on hold awaiting the loan-out of Jane Russell from RKO. (Red Garters, not produced until 1954, ultimately stars Rosemary Clooney, with screenplay credit going to Michael Fessier.)

Wise Blood (1979, John Huston)

“Nobody with a good car needs to be justified.”

Huston, in his seventies, still had six more films to make and his fifteenth oscar nomination to earn. This movie was far weirder (and dirty, run-down & location-shot) than anything I thought a respected veteran hollywood studio filmmaker would produce. His might be a career I need to obsessively explore some day! We saw a square-ish 16mm print, which looked fine and dandy to me (I mean, the film looked like it’d been left in the glove box of Hazel’s car for some years, but looked fine ratio-wise), but I see the Criterion DVD will be 1.78:1.

Hazel Motes arrives back home to find his family gone, his childhood home looted and decrepit. Instead of trying to find them, he stalks a street preacher and daughter, then decides to preach his own church, one without Christ. Simpleton Enoch Emery follows Hazel trying to be his friend, eventually supplies a Christ for his church (pygmy mummy robbed from a museum). Hazel spooks the preacher into leaving town and (inadvertently) charms the daughter into shacking up with him. A con man likes Hazel’s game and emulates it by hiring his own preacher. Cars are run into ditches and lakes, much preaching is done, and Hazel refuses to warm to anybody, finally blinding himself to the delight of his landlady who now has someone helpless to take care of… but when she forces his hand, Hazel wanders off and dies on the streets alone. An extreme movie (and book), full of heresy and, supposedly, redemption. Film is a quite literal adaptation of the book, with a few omissions and modifications.

Professional crazy-actor Brad Dourif (crazy doctor in Alien 4, crazy Wormtongue in Lord of the Rings 2, crazy doll in Child’s Play) played Hazel Motes. Tron star Dan Shor was alright as Enoch Emery – I’d pictured him younger and dumber. It’s good (hell, it’s great) to see Harry Dean Stanton as the fake-blind preacher with daughter Amy Wright (who just appeared in Synecdoche New York). William Hickey (Toulon in the original Puppetmaster!) was the fake preacher hired by con artist Hoover Shoates (well played by Ned Beatty of Nashville). Mary Nell Santacroce (Atlanta native who appeared in another fake-preacher movie, an ill-advised remake of Night of the Hunter) is the landlady who takes over the last few scenes after Hazel blinds himself. And the fictional city of Taulkinham is ably played by Macon, Georgia.

Adapted and produced by the Fitzgerald family (friends of the author). Appalling music by Alex North starts out with bloopy keyboards and wheezing horns then cranks into comic-book twangy versions of recognizable standards. Sounds an awful lot like what someone from Chester Pennsylvania would image people in Macon listen to. Steve agrees the movie would be a masterpiece if you could cut that music out. Let’s hope Criterion has found a way.

Canby of the Times loved it, “lyrically mad and absolutely compelling even when we don’t fully comprehend it.”

Hellzapoppin’ (1941, H.C. Potter)

“It’s a great script – feel how much it weighs.”

Seeing how it’s Academy Awards season, I’ve been watching bizarrely oscar-related movies… first Susan Slept Here was narrated by an oscar statue, and now this one, the only movie to be nominated by accident. It seems a song called “Pig Foot Pete” appeared in an Abbott and Costello movie with the same singer (Martha Raye) and songwriters who worked on this movie, which probably accounts for the never-properly-explained discrepancy of “Pig Foot Pete” getting Hellzapoppin’ awarded an oscar nomination. It’s all beside the point, since nothing stood a chance against the song White Christmas from Holiday Inn.

The story involves mistaken identity, Martha Raye (Monsieur Verdoux) running after Mischa Auer (My Man Godfrey) because she believes he’s an eligible millionaire, while he tries to score Jane Frazee – but the movie (based on a fourth-wall-smashing hit broadway play) is really just an excuse for popular comics Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson to riff on everything around them, including the film itself. Goofy-looking Hugh Herbert (whose “hoo-hoo-hoo!” laugh supposedly inspired the creation of Daffy Duck) of Footlight Parade, Sh! The Octopus and The Beautiful Blonde From Bashful Bend, also wanders about making jokes.

Chic and Ole – don’t ask me which is which:
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Movies like this (and there aren’t many movies like this) make the phrase “screwball comedy” seem inappropriately applied to such relatively calm, normal films as Bringing Up Baby. Surely the Marx Brothers movies were an influence. I’d like to think that Frank Tashlin, who was working in cartoons at the time this came out, was heavily influenced by its high-energy cartoony gags and unhinged self-reflexivity. Some of the jokes (many of the jokes!) are very bad, but you’ve gotta forgive them because overall the movie is too amusingly nuts to dislike.

Frankenstein’s Monster, about to helpfully toss Martha Raye:
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Kevin Lee: “The show-stopper is the much celebrated Lindy Hop sequence involving several Black domestic servants who without warning launch into the most jaw-dropping swing number captured on film.”

Here’s the precursor to that swing number, which is indeed jaw-dropping:
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Director Potter would work with all the biggest stars in his other films, and eventually make a sequel to this year’s biggest oscar-winner Mrs. Miniver.

Pretty girls are roasted on a spit in hell – the movie opens with this!
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The legal battle of Olsen vs. Johnson vs. Universal Pictures has led to the commercial unavailability of their work for so long that if it finally came out now, in sparkling restored deluxe DVD editions, nobody much would care since they are barely remembered. Good job there, guys.

Martha mooning after Mischa Auer:
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NY Times called it “an anarchic collection of unfunny gags,” but then, they also spelled “alittle” as one word.

Once and future stooge Shemp Howard is the film projectionist. I love how he, not the cameraman, can change the framing of the movie by panning to follow women in swimsuits.
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Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer (1974, Thom Andersen)

“He was the first and only zoopraxographer.”

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Hour-long doc about the man who invented a form of motion photography (the famous series of tripwire-triggered photos of horses running), spending half his career as a successful still photographer, and the other half capturing and studying human and animal motion with his zoopraxiscope.

Visually, the movie is mostly composed of Muybridge’s work, nicely assembled and presented, including moving reproductions of his motion series. Voiceover tells us his story (memorable detail: he was acquitted for murdering his wife’s lover in 1875).

For his location still photography Muybridge (pronounced “Edward Mybridge” – people added extra letters to seem fancy back then) travelled with a “darkroom wagon”, foreshadowing Medvedkin’s cinetrain.

Muybridge photographed the effects of the Great San Francisco Earthquake… but not the one in 1906 – this is from October 1868!
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Muybridge died in 1904, having seen the birth of Edison’s cameras and Lumiere’s cinema which shuttled his own inventions to the sidelines. It would be 90 more years before The Matrix would combine Edison’s motion photography with Muybridge’s circular camera arrays to create the bullet-time effect. Muybridge’s photographs of San Francisco are valued as a record of the city before it was leveled by the Even Greater Earthquake of 1906.

Movie is narrated by two-time Cannes best-actor-winner (and future Blue Velvet crooner) Dean Stockwell. Editor Morgan Fisher went on to make that movie I read about which is composed of all insert shots, and the same year, director Andersen made the stock-footage masterpiece Los Angeles Plays Itself. All Movie Guide says this film took ten years to make, and J. Rosenbaum calls it “one of the best essay films ever made on a cinematic subject.”

Muybridge self-portrait:
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Snow Day Shorts

I took advantage of the huge weekend snowfall in Atlanta by huddling on the couch with a pile of DVDs of short films which I’ve long delayed watching, followed by two obscure features, totaling eight newly-seen titles on Jonathan Rosenbaum’s hallowed list of 1,000 favorite movies. At this rate of eight per day, I’ll be through the list in no time, so anyone else can feel free to send me their own thousand-faves list and I’ll get to it shortly.

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First off, two by Jane Campion. I wasn’t too kind to Sweetie or The Piano, was hoping I’d enjoy the early shorts more. A Girl’s Own Story (1984) is a vaguely Terence Davies-reminiscent period piece about two sisters and a friend one winter in the 60′s – having fun, going to school, singing Beatles songs and dealing with family trauma. The parents only speak to each other through their children, and dad brings his girlfriend to Pam’s birthday dinner… meanwhile friend Gloria leaves school because she is pregnant by her brother. Passionless Moments (1983) is a series of humorous sketches (each with its own title: “Clear Up Sleepy Jeans”, “No Woodpeckers In Australia”) with an ethnographic narrator telling us somebody’s mostly-insignificant stray thoughts (misheard lyrics to “Daydream Believer”, identifying a strange sound outdoors).

A Girl’s Own Story:
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These were two of the most enjoyable shorts I watched all day, so hooray for Jane Campion. Both were worked on by Alex Proyas, director of Dark City, whose new Nic Cage movie opens this month, and Passionless was made in collaboration with Gerard Lee, who wrote/directed a comedy in 1995 involving marital strife because of a sold piano, hmmmm.

Passionless Moments:
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Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1993, Peter Capaldi)
I’d always admired the title of this and assumed it to be blending of Kafka’s and Capra’s sensibilities, but no such luck… it’s more of a Franz Kafka In Love, as the writer struggles to complete the first line to The Metamorphosis. Might’ve been nicer if I’d watched it earlier then, since by now every known artist’s inspiration has been illustrated by the movies, either as a serious drama or a light fantasy. Richard Grant (same year as The Age of Innocence) is Kafka, and his work-interrupting neighbors include Ken Stott (who’d soon play the lead detective in Shallow Grave) as a knife seller with a missing pet cockroach, and Phyllis Logan (a Michael Radford regular) as a novelty salesman. Our director is better known as an actor (Local Hero, Lair of the White Worm). My favorite detail: being friendly to a neighbor Kafka says “call me F.”

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There’s time in any shorts program for some Norman McLaren. I checked out a section on the DVDs of work he did with Grant Munro, one of the few men strong and patient enough to animate himself with stop-motion. A piece I’ve seen before called Two Bagatelles (1953) has Grant zooming around to music (Katy came in from the other room to express disapproval at the music), a fun exploration of their live-stop-motion ideas. An unreleased set of sketches and experiments called either On The Farm or Pixillation adds slow-mo, film-reversal and mattes into the mix. Canon (1964) features a blippy electronic version of “Frere Jacques” and has four Grant Munroes at once, moving across a stage and interacting. And A Christmas Cracker (1962), for which McLaren/Munro did great dis/appearing stop-motion jester titles and transitions, is a compilation of short holiday cartoons.

On The Farm/Pixillation:
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A Christmas Cracker:
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One of the non-McLaren segments of A Christmas Cracker, in which an inventor travels to space to retrieve a real star to top his Christmas tree:
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Wong Kar-Wai’s Hua yang de nian hua (2000) is a montage of rotting nitrate footage from newly-discovered vintage Hong Kong films. Two minutes long, fast-paced and wordless, set to a song used in In The Mood For Love.
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Two by Santiago Alvarez. Now! (1965) is a montage of upsetting footage, still and moving images, as Lena Horne belts out the title song, and Hasta La Victoria Siempre (1967) is twenty looong minutes of music and stock footage focusing on Che Guevara and other revolutions and revolutionaries. A chore to sit through – I’m gonna stop watching Alvarez movies for a while now.

Now!
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Hasta la victoria siempre
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Two early shorts by D.W. Griffith… although he made about 200 films in the two years between them (those were the days!) so maybe only the first one can be called “early.”

A Corner In Wheat (1909)
Wealthy trader corners the market in wheat, meaning less money for the farmer and higher prices at the market. As unrest grows and the cops are called to protect a bakery, the now even richer trader and some classy women tour the grain elevator to symbolically survey their fortune. He slips and is buried in grain, an ending stolen by Vampyr a couple decades later.
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Tom Gunning via Erik Ulman says: “the editing has special appropriateness in this film, as it represents the ‘new topography’ of modern capitalist economics, and its ‘lack of face-to-face encounters with the forces which determine our lives.’” Based on a book by the novelist who wrote McTeague (Greed). Actor who played the farmer appeared 45 years later in Ford’s The Sun Shines Bright.
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Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912)
A musician, just back in town after some weeks away working, gets all his money stolen by the titular gang. A rival crime gang fights the musketeers, and during the fracas our man gets his money back. When the rival gangleader is about to be arrested, the musician and his girl vouch for him, lying that he’d been with them the whole time, as thanks for his help. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, and all that.
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Wikipedia claims this “probably the first ever film about organized crime” and an influence on Gangs of New York – as if Scorsese’s first exposure to crime was in DW Griffith films. Lillian Gish, star of many Griffith movies, plays the girl.
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Report (1967, Bruce Conner)
Recording of radio broadcasts from when JFK was shot. Sometimes the visuals are robotically repeated loops of newsreels, sometimes film countdown leader, sometimes all white and black flash flickers, which do not translate well to medium-grade internet video. The second half is excellent, still the radio announcers but with shock associative visual editing from all manner of sources: a bullfight, advertisements, war movies and so on.
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Tunneling the English Channel (1907, Georges Méliès) has long bothered me because it’s the earliest film on Jonathan Rosenbaum’s 100 favorite films list but hasn’t been available anywhere on video. Fortunately the new Flicker Alley set remedied that, and I could finally see it, in fine condition with wonderful hand-coloring. It’s a cute story and a technically superior film, with the color and the combination of animation, live action and Melies’ usual fun effects. Story goes that the leaders of France and England agree to build a tunnel under the channel, and all goes well until the train crashes. As the tunnel fills with water undoing months of work and drowning the prime minister, they wake up – it was all a dream and they decide not to build the tunnel after all.
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LMNO (1978, Robert Breer)
A hammer, a faucet, a headless naked woman. Rapid-fire comic-book situations. Mainly-irritating soundtrack of running people, running water, and running tape static. Next time I’ll feel free to see how it works with a couple Kinks songs instead. Not my favorite Breer, but I’ve actually seen his films projected in a theater before, so this one obviously suffers from being a bootleg download watched on a laptop.
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Chris Stults, Film/Video Assistant Curator at the Wexner Center in Columbus, says (out of context): “The thing that has always drawn me the most to avant-garde cinema is that it is intended for an individual viewer, not a mass audience. The individual has to complete the work. To go back to the idea of seeing cinema anew, the viewer often has to figure out how to watch the particular film or video and then from that process of learning how to watch, meaning and interpretation can follow.”

Tokyo Gore Police (2008, Yoshihiro Nishimura)

Sometimes I rent something because it looks like a stupid good time, and sometimes I’m very wrong and it turns out to be just painfully awful. This one would look, from the screenshots, to be at least more exciting than Sukiyaki Western Django, but it is not.

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Ruka (above, girl with the needles in Audition) works for the cops. Inexplicably, she’s the only one who can defeat the “engineers”, berserker killers with fleshy Cronenbergian keys in their heads. She meets the original/lead engineer (Itsuji Itao of Negative Happy Chain Saw Edge, unless that’s actually an alternate title for this movie) who killed her father long ago as a hired assassin when her dad was leading some kind of union, but it turns out the cops are corrupt and wanted her dad killed so she teams up with the engineer and takes down the cops after becoming part-engineer herself (below).

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But the plot ain’t what the movie is about. It’s about limbs being chopped off and the endless watery blood sprays that follow. Seems to steal parts of Hostel and Hellraiser in addition to the Cronenberg works. I found the movie to be headachy crap, with music that made it sound like an advertisement. Tried to compensate for its MPD Psycho-like video look with a constantly moving handicam, achieving the worst of both worlds. Wasn’t even worth watching for cool fight scenes, since the fight scenes were not cool.

Itsuji Itao:
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The director started as a makeup/effects artist, and it shows, since that’s all he seems to care about here. He is joined by a writer of Uzumaki. Apparently, irritating teen-girl-obsessed director Sion Sono was here as an actor somewhere. and Tak Sakaguchi (star of Versus) and Takashi Shimizu (director of Ju-on/Grudge and Marebito) also appeared, I don’t know where or when.

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Frank Tashlin double-feature

I started reading the BFI’s excellent, thorough book on Frank Tashlin, and realized I’ve hardly seen any of his movies. Here’s a quick remedy.

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Susan Slept Here (1954)

A screenwriter with an oscar-winning career of “light, frothy comedies” wants to make a more serious picture, needs a dose of hard, cold reality (with the help of a girl who’s too young for him) to gain inspiration for his writing.

But enough about Sullivan’s Travels!

Dreamy teen Debbie Reynolds was actually 21:
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TCM notes that it “has the distinction of being the only film in history narrated by an Academy Award,” as the fictional screenwriter’s oscar presents the story in a framing device which doesn’t quite work besides providing some Tashlinesque self-reflexivity. Lead actor Dick Powell (selected by studio head Howard Hughes “after his first choice Robert Mitchum declined”) in his final film, retaining none of the energy he displayed in Christmas In July, is our author and Debbie Reynolds of Singin’ in the Rain, providing plenty enough energy for the both of them, is the girl. How they end up together is too stupid to relay in detail – friendly cops leave her with Dick over Christmas, they reluctantly bond, he marries her to keep her from being sent to a foster home (she’s 17) then leaves town to write his screenplay, comes home to annul their marriage but she decides to keep him and he’s not hard to convince.

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The whole situation aims to be risque, but comes off a bit icky. It’s still a fun movie, a bit awkward but light enough to write off any ickyness or awkwardness at the end, tell myself “gee, that was nice”, then forget most of it a week later.

Dick Powell doesn’t quite work in close-up:
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Anne Francis (Blackboard Jungle, Bad Day at Black Rock), seen below as the threatening spider-lady of Debbie’s dreams, is Dick’s girlfriend, who leaves him over some misunderstandings over Dick and Debbie (or are they understandings since those two end up together?).
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Alvy Moore (later one of the underground crazies in A Boy And His Dog) is perfect as Dick’s boy-wonder, a kiss-up assistant who tries to stay out of the sexual escapades.
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Glenda Farrell (of Little Caesar and star of the 1930′s Torchy Blane series), a Thelma Ritter type (Thelma was busy on Rear Window this year), is Dick’s drunken typist. Glenda and Alvy make the movie worth watching.
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Everyone notes the Red Skelton guest appearance. I’ll dutifully note it too, though I don’t know who Red Skelton is.

Noel Simsolo:

The key note is elegance. Frank Tashlin uses smooth camera moves, rigorous composition and classical editing to make a scabrous play and an already completed script even more subversive, lodging his directorial presence in a physical and moral space not of his own making. … As in the rest of Tashlin’s oeuvre, Susan Slept Here shows an immature character intruding into, and at first wanting to destroy, a closed adult world. … Tashlin then shows the way in which the character appropriates the space, and concludes with their desire to be integrated into it.

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Hollywood Or Bust (1956)

Jean-Luc Godard wrote a glowing review of this when it came out, identifying Tashlin as an auteur whose style would be world-recognized in the future. This only came true among hardcore cinephiles, unfortunately.

This final Martin & Lewis picture doesn’t hold a candle to Artists and Models, but I still thought it was surprisingly good, especially considering the two leads were reportedly not speaking to each other anymore. Tashlin, right before his two terrific Jayne Mansfield movies, keeps things bouncing along quickly enough that there’s no time for a bitter showdown.

a plug for the widescreen process… Tashlin was into drawing attention to his color or aspect ratios, and congratulating his audience for leaving their couches and televisions to attend his pictures:
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Dean scams a winning ticket for a car raffle (by getting duplicates of every ticket) in order to either sell the car and pay his bookie, or skip town and avoid his bookie – it’s supposed to be the former, but sometimes it seems like the latter. But Jerry has the legitimate winning ticket, so they share the car, and Dean reluctantly shares Jerry’s dream of driving to Hollywood and meeting dream girl Anita Ekberg (of The Alphabet Murders, French Sex Murders, Killer Nun).

Jerry pushes the old oil-rig-in-a-hat bit:
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Complications ensue. Pat Crowley (the young latina girl in Red Garters) gives them a ride when their car is stolen (later recovered) then they give her a ride when hers is destroyed. Jerry’s dog threatens Dean when he tries to make off with the car. Jerry finds Anita but pushes her into a pool. After a nice cartoony soundstage chase, Jerry’s dog is cast to costar with Anita, everyone attends the premiere, and I can’t remember if the bookie thing works itself out but I suppose it does.

Dean’s seduction method of choice (see also: Artists and Models) is blatant sexual harassment:
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I thought Dean’s line “I’d have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for that hound of yours” was a Scooby Doo reference until I realized Scooby was still a decade away from being created. Maybe Scooby was referencing Hollywood Or Bust, then!

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Anita (left) and Pat:
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David Ehrenstein:

Having just examined America’s obsession with comic books in Artists and Models, and poised to assault the world of rock ‘n’ roll in his next film The Girl Can’t Help It, Hollywood or Bust finds Tashlin in a relaxed, easy going mood. Hollywood may figure in the title – or more precisely the credit sequence, where Anita poses like a living statue before various Hollywood tourist sites – but the film isn’t about the world of movie making in any straightforward Rear Window way. Rather, through the figures of Dean and Jerry, Tashlin explores an American psyche populated by Hollywood imagery, particularly images of women. Images being static entities, it is therefore appropriate that the trip to Hollywood supposedly depicted in this early entry in the “road movie” sub-genre isn’t a real trip at all. Dean and Jerry’s adventures begin and end on a Hollywood sound stage as every artificial set, painted backdrop and second unit photographed exterior of the film makes clear. … The sets of Hollywood or Bust represent nothing other than movie sets.

Shorts watched February 2009

Torture Money (1937, Harold S. Bucquet)
Caught on TCM’s Oscar Month – this beat out Deep South and Should Wives Marry? for best two-reeler. A cop from the Bunco Squad goes undercover to investigate a ring of scammers who beat a guy up in a back room then fake a car accident complete with paid “witnesses” to fraud insurance companies. The scammers purposely run over a little girl, just in case insurance fraud wasn’t enough of a crime to get our attention. Our officer blends in successfully thanks to his knowledge of 30′s street slang and his ability to fake a hatred of cops. He’s chosen to be the “accident victim” (that’d be the titular torture), manages to contact his men, spring the trap and send the baddies to jail. I don’t recall the character names, so our cop was either George Lynn (I Was a Teenage Frankenstein) or Edwin Maxwell (The Great Moment, His Girl Friday). The director went on to better things (a Katharine Hepburn feature, the Dr. Kilgare series), as did the writer (T-Men, Robinson Crusoe On Mars).

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Three half-hour shorts from the 1997 Africa Dreaming series:

Sophia’s Homecoming (Richard Pakleppa, Namibia)
Sophia arrives in town after years in South Africa and finds that her husband, kids and sister aren’t so happy to see her. Turns out the sister and husband are in love… Soph tries to break it up, but when the sister says she’s expecting the husband’s baby, Sophia packs up her kids and returns to S. Africa. Other than a solo dish-destroying kitchen tantrum, there’s surprisingly little screaming and fighting, considering the situation.

Sabriya (Abderrahmane Sissako, Tunisia)
Hot, uninhibited, waterfall-loving foreign woman comes to town and shakes up the home life of a local chess-playing tavern dweller. He falls in love, but I think she leaves town without him at the end… I was too busy staring at the nice visuals and trying to remember scenes from Waiting For Happiness.

So Be It (Joseph Gai Ramaka, Senegal)
Doctor arrives in town (people are always arriving in town in these movies), sees a mute retarded kid who hangs around. Everyone seems to dump on the retarded kid… finally outta nowhere (actually I predicted it, but I was kidding) the townsfolk come with torches to kill the kid. Why? I dunno, but the doctor is right upset. The written description on the box calls it an African Heart of Darkness (although I would prefer an African Heart of Darkness to concern an adventurer from the Congo on a dangerous mission to England to retrieve a countryman who’d encamped in a rural British village up the Thames and established himself as a god among the locals). The box seems to know a lot that I couldn’t figure out from the movies. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention?

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Egged On (1926, Charley Bowers)

Charley invents an overly-complicated machine in his girlfriend’s parents’ barn which makes eggs unbreakable (rubbery, you open them with scissors) and aims to sell it to the egg-shipping industry. The investors are coming, but Charley has no eggs for the demonstration, so he fails to gather some in various ways. Finally gets an egg from a hen who’s been eating dynamite… test goes well until he hits the egg with a hammer to prove its indestructibility and destroys the whole barn. Worth watching for the scene shown below in which a batch of eggs, incubated by Charley’s car engine, hatch into hundreds of little cars in a massive and delightful stop-motion display.

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He Done His Best (1926, Charley Bowers)
Another one involving eggs, and complicated machinery, overall more entertaining then Egged On. Charley needs his girl’s dad’s consent for marriage, ends up working at his restaurant. Gets dad in union trouble, so invents an automatic server/cook machine (powered by stop-motion, natch). Dad is cheered immensely, girl holds wedding at the restaurant, but she’s marrying some other guy which is supposed to be a funny surprise but is instead kind of an anticlimactic ending after a great movie, a la Chaplin’s One A.M.
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Azur and Asmar (2006, Michel Ocelot)
Not supposed to be a short, but we ditched after 45 minutes because this was so bad. I can’t even think when’s the last time I walked out on a movie (though I remember itching to leave Sam Raimi’s The Gift). The critically-raved-on animation looked to me like weakly-puppeted low-detail Flash, and the story was going nowhere we couldn’t easily predict, so there seemed no point in staying. As a rule, I don’t put half-seen movies on the website, but I’m making an exception here and I don’t need a reason, nyeah.

Euro/African kids grow up with same mum/caretaker, Euro kid is sent away to become classy, African kid/mum is kicked out of house, sent back to whatever country to become super-rich merchants. Eurokid goes to africa, hides his blue eyes, runs into his mum and a hunchback liar fellow, and sets out to locate the three keys and marry some mythic fairy. Africa stuff is all Eurocentric wide-eyed wonder, and the other kid disappears for huge chunks of the movie, so the idea that we were seeing some kind of African tale faithfully told by a Frenchman went out the window.

Then we snuck into the animated shorts program and caught Varmints (Marc Craste) – wordless depresso-short with very good CGI about a bunny in a polluted Wall-E world trying to use his potted plant in order to get captured by giant floating jellyfish to live in meadowy heaven with the girl he met in the elevator – Gopher Broke (Blur Studios) – slick, commercial-looking animal comedy, unlucky gopher upsetting trucks on their way to the farmer’s market in order to get himself some food – Skhizein (Jeremy Clapin) – guy is hit by an asteroid and finds that his consciousness is some number of centimeters to the side of his body, neat premise but in the end it turns out he is just deranged – and Hot Dog and John and Karen which I’d already seen in The Animation Show 4 but played better with a crowd.

Fitzcarraldo (1982, Werner Herzog) and two by Les Blank

FITZCARRALDO (1982, Werner Herzog)

Klaus Kinski (the year after starring in Terayama Shuji’s Fruits of Passion) acts less crazy than usual as Fitz, though he’s still got that hair. And of course, his crazy actions speak for themselves. Fitz loves opera, especially the singer Caruso, whose records he collects (which places the action somewhere 1905-1915ish) and wants to build an opera house where he lives in Iquitos, Peru, but investors won’t be convinced.

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So Fitz decides to make a fortune as a rubber baron, and build his own damned opera house. Gets his brothel-running girlfriend Claudia Cardinale (over a decade after her heyday in Once Upon a Time in the West, 8 1/2, The Leopard) to front him a steamboat and claims an unharvested plot of riverfront land in the jungle. It’s unharvested because nobody can reach it… it lies upstream from dangerous rapids. But even further upstream, another river veers within half a mile of the river in question, so Fitz plans to sail up THAT (dangerous-native-infested) river, drag his boat onto land across into the other river and harvest his rubber.

Claudia Cardinale:
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Along with a half-blind but navigationally-keen captain, a drunken chef, and a mechanic (Miguel Ángel Fuentes, fresh from playing the mystical indian sidekick in Puma Man) who’s openly spying on Fitz for his competitors, Fitz makes it to the crossing and with the help of hundreds of natives, drags his 30-ton ship over a damned muddy mountain and into the other river. That night, after the drunken celebration party, the natives cut the ship loose as a sacrifice to the rapids, undoing months of work. In a wonderfully bittersweet finale, with what’s left of his capital Fitz hires the opera to come to Iquitos and perform from the ship.

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Shot realistically, naturally taking its time to unfold. Herzog’s/Fitz’s ambition is immeasurable, and so a mere two hours cannot contain it. Movie doesn’t seem long so much as… huge. Actors speak English, dubbed into German and subtitled back into English.

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Hey wow, it was shot by the guy who did Orson Welles: One Man Band, which is the other movie I considered watching tonight. He also shot bunches of Alexander Kluge films.

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WERNER HERZOG EATS HIS SHOE (1980, Les Blank)

“I’m quite convinced that cooking is the only alternative to filmmaking”

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Oh man, this was great… first of all because Werner is my hero, here being smart and funny and provocative, and second because Les keeps it lively with a circus atmosphere, bringing in clips of Herzog movies, The Gold Rush, and a Gates of Heaven outtake. Fitzcarraldo was in pre-production, and Les would follow Werner into that venture, filming…

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BURDEN OF DREAMS (1982, Les Blank)

“If I abandoned this project I would be a man without dreams, and I don’t want to live like that.”

One of the most amazing docs I have seen, and essential viewing with Fitzcarraldo. Shows and tells the factors that made that film define “troubled production”, making Terry Gilliam and Francis Ford Coppola look like pansies in comparison. Attacks and intimidation by natives (their camp is burned down, a spear attack injures three), losing both stars of the film (post-Melvin and Howard Jason Robards and pre-Tattoo You Mick Jagger) and the actual pulling of a 30-ton steamship over a mountain by natives doesn’t even cover the whole story.

Burden of Dreams:
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Fitzcarraldo:
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On-set tantrums by a bored Klaus Kinski aren’t in this film (presumably they’re covered in My Best Fiend). This doc itself is wonderfully well-paced and shot, and Les gets choice interviews with Herzog, including his oft-quoted bit about how the jungle birds don’t sing, “they just screech in pain.” Taken as a package, Fitz and Burden are the rare cult films which exceed their reputation.

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From Paul Arthur’s Criterion essay:

When production stalls, as it often does—Herzog claims his film is “cursed,” admitting that “the jungle is winning”—Blank filters in lively scenes of the Campa extras’ quotidian routines: food preparation, clothes washing, the blending of a local alcoholic drink made from yuca plants. It is significant that most activities are “women’s work,” a realm that Herzog’s masculinist vision rarely acknowledges. Later, Blank constructs a touching vision of cross-cultural identification by juxtaposing the sound of a Caruso aria coming from a record player in an earlier shot with loving close-ups of native women, as if they are responding to the beauty of this alien voice. The moment recalls an archetypal collision staged by romantic adventurer Robert Flaherty in Nanook of the North (1922), when the titular Eskimo marvels at a phonograph record (then jokingly decides to bite it). Unlike either Herzog or Flaherty, Blank clearly prefers the rhythms of collective effort, of sensuous community, over Eurocentric ideals of heroic individualism. In essence, he has crafted a film about the interaction of premodern tribal existence with European modernity, epitomized by a movie narrative about the invidious clash of brute nature and a singular ego bent on his own, ultimately delusional, mission of cultural enlightenment.