Sunday, May 27, 2018

CMBA Profile: Apocalypse Later

CMBA profiles one or two of our classic movie bloggers every month. This week, we're featuring Hal Astell, from Apocalypse Later!

Apocalypse Later is a site with a lot going on. In addition to posting reviews, some quite in-depth, Hal covers a variety of events and festivals, often making appearances or running "mini-festivals" within established Cons, and even runs an Apocalypse Later Film Festival of his own. Under the imprint of "Apocalypse Later Press," he's published books on a variety of film related subjects: everything from Chaplin's years at Keystone to the work of buxom bombshell Tura Satana. Hal is nothing if not surprising, and also dedicated - the sheer volume of his work is overwhelming.

Hal would like you to take a look at his review of "It Always Rains on Sunday," sometimes called one of the most overlooked British movies of the 1940s. Hal says that writing it "taught me more about the actress for whom I was reviewing it, Googie Withers, but it also taught me about a time and a place that my family, a few generations back, knew very well. I learned more about who my grandparents were because of that film and, as they helped shaped who I am, I learned more about me too."

We can't think of a better outcome to a writing project than that! Here's how Hal answered our questions:

What sparked your interest in classic film?

I've been a fan of film as long as I can remember and, even as a child, I never found myself subjected to the peer pressure that often restricts us to whatever is current. My family didn't go to the cinema a lot, usually just a sci-fi blockbuster for my birthday, so most of what I saw was at home on television, entirely guilt free. This was in England, so much of the material was British.

As I grew up, I spent a lot of late nights glued to my sister's tiny TV watching Hammer horrors. Even back then, I'd look for the different. I remember film critic Barry Norman celebrating a hundred years of film by selecting one for broadcast from each year (or something like that) and I found a taste for the thirties. I've mostly forgotten which films, but there was Morocco, an early Busby Berkeley and some gangster flick or other. I adored the variety.

Later, I became hooked on Alex Cox's BBC2 series, Moviedrome, in which he introduced a cult classic or two every week. He delved deep and wide and really opened my eyes to what film could do. One week, it would be Electra Glide in Blue, the next F for Fake, then Carny. He introduced me to Kurosawa, Fuller and Peckinpah. Many of my favourite movies, from Manhunter to Wise Blood, I first saw on Moviedrome.

What really set me on a journey into classic film, though, was moving to the States in 2004. I had to wait six months for permission to work, so I sat back in my new home and soaked in the glory of Turner Classic Movies, which added a layer or two of depth to the knowledge I'd already built. That led to me blogging on film, which led to me writing books about film, which led to me running a film festival. Who knows where it'll lead me next!

What makes a film a "classic" in your opinion?

"Classic" has a lot of meanings. To many, it's something that's old. To others, it's something that's good. To some, it's something that's both. To me, the crucial element to a classic film is that we can experience it again and again just as if we'd never seen it before. However, I should emphasise that not all experiences are the same.

There are films like The Passion of Joan of Arc or M that awe me every time I see them. I see new things in The Big Sleep or Yojimbo each time through. I revisit They Live every few years because it's always about the world I'm living in now, however much it has changed since the last time.

Now, all those would qualify as "classic" to most, but I could also watch Sh! The Octopus every year for the rest of my life and I'd be laughing and groaning on my death bed and wondering at how well they did the transformation scene in a 1937 B-movie, even though I now know how it was done. That's probably not going to fit on most classic film lists, but it qualifies for me.


 What classic film(s) do you recommend to people who say they hate old movies?

That really depends on the person, because I've learned that it's often not the films you'd think. I did well with my youngest stepson in music (now he introduces me to bands) but not in film. Nothing I thought up connected with him, even when I was sure something would be perfect. Yet he couldn't take his eyes off "Father Goose" and "Hope and Glory." Why those two films resonated with him, I have precisely no idea.

I talk up pre-codes a lot, because they really surprise people, whatever the genre. There's a collective understanding among those who don't see classic movies about what they must be like: black and white, 4:3 ratio, polite and romantic. This is a gross simplification of production code features, where the criminals always got caught and happy couples always slept in separate beds. When I show them "Freaks" or "Kongo," "Baby Face" or "42nd Street" or any pre-code starring Warren William, they're absolutely shocked because they had no idea that such films existed or even could have existed in the classic era. Such titles may not convert them into classic film fans on the spot (or at all) but they do destroy that general assumption about what old movies are.

Why should people care about classic film?

We should care about classic film because art isn't created in a vacuum. Everything is influenced by something else: every story, every technique and every acting performance and I love tracing those backwards to find the originators who forked the family tree of film in whole new directions.

I especially like discovery when I'm not expecting it. For instance, I saw Blazing Saddles years ago and immediately knew how revolutionary it was. I watched it over and over again to the point where I know most of it by heart and I've seen its influence in so many other films over the decades. Then I watched Hellzapoppin' for Martha Raye's centennial and it blew me away. This was Blazing Saddles a third of a century earlier! Had I not cared about classic film, I'd never have seen it.

What is the most rewarding thing about blogging?

We're back to discovery again, both for me and for my readers.

Most of what I write about is rooted in discovery. I realised many years ago that I don't need to write about new blockbusters, even if I choose to watch them, because everyone and their dog are writing about them too. If there's a review in the local paper, why would anyone care about what I have to say? A little later, I realised that the same thinking goes for classic films too because there's a vibrant community that's documenting the subject and the same titles come up over and over.

So I dig deep, not only to silent movies and foreign films, but shorts, local films and microbudget pictures. My fourth book, in which I covered every film, short and feature, that had screened at a local festival over a three year period, grew out of the realisation that Apocalypse Later Reviews had become the only place at which some films, even award-winning ones that I'd adored, lived on. The festival sites rolled over to the next year, jettisoning everything. The film's domains lapsed. If they didn't make it to IMDb or to YouTube or Vimeo, it was reviews that kept these films alive and I was often the only review anywhere in the world. I felt a sort of responsibility to document these pictures.

Even when I'm writing my centennial reviews to remember important people to film who were born a hundred years ago, I aim to avoid the obvious choices, especially for the most famous names. For instance, last month I remembered William Holden, but not with Sunset Boulevard or Stalag 17 or Network. I chose Golden Boy instead, partly because I hadn't seen it but mostly because nobody else was looking at that one and I wanted to see where his career began.

I've found some fascinating movies by taking this approach. I chose Lady in a Cage for Olivia de Havilland, Behold a Pale Horse for Gregory Peck and It Always Rains on Sunday for Googie Withers. I chose Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly for Freddie Francis, because it was his favourite of all the films he'd made, and it blew my mind. I probably wouldn't have found any of these films outside these projects.

And, while I have far from the most feedback of CMBA bloggers, I do get some really interesting ones. For instance, this month, I was told that my thoughts on Pink Angels, a transvestite biker movie from the early seventies, and my later experiences talking with Dan Haggerty about it, are going to be cited in a thesis. Last month, a young lady in Denmark wrote to me about a horror short I'd reviewed because she was writing an analysis of it for school, loved my review and wanted to talk about the meaning behind it. Things like this make the work absolutely worth it.

What challenges do you face with your blog, and how do you overcome them?

Time, first and foremost!

My sweet spot for Apocalypse Later Reviews is a little over two thousand words per film and a review of that length takes a lot of time to craft. Finding that time is tough, especially given that I keep busy on far too many other things.

I own and run an annual film festival. I run or work a dozen conventions a year across the southwest. I co-run a local fandom group. I'm a board member and secretary for a local non-profit. I maintain a few archives for different communities. I have a wife, three kids and five grandkids. And I still have a full time job to pay the bills, though I'm lucky enough to be able to work from home. In my spare time, I sleep.

One way I solved this time crunch is to set myself small deadlines. I suck at large deadlines; if I want a new book on my table at Phoenix Comic Fest, I'm likely to fail every time, unless I structure the project around small deadlines. My Charlie Chaplin book was focused on his films at Keystone in 1914, his first year in film. I reviewed each of the 36 on the 100th anniversary of its original release, so I could experience his growth at the same pace as his audience at the time. I knew in advance when every post needed to be written so I could plan specifically for that. And at the end of the year I had a book. I just needed to review it to ensure consistency and format it for publication.

What advice would you give to a new blogger?

Find your own voice. It's the easiest thing in the world to start up a blog, but it's really hard to keep writing unless it's who you are.

I've always felt deep inside that I'm a writer; it's what defines me. So I wrote, following Jerry Pournelle's advice to start things, finish them and write a million words. Once you reach that point, he said, you're a writer. You can throw them out because most of them will be crap but, at that point, you're a writer.

However, I never planned to write about film. I didn't even expect to write non-fiction! I wanted to be a novelist and I did write some short stories and poetry but they primarily worked as language experiments. Becoming a film critic surprised me as much as anyone else but it felt right and that's why Apocalypse Later Reviews is over a decade old and my early attempts at blogs vanished almost as quickly as they began.

So, if you want to write, write and find your voice. When you find it, you'll know it and your blog will grow.

Oh, and one other thing! I recommend that you read your posts aloud to someone else before you post them. Reading aloud uses a different part of your brain to writing, so it helps you find the technical mistakes you might have made, like punctuation errors or overuse of words. I read my posts to my better half, who then catches my other mistakes, like some character being a cousin not a nephew. My work is so much better because of both of those checks. It may well help yours too.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

CMBA Profile: Crítica Retrô

CMBA profiles one or two of our classic movie bloggers every month. This week, we're featuring

Letícia Magalhães Pereira, or "Lê," of Crítica Retrô!

Crítica Retrô bills itself as "Classic Film with a Tropical Twist." Coming to us out of Brazil, it appears bilingually in Portuguese and English, and may give readers a cultural perspective we don't often see on the history of film. Despite her tender years (she tells us below she started the blog while still a teenager!), Lê offers us fascinating insights into movies older than her own parents.
She'd like you to take a look at a piece she did on Brazilian-born director Alberto Cavalcanti. She says, "I did a big research to write it, and could also have fun and improve my skills at working with info graphics with all the pieces I've done for the post." We agree that it's great fun and new information for most of us who thought we knew it all about classic film. You can read the post here.
Here are her answers to our questions:
What sparked your interest in classic film?

First things first: I have Asperger's syndrome, some kind of “light” autism. This makes me be socially awkward and have deep obsessions about some subjects. Moving images were always among these obsessions – and so was history. I'd watch anything on TV, no matter if it was just released or made 80 years ago. Of course, because I was raised by my grandparents, I had the chance to be exposed to older movies and TV shows since an early age. I started to focus on feature-length movies when I was 16, and at 17 I started my blog.
What makes a film a "classic" in your opinion?
That's a tricky question! Well, when I talk about Classic Hollywood, I'm talking about the studio system era, that lasted until, roughly 1969 – and whose starting point is even harder to determine. This is my understanding, that's why I get mad when people refer to movies made 10 or 20 years ago – that is, films younger than me – as classics. Important, groundbreaking, revolutionary: these terms apply to films from any age, and should be used in these cases instead of “classics”.
What classic film(s) do you recommend to people who say they hate old movies?
I would recommend some comedies in Technicolor, like “Heaven Can Wait” (1943), or anything that doesn't look “so old” because black and white films may cause a stronger resistance. I'd like to show that some jokes never get old. Also, for kids, any Disney cartoon from the Golden Era – I myself was shocked to learn that the cartoons I watched on VHS were made in the 1930s and 1940s. I wouldn’t recommend musicals or silent films because I, as a stupid teenager, despised these movies. Today they are among my favorites!
Why should people care about classic film?
The same reason why they should care about history: knowledge about what came before us means power. Power to not make the same mistakes in history, and with films it's powerful to know the great masters, the development of film languages and techniques and, well, simply not be dumb enough to think that “Shrek Ever After” was the first film ever to use the narrative resource of 'what would have happened if our hero hadn't been born?'. I'm not saying that people should rescue the morals and beliefs of the classic film era, just the art in itself – I don't want anyone who behaves as a racist after watching “Birth of a Nation” (1915)... but I wouldn't mind if  we got more free-spirited influenced by pre-Codes!
What is the most rewarding thing about blogging?
I'm always learning something new when I'm blogging. Sometimes it's when I'm writing a review, other times it's when I'm reading some other blogs. And it's this amazing feeling of learning every day that makes me go forward. One time I thought that, if I had a blog, I wouldn't have enough interesting things about my life to share with the readers, but as a classic film blogger I don't have this problem: I know there will always be something else to learn about old movies.
What challenges do you face with your blog, and how do you overcome them?
Since I love the learning part of blogging, I don't have motivation troubles. Of course, the public seems to be migrating to other social networks, but thankfully lately I've been taking part of several blogathons and, besides helping people find my blog, these events also made  me follow schedules. This is my main problem: I always think I can do something later and I usually end up doing things – even things that give me pleasure – right before the deadline is over. With blogathon schedules, at least I'm more organized and can plan my posts better.
What advice would you give to a new blogger?
ENJOY. Today so many people have started blogs to become rich and famous overnight, and so many are actually able to do so. If you are thinking about starting a blog, OK, success may sound fun, but enjoying writing and looking for images and posting and learning with your posts is what will make this activity a real pleasure.
Thank you!

Sunday, April 1, 2018

CMBA Profile: Whimsically Classic

CMBA profiles one or two of our classic movie bloggers every month. This week, we’re featuring  Kayla Rhodes, of Whimsically Classic
Kayla, who writes the "Whimsically Classic" blog, describes herself as an "old soul," which may explain how she has so much to say about classic film. Her posts tend to be very detailed and informative, and her responses to our questions are no exception to her verbosity and wit. She would like readers to take a look at this post, her entry in last year's "National Classic Film Day" blogathon. She reviews her five favorite classic movie performers and shares why they mean so much to her. She also admits to using the opportunity to re-post favorite images of Errol Flynn and Gene Kelly, because, as she says, "If you can't post (and re-post) beefcake photos on your blog, where can you post them?" 

Here are her responses to our questions:

What sparked your interest in classic film?

Growing up in the 90s, I always watched the annual viewing of "Wizard of Oz" and also enjoyed watching AMC with my dad.  Back when AMC actually showed classic films and wasn't over saturated with repeats and commercials.  I remember Bob Dorian introducing the films much like Robert Osborne did for TCM.  Every Saturday morning, AMC used to show Laurel & Hardy and Three Stooges shorts. I also seem to remember AMC airing a New Years Eve marathon of The Marx Brothers.  I had always been aware of classic films and had no issues with them.  I would say, however, that I truly became infatuated with classic film when I discovered "I Love Lucy" on Nick at Nite in 1995 when I was 11.  I remember one summer evening I was bored and looking for something to watch.  I came across Nick at Nite and on it was an old black and white show.  As I watched it, I became entranced by the woman on the screen--Lucille Ball.  If I remember correctly, the very first episode of "I Love Lucy" that I saw was "L.A. at Last!" guest-starring William Holden.  I remember laughing so much when Lucy wears her fake nose and subsequently has to keep re-doing it when she accidentally moves it.  The next evening, I watched "I Love Lucy" again and soon I was hooked.  Every night at 8:00pm, I had to watch "my shows."  In addition to 'Lucy,' I became a big fan of the other shows in the lineup as well.  However, my heart will always belong to "I Love Lucy."  From my love of 'Lucy,' soon I wanted to know everything I could about her.  I was also an frequent visitor to the city library where I checked out every Lucille Ball biography that was available.  It was from these books that I learned about the movie career Lucille Ball had prior to "I Love Lucy."  

It was about at this time when TCM debuted on cable.  I remember seeing it on TV and learning that it was wholly dedicated to classic film.  From then on, every Sunday, I would scour the new TV Guide insert in the newspaper to see if TCM was airing any Lucille Ball movies that week.  When they'd air, I'd try to watch them, or try to set up the VCR to record the films.  I remember that one of these recordings ended up being "The Long, Long Trailer," my absolute favorite movie of all time.  I also remember seeing "Du Barry Was a Lady" starring Lucy and Gene Kelly.  It was from this film that I discovered Gene Kelly.  I remember seeing "Singin' in the Rain" in the TV Guide once and I made a point to watch it.  From then on, I loved Gene Kelly and subsequently loved Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor.  This pattern of discovering new actors and films continued on and has continued since.  
What makes a film a "classic" in your opinion?

Many people like to assign a specific time frame (e.g. Silent era through Studio Era) to declare a film "classic," however, I don't agree that that is entirely accurate.  To me, a classic is a film that still resonates with an individual over time.  "Citizen Kane" is often touted as a classic, but if a person dislikes the film, he or she may be hesitant to declare it a classic.  There may be another film that was universally panned by critics upon release and may still be considered mediocre today, but if a person absolutely loves it, then who are we to say that that film isn't a classic?  It is a classic to the person who loves it.  I think the term "classic" is very personal to the movie fan.  Watching a film can be a very personal experience and people can come away with very different perspectives.

What classic film(s) do you recommend to people who say they hate old movies?

Before suggesting any type of film, first I would pity this person for having such a narrow outlook on film and immediately dismissing decades worth of filmmaking purely because it might lack phony special effects like CGI or color.  After I got over my initial annoyance, I'd ask the person questions and try to gauge if they'd even be open to watching an old film.  Some people are just so set in their ways that trying to get them to watch an old film would be meaningless.  If they are open to watching a classic film and maybe they just haven't been exposed to the right film, I'd ask them what types of films they enjoy.  If someone loves mystery/thrillers, I may suggest an Alfred Hitchcock film like Rear Window or To Catch a Thief.  If someone were interested in horror, I might suggest Frankenstein or Psycho.  Someone who loves romance might enjoy Brief Encounter or perhaps Sabrina.  If someone loves musicals and thinks that La La Land is the greatest thing ever, I might suggest an infinitely better musical like Singin' in the Rain or Funny Face.  For comedy lovers, I'd suggest my favorite The Long Long Trailer or maybe Some Like it Hot.  It someone loves overwrought dramas like I do, I would suggest Picnic or maybe A Summer Place.  Finally, if the person is into movies about teenagers like High School Musical, I might suggest Gidget or maybe one of the Beach Party movies. 

Why should people care about classic film?

People should care about classic film because these are the films that provided the foundation for all films that have come since.  Without Alfred Hitchcock, we might not have the unique storytelling devices like the McGuffin that we have today.  Without Hitchcock, maybe Stan Lee wouldn't be making cameos in all the Marvel films! Orson Welles' innovative filming techniques for Citizen Kane were a landmark in cinematography and storytelling.  The innovative special effects in films like The Wizard of Oz and King Kong provide the groundwork for the special effects that have come since.  Classic films also serve as a time machine.  Since time travel does not exist, movies are one of the very few ways we have to see what life may have been like during previous eras.  As someone born in the mid-80s, I am interested in films made before then so I can see what things may have been like before I was born.  Don't get me wrong, I love 90s movies too, but I was there.  I want to see what World War Two era might have been like in the United States.  Maybe I want to know what cars looked like in the 1950s.  Movies can answer my questions.  I've learned a lot about what types of technologies were available in different eras.  Who doesn't love the big computer in Desk Set? Or the Auto-Mat in Easy Living?  Along those lines, classic film can also serve as an escape.  When you just can't bear seeing one more message film trying to make a point about racism or domestic violence or what not, what's wrong with going back in time to 1930s New York and spending the evening drinking martinis with Nick and Nora Charles? I love to use movies to escape into another a world, a world I cannot visit without film.  

What is the most rewarding thing about blogging?

Having a space to share my enthusiasm and love for a particular film, television show, actor, song, etc.  Even if it's the smallest little thing about an episode of "The Brady Bunch" or what not, I love being able to have a space where I can be a total fangirl for a second and gush.  I love focusing on everything I love about classic film and television.  I also enjoy receiving comments about my articles and even having small discussions about them, because it's rewarding to know that someone actually spent time reading what you wrote.  I do read other members' blogs too and need to become better at commenting, because I truly appreciate everyone's articles and sometimes am in awe of what they produce. 

What challenges do you face with your blog, and how do you overcome them?

Having enough time to write in the blog and being motivated to do so.  Sometimes I overwhelm myself by signing up for too many blogathons, because everything sounds like so much fun.  I also worry that I need to vary my content more and have other articles aside from blogathons.  I also struggle with trying to figure out what niche I want my blog to fill.  I don't have issues finding my voice, because I can write and know what I want to write.  I am still trying to figure out how I can organize my blog so that I feel like it's unique from others but isn't consuming all my time.  I have a lot of great ideas, but I need to figure out if I can execute them without getting overwhelmed, becoming frustrated and quitting.  

What advice would you give to a new blogger?

Write about what you love.  Don't worry about having a gimmick.  Be genuine.  Don't pretend to like something just because it's in vogue.  If you have a controversial opinion, then share it--for example, I am not a fan of Marlon Brando.  I don't think he's that great (except for in his 1950s career, when I do like his work) and I truly despise his mumbling.  I also find The Godfather incredibly boring.  Don't be ashamed of what you love or dislike.  Take these words from Dr. Seuss to heart--"Be who you are, and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who don't matter don't mind."  I love blogs that truly show someone's personality.  I dislike blogs where someone is pretentious and writes a whole lot of words to say nothing. Finally this is basic, but edit and proofread.  And use separate paragraphs! Bad writing is a turnoff. 

Thanks so much Kayla! We'll see you and your boyfriend Errol Flynn at the next gala event!