Thursday, March 15, 2018

CMBA Profile: Chaplin Film by Film

CMBA profiles one or two of our classic movie bloggers every month. This week, we’re featuring  Brian J. Robb, of Chaplin: Film by Film
Chaplin: Film by Film is a project after our own heart. On the centenary of the release of each of Charlie Chaplin's movies, blogger Brian J. Robb posted an homage to that film. This gave him a very busy 2014, but as Chaplin's output slowed down, Robb opted to surge ahead of him (he's all the way up to September, 1918, now!). In general, each post includes a synopsis, basic production information, stills, historical background, film analysis, and some excerpts from contemporary reviews. Whether you're a complete novice or a Chaplin expert, you're bound to learn something and have fun doing so. 

Brian would like you to take a look at this post, in which he discusses Chaplin's historic contract with Mutual Film Company for $670,000, which made him the highest paid film maker at the time. It's an original write up of a much-reported event, one that contributed to the rise of the Hollywood "star system" that followed. According to Brian, "It’s a nice, self-contained story covering a pivotal period in Chaplin’s professional and personal life, and a good jumping on point for readers keen to discover more about Chaplin, including his two years of filmmaking prior to that point and everything that followed from it."

Brian J. Robb

Here are Brian's answers to our questions:

What sparked your interest in classic film?
In the 1980s, the BBC in the UK used to screen weekend matinees of classic movies, and on weekend late nights there’d be old horror movie double bills. Over holidays like Christmas and Easter there’d often be special seasons of Chaplin movies or Hitchcock movies or a Screwball Comedies season—it was basically a film education through stealth. That was where I first saw all the Laurel and Hardy movies (I eventually wrote a guide book to all their films). I used to watch these movies, often in the company of my Dad, unconsciously soaking up all the information I could. It led to me studying Film & Television at Glasgow University, then pursuing a career in entertainment journalism. That in turn led to me becoming a published author… gosh, for 25 years now, writing biographies of film stars, books on directors, or genres, like Silent Cinema.

What makes a film a "classic" in your opinion?
The ingredients are hard to define, and they can’t be manufactured. The Hollywood studio system was geared to mass produce movies in the Ford factory style, but despite that individual stars and directors carved a niche. It’s the combination of screenplay, director, the right stars, and serendipity. Often, though, a ‘classic’ movie can simply be in the eye of the beholder—there is something or some combination of things that simply attracts you to the movie.
What classic film(s) do you recommend to people who say they hate old movies?
A screwball comedy usually does the trick, Bringing Up Baby or The Philadelphia Story, both of which feature combinations of my favourite actors: James Stewart, Cary Grant, and Katharine Hepburn. His Girl Friday is a nice, accessible, yet fast paced film that can easily draw in someone not used to watching ‘old’ movies.

Why should people care about classic film?
It’s simply part of our cultural history that needs to be kept alive. It takes effort these days, as there are fewer chances for people to simply encounter these movies in the way I did growing up. In an ‘on demand’ world where (almost) everything is instantly available, you have to know what you're looking for. While having access to so much is great, the way movies are watched today precludes accidental discovery, especially by younger folk—you have to have the interest (perhaps inherited from parents) in order to seek out older films.

What is the most rewarding thing about blogging?
Engaging with a community of readers is the reason for doing it. With Chaplin Film by Film, I’ve given myself a firm structure. From 2014, I opted to cover each Chaplin movie 100 years to the day after release. That worked fine for the first three years or so, but as Chaplin slowed down his output, it was clear that is I kept up the 100 years later thing, I myself would be 100 years old by the time I hit 1967’s final Chaplin movie A Countess From Hong Kong. With that in mind, I’ve embarked upon monthly entries to cover the rest of Chaplin’s output, which’ll take me through to the end of 2019. After that, who knows…

What challenges do you face with your blog, and how do you overcome them?
I’m a professional writer, so the biggest challenge when I earn a living from producing words is finding the time to do the same thing for the simply pleasure of it. The structure I was following, however, gave me deadlines, so that tends to focus the mind. Beyond that, it is simply the constant challenge of finding new angles on things and trying not to simply repeat what people have written before or to fall into ‘received wisdom’. It’s difficult, but the ideal outcome is to find something new to say.

What advice would you give to a new blogger?
Make sure you are writing about a passion, as that’ll get you over any humps in the road. It is a commitment, so give some thought to the long haul—why are you doing it and what do you want to get out of it? Is this the right outlet for the kind of self-expression you are seeking? And make sure you’ve got something to say, as you can’t afford to bore potential readers.

Thanks for the interview, Brian! We'll see you and the little Tramp online!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

CMBA Profile: Classic Film Observations and Obsessions

CMBA profiles one or two of our classic movie bloggers every month. This week, we’re featuring Jocelyn Dunphy, of Classic Film Observations and Obsessions:

Classic Film Observations and Obsessions is the expression of one woman’s fixation on classic film. Jocelyn likes to focus on one actor, director, or theme in films and run through as many movies and as much reading as she can, until she moves on to another focus. In 2016, for example, she put a lot of time into Van Heflin, a one time winner of Best Supporting Actor who shows up in a surprising range of movies. More recently, she’s been looking at Werner Herzog, who she got to see live at a screening. When Jocelyn sinks her teeth into something, she doesn’t let go easily!

Jocelyn would like you to take a look at this post, from the centennial of the birth of actor Robert Mitchum. It’s another example of her going in depth into the workings of an actor who fascinate her. It’s a review of the 1973 Mitchum movie “The Friends of Eddie Coyle,” a lesser-known movie she was lucky enough to see screened in a theater in Boston. She tells us of the post, “I think it captures my own voice well, in how I logged my own reactions to the movie.  I think those who read it will get a good sense of who I am as a blogger and film enthusiast.” We would have to agree!

Here are her answers to our questions:

  1. What sparked your interest in classic film?

I’ve always loved history, and in fact majored in it in college, even though I went on to become a scientist.  I’d always enjoyed films about earlier times or made in the ‘classic’ era, but didn’t really become “obsessed” until about 2010.  It was then that I attended a local screening of Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill Jr. with live orchestral accompaniment.  I then had to watch everything Buster ever made, then moved on to Chaplin, then on to films from the early sound era….and when I found the amazing community of classic film lovers on Twitter and in the blogosphere, I decided I really needed to make watching and writing about classic film a major hobby.

  1. What makes a film a classic in your opinion?

When I tell people I like classic film, I have my own personal definition, which is twofold: a) any film during any era that has earned staying power through audience and/or critical acclaim, so by definition probably needs to be at least 20 years old to earn its ‘staying power’, and b) any film that was made before, say, 1970.  I find (a) to be a more traditional definition, but for me (b) is meaningful also because every film is a valuable cultural and historical record -- I am so interested in that.

  1. What classic films do I recommend to those who say they hate old movies?

I haven’t had much luck with this, but generally I think it’s best to try to pick films that have aged well, or perhaps don’t show their age quite as much as others.  Some people are turned off by older acting styles, etc., or films that are dialogue-heavy.  A film like The Manchurian Candidate has a lot of fascinating things going on, and is always compelling, with big stars that may attract some. It also is in black-and-white and may help a viewer get over any black-and-white phobia.  Those more inclined to comedy may love Some Like It Hot – can’t go wrong there!  I also think All About Eve is a great one to reel people in, and for those who may appreciate a Western, the original 3:10 to Yuma is great drama.

  1. Why should people care about classic film?

It’s an amazing art form and historical record at the same time.  That’s number one.  Number two is classic film is an entertainment treasure trove that’s virtually impossible to exhaust!

  1. What is the most rewarding thing about blogging? 
Not sure yet, since I’ve been at it only a little over two years.   For now, I would say it provides an outlet to share my enthusiasm for the minutiae of whatever film subject I’m writing about – it saves me from putting my friends and family to sleep with all my talk (haha).  Also, by participating in blogathons and being part of a blogging community, I learn so much and stretch myself.  Ultimately, learning about classic film makes me really happy, and is a huge reason why I blog.

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

The primary challenge for me is, like many others I have a number of things going on in my life, and blogging regularly requires prioritizing it.  So at times my challenge is finding or dedicating the time required.  Of course, blogging is its own reward, as I mentioned in my answer to the previous question, and the satisfaction I derive from producing a good post is motivation.  Second, while sometimes the topic and content of a post come easily, other times I struggle with coming up with a good topic – I wonder if too much has already been written on the subject, or whether it will interest my readers, etc.  I overcome this by just noodling around for a while weighing different approaches, and then just starting to write – usually the post falls into place.  Finally, I am still working on my ‘niche’ – do I write predominately for the passionate group of classic film aficionados, or do I write for those who may be new to classic film and want to explore?  Ideally I want to be accessible and interesting to both audiences – would love other CMBA members perspective on that dilemma!

  1. What advice would you give to a new blogger?

Technology has made setting up and maintaining a blog pretty easy, so don’t be intimidated by that.  I would also suggest allowing your own voice to come through in your blog posts – the best bloggers in my opinion have a definite writing style that’s fun to read. Finally, meet other bloggers by joining blogathons and embrace the community! That helps to keep motivation up.

Thanks so much, Jocelyn! Keep on obsessing for us!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

CMBA Profile: Louise Brooks Society

The CMBA profiles one of our classic movie blogs each month. This month we're featuring Thomas Gladysz, of the Louise Brooks Society:
The Louise Brooks Society is one of the most prolific and professional of the blogs in CMBA. Almost every day, there are updates on the site, and the writing and information is top-notch. It's a blog with a very specific focus - a silent film goddess with a short career but an iconic image. Author Thomas Gladysz has been running the society for over twenty years now, and he never seems to run out of things to say or images to share Louise and her world. 
Thomas couldn't choose just one blog entry for you to look at, instead he advises  you to, "start with the most recent entry and simply scroll back words in time. If I have done a decent job, you will keep going." His blog can be found at
Here are his questions to our interview questions:
What sparked your interest in classic film?
-- I remember my father liking gangster movies of the 1930s, as well as Laurel & Hardy, so I suppose his tastes affected mine to some degree. However, as a young teen, I was a contrarian. And my tastes were formed by what I could see on television. My favorite films then were John Huston’s Moby Dick (1956), Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night (1964), and Francois Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 (1966). I grew up near Detroit, and I guess I was a bit idiosyncratic, as far as suburban kids were concerned. The first silent film I remember seeing was Faust (1926), which I picked up late one night on a UHF TV station out of nearby Canada. I was wowed. The scene where Mephisto spread his cape over the city blew my teenage mind. Visually speaking, I hadn’t seen anything like it before, and wouldn’t again until college when I saw the dream cinema of Jean Cocteau.
I launched the Louise Brooks Society website in 1995. I did so after having seen Louise Brooks in Pandora’s Box (1929). I was gob-smacked. I wanted to learn more about Brooks, to see every one of her films, and to meet others who shared by enthusiasm. I read everything I could get my hands on, and tracked down each of her available films. One thing lead to another…. Interest in G.W. Pabst – the director of Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl (1929) – led to an interest in his contemporaries, Lang and Murnau, as well as German Expressionism. Interest in the silent era and the Jazz Age led to an interest in flappers and F. Scott Fitzgerald and Clara Bow and Colleen Moore. My wife loves Buster Keaton and Ronald Colman and Erich von Stroheim, and I developed an interest in them as well. Louise Brooks, you might say, has been my education.
What makes a film a "classic" in your opinion?
-- A movie has to have a strong personality, or at least an alluring personality. Does that mean I follow the auteur theory? Perhaps so, but perhaps not. I was an English major in college, and I’ve always been drawn to films based on books. Another couple of longstanding favorites are Stanley Kramer’s Inherit the Wind (1960) and David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago (1965). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched each of the various films (and the TV series) based on Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. I love that story. As a matter of fact, I love films about outsiders, loners, losers and those who are misunderstood or have been wronged. I guess that says more about me than about the classic status of a film. Obviously, some “classic films” are more successful than others as works of art. Individual films become classics for all manner of reasons. Some films considered great I find dull. Some films considered banal or silly I find enjoyable, like My Man Godfrey (1936) and The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964). I know what I like.
What classic film(s) do you recommend to people who say they hate old movies?
-- That’s a tough one. I would ask what contemporary films they like and try to think of a similar film from the past – provided the viewer can get past the technological hurdles, like black-and-white film, crude special effects, or the lack of spoken dialogue. Many of the Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton films and some of the pre-code films are classics because they transcend time. They are  “universal.” They still speak to a generation of viewers who’ve grown up on special effects.
If someone were to ask what Louise Brooks film they should watch, I would suggest Diary of a Lost Girl over Pandora’s Box.  Both are great films, but both are also problematic. Each is dark and a little depressing, which may turn-off some viewers. Also, both films were heavily censored, and what we have today is not quite complete, despite all the restoration work done on them. All-in-all, I would say Diary holds together a little better. Another recommended downer is Beggars of Life (1928). It’s a terrific film. Love Em and Leave Em (1926) is a very different Brooks’ film from those I just mentioned. It is fun, and a typical film of its time. I wish somebody would restore it.
Why should people care about classic film?
-- Kevin Brownlow once said: “Silent pictures show us how we lived and what our attitudes were. And as an art form, they can be wonderfully entertaining and often inspirational.” I think that pretty much explains it.
What is the most rewarding thing about blogging?
-- Feedback. It is gratifying when readers post comments or show interest in what I’ve written. But I am not in it for the applause, because there is very little of that. Maybe I’m just talking to myself, but I started my blog as a form of dialogue with the world, with those who love watching, reading about, thinking about, and researching old movies. Classic film will never achieve a mass audience – just like my blog or the Louise Brooks Society website will never achieve a mass readership. But a few hundred or a few thousand are all right with me. I keep on. It’s what I do.
I started the Louise Brooks Society blog in 2002, first on LiveJournal, and later I moved it to Blogger, where it now resides. A couple hundred have subscribed. I am a bit proud of the fact that I’ve kept it going all this time. Sometime this year, I will have posted for the 3000th time.
What challenges do you face with your blog, and how do you overcome them?
-- Despite the narrow focus of my blog – one film star with a short career – I seldom run out of things to write about. I’ve joked “all roads lead to Louise Brooks.” And no matter how seemingly unrelated a topic might be, I always try to somehow relate it to Brooks or the silent era. (Trust me, I never stray that far.) The novelist Salman Rushdie once said, "To understand just one life, you have to swallow the world." That’s my motto.
 What advice would you give to a new blogger?
-- Be yourself. Your blog can be anything you want it to be. Don’t imitate others, but also, importantly, don’t be ignorant of what others have done. Check out other bloggers! A good novelist is someone who reads lots of fiction. And a good blogger is someone who reads other blogs. Who knows? Other bloggers might well have done something that inspires or informs what you are trying to do.
Bring the real world into this digital medium. Read print books! Research something you are curious about. Visit a library or archive or historical museum to find out more about your subject. Explore your local connection. If you like Jean Harlow or William Powell or Esther Ralston, find out where their films where shown in your town… and what the local critics thought of them. Did your favorite star ever visit your town or city? There are a million angles.
Also, take advantage of all that the internet has to offer to enrich your blog – like newspaper and magazine archives, audio sources like SoundCloud, social media (it pays to get the word out), and the “community” of other film lovers. Your blog is a journey. Be open to possibilities. Explore. Have fun.
Thanks for sharing so much, Thomas! Louise Brooks couldn't ask for a better advocate!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

CMBA Profile: Classic Movie Man

The CMBA profiles one of our classic movie blogs each month. This month we're featuring Stephen Reginald, of Classic Movie Man
A look at Classic Movie Man is like being invited to a great film festival. Stephen Reginald, the writer of Classic Movie Man, posts news about local screenings in Chicago, meetups, and presentations he's giving, and his love of classic film comes across in everything he writes. One section, "The Film Club," is dedicated specially to these kinds of local events. Stephen has also lectured on classic movies at the Facets Film School, and this article in Chicago Magazine makes it sound like these discussions were too fun to miss out on.
Stephen would like you to take a look at his post about Ida Lupino, a well-researched but very readable examination of the career of an often-overlooked talented actress and director. Here's what Stephen had to say in response to our questions:

1. What sparked your interest in classic film?  
Back in the day before cable TV, classic movies were on broadcast TV all the time. I used to watch classic films with my father whose favorite movie was "The Four Feathers" (1939). He was 16 years old when it was released. I wrote a blog post about it.
2.  What makes a film a "classic" in your opinion? 
That's a tough one because it's so subjective. I sum up my opinion on the subject in the header for my blog: "What qualifies as a classic film or movie is somewhat subjective. There are certain films which endure because they strike an emotional chord long after their initial release. For example, a movie like "Casablanca" (1942) would qualify as a classic under that definition."
3.  What classic film(s) do you recommend to people who say they hate old movies? 
I generally like to know something about the individual before I recommend a classic film(s), but one classic that hardly ever misses is "Rear Window." It's in color, it's beautiful to look at, has a wonderful cast of classic film stars and character actors, and it's Alfred Hitchcock at the peak of his powers. It's a winner that hasn't lost its luster.
4.  Why should people care about classic film?  
Film is an art form and to fully understand you need to have some knowledge of its beginnings. For example, to fully understand modern/contemporary art, you need to have some knowledge the Old Masters.
5.  What is the most rewarding thing about blogging? 
Sharing my love of classic movies with others. I love it when someone says they want to see a movie based on a blog post I wrote. 
6.  What challenges do you face with your blog, and how do you overcome them? 
Time is a problem for every blogger, I think. I try to plan my posts, but I don't think I'm entirely successful in doing so. I have tried to incorporate some regular features, which helps with content creation. For example, I've done an annual classic Christmas movie blog post every year since 2010.
7.  What advice would you give to a new blogger?  
Write about the movies you enjoy most. Develop your own style and don't try to be like other bloggers. I enjoy reading other movie blogs because they're creative and offer something different than what I'm doing.

Thanks so much, Stephen! We'll see you at the popcorn stand!