Monday, August 1, 2022

CMBA Profile: Shadowplay

Each month, the CMBA profiles a classic movie blog. This month, we’re featuring David Cairns, who writes at Shadowplay.

CMBA: What makes a film a “classic” in your opinion?

Shadowplay: I’m interested in films generally. I find some old bad movies entertaining as well as good ones, and I love finding obscurities and oddities. But a classic is simply a film whose qualities still shine after the passage of a decade or more. It’s interesting to me when movies that everyone’s excited about suddenly seem forgotten. Looking at old movies, if they have a reputation, they’re more likely to be of interest than the latest hit.

CMBA: Why should people care about “old” black-and-white films?

Shadowplay: I wouldn’t dictate to people what they should care about, but if you're interested in films per se, and not just in what’s fashionable, then you should be interested in the development of the form, and in the work of film artists from any era. 

CMBA: Is there a classic and/or silent film that you find yourself watching again and again?

Shadowplay: Quite a few! I don’t get tired of Chaplin and Keaton, I love pre-codes, thirties horror films, French cinema . . . 

CMBA: What classic and/or silent films do you recommend to people who may not have seen many older films?

Shadowplay: Can't go far wrong with Casablanca.  In general, I’d try to fit the recommendation to the person.

CMBA: What is most rewarding about blogging for you?

Shadowplay: It amuses me. I like interacting with readers, but mostly it’s just a way for me to crystallize my responses to whatever I’ve watched recently.

Friday, July 1, 2022

CMBA Profile: Silent Locations/Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Film Locations

Each month, the CMBA profiles one of its members and their classic movie blog. This month, we’re featuring John, who writes at Silent Locations/Chaplin-Keaton-LloydFilm Locations.

CMBA: What do you find most intriguing about silent film locations, which you showcase in your blog?

Silent Locations/Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Film Locations: Movies inspire, inform, and entertain. But they’re also time machines, a window into the past. What fashions did people wear in the 1930s? What cars did they drive in the 1950s? Just watch a classic film.

With time, each movie becomes its own documentary, reflecting the era and culture in which it was made. Silent movies evoke this time travel even more profoundly. Unburdened by film permits and truckloads of sound equipment, the early filmmakers were free to film wherever they wished, capturing real-life settings and events now a century or more old. Los Angeles in particular would become the most photographed city in the world. 

Each location tells a story. But collectively, as with the tiles of a mosaic, patterns and stories emerge, revealing long-forgotten interconnections, and providing a narrative view of filmmaking in Los Angeles from an entirely new perspective, as captured in the background of early film. For example, we now know Buster Keaton filmed scenes a block from the Chaplin Studio, and across the street from the Pickford-Fairbanks Studio. Did he stop to visit? Perhaps. But knowing this context, knowing Buster was fully aware of his proximity when filming, allows us true and previously unknown insight into his private thoughts. Not by reading often unreliable newspaper accounts, but by believing our own eyes. With each location, with each connection, this lost world becomes clearer and more immersive.

CMBA: Is there a classic film that you find yourself watching again and again?

Silent Locations/Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Film Locations: Buster Keaton’s short film Cops (1922) remains my all-time favorite repeat-viewing film. The movie is remarkable for so many reasons. First, it features Buster’s famous stunt where he runs from an alley pursued by a mob of angry police officers and escapes by grabbing a passing car one-handed, flying out of frame. I later discovered Charlie Chaplin filmed scenes from The Kid (1921), and Harold Lloyd filmed scenes from Safety Last! (1923) at the same alley. Each landmark film has been inducted into the Library of Congress (LOC) National Film Registry, and Hollywood Heritage has now honored the site, the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley, with a bronze plaque.

Next, Cops is Buster’s only self-produced film to be filmed entirely outdoors, at exterior locations, without a single studio interior scene. The single filming stage at Buster’s small studio, originally open to the air, was finally enclosed during the time Cops was being made. So perhaps by necessity, or by inspiration, Cops contains no studio interior scenes, allowing the studio carpenters free rein to do their work.

Last, except for the final scene where Buster locks all the cops inside their own police station, only to deliver himself into their clutches when Virginia Fox rejects him (likely filmed at the Metro lot), I have identified EVERY scene in the movie. Buster filmed all across Hollywood, in Pasadena, downtown, at the University of Southern California (USC), and at four different studio backlots. The planning, logistics, and work Buster undertook staging these complicated scenes across Los Angeles is nearly beyond belief, and yet it all unfolds seamlessly onscreen.

Cops is also a fascinating time capsule. Buster’s favorite shooting spot, near the corner of Alameda and Ducommun, appears in more than a dozen shots from Cops and The Goat. This was also where D. W. Griffith had earlier filmed “modern” scenes for Intolerance, and where Chaplin filmed the rooftop chase from The Kid. Demolished around 1923, no trace of this remarkable corner exists, not even in photo archives. Instead, our only memory of this cinematic heritage site appears in the background of silent movies.

CMBA: What is most rewarding about blogging for you?

Silent Locations/Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Film Locations: I love reading reviews and posts about classic films that deepen and enrich our understanding and enjoyment of the films. Such essays are subjective, that’s the point, to share another person’s insights and analysis. In turn, what I find most rewarding, both with my books and now with my blog, is that my content is almost entirely objective, presenting newly discovered facts and history hiding in plain sight in the background. My goal is to promote such “new” history and information until it becomes widely known among classic film fans.

I first met Leonard Maltin twenty-six years ago when I shared with him some initial Keaton discoveries. At the time, he wrote, “I was stunned to learn that one of my all-time favorite gags—in which Buster runs through an alley and casually grabs a handle on a passing car that enables him to fly out of frame—was shot on Cahuenga Boulevard at a spot I pass several times a week!”

During the ensuing quarter century, by sharing the alley with other fans and historians, first with my books, then on my blog, and now by also creating new media such as YouTube videos, thousands of people around the world now know about the alley, now recognized with an honorary plaque. The hidden history of this once anonymous alley has finally taken hold. Uncovering new bits of history, previously unknown connections between different actors and films, and sharing this visual history so that it may become better known, is intensely gratifying and what I find most rewarding.

CMBA: What makes a film a “classic” in your opinion? Why should people care about “old” black-and-white films? What classic films do you recommend to people who may not have seen many older films?

Silent Locations/Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Film Locations: Regarding what makes a film classic and why we should care about and recommend older films, I’ll leave these answers in more capable hands. Suffice it to say, when something is great, it’s great and will always be great. These films capture styles, eras, storytelling, and star power that we’ll never see again but can revisit whenever we want. Everyone loves pizza, while a century ago maybe hot dogs were more popular. But why limit yourself? Why deny yourself either choice?

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

CMBA Profile: Riding the High Country

Each month, the CMBA profiles a classic movie blog. This month, we’re featuring Colin McGuigan, who writes at Riding the High Country.

CMBA: What makes a film a “classic” in your opinion?

Riding the High Country: I guess the easy answer to that is a movie which has stood the test of time. Of course, the answer is in itself something of a classic and probably in need of clarification. I guess I mean a movie which has themes running through it that continue to have some resonance with viewers, timeless material dealing with and raising questions about all the areas of life that remain constants. Crucially, though, this needs to have been achieved in a way which, first and foremost, is entertaining and engaging. Lose those two vital ingredients and you lose the audience, and then all the timelessness in the world won’t amount to a hill of beans, as I understand is often heard in Casablanca.

CMBA: Why should people care about 'old' films—in black and white or in color?

Riding the High Country: Why indeed? I know why I care; these movies represent a significant part of our shared cultural and artistic past, our common heritage which really ought to be passed along or at least preserved for those who follow. In the end, it’s part of a process that has been going on for as long as we’ve been civilizing ourselves and I see no reason to willfully break that link now. And if that sounds too pompous or pretentious, then there’s also the point that so many of these movies are just plain fun to revisit.

CMBA: Is there a classic film that you find yourself watching again and again?

Riding the High Country: I don't think so, although there are plenty of films I’ve seen multiple times, such as Hitchcock’s oeuvre, most of Bogart’s work, that of John Ford, Fritz Lang, and Anthony Mann, and so on. While I still return to these, I find I need to leave a space of a few years between viewings now, to let them breathe a little. There would have been a time when I was younger and was reliant on movies popping up on TV, and it was often a matter of what could be termed “big hitters” being regularly scheduled. Then when I started to build a small collection of VHS titles, I probably revisited a lot of those frequently. However, I’ve noticed that maintaining a blog has meant I’ve broadened my viewing considerably, both as a result of following up on the recommendations of others and also by heading off down previously untrodden paths after liking the work of some cast or crew member in a film I’ve just seen.

Whenever I do revisit a movie, either for a blog post or just because, I generally come away with some different feeling. It’s that old truism of course which says the movies don’t change but we do, and I find it interesting to see how the stages of life alter us and how our ever-shifting circumstances color our perceptions of the movies.

CMBA: What classic films do you recommend to people who may not have seen many older films?

Riding the High Country: That depends on the person to some extent. In general, though, pacing and rhythm seem to be the areas that people need to adjust to. As such, a lot of prime Billy Wilder can be a good introduction to classic cinema because he tended to keep things moving briskly, so Double Indemnity should work. Howard Hawks did so too and something like His Girl Friday is an easy recommendation to make. For westerns, which have a special place in my heart, I try to point toward Boetticher and Scott in the likes of The Tall T and Seven Men From Now, and Delmer Daves’s 3:10 to Yuma. If these prove attractive, then people can cast their nets further and go where their tastes lead them.

CMBA: What is the most rewarding thing about blogging for you?

Riding the High Country: When I first started, back in 2007, it was a way to put some thoughts out there on stuff that appealed to me, especially since there were few opportunities for me to converse about old movies with my friends and acquaintances. I guess I saw it then as an opportunity to marshal my thoughts on different films. Over time, and as the readership grew, I came to really appreciate the interaction with visitors and commenters. I still see the whole thing as essentially a learning process, where I’m forever expanding my own cinematic horizons and, I hope from time to time helping others to do the same. Basically, I regard it as a terrific chance to share my own passion for the movies with readers and for them to stoke up my enthusiasm for stuff that is new to me.