Friday, July 2, 2021
Saturday, June 12, 2021
Thursday, June 3, 2021
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930): As a friend of mine once told me, you know if Hitler banned a film it has to be good! All Quiet on the Western Front is a great showcase for the emotional impact classics can have on modern audiences even if the acting methods may have changed a little over the past century.
Union Depot (1932): One of my favorite parts of pre-code films is their short runtimes. Union Depot is one of many that clock in at just over an hour and never waste a second. Joan Blondell, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and Guy Kibbee are all great in this pre-code film that wonderfully manages to capture the playful spirit of the pre-code era alongside a frank depiction of Depression life.
Laura (1944): I can’t think of a classic film that is as engrossing as Laura. Beautifully shot with an amazing cast including Dana Andrew, Gene Tierney, Vincent Price, and my personal favorite Clifton Webb, this mystery pulls viewers into the magic of Old Hollywood that they’ll want more of.
Sunset Boulevard (1950): Sometimes a film’s background can be just as interesting as the story it tells. Sunset Boulevard packs tons of film history, including performances from silent era luminaries Gloria Swanson and Eric von Stroheim and cameos from Buster Keaton, H.B. Warner, and Anna Q. Nielsen, into one of the best film noirs. This film is an incredible introduction to the dark, seedy genre of film noir that also provides viewers a gateway to learning more about silent films.
Friday, May 14, 2021
Tuesday, May 4, 2021
We hope everyone has been safe during this turbulent year and you are ready for The Classic Movie Blog Association’s Spring Blogathon running from May 18th thru May 21st. Our topic this go-around is HIDDEN CLASSICS. What is a Hidden Classic? These are the forgotten gems, the underrated ones that you feel deserve more attention. With that in mind, the CMBA presents HIDDEN CLASSICS Blogathon. For CMBA members only!
Sunday, January 24, 2021
- The tagline of your blog is “Dreaming in Television”. What started your love for classic television programmes?
It’s likely something carried over from family/childhood, but I’ve always just felt more ‘at home’ with classic films as well as television (I’m a little younger than that, but I’ve always thought I’d have made a great 11-year-old a half century back). I guess the exciting ‘newness’ of TV in particular meant there’s an exciting ‘newness’ for the spectator too, like you’re enjoying something designed to make the most of its medium, from the diverse formats of ‘serials’ to things carried over from variety or the stage, acting styles, genres, sets, special effects, music, you name it: ways to create a ‘moment’ to be transported to. Another explanation I have is less serious-sounding but maybe more important, which that classic TV is a great comfort to me – it’s always been just what I need on rainy days. Even my blog name (‘You’ve Just Been Watching’) was inspired by the closing sequences of old Croft and Perry series like Dad’s Army: I feels it captures that collective warmth of inviting you, the audience, in ‘from the cold’ – while ‘Dreaming in Television’ maybe expresses how much I love the imaginative, fictional power of all these on-screen universes created so many years ago.
- You’ve written a “love letter” to Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple. What do you love about this classic iteration of the character, besides her “chin wobbling determination”?
I admit I’ve written lots of ‘love letters’ to her! It might be my love of offbeat actresses like Zasu Pitts, Athene Seyler, Irene Handl, Peggy Mount, Jean St. Clair, or Mona Washbourne, but I think I’d like to turn out just like Margaret Rutherford’s Marple when I’m older (just need the right cape-shawl now). And I love Rutherford in her other film appearances and cameos, but there’s something different in her incarnation of Agatha Christie’s pearly-haired lady detective. I feel like I’ve read this too, but when you watch her in Murder Ahoy or her other Marple films, you get the distinct feeling that Rutherford is acting, very seriously, as though she truly were Miss Marple: there’s hardly a hint of ‘the actor’ in her performance (though there’s also the contrary but not-contradictory feeling that she’s also, in part, just being herself). Whether or not this is intentional or even true, there really is an uninhibited, earnest ‘gusto’ to her screen presence, this septuagenarian meteor completely in her mystery-solving element. So maybe when Rutherford’s muddling through the countryside and charming/mystifying those around her, she’s also inspiring this joyful, life-affirming authenticity in those of us who love to watch her.
- If you were to recommend five classic films to a first timer, which five would you recommend and why?
Whenever I recommend a classic film I’m always a little apologetic or worried about how it will go over with folks more used to the pace/style of modern cinema, but there are a few I’ve managed to enjoy with others which I’d love a first-timer to try, too – The Magnificent Seven (1960): Kurosawa’s timeless original story turns out superbly as a great Technicolour Western (Yul Brynner looks pretty great in his cowboy hat and boots), and the adventure is as thrilling as it is unexpectedly moving. The Enemy Below (1957): I think it remains one of the most significant, balanced fictional treatments of WWII maritime battle, and its clever cat-and-mouse suspense is spectacularly gripping. The Lavender Hill Mob (1951): it’s one of the gentler Ealing comedies but I think it’s one of those wonderful examples of older comedies boasting more quiet subversive, anarchic sparkle than one might expect. Beware the Automobile (1966) is a uniquely unconventional, sensitively nuanced take on the ‘heist’ sub-genre, alternately character study, classic mystery, and tragic-comedy. And finally, La Grande Vadrouille (1966): starring some of France’s best-loved comics, this fantastic WWII countryside caper topped the country’s box-office for whole decades, and is just as exciting today!
- Why should be people care about “old” black and white movies?
Old movies are documents worth preserving and revisiting like great music, literature, and art: not necessarily as accurate frozen images of the times (although they often unintentionally preserve for us times and places, landscapes, even dialects that have since disappeared or changed beyond recognition), but insights into our social history, popular culture, the way narratives were interpreted or chosen, histories understood, peoples perceived, how certain audiences and/or filmmakers felt about the past, the present, and the future. And I think it enriches us as viewers of the screen – and spectators/actors of life as a whole – when we have these histories buoying us up, things that can renew and deepen our understanding of what we see and create today. It could be the vestiges of vaudeville and radio still present in comedy, the global cultural exchange of creative talent and waves of influence across continents that have been shaping our screens since, or simply that we can look back to find/re-discover a treasure trove of stories of achievement, loss, perseverance, exuberance, fantasy, love: things will feel surprisingly familiar but also different, that can also give us new, brilliant ways of seeing and looking at the universe, at people, and even ourselves.
- Who are your favourite filmmakers?
I love watching, thinking about, reading about/researching, and writing/talking about films a lot (I mean a lot), but I’ve realised I don’t have the cinephile’s approach to film, it’s just trying to find more of what I like or think I might like. There are so many filmmakers I really love, including: John E. Sturges, king of true ensemble adventures that resist ‘close-ups’ but are filled with the sheer power of the story instead; Richard Lester and Leonid Gaidai, masters of truly brilliant ‘60s Western and Russian slapstick/gag comedy (which I feel deserve renewed appreciation); Muriel Box, Britain’s most prolific woman filmmaker (I sometimes feel this inexplicable, personal responsibility to highlight her wonderful 1953 film Street Corner); Hussein Kamal, whose A Little Fear [Never Hurt Anyone] is a masterpiece of Egyptian cinema both in its direction and its enduring poetic impact; Tatiana Lioznova who so masterfully plumbs the emotional/political depths of longing and belonging in many of her works, every other one a cult classic; Vladimir Motyl, whose Zhenya, Zhenechka, and Katyusha so sensitively depicted wartime through a Walter-Mitty soldier; and the great Powell & Pressburger who so easily travel between mysticism and humanness, in ‘this world and the other.’
- What do you think of modern cinema?
It’s hard to answer in a way because I don’t really think about modern (post-90’s) cinema an awful lot; there are handfuls of gems I’ve fallen in love with over the years, but they don’t seem to preoccupy me as much. I don’t know if it’s the realism or commercialism, the approaches to acting or subject matters or direction or storytelling, or if I’m just ‘not with it’ (though that’s probably true) but I often feel slightly out-of-sync when watching newer stuff, nothing like the deeply familiar feeling and absorbed interest I have with my favourite classics. Maybe it’s more a case of what I love about older cinema by contrast: much like classic television, part of the glowing appeal of classic cinema is the fresh-ness of it, the rich pantheon of world film that portrayed – not always perfectly, mind you – people, places, stories, with less of the ‘tricks’ available to filmmakers today, but relying on creativity to take audiences on a journey. This might require un-cynical suspension of disbelief but I think that’s part of the magic and enjoyment: to see the model miniatures and matte/glass-painting scenery and still believe you’re on the moon, or underwater, or in Paris.
- If you could recommend a classic television programme to get a newbie interested, what would it be and why?
Oh so many shows! There’s one I’ve tried to recommend often without much success to date, but that hasn’t dampened my almost-evangelical enthusiasm for sharing the exhilarating wonders of The Phil Silvers Show (also known as Sgt. Bilko) with anyone who will listen/watch. The series’ then-stellar success conquered the likes of I Love Lucy and The Milton Berle Show in awards, ratings, everything, but has since faded into comparative obscurity (except amongst older fans in the UK). This will always mystify me because ‘Bilko’ is one of the most lightning-brilliant comedies of all time, thanks to the geniuses on- and off-screen. Silvers’ impeccable comedic timing, delivery, and energy almost spark off the sound-stage in this slightly off-kilter ‘service comedy’ world that show creator Nat Hiken had woven for him: a lovably cunning sergeant who expends incredible amounts of thought and energy into ‘making it rich’ in the army and Kansas of all places. The show established novel conventions of humour, half-hour plots and arcs, script, casting, character, all its own, influencing shows as recent or innovative as Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, but absolutely nothing makes me laugh as much as ‘The Phil Silvers Show’ for its chaotic, ‘human’ joy.
- If you could travel back in time and interview one classic television star, who would it be and why?
Not a day goes by where I don’t wish I could have befriended or at least met some of my favourite classic screen stars, but by now you can see how enamoured I am with Phil Silvers (he’s also the recipient of as many of my ‘love letters,’ haha), so it would be him! Silvers was already a well-known Broadway star before he got his show, and had made his way up in show business as a singer, burlesque comedian, movie actor, and entertainer. When we get to Bilko, we get this larger-than-life legend who is just mesmerizing to watch, a Catherine-Wheel firework around which the entire story, cast, stage softly radiates. His decades of experience gave us a man with an astute sense of timing, an engaging and multi-dimensional persona, an absolutely natural presence in every medium and every format. I’ve always felt deprived of more of Silvers’ brilliant on-screen potential, and would have loved to hear him reflect more on his fascinating life, get to know the gentle, sometimes-anxious, shy, and kind man who absorbed and transformed for us a character that was all mind and all heart – and thank him personally for the joys he’s given me!
Saturday, December 5, 2020
Each month the CMBA profiles one of its members. This month our profile is on Kevin Maher of Top 10 films.
1. Your blog concentrates on making lists pertaining to classic films. What attracts you to this approach to classic film?
I was in a job interview & the interviewer asked me to name a few of my favorite films. I froze and spit out a few of the first titles that came to mind, kicking myself later for the choices. After that I carried a list of my 10 favorite films in my wallet for quick reference (very nerdy, I know). Every once in a while, I would update the list, so I guess that’s where the idea for Top10FilmLists.com came from. Of course, it took me about 15 years before I started doing anything about it.
2. Which of your lists did you most enjoy compiling and why?
Every list opens up something I hadn’t seen before or something I hadn’t thought of, so that’s a really hard question. I try to see as many films as possible when creating a list, which obviously involves seeing films I’ve never seen and in some cases never even heard of. I also try to read at least one book on the subject of the list to add more background on what I’m watching. I’m going to name 2 lists that gave me particular joy in creating: the Top 10 Pre-Code list and the Ernst Lubitsch list. The Pre-Code era is one of my favorites & every film offers something interesting, unique and surprising. I’m a big fan of the Pre-Code.com blog and I find that the more pre-code films I watch, the more I want to see. As for Lubitsch, which dovetails with the pre-code era, it was watching his German silents from the late teens that really energized me. I had never heard of Ossi Oswalda, but was blown away by her performances in The Doll, I Don’t Want to be a Man and The Oyster, as well as early evidence of the “Lubitsch touch.”
3. If you were to recommend five classic films to a first timer, which five would you recommend and why?
Sunset Boulevard: I love everything about this movie & it opens up so many things to think about & talk about.
Singin’ in the Rain: the quintessential musical, with a wonderful splash of Hollywood history. The joy in filmmaking is clearly evident in every scene.
Sunrise: My favorite film of all time! I think it’s a wonderful example of everything that the silent era was. From lyrical camera movement, to limited title cards, beautifully constructed frames, and a wonderfully melodramatic storyline, Sunrise overcomes novices’ fear & concerns about silent films (I know it’s not purely silent, but I think I would be a bridge for a newcomer to enter into silent film from a comfortable place).
My Man Godfrey: William Powell & Carole Lombard, in my favorite screwball comedy, shows the silliness & smartness of the 30’s, as well as showcasing 2 of my favorite actors.
Bonnie & Clyde: I think this film shows the evolution of movies after the Code’s disintegration, as well as the revolution of “new Hollywood” of the late 60’s, in glorious & violent color. A great example of film as a reflection of the time in which it was made.
4. Why should people care about “old” black and white movies?
Between Jazz & movies, America was the primary driver of the 2 greatest artistic movements of the 20th century, in my opinion. I like to call vintage movies “classic” & to borrow a common phrase, “it’s not old if you’ve never seen it!” People should care about classic movies just like they should care about all art, as something to be looked at for how it influenced what they like today.
5. Who are your favourite filmmakers?
Lubitsch, Wilder, Huston, Sturges, Wellman & Hawks, to name a few. When I stared my blog I considered myself an auteurist, but have since reconsidered how I feel about movie making as a process. While certain directors undeniably put their imprint on most of their work, I now give more credence to the collaborative nature of film making & enjoy studying writers, producers, cinematographers, as well as actors & directors.
6. What do you think of modern cinema?
Just as I won’t listen when people disparage “old movies” as bland & outdated, I don’t subscribe to the thought that there are no good movies made today. Sure, most of the Hollywood studios make all their films for teenage boys, but there are great films being made all the time. Having just left 20th Century Fox last year, I can attest that Fox Searchlight does wonderful work in both production & acquisition, finding quality filmmakers & giving them a fairly large platform. (hopefully that will continue under new management). Similarly, foreign films are more broadly diverse & better made than ever before.
7. Your top 10 favourite films is quite a mix of genres. Why do you consider these ten films as being your favourite.
The list as it’s currently constituted reflects my auteurist origins & I’m actually working on a refresh. Whereas the current list reflects my favorite films from 10 of my favorite directors, the new list will likely be more of the “10 films I could take to a desert island & NEVER get sick of watching”. I write a weekly newsletter & I got more feedback on the idea of refreshing my Top 10 All-time favorites than anything else I’ve written about in the last 6 months. I’ve also seen close to 1,000 films since I made that list, so it’s time for a refresh. As I note right at the top of my landing page, ALL of my lists are completely subjective & reflect only what I’ve seen & how much I like it. I always welcome feedback & criticism to help shape any of the evolving lists!
8. If you could compile a top 10 list of films, directors or actors for a major entertainment publication, who or which films would the list focus on and which publication would you write for?
Maybe helping Victoria Wilson complete the second volume of her biography of Barbara Stanwyck! Seriously, if I was going to be greedy I’d say to write for EW, to have the broadest reach. If I was being studious, I’d write for Film Comment & if I wanted to be happy, I’d create a Top 10 list for each of the major studios of the classic era. I figure that would take a lifetime to do a thorough job!
Tuesday, December 1, 2020
The latest edition in the Classic Movie Blog Association’s eBook series is now available at Amazon and Smashwords. The eBook features keynote films focusing on politics in the movies. Here you will find seventeen essays covering political films dating back to the 1930s and up thru the 1960s. “Politics on Film” contains a wide range of political points of view from the courageous to corruption to satire. Among the movies included in this collection are well-known works like The Best Man, All the King’s Men, Duck Soup, and Yankee Doodle Dandy, to more obscure films such as Medium Cool, What Every Woman Knows, and Left, Right, and Center. Contributors: Paul Batters, Annette Bochenek, Marsha Collock, Jocelyn P, Dunphy, Patricia Gallagher, Amanda Garrett, Rick Gould, John Greco, Jess Ilse, Marianne L'Abbate, Kevin Maher, Beth Nevarez and Lora Stocker, Patricia Nolan-Hall, Linda J. Sandahl, Patricia Schneider, Nur Soliman, and J.O. Watts.
Tuesday, October 20, 2020
We hope all are safe! The Classic Movie Blog Association’s Fall Blogathon runs from October 20 thru October 23rd. With this being a Presidential election year in the U.S. we are presenting the “Politics on Film Blogathon.” Political intrigue, corruption, elections, politicians, heroic or criminal, and more are all in play. With that in mind, the CMBA presents its annual Fall blogathon - POLITICS ON FILM.
Andy's Stump Speech (Strictly Vintage Hollywood)
All the President's Men (Second Sight Cinema)
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Screen Dreams)
Fail Safe (Musings of a Classic Film Addict)
State of the Union (In The Good Old Days of Hollywood)
Saturday, October 3, 2020
- You say on your blog that you have a large physical media collection. What are some of your most prized film releases that you own?
Well, I would definitely say that the Blu-ray of the restored My Fair Lady is one of them. My late grandmother (whom I used to enjoy watching some of these classics with on a regular basis) was fond of the movie, but it took me a while to come around to it. I finally did (although sadly after she had passed away), but it was right around the time that the new restoration was announced. I was able to see the new restoration first through its brief theatrical run, and then again on Blu-ray a few short weeks later. And in the time since, it has become one I enjoy watching at least once a year.
Another one would be the restored Seven Brides For Seven Brothers. This was one of the early classics I was exposed to, when my parents and grandmother started introducing me to them. I took to this movie more than anything after watching the barn dance, and have enjoyed seeing it many times since. Of course, being that this movie did not look great due to some mistakes made many years ago with the film elements, it was a real wonder when Warner was able to find a print made before the damage was done, and restore the film from that. Now, I enjoy it even more, seeing it look so much better!
And there are so many more I could list, from my collection of Fred Astaire musicals, to some of Gene Kelly’s, to the 1927 film The Jazz Singer, and many others!
- Your interest in classic film ranges right from the silent era through to the 1960s. What is your favourite film from each decade (1920s-1960s)?
Before I get into this list, I should mention that the films on it are not necessarily my absolute favorites for these decades. Considering the real answer for one would BE my absolute favorite movie, I get a little paranoid in this day and age where identity theft would be too easy, especially with an answer to this type of question in a public place. That being said, these are all still films that I am VERY fond of, and one or two of them are indeed favorites for those decades.
1920s - The Cocoanuts (1929)
1930s - Carefree (1938)
1940s - Easter Parade (1948)
1950s - Lovely To Look At (1952)
1960s - My Fair Lady (1964)
- If you were to recommend five classic films to a first timer, what five would you recommend and why?
That's Entertainment (1974) - While any of the three films in the series would work, this one is a good start. It gives us many of the musical moments from many of the classic MGM musicals, without worrying about the plot points in between. Sure, I could (and would) easily recommend many of the films that have clips represented here, but these are some of the absolute best moments from those movies, and are certainly a good way to introduce somebody to them.
City Lights (1931) - In my opinion, one of Charlie Chaplin’s best movies. While it was still a silent movie made when talkies had become the rage, he is still able to make use of sound with his scoring. And, of course, we laugh and we cry at the antics of Chaplin’s Tramp as he tries to help the blind girl that he has fallen in love with.
Top Hat (1935) - In my opinion, one of the best film musicals, with a great supporting cast, great music, and Fred and Ginger dancing their way into our hearts in one of their best-loved films.
The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1939) - It's a well-known story, it's from Hollywood's golden year (1939), it's a well-done story (even with its deviations from the source material), and the sets are just AMAZING.
My Man Godfrey (1936) - One of the best screwball comedies (another genre I’m particularly fond of). Obviously, we have the rich, who are mostly crazy here, with William Powell’s Godfrey there to make fun of them, while working for them and helping them learn to be better. Full of good laughs, but also willing to make us think!
- Why should people care about “old” black and white movies?
I very much believe, as others have said, that these movies have historical value. They are, to a very large degree, indicative of the moods that everyone has gone through over the last hundred years. Some films work better than others, but there is always something more to discover. Of course, the special effects in these films still look just as good (or bad) as they did when they were released (versus today's CGI-filled movies that *might* look good when released, but look awful a few years later when technology improves even more). Do they have their flaws? Yes (especially with regard to some things that aren't politically correct and really never should have been), but they were made by flawed human beings, and that fact hasn't changed all these years later.
- Who are your favorite filmmakers?
For the most part, I tend to focus on the onscreen talent, so that would be the likes of Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Bing Crosby, Gene Kelly and Judy Garland, amongst others. There has really been only one behind-the-scenes person that I have actively sought out films they were involved with, and that would be the composer Irving Berlin. There may be a few other songwriters from that era I’ve enjoyed, but none as much as him.
- What do you think of modern cinema?
By and large, I don’t really care for modern cinema. Growing up, I always veered more towards family fare (a trait that has stayed with me as an adult), so I don’t generally care much at all for R-rated movies. And, while I still see some of the various comic book movies and Disney/Pixar fare, most of those films that I’ve seen in recent years (ever since I became an adult) are movies that I watch once (and enjoy), but further viewings just don’t excite me as much, and so I generally don’t watch them again (compared to many of the classics, which I generally AM excited to watch multiple times). That, combined with a "just because we can, we're going to do it" mentality that results in CGI being overused (which ages some films quicker than others), as well as the "inability" (in my opinion) to film dance well in any musicals or dance films (considering I much prefer the way Fred Astaire liked to film dance), just makes them harder to watch for me.
- You watch films for their escapist value. What films provide you with the most enjoyable escapism?
More than anything else, that would be the film musicals. In general, the songs written for a lot of the movies from the era I cover speak to me as well as any songs I've ever heard. Quite frankly, most of them tend to get stuck in my head quite frequently (but you won't hear me complaining), and they also make me want to get up and dance. Heck, watching these films musicals is what inspired me to take up dancing (mostly tap and ballroom dancing) in the first place!
- If you could see one classic film that isn’t available on physical media get a blu ray release, which one would it be?
Well, I've been lucky, as most of what I like has made it out to Blu-ray and DVD. At this point, there are only a handful that I've seen that haven't made the jump to Blu-ray or DVD (and I haven't had a working VHS player for a little over a decade, so I would otherwise be unable to watch anything in that format), as well as some that I can at least claim to have heard of (but obviously haven't seen) that remain unavailable. But, when it comes down to ONE film I would like to see on Blu-ray, I would have to go with the 1950 Fred Astaire musical Let’s Dance, especially since it remains the only Fred Astaire musical that hasn’t made it to DVD or Blu-ray yet. I know it’s not his best film, but, like any other musical with Fred Astaire, I could easily sit back and watch it, no matter what mood I am in!