Monday, April 30, 2007

Religious Epic, Pre-Code Style

Watched DeMille's The Sign of the Cross (1932) the other day, and since I haven't seen very many pre-Code talkies I was actually a little surprised by some of the debauchery. So here are some screen grabs, since I don't feel like actually writing much about the film itself (let's just say it was fun in that "I can't believe they showed this stuff back then" kinda way, not so much in the "That was a good movie that I can't wait to write interesting critical insights about" kinda way).

First, things started off well with a ridiculously awesome Charles Laughton as crazy (or crazy-like-a-fox?) Nero:

Nero can't believe how brilliant his plan is to blame the burning of Rome on the Christians. He's kinda awesome.

Next, we have Fredric March in a really short tunic:

March's Marcus is kind of a drip (especially when he's mooning over the Christian girl who was played by Nora Charles's cousin in the first Thin Man sequel), but I think he's cute in his little short shorts (and that silent era mascara is hot as well). According to somewhere, March insisted on going without underwear while making this movie. Surprisingly, Laughton was bothered by this.

I won't bother posting pictures of the Christians, 'cause for the most part they are boring. I'm a Christian myself, so the whole religious aspect should have appealed to me, but it's pretty obvious that DeMille was more interested in the hedonism of ancient Rome than he was in the pious early Christians. Why is goodness so hard to make interesting in these "Christian epics"? Anyhoo...

Here's Claudette Colbert as the Empress Poppaea taking her milk bath and feeling herself up:

In some other shots during this scene, Colbert's breast do manage to peak over the water. I was suitably scandalized.

But wait! There's more:

Lesbian dances? Check! This one is meant to seduce and corrupt the Christian girl (she's so boring I forgot her name). The Christian resists, but Marcus is having fun just watching (typical guy).

Then we enter the arena and the movie hits its high point. Huge crowds, huge sets, huge spectacle.

Elephants crushing heads!

(DeMille's just warming up for The Greatest Show on Earth)

Nearly naked women tied up in chains awaiting the snapping jaws of crocodiles!

And finally: (implied) Gorilla rape!

There were some great shots of Amazon women fighting pygmies, but alas! I neglected to get screen grabs for those scenes. Just something to look forward to if you end up watching the movie. I can't say I recommend it, since so much of the film is taken up by the plight of the Christians and Marcus's love for the Christian girl (snooze). But Laughton and Colbert give wonderful hammy performances, and DeMille really does know how to stage and shoot spectacle. And all of this way back in 1932! I should really know better by now, what with my knowledge of film history, but these pre-Codes still manage to get me. But seriously, I thought they were going a little overboard in that one episode of Rome when they talked about women being raped by baboons as entertainment. Apparently, DeMille wasn't afraid to (almost) go there.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Double Feature of the Week!

The Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie AND Hot Fuzz

I had a good time last weekend.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Victory is sweet!

Oh sweet revenge! (For beating us in 2004)

Oh delicious irony! (It was Jamie McLennan's slashing victim Johan Franzen who scored the winning goal)

Oh thank God, Detroit didn't lose in the first round again this year!

Go Wings!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Memories are films about ghosts

Remember this? Somewhere, long ago, we all saw it, the sepia-colored herald who roared a promise of Kansas farm girls and cyclones and over-the-rainbows, and led the way to the fevered pop of glorious Technicolor. If we want to talk about the experience of cinema during childhood, especially an American childhood, there seems no better place to start than the first frame of The Wizard of Oz. It's hard to know if The Wizard of Oz was the first movie I ever saw -- and in fact I'd wager it probably wasn't (who knows what my parents plopped in front of me when I was a toddler) -- but it was likely the oldest.

The oldness of TWoO impressed itself on me from the first frame, the moment the old MGM logo snarled me to attention. Other movies didn't start like this. And what do those strange words -- Ars Gratia Artis -- mean? And why did the picture look like it was colored with coffee stains, like the yellowed photos Grandma kept in a dilapidated box in the attic? This movie was different, I could feel it even at six years old; this movie was OLD. The old hung off it like it hung off Aunt Carm's mink stole; it wafted from it like the smoke from a cigarette in a cigarette holder; the old crackled out from it like it crackled out from Grandpa's old Eddie Condon records. And that title card with the text!:

That was so strange, so confusing to my young '80s child eyes. What did it even mean? I mean, I could read the words, but what were they doing just sitting there in front of the movie? The very cinematic language of the movie seemed unusual, seemed distant and removed from the world of movies I was familiar with. Roaring lions, sepia colors, title cards filled with a glom of words. It was all very strange.

I must confess, black and white movies have always reminded me of ghosts. Like the home movies of ghosts, or some secret window into the dead past. I suppose it has to do with the idea that pictures and photos steal or preserve some part of the soul, if you want to put an explanation to it. But at six years old, all I knew was that old black and white movies were a little creepy, that they gave off a feeling of forgotten ages and death. Of course, I loved TWoO; I loved the songs and the adventure and the delirious fantasy world. But I also felt just the slightest tinge of unease; a feeling of OLDNESS hung off the thing and it was enough to set a six-year-old slightly on edge. Who knows what these ghosts might do?

And it all started with that roaring lion.

And that music over the title (remember the first time you heard those opening notes as the words "The Wizard of Oz" appeared? It wasn't the bright jaunt of the munchkins' song, it wasn't the lilt of "Over the Rainbow"... what was it? It was something slightly foreboding, something slightly minor, the blaring of those opening horns...).

And that strange, inexplicable title card message about "the Young in Heart."

And the yellowed image of a farm girl and her dog running down the road.

The whole thing seemed to my childhood eyes like a relic from an ancient past (which, of course, in a way it was and is), like a movie of ghosts. Even when the film shifted to color I sensed a paradox -- a vibrant magical world brimming with spark and pop, and yet hanging at the edges was a forgotten era long vanished. Ghosts and flying monkeys.

I'm sure I didn't know how old the film really was, and besides, "1939" would have meant nothing to me at the time except, "really, really old," and I'm sure I had no idea who Judy Garland was in real life, or who any of the actors were, or even what Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer meant. But with just that image of the MGM lion my kid self knew this movie was from another time, another world, of movies. In movies, even the studio logo has power and magic.

But what's curious is that no other MGM lion has ever affected me in quite the same way as the lion at the start of The Wizard of Oz. Even to this day, no other MGM roar, not even from another old movie, excites that same strangeness, that same oldness, like the roar in The Wizard of Oz.

Monday, April 16, 2007

End of Part One... Intermission... End of Intermission -- Part Two

Where have we been??? Well, two weeks ago my modem died, and then I decided to get a new laptop, and so I waited for the new modem and the new laptop and I didn't blog. And now I have my new modem, and my new laptop, and in the meantime I bought a dvd recorder and I'm in the process of putting every movie I Tivo on Turner Classic Movies onto a dvd. So I've been a little preoccupied connecting wires and hooking up wireless routers and figuring out how my new computer works, etc. etc. So, that's why there's been a little intermission here at STDAMO.

But, hopefully, the intermission is over and we can get back to movies. Amidst all the technological tumult I did have time to catch Reign Over Me (Mike Binder, 2007), and while I didn't love it (felt too long, a little directionless in the second act) I have been thinking about it a lot since seeing it, and a few of the images and sequences have really stuck with me (I'm thinking the whole Mel Brooks marathon, the Fred Astaire/Rita Hayworth scene, the great shots of New York, the soundtrack). The more I reflect on it the more I like it. Anyway, interesting film, and I loved seeing Melinda Dillon, though it made me sad to think about director Bob Clark.

Monday, April 02, 2007