Face Time – The Classics, Part 3

(Note: Sunday morning I found out that nearly all of the photos in parts one and two had somehow vanished. After several tedious hours I managed to restore them. Hopefully they won’t take another walk, but I’ll keep checking. So if they were gone when you first took a look, they’re back now if you want to see them.)

Here’s the final installment of this series. I’ve really enjoyed finding these great faces, and am well aware of all the ones I’ve left out. It would obviously be impossible to include everyone. I’ll try to correct the more obvious omissions if I do one of these again.

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Christopher Walken

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Alain Delon

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Audrey Hepburn

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Wes Studi

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Chief Dan George

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Anjelica Huston

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Jack Nicholson

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Dwight Frye

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Boris Karloff

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Christopher Lee

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Natalie Wood

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Robert Duvall

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Robert De Niro

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Omar Sharif

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Maggie Smith

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Humphrey Bogart

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Lauren Bacall

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Richard Farnsworth

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Jack Palance

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Jeanne Moreau

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Charlton Heston

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Rock Hudson

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Leonard Nimoy

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Michael Kenneth Williams

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Robert Ryan

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Agnes Morehead

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Maria Ouspenskaya

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Al Pacino

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Ernest Thesiger

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Angie Dickinson

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Josephine Baker

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John Casavettes

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Giulietta Masina

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Rosario Dawson

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James Earl Jones

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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George Clooney

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That wraps up this series for now. I hope you’ve had a good time seeing these. Until next time, stay safe. Happy Thanksgiving! — Ted Hicks

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Face Time – The Classics, Part 2

Continuing with more shots of classic film actors. This keeps growing. I’ve realized it’s going to take a third part to wrap this up. Not that it will ever be finished, but I guess I have to stop somewhere. Also, I’m expanding the parameters somewhat to include actors both before the 1940s and after the 1960s.

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Marlon Brando

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Elizabeth Tayor

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Morgan Freeman

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Lucille Ball

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Cary Grant

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Jean Gabin

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Steve McQueen

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Alan Ladd

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Helen Mirren

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Gregory Peck

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Loretta Young

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Lon Chaney Jr.

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Kim Novak

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Bette Davis

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Joan Crawford

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Victor Mature

 

 

 

 

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Lee Marvin

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Sydney Poitier

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Tuesday Weld

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Christopher Plummer

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Thelma Ritter

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Paul Newman

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Harry Dean Stanton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Julie Christie

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Clint Eastwood

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Roy Rogers

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Tom Mix

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William S. Hart

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Buster Keaton

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More to come. Stay tuned for part three, which will end this series for now. Meanwhile, stay safe. — Ted Hicks

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Face Time – The Classics, Part 1

There’s no theme or organizing principle to this collection of photographs of actors, other than that they all have the Look, faces that hold the screen and our attention, then and now. These are nearly all from previous generations of actors who we know mainly from films of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. This will be in two parts. I’ve collected too many images to reasonably fit into one post, though this is just the tip of the iceberg.

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Robert Mitchum

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Kirk Douglas

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Burt Lancaster

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Tony Curtis

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Gary Cooper

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Clark Gable

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Marilyn Monroe

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Peter O’Toole

 

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Susan Hayward

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Montgomery Clift

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Richard Widmark

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Barbara Stanwyck

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Toshiro Mifune

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Tatsuya Nakadai

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Setsuko Hara

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Sterling Hayden

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Richard Burton

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ruby Dee

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James Dean

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Joel McCrae

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Randolph Scott

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James Coburn

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Myrna Loy

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Robert Redford

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Katharine Hepburn

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John Wayne

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Yul Brynner

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Catherine Deneuve

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Jean-Paul Belmondo

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Jean Seberg

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John Huston

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Orson Welles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stay tuned for part two of this random survey, which will appear in a day or so. In the meantime, stay safe. – Ted Hicks

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New York Film Festival 2021 – Supplemental + Dune in IMAX

For those who’d like a deeper dive, here are interviews and Q&As for films cited in the previous post. I realize that these may be of more value once you’ve seen the films, but I want to make them available. Pick and choose as per your interest.

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Dune

Since Dune was shot in IMAX, I knew I wanted to see it that way, even though I’d seen it in a smaller screen format at the Walter Reade Theater just three weeks earlier at the New York Film Festival. I went yesterday and was startled to see that it was an almost an entirely different film. I know that sounds like an exaggeration, but that’s what it felt like. Relationships and events became clearer to me. The physical scale of the production had greater weight. I especially became more aware of the significance and power of Hans Zimmer’s majestic music score. Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa), my favorite character in the film, registered more strongly than many of the others when I first saw Dune, and even more so in this format. There’s a clarity and dimension to the image and sound that wasn’t there before. It’s really something to see it play out on the full IMAX screen. Dune takes place on a desert planet. It was shot in the Wadi Rum valley of Jordon, the principle desert location for Lawrence of Arabia. This is probably why there are portents of the David Lean film in the closing scenes of Dune. Clearly I am besotted with the IMAX version.

Dune will be playing in IMAX at the AMC multiplex on 68th Street and Broadway for only a few more days. It has to make room for the next blockbuster, The Eternals.

NYFF Q&A with director Denis Villeneuve and composer Hans Zimmer. Run time is 23:42.

Director and cast interviews by Stephen Colbert. Run time is 17:22.

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The Velvet Underground

The following interview with director Todd Haynes wasn’t available when I posted Part One of my NYFF coverage, so I’m including it here. Run time is 15:01.

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C’mon  C’mon

NYFF interview with director Mike Mills, Joaquin Phoenix, and Molly Webster. Run time is 17:33.

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The French Dispatch

NYFF Q&A with director Wes Anderson and cast members. Run time is 24:09.

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Power of the Dog

NYFF Q&A with director Jane Campion and Benedict Cumberbatch (50:05)

NYFF interview with cinematographer Ari Wegner. Run time is 30:00.

Jane Campion interviewed by Sofia Coppola. Run time is just over an hour.

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Hit the Road

NYFF Q&A with director Panah Panahi. Run time is 1:00:49.

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Passing

Interview with director Rebecca Hall. Run time is 26:55.

Interview with Rebecca Hall, Ruth Nega, Tessa Thompson. Run time is 21:49.

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Parallel Mothers

NYFF Q&A with director and cast members. Run time is 46:38.

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That’s all for now. Happy Halloween! See you next time. — Ted Hicks

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New York Film Festival 2021 – Part 2, The Wrap Up

The 59th edition of the New York Film Festival concluded on Sunday, October 10. Based on the fourteen films I saw, it was a  very good year. I don’t know any actual figures, but from what I could tell there was a heavy turnout for screenings. After last year’s virtual festival, I think filmgoers were anxious to get back into theaters to see NYFF films on a big screen with an audience, plus Q&As with filmmakers. All of this feels so much different when you’re actually there, in the space. It’s a connection you simply don’t have with virtual screenings or via Zoom events. There was no social distancing, but masks had to be worn inside the venues and during screenings. Supporting a good slate of films, everything was extremely well run, which must have been more of a challenge this year than organizing a large festival normally would be. Below are notes on the rest of what I saw.

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Friday, October 1 — The Power of the Dog (Jane Campion, director & writer)  Set on a cattle ranch in Montana in 1925, this is an extremely powerful film. At times, the tone and look of it reminded me of Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood (2007), which was equally inscrutable and made you work to parse it out. I think The Power of the Dog gives us all the information, but nothing is spelled out. An enormous weight, both physically and emotionally, is conveyed. It’s also set in a time and place in a way that feels like I’ve never seen it before. There’s a granular detail to everything, the buildings, the location, clothing, behavior, all of it. The year is 1925, but there’s a cattle drive that evokes Red River. It’s the Twentieth Century, but it’s more like the Wild West. The excellent cast includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons, Kirsten Dunst, and Kodi Smit-McPhee. The role is a definite departure for Cumberbatch as an angry, bitter, tightly wrapped rancher with an overload of testosterone. He’s a long way from Sherlock Holmes.

The Power of the Dog opens in theaters on November 17 and begins streaming on Netflix on December 1.

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Sunday, October 3 — The French Dispatch (Wes Anderson, director & co-writer)  I mentioned an attention to granular detail in The Power of the Dog. That’s putting it mildly with regard to Wes Anderson. His films, and this one in particular, are like finely crafted dollhouses, symmetrical and highly detailed. It’s like his films are etched on the head of a pin, or impossibly intricate needlepoint tapestries.

The French Dispatch opened in theaters on October 22. A streaming date has not yet been announced.

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Sunday, October 3 — Passing (Rebecca Hall, director & writer)  Based on a short novel written by Nella Larsen and published in 1929, Rebecca Hall’s Passing examines a powerful racial issue. The film is set in New York City in the same period. Irene (Tessa Thompson) lives in Harlem with her husband Brian (André Holland), a successful doctor. One day, in a posh hotel in Manhattan, Irene sees a childhood friend, Clare (Ruth Negga), in the hotel restaurant. They haven’t seen each other for many years. It turns out that Clare has been passing for white, married to a white man, John (Alexander Skarsgård). Told mostly from Irene’s point of view, the film looks at how her relationship with Clare develops, given the circumstances. Passing is shot in crisp black & white, and evokes the period with skill and economy. The excellent cast also includes Bill Camp, who I always like seeing.

My problem with Passing is this: At one point in the Q&A following the screening I attended, Ruth Negga says she “fell in love with Clare’s refusal to be anything but herself.” I found this to be an astonishing statement for her to make. Clare is passing for white, but is not white. At the outset, Irene is the only one in the film who knows. Clare’s husband John is a virulent racist. He has no idea that she is anything but white. At one point, he makes a “joke” that if Clare doesn’t stay out of the sun she’ll turn into an n-word. What must it cost Clare to hear this and know her husband hates Blacks? She says nothing, which to my mind makes her complicit. Maybe I’ve missed something, but I don’t see how this is being true to herself. These are powerful story elements, but the film doesn’t question Clare’s tolerance of her racist husband, at least not directly. I find this disturbing, and also the fact that it wasn’t addressed in the Q&A or in anything else I have read about Passing. Again, maybe I’ve misread the film. I’ve not read the short novel it’s based on. Passing is too well made and well acted to ignore, and I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from seeing it.

Passing opened in theaters on October 27 and streams on Netflix beginning on November 10.

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Monday, October 4 — C’mon C’mon (Mike Mills, director & writer)  I love this film. Joaquin Phoenix, in a performance of great warmth, plays Johnny, a radio documentary journalist who interviews kids around the country, asking them questions like, “When you think about the future, how do you imagine it will be?” During a break, he visits his estranged sister in Los Angeles, Viv (played by a terrific Gaby Hoffman, who was excellent on the Amazon Prime series Transparent). While there, Viv’s mentally ill ex-husband reaches out, and she has to suddenly travel to Oakland to help him. She asks Johnny to stay with her 9-year-old son, Jesse, while she’s gone. It develops that Viv has to be away longer than expected. Johnny has interview assignments he has to do, and he gets Viv’s permission to take Jesse along with him. This is a road movie that travels to Detroit, New York City, and New Orleans. Jesse is played by Woody Norman. It’s a cliché to say someone is a revelation, but that’s what he is. It’s a amazing performance, free of cute-kid mannerisms. The relationship that develops between Johnny and Jesse is another revelation. Joaquin Phoenix and Woody Norman feel totally authentic and real in ways that transcend performance. Based on two previous films written and directed by Mike Mills, Beginners (2010) and 20th Century Women (2016), I anticipated something special with C’mon C’mon. I was not disappointed. And like Passing, it was shot in black & white, a detail I’d forgotten until starting to write this. Faulty memory aside, I know it looked great and wish more films would be shot that way (when appropriate).

C’mon C’mon opens in theaters on November 19. A streaming date has not yet been announced.

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Wednesday, October 6 — Hit the Road (Panah Panahi, director & writer)  Panah Panahi is the son of the great Iranian director, Jafar Panahi, who was sentenced in 2010 to a 20 year ban on making films by the Iranian government. Since then he’s made nine films off the grid which were smuggled out of the country. So much for the ban. Hit the Road is his son’s first feature and definitely shares his DNA. We’re with four people in a car on a road in what looks like a desert. Mom is driving, Dad is in the back seat with a cast on his leg while Little Brother raises hell. Big Brother is in the front passenger seat, not saying a word. The film reveals itself very slowly and even then not entirely. We eventually learn that they’ve sold their house and car (this one is either borrowed or a rental) to finance getting Big Brother across the border. You get the sense he’s in trouble with the authorities and needs to leave the country, though this is never spelled out. Little Brother is played by Rayan Sarlak. Like Woody Norman’s character in C’mon C’mon, he’s a real live wire, though maybe not quite as endearing. If you’ve liked the work of other Iranian directors such as Abbas Kiarostami and Asghar Farhadi, this is a film to see.

Hit the Road is currently playing the international film festival circuit. Theatrical release dates have not yet been announced.

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Thursday, October 7 — Assault on Precinct 13 (John Carpenter, director & writer — 1976) This was John Carpenter’s second feature, after Dark Star (1974) and before he got everyone’s attention with Halloween in 1978. This film was part of the NYFF’s Revivals category. The premise is simple. Police and prisoners in a Los Angeles precinct that’s in the process of being shut down are under siege by gang members with superior  numbers and firepower. We’ve seen this before in Rio Bravo (1959) and most recently in Copshop (2021), as well as a remake of Assault on Precinct 13 in 2005 with Ethan Hawke and Laurence Fishburn. I was somewhat surprised to realize I’d not seen Carpenter’s film before. I didn’t like it very much, but can see why it got attention in ’76. Typical of many exploitation films of the period it’s blunt, brutal, and single minded. It’s not everyday you see a little girl gunned down on camera, which is probably the most original thing about it, though I don’t think many would see that as a recommendation.

Assault on Precinct 13 is available for streaming from Amazon Prime.

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Friday, October 8 — Dune (Denis Villeneuve, director & co-writer)  I was surprised to see this on the NYFF schedule, but I’m glad it was. Denis Villeneuve is an excellent director, one of the best, and a favorite of mine. I love Sicario (2015), and find it endlessly repeatable. Blade Ruuner 2049 (2017) is also excellent and proved that Villeneuve could easily work on the large scale that Dune required. Frank Herbert’s Dune, published in 1965, became a science fiction classic with a cult following over the years. Many sequels and spinoff novels followed. The first attempt to make a film of Dune was in 1984, directed by David Lynch, his third feature after Eraserhead (1977) and The Elephant Man (1980) and before the wonder that is Blue Velvet (1986). The consensus is that it was a disaster, a judgement shared by Lynch. Aside from a few scenes and details that exhibit the Lynch weirdness, it is, indeed, pretty bad. Villeneuve’s version is not; it’s excellent and really delivers. But it covers only the first half of the book, so in a sense it’s all setup and prologue. Audiences will have to wait for Part Two to see how it all plays out.

Dune is set far in the future (in a galaxy far, far away). The House of Atreides (yes, there’s a Game of Thrones vibe to all this) has been ordered by the Emperor to take over spice mining operations on the planet Arrakis, aka Dune. Spice is a priceless commodity, somehow essential to interplanetary travel. The cast is excellent. Timothée Chalamet plays Paul Atreides, the protagonist of the story. Oscar Isaac is his father, Duke Leto Atreides, the head of their clan. Rebecca Ferguson is Paul’s mother, Lady Jessica. Others in the cast include Javier Bardem, Charlotte Rampling, Josh Brolin, and Zendaya. My favorite is Jason Momoa, who plays Duncan Idaho. Though how a person 20,000 years in the future in a different galaxy would come to have a name like Duncan Idaho is beyond me. But it’s a great name and Momoa is great. He brings warmth, humor, loyalty, and heroism to the role.

Dune was shot with IMAX cameras. Denis Villeneuve has said that Dune was “dreamed, designed, and shot for the IMAX experience.” At the NYFF, Dune was shown on screens at Alice Tully Hall and the Walter Reade Theater. I saw it at the latter venue. It was fine on that screen, but I’m also going to see it tomorrow in IMAX at AMC Lincoln Square on 68th Street. How could I not? Dune was released last Friday, October 22, in theaters and on HBO Max. Seeing this film on a TV screen, no matter how big, will be a diminished experience, though probably better than not seeing it at all.

It was announced a day or so ago that Warner Bros. had given the go-ahead for Dune: Part Two, which should be released sometime in 2023.

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Friday, October 8 — Parallel Mothers (Pedro Almodóvar, director & writer)  This was the last film we saw at this year’s festival. I was really looking forward to a new Almodóvar film. His films are so full of life and energy. I remember the first time I saw him in person, which was at the New York Film Festival. Not sure of the year, but it was probably when The Flower of My Secret was shown in 1995. He came from backstage to introduce the film wearing a brightly colored jump suit and practically turning somersaults. So I hate to say that I found Parallel Mothers disappointing. Though it’s more accurate to say that I was disappointed, not that the film was disappointing. It might have been my mood and attention span, after over two and a half hours seeing Dune just before. Penélope Cruz is excellent, as is Rossy de Palma. They play Janis and Elena, two pregnant single women in the hospital at the same time to give birth. They become friends and develop a relationship after their children, both daughters, are born. This leads to a big twist that’s not much of a surprise when it comes. There’s a second storyline concerning the killing of hundreds of civilians by the Franco regime during the Spanish Civil War. This is a powerful subject, but I’m not sure how it all fits together. Also, though the film is always entertaining, at time it didn’t feel like an Almodóvar film. I didn’t see his identity in it. For me, it doesn’t compare to his last film, Pain and Glory (2019), which I thought was great. I need to see Parallel Mothers again, just like I need to see Passing again, and will do so.

Parallel Mothers opens on December 24 in New York City and Los Angeles. Streaming has yet to be announced, but will probably be early next year.

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That wraps it up for me. Of the fourteen films I saw, my top picks are Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World and Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, with Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch a close third. Most of these are either available now or will be soon. Supplemental material for the films discussed will be posted in a couple of days. See you at the movies. Stay safe. — Ted

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New York Film Festival 2021 – What I’ve Seen So Far, Part 1

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I skipped last year’s New York Film Festival entirely because I couldn’t get my head around seeing the films virtually, which might seem odd since I’d been watching everything — new and old movies — on my computer screen since the previous March when theaters shut down. I didn’t even bother to check the lineup (head in the sand approach). Last year there were no in-theater screenings, and consequently no in-theater filmmaker introductions or Q&As after. I wanted to be present for all this, in the same space, which I think makes a difference.

This year there are no virtual screenings; everything is being seen in one of the four venues at Lincoln Center. Of course, things aren’t totally back to normal. Theaters can be filled to capacity, but wearing a mask throughout is required. From what I’ve observed, everyone is cooperating with that restriction. Though two nights ago, before the film began I mentioned to a woman sitting two seats away that her mask needed to cover her nose, which it did not. She looked at me as though I’d just sprouted a second head. I decided to leave it at that.

By my count, there are fifty-one feature films in the Main Slate, Spotlight, and revival categories this year. And that’s not all. I’m seeing fourteen features, ten with my wife and four on my own. That leaves thirty-seven films I’m not seeing, but I’ll live. I’m happy with what we selected. There are others I wish we could have fit in, such as two new films by the great (and prolific) South Korean director Hong Sangsoo, but I’m confident these will be released at some point. In the 1980s and into the ’90s, Alice Tully Hall was the only venue and the lineup was such that if a person was crazy enough to want to see all the films, it was possible. Not that I’m complaining. With additional screening spaces, sidebar programs and revivals, it’s an embarrassment of riches.

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The opening night film was The Tragedy of Macbeth, directed and written by Joel Coen (with an assist from William Shakespeare). We weren’t able to get tickets (even though they ended up having eight separate screenings over the course of that night, with a ninth screening added for Saturday, October 9). So I haven’t  seen it yet, but wanted to mention it here anyway. Reviews I’ve seen have been excellent. Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand as Lord and Lady Macbeth seem like a dream team. And speaking of teams, this is the first time Joel Coen has made a film without his brother, Ethan. It will be interesting to see if that makes any difference. The black and white photography and squarish screen format are also interesting, from what we can tell from the trailer. I’d like to see more films shot in black and white, and that’s not just nostalgia for the old days. In any event, I very much look forward to seeing this film.

Here is a press conference with Joel Coen, Frances McDormand, Denzel Washington, and others, moderated by Dennis Lim. It runs approximately 43 minutes.

The Tragedy of Macbeth opens in theaters on December 25 (counter-programming for Christmas) and streams on Apple TV+ on January 14.

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Our NYFF59 viewing offically began last Saturday with Bergman Island, directed and written by Mia Hansen-Løve. I’d especially liked her earlier film, Father of My Children (2009), so I was looking forward to this. Tony (Tim Roth) and Chris (Vicky Krieps) are a married couple who have come to the Swedish island of Fårö, where Ingmar Bergman lived and shot many of his films. Tony and Chris are filmmakers, each working on a screenplay. They are staying in one of Bergman’s homes and hope to be inspired by the location and the Bergman vibe that seems to be everywhere. Chris is having difficulties with her writing. At one point she begins describing the story of her script. As she does this, the film we’ve been watching begins to weave in an out of her script. Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie play characters in Chris’ story. At times it seems like the film within a film is beginning to take over. After it was over, I wasn’t sure if the film worked, but it’s stayed with me, which is a good sign. One of the most interesting things about Bergman Island is that it was shot in Bergman’s actual homes on the island, and people are constantly talking about Bergman and his films, which lends a kind of documentary aspect.

The trailer is followed by a Q&A with the director and stars, which runs approximately 18 minutes.

Bergman Island opens at the IFC Center in Manhattan on October 14 as part of a series called “Fårö and Other Edens: Films by Ingmar Bergman and Mia Hansen-Løve.”

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The next film, which we saw back to back with Bergman Island, was The Worst Person in the World, a Norwegian film directed by Joachim Trier. We loved it. Here’s a description I’ve adapted from the NYFF program, which gives a good sense of the film: “As proven in such exacting stories of lives on the edge as Reprise and Oslo, August 31, Joachim Trier is singularly adept at giving an invigorating modern twist to classically constructed character portraits. Trier catapults the viewer into the world of his most spellbinding protagonist yet: Julie, played by Cannes Best Actress winner Renate Reinsve, who’s the magnetic center of nearly every scene. After dropping out of pre-med, Julie must find new professional and romantic avenues as she navigates her twenties, juggling emotionally heavy relationships with two very different men (Trier regular Anders Danielsen Lie and engaging newcomer Herbert Nordrum). Fluidly told in 12 discrete chapters, Trier’s film elegantly depicts the precarity of identity and the mutability of happiness in our runaway contemporary world.”

Renate Reinsve truly earned her Best Actress award at Cannes. She gives an extremely engaging performance. Anders Danielsen Lie was also in Bergman Island, so we saw him in consecutive films. Along with Herbert Nordrum, it’s a very strong cast.

The following trailer presents the film as something of a rom-com, which I guess it is, but it’s also more than that. After the trailer is a Q&A with Joachim Trier, Renate Reinsve, and Anders Danielsen Lie. It runs approximately 20 minutes.

A release date has not yet been announced.

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We had one film last Sunday afternoon, Paul Verhoeven’s latest provocation, Benedetta. As we were waiting to enter Alice Tully Hall, we were treated to a vociferous protest against the film by a Catholic organization, the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property. They felt that a film about lesbian nuns in a 17th Century convent in Italy has to be blasphemous. I suppose from their point of view, it is, even though Benedetta is based on fact. This “protest” seemed silly and ineffectual to me.

Verhoeven has always pushed the envelope in terms of sex and violence. Robocop, Basic Instinct, Showgirls, and Elle come to mind. I like his films partly because he’s not afraid to go over the line, in fact, he’s eager to do so. Though the inclusion of a wooden figure of the Virgin Mary modified to serve as a dildo might have been a bit much.

The trailer is followed by an interview with Verhoeven by Film at Lincoln Center’s Dennis Lim, which runs approximately 41 minutes.

Benedetta will be released theatrically at the IFC Center and Film at Lincoln Center on December 3, and will also be available for streaming.

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On Wednesday afternoon I saw Titane, a French film directed and co-written by Julia Ducournau. Having now seen Titane, I’m at a loss to understand how it received the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival this year, the prestigious Palme d’Or. I hadn’t read anything specific about the film, but this seemed like a good sign. I also hadn’t realized that Ducournau had previously made Raw (2016), a film about a vegetarian young woman in her freshman year at a veterinary school who becomes a cannibal. I’d wanted to walk out on that one many times, but I hate to do that, so I stuck it out. Titane is no different in the reaction it provoked in me. The film is aggressive and assaultive in ways I found very ugly and unpleasant. David Cronenberg, whose films I love, is much better at the kind of body horror on display here. I suspect I’m in the wrong demographic for this one. Though it does feature Vincent Lindon, one of my favorite French actors.

I’ve resisted attempting a synopsis. It would require one spoiler alert after another, and I just don’t feel up to the challenge. But this is only my opinion. Sometimes you get on the ride and sometimes you don’t.

The trailer below is followed by a Q&A at the festival with Julia Ducournau, Vincent Lindon, and lead actor Agathe Rouselle. It runs approximately 23 minutes.

Titane opened in theaters today, October 1.

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Wednesday evening we saw The Lost Daughter, based on the novel by Elena Ferrante. It was written and directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal for her feature film debut. The strong cast, many of whom were onstage at Alice Tully both before and after the film, includes Olivia Colman (awesome as always), Dakota Johnson, Jessie Buckley, Peter Sarsgaard, Paul Mescak, Dagmara Dominxzyk, Ed Harris, and  writer-director Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Colman plays Leda, a divorced college professor on a solo vacation on a Greek island. She becomes involved with a large family that she initially finds annoying. A child’s lost doll figures heavily in the narrative. The present is interwoven with the past and Leda’s memories of her younger self and her relationship with her two daughters. I wasn’t initially sure that the film worked for me, but, like Bergman Island, it’s stayed with me, which is always a good sign.

Here is the Q&A that took place following the screening we saw. I wish Gyllenhaal had been asked about her visual approach and the cinematography, which employs a lot of tight closeups on faces. The Q&A runs approximately 24 minutes.

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Last night I saw a film I’d been anxious to see since reading about it earlier this year, The Velvet Underground, a documentary directed by Todd Haynes. The Velvet Underground is a group that has meant a lot to me over the years, both for the music and the personnel, specifically Lou Reed and John Cale. I’d seen the band play at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco in 1968. The one thing I remember from that concert is when someone in the audience called out for “Heroin,” Lou Reed said, “We don’t play that anymore.” Of course, this signature song continued to be performed by the band and later, during Reed’s solo career. After I moved to New York City in 1977, I saw Lou Reed frequently at The Bottom Line and John Cale almost as many times. Their music has been a part of my life for years. Haynes’ film is startling in many ways, both in the often radical way it’s structured and in the depth of the material presented. I learned a lot I hadn’t known about the backgrounds of the people who came to form the Velvet Underground. The cultural scene in New York in the Sixties provided a unique and fertile landscape that expressed itself through film, art, photography, and music. Everything fed into everything else. The importance of Andy Warhol to all this is examined in the film. The amount of material amassed is almost overwhelming. The editing is excellent. The source attributions listed in the lengthy closing credits seem to go on forever. Along with all the archival footage, interviews conducted for the film are interwoven throughout. Haynes said during the Q&A after the screening that they limited new interviews only to people who were there at the time, in that scene. John Cale is especially great to hear. Maureen Tucker, too.

The Velvet Underground always comes back to the music. I’d forgotten how experimental their sound was, especially during the early years. I think there’s stuff on the first two albums that we still haven’t caught up to yet. Seeing this film reminded me of that. I was quite moved at the end.

The Velvet Underground opens here in New York City on October 13 at Film Forum and Film at Lincoln Center. It begins streaming on Apple TV+ on October 15, though I recommend seeing it on a theater screen played as loud as possible through a good sound system.

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Still to come, Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, Pedro Almodóvar’s Parallel Mothers, and more. In the meantime, stay safe. – Ted Hicks

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Posted in Books, Documentaries, Feature films, Film posters, Home Video, Streaming, TV & Cable | 1 Comment

Bigger Than Life – A Movie Marquee Gallery

Movie theater marquees aren’t what they used to be, that’s for sure. In the last twenty years or so, they’ve become less distinctive and less dramatic. Multiplexes here in Manhattan do without traditional marquees entirely, though smaller theaters, such as Film Forum and the IFC Center, still have them. Most of the examples in this post are of theaters  from the 1940s through the ’70s, with some before and some after. More than a few of them are of theaters in New York City. My interest here is in what these photos can add to our sense of film history and the excitement and anticipation that could be felt just by seeing these marquees.

I grew up in Iowa in the 1950s, where movie-going options were limited to usually one theater each in nearby small towns. My favorite by far was the Vista Theater in Storm Lake, which was about twelve miles north of our farm. My mother loved movies, and we saw a lot together, usually at the Vista. I was probably carried into my first movies, which I’m sure is still imprinted in my database. The photo of the Vista below dates back to 1938, but this is exactly how I remember the theater when I was going there. I love “News & Popeye” at the front of the marquee.

Sometime after I moved to New York in 1977 the Vista expanded, adding smaller theaters adjacent to the main one. Below is a shot of what the theater looks like today. The marquee has been removed entirely, but when I was back for a visit, I was very happy to find that the main auditorium had not been changed. It was exactly as I’d remembered it.

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When I started college at the University of Iowa in Iowa City in the Fall of 1962, I was excited that there were four downtown theaters. The one with the best marquee was the Englert, which showed first-run films.

The Iowa Theater, just around the block from the Englert, showed foreign films as well as classics. It was the local art house. I saw Chaplin’s Modern Times there (on a first date!), and had my first exposure to movie nudity with a Swedish film whose title I’ve forgotten. The Iowa was also directly across the street from Donnelly’s, my all-time favorite bar. When I came back to college after getting out of the Air Force in 1970, I was a ticket-taker and usher at both the Iowa and the Astro Theater, across the street from the Englert. A friend of mine was a projectionist at the Englert, and I would often hang out with him in the booth. I also took tickets for a time at the University Film Society theater in the student union. Lots of movies. Show biz.

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Before coming back to Iowa City, I was stationed for a year and a half at an air base outside of Marysville, California. The State Theater there had a memorable facade and marquee. That’s where I saw Bonnie and Clyde for the first time in 1967. The photo below dates from 1954.

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Another Iowa theater I have to include is the Rialto. I was back from New York running down family tree info. I knew that the courthouse in Pocohantes, 40 miles from where I grew up, had some family records. I drove there to check that out. While in town I noticed the Rialto with its beautiful Art Deco design. Here it is.

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There were even more movie theaters in Minneapolis, where I lived from September 1973 to early January ’77. The shot below was taken on my 30th birthday in 1974 across the street from the State Theater, which was typical of the older theaters in the city. I saw Chinatown in that theater three times the weekend it opened. Had to.

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I moved to New York in January 1977 and have been here on the Upper West Side ever since in the same apartment at 92nd and West End Avenue. I really lucked out with the location, because the Thalia theater was just three blocks north on 95th. Their programming was a never-ending film festival of classic repertory, the great and the misbegotten. Everything from Plan 9 from Outer Space to Kiss Me Deadly, Ozu and Mizoguchi, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. It was great while it lasted. It was always a kick to turn the corner and see the marquee with the large “Thalia” letters atop the marquee jutting out on the block.

At the same time, a few blocks down Broadway was the New Yorker theater on 89th Street. Opened in 1914 as the Adelphi Theater, later called the Yorktown, it was taken over by Dan Talbot as the New Yorker in 1960. Talbot is in the shot below with Alfred Hitchcock.

A few blocks further up Broadway was the Metro Theater, between 99th and 100th Streets. It opened as the Midtown in 1933, showing first-run films until the 1950s. In the 50s and 60s it showed films by Jean-Luc Godard, Luis Bunuel, and Roman Polanski. Then in the 70s and 80s it turned a corner and became a porno theater. The photo below dates from 1933.

In 1982, Dan Talbot took over and ran it as a repertory theater. I remember when it reopened. The theater, with its Deco facade, had been refurbished. It looked great. The programming was excellent. Lots of series, such as film noir, Buster Keaton, samurai films, etc. It closed for good in 2005 and has sat empty since then. The interior has been completely gutted, but landmark status preserves the exterior.

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Super-sized Department. Here is a selection of theaters where the advertising has gone beyond the marquees, in some cases with huge banners above the marquee, wrapping around the building itself. Kind of a “Go big or go home” approach.

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Times Square theaters. The Midnight Cowboy and Taxi Driver years before Disneyfication. I know it was tattered and sleazy, but I kind of miss it. One theater after another, on and on, like a surreal dream.

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The Paris Theater, on West 58th Street in Manhattan by the Plaza Hotel, opened on September 13, 1948. Marlene Dietrich cut the ribbon while the U.S. Ambassador to France stood by. With the closing of the Ziegfeld Theater in 2016, the Paris is now the last remaining single-screen theater in Manhattan. In August 2019, a closure notice was posted. The thought of the Paris being no more was not fun to contemplate. It reopened that November with Netflix taking over operation. That takes a little getting used to, but the Paris is still with us.

Below, the U.S. premiere of Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet in 1968. Beneath that, The Artist, which we saw there on Thanksgiving Day, 2011. The interior of the theater has been refurbished over the years, but basically has not changed since 1948 (to the best of my knowledge).

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Drive-In Theaters

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Other marquees of note.

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I know this shot isn’t strictly speaking showing a marquee, but I think it fits the bill anyway.

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That’s probably more than enough for now. Until next time, stay safe. – Ted Hicks

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Posted in Feature films, Film, History | 5 Comments

Basic Bogart – Notes on Three Key Films

 

 

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Recently I went to Film Forum for the start of a three-week series of Humphrey Bogart films (July 16 to August 5). I saw The Maltese Falcon (1941) back to back with Casablanca (1942). I’ll see The Big Sleep (1946) later next week. I’ll bet that when most people think of Humphrey Bogart, they’re thinking of him as he is in these three films. For those people — and I’m one of them — Bogart is largely defined by his roles in these films. Audiences already knew him as a gangster in films such as The Petrified Forest (1936) and The Roaring Twenties (1939), and as great as he was later in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), In a Lonely Place (1950), The African Queen (1951), and The Caine Mutiny (1954), it’s as Sam Spade, Rick Blaine, and Philip Marlowe that he became a true icon. Though it can be argued that his sympathetic role as gangster “Mad Dog” Roy Earle in High Sierra (1941) played a big part in this process. But think of Bogart in his trench coat and hat at the end of Casablanca. That image carries a lot of weight.

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Some of the titles in the Bogart series are being shown in 35mm and others in DCP (Digital Cinema Package). I know there are many film goers who vigorously prefer seeing films in 35mm over DCP. For me, the advantages of seeing a film that looks clean and crisp, without splices, scratches, and other damage far outweigh any loss of texture that comes with the grain of a 35mm print. The Maltese Falcon is DCP and looks great, while Casablanca is a 35mm print that’s been around the block more than a few times. It’s somewhat beaten up, with some scenes that have been repaired, losing pieces of dialogue, etc. This is distracting. But I’m not going to not see a film because it’s in 35mm. The Big Sleep is 35mm, and there’s no way I’m missing that. You have to take it as it comes. (I just learned that Film Forum is showing a new print of The Big Sleep, so there shouldn’t be any problems.)

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The Maltese Falcon (1941 – John Huston, director & writer)  I love The Maltese Falcon. It’s a nearly perfect film in every way. Huston had already established himself as a screenwriter, but this was his first film as director as well as writer. The Maltese Falcon had already been filmed twice before, first in 1931 under that title, and unrecognizably as Satan Met a Lady in 1936. Both had little to recommend them. It might not have seemed promising to make yet another version, but Huston made the difference. He basically filmed the book. Most of the dialogue comes straight from Dashiell Hammett’s novel. Huston finished shooting the film two days ahead of schedule and $54,000 under budget.

The Maltese Falcon is one of those films where you can’t imagine anyone else playing the parts. George Raft was initially lined up for the role of Sam Spade, but he refused to work with a first-time director in an “unimportant” film. Bogart got the part, making this the first of five films he would do with John Huston. His Sam Spade has a gritty integrity and a strong moral complass. He is self-assured, ironic, sardonic, and always quick with a clever comeback. As Raymond Chandler once said, “All Bogart has to do to dominate a scene is to enter it.” He can be incredibly charismatic, as he is here. The killing of his partner, Miles Archer, is the only scene in the film that doesn’t involve Sam Spade. Otherwise, the film is entirely from Spade’s point of view.

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The following clip shows Spade’s first meeting with Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre). Cairo is clearly homosexual in Hammett’s novel, but that had to be downplayed in the film to get past the censors. It’s still rather obvious, though in somewhat clichéd terms.

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Spade’s first encounter with Wilmer (Elisha Cook, Jr.) and his great line, “People lose teeth talking like that.”

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Another great hardboiled quote: “When you’re slapped, you’ll take it and like it.”

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Another great line of dialogue comes when Joel Cairo says to Spade, “You always have a very smooth explanation ready.” To which Spade replies, “What do you want me to do, learn to stutter?” I’ve been unable find a clip of this exchange, which is too bad,  because Bogart’s delivery really nails it.

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Sydney Greenstreet had acted for years on the stage in Britain and the United States, but this was his screen debut at age 61, for which he received an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor. He’s wonderfully entertaining as Kaspar Gutman, aka the “Fat Man.” Tipping the scale at 357 pounds, he certainly fit the part. Huston often shot him from low angles to emphasize his bulk, as though that was necessary. The following scene with Bogart communicates his charm as well as an understated menace.

Greenstreet would go on to make five films with Humphrey Bogart, and a total of nine with Peter Lorre. His film career would last a little over eight years, but he certainly made an impact.

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Even people who haven’t seen The Maltese Falcon, if indeed there are any, are familiar  with what is probably the film’s most famous line, “The stuff that dreams are made of.” Of course, this comes from Shakespeare (as so much does), but no matter.

Bogart has said of The Maltese Falcon, “It was practically a masterpiece. I don’t have many things I’m proud of, but that’s one.”

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Casablanca (1942 – Michael Curtiz, director)  Roger Ebert has said that while Citizen Kane is considered to be a greater film, Casablanca is more loved. Sounds right to me. I remember seeing it with a packed house at Film Forum on New Year’s Eve in 2016. After it was over, “As Time Goes By” began to play, with a bouncing ball following the lyrics on the screen. I don’t think there was anyone in the theater who didn’t sing along. I know we did. It was such a communal experience. After all, it was New Year’s Eve, which I think amplified the strong feelings that Casablanca creates.

Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine is one of his definitive roles. An American expatriate in Casablanca who runs a popular nightclub, he has a tough, cynical, no-nonsense exterior with a sentimental streak. He’s also a tragic figure, pining for his lost love, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), whose surprise appearance in Casablanca sets the plot in motion.

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Besides Bogart and  Bergman, Casablanca has a great cast. As with The Maltese Falcon, it’s hard now to imagine any other actors in those roles — with the exception of Paul Henreid as Ilsa’s husband and fugitive resistance leader Victor Laszlo, who I think is little more than functional in the film.  Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sidney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre are all very strong. And it’s a pleasure to see French actor Marcel Dalio as the croupier in Rick’s club, having been in Jean Renoir’s great films, Grand Illusion and Rules of the Game.

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As with The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca has lines of dialogue that have entered into popular lexicon. They exist outside of the film.

“Round up the usual suspects.”

“Here’s looking at you, kid.”

“We’ll always have Paris.”

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Then there’s the line that Ilsa says to Sam (Dooley Wilson) at the piano in Rick’s club, “Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By.'” Thanks to Woody Allen, this is often misquoted as “Play it again, Sam.” This is never said in the film.

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Here’s the truly inspiring scene where Victor Laszlo leads a singing of “La Marseillaise” in Rick’s club to taunt Major Strasser and other Nazi officers in attendence.

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And finally, “Here’s looking at you, kid” and “We’ll always have Paris.”

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The Big Sleep (1946 – Howard Hawks, director)  An immensely satisfying film with another definitive Bogart performance and a definitive pairing of Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Philip Marlowe has been portrayed by Dick Powell (Murder My Sweet – 1944), Robert Montgomery (Lady in the Lake – 1947), James Garner (Marlowe – 1969), Elliott Gould (The Long Goodbye – 1973), and Robert Mitchum (Farewell, My Lovely – 1975 and The Big Sleep – 1978). Considering the strengths and weaknesses of these films and performances, when the dust has settled, Bogart’s Marlowe is the one left standing. Dick Powell is good and has the necessary toughness, and I love Elliott Gould’s revisionist Marlowe in Robert Altman’s iconoclastic take on the genre, but at the end of the day, it’s Bogart.

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Marlowe meets Carmen Sternwood and the General.

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Marlowe meets Vivian (Lauren Bacall).

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Marlowe and Vivian discuss horse racing (with a helping of double entendres) at lunch.

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Marlowe hears Vivian sing at Eddie Mars’ gambling club.

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The plot of The Big Sleep gets rather complex. Per Wikipedia: “An unanswered question in The Big Sleep is who killed the chauffeur. When Howard Hawks filmed the novel his writing team was perplexed by that question, in response to which Chandler replied that he had no idea.” Myself, I don’t really care. It’s a great film. I’m not bothered by any loose ends.

The screenplay for The Big Sleep was written by William Faulkner (!), Jules Furthman, and Leigh Brackett. It’s interesting that Brackett would later write the screenplay for Altman’s The Long Goodbye, a rather different version of Philip Marlowe.

The music score was by Max Steiner, one of the greatest composers of film music.

The The Big Sleep was edited by Christian Nyby, who a few years later was the director of The Thing from Another World (1951). It’s generally assumed that Howard Hawks actually directed that film. I’m always rooting for the underdog, so as long as Nyby is the director of record, that’s who I’m going with.

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If it’s true that the popular Bogart persona was created in these three films, it’s also true that he was not limited to them. He was a real actor. At the start of this post I mentioned other films I thought he was great in. These include Sahara (1943), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), Key Largo (1948), In a Lonely Place (1950), The African Queen (1951), and The Caine Mutiny (1954).

A heavy smoker and drinker, Bogart was diagnosed in early 1956 with esophageal cancer. He made one final film, The Harder They Fall, released in March of that year. I wish this had been included in Film Forum’s Bogart series, but you can’t have everything. Besides, it’s available for streaming on Amazon Prime. The Harder They Fall is a tough boxing film based on Budd Schulberg’s 1947 novel. Bogart plays Eddie Willis, a sportswriter out of a job when his newspaper folds. Financially strapped, he reluctantly goes to work for Nick Benko a terminally crass boxing promoter, played at full throttle by Rod Steiger. Benko has acquired Toro Moreno, an oversized lunk from Argentina with a decided lack of boxing skills. Through a series of fixed fights, Benko plans to sell Moreno to the public as a contender. He expects Eddie Willis to be instrumental in this.

Despite being very sick, Bogart gives a totally powerful performance as a man forced to go against his principles and integrity. In the following scene, he finally draws the line.

Humphrey Bogart died on January 14, 1957 at age 57. I was shocked when I realized how young he was.

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Just to show it wasn’t always a home run, here are two exceedingly strange films Bogart filmed in 1939: The Oklahoma Kid, a Western with James Cagney, and The Return of Doctor X, a horror film with Bogart as a mad scientist brought back from the dead. Indeed. Cagney and Bogart in films like these makes one wonder who could have thought it was a good idea. Though I’ve got to admit, Bogart looks pretty cool all dressed in black.

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Wikipedia entries:

Humphrey Bogart

Bogart filmography

The Maltese Falcon

Casablanca

The Big Sleep

The Harder They Fall

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Two books worth checking out: Noah Isenberg’s We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Film is an in-depth study of all aspects of the making of this film. The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre by Stephen D. Youngkin is an exhaustive critical biography of Lorre. Of particular interest are sections that deal with Lorre’s involvement in films with Humphrey Bogart.

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Here is a fairly insightful video that looks at Bogart’s most significant roles and what makes them tick. Running time is approximately eight minutes.

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That’s all for now. Until next time, stay safe. — Ted Hicks

Posted in Books, Feature films, Fiction, Film posters, Home Video, Streaming, TV & Cable | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Film Books – Recent Acquisitions

In October of 2019, I posted a three-part series on film books in my library — both old and new — that I considered significant. I’ve since acquired several titles that I think are worth mentioning. Of the following eight books, all but two of them have been purchased since the first of this year. Here they are.

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I love “making of” film books, especially when they’re as good as these two.  They’ve set new standards for how this can be done.

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Made Men: The Story of Goodfellas by Glenn Kenny (Hanover Square Press, 2020)

I first became aware of Glenn Kenny from his film reviews in the New York Times, but nothing prepared me for the forensic attention to detail he brings to this study of Martin Scorsese’s epic 1990 gangster film, Goodfellas. To say it’s in-depth doesn’t do it justice. Check out the table of contents below.

Of particular note is the fourth part, “A Martin Scorsese Picture, Scene by Scene.” This breakdown of every scene in the film takes up 162 pages of a 397 page book, but it’s not simply a description of what happens. The backgrounds of real-life figures and the actors who portray them are woven in and out. The information goes deep. This is true of the entire book. What might at first seem like digressions serve to create a fuller picture. This enriches our appreciation and understanding of Goodfellas, really gets into its DNA.

Kenny introduces the iconic “How Am I Funny” scene as “…one of the film’s most famous, most quoted scenes. And it defines the knife edge of comedy and mayhem (physical and/or moral) that much of the rest of the film balances on, almost always falling the side of mayhem.”

After the scene by scene breakdown, part five is “All the Songs,” which covers the music in the film and the reasons for choosing each song. Kenny writes, “In Goodfellas Scorsese moves freely between songs coming from jukeboxes and live performances and songs that are just in the air, so to speak.” Anyone familiar with Scorsese’s films knows that music, especially rock, is very important to him. He’s quoted in Made Men as saying, “For me, it’s very, very serious. Probably the most enjoyable part of making movies is to select these songs.”

There’s a lot more to Made Men, such as a chapter on Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorsese’s editor since Raging Bull in 1980, what happened to the real Henry Hill, and a 2020 interview with Scorsese talking about Goodfellas and his career in general. This is a densely packed work, and I recommend it highly.

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The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood by Sam Wasson (Flatiron Books, 2020)

As with Made Men, this book goes beyond the usual nuts and bolts of how a particular film was made, which in this case is the classic Chinatown. I bought my copy in April of last year, but my first attempt to read it was short-lived. Focusing on four key participants — actor Jack Nicholson, producer Robert Evans, director Roman Polanski, and screenwriter Robert Towne — it seemed promising indeed. I was initially put off by Wasson’s style of saying what people were thinking or feeling. I guess I was more used to the “usual nuts and bolts” approach. That’s what I’d been expecting, not some novelistic approach. So I put it down for several months, until one day I decided to take another run at it. This time I slipped right into it. Checking the 47 pages of notes at the end of the book, I saw that every thought or feeling Wasson had ascribed to someone had a source in interviews (either previously published or by the author) and articles.

Like Glenn Kenny, Sam Wasson goes for depth. And like Made Men, what might first seem like digressions adds layers that create a fuller picture.

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Music by Max Steiner: The Epic Life of Hollywood’s Most Influential Composer by Steven C. Smith (Oxford University Press, 2020)

The flyleaf of the book has this to say: “During a seven-decade career that spanned from 19th-century Vienna to 1920s Broadway to the golden age of Hollywood, three-time Academy Award winner Max Steiner did more than any other composer to introduce and establish the language of film music.”

I’ve not yet finished reading Music by Max Steiner, but this past March I streamed a virtual lecture by the author that was fascinating. It motivated me to buy a copy of the book.

I’ve loved Steiner’s film music for many years, though I don’t think I was aware of the scope of his output. He composed over 300 scores for RKO and then Warner Bros., receiving 24 Oscar nominations along the way. His work includes King Kong (1933), Gone with the Wind (1939), The Letter (1940), Now Voyager (1942), Casablanca (1942), Mildred Pierce (1945), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), White Heat (1949), and probably my favorite, The Searchers (1956).

My response to the music of The Searchers is no doubt informed and influenced by my love of the film itself, just as my love of the film is reinforced by the power and emotion of Steiner’s score. It’s all of a piece, all one thing.

From Music by Max  Steiner:

The Searchers came to Max not via its director, John Ford, but its producer. Merian C. Cooper envisioned a reunion of the creative trio behind two of his most acclaimed projects, The Lost Patrol and The Informer. But the renewed partnership proved a rocky one. Ford eschewed a big-orchestra approach in his films, preferring spare folk song accompaniments. When Cooper proposed hiring Steiner, a compromise was struck: country vocalist Stan Jones would write and perform a title song with his group, the Sons of the Pioneers (a Ford favorite). Max would incorporate Jones’ melody throughout his score. The blend fit the film magnificently. Jones’ ballad delineates anti-hero Ethan Edwards (John Wayne), a loner who spends years roaming post-Civil War America, hunting for the niece who was taken as a child by Indians. What make a man to wander? / What makes a man to roam? / What makes a man leave bed and board / And turn his back on home?

The “soundtrack suite” (running time 14:54).

The final scene of The Searchers, powered by Steiner’s music. It gets me every time.

Max Steiner’s incredible filmography can be accessed here.

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A Lot Can Happen in the Middle of Nowhere: The Untold Story of the Making of Fargo by Todd Melby (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2021)

This is a very informative, highly entertaining account of the making of Joel and Ethan Coen’s now-classic film, Fargo. Todd Melby covers in detail the writing, casting, production, and afterlife of the film. We learn the lengths to which William H. Macy would go to land the role of Jerry Lundegaard; the difficulties of shooting snow-covered landscapes during a season when there was little snow; the efforts to have the regional accents be just right; and the post-Fargo journey of the wood chipper. And that’s not all. Shortly after finishing Melby’s book, I watched Fargo again. I never grow tired of seeing it, but this time I had the knowledge of how it came to be.

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The Nolan Variations: The Movies, Mysteries and Marvels of Christopher Nolan by Tom Shone (Alfred A. Knopf, 2020)

I initially got this book from the library, but realized I’d never get through it all by the time I had to return it. I felt like I needed to know what was in it, so I ordered a copy. I began by skipping around, reading about certain films. I soon realized it was so densely packed and interconnected that I would have to read it from beginning to end in order to get the most out of it. I still haven’t done that, but my selective reading has so far inspired me to re-see  Nolan’s Insomnia (2002), The Prestige (2006), the three Batman films, and Interstellar (2014).

The Nolan Variations is clearly not a superficial study. I sense that, similar to Made Men and The Big Goodbye, it includes digressive material that ultimately leads back to the main subject. The table of contents suggests that this is not the usual book about a film director.

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Alien Invasions! The History of Aliens in Pop Culture edited by Michael Stein (IDW Pulishing, 2020)

This is an ideal book for me, given my lifelong interest in science fiction and horror. Copiously illustrated, it covers the topic of alien invasions from H. G. Wells through pulp magazines, comic books, movies and television, and beyond. The table of contents breaks it down.

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The Twelve Lives of Alfred Hitchcock: An Anatomy of the Master of  Suspense by Edward White (W. W. Norton & Company, 2021)

I’m a third of the way into this now, and liking it a lot. Per the flyleaf copy, “The book’s twelve chapters illuminate different aspects of Hitchcock’s life and work… Each of these angles reveals something fundamental about the man he was and the mythological creature he has become, presenting not just the life Hitchcock lived but also the various versions of himself that he projected and those projected on his behalf.”

In what I’ve read so far, White is persuasive in laying out how Hitchcock became “Hitchcock,” with all his complexities, genius, and manifold flaws.

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Mike Nichols: A Life by Mark Harris (Penguin Press, 2021)

I wanted to read Mark Harris’ biography of Mike Nichols as soon as I heard of it. Nichols is endlessly fascinating to me, and very, very funny. Sometime last year I read Life Isn’t Everything: Mike Nichols, as remembered by 150 of his closest friends. It was great. So I was ready for a hefty biography. Mark Harris is a terrific writer. His Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood (2008) and Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War (2014) are major works. I reread Pictures after finishing his Nichols book, and it was just as good as when I first read it.

Mike Nichols feels like a definitive book. Harris goes deep and gets inside his subject. An epigraph at the beginning, quoting Nichols, sets it all up: “You don’t know what’s going to happen. Big things look like little things. Little things don’t have big signs on them that say ‘This is a Big Thing.’ They look like everything else. Disaster can reorder our lives in wonderful ways, and you just go on to the next thing. I passionately believe that in art, and certainly in the theater, there are only two questions… The first question is: ‘What is this, really, when it happens in life?’ Not what is the accepted convention… but what is it really like? And the other question we really have to ask is, ‘What happens next?'”

I was primarily interested in Nichols’ ground-breaking work with Elaine May and, of course, his films. Harris delivers in spades, and then some. I was deeply moved by the following passage at the end of the last chapter before an epilogue. Nichols had been to dinner with his wife, Diane Sawyer, and three of his children. “As they got back to the apartment, he complained of feeling dizzy and collapsed. He died a short time later, surrounded by the people he loved the most. He left behind an appointment book for the coming week that was completely full.” Completely full. That kills me. It perfectly describes Nichols’ approach to life.

My only complaint with the book is that the binding began breaking down before I’d finished reading it. Take my advice, don’t get the hard cover.

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My previous posts on film books can be accessed at the following:

Bookish 2: Favorite Film Books Then & Now

Film Books – Part 2

Film Books – The Last Batch

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That wraps up this installment. See you next time. Until then, be safe. — Ted Hicks

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Posted in Books, Feature films, Film posters, History, Home Video, Music, Streaming, TV & Cable | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Going Back – Supplemental

For a deeper look, here are interviews and discussions for most of the films covered in the previous post. Running times for videos are indicated.

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The Courier

Benedict Cumberbatch and director Dominic Cooke interview (8:18)

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Gunda

Interview with director Viktor Kosakovsky at the New York Film Festival (27:02)

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The Human Voice

Interview with Pedro Almodóvar and Tilda Swinton at the New York Film Festival (1:04:19)

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In the Earth

Interview with director Ben Wheatley and actors (7:39)

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La Strada

Martin Scorsese on La Strada (13:14)

La Strada wins 1957 Academy Award (1:45)

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Nobody

Interview with cast and filmmaker (26:15)

Bus fight — scene breakdown (10:25)

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Rear Window

Martin Scorsese on Rear Window (1:00)

How Hitchcock controls the audience (8:43)

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Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street

Interview with director Marilyn Agrelo & producers at the Sundance Film Festival (13:26)

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The Truffle Hunters

Directors Q&A at Toronto International Film Festival (16:04)

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That’s it for this segment. See you next time, and as always, be safe. — Ted Hicks

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Posted in Documentaries, Feature films, Film, Film posters, Home Video, Non-Fiction, Streaming, TV & Cable | 1 Comment