Holiday Specials


By • Dec 17th, 2010 •

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It’s time to lay out some dough for those you love – including, of course, yourself – and invest in some mega-releases: BluRay remasterings, boxed sets, even a lush coffee table book or two. Here are some stand-out items in those categories, all of them worthy of your consideration this holiday season.

(Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment)

FANTASIA and FANTASIA 2000 come in a single container as a four disc special edition. Disc 3 is FANTASIA on DVD, and Disc 4 is FANTASIA 2000 on DVD. Plus there are numerous supplementals, including the legendary short DESTINO, and the feature doc DALI & DISNEY: A DATE WITH DESTINO.

WALT & EL GROUPO (2008), directed by Theodore Thomas, son of legendary animator Frank Thomas, is a pleasant compilation of footage not used in SALUDOS AMIGOS (you can see more of it in the actual animated/live action film, which is included on the disc), the partial result of Disney’s government sponsored three month trip to ‘ABC’ (Argentina, Brazil and Chile) in 1941 to foment good will in South America at a time when the Nazis were making inroads into that continent. Much of the footage is shown while the children or the widows of the original Disney voyagers read from letters sent to them at the time.

By being even-handed (some residents still alive today loved the resulting animated mini-features, some didn’t, and most of them think Disney was frozen), director Thomas certainly gives us an unbiased insight into that interesting adventure. The sense remains that there is much more to investigate if one were motivated to do so, but it’s a reasonable and earnestly-crafted introduction to the subject.

Disney was embroiled in a Union-threatened strike against his studio at the time this opportunity came his way, so the whole trip was also a convenient escape for him, getting him out of the line of fire while his lawyers attempted to resolve the conflict (which they did, but not to Disney’s satisfaction – he describes it here as the worst time of his professional career). He took 18 people with him, including one animator, other studio artists, etc., to sketch what they saw, and come up with storylines and gags.

The old Kodachrome color look is nostalgic, and the archival footage, particularly of Disney himself, is really wonderful. We even get to see him doing (possibly) the Samba, and he acquits himself admirably.

Of the rest of his team, one artist brought along his wife, Mary Blair, and she’s quite a looker, very sexy and modern in appearance. Disney liked her work, and she turned out to be one of the studio’s most valuable in-house artists. She had a great career as a result of her work on the trip, and was involved on such wonderful projects as THE ADVENTURES OF ICHABOD AND MR. TOAD, PETER PAN, and SONG OF THE SOUTH. She died in 1978, aged 66, and was honored as a Disney Legend in 1991.

While it’s well known that fleeing Nazis found a haven in South American countries after the war, so there must have still been some tolerance to the party by those in government, there’s no doubt that Disney’s good-will tour was effective. Newspapers from the times have both Nazi info and Disney info on their front pages. The Disney columns take precedence, both in size and placement. And Brazil ended up being the only South American country to send soldiers to fight in Europe, alongside the Americans.

WAKING SLEEPING BEAUTY covers the pivotal years of 1984-1994, when the studio experienced an unprecedented renaissance of its animation department. And although we are not privy – probably a very good thing – to the egos and tirades of Mssr’s Eisner and Katzenberg, we are presented with what feels like an honest ‘PG’ account of those driven, tumultuous, wildly successful years. With THE FOX AND THE HOUND and THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE already in the chute, the studio revamped with a string of mega-hits, each one topping the last: THE LITTLE MERMAID, WHO KILLED ROGER RABBIT?, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, ALADDIN, and THE LION KING. Carpel tunnel syndrome was rampant among the animation staff, family life suffered, still they were passionately committed to their winning streak, the first since Walt’s untimely death in 1966 The last animated feature he worked on was THE JUNGLE BOOK (1967), one of the best films of that year, and one of the company’s most delightful features, with a new emphasis on character animation matching the personalities of the actors hired to voice them. I still think of Shir Kahn, the Tiger, looking and of course sounding just like George Sanders. Not to mention Louis Prima’s King Louie the swingin’ orangutan. Great score, fast-paced, emotionally satisfying. After that…a long, fallow period.

It’s fun getting a glimpse of a young Tim Burton, slack-jawed, sitting at his desk before splitting from the company. And John Lassiter, before he started up what is perceived by Disney during this turnaround as a troubled little company called Pixar. As the documentary ends, TOY STORY is gearing up. More fabulous years and films lay ahead, but this was the mythic adventure that kicked a waning, legendary studio back into first gear.

As to the BluRay re-issue of FANTASIA, I didn’t think it was possible to get the grain as stable as they’ve managed to here. It’s something of a miracle. And there’s more definition in dark scenes (Mickey’s entrance in THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE, for eg). On the downside, the heightened musical track separations are jarring. There’s an aggressive sharpness that appears to come from working on them in the hopes of producing more clarity. They remain better on the DVD, which is included in the collection. As for FANTASIA 2000, that one never had a chance to accrue technical problems due to age, so it is what it was, only slightly moreso because of BluRay’s image replication capacity.

And then there’s DESTINO, the completed animated short conceived by Disney and Salvador Dali, but horded away in the Disney ‘morgue’ for decades like the lost ark. It’s very good, if a bit too modern in its lines and edges, and even its speed. I wish they’d made it feel a bit more 1945. But it’s a deluge of Dali-esque patented imagery, and fun to race through. More exciting is the 1-hour-22-minute documentary accompanying it (on the FANTASIA 2000 BluRay) called DALI & DISNEY: A DATE WITH DESTINO. This is the showpiece of the several docs in this review. Alternating between Disney’s and Dali’s lives, from birth on, it makes the collaboration more destined than one might have imagined. Their love of art and film, their being the leading forces in their art forms. (Dali, of course, had dabbled, historically, in film, with UN CHIEN ANDALOU.) They were both supreme marketers of their images and their art. In the Fall of ’36 their work was both exhibited at The Museum of Modern Art. And they actually had similar visual goals in their work. (double images, etc.). The doc makes the case extremely well; I was dubious going in, but I came out convinced.

Among the treats to be found in the doc are footage of Marlene Dietrich and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. at the premiere of SNOW WHITE. When Fairbanks later married, his wife, jealous of Dietrich, had all photos hunted down and destroyed (according to Douglas), but here’s evidence, courtesy of the Disney newsreel cameras. And the stills of Dali and Harpo Marx, who he felt was cinema’s great American surrealist, are a delight.

(Fox Home Entertainment)
15 films by the director, and a documentary by Martin Scorsese. Booklet included. Copious supplementals, many carried over from some of the DVDs’ original releases as stand-alone films. Several titles never released on DVD before.


Most of us remember the 1999 Academy Award telecast where Marty Scorsese escorted a frail 90-year-old Elia Kazan out on stage to receive his honorary award to large applause, while the camera revealed a front row occupied by glaring luminaries such as Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins who sat, arms crossed, in silent protest against the recognition of a Blacklist capitulant on grounds of his artistic body of work alone. I imagine there were similar divided feelings when the Telluride Film Festival paid tribute to Leni Riefenstahl back in 1974.

It was a thought-provoking act of moderation, and I’ve revisited it many times in my mind in the years since, as I teach courses in Film History at The School of Visual Arts, and when I cover the Blacklist, I focus in on Kazan’s rationalization of an informant in ON THE WATERFRONT (1954), and then I show RIFIFI (1954), which was, perhaps by chance, Jules Dassin’s timely rebuttal/reply to the Kazan film, which shows Dassin himself, in a peculiarly masochistic sequence, as a criminal cadre informant who pays for his betrayal not with a fulfilling career as Kazan did, but with death, and his acceptance that he deserves no less.

A LETTER TO ELIA contains another kind of justification. To all those in the audience who remained unmoved by Kazan’s appearance that night, Scorsese explains, quite emotionally, how much the director meant to him – to his childhood, to his love of film, to his own career. And this time, the justification works.

There are of course clips, some (ON THE WATERFRONT, for eg) teeming with grain. And there are stills, and good interview footage of Kazan discussing his career. The doc is an hour long, and 19 minutes in, pretty much on schedule, Act 2’s crisis begins…in the form of the Blacklist. Nothing was the same for Kazan after April,1952, but from Scorsese’s perspective, his films got better. There was nothing in between them and his personal vision any more – not Hollywood, not the many combative forces that stand toe-to-toe with the filmmaker, pushing for compromise. It all fell into place after the HUAC testimony.

Arnaud D’Usseau, a black-listed writer, was a good friend of mine. He had to leave the country to survive financially, and although he had a reasonably successful career abroad (writing Ava Gardner’s dialogue for 55 DAYS AT PEKING, uncredited, and penning exploiters such as the entertaining HORROR EXPRESS [soon to be released by Severin on DVD]), and although he married a French woman and had a loving family life that he wouldn’t have had if he’d stayed in the US, still in the conversations we had about those tumultuous years, he never forgave Kazan for what he’d done.

Now we have a Scorsese-spearheaded, dark and elegant box release of a near-definitive collection of Kazan’s film work (four are not represented, including Kazan’s last film – THE LAST TYCOON – which, interestingly, stars Robert De Niro). It’s an utterly handsome package, one which opens in the same manner as the ALIEN collection, as a thick-paged book, only larger, with DVDs inserted in pockets on each double-page, and a description on the facing page about the film presented next to it. Many of them have been released previously, by three different companies, and all of those contain their original supplementals, and their quality remains the same (SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS’s Technicolor look may be a tad different, but equally good), which creates no problems in relation to getting rid of your separate DVDs, though I wish they’d found better material on PINKY, which suffers both in its sound reproduction and in its pictorial contrast ratio – but that was the same on the earlier release and this is no worse for the time elapsed between their appearances.

Kazan was always alert to conflict and crisis, and his films are powerful emotional experiences, but he was also an intellectual, and the films clearly were, for him, contemplations of ideas, much in the way George Romero’s zombie films are very much about subtextural ideas. In Kazan’s films the ideas were less subtextural and more on the surface. In few of their films are the intellectual ideas clubbing you over the head, as they are in, say, Stanley Kramer’s work, which is not to denigrate Kramer’s work so much as to evoke a comparison.

Presented in this collection for the first time is A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN (1945), an extraordinarily rich, sharp, detailed print, in which the cinematography strives unsuccessfully to offset, or balance, the staginess of the script and the blocking of the actors. Very nice to see what his films were like at the beginning, the better to measure their development over the course of his career. John Dunn and Peggy Ann Garner won Academy Awards for this one, but personally I couldn’t take my eyes off Dorothy McGuire. She’s an exquisite-looking jewel up there on the screen. The camera absolutely loves her…

…as it loves Lee Remick in WILD RIVER. Her eyes are what color? Turquoise? I couldn’t take my eyes off them. A somber story about the Tennessee Valley Authority trying to prevent natural catastrophes by building dams along the river, and one elderly woman’s refusal to leave her island, is compellingly told, often in the form of a dialectic, with the government’s position represented by a vulnerable Montgomery Clift, and the farmers’ position taken by JoVan Fleet, a powerful force who won an Academy Award five years earlier for EAST OF EDEN, another Kazan film from this collection. Scorsese spends an inordinate amount of time on this film in the doc, and it helps adjust one’s critical eye when viewing it, though Clift seems ill-matched with Lee Remick, or perhaps for anyone. He arrives in the beginning all set to get Van Fleet off her property, brimming with confidence, or at least that’s what the script says. But watching his wavering physical condition on the CinemaScope screen, it’s hard to believe.

BOOMERANG (1947) is a Docu-Noir, based on a real murder trial, with Stamford Connecticut substituting for Bridgeport, Conn., shot entirely on location, and using townspeople for the minor and extra roles. Kazan’s stage actors are present. It’s wild to see Karl Malden and Lee J.Cobb talking in one scene together, knowing that they’d be on opposite sides of the law seven years later in ON THE WATERFRONT. Noir commentary faves Alain Silver and James Ursini fill in a lot more detail on what led Kazan to the fateful testimony in ’52, and point out – at 26:30 – a quick appearance in a line-up by Arthur Miller, who was working with Kazan at the time on the Broadway production of ALL MY SONS. The ending has an ironic twist involving one of the suspects which was used again, too closely to be co-incidence, but separated by enough years to be unintentional, in Sean Penn’s 2001 drama THE PLEDGE.

Kazan worked three times with Marlon Brando, who was to him what De Niro was to Scorsese. Both of them became guaranteed box-office icons after the director/actor relationships had already begun.


DIVA (1981), BETTY BLUE (1986), ROSELYNE AND THE LIONS(1989), THE MOON IN THE GUTTER (1983), IP5 (1992), MORTAL TRANSFER (2001), and two documentaries and a short – LOCKED-IN SYNDROME (1997), MR. MICHEL’S DOG (1977), and OTAKU (1994).

Supplementals: Beineix interviews on each disc. THE GRAND CIRCUS – a feature-length documentary on the making of ROSELYNE AND THE LIONS. Audio commentaries with Beineix on DIVA and BETTY BLUE, various interviews with key crew.

Jean-Jacques Beineix was the second assistant director on Jerry Lewis’ THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED in 1972. That he had the fortitude to move on with his career says a great deal about the man. That he has created such a diverse body of work is equally impressive. And that he eventually made his own circus film – ROSELYNE AND THE LIONS, is something to ponder…

This collection of his work is coming at you from Cinema Libre Studio, and can be purchased either at their website ( or on Amazon. They are an all-purpose studio, which does post-production work, the occasional production, and distributes DVDs. Recent releases are Oliver Stone’s SOUTH OF THE BORDER, and THE PRICE OF PLEASURE.

Beineix’s DIVA was actually received poorly in his native France, but Festivals around the world praised it, and critics and the public welcomed it as a watermark stylistic advance in cinema storytelling. I remember seeing it when it came out, and I knew I was privy to something brand new in visual thinking. It was a true adventure, taking the ride with the director on his debut feature.

MOON IN THE GUTTER, his follow-up feature, was another story entirely. A noirish adaptation of a David Goodis novel, it came out as something closer in spirit to Coppola’s ONE FROM THE HEART, using the extreme artifice of the studio as a form of heightened reality. The film starts as if it’s going to be a new CITIZEN KANE, but slowly loses steam as its conflicts become muddled and elongated, and the third act fails to deliver, transforming it into an elusive dream world drama in which everything moves much too slowly. It is a monumental example of stylization vs. pretention. And the winner in this instance is: pretention.

I heard (but cannot confirm) that when star Gerard Depardieu saw the film for the first time at a festival screening, he went up on stage and started punching Beineix for ruining it. What I can confirm, since Beineix states it in an interview on the DVD, is that Gaumant made him cut it to 2 hrs. 15 mins, and that his greatest disappointment is that he cannot restore the film to it’s better self – as he has done here with BETTY BLUE and ROSELYNE AND THE LIONS, because the distributor, soured on the experience, junked the trimmed scenes and the negative. That is sad to hear indeed, because while it could never have been rendered unpretentious, I can imagine that the terrible and illogical ending might have been redeemed.

Still, if you purchase the entire collection, you’ve got to see it to believe it, and you may return to the first act many times, it is so stunningly beautiful on its own.

ROSELYNE AND THE LIONS is a complete reversal of the ultra-slick styles Beiniex utilized in DIVA and MOON IN THE GUTTER. Realistic, almost documentary-like, it charts the path of two young people who fall in together while studying to be lion tamers with a small circus. The subject is so fascinating, and the anticipation of the lion scenes so compelling, that one stays glued to the ambling narrative for it’s three hour restored length. And then, oddly, despite the running time, the finale comes out of nowhere. God bless him for putting Roselyn in that skimpy suit, but the 3-hr running time still somehow didn’t give Beineix the opportunity to make us believe that these two characters would hatch the show-stopper they do. Nor, on a character level, does it resolve the tensions that have been built up between them.

The French coined the term ‘Film Noir’, yet there’s no mention in the supplemental interview with Beineix on MORTAL TRANSFER that this indeed is one. However it is. Distinguished by good acting, a fun story – the kind that American audiences like – stylish direction, gorgeous cinematography and art direction, sex and nudity…given all that, why, I wonder, wasn’t it released here theatrically? That’s as big a mystery as the narrative. Perhaps because it has a title that wasn’t engaging? Was that the best moniker Beineix could come up with?

I applaud the extensive window-boxing on the MORTAL TRANSFER transfer. My 16X9 screen, with the subtitles falling into the black area below, never allows them to impinge on the exquisite images. Considering how big home theater screens are nowadays, a decision like this should be made much more often.


1960. 127 mins. AR 2.35:1. Supplementals: Commentary track by Frank Sinatra Jr. and Angie Dickenson.

Directed by Lewis Milestone. Screenplay by Harry Brown, Charles Lederer, and a smidgeon by Billy Wilder. Music by Nelson Riddle. Cinematography by William Daniels. Title Design by Saul Bass.

With: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, Angie Dickinson, Richard Conte, Cesar Romero, Patrice Wymore, Joey Bishop, Akim Tamiroff, Henry Silva, Red Skeleton, George Raft.

(Running Press) by Timothy Knight. Hardcover $35.00.

With Martin Scorsese set to direct SINATRA very soon, this is a wonderful time to reacquaint oneself with the accomplishments of the legendary singer, actor, political activist, hedonist and…well, legend.

Even Saul Bass’ title design can’t alter the tone set by the film’s score, which ushers us into OCEAN’S ELEVEN: silly. If it’s what Nelson Riddle was going after, perhaps that’s what the rest of them were going after as well. The caper flick was just a lark for the Rat Pack.

Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop, Angie Dickinson, Shirley MacLaine, and others I’m probably forgetting, picked up where Bogart’s Rat Pack left off. Several of them were actually performing in Vegas when this was shot, so they’d get off stage at 1:00 a.m., arrive at the set and start shooting at 2:00, finishing up by morning. Most of the interiors, even those posing as daytime, were shot in the middle of the night. This goes a long ways toward explaining why Sinatra would leave after one take.

Frank Sinatra Jr. provides most of the commentary track, and he only talks now and then, but it’s not a gyp; even if he’s reading from a prepared text, which is what it sounds like, he is ultimately well-informed. The facts and details he supplies are key to enjoying this film long after its ‘cool’ charms have worn off.

He calls his father “Sinatra.”

While some of the apartment scenes were shot on sets, he informs us that the casino scenes were all filmed on location, in the real casinos, built to lure men to Vegas, now torn down and a part of history, replaced by family friendly hotel/casinos. In this way, carefully articulated by Jr., OCEAN’S ELEVEN is a fascinating and nostalgic time capsule (much as THE PROJECTIONIST is today – showing Times Square and 42nd Street as it was back in the late 60s, before the Disney hordes invaded), and its enduring importance lies in this fact. I’m watching it much differently now than I did 50 years ago when it first came out, or in the interim, when I no longer found the boys’ shenanigans as endearing.

Jr. explains that Sinatra and his crew were improvising whenever they wanted. Which helps explain why Act 2 – the crisis, begins 53 minutes in (about 25 minutes late by Hollywood standards), when the plan to rob the Vegas casinos on New Year’s Eve is finally revealed. The film easily could have been pared to two hours if the cast had stuck to the script, but that wasn’t the game plan, and while much of the dialogue is dated now and lacks almost any punch or wit, it, like the Vegas environment is a valuable historical document of a macho ethic that literally called the shots in America for a while in terms of what was cool.

As each of the eleven former war buddies is introduced, forming the bulk of a long, laconic act one, out of nowhere Sammy Davis Jr. is introduced with a musical number – song plus dance – in a vast garage. Martin, likewise, warbles a few bars at the piano a short time later. Sinatra resists the temptation, although in one scene the background music is from his THE TENDER TRAP.

Angie Dickinson, who is on camera for a short time, is utterly charming in her commentary – a class act. At one point she mis-remembers something, and casually laughs it off, after all it was five decades ago. A wonderful personality. One thing she raves about (and the commentaries were done several years ago for the DVD release) is the picture quality of the film, which has looked shabby over the years on VHS, etc., and never looked phenomenal even on film. She should see the BluRay!. If you hit the chapter button and find the barber shop scene with Joey Bishop and Akim Tamiroff, it seems to have been shot through a fog filter when seen on the DVD. The BluRay disperses the fog completely.

Speaking of Tamiroff, a mere two years after TOUCH OF EVIL he looks quite a bit older. I remember being moved by Richard Conte’s performance fifty years ago, and I still find him moving. The camera loves him. And Henry Silva, a close friend of Sinatra’s, looking robust and sounding like Harry Belafonte, is another one of the eleven. Two years later, in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, he’d be kicking the shit out of his buddy in one of cinema’s better fight scenes. Silva is still alive, and I’m sorry they didn’t lure him onto the commentary track back in ’02 – there was certainly plenty of dead air for him to fill.

Lewis Milestone (ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT; 1962’s MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY) directs as if he were helming an over-the-top comedy. Fortunately the laid-back Rat Pack rarely fall into the trap, but some of the other performers do.

At 41:30, there’s an ad-lib where an angry girlfriend pitches a candy bowl at Sinatra. According to Jr., his father didn’t know it was going to happen. That being so, Sinatra Sr. could duck every bit as nimbly as George Bush.

A perfect Holiday combo gift would be the OCEANS ELEVEN BluRay and the lovely coffee-table book, SINATRA: HOLLYWOOD HIS WAY. Timothy Knight is an engaging writer. His prose rolls easily off the page. The chapter on OCEANS ELEVEN enhances what you’ve read above, driving home the film’s real commercial success – audiences getting a glimpse, only one celluloid layer beneath the surface, of what the Rat Pack was actually like off-camera. On page 211, a frame blowup shows the pack strolling along the Vegas strip. When the camera slowly panned up during the film, you could see their names on a marquee, since they were currently appearing at the Sands Casino.

Much as I like the writing in the book, I like the pictures equally. Most of them have a slightly brownish cast, and yet they look color accurate, and blowing them up doesn’t diminish their sharpness. I’ll never forget the coffee-table book, many years ago, about the Technicolor process, in which none of the pictures were produced with color fidelity! These are. It’s a pleasure turning the pages and seeing what frames have been chosen.

The book is divided into sections: “Frankie’s Rise and Fall, 1941-1952”, “The Crooner Comes Back, 1953-1959”, “The Rat Pack Years, 1960-1964”, and “Sinatra’s Hollywood Twilight, 1965-1991.” In each section several films are given a number of pages and pictures, and then there are ‘other’ films, which are given short shrift. In the Rat Pack section, all four of those films are given full coverage, and a few of them were godawful. Also, in the ‘twilight’ section, though I fully understand why it’s called that – the author makes his case well – the light-noir detective films Sinatra made during this period (LADY IN CEMENT, TONY ROME and THE DETECTIVE) are among my very favorites of his, and Gordon (KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE, THEM, IN LIKE FLINT) Douglas is one of the best directors he worked with. Far too often he picked directors he could push around, and when he made a mistake with that MO (eg. Robert Aldrich/FOUR FOR TEXAS) then the working relationship frayed to nothing, and Sinatra would make himself extra scarce.


If you want to make the gift even nicer, see if you can get a hold of (probably on Ebay or Amazon) THE RAT PACK (HBO Home Video, 1998, 120 mins). A lovely bio-pic, the way HBO knew how to make them back then, it gives you the other side of the group’s activities while they were making OCEANS 11, as well as before and after.

Wanna up the ante yet again: there’s A&E’s THE RAT PACK, subtitled “The True Stories of the Original Kings of Cool,” narrated by Danny Aiello. 2 discs, 200 mins., including footage of them at the Sands Casino in 1960 – possibly while they were filming OCEANS ELEVEN. Again, it probably is no longer in stores – the internet is the place to go searching.


STEVE MCQUEEN: A Tribute to the King of Cool
(Dalton Watson Fine books)
Marshall Terrill, with Foreword by Barbara McQueen. Hardcover.
CD included containing a lecture given by McQueen at Loyola Marymount University in 1978.

A six-lb. coffee-table weight, so watch out when you heft it up to thumb through. Make sure you tighten your stomach muscles before lifting! If you do it right, you will have a terrific time following the varied career – not just film career – of Steve McQueen, as related by over 200 of his friends and acquaintances, biker buddies and film co-stars over a fifty year period.

The interviews/contributions are categorized by decade, starting in the 1930s, and concluding with the 1980s. I’m thrilled to have been included, based on a fortuitous incident in the 1960s, while I was a student at Tulane University in New Orleans. McQueen was in town with fellow thesps Karl Malden, Edward G. Robinson and Ann-Margaret, as well as director Norman Jewison and screenwriter Terry Southern, doing location filming on THE CINCINATTI KID. I was invited onto the location, and talked with everyone, including, eventually, the elusive Terry Southern, who was out visiting graveyards while the shoot was going on.

They were all larger than life, but McQueen was a little moreso. Thin and focused, he was standing by himself in an open area when the MGM publicist brought me over to meet him. We shook hands, and he was cordial if not exactly friendly, but then why should he have been, obviously engrossed in his role and having a 22-year-old college kid thrust upon him. But he was cordial, and agreed to meet at another time to talk in detail. I came away with an interesting perception: although he was physically slight in appearance, there was an electric vibe in the air around him. It felt as if his aura was displacing the molecular structure of the environment. I’ve seen/felt it once or twice before. One could call it star power; but there should be a scientific experiment done to determine exactly what the phenomenon really is.

Anyway, enough of my little adventure. Others included in the handsome book include director Jewison, James (THE GREAT ESCAPE) Coburn, Andrew Sarris, Jack (THE BLOB) Harris, Robert (THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN) Vaughn, Faye (THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR) Dunaway, Neile Adams McQueen, Peter (BULLITT) Yates, Alec Baldwin, Ben Affleck… I’m not going to go on for 200 names, but clearly it’s a great roster.

There are pictures galore, as well as his birth certificate, a McQueen family tree, movie contact sheets, and his death certificate from Mexico, where he’d been fighting cancer in a private clinic.

The book was supervised by his widow, Barbara. I’m a big McQueen fan. His jump over the barbed wire in THE GREAT ESCAPE (they have a reminiscence by the stunt man who actually performed the jump – I hate to face the truth about that, it’s too ingrained in my memory that McQueen made the jump himself) is an iconic image from my film-going youth. I also loved his rendition of the song BABY THE RAIN MUST FALL in the film of the same title, although to my knowledge only a cover version was released on record.

I’m glad to have this book to pull off the shelf to show friends whenever I screen one of his films on DVD or BluRay.

STARSTRUCK: Vintage Movie Posters From Classic Hollywood
(Abbeville Press Publishers)
Ira M. Resnick. Foreword by Martin Scorsese.

The author tries valiantly to categorize his collection into clear chapters, but really what we’re finally poring over is the end result of his taste. That being said, he’s got great taste, it’s a wonderful collection, and infinitely worth spending time with. As with paintings in other over-sized coffee-table books, periodically on one page the full poster will be displayed, and on the adjacent page, a close-up of a portion of the poster, focusing one’s attention on the brush-strokes, the use of color, the tone, etc. That’s a nice idea, giving the artistry its due. Other layout choices – in which the posters are aesthetically cropped, are less pleasing. And one choice in particular that vexed me was the Russian poster for Buster Keaton’s THE GENERAL. I have this poster reproduced in a book of Russian posters, and it looks better here. But the author (I presume) made the annoying decision to overlap it onto two pages, so that the poster is split down the middle. Fortunately that isn’t a constant layout device.

Martin Scorsese provides the foreword. He deconstructs the poster for the noir classic GILDA (at first confusing, because the poster sits on the page opposite his description, and it doesn’t jive…until we realize that this reproduction is clipped, and the entire poster is reproduced elsewhere in the book), and manages to encapsulate everything magical and mythic about what posters were able to accomplish for the fascinated filmgoer back in the day. It’s a great intro to the book, and should be quoted in any lecture on film poster art. (Worth mentioning: Available for Christmas from Sony Home Entertainment, in the Rita Hayworth Collection, is GILDA, which Scorsese introduces [along with Baz Luhrman], and again the poster is shown.)

Author Resnick, who founded the Motion Pictures Art Gallery, takes us on quite a tour. Best for last, he discusses posters he has gathered not because he’d seen the films, but because of their remarkable design. One in particular, for a ‘B’ film called THE SIN OF NORA MORAN, really is everything he says it is, and apparently it goes for very big bucks today, despite the fact that the film is seldom seen and apparently unworthy of the poster. It starred Zita Johann, the exquisitely exotic star of Universal’s 1932 THE MUMMY, an intelligent woman who didn’t like being bullied by director Karl Freund, nor the way Hollyood-ites thought they were entitled to behave, and she promptly dropped out of the biz. A great loss, and sadly, even the NORA MORAN poster art fails to give back an ounce of what we lost when she departed, since the pin-up depicted, inexplicably, is a blonde, and Ms. Johann was a brunette.

EDITH HEAD: The Fifty-Year Career of Hollywood’s Greatest Costume Designer
(Running Press Book Publishers)
Jay Jorgenson. Hardcover, $75.00. Foreword by Sandy Powell, Academy Award-winning costume designer of 38 films including GANGS OF NEW YORK and FAR FROM HEAVEN.

Another six-pounder, this tome has Ms. Head prominently posed in B&W on the front cover, and she’s an imposing, thought-provoking figure. Unabashedly masculine and hard-edged in aura, she is leaning back slightly against an array of paint brushes spread out like a floral arrangement, her black pageboy coiffure and owl-disc dark glasses iconically highlighting her foreboding, no-nonsense countenance. She’s riveting – a true star – despite the fact that she never appeared in front of the camera.

The book is a treat. A spectacular repository of on-set pictures of Ms. Head at work, plus her costume designs, and even a recipe for Chicken and Potatoes Casa Ladera (her home in the 50s), we get a full-bodied picture of her career. Over 1100 films, 35 Academy Award nominations and eight wins, many of the prominent films she worked on are detailed not only in terms of her contribution, but as regards the tempests erupting on the set concerning directors and stars. Much is lifted and reshaped from her autobiography, THE DRESS DOCTOR. And the author has interviewed a number of celebrities still living who Head worked with.

The Edith Head we consistently see is a composite of fears and fandom. Peer abuse about her prominent teeth when she was young made her stop smiling. Her hair was bobbed in the manner of silent film star Colleen Moore. She was taught the tricks of the trade, Hollywood’s “pagan spirit of over-emphasis’, by top costume designers then in sway, and she proved invaluable to the wardrobe departments she first apprenticed for because she spoke Spansih and could liason with the creators of the foreign versions of the studio’s films. Her breakthrough friendships with Clara Bow and Mae West (for whom she came through on SHE DONE HIM WRONG – 1933 – earning her first full screen credit, and again [Yipes!] on MYRA BRECKINRIDGE), on through other classics and biggies such as SAMSON AND DELILAH and VERTIGO.

There are occasional copy problems – missing words and such – but it never really distracts. The book is too much fun, and too beautiful, to let a copy editor’s flub get in the way.

(Rizzoli New York) 320 pages. $75.

Written by Tullio Kezich. Edited by Vittorio Boanni

A prodigious work of visual research, set comfortably in concise, often subjective text, this infinitely browsable Rizzoli coffee-tabler charts the long, gratifying career of Federico Fellini (who worked with Angelo Rizzoli as a producing partner).

The filmmaker’s body of work is laid out in visually florid and dazzling chapters, rampant with stills, movie posters from different countries, hand-colored lobby cards, documents, and Fellini’s drawings. Each chapter is careful to include at least one photo of the maestro at work on the set. These set shots often shed light, in their non-verbal way, on the voyage of the director through the years as his style changed, his confidence changed, his goals changed.

There has also been a conscious effort to include pictures of the key people Fellini worked with over the years – amongst many others are Danilo Danati, Alberto Moravia, the sublime composer Nina Rota, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Arturo Zavattini, Tullio Pinelli (who died last year, aged 100), Dino De Laurentiis, Alberto Lattuada, Angelo Rizzoli (with him at the Academy Awards gala, two of which the film [8 1/2] won). And of course, numerous pix of all the actors he directed, in particular Giulietta Masina (his wife for fifty years, and heir to Chaplin’s tramp), Marcello Mastroianni, and Anita Ekberg. The shots of Ms. Ekberg, dressed in white, rehearsing for her emersion in the fountain in LA DOLCE VITA, are particularly stunning.

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One Response »

  1. Hi Roy,

    Superior selections. I’m very proud of you research and singling out a handful! Yet, no BLACK DEVIL DOLL? I forgive: we are too close of friends and the titles does offend even Keth Richards. Nonetheless, great solution Looking forward to future collaborations and friendship.
    Your gofer,
    Bryan Layne

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