Favorite Older Films First Viewed in 2013 (Part 1 of 5)

This is an idea I first saw on Rupert Pupkin Speaks. The idea is to list your favorite films from the past year that you saw for the first time, but exclude new releases. This allows much more variety and creates a lot of great suggestions if you read many of them.

Since I tracked these films much more closely this year my list grew long. I will occasionally combine selections by theme, but there is enough for five posts. These choices are in no particular order.

Enjoy!

The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather Part II (1974)

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There’s not much that can be said (I’m quite sure) about these two films that hasn’t already been said. Perhaps what is likely more interesting to you who read this is how and why I went so long without seeing these films. I think with a lot of movies it boils down to wanting enough separation from all the hyperbole. I think once I started developing some eclectic tastes that hearing merely that: “It’s great. You HAVE to see it.” became more of a deterrent than an incentive.

Quite frankly I nearly put just part two here because it’s that much better (it’s like watching two amazing movies at the same time) but you can’t have one without the other, and one thing I take solace in is that as opposed to people who saw them as they were released I saw part two a week after part one and only waited 24 hours before being terribly let down by part 3.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966, Warner Bros.)

I tried to split where I saw these films when creating the five parts of this series. Thus, the likelihood of having consecutive classics is lessened. I saw this film during 31 Days of Oscar.

This was my initial capsule review:

This is an incredibly intricate and thankfully subtle-when-it-counts psychological drama. It also has an interesting approach of showing us what is seemingly your typical, bitter, drunken, couple of academia, then when their guests arrive we start to learn, slowly but surely who they really are, and the portrait painted is shocking, harrowing and really makes you think.

A personal note is that I recall the Walpurgisnacht segment from an acting class I took in college as it was one of the assigned scenes. It was interesting to not only see a film version, but also to be exposed to the entire work.

A Wicked Woman (1934)

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This is a film I saw thanks to TCM, and fittingly features an actor I spotlighted in the Children in Film Blogathon, Jackie Searl. This is a film that offers in his filmography another break from his usually slimy, bratty persona. It’s also one of his older performances from when he could still be considered a young actor and eventually transitioned to adult character roles.

It’s a brisk tale that’s a melodramatic romance. It’s briefer synopsis as offered by the IMDb is rather a simple one:

A mother, who, to save her children from a bestial father and herself from being killed, kills her husband and makes a bargain with God that if she remains free for ten years, in order to raise her children, she will then give herself up to justice.

The complications that could occur are inherent and the film does well to put some unexpected spins on the scenarios that ensue.

Lifeboat (1944)

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This was a year that more and more saw more gray area tales with World War II as a backdrop. However, this one is by no means new. What’s fascinating in this film is that despite its unity of space, and the potential visual doldrums that any seafaring tales can bring on; this film remains vibrant, tense and character-based throughout, and through Old Hollywood magic (and Hitch) is pretty great to look at throughout.

The suspense is palpable because of the characters, how their drawn and the situations they find themselves in.

Tarzan’s Desert Mystery (1943)

Tarzan's Desert Mystery (1943, RKO)

It seems that some series have some late sequence gold in them. This film in the Weissmuller era, and in the RKO years nonetheless; pulls off quite a miraculous feat in being as enjoyable as it is.

This movie is ridiculously fun to watch. It’s crowd-pleasing aspects drench it and still radiate off the screen to this very day. Having traversed the series anew my expectations were corrected, but even thinking back to where they (the expectations) had been this blew those right out of the water regardless.

You don’t have to watch all the prior Weissmuller Tarzan films to get this one, but you’ll certainly have more of an appreciation of how unexpected this one was if you have.

Blondie (1938)

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When people discuss that sequels are not new they often cite the glut of Blondie films that were made from the late-1930s through the early 1950s. Having gotten a cheap boxset a while back I decided to crack the seal when I heard this cited several times over.

Blondie was still in a fairly consistent rotation through syndicates in the comics section of newspapers when I was young. However, that was a small taste, and lower down the reading list for me. Despite the fact that these films seem to be TV cuts with a later scene of confusion spliced in at the head of the film as a carrot. Regardless, it’s well set-up, still funny and fairly timeless. It’s a series I’ll gladly continue through the next year.

Love on the Run (1979)

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Yes, I had somehow not completed the Antoine Doinel films. I love Truffaut, and somehow I hadn’t. My miscalculation was that there would be a predictable ebb-and-flow to the series. I like The 400 Blows just fine. I don’t hold it as highly as others either in his canon or the whole of his career. But viewing the entire series its a wondrous journey and this is perhaps my favorite. It cannot and would not be viewed out of sequence, as I made such mistakes in the past, but viewed in sequence you may find your own favorite. There’s much magic later on in the series, as opposed to most.

Asylum (1972)

Asylum (1971, Amicus Productions)

I have to admit I had not even heard of Asylum until a few years ago when the horror anthology became something I was more consciously aware of. My reticence again was due to hype. I don’t have sufficient frame of reference to rule this out as the best ever, but while it’s not the one I enjoyed most it is crazy good and a fairly cohesive one as opposed to most.

Dracula (1931; Spanish Version)

Dracula (1931, Universal)

Here’s another case where there’s a classic film that I liked and appreciate but was not as giddy about as some are. When I heard about this foreign-language version (an aspect of the Hollywood system that will probably never cease to fascinate me) I knew I had to see this and may as well get the legacy box.

The alternately scored Dracula
is also great, but this one was made simultaneously with its own original score and while some things are trade-offs (like no Lugosi) some large and some small aspects are so great, and nearly predictive of what I wanted to see in the original.

If anything this is the earliest proof that a remake or alternate version of a film is much like a revival of a stage play: it’s not a replacement, just a different vision and this is one I responded to greatly.

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61 Days of Halloween: Dracula (1931 – Spanish Version)

One odd fact about the Pre-Code Era (and I believe this may have continued into the dawn of the Golden Age), that I was only vaguely aware of until I was reminded of it in the brilliant overview of Poverty Row I read; was that studios large and small would film foreign-language versions of their own titles for foreign markets. A majority of these films were in Spanish and German.

Subsequently when I went to try and find films for my Poverty Row April theme, I wanted to find some of these films but they were not readily available on the internet. So fascinated by this concept was I that I was ready to write a post about it and how some studio, if they have them in good shape, should dig these titles for a box set presentation.

I still may do that, but by chance I discovered that the Dracula Legacy Collections, which like all these sets is out-of-print but frequently available for resale, contained the Spanish version of Dracula. So I had to get it, and get it I did.

Standard operating procedure for these films was that they would use the same sets that the English-language film was using but shoot overnight while that crew was on break.

If you happen to view this film I strongly suggest that you watch the intro interview with Lupita Tovat Kuchar (confirm) where she goes into the detail. Now, when dealing with a film like Dracula the inherent fear of the foreign-language version is that it’s going to serve merely as a diversion, and be a curiosity but not have any merit of its own. This is not dissimilar to the fear about many modern day remakes; if this version isn’t offering something slightly different why have it at all.

Following that train of thought this Dracula is to the English one what Let Me In is to Let the Right One In; it gives its own spin to the tale. To be quite frank there are things about the Spanish version that I absolutely adore and think work better than the standard-bearing classic. Blasphemy I know, and many of them are film-nerdy kind of things, but I think the overall influence will be felt.

There are some shots, and edits executed differently than in Browning’s. The overall edit is quite different because I couldn’t peg an entire scene as being new but they evolved slower. Whereas, the English version has a lot breaks within lines, this film seemed to have more breaks between them, thus, more silence and added a bit to the foreboding. The lack of scoring is somewhat similar but there are some spots where a score comes in that are different, that and the music itself is a different composition.

When it comes to performance, I cannot say that someone tops Lugosi as Dracula. However, (name) does do very well. (name) as Renfield is a standout. There’s a certain raw, honesty to his persona that make his over-the-top version of the madness ring truer. Perhaps, it has something to do with the fact that there’s a less presentational, theatrical cast surrounding him so his madness, loudness rings truer. It’s funny that the Spanish-language telenovela many years would become shorthand for hammy acting, yet this cast (with some Dracula facial expressions notwithstanding) is a bit more natural.

The more deliberate pacing which allows this film to clock in at 104 minutes as opposed to 75 minutes, allows for a properly timed, more well-executed finale in my estimation. Essentially, this film under the steady hand of (name) working with his cast through an interpreted, corrected most of the things I thought needed a tweak in the other Dracula. Now, granted there are trade-offs to each, but this version is very good indeed and worthy of viewership.

61 Days of Halloween: Dracula’s Daughter (1936)

One thing that’s a bit strange about Dracula as a property at Universal, at least through a modern person’s eyes, is that after the first film Dracula was done. Frankenstein was indestructible; The Wolf Man perpetually had his struggle between his two natures; the Creature is a victim always and The Mummy, is, of course, a mummy. So this is the one where it instantly deviated from its central figure once the first film was over. It had to because of its own pre-established rules about the nature of the vampire. However, many modern franchises have rewritten and retconned such things down the line.

With the fact that the original Count Dracula was out of the equation that would mean a new way to tell a vampire tale would have to be found, and naturally new descendants, similarly cursed would need to be found. Choosing a daughter first is an interesting choice for the time, however, the resourcefulness of the film doesn’t stop there.

The film introduces her as a woman, Countess Marya Zaleska, who seeks psychiatric consultation to free herself from an evil influence that she dances around explaining. So in this film there is a conscience and torn nature introduced to the equation. However, this is not the only duality introduced in this film. As I picked up on and this Sight on Sound piece elucidates:

You see while in Dracula the count preyed mostly on attractive members of the opposite sex, Countess Zaleska’s victims tend to be of the same sex. Dracula’s Daughter is in fact the first vampire film that shows any hint of fanged homosexual preference. This notion is perfectly illustrated in the pivotal scene where the Countess asks her manservant Sandor (Irving Pichel) to fetch her a model to paint. In comes Lilli (Nan Grey), a slender beauty with jazz age hair. While the Countess tries to contain her urge to feed she begins to paint the comely model, who has propped herself against a wall. As Lilli tries various poses to find the right one that appeals to her painter’s liking she makes the mistake of lowering her conservative dress, nearly exposing her breasts in a scene that must have set the censors in a tizzy at the time. The Countess, seeing such delicate bare flesh, cannot contain herself any longer and approaches the young lady with a look of lust in her eye. After she hypnotizes Lilli with that giant ring of hers she begins to bite. While the scene’s subtext flew by audience’s heads at the time of release, the obvious underpinnings of Countess Zaleska’s lesbianism is blatantly obvious to modern viewers. Thus the Countess’ vain attempt to fight her urge for blood can be seen as a metaphor for what the Countess is truly trying to fight, her urge to be with other women, which, if you think is controversial now, just imagine what it must have been like seventy seven years ago.

Around the time the film was released Dr. Theodore Malkin (a professor) wrote and published an essay that equated the vampire from literature and cinema to the “predatory nature of homosexuals” (Poupard). While misguided in nature, the link between vampires and homosexuality has grown even more prominent. Hammer Studios even formed a niche in evocative and expertly made films that featured lesbian vampires (particularly The Vampire Lovers and Lust for a Vampire). The lesbian theme was the most overt until The Lost Boys and, more importantly, Neil Jordon’s Interview with the Vampire (based on Anne Rice’s erotic Vampire Chronicles series) came along that male homosexuality became more pronounced within the vampire mythos.

Now, at times, just the mere mention of subtext is enough to send some running for the hills. Don’t you worry about it none, this is most definitely not one of those films that you’d feel lost in without some kind of guide book. It actually starts just after the first one ends and introduces its character perfectly. The only thing it plays close-to-the-vest with the panache of figurative literalness (A phrase coined by the Hayes Committee for the implication, as opposed to statement of illicit details) is the aforementioned undertone.

As I recently mentioned, surprises are welcome in sequels and this one has a few of them which makes it worth checking out all by itself but they’re well-handled, too.

61 Days of Halloween: Dracula (1931 – Philip Glass Score)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, as well as a list of previously featured titles, please go here.

Dracula (1931) Philip Glass Score

My reaction to my first viewing of Dracula was slightly more favorable than that of my first viewing of Freaks. I’ve seen this version at least twice, and I enjoy Browning’s work (and will look into more) but have yet to find the transcendence that others have in some of his titles.

Being a completist I seriously considered re-watching the original cut of the film before watching one with a newly orchestrated score by the genius that is Philip Glass. I decided to pass on yet another viewing and it was a decision that was almost instantly validated. I remember many of the beats precisely. I was able to finish many lines of dialogue, mainly Lugosi’s, and that’s because it’s memorable not just because all the lines have a very deliberate reading.

So I didn’t feel I was missing anything by comparison. One thing that I found peculiar, which is not uncommon in early talkies, is that the soundtrack is fairly quiet. People wanted to hear dialogue and the now-primitive-seeming sound-design. It seemed a few years would pass before scores would swell anew. And, that’s a bit difficult to adjust to in a horror film. Some, like The Birds, work especially without music; others need it.

Granted the scoring in a horror film can be looked at as invoking Pavlovian response (this music is eerie therefore you are scared) but it’s very much a part of the fabric of horror cinema, and a sight better than jump-scaring an audience to death.

The score laid over this version is not only brilliantly cyclical and quasi-monotonous as is Glass’ signature but the spotting, the decisions about where music would be overlaid is extraordinarily precise and inspired. It absolutely elevates the film to new heights because it’s done with a tasteful understanding of what kind of score would befit a film such as this.

This is as opposed to something like the Moroder version of Metropolis, which sought to put an ’80s interpretation of futuristic music on the film. The music, while good in isolation, is now dated and doesn’t jibe properly with the film.

There’s a fine line between artistic restoration and musical graffiti; Glass’ work at the service of Dracula is the former and Moroder’s production of Metropolis is the latter.

Mini-Review Round-Up June 2013

Here’s my standard intro to this post:

I had quite a review drought to end 2011 so I think the remedy for this kind of post would be to have the post be cumulative monthly. Therefore, after each qualifying film a short write-up will be added to the monthly post. The mini-reviews will be used to discuss Netflix and other home video screenings. Theatrical releases, regardless of how they are seen whether in an auditorium or on VOD, will get full reviews [That is when deemed necessary. As I wrote here I do want to focus more on non-review writing wherever possible].

For a guide to what scores mean go here.

Dracula 3D

Dracula 3D (2012, IFC Midnight)

This particular selection from Dario Argento was an official selection of last year’s Cannes Film Festival and was recently picked up by IFC Midnight here in the US. However, if you are a fan of his I would not recommend you go out of your way to acquire the film, as I did, and simply wait for it to roll around as a rental. If you are not familiar with Argento do not start here. I’d recommend Suspiria as a jumping off point.

Much of what’s unfortunate about this film is the disconnect between certain elements: there is throughout a very uneasy relationship between the well-photographed, geometrically intricate, well-lit shots; gorgeous production design and a tendency to go for really unconvincing and unfortunate CG. This is not just a complaint about CG blood, but larger elements. Much of the CG blood usually upon opening wounds and then the close-ups use practical effects well.

An issue of a less nitpicky nature is the that there isn’t a consistent enough progression and amplification of stakes and incidents. Argento has always had a leaning to a slow-burning style but there there’s not a lot of intrigue to buffer that slight build here. Those peaks where there are spikes in the action, where we need to feel the oomph, are usually undercut by the CG work.

The scoring is great, and minus some seriously off moments by some lesser players the acting is good to passable. One thing that had me searching online after it was over was that there is a veritable bestiary of creatures that this Dracula can become. This is not inaccurate, but with the redefinition that cinema has had in various versions over the years it rather took me aback without a more overt introduction in this tale. However, it really is the stuttering pace, the disjointed nature of certain elements and fairly lifeless final third that keep this version from staying afloat.

5/10

Deadfall

Deadfall (2012, Magnolia Pictures)

The hook in Deadfall, or what pulls you into the story, is the inevitable collision course of events and people at a Thanksgiving dinner. From the start when a bank heist escape goes awry in a blizzard and characters split up, you can feel it coming. However, what keeps you engaged throughout is the characters and their personal journey leading up to the moment.

You have in the tale essentially four parallel story-structures surround the manhunt. There is Addison (Eric Bana) who takes off and tries to keep on the move and get to the US-Canada border, who while on the run encounters some foes and plays out some family traumas of his own. Liza (Olivia Wilde) who sets the collision course in motion by finding Jay (Charlie Hunnam) whose troubles and complications we are introduced to early.

Then there’s the law enforcement side with another family dynamic of Sheriff Marshall T. Becker (Treat Williams) and his daughter, a trooper named Hanna (Kate Mara). Lastly, the parents awaiting Jay, and little do they know the trouble coming with them, Chet (Kris Kristofferson) and June (Sissy Spacek). What occurs in the end is a tense, though not overly-melodramatic, confrontation. There is great acting throughout, particularly by Bana, and the story takes its time so there are stakes invested on behalf of characters who we now know and understand. Some of the explosive dynamics of the climactic sequence we know will occur, just not how, are set up wonderfully; but they have even more impact with the work that has been put into these personages.

Deadfall is a beautifully photographed film that doesn’t neglect development while creating a compelling crime thriller. It delivers plenty of shocks, heart and intelligence.

8/10

Room 514

Room 514 (2012, Film Movement)

This film contains one of the slyest, most telling pieces of foreshadowing I’ve seen in some time. I won’t give it away, but as I reflected on this film it seemed to me to be a modern, Israeli-set version of A Few Good Men. The drama is more intimate and behind closed doors, but what the film is about is the people and how they react in a given set of circumstances rather than what the consequences for said action is. The comments both societal and militaristic have been made and the story is at an end. The outside world may never feel any ramifications or repercussions from what occurred, but those behind said closed doors do.

What director Sharon Bar-Ziv achieves is an intimate tale not only in terms of the number of participants but also in the frame. There are many times where there is scarcely background to be spoken of as two faces, within very close proximity to one another, dominate our view. Their is an intense focus on the characters studying one another and we in turn study them and not only how they react to one another but also what they are saying.

For a film of this nature to achieve maximum effectiveness it needs great acting and it gets that from its three main players: Asia Naifeld, Guy Kapulnik and Udi Persi. Neifeld plays Anna the Military Police interrogator at the center of virtually every scene and her performance is a veritable tour de force. Her choices as an actress are as clear as the convictions of her character and really help bring this film home. It’s a fascinating tale that is worth your time as it really and truly engages you.

Room 514 will be available on home video from Film Movement on 6/18.

9/10

Brooklyn CastleBrooklyn Castle (2012, Millennium Entertainment)

A few things with regards to documentaries that most of the good ones prove true is that: the quality of the documentary is determined by the filmmaking and not by the subject being examined, and, second, when making a documentary you have to go where the story is taking you and not the other way around.

Clearly if you enjoy chess this will be a film you are drawn to. However, this film works well enough, and focuses enough on its the people involved and their journey, such that it should connect with anyone and everyone.

While the story of a junior high school (I.S. 318 in Brooklyn, NY) where the chess team not only excels in unparalleled ways, but also where the players not the outcasts but some of the most popular kids in school, is certainly enough of a hook; it carries even further significance following the recent economic crash. While we engage readily in the personal struggles, victories and defeats big and small alike, there is a greater game at play as budgeting becomes a large concern of the film and the importance of extracurricular activities in the lives of students, both academically and otherwise, is made abundantly clear.

It is the people whom we get to know that drive and tell this story. What the filmmakers do is craft the tale for maximum efficacy that allows you to connect with the tale. An perhaps having seen a successful program personified it may convince others of the vitality they possess and why they should be preserved. It really is a great film that will put a smile on your face, get your rooting for these kids and make you wish all students had a program like it available to them.

10/10

The Ghastly Love of Johnny X

The Ghastly Love of Johnny X (2012, Strand Releasing)

There is an odd concoction of elements that the Ghastly Love of Johnny X is trying to blend. Its charms, however, are not enough and the spell it attempts to weave doesn’t have enough staying power to make it a truly successful venture.

What it does well is riff on nuance pretty brilliantly, create some memorable lines, it’s odd and unique and has its moments in terms of cinematography, production design and musically (in terms of arrangement if not always the singing – yes, it’s a musical too).

All that sounds good and the tale of a man exiled from his home planet to earth to wander with a gang of ’50s style hoods and try to earn his way home does have potential. The issues it ends up facing are that it devolves into being what it seeks to emulate in the worst ways as opposed to transcending to it while still making us laugh at its tropes; namely a cheesy ’50s movie except this one plays quite a few genres at once. In short, the pace begins to suffer; there are touches slightly too modern; the plot, goals and motivations of characters become muddled and the comedy starts to click less consistently.

Also, as a musical there are some very long stretches between some of the numbers that are far too big. It’s not an entirely regrettable experience, but one I can’t say I’d recommend.

4/10

Upstream Color

Upstram Color (Erbp, 2013)

The one thing I can advise potential viewers of this film is: you should not embark on this journey if you’re not ready to be challenged. If you’re looking for escapist hit-me entertainment, this isn’t it.

The film is quietly cacophonous and, on the surface, visually disjointed. This is all by design as, much like characters in the film, we go off in search of as to how and why things occur. The answers to the questions are not disseminated in an overt manner, but most of the ones that truly matter are there. Ones that seemingly aren’t would likely be there upon review, or aren’t as much of a concern.

The heavily visual nature of the film is among its greatest assets, along with its edit. Some of the performances and the sound work, and the plot that is unearthed, are among its more uneven elements. Ultimately, its the craftsmanship and artistry of the film that has it succeed in spite of its missteps.

It welcomes revisiting, debate and discussion but once most of its mystery fades, and its minor ambiguities settle in, there’s not as much impact as it seems to promise early on. It’d make a great double feature with Beyond the Black Rainbow; though I find this to be a better film in a similar vein.

7/10

The Giants

The Giants (Kino Lorber, 2011)

If there’s a trope, or worse yet a cliché, you can name in a coming-of-age film it’s very likely that The Giants sets you up to expect it and then subverts it. That is not to say you should approach this film with a checklist, but there are many times wherein either salvation or damnation threatens these characters, but what you see instead is maturation and survival. Brothers, Zak and Seth, along with their friend Danny are isolated both by circumstance and by choice. The adult world is an invasive burden on their existence but one they are ultimately forced to cope with by themselves.

The film has opportunities to embrace conventions either of dystopian coming-of-age stories, like Kids, or more utopian ones where despite all the travails the characters go through there’s a classical Hollywood ending. This film takes the road less traveled as often as possible when faced with a plot point that can be seen as fairly common and that choices pays off over and over again.

With parents that are perpetually absent without true explanation, it’s a tale essentially of individuation rather than any of the other pitfalls of growing up. There’s definitely no love interest in the tale, and, without station too much, if there is even any true commentary on sexuality is left ambiguous.

The restraint and certainty that the film has in the handling of its plot, edit and musical selections is matched by the young cast. This especially applies to Zacherie Chasseriaud shows the poise and control of a veteran from first scene when he deals with his mother’s absence and nearly cries, but doesn’t, through to the end.

Bouli Lanners does not seem to be going for either extreme of the emotional spectrum with this tale, but rather and accurate portrayal of kids in circumstances out of the ordinary forced to grow up. They are neither idealized through nostalgia or auteristic proclivity nor are they “gritty” just for the sake of it. Elements that could be used for shock value in less-skilled hands here are what they are, meaning part of their existence and are there without commentary. The Giants is a highly effective, well-crafted tale deserving of a larger audience.

10/10

Kai Po Che!

Kai Po Che! (2013, UTV Motion Pictures)

I took a Bollywood film course which got my feet wet in the style of popular cinema that emerges from India in college. Since then I can’t say I’ve taken many forays back there again, though both Netflix and certain multiplexes make it a distinct possibility. However, what I’ve noticed in my last few forays (Namely Zokkomon and Chillar Party) is that there are stories that have featured aspects of subgenres and tales tied together by approximately a half dozen montages throughout a two-hour-plus film.

This film is about three friends who want to start a cricket supply store/training academy. The motivation for each to get involved is different and there are different narrative threads throughout. There is the assisting the underdog plot which leads into the sociopolitical commentary the film has to make, that eventually becomes a factor in the friendship. While there are not non-diegetic bursts of song there is source music during said montages. There is a romantic subplot, which links its way into the interaction of these friends and so on.

While the sports theme is always there, and as tends to happen I picked up a bit more about cricket through this film, it never becomes a sports film per se. It essentially remains a slice-slice-of-life drama with much fenestration throughout that charts many years in the lives of this group of friends.

The film through judicious editing tells a lot of story in not a lot of time and handles its tonal shifts fairly well and it is very capably performed. It’s an entertaining film, and I hope to be able to catch some more recent titles from India before the year is out.

7/10

Imaginaerum

Imaginaerum (2012, Solar Films)

What the Finnish symphonic metal group Nightwish brings with this film is not so much a musical but a film built around music. It’s the visual accompaniment to their concept album that’s the kind of thing that I would’ve liked to have seen from the titans of the music video form at their zenith as well. Having said that there is not much at all un-cinematic about this tale, quite to the contrary.

What Imaginaerum is, is a mind-play and it implements the inner-workings of a man’s psyche and imagination to create a personal and engaging fantasy. Throughout symbols consistently come to the fore and return to create their meaning to tell the tale of a quasi-willful descent into dementia, and what precipitated it all.

The way in which it does all this is a gradual process and the implementation of the music, which is fantastic, is always at the service of the narrative. In other words, it gets the equation right and doesn’t live to support the music but the music serves to buoy the tale.

There is fine editing, cinematography, production design and quite a few good special effects throughout. The film is also aided by very engaging performances by Joanna Noyes and Quinn Lord.

This film is not readily available in the US, but fans of Nightwish and inventive cinema should seek it out.

8/10

Upside Down

Upside Down (2012, Millennium Entertainment)

It’s all too easily to come out swinging at Upside Down. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that the story does hold a lot of potential. The issues the film faces, and never really overcomes, are two-fold: firstly, the film starts with a long, overly-storybook, poorly-delivered voice over explaining the rules of the solar system wherein the story takes place. This type of exposition can be overcome but when you feel like you’ll be tested on rules and plot points at the end it’s the wrong foot to start on. Second, whether or not the science fiction element of the tale is hokey becomes irrelevant because, and it is honest about this at least, it’s perhaps one the most over-fenestrated love stories yet told.

The science fiction aspect makes shallow, general observations that could apply to any place or time, and they are not the point, which makes the facade quasi-farcical and cumbersome. There are some clever things that occur as the story progresses, which owe their debt to rules-establishing, but it’s little more than smoke and mirrors.

It’s a creative film visually, but it’s the same story that’s been told countless times on fancy, colorful stationery; thus it’s a highly redundant experience of little value save for the superficial.

4/10

23:59

23:59 (2011, Magnet Releasing)

Where this film succeeds in in bringing oral history and the element of fireside horror stories into a mostly cohesive narrative. Where it finds troubles is unfortunately towards its ending. What was a very simple and straightforward story decides it’s going to take a dip into the coy and vague.

Sadly, the ending though does feel a bit of a letdown and incongruous when it first occurs is truly symptomatic of the lack of ebb and flow of the film as whole. During act one, when most of the flashbacks are occurring there are some good moments, and maybe even a shock or two, as the suspicions of what’s really occurring come to the fore the film becomes increasingly uninteresting and uninspired.

The ending is the built-to whimper rather than a necessary jolt.

5/10

Hanson Re Made In America

Hanson Re Made in America (2013, 3CG)

As I tweeted when I recently acquired tickets to one of their upcoming tour dates, I’m no longer in high school so I really don’t care who knows about this fandom of mine at this point – like what you like and haters be damned. However, a large part of the reason I include this review in this round-up is not just the fact that this self-produced documentary does qualify, but it’s a further chronicle of the band’s trajectory as indie musicians that may surprise those who still wrongly perceive the group as a “one hit wonder.”

Granted there isn’t the turmoil in this narrative that there was in Strong Enough to Break, a doc that was put together over the course of many years that chronicled the group’s failed attempt to release their third studio album with a major label and the ultimate formation of their indie label 3CG; but anyone interested in a glimpse of the creative process, regardless of the form it takes, will be interested in this film. While many of the discussions occur in a vernacular all their own that doesn’t always necessarily incorporate musical jargon you do eventually see the follow-through and progression as the tracks are laid down.

Aside from just not following as tumultuous a time in their career the film’s climax has its literal, if not figurative, fireworks and not too much else. The only other slightly disappointing thing is that certain processes of creating an album like additional recordings and overdubs are explained in a cursory manner, but they can seem redundant to the layman. This is a doc recommended for fans and music enthusiasts. Fans of music, Hanson specifically, and film in general, are urged to watch Strong Enough to Break.

6/10

Poverty Row April: Viewing Log and Introduction

Introduction

Welcome, to another month and another theme. My plans for this one I believe will be similar to 31 Days of Oscar, which means that I believe I will keep this theme to one running log, and if I should find occasion a few additional posts to fill in some detail.

The theme for April will be films produced by what were known as the Poverty Row studios. Most of them were not around long, and while all their productions were made on a shoestring, and their facilities were located in a strip of desert on the outskirts of Los Angeles, some of them are quite good and have endured. One of my first exposures to the serial format that I really enjoyed was a Poverty Row project entitled, Blake of Scotland Yard by Victory Pictures Corporation.

This theme idea was inspired by a few factors, the main one being that I read a book entitled Poverty Row Studios, 1929-1940; cover-to-cover as research for a personal writing project. The book profiles a vast majority of these small companies that sprouted up like weeds at the end of the silent era/the dawn of sound.

The additional impetus, aside from further research, was added because the book contains filmographies, synopses and reviews that sound intriguing. Due to their vintage and copyright history many of these films are now in the public domain and easily found at The Internet Archive. When you further add the fact that many of these films were designed to play in double-bills and run about an hour, there’s more added incentive.

More details about the era and the companies will be included as the films are viewed, but the last thing that bears mentioning now is that many of these studios featured, actors, directors, writers and musicians either on the way up or the way down in their career, so that drew me to a number of the choices I plan to make.

In the log I will include links to the Archive selections where applicable. So it’s fun, easy, free, and fascinating to take in a bunch of these films when I’ve already had occasion to see a few without being aware that they fell into the Poverty Row category at the time. It will also allow me, and perhaps you if you’re so inclined, to see some weird and mostly forgotten stuff that oughtn’t be.

A Shriek in the Night (1933, Allied Pictures Corp.)

1. A Shriek in the Night (1933)

This is, for the most part, an entertaining and engaging mystery tale. It’s interesting that the film features an early appearance by Ginger Rogers. The downfall of the film is the staging and editing of the climactic sequence, which includes cheats that drain some of the suspense from it.

7/10

2. Maniac (1934)

What a nutty, perambulating, mutating story this one is. Refracted through time some of the quotes do seem legitimately like what psychiatric textbooks would describe the conditions, and the title cards where these quotes appear help rein in the otherwise wild story. Again this is another one that is great fun, has many unexpected turns, that make up for the technical failings (some may have to do with degradation, real or through video), but then the conclusion is terribly run-of-the-mill and unsatisfying.

5/10

3.Shadow of Chinatown (1936)

It became quite apparent as I started to watch this film that I was watching a composite serial. What that means is a feature length version of a serial, this was usually done to have a second profit off the same project. To give credit where credit is due the editors did a pretty marvelous job. I never saw the serial, but followed the narrative fairly well. This tactic does create more clumsy exposition than otherwise necessary and some seemingly wild intuition. The breakneck pace aside it was easy to take in though ultimately unsatisfying because I knew there was backstory all over the place that I wanted to know more about and never would in this version.

4/10

4. Toll of the Desert (1935)

This was the most frustrating view of them all. The set-up: An accident. A father assumes he lost his wife and son takes up with bandits. The son is saved by locals and raised as their own. Many years later estranged father and son, strangers to one another, cross paths. The set-up is brilliant. Some of the plot points are great, on paper. However, the cast, and the production that Commodore Pictures was able to assemble for this film is not up to snuff to say the least. It’s also a story that needed more time. The difficulties of working a 50-70 minute feature are more strongly underscored by a bad one. The conversations are redundant, dialogue is frequently a wooden time killer rather than revelatory. It’s definitely a concept that would be worthy of revisiting with different talent.

3/10

5. Murder by Television (1935)

Murder by Television (1935)

The idea is rather out there and not over-drawn as it can be in much B-grade fare, but the pace and quantity of events is rather sparse throughout the middle. The film features a good post-Dracula appearance by Lugosi. However, in spite of a good twist it’s a bit lethargic.

5/10

6. Phantom (1931)

Of all the four films being added to this post today this one is the most debilitatingly dull. As will become a theme, there is a criminal here referred to as The Phantom. Here, however, it’s an escaped con. The set-up is a bit clunky and awkward, whether just establishing facts or in attempting misdirection. The angering thing here is that this film takes a nosedive in pace from the mid-point forward, and completely disengages.

2/10

7. The Rawhide Terror (1934)

Here is another terribly frustrating western because of it being a good concept squandered. The film is another poorly staged and shot affair that subjugates, through poorly expository, overt foreshadowing, a good concept and leaves it twisting in the wind for far too long.

3/10

8. The Phantom Cowboy (1935)

Aside from the staple obstructionist arm-holding-up-a-cape-motif there are some good things going on in this film. Again, you have here a short tale wherein the pace suffers, here character identification also suffers and lessens the impact this tale could have. There is also a deplorable excess of early comic relief in this film, which makes that section of the film hard to bear.

4/10

9. The World Accuses (1934)

The World Accuses (1934)

Prior to this screening the selections that I had made for this theme were threatening to make a liar out of me. Save for Short Film Saturday, I did not feel the need to link to any of these titles on the Internet Archive. Aside from the debut screening in the series there wasn’t even another title to which I awarded a passing grade, though others had close calls and good qualities.

Are there melodramatic building blocks to this tale? Yes. Are they necessarily used as such? Not especially. There are some narrative shorthands to cram this story into an hour, but the inciting incident is big, quick and out there. There is a strong villainess and a desperation-forced substitute for that role. The story takes some great twists along the way and is always engaging. As with any story of its kind, it requires you exercise suspension of disbelief, but it never lost my interested either intellectually or emotionally.

In his book Pitts describes much of the acting he watched as high school play caliber. I thought he jested too much, but through some of these I’ve chucklingly agreed. The entire ensemble in this film is capable here, even if a bit stock at times. Surely it’d take talented kids to have a Poverty Row studio like Chesterfield to build a tale around by Dickie Moore (maybe best known as the voice of Pinocchio) and Cora Sue Collins. The production values, particularly the set design, was a bit higher here than standard Poverty Row fare.

8/10

10. The Ghost Walks (1934)

The Ghost Walks (1934)

Well, one more and you can call it a streak. As I watched this in the wee hours, it made me wish I watched a few more during the day, like I did early on when my luck wasn’t nearly as good.

Perhaps the first thing that struck me as a side note is that this is the first of the selections I chose that struck me as being very Pre-Code, though its December 1st, 1934 release date made it after promised Code re-enforcement. Most of that impression has to do with the theatrical producer and his the male secretary, the secretary both in affectation and through dialogue directed at him, is being portrayed as gay – perhaps the biggest code taboo. This all leads me to my second point, which is had the acting not been of such quality, the lines not as well-timed or funny, this film would’ve been ridiculous. Instead it’s one of the funnier films I’ve seen in a while. Granted the horror/thriller portions are intended too and the first act pantomimes a straight horror film excellently, but the comedy is very much by design and laugh out loud funny.

The only patch this film, wherein a staged murder mystery in a creepy house comes true, stumbles is toward the end when the villain monologue plays out it’s not tremendously successful at being either a villainous horror plot or comedic. However, that’s a small bit of this film that runs a little over an hour and is highly entertaining throughout.

9/10

11. The Tonto Kid (1934)

This film got a second chance from me and in the end it truly did deserve, and earn it. My first attempt at screening this film was marred by home remediation project for a leak, thus, a lot of ambient noise was about. Pair that with digital files, substandard sound technology from early talkies and you can see my issue.

The film had more for it than I initially gave it credit for, but there were issues inherent with a sixty minute feature abound, such as telling a rather intricate tale that quickly, establishing a plethora of characters and motivations early on and lastly tying up loose ends very quickly.

However, it is an interesting film to note merely for the fact that it is a very early example of a western hero who plays both ends against the middle and is a gray character, one whose motivations and true nature aren’t very easy to figure.

6/10

12. In Love with Life (1934)

In Love with Life (1934, Invincible)

A few things come to mind when discussing this film, most are specific to Poverty Row others aren’t as much. I’ve discussed the running time and the utilization thereof on a few occasions in these posts. This is not something that stems from worries about my attention span or time management issues but is inherent to structuring. Some of these films are trying to cram a lot of film into not much time, others are at points stretching. This one, at a brisk 51 minutes seems to handle things just right.

Now one note I will include, I believe this is the TV edit. I base this conclusion on both the book by Mr. Pitts and the IMDb, which list the running time at 66 minutes, as does a supposedly remastered version available on the IMDb. Sadly, with many of these Poverty Row titles those are the only cuts that remain. If this is truly a TV edit kudos to the editors of this version, while it is brisk it never feels overly truncated. There just seem to be a few instances of dropped frames.

Things that separate this film are: that there is scoring throughout rather than just on the opening and closing title, there are moving shots which required sophisticated sound editing, elevated production values for the budget namely set design and good montage/titling work.

Not exclusive to, but more common in works of this type, are stories that pre-date and lead up to the stock market crash. It being a melodrama the moral is clear: we lost our money but have what matters. However, it doesn’t go as far over the top as it could, particularly with a mother-child separation at the beginning. It plays its tropes fairly well and quickly.

9/10

13. The Racing Strain (1932)

This is a film that seems to be entirely about the periphery and not about the center. In other words, it’s hollow. If you look at the description it purports to be a race car driver who is struggling to overcome alcoholism to return to the top, and that’s in there but not the focus. In fact, the racer in question is not even the protagonist. The protagonist is really his young mechanic, Bill, more commonly referred to as Big Shot (Wallace Reid, Jr.). He’s the character with a trauma to overcome, who has to grow, who comes to the rescue of his driver, who gets into fights. However, there’s approximately three times as much set up as pay-off.

And this is discounting the fact there’s a thinly-written, plot device of a character whose a punching bag for racist jokes and slurs. The movie just doesn’t move enough. Again it’s a shame because the idea is good, but it’s one that could’ve focused more on the addiction to make it a closer facsimile to The Champ. The idea for the project makes sense especially considering the involvement of Wallace Reid‘s son. He and Dickie Moore, on loan from Hal Roach to film one scene, are among the only redeeming qualities this film has, but most of it is wasteful.

2/10

14. Oliver Twist (1933)

Again there’s a disparity of running time between what I saw and what the IMDb lists. Having said that an extra 10 minutes wouldn’t have made this version feel any less like a Cliff’s Notes version of Oliver Twist. I come dangerously close to breaking my own fanboy ethos here, but even in strictly cinematic terms the treatment is a bit rushed, for a tale that can be such an epic and sprawling one. Oliver’s walk to London for example is one scene as opposed to a montage. Some of the casting choices are quite strange, namely The Artful Dodger, and disbelief has to be suspended throughout due to the fact that Dickie Moore is an American in London. There are enjoyable elements to it, mostly due to the bones of the tale, and being a Monogram film it is higher rent than most, but still feels a bit slipshod.

5/10

15. The Phantom Express (1932)

The Phantom Express (1932)

As I read and downloaded titles I noted the proclivity for the word phantom in titles. It must’ve scored well in marketing research of the day, it gives an air of mystery and intrigue. Sadly, no film I saw with the word phantom in it had either featured a ghost or been any good. This one at least accomplished the latter and is a highly entertaining tale. It’s not a whodunit so much as a “howdunit” as the perpetrators are revealed early. The film concerns a man who derails a train attempting to make an emergency stop causing many fatalities. He claimed there was an oncoming train he wanted to avoid, there was no record of this supposed train so it was dubbed “The Phantom Express.” The investigation into the mystery, the repeated incidents, the reveal along with explicatory closing monologue are all great. The effects work, mainly miniatures, may look primitive now, but is well done for the time and budgetary constraints. It’s really captivating stuff.

10/10

16. The Night Rider (1932)

Here again we have another western tale with a mysterious desperado whose identity is withheld throughout. The issue that films of this kind have faced thus far is that they are so preoccupied with the opacity of the villain’s identity that little else, if anything, gets developed. There are many attempts at humor, which mostly fail; the identity is well-guarded, but the reveal is poorly staged, and lastly, the story just flatlines once it takes its sweet time establishing all its players. It does that clearly enough, but little of what follows is compelling.

3/10

17. Ten Minutes to Live (1932)

Quite a few times during this festival I have gone back to what is essentially the bible to this theme Pitts’ book on the Poverty Row Studios. It list companies, filmographies, synopses and has reviews. When I read of Oscar Micheaux, who for 30 years as an independent filmmaker was a pioneer. He was not only a virtual one man operation, but a black man doing so from 1918 to 1948 makes him even more compelling. While he jump-started many a career, he was not without controversy both in his community and in white America also. In the end, I knew I had to see at least one of his films. I’m not sure if I searched The Internet Archive for all the titles listed in the book. After watching this film I did refer back to the review and my take on it is similar to Pitts’ “a jumbled mess,” and though it’s his only film I’ve seen, Pitts’ assertion that it’s his worst film is one I would hope would hold true. The sound is shoddy, the acting is the real-life inspiration of “bad acting” impersonations and much of the 57 minutes of screen time is wasted on non-diegetic song-and-dance numbers that act as filler during minimal stories, which, as Pitts states, are likely recycled footage.

1/10

18. Hearts of Humanity (1932)

Hearts of Humanity (1932)

They don’t make melodramas like they used to. To be a little less trite, because they make nothing like they used to, what made melodramas in the Pre-Code and Golden Age era work was the unrelenting wave of unabashed emotion, the incredible circumstance, be it hardship or triumph, the near-cloying tugging at heart strings in a tale with a more straight-forward narrative style made for a less cynical world. Yes, these date them, but any film from any period can be perceived as dated. What these films don’t fear is trying too hard for the emotional response.

In this film there’s an example of much of what I was talking about as a boy is orphaned one day through two unrelated acts. Both his parents die on the same day. His father has just learned of his mother’s demise when he meets his unfortunate fate. The plot that follows his less high-stakes to an extent, but it is moving. Jean Hersholt is endearing in the lead and Jackie Searle showed his ability to play endearing characters as well as conniving ones, though his Irish accent isn’t that great. It’s a simple film, but a truly enjoyable one in the style that only this era could produce.

8/10

19. High Gear (1933)

Oddly enough here you have an example, right after the last, of a melodrama that doesn’t work. This one also features Jackie Searl (as he was more commonly credited) albeit in a smaller role, he’s also orphaned, has a similar climax in terms of plot points, but is flat, rushed and for the most part ineffectual. Part of the issue with this film is that the stakes aren’t all that high. The climax of the film and denouement are lazily, cheaply handled with poor dramatic effect. The characters in this tale are flatter and less engaging than the prior one. Again this is a case of parallels causing easy comparison, but it just doesn’t work. The child, aside from the scene of immediate shock, seems greatly unaffected by his being orphaned. The trauma our protagonist deals with is handled with mediocrity and while the film moves well-enough and is done quite professionally in most regards save for the writing. In the end it’s just too much to overcome.

5/10

20. One Year Later (1933)

One Year Later (1933)

Every once in a while there is a film that will have you firmly ride the fence for a while. I usually like to give myself time to digest and think about a title. There have been quite a few titles that were about nothing or next to nothing in this theme (and that was not unexpected). This film is clearly not in that category, but it does have its issues, and plays a little coy with the details of the drama unfolding.

Ultimately this title gets a pass for a few reasons: while it doesn’t use a lot of voice over or flashbacks, the combination of audiovisual cues was still new film grammar at the time, it does tell a tale of fractured chronology, which is rather different than most of the fare thus far. Though it plays a little hard to get and does time-wasting tactics, it is also playing subtext while skirting what precisely happened in the year of the story that intervened. The events that escalate towards the film’s climax don’t click as well as they could, but they all make sense. I had a concentration lapse that cost me not to fully account motivations at first; I’ve bridged those gaps. It’s a film that is well-made, takes interesting story paths and for the most part stays engaging, despite its hiccups and difficulties.

6/10

21. Sex Madness a.k.a. Human Wreckage (1938?)

This title opens up more of the idiosyncrasies that Poverty Row titles had. Extant copies of the film do not have all the titles in front of them, therefore the director and release year are left in some doubt. Next, many of these films would have entered the public domain by now anyway, though many others were never copyrighted. Lastly, I noticed that the distributor as per the IMDb is the company that handled States’ Rights Distribution. Essentially, these small production companies, in order to find more screens, would then have these distributors act as subcontractors to barter podunk screens in certain states for them. Long story short, it’s the wrong company.

Now, I had planned, when I had more grandiose goals for this theme, as I typically do when these things start; to see more exploitation films of this era. However, I got at least this one. In all honesty, two things happened: firstly, while shocking for its era the title still proves hyperbolic, which isn’t shocking. Second, though highly melodramatic, the film for the most part was much better than I could’ve expected. It’s a bit bald-faced but it does put its didacticism in story elements and disguises its PSA DNA pretty well. If it had just not broadcast one key point I could’ve passed it.

5/10

22. The Mystery Train (1931)

Here again you get another misnomer. This film is not so much a mystery, but what it does have enough of is sufficient levels of intrigue. Also, it has what few of these titles have had and that’s a clear and distinct structure that works very well in its running time. Prior to the inciting incident two set of circumstances are perfectly drawn, thus so are motivations. This propels the film through much of the second act.

Fate, and a climax that is not quite as thrilling as the start bring it down slightly, but the way it does end is interesting, but it is is a very entertaining film.

7/10

23. Tangled Destinies (1934)

Tangled Destinies (1932)

If you’ve ever seen a murder mystery weekend episode of a sitcom, the gag is that invariably a real murder ends up occurring. This is the kind of tale that inspired that charade because for the most part it plays out like one of those tales, minus the subterfuge. The set-up is fantastic: an emergency landing of a small plane during a storm forces the passengers to seek refuge in a nearby empty house. The storm causes power surges and ample opportunity for the mysterious murderer/crook to strike.

There are some Pre-Code twists to it that will leave you guessing, and the occasional not-suitable-for-the-21st-Century comment, but the film does well to build and develop its mystery and buck expectations.

8/10

This concludes the running post for my Poverty Row April theme. Albeit in May, I will return with some concluding thoughts on the series tomorrow.

That Movie Sucked: Trailers That Give Too Much Away

I had a recent Twitter conversation with Larry Richman, after he had attended an advance screening of Someone Like Us, and he had some interesting thoughts on the film. I told him I was glad to hear some of them after having seen the trailer. When he watched the trailer he confirmed what I feared: The trailer essentially gives away the entire movie.

I am doing my best to forget the details of said trailer before seeing it and won’t link to it here, but it does raise the point about why trailers feel the need to be so spoiler-laden. Now, there are certain realities I know and acknowledge, such as: I believe (and correct me if I’m wrong) it’s mainly the marketing department (in a studio) in collaboration with the producers who select highlight type moments, good footage and shop them out to companies who specialize in cutting trailers together. They usually get two or three different versions and choose one. Essentially, it’s a sub-contractor relationship. However, this outsourcing of the job isn’t the only reason that over-sharing in trailers occurs, if you ask me. The first part is that some involved with the film select segments to supply the bidders. So the selection has to be a bit more guarded.

What is going to compel me to see a movie is not necessarily knowing the synopsis, not that synopses are innocent of giving away too much (far too often on the back of a film you are told not just the first act break but the second also). What will compel me is getting a sense of the tone of the film with some compelling images that make me wonder “What’s that about? I have to see that!”

Some notable examples of this for upcoming films are:

Les Miserables (Teaser)

The Road (2012)

Even way back when in the Golden Age and before when audiences were not as sophisticated in certain respects as they are now, trailers disseminated information through voice-over and text but not too much of the story was seen and heard through actual footage:

1930s

Dracula (1931)

When I went to YouTube I just typed in the very generic search of “1930s Trailer” and sure enough I got more or less what I expected. A presentational pitch with hyperbolic text, grandiose announcements and key images that intimate what the film is but give very little real information. A lot of times with older films you were allowed to see a piece (sometimes a large piece) of a scene play out but you had little context by which to understand it. It was all just supposed to be enticing.

1940s

Casablanca (1942)

Approximately a decade later the formula was still pretty much the same. The hard thing is watching trailers for films you’ve seen already, for some the edit seem to be giving away a lot of the story because you know it, but it’s really not. Think of the moments in Casablanca that became iconic and none of them are here the farewell, “Louis, this could be the start of a beautiful friendship…”, “…shocked to find that there’s gambling going on in this establishment”, “As Time Goes By,” etc. Yes, this trailer is selling the adventure and danger much more than it is the romance but it’s not shying away from it either. The ethos is still similar in these two examples compelling images, backdrop, genre, stars but not the whole film.

1950s

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

My favorite professor in film school, Max Simkovitch, was not only great at planning double and triple features but also at screening clips and trailers. Therefore, even if something didn’t quite make it on the syllabus, we were made aware of it and tempted to see it. His horror/Sci-Fi class was where I first got a glimpse of Suspiria and then I had to track it down. We also watched The Invasion of the Body Snatchers there and while I can’t argue that this is a brilliant trailer, it is fragmentary enough in the ethos of its time to succeed. There is the frame of panicked reaction. First, you assume insanity then as images compound you think there’s more to it. The best part is the impact of the film is far greater than the trailer and the trailer doesn’t show it all, or intimate it all either. The bad part is that it doesn’t show you just how very good this movie is.

1960s

Psycho (1960)

Now, I will grant you that there are many things that allow this trailer to be as unique as it is. Firstly, you’re dealing with Alfred Hitchcock one of the greatest directors to ever walk the face of the Earth. However, he was also by this point a TV personality too. So his pitching his own film in an extended trailer is not so odd. However, what’s really brilliant about this Psycho trailer is how it seems to be telling you everything but there is so much misdirection and trickery afoot.

1970s

The Exorcist (1973)

Now, this is absolutely brilliant. There is next to now visual information revealed. There is one high contrast shot of Regan, no clear indication of what many of the shots mean and you don’t see the face of the exorcist. That creates the reaction you want. It gives you the emotional tenor of the film and compels you to want to see it. The voice-over works in conjunction with the images and scenes as opposed to presenting them. This is a clear indicator of the evolution of movie trailers. However, this sophisticated near artistry will in the course of the next forty years of film history will lose its restraint and start to give away too much information.

1980s

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Granted here’s another case where you’ve got a lot going for you as you set about creating a trailer: this is the follow-up to the most successful box-office smash of all-time as of this trailer’s debut, you have John Williams’ score and incredible visuals. Yet the temptation could exist to overplay your hand but it’s laid back. You have an exciting kinetic montage, with no information of any kind divulged really and the voice-over only comes in at the very end for one line. Perfect.

1990s

Jurassic Park (1993)

I tried to get a Spielberg film on for the 80s, I couldn’t because I thought of E.T. but the trailer I found had an incessant narrator who wanted to delineate every emotional beat in the whole film. With this short, if not brilliant Jurassic Park trailer, I think I re-affirm my point. Spielberg’s images are always strong. Here the story does a lot of the selling anyway, so just briefly touch upon what the chaos in the park is and make it a short, quick sell.

2000s

Peter Pan (2003)

For quite a bit of time I thought of Peter Pan as a standard-bearer of shorts. It had been some time since I had seen the trailer but I remembered how it had set the expectations very high for me, and then I saw the film it lived up to or exceeded practically every one of them. However, it also is a great illustration of how treacherous a game the cutting of trailers is. For above, what you have is the second version of the trailer. Multiple versions of trailers existing is nothing new, but what struck me as most interesting is that the minutest of changes could have such a drastic impact. When I found the #2 trailer I knew pretty quickly it was the one I liked for it seemed a more fragmentary and tonal presentation of this vision of the story whereas the #1 (below) felt a lot like a demonstration “Here’s this part of Neverland and this part and that part.”

The Present

As for the newer crop the trailer fo Dark Shadows is bad, but does contain a similar tonal dissonance to the actual end product. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an excellent trailer.

Dark Shadows (2012)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

A recently compelling one, that convinced not only me, but many people to see the bad movie being hocked, was that of The Devil Inside.

It’s widely acknowledged that the marketing job done by Paramount to make this film a financial success while thudding with critics and audiences alike is astoundingly good. Another recent Paramount win was the viral marketing effort, the introduction of the “Demand It” concept prior to the release of the first Paranormal Activity film. However, regardless of whether you liked the film or not, the trailer is practically all the highlights of the film. Watch below…

Now, I will readily admit that I, as someone who frequents multiplexes and art houses alike and have a tendency to be quite early, such that I watch not only the trailer but the pre-show, will view these more times over than the average spectator. However, the success of the studios, the box-office both domestically and globally relies on everyone, and trailers are one of the best methods to repeat your business. You have a captive audience, a packed auditorium for the latest tentpole, all the big movies want to advertise in front of it. Whereas sometimes commercials work better because they can give less away, a trailer gives you anywhere from 90 to around 150 seconds to give your best pitch. So please try and tantalize not bore.

When a short film of mine Suffer the Little Children got into Shockerfest, we were afforded the opportunity to buy commercial time on local cable airwaves to advertise our screening. With only 30 seconds and my proclivity to tease rather than over inform, this is what I decided to do:

Here you’ve seen quite a few of the major plot points in the story, however, without knowing the Stephen King short story upon which the film is based you don’t necessarily know the context or the significance of the events. The shots come at you quickly, with juxtapositions that are apropos of nothing and little dialogue is heard. You are given the tone of the piece and some allusions as to what it’s about but you are not told everything. That’s as it should be I feel, even given more time to play around.

Far too often, after seeing a trailer, I will snidely say to myself “That movie sucked.” Now, of course, I’ve learned that the trailer is never a good indicator of what the film is. However, while I do want to be compelled to see the film by the trailer I don’t want to feel like I watched the movie. I felt John Carter, despite other marketing missteps at least attempted to compel with images first and not giveaway all the plot intricacies therein. The removal of the qualifier ‘of Mars’ from the title, the reticence to be upfront about the literary pedigree of the tale right off the bat likely had more to do with its failing, than a trailer that didn’t spoon-feed absolutely everything.

I think above there are plenty of examples of how to do it and how not to do it, and I hope that we get more good than bad in the future. However, in the meantime caveat emptor, buyer beware is definitely a motto to live by. Most recently I heard warnings to stay away from the trailer for Sinister. He is correct. The movie does look very good but there is much information in the trailers. So happy viewing but try and avoid spoilery trailers.