2014 Neutron Star Award: Mickey Rooney

OK, so what is the Neutron Star Award? As I watched older selections through the year, I was frequently compelled to pick a film based on the fact that Vincent Price was in it. When I was younger I was very actor-oriented, more so than with directors. The fact that an actor had that kind of draw, and was one who is sadly no longer with us, made me think there had to be some kind of way I could honor them.

So I thought literally about stars, and being a nerd I confirmed that a neutron star fits the definition of a star that has gone out but glows more brightly after its passing.

Mickey-Rooney-and-Judy-Garland-Andy-Hardy-Meets-Debutante-1940

This one was not easy to figure out. Much of the reason this award proved difficult to choose is that with my viewings being somewhat down across the board it was difficult to find a number of actors or filmmakers who jumped up in prominence this past year. Usually, they were known as well. However, with Mickey Rooney’s unfortunate passing I did have cause to post my first In Memoriam in some time and I did feature some of his shorts after the incident, and had seen some earlier titles he appeared in. I still have, and have been meaning to see, many of his Andy Hardy titles sitting around. Then in December he reprised his role in the Night at the Museum series. As always this kind of appearance was bittersweet (particularly as Robin Williams always features prominently in those films also). For Mickey some of the bittersweetness owed to the fact that the lingering effects on his speech of a stroke were apparent. The saving graces were that he did fine and the film very classily and prominently dedicated a title card to them both.

Rooney’s credits are many and I will continue to seek them out, and who knows I may find more that I can share legally here. I hope that seeing his later works will encourage new fans to discover some of his earlier works. Many of them, from varied points in his career, have been with me for quite some time.

Ironically, the first I ever heard of Rooney was through an impersonation of him by Dana Carvey on SNL. Like a lot of impersonations there was some basis in fact for it, much as there was for Mickey to legitimately claim he was once the biggest star in the world. That point can be debated if you like but his impact and longevity may not be matched anytime soon. Therefore, any growth in the appreciation of his work is worthwhile.

“It’s never too late to see a movie.”
-Edgar Wright

BAM Awards: Neutron Star Award Winners

Here you will find a historical list of the honorees of this recently-created award. A neutron star is one that glows more brightly after it “death,” similarly these filmmakers and actors do. It’s a counterpart to the Lifetime Achievement Award which is intended for filmmakers and actors who are very much alive and kicking.

The Neutron Star Award

OK, so what is the Neutron Star Award? As I watched older selections through the year, I was frequently compelled to pick a film based on the fact that Vincent Price was in it. When I was younger I was very actor-oriented, more so than with directors. The fact that an actor had that kind of draw, and was one who is sadly no longer with us, made me think there had to be some kind of way I could honor them.

2019 Gunnar Björnstrand

In my viewing and re-viewing of Bergman films this past year I came to appreciate more fully the actors the he frequently worked with, none more so than Björnstrand who appeared in his works from 1944 to 1983

2018 Ingmar Bergman

While my viewings overall were down, the handful of new-to-me Bergman films I saw thanks to Criterion’s amazing new box set spurred yet another renaissance of my awe for his genius.

2017 Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher’s death in late 2016 was a cruel shock. The tragedy was of course compounded by the fact that her mother Debbie Reynolds died the very next day.

43a6ec7e58867501b7564f47520b7f9b-27145-640x435

Shortly after their deaths HBO released a doc about them that they were producing anyway. I saw Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds shortly after it became available. It was an insightful, touching and bittersweet look at their life together. It underscored the fact that too much about her career didn’t get attention until after the fact. I remember maybe vaguely hearing about her script doctoring once but by the time the fact came up again I couldn’t recall if that was something I ever knew or if it was new information.

And that list of titles is quite good.

306303fa-1e35-48b2-9890-37b97acdd23a

And, of course, after the fact I would find things that either I forgot she was in (Austin Powers International Man of Mystery) or never knew realized was in (When Harry Met Sally…, Hannah and Her Sisters).

carrie-fisher-austin-powers

Then, of course, there was The Last Jedi. Of course, when I went to see it I knew it would be one of the last new films I’d see her in (Wonderwell is slated for release this year) but I didn’t expect Leia’s role to be that much larger than it was previously and that much more epic. In the nominating process I asked myself the hard question: was she included in the nominees only because it was a posthumous honor? Absolutely not.

For those reasons and so many more Carrie Fisher gets the honor this year.

2016 Walter Lantz

One series of viewings I was able to achieve was to watch my Woody Woodpecker box set this year. I always was a fan of that cast of characters, from my childhood, but I had gotten to such a removed perspective from having seen them that I thought it might’ve been mythologized nostalgia.

In finding things about Lantz, those characters (especially the secondary ones), I see that was not the case. There are more out there to find, they should not be overlooked, and I’ll be glad to see them. This man on a smaller scale made a world of characters to take note of. Not just Woody but Andy Panda, Chilly Willy, Wally Walrus, Buzz Buzzard, and others.

2016 Qusai Abtini

aptopix-mideast-syria-child-actor

In a better world I never would’ve learned who Qusai Abtini was, in a better world the show he was one wouldn’t have needed to exist. However, it also shows the power of the arts as escapism, even when the comedy is very close-to-home.

Abtini starred in Um Abdou Aleppan, a sitcom started in 2014 in Aleppo’s rebel section, the first production to start as so:

A Syrian sitcom which takes place in one of the historic stone houses in the old city of Aleppo and in which all the roles are played by children has lost one of its stars this month: a tragic reality that has intruded on the innocence of the show. A 14-year-old boy Qusai Abtini, was killed when a missile struck the car he was in as he tried to escape Aleppo. Fresh-faced with a toothy grin and thick black hair, Abtini had become a local celebrity. His life and death underscored the suffering of Aleppans. Their city was once the commercial center of Syria with a thriving, unique culture. It has now been torn to pieces by fighting, with whole neighborhoods left in ruin. since the summer of 2012, when Aleppo split into rebel- and government-held districts and the two sides turned on each other, tens of thousands in the city have been killed. 14 year-old Qusai Abtini is now one of the killed.

2015: Dickie Moore

dickie-moore-and-pete-the-pup-from-our-gang-ca1933jpg-1f9eded7279ba808

Here’s one I thought I wasn’t going to hand out this year.

However, even though I knew Dickie Moore from things like The Little Rascals, Oliver Twist, The Word Accuses, Three on a Match, and saw him in a few titles this year; I thought his star couldn’t grow to me – matching the definition of a neutron star – a star bigger after its death. However, after his passing I started to realize he would fit.

Blonde Venus (1932, Paramount)

In April I covered a movie he was in for the Pre-Code Blogathon, Blonde Venus.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (1984, Harper & Row)

For the Summer Reading Classic Film Challenge I covered his book Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, which is a bittersweet-at-best account of the early days of child stardom, which includes the perspective of many young stars (himself included) from the early days of sound when he caught up with them again in the 1980s.

The World Accuses (1934)

Then less than a month later he passed away at the age of 89. One of the better obits I read was this one.

Bogged down with other things I didn’t eulogize him at the time. I believe the one I did for Wes Craven was the only one this year.

There is precedent for the recipient dying in the year he was awarded.

Miss Annie Rooney (1942, RKO)

So, while there will not be Film Discoveries like there was for 2013 (Miss Annie Rooney and The World Accusses) for Moore this year, his TCM homage is taking up much of my DVR with many titles I was hoping to have seen for quite some time.

dickie-moore-435

So 2016 and beyond will likely feature more of his films. No one perfectly captures all of film’s past as they learn to love and fully embrace the art. For as much as you learn and know about technique and production there is a tendentiousness to things, and everyone develops personal favorites and preferences. Some films and people are inarguably greats, or talented if their films don’t happen to reach you on a visceral level.

732288_ori

Despite the fact that he may not have been a Shirley Temple, Mickey Rooney or a Freddie Bartholomew; Dickie Moore is one of my favorites. He was undoubtedly a star in his own right, he was just surrounded by many of them in a crowded system. I look forward to getting to know more of his films that remain with us though he may be gone from this world.

RIP

2014 Honoree

Mickey Rooney

Mickey Rooney and Deanna Durbin

So I thought literally about stars, and being a nerd I confirmed that a neutron star fits the definition of a star that has gone out but glows more brightly after its passing.

Mickey-Rooney-and-Judy-Garland-Andy-Hardy-Meets-Debutante-1940

This one was not easy to figure out. Much of the reason this award proved difficult to choose is that with my viewings being somewhat down across the board it was difficult to find a number of actors or filmmakers who jumped up in prominence this past year. Usually, they were known as well. However, with Mickey Rooney’s unfortunate passing I did have cause to post my first In Memoriam in some time and I did feature some of his shorts after the incident, and had seen some earlier titles he appeared in. I still have, and have been meaning to see, many of his Andy Hardy titles sitting around. Then in December he reprised his role in the Night at the Museum series. As always this kind of appearance was bittersweet (particularly as Robin Williams always features prominently in those films also). For Mickey some of the bittersweetness owed to the fact that the lingering effects on his speech of a stroke were apparent. The saving graces were that he did fine and the film very classily and prominently dedicated a title card to them both.

Rooney’s credits are many and I will continue to seek them out, and who knows I may find more that I can share legally here. I hope that seeing his later works will encourage new fans to discover some of his earlier works. Many of them, from varied points in his career, have been with me for quite some time.

Ironically, the first I ever heard of Rooney was through an impersonation of him by Dana Carvey on SNL. Like a lot of impersonations there was some basis in fact for it, much as there was for Mickey to legitimately claim he was once the biggest star in the world. That point can be debated if you like but his impact and longevity may not be matched anytime soon. Therefore, any growth in the appreciation of his work is worthwhile.

“It’s never too late to see a movie.”
-Edgar Wright

2013 Honoree

Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Rainer Werner Fassbinder (RWFF)

The award was created last year to recognize an actor, but this year’s winning selection is a slight fudge. However, I don’t feel I’ll be likely to re-define or expand the award any time soon so I’m going to go with it.

Basically, the winner did act in films and did even play leading roles, however, to be completely honest, Rainer Werner Fassbinder is winning this award for his work as a writer and director. Now a bit like Jackie Searl I did have some familiarity with Fassbinder in the past. He made appearances on both my 2011 and 2012 Favorite Older Movies list.

However, 2013 was much more viewing many more appearances and was topped off by my getting both the Region 2 box sets of his films. Granted even those aren’t all his works.

When you see a few things by a director you are responding to individual titles, when you see quite a few you start responding to a voice and Fassbinder’s was a voice I sought to hear speaking repeatedly through 2013, and I’m sure that will continue into the new year. In tandem with this award you should look out for this year’s favorites list, which will include his titles; and I may create a subsequent series designed to reflect the year’s winner as I have with other body-of-work awards in the past.

Fassbinder had a knack, in standard feature-length dramas, making the first forty minutes impossibly gripping over and over, of also creating approachable density and magnetic melancholy, and it’s why I sought to come back to his works many times over last year and why he is the recipient of this award.

2012 Honoree

Vincent Price

Vincent Price
As tends to be the case when I’m breaking out a new honor (e.g. The Ingmar Bergman Lifetime Achievement Award or the Robert Downey, Jr. Award for Entertainer of the Year), my initial write-up about it will be fairly short.

OK, so what is the Neutron Star Award? As I watched older selections through the year, I was frequently compelled to pick a film based on the fact that Vincent Price was in it. When I was younger I was very actor-oriented, more so than with directors. The fact that an actor had that kind of draw, and was one who is sadly no longer with us, made me think there had to be some kind of way I could honor them.

So I thought literally about stars, and being a nerd I confirmed that a neutron star fits the definition of a star that has gone out but glows more brightly after its passing.

Which brings me back to Price. If you look at my older films list this year you’ll find Vincent Price all over it. He was not only a talent, and not only elevated works he took part in, but in a way elevated the entire horror genre; in large part because of the horror icons he arguably was the longest-lasting and most identified with it. Christopher Lee, for example, has for years been synonymous with other kinds of films, but once Price got his foothold it was nearly his sole dominion.

I fight Netflix indecisiveness so anyone that great that makes me say “Oh, he’s in it? Good enough for me.” Is certainly worthy of some honor.

I truly like this idea and I hope it acts as another incentive to discover and get to know other actors’ filmographies in the future.

Considerations for the 2013 Neutron Star Award

I want to get back on schedule, folks. Owing to a recent prolonged blackout this is the best thing I could come up with. Originally I didn’t want to list considerations for either Entertainer of the Year Award or Neutron Star Award. The reasoning behind this was that these awards being body of work kind of awards should’ve had their winners be rather apparent. However, owing to previous memory lapses I reconsidered this philosophy.

Therefore, any and all eligible, worthy candidates for either award will be kept on this list. It will be one of the running lists that I update on a biweekly basis.

In essence, This will give those who stand out in these categories their due. For example, last year I felt remiss in not mentioning Matthew McConaughey in my explication for the Entertainer of the Year Award for 2013. In my reasoning behind Samuel L. Jackson’s win I had to talk about his year and how great it was and why Jackson’s superseded it. With this list, at year’s end I will be able to discuss each of the prospective candidates works.

Without further ado, the candidates…

Candidates

Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Coy Watson, Jr.
Louise Fazenda
Jackie Searl

Children in Film Blogathon: Jackie Searl

When by chance I found that Comet Over Hollywood was doing this blogathon there were a number of options I could have selected. Quite frankly, I was a little late in noticing that it existed so some good options that I also would have liked to have covered were taken. However, I don’t regret it because whenever possible I like to go a bit outside the norm. And choosing to discuss Jackie Searl (or Searle as he was occasionally credited) does that. The first thing that sets the selection apart is that he was rarely a leading player, more often he played in support.

However, this year, somewhat in the spirit of my Neutron Star Award, I’ve had chance to find not only more range in his performances but also a rare early lead. While Jackie had a long career as a character actor after a hiatus that allowed him to transition in the age range, he was frequently cast to his type. Yes, films type actors young and old alike.

Realizing his range did hearken me back to something I heard Jack Lemmon say back on Inside the Actor’s Studio. He was recalling a conversation wherein he complained to his agent about the kinds of roles he was getting and being offered. “But I can do Shakespeare,” he protested. His agent responded simply and calmly “Yes, Jack, but other people are better at it.” That’s not to say actors shouldn’t take risks and directors haven’t done great things when casting against type, but typing happens for a reason and it’s usually because said actor is inordinately good at a particular task. With Searl, in his younger days, he was not only usually a heavy, a villain, but he had an innate ability to come off as smug and detestable, which is quite a higher calling than simply playing a villain.

Gentle Julia (1936, Fox)

What reminded me of the the Lemmon story was when I saw him in earlier roles in Poverty Row titles. One in particular, which may go down as one of my favorite new discoveries of the year is Hearts of Humanity. Here he plays the affected child, suddenly orphaned, new to the States, who is the honorable one, who sets the example for his wayward, newly-adopted brother and sacrifices himself for him. The only thing off about him at all is his Irish accent, but that wasn’t uncommon back then. Not that Searl wasn’t adept at an accent. In fact, before I decided to do this focus on him I thought his playing American was putting on an accent not when he was playing British, which he did often.

So in that film, and in other titles like One Year Later and High Gear, all of a sudden there was this complete other side to him. Granted the writing, such that it was, made him obviously perceived as a likable character, but he pulls it off with ease. Many mature, trained actors have issues not only shaking their persona but their perception. Searl was the pre-eminant, go-to jerk of the young actor set around this time (the early-to-mid-1930s). But playing the good kid was his “Shakespeare;” he was good at it but he was so much better at engendering an audience’s antipathy that he got those roles more often then not when the studio films came his way.

Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936, Selznick)

Peck’s Bad Boy is another film wherein you see him in his more usual mold, whereas Jackie Cooper, being the lead is a more rounded character and has justifications for his actions; he’s merely antagonistic. In fact, in one of his first appearances, The Sins of the Children, his type was set as his sole purpose in playing the younger version of one of the main characters was to be bratty. Slightly different from those two, but still on the unlikable end of the spectrum, was his turn as the doltish false claimant to the title in Little Lord Fauntleroy.

No Greater Glory (1934, MGM)

Of the films of his I’ve seen thus far he had one role of significant size that had an arc, and change of heart. In No Greater Glory he starts off in the vein you most often saw him: officious, haughty and bothersome. As events transpire, however, he softens. The maturation of the characters, as well as the message conveyed are among the things that make that particular film so powerful. That same year saw the release of A Wicked Woman, which implemented well his ability to cry and allowed him to play the victim. As he grew, parts that allowed him to show both sides of his ability came more frequently. In Little Tough Guy he does end up being a slimy type, but if you didn’t know who he was you’d buy the nice, rich kid act he pulls through the first few scenes, but slowly and surely he shows his character’s true colors. It may not be his most impressive turn, but there’s a confident ease to all he does that stands as a harbinger of the long-lasting ability to do character work that he found later on.

The generation of young actors that graced the silver screen when sound was in its infancy was perhaps one of the deepest in movie history. If you follow the trajectory of a lot young performers, many of whom were usually relegated to supporting roles, you could really see just how gifted a lot of these actors are – the fact that a talent like Searl’s was usually utilized as a supplement is testament to that, but it does not make his work any less effective or memorable.