Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The 1964 Finalists!

Two months and 52 films we are: The finalists for the 1964 Hollmann Awards. Some caveats before we begin: there were nineteen original screenplay contenders that I whittled down to fifteen, so...I guess it's not that representative of a group. And as for special effects, I had to keep it down to seven finalists, what with the limited number of contenders there. And I won't be separating the crafts into color/black-and-white, which may seem unfair for cinematography (advantage: B&W) and costume (advantage: color), but you have to kill your darlings. It's the right thing to do.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Last Laugh: Best Picture, 1964

So it's all come down to this, has it? We are finally here, at the nominees for Best Picture. I have to commend the Academy on this one. All five of the films here are legendary, and deservedly so. It's a strong crop, probably the strongest group of nominees besides Art Direction - Color. True, I wasn't crazy for Zorba, but I can still respect it, you know? I have to say, though, I was not expecting it to come down to the movies it's come down to. Perhaps you realized it already, but I...I'm surprised. And I'm sure I'll be surprised by my final decision, too.

Once again, I have illustrated the contenders with my favorite scenes/moments. Enjoy.

The martyr came on horseback

One of my great surprises with this project came rather early: it was the first film I watched. And man, did it ever deliver. This dramatization of the friendship between Henry II and Thomas a Becket only has a general idea of the events, but I'll take a finely-crafted, well-told narrative over the truth any day (see also my adoration of Public Enemies). I'm always impressed by period pieces that seem fresh, exciting and still-pertinent; in Becket, much of the dramatic tension derives from the struggle between church and state. The actors are at the top of their game, starting with Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole in the lead roles. I rarely expect a period drama based on a play to excite me so with its shot design, but Becket certainly moved me in this regard. Oh, and it's fun. But then, with Burton and O'Toole in the leads, you must have known that.

About fluoridation....
Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

This fourth viewing finally confirmed a number of points for me. It's both hilariously absurd and scarily real, a testament to the strengths of script and direction. That said, it's pretty uneven -- the plane scenes get tedious sometimes, George C. Scott's scenery-chewing actually takes away from a lot of the comedy, Dr. Strangelove is just bizarre. Still, the fact that Strangelove, President Merkin Muffley and Group Captain Lionel Mandrake are all Peter Sellers just gets more impressive and impossible with each viewing. The contributions of cinematographer Gilbert Taylor and art director Ken Adam cannot be praised enough.

Go fly a kite
Mary Poppins

I wish more movies could provide the wonderful balance Mary Poppins does. There's a time for fun, and a time for seriousness; you gotta loosen up, but you can't shirk responsibilities; Mr. Banks is too strict, but his children are too unfocused. Ok, so it has its heart and mind in the right place, but there's so much more: wonderful songs, brilliant effects that still impress, a game cast that delivers, watchable child actors! The fact that the whole thing was shot indoors -- on a soundstage! -- amazes me, constantly. I mean, really: this has a more perfect sunset shot than most outdoor films! Well, now that I think about it, that makes sense, since they could control it, but let's not allow that to distract from my main point: the Poppins. Wow.

The flower-girl reborn
My Fair Lady

I. LOVE. THIS. MOVIE. Always have, always will. Look, I'll try to remain as unbiased as possible, but this is one of my all-time favorites, hands-down. It's gorgeously designed and fantastically acted. Yeah, it gets a little draggy, and those "outdoor" sequences are clearly on a soundstage (if only they had the matte painters of Mary Poppins!), and no matter how amusing Stanley Holloway's Alfie Doolittle is, his scenes are rather distracting and random. But are these not small prices to pay in return for the great triumvirate of Harrison/Hepburn/Hyde-White? For the Ascot Gavotte? For that Embassy Ball sequence, wherein Hepburn and the music are at their most beautiful? The film sends me in a way only a few others send me.

The dance
Zorba the Greek

I don't want to say I was disappointed, but I didn't love it. I don't have to love everything, and I know it's especially difficult when a film is as melancholy as this one, but I do wish I liked this movie more. Even more of a shame: I don't know why I feel such an emotional distance, since everything is well-done. It deserves all the praise it's received in its crafts, its direction, its acting. Perhaps it's my feeling that the savagery happens too suddenly. Perhaps it's my reluctance to accept the character of Basil, the colorless English gent who remains limp until the last scene. Maybe I just couldn't gel with Zorba. Whatever the reason, I just wasn't buying what they were selling.


Oscar loved itself some My Fair Lady...and I find myself torn between it and Mary Poppins. Both have equally great performances, scripts (even if My Fair Lady is just the stage's a damn good one), costumes, cinematography. My Fair Lady has better costumes and songs, but Mary Poppins is better-directed with better sets. The heart wants what it wants, so...what does it want? I refuse to declare a tie, that's for sure, but it's so tempting. Ok, bite the bullet. The Oscar goes to...

why yes, indeed, you did it, you did it, you did it

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Singin', Screwin', Seancin': Actress, 1964

I am so excited to have finally finally FINALLY gotten a hold of Seance on a Wet Afternoon so that I could finish this! Thanks to my roommate, whose recent decision to get Hulu Plus put the movie right in our laps. Or on our television screen. Or, you know, whatever.

Mais first, a little chat about this category, because I do love this category so. One of the most famous tales told of this year is how Audrey Hepburn, star of Best Picture winner My Fair Lady, lost in a shocker to Julie Andrews for Mary Poppins. Of course, like many legends, it's one steeped in a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings. For one thing, Hepburn wasn't even nominated. For another, while the film was a hit, Hepburn and many critics felt that she was dreadfully miscast in the role -- she was already 33 when cast as 21-year-old Eliza Doolittle, and her howling, screeching performance in the first half embarrassed her (she's very wrong, it's one of her best performances because it's so opposite her usual usual). Of course, we must also remember that Andrews created the role in London and on Broadway, and there was a lot of bad feeling when Warner Bros. didn't even audition her for the film. Sympathy for Andrews, ambivalence towards Hepburn, and the qaulity of Mary Poppins itself led to one of the most legendary Oscar wins in history.

But then there are four other nominees: Sophia Loren in the Italian-language Marriage Italian Style, a wonderful comedy that loses steam in its final third; Anne Bancroft in the English character study The Pumpkin Eater, Andrews' main competition for the prize; Debbie Reynolds in the movie-musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown; and American theatre legend Kim Stanley in the independent suspense drama Seance on a Wet Afternoon, a performance as highly-acclaimed today as it was then. And the end, there's only one thing that matters in these blog posts...after your own reactions of course. And that is: what does Walter think of it all?

Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins 

Andrews really is "practically perfect in every way". Her characterization of Mary is sweet without being nauseating, somewhat impish, surprisingly stern, a lot of fun. The way she just waltzes in and takes control as though she were lady of the manor is amusing and telling -- she may be a magical, mischievous nanny, but she is the boss. I love the way she resists Bert's suggestions of frivolity, only to give in and be the happier for it. Andrews also has to show affection for both Bert and the children without outright stating it, and you can see this subtly done in a number of scenes, most notably in the entire chalk sequence and "Stay Awake". Good thing, too, because otherwise that ending with the umbrella is meaningless.

Anne Bancroft in The Pumpkin Eater

The film has a promising screenplay and great performances from Peter Finch and James Mason. I give it that. I suppose I can also see where Anne Bancroft's performance as a self-destructive baby factory (how many fucking kids does she have? 23?) could be called subtle. But I would call it anemic and repetitive. Admittedly, the promise in the script does not extend to the characterization of its lead, so Bancroft is only called to run through the gamut of jealousy and anxiety over and over and over and over.... Couldn't she at least change up the expression once in a while? She's quite effective in the beginning, in scenes with Maggie Smith, at the party, and with James Mason. If only there was more!

Sophia Loren in Marriage Italian Style

Whoa, whoa, whoa! Such a funny, sexy, complex performance I did not expect! Loren is obsessively in love with caddish Marcello Mastroianni, who's kept her as his mistress for twenty years. She is adorable in the flashbacks, heartbreaking in the present, and unbelievably beautiful throughout. Ah, but she is also not afraid to grey it up, go without makeup, age herself as her character ages. As she lays dying at the film's beginning, you've never seen such a sad, sickly creature in your life. The script gets repetitive in the last third, insisting she intone again and again, "You will never know." It's to Loren's credit that she can vary it as much as she does. What an incredible performance!

Debbie Reynolds in The Unsinkable Molly Brown

The film chronicles Molly Brown's rise from ill-mannered mountain girl to toast of the town/survivor of the Titanic. Reynolds illustrates this change by giving us two Molly Browns: a screeching banshee that should have been drowned at birth, and a refined lady with emotions (!) subtly conveyed (!!). If you can get past that first act -- and if Harve Presnell managed it, so can you -- you'll be rewarded with a not-too-shabby performance in an all right film. It's not earth-shattering, but she gets the job done.

Kim Stanley in Seance on a Wet Afternoon

One of those terrifying performances so disturbingly layered you can't separate the person from the performance. Stanley is Myra Savage, a psychic who so believes in her powers but is unsatisfied with her modest, weekly seance circle with the same gullible old biddies. She hatches a plan to kidnap a child and use her "psychic" powers to aid the police, insisting the whole time to her weak husband that the plan is actually the mysterious Arthur's. And Stanley plays this terrifying woman with such conviction that you believe the filmmakers have caught a madwoman on film. Myra believes completely in her brilliance and abilities, knowing she's far too smart to get caught or make a mistake. Stanley uses a soft, childlike tone as Myra, which already makes her sound like a screw loose. Then the way she suddenly takes charge of a situation with her eyes is intimidating. And, of course, the final seance scene is masterful, one that makes you question sanity, reality and the supernatural. Bizarre and brilliant.


Um, I know this is rare, unheard-of Oscar trivia, but did you know that Julie Andrews won the Academy Award? Just checking. Of course, I love The Poppins to bits, but I must say I'm tempted by another....and so it is that I award the Oscar to:

crazy, creepy, and all too human

Why Can't I Live There: Art Direction, 1964 - Part 2

We're winding down with only three categories to go! And have you ever seen technicals given so close to Best Picture? Only at the Silver Screening Room, folks, where we love you no matter what you do. Let's leave the flouncey, flowery speeches for writing awards, though, because this category's all about the visual spectacle -- IN COLOR!


John Bryan, production designer
Maurice Carter, art director
Robert Cartwright/Patrick McLoughlin, set decorators

The dark chambers of old are brought to dank life by this talented group. They don't try to glamorize the time, but instead get every exact period detail just so. It's sparse yet effective.


 Carroll Clarke/William H. Tuntke, art directors
Hal Gausman/Emile Kuri, set decorators

From a messy children's room to a British bank to the rooftops of London to the street outside, everything is meticulously created on a soundstage by the Disney builders. Admiral Boom's ship-shape home, the changing of seasons, the terrifying alleyways...such a superb attention to detail in every scene!


 Cecil Beaton, production designer
Gene Allen, art director
George James Hopkins, set decorator

The sets for Higgin's house, his street, his mother's house, the freeking Embassy Ball - excellent! I do think it's quite apparent that the outdoor scenes are on a soundstage, though, since much of the set dressing is not as detailed, and "all" the buildings look exactly the same. Shame, that. Still, quite a good job on the whole.


 Preston Ames/George W. Davis, art directors
Henry Grace/Hugh Hunt, set decorators

It's certainly done right! From the ramshackle cabins to the garish red mansion, the path from rags to riches relies on Debbie Reynolds, the costumers...and the art directors. They do a wonderful job, really, especially in differentiating the styles between nouveau riche and anciens. The Titanic is clearly a set, and that's the fakest iceberg I've ever seen, but why quibble over one or two shots when we've got that wonderful mansion?


Ted Haworth/Jack Martin Smith, art directors
Stuart A. Reiss/Walter M. Scott, set decorators

Nothing about this film is real, so just relax and enjoy the fantasy. These sets are meant to be SETS, and they clearly had a lot of fun here. Silent film shacks, nouvelle vague lofts, Sirkian mansions, art deco psychiatrist offices -- this film has it all and then some.


My Fair Lady won the Oscar, as it was performing a sweep. But friends, much as I love the film, there's another what ought to get the kudos. 

oh my God, they built that on a soundstage?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

This Silver is Gold: Cinematography, 1964 - Part Two

Some movies refuse to be seen. I caught the last fifteen minutes of Fate is the Hunter months and months ago on Turner Classic Movies, and since then I've searched for it in vain. I don't order from Amazon, I get my movies from the library, Netflix or YouTube -- money and all that. But sometimes you just got to admit defeat, and Fate is the Hunter has bested me in this regard. I won't judge an entire film's cinematography based on the fifteen minutes I saw, but the show must go on. Because of this, you'll find only four of the nominees rated here, and one abstention.

But, hey -- look how gorgeous the rest of these films are! This is, after all, the Black-and-White Cinematography category. Let the beauty wash over you...


 Philip H. Lathrop, director of photography
Really, except for these stills from the film's climax, I didn't find the work all that remarkable or challenging. Still, what's done is done well, and the film is great, besides.


Milton R. Krasner, director of photography


 Joseph F. Biroc, director of photography
Those shadows and candles and silhouettes provide much of the creep factor of Charlotte. Biroc works real magic with this horror piece. God, I love that shot above with Charlotte in light and her cousin (that "vile, sorry little bitch") in shadow. Even when we cut to her coverage, Miriam is still a little...shady? Shall we say?


Gabriel Figueroa, director of photography
By day, it is so bright that you feel the heat, the sun and the sand. By night, the moon provides the only illumination as Burton and Kerr engage in some serious soul-searching...and Gardner in some serious sex-dancing. It's so so so so gorgeous.


Walter Lassally, director of photography
Goddam I love the technicals of this film. Look at that. It's moody, it's beautiful, it's its own story. The conspirators in shadow, the heroes in light. It's cinematography with meaning, man.


Lassally won the Oscar. Of course he won the Oscar. Not only was his a Best Pic nominee but..I mean..look at that. Still, you know that my heart belongs to another.

 so sensual

Monday, August 15, 2011

From the Brain to the Screen: Original Screenplay, 1964

Apologies for my absence and the long delay of my 1964 project. I'm keeping quite busy in my new hometown: filming in the desert, sprucing up a production office for a day, figuring out my neighborhood. It's all fantastic and fun, of course -- and I can't believe it's already been a month! -- but it do take time. Then, too, it's proving mighty difficult to find all the nominees from 1964, as many were never distributed for home viewing. Fortunately, I have friends like my roommates and The Oscar Completist who show me where I can get the hard-to-find. It is thanks especially to the latter that I can continue this project with the Original Screenplay category.

It's an interesting category this year, too, since the majority of the films here have been forgotten. I'd never heard of The Organizer, One Potato, Two Potato, Father Goose or That Man from Rio before I started this project, and only Goose and A Hard Day's Night saw nominations in other categories. Comedy dominates, with only one drama -- a look at an interracial marriage and the resulting custody battle -- getting a nomination. There are two foreign films, a star vehicle, two screwball comedies, an indie, and the Beatles. What a time!

Peter Stone and Frank Tarloff, story by S.H. Barnett, for Father Goose

Just a freeking delight. A boozy American living in the Pacific Islands during World War II is tricked into staying on a lonely island to spot aircraft...only to wind up in charge of a group of schoolgirls and their sexy teacher. You read that synopsis and think "what the what?" yet the film really sells it. The screenplay takes its time with the romance between Father Goose and the teacher, building their relationship with each other -- and the children -- so that the climax is earned instead of rote. A little sexist at times, it at least allows for the idea that both its protagonists are flawed and need to adjust their ways. The dialogue just kills, too. Of course, the delivery by Cary Grant is what really sells it, but you gotta love exchanges like: "You stepped on my foot."/"You put it under mine."

Alun Owen for A Hard Day's Night

Vignettes are interrupted by great tunes, with the main plot thread being a televised concert special that serves as the film's climax (obviously, this was later remade as Spice World). Self-aware, nonsensical, madcap. I ding it a star because a large part of what's on screen is improvised, but Alun Owen did provide a strong framework on which they could build their puns and absurdities. The exchange between John Lennon and Anna Quayle is hilarious, and Paul's grandfather is such a bizarre creation that one must applaud all involved.

Orville H. Hampton and Raphael Hayes for One Potato, Two Potato

A white divorcee falls for and marries a black man; her racist ex-husband arrives to take custody of their daughter. Most of the characters are fully-realized, three-dimensional human beings -- even the ex is given an entire scene to himself where he battles with his conscious and pride. And there's no shying away from an ending that really is powerful and depressing. And they mean well. But while there's plenty of time devoted to the romance and the custody battle, not enough time is spent in the in-between. If the entire thing is framed by the idea that the interracial home is a healthier environment for the child than what her birth-father can provide, shouldn't we actually get to see her in that home? More time could be devoted to the characters as a couple instead of a symbol; see, while most of the characters are fully-realized, three-dimensional human beings...the leads are not! It could have been so much more...

Mario Monicelli and Age & Scarpelli for The Organizer

An engaging, angry, surprisingly funny ensemble film about a professor who organizes the mistreated workers of a textile factory. I felt like I came to know and love everyone at the factory, from fat Pautasso to mannish Cesarina to beautiful Bianca to the child whose name escapes me but who is the real heart of the picture. There is a fantastic scene in which he beats his little brother for doing poorly in school, chastising him for not bettering himself so that he can escape the dead-end factory life. I love the moments of lightheartedness that allow us to believe in these people as people, ones who have worked and lived together for decades. There is a true camaraderie, even when some of them disappoint and betray the cause. It's a beautiful film.

Daniel Boulanger, Philippe de Broca, Ariane Mnouchkine and Jean-Paul Rappeneau for That Man from Rio

I'm going to hazard a guess that a lot was lost in translation. This tedious, unfunny French film, a precursor to the Indiana Jones and Joan Wilder films, follows a man as he tracks his fiancee's kidnappers to Rio, where idols, curses, gangsters and other stuff all come into play. The screenplay never shies away from the unpleasantness of its lead characters, clearly cynical about these adventure "heroes" of old. Still, it's an idea that I don't think is fully developed, especially since the film frequently goes from light-hearted romp to full-on zaniness without warning (he chases speeding cars on foot...twice). The indecision as to tone negatively effects a promising story, leaving us with a sketchy ideas ploddingly executed.


Father Goose won the Oscar this year -- deservedly so. I have to say, when it came to winners, they chose well this year. It helps that so much of '64's cinematic landscape was...lacking. Anyway, even though I love Father Goose, I will hand the trophy over to someone else entirely.

you can be socially conscious and funny!