About Silent Movies #6: Kinetoscope, Vitaphone, Part-Talkie…. huh?

Today over at Movies, Silently there’s a very nice overview of early cinema with focus on eras and technologies. I particularly like the gallery of frames from tinted films.

Movies Silently


Let’s talk a little bit about the terms that are bandied about silent film circles. This is just a brief overview, nothing too heavy. I will probably write some more in-depth articles later but I wanted to provide a handy glossary for readers who may be new to silent film viewing. Here are some important terms:

Time Periods:

These are just generalizations used for easy reference. No two film historians seem to agree on what exact dates these eras began or ended. I like the dates used by the University of California Press’s History of the American Cinema series and they are the ones I borrow for my writing.

Early Cinema (Invention-1907)

There is debate over just what can be considered the first motion picture. (You may have noticed that film historians cannot agree on anything.) Here are the facts: The Lumiere brothers showed a projected film to a paying…

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György Lukács, Creator of the Star Wars Franchise

J.W. McCormack on a film adaptation of Roberto Bolaño’s 2666:

In fact, the blockbuster potential of 2666 should be obvious to any reader who has braved its something-like-900-page-length. It is manifestly what György Lukács, creator of the Star Wars franchise, called “the epic of an age in which the extensive totality of life is no longer directly given…yet which still thinks in terms of totality.”

To read more, click here.

A Letter Addressed to Those I Love (about J.C. Hallman)

Author and 2013 Guggenheim fellow J.C. Hallman will be reading from Wm & H’ry: Literature, Love and the Letters between William and Henry James at Magers and Quinn at 7:30 tonight (4/23/13).

From the introduction of the book:

[Emerson] was most fond of letters addressed “to anyone whom I love.”

Emerson’s longing for intimate letters offers a clear contrast to modern “correspondence,” such that it is. The infection of monotone prose appears to have grown only more virulent, more gangrenous, and whatever we write these days, be it letters, or memos, or blogs, either electronic or “hard,” is not addressed to those whom we love–rather, it is ‘released’ to whomever it may concern.

I think that’s why I began to feel as though Wm’s letters were addressed to me: because no other letters were addressed to me.

And here I go, releasing this on a blog, but I love you all. (Can’t you tell from my prose?)

If you want to hear Hallman read from the book this quote is taken from, be at Mager’s and Quinn tonight at 7:30.

Also, the book is a beautiful thing.


A Neighborhood Joint

Every time I eat at Fat Lorenzo’s in Minneapolis, I wonder what it would be like to live within walking distance. Apparently, I would stand a good chance of working there.

From a 2008 interview with Scott Siegel in City Pages:

My favorite place in the Twin Cities is Mancini’s. When you walk in, they just about wrap their arms around you. If that isn’t hospitality, what is? And then they back it up with really good steaks for pretty cheap. And you walk in there on a Friday night…and it’s crazy. The family is walking around the place. They’re not changing what they do now that dad died. They’re walking around the place… “Bring him a cocktail! Hi, how ya doin’!”

They’re bigger than us, but I perceive what we’ve evolved into…is we are absolutely a neighborhood joint. I love that part. And Lorenzo would tell you, that’s perfect. He made joints. Whitey’s was a saloon. This is the same. …

(A departing employee reaches over the table, shakes Scott’s hand, says, “See you on Wednesday.”)

…The guy who just shook my hand… he lives two doors down. He’s worked here five years. The girl on the other side [of some booths], rustling paper—lives five houses down. Two more of ’em live within a block. I only hire people who live close or come with a recommendation from the staff. The focus is to give back to the neighborhood, in compensation for what they’ve done for us.

I love this guy’s ethos. And I love his pizza. If you live in the Twin Cities and haven’t eaten at Fat Lorenzo’s, get wise to yourself and get in there already.

If you want more info about Fat Lorenzo’s, here’s a great review over at Minneapolites.

I Am the Last Omega Man on Earth

In her current blog series, “10 Days, 10 Expiring Movies,” Britta Moline reviews the 1964 Vincent Price vehicle, The Last Man on Earth:

…Last Man [on Earth] is a shockingly effective sixties thriller. The visuals, for one, range from the fascinating (Price in a room of mirrors, selecting a handful to hang on his front door) to the disturbing (a silent, empty city, littered with corpses that Price drives casually over). …

The Last Man on Earth is a grim, enjoyable tale, a granddaddy of both zombie and vampire stories. With striking visuals and the always-enjoyable Price, Last Man is definitely one to get in before it’s gone on Instant.

The screenplay for The Last Man on Earth was co-written by Richard Matheson, the author of the novel upon which it was based, I Am Legend. (The novel also inspired The Omega Man, a zany Charlton Heston film, and the less said about the 2007 version of I Am Legend, the better.) Apparently Matheson was dissatisfied with the result of Last Man and is credited as “Logan Swanson” in the film. But even though it doesn’t hew as close to the original story as I would have liked, it’s still fun to watch because of the presence of Price, one of my favorite vectors of 60s horror.

So I’ll second Britta here, The Last Man on Earth is one to watch before it disappears from Netflix Instant. (Or after it disappears, if you want to watch it on YouTube in HD.)

The Last Man on Earth 1The Last Man on Earth 2The Last Man on Earth 3

I’m a Cozy Conspiracist

Who would have thought the cigar-smoking garage-saler with a shaved head and black combat boots would be a conspiracy theorist?


Last summer I was looking for movies to show in my fall semester film class, so I visited a few garage sales. Early in the day, I scored copies of Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven, The Brothers Grimm, and Miami Vice (great night cinematography), all for a dollar each. (When I got my course evaluations back, I found out that for many of my students Ocean’s Eleven wound up being the only good film I showed all semester. And who knew they would hate Stalker so passionately?)

After combing though acres of baby clothes and flipping through endless permutations of The Land Before Time on VHS, I found a sale in St. Paul which promised DVDs.

When I walked up to the house, I passed a man in a tight black t-shirt, black pants, and black boots. His head was freshly shaved, his goatee well-groomed, and his cigar was smoked with precision. His whole appearance was so trim and disciplined that his cigar seemed less like a bad habit and more like a purposeful statement. I wondered whether he was a bored husband, a smoky loiterer, or the neighborhood watchman.

On the sidewalk in front of the house stood a woman with a baby in a stroller. She was talking with another woman who poked among the flotsam of life that covered the porch, poured down the front stairs, flowed across the yard, skipped the sidewalk, and picked up again on the grassy strip on the other side.

I found a shelf of DVDs right away, but what attracted my eye were the burned CD-Rs of Alex Jones’s radio shows on a blanket beside scores of wooden cigar boxes ($5/ea.) Near the CD-Rs were books about WMDs and NWOs and inside jobs and how much did Bush know and is Obama a Muslim and so on and so forth.

When I finally edged up to the militant-looking garage-saler (so that’s what he’s doing here) with Peter Hyams’ 1977 conspiracy thriller about a faked NASA mission to Mars, Capricorn One (starring James Brolin and Elliot Gould!), he made a comment about what a great movie it was, and I told him that I’d just watched Hyams’ 2010: The Year We Make Contact a few days before and was interested in seeing more of his work. He squinted at me and wanted to know if I, you know, went in for conspiracies. Taken aback, I said that they made for good entertainment, realizing after the words had left my mouth that I was devaluing an important part of his life. I wish I’d said yes and struck up a conversation. I could have been inducted into the St. Paul Prison Planet Society or something.

I know it sounds like I’m making fun, but you should have heard the way he sounded when he asked if I liked conspiracy theories. He wasn’t paranoid or crazed or fearful, just interested in meeting a fellow enthusiast. Considering how much I enjoyed Capricorn One, I should have just said yes.

Eraserhead vs. Inception

A few weeks ago over at Conversational Reading, Scott Esposito ruminated on the idea of filmic surplus as presented in my essay on Inception in The Quarterly Conversation.

Here’s a bit of my argument from the essay, which juxtaposes the storytelling of Christopher Nolan with the storytelling of David Lynch:

…Nolan is not a student of the David Lynch School of Ambiguous Filmmaking, however. Nolan says that ambiguity in a film “has to come from the inability of the character to know—and the alignment of the audience with that character” and that an ambiguous film “needs to be based on a true interpretation.”

In the piece, I posit that Lynch makes films that he does not completely understand, films which spill over with narrative surplus. I also posit that even though Nolan’s films seem to have no narrative surplus – no unexplained elements – his kind of moviemaking leads to audiences who obsess over films to find out the “truth” they contain. In other words, the films are so over-explained that parts that don’t make sense to the viewer practically vibrate with possibility.

Exhibits #1, #2, and #3:

Riffing on this idea, Scott believes that

We might say that films can be broadly divided into two types: films like David Lynch’s, where the source of the surplus comes from the fact that the rules the film operates on are opaque; and films like Nolan’s, where the surplus comes from the fact of the film being cleverly made to leave you with a conundrum.

While I would agree with this assessment on the whole, I would argue that the “rules” of a David Lynch film are less opaque than oneiric. That is, they are based in dream logic. It’s not so much that David Lynch is hiding the rules but that there are no rules.

And so it would never occur to a viewer to make a diagram of Eraserhead; why would you diagram a dream? And while a diagram of the plot of Twin Peaks might be in order, just to keep track of characters and developments, it would be a labor of love rather than a search for the ultimate meaning of the series.

In the end, Scott prefers Lynchian films over Nolanesque ones:

I suppose, on the whole, I’m more keen on films like Lynch’s than Nolan’s, mainly because the latter tend to reduce themselves to an either/or equation: either Leonardo DiCaprio is dreaming at the end of the film or he’s not. It’s an interesting question, but to my eyes it’s not nearly so interesting as a question like, What the f–k kind of reality do the characters in Eraserhead live in?

On one level, I agree with Scott’s sentiment. Eraserhead is the more engaging film because of how enigmatic it is. I remember watching it in the dark with my friend Jon on his 50-inch plasma. The images on the screen filled us with horror, loathing, pity, fear, and more than little curiosity. But when it comes writing creative criticism from within the world of a film, I have a hunch that the ones with a lot of rules provide a better footing.

I wonder what a creative criticism piece on Eraserhead would look like?

What do you think?