Friday, December 31, 2010

Okay, So This Is The Last Post Of 2010

Matthew Blanchette steered me to an even earlier surviving film from Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince than the one I've previously mentioned, Roundhay Garden Scene. This one is called Man Walking Around A Corner and it dates from 1887 or 1888. Thanks, Matthew! It was shot on an earlier version of Le Prince's camera, this one with sixteen separate lenses. Looks more like a spider's eye than a camera, don't you think?

I've added this note as a postscript to my original essay, but what are the chances you comb through old blog posts looking for updates, right?

Anyway, here's the film. Oh, and check out Matthew's blog, A Day In The Life, while you're at it.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ten Posts So Good, I Wish I'd Written Them Myself (Oh, Wait—I Did!)

I was going to put together my list of the ten best movies of 2010, but I think I only saw two, and one of them, Hot Tub Time Machine, is such a shoo-in for the Oscar this year I thought why bother.

Instead, in the spirit of pure narcissism—and because I'm still working on my marathon essay on the years 1906-1914 and have nothing else to post—here are the ten subjects I most enjoyed writing about in 2010 (click on the highlighted link to read the original post):

10. Helen Chandler

She was an actress in the early days of sound best remembered now for getting her neck bitten in Bela Lugosi's Dracula. But I love her for uttering my favorite line of dialogue from the World War I flying ace movie, The Last Flight:

"What are you changing your shoes for?"

"On account of I can walk faster in red shoes."

9. Norma Shearer
It's fun—occasionally—to admit you're wrong and when I picked Norma Shearer as the best actress of 1931-32 for her performance in the comedy Private Lives, I had to admit I had been wrong in dismissing her so quickly in the past.

8. Ham Actors
You remember that Oscar ceremony where Wallace Beery beat John Barrymore around the head and shoulders with a rotary dial telephone? You don't? Well, it happened, at least here at the Monkey.

7. Movie Lists
I think I once vowed never to do a list—so, of course, this year I did two. Or three, counting this one.

6. The Aging Of Greta Garbo
But for an anomalous couple of weeks when somebody's droid app led to 3500 hits a day on my post about Popeye the Sailor, this post—a chronological series of photographs of Greta Garbo, ranging from childhood to old age—is the most popular one I've ever written.

5. Anita Page
Did you ever fall in love with a hundred year old dead actress you're not married to? You did? What are you, some kind of freak?

4. Leave It To Beaver In Japanese
Actually, I mean Yasujiro Ozu's classic comedy I Was Born, But ..., the story of a couple of mischievous boys who discover their dad is a middle management toady who survives as the butt of his boss's jokes. Why? "He pays my salary."

"Then don't let him pay you," his son says.

"Yeah!" the little brother adds with the implacable logic of a six year old. "You pay him instead!"

And you wonder why I blog for a living.

3. Jean Harlow
Seriously, I need to explain this?

2. Very, very old movies
I still say a rocket hitting the moon in the eye is one of the greatest images in the history of movies.

1. The Marx Brothers
Only a fool would write an eight-part, 12,000 word essay and not claim it as his favorite post of the year. Well, the Monkey may be crazy, but he's no fool.

Suspense (1913)

Here's another artifact I've brought back from my sojourn into early film. The plot of the 10-minute short Suspense—an intruder menaces a lone woman while her savior rides to the rescue—was already a cliche by 1913 (so much so that an early Keystone Kop comedy that year featured a spoof of both it and such D.W. Griffith's two-reelers as The Lonedale Operator that has used the same storyline).

Suspense is notable, however, for a couple of reasons. First is its imaginative use of the camera—split-screen, overhead shots, tracking and extreme close-ups (witness the two stills from the movie). The second is that it is the work of Lois Weber, the first really successful American woman director.

Rumor has it this and other works of Lois Weber will be coming out on DVD next year. In the meantime, check it out:

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

As For Me

Meanwhile, for those of you wondering what's become of me, I'm still watching movies in preparation for my essay "1906-1914: The Birth Of The Feature Film." One hundred seventeen (117) of them so far and counting. Okay, so most of them are ten minutes long, but still! The effort will be worth it, I promise.

Here's a taste, The Musketeers Of Pig Alley, the world's first gangster movie:

Tomorrow Is Alec Guinness Night On TCM

If when you think of Alec Guinness, you think only of Star Wars, boy, are you in for a treat tomorrow night. Guinness, as the rest of you know, was actually one of the foremost comedic actors of the 1940s and 1950s and Turner Classic Movies is showing four of his best, The Lavender Hill Mob, The Man In The White Suit, The Ladykillers and Kind Hearts And Coronets.

There's also a documentary about the Ealing Studios where so many of these great British comedies were made.

Here's the schedule for December 29, 2010, from TCM's website. All times are Eastern Standard Time. Check it out. These carry Katie-Bar-The-Door's highest recommendation and she wouldn't steer you wrong.

8:00pm [Crime] Lavender Hill Mob, The (1951)
An overlooked gold transporter with twenty years service plots to steal a million pounds of gold.
Cast: Alec Guinness, Stanley Holloway, Sidney James, Alfie Bass Dir: Charles Crichton BW-81 mins

9:30pm [Documentary] Forever Ealing (2002)
A documentary that explores the history and influence of England's Ealing Studios.
Cast: Jill Balcon, Googie Withers, Derek Bond I, Rupert Everett Dir: Andrew Snell BW-50 mins

10:30pm [Comedy] Man in the White Suit, The (1951)
A young inventor threatens the business world when he creates a cloth that can't tear or wear out.
Cast: Alec Guinness, Joan Greenwood, Cecil Parker, Michael Gough Dir: Alexander Mackendrick BW-85 mins

12:00am [Crime] Ladykillers, The (1955)
An eccentric bandit gang moves into a little old lady's boardinghouse to plot a major heist.
Cast: Alec Guinness, Cecil Parker, Herbert Lom, Peter Sellers Dir: Alexander Mackendrick BW-91 mins

1:45am [Comedy] Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
An ambitious young man sets out to kill everyone who stands between him and a fortune.
Cast: Alec Guinness, Dennis Price, Joan Greenwood, Valerie Hobson Dir: Robert Hamer BW-106 mins

Friday, December 24, 2010

Seasons Greetings ...

... from Katie-Bar-The-Door and the Mythical Monkey.

Postscript: For those of you who've been around awhile, you may recognize this is a re-gift of last year's Christmas Eve post. How Scrooge-ly of me. And where are the substantive posts you've come to expect from the Monkey? Well, I'm working on it. "1906-1914: The Birth Of The Feature Film." A surprising number of movies from that era are readily available and while watching them, I formed a hypothesis about D.W. Griffith and now I am testing it against the evidence. My friends who have seen me prepare for a court case know I am prone to disappear down this type of rabbit hole from time to time. Nothing to do but wait for me to climb back out of it again.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Movies You May Have Forgotten Are Christmas Movies (A Baker's Dozen)

[Something to tide you over while Katie-Bar-The-Door and I celebrate our wedding anniversary.]

Me, I love Christmas movies—It's A Wonderful Life, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Scrooge (both the 1951 and 1970 versions), Miracle On 34th Street (1947 only), How The Grinch Stole Christmas. And I could watch little Ralphie Parker's quest for an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle (with a compass in the stock!) twenty-four hours a day if only some cable channel would think of it.

But a lot of people don't like Christmas or its movies, and that's okay with me. Here are some alternatives which will allow you to acknowledge the season without succumbing to it:

The Thin Man (1934)
Nick and Nora celebrate the holidays in the company of gangsters, thieves and murderers. It was either that or another Christmas at the in-laws'.

"I'm a hero. I was shot twice in the Tribune."
"I read where you were shot 5 times in the tabloids."
"It's not true. He didn't come anywhere near my tabloids."

Holiday (1938)
Most people think of this as a New Year's Eve movie, and rightly so, but if you do the math, the entire first act takes place on Christmas day. And what a Christmas it is—no tree, no egg nog, no mistletoe, no nothing. No presents, either, unless you care to unwrap a tousle-haired Cary Grant. A romantic comedy as wistful as the season itself, Holiday is my favorite Katharine Hepburn movie.

"When I find myself in a position like this, I ask myself what would General Motors do? And then I do the opposite."

Stalag 17 (1953)
Christmas 1944: Grown men in longjohns dancing with other grown men in longjohns while William Holden searches for the Nazi spy hiding out among American prisoners of war. Sounds like the one miserable semester I spent as a student at an all-boys school.

"All right then, gentlemen, we are all friends again. And with Christmas coming on I have a special treat for you—I'll have you all deloused for the holidays."

An Affair To Remember (1957)
Cary Grant is afraid Deborah Kerr is mad at him, but it turns out she's only paralyzed. Whew!

"My mother told me never to enter a man's room in months ending in 'R.'"

The Apartment (1960)
Suicide, adultery, the boss from hell—what man wouldn't gladly suffer it all to spend Christmas in bed with the young Shirley MacLaine. One of the greatest movies of all time, a not-to-be-missed comedy/drama from director Billy Wilder.

"T'was the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring ... nothin' ... no action ... Dullsville!"

The Lion In Winter (1968)
Kings and castles notwithstanding, this is what Christmas is like for millions of people—bickering, recrimination and endless disappointment. Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn at their snarling best.

"What would you have me do? Give out? Give up? Give in?"
"Give me a little peace."
"A little? Why so modest? How about eternal peace? Now there's a thought."

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
Sure, it stars George Lazenby as James Bond, but it also boasts Diana Rigg, the best Bond girl ever. Holiday connection? Telly Savalas doles out the all-time worst Christmas present—a bio-weapon designed to destroy the world's food supply. What, Best Buy was all out of Wii Bowling?

"This never happened to the other fellow!"

Life Of Brian (1979)
We came oh so close to celebrating Brianmas every 25th of December, until the three wise men realized Jesus was one manger over.

"He's not the Messiah. He's a very naughty boy!"

Trading Places (1983)
Ah, Dan Aykroyd as a drunk, pistol-packing Santa Claus. And he's only, like, the fifth funniest guy in the movie. I don't know about you, but I get hungry for salmon and dirt-matted Santa beard every time I see this movie. Yummy.

"I'll bet you thought I'd forgotten your Christmas bonus. There you are."
"Five dollars. Maybe I'll go to the movies—by myself."

Die Hard (1988)
Man, that's some Christmas party—Bruce Willis shoots a dozen men, drops another out a 40th floor window and blows up a building. Good thing he's a cop!

"Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho."

L.A. Confidential (1997)
Ironically, the "Bloody Christmas" incident that sets this labyrinthine mystery in motion is the least bloody scene in the entire movie. My pick as the best picture of 1997.

"You're like Santa Claus with that list, Bud, except everyone on it's been naughty."

Eyes Wide Shut

Tom Cruise's colossal ego threatens his marriage to Nicole Kidman. Thank God it's only a movie! Stanley Kubrick's last film, Eyes Wide Shut begins at a Christmas party, ends at an orgy. Hmpf. My parties just end in a hangover.

"If you men only knew ..."

The Matador (2005)
What do you do when a hitman shows up at your door on Christmas Eve? Why, invite him in for pie and whiskey, of course! Starring Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear and Hope Davis, The Matador was one of the most sadly-underrated comedies of the last decade.

"Come on! It'll be a good time!"
"Oh, so now killing people is a good time?"
"Can be."

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Silent Oscars: 1888-1905 (The Nickelodeon Era)

Must-See Movies: Le voyage dans la lune a.k.a. A Trip To The Moon (1902); The Great Train Robbery (1903)
Recommended Films: Pauvre Pierrot (1892); Professor Welton's Boxing Cats (1894); L'arroseur arrosé a.k.a. Tables Turned On The Gardener (1895)
Of Interest: Roundhay Garden Scene (1888); Monkeyshines No.1 (1890); Blacksmith Scene (1893); Dickson Experimental Sound Film (1894); L'Arrivée d'un train à La Ciotat a.k.a. Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (1895);The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (1895); The Kiss (1896); L'homme orschestra (1900); The Big Swallow (1901); Pan-American Exposition by Night (1901);; Life of an American Fireman (1903); La vie et la passion de Jésus Christ a.k.a. The Passion Play (1903); Le voyage à travers l'impossible a.k.a. The Impossible Voyage (1904); Panorama from Times Building, New York (1905)

Trying to say definitively who invented the movies is a little like trying to say who invented fire—the records are sketchy, everybody who knows for certain is dead, and what evidence that does remain comes largely from the self-serving accounts of Thomas Edison's patent lawyers.

And where do you start, which is to say, what was the first indispensable step toward what we now think of as motion pictures? If I knew his name, I'd say it was the first caveman who thought to entertain his neighbors with shadow puppets and firelight. In fact, two of the key elements of film, movement and representation, have been staples of art and entertainment since at least the ancient Greek stage.

Turner Classic Movie's recent documentary, Moguls and Movie Stars, began with seventeenth century Dutch mathematician Christiaan Huygens who in 1659 invented the magic lantern show—a process of projecting light through a painted slide onto a wall or screen—and in terms of being entertained while sitting in the dark looking at pictures on a wall, the magic lantern is a reasonable place to start a history of the movies. Over the course of the two hundred years that followed, these magic lantern shows became quite sophisticated—by stacking slides one in front of the other and manipulating them, a projectionist could create the illusion of movement—and were one of the most popular forms of entertainment during the 19th century.

And then there was Eadweard Muybridge, who on a bet took a series of photographs in 1872 of a galloping horse to prove that all four of its hooves leave the ground simultaneously when it runs. Strung together on a glass cylinder and spun quickly enough, this "magic lantern show gone mad" created the illusion of a horse in motion. Muybridge also had a fondness for photographing nude models performing mundane tasks and audiences had a fondness for paying to see them, proving once again that pornography often drives the acceptance of new media. (Also check out Étienne-Jules Marey who similarly used a "chronophotographic gun" to capture remarkable images of birds in flight.)

But if we think of movies as something involving a strip of film and a projector, then I think the history of movies starts with Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince who in 1888 used a single-lens camera and paper film produced by George Eastman to film two seconds worth of fashionable men and women walking around a garden in Roundhay, England. Along with equally brief footage of horse and buggy traffic crossing a bridge in Leeds, Le Prince is generally credited with producing the first "films" in movie history.

Alas for Le Prince, while preparing for a cross-Atlantic trip to exhibit his invention in New York, he boarded a train bound for Paris in 1890 and literally vanished without a trace. Although theories abound—suicide, fratricide, assassination—his disappearance has never been explained. In fact, investigators turned up no leads at all and the case went cold until just seven years ago, when, while combing through its nineteenth century archives, Paris police found a photograph dating from 1890 of an unidentified drowning victim who bore a resemblance to Le Prince. But whether it was positively him or how he might have drowned on a moving train, no one can say.

After Le Prince, the story of film picks up with Charles-Émile Reynaud. A French science professor who directed and exhibited what may have been the world's first animated film, Pauvre Pierrot ("Poor Pete"), his most lasting contribution to film history was the invention of a camera that recorded images not on photographic plates but on perforated film advanced by sprockets, resulting in longer filmed sequences than a cylinder or drum would allow.

Reynaud demonstrated his camera-projector, which he called the Praxinoscope Théâtre, at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1889 (the one with the Eiffel Tower). In the audience was the famed American inventor Thomas Alva Edison who had been struggling to come up with his own movie camera without much success. By his own admission, two of Edison's greatest inventions were credit stealing and patent lawyers, deploying armies of the latter to accomplish the former—along with the light bulb, his most lasting and influential contributions—but he later insisted that his epiphany that the future of motion pictures depended on perforated film on sprockets was purely coincidental. The U.S Patent Office agreed.

"Everyone steals in industry and commerce," he said later. "I've stolen a lot myself. The thing is to know how to steal." (An idea he no doubt stole from his attorneys.)

Reynaud died penniless, but Edison—or more precisely his assistant William K.L. Dickson—ran with Reynaud's ideas (and, I don't know, maybe some of his own), and by 1894 created what he called the Kinetoscope, essentially a "peepshow" housed in a bulky cabinet, whereby the bored and the curious could one at a time watch brief films for a nickle. The movies were neither artistic nor adventuresome—just brief scenes of men sneezing, couples dancing, Annie Oakley shooting—but for a time at least the paying public was enthralled.

It was two French brothers, however, Auguste and Louis Lumière, who first thought to exhibit movies not to one person at a time but to a theater full of paying customers. Starting their careers in film as assistants in their father's photographic firm, the brothers—Louis as the inventor, Auguste as the business manager—developed a new and improved camera-projector. Where Edison's Kinetoscope was bulky and hard to maintain, the Lumières' combination camera-projector, the cinématographe, was light and mobile and relatively easy to use. In December 1895, these two brothers rented a hall in Paris and charged the public admission to see their new invention—the first time in history an audience paid money to see a motion picture in a theater.

Here in its entirety is that groundbreaking film, Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat:

I've said it before and I'll say it again, the only proper way to study movie history is to watch movies, and when I sat down and watched a couple of dozen of the Lumière brothers' best-known movies (judging by the number of votes they've received on the Internet Movie Database), it quickly became clear that while the Lumières may have invented the camera, they didn't have a clue what to do with the camera. Their films never progressed beyond fifty-second home movies of whatever they happened to be standing near—trains entering a station, babies eating breakfast, etc.—audiences quickly grew jaded and early in the 20th century, the brothers famously concluded that "the cinema is an invention without any future." Instead, they turned their full attention to photography, finding their lasting success with a color photographic process, the Autochrome Lumière, which they patented in 1903.

It was instead another Frenchman, Georges Méliès, who was the first to grasp the unique potential of the new motion picture technology. A stage magician by trade, Méliès saw movies as a successor to the tradition of fanciful entertainments. Where Edison and the Lumière brothers used their cameras to record reality, Méliès realized that through editing and photographic trickery, film could be used to create a new reality, one that could never exist apart from film. It was perhaps the single greatest insight in movie history.

Among his many movies, one, Le Voyage Dans La Lune (A Trip To The Moon), from 1902, is perhaps the one indispensable film from the first quarter century of film history and gave us the single most famous movie image before Charlie Chaplin first donned his little tramp outfit.

I'll grant you, A Trip To The Moon is a relic by the standards even of the decade that followed it, but it was also wholly original, deriving from nothing before it, inspiring so much of what came after it, and containing images that are still unique and unforgettable despite the passage of a century's worth of filmmaking. Or to put it another way, that The Simpsons could spoof A Trip To The Moon as an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon (in French, no less) without the need to explain it, tells you all you need to know about how much a part of the culture Méliès really is.

Unfortunately, Méliès wasn't much of a businessman, and Edison and his lawyers were able to copy prints of A Voyage To The Moon and exhibit them in the United States without paying royalties. Too, Méliès stopped progressing as a filmmaker. His 1912 movie, The Conquest Of The Pole, for example, could have been made a decade earlier in terms of its sets, acting, storyline and editing, and while D.W. Griffith later said of Méliès "I owe him everything," Griffith and others quickly surpassed him in terms of artistry and technique.

Méliès went bankrupt in 1913 and wound up selling toys in Paris's Gare Montparnasse train station. He was awarded the Légion d'honneur in 1932 and died six years later.

Méliès's story is a none-too-subtle reminder that while movies are the greatest art form of the 20th century, they're also a business, and whatever else you can say about Thomas Edison, he did figure out how to make money from the movies and to popularize the medium. While men such as Le Prince and the Lumière brothers were more clever inventors and Méliès was a superior artist, it was Edison who made movies pay, and his realization that nobody was going to buy a film projector if there were no films to project on it may have been the second greatest insight in movie history. Certainly the most practical.

A variety of men made movies at Edison's behest, but the two most important were the aforementioned W.K.L Dickson and Edwin S. Porter. Dickson was primarily an inventor and his contributions as a filmmaker are largely those of a cinematographer recording his own experiments. His first works, the first American films, are simple scenes filmed in his own workshop—men blacksmithing, sneezing or shaking hands.

These snippets of life provided the content of Edison's peepshows and in the beginning were sufficient to satisfy the public's curiosity. But with more interesting films arriving from the Lumière brothers and especially Méliès, Edison realized he needed more substantial fare if his fledgling film company was to survive. Edison put Porter, who had formerly worked as a touring projectionist for a rival company, in charge of motion picture production at his New York studios, and there Porter set to work filming not just workplace scenes, but stories.

Porter directed more than one hundred eighty films between 1898 and 1915, but far away the most important and enduring of them is the 1903 western, The Great Train Robbery.

"In literature and music, as well as movies," Daniel Eagan wrote in America's Film Legacy, his collection of essays about the National Film Registry, "the past can seem slow, obvious and at times filled with odd, unexpected touches too far removed from our experiences to decipher easily—which makes The Great Train Robbery an even more remarkable achievement. The blockbuster of its time, it has lost none of its power to entertain over the past hundred years."

Put simply, The Great Train Robbery was the first great American film. Not only is the shot of Justus Barnes firing a Colt revolver directly at the camera one of the most indelible images in movie history, but Porter grasped that unlike with the stage, the "best seat in the house" was wherever the camera needed to be to show the action. Porter placed his camera on top of a movie train or riding along with the outlaws on horseback, a "conceptual leap" (Eagan again) that puts the film a decade ahead of its time.

Porter's use of jump-cuts, cross-cutting, matte shots and hand-tinted frames was equally cutting-edge, and that the film also established the narrative conventions for decades of westerns to come makes The Great Train Robbery the most important American film before The Birth Of A Nation a dozen years later.

Despite the commercial success of The Great Train Robbery, neither Porter nor his boss were comfortable with the film's technical and storytelling innovations, and thereafter, to the disappointment of the ticket-buying public, the studio's product reverted to more conventional forms. A Trip To The Moon notwithstanding, ultimately the one thing Thomas Edison couldn't steal was quality and within a few years, immigrant entrepreneurs such as Adolph Zukor and Carl Laemmle and directors such as D.W. Griffith equaled then surpassed Edison as a filmmaker. The company lost steam, Porter left Edison's employ in 1909 and an adverse ruling in an anti-monopoly case in 1915 exacerbated the decline. With the coming of World War I and the closing of the European market, Edison sold his studio and abandoned film altogether.

It was an ironic and somehow fitting end to the master inventor-thief's involvement in the history of motion pictures.

Postscript: Matthew Blanchette steered me to an even earlier surviving film from Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince, called Man Walking Around A Corner. It was shot on an earlier version of Le Prince's camera, this one with sixteen separate lenses—it looks more like a spider's eye than a camera. Thanks, Matthew!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Poll Results: Duck Soup Is Your Favorite Movie Of The Early Sound Era

Last week's poll question—"Which is your favorite Hollywood movie of the early sound era?"—resulted in a record turnout.

How you voted:

Duck Soup—14
King Kong—8
City Lights—7
Grand Hotel—6
All Quiet On The Western Front—5
Trouble In Paradise—5
The Jazz Singer—0

Wonder what movies those six voters had in mind when they opted for "other." There are a lot of good choices, I have to admit. If you want to stop by and tell us, we at the Monkey would like to know.

In the meantime, you might well ask, where are the real blog entries? I'm working on it—two thousand words on the Nickelodeon Era and counting. Should be up tomorrow. Here's a taste of things to come:

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


I wasn't actually planning to write about John Lennon today—this is a movie blog and while he and his compadres made the finest musical comedy films of the 1960s, he wasn't even a gleam in his randy no-good louse of a father's eye in 1933, the time we're currently covering here at the Monkey.

But then my good pal, Mister Muleboy, wrote at length on the subject (here) and now I feel like saying just this, that Lennon made music and writing and painting cool for me at a time and in a place when no one otherwise approved of such things or even gave them a second thought. Aside from the apparently endless pleasure I derive from listening to his music, that sense that life might promise something other than soul-crushing conformity is what I am most grateful for when I think of John Lennon.

Anyway, this is my favorite Lennon number.

And because I love you, here's his home demo of the same song, which I find fascinating—you can practically hear the moment inspiration hits.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Silent Oscars, Or Alternate Oscars Before There Were Oscars: An Introduction

The next round of the Katie-Bar-The-Door Awards—1934 and what I think of as the first year of "the Golden Age" of the Hollywood movie—should be a good one. Bette Davis announces her presence with authority, Clark Gable competes for top acting honors, and Frank Capra, Howard Hawks and "One-Take Woody" van Dyke officially invent the screwball comedy. And some of the greatest acting teams in movie history make their mark: Astaire-Rogers, Powell-Loy, the Three Stooges ...

I'm looking forward to it.

But before I get to all that, there's another project I've been working on in my spare time, something I call "the Silent Oscars," or "Alternate Oscars Before There Were Oscars." Basically, it's the same idea as the KtBTD Awards except covering the years before the Oscars got started.

I confess that when I started this blog more than a year and half ago, silent movies were largely Terra Incognita for me (and compared to many of you, I'm still wandering in the wilderness), but I've been trying to rectify that situation, watching as many silent movies as I could in addition to my regular duties here at the Monkey—the equivalent of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, if you will.

Think of the Silent Oscars—fifteen essays covering the years 1888 to 1927—as the resulting map. Admittedly, it's a crude map and not always accurate, with sea serpents and Greenland the size of North America, but a map nonetheless.

If you know silent movies already, this might be a good opportunity to take a break for a while—say, through the New Year. Visit friends and family, take that trip to Paris, or just kick back and enjoy the holidays. Everybody else, I invite you to spend the rest of 2010 riding with me on the magic carpet I call Ignorance.

The Academy didn't start screwing things up until May 16, 1929. The screwing up that will be done over the next few weeks will be entirely my own.

Next: "The Silent Oscars: 1888-1905 (The Nickelodeon Era)"

Monday, December 6, 2010

Check Out The Marx Brothers Council Of Britain

If you don't already follow The Marx Brothers Council of Britain, you should. Matthew Coniam has just posted not one, but two, essays on the Marx Brothers' first MGM movie, A Night At The Opera. Indispensable reading if you're a fan of the Marx Brothers, comedy or good writing.

To read "A Night At The Opera: An Overture," click here. And to read "A Night At The Opera: An Annotated Guide," click here.

Ain't the internet grand?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

How 'Bout A Poll?

Which is your favorite Hollywood movie of the early sound era? (Vote in the poll at the top right hand side of the page.)

All Quiet On The Western Front
City Lights
Duck Soup
Grand Hotel
The Jazz Singer
King Kong
Trouble In Paradise

A Recap Of The Katie Award Winners For 1932-33 And The Year's Must-See And Recommended Movies

Okay, so we're done with the award year 1932-33. It was the longest "year" in Oscar history, covering the seventeen months running from August 1, 1932 to the end of 1933. Starting with 1934, the Academy and I will both be handing out awards for a single calendar year.

But we'll get to that later.

In the meantime, in case you've forgotten, these are the winners of the Katie-Bar-The-Door Awards for 1932-33:

Picture (Drama): King Kong (prod. Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack)
Picture (Comedy/Musical): Duck Soup (prod. Herman J. Mankiewicz)
Picture (Foreign Language): Zero For Conduct (prod. Jean Vigo)
Actor (Drama): Paul Muni (I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang)
Actor (Comedy/Musical): The Marx Brothers (Horse Feathers and Duck Soup)
Actress (Drama): Greta Garbo (Queen Christina)
Actress (Comedy/Musical): Jean Harlow (Red Dust, Dinner At Eight and Bombshell)
Director (Drama): James Whale (The Old Dark House and The Invisible Man)
Director (Comedy/Musical): Ernst Lubitsch (Trouble In Paradise and Design For Living)
Supporting Actor: John Barrymore (Dinner At Eight)
Supporting Actress: Margaret Dumont (Duck Soup)
Screenplay: Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby, Arthur Sheekman and Nat Perrin (Duck Soup)
Best Song: "The Gold Diggers Song (We're In The Money)" music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Al Dubin (Gold Diggers Of 1933)

Special Awards: Busby Berkeley (Career Achievement); Three Little Pigs (prod. Walt Disney) (Short Subject/Animated); Murray Spivak (King Kong) (Sound); Max Steiner (King Kong) (Score); Willis O'Brien, Marcel Delgado and E.B. Gibson (King Kong) (Special Effects); Willis O'Brien, Sydney Saunders and Linwood Dunn (King Kong) (Visual Effects); Carroll Clark and Alfred Herman (King Kong) (Art Direction/Set Decoration); Ted Cheesman (King Kong) (Film Editing); Rudolph Maté (Vampyr) (Cinematography); John Armstrong (The Private Life Of Henry VIII) (Costumes); Jack P. Pierce (The Mummy) (Makeup)

Must-See and Recommended Films: Baby Face; The Bitter Tea Of General Yen; Blonde Venus; Boudu Saved From Drowning; Counsellor At Law; Design For Living; Dinner At Eight; Downstairs; Duck Soup; Fanny; Footlight Parade; 42nd Street; Gold Diggers Of 1933; Horse Feathers; I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang; I'm No Angel; The Invisible Man; Island Of Lost Souls; King Kong; Liebelei; Little Women; Love Me Tonight; The Most Dangerous Game; The Mummy; The Old Dark House; One Way Passage; Peg O' My Heart; The Private Life of Henry VIII; Queen Christina; Red Dust; She Done Him Wrong; Sons Of The Desert; The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse; Three Little Pigs; Trouble In Paradise; Vampyr; Zero For Conduct

Which brings the Early Sound Era to a close. Normally I write a summary about the year's winners, must-see movies, disappointments, etc. But I just spent seven months and eighty thousand words on the topic; I've got nothing left.

Up next: The Silent Oscars.