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by Michael Barrett

1 Mar 2016


The Phantom of Paris (1931)

There has been much myth, legend and speculation about why John Gilbert, one of the silent screen’s greatest stars, stumbled so badly in the talkies. Some claim that his voice didn’t record well, or even that MGM’s Louis B. Mayer deliberately sabotaged his career, never mind how much money was invested in him. In fact, Gilbert still had a solid hit when he teamed with Greta Garbo for Queen Christina. Ephraim Katz opines in The Film Encyclopedia that Gilbert’s persona and the melodramas in which he shined were out of step with the era, and he wasn’t a good enough actor to carry off the new material.

Now that his talkies are becoming available on demand from Warner Archive, we can judge for ourselves. The plots aren’t great, but they’re not unusual for melodramas of the period. The directors are also good, though they can only do so much with these talky stories. For example, director John S. Robertson’s great achievements, such as John Barrymore’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, also belong to the silent era, but he hasn’t forgotten how to point a camera in the highly fanciful The Phantom of Paris, an almost gloriously far-fetched bit of flummery based on a novel by Gaston Leroux, who’s most famous for a different phantom, of the operatic variety.

by Steve Leftridge

24 Feb 2016


Steve Pick: It says right there on the lobby card that this is a Technicolor Musical Treasure, and I ain’t gonna argue with that. This film has some of the most advanced shots in the avant garde world of musicals. How did Stanley Donen set up that long, wild, wondrous tracking shot that follows his co-director Gene Kelly in all his miraculous dancing invention, as he cuts not a rug, but giant puddles of water in the title sequence? How did the shooting of a film become a film on a screen, and get Donald O’Connor to dance on the walls?

The love story at the heart of the plot barely makes any sense, and the introduction of a villainous complication waits until the movie is nearly over, but who cares? Singin’ in the Rain is about movement; it’s about song; it’s about ridiculous, silly, triumphant, joyously shiny delights.

Steve, where shall we begin to talk about this one? What would be the modern equivalent of making a film about the changes in pop culture 25 years before it was released? Perhaps a hair metal band reacts to the changes produced by the sudden rise to prominence of Nirvana?

by Genelle Levy

23 Feb 2016


Tristes Deserts - a Robot's Tale (2015)

Strange people in strange places seemed to be an ongoing theme in the films featured at this year’s Winter Film Awards Indie Film Festival in New York City. This year’s line-up featured many award-winning filmmakers. Although relatively unknown outside the indie circuit, many have garnered local press attention for their recent works.

Such filmmakers include Stephanie Winter, winner of best experimental film at the Sardinia Film Festival, Yung-Jen Yang, a previous Winter Film Award winner and Isaac Ezban, indie film veteran who has racked up 11 wins at the Austin Fantastic Fest, Baja International Film Festival, Morelia International Film Festival and several others.

by Michael Barrett

23 Feb 2016


Please Believe Me (1950)

Two made-on-demand discs from Warner Archive reveal odd moments from the career of director Norman Taurog, who resists most attempts to inhabit an auteur status. His long and prolific career, primarily in comedy and music, includes work with many stars such as W.C. Fields, Bing Crosby, George Burns, Gracie Allen, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and Elvis Presley. Taurog won an Academy Award for Best Director with Skippy (1931), one of several boy-oriented movies in his catalogue, and was nominated again for Boys Town (1938).

The closer we look, however, the more he seems to embody the consummate professional journeyman, whose career depended on the script and actors rather than any personal stamp. Unfortunately, with mediocre material, the results are mediocre, and not interesting, failures.

by Steve Leftridge and Steve Pick

18 Feb 2016


Steve Leftridge: Okay, this one strikes me as different from the other films we’ve discussed here at Double Take. Sure, it’s easy to see why it made our Great 500 list, as the film’s accolades are a mile long, including the Oscars for Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Screenplay. Critics dug it, for the most part, and it’s one of the most commercially popular films of all time.

So why do you dislike it, Mr. Pick? Are you one of those who has trouble fully embracing art that is too ubiquitously gargantuan in popularity? Are you offended by the play-it-for-laughs depiction of someone with cognitive delays? Are the historical rewrites too hokey? Or is the movie just too darn sentimental? What is it that bugs you the most about Forrest Gump?

 

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