CFP: The Legacy of Radiohead's 'The Bends' 20 Years On [Deadlines: 29 Jan / 12 Feb]

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Thursday, Dec 11, 2014
This trip through the sands of Technicolor is more pretty than it is anything else.

Sigmung Romberg’s operetta The Desert Song has been filmed thrice. This 1943 version is the middle one, updated to 1939 on the eve of WWII. After being in limbo over rights issues, it’s now available in beautifully restored Technicolor from Warner Archives. Like its romantic couple, it’s both pretty and dull.

In the French colony of Morocco, some tribes are revolting. They’re willing to declare their loyalty to France for justice, but they’re being exploited by a local bigwig (Victor Francen) who’s forcing their labor to build a railroad in a secret deal with the Nazis. It’s not clear how their labor issues will be resolved after the French government takes over the railroad project (maybe they’ll be paid), but the movie ends before that. Meanwhile, the leader of one tribe, who calls himself El Khobar (Dennis Morgan), has a secret identity as an American piano player in a nightclub. A visiting French songstress (Irene Manning) falls for the way he sets her politics straight.

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Wednesday, Dec 10, 2014
Gonzo yet muffled, Under the Bubble is more interesting for its breakthrough in 3D filmmaking than its dramatic bona fides.

Arch Oboler, an important figure in the history of radio drama, is most remembered for shaping the Lights Out horror series, a clear inspiration to Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. As far as his forays into cinema are concerned, he’s most famous for his innovations in the stereoscopic process known as 3D.

Although 3D experiments had been around for decades, Oboler took a chance on creating America’s first commercially released 3D feature (and in color), 1952’s Bwana Devil, which became a hit that kicked off the ‘50s craze. Over a decade later, he created the first film in a revised 3D process (billed as Space Vision) that used a single camera to shoot two images on one filmstrip for a projector with a special lens, as opposed to the more cumbersone process of two cameras and projectors. This became the standard 3D process for the next 30 years.

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Monday, Dec 8, 2014
Wicked, Wicked is a legendarily obscure title that is liable to remain obscure.

Wicked, Wicked is a mundane slasher item about a nervous mama’s boy (Randy Roberts) who, while working as an electrician at a hotel, puts on a mask and waiter’s uniform to stab pretty blonde guests because of his traumatic childhood flashbacks. His latest target is a singer (Tiffany Bolling), who happens to be the ex-wife of the house detective (David Bailey, later on soaps) who’s tracking him down. Even by the standards of numerous psycho knock-offs in the ‘70s, the script is uninspired.

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Thursday, Dec 4, 2014
The sharp direction of Lloyd Baker, along with the ace acting of James Cagney and Pat O'Brien, makes this rat-a-tat '30s comedy a gem.

James Cagney ought to be more famous for comedies than gangster movies, because he’s never more delightful than when spinning like a dynamo, throwing off rat-a-tat dialogue and now and then bursting into a graceful dance. Exhibit A: Boy Meets Girl, now available on demand from Warner Archive. Hollywood has made so many good comedies at its own expense that you might be forgiven for never having heard of this one, yet it’s among the best. The script by Bella & Samuel Spewack, based on their play, has it all: brilliant lines, excellent characters, and a smooth, surprising plot to wrap them in.

Cagney and Pat O’Brien, together again (as the trailer trumpets, or perhaps trombones—that’s a joke in the movie), play a frantic, irreverent screenwriting duo supposedly inspired by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. In this homage to the audacity and wackiness of creativity, they are mischievous devices to spin the narrative. Supposedly their motive is to preserve their jobs by spewing out variations of the “boy meets girl” plot for their studio, but the accidental by-product of their manipulations is, of course, true love.

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Monday, Dec 1, 2014
Sure, this is a melodramatic, but don't be ashamed of that swelling in your heart... the music really is that beautiful.

How do you film someone playing the violin? How about overhead, looking down on the fingering like Busby Berkeley presenting geometric legwork? You can find that and other graceful ideas in Archie Mayo’s direction of the scenes where legendary violinist Jascha Heifetz performs in They Shall Have Music, now available on demand from Warner Archive. In his first performance, the camera seems to be mounted on a crane that glides gracefully around Heifetz in a single shot, then rises majestically upward, as though on the notes themselves. No wonder the grubby little delinquent kid from the Brooklyn slums, who found his way into the audience while fleeing the cops, is spellbound.

The kid is Frankie (Gene Reynolds), and it turns out his late father used to play the fiddle and taught him to recognize musical notes. This impresses the teacher (Walter Brennan) at a music school for poor kids, into which Frankie has wandered by accident while chasing his scene-stealing dog Sucker (played by “Zero”), for Frankie is blown by the winds of fate throughout this plot. Too bad the school is on the verge of being shut down and having everything repossessed for lack of funds, unless—wait a minute—what if the great Mr. Heifetz could play at their concert? It’s so crazy, it just might work. Joel McCrea and Andrea Leeds are on hand to provide romantic interest without getting in the way, and Marjorie Main plays Frankie’s put-upon mom.

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