Monday, June 23, 2008

Talk to the Animals Wednesday Night and Other Coming Attractions

The Siren used to work at a publication that had a fatwa on the word "upcoming." A celebrated former editor once decreed, "If I see the word 'upcoming' again, I will be downcoming and the editor will be outgoing."

Some coming events in the cinematic blogosphere:

Over at Newcritics, 10 pm June 25th, Lance Mannion's Wednesday Night at the Movies tackles Doctor Dolittle. He wanted to leave it out, and the Siren wouldn't let him. For one thing, while it's the worst of the nominees for 1967's Best Picture Oscar, it still provides Mark Harris with the best parts of Pictures at a Revolution. The Siren was glued to the book in general but Doctor Dolittle, like all disasters, makes brilliantly good copy--from the tons of shit produced by the animals, to the choice of the rainiest village in England for a location, to Rex Harrison's lord-of-the-manor racism and ability to be a towering prick to all who encountered him, to Harrison's wife Rachel Roberts and her alcoholic benders that even appalled Richard Burton. There aren't many movie books that can make the Siren shriek out loud on the subway but Harris's did, and it was a Doctor Dolittle part that done it. This legendary turkey does need to be seen at least once. Like it (does anyone love it?) or hate it, Doctor Dolittle embodies a type of moviemaking that's as dead as the dodo. I'm willing to bet you will at least appreciate the scale and scope of the movie, in those wonderful days before CGI came along to annoy the bejesus out of us. And if you are a Netflix subscriber, it's available for instant viewing.

Even if you just can't bring yourself to watch, stop over at Newcritics Wednesday night at 10 pm in any case. I'm hoping we discuss Richard Fleischer--talented studio workhorse, or auteur in need of a reappraisal? (Check out Dennis's fine piece on Mandingo before you answer that.) There's Anthony Newley and the demise of the song-and-dance man, Samantha Eggar (still working and looking good) who went from animals to The Brood, John Gregory Dunne's The Studio (which went into Doctor Dolittle's doomed marketing plan in hilarious detail) as well as the whole flowering and quick demise of the 1960s studio mega-musical. Do all the ones that stiffed around this time (Star! is another) deserve to languish forever?


Siren pals and Oscar experts Michael Phillips of Goatdog's Movies, Nick of Nick's Flick Picks and Nathaniel R of The Film Experience have come up with a great experiment. It's called Best Pictures from the Outside In. Listen carefully, because the Siren herself didn't quite get it at first. These men have seen all Best Picture winners (poor lambs), so they are discussing them in pairs. But instead of matching by theme (the Siren was all set to suggest Lawrence of Arabia vs. Casablanca) they are working their way in from both ends. Eventually, they promise (threaten?) "we'll work our way eventually to the 1960s, smack dab in the middle of Oscar's 80 years of back-patting." Last week was No Country for Old Men and Wings. Next week: The Broadway Melody and The Departed. Week after that, if the Siren is reading the lists right: Crash vs. All Quiet on the Western Front. That last has the Siren particularly intrigued.

June 29th marks the start of the "New York in the Movies" Blogathon for the Derelict, who blogs over at 12 Grand in Checking. The Derelict has terrific taste in cities (obviously) and in movies as well. (You want proof? she recently gave four stars to The Clock and The Woman in the Window.) She's wisely stretching out the contribution time to July 3rd. The Siren loves the topic and plans to contribute if humanly possible.

Ditto Goatdog's Movies About Movies Blogathon, running August 22 to Aug. 29. This is one of the Siren's favorite genres and she will definitely be there. I mean, just check out this list of possible topics. It reminded the Siren of all sorts of movies she loves, including Show People. By the way--anyone got a spare copy of What Price Hollywood laying around?


Gerard Jones said...

Richard Fleischer? Narrow Margin? Armored Car Robbery? Don't be telling a noir geek that he needs any reassessment! He just needed to have the big budgets stripped from him, that's all.

Thanks for mentioning The Studio. I love that book. A Gene Kelly anecdote I'll never forget. "Pizzazz. That's a showbiz term."

See you Wednesday, I hope!

Karen said...

Oh MAN, do I love What Price Hollywood!! That Lowell Sherman. That George Cukor! I haven't seen it in a while--and I accidentally (and tragically) deleted it from my DVR)--but I recall he does some fascinating camera effects both when he's illustrating Constance Bennett's phenomenal rise and his own character's realization of the depth of his own fall. I do so love that movie, and I think RKO should absolutely have filed their plagiarism lawsuit against Selznick International.

The Siren said...

Karen, you should post something about it! I love me some Constance Bennett, despite -- or maybe because of -- that air of bitchery she always had about her.

Gerard, do you get Fox Movie Channel? It's showing Violent Saturday in a week or so and I plan to record it. I remember that one as brilliant.

goatdog said...

Glad you're on board for the 'thon.

Richard Fleischer. I really hated Violent Saturday, which was part bad Douglas Sirk imitation and part decent heist film, until it blew up into 1950s reactionary nonsense at the end. But Fleischer made The Narrow Margin, and The Clay Pigeon was pretty good (haven't seen Armored Car Robbery), so I can't dismiss him outright.

The Siren said...

Goatdog (and Gerard) you should definitely read Dennis's Mandingo piece. It will give you a new way of looking at Fleischer, even if you think Dennis is way wrong.

It's been years since I have seen Violent Saturday so what my reaction will be these days is anyone's guess, but "bad Sirk imitation" is pretty much stamping something a must-watch for the Siren -- all I see is the word "Sirk." :D

Karen said...

I'll tell you what, Siren, if I still had What Price Hollywood on the DVR, I might create a blog just to post about it.

I do love films about film anyway. Have you seen Show People with Marion Davies and Billy Haines? I think it's the only Haines vehicle where I actually liked his character; he toned down the frat boy antics and created a very sympathetic characterization.

But back to Constance Bennett, whom I worship, for her beauty, for her talent, and for her ability to wear a gown like nobody's business. One film that IS still stored on my DVR is Our Betters, in which Bennett rocks some Hattie Carnegie gowns like nobody's business. There's one scene where she stands in a doorway, in a black number with drooping sleeves and some hanging metallic chains, looking like she's just waiting for George Hurrell to finish setting his f-stop. I just tried to find an image of it online, without success, I'm sad to say.

Gerard Jones said...

Karen, I wish we weren't 3000 miles apart, because I have What Price Hollywood? on disc, just a few feet away from me as I type. Watched it again recently too--it's a true blast. Great supporting work: Gregory Ratoff, Louise Beavers, Eddie Anderson. And a dazzling script, apparently written by a whole horde of people tossing in all the Tinseltown gags they could think of.

Dan Leo said...

That frame from Sweet Smell of Success is just perfect.

That is goddam movie-making.

Noel Vera said...

Between Crash and All Quiet, I much prefer Milestone. Unless you're talking Cronenberg's Crash, which you aren't.

The Siren said...

gad yes, I am sure that artistically there is no comparison between All Quiet and Crash, even though I haven't seen the latter. But I'll be interested in hearing about the differences in the way the two movies tackle big themes. The later movie had more freedom and I bet it's still less daring.

Exiled in NJ said...

I guess there is no one here of the age where the cry "Odin!" rang out after seeing Fleischer's The Vikings.

Had I not been a teen at the time, I would have sat entranced, waiting for Tony Curtis to emote, 'Yonda lies the Valhalla of my faddah.'

Peter Nellhaus said...

I finished reading Lee Server's biography of Robert Mitchum. He tells of an incident involving a very drunk Rachel Roberts. Yipes!

Of course, since 1967, children everywhere may be confused as Hugh Lofting's Dr. Doolittle looks nothing like Rex Harrison or Eddie Murphy.

HenryFTP said...


Even today, when you're walking the streets of the West 50s at night, that Elmer Bernstein score still runs through your head. How could such an iconic film have been such a dud when it was originally released? What might Alexander Mackendrick have been able to do if it had been a hit? Not even Sidney Lumet captured Manhattan on film so well (although he never had James Wong Howe as a cinematographer -- even in a studio film like Bell, Book and Candle it still feels authentically like New York).

Gerard Jones said...

Dr. Dolittle has always been my most severe example of "But it's not like the books!" Got it first from my dad: the Lofting books were among his few solaces in a miserable childhood and he was downright worshipful about the things. He took me to see the movie when I was 10 but all he could talk about after was how Harrison was so wrong as the Doctor and the Doctor never would have gotten involved with a woman and the pushmi-pullyu wasn't a llama, for God's sake. I subsequently fell in to love with the books, making my dad proud, but also inherited his grudge against the flick.

But today, right now (though it's on pause at this moment), I'm watching it again and using all my "but it's a different media and a separate creation" muscles. And it's kind of all right, really.

Samantha Eggar's a bore, though. Maybe not her fault. Not much for her to do. And Fleischer, like so many mainstream H'wood directors, seemed afraid to let women do anything interesting in the '60s.

Hope to see some of you at the Newcritics things tonight, but family obs might prevent.

Gerard Jones said...

A different mediUM! I know media's not singular! Really, I know that!

Karen said...

Well, I tried, Siren. I tried. Despite never having (and never wanting to have) seen Doctor Doolittle.

The Rachel Roberts anecdote definitely made it worthwhile, however. As did learning of your love for The Assassination Bureau. Ahhhhh. Oliver Reed AND Diana Rigg? Hubba hubba! The scene in Venice, where Reed has just saved the towel-wrapped Rigg from the bomb? Well, those two together don't quite match the sheer eyeball-searing beauty of Audrey Hepburn and Peter O'Toole in close-up in How to Steal a Million, but they're definitely in the ballpark.

The Siren said...

Karen, thanks so much for showing up! I enjoyed it, though it definitely wasn't as well-attended as In the Heat of the Night. And yes, the towel scene in the Reed movie is heart-stopping sexy and romantic.

Dan Leo posted that famous bit from Johnny Carson where Reed said women were happier in the kitchen and Shelley Winters dumped a drink on his head ... the Youtube comments def. run in Reed's favor which is depressing considering that he comes across like a smug, tiresome prick -- not the wonderfully transgressive Reed we love, just an overprivileged snot. There's much funnier stuff around about him.

Lou Lumenick said...

I hear WHAT PRICE HOLLYWOOD is going to be included on the upcoming UCE of A STAR IS BORN '54 along with a new transfer of A STAR IS BORN '37.

The Siren said...

warmest welcomes to you, Lou, and may you always bring such good news. There are a lot of classic-film lovers slavering for What Price Hollywood, let me tell you.