Sunday, June 17, 2012

1937: The Great Ziegfeld

The Great Ziegfeld tells the story of the career of Broadway producer Florence Ziegfeld. His career is a series of ups and downs. Every time he gets a hit or tastes success, he loses it only to have to build up again. For example, when he gets rich in 1929, he decides that it's time to play it safe and put all of his money into the stock market. Click the link on the year if you don't know why that's a bad idea. He usually gets his money back from The Wizard of Oz.

Ziegfeld is less of a producer and more of a used car salesman. He tricks and manipulates those around him. I can see how in 1936 when this came out that he might have been a different lead character than people had seen in a movie. But these days, we've seen that act done before and done much better. Still, kudos for doing it early on.

After the first 45 minutes, the majority of the rest of the 185 minute movie is musical numbers from Ziegfeld's various Broadway shows, especially his Follies. I was reminded of the second Oscar winner, The Broadway Melody. And I was as uninterested in this as I was in that.

The highlight of the movie is easily a scene with Ray Bolger. I've embedded it below. It's pretty much his audition for the part of The Scarecrow. Though in his first scene, it's almost confusing when he talks about not having a heart. The real fun starts about a minute in, and the really impressive part starts around 2:20.

Update: It's no longer available on YouTube. So... search for other Ray Bolger stuff. It's good.

NEXT WEEK: 1938 - The Life of Emile Zola

Oscar Project Rankings:
  1. It Happened One Night (1935)
  2. All Quiet on the Western Front (1931)
  3. Mutiny on the Bounty (1936)
  4. Grand Hotel (1933)
  5. Cimarron (1932)
  6. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
  7. Broadway Melody (1930)
  8. Wings (1929)
  9. Cavalcade (1933)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Summer 2012

I can't exactly start a summer without my summer blog, can I? The funny thing to do would be to put, "Yes. Yes I can." Then end it there.

But this isn't just for shits and giggles. It's for shits, giggles, and grandstanding. In the past, I have used my summer blog to write about my goals for the summer. Considering that I rarely ever meet any of my goals, I think this year I'm going to call them predictions. If I don't meet any of the goals, then I'll just be a poor psychic.  Or just a psychic.  Or a unicorn. What's the difference?

But anyway, here's a disclaimer that I add on every year, I think. This post is more for me than for you. I can't imagine any interest or excitement in reading this for anyone other than me. You've been warned. Still, I'll be happy if you do and I appreciate the comments.

My first prediction/goal is one that I have to meet. Last week was my last at El Dorado Middle School. This fall I will start at Northgate High School. That means I have a totally new curriculum. I need to spend some good quality time this summer developing a new curriculum. Or possibly two, depending on which schedule I'm offered. I've been told I'll either be teaching five periods of US History (juniors) or four of World History (sophomores) and a period of a geography elective. Since it's my job, that goal isn't a choice. So I'll be actively working on that all summer. I might blog about leaving El Dorado at some point, but I don't really want to say some things too publicly at this point. I'm leaving happily and comfortably with bridges intact behind me. I mean, it's not like my leaving wasn't acknowledged or anything like that...

Last summer, I got quite a bit done on the interior remodel of my house. There are a few details that I still haven't finished on the crown molding, so that needs to be done. I have early plans to take down the beautiful wallpaper in the kitchen and give it a coat of paint. And I have a couple rooms that are still filled with stuff that needs to be organized and taken to the garbage or garage.

Outside, we have a different story. I  have a backyard filled with plants and stuff that I don't like. I'm tearing out a lot of it. If we have too many days like today (the thermometer in my car said 107 about an hour ago), I won't get a lot done there.  There are some plants in the front yard I want to tear out as well. It's possible I might get around to painting the house as well. The problem is that the paint on the house now is lead based. That means the removal of that coat is not cheap. It might just get painted over. And then there's the roof, which I should have gotten to a couple years ago.

So that covers the work I need to do. What about the fun stuff?  I've "collected" a whole lot of movies on my computer from Netflix over the past year, so I want to watch a bunch of those. I hope to continue with the Oscar Project. In fact, I'm going to watch The Great Ziegfeld later today. And there are a few movies coming out in theaters that I'm looking forward to. I also have The Wire ready to go. I watched the first season last year, but it felt like work every time I turned on an episode. I've heard the later seasons are much better. We'll see.

I played around on my piano for a bit this morning, and I want to start playing again regularly this summer, even if only for a few minutes a day. And who knows? I might pull out my guitar or any other instruments laying around and play with those a bit.

Some might remember my reader's block blog from a few years past. I've definitely gotten past that. With my Nook, I've been as much of an avid reader as I ever was. I've been reading through the Alex Cross series. They are dumb "beach reading" type thrillers, but fun. They have been getting progressively worse, however, so I don't know if I'll get through them all. I'm reading the second Game of Thrones book. I figure I'll alternate reading those and watching the seasons of the show, though I hear they won't line up as nicely in the next few seasons.

I got my new camera a couple months ago. I'm hoping to spend some quality time learning how to do a few new techniques as well as really learning post production.

I hope to host a BBQ or two over here this summer, so let me know if you want to come over and hang out, as well as maybe another games night or just sitting around night.

It should be a pretty relaxed summer. Next summer, I'm traveling again, so this summer I'm saving money for that (as well as the possibility of furlough days if the kind voters of California continue to decide that education isn't worth it). I'll be in Las Vegas for a few days next week, and I hope to be in San Diego for a few days at the end of the summer, but that's it. The rest will be in the Bay Area. I'll probably spend too much time online looking at travel sites.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

1936: Mutiny on the Bounty

While watching these older movies, I often wonder what it would be like if it were made in modern times. The story of the mutiny has been told several times. In fact, the 1936 Oscar winning version was the third of five movies. But it's the only one I have seen, so I wonder if what I'm about to write it true of any of the others.

The voyage of the Bounty is an interesting story, and the mutiny itself is probably least interesting. In Mutiny on the Bounty, it takes about two minutes of screen time, and that's about all that's needed. I believe that if it were made today, the mutiny would be almost the entire movie. It would probably be filmed with extra shaky cam and featuring impromptu martial arts displays from the various mutineers. The size of the interior of the ship would be filled with endless hiding places and individual set pieces.

Mutiny on the Bounty is too long at 132 minutes, but it still moves along well enough. As I mentioned, the mutiny itself is done quickly, and is almost the only action piece, minus a threatening storm or two. The story moves along with the slowly building tension between Captain Bligh and the others. Once we finally get to the mutiny, it makes sense. It works. We even wish it had happened earlier. I think that would be missing from a modern version.

For the second week in a row, I can write that Clark Gable is great in this. And he plays a different character than in It Happened One Night. His acting range is pretty darned good, especially for the mid 1930s, when much of the acting is overmelodramatic, if such a thing is possible. I'll see Gable again in a few weeks, but he won't give a damn.

And what about Captain Blight?  Some quick research shows that the movie character wasn't much like the reality. The real cause of the mutiny probably wasn't the same as in the movie, and isn't really clear. But we're talking about the movie.

What he really such a horrible guy? Did he deserve the mutiny? Well as I mentioned, we understand when it gets to that point. But I don't think he's so evil as he is just a dumb guy with too much power. The movie makes the point that he was a brilliant Captain. The voyage was a difficult one that he made much easier with his mad skills. And most of his decisions are made with the voyage, as well as King and County, in mind. The problem is that he isn't smart enough to the take the best path, only the one prescribed to him. So did he deserve the mutiny? No, but the men who did deserved to mutiny, and in the end that's all that matters.
P.S. Just before publishing this, I remembered that since I had watched Mutiny on the Bounty as one of the AFT Top 100 movies, I had already written a bit about it. I went to check it out. As it turns out, My opinion remained almost identical, just with fewer words. Here it it:

March 28, 2004 - Mutiny marks movie #100 for me - the last movie to watch... Overall a good movie. At over two hours, it moved along well enough without rushing to the mutiny itself. I think that if it were made today, the mutiny would have started about 45 minutes in - and then taken up another 45 minutes worth of special effects to actually do it.

NEXT WEEK: 1937 - The Great Ziegfeld

Oscar Project Rankings:
  1. It Happened One Night (1935)
  2. All Quiet on the Western Front (1931)
  3. Mutiny on the Bounty (1936)
  4. Grand Hotel (1933)
  5. Cimarron (1932)
  6. Broadway Melody (1930)
  7. Wings (1929)
  8. Cavalcade (1933)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

1935: It Happened One Night

I recently had a brief conversation about It's a Wonderful Life. I mentioned that it was a pretty good movie, but that it wasn't even Frank Capra's best movie. I prefer both Mr. Smith Goes To Washington and this movie, It Happened One Night. I should note that I've never seen You Can't Take it With You, but I soon will for this very column.

It Happened One Night is filled with snappy dialogue, delivered by the deliciously smarmy Clark Gable. Those scenes are all the better when shared by Claudette Colbert. At 105 minutes, it's just about the perfect length for a movie, and the great scenes give it forward momentum almost all the way through. The last twenty minutes, however, takes a bit too long to reach it's conclusion. The conclusion is obvious and satisfying, however, so it works well enough.

While the dialogue makes the movie good, a few bright scenes makes it great. Clark Gable does a memorable strip tease (even the most homophobic of you can handle it). Gable and Colbert's attempt at hitchhiking has been repeated and parodied enough.  Gable's carrot eating in the scene even inspired a certain cartoon rabbit, as does a minor character's repeated use of the word "Doc" elsewhere in the movie. I'm embedding the scene below. In the last couple frames, you might recognize the driver. That's both Little John and the Skipper's dad.

My absolute favorite scene, however, is a sing-a-long on the bus. A group of musicians suddenly appear on the back of the bus, and soon everyone is singing "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze."  Different passengers, none of whom we have previously seen or will see again, take a different verse. The entire bus, Gable and Colbert featured, sing along with the chorus. It doesn't make a great deal of sense, though it does lead to the next plot point (featuring the exterior of a totally different bus and driver crashing into a ditch). But it's a few minutes of pure cinematic joy.

NEXT WEEK: 1936 - Mutiny on the Bounty

Oscar Project Rankings:

1. It Happened One Night (1935)
2. All Quiet on the Western Front (1931)
3. Grand Hotel (1933)
4. Cimarron (1932)
5. Broadway Melody (1930)
6. Wings (1929)
7. Cavalcade (1933)