Archive for January, 2010

The Gold Rush

Charlie Chaplin's character, The Tramp, is car...

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Today I decided to watch Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush, which is perhaps his most referenced film that features some of his (and cinemas) most well-known scenes. Whilst the film has undoubtedly dated quite a bit since it was first released in 1925, it still contains many giggles for the viewer. This is of course the film that features the famed scenes of Chaplin eating the old boot, the dancing bread rolls (which was parodied by Grandpa Simpson) and the cabin balancing perilously on the edge of a cliff while the tramp and Big Jim try to scramble out before it topples over.

I found this film to be quite amusing and interesting, but there weren’t as many ‘laugh out loud’ moments as I had when I watched The Circus, which was released three years after The Gold Rush. Perhaps the reason for that was because even though I had never seen the Gold Rush, I had seen all the above mentioned famous scenes and had some familiarity with the film. (Much like Keaton’s Steamboat Bill Jr.) I felt I knew the film before I had even seen it. The film did not have the sentimentality or warmth of 1931s City Lights either.

All this is not to say that The Gold Rush is a bad film, it is actually very good, as it keeps the viewer’s interest right through to the end. The version I saw was the 1942 re-release with Chaplin’s added music and narration, which made me wonder how the film could have functioned at all as a silent movie. I found that the narration enhanced my enjoyment of the film greatly, as Chaplin seemed to have a poetic way with words, however I would not like to see this sort of thing added to all silent films.

Australia Day 2010

This Australia Day we ventured to the King’s Domain to have a look at the festivities there. Firstly we went into have a look inside Government House, and then we walked around the gardens looking at the classic cars on display.

I was really surprised at how many American and British cars were on display. There were heaps of big yank tanks such as 50s and 60s Plymouths, Fords, Chryslers and especially Buicks. There were also MGs, Austins, Wolsleys, Singers and other British cars. There were very few Aussie cars which really surprised me. The American Buicks outnumbered the Holdens by 2:1 while there were fewer Falcons than Mustangs.
There were some European marques in attendance but there were nowhere near the numbers as of the British and American cars. There were some Alfa Romeos there, celebrating the Milanese marques’ 100th birthday. There weren’t that many Alfas though. Perhaps these are the only examples of Alfas that have not rusted.

There was also a Mercedes 300 SL gullwing, one of the most beautiful cars ever built.

At the Myer Music Bowl there was an Indian concert on. Unfortunately we didn’t see any Bollywood dancing, but instead there was a music group performing. There were also some colourful Indian rangolis.

City Lights

By 1931 everyone in the movie industry had given up on making silent films and were now making talkies. Everyone that is except for Charlie Chaplin. Sound came to film in 1927 with Al Jolson‘s The Jazz Singer, but Chaplin continued to shun talkies until 1940 when he made The Great Dictator. In that intervening 13 years he made three of the greatest comedies of all time. I have already watched The Circus, which I thought was very funny. Both of his 1930s films, City Lights and Modern Times are masterpieces.

City Lights is a romantic comedy from 1931. At times it seems to be more like a melodrama than a comedy, as it does feature a huge helping of Chaplin’s famed sentimentality, but at other times there is some great and very funny slapstick moments that can still make the viewer laugh out loud. The scenes with the Tramp‘s ‘friend’, the drunken millionaire whom Charlie saves from committing suicide are particularly funny as is the boxing match. W.C. Fields once said that he thought Chaplin was more a ballet dancer than a comedian, albeit the best ballet dancer he ever saw. This comedic ballet is on view here in the boxing match scene which seems very cartoonish. In fact it seems that both Walt Disney (Mickey’s Mechanical Man) and Chuck Jones (Rabbit Punch) both were influenced by this scene when they made their boxing cartoons as the influence are plain to see in these cartoons.

The main plot of the film revolves around the Tramp’s relationship with a blind girl who he is smitten with, and how he goes about raising money for her to have an operation which will restore her sight. This of course puts Charlie in a bind, the girl thinks that he is a well-to-do gentleman and if she regains her sight she will see him for who he really is. This leads to the finale of the film which features perhaps the greatest and most recognisable closing shot in all film history. It is here that we realise that love is blind to prejudice and poverty and that kindness and charity will win out in the end.

City Lights is a great film that I really recommend everyone to see at least once in their lifetime. It is beautiful and shows that sometimes talking is unnecessary when it comes to telling a great, funny story.

Way Out West

Laurel & Hardy‘s Way Out West is an old-fashioned film, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Like many comedies made in the 1930s it has dated a lot, yet even compared to its contemporaries it feels old-fashioned. Even though it was made in 1937 and is a talkie (only Chaplin was still making silent movies at this time) it feels almost like a silent film, probably because there are so many cut shots to either James Finlayson or Oliver Hardy doing a take and mugging for the camera. This of course was something that was common in the silent era but it is something that becameoutdated as the 30s wore on. You’d rarely see Groucho Marx mugging silently at the camera after some minor tragedy had been bestowed upon him. (If the camera ever cut to Groucho he’d make sure he had a quip.) I don’t mean this as a criticism, just as an observation.

Having said that Way Out West is enjoyable if only because the two main stars of the film. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy are so likable and work so well together that you have to laugh at their antics. They were both veterans of the cinema at this time and had worked together for over a decade. Here their great chemistry is on show in the skits, while their song Ballad Of A Lonesome Pine is a treat. You still have this feeling that this is all very old-fashioned, but in a good way. There is also a great chemistry that the boys have with their co-star James Finlayson, although I did think he spent too much time mugging for the camera. The movie is kind of short, at only 65 minutes long, so it never overstays its welcome either and is a good introduction for anyone who wants to watch the films of Laurel & Hardy.

20 Million Miles To Earth

Cover of "20 Million Miles To Earth (50th...

Cover via Amazon

20 Million Miles To Earth is another 1950s Sci-fi film. It features one of Ray Harryhausen’s most memorable monsters, the Ymir, although he is only referred to as the creature throughout the film. I believe that the armature (skeleton) of the Ymir was later used for another Harryhausen monster, the Cyclops from The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad.

The plot begins when a secret US rocket ship crash lands in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Sicily. They were on a return flight after a secret mission to Venus, yes, the planet Venus, when the space craft is hit by a meteorite that causes it to crash-land. The crash landing looks quite dodgy and extremely primitive from a special effects point of view. There are only two survivors of the flight as we soon find that most of the crew have succumbed to a strange disease caused by poisons in the Venusian atmosphere. Soon after the crash, one of the survivors also dies of the fatal disease.

After the ship crash a canister that the astronauts collected from Venus ends up washed onto the shore, where it is found by the young and annoying Pepe. Inside the canister Pepe discovers some ectoplasm containing something or other. Naturally he sells it to Zoologist Dr. Leonardo. The thing inside the ectoplasm soon hatches and it is the lizard-like Ymir. At first he is quite small but ugly, but he grows rapidly and before long is wrecking havoc throughout the Sicilian countryside. He is eventually captured and taken to Rome where he escapes, attacks an elephant, runs amok and then finally climbs the Coliseum in what was homage to the original monster movie, King Kong. He is finally brought down by modern weapons of war.

This is a fun little movie and quite enjoyable. Most of the stop-motion animation is first-rate although it is not as polished as some of Harryhausen’s later work. Some scenes such as the rocket ship crash look very awkward, while the scene of the battle royal between Ymir and Jumbo the elephant also seems a bit primitive and fake. Perhaps it is because there a too many switches of shots between the live-action and animated elephant and it is very easy to identify which is which. Still, if you can overlook this you will find 20 Million Miles To Earth a very enjoyable film to watch.

The Sound Effects Crimes

This is another Joker story which I believe was written by Bill Finger with art by Dick Sprang and Charles Paris.












Now Listen Here Alan Howe, You’re Not Helping So Just Shut Up!

Australia has taken a lot of curry from India over the issue of racism lately. It seems that not a day goes by without hearing in the news of an Indian student living in Melbourne being bashed and beaten. Just a couple of weeks ago Nitin Garg was murdered while just last week an Indian taxi driver in Ballarat was beaten and called an Indian c_nt. Some people still deny that there is a racism problem towards Indians in Melbourne, but I have become convinced that there is something not quite right going on and that a solution to this problem needs to be found. Unfortunately most Aussies will put their heads in the sand or even worse, just play childish games by pointing out the well known problems that exist in India. That is what the Herald Sun’s Alan Howe did just this week.

I am sure there are better ways of proving that Australia is not a racist country than by writing the most racist diatribe possible. We like to see Australia as being the best country in the world and as such we should not give a damn about what is happening in India but instead of trying to fix our own problems first. Howe just proves his ignorance with crap like this and instead of helping ease the tensions between India and Australia he is just fanning the flames even further. Howe just has a stupid habit of trying to prove that white people are superior to everyone else and it is just embarrassing and extremely racist. I am sick of horribly patronizing articles like this and wonder how exactly Howe got his job.

The Circus

Charlie Chaplin The Tramp debuted in 1914 -- p...

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Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus is one of his most underrated films. It is not as renowned as some of his other masterpieces such as The Gold Rush, City Lights or Modern Times, which is a shame as it is a very funny film. There were actually a few scenes which made me ‘laugh out loud’, whilst it is very easy to see the influence that this film and Chaplin has had on every other film comedian since 1928.

One thing that I appreciated was that I was easily able to empathise with the Tramp in his jealousy and his unrequited love for the girl, who naturally, only has eyes for the dashing young tightrope walker. Charlie agrees to walk the tightrope himself after the tightrope walker doesn’t turn up to perform, so he can prove his love for the girl even if it kills him. This is a very funny scene and something many guys, including myself, can empathise with. We’ve all done something stupid or dangerous just to get a girl to notice us! Seeing the Tramp up on the wire with monkeys climbing all over him is just hilarious, even now, 82 years after the films first release.

One thing I like about this film is that Chaplin is not trying to make a grand statement or a great melodrama like his other films. It is not overly sentimental like a lot of his later films either. The film is not a dusty old relic or nostalgic look at how things used to be like Keaton’s Steamboat Bill Jr., it is still very funny as it deals with something that is still relatable today, unrequited love. I know that many people such as Woody Allen see Chaplin as being over-rated but The Circus shows why he is the best of the silent movie comedians. Unlike his other films there is no giant serving of sentimentality or pathos, just lots of laughs and funny gags.

The Puppetoon Movie

Cover of "The Puppetoon Movie"

Cover of The Puppetoon Movie

I bought this a while ago and it has become a DVD that I have come to cherish. The Puppetoon Movie was released in 1987 as a tribute and retrospective to stop-motion pioneer George Pal. Pal was responsible not only for the Puppetoons, but also for assisting another young stop-motion animator, Ray Harryhausen, who would soon make his own mark on the film world. After he was finished with the Puppetoons George Pal then went on to producing a number of hit live action films, such as War Of The Worlds and The Time Machine, for which he also created the special effects.

The Puppetoon movie features eleven of the Puppetoon short animated films from the 1930s and 40s. The film is hosted by Art Clokey’s little green clay man Gumby, and his pals Pokey and Arnie the Dinosaur. Arnie explains to Gumby the significance of George Pal and the Puppetoons to stop-motion characters like himself, and then shows Gumby some of the Puppetoons.

Eleven of the Puppetoon animated films are shown in all, but the first four of these, The Little Broadcast and The Big Broadcast of 1938, Hoola Boola and South Sea Sweethearts and only shown in part.

My favourite Puppetoons are John Henry and the Inky Poo, which retells the African-American folk tale of how railway worker John Henry beat the Inky Poo (a railway track laying machine) in a competition to see which was more efficient at laying railway tracks, but died of exhaustion at the end, and Tubby The Tuba, which tells the story of a Tuba who longs to be able to play a melody rather than just going oompah, oompah. (My explanation doesn’t really do justice to these films.)

Puppetoons included in the movie are:

1 – The Little Broadcast/The Phillips Broadcast of 1938
2 – Hoola Boola/South Sea Sweethearts
3 – The Sleeping Beauty
4 – Tulips Shall Grow
5 – Together In The Weather
6 – John Henry and the Inky-Poo
7 – Phillips Cavalcade
8 – Jasper In A Jam
9 – Tubby the Tuba

Included with the DVD are 12 bonus cartoons which are all a joy to watch.

They are:
1 – What Ho She Bumps
2 – Mr. Strauss Takes A Walk
3 – Olio For Jasper
4 – Phillips Cavalcade (full film)
5 – Jasper’s Derby
6 – Hoola Boola (full film)
7 – Ether Symphony
8 – Aladdin and His Magical Lamp
9 – The Magic Atlas
10 – Jasper and the Haunted House
11 – The Phillips Broadcast of 1938 (full film)
12 – The Ship of Ether

Hopefully there will be a second Puppetoon DVD soon, as I would like to see some more of these wonderful films, including the two Oscar nominated adaptations that George Pal made of Dr. Seuss stories. These are great pieces of entertainment and it’s is fascinating to see the infancy of stop-motion animation. With the renewed interest in this art form thanks to the likes of Fantastic Mr. Fox and Coraline we can only hope that Arnold Leibovit and Paramount can see fit to release more of these great films that served as inspiration to today’s stop motion animators, onto DVD where everyone has the ability to see them. Unfortunately this DVD is the only way at the moment to view these wonderful short animated movies. Arnold Leibovit is very strict at enforcing his copyright and whenever  Puppetoon is loaded onto Youtube or any other such website, it is never up for long, usually removed within a week of being uploaded due to breach of copyright terms and conditions.

International House

Bela Lugosi circa 1920 Source http://www.docto...

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This is a relic of a movie featuring W.C. Fields. Basically the film is just an excuse to see the various performers from radio and vaudeville perform skits, most of which would have been quite dated even in 1933. The only real interests in the film lies in Fields’ performance, that of Burns and Allen and of Bela Lugosi turning in a comic part. Fields gets in a few quite dirty lines (this was made pre-code) and Allen plays the dumb nurse part well, while Lugosi’s portrayal of a jealous Russian general who generally causes chaos shows that he could play a comic role as well as horror. The only other point of interest is Cab Calloway singing the song Reefer Man and him saying that his bass player is ”high on weed’. The movie is a bit of a nostalgic curiosity but it’s not that funny.