THE DONOVAN AFFAIR has two distinctions. It was the first all talking picture directed by Frank Capra. And, it’s a semi lost film. There are complete prints of the film. It has been transferred to safety film and there are preservation copies in existence. However, it was made in the earliest talking picture era (1929) using the Vitaphone process that meant it was shown in theaters using the sound on disk method, where the sound track was synchronized to the film. Unfortunately, no copies of the soundtrack disks have been found. Furthermore, no copies of the script have ever been found. There was a censor’s dialogue guide that proved to be inaccurate. This means that beyond its original release it was impossible to show it.
Another of the films I caught up with during a free cable promotion was Woody Allen’s TO ROME WITH LOVE. It wasn’t letterboxed. For some reason none of Woody Allen’s films are shown, even on premium cable, letterboxed. In this day and age this has to be deliberate. His early, funny films are shown in letterbox, but after a certain period they’re not. Is he afraid that someone will own a letterboxed copy of his films without some of the money finding its way into chez Allen? I don’t know, but I thought this picture was from a decade or so ago and was surprised to find it was as recent as 2012. Gone are the days when I used to go to a theater on the Upper East Side on opening day, so anxious was I to get my Woody Allen fix. Now they seem to regularly float past me. The screenings get ever more eccentric and difficult to book. I think SWEET AND LOWDOWN was the last Woody Allen screening I attended.
Spoiler warning: This is all spoilers. So if you haven’t seen this piece of crap yet and actually plan to see it you’re too stupid to appreciate my argument anyway so don’t even try to read it.
This was a pleasant little surprise, a clever and entertaining programmer western. It’s a modern day western, a mix of roadsters and horse riding, familiar as the so-called Autry Fantasy. In this case it seems that some actual logic entered into the existence of these two dimensions to exist side by side. The cattle ranchers who have to round up their cattle are saddle bound. Visitors from the outside world drive cars. But that’s just one little witticism.
Later this month (25 June 2012) Turner Classic Movies/TCM is presenting an evening of films with Ross Alexander. He is a pretty obscure actor who played supporting parts in “A” Warners pictures and some leads in “B”s. He was considered an up and coming leading man in the Warners stock company when he shot himself in the head. There are several reasons given for his Jan. ’37 suicide, his homosexuality, studio pressure to keep up a front, his declining career, debts… There are several conflicting stories but no one has really researched it properly. The only interest in Ross Alexander was when Reagan biographer Lou Cannon mentioned that Alexander’s suicide meant there was a hole in the Warner’s line-up that Ronnie was lucky enough to fill.
When I was a little boy, my auntie used to give me magazines her boss gave her. They were what were in those days called “Men’s Magazines” such as True and Argosy. They featured hunting and fishing and masculine stuff like that. And, VIP cartoons as well as first class fiction and historical articles. One of the featured writers was Adela Rogers St. John, the very macquette of the sob sister, the hard talking, tough acting newspaperwoman so popular in the cinema of the 1920s and ’30s. She was also a top screenwriter who could hold her own with the other top writers in Hollywood. She wrote about her father, Earl Rogers, the prototypical ace lawyer who could have gotten Jack the Ripper an acquittal. When Clarence Darrow was put on trial for jury subornation in LA he got Rogers to defend him (successfully). Rogers was also the model for Earl Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason. Gardner was a regular contributor to these magazines too.
While I enjoyed watching WE HAVE A POPE, when it came time for me to recount the picture to myself in preparation to writing this review, I found that there was a lot to bitch about. While I thought it was a film on a certain level, I found that it really was a film on a much lower level. This is all due to the film’s star, Michel Piccoli, if not the best actor in the world, (as if that could be determined), in the very top rank of actors. His scenes raise the film to the highest reaches of film art. Others scenes, amusing to a point, become more problematical in retrospect. There is a tangle of plotlines which begin promisingly and then are left to die on the vine.
I invited a friend to go to a screening of THE DEEP BLUE SEA, and she asked me about it. I said it was directed by Terence Davies. Who’s that? He directed THE LONG DAY CLOSES and DISTANT VOICES, STILL LIVES. Well, as usual she didn’t come and anyway I was embarrassed because when the few credits came on at the beginning of the picture it read “Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea.” What a mistake to make. I wondered if I were getting as senile as the girls who stop me to pet my dog think I am?
The documentary film, JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI, about an 85 year old master sushi chef with a ten seat restaurant located in the Ginza subway station, presents images, I assume high definition images, of single pieces of sushi which to look at in the confines of a movie (or screening room) seat, becomes torture. I’d give away the plans to the Panama Canal for the uni alone.
I just read that the separation between the Triassic and Jurassic Periods took a blink of the eye in geologic terms, 10,000 years. So the transition from the end of the Golden Age of American Movies to its downfall and its reemergence as the present system wasn’t overnight but a ragged process of several decades. The absolute peak of American film going was 1946. It’s all been downhill since then.