Inside Chuck Barris’s Head: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)

CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND (2002)

To view Confessions of a Dangerous Mind click here.

Innovative game show creator Chuck Barris, one of my favorite showbiz figures, died in March of this year. Obituaries rightly acknowledged his influence on reality television. While he created many game shows as head of Chuck Barris Productions, there are three that made pop culture history. The Dating Game (1965-1986), The Newlywed Game (1966-1974) and The Gong Show (1976-1980) shared in common a format designed to exploit the spontaneous and the unpredictable. The shows’ premises—dating, marriage and the desire to be the center of attention—often resulted in responses from contestants that could be embarrassing and downright humiliating.

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Bigotry & Bloodshed: Sapphire (1959)

SAPPHIRE (1959)

To view Sapphire click here.

A beautiful young woman named Sapphire (Yvonne Buckingham) has been murdered. Her bloodied corpse was found in London’s Hampstead Heath park. A seasoned detective (Nigel Patrick) and his young partner (Michael Craig) are called on to investigate the case but as they try to piece together the puzzle of this post-war whodunit the mystery only deepens. Behind her tweed skirts and pale complexion, Sapphire was keeping many secrets including the fact that she was the biracial child of a black mother and white father. Did race play a part in her murder? Is a family member involved? Or was she killed by one of her male suitors? Before the killer is unmasked, this curious mystery takes some surprising twists and turns. In the process viewers get a firsthand look at London’s vibrant city streets undergoing a tectonic shift as denizens of white working-class pubs and black jazz clubs mix, mingle and occasionally fall in love. We also get a taste of the revolting racism quietly simmering underneath this modern cultural melting-pot.

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Don’t Watch M (1931) on Your Anniversary, and Other Unsolicited Romantic Advice

M (1931)

In case you want to see M click here.

Today, my husband and I are celebrating our anniversary. When we were married, the two of us were young, broke and stupid. We had no earthly idea what we were doing, or what was ahead of us. But we had fun. Lots of fun. Sixteen years later and we’re still broke, we’re much older and not necessarily wiser (but maybe a little less stupid). One thing that has always been a constant in our relationship is our sense of humor about everything. Matter of fact, our mutual appreciation for irreverent humor helped guide us through many of life’s unexpected obstacles. And when it comes to romance, my husband and I are pretty unconventional and pragmatic. We’ve been that way since we first dated almost twenty years ago. Don’t get me wrong–there are little gestures and surprises here and there, but you won’t see the likes of us in a Hallmark ad campaign. Our idea of romance is spending time together, laughing and sharing the things we love with each other, such as music and especially movies.

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Love and War: The Spy in Black (1939)

SPY IN BLACK, THE (1939)

To view The Spy in Black click here.

“We are at war. Perhaps you forgot that, as I did for awhile. You are English, I am German, we are enemies!”

“I like that better.”

“And I. It simplifies everything.”

That conversation happens late in the 1939 thriller, The Spy in Black, but it strikes at the heart of the movie. The Spy in Black is notable as the first movie that the esteemed filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger worked on together, though not as co-directors. This first time out, Powell was the sole director and Pressburger, the screenwriter. The movie follows more along the lines of Powell and the duo’s early work, a small, intimate film, high on efficiency, low on bloat. The story is a rather average one (spies fooling each other in an effort to win one for the war effort) distinguished by the performances of Conrad Veidt and Valerie Hobson, and the direction of Powell. But it also distinguishes itself in taking its little story and heaping upon it the moral quandaries of love and death in war, something that quote above speaks to. And in that respect, it is one of the best spy thrillers of the 1930s.

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An Unusual Friendship: Tiger Bay (1959)

TIGER BAY

To view Tiger Bay click here.

Tiger Bay is one of my all-time favorite films that I made. I still can’t get over the thrill I got when I first saw Hayley on the screen, with those wonderful big eyes … She was an ideal little person to work with because you knew … when you just looked through the lens at her that the camera loved her … You just knew that she had such a rapport with the camera and that’s what filmmaking is about – the rapport between the camera and the artist. It’s that magic that you can not explain. You either have it or you don’t. The very best actor or actress in the world, if the camera doesn’t love her, half the performance has gone.” – J. Lee Thompson

Twelve-year-old Hayley Mills made her screen debut in Tiger Bay (1959) playing Gillie, a rambunctious doe-eyed orphan living with her aunt in the British working-class neighborhood of Tiger Bay. When Gillie unwittingly witnesses a Polish sailor (Horst Buchholz) shoot his girlfriend (Yvonne Mitchell), she steals the gun to impress her young playmates and protect the charismatic killer. Over the course of the film Gillie and the murderer develop an unusual bond while trying to evade a determined police superintendent (John Mills) and escape prosecution.

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Have a Coca-Cola Kid and a Smile

THE COCA COLA KID, Eric Roberts, 1985, (c) Cinecom International/courtesy Everett Collection

To view The Coca-Cola Kid click here.

As a child of the 1980s, I grew up watching all of those movie review shows where two critics faced off and compared notes about the latest releases, from the biggest blockbusters to the tiniest indie art house offerings. Siskel and Ebert were the gold standard here, of course, but there were plenty of others to get a broader range of opinions… and if a movie got called out as a “stinker” or “dog” of the week, I made sure to put it on my must-see list to find out what made them so angry. In the process I heard about lots of films I’d never have any hope of seeing on the big screen – things like Liquid Sky (1982), Pauline at the Beach (1983) or My American Cousin (1985), which weren’t exactly the kind of thing an underage kid could easily go see.

Then there was something called The Coca-Cola Kid(1985), which looked really odd and fascinating based on the few clips that showed up on TV; every reviewer seemed to tag it with words like “sexy” and “zany,” a kind of racier Aussie cousin to something like The Gods Must Be Crazy (which was shot in 1980 but didn’t hit the U.S. until 1984) or Local Hero (1983). So I added The Coca-Cola Kid to my future watchlist and went on my usual movie-devouring way. Meanwhile VHS was really exploding, and it was much, much easier to rent foreign films down the street (plus they didn’t usually have MPAA ratings!)—a real boost for any young cinephile. It wasn’t long before some scouring exposed me to the films of Dušan Makavejev, the taboo-smashing Yugoslavian provocateur behind such groundbreaking films as WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971) and Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator (1967). (And yep, you can see those and plenty more right here on FilmStruck as part of the “Directed by Dušan Makavejev” theme.) [...MORE]

Life is Beautiful: La Chienne (1931)

CHIENNE, LA (1931)

To view La Chienne click here.

The characters in La Chienne (1931) do not learn or grow, but remain indelibly themselves. Each act of pettiness, adultery or murder is a logical extension of personality, fated in DNA.  It is the earliest of director Jean Renoir’s canonical works, bitterly funny and desperately sad, which unravels a love triangle in which all three members cling to unsustainable illusions. A mild-mannered cashier (Michel Simon) and brutish pimp (Georges Flamant) both project their dreams of escape onto a no-nonsense prostitute (Janie Marèse), who is unwilling to satisfy their divergent desires (the cashier asks for love, the pimp money – neither ask what she wants). None are capable of enough empathy to consider the other’s position, so they continue in mutual incomprehension, and on to frustration and violence. Renoir bookends the film with a puppet show, framing the trio as marionettes not in control of their destiny, tugged along by their natures. While this leads them to tragedy, it also provides them with a radical kind of freedom, the sloughing off of all control.  

This is the third part of a series covering the films of Jean Renoir, 16 of which are streaming on FilmStruck. The first entry on The Whirlpool of Fate is here. The second entry on Nana is here. [...MORE]

Poking Fun at Death: Re-Visiting The Seventh Seal (1957)

SEVENTH SEAL, THE (1957)

To view The Seventh Seal click here.

Making fun of Death seems like a risky prank—like poking a stick at a poisonous snake—but, that has never stopped filmmakers, comedians and animators from spoofing the character of Death as seen in Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957), a title currently streaming on FilmStruck as part of series devoted to Sweden’s most renowned director.

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The History of The History of Tom Jones (1963)

TOM JONES (1963)

To view Tom Jones click here.

It often happens that something comes along, sets a standard, is recognized as being trailblazing, then gets copied and co-opted, until finally we take it for granted and think, “oh, that one’s so overrated.” Such is the case with an adaptation of a novel published in 1749 by the writer Henry Fielding. The title of the book, a comic novel, was The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling but the 1963 movie shortened it to the foundling’s name alone, Tom Jones. With the screenplay adapted for the screen by celebrated playwright John Osborne and directed with flair by Tony Richardson, Tom Jones hit the screen to great notices and, more importantly, a certain amount of awe for its style. A blurb from The New York Times‘s Bosley Crowther, slightly edited for length and clarity (where you see the ellipses), ended up serving as the film’s tagline in its advertisements: “Prepare yourself for… one of the wildest, bawdiest, and funniest comedies… ever brought to the screen.” Thus the adaptation of an 18th century comic novel became a 20th century movie blockbuster, but does it still work today? Indeed it does.

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In Spite of Myself, I Think I Might Like Stewart Granger

SARABAND FOR DEAD LOVERS (1948)

To view the “Early Stewart Granger” theme on FilmStruck click here.

I’ll admit that I’ve always been fairly ambivalent toward actor Stewart Granger (or “the other Jimmy Stewart,” as I like to call him). I’ve never found him, or his films, particularly entertaining. Every once in a while, I’ll find myself in the mood for a fluffy romantic adventure flick like King Solomon’s Mines (1950) or Bhowani Junction (1956), but that’s usually the extent of my Stewart Granger tolerance. If I’m craving a swashbuckling matinee idol, I usually reach for the real deal: Douglas Fairbanks, Errol Flynn or Tyrone Power. And if I want a little extra sophistication with my swashbuckling, I go for the lush, velvet voiced Ronald Colman. Now, I don’t blame Stewart Granger for my lack of interest in his films. He has all the makings for a remarkable leading man: the requisite tall, dark and handsome physical characteristics; unwavering confidence; a proper British accent; cultured sensibilities; charismatic charm; and a healthy sexual appetite. (This is key for the so-called “bodice ripper” romance films.)

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