Thursday, February 15, 2018

CMBA Profile: Louise Brooks Society



The CMBA profiles one of our classic movie blogs each month. This month we're featuring Thomas Gladysz, of the Louise Brooks Society:
The Louise Brooks Society is one of the most prolific and professional of the blogs in CMBA. Almost every day, there are updates on the site, and the writing and information is top-notch. It's a blog with a very specific focus - a silent film goddess with a short career but an iconic image. Author Thomas Gladysz has been running the society for over twenty years now, and he never seems to run out of things to say or images to share Louise and her world. 
Thomas couldn't choose just one blog entry for you to look at, instead he advises  you to, "start with the most recent entry and simply scroll back words in time. If I have done a decent job, you will keep going." His blog can be found at http://louisebrookssociety.blogspot.com/
Here are his questions to our interview questions:
What sparked your interest in classic film?
-- I remember my father liking gangster movies of the 1930s, as well as Laurel & Hardy, so I suppose his tastes affected mine to some degree. However, as a young teen, I was a contrarian. And my tastes were formed by what I could see on television. My favorite films then were John Huston’s Moby Dick (1956), Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night (1964), and Francois Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 (1966). I grew up near Detroit, and I guess I was a bit idiosyncratic, as far as suburban kids were concerned. The first silent film I remember seeing was Faust (1926), which I picked up late one night on a UHF TV station out of nearby Canada. I was wowed. The scene where Mephisto spread his cape over the city blew my teenage mind. Visually speaking, I hadn’t seen anything like it before, and wouldn’t again until college when I saw the dream cinema of Jean Cocteau.
I launched the Louise Brooks Society website in 1995. I did so after having seen Louise Brooks in Pandora’s Box (1929). I was gob-smacked. I wanted to learn more about Brooks, to see every one of her films, and to meet others who shared by enthusiasm. I read everything I could get my hands on, and tracked down each of her available films. One thing lead to another…. Interest in G.W. Pabst – the director of Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl (1929) – led to an interest in his contemporaries, Lang and Murnau, as well as German Expressionism. Interest in the silent era and the Jazz Age led to an interest in flappers and F. Scott Fitzgerald and Clara Bow and Colleen Moore. My wife loves Buster Keaton and Ronald Colman and Erich von Stroheim, and I developed an interest in them as well. Louise Brooks, you might say, has been my education.
What makes a film a "classic" in your opinion?
-- A movie has to have a strong personality, or at least an alluring personality. Does that mean I follow the auteur theory? Perhaps so, but perhaps not. I was an English major in college, and I’ve always been drawn to films based on books. Another couple of longstanding favorites are Stanley Kramer’s Inherit the Wind (1960) and David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago (1965). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched each of the various films (and the TV series) based on Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. I love that story. As a matter of fact, I love films about outsiders, loners, losers and those who are misunderstood or have been wronged. I guess that says more about me than about the classic status of a film. Obviously, some “classic films” are more successful than others as works of art. Individual films become classics for all manner of reasons. Some films considered great I find dull. Some films considered banal or silly I find enjoyable, like My Man Godfrey (1936) and The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964). I know what I like.
What classic film(s) do you recommend to people who say they hate old movies?
-- That’s a tough one. I would ask what contemporary films they like and try to think of a similar film from the past – provided the viewer can get past the technological hurdles, like black-and-white film, crude special effects, or the lack of spoken dialogue. Many of the Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton films and some of the pre-code films are classics because they transcend time. They are  “universal.” They still speak to a generation of viewers who’ve grown up on special effects.
If someone were to ask what Louise Brooks film they should watch, I would suggest Diary of a Lost Girl over Pandora’s Box.  Both are great films, but both are also problematic. Each is dark and a little depressing, which may turn-off some viewers. Also, both films were heavily censored, and what we have today is not quite complete, despite all the restoration work done on them. All-in-all, I would say Diary holds together a little better. Another recommended downer is Beggars of Life (1928). It’s a terrific film. Love Em and Leave Em (1926) is a very different Brooks’ film from those I just mentioned. It is fun, and a typical film of its time. I wish somebody would restore it.
Why should people care about classic film?
-- Kevin Brownlow once said: “Silent pictures show us how we lived and what our attitudes were. And as an art form, they can be wonderfully entertaining and often inspirational.” I think that pretty much explains it.
What is the most rewarding thing about blogging?
-- Feedback. It is gratifying when readers post comments or show interest in what I’ve written. But I am not in it for the applause, because there is very little of that. Maybe I’m just talking to myself, but I started my blog as a form of dialogue with the world, with those who love watching, reading about, thinking about, and researching old movies. Classic film will never achieve a mass audience – just like my blog or the Louise Brooks Society website will never achieve a mass readership. But a few hundred or a few thousand are all right with me. I keep on. It’s what I do.
I started the Louise Brooks Society blog in 2002, first on LiveJournal, and later I moved it to Blogger, where it now resides. A couple hundred have subscribed. I am a bit proud of the fact that I’ve kept it going all this time. Sometime this year, I will have posted for the 3000th time.
What challenges do you face with your blog, and how do you overcome them?
-- Despite the narrow focus of my blog – one film star with a short career – I seldom run out of things to write about. I’ve joked “all roads lead to Louise Brooks.” And no matter how seemingly unrelated a topic might be, I always try to somehow relate it to Brooks or the silent era. (Trust me, I never stray that far.) The novelist Salman Rushdie once said, "To understand just one life, you have to swallow the world." That’s my motto.
 What advice would you give to a new blogger?
-- Be yourself. Your blog can be anything you want it to be. Don’t imitate others, but also, importantly, don’t be ignorant of what others have done. Check out other bloggers! A good novelist is someone who reads lots of fiction. And a good blogger is someone who reads other blogs. Who knows? Other bloggers might well have done something that inspires or informs what you are trying to do.
Bring the real world into this digital medium. Read print books! Research something you are curious about. Visit a library or archive or historical museum to find out more about your subject. Explore your local connection. If you like Jean Harlow or William Powell or Esther Ralston, find out where their films where shown in your town… and what the local critics thought of them. Did your favorite star ever visit your town or city? There are a million angles.
Also, take advantage of all that the internet has to offer to enrich your blog – like newspaper and magazine archives, audio sources like SoundCloud, social media (it pays to get the word out), and the “community” of other film lovers. Your blog is a journey. Be open to possibilities. Explore. Have fun.
Thanks for sharing so much, Thomas! Louise Brooks couldn't ask for a better advocate!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

CMBA Profile: Classic Movie Man




The CMBA profiles one of our classic movie blogs each month. This month we're featuring Stephen Reginald, of Classic Movie Man
A look at Classic Movie Man is like being invited to a great film festival. Stephen Reginald, the writer of Classic Movie Man, posts news about local screenings in Chicago, meetups, and presentations he's giving, and his love of classic film comes across in everything he writes. One section, "The Film Club," is dedicated specially to these kinds of local events. Stephen has also lectured on classic movies at the Facets Film School, and this article in Chicago Magazine makes it sound like these discussions were too fun to miss out on.
Stephen would like you to take a look at his post about Ida Lupino, a well-researched but very readable examination of the career of an often-overlooked talented actress and director. Here's what Stephen had to say in response to our questions:

1. What sparked your interest in classic film?  
Back in the day before cable TV, classic movies were on broadcast TV all the time. I used to watch classic films with my father whose favorite movie was "The Four Feathers" (1939). He was 16 years old when it was released. I wrote a blog post about it.
2.  What makes a film a "classic" in your opinion? 
That's a tough one because it's so subjective. I sum up my opinion on the subject in the header for my blog: "What qualifies as a classic film or movie is somewhat subjective. There are certain films which endure because they strike an emotional chord long after their initial release. For example, a movie like "Casablanca" (1942) would qualify as a classic under that definition."
3.  What classic film(s) do you recommend to people who say they hate old movies? 
I generally like to know something about the individual before I recommend a classic film(s), but one classic that hardly ever misses is "Rear Window." It's in color, it's beautiful to look at, has a wonderful cast of classic film stars and character actors, and it's Alfred Hitchcock at the peak of his powers. It's a winner that hasn't lost its luster.
4.  Why should people care about classic film?  
Film is an art form and to fully understand you need to have some knowledge of its beginnings. For example, to fully understand modern/contemporary art, you need to have some knowledge the Old Masters.
5.  What is the most rewarding thing about blogging? 
Sharing my love of classic movies with others. I love it when someone says they want to see a movie based on a blog post I wrote. 
6.  What challenges do you face with your blog, and how do you overcome them? 
Time is a problem for every blogger, I think. I try to plan my posts, but I don't think I'm entirely successful in doing so. I have tried to incorporate some regular features, which helps with content creation. For example, I've done an annual classic Christmas movie blog post every year since 2010.
7.  What advice would you give to a new blogger?  
Write about the movies you enjoy most. Develop your own style and don't try to be like other bloggers. I enjoy reading other movie blogs because they're creative and offer something different than what I'm doing.

Thanks so much, Stephen! We'll see you at the popcorn stand!


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

CMBA Profile: Second Sight Cinema



The CMBA profiles one of our classic movie blogs each month. This month we're featuring Lesley from Second Sight Cinema.


 “Second Sight Cinema” is a blog with an attitude. Its writer, Lesley Gaspar, isn’t afraid to tell you her opinions, and she has the erudition to back them up with facts. Don’t show up to her class if you haven’t done the reading! But, if you’re here to learn, her posts will give you detailed accounts of films and personalities you thought you already knew, and you’ll come away with new information (and sources!) that will give you plenty to chew on. When Lesley writes up a film, you can be sure she’s researched it thoroughly and deeply. With all of that sheer knowledge, her feelings and passion for the cinema come through strongly as well.

A great example of her writing can be seen in her post “Disembodied: Waldo Lydecker, the voice in the Dark in Laura (1944)” which was her contribution to the “Great Villain Blogathon” of 2016. While using the bad guy as its lens, the article is really an in-depth discussion of nearly every aspect of the film. She takes issue with one of the heavyweights of film criticism, Roger Ebert, and is so convincing it’s hard to believe anyone would disagree.



Given the depth of her posts, it’s no surprise that she answered our questions at impressive length as well. Here’s what Lesley had to say in response to our questions:

1. What sparked your interest in classic film?

When I was a kid in the '60s, we got our preliminary movie education from broadcast TV. Because old movies stopped being syndicated to broadcast TV after TCM got nationwide distribution it's hard to remember when the networks had "______ Night at the Movies" every night, and local affiliates, independent stations, and even PBS showed movies early, late, and late late. The movies were savagely edited for length with absolutely no regard for continuity or sense. Still, I saw On the Town for the first time on TV and fell totally in love with the New York locations and everything else about it—the cast, songs, staging, the period style. I saw The Road to Utopia during a rare Dallas snowfall and marveled at the surreal bits, like when Hope and Crosby are on their dogsled and see a mountain, and then the Paramount logo is superimposed over it. I saw The Haunting (1963) one afternoon when I was alone in the house, and couldn't be alone for a week. My first movie in a theater was a rerelease of Pinocchio when I was 4, and Monstro the Whale scared me silly, and when I was 10 my mom took me to see Gone with the Wind for the first time, and I fell for it, hard. In 1972, when I was 13, a friend who loved Sirk's Imitation of Life had us all over to watch it, commercials and all, and when Mahalia Jackson sang at Annie's funeral, we all bawled together. Movies were a part of our daily lives, both in theaters and on TV, and I was particularly attracted to the styles and slang of '30s and '40s movies.

Also, my mom has always loved movies, so she shared the bug with me. She's also a writer, and we're both fascinated with adaptation. We went to my first TCM Film Festival together in 2012, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. When I was a kid in Dallas, she used to take us to this dilapidated old theater, The Circle. That's where I saw my first Marx Bros and W.C. Fields (it was Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, a mess of a movie with incredible, surreal gags). Seeing Fields on the observation deck of the plane, having propped his whisky in the window, and when it inevitably falls he pauses in shock and horror for two seconds, then dives out the window after it: priceless.

Last thing: When I discovered, at the library, that people actually wrote books about movies, that was life-changing. I still have the first two movie books I ever bought, when I was 12: Hollywood and the Great Fan Magazines, and All Talking All Singing All Dancing.

2. What makes a film a classic in your opinion?

That's different from "classic movies," which refers to when they were made, right?

To me it's how a movie holds up over time, some quality that transcends when it was made and remains powerful and affecting decades later. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was on recently—it meets my criteria for a classic. It evokes period and place (Brooklyn!) very well, and the family's struggle to survive, seen through the eyes of the daughter who will grow up to write their story, is both rich in specific detail and universal.

Maybe it's a perennial quality, a freshness, that isn't related to when the movie was made. Like all matters of taste, one person's classic is another's snore-fest. The first time I got the "it's boring" reaction to Citizen Kane I was shocked; now I expect it. To me its audacity is always invigorating, as is its sheer pleasure in the possibilities of moviemaking. But like its director, the movie has suffered by being enshrined as a masterpiece. Maybe if we'd all drop that, people could get back to seeing it as what it is: an incredibly entertaining, haunting movie.

"Greatness" is a stone around old movies' necks. I've had a couple people say, apologetically, that they know they ought to watch old films. But maybe they shouldn't—nothing takes the fun out of it like turning it into an obligation.

3. What classic film(s) do you recommend to people who hate old movies?

My experience is, if they really hate old movies, don't waste your time. The usual litany of objections—can't watch black-and-white; all acting in old movies is stagey and hokey; and a general discomfort with and lack of interest in depictions of the past—these aren't subject to persuasion, and let's face it, the haters don't want to be persuaded. Save your energy for more fulfilling projects, like watching and reading about more movies yourself.

No, people have to be at least open to giving old movies a chance. Then you can look at what their interests are, what kind of contemporary movies they like, and try to extrapolate a few titles from that. My 18-year-old neighbor loves horror, so I lent her Carnival of Souls (1962), and she watched it and didn't roll her eyes. Maybe next I'll try her on some Universal horror. I think she might like The Black Cat (1934).
If your newbie likes comedy, I'd start with Ball of Fire (1941), or The More the Merrier, or one of the Marx Brothers' Paramount movies (but not The Cocoanuts or Animal Crackers, which suffer from the static staginess of early sound). If they like crime, Out of the Past (1947) could be a gateway, or The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, or Scarface (1932). If they like cult movies, Detour (1945) or The Old Dark House (1932). Romance—The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Philadelphia Story, It Happened One Night, or Portrait of Jennie. Westerns might be an easier sell now that the genre has been revived by television, so I'd go with Stagecoach (1939); or 3:10 to Yuma, or Stevens' Shane, or maybe Sturges' The Magnificent Seven. Maybe even Giant (1956), if they have a taste for epics. And if they like fashion and style, the Astaire / Rogers movies might be fun for them.

Hitchcock might also be good for newbies: Rear Window, Notorious, Strangers on a Train, The 39 Steps, To Catch a Thief, Dial M for Murder, Foreign Correspondent, maybe even Shadow of a Doubt.

As for genres, the brash sexuality of pre-Code and the perversity and violence of noir appeal to a lot of people, so they might be fertile gateways. And of course silent film is so utterly foreign to the uninitiated that you have to have a really motivated newbie. Then I'd probably go with a comedy—Sherlock Jr., Modern Times, or Girl Shy. Unless they're science fiction fans, in which case maybe Metropolis.

4. Why should people care about classic film?

Lots of reasons! For starters, it's the only time machine we will ever have.

In addition to the pleasure factor, old movies can be a lens through which we study all sorts of things, from social history to the history of fashion, technology, political trends, and business. I had an epiphany the first time I saw the Market Street footage, shot in San Francisco a week before the 1906 earthquake and fire and shipped east to be processed just the night before the disaster. I had always felt a little sheepish about my passion for old movies, like it was not a subject people took seriously. Watching that footage, those people walking and driving past the camera in the shadows of buildings, many of which will be leveled only days later, I was profoundly moved by glimpsing this moment in the life of the city and all those people, some of whom would not survive. And I realized that film history is no different from any other kind of history, and that as God was my witness, I would never apologize for studying it again (h/t Scarlett O'Hara).

5. What is the most rewarding thing about blogging?

The biggest reward is coming up with my own take—if I can't do that, what's the point? It can take a while and be frustrating to find my way, but once I do, it's exhilarating. It's great to have an excuse to really dig into a movie or one of its makers, or any other movie subject that can be revealed by close viewing, research, and serious thought. I love getting feedback—none of us write just to hear ourselves talk. But I love the adventure of never knowing, when I pick a topic or start writing, where I'm going to end up. Sometimes I think, as I start, that I know where I'm going. But there's always that left turn at Albuquerque that Bugs Bunny spoke of...


6. What challenges do you face with your blog, and how do you overcome them?

My biggest challenges come from chronic illness, which has eroded my writing time significantly, along with the rest of my life. The best I've done so far is not succumb to despair, not go crazy today, and not give up. I write whenever I can manage to, so while I have less presence in the community than I used to, I'm keeping my hand in. And I'm still working on improving my health, so I hope to eventually get back some of my life, including writing and teaching.

In the meantime, thanks to all the event hosts who have cut me slack when I miss deadlines or have to drop out altogether—I take this stuff very seriously, and the last thing I want to do is hang anyone up or make work for them. But my best-laid plans often blow up, and I have to do a lot of improvising.

7. What advice would you give to a new blogger?

Find a couple of bloggers whose work you enjoy, and analyze what you're responding to. Then practice doing likewise. Also, work on finding your voice. There are so many people blogging about classic movies these days, there's a fair amount of redundancy in subject matter. But nobody sees it exactly like you do, and nobody can express that like you can. If you have a concept or angle that sets your blog apart, go for it. It's tough to enter the field at this late date, tough to drive traffic to new sites, tough to get people to subscribe / follow. But with all those caveats, if you love classic movies and are moved to write about them, just do it. You'll be welcomed into this lovely community, and we'll be glad to have you.

Thanks very much, Lesley! Check out Second Sight Cinema here: http://secondsightcinema.com/

Friday, November 3, 2017

BANNED and BLACKLISTED, the 2017 CMBA FALL BLOGATHON


The Classic Movie Blog Association’s fall blogathon, Banned and Blacklisted, ran from November 15 -19. Participating CMBA members blogged on the broad ranging subject of banned films and blacklisted actors, writers, directors and others in the business of making movies. 

Contributing blogs are listed below on the dates their pieces posted.Please be sure to check out all their fine work - just click on entry titles (in bold) to go to each post:

Wed. November 15