On My Screen No. 1 | Pre-Code Releases

This post is the first of what will be a change in format. In between writing the occasional feature-length and in-depth review or analysis about something film-related, I’ll be posting “On My Screen”, which will focus more on new releases, what I’m currently watching, and interesting links and notes about other screen news.

Classic Cinema: Warner Archives Classics released a number of interesting films in the past weeks, two Norma Shearer vehicles, both with Fredric March: 1934’s “The Barretts of Wimpole Street” and “Smilin’ Through” (1932). They’ve also released two minor Joan Crawford films, “Our Blushing Brides” (1930) and “I Live My Life” (1935). But what really caught my eye was the release of another big Pre-Code picture, “What Price Hollywood?” — a 1932 American drama directed by George Cukor, starting Constance Bennett. There’s also an Olive Films blu-ray release of the Hitchcockian “Sleep My Love” (1948) directed by master Douglas Sirk (“Magnificent Obsession” and one of my favorites “Written On the Wind”), teaming actress Claudette Colbert with Don Ameche. The release date is scheduled for April 15th. (Image above: “Sleep My Love”).

On TV: TCM posted its TV schedule for the month of May.

Gem Release: I’ve always been a fan of “The Year of Living Dangerously”, an under-watched film about love, war, death and politics in the middle of highly-turbulent times in 1960s Indonesia. It stars Sigourney Weaver and Mel Gibson, but it’s Linda Hunt who steals the picture, playing a ubiquitous man named Billy Kwan. Yes, she plays a man, and she’s fantastic doing it. You can read a review about the film written by Roger Ebert in 1983.

Cool Link | History, crime and film: J. Hoberman, one of the best film critics around (with a  specialty in writing about American cinema and the history surrounding it, especially in the 1950s and 60s) has an interesting piece available to read at the New York Times about mid-’50s B movies like “New York Confidential,” “The Phenix City Story” and “New Orleans Uncensored”, which were inspired by hearings held in 1950-’51 by the Senate’s Special Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce.

Review | Comedic bash: I’m an avid reader of DVD Savant (aka Glenn Erickson) over at DVDTalk. Erickson offers two or three DVD reviews every few days or so and most of them are spot-on, and even if you don’t agree with his final analysis, at the very least you may glean something from his endless film knowledge, and his grading of video quality as well as film quality. I’d like to point to a recent review he wrote about Criterion’s recent dual-format release of the assemble comedy, “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World” (1963) — which features a 197-minute extended version of the film.

Buzzing | Cable crazy: The last few days have featured a couple of TV buzzes, first with the development of HBO’s “True Detective”, and second with the follow-up season of Netflix’s “House of Cards” being posted today. The latter started off with a plot-twist bang in the first episode, but I’ll stop there. Just watch it. As for the former, a friend of mine asked me the question, “So, when did Matthew McConaughey become such a good actor?” Well, he’s always been pretty good. Even from his earliest “Dazed and Confused” days. Another friend was impressed with the way “True Detective” made the landscape nearly another character. He’s right. It’s stunning to look at. I just hope that the plot doesn’t get too convoluted. But what was just as interesting was the latest episode (the fourth) which contains one of the best, longest tracking shots I’ve seen in a long time. (The shot takes you through a neighborhood shootout/riot between gangsters and police, in and out of homes, in backyards, over a fence, and ultimately ending with a crane shot and perhaps some CGI of a helicopter looking down on the chaos.) Whenever I think of the “king of the tracking shot” I think of director Max Ophüls (like in his 1953 film “The Earrings of Madame de …”) — for the pure beauty and artistic difficulty of it. But that doesn’t mean a modern action sequence can’t make great use of it too. Off the top of my head, I remember a cool tracking sequence Steven Spielberg uses in “Band of Brothers”. It’s a scene where the soldiers are on the tarmac, waiting to take off for D-Day. It’s not anything spectacular, but there was something very smooth and elegant about it. Hardly noticeable until it hits you that there have been no POV cuts and dialogue must occur at “X” marks to make everything work so fluidly. Then, of course, there’s Alexander Sokurov’s “Russian Ark” — which technically isn’t a single tracking shot, but is 96 minutes filmed in ONE shot with a steadycam.

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