Tag Archives: Film History

Video

2022 Additions to the National Film Registry

Given my most recent Favorite Films list, I figured it’d be nice to highlight the National Film Registry, a project by the Library of Congress. Each year, they add titles to the registry, serving as an annual reminder of the work they do and highlighting some films that might have fallen off people’s radar.

You can read about this years inductees at the link above, from NPR and Variety, or via this fun video below:

The Immense Satisfaction of Ke Huy Quan’s Comback

Actor and stunt choreographer Ke Huy Quan has not been on my mind until recently.

I may not have seen Temple of Doom, where he played Short Round, this millennium. I only saw The Goonies for the first time last year (friends know I regret nothing) and Data was probably my favorite of the Bad News Oregonians. And then Everything Everywhere All at Once came out this year and was entirely up my off-kilter-but-emotionally-truthful alley. Quan was phenomenal in his multiversal roles.

And so I wanted to know “Who’s that guy again?” (seeing as he has aged a tad since the 80s) and fine I’ve enjoyed his behind-the-scenes work in many a movie since being Short Round.

And then I came across this article by Delia Kai for Vanity Fair about Ke Huy Quan coming back on Hollywood’s radar. Whether you’re a fellow Gen Xer musing about dreams deferred or a creative multi-hypenates who actually does like to act, it’s sure to strike a chord. It’s wonderful to see him getting this recognition and I hope this bodes well for a next act.

Ke Huy Quan (Pat Martin for Vanity Fair)
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TCM Remembers, 2022

TCM does a great montage every year of the film folks we’ve lost. It never fails to make me want to rewatch a film or three. This year, we lost a couple actors particularly dear to my cinemania, David Warner and Angela Lansbury.

They’ve gotten better about making sure their videos are on YouTube, so you can check out past editions, including the recent 2021, 2020, and 2019 — the last of which I find particularly artful.

GIFs Out of Balance

Earlier this week, I mentioned doing the sort of my biennial favorite films list. My favorite film for a few years back in the pre-Internet era (well, pre-Netscape Navigator for sticklers) was the experimental, non-narrative film Koyaanisqatsi.

Technically a documentary, I suppose, but really more of a visual essay. It uses a variety of slow-motion, time-lapse, and regular speed, but breathtaking, cinematography resulting in a film unlike anything I had seen before. It may also have been my first exposure to the music of Philip Glass, which is integral to the piece — and Philip Glass music alone is quite the discovery. I also benefited from seeing it on the big screen with an audience, where the collective experience also proved integral, especially at those few points where Glass’ mesmerizing score stops and you could hear a pin drop in the theater.

Its impact has been diminished with the omnipresence of visual media, including the ubiquity of slow-motion and time-lapse video. In fact, I recall a designer friend not being impressed by the film, possibly because of their ready access to stock footage libraries which included countless slo-mo and time-lapse video clips. In short, they felt they could create their own “Qatsi construction” with ease.

Well, thanks to the Internet, we have reached peak “Qatsi.” No, I’m not talking about Alvin and the Chipmunks singing the whole Koyannisqatsi soundtrack, though that’s awesome. I’m talking about the existence, alerted to me by friends and Boing Boing, of Gifaanisqatsi: an algorithmically generated set of GIFs set to Philip Glass’ iconic score. The version I saw included someone in an inflatable T-Rex costume pole dancing. And, of course, cats.

It is truly beautiful and terrible to behold.

I will leave it to you to decide how out of balance we all are.

R.I.P. Angela Lansbury: A Grand Dame for the Ages

Dame Angela Brigid Lansbury has died at the age of 96.

You can read obituaries and appreciations of her career in:

And if you want to celebrate her many parts singing memorable songs, Playbill has a wonderful video compilation. Amazing that she simply termed her voice “serviceable.”

Angela Lansbury’s career spanned over 70 years… and not just as a friendly matriarch

Indeed, if you find many folks feeling blue, it’s not only the longevity of her career resulted in so many memorable roles, but the fact that she was an icon, role model, and graceful force to be reckoned with in film, on stage, and on television.

Lansbury as the petulant and lethal Princess Gwendolyn in The Court Jester

I know many of the remembrances point to her amazing performance in The Manchurian Candidate. If you haven’t seen the film, its worth seeing for her alone (I picture Lady Macbeth seeing Lansbury’s machinations and saying, “No notes.”). However, my favorite villain role for her is probably 1955’s The Court Jester, where her petulance as a pampered princess is only matched by the peril she poses.

Lansbury having an American meat pie -er- hamburger with co-star Basil Rathbone in the Paramount Studio commissary

Of course, there’s also the wonderfully caring yet callous (and, at least for quality control, cannibalistic) Mrs. Lovett from Sweeney Todd.

All this before she was Mrs. Potts or Jessica Fletcher.

So 96 years is a damn fine run, especially because she spent so many of them working, but it’s sad to see her go. What a Dame.

May her memory (and balloons) be a blessing.

Stargate’s Staying Power… or 25 Years of Kawoosh

On this date in 1997, the TV show Stargate SG-1 premiered. To this day, 25 years later, that still elicits “wait, like that 90s film Stargate?”

Indeed.

The series soldiered on through 10 seasons and a couple wrap-up movies. Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe followed, and a legion of fans are still very much around for this lesser known, but very much beloved “star” franchise.

Over at Inverse, Ryan Britt details some of the ways that Stargate SG-1 became an unprecedentedly successful reboot of sorts. He does slight the original ’94 movie a bit sharper than I would (my dad and I saw it in the theater and found it to be a perfectly adequate “Doctor Who story with a budget”). However, I can’t deny that the TV series far eclipsed the film, doing worldbuilding far beyond anything that one could possibly imagine for a feature nor would expect when confined to filming locations in British Columbia.

If you saw and heard this picture, you might be a fan.

I caught the first season when it first aired, but then only saw episodes intermittently, only really sitting down to watch the whole series (and then Atlantis and then Universe) after they were all off the air. If you’re a fan of military sci-fi, the early episodes are easy to jump into, with its Star Trek-meets-G.I. Joe styling. What really gets fun, however, is as the seasons progress, and the upstart humans of Earth really start to improve their technology as the bad guys begin to realize they’re more than a nuisance.

And besides the honest-to-goodness arms race that goes on over the seasons, there are the characters you really come to enjoy along with some absolute standout episodes like “Window of Opportunity” and the two-part “Heroes.” Indeed, I’ve thought of what sort of playlist I could concoct to get introduce people to Stargate, get them to “Window of Opportunity,” and hopefully get them hooked on watching the whole series.

Image: Allison Corr (from the Gizmodo article)

If I sound enthusiastic for the show, I’m not alone. Eleanor Tremeer has a great piece in Gizmodo noting the achievements Stargate and providing a lot of fun history behind the production, the people, and how they all evolved — and her interviews really illustrate what made the show work so well — and why it has fans even though it’s been off the air for over a decade. (Fans do not seem to want to acknowledge Stargate Origins, a web miniseries from 2018. I have yet to seek it out.) She also hints at the beginning and then at the end of the future of Stargate, something I’ve seen buzzing ever since Amazon bought MGM, the Stargate rights holder.

Naturally some people are very passionate about what Amazon should do. Adam Barnard has a plea to uphold the legacy and continuity over on GateWorld — and I can’t say I disagree. General Carter would be wonderful to see. Stargate Universe ended in such a way that one or more of the characters could appear at any time in the future. There’s a rich backstory they built so that any sort of Stargate: The Next Generation doesn’t need to ignore all that has gone before. As Jack O’Neill would say, “We’ve been in worse situations than this.” Lock that chevron. Lock it, I say!

The Hollywood War Machine

Top Gun: Maverick performed some “best of the best” box office maneuvers when it opened Memorial Day weekend and continues to do well. The original film proved to be as much a recruitment commercial as popcorn movie… and this sequel’s premiere aboard an aircraft carrier, Midway (now a museum ship), hints that this newest film will perform similarly.

Over 30 years later, he still feels the need for speed.

As a cinemaniac who’s seen more than a few military-themed movies over the decades, Hollywood’s connection to the U.S. military is not a surprise, nor is the nuance. That’s one of the reasons I appreciated the nuance in this article by Alissa Wilkinson for Vox, exploring the past, present, and future of how the military works with filmmakers.

One of the aspects I appreciate about the article is how it goes through some of the filmmaking choices of working, or not working, with the military and how it’s not a good or bad thing: it’s really about what story you’re trying to tell.

And, as many film historians naturally know, Hollywood has close ties to the American military and has sought to seek to tell both the story of American service men and women, but more broadly, Why We Fight. The book and Netflix series, Five Came Back are well worth checking out.

Spare an Obol for Charon as you Shed Tears in the Rain: RIP, Vangelis

The ferryman guided a special soul across the river earlier this week. Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou, known to professionally as Vangelis, died this past Tuesday at the age of 79.

“… close our eyes and remember those few young men with hope in our hearts and wings on our heels.”

You can read remembrances, appreciations, and obituaries from:

Many a cinephile will know Vangelis immediately, but for many of us, we came of age and found our love for both film and film music right when Vangelis gifted us with what are arguably his two most iconic film scores: Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner. He released an impressive number of studio albums and did other work (his theme for the original Cosmos is a personal favorite), but for many of us, our connection will remain his film scores.

Many friends are thinking of his scoring for Rutger Hauer’s “Tears in the Rain” monologue near the end of the film, which is exceptional. But I find myself coming back to the expansive opening sequence where the music completely transports you into another Los Angeles:

I can’t think of a score of his that didn’t move me: not a single one did not make the film it supported exponentially better. His music was “just right” in so many film genres and periods, it’s timeless in a way that doesn’t make sense. But you listen and you watch and you know.

Thank you for contributing to so many moments of pure cinema. R.I.P.

Video

An Instrument Which, By Definition, Is a Blast to Play

Okay, I was going to post something else today, but then thanks to Andrew M. Edwards of Blue Police Box Music, you’re getting a short, but so, so sweet video.

There was an online discussion of the upcoming ultra-HD release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture and conversation, quite naturally, turned to the iconic score by composer Jerry Goldsmith. Now, Goldsmith loved “esoteric instruments” as this article points out — and for the noise of V’Ger, he came up with a bizarre 18-foot long stringed instrument that has a bass dynamic range that just feels otherworldly.

I couldn’t remember the name of the instrument, but Mr. Edwards, as both a lover and producer of film scores, knew it: The Blaster Beam.

Not only that. This singular instrument has been used recently for another score.

Behold!

Film Genre Popularity Over the Decades

Bo McCready has done every cinephile a solid by taking film genre data (as tagged on IMDb) and creating this visualization via Tableau.

Now, considering that this is over 100 years’ worth of films… and thousands and thousands of films, this is quite interesting. However, if you look at the visualization above, you’ll see a given genre waxing and waning in relation to its maximum percentage of the overall number of films released that year — and for several genres, that percentage never cracks 10%. So to get an idea of how genres rise and fall in comparison to their fellow genres, take a look at this chart:

If you’re like me, you’re kinda bummed sci-fi and fantasy remain so low for the duration. However, it does go to show how the growth of documentaries is quite impressive.

Additionally, I kind of knew about the cycles of musicals and westerns, but it was interesting to see that both crime and romance have been pretty steady for a pretty long time. And, of course, comedy is gold that stays.

It also struck me that “Popularity” in this context is something of a lagging indicator, because the film studios are going to chase trends and push some of the movement in genres going up and down. It usually takes a couple years for a feature film to go from idea to script to production to finished product, though studios do their best to react as quickly as possible and indie filmmakers –the start-up entrepreneurs in this model– are ever ready to try and risk something faster, cheaper, and –quite often– out of control.

Alas, a good way to get some of that “chasing trends” energy would be to track subgenres and certain elements in movies. So, for instance, examples of “Found Footage” horror films can be cited back over 50 years, but one could venture that that subgenre took off more so after The Blair Witch Project in 1999. Similarly, there have presumably been female cellist characters in films throughout cinema history, but there was a preponderance of female cellists in films across genres in the 1980s. Since such information is coded in the IMDb records, we’re not able to visualize the data.

In any case, enjoy, and perhaps check out a few films this weekend.