Sunday, October 28, 2007

Not A Good Day

Yesterday was not a good day. I went out and did something I had been looking forward to for a while but turned out to be less fulfilling than I wanted. That's all I want to say about that now.

Then I come home and try to watch the adult DVDs I had out. The first, "Nina Hartley's Private Fantasies" was on a cracked disc and unwatchable. So I tried the other, Michael Ninn's "Porn Star: The End Od A Supernova". That was unwatchable for other reasons. It was the worst type of glossy, all pretty picture porn. No dialogue, no plot, just hip hop music videos edited between anonymous sex scenes. I watch these movies largely for the personalities of the women involved. When you parade a bunch of interchangeable big-boobed blondes out there and don't even let them say a word I am not in the least bit interested. I've still got "Gonks Go Beat" and "Charley Varrick" to see. I'm expecting them to be big improvements on that mess.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

"Mammy!" Yeah, I said "Mammy!.

So I buy the three-disc 80th Anniversary Edition of "The Jazz Singer" when I find out it contains over three hours of early talkie shorts. First I pop in the disc with the actual movie for the hell of it. I'd seen it on TV a bunch of years ago and thought that watching it again it would come off as just another interesting old movie. Right? Uh-uh. Damned if this ancient tearjerker didn't get to me. I know it's because of things I'm aware of now in my own family history but near the end when the dying cantor, played by the future Charlie Chan, Warner Oland, reached up to his son played by Al Jolson, and said "My son...I love you!". I lost it. I just couldn't help sobbing. Again at the end when Jolson is on stage singing "Mammy" and his mother watches him with tears in her eyes, I broke down again.

No wonder this movie was such a hit. Beyond the talking novely it does its job. Maybe a full-talking version with constant dialogue and music would have been over the top but this was brutally effective.

I also went through the wide=spanning extras on the set. There was a short of Jolson in blackface singing three songs and a bunch of trailers from his later movies, also a couple of late 30's shorts revolving around horse racing whose only connection seemed to be cameo shots of Jolson at the track. Strangest of all was a talkie short celebrating Warner Brothers' Silver Jubilee made in 1930. This featured a lot of shots of the current Warners stars of the time but not the crew you'd expect. George Arliss and John Barrymore were mentioned and a very young Walter Pidgeon and Loretta Young appeared but most of the actors even I had a hard time remebering. What about all the wisecracking, hard-boiled types that made the studio's eventual fortune? The only ones there were Joan Blondell, Edward G. Robinson and Frank McHugh. The other future stars, Powell, Cagney, Keeler, Bogart, obviously hadn't arrived yet. Hell, even Guy Kibbee and Ned Sparks were missing. It will be a treat checking out the many other goodies in this set.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Black Bird - Early Drafts

Last night I finished watching the 1931 and 1936 versions of The Maltese Falcon and it was intriguing to see how they differed from the famous John Huston - Humphrey Bogart version.
They both reflect the period in which they were made. The first came along in the racier pre-Code talkie era and made no bones about portraying Sam Spade, played by Ricardo Cortez, as a sleepsround lounge lizard and contained several suggestions that he was having sex with every woman in the movie including his secretary, Effie. There were also a few cheesecake shots of lead actress Bebe Daniels in her lingerie, the kind of sexy shots I've seen in a bunch of Warner Brothers movies from this period. The storyline of this version generally followed the plot of the novel and the Huston version as I remember them although the minor character of Gutman's daughter was still missing and Wilmer, the gunman, got a lot less screen time. It was also a kick to see so many familiar faces in the periphery of things, Dwight Frye as Wilmer, Thelma Todd as Miles Archer's widow and a very young and cute Una Merkel as Effie.
The 1936 version was very different stuff. The title was changed to "Satan Met A Lady", all the characters had new names and even the location was moved from San Francisco to an anonymous California small town. Dashiell Hammett's "The Thin Man" had been a hit movie a couple of years earlier so this version followed that lead and turned the story into a comedy with Warren William playing the Spade character so giddily it became annoying. The absurdity reached its height in the scene where the history of the treasure, here a jewel-filled ram's horn, is told. Instead of hearing it from the Gutman stand-in William gets the story from the Joel Cairo analog, an Englishman played by Arthur Treacher (!) and they do this while puttering around an apartment tearing up furniture and playing with a lamp!
The most noticeable character change is that Kaspar Gutman is a woman this time while Wilmer, now called "Kenneth", is a big, baby faced fat kid. Oddly enough this version, despite all its changes, restores Wilmer to his larger role and includes some key lines from the 1941 film that the 1931 one leaves out.
Both of these versions also feel the need to tack on additional codas past the point of the police leading Brigid O'Shaugnessy away. In 1931 there was a sentimental ending of Spade visiting Ruth Wanderley (They used that as her real name this time) in jail. In 1936 the character was played by Bette Davis so naturally she got a big histrionic exit speech as the cops took here away.
These two aren't bad in their own way but the Huston version looks even more like a masterpiece in comparison.

I also watched "Three Ages", a lesser know Buster Keaton silent feature. This movie was a spoof of D.W. Griffith's "Intolerance" with Buster and Wallace Beery fighting over the same woman in three different time periods, the Stone Age, Ancient Rome and the modern era. I haven't seen "Intolerance" so there are probably some specific jokes about the film I missed but it was still very funny with plenty of Keaton's precision-tooled slapstick and a brilliant, totally Keaton joke at the end. In each period Keaton and his now-wife leave their home for an afternoon walk. In the Stone Age, a dozen kids accompany them. In the Roman period, it's only five kids. In the Modern story, it's one small dog.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The New 40's

Yesterday I bought my first skin mag in over a year which is amazing considering my situation. It was called 40 Something and was one of half a dozen magazines on the rack that featured women in their 40s, 50s and even 60s. The ladies in these magzines aren't aging porn stars. These are mature wives and mothers who decided to get a little wild in later life and start posing in the nude or making hardcore sex videos.
I haven't seen anybody comment on the significance of this. A lot of women who were born in the 50's and 60's have taken the lessons of Women's Liberation to heart in their own way and reclaimed their right to be sexy. This is something that flies in the face of the ideal of blank faced young sexiness that continues to be pushed by the mainstream and I think it's really exciting. The women in this magazine have lines on their faces and fuller, heavier bodies but they still come off as incredibly desirable and sexy. It's a great thing to see even if it has yet to rub off into my real life.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The trouble with the Internet is...

It's just too damn depressing to read sometimes with people showing their narrow-mindedness left and right or worrying about irrelevancies. For example I've read a few people raling about the Big Bad Music Industry and how it serves them right that artists like Radiohead and Madonna are now finding ways to bypass major labels. I read that and then I look around at the CDs piled around my computer. They are on labels like ECM, Justin Time, Black Saint, Balance Point Acoustics, ESP, Delmark, Canteploupe Music, Decca, Clean Feed, Antone's... There may be a few rigners in there but honestly who bothers with major labels anymore? All the good stuff is coming from small American and European labels.

In DVD watching I have lately treated myself to Kurosawa's "The Bad Sleep Well", an old gangster comedy, "A Slight Case Of Murder" and a fascinating documentary on a Norhwest U.S. band, Dead Moon, led by a married couple who have been doing this since the 80's and are now grandparents. My new swag for the weekend is some old Keaton, some recent Godard and the original 1931 version of "The Maltese Falcon".

I also get adult DVDs through the mail and I'm trying to explore all the various things out there in that realm artistically. My next two there will be a movie by Michael Ninn who is supposed to be one of the best current directors and an fem dom movie from one of my dreamgirls, Nina Hartley. She's one of the women in the history of the adult entertainment business I find sexiest and most admirable for living her life regardless of what the world thinks. Some of the others I dig immensly are Annette Haven, Ginger Lynn, Serenity, Kylie Ireland, Devinn Lane, Janine, Dyanna Lauren and Barbara Dare. I realize most of those women are long gone from the business but I'm slowly investigating the current ladies.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Case Of The Overrated Lawyer

After marveling that old TV shows like Dragnet, Have Gun Will Travel and Suspense turned out to be hipper and more interesting than I imagined I have run across one that turns out to be much less than remembered, Perry Mason.

I have been watching a disc from the recently issued first season of the show from 1957 and wow! Not exactly golden age stuff. It looks okay on the surface with Raymond Burr expertly playing the shrewd lawyer and catching murderers left and right but something goes awry. It may be that they were adapting Erle Stanley Gardner's actual Perry Mason novels at this point and losing a lot in turning a full length novel into a 45 to 50 minute teleplay. Plot ends are left maddeningly dangling. One show involves a man who seemingly has two wives but that intruging fact turns out to be completely irrelevant to the murder solution. In a couple of episodes shady characters lurk about the scene in the early going but disappear halfway through with no explanation for their behavior.

This stuff really shocked me. I vaguely remember later Mason episodes from the Sixties (presumably after they had stop using Gardner's novels for stories) that made a lot more sense. Later mystery shows like Murder, She Wrote and Law And Order, whatever their faults, were never this sloppy. This is one old series I won't be investigating any further.

Outside of that I've been watching more varied stuff like the creepy Spanish horror film, "Who Can Kill A Child", Ingmar Bergman's "Through A Glass Darkly", a strange Robert Mitchum western, "Track Of The Cat", that had family dynamics out of Eugene O'Neill and more Something Weird shenanigans, notably a "sex slasher" mystery that starred stripping legend Tempest Storm and two detectives played by a sleazy comedy team. The big deal I have to look forward to right now is Akira Kurosawa's "The Bad Sleep Well" starring one of the baddest MF's of all time, Toshiro Mifune.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Sailor Man

Lately I've been slowly going through the recent Popeye The Sailor DVD collection. I don't find these cartoons as flat out funny as the Warner Brother stuff from the same era but they are entertaining. It's interesting to see how the animation and humor evolved over just a few years and I'm really paying attention to the legendary asides Jack Mercer got in when he was doing Popeye's voice. There are plenty of commentaries from all the usual animation experts who also appear on the Warner Brothers sets like Jerry Beck and Leonard Maltin and extras that include a bunch of silent cartoons some of which only have the barest relation to Popeye including the very fist Felix The Cat cartoon. The only thing that I don't like is that there are no musci tracks for the silents. That isn't authentic since silent movies always had some kind of live musical accompaniment and were never shown publicly without it.