Monthly Archives: March 2015

Fix It.

The Final Day of the Turner Film festival was equally as entertaining and fulfilling as the previous two days.  The whole experience of the festival was eye opening, and I felt it a rare privilege to be able to take advantage of all of the wonderful opportunities that were offered throughout the weekend.  From watching Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928) accompanied by a live orchestra to seeing rediscovered Technicolor film clips to hearing the comedic yet wise words of Shirley Maclaine– it was a truly unique series of events that displayed the widespread appreciation of film history and the art form that went with it.

Shirley MacLaine and Leonard Maltin
Shirley MacLaine and Leonard Maltin

Walking through the film festival, people of all different ages excitedly waited in line for different pictures.  The anticipation for certain events was tangible.  Applause followed almost every famous line or entrance of a well-known actor or director (even if only an opening credit) while the faces of the audience seemed to remain in a fixed smile.  What was so apparent about this group of people was their genuine and endless appreciation for the history of filmmaking — both the ways films were made and the people who took risks and inspired so many others in making them.  The excitement was contagious.

Although there are many different moments I could elaborate on, I was most moved by the interview with Shirley Maclaine that preceded the showing of The Children’s Hour directed by William Wyler in 1961.  First of all, THIS WOMAN IS EIGHTY YEARS OLD.  This is the first time where I have fully stood behind the mantra “age is just a number” simply because of how clever, intelligent, sassy, and wise Maclaine still is.  Continuously provoking laughter in her audience, the actress and dancer also frequently poked fun at the interviewer as well as a bald guy in the front row, referring to his head as a shiny bowling ball.  Jokes aside, Maclaine is truly a gem within the world of Hollywood.

Shirley Maclaine in Irma la Douce, 1963

At one point, the interviewer asked Maclaine why she thought Wyler made the movie.  This stumped her for a few minutes, and then she answered, “Well, he made it partly because there truly is an ounce of truth in every lie.“ I got to thinking about her statement and considered how true that really was, especially in the case of The Children’s Hour.  In Martha’s case, it is apparent that a child’s bold and elaborate lie is what ultimately led her to realize her own truth and love for Karen.  For Karen, however, this lie completely unraveled her life, despite the fact that she felt no romantic feelings towards her best friend.  From a different standpoint, however, she ultimately ended her relationship with her fiancée once she realized that he slightly doubted the truth.  Going along the same vein, Mary Tillford’s lie eventually led her grandmother to uncover the maliciousness of her granddaughter and perhaps realities about her own insecurities.  Thus, it gradually became more evident how a lie can bring out ounces of the truth in any one person, regardless of the initial effects it might have. 


Shirley Maclaine & Audrey Hepburn in The Children’s Hour, 1961




“Films Are Waking Dreams”

The best part of the Hollywood block is starting each day with a terrifying drive through LA rush hour. NO it isn’t.


I wanted to write about our visit to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Margaret Herrick Library because I have a deep nostalgia for these places, since my mother is a librarian.


This isn’t Tutt: we must leave our phones and backpacks in lockers at the entrance, fill out paperwork and submit our IDs, and use a pencil – no pens. Quiet is actually enforced. And I got to hold the Oscar that went to the moon in March 1992.

We are on assignment, working toward a historical essay about our field of interest. Bennett’s doing film coloring, Kenyon is researching satirical comedy, Hannah is interested in the casting of Gone With The Wind, and I am perusing through a book called The Indie Guidebook to Music Supervision For Films, by Sharal Churchill.

I am interested in music in film, whether it be music videos, documentaries about musicians, or the role of the music supervisor in the creation of the film. For my historical paper, I am investigating the transition from composing scores to accompany films to selecting popular music to be featured in the film. As this progressed, when did writers include specific songs in the script?  When did popular musicians begin to write songs for films (Prince’s  Batman)? Was Pretty In Pink named after the Psychedelic Furs song? Music in film might be my favorite part of movies – it can make or break it for me. Think about the greatest musical decisions of all time in movies. My dad once had to leave Rite Aid because he got choked up when he heard “My Heart Will Go On.” The job of a music supervisor fascinates me.

At the library, you can request some really cool artifacts from Special Collections, like director’s scripts (notes and all), promotion posters, and fan letters. I am requesting a letter from Stanley Kramer to Dimitri Tiomkin, who wrote “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’” for Kramer’s High Noon, sheet music from Broadway Melody, and the dialog cutting continuity for Singin’ In The Rain. On Monday we will dive back into these documents and use them to strengthen our research. I’m so excited to have the opportunity to take advantage of the great preservation work the Academy does.

We drove to Raleigh studios to screen Sunset Blvd, directed by Billy Wilder (1950). This flick is about an aging Hollywood Silent-era star, Norma Desmond, who is slipping into insanity as she tries to cling to her stardom after the rise of talkies and her fall from star power. Something I’ve been thinking a lot about while we have been enjoying these classic films is the emotion behind the developing technology. Often we get hyped up when the next new CGI stunner gets released, when new technology gets released – but when these things happen, people lose their jobs, or don’t really “make the transition to talkies” and fall to the wayside. Though a lot is gained through developing technology, I feel that there is also something lost. There is really something incredible about watching these classics, and appreciate the realness of them, and the beauty of film.

When we watched Buster Keaton in Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928) at the TCM Classics Film Festival, the man who introduced the film said, “The best visual effect was Buster Keaton himself – all of today’s movie magicians couldn’t make one Buster Keaton.”


After Sunset, we trekked out to Santa Monica, to the Aero Theatre, for a screening of The Godfather. Since we were all born after the premiere of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 masterpiece, I don’t think any of us had ever seen the film on the big screen – which was quite the experience.


Just wanted to leave you with-

“Films are waking dreams…they uncover a lot of mysteries in that way.” – Billy Friedkin





Difficulty with Talkie and Color Transitions

Gold Diggers of Broadway
Gold Diggers of Broadway

There are two major technological advances within the history of film as a medium– the ability of film to be synced with sound (The Jazz Singer, 1927) and the advent of Technicolor (roughly 1917, through the 2-color process). In my opinion, these two transitions in early Hollywood are the most significant because nearly every other film is built off its ability to carry out these two methods fluidly and crisply, even through the advent of computer-generated graphics.

In addition to the technological issues concerning these two transitions, it also proved difficult for all those involved within the production in front of and behind the camera, namely the actors. The introduction of sound, for example, proved immediately difficult for the actors because it asked them to produce more real-life aspects of their performance in less than realistic filming situations. Every movement, unlike the silent days, had to be choreographed with constant attention to sound, and therefore led to increased chances of error while filming. Likewise, the entire set had to be silent, including movements of the grip and special care had to be taken to make sure the loud cameras were housed in such a way that they were silent by camera boxes. Instead of the introduction of sound expanding the capabilities of filmmaking, it was often limited by the bulky gear used to capture that sound. Therefore, many films consisted of “stage” musical numbers that were static shots.

Camera Sound Boxes
Camera Sound Boxes

Color’s influence on early film was extremely well received, yet also proved to limiting in both production and significantly limiting in post-production. Within production, a large number of lights had to be used to penetrate the filters used to split the early red/green color film. This technology also led to more static sets due to the number of lights necessary. Post-production, the process of reproducing color prints and sending out dailies proved too demanding for the companies that held the patents on the color formulas, namely Technicolor. There are many more difficulties with these two transitions that were solved with technological advances; however, the demand by audiences for the recently found magic of color and sound often seemed to slow down these advances.


Billy Friedkin and the “open ending”

“On Location: Hollywood” has been an eye-opener for me, and not just in terms of the film industry. When I first arrived at the Oakwood I thought this class would be primarily theoretical – that we would spend the next 3.5 weeks learning about how to properly identify and criticize films from Hollywood’s inception to modern day cinema. Instead, I found myself glancing through an itinerary that included visits to film festivals and meetings with industry big-wigs. I was definitely in for a treat, and my first big moment was attending the evening screening of William Friedkin’s Sorcerer (1977) at the Directors Guild of America.

Mr. Friedkin’s name was slightly familiar to me, and after failing to recall why off the top of my head I resorted to trusty (but sometimes unreliable) Wikipedia. To my surprise, he turned out to be the director of one of my all-time favorite horror movies, The Exorcist (1973). I was curious to see what type of film Sorcerer would be like, but I forced myself not to look up the movie plot beforehand and remain 100% genuine in my reactions. One thing I made note of was that many critics saw the success of Star Wars: A New Hope (which was released right around the time of Sorcerer) as the beginning of the blockbuster era trend in Hollywood.

final shot of Dominguez (played by Roy Scheider) being vulnerable
final shot of Dominguez (played by Roy Scheider) being vulnerable

Sorcerer was an amazing movie, with wonderful cinematography and amazingly “real” action and adventure scenes that many films nowadays lack due to the overabundant use of CGI. After the film credits rolled on-screen, we were lucky enough to have a Q&A session with Mr. Friedkin himself. As a fan of his movie Cruising (1980), I wanted to ask Mr. Friedkin about his view on open-ended movies. Personally, I get anxious when a movie ends without a clear solution (Inception still gives me a headache: did the top keep spinning, or did it fall?), and I wanted to know if, as a director, he had his own picture inside his head as to what happens to Officer Burns. When he answered my question, Mr. Friedkin had only this to say: “I leave the ending up to the audience”. When I pressed him to explain further, Mr. Friedkin said (and I paraphrase) that he enjoys making films without clear-cut heroes and villains: “I enjoy flawed characters who have an obsessive desire to live, and open endings allow the audience to use their own imagination and decide their own perfect ending.” Although his answer wasn’t the one I was hoping for, it was an answer just the same…and perhaps, one I came to expect after listening to the amazing director explain his ideas (and refusal to storyboard) in his hilariously witty manner. After all, in the (paraphrased) words of Mr. Friedkin himself, “If I can’t see the entire film without looking at the script, then I won’t make it.”

L-R: Mr. Friedkin, Tom, and Andie
L-R: Mr. Friedkin, Tom, and Andie

Benny’s Wednesday Post

Three parts of my day in Hollywood on the date March 25, 2015:

Part one:


I watched F.W. Murnau’s film Sunrise.  I have seen many silent films and being a child of the current times I often take them for what they are (or aren’t)–missing half of the audio/visual equation. However, after seeing the film I saw a new side of silence. I saw I silent film with a modern touch or flair that made me cry at least three times during the screening. Murnau created a film with a poetry and a lyricism that does not exist in other silent films I have seen. I do not attempt to discredit the earliest efforts in American cinema (who am I to do such a thing?) but before sound was inherent in film I feel as though they were only attempting to do the bare minimum–communicate a story. With Sunrise, however, there was a level of artistry I had not yet seen in early Hollywood. I had seen it in other films–Russian, German, and French–but not yet in Hollywood. I understand that Murnau was German but having moved to L.A. he moved into the system. Still, he was able to create a film that communicated a beautiful story (despite studio interference) in a way that only film allows–utilizing the incalculable abilities of film as well as audio. I need only mention the scene in which the peasant husband and wife are unwittingly walking across a busy intersection to describe how the film made me feel.


Part two:


It does not fall under my jurisdiction but I feel it might be my duty to say a few words on last night, our night with William Friedkin. Despite being in the throes of a borderline addiction to cinema in all its forms, I have never had the pleasure of watching such a big time guy talk about such a big time film, Sorcerer. It all started with a gala. We were tossed into a scene–a scene filled with old white men (some in khaki and some in suits) sans direction. I made my way toward the bar. The wine was free and flowing. This helped and hurt my ability to attempt to shmooze the big wigs. It took me awhile to find the right old white men, but I found them. They called themselves Jeremy Kagan and Peter Medak. Despite the wine I realized the weight of the situation–these men are big time, the biggest time old white guys in the room (with the exception of the exceptional old white Billy Friedkin). The pair prefaced the whole night for me and gave me the confidence to watch the film with an analytical eye. That was the only reason I was able to raise my hand immediately following the screening. I asked, and I am paraphrasing here… “Mr. Friedkin, you said your films are like your children. When a film is a problem child do you try to correct it by sending it to reform school or do you allow it to be a problem, to drop out from school and be its own thing?” He repeated the question to me several times (I probably was speaking too fast because I had to use the restroom and I was also very nervous). He responded. I don’t know exactly how he answered as he slightly redirected my question but I could tell it made him think and the fact that I made a brilliant filmmaker think made me think–maybe I can make films too. I never thought that being a member of a massive audience could inspire such confidence in myself. I tried to shake his hand after the showing, but a body guard pushed me aside. Before he left the auditorium he said to me, “Good question, son.” I feel affirmed. I feel confident. I feel like I haven’t felt in a long time. If you get the chance to see the right director at the right time it will carry you along as long as you need. I feel like a got a shot in the arm.

Part three:


This will be brief,  as I have not been that thus far. It’s about Hollywood. There is a certain kind of mood here–as though the sunlight that is here everyday carries into night. A certain energy that inspires a tenacity that has allowed it to thrive, die, and be reborn throughout the years. It is as though everyone shares the same goal. I don’t want to call it stardom (because that is a fallacy) and I don’t want to call it “making it” (that is a fallacy too). It is something that I can only equate to another thing I know nothing about–battle. Everyone has the same idea and there is a healthy amount of competition but not without a proper amount of camaraderie. Sure, only a few will be chosen, only a few will get the medal of honor, a star on a sidewalk, or a tiny gold man to put in a trophy case, but I cannot shake this feeling that Hollywood needs everyone. It needs the success and the failure. And even the failures aren’t really failing. They live on. They find their place in this town. I don’t think it is an evil beast. Of course I don’t know much. I don’t really know anything. But I believe that everyone who wants to be here will find their place. We can be so many things. We can be directors or we can be women named Shellie who conduct first aid on carpenters in a studio mill. Try and do a movie without those poles and tell me how it goes…or you could just get blacklisted. What do I know?


How to Avoid the Dreaded Turkey Neck


The first thing that I learned in Hollywood was how to avoid the dreaded “turkey neck.” A novice to the horrors of a saggy under-chin, I found myself seated with a group of middle-aged mothers at a free wellness seminar in our apartment complex. Tami and Shiva, our neck health experts, coached us in a series of breathing exercises and stretches that they assured would protect us from this dreadful fate. Having lived 22 years under the illusion that the turkey neck was simply the part of the bird that you had to chop off before plucking, gutting, and cooking thanksgiving dinner, I was intrigued to learn more about my neglected chin and neck skin, but more importantly about this new group of people that places so much importance on such things. My newfound neck gurus did not disappoint.

The message that I took away from the neck seminar was this: there is a right way and a wrong way to look. If you look “right,” you are powerful. Happy. You belong. If you look “wrong,” you are lesser. This message is transmitted to women far more frequently and intensely than it is to men. It is no surprise that the students at the chin maintenance class were overwhelmingly female, with the exception of two males whom I had invited. Women in our country are held to an extremely limited and nearly unreachable physical standard. We scrutinize every part of the female form, all the way down to the skin on the underside of the chin. The skin on the underside of the chin! Seriously?

Norma Desmond getting ready for her closeup
Norma Desmond getting ready for her closeup

Though it is shocking to me every time, the strict social controls on women’s bodies that I am discussing here is not by any means a revolutionary discovery. And it is not only happening in Hollywood. This phenomenon has been observed, discussed, and resisted by many. Media, including the film industry, has often been accused of creating limited views of beauty and valuing women primarily for their bodies while simultaneously making women feel physically and intellectually inadequate. In 2014, only 52% of Hollywood’s most popular films passed the Bechdel test, whose sole requirement is that a film must include two women talking to each other about something other than a man (, 2015). Hollywood produces an overwhelming amount of content that excludes and objectifies women. However, this industry is not an evil machine intentionally designed to oppress women. So what is going on here that is causing this type of content to be produced?

Well, women aren’t producing it. According to Melissa Silverstein’s blog, Women and Hollywood, women comprise 7% of directors on major Hollywood films, 18% of editors, and 5% of cinematographers (, 2015). In a city that produces some of the most viewed content in the world, men tell the story. What would happen if women became more involved with filmmaking in Hollywood? Would the turkey neck survive? I doubt it. When women and men have an equal role in producing media, women and men will have more equal relationships in other facets of life as well.

Perhaps the best way to avoid the dreaded turkey neck is not eliminate saggy neck skin, but instead to stop dreading bodies that stray from a narrow idea of the perfect body. Until then, keep your chin up, neck back, digastric muscle strong, and breathe deeply. You too could have a flawless neck.