I’ve been in the grip of a bad cold for almost two weeks; I somehow manage to get my most important work done and then I go to sleep every day. By Wednesday afternoon I was so frustrated—tired but restless at the same time—I decided I couldn’t stare at the wall (or my computer) any longer. So I did what I’ve always done when I’m at odds or feeling low: I went to the movies. I’d missed screenings of Pirate Radio and it looked interesting, so that’s what…
I chose to see. I also ingested about a half-hour’s worth of advertising and movie trailers—averting my eyes, and attention, for the films I really care about—in the nearly-empty auditorium of my local multiplex. (There’s a vampire comedy coming up called Transylmania that looks truly awful.)
Then I limped through Richard Curtis’ disappointing comedy. You can get almost all the value the film has to offer from its trailer: Philip Seymour Hoffman is fun as the coolest dude on the air, and he’s surrounded by compatible costars like Bill Nighy, Nick Frost, Rhys Ifans, Kenneth Branagh, the adorable Gemma Arterton, and (in a surprise bit) Emma Thompson…but the film is dramatically inert. After it establishes its premise it has nowhere to go. I’m still glad I checked it out, and the experience accomplished what moviegoing almost always does for me on these occasions: it got me out of the doldrums.
“Just when you thought there was no hope” department: in these times of blockbuster, blanket movie releases and multimillion dollar marketing budgets, it’s tough for independent films (including well-reviewed movies with stars in their cast, as well as documentaries and foreign imports) to get people to leave their homes and go out to a theater to see them. Yet somehow, Aviva Kempner’s informative, and evocative, documentary about pioneering radio and television actress-writer-producer Gertrude Berg, Yoo Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg, has just passed the one million dollar box-office mark after four months in release. International Film Circuit is handling the film, with twenty-five prints, and it’s still playing in about twenty locations around the country. I couldn’t be happier: it’s a good movie about a woman who shouldn’t be forgotten. (In fact, UCLA Film and Television Archive is planning to screen kinescopes of her landmark TV show The Goldbergs in January.)
Through the magic of e-mail I’ve just received the latest issues of two fine film journals in PDF form: The November/December issue of The Silent Treatment, full of silent-film news and nuggets and a huge new “Special Blacklist Issue” of Noir City Sentinel, the fascinating and provocative publication of the Film Noir Foundation. If you’re not on their mailing lists, you should be! And I’ve just learned of a new website devoted to one of my favorite actors from Hollywood’s golden age, Chester Morris. It has a terrific film clip as its greeting but it seems to stall out when I first try to load it; it works better once the site is fully loaded and I refresh the site. I’ve also been tipped by a reader that the official Ray Harryhausen site is new and improved. Check it out.
Finally, I was recently interviewed by John Rabe for his entertaining, enlightening and award-winning public-affairs radio show Off-Ramp, heard in Los Angeles on KPCC-FM 89.3. The occasion was the 40th anniversary of my annual Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide, and John has posted the entire conversation on the Off-Ramp website here, if you care to listen.
Some news and notes involving classic comedians: you wouldn’t think someone could dig up unfamiliar Laurel and Hardy footage at this late date, but the owners of the British Pathé newsreel library have done just that by putting their entire library online. If you love music-hall entertainers like George Formby and Flanagan and Allen, you’ll have lots to cheer, but it’s especially exciting to see Stan and Ollie during their tours of the British Isles. For details about these appearances and links to the specific URLs, I suggest you read this essay by Richard W. Bann on the official Laurel and Hardy website. (The site, by the way, is maintained by the company in Munich that owns non-U.S. rights to the Hal Roach library.)
The family of W.C. Fields has just launched its own official website. There’s good browsing here, as well, and if you don’t think there are new wrinkles to Fields fandom, consider this tidbit: Michael Jackson is buried not far from W.C. in the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California!
Finally, budding Buster Keaton scholars are invited to submit applications for a Porkpie Scholarship from the Damfinos, the International Buster Keaton Society. I quote from an official press release:
The Porkpie Scholar Grant Program issues grants of $350 annually to one or two recipients per year; it was established in 2008 with a substantial gift from a member of the International Buster Keaton Society who wishes to remain anonymous. The organization matched that gift to create the seed money for this grant program, which offers grants to authors, artists, film preservationists, filmmakers, composers and others who are contributing to the ongoing understanding and appreciation of the life and work of comedian/filmmaker Buster Keaton.
Applications and grant guidelines can be downloaded from the Keaton website or requested by email at keatongrant @ gmail.com.