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CELEBRATING JERRY LEWIS

I can’t pretend to have any objectivity about Jerry Lewis. I grew up worshiping him. And while I came to realize that he was fallibly human I never stopped being impressed, especially after I met him. That’s why I didn’t hesitate when the publisher asked me to contribute a foreword to a new edition of his 1971 book The Total Filmmaker (Michael Wiese Productions) I have an original hardcover copy of the book on my shelf but this quality paperback reprint has many additions that make it worth owning: introductory essays by Nicolas Cage, Deana Martin, and Jerry‘s widow as well as several notable filmmakers (Randal Kleiser. Caleb Deschanel and Peter Arnold) who attended his classes at USC in the late 1960s. Cage’s piece is especially touching.…

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LET’S TALK TO LUCY

Half a century before Marc Maron started welcoming guests to his garage and podcasts became popular, Lucille Ball hauled around a reel-to-reel tape recorder to conduct interviews with the likes of Red Skelton, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Carol Burnett and Danny Kaye for CBS Radio. Now, episodes of Let’s Talk to Lucy from 1964-65 are being made available on Apple Podcasts and SiriusXM Radio’s app. (A handful of these 15-20 minute shows were included as bonus content with the Blu-ray release of one Here’s Lucy and The Lucy Show…but nobody seemed to notice.) Histories of American radio will tell you that the last network shows aired from 1960 to 62. But two years later, William S. Paley’s Tiffany network gave daytime radio one last chance. Who would dream that one of the busiest…

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SEARCHING FOR MR. RUGOFF

Don Rugoff changed the face of moviegoing in New York in the 1960s and had a lasting impact on the way foreign and independent films were distributed and advertised. I was part of that audience but frankly, I had forgotten about the man’s enormous contributions until I watched Ira Deutchman‘s new documentary Searching for Mr. Rugoff. It took me back in time and reminded me that he was an avatar of film culture in the 1970s, when I was still living in New York. His east side Manhattan theaters were the place to see the hottest new movies in chic, comfortable surroundings. He even had clever window displays (designed by John Willis, who appears in the documentary). I had no knowledge of the man behind all…

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BRINGING UP BABY: A MASTER CLASS ON BLU-RAY

The Criterion Collection has done it again: its treatment of the celebrated  1938 screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby offers a feast of fresh material to sink your teeth into. There’s a German-made interview documentary with Howard Hawks filmed in 1977, a year before he died… Peter Bogdanovich’s audio interview with the director from 1972, as well as a commentary that Bogdanovich recorded in 2005…a superlative video essay about Cary Grant by his biographer, Scott Eyman…an informative overview of cinematographer Russell Metty’s career by fellow cameraman John Bailey…an eye-opening exploration of Linwood Dunn’s visual effects by Craig Barron…a knowledgeable look at Howard Greer’s costumes by expert Shelly Foote…a keen-eyed essay about the movie by film critic Sheila O’Malley… the original short story by Hagar Wilde that appeared in Collier’s magazine…

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REMEMBERING JANE WITHERS

Jane Withers had the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever met. She remembered details about every movie she ever made and kept in touch with former colleagues—even members of her crew. She still used words like gosh and golly in her everyday speech. Jimmy Lydon, who worked with her in three movies, said the first time he met her he thought she was too good to be true. “I don’t get this girl,” he said to himself, “Nobody can be like that; this is a put-on. Well, I’ve known Jane now for more than 60 odd years and you know, she’s still the same. She’s just a love, she really is.“ Although she started working at the age of six and became a bona fide…

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THE LITTLE RASCALS’ FIRST TALKIES, FULLY RESTORED

Like the rest of the Hal Roach library, the 80 Our Gang talkies have not been cared for, to put it mildly. That’s why it’s heartwarming to see what tender loving care can do with the original negatives and 35mm materials even after decades of neglect. The images are clean and clear, and so is the sound. ClassicFlix has done the seemingly impossible by making these films look and sound nearly perfect. The before-and-after comparison footage on the disc is a revelation. Hal Roach’s enduring comedy series, better known under its reissue name The Little Rascals, debuted in 1922, when movies were silent. Seven years later, when it was clear that talkies were here to stay, the producer nudged all of his stars (Laurel and Hardy, Charley Chase,…

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‘SUMMER OF SOUL’ OFFERS MORE THAN JUST GREAT MUSIC

There are concert films, and then there is Summer of Soul (…or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), a knockout of a movie featuring precious performance footage that hasn’t been seen since it was shot in 1969. Ahmir Thompson, better known as Questlove, has taken great raw material and shaped it into a memorable documentary that offers entertainment and food for thought at the same time. We see Stevie Wonder at his best on stage, but we also hear him look back at this time as a crossroads in his career. His record label didn’t want him to tackle controversial subject matter, but current events weighed heavily on his mind. Ultimately he chose not to play it safe. Reporter Charlayne Hunter Gault recalls that 1969…

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