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REMEMBERING DOUGLAS TRUMBULL

DOUGLAS TRUMBULL’S GREATEST VISUAL EFFECT Sometime in the late 1980s my wife and I were invited to a warehouse-type building in Marina del Rey for a demonstration of Douglas Trumbull’s Showscan. A new film format from the man who was largely responsible for the incredible look of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and the modern era of visual effects? The same guy who directed Silent Running? Who could turn down an invitation like that? We were shown into a room that seated several dozen people; it was comfortable but industrial in nature. There was no masking for the screen, which stretched from floor to ceiling, surrounded by a clutter of boxes. At one point a man walked in between a stack of those boxes and explained what…

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WHAT DID THE RKO LOGO HAVE THAT LEO THE LION LACKED?

Enough is enough: I’ve been watching old movies my whole life and never understood why the end card of every RKO Radio Picture included the words “Reg. U.S. Pat. Off.” With pandemic time on my hands I set out to find the answer. After all, Leo the MGM lion bore the words TRADE and MARK on either side of the roaring beast, putting to rest a childhood belief that Trade and Mark were the names of the Smith Brothers of cough-drop fame. My friend Eric Kurland, who has mastered the art of internet research, checked the files of the U.S. Patent Office online and discovered that in 1929 the newly-formed Radio Pictures filed a trademark claim, NOT on their impressive image of a radio tower…

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LUBITSCH-LIKE: A NINETY-YEAR OLD DISCOVERY

When I was a freshman at NYU the Museum of Modern Art held an Ernst Lubitsch retrospective. Every day after classes I took the subway uptown in time to catch the 5:30 pm show, and every day I left the auditorium floating on air, having seen a movie that truly lifted my spirits. Not long ago I stumbled onto a 1932 movie I knew nothing about—on YouTube, of all places. It’s called Evenings for Sale and the highest compliment I can pay it is that it reminded me of a Lubitsch comedy. (When I interviewed Billy Wilder years ago and told him that’s how I felt about his charming film Love in the Afternoon, he demurred, saying “Something can be Lubitsch-like but there was only one Lubitsch.” Agreed, but…

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REMEMBERING SIDNEY POITIER

Sidney Poitier’s milestone achievements are so numerous they scarcely need repeating here. But I would like to pass along a personal reminiscence.  Meeting The Man for the first time made a deep impression on my wife and me. His physical presence was imposing but his demeanor was disarmingly casual. He was unfailingly kind over the years; I even got to introduce my daughter to him. It was after a few brief social interactions that I built up the nerve to invite him to my USC class and he agreed to come. I wanted to show my 20-something students The Defiant Ones but he suggested something less racially charged like The Bedford Incident or To Sir With Love. I chose the latter. The dated but still likable film played well with my…

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THE HAND OF GOD: AN INSPIRED IMPORT

Paolo Sorrentino has made some exceptional films, including ‘Il Divo’ and ‘The Great Beauty’ (my favorite) but he says it took twenty years—and the courage he derived from watching Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma—to tell his own coming-of-age story in The Hand of God. I’m sorry he struggled so long with this project but it was well worth the wait. The film’s opening sequences are reminiscent of Fellini’s Amarcord, revealing our adolescent hero’s mental snapshots of his family, a rich assortment of eccentrics—odd-looking, vulgar, intensely human. He remembers them fondly, in some cases lustfully, yet when his brother actually auditions for Fellini the director dismisses him as being too conventional-looking. The boy’s emotions are dominated by the arrival of soccer star Diego Maradona in Naples. It is all he…

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REMEMBERING PETER BOGDANOVICH

Anyone who loves movies, and movie history, owes a giant debt of thanks to Peter Bogdanovich for interviewing, chronicling, and bearing witness to so many veterans of Hollywood’s golden age. Listening to the audio version of his fascinating book This is Orson Welles is one of the great experiences of my life. The book reads well but springs to life when you hear the Great Man himself, as recorded in a wide variety of locations over many years’ time. (I still have my well-worn audiocassette.) I first met Peter at a reception at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan celebrating the publication of his book on Allan Dwan. (That was 51 years ago!) I told him how much I enjoyed the program notes he wrote for…

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JOCKEY: BETTING ON CLIFTON COLLINS, JR.

Many character actors never land a leading role, despite having proven themselves in film after film (from The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit to Traffic and Capote). Clifton Collins, Jr. has been handed a golden opportunity in Jockey by director Clint Bentley and his co-screenwriter Greg Kwedar. Striving for realism but not taking a literal approach to their story, they lay the groundwork for Collins to “own” the film, playing a hard-bitten jockey whose health is deteriorating just as he encounters a horse that can carry him to greatness. You won’t find any histrionics in Jockey, just a well-told story about a racing “pro” who has worked hard his whole life and, like his comrades, endured a never-ending series of injuries. He enjoys a friendly relationship with his trainer (another pitch-perfect performance from Molly…

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