Some iconic L.A. films – Rebel Without a Cause, Zabriskie Point, Chinatown, Annie Hall – relish the city. A sprawling urban metropolis built up of drastically different neighborhoods, a skyline defined downtown and dozens of notable landmarks; Los Angeles is inherently cinematic. Perhaps best unpacked in Thom Anderson’s equally sprawling documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself, the city didn’t just give us movies, it became them. Which makes William Friedkin’s depiction of the city in the 1985 neo-noir To Live and Die in L.A. that much more enigmatic.
Category: Main Slate
Bloody, senseless fights between main character Henry Chinaski (Mickey Rourke) and Eddie, a macho bartender, (Frank Stallone) frame the film Barfly, Charles Bukowski’s powerful and unrelenting journey into the Los Angeles bar scene. However, the setting for the film, the Golden Horn, is no ordinary bar and its drunken adversaries are engaged in no ordinary brawl.
Seeing things in black and white often means denying room for any nuance and detail. And yet, it is in black and white that Marjane Satrapi chose to illustrate her vision of the Iranian Revolution and the role it played in her life in her autobiographical graphic novel and its 2007 film adaptation, Persepolis.
In 1999, as the country was gearing up for the potential catastrophe of Y2K, Hollywood was spending its spring season in cyberspace with three months of high profile genre films set within some concept of virtual reality. This started with The Matrix in March, which gave way to eXistenZ in April, and ended with The Thirteenth Floor in May. All three films traffic in the paranoia that comes with technology, particularly that related to computers and how reliant we were becoming on them.
Often, in films, we see a character stand up for an underdog or the losing side in battle. Other times we get to see a character advocate for herself against a powerful foe. That can be tough when the enemy turns out to be Mom.
There’s no shortage of villainous mothers in films. The ones who send shivers down your spine, like Angela Lansbury’s Mrs. Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate, and Faye Dunaway’s Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest, rule by intimidation and cruelty. In the world of classic films, Gladys Cooper has the mean mom thing down pat. Two films showcase Cooper’s ability to play horrible mothers, Now Voyager (1942) and Separate Tables (1958).
Pop culture is currently enjoying a thriving fascination with the potential humanity of artificial intelligence and androids. Spike Jonze’s Her (2013) and Alex Garland’s Ex-Machina (2014) both explored the capacity for romance between humans and human-made creations. Even TV shows like Black Mirror and HBO’s Westworld meditate on potential humanity of AI. Although technological advancement has certainly fueled this current interest, we should also recognize the lasting influence of a film that was truly ahead of its time: Blade Runner (1982).
In April 1944, Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins debuted Fancy Free, a ballet about sailors on shore leave in New York City. The ballet was the genesis for the stage musical On the Town, which debuted on Broadway the same year. Five years later, On the Town made its way to the screen, with many of Bernstein’s songs replaced with pieces by the composer Roger Edens.
On The Town (1949) is a Technicolor musical film that follows three singing sailors and three dancing dames on adventures in New York. (Trivia fact: Technicolor originated in Boston.) On The Town is saturated with more than just color. The musical is unreservedly saturated in art, dance, and melodies.
There are few films that I’ve seen that epitomize classic Hollywood as well as 1944’s musical hit Cover Girl. Starring an effervescent Rita Hayworth as Rusty Parker, a vaudeville-style dancer, and a typically earnest Gene Kelly as Danny McGuire, her manager/boyfriend, Cover Girl thrives on the pair’s dynamic charisma. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine this film being enjoyable without either of its principal actors.
Nineteen thirty-nine was a golden year for movies. A record number of films were made, more than 20 of them considered now to be classics of cinema, including Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and many others.
Howard Hawks’s Only Angels Have Wings (1939) did not fit the mold of movies being made at that time. Angels did not possess the maddeningly indefinable allure of Garbo in Ninotchka, the unwavering idealism of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the melodramatics of Dark Victory, or the unbearable tragedies of Wuthering Heights. Nor did it have the over-the-top fantasy world-whirl of the beloved Wizard of Oz, or the searing romanticism of Gone with the Wind, both made by Victor Fleming that same year.
Vertigo (1958) remains the top contender for the best film of Hitchcock’s impressive oeuvre. In the film, John “Scottie” Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart) suffers from vertigo after pursuing a robber over rooftops and plummeting nearly to his death. After his near-fatal accident, he is hired to investigate Madeline (Kim Novak), the wife of an old college friend, who is acting strange, almost possessed. As Ferguson pursues Madeline, he not only saves her from drowning, but ultimately falls in love with her. But his vertigo prevents him from saving her life a second time when she appears to throw herself from a church tower. The second half of the film follows Ferguson as he recovers from a mental breakdown and meets Judy, a woman with such a striking resemblance to Madeline (Judy is also played by Kim Novak) that Ferguson becomes obsessed and remakes her in Madeline’s image.