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Calfornia Fool's Gold -- Exploring Yucca Corridor, Los Angele's Crack Alley

Posted by Eric Brightwell, June 25, 2009 01:25pm | Post a Comment
In this installment of the Los Angeles neigborhood blog, we visit Yucca Corridor. To vote for a different Los Angeles neighborhood, go here. To vote for a Los Angeles County community, go here.

  
Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Yucca Corridor & Hollywood

The Yucca Corridor is a small, crowded neighborhood in central Hollywood, just northwest of downtown. Its borders are Franklin Ave on the north, Hollywood Blvd on the south, Highland on the west, and Vine on the east. Below is the southeast corner of what's now Yucca Corridor as it was in 1907. Nowadays it is 42% Latino (mostly Mexican and Guatelmalteca), 41% white (mostly Armenian), 7% Asian and 5% black.



The Yucca Corridor
Yucca Corridor is a fairly dilapidated section of Hollywood, despite 100s of millions of dollars having been dumped into it since the death of Hollywood in the 1950s. Today, although much improved from its nadir, it’s still one of the most run-down areas of Los Angeles. Now, after decades of heralding its complete rejuvenation, the hype finally seems to be approaching reality -- though tellingly, the predominant smell in the air is of sun-dried urine.


Hollywood was originally a dry, Methodist community founded of a few hundred residents located roughly ten miles northwest of Los Angeles. In those days, the film industry was then centered in Edendale. In 1910, D.W. Griffith's In Old California -- shot at 1713 N Vine in what’s now the southeast corner of the Yucca Corridor in downtown Hollywood -- was the first film made in Hollywood. Within five years, most American films were made in Los Angeles and several studios and stars called Hollywood home. By the '20s, it was hopping, as a shot of the same intersection below shows.


By the 1940s, Hollywood was the center of film, radio and television production. In the 1950s, however, faced with rising property values and rents, the entire area experienced a mass exodus with most television and film production facitilies moving away.


For a time, bouyed by the 1954 construction of the nearby Capitol building, Hollywood retained some sense of glamor and was still known as a hub of the music industry. The Villa Capri at 6735 Yucca was a favorite Rat Pack hangout. However, despite its continuing glamourous reputation, Hollywood began a long decline from which it wouldn’t even begin to emerge for another forty years.



By 1958, the music industry had proved incapable of keeping Hollywood alive and it was, for all intents and purposes, dead. In the first of many efforts at restoring life to the necropolis, the neighborhood created the Hollywood Walk of Fame that year, placing eight stars in the sidwalk just west of the Yucca Corridor, which ultimately grew, passing along the entirety of the Corridor's southern edge. Today, the grimy sidewalk of widely unrecognized names seems rather unimpressive. Most of the stores along it sell post cards, novelty license plates, tattoos and clothing so tacky that most prostitutes have too much decency to wear it.


In the 1960s, Hollywood undertook another effort to make the neighborhood attractive -- destroying most of the art deco buildings in the area to make way for boxier, less stylized structures. Two art deco buildings that escaped the wrecking ball are the Fontenoy at 1811 Whitley (pictured above), constructed in 1928 and the Montecito, at 6650 Franklin (pictured below).



The oldest restaurant in Hollywood, Musso & Frank’s, opened in 1919. Suspecting it’s a tourist trap, Musso & Frank's and a Chinese place on Highland are about the only Yucca Corridor restaurants I haven’t eaten at in the name of research. Only the Village Pizza and the Lotería Grill exceed mediocrity, which they both do by a healthy margin. Anyway, back in the 60s, the efforts to attract tourists largely failed and the void left by the departure of the entertainment industry was filled by hippies. The many head shops in Yucca Corridor have proven one of the neighborhood's most enduring business successes.

  

By the '70s, the Yucca Corridor slipped further into decline and most of the hotels in the area became flophouses. One, The Lido, inspired Frank Zappa’s “Willie the Pimp” and was featured in the album art for Hotel California. The Lido had a long history of notoriety, roughly paralleling the neighborhood's decay. Back in the 1950s, Ed Wood did much of his drinking in its bar, which he lived above until he was evicted.

 
Wilcox and Yucca - note the cameras

Wood's upstairs neighbor pimped out her young daughter, beneath was a woman who pimped out her young daughter. A drag queen was stabbed to death in the hallway and it was also there that Victor Kilian, the Fernwood Flasher on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, was beaten to death. Crossing the street to buy booze at Playboy Liqour, Wood was routinely mugged in the intersection that was long considered the most dangerous in the neighborhood. As a result, neighborhood watch groups installed video cameras at the intersection later, but that didn’t stop the theft of the martini glass serving as the “Y” in the store's name and now it goes as Pla-Boy.


The “Tortilla House,” a famous crash pad on Las Palmas, housed 100 homeless transients at one time. But in the '70s, many of the hippies were joined by working class Latinos and the character of the neighborhood changed. On weekends, Hollywood Boulevard was choked with lowrider traffic. Around the same time, many of the sex stores, stripper-wear merchants and porn theatres moved in, followed by an influx of prostitution and drugs. At this point, the crime rate in the area was double the rest of the city -- only topped by the areas around LAX. In the midst of it, the famous The Masque at 1655 N Cherokee was an L.A. Punk venue that hosted The Weirdos, X, The Go-Gos, The Germs, the Screamers and F-Word and was shut down in 1977, when cops began to crack down on the neighborhood.

 
By the early 1980s, the shadowy band of crazed transients known as The Night People dominated Hollywood, based out of the vacant Security Pacific National Bank Building and Garden Court Apartments (aka Hotel Hell), both flanking but just outside the Yucca Corridor. In 1983, the Hollywood Branch Library at Ivar was broken into, vandalized, then set on fire, destroying about 68,000 books.

After much of Hollywood was declared a blighted slum, redevelopment began in earnest in the late 1980s, with efforts led by another shadowy group of glassy-eyed walking dead, the Scientologists. Strangely, they appeared on the scene roughly around the same time as the collapse of another cult, the 1970s' The Center for Feeling Therapy (or The Screamers), who bought much of the property south of the neighborhood. In the 1980s, though a blighted hellscape, game shows still routinely offered winners a two-night stay in glamorous Hollywood, California to unsuspecting tourists, who can still be seen departing from airport shuttles with horrified and disbelieving looks in their eyes.
 

On the left, one of Ed Wood's old apartment buildings. On the right, the former location of La Iguerita.

At the beginning of the ‘90s, the Yucca Corridor seemed little improved, beyond Scientologists' having saved some of the neighborhood's historic buildings from ruin. The crack problem was so bad that the stretch of Yucca between Whitely and Wilcox was known as Crack Alley, which was patrolled by the neighborhood watch groups: Ivar Hawks, Cherokee Condors, Las Palmas Lions, Wilcox Werewolves, Whitley Rangers and Hudson Howlers. Previously focused on individual streets, in 1991 they united as United Streets of Hollywood and Yucca Corridor was proposed as a name to bring attention to the most decrepit neighborhood in a bedraggled district. After two dozen people were killed between the 7-11 on Cahuenga and Ivar and La Iguerita Club, the police formed a special task force to target the area. La Iguerita Club was famous for its violence and drugs that spilled out into the streets. After a murder inside the bar, it was shut down for 45 days. After being closed again for serving alcohol to people who were already blind drunk, people in the Corridor organized to shut it down permanently.

 

In 1992, a block to the south, the LA riots spread to Yucca Corridor and Frederick's of Hollywood was looted, Madonna’s famous pointy bra stolen in the process. The following year, the street was paved with glassphalt, a sparkly pavement designed to add a suggestion of glamour to the embattled, ramshackle neighborhood. When the Northridge earthquake hit the following year, several buildings were condemned. Violence peaked afterward, with Yucca averaging a murder a day. Blockades were erected along the street to reduce drug trafficking.

 
In the 2000s, the neighborhood grew noticeably less shady, with attention-whoring hipsters mostly replacing the the more conventional sort at night. A landscaped median with a sign, the "Gateway to Hollywood” was recently completed by the Yucca Corridor Coalition at a cost of $658,000 in an effort to create yet another reason for visiting the neighborhood. So far, I haven't been asked by anyone for directions to it, although as I took the picture, a guy asked me where the notorious 7-11 is. 
 
For more Yucca Corridor:

  Frank Zappa Hot Rats  



*****


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Aquanauts - heroes of oceanic exploration

Posted by Eric Brightwell, June 13, 2009 08:23am | Post a Comment


Aquanauts - What Are They?

Aquanauts, as the name implies to anyone with even the most basic awareness of Latin and ancient Greek, are the oceanic equivalent of astronauts, cosmonauts, taikonauts and other nauts. However, there's more to being an aquanaut than wearing a blue blazer with gold buttons paired with white trousers. Nor are aquanauts mere scuba divers or snorkelers. Even donning a Breton sailor's shirt and Greek fisherman's cap, puttering around in a pressure-and-climate-controlled sub just makes you a submariner. If you want to be an aquanaut, you've got to get your hands wet. There's also an implication that you have to be indigenous to land because no one ever described a porpoise or a jellyfish as an aquanaut.

 

Famous, Real-Life Aquanauts

Although every documentary about the Earth's oceans points out how much more interesting the oceans are than space (and how we know less about it), aquanauts are never as famous as their spacegoing rivals. Whereas everyone knows the names of the first astronauts on the moon, who can name any of the crew who first descended the Marianas Trench? See if any of these "famous" aquanauts' names ring any diving bells:

Robert Stenuit, Bill Tolbert, Billie L. Coffman, George Dowling, Mike Meisky, Robert Sheats, Shorty Lyons and Wally Jenkins, Alina Szmant, Bill High, C. Lavett Smith, Chris Olstad, Harold Pratt, Ian Koblick, John Perry, Joseph MacInnis, Morgan Wells, Neil Monney, Phillip Sharkey, Richard Cooper, Robert Dill, Stephen Neudecker, Steven Miller, Sylvia Earle. Malcolm Scott Carpenter was both an aquanaut and and astronaut!

 

Aquanauts in Film

Sometimes, filmmakers decide that enough is enough and choose to relocate what are essentially space movies to an underwater location. When I was 11, I learned to scuba dive and got my first paying job (under the table... child labor and all that) at a scuba shop. A few years later, there was a spate of aquanaut films beginning with Deep Star Six. To me, any aquanaut film was held to the absolute lowest standards. I even purported to find The Abyss "not boring" even though I only remember one scene.


Special notice must be given to Chris Elliott (no less a hero than Scott Carpenter) who has done more than any other actor to raise the stature of ocean-centered films, having starred in The Abyss, played a submariner in an episode of Get A Life entitled "Neptune 2000," and a cabin boy in Cabin Boy. His autobiography, Daddy's Boy even begins, "The sea is a cruel mistress..." 

 

20000 lieues sous les mers (1907) and 20,000 leagues under the sea (1916) are two early examples of aquanauts in action. As you can see in the earlier version, a work of the always unrealistic Georges Méliès, the aquanaut seems to explore the depths without the aid of a breathing aparatus. Yeah right. Somebody's got nitrogen narcosis! The 1916 version is actually quite entertaining with reasonably amazing effects.

 

Undersea Kingdom (1936) holds the distinction of being Republic's lowest budget serial... and it shows. It could've been subtitled Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon underwater. As such, like the spate of aquanaut movies of 1989, it seems like little more than a gimmick and there's very little aquanatic action.




20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) is a classic that everyone knows and loves. No exceptions.

  

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961) followed a few years later and had some superficial similarities (giant squid punch up), as did War-Gods of the Deep (1965) (another period aquanaut piece). Some would argue that Fantastic Voyage (1966) has no place in this blog, but blood and people, as we all know, are mostly made of water, it has submarines and scuba divers, so it stays! And then there's Captain Nemo and the Underwater City (1969).









  

For a while, the aquanaut genre lay undisturbed, like a giant wrecked Spanish Galleon silently resting at the bottom of the sea. The genre was revived in 1989 with the release of Deep Star Six. It and the films that followed had a notably different vibe than earlier aquanaut films. At that point they borrowed elements from horror and science-fiction and some would say owed a slight debt to Alien. Within a span of twelve months, Deep Star Six was followed by Leviathan, The Abyss and the inevitable Roger Corman production, Lords of the Deep. The following year, The Rift aka Endless Descent (1990) was cannibalizing all of them in its poster art, name, plot and almost appears to be a parody.









Sphere (1998) came out years later. I found it unintentionally funny at points, such as the Seinfeldian "Harry is Jerry!" "Harry is Jerry?" "Jerry's Harry!" Nick Pinto swears by it though.


Aquanauts on TV

There've been several examples of aquanauts on the small screen including Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964-1968), Stingray (1964-1965), Sealab 2020 (1972), SeaQuest DSV (1993-1996) and Sealab 2021 (2000-2005). Note: Pacifica Radio DJ Rick Frystak has pointed out that there was a syndicated show called The Aquanauts in 1960 and '61 although it doesn't seem to've been about actual aquanauts and more in the vein of Sea Hunt.












Years ago, I made a custom, limited edition Aquanaut box set. If you bought it, I'd love to hear from you.

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Asian-American Cinema Part IV - The 1950s

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 24, 2009 04:58pm | Post a Comment
The fourth of a nine part series on Asian-Americans in front of and behind the camera

During the silent film and Hollywood eras, most Asian-American actors' roles were usually limited to the background and in offensive roles. Two actors, Anna May Wong and Sessue Hayakawa, nonetheless became superstars. They and pioneers like Esther Eng, Marion Wong, and the folks at Grandview Film Company (not to mention numerous actors) gamely attempted to produce and sustain an alternative and viable Asian-American Cinema.


Hawaiian Eye with Poncie Ponce (right)

In the 1950s, Hollywood roles for Asian-American women were usually limited to the objects of war time romance. On the Broadway stage, musicals about the Far East like The King and I, South Pacific and Flower Drum Song were in vogue although Asian characters were usually portrayed by white actors in yellowface. Asian stage performers typically enjoyed more attention on so-called Chop Suey Circuit, an mostly Chinese-American strand of Vaudeville

Roles for Asians were slightly more in number on television. In it's early years, the small screen was a much more diverse place than the big screen. It was there, in 1951, that Anna May Wong became the first Asian-American to star in her own series, The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong, which aired on the DuMont Network
*****

ASIAN-AMERICANS ACTORS THE 1950s


 
 
                                Aki Aleong                                                 Barbara Yun                                   Beulah Quo              

 Candace Lee 
                                  Bill Saito                                                    Candace Lee                                 Chang Tseng   

 
                                    Cherylene Lee                                            Dale Ishimoto                                    Edo Mita

  
             France Nuyen                                             Guy Lee                                               George Matsui     


                            George Takei                                         Gerald Jann                                              Ginny Tiu 

  
 
                     Henry Nakamura                                          Hideo Inamura                                     James Hong

  
         James Shigeta                                       James Yagi                                                   Jaqui Chan  


  
                  Jerry Fujikawa
                                               Judy Dan                                                 Kam Fong 

     
                                         Lisa Lu                                                  Lucille Soong                             Mai Tai Sing     


   
                        Mako (aka  Mako Iwamatsu)                                 Michi Kobi                                    Miiko Taka     

  
                   Miyoshi Jingu                                      Miyoshi Umeki                                                  Noel Toy

   Paul Togawa                      Pat Suzuki                                                Patrick Adiarte                                            Paul Togawa         

   
                      Poncie Ponce                                              Reiko Sato                                            Robert Kino 

Shuji Joe Nozawa (aka Fuji)             Shuji Joe Nozawa (aka Fuji)                      Tsai Chin                                                    Victor Wong

 
            Virginia Ann Lee                                      Yuki Shimoda                                          Warren Hsieh 

 
                  Willie Soo Hoo

Not pictured: May Takasugi, Robert W. Lee, and William Yokota


ASIAN-AMERICAN CINEMA OF THE 1950s


            

MORE ASIAN-AMERICAN CINEMA OF THE 1950s

Go for Broke
, I Was an American Spy, Korea Patrol, and Peking Express (all 1951); Feng ye qing, Japanese War Bride, and A Yank in Indo-China (all 1952); China Venture, Forbidden, and Target Hong Kong (all 1953); Hell's Half Acre (1954); House of Bamboo, The Left Hand of God, and Love Is a Many Splendored Thing (all 1955); The Teahouse of the August Moon (1956); Battle Hymn, China Gate, and Sayonara (all 1957); The Inn of the Sixth HappinessChina Doll, The Geisha Boy, Ghost of the China Sea, The Quiet American, and South Pacific (all 1958); and Blood and SteelThe Crimson Kimono, and Tokyo After Dark (all 1959)


Mummy Dearest

Posted by Eric Brightwell, April 15, 2009 06:06pm | Post a Comment


Mummy films
are unique among classic monster movies in that they're neither primarily based upon myths or literature. Only Isaac Henderson's 1902 play, The Mummy and the Hummingbird and Bram Stoker's 1903 novel, Jewel of the Seven Stars, have inspired cinematic adaptations (the latter spawning four to date) with its subject of an archaeologist attempting to revive a mummy. There were a few examples of the mummy in literature, as with Edgar Allan Poe's "Some Words with a Mummy," Théophile Gautier's The Romance of a Mummy, Ambrose Pratt's The Living Mummy, Louisa May Alcott's "Lost in a Pyramid or, The Mummy’s Curse" and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "Lot No. 249" and "The Ring of Thoth" all deal with mummies, albeit not always in a horror setting, and have never even loosely been adapted into film.

The rise of mummy films seem to be directly related to a then-widespread interest in archaeology and, more specifically, an enduring western vogue for Orientalism and fascination with the Near East.  Several major discoveries in the field of Egyptology occurred in the 20th century and helped renew and increase interest in one the the planet's oldest, most complex and enduring civilizations. Yet fascination with Egyptian mummies, with their tantalizing ties to the ancient past, never really translated into a healthy monster subgenre, only sporadically rising to the level of more continually popular monsters like vampires and ghosts.



In 1912, the famous bust of Nefertiti was rediscovered and rekindled broad interest in ancient Egypt. Filmmakers of that decade responded by producing more mummy films than any subsequent decade till the current, although they usually depicted people pretending to be mummies or the theft of them rather than reanimated monsters. In 1922, Tutankhamun’s tomb was discovered. Completely hidden for ages, it was and is the most complete, un-plundered Egyptian tomb ever found to date. Following its discovery, the tabloids spread a rumor that a curse of death was placed on whomever entered the tomb and this, along with Stoker's plot involving re-animation of mummies, seems to have influenced practically all mummy movies that followed.
 
    

   

As opposed to Dracula amongst vampires, Frankenstein's monster amongst golems, or the Wolf Man amongst werewolves, no one mummy has ever managed to rise to dominance amongst their kind, a fact which I view as critical in its remaining a second string monster. In the 1930s, Imhotep was the first big mummy, played by Boris Karloff and then revived in the 1990s in loose remake and its sequels. In the 1940s, Universal's Kharis was the main mummy. King Rutentuten (aka Rootentootin) appeared in two Three Stooges films. Yet all these mummies are virtually interchangeable. Despite the well known mummies of the Guanches (of the Canary Islands), the Incas, the Tibetans and the Chachapoyas, filmmakers again and again depicted lumbering, unstoppable Egyptian mummies, except, notably, in Mexico, which got into the mummy movie game. Popoca starred as the Aztec mummy in a whole slew of films and even pitted a werewolf mummy against Tin Tan.

 

In addition to no single mummy achieving widespread name recognition due to inter-mummy competition, they also all suffer from the absence of engaging personalities and conversational abilities. By comparison, Frankenstein's monster practically seems like Oscar Wilde. Even a ghoul might express its love of brains, but the Mummy, on the other hand, usually broods in silence, single-mindedly obsessing over his long dead girlfriend.
 
 

The monster rally subgenre began with Frankenstein's monster's meeting with the Wolfman in 1943 in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. The mummy, criticized by some for being little more than Frankenstein's monster in bandages, would seem like an obvious choice of combatant. That almost happened with 1944's House of Frankenstein. There, the scientist's monster was joined by Dracula, Wolf Man and even a hunchback frighteningly named Daniel. Early drafts of the film had included the Mummy (as well as the Invisible Man and the little-known Mad Ghoul) but the monster didn't make the cut. The following year, in House of Dracula, the Mummy wasn't even considered and it became clear that the Mummy was perceived by most as a B-list monster who would remain absent from exclusive monster rallies like Van Helsing, only showing up in more democratic affairs like Groovie Goolies, Carry on Screaming, Monster Squad, Mad Monster Party, El Castillo de los Monstruos, The Halloween That Almost Wasn't, and Mad, Mad, Mad Monsters.


Perhaps no other example illustrates the Mummy's comparative unpopularity than General Mills' monster-themed cereals. When introduced in 1971, it was Count Chocula and Franken Berry that came first. They were joined by Boo Berry in '73 and Fruit Brute in '74. It wasn't until 1987 that Fruity Yummy Mummy was born, only to be discontinued in 1993.

  

The mummy was a natural in the silent era, since he never had much to say anyway. The first known mummy picture was 1909's La Momie du roi. The 1910s, as previously noted, were a heyday of mummy films, including Romance of the Mummy (1911), The Mummy (1911), The Mummy (1912), The Vengeance of Egypt (1912), The Mummy and the Cowpuncher (1912), The Mummy (1914), When the Mummy Cried for Help (1915), The Avenging Hand (1915), The Mummy and the Hummingbird (1915), The Live Mummy (1915), The Missing Mummy (1916), Die Augen der Mumie Ma (1918) and Mercy, The Mummy Mumbled (1918).
 
The 1920s witnessed a dramatic decrease in mummy movies, with only one example, the comedy The Mummy (1923), produced in the decade.


The 1930s began with Boris Karloff's famous portrayal in 1932’s The Mummy. It was the first Universal horror film not based on an earlier source, although it owed both to Dracula (with an ankh substituting for a crucifix) and Frankenstein (also starring Boris Karloff as a re-animated monster) which may've worked against it. Unlike those two predecessors, it spawned no sequels. The other two mummy films in the '30s were the animated Tom and Jerry (but not the cat and mouse) film, The Magic Mummy (1933) and the Three Stooges' We Want Our Mummy (1939).


With the 1940s, the mummy was again the star of Universal films, albeit relegated to B-movies. This time the mummy was Kharis and a few, somewhat feeble attempts at creating some mythology came with the introduction of tana leaves, which like Popeye's spinach, give Kharis his strength. Kharis largely popularized the portrayal of mummies as a stiff, slow, relentless and almost unstoppable ghoul and zombie-like monsters. In the Mummy’s Hand (1940) he was played by western star Tom Tyler. In the follow-ups, The Mummy’s Tomb (1942), The Mummy’s Ghost (1944) and The Mummy’s Curse (1944), Kharis was played by Lon Chaney Jr, more famous for playing the Wolf Man. The mummy comedy subgenre endured with the British quota quickie, A Night of Magic (1944) and another Three Stooges mummy film, Mummy’s Dummies (1948).
 



 

After two Three Stooges movies with mummies, it was obligatory for Abbot & Costello to do one, which they did with Abbott & Costello Meet the Mummy (1955) -- they'd already met Dracula, Frankenstein, Jeckyll & Hyde, Captain Kidd, "the Ghosts" and even Boris Karloff. Strangely, the American mummy then almost completely disappeared from the screen. In Mexico, however, the Aztec Mummy made several appearances beginning with La Momia Azteca (1957) and continuing with La Maldicion de la Momia Azteca (1957) and La Momia Azteca vs el Robot Humano (1957). Another Mexican mummy appeared in the Tin Tan vehicle, La Casa del Terror (1959). In the UK, Hammer takes over with Christopher Lee as Kharis in The Mummy (1959), following up with a couple more. Pharoah’s Curse (1957) depicted a blood-sucking mummy, doing little to dispel the notion of the mummy being a derivative monster.



The 1960s weren't terribly kind to the monster movie genre in the US, although Europe, Japan and Latin America made many. La Momia Azteca was re-cut and edited together with new footage and released in the US as Attack of the Mayan Mummy (1963). In Mexico, Luchadoras contra la Momia (1964) pitted the mummy against female wrestlers. In the UK, Hammer produced The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (1965) and The Mummy’s Shroud (1967). In America, the little-seen Mummy and the Curse of the Jackal (1967) finally pitted a mummy against another monster (a were-jackal) in Las Vegas.

 
By the 1970s, most mummies rested in peace, coming out of their tombs in a TV movie here (The Demon and the Mummy - 1976), a Santo appearance there (Santo en la Venganza de la Momia - 1971) and Las Momias de Guanajuato - 1972) and the occasional Spanish Eurohorror movie (1973's La Venganza de la Momia and El secreto de la momia egipcia). Somewhat surprisingly, Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb (1971) was the first mummy film to adapt Brams Stoker’s mummy novel into a film. It was also noteworthy for having one of the first female mummies in film and one played without bandages by Valerie Leon.





The 1980s followed with more of the same. The Awakening (1980) again adapted Stoker's novel. The Curse of King Tut's Tomb (1980) was another TV movie. Dawn of the Mummy (1981) was a low budget, Zombie-inspired film. La momia nacional (1981) was Spain's obligatory offering. O Segredo da Múmia (1982) was Brazil's first mummy picture. Time Walker (1982) was unique in its portrayal of an alien mummy. The Tomb (1986) was one of Fred Olen Ray's early directorial efforts.
 


In the 1990s, the mummy failed to be revived until the end of the decade. First, Tony Curtis filled in for a recently-departed Tony Perkins in The Mummy Lives (1993). Under Wraps (1997) was a made-for-TV children's film. The Mummy aka Eternal aka Trance (1998) was probably the first mummy film about an unintentional mummy, one mummified by natural occurences, with a protagonist who was mummified in a peat bog. Cult Australian director Russell Mulcahy made Tale of the Mummy (1999). The mummy genre only really came back to life with the Brendan Fraser adventure/comedy/fantasy franchise, beginning with The Mummy (1999), which returned Imhotep, albeit with re-imagined origins, and the mummy film.



The 2000s have truly re-animated the mummy genre in a variety of forms. There've been many low budget, direct-to-video titles and even a handful of softcore skin flicks.
 
Ancient Evil: Scream of the Mummy (2000)
Lust in the Mummy’s Tomb (2000)
The Mummy Returns (2001)
Belphégor - Le fantôme du Louvre (2001)
Ng goh haak gwai dik siu nin (2002)
Mummy's Kiss (2002)
Mummy Raider (2002)
Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)
Attack of the Virgin Mummies (2003)
The Mummy: Evil Unleashed (2003)
7 Mummies (2005)
The Fallen Ones (2005)
The Kung Fu Mummy (2005)
The Mummy's Kiss: Second Dynasty (2006)
Terror in the Pharaoh's Tomb (2007)
Mil Mascaras vs. the Aztec Mummy (2007)
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008)
My Mummy (2008)
 

In addition to the man mummy films, there have been several mummy characters in cartoons over the years, including Hakushin in InuYasha, Mumm-Ra in Thundercats, the cast of Mummies Alive! and Tutenstein in Scooby-Doo in Where's My Mummy?

 
Computer Games saw a minor revival in mummy interest beginning in the late '90s with Mummy-Tomb of the Pharaoh (1997), Choose Your Own Nightmare: Curse of the Mummy (1999), Mummy Mystery Starring Mercer Mayer's Little Monster Private Eye (2001) and Sherlock Holmes: The Mystery of the Mummy (2006).


The video game industry has also benefit financially from re-awakened interest in mummies with The Mummy (2001), The Mummy Returns (2001), The Mummy (2002), Mummy Maze (2003), Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy (2003) and Mummy-Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008).
 

In music, the mummy has failed to inspire anywhere close to as much devotion as other classic monsters but there have been rare examples. The Verdicts did "The Mummy's Ball," The Distortions had "The Mummy" and Bob McFadden memorably performed "Mummy." There was the band The Mummies, and last October Babl Bijits were mummified for a Halloween performance here at Amoeba.











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From the women's picture to the chick flick

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 31, 2009 05:52pm | Post a Comment

I wrongly assumed that it would be easy to fire off a blog briefly summarizing the history of women’s pictures. When I began, I quickly realized that it is a genre that’s simplistically treated as synonymous with both weepies/tearjerkers and their near opposite, the rom-com; it quickly proved to be more than I bargained for, which is why it’s showing up on this, the last day of Women’s History Month. The history of the genre occupies an interesting position, little discussed and yet obviously affecting and responding to the Hollywood narrative, the larger global film market, and broader history. Anyway, it proved to be a bit too much so, here's the fast & furious driveby account of a genre that deserves more.


First of all, tear-inducing films are by no means all women's pictures, which is why someone coined the annoying term “guy cry” for young male-targeted stories/films about dying dogs (e.g. My Dog Skip, Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows, &c). For adult males, sentimental melodramas (usually tempered by the macho backdrop of war, the wild west or sports (e.g. Bang the Drum Slowly, Brian’s Song, Knute Rockne) allow men the opportunity to cry with less shame. But, whereas men generally try to resist crying, telling themselves in the heat of a battle scene as the hero lies dying in his buddy's arms, "It's only a movie. It's only a movie. You will not cry!"; women, it is assumed, seek out movies with the hope that they will have "good cry." I have no doubt that this is part of why women’s pictures have rarely been afforded serious critical examination and were only lauded, for the most part, near the beginning of film history.


During the silent film era, most truly snobby critics still viewed film as an inferior art form unworthy of serious discussion, except to point out its deficiencies. Those few positive critics were usually decidely populist and they, of course, loved the maudlin stories, over-the-top action and improbable coincidence of silent melodramas. Most of still-critically-worshipped director D.W. Griffith’s supposed film innovations were borrowed directly from tawdry works of decidedly low, melodramatic fiction and much of his work can be considered in the women's pictures genre. True Heart Sudies is about a suffering country girl who continually sacrifices her own happiness to help advance the position of a man who barely knows she exists. In Way Down East, a young innocent is seduced and impregnated by a smooth womanizer who then tosses her aside.


Silent stars like Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford often played spurned or otherwise wronged innocents who suffered mightily at the hands of dastardly men. Both of the actresses played out in ways fitting the conventions of women’s pictures, albeit ones that demonstrate some of the under-acknowledged variety of the genre. Lillian Gish never married nor had any verified relationships (unless you count her close friendship with Helen Hayes or her sister, Dorothy). Instead, she devoted herself entirely to her career for 75 years before dying alone at 99 years old. Pickford’s husband, Owen Moore, was an alcoholic who -- unhappy about being overshadowed by his wife’s fame -- resorted to beating her, driving her into the arms of dashing womanizer Douglas Fairbanks.


The idea of campaigning for female audiences began when women still didn’t have the right to vote at the ballot box, but did at the ticket booth. With silent film’s reliance on visuals and, usually, highly stylized, dramatic acting, the medium practically seemed ideally suited for melodrama. In the 1920s, Doris Schroeder became in demand for her women’s picture screenplays. Her first screenplay was the provocatively-titled Heart of a Jewess. Her specialty was creating different characters that look like a who’s who of women’s picture stock characters: tomboys, fallen women, vengeful femme fatales and hedonistic gold-diggers. Of course, part of the fun of the pre-Hayes Code era was the ability to show all sorts of tawdry, sordid, gleeful immorality as long as the bad girls end up drug-addicted, rejected or dead. Madame X (1920) was one of the first of such films. In it, a woman (played by Pauline Frederick) is separated from her child and then defended by her unknowing, grown-up son when she's wrongly accused of murder. 


In 1927, the first Academy Award for Best Actress went to Janet Gaynor, the star of 7th Heaven, a woman’s picture wherein a poor, cheated, abused and persecuted woman finds a loving husband, only to have him snatched away to fight in World War I. He makes the unlikely promise to communicate telepathically with his wife every night. Eventually, the heroine thinks he’s died. Against all odds, he returns to her alive… but blind.

It was only when film began to be taken seriously that more serious critics began to dominate film theory. For the most part, they shunned the melodramatic hallmarks of the women’s picture as uncinematic, usually expressing the view that a more intellectual filmmaker’s concerns with film visuals should focus on composition, editing, &c and not emotionally appealing fancy costumes and sets. Somewhat oddly, whereas emotion seems perfectly acceptable in music, from the super sentimentality of Franz Schubert to the comically lachrymose Radiohead, emotion, we are told, has no place in serious film. Of course, all popular film remains, despite critical suggestion, primarily concerned with emotions, whether the genre is action, drama, horror, porn or thrillers. Most audiences go to the cinema in search of an emotional fix. It could be argued that the escapism offered by plutographic spectacle films is almost intrinsic to the genre and extremely cinematic.


The disparity between film critics and audiences is even more glaringly obvious when it comes to foreign films. In most countries, the melodrama (often also a women's picture) is usually favored by the populace, who've frequently never heard of most of the critically-championed films that end up released in America. Look, for example, at Iran, whose New Wave of directors are barely known at home where, conversely, the popular films are generally unheard of abroad.

Women’s pictures' roots in literature were also ultimately frowned upon as extrinsic contaminants stunting film's growth. The seemingly convoluted twists and border-line magical coincidences were looked down upon and yet books like Anna Karenina, Camille, Jane Eyre, Madame Bovary, Wuthering Heights and pretty much everything by Jane Austen have nonetheless proven lastingly popular with filmmakers and audiences, who often enjoy repeated movie adaptations every few years.


Occasionally, in the hands of the right director, what would otherwise be viewed as silly clichés are considered (usually in hindsight) ironic social critiques disguised in camp clothing. Many emotionally manipulative directors, despite their frequent forays into women’s pictures, are viewed as serious directors only because they've (despite frequently working within the genre) skillfully managed to avoid being seen for what they are, e.g. Erich Von Stroheim, Josef Von Sternberg, Lars von Trier, Michael Powell, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Todd Haynes. Others, like Douglas Sirk, Edmund Goulding and George Cukor, have been redeemed through re-assessment of their work. Because of their ongoing popularity, women’s pictures (though still viewed as low art) remain viable, now re-branded as "chick flicks." Given a hip, insouciant (and annoying) nickname, directors of chick flicks like Nora Ephron and P.J. Hogan are at least considered respectable, even as most of their works are scarcely different from the disparaged works of their predecessors. When you look at the top ten highest grossing American films, many are arguably women’s pictures and all contain most of the ingredients of the genre, despite their target audience.
  1. Gone with the Wind (1939)
  2. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)
  3. The Sound of Music (1965)
  4. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
  5. The Ten Commandments (1956)
  6. Titanic (1997)
  7. Jaws (1975)
  8. Doctor Zhivago (1965)
  9. The Exorcist (1973)
  10. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

The 1930s were noteworthy in the history of women’s pictures for several reasons. It was the dawn of the talkie and women’s pictures became known for featuring a lot of dialogue, another characteristic viewed as inherently anti-cinematic and more appropriate to books. In the first half of the decade, before the application of the Hayes code, studios could get away with more than they even do today. Bette Davis in particular enjoyed a string of successes as women of questionable character in films like Dance Fools Dance, Ladies of Leisure, Night Nurse, Illicit, Forbidden, Shopworn and Ladies They Talk About. Barbara Stanwyck, Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford and Marlene Dietrich often appeared as either gleefully-immoral or in traditionally male positions to great success.


The musical was also made possible with the adoption of sound. Although almost never described as a subgenre of women’s pictures, there’s little doubt about who is the target audience, Musicals often send up and feminize traditionally male-oriented genres. In the face of the Great Depression, a lighter variation on the wicked woman archetype was the comedic, sympathetic goldigger, as featured in a series of backstage musicals and non-musicals like Red Headed Woman.

          

In Italy, a series of films were made that, in imitation of Hollywood, portrayed wealthy, conservative families living glamorous, happy lives in their posh homes. The neo-realist crowd called them “Telefoni Bianchi” (White Telephones), after that technological symbol of upper-class frivolity.


The 1940s saw several developments in the women’s picture, many seemingly fueled by the realities of World War II, which resulted in many women entering the workplace for the first time, filling jobs traditionally performed by men. At the same time, many men were shipped off to the battlefront, often never to return. Women’s pictures such as Random Harvest and Waterloo Bridge milked war for all its considerable, tragic emotional worth. In England, however, where the battle came to them, the tendency toward escapism was stronger and what came to be known as Gainsborough Melodramas were hastily cranked out, beginning with The Man in Grey and continuing with Madonna of the Seven Moons, Fanny by Gaslight, The Wicked Lady and Caravan. They were mostly based on adaptations from recent books and all were set in the distant past and provided momentary distraction with fancy costumes and considerable scandal. The years following the war saw an absolute proliferation of women’s pictures. The then newly-common supersaturated Technicolor process was perfect for the heightened emotional state aimed for by genre auteurs like Douglas Sirk.


Production of women’s pictures seems to have reached a low in the 1960s and ‘70s, viewed at the time as conservative, inartistic and passe. Films like Sweet November, Love Story and Looking For Mr. Goodbar all attempted to make some acknowledgment of women’s liberation. Looking for Mr. Goodbar, especially, seems like a cautionary tale to women everywhere who are too liberated for their own good.

The 1980s saw the dawn of the term “chick flick.” I can only assume that it has something to do with the then-popular Andrew “Dice” Clay. Throughout the decade and into the 1990s, Hollywood grew increasingly conservative and there weren’t really any significant developments in the women’s picture in the 1990s, just new faces like Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan. If anything, the women's picture was stripped of any sense of irony or satire and reduced to a nostalgic echo of a supposedly simpler time.

With the complete proliferation of cell phones in the 2000s, film conversations are now liberated from the confines of LAN lines and people can talk and talk in any situation. Elizabethtown was the first film to feature every line of dialogue spoken over phones. Still relying heavily on books as their sources, the decade saw so-called chick lit, which had enjoyed incredible popularity in the ‘90s, influencing the women’s picture. It’s surely why the proliferation of films about busy, professional women exploded.

As I noted earlier, there’s a lot more variation to the women’s picture than is usually recognized. And yet, part of the fun is recognizing how often time-worn conventions appear with little change. Most women’s pictures incorporate several conventions in varying combinations, albeit usually with similar aims, including realization of fantasies about the characters who are experiencing significant life changes that revolve, almost invariably, around the central importance of men, which is part of the reason they’re often viewed as socially conservative. But, as earlier noted, there’s often an satirical note and more than a bit of exploitation in the bulk hiding behind the tidy moralizations at the end. I would argue that adherence to formula frees up the viewer to focus their attention on the performer and is the primary way that action, martial arts, porn, westerns and women’s pictures are viewed. Audiences nearly always attribute their failure to enjoy a film to either predictability or bad acting and tend to enjoy films actually offering genuine surprises. Instead, with genre pictures, the enjoyment is derived primarily from the minor tweaks in formula or, more often, the joy derived from witnessing a particular performer travelling down a familiar path, knowing fully what's coming next. For all of film’s history, women’s pictures have favored not only revisiting similar themes, but frequently relying on the same actors like the vulnerable-but-tough Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, Glenn Close, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Julia Roberts, Lillian Gish, Marlene Dietrich, Mary Pickford, Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet, Kiera Knightly, Jane Fonda and Sandra Bullock. The men are similarly tough-but-vulnerable, often English and pretty but not girly, sexually unthreatening fellows. Consider Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Kevin Costner, Tom Hanks, Rock Hudson, John Corbett, Harry Connick Jr, Matthew McConaughey and Richard Gere.

Variations on a theme with examples:


The Cinderella Story – The fantasy of an apparent everywoman being recognized and transported to a comfy life by Prince Charming is as old as time. The male equivalent is the dork being recognized for his skills (Dark City, The Matrix). Examples include: Woman’s Face, The Bride Wore Red, Low Birth and The Gorgeous Hussy


I'm Rich, Bitch! – A perhaps more realistic, grown-up variation on The Cinderella Story, these characters are born rich and usually stay rich. Having given up on Prince Charming, the viewer resigns themself to merely peeking voyeuristically at the fabulous outfits of their betters. Often based on real characters, the antebellum south was often formerly the romanticized locale. Now, in more PC times, the more distant past is favored. Of course, the sting of other people's wealth is lessened if their lives are still miserable. Consider: The Other Boylen Girl, Duchess, Jezebel,  Gone With the Wind and The Shining Hour


The Lovable Obsesssive – Another decidedly child-like cinematic fairy tale, the male characters in real life would terrify the objects of their affection. In these films, death, space-time, the fact that their lust is based entirely on stalking or physical appearance is supposed to be romantic -- e.g. Bed of Roses, Forever Young, Ghost, Somewhere in Time and While You Were Sleeping.


Dying Young – Whether it’s the protagonist or their love interest, perfect love is ended when fate cruelly intervenes in a story at least as old as Romeo & Juliet. Sometimes, the victim isn't even lucky enough to be in a relationship -- e.g. Beaches, City of Angels, Dark Victory, Dying Young, In My Life, Love Story, Steel Magnolias, Stepmom, Terms of Endearment and Titanic.


Operation: change-a-bro -- Whether taming the bad boy (usually a rich, cocky womanizer) or saving the suffering widower, these films offer the hope of molding a misshapen lump of man into something the woman likes as in An Affair to Remember, Autumn Leaves, Maid in Manhattan, An Officer and a Gentleman, Sabrina or Sleepless in Seattle.

Weddings – Many women's pictures' raison d'etre is focused on holy matrimony, as in 27 Dresses, Runaway Bride, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Bride Wars, The Wedding Planner, Rachel Getting Married, The Wedding Date, Made of Honor and My Big Fat Greek Wedding.


The Suffering Mother –  These films focus on mothers being terrorized by traumatic events involving their children and play up the old paranoia or maternal sacrifice, sometimes to cover for awful, unappreciative brats. See Cry in the Dark, Madame X, Mildred Pierce, Not Without My Daughter, The Sin of Madelon Claudet, Sophie’s Choice, Stella Dallas and To Each His Own.


Bird in a Gilded Cage – In these films, kept women are content to serve their useless husbands, sometimes reluctantly but selflessly taking part in the scumbag's schemes and even taking the rap for their illegal activities. Or maybe he’s an alcoholic and she’s the talent. See Hold Your Man, Lost Weekend, Riff Raff or Mannequin.


Mr. Wrong – Everything seems so perfect in these fairytale romances… until the husbands/boyfriends quickly reveal their true colors. Or, they’re already creepy, but the women find themselves trapped. Gaslight, The Net, Sleeping with the Enemy, Sudden Fear and Waitress.


The Romance of Adultery – Sometimes these women are trapped in loveless marriages with galoots, often with mistresses or alchoholic and impotent, but other times, a fling with a handsome stranger reignites the flames in the woman’s heart that her well-meaning husband can’t. Examples include Bridges of Madison County, Brief Encounter, Now Voyager, The Piano, Ruby Gentry and Waitress.


Not Enough Time --  Whether single mom’s slaving away at a greasy spoon or as a journalist/author/professional assistant, romance just doesn’t fit into these women’s goals… and yet it nonetheless inevitably finds a way. Check out Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Confessions of a Shopaholic, Devil Wears Prada, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, My Brilliant Career, The Turning Point, Sex & the City or You’ve Got Mail.


Princess Charming
-- In the reverse of the Cinderella, the princess, usually urban and sophisticated, somehow falls for a lowly manual laborer, often whilst spending an extnded amount of time in the county. Examples: BUtterfield 8, Kitty Foyle, New In Town and Sweet Home Alabama.

Bouncing Back -– Fresh out of a disintegrated relationship, these films revolve around romantically-wronged women picking themselves up, dusting themselves off, and finding some hot, young manflesh to make everything right, as in Hope Floats, How Stella Got Her Groove Back or An Unmarried Woman.

Cutting Loose -– Not yet ready to date again, these women burn their bodices and find (temporary) solace letting their hair down in the company of women, e.g. The Banger Sisters, Thelma & Louise or Fried Green Tomatoes.


This Woman’s Work -- These films show strong women (often queens) who often treat men as indifferently as the worst men do women, thereby showing that two wrongs do make right. These characters usually have more to do with the ice queen archetype than femme fatales. See Elizabeth, Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle and Queen Christina.

Manhunt -– These frantic, frazzled, female protagonists won’t be whole until they capture a man. The race is on! See Bridget Jones’s Diary or He’s Just Not that Into You.


The Tramp's Progress –- Who doesn’t love seeing women sloot around and act like vain, catty, conniving bitches? Especially if they are felled by their sins. Check Beyond the Forest, Cabin in the Cotton, The Letter, Marked Woman, Mr. Skeffington, Of Human Bondage or Old Acquaintance.


Hooker with a Heart of Gold -- Basically the Tramp's Progress crossed with Cinderalla plus Not Enough Time. Or the characters resort to the oldest profession out of necessity, destitute and having given up on love, as seen in Anna Christie, Pretty Woman, Rain, Red Dust, Street Angel or Waterloo Bridge.


Combo Pack -- Ensemble casts allow for the examination of various aspects of love through the lense of the woman's picture, as witnessed in King’s Row; Love, Actually; Peyton Place; Three on a Match or Waiting to Exhale.

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