An Easter-Time Movie List For All

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, March 27, 2016 04:07pm | Post a Comment
Killer bunny? From Gorleston Psalter, 14th Century.
Killer bunny? From Gorleston Psalter14th-century manuscript.

Happy Easter! Even though I grew up Jewish and had no idea what a Resurrection was, I knew I liked bunnies, chocolate, treating eggs like an art project, and finding buried treasure in foliage. I was sold on the whole Easter thing. As I matured at some point in the not too distant past, I realized that there was a whole lot more to Easter than baskets full of candy and huge hats. I learned that it was also about birth and rebirth. The symbolism of eggs, Jesus's triumphant return from the dead, and bunnies multiplying like, well, bunnies all lead us to appreciate the foundation of it all: Spring Equinox, the renewal of life on earth. I'm not sure where the chocolate fits in, but I'm not going to question a good thing.

In honor of everyone who can appreciate longer and brighter days, the rejuvenation of all life on earth, and deadly killer rabbits, I bring you this non-denominational Easter-time movie list for all...

Rebel Without A Cause

Nicholas Ray's 1955 magnum opus of teen angst is considered by most to be the first sensitive and Rebel Without A Causerealistic look at troubled, misunderstood youth. Would we have those heart-breaking scene's of Bender (Judd Nelson), Claire (Molly Ringwald), and the gang discussing their troubled home lives in The Breakfast Club without Rebel Without A Cause? I think not. The opening scene in Rebel is set in a police station on Easter night where three high school kids -- Jim Stark (James Dean), Judy (Natalie Wood), and Plato (Sal Mineo) -- meet and an unlikely friendship is born. Much drama and generation gap struggles ensue, ultimately leading to one of the character's death by the hands of the police. Rebel remains James Dean's most celebrated film. It was released a month after his death at the age of 24, thus immortalizing him as a beautiful youth forever.

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Would You Like A Cheese Puff?: The Art Of The RCA SelectaVision Videodisc CED

Posted by Mark Beaver, January 13, 2015 04:20pm | Post a Comment
 For a brief moment in time (1981-1986, to be exact) there existed a film delivery system based on needle/groove technology, just like a record player.

Launched by RCA and dubbed the CAPACITANCE ELECTRONIC DISC (CED), it was quickly supplanted by both commercially available VHS tapes and Laserdiscs, the precursor to the DVD, which read the information with light beams.

Ultimately, it was a clunky, inelegant technology prone to problems and RCA lost about $600 million on it, but there was a curious upside to its brief arc through the collective consciousness...the cover art.

For many of the CED packages, promotional artwork was commissioned for the face of the cartridge that was singular for the release of the RCA SelectaVision format. 

Below I have displayed a gallery of some of the cover art from that time, in most cases, different images than were ever seen on the more popular VHS, Laserdisc or DVD releases of the same films. 

Enjoy the beauty!


Love Thy Vampire? Priest (2011)

Posted by Charles Reece, June 5, 2011 10:16pm | Post a Comment

I wasn't going to see Priest until I read Noah Berlatsky's critique. I could tell from the trailer that it wasn't offering anything new, nor was it going to even try. Indeed, it is cobbled together from clichés, tropes and designs borrowed from other films -- many of which would best be forgotten, as well. There's not one, but two "I won't let you / don't you let go" scenes as someone is dangling from the hero's hand. The villain conducts while his minions play a catastrophe on a town, just so you know how evil he is. Black Hat, the villain, is a former member of the superpowered priesthood, now corrupted by vampire blood, making him more powerful than both the pureblood vamps and the priests. The vampires are based on the same boring, wormlike design that was used in I Am Legend -- preferred, I guess, because it's generic and doesn't require eyes. Black Hat's main plan is get his old friend, Priest, to join him as a halfbreed and take over the world for the vampire queen. The worst offense is that the action is yet another uninspired appropriation of The Matrix's bullettime. Why, then, did I see it? Because Berlatsky argues that the film is virulently racist, and I can't stay away from films that unintentionally go horribly ideologically wrong. He had my hopes up for another 300 or the aforementioned I Am Legend, but is it a "racist piece of shit," or just shit?

The film's one innovation -- if you can call it that -- is borrowing the basic plot from The Searchers. In John Ford's classic, the Comanche kidnap Ethan Edwards' (John Wayne) niece, torch his brother's homestead and kill most of the family. The vampires do the same to Priest's (Paul Bettany) family, bringing him out of forced retirement to find his "niece" (actually, his biological daughter), and, thus, against the direct commands of the church state that he serves. The heroes are accompanied by the nieces' suitors, both of whom intend to keep the girls alive against the uncles' vows to kill their nieces if they show signs of infection -- cultural in the case of the Indians and genetic in the case of the vampires (or, I guess you might say, genetic mutation determines an ideologico-moral shift in the latter). It's the substitution of vampires for Indians in the plot that is central to Berlatsky's condemnation:

[I]f the Indians are vampires, suddenly you don’t have to shilly-shally. One by one the Western set pieces are trotted out and stripped down to their primal level of racist hatred and fear. The (white) family of peaceful farming folk out on the frontier is beset, utterly without cause, by slavering, hideous eyeless beasts. The reservation on which the vampires are herded is an impoverished, backwards tract of dirt—surrounding a slimy, stinking pit of sub-human insectoid breeding and bloodletting. 

[...]  But, of course, where Ford’s film at least intermittently sees Ethan’s bloody-minded racial panic as a monstrosity, in Priest there is no such bleeding heart nonsense. Racial mixing deserves death, period, and even Hicks has to admit that Priest’s absolute anti-miscegenation stance is the only true morality.

His hyperbolical reaction rests on one faulty assumption that seems to me fairly obvious: borrowing a plot doesn't entail the same intent or interpretation of that intent for the stories sharing the plot. As Roger Ebert put it, The Searchers has a nervous racial politics in the way it attempts to walk the line between the legitimate fear Euro-American settlers had for the Comanche and the genocidal solution that many, such as the character of Ethan, promoted. Berlatsky would have it that by substituting the vampires in the role of the Other, the nervousness is taken away, making genocide a moral solution to the settlers fear of the Comanche.

Even though he refuses to admit it (confer his article's comments section), the use of monsters of pure evil instead of humans from a different cultural tradition necessitates a different interpretation of storytelling intent. Granted, monsters often serve an allegorical role, but this role isn't merely determined by their placement within a plot. Rather, I suggest content of the villain role is crucial here -- i.e., the form doesn't determine (top-down) the way the content is to be interpreted. When Dirty Harry rails against the liberal bureaucrats in San Francisco, that suggests (regardless of the intent of the filmmakers) something about the realworld bureaucratic organization of a realworld city. It asks the audience to temporarily identify with a perspective (right-wing and reactionary) about something that actually exists for the movie to work the way it does. The vampires represent the Comanche (or Indians in general) only if one assumes that they do. And the only reason for assuming that they do is because of Priest's sharing a plot with a film about white settlers and the Comanche. But imagine a story where a girl is kidnapped by a Nazi group who intend on raising her with pure Aryan racialist beliefs (this idea shares similarities with the horror film Frontier(s)). Her uncle, a vehement Nazi-hunter, goes after her with the intent of killing her if she's been ideologically contaminated. I suspect his intention would find more sympathy from contemporary audiences than Ethan's, based as it is on a hatred that's considered more morally justified than hatred of Indians. Using Berlatsky's rationale, the Nazi-hunter would be just as bigoted as Ethan. 

However, even for the individual who finds Comanche beliefs as insidious and heinous as the Nazi's, there would be a monstrousness to either of the uncles' decisions to kill his own kind that simply doesn't obtain in Priest's situation: the ideological change in the niece is psycho-cultural in the former two instances, but genetic in the latter. One doesn't learn the evil of vampirism; it's a cancer that rapidly takes over the mind and body with the exchange of blood. The person that you were is really dead; what remains is an evil simulation. A white girl raised as a Comanche or Nazi continues to possess agency and can, therefore, be responsible for her actions. Her beliefs could change again. Ethan's racism is shown in the way he takes the Comanche and their culture to be something like vampirism, robbing his niece of her agency and replacing it with an evil, inhuman mockery of her former self. He finds some redemption when he embraces her in the end, despite her Comanche ways. Contrariwise, Priest would be mistaken to assume a vampiric version of his niece still possessed moral accountability -- a mistake that would result in more people being killed as the undead virus spreads like the pods in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The vampires in Priest represent a pure, evil Otherness, a group that shares no moral beliefs with and has none for the Orwellian church-state that the humans live under. (As dumb as this film is, it's actually a good deal more politically complicated than Berlatsky makes it out to be: many human ethnicities live under the totalitarian regime that probably isn't much better than the collectively minded existence of the vampires.) Whatever fear the filmmakers attempt to create using vampires is rooted in an abstract fear that underlies all fear of things we don't understand, or can't integrate within our own cultural codes. Who the hell fears the Indians these days? Racism enters the picture only when someone chooses to treat real humans as if they were these vampires. But the only person making that connection is Berlatsky.

(Wherein which you may get cancer.)

Posted by Job O Brother, April 11, 2010 03:33pm | Post a Comment

Recently, one of my boyfriend’s favorite celebrities died from one of his least favorites diseases.

Dixie Carter passed away April 10, of complications from endometrial cancer.

Cancer has been an unwelcome houseguest in our lives for a while now. The boyfriend’s from the Lone Star State, where getting cancer seems to be as common as sequenced sweaters and tuxedos matched with leather boots. The stars at night are big and bright deep in the heart of Texas, but so it seems are a few malignancies.

No amount of my assurances will convince the boyfriend he won’t necessarily get cancer; it’s neither a birthright, nor a curse – but he’s already decided which hospital will treat him and where to find the best wig for the occasion. It’s the “wedding day” daydream equivalent for the hypochondria set.

My Grandma went to Carlsbad Caverns and all I got was this lousy CANCER.

With little provocation, the boyfriend will rattle off a list of people, both family and family friends, who’ve joined the Malignant Neoplasm Achievers Club as though it’s proof that “In the future, everyone will get cancer for 15 minutes.” I explain that I’m Swedish and we don’t need tumors to feel a sense of impending death – we can see it reflected in our morning cornflakes, a blue sky, or in the smiles of children.

My arguments to not fear cancer really took a hit when our dearest friend, Jenny, was diagnosed with breast cancer just before Christmas. (“Thanks, Santa!”) Watching her deal with treatment with the poise and defiance she’s displayed has been inspirational, even as it’s made our whole lives seem like a subplot on thirtysomething. While I love Jenny, I’m totally not into her cancer, and I wish she’d stop having it.

Anyway, I thought it might be both delightful and macabre (a charming combination, I think) to collect some movie clips and songs by various Homo sapiens who’ve had cancer.


In Need Of Investment Advice?

Posted by Mr. Chadwick, October 17, 2008 11:40am | Post a Comment
Or, to be more accurate, Wall Street speaks to Mr. NBC

In the mid 50's, Cronkite was growing into such a force that NBC brought in co-anchors for their nightly news program, to try and tag team the titan. David Brinkley and Chet Huntley were the team and they held their own. The show was quite a success and their signature sign off, "Good night, Chet"..."Good night, David," became a well known catch phrase. 

Chet Huntley came from the Murrow brand of straight shooting newsmen, so who better to explain the stock market on a 3 LP box set? Within the grooves, he gives some sensible advice on the nonsensical world of Wall Street and goes toe to toe with Malcolm S. Forbes. Unfortunately, this copy is extremely molded and toxic, so we threw it away-- something I'd imagine most of my friends with Wall Street investments, under current conditions, would like to do with their current portfolios. Due to the mold, I'll keep my eyes out for another one-- maybe said friends should do the same...

The label that issued this box set, Four Star Television, was a TV production company started by then frustrated director Dick Powell. After directing a handful of feature films, he saw more opportunities in the fledgling TV medium. Teaming up with Charles Boyer, Joel McCrea and Ida Lupino to create the Four Star Playhouse program, the program lasted 4 years. Four Star Television went on to become a major force in early 60's TV with hits like the Rifleman as well as short lived oddities such as Honey West and the David Niven Show. At one time, Four Star Television owned Valiant Records which was home to hitmakers the Association.
Below, a few related clips. The Huntley discussion of hatred is as pertinent now as it was then. The 2nd clip is from the Conqueror, Powell's golden turkey from 1956. Filming downwind from above ground nuclear testing in Nevada wasn't enough for producer Howard Hughes; he had to have 60 tons of the radiated dirt sent back to Hollywood for re-shoots. Much of the cast, including star John Wayne and director Powell, died of cancer. Legend has it that there are pictures of Wayne holding a geiger counter...

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