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Star Trek – The Original Series

I’m old enough to remember the original Star Trek series when it was broadcast as a fresh, new and exciting break from the dull western/medical/detective shows that were hogging the airwaves at the time. Every week some new adventure grabbed hold of my teen imagination for an hour. These days, 45 years later, I’m able to relive that excitement. Thanks to Netflix, I’m able to see every episode in brilliant color and in high definition.

The shows were originally shot on 35mm film which was then dumbed down to show on the standard definition TVs of the time. If you want to have some fun, look for the many things that show up on Netflix that you never noticed on TV. In fact, if you have a keen eye, you’ll see cigarette smoke wafting across the screen in several episodes. I’m not sure if TV showed the same full frame that Netflix does but in the episode with Frank Gorshin, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”, keep your eyes open for the rope that both Gorshin (Commissioner Beli)  and Lou Antonio (Lokai) are holding as they run through the passageways of the Enterprise. The rope, of course, was to keep them within focus distance of the camera, making sure they ran at the same speed at it did.

Part of the reason I’m writing about Star Trek is to describe how much the show was ahead of its time. Not only did they have an African-American woman as a star, Nichelle Nichols as Uhura, but the Enterprise crew itself represented many different ethnic groups and nationalities. In fact, the very first interracial kiss occurred between Nichols and William Shatner in November 1968. Since it’s November 26th today, I thought it was about time I wrote about this historic event as well as the show that changed television.

Photo of Star Trek Crew
Scotty, Spock, Kirk, McCoy, Uhura and Chekhov.

On the same theme, in the episode ‘By Any Other Name”, the current popular theory that ‘the black dude always dies first’ is reversed. When two crew members are turned into ‘porous cubotahedron solids’, only one is brought back to life. The other is crushed into dust. For once, it was the African-American who survived. It is seemingly insignificant things like this that make Star Trek a game changer, a show that dared to go ‘where no man has gone before’.

While the Star Trek series has built up a huge fan base over the years and has been examined and dissected in incredible detail, I think there is always something to discover if you have the time to watch it again, episode by episode. Look for the advanced themes that other shows of the time were ignoring, for instance. Note the different characterizations, depending on who was directing the show. See if you can spot errors, things such as Spock lying. He’s not supposed to be able to lie but he does a few times.

While the stories may be thin in places, overall the Star Trek series is well worth the time to watch again. If you haven’t seen it, or if you’ve only seen a few episodes, check it out. I think you’ll be glad you did.

 

Le Roi du Coeur (King of Hearts)

A soldier holding a bird cage
Alan Bates in King of Hearts

I love this film! While poking fun at soldiers and society, Philippe de Broca makes a very strong, and very obvious, anti-war statement. Starting with a totally insignificant MacGuffin, (opens in a new window), the director takes us down a delightfully silly path of posturing generals, idiot soldiers (except for one), and a cast of wonderfully inane psychiatric patients. 

Alan Bates stars as the one totally sane soldier in the plot but he is very ably assisted by a strong supporting cast of dreamers, dancers and incredibly entertaining duffuses (duffus is a Canadian word for a very silly person). A very young Genevieve Bujold is the love interest, Adolfo Celi plays a Scottish general, if you can believe it, and the plot is paper thin but that really doesn’t matter here.

There is really no harm in giving the story away but I’ll leave it to you to see the film. It’s harmless, gentle and brilliant. Sometimes a director can say more by making you laugh than by hitting you over the head with drama and convoluted plots. Just relax and enjoy the sights and sounds of a tiny French village whose inhabitants have almost all abandoned it. The town, Senlis in France, is simply beautiful, full of wonderful old buildings and cobbled streets.   The film is set in the First World War and the Allies are making efforts to free France from the hated Huns. 

If you look up any of the lists of famous anti-war films, King of Hearts will be on it. It didn’t do well commercially but soon became a cult film in the United States after it’s international release. The humor and message of the movie stand up to scrutiny even today, 44 years after it was released.  

Almost every film, hell every film, is about dreaming and someone’s vision of reality. The most beautiful line is this movie, translated from the original French, is “The most beautiful journeys are taken through the window.” Well, catch this film somehow and take a gentle journey through the window of Philippe de Broca’s eye. I can’t guarantee that you will enjoy it but you won’t forget it. 

Thanks for reading!

Alan Bates and Genvieve Bujold in King of Hearts
A special scene in a special film.

Les Enfants du Paradis – Part 3

Finally, it’s over. No, not finally, sadly. This film is an epic but it doesn’t drag, it doesn’t bore. Even the play within a play is well done. Justice prevails in one sense and love lingers on, in another sense. 

Two great lines popped up, too. The first : “Actors aren’t people. They are everyone and no one.” Frederick is really no one, only coming to life when he is on stage. Even when he is experiencing the pain of jealousy, he is using it to create a better stage performance. When Garance sympathizes with his pain, he insists that it’s not all bad. ‘At least I will be able to play Othello!” Inspiration is born in the midst of his pain. Frederick is probably the most likable character in the movie. Harmless, emotional, wearing his heart on his sleeve, he isn’t anything other than what he seems to be, unlike the brooding and dangerous Pierre. 

The second quote sums up love in so many ways : “Not only are you rich, you want to be loved like you were poor”. Garance, probably the wisest character in the film, says this to de Montray in the scene where she reveals her love of someone. Garance has life and love figured out completely. It seems she would rather love from afar and pop back into Baptiste’s life when she feels the strain of missing him too intensely. All of this was before online relationships, too!  

Love is complicated, painful and invigorating and, at least to the characters in Les Enfants du Paradis, it is all there is to life. Even the Comte de Montry, who has everything feels totally incomplete without the love of Garance. Baptiste lives his life thinking only of Garance and the regret that he didn’t seize the opportunity when he had it. “Love is simple” says Garance but, as we find out in this classic movie, love is anything but simple.

Take the time to watch this movie. You won’t regret it.

The two stars of Les Enfants du Paradis
Garance and Carne

Les Enfants du Paradis – Part 2

In my memory, this was a sweet, very gentle film and, so far, it’s working out that way in this viewing. Baptiste is incredibly naive, a virgin no doubt, and totally infatuated with Garance, just as Frederick was. I say was because Frederick’s passion has subsided by the end of the first half of the film while Baptiste’s is in full flame. At this point it seems that Garance loves Baptiste, too, but might be trying to protect him from hurt. He wishes that she could love him the way that he loves her, we can only assume that this means spiritually instead of physically, and, it seems, that Garance realizes that Baptiste will be crushed if the relationship is ever consummated. Now, don’t get me wrong. Baptiste has already shown physical interest in Garance when she was changing out of her wet clothes but Garance  seems to want to protect him from both her love and the disillusionment that will come later. Garance probably feels that all love ends at some point and wishes Baptiste would continue dreaming instead of discovering the truth. 

Baptiste is a 19th century nerd, that much is obvious. It seems his character has been copied many times in subsequent films, the seemingly weak man who possesses emotional depth as well as surprising strength, enough to beat up the bully with one kick, anyway. Granted, his love is too deep, too quick but I think we’ve all been there before. The only part of the movie that hasn’t rung true so far is the scene in Garance’s dressing room near the end of the first half. I’ll watch that again to see if I missed something but Baptiste’s reactions seem too forced, too extreme for the situation. Perhaps it would have been better if it had been done in mime!

 (More to come on this film. Be patient!) 

The Mime in Children of Paradis
Carne

Les Enfants du Paradis

The name translates to ‘Children of Paradise’ but should be kept as French, just because I said so. I saw this film for the first time in Montreal in the early  ’70s as part of a cinema studies class at Loyola. If I remember correctly, Marc Gervais was the prof in that class, the Jesuit priest who wrote 

Ingmar Bergman: magician and prophet

 ‘, Father Marc Gervais. 

 

This film seems more pertinent now since I’m reading A Man Called Intrepid: The Secret War at the present time. Les Enfants du Paradis was filmed in Nazi-occupied France in the middle ’40s. Release, supposedly, was held until after France was liberated. That brought some problems since a few of the actors turned out to be Nazi collaborators. One of the lead actors was sentenced to death, giving Pierre Renoir a chance to take over the role. Arletty, who plays the beautiful Garance, seems to have had a fling with a German officer during the war, as well. Her response, true or not, was “My heart is French but my ass is international.” Interesting times and a very interesting, and beautiful, film. 

I’m in the first quarter of viewing it again. My schedule now doesn’t allow me to watch anything for three hours, unless it’s an NFL game on Sunday. Sure, it has sub-titles and is three hours long but make sure you watch it. There are so many fine points that it’s hard to know where to begin…or where to stop. If you keep in mind the conditions under which the film was made, it takes on another dimensions, far beyond other films from that period. Many of the people in the crowd scenes were actually Resistance fighters and, if you know a bit about the situation in France at that time, you might have more respect for them, bit players by day and freedom fighters by night. 

Baptiste (Jean-Louis Barrault) the mime stands out in my memory more than anyone else. Of course, I fell in love with Garance (Arletty) but Baptiste is the highlight of the movie, for me anyway. His miming of the minor theft in the first part of the film is superb, funny and touching as well because he has just been made a fool of by his father. It seems he isn’t really as simple as everyone thinks. Usually, I’m not impressed by an actor who uses facial expressions as much as Barrault but you’ll notice the subtlety of these expressions and see that this is part of his talent. 

The movie is long, three hours, but that gives it time to tell the story and time for the viewer to fall under its spell. Take it over a few days, if you want, but make sure you see it.

(More after this. Maybe this will be a three or four part review.) 

Blow Up

 

David Hemmings in Blowup
David Hemmings in Blowup

Blow Up is where I’ll start this journey. It’s hard to know where to start on this film but I’ve been thinking about it for a couple of days, percolating perhaps. Last night I had visions of linking this film with The Conversation but I decided to keep it separate, primarily because it’s a better movie. The Conversation warrants its own post but not the first one.

 

Details, details. Blow Up was released in 1966, eight years before The Conversation, if you’re keeping track. Directed by Michaelangelo Antonioni, it starred David Hemmings as a fashion photographer working in London at the start of the mini-skirt, Carnaby Street era…think Mary Quant and multi-colored tights. Antonioni was nominated for Best Director at the Oscars but didn’t win. The film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, however.

Hemmings and Model in Blow Up
Fashion Photographer Discovers a Murder...or does he?

 

You’ll have to see it to get the gist of the plot, but you’ll have to see it a few times to get any of the same feelings that I have about this film. Why do I like it? I like the mood, primarily. The evening in the park, the suspense while the negatives are developing, and, I guess, the wind. As you’ll discover in this journey through my fave films, sound is very important. In this movie, the wind and the silence of the evenings in the park are almost like characters in the movie while Hemmings searches for clues to the mystery he’s uncovered in his photographs. Lastly, there is the sound of the ball in the tennis game the mimes are playing at the end of the film. Or is there any sound? You’ll have to watch and listen to figure out what is real and what isn’t. Of course, since this is a European film, don’t expect a clean, Hollywood ending.

 

Instead of doing a plot synopsis, which you can get anywhere online, I’d rather make a note of some things you can look for while you watch. I suppose the movie is all about whether there is ever anything anywhere except dots and sounds anywhere in our lives. Do things actually happen in life or do we just think they happen? What proof is there? The artist friend only sees what he has painted months after he paints it. Hemmings saw what happened in the park but didn’t see it until he developed the negatives and blew up the images. He actually tells Sarah Miles what he’s seen but then says, “I don’t know. I didn’t see”. Even though he is a photographer, he isn’t really any different from the artist, Miles’ husband or lover. The only difference being that Hemmings uses dots of silver instead of dots of paint.

 

The wind is incredible, really. You’ll feel the separation of environments as Hemmings walks into the park. The street noise disappears and the wind noise takes over. As he watches the couple in the park, the only other sound is some laughter and the very loud click of his camera as he photographs them. The sound of the camera adds to the suspense. Will they hear it? Will the sound carry over to the couple above the sound of the wind?

 

Hemmings is aware of the wind, of the sounds, just as much as we are. He hears the radio in the narrow street then blows the car horn as if to see if anyone is really there, listening or not.

 

I’d love to have been the scriptwriter for this movie. There is so little dialog, it would have been a dream! Much of the story is told by facial expressions, sounds and movement. Look for the crowd scene in the rock concert near the end of the film. Once the guitar part is tossed into the audience, there is a reverse volcanic implosion as the crowd is sucked into the vortex surrounding the guitar neck. That must have been planned, rehearsed and practiced many times. The flow of people is incredible.

 

Check out the framing, too. One shot, as Hemmings is coming into the antique shop is beautifully framed. Carlo di Palma has won awards for his cinematography and it’s easy to see why.

 

Neon Sign in Blow Up
What's with this sign? Any ideas?

What’s the deal with the sign near the park. I can’t figure out the significance of it. We see it as Hemmings enters the park at night then again the next morning. I’m not sure if it says something in Italian or maybe it’s from a product that was important at that time. If you know, let me know, please.

 

Hemmings himself is perfectly cast as the photographer. I’ve never considered him to be a strong personality but in Blow-up I think he is perfect. You should make note of a few scenes where he is shot almost as one of the models he photographs. He’s not typically handsome, rather more ‘pretty’ than drippingly masculine, but this works in the movie because those times were full of changing attitudes towards sex. Also, note that Vanessa Redgrave is somewhat masculine. I’m not sure about this whole sexual identity theme but, to me, it’s there. It seems skinny was very ‘in’ back in the 1966, too.

 

Check out the last bit where you get to see Jimmy Page and the Yardbirds. Page hasn’t changed a whole lot since then, still very recognizable decades later.

 

Sarah Miles, to me never a great actress, has a small part in Blow-up, one that I would have left out completely. I think we see enough of the artist at the start of the film without the part where Hemmings plays voyeur later on. Perhaps she was a large enough star back then to bring in some viewers, although the film could certainly stand on its own without her.

 

Those are my thoughts for now. Maybe I will add to this later on. Remember that these are my opinions. If you have your own, that’s cool. Let me know what you think but, please, be polite. If you disagree vehemently, get your own site! It’s easy and simple. If I can do it, you can too.

 

Thanks for reading.

Buying Classic Movies

While this blog isn’t about purely ‘classic’ films, there will be many classics mentioned. The problem with DVD rental outlets and online streaming sites, such as Netflix, is that you simply can’t find real classic movies. The only legitimate place that I’ve found, as opposed to downloading movies using torrents, is Criterion. I hesitate to recommend Criterion but they do seem to be the only player in the classic movie area.

 

Why do I hesitate to mention them? For two reasons. One of my first jobs in the movie biz was for a company by the same name. My experience there was certainly less than pleasant. The second reason is that Criterion was started by person that I used to work for here in Toronto. He was only part owner of the company that hired me, fresh out of university, but he was, in short, an animal. That’s his nickname, actually. Regardless of that, here’s a link to their website:

 

http://www.criterion.com/

 

In Toronto, HMV carries their DVDs. I assume that Amazon carries them also. You can download some of their films, too. Give it a shot. Take a look at their catalog. If you have knowledge of other sources of classic cinema, let me know.

Black and White Photo of Film Shoot
Criterion Pictures

What is Bitchin’ Flicks…Exactly

Good question. BitchinFlicks is a list of the best flicks, movies, DVDs etc. that I’ve seen.

Who am I? I graduated from film school in 1976 here in Canada. Toronto, to be exact.

Before I graduated and in the years since, I’ve seen thousands of films.

Because there are so many bad films out there,

I decided to make a list of the best ones that I’ve seen over the years.

 

Join me, will you? Bookmark my site and stop by now and then. I’m going to try to write a review a day, time permitting.

I’m a freelance writer in my real life.

This is one of a few sites that I maintain for sun.

Thanks for stopping by.

 

P.S. Trivia time. Did you know that when you’re sitting in a theater watching a movie that you are actually watching

a blank screen for a good portion of the time?

Check out this link. It explains why : How Movies Work  (It’s safe, believe me.)

Copy and paste this link, if you want: http://www.chevroncars.com/learn/wondrous-world/how-movies-work