Tag Archives: movies

New Prompt on Backlots, and Why.

As a site focusing on classic movies, I have largely tried to keep Backlots away from political matters. When I felt it necessary, I have made commentary on events that have affected us all, linking those events to classic movies and how movies are a panacea to help us get through our hard times. But up to now, that commentary has been unifying and apolitical, despite my own passion for current events.

But this morning, I would like to make a brief political note regarding a button you may have noticed at the bottom of the site.

The other day, a good friend of mine and fellow classic movie aficionado posted an astute observation to Facebook. She had noticed that the vast majority of her classic movie-loving friends, regardless of political affiliation, were vehemently opposed to the current Republican nominee for president. Not just casually brushing him off–but persistently rejecting the notion that he should ever come within 10 feet of the White House. The general nature of her feed seemed to reflect the current trends of the country, but those who knew classic movies were especially passionate. As classic movie fans come from all parts of the country, from all political, social, economic, and cultural stripes, she wondered why that phenomenon might be.

As it turns out, I have noticed the same. And many people who made comments on my friend’s post seem to have noticed the same. Thinking about why people who know classic movies might think this way, I came to the conclusion that there are indeed explanations. In addition to an awareness of historical precedents, knowing how political figures rise based on behind-the-scenes research on the movies we love, I think there is another, more chilling reason.

We’ve seen this movie before.

 

 

What were once surrealist, dystopian fantasies have become our reality. 24-hour news networks have created a modern day Howard Beale, and “Lonesome Rhodes” is now one step away from the White House. These stories were deemed unrealistic and even offensive at the time of their inception, but they now seem eerily prescient. Both of these fictional characters ended in disgrace, and given the events of the past day, it even looks as though this election cycle might end in much the same way “Lonesome Rhodes'” did. But that doesn’t mean that those of us who know these stories should sit back and relax.

I know that much of my readership is comprised of people who are familiar with classic film, history, and culture. The satirical stories of Budd Schulberg and Paddy Chayefsky have come true in a much starker way than either of them could likely have imagined, and many of us who have seen this on film have had chills running up our spines for some time.

And so I have attached a button to the bottom of the site, urging my readers to register to vote, and to actually go do it. There is far too much at stake here.

Thank you, and may we soon get back to the more pleasant side of classic movies.

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BABY FACE (1933) and Pre-Code Hollywood Morality

In a scene cut from the original theatrical release, Barbara Stanwyck breaks a beer bottle over the head of a man trying to assault her.

When discussing classic film with those who may have little knowledge of its history, a common grievance I hear is that people take issue with the contrived storylines and docile women that they perceive to make up the cinematic landscape of classic Hollywood. “The stories are all the same,” they often state, “and the women are so wholesome and pure. It’s not real.” When I hear statements like these, I try to give as much historical context as is appropriate for the conversation, and then…I almost always recommend a pre-Code.

Before the strict enforcement of the Production Code in 1934, Hollywood was the antithesis of what most people consider “old movies” to be. A far cry from the sweet, obedient women who always ended up married to the good guy at the end, women in this era of filmmaking were often driven, manhunting, sexual creatures who lived their own lives, their own way. They got divorces, slept their way to the top, and weren’t afraid of the power of men.

This was the world of pre-Code Hollywood.

Norma Shearer in THE DIVORCEE (1930), a story of a woman’s divorce and illicit affairs that won Norma Shearer an Oscar for Best Actress.

In 1922, following a series of Hollywood scandals that culminated in the accusation and ultimate acquittal of Fatty Arbuckle in 1921 in the famous Virginia Rappe rape trial, Hollywood realized that its morals were coming into serious question by certain political factions. The studios hired Will Hays, Presbyterian clergyman and former head of the Republican National Committee, to try to tame what they perceived to be an industry spiraling out of control. He drafted a series of “Do’s, Don’ts, and Be Carefuls” that ultimately morphed into the first Hollywood Production Code, put into effect in 1930. Jason Joy was employed as the chief enforcer of the new mandate, holding the post until 1932.

Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, whose 1921 trial and acquittal for the rape and murder of Virginia Rappe called into question the morality of Hollywood.

Though the code existed as a technicality, Jason Joy was not too keen on its enforcement and the first film that was reviewed under the new system, The Blue Angel (1930), was passed through with very few changes. The story of an elderly professor who falls in love with a cabaret singer is one that has become a classic of German cinema, but in 1930 it was branded as indecent by a California state censor. As there was poor communication between Joy’s office and the studios, and poor infrastructure regarding who had the power over what, there was not much  that Joy could do had he wanted to.

While the studios and the Production Code office fumbled with the cumbersome new laws, box-office sales skyrocketed. Out of this era of lack of code enforcement came films that were sexy, steamy, brutal, and raw. Women were loose and manipulative, men killed and massacred. There were overt references to sex, and near-nudity.

In Night Nurse (1931) Joan Blondell and Barbara Stanwyck dress and undress 3 times in the first half hour.

Despite the Code’s ban on sexual suggestion and nudity in silhouette, this scene from Golddiggers of 1933 appeared, a clear slap in the face to the Production Code office and one of the raciest scenes to come out of the 1930s.

There was an air of lawlessness in the movies, and the public loved it. The studios were making movies that people wanted in spite of the powers-that-be, and they were doing it right under their noses.

And then came Baby Face (1933).

Film scholars often cite Baby Face as the film that served as the tipping point for all the changes that would take place the following year. At the TCM Festival a few weeks ago Bruce Goldstein, president of the New York Film Forum, described Baby Face as the Citizen Kane of pre-Codes, a film so good, so racy, and so much in defiance of everything the Code stood for that it singlehandedly rallied the office to action.

Baby Face is the story of a young woman who, tired of her life as a prostitute in the saloon owned by her father, decides to use her powers over men to get a job and rise to the upper echelons of New York society. Literally sleeping her way to the top, she is the epitome of the power pre-Code women had over their men. All the men in the movie simply crumble to her will, she uses them as rungs on the ladder to get to where she wants to be.

Even by today’s standards, Baby Face in its original form is a monument to feminism, a story of how a woman uses her wiles to outsmart all the men in her life. But upon its completion in mid-1933 the Production Code office, now headed by Joseph Breen, panicked. The film broke so many rules of the Code, it was essentially unfit for release and was banned by censors across the country. Serious cuts were made to Baby Face to make it palatable to censors, and less than 6 months after the release of Baby Face in December of 1933, an amendment was added to the Code to require all films released after July 1, 1934, to obtain a certificate of approval before their release into theatres. An important shot of a muder/suicide scene in Baby Face was cut to comply with restrictions on murder. Scenes such as this one were cut to comply with the restriction on illicit sex being presented as attractive:

The original cut of Baby Face was tragically presumed lost, until 2004 when a print of the original negative was discovered at the Library of Congress. It premiered at the London Film Festival, and is now widely available via several DVD releases. The print is magnificent. The original theatrical release shows a movie that is nothing special, a run-of-the-mill production with few particularly memorable moments. But when one views the original, uncut version, it is magical. The movie comes to life, and it is a rich, complex story of a woman’s drive and motivation to better herself. Baby Face is the ultimate pre-Code, and the discovery of the uncut version in 2004 stands as one of the most important cinematic discoveries of the last 20 years.

As for the Code itself, it slowly chafed away until its replacement by the MPAA in 1968. It is a controversial subject among film scholars. In my personal view, though the Code severely restricted the freedom of artists to express themselves in Hollywood, its enforcement had its benefits to the progression of the movie industry. In order to make the films they wanted to make, filmmakers were forced to resort to subtlety and innuendo, clever and biting dialogue that went under the radar of the censors, and that audiences had to listen or watch for. Movies played to smarter audiences, because the Code forced them to.

The Women (1939)

But as the Code lasted for such a long span of film history, far too few people know about the rich history before its enforcement, when films were decidedly modern and extremely thrilling. For further reading on this subject, I would recommend Mick LaSalle’s 2000 book Complicated Women, all about the women of pre-Code Hollywood and the roles they played. A great read on an immensely fascinating subject.

See you next time!

The Rise of getTV and the Accessibility of Classic Film

For more than 12 years, the accessibility of classic film on mainstream television has been limited to a single channel. Following the change of direction that American Movie Classics (AMC) undertook in 2002, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) has been the classic film fan’s holy grail, the one station showing classic films 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Due to its near monopoly on the showing of these films, it has attracted legions of devoted fans and become a brand unto itself–with the annual TCM Classic Film Festival and TCM Classic Cruise drawing participants by the thousand.

Now there is another channel on the market, just launched in February of this year in major U.S. cities and expanding quickly across the country, that may have all that to look forward to. GetTV, owned by Sony Pictures Television Networks, is the newest channel to make classic film programming its primary business model. Like TCM, GetTV shows classic films around the clock, but there is one significant difference–GetTV is available to viewers completely free, no cable subscription required. For this reason, GetTV shows 3 hours per week of educational programming in order to comply with FCC standards on public broadcasting, and this consists of quality entertainment directed toward a demographic crucial to the survival of classic films–children.

For the vast majority of hours in the week, GetTV shows films primarily from Sony Pictures’ Columbia Library and has had in its lineup thus far such notable films as To Sir With Love (1967), Picnic (1956) and Anatomy of a Murder (1959). I was also thrilled to see The Fuller Brush Girl, one of my favorite lesser-known Lucille Ball comedies on the schedule a few days ago, cementing my notion that GetTV is a market force to be dealt with.

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As a general access public broadcasting network, GetTV has certain restrictions as to what they are and are not able to show. At the present time, the network is focusing on films from the mid-1930s through the late 1960s, which aligns more or less with the time frame of the Production Code’s enforcement in Hollywood. This allows the channel to comply with broadcasting standards and the needs of advertisers (the channel does carry commercials).without editing a film for content. In addition, GetTV is committed to never editing a film for time. In an interview with Will McKinley over at Cinematically Insane, they state:

We are trying not to get into the zone of editing. We’re trying to present the whole movie, but at the same time, we are on broadcast TV, which has tighter restrictions than cable, and tighter rules in terms of community standards.  And we’re not editing films for time. So if something runs from 10 a.m. until 12:40 p.m., that’s when the next movie is going to start.”

For classic film lovers, this is great news. Though I have not as yet seen any silent movies on the schedule for GetTV, this doesn’t mean that silent films are off the table for the future. I would love to see GetTV tap into the lucrative silent film market, as in this way they could reach several crucial demographics–the huge community of silent film devotees that make pilgrimages every year to events like the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, the Kansas Silent Film Festival, and the Pordenone Silent Film Festival in Pordenone, Italy, as well as the deaf community, many members of which have a huge passion for silent cinema and would likely tune in as regular viewers.

A scene from King Vidor’s THE PATSY (1928), a silent film that I think would work wonderfully on GetTV. Funny, engaging, and appropriate for public broadcasting, it would be a fantastic gateway film to introduce many viewers who might not be familiar with silent cinema to this beautiful art form.

We have great reason to be excited about this new development in the classic film world. I will stay on the pulse of GetTV and update readers with any news.

Thanks for reading! See you next time!

Backlots on the TCM Red Carpet

Debbie Reynolds on the red carpet of the 2012 TCM Classic Film Festival.

While wandering around the shopping center at Hollywood and Highland today, I was alerted of an incoming email message through the vibrations of the trusty iPhone in my pocket. I took out my phone, opened my email inbox and discovered, to my great delight, that Backlots has been approved for red carpet coverage of the TCM Classic Film Festival.

So, readers, what does this mean? A red carpet credential allows a journalist to procure once in a lifetime interviews with special TCM guests, and to obtain high quality, exclusive content for his or her media outlet. For Backlots, this is an opportunity to talk to stars such as Shirley Jones and Margaret O’Brien, both of whom have significant fan bases on this site and I predict that interviews with them will prove to garner great visibility for both Backlots and TCM.

Shirley Jones in particular has proven to be very popular with readers of Backlots–feedback from readers shows great interest in her films, and all of the articles I have written about Shirley Jones rank among the most frequently visited posts in the history of Backlots. Jones, who is in fine form following her 80th birthday late last month (she wanted to go skydiving for her birthday, before her children talked her out of it) will be in attendance for Oklahoma!, the opening night movie and her feature film debut.

I am also hoping to get a chance to talk to Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz about programming choices, themes, and features for the upcoming year. If any of my readers have questions they would like asked, please feel free to leave them in the comments section or email me at fowler.lara@gmail.com. I would love to hear from you!

I have been in L.A. since March 31, and have been having a marvelous time leading up to the TCM Classic Film Festival. Come Thursday, I very much look forward to sharing my festival experience with you, my dear reader. As usual, I will be live tweeting on the red carpet, between movies, and at social events, as well as blogging every evening. This is definitely one of the highlights of any classic film fan’s year.

See you Thursday!

Campaign for the Victims of the Colorado Movie Theatre Shooting

When I heard about the horrific massacre that took place in Colorado last week, I, along with millions of others, was shocked and saddened by this senseless slaying of innocent souls, guilty of nothing but buying a ticket to see the latest blockbuster at the local movie theater. There is no explaining a crime like this, and no understanding what motivates a person to walk into a crowded movie house and open fire on random people. The sadness of last Friday goes even further than grieving for the loss of innocent lives, we also grieve for the loss of the movie theater as a safe haven in which to escape from the troubles of the world.

Since the early days of cinema, people have gone to the movies to temporarily erase the problems in their lives. From the Great Depression to World War II, to the Vietnam War and even the financial crises of today, nothing mattered when we went to the movies. We walked into another world, and everything was ok for those two hours spent within its walls. On Friday, that safety was savagely violated, fearlessly and unmercifully. It is hard to say now, one week out from the shooting, what effect this will have on the psychology of moviegoers, but it is certain that for those individuals who were in the theater and survived the shooting, will never again see going to the movies as an escape.

As the owner of this blog, I am joining forces with other movie bloggers, classic and otherwise, to help raise money and awareness for the survivors of the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting. In this day of the online media being the primary source of much information, I believe that we bloggers have a responsibility to do our part to raise awareness for causes that need attention. This is a fund drive organized by the website The Movie Pool, and all donations go directly to the victims through the Colorado Organization for Victims Assistance (COVA),working with the Aurora Police Department. Donations start at $1, so if you can stand not having that chocolate bar you were hoping to get, your dollar will go toward paying a victim’s medical bills and/or other expenses incurred as a result of the shooting.

Please donate here:

If you would prefer to give directly to the source, there is a link on the COVA website that will lead you to the right place. Any money donated through this post will count toward The Movie Pool’s fundraising goal of $10,000 for the victims, in which case your donating through this post would help The Movie Pool reach its goal.

Thank you for reading, and may we soon feel safety at the movies once again.