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Oscars Blah

27 Feb

The Oscars left a bad taste in my mouth.  They were never more irrelevant than last night.  I think Billy Crystal said it best – a bunch of millionaires giving themselves golden statues.  And Chris Rock proved extremely out of synch with his TV audience when he boasted about a getting a million dollars for such easy work as voice chores in an animated film – and then complaining about playing animals.  Talk about trying to have it both ways!  Made me a little nauseous.  Glad for Jean DuJardin – I think it was an amazing performance given the fact that he was deprived of an actor’s number one asset, his voice.  But as far as “The Artist” goes, it was a pleasant little diversion, with absolutely no mystery about where the story was going next.  And the lead actress in it was a grinning gargoyle who didn’t look period at all.  I loved “The Descendants” and “Moneyball” and, particularly, “Hugo” – movies far more worthy for consideration than “The Artist.”  But, then – they didn’t have Harvey Weinstein behind them, more’s the pity.  Highlights were the Focus Panel for “The Wizard of Oz” (I sure hope GWTW has flying monkeys!) and  Cirque du Soleil.  My god, if one of those straps had broken they could have taken out the entire Columbia Studios contingent!

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Brad Geagley’s List of Essential Films

13 Feb

After my last blog, many of you have asked to see my list of films that I give out to my classes – so here it is.  As I’ve repeatedly said, this is a very eclectic list that I use for a variety of reasons:

 

  1. To acquaint the students with (mainly) films from the American Studio System after sound was introduced.
  2. Some are true classics that they should know, if only for cultural reference, i.e., famous for being famous, like “Gone With the Wind” or “Lawrence of Arabia”.
  3. Sometimes a film (such as “Stage Door”) has been included because I want to introduce them to actors or actresses with whom they may not be familiar – such as Katherine Hepburn or Eve Arden.
  4. All the films have extremely strong stories, and utilize the storytelling elements I teach in class superbly.
  5. Some are included to illustrate specific storytelling elements:  “All About Eve” for dialog, for instance, “Cleopatra” for spectacle, “Sunset Boulevard” for the clash of two styles (silent and sound) or “Inherit the Wind” for those films based on a real news story.

 

Because of the above-stated reasons, you’ll notice that many of the famed classics are missing, the most obvious of which is “Citizen Kane”.  Sorry, I’ve never found it interesting or emotionally compelling enough to include.  My apologies to its legion of admirers – but it’s my class, after all!

 

1930s

Stage Door

Camille

Ninotchka

A Tale of Two Cities

Gone With The Wind

Bride of Frankenstein

The Awful Truth

The Wizard of Oz

 

1940s

The Lady Eve

The Shop Around the Corner

Meet Me In Saint Louis

Citizen Kane

The Heiress

The Little Foxes

The Best Years of Our Lives

Casablanca

Mildred Pierce

Shadow of a Doubt

 

1950s

All About Eve

The Bad Seed

Some Like It Hot

Sunset Boulevard

North by Northwest

Marty

On the Waterfront

Singin’ in the Rain

Rebel Without a Cause

A Place in the Sun

Paths of Glory

 

1960s

West Side Story

Lilies of the Field

The Haunting

Cleopatra

Rosemary’s Baby

Bonnie & Clyde

Night of the Living Dead

Spartacus

Inherit the Wind

Lawrence of Arabia

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf

The Graduate

Petulia

Patton

Psycho

Splendor in the Grass

To Kill a Mockingbird

 

1970s

The Godfather

The Godfather, Part 2

Cabaret

Chinatown

The Last Picture Show

Nashville

Annie Hall

 

1980s

Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels

A Room With A View

E.T., the Extra Terrestrial

Amadeus

Blue Velvet

Raising Arizona

Terms of Endearment

Ordinary People

Broadcast News

Moonstruck

Out of Africa

Remains of the Day

 

1990s

Searching for Bobby Fischer

The Last of the Mohicans (1992)

The English Patient

Raise the Red Lantern (Chinese)

American Beauty

Shakespeare in Love

Unforgiven

Goodfellas

 

2000s

To Die For

A Beautiful Mind

No Country For Old Men

American Beauty

O Brother, Where Art Thou

The Queen

Chicago

Agora

The Descendants

Pride & Prejudice (2005)

Milk

 

As I’ve said, there are a lot of necessary films missing from this list.  Write and tell me what films you’ve seen from the list, and also some more films I should include.

 

The Heiress

10 Feb

ImageIt’s coming around again – spring semester at the college where I teach will begin on February 29.  It’s my fifth semester of teaching Screenplay Writing there.  And though I worked in entertainment for most of my professional life, where writing was basically what I did, let me tell you – you don’t know a subject well until you’ve taught it. 

“We teach what we need to know,” goes the old saying, and I don’t think there is a truer one.

As a result, I’ve been thinking about movies a lot lately.  The films I show in class are mainly the old classics.  I do this because my job, as Miss Jean Brodie says in the 1969 film, is “to put old heads on young shoulders.”  And it’s consistently surprising how many of my students – born in the early 90s, for the most part – have never seen a movie made before 1995.  Their idea of a fabulous old chestnut is “Titanic” (not the one starring Barbara Stanwyck, mind you, but the one with Leonardo and Kate!)  When I showed them “Some Like It Hot” last semester, when we were discussing comedy, I was shocked to learn that only two students out of twenty-five had ever seen a Marilyn Monroe film.   Most depressingly, they adore slasher, zombie and teenage romance movies.  (In fairness’ sake I must admit that when they ask me if I’ve seen whatever pimply romance is currently playing at the Cineplex, or the latest film displaying the latest medical pornographic effect that is currently demeaning our culture, my face becomes as blank as theirs.)    

And though they aspire to write, only a few of them read for pleasure.  Now I ask you – if they don’t read – if they don’t know literature – what are they going to steal from?  From what sources are they going to fill up their proverbial “tanks”?  When I tell them that Homer probably solved their problems three thousand years ago, they tell me they didn’t know that “The Simpsons” had run for that long.

(You can always tell who the teacher is in class these days – s/he’s the old gray haired figure quietly weeping in the corner.)

Therefore, the films I show them in class make up a pretty eclectic list, not at all drawn from the well-known classics of screen art.  Instead, I try to pick films that were based on great plays or great books, so that at least they’ll be exposed to the books or plays in some way.  I start first with “The Heiress”, which covers both books and plays; it began as Henry James’ “Washington Square”, then became a play on Broadway, and then went to the screen directed by the sublime William Wyler and starring Olivia de Havilland, a role for which she won a very deserved Oscar for Best Actress. 

An interesting story about “The Heiress” was that it was supposedly the film that inspired a young Martin Scorsese to become a film maker.  It seems that he went to see the companion feature at the neighborhood theater, a Western, but became so mesmerized by Wyler’s film that he stayed until its last performance of the day.  He had never seen a film so violent, he said. 

For the first couple of semesters I taught, I introduced the film with this story.  But then I had to explain who Martin Scorsese was and it ended with me weeping in the corner again.  Now I use “The Heiress” to introduce the concept of “conflict”, which is, of course, the essence of storytelling.  I tell them that you don’t need yellow explosions, or guns, or knives, or flesh-eating zombies to create conflict – that Martin Scorsese was just as enthralled by the emotional violence exhibited by the characters inhabiting “The Heiress”. 

And then I start the film.

It already has several strikes against it in my students’ eyes – the first is that it’s black-and-white and they don’t like that; the second is that it’s a costume drama, and that bores them; the third is that they know none of the actors. 

But by the end of the film they are standing up and shouting at the screen when Catherine Sloper jilts her faithless lover, played by Montgomery Clift in his very first role.  For many of them, “The Heiress” is the story of love betrayed that hooks them.  For others, it is about the derision and coldness displayed to Catherine by her cold-blooded father, who humiliates and debases her at every turn.  For the rest, it’s the revenge taken by Catherine against both her father and her lover that most excites them.

But the point is – it excites them!  

And my job is a piece of cake after that.      

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