Tag Archives: Writing

Trafficking with Movie Stars– Meeting Elizabeth Taylor

29 Apr

I’ve always needed to meet the people whose creative work has profoundly influenced or touched me.  I want to see how they behave, to know what’s inside their heads, to discover how their temperament differs from mine, etc. etc.  Those of you who read my blog know that the movie “Cleopatra” and its writer/director Joseph L. Mankiewicz were profoundly influential on my life.  When I saw the film for the first time, when I was twelve, I became infatuated with the actors, it’s true, but soon I wanted to know about the man who created it.  Why had the film so affected me?  In film school, in my college years, I produced an award-winning thesis, “When ‘The Movies’ Went Out of Style”, in which I interviewed many members of the cast and crew, including Joe Mankiewicz, and over the years I became the person known as the “unofficial cast member of ‘Cleopatra’”.  I have been a “film historian” in two documentaries about the movie, which are being packaged with the release of the blu-ray.  (Talk about having a whim of iron!  I now co-star with everyone!)  Roddy McDowall in fact became a friend and even visited me in Washington, D.C., when I lived there.

But I had always managed to avoid meeting HER.

Truth is, I really didn’t want to meet her.  I was quite content to know Elizabeth Taylor through her performances.  When you meet stars and celebrities, you always run the risk of major disappointment.  They can be dull and vaguely stupid a lot of the time.  Or so dominated by their loathsome agents and managers that all you want to do is run screaming from the room.  And, being a historian at heart, they certainly don’t want to meet me.  Stars never want to be known as an artifact from another time.  They are NOW, they are HAPPENING, they are RELEVANT.  It doesn’t matter if they haven’t made a film in thirty years, everything is about TODAY!  (Only Roddy McDowall truly had a sense of history, and knew his own place within it, and that was the basis of our friendship – he loved to talk about his days as a child star and all the famous people he had worked with.  Even his Cadillac’s license plate said “EX MOPPET” on it.)  The technicians and craftsmen are the interesting ones – the behind-the-scenes people always have the best stories.  Stars – rarely!

In 1997, however, I finally got to meet Taylor through the intervention of Roddy McDowall.  We had gotten permission from Twentieth Century-Fox to at long last mount a search for the missing footage from “Cleopatra”.  Mankiewicz had delivered a five-and-a-half hour film, from which the studio removed about an hour-and-a-half.  (You can learn the story behind the film’s editing on a new documentary that I’m in, packaged with the blu-ray, called “Cleopatra’s Missing Footage.”)

Though Bill Mechanic, then-president of Fox, had said “yes” to the project there was one hitch to our plans.  The film was still owned in part by Elizabeth Taylor and we needed to get her permission to go forward.  (This was but one of the many unprecedented clauses in her contract with Fox, and never to be seen again in any celebrity contract.)  Roddy said that he would handle her, and he set a time for the meeting.  At the last moment he asked me to come along, saying that I could speak for the recently deceased Joe Mankiewicz.

I was filled with trepidation, not only because of the reasons stated above, but because Taylor scared the hell out of me.  Everyone I had interviewed had talked about how intimidating she could be, particularly if she sensed you needed something from her.  (Stars are always being approached by people seeking money, gifts and favors and they are deeply suspicious of any stranger.)  Even Richard Burton, who I talked with on the telephone, told me that she alone had taught him “how to squeeze the balls of the executives” in his dealings with film studios.  I was fond enough of my balls in their current position and did not relish the idea of her being anywhere near them.

Well, anyway, I went to the meeting.  Really – wouldn’t you?

We traveled in Roddy’s Cadillac up to her surprisingly small house in Bel Air, and proceeded to sit in her living room for over an hour.  She was upstairs and apparently did not mind keeping her very best childhood friend waiting.  I got to look at her Van Gogh up close, however, and that helped to pass the time.

Finally, she appeared.  She was white-haired at that phase in her life and swept grandly into the room.  I remember that she was barefoot beneath a long white caftan.  Roddy introduced us and she said in a slight English accent, “It’s so-o-o-o-o gude to meet yew.  Joe Mankiewicz – ”  (she was the only person I knew who ever pronounced it Mahn-kuh-vitch) “ – spoke so highly about yew.”

Nervously I launched into my spiel.  “Well, thank you, Miss Taylor – it’s because of his memory that I’m here.  We’ve finally been given permission by Fox to restore ‘Cleopatra’ to his first cut and we need your permission before we can do it.”

Gone in an instant was the English accent.  Gone was any pretense at friendliness.  The sand-papery voice became charged with Virginia Woolf volume.  “Blow it out your ass!” she screamed at me.  “I never made a DIME off that goddamn movie!”

She had in fact made $7 million from overtime on the production alone.  Later, when Fox had sued her after the film came out, claiming that her and Burton’s “immoral” behavior had proved “detrimental to the financial performance of the film”, she had actually won that suit, and another $2.6 million dollars (10% of the film’s actual budget, proving Mankiewicz’ claim that the film never cost $44 million as the studio claimed) was settled on her – with the stipulation that the books would be closed on “Cleopatra”.  This is why the film is always shown as making only $26 million; it will forever be seen as only breaking even, and never going into profit.  Taylor’s additional ten percent of the gross income of the film, once again guaranteed by her contract, was to be covered in the $2.6 million payment.  “Cleopatra,” however, went on to make money all over the world in various international markets and later by sales to television and home video – the profits of which were denied Taylor by the court settlement.  This was one of the few times that a studio had out-maneuvered her and was she bitter!  Though she had “not made a dime on that goddamn movie” she had actually made almost $10 million – and in 1960’s dollars!  Dimes are obviously of different value to stars of her magnitude.

So what did I do when she told me to “blow it out my ass”?  I’m afraid I laughed out loud.  This was perhaps the only thing that saved me, because she was not expecting it.  Apparently other people cringed before her tempers – Eddie Fisher once told me that she had taught him how to scream for anything that he wanted – but I knew right then that I had a great story suitable for any cocktail party, and one that I could dine out on for the rest of time.  I didn’t need her, you see – I was under contract to Disney at the time, and frankly they didn’t take too well to the fact that I was consulting to a rival studio.  It was her film, and if she didn’t want to do the project, well…it was no skin off my ass.

But Roddy calmed her down.  “Now, Elizabeth!  Elizabeth!” he purred.   He finally maneuvered her to the point where she growled, “Okay – but I’m gonna get my lawyers on it!”  Once again he dissuaded her, saying that such a move would destroy any chance we had for finding the footage.  He convinced her instead to wait until the work was finished before she initiated any legal proceedings.

So that was my encounter with La Liz.  I never met her again.  But then I didn’t want to, either.  Once was quite enough.  Besides, it was never my goal – as it is with so many others who get into show business – to have lunch with movie stars.  I wanted to make stuff, to tell stories, to work with great talents – not hover in the celestial orbits of the rich and infamous.

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Feverish… Restless Writers and Spring Fever

23 Apr

I’m in a brief lull– one book, The Stand In, is launched, (garnering great reviews yet sales are quiet) and the second,  Chronicles of the Sanguivorous, The Rising, has been published as a teaser.   (The Amazon reviews are quiet so far, but sales are solid.) Chronicles is only the beginning of a novel and a series. That means that I must soon find the guts to finish it.  But writing a novel, I’ve discovered, is like jumping down a well.  At the bottom of it, you’re on page one and each succeeding page is but one laborious step upward toward that distant light at the top.  Only when you write “The End” can you consider yourself safe from the cold and watery dark.  It’s so dispiriting to realize that I must again hurl myself down that well, and – let me tell you – I’m mightily resisting the urge.   As I’ve stated repeatedly, I love writing but don’t particularly like doing it.  What I really like is having written.

It doesn’t help that a bad case of spring fever has attacked me with a vengeance.  All I want to do, it seems, is work in my yard, shop and go out to have drinks with friends – usually in the middle of the day.  And afterward, I’ll want a nice nap, too.  Soon it will be dinner time and cooking will occupy the end of my day.  The last thing I’ll want to do is march myself over to the keyboard and disappear down that well.

Usually I’m very disciplined when I write.  But it’s a kind of self-imposed hibernation that you’re forced to fall into when you’re writing a novel.  It’s a lonely, anti-social process.  And I’m about the only writer I know who has tested out to be an extrovert on the Meyers-Briggs personality test.  I like people, for God’s sakes.   Is that a sin?  And like I say, discipline is usually not a problem for me – except for those couple of times a year when all I want to do is play.

            Like now.

So I’m going to do what I always do when the fever hits, which is to give into it.  My rationale for doing so is that I will accumulate so much guilt by fever’s end that the only way to atone for it is to hurl myself down the well again; it’s a tactic, you see.

At least that’s what I tell myself.

Today I have friends in town and predict that a round of mid-afternoon cocktails looms in my immediate future.  Frozen pineapple daiquiris sound good.  And then a nap.

            What can I do?  I’m feverish.

How to Write Dialogue, The Art of Being Invisible

19 Apr

Dialog for theater, for films and television, for radio and finally for novels share a lot of things in common, but ultimately they are different species of animals.  In theater, dialog is always the most effective method of conveying information; but the motion picture has brought the entire world into the theater, or rather, brought the theater out to the real world, and so dialog is used differently.  The basic rule of thumb in films and TV is that it’s better to show an action, rather than talk about it.  Film and television use their own visual grammar to tell a story, with their use of close ups, long shots, panning and dollying, etc.  But novels are just words, words, words!  (That’s a reference to Hamlet, by the way.)

Yes, there are great films with plenty of dialog that are wonderful – and I, for one, am partial to well-written dialog in a film.  Some of us love the rise and fall of good conversation, and become orgasmic about how the rhythms and stresses of speech become actual poetry in the actors’ mouths.   In fact I find good dialog every bit as exciting as any car chase or yellow explosion.  My friend and one-time mentor, the late great Joseph L. Mankiewicz, used dialog primarily to propel his films.  (There’s an old joke that Joe’s idea of an action sequence was to have one of his actor’s throw their hat on a bed.) Yet he still managed to win four back-to-back Oscars during his lifetime utilizing dialog as his chief weapon, and if it’s good enough for him…

Dialog has three purposes in all the media I’ve mentioned –

  1. To reveal (or suggest) the nature of each character
  2. Provide the audience with essential information
  3. To advance the plot

And in a novel, there is a fourth task:

4.  Get into a character’s head and actually learn what he is thinking.

These are all pretty big responsibilities – right?  But think about the reason why it’s more effective (with novels perhaps being an exception) to use actions to demonstrate the essential truth of a scene or character?

ANSWER:  Because people lie.

More to the point – people can lie to themselves.  They obfuscate, reinterpret, put the best spin on things, flatter, manipulate, and say things all the time that are not strictly true.  But actions seldom lie, at least in fiction.

Most beginning writers believe that the best dialog is the kind that most approaches reality.  But this isn’t so.  Remember that dialog in all the media I’ve mentioned should only give the appearance of reality, but should not attempt to create it.  (Leave that to the medium of soap opera, an art form as tedious as life itself).  Effective speech in all these media utilizes economy, simplicity and invisibility.  Novels can once again be the exception to this rule, because ostensibly you have pages and pages to tell a story and are not limited to a film producer’s clock watch, where productions are broken down to ½ hour and 1-hour time slots (as in TV or Radio), or 2-hour running times (motion pictures.)  That being said, the publishing industry today looks askance at anything over 300 pages and mentally calculates that x-amount of pages over this figure will result in a higher publishing cost.  Let me assure you – they like economy too.  Simon and Schuster was adamant that my mystery novels not exceed 85,000 words and edited them to fit within that page number.  That’s why it’s best to follow the rule about economy and simplicity in novels too, because more and more they have “running times” imposed on them as well.  (However, when you’re a J.K. Rowling or a James Cameron, you’ve earned the right to do anything you want; these artists are rarely known for their economy or simplicity these days, are they?)

In addition to economy and simplicity, good dialog should also be invisible.  By this I mean that the writer should never call attention to how clever s/he is.  The reader/viewer must ideally be lost in your work, and when you become overly clever or self-reverential you risk losing them entirely.  Let me give you an example – the Oscar winning screenplay by James Goldman for “The Lion In Winter” was a first-rate effort with one glaring defect:  Goldman was forever complimenting himself on what a clever line he had just written.  “Oh, you’re good – that’s first rate!” the characters would crow at some particularly witticism said by another.  If I’ve learned anything – if I have an altar to which I kneel – it is the altar of invisibility.  Nothing should come between the reader/viewer and/or the page/image – not even the author.  Hemingway used to ruthlessly cut out his favorite parts of his manuscript, because if he loved them he knew they were only getting in the way of the story.  Follow his lead.

A note on trendy words – they may make our screenplays sound current, yes; but – conversely – nothing will make our screenplays (or novels) sound so dated as yesterday’s trends.  Today’s awesome soon becomes yesterday’s groovy.   Use these words judiciously if you have any ambition to write a timeless work.  There’s nothing wrong with using wonderful or great to convey the same meaning.

Talking Books with Connie Martinson

18 Apr

Talking Books with Connie Martinson

Click the link to watch a little interview on the occasion of my first book.

And in case you were wondering, I’ve only gotten more handsome with age.

Now You Can Read My Blog on Your Kindle…

17 Apr

Ah, the magic of technology. You can now read my blog on your Kindle, through Amazon subscription services. it’s only 99 cents a month and you won’t miss an update or comment or conversation.

Free 14 day trial! Click here for more info.

How to Write a Mystery Novel…

16 Apr

I’ve got a few new tricks up my sleeve this week and thought I’d revisit a topic that I posted about early in the life of this blog. I’d love to hear from the aspiring and published writers on this topic. Enjoy! Brad

How to create a mystery novel?  Of course, the answer is to read as many mysteries as possible.  There are no better models than the classics by Raymond Chandler or the modern thrillers written by Martin Cruz Smith – who I unashamedly admit to be my lord of lords, creator of the Moscow-based detective, Arkady Renko, who first appeared in Gorky Park.  (I would sacrifice a very private portion of my anatomy if I could write a fraction as well as Mr. Smith can – the left one, in fact.)  You can even learn something from Janet Evanovich, who is more machine these days than writer.  Though her plots may be thin and repetitious, they still obey certain rules that a new writer can observe, internalize, and replicate.

I never wanted to write mysteries.  I wanted to write historical novels along the lines of those written by Mika Waltari (The Egyptian) or Gary Jennings (Aztec).  But no one wants to read these epics today, and certainly no publishing house wants to publish them either.  (All those pages – such expense!)  But historical mysteries are another matter.  Mysteries, you see, rarely take more than a month to solve in a novel’s timeline.  They are never epics.  I like to tell my students that mysteries are not like symphonies, with hundreds of musicians, but more like chamber pieces with eight musicians at most.

So my first mysteries were set in Ancient Egypt and Babylon respectively, allowing me to write about history, true, but using the format of a mystery and keeping the action fast, hard-hitting, and distinctly non-epic.  My books have been called, as a result, “pharaonic noir” and my detective, Semerket, the clerk of investigations and secrets, an “Egyptian Sam Spade.”

I like it best when a detective is a flawed man, like my poor, alcoholic Semerket, so that in addition to solving the mystery at hand he must also solve part of the mystery within himself. Like the protagonists in Martin Cruz Smith novels, they also become the seat of moral authority.  All around them are crimes, official corruption, and indifference, but they remain committed to the truth, regardless of how unpleasant it is.  No matter how dark or dismal they are, they become heroic in the process – and your readers root for their success.

As to the plot, I like to think of it as a beautiful, decorated plate – intact and gorgeous – that has been viciously smashed to pieces by the crime at its center.  It is your detective’s task to pick up the pieces one by one, to find how they once fit together.  He or she is constantly picking up this piece and that piece in random order, until by the end of the book the plate has been put back together – irretrievably damaged, of course, but whole.  And though the mystery is solved, the denouement (literally, “untying” in French) should always resolve itself in a melancholic mood – for by solving the crime we come to know how unpleasant and corrupt the detective’s (and our) world really is.

In a mystery, the secondary characters are almost as important as your detective protagonist, because they will mostly fall into two groups – the criminal(s) and the “information passers”.  Each of these characters has one of the pieces of the plate in their possession; for reasons of their own, usually because they are implicated in the crime, they are sometimes reluctant to surrender it.  Others may be too willing to give up their piece, their information, but they are suspect, too.  Not only must your detective gather these pieces, the clues, but also perceive why and how these people who surrender them to him are connected to the crime, and how valuable their information really is.

Now, having said this, I have to confess that my latest mystery, The Stand In, violates most of these rules.  There is no real central detective; instead, the readers themselves take on this role.  This is because the story is actually a “smoke and mirrors” mirage – a special effect, if you will, something that Hollywood does so well – and Hollywood is the location of the novel, after all.  What is the truth?  What is really happening?  It’s all there in front of your eyes, yet it seems like something else is happening altogether….  Some will figure it out right away, others must wait until the very last sentence in the book…which is last piece of that plate.

Background Music–Inspiration for Writing

12 Apr

When I’m really serious about writing – when I want to completely become one with the page – my headphones are the resource I utilize first.  There is something about the lull of music that makes the writing process easier, allowing my imagination to soar and dive and rise again.  Of course, I can’t write to just any music; I can’t, for instance, lose myself in prose if the music has lyrics.  Words from other sources invariably conflict with my own (although I have been known to play Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” from time to time and it hasn’t unduly affected my output).

Classical music works, too, particularly from the Russian masters of the 20th century.  I’m speaking now of Prokofiev and Shostakovich primarily.  But perhaps some of you already know what these two geniuses have in common…?  The answer is that in addition to symphonies, concerti, and oratorios they also wrote soundtracks for Soviet films.  Prokofiev’s music from “Alexander Nevsky” has in fact become a concert staple, though it was first written as an accompaniment to Sergei Eisenstein’s 1938 film masterpiece.

My first choice for music that helps me to write is always movie soundtracks.  They are always highly colored, they run the gamut of emotions, and are written to go under a scene, to punctuate the film’s intent, as well as to make clear what at times the dialog and action cannot.

My first choice is always the music of Alex North.  His magnificent score for Cleopatra – which was released in its entirety about a decade ago – will instantly put me into the writing mode.  As the playwright Arthur Miller once said, “Alex North can break your heart in three notes.”  What’s also interesting is the fact that North studied under Prokofiev when he went to the USSR in the thirties.  At times he is jarringly dissonant, at other times lyrical.  But he never becomes sentimental or gauche; his supreme intelligence always shines through.  His music is everything I want to accomplish with my prose.  I’ve written many a page to his wonderful music, and I heartily encourage you to listen to all his works.  Perhaps you’ll be inspired, too.

In fact, one of my favorite tasks at the beginning of every new novel – a task that I liken to hurling myself down a well and painfully climbing back up to the light again – is to choose the novel’s music.  Each new work has its own primary background music (though I mix it up with others.)  Lately, the music of the Italian composer, Ennio Morricone, has come to my aid.  Though he’s mainly known as the composer of Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns, he is easily as insightful and intelligent as Alex North.  For my latest novel, The Chronicles of the Sanguivorous, I have chosen his score for Franco Zeffirelli’s “Hamlet”, which starred Mel Gibson and Glenn Close.  It’s reliance on folk song motifs is both haunting and tragic, particularly in the music he has composed for Hamlet’s and Ophelia’s themes.  The music seems to fit the hunter and gatherer culture which I depict at the beginning of the novel, for it is both simple and rural at the same time.  Another of his scores, the one for “Days of Heaven” is another great score which accompanies my forays on the keyboard.

So what music inspires you to write?  Send me your own suggestions, because I’m always desperate to discover ways to make it easier.  I’ll be looking forward to hearing from you.

Hej og Velkommen to our Danish Readers!

1 Apr

For the first time since I began the blog, I’ve had more Danish readers than American or Canadian! I’m thrilled to know that readers and writers across the world are finding my site and reading my blog. Thank you for reading, thank you for considering my books and thank you for leaving the impression of such a small world. 

Revisiting My Resolutions for Writers

26 Mar

Happy Monday! I’ve got a crazy busy schedule this week and thought I’d revisit the resolutions for writers I posted in January as a way of prodding you to take stock of where you are today with your novel or play or screenplay. I’d love to hear from you and where you are and where you want to be in your writing. Don’t forget to share this if you enjoyed it. There’s s pull-down button with all the links you’ll need to spread the word, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Reddit, PressThis. And if you’re not familiar with the tools, this is a great place to start and trust me as a writer you need to know each of them.

It’s that time of year again, when we resolve to do better, become a little wiser, divest ourselves of some of our flaws, and generally try to be what we’re not.  Therefore, I’ve come up with my list of five New Year’s resolutions, aimed at becoming a better and more productive writer.  I hope you will find some hope in them, some inspiration, a warning or two, and maybe a mirror.  Here we go:

RESOLUTION #1:  Put off Procrastination!  Writers – particularly myself – are great avoiders.  That’s because nothing is harder to face than that blank page.  (At least, writers really like to think that.  When pressed, I can actually think of a thousand other things that are more difficult to face – a tax audit for one, cleaning up after my dogs in the back yard for another, and anything that arrives in the mail that begins with the phrase, “We are sure that due to some unintended oversight on your part we have not received…”)   Nevertheless, I’m aware of my problem of waiting to the last moment to write something, and eventually I plan to do something about it.  I’m just not going to rush into anything – okay?

RESOLUTION #2:  (PLEASE NOTE:  This is actually an addendum to Resolution #1.)  Avoid playing online video games!  I really should start this resolution with the phrase, “Hello, I’m Brad Geagley and I’m an online mahjong addict.”  Write a paragraph, play three games of online mahjong.  Hit a bump in your writing, play three games of online solitaire.  The trouble is that it may take ten minutes to write the paragraph, but half-an-hour to play the three games I limit myself to.  Actually, I’m getting a little easier with this because I just read an essay by Jonathan Franzen, who claims that he has won nine games of online solitaire in a row.  My question is this – if I can win ten games of online solitaire in a row, will this make me a better writer than Jonathan Franzen?  I don’t know but I’m going to find out!

RESOLUTION #3:  Focus!  Focus!  Focus!  Do not be waylaid by research!  Avoid Wikipedia!  Since I write novels that are usually historically based, I am called from time to time to research the odd factoid.  For instance, when I was writing “Year of the Hyenas”, which is based in the late period of Ancient Egypt, one of my characters is a potter.  Since I took a ceramics class in college, I know that you can hand-build items using slabs and coils or cast them on a wheel.  But I didn’t know which technique the ancient Egyptians used – so, to the Internet!  Well, Wikipedia did not come right out and tell me the answer, but it had a very interesting sub-article about the kind of clay the Nile produced, and how many of the ancient clay dredgers had been dragged to their deaths by Nile crocodiles, and when I clicked on that sub article, I was stunned to learn that prehistoric crocodiles had actually preyed on such beasts as the Tyrannosaurus Rex, for they had found Albertosaurus remains (which I discovered was a smaller relative of the Rex, found in – where else? – Alberta, Canada) in the fossilized belly of a sixty-foot crocodile, and how the apex predator of the Jurassic still lives among us in rivers and lagoons, only at a much smaller size…well, two hours later I still hadn’t learned whether the Egyptians had built their pots with coils or wheels, and so I wrote that my potter used a wheel – I figured that I’m writing fiction, for God’s sake!  If you want to know more about ancient Egyptian pottery, you go to Wikipedia.

RESOLUTION #4:  Be more Entrepreneurial!  Promote yourself!  Get your name out there!  It’s not enough to be a good writer; sadly, you also have to get yourself known by the public.  If not, you’re that tree in the forest that no one knows has fallen because no one was there to listen to you crack.  Therefore, from now on, for every day of 2012 I’m going to write to Oprah Winfrey and beg her to read my work, and then to promote it on her “O” channel.  And once she has said yes, I will haughtily spurn her approaches, saying that my fiction is high art and that it cannot be sullied by such crass fingers as hers!  After all, it worked for Jonathan Franzen – no one had heard about the little creep before he had kicked her in the teeth.  Or, I might go the James Frey route and write a complete work of fiction and tell the apparently-credulous Ms. Winfrey that it is the absolute truth.  How foolish she will look then, and how superior I will seem!  (She has obviously never written a thing herself, for she doesn’t know the fact that, when caught between writing a better sentence or telling the simple truth, most writers will choose the sentence.  As Livy said, “I would have had Pompey win the battle of Pharsalus if it meant a more beautiful turn of phrase.”)  At any rate, I’m absolutely sure that Oprah will answer me and then I’ll be made!  PR problem solved!

RESOLUTION #5:  Write ten usable pages every day!  And I will do that just as soon as I finish my game of mahjong, read that article on mahjong’s origins and how the Chinese Emperors once banned it as irreligious and right after I’ve heard from Oprah.

There.  I feel much better now that I have a really workable plan.

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.

 

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