To Share or Not to Share: Kids and Classic Film

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To view Stagecoach click here.

One of the things I like to write about most is the journey of introducing my daughter to classic films, especially my personal favorites. From the time she was about three, Ellie knew Gene Kelly, Judy Garland and Fred Astaire by name. She mimicked the movements of Cyd Charisse, rolled around on the floor like Donald O’Connor, attempted pratfalls like Cary Grant and once pointed to a photo of Fredric March and said “Daddy.” I recently wrote a piece here at StreamLine about showing Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid to Ellie, a film I was originally hesitant to share with her due to themes of abandonment, adoption, poverty and classism. She handled it fine, and naturally had questions, which I was more than happy to answer. Education and context are both key to enjoying movies, especially ones that are from past generations, with different sensibilities and social norms. Because of my passion for classic film both as a hobby and a profession, movies and all the stories that surround them are often up for discussion in our home. Sometimes she’ll hear me mutter to myself as I jot down notes for future essays. I’m well aware that many classic films have content that is considered objectionable and inappropriate for children. From complex adult themes, misogynistic behaviors and crude racial stereotypes and bigotry, I always try to be extra cautious when it comes to exposing Ellie to this kind of content. I think we are all well aware that even the most family-oriented classic films can have problematic content. One of the examples I use is a line from one of my favorite comedies, and one that I’ve shared with Ellie: Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby. In it, Cary Grant’s nerdy David Huxley says: “That’s pretty white of Mr. Peabody.” It’s a line Grant says casually, but has a terrible and powerful meaning. Now, I typically take the approach of acknowledging overtly racist and sexist content and using it as a teaching moment, providing age appropriate context when needed (think along the lines of TCM’s old summer series The Essentials Jr.), but I’ll admit that many times, like in the case of Huxley’s comment on Mr. Peabody’s pleasant, generous disposition, I will leave things be until intervention is needed. A lot of things, especially dialogue, typically flies right over a 6-year-old’s head, so I’ll handle it when it needs to be addressed. Other than those little moments, I try to be vigilant.

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Remembering Robert Osborne

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This week we bid farewell to the patron saint of classic film, the venerable Robert Osborne. News of his death hit hard amongst the classic film community and beyond. Although he had been dealing with health issues in recent years and had taken an extended leave of absence from his hosting duties on TCM, many fans, myself included, hoped Osborne would eventually return in some capacity. While TCM has done a marvelous job of bringing in excellent new hosts and programming, the network won’t be the same without him; we will never hear those beautiful words “Hi, I’m Robert Osborne” again. I don’t know about you, but I’m not terribly happy about living in a world without Robert Osborne in it. His passing has left a giant hole in the heart of the classic film community. Fortunately, we have many beautiful stories of Osborne’s kindness and generosity in addition to interviews, books and articles featuring his knowledge and first-hand accounts of Hollywood legend and lore.

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Best Friends Forever: Girlfriends (1978)

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Claudia Weill described her companionable film Girlfriends (1978) with a quote from the Eleanor Bergstein novel Advancing Paul Newman: “This is a story of two girls, each of whom suspected the other of a more passionate connection with life.” Or to put it in modern parlance, it’s a comedy of FOMO (fear of missing out). Girlfriends portrays the NYC friendship between the Jewish brunette Susan Weinblatt (Melanie Mayron) and the WASP blonde Anne Munroe (Anita Skinner). Susan is delaying family life to pursue a career in photography, while Anne speeds into marriage and kids while putting her writing to the side. They envy the other’s freedom and security, respectively, and their once unbreakable bond begins to fray. Girlfriends began as a documentary project on Jewish American identity, with funding from the AFI, but instead Weill funneled all her research into an independent feature, one so well-received it was picked up by Warner Bros. for distribution. Though the set-up can be a bit schematic, Weill has the patience of a documentarian and allows the actors to build their characters from types into complex personalities (shooting on location in shabby NYC apartments helps with the verisimilitude). The cast is superb all around, from Mayron and Skinner to the men who pursue them with varying degrees of success (an anxious Bob Balaban, flighty Christopher Guest and a charismatic Eli Wallach). Girlfriends is streaming on FilmStruck, and is also airing on Turner Classic Movies Wednesday March 8 at 9:15am.

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Law and Disorder: The Naked Gun (1988)

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David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker were three wiseasses from Milwaukee who killed time watching movies. They gained an admiration for the stoic leading men in cheap genre productions, those actors who jutted their chins and remained expressionless through the most absurd scenarios. ZAZ’s whole comic ethos stems from these viewings – their main characters are virtuous idiots wandering through a world that explodes with gags around them. These dopes’ deadpan obliviousness provide the majority of punchlines in  Airplane!, Top Secret, and The Naked Gun trilogy. And there was no one more virtuous or more idiotic than the fools portrayed by Leslie Nielsen – who was ZAZ’s platonic ideal for a comic actor. Often mistaken for his  Airplane!-mates Lloyd Bridges and Peter Graves, he had that aging leading man gravitas (and mane of gray hair) and could play everything straight, reciting the most ridiculous lines as if he was in an airplane disaster film like Zero Hour (1957, the model for Airplane!). ZAZ’s follow-up to Airplane! was the short-lived and joke-packed TV show Police Squad! (1982), a parody of M-Squad and other square-jawed cop shows. The TV version was canceled after four episodes (six would air), but strong reviews (and a lead actor Emmy nomination for Nielsen) kept the project alive until ZAZ adapted it into the  The Naked Gun, which airs tomorrow night on TCM as part of their “Salute to Slapstick.” It is with The Naked Gun that Nielsen fully displays his comic gifts, a tour-de-force of deadpan, face-pulling, and pratfall.

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Think Pink: The Enduring Appeal of Lady Penelope

ladyp01Last week I celebrated the 100th birthday of Orson Welles and this week I’m celebrating another milestone, the 50th anniversary of THUNDERBIRDS and the International Rescue team featuring secret agent extraordinaire, Lady Penelope.

This popular “Supermarionation” series of television shows and feature-length films debuted on British TV in September of 1965 but Lady Penelope made her first appearance nine months early within the pages of the comic book magazine, TV Century 21. Lady Penelope’s early introduction indirectly resulted in her becoming somewhat of a special ambassador for THUNDERBIRDS and she managed to entice both male and female comic readers with her stories of “Elegance, Charm and Deadly Danger.” This coming Saturday (May 9th) TCM viewers will be able to see Lady Penelope as well as her fellow International Rescue team members in THUNDERBIRD 6 (1968) airing at 8 AM EST – 5 AM PST. In anticipation of THUNDERBIRD 6 and in celebration of the THUNDERBIRDS 50th anniversary, I thought I would explore the enduring appeal of Lady Penelope who, along with her pink six-wheeled Rolls-Royce and trusty sidekick Parker, has managed to capture the imagination of children and adults for the past 50 years.

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Superhero Saturdays on TCM: BATMAN (1943)

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BATMAN is coming to Turner Classic Movies! The revered DC superhero is making his network debut on Saturday, March 7th and viewers will able to tune into TCM every morning (7AM PST – 10Am EST) for the next few months to catch an episode of Columbia Picture’s original 1943 film serial. Serials or “Chapter Plays” were often cheaply produced shorts that were typically shown with cartoons and newsreels before feature films. This format came into prominence during the silent film era and remained viable until the 1950s but fell out fashion due to the development of home television. While many believe that the popularity of superheroes and comic books adaptations are a relatively new phenomenon, the truth is that they’ve been an accepted form of entertainment for decades although until recently they were mostly regulated to short format serials and television. Columbia adapted many well-regarded comic books and strips for the screen including SUPERMAN (1948), TERRY AND THE PIRATES (1940), MANDRAKE THE MAGICIAN (1938), THE PHANTOM (1943), BLACKHAWK (1952) and BRENDA STARR, REPORTER (1945). BATMAN was one of the studio’s most popular productions and it’s earned an important place in comic book history for a number of reasons, which make it a particularly fascinating footnote in the Caped Crusader’s ongoing fight against crime and corruption.

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The Wonderful World of Disney Comes to TCM

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As a kid growing up in 1970s my Sunday nights revolved around The Wonderful World of Disney. It was my cherished respite before the much dreaded school week began and I savored every last minute spent in front of the family television set. At the time, residents in the San Francisco Bay Area where I was born and mostly raised, only had access to 10 or 12 available channels to choose from and many of those were locally run and operated. There were no video stores renting movies in those days and the idea of streaming films directly into your own home was merely a faraway fantasy. In these limited environs, The Wonderful World of Disney offered kids and adults of all ages a surprisingly diverse and family friendly smorgasbord of programming that included animated and live action films, nature documentaries, educational shorts and special broadcasts made especially for television. Much to my delight, Turner Classic Movies has recently teamed-up with The Walt Disney Studios for a new on-going program called Treasures from the Disney Vault hosted by Ben Mankiewicz and film critic Leonard Maltin that’s making its debut this coming Sunday night on December 21st. TCM’s impressive 8-hour block of television is a throwback to The Wonderful World of Disney of my childhood and I hope it will introduce a new generation to the wonderful treasures hidden deep within the vaults of the Disney Studios.

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Holiday Greetings from The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come!

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This week TCM is presenting two classic Christmas films on December 7th in association with Fathom Events and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. You can see A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1938) and CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945) at participating theaters across the country and as my fellow Morlock, Susan Doll pointed out in her post about the event earlier this week, they make for great family friendly holiday viewing.

I personally have a soft spot for just about every film version of A Christmas Carol. This is partially due to the fact that one of my first and last acting roles was in a stage adaptation of Charles Dickens’ timeless tale mounted by my elementary school where I got the opportunity to play the spooky silent specter of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. And like countless other readers, I’m also simply enamored with Dickens’ story of an old miser visited by four phantoms on Christmas Eve who inspire generosity and teach him to love life again. Nearly 175 years have passed since it was originally published but A Christmas Carol still has the power to chill us to the bone and warm our cold hearts during the winter holiday.

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Ghost Stories: THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES (1946)

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October has arrived and as usual, TCM has scheduled a nice selection of films this month that will undoubtedly appeal to classic horror film obsessives like yours truly. Among the Hitchcock thrillers, silent scares, mummy movies and horror anthologies airing you’ll be able to tune in every Thursday and catch some spooktacular ghost movies. I love a good ghost story and if you happen to be one of the few who regularly keeps track of my blog posts you know that it’s a film genre I’m particularly fond of so I thought I’d take this opportunity to highlight one of my favorite ghostly movies that’s airing this evening; the fun, family friendly and still surprisingly fresh Abbott & Costello horror comedy, THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES (1946).

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You’re Invited! Join the #TCMParty on Twitter

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If you watch a lot of television you’re probably familiar with hashtags or #hashtags that programs now regularly promote to reach audiences on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. On PBS for example viewers are encouraged to use the hashtag #DowntonPBS, #DowntonAbbey or #Downton when watching their popular series DOWNTON ABBEY and during events such as the 2014 Winter Olympics many hashtags including #Sochi2014, #Olympics2014 and #TeamAmerica were regularly used online. Hashtags are a simple way to link conversations about a topic on social media sites so anyone can search for them easily and join in the discussion. And if a hashtag becomes popular on Twitter it can become a ‘trending topic’ that gains national or even international attention.

A couple of years ago I noticed that the hashtag #TCMParty was trending on Twitter while TCM was showing a marathon of Japanese giant monster movies from Toho Studios. Naturally this piqued my curiosity so I began following their activities at @TCM_Party. The Twitter group is made up of classic movie fans who regularly watch films shown on TCM and enjoy discussing them online. I’m not an active participant myself but I occasionally jump into conversations when they’re discussing a movie I love or happen to be watching. Recently @TCM_Party celebrated their third year anniversary on Twitter so I decided to reach out to them and ask a few questions about what they do and how TCM viewers can participate. @TCM_Party host, Paula Guthat (aka @Paula_Guthat) was kind enough to get back in touch with me and what follows is a brief Q&A about the group and their events.

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