The Great Unseen 2: Dinner and a Movie

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Mansplaining at its finest. Bette Davis is not having it in The Little Foxes.

So now we get into the meat of the thing. This second of three planned posts on “The Great Unseen” focuses on the sound era of classic Hollywood—the 1930s, 40s, and 50s—even if some of these films are made far from the Hollywood system and break from the classical visual style.

Of course, I had hoped to be wrapping up this series by now, but I once again got distracted by other unseen classics. Still, this quarter, I managed to get to a total of thirteen films on my list: four silents (The Consequences of Feminism, Safety Last!, Battleship Potemkin, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans), eight from the classic period (Duck Soup, A Night at the Opera, The Little Foxes, A Matter of Life and Death, Late Spring, The African Queen, High Noon, Rio Bravo), and one modern one (Pretty in Pink) that I watched because it was expiring on Hulu. This is not nearly the twenty-five I’d hoped for, but really isn’t too shabby. Plus, I watched seven other new-to-me classics as a result of this project (Les Vampires, The Kid, The Gold Rush, The Scarlett Empress, Swing Time, Tokyo Story, A Night to Remember), which has to count for something.

As with my first post in this series—Matinée Idle—the old adage of “classics are classics for a reason” has proved true. Not that I loved every film I watched, but I appreciate that they are mostly deserving of their place in the canon.

Hello I Must Be Going

Duck Soup (1933) by Leo McCarey
A Night at the Opera (1935) by Sam Wood

While I’ve seen bits and pieces of various Marx Brothers films over the years, I had never watched an entire movie until now. In fact, of all the films on this list, these were the two that I had most consciously avoided. Though certain broad comedies work for me, I’m not a huge fan of slapstick, and I guess I wrongly placed the Marx Brothers in that category. While these movies do rely on pratfalls and obvious gags (and I have to say that I didn’t LOVE them for that reason), they definitely have more layers to them than I expected.

It is perhaps not surprising to long-time readers that I liked A Night at the Opera much more than Duck Soup. Not only is it more like a screwball comedy, but there are opera references galore. Plus, the narrative hangs together much better than Duck Soup—though you’d never guess that by watching only its rather abrupt beginning, which, according to Leonard Maltin (good lord, why?!?) on the commentary track, is the result of later cutting all references to Italy for showings during World War II. In any case, once you realize they aren’t starting in New York, it makes much more sense. That said, some of the individual scenes in Duck Soup—such as the mirror scene and the war-scene costume changes—are well worth watching at least once.

And to Groucho Marx, I give my cravat
To Harpo goes my shiny silk hat
And to heaven, I give a vow
To adore you, I’m starting now

Never Gonna Dance

Swing Time (1936) by George Stevens

For some reason, the Marx Brothers got me thinking about the musicals of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and how I’ve seen so many scenes of them dancing over the years and yet have no idea how many of their films I’ve actually watched all the way through. So I chose one at random—only to realize I hadn’t seen any of it at all, not even the big dance numbers. That film was Swing Time, which surprisingly includes some of my favorite standards including “A Fine Romance” and “The Way You Look Tonight” as well as “Never Gonna Dance”—which, as seen above, happens to specifically cite the Marx Brothers. The world is small, people. Swing Time also includes an incredible number where Astaire dances with multiple shadows of himself. Unfortunately, said number is marred by the fact that Astaire appears in blackface throughout. Also unfortunate is the ridiculous plot of this film, although the initial sequences of Astaire and Rogers meeting are delightful.

A Matter of Life and Death (1946) by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

I was first exposed to the work of The Archers (aka Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger) in the college film class I mentioned in the previous post in this series. Three films I watched in that class—The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), Black Narcissus (1947), The Red Shoes (1948)—would easily make it onto any all-time favorites list of mine, just as they appear on Edgar Wright 1000 Favorites list. Of course, I would also add I Know Where I’m Going! (1945), a film that is very much in the spirit of my beloved Regency romances. And all four of those films are in the Sight & Sound Top 250. However, above them all on the Sight & Sound list is A Matter of Life and Death. So, needless to say, I thought this one was a sure winner. Reader, it was not.

Not that I didn’t like it: this story of a man (David Niven) who pleads his case to stay on earth after his conductor to the great beyond misses his appointment had interesting technical and visual aspects (notably the stair sequences), but the underlying themes and basic plot were far less interesting than other films I have seen by The Archers. To my mind, this film is rather a pale imitation of its “life and death” forerunner, Colonel Blimp. I’d love to hear from people who have seen both of them as to what would put this one on top. Also, not for nothing, but what was up with that naked shepherd boy playing the flute at the beach? I get the Pan imagery, but whatever is it for?

As always, I’m happy I saw it, but it definitely would fall at the bottom of any Powell and Pressburger ranking I might make.

Unapologetic Bitch(es)

The Scarlett Empress (1934) by Josef von Sternberg

The Scarlett Empress, one of the last films Sternberg made with Marlene Dietrich, is another film I’ve always meant to see, but didn’t put on my official list for whatever reason. However, once Charlottesville happened, I realized I had zero interest in watching Nazis in Triumph of the Will (1935). Plus, I thought The Scarlett Empress might make an interesting companion piece to Battleship Potemkin, which I suppose it did, although it’s neither the condemnation nor the glorification of the life of Catherine the Great that I’d hoped it would be. In fact, it is not really the life of Catherine the Great at all, but rather how Princess Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst became Catherine the Great. That is, it purports to tell the story of her childhood and how she came to be in the royal Russian household and eventually stage a coup. It is extremely inaccurate historically speaking, but is worthwhile as a supreme exercise in style, with innovative lighting, elaborate sets, and gorgeous costumes. It is also one of the most obvious examples of how different movies might have been had the Hays Code never been put in place: The opening torture scenes had me immediately rushing to check the production date.

Husband getting you down? Marlene Dietrich is not having it in The Scarlet Empress.

The Little Foxes (1941) by William Wyler

William Wyler is the most nominated director in Oscar history and the director of one of my favorite adaptations ever, The Heiress (1949) starring Olivia de Havilland. Yet I’ve never felt I had a handle on him as a director. In fact, I’m not even sure I knew that The Little Foxes was by William Wyler or I might have taken this one on earlier, since in many ways it perfectly complements his Jezebel (1938), also a “southern” story with Bette Davis, and one that I’ve watched and enjoyed numerous times. Of course, enjoy is not quite the word I’d use for this all-too-relevant story about the corrosive effects of capitalism, racism, and patriarchy.

Yes, they got mighty well-off cheating the poor. Well, there’s people that eats up the whole Earth and all the people on it. Like in the Bible with the locusts. Then there’s people that stand around and watch them do it. Sometimes I think it ain’t right to stand and watch them do it.

—Addie speaking her truth to Birdie and the audience, in The Little Foxes

Like a number of films on my Great Unseen list, I wasn’t too sure of this one when it started, but as it went along I became more and more impressed and interested. While Bette Davis gives an incredible performance as Regina Giddens, I was more than a little surprised to realize this was the debut of Teresa Wright, who would get an Academy Award nomination for her supporting role as Alexandra, Regina’s daughter, and go on to be nominated twice in the next year, for a supporting role in Mrs. Miniver (1942), also by Wyler, and as best actress in Sam Wood’s The Pride of the Yankees (1942). And, of course, the year after that she would play young Charlie in Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1942). Quite a run.

The other participant who really impresses here is the one behind the camera. This is the first film that Gregg Toland would shoot after his groundbreaking work on Citizen Kane (1941), and I might argue that his deep-focus work here is even more extraordinary than on that film. At least, it is more crucial in bringing life to this stage play. Of all the films on this list, it is perhaps the most stunning visually. Though, admittedly, the films of Yasujirō Ozu come pretty close.

Big in Japan

Banshun (Late Spring) (1949) by Yasujirō Ozu
Tōkyō Monogatari (Tokyo Story) (1953) by Yasujirō Ozu

I hadn’t wanted to put any Japanese films on my Great Unseen list because I’ve always thought I would do a complete series on them (a project I started some time ago with Rashōmon (1950) but had to abandon). However, since that plan sprung from not having seen any of the “great” ones, and because I needed one more 1940s film for my list, Banshun (Late Spring) made it on here. And then, oddly enough, before even reaching Late Spring on my list, I found myself taking in Tōkyō Monogatari (Tokyo Story) on the big screen at the Aero in Santa Monica. Unlike my last time at that theater, I was not sitting next to Christoph Waltz, but it was a packed house, which was rather inspiring. [Side note: Tokyo Story is the #3 movie on the most recent Sight & Sound Top 250 poll; Late Spring is #15 on that same list.]

Tokyo Story is one of those movies I was simultaneously bored and enchanted by. Or maybe I was just really tired from hiking up to the Hollywood sign that morning. In any case, the film is visually stunning (which is incredible since the camera basically never moves), but the narrative moves at a glacial pace. Still, it managed to seep into me somehow and I find myself going back to it rather often in my mind. I’m sure there were many cultural nuances and references that went over my head, but its universal story of family dynamics and responsibilities is something I imagine would resonate with many viewers, no matter what their nationality or background. Perhaps Late Spring—as the story of a young woman resisting society’s expectations—should have resonated with me more, but that film felt too scattered to me. Somehow I had a far better handle on the characters of Tokyo Story than I did Late Spring. However, both films are well-made, powerful explorations of marriage and family. Plus, they introduced me to the concept of the “pillow shot” (a term I had never heard of before).

Guns and Ships

The African Queen (1951) by John Huston

I went into this project unsure of whether I had actually seen this one. Well, I definitely hadn’t seen it, but I’m not sure that was any real loss. Sorry, Bogie/Hepburn lovers, I just didn’t buy this one. I liked the basic story, but the couple didn’t work for me and the obvious green screen in many of the river sequences was painful to watch. I imagine that watching this in the 1950s in the theater was likely fairly exciting, but today it falls flat. And, while I wanted to root for the feminist awakening depicted, the classism, colonialism, and nationalism on display were just too distracting for me to fully get behind Rose as a character.

Why is the gin gone? Katharine Hepburn is not having it in The African Queen.

A Night to Remember (1958) by Roy Ward Baker

If you know me at all, you know I am slightly obsessed with stories of the Titanic sinking. Yet, for some reason, I had never seen this famous depiction from the 1950s. And so, even though it was not initially on my list, I added it here. If you have read any of the first-hand accounts, you know that, aside from the “splitting in two” issue, A Night to Remember mostly gets the story right, though it is lacking the incredible special effects of the James Cameron version released forty years later. Having seen Titanic (1997) so many times, it was particularly interesting to watch this and realize just how many iconic shots Cameron took directly from this film. I like both movies, but admit that the sweeping epic romance that Cameron tells has a slight edge for me. Still, two things that A Night to Remember does very well are the depiction of social class and the workings of the crew behind the scenes as the ship went down. One moment in particular stood out for me: the look on Honor Blackman’s face as she realizes what her husband really means when he says they should listen to what the captain says.

(Don’t) Take Your Guns to Town

High Noon (1952) by Fred Zinnemann
Rio Bravo (1959) by Howard Hawks

Lastly, we come to one of my favorite film genres, the western. There are very few classic westerns I haven’t seen, but I thought I had rightly identified these two as holdouts. However, I’m now pretty sure I have in fact seen High Noon before, albeit long time ago. Regardless, I was certainly happy to see it again. And, unfortunately, this is another classic that turned out to be far too relevant for today’s world. Despite that depressing glimmer of recognition, this pairing was actually rather fortuitous, as Howard Hawks apparently made Rio Bravo in part as a reaction to High Noon, with Hawks thinking that a “real” hero wouldn’t have gone running around asking for help nor would he need to be saved by a woman in the end (which is sort of hilarious given the help that John Wayne seems to need in Rio Bravo, but I digress).

You carry a badge and a gun, Marshal. You had no call to do that.

No matter what the inspiration, I absolutely loved Rio Bravo. John Wayne is here, being very John Wayne, and Dean Martin was practically unrecognizable to me (in a good way). Angie Dickinson as “Feathers” could certainly go toe-to-toe with any of my favorite Hawks leading ladies and Walter Brennan as “Stumpy” is a delight. The only weak link in the cast for me was Ricky Nelson, but that is a minor quibble. Despite a running time of 140 minutes, the movie never seemed to lag, and I especially liked the music. I happily watched this one twice.

What if some of Julia Roberts’s best characters were based on “Feathers”? In any case, Angie Dickinson is not having it in Rio Bravo.

Tune in next time when I take on unseen classics from the 1960s on. In the meantime, if you are undertaking my Great Unseen challenge, let me know what you’ve watched so far in the comments below.

Filmography

The Great (Formerly) Unseen
Duck Soup (1933)
A Night at the Opera (1935)
The Little Foxes (1941)
A Matter of Life and Death (1946)
Banshun (Late Spring) (1949)
The African Queen (1951)
High Noon (1952)
Rio Bravo (1959)

Other Classics
The Scarlett Empress (1934)
Swing Time (1936)
Tōkyō Monogatari (Tokyo Story) (1953)
A Night to Remember (1958)

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Opera 101—Bang a Gong, Get It On

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Calaf contemplates risking it all in Turandot. Photo by Cory Weaver.

Giacomo Puccini, Turandot (1921–1926)
Based on: the plays Turandot by Carlo Gozzi and Turandot, Prinzessin von China by Friedrich Schiller
Notable Cultural Reference: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation; Paul Potts audition for Britain’s Got Talent
Setting: Peking, Imperial China

Plot in 101 words or less: A used and abused ancestor has turned the beautiful Princess Turandot against all men. [Insert obligatory #notallmen reference here.] Any man seeking her hand must answer three riddles correctly or lose his head. Never a gender to lack confidence, plenty have rung the challenge gong and failed, but Calaf is sure he’ll succeed despite all advice to the contrary. Meanwhile, ministers Ping, Pang, and Pong wish Turandot were more “likeable” because of course. SPOILER ALERT: Calaf guesses the riddles! Unsatisfied, he manages to create a situation whereby slave girl Liù sacrifices herself because he once smiled at her. Because of course.

Sung in: Italian
Memorable Music: “Nessun dorma”

Martina Serafin as Princess Turandot in Turandot. Photo by Cory Weaver.

I was a bit disappointed when I realized that opening night of the 2017–2018 San Francisco Opera season was going to be Turandot—since I had already seen this production back in 2011 and I remember hating the sets and costumes. Well, the good news is that the sets weren’t as bad as I remembered (though, after four uses they are probably ready for retirement), but the bad news is that the costumes were still mostly god-awful. I mean really…

Raymond Aceto as Timur, Toni Marie Palmertree as Liù, and Brian Jagde as Calaf in Turandot. Photo by Cory Weaver.

Musically speaking, I think this was a stronger production than in 2011 and, what’s more, I could better appreciate it this time because I’ve seen so many other operas in between. Brian Jagde, the former Adler Fellow who so impressed me in Tosca, and, more recently, Carmen, delivered an excellent “Nessun dorma” and Martina Serafin was very convincing as Turandot, particularly when she had her change of heart in Act III. While it is hard to beat Leah Crocetto’s excellent Liù, last-minute replacement Adler Fellow Toni Marie Palmertree did a respectable job, especially in her final number. Raymond Aceto made more of an impression as Timor this time around.

Ping, Pang, Pong contemplate Turandot’s bloody reign in Turandot. Photo by Cory Weaver.

That little one sure can sing!

—my neighbor upon Toni Marie Palmertree’s curtain call

As for those other costumes, I have to say, I didn’t love many of the dresses that made the Chronicle‘s opening night society wrap-up, but two beautiful items that I thought were also on point thematically are below.

Left: Yuka Uehara of Tokyo Gamine in her own creation. Right: Sara Griffith’s inspired modification of her grandmother’s jewelry box. Photos by Gabrielle Lurie for the Chronicle.

Luckily, I managed to surreptitiously snap a few pics of my own for posterity.

  

  

  

There are five more performances of Turandot at the War Memorial Opera House this month, on September 12, 15, 21, 24, and 30. Then it comes back again at the end of the season on November 18, 25, and 28 and December 3, 6, and 9. So there’s no excuse for missing this one. Tickets can be purchased here.

Riddle me this: All’s well that ends well? Photo by Cory Weaver.

The Great Unseen 1: Matinée Idle

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Harold Lloyd idles the time away in Safety Last!

As I wrote in my original post on The Great Unseen, I decided to begin this project with the silent films on the list. As such, I have now watched Les Résultats du féminisme (The Consequences of Feminism) (1906), Safety Last! (1923), Бронено́сец «Потёмкин» (Battleship Potemkin) (1925), and Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927). As a point of comparison, I also watched Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid (1921) and The Gold Rush (1925) for the first time and rewatched two Buster Keaton films, Sherlock Jr. (1924) and The General (1927). And, while browsing the library shelves for some of these classics, I realized they had a copy of the restored Louis Feuillade’s Les Vampires (1915–1916), which I’ve never seen in its entirety. So, as you can see, this project has mushroomed somewhat. (Like no one could see that coming.) Still, I wanted to report on my efforts and thoughts to date.

To begin at the beginning—literally—I first want to talk a bit about Alice Guy-Blaché (1873–1968). From my study of the French film industry at NYU, I vaguely knew of Alice Guy as an early production head at Gaumont. How lacking my education was—she was a total filmmaking trailblazer! I’m actually mad now that the film classes I took didn’t cover her as they did Auguste and Louis Lumière or Georges Méliès. Not only was she the industry’s first female director, there is an argument to be made that she is the first director of narrative cinema period, having likely filmed La Fée au choux (The Cabbage Patch Fairy), a one-minute film where a young woman appears to deliver newborn babies from the heads of cabbages, in April 1896 (i.e., a month or two before Georges Méliès made his first fiction film).

Alice Guy began her career as a secretary to inventor/industrialist Léon Gaumont, but quickly turned to producing and directing after seeing an early private demonstration of the Lumière brothers’ film technology. From 1897 to 1907, when she married Herbert Blaché, she was Gaumont’s head of production and probably the world’s only female film director. In addition to being incredibly prolific, she also experimented extensively: first with special effects in films like La Fée aux choux, then with color, hand tinting films such as Les Fredaines de Pierrette (Pierrette’s Escapades) (1900) and Le Tango (The Tango) (1905), and, finally, sound synchronization. Additionally, after moving to the United States with her husband and founding Solax Films in New Jersey in 1910, she directed the first film to feature an all African American cast (A Fool and His Money, 1912). Seriously, this woman’s name should be tattooed on every contemporary filmmaker’s forehead. Unfortunately, she lost both her husband and film production to Hollywood and, after directing her last film in 1920, divorcing her husband, and filing for bankruptcy, she moved back to France and was unable to continue to make a living working as a filmmaker. C’est la vie I guess.

On the left is a frame from the hand-tinted two-minute film Saharet, Boléro (Saharat Performs the Bolero) (1905). On the right is a frame from the same dance series, Le Tango (The Tango) (1905).

But why was her history lost? Well, for starters, when Gaumont published the history of his company, one she had been instrumental in developing, he did not mention her. At all. Quelle surprise—men really are the worst. Over the years (she lived to age 94!), Guy-Blaché tried to correct for this absence from recorded film history, but it was a difficult task since most of her films were believed to be lost. Luckily, that was not the case, and about 350 of the over 1000 films she directed survive, including 22 feature-length films. I was able to borrow a DVD of a collection of her early films from the library and many are available on You Tube. I highly recommend checking them out. A very cool early film that experiments with movement is Danse serpentine de Mme Bob Walter (1897). If you want to see hand-tinting in action, watch Les Fredaines de Pierrette (Pierrette’s Escapades) (1900). Both films are under two minutes long.

And now, on to the show!

Les Résultats du féminisme (The Consequences of Feminism) (1906) is one of Alice Guy-Blaché’s best-known early works. Only seven minutes long, the film is a satirical look at daily life in a society where the roles of men and women have been inverted: men play hard to get and take care of the children while woman smoke and drink and boss them around. My favorite part is early on, where a woman is smoking with her feet up while one man irons and another sews. Good times. Never fear though—SPOILER ALERT!—the patriarchy comes through in the end. This film would have been much better with intertitles, but still, it is rather extraordinary for 1906. You can watch it here.

Les Vampires (1915–1916) is a ten-part serial thriller about a gang of French criminals. Though not as popular upon its release as Louis Feuillade’s earlier Fantômas series, it has since become his most popular work, especially since it was restored in the late 90s and finally appeared on DVD in the United States about five years ago. I’ve been meaning to watch it for some time, especially since watching Irma Vep (1996) by Olivier Assayas a couple of years ago. However, since the complete film is almost seven hours long, so far I have only watched the first episode (“The Severed Head”). But that episode reminded me greatly of early Hitchcock and the “old dark house” movies I loved last October, so I’m looking forward to the rest. [Side note: Louis Feuillade is the person who took over as the Gaumont studio head when Alice Guy-Blaché left.]

No actual vampires were harmed in the making of this film.

Safety Last! (1923) is one of those films where everyone has probably seen at least one scene—the scene pictured above—where Harold Lloyd is hanging from the giant clock face. Despite appearances, and what I thought going into this project, this is not just simple physical comedy. In fact, Safety Last! probably has a more developed plot than most silents and the comedy set pieces work organically within the larger whole. I quite enjoyed it. A word of caution however: Although not as sexist as I feared given the basic storyline (a young man moves to the city to earn enough money to marry his true love back home), there are some cringe-inducing moments of racial and ethnic stereotyping. There are also times where my fear of heights was severely tested. Lloyd’s stunt work here is breathtaking.

Since Lloyd is often portrayed as the third wheel on a silent comedy tricycle alongside Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, I wanted to rewatch some Chaplin and Keaton movies to see what I thought of them in comparison. As Keaton was one of the directors I studied in the one film course I took in college, I’ve seen most of his best films. [Side note: The class was called “Five Directors,” although it was really just three solo directors—Buster Keaton, Robert Bresson, and Alan Rudolph—along with The Archers, aka Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. An odd collection, to say the least.] For this project, I decided to rewatch the two films that are on the Sight & Sound Top 250 List, namely, Sherlock Jr. (1924) and The General (1927). For Chaplin, I decided to watch two films I hadn’t yet seen, his first feature, The Kid (1921), and The Gold Rush (1925), which I mistakenly thought was about the California Gold Rush but in fact depicts the Klondike Gold Rush. Still, it did feature a bear, so I can pretend it took place in my adopted home state.

No bears were harmed in the making of this film. At least I hope not.

After watching all of these movies in quick succession, I feel like it is rather unfair to compare them. They are so very different in terms of style and intent. Suffice it to say that all of these films are excellent and you really can’t go wrong with any of them. I definitely still prefer Keaton to Chaplin, along I didn’t think The General quite lived up to my memory of it. Part of that may be the fact that it is somewhat hard to relate to a Confederate hero these days (though it too had a bear, so props for that). On the other hand, Sherlock Jr. remains a masterpiece of storytelling and meta commentary on filmmaking. And, with a running time of approximately 45 minutes, you really have no excuse not to watch this one.

In Sherlock Jr., Keaton gets into the spirit of filmmaking. Literally.

Бронено́сец «Потёмкин» (Battleship Potemkin) (1925) by Sergei Eisenstein was the real surprise of this list. I expected to absolutely hate it; however, not only was it far better than I thought it would be, but it was far more relevant than I expected. The story told is deceptively simple—a dramatized version of an actual mutiny that took place in 1905 aboard a Russian battleship—but is really a more broad depiction of the dangers of authoritarianism and capitalist exploitation and the need for workers to unite against oppression. Word, Sergei.

Battleship Potemkin is another classic where most people have seen at least one scene, namely the baby carriage rolling down the Odessa Steps (famously referenced in The Untouchables); however, that was far from the most memorable image for me in that sequence. What most sticks in my mind is the repetition of the marching boots of the soldiers and the woman being shot in the face. Chilling. Other interesting visuals include the double exposure showing sailors hanging from the masts and the final confrontation of ships. [Side note: Apparently the Potemkin Stairs, as they are now generally referred to, were designed to be an optical illusion whereby a person looking down the stairs sees only the landings, and not the steps, but a person looking up sees only steps, and no landings. Cool, huh?]

No children were harmed in the making of this film. At least I hope not.

F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) is a film that shows up on so many “best of” lists—and rose from #9 to #5 on the most recent Sight & Sound Top 250—that it is really a wonder I hadn’t seen it yet. Of course, until this month I hadn’t seen #3 (Tokyo Story) on that list either so perhaps I haven’t really been trying. In any case, Sunrise had never really seemed particularly interesting to me, and even once it started I got bored and turned it off almost immediately. Luckily I tried again because this time I got through the first few minutes and realized that the movie takes an incredible turn and, hot damn, did I like this movie. Yes, it’s not the most female friendly, and I hate that the man suffers no real consequences for his actions, and, sure, the city sequence tangent goes on a bit too long and there are crazy tonal shifts, but I just don’t care. None of this should work but it somehow does. And with gorgeous visuals to boot. What Murnau is able to convey in terms of dramatic narrative, and with so few intertitles, is truly astonishing. And that’s before taking into account the drunken pig and brilliant O. Henry ending. Between this and Nosferatu, which I experienced for the first time last October during my horror series, I clearly need to watch more Murnau.

A pig may have been harmed in the making of this film. It depends on your definition of harm.

In summary, miracles do happen, people. I really liked all of these selections.

Tune in next time when I take on unseen classics of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. In the meantime, if you are undertaking my Great Unseen challenge, let me know what you’ve watched so far in the comments below.

Filmography

The Great (Formerly) Unseen
Les Résultats du féminisme (The Consequences of Feminism) (1906)
Safety Last! (1923)
Броненосец «Потёмкин» (Battleship Potemkin) (1925)
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

Other Classic Silents
La Fée aux choux (The Cabbage Patch Fairy) (1896)
Les Vampires (1915–1916)
The Kid (1921)
Sherlock Jr. (1924)
The Gold Rush (1925)
The General (1927)

Opera 101—The Yeomen of the Guard Redux

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I have a song to sing, O
Sing me your song, O
It is sung to the moon by a love-lorn loon
Who fled from the mocking throng-o
It’s the song of a merry man moping mum
Whose soul was sad and his glance was glum
Who sipped no sup and who craved no crumb
As he sighed for the love of a lady
 
Hey-di, hey-di, misery me, lack-a-day-de
He sipped no sup and he craved no crumb
As he sighed for the love of a lady

 
This past weekend, to celebrate the arrival of my cousin to the Bay Area (along with her thirtieth birthday), I took in a repeat performance of The Yeomen of the Guard by the Lamplighters Music Theatre. This was one of the first Lamplighter productions I ever saw and is the only one I have seen a second time. But it likely won’t be the last, as it looks like I have caught up in the Gilbert & Sullivan cycle to where I was when I first started subscribing in 2010. Unfortunately, because I haven’t been able to subscribe the past few years, I have missed a few key works that likely won’t come back into the rotation for some time.

In any case, this piece remains a delight, even though it has probably the saddest subject matter of all of Gilbert & Sullivan’s operettas. I was also happy to see that, with the help of supertitles, my French cousin seemed to get most of it. I guess even the tricky wordplay of Gilbert & Sullivan is nothing next to the Chinese she has been trying to follow for the past few years living in Shanghai.

While Jack Point was the ever-reliable F. Lawrence Ewing, most of the cast were new to me. Of particular note was Samuel Faustine who played Colonel Fairfax; I loved his clear tone and hope to see him again on the Yerba Buena stage very soon. His eventual partner in wedded bliss, Elsie Maynard, was played by Patricia Westley, who proved to be a serious counterpoint to Ewing on the lovely duet cited above. Rounding out the rather strong female half of the cast were Erin O’Meally as Phoebe and Sonia Gariaeff as Dame Carruthers. Another Lamplighter regular, Robby Stafford, played “man with the plan” Sergeant Meryll. Charles Martin was okay as Wilfred Shadbolt, but seemed a bit too old for the part.

Samuel Faustine as Colonel Fairfax (left) and F. Lawrence Ewing and Patricia Westley as Jack Point and Elsie Maynard (right).

Yeomen is the Lamplighters first production of the 2017-2018 season. They will continue the season next year in February with The Gondoliers (or The King of Barataria) and then close it out in March with a singalong version of Iolanthe, which I normally might not attend but since it is one of the major works that I haven’t seen yet (as well as my dad’s favorite), I may just have to suffer through the whole singing along thing.

The Great Unseen

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About a month ago, I was tweeting about significant films I hadn’t seen, including such classics as Barry Lyndon (1975), Duck Soup (1933), and The French Connection (1971). I haven’t been avoiding these films for any particular reason, I just haven’t gotten around to them yet. With so many movies produced every year, it is almost inevitable that even hard-core film fans will have gaps in what they have seen, and I don’t feel any particular guilt for not having seen the films below. However, when I realized I had seen so few films last quarter and could use some additional motivation, it occurred to me that I might try to actively remedy some of these gaps. And thus was born “The Great Unseen” project.

For this project, I have selected three to five significant films (that I haven’t yet seen in their entirety) to represent each decade from the 1920s to the 1990s. By “significant” I mean that they are critically acclaimed and/or often part of the cultural conversation. My goal is to watch at least twenty-five of these films before my next quarterly report. I’m starting with the four silents, but after that I will probably go on mood. Please feel to join me for any or all of these classics.

And now the list…

The Great Unseen
Les Résultats du féminisme (1906)
Safety Last! (1923)
Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
Duck Soup (1933)
Triumph of the Will (1935)
A Night at the Opera (1935)
The Little Foxes (1941)
A Matter of Life and Death (1946)
Late Spring (1949)
The African Queen (1951)
High Noon (1952)
Madame de… (1953)
Seven Samurai (1954)
Rio Bravo (1959)
(1963)
Blow-Up (1966)
Cool Hand Luke (1967)
In the Heat of the Night (1967)
Playtime (1967)
The French Connection (1971)
Barry Lyndon (1975)
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Taxi Driver (1976)
Mad Max (1979)
The Thing (1982)
Body Double (1984)
Pretty in Pink (1986)
Raising Arizona (1987)
Wild at Heart (1990)
Daughters of the Dust (1991)
Orlando (1992)
Beau Travail (1999)
The Insider (1999)

How many films on this list have you seen? Which ones do you recommend in particular?

If you haven’t seen many (or any) of the films on this list, or if there are significant films you feel you should have seen but haven’t, will you pledge to watch at least one per month before October? If so, list your three selections below. Don’t leave me alone on this!