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Wild in Bologna

Greetings from Bologna, Italy, where the Cineteca di Bologna’s annual festival of archival films, Il Cinema Ritrovato, is about halfway through. I’ve helped to program a selection of rarely seen Raoul Walsh films, and today had the pleasure of presenting the first public screening of MOMA’s newly restored print of Walsh’s 1932 comic western “Wild Girl.” There are a lot of other interesting series going on here, including a Lois Weber retrospective, a survey of the work of a stylistically accomplished but unabashedly Stalinist Soviet-era director named Ivan Py’rev (curated by Olaf Moeller), films related to the stock market collapse of 1929, a survey of the films of 1912, some rareties from Jean Gremillon, and too much else to mention. It’s really a remarkable event — an opportunity to see some of the latest preservation work from around the world, as well as to pass time with a warm community of journalists, scholars, archivists, distributors and filmmakers. If you ever have a chance to attend, don’t pass it by.

This week’s New York Times column takes the home video release of “The Artist” as an opportunity to encourage readers to see some genuine silent films, with Criterion’s recent release of Chaplin’s “The Gold Rush” serving as a convenient example of same. Here in Bologna, where an open air screening of the 1930 Louise Brooks film “Prix de beaute” can fill the medieval town square, it’s hard to believe that the whole world doesn’t revolve around black and white films. I suspect it would be a nicer place if it did.

169 comments to Wild in Bologna

  • david hare

    Green with envy, Dave.

    The Grem selection had me drooling, not least three shorts from 1926/27 which I had thought were lost. And, again the formerly elusive Gardiens de Phare which now seems to have been reborn, hopefully as a new preservation master from the Archives Francaises. Ths might also suggest a new future for it in video/digital form.

    Very keen to hear your feedback. Some of the new restorations – Bonjour Tristesse, Lawrence of Arabia and Blimp are due in Blu later this year of course. It’s a todiefor program.

  • Philip Smith

    As luck would have it, I had just made it through “The Artist” a few minutes before I read this. What a plodding and spiritless travesty—I can only infer that the authors of some of the witless critical raves for it that I see excerpted online have never experienced the work of Lubitsch, or Murnau, or Lang, or anyone much else. And that has got to be the worst dancing of all time.

    Anyway, thank you for diplomatically suggesting some alternatives via your NYT column.

  • D. K. Holm

    “Sandwiched in Bologna”?

  • Brad Stevens

    Just wanted to mention that Nora Ephron has died. I doubt she has many admirers here, but it should be pointed out that cinephiles frequently complain (quite justifiably) that American cinema is dominated by rapid cutting and childishly simplistic narratives, that fantasy is increasingly preferred to anything which might connect in some way with actual human emotions, that actors have become less important than computer-generated imagery, that there are few good roles for women, and that Hollywood films are now aimed primarily at teenage boys. I think it’s worth noting the death of a filmmaker who actively resisted all these trends.

  • Hailing from Bologna, myself, where I have had the pleasure to say hello to Dave Kehr in person! There are many superlatives and hyperbolic expressions about Il Cinema Ritrovato (“the paradise of cinephiles”, etc.), all true. Because there are simultaneous top screenings in four venues, Sala Mastroianni, Sala Scorsese, Arlecchino, and Jolly, there is a chronic danger of overload. WILD GIRL surely was a pleasure to watch in the brand new MoMA restoration, and interestingly, on the following day there was ME AND MY GAL, Raoul Walsh’s second Joan Bennett movie. She seemed to be his kind of gal. A highlight in Bologna’s “A Hundred Years Ago” project (my candidate for the best film retrospective ever) has been a show of Vitagraph movies from the year 1912. Advanced, psychologically moving, and socially alert storytelling. Right now I’m recovering from having seen Jean Grémillon’s masterpiece REMORQUES (STORMY WATERS). Next I had booked another masterpiece, Ritwik Ghatak’s THE CLOUD-CAPPED STAR, but it would have been too much too soon.

    Count me among the Nora Ephron admirers. I also liked her last movie, JULIE & JULIA. Nora Ephron was an original talent, and she also paid tribute to Ernst Lubitsch and Leo McCarey’s most romantic films.

  • Marilyn Moss

    Nora Ephron, the writer before anything else. No one could describe growing up Jewish in 1950s-1960s Beverly Hills the way Nora could…and so no one ever did. To read CRAZY SALAD is to know her…

  • “The air of amused condescension that Mr. Hazanavicius’s film expresses toward an imaginary era of “lost innocence”…” (Dave Kehr). Quite right!

    I simply did not understand why THE ARTIST was deemed worthy of so many Oscars. It looked good but was quite empty. Jean Dujardin has enormous charm and the tricks in the film were clever, but that’s about it.

    Later I saw another Hazanavicius-Dujardin pairing in their earlier film called OSS 117: LOST IN RIO, the story of which this time involving a Bond-like secret agent and not a silent film star. It’s exactly the same formula film making. OSS 117 also has only the surface to show and celebrate. Hazanavicius seems to be satisfied making light parodies and pastiches of the real thing. Quite forgettable it is and not the best Oscar policy.

    To modify just a little the famous Dorothy Parker saying: “This is not a film to be tossed aside lightly, it should be hurled with great force.”

    I wonder if The Artist really is capable of making original silent works more popular to a larger audience. It seems to be a novelty film, quickly forgotten, not good for repeated viewings. Hazanavicius makes light of silent cinema, The Artist is counterfeit art. Isn’t there a danger of people not accustomed to silent cinema to fall into thinking that all silents are flimsy and throwaway. Like bad, fuzzy prints of the classics sometimes shown on tv or dvd, it’s a backhanded compliment. The Artist gives a signal: don’t bother.

  • Alex

    An Affair to Remember may surpass In the Mood for Love for solemn mentality; and Love Affair greets us with a unsurpasable tonic of wit and romance, but if the ideal effect of a romantic film is to evoke a sort of bliss — light though it may be– through film’s end, then, as between Love Affair, An Affair to Remember, and Sleepless in Seattle, I’ll take Sleepless in Seattle.

  • jbryant

    I liked SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE quite a lot, too, and Brad’s points about her work are well taken (even if it takes nerves of steel for a lover of THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER to give a fair shake to YOU’VE GOT MAIL). I even thought her take on BEWITCHED was kinda cute. Its wacky meta-concept had more potential than Ephron was able to realize, but she didn’t deserve the reviews that stopped just short of accusing her of crimes against humanity.

  • Robert Regan

    Let’s hope that MOMA’s restoration of Walsh’s Wild Girl will soon become available on dvd, as is the 1914 Salomy Jane discussed here a while back. It was one of several rarely shown films in their extensive 1975 Walsh retrospective, and one of many eye-openers. The director was there, in spite of having recently lost vision in his “good” eye, sometimes accompanied by Dolores Del Rio or Gloria Swanson, both of who seemed to be still enchanted by him. The audiences when he spoke certainly were.

    Here’s something I wrote at the time:

    The device of presenting the opening credits of a film on the turning pages of a book has generally been a weak attempt to establish respectable literary credentials or to assert an affinity to a best-selling novel. The effect is quite different when Raoul Walsh begins his Gentleman Jim (1942) or Wild Girl with an old-fashioned family photograph album. These albums open to reveal a deeply personal vision of the past; in them Walsh (born 1887) reconstructs the world of his childhood years with the same poetic grace with which Jean Renoir lovingly looks back on his father’s youth in A Day in the Country, French Cancan, or Elena et les Hommes.

    As Wild Girl fades in, Walsh draws us gently into his fantasy by moving his camera closer to the album before its cover opens to three pages of credits and nine pages of talking portraits of the principal characters, as in “I’m Salomy Jane. I like trees better’n men–they’re straight.” Throughout the first half of the film, Walsh punctuates his narrative by turning the entire image over to the left, repeating the album motif. In this way, he structures his exposition while reminding us of his nostalgic intentions. As the tempo of the narrative increases, the device is abandoned until the film’s last few minutes when it prepares us for the inevitable closing of the album’s cover and the final fade-out.

    If Wild Girl is ranked somewhat below Walsh’s best work (e.g., the similarly warm and sentimental Gentleman Jim), it is because he allows his script’s theatrical origin to remain a bit too obvious, particularly when Eugene Pallette’s stagecoach driver keeps turning up in the local saloon to deliver, like a Greek messenger, long speeches describing critical off-screen action. Even this apparent failing, though, contributes to the tenderness of Walsh’s journey into the past. Paul Armstrong (1869-1915), the dramatizer of Bret Harte’s Salomy Jane’s Kiss, was a close friend of the Walsh family and young Raoul’s most important mentor until his association with D.W. Griffith.

    Neither these briefly static passages, nor the occasionally heavy stage melodrama conventions of Wild Girl’s plot, overshadow the shimmering beauty of the Sequoia forest, photographed by Norbert Brodine, the pioneer cinematographer who also shot Walsh’s next film, Me and My Gal. In this enchanted forest, Salomy and The Stranger find the freedom and the peace that Humphrey Bogart as Roy Earle was to seek with less success in Walsh’s later High Sierra (1941).

  • “I think it’s worth noting the death of a filmmaker who actively resisted all these [regressive] trends.”

    Anecdotal evidence suggests that Nora Ephron’s passing has been mourned by a number of cinephiles for the very reasons you’ve outlined. Ephron was something of a cinephile herself based on what I’ve read about her.

  • Post 1975 fantasy films include:

    Allegro Non Troppo (Bruno Bozzetto)
    Providence (Alain Resnais)
    Clouds of Glory (Ken Russell)
    Mon oncle d’Amérique (Alain Resnais)
    Something Wicked This Way Comes (Jack Clayton)
    Zelig (Woody Allen)
    Places in the Heart (Robert Benton)
    Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (Tim Burton)
    The Little Match Girl (Michael Lindsay-Hogg)
    Mannequin (Michael Gotlieb)
    Field of Dreams (Phil Alden Robinson)
    Mystery Train (Jim Jarmusch)
    Dreams (Akira Kurosawa)
    Edward Scissorhands (Tim Burton)
    Beauty and the Beast (Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise)
    Switch (Blake Edwards)
    Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis)
    Prelude to a Kiss (Norman René)
    Orlando (Sally Potter)
    Desperate Remedies (Stuart Main, Peter Wells)
    The Mystery of Rampo (Kazuyoshi Okuyama)
    The Santa Clause (John Pasquin)
    Les Cent et une nuits de Simon Cinéma (Agnès Varda)
    Living in Oblivion (Tom Di Cillo)
    Gabbeh (Mohsen Makhmalbaf)
    Kundun (Martin Scorsese)
    Ma Vie en rose (Alain Berliner)
    Sucre amer / Bitter Sugar (Christian Lara)
    Lola Rennt / Run, Lola, Run (Tom Tykwer)
    Pleasantville (Gary Ross)
    The 13th Warrior (John McTiernan)
    Goya (Carlos Saura)
    Shrek (Andew Adamson, Vicky Jenson)
    Warm Water Under a Red Bridge (Shohei Imamura)
    The Cuckoo (Alexander Rogozhkin)
    Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary (Guy Maddin)
    Russian Ark (Alexander Sokurov)
    Santa Jr. (Kevin Connor)
    Elf (Jon Favreau)
    Reconstruction (Christoffer Boe)
    Slings and Arrows (Peter Wellington)
    Brother to Brother (Rodney Evans)
    Ella Enchanted (Tommy O’Haver)
    A Touch of Pink (Ian Iqbal Rashid)
    Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
    Homecoming (Joe Dante)
    Charlotte’s Web (Gary Winick)
    Krrish (Rajesh Roshan)
    Madame Tutli-Putli (Chris Lavis & Maciek Szczerbowski)
    Ratatouille (Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava)
    Howl (Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman)
    The Santa Suit (Robert Vaughn)

    This is a rich body of work.
    Perhaps fantasy is a genre that has a lot of artistic potential.

  • Noel Vera

    To be fair, I liked Harry Met Sally for shooting in Katz. But this:

    “she also paid tribute to Ernst Lubitsch”

    is hard to forgive. If it was actually funny, maybe…

  • Brad Stevens

    “Perhaps fantasy is a genre that has a lot of artistic potential.”

    Non-fantasy is also a genre that has a lot of artistic potential, but one whose position in mainstream Hollywood is now marginal. It’s worth remembering that in 1971, Hollywood gave us MCCABE & MRS MILLER, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, THE BEGUILED, WILD ROVERS and TWO-LANE BLACKTOP as well as WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES, BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS and THE MILLION DOLLAR DUCK, whereas today only the five latter titles would stand much chance of being made. Of course, non-fantasy films do sometimes appear, but they increasingly make up a smaller proportion of the studios’ output (especially if we exclude those action films which are essentially power fantasies).

  • Noel Vera

    Sad news, for those who follow Philippine cinema. Mario O’Hara, a long-time collaborator and friend of Lino Brocka and one of our finest filmmakers, succumbed to leukemia on the morning of June 26, 2012.

  • Barry Putterman

    Well, combining themes from this thread to date, the nominees for the most recent Best Picture Academy Award were: THE ARTIST, THE DESCENDANTS, EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE, THE HELP, HUGO, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, MONEYBALL, THE TREE OF LIFE and WAR HORSE. So, if we put aside the offerings of those long time fantasists Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen, the non-fantasy genre seems to still be alive and well in mainstream Hollywood cinema.

    Personally, I would only go to see a contemporary version of THE MILLION DOLLAR DUCK if Dean Jones and Sandy Duncan returned in their original roles. One must have STANDARDS in this business.

  • Brad Stevens

    The non-fantasy genre is clearly considered prestigious, but a list of American films released in 2011 suggests the extent to which fantasy has become dominant:

  • Barry Putterman

    Brad, I looked in the “Genre” column on the list and only saw the word “fantasy” applied to 10 titles. Now, I think that we can all agree that a number of the films which are called “Superhero” or “Family” or other things have large elements of fantasy in them. But, still….

  • Brad Stevens

    “Now, I think that we can all agree that a number of the films which are called “Superhero” or “Family” or other things have large elements of fantasy in them.”

    Including Action, Adventure (PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES), Action, Thriller, Spy (MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL), Sci-Fi (TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON), Sci-Fi, Comedy (PAUL), Supernatural, Horror (PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3), etc. By contrast, note how few films on this list could be categorized as ‘Fantasy’:

    Those that do belong to the fantasy genre being mostly serious science-fiction films, such as THX-1138 and THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, or films specifically aimed at children (as opposed to childish adults). It’s amusing to note that one of the three films actually categorized as fantasy on that list is James Bidgood’s PINK NARCISSUS!

    As for those Oscar-nominated films offering an alternative to fantasy films, I’m reminded of Andrew Britton’s response to the claim that THE VERDICT represented an alternative to the Spielberg-Lucas school of filmmaking: “THE VERDICT is merely STAR WARS for grownups”.

  • Barry Putterman

    Yes, it is all in how you want to define the word “fantasy.” Is WEE WILLIE WINKIE a fantasy? Is THEY DIED WITH THIER BOOTS ON a fantasy? It should be remembered that what we now like to call “The Golden Age of American Movies” was constantly ridiculed for churning out “escapist” westerns, musicals, comedies and adventure movies that appealed to the childish sensibility and refused to face the social realities of their time.

    I’m not quite sure how I got here. I seem to have put myself in the position of waving the flag for the current state of American movies for the second week in a row. Actually, I haven’t seen ANY of the 2011 films on Brad’s list above and I can’t really can’t work up enough interest to see any of them even now.

    However, that might be at least as much my problem is it is of those films. And all I really wish to suggest is that the fact that they have a large element of fantasy to them would be a poor reason to dismiss them.

  • Brad Stevens

    The essential point is that the fantasy films made in 1971 were of the kind that one might expect to be appreciated by audiences prepared to watch something other than fantasy, whereas the non-fantasy films made in 2011 were of the kind that one might expect to be appreciated by audiences which had little interest in watching anything other than fantasy.

  • Barry Putterman

    That is true Brad. But the westerns made in 1971, you list MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER, THE BEGUILED and WILD ROVERS, were made for audiences which were prepared to watch something other than the westerns made by the American film industry up until that point in time rather than for those who had been devoted to the genre for years.

    Which suggests that there is something more unusual about 1971 than about 2011.

  • Brad Stevens

    It should also be pointed out that many Americans seem to be actually living in a fantasy world:

  • Barry Putterman

    Well, of course, the fantasy here is in people saying that they are moving to Canada to escape the “socialism” of Obamacare, when they are actually going to find a more socialistic system of health care in Canada than they do in our country.

    But, we in America are quite used to being chided for the lack of reality in both our movies and national character. The Dudes will abide.

  • I’m going to shock, shock everybody by coming in to support Brad on these points.

    There is big concern today among many science fiction writers and fans that very low grade fantasy and supernatural is cannibalizing science fiction and traditional fantasy.
    It is disturbing to see such junk being fed to children. And with few well-publicized alternatives.
    There is also concern about the Dumbing Down of lots of contemporary entertainment.

    It does seem better to be cautious, though about blaming Fantasy as a genre for all this.
    In reality, Fantasy can be created at all sorts of levels of artistry and imagination.
    The 50+ films on my list are all good examples of good fantasy. They are all films I’ve seen and liked.

    Barry makes some good points about the need to be cautious about over-idealizing the past, too.

  • Noel Vera

    Mike, going to shock you by saying I started slanting my literature class to focus on science fiction (I’d call Du Maurier’s The Birds SF, wouldn’t you? Plus Arthur C. Clarke’s The Sentinel) or science related topics (Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff) as opposed to doing the usual fantasy fare (A Wrinkle in Time, the Harry Potter books). Too much fantasy nowadays, not enough SF (and I don’t mean sci-fi–hate that term).

  • Robert Garrick

    Careful there, Noel–“sci-fi” was coined by Forrest J. Ackerman. It was a play on “Hi-Fi,” and does anyone remember that anymore?

    For some of us here (well, for me and Joe Dante, anyway) Ackerman was just as influential as Andrew Sarris, at least until we turned twelve.

  • Mark Gross

    Robert, Forest J. Ackerman & Famous Monsters Of Filmland was a huge influence on me as an eight year old; in particular the back of the magazine, where I started collecting movies on super 8. The first feature film I bought was THE VAMPIRE BAT, which I believe is on one of Joe Dante’s TRAILERS FROM HELL DVDs. I didn’t know that Sci-Fi evolved from Hi Fi, although I’m listening to a LP right now that has Hi Fi in bold type on the label.

  • Noel,
    I wholeheartedly agree with you about the importance of science, science fiction, and science in the arts. Your class sounds very interesting!
    I too am green with envy, looking at the Raoul Walsh retrospective in Bologna. Most of these are films that are impossible to see. Does the festival ever sell DVD’s, or send out screeners?

    An early Walsh that is easily available on DVD is REGENERATION (1915). This is a film that every film lover should see. It has the story telling skills, emotional depth and social insight that would still grip a mass audience today. And its rich cinematic interest would fascinate advanced cinephiles. It is full of subjects and techniques that will echo throughout the rest of Walsh’s career.

    Walsh is certainly a filmmaker with an interest in technology. He especially liked sound technology, which appears in most of his films. One wouldn’t think sound tech would be a good subject for silent films. But there it is in REGENERATION, with a close-up look at a ringing bell in a police station. Later silents like WHAT PRICE GLORY? and SADIE THOMPSON feature phonograph players. Sound equipment really explodes in Walsh after the coming of sound. It persists right to Walsh’s last film A DISTANT TRUMPET, a historical which looks at the newly invented telephone.

    The Vertical environments and dizzying heights that are so important in Walsh are also present in REGENERATION, with the escape down the boat-side with ropes, the fire escape, and the dramatic shots on the clothes lines high above the city streets.

    Walsh made fantasy films: an early adaptation of PEER GYNT (1915) that I’ve never managed to see, THE THIEF OF BAGDAD, and THE HORN BLOWS AT MIDNIGHT.
    Some of his last films have dialogue that seems science fictional. The late masterpiece BAND OF ANGELS (1957), also shown in Bologna, has some dialogue about justice for blacks 100 years in future. The films is set in the 1860’s; the dialogue refers to the 1960’s, and is prophesying to the audience that the Civil Rights movement would play an important role in the 1960’s, just a few years after BAND OF ANGELS was released. It is a very odd and interesting effect.

    In A DISTANT TRUMPET Suzanne Pleshette twice uses science fiction metaphors:
    She compares the remote desert fort to a barren planet.
    She discusses the cave encounter as a moment outside of time.
    Such science fiction metaphors perhaps more reflect the 1960’s Space Age, when science fiction was hugely popular, than a Cavalry outpost of the Western era.

  • Dave, is the food in Bologna as sublime as reputation would have it? Many consider it the culinary capital of Italy…and that is really saying something since it’s, you know, Italy.

  • “For some of us here (well, for me and Joe Dante, anyway) Ackerman was just as influential as Andrew Sarris, at least until we turned twelve.”

    I held out until I was 15 though I’d already started reading “Cinema” (Beverly Hills version) in 1963 on account of a pictorial article on “The Mummy.” I also visited the first Ackermansion on South Sherborne Drive and came across Joe Dante’s by-line in his occasional “Dante’s Inferno” articles.

    Forry’s license plate read “Mr. Sci-Fi.” He was one of Los Angeles’s Three Musketeers of science-fiction along with the late Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen (who turned 92 today)when they were teenage fans in the 1930s and wrote for the fanzine “Futuria Fantasia.”

  • Uncle Rusty, there are many great restaurants in Bologna, Cesari among others, three blocks from the Piazza Maggiore (the town square). Also the market halls and the butcher shops are worth visiting. Today’s the last day and I have planned Giovanni Pastrone (PADRE), Yasujiro Ozu (TOKYO NO ONNA: an early sound movie), Raoul Walsh (THE YELLOW TICKET), Usmar Ismail (AFTER THE CURFEW: an Indonesian restoration by Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Foundation), and a late night open air Chaplin Mutual concert (EASY STREET, THE IMMIGRANT, THE RINK) with the Bologna City Orchestra playing to new scores by Timothy Brock.

  • Correction to TOKYO NO ONNA / A WOMAN OF TOKYO: it is not an early sound movie but it was included in the series because of an important sound film reference. There is a visit to the cinema where IF I HAD A MILLION is being shown, and key scenes from the Ernst Lubitsch episode are seen. It’s a Mizoguchi kind of scenario (a poor student boy is supported by his big sister with you guess what), with Kinuyo Tanaka in a leading role but already shot in Ozu style with low angle shots (and Chishu Ryu in a supporting role).

  • Noel Vera

    I can take or leave Forrest Ackerman. Doesn’t make me love the term ‘sci-fi’ (I know about the hi-fi connection) any more, or hate it any less.

  • Noel Vera

    And Mike, my class took up short stories like De Maurier and Clarke’s The Sentinel, mulling over their literary virtues and how they fit the genre (I’d say De Maurier’s is an example of end-of-the-world or apocalyptic fiction, with more than a suggestion of ecological SF in the background), then we went on to how they were adapted for the big screen. Emphasis on literary values and adaptation, but really–it’s an excuse to show some great science fiction (NOT sci-fi) films.

  • Back from Bologna, but I still need at least a weekend to recover from 5 days of treasures and sleepness nights.

    Here you have a Kehr-Jenkins panel:
    …and here a discussion about DVDs with Carlotta, Criterion and Dvdclassik editors (spoken in French and English):

  • “I can take or leave Forrest Ackerman.”

    Well, FJA through the pages of FM did alert readers to “Terror is a Man” and later “The Twilight People” and “Beyond Atlantis” by Eddie Romero. Because of a still from the former movie I sought out Gerardo de Leon’s minor masterpiece, and when I lived in Hawai’i in the late 60s and early 70s I had the chance to see many Filipino pictures that mostly dated from the 1950s and 1960s with a few then current releases playing in specialized theaters in downtown Honolulu, in those days one of the best places to see Asian cinema from every country that had a film industry.

  • Robert Garrick

    X, I went through the largest of the Ackermansions, the one on Glendower in the Hollywood Hills, back in 1995, when I was 40. I spent the entire day with FJA.

    Forrest Ackerman (who died in 2008) grew up in Los Angeles with Ray Bradbury, and was his literary agent for many years. (Ackerman represented many other science-fiction authors, including Isaac Asimov and L. Ron Hubbard.) He knew all of them well, knew Karloff and Lugosi, and spent a fair amount of time with Fritz Lang. Lang’s “Metropolis” was Ackerman’s favorite film (he saw it over 100 times) and he kept a meticulously recreated copy of the film’s robot in his house.

    The directors who are most closely associated with Ackerman are Joe Dante, John Landis, Steve Spielberg, and George Lucas, but there are many more.

    When I last saw Ackerman, in August 2001 in Baltimore, he told an astonishing story about Fritz Lang that I can’t share here.

    Ackerman had an remarkable life–one of the great lives of the twentieth century. I keep waiting for someone to write a biography.

  • Simone — you and me both! I need at least a week to recover from that unbridled orgy of filmgoing in Bologna (not to mention the cuisine, Uncle Rusty). So sorry I didn’t meet you, though I did get to meet both Antii Alanen and Miguel Marias, which was a great pleasure. The print that MOMA made of “Wild Girl” turned out to be gorgeous and the movie more than lived up to my hopes for its quality, based on the hideous dupe I’d seen. With luck, it will be shown in MOMA’s preservation festival this fall in New York and then hop on the museum circuit from then.

    Olaf Moeller’s Ivan Pyrev series was another revelation — who knew Stalinism could be so stylish? To me the most impressive title was “6 pm after the War” (1944), which marries the miraculous ending of “Seventh Heaven” to a fireworks display in celebration of Uncle Joe. Wonderful, yet often disturbing work that definitely merits some serious study (and English subtitles for the cyrillically challenged).

  • Would love to see all those Lois Weber films at Bologna.

    A starter list:
    Subjects in the films of Lois Weber:

    Social problems (religious allegory, rich don’t want minister to preach truth: Hypocrites, pro birth control, pro eugenics, anti-abortion: Where Are My Children?, poor pay of professors, ministers: The Blot)
    Ministers (Hypocrites, The Blot)
    Two contrasting couples (Too Wise Wives, husband and wife, sister and her husband: Where Are My Children?, families next door: The Blot)
    Wives with secrets (abortion: Where Are My Children?, attempted theft: The Blot)
    Envy of next door neighbors (children: Where Are My Children?, food, prosperity: The Blot)
    Families with sick daughters at home (Home hypocrisy sequence: Hypocrites, grown heroine and parents: The Blot)
    Seductive upper class young men (wife’s brother as seducer of servant’s daughter: Where Are My Children?, rich student and professor’s daughter: The Blot)


    Art, usually portraits of figures (allegorical painting of Truth: Hypocrites, minister, wealthy young man as artists sketching people: The Blot)
    Historical costumes (tableaux of people in medieval costume: Hypocrites, book on ancient costumes: The Blot)
    Rude audience members who read newspapers (in church: Hypocrites, in college class: The Blot)
    Gates, often allegorical (gates of truth: Hypocrites, gates of eternity for birth of children: Where Are My Children?)
    Books (books on Sex and Indulgence: Hypocrites, Birth Control manual, wife’s unread book, account book thrown: Where Are My Children?, library book, historical book on costumes, sketch pads: The Blot)
    Poets quoted (Browning, Milton: Hypocrites, Milton: The Blot)
    Food and social class (candy and rich women: Where Are My Children?, hunger in the USA, food of rich, middle class and poor people: The Blot)
    Frivolous parties at long tables (monks feasting: Hypocrites, country club: The Blot)
    Automobiles as morally dubious symbols of wealth (rich woman arrives at porch party by car: Where Are My Children?, shoemaker’s family buys new car: The Blot)

    Story Structure:

    Opening lectures (sermon in church: Hypocrites, college lecture: The Blot)
    Vignettes (Truth exposes social institutions with her mirror: Hypocrites, doctor testifies in court: Where Are My Children?)


    Trick shots (split screen: Suspense, time lapse shots, dissolves between different costumes, transparent appearance of Truth: Hypocrites, spirit of coming child, phantom children at end: Where Are My Children?, dissolve between sketch and woman, title cards with live action: The Blot)
    Camera movements that combine the vertical and horizontal (medieval tableaux: Hypocrites)
    Shots in small mirrors (Suspense, Truth’s mirror: Hypocrites)

  • Blake Lucas

    I’ve never seen WILD GIRL at all, not even a bad dupe let along the beautiful restoration Dave speaks of. It would be an answer to a prayer for me. Hope it makes it to L.A. somehow.

  • “Ackerman had an remarkable life–one of the great lives of the twentieth century. I keep waiting for someone to write a biography.”

    Robert, there’s already a biography, “Forry: The Life of Forrest J Ackerman” by Deborah Painter.

    4-E was the world’s first professional fan, and in addition to all the filmmakers already mentioned as friends and associates, he was also friends with Kenneth Anger (“Famous Monsters of Filmland” printed stills from “Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome” more than once,) Curtis Harrington, Anton LaVey and L. Ron Hubbard.

    The bother with Painter’s biography is that it doesn’t go into Ackerman’s social libertarianism; he had gay friends, doper friends, hipster and beatnik friends and was a swinger in the 1950s. Not to mention his connection to 1950s and 60s underground Los Angeles. So the definitive biography waits to be written.

  • Marilyn Moss

    Blake…I see that you live in LA as I do. I hope Dave won’t mind if I share my email address here:…It might be fun if some of us LA film folk got together now and then….If anyone would like to, then contact me. Sorry to say I have only a bad copy of WILD GIRL!

  • Robert Garrick

    X, I have the Painter book (and I suspect you do as well). I think we would agree that it’s an OK survey of Ackerman’s life, written by a fan. It’s fairly riddled with errors and it doesn’t break new ground. And of course it’s overpriced, c/o McFarland Press. But it’s something.

    What I would like to see is something major–like Gary Giddins’s book on Bing Crosby, or Nick Tosches’s book on Dean Martin. Ackerman is as important as Crosby or Martin. There were some bizarre chapters in his life–you hinted at some of them–and the right author would be required to handle them correctly.

  • Barry Putterman

    Indeed, anybody who has heard Ackerman’s rendition of “Star Dust” knows he was easily the equal to Crosby or Martin. He was also funnier than Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis put together.

  • jbryant

    In June of 2000, I attended a 40th anniversary tribute to George Pal’s THE TIME MACHINE at L.A.’s Orpheum theater. Forrest J. Ackerman was on a panel with Alan Young and a producer of the TIME MACHINE remake, conducted by STAR TREK VOYAGER’s Jeri Ryan. I recall Ackerman making a joke with a punchline that was a play on “Gladiator”/”Glad he ate her” (maybe a variation on that joke from THE DEER HUNTER?). I was not exactly put in mind of Bob Hope or Jerry Lewis. 🙂

    I scored only a few issues of FAMOUS MONSTERS in my youth, but I treasured them. He certainly sounds like a fascinating guy. If no definitive biography is forthcoming, maybe a documentary?

  • patrick henry

    I saw WILD GIRL about 10 or 12 yrs ago. My most vivid recollection is of Joan Bennett in the great outdoors changing her clothes and she was actually topless (photographed from the back). The things that even the most ladylike actresses could do in them days!

  • D. K. Holm

    By the way, I received a copy of Film Noir: The Directors edited by Silver and Ursini, and it is like reading a whole bunch of Dave Kehr Film Comment columns on unheralded directors. Among the 28 helmers whose noir work is considered are John Brahm, Felix Feist, Gerd Oswald, Lupino, John Farrow, after which there are the more obvious candidates, such as Siodmak et al. Mr. Tony Williams contributes an excellent essay tracking the noir inflections of Robert Aldrich’s officially non-noir films, and he also cites Mike Grost in the course of his discourse. The anthology recently came out from Limelight Editions.

  • Alex

    Silver and Ward’s “Film Noir” is a great film book and I can hardly wait to read Silver and Ursini’s “Film Noir: the Directors.”

  • Alex

    Rony Williams,

    Guess you’ve heard of the re-edited 2011 “Some Came Running: The Definitive Edition” from Open Road E-originals? I just found out and can’t wait to have more than the Signet abridgement for myself.