New DVDs: Minnelli and Logan

gigi-lc

Joshua Logan’s 1958 film of “South Pacific” still stinks, but now it stinks on a much higher level, thanks to a spectacular new Blu-ray release transferred from restored 65-millimeter Todd AO material. And HD also greatly benefits Vincente Minnelli’s “An American in Paris” (1952) and “Gigi” (1958), if only because Minnelli’s trademark red — a notoriously unstable tone in old fashioned NTSC — now stays neatly within its borders. Reviews of all three in Sunday’s New York Times.

115 comments to New DVDs: Minnelli and Logan

  • I agree with Randy Byers about science fiction sub-genres. And further think that mystery and sf people use the concept of “sub-genres” in the same way.
    In a previous post cited the used of the word “genre” in 1913 in the mystery field, in Carolyn Wells’ how-to book.

    From 1943-1969, the American mystery publisher The Crime Club used what they called Crime Club Bullseyes. These were icons, right on the spine of the book, that indicated which sub-genre of crime fiction the book belonged to. A grinning skull logo was humorous mysteries (always a distinct sub-category); a black owl for character-centered mysteries; a man with a cigarette and a soft hat for hard-boiled private eyes, and so on. The sub-genre was built right into the marketing of the book.

    Both prose mystery fiction and science fiction have put a great deal of thought into matters of plot, genre and other topics. They have generated a huge literature, going back into the 19th Century, analyzing such topics. All of this can help Film Studies.

  • Now I’m beginning to understand: “the tendency in Europe in the late 60s and early 70s to create small sub genres in low budget exploitation movies”. I get it!

  • alex hicks

    Mike Grost, isn’t Scatz’s “Film Genre and Genre Film” a Film studies classic in a central Film Studies subfield called “genre”?

    Yes, “Spaghetti Western,” and the like; but if ’60s commercial labelling trumped Structuralism as linquistic influence in ’60s France, my sense of French auteurs et escrivains is forever deflated.

  • dm494

    That is a great interview with Rafelson, Brad. And it’s shocking that he’s shot all his films in 1.66.

  • Alex,
    You’re right. There is a huge outpouring of Film Studies academic literature on genre.
    My point was only that parallel work was done in mystery and science fiction – and much of it was quite ancient. Jean-Pierre asked for evidence of pre-1960′s thought about genre in the English speaking world. And you can find this in spades in the mystery field.

  • Nelson

    Junko, I’d recommend Thomas Schatz’s book HOLLYWOOD GENRES. It hasn’t been revised since it was first published in 1981, so some of its historical data and theoretical propositions are somewhat out of date, but it provides a pretty good starting point for the study of genres during the classical studio era.

    And I second the recommendations for FILM GENRE READER, which was updated just a few years ago. The essays vary in quality and insight, but it’s full of interesting pieces.

  • Barry Putterman

    Yes Johan. THEY CALL HER ONE EYE was released in the U.S. (in some form) by American International and Tarantino made Daryl Hannah watch it repeatedly in preparation for her role. Once again proving that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

    In many ways the James Bond movies served to internationalize the action movie and probably spawned a number of sub genres.

  • Junko Yasutani

    James, I will read those books. Thank you to recommend them to me.

    ‘one of the most profound piece of writing I ever read on he notion of genre’s is Raymond Durgnat’s “The family tree of film noir”. It tries to define sthe idea of genre, and depicts it as a mixture of tradition, technique, and style.’

    Exactly I want to read this kind of study. This is good recomendation for me Nicolas.

    I will read HOLLYWOOD GENRES also Nelson. I hope to learn much about these genres in Hollywood movie, but I would like to know more about European genre too.

    To me genres is over categorized by Japanese critics with too many sub-genre that is not distinct from each other. But some Western critics have made their own category for Japanese movie. Example, Samurai movie. If it is action movie with sword fight, then it is Chanbara movie, but without action it is period movie even about samurai life. SHIN HEIKE MONOGATARI is about samurai clan, it is not chanbara movie and not called samurai movie, just period movie (in Japanese jidai geki.)

  • One of the most informative pieces in FILM GENRE READER is Tag Gallagher’s on early Westerns. They were produced in vast quantities: Gallagher has a figure of 5000 before World War II.

    Gallagher describes a system of Western sub-genres used by reviewers in the 1910′s. According to G, reviewers regularly classified silent Westerns in the 1910′s into standard sub-genres like “comedy Westerns”, “Indian Westerns”, “Civil War Westerns”, and so on. The system sounds for all the world like the sub-genre classifications used by prose mystery critics and publishers in the 1930′s to the present. In both cases, we have a cladistic/taxonomic system used by intelligent, knowledgeable “practical critics”.

    Gallagher suggests that the heavy reviewing of films in the 1910′s contributed to self-consciousness and self-analysis in the US film industry. All of these early Westerns were synopsized and reviewed in trade publications.
    Similarly, mystery writer-reviewers like Carolyn Wells in the 1910′s and Anthony Boucher in the 1940′s had a staggering knowledge of the real history of prose mystery fiction.

    Of course, none of these film or mystery writers used concepts later favored by academic critics in the 1970′s. You apparently won’t find Levi-Strauss’ theories of myth and ritual, or Marxist ideas of the Frankfurt School. IMHO this is all for the best!

  • On a possible European genre:
    Critics of prose spy fiction often describe it as a genre centered in Great Britain. Michael Cox, in his introduction to the “Oxford Book of Spy Stories” (1996), flatly calls it a British genre. Of course, people in other countries wrote spy stories, too. But one can argue that the most influential spy creators are British. And that the British wrote far more spy stories than any other nationality.

    In my web-book on Fritz Lang, I argue that SPIONE (1928) follows paradigms laid out twenty years earlier by the British spy writer William Le Queux.

    During the 1930′s and 1940′s, much of the best “spy and international intrigue” genre film making was done by the British: Alfred Hitchcock, Powell & Pressburger, Carol Reed. Even a Korda work like THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL falls into this category.

    We often think of Hitchcock as working in a genre called “suspense”. But many of Hitchcock’s films also fall into a “spy and international intrigue” genre.

    Since 1960, the James Bond films have been the most successful works of the British film industry. And the novelist & TV screenwriter Anthony Horowitz is a highly successful modern day incarnation of British spy traditions. Horowitz’ TV work is widely discussed in mystery fan circles – but cinephiles are not paying much attention to it.

  • The “heritage film” is another British film and TV genre.

  • Surely one of the sturdiest European genres is the peplum, as established by Pastrone’s “Cabiria” (and no doubt preceeded by many one and two reelers), sustained by the Masciste sequels through the 20s, reshaped by the Fascists in the 30s (Blasetti’s astounding “La corona di ferro”), reclaimed for democracy in the late 40s (Blasetti’s no less astounding “Fabiola”), and brought to midcentury self-consciousness by Cottafavi (“La rivolta dei gladiatori,” 1958) and Freda (“Maciste all’infenro,” 1962). It’s a genre that overlaps interestingly with the western, most obviously in the work of Sergio Leone.

    Mike, are you aware of the British “Sexton Blake” films of the 40s? One in particular, “The Echo Murders,” seems like it may have been a source for Ian Fleming, with its Bondish hero (David Farrar, a rough-draft Sean Connery) uncovering a Nazi spy organization complete with a hidden underground headquarters (lacking, unfortunately, the Ken Adam touch). And of course there was another famous spy series that anticipated Bond, the Lemmy Caution films with Eddie Constantine.

    Another interesting source for genre studies are the many “cookbooks” written for aspiring “photoplay” writers in the early teens, which offer close classifications of plot types and characters. Several public domain examples have been scanned and are online at Google Book Search; run a search for “photoplay” and you’ll get half a dozen of them.

  • Two other British sub-genres of crime fiction: the Rogue hero, and the “team of colorful good guys”.

    Rogues started out as those gentleman thieves who stole gems from the wealthy, and eschewed violence: think of Raffles, The Toff, the Saint and many others. Many of these eventually turn into detectives. There are French versions (Arsene Lupin), but this is a British-centered genre. Roger Moore had a huge British TV success as The Saint.

    Edgar Wallace created “The Four Just Men” (1905), international adventurers and left-wing crusaders, who run around righting wrongs. These guys are as colorful and as eccentric as all get-out. Others like Mark Cross and his “The Adjusters” series followed. Once again, the 1960′s TV series “The Avengers” was a huge smash in this mode. Mrs. Peel, we’re wanted!

    Sexton Blake is a whole world. I’ve never seen a Sexton Blake film. These sound fascinating. The anthologist Michael Cox has a nice story by the creator of Sexton Blake, one Harry Blyth, in Cox’s “Victorian Tales of Mystery and Detection”. It’s great fun.

    My father loved peplum films. My mother would pop a big tub of popcorn, and we’d all go off to the drive-in, to see the latest Italian epic. My Dad always called these “cast of thousands movies”. “The Last Days of Pompeii” was a favorite.

    Carolyn Wells book was one of a series of 1910′s how-to manuals. It too is available free on-line. So is her best mystery novel “Raspberry Jam”.

  • AndrewL

    “The Monkees songs were mostly the lead singer backed by session musicians with no other Monkees on the tracks. They all sang, but only Nesmith and Tork were actual musicians. I think the sessions were produced by Chip Douglas moreso than Kirshner.”

    Just to clarify the Monkees band / non-band situation:

    At the start of their career they were indeed actors singing to tracks largely written and performed by others, but after a lawsuit (against Kirshner) won the right to record as a ‘real band’, and did so from their third, and maybe best, album, Headquarters. The threat was “autonomy or we walk”, and with a hit TV show and recording career at risk, the stars proved more valuable than the Svengali. No session musicians were used on the album, and there were plenty of band-written numbers.

    After that, although the members tended to drift off into their own recording sessions (like the latter day Beatles), they retained control over the music and, generally, their career. The ‘corporate puppet’ phase of the band barely lasted a year. After that they were just another drug-fuelled late-60s pop band. Which is how Head (which gleefully lampoons their ‘plastic’ image and uncritical fandom) came about. That film could never had been made had Kirshner still been in control.

    It’s a tremendously inventive but exhausting film that only succeeds about 40% of the time. Some really great music, though, from Nesmith and Tork (‘Circle Sky’. ‘Can You Dig It?’) as well as old buddies Harry Nilsson (‘Daddy’s Song’) and Carole King (the superb ‘Porpoise Song’).

  • “Porpoise Song” is one of the Monkees’ highlights.
    To get back to the last great MGM musical, I’d vote for Pennies From Heaven. Not as great as the TV series, granted, but seriously downbeat and artistically successful in a way New York, New York isn’t.