The Director’s Cut: Past, Present & Future

Johnny Depp in ED WOOD (1994). “I’m Directing!”

So. Chances are you’re here, reading these words, because you have some sort of affinity for classic films. Black, white, color, VistaVision, CinemaScope, 35mm, 70mm, cinerama and even smell-o-vision. And as a fan of celluloid cinema (something facing extinction with the onslaught of the now commonplace DCP and the possibly soon-to-be commonplace 48 FPS) you are probably familiar with the work of director Chuck Workman. Even if you don’t know his name. In 1986, Workman created a short film entitled Precious Images, commissioned to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Director’s Guild of America. The film won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short in 1987, where it was screened during the Oscar ceremony. Classic film-lovers, however, possibly know it better for its second incarnation: 100 Years at the Movies.

This re-imagining of Workman’s original film was produced by Turner Classic Movies in 1994 and has been embraced, emphatically, by movie fans worldwide. The split-second splices of cinema’s greatest moments flicker, like flickers, and burn into our consciousness, like the celluloid matter they were magicked from. 100 years of history in eight minutes… it’s a film fan’s feast.

What few people are aware of is the fact that last year, in honor of the Directors Guild of America’s 75th Anniversary, Workman was commissioned to produce another short film in the vein of Precious Images. The result is called Directors Cut, and encompasses not only film, but television as well. And while it may not be as emotional and nostalgic as the TCM production 100 Years at the Movies, I highly recommend giving it a look.

I daresay you’ll end up looking twice:

Chuck Workman’s Director’s Cut

The Director's Cut: Past, Present & Future

Johnny Depp in ED WOOD (1994). “I’m Directing!”

So. Chances are you’re here, reading these words, because you have some sort of affinity for classic films. Black, white, color, VistaVision, CinemaScope, 35mm, 70mm, cinerama and even smell-o-vision. And as a fan of celluloid cinema (something facing extinction with the onslaught of the now commonplace DCP and the possibly soon-to-be commonplace 48 FPS) you are probably familiar with the work of director Chuck Workman. Even if you don’t know his name. In 1986, Workman created a short film entitled Precious Images, commissioned to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Director’s Guild of America. The film won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short in 1987, where it was screened during the Oscar ceremony. Classic film-lovers, however, possibly know it better for its second incarnation: 100 Years at the Movies.

This re-imagining of Workman’s original film was produced by Turner Classic Movies in 1994 and has been embraced, emphatically, by movie fans worldwide. The split-second splices of cinema’s greatest moments flicker, like flickers, and burn into our consciousness, like the celluloid matter they were magicked from. 100 years of history in eight minutes… it’s a film fan’s feast.

What few people are aware of is the fact that last year, in honor of the Directors Guild of America’s 75th Anniversary, Workman was commissioned to produce another short film in the vein of Precious Images. The result is called Directors Cut, and encompasses not only film, but television as well. And while it may not be as emotional and nostalgic as the TCM production 100 Years at the Movies, I highly recommend giving it a look.

I daresay you’ll end up looking twice:

Chuck Workman’s Director’s Cut

Welcome Back, Bob!

Robert Osborne: classic film champion since 1994.

Dear Turner Classic Movie Fans Everywhere:

As all of you are very well aware, this week marks the return of the one, the only, wonderful Mr. Robert Osborne who, after a five-month hiatus, resumes his primetime hosting duties on the TCM stage this week, December 1st.

Welcome Back Bob” is a week-long celebration brought to you by the online constituency of the classic film community. The Kitty Packard Pictorial and classic film blogger Will McKinley are sponsoring this humble little tribute, but the voices that truly matter are YOURS: everyone who makes up our vital, virtual community of classic film fanatics. We are, I think it’s safe to say, a close knit, affectionate community of film lovers and, with Bob Osborne being a patron saint of classic film, it is only fitting to rally together this week to share what it is we love about our dear Robert O— and classic film itself— and why it is such a unifying force.

Here’s how it works:

Hop on over to the Welcome Back Bob Tumblr page this week and voice up in any way you like: share memories, a video, a photo, a “Welcome Back Bob” graphic, a blog post, or even just a li’l old tweet– the sky’s the limit! If you post something on your blog or tumblr, tweet @MissCarley and we’ll repost it. And if/when you do tweet, make sure to tag it with #WelcomeBackBob so we can find it and share it!

Sound and Vision: Charlie Chaplin and the Sound of Silence

First things first: this post is in conjunction with the Park Circus Charlie Chaplin Blogathon … for which I am shamefully late. The blogathon wrapped two days ago, but I absolutely HAD to contribute. Park Circus does amazing work: a UK-based organization dedicated to bringing classic films back to their home on the big screen. Not being a part of their Chaplin blogathon would be unforgivable!

So. That being said…

I thought it would be fun to explore Chaplin’s fascinating love/hate relationship with a little thing called … sound. Chaplin may have been the one filmmaker to hold out the longest against sound, but he also happened to be one of the earliest filmmakers to embrace it. A fitting contradiction given Chaplin was a man of so many contradictions.

The truth is, Chaplin could neither read nor write music. He had no formal musical training of any sort and taught himself to play the violin and cello entirely by ear. What Chaplin did have was a childhood deeply rooted in late Victorian English music hall culture. Music, whatever its form, was therefore an integral part of Chaplin’s Dickensian childhood. So many of his boyhood memories were wrapped in the soft comfort of sheet music– melodies brainwashed into him by his mother Hannah, herself a semi-successful music hall performer before her slide into mental deterioration.

“It’s beauty was a sweet mystery I did not understand,” Chaplin said, waxing poetic about those early music hall days. “I only knew I loved it and I became reverent as the sounds carried themselves through my brain via my heart.”

This sort of reverent attachment is essential to assessing Chaplin’s musical endeavors. Music was (pardon the pun) instrumental to Chaplin’s growth as an artist.  How could it not? Charlie fell in love for the first time there in the damp, dirty, overcrowded backstage of the London music hall (Hetty, a beautiful young dancer who would become, in Chaplin’s later memoir, an almost Arthurian figure) and Chaplin’s own poetic (if not somewhat inflated) prose he would pen for journals at the height of his fame romanticized those early years:

Lambeth, the land of concertina music! As I walk along the darkened streets, I hum to myself some of the old familiar tunes again:

“Why did I leave my little back room in Bloomsbury, Where I could live on a pound a week in luxury…” 

These old songs have their associations and a flood of memories surges through my mind. The streets are deserted and there is a slight mist. The houses are just visible in outline. Here in these humble quarters I walk along as though I were visiting some fairyland…. How often I have heard this waltz, refrain on a Saturday night played on concertinas by Cockney lads as they strolled by the house, the music gradually diminishing in the distance, dying off into the night. –Excerpt from A Comedian Sees The World, The Ladies Home Companion 1933.

When Sidney Chaplin successfully recruited his young half-brother to join powerful impresario Fred Karno’s music hall troupe (“Karno’s Army”) it was the music that became integral to the famous Karno pantomime.

From a 1952 BBC Interview:

“The [Karno sketches] had splendid music. For instance, if they had squalor surroundings with a lot of comedy tramps working in it, they ou see, they would have very beautiful boudoir music, something of the eighteenth century, very lush and very grandioso, just purely as satirical and as a counterpoint; and I copied a great deal from Mr. Fred Karno in that direction.”

Chaplin in THE VAGABOND

His nearly intoxicating love of music led him to, at age 16 while still under Karno’s contract, learn the cello and violin. A defiant perfectionist, Chaplin would will himself to possess an adroit fluency with the strings that came with age– but at the onset, Chaplin’s natural comedic dexterity far outweighed any musical aspirations.

Chaplin may have left Karno for Keystone and Hollywood in 1914, but music would stay the rest of his life. A fact that would serve him grandly in the face of the silent comic’s greatest adversary: the talkies.

Now, Chaplin was by no means a musical prodigy (remember, he could neither read nor write music) and there are some critics to this day maintain he was never truly a bona-fide composer. I understand their arguments and court them, but resolutely disagree. It is true that Chaplin’s first works were far from polished, and his first scores not original compositions. They were, instead, dreamy gossamer re-imaginings of his favorite pieces. A patchwork quilt, if you will, of music hall memories.

In 1916, while newly contracted with The Mutual Film Company (anyone who thinks that the Mutuals aren’t his best shorts needs their head examined… or a Valium) Chaplin set up a music publishing shop in downtown Los Angeles called (ever so creatively) The Charlie Chaplin Music Publishing Company.

The sheet music for Chaplin’s “Oh! That Cello,” “The Peace Patrol” and “There’s Always One You Can’t Forget” would sell only a handful of copies. Downtown Los Angeles in 1916 was, simply, not Tin Pan Alley in 1916. Even a sky-rocketing name like Chaplin’s couldn’t attract interest. Not surprisingly, the company folded not long after.

Typed correspondence from the Charlie Chaplin Publishing Company that, prophetically, has nothing to do with music. The company lasted only a few months.

Sheet Music for "The Peace Patrol"

Also not surprisingly: Chaplin did not give up.

From the beginning, Chaplin acknowledged the symbiotic relationship between music in film. Others did as well– D.W. Griffith composed original music for some of his films and commissioned a score for Broken Blossoms— but none came remotely close to equaling Chaplin’s passion for telling stories shadow, light and music.

Chaplin allayed himself with well-established composers with whom he could collaborate.  Eric James and David Raskin are perhaps the most famous, helping Chaplin create the unforgettable scores to the likes of Modern Times and Limelight. But Chaplin’s first such collaboration was with musician Frederick Stahlberg in 1923 for the daring directorial departure, A Woman of Paris. The film was his first venture as a truly independent filmmaker, under the creative protection of United Artists (of which he was a founding member) as well as his first dabbling in serious drama. Chaplin was already a director supreme, an auteur decades before that word had any real relevance, and his confidence was such that he made a decision that mystified everyone: A Woman of Paris would be a film by Charlie Chaplin without Charlie Chaplin. Hardly surprising, the public did not respond. After all, the public reasoned, “Who wants to see a Charlie Chaplin film without Charlie Chaplin?”

It flopped.

But the very few fortunate enough to have actually seen the film during its first run, would have also, in addition to witnessing the birth of a first-rate director, witnessed the birth of a pioneering film composer. This fact has more than its fair share of critics, but regardless of Chaplin’s musical merits the fact of the matter is inarguable: he was absolutely one of the first filmmakers to be just as passionate about the music of his films than any other creative aspect of the process. Something all the more remarkable given the fact that Chaplin’s enthusiasm for film scoring came about at a time when there was really no such thing as a film score.

Always drawn to musicians (his illustrious roster of acquaintances would come to include such 20th Century maestros as Igor Stravinsky) in 1925 Chaplin took a brief respite from filming The Gold Rush to team up with the highly popular Los Angeles-based bandleaders Abe Lyman and Gus Arnheim.  By way of perspective, during the gloriously delirious heyday of 1920s Hollywood, The Ambassador Hotel’s Coconut Grove was THE in-spot and Abe Lyman’s California Orchestra were the Ambassador Hotel’s big attraction. (Gus Arnheim was the pianist soon to make a major name in his own right.)  Arnheim’s jaunty, jazz-age tunes sizzled nationwide over the KNX radio waves their 78 recordings (still very much in existence) are high examples of hot ‘20s West Coast jazz.

From this partnership came a composition that was, really for the first time, consummate Chaplin: “With You Dear, In Bombay.” While the original Brunswick 78 is tinny, the energy of the piece still comes through and marvelous re-recordings of this and other Chaplin compositions are available on the excellent album Oh! That Cello.

Charlie with Gus Arnheim (at the piano) and Abe Lyman.

Chaplin’s guest conducting Lyman’s orchestra was noted in Music Trade Review, July 1925:

 Film Comedian an Able Left-Handed Violinist and Recently Conducted Orchestra in Making of Brunswick Record.

Few of the admirers of Charlie Chaplin, the well-known film comedian, know that he is a composer or that he is much of a musician. As a matter of fact, however, he is quite accomplished in this direction. He studied the violin in his youth and is one of the few left-handed bow-players the world has known. He is also a conductor as was demonstrated by his ability in directing Abe Lyman’s Cocoanut Grove Orchestra when they recently made the recording of his new song “With You, Dear, In Bombay.” This record was made for the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company. Chaplin not only wielded the baton on this occasion but himself played the violin solo part of the recording. It is said that the Brunswick Co. has inaugurated a special publicity department and will feature this Chaplin recording. “With You, Dear, In Bombay” is published by M. Witmark & Sons. Chaplin wrote both the words and music. It is a lively fox-trot with an appealing swing and very tuneful melody. The Witmark Co. will exploit the number on a wide scale.

Chaplin (far left) on the violin while Sid Grauman sits at the piano, Mary Pickford sings and Douglas Fairbanks plays the bass.

That same year, Chaplin released one of the masterpieces of silent cinema– and indeed, cinema itself– The Gold Rush. Still years before the advent of talkies, Chaplin went to extraordinary lengths to protect the musical fidelity of his vision by composing a score to accompany the film, the sheet music of which was provided to theatres. Of course, Main Street Hollywood was light years from Main Street Anywhere, U.S.A., and Chaplin’s musical accompaniments were very often lost in the process. A fact which, to say the least, annoyed Chaplin The Perfectionist. (I could rightfully use the term ‘control freak’ but that would be terribly disrespectful: it was Chaplin’s obsessive behavior that made his films as perfect as they are.)

Someone who dedicated himself to recovering these lost, and highly important pieces of film history, was silent film composer Timothy Brock. Brock restored a number of Chaplin’s original scores and was instrumental in their public re-introduction in (cough) modern times.

There is a tendency to believe that Chaplin’s collaborations with his musical advisors merely consisted of Chaplin humming a tune while his associate took down the dictations. Chaplin himself made the remark, and it is actually a case of Chaplin giving himself too little credit. Brock described the process this way:

“Chaplin’s composing methods, as we all know perhaps by now, involved a “musical associate” who would transcribe what Chaplin composed, either on the piano or the violin. From there, Chaplin, sitting beside [City Lights musical advisor] Johnston on the piano would orchestrate each passage as he had heard it in his mind. The unfortunate quote that I and my colleagues have to contend with, that Chaplin simply “la-la-ed” his music to the arranger, was not only a self-deprecating remark but wholly inaccurate. He was as meticulous with his musical output as he was with his directorial results. In the original manuscripts there are pages and pages of rejected music that he deemed unworthy in the final cuts. It is clear by looking at these documents that Chaplin not only knew what was involved in composing just the perfect music for the scenes, but had the objectivity to discard what any normal director would probably have used. Therefore, there is not a note out of place in the entire score.”

Serenading Jackie Coogan on the set of THE KID

The production of Chaplin’s silent masterpiece, City Lights, was plagued by a state of neurotic paranoia. With so much at stake, Chaplin drove himself to the absolute limit on the picture– not to mention those he worked with– and while the result is pure cinematic perfection, the result is also nearly perfect film score.

Hollywood’s first synchronized film soundtrack was Warner Bros’ 1926 John Barrymore starrer Don Juan, and of course with the advent of the talkies, music had taken on profound importance. But Chaplin, already a seasoned pro in this particular area of production, perhaps understood music and its relationship to narrative structure more than anyone else working at that pivotal silent/sound crossover. Although refusing to talk, Chaplin embraced this new technology with radiant enthusiasm as it finally allowed him to exercise complete control over musical accompaniment.  Relying on that patchwork quilt method of his, the City Lights score is seamless.

“His scores, within the boundaries that he set himself, are perfect,” remarked legendary silent film composer Carl Davis. “I would not change a note of them.”

“I use music as a counterpoint,” explained Chaplin. “ I learned that from the Fred Karno Company. For instance if they had squalid surroundings with a lot of comedy tramps working in it, they would have very beautiful, boudoir music, something of the 18th century, very lush and grandiose, and it would be satirical, a counterpoint.”

This style is highly evident in the original score for The Gold Rush and, of course, City Lights, (Jose Padilla’s “La Violetera” pitch perfect poignancy as the poor flower girl’s theme song) but also in his 1936 final silent feature Modern Times. (Flawed as it is, I love the ballsy, bad-ass nature of Modern Times: Chaplin effectively extending a prominently raised middle finger to anyone and everyone telling him what not to do and why not to do it.)

What would later become one of the 20th century’s most beloved standards, the sweet melancholy of “Smile” swirls in and out of Modern Times, framing moments of destitution and despair with sublime loveliness.

“Sometimes a musician would get pompous with me,” said Chaplin, “and I would cut him short: ‘Whatever the melody is, the rest is just a vamp.’ After putting music to one or two pictures I began to look at a conductor’s score with a professional eye and to know whether a composition was over-orchestrated or not. If I saw a lot of notes in the brass and woodwind section I would say: ‘That’s too black in the brass,’ or ‘too busy in the woodwinds’.”

Carl Davis, very accurately, made this observation: “His assistants had a terrible time. It must have been torture. He was very, very moody.”

This, I’m sure, surprises no one.

But the simple fact remains: Charlie’s only competitive Oscar win was not for acting nor for directing (crimes, both) but for Best Original Score: the 1952 beauty Limelight.

Keaton and Chaplin on the set of LIMELIGHT

As Chaplin grew on in years, especially while living Swiss exile, so did his obsession with perfecting the sound of his silents. Chaplin’s final musical associate, Eric James, worked closely with Chaplin during his ailing years in the 1970s and, therefore, took on a much larger creative role than his predecessors.

In 1975, at the age of 86 (two years before his death) Chaplin and James worked on recording the score for A Woman of Paris. “As the years went by, Charlie found it more and more difficult to think of ideas for the music and left a great deal of it to me. … When I arrived to work with Charlie on A Woman of Paris, he looked quite weak and ill. I was very distressed to find him in such a state and I could see that he found even talking quite an effort. I therefore told him not to worry but that when I had finished each piece and played it over to him, he need only shake his head…”

In these later scores, Chaplin revisits the music hall memories of his youth, and grand music hall-esque string arrangements dominate the scores for Pay Day, The Kid, The Circus. It is, I think, fair to say that all of the Chaplin/James arrangements are Chaplin’s autumnal swan songs to that childhood that was so very much a part of his lifelong love affair with music.

Recommended listening:

Oh! That Cello (Beautiful arrangements of Chaplin’s early sheet music.)

Charlie Chaplin: The Original Music From His Movies (A marvelous, comprehensive collection of Chaplin’s film compositions.)

The Film Music of Charles Chaplin by Carl Davis. (This is out of print, but worth the digging. Got mine 8 years ago from a Russian e-bay seller and still cherish it.)

The Color of New: Hollywood in the 1960s

(brief forward: this post is meant to be simply a study of the history of color film from 1939 – 1969.  It is not intended to exclude or demean the importance of any color or black and white films not mentioned herein… and it is CERTAINLY not meant to imply the superiority of one process over the other.)

Film color is not real. We accept it because we have to and because we’re used to it. The sky is not the blue that you see on film. And the green grass is not the green you see on film. I remember once in London stumbling across Michelangelo Antonioni shooting Blow-Up with Carlo Di Palma and they were painting the grass green. And I said to Antonioni, ‘Did you not like the color?’ He said, ‘No, I just want it to look like real green.” — Sidney Lumet, 2007.

I think it fairly safe to make the argument that the idea of a film like Citizen Kane being shot in color is just as outrageous as the idea of Oz being shot in black and white. The reasons being obvious: one would take away the reality of the film, while the other would take away the fantasy.

However, let’s move forward a few decades and kick around the idea of a film like Arthur Penn’s 1967 classic Bonnie and Clyde being shot in black and white.  Now, that’s a devastating thought given Burnett Guffey’s lyrical cinematography that has become so much a part of what makes that film great… however, I do not believe that it being shot in black and white would necessarily have detracted from the gritty realism of the film. (Especially had it been in the hands of someone like James Wong Howe…) The reason being, by the late 1960s color film processing had made remarkably sophisticated advancements in technology. Perhaps more than any other film of that era, Bonne and Clyde demonstrates how deeply affecting the realistic rendering of color stock photography had become. A formidable challenge to what had, previously, been commonly accepted as realistic: black and white film.

Faye Dunaway as Bonnie in Arthur Penn's groundbreaking BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967)

When Bonnie and Clyde are ambushed by the feds in that final, shocking scene, the gratuitous blood was startlingly real to audiences who, up to then, had always known perfectly well that it was really just ketchup.  Those images were as vivid as any page in the National Geographic, and it is quite fitting indeed that this revelation coincided with the revolution of the “New Holywood” era of filmmaking. The Hollywood studio system was dying and filmmakers were tackling subjects heretofore taboo– and they were doing it in color.

This moment had been subjugated for the better part of twenty years. Rewind, if you will, back to the late 1930s when three-strip Technicolor finally blossomed into its own, and you will find that the obvious argument for this black and white vs color vs reality vs fantasy lies in that powerful year of 1939, with Technicolor’s crowning achievements: The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind.

These two films, definitely among the most analyzed in film history, remain a curious anomaly to me. It may sound hyperbolic for me to say that Gone with the Wind, while a three strip Technicolor dream of a film, at the same time would be the last truly realistic color film to come from Hollywood until Technicolor’s dye-transfer process began its fatal fade in the late 1950s.

(I said Technicolor, mind you, so let’s keep CinemaScope out of this. A million posts could, and probably should, spring from this. My argument for this is, obviously, quite up for debate and, hardly being an expert on this history  of color processes I would love feedback!)

The reason for Gone with the Wind’s realism is simple. Under David O. Selznick’s lead, cinematographer Ernest Haller employed lighting techniques used in black and white film: “Selznick also uses shadows to emphasize moments that focus on the relationship between characters in Gone with the Wind, first seen in the form of the looming shadows Scarlett and Melanie cast on the walls of the makeshift hospital. Later, the delivery of Melanie’s baby is lit only with slivers of light that appear between the window slats, the darkness making the scene more intimate and giving it a powerful simplicity.” (SparkNotesEditors)

The split screen below might better illustrate. Remember, both films were produced using the exact same Technicolor technology.

Technicolor's crowning achievements of 1939: THE WIZARD OF OZ and GONE WITH THE WIND.

In the Dorothy shot you can easily see this is very much a 35mm film with its shallow focus– while Dorothy appears beautifully fresh and crisp, the background is reduced to a blur. In the Gone with the Wind shot, likewise, the foreground is of a pristine clarity but the clever use of a matte backdrop keeps the focus startlingly urgent and all encompassing. In many scenes, Gone with the Wind successfully “cheats” technology by giving the illusion of what cinematographer Gregg Toland would legendarily achieve two years later in Citizen Kane with his pioneering work in “deep focus” photography– the full frame being in clean, clear focus.

In the book Selznick’s Vision, Gone with the Wind and Hollywood, author Alan David Vertrees goes a step further. While I’m not exactly in total agreement, I can absolutely can see where he’s coming from on this one: “[With Gone with the Wind] we begin to peer into a movie, rather than perceive it in carefully arranged slices, with the camera flitting from speaker to speaker, and all feminine faces in soft focus … Gone with the Wind is the perfect instance of the new tone, more so than Citizen Kane, because its passions are large and simple, it is full of windswept silhouettes caught against reddening skies… it is overplayed, overwritten and it is  just right.”

So why am I going on about two Technicolor marvels of the late 1930s when this post is about the New Hollywood of the 1960s?

Easy.

Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz are emblematic of a fascinating moment in films history. Color technology, as so monumentally manifested in Gone with the Wind, was indeed capable of achieving surprisingly lifelike renderings. The Wizard of Oz, being a fantasy, emphasized reality with black and white (OK, fine. Sepia. Sticklers.) while color was used to create escapism at its eye-popping best. The fact they were both shot using the same technology, for me, is a fascinating dichotomy:  it is the decisive moment that Hollywood would purposefully, from that point on, choose to employ black and white as a method of expressing  realism, while employing color film as fantasy–for reasons both financial and sociological. Color was  exponentially more expensive to produce and with America at war it was only natural to provide escapism on the grandest scale possible– made manifest in the vivid, deeply indulgent color extravaganzas of the 1940s. Carmen Miranda in black and white? Casablanca in color? I think not!

I’m going to muster up some courage here and make the claim that Gone with the Wind would remain the most deeply human, realistic 3-strip Technicolor film until well into the 1950s. With, of course, certain notable contenders like Drums along the Mohawk and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.

John Ford's DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK (1939) and Powell and Pressburger's THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP (1943)

(Both war films. Interesting…)

And speaking of Colonel Blimp, I am hereby resisting the urge of getting into discussions about the supreme Jack Cardiff, one of my absolute idols, and the master of black and white realism, James Wong Howe. Instead we will fast-forward 30 years to the real point of this piece.

In Paul Monaco’s excellent book The Sixties, he states that “progress in color motion picture technology during the late 1950s and early 1960s can be accurately summarized as significant. The increased speed and improved color rendition of Kodak’s color negative film stock, in particular, was extraordinarily important to cinematographers and directors. Their improved ability to control the quality of the image when shooting color, and the greater tolerance of the film stock to accommodate various lighting conditions, were clearly positive factors that justified Hollywood’s shift to color production.”

Since the dawn of film, literally, stretching back to the earliest images ever captured on a camera, real life renderings had been expressed in terms of black and white. The Civil War, the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906,  the gritty gangster flicks of the 30s, the occupation of Paris– all were all seen in black and white shadow. For many decades, that is what “real” looked like. The entree of color onto the market was clunky and, like the advent of sound, surrounded with criticism.

That preconceived idea changed dramatically in the 1960s.

Say Monaco: “Long known among cinematographers for its sense of artificiality, escapism, and lightweight genres, color suddenly became perceived in the 1960s as a key for opening up an enormously enriched sense of cinematic realism.”

More sophisticated technology helped.

“What audiences saw on the screen was also vastly improved at the  end of the 1960s, by introduction of liquid gate printing. This laboratory process consisted of completely immersing the final answer print– from which duplicate copies of the film would be made for distributions to the theatres– into a transparent liquid of nearly the same refractive visual index as the clear emulsion and acetate base of the answer print itself. This liquid immersion filled in all the small scratches and abrasions on the answer print’s surface, providing a brighter, clearer and richer picture to fill the screen.”

Was this the result of a creative agenda from Hollywood’s cinematographers and directors? Hardly. It was down to a little thing called television.

When television first came on the scene, it was of course in black and white. Once again, the Hollywood studios had an ace up the sleeve over their frightening competitor, because they had the ability to produce splashy, sexy extravaganzas in “larger than life” color. (i.e., what TV can’t give you, but we can!) But when color television was introduced in 1963, Hollywood had a real problem. America was now watching the daily world revolve around them in color images. The nightly news, their favorite sitcom– color was becoming the new reality. If America could watch a perfectly real Walter Cronkite in color for free, why should it expect to pay $1.50 to watch something in black and white? According to Monaco, “the advent of color television destined the black and white feature film to virtual extinction in the U.S. …. Hollywood’s wholesale shift to color production, then, was essentially a producers’ decision based on commercial assessments of future markets.”

Black and white photography was, in the grand Hollywood tradition, an overnight has-been.

Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood in Elia Kazan's SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS (1961)

Catherine Deneuve in Jacques Demy's THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (1964)

Peter O'Toole's baby blues in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962)

Omar Sharif's baby browns in DOCTOR ZHIVAGO (1965)

Michelangelo Antonioni's BLOW-UP (1966)

Adorable Judy Geeson in James Clavell's TO SIR, WITH LOVE (1967)

Robert Redford and Jane Fonda in Neil Simon's BAREFOOT IN THE PARK (1967)

Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson. Mike Nichols' THE GRADUATE (1967)

Faye Dunaway in Arthur Penn's BONNIE AND CLYDE (1966)

Francois Truffaut's FAHRENHEIT 451 (1966).

Andy Warhol's CHELSEA GIRLS (1966)

Steve McQueen in Norman Jewison's THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR (1968)

Mia Farrow in Roman Polansky's ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968)

Stanley Kubrick's 1968 epic, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY

Robert Redford and Paul Newman in the ultimate buddy flick BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969)

Shameless Plug: TCM's September Pre-Code Podcast

Turner Classic Movies logo.

As all you readers of the Pictorial are well aware, I’m something of a Turner Classic Movies junkie… As I know many of you are too! Which is why I’m just plain tickled pink over the fact that TCM recently asked my pal Will McKinley and I to participate in their September podcast.  Will lives in New York City and I’m based in L.A., but I just so happened to have a holiday planned in the Big Apple so we were able to, most happily, oblige!

TCM’s podcast host Scott McGee, a really lovely guy, sat down (virtually) with Will and I for a lovely long chat about the month’s programming. We touched on everything from Metropolis to The Red Shoes, but they decided to post our conversation about the pre-code classics Baby Face and The Story of Temple Drake. It was a heck of a lot of fun, and one hell of a privilege, and I hope it’s as much fun to watch as it was to make:

Check it out here!

Shameless Plug: TCM’s September Pre-Code Podcast

Turner Classic Movies logo.

As all you readers of the Pictorial are well aware, I’m something of a Turner Classic Movies junkie… As I know many of you are too! Which is why I’m just plain tickled pink over the fact that TCM recently asked my pal Will McKinley and I to participate in their September podcast.  Will lives in New York City and I’m based in L.A., but I just so happened to have a holiday planned in the Big Apple so we were able to, most happily, oblige!

TCM’s podcast host Scott McGee, a really lovely guy, sat down (virtually) with Will and I for a lovely long chat about the month’s programming. We touched on everything from Metropolis to The Red Shoes, but they decided to post our conversation about the pre-code classics Baby Face and The Story of Temple Drake. It was a heck of a lot of fun, and one hell of a privilege, and I hope it’s as much fun to watch as it was to make:

Check it out here!