2011 Best of the Blogathons RoundUp

There were many things about 2011 I’d rather forget, and am quite eager to sweep under the rug and write off as a (semi) total loss.

It was, however, a fantastic year for bloggers. And especially so for the classic film community– a niche that hitherto has been of a largely insular nature, existing on the fringes of filmdom, never quite enjoying a resounding presence in its own right. An eclectic makeup of film theorists, essayists, historians, fanboys and fangirls, visual artists, poets, and everything in between, classic film enthusiasts the enjoyed a real renaissance in 2011 and can confidently start the new year with a newly defined sense of community. (And if that’s overstating things, it is only because I believe we have every reason to start the new year with a newly defined sense of community!)

The exponential growth of social media has made it possible to nurture a culture of mutual respect and graciousness within the blogging community, resulting in work that is enlightening, enlivening and always entertaining.

Perhaps nowhere is this better illustrated than in the “blogathons” that permeate the blogosphere. Sponsored by either an independent site, or a conglomerate (like CMBA), blogathons rally writers together by challenging them to dig deep into their resources and contribute a piece on a specific topic. Typically lasting anywhere from a day to a week, not only do blogathons result in a hearty cornucopia of material, they are an invaluable tool for writers to connect with fellow colleagues on an international scale.

The Pictorial signs off for 2011 with a review of some of our favorite blogathons of the year. If you missed any of these, I can’t think of a better way to spend some of the idle holiday hours than by giving them a good long read.

Grand work, everyone! Every last one of you is, without doubt, an:

Film Noir Blogathon
Hosted by Self Styled Siren

The Nicholas Ray Blogathon
Hosted by cinemaviewfinder

Margaret Lockwood Blogathon
Hosted by Shroud of Thoughts

The Dick Van Dyke Show Blogathon
Hosted by Thrilling Days of Yesteryear

The CMBA Guilty Pleasures Blogathon:
Hosted by CMBA (Classic Movie Blog Association)

The Films of 1939 Blogathon
Hosted by CMBA

The Late Films Blogathon
Hosted by Shadowplay

The Charlie Chaplin Blogathon
Hosted by Park Circus Films

Carole-tennial(+3)
Hosted by Carole & Co.

For The Boys Blogathon
Hosted by The Scarlett Olive

Fashion in Film Blogathon
Hosted by The Hollywood Revue

Dueling Divas Blogathon
Hosted by Backlots

The Loving Lucy Blogathon
Hosted by True Classics

The Queer Film Blogathon
Hosted by Garbo Laughs

The Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier Appreciation Blogathon
Hosted by Viv And Larry

Blog it for Baby: The Jean Harlow Blogathon
Hosted by… Us 😉

My Somewhat Neurotic Relationship with Buster Keaton Movies and Why They Make Me OK with Being Me.

Image ©2011 ~TheBalloonMan

So here we are, day one of Project Keaton. Submissions are pouring in and The Pictorial is buzzing with excitement. The Project’s Tumblr and Facebook pages are up and running and … this is gonna be awesome, guys.

So for the first official Project Keaton post, I’m going to be a total prima-donna and grab the mic for a minute and reflect back on why the heck Keaton matters very much to me in the first place.

But I’m gonna leave the sociological and academic analysis of his films and their seismic influence on the framework of modern cinema to the Leonard Maltins and the David Thomsons out there, and instead, simply confess that the reason I love Keaton is because of something he excelled so very much in:

Timing.

Now, as you all know, I am a massive Charlie Chaplin fan. MASSIVE. In many ways, Charlie is the love of my life. I was 10 years old when I fell in love with Charlie. A wondrous, marvelous, romantic age to discover anything.

I was 14 when I saw my first Buster Keaton film.

Being 14 sucks. In fact… few things suck more than being 14. (Except, maybe, 15.)

Which is why Sherlock Jr. absolutely rocked my world when I first saw it flicker on the old movie channel one random weekend. If anyone’s life sucked more than mine, it was Buster’s. That sweetly honest stone face that just couldn’t catch a break. The woman in his life was weak, his boss was a jerk, his future prospects were dim, he’s painfully awkward and the only ray of sunshine in his life involved celluloid fantasies.

Yeah. I knew that guy.

Here I am at the cusp of 30 and I realize that I will always know this guy. And when chaos consumes, and all I have to keep my sanity is my sense of humor, there is nothing more therapeutic than a Keaton film. That’s when I switch on Steamboat Bill Jr to watch Buster battle hurricanes, or Seven Chances to watch him dodge a gang of pissed off jilted brides, or The Cameraman to watch him fight urban turf wars.

It’s absurd.

But so is life.

Buster knows it. His films get it. And, in so many ways, he is all of us. Buster doesn‘t always get the girl, beat the bad guy or ride off into the sunset… and somehow, it’s still OK. Which is why 116 years after he was born, we’re still so deeply affected by his work. And only one of the countless reasons the Pictorial is championing that deeply human comedy of his in our month-long celebration of all things Keaton.

Thanks, Buster, for always keepin’ it real.

The 21st Century REALLY needs you.

And so do 14 year olds.

*puts down mic, disembarks soapbox, and lets the festivities begin*

Harold Lloyd's Safety Last and the Triumph of Silent Film

The Orpheum Marquee: Harold Lloyd ... Robert Israel ... and Hugh Hefner. Only in L.A. 😉

Wow. So the best cinematic experiences I’ve had in recent memory tend to have the same thing in common: silence. First with the TCM Festival’s triumphant screening of Buster Keaton‘s The Cameraman in April. And now two months later, with the Los Angeles Conservancy’s closing night film of their 25th Annual “Last Remaining Seats” series, Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last.

For the uninitiated, the “Last Remaining Seats” series is a fantastic event each summer in which the Los Angeles Conservancy, LA’s foremost historical preservation society, opens the doors of Downtown LA’s movie palaces to the general public with a series of classic film screenings. It is an extraordinary event and its evergreen– indeed, ever growing– popularity is a true testament to the fact that audiences will always love the old-fashioned joy of a night at the movies. Because “Last Remaining Seats” is all about old-fashioned joy. These palaces were built as veritable escape portals for the masses– with their gilded halls and plush velour, where even the grimiest working Joe could, for an hour or so, feel like royalty.

And boy, did we ever feel like that tonight!

The majestic Orpheum interior

Having missed last year’s schedule completely, I was not about to miss this– even a lingering cold did not foil my plans! Tonight’s screening was greeted to an enthusiastic crowd– a large majority of which had never seen a silent feature film before in their life.  I know because renowned silent film composer Robert Israel, providing the night’s accompaniment, asked for applause from any silent film first-timers– the applause was rather verbose.

Keaton’s charming short Cops was the appetizer, followed up by crowd-pleasing pre-show in the spirit of Sid Grauman‘s famous prologues of the ’20s. The Cicada Club is a downtown Los Angeles world unto it’s own: a tangible time glitch where dames in fringe dresses and faux fur with fellas in tailored tuxes and top hats put on the ritz every Sunday night to the vintage croons of Ben Halpern and orchestral swing of Dean Moira. The Cicada set may have its cliques (vintage purists who happen to wear blue jeans, like me, don’t exactly fit)  but oh can they put on a show! The club’s proprietor Maxwell DeMille presided over the high-spirited prologue which included a hot Charleston number and some delightful standards, from “Singin’ in the Rain” to “California Here I Come!”

Film historian John Bengtson‘s recent book Silent Visions: Discovering Early Hollywood and New York Through the Films of Harold Lloyd is the third in a series of books that are, truly, cinematic archaeology: meticulously unearthing the filming locations of the great silent comedians to create a detailed composite of a city on the come. It was fitting that he took the stage with Harold Lloyd’s granddaughter, Suzanne, to introduce the film, it’s Los Angeles-centric importance, and the movie-like backstory that surrounded it’s production. (Lloyd married his leading lady just before the picture wrapped.)

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen Safety Last many a time and have always liked it and admired Lloyd’s physical prowess. But I have always preferred Lloyd’s Girl Shy and The Freshman (with their respective Robert Israel scores, of course) and, while I appreciate the film’s significance, it was never a favorite.

Well, scratch that last.

This film was made for the big screen in every possible sense. The audience literally screamed with both laughter and fright, a deliriously thin line, at Lloyd’s aerial antics– the ferociousness of which simply cannot be truly appreciated on the confines of a television screen. Safety Last is, first and foremost, a MOVIE: intended to be projected on a 20 foot screen and was made for those towering dimensions.

My palms were sweating and fingernails were bitten– even though the outcome was as plain on the nose on my face. It was simply … magic.

The audience’s verbal reaction only intensified the experience. Even when paying 20 smackers for the latest 3D extravaganza, it is very very rare to have an audience so intimately, totally, completely immersed with the film. Ever move Harold made, every slip of the foot, even the most blatantly obvious of set pieces, elicited a gut reaction. Ooohs, Aaaah, Nooos and Eeeeks screamed from the balcony and orchestra seats.

We. Were. His.

And I wonder what it all means. In this unappreciative era of instant information and unearned entitlement, when we are so completely jaded and rarely impressed at the movies… how truly meaningful is it that a silent film, 80+ years old, without gimmicky camera trickery or CGI imagery can make our hearts beat right out of it’s cages and our palms sweat like no Michael Bay extravaganza could ever hope to.

The purity of silent film triumphs once again.

Harold Lloyd in Safety Last

Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last and the Triumph of Silent Film

The Orpheum Marquee: Harold Lloyd ... Robert Israel ... and Hugh Hefner. Only in L.A. 😉

Wow. So the best cinematic experiences I’ve had in recent memory tend to have the same thing in common: silence. First with the TCM Festival’s triumphant screening of Buster Keaton‘s The Cameraman in April. And now two months later, with the Los Angeles Conservancy’s closing night film of their 25th Annual “Last Remaining Seats” series, Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last.

For the uninitiated, the “Last Remaining Seats” series is a fantastic event each summer in which the Los Angeles Conservancy, LA’s foremost historical preservation society, opens the doors of Downtown LA’s movie palaces to the general public with a series of classic film screenings. It is an extraordinary event and its evergreen– indeed, ever growing– popularity is a true testament to the fact that audiences will always love the old-fashioned joy of a night at the movies. Because “Last Remaining Seats” is all about old-fashioned joy. These palaces were built as veritable escape portals for the masses– with their gilded halls and plush velour, where even the grimiest working Joe could, for an hour or so, feel like royalty.

And boy, did we ever feel like that tonight!

The majestic Orpheum interior

Having missed last year’s schedule completely, I was not about to miss this– even a lingering cold did not foil my plans! Tonight’s screening was greeted to an enthusiastic crowd– a large majority of which had never seen a silent feature film before in their life.  I know because renowned silent film composer Robert Israel, providing the night’s accompaniment, asked for applause from any silent film first-timers– the applause was rather verbose.

Keaton’s charming short Cops was the appetizer, followed up by crowd-pleasing pre-show in the spirit of Sid Grauman‘s famous prologues of the ’20s. The Cicada Club is a downtown Los Angeles world unto it’s own: a tangible time glitch where dames in fringe dresses and faux fur with fellas in tailored tuxes and top hats put on the ritz every Sunday night to the vintage croons of Ben Halpern and orchestral swing of Dean Moira. The Cicada set may have its cliques (vintage purists who happen to wear blue jeans, like me, don’t exactly fit)  but oh can they put on a show! The club’s proprietor Maxwell DeMille presided over the high-spirited prologue which included a hot Charleston number and some delightful standards, from “Singin’ in the Rain” to “California Here I Come!”

Film historian John Bengtson‘s recent book Silent Visions: Discovering Early Hollywood and New York Through the Films of Harold Lloyd is the third in a series of books that are, truly, cinematic archaeology: meticulously unearthing the filming locations of the great silent comedians to create a detailed composite of a city on the come. It was fitting that he took the stage with Harold Lloyd’s granddaughter, Suzanne, to introduce the film, it’s Los Angeles-centric importance, and the movie-like backstory that surrounded it’s production. (Lloyd married his leading lady just before the picture wrapped.)

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen Safety Last many a time and have always liked it and admired Lloyd’s physical prowess. But I have always preferred Lloyd’s Girl Shy and The Freshman (with their respective Robert Israel scores, of course) and, while I appreciate the film’s significance, it was never a favorite.

Well, scratch that last.

This film was made for the big screen in every possible sense. The audience literally screamed with both laughter and fright, a deliriously thin line, at Lloyd’s aerial antics– the ferociousness of which simply cannot be truly appreciated on the confines of a television screen. Safety Last is, first and foremost, a MOVIE: intended to be projected on a 20 foot screen and was made for those towering dimensions.

My palms were sweating and fingernails were bitten– even though the outcome was as plain on the nose on my face. It was simply … magic.

The audience’s verbal reaction only intensified the experience. Even when paying 20 smackers for the latest 3D extravaganza, it is very very rare to have an audience so intimately, totally, completely immersed with the film. Ever move Harold made, every slip of the foot, even the most blatantly obvious of set pieces, elicited a gut reaction. Ooohs, Aaaah, Nooos and Eeeeks screamed from the balcony and orchestra seats.

We. Were. His.

And I wonder what it all means. In this unappreciative era of instant information and unearned entitlement, when we are so completely jaded and rarely impressed at the movies… how truly meaningful is it that a silent film, 80+ years old, without gimmicky camera trickery or CGI imagery can make our hearts beat right out of it’s cages and our palms sweat like no Michael Bay extravaganza could ever hope to.

The purity of silent film triumphs once again.

Harold Lloyd in Safety Last

In Memoriam: Van Johnson (1916-2008)

One of Golden Hollywood’s golden boys, Van Johnson passed away on Friday from natural causes. He was 92. Johnson—charming, good-natured and boyishly handsome—soared to fame during the War at MGM, where he became one of the studio’s most popular leading men. His roles placed him opposite the biggest names in the business: Spencer Tracy, Humphrey Bogart, Gene Kelly,  Elizabeth Taylor & Judy Garland. Johnson continued to be a major player well into the 50s, loved best as a romantic comedy lead or war hero—A Guy Named Joe, In the Good Old Summertime, Battleground, The Last Time I Saw Paris—but was no stranger to ‘tough guy’ roles such as the excellent The Caine Mutiny

His passing now, in 2008, is a bittersweet reminder to us that the creativity and wonderment of classic Hollywood edges ever closer, with every year, into an unbridgeable dream remembered, (if I may quote Ms. Mitchell) a civilization gone with the wind.  We watch the Academy montage their memory every year with brief momentary glimpses at their careers— and every year we loose more of the men and women who once made the movies something so very magical. 

They certainly don’t make ’em like they used to. 

So here’s to you, Van. Thanks for the memories.

image-3-1

In Memoriam: Van Johnson (1916-2008)

One of Golden Hollywood’s golden boys, Van Johnson passed away on Friday from natural causes. He was 92. Johnson—charming, good-natured and boyishly handsome—soared to fame during the War at MGM, where he became one of the studio’s most popular leading men. His roles placed him opposite the biggest names in the business: Spencer Tracy, Humphrey Bogart, Gene Kelly,  Elizabeth Taylor & Judy Garland. Johnson continued to be a major player well into the 50s, loved best as a romantic comedy lead or war hero—A Guy Named Joe, In the Good Old Summertime, Battleground, The Last Time I Saw Paris—but was no stranger to ‘tough guy’ roles such as the excellent The Caine Mutiny

His passing now, in 2008, is a bittersweet reminder to us that the creativity and wonderment of classic Hollywood edges ever closer, with every year, into an unbridgeable dream remembered, (if I may quote Ms. Mitchell) a civilization gone with the wind.  We watch the Academy montage their memory every year with brief momentary glimpses at their careers— and every year we loose more of the men and women who once made the movies something so very magical. 

They certainly don’t make ’em like they used to. 

So here’s to you, Van. Thanks for the memories.

image-3-1