Saturday, 27 May 2017

"All I Do Is Think Of You"

Chico was the eldest of the Marx Brothers, but the youngest of them when he died (age 74) in 1961. 

Chico was a talented pianist. He originally started playing with only his right hand and fake playing with his left. As a young boy, he gained jobs playing piano to earn money for the Marx family. Sometimes he worked playing in two places at the same time. He would acquire the first job with his piano-playing skills, work for a few nights, and then substitute Harpo on one of the jobs. (During their boyhood, Chico and Harpo looked so much alike that they were often mistaken for each other.)

Groucho Marx stated that his brother got the name Chico because he was a "Chicken-chaser" (early slang for chasing women). He also said that Chico never practiced the pieces he played. Instead, before performances he soaked his fingers in hot water. He was known for 'shooting' the keys of the piano. He played passages with his thumb up and index finger straight, like a gun, as part of the act. 

For a while in the 1930s and 1940s, Chico led a big band. Singer Mel Tormé began his professional career singing with the Chico Marx Orchestra.

Here he plays "All I Do Is Think Of You" in A Night at the Opera (1935), for a group of delighted children. 

[Watch how the Hollywood power game was being played, even by children, back in 1935. At the start of this piece, a small boy takes his place next to the piano. A much larger kid makes his way over, then muscles in, displacing the little kid.]

First posted: 25 January 2013

Friday, 26 May 2017

Hitchcock cameos

I've been reading Hitchcock: The definitive study of Alfred Hitchcock by François Truffaut, first published in 1967, a fascinating book, about which I will have more to say down the road.

While talking about The Lodger (1927), Truffaut raises the question of "personal appearances" and asks Hitchcock why he made them. Hitchcock answers:

"It was strictly utilitarian; we had to fill the screen. Later on it became a superstition and eventually a gag. But by now it's a rather troublesome gag, and I'm very careful to show up in the first five minutes so as to let the people look at the rest of the movie with no further distraction."
My favourite cameo, from North by Northwest. Alfred Hitchcock tries to catch a bus on Madison Avenue between 44th Street and 45th Street. Long before he ever went to the USA, Hitchcock's hobby was the study of Manhattan. He'd memorised every train timetable, as well as the location of all the major stores.
There are numerous lists of those personal appearances around. Some have him appearing in 36 films, most have 37, some (Wikipedia) have 40. The disputed films include Number 17, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Sabotage and Rebecca. (Why people argue over the Rebecca entry mystifies me, as the Hitchcock|Truffaut book contains a large photo of the moment. The earlier films have the problem of blurry B&W.) Here's my list:
  • The Lodger (1927) - At a desk in a newsroom and later in the crowd watching an arrest.
  • Easy Virtue (1928) - Walking past a tennis court, carrying a walking stick.
  • Blackmail (1929) - Being hassled by a small boy on a train.
  • Murder! (1930) - Walking past the house where the murder was committed.
  • The 39 Steps (1935) - Walking past and tossing litter, while the stars catch a bus.
  • Young and Innocent (1937) - Outside the courthouse, holding a camera.
  • The Lady Vanishes (1938) - In Victoria Station, smoking a cigarette.
  • Rebecca (1940) - Walking near the phone booth, just after George Sanders makes a call.
  • Foreign Correspondent (1940) - After Joel McCrea leaves his hotel, he's wearing a coat and hat, and reading a newspaper.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941) - Passing Robert Montgomery in front of his building.
  • Suspicion (1941) - Mailing a letter at the village postbox. And walking a horse across the screen at a hunt-meet.
  • Saboteur (1942) - Standing in front of Cut Rate Drugs in New York as the saboteur’s car stops.
  • Shadow of A Doubt (1943) - On the train to Santa Rosa, playing cards.
  • Lifeboat (1944) - In the “before” and “after” pictures in the newspaper ad for weight reduction.
  • Spellbound (1945) - Coming out of an elevator, carrying a violin case and smoking a cigarette.
  • Notorious (1946) - Drinking champagne.
  • The Paradine Case (1947) - Leaving the train, carrying a cello.
  • Rope (1948) - On a neon sign.
  • Under Capricorn (1949) - In the town square during a parade, wearing a blue coat and brown hat, in the first five minutes. Ten minutes later, he is one of three men on the steps of Government House.
  • Stage Fright (1950) - Turning to look at Jane Wyman in her disguise as Marlene Dietrich’s maid.
  • Strangers on A Train (1951) - Boarding a train with a double bass, early in the film.
  • I Confess (1953) - Crossing the top of a staircase after the opening credits.
  • Dial M for Murder (1954) - On the left side of the class-reunion photo.
  • Rear Window (1954) - Winding the clock in the songwriter’s apartment.
  • To Catch A Thief (1955) - Sitting to the left of Cary Grant on a bus.
  • The Trouble With Harry (1955) - Walking past the parked limousine of an old man who is looking at paintings.
  • The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) - Watching acrobats (his back to the camera) just before the murder.
  • The Wrong Man (1956) - Narrating the film’s prologue.
  • Vertigo (1958) - In a gray suit walking in the street.
  • North By Northwest (1959) - Missing a bus during the opening credits.
  • Psycho (1960) - Through Janet Leigh’s window as she returns to her office. He is wearing a cowboy hat.
  • The Birds (1963) - Leaving the pet shop with two white terriers.
  • Marnie (1964) - Entering from the left of the hotel corridor after Tippi Hedren passes by.
  • Torn Curtain (1966) - Sitting in the Hotel d’Angleterre lobby with a baby.
  • Topaz (1969) - Being pushed in a wheelchair.
  • Frenzy (1972) - In the centre of a crowd, wearing a bowler hat, three minutes into the film.
  • Family Plot (1976) - In silhouette through the door of the Registrar of Births and Deaths.
The following video assembles every cameo appearance listed above into a single clip.

First posted: 22 January 2013

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Australian talent quest

In 1996, a stray bunch of Australians (plus a Scotsman and a Canadian) came together to make a movie. The movie is called Cosi, and it is the most underrated film Australia ever produced (after Hercules Returns). 
A young amateur theater director is offered a job with a Government program for the rehabilitation of the mentally ill. His project is hijacked by a patient who wants to stage Cosi Fan Tutte by Mozart.
One of the best things about Cosi is that it includes Australia's greatest ever talent quest. Try this for group for size: Toni Collette, Rachel Griffiths, Jacki Weaver, David Wenham, Greta Scacchi, Colin Hay, Ben Mendelsohn, Barry Otto, Aden Young, Pamela Rabe, Colin Friels, and Paul Mercurio.

Here's the talent competition, so you can judge for yourself.

First posted: 19 January 2013

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Air fresheners in movies

I was waiting at a bus stop recently when I noticed a car with a Christmas Tree air freshener hanging from the rear-view mirror, which put me in mind of Repo Man (1984) and the whole business of the Little Trees homage shots that subsequently made their way into movies and TV.

Repo Man features pine tree-shaped air fresheners in almost every vehicle in the movie, including the police motorcycle. People will tell you that the manufacturer, Little Trees, funded the movie, but that's not true. No money changed hands, but a number of air fresheners did. It is part of the legend that every Little Tree used in the movie was scent-free, because no one could handle the smell of them.

Repo Man is a cult movie, little known in the mainstream, but beloved by aficionados, who include many young Hollywood directors. I don't know exactly when the trend started, but it became a thing to include a Christmas Tree air freshener somewhere in your movie. Here are some examples.

Repo Man (1984). The first car recovered by Emilio Estevez has a blue one.

In Repo Man (1984), even the police motorcycle has one.

Cadillac Man (1990). Robin William's wife has a red one.

Robin Williams wears a green one in The Fisher King (1991).

Charles Durning has two in his car in Home for the Holidays (1995).

Full screen in Ocean's Eleven (2001). Is this big enough?
In The Wire (2002), Season 1, Episode 2, Rawls tosses the wrong office. Landsman points out that this is McNulty's office. Notice the green leaf, bottom right.
As befits a Shopgirl (2005), Claire Danes has a pink one.
In 10 Items or Less (2006), Morgan Freeman checks all the options...
... before choosing a green Christmas Tree for Paz Vega's car.
In The Unit (2007), the CIA use a green one as a signalling device.

Ellen Page has the red Autumn Leaf version in Juno (2007).
Amy Poehler has a red Christmas Tree in Baby Mama (2008).
And in Despicable Me (2010), Gru opts for a generic green one.

First posted: 18 January 2013

Friday, 12 May 2017

Sunday, 7 May 2017

100 Greatest "Music Scenes" in Movies

Mew Lists has come up with their version of the 100 Greatest "Music Scenes" in Movies. I know you'll disagree with some of them. I would have liked to see the following included: Ray Charles singing "Mess Around" in Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987), the "Stayin Alive" segment from Foul Play (1978), the karaoke scene from Paperback Hero (1999), the title song from Shaft (1971), the title song from Live and Let Die (1973), "Let the River Run" from Working Girl (1988), "Why Don't You Do Right" from Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), "Sooner or Later" from Dick Tracy (1990), "Cruisin'" from Duets (2000), the title track from Mo' Better Blues (1990), the karaoke scene from The Actors (2003), Wolfman Jack playing "Green Onions" in American Graffiti (1973), "Things Have Changed" from Wonder Boys, and "Lydia the Tattooed Lady" from At The Circus (1939).

What about you?

In case you were curious...

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Chili Palmer Talks Screenwriting

Can you believe it? Get Shorty is now twenty-two years old. Where did that time go?

Friday, 5 May 2017