Posts Tagged ‘D.W. Griffith’

Foolish Wives: Monte Carlo on Sunset and Vine

January 14, 2010

There is something about Erich von Stroheim’s films which are akin to a latter-day hip-hop video. Hip-hop vids are aspirational in nature. They most often show their stars enjoying a life their audience can only dream about. The MCs are surrounded by the finest women and brand names. They’re flying in private jets and anchored off St. Tropez in their yachts. They’re given the VIP treatment at the most exclusive nightclubs. They’re living out the whole Great Gatsby thing. The music video is both proof of status–your average rapper’s rise from the projects to the penthouse—and a hyper-stylized fantasy of that ascent.

When it came to making his third feature, Von Stroheim was in a similar position to Jay-Z when it came time to record “Big Pimpin’.” He had risen from an Austro-Jewish background to reinvent himself as a Prussian aristocrat in America. He had thrown a “von” in his name and dropped the “Oswald.” This was pre-Internet, so no one was checking up on him. A born hustler, he took to the nascent film industry like a prince to the polo grounds. He went from working as an advisor to D.W. Griffith to playing a Pharisee in Intolerance to directing his own films for Universal. He had scored a pair of hits–Blind Husbands and The Devil’s Passkey–both set in a Europe built on a Hollywood back-lot and both starring von Stroheim. Where Griffith was an actor who discovered he was happiest behind the camera, Von Stroheim used his films to fashion himself into—as the promotional material for Foolish Wives had it—“the man you will love to hate.”


Regeneration: Gangsters Before Gangsters

December 17, 2009

Raoul Walsh’s 1915 film Regeneration is often acclaimed as one of the first gangster films, but these aren’t really gangsters modern audiences would be familiar with. The gang Owen (John McCann) leads are more of a mob of Lower East Side plug uglies than true sports. They wear floppy caps and the working clothes of the docks and congregate in a basement called the Chicory Hall, where the thugs are as likely to be found sleeping on the bare dirt floor as playing cards.


Everybody needs money. That’s why they call it money.

April 2, 2009

Money is a touchy thing, which may explain why movies don’t get too serious about it. Coming down off a marathon session of Planet Money podcasts made it feel like it was high time to look at the movies that get it right. Or at least “get it right” in the view from our apple stand. Here’s a brief history of onscreen finance, dating from the dawn of cinema to 9/11. What did we miss? Leave your suggestions in the comments box.

A Corner in Wheat (D.W. Griffith, 1909)

One of the film pioneer’s most daring experiments in montage shows how a financier’s machinations leads to devastation on the farm and starvation on the breadline. The boss chokes on his own grain; the downbeat ending sticks in the craw.


Chuck Jones Gets One Froggy Evening

March 23, 2009

one-froggy-eveningTuesday night (March 24) you’ll want to lock grandma in the attic, send the kids to bed early, and see the significant other off to their card night. Actually, you won’t have to do any of those things, because any human being with a beating heart and at least one brain cell is gonna get a kick out of what’s going down. TCM is devoting a night to the great animator Chuck Jones, beginning at 8 PM EST. The centerpiece is Chuck Jones: Memories of Childhood, a half-hour documentary which features the late, great Bugs Bunny/Road Runner animator recounting in his signature style in 1997.

According to Cartoon Brew, the film features clips from his work and new animations made out of Jones’ sketches by John Canemaker (The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation). The doc and interview portions appear to focus specifically on Jones’ childhood, which should give the Freudian scholars out there a little something to play with. The real meat will be what follows: 11 classic shorts dating from 1938 to 1967 and Jones’ feature take on kids’ classic The Phantom Tollbooth.

The Movies, Mr. Griffith and HBO

March 17, 2009

The big film news of the day doesn’t have much to do with film at all. It’s that David Chase, whose The Sopranos became a kind of Mahābhārata of the Mob, is headed back to HBO and making a miniseries about the days when Hollywood wasn’t much more than an orange grove.

Ribbon of Dreams will unspool around the friendship between a cowboy and a mechanical engineer who both go to work for D.W. Griffith. They graduate to becoming producers of their own, and are soon negotiating the nascent business of the movies–as well as real life characters like John Ford, John Wayne, Raoul Walsh, Bette Davis and Billy Wilder. An unconfirmed and possibly imaginary report implied one episode would see the two guys barely surviving a drinking bout with John Barrymore, Errol Flynn and W.C. Fields.