Tuesday, January 29, 2008

contest anew

Our Growing Up Artic Giveaway is over! Congrats to all of our winners! A copy of Growing Up Artic is headed to our winners courtesy of Genius Entertainment and Animal Planet. That means we have a new giveaway starting now!

We are giving away five copies (one per household)of Puppy Bowl III thanks again to Genius Entertainment and Animal Planet. The Big Game is coming up soon this weekend, and this is a good way for the family to have some fun and get rid of the post football season blues. My kids got a kick out of it and so will yours.

The rules are simple:

Email us your entry at randomshelf@hotmail.com
1.You MUST include: Your name and full address in the body of the email, and "Puppy Bowl III" must be in the subject line.
2. The contest is only open to US residents
3. Only one entry per email address (and household, please!)
4. Contest ends on Tuesday, Feb. 5th at 11:59pm. We will draw the winner and notify them by email sometime on Feb. 6th.
Please note that your information will be held confidential and will not be published and only used solely for identifying the winner and shipping the prize. Also, we will mail the prize to you, but cannot guarantee that the post office will treat it with the same respect as we will when we send it out. We will only guarantee that we will mail it to the address you provide to us.
So get those emails in and good luck!

Let the contest begin!

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

I thought we were gonna get television. The truth is... television is gonna get us.

Friday, January 25, 2008

dvd review: the jazz singer ultimate edition

The Jazz Singer. It made entertainment history, and yet it was your average sentimental film. It stands as monument to determination, vision and persistence- and yet it was only several minutes of dialogue and music the made such a sensation. It is remembered as the first, even though it really wasn't. So why is it so important? It is the first feature film to demonstrate the potential of sound to a skeptical industry (As so ably depicted in Singin' in the Rain). The public, which had previously panned the few efforts at sound in pictures, embraced this film and made it a hit. It didn't hurt that the story was a previous Broadway smash or and that the star was an already popular entertainer either. The fact that it was so popular helped to lead other movie studios to follow in Warner's lead in using sound, where they had previously dismissed it.

Warner Brother's release of The Jazz Singer is one of their best releases of 2007 (it made our Shelf Top 5 of 2007!), and not just for the fact of all the bells and whistles included as extras. It is also because of the wonderful restoration work done on the film and the effort to locate an original Vitaphone disc sound recording to digitally recreate the sound to the film. All of this attention to detail and effort went to, not just restoring, but in reality, preserving The Jazz Singer. We are better off for it. Now, this is usually the part where I ask you if this DVD is worth your hard earned dollars. Who am I kidding? Of course it is, but I would still love for you to check out The Shelf review of The Jazz Singer to see why.

The Hard Facts:

The Jazz Singer: Ultimate 80th Anniversary Edition
3 Discs in a folding case with extras
Studio: Warner Brothers
Black & White
Pan & Scan, Wide Screen
Original Studio: Warner Brothers
Release Date: 10/16/2007
Rated: NR
Stars: Al Jolson

The Jazz Singer rightly has a place in Film History, but is remembered for perhaps the wrong reason. Most people who discuss the film, label it as the first "talkie". It was not. For a time, several studios had experimented with synchronized music and sound effects. Shorts were the medium of choice as they were simple and more inexpensive to produce; in other words they were less of a gamble to test new technology. Audience reaction to most of these shorts were mixed, however the Vitaphone Short series began to draw interest as they featured more artists (notably from vaudeville circuits) that rural audiences would never see. Although several inventors were working on sound methods, Vitaphone seemed to have the most success, especially because it was backed and bankrolled by Sam Warner of Warner Brothers fame.

Sam was convinced that sound was going to open a whole new frontier for film. He convinced his brothers to back him. Their first full length feature to incorporate Vitaphone was actually Don Juan, made in 1926. Don Juan, starring the 20s matinee idol John Barrymore, was really the first feature length film to take a dip and add synchronized sound effects to sword fight scenes. While the general critical reception was lukewarm at best, Don Juan did well enough financially to convince Warners to carry on. Sam Warner should really be remembered as an important figure in this story, as the reason why The Jazz Singer was important has to do with his efforts. The real reason that The Jazz Singer is important is not because it was first, but because it was a hit and made money for a studio that was struggling financially. Sam Warner had gambled, and when the success of The Jazz Singer was apparent to other studios, the race to produce more sound films was on. Sadly, Sam Warner would not see the revolution he helped to bring about; he died in 1927 at age 42, the day before The Jazz Singer was to debut in New York City.

Why was The Jazz Singer a success? It was indeed the first full feature length film to include spoken dialogue as part of the sound. That impressed audiences, but more for who was speaking rather than the words themselves. Al Jolson was a wildly popular performer even before his film debut. A popular figure on Broadway and the Vaudeville circuit because audiences loved his personal style. Instead of standing still and singing, as was the usual form, Jolson moved and really performed the song. Audiences flocked to his shows and bought his songs and recordings.

Strangely enough, though Jolson seemed tailor made for the film, he was not Warner's first choice. Eddie Cantor and George Jessel turned down the role before Warners offered it to Jolson. It was indeed based on Al Jolson. Author Samuel Raphaelson had seen Jolson perform and was so impressed by him that he wrote a short story based on Jolson's life entitled The Day of Atonement. Later he turned it into a stage play where it was a hit on Broadway, where Jessel had performed in the role. It was a story that appealed to not only the immigrants of the country, but also many studio executives, who themselves were immigrants or children of immigrants. It's no surprise that it was considered a hot property, and Warner's adapted it for film. While dialogue wasn't necessarily planned for sound in the film, the Warner's wanted to take advantage of Vitaphone to capitalize on Jolson's popularity and several of his songs that were already hits. It was during the recording and filming of these numbers that movie history was made. As was his want, Jolson sang and add libbed during his performance. The first words were spoken after his first number: "Wait a minute, wait a minute. You ain't heard nothin' yet!" But what came later in the film really charmed audiences. In a scene with his on screen mother, Jolson sings "Blue Skies" and throws in dialogue talking about how we will take care of his mother when he really makes it big. No one was really prepared for Jolson to do this, least of all actress Eugenie Besserer, who played his mother. As you can hear in the film, Besserer actually responds some and laughs at Jolson's add libs. The scene really is endearing.

Initially, although it did well, The Jazz Singer wasn't considered monumental. It was a bit of a corny story, even for 1927, which capitalized on the novelty of Vitaphone and the popularity of a star performer. The industry was really impressed with what followed. With a genuine success on their hands, Warner's followed up with Jolson in The Singing Fool,with even more spoken dialogue. The film was an even greater success and the other studios realized that talkies were no longer a fluke, they were the new frontier. Studios scrambled to fund their own companies and scientists to develop their own technology, but Vitaphone was such a proven and conventional technology, the investment of money and time wasn't worth it. Warner had licensed the process and other studio's used it. It wasn't until the better and streamline Movietone process was developed that Vitaphone faded away. Within a year of The Singing Fool, most studios were in the process or making plans to convert to sound films. Hollywood was never the same again.

The Film:
The above title should really say "films" because there really are two films in the set, and really the whole set is sort of a film history class in a box. The 3 disc set includes the feature film as well as the new feature length documentary film, The Dawn of Sound: How Movies Learned to Talk. We'll deal with that film in the bonus features section.

Warning : if you haven't seen the film, there are some spoilers ahead.

The Jazz Singer
Religious singer, Cantor Rabinowitz (played by Walter Oland who would later play detective Charlie Chan), expects his son to follow in his footsteps as the singer (or cantor) for their synagogue in the Jewish Ghetto of New York City. His son, Jackie has other ambitions. He wants to perform in the "jazz style" singing popular songs and performing for audiences. While his father forbids it, a young Jackie is caught singing at a restaurant by a family friend, who immediately goes and tells his father. Cantor Rabinowitz forcibly removes his son from the stage and takes him home. Knowing whats in store for him, Jackie tells his mother and father that he will run away if his father whips him again. Both are unyielding; his father whips him and afterwords Jackie kisses his mother goodbye and leaves for good.
Years later, Jackie, now going by the name Jack Robin, is becoming a locally popular "jazz singer" and is spotted one night at a club. He is encouraged to perform for the crowd (look for a young William Demarest in this scene, eating with Jolson). Jack performs a ballad and wows the crowd, especially a young actress and dancer in the crowd, Mary Dale. Mary introduces herself to Jack and eventually gives him his first shot at a touring show. Jack becomes a hit on the circuit (look for a very young Myrna Loy as a dancer in an off stage scene) and his career flourishes. Later he is cast in a big Broadway revue alongside Mary, with whom he has fallen in love.

When he arrives in New York, Jack goes to visit his mother, with whom he has secretly kept contact with all along. It happens to be his father's 60th birthday, and Jack figures maybe now is the time to reconcile. When he visits his mother he sings Irving Berlin's Blue Skies for her. (It is in this scene that the first true bit of spoken dialogue in a feature film is performed, even if it is add lib.) While he is singing, Jack's father walks in and witnesses his son's performance. He yells "Stop!" and Jack turns to face his father. Although a success and willing to reconcile, Jack doesn't find any sympathy with his father. His father insists that he will not have a "jazz singer" in his home and banishes Jack again.

Jack continues to ready for his big premiere, but two weeks later the choice of his life comes. His father becomes gravely ill, and his mother and the members of the synagogue beg Jack to stand in his father's place at Yom Kippur service, which happens to be opening night. It becomes a choice that symbolizes not just his own division within his soul, but what many immigrants must have felt at the time- the urge to assimilate, but the longing for the old ways. Although his producer warns Jack that if he doesn't appear, he'll never get another role on Broadway. In the end, Jack agrees to sing in his father's place. As he is singing, his father hears him from the window near his bed. He tells his wife, "Mama, we have our son again," and then quietly passes away. While Jack performs in the synagogue his father's spirit appears next to him. But his mother knows what is happening- Jack is still a jazz singer, but as she observes he is a "jazz singer — singing to his God."

The film is excellent, although it sounds mundane. It will very much seem dated to modern audiences, who may not be able to relate to Jack's problems, but it is very charming and endearing. It is easy to see why Jolson was so popular. He is energetic and captivating when he sings, and is very expressive on film. Modern audiences will no doubt be uncomfortable with the black face performances in the film. It was indeed in vogue at the time for entertainers like Jolson to perform jokes and songs in blackface, which had been around for sometime since the popularity of minstrel shows in the later half of the 19th century. Some film scholars have argued that its importance as a theme in the film and how it relates Jack's idea of identity, or that there is a theme of the adopting of minority styles in entertainment as a way to assimilate. I'm not going to delve into the argument for the purposes of this review, but it should be noted that while the practice is abhorrent to us today, it was commonplace then. That does not mean, however, that blacks or other Americans did not oppose the practice. Many argued and fought against the harmful stereotypes of minstrel shows since the days of Frederick Douglas. However blackface remained a standard entertainment performance until it's popularity waned after World War II. For more information, please read this informative article from Wikipedia. Despite the scenes in blackface, and whether or not they are integral to the film, they are there and we have to deal with the film as it is rather than dismiss it and diminish its value or importance. If anything it is a reflection of it's time. In it's own way it is a commentary and look at ethnicity and assimilation and family and religion and dreams and ambitions. All in all, The Jazz Singer is an excellent and important film, and one that should be seen to really learn about film history, if not to be enjoyed for it's own merits.

Bonus features:

Bonus features abound in this wonderful set and they include:the new feature length documentary, The Dawn of Sound: How Movies Learned to Talk; Commentary by film historians Ron Hutchinson and Vince Giordano; several cartoons and shorts that directly relate to the film, including Tex Avery's famous parody, I Love to Singa; Lux Radio Theater adaptation; Several rare Technicolor shorts that demonstrate how sound films work; over 3 and 1/2 hours of Vitaphone comedy and musical shorts; reproduction lobby cards, a reproduction of the original release souvenir program book; a booklet with vintage document reproductions and DVD features guide; and in a nice touch, a reproduction of the post-premiere telegram from Al Jolson to Jack L. Warner of his condolences in regards to Sam Warner's death. Wow! I'm out of breath just writing all that!

The Vitaphone shorts are hit and miss as far as interest goes. Some of them are very entertaining, including a very funny short featuring the famous Foy Family. Most film history buffs and vitaphone afficinados will love them. I did, but I admit some weren't as entertaining as others. Nonetheless kudos to Warner's for recognizing their value and placing so many of them in the set. The documentary was the real kicker for me as it really goes into the story of sound in film from the stand point of the industry and not just Warner Brothers. Many efforts and many names who contributed to the technology and its acceptance with audiences are featured. If you think that you know the story, think again. The documentary is a winner. And just as a side note, I love Tex Avery's I Love to Singa. I have for years. I just had to say that.

The video has been cleaned and restored with an all-new digital transfer and the audio features a refurbished soundtrack from restored picture elements and original Vitaphone-Sound-on-Disc recordings. If you've seen it on television or on video- the DVD is a revelation. The sound is crisp and clean and I can actually make out most of the dialouge between Jolson and Bessemer. Warner's was able to find an original Vitaphone recording that was in excellent condition to digitize and add to the film. As a nice added touch the disc themselves look like Vitaphone records. All in all, fantastic. I was not disappointed.

The Bottom Line:
This set is really a love letter from Warner's to itself and to the film industry about it's history. It has been lovingly restored and put together. If not for the Ford at Fox set, this would perhaps have been our choice for DVD of the year. It is that good. It is that important. Warners was really at the top of their game with this release, and hopefully the will continue to release fantastic sets such as this one, with such detail and attention paid to what's important. Bottom line- this set deserves to be on the shelf of any student or fan of film. Period.

Review Rating:
Rating the films and features:
The film: A
The documentary: A
Audio/Video: A+
Bonus Features A+

The Jazz Singer set is a Must Have!

The Shelf rates The Jazz Singer:
5 stars (Groucho Glasses)

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

Wait a minute, wait a minute. You ain't heard nothin' yet!

Friday, January 18, 2008

contest: growing up artic

It's contest time again!
Thanks to the kind folks at Genius Entertainment and Animal Planet we are giving away five copies of Growing Up Artic. This is a wonderful series from Animal Planet, and my kids loved it. You will get four episodes that focuses on dedicated professionals who save small animals who have been abandoned or orphaned in the wild, wild artic.
Again the rules are as simple as can be. The only excuse you could possibly have for not entering is either you won this past week or you are lazy! So open up your email and enter today!

We are giving away five copies (one per household)and the contest runs through next Friday.

Email us your entry at randomshelf@hotmail.com
1.You MUST include: Your name and full address in the body of the email, and "Growing Up Artic Contest" must be in the subject line.
2. The contest is only open to US residents
3. Only one entry per email address (and household, please!)
4. Contest ends on Friday January 25, 2008 at 11:59pm. We will draw the winner and notify them by email sometime on January 26th.

Please note that your information will be held confidential and will not be published and only used solely for identifying the winner and shipping the prize. Also, we will mail the prize to you, but cannot guarantee that the post office will treat it with the same respect as we will when we send it out. We will only guarantee that we will mail it to the address you provide to us.
So get those emails in and good luck!

Let the contest begin!

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

I thought we were gonna get television. The truth is... television is gonna get us.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

and the envelope, please...

Another year come and gone, and several more must have DVD have been crossed off of many a list. What about you? Any favorites from last year? This year is shaping up to have some great releases and special edition re-releases, but let’s take a quick look back at 2007 and review The Shelf’s picks for 2007: The Best of the Year.

2007 was the year for Animation fans. Many important sets hit the shelves, including a long awaited first installment of the complete run of Popeye, which had been held up for years over copy write issues. So here are The Shelf’s Top 5 picks for Animation for 2007 (these picks are in no particular order):

Walt Disney Treasures 2007 wave
Tex Avery’s Droopy: The Complete Theatrical Collection
Popeye the Sailor: 1933-1938, Vol. 1
Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Vol. 5
Woody Woodpecker and Friends, Classic Cartoon Collection Vol. 1

Our top pick? Popeye.

All of the above sets are great, worth of any top 5 list. The crème de la crème of any fan of animation has to be the long awaited Popeye set. Remastered and unedited, this volume of the first series of Popeye shorts demonstrate why the “Sailor Man” has endured for so long. Warner Brothers went to wall for this one, putting in hours of extras and bonus material relevant to the collector. With the Looney Tunes series coming out yearly with similar care and loads of stuff in each volume, it’s going to be great to look forward to the annual installments of Popeye and Looney Tunes. Let’s just hope the Disney Treasures sets keep coming as well.

How about the Special edition DVDs or Collector’s editions? Well there were many to choose from here as well. Our five favorites for the year are as follows for the 2007 Top 5 Shelf Picks for Special Edition DVDs:

Ace in the Hole: Two disc Criterion Edition
Rio Bravo Ultimate Collector’s Edition
Battleship Potemkin: Kino 2 disc Special Edition
The Three Stooges Collection, Vol. 1: 1934-36
Blade Runner (Various Special Editions)

And what is our number one pick? The Three Stooges Collection, Vol. 1.

I know, I know ladies- you just don’t get it. And I know that Blade Runner seems out of place. Well, trust me it is a modern classic. And the multiple editions are fantastic. However, we went the sentimental route with this one and pick the Stooges. Fans have been given the shaft when it comes to the Stooges on DVD for a while now. You could pick up a very expensive disc with sometimes only four shorts. And the last several releases were colorized! This set is beginning to get it right, finally. While there are no extras, the shorts have been cleaned up and remastered and look great. And now Sony (which owns the Columbia catalog) is putting them out chronologically. And the price is right as well. I can’t tell you how happy I was just to see Three Little Beers and False Alarms on DVD! Keep it up Sony.

Lastly, let’s look at our Top 5 Picks for 2007, Box Sets.

William Powell and Myrna Loy Collection
Film Noir Classics Collection Vol. 4
The Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland Collection
The Jazz Singer
Ford at Fox

The number one pick? Do you have to ask? Ford at Fox, natch.

And what is our Number One, Overall, Top Shelf Pick for 2007?
Again, Ford at Fox!

This set just blew everyone away. Yes, it carries a hefty price tag, but really not that bad considering the package. I suspect that during tax refund season, Fox will be shipping these out in bunches. 21 great films, by the American master, John Ford: many of the films seen for the first time on any home entertainment format. Reproduction stills, brochures, large picture book and a new feature length documentary on Ford round out the set. It should be no surprise that this set was at the top of many “Best of…” lists.

Did we miss your favorite? Do you agree or wish you could reach through the monitor and shake some sense into ol’ Uncle Loophole? Well, these are our picks for 2007. Sound off in the comments section and let us know what your favorites were for 2007, and what you are still hoping for. (The African Queen. The freakin’ African Queen! Do you hear me, oh, DVD gods?)

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.


Monday, January 14, 2008

profile and review: val lewton: the man in the shadows

Premiering Monday, Jan 14 at 8 pm (est) on Turner Classic Movies will be a new documentary by master film maker Martin Scorsese. This time Scorsese turns his lens towards another master film maker: Val Lewton. I recently got a chance to preview Val Lewton - The Man in the Shadows and also to talk with Lewton's son, Val E. Lewton, about his dad's life and career.

Val Lewton – The Man in the Shadows is simply one of the best documentaries about a film maker in a while. Often on DVDs we are treated to short extras about directors or actors, which mostly include comments from admirers about why they admirer so and so. Vignettes about biographical information are tossed in as filler and the most they offer are treatises about the greatness or not so greatness about the subject at hand. I’ve seen some good ones in the past few years, and we’ve reviewed them here at the Shelf, and the good ones are often the feature length docs that delve into the person, their legacy or lack thereof, and why they might matter. Martin Scorsese, who has shown his ability at creating great documentaries, equals his deftness as a film maker, joined writer and director Kent Jones to bring Val Lewton out of the shadows, so to speak. And what they tell about the man, and what you can learn about the history of film, acts as bridge in a way between the pre 1940s Hollywood and the movements that followed after World War II. In fact, it is partly what Lewton saw happening on the home front that affected what an audience saw on the screen. And his skill and abilities as a writer, a storyteller and his insight into what makes us all click led his work to rise above the mediocrity of small budgets, contracts and sensationalistic titles.

Why is Lewton important? Beyond the immediate enjoyment of his films, Lewton’s work serves as evidence that storytelling and characters matter more than budget and even better, that creative technique in film goes a long, long way. Today we often admire the great “indie” films that were filmed on a shoestring budget. Then the celebrated director gets a movie deal with a big distribution network and budget to match and then, more often than not, the subsequent efforts don’t measure up to previous potential. There could be any number of reasons for it, but one has to ask why money hadn’t made a difference.

Lewton was born in Yalta, Russia in 1905. When he was 5 years old, his mother immigrated to the United States with Val and his sister in tow. Although he was somewhat too young to remember much of Russia, his heritage was not necessarily forgotten. His son Val E. Lewton remembers his father as being fascinated by Russia and all things Russian. It was partly this fact, and his mother that brought Val to the attention of David O. Selznick. Val had been a journalist and an author. His mother worked for the MGM PR department in New York. Selznick needed a story man to work on the film adaptation of Taras Bulba. Someone preferably who had some Russian background. Val’s mother put his name in contention and Selznick hired him.

Selznick saw much in Lewton’s work and soon Val was working on several big MGM projects, often suggesting and writing key scenes and elements integral to the films; among them, A Tale of Two Cities, Rebecca, Little Lord Fauntleroy, and Gone with the Wind. The latter, Lewton famously advised Selznick against filming. Nevertheless when Selznick proceed with it, Lewton was brought in as story editor. In fact, Lewton claims to have written one of the more famous shots in the film: the one-track boom shot of Scarlett among the wounded at the Atlanta Depot. Val E. Lewton couldn’t verify for sure the veracity of the story, but said his father did indeed claim credit for it, saying he wrote it as a lark, never imagining that MGM would seriously undertake the sequence because of cost and difficulty. But it is exactly that imagination and ability to visually tell a story that served Lewton so well in the next phase of his career. RKO came calling looking to place Lewton in charge of their newly formed “horror” unit. Having recently lost money on their “wunderkind” Orson Welles and Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, RKO was looking for a way to generate quick revenue. They looked to the success of the recent vogue of horror films, especially those being churned out for little money and time at Universal. Lewton was unsure about leaving Selznick and taking the deal, but he accepted. Selznick, a big believer in Lewton, had even helped to negotiate the terms for him.

RKO gave Lewton’s unit (which became known as “The Snake Pit”) two things to work with: a pre-ordained title and a small budget. Although a producer, Lewton’s touch on his films is apparent; it is why he is often talked about in the sense a director would be discussed. He worked on the stories, often devising plots and themes which were at once literary and immediate; belying the cheesy titles given to him by the studio. During his stay at RKO, Lewton produced 11 films, nine of which were considered “horror” films. He worked with several directors who would find even further success and impact on the industry later, including Jacques Tourner (Out of the Past), Mark Robson (The Bridges at Toko-Ri and Peyton Place) and Robert Wise (West Side Story, The Sound of Music and a host of others). Lewton elevated Wise from editor to director on Curse of the Cat People when the previous director was over schedule and over budget.

Lewton also worked with the great Boris Karloff, eventually making three films together, which included some of Karloff’s best work. Initially reluctant to work with the horror icon, Lewton’s objections were resolved on their first meeting. For his part, Karloff was understandably wary of churning out endless amounts of “monster films.” He had grown tired of it at Universal, feeling like he didn’t have the chance to break away from Frankenstein and the seemingly endless sequels. It didn’t take long for Karloff to see something of a kindred spirit in Lewton; someone who was eager to do more. The two saw eye to eye on the craft of film making and as fellow artists. Karloff once said of Lewton: he had “rescued me from the undead and restored my soul.” Among the pictures the two made together, Karloff did some of his best work in years, relishing the chance to delve into characters that were neither mad scientists or monsters, at least of the non-human variety.

Perhaps what is most unique about Lewton’s films is the style in which he told his stories. Hampered by a small budget, he relied on creative lighting ( and shadows) and sound and a company of wonderful stock players and character actors to convey the story. His techniques have inspired other film makers (including Scorsese, Hitchcock, M. Night Shyamalan to name a few). The basic philosophy was to trust the intellect of the audience- that the unseen could be just as chilling as the seen. In many ways, Lewton’s films are almost like a radio suspense show on screen. The ambient sounds, the selective use of music and the shadows all combine to create an effect that allows the audience to feel the tension and fill in the blanks, without having everything splashed across the screen. His son Val E. Lewton agreed with that observation (a fan of radio shows himself) and further noted that his father considered “the imagination a function of the audience. It [his technique] may have had a lot to do with the budget, but it also was his instinct in knowing the audience.” (On a side note Val E. Lewton also told me that his father once told him that he had written the first radio soap opera script while working as a radio writer in New York: The Luck of Jane Christopher, something he hadn’t been able to verify.)

As Lewton built upon the styles of film making that came before him, he served as a style that others would build upon. In this way, Lewton presaged the Film Noir directors. Even his own director, Jacques Tourner, whose cinematography style matched Lewton’s storytelling perfectly, directed a film considered to be one of the first fully formed in the Film Noir style, Out of the Past. Lewton’s films are not really horror films, but psychological films of suspense and terror, almost preceding Hitchcock in someways, who was a contemporary and admirer (Val E. Lewton says that while he never really worked with Hitch, the two were friendly and spoke often) What Scorsese and Jones do so well in the documentary is to demonstrate not only how Lewton had an effect on film, but also how he was able to tap into the feelings of apprehension, fear, distrust and anguish that was happening in World War II America- feelings and a mood that changed film making after the war.

Val Lewton is almost a lost master in a way, who definitely has many fans, but is now having a renaissance of sorts. Many are discovering or rediscovering his films, thanks in part to the 2005 DVD box set, and outlets like TCM and Netflix. Val E. Lewton states his dad never anticipated DVDs, cable etc, but he thinks it is primarily this access that is creating a new generation of fans.

I cannot recommend this documentary any more highly than to say you should not only watch it Jan 14 or 15 on TCM, but also to recommend adding it to your DVD collection when it hits the stores at the end of the month. It is one of best documentaries about a film maker that I have seen in a long time. And trust me when I say I haven’t spoiled too much for you. And don’t forget to take in the Lewton marathon that follows. Here is the schedule: (all times eastern)

Monday, Jan. 14
8pm: Val Lewton – The Man in the Shadows
9:30 pm: Cat People (1942)
10:45 pm: I Walked with a Zombie (1943)
12am Repeat showing of Val Lewton – The Man in the Shadows
1:30 am: The Leopard Man (1943)
2:45 am: The Seventh Victim (1943)
4am: The Curse of the Cat People (1944)
5:15am: The Body Snatcher (1945)
6:30am: Isle of the Dead (1945)
7:45am: Bedlam (1946)

Tuesday, Jan. 15th
9:15 am : Val Lewton – The Man in the Shadows
10:45 am: Youth Runs Wild (1944)
12 pm: Mademoiselle Fifi (1944)

The Val Lewton Box set is still available, and will be re-issued to include this documentary in the set at the end of January. It will also be available as a stand alone purchase, for those who already own the set. We’ll have a review of the set here at The Shelf when the new set comes out.

Thanks to Turner Classic Movies for preview copies, information and setting up the interview with Val E. Lewton
And special thanks to Val E. Lewton for his time and kindness during our interview and the work he is doing to preserve his father’s work.
All comments from Val E. Lewton from this article are taken from an interview with this author on January 10, 2007.

Update: The Self-Styled Siren directed me to a great Val Lewton blogathon over at The Evening Class. Author Michael Guillen has included some great resources and articles about Lewton, as well as an interview with Ann Carter-Newton, the remarkable child actress from The Curse of the Cat People. Check it out! And thanks for the tip Siren!

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

I like the dark. It's friendly.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

we're baaaaackkk....

Alright gang, it seems as if technical problems have been resolved. So check back for new posts in the next day....
Here's a look at what we have coming up:
A review of the new Martin Scorsese documentary on film maker Val Lewton that premeires on Turner Classic Movies on Monday, Jan. 14. We'll also include a brief profile of Val Lewton and an interview we conducted with Lewton's son, Val E. Lewton.
A Best of 2007 roundup of the DVD's issued last year.
DVD reviews of some of the last sets we received towards the end of the year! Including: The Jazz Singer, Mickey and Judy Collection, Barbara Stanwyck Signature Collection and Bob Hope Movie Legends Collection.
All this and more coming up, so stay tuned....

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

They're here.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

hellloooo 2008

Well kiddies, it's 2008 and of course the year has started with a bang...but we haven't. I've been experiencing technical difficulties and hope to have all resolved by the weekend. Please check back with us then and Wolfie and I will be back in full force. I appreciate all who keep checking. If you've run a site or blog (especially blogger) you know how frustrating this can be. For now, since I have a rare window to post something quickly, I wanted to post a "standing by" post. Thanks for sticking with us, see you soon!

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

For those of you just joining us, today we're teaching poodles how to fly.


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