Category Archives: American Film History

The Art of the Title

Someone did this very fantastic short, showing the progression of title cards/sequences in films from Intolerance (D.W. Griffith) to The Social Network (Fincher). The project is basically a sliver of the work done at The Art of the Title Sequence, which catalogs and dissects — you guessed it — title sequences from film and television.


The Brothers Warner

So I watched The Brothers Warner last weekend. I enjoyed it, but in all, I wish it was more about their accomplishments and work than their ridiculous rivalry.

Basically, most of this doc was about how Jack Warner was a crazy jerk who got a lot of stuff done, but at the expense of his relationship with his brothers, particularly Harry Warner. This doc was about 90 minutes. A lot of it focused on their personal lives, and the family’s history. I mean, it was truly interesting to learn about, but I do wish there was more about their collaboration together to build one of the biggest studios in the United States.

I gotta say, the story of Jack Warner was pretty fascinating because he was basically THE caricature of a movie executive: loud, demanding, brash, hammy, and one to take the credit. Not one we would call modest by any means. Though, I would imagine it’s kind of difficult to dive beyond a caricature. Anyway, this was well done. I guess I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the history of the movie business.

From watching documentaries and specials on the early developments of the film industry, and reading things here and there, you would believe that The Warner Brothers Created Movies With Sound In Them. But of course they didn’t. I just finished reading a chapter I accidentally overlooked in my textbook, A Short History of The Movies. It starts like this:

According to legend, sound unexpectedly descended on the film industry from the skies like an ancient god out of a machine,when The Jazz Singer opened on Broadway on October 6, 1927.

And really, I knew that there’s no way that a huge change like that happens to revolutionize the film industry in such an overnight way. In fact, as I learned, people had been playing with synchronized sound recording and motion pictures for 30 years prior to Al Jolson telling us we ain’t heard nothing yet. Lee de Forest (remember that one, comm majors?) did a great service by developing the amplification of sound in 1906 and 1907. And then in the 1920s a group of three German guys developed the Tri-Ergon Process, which eventually became the sound patent for European film. Soon after, the Vitaphone (synchronized record and film) was developed, and that company was bought out by the Warners. Even still, other studios like Fox were playing with sound and film, distributing short films and newsreels with speeches, sound effects, music, vaudeville acts, etc. With Sound. Yep.

The Jazz Singer, then, is the First Full-Length Feature to Use Synchronized Sound As A Means of Telling A Story. Also, there was blackface. But it was for a reason, at least: black people were basically shut out of performing on the screen. This was a way of bringing black music to America’s upper crust without offending them — hey, it’s probably difficult to swallow the fact that your maid is far more talented than you.


Assignments for the week of Jan. 24

– History: Mast Ch. 11 (The American Studio years) – I finally got the book!

– Spec: Back to making it not suck so spectacularly…even though I am sticking to my guns, and I don’t believe my spec idea is so freaking horrible.

– Television and Society: watching Murphy Brown. I bought the first season, which I now have in my possession.

– NMP: Study Children’s Hospital | Watch FULL TIME VIDEO BLOGGERS andTELEVISION AND THE INTERNET ARE THE SAME THING (yes, I swear, I’ll do this. I was supposed to do it last week, but I had a cover story to write!!!).

Assignments for the week of Jan. 10

– History: Watch The Brothers Warner; Watch Modern Times and City Lights
– Spec : Class starts Jan. 12
– NMP: Read Searching for the Future of Television and What the hell is going on with TV?
– TV: Analyze The Bob Newhart Show  |

* also, I’m going to start reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Joan Crawford Versus Natalie Portman

I was forced to return my library copy of the textbook I was using for my film history course, A Short History of the Movies. I went to all of the big sellers, like Amazon looking for a copy, only to find that it’s basically a gazillion dollars. And then my brilliant husband reminded me that because I’m back in the educational throes of it all, that I should go to for my books.

Therefore, I’m going to be waiting for my $12 textbook to arrive to my house via media mail — basically it’s going to take a while. In the meantime, I’m working on a few video and readings to occupy  my reading. Fortunately for me, I was just at the part of the book talking about the great comedies and comedians of the 1920s.

Looking for some events to go to or something to read this week, I came across this online “exhibit” on Los Angeles Public Library’s website on old Hollywood Movie Posters. There are so many details that are so interesting here:

Today, credit blocks consume approximately an eighth of a poster’s layout and include credits for a range of filmmakers, including the producers, director, writers, art director, costume designer, cinematographer, effects teams, and musicians. But the idea remains the same, to convey to a potential audience the who and what of a movie: who’s in it and what’s it about?

Reading that, I took a look at some of the posters available (which I highly recommend), and it made me think about the obvious differences to today’s posters and the subtle similarities.
Let’s compare this poster for Montana Moon (1930) with No Strings Attached (2011).

First of all, the synopsis….sounds AWFUL.

But most importantly, we have two lovers, in an intimate, non-threatening moment. But it’s such a generic moment. And that’s what a lot of these old movie posters seem to have in common: they only give a highly vague sense of what the movie is about. The real point is just to illustrate that Your Favorite Star will be in this movie. The only guarantee you get to know from the poster is that 1. Joan Crawford is IN this movie. 2. She’s going to suck face with some dude. 3. It’s an “all talking” movie by MGM. The embrace could mean they’re an intimate couple, and we’re seeing them in a moment we’re “not suposed to see.” It could mean she’s dying, and holding on for dear life. Or that she’s drunk on booze and pills and needs someone to help her sit up to eat her Subway sandwich. We just assume it’s the romance one because otherwise the poster would indicate a more thrilling movie. If anything the poster for Montana Moon reflects the lackluster story that IS Montana Moon.

And then there’s No Strings Attached. I will admit, I am stoked to see it, mainly because When Harry Met Sally is one of my favorite movies of all time, and its main theme, aside from you cannot help who you love, is that men and women can’t be friends without sex getting in the way. We already get that from the title, something slightly illegitimate is going on. The poster brings it home: We see them clearly AFTER an intimate moment, but the expressions on their faces are clearly happy, with a shared connection, along with that is the tagline, “Friendship has its benefits,” playing off the expression, “Friends with benefits.” The key to this is universality. This film is certainly targeting a young adult audience, but a wide young adult audience — people on both ends of the spectrum of adulthood: 18 to, say, 45ish(?). The message isn’t complicated, it isn’t confrontational or scary, and you know that in the end they’re totally going to get married and have a gazillion babies.

“Gazillion” twice in one post? Damn right.

81 Movies. One Goal

So I’ve read basically all of Get The Picture? The Movie Lovers Guide To Watching The Movies, which I enjoyed. I’ve also seen the TCM series, Moguls and Movie Stars, and I’m currently reading A Short History of The Movies (which I promise ain’t that short…). Among them and through suggestions of friends and colleagues, several films have popped up as THE features that film buffs should check out. So using that, and the general “I gotta see that” list of movies floating around in my head, I’ve come up with this list of 80 movies that I need to see or revisit over the next year or so. I will completely admit that I have not seen most of the titles on this list. Really, like the vast majority of these movies. But, I want to broaden my base of knowledge of films. And I want to sound like a film douche buff at parties.
This list is is not solely the best movies of all time, or the most important. Many of them are the most highly regarded films in the century or so that films have been made. But some of these are also prime examples of excellent character development, tight pacing, high drama, or carefully constructed mise-en-scene, and the like. So take a look, judge me, make suggestions, after the jump, of course… Read the rest of this entry
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