Sunday, July 20, 2008

#2: The Broadway Melody (of 1929) (1928/29)

The Broadway Melody

The Broadway Melody, later referred to as The Broadway Melody of 1929 to distinguish it from subsequent installments made in the 30s and 40s, won the Academy Award for Best Picture (which at the time was actually called Best Production) in the 1928/1929 Academy Awards, held on April 30th, 1930. It was the first non-silent film ("talkie") to win the award for Best Picture, and interestingly, it was originally planned to be partially silent, but things were going so well during the filming that it was decided to make the whole thing a "talkie." You can read all sorts of interesting stuff about it at IMDB, The Greatest Films, and Turner Classic Movies.

I watched it this afternoon, and while I wouldn't go so far as to say I loved it or was mightily impressed, I liked it well enough. I thought it was a decent effort for a bunch of movie stars who were making the hard transition from silent films, who were apparently being combined with vaudeville stars who had experience doing things like singing, dancing, and, er, actually talking on screen. Bessie Love was my favorite, starring as "Hank," a tiny spitfire of a woman who gave a pretty decent performance, though in the end, she was all noble and self-sacrificing when her lousy boyfriend (IMHO) fell in love with her supposedly much more beautiful sister. Okay, let's just say this movie isn't extremely heavy on plot, but then that's not what you'd expect from a movie entitled "Broadway Melody" -- you'd expect a flimsy plot as a delivery vehicle for some singing and dancing. The singing and dancing was interesting -- somehow, I would expect 1929 to be more prudish, even though I know that's not really realistic. I also find that I relate better to movies from the 40s and even the 30s than I do to movies from the 20s. It's a strange phenomenon that I found a little bit while I was watching this show. It recalled to mind watching a Katherine Hepburn silent film with my grandma, who was born in 1923. The movie was probably made when my grandma was only a few years old, and she'd never seen it before. It was REALLY long. And neither of us really "got" it -- we just couldn't quite relate to it. In the end, I sort of shrugged and said, "Well, grandma, I guess it was just before our time." Which was funny, but maybe there's something to that.

At any rate, I'm just rambling, giving a stream of consciousness about my impressions of the film. I watched it on DVD from Netflix. You can read much more lucid reviews of the film elsewhere on the internet, such as through the links I've already given above. My most interesting piece of trivia that I took away from my web surfing about the film is that Anita Page, who starred as Queenie, is still alive -- she's 97 years old, about to turn 98 on August 4th, and she is considered the last living silent film star by some on the internet, at least. Also, she used to reportedly get fan mail from Moussolini.

At the very least, the film was worth watching. It's definitely a glimpse into an era that I know little about -- and I consider myself to be relatively well versed (at least more than most other people) in "old movies." This makes me realize that there are a couple eras of film that I know very little about, and I'd be interested to explore more.

PS - If you get the DVD, don't miss the special features. There's a very bizarre short, The Dogway Melody, which is a parody acted entirely by DOGS. I couldn't quite tell if they were walking the whole time like circus dogs, or if some of it was done marionette-style with wires, though I expect it was mainly the latter. I confess that I watched a lot of the Metro Movietone Revues in fast forward, but my personal favorites were the two performances from the Ponce Sisters. And it was interesting to watch the trailers for the future Broadway Melodies. Because for one thing, nobody in this film could hold a performing candle to some of the latter performers, including of course Fred Astaire. Okay, that's enough from me for now.

One film down, lots more to go. Next up: All Quiet on the Western Front.

Learning a Lot Already

When I get into something new, I basically develop some degree of obsession. And this is no exception, I suppose. I realize that I am certainly not the first person to want to watch all the Academy Award winning films, by any means. Clearly, there are way bigger film buffs than I, who have seen them all. However, I do find it disappointing that some of the early ones are so difficult to find. I am learning that many of the early films weren't well preserved, and in fact because early film contained a lot of nitrate, it breaks down relatively quickly and what we have to watch today often has had to be pieced together from multiple copies, sometimes with segments being lost entirely. I'd vaguely known this before, but it still seems a shame that what were deemed the most important films less than a hundred years ago are more or less forgotten by almost everybody nowadays.

At any rate, I've discovered an interesting website, which I've added to the sidebar -- The Greatest Films. It is through this website that I learned that in the first year of the Oscars, there were actually two films that could be considered as the Best Picture winner. This is due to the fact that the categories hadn't really settled into what we have now at that time. In the first years, and also what is shown on the official Academy Award website as the Best Picture, was really the category of Best Production. So the film shown on Netflix and the Academy Award site as the Best Picture film for the years 1927/28 (awarded in 1929), Wings, received the Best Production award, while another film, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, received the same year's award for Best Unique and Artistic Picture (a.k.a Best Artistic Quality of Production), as far as I can tell, a category that is perhaps more equivalent to the current Best Picture category than the Best Production category. However, this category only existed in the first year of the Oscars, and that's probably why it's being dropped from some of the official annals of Oscar history, although that is a total shame if you ask me.

At any rate, clearly, I need to add Sunrise to my viewing list in my quest to watch all the Best Picture awardees. And, no surprise, it is not readily available. Netflix allows me to save it in my queue, for whenever it is released, which is "unknown." IMDB tells me that it isn't widely available on DVD, but that it will be played on Turner Classic Movies on September 2, 2008 at 10 AM EST, but that's via a commentor. I'll have to see if I can confirm that otherwise and queue it up on the DVR when the time comes, I suppose. Sheesh, you'd think watching these movies would really just be a matter of making the time and sitting down to do so, but in fact, it's much more difficult than that, I guess.

Ah, well, the commentor on IMDB wasn't too far off. The TCM schedule is up on their website for September, and it shows that the movie is playing at 9 AM MST where I am, and it will even e-mail me a reminder. How handy. I've got to say, TCM is fantastic. This makes me believe that eventually, they really do play everything...

To read some really interesting stuff about the first Academy Awards, make sure to vist that Greatest Films website. C'mon, you know you want to geek out with me. Some of the most interesting factoids there include the fellow nominees who did not win (in that year, referred to as Honorable Mentions), some of which film history considers greater films than the winners (hey, we all know that feeling from recent Academy Award ceremonies, which do sometimes feel more like popularity contests...), and also really interesting commentary about snubs, some of which seem worth watching as well. Okay, it just adds more to the ol' to-do list, but it IS interesting. It is also interesting (though likely not entirely coincidental) that the Academy Awards basically occurred at the dawn of sound in the motion picture industry. The first years awardees were almost exclusively in silent film -- the only award to a non-sound film was confined to its own category because it was felt unfair to have the silent films compete with "talkies" -- so it really signals the end of an era. And don't even get me started on the internet research tangent this set me off on about Mary Pickford! Go on one of your own sometime, because it's really quite interesting...

At any rate, the first two Best Picture films, Wings and Sunrise, will have to be watched totally out of order, after July 27th and September 2nd, respectively. And when I move on to watching the Best Director films, I'll have to remember that there were also two Best Director categories in that first year, for Drama and Comedy...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Strange Plan

After watching this year's Academy Awards, I realized I hadn't seen the Academy Award winners for a few years. I noticed, specifically, when I looked at the Academy Award website, that over the past 20+ years, I had usually seen at least the Best Picture award winner, but then for the last 3 or 4, I'd missed them entirely. Which got me thinking that it would entertain me greatly to watch all of the Best Picture winners, since the Oscars began, in order. Because I'm that kind of a geek.

Enter Netflix. Last week I subscribed, and this week I'm ready to start my very slow movie marathon. I've already run into a snag, due to the fact that the first year's winner, Wings, does not yet appear to be available on DVD, at least not via Netflix. So either I'd need to search it out elsewhere, either on VHS or DVD, which is possible, but probably difficult, or else start with #2.

Wait a minute, what luck! I just searched IMDB, and I see that it's playing on Turner Classic Movies on July 28th at midnight!! Okay, so I can record it with my DVR and watch it too. It will probably be slightly out of order, but that's okay.

At any rate, I thought to myself, well, if I'm on this crazy quest to watch these all, then I may as well document it in a blog. Because that's what the post-modern woman would do, right? Maybe make a post for each film, and discuss what I thought of it? So that's the tentative plan. Stay tuned for more, I guess...