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Monster of a comedy

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A case could be made that "Young Frankenstein" is the greatest horror comedy ever made. Contenders to the crown include "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein," "Shaun of the Dead," and even "Zombieland." But for many, the most entertaining of them all within this subgenre remains Mel Brooks' 1974 masterwork. Here are some compelling reasons why:


WHAT’S THE SECRET TO THIS FILM’S SUCCESS?
Excellent casting – this is arguably Gene Wilder’s finest role and performance, and it’s hard to envision any of the other roles going to any other actors than the ones cast in this film.
o Wilder’s ability to express a wide array of emotions with dramatic facial expressions, animated gestures and exaggerated histrionics demonstrates his gift not only for comedy but credible acting. This feels like a role he was born to play.
o Marty Feldman, meanwhile, practically steals every scene he’s in and often garners the biggest laughs.
o Peter Boyle has a challenging assignment here – he has to convey a lot of emotion and ideas nonverbally, remain consistently in character, and also personalize and customize his interpretation of Frankenstein’s monster without turning it into a caricature of itself.
There are moments of true poignancy and pathos – not wall-to-wall comedy like the Airplane movies, and that’s to the picture’s advantage: the filmmakers have to create sympathy for the monster to make him more than one dimensional, and they’re not relying on pure parody and satire to entertain viewers here. Their goal is to tell an emotionally involving story that’s also filled with plenty of laughs.
The brave choice of shooting in black and white makes it a more credible tribute to classic horror films and helps it stand out during an era when black and white was very much out of fashion and rarely used in feature-length motion pictures. Brooks employs several transitional techniques popular in early films, including swipes and irises, too.
This film is imbued with post-sexual revolution bawdiness and sexual innuendos, which raises the material to a more mature, adult level that grown-ups appreciate and which elevates the comedic potential.
Although this is a Mel Brooks-directed film, it’s a fairly equal collaboration between him and Wilder, who co-wrote the original screenplay and originated the idea. Some film critics and scholars contend that this is Brooks’ most well-paced and restrained film – not quite as silly and zany as some of his other comedies – and that praise should be equally attributed to Wilder.
The movie boasts a tremendous score by John Morris that is sweet, haunting and foreboding, utilizing dramatic string instruments and violins to evoke longing, loneliness and mystery.
The filmmakers also opted to include a soft shoe song and dance number that, if not prepared and handled carefully, could have fallen flat on its face. Instead, “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” is a showstopper number that is both wildly funny and highly entertaining.
Additionally, unlike many of Brooks’ other films, this movie isn’t anchored firmly in the year or era it was made – it isn’t saddled with contemporary pop culture or scatological references, trendy jokes or Zeitgeist characters that by now would have grown dated. Because the old-time horror films it honors remain timeless and classic, Young Frankenstein itself remains timeless and classic – arguably much more so than Blazing Saddles, Spaceballs, and The Producers.

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN WAS INTENDED AS A LOVING HOMAGE TO THE CLASSIC UNIVERSAL HORROR FILMS OF THE 1930S. HOWEVER, DO YOU THINK THIS MOVIE DIMINISHES THOSE OLD UNIVERSAL MONSTER MOVIES IN ANY WAY? FOR EXAMPLE, CAN YOU EVER WATCH THOSE OLD FRANKENSTEIN MOVIES AND KEEP A STRAIGHT FACE WITHOUT THINKING OF YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN – JUST AS IT MAY BE DIFFICULT TO TAKE THE AIRPORT DISASTER FILMS OF THE 1970S SERIOUSLY AFTER WATCHING THE AIRPLANE MOVIES?
This movie isn’t trying to skewer or mean-spiritedly lampoon those old Frankenstein pictures; instead, it’s trying to evoke the look and feel of those films while also poking gentle fun at some of the tropes, conventions, motifs, aesthetics, and characters of those 1930s movies.
For proof of the love and respect that the filmmakers intended, consider that they opted to shoot in black and white, like the original Frankenstein movies, and they also were able to shoot in the original castle using the lab equipment props featured in the 1931 Frankenstein movie.
That being said, some viewers may find it difficult, after watching Young Frankenstein, to screen the original Frankenstein pictures with an open mind or a patient, tolerant attitude that respects the films in the context of their times.
It’s important to remember that, in 1974 when young Frankenstein was originally released, the classic Universal horror movies like Frankenstein and its sequels were enjoying a resurgence on rerun television a la Shock Theater and Creature Feature-type TV repackagings. Also, classic movie monsters remained popular among baby boomers and their children, as evidenced by the popularity of horror magazines, comic books, monster models and other merchandise. These interests did not suffer after Young Frankenstein was released – in fact, old-time monsters were back in vogue.

WHAT OTHER FILMS COME TO MIND AFTER WATCHING YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN?
Universal’s Frankenstein cycle, including Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Son of Frankenstein, Ghost of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, House of Frankenstein, and Abbott and Costello meat Frankenstein 
The Fearless Vampire Killers
Vampira, another horror spoof from 1974
Dracula: Dead and Loving It, also directed by Brooks
Haunted Honeymoon, directed by Wilder
Dr. Strangelove – which also features a strange character with a mechanical arm

OTHER MOVIES DIRECTED BY MEL BROOKS
The Producers
The Twelve Chairs
Blazing Saddles
Silent Movie
High Anxiety
History of the World Part 1
Spaceballs 

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"It's alive!" with comedy

Sunday, September 18, 2016

CineVerse will pay a tribute to the late Gene Wilder on September 21 by featuring “Young Frankenstein” (1974; 106 minutes), directed by Mel Brooks, chosen by Bob Johnson. Plus: enjoy a trailer reel featuring movie highlights from Gene Wilder’s career. (Note: “Red River,” previously scheduled for this date, will be rescheduled for an upcoming date in November).

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Book a night at the Marigold

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Make plans to join CineVerse on September 14, when we'll view and discuss “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (2011; 124 minutes), directed by John Madden, chosen by Danealle Kueltzo.

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Hitchcock upends our equilibrium with a film that's challenging to diagnose

Thursday, September 8, 2016

"Vertigo" is a movie that wasn't an instant crowd pleaser or a boxoffice smash when it was released in 1958. And 58 years later, it's a film that can still make your head swim with its convolutions, improbabilities, prolonged pace and complicated character motivations. But it's these thick layers of intricacy that give shape and psychological complexity to a film built around a flimsy and disposable murder mystery conceit. For these and other reasons that reward repeat viewings, "Vertigo" is a cherished gem--granted, one that requires a careful look through the jeweler's glass to recognize and admire its fine facets--studied the world over and regarded as one of the greatest motion pictures ever made. Countless tomes, essays, and dissertations have been exhaustively written about this Hitchcock work, and a 51-minute discussion of it during CineVerse can only begin to scratch the surface. Nevertheless, here's a summary of the major "Vertigo" talking points we discussed yesterday:

WHAT ARE THE THEMES AT WORK IN THIS FILM? WHAT IS THIS MOVIE ABOUT PSCYHOLOGICALLY?
Obsession: a man’s doomed obsession with a fantasy woman who doesn’t exist
Guilt: a man’s feelings of guilt over succumbing to vertigo (which contributes to the death of a police officer) and losing the woman he’s obsessed with
The danger of choosing illusion over reality
Loss of equilibrium both literally and figuratively, both physically and spiritually
Debasing manipulation
The mask-like nature of appearances (evidenced by the eponymous woman’s blank face in the opening credits)
The impossibility of forcing life to make you happy
The struggle for personal identity: Is Judy really Judy at the end? She alternates between speaking like Judy and Madeleine as she is dragged up the belltower, and she is increasingly engulfed in shadows, suggesting loss of identify; also, is Scotty himself any longer after Madeleine has died two thirds through the movie? He suffers a loss of identity throughout the picture. Consider, also, that both main characters have two names: Scotty and John/Johnny; and Madeleine and Judy.
Complex psychology: a man falls in love with a woman who doesn’t exist, and then rejects the real woman who shatters his illusion, a woman who has unexpectedly fallen in love with the man she fooled—in this, she too is fooled, because in the end, the man prefers his fantasy over the flesh and blood actress standing before him. With this choice, the man loses both women.
Impotence and sexual aberration: Scotty’s vertigo serves as a symbolic impotence that holds him back from catching up to Madeleine in the bell tower. His injuries require him to wear an emasculating corset. And his fetishistic obsession with trying to remake Judy into his idealized vision of Madeleine is sexually arousing to him.
Voyeurism: a theme Hitchcock used in many pictures, especially Rear Window and Psycho

DOES THE STORY REMIND YOU OF ANY ROMAN OR CLASSIC MYTHS?
Orpheus the musician loses his wife Eurydice (yer-i-di-see) to death and goes into Hades to rescue her, only to lose her again
Pygmalion  who crafts a sculpture of the perfect woman and then falls tragically in love with his creation
Tristan, who weds another woman named Isolde (ee-zold) when the true Isolde of his passions marries another
Dr. Frankenstein, who brought a dead man back to life, resulting in tragic results, just as Scotty tries to bring a dead woman back to life

WHAT IS THE “MACGUFFIN” (THE DEVICE THAT PROPELS THE PLOT, BUT WHICH IS RELATIVELY UNIMPORTANT IN UNDERSTANDING/APPRECIATING THE MOVIE) IN VERTIGO?
Carlotta Valdez and the legends/myths surrounding her
The necklace that Judy chooses to wear, which causes Scotty to waken from his trance
The entire murder/mystery plot, which is filled with holes and implausibilities but which Hitchcock wasn’t as concerned about—instead, he was focusing on creating a powerful emotional and visual template, mood and atmosphere.

WHAT IS DARING AND DIFFERENT ABOUT VERTIGO CONSIDERING ITS RELEASE IN 1958?
The heroine is “killed off” quote unquote a little over halfway through the movie, kind of like how the heroine is offed halfway through Psycho 2 years later
The plot twist of Judy actually being Madeleine is revealed to the audience two thirds through, long before Scotty learns about it. 
This film employs slow, methodical pacing to build mood and suspense, which requires extreme patience and concentration from viewers and risks losing the audience.
Unlike previous Hitchcock films, there is not a happy ending or nicely resolved conclusion—there is no good or bad guy that emerges victorious, except perhaps tragic fate.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE SYMBOLS, MOTIFS AND PATTERNS THAT ARE REPEATED THROUGHOUT THE MOVIE?
Spirals and swirls: in Madeleine’s hair, in the opening credits and dream sequence, in the steps up the bell tower; consider the dead man who fell is splayed in form of a spiral; also the narrative structure of the film is a spiral: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy meets girl, boy loses girl
Corridors and tunnels: the belltower staircase, the tunnel effect of Scotty looking down from the rooftop in the opening scene; Madeleine’s verbal recount of her dream walking down a long corridor; the open grave; the sanitarium corridor that Midge walks down; the car ride back to the mission
Flowers: the flower shop scene, the bouquet in the portrait, and in Madeleine’s hands at the waterside; Scottie’s nightmare; the flower he buys Judy

WHY DO YOU SUPPOSE HITCHCOCK CHOSE TO REVEAL THE JUDY/MADELIENE IDENTITY 20 MINUTES BEFORE SCOTTY LEARNS OF IT?
So that we can build sympathy with Judy and identify with her character, as we had developed an allegiance and sympathy with Scotty earlier
To remove any gimmicky feel to this plot twist that could have been guessed at earlier if it were saved for the end
Hitchcock chooses to give the audience more information than his main protagonist, a technique that helps build suspense. In this way, Hitch chooses suspense over shock/surprise.

HOW DO YOU FEEL IN THE CLIMACTIC SCENE WHEN SCOTTY DRAGS JUDY UP THE BELLTOWER: DO YOU ROOT FOR HIM TO CONQUER HIS VERTIGO AND FEEL GOOD THAT HE’S REALIZED THE TRUTH, OR ARE YOU HORRIFIED AT THE THOUGHT OF HIM POSSIBLY HARMING JUDY OR EXPERIENCING A DÉJÀ VU MOMENT OF LOSS?
By this point, it’s possible to identify and sympathize with both of them, so it’s natural to feel both conflicting emotions.

WHAT DO YOU SUPPOSE CAUSES JUDY TO FALL TO HER DEATH AT THE END?
She is frightened by the emerging shadow of the nun, whom she thinks at that moment is the ghost of Madeleine come back
She is losing her grip between reality and fantasy at that point.
Cosmic irony and poetic justice: it’s ironic that Scotty conquers his fear of heights and vertigo symptoms, escapes from the shadow of the past, and acknowledges the truth of how he was deceived just as the woman who embodied the girl of his dreams is destroyed. His victory comes at a terrible price. And for Judy, falling to her death serves as poetic justice for playing a part in Scotty’s earlier deception. 
Don’t forget: this is still the censorship era of the production code; Judy did commit a crime, and the production code required her to pay for that crime by the end of the film.

WHAT ROLE DOES MIDGE PLAY IN THIS LOVE TRIANGLE, AND HOW DOES SHE CONTRAST WITH MADELEINE?
She’s grounded in reality—plainly and uninterestingly so to Scotty.
She’s the opposite of Madeleine: not glamorous or mysterious or refined.
It doesn’t matter that she’s a steady positive influence on him and good to him/for him: she does not fulfill Scotty’s innermost desires.

IRONIES ARE PREVALENT IN “VERTIGO”; CAN YOU CITE ANY EXAMPLES?
Just as Carlotta Valdez was “thrown away,” Elster throws Judy away when he no longer needs her.
At the moment that bookstore owner Pop Liebel “sheds light” on the eerie history of Carlotta and her tragedy, his shop grows visibly dark and foreboding.
In the first half of the film, Scotty tries to wake Madeleine up from her dreamy fantasy, hoping to break her from her trance. In the second half, Judy tries hard to wake Scotty up from his dreamy fantasy, hoping to break him from his trance, but acquiescing ultimately to his fantasy by agreeing to appear as Madeleine.

VERTIGO HAS BEEN CALLED HITCHCOCK’S MOST PERSONAL, REVEALING, HONEST AND SELF-CONFESSIONAL MOVIE. DOES ANYONE WANT TO OFFER A THEORY AS TO WHY THIS IS TRUE?
He liked to cast and manipulate image of icy cool blonde actresses and remake them into his own vision of the feminine ideal, as evidenced by the way he cast and photographed Grace Kelly, Tippi Hedren, Eva Marie Saint, Madeleine Carroll, and others.
Scotty serves as a surrogate for the director here—obsessed with a mystery blonde and driven by sexual desire and dark impulses to pursue her, strip her down, dress her up, and shape her like a beautiful mannequin.
Hitchcock knows that he cannot truly possess the females he’s infatuated with nor act on his forbidden sexual compulsions with them; but he likes to fantasize and play-act by using actors and their characters to do his bidding and explore these desires in front of the camera.

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Soaring to dizzying heights of excellence

Sunday, September 4, 2016

On September 7, Hitchcockronology: A Sequential Study of the Master of Suspense returns to CineVerse. Once a month throughout 2016, CineVerse will examine the artistry, style and themes prevalent in several major works directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starting with early pictures and progressing toward later movies in his filmography. Part 9 spotlights Hitchcock's indisputable masterpiece “Vertigo” (1958; 129 minutes).

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Change to schedule on Sept. 21

Friday, September 2, 2016

The previously slotted film set for Sept. 21 at CineVerse, "Red River," will be rescheduled for a November 2016 date to be announced soon. Instead, on Sept. 21, make plans to join us for a tribute to the late Gene Wilder and a film to get us into the Halloween spirit with “Young Frankenstein” (1974), directed by Mel Brooks, chosen by Bob Johnson. Plus: we'll show a trailer reel featuring movie highlights from Gene Wilder’s career.

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You don't beat this river

Thursday, September 1, 2016

It's not easy to objectively dissect and discuss a film whose shocking reputation precedes it, even 44 years after its theatrical release. But "Deliverance" is a movie chock-full of content and meaning, symbolism and subtext, metaphor and moral, so exploring it in depth via group conversation can yield a variety of diverse theories and opinions and prove to be richly rewarding and insightful. Such was the case last evening with our verbal investigation of this film, which produced numerous talking points, including the following:

HOW ARE EACH OF THE FOUR MAIN CHARACTERS DIFFERENT IN PERSONALITY, AND WHY ARE THESE DISTINCTIONS IMPORTANT?
Lewis is a rugged hunter who embodies American arrogance, overconfidence and machoism. Interestingly, despite his brawn and outdoorsman experience, he is reduced to a shell of himself once he’s injured. The takeaway here is that Lewis’ negative qualities are liabilities that make him vulnerable in the merciless wild.
Drew is more liberal and humanistic, a man who tries to conform to the laws and rules of the civilized world and adopts an intellectual approach. It’s important to remember that Drew is the first to die – suggesting perhaps that, as John Kenneth Muir wrote in his excellent blog entry on this film: “Perhaps the voice of society or morality has little practical value in a Darwinian, kill-or-be-killed universe…(his) abstract thinking and his artistic bent don’t permit him to tap into his primitive self.”
Bobby is a typical flabby white-collar type who lacks experience outdoors; he’s sarcastic, disrespectful of nature, and demeaning to the natives in their rustic environment. But Bobby is the most vulnerable because he sticks out (literally and figuratively) as a target for abuse and he can’t “carry his weight.” He represents the overindulgent, content, fat American who is used to a life of leisure.
Ed is an everyday guy and typical family man/husband who serves as more of a surrogate for the viewer in that he has a few of the qualities of each of the others – strength and resourcefulness when the going gets tough and a desire to remain within the rules of society, yet he’s also a city slicker who lacks experience. According to Muir, the film intentionally compares Ed to the “soon-to-be lobotomized river. The raging, dangerous river will be replaced by a serene – but dead – Lake. And Ed has lived a life as that tranquil lake, never understanding the forces roiling beneath it.”

WHAT ARE THE MAJOR THEMES OF THIS FILM?
Survival of the fittest and the search for heroism.
Man versus nature: man’s rape of the natural world, and nature’s revenge against man. Man is punished for his sins.
Devolution: Every man has a primitive side to his nature – kind of like the id buried in our psyche – that can disturbingly surface when we are threatened or aroused. Courtesy, civility, manners, tact and respect can quickly disappear when our dark side emerges.
Deliverance – which is defined in the dictionary as the act of being set free or rescued. While those among the four who survive are delivered from evil, the ending of the movie suggests that Ed, especially, can never truly be free or rescued from what he experienced.

WHAT’S THE POINT OF THE DUELING BANJOS SCENE?
It demonstrates the universal power of music to bridge all cultures and peoples.
The banjo player is genetically deformed – suggesting inbreeding and reinforcing stereotypes. But the introduction of this character here is important, because we see him later on a bridge, standing as a sort of bellwether of doom, a guardian monitoring the Styx-like river our quartet crosses.
The banjo player causes the audience to relax and let its guard down when we enjoy his musical camaraderie with Drew; once the song is over, however, we suddenly feel uncomfortable when we observe that the player refuses to shake hands with Drew. Now, the banjo player makes us nervous and serves as a portentous foreshadowing device.
Their musical interplay also signifies a dual or competition between two what appears to be friendly forces but ends up being two opposing forces.

DELIVERANCE IS A FILM FILLED WITH SYMBOLISM AND SUBTEXT. CAN YOU CITE ANY EXAMPLES?
The dead hand that rises out of the lake: This could stand for the potential for violence and brutality within each of us that can rise to the surface at any time, despite our efforts to suppress these instincts and defense mechanisms. It’s important that Ed in particular see the hand, because if Ed is an Everyman and surrogate for the audience who is capable of succumbing to violence and de-evolution, we all are. And this thought and imagery is meant to be haunting and disturbing – knowing that it can pop up at any time and remind us that the concept of civilization is illusory.
The bridge from which the banjo player performs: This bridge represents a demarcation line that, once our four protagonists cross it, triggers violent and dangerous consequences.
The river itself: a dam is going to be built to tame this river, but not before it unleashes its raging violence and merciless power. The river can serve as a metaphor for life.
The church that is being moved away: insinuating perhaps that morality, goodness, and faith in a higher power has no place in the jungle primeval that is our primary setting.

WHAT DID YOU FIND SURPRISING, SHOCKING, DISTINCTIVE AND INFLUENTIAL ABOUT DELIVERANCE?
It contains two of the most famous scenes in movie history: first, the “dueling banjos” sequence, and second the notorious scene where the mountain men rape Ned Beatty.
Adding to the verisimilitude and heightened realism, the filmmakers shot along the Chattooga River in Georgia and the four main actors really had to brave those rapids and, in the case of Burt Reynolds, perform dangerous stunts.
It seems wrapped in the veneer of an adventure yarn and a “buddy” picture, but it quickly descends into the horror genre with its graphic violence and terrifying situations.
This picture served as a notable inspiration for backwoods horror/torture films that followed, including The Last House on the Left, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Hills Have Eyes.

AFTER SEEING DELIVERANCE, WHAT OTHER SIMILAR FILMS COME TO MIND?
The aforementioned horror films featuring inbred and/or deranged killers brutalizing victims in wild/remote places
Straw Dogs, which was released one year earlier
Pulp Fiction, which also features a disturbing male-on-male rape scene
Survival-in-the-wild adventure films where man hunts or terrorizes man, including The Edge, The Most Dangerous Game, The River Wild, Hell in the Pacific, and Southern Comfort

OTHER MOVIES DIRECTED BY JOHN BOORMAN
Point Blank
Hell in the Pacific
Zardoz
Excalibur
Hope and Glory
The Emerald Forest
Carrie (both films and with the shocking image of a dead hand rising up)
Stand by Me

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Squeal like a film fan, boy...

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Bet you'll think twice about taking a whitewater rafting trip in the hinterlands after watching “Deliverance” (1972; 110 minutes), directed by John Boorman, and chosen by Brian Hansen, slated for CineVerse on August 31. 

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Fall preview ready for prime time

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Curious to learn what CineVerse has on tap for September and October? You can view our next two-month schedule by visiting tinyurl.com/91016cineverse.

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