I love off-beat comedy – especially those that involve one of my favorite B list actors. Near the top of my list would be Bruce Campbell of “Evil Dead” fame. Every time I catch one of his films I can’t help but smile, even when there is not plot and everyone around him is groan-worthy.
Thankfully, in the 2002 comedy “Bubba Ho-tep” the story can stand on its own. Campbell plays an elderly Elvis who teams up with John F. Kennedy (Ossie Davis) to stop a cursed Egyptian soul-eater from overtaking their retirement home. Their performances are well-rounded and are complimented by the supporting cast. The script is a highlight: quirky and full of quotable one liners yet never strays from the plot. While the story is fairly predictable, it doesn’t matter because you’re just along for the ride.
I had put the DVD in yesterday for a little background noise and found myself sitting on the floor laughing. When a film does that it’s definitely worthy of a little attention.
The translation of a novel to film is a very tenuous thing. When that story is well-loved, it’s even more so. The public have an indisputable ruler by which to measure the movie, and will do so mercilessly. For those books that have reached the age and popularity level of “classic” many different adaptations may exist. When it comes to Herman Melville’s novel, 1956’s “Moby Dick” may not be the most critically acclaimed, but for me it stands as the benchmark.
John Huston’s Technicolor masterpiece captures the language and heart of the novel (adapted for the screen by Ray Bradbury) and injects it with the tension that only careful editing can convey. Images documenting a whaling hunt cut with motion shots from the waves add realism.
What really brings life to the story is the performances of the actors. The entire cast brings believable emotion and struggle, but Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab stands above the rest. His performance is larger than life, and he fills the screen with his passion and obsession.
For me, one of the best things about the artistry of the film is the pastel color palate. Technicolor is typically characterized by its bright, saturated hues, resulting from not only the production design but also from the dye-transfer process. For “Moby Dick” this technical process was physically altered, with the color layers being added in a different order to achieve the muted, unsaturated look.
Although it’s not the most literary accurate version of the novel, I feel its handling makes it one of the most enjoyable.
One of the things I love about being an archivist is that every day is a little different. The materials you’re working with depend entirely on what happens to end up on your desk. Last week, this showed up: a can labeled “German – Confiscated Film.”
The films this reel was grouped with were a mis-labeled mess and I was doubtful that the label was correct, but my curiosity got the better of me. Man, am I glad it did!
The reel ended up being a copy of a WWII era German short. From the image content and German narration, it seems to be propaganda-newsreel about military victories over the Allies. Shots of German soldiers on foot and in Panzer tanks fighting was accompanied by rousing music and descriptions of how easily they defeated the US Shermans.
While things like this don’t come around everyday, they illustrate the importance of archiving: ensuring that artifacts of our past are available for the future.
I love my job!
While I was working on my undergraduate degree, one of the classes I took was a study of the director Billy Wilder and addressed the question what makes his films so identifiable. My professor called this identification “Wilderesque,” and while his work spans seven decades and multiple genres they all have a common feel unique to this director. Part of this stems from the fact that as he also wrote his own films he had the ability to impart his vision to the story more completely.
For “Double Indemnity” (1944), Wilder crafted a film that is undeniably Noir but differs from the common hard-boiled-detective plot line. Fred MacMurray is an insurance salesman who becomes embroiled in murder after he falls for dangerous beauty Barbara Stanwyck. The entire story is told through flashbacks with plenty of fast-paced dialogue. The use of shadow to create mood and effect only help to illustrate that it’s what you don’t see in the film that’s the most important. MacMurray is at his all-time best and his performance is complemented by Eddie G. Robinson’s portrayal as both friend and foe.
Like Wilder’s classic comedy “The Seven Year Itch” (1955), “Double Indemnity” has direct, witty dialogue that is complimented by well thought out imagery. If the film feels dated at all, its only due to 1940s gender roles and slang. This film is one of the staples on my shelf and should be viewed by anyone who appreciates a well-told tale.