Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Ladies and Gentleman, I present to you for the first time anywhere on the internet my 1990 debut short film "Bronx Cheers" which I wrote and directed and which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Live Action short in 1991. The film has been out of circulation for many years due to music clearance issues--or so the American Film Institute, the owners of the film, claim.
"Bronx Cheers" runs half an hour and is a precocious and semi-successful attempt to tell a Runyonesque New York fairy-tale set in the 1940's. I watched this for the first time in many years a few months ago and was quite amazed at the excellent period detail we were able to achieve on our very limited budget. The script works, the performances range from good to mediocre and the only major problem I have with the film is the direction, which is somewhat ham-handed, slow and unimaginative. So sue me. I was twenty-five years old and still learning my craft. A big shout-out to my producer Matthew Gross (now a successful TV producer as well as the producer of the terrific Julie Taymor film "Across The Universe"), my editor and friend Jay Woelfel (also a fine filmmaker) and my cinematographer Blake Evans, wherever he may be.
Enjoy. And if you don't, feel free to splatter your screen with a nice big bronx cheer.
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Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 12:34 PM
Friday, November 22, 2013
What do Clark Gable, Carol Lombard, Alfred Hitchcock and Edward Dmytryk have in common? Well, quite a few things if you really want to parse this out. Hitchcock and Dmytryk were both directors. Dmytryk worked with Gable. Hitch worked with Lombard. Both worked with the stars in equally forgettable movies--Hitch made "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" in 1941, Dmytryk made "Soldier Of Fortune" in 1955. But they all shared something else and attentive readers of this weblog--both of you--will have probably already figured out what that something was: that's right, a house. Or perhaps the fact that I used an address in the title of the post helped give things away.
Built in 1926, the French Norman-style house at 609 St. Cloud Road sat on three acres of land and--given the relatively undeveloped surrounding areas of West LA--must have made you feel like you truly were living in a another country. At some point in the late 30's, the property was purchased by Carol Lombard--this is after the William Powell marriage--and it was here that she and Gable first did...whatever they did. Pics of the couple announcing their marriage were taken in the garden of the house.Dig:
But the supposedly macho Gable wanted more space, more outdoors, more nature. Don't fence me in, he apprently told his ribald bride, and so they decamped to a ranch in Encino, then an unspoiled area filled with orchards, barns, horses etc. Encino, at that time, was utterly unlike the disastrously icky suburban wasteland it is now. Here's the ranch, as depicted in a period postcard:
But Lombard couldn't quite bring herself to sell the Bel Air house--was Gable's sexual performance already proving a disappointment? ("I love him, but the King ain't much in the sack" she was rumored to have told somebody). So Lombard leased the house to the freshly disembarked from England (and just in time, given the new and exciting war that was on its way) Alfred Hitchcock and his wife, Alma. The Hitch's liked Bel Air--presumably it reminded them a bit of the rural countryside of England that they'd left behind. Unfortunately, the untimely death of Lombard in 1942 left the Hitch's landlordless and they were forced to move on. But they stayed in the neighborhood, finally buying their own little slice of Los Angeles heaven on the boringly named Bel Air Road. Viz the somewhat too-modest home that the Hitch's occupied for the rest of their natural lives:
my visit to Billy Wilder's apartment. For the house was purchased by director Edward Dmytryk ("The Caine Mutiny," "Crossfire" etc.) at some point in the early 1950's and was home to him, his wife Jean and their children well into the 1970's. My parents were close friends with the Dmytryks and I have vague but nonetheless pleasant memories of being at the place and quite liking the smell of the lushly planted garden (strange how smells are so much at the center of childhood memories). I recall Eddie having a separate detached office behind a rather large motorcourt. I also remember Richard Widmark coming to the front door to drop a script off for Eddie and my being relatively frightened, having recently seen him push a wheelchair- bound woman down a flight of stairs in "Kiss Of Death". Watch out!:
I'm not sure when the Dmytryk's moved on from 609 (or why for that matter) but by the late seventies I recall spending time at a ranch-ish property in Malibu Canyon that they then occupied (was there something about the Bel Air house that drove owners into a fit of ranch-envy?) In the last years that I knew Eddie (he died in 1999), they'd moved to a one-story, sixties contemporary in the hills of--guess where--Encino. And it was not the ducks and cows and horses and pigs Encino of the Gable/Lombard years. No, it was the smoggy, dirt-in-your-mouth, glaringly awful ickfest of a suburb that now exists (and for some reason contains some of LA's most expensive properties). Which I suppose makes the moral of the story: "don't sell a really nice house in a very lovely area with a nice historic pedigree if you can manage it...otherwise you'll wind up in Iraq..."(last line courtesy of John Kerry). I'll leave you with a look at the Hitchcock's Santa Cruz vacation home, a quite elaborate estate that now produces a fussy brand of Merlot, a fact which no doubt would have pleased the gourmand/director.
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Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 3:43 PM
Friday, October 25, 2013
Screenwriter, playwright, newspaperman, novelist, Israel supporter, memoirist, anecdotalist Ben Hecht wrote literally billions of words in his lifetime. Famous as Hollywood's most prolific screenwriter, he and his frequent collaborator Charles MacArthur also wrote one of Broadway's enduring classic plays, "The Front Page" which has been made into a movie at least four times by my count. If you're reading this particular blog I probably don't need to give you "The Ben Hecht Story". (If you really need it, click here). Instead, let's focus on--guess what?--"The Nyack Story." For Nyack is where Ben Hecht's home of many years was located.
Hecht and MacArthur 'discovered' Nyack, New York--then a sleepy village on the Hudson not so very far from the hubbub of Times Square--in the late 1920's. In Hecht's brutally long autobiography "A Child Of The Century", he discusses how they landed in Nyack.
The fifty-bedroom college rental is very Hecht--there is always the propensity in his life for more--more rooms, more scripts, more stuff to do, more people to know, more books to write, more countries to help found (did I mention Israel?). At some point in the early '30's he boasted to a young aspiring writer, "I can do a script in a week. I can do a book in a month!" It was not a boast. Indeed, he was probably having a slow time of it that year.
Though he doesn't go into any detail about his house in his memoir (it's just about the only thing he doesn't go into detail about), the place was recently for sale and an abundance of lovely photos are now available for all to see.
Not so Messrs. Hecht and MacArthur. Though they journeyed frequently to the west coast, they also parked--hibernated? hid out?--in their beloved Nyack for long periods. What better and lovelier view for a writer to bang out witty and polished dialogue by than this, from his rear patio (a reverse view of the above):
The small central section of the house--the lower middle part in the upper photo--was apparently built in 1800. It took the protean, over-extended and hyperactive Hecht to add on the surrounding wings. The house has a pleasing, disorganized quality. I particularly like rooms such as the bedroom/library:
And I even like this somewhat klutzy addition, clearly from the late-thirties, early forties. Why are the ceilings so low? Why is there a wall with one set of French doors but not another matching set next to it? Why the lousy lighting? Why the white piano?
Still, Hecht did often travel out to Tinseltown (Christ I hate that term--why did I use it?) and in typical (why the hell am I having spacing problems--I really don't like the "new" Blogger)--in typical
Hechtian fashion it was neither a simple nor relaxing process--at least by normal people's standards. The below description sounds like the once-in-a-lifetime cross country move from hell that most of us would dread even doing once. Apparently it was a twice-yearly Hechtian pilgramage. I get tired just reading it, but then again I get tired just contemplating Hecht's filmography. Dig:
"Each time we went to Hollywood, we took with us most of our Nyack menage. Lester Bartow (Hecht's general factotum) our driver, rode them across country in the car. With Lester on the coast-to-coast treks went my strongman trainer, Elmore Cole, under whose eye for twenty years every morning at eight I punched the bag, did mat work and grunted lifting weights; our French poodle, Googie...and our three old ladies, Gertie, Joe and Hilja (more Hecht family general factotum's). Twenty suitcases, six trunks, oil pantings, our radios and phonograph records, and favorite window drapes went each time by freight. Rose and I took the train."
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Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 11:02 AM
Monday, September 23, 2013
Readers of this increasingly erratic weblog probably know of my pointless interest in the domestic housing arrangements of my favorite filmmakeers. Previously I've explored the New York townhouse of Sidney Lumet, the Beverly Hills Villa of Fritz Lang and the Wilshire Blvd. apartment of Billy Wilder (as well as the unbuilt Eames house, designed for Wilder in the late forties). Appreciating the place in which an artist chooses to dwell--especially when the artist is a control freak as all directors are--can enhance and eludicate one's appreciation of the artists work. Or so I tell myself. Actually I'm just a real estate whore and love killing time finding this crap out.
What do the houses of Orson Welles tell us, though, about the magnificent and often misunderstood maverick filmmaker/actor/writer/theatrical impresario/radio star/advertising star/magician? Welles didn't have a longtime abode--he was more of a gypsy. In a strange way, Welles was his own house, carrying his baggage and furniture and flatbed on his back (or within his cape perhaps). He was seemingly more at home in hotels, on the go, not weighted down--so to speak--with domestic trappings. (Notice how most interviews with him are conducted in hotel rooms--including one toward the end of his life in Las Vegas where he apparently had a house...but not one he chose to be interviewed in). Nonetheless, he did have a family (several of them actually) and families need to be located somewhere. And this is where the study of Welles's domiciles gets interesting.
For Welles didn't just have one family. Like everything else about him, his domestic arrangements were unusual, maverick, confusing, eccentric and...well...weird. In the 1950's, Welles married the Countess Paolo Mori and fathered the last of his three daughters, Beatrice. After finishing (sort of) "Touch Of Evil" in 1958, the Welles family returned to Europe where Welles was clearly more comfortable in his role of misunderstood expatriate then he'd been in his Hollywood comeback mode. But in 1962, while filming 'The Trial", Welles latest attempt at domestic stability grew considerably less--er--stable when he met the woman who became his lover/collaborator/mistress/companion for the last twenty-plus years of his life, the beauteous Oja Kodar. Maintaining two residences--in two distinctly separate places--became his m.o. for the rest of his life, born of necessity and desire.
In any event, I think this house must be the address he had on Greenvalley Road in Laurel Canyon. In which case, it might be the house seen in this clip from the fascinating "Lost Tapes of Orson Welles" documentary.
But it's the house that Welles died in, down the street, at 1717 N. Stanley Ave., that we have a much better documentation of. A modestly sized Colonial behind gates, the house was for sale recently (a mil-two and change) and it's realtor has graciously provided the below tour through the place. Dig:
It was here that Welles filmed "test footage" for his unmade late non-existent masterwork, "The Dreamers", based on two Isak Dinesen stories. This is the missing Welles film in the canon that I truly mourn, a melancholic, late-life reflection on fame, lost chances, invisibility, anonymity for the once world famous etc. You can read the screenplay of "The Dreamers" here. And below is some of the test footage shot at the Stanley Ave. house, beginning at six minutes, thirty-five seconds.
There are many confusing address changes spread through Jonathan Rosebaums Welles chronology found at the end of Peter Bogdanovich's indispensible "This Is Orson Welles." At one point, during the Laurel Canyon years, Rosenbaum mentions Welles shooting footage at his house "near Beverly Glen", which is a mere three canyons (and fifteen or so miles) away from Laurel Canyon. A mention is made of Welles moving to Beverly Hills in the early 80's as well. Perhaps he did. For a minute. And then, having tossed enough cigar butts in the bathtub or the garden or whatever, he decamped for another anonymous LA dwelling. For Welles at this stage of his life was living primarily at Ma Maison (daytimes) and on Johnny Carson or Merv Griffin (nightimes). The houses were studios for him to shoot "test footage" in and perhaps the anonymity of the surroundings provided him with a blank canvas against which he could relax, give up his world famous persona (much as the woman at the center of "The Dreamers" does) and watch the Dick Van Dyke show (according to PB this was Welles favorite show).
Let's leave this with a look at an earlier Welles home, also in the Laurel Canyon area, one which he shared with Rita Hayworth in the forties. Or did he? I thought they lived in Beverly Hills. And I know they bought (but didn't live in) this charming property in Big Sur But its possible, in those peripetetic years that the boy wonder and the love goddess did shack up in this rustic charmer. Or perhaps he shacked up with other goddesses as well? For according to Welles himself in Barbara Leamings pleasant enough but awfully fawning quasi-authorized biography, the war years were sexually exhausting ones for the non-enlisted Welles and he took full advantage of the wildly disparate female-to-male ratio. "I didn't miss anyone!"
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Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 2:58 PM
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Nothing changes, really. Girls taking their clothes off for the amusement of the masses has always been a thing. Charming thought the story/climax section of the film is, though, it's the preceding minute that always captures my interest. Standing in the back left of the frame is a young man firmly rooted to the sidewalk, staring right at the camera and not moving. Was he an actual extra? Was he told to stand and stare toward the then-unusual device in case somebody snuck up behind Messrs. Porter and Fleming, prepared to conk them on the head and make haste with the contraption? If not, why didn't they chase him away, as they did with the gentleman who appears 38 seconds into the shot. Though he is immediately intimidated into leaving, the man at 44 seconds and the fat lady at 54 seconds are not. Perhaps they were the actual extras. I love the parked carriage that faces away so that you don't know there's a horse and then--whammo--the damn thing U-turns and there's that horse! Could that have been carefully choreographed? Or, as so often with films, was it just a happy accident that punctuates the scene in an unexpected way? Once again, we'll never know.
A mere year after this film was shot, the "Flatiron" Building was completed and it wasn't long before people discovered that the wind in the area--caused by the unusual shape of the building--whipped up enough of a gust to perform a similar maneuver on woman's skirts as shown above. Horny boys and unemployed duffers made sport of hanging around the corner, waiting for unsuspecting ladies to lose their composure. This lead to the patrolmen on duty to shoo them away, telling them to "skidoo". Hence the term "23 Skidoo." Glad you're reading this? Of course you are. I'm glad you're glad.
Who was Edwin S. Porter? Read this fine Wikipedia entry if you want the full scoop. In short, he was an itinerant electrical worker who stumbled into the movies at the very birth of the medium, traveling around the country (and South Africa, believe it or not) projecting films in open air venues. Edison hired him to supervise his films and thus he became America's first auteur--dreaming up ideas, shooting them, cutting them (once cutting had been invented), and preparing them for exhibition to a very avid public. He directed "The Great Train Robbery", but you probably knew that. He was an inventor more than a storyteller and held numerous patents on things connected with cameras, projectors and the like. More interesting is that he lived until 1941, dying at the age of seventy-one in theTaft Hotel (which is still standing on the corner of 7th Avenue and 50th street) completely forgotton by the film industry. Porter was the inventor of--among other things--cross cutting, dissolves and apparently directed the first 3D movies. Dig the NY Times obit. I particularly like Porter's contention that he lost interest in movies when they became the work of many different "specialists", all contributing to the finished product. After years of hearing about what a "collaborative medium" filmmaking is, it's weirdly refreshing to hear it lamented that it's no longer the work of one intrepid man with a vision. And this from the forgotten inventor of so much of what we now take for granted in the medium
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Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 11:43 AM
Monday, August 12, 2013
Breaking news. On August 10th (two days ago--or two days prior to my writing this entry), somebody posted on youtube what appears to be a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the controversial, never-seen, long-abandoned, always-a-subject-of-fascination Jerry Lewis film "The Day the Clown Cried", in French no less. Before we watch, however, lets do a little history lesson on this beleaguered project. Shamefully, I must admit to having have copied and pasted the below from Wikipedia--hence the wonky font sizes. I thought of rewriting the entry but it's so well done (and I'm busy editing my move) that I said the hell with it. Why didn't I provide a link instead of pasting it? Because that's just the kind of mood I'm in. Take it away, Wiki:
In 1971, while performing at the Olympia Theatre, Lewis met with producer Nathan Wachsberger, who offered him the chance to star in and direct the film with complete financial backing from his production company and Europa Studios. Before he had been given the offer, several stars such as Bobby Darin, Milton Berle and Dick Van Dyke were also approached, but declined. Lewis was initially reluctant to take the role, especially after reading the script, stating in his autobiography Jerry Lewis in Person, "The thought of playing Helmut still scared the hell out of me." In addition, he felt that he was wrong for the part, due to the strong subject matter. He asked Wachsberger:
|“||Why don't you try to get Sir Laurence Olivier? I mean, he doesn't find it too difficult to choke to death playing Hamlet. My bag is comedy, Mr. Wachsberger, and you're asking me if I'm prepared to deliver helpless kids into a gas chamber? Ho-ho. Some laugh – how do I pull it off?||”|
After rereading Joan O'Brien and Charles Denton's first draft, Lewis felt that he would be doing something worthwhile in portraying the horrors of the Holocaust. He immediately signed on to the project, but, in order to make it, he first had to arrange to perform atCaesars Palace in Las Vegas for a month, in order to fulfill the terms of his contract with the hotel. In February 1972, he toured the remains of Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps and shot some exterior shots of buildings in Paris for the film; all the while reworking the script. He reportedly lost forty pounds for the concentration camp scenes. Principal photography began in Sweden on the film in April 1972, but the shoot was beset by numerous problems.
In an article published online on October 30, 2010 at mondo-video.com, cast members working on the film with Lewis reported his on-set personality as, “distracted, nervous, and preoccupied with money."
Film equipment was either lost or delivered late, and the necessary money was nowhere in sight. Lewis was repeatedly assured that money was forthcoming by Wachsberger, who did not appear at all on set.
Wachsberger not only ran out of money before completing the film, but his option to produce the film expired before filming began. He had paid O'Brien the initial $5,000 fee, but failed to send her the additional $50,000 due her prior to production. Lewis eventually ended up paying production costs with his own money to finish shooting the film, but the parties involved in its production were never able to come to terms which would allow the film to be released. After shooting wrapped, Lewis announced to the press that Wachsberger had failed to make good on his financial obligations or even commit to producing. Wachsberger retaliated by threatening to file a lawsuit of breach of contract and stated that he had enough to finish and release the film without Lewis. Wanting to ensure the film would not be lost, Lewis took a rough cut of the film, while the studio retained the entire film negative. In January 1973, Lewis stated publicly that the film was in final production, it had been invited to the Cannes Film Festival in May, and it would be released in America after that.Although never seen publicly, the film became a source of legend almost immediately after its production. In May 1992, an article in Spy magazine quotes comedian and actor Harry Shearer, who saw a rough cut of the film in 1979:
|With most of these kinds of things, you find that the anticipation, or the concept, is better than the thing itself. But seeing this film was really awe-inspiring, in that you are rarely in the presence of a perfect object. This was a perfect object. This movie is so drastically wrong, its pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is. "Oh My God!" – that's all you can say.|
Shearer also goes on to point out why Lewis would make the film: he believed "the Academy can't ignore this." When asked to sum up the experience of the film overall, he responded by saying that the closest he could come was like "if you flew down toTijuana and suddenly saw a painting on black velvet of Auschwitz. You'd just think 'My God, wait a minute! It's not funny, and it's not good, and somebody's trying too hard in the wrong direction to convey this strongly-held feeling."
The article quoted Joan O'Brien as saying the rough cut she saw was a "disaster"; it also says she and the original script's other writer, Charles Denton, will never allow the film to be released, in part due to changes in the script made by Lewis which made the clown more sympathetic and Emmett Kelly-like. In the original script, the protagonist was an arrogant, self-centered clown named Karl Schmidt, who was "a real bastard," according to O'Brien. Her script reportedly had him trying to use his wife, who knew the ringmaster, to get him a better gig, and he apparently informed on nearly everyone he knew after being interrogated for mocking Hitler. She stated that the original draft was about the redemption of a selfish man, but that Lewis practically changed the entire story into a Chaplinesque dark comedy a la The Great Dictator.
In 2001, a man mentioned the film to Lewis during one of Lewis' motivational speeches, indicating that the man had heard the film might be eventually released. Lewis replied to this comment with "None of your goddamn business!"[7 The same year, Lewis responded to a reporter's faxed request for information about the movie by calling and telling him: "As far as discussing [the movie], forget it! If you want to see any of it, forget it!"
On January 12, 2013, Lewis appeared at a Cinefamily Q&A event at the Los Angeles Silent Movie Theatre. He was asked by actor Bill Allen, "Are we going to ever gonna get to see The Day the Clown Cried?" Lewis replied in the negative, and explained the reason the movie would never be released was because "...in terms of that film I was embarrassed. I was ashamed of the work, and I was grateful that I had the power to contain it all, and never let anyone see it. It was bad, bad, bad."
Later that year at Cannes while promoting Max Rose, Lewis was asked about The Day the Clown Cried and said, "It was bad work. You'll never see it and neither will anyone else."
On April 9, 2012, behind-the-scenes footage and some takes with sound from the film surfaced on a Flemish website. On August 10, 2013, the video was uploaded by a user on YouTube.
And here it is, August 12th. Hurry up and watch. I was late in ordering a copy of Lewis' ex-wife Patti's memoir "I Laughed Until I Cried" and by the time I got around to ordering it, Jerry had confiscated all copies and burned them. So the below clip is certainly destined for the same fate. Meanwhile, enjoy...
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Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 9:49 AM
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Obviously anyone reading this knows that "Singin' In The Rain"--the movie--is about the talking picture revolution that swept Hollywood in 1929. Furthermore I would bet that most of you reading are aware that the project came about as a result of producer Arthur Freed's desire to re-invigorate his old song catalogue--Freed was a popular tunesmith of the 1920's and early thirties along with his partner Nacio Herb Brown before becoming a producer at Metro. Betty Comden and Adolph Green's assignment was to simply cook up a way in which to jam ten or so Freed/Brown antiquities from twenty-five years earlier into a workable musical storyline. As they sardonically comment in an essay they wrote for the MGM Script Library introduction to the screenplay of "Singin' In The Rain" (and which is reprinted in the liner notes of the soundtrack CD) "...several possible stories suggested themselves. For instance, "The Wedding Of The Painted Doll" could well have been the basis for a story about a painted doll who got married." As you can tell, the assignment was a gloomy one for the writers--until the eureka notion came along of setting the whole thing in the exact period in which the songs were written. More importantly, Freed and Brown's songs were, for the most part, written for the earliest MGM musical films--"Broadway Melody of 1929" (which became the first talkie to win the best picture Oscar) and "Hollywood Revue Of 1929" as well. These films were at the vanguard of coming of sound era and thus it made a certain poetic sense to create a new story around them that involved the early talkie craze--the very reason the songs came into existence to begin with. Thus, the screenplay of "Singin' In The Rain" not only didn't remove the songs from their niche, it managed to solidify their position in it. The result was the greatest musical film ever made, a career-maker for everyone involved, and cinematic immortality...for all but two important participants. One was a man named Cliff Edwards. The other was a man named Jimmy Thompson.
Lets go to the videotape. First, Cliff Edwards with the Box Singers and the original version of "Singing In the Rain" from "Hollywood Revue of 1929".
Technically, in the above clip, we're in the cinematic stone age with the cameras recording the not very well staged dance scene from a distance, implacably staring at the action and resolutely remaining as uninvolved and unenergized as possible. It's a little astonishing how mediocre the level of dance performance was here--and yet this was deemed acceptable for a big movie musical. (I don't think the chrous girls here would have cut it a couple of years down the line when Busby Berkeley got into business.) The Strobe effect toward the end, though, is reasonably mod-ish for the time and, along with Edwards, the three girl singers are quite pleasant as well; they're the Brox Sisters, one of whom later married the composer Jimmy Van Heusen--who wrote many hits for Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. Which could lead us--if we're not careful--into one of those six degrees of seperation games with "Singin' At The Rain" at the center; how are Crosby and Sinatra and Gene Kelly and Jiminy Cricket all connected being the lead-off question?
Now onwards (and upwards) to the technicolor-1952-stereophonic sound-esqu version of the above referenced era, the "Beautiful Girl" number. Roll 'em, Charlie...
Now onwards (and upwards) to the technicolor-1952-stereophonic sound-esqu version of the above referenced era, the "Beautiful Girl" number. Roll 'em, Charlie...
"Beautiful Girl" is also worth noting as being one of several pastiche numbers in "Singin' In The Rain"--"Fit As A Fiddle" is another as is the "All I Do Is Dream Of You" where Debbie Reynolds jumps out of the cake. It's interesting to note that the film uses these pastiche numbers sparingly--in an effort to evoke the era rather than define the reality of the story. When the movie takes the songs seriously as "book" material, it treats them as full-tilt up to date 1952 orchestral pieces. Thus other twenties tunes like "Good Morning" and "You Are My Lucky Star" and even "Broadway Melody" sound entirely up-to-date and somehow don't clash at all with the campier treatments accorded the others. Clearly a decision on Kelly and Donen's part (and Arthur Freed's? Lennie Hayton's?) which helped keep the film from feeling campy (a la "Thoroughly Modern Millie") but nonetheless firmly rooted it in the 1920's.
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Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 11:10 AM
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
I'm back, having survived the shoot of my seventh feature film (and a month of editing as well). Once this blog goes dormant, it's awfully hard for me to get back into posting again. A massive case of blog avoidance sets in as the tempting notion of abandoning this now six-year-old exercise in mind-numbing, self-indulgent, self-promitional shtick-laden, showboating, "look at how clever I am about forgotten popular culture history and by the way I'm shooting another movie for not enough money and thus the need for the self-touting blog" sets in.
But by popular demand (from both of you) I'm yielding to my worst instincts. Yes, let's talk about "Singing In The Rain" as not enough has been written about it. Right.
I showed the greatest of all movie musicals to my eight (going on forty) year old son this past weekend and afterwards fished out a very good CD of the soundtrack. It contains not only all the musical numbers from the film but all (or most of) the background cues (with titles like: "Dignity" and "Have Lunch With Me"). Furthermore it has a few fascinating extras--an alternate main title theme (instead of using "You Are My Lucky Star" it concentrates on "Singing In The Rain" proper), a rehearsal version of "Beautiful Girl" being sung by Gene Kelly and Jimmie Thompson accompanied by Lennie (Mr. Lena Horne) Hayton on the piano...and finally, a complete version of Kelly singing "All I Do Is Dream Of You" which was cut from the finished film.
When you divorce the image from the soundtrack of an iconic film like "Singin' In The Rain" a couple of strange things happen. For one, I found that I could envision a great deal more of the movie--shot by shot--than I would have imagined. In fact, it was almost impossible not to picture what was happening on screen while listening to the soundtrack. (I have a similar experience when listening to recordings of Fred Astaire dancing--I can see him tapping away). Another somewhat more profound realization sets in after a period of "image deprivation": you begin to grapple with the reality of the backbreaking labor involved in the assembly of a movie like this. The MGM Studio Orchestra--sixty or so top LA musicians of the day--are sitting there reading charts of elaborate arrangements written by a number of different guys who were, in the rarefied world of orchestrators, tops in their field in their day although unknown, by and large, to anyone but musicians; names like Bob Franklyn (he did the "Beautiful Girl" and "Singing In The Rain" arrangements), Wally Heglin ("Good Morning" and the "All I Do Is Dream Of You" at the party where Reynolds meets Kelly), Conrad Salinger ("Make 'Em Laugh" and the massive "Broadway Melody" ballet, along with Lennie Hayton). These guys were probably pulling all-nighters trying to bang these endless and wildly complex charts out and one can only imagine the recording sessions themselves as being fraught with comments, concerns and on the spot rewrites. The liner notes of the CD provide an interesting explaination of how the recordings for the musical numbers in MGM movies were actually accomplished. What the hell. I'll quote it:
"Until the mid-1950's MGM musical performances were recorded through several microphones placed strategically throughout the scoring stage each creating discrete recordings called "angles" that captured the vocals as well as the different sections of the orchestra. Each "angle" was then edited, using portions of many different takes of each song or score piece. Finally the edited vocal and orchestral angles were mixed to monaural composite tracks, called "comps" for final use in the film."
It gives you a headache just thinking about it.
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Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 4:48 PM
Thursday, June 6, 2013
Recreating the world of the story is essential in the producing a film. Every set of the ROB THE MOB production encompasses a facet of New York; raw, messy and yet authentic. These photos are from the shoot late night in The Bronx.
The Bronx... is alive!
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 3:10 PM
Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Raymond De Felitta & Ray Romano with actors
GREAT shoot with Ray Romano, Frank Whaley & Michael Pitt.
Ray Romano & Frank Whaley
Michael Pitt, Ray Romano & Raymond De Felitta at work
Raymond De Felitta on set
Our AWESOME stand-ins on set while DP Chris Norr and his crew set up the shot.
Last but NOT least...
Here's a VERY SPECIAL sneak peek... Enjoy!
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 6:51 AM
Monday, June 3, 2013
Dominick "Skinny Dom" Pizzonia (born November 19, 1941) is a New York mobster and captain with the Gambino crime family who was a hitman and loanshark. Pizzonia allegedly participated in several high profile murders.
In May 2007, a federal jury convicted Pizzonia Born on November 19th 1941 in the Ozone Park section of Queens,
Pizzonia began working for the Gambino crime family as a crew member for then caporegime John Gotti. On December 16, 1985, Pizzonia allegedly participated in the assassinations of Gambino boss Paul Castellano and underboss Thomas Bilotti outside Sparks Steak House. After Castellano's murder, Gotti took over as family boss.
In June 1988, Pizzonia allegedly murdered mobster Frank Boccia at the family's request. The Gambinos ordered Boccia's murder because he had allegedly pushed his mother-in-law Jennifer, the wife of mobster of Anthony Ruggiano down a flight of stairs, while Ruggiano was in prison for refusing to pay for his daughter's $500 baptism. Boccia was lured to Cafe Liberty in Ozone Park, Queens on the ruse of an upcoming planned heist, Pizzonia shot Boccia in the head repeatedly. Pizzonia paused midway to reload, said "this guy don't want to fucking die", and then shot him a few more times. They gutted Boccia's like a fish so that his body would not float, and threw the body into the waters off Merrick, New York.
On December 24, 1988, as a reward for the Castellano and Boccia murders, the Gambinos allowed Pizzonia to become a made man, or full member, in the family. He earned the nickname "Skinny Dom" Pizzonia to distinguish himself from Gambino crime family mobster "Fat Dom" Borghese, so associates would not get confused.
On December 24, 1992, Pizzonia participated in the murder of Thomas Uva and his wife Rosemary. Previously that year, the Uvas had robbed several social clubs belonging to the Gambino, Bonanno, and Colombo crime families. Pizzonia was especially enraged by the Uvas because they twice robbed Gotti's Bergin Hunt and Fish Club in Ozone Park, which Pizzonia managed. On Christmas Eve, Pizzonia and capo Ronald Trucchio located the Uvas in Queens and shot both of them dead in their car.
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 11:25 AM