Movies for Troubled Times in the United States of America

February 28, 2017


What should I call this?  Movies for a Drowning America?  Imagined Hell meets real Hell?  When dystopian visions make the newspapers seem less frightening?  I struggle to remain less cynical and more active.  Still, these films give me some insight, hope and maybe a few laughs.  I’ll keep adding to this over the next few years.

  1. Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb from 1964, directed by Stanley Kubrick
  2. Duck Soup from 1933 directed by Leo McCarey
  3. The Trial  from 1962, directed by Orson Welles
  4. A Face in the Crowd from 1957, directed by Elia Kazan
  5. The Manchurian Candidate from 1962, directed by John Frankenheimer
  6. All the King’s Men from 1949, directed by Robert Rossen
  7. They Live from 1988 directed by John Carpenter

Classic Silent Movies and Film Noir in Detroit

September 23, 2016

I love the Detroit Film Theatre and the Redford Theatre.

But why did they have to schedule the most essential programs on their current schedules on the same weekend?

For the true cineaste or film fanatic, silent films and film noir are both essential viewing.

The Alloy Orchestra are on their 25th anniversary tour!  They’ve been performing at the Detroit Film Theatre for many years.

My pick hits are Variety from 1925 and The Man with A Movie Camera from 1929.  They’re both films that I’ve seen less often than the other two. Metropolis is always great to see.  L’inhumaine is also excellent.  I’ve seen it with the Alloy Orchestra score on “home video.” They’re showing it while I’m at work, so that’s out.  I’ll get to what I can.

From the 1925 film "Variety"

From the 1925 film “Variety”

There’s also the film noir festival at the Redford Theatre.  It’s going by the moniker of Noir City.  There are three well-known films The Killers, Lady from Shanghai and Double Indemnity. There’s one well-known but hard to see film 99 River Street.  Then there are two rescued obscurities, The Prowler and Woman on the Run. Then, as a late night screening, they’re showing Blue Velvet.  I’d love to see any or all of these, except perhaps Blue Velvet.  This is only because I’ve seen it onscreen recently.  I’ll get to what I can.

It’s an embarrassment of riches!  It never fails.  Things are dead for weeks, then there are a whole group of great things going on at the same time.

This time though, if you love “classic film” get out and check it out.


My Summer 2016 Film Festival

August 31, 2016

I’ve seen a lot of wonderful cinema this Summer, as usual.  I watch a lot of animation, documentaries, silent films and avant-garde/ experimental films.

Thanks to the Detroit Film Theatre, Cinema Detroit, the Detroit Public Library, Netflix and too, to the library where I work.

The Summer included the Cinetopia film festival, in early June.  I got to 4 or 5 films there, all documentaries I think.  I saw Leonard Maltin introduce an animation program at the Redford Theatre.

Special studies included the silent social drama films of Cecil B. Demille.

I saw a lot of films directed by John Cassavetes. Favorites included Shadows, Faces and Love  Streams.  I also saw Elaine May’s Mikey and Nicky, which is “related material.”  I also saw a good group of films by Norman McLaren, and Robert Bresson.

I caught documentary films about Sebastião Salgado, Miles Davis, Harvey Milk, Al Green, Eva Hesse and Ousmane Sembène.  I also enjoyed The New Rijksmuseum, a 2014 film about the decade long renovations at Amsterdam’s great art museum.

I also saw some films about the Holocaust including A Film Unfinished and Night and Fog.

I visited the work of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Luis Buñuel, Busby Berkeley, James Cagney, Alfred Hitchcock, Douglas Fairbanks, Mack Sennett and others

Then there are the short films of Charles and Ray Eames.  Most of these were new to me. Some of them are very interesting and even amazing.

I also caught a good group of early Fritz Lang films.  I saw mostly silent works including Spies, Destiny (the restored version was screened at the  Detroit Film Theatre) and the Dr. Mabuse films.

FritzLang (c) Österreichisches Filmmuseum


Frame Grabs

January 31, 2016

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You can get interesting images by hitting the pause button on your video and shooting a photo off of the television screen.  This is James Cagney from City for Conquest.

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This is from an old cartoon, obviously.  Sometimes you get those phantom  bars of light.  The last one is from an avant-garde film.  I thinks it’s by the lettrist Jean Isadore Issou.

This isn’t the best post for my return to my cinema blog, but I guess I need to get my feet wet before I plunge back in.

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My Year in Cinema

December 31, 2014

In 2014, Luis Buñuel, Patricio Guzmán, Budd Boetticher, Ernst Lubitsch, Jan Švankmajer and Shohei Imamura are some of the film directors whose work I watched the most.

As usual though, I cast a wide net.  I love Cinema  and I watch a lot of it.  To me, Documentaries, Silent Films, Animation, Classic Films, International Films and Experimental Films are all good.  I still watch VHS tapes and DVDs.  I rarely watch film on the computer though that could change.  There’s some rare stuff out there.

I saw a lot of early television.  This included work by Ernie Kovacs, Jonathan Winters and Sid Caesar.  I also watched pretty much every episode of The Twilight Zone!  Rod Serling’s TV show ran from late 1959 to 1964.

I read some books connected with the cinema.  Two of my favorites were J. Hoberman’s history of the films of the Cold War Era, An Army of Phantoms and too his The Dream Life, on the films of the 1960s.

I try to get out and see movies on the screen.  I didn’t make it out to the mainstream films much, though there were releases out that I’d like to see.  I only made it to a commercial movie theatre once all year!  That’s a first. I saw the documentary on photographer Vivian Maier at the Main in Royal Oak.  So even that wasn’t really a mainstream movie house.

I did get to my neighborhood theatres, the Detroit Film Theatre and Cinema Detroit.  The Film Theatre celebrated their 40th anniversary.  I was going to put on an exhibition dedicated to this, but they closed for 3 or 4 months due to repairs. I hope to mount this exhibit in the future.  I’ll give them a rain check.

My major complaint is that they show a lot of the best films one time only.  Unfortunately, these showings are early in the day on Saturdays.  I wish they’d show some of these on Sundays as well, even if they needed to do so in the smaller auditorium.  I have to work every Saturday and have to miss all of these films, that’s disappointing.  I have to miss all but one of the Frederic Wiseman films they’ll be showing next year.  Oh well.

That said, I loved seeing the documentaries The Great Flood, Deep City, Birth of the Miami Sound, The Land of the Unjust and Let the Fire Burn.  They had excellent live music backing silent films such as The Yellow Ticket, The Golem and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger.  Some of these were part of the Cinetopia festival.  There was also a Polish film festival which will continue in 2015.  I saw three of those of which my favorite was The Saragossa Manuscript.

Still, they’re great, and I’m glad they’re in walking distance.  Ditto Cinema Detroit , though it’s a longer walk. The Redford Theatre also shows good movies.  Usually I’m interested in seeing about half of their schedule.  I try to get to three or four films a year there.  I especially enjoyed their recent animation program.

I’ll try to get out to the mainstream movie theatres in 2015.  Keep watching!

The Detroit Film Theatre:

Cinema Detroit:

The Redford Theatre:

Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema:

Film History News:

Some who died in 2014:


A Letter from Lillian Gish

February 22, 2014


In the 1970’s I wrote to the great actress Lillian Gish and she actually replied!  My method was to send a S.A.S.E. (a self-addressed stamped envelope) containing blank index cards.  This worked well, leading to several amazing notes and autographs.  I wish I’d known about acid free paper then.  Some of them are already yellowing.  When I figure out the exact year, I’ll add that information here.  The notes were separated from their envelope and I didn’t want to write on the cards.

This was on one side of the cards:


Then on the other side of the card was this handwritten message:



I love her handwriting.  A transcription:

All my thanks also for your interesting letter.  The world does not know of the power of the silent film with great music and great themes, like Ghandi (Gandi), Napoleon, Birth of a Nation.  We have lived through the stone age-the bronze age-the age of the printing press-Now the film and most powerful of all It is the universal age the Bible tells us will end wars and bring about the Millennium-It is still in its babyhood.  Look how long it took the printing press-this will take longer to make the world One.  So please don’t lose your interest. 

Ever gratefully

Lillian Gish


So please don’t lose your interest!  I love that.  She took time to write to a young fan.  The message has its real progressive even radical side too.  Can cinema help change the world?  Will the more recent digital/computer revolution also have positive repercussions?  Yes silent movies! Yes end wars and bring on the universal age, with one world all on the same page.  Is all of that still in its babyhood?

I love her work.  From The Wind to The Scarlet Letter to Broken Blossoms to Night of the Hunter, she had an amazing career.

A postscript:

D.W. Griffith did quite a few films.  For many of us “The Birth of a Nation” ruins all of the rest of his work.  I’m not that extreme about it but I won’t apologize for it.  For about twenty years, I’ve refused to watch it again.  That said, I think that he did make some solid films, both shorts and features.

Steven H. Scheuer’s TV Movie Almanac

October 31, 2013

TV movie

I think that this may have been the very first “dictionary style” entertainment guide-book. I’m not sure whether this was the very first one or the second.  I think that he put it out every year from 1958 to 1993.  That’s thirty-five years.

Leonard Maltin started his series ten years later in 1969.  Since then, film critics such as Roger Ebert and David Thomson have put out books of their reviews.  Since, there have been countless books of capsule reviews in both film and music.

I think that it started here.  He didn’t have the directors listed at first.  He did have the year, the actors and a star rating.

“The Fatal Mallet” or “Was Charlie Chaplin’s tramp in the IWW?”

September 28, 2013

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In the 1914 Charlie Chaplin comedy, The Fatal Mallet, the letters IWW are clearly written on the inside of this door.

They also seem to be written on the side of the building.  This refers to the The Industrial Workers of the World.  They were also known as the IWW or the Wobblies.  They’re a key American labor group and are still active today.  I’ve included links to the Wikopedia page for their history and to their current page for further information.

The same year that this film came out an important and revered Wobbly, Joe Hill, was accused of murder in Utah.  The next year he was executed.  He was a poet, songwriter, agitator and an amazing man.

They were quite radical yet also Utopian.  They believed in all the Unions working together to form “one big union.”  I’ll write more something about them someday.  I’ve read a lot about them and have a lot of respect for them.

Back in 1914, the IWW was really in the air.

When I first saw The Fatal Mallet, I did notice the IWW tags or graffiti.  They seem to be written in chalk.

Then earlier this month I read Simon Louvish’s biography Chaplin, the Tramp’s Odyssey.  In it, he mentioned the IWW connection with The Fatal Mallet several times.  I watched the film again, more closely.  It’s not a great one but it has its moments.   Mack Sennett, Mack Swain and Mabel Normand are in it too.

The idea of Charlie Chaplin as a Wobbly is quite appealing to me.   No one knows whether Chaplin or Sennett had anything to do with the IWW being part of the set decoration.  Yet everything we know of his Chaplin’s tramp indicates that it wouldn’t have been out of character for him to do so.

The IWW:

A review of the Simon Louvish book, Chaplin, the Tramp’s Odyssey which mentions the IWW scrawl:

Further books by Simon Louvish.  I’ve read his books on Mack Sennett, Mae West,  W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers:

This set has nearly all of Charlie Chaplin’s Keystone work.  It’s been well restored too.  The Fatal Mallet is included on disc two:

The Fatal Mallet on youtube.  Not the best print but here it is:

Kevin Brownlow and Abel Gance’s Napoleon

April 19, 2012

I saw the 1981 version of Abel Gance’s Napoleon, when it played Detroit in the early 1980’s.  I was surprised to see that Kevin Brownlow is still working on this film, trying to assemble a better restoration.  I’d like to see it again, in better quality than in my old VHS version.  There are recent articles on this, linked to below.

If you love silent films, you have to love Brownlow.  This is a follow-up to an earlier post that I wrote in 2009.  He’s done such great work, both alone and in collaboration with Patrick Stanbury and the late David Gill.

I’ve recently seen the Chaplin and Buster Keaton documentaries again, as well as  Garbo, and So Funny It Hurts: Buster Keaton and MGM.

It’s good to see he’s still at it.

A recent article by Martin Scorsese:

An older, 2010 story:

Kevin Brownlow’s 2011 Oscar:

I recently saw Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush and noticed he and Gill worked on that  restoration as well:

My earlier post on Kevin Brownlow:

A Recent Interview (on Movies and the Detroit Film Theatre)

November 11, 2011

Back in 2011, I  had a fairly extensive interview published in Paula Guthat’s  “Examiner.Com” Classic Movie Blog.  Originally I just had a link to it here.  You could click on it to read the interview.  In July 2016, I saw that the link was lost.  Luckily,  I found my text file of the interview and was able to reconstitute it here.

It was the first time I’ve been interviewed regarding my life as a true “film fanatic.”  I think it’s a good, wide-ranging interview.  I’d liked to have gone into experimental films and documentaries a bit more.  I tried to center it more around “classic films.”

Paula put in the hyperlinks.  I’m glad that I was still able to get them to work.

I talked about my experiences as a devotee of the Detroit Institute of Art’s Detroit Film Theatre.  I go there fairly often, going back to the very first season.  I even attended the afternoon movies, before the DFT started.  Eventually, I’ll do a series of blogs on that here.  Watch this space!   Until then though, here’s this.

I also talked about some of my favorite films with a special focus on Erich Von Stroheim’s silent film version of Greed.  Enjoy!

P.S. Paula has since co-founded the wonderful Cinema Detroit with her husband.  I believe that it’s one of two full time movie theatres inside Detroit proper.  The other one (on 8 mile) shows more mainstream films while Cinema Detroit is more eclectic, plenty of good films for us film buffs.

Cinema Detroit is…

Gibson Gowland and Zasu Pitts in “Greed”

The link went bad, thus I’m reprinting the entire interview here, updated July 20, 2016.

Maurice Greenia, Jr., is a Detroit poet, painter and puppeteer. He is also in several musical groups: SpacebandThe Don’t Look Now Jug Band, and its smaller side project, The Fireflies. He works at the McNichols Campus library at the University of Detroit Mercy. His work is online herehere and here. He also writes a cinema blog.  This interview was circa October 2011.

You’ve been watching movies at the Detroit Film Theatre (DFT) since the first season. Do you remember the first movie you saw there? What are some of the more memorable movies you’ve seen there over the years?

I have copies of all of the Detroit Film Theatre schedules. I loved the afternoon film programs that they ran (even before the DFT started). I think maybe the first thing I saw there was a double feature of the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup and Laurel and Hardy in Sons of the Desert. Also, early on, there was a showing of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil on a foggy night.

Back when Luis Buñuel was still alive, I was at a showing of his film The Milky Way. The projectionist was attacked and the film was torn off the projector twice! That was a pretty memorable early experience.

I loved a lot of their series/theme programming as well. The Silent Clowns retrospective, sometime around 1979, was really great. I got to see a lot of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd films for the first time. It’s always sweet when they have live music for the silent films. I enjoyed retrospectives of directors such as Werner Herzog, Alfred Hitchcock, and Akira Kurosawa. And it wasn’t all just quality or art films — the 3D movie series was a lot of fun too.

How and how much, if at all, has film influenced your art?

I think that cinema has had a big impact on my “poetic sensibility.” It changes the way I view life and the world around me, and in turn, influences my writing, puppetry and visual art.

Also, I used to make short films myself, which heightened my sense of editing, of trying to get the “little bits” into the right sequences.

Why do we like classic movies? Some of these films are 50 or more years old, and our times seem completely different. What makes them relevant and watchable still?

Human nature hasn’t really changed as much as some may think. We still laugh, cry and puzzle over the same things we always have. The ways in which people faced life and reality in days past, can inform the ways in which we face it now. If something was well-made, magical, or thought-provoking 40 or 50 years ago, it may still be now. This is especially true for those of us who love the old movies and watch a lot of them.

What is the first classic movie that really affected you?

It’s probably the 1939 MGM version of The Wizard of Oz. You see a lot of films when you’re a kid, but that one stands out. The first few times I saw it, it was on an old black and white T.V. so I was probably six or seven. It took a while before I saw it on color TV and on the big screen. We’d just watch it every year when it was on TV.

What are five of your favorite classic films?

It’s hard to pick just five, but here’s one take on that. Three out of five choices are silent films, and three out of five are on the downbeat side.

Citizen Kane (1941) is from Orson Welles, with great help from co-writer Herman Mankiewicz, musician Bernard Herrmann, cinematographer Gregg Toland, and a lot of good actors and actresses. It’s sort of a cliche to include it, but every time I see it, I’m still a bit amazed. You can see how Welles’ years in radio added to the richness of Kane’s sound design. I picked it for obvious reasons. It’s a wonder.

Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) is from Buster Keaton. Charles Reisner is credited is director but Keaton definitely at least co-directed. It’s funny as can be, with wild, daredevil elements. It’s a hilarious and magical film. I love film comedy, especially the silents, and I’m crazy about Buster Keaton.

G.W. Pabst’s film Pandora’s Box (1929) is showcase for the great American actress Louise Brooks. It’s beautiful and chilling, and Brooks gives a legendary performance. I love her and have enjoyed numerous other films by Pabst.

Alexander Mackendrick’s Sweet Smell of Success (1957) is a great film noir. Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis are memorably nasty characters. The film also made good use of New York location photography. I love film noir in general and enjoy this film in particular, possibly because it dwells on the ugly, noir side of show business.

Erich Von Stroheim’s Greed (1924) is, even in its truncated, butchered form, still pretty amazing. This can stand-in for all superior “lost films.” It’s brutal and shocking, even today. Yet the direction and performances make it glow. It really shows how something damaged, bleak, and sordid can still be great.

Tell me some more about Greed. What was lost and what do you think the overall experience of the film would have been? How would a 9-hour movie be seen today? Do you think it could it be re-made as a mini-series?

I have the book that has stills from all the cut scenes. You can piece together what it might have been.  I have the book that has stills from all the cut scenes, The Complete Greed by Herman Weinberg. He also did a similar book of another cut up Von Stroheim film, The Complete Wedding March.

There’s a romantic scene wherein a couple sits together on top of a sewer. There’s a banquet which details disgusting food and eating habits. In the wedding scene, you can see a funeral going on outside the window, with a figure on crutches following the procession. The Death Valley scenes are legendary. I believe that at least one person died and others were taken ill. They had to keep wrapping the cameras in wet cloths to keep the film from burning up.

I don’t think that it would work today as a mini-series, not in the United States anyway. The vision is too extreme and unrelenting. Maybe someone could do another version of the source material, the novel McTeague by Frank Norris. It wouldn’t be anything like Von Stroheim’s vision though.

If his original 8 or 9 hour long movie existed, I’m sure it could play at places like the Detroit Film Theatre or New York’s Film Forum or the Museum of Modern Art. I’ve seen movies that long before. It just wouldn’t be for a “popular audience.”

Von Stroheim’s version of The Merry Widow once played at the Redford Theatre. His film Foolish Wives is coming to the Detroit Film Theatre on October 22 at 4pm.

I’d like to see the Rick Schmidlin reconstruction of Greed. In the end though, I think I’d prefer seeing the chopped up version and just look through the book afterward.

There are always some actors/actresses or directors who are worth watching no matter what. Who are 2 or 3 of your favorite classic actors/actresses, directors, writers?

I love the films of The Archers, a.k.a. the team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. I especially like The Red ShoesThe Tales of Hoffman and I Know Where I’m Going. Some of the films Powell did without Pressburger are also well worth seeing, especially The Thief of Baghdad (1940), which he co-directed, and Peeping Tom. Their work has always had an effect on me.

I like the musical genre, and there are a lot of great dancers on screen, from Gene Kelly to a whole group of African-American dancers, from Bill “Bojangles” Robinson” to the Nicholas Brothers. I have to mention Fred Astaire, who’s a personal favorite. Whether dancing solo, with Ginger Rogers, or with other partners, he’s always great to see.

I’m also a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock. I’ve seen most of his films and he did a lot of good work. From Notorious to The 39 Steps to North By Northwest to Vertigo and Rear Window, his work is often fascinating as well as a lot of fun.

I’m also a big fan of documentaries, foreign films (a.k.a. world cinema), and experimental or avant-garde works.

Classic fans, what is the first classic that you really remember had an effect on you? Have you ever seen any of Maurice’s favorites? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!