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!


The DuMont Television Network

March 18, 2011

I recently read the book THE FORGOTTEN NETWORK DuMont and the Birth of American Television by David Weinstein. I started reading it because I was interested in the last section (on Ernie Kovacs at DuMont).  It was all a bit before my time, yet I found it quite interesting.
From 1946 to 1955, DuMont aired around 200 regular series plus specials.
They started off in a small studio at 515 Madison Avenue in New York.  They’d aim the camera out of  the window, so people could see what the weather was like for themselves.  They soon opened a second, larger studio in a department store auditorium. They also had a mid-day Man on the Street program where they’d interview passers-by.
Two interesting series started in 1949.  The Plainclothes Man tried to everything out of the main character’s eyes (i.e. subjective camera).  Just reading about it, it sounds like an experimental film noir TV show.
Captain Video also sounds quite strange.  It was an early sci-fi themed show, aimed toward the kids.  There were sometimes positive or “inspirational” messages included.  The Captain had an optican scillometer, which let him see through walls.
Jackie Gleason got his start at DuMont.  They broadcast the early Honeymooners shows.
The Ernie Kovacs Show (for DuMont) was a late night talk show.  It was broadcast for about a year, from April to April of 1954/1955.  It was pretty loose and experimental.  Toward the end of the run, he even changed the name of the show to The Ernie Kovacs Rehearsal.
Kovacs devised some of his key characters at DuMont including Howard, the World’s Strongest Ant and the Nairobi Trio.
DuMont was also probably  the most jazz-friendly network in the United States.  Birdland, the famous jazz club, was just a few blocks away.  A lot of the people who worked at DuMont would hang out there.  This lead to the classic film of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie performing the tune  Hot House for DuMont.
Allen Du Mont was an engineer who ended up running a TV network.  He became disillusioned with television.  In June 1961, he remarked “How can 47 million television sets be tuned to this kind of production five hours and more a day?  My reaction has been that of the creator of Frankenstein.  Yet I am here today, honored by you, because I helped to make this possible… perhaps I should instead be censured.” 


Captain Video:


Scroll Down to February 24, 1952 for information on Charlie Parker’s appearance on the Dumont Network:


Some Video:




Bird and Dizzy on Dumont:


Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof are in Prison in Iran

February 4, 2011

Jafar Panahi

I recently heard that two major film directors are in jail in Iran.  Jafar Panahi is the more famous of the two.  I’ve seen 5 or 6 of his films including Offside, The White Balloon and Crimson Gold.

Mohammad Rasoulof is less known, but I’ve seen his film Iron Island, which I really liked a lot.

They’re sentenced to five years in prison and (after release) a 20 year ban on film making and any foreign travel.

Are there still nations frightened of art?  This is a most extreme punishment, for being “humanist” and for being creative.

We’ll see if any outcry, protests, petitions and so on can have any effect on it or not.  I hope so.


A petition:


Who’s afraid of Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof?:


from The Nation:


Mohammad Rasoulof

2010 in review

January 27, 2011

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Minty-Fresh™.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,400 times in 2010. That’s about 3 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 8 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 16 posts. There were 22 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 4mb. That’s about 2 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was October 2nd with 24 views. The most popular post that day was Panic in the Streets/ A Letter to Elia.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were research.udmercy.edu, mail.yahoo.com, artremedy20.wordpress.com, gambang-x.com, and facebook.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for ernie kovacs, praxinoscopes, groucho marx, marx brothers, and le voyage dans la lune.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Panic in the Streets/ A Letter to Elia September 2010


The Amazing Ernie Kovacs! August 2009


Groucho and Me July 2010


The Silent Era May 2010
1 comment


The Invention of Hugo Cabret March 2010

ZOOMAR: a novel by Ernie Kovacs

December 15, 2010

I recently read Ernie Kovac’s novel Zoomar.  I’ve had a copy for years.  The “modern popular novel” is generally not my cup of tea.  But Ernie Kovacs is an old hero and favorite of mine.  Then, Zoomar was published over fifty years ago (in 1957) thus it’s not too modern.

I found a second copy (with the dust jacket, as pictured).

In Diana Rico’s Ernie Kovacs biography KOVACSLAND, she says “In Zoomar Ernie vivesected everything he hated or couldn’t understand about commercial TV: the misdirected network brass decision-making, the stupidity of sponsors, the shlocky shows, the political game playing, the Byzantine cost-accounting systems, the ridiculous pampering of stars.”

She also discounts Ernie’s claims to have written the book in thirteen days.  His editor Kenneth McCormick thinks it was closer to two months.  Either way, he still wrote it quite quickly.

It’s interesting to look at the television industry of fifty years ago, and try to figure out how it compares to the industry today.  Even then, he wrote that “We are the strongest, most influential medium in the entire world.”  Even as a baby, TV was feeling its power grow.

One section, late in the book, makes fun of television ads: “So get Invincible Spray today.” and so on.

Yet for all his criticisms, you also get the sense of his love for and enthusiasm over “the tube.”  In one section, he speaks of the early, rough days of the medium: 

“I started this business in Philly far enough back to remember the vocalist getting burned across the face and chest from the early lighting system.  I helped put the first prisms into a can that had been used for frozen orange juice.  We painted the can black.  This was probably the first image inverter in the business.” 

He goes on to talk about using orange crates for pedestals, and other improvisations.

There’s a “self-referential scene” where one character asks another about Sid Caesar (miss-spelled as Caeser) and it goes on:

How about Kovacs,” as asked.

“Too erratic,” said Hope, “his comedy is too extreme and too frequently he gets his punch line from the grisly side of life…man being torn apart by horse…trick golf expert missing the golf ball and bashing in his assistant’s head.”

“I like him,” said Matti.

“Oh you like everybody,” said Hope.”

There are also references to old movies and movie stars.  If you know who Erich Von Stroheim and Eric Blore were, you’ll better appreciate one of his wisecracks.  Others mention include Walt Disney, Phil Silvers, Sam Goldwyn, Ruby Keeler, Roy Rogers and (I think)  Orson Welles. 

Other (non- movie) people mentioned include Goethe, Nietzsche, Lewis Carroll, Heinrich Heine, dancer Maria Tallchief and cartoonist Al Capp.

There are some nice accounts of the Stork Club and of Christmas in New York.  You get some sense of the city back in the 1950’s.  He also describes the automobile phone (an ancestor of today’s “cell phone”). 

The book notes the existence of sexuality, homosexuality and infidelity.  Today, many of its values may seem out of date, sexist, inappropriate and so on.  The book does seem a product of its times.  There’s one passage which details a sort of “woman-machine.”  Yet for all that, there’s also this, talking about a housecat:

“She wouldn’t eat a poor defenseless bird,” Eileen said, with that misplaced faith that women have in men and animals.

I appreciated this book for giving me more insights into Ernie Kovacs and his times.  Of course, I prefer his television work.  Yet reading this makes one wonder whether he’d have gone on writing books had he lived.  If he had, I think he’d have done some interesting work.

I’ve been doing further studies involving the great Mr. Kovacs.  Expect another post on him from me next year.

My previous blog post on Ernie Kovacs:


An old article which talks about Zoomar:


This includes an image of the paperback edition of Zoomar:


Roger Ebert

November 20, 2010

Number 3: This the third in a series exploring those who write about the cinema.  Roger Ebert is among those who’ve done some film work, but is primarily a critic, historian and all around film writer.

Director Werner Herzog dedicated his documentary Encounters at the End of the World to Roger Ebert.  In part of the commentary track he calls Mr. Ebert “a warrior of the cinema.”  This means that he believes Ebert fights for quality and supports “underdog films” and tries to help them.  There’s also a grander sense, in which some people do see themselves in a sort of “Don Quixote” role, fight for cinema.

Ebert repaid the compliment in a letter to Werner Herzog. Roger Ebert started writing about films in 1967.  He did some screenplay work for Russ Meyer, including the infamous Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.   The photo above shows Russ Meyer with Roger Ebert.

From 1975 to 1999 he hosted a television “movie review show” with Gene Siskel.  When Siskel died, he continued with a similar show until around 2008.  He’s an interesting figure, both a good writer and popular.  Besides movie reviews, he’s done books on Martin Scorsese and an autobiographical memoir.   He’s also written books on  such topics as cooking and travel.

In the last decade, he’s battled cancer.  He’s hanging in there and is working on a new movie-centered television program including Detroit’s Elvis Mitchell.



The new Roger Ebert presents At the Movies:


Werner Herzog and Roger Ebert:



Roger Ebert died April 4, 2013:




Panic in the Streets/ A Letter to Elia

September 29, 2010

Last Thursday, I saw Elia Kazan’s 1950 film Panic in the Streets at Detroit’s grassroots indie Burton Theatre.  It was pretty great.   I loved it.  I hadn’t seen it in ages.   I wish it would’ve been on film, instead of “digital projection.”  You get all those fleeting swirls of color popping up inside the edges of the black and white.  Still though, it was good to see it on a big screen with an audience.

It was filmed on location in New Orleans.  The next year, Kazan would go back to New Orleans again for a very different film, A Streetcar Named Desire

Panic in the Street‘s a tough, crisp film noir.   Richard Widmark and Paul Douglas are the heroes, in a race against time.  Barbara Bel Geddes played the Widmark character’s wife and Tommy Rettig, his son.  Jack Palance was threatening in his movie debut.  Zero Mostel was sort of a soft tough guy, a “sniveling weasel” type.

It involves trying to catch criminals who are (unknowingly) carrying germs for a potential deadly plague.  The equation of criminality with a contagious disease is interesting.  There’s a subtext equating money and hunger for money with disease as well.  Can capitalism make you sick? 

“Money costs too much.”  I think I read that in a crime novel once, but also I see  “Money often costs too much.” attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson.  In any case, it can get expensive.

There’s good photography by and good use of New Orleans streets and docks.

They opened the evening’s program with a “sneak preview” of A Letter to Elia.  It’s directed by Martin Scorsese and Kent Jones and narrated by Scorsese.  It’s a portrait of director Elia Kazan.  There are a lot of film clips, especially from On the Waterfront, East of Eden and America, America.

He’s controversial because he named names in the McCarthy/ blacklist era.  It seems to me that in choosing between doing the right thing and being a good human being or compromising, he chose the latter.  He chose art and career over “moral values.”  It was a tough choice.  If he had refused to cooperate, we wouldn’t have many of his best films.

If you’re interested, it’s supposed to be on television next week (early October) as part of PBS American Masters series.

a review of Panic in the Streets:


Cinematographer Joe MacDonald:



an interview:




Groucho and Me

July 10, 2010

Back in the 1970’s I wrote Groucho Marx a letter.  I requested a photo and told him that I hoped to go “into comedy”  (among other things).  He sent me back this great photo.

Not only did he sign it but he also wished me “best of luck in your career.”  It was also great that his brothers Harpo and Chico were also pictured.  Ha!

Since then, I’ve done a lot of drawing and writing.  I’ve also done some performing.  Some of this is unorthodox “performance art” such as the two years  spent drawing on an abandoned building in downtown Detroit.

I’m also in two musical groups: the Spaceband and the Don’t Look Now Jug Band.

It’s in my puppet shows though, that I do follow though on a “comedy career” of sorts.  Of course I feel “Groucho’s blessing” has helped me be funnier in my schtick.  I have been able to get an audience laughing, sometimes wildly and uproariously laughing.  That’s a great feeling, but it’s a lot of hard work!

PS: I’m a  true Groucho fanatic: his books, quotes, biographies, the Marx Brothers movies, his You Bet Your Life quiz show, etc. etc. etc.

In the week since I posted this I ran across the date I recieved this in my old journals: November 8, 1975. “I got a personally autographed picture of Groucho Marx in the mail today in reply to the letter I sent him……”

pre-Cinema (and its infancy)

June 23, 2010


A Zoetrope from the History of Photography Collection, Smithsonian Institution

I’m putting together an exhibition on connections between cartoons and “comics” on paper and animation on film.  In my studies for this, I ran across information on early cinema and its ancestors.

Here are some related websites which should be of interest.

Étienne-Gaspard Robert aka Robertson:


Magic Lanterns:






the praxinoscope:


the zoetrope:


Thomas Edison and early cinema-machines:


the Kinetoscope:


the  Mutoscope:



The praxinoscope:



flip books:



I’ve got some nice flip books including one of myself!  I have a cardboard Zoetrope that came as a bonus with a vinyl 33 and a third record album.  You view it while it spins on your turntable.  This is all quite interesting (subjects for further research).

The Silent Era

May 19, 2010

Il Fauno (Italy) 1917


This is a cool silent films site.

I haven’t seen a silent movie in a bit, soon, soon. I’ve got a real yearning to see one (maybe Buster Keaton or Von Stroheim or something totally offbeat).