November 17, 2014
Harvard Beats Yale
Maybe the title should be "Social Advice For Those Who Refuse To Watch The NFL."
If you are one of those people who can't stand watching NFL football, but have been socially ensnared into a group of friends that do that and you don't have the spine or cojones to abandon your friends, then my suggestion may be for you. Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 is a movie about football (and Vietnam and the Ivy League and "Doonesbury" and Meryl Streep as a college girl and even Tommy Lee Jones) but it is not about the NFL. Not at all. Maybe the NFL gets mentioned once.
It's a documentary with a lot of talking heads. But they are Harvard and Yale graduates who are the talking heads, so they know how to complete sentences and synthesize abstract comparisons and otherwise display their skill in using multiple brain cells simultaneously. Like I said, it's not about the NFL.
But in addition to the talking heads they've got good film of the game. The game where Harvard and Yale played to a 29-29 tie, that is. The Wikipedia article for the film says that the game footage "was a color kinescope of the WHDH telecast." I would guess that the kinescope was made at the time the game was broadcast, or shortly thereafter and the kinescope was recorded on Kodachrome film, because the colors are very good. The film includes instant replays and they appear to be genuine, so either WHDH used videotape or the producers of the film faked them up very well. Then there is the play-by-play dubbed over by Don Gillis, an actual sportscaster who was with Boston's WHDH (and WCVB) from 1962 to 1983 - and after that he continued to host their candlepin program through 1996. In case it needs explaining, "candlepins" is not a different New England name for bowling. It's actually a slightly different game. I never played it, so all I know is that the pins are a lot skinnier than bowling pins.
The setup is this: Harvard and Yale have their "crosstown rivalry" going in New England. It's 1968, the Tet offensive was earlier in the year, Harvard and Yale are both undefeated. The Yale quarterback Brian Dowling, incidentally, had not played in a single losing game since he was in 7th grade. This is the last game of the season. Harvard had a weak coach and a mostly inexperienced team, having lost many of its experienced players to either graduation or the war. The Harvard quarterback that actually brought them to the tie, Frank Champi, was 25 years old and had already served in Vietnam.
Everybody knows how the game turned out because it's right there in the title, but it's how they got there and people's reactions to it (then and still today!) that make the film. I hope it's not a spoiler to tell you that with 42 seconds remaining in the last quarter Yale was ahead with a score of 29-13.
What makes the film work for me is that when they show game footage, all you see is football. There's grass (grass!), two teams, the crowds on the sidelines and the crowds in the stadiums. There are no commercial signs anywhere. Nothing at all is sponsored by Coca-Cola or Marlboro or Chevrolet. There is not even an ad for Narragansett lager. There is no jumbotron. No electronic markings appear magically on the field. There is no ticker running at the bottom of the screen. The fans do not do "the wave." There are no stupid announcers. Just one knowledgable announcer. It's like, you know, watching football. All that and what seems to have been a genuine, life altering, spiritual transformation that affected both teams and still affects them now.
Some info for those who did not walk the earth with the dinosaurs: there was a time when football games could end in a tie, and in 1968 college football did have the two-point conversion after touchdown.
If your friends insist that you have to watch football with them, you can get yourself off the hook by showing them this film. They might even thank you.
Addendum: 1968 was the "good old days" for some people, and that may mean less commercialism and more sportsmanlike behavior. But the other aspects to the "good old days" are clear in this film too. Both teams are all white, as far as I can tell, and both schools were still men only. Yale went coed the next year, 1969, but Harvard didn't go coed until 1977.
November 11, 2014
Phone vs. Cinema
One would think that those who attend a screening that's part of the American Film Institute Fest would have some interest in and respect for film-watching. But not always, as one attendee pepper-sprayed another attendee after being asked several times to turn off her phone at the Chinese 6 in Hollywood this past Monday.
October 21, 2014
Returning To The Big Screen!
The Greatest Science Fiction Film Of All Time: 2001: A Space Odyssey has been digitally remastered and will open November 28 in the UK at a British Film Institute film festival. Go back and watch the original 1977 version (or whatever version of the original you can find) of Star Wars. If you were around in 1977, you will recall that its special effects blew us away. Now they look cheezily obvious. Then go watch 2001 which was made before most of you were born:
1969 1968! It still works. It still takes your breath away when it jumps to Jupiter space. And at the end you still don't know WTF was going on*. That's good cinema!
Appropriately enough, they've brought the trailer up to the standards of 2014:
HAL is still so sorry he couldn't open that podbay door.
*it's just a lengthy attempt to direct blame away from the opposable thumb and put it on some "space aliens."
September 26, 2014
Owens Valley - 1940
In the 1940 Darryl Zanuck film Brigham Young, the Owens Valley in California played the role of the Salt Lake Valley in Utah as Brigham Young first saw it and announced "This is the place." The film showed Brigham Young (played by Dean Jagger who himself was baptized a Mormon in 1972) striding across this grand view of the Valley shot from the Sierra mountains above Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills, but I've edited it to remove the church leader from the scene.
The movie itself is a moderately fictionalized version of the trek from Nauvoo to Utah which received the full endorsement of the Church of Latter Day Saints. From listening to the commentary on the DVD, I learned this expensive film was considered a Really Big Thing at the time, comparable to The Grapes of Wrath, but it lost money and over the years lost its fame. I think I probably heard about it during my visit to the Lone Pine Film History Museum.
Zanuck intended the persecution of the Mormons to be seen as a metaphor for the German persecution of the Jews (this was 1940). Apparently most people understood it that way too, even though the film had to be bit light-handed in suggesting that metaphor, since it simultaneously suggested the non-Mormon Americans were in the role of the Nazis. Early in the film Brigham Young delivers a fictional speech in which he expounds on the freedoms guaranteed by the first amendment from a 1930s point of view. In the 1840s it was yet to be settled whether the Bill of Rights applied to the states as well as the federal government.
The film includes scenes of the cricket invasion and seemingly miraculous appearance of the seagulls. Those scenes were shot in Nevada during a genuine cricket invasion where seagulls really did show up to complete the verisimilitude! In the commentary on the DVD it is said that the gulls did not show up until after the official church liaison to the production prayed over the day's shooting.
The film used some other beautifully mountainous area of the west to represent Council Bluffs, Iowa, and the area that would become Omaha some day. I'm not going to bother with that. I'm sure it brought much amusement to the residents of that area during the dark days of the early 1940s.
September 11, 2014
I'm sure my east coast friends were filled with sympathy and concern when they learned that Hurricane Marie would be hitting southern California. Here we are having to deal with wildfires and earthquakes, when nature piles on with something that really only Florida deserves. Here, then, is a video documenting the force of Marie as she slammed into Malibu:
Oh, the humanity! Here the LA Times reports on the loss of historic structures in the area, especially the Point Mugu lifeguard station built in the late 1950s. It was used as a location in the film Hitchcock.
July 12, 2014
If Only They Had Done This In "Rebel Without A Cause"
But then nobody would have heard of James Dean.
June 13, 2014
Burning Man 3D
Coming to an IMAX near you, maybe.
Lots of other people said they saw the crews out there with their exotic 4K 3D camera systems shooting Burning Man last year, but I didn't. It's a big city. But now, a little bit of their video (in flat 2D) is available via their IndieGoGo campaign (ah yes, money). The director speaks with a French accent and they started with a grant from the French Film Commission, so I'm going to go out on a limb and call this the French IMAX 3D Burning Man movie. You know how that French Film Commission is - never enough money, so they are seeking another $83,000. The film will focus on the arts and artists at Burning Man...but that's no guarantee that you won't see a naked guy on a bike in the background in the finished film.
June 3, 2014
AMPAS & LACMA Come To An Agreement
The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art have come to an agreement in which the Academy will lease the May Co. department store building from LACMA for $36.1 million, payable in advance. The rent is due October 1, 2014, and is good for 55 years. It breaks down into $28 million for the building and $8.1 million for adjacent land where the Academy will build a movie museum, for which the Academy is raising $300 million.
It's planned to look something like this. Scheduled to open in 2017.
May 24, 2014
Probably Not A Coincidence
Elliot Rodger - boring, except for that music.
May 6, 2014
How Many Times?
How many times must the Golden Gate Bridge be destroyed before we learn the error of our ways?