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The House I Live In


The House I Live In (1945)

     I am not sure whether it is really worth giving the 10-minute short The House I Live In a rating as it is not something one can really grade. The only reason I sat down with this quickie is because I’m such a Frank Sinatra fan that, naturally, I need to indulge in any chance I can get to see his work.

     Sinatra plays himself as we open on a scene of him recording a song in a studio before he takes a smoke break and wanders out to an alley. There he finds a group of boys who have chased another kid into a corner and clearly plan to give him a beating. Sinatra intervenes and learns the outcast is disliked purely for his (unnamed) religion. The crooner proceeds to tell the boys they are Nazis because only Nazis care about a person’s religion.

     Sinatra sort of proceeds to call the bullies jerks and other names before heading back to work, which prompts his singing to the boys of “The House I Live In,” a ditty about all the things that make America what it is, most especially the people.

     The short won a Special Oscar for Best Tolerance Short Subject –seriously– and a Golden Globe as Best Film for Promoting International Good Will. It was among the many patriotic films being pumped out by studios during the war to promote America’s allies and the cohesiveness of the country’s people. In 2007, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. Curiously, The House I Live In writer Albert Maltz would later be blacklisted during the McCarthy era as was Composer Earl Robinson, who wrote the title song.

     Sinatra comes off as harsh when disparaging the boys, which really sends a broader message to the public in general about picking on those who are different. If only celebrities today would make TV spots calling homophobes and those who think all muslims are all terrorists a bunch of assholes. I am being a bit facetious, but perhaps we can learn by Sinatra’s message and song of tolerance as the world never seems to be without its prejudices.

Source: TCM.com


Weather Wizards

I caught a cute short subject piece at the end of a recording the other day about meteorologists. Weather Wizards was produced by MGM in 1939 and dramatizes the plight of California farmers to protect their orange crops from a cold front.

The action was used to explain how important meteorologists are with their weather predicting skills. We are shown such scientists with their special tools tracking a cold front moving from Alaska and warning farmers in California of the coming doom.

What is most interesting about the short subject is how farmers in those days dealt with such crop-killing conditions. The orange groves have diesel fuel heaters placed at intervals of every two trees. The farm family we watch fills these mini chimneys with fuel and lights them, setting the substance to shoot flames from the four-foot tall spouts. In this story, the frost conditions, which farmers measure with a thermometer in an orange, last for several days.

The disaster is so severe that the whole California region has exhausted the diesel supply putting the crops at risk of frost damage. The smog created by the heaters is additionally consuming the area, which is blocking traffic and preventing trucks shipping the flammable material from out of state from getting to the farmers. What can the farmer do without diesel? He can chop up and ignite all the wood in sight: fences, debris, even his son chops his child-size wooden car to bits for the sake of the crop. After two or more days the cold conditions lift and the crop is safe.

What I found particularly striking is how horrible for the environment the approach of farmers was for keeping their plants warm. They essentially polluted the entire state for the sake of some oranges. What must also be considered, however, is that the crop was the lifeblood of those families. Today we have corporate crop plantations that could absorb a hit if their orange groves get frosted; not so in 1939. Perhaps the conclusion here is that MGM did not so much make an informational film about meteorology as much as a historic account of the operations of farmers.

What to Watch: Friday

The royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton holds no great appeal for me unlike many in America, however, the grand event, set for Friday, brings with it a cinematic celebration of sorts on Turner Classic Movies. That evening, the channel will air a number of royal-themed films, all of which happen to be good flicks.

Royal Wedding (1951)

First up at 8 p.m. ET is Royal Wedding starring Fred Astaire, Jane Powell and Peter Lawford. I have never been in love with Astaire but usually watch his films anyway. This one, however, is among my favorites. Astaire and Powell are a brother and sister musical duo on tour in London for Elizabeth II’s wedding. Powell meets Lawford and the two have an adorable romance. Meanwhile, Astaire tries to court a dancer. The musical contains the famous “Dancing on the Ceiling” number whereby a trick of simultaneously rotating camera and set make it seem as though Astaire is actually walking on the walls and ceiling (the same effect was used in certain scenes of 2010’s Inception). This is also the first solo directing credit for Stanley Donen.

Roman Holiday (1953)

Next on the schedule is Roman Holiday airing at 10 p.m. Given that Audrey Hepburn is my favorite actress, I naturally love this flick directed by William Wyler. It was her first major role and she won her only Best Actress Oscar. Hepburn plays Princess Ann who runs away while visiting Rome and is rescued by American reporter Joe Bradley, played by Gregory Peck, after sleeping pills have her adopting a street-side bench as a bed. The young princess explores the city anonymously, although Bradley has figured out who she is. No one could have played the free-spirited Ann like Audrey.

The Glass Slipper (1955)

A new take on a classic princess story, Cinderella, is the subject of the 12:15 a.m. airing of The Glass Slipper. Leslie Caron plays the pauper who is lucky enough to attend the prince’s ball. This flick is not as great as the previous two, but it is a nice live-action musical with one of the greatest musical stars of France: Caron. It also offers a realistic take on the fairy godmother character, who is a crazy old lady that fell from a prominent position in society after “reading too many books”.

The Swan (1956)

Finally, if you can make it to 2 a.m. you will be entreated to a romantic Grace Kelly flick that predicts her eventual royalty. The Swan casts Kelly as a princess whose family has fallen out of the good graces of a greater sect of the family that includes the queen. To save the family, Kelly’s Alexandra must win over a distant cousin (Alec Guinness) and marry him. The trouble is, she is in love with her tutor (Louis Jourdan). It is one of the less memorable of Kelly’s roles but a great one anyway.


What to Watch: TCM Moguls and Movie Stars

I am pretty excited about a documentary series Turner Classic Movies is doing starting Nov. 1. “A History of Hollywood: Moguls and Movie Stars” is a seven-part series of one-hour shows airing at 8 p.m. Monday and Wednesday (repeat) that chronicles aspects of film from the very beginning up to the 1960s. First up is “Peepshow Pioneers” and will cover Edison the Lumiere Brothers and everything you learn about in Intro to Film. Haven’t taken that course? You better check this out.

TCM is also airing related movies on these same days, I believe, so check their schedule for some rare airings.

Moguls and Movie Stars

Man with the Movie Camera


Man with the Movie Camera (1929)

     This post marks a first for this blog in several regards. Not only is Man with the Movie Camera a foreign film, but it is also a silent picture and one I am categorizing as “documentary”. I watched this flick with Ryan last night in order to help him study for his world cinema class, and interestingly had not watched it when I took that or any other film course at Ohio State University. The movie is self-admittedly an experiment in editing by which the filmmaker, Dziga Vertov, sought to evoke emotion and craft meaning through the way images were cut together.

     The problem with Movie Camera is it is incredibly dull to the average viewer. Only an hour in length, it sure seems to endure the normal length of a feature film. Being a soviet flick from 1929, its motives also include a comparison between the proletariat and bourgeoisie, which of course is lost on today’s American viewer. Just as Sergei Eisenstein did with Battleship Potemkin four years earlier, so too does Vertov seek to send almost subliminal messages by cutting together two images that by themselves mean nothing but connected offer insight. But just as I failed to grasp anything extraordinary in the historic Odessa Steps sequence from Battleship Potemkin,  so too was I unable to understand the meaning in Movie Camera.

     I think part of the dilemma lies in my upbringing in a time when movies are commonplace. Movie Camera was released not long after film’s start, and such experiments with editing had not been conducted. Today, we regularly see montage of this type, so without a historic context, I am unable to derive any significance from the way this film is put together.

     Man with the Movie Camera is not for the average viewer. Although it could garner a Gasser rating from me if considered exclusively in the context of a film class, it drops one lower because I could never justify telling a peer this is an OK film. It is a hard sit with no dialogue and no plot and likely can only be enjoyed if the viewer watches it as an educational tool.

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