Lost and Found: An Inventory of Films from the New Zealand Film Archive

August 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

Ruth Roland (at the wheel) in "Walk-You Walk!", 1912/Courtesy National Film Preservation Foundation

The National Film Preservation Foundation website has published a list of rediscovered Silents and Talkies from the New Zealand Film Archive. http://www.filmpreservation.org/preserved-films/new-zealand-project-films-highlights

In addition to features and shorts, the inventory includes newsreels, industrials and cartoons. The sheer variety of films–including documentary footage of China circa 1917, a 1914 interracial romance, a 1916 Lois Weber feature and Mabel Normand’s 1914 directorial debut–no doubt will shed new light on film’s first two decades.

I was impressed by the two I’ve seen: “The Better Man,” and “Upstream,” both of which were well-conceived and technically sophisticated. If they are indicative of the collection’s quality, we can expect to be amazed.

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The New “Blade Runner”: Prequel or Sequel? Either Would Be Fine, Thanks!

August 22, 2011 § 1 Comment

Los Angeles, 2019-ish

From the New York Times comes this tantalizing update on Ridley Scott’s forthcoming “Blade Runner” movie. Apparently we can’t call it a sequel, because it might not be. 


Who cares whether the new movie is set before or after the original? Just make it, and we’ll come out for it.




Polly Platt: Film’s Renaissance Woman

August 18, 2011 § 1 Comment

Polly Platt/Photo by Sashy Bogdanovich

The highlights of Polly Platt’s film career are impressive and well-known: she first gained notice as a production designer (“The Last Picture Show,” “What’s Up, Doc?,”  “Paper Moon”) then as a film producer (“Pretty Baby,” “Terms of Endearment,”  “Broadcast News,”  “Bottle Rocket,”) and screenwriter (“Pretty Baby,” “A Map of the World”). She also was one of the developers a TV cartoon show called “The Simpsons,” now in its 23rd season.

Platt’s film career was ended tragically by ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), from which she died on July 27th.  A fuller appreciation of her life and work can be found in my Pages.  https://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/the-wide-ranging-genius-of-polly-platt/

Further Evidence of Illiteracy in Beachwood Canyon: Lake Hollywood Park

August 17, 2011 § 3 Comments

Excessive Punctuation in Lake Hollywood Park/Hope Anderson Productions

Dear City of Los Angeles:

This tag has been up for about three months and seems to have become a permanent fixture in the Park. What happened to your campaign to eradicate graffiti? Was it that show at MOCA that led you to give up? Is this one tolerated because of the sentiment–or because the tagger is obviously female?

If cost is the problem,  just paint over the apostrophe. Please.


Alfred Hitchcock’s Earliest Feature Film, Rediscovered in the New Zealand Film Archive

August 9, 2011 § 3 Comments

Betty Compson in "The White Shadow"/Courtesy http://www.filmpreservation.org

The New Zealand Film Archive’s treasure trove of Silent and early Talkie films has yielded yet another happy surprise: three reels of the earliest surviving feature crediting Alfred Hitchcock. “The White Shadow,” (1924) stars Betty Compson in a dual role as twin sisters, one good and the other bad. The 24-year-old Hitchcock served as the film’s production designer as well as its writer, editor and assistant director.

Alfred Hitchcock in his Twenties

Hitchcock, who shot his films so economically they were said to be pre-edited, learned his craft in the English studio system, beginning as an apprentice in 1920, when he was 21. Working his way up the ladder at Islington Studios, he learned every aspect of filmmaking, from menial to technical, and was a skilled filmmaker by the time “The White Shadow” was made. (Contrast his apprenticeship with the path of today’s film students, who are channeled into directing, cinematography and screenwriting programs, with predictably narrow results.)

By the time he directed “The Lodger,” (1927), Hitchcock was, at 28, a filmmaking veteran–and his work showed it. A steady stream of hits, including “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1934), “The 39 Steps” (1935), and “The Lady Vanishes” (1938), established him as a star writer/director. From there, the leap to Hollywood was inevitable: he and his wife, Alma Reville (a film editor who was her husband’s greatest collaborator), moved to Los Angeles in 1939. Hitchcock’s first American film, “Rebecca” (1940), was not only an instant classic, but the first in a line of critical and financial successes that stretched into the 1970s.

As for “The White Shadow,” it has been restored in New Zealand with the help of the [American] National Film Preservation Foundation. A new master and exhibition print will be sent to the United States, and a “re-premiere” screening will be announced later this week. For more information, please go to www.filmpreservation.org

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Prisoners of (the Newly Revitalized) Hollywood

August 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

Your Home Is Our Stomping Grounds

Hollywood has spent most of the past century in decline, a process that began in the 1920s and reached its nadir in the 1990s, when the average tourist (according to a poll conducted by the LA Visitors’ Bureau) spent a total of 20 minutes on Hollywood Boulevard. Given the Boulevard’s extreme local color at the time–including panhandlers, petty thieves, runaways and drugged-out zombies–20 minutes seems remarkably generous.

During the early 90s, my  own visits to Hollywood Boulevard averaged one a year–usually at Halloween, under duress. My young son’s enthusiasm for Hollywood Toy and Costume could not be quelled, so we would arrive at the store in daylight, park directly in front (not a problem in those days) and shop as quickly as possible. We were always sure to leave before dark.

Although Hollywood’s revitalization was a Los Angeles objective for decades–and the focus of much governmental planning and investment–it didn’t occur until Hollywood and Highland was completed in 2001. That shopping mall-cum-theater-cum-hotel accomplished what City fathers had long dreamed of:  Hollywood’s return to its origins as a family friendly destination. Tourists came by the busload. New restaurants and clubs followed, and soon Hollywood became a hot spot  for Angelenos as well. It was a striking change: within a couple of years,  Hollywood’s junkies and teen prostitutes gave way to throngs of suburban and exurban teens in search of an exciting nightlife.

The runaway success of Hollywood’s revitalization became clear to me on Halloween of 2008, when some friends and I decided to go for drinks at a bar on Argyle. Although the trip  from my house was about two miles, it took us twenty minutes to drive there because all the streets from the 101 to Sunset were blocked with Halloween revelers. Getting home took over half an hour, and involved getting mooned by a frat boy type whose car was stuck next to mine in traffic on Gower. Since then, I’ve stayed home on Halloween. 

Which brings me to last Wednesday’s “near riot” at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. When it began, I was on my way to West Hollywood and unaware of the cause of the gridlock. After several police cars appeared, sirens on and sometimes approaching head-on, I realized I had to abandon my plans. Since I couldn’t get home–traffic was by then backed up through Hollywood–I headed toward Los Feliz to wait it out. 

Even east of Vine, traffic was at a virtual standstill. While stuck in a line of cars at Hollywood Boulevard and Wilton, I noticed a homeless woman lying on the sidewalk, screaming in agony. A man hovered over her, attempting first aid–or so I thought until I saw him tapping a syringe so that he could shoot her up. By the time traffic started moving again, she was sitting up, though still screaming hysterically.

After I got home an hour and a half later, I learned the “near riot” was caused by DJ Kaskade, who had tweeted his followers to come to Hollywood Boulevard for a free mini performance before the premiere of the rave documentary, “Electric Daisy Carnival Experience.” What should have been a crowd of 500 (at least according to the permit) swelled to a few thousand before the LAPD broke it up. Then came the melee that resulted in arrests and the vandalism of three police cars, one of which was set afire.

And then there was the frustration and fear of countless people who, like me, were caught up in the chaos as we tried to go out for the evening, or get home. We live here, pay taxes and never, ever run amok. But in the shiny new “revitalized” Hollywood, our quality of life counts as little as that of those homeless junkies a few blocks to the east.

Party on!

Helicopters in Hollywoodland: A Perpetual Noise Overhead

August 2, 2011 § 2 Comments

Embarking on my Helicopter Shot, May 2007/Hope Anderson Productions

During daylight hours, Beachwood Drive is the scene of nonstop  car and truck traffic. It’s especially bad on weekends, when the roar of engines makes the street sound like a speedway, even from indoors.  

Those who live in the upper Canyon have it worse, however, since much of their traffic noise comes from helicopters. Whether the helicopters are being used by the police and fire departments, news channels, tour companies or camera crews, the result is the same: a nerve-wracking rat-tat-tat of blades as they hover overhead. Sometimes they come close enough to make the houses vibrate.

Incredibly, helicopter traffic over Los Angeles is unregulated by the FAA. Anyone with sufficient funds can charter a helicopter and fly wherever he wants, with minimal red tape. I know this because when I did the helicopter shot over Beachwood Canyon for my documentary, “Under the Hollywood Sign,” in 2007, my big logistical hurdle was renting a sophisticated aerial camera and having it rigged. The helicopter company did have to clear the flight plan with the ranger station on Mt. Lee, but that was because I planned to film the Hollywood Sign, front and back, at close range. (Yes, it was awesome; no, I’ll never do it again.)

Since then, the volume of helicopter traffic has increased tremendously. No one is be able to explain why, but there seems to be a helicopter over Beachwood Canyon at all times during the day, and not infrequently at night. According to Hollywoodland resident Martin Smith,

the tour helicopters as well as those that are shooting and therefore hovering, drive everyone up here mad… I have no idea why those that are filming don’t have to warn the residents beforehand… just as any other filming unit has to when shooting in our neighborhood….post 9/11, a no-fly zone seems sensible as the top of Mt. Lee is so essential to LA’s safety.

Soon after I promised Martin I’d write something about helicopter traffic, the New York Times published this article:


In contrast to the ho-hum reaction to prior complaints, the NYT article got an immediate, high-level response–from none other than Rep. Howard Berman, our U.S. Congressman.  He is sponsoring new legislation to regulate helicopter traffic over Los Angeles, something the FAA so far has refused to do:


From your mouth to the FAA’s ears, Congressman.

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