Bret Wood's Efforts and Exploits

An updated guide to film and DVD work.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

And I do mean X-Mas

I recently read a lame article in Moviemaker Magazine of someone's "10 Best Anti-Christmas Movies," and was shocked at how shallow and lame they were.... Scrooged, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, The Nightmare Before Christmas. Come on, man, are you kidding? The earliest one was 1972, which is pretty typical of film scholarship in this day and age.

So I thought I'd wrap up the holiday season by posting some of my favorite grim cinematic takes on Christmas, and inviting you to respond with same.

The absolute best:

John Waters' Female Trouble. Watch what happens when Divine doesn't get the Cha Cha Heels she wanted.

Erich von Stroheim had a particular distaste for Christmas, as in Greed, when McTeague murders Trina in a kindergarten, surrounded by Christmas decorations (and the cops hang out across the street). Watch it here (unfortunately, the clip starts midway through the scene). EvS struck again in 1932, in one of my personal favorites, Walking Down Broadway (aka Hello Sister), in which a tragic scene is played out beneath Christmas decorations.

Tod Browning knew how to push the irony button. In his 1925 film The Unholy Three, a gang of dime museum criminals (the midget and the strong man) break into a house on Christmas Eve to rob the safe. A small child wakes up and comes downstairs. Seeing the strongman, then the midget, the child says, "Oh, Santa! You brought me a baby bruvver!" At which point the midget (Harry Earles as Tweedledee) strangles the child. When the child's father comes in to stop it, they kill him. Of course, the censors required that the scene be cut from the film, but pictures survive to show that it really happened.

In Browning's The Devil Doll, a criminal (Lionel Barrymore) shrinks people and uses telepathy to command them to carry out revenge on his enemies. One of the "dolls" is hung on a Christmas tree as an ornament and, in the middle of the night, climbs down off the tree to perform his duty as the clock strikes twelve. Unfortunately, the "doll" is discovered at the last second and gets stomped. The trailer is here, but it doesn't include that scene.

And who can forget William Powell taking pot shots at Christmas ornaments with a BB gun in The Thin Man?

Don't get me wrong, I like Christmas. But around this time of year, we need a dash of cold water in the face to wake us up and give us the energy to take down the decorations.

Just stop all this hooey about National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Fourth Ain't Bad

Pretty cool end-of-the-year news... the DVD I produced of F.W. Murnau's The Last Laugh was given the #4 spot on Entertainment Weekly's Ten Best DVDs of 2008. This just after Sight and Sound included Houdini in their best of 2008 list. Not a bad Christmas present.


Thanks to everyone who worked on that disc. For any Murnau fans out there, Kino will shortly release a super-deluxe DVD of Faust with an incredible documentary about the making of the film, and a beautiful new restoration. We're also releasing two Murnau films previously unavailable: The Haunted Castle and Finances of the Grand Duke, both from 35mm restorations by the F.W. Murnau Stiftung.

Happy Holidays everyone, stay in touch.


Then, as soon as I posted this, I realize that Tim Lucas, editor of Video Watchdog, put Houdini on his Five Best DVDs of 2008 list.



End-of-year update: The New York Times just put my GRIFFITH MASTERWORKS collection on their list of 10 Best DVDs of 2008

In terms of critical appreciation 2008 turned out to be a great year.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Pet Projects

After a challenging couple of weeks, I'm starting to get motivated again. Part of the doldrums set in when I tried to objectively consider what it would take to make The Seventh Daughter on a small budget. I counted 65 different locations in the script -- 1920s era, several crowd scenes -- and quickly realized that even if I were an established director it would be pretty much impossible to get something like that off the ground. So it assumes the status of pet project.

But my spirits were somewhat lifted when I heard that one of my other pet projects -- the 3-DVD collection I produced for Kino, Houdini: The Movie Star -- had been named one of the best DVDs of 2008 by Sight and Sound Magazine. You may remember I posted on my blog the trailer I cut for the series (follow the Kino link and you can see it). Special homage is hereby paid to critic Michael Atkinson (one of the last few good critics standing) for making Houdini his solitary pick.

He writes: "Twentieth-century pop culture at its least pretentious, least schooled, and most pulpishly innocent, this DVD set encompasses almost all of the surviving footage from Harry Houdini's shortlived acting career (he quit in 1923, dissatisfied with movies' profitability), as something of a pioneer in the annals of athletic-celebrity-turned-matinee-hero. Houdini's infamous stunts are immortalised in cheesy fictional contexts, and though audiences from 1919 onwards went to Houdini's movies for the sheer spectacle of seeing Houdini be Houdini, they also got lost in a fantasy landscape where Houdini wasn't a magician but an invincible ubermensch fighting evil. Breathless, blissful odeon naivete."

Click here to read the whole article.

So you see... sometimes pet projects come to fruition after all! Oddly enough, filmic pet projects coming to fruition is the them of another script I've been finishing, Shangri-La. Taking this as some sort of sign, I've picked it up, dusted it off, and started working out some of its few remaining kinks. And... Lord help me... I'm starting to think, "you know... I could shoot this... maybe next Winter/Spring." Gluttons for punishment we low-budget film folk seem to be.