Henry Frankenstein: Look! It's moving. It's alive. It's alive... It's alive, it's moving, it's alive, it's alive, it's alive, it's alive, IT'S ALIVE!

         Frankenstein (1931)
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January Issue

Classic Film

Returning in 2016

Revisiting Classic Films... as we do in the pages of this eZine, and through our film screenings... is an opportunity for us all to immerse ourselves in a different time and place. It also provides the opportunity to look back and learn something about the filmmakers of the past and to appreciate how heavily they have influenced the present.

In this first edition for 2016 we are going back to the very earliest days of film  exhibition. we'll also look back on the life of an actor who celebrated his birthday in early January... Rod Taylor, and given our new 'Cafe Series' of screenings this year... we'll look at great cafes in film.

We hope you find something of interest to fill in the time until our next screenings
The Earliest Days of Cinema
Film has changed greatly over more than a century
Contemporary filmmaking seems to be changing rapidly in many ways, and is undoubtedly vastly different, even from what it was a decade or two ago. This has been evident with the Star Wars films. George Lucas felt compelled to add 21st Century CGI effects his much loved films of the 80's, upsetting fans and illustrating that some modern filmmakers have the mistaken belief that the fireworks are more important than the story.

Pre-Digital making film was a very hands on affair that required planning and patience. Film stock was expensive, it took time to have it developed, and cutting and splicing film was a physical task. But skills like camera movement, editing, fade ins and fade outs, even crediting actors didn't come until the celluloid cinema was close to two decades old.

It can be argued that the real birth of cinema predates celluloid. Nickelodeons offered a moving image experience for the cost of a nickel (hence the name), and were both very popular as well as being very profitable for the proprietors.But as can be seen in the image below, they only allowed for one viewer at a time. a bit of a bottleneck for an exhibitor wanting to increase profits.
                      The earliest days of cinema were a lonely experience
Clearly there was more money to be made by screening to larger audiences.

In 1895, film projectors were released, almost simultaneously, in the US and Europe by the Edison company and the Lumiere brothers respectively. But it seems the real inventor of the Edison camera was Charles Francis Jenkins who despite being promised by Edison that he would be named as the inventor... he never was.

But the real pioneers were undoubtedly the Lumieres who not only made projectors, they also made a great many films and formed one of the world's first film studios. Film was really just a sideshow until there was a lot of product to screen on a regular basis, so in essence it was the Lumiere's who launched and then subsequently heavily influenced the film industry. One of their most famous films was also one of their earliest -  the arrival of a train (see video below) and was reportedly responsible for causing audiences to panic and flee the cinema. It was certainly a much talked about sensation at the time.
Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (1895)
So with a growing appetite for moving images, and with the spectacle of seeing those images on a big screen, there was an urgent need for cinemas to seat the many customers who wanted to get through the doors.

As a result there was a demand for permanent, purpose built  venues... movie cinemas, and they were needed in a hurry. As a result many of the early cinemas were open air or were housed in hastily built structures which were never designed to last. And most, if not all, of them didn't last long. The image below will provide some idea of what early audiences were willing to put up with just to see a film.
It soon became apparent that movies were here to stay, and with growing cash reserves and a desire to attract ever higher proportions of the cinema admissions, exhibitors soon realised that they needed to provided better facilities.

By the time of the 1920's and 30's, the era of the picture palace had arrived. The venues were ornate with large seating capacities and were frequently full. Of course things have continued to change, and we have now lost all the old picture palaces - many were demolished, while those which survived were split and turned into multi-plexes.
Throughout 2016 we will be travelling back in time to a number of great old films, and in a sense we will also be traveling back to the kind of venues early cinema goers were accustomed to... spaces which weren't custom build to screen films but places where it was still possible to enjoy a night at the flicks
Classic Film Stars
Rod Taylor in The Time Machine (1960)
Rod Taylor was born on the 11th of January, 1930 in Lidcombe in the Western suburbs of Sydney. He attended Parramatta High School and later studied at the East Sydney Technical and Fine Arts College. For a time he worked as a commercial artist, but decided to become an actor after seeing Laurence Olivier in Richard III.

Taylor worked extensively in radio and on the stage in Australia, including a period on Blue Hills and a role as Tarzan. In 1951, he took part in a re-enactment of Charles Sturt's voyage down the Murrumbidgee and Murray Rivers and also appeared in a number of theatre productions for Australia's Mercury Theatre.

He made his feature film debut in King of the Coral Sea (1954), a film TCF screened in 2013 and later appeared in Long John Silver (1954), an unofficial sequel to Treasure Island. Taylor was then awarded the 1954 Rola Show Australian Radio Actor of the Year Award. which included a ticket to London via Los Angeles, but Taylor never went further than LA.

He was soon landing roles on television in shows such as Studio 57 and the films Hell on Frisco Bay (1955) and Giant (1956). Toward the end of 1955, Taylor unsuccessfully screen tested to play boxer Rocky Graziano in MGM's Somebody Up There Likes Me after James Dean's death. He didn't get the role but impressed executives sufficiently to gain a long-term contract. At MGM, he played a series of support roles and made a strong impression guest-starring in an episode of The Twilight Zone titled "And When the Sky Was Opened" (1959).

This led to Taylor's first leading role in a feature film in The Time Machine (1960), an adaptation of the science-fiction classic by H. G. Wells. You can watch a scene from that film by clicking on the video below
                                   The Time Machine (1960)
Taylor went on to star in 61 feature films, the most notable of which included Hitchcock's The Birds, and the Australian classic The Picture Show Man, which TCF screened in 2014.

Rod Taylor also made his fair share of crap - most notable among those films were Welcome to Woop Woop (1998) and Inglorious Basterrds (2009).

Taylor passed away on the 7th of January 2015, just shy of his 85th birthday.This month, make a point of looking back at some of the wonderful films Rod Taylor was involved in making.
Great Cafes in film
Cafes are wonderful social venues. A place to catch up with friends or meet strangers, somewhere to watch the world go by, or just a spot to stop, revive and get another shot of caffeine. It is perhaps for that reason that cafes have featured so often and so prominently in such a large number of important and unforgettable films.

As 2016 will see us screening in a number of cafes around Townsville, this seems like a good time to explore cafes and the role they played in film, sometime acting like a non-human character, somes times just as a backdrop.

Perhaps the best known (and possibly best loved) cafe appeared in the film Casablanca.. Rick's Cafe Amercain
Quite literally, everyone did go to Rick's. All the key scenes of the film played out there. The most memorable musical number in the film was performed there. And for the audience, many of us wish we could've made our way there.

If you had to be stuck in Casablanca with the Vichy and the Nazi's breathing down your neck, it was some consolation that you could spend your time at Risk's.

Many of the influential films of the French new Wave had key scenes set in a French cafe... usually at one of the outdoor, streetside tables.

Possibly the most influential director in French cinema at that time was Jean-Luc Godard, and perhaps the most iconic film of the period was his debut feature A bout de souffle (Breathless) - a film that featured and celebrated the street life of Paris. But Godard in turn was influenced by another film which also featured a number of memorable cafe scenes... a film called Pickpocket (1959).

“I would surely like to be moved now as much as I had been moved by Pickpocket. One thought: ah, such a thing can be done!” Jean-Luc Godard

In his top-10 list for Cahiers du Cinéma in 1959, Godard cited Pickpocket – filmed on the streets of Paris at the same time he shot Breathless – as the best film of the year. Robert Bresson (the director of Pickpocket) had an influence on Godard that was profound and enduring, and which asked similarly deep and spiritually probing questions about politics and society. Although Godard is quoted as stating Pickpocket was the main inspiration for Le Petit Soldat (1960), Bresson’s influence is perhaps best observed in Vivre sa vie (1962).

All the filmmakers who were influenced by Godard were likely also influenced by Bresson (directly or indirectly). But it could also be said that the cafe (or cafes) played a role also.

The final 'film world' cafe we are going to look at featured in a film that may still be too recent to be considered a classic or perhaps was too commercially successful to ever be considered so. But regardless of how the film is remembered, there is a particular scene from that film that was immediately influential and remains so.

Whatever people's opinion of When Harry met Sally (1989), everyone remembers the cafe scene even if other details about the film are likely more sketchy. The cafe itself was fairly unremarkable (certainly nothing like Rick's Cafe Amercain), and it lacked the atmosphere of a classy French cafe, but the scene played out there was unforgettable for the performances of Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, but also for the reactions of the minor players in the scene.

There are of course so many great cafes and cafe scenes in film, and this was only a small selection.

Do you bit to celebrate the role cafes have played in film history... Make sure you come along to one of our Cafe screenings this year... it's a different location in which to see a film, but it does tap into a long and rich element of cinema history.
Copyright © 2016 Townsville Classic Films, All rights reserved.

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