While I’m under the weather I’m taking a little breather but I wanted to share this video I found of Angela Lansbury recalls making her first film, Gaslight (1944). She earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination, which is amazing to me, as she was just 17 years old when the movie’s shoot began. Lansbury is TCM”s Star of the Month and this film is tonight’s #TCMParty, beginning at 8:00 p.m. EST. Join the party by watching and tweeting with the hashtag #TCMParty. Hope to see you there!
Bond…Julian Bond…is a huge movie fanatic. When he isn’t managing the Detroit Medical Center’s social media, or hanging out at metro Detroit’s cool spots, he’s writing his blog titled — “no surprise here” — Not Quite 007. While attending University of Michigan-Dearborn, he was a feature writer forThe Michigan Journal student newspaper. Says Bond, “I’ve always been heavily into movies, and I was happy to write about them at U of M-D. The best part of that gig was interviewing a few stars including Chris Rock, Tom Cruise — post Oprah couch jumping incident — and my epic face-to-face with the awesome pro-wrestler turned actor, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.”
Sharing a last name with the most famous spy in the world has been “very interesting, to say the least,” Bond says. “All of my Dad’s family, the Bonds, were named, no joke, with the letter J. So every single one of us has gotten the ‘Are you related to the real 007?’ question throughout our lives, and we’ll never get tired of it. Back when I was in grade school, my dad actually legally added “James” to his whole name (which is really Joel), and started using that for postal addresses and even our caller ID. My friends would always get a big kick out of seeing “James Bond” popping up on their phones.”
Even before the start of filming on Skyfall (Bond 23) was in the news, of course I was asking Mr. Bond about his famous “relative.”
Who is your favorite James Bond actor, and why?
I have to go with the original Bond…Sean Connery. Pierce Brosnan is pretty good, Daniel Craig is surprisingly one of the best with his more realistic portrayal. But Connery will always take the win as favorite at the end of the day. Every time I see him in interviews or in other movies, it seems like he’s actually a real-life James Bond, 24/7.
What are your Top 5 James Bond movies?
Such a hard question and I have to cheat just a little bit.
- GoldenEye is easily my favorite film of the entire series. Picture-perfect intro (and killer theme song from Tina Turner), great simple story, awesome action scenes, and some pretty good acting. I can honestly watch it over and over without getting tired of it. It barely beats out Goldfinger as my number one pick because this was the first Bond flick that I saw in the movie theaters. The rest I watched on VHS or cable TV, and thus this one holds a close place to my 007 heart.
- Goldfinger and Dr. No are two of the best Bond films ever bar none. I think most fans have them on top of their list. Sean Connery is the best Bond, and these are easily the best villains of the series. They also set the high standard for all Bond films, parodies, and anything associated with the name still to this very day. Nuff’ said.
- I LOVE Quantum of Solace and don’t think it’s too soon to put it on a best list because it’s SO criminally underrated. I liked it a bit better than theCasino Royale reboot because it has a lot more action and a better villain (that crazy French guy). And as weird as this sounds, because it’s the shortest Bond film in history (running at less than 2 hours instead of the usual almost 3 hour length), there’s a lot of Bond goodness in a lot less time.
- Licence To Kill and The Living Daylights, likeGoldeneye, will always have a special place in my heart because they were the first Bond films I ever saw. As an ‘80s kid, I had not yet been introduced to the awesomeness known as Sean Connery. While Timothy Dalton is probably one of the least popular of all of the Bonds, I actually thought he wasn’t that bad, and can hopefully be forgiven for an ultra-corny action scene — fighting bad guys while sliding down a mountain on a violin case.
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is another underrated gem. I place it slightly above the 2009Casino Royale, because of its unorthodox style and one-time only Bond, George Lazenby. It also has the most shocking ending to a Bond movie EVER, with 007 getting married (?!?) and then the infamous drive-by scene shortly after (won’t spoil it here!). I know so many friends who are Bond fans and still have never seen this movie because it doesn’t star Sean Connery and honestly looks sort of odd in comparison to other Bond films, especially with the sight of Lazenby. But all true blue fans MUST see this one here at least once. Again….a CRAZY ending.
The Bond series is also known for its villains and love interests, any favorites of those?
My favorite villain simply has to be Jaws, the tall menacing dude with steel teeth. The man just would never die. I really disliked the films that he was in, especially Moonraker (James Bond…IN SPACE!!). But he seriously almost stole the show with his crazy appearance and attempts to bite off Bond’s head.
I’m pretty sure the Bond film series is the longest running one, at 49 years and counting. Why do you think it has endured for so long?
Besides the gadgets, the girls, and the guns, the series is always fun and never takes itself too seriously. Even with the edgier series with Daniel Craig, each film still feels like an escape into a cool world of spy fantasy.
If you could have one Bond gadget, which would you choose and why?
I loved the rocket-ppowered jetpack that Bond had inThunderball. It was so freaking cool-looking, even back in the ‘60s. All of the watches and cars were always cool, but the simple design of the jetpack made it seem like it could actually be a real thing. But I also do have to give a shout-out to the villians’ gadgets as well, such as the Golden Gun fromThe Man With The Golden Gun (one shot and you’re dead!), and weirdly enough, the explosive ‘milk cans’ that the bad guy used in The Living Daylights.
With Quantum of Solace, the movie series has used the last of the original Fleming James Bond material. (Some of it got used twice!) Where do you think the series will go from here?
For the next Bond film, I was so happy to hear that Javier Bardem will be joining as the bad guy because he could easily be the best of the Craig-era bunch. For the plot and overall material, I really hope that they expand on the entire Quantum international villain group. I thought it was really cool that they had story continuity from Casino Royale to the literal beginning of Quantum. They tried to do that with the older films with the group SPECTRE and “the guy with the kitty cat” (aka Blofeld, aka the Dr. Evil-looking villain) appearing several times. Then, sadly, they dropped SPECTRE and never mentioned them again. It could be a nice touch to the series to bring back the “guy (or gal) with the kitty cat”, and the entire Quantum group, and create a cool edgier feel with him or her.
Who do you think will be James Bond when Craig moves on? An actor we know now or an unknown…?
I don’t know. Seems like the Bond series has worked because they usually go with a relative unknown. If they chose an established actor, it would distract from the series (i.e., Leonardo DiCaprio as 007). When they get someone unknown, it essentially gives a deserving actor a chance to shine, as the awesome Craig has done so far. Here’s hoping that he has a few more movies left in the tank to keep the series going strong.
Do you watch any other classic movies? What are your favorite movies from the last 10 years or so?
Some of the classic flicks that I love include westerns like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly and “new classics” like the firstStar Wars. I’m a huge fan of the first Tim Burton Batman with Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton (sorry, Dark Knight). Some of the newer films that I love happen to be James Bond-influenced: The Bourne series, with its crazy modern-day spy hijinks; Inception, whose overall style and music score reminds me strangely of Goldfinger; and recently X-Men: First Class, which to me and many others was kind of like “James Bond with Mutants.”
So Bond fans, what do you think of Mr. Bond’s favorite films in the series? Who is the best James Bond? Where do you think the series is headed?
Maurice Greenia, Jr., is a Detroit poet, painter and puppeteer. He is also in several musical groups: Spaceband, The Don’t Look Now Jug Band, and its smaller side project, The Fireflies. He works at the McNichols Campus library at the University of Detroit Mercy. His work is online here, here and here. He also writes a cinema blog.
You’ve been watching movies at the Detroit Film Theatre (DFT) since the first season. Do you remember the first movie you saw there? What are some of the more memorable movies you’ve seen there over the years?
I have copies of all of the Detroit Film Theatre schedules. I loved the afternoon film programs that they ran (even before the DFT started). I think maybe the first thing I saw there was a double feature of the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup and Laurel and Hardy in Sons of the Desert. Also, early on, there was a showing of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil on a foggy night.
Back when Luis Buñuel was still alive, I was at a showing of his film The Milky Way. The projectionist was attacked and the film was torn off the projector twice! That was a pretty memorable early experience.
I loved a lot of their series/theme programming as well. The Silent Clowns retrospective, sometime around 1979, was really great. I got to see a lot of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd films for the first time. It’s always sweet when they have live music for the silent films. I enjoyed retrospectives of directors such as Werner Herzog, Alfred Hitchcock, and Akira Kurosawa. And it wasn’t all just quality or art films — the 3D movie series was a lot of fun too.
How and how much, if at all, has film influenced your art?
I think that cinema has had a big impact on my “poetic sensibility.” It changes the way I view life and the world around me, and in turn, influences my writing, puppetry and visual art.
Also, I used to make short films myself, which heightened my sense of editing, of trying to get the “little bits” into the right sequences.
Why do we like classic movies? Some of these films are 50 or more years old, and our times seem completely different. What makes them relevant and watchable still?
Human nature hasn’t really changed as much as some may think. We still laugh, cry and puzzle over the same things we always have. The ways in which people faced life and reality in days past, can inform the ways in which we face it now. If something was well-made, magical, or thought-provoking 40 or 50 years ago, it may still be now. This is especially true for those of us who love the old movies and watch a lot of them.
What is the first classic movie that really affected you?
It’s probably the 1939 MGM version of The Wizard of Oz. You see a lot of films when you’re a kid, but that one stands out. The first few times I saw it, it was on an old black and white TV. so I was probably six or seven. It took a while before I saw it on color TV and on the big screen. We’d just watch it every year when it was on TV.
What are five of your favorite classic films?
It’s hard to pick just five, but here’s one take on that. Three out of five choices are silent films, and three out of five are on the downbeat side.
Citizen Kane (1941) is from Orson Welles, with great help from co-writer Herman Mankiewicz, musician Bernard Herrmann, cinematographer Gregg Toland, and a lot of good actors and actresses. It’s sort of a cliche to include it, but every time I see it, I’m still a bit amazed. You can see how Welles’ years in radio added to the richness of Kane’s sound design. I picked it for obvious reasons. It’s a wonder.
Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) is from Buster Keaton. Charles Reisner is credited is director but Keaton definitely at least co-directed. It’s funny as can be, with wild, daredevil elements. It’s a hilarious and magical film. I love film comedy, especially the silents, and I’m crazy about Buster Keaton.
G.W. Pabst’s film Pandora’s Box (1929) is showcase for the great American actress Louise Brooks. It’s beautiful and chilling, and Brooks gives a legendary performance. I love her and have enjoyed numerous other films by Pabst.
Alexander Mackendrick’s Sweet Smell of Success (1957) is a great film noir. Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis are memorably nasty characters. The film also made good use of New York location photography. I love film noir in general and enjoy this film in particular, possibly because it dwells on the ugly, noir side of show business.
Erich Von Stroheim’s Greed (1924) is, even in its truncated, butchered form, still pretty amazing. This can stand-in for all superior “lost films.” It’s brutal and shocking, even today. Yet the direction and performances make it glow. It really shows how something damaged, bleak, and sordid can still be great.
Tell me some more about Greed. What was lost and what do you think the overall experience of the film would have been? How would a 9-hour movie be seen today? Do you think it could it be re-made as a mini-series?
I have the book that has stills from all the cut scenes, The Complete Greed by Herman Weinberg. You can piece together what it might have been. He also did a similar book of another cut up Von Stroheim film, The Complete Wedding March.
There’s a romantic scene wherein a couple sits together on top of a sewer. There’s a banquet which details disgusting food and eating habits. In the wedding scene, you can see a funeral going on outside the window, with a figure on crutches following the procession. The Death Valley scenes are legendary. I believe that at least one person died and others were taken ill. They had to keep wrapping the cameras in wet cloths to keep the film from burning up.
I don’t think that it would work today as a mini-series, not in the United States anyway. The vision is too extreme and unrelenting. Maybe someone could do another version of the source material, the novel McTeague by Frank Norris. It wouldn’t be anything like Von Stroheim’s vision though.
If his original 8- or 9-hour movie existed, I’m sure it could play at places like the Detroit Film Theatre or New York’s Film Forum or the Museum of Modern Art. I’ve seen movies that long before. It just wouldn’t be for a “popular audience.”
I’d like to see the Rick Schmidlin reconstruction of Greed. In the end though, I think I’d prefer seeing the chopped up version and just look through the book afterward.
There are always some actors/actresses or directors who are worth watching no matter what. Who are 2 or 3 of your favorite classic actors/actresses, directors, writers?
I love the films of The Archers, a.k.a. the team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. I especially like The Red Shoes,The Tales of Hoffman and I Know Where I’m Going. Some of the films Powell did without Pressburger are also well worth seeing, especially The Thief of Baghdad (1940), which he co-directed, and Peeping Tom. Their work has always had an effect on me.
I like the musical genre, and there are a lot of great dancers on screen, from Gene Kelly to a whole group of African-American dancers, from Bill “Bojangles” Robinson” to the Nicholas Brothers. I have to mention Fred Astaire, who’s a personal favorite. Whether dancing solo, with Ginger Rogers, or with other partners, he’s always great to see.
i’m also a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock. I’ve seen most of his films and he did a lot of good work. From Notorious to The 39 Steps to North By Northwest to Vertigo and Rear Window, his work is often fascinating as well as a lot of fun.
I’m also a big fan of documentaries, foreign films (a.k.a. world cinema), and experimental or avant-garde works.
Classic fans, what is the first classic that you really remember had an affect on you? Have you ever seen any of Maurice’s favorites? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!