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  • Originally published 12/12/2014

    John Huston and Fifty Years of Hollywood History

    In film after film, he underscored history or, in contemporary films for him, gave later generations of Americans a fine look at the 1940s, 50s and 60s as through the lenses of his cameras.

  • Originally published 08/13/2013

    In ‘Lee Daniels’ The Butler,’ history told through a black lens

    NEW YORK — History in the movies has often been seen through white eyes: civil rights-era tales with white protagonists reacting to a changing world.“I’ve been in some of those movies,” says David Oyelowo, a star in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.” ‘’I was in the ‘The Help.’”The viewpoint of “The Butler,” though, is refreshingly colorful. In it, Forest Whitaker plays Cecil Gaines, a man born to sharecroppers who’s turned into a domestic servant. After fleeing north, he rises to serve as a butler in the White House for seven successive presidents, spanning from Eisenhower to Reagan, from Jim Crow to Barack Obama....

  • Originally published 06/13/2013

    Nixon's White House – caught on Super 8

    An administration under fire over covert wiretapping, whistleblowers hailed as heroes and lambasted as traitors, a president's reputation on the line … You could be excused for detecting a whiff of Nixon-era sulphur in the US political atmosphere these days. With the trial of Bradley Manning, the Department of Justice's pursuit of journalists who use national-security sources and, of course, Edward Snowden's revelations of NSA data harvesting filling the headlines, state-sanctioned subterfuge and divisive whistleblowing dominate US politics more than at any time since the days of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate.

  • Originally published 05/29/2013

    How to Do Research on the Movies

    The Thatcher Library in Citizen Kane (1941).The most famous depiction of an archive in Hollywood cinema is the Thatcher Library in Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941), a foreboding and noirishly lit mausoleum presided over by a prissy custodian who resents the intrusion of an actual researcher. The drudge work of scholarly investigation may yield rose buds of precious information, but the task of acquisition will be dust-ridden and tedious, and the stewards of the stacks will be cranky spinsters who eye you with suspicion as they hand over white gloves and caution you to use only the pencils and papers provided for note taking.

  • Originally published 03/07/2013

    King Kong, screaming along 80 years later

    Fay Wray's beauty and a sortie of biplanes felled King Kong on-screen, but not even the Depression could stop the success of 1933 film."The premiere was the day before Roosevelt's inauguration and the week of the bank holiday," said Film Forum repertory programmer Bruce Goldstein. Despite the national cash freeze, "King Kong" was a smash. "No Money! Yet New York dug up $89,931 in 4 days to see 'King Kong'" crowed a full-page ad taken in Variety by the film's producers.Sunday, 80 years to the day after the film had its premiere, a packed house gathered at Film Forum for a matinee birthday celebration of "Kong." The screening was followed by a Fay Wray scream-alike contest honoring the late star of the film and Forum member's repartee with her famed co-star."Fay Wray's screaming in the original film is so memorable," said Tony Timpone, one of seven judges empaneled to select a winner from 37 contestants and the editor emeritus of Fangoria magazine, a publication devoted to the horror genre. "She's pretty much the original scream queen. She must have been hoarse for years."...

  • Originally published 02/06/2013

    Conn. congressman sees factual flaw in 'Lincoln'

    As Rep. Joe Courtney watched the Oscar-nominated "Lincoln" over the weekend, something didn't seem right to him.He said Tuesday he was shocked that the Oscar-nominated film, about President Abraham Lincoln's political struggle to abolish slavery, includes a scene in which two Connecticut congressmen vote against the 13th amendment to the Constitution, outlawing slavery...Courtney, who majored in history at Tufts University, asked that the movie, which stars Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln, be corrected before its release on DVD...

  • Originally published 01/15/2013

    Charles Walton: The Missing Half of Les Mis

    Charles Walton is Associate Professor of History at Yale University.Before there were blockbuster films, there were blockbuster books. Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, published in 1862, was one of them. Thanks to a market-savvy publisher, this monument of French romanticism, which was serialized in ten installments, became an immediate bestseller across Europe and North America. Demand was so great that other authors, notably Gustave Flaubert, postponed the publications of their own books to avoid being outshined. On days when new installments went on sale in Paris, police were called in to stop impatient crowds from storming the bookstores. Some high-minded critics, not unlike those who spurn sensational Hollywood films today, found the hype distasteful. Edwin Percy Whipple, in a review for The Atlantic, referred to “the system of puffing” surrounding the book’s release in terms worthy of Ebenezer Scrooge: it was “the grossest bookselling humbug,” a spectacle “at which Barnum himself would stare amazed.”

  • Originally published 01/15/2013

    Aux armes, citoyens!

    Illustration from an 1886 edition of Les Misérables. Credit: Wiki Commons.To the barricades! Les Misérables is back again, this time on the movie screen.Victor Hugo's Les Misérables is a thrilling, violent, enthralling historical story about men and women caught up in a failed political uprising that swept through France in 1832. The original novel, published in 1862, took the world by storm.This latest Les Misérables -- which has earned a tremendous amount of money in the three weeks since it premiered and last week was nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture -- has somehow turned into a debate on whether singing the music live is better or worse than the standard recorded music and whether Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway look properly movie star-ish in the close-ups that are used throughout the movie. One critic sneered that Hathaway, who plays Fantine, can’t sing and another howled that she looks anorexic. A third was ecstatic because Hathaway died off at the forty-third-minute mark.

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