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Bill Holmes

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About Bill Holmes

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  1. At the risk of sounding like an echo, I too must tip my cap to the wonderful work from all involved. I wasn't sure what to expect when I signed up for Film Noir last year, but one interaction with Dr. Edwards showed that we would not only have expert guidance, but also be led by a fellow fan of the subject matter. Improving the video segments this year by incorporating more visual tools was a nice bonus. And it was a great surprise to see my old sports reporter fave Vince Cellini was a slapstick buff! Like noir, I had already had broad exposure to a large portion of the filmography, but watching these films again with fresh eyes (and the comments from both instructors and fellow students) was a great pleasure. My personal schedule this Summer meant 2-3 visits a week instead of a daily plunge, but the material was structured so clearly and logically that doubling up on the "Daily Dose" was a pure joy. I'm about to go through the final post and final exam and it's a bittersweet feeling - I wish it would continue for weeks. But absence makes the heart grow fonder - let's hope that next Summer we are immersed in a study of Westerns or crime films or science fiction! And with Dr. Edwards getting great assistance from experts like Eddie Muller (film noir) and Dr. Gehring (slapstick), we will once again be in great hands. I'll try not to be a stranger on the boards during down time and hope some of my fellow students post occasionally as well.
  2. 1. There's a phrase that comes to mind - "everything but the kitchen sink" - but ZAZ will also toss in that sink as well. The broader the joke, the better. Nielsen's car almost running him over is funny enough, but then the bullets, the dozen airbags, the fire hydrant, the explosion, and then finally the deadpan "Did anyone get the plate? Did anyone see the driver?" makes it that much more absurd. (One of my favorite sight gags of theirs is Robert Stack whipping off a pair of shades - ala David Caruso - for dramatic effect, only to reveal a smaller pair of shades underneath!) 2. I think the beauty of Wilder and Brooks is their ability to play both the long and short game, whether it's a callback gag ("Hedley!") or very subtle gags (someone pointed out that "Bruher" means "glue" in German, which makes it even funnier that the mention of her name would make horses anywhere in earshot whinny in fear). ZAZ is like a machine gun shooting pies in your face; even if you duck a few, most will get you. Gags are layered on thick, and even if a whole concept sails over your head, there's another in a minute. What I love about ZAZ and Brooks is that repeated viewings of their films - and I mean DOZENS of times - prove to be still funny. 3. I imagine anyone watching Airplane, Naked Gun or Police Squad - never having seen Leslie Nielsen before - would laugh hysterically at his pitch-perfect performance. But having seen Nielsen play dramatic roles (often a bad guy in a crime film) it was twice as funny; it's as if he was parodying his own career as well as the genre. Robert Stack also nailed this (1941 and Airplane) as did Lloyd Bridges. But Nielsen was the best, because it was obvious he was willing to play along with whatever ZAZ came up with, no matter how absurd or physically demanding. Sellers as Clouseau was probably not as dramatic a change (PS was a chameleon and not a "type") and was just as game for physical slapstick, but probably had a more focused character (language gags, dead serious) than Nielsen's Drebin. Drebin also did not usually frustrate and antagonize his superiors, which was central to Clouseau. And both bumblers somehow were successful at the end.
  3. 1. How does this scene successfully parody the old Universal Horror films of the 1930s? Be specific. Where to start? Black and white, protagonist starting out distanced from the main premise (a doctor disavowing his past here, a relative summoned to an obscure location) but eventually succumbing to the issue at hand. A situation (about to arise in the very next scene) where this now vulnerable man is pointed towards the old house and laboratory. And they did use many of the original sets, of course, as well as many of the classic lines ("Alive...ALIVE!!"). Or to paraphrase a certain Corleone..."Just when I thought I was out, they bring me back in!" 2. In keeping with Gene Wilder's own observations about the writing of this film, how does this scene move between comic subtlety and broad slapstick humor? Be specific. We all know it's Frankenstein, but Wilder insists on the campy "Fronk-uhn-steen" promotion (who Frau Bruuer will eventually twist into an even more gnarly mess). He pretends to dismiss his ancestor as a lunatic but we see him quickly unravel when the student keeps pressing, using voice and gesture - obviously he has not been able to distance himself. Great asides to the subject - the treat, "give him an extra dollar", and Wilder's mastery of tone and volume to set himself up as this façade - a pompous one at that - where he tries to pretend he won't be the next madman doctor. All, of course, apped by the brilliant scalpel move - that nanosecond of purse silence and stillness, after which he first tries to cover up and then eventually totally hide the scalpel as if nothing happened...while obviously trying not to scream in pain. The patient's initial posture (the first time I saw the movie I thought Wilder would forget to tell him to lower the knee and he would eventually topple over) followed by the exaggerated reaction to the fake knee to the groin, then the writhing on the gurney as the pain was allowed to flow. 3. Would this film and its gags have worked as well if Young Frankenstein was shot in color? Defend your answer. I don't think so. Classic Universal horror movies were all in black and white, lights and shadow, often rainy and overcast skies and fog. Like film noir, the black/white/grey spectrum communicates the film's emotional tone far more successfully. The lack of color also keeps you more focused upon the plot and activity - there are no subtleties to distract you nor insinuations from the color choices (as in Vertigo, for one example).
  4. Sellers plays Clouseau as the perfect intersection of mental and physical bumbling, yet always forging ahead with oblivious confidence. What's funny is that he sort of owns up to the first gaffe (ripping the felt on the table), but tries to pass off the second goof (stack of pool cues) as a manufacturing defect and then, when walking into the wall, tries to cover his humiliation with righteous indignation. I don't think he could have handled a fourth - but there was no risk of that since comedy has a "rule of threes" for a reason. What really makes this work is the unflappable George Sanders as the foil. Ray Davies nailed it in "Celluloid Heroes" ("If you covered him with garbage/George Sanders would still have style...") and any reaction whatsoever from his character would have ruined the slapstick slow burn the audience enjoyed...as we knew Clouseau was headed from the first disaster to the second to the third.
  5. I could be wrong here, but I believe Lloyd owned copyrights on most or all of his work and purposely limited their release. He was certainly highly rated at the time, but subsequent generations did not stumble across him like they did with Chaplin and Keaton (or later, The Three Stooges, Abbott & Costello, etc.). I know I didn't, and growing up in New York City just about every slapstick comic and comedy duo/group were unavoidable if you watched WPIX, WOR and WNEW. Perhaps a career legacy mistake? The Dave Clark Five were one of the biggest bands of the 1960s but Dave Clark held off re-releasing their catalogue on CD for two decades, figuring the price would just go up and up. Instead, most of the last two generations have grown up not knowing his name.
  6. (FYI - seeing some are having trouble, but perhaps it's fixed now. I was able to link and view from the email without issue). I'd have to re-watch Bananas again to form a final opinion, but I disagree with Mast - I find The Great Race to contain far more allegiances to Sennett - much more physical comedy like pie fights and crashes, and Professor Fate is basically Wile E. Coyote come to life. Maybe a touch of Roach, as even the villains turn out to have elements of humanity when the **** hit the fan. This clip from Bananas is more funny for the deadpan and droll delivery of an absurdist situation than slapstick: First, the counter man doesn't even bat an eye at the ridiculous order - let alone that there is a deli nearby. Absurdity within absurdity (mayo for 1000 sandwiches "on the side", the leader "wants his on a roll", etc.) Sight gags of 1000 sandwich bags (and finding the "one on the roll" quickly), wheelbarrows of cole slaw, etc. There's a minimum of verbal slapstick, and it's merely a couple of Woody wisecracks. As a parody it is really just the framework - a situation comedy by definition - with nebbish Woody as a jungle revolutionary and normally dramatic moments played for laughs (rigging the "short straw"). But he was far more successful mining this format (both the documentary and crime story genres) with "Take The Money And Run". And frankly this "food order for an army" gag was done better and funnier by Don Imus ("1200 Hamburgers to Go").
  7. Just wanted to say thanks for continuing to look for ways to make these courses special. I think adding the use of the telestrator in the video lectures and stopping the action to enhance the narration with visual cues is a wonderful add this year. Used sparingly (as in "don't go all John Madden on us!") it supplements an already pointed and enjoyable dialogue. Kudos! I hope this tool is retained as future courses (Westerns? Crime films?) are compiled in future seasons.
  8. 1. In what ways does Lloyd use the settings, amusements, and attractions of Coney Island in pursuit of creating original slapstick gags? Interestingly he uses the shorter bits (sliding down backwards, spinning off turntable) to set up the subtle sight gag where it appears he's puking but is actually blowing into a tube to test his lung capacity. 2. Do you agree or disagree with Schickel's assessment of Lloyd as more "real" or "freer" of "exaggeration and stylization" than Chaplin or Keaton? Why or why not? Keaton's forte was "man versus object" (a train, a hurricane, a collapsing house) while Chaplin usually instigated his situations if not outright controlled them. Both also relied a lot upon physical expression, whether overt (Chaplin's moustache and eyebrows, his cane and his gait) or reactionary (the stark contrast of Keaton's acrobatic moves and his stoic expression). Much of what happened to Lloyd is accidental, and sometimes he is even unaware of *how* he got into the situation, and as a result he seems to be "going with the flow" as chaos happened around him. (Contrast the way he wins the kewpie doll and his behavior afterwards with Arbuckle winning the cigar at the fair in the earlier clip.) 3. In watching this clip, what contributions do you see that Lloyd added to the history of slapstick comedy? Not certain if this was original at the time, but inserting the "spinning" image between the various eating and falling/sliding scenes led the audience to anticipate that he was going to be sick, which really sold the sight gag. Much more effective than simply running the actual scenes together. Also, there's not a lot of meanness in Lloyd's slapstick. Chaplin punches, kicks and throws objects; Keaton is often battered and thrown about. Lloyd, on the other hand, seems more like the guy next door without any extraordinary skill, nor is he posed as exceptionally clever (Chaplin) or athletic (Keaton) even though in reality he was both. Subliminally he brought the "everyman" element - you rooted for the guy not because the obstacle (cops, collapsing buildings) was fierce, but because you *liked* him.
  9. Arbuckle is unfairly underrated in the history of silent comedy; partially due to the types of gags (usually simple and with him getting even) but probably also due to the unfortunate real life scandals. Ironic that comedians of that girth often make their physicality the focus of their humor while "Fatty" always focused on the gag first. Had he been as thin as Stan Laurel, getting clipped by the mallet would have been equally funny - especially without the amplified sound a heavier man might have leveraged. But Keaton shines here even in a supporting role - and yes, odd to see him smile and laugh (though it's necessary to set up the "comeuppance" of being hit back). The more important element here is split second timing by both comics...Arbuckle really looks like he got clocked, and Keaton swings without the benefit of seeing the target. Lloyd was a later discovery for me (I did not see his films until adulthood; I have been watching Chaplin and Keaton since I was five) but I learned to appreciate his combination of physical comedy and unique ideas - the "funhouse mirror" is a perfect example. Earlier comics would have moved on after the bell ringing; later comics would have employed sound effects and camera tricks (zooming in and out of focus) to sell the concept of disorientation. Thankfully there are scads of material on all of them, from critical analyses to wonderful DVDs from Kino and Criterion. Great art is timeless.
  10. Agreed, which is why when someone does utilize it for a purpose, it's worth complimenting. And I don't mean just the transition from black and white to color so spectacularly used in The Wizard Of Oz and Pleasantville, among others. For example, Warren Beatty overtly used color to turn Dick Tracy into a human cartoon, while The Sixth Sense was so subtle that most people only pick up on it (like the major reveal) on the second viewing even though it was right in front of us the whole time.
  11. Thanks for everything, Dr. Edwards - a fascinating course that was always captivating, and enhanced greatly by the community spirit. I had so much fun reading the posts from my fellow students, several of which caused me to watch a scene (or film) again from a different perspective. Please pass our sincere gratitude to all who made this work, especially those behind the scenes at Canvas, Ball State and TCM. I hope that our participation inspired *you* (and Eddie Muller, and TCM) enough to consider another online course somewhere down the line. Perhaps neo-noir, Euro-Asian noir, or the film sources of noir we discussed (German Expressionism, Universal horror films, gangster films from Warner Brothers, etc.) would prove a worthwhile subject, especially approached as a precedent (or exponent) of the era we studied. I plan to stick around here in the "offseason" and hope many of my fellow students do as well. Please don't be a stranger!
  12. That's a tough ask, but the five below would be appropriately discussed in any conversation about the greatest films ever made. In my order of preference... The Killers Out of the Past The Postman Always Rings Twice The Third Man Strangers On a Train Favorite that I had not seen before: The Mask of Dimitrios.
  13. Love the opening, we're being airlifted into something but we don't know what yet. Urban night scene, cars, lights, lots of activity but we're headed to one small particular. We're deked into thinking it's about the first couple, then the car, but finally we see the couple kissing in the darkness. When the light hits, their reaction and conversation quickly lets us know: It's an affair and they'd be in trouble if someone they knew saw them He's going to do something dangerous, and he's more nervous about it because she isn't supposed to be there tonight Ah it's she who is cheating - but she was with him prior to that and she wants them to get back together Whatever he's doing is big - they have to lay low for weeks, not days - but if it all goes off t will be worth it She's acting concerned but not trying to talk him out of doing it - she knows there will be $$$ and wants some of it. She obviously has a ton - look at that mink - but she's greedy. If he had any doubt about taking the risk for the money, now he's going to risk it all to be with her She is playing this guy like a fiddle and she knows it...but he does not Ah - she is the married one! She is a little afraid of her husband (hesitation on the stairs) but faces him down He's obviously rich, important and a man of fear/influence. He's also suspicious as hell. She oversells the excuse with too many details and is arrogant when questioned. Confidence? Or is she watering the seed of jealousy? He probably wants her enough (who wouldn't?) to take the abuse, but he sure doesn't want to look like a chump in front of witnesses - especially a headwaiter! Elevation plays a big role - of course, the whole opening chapter from the sky to the ground for starters. The stairs she must come down. The height of Dan Duryea and his placement next to her (and the headwaiter). And then the whole "crisscross" pun - the affair, the planned crime, the likely double-cross after the heist, even the streets in the aerial shot. You could go this way or that way - and fate or your choice will lead you down *this* road...
  14. What role does music (especially the record playing Wagner) play in the intensity of this scene? At first it seems odd, but we eventually see that the volume is used to make the prisoner think the beating will not be heard by anyone - although I suspect the Captain is aware that his staff can hear it just fine. But when he raises the volume to symbolize that it's *on*, the pan around the room to the military images and photos clearly show that the Captain is getting pumped up the way an athlete uses music for a workout or prior to a game. And of course, the editor is made acutely aware it's going to get far worse. The staff, hearing the volume, know what's up and clearly are uncomfortable with the tactics but afraid to challenge the Captain. Could there be more overt reference to the rise of Nazi Germany while many countries watched it happen while their apathy and fear prevented them from stepping in? Of course, Apocalypse Now probably trumps the Wagner/violence arc. Based on what you've learned in this class, how does this scene fit in with your understanding of early postwar film noir (films released in 1946 and 1947) and the development of the noir style and substance? Feelings of alienation, despair and hopelessness are certainly amplified in a prison movie, from the strict regulations (designed to make you trip up), the confinement and especially the feeling of powerlessness against authority - much like the warden juggles his good (professional) and evil (uh...he's a vicious psychopath!) personas. People were confused about the world order and getting their first taste of wondering whether the government was telling us the whole truth. Authorities are now portrayed as potentially criminal, no longer the automatic do-gooders. On that point, we see "guilty until proven innocent" in this scene, something that would become even more prevalent in the McCarthy hearings soon to come. And of course the Captain fabricates a story without batting an eye. Visually other noir symbols - darkening the room, subservient position of the editor versus the power positions (behind, on the desk) of the Captain; removing his shirt and placing the rubber hose on the desk to create anticipation before the beating, figuratively "washing his hands" of the incident afterwards. Great movie with a great cast and wonderful cinematography, a must-watch title.
  15. Describe how this scene uses cinematography to accentuate the brutal beating of Steve Randall (Steve Brodie). The room is stark and filled with shadows. Burr's first punch comes right into the camera, as if the audience is Steve's jaw. When Steve is thrown on the table and hits the light, the shadows fluctuate between full bore focus and complete darkness. It's as if we are being shown flash cards of a progressively more brutal beating and being manipulated into looking every time. The sway of the lighting also creates a pendulum effect (a ticking clock) that subliminally communicates the length of the beating. We hear the bottle broken but don't see it as it's in the dark. But then Burr walks it straight into the camera (us, again) and all we see are jagged sharp angles that make his threat about the wife that much more palpable. How do Mann and Diskant utilize different points of view to heighten the tension in this scene? We see from Steve's POV that Burr and the other heavies tower over and surround him. We stay behind Steve to see the faces, not the backs of heads, of the thugs - their evil is right in our face as well. When he does stand to assert himself, he's down again in a nanosecond - they are in total control. Their swings come at us, and we morph from behind, to close up until finally the fight passes by us. We still hear the brutality and are left to imagine the horror, but we are now focused on the faces of Burr and his stooge, and we even see that guy turn as if to say "when is it enough?"... On the cutback after the beating, he's cowering and cornered to reinforce he has no likely options. And Burr, towering and walking that jagged bottle into the camera, once more conveys the terror from Stave's perspective.
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