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"You cannot accuse TCM of underestimating the intelligence..."


hlywdkjk
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Sorry for posting another thread of nothing but a news article about the programming on TCM but the first line of this one made it particularly special.

 

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http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/la-et-lewton114jan14,1,5477595.story

 

From the Los Angeles Times

TELEVISION REVIEW

 

The frightening talent of Val Lewton

A documentary on the producer, who broke ground with films based on psychological terror, settles in as a solid tale on TCM.

By Mary McNamara Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

 

January 14, 2008

 

You cannot accuse TCM of underestimating the intelligence, or at least film geekiness, of its viewers. "The Man in the Shadows" dispenses with the usual niceties of introducing its subject, producer Val Lewton, up front. We get no clearly marked montage of his films, nor even an explanation of the relationship between him and the film's narrator, Martin Scorsese.

 

Instead, we are plunged headfirst into the hijacking of Orson Welles' "The Magnificent Ambersons" by meddling studio executives at RKO who had decided, we are told, to place pageantry over genius.

 

If the connection between that lead and the subject seems vague, you don't have enough film buffs among your acquaintance. Because that decision, my friends, sparked RKO's decision to create a new unit devoted to horror and lift the publicly modest Val Lewton from servitude as editorial assistant under David O. Selznick to run it.

 

There, and I will tell you now because it takes a while for "Shadows" to get around to it, Lewton produced such classics as "Cat People," "I Walked With a Zombie," "Isle of the Dead," and "Curse of the Cat People." Scorsese, who also produced "Shadows," must believe scenes from these films are as instantly recognizable as the bike flying bit in "E.T." because slews of them whiz by unidentified during the first 10 minutes of the film.

 

It's sweet of him in a way, this assumption that we are all so cinematically literate, and I suppose one could argue that those of us incapable of reciting "Cat People" chapter and verse have no business watching a doc on Lewton, but please don't. Because once "Shadows" settles into a more standard narrative of Lewton's life and career, it explores most effectively not only the man and his legacy, but also the history of Hollywood, the language of film and the exquisite tension between vision and fear one finds in so many creative people.

 

Lewton was a Russian immigrant whose mother and aunt found success in early Hollywood. He wrote a series of pulp novels and then became editorial assistant to Selznick, providing services as diverse as rewriting scripts to standing outside a men's room during early screenings of "Gone With the Wind" to figure out when the intermission should be.

 

When RKO asked him to head a new unit dedicated to horror, Lewton was less worried about his tiny budget than whether he could use it to make art.

 

"Cat People," which chronicles the plight of a woman who believes that she turns into a murderous panther whenever she feels a sexual urge, was at first derided by RKO for its seeming lack of horror -- no monsters! But audiences loved it, and Lewton became the B-film golden boy.

 

With its sexual undertones and seductive use of shadow and light, "Cat People" essentially created a new genre -- one based in psychological terror rather than actual horror. Lewton used tension almost as a character, playing with the emotional vulnerabilities of both the people in the film and those watching it. Without his work, it is hard to imagine a "Sixth Sense" or "The Others" or even "Pan's Labyrinth."

 

So the path Lewton's life followed becomes even more poignant. After a string of successes, he moved from studio to studio, never finding the chance to take his talent to the next level. There was no fateful rupture or event, no blacklisting or breakdown. Lewton's career simply followed a pattern sadly familiar in this town: After a few years in the sun, he just disappeared into the maw of "in development." Still, considering what Lewton was able to accomplish, it is a shock to learn, at the end of "Shadows," that he was only 46 when he died. And we think Hollywood is ageist today.

 

Of course, the debut of "Shadows" is followed by a marathon of Lewton's films, which is a darn good thing. Because whether you can recite his work scene by scene or if you only vaguely remember watching "Cat People" when you were a kid, Scorsese's documentary leaves you longing to see all of Lewton's films, one after another. So isn't it great that you can?

 

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Well done Tom Brown and 'tcmprogrammr'. And Mr. Scorese too.

 

Kyle (prefering intelligence over "geekiness") In Hollywood

 

Message was edited by: hlywdkjk to fix a typo

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Thanks for filling us East Coasters (and, I assume, those of us who are Middle-of-the-Country-ers, Pacific Northwesters, et. al., who don't necessarily read the LA papers) in on the LA Times' review of the Val Lewton documentary. The LAT not only got it right in their review, they wrote about it beautifully.

 

I watched the documentary, of course, and I learned a LOT. A terrific documentary --- though who would dare argue with Scorsese on board?

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Hey, Kylefornia! -- Thanks for sharing the article.

 

You cannot accuse TCM of underestimating the intelligence, or at least film geekiness, of its viewers. "The Man in the Shadows" dispenses with the usual niceties of introducing its subject, producer Val Lewton, up front. We get no clearly marked montage of his films, nor even an explanation of the relationship between him and the film's narrator, Martin Scorsese.

 

I definitely agree with those words. I believe the Lewton doc was made for those who were already familiar with his work but maybe not the man behind those masterful dark poems. I had already seen a doc/featurette on Lewton, so I was familiar with his personal background. What was new for me in Kent Jones' documentary was the coverage of some Lewton's lesser known films and his unmade productions.

 

I thought Jones' doc really captured the darkly solemn feeling of Lewton and his films. I most definitely enjoyed it.

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The documentary does a good job of showing how RKO's revolving door (on the carpeted side) was a blessing and a curse. Some of Hollywood's best movies were produced at that studio and one of the reasons was the relative independence of producers like Val Lewton. On the other hand, I theorize...RKO's management changes (every few years) shortened the lives of several long time RKO employees (for example, Val Lewton). I will add...Val Lewton was lucky to be away from RKO before Howard Hughes bought the thing.

 

Plus, Martin Scorsese is one...good...narrator.

 

Rusty

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