Saturday, 1 September 2012

Doctor Who 2012 Debut

Tonight was the debut of the latest series of Doctor Who. For that reason I spent the day watching the marathon of the series on BBC America as well as the brand new episode tonight. This left me with little time for a blog post, so instead I'll give you two glances at Doctor Who series. First up is a collection of all of the series openings up to the Tenth Doctor.
Next up is the trailer for the new series.
Good night all and I hope you enjoy the videos!

Friday, 31 August 2012

Steve Franken R.I.P.

Steve Franken, perhaps best remembered as the rich, snobbish Chatsworth Osborne Jr. on Dobie Gillis, died 24 August 2012 at the age of 80. The cause was cancer.

Steve Franken was born 27 May 1932 in Brooklyn, New York. He attended Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. He made his film debut in 1958 in an uncredited part in the film Stage Struck. He made his television debut the same year in an episode of Playhouse 90. He appeared in the film Cop Hater, and such TV shows as One Step Beyond, The Rebel, Lock Up, Checkmate, and Dr. Kildare before he was cast in Dobie Gillis in its second season. He remained on the show until it ended in 1963.

In the Sixties Mr. Franken was  a regular on the show Tom, Dick, and Mary and had a supporting role on The Lieutenant. He guest starred on such shows as Perry Mason, Petticoat Junction, McHale's Navy, My Favourite Martian, The Patty Duke ShowThe Wild Wild West, The Rat Patrol, My Three Sons, BewitchedMission: Impossible, The Big Valley, Mod Squad, and Rod Serling's Night Gallery. He appeared in such films as The Americanization of Emily (1964), The Time Travelers (1964), Wild Wild Winter (1966), Follow Me, Boys! (1966), The Party (1968), Panic in the City (1968), Angel in My Pocket (1969), and Number One (1969).

In the Seventies Steve Franken appeared on such shows as Marcus Welby M.D., Adam-12, Love American Style, Mary Tyler Moore, Emergency, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Man from AtlantisCharlie's Angels, Qunicy M.E., and Insight. He appeared in such films as Westworld (1973), The Missouri Breaks (1976), Avalanche (1978), Hardly Working (1980), and The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu (1980). In the Eighties he appeared on such shows as Barney Miller, Trappper John M.D., Simon & Simon, Hill Street Blues, MacGuyver, Our House, Hunter, and China Beach. He appeared in such films as Curse of the Pink Panther (1983), Can't Buy Me Love (1987), Freeway (1988), and Transylvania Twist (1989).

In the Nineties Mr. Franken appeared on such shows as Human Target, Herman's Head, Sisters, Seinfeld, and Murphy Brown. He appeared in such films as Breakfast of Aliens (1993), Munchie Strikes Back (1994), The Pandora Project (1998), Restraining Order (1999), The Omega Code (1999), and Nurse Betty (2000).  In the Naughts he appeared on the shows Family Law and King of Queens. He appeared in such films as Crash Point Zero (2001), The Metrosexual (2007), Angels & Demons (2009) , and Watch Out for Slick (2010). His last role was in Reach, to be released next year.

Steve Franken was a true character actor. He had a gift for creating memorable characters in even the briefest amount of time on screen. Those characters covered a particularly wide range, from police officers to medical doctors to a cardinal (in Angels and Demons). Of course, while Steve Franken played a number of different roles in his career, he is perhaps best remembered as Chatsworth Osborne, Jr. on Dobie Gillis. While his predecessor Warren Beatty (who appeared in the series' first season) played the handsome, well dressed, rich guy one loves to hate, Steve Franken played the twitchy, nervous, well dressed rich guy for whom one actually feels sorry. For all that Chatworth could be a pain in the neck to Dobie Gillis and Maynard G. Krebs, one could not help but feel that deep down inside him there was a decent guy trying to get out. It was Steve Franken's talent that allowed him to take a character that could easily have been detestable and make him sympathetic. Mr. Franken's other great role would come in The Party, in which he played the drunken waiter Levinson. Throughout the film Levinson utters not one word of dialogue, and yet he generates the biggest laughs in the entire movie, even outshining Peter Sellers. The Party is the film that best demonstrates Steve Franken's gift for comic timing and slapstick. While Steve Franken may not be a household name, then, he will be remembered for his many great appearances on film and television, many of which may well have lasted only a few moments.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Ingrid Bergman's Birthday and Death Day

It was thirty years ago today, on 29 August 1982, that actress Ingrid Bergman died after a long battle with breast cancer. It also happened to be her 67th birthday. To this day she remains one of the most famous actresses of the Golden Age of Hollywood. More often than not she is counted among the greatest actresses of her era. The American Film Institute counted her as the fourth greatest female star in their list 100 Years...100 Stars. She won no less than three Oscars and was nominated for four more.

Today Ingrid Bergman is best remembered for her role in Casablanca (1942), undoubtedly her most famous film. In the film Miss Bergman played Ilsa Lund, a woman torn between her former lover, Rick Blaine (played by Humphrey Bogart) and her husband Victor Laszlo (played by Paul Henried). While Casablanca would only be a moderate success at the box office upon its release, it would go onto become possibly one of the most popular films of all time, beloved by audiences and often ranking in the lists of the greatest films of all time. Because of this, the role of Ilsa Lund often overshadows the many other roles Ingrid Bergman played throughout her career.

What this overlooks is the fact that Ingrid Bergman was a very versatile actress who played a variety of roles throughout her career. It is true that as Miss Bergman's career progressed, the American public developed an image of Ingrid Bergman that was "pure," nearly virginal, despite the fact that the image was not warranted by many of her film roles. Much of this was due to her roles in such films as For Whom the Bell Tolls (in which she played the fragile young girl Maria) and The Bells of St. Mary's (in which she played a nun, Sister Mary Benedict). Given this image it was little wonder she was chosen to play Joan of Arc in the 1948 film of the same name. Still, even while the American public was thinking of Ingrid Bergman as "pure" and virginal, she played many roles that were quite different. If Ingrid Bergman is still fondly remembered by many classic film buffs, it is because she did play a variety of different types of characters.

Indeed, for a role that is dramatically different from Sister Mary Benedict one need look no further than Hitchcock's classic Spellbound (1945). In the movie Ingrid Bergman plays a female psychiatrist, Dr. Constant Petersen, who is often regarded as distant and cold by many of her male colleagues. Dr. Petersen was an independent, intelligent, strong willed woman who also serves as the film's primary protagonist. Her role in Hitchcock's Notorious (1946) differs even more from Sister Mary Benedict. Alicia Huberman is the daughter of a convicted Nazi spy who finds herself recruited by the government to infiltrate a group of Nazis who had fled to Brazil following World War II. Not only is Alicia a spy, but she is openly sexual. References to her past lead one to believe that she is a woman with some experience. What is more, she goes through with the mission of seducing the Nazi Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains) to the point of marrying him. In one scene with love interest T. R. Devlin (Cary Grant) Sir Alfred Hitchcock got around the Production Code's ban on kisses longer than three seconds by breaking up the kissing with bits of dialogue. The whole kissing sequence then lasted two-and-a-half minutes, still one of the longest scenes of kissing in film history.

Even Joan of Arc would differ to some degree from the image many in 1940's America held of Ingrid Bergman. While Joan of Arc was definitely virginal, she also led an army. One cannot exactly picture Sister Mary Benedict doing that! Of course, it was during the filming of Stromboli (1950) that Ingrid Bergman had an affair with and became pregnant by married director Roberto Rossellini. This would not only put a end to the preconceived image many Americans had of Ingrid Bergman, but it would also bring an end to her career in Hollywood for a time. To a degree this would actually help Miss Bergman, as in Europe she was able to play roles she might not have been offered in Hollywood. In Europa '51 (1952) she played a grieving mother. In Viaggio in Italia (1954) she played one half of a couple considering divorce. In La Paura (1954) she played the wife of a German scientist who is cheating on her husband. Given her image in the United States prior to her affair with Roberto Rossellini, it seems quite possible she would have never gotten the chance to play roles such as these, even though she was fully capable of doing so.

It was in 1956 that Ingrid Bergman would return to Hollywood with Anastasia. In the film Miss Bergman played a woman who may or may not be the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, the daughter of  Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. Miss Bergman gave a tour de force performance that won her an Oscar. Her appearances on film became rarer in the Sixties and Seventies, but she continued to play such diverse roles as a wealthy woman who wants her former lover killed (The Visit), a spinster and nurse who must pretend to be her doctor's wife (Cactus Flower), and a Swedish missionary returning to Europe after spending time in Africa. Her final role would be as a concert pianist in Ingmar Bergman's Höstsonaten (1978).

Regardless of how American viewed Ingrid Bergman in the Forties and regardless of how identified with the role of Ilsa Lund in Casablanca today, then, Ingrid Bergman played a wide variety of roles to the point that it is difficult to say that she had a preference for any given type. In a career that lasted over forty years, Ingrid Bergman played everything from faithful wives to career women to not so faithful wives to women of deep religious conviction. What is more, she did all of them well. Very few actresses have ever won three Oscars. More importantly, very few actresses are remembered with such fondness thirty years after their deaths.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Remembering Neil Armstrong

There was a time when astronauts were celebrities. They were household names. They were the heroes to whom children would look up and aspire to emulate when they were grown. Large audiences would tune into watch NASA's manned space missions. Children would up at the moon to see if they could see the astronauts there.

Of the many astronauts to serve in the history of NASA, none was more famous than Neil Armstrong. He was the man who went where no man had gone before, the first man to set foot on the Moon. Mr. Armstrong only seemed all the more heroic in that he always maintained he was not a hero, but simply a man doing a job. Never mind that it took an enormous amount of training before he stepped on the lunar surface, it also took an enormous amount of courage and determination. All the same, Neil Armstrong always shared the credit for his accomplishment with others, everyone from his fellow astronauts to Mission Control, and he never tried to capitalise on his accomplishment. He never ran for office, rarely made endorsements, or otherwise took advantage of his fame. After 1994 he would not even sign autographs. The man who had every reason to boast of what he had done never did.

Sadly, Neil Armstrong died 24 August 2012 at the age of 82. The cause was complications from heart bypass surgery.

Neil Armstrong was born on 5 August 1930 in Wapakoneta, Ohio. His love of manned flight began when he was only two years old, when his father took him to the Cleveland Air Races in Cleveland, Ohio. He was only six years old when he experienced his first flight in an aeroplane, when his father and himself took a ride in a Ford Trimotor or "Tin Goose" in Warren, Ohio. Neil Armstrong was still a teenager when he started taking flying lessons at the Auglaize County airport. He received his pilot's licence when he was only 15, before he was even old enough to have a driver's licence. He was active in the Boy Scouts and rose to the rank of Eagle Scout. He attended Pudue University on a Navy scholarship and he majored in engineering. His college education would be interrupted when in 1949 he was called up for the Navy. During the Korean War Mr. Armstrong served as a fighter pilot and flew 78 combat missions. In the Navy he rose to the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade. After he was demobilised, he returned to Purdue to continue his studies.

Following the war Neil Armstrong became a test pilot for the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, the predecessor to NASA. His first test flight was in a Bell X-1B, a more advanced version of the Bell X-1 in which Chuck Yeager had first broken the sound barrier. He would be among the pilots to test the North American X-15, an experimental, rocket powered aircraft. He made 7 flights in the X-15. He had been chosen as one of the pilots to test the  Boeing X-20 Dyna-Soar, but instead sought out another opportunity. In the months after his selection as one of the X-20 Dyna-Soar test pilots, NASA was taking applications for a second batch of astronauts. Neil Armstrong then became part of the "New Nine" of the Astronaut Corps.

Neil Armstrong would become the first civilian astronaut to go into space. He was the commander of Gemini 8, the historic space mission in two space vehicles successfully docked for the first time (Gemini and the unmanned unmanned Agena). Unfortunately one the two vehicles were docked, they began to roll. The rolling continued even after Neil Armstrong separated Gemini from Agena. Eventually the astronauts restored stability, at which point Mission Control told them to return home. Neil Armstrong was later the backup Command Pilot for both Gemini 11 and backup commander for Apollo 8. It was in a secret meeting in December 1968 that Neil Armstrong was chosen as commander of Apollo 11, the projected first lunar landing. It was in March 1969 that NASA decided Neil Armstrong would be the first man to set foot on the moon.

It was on 20 July 1969 that the first lunar landing took place. Initially the lunar module was headed for an  area of the Moon laden with boulders. Neil Armstrong took semi-automatic control of the craft and set it down safely. There was only 30 seconds worth left of fuel upon the lunar module's landing. It was six and a half hours after landing that Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon with the historic words, "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind (although there has been controversy over whether he said "a man" or simply "man" ever since). Buzz Aldrin would join Neil Armstrong 20 minutes after he had made that first small step. The two set up a plaque in commemoration of the lunar landing, which read, Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”  They also planted an American flag on the surface of the Moon, set up the Early Apollo Scientific Experiment Package, and left a memorial for Soviet cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin and Vladimir Komarov, and Apollo 1 astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger B. Chaffee, who all died in the line of duty. That first historic moon walk lasted only two and a half hours.

After their return from the Moon, the astronauts spent 18 days in quarantine to insure they had picked up no infections from the Moon. They then went on a 45 day tour around the United States and the world. Neil Armstrong then took part in Bob Hope's USO tour and later toured the Soviet Union. It was not long afterwards that Neil Armstrong announced that he did not plan to fly in space again. He was appointed Deputy Associate Administrator for aeronautics for the Office of Advanced Research and Technology, Advanced Research Projects Agency, a post in which he served only a year. He then accepted the position in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Cincinnati. He left that position after 8 years.

Neil Armstrong would spend much of the latter part of his life working on his farm. He would take part into two investigations into NASA accidents. The first time was in 1970 when as part of a panel he produced a detailed chronology of the flight of the ill fated Apollo 13. In 1986 he was part of the commission that investigated the Challenger disaster. While Neil Armstrong avoided the offers of most businesses to serve as a spokesman, he did accept a few offers. In 1979 he served as a spokesman for Chrysler, feeling that they had a strong engineering department and wishing to help the failing automotive company. He would later serve as a spokesman for General Time Corporation and the Bankers Association of America. Mr. Armstrong would also serve on the boards of directors of such companies as AIL Systems, Cinergy, Eaton Corporation, Learjet, Marathon Oil, Taft Broadcasting, and Thiokol. He once served as hairman of the board of EDO Corporation. He was approached with offers to run for office from various political organisations, but he always turned them down.  While Mr. Armstrong rarely gave interviews, he did give several speeches and continued to encourage the continuation of the space programme.

In a statement issued by Neil Armstrong's family, they described him as "...a reluctant hero who always believed he was just doing his job.” Indeed, as noted above, he never took advantage of his fame as the first man to walk on the Moon. The endorsement deals he accepted were few and far between, and he never ran for office. He was always careful to give credit for the success of his accomplishment to his fellow astronauts and the crew and staff at NASA. In fact, after his historical first step on the Moon he spent his life as a private individual, never making a big deal out of an accomplishment that was perhaps the biggest deal of the 20th Century. NASA's current administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr. said of Neil Armstrong that he, "...carried himself with a grace and humility that was an example to us all." Neil Armstrong was not simply a hero because he was the first man to set foot on the Moon or even because of his previous accomplishments as a fighter pilot, test pilot, and astronaut. He was a hero because he did all of these things without boasting of them or using them for personal gain. Quite simply, he was a hero because he was a man who simply did his job, a job few others would dare to do.

Monday, 27 August 2012

The Vintage Association of Motion Picture Blogs

It was about a month ago that several of we classic film bloggers on Twitter were discussing the need for a blog association exclusively for blogs devoted to older movies. Most associations of film bloggers that currently exist are either devoted to film in general or simply did not suit many of those in our discussion for whatever reason. At one point in the discussion one of us, I don't remember whom, suggested that we form our own association for blogs devoted to older films. I believe it was myself who suggested the name the Vintage Association of Motion Picture Blogs, or VAMP for short.

My thought in choosing the word "vintage" rather than "classic" is that not every old film is a "classic." Classic implies a level of greatness, a level of respect, that age does not always endow. As an example, I once wrote a blog post on Doctor Doolittle (1967), a film that many would consider old enough to be a classic, but very few would could consider good enough to be a classic. The word "vintage" was then selected as it implied age, but not necessarily quality. As to using the abbreviation VAMP, that is a happy coincidence of a movie associated with the Silent Era fitting the name of the new association. Given VAMP is the association's abbreviation, Theda Bara, the vamp of the Silent Era, is our mascot.

As to what would qualify a blog as a vintage film blog, we determined a cut off point of 1980. While many of us would set the cut off point earlier, we figured that would give a little more leeway than if we set the cutoff point at 1970 or even 1960. Admittedly, 1980 was 32 years ago, which for many might be sufficient time for them to consider a movie "old."

As of today VAMP is operational. We have a blog, which can be reached by clicking the following link: the Vintage Association of Motion Picture Blogs.  We also have a Twitter set up at VAMPBlogs. If you would like to join VAMP, leave a comment at the blog (along with your blog URL), tweet at us, or send an email to thevampb at gmail.com.