Saturday, October 19, 2013

What's in a Name: The Changing Titles of Films

Last night I watched Night of the Eagle, known in the United States as Burn, Witch, Burn. To be honest, I never have quite understood why the title was changed for American audiences, unless the American distributor (American International Pictures) did not think Night of the Eagle was provocative enough or perhaps they feared people would not realise it was a horror film. Of course, I have never understood why neither distributor used the title of the novel upon which it was based, the classic Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber, which I think is better than either Night of the Eagle or Burn, Witch Burn.

Of course, it is not unusual for British films to have their titles changed in the trip across the Atlantic, and Night of the Eagle is hardly the only movie to see a change in name upon coming to the United States. This morning I watched The Witches, the Hammer Horror starring Joan Fontaine. In the United States it was retitled The Devil's Own, which was also the title of the novel by Norah Lofts (using the pen name Peter Curtis). While I think The Devil's Own has a nice ring to it, I am still a bit puzzled as to why its title was changed for American audiences. The book The Devil's Own was not any better known in the United States than it was in the United Kingdom, and there had been no other films recently released under the title The Witches. I can only assume Seven Arts (its distributor in the United States) preferred the tile The Devil's Own.

While the changes in the titles of Night of the Eagle and The Witches seem rather arbitrary, there is often a very good reason for a change in a British film's title upon arriving in the States. The Hammer classic The Devil Rides Out had its title changed to The Devil's Bride in the United States because of concerns that Americans might think it was a Western if the original title was used. Hammer's classic Dracula had its title changed in the United States to Horror of Dracula because Universal's 1931 film of the same name was still occasionally shown in theatres. To avoid confusion, then, Hammer's Dracula became Horror of Dracula in the United States.

So far I've just discussed horror films, but British films from other genres might also have their titles changed in the United States.  The Dave Clark Five movie Catch Us If You Can was inexplicably retitled Having a Wild Weekend in the Untied Sates. It is true "Having a Wild Weekend" is one of the songs from the film, but unlike the song "Catch Us If You Can" it was never released as a single. What is more, the song "Catch Us If You Can" was a top five hit on both sides of the Pond. While I can't speak for anyone else, I personally think Catch Us If You Can is a more interesting title than the somewhat generic Having a Wild Weekend.

Here I must point out that American films are also retitled in the United Kingdom. Since the restaurant chain White Castle does not exist in the UK, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle was retitled Harold & Kumar Get the Munchies there.  Live Free or Die Hard was retitled Die Hard 4.0 in the UK, as the phrase "Live free or die" (the state motto of New Hampshire) is not well known there.

Of course, British films are not the only ones to be retitled in the United States. One would think that foreign film titles would be translated literally into English for both the U.S. and UK, but this is often not the case. The classic French film Les Diaboliques (literally "The Devils") became simply Diabolique in the United States. Seven Samurai (the literal translation of Shichinin no samurai) was originally distributed in the U.S. under the title The Magnificent Seven. I can only presume the American distributor thought Americans would not know what a samurai was. Just as with British films, the titles of European films are sometimes changed to avoid confusion with other movies. The title of  Lars von Trier's Europa was changed in the United States to Zentropa to avoid confusion with the 1990 film Europa, Europa.

So far I have discussed films that have changed titles in making their way to the United States, but there have also been American films whose titles have been changed over the years for whatever reason. There can perhaps no better example of this than Tod Browning's classic horror film Freaks. Upon its release by MGM in 1932 Freaks was the source of a good deal of controversy, even to the point of being banned in some parts of the United States (as it was the UK for many years). Worse yet, Freaks was hardly profitable. It lost $164,000 at the box office. In an effort to make the film more profitable MGM's head of production Irving Thalberg reissued Freaks under the new title Nature's Mistakes (this time without the MGM logo). The new title did not particularly improve ticket sales for the film. Eventually MGM licensed Freaks to exploitation impresario Dwain Esper, who gave it one more new title, Forbidden Love, in hopes of marketing it as an exploitation film. To make matters more confusing, at times the film was at times still shown under the title Nature's Mistakes as well as another title given to it by Dwain Esper, The Monster Show! Of course, eventually film buffs would rediscover Freaks and it has been known by its original title ever since.

Not surprisingly, in the long run changes in titles can often be a source of confusion for film buffs.  The typical American film buff might not be aware that the original title of The Devil's Bride was The Devil Rides Out and, as a result, may be puzzled when a hardcore Hammer Films fan mentions the film by its original title. A more serious problem is researching films that have multiples titles or changed titles often. In such instances it can often be difficult to determine how many re-releases such films have had and when those re-releases took place. I rather suspect that anyone researching the release history of the 1936 film Tell Your Children, now better known as Reefer Madness, would find themselves fighting an uphill battle. It was released under such titles as The Burning Question, Dope Addict, Doped Youth, and the rather odd title of Love Madness!

Even given the confusion changing the titles of films can cause, it is doubtful that the practice will change any time soon. Indeed, it still takes place today. The Marvel Comics film The Avengers was reclassified as Avengers Assemble in the United Kingdom to avoid confusion with the Sixties spy show The Avengers (personally, as a fan of the show, I wished they had done that worldwide). The 2009 British film The Boat That Rocked was re-edited and released in the U.S. as Pirate Radio. For better or worse, films will probably see their titles changed once they make the trip across the Atlantic.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A New Sort of Twitter Spam?

Chances are if you have a Twitter account, you have received spam at some point. More often than not this usually takes the form of an unsolicited @mention containing some sort of link. Less frequent is #hashtag spam, in which a tweet (also usually containing a link)  is hashtagged with a totally irrelevant hashtag (for instance, a link to a porn site might be hashtagged #classicfilm). The past few months, however, myself and others have noticed an entirely new sort of spam.

This new sort of spam originates from an obviously fake account and consists of tweets stolen from legitimate accounts. If you follow the hashtag #tcmparty you have probably noticed these spam tweets. In fact, one particular tweet, "#madeforeachother director John Cromwell is father of actor James Cromwell. #tcmparty", has appeared so often that it has become something of a running joke among those who follow #tcmparty. Other have included, "He's not much of a mental health professional if he can't see Violet is nuts. #TCMParty" and "I'd like to spend MY honeymoon in a professional locker room. #CatOnAHotTinRoof #TCMParty". These spammers have not been content to swipe tweets from those hashtagged #TCMParty. Looking at the various spam accounts, they have also stolen such ordinary tweets as "I need a designer bag in my life ASAP," "I swear I am just my parents taxi service these days," and "working on my graphics, some images for my animation."

What is curious about these spam tweets is that they contain no links whatsoever, nor are they promoting any particular service or product. It is then difficult for me to figure out the purpose behind these spam tweets. My only theory is that the spammers hope one will follow these fake accounts, at which point they will send the individual a direct message containing some phishing link or some other kind of link. Of course, if that is their endgame, then they are going about it all wrong. The hashtag #tcmparty is associated with a particular sort of event. TCM Parties are events in which fans of Turner Classic Movies live tweet to whatever film is being aired on TCM at the moment. If someone is tweeting about John Cromwell being the father of James Cromwell and hashtagging his or her tweet #madeforeachother, and Made for Each Other is not currently airing on TCM at the moment, and that particular tweet has been made several times before, then most people are going to know it's spam and ignore it!

Of course, if my theory is correct, then it's possible that we might not be seeing this sort of spam much longer. Since the beginning of Twitter one has only been able to direct message those who follow him or her. Twitter recently introduced the option of allowing people to let anyone direct message them. While I doubt many people will choose that option, it is possible enough of them will do so to allow spammers to simply send direct messages without worrying if an individual is following them or not. If my theory about these fake accounts are a trap to get people to follow them (and hence wind up the recipient of spam DMs), then the need for this sort of spam could become redundant.

Regardless, I know that those who frequent TCM Parties have found these particular spam tweets annoying. We have been blocking them regularly, although they have persisted through the months regardless. Ultimately, I have to wonder if Twitter can even really do anything about them. At any rate, I think it would do the spammers well to realise they aren't fooling anyone. When one sees "#madeforeachother director John Cromwell is father of actor James Cromwell. #tcmparty" for the hundredth time, he or she knows it is spam!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Author Lyndsy Spence and The Famous Mitford Girls

The four oldest Mitford Girls
It is perhaps fitting that author Lyndsy Spence's first published book is The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life. Like Nancy Mitford, Miss Spence is something of a wunderkind when it comes to writing. She is only 25 and not only does she have one book published, but she is already writing others. What is more, she is a screenwriter as well. With Adam D. Harris she wrote the screenplay for the film short "The Flower Girl", and her screenplay The Oliviers Down Under (centred on the time Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier spent in Australia and New Zealand) is in development. As if all of this wasn't enough, she also operates The Mitford Society, an online community devoted to the famous sisters, and the Margaret Lockwood Society, an online community dedicated to the legendary British film actress.

The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life was released in the United Kingdom on 1 August 2013 ) to overwhelmingly positive reviews. It will be published in the United States on 1 November (although it is already available on Amazon). It has been covered by major British newspapers, as well as the Irish style magazine Social and Personal. The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life uses the ever popular format of a self help book to give us a singular look at the Mitford sisters, their lives providing advice for us today. As to the Mitford sisters themselves, they were as notorious as they were beautiful. The daughters of David Freeman-Mitford, 2nd Baron Redesdale and Sydney Bowles, they included: Nancy Mitford (well known for her novels and biographies), Pamela Mitford ("the rural Mitford," who preferred life in the country), Diana Mitford (the celebrated débutante and Bright Young Thing who fell out of favour following her affair with and subsequent marriage to Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists), Unity Mitford (who became notorious for her Nazi sympathies and her friendship with Adolph Hitler), Jessica Mitford (the political activist and muckracking journalist, perhaps best known for her book The American Way of Death), and Deborah Mitford (the only surviving Mitford sister, who married Lord Andrew Cavendish, later to become the 10th Duke of Devonshire). The Mitford sisters were beautiful and intelligent, and more often than than not provocative and controversial as well. No one could ever accuse them of being boring.

Following is an interview I conducted with Miss Spence.

Have you been surprised by the reception The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life has gotten?

I have been very surprised because originally The History Press envisioned this as a little gift book which would appeal to only the staunchest of Mitford fans. I was bowled over when I read the exposure in The Independent, Social & Personal magazine etc because I just thought, oh, it'll be listed on Amazon and that would be the end of it. It's also great when people compliment my book, and surreal when a famous person tweets me to say they're enjoying it.

In what ways do you think the Mitford sisters are still relevant to people today?

I've said this a few times, and I believe it to be true, there is a Mitford girl for everyone. A teenage girl told me she didn't know anything about the Mitfords, but now she's a total convert, her favourite is Decca. I think Decca is proving to be a real hit amongst the teen readers.

What do you think the various Mitford sisters (and their brother Tom, for that matter) would think of modern British society?

Hmm. Well, Debo is still alive and she's been quoted as saying she's appalled at the PC brigade and people's lack of manners. I guess Nancy would have been amused and appalled, nothing is sacred anymore yet everything that is magnified in the press went on in their day, except behind closed doors only to be spoken about as gossip amongst friends. I recall Nancy writing to Debo during the time of the Porfumo scandal, 'Just like a Venetian court,' she said. I don't think they would have been shocked as such as they were very modern for their time, but I think Nancy would have been saddened, how could she parody something that was so accessible? Tom was a highly creative person who enjoyed music, the theatre, and literature--I think he would have been dismayed at today's society, but the Mitfords were so adaptable, so I'm sure he would have moved somewhere beautiful where he could immerse himself in his own world. Don't forget, Nancy grew to loath Britain after the war which is why she stayed in Paris. 

I understand that your next book is going to be Mrs Guinness: The Rise and Fall of a Socialite, a biography of Bryan Guinness, 2nd Baron Moyne and Diana Mitford. How did you come up with the idea for the book?

My ideas always happen when I least expect it, and I find the best ideas are never forced. The title came into my head, I am sure it must have been provoked by something. I then thought, oh I have this great idea, and then a moment of doubt set in when I wondered, how can I convey it? Thankfully my agent Olivia keeps me on the straight and narrow and I now have a clear, concise plan for the book. It's out on submission at the moment, so we'll see.

I also understand you're working on a biography on legendary actress Margaret Lockwood. How did you become interested in Miss Lockwood and her films?
It all started with the big MGM stars, household names as such, and slowly I became interested in British films when I was about 17. I befriended an old lady from England, who lived in my town, and she used such funny expressions that I had never heard before. Suddenly this interwar world became intriguing to me and I started to open my mind to the books, and the films. I caught a Patricia Roc movie on FILM4, Millions Like Us which thankfully was playing back to back with The Man in Grey, Jassy, and The Wicked Lady. I'm glad I was lazy that day because I caught sight of Margaret and I was hooked. 

What other projects are you current working on?

I've put my projects out there and I'm just waiting for someone to say 'yes' and then I can safely say what I'll be working on. I've only written 3 sample chapters for Mrs Guinness, but I'm constantly gathering in my research and keeping my ear to the ground for people who know people with stories etc. Margaret is in first draft, she was originally my next project but my agent wants Mrs Guinness to follow the Mitford book. My script has found a home with a British production company so I'll be anticipating its rewrite once the producers and I can get together. I'm also stalking around, looking for freelance work. It's going to be sink or swim, and I want to continue the momentum of the Mitford book. It's stressful once you're given a deadline, but what greater luxury than to be paid for your ideas...and getting to work anywhere you like.

The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life is available on Amazon UK and Amazon U.S.

You can visit Lyndsy Spence's official web site at: Lyndsy Spence