Saturday, May 13, 2017

Children of Paradise/Les Enfants du Paradis (1945)

(This post is part of the "No, YOU"RE Crying Blogathon hosted by Moon in Gemini

When it comes to romances, not many are as epic or as tragic as Children of Paradise (the literal translation of its original French title, Les Enfants du Paradis). Set in the Parisian theatres of the 1820s and 1830s, Children of Paradise centres around the courtesan Garance (played by Arletty). In the movie she is pursued by four men, although arguably it is her relationship with mime Baptiste Deburau that takes centre stage. It has been described as France's answer to Gone With the Win (1939), and the comparison is an apt one. The film's plot spans literally years. It was released in two parts, and its running time was ultimately 190 minutes.

Children of Paradise was made during the German occupation of France, so it should come as no surprise that it had difficulty getting to the screen. Worse yet, the weather was not always cooperative with regards to shooting the film. During the occupation film stock was rationed, so camera crews might find themselves without film. It was also not unusual for the set builders to experience shortages in supplies. The Nazi regime itself would also cause problems for the production. They banned producer  André Paulvé from working on the film because he had some Jewish ancestry. Ultimately production had to be suspended for three months. Fortunately French production company Pathé took over production of the film. Both set designer Alexandre Trauner and composer Joseph Kosma were Jewish, and had to work on the film in secret.

Unfortunately that would not be the end of problems for Children of Paradise, as the weather would sometimes interfere with its production. The primary set in the film, the Boulevard du Temple, was damaged in a storm and had to almost entirely be rebuilt. Naturally, this delayed shooting even longer.

Shooting would again be delayed following the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6 1944, although it seems possible that production was delayed so that the film could be finished once France was free. Regardless, Children of Paradise would not begin production again until after Paris was liberated in August 1944. Even once France was free of the Nazis, however, Children of Paradise would experience problems in production. Actor Robert Le Vigan, who had been cast as used clothes salesman Jericho, had supported the Nazis. Once France was liberated, he fled and the role was recast with Pierre Renoir, film director Jean Renoir's brother. As to Robert Le Vigan, he was eventually caught and sentenced to ten years hard labour in 1946.

Because Vichy France forbade any films longer than 90 minutes, Children of Paradise was released in two parts. In the end it would be the most expensive film made in France up to that time, costing about fifty eight million francs. Fortunately given the difficulties it faced in being made and the amount of money it cost, Children of Paradise proved to be a success. It was the third most successful film in France for 1945. The film would also prove successful elsewhere and is now considered one of the greatest films ever made.

Children of Paradise had its roots in history. In fact, set in the theatres of Paris in the 1820s and 1830s, it takes it title from the term "paradis" (literally "paradise" in English), which had once been used of the upper balcony of the theatre where seats were cheap enough that the poor could afford them. Some of the film's characters were actual historical personages. Jean-Gaspard Debureau was a famous mime who performed at the Theatre des Funambules.  Frederick Lemaitre was a popular actor of the time. Pierre-Francois Lacenaire was a well known criminal of the time and would provide the basis for the character Rodion Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

While Children of Paradise is unabashedly a romance, it is also a very sophisticated film. Nearly every class in Paris of the 1820s and 1830s is portrayed in the film, and class plays a large role in the film. Lacenaire's origins are strictly bourgeoisie, while the Count Edouard de Montray is from the nobility. Some have even seen Children of Paradise as a metaphor for the French Resistance, with Garance representing Occupied France. Indeed, many of the film's extras were agents of the Resistance, who used their work on the film as a cover.

That having been said, it seems likely that most viewers will enjoy the film primarily as an epic romance. And it is indeed a romance for the ages. Garance is pursued by three very different men (Baptiste Deburau,  Frédérick Lemaître, Pierre-François Lacenaire, and the Count Edouard de Montray), and it is her choice of one over the others that would ultimately lead to dire consequences. Children of Paradise is ultimately a tragedy, and one has to suspect that even those who do not cry at movies might shed some tears before it is over.

As mentioned earlier, Children of Paradise has been counted among the greatest films ever made. Cahiers du cinéma regularly ranked it among the greatest films ever made, despite the fact that magazine had never exactly supported the films of Marcel Carné. In 1995 a poll of 600 film professionals voted Children of Paradise the best film ever. In 2005 Time included it among their list of the All-Time100 greatest films made since 1923. Children of Paradise is then not only one of the all time great romances, but one of the greatest movies ever made.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The 50th Anniversary of The Jimi Hendrix Experience's Are You Experienced

It was fifty years ago today that the debut album of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Are You Experienced, was released in the United Kingdom. It proved to be a smash hit upon its release. It entered the British album chart at no. 27 and spent 33 weeks total on the chart. Are You Experienced peaked at no. 2 on the chart, kept out of the no. 1 spot by another legendary album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles. Are You Experienced would be released later in the United States on August 23 1967, featuring a different track listing than the British version.

Are You Experienced has since been considered one of the greatest debut albums of all time. The original British version of the album featured some of The Jimi Hendrix Experience's best known songs, including "Foxy Lady", "Manic Depression", "May This Be Love", and "Are You Experienced?".  It has also since been considered one of the most influential albums of all time. While psychedelia had existed prior to the release of Are You Experienced, the album's release was certainly a pivotal moment in the genre's history. It would also lay the groundwork for heavy metal, with many, if not most, metal guitarists emulating Jimi Hendrix's work. It has often been included in lists of the greatest rock albums of all time. In 2005 Are You Experienced was added by the Library of Congress to to the National Recording Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

Without further ado, here is the title track, "Are You Experienced?"

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Late, Great Michael Parks

Michael Parks, the star of cult TV show Then Came Bronson, died yesterday, May 9 2017, at the age of 77.  Mr. Parks appeared on TV shows from Perry Mason to Twin Peaks, and in movies from The Happening (1967) to Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003) and Kill Bill Volume 2 (2004).

Michael Parks was born on April 24 1940 in Corona in Riverside County, California. He worked a variety of jobs when he was very young, including fruit picking, ditch digging, and fighting forest fires. He eventually found his way into acting and made his television debut in an episode of Zane Grey Theatre in 1960. The Sixties saw Michael Parks guest star on several different TV shows, including such programmes as The Untouchables, The Asphalt Jungle, The Detectives, The Dick Powell Theatre, The Real McCoys, Gunsmoke, Perry Mason (on which he played opposite Bette Davis), 77 Sunset Strip, Ben Casey, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Wagon Train, Route 66, and The Young Lawyers. It was from 1969 to 1970 that he starred in the cult TV series Then Came Bronson. On the show he played former newspaperman Jim Bronson, who travels around the country on his motorcycle in an effort to find himself. Although the series is often assumed to have drawn upon the film Easy Rider (1969) for inspiration, in reality it was in development wel before the premiere of that film. In fact, the pilot aired before Easy Rider was even released. Then Came Bronson only lasted one season, although even during its original run it developed a cult following that it maintains to this day.

During the Sixties Michael Parks also appeared in several feature films. He made his film debut in the title role in Bus Riley's Back in Town in 1965. In the Sixties Mr. Parks appeared in the films Wild Seed (1965), The Idol (1966), The Bible: In the Beginning... (1966), and The Happening (1967).

In the Seventies Michael Parks guest starred on such shows as Owen Marshall, Counsellor at Law, Medical Centre, Ironside, Movin' On, McCloud, Get Christie Love!, Baretta, The Streets of San Francisco, Ellery Queen, Police Woman, and Fantasy Island. He appeared in the films Between Friends (1973), The Last Hard Men (1976), Sidewinder 1 (1977), Love and the Midnight Auto Supply (1977), The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover (1977), Breakthrough (1979), The Evictors (1979), and ffolkes (1980).

In the Eighties Michael Parks played Phillip Colby on the TV series The Colbys and gunrunner Jean Renault on Twin Peaks. He guest starred on such shows as The Equaliser; Murder, She Wrote; and War of the Worlds. He appeared in the films Hard Country (1981), Savannah Smiles (1982), The Return of Josey Wales (1986), Club Life (1986), French Quarter Undercover (1986), Spiker (1986), Arizona Heat (1988), Prime Suspect (1989), Nightmare Beach (1989), and Caged Fury (1990).

In the Nineties Mr. Parks appeared in the films The Hitman (1991), Over the Line (1992), Storyville (1992), Death Wish V: The Face of Death (1994), Sorceress (1995), Niagara, Niagara (1997), Deceiver (1997), Julian Po (1997), Wicked (1998), and Bullfighter (2000). He played Texas Ranger Earl McGraw for the first time in the movie From Dusk Till Dawn (1996). He guest starred on the shows Shades of L.A.; SeaQuest 2032; and Walker, Texas Ranger.

In the Naughts Michael Parks reprised his role as Earl McGraw in the films Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003), Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004), and both segments of Grindhouse (2007), Planet Terror and Death Proof. He appeared in such films as Big Bad Love (2001), The Librarians (2003), Miracle at Sage Creek (2005), One Night with You (2006), Fighting Words (2007), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), Noble Things (2008), Satisfaction (2009), and Street Poet (2010).

In the Naughts Michael Parks appeared in such films as Red State (2011), Argo (2012), Django Unchained (2012), We Are What We Are (2013), Tusk (2014), Blood Father (2016), and Greater (2016).

Although he never achieved major stardom, Michael Parks was one of the great acting talents of the late 20th Century.  Early in his career he was often cast in roles associated with the counterculture. In the Perry Mason episode "The Case of Constant Doyle" he played troubled young man Cal Leonard and more than held his own with Constant Doyle as played by Bette Davis. In the movie Bus Riley's Back in Town he played a young man trying to adjust to life after several years in the Navy. In The Happening Mr. Parks played Sureshot, one of a group of hippies who "kidnap" gangster Roc Delmonico. Of course, what may be Michael Parks's most famous role was linked to the counterculture, that of wanderer Jim Bronson in Then Came Bronson.

While Michael Parks played a number of countercultural roles in the Sixties, the Seventies saw him beginning to play authority figures. He played a doctor in an episode of Medical Centre, Sheriff Noel Nye in The Last Hard Men, and Sgt. Anderson in Breakthrough (1979).  Michael Parks was capable of playing a wide variety of roles. The character of Texas Ranger Earl McGraw he played in multiple films was largely comedy relief. He not only played Texas Ranger Earl McGraw in Kill Bill Volume 1, but in Kill Bill Volume 2 he played retired pimp Esteban Vihaio as well.  It seems likely many viewers did not realise that both roles were played by the same man. Michael Parks even played villains quite well. Jean Renault on Twin Peaks was among the most ruthless of characters on a show that did not lack for villainous types. Michael Parks might never have become a leading man, but he will always be remembered as an excellent character actor who played a diverse number of roles throughout his career.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Quinn O'Hara Passes On

Quinn O'Hara, who guest starred on such TV shows as Dragnet, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and The Saint, and starred in The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966), died on May 5 2017 at the age of 76.

Quinn O'Hara was born Alice Jones in Edinburgh, Scotland on January 3 1941 to a Welsh father and Scottish-Irish mother. She attended a convent boarding school in Cardiff, Wales as a child. When she was 14 she and her mother moved to Quebec. Three years later they moved to Long Beach, California. She attended Long Beach College. She wanted to compete in the Miss Lakewood beauty pageant, but was disqualified as she was a Scottish citizen. The Royal Order of Scotland named her "Miss Scotland". While she did not actually get to compete in the Miss Universe pageant, she did receive a participation award.

Quinn O'Hara made her television debut in an episode of Dragnet in 1956. She made her film debut in a bit part in the Jerry Lewis movie The Errand Boy in 1961. In the Sixties she was a regular on the summer replacement series The Lively Ones. She guest starred on such shows as General Electric Theatre, The Real McCoys, Channing, The Red Skelton Hour, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Rogues, Burke's Law, Run for Your Life, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., My Three Sons, The Saint, and Dragnet 1968. She appeared in the films The Caretakers (1963), Who's Minding the Store? (1963), The Patsy (1964), Good Neighbour Sam (1964), A Swingin' Summer (1965), The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966), Cry of the Banshee (1970), and Rubia's Jungle (1970).

In the Seventies Miss O'Hara guest starred on To Rome With Love, Dan August, The Smith Family, Ironside, UFO, The Streets of San Francisco, One Day at a Time, CHiPs, and Fantasy Island. She appeared in the films Foursome (1971) and The Teacher (1974).

In the Eighties Quinn O'Hara had a recurring role on Trapper John M.D. and Dallas. She guest starred on such shows as Quincy M.E., Vega$, The Fall Guy, T. J. Hooker, and Matlock. Quinn O'Hara later went into nursing, although she still made occasional appearances in TV shows. She guest starred on Acapulco H.E.A.T., Diagnosis Murder, Baywatch, N.Y.P.D. Blue, and Las Vegas.

Quinn O'Hara may have been best known for her red hair and her good looks, although she was talented as an actress. She did particularly well with comedy, as demonstrated by A Swingin' Summer and The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini, as well as a number of her television appearances. And while she played sex kittens often, they were generally a bit left of centre. In The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini she played one of the villains, Sinistra. In Cry of the Banshee she played a serving wench who was also a witch. Quinn O'Hara may have been best known for her looks, but she did have a good deal of talent.