Rock Prophecies (2009) John Chester

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Ever since the birth of Rock and Roll, behind the scenes there have always been the shooters, the camera guys with the long lens photographing the musical gods in action. From its earliest days, when William “Red” Robertson captured a young sensuous, gyrating Elvis Presley on a Tampa stage in 1955, to today’s photographers shooting our musical idols on stage and behind the scenes, rock and roll photographers have provided us with the moments we remember long after the show is over. In some cases, those behind the lens have become famous themselves like Bob Gruen, Lynn Goldsmith, Jim Marshall and Robert M. Knight.    Continue reading

Spine Tingler: The William Castle Story (2007) Jeffrey Schwarz

The first film I ever saw of William Castle’s was “13 Ghosts” back in 1960 at a local theater in Brooklyn called The Culver. Audience members were given viewers containing both a red filter and a blue filter that you would look through depending on if you wanted to see the ghosts or not after being prompted to do so by the movie. While it worked, the entire idea was not exactly state of the art special effects, even for 1960. But it was fun and “Spine Tingler: The William Castle Story” is even more fun and filled with memories, interviews and plenty of footage from Castle’s classic “B” filmography. For younger viewers and the uninitiated, terms like “Illusion-O,” “Percepto” and “Emergo” will be new but don’t worry it’s all engagingly explained.

Those familiar with only Castle’s horror films may be surprised to discover his earlier films and his association with Orson Welles. He was a second unit director for “The Lady from Shanghai.” Castle had purchased the screen rights to “If I Should Die Before I Wake” by Sherwood King, the source novel the film was based on,  and asked Welles to pitch the story to Harry Cohn of Columbia with the idea Castle himself would direct. It didn’t work out that way though with Cohn deciding to go with Welles directing. Continue reading

These Amazing Shadows (2011) Mariano and Norton

 The PBS series, “Independent Lens” is giving film lovers a real holiday treat on December 29th with the television debut of the documentary, “These Amazing Shadows,” an entertaining and informative look at the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. Unlike the Oscars and other award shows the National Film Registry is not just an excuse to create another list or TV special.  The films chosen have “stood the test of time,” as one of the interviewees tells us early on. They represent a group of films that are culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.

The selected films are far reaching in range from the Hollywood classics you would typically expect like “Casablanca,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Searchers,” “The Godfather” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” to many  less recognized works ranging from the avant-garde, to historically important home movies along with some unexpected rarities and oddities. From the spectacular large Hollywood productions down to scratchy 8mm films and everything in between, the National Film Registry has collected and preserved works that tell our history, celebrate our lives and reflects what we as Americans were, are and how film, whether they are works of art or entertainment, reflect our lives, influence our thoughts and define our culture. Continue reading

Italianamerican (1974) Martin Scorsese

Being Italian-American, and more importantly that my grandparents, parents, and other relatives lived in the same neighborhood, and in fact, some on the same street the Scorsese family lived on, Elizabeth Street, I had a curiosity about this film than others may not. Did anyone in my family know the Scorsese family back in those days, I wondered? Living in such a close congested area and only a few buildings away, anything was possible, I thought. Well, the answer was no, the name Scorsese was not familiar to anyone I knew.  Still, much of what was discussed in the film was so similar to my own family’s experiences that I felt a kind of correlation; here was my own family’s story being told.  

In “Italianamerican,” a 1974 documentary Scorsese made after “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” Marty explores his heritage through his parents’ homespun stories. The setting is casual, right in his parent’s apartment on Elizabeth Street in Little Italy. The attention is strictly on his folk’s tales of their early life and that of their immigrant parents. Continue reading

I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale (2009) Richard Shepard

 Five classic films (The Godfather, The Godfather 2, The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon and The Deer Hunter), five memorable performances, John Cazale died at the still young age of 42 leaving a small but everlasting legacy of work that has more than stood the test of time. More amazing, is considering his performances he never received an Oscar nomination. Casual filmgoers remember him only as Fredo, the middle brother with the permanently hurt puppy dog look on his face in The Godfather 1 and 2.

Richard Shepard’s insightful documentary, “I Knew it Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale” is a warm tribute to an actor, respected and treasured by his peers. The film traces his life growing up in Massachusetts, moving to New York to become to pursue a career in theater and film. The film includes many interviews including playwright Israel Horovitz (Cazale was in ten of his plays, including the Off-Broadway,”The Indian Wants the Bronx” with Al Pacino for which they both won Obie’s). Many of his co-stars including Pacino, Gene Hackman, Robert DeNiro and Meryl Streep, who became the love of his life, talk about working with Cazale, his talent and friendship. Directors Francis Ford Coppola and Sidney Lumet discuss his special qualities and the unexpected nuances he would bring to a role adding an unexpected depth to his characters which stretched the film’s effectiveness beyond what they imagined.   Coppola was so taken with Cazale in “The Godfather,” he expanded his role in the second film.

By the time Cazale made his last film, “The Deer Hunter,” he had already been diagnosed with lung cancer and considered uninsurable. In order for him to get the role of Stan, Robert DeNiro put up his own money as insurance that Cazale would be able to finish the film. Cazale completed his role though he died before the film was released.

John Cazale was an extraordinary actor who through his work earned the trust and respect of his fellow actors and filmmakers. Al Pacino states he learned more about acting from working with John Cazale than any other actor.  The film is a short intriguing 40 minutes long, directed by Richard Shepard (Matador, The Hunting Party).   The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009, made its New York Premiere at BAM before making its way to HBO in 2010. Now available on DVD that includes two short, one in which Cazale acts and is the cinematographer in the second.

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