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Here is an excellent Radio 4 programme all about silent filmmaker Percy Smith who specialised in detailed studies of the natural world. Named after one of his most famous films, The Balancing Bluebottle (1908, also known as The Acrobatic Fly, above), this programme features two of the greatest silent film experts: Bryony Dixon and Luke McKernan.

Take a listen on BBC iPlayer.

As Luke McKernan has pointed out on The Bioscope, Percy’s famous The Birth of a Flower (1910), in living colour, is available to view online here.

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George Kennedy alongside James Stewart in Shenandoah (1965)

George Kennedy alongside James Stewart in Shenandoah (1965)

On Tuesday night (22nd April 2009) I had the great opportunity to attend a live interview with George Kennedy at the BFI Southbank. The conversation was preceded by a screening of Cool Hand Luke in which Kennedy played Dragline, the self-appointed leader of the prison gang who transforms into Luke’s most ardent disciple. His performance of rough masculinity contrasts well with Newman’s cooly confident title character.

I knew Kennedy primarily from his films with James Stewart such as Shenandoah, The Flight of the Pheonix and Fools’ Parade, but of course he has starred in a range of films such as The Sons of Katie Elder with Dean Martin and John Wayne, The Dirty Dozen, Demented with Joan Crawford and the Aiport and Naked Gun series.

When Kennedy took the stage he was gracious and talked engagingly about getting drunk with John Wayne, befriending Bette Davis and even hanging out with Leslie Nielson and O.J. Simpson in their Naked Gun days. I was also interested to find out that he had served in the airforce and went on to act as a technical advisor on Sergeant Bilko where he witnessed the artistry of the vaudevillians at work.

Of particular interest to me was his recollections of knowing James Stewart. To Kennedy, who never knew his father, Stewart became a kind of father figure. Without ever having a male role model in his life, Kennedy believed that Stewart embodied everything a man should be. Interestingly this rings true with our perceptions of Stewart through the virtuous characters he played on-screen. Kennedy had seen Stewart’s films in the 1930s, naming Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, and felt extremely lucky to have worked with and known him. Indeed Kennedy talked of him with reverence and came to hold him in the highest regard of any male in his life. He did not mention the connection between his own wartime service in the airforce (he actually participated in the Battle of the Bulge) and James Stewart’s famously distinguished wartime service.

The evening was a rare opportunity, as would be the next night. It was revealed that Kennedy had flown to London with his old friend and co-star, Ernest Borgnine.

Sullivan's Travels (1941)  

The Ultimate Film Archive is a hand-picked chronology of films from each decade (starting with the 1940s), all of which I highly recommend you seeking out. Not an exhaustive list but it’s a start as further films are added.

How many of these have you seen? Either leave a comment or email me at classicfilmshow@gmail.com.

Have I missed any out? Any further suggestions would be greatly appreciated. 

It starts…

1940s

1940 The Grapes Of Wrath (USA, John Ford)
1940 Fantasia (USA, Walt Disney Productions)
1940 The Great Dictator (USA, Charlie Chaplin) … See all here

The Criterion Collection have just announced that they have opened up their collection online. For $5 you can rent a film for an entire week, the fee of which will actually go towards the purchase of the actual disc when you want to buy it.

For now there is a small selection including Au Revoir Les Enfants (Louis Malle, 1987), Cléo From 5 to 7 (Agnès Varda, 1962), Juliet of the Spirits (Fellini, 1965), Sans Soleil (Chris Marker, 1983), The Spirit of the Beehive (Victor Erice, 1973) and The Thief of Baghdad (Michael Powell, Ludwig Berger, Tim Whelan, 1940). Every week more titles will be published.

Perhaps even more exciting is that they have partnered with The Auteurs where you can stream movies for free. Right now. These include a selection of modern quality world cinema, including one of my very favourites, After Life (Japan, 1998, dir: Hirokazu Kore-Eda). Other titles currently available include Le Vent de La Nuit starring Catherine Deneuve, Midnight directed by Walter Salles and another Kore-Eda film, Maborosi.

There are huge possibilities here for serious filmgoers and for films that are costly to publish to DVD and to export. 

Now to see if I can rent Criterion from outside the U.S…

After Life:

afterlife

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Christian Hayes
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