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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

December Classic Film Screenings in Greater Boston

November turned out to be a much busier month than I had originally thought, and my blog output dropped off precipitously.  I fear December will be the same way, although my goal will be to pick up my game just a bit.  On to the main attraction, which features both holiday and non-holiday themed films to punctuate your cold days and evenings in the cinema this month.

The HFA is once again offering an intriguing blend of offerings.

Sunday Dec 4, 4:30 PM -- the theatre's 8th Annual 'Vintage Holiday Show' of short films 'from the HFA vault' celebrating all things holiday.  It's billed as 'family friendly' and is likely to be much better than your average walk down holiday nostalgia lane.  And, its total 96 minutes of running time is completely free! These films were originally part of the Boston Public Library's circulating collection.   If I didn't already have a commitment I would attend this -- something very different and sure to be a delight.  Included in the list of films, both animated and live action, are:

From 'A Figgy Duff Christmas' (HFA Website)

The Great Toy Robbery (Jeff Hale, 1963); Six Penguins (Asporoah Panov, 1973);  Max's Christmas (Michael Sporn, 1988); The Cop and the Anthem (Peter Mark Schifter, 1982); The Cherry Tree Carol (Gardner Compton, 1968); A Figgy Duff Christmas (William Gough, 1978); Animal's Best Friend (Hermina Tyrlova, 1973); A Charles Dickens Christmas: From the Pickwick Papers (John Barnes, 1958); The Night Before Christmas (John Wilson, 1968).

Busby Berkeley
'Busby Berkeley Babylon'
Busby Berkeley was a giant in early film musical choreography; his visuals are still stunning today.  He turned big musical numbers into dazzling kaleidoscope-like frenzies of costumes, props, and bodies, especially those of the female variety.  The HFA is presenting an extensive retrospective of Berkeley's films 'Busby Berkeley Babylon' during December and January.  It's worth your time to read the HFA write-up of Berkeley's life and career (did you know he spent some of his earlier years Boston area doing stage direction for the Somerville Stock Company?!), and descriptions of all the films.  Here are the ones that are most exciting to me:  

From 'Gold Diggers of 1933

Sunday December 11, 7 PM
.  King of Jazz (1930), a 'rediscovery' that I missed at Capitolfest in August, a 'lavish production' in 2-strip Technicolor, celebrating bandleader Paul Whiteman

Friday, December 16, 9 PM Dames (1934) starring pre-code superstars Joan Blondell, Dick Powell, and Ruby Keeler.  It's apparently a celebration of sexuality only slightly veiled, flaunting the restrictions of the upcoming Production Code that would prohibit overt references to sex, among other sinful (!) activities.

Saturday, December 17th 7:00 PM Roman Scandals (1933, D. Frank Tuttle), a wild farcical romp through ancient Rome via an extended dream, starring Eddie Cantor, Gloria Stuart, and Edward Arnold.  It's known also for the 'blink-and-you'll-miss-it' first film appearance of Lucille Ball as a 'Goldwyn Girl' with long blond locks.  I saw it at Capitolfest in 2014 and it was quite the experience.

Barbara Stanwyck giving Gary Cooper
More that he bargained for. 
Coolidge Corner Theatre
Monday, December 5, 7:00 PM: Barbara Stanwyck and a young, hot Gary Cooper in the classic screwball comedy Ball of Fire, directed by Howard Hawks and written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett. (I can't help but think of Jerry Lee Lewis whenever I hear the title of this movie!)  It's about a group of lexicographers and their collision with a high-spirited young woman mixed up with the mob.  I've not yet seen this film and unfortunately can't attend this screening, but otherwise I would most certainly be near the head of the queue for this one!  Adding to the fun is a special guest appearance -- Ben Zimmer, award-winning language columnist for the NY Times, will speak before the film about the science of studying slang, and how it's evolved over the decades.  A regular feature of the Coolidge's fun Science on Screen Series showcases expert speakers talking about an aspect of science related to the film in some way.  

Monday, December 12, 7:00 PM: Bogey & Bacall send sparks across the celluloid in one of their most heralded noirs -- The Big Sleep, screened in 35 mm as part of the Big Screen Classics Series.  The narrative of this film, also directed by Howard Hawks, is nearly impossible to follow, but heck, the plot's not the main pleasure of watching this one!
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall form an uneasy alliance in
The Big Sleep (photo from
Sunday, Dec 25 - Thurs Dec 29 (Christmas week) the Brattle is programming films of Kirk Douglas to celebrate his 100th birthday (actually on Dec 9).  Happy birthday, Kirk!
Check out the whole series, but if you are free on Dec 26th, check out a double feature of  'rarities' from 1951:  Detective Story, a noir directed by ace William Wyler; also starring William Bendix, Cathy O'Donnell, Eleanor Parker.  That's followed by Ace in the Hole, directed by Billy Wilder, and also starring Jan Sterling and Robert Arthur.

Sunday, January 1, and Monday January 2
:  While technically a new month, it deserves a mention here: ring in the New Year with the Marx Bros!  The Brattle's presenting a marathon of films from these pioneers of early film comedy, betting on once you see one, you can't stop until you've seen them all!  All are new restorations of the old favorites, all of which are the early, pre-code Paramount films, so if you attend the whole festival you'll see the style of the brothers evolve over a four year period, from The Cocoanuts (1929) to Duck Soup (1933).  My favorite of theirs is Horse Feathers, which I got to see at the 2016 Turner Classic Film Festival. 

Zeppo, Groucho, Chico, and Harpo Marx are up to no good in 'The Cocoanuts'

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