film history

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blue angel

It’s garbage day here in Brooklyn, a fact inescapable even locked three doors in. The full swelter of summer is upon us (and the garbage piles), and what better way to cool down than an icy beverage? That’s right! Cooling down with an icy beverage containing alcoholic spirits to numb you to your fetid city surroundings!

Today’s beverage is a variant on the Marlene Dietrich, a rye-and-citrus concoction whose color evokes the Teutonic bombshell’s hair. Lacking the dignity of regular orange curaçao, I had to make do with that Spring Break of a liquid, blue curaçao. The color now looked like a gorgeous tropical Pacific ocean, or if you’re more practical, like the chemical glow of 1000 Flushes.  In honor of the namesake original, I’ve christened this The Blue Angel. Two or more of this heady mix will leave your voice as husky as Lola-Lola’s singing.

 

THE BLUE ANGEL

2 oz. rye whiskey (preferably Old Overholt)

1/2 oz. blue curaçao

3 drops Bitterman’s Tiki Bitters (or good ol’ Angostura, if you’re in a pinch)

1 slice lemon

1 slice orange

 

Pour the whiskey, curaçao and bitters over cracked ice.Shake well, and strain into a chilled tumbler (or one with a few ice cubes in, if you don’t mind the drink watering down a bit as you drink). Squeeze the slice of lemon and orange into the glass, discarding the rinds; stir gently. Add a slice of lemon as garnish*.

 

blue angel 2
*Both drinks have a lemon slice accompaniment as a nod to Dietritch’s claim she sucked lemon wedges between shots to keep her mouth and cheekbones sharp. Worked for her!

 

the blue angel

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Picture 3

1959′s ‘Beat Girl’ has enough high hair and dated teenage slang to enjoy purely for camp, but underneath all the eye makeup is a somber reflection on post-WWII malaise. ‘Beat Girl’ opens with an already-tenuous home situation completely breaking down when distant, wealthy dad brings home hot new Parisian wife Nicole to meet his daughter, Jennifer. Jennifer’s already estranged from her father, rebelling and hanging with the beatnik scene down at her art school’s local coffee house instead of swizzling drinks with dad’s upper-crust clients. Young wife Nicole tries her best to bridge the gap – she impresses Jennifer’s friends with her knowledge of jazz and responds to Jennifer’s cruel comments with kindness, but Jennifer only resents her intrusion. When a woman from the strip club across the street comes into the coffee house and greets Nicole like an old friend, Jennifer investigates further and gets tangled up with the club’s classy sleazeball owner, played with perfect oiliness by a young Christopher Lee. Nicole and Jennifer circle each other, drawn more tightly into a tangled web of blackmail. Through a last-act burst of violence, Jennifer’s tough-girl act falls apart and her family finally comes together. In between there’s plenty of teenage kicks – games of chicken, hot rods, and lots of spazztastic dancing:

The unique charm of ‘Beat Girl’ is seeing America’s Beat Generation layered over English culture. The film was released in 1959 in England, 1960 in America, and shows English youth embracing the Beats’ detachedness, their rejection of ‘proper’ social markers like money, a steady job, and all signs of traditional Englishness. There’s a panicked edge to showing the teen’s beatnik ways, as if warning viewers hanging out at coffee shops could lead to NOT DRINKING (as when a musician tosses his friend’s bottle away declaring ‘drinking’s for squares’) and NOT FIGHTING (when a group of toughs destroys the friends’ jalopy, the owner says ‘If you wanna fight, JOIN THE ARMY’ before walking away). Horror! What could be less English than NOT DRINKING (NOT EVEN TEA! Just coffee)! That would’ve been a great tag line for the movie’s poster: They WON’T DRINK! They WON’T FIGHT! THEY’LL DANCE! (The actual posters were far more misleading and lurid, but more on that in a bit).

Beat-Girl Cave

There’s a reason for the teens’ embracing of Beat culture beyond getting to use ridiculous slang at every opportunity – these were the children who survived the Blitz. The film’s most telling scene takes place at a ‘cave stomp’, held in a club’s sub-basement. Bored with the music, Jennifer’s friends move away from the action and talk about where they are, not a cave but a fallout shelter. The space reminds one lanky musician of his childhood ‘playground’: “When [the bombing] was over I played on the bomb sites. Down in the cellars amongst the rats. This here’s a home away from home for me.” Another describes seeing his mother killed right next to him; his father, abroad with the army as General, only came home after, decorated in medals. These teens’ entire childhoods were running for shelters, nightly bombings, houses suddenly destroyed in the middle of quiet neighborhoods. After the war, the older generation coped by immediately settling back into pre-war ways, keeping a ‘stiff upper lip’, almost pretending nothing happened to avoid facing the war’s horrors. Now, on the brink of becoming adults themselves, the teens want a severe break. It’s no wonder Jennifer declares with venom she hates everything about adults’ lives, that she rejects it utterly and that she and her friends are ‘free’. Breaking from society may ostracize them, but they’re ‘free’ from what they see as the root cause of the war.

Of course, that’s not how the film was marketed.

WILD FOR KICKS!
The movie was released in the U.S. as ‘WILD FOR KICKS!’, and while, yes, the hedonistic/nihilistic attitude of the youths was certainly kicks-centric, that’s not really what the movie’s about.

NOR IS IT AT ALL ABOUT BECOMING A STRIPPER. You’d walk into this film thinking you were about to watch ‘Striptease’ and you’d get a war of wills between two young women…wait, that’s also what ‘Striptease’ was about…you get what I mean.

My Mother Was A Stripper! I Wanted To Be A Stripper, Too!
 

And who could resist the lurid fearmongering of ‘THIS COULD BE YOUR TEENAGE DAUGHTER!’. Why the emphasis is on ‘TEENAGE’ and not ‘YOUR’ I’m unsure – perhaps this is all socially acceptable behavior for 20-somethings and 10-year-olds. Also, the lady on all three posters appears in the movie for a grand total of 5 minutes.

This could be YOUR teenage daughter!

 

You can watch the entire movie on YouTube here. In the words of the youths, it’s “great, dad, great! Straight from the fridge!” “I’m WAYYYY out!”

 

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I recently discovered the wonderful site Cinema Treasures. Celebrating not films but the places showing them, Cinema Treasures digs, documents and shares all the information they can find about classic movie theaters across America.

Plugging my zip code into their search feature, I was surprised to find this gem right near my subway stop:

picture from Cinema Treasures

Unfortunately this theater is past tense – long since demolished, here’s what currently occupies the space:

Screen Shot 2013-02-03 at 8.55.19 PM

An empty lot! A fenced-in, weed-choked, garbage-filled empty lot. While any hint of green space in the neighborhood is appreciated, it’s depressing this wonderful building was razed with nothing replacing it in the 10+ years since its destruction. At best one hopes it became such a fire hazard it had to be torn down with no plans for the space, instead of imagining some developer sitting on this plot greedily anticipating the day the neighborhood perks up to the point they can build more glass fishbowls to shove upper-class Manhattan expats into (see: Williamsburg).

But there is yet hope! To my utter surprise and delight, all five of the original Lowe’s ‘Wonder Theaters‘ still stand! The Wonder Theaters were flagship Lowe’s outposts built outside main Manhattan, with the specific idea of bringing the glamour and luxury of city moviegoing to the outer boros.

courtesy of Wikipedia
(the United Palace Theater in Washington Heights)

courtesy of Wikipedia
(the Valencia Theater in Queens)

Two live on as churches – the United Palace Theater is now Christ Community United Church, who also use the space to host concerts and events for the surrounding community. The Valencia is more exclusively Tabernacle of Prayer church, but they’ve done an amazing job preserving the beautiful, byzantine interior (really, click on and check out the photos – it’s absolutely stunning).

courtesy of Wikipedia (the Kings Theater in Brooklyn)

The Kings Theater in Brooklyn got a recent reprieve – the building is currently under construction to restore it to its former glory (you can see its current deteriorated condition here).

courtesy of Wikipedia
(the Paradise Theater in the Bronx)

courtesy of Wikipedia
(Jersey Lowe’s in Journal Square)

Bronx’s Paradise theater still shows movies and hosts concerts and other arts-related events, as does Jersey City’s Lowe’s Theater. The Jersey Lowe’s can even be rented out for weddings (one of the rental perks being you and your betrothed’s names on the marquee. Cute).

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Just a reminder – the essay contest ends this Friday….at midnight! That comes off much scarier if you read it with a Boris Karloff accent. And speaking of horror:

http://www.visual-media.be/visualmedia-index.html

A dive into the fascinating pre-history of cinema (or rather, as that grouping seems unfair, several disparate inventions that when lumped together chronologically sort of point the way to what would eventually become cinema) led to the phantasmagoria, a macabre performance incorporating special effects and gruesome projections by way of some form of magic lantern. Several popular phantasmagoria were even staged in tombs, though as they were abandoned Capuchin tombs I doubt the good monks minded much.

http://www.magiclantern.org.uk/history/history6.html

image from the Magic Lantern Society

One standout show was put on by Johann Georg Schröpfer, a coffee-shop owner-turned-necromancer/illusionist. He claimed he summoned spirits during his performances, and even held a seance for Prince Charles of Saxony. Unfortunately for Schröpfer, he believed his own hype and committed what appeared to be suicide, shooting himself in the head after telling a small group he would resurrect himself soon. Most sources repeat the same small bits about him, though this account goes a bit deeper.

Historically the phantasmagoria’s been wildly popular in lands rife with fear and uncertainty, including post-revolutionary Paris and America. Considering the current climate, perhaps it’s time for a revival.

Below are some magic lantern images, courtesy of Early Visual Media Archaeology







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Happy Birthday, Animation!

Click on the above link to see J.S. Blackton’s ‘Humorous Phases of Funny Faces’, widely regarded as the first animated film created.

Also, here is Gertie The Dinosaur, created in 1914 by Windsor McKay. I think most people my age were first exposed to this, and a lot of other famous older works, through the Muppet Babies opening the wrong door.

Here are three delightful earlier films, including one featuring Krazy Kat.

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