Issue: January 2016 - Classic Film

Where are the great Canadian classic films?

If you were asked to name some Canadian classic films, titles like Goin’ Down the Road, Mon oncle Antoine, Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner or even Black Christmas may spring to mind. These are all wonderful films that are worthy of being dubbed classics, but they all share one aspect: they were all made after 1970. Each of those films has something different that keeps them in the popular consciousness, setting them apart from other movies and keeping them in the wildly varying discussion of what a classic film is, but where are the memorable films previous to 1970? Trying to decide what defines a classic is a problem unto itself. Everybody has a different opinion and depending on who you ask, you’ll get answers as varied as Citizen Kane to Twilight. Whatever your personal opinion, the one thing we all agree on is that the film should be widely known. Now, just because a large majority of people haven’t heard of a film doesn’t mean it can’t be a classic, but without any knowledge of how amazing a film is, how could we possibly label it a classic? There are a number of films prior to 1970 that could be defined as classic. I would hold up The Mask (1961) as a one such example. Directed by Julian Roffman, the film tells the story of a psychiatrist who comes...

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When the camera learned to fly: F.W. Murnau and the visual achievement of silent filmmaking

The introduction of sound changed everything in cinema. It drastically altered the manner in which actors performed on screen, making dialogue the focus of their performances instead of physicality. It also reframed the visual grammar of filmmaking. While great silent filmmakers meticulously crafted a method of storytelling that relied purely on imagery, sound allowed filmmakers to be lazy and create visually drab films that relied overly on sound to engage audiences and tell stories. Furthermore, while silent filmmakers like D.W. Griffith had invented most of the tools and techniques of filmmaking — first by manipulating the rhythm of editing to broaden the scope of storytelling and then by freeing the burdensome crank camera from its stationary position — the initial sound films were content to fix the camera and ease off the complexity of editing. The introduction of sound set formal filmmaking back over a decade. Thus, the silent films of the ’20s represent a peak in visual sophistication that would not be matched in cinema until the arrival of Orson Welles and other Hollywood experimentalists in the ’40s. While there are many films that represent the visual artistry of the silent era prior to the introduction of sound—Rupert Julian’s The Phantom of the Opera and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis are prime examples—the films of F.W. Murnau are the era’s peak. Most famously known for Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (the 1922 unauthorized adaptation of Bram...

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Feels like the first time: The timelessness of Some Like It Hot

Many films we rewatch as adults are muddied by the nostalgia of youth. Movies you enjoyed in the late ’80s can age terribly — rewatching these beloved works years later can be disheartening. Some jokes fail the test of time, effects age poorly and what was once edgy can be terribly trite by today’s standards. Then there are movies we rewatch for years that comfort us, bringing us back to simpler times. For some, Pee Wee Herman movies are incessantly rewatchable for this exact reason, as well as some of John Hughes’s efforts. And then there are those that withstand the test of time. These films are so good that no matter how much time has elapsed, viewers new and old alike enjoy them. In 1959, Billy Wilder directed one such film that remains funny and thoroughly enjoyable almost 60 years later. Some Like It Hot has aged gracefully; it possesses everything you could possibly want in a film: mobsters, romance, comedy and men in drag. Set in 1929, it tells the story of two Chicago musicians (Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis) who accidentally witness the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. To escape the gangsters who want them silenced, they disguise themselves in drag and join an all-female band heading to Miami. Once on the road, hijinks ensue when both men fall for the band’s ukulele player and main singer,...

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Puttin’ on the ritz: The appealing classicism of the Hollywood musical

No genre stands as a stronger testament to the decadent heights and nostalgic appeal of the Golden Age of Hollywood than the musical. At the time, musicals wowed viewers with opulent sets, glamorous costumes and gorgeous stars belting out show tunes written by the best Broadway writers of the era. In the early ’30s, sound was still a new cinematic tool, fresh and invigorating to audiences that had never expected to hear a movie star speak, let alone sing. Gaining popularity in the midst of the Great Depression, the musical also offered a chance for poorer patrons to experience the glitz of a Broadway show without the price tag. The musical became theatre for the masses: a democratic spectacle. Nowadays, the Golden Age musical remains a nostalgic institution. Musicals of the era appeal to our fondness for blockbuster cinema devoid of the shallowness and cynicism of the current climate. They entertain us with the frothiness of the lyrics, choreographic charms and effortless talents of their stars. Musicals capture the glamour and optimism of the studio system at its height. They might not be as visually sophisticated as the works of Orson Welles or John Ford, or boast themes as rich as the work of William Wyler, but they embody an essential aspect of the time period, acting as a time capsule of the era’s charms. Cinema of the ’30s...

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Editor’s Note: January 2016

The new year has finally arrived and I couldn’t be happier. 2015 was starting to get a little rough and there was at least a few moments where I thought it was going to win, but I pushed through and have finally reached 2016. When January 1 rolls around, there’s always a feeling of starting over circling around you. It feels like you can make the year turn out any way you want it too. Of course, we could all do that at any time of the year, but it seems inescapable at the start of January. For myself, this will actually be the first time I don’t start making long mental lists of what I need to do for the year. I started that months ago and am only hoping to continue on the path I set up. As with our lives, chances are things will change slowly at Toronto Film Scene. More writers will come and go, ideas will be tried out to success or failure, perhaps the look will change here and there. We’re still the same online film magazine readers are used to though! That means that we’re also lining up our monthly themes again. For January, we’ll be looking at Classic Film, because there really isn’t a better month. Not a lot goes on with new films in January, so it’s a good time...

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Sympathy for the angels: contemplative biker films

“On a cycle, the frame is gone; you’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming. That concrete whizzing by five inches below your foot is the real thing — the same stuff you walk on. It’s right there, so blurred you can’t focus on it, yet you can put your foot down and touch it at any time. And the whole thing, the whole experience, is never removed from immediate consciousness.” — Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance In early July of 1947, a yearly motorcycle rally was blown desperately out of proportion. It was an incident in Hollister, CA and the accompanying photographs in then venerable Life Magazine that helped galvanize an image of cyclists as brazen hooligans, instead of motor heads. Granted, for some time, hot-rodders and auto enthusiasts had a bad rep, but following a yearly Fourth of July weekend motorcycle rally turned drunken bacchanal (one that admittedly saw over 50 people arrested), bikers became as feared as they were admired. The Hollister Riot was covered nationally, but the Life Magazine spread, which included several out-of-context and possibly even staged photographs, designed to make the event look more sinister than it actually was, gave the incident an almost unholy mythology. Following the incident, the American Motorcyclist Association (the group that sponsored the...

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The Soapbox: women ruled the classic film world

Nowadays, the majority of society is more socially conscious and aware of gender inequalities in almost every industry. Film is no different, with clusters of publications and activists devoted solely to furthering the presence of women in film. Stats show that the modern film industry features just 16% behind-the-scenes women, and that’s just white, CIS-gendered females. It’s unlikely many can name any of these women offhand, unless they’re A-list stars. Meanwhile, at the beginning of the motion picture industry, right through to the Golden Age, women’s names regularly popped up in behind-the-scenes roles, as well as in front of the camera. Take, for example, Alice Guy-Blaché. She is considered to be the first female director, active during the silent era, as well as a key player in the development of movie narratives. It was Guy-Blaché who helped change feature films from being just a series of scenes into a narrative story. Guy-Blaché also became the first woman to found her own studio, way back in 1912. Then there’s Lois Weber, a teenage runaway who preached morality on NYC street corners and went on to make films that tackled the very issues she was most concerned about, which other film studios dared not touch with a ten-foot pole: racism, capital punishment and even abortion. Her adaptation of Shakespeare’s controversial The Merchant of Venice became the first feature film directed by...

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