Angels with Dirty Faces

Casablanca

1942’s Casablanca has repeatedly been canonized as the best film Hollywood ever made. Its iconic dialogue produced a bevy of quotable lines that sealed seated their seemingly eternal place in movie culture, and it’s damn near impossible to refer to Humphrey Bogart’s iconic career without bringing to mind his worn mug reminiscing to Dooley Wilson’s iteration of “As Time Goes By” in his empty bar’s depths of night. Never has Bogie been so tragically Bogie, or, for that matter, Bergman so classically Bergman, Rains so nobly Rains, Lorre so campily Lorre, and the film’s team of studio scribes so harmoniously in tune towards a pitch-perfect example of Hollywood narrative convention. Given the vaunted reputation of Casablanca, it’s strange that the film’s director, Michael Curtiz, is so often obscured within observations of its notable ensemble, much less considered the film’s reigning auteur. Among all the beloved directors of Classical Hollywood – Howard Hawks, John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock – Curtiz is rarely included, often regarded on the relative margins as a talented director for hire, a perfect mirror to Casablanca itself: a stellar Hollywood product, but in a class altogether separate from, say, the previous year’s Citizen Kane. But Curtiz’s diverse career (for classical Hollywood) as it manifested over several decades, across horror films and gangster pics and musicals, bears evidence not only of a capable Hollywood director-for-hire, but a behind-the-lens personality whose revisited worldview throughout his career is inseparable from his individual works.

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Culture Warrior

One odd thing about being a child of the 80s is that you learn movie history backwards. In watching anything from Animaniacs to Pulp Fiction, I became acquainted with references and homages to classical Hollywood cinema long before I ever watched the movies referenced or the moments paid homage to. Thus, my knowledge of cinema’s past was framed through cinema’s present: I learned about old movies because of what new movies did with them. One of the most formidable moments of this backwards cinematic education occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s when major event kids’ movies became especially preoccupied with 40s film noir in movies like Robert Zemeckis’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) or Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy (1990). These movies embodied a world of double crosses, femme fatales, and cynical detectives without requiring their viewers, young or old, to have seen any of the films these genre tropes are indebted to. Thus, because of my exposure to new tweaks on an old form, conventions became familiar to me long before I could name the films from which such conventions originated. But one movie was exceptionally influential in formulating a distinct impression of film noir in my childhood imagination, and that movie was – oddly enough – Home Alone (1990).

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published: 11.26.2014
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published: 11.26.2014
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published: 11.21.2014
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published: 11.21.2014
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