Saturday, May 06, 2006

Merrian C. Cooper FILMFEST

After exams, I spent 2 days with friends in the DC area (as opposed to the DC Universe). The group does periodic filmfests of obscure movies on a theme and I've been pushing to do one on Cooper's films for a while.

Cooper is one of my heroes, up there With Ben Franklin, Capt.Healy, and George Wythe, and his movies were quite innovative and influential.

We started off with the little mini bio of Cooper on the King Kong disc. Learning aboutis life is like reading a Mary Sue story....except that it was all real, War hero, soldier of conscience fighting the murderous Bolsheviks in Poland post WW1, Navigator, adventurer, film director, explorer, aviation pioneer, Hollywood producer of some of the most innovative films of the '30s and 40's, visionary who brought a number of new technologies to the fore, war hero in WW2 fighting on the frontlines and in the air with the Flying Tigers, and the producer of what are in my humble opinion the best John Wayne movies EVER.

Jack Bauer and Chuck Norris just can't compete!! :)

Ahem....alas I can't do his story justice, so I'll post about the selection of films we watched.

GRASS (Silent 1925)
A semi-documentary (Cooper and Schodschack never claimed to be making actual documentaries)about the winter migration of a nomadic Persian tribe, the Bahkitari(sp?),who must migrate across the forbidding Zagros mountains annually to find grass for their flocks. This film is awesome in scope and has some extremely good cinematography, all the more impressive when you realize the film crew consisted of 3 amatures who were learning the camera as they filmed. Cooper, Schodeshack and Journalist adventurer, spy and aid-worker Margurite Harrison. A really good film that captures some of the subtitles and drama that a straight up ethnographer might miss. A sort of very good, silent, National Geographic episode.
5 bricks

CHANG (Silent 1927)
Drama about a Siamese (Thai) family trying to eek out a living in the unforgiving, tiger infested jungle of SE Asia. The young couples ingenuity courage and (even their occasional mistakes) are quite inspiring. This film was very enjoyable despite the gratuitous comic relief gibbon and the severe letdown when one learns that the mysterious monster CHANG is in fact...the Thai word for elephant...this is not spoilage...knowing this will save you dissapointment later :).
4 bricks

KING KONG(First fully sound synchronized talkie 1933)
The story of a film crew who discovers a monster being worshiped as a god on an island with the random encounter table from hell....Still effective despite a quantum leap in special effects. Amongst its best features are its breakneck pace and superb editing. It is a much tighter and well-paced story than the recent Jackson remake.
Interestingly, the disc included a remake of the legendary, infamous (and missing) spider scene and a 6 minute clip to give a feel for how the scene would have affected the flow of the story....Cooper was likely wise to excise it as it really did stop the flow of the film....just as its modern counterpart did in the more recent film...but I digress....
6 bricks

Moments after carrying on a friendly forshadowing discussion with his uppercrust yachting companions, a world renowned hunter is washed ashore (alone) on a small tropical island that contains a creepy Russian expatriot, his castle, his hounds, 2 guests and a dark secret... Filmed concurrently with King Kong and using the Skull Island sets as well as KK stars Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong (who plays an utterly different type of charachter, quite well)the film shows none of its budget concious production and is effective as both a horror and an action flick.
5 bricks

SON OF KONG (B&W 1933)
In an attempt to avoid the myriad lawsuits resulting from the events in King Kong, and wracked with guilt over the death of so many of his men, Carl Denham takes off with Captain Englehorn from the first film and goes on a sailabout eventually ending up back at skull island this time on a treasure hunt, only to find Kongs albino progeney...
Begun as an epic sequel to King Kong, Studio executives rushed this film into theaters in the Christmas of '33 literally half finished (it is only just over an hour long) The effects scenes that are present are good but the film suffers a thrown together feel, and very few dinosaurs. Lots of interesting bits and pices of good ideas poke thru and a few desperate attempts at comedy relief add to the awkward feel.
It does have a kick ass performance from Helen Mack...who has really sexilly manic eyes.
The film is decent but disapointing.
3 bricks

SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (color 1948 produced by Cooper directed by John Ford)
We finished with this very odd and enjoyable western that covers the last six days in the enlistment of a US Army Colonel (John Wayne) facing retirement.
In the shadow of Custers recent defeat the women at an Army outpost must be sent to civilization. Waynes charachter must deal a myriad of "issues" logistical, tactical, strategig, interpersonal, comedic, and female. A really human portrayal of the officer as he tries to solve completely divergent and contridictory sets of problems. Like a lot of the Cooper/Ford films the Indians, while menacing, are shown in a rather sympathetic light and as people. The film had a very interesting and flattering take on the women that traveled with the calvery (at least the Army wife) and stunning cinematography. The various threads of the strange and disjointed story come together rather nicely, and the film is extreemly well paced.
5 bricks

Really a good bunch of films,I had only seen Kong and SOK before this, and I'm very impressed.....I'm going to have to make it my buisness to see more of his movies this summer.

1 comment:

Egyptoid said...


where are you ?