Film 101: The Purple Rose of Cairo at Real Art Ways

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Film 101: The Purple Rose of Cairo

Woody Allen blurs the the boundaries between the real and unreal in this unique comic fantasy.

The scene is a small town in the mid-1930s. Trapped in a dead-end job and an abusive marriage, Cecelia (Mia Farrow) regularly seeks refuge in the local movie house. She becomes so enraptured by the latest attraction, an RKO screwball comedy called The Purple Rose of Cairo, that she returns to the theatre day after day.

During one of these visits, the film’s main character Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels), pauses in his dialogue, turns towards the audience, and says to Cecelia, “My God, how you must love this picture.” Then he climbs out of the movie, much to the consternation of the rest of the audience and the other characters on screen.

Liberated from his customary black-and-white environs, he accompanies Cecelia on a tour of the town, eventually falling in love with her. Meanwhile, the other Purple Rose characters, unable to proceed with the film, carry on a discussion with themselves.

Desperately, the RKO executives seek out Gil Shepherd, the actor who played the hero of Purple Rose. Shepherd (also played by Daniels), is sent to Cecelia’s hometown to see if he can repair the damage.

Film 101: M*A*S*H

Although he was not the first choice to direct it, the hit black comedy MASH established Robert Altman as one of the leading figures of Hollywood’s 1970s generation of innovative and irreverent young filmmakers.

Scripted by Hollywood veteran Ring Lardner, Jr., this war comedy details the exploits of military doctors and nurses at a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in the Korean War.

Between exceptionally gory hospital shifts and countless rounds of martinis, wisecracking surgeons Hawkeye Pierce (Donald Sutherland) and Trapper John McIntyre (Elliott Gould) make it their business to undercut the smug, moralistic pretensions of Bible-thumper Maj. Frank Burns (Robert Duvall) and Army true-believer Maj. “Hot Lips” Houlihan (Sally Kellerman).

Abetted by such other hedonists as Duke Forrest (Tom Skerritt) and Painless Pole (John Schuck), as well as such (relative) innocents as Radar O’Reilly (Gary Burghoff), Hawkeye and Trapper John drive Burns and Houlihan crazy while engaging in such additional blasphemies as taking a medical trip to Japan to play golf, staging a mock Last Supper to cure Painless’s momentary erectile dysfunction, and using any means necessary to win an inter-MASH football game.

MASH creates a casual, chaotic atmosphere emphasizing the constant noise and activity of a surgical unit near battle lines; it marked the beginning of Altman’s sustained formal experiments with widescreen photography, zoom lenses, and overlapping sound and dialogue, further enhancing the atmosphere with the improvisational ensemble acting for which Altman’s films quickly became known.

Although the on-screen war was not Vietnam, MASH’s satiric target was obvious in 1970, and Vietnam War-weary and counter-culturally hip audiences responded to Altman’s nose-thumbing attitude towards all kinds of authority and embraced the film’s frankly tasteless yet evocative humor and its anti-war, anti-Establishment, anti-religion stance.

MASH became the third most popular film of 1970 after Love Story and Airport, and it was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. As further evidence of the changes in Hollywood’s politics, blacklist survivor Lardner won the Oscar for his screenplay.

MASH began Altman’s systematic 1970s effort to revise classic Hollywood genres in light of contemporary American values, and it gave him the financial clout to make even more experimental and critical films like McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971), California Split (1974), and Nashville (1975). It also inspired the long-running TV series starring Alan Alda as Hawkeye and Burghoff as Radar. With its formal and attitudinal impudence, and its great popularity, MASH was one more confirmation in 1970 that a Hollywood “New Wave” had arrived.

Film 101: Some Like It Hot

The film was based on the German comedy Fanfaren der Liebe (1951), in which two musicians dress in drag to join an all-girls band and end up falling for the lead singer. But aside from the central plot elements, Some Like it Hot does not suffer from a lack of originality. Rather, it takes an already clever premise and injects some of the finest writing ever done.

This time, it’s 1929 Chicago, and saxophonist Joe (Tony Curtis) and bass-player Jerry (Jack Lemmon) are the only two eye-witnesses to the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Hunted by the tommy-gun gangsters of mob boss Spats Columbo (George Raft), the duo decides their only hope is to dress in drag as “Josephine” and “Daphne” and join an all-girl band on a train from Chicago to a Florida beach resort.

Hilarity ensues when: (a) both men fall for the band’s voluptuous singer, Sugar Kane Kowalczyk (Marilyn Monroe); (b) Jerry a.k.a. “Daphne” is courted by one of the resort’s elderly playboys, Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown); and (c) Spats and crew show up at the resort for a bloody gangster conference.

Film 101: Duck Soup

Arguably the Marx Brothers’ funniest film, this comedy masterpiece contains several famous scenes, including the hilarious mirror sequence. A wealthy widow offers financial aid to the bankrupt country of Freedonia on condition that Rufus T. Firefly be made leader. But his chaotic, inept regime bumbles into war with neighboring Sylvania.

Sherlock, Jr.

This 1924 silent classic is not as well known as it should be. Keaton plays a young man who works as a projectionist and janitor in the local movie theater. (He’s also reading a book about how to become a detective.)

Wrongly accused of theft — his romantic rival stole a pocket watch from his girlfriend’s house and pawned it, then framed Keaton so her father sends him away in disgrace — he returns to his job and falls asleep during a screening. He dreams of stepping into the movie and becoming a great detective on the trail of stolen pearls.

Not only do all the other real people in his life turn up in the film, but he performs feats of detection and athletic skill: the film concludes with a thrilling chase in which Keaton rides a motorcycle’s handlebars, not knowing the driver has fallen off, and some split-second stunts. Both the stunts and the special effects were decades ahead of their time.