#3) Gertie the Dinosaur (1914)

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#3) Gertie the Dinosaur (1914)

OR “Jurassic Art”

Written and Directed by Winsor McCay

Class of 1991

View the entire film in its silent glory.

The Plot: Winsor McCay (playing himself and billed as “America’s Greatest Cartoonist”) visits the American Museum of Natural History and sees the skeleton of a real dinosaur. He bets fellow cartoonist George McManus (also playing himself) that he can bring a dinosaur back to life through his cartoons. Incredibly stupid bet aside, McCay goes to work making 10,000 drawings of a dinosaur he names Gertie. At a dinner, McCay demonstrates his moving drawings and makes Gertie do a series of demeaning tricks. There’s also a sea serpent and a mastodon for some reason.

Why It Matters: While not the first animated film ever, “Gertie” helped shape modern animation in a number of ways. It was the first animated film with a background (!), as well as the first to infuse an animal with human-like characteristics. Animation buffs will also note this film’s invention of the techniques “cycling” (reusing the same bit of animation on a loop) and “Keyframe animation” (drawing a character’s main poses first and then drawing the “in-between” poses later).

But Does It Really?: For all of the above, absolutely. Though next time, maybe don’t toot your own horn so much, Mr. America’s Greatest Cartoonist. There were only, like, four of you back then. Cool your jets.

Shout Outs: McCay (ever the epitome of modesty) begins by listing his previous works (and future NFR entries) “Little Nemo” and “Dream of a Rarebit Fiend”.

Wow, That’s Dated: Common usage of the term “dinosaurus”, facial hair that can only be described as “Chester A. Arthurian”.

Take a Shot: Do intertitles count? I mean, no one actually says the name Gertie, but it shows up quite a bit on the cards.

Other notes:

  • The original film consisted solely of the animation, and was screened on the vaudeville circuit with McCay appearing on stage and interacting with Gertie. The live-action prologue was added later.
  • McCay’s son Robert recreated what the live version of “Gertie” would have looked like on a 1955 episode of “Disneyland” (aka “The Wonderful World of Disney”).
  • In addition to animating Gertie, McCay animated the background by hand for each frame of the film. Again, the first animated film with a background, so no one knew you didn’t need to do that.
  • So back to the bet; McCay bets another cartoonist that he can bring a dinosaur to life via animation. This wasn’t McCay’s first film. HE’S DONE THIS BEFORE. And you’re a fellow cartoonist, as well as his friend, you should know this! I think George knew all of this and just wanted McCay to get carpel tunnel.
  • I’m pretty sure one of the other men in the prologue is Sigmund Freud. My only proof is that he was alive back then and one of the guys looks like him. And frankly that’s all I need.
  • Did people always wear suits back then or did cartoonists get paid the same as lawyers?
  • I know we didn’t know a lot about dinosaurs back then, but did they like pumpkins? And why would Gertie want a pumpkin that small? That’s like me staving off hunger with a grain of rice.
  • I gotta admit that the animation on Gertie is still quite amusing 103 years later. I love her little dance at the end!

Legacy

  • Seeing as how Gertie is the mother of modern animation, I’m going to go ahead and blame her for “Rock Dog”.
  • Gertie is also (according to the actual film historians) the first dinosaur ever to appear on screen, so we have McCay to blame for, let’s say, “Theodore Rex”.
  • And speaking of interacting with a cartoon, I’m giving Gertie credit for “Turtle Talk with Crush”.
  • Gertie is also represented by, of all things, an ice cream shop at Walt Disney World in Florida.

Further Viewing: “Gertie on Tour”, an abandoned sequel that features Gertie in the present day (somehow). Along the way I’m pretty sure she kills an innocent bunch of people on a cable car. Then she dreams about the time she made a spectacle of herself at a dinosaur party. And that’s it.

#2) The Godfather (1972) [Original 2017 Post]

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#2) The Godfather (1972)

OR “Why I Don’t Like Oranges”

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

Written by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola. Based on the novel by Puzo.

Class of 1990

This is my original “Godfather” write-up; wouldn’t you rather read my revised, updated version?

The Original Trailer, which doesn’t believe in actual footage or spoiler alerts.

The Plot: A decade in the life of influential New York mafia family the Corleones. The Godfather (Marlon Brando) is ailing and after a close call, hot-headed eldest son “Sonny” (James Caan) takes over the family business. Meanwhile, youngest son Michael (Al Pacino) wants nothing to do with his family or the business, but keeps getting drawn in to both. Rounding out the cast are Robert Duvall as the family consigliere, John Cazale and Talia Shire as the other Corleone siblings, and Diane Keaton as Michael’s girlfriend who never quite learns to not question the business.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls it “the highest echelons of filmmaking” and cites the film’s cast, cinematography and score.

But Does It Really?: Yes. Next question.

But seriously, I have nothing to say about this film you haven’t heard before. It’s about as perfect as filmmaking gets. The key is that at no point does it ever scream at you “look at how perfect this film is!” Much like Michael and the family business, it takes its time luring you in. The direction and cinematography never draw attention to themselves, but a change to either would be film blasphemy. The cast is flawless; from Brando’s (endlessly imitated) performance unlike anything else in his canon, to Pacino’s subtle transformation, and on down. This film launched everyone’s careers and it’s amazing to watch all these young actors more than hold their own with Brando. Perfect, engaging, groundbreaking, flawless, and possibly the NFR entry with the widest influence. The only problem is how this film didn’t make the NFR’s first round of induction, having to wait a year to make the list.

Shout Outs: No specific references, but many have said that [Name Redacted]’s death scene is based on a similar scene in “Bonnie and Clyde”. Others have also compared the last shot of the movie to the last shot of “The Searchers”.

Everybody Gets One: Abe “Fish” Vigoda, and the great Alex Rocco aka Roger Meyers Jr. from select episodes of “The Simpsons”.

But Not Everybody Bats 1000: A very special shout-out to John Cazale (Fredo). Before his tragic death at only 42, he made five films. But not only are all five films in the NFR, they all received Best Picture Oscar nominations, with three wins. A perfect legacy for someone we lost too soon.

Wow, That’s Dated: Nothing major, but James Caan’s hair always screamed early ‘70s to me. Plus as a bonus you get allllllllll the ethnic slurs in this film.

Take a Shot: A few references to “Godfather” throughout the opening wedding. Following that, you have to be really patient, but in the last hour you can get pretty wasted.

Seriously, Oscars?: Despite an impressive 11 nominations, “The Godfather” only managed three wins (Albeit in three major categories: Picture, Actor, and Adapted Screenplay). Most of its losses went to work done by fellow NFR entry “Cabaret”, whose technical achievements are just as good as “The Godfather”, just a whole lot flashier.

And while we’re on the subject, can we talk about Brando’s win for Best Actor? Of course he’s good, but is he really the lead? Especially over Pacino, who has more screen time, but shared a supporting nod with James Caan and Robert Duvall? I understand studio/actor politics, but this is one of those tricky “co-lead” gray areas that makes sense at the time, but leads to a lot of head-scratching in the future.

Other notes:

  • I feel like Kay gets plenty of red flags about Michael and his family during the wedding. If she still wants to get involved she’s been properly warned.
  • Though never confirmed by Mario Puzo, Johnny Fontane seems to be based on Frank Sinatra. Both were crooners in the late ’40s who successfully pivoted to films, and then eventually Vegas in the mid ’50s. Sinatra seemed to be aware of it, I’m just surprised he never used his alleged real-life mafia connections to do anything about it.
  • Quick story: I knew I was going to call this blog The Horse’s Head before I picked “The Godfather” for viewing. It’s been about 10 years since I’ve seen the film and I legitimately forgot that the horse’s handler at the beginning is also named Tony. I’m not much for “signs” but this one definitely comes close.
  • Geez, I’ve only done two of these and both of them feature Oscar statuettes in the background. Real subtle, you guys.
  • What happens to Don Vito’s cat? It’s in the wedding and then just disappears. Hope it didn’t betray the family. Though I’m sure the cat wouldn’t mind if it got to “sleep with the fishes”.
  • It may seem gratuitous that Simonetta Stefanelli (Apollonia) bares her breasts in one scene, but don’t worry ladies, this film gives you the equally impressive breasts of Richard Castellano (Clemenza).
  • The scene where Carlo beats up Connie must have been really weird for Coppola to direct. “Okay Gianni, in this scene I want you to yell and beat up my sister.” Thanksgiving ’72 must have been a tough one.
  • Is it just me, or is there a lot of ADR in this film? Did Brando have to rerecord everything? Could no one understand him? And practically every time there’s a long shot of two people walking in this film it sounds dubbed

Legacy

  • Proof that sequels can run the gamut from equal to their predecessor to vastly inferior.
  • Whatever the hell a “Novel for Television” is.
  • This is the movie that put Coppola on the map, so we have this to blame for Nicolas Cage and all them Schwartzmans.
  • In addition to the above, we have the acclaimed Sofia Coppola the writer-director and the less-so Sofia Coppola the actor.
  • Please see “Scorsese, Films of Martin”.
  • Also that HBO series.
  • The most awkward moment in Oscar history.
  • While he didn’t invent the phrase, James Caan’s ad-libbed “bada bing” has definitely become a thing since then.
  • That scene in “You’ve Got Mail”.
  • The best scene in “Robin Hood: Men in Tights”.
  • And, of course, the very uninspired title of this blog.

Further Listening: Special mention to “Che La Luna Mezzo Mare”, the song Mama Corleone sings at Connie’s wedding. The Lou Monte recording is the closest I ever got to embracing my Italian heritage as a child. Enjoy.

#1) Sunset Boulevard (1950) [Original 2017 Post]

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#1) Sunset Boulevard (1950)

OR “The One with the Dead Monkey”

Directed by Billy Wilder

Screenplay by Charles Brackett & Billy Wilder & D.M. Marshman Jr.

Class of 1989

Original Theatrical Trailer

This is the original post I wrote for “Sunset Boulevard”, but wouldn’t you rather read my superior revised write-up instead?

The Plot: Every journey has a first step, and what better place for me to start than in Hollywood? William Holden is Joe Gillis, a jaded, down-on-his-luck screenwriter who ends up caught in the tangled web of former silent film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) and her butler Max (Erich von Stroheim). Along the way he helps Desmond with her comeback vehicle, while at the same time collaborating with/falling for a script reader with larger aspirations (Nancy Olson). Secrets are revealed, pictures get smaller, and someone goes for a swim.

Why It Matters: NFR calls it “Arguably the greatest movie about Hollywood” and cites the film’s “brilliant dialog, decadent production design and wide-ranging acting styles [that] have never been topped.”

But Does It Really?: I may argue the legitimacy of other entries, but not this one. Re-watching it for this post reminded me just how good this film is. A perfect blend of film-noir, a haunted house story, an adult romance, and oh yes, a really dark comedy. Like so many of Wilder’s best, the screenplay lays a solid foundation that is only amplified by outstanding direction and a top-notch cast. It’s the rare film that rewards you with each viewing. At a time when film was just starting to acknowledge its history, this movie looks at the first generation of Hollywood stars as the ghosts that live among us. This film has a lot to say about Hollywood, and it says it all in a fresh, haunting way.

Shout Outs: Sheldrake says he turned down “Gone with the Wind”, Gillis wonders if the monkey was related to “King Kong”.

Everybody Gets One: Gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, as well as actor Jack Webb, who apparently knows a guy in the Department of Missing Persons.

Wow, That’s Dated: All kinds of ’40s name dropping going on in this one. Plus a joking reference to the Black Dahlia murder (I guess Wilder and company didn’t believe in “Too Soon”).

Take a Shot: The title is in the first line of dialogue, less than two minutes in. It gets a few mentions throughout, though not enough to even get a good buzz going.

Seriously, Oscars?: While the film won for its screenwriting, art direction and score, the Oscars did not acknowledge any of the film’s performers. Upon losing Best Actress to newcomer Judy Holliday, Gloria Swanson allegedly asked her “Couldn’t you have waited until next year?”

Other notes:

  • M. Marshman Jr. (the film’s third credited writer) was a journalist who impressed Wilder & Brackett with his critique of their earlier film “The Emperor Waltz”. And who says filmmakers and critics can’t get along?
  • Not to take anything away from the film’s well deserved Oscars, but the film does mention the award a few times throughout. Sheldrake even has one on his shelf at the beginning. Hint hint, Academy.
  • Is it just me, or does Gloria Swanson sound a lot like Madeline Kahn?
  • How does one get the nickname “Hog-Eye”?
  • At one point Gillis mentions the “bowling alley in the cellar”. Very disappointing that no scenes take place down there.
  • Perhaps the most unfortunate thing about this film is that Norma Desmond is ONLY FIFTY YEARS OLD. Her career’s been over for 20 years, which means SHE WAS THIRTY. Some things never change; Hollywood will let a dinosaur like Cecil B. DeMille keep directing, but a woman over 50 is useless (unless she works for Ryan Murphy, of course).
  • According to the book “Close-Up on Sunset Boulevard” by Sam Staggs, the journal Commonweal predicted in its review of the film that “the Library of Congress will be glad to have in its archives a print of ‘Sunset Boulevard’.” Pffft, what do they know?

Legacy

  • The Andrew Lloyd Webber mega-musical adaptation. (And quite a few stories about the many divas who played Norma).
  • At least half of all Carol Burnett skits.
  • Not one, but two episodes of “The Twilight Zone”.
  • Airport 1975
  • A really good episode of the otherwise forgotten “The John Larroquette Show”.
  • Practically everyone in every film since announcing they are “ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.”

A Brief Rundown of What to Expect

This is what most of my entries will look like. There will be other posts from time to time, but when writing about the films themselves, it will be along the lines of this format*.

Film Title (Year of Release or Completion)

OR: An alternate title of my own choosing

Director(s) and Writer(s) Credits

Year of National Film Registry (NFR) Induction

The Plot: I sum up the plot of the film as best I can (but keep in mind I’ve probably had a few).

Why It Matters: An explanation of why the NFR has deemed this film “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant“.

But Does It Really?: I argue whether or not this film really should belong on the registry (and if not, what movie should take its place).

Shout Outs: Whenever the film references other films on the NFR.

Everybody Gets One: Special mention to people you may not realize are in one of these films, proving my theory that “everybody gets one” classic film.

Wow, That’s Dated: No matter how timeless a film may be, there’s always something about it that shows the signs of the time it was made.

Take a Shot: Answering the age old question, “Can I make a drinking game out of this film using only the film’s title?”**

Seriously, Oscars?: A look at how often the Academy Awards ignore the greatest films, either by denying a film any trophies or by not nominating them in the first place.

Other Notes: My other random thoughts that occur to me while watching the film.

Legacy: A rundown of every major influence this film has had on popular culture.

Further Viewing: Any additional film or clip or whatever that I think you would enjoy.

Listen To This!: A recording related to the film that has been preserved at NFR’s sister foundation the National Recording Registry.

*Format subject to change without notice. Offer void in Arizona and Utah. Many will enter, few will read.

** UPDATE: Turns out the answer is, “Yes, but who cares?” Take a Shot has been replaced with “Title Track”, in which I discuss the film’s title if it has an interesting story behind it, is mentioned prominently in the film itself, or is also a song in the movie!

What Are You, Nuts or Something?

In December 2016, the National Film Registry (or NFR as it’s known to fans) added 25 films to its list of “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant films”. This brought the total number of films since its inaugural selection in 1989 to 700. Shortly thereafter, some guy named Tony (yours truly) looked at the list of 700 and figured he had already seen a lot of them and wanted to see more. So, in the midst of referring to himself in the third person, he set a goal for himself; to watch every film on the National Film Registry, or at least a whole lot of them.

“But why keep this to myself?”, he typed. “Why not put this on the internet where people can take pride in being the first to comment on something?” So one WordPress account later, he founded “The Horse’s Head”.

Okay, third person narrative over.

Welcome to The Horse’s Head! It’s real simple; I watch every movie on the National Film Registry and write a post about it. You read, comment, share, judge, whatever you want. It’s quite a daunting task ahead of me. I compare it to scaling Mt. Everest, except every December they add a few hundred feet to the top. I fully admit that I will probably never see every film, but the prospect of the attempt sounds like a lot of fun.

So please join me for the ride. Or don’t. I ain’t your boss.

Happy Viewing,

Tony