The Crank: ‘Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean’ Program Notes (2/21/13 Screening)

The Crank is a graduate student organization that runs weekly screenings of the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s extensive holdings. The Crank shows films that either are not widely available on video or are such spectacular specimens of nitrate and celluloid that merely to see them on a television set would be a crime both to the student of film and to the canon of film history.


As the 1970s came to a close, Robert Altman, the critics’ darling and occasional box office success, found himself on rocky ground. Fox had refused to give his films A Perfect Couple (1979) and Health (1980) legitimate theatrical releases, while Altman’s other work, including Popeye (1980), had not fared well critically. Altman left Hollywood in disgust, saying, “They’re in the bottom-line, money-making business and they cannot endure. I’m going to be working, profitably and productively, when they’re no longer working.”

In the following years, Altman found work directing in the theater and occasionally filming the stage plays for television. During this time, he discovered Ed Graczyk’s play Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean in an Off-Off-Broadway performance and directed it himself on Broadway. Although the show closed early and was critically panned, entertainment conglomerate Viacom left open its offer to finance filming it to use as original content for its cable television subsidiary Showtime. Unlike his other stage adaptations, Altman used his $800,000 budget to create a dynamic feature film, rather than recording a live performance. Altman shot the film in 19 days on Super 16mm film for an inexpensive blow-up to a 35mm print. Subverting the original intention to create television content, Altman submitted the film to various festivals; it won the Chicago International Film Festival’s top prize, which helped eventually secure limited theatrical distribution. Continue reading “The Crank: ‘Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean’ Program Notes (2/21/13 Screening)” »

The Crank: ‘Broken Lullaby’ (aka ‘The Man I Killed’) Program Notes (2/7/13 Screening)

The Crank is a graduate student organization that runs weekly screenings of the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s extensive holdings. The Crank shows films that either are not widely available on video or are such spectacular specimens of nitrate and celluloid that merely to see them on a television set would be a crime both to the student of film and to the canon of film history.


German American actor-screenwriter-producer-director Ernst Lubitsch gained notoriety in Hollywood for his string of sophisticated silent comedies during the mid-1920s with the moderate commercial successes The Marriage Circle (1924), Lady Windermere’s Fan (1925), and So This is Paris (1926). However, the emergence of Lubitsch’s signature visual and thematic design, along with his ability to convey great significance through witty metaphors or tactfully constructed moments, would not solidify until his first foray into sound film with the critically acclaimed box office behemoth The Love Parade (1929). His next two films—Monte Carlo (1930) and The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)—cemented Lubitsch’s lifelong association with the romantic comedy and musical genres and a definitive style that would eventually be dubbed “The Lubitsch Touch.” Continue reading “The Crank: ‘Broken Lullaby’ (aka ‘The Man I Killed’) Program Notes (2/7/13 Screening)” »

The Crank: ‘The Man on the Eiffel Tower’ Program Notes (4/25/13 Screening)

The Crank is a graduate student organization that runs weekly screenings of the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s extensive holdings. The Crank shows films that either are not widely available on video or are such spectacular specimens of nitrate and celluloid that merely to see them on a television set would be a crime both to the student of film and to the canon of film history.


When Jean Renoir viewed a print of The Man on the Eiffel Tower, he said, “These are pictures of Paris you can never photograph again.” Upon its release, Burgess Meredith’s directorial debut was lauded for its equally unique and unprecedented images of postwar 1940s Paris. Whether exploring the city streets, scrambling upon rooftops, or balancing atop the Eiffel Tower, the cat-and-mouse game between Charles Laughton’s Inspector Maigret and Franchot Tone’s devious Johann Radek provides a thrilling story set against a picturesque background.

While Meredith is credited as the sole director of the film, his role as a knife-grinding murder suspect allowed for others to take the helm. A friend of Meredith, Laughton took up direction when he stepped in front of the camera. Likewise, in the few scenes where both Laughton and Meredith appear, it was Franchot Tone who sat in the director’s chair. While the multiple directors brought the risk of creating a hodgepodge of styles, the common vision of the three friends, along with the always collaborative pre-planning created a consistent, fun, and thrilling picture. Continue reading “The Crank: ‘The Man on the Eiffel Tower’ Program Notes (4/25/13 Screening)” »

The Crank: ‘Crime and Punishment’ Program Notes (4/11/13 Screening)

The Crank is a graduate student organization that runs weekly screenings of the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s extensive holdings. The Crank shows films that either are not widely available on video or are such spectacular specimens of nitrate and celluloid that merely to see them on a television set would be a crime both to the student of film and to the canon of film history.


Following the box office disappointment of The Scarlett Empress (1934) and the political controversy of The Devil is a Woman (1935), director Josef von Sternberg parted ways not only with Paramount but also with his frequent collaborator and muse, Marlene Dietrich. According to von Sternberg, he was “liquidated by Lubitsch,” an ironic musing since the latter did little to interfere as production manager on the film except change the title.

Luckily, Ben Schulberg, who had just signed a production deal with Harry Cohn at Columbia, enlisted von Sternberg after his ousting at Paramount, offering him a two-picture deal and a fresh start. Soon von Sternberg’s fortunes became tied with another European émigré signed with the studio, the Hungarian-born actor Peter Lorre. Known primarily for his theater work in Germany with Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, Lorre had left his mark as the murderer in Fritz Lang’s M (1931) and had just starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1935) in London. Eager to establish himself in Hollywood, Lorre presented Cohn with the idea of adapting Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment as a vehicle for him to star in as its conflicted and murderous criminology student, Roderick Raskolnikov. As Hollywood legend has it, Lorre had his secretary type a monosyllabic synopsis to prove to Cohn that translating Dostoyevsky’s novel from page to screen was possible. Allegedly, Cohn, who was enraptured with the idea, only had one question for Lorre: “Tell me—has this book got a publisher?” Continue reading “The Crank: ‘Crime and Punishment’ Program Notes (4/11/13 Screening)” »

The Crank: ‘Let It Be’ Program Notes (4/4/13 Screening)

The Crank is a graduate student organization that runs weekly screenings of the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s extensive holdings. The Crank shows films that either are not widely available on video or are such spectacular specimens of nitrate and celluloid that merely to see them on a television set would be a crime both to the student of film and to the canon of film history.


When Let It Be finally premiered in 1970, subtle interpersonal tensions on display throughout the film had already burst into public knowledge. The Beatles were over. Director Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s film captures a month of one of the band’s final recording sessions at Twickenham Film Studios and Apple Studios in London, and culminates in The Beatles’ final public performance in January 1969. Instead of matching the festive tone of earlier Beatles movies, Lindsay-Hogg’s film presents them in a more sobering light, making their eminent dissolution all the more apparent.

Let It Be has a rough, disorganized quality to it that is matched by its production history. Lindsay-Hogg shot on 16mm film for an intended television special to accompany The Beatles’ new album Get Back. Lindsay-Hogg worked in television and had directed TV promotional performances for The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. When he began filming, The Beatles were planning an internationally televised concert that the “behind the scenes” documentary would accompany. George Harrison, however, threatened the leave the band for a variety of reasons, including the concert. As the footage grew and television plans dissipated, the idea for a 35mm theatrical feature began to form. Continue reading “The Crank: ‘Let It Be’ Program Notes (4/4/13 Screening)” »

The Crank: ‘An Evening of Celebrity-Centered Television, 1960s–1980s’ Program Notes (1/24/13 Screening)

The Crank is a graduate student organization that runs weekly screenings of the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s extensive holdings. The Crank shows films that either are not widely available on video or are such spectacular specimens of nitrate and celluloid that merely to see them on a television set would be a crime both to the student of film and to the canon of film history.


30 Years of Celebrity Television

From its early marketing as a domestic appliance, television has been a medium and device used to bring the outside world into the home. A unique medium combining aspects of radio, theater, and film, television brought live images and performance within the private confines of the home. One of the ways in which television solidified its presence and importance within the American cultural landscape was through its use of established stars in its programming. However, as historian Christine Becker writes, rather than replicating theatrical filmmaking, stars were used in order to “serve the new medium’s unique industrial and cultural needs.”1 As the medium has evolved and expanded, so too have production values and programming trends. One theme that has remained consistent over time is a cultural interest in stardom and celebrity. Although there are numerous examples of radio and film stars working on television, tonight’s program highlights examples of non-fiction celebrity-centered programming from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Through these, we can see how formats for talking to and about celebrities have changed (or not). Ultimately, none of these programs were ever broadcast. However, all three of these pieces articulate the (d)evolution of celebrity culture as well as how celebrity was constructed for in-home consumption. Continue reading “The Crank: ‘An Evening of Celebrity-Centered Television, 1960s–1980s’ Program Notes (1/24/13 Screening)” »