HIstoric Black Films Available on Netflix

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Twenty of the films in the Kino Lorber Pioneers of African-American Cinema collection are now available on Netflix. They include Paul Robeson’s debut in “Body and Soul,” a black and white silent film where he plays the dual roles of a preacher and his evil brother and “The Bronze Buckaroo,” with Herb Jeffries as a singing cowboy, as well as “Hot Biskits” (a man cheats at golf using magnets), “Birthright” (a Harvard-educated man goes home to start a school), and “Verdict not Guilty” (“Truth” serves as judge over a woman’s life).

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Bonnie and Clyde, Roger Ebert, and Pauline Kael

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Arthur Penn’s “Bonnie and Clyde” turns 50 this week. Rogerebert.com critics pay tribute, fitting as the film was one of Roger Ebert’s favorites and his review of the film helped to make his reputation as a critic of seriousness, insight, and influence. He wisely and accurately wrote at the time that the film was “a milestone in the history of American movies, a work of truth and brilliance” and predicted “years from now it is quite possible that ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ will be seen as the definitive film of the 1960s.” Later, with some perspective, he included it as one of his “Great Films” and wrote, “It was a film in which all of the unlikely pieces were assembled at the right time. And more than anything else, it was a masterpiece of tone, in which the actors and filmmakers were all in sync as they moved the material back and forth between comedy and tragedy.”

Copyright Warner Brothers 1967

At Flavorwire, Jason Bailey writes about Pauline Kael’s review, which he says was “as revolutionary to the craft of film criticism as Bonnie and Clyde was to the craft of film.”

“Bonnie and Clyde is the most excitingly American American movie since The Manchurian Candidate,” she wrote. “The audience is alive to it. Our experience as we watch it has some connection with the way we reacted to movies in childhood: with how we came to love them and to feel they were ours—not an art that we learned over the years to appreciate but simply and immediately ours.” And with that, she’s off and running, not only drawing us in with the breathless urgency of her praise, but vibing on what would become one of her signature preoccupations: the wild notion that this commoner’s entertainment could also be considered art, even when functioning outside the rigid confines of the “art film.”

She tackles this idea sideways, in considering and refuting the key argument of the film’s detractors (chief among them, Crowther at the Times): its violence. “To ask why people react so angrily to the best movies and have so little negative reaction to poor ones is to imply that they are so unused to the experience of art in movies that they fight it,” she surmises, and expands upon that notion thus:

Though we may dismiss the attacks with “What good movie doesn’t give some offense?,” the fact that it is generally only good movies that provoke attacks by many people suggests that the innocuousness of most of our movies is accepted with such complacence that when an American movie reaches people, when it makes them react, some of them think there must be something the matter with it—perhaps a law should be passed against it.

These were fairly radical notions at the time (for an American critic, anyway), that a popular art form like film should not only be provocative, but was better for it – and at the very least, it was a radical idea for the tony pages of the New Yorker. But the film’s volatile relationship with its audience, how it turns our expectations and reactions (to violence, to sexuality, and especially to humor) back on its viewers, make for both the essay’s most compelling ideas, and its most astonishing writing.

Also of interest: Variety’s Steven Gaydos debunks the myth that Kael’s review saved the film from studio neglect.

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Prop Store: Auctioning Props and Costumes from “Robocop,” “Batman,” “Back to the Future,” Pulp Fiction,” and “Star Wars”

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I had a blast at Comic-Con talking to Stephen Lane about The Prop Store‘s upcoming auction of movie props and costumes.  SDCC attendees loved seeing some of the items coming up for auction, including Samuel L. Jackson’s wallet from “Pulp Fiction” and Matt Damon’s spacesuit from “The Martian.”

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The Best Fictional Bookstores

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Electric Literature has a delightful piece about the best bookstores in movies and books. People who write books love bookstores, and the ones they imagine are very enticing. “You’ve Got Mail” is all about bookstores, and this one is perfect — and just about to disappear. I’m sorry to say that I am pretty sure the big bookstore driving her out of business has probably since been itself eclipsed by Amazon.

Humphrey Bogart visited a bookstore that didn’t have what he was looking for in “The Big Sleep.”

Audrey Hepburn got her first kiss from Fred Astaire in a bookstore in “Funny Face.”

Certainly the movies’ most unusual bookstore scene was this one filmed backwards in “Top Secret!”

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This month on TCM: Ronald Colman

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There has never been an actor more elegant than Ronald Colman, one of my all-time favorites. I’m delighted that some of his best films will be featured on Turner Classic Movies every Thursday this month. Be on the lookout for “Lost Horizon,” “Prisoner of Zenda,” and “Random Harvest.”

The director of “Lost Horizon,” Frank Capra, described him as “Beautiful of face and soul, sensitive to the fragile and gentle, responsive both to poetic visions and hard intellect.” He always had a touch of melancholy that made him seem aware of life’s imponderables.

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