Film Forum

by Phillip Lopate
(from July 11 Film Forum Newsletter)


I was born in 1943 and grew up in a tenement on Broadway, a street in Brooklyn under the elevated train, and there were two theaters close by along that main thoroughfare: The Commodore and the Marcy. The Marcy was the more desperate and gave away dishes and candy to promote admissions. I could not swear in a courtroom about the first movie I ever saw, but the first I remember being taken to by my parents was THE THREE MUSKETEERS, with Gene Kelly and Lana Turner, made in 1948. It was shown at The Commodore. There was much sword-fighting up and down stairs (did they never fight on level ground?), and plenty of bad women and good women. I think the blonde was bad, for a change. My early memories of movie-going were dominated by Technicolor period pictures, with titian-haired temptresses of the Rhonda Fleming ilk, and much swordplay. THE CRIMSON PIRATE with Burt Lancaster was another swashbuckler I recall from that period. I did not mind the fighting or the sexy women, but took extreme umbrage when the hero and heroine kissed, usually at the end. A puritan, I thought male-female kissing was mushy and disgraceful, and hooted at the screen. I much preferred the denouement of SAMSON AND DELILAH, when the hero tore down the columns and perished under the rubble, rather than have to kiss anyone again. Biblical spectacles, Arthurian romances (such as IVANHOE), pirates and musketeers flashing cold steel gave me a glimpse of what to expect when I was to assume adulthood.

Phillip Lopate is the author of a dozen books, including film criticism (Totally Tenderly Tragically), nonfiction (Waterfront, Notes on Sontag), essay collections (Bachelorhood, Against Joie de Vivre, Portrait of My Body), fiction (The Rug Merchant, Two Marriages), and poetry (At the End of the Day). He directs the nonfiction MFA program at Columbia University.


by Leonard Lopate
(from July 3 Film Forum Newsletter)

KING OF THE BULLWHIP Film PosterThe first movie I ever attended was Disney's SNOW WHITE. I don't remember it, but my mother told me that when the witch came on, I was so freaked out, I cried until she had to leave the theater with me. For many years, my movie diet tended toward the things the local theaters in Williamsburg, Brooklyn showed on Saturday afternoons – like Lash LaRue westerns and Errol Flynn swashbucklers. Lash LaRue? He was a very popular star of low-budget westerns. He dressed all in black and his horse was named Black Diamond. There was even a comic book based on his movie persona. He used his bullwhip to disarm the bad guys... and he was quicker than even the fastest quick draw gunmen. Years later, he taught Harrison Ford how to use a bullwhip in the Indiana Jones movies.

Then my tastes became very respectable European... which meant many trips to the Thalia. But everything changed when I was a 20-year-old art student in London and I joined the National Film Theatre. The film they were showing that afternoon was RIO BRAVO (with ugh, John Wayne) and I, being a film snob, was inclined not to bother going in. But I did and of course I loved it and that opened the world of not just Hawks, but all the great Hollywood auteurs to me.

Leonard Lopate is the host of the Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC 93.9FM, AM820, weekdays, noon to 2 p.m.


by Janet Sternburg
(from June 27 Film Forum Newsletter)

Moira Shearer in THE RED SHOES

In the nineties I went alone to an afternoon showing of THE RED SHOES at movie theater on New York's Upper West Side. This wasn't the film in its newly restored glory but simply a revival, a rare chance to see what had been for me the first beloved film. I went in the spirit of pilgrimage, not realizing that the theater was filled with others like myself, women who had fallen in love with the film at a very early age (in my case, when I was seven).

That afternoon, I watched and wept. Afterwards I went to the ladies room to check out my reddened eyes. A gaggle of girls, give or take, from ages ten to thirteen were standing around talking about what they'd just seen. To a person, each had been brought to the movie by her mother who had promised her the experience of a lifetime. The mothers were apparently still back in their seats, overcome. The girls were saying, "I don't get it. What's so special about this? Why is my mother crying?"

Why indeed? How to explain to a generation that would never know the arm-wrenching pulls in opposing directions, the splitting-in-two choices of another time, who could not understand the romantic yearning for a life beyond our own mundane existences, the knowledge that however much our souls might ache, our fate was to take up those mundane lives or give up what was supposed to be IT: the love for another that we knew, somehow, could never co-exist with following one's own (and therefore selfish) dreams?

In my mother's kitchen my little friends and I would take turns playing what was for us the most dramatic and therefore desirable role: we would imagine ourselves standing on a parapet and then we'd cast ourselves down onto the linoleum floor, under the wheels of an oncoming train. It was romance; it was melodrama; it was beauty — all that appealed to us, and perhaps also carried a foreknowledge of the train wreck that our desires were supposed to bring.

THE RED SHOES was also Europe, a glamorous place that my generation of middle-class children hadn't yet seen, but was quite possibly already familiar to those young girls in the Ladies Room. There's a shot I remember from that first seven-year-old viewing: Moira Shearer — who I thought was the most gorgeous creature in the world and who wore a "snood," a wonderful new word! — going up the stone staircase to a lavish villa where Lermontov, the impresario, will decide her fate and perhaps offer her the world. As she walked slowly up those steps, did she experience the release of a scent that for me always accompanied the movie — a perfume I know recognize as akin to Mediterranean jasmine — surrounding her as she ascended, torn between glory and trepidation?

Was this image actually in the film? I haven't seen THE RED SHOES in many years, but I did use Google Images. I didn't find this one but I have little doubt that it existed in some way, although not literally as I describe it. All of us were ascending then, we girls toward another who held the key to what our lives should be and wielded punishment for going too far. Why should any young girl today understand this? Now we ascend toward ourselves, as it should be. In the shadow that the film casts back to childhood, to little girls waiting their turn to play at throwing themselves under a train, the film was too powerful, too influential. In its visual ravishment, it belongs to a time that is always present: the awakening of one's senses and one's dreams, and for that I treasure it still.

Janet Sternburg is a writer whose work includes the books The Writer On Her Work and Phantom Limb, A Memoir; as well as the play, The Fifth String. She is also an internationally exhibited photographer, an erstwhile filmmaker, and a forever lover of great filmmaking.