Sunday, June 27, 2010

Disney, Buster, Davis and Crawford - together at last!

I had quite  a variety of retro moviegoing experiences this weekend, veering from two silent Buster Keaton comedies to the Grand Guignol/Grand Dame camp of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane to the fall and rise of the Mouse House.

It all started Friday night at Columbus' classic movie series at the grand Ohio Theatre. First up was a double feature of Keaton's Sherlock Jr. and Seven Chances.

I've always been more of a Chaplin man than a Keaton man, but there is simply no denying Keaton's inventive genius. Sherlock Jr., in which Buster plays a wanna-be detective and movie projectionist who literally stumbles into one of the movies at his theater. It's still absolutely dazzling 86 (!) years later - not to mention hilarious. You can even watch all 45 minutes of it here if you like.

Seven Chances isn't quite as good, since it's a little slower, but it's still extremely entertaining, particularly at the climax when an avalanche of rocks AND an avalanche of would-be brides threaten to overtake him.

Enhancing all of this was live organ accompaniment by the uber-talented Clark Wilson, who would make amusing musical choices (such as "We're in the Money" during the reading of a will) and even sound effects like a car horn. If you can ever go to a silent film with live musical accompaniment, DO IT - there's really nothing quite like it.

Sherlock Jr. A+/Seven Chances A-

After that, I stayed on to see the late show of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, the Joan Crawford vs. Bette Davis bitchfest (or at least the one that made it to the screen). To give you some idea of just how nasty  it is, consider this: Crawford is the NICE one. Davis makes even Faye Dunaway's  caricature of Crawford in Mommie Dearest seem like Minnie Mouse by comparison.

I'd stop well short of calling it a great movie - there are too many "Why doesn't she just ..." moments for that. Still, I can see why it has its reputation as kind of a camp classic, and it is perversely enjoyable to see these two rumble. Now I think I'll put Hush ... Hush Sweet Charlotte (with Davis and Olivia de Havila, also directed by Robert Aldrich) in my Netflix queue.

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane: B+

Finally, I returned to Columbus the next day to see the documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty. This tells the story of Disney animation, from its low point in 1985 when The Black Cauldron was outgrossed by The Care Bears Movie, to the high commercial point of The Lion King in 1994. Being the Disney buff that I am, I only wished this were even longer with even more detail, but it does an excellent and even-handed job of telling this story fraught with wonder and drama. The archival footage, particularly relating to The Little Mermaid, is wonderful. It plays at the Landmark Gateway theater in Columbus through the July 4 weekend.  GRADE: A

Speaking of Disney, yes, I have seen Toy Story 3, but I want to wait to review it until I get another look at it. It takes some surprising turns (I think it plays better if you know going in that it's actually rather dark), but it's pretty much as wonderful as everyone says it is. Coming soon, to a movie blog near you ...

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