Sights and Sounds

Those Magnificent Men and their Flying Machines

In 1965, there were two racing comedies released both of them set during the first 10 years of 1900’s.  The more popular of two was “The Great Race,” which was about an around the world automobile race; the second was Those Magnificent Men and their Flying Machines, about an air race between London and Paris in very early  and flimsy aircraft.  While I will admit there is something special about The Great Race and it certainly had more stars who were known in the United States, Those Magnificent Men and their flying Machines had something the other did not … History.

What do I mean by history?  First of all, there is the light-hearted review of man’s attempts to fly featuring the comic skills of Red Skelton mixed with historic footage of some of the more outrageous of man’s attempts and failures to fly before the opening credits.  You are not likely to see more historical film footage of man’s failed attempts to fly in another movie.  But of even greater interest to someone like me is that every plane used in the film was a recreation of a historic airplane from the birth of aviation.  In a few cases, they added some safety devices or a small change was made to better protect the pilots, but the planes did fly, or, at least, those that were supposed to fly did, and they were actually flown for the movie’s footage.

The Blob (1958)

If the stories I’ve heard are true there is a five-gallon bucket somewhere in the United States that contains a batch of red silicone still moist from the 1958 production of The Blob.   Supposedly it is brought out and displayed at the annual Blobfest in Phoenixville PA where many of the scenes for the movie were shot.   The Blob is one of many science fiction movies of the 1950’s that told of some unknown horror coming from outer space that endangers the world.  A lot of these were extremely low budget and featured extremely bad special effects even taking into account the time they were produced. 

American President

Not too long ago I was reminded of one of my favorite romantic movies, The American President.  The film stars Michael Douglas as President Andrew Shepherd and Annette Bening as Sydney Ellen Wade, a lobbyist for an ecological group.  President Shepherd is something unusual in the U.S. Presidency, though not in movies, a single father.  Shepherd is nearing the end of his first term, up for re-election and wondering if the real reason he was elected was due to a sympathy vote after his wife died of cancer during his campaign.  Now, after a little over three years of widowhood, he spots Sydney at a meeting taking place at the White House and decides he would like to ask her out.  The problem, obviously, is that he is the President of the United States.  His life is a fish bowl and there is a dignity that goes with the office that makes it difficult to have close friends.  His oldest and best friend now refuses to call him anything other than “Mr. President” even during their private games of pool.  So just how does a President ask a woman out on a date?  What happens when that date is successful and they find themselves strongly attracted to each other?

Hairspray (1988)

You may have seen the musical.  You have most likely seen the movie starring John Travolta, Queen Latifah, and Nikki Blonsky, but have you see the movie that started it all?  The original 1988 comedy Hairspray, directed and written by John Waters, featured Ricki Lake as Tracy Turnblad and Divine as Edna Turnblad.  This movie has a grittier, earthier feel than either the musical or the 2007 movie.   This is not too surprising as Hairspray was the first film by John Waters to receive less than an “R” rating.  Prior to this film John Waters had been justly known in Hollywood as “The King of Bad Taste.” Hairspray was the first John Water’s films to even attempt to appeal to the general public. 

Repo Man (1984)

It is likely that if I mentioned the name of Mike Nesmith most of us would think of the 1960’s band The Monkees.  Some of us might think to recall him for his work with the First National Band, or some of his solo musical works.  You might even remember him as one of the pioneers of the modern music video.  It might come as a surprise to you that he was the executive producer of a film that the magazine Entertainment Weekly named #7 on its list of the “Top 50 Cult Films of All-Time.”  The film is Repo Man starring Emilio Estevez as Otto, a street punk having a bad day, who is tricked by Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) into becoming a repo man and brings him into the strange and dangerous world surrounding the repossession of automobiles.

Somewhere In Time

Love knows no reason, no boundaries, no distance. It has a sole intention of bringing people together to a time called forever.
-- Unknown


Perhaps the quote above was in the mind of Richard Matheson, the author of the book “Somewhere in Time” or in the thoughts of the writers of the screenplay for the film; perhaps not.  It could easily be applied to this story of Playwright Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve) and Actress Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour) and the love that lasted both their lives.   The difficult question posed by the story is understanding just when their love began?  Did it begin at the moment Richard first saw her, after the 1972 opening performance of his play when she presses a watch into his hands; or when Elise first meets him at the elegant hotel where he eventually returns the watch to her sixty years earlier? Theirs is truly a love that transcends time itself.


I would like to play a game of pretend.  Let’s pretend that you are one of the most in-demand actors of your time and your contract with the studio says you have to perform in any film they choose.  The studio you are working for takes an unknown, unproduced and previously refused play and begins adapting the play for the screen.  They are in such a rush to start production and don’t wait for the first draft of the screenplay to be finished before they begin filming. At one point the director calls you on the set and tells you to just stand still and give a short nod of your head towards the camera.  You don’t know why you are nodding or where the nod will occur in the movie, you are just told to nod.   Every day the script changes.  Not just the little daily changes common to movies, but massive story changes take place. No one at the start of filming, not even the director, knows exactly how the movie is going to end. The film is half-way through production before the ending is finally settled upon.  Can you imagine how unhappy you would be and how horrible you believe the final product would turn out?  This is what happened to actors Humphry Bogart and Actress Ingrid Bergman when they starred in a film that when finished won the Best Picture, Best Screen Play, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor Academy Awards.  Since its production in 1942, it has continued to win honors and awards.  The play was called “Everyone Comes to Ricks”, the movie, Casablanca.


I remember the first time I became aware of the movie Brazil.  I was reading through “Variety” magazine in an effort to keep up with the films of the day when I suddenly came across a strange full-page advertisement.  It didn’t say much.  It was a full page sheet bordered in black with the question, “Dear Sid Sheinberg, when are you going to release my film Brazil?  Terry Gilliam.”  At the time, I had not heard of the film Brazil and did not know the controversy surrounding its release in the United States.

Little Big Man

First Line: “I am, beyond a doubt, the last of the old-timers. My name is Jack Crabb. And I am the sole white survivor of the Battle of Little Big Horn, uh, uh, popularly known as Custer's Last Stand.”


Even though Little Big Man is a comedy it was one of the first movie westerns to portray Native American’s in a positive light and our treatment of them as the horror it often was.


Civil War Colonel Robert Gould Shaw of the Union Army is not a man most of us would think of as having an important role in the history of African Americans in the United States, but he did.  Col. Shaw was chosen to lead the Massachusetts 54th Regiment of the Union Army.  With the exception of himself and his second in command this regiment was made up entirely of African Americans and was one of the first to actually be allowed to carry arms into battle.  


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