Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Robot Riot!

The 8mm Movie Matinee takes place monthly, on the third Sunday of the month, at Bar 82 in NYC.  Tons of digest-length 8mm, Super8, and 16mm films are projected from 4pm to 10pm, mixed with puppet shows, and lots of other live nonsense that must be seen to be believed.  To coincide with the February event, which was subtitled Franken-flop 2, it was determined that 7-foot-tall 1930's-styled robots were in desperate need as the event's advertising 'street team'.  The construction was a joint effort between yours truly the Prince of Wails, and Von Erickson Laboratories, although the bulk of the talent came from the latter rather than the former!  The following images document some of the process of bringing the Pumpkin-bot and Projecto-bot to life!

If the Pumpkin-bot looks familiar, it's because he was fashioned off of a 1933 8mm Movie Matinee regularly projected cartoon, Flip the Frog - Techno Cracked: 

At the end of the 8mm Movie Matinee's Franken-Flop 2, the robots blew off some steam outside the venue:

Monday, March 12, 2012

Fox's Fantastic Forays into the Far Flung Future (part 2)

Between the nine years of The Last Man on Earth's two film adaptations, the image of what the future would look like took shape within the minds of the people of the 20th Century.  After the first few awkward years, technical advances and editing concepts of how best to utilize synchronized sound were finally coming into their own.  The timing was perfect for the retitled remake, IT'S GREAT TO BE ALIVE (1933), as it benefited from being a product of its cinematic environment.

Assisted by art designer, Erich Kettelhut, Fritz Lang's film METROPOLIS (1927), defined the aesthetics of the imagined world future generations would inhabit.  While some of the design concepts may have existed in Russian and German avante garde and expressionist theatre and film, the collective envisioned future was forever changed by Lang's masterpiece.

Also, between the two futuristic female-only Fox Films, William Fox decided to focus some of his attention on the films being produced in Germany.  While Paramount Studios acquired the American distribution rights to METROPOLIS (1927), Fox acquired the distribution rights to BERLIN: THE SYMPHONY OF A GREAT CITY (1927) and imported German star director, FW Murnau to direct SUNRISE: A SONG OF TWO HUMANS (1927).  The  change in Fox's business practice was noticed, as the Murnau film went on to win awards the first year the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences held their first Academy Awards ceremony.  Fox continued productions on a similar scale with the films of Frank Borzage and a series of spectacle films.

Predating the concept of a film soundtrack, early talking pictures required actors to strike up the band and break into song themselves.  Often, this resulted in films that are mainly historical documents of the era's vaudeville acts.  Predating the runaway successful films of Busby Berkeley, Fox Films produced an all talking, all singing, all dancing film, SUNNYSIDE UP (1929).  DeSylva, Brown and Henderson were the group of writers, and they attempted to continue their success by breaking new ground with the first sci-fi musical comedy: JUST IMAGINE (1930).

Taking their lead from METROPOLIS (1927), there were only a few other motion pictures set in the world of tomorrow, including HIGH TREASON (1929) and JUST IMAGINE (1930).  The latter was a Fox production, and the first film on record as being a futuristic musical comedy!  Audiences were presented with the world of 1980, complete with song and dance numbers, high technology, rocket trips to Mars, warring doppelganger Martian races, and the comedic styling of El Brendel.  It was from this formula, successful or otherwise, that the Fox Film studio heads decided to continue by delving into their back catalog of acquired properties, resulting in IT'S GREAT TO BE ALIVE (1933).

Nine years may not appear like a long enough span of time to validate a remake.  But it is important to remember not only had the incorporation of sound technology made silent films archaic to audiences of the day, the length of time a film played in a theatre was generally only a couple of weeks at most, with little to no expectation of a revival run in subsequent years.  Apart from reading the occasional photoplay novelization of the story, there was no way for an audience member to relive their film-going experience.  With these two factors in mind, a reworking of The Last Man on Earth was going to appear fresh and exciting to Depression-era audiences.

The all talking, all singing, all dancing remake appears to follow relatively closely to the silent film's narrative, there were certain elements added and edited out.  One of the most surprising story lines added to the sound remake, is just prior to the discovery of an actual healthy adult male, Dr. Prodwell is experimenting with the creation of a synthetic man to make up for the lack of healthy, natural alternatives!  Judging from production stills, the scene appears entirely inspired by the classic cinematic creation scenes from METROPOLIS (1927), FRANKENSTEIN (1931), and DOCTOR X (1932)!  One wonders what would have happened to this story if the scientist was successful with her plans?  Would the character of Carlos have been in such high demand with alternatives available?  Or would this have created a situation reminiscent of METROPOLIS (1927) where the human character of Maria has to compete against the Robotrix, an automaton made in the likeness of herself?  Would the women of the world have to choose between the made-man, and the real thing?
Lost film's Frankenstein-esque would-be creation scene

The boxing match was another aspect of the original silent film that was edited out and replaced with an epic song and dance competition, the contestants representing their own respective nations - the winner snagging rights for their country to begin the repopulating process first!

There are clear lines between the 1923 short story, the 1924 film, and the 1933 film, but the core of the story appears to have its roots in Mary Shelley novel, The Last Man.   It is doubtful that the Shelley connection was known at the time to the Fox execs -- her novel was not widely rediscovered until the 1960's -- so it is oddly poetic that IT'S GREAT TO BE ALIVE (1933) borrowed elements from Shelley's most well known creation: FRANKENSTEIN (1931).

Apparently, IT'S GREAT TO BE ALIVE (1933), like DRACULA (1931), was shot simultaneously as a Spanish version with the title El Varon Last Sobre La Tierra, directed by James Tinling and starring Rositer Moreno, Mimi Aguglia, Romneldo Tirado and Carmen Rodriguez.  While neither version is known to survive today, some of the musical arrangements remain, as can be found here, and here.

The following comes from an original 1933 New York Times review:

"It's Great to Be Alive (1933)

Farewell to Man.

Published: July 8, 1933
Masculitis, a dread disease fatal only to men, is sweeping over the Seventh Avenue Roxy screen in "It's Great To Be Alive." One man alone is spared to a feminine world. That is the essence of a familiar plot around which Fox has attempted to weave—without much success—a novel musical comedy.
Raul Roulien of Brazil has the rĂ´le of the last man, in itself a serious challenge to the theory of the survival of the fittest. If memory serves, Reginald Denny was once a robust survivor of a similar epidemic and, without doubt, there must have been equally burly "last men" before him. But Senhor Roulien is a tenor and, in this film, an annoyingly popular ladies' man. One cannot help sympathizing with matronly Emma Dunn when she complains:
"Of all the men in the world, he would be the only one left."
Carlos (Senhor Roulien) owes his life to being jilted. To punish the girl, he takes off on a transpacific flight and is forced down on an otherwise uninhabited island in mid-ocean. There he lingers for six years while the rest of the male population succumbs to masculitis. His eventual discovery leads—-as may be surmised—to a mad scramble. First female racketeers place him on an auction block; then he becomes federal property and finally is the subject of a world congress, presided over by that great scientist, Edna May Oliver.
Some of the episodes are highly amusing, generally because of Miss Oliver's presence. Among them are a "stop-masculitis" symposium attended by screen duplicates of Professors Einstein and Piccard; the attempted creation of a synthetic man; the Czechoslovak scene in the world congress, and the newspaper headlines and radio announcements concerning the last man.
The comic interludes are, alas, too rare to justify the length of the picture. With judicious cutting it might have been an admirable tworeeler. Senhor Roulien sings pleasantly, but his eye-rolling and shoulder-shrugging become annoying. Dorothy Burgess is amusing as the racketeer.

IT'S GREAT TO BE ALIVE, based on a story by John D. Swain; music and lyrics by William Kernell; directed by Alfred Werker; a Fox production. At the Seventh Avenue Roxy and Brooklyn Fox Theatres.
Carlos Martin . . . . . Raul Roulien
Dorothy Wilton . . . . . Gloria Stuart
Dr. Prodwell . . . . . Edna May Oliver
Brooks . . . . . Herbert Mundin
Toots . . . . . Joan Marsh
Al Moran . . . . . Dorothy Burgess
Mrs. Wilton . . . . . Emma Dunn
Dr. Wilton . . . . . Edward Van Sloan
Perkins . . . . . Robert Greig"

Original NY Times page

Fox Films extrapolated what the future would hold over and over again, but seemingly never foresaw William Fox being ousted from his own company and his namesake company merging with Daryl Zanuck's 20th Century Films in 1935.

Possibly one of the last vestiges of William Fox's legacy was when 20th Century Fox reused the name they continued to own, adapting Richard Matheson's classic horror novel I Am Legend.  Titling the project after the forgotten futuristic musical comedy, THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964), proved even posthumously, William Fox's business model was correct.