Remembering Terry Jones

Today we honor Terry Jones, immortal member of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, a tv program which truly needs no introduction. Jones was a founding Python, establishing the troupe along with Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, and Michael Palin. When Monty Python’s Flying Circus premiered in the UK in 1969, the troupe presented … Continue reading “Remembering Terry Jones”

Today we honor Terry Jones, immortal member of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, a tv program which truly needs no introduction. Jones was a founding Python, establishing the troupe along with Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, and Michael Palin. When Monty Python’s Flying Circus premiered in the UK in 1969, the troupe presented a zany, silly, and irreverent sketch comedy show that was both smart… and absolutely ridiculous. There had never been anything like it before, and the show was a hit in the UK and abroad.

Jones is credited as the man responsible for Flying Circus’ surrealist comedy and pacing. Instead of punch lines ending a sketch, Jones often appeared as a naked organist, or he had Graham Chapman barge in dressed in military regalia and declare a sketch “too silly.” Jones also wrote the famous ‘Spam’ sketch.

Even though Flying Circus only aired until 1974, Jones and the rest of the troupe reunited to film several movies. Jones co-directed or directed most of the Python movies, including Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Meaning of Life and The Life of Brian. After honing his directing skills on these films, he went on to direct other movies, including Erik the Viking and several documentary series. Some of these documentaries were based on his own scholarly works, as Jones also found time to publish monographs on Chaucer. He also wrote over a dozen children’s books.

It’s hard to capture the amazing life of this man in a simple blog post. I grew up watching (selected) Flying Circus sketches, and I can’t count the number of times Jones has made me laugh as Sir Bedivere or Mandy Cohen. He’d also probably hate this obituary, so I’ll just leave you with this:

D.A. Pennebaker, 1925-2019

D.A. Pennebaker, pioneer of American cinema verite and chronicler of 1960s counterculture, died this past weekend at the age of 94. Documentary filmmaking was not Pennebaker’s first career, but his formative experiences and skills uniquely prepared him to spearhead a new type of documentary filmmaking. As a young man, he studied engineering at Yale University, … Continue reading “D.A. Pennebaker, 1925-2019”

D.A. Pennebaker, pioneer of American cinema verite and chronicler of 1960s counterculture, died this past weekend at the age of 94.

Photo by David Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons

Documentary filmmaking was not Pennebaker’s first career, but his formative experiences and skills uniquely prepared him to spearhead a new type of documentary filmmaking. As a young man, he studied engineering at Yale University, and then went on to found Electronics Engineering, where he helped create the first computerized airline reservation system. It was only after selling the company that he turned to filmmaking, and he directed his first film, Daybreak Express, in 1953. Afterwards, he joined a filmmaking co-op and directed documentary shorts for a wide variety of clients, most notably news magazine programs. During this time, he and collaborator Robert Leacock invented one of the first portable synchronous sound cameras. With this new technology, Pennebaker was able to get up close and personal with the subjects of his documentaries.

Though he made a name for himself with short documentaries, what put Pennebaker on the map was his groundbreaking 1967 film Don’t Look Back. This film followed Bob Dylan on his 1965 British tour, and captured the musician as he transitioned from his acoustic folk routes to electric rock and roll.  It’s considered by many to be the first rock documentary, and the opening sequence the first modern music video.

Pennebaker further cemented his status as counterculture documentarian with Monterey Pop, which chronicled the 1967 Monterey Pop festival. In this film, Pennebaker captured iconic performances from Janis Joplin, Jimmi Hendrix, and the Who.

Pennebaker’s fascination with music didn’t end with the 1960s. Throughout the latter part of the 20th century, Pennebaker created documentaries around or about David Bowie, John Lennon, the Broadway musical Company, and my favorite synth-pop band Depeche Mode.

He received just one Oscar nomination in 1994 for The War Room, a fly-on-the-wall documentary about Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. Though he didn’t win, Pennebaker became the first documentarian to receive an honorary Oscar. You can check out all of these D.A. Pennebaker titles from the Media Collection

  • Don’t Look Back (DVD 2281)
  • Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (DVD 150)
  • Primary (DVD 13485)
  • The War Room (DVD 1013)
  • Dance Black America (DVD 6024)
  • Timothy Leary’s Wedding: You’re Nobody til Somebody Loves You (Streaming)
  • Town Bloody Hall (Streaming)
  • Monterey Pop (Streaming)

Remembering Franco Zeffirelli

Franco Zeffirelli, the famed director behind many a Shakespeare adaptation, died in Rome this weekend at the age of 96. His earliest days seemed to predestine him for the drama he would become celebrated for. Born out of wedlock in Florence, Italy, his mother made up his surname based on a mistranslation of a Mozart … Continue reading “Remembering Franco Zeffirelli”

Franco Zeffirelli, the famed director behind many a Shakespeare adaptation, died in Rome this weekend at the age of 96.

His earliest days seemed to predestine him for the drama he would become celebrated for. Born out of wedlock in Florence, Italy, his mother made up his surname based on a mistranslation of a Mozart aria. During WWII, he fought with Italian partisans against Mussolini’s fascist regime before becoming an interpreter for the British army. After the war, he studied at the University of Florence, where he got his first taste of the wonder of stage and opera.

By Alexey Yushenkov – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=65018562

He began his opera career in the 1950s, first working as a production assistant, then set designer, and later directing productions in Italy and the United States.  He gradually transitioned into theatre, and he directed Shakespeare productions in London throughout the 1960s. He became known for his lavish sets and lush costuming, and he carried these hallmarks with him when he began directing films. His first film, The Taming of the Shrew (1967), starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The film was a moderately successful, but his big break came the next year with Romeo and Juliet. This sumptuous film is still considered one of the best adaptations of Shakespeare’s tragedy, and thousands of American students watch it every year in classrooms.

After these two early successes, Zeffirelli took a break from Shakespeare and focused on making more religious films, such as Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972), and Jesus of Nazareth (1977), which earned mixed reviews from critics and audiences. After a decade adapting operas for the big screen, he experienced a sort of career renaissance after the release of Hamlet (1990), starring Mel Gibson, and Jane Eyre (1996).

As with many men in Hollywood, Zeffirelli was not without controversy. He was a demanding, difficult director—some would say abusive, and allegations of sexual harassment followed him from Romeo and Juliet onwards. Bruce Robinson, who played Benvolio in that film, later became a screenwriter and based the character of Uncle Monty from Withnail & I, on the Italian director.

Zeffirelli will be remembered in Hollywood as beyond as a director who retold our best known stories in sumptuous, lush fantasy worlds. You can find the following of his works in our collection:

  • Romeo and Juliet (DVD 5806)
  • La Boheme (DVD 7103)
  • The Taming of the Shrew (DVD 9159)
  • Hamlet (DVD 5914)
  • La Traviata (DVD 2327)

In addition to these DVDs, you can view many of his stage productions through The Metropolitan Opera streaming service, available with your AU credentials.

Remembering Doris Day

Doris Day, the acclaimed and beloved actress died this past Monday, May 13th. For many people, Day is the face of post-war American cinema, and is known not only for her films, but her crooning voice. Day was born in Ohio in 1922, and was a near-professional dancer before a car accident shattered her leg. … Continue reading “Remembering Doris Day”

Doris Day, the acclaimed and beloved actress died this past Monday, May 13th. For many people, Day is the face of post-war American cinema, and is known not only for her films, but her crooning voice.

Day was born in Ohio in 1922, and was a near-professional dancer before a car accident shattered her leg. Forced to give up dance, she took singing lesson while she recovered, and soon began singing in local clubs. She moved to singing with touring big bands just after WWII, and launched her film career in 1948 with Romance on the High Seas at Warner Brothers. She starred in minor musicals at the studio before landing the lead role in Calamity Jane in 1953.

By the time the 1960s rolled around, she’d stared in films like Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, and began starring in romantic dramas with Rock Hudson, such as Pillow Talk. Her films were some of the decade’s most successful, and she regularly topped the box office in the early 60s.

Despite her commercial success and popular appeal, Day garnered an interesting reputation. She was consistently characterized as a sunny, all-American virginal angel, despite the fact that the characters she played were often anything but. Contemporary feminists panned her, but more recent feminist critics have re-examined her movies. Almost all the characters she played in romantic dramas were career women, and they were often more concerned about their professional success than romantic pursuits.

These themes carried over into her situation sitcom, The Doris Day Show, which aired from 1968 to 1973. Though she began the series playing a widow who somewhat reluctantly returns to work as a secretary at a magazine, by the time the final season aired, her children had been written out, and her widow was a seasoned reporter. The show chronicled the life of an American working woman and would influence an entire genre of sitcoms and situation comedies.

You can check out these Doris Day films from Media Services:

  • Calamity Jane (DVD 338)
  • The Man Who Knew Too Much (DVD 3529)
  • Young Man With a Horn (DVD 337)
  • Love Me or Leave Me (DVD 6664)
  • The Doris Day and Rock Hudson Comedy Collection (DVD 4071)
  • Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (DVD 10649)
  • The Pajama Game (DVD 10603)

Remembering Agnès Varda

On March 29th, the world lost Agnès Varda, one of the most quietly influential filmmakers of the 20th (and 21st) century. Varda, who released her first film in 1954, is considered by many to be the ‘godmother’ of French new Wave cinema, if not the first New Wave filmmaker. Her first film, La Pointe-Courte, predated … Continue reading “Remembering Agnès Varda”

On March 29th, the world lost Agnès Varda, one of the most quietly influential filmmakers of the 20th (and 21st) century. Varda, who released her first film in 1954, is considered by many to be the ‘godmother’ of French new Wave cinema, if not the first New Wave filmmaker. Her first film, La Pointe-Courte, predated the first films of Goddard and his ilk by several years.

Festival Internacional de Cine en Guadalajara [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

Perhaps the reason some don’t include her in this movement was that she seemed to unconsciously separate herself from it. Varga moved to films from photography, and knew little about the broader (and quite misogynistic) film industry when she released La Pointe Courte, and even when she released her second film, Cleo 5 to 7, in 1961.

Throughout her career, Agnès Varda did what she wanted to do. Fiercely independent, her signature blend of documentary and story-telling examined her subjects with empathy and curiosity, inviting her audiences to examine her characters and her stories. Her techniques, too, were trailblazing. In Vagabond Varda ‘interviewed’ characters her main character encounters, similar to documentary features. This technique today is familiar to anyone who enjoys shows like The Office or Parks and Recreation.

In her later years, Varda moved from her fiction-documentaries to pure documentaries, such as The Gleaners and I and Faces Places, which earned her an academy award nomination. Still, these personal, empathetic films eschewed the hallmarks of a traditional documentary. With these, as with her earlier works, Varda created something that was all her own.

You can find most of Varda’s filmography here in Media Services, including:

  • la Pointe-Courte (DVD 4153)
  • Cléo de 5 a 7 (DVD 4151)
  • Vagabond (DVD 4152)
  • Faces Places (DVD 15052)
  • The Beaches of Agnes (DVD 6936)
  • Daguerréotypes (DVD 9187)
  • One Sings, the Other Doesn’t (DVD 7521)
  • Kung Fu Master! (DVD 15081)

Bernardo Bertolucci and Stephen Hillenburg

This week saw the death of two artists, giants in their respective fields. On Monday, Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci died at age 77. Bertolucci rose to fame with the 1973 release of Last Tango in Paris, a controversial film that was earned an X rating after extensive cuts. One of these scenes depicted a middle … Continue reading “Bernardo Bertolucci and Stephen Hillenburg”

By Associazione Culturale Cinemazero from Pordenone, Italia – Bernardo Bertolucci 030, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24288846

This week saw the death of two artists, giants in their respective fields. On Monday, Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci died at age 77. Bertolucci rose to fame with the 1973 release of Last Tango in Paris, a controversial film that was earned an X rating after extensive cuts. One of these scenes depicted a middle aged man (Marlon Brando) raping his young lover (Maria Schneider), using only butter as a lubricant. Neither Bertolucci nor Brando informed Schneider that this was to take place, as Bertolucci wanted her reaction “not as an actress, but as a girl.” After filming wrapped, Schneider refused to speak to Bertolucci, as she “felt humiliated and… a little raped,” by both the director and Brando.[1]

Bertolucci eventually won the Academy Award for Best Director for 1987’s The Last Emperor, the first Western film made with the cooperation of China’s communist government.

On the opposite end of the entertainment spectrum, we mourn the passing of Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of SpongeBob SquarePants. SpongeBob is the longest running tv show in American History, and has brought joy to generations of children around the world. For those unfamiliar with this ubiquitous sea

By Carlos Cazurro Burgos (http://www.cazurro.com/) – https://www.flickr.com/photos/toonaville/6512337683/, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30282060

creature, SpongeBob is an enthusiastic, cheerful fry cook who lives in a pineapple under the sea. The show follows SpongeBob and his friends’ adventures and mishaps.

You can find Bertolucci films like The Last Emperor (DVD 4098) and Last Tango in Paris (DVD 4560) in our collection. We also have the first three seasons of SpongeBob SquarePants (DVD 14168, 14169, and 14170).  You should definitely check out the second season, which features my favorite episode—“Band Geeks.”

 

 

 

 

[1] https://www.npr.org/2018/11/26/670768954/bernardo-bertolucci-last-tango-in-paris-director-dies-at-77

A Tribute to Stan Lee

American pop culture lost one of its patriarchs today. Stan Lee, born in 1922, revolutionized the comic book industry, helping it to evolve from a niche industry into cultural force.  Lee built an incredible, interconnected world at Marvel Comics, and I don’t know where I’d be personally if I hadn’t had Uncanny X-Men to get me … Continue reading “A Tribute to Stan Lee”

American pop culture lost one of its patriarchs today. Stan Lee, born in 1922, revolutionized the comic book industry, helping it to evolve from a niche industry into cultural force.  Lee built an incredible, interconnected world at Marvel Comics, and I don’t know where I’d be personally if I hadn’t had Uncanny X-Men to get me through some rough patches. He was an impressive businessman, creator, and human, and he will be sorely missed.

There will be plenty of great eulogies and tributes in the days to come, but we here at Media Services know Stan Lee for his cameos in most of the Marvel movies. His brief performances always added a spot of levity to the most serious films, and he was always a delight to watch.

You can see Stan Lee in any of these films in Media Services:

Iron Man: DVD 2763

Iron Man 2: DVD 2764

Iron Man 3: DVD 11830

The Incredible Hulk: DVD 11915

Thor: DVD 10965

Thor: the Dark World: DVD 12292

Captain America: The First Avenger: DVD 10147

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: DVD 11478

Captain America: Civil War DVD 13578

Marvel’s The Avengers BLU 10501

Avengers: Age of Ultron: DVD 12895

Guardians of the Galaxy: DVD 11681

Deadpoool: DVD 13132

Ant Man: DVD 12892

Spider-Man: DVD 7121

Spider-Man 2: DVD 7122

Black Panther DVD 16090

Spider-Man 3: DVD 7123

The Amazing Spider-Man: DVD 6493

X-Men: DVD 1441

X-Men the Last Stand: DVD 1443

RIP Andrezj Wajda, a voice for Poland in film

Yesterday, Polish director Andrezj Wajda died at age 90. He was among the most distinguished Polish filmmakers of his generation or in general: his accolades include a Palme d’Or for his labor rights film Man of Iron and a 1999 honorary Oscar for his lifetime body of work. As with Man of Iron, many of … Continue reading “RIP Andrezj Wajda, a voice for Poland in film”

Yesterday, Polish director Andrezj Wajda died at age 90. He was among the most distinguished Polish filmmakers of his generation or in general: his accolades include a Palme d’Or for his labor rights film Man of Iron and a 1999 honorary Oscar for his lifetime body of work.

As with Man of Iron, many of Wajda’s works were influenced by his lifetime in Poland during its occupation in World War II and rule over the Soviet Union. Many of his films were challenged or banned by Soviet authorities; he was not able to produce Katyń, a film about a 1940 massacre of the Polish, until after Poland’s independence.

If you want to watch some of Wajda’s impactful, distinctly Polish cinematic vision, we have a number of his films available in the library, including two through streaming.

Ashes and Diamonds – HU DVD 2583 
Danton – HU DVD 5758
Everything for Sale – HU DVD 2626 
A Generation – HU DVD 2581
Kanal – HU DVD 2582 and Streaming
Katyn – HU DVD 6135
Korczak – HU DVD 10546
Man of Iron – HU DVD 3145
Man of Marble – DVD 2014
Penderecki: Paths Through The Labyrinth – Streaming
Promised Land – HU DVD 2655

Gene Wilder and his triumphant Mel Brooks comedies

As with everyone else, we’re saddened by the news of the death of Gene Wilder. He was Willy Wonka, of course, but he was also one of the greatest comedic actors of the 20th century. His collaborations with Mel Brooks and Richard Pryor are all-time classics, and hearing that someone with such a sharp mind … Continue reading “Gene Wilder and his triumphant Mel Brooks comedies”

As with everyone else, we’re saddened by the news of the death of Gene Wilder. He was Willy Wonka, of course, but he was also one of the greatest comedic actors of the 20th century. His collaborations with Mel Brooks and Richard Pryor are all-time classics, and hearing that someone with such a sharp mind died from complications from Alzheimer’s is heartbreaking.

If you only know Gene Wilder as Roald Dahl’s famous chocolatier, this is an opportunity to discover the comedic intensity and chemistry that made him a favorite. We have all of the movies he made though Mel Brooks (though sadly none of his roles alongside Richard Pryor). Wilder has other assorted performances through his career, including stage roles and a bit part in Bonnie and Clyde, and we’ve included them on this list as well.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, but Were Afraid to Ask – HU DVD 123
Blazing Saddles – HU DVD 673
Young Frankenstein – HU DVD 865
The Producers – HU DVD 5169
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – HU DVD 10240 
Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros – HU DVD 10815
Bonnie and Clyde – HU DVD 11487
Death of a Salesman – Streaming video
Scarecrow – Streaming video

The end of the VHS, and what it means for the library

Well, we’ve been dreading this moment for years now: the VHS is officially obsolete. Funai, the last company that still manufactures VHS players, will end their production at the end of the month. This comes less than a year after Betamax tapes were also discontinued. As of August 1st, the VHS will be a format … Continue reading “The end of the VHS, and what it means for the library”

Well, we’ve been dreading this moment for years now: the VHS is officially obsolete.

Funai, the last company that still manufactures VHS players, will end their production at the end of the month. This comes less than a year after Betamax tapes were also discontinued. As of August 1st, the VHS will be a format permanently in the past; outside of small artisanal efforts (the article we linked to mentions a collector community that might not go down so easily), there will never be any more VHS players than currently exist in the world. That’s all we’ve got.

This won’t have too much of a practical effect for most people who have already replaced their VHS collections, but we worry about what will come of all the VHSes that have never been re-released or preserved. Countless documentaries and ephemera will become unavailable, assuming the tapes last longer than the supply of players.

For a few years now, Media Services has been in the process of preserving our VHS collection to ensure that this problem won’t impact the AU community. We’ve been conducting an extensive audit of our VHSes to see what isn’t available on any other format and whether we’re within the legal grounds to digitize and create our own DVD copy of it. As part of this, we’re also collaborating with other groups on campus like ATV and Athletics to preserve other valuable VHS videos, including old commencement addresses.

We still have a supply of VHS players and staff who know how to fix them, so we’ll be fine in the long run. Let’s take a second to commemorate this inevitable but sad moment for physical media.