A Musical Milestone: SUNNYSIDE UP

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017
Posted by Jim Healy

These notes on Sunnyside Up (1929) were written by Casey Long, PhD candidate in UW Madison’s Department of Communication Arts. A 35mm print of Sunnyside Up will screen on Saturday, February 25 at 7 p.m., concluding our series of Fox Studios movies from the archives of the Museum of Modern Art.

The story is familiar; a working girl falls in love with a wealthy man and he eventually learns that he loves her too. However, Sunnyside Up’s boastful tagline points to several aspects of this early sound film which serve to make it unique: “The screen's first original all talking, singing, dancing musical comedy.” Indeed, contemporaneous reviews of the film (and later career decisions made by Janet Gaynor) would indicate that while audiences generally enjoyed the film’s soundtrack, criticism of certain aspects of the two leads’ vocal abilities coupled with— at times— lackluster choreography in various numbers would have lasting effects on the medium and genre in Hollywood.

Susan Doll notes: “Released in 1929, Sunnyside Up reflects that fleeting moment in Hollywood history when the studios were trying to cope with the difficulties of sync-sound technology and deal with the resultant changes in acting styles, genres, and staging. At the same time, stars Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell were hoping to make the transition from silent to sound movies, and this musical comedy proved a successful step in their careers.” A 1929 New York Times review reveals how filmgoers viewed the addition of aural stylistic elements (on a recorded soundtrack, instead of the live musical accompaniment featured during silent films) to what had previously only been visual entertainment: “It is a motion picture that might easily stand on its own feet, but there is no doubt but sound adds considerably to the general effect. The fact that the audience remained seated to the last fade-out proves the worth of this entertainment… nobody left until they could see and hear exactly what happened.”

Both the screenplay and the music were written by a popular songwriting team of the time: Buddy DeSylva, Lew Brown and Ray Henderson. The group wrote and published pop songs and Broadway musicals from roughly 1925 to 1930, including the hit Magnolia (1927) and the musical Good News (also 1927). Prior to working within this trio, DeSylva had written songs performed and popularized by Al Jolson and teamed with George Gershwin on the one-act jazz opera Blue Monday. (DeSylva would also later co-found Capitol Records.) Lew Brown, the lyricist for the group, had written for several successful Tin Pan Alley songwriters, including Albert Von Tilzer and Harold Arlen. Rounding out the trio, Ray Henderson, who served as the composer to the group, had also worked in Tin Pan Alley, and was an accompanist to song and dance acts in Vaudeville.

The music in this film would prove to be popular and long lasting. From a Variety review of the time: “Buddy DeSylva, Lew Brown and Ray Henderson have turned out an average Cinderella story for Janet Gaynor, and she plays it. And sings it. David Butler in direction does so well by Gaynor that you even believe she has a voice. The ace songsters pile up likeable songs so fast they have to be sung over again in the picture to decide which is the best. And here it’s ‘If I Had a Talking Picture of You’. But for delivery Gaynor’s ‘I’m a Dreamer – Aren’t We All?’ leads.” Sunnyside Up, an iconic example of a quality early sound era musical, would continue to be referenced through the decades. In the 1933 animated short, Hot and Cold (Walter Lantz/Universal), the song “Turn on the Heat” would be prominently featured. The Best Things in Life Are Free (1956) depicts the filming of the "If I Had a Talking Picture of You" production number. It also recreates the premiere of the movie. (The film's title is shown as "Sunny Side Up" rather than as the authentic but misspelled "Sunnyside Up”.) Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You features a vocally-shy Drew Barrymore lip-synching “(I’m a Dreamer) Aren’t We All?” And, finally, Sunnyside Up is the oldest film to be featured in the 1982 comedy documentary, It Came From Hollywood, wherein comedians such as Dan Akroyd, Gilda Radner, and Cheech and Chong narrated and joked about various B movies made between the 20s and the 70s.

There is one number in the film that especially stands out to critics both past and present due to its larger-scale, more complex design. From Variety again: “‘Turn on the Heat’ is a cooch by 36 gals. And what a cooch! As the hot dance proceeds, the snow melts, trees and palms grow, and all of this while 36 coochers go the limit. There’s a bit of hinted color in this scene.” Indeed, this sequence, as it existed in the original print, was shot in a color-tinting process dubbed "Multicolor," adding a sense of spectacle to the production, but reportedly no prints exist today with that effect.

Performers’ voices, at this early stage in the sound era, were closely scrutinized and critiqued. Producers, directors and actors, plus audiences and critics, sought to define and understand what type of vocal performance suited the medium—what worked and what did not. One major early concern was whether certain actors’ voices were simply not suited to the demands of the new microphone technology and recording devices. Morduant Hall had quite a bit to say about Gaynor and Farrell’s speech-style and singing abilities in his review of the film’s premiere at the Gaiety Theatre in New York City, noting: “Miss Gaynor's voice may not be especially clear, but the sincerity with which she renders at least two of her songs is most appealing.” And, “Her talking voice seems a little husky, or is it that the microphone has been unkind to her? This may be possible, for in several passages her tones are much clearer than in others.” Lastly, of Gaynor’s co-star, Hall states, “Mr. Farrell's singing is possibly just what one might expect from the average young man taking a chance on singing a song at a private entertainment. His presence is, however, ingratiating and his acting and talking are natural. He may not strike one as an experienced stage actor, but one is gazing upon a motion picture comedy in which the people are not on a stage, but walking through real roads and into houses that look real and sometimes are real. So his speech and even his singing suits the part.”

Indeed, while critics and audiences warmly praised Gaynor’s charming manner when acting and speaking (particularly noting her ease, naturalism, ‘sassy sparkle’ or ‘sweet flirtatiousness’), her singing was another matter entirely. From Doll: “Gaynor must have realized her shortcomings as a musical comedy performer. After appearing with Farrell in the musicals Happy Days (1929) and High Society Blues (1930), she sailed to Hawaii where she remained until Fox agreed to make several changes in her contract. Near the top of her list of demands was that she never be required to star in another musical comedy.”

Aside from the film’s soundtrack, Sunnyside Up’s photography is notable as well.  Director David Butler and cinematographer Ernest Palmer make a clear attempt to include some complex and virtuosic camera movement into the picture— something that, with the introduction of sound, would have been more difficult to integrate initially. Many reviewers note the four-minute-long crane shot that reveals life on the Lower East Side (Molly’s milieu), which is followed soon after by another long tracking shot through Jack Cromwell’s mansion. From the New York Times review, again, “David Butler, the director, has done extraordinarily good work on his scenes, the opening glimpse being of a few of O. Henry's four millions who are enjoying a shower bath on the east side.” Lastly, there is at least one instance of some early special effects work, wherein a still photograph of Molly is replaced by her moving image as Jack sings to her, giving the appearance of a picture come to life.


Friday, February 17th, 2017
Posted by Jim Healy

These notes on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban were written by Matt St. John, PhD candidate in UW Madison’s Department of Communication Arts. A 35mm print of this third chapter in the Harry Potter saga will screen in our Sunday Cinematheque at the Chazen series salute to film music composer John Williams on February 19 at 2 p.m. at the Chazen Museum of Art.

By Matt St. John

In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the titular young hero still attends wizard school in a magic castle, he still fears the legendary evil wizard Voldemort, and he still bears his trademark glasses and lightning-bolt scar. But some things have changed between years two and three at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry Potter is taller, his hair is messier, and he’s much quicker to express himself (especially his anger). And the world around him is different, too. Director Alfonso Cuarón keeps many of the basic design elements established in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), both directed by Chris Columbus, but Cuarón also makes notable changes that shift the direction of the series for its remaining five films.

Cuarón’s arrival to big-budget franchise filmmaking was welcomed by critics, who often took the occasion of reviewing Prisoner of Azkaban to relay their negative thoughts about Columbus, even though both earlier Harry Potter films were well-received upon their release. While Slate’s David Edelstein designates Columbus a “genial Hollywood company man” in one of the more generous references to his work, the A.V. Club’s Scott Tobias calls him a “hack auteur,” and the Atlantic’s Christopher Orr refers to Columbus as “the corporate sentimentalist who gave us such explorations of contemporary domesticity as Stepmom, Mrs. Doubtfire, Adventures in Babysitting, and the Home Alone movies.” Cuarón was also no stranger to a general audience, having directed a family film, 1995’s A Little Princess. But his better-known works, like the 2001 coming-of-age drama Y Tu Mamá También, suggested a moodier adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s enormously popular novels, or at least a departure from Columbus’s vision.

Like the first two films, Prisoner of Azkaban contains sequences that joyfully explore the magical world (candy that makes you roar like a lion! snowball fights with invisible cloaks!), but Cuarón’s film is much darker than the prior entries in both narrative and stylistic terms. The characters certainly faced danger before, but the threat of escaped murderer Sirius Black hangs over this entire film. His raving mugshot appears frequently in magical posters, reminding us that Harry is being hunted––and the hunter is terrifying. The newly arrived protectors at Hogwarts, the soul-sucking Dementors, offer little comfort. Danger and darkness lurk around the edges of Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets, but Cuarón fully embraces them in the tone and look of Harry’s world, reinforcing Rowling’s shift to a more frightening story for this novel. While Prisoner of Azkaban does not have the grit or intensity of other Cuarón films like 2006’s Children of Men (this is still a PG-rated family film, after all), Harry and his friends often explore ominous, mysterious environments. In an American Cinematographer interview, cinematographer Michael Seresin states, “It's a dangerous world, even for a wizard, and the film's look had to suggest that… The lighting is moodier, with more shadowing and cross-lighting." He claims that his goal with the visual style was to be “as dramatic as could be without it starting to look like Seven.” John Williams also adds some drama with his new music for the film, in the third and final time he would compose the score for the Harry Potter series. The sweeping, classical themes of the first two films are joined by compositions with medieval instruments, like the festive welcome-back-to-school anthem “Double Trouble,” featuring lyrics that might be familiar from Macbeth.

Cuarón manages to make Hogwarts not only darker for Harry’s third year, but also more magical. Unlike the memorable sequences of students learning to transform animals or repot creepy plants in the first two films, magic is usually not the focus of a scene. The film has less Quidditch and less wizarding classroom time; its magic is casual, not always about instruction or competition. Cuarón’s Hogwarts is so embedded with magic that it can become mundane even for its young characters. Chairs overturn themselves as the Leaky Cauldron closes up, quills write on parchment on their own, and moving photographs and paintings appear briefly in the background as characters pass them by. There’s plenty of wonder for us to see, but it isn’t always underlined in a way that demands a reaction. This approach grants even greater impact to Cuarón’s few emphases on magic, especially Harry’s aerial tour of Hogwarts on the majestic eagle-horse hybrid creature Buckbeak––a sequence that also allows the audience to observe the beautiful, newly expanded terrain of the Hogwarts’ grounds.

Prisoner of Azkaban’s Hogwarts may look and feel more magical and mysterious, but it fortunately remains home to an extended cast of compelling characters played by both franchise veterans and rookies. The supporting lineup of adult actors continues to be excellent, with return performers like Alan Rickman (Severus Snape) and Maggie Smith (Minerva McGonagall) joined by impressive additions. Michael Gambon assumes the role of Albus Dumbledore after Richard Harris’s death, bringing spontaneity and mischief to a part previously defined by kind, quiet wisdom. Gary Oldman as Sirius Black, David Thewlis as Remus Lupin, and Emma Thompson as Sybill Trelawney also appear for the first time in the series, expanding the always-growing roster of great actors occupying Hogwarts. The young stars, Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), and Emma Watson (Hermione Granger), also show considerable improvement in their performances, adding dimension to their emotional experience of the wizarding world, after the delighted awe that dominated (and charmed) in the earlier films.

Perhaps part of the teen actors’ improvement results from their ability to appear and behave more like real young people in this film. Harry, Ron, and Hermione spend more of their third year at Hogwarts in contemporary clothing, with striped sweaters, ringer tees, and track jackets frequently replacing the familiar black robes that Hogwarts students wore throughout Columbus’s films. Even in their official Hogwarts uniforms, the students look more like actual teenagers, as Cuarón encouraged them to wear the outfits as they really would––untucked shirts and loosened ties offer a hint of the rebellious attitudes developing in the young witches and wizards.

There’s magic in the spells, the mythical beasts, and the enchanted objects, but Cuarón is also devoted to the fundamental wonders of an exciting (and terrifying) adventure populated by endearing characters. More than any of the Harry Potter films before or after it, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban presents a universe saturated with magic, making it the most engaging, thrilling installment in the series.

Action, Action, and Comedy: Raoul Walsh's WILD GIRL

Thursday, February 16th, 2017
Posted by Jim Healy

These notes on Raoul Walsh's Wild Girl were written by Casey Long, PhD candidate in UW Madison’s Department of Communication Arts. A 35mm print of Wild Girl from the Museum of Modern Art will screen in our Fox Restorations from MoMA series on Saturday, February 18 at 7 p.m., followed at 8:30 p.m. by a 35mm print of Walsh's The Yellow Ticket (1931).

By Casey Long

Director and actor Peter Bogdanovich kept a movie card-file from 1952 through 1970 in which he preserved notes and impressions on the films he viewed. When reviewing his screening notes for an article entitled ‘The Golden Age of American Talkies: 1932’, he discovered his 1966 card for Wild Girl. It read: “Beautifully photographed and robustly directed adventure set in the West, centering around a backwoods girl, delightfully played by Joan Bennett, and her dealings with several men: a good-hearted gambler, a hypocritical, lecherous politician, a two-faced rancher, and a young stranger who fought with [Gen. Robert E.] Lee and has come to kill the politician because he wronged his sister. The location shooting much improves the film, and Walsh’s unpretentious handling, speedy pace and sense of humor—as shown in the amusing stage-driver Eugene Pallette scenes—keeps things going even when the script bogs down in plots and sub-plots.”

Indeed, 1932 was a notable (or, “golden”) year for the industry. Many directors who would later become established contributors to the classical Hollywood canon made—not one—but several great films in that short time. Ernst Lubitsch did Trouble in Paradise and One Hour With You; Howard Hawks made Scarface, Tiger Shark, and The Crowd Roars; Josef von Sternberg filmed Blonde Venus and Shanghai Express; Frank Borzage made A Farewell to Arms and After Tomorrow; and the list goes on, including films by George Cukor, Allan Dwan, John Ford, Leo McCarey, Cecil B. DeMille, and King Vidor. Among the prolific filmmakers of 1932 was Raoul Walsh, who made two significant works in that year: the Joan Bennett/Spencer Tracy rom-com, Me and My Gal, and its near-immediate predecessor, Wild Girl, which paired Walsh with Bennett again and replaced Tracy with Charles Farrell as the romantic lead. Walsh, previously an actor himself, came to exclusively direct after a car crash led to the loss of his right eye during the 1928 filming of Sadie Thompson. His career rose to new heights after moving to Warner Bros. in the late 1930s, where he would direct such films as The Roaring Twenties (1939), They Drive By Night (1940), The Strawberry Blonde (1941) and White Heat (1949). Often regarded as a filmmaker’s filmmaker, Walsh’s films are known to move quickly from start to finish, without a dull moment. When asked what he considered to be the three greatest virtues of a film, he famously replied: “Action, action, and then action.”

As Bogdanovich also notes, the film was primarily shot on location— in California’s Sequoia National Park. Several reviewers have pointed to the picturesque landscapes and naturalistic setting as a highpoint of the film— imagery that would be nearly impossible for cinematographers and set designers to recreate on the studio lot. It is really no wonder that so many have noted the beauty of Wild Girl— the cinematographer, Norbert Brodine, began his career as a WWI photographer and would later acquire a reputation as an ‘outdoor cameraman,’ praised for his black-and-white location shooting on films such as the film noir, Kiss of Death (Henry Hathaway, 1949). Of course, location shooting can have its downsides as well. Sally Gainsborough, a correspondent for Picturegoer magazine, was present for filming in August of 1932 and recounted the difficulties of shooting on location in the ‘High Sierras’: “one of the electricians [on set] described how a bear got into a garbage can during the night and scared him and his fellows almost to death!” And, later during filming: “…rangers soon have their hands full stopping all cars. It looks as if everyone in Central California has come to the park to-day… Suddenly in the middle of a love scene a distant car squeaks its horn. ‘Cut!’ The whole scene has to be done over again.”

The wilderness setting lends certain scenes with what one reviewer deems a “fairy-tale feel,” and also provides a loose motivation for Joan Bennett to perform in a nude lake swimming scene. This was, after all, pre-code Hollywood! Such arguably risqué behavior in American cinema would come to a swift halt only after the establishment of the Production Code Administration, which began censoring films released on or after July 1, 1934. Prior to this date, the flouting of the production code’s suggested ‘principles and applications’ was a well-known secret in the industry, since initial oversight (by Jason Joy and, later, James Wingate) was ineffective and the concurrent slump in ticket sales called for more scandalous content to boost attendance.

The source material for the film certainly does seem ideal for prodding or even mocking the pre-code censors. The lead character, Salomy Jane, is a non-conforming tomboy and the narrative’s major inciting incident is a Purity League member (and mayoral candidate) making a pass at her in a stagecoach. The screenplay was based on the short story "Salomy Jane's Kiss" by Bret Harte included in Stories of Light and Shadow (1898), his novel Salomy Jane (1910) and the play of the same name by Paul Armstrong (1907). From the AFI catalogue: “A [Hollywood Reporter] news item indicates that a working title for this film was Salomy Jane. Other films based on the Bret Harte story include the 1914 independent film Salomy Jane, starring Beatriz Michelena and House Peters; the 1923 Famous Players-Lasky Corp. film, also entitled Salomy Jane, directed by George Melford and starring Jacqueline Logan and George Fawcett; and the 1938 Twentieth Century-Fox film Arizona Wildcat.”

The Speediest Film Ever Made?: THE TRIAL OF VIVIENNE WARE

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017
Posted by Jim Healy

These notes on The Trial of Vivienne Ware (1932) were written by Casey Long, PhD candidate in UW Madison’s Department of Communication Arts. A 35mm print of The Trial of Vivienne Ware will screen in our Fox Restorations from MoMA series on Saturday, February 11 at 7 p.m., followed at 8:15 p.m. by 6 Hours to Live.

The Trial of Vivienne Ware is the product of a long line of both real-world events and multi-media tie-ins: two actual murder trials inspired multiple radio broadcasts, two novels based on those airings, and at least five films (one, an unofficial remake of this film, Just Off Broadway [Fox, 1942]).

Hal Erickson summarizes “All this was prologue for Fox Films’ motion picture adaptation of The Trial of Vivienne Ware, directed by William K. Howard and released on April 29, 1932. Lifting elements from both of his novels, Kenneth Ellis collaborated on the script with Philip Klein and Barry Conners. The result is one of the most exhilarating murder mysteries ever made, its 56-minute running time packed with enough material for at least three movies. Joan Bennet stars as Vivienne, with Donald Cook as her defense attorney (and loyal sweetheart) John  Sutherland, Jameson Thomas as the ill-fated Fenwicke, and Lillian Bond as Dolores Divine.”

There is a general consensus amongst reviewers (both past and present) of The Trial of Vivienne Ware— the film is fast. TCM states on its website that this is “Possibly the speediest film ever made.” MoMA dubs the film’s speech style “machine-gun dialogue.” Others point to the innovative and repeated use of whip pans, a method of cinematography which relies on a quick swivel of the camera on the head of the tripod, rapidly moving from one line of action to another. Still others note the unique storytelling methods taken up by the filmmakers, including multiple flashbacks as well as a radio-inspired blow-by-blow narration (provided by Zasu Pitts).

Beyond Ware’s innovative use of stylistic techniques (sound, cinematography, and narration in the still-early sound era in Hollywood), the film also proved unique in the story it told. According to a New York Times reviewer in 1932: “It is nothing new for film producers to play fast and loose with court-room procedure in their shadow stories, but in ‘The Trial of Vivienne Ware,’ the feature now at the Roxy, the tactics employed are such that they make the liberties taken in other productions seem relatively restrained. In one scene of this current murder trial a dagger is flung across the court room at a woman witness, and later a man is fatally shot while testifying.”

In 1930, after hearing about the successful radio broadcast of an actual courtroom trial in Denmark, editor Edmund D. Coblentz (New York American), decided to enlist a writer to create a similarly serialized, fictional trial to be aired in the U.S. The result was The Trial of Vivienne Ware, a six-night serial program aired on New York’s NBC-Blue affiliate WJZ. The program was part of a multi-media promotional tie-in— each morning, after a segment of the trial had been broadcast on the radio, listeners could read a recap of the proceedings and were encouraged to submit a conclusion for the narrative (for a cash prize).

The script for this program had been heavily influenced by an American true-crime story— the Thaw-White trial of 1906. Harry Kendall Thaw was the son and heir to the fortune of Pittsburgh coal and railroad baron William Thaw, Sr. On June 25, 1906, on the rooftop of Madison Square Garden, Thaw murdered renowned architect Stanford White, who had sexually assaulted Thaw's wife, model/chorus girl Evelyn Nesbit. The trial is notable for the proliferation of yellow journalism and sensationalist reporting surrounding the case, which was met with counter arguments by the wealthy Thaw publicity machine. Indeed, only one week after the murder, a nickelodeon film, Rooftop Murder, was released, rushed into production by Thomas Edison. After one hung jury, Harry Thaw was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Later, the Thaw-White case was worked into the historical tapestry of E.L. Doctorow's novel Ragtime and the 1981 Milos Forman film adaptation. The trial also inspired the 1956 Fox movie, The Girl on the Red Velvet Swing, and the story was modernized by Claude Chabrol for his French drama, A Girl Cut in Two (2008).

As a side-note, several later reviewers have called attention to Joan Bennett’s hair color in this film. She was a natural blonde (as seen here) and later became a brunette. More importantly, Bennett was under contract to Fox Film Corporation at this time and received top-billing on her pictures. Only a year after making Ware, Bennett would move to RKO to play Amy in Little Women (1933), alongside Katherine Hepburn and Frances Dee.

Adventures in 3-D Sound: Re-opening the HOUSE OF WAX

Thursday, January 26th, 2017
Posted by Jim Healy

This essay on the sound design in House of Wax (1953) was written by Eric Dienstfrey, doctoral candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  His dissertation traces the development of surround sound technologies from 1930 to 1959.  His research has been published in Film History and Music and the Moving Image. A restored 3-D and stereo DCP of House of Wax will screen as part of our Cinematheque in 3-D! series on Saturday, January 28 at 5:30 p.m., preceded by the Three Stooges in Spooks.

By Eric Dienstfrey

Warners’ 1953 horror classic House of Wax arguably features some of the most memorable and enjoyable stereoscopic effects produced during Hollywood’s “golden age” of 3-D.  At times the effects recall the primitive aesthetics of earlier forays into stereoscopic technology, such as the carnival barker who slaps his paddle ball into the audience.  At other times the effects are almost laughable, such as the brawl during the film’s climax wherein characters thrust their fists toward the camera and not toward their opponents.  Even more notable, director André De Toth wore an eye-patch when making House of Wax, and was therefore unable to experience the very three-dimensional sensations that have come to define the film’s place in motion picture history.

Less well known, however, is the film’s contribution to stereophonic sound.  Despite contemporary histories—which generally suggest that surround-sound designs are relatively new cinematic phenomena—Hollywood had been implementing and codifying various forms of multi-channel audio since the transition to recorded sound in the late 1920s.  And House of Wax is one of the more fascinating of these stereophonic experiments.

When the film premiered at New York’s Paramount Theatre on April 10th, 1953, it boasted a new four-channel (and five-track) sound system co-developed by Warners and RCA and branded WarnerPhonic Sound.  This stereo configuration consisted of three loudspeakers behind the screen (in a left, center, and right orientation) and a “rear-effects” channel for the many loudspeakers situated on the rear and side walls of the auditorium.  The system also included a monophonic down-mix of the entire four-channel sound design.  This back-up track was present just in case the complicated stereo technology broke down during screenings.

WarnerPhonic stereo offered an inventive conception of motion picture sound reproduction in an era when terms like “high fidelity” and “acoustical realism” were still being defined.  More, it forced filmmakers to answer the following questions: Which sounds should play from the left, right, and surround channels, and how should these sounds function within the film’s story?  Most editors and mixers working in Hollywood at the time felt that extra audio channels were best suited for musical effects, specifically those effects that enhanced the reproduction of orchestral scores.  Nonetheless, Warners’ sound department—led by veteran rerecording mixer George Groves—had another idea in mind.  Instead of using the extra stereo channels for just music, Warners used them to play thrill-inducing sound effects.  These effects included the screams of distressed damsels and the crackling of a burning wax figurines.  In a sense, the surround-sound mix for House of Wax constructed the extra channels to accentuate the emotional drama during scenes when onscreen characters endure life-threatening peril.

Perhaps the most famous of these scenes is during the film’s second reel, when the man in the black cape throws one of his victims down an elevator shaft.  The crack of the victim’s spine as it snaps in two not only plays from the front channels, but from the rear loudspeakers.  In other words, Warners treated the film’s surround-sound effects to work in concert with its three-dimensional visuals: the terrifying images startled the audiences from the front, and the surround sounds continued to assault them from behind.

The release of House of Wax became a thrilling sensory experience for many filmgoers who were lucky enough to attend WarnerPhonic screenings.  And such screenings were not just limited to New York.  Following its initial premiere, the film and its sound system toured throughout much of the United States.  When it played in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the city manager even dubbed the event “Stereophonic 3D Day” in honor of the film’s aesthetic achievements.  But such excitement was short-lived, for the sound system was deemed economically impractical throughout the industry.  It required three strips of film to play simultaneously: two strips for the stereoscopic image, and one additional strip that housed the left, center, and right stereo channels (the rear-effects and mono channels were each housed on the two strips containing the picture tracks).  The use of three filmstrips not only increased distribution costs, in many cities it also demanded more projectionists, thus raising each theater’s overhead.

By the Fall of 1953, and after only a handful of titles were released in this new surround-sound format, Warners ended its WarnerPhonic operations.  All of the studio’s future stereo releases would be distributed onto four-track CinemaScope prints, a format that necessitated only one filmstrip to house a widescreen image and multi-channel sound design.  Subsequent runs of House of Wax would play for audiences in mono, with some reports soon suggesting that the original four-channel mix was lost.

The sound design you will hear at the UW Cinematheque on Saturday is sadly not the original 1953 WarnerPhonic stereo design, but its 1992 restoration.  The newer mix was conducted at Chace Audio, a postproduction facility in Burbank that specializes in up-mixing Hollywood releases for contemporary audio formats.  House of Wax’s four-channel sound design was specifically up-mixed for Dolby Stereo, the leading home video format at the time the restoration was completed.  In order to create their mix, Chace engineers spread the film’s surviving monophonic track across Dolby’s left and right audio channels.  Chace then recorded new sounds to help simulate many of the directional effects that audiences would have heard in 1953.  Pay particular attention to the footsteps as the mystery man stalks Sue (Phyllis Kirk) through New York’s foggy streets, as these are some of the best simulations of how Warners sound department originally mixed the scene for stereo (as advertised).

Fortunately for us, the film’s rear effects channel was archived along with the film’s mono mix.  This act of preservation provided Chace the opportunity to use the original effects track during its 1992 restoration.  And due to Dolby Stereo’s incorporation of matrix encoding, you will be able to hear many of the film’s most salient surround-sound effects play from the rear loudspeakers as they did in 1953.

But I won’t tell you when these acoustical surprises occur.  That would ruin the fun!

J.J. Murphy's Favorites of 2016

Friday, January 6th, 2017
Posted by Jim Healy

By J.J. Murphy

Hamel Family Distinguished Chair in Communication Arts

Director, UW Cinematheque

Favorite Films of 2016:

1. DRUNK aka DRINK (1965, Andy Warhol)

2. MOONLIGHT (Barry Jenkins)

3. AMERICAN HONEY (Andrea Arnold)

4. CERTAIN WOMEN (Kelly Reichardt)

5. TONI ERDMANN (Maren Ade)

6. THE WITNESS (James Solomon)

7. LA LA LAND (Damien Chazelle)

8. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (Kenneth Lonergan)

9. SPRING NIGHT, SUMMER NIGHT (1967, Joseph L. Anderson)

10. ACTOR MARTINEZ (Nathan Silver and Mike Ott)

Ben Reiser's Favorites of 2016

Thursday, January 5th, 2017
Posted by Jim Healy

By Ben Reiser

Programmer & Accounts Manager, UW Cinematheque

Festival Coordinator, Wisconsin Film Festival

Movies I’m Really Glad I Saw in 2016:

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016, Dan Trachtenberg)

Arabian Nights (2015, Miguel Gomes)

Arrival (2016, Denis Villeneuve)

The BFG (2016, Steven Spielberg)

The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015, Oz Perkins)

Don’t Breathe (2016, Fede Alvarez)

Finding Dory (2016, Andrew Stanton)

Fireworks Wednesday (2006, Asghar Farhadi)

Frank and the Wondercat (2015, Tony Massil, Pablo Alvarez-Mesa)

Heaven’s Gate (1980, Michael Cimino)

The Heiress (1949, William Wyler)

Hell or High Water (2016, Daved Mackenzie)

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016, Taika Waikiki)

Hush (2016, Mike Flanagan)

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016, Edward Zwick)

La La Land (2016, Damien Chazelle)

The Lobster (2015, Yorgos Lanthimos)

Manchester by the Sea (2016, Kenneth Lonergan)

Moana (2016, John Musker, Ron Clements)

A Monster with a Thousand Heads (2015, Rodrigo Pia)

Moonlight (2016, Barry Jenkins)

Morris From America (2016, Chad Hartigan)

The Mother and the Whore (1974, Jean Eustache)

The Neon Demon (2016, Nicholas Winding Refn)

The Other Side (2015, Roberto Minervini)

Presenting Princess Shaw (2015, Ido Haar)

The Revenant (2015, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016, Gareth Edwards)

Rules Don’t Apply (2016, Warren Beatty)

Sing (2016, Garth Jennings)

Sing Street (2016, John Carney)

Sunset Song (2015, Terence Davies)

Sweet Charity (1969, Bob Fosse)

Tharlo (2015, Pema Tseden)

To Each His Own (1946, Mitchell Leisen)

Toni Erdmann (2016, Maren Ade)

The Witch (2016, Robert Eggers)

Matt St. John's Favorites of 2016

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017
Posted by Jim Healy

By Matt St. John

Project Assistant, UW Cinematheque

20 favorite new-to-me films of 2016:

1. MOANA (2016, John Musker, Ron Clement

2. MOONLIGHT (2016, Barry Jenkins)

3. IN TRANSIT (2015, Albert Maysles, Lynn True, David Usui, Nelson Walker III, Benjamin Wu)

4. LITTLE SISTER (2016, Zach Clark)

5. THE LOVE WITCH (2016, Anna Biller)

6. AMERICAN HONEY (2016, Andrea Arnold)

7. DIE HARD (1988, John McTiernan)

8. ALL THESE SLEEPLESS NIGHTS (2016,  Michal Marczak)

9. NO HOME MOVIE (2015, Chantal Akerman)

10. DON’T BREATHE (2016, Fede Alvarez)

11. CERTAIN WOMEN (2016, Kelly Reichardt)

12. O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA (2016, Ezra Edelman)

13. THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN (2016, Kelly Fremon Craig)

14. ARRIVAL (2016, Denis Villenueve)

15. LITTLE VERA (1988, Vasili Pichul)

16. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2016, Kenneth Lonergan)

17. BASIC INSTINCT (1992, Paul Verhoeven)

18. FLOTEL EUROPA (2015, Vladimir Tomic)

19. LA LA LAND (2016, Damien Chazelle)

20. THE OTHER SIDE (2015, Roberto Minervini)

Mike King's Favorites of 2016

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017
Posted by Jim Healy

By Mike King

Programmer & Chief Projectionist, UW Cinematheque

Senior Programmer, Wisconsin Film Festival

Top ten films to play Madison in 2016:

ARABIAN NIGHTS (2015, Miguel Gomes)

CERTAIN WOMEN (2016, Kelly Reichardt)

CHEVALIER (2015, Athina Rachel Tsangari)

I AM NOT MADAME BOVARY (2016, Feng Xiaogang)

JACKIE (2016, Pablo Larraín)

LA LA LAND (2016, Damien Chazelle)

THE LOBSTER (2015, Yorgos Lanthimos)

MUSTANG (2015, Deniz Gamze Ergüven)

OUR LITTLE SISTER (2015, Hirokazu Kore-eda)

RIGHT NOW, WRONG THEN (2015, Hong Sang-soo)

Jim Healy's Favorite Movies of 2016

Monday, January 2nd, 2017
Posted by Jim Healy

By Jim Healy, Director of Programming, UW Cinematheque & Wisconsin Film Festival

Between January 1 and December 31 in 2016, I managed to view 634 feature films that I had never seen before. My list of favorites contains recent releases and other movies from throughout cinema history. I encourage you to see as many as you can.

My very favorites, in alphabetical order:

ALLIED (2016, Robert Zemeckis)

THE BFG (2016, Steven Spielberg)

BLONDE CRAZY (1932, Roy del Ruth)

DON’T BREATHE (2016, Fede Alvarez)

THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN (2016, Kelly Fremon Craig)

ELLE (2016, Paul Verhoeven)

FINDING DORY (2016, Andrew Stanton)

LA HORSE (1970, Pierre Granier-Deferre)


KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS (2016, Travis Knight)

LA LA LAND (2016, Damien Chazelle)

MOANA (2016, John Musker, Ron Clements)


PATTES BLANCHE (1949, Jean Gremillon)

RAWHIDE (1951, Henry Hathaway)

SAMMY GOING SOUTH (1963, Alexander Mackendrick)

SING (2016, Garth Jennings)

THE WELL (1951, Leo Popkin & Russell Rouse)

TO EACH HIS OWN (1946, Mitchell Leisen)

ZOOTOPIA (2016, Rich Moore, Byron Howard)


I also got a lot of pleasure out of the following movies, in alphabetical order:

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016, Dan Trachtenberg)

20,000 YEARS IN SING SING (1932, Michael Curtiz)

A TIME TO LOVE AND A TIME TO DIE (1958, Douglas Sirk)

AFRAID TO TALK (1932, Edward L. Cahn)

ALICE IN THE CITIES (1974, Wim Wenders)

ARRIVAL (2016, Denis Villenueve)

AUTHOR: THE J.T. LEROY STORY (2016, Jeff Feuerzeig)

L'AVENIR/THINGS TO COME (2016, Mia Hansen-Love)

BACHELOR’S AFFAIRS (1932, Alfred Werker)

BACK STREET (1932, John M. Stahl)

BACKGROUND TO DANGER (1943, Raoul Walsh)

BIG CITY BLUES (1931, Mervyn LeRoy)

THE BIG BROADCAST (1932, Frank Tuttle)

THE BIG RACKET (1976, Enzo G. Castellari)

THE BIG SHAKEDOWN (1934, John Francis Dillon)


BITE THE BULLET (1975, Richard Brooks)



IL CAPPOTTO (1952, Alberto Lattuada)

CAPTAIN BLOOD (1935, Michael Curtiz)

CAROL (2015, Todd Haynes)

CENTRAL AIRPORT (1933, William A. Wellman)

CHANDU THE MAGICIAN (1932, Marcel Varnel & Wm. Cameron Menzies)

THE CHASE (1946, Arthur Ripley)

THE CINEMA TRAVELERS (2016, Shirley Abraham, Amit Madheshiya)

COLOSSAL (2016, Nacho Vigalondo)

COPS AND ROBBERS (1973, Aram Avakian)

DANTE’S INFERNO (1935, Harry Lachman)

DE PALMA (2015, Noah Baumbach & Jake Paltrow)

DEATH IN SARAJEVO (2016, Danis Tanovic)

DEVIL AND THE DEEP (1932, Marion Gering)

DIARY OF A MADMAN (1963, Reginald Le Borg)



DOGS (2016, Bogdan Mirica)

DOUBLE JEOPARDY (1999, Bruce Beresford)

DRAGON LORD (1982, Jackie Chan)

DRUM (1976, Steve Carver)

THE EAGLE AND THE HAWK (1933, Stuart Walker)

THE FIRST LEGION (1951, Douglas Sirk)

EL NORTE (1983, Gregory Nava)

EUROPE ’51 (1952, Roberto Rossellini)

EVER IN MY HEART (1933, Archie Mayo)

EX-LADY (1933, Robert Florey)

FALBALAS (1945, Jacques Becker)

FENCES (2016, Denzel Washington)

LES FILS DE JOSEPH (2016, Eugene Green)

FIRST GIRL I LOVED (2016, Kerem Sanga)

FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS (2016, Stephen Frears)

FLYING DEUCES (1939, A. Edward Sutherland)

FRONT PAGE WOMAN (1935, Michael Curtiz)

THE GLASS WEB (1954, Jack Arnold)

GOLDSTONE (2016, Ivan Sen)

HACKSAW RIDGE (2016, Mel Gibson)

HAIL, CAESAR! (2016, Joel & Ethan Coen)

HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016, David Mackenzie)

A HEN IN THE WIND (1948, Yasujiro Ozu)

HER MAN (1930, Tay Garnett)

HER SISTER’S SECRET (1946, Edgar G. Ulmer)

HI, NELLIE! (1934, Mervyn LeRoy)

HOTEL DU NORD (1938, Marcel Carné)

A HOUSE DIVIDED (1931, William Wyler)


I SELL ANYTHING (1934, Robert Florey)

I, DANIEL BLAKE (2016, Ken Loach)

ILLEGITIM (2016, Adrian Sitaru)

THE INTERN (2015, Nancy Meyers)

JULIETA (2016, Pedro Almodóvar)



KUNG FU PANDA 3 (2016, Alessandro Carloni, Jennifer Yuh)

THE LAST CHANCE (1945, Leopoldo Lindtberg)

LAUGHTER IN HELL (1933, Edward L. Cahn)

LILIES OF THE FIELD (1963, Ralph Nelson)

LITTLE MEN (2016, Ira Sachs)

LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN (1976, Ruggero Deodato)

LA MAIN AU DIABLE (1943, Maurice Tourneur)

THE LOVE WITCH (2016, Anna Biller)

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (2016, Antoine Fuqua)

MALONE (1987, Harley Cokliss)

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2016, Kenneth Lonergan)

MANDY (1952, Alexander Mackendrick)

MARCH OR DIE (1977, Dick Richards)

THE MARK OF ZORRO (1940, Rouben Mamoulian)

MELODIE EN SOUS-SOL (1963, Henri Verneuil)

MELODY TIME (1948, Clyde Geronimi, et al)

MEMORIES OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT (1968, Thomas Gutierrez Alea)

MERCENAIRE (2016, Sacha Wolff)

MESSAGE FROM THE KING (2016, Fabrice Du Welz)


MILANO ROVENTE (1973, Umberto Lenzi)


MOONLIGHT (2016, Barry Jenkins)

MORRIS FROM AMERICA (2016, Chad Hartigan)

LA MORTE RISALE A IERI SERA (1970, Duccio Tessari)

MOTHER KÜSTERS GOES TO HEAVEN (1975, Rainer Werner Fassbinder)

MR. BILLION (1977, Jonathan Kaplan)

MULTIPLE MANIACS (1970, John Waters)

MUSTANG (2015, Deniz Gamze Urguven)

THE NIGHT HOLDS TERROR (1955, Andrew L. Stone)

NIGHT OF THE JUGGLER (1980, Robert Butler)

NO SAD SONGS FOR ME (1950, Rudolph Mate)

OJ: MADE IN AMERICA (2016, Ezra Edelman)

OLD ACQUAINTANCE (1943, Vincent Sherman)

L’OMBRE DES FEMMES (2015, Philippe Garrel)

PAYMENT ON DEMAND (1951, Curtis Bernhardt)

PEE-WEE’S BIG HOLIDAY (2016, John Lee)

THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1991, Stuart Gordon)

PORK CHOP HILL (1959, Lewis Milestone)

LA PROVINCIALE (1953, Mario Soldati)

QUEEN OF KATWE (2016, Mira Nair)

THE REVENANT (2015, Alejandro G. Iñárritu)

THE RICH ARE ALWAYS WITH US (1932, Alfred E. Green)

RUBY GENTRY (1952, King Vidor)

RULES DON’T APPLY (2016, Warren Beatty)

THE SATAN BUG (1965, John Sturges)

THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL (1934, Harold Young)

SCUM (1979, Alan Clarke)

THE SEA WOLF (1941, Michael Curtiz)

THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS (2016, Chris Renaud)

THE SHALLOWS (2016, Jaume Collet-Serra)

SI MUERO ANTES DE DESPERTAR (1952, C.H. Christensen)

SIGNORE E SIGNORI (1966, Pietro Germi)

SING STREET (2016, John Carney)

SOLO SUNNY (1980, Konrad Wolf)

LES SORCIERES DE SALEM (1957, Raymond Rouleau)

STELLA DALLAS (1925, Henry King)

THE STRANGER'S HAND (1954, Mario Soldati)

THE STUDENT (2016, Kiril Serebrennikov)

SUGAR CANE ALLEY (1983, Euzhan Palcy)

SULLY (2016, Clint Eastwood)

SWEET CHARITY (1969, Bob Fosse)

TICKLED (2016, David Farrier, Dylan Reeve)

TRUE CONFESSION (1937, Wesley Ruggles)

UN CARNET DU BAL (1937, Julien Duvivier)

UNDER THE SHADOW (2016, Babak Anvari)

THE WAYWARD BUS (1957, Victor Vicas)

WEINER (2016, Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg)

WHEN LADIES MEET (1933, Harry Beaumont)

WHEN THE WIND BLOWS (1986, Jimmy Murakami)

WHERE TO INVADE NEXT (2015, Michael Moore)

THE WITNESS (2015, James Solomon)

XMEN: APOCALYPSE (2016, Bryan Singer)

THE YOUNG MASTER (1980, Jackie Chan)