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Subject: ‘Cinema’

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Some Olympic sportsmen won Hollywood stardom

Posted in Actors, America, Cinema, Historical articles, Sport, Sporting Heroes on Monday, 10 February 2014

This edited article about the Olympic Games first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 548 published on 15 July 1972.

Olympic stars,  picture, image, illustration
Johnny Weissmuller (top) was later famous for his film role as Tarzan; Don Bragg (centre) also played Tarzan in the movies; (bottom) Mohammed Ali was another Olympic winner, by Ron Embleton

Fame must be the dream of many Olympic athletes. Some have found it through skill and showmanship. Others worked hard for the stardom they wanted so badly but which was to elude them for ever.

One of the successful seekers after prominence was Johnny Weissmuller. He first came to public notice in 1927 when he swam 100 yards in 51 seconds, a world record. Soon, he was claiming the best times for all distances up to 500 yards, as well as those for 100 and 400 metres in the Olympic Games, for which he won gold medals in 1924 and 1928.

Hollywood grabbed Weissmuller in 1932 and starred him as Tarzan the jungle man in a long series of films based upon the stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

With the powerful muscles and supple limbs which had made him unbeatable in the water, he swung on jungle vines or fought the current in rapidly flowing rivers to help his friends the animals in their fight against Africa’s white hunters or marauding tribesmen.

However, the fame of the character lingered long after Weissmuller had passed into middle-aged contentment, and a succession of lithe young men took his place in his Hollywood jungle kingdom.

One man who hoped to put on his crown was Don Bragg of the U.S.A., who won the pole vault in Rome in 1960. He had imitated Tarzan by swinging through the trees as a boy and hoped that his skill at the Olympics would bring him to the notice of the movie makers.

Higher and higher he leapt at the end of his pole until the only other competitor left was another American, named Ron Morris.

At 15 feet 5 inches, Bragg slithered like an eel over the bar and watched like a jittery man in a dentist’s waiting room as Morris took his turn.

As Morris sailed aloft, the bar tumbled to the grass, and Bragg knew that he had won his medal.

News photographers crowded around the hopeful Tarzan. At their request, he cupped his hands to his mouth and gave a blood curdling Tarzan yell that echoed around the stadium and must have convinced any film producers within hearing that here was a star in the making.

Perhaps the most famous of all the Olympic wonders was Cassius Clay (now Muhammad Ali) who fought his way to fame and fortune in the boxing world.

At Rome in 1960 he became the light-heavyweight champion and was so proud of his victory that, when he got back to New York, he paraded around Times Square wearing his Olympic uniform with the gold medal around his neck.

Howard Hughes – the reclusive former playboy who feared germs

Posted in America, Aviation, Cinema, Historical articles, History, Oddities, World War 1 on Thursday, 12 December 2013

This edited article about Howard Hughes first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 492 published on 19 June 1971.

Howard Hughes filming dog fights, picture, image, illustration
The filming of Howard Hughes' WW1 film, "Hell's Angels"

The President of the large Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, Jack Entratter, stood by the closed door of one of his most luxurious suites.

“But he sent for me,” he said, amazed.

“Maybe, but he won’t see you,” replied one of Howard Hughes’ aides. “Mr. Hughes has given instructions that you are not to be admitted.”

“But he wants to buy the hotel,” continued the bewildered Mr. Entratter. “How can we do business if he won’t see me?”

Suddenly a piece of paper appeared from under the door. Entratter bent down and picked it up. There were just two words on the paper.

“HOW MUCH?”

Entratter wrote down the asking price of the hotel, and pushed it back. A minute later, the paper was back again. This time it read: “SOLD”.

This was just one example of the strange way the American multi-millionaire Howard Hughes conducts his business. Whereas most people would have forfeited their desire for privacy to conduct a little business, Hughes is different, for Hughes is a perfectionist in that no amount of time, money, effort or concentration is too great to expend as long as he achieves his objective. And if he wants to be alone, the whole world may hammer unsuccessfully at his door.

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Stars of the silent screen faced oblivion when the talkies came

Posted in Actors, America, Cinema, Historical articles, History on Monday, 2 December 2013

This edited article about cinema first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 471 published on 23 January 1971.

Buster Keaton, picture, image, illustration
Buster Keaton

Whatever happened to the custard pie film comics of the 1920s?

Where did they go, those scatter-brained heroes of the silent cinema? Their flickering ghosts, revived by television, are famous again, but what happened to the flesh and blood originals?

What of Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, Chaplin and Harold Lloyd? They were the makers of laughter without words. Some of them became very rich and very famous. Then suddenly they were gone. Their films were put away on dusty shelves to be taken out now and again and glanced at in snippets or rather when some run-down cinema wanted a cheap footage of film.

The films were mutilated: the reels were cut up, or simply lost. Others that were bought up by the big Hollywood film companies of the 1930s were despised, deliberately destroyed or deep stored. Some of the actors suffered similar fates.

Dead pan Buster Keaton was probably the most ingenious and independent film-maker of all. Keaton began his working life as a toddler with his mother and father on the Vaudeville (American music hall) stage.

He entered films in 1917 when he was 21 and eventually made a total of a dozen feature films and thirty or so “shorts.”

Keaton worked out the plots and the visual gags of his films. His powers of invention demanded that he should have a free rein.

By 1928 film-making was changing. Small studios were dissolving into big business corporations. The big companies were taking over everywhere, not only the studios but also the cinemas, with the result that independent film makers could find few cinemas in which to show their films. Keaton gave up his own studio to join Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It was a disastrous mistake. He was swamped in the vast organisation, his independence was lost, his ingenuity was suffocated. At the age of 33 Buster’s career ended.

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Cineorama is a circular projection inspired by nineteenth-century cycloramas

Posted in America, Cinema, Historical articles, History on Tuesday, 26 November 2013

This edited article about cinema first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 463 published on 28 November 1970.

American cyclorama, picture, image, illustration
The Volcano of Kilauea at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 was a painted cyclorama of the greatest active volcano in the northern hemisphere, and a prototype of the cinematic version we call cineorama

Have you ever been wrapped up in a film?

Cinerama and other curved screen techniques try to do just this and they succeed until the customer turns his head and looks at blank nothingness.

Reality lasts only for viewers with rigid necks. To overcome this weakness in the system a circular cinema has been built in Disneyland, U.S.A., in which eleven projectors and eleven screens give all-round vision. The Russians have also shown a travel film Russian Roundabout on a circular screen. Unfortunately there have to be frames or joints in the picture for the numerous projectors to poke through.

Do not think that cinema-in-the-round is the latest thing.

Long, long ago, before Hollywood had made its first silent custard-pie, the marvel of Cineorama was revealed to the world.

In Paris, 1900, 200 people at a time crowded into a huge basket strung beneath a semblance of a gas-filled balloon. When Monsieur Raoul Grimoin-Sanson, the captain of the balloon, announced that they were about to leave the garden of the Tuileries, the balloon, without moving an inch, seemed to rise into the air. The gardens and buildings around the audience fell away before their very eyes. Whichever way they looked the scene was changing. Suddenly the balloon was flying over Brussels, then England, Spain and the Sahara desert. The lucky 200 were also treated to a cavalry charge and a storm at sea.

This was true cinema-in-the-round. Beneath the “basket” were ranged ten projectors, each showing matching scenes (no joins visible) of carefully hand-coloured film on ten screens 30 ft. high and 33 ft. wide . . . 330 ft. all round, which is far larger and more effective than anything shown anywhere since.

Charlie Chaplin’s comic career began in South London vaudeville

Posted in Actors, America, Cinema, Historical articles, History, Theatre on Tuesday, 15 October 2013

This edited article about clowns originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 425 published on 7 March 1970.

Young Charlie Chaplin, picture, image, illustration
Charlie Chaplin began appearing on the stage at the age of five by Emilio Frejo

The Canteen Theatre, Aldershot, was an entertainer’s nightmare. The audience were mainly soldiers who simply came to jeer. One night a singer got “the bird” because her voice cracked and she was howled off the stage. The stage manager sent on her five-year-old son instead. He had seen him performing to his mother’s friends, but never in public.

The little boy went on and sang a song called Jack Jones. The soldiers threw money on the stage. He stopped and announced he would pick it up first and sing afterwards and got his first laugh. The most famous clown in history, Charlie Chaplin, was on the way to the top.

Yet from this night onwards Charlie’s life was bleak in the extreme for many years. Born in 1889, he was brought up by his loving mother.

Charlie did many jobs as a boy when he was not roaming the decaying streets of South London. Among other jobs, he sold newspapers, made toys and acted as a doctor’s errand boy.

His first stage job, when he was nine, was as one of a troupe of clog dancers called The Eight Lancashire Lads. He toured with them for a time, and also made a success in the role of a cat in a London pantomime. Charlie got his first big break when he played Billy the page-boy in a long tour of a play about Sherlock Holmes. He was now twelve-and-a-half and his days of poverty were over.

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The Battleship Potemkin shamed Russia and stirred Eisenstein’s imagination

Posted in Cinema, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Ships on Tuesday, 8 October 2013

This edited article about Russia originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 420 published on 31 January 1970.

Port of Odessa, picture, image, illustration
The mutiny spread onto the streets of Odessa where striking workers supported the sailors’ cause

Forced to eat maggoty meat, the Russian sailors sent representatives to make an official complaint. It was rejected – brutally – and then events moved swiftly. When one of the officers grabbed a gun and shot a rating, the mutiny erupted in full fury

The meat hanging in the mess deck galley stank. It swung gently on its steel hooks with the motion of the ship, and writhed quietly with maggots.

Some of the crew had already seen the meat. More of them had smelled it, for its cloying stench filled the iron companionways of the warship. They were new sailors, most of the crew, and unused to the harsh naval discipline of the Russian Navy as practised in 1905. Perhaps if they had been longer-serving men they would not have dared to notice the meat. They would have eaten it obediently, maggots and all. For all that, the conditions on board were shameful. And the situation was brought to a head when the crew of the Battle Cruiser Potemkin refused their lunch.

If they had been content with a mere refusal, the matter would no doubt have ended then and there, for the officers had little to do with the men, and were too comfortable in their own cabins and saloons, toasting the Tsar’s health in the best wines, to see if the men were adequately fed. In Russia before the Revolution the aristocracy and officers considered themselves virtually a different species of man to the peasant, common soldier and seaman. In other words, they would have known nothing about the men’s refusal to eat.

However, times were altering in Russia, even though the great Revolution was still twelve years in the future. There were strikes in the big cities and small rebellions here and there against the hardships and ill treatment the poor had to suffer whilst the rich pretended not to notice. The revolutionary spirit was in the air of 1905.

The sailors aboard the Potemkin sent representatives to make an official complaint to the officers.

According to one version of the story, Commander Giliarovsky, the ship’s executive officer, ordered a number of men to be chosen at random from the crew, covered with a tarpaulin, as was an old Russian custom, and shot. This was his manner in settling the men’s complaint.

The men were chosen and the firing squad were ordered to load their rifles. They loaded but refused to shoot.

Suddenly there was an uproar on the decks of the ship. Giliarovsky grabbed a gun in an attempt to quell the men and shot and killed a rating named Grigory Vakulinchuk.

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Cinema is an art of illusion where all is not what it seems

Posted in America, Arts and Crafts, Cinema, Historical articles, History on Thursday, 3 October 2013

This edited article about cinema originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 416 published on 3 January 1970.

Wild West bank robbery, picture, image, illustration
In a Western the small town streets will be the slim facades of bank and shop fronts, propped up with wooden plinths, by Ron Embleton

In the theatre, an audience will happily accept the artificial restrictions of a stage set, where the fourth wall has been taken away so that the audience becomes an onlooker into someone’s living-room. Fundamentally a static medium, which depends on the quality of the play and its acting performances, its sole advantage over the cinema is that an audience can see live actors in a three-dimensional setting.

The cinema, on the other hand, strives to achieve a form of realism which is so convincing that the series of flickering images we see on the screen take on a life of their own.

Obviously, this automatically creates many problems for film makers. A script which demands large sets, exterior locations abroad, and a series of naval battles, could present a film maker with an enormous headache, to say nothing of the cost of it all. But fortunately for him, the cinema has built up a repertoire of mechanical tricks on which he can draw. His bad weather will be supplied by a machine, his foreign locations by back projection; his streets will be the slim facades of house and shop fronts, propped up with wooden plinths, and his naval battle scenes will be fought out by models in a tank.

The thrifty film maker has many tricks at his disposal. One of them is the “process shot.” This was invented by a German engineer named Schufftan, who first used it in the twenties for the film, Siegfried, based on the Nibelung Saga. Audiences were greatly impressed by the sets of gigantic castles and enormous banqueting halls, but what they did not know was that these sets were built up by the clever use of hand painted slides. The idea was later developed by an Englishman, named Percy Day, who also improved the technique of matte shots, another clever photographic technique which saves time and money.

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Cinerama and the technical challenge of 3D movies

Posted in America, Cinema, Historical articles, History, Technology on Wednesday, 2 October 2013

This edited article about cinema originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 415 published on 27 December 1969.

Cinerama. picture, image, illustration
This is Cinerama

One evening in September, 1952, some 1,000 people gathered in a Broadway Theatre in New York, to see a film which was frankly admitted by its sponsors to be an experimental production. The lights dimmed, and the curtains drew slowly back to reveal an expanse of screen six times larger than the normal screen. A few seconds later, the audience was gasping with excitement as they swooped and dived with a camera which had been attached to a roller coaster.

What the audience were seeing that night was the first public performance of Cinerama, Hollywood’s answer to television, which had been luring audiences away from the cinema in their thousands.

But what, in fact, is Cinerama? It was originally the brainchild of an American engineer, named Fred Waller, who had started his experiments as far back as 1937. Waller began with the realisation that we judged depth by the sight out of the corner of our eyes. Peripheral vision it is called. What he was seeking, therefore, was to create a process which would give the illusion of reality by making the audience feel that they were not, in fact, in a cinema, but actually watching or taking part in an event. The illusion of reality created by Cinerama, therefore, had to be closely linked to the function of the retina of the human eye and the drum of the human ear.

Fred Waller had taken on what must have seemed an almost impossible task, when you consider that, while a person’s attention may be directed primarily at one particular object, their field of vision also encompasses everything on either side of it. Likewise, a person walking down a city street, for example, hears not only the sound directly in front of him, but also that on either side of him and behind him. To bring this into a cinema would have meant building a screen that was literally a mile wide. Waller finally solved this difficulty by curving the screen in the same way that the retina of the eye is curved.

The genesis of Cinerama was, however, a painful one. In 1939, Waller created for the World’s Fair, a form of Cinerama which had a curved screen and a dome that hung over the front of the audience. No less than eleven projectors were needed to throw the image on the screen. The World’s Fair never used the idea.

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The future of cinema depends on quality and innovation

Posted in Actors, America, Cinema, Historical articles, History on Tuesday, 1 October 2013

This edited article about cinema originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 414 published on 20 December 1969.

Clark Gable, picture, image, illustration
Clark Gable, the film star who changed the underwear fashion of male America

There is no doubt that the worldwide distribution of American films has affected our way of life, though the influences at work may have seemed to be only marginal. For instance, the appearance of Southern fried chicken on a menu would hardly constitute a menace to the traditions of any European country. On the other hand, a seemingly casual happening on the screen can sometimes have the most astonishing results.

In the film, It Happened One Night, made in 1934, Clark Gable took his shirt off, and revealed that he was not wearing a vest. Within a few months the American male had completely given up wearing a vest. If this seems no worse than hard luck on the vest manufacturers, one should remember that a medium which can influence people so easily can also be potentially dangerous. The recent film, Bonny and Clyde, glorified and made folk heroes out of two people who were shown as victims of society, rather than the two irresponsible and vicious killers they really were. It would be going too far to say that the film did any real harm. But any film which glorifies violence should cause alarm, especially if it sets off a trend for similar films. Fortunately, a vigilant censor, who is not always right, has protected us from the worst excesses of the cinema.

The full impact of the American Way of Life struck the world in 1920, and it remained a powerful force until immediately after the war, when film attendances suddenly slumped alarmingly. This was because people were staying at home to stare at a small box-like appliance known as television. Panic stricken, the Hollywood film-makers re-examined their methods, not an easy task for men conditioned over many years to turning out mass produced films, which made few demands on the mind. Their answer was to launch into the production of a number of spectacular films, shown on a number of wide-screen processes known as Cinemascope, Vista Vision, Todd A-O, and later, Cinerama.

Although a number of good films were produced for the new mediums, the formula of the stories remained the same, and, when the novelty of the big screen had worn-off, the producers once more found themselves with rows of empty seats in the cinema.

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Alfred Hitchcock remains cinema’s peerless master of suspense

Posted in America, Cinema, Historical articles, History on Monday, 30 September 2013

This edited article about cinema originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 413 published on 13 December 1969.

Hound of the Baskervilles, picture, image, illustration
The Hound of the Baskervilles

It is dark and late when the silence of the house is broken by a knocking at the door. The sound reverberates through the old house, and the young couple who are visitors to the place look at each other over the guttering candle that rests on a table, casting dramatic shadows over their tense and drawn faces. The knocking is heard again, more thunderous this time. Slowly, taking his time, the young man goes to the door and begins pulling back the heavy bolts. With a great deal of creaking, the door swings open – to reveal the local vicar who, it turns out, is there for some entirely trivial and unconvincing reason.

The scene described could have been from any film of suspense made in the early days of the talkies when sinister happenings in old, dark houses were common. Since then, more sophisticated methods have been used to scare audiences. Which leads us to posing the question – why do audiences like to be scared? To answer this, we must first realise that every time we enter a cinema, we live for a few hours a life other than our own. In the darkened auditorium we become a cowboy bent on vengeance, a police inspector on the trail of a murderer, or an explorer, or whatever other character we see on the screen before us. In the same way that we share their thrills, we also share their fears, knowing in the back of our mind anyway, “that it is only a film.” We actually enjoy being frightened – as long as what is frightening us remains on the screen. Even the young filmgoer likes to be frightened, a fact which Walt Disney knew and exploited in his cartoon films, which had more than their full quota of cackling witches and baleful black cats.

Suspense takes all forms in the cinema. There is suspense in the classic Western situation, when two cowboys move towards each other for the final showdown in the deserted, silent street of some small, Western town. A Harold Lloyd comedy, with Lloyd teetering among the girders of an unfinished skyscraper, can provide suspense. Generally, however, we associate suspense with the thriller.

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