Tuesday, October 5, 2021

The NFR Project: 'The Gold Rush'

The Gold Rush

Dir: Charles Chaplin

Scr: Charles Chaplin

Phot: Roland Totheroh

Ed: Charles Chaplin

Premiere: June 26, 1925

88 min.

Charles Chaplin’s personification of the Little Tramp makes him the best-known and most sympathetic clown of all time. His clever mixture of cunning and sentimentality, his cocky nonchalance in the face of threat, and his childlike inventiveness all endear him to us.

Chaplin’s greatest film is set against an epic background. It is the Klondike Gold Rush, and his Little Tramp character is cast as the Lone Prospector. He marches blithely across studio-manufactured snowscapes. He fetches up against a cabin in the middle of a blizzard and finds himself thrown together with a couple of tough guys – Black Larsen and Big Jim McKay. (The Tramp’s scramble to avoid the muzzle of the gun Larsen and McKay fight over is impressively athletic.)

The Tramp and Big Jim wind up stuck together in the cabin, starving to death. Their solution? To eat a shoe, of course, one of the Tramp’s, lovingly basted and served with shoelaces on the side, like spaghetti. A hungry Big Jim hallucinates the Tramp is a chicken, and attempts to kill him. The two are spared by the providential arrival of a bear. That Chaplin can make comic hay out of starvation and murder is testament to his powers.

The two comrades part ways, and the Tramp goes to the nearby boom town. There, you see his character in his habitual state – alienated from the general mass. He is forever on the outside of human society, on the margin, peering in. The pathos with which he stands, back turned to us, contemplating the happy, jostling crowd in a dance hall, is almost unendurable.

He falls for a young dance-hall girl, Georgia, who is blithely unaware of his existence. His pathetic devotion to her finally wins her attention, when he is dragged away by Big Jim to find the cabin and Big Jim’s big gold strike. After a long comic sequence involving the cabin breaking loose and fetching up at the edge of a precipice, the two find their mine. A providential fate then brings our hero and his beloved together.

There are two versions of the film to choose from – the 1925 original, and the 1942 re-release, with a new score and Chapin’s narration instead of dialogue cards. The original still stands up to critical examination.

The NFR is one writer’s attempt to review all the films listed in the National Film Registry in chronological order. Next time: ‘Grass’.



Tuesday, September 28, 2021

How to Write a Film History Book


I remember marching off with my class to our elementary school library for the first time. We were set free in a room full of books, one of which we could select and check out. It was wild. Any book we wanted? I scanned the shelves. I saw a book with my name embedded in it – Ray Bradbury’s S is for Space. I grabbed it. Through this happy act of juvenile self-regard, I was introduced to the legendary writer’s work. I was immediately hooked.

I think, after that, I always intended to write a book. I knew I wanted to see my name on the spine of one, just like my namesake.

Fast-forward through several decades of my work as anything but a writer. I dropped out of college and started doing stand-up. After 15 years of pursuing that dream, I restyled myself as a journalist. From that I evolved into a freelance writer, and finally found the time to work on a book. But what about? There are those who advocate writing to a specific market, and others who counsel following your instincts. Both are correct.

I looked at my writing output to date. It was chockful of discussion of horror film. At the same time, I searched for a book that was a comprehensive guide to horror films, from the beginning to today, something that included all countries’ contribution to the genre. I couldn’t find one. I put two and two together. I figured on writing something I was genuinely enthusiastic about, that could also sell. I wanted to write a book that would serve as a reference in libraries, that could be used as a guide in educational institutions, that the average reader would find entertaining and informing.

Even though I’m offering my experience here, I would say that if you really want to write a book for the first time, just jump right in and start. Ignorance is bliss. If you have no idea of the scope of your project, you can march forward with confidence, unaware of the incredible amount of expansion and rewriting to come. (All right, a few recommended guides are listed below.)

It doesn’t matter how bad you think you are doing, get it down on the page. It will eventually be improved so that it is unrecognizable. If you can’t find the right word, get as close as you can. It will come later to you. Just be kind to yourself and emit words no matter how.

As I was writing a non-fiction narrative, I had to construct a scheme, a plan of attack, a table of contents (all these documents are sought by potential publishers, as it turns out. They want to see if you have any sense whatsoever of being able to produce something that is intelligible, entertaining, and perhaps even popular and/or competitive). I did not start with a completely thought-out outline of the history of the horror film. I had clumps of films, and clumps of dates, and a skeleton filled itself out as my researches progressed. I even added three chapters towards the end of the project to make sure I covered all the bases.

I worked and reworked each chapter, over and over again. At the same time I was reading reams of books and watching tons of films, immersing myself in the subject. Gradually, it took shape. And about four years.

Eventually, I had completed enough of a book (an outline and two sample chapters) to send off to publishers and agents. I worked hard to create a thorough and well-considered package of the material, in the hopes that it would appeal. You will spend a significant amount of time figuring out how to market your book effectively. 

I sold the book myself to an academic publisher. It was my 100th and final submission.

Speaking of marketing, here's the link to my book, on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Dark-World-History-Horror/dp/149683321X

Some helpful texts:

Of course, the most current Writer’s Market you can get a hold of;

How to Write a Book Proposal, Michael Larsen

The Writer’s Guide to Queries, Pitches & Proposals, Moira Allen

How to Sell, Then Write Your Nonfiction Book, Blythe Camenson

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The NFR Project: 'The Freshman' (1925)


The Freshman

Dir: Fred C Newmeyer, Sam Taylor

Scr: Sam Taylor, Ted Wilde, John Grey, Tim Whelan, Thomas J. Gray, Harold Lloyd

Phot: Walter Lundin

Ed: Allen McNeil

Premiere: Sept. 20, 1925

76 min.

Of the three great silent-era film comedians, Harold Lloyd was the friendliest. Chaplin played outsiders, and Keaton was a stone-faced magician. Lloyd was one of us, just someone who wanted to be successful and accepted.

The Freshman is Lloyd’s most successful and second-best-known film, after the iconic Safety Last! (1923). It inspired a spate of “college films,” and is an early example of a sports comedy as well.

Lloyd plays a na├»ve but energetic incoming university student. He dreams of being the college hero, and acts, foolishly, as his college-movie idol does. In fact he is quickly regarded as the college boob. His relentless optimism keeps him going, even when he endures humiliations such as a tuxedo that falls apart at a college dance, or serving as the football team’s tackling dummy. He makes it to the Big Game as a water boy, and when everyone is injured he takes his place on the field.

Lloyd’s character is right out of a Horatio Alger story – someone of god heart who, with luck and pluck, overcomes all obstacles and succeeds. His belief makes him a sap in the eyes of others, but it also elevates him to exactly the position of status he was after in the first place. It’s Lloyd’s innate goodness that keeps the audience on his side.

The NFR is one writer’s attempt to review all the films listed in the National Film Registry in chronological order. Next time: ‘The Gold Rush’.