Posts tagged “movies”.

UNDEREMPLOYMENT CINEMA — Horror Hotel [City of the Dead] (1960)

I saw this movie as a child and for many years all I remembered about it was that when the clock struck THIRTEEN, a woman was about to plunge a knife into a blonde student’s heart and the film suddenly cut to Susie slicing into her birthday cake. And that was all I remembered. I think I was about ten when I saw this on either Creature Feature on channel 5 or Chiller theater on on channel 11.

Then I spoke to a co-worker about it in 2000 and he said it sounded like Horror Hotel and finally 18 years later it was on TCM!

The only actor I recognize at all here is a younger Christopher Lee. The film is in black and white but possibly the most atmospheric b/w I have seen. John Moxey sets up an atmosphere of encroaching danger nicely as a mob comes through the fog to “burn the witch!” As a horror film, it works really well, quite likely because there are not a lot of bodies piling up and the action moves quickly and logically. There aren’t a lot of jump scares or twists and turns here. And not a lot of stupid stuff happens here, either, like going upstairs when you should run screaming to safety elsewhere.

The witch burning scene that opens the film is actually a dramatization of a history about the witch Elizabeth Selwyn being read by Professor Driscoll to his class. Student Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson) is interested in doing more research into witchcraft and the witch Elizabeth Selwyn. Driscoll recommends she go to the tiny town Whitewood, and recommends an inn.

There is a LOT of FOG in Whitewood and a lot of extras with no dialogue staring at Nan as she walks around town, and it gets even creepier when her brother comes looking for her after she mysteriously disappears. It’s also hard to imagine this movie in anything but black and white. It just aids the creepy goings on at the Inn, like people dancing in the lobby but disappearing once Nan opens the door and decides to join them.  And of course there’s a mute woman. And the innkeeper looks so much like the witch killed back in the 1600s!

There are some stupid moments as most horror movies have, like picking up creepy hitchhikers. But people did stuff like that in 1960. Horror Hotel is a very effective horror movie without a lot of slashing or gore (if you don’t count three dead birds and a human sacrifice). And like Psycho, which came out the same year, the blonde heroine of the movie dies in the first half of the movie and is never seen again.

Some actors sound very British; the film was filmed in England. The actual title of City of the Dead, based on the notion that during Satanic holidays the dead rise up and take over the town.

LAST SEEN: 1973.

UNDEREMPLOYMENT CINEMA — That Hamilton Woman (1941)

Fresh off her success as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, we have Vivien Leigh in the title role of Emma Hamilton. Well, she did two other movies in 1940. But That Hamilton Woman takes advantage of Leigh’s figure and beauty and we see her in an endless parade of shimmering gowns and big hats, and that might almost be enough for me, quite frankly. But there’s an actual story it’s a good one.

The film starts out with Emma down on her luck in Calais, tossed in jail for stealing a bottle of wine.  Actress Heather Angel as “a street girl” is in the brig with her and Angel urges her to tell her story, “whether it’s real or not.” And she tells the girls about how she came to Naples with her mother, was practically sold off by her fiance to his rich uncle, the British Ambassador, and how she married him, learned French and Italian, and wound up best pals with the Queen of the Two Sicilies. Eventually, Horatio Nelson shows up needing 10,000 troops to trounce Napoleon and Emma succeeds in 10 minutes where her husband would have failed in a week.

It takes a while but (married) Admiral Nelson (Laurence Olivier) and Emma become lovers. Josiah, his stepson, seethes and writes home to mother complaining about “That Hamilton Woman.”

As things progress, the Two Sicilies are overrun by the French, so Nelson goes back to Naples to “save the Royal Family” but it’s all about Emma. The whole thing is a wonderful fantasy until they get back to London and of course, the vinegary wife of the Admiral and of course society are keeping a close eye on these two.

There are also a LOT of speeches about how awful Napoleon is and how all of Euopre is cowering and that the only way to deal with a dictator is to SMASH HIM, and of course, the movie is  filmed in 1941 so all these speeches against Napoleon are all about Hitler.

CASUAL MOVIE RACISM: Since this is Italy in 1799, there are no black servants to denigrate, but Emma’s mother later complains about how all the Italians “smell of onions,” and how the smell gets worse when they are excited about something. This reminded me of Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life complaining about “those garlic eaters.”

SPOILER ALERT: After Nelson dies, we cut back to Emma in jail, looking like a very haggard Greta Garbo, and Heather Angel says, “And then what happened?” and Emma doesn’t give a real answer, so we never find out how Emma, who rose from being a dancer and a courtesan to helping Nelson destroy Napoleon’s armies and ships more than once, wound up falling from grace and stealing booze in Calais!

LAST SEEN: I think I only saw part of this movie while in high school, on a Sunday afternoon at Grandma’s house.

Cinema Non-Paradiso

A few weeks ago I went to see The Favourite at the Regal Union Square, which requires designated seating for everyone in the audience. Sigh.

I get to my seat and there’s someone in it. I start to mention that they are in my seat, they probably just need to move one over, and the younger of the two women immediately and dripping with entitlement starts a screed. “Look, my grandmother is 88 years old and she want to sit HERE, so why don’t you just sit THERE,” indicating the empty seats in front of her. I start to answer, “Well, I don’t need to deal with the problem of whomever has THOSE seats,” and she immediately yells, “For God’s sake, those are our seats! Just take them. What is your problem?”

“My PROBLEM is your attitude. Why are you screaming at me?”

“Well, I don’t have an attitude and I am screaming NOW.”

“Why are you screaming AT ALL?”

So I take their seats, and as I am getting settled, the preview on screen is pretty loud and the younger woman starts to talk to me so I just replied, “Look, I can’t hear you, and since I don’t really care what you have to say at this point, STOP TALKING TO ME, IS THAT UNDERSTOOD?”

Of course, I get a look from her like,”What’s HIS problem?”

Now, if the woman had just said to me, “Oh, my grandmother is settled in here and those are her seats just ahead of us. Do you mind taking our seats?” of course I would have agreed and there wouldn’t have been a single extra word about it. This is why I hate assigned seating in movie theatres. You’re stuck if you get jerks nearby, and who in New York City wants to start the “you’re in my seat” problem

Luckily the movie was wonderful and except for a few times when Grandma behind me kept kicking my seat, there was no further incident.

NOW, in the old days in New York City, if I didn’t want to sit near anyone for any reason, I just got up and moved to another seat. I once changed my seat three times before a movie started because I just KNEW the people near me were going to be a problem. (Cell phones, loudness, odor, you name it.)

I really do prefer seeing movies in cinemas but I really don’t like having lots of people around me. The once time I have gone recently to a Saturday night film, it was A Star Is Born and two women next to me started talking loudly, and gesturing wildly, the moment the movie started. I gave them “the look” and a quarter turn and they stoppedat

I don’t get it. You’re paying anywhere from $11 to $15 to see this movie. Why the hell are you talking!? Just shut up for two hours. It’s not that hard. Just put your lips together and keep your eyes open.


Some folks seem puzzled and even confused about UNDEREMPLOYMENT CINEMA, and it’s two older sisters, BROKEN ANKLE CINEMA and UNEMPLOYMENT CINEMA. It’s pretty simple: When a windfall of extra free time came along, it gave me a chance to watch more movies. It started earlier in 2018 when I broke my ankle and had to stay off my feet and lived in the living room 24/7.

I went back to work in May and then two months later, the powers that be fired half the editorial staff at the New York Daily News and all but one of the library staff. I was head librarian; I was not kept.

So while I was unemployed I started recording a lot of movies to my DVR–mostly from Turner Classic Movies but also some from Fox’s FXM channel and some others.

ACTIVITY THUS FAR: I have been posting small capsules on Facebook with screenshots off the TV.

CRITERIA: I have been trying to watch movies that I have either never seen or those I saw once but quite a long time ago.

BELIEVE IT OR NOT: There are MANY classic movies that I have never seen. I have never seen Casablanca (except for the last five minutes). I have never seen the Godfather. I have never seen The Graduate! There’s just a lot I have never seen, for a variety of reasons. First, growing up in the 1970s, we tended to repeat viewings if a movie was on TV. Maybe you saw a movie two or three times in the cinema if you were really crazy about it. Unlike kids who grew up in the 1980s, we did not have VCRs so we could re-watch a Disney movie every blessed day.

Another problem was film-student snobbery. In college I came to learn that movies on TV were chopped up (like much of the first third of Psycho) and some movies were meant for viewing on the big screen. And in the 1990s, our TVs in general were much smaller and reading subtitles was more difficult. I mean, I would read them, but a 13-inch screen is not the way to see a lot of these classic movies.

But now, we have 50-inch screens and a million and one things streaming, and my part-time job is only 15 hours a week, so… UNDEREMPLOYMENT CINEMA!


The Vic Buffer

A friend of mine, Pat, introduced me to two wonderful institutions after we graduated college. One was the Indian restaurant Romna, on East Sixth Street (which we frequented for years) and the other was Huntington’s New Community Cinema, housed in an old elementary school in Huntington, on the other side of the Nassau-Suffolk border. The first film I saw there was Dance with a Stranger.


Supporting cinema with t-shirts.

I eventually joined as a member for a while, and went regularly through 1989, when I moved to Manhattan. They showed every major foreign film and independent release possible. One Sunday, Mark and I went to see Marcel Pagnol’s “Fanny Trilogy” for an entire day. That’s how we learned the term, “Escartefigerie.” Every month, maybe more, they had silent films accompanied by a live pianist.

The cinema was actually only in part of the building. It shared space with a YMCA. The theatre was actually the school auditorium. The seats were uncomfortable at times. But they had wonderful snacks–blondies and brownies, herbal tea and hot chocolate, and after a while, you became friendly with the volunteers who staffed the door and the concessions, and the projectionist.

I remember once scrambling to leave work on time so I could get home to Woodhaven via subway and jump into my car and cross Nassau County and get on Route 110 so I could see a silent movie on time. This was the age of VCRs, but honestly, until DVDs came along, I didn’t really enjoy watching things on VHS. Plus, cinemas are all about a larger-than-your-life screen and a dreamlike experience as the lights go down and you get absorbed by and absorb what’s on the screen.

This was before smartphones. All you really had to worry about was a geriatric viewer in the audience saying, “What’s going on!? I DON’T UNDERSTAND” to his wife.

I saw films there I have not seen since on TV or are not available on DVD, like Pervola: Tracks in the Snow. I often wondered just how many films they had to watch just to sift through everything to get us the good stuff.

I was out of college but had some friends who were still at Hofstra, so sometimes it was a mad dash to Hofstra to collect them, then get to Huntington. We soon learned that it was usually okay to be 10 to 20 minutes late, because of the “Vic Buffer.”

One of the cinema’s founders, Vic Skolnick, usually introduced the films, and would talk for at least 10 minutes, if not more. My friend Abdul would say, “Don’t worry, there’s a Vic Buffer. He had been a history professor, so those buffers were good lessons on a variety of subjects.

And there was usually a meal before but usually after the movies.

Buying this t-shirt helped support independent cinema on Long Island. Skolnick and his partner of 60 years, Charlotte Sky, started their effort by showing movies on a library projector on a bedsheet up in a friend’s dance studio somewhere about 40 year ago.

They eventually were able to raise money to add a second screening area in the area behind the screen–the auditorium’s backstage area, and it became the Cinema Arts Centre.

It was sad to hear that Vic died this summer at the age of 81. Read more about him.