Monday, January 19, 2009


After spending most of my life at the movies (or at least thinking about them) and all of my adult life reviewing them professionally, I decided it was time to kick back with a little movie-free downtime.

But my wife Susan had other ideas. Convinced that I’m way too opinionated a soul to truly harness myself – and also too much of a movie aficionado to completely fast – she had this handsome blog designed for me. “Indulge yourself!,” she said. A compelling, possibly dangerous idea. After all, an idle mind can uncork some weird, comic demons, and this blog, I decided, would be devoted to my own personal demons - a collection of movie-fed daydreams.

My most intense movie passion revolves around those titles that are, well, not “the usual suspects." I'm not talking about great movies, but good, solid films that, as I point out in the introduction to your left, have been either neglected, overlooked, underrated, hastily dismissed or unfairly maligned.

These are films that are lost, plain and simple. They are just about impossible to see nowadays. Because of studio indifference/politics, they not only have never been issued on home video/DVD, but have also virtually disappeared from the airwaves, never or rarely televised anymore. Without some kind of acknowledgement and, yes, gratitude, these films have the potential disappear ...forever.

They are also the kinds of movies that critics rarely, if ever, return to – for the purpose of reevaluation that, by extention, would possibly adjust original first impressions that were perhaps the result of deadline pressures.

As a working critic, I had become keenly aware of how different a film can look when distanced from the prevailing hype (or bad press) that surrounded it on its initial release.

And, frankly, as a film enthusiast, I get weary of scanning the revival listings in The New Yorker magazine and The Los Angeles Times - only to find, yes, the usual suspects being honored and celebrated again. You know the culprits -“Citizen Kane,” “Nashville,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Searchers,” “Raging Bull” et al. These are films returned to by critics on a regular, predictable basis. There’s nothing left to say about them. Certainly, I have nothing to add. At this particular juncture in my life, such films seem to interest me less and less.

Rather, my goal is to share with you films of a rarer persausion - movies likely to go through my head at any given moment, often bleeding together.

When the mood strikes me, I hope to comment on Natalie Wood’s “Inside Daisy Clover.” On another day, it might be the lost Pat Boone musical, “Mardi Gras,” a personal guilty pleasure. There will be viewpoints on films unavailable on DVD, such as Billy Wilder’s “Ace in a Hole” and Martin Ritt’s “No Down Payment,” observations on Turner Classics’ invaluable presentations of movies in their difficult-to-see letterboxed ratio, such as Vincente Minnelli’s “Some Came Running” and pronouncements on those lost films that pop up occasionally and unexpectedly on American Movie Classics.

That said, I don’t mean to imply that this blog will devoted exclusively to Cinema Obscura, that there won’t be occasional comments on contemporary titles and new DVD releases. But I’ll make every effort to veer away from the current Hollywood blockbuster or the latest critics’ darling. One thread that I'd like to weave through this blog is what I call missed opportunities on DVD releases. For example, why on earth haven't Kevin Costner's deleted scenes in Lawrence Kasdan's "The Big Chill" ever materialized on home entertainment of any sort? And exactly where are all the songs excised from James Brooks' former musical, "I'll Do Anything"?

Speaking of musicals, I also hope to post periodic comments on the musical film, perhaps the most creative, least appreciated genre, one that embraces every possible art and craft. And I will certainly muse periodically about the appeal and talents of Jack Lemmon, an all-time favorite of mine, as well as the subject of two books that I wrote. There will be a LOT of Jack Lemmon here.

Anyway, on different days, in different moods, these movie-fed daydreams may vary, starting in one place and then going someplace else. And beware - my conclusions will be ever changing, too, sometimes maddeningly so.

I relish the idea of sharing these daydreams with you and sincerely hope that you will open up and share yours with me. And, by all means ... feel free to disagree. --Joe Baltake, 1/1/09

(Artwork: Natalie Wood, in extreme close-up, on a 1962 cover of SHOW Magazine.)