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The Terrror…er…Targets

I am watching a Roger Corman-helmed B-movie called The Terror. An elderly Boris Karloff in period costume descends stone steps in a castle to open a tomb. Another man bashes in a door to follow him. There is an appartion of a woman. A breach in the wall leads to an inrushing of water. Some characters fall into the water. A man dives in to retrieve a woman—I’m not really certain just what is occuring. The images trade in cliched horror tropes, and I feel that I have seen this movie before, even though I really never have. The opening credits are being rapidly superimposed over the fairly incoherent sequence—but they are for the wrong film. The credits proclaim that this is Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets. Though I have just begun the film, the title card comes up: “The End.”

And…cut to the image of a screening room. On the front row is Boris Karloff, or as he is known in Targets, Byron Orlok. Behind him, with a characteristic head-in-hand gesture, is Peter Bogdanovich, the writer-director of Targets, playing writer-director Sammy Michaels. Cut again to a close-up of Karloff as the lights slowly come up, and with a slight twitch of the mouth, and a bowing of the head, I see that Orlok is weary, disappointed, and ready to end his acting career.

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Cheyenne Autumn: a Sad Story of Good Intentions

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Cheyenne Autumn is full of such immaculately composed pictures.

John Ford’s final western film, Cheyenne Autumn (1964), has not received the critical or popular reappraisal that many of his other films were to achieve. Even the most favorable reviews tend to be measured in their praise, and mostly regarding the Oscar-nominated photography of William Clothier. This film was released in an era of overlong widescreen epics, many of whose runtime exceeds their value. But it is still a disappointment to witness the ambling structure of the episodic narrative coming from John Ford, whose best films are so often perfectly proportioned. A mere two years before Ford had released The Man who Shot Liberty Valance, a film that is vastly superior in pacing, characterization, and exploration of its chosen theme. Though Liberty Valance did not benefit from the majestic location footage in Ford’s beloved Monument Valley, it still manages to give a greater and more epic story in a similarly elegiac mood.

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The Animated Films of Winsor McCay – Classic Movie History Project

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Winsor McCay, center, in the prologue to Little Nemo.

I’m willing to bet that many of my generation first discovered the work of Winsor McCay in the same way that I did: through Bill Blackbeard and Martin Williams’s important catalog of artistry known as The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics. Presented amongst dozens of other comic strip creations, both forgotten and celebrated, the full page colorful splendors of “Little Nemo in Slumberland” stood out even alongside such luminaries as Gottfredson’s “Mickey Mouse” or Segar’s “Thimble Theatre.”

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Texas Film Sites 2: Rushmore

Rushmore is one of my favorite films from writer-director Wes Anderson. It was released in 1998, but I probably didn’t see it until about 2004, when I was living in the Houston Heights neighborhood. I had stopped in at a local, old-fashioned barbershop for a haircut, and the barber struck up a conversation with me. He asked me if I had been there before, and when I indicated that I hadn’t, he told me a bit about the place, including how it had been used as a filming location for Rushmore. After I paid for my haircut (cash only, even more than ten years later) I headed straight down the street to the local Blockbuster Video (RIP) to rent the movie.

I had previously seen Anderson’s Bottle Rocket, though I don’t know that I even made the connection at the time. So Rushmore was my gateway into Anderson fandom, and now I consider The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou probably my favorite film period, and I love all his films, though I am a contrarian to popular opinion in that I feel The Royal Tenenbaums to be his least successful work. It wasn’t only the quaint barbershop that was used for filming, though. Rushmore was shot on location in many places throughout Houston. I decided this week to revisit three of them that I have become personally familiar with since seeing the film.

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Blind Spot 2016: The Music Room

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The Music Room, which dominates the fate of its master, looms large over his figure in this striking composition.

The great Indian Bengali filmmaker, Satyajit Ray, released one of his most renowned masterworks, The Music Room, in 1958, just prior to the third film in his Apu trilogy. This film, based on a short story by Tarasankar Bandyopadhyay, is in a completely different mode of storytelling than the epic and realistic style of the Apu films. Though it contains no elements of magic or mysticism, The Music Room is essentially a fable, packed with symbolism but nevertheless remaining grounded and humanistic. Mirrors, a chandelier, insects, a cane, all play a role as powerful visual symbols in Ray’s story. But the role of sound and music is most important of all, with some of the most absorbing musical performances I know of in the movies.

For a synopsis of the plot, I invite you to read Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies” review. For myself, in watching this film though I was very aware of the cultural gaps between myself and the world portrayed in the story, I still was moved by the essence of the human drama and the universal themes that Ray explored. In his essay for the Criterion release, Philip Kemp writes, “Ray himself, believing it too culturally specific to attract non-Indian audiences, ‘didn’t think it would export at all.'” Ray was mistaken, of course, since this has come to be a film beloved around the world. But still, there is some truth that there would undoubtedly be more depth of feeling if I could understand the art of the film from the inside, rather than as a foreigner.

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Texas Film Sites 1: TRUE GRIT


The world’s most symmetrical building: The Old Blanco County Courthouse

This summer, I was on vacation with my family in the Texas hill country, when I stumbled accidentally into a site of interest for this blog. Cinephiles everywhere can spot the many uses of Monument Valley in John Ford’s westerns, or the LA’s iconic Bradbury Building in everything from sci-fi classic Blade Runner to the silent film tribute The Artist. But it is a real joy to find a hidden gem of a film site, right here in my home state. In the first of what I hope to be a series of posts about lesser known film locations in Texas, I would like to share my discovery of the Old Blanco County Courthouse in Blanco, Texas. You can read about the history of the building, which is now a visitor’s center and event venue, at their website.

Joel and Ethan Coen’s terrific 2010 version of True Grit features a memorable introduction of Jeff Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn as a witness in a courtroom scene. This scene and the following one on the staircase are shot in the interior of the Old Blanco County Courthouse.

As you enter the building on the lower floor, the hallways contain various historical photos and memorabilia from the 130 years of the building’s history. As I was perusing a case containing fossils recovered from the area, I spotted a small photo collage with pictures of Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld in western costume. I asked the kind lady attending the visitors’ information desk, and she confirmed that indeed, the Coen Brothers had filmed in the upstairs courtroom. She directed me to the elevator, and began to say, “Kids love to run around up there—”

“Oh, no, I won’t let them,” I interrupted.

“Oh, yes, please let them, they will love it! It’s fine!” she assured me. And so we let the children run around the floor, making a ton of noise on the antique wooden boards, to the apparent delight of the lady downstairs.


The upstairs courtroom.

In the back corner of the courthouse, there was an instrument I had never seen before. They have on display an antique square player-piano. I have seen square pianos and player pianos, but never before one that was both. At first, I thought the label was mistaken, since I couldn’t find the usual piano roll mechanism. But looking underneath the piano, I could see that there was an unusual mechanism that was all housed below. The piano also served to display a local man’s lovingly-crafted, charming wooden scale model of the building.

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Antique square player-piano and homemade wooden model of the courthouse building.

It’s easy to see why the Coens chose this location. The bright Texas sun beams in through the windows in dramatic shafts, captured so fantastically by Roger Deakins’s Oscar-nominated cinematography. As Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) enters the room and walks across to find a good view, the camera tracks along her POV, giving us a glimpse of the decorated courtroom between the standing row of spectators.

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Down in front!

Mattie’s ascent into the courtroom, as well as her meeting of Rooster Cogburn are both also shot on the actual staircase of this historic location.


One of two mirror-image staircases.

When Mattie confronts Rooster, you can see this very staircase, and its twin is visible out of focus in the reverse angle.

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Rooster Descending a Staircase. (Apologies to Duchamp)

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One of the exterior doors also visible here.

Where the cabinet in the background of this shot is, now stands the visitor’s information desk.

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And the rest of the hall visible, out of focus in background.


The lower floor, with staircases. Image source.


The upper floor. The large central room is the courtroom. Image source.

This was an unexpected treat for a movie lover like me. But it inspires me to be more proactive in the future in referencing other movie locations before I take another trip!

Be sure to comment below if you have had experiences of finding movie locations, or if you have suggestions of other Texas Film Sites I should profile.

Happy Birthday to me


Get it?

F for Films celebrates 1 year in the blogosphere!

My first real post, The Suspension of Belief, was published on June 9, 2015. Since then I’ve had a lot of fun, and met a lot of cool cinephiles online. I didn’t know if this blog would be a flash in the pan for me, but I’ll keep it going at least another year I think before I burn out!

Please like and share my new Facebook page if you have enjoyed anything I’ve written here.

Sincere thanks for everyone for reading, and especially for commenting and sharing your thoughts. This has been more fun than I imagined when I started it up, thanks to you people out there in internetland. Thank you!