10/2/15: Midday on Space Exploration at the Movies (and TV)

[Missed the show? Check out the podcast!]

Rodricks Space Exploration Collage

Since the early 1950s, as the Cold War truly got under way and the rocket race heated up, the filmmakers of Hollywood – first in film, and then on TV – began to imagine what space exploration might look like. After all, if new telescopes could see far into the galactic heavens and we could launch missiles high into the sky, it hardly seemed far-fetched to predict that we would one day walk on the moon. Though populations world-wide were terrified of atomic bombs and worried about the nuclear arsenals built up by the Soviet Union and United States, it was, in fact, the competition between those two superpowers that motivated their respective governments to put money and intellectual resources into their space programs, hoping to be the first to send a man beyond earth’s orbit. The Soviets reached space first – with Yuri Gagarin – but the Americans were the first to set foot on the moon – with Neil Armstrong. All the while, Hollywood kept making their own cinematic versions of space travel, from Destination Moon (1950) to Forbidden Planet (1956) to the 1960s TV series Lost in Space and Star Trek to Stanley Kubrick’s seminal sci-fi masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the 1970s, with new special-effects technology, the look of space exploration changed, with films like Star Wars (1977) and Alien (1979), which posited a universe (past and future) where space travel was the norm and ordinary folks took it for granted. Where Star Trek had imagined space as an exciting “final frontier,” Alien held out the possibility that life on other planets might destroy us.

Some movies have tried to focus on the science – rather than the science fiction – of space exploration, among them Apollo 13 (1995), Gravity (2013), and Interstellar (2014) (sort of). Whatever one thinks of any of these films, we can all agree that we have come a long way since French filmmaker Georges Méliès first put space travel on the silver screen in his 1902 short film A Trip to the Moon. And now, on Friday, October 2, 2015, we have a new film, The Martian, from Ridley Scott (director of Alien). Where will it fall on the spectrum of movies about space? Join us on that Friday, at 1pm, on WYPR 88.1 FM, for the Midday with Dan Rodricks show, when Christopher Llewellyn Reed (that’s me) – Chair and Professor, Department of Film/Video, Stevenson University – and  William U’Ren – Assistant Professor, English, Goucher College – will discuss Hollywood’s depiction of space travel, in film and TV. Note that we will only be discussing films that deal with humans traveling into space, and not aliens coming to earth.

Add your voices to the conversation via email (midday@wypr.org) or phone (410-662-8780 locally, or toll-free at 1-866-661-9309). If you can’t listen locally, you can live-stream the podcast here: http://www.wypr.org/listen-live. If you can’t listen live, then check out the podcast later by visiting the show’s site. You can also leave your thoughts on your favorite space-travel films and TV shows in the comment section of this blog.

Enjoy the show! This will actually be the last one that Dan Rodricks will do as host of Midday, as he is moving on to other projects. So join us to say goodbye, at the very least!

Midday on Jurassic Summer: Blockbusters and Indies of Summer 2015

[Missed the show? Check out the podcast!]

Rodricks Summer 2015 Poster

We’re back and ready to review the films of the summer blockbuster season – those in theaters, those that have come and might be gone soon, and those about to be released – and make our recommendations of what to see and what to avoid. From big studio offerings like Jurassic World (currently the #1 film of the year) and Inside Out – both in an ongoing box-office battle over the past three weeks – to more independent fare like Love & Mercy, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Infinitely Polar Bear, or the new documentary about the late Amy Winehouse (entitled simply Amy), plus many more, we’re here to offer our take on what the summer has to offer.

Join us on Friday, July 10, at 1pm, on WYPR 88.1 FM, for the Midday with Dan Rodricks show, when Linda DeLibero – Director, Film and Media Studies, Johns Hopkins University – and Christopher Llewellyn Reed (that’s me) – Chair and Professor, Department of Film/Video, Stevenson University – will discuss the hits and the misses of the current season. Add your voices to the conversation via email (midday@wypr.org) or phone (410-662-8780 locally, or toll-free at 1-866-661-9309). If you can’t listen locally, you can live-stream the podcast here: http://www.wypr.org/listen-live. If you can’t listen live, then check out the podcast later by visiting the show’s site. You can also leave your thoughts on summer films in the comment section of this blog.

Enjoy the show!

Midday on “Jaws” at 40: June 26 @ 1pm

[NOTE: Missed the show? You can always listen to the podcast!]

Jaws original poster

On Friday, June 20, 1975, a then little-known director by the name of Steven Spielberg premiered his second theatrical feature, Jaws. Based on author Peter Benchley’s smash debut novel – a best-seller already a year before its adaptation came out – the film was a phenomenal box-office megahit (the first to make more than $100 million) that transformed how movies were marketed and released; indeed, it almost single-handedly invented the modern blockbuster. Beyond that, it was also an excellent action thriller, made under difficult conditions at sea (it was mostly shot on and off the island of Martha’s Vineyard) that could just as easily have sunk both the film and the career of its young helmer. Instead, Spielberg parlayed his critical and commercial triumph into one of the longest and most successful Hollywood careers of all time. He and his good friend George Lucas (who, with Star Wars in 1977, cemented Hollywood’s embrace of blockbuster culture) may have, in 2013, complained about the kinds of films now made by the studios, but with their one-two knockout punch to the movie industry’s “new wave” experiments of the 1970s, they are largely responsible, for better or for worse, for our current era. Still, Jaws remains ever what it was: a terrifically entertaining movie made with tremendous skill and energy, extremely watchable even 40 years after its release.

Join us on Friday, June 26, at 1pm, on WYPR (88.1FM), on the Midday with Dan Rodricks show, when Linda DeLibero – Director, Film and Media Studies, Johns Hopkins University – and Christopher Llewellyn Reed (that’s me) – Chair and Professor, Department of Film/Video, Stevenson University – will discuss, along with our host, Dan Rodricks, our thoughts on Jaws and Spielberg (about whom we did a previous show, back in January, 2013), as well as on the film’s impact on Hollywood and popular culture. What, to you, has been the film’s legacy since it came out in 1975? If you the saw the film in its original run, what did you think of it then, and what do you think of it now? Do you ever, because of the film, think about sharks when you swim in the ocean (I know I do!)? Do you avoid the water completely? Add your voices to the conversation via email (midday@wypr.org) or phone (410-662-8780 locally, or toll-free at 1-866-661-9309). If you can’t listen live, then check out the podcast later by visiting the show’s site. You can also leave your thoughts in the comment section of this blog. Hope you can listen in!

Midday on the Great War at the Movies: 11/7/14 @ 1pm

[NOTE: If you missed the show, you can listen to the podcast on the WYPR website.]

2014-11-07_Rodricks WWI Banner

World War I began 100 years ago this past summer, in 1914, and little did its participants know how much this “war to end all wars” would change the world they lived in. In fact, most thought, at the time, that the war would last but a few months. Before it was over, however, monarchies would fall, empires would crumble and our modern era would be born in a horrible baptism of literal fire and brimstone, the crucible of 19th-century thinking and 20th-century technology. This horrific struggle ran on until 1918, and nearly wiped out a generation of young men. Its duration parallels the rise of the feature-length movie as the dominant expression of global popular culture, yet not as many great – or even memorable – films have been made about the Great War than about its direct descendant, World War II. Still, there a number that are worth discussing, which include – but are not limited to – WingsAll Quiet on the Western FrontLa grande illusionPaths of GloryOh! What a Lovely WarGallipoli and War Horse.

Join us on Midday with Dan Rodricks (WYPR 88.1 FM, Baltimore’s NPR News Station) during the second hour, 1-2pm, on Friday, November 7, as Linda DeLibero – Director, Film and Media Studies, Johns Hopkins University – and Christopher Llewellyn Reed – Chair of Film/Video at Stevenson University – honor the work of filmmakers who have created indelible cinematic depictions of European civilization’s near total collapse.

If you can’t listen locally, you can live-stream the podcast.

And you can always download the podcast afterwards, either via iTunes or the Midday page.

Enjoy the show! Feel free to offer your own thoughts on good World War I movies in the comments to this post.

The Bondian Knot

Bond at 50

On Friday, October 5, 2012, Linda DeLibero, Associate Director of Film and Media Studies at Johns Hopkins, and I appeared on the Midday with Dan Rodricks show on WYPR, 88.1FM, Baltimore’s NPR News Station, to discuss 50 years of James Bond films. The first film, Dr. No, premiered on October 5, 1962, in London (though it didn’t open in the States until March 8, 1963). Dan wasn’t able to be on the show, so we had Korva Coleman as our guest host. Here is that full show: Midday with Dan Rodricks: 2012.10.05_Bond Films at 50

It was an excellent conversation, powered by the script that Dan had written, but an hour is just not enough time to spend discussing a 50-year phenomenon. So since I had done a fair amount of research prior to the show, and have been a lifelong lover of Bond, I thought I’d share some of my notes on the “franchise.” 

The Bondian Knot: Unraveling the Threads of Why We Love 007

We all know the iconic phrases – “Bond . . . James Bond,” “Shaken, Not Stirred,” “Oh . . . James” – and many of us may well be sick of them. Some of us may never have liked them to begin with. There are plenty of reasons to find the world of James Bond distasteful or repugnant, for sure.

Starting with the very first book, Casino Royale, published in 1953, there is an atmosphere of, at best, sexism, if not downright misogyny – consigning women to the role of evil temptresses or harmless sex objects – that pervades the series. And starting with Live and Let Die, the second book, published in 1954, Ian Fleming showed, unsurprisingly, that he was a man with the institutionalized racist attitudes of a British colonialist. The black Caribbean characters in that book are grotesques – even when they are the good guys – and most definitely less civilized than the great white hope that is Bond.

But such issues are not the sum total of the world of Bond, or else the books and, later, the films, would hardly have taken such strong hold of the world’s imagination. To read a Bond book or to watch a Bond film is to enter a universe where the fallible hero fights demons internal and external, waltzes (tangoes might be a better verb) with glamor, strikes like thunder . . . ball, kills with finesse when possible but with brutality when needed, is desired and desiring, and indulges in Epicurean tastes that are beyond the palate of most of us. He’s a lucky guy, but he mostly makes his own luck. He’s like a Western gunslinger, only with gadgets.

And he’s managed to evolve enough over the span of his cinematic career to adapt well enough to each new decade in order to survive and earn new fans.

Ian Fleming, born in 1908, published the first Bond novel, Casino Royale, in 1953. By the time he died, in 1964, he had published 10 more Bond novels and one collection of Bond stories. The final novel, The Man with the Golden Gun, would be published posthumously, in 1965, and another short story collection, Octopussy and the Living Daylights, would follow in 1966.

The books were slow to catch on, at first, but Great Britain was a grey place in the 1950s, burdened with post-World War II food rationing and existential depression over the shrinking of its global influence. As Fleming persevered, writing his hero into adventures set in exotic locales, and making him save the world as no contemporary Brit seemed to be doing, his reading public grew, avid for tales of English might and . . . sex.

In the United States, the series really took after the inauguration of John F. Kennedy, when the President listed From Russia with Love as one of his top 10 favorite books in an interview. And once the Americans were on board, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood would show interest.

Fleming had tried, at various points throughout the 1950s, to have his books adapted into films. These attempts failed, except for a made-for-TV effort in 1954, in which American actor Barry Nelson starred as “Jimmy Bond” and Peter Lorre starred as Le Chiffre. He was right to see a cinematic quality in his work, but the movie producers and studios he approached did not yet see that potential. Filmmakers in England in the 1950s were primarily interested in what were called “kitchen sink” dramas (small-scale, realistic stories about real-life problems). And Hollywood, where the money was, didn’t believe in Bond … yet.

But then two independent producers, Harry Saltzman and Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, each became convinced that the Bond series could work on screen. Together, they formed EON Productions in 1961, secured funding from United Artists, and began casting for what would be the first Bond film, Dr. No (which was actually the 6th Bond novel).

This is not the place to recap all of the in’s and out’s of the Bond movies production history. There are many fine books that discuss this in depth. Here are a few (you can consider these my bibliography for this piece):

Bond Girls Are Forever

For Your Eyes Only: Behind the Scenes of the James Bond Films

The James Bond Bedside Companion

The James Bond Dossier

James Bond in the 21st Century

Licence to Thrill

The Man Who Saved Britain

The Man with the Golden Touch

The Music of James Bond

Shaken & Stirred: The Feminism of James Bond

The Ultimate James Bond Fan Book

So what are the various elements – the fibers – that make up the Bondian Knot that keeps us tied to this series that has now reached the mature age of 50? Here are my thoughts – I’d love to hear yours.

1.  The charm – at its best, the series has at its center a man who carries himself with the athletic grace of a Gene Kelly, the sophistication of a Fred Astaire, the rugged I-could-kill-you-without-breaking-a-sweat machismo of a Robert Mitchum, and the sex appeal of a Johnny Depp (I had to get at least one living actor in there). Who wouldn’t some of that?

2.  The cool – except when they overdo it, the producers create a wit- and gadget-filled universe that just seems so much fun. I know I would love suits, cars and toys like that!

3.  The sex – the series has misogyny to spare, but it also features beautiful people getting in on, and on a purely visceral level, admit it or not, we enjoy that. Roger Moore kind of messed up that formula, but the series still lived on, regardless.

4.  The action – from the get-go, under Terence Young’s expert direction on the first two films, the series made it a point to stage the best action sequences it could for the budget. From Russia with Love had a bigger budget that Dr. No, so it’s action scenes are better. But even Dr. No entertains with its tense moments. And the films only got better from there. The action became quite stupid in the Roger Moore years, but For Your Eyes Only – the 5th Moore – is highly watchable.

What do you like (or dislike)?

Below is a list of the Bond books and Bond films in publication and year-of-release order:

Books [Ian Fleming (1908-1964)]

1.         Casino Royale – 1953

2.         Live and Let Die – 1954

3.         Moonraker – 1955

4.         Diamonds Are Forever – 1956

5.         From Russia, with Love – 1957

6.         Dr. No – 1958

7.         Goldfinger – 1959

8.         For Your Eyes Only – 1960

a.         “From a View to a Kill”

b.         “For Your Eyes Only”

c.         “Quantum of Solace”

d.         “Risico”

c.         “The Hildebrand Rarity”

9.         Thunderball – 1961

10.      The Spy Who Loved Me – 1962

11.      On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – 1963

12.      You Only Live Twice – 1964

13.      The Man with the Golden Gun – 1965

14.      Octopussy and the Living Daylights – 1966

a.         original publication just had two stories of title

b.         later ed. added “The Property of a Lady” and “007 in New York”

Films [EON Productions = Albert “Cubby” Broccoli (1909-1996) and Harry Saltzman (1915-1994)]

1.         Dr. No – 1962 (Terence Young) – Sean Connery

2.         From Russia with Love– 1963 (Terence Young) – Sean Connery

3.         Goldfinger – 1964 (Guy Hamilton) – Sean Connery

4.         Thunderball – 1965 (Terence Young) – Sean Connery

5.         You Only Live Twice – 1967 (Lewis Gilbert) – Sean Connery

6.         On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – 1969 (Peter Hunt) – George Lazenby

7.         Diamonds Are Forever – 1971 (Guy Hamilton) – Sean Connery

8.         Live and Let Die – 1973 (Guy Hamilton) – Roger Moore

9.         The Man with the Golden Gun – 1974 (Guy Hamilton) – Roger Moore

10.      The Spy Who Loved Me – 1977 (Lewis Gilbert) – Roger Moore

11.      Moonraker – 1979 (Lewis Gilbert) – Roger Moore

12.      For Your Eyes Only – 1981 (John Glen) – Roger Moore

13.      Octopussy – 1983 (John Glen) – Roger Moore

14.      A View to a Kill – 1985 (John Glen) – Roger Moore

15.      The Living Daylights – 1987 (John Glen) – Timothy Dalton

16.      Licence to Kill – 1989 (John Glen) – Timothy Dalton

17.      GoldenEye – 1995 (Martin Campbell) – Pierce Brosnan

18.      Tomorrow Never Dies – 1997 (Roger Spottiswoode) – Pierce Brosnan

19.      The World Is Not Enough – 1999 (Michael Apted) – Pierce Brosnan

20.      Die Another Day      – 2002            (Lee Tamahori) – Pierce Brosnan

21.      Casino Royale – 2006 (Martin Campbell) – Daniel Craig

22.      Quantum of Solace – 2008 (Marc Forster) – Daniel Craig

23.      Skyfall – 2012 (Sam Mendes) – Daniel Craig

It’s time for my own personal blog – chrisreedfilm.com

Just recently, I spent a little over a week blogging about my experience watching 14 movies in 7 days. I used my Stevenson University blog to post my reviews, and while there is nothing wrong with that, I thought, at the of the process, that it would make sense to separate my Stevenson life from my outside life. Plus, that other blog should, ideally, be devoted to the work of my students, and not to me or my work.

Enter chrisreedfilm.com. I was lucky enough that this domain name was open. When I created my Twitter account, I had chosen @chrisreedfilm as my handle, and had then subsequently chosen “chrisreedfilm” as my Vimeo account name, as well. I already own the domain name christopherllewellynreed.com, which you’ll notice I have now pointed to that same Vimeo account, but chrisreedfilm.com is much simpler (even if there are many other people with the name “Chris Reed” out there, but only one “Christopher Llewellyn Reed”). And thanks to Google Apps, I now also own the email address chris@chrisreedfilm.com.

Of course, if any of you reading this have also read a lot of Milan Kundera (one of my favorite authors), you’ll know that there can be a dark side to this idea that we all have something to say, ergo we should all write it down for others to read. Here is a quote from Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (the first book of his I ever read, and which I read in Russia, believe it or not, in 1988, when it was still the Soviet Union):

“The irresistible proliferation of graphomania shows me that everyone without exception bears a potential writer within him, so that the entire human species has good reason to go down into the streets and shout: we are all writers! for everyone is pained by the thought of disappearing, unheard and unseen, into an indifferent universe, and because of that everyone wants, while there is still time, to turn himself into a universe of words. one morning (and it will be soon), when everyone wakes up as a writer, the age of universal deafness and incomprehension will have arrived.”

It’s amazing to think that he wrote that in 1978, no? If you copy and paste that text, you’ll see that the quote is by now widely known (and over-used), but I like to keep it in mind as a warning …

So here I am, on my new blog. I think it would be most appropriate to provide a decent segue from the last few weeks of movie reviews, so here is a pdf of the text and links from those posts.

If you don’t feel like reading all of my rambling thoughts on recent movies, you could, perhaps, listen to an excerpt from the first of my two appearances on the Midday with Dan Rodricks show on WYPR, 88.1FM, Baltimore’s NPR News Station: Midday with Dan Rodricks: 2012.07.20_Batman Massacre

I was only on for 10 minutes that day, because we didn’t do the scheduled show – the massacre in Colorado that morning was of more pressing concern than summer movies.

But on Thursday, July 26, I went back on, and we had a great time reviewing movies, as we were supposed to the first time: Midday with Dan Rodricks: 2012.07.26_Summer Movies

Thanks to all who take the time read this and other posts in the future. I am grateful.