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long been a joke in Hollywood that the only way to sell a movie is to compare
it to a previous hit. But what’s a joke to some people is a tutorial for
others. Last week I received a pair of press releases that took this concept to
a new level. The first was for Detention
of the Dead
, “a teenage horror-comedy about a group of oddball high school
students who find themselves trapped in detention with their classmates having
turned into a horde of Zombies.” Here’s the punchline: “Think The Breakfast Club meets Shaun of the Dead.”

But wait, there’s more: the very same
day, another e-mail touted a more promising-sounding historical picture set in
1889 China called Empire of Silver,
which its publicist describes as “Wall
meets Hamlet meets The Godfather.”

I couldn’t make this stuff up. Does it
help draw attention to a smaller movie that doesn’t have star-power or
established filmmakers behind it? Perhaps. Does it lend any credibility to said
film? I’m not so sure…but it does make for colorful reading in a sea of press

Other, more welcome e-mails have
involved blog posts worth passing along to you. Bob Furmanek at the 3-D Film
Archive has been conducting unprecedented research about Hollywood’s transition
to widescreen in the 1950s and his latest article at is essential reading. Everything Bob says is supported by trade-magazine
articles and advertisements from the period—not anecdotal evidence or anyone’s
faulty memory. The online furor over the imminent release of George Stevens’ Shane on Blu-ray in the 1:66 ratio should be examined in this context. (Even
Criterion decided to release On the
in three separate formats this year, acknowledging the fact that
Columbia, like other major studios, had to contend with some theaters insisting
on showing everything “wide” when that was all the rage.)

Frank Thompson continues to conduct
interviews with filmmakers and film historians as part of his podcast, The Commentary Track. Recent subjects
include William Wellman, Jr., Joe Dante, Harrison Engle, Anthony Slide, L.Q.
Jones, Joseph McBride, Rudy Behlmer, and Glenn Frankel, author of the excellent
new book The Searchers: The Making of an
American Legend
, which I’ll be reviewing here shortly. You can subscribe to
the podcast at iTunes or simply log onto Frank’s site HERE 
and clicking on “podcasts.”

Animation guru Richard Williams
recently participated in a 25th anniversary celebration of Who Framed Roger Rabbit at the Academy
of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but he’s available at your fingertips 24/7
with a new mobile app version of his indispensable book The Animator’s Survival Kit. It’s available at iTunes, where you
can even download a sample for free.

Finally, the coming of spring brings
with it keen anticipation for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s annual Silent
Film Gala, held at UCLA’s beautiful Royce Hall on Saturday, June 8 at 7pm. This
year’s selection is Buster Keaton’s Our
(1923), with Timothy Brock conducting Carl Davis’ original
score and the world premiere of an Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon recently
acquired and restored by the Walt Disney Company. Hungry Hobos (1928) will be accompanied by a brand-new score
composed by six-time Emmy Award winner Mark Watters. To learn more about this
always-delightful evening, click HERE or call 213-622-7001, extension 3.

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