Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Now Playing ...

For the new year I wanted to take on a simpler project. Instead of searching throughout the country, as represented on the Google News Archive, I wanted to focus on one city as movies came and went for first, second or third runs. Ideally I wanted coverage, so I chose a big city with more than one newspaper on the Archive for the year in question. The city is Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Its Journal and Sentinel are on the Archive. Since "Now Playing" is a compilation of newspaper ads, I wanted a period with good ad copy and interesting graphics -- anytime not the present, in other words. The Pre-Code period was a natural choice, first because I like the period and second because the advertising is noteworthy for striving always (or almost always) to find romance or sex angles in even the most unlikely subjects. Pre-Code movie ads are often more insinuating, if not more suggestive, than actual Pre-Code movies. With that in mind, let's travel to Milwaukee and celebrate the new year...


Let's kick things off with some New Year's attractions. At the Alhambra, movies make their peace with the great rival medium of the era.

People today may know Slim Summerville as a Keystone comic from silent days but are most likely to have seen him in his unlikely character turn as a German soldier in All Quiet on the Western Front. Zasu Pitts was a plain yet charismatic character actress whose quavering voice was a model for Olive Oyl in the old Fleischer cartoons. Not necessarily your ideal Pre-Code screen team but whatever that last film was, it was popular enough to justify this second teaming. We may see another before this year is over.

Meanwhile, at the Garden, this import proves that other countries could sometimes out-outrage Pre-Code Hollywood.

Check out the ballyhoo: "The 10 Best Pictures of All Time Rolled Into One." Depending on what people in 1933 thought the best pictures were, that could be an interesting or a surreal montage. I also like a theater that respects its audience and trusts it to easily understand subtitles. I especially like the attitude in that last disclaimer: Maedchen in Uniform isn't "unfit" for children, but "not of interest."

I hope this new year of "Now Playing" proves anything but "not of interest." The next installment comes January 5!

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