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Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Completing Filmographies

As anyone who's read my main review site knows, I'm not only a film critic, I'm a film fan. I don't just need to watch movies that people send me or which fit the scope of a new book, I'm always interested in what went before and what will come after, what influenced what and what else was going on at the time.

I'm also a collector, so I tend to organise things into lists. I especially keep lists that establish a base grounding, not just obvious ones like the IMDb Top 250 or the AFI's Top 100 lists but more obscure ones too that detail British, Australian or Chinese films; horror, sci-fi or blaxploitation movies or films from the 1930s, 1940s or 1950s.

I have what I consider to be a useful strain of OCD which means that once I've started a list, I like to see it completed. If I've listed the films that Alfred Hitchcock directed, for instance, then I surely want to get hold of them all, watch them all and review them all. Of course, at that point I have another book or two in the making, so there are fringe benefits.

Sadly, what I've discovered is that completing a filmography or, in other words, watching everything that person X has made or appeared in, is a surprisingly tough proposition.

We've been conditioned to know that many films are lost, up to 90% of all silent movies. I therefore don't expect to be able to see everything Lon Chaney made, as sad as that state of affairs is. But what about people still making films today, major names like, say, Oscar-winner Roger Corman?

He directed fifty films but I was missing one for years until I tracked it down under another title at a video rental store in New Zealand on PAL VHS. I managed to find someone who rented it, ripped it and made it available to me and I've had a lot of feedback about the review I posted of it. It's sad to know that its official release is being suppressed by its rights owner.

That happens more than we might imagine, but most modern films that are unavailable today (like a suggested 40% of all movies released on VHS) are probably so because of the cost of licensing the soundtracks for a new form of release. For instance, I watched an early Lance Henriksen movie as a VHS rip because it'll never be released officially in a newer format. The reason is that there's hit disco music on the soundtrack that would cost more to license than the film's release would ever make. That's a shame.

So how well have I done with completing filmographies thus far?

Skippy

The first filmography I thought I'd completed, almost a decade ago, seemed like an easy one: Skippy, the wire fox terrier who was so memorable in the 1934 movie, The Thin Man, that he was promptly renamed to the character he played, Asta.

It was easy because, at that point in time, IMDb only credited him with appearances in six movies, half of which were entries in the series that The Thin Man became. The others included such notable pictures as Bringing Up Baby and The Awful Truth, so it wasn't hard to wrap them all up.

The catch turned out to be that IMDb wasn't quite accurate. A decade on, there have been six additions to Skippy's filmography there, only two of which I've seen. What's more, Wikipedia disagrees with IMDb's list. While it accepts five of the new titles, it ignores the sixth and adds a new one entirely. It also rejects two of the original list as later films featuring a copycat of Skippy.

Now there are a potential thirteen movies that Asta stole away from the human actors and I've only seen eight of them. So, Skippy's off my completed list.

Title Year H D Director(s) IMDb
The Kennel Murder Case 1933 7 7 Michael Curtiz IMDb
The Thin Man 1934 7 7 W S Van Dyke IMDb
The Lottery Lover 1935 Wilhelm Thiele IMDb
The Daring Young Man 1935 William A Seiter IMDb
The Big Broadcast of 1936 1935 Norman Taurog IMDb
After the Thin Man 1936 7 7 W S Van Dyke IMDb
The Sea Racketeers 1937 Hamilton MacFadden IMDb
The Awful Truth 1937 5 5 Leo McCarey IMDb
I am the Law 1938 Alexander Hall IMDb
Bringing Up Baby 1938 7 7 Howard Hawks IMDb
Topper Takes a Trip 1939 5 6 Norman Z McLeod IMDb
Another Thin Man 1939 6 7 W S Van Dyke IMDb
The Thin Man Goes Home 1945 6 6 Richard Thorpe IMDb

Grace Kelly

Next up for me was Grace Kelly, who had a brief but very memorable career in the early fifties before retiring from the screen to become Princess Grace of Monaco.

I'd already seen a number of her films, many of which are seen as some of the greatest ever made. I'd seen the three she'd made for Alfred Hitchcock, along with High Noon and Mogambo, John Ford's remake of Red Dust. When TCM chose her as their Star of the Month, it wasn't tough to catch up on the rest, including her sole pre-fame picture, Fourteen Hours.

There's far less opportunity for a catch with a prominent actress working in the fifties who became famous on her second film than a canine actor who started a fashion trend in the thirties. There is one though: those eleven titles were all theatrical releases, which was actually the short part of her screen career.

She also appeared in almost sixty television broadcasts, perhaps all of which were shot live, making them a great opportunity for a confident young stage actress. Most were plays for sponsored shows like Lux Video Theatre, The Philco Television Playhouse and Kraft Television Theatre. I haven't seen a single one of these, but at least I've reviewed all her features.

Title Year H D Director(s) IMDb
Fourteen Hours 1951 5 5 Henry Hathaway IMDb
High Noon 1952 7 7 Fred Zinnemann IMDb
Mogambo 1953 5 5 John Ford IMDb
Dial M for Murder 1954 7 7 Alfred Hitchcock IMDb
Rear Window 1954 7 7 Alfred Hitchcock IMDb
The Country Girl 1954 7 7 George Seaton IMDb
Green Fire 1954 4 4 Andrew Marton IMDb
The Bridges at Toko-Ri 1954 6 6 Mark Robson IMDb
To Catch a Thief 1955 5 5 Alfred Hitchcock IMDb
The Swan 1956 5 5 Charles Vidor IMDb
High Society 1956 4 Charles Walters IMDb

Tura Satana

Excepting a local actor by the name of Cavin Gray Schneider whose films have a tendency of finding a way to my reviewing eyes, thus ensuring I was almost always complete for his filmography, the first sure shot was the late and much missed Tura Satana.

She only made ten features, but over a period of almost fifty years, making her hardly prolific on screen. These weren't too hard to track down, especially as Ted V Mikels, who made 40% of the films she appeared in, has made his pictures cheaply and easily available through Alpha Video. The others included a Billy Wilder film (Irma la Douce), Russ Meyer's most lauded picture (Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!) and a Rob Zombie movie (The Haunted World of El Superbeasto).

The most obscure may be Sugar Boxx, a recent women in prison movie, and I saw that on its theatrical run with the director, Cody Jarrett, and its leading ladies presenting the picture in person. When I shifted my reviews of Tura's films into book form, Cody was kind enough to write an afterword for me.

My book has a slightly misleading title, Velvet Glove Cast in Iron: The Films of Tura Satana. The reason it's misleading is because when I realised how short a filmography book would be with only ten reviews, however in depth they happened to be, I decided to attack her television performances too. That wasn't too tough either, given that IMDb only listed three of them and all are available on DVD, and it bulked me up far enough to get a spine on the book that wasn't just a strip of colour.

As always, there's a catch. Doing my research for this book, I realised that she apparently did other work on television. It's just that IMDb doesn't recognise it. In fact, all I found were the same set of hints in a collection of obituaries.

Apparently she earned her SAG card on an episode of Hawaiian Eye, but we don't know which one. She appeared in the TV adaptation of The Greatest Show on Earth, perhaps as a recurring character, but nobody lists who she played or which episodes she was in. Even more flimsy, there's mention of a show called Valentine's Day that she may or may not also have shown up in.

This is tough. I've managed to get hold of a complete run of Hawaiian Eye, but I'm only a few weeks into its 134 episode run. At an hour a pop, it runs almost ten times as long as Tura's entire film career. Maybe I'll find her in there one day. I've seen a couple of episodes of The Greatest Show on Earth, which only ran for thirty, but I couldn't see her in either. I haven't even managed to find a single episode of Valentine's Day yet. So it goes with TV shows half a century old.

Title Year H D Director(s) IMDb
Irma la Douce 1963 6 6 Billy Wilder IMDb
Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed? 1963 4 4 Daniel Mann IMDb
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! 1965 6 6 Russ Meyer IMDb
Our Man Flint 1966 5 5 Daniel Mann IMDb
The Astro-Zombies 1968 3 4 Ted V Mikels IMDb
The Doll Squad 1973 4 4 Ted V Mikels IMDb
Mark of the Astro-Zombies 2002 3 3 Ted V Mikels IMDb
Sugar Boxx 2009 5 5 Cody Jarrett IMDb
The Haunted World of El Superbeasto 2009 3 4 Rob Zombie IMDb
Astro-Zombies: M3 - Cloned 2010 3 3 Ted V Mikels IMDb

Jason Statham

And so my better half and I decided to knock out some filmographies of much more recent people, knowing that we'd soon be out of date but that we could at least get to complete them.

First up was someone who could be described as a guilty pleasure, but I'm hesitant to stoop that low. He's Jason Statham, who has successfully transitioned from a quirky character in Guy Ritchie's best movies into both a modern action hero and a sort of contemporary equivalent of the coolness epitomised decades ago by Steve McQueen. Not bad for an underwear model, huh? Well, he was also an Olympic diver.

We completed his filmography at the 33 film mark, 2013's Hummingbird. Thus far he's only released one more, another 2013 movie called Homefront, but he has a few more in the works, including a new Expendables sequel and a turn as the villain in the seventh Fast & Furious picture.

I've found Statham's career to be fascinating. After two films for Guy Ritchie, he soon found himself working with some great names, including producer Luc Besson, directors John Carpenter and Michael Mann and co-stars from Tom Cruise to Steve Martin via Jet Li. Unfortunately he added the notorious Uwe Boll to that list, but respected indie names like Géla Babluani restore some street cred.

Sure, his best two titles were his first two (though, ironically, his third is arguably still the worst) and that situation will take a great deal of effort to overthrow, but the next rank in quality includes some of his more obscure titles and also his most recent.

I knew about Parker and Furious 6, for instance, as his first two 2013 movies were both heavily advertised, but they were also annoyingly average. His third 2013 picture was one I hadn't even heard of until it popped up on Netflix, but Hummingbird turned out to be one of his best films yet. The poster child for that category is 2005's London, which sounds like it ought to be the quintessential Guy Ritchie ripoff but was actually a surprisingly decent drama with a Statham performance unlike any other.

The surprising performances weren't always in great movies but they were always interesting. He had a small role in the Steve Martin take on The Pink Panther, for instance, which was awful, but his cameo was the best bit. His Uwe Boll paycheck, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, was surely an epic failure but it was, at least, an interesting one. Most unlikely thus far has to be Gnomeo & Juliet, the retelling of Shakespeare through animated garden gnomes.

And so we merely have to keep up with new releases to maintain a complete filmography. That shouldn't be too tough.

Title Year H D Director(s) IMDb
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels 1998 7 7 Guy Ritchie IMDb
Snatch 2000 7 7 Guy Ritchie IMDb
Turn It Up 2000 3 3 Robert Adetiyu IMDb
Ghosts of Mars 2001 5 5 John Carpenter IMDb
The One 2001 6 6 James Wong IMDb
Mean Machine 2001 4 5 Barry Skolnick IMDb
The Transporter 2002 6 6 Louis Leterrier & Corey Yuen IMDb
The Italian Job 2003 5 5 F Gary Gray IMDb
Collateral 2004 6 6 Michael Mann IMDb
Cellular 2004 5 5 David R Ellis IMDb
Transporter 2 2005 5 6 Louis Leterrier IMDb
London 2005 6 6 Hunter Richards IMDb
Revolver 2005 5 5 Guy Ritchie IMDb
Chaos 2005 5 6 Tony Giglio IMDb
In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale 2006 3 3 Uwe Boll IMDb
The Pink Panther 2006 3 4 Shawn Levy IMDb
Crank 2006 6 6 Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor IMDb
War 2007 4 4 Philip G Atwell IMDb
The Bank Job 2008 6 6 Roger Donaldson IMDb
Death Race 2008 5 6 Paul W S Anderson IMDb
Transporter 3 2008 5 5 Olivier Megaton IMDb
Crank: High Voltage 2009 5 5 Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor IMDb
13 2010 5 5 Géla Babluani IMDb
The Expendables 2010 5 5 Sylvester Stallone IMDb
The Mechanic 2011 5 6 Simon West IMDb
Gnomeo & Juliet 2011 4 4 Kelly Asbury IMDb
Blitz 2011 4 5 Elliot Lester IMDb
Killer Elite 2011 5 5 Gary McKendry IMDb
Safe 2012 5 6 Boaz Yakin IMDb
The Expendables 2 2012 5 6 Simon West IMDb
Parker 2013 4 5 Taylor Hackford IMDb
Furious 6 2013 4 4 Justin Lin IMDb
Hummingbird 2013 6 6 Steven Knight IMDb

Johnny Depp

Next up for us is Johnny Depp, given that my better half and I have both seen over half his films already, albeit sometimes different ones. We've both been big fans from the early days, though we're cringing in advance at many of the newer blockbuster titles.

Again he has a fascinating filmography, one which I'm eager to explore. I'm intrigued to see if, like Statham, some of his more interesting films are the obscure and surprising ones. For instance, those who know him best as Jack Sparrow, Willy Wonka or the Mad Hatter may be surprised to know that he appeared in films not made by Disney or Tim Burton. His early career is particularly eyeopening.

As well as we knew those early films, there are still oddities to find. For instance, we only recently discovered Slow Burn, a TV movie he made in 1986, and Arizona Dream, an overlong picture he made for Emir Kusturica. Incidentally, the directors he's worked for are a dream list for an actor: Jim Jarmusch, Lasse Hallström, Terry Gilliam, Roman Polanski, John Waters, Oliver Stone, Wes Craven... the list goes on.

Next up for us is probably The Brave, a film he directed himself but refused to release Stateside after negative reviews at Cannes shocked him. Other titles I'm eager to catch up with include Before Night Falls, in which he plays three different characters, and ...And They Lived Happily Ever After, which is a French movie In French. I'm not particularly looking forward to Dark Shadows, but complete means complete...

The Future

I'm sold on the concept of completing filmographies because they send us on fascinating rides, if not always enjoyable ones. They give us a better picture of careers we only thought we knew and often show how the talent grew. I want to do more of these, if only I can find all the films needed to complete particular filmographies.

I don't know who will be next after Statham and Depp. I'll figure that over the next couple of months. Watch this space.

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