The 1940 film “The Grapes of Wrath”, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by author John Steinbeck, was one of the first 25 films to be selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” This occurred in 1989 and would begin a long tradition for the last 25 to preserve classic films that will forever be kept preserved to pass on to people generations from now.
“Takes no nerve to do something ain’t nothing else you can do.”
– Henry Fonda, “The Grapes of Wrath”
The 1927 film “The Jazz Singer” is the first feature-length motion picture with synchronized dialogue sequences with its release heralding the commercial ascendance of the “talkies” and the decline of the silent film era. In total, the movie contains barely two minutes worth of synchronized talking with much or all of it improvised. The rest of the dialogue is presented through standard methods in silent movies of the era such as caption cards, or intertitles. Every era has a beginning, unfortunately the downside is the previous era usually disappears or fades into the background.
“In every living soul, a spirit cries for expression.”
– Screen Title, “The Jazz Singer”
Some films are influenced by the locations the story takes place in and sometimes in the same case, help celebrate those places. Director Woody Allen is known for making such films where they take place in locations that he is inspired by but he is not the only one.
“The King of Marvin Gardens”, a 1972 film directed by Bob Rafelson and starring actor Jack Nicholson, was shot almost entirely on location in Atlantic City in the winter months of 1972. The title of the film, although originally titled “The Philosopher King”, is an ironic reference to the American version of the board game “Monopoly”, in which the main properties were named after locations in Atlantic City. This reference was also reflected in the film’s original poster art. The film is more significant than that.
The film has a considerable historical significance as a visual record of the very last days of the city’s “classic era” resort architecture. In fact, many of the grand hotels shown in the film’s exterior scenes were demolished within the next few years to make way for the new generation of casino-hotels that went up after the legalization of gambling. Filming took place only months before the vast Traymore Hotel was explosively demolished in April 1972, and the opulent Marlborough-Blenheim Hotel, the movie’s main location, was demolished in 1978 to make way for Bally’s Atlantic City.
Some say we are where we live. That the places we live in become part of us. Whether that was the main point of the film is unknown but no doubt the film would become a remnant of a time before the more modern era. With films like this, history and historical places never disappear from our memories.
“State of mind is a spiritual affliction, like the blues.”
– Julia Roberts, “August: Osage County”
The 1998 dark comedy “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” is known for an early role for Johnny Depp as the lead character Raoul Duke. However, at one point, actor John Cusack was almost cast, but after director Hunter S. Thompson met with Depp he became convinced that no one else could play Duke. It’s interesting that note that Cusack had previously directed the play version of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”, with his brother playing Duke.
“How shall the new environment be programmed? It all happened so slowly that most men failed to realize that anything had happened at all.”
– Don Pedro Colley, “THX-1138”
The 2002 film “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” started as a one-woman play written by and starring actress Nia Vardalos, performed for six weeks at the Hudson Backstage Theatre in Los Angeles in the summer of 1997 which Vardalos later jokingly stated that she only wrote the play “to get a better agent.” The play was based on Vardalos’s own family in Winnipeg in Canada, and on her experience marrying a non-Greek man. The play was popular, and was sold out for much of its run. It was popular in part due to Vardalos’s marketing it across Greek Orthodox churches in the area. A number of Hollywood executives and celebrities saw it, including actress Rita Wilson who is the wife of Tom Hanks, who is herself of Greek origin. Wilson convinced her husband to see it as well.
Vardalos began meeting various executives about making a film version of the play as well as began writing a screenplay. The meetings proved fruitless because the executives insisted on making changes that they felt would make the film more marketable, which Vardalos objected to. These changes included changing the plot, getting a known actress in the lead role with actress Marisa Tomei as one name mentioned, and changing the family’s ethnicity to Hispanic. However, two months after the play’s initial run ended, Hanks’s production company, Playtone, contacted Vardalos about producing a film based on her vision for it. They also agreed to remount the play in early 1998, this time at LA’s Globe Theatre. Hanks later said that casting Vardalos in the lead role, as he put it, “brings a huge amount of integrity to the piece, because it’s Nia’s version of her own life and her own experience. I think that shows through on the screen and people recognize it.”
Vardalos could definitely be considered a self-made woman, making her own path and maintaining the integrity of her story. It is this kind of creative individuality and determination that allows film to flourish with a constant desire to maintain unique stories and storytelling.
“The root of the word Miller come from a Greek word, millah, meaning apple, so there you go. And our name, Portokalos, is come from the word meaning orange. So today here, we have apples and oranges. We all different now but in the end we’re all fruit.”
– Michael Constantine, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”