Archive for December, 2016

New Year’s Eve in the Movies

Posted in Hollywood (History), Movies, Movies (Contemporary), New Year's Eve with tags , on December 31, 2016 by travsd

In honor of the day, some favorite movies featuring New Year’s Eve scenes. This holiday is often used to mark extreme or catastrophic change in the life of the characters or their environment — a theme for us to contemplate this year in particular when the clock strikes midnight.

the gold rush_new year's eve

The Gold Rush (1925)

Shame on you if you don’t know this movie or this scene. Led on by the supercilious dance hall girl Georgia (Georgia Hale) lone prospector Charlie Chaplin prepares for what he thinks will be a delightful New Year’s party with Georgia and a few friends. He sleeps and dreams a magical time, but awakens to find himself alone and stood up. Warning: don’t watch if you’re alone and depressed!


Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)

Something about the early Technicolor adds to the eeriness of this, one of the creepiest of classic studio era horror films. The opening scenes depict feisty girl reporter Glenda Farrell making her way through the crowded New York City streets on New Year’s Eve, clogged with carnivalesque revelers. Holidays are always interesting in older films — what people wear, the different ways they celebrated. Farrell’s journey will lead her to a corpse, and eventually to mad wax sculptor Lionel Atwill. 


Every Day’s a Holiday (1937)

Mae West loved to celebrate the period of her early childhood, the gay ’90s, in her films.  Something about the era symbolized relative freedom to her, I think: saloons and bawdy houses and crooked politicians. That’s the milieu of her last true starring film Every Day’s a Holiday, set in Tammany era NYC, with crucial scenes taking place on New Year’s Eve 1900 — just when the city and nation were poised to go from horses and buggies to automobiles.


Sunset Boulevard (1950)

One of the most touching scenes in Billy Wilder’s masterpiece has William Holden briefly escaping from the virtual tomb he has been inhabiting with former silent star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) to the relative joy and vitality of a proper New Year’s Eve party at a friend’s house, full of youth and music, and a much more appropriate girlfriend. The moment is a poignant blip, a last chance, a fleeting glimpse into a happy life he’ll never get to have.


The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

At age seven this was my introduction to New Years’s Eve, the first place I heard “Auld Lang Syne”, witnessed a countdown to midnight, saw grownups with noise-makers and party hats. It’s part of the mysterious magic of this film (which is still one of my favorites) that the moment of disaster strikes just at midnight: it’s a new year and everything turns upside down. Celebration turns to tragedy in the blink of an eye. It’s part of the peculiar dream logic and symbolism of movies, and it works extraordinarily well.


Jaws the Revenge (1987)

This is  a most entertainingly terrible movie which has only recently become a new classic around my house. (I never bothered with it when it came out.) It’s predicated on the concept that now-deceased Amity Island Police Chief Brody’s wife Ellen’s most irrational fears are TRUE — that a sentient, malevolent, psychic shark has designs on her family for some reason, and that you get killed every time you are crazy enough to go into the water. That her son managed to become a MARINE BIOLOGIST given such a family dynamic is one of the film’s countless delightful head-scratchers. Lorraine Gary is the film’s star, Roy Scheider having long since decided he had far better things to do. At any rate, the film starts around Christmas (her other son is killed by a shark while people on shore sing Christmas carols), and so the family travels to the Bahamas to forget it all (wouldn’t you choose someplace far INLAND?) At any rate, the New Year’s Eve scene in this film is memorable for being one of tent pole WTF moments, where you go…”H’m, we seem to have lost the narrative thread here.” As Gary and Michael Caine dance and romance each other and talk, and various other characters move around the party and talk, and you’re like, “Wasn’t this supposed to be a thing about sharks?” Oh, but it will be, for Bruce the Shark soon swims the thousand or more miles to the Bahamas from New England just to have another go at this particular family. New Year, same old killer shark!


Boogie Nights (1997)

Much like Mae West’s Every Day’s a Holiday, P.T. Anderson’s porn-industry portrait features a scene on a historically significant New Year’s Eve, in this case not a century demarcation but an important change of decades. The coming of the ’80s (and home video) will mean the end of porn theatres, and the end of the time when the industry had some claims to professionalism. Soon any amateur could grab a video camera and make their own porn and the industry would be glutted. The death of the old era is symbolized by a tragedy at the party — but I won’t spoil it, in the unlikely event you’ve not seen this terrific movie.


New Year’s Eve (2011)

Let’s get one thing straight: New Year’s Eve is a nearly unwatchable trough of expensive garbage. You can just hear Garry Marshall saying, “Ya like good lookin’ young people? I’ll give ya 28 good lookin’ young people — plus Robert de Niro!” I watched a good hunk of this rubbish for the first time last year, and there was one aspect I found very interesting, however. Its structure…of constant cross-cutting between over-expository scenes of diverse people bustling around in anticipation of some major event….feels EXACTLY like the opening act of a DISASTER MOVIE. This feeling is enhanced by the fact that it’s set in New York…TIMES SQUARE, to be precise. A major terrorist target. And I LOVE disaster movies . So I so badly want this to be a disaster movie, to re-cut it, so that instead of a midnight countdown, the climax will be a gigantic wall of water coming from the Hudson River, or a bunch of mid-town skyscrapers toppling like dominoes. And the fact that this DOESN’T happen, in particular, to all these beautiful Caucasian cipher-people, is a total let down.  Roland Emmerich, please step in and give us a new third act for this movie.

Art Startup at Theater for the New City

Posted in CULTURE & POLITICS, Indie Theatre, ME, Protests with tags , , , on December 29, 2016 by travsd

L-R, Michael-David Gordon, Brianna Bartenieff, Crystal Field

See this week’s Chelsea Now for my article on Theater for the New City’s community meeting this week in response to NYC’s announced Cultural Plan. 

It was interesting — I didn’t mention this in my article (it’s more objective than that) but as a private citizen I felt that only a couple of people at the meeting seemed to have any sense of the tidal wave of awfulness headed our way. One of them who clearly did was artistic director Crystal Field, who’s seen a thing or two in her day, not just as a New Yorker, but as a child of Europeans. People with family in Europe the 20s, 30s and 40s all seem to get it. Most people (especially younger ones) all seem to still have their head up their butts or to be in serious denial, and seem to be picturing what’ll be happening six months or six years from now as a PRECEDENTED inconvenience, the kind of stuff we’ve always dealt with. Sure, the concerns most of the people were expressing were legitimate, in the sense that all concerns are legitimate, but my instinct is that most of them are going to be moot. We cannot plan for tomorrow as we have always planned. Much of what you are taking for granted may not be here, including entire government agencies, including a safe or “neutral” or non-hostile environment for self-expression. People seem to lack the imagination to apply what has-historically-proven-to-be-possible to our formerly-fortunate slice of the earth. Where so much is so unknown, I think it is a good idea to plan for it being worse beyond your wildest dreams. If it’s not, that will be a wonderful surprise. If it is, perhaps it won’t be as terrible. Anyway, call me a Jeremiah, call me a Cassandra, but most of all call me a TAXI, because I WANNA GET OUTTA HERE!!! My Chelsea Now piece is here. 

A Cultural Plan for New York City

Posted in Indie Theatre, PLUGS with tags , , on December 28, 2016 by travsd

Just learned about this last night at a special meeting at Theater for the New City. Given what will be happening at the federal level, such plans may be essentially moot, but it is good to know about


The NYC Department of Cultural Affairs and Hester Street Collaborative have launched the development of New York City’s first-ever comprehensive cultural plan. NOCD-NY is excited to be a partner in this process. Through intensive public input and an in-depth evaluation of the city’s cultural assets, the plan will become a roadmap for supporting the entire creative community and expanding opportunities for residents to access and participate in the city’s rich cultural life. For the plan to be successful, we need to hear from you! Visit to learn how to participate in the process.

photo: etccdb (West Indian Day)

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W.C. Fields has a Cameo in “La La Land”

Posted in Comedians, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Movies (Contemporary), PLUGS, W.C. Fields with tags , , , , on December 27, 2016 by travsd


I didn’t see La La Land yet, but Dr. Harriet Fields reports she spotted the mural containing her grandfather in the film. She says the mural is located “just off Hollywood Blvd., and up from the Roosevelt Hotel, where the first W.C. Fields star is” (meaning, his star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame). The muralist humorously grouped Fields (whose screen character was supposed to dislike kids and dogs, with Shirley Temple and Lassie. Meet Dr. Fields live in person this Thursday at our screening of Man on the Flying Trapeze (1935) at Metrograph! 

Trav and Fields at Metrograph This Thursday

Posted in Comedians, Comedy, EXHIBITIONS & LECTURES, Hollywood (History), Movies, PLUGS, W.C. Fields with tags , , , on December 26, 2016 by travsd


Fields Fest continues! Come see me and Dr. Harriet Fields (W.C.’s only granddaughter, a global health advocate) as we present the neglected 1935 WC Fields classic Man on the Flying Trapeze, this Thursday, January 29 at Metrograph. Information and tickets are here

70 Years Ago Today: W.C. Fields Meets the Man in the Bright Nightgown

Posted in Christmas, Comedians, Comedy, W.C. Fields with tags , , , on December 25, 2016 by travsd


We’ll be blogging about comedian W.C. Fields all through November and December as part of our tribute to the comedian called Fields Fest.  For a full list upcoming live Fields Fest events go here. 

It’s well known that W.C. Fields was a comedian, a screenwriter and a juggler — probably less well known that he was an amateur cartoonist. His drawings were interesting, original, funny and very much reflective of his personality. I came upon this Christmas card he designed a few months ago. There are ironies and meaning aplenty here. Fields the curmudgeon wasn’t crazy about Christmas. And also he died on Christmas day, 1946 — 70 years ago today. (He often spoke of death as “meeting the Man in the Bright Nightgown”. )

Today was originally intended to be the last day of Fields Fest, but we have spillover! On December 29, we’ll be presenting Man on the Flying Trapeze at Metrograph with guest speaker Dr. Harriet Fields, W.C.’s only granddaughter, a global health advocate. And we will be rescheduling our talk on “W.C. Fields: from Dime Museums to the Jazz Age”, co-presented by Zelda Magazine, originally scheduled for the Morbid Anatomy Museum. We’ll have an article on Fields in Zelda, and more blogposts about him here on Travalanche. It appears that Fields Fest is the gift that keeps on giving. Thanks for being part of it!

Sensations of 1945

Posted in Comedians, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, W.C. Fields with tags , , , , , , , on December 25, 2016 by travsd



Sensations of 1945 contains W.C. Fields‘ last film performance. Like many an actors’ swan song it has a reputation for being weak and sub-par, and while I’d never argue otherwise, I would offer up redeeming features. There is something vital about the fact that it bravely breaks some new ground. Unlike Follow the Boys, which contains the umpeenth revival of the pool routine, and Song of the Open Road, in which he essentially just horses around for the camera a little, in Sensations of 1945, for the first time in ages and ages, Fields adapts one of his old Broadway revue sketches, debuting it for film. In this case it is “The Caledonian Express”, a sketch he had presented in Earl Carroll’s Vanities in 1928. Essentially the thrust of it is that Fields and a companion occupy a British railway compartment reserved for someone else and haughtily refuse to budge. The scene is presented as a “play within a play”, in other words, it is done as a stage sketch in the context of putting on a show by a father-and-son show biz agency and the dancer (Eleanor Powell) who is helping to spruce up their operation.

Fields was very infirm during the filming of this sketch, and had trouble both memorizing his lines and reading the cue cards that were being used to assist him. He died nearly a year and a half after its release, on Christmas Day, 1946.

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