(1) Sat Nov 02 2019 13:45 October Film Roundup:
I saw a ton of movies this month and there was something fun or interesting in almost all of them! Here's the scoop:
- Puppy Love (1985): A.k.a. "Dou qi xiao shen xian" Sumana and I watched this on a date back in September and I forgot about it, even though it's really fun! It came back to me because Gregory's Girl (see below) is similar in a lot of ways. It's basically a sequence of skits. The skits are funny and cute, with lots of female eristic energy a la Celine and Julie Go Boating. There seemed to be a strong "you had to be there" element: others in the theater were laughing really hard at what appeared to us as random Hong Kong 1980s stuff.
This movie's pretty obscure, to the point where the best English-language description is on the Metrograph web site announcing the showing we saw. I recommend this film but not sure how you'd go about seeing it.
BTW films I see at Metrograph are at high risk of being forgotten because I don't see a lot of films there and they don't have a convenient "everything we showed" list I can go through at the end of the month. I remember them eventually though!
- Gregory's Girl (1980): This is the same kind of funny, cute, skit-based high-school romcom as Puppy Love, with one big asterisk: there's a skit early on where a teacher talks about his female students in a really gross way. Fortunately this doesn't become a theme, but it changed the tone of the whole movie.
I'm not even talking about the boys being gross. Teenage boys are frequently horny and gross, you can get comedy out of that, and although I'm glad this isn't the main goal of Gregory's Girl—it certainly isn't the high point of its comedy—I think they did an okay job with it.
Because it's so great that so many of the characters in Bill Forsyth movies are good-hearted, the appearance of a creep is more of a bummer than it would be in another movie. Burt Reynolds' character in Breaking In has one moment of creepiness which is earned in a character sense but brings the mood down a bit. Judging from IMDB reviews, my attitude about this doesn't bode well for the 1999 sequel to Gregory's Girl, in which a grown-up Gregory inherits the mantle of the creepy teacher from the original movie! Boo.
Anyway, the last act of Gregory's Girl is ambiguous in a way I don't associate with romcoms, but I think what happened is that another girl has a crush on Gregory and so gets her friends to basically heist Gregory out of his date with Dorothy. And because he's so easygoing and trusting he doesn't even realize he's been heisted. That's really clever. That's the kind of thing I come to a Forsyth movie to see.
- Gaslight (1944): The ultimate trope namer. I feel like you could have explained gaslighting to, say, Shakespeare, and he would have recognized it, but it took the era of the Big Lie to bring it into consciousness and another 25 years for it to become a term of art. BTW I also feel this way about the card game "Dominion". It could only have been invented in the 21st century, but you could explain it to someone from the 1920s and they'd totally get it (although they'd be annoyed by the sheer number of cards).
Anyway, the movie. The first half is masterful in setting up the suspense but the back half is... a police procedural? This dude isn't even manipulating the gaslight to mess with his wife; it happens by accident. On the plus side: Angela Lansbury's film debut!
(TV Tropes claims that Petruchio gaslights Kate in The Taming of the Shrew, and it is a similar form of manipulation, but I don't think he's trying to get her to doubt her own sanity.)
- Beetlejuice (1988): Without a constraint like historical fact (Ed Wood) or a time-consuming filming process (The Nightmare Before Christmas), Tim Burton movies are at risk of heading off into a ball pit of cool but disconnected ideas. This film jumps into the ball pit almost immediately and we get some fun set pieces that make me think this film would have been better as a series of shorts.
The third act, in particular, has a lot of scars on the screenplay where they cut all the exposition. Of course they still had time for Beetlejuice to set up this goth shotgun wedding with Gregory's Girl-age Lydia—just no time to convince the audience that it would solve any plot problem. It's clear Beetlejuice is exactly the sort of person who would do this, so at least it makes logical sense, but it's less clear why they followed up this movie with a children's cartoon—the main thing I remember about Beetlejuice from my childhood—where Beetlejuice and an aged-down Lydia are best pals. I guess that comes from the same place as the Robocop cartoon.
Uh, to say a nice thing about this movie: the main villains are redeemed, and one of them is even redeemed before the ending. I've also heard good things about the Indian remake, Beteljuice.
- The Informant! (2009): Up until the end of the opening credits I was assuming this would be like The Conversation, possibly because of Matt Damon's dorky moustache, but I wasn't disappointed to see a much different film set in the 1990s, in an office culture that I got the barest glimpse of tagging along with my father to clients and working my first summer programming jobs. I liked the twists and enjoyed watching Scott Bakula's long-suffering FBI agent. I laughed really hard at "You don't know how to read a lie detector!"
Sumana had seen this movie already and when I told her I was watching it, provided this Bakula-ready joke: "Archer Daniels Midland is the spot where Captain Archer and Crewman Daniels agreed to meet." Yes, a Crewman Daniels reference every month, that's the Film Roundup promise!
I see why they had to add the exclamation mark to the end of this movie's name. (The book was just called The Informant.) The exclamation mark shows that the film has a strong comedic element; otherwise it looks like a Robert Ludlum adaptation. This got me to thinking: if you have a film with a question mark in its title, but you also add an exclamation mark, does it cancel out the (totally imaginary) question mark curse?!
I found about 30 feature films on IMDB that have adjacent question and exclamation marks in their title, but the only ones I recognize are The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!? and What the #$*! Do We (K)now!?. So it looks like a reliable signal of a very bad movie.
- My Dinner With Andre (1981) This film hasn't aged well (the subject matter is... very Age of Aquarius) but I was amazed by how natural the dialogue feels. Gave me the vicarious thrill of listening to a smart crackpot present his theories on a topic I don't care about. Maybe his crackpot theories are correct! Who knows? Wallace Shawn was of course the big draw for me, and he doesn't have much to say until the last half-hour, but I was entertained. A production assistance credit for Troma (one of their first credits) was a nice surprise.
- Silver Streak (1976): The disappointing essence of stagflation-era comedy. After a rocky start (primarily caused by movies like this one in heavy rotation on Comedy Central) I've come to appreciate the cinema of the 1970s, but the comedies rarely make me laugh. No matter what they try, I'll never see Gene Wilder as a romantic lead or even a great comic actor. I think I found out about this from a "list of overlooked comedies" and now I'm questioning the judgement of the entire list. Plus, blackface. IMDB trivia: "Richard Pryor was uncomfortable with the scene." No kidding! Oh yeah, Richard Pryor's in this, eventually.
- Hausu (1977): This has a lot of stuff I don't like in horror movies (like... horror...) but it's so over the top and ridiculous I can't stay upset. My favorite scene was at the beginning where the backstory is laid out in a different filmic style. Every Disney animated feature does that now, but it doesn't happen a lot in 1977. And Hausu does it in an unusual way: one character is narrating the backstory, laying down the backbeat for the film-within-a-film we're seeing, but instead of listening to this narration, the other characters are also watching the film-within-a-film and commenting on it, MST3K-style? I guess this is to say that right from the start, Hausu is really weird, moving really fast and demanding a lot of the viewer. Once the blood effects start kicking in I've kinda had my fun.
- The Coca-Cola Kid (1985): I'm gonna put it out there: this, not Mad Max, deserves to be considered the true prequel to The Road Warrior. It was pretty fun, showcasing both the glorious high-tech of the 1980s and steampunk turn-of-the-century low tech. I can't confirm this 100% but this feels like a "low-budget non-American director gets big movie-industry money for the first time" film, a genre I'm becoming interested in after seeing Housekeeping last month.
- Little Caesar (1931): From the golden age of "every screenplay is based on a novel, and we're going to show you a picture of the novel on the title card". Also from the golden age of opening with a Bible quote, perhaps to appease the Hays office. I watched this because I really like Edward G. Robinson in non-gangster roles but I hadn't really seen the gangster roles he's best known for. It's a "great" performance—sixty years later, Robinson's accent still meant "gangster" at my middle school—but I think this movie is now basically obsolete. You got The Godfather series and both versions of Scarface telling this story with better character motivation than "gonna do some crimes, see?"
- Key Largo (1948): "Let's rip off the last scene from Key Largo, Mitchell!" That was going through my head the whole time, so suffice to say I knew how this movie ends. Has aged better than Little Caesar, with some nice noir moments regarding corruption and human weakness. Johnny Rocco has a super-petty speech about how ungrateful are the politicians he buys, which is exactly what I wanted when I went looking for "Edward G. Robinson gangster stuff".
- Re-Animator (1985): Kind of a repeat of my Reservoir Dogs dilemma: I'm not into horror films, but I am a big fan of Jeffrey Combs, who works almost exclusively in horror. I gotta at least watch the movie that started the typecasting, right? For an 80s horror flick you could do a lot worse. Combs met all my expectations: sinister with great comic delivery. The practical effects are goofy, but more "realistic" and less inventive than in Hausu. In further "random unexpected production assistant credits" news, Re-Animator has one for Rick Berman, of all people. Has anyone asked him about this?
- Gaslight (1944): A boring, train-ride-heavy first half sets up a reign of claustrophobic gothic terror in the second. A real thrill to watch. Plus, Angela Lansbury's film debut! Sumana hasn't seen the film but recommends "Just in Spring", a Yuletide fic dealing with the aftermath.
Tue Oct 01 2019 21:13 September Film Roundup:
This is not a film, but in September, Sumana and I played Untitled Goose Game and loved it. Check it out. Honk!
- Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982): In movie terms, this is the Crewman Daniels-esque car that Johnny Cash builds in "One Piece at a Time". The Steve Martin/Carl Reiner brand of comedy is able to drive the weirdo car a pretty good way, but I was left a bit disappointed. Like a Mel Brooks film, this is really sentimental about The Movies in a way that probably touches the hearts of those people who go in to work every day to make The Movies. But most of us have different jobs, and the technical achievement here rarely serves the comedy or the plot (in fact the plot serves it, big time). The one genre of joke I think they really nailed is the "noir narrator" joke. Just off the top of my head I can remember two great gags that came out of fooling with the narration.
As an interesting cross-reference, the mailing list manager Enemies of Carlotta is a reference to this film.
- Steven Universe The Movie (2019): I'm reserving judgement until I see the next season of the TV show because this movie sets up one of my favorite SF conceits -- aliens living alongside humans on Earth, c.f. Constellation Games -- and doesn't do much with it. Wasted opportunity? Not if they go on to spend a large number of ten-minute cartoons exploring the topic! Otherwise... this was a fun kid's movie. I'm not a kid anymore and I know this isn't designed for me, I'm just watching over your metaphorical shoulder.
- Shadow of the Thin Man (1941): At this point we're just watching for the comic relief scenes. Dashiel Hammett doesn't have so much as a "based on an original story by" credit anymore and the mystery bits are pretty dull. Nick and Nora were fun in New York, fun in San Francisco, but in this movie they live in an unnamed split-the-difference city that feels like pure backlot. William Powell's still funny. though.
The only thing that would convince me to watch the rest of this series is 1) Sumana might want to, 2) eventually a young Dean Stockwell starts playing the kid!
- The Phantom Carriage (1921): A century before The Good Place, there was... this. There's some cool technical wizardry (In its day, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid was hailed as "A new The Phantom Carriage"), and it's always nice to watch a silent film with live accompaniment, but overall I wasn't sold on the melodrama and the moralizing. The museum handout intepreted the whole supernatural element as a metaphor for the main character's alcoholism, and although readings like that generally annoy me, I think it makes a lot of sense here.
Having to drive Death's carriage for a year seems horrible, what with being endlessly confronted with human frailty and misery, but is it really worse than spending that same year in the Bad Place? One of many worldbuilding questions not considered by this movie, perhaps confirming the "metaphor for alcoholism" theory.
- Comfort and Joy (1984): This was my introduction to Bill Forsyth, who's already one of my favorite directors. I'd never heard of him before this month. Now I've seen three of his films (see below) and am eager to see the rest. His work is really consistent, but he doesn't have a ton of credits and hasn't directed since 1999, which made me suspect an Elaine May "movie jail" situation. Best I can see looking around the web is he just got tired of making movies.
Getting down to specifics: Comfort and Joy is a light comedy about mob violence where nobody gets hurt. It's all property damage. I'll say two negative things about it: the ending is really slight and although any resemblance is purely coincidental, etc. etc., there was real ice cream mob violence in Glasgow around this time and it's hard not to see this movie making light of it—a criticism that would have less bite if the movie was more satirical and less fluffy. Apart from that, a really good time.
As in many movies, there's a dream sequence in Comfort and Joy that is shot as though it were actually happening, ending with a smash cut to the sleeper waking up. Unlike most movies that do this, here we've also got a second dream sequence featuring the same characters, in which one of the characters is loudly suspicious that this is a dream, is finally convinced it's not, smash cut—they were right, it was a dream. Pure comedy... I'm gonna say comedy thallium.
- Breaking In (1989): I saw this one with Sumana and it blew us away! Great gags, great performances, a good heart, minor characters get their chance to be funny, awesome Portland locations. Sumana proposed this film as a model for Breaking Bad, and it's very plausible. Unlike a lot of stories of mismatched partners, it's clear here what each party gets out of the relationship, and at the end they both think they've come out ahead. Overall I'd compare this to Big Business—a hilarious but forgotten 80s comedy that's miles ahead of most of the stuff people remember. It's even got some subtle Edgar Wright-style jokes—(Delphine:Carrie::Ernie:Mike):::Shaun:Yvonne. Yes, I had to use parentheses and the rarely seen triple-colon to explain that analogy.
- Housekeeping (1987): This movie was not a laugh-a-minute crime comedy, so I didn't love it as much as Comfort and Joy and Breaking In, but it was solid. I was taken aback by the audacity of flooding the set, something I don't think I've ever seen. Though I imagine most movie ships are sets that can be flooded. Anyway, good mischief—comic and otherwise—in a less comedic universe than the other two Forsyth movies I've seen.
Sun Sep 01 2019 20:40 August Film Roundup:
"Our shows" have either ended (Jane the Virgin, satisfying ending IMO) or are on summer break, so in August, Sumana and I ended up watching a lot of movies together.
- Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000): A really fun action movie. Most of the martial arts movies I've seen are either significantly newer or significantly older than this, and after calibrating for that, I think I agree with the givers of prestigious film awards that this is above average for its time period. Not a lot to say beyond that.
- Jupiter Ascending (2015): Bits of this movie have a fun Hitchhiker's Guide vibe but it has a very tight focus on the two things I dislike most in space opera: Chosen One plots and great-house politics. The Wachowskis don't exactly hide their affinity for Chosen One plots, and obviously there's a market for great-house politics. It just feels like a dereliction of duty to use the grand scale of space opera to further explore one of the most heavily-explored societal organization mechanisms. Basically, I wanted this film to take a hard turn at the bees, do some kind of hive mind or something. All I remember from this movie's initial release was people making fun of the bee thing, but the bee thing is great!
This movie has two adjacent action set pieces where Channing Tatum busts in and stops Mila Kunis from signing some paperwork, so if that's your kink, this is the movie you've been waiting for. However, this movie is probably where you developed that kink, back when you saw it in 2015, and it's probably not going to happen again in modern cinema. Good thing there's deep fakes now!
PS: Walter John William's The Praxis does a good job of showcasing the dysfunction you'll find in one of those great-house societies, but even then I didn't finish the series.
- Walk, Don't Run (1966): Dateline: 1964! Cary Grant is lured out of retirement by the promise of a free trip to the Tokyo Olympics, all expenses paid. He just has to do some location shoots for his matchmaker role in this bedroom farce movie, and fill in the rest in a studio Stateside. Seems like a prime opportunity to phone it in. I'd phone it in if it was me. But that's just one of the many reasons why I'm not one of the most beloved actors of the twentieth century. Grant turns in a game performance with a lot of physical comedy, and the overall movie's really fun in a 1960s "international cooperation" way.
But the best part is that pre-Trek George Takei is in this movie! He's only got one scene but it's a pretty good role. I don't think I've ever seen him in a role other than Sulu or George Takei As Himself.
- I Was a Male War Bride (1949): We wanted to see more Cary, and thanks to this movie, our wish was... granted. I missed out on this film in 2013, and I'm pleased to report that it's funny and Cary Grant doesn't try to do a French accent. Easy no-prize explanation: his character speaks really good English which he learned from a Brit, a la Jean-Luc Picard.
There are two distinct phases to this movie. It starts with the typical Howard Hawks rom-com stuff where the two characters who can't stand each other fall in love. Once Grant's character becomes a Male War Bride, we switch to more "Humor in Uniform" jokes and gender stuff. It's all good fun, and there are some really moving bits near the end.
- Goldeneye (1995): The latest in our "Sumana asks Leonard if he wants to watch a James Bond movie and Leonard says sure" series. This was fun. Again, not much to add. Except: before checking IMDB I assumed Joe Don Baker spent 20 years appearing in Bond movies as Jack Wade, but no, he's in two and we happened to watch both of them.
- Three Kings (1999): This was really powerful, but also a good object lesson in exactly what type of power art has. Four years after this movie came out, we started a stupid, pointless follow-up to the Gulf War, at great human cost. At the time there were, in fact, people saying "didn't anyone see Three Kings (1999)?", but it didn't make a difference on a geopolitical level. Not saying a better movie would have gotten a different outcome. The Great Dictator is a great film and it didn't stop anything. Art works on the level of the individual, and there it does have power, for good and evil. We just don't have the counterfactual of all the individual decisions that were made differently because someone saw a movie.
- It Happened One Night (1934): Okay, back to romcoms. Clark Gable rides the knife-edge between "romantic lead" and "obnoxious jerk" in a way that guarantees lesser actors will spend the next 80+ years trying to surf this wave and falling down on the "obnoxious jerk" side. Really enjoyable to see someone who can pull it off, though. I think the key is in his famous striptease, surely the inspiration for Magic Mike, in which he compels behavior from Claudette Colbert's character not by controlling her body but by aggressively making his own body vulnerable.
A line from this movie is currently a catchphrase in our house: "Five Gs, or I crab the works!"
- Finally, we borrowed DVDs of the first four Thin Man movies (1934-1941). As of writing we've watched the first three and I don't think the fourth one is going to hold any big surprises, so I'll sum them all up as though they were one movie. The murder-mystery part is pretty bland but we love the dynamic between Nick and Nora, a dynamic you rarely see in romcoms, which focus on the start of a romance. It's not just that they're happily married: it's a collective power fantasy of being in a relationship so secure and with such good communication that you can pull potentially disastrous pranks on each other and team up to take on society at large.
There's a little of this in It Happened One Night (where it's great), so it doesn't have to rely on a strong preexisting relationship -- it can be one of the building blocks of a relationship. You see a kind of Nick and Nora dynamic between Kim and Jimmy in Better Call Saul, but their relationship isn't actually that strong—an indication that the show's probably not gonna end with a big infodump and everyone tipping back a drinkie.
Fri Aug 09 2019 09:45 Secretly Public Domain: Update:
My "Secretly Public Domain" project got a lot of attention, which is great, but it also gave me a lot more work to do and pointed to some things that hadn't been explained very well. I've done that work, and here's an update:
Topline number is 73%
My original estimate was that 80% of pre-1963 books were not renewed. This was based on a couple of inaccurate assumptions, the big one being that I was counting works originally published in a foreign country. Those works might have lapsed into the public domain at some point, but the US copyright has since been restored by treaty. So their renewal status isn't really relevant.
Of the books where renewal status is relevant, here are the most recent statistics:
- 73% have no renewal record at all.
- 19% have a renewal record that's an excellent match.
- 8% are in a grey area. They have one or more renewal records, but none of them are an excellent match. One of them might be legit, or they might all be renewals for totally different books. They need to be checked manually.
The "Secretly Public Domain" bot was a publicity stunt to draw attention to the machine-readable registration records. It worked great, but it also drew attention to me, the person doing the publicity stunt, even though I had basically nothing to do with the original work. For the record, here are the people who actually did the work. The project inside NYPL was run by Sean Redmond, Greg Cram, and Josh Hadro (now of IIIF). The work of making the copyright records machine-readable was done by Data Conversion Laboratory.
Most of the books whose copyright wasn't renewed are really obscure titles, but without looking very hard I found a very well-known science fiction novel that has no renewal record. I'm not mentioning the name as an incentive to get people to look at the data themselves. It's probably not the only well-known work whose copyright wasn't renewed.
How to make your own list
My original estimate of 80% was based on the quick and dirty script I used to write the Mastodon bot. To fix the "foreign works" problem and to produce a dataset that would stand up to scrutiny, I published a Python library specifically for handling this data. It's got business logic for making determinations like "was this book published in a foreign country" and "how well does this renewal record match this registration record". You run the scripts and at the end you have a bunch of JSON files with consolidated data. If you think there are bad assumptions, you can change the business logic and run the scripts again.
How to see the data
There were a number of requests for this data in a tabular form. I totally understand where this is coming from, and it's certainly the easiest way to get into the data, but it's tricky, because converting the JSON to tabular data destroys information that would be useful for taking the next step (see below).
So, I've done the best I can. I added a script to the end of my Python workflow which generates three huge tab-separated files, and I put those files in the cce-spreadsheets project. This should be good for getting an overview of which books were renewed, which weren't, and which are foreign publications.
Discovering that a book published in 1950 is in the public domain, doesn't make a free digitized version of that book automatically appear. Somebody has to do the work. At this point we go from fast data processing to really slow research and digitization work. You or I can now make a near-complete list of unrenewed books in a few minutes, but that list just represents an enormous to-do list for someone.
There are basically three "someones" who might step up here: Project Gutenberg, Hathi Trust, and Internet Archive.
As I mentioned earlier, Project Gutenberg digitized the copyright renewal records some time ago, and they use them all the time. They have a section of their Copyright How-To explaining how to check whether a particular title was renewed, and whether the renewal matters. There are other steps to clear a pre-1963 work: you have to verify that the author lived in the US at the time, stuff like that. The newly digitized registration records can help with some of this, and my data processing script that combines registration and renewal can help with more of it, but there's still some manual work you have to do for each book.
Once that work is done, Project Gutenberg volunteers will locate a copy of the book, scan it, and OCR it (assuming there's no existing scan). Then they'll proofread it and put out HTML and plain-text editions. As you can imagine, this process takes a really long time, but the result is a clean, accurate copy of the book that can be read on its own or reused in other projects. The catch is that somebody has to care enough about a specific book to go through all this trouble.
Hathi Trust already has scans of a lot of these 1924-1963 books. They just don't make these scans available to the public, because as far as they know, all these books are still under copyright. If they were convinced otherwise, they'd open up the scans—they opened up almost all of their 1923 stuff this January when the 95-year copyright term finally expired. So we have to make a case for opening up these books.
Earlier, NYPL took the highest-circulating 1924-1963 books in our research collection and checked to see which ones lacked a renewal record. We sent the list to Hathi Trust, and they did their own verification and opened up some of the books: The Americans in Santo Domingo from 1928 is an example. Once Hathi opens up a scan, it's available to the public. It also becomes possible for Gutenberg et al. to turn the raw scan into something more readable.
In the near future, people at NYPL (not me) will be talking to people at Hathi Trust about what kind of evidence is necessary, in general, to convince them that the copyright on a 1924-1963 book has lapsed. Then we'll be able to give them a list of all the books where we can find that kind of evidence. There'll still be a verification process on the Hathi Trust side -- at the very least, they have to go through the book and make sure it doesn't contain unauthorized reprints from other books -- but it should streamline things quite a bit.
Internet Archive is a wild card here. They scan a lot of books, and I could see them treating the "unrenewed" list as a big list of additional books to scan, but it would be a new undertaking. Making unrenewed works available is something Project Gutenberg volunteers do already, and it's something that Hathi Trust could do relatively easily, but with Internet Archive it's more the sort of thing they'd do.
That 8% of grey area, where it's not clear whether or not a book was renewed, points to the general difficulty of meshing together two sets of public records published across half a century and digitized by different people. The grey area represents a lot of manual work that has to be done, and of course there's always the fear that a book that seems to be free and clear actually isn't: the title page says "printed in Canada", or the smoking-gun copyright renewal didn't show up because its ID number was typed wrong.
There's going to be a lot of manual work in the process of clearing these books, but there's no reason to wait until everything's perfect to get started. My preference is to cast a very wide net, try to find any renewal that might possibly be related to a registration, and make the grey area as big as possible. We know that a majority of 1924-1963 books will always come up "no renewal", because there are way more registrations than renewals. We can deal with those and then take a closer look at the grey area.
A couple of people asked whether it was possible to do this for other media. The good news is that there are volumes of the Catalog of Copyright Entries for:
- "Books, Pamphlets, Serials, and Contributions to Periodicals"
- "Drama and Works Prepared for Oral Delivery"
- "Maps and Atlases"
- "Works of Art; Reproductions of Works of Art; Scientific and Technical Drawings; Photographic Works; Prints and Pictoral Illustrations"
- "Commercial Prints and Labels"
- "Motion Pictures and Filmstrips"
All of these books have scans hosted at the Internet Archive. You can get an overview by looking at Penn's index of the CCE from a specific year, let's say 1960.
As far as I know--and I do know about one big exception--the rules here are the same as for books. If something wasn't registered, or the registration wasn't renewed, then the copyright on a work first published in the US 1924-1963 has lapsed.
Now, the bad news. We have scans of the Catalog of Copyright Entries, but the only bits where both the registration and renewals are machine-readable is "Part 1 Class A". That's the "Books" part of "Books, Pamphlets, Serials, and Contributions to Periodicals", and it represents only about 30% of the total.
If you want to see whether there's a renewal record for a fishing map of Kansas, or a magazine article, or a cool retro ad, or a classic film noir, or a vintage restaurant placemat, it is quite possible, but it's a huge pain. And you can forget about running the numbers on all the movies or all the restaurant placemats. We don't have a good picture of what's in there.
The situation is this way because the Catalog of Copyright Entries is huge, and digitizing it is boring/expensive. Up to this point, book nerds are the only nerds who've put in the time and money to make "their" part of the CCE machine-readable. NYPL has plans to give this same treatment to the entire CCE, but the crucial part of the plan where we have money to pay someone to do this is currently missing; it's a matter for fundraising.
The second piece of bad news regards music. When we in 2019 think about "music", we think of sound recordings. When the CCE thinks about "music", it's thinking about the underlying composition—basically the stuff that would go on the sheet music. Until 1972 there was no federal-level copyright on sound recordings, and the result is that music copyrights are a bigger mess than other types of copyright. I do not want to get into territory I don't understand, but suffice to say that for a vinyl record to be in the public domain, it's necessary but not sufficient that the copyright on the underlying composition have expired. So the CCE can only help so much.
(1) Sun Aug 04 2019 20:41 July Film Roundup:
- Long Day's Journey Into Night (2018): You know I like an arthouse film now and again. I'm glad they tried something different, but I wasn't really feeling this one. I did like the 3D section, but it probably doesn't make sense unless you sit through the first half. The second half felt like an escape room, which is pretty cool, but the first half was the random, disconnected clues written on scraps of paper which you need to assemble to solve the escape room.
- Bathtubs Over Broadway (2018): Recommended by good ol' Pat Rafferty, this documentary is both a survey of a forgotten art form, and the story of a snarky person who discovers sincerity. I was hoping for a lot more in-depth on the survey, but I liked Steve Young's term of "comedy poisoning" for diagnosing his own snark. Really fun overall.
- Any Number Can Win (1963): A.k.a. Melody en sous-sol, a.k.a. The Caper That Sank, a.k.a. Never Steal Anything Wet (just kidding). This had really fun heist planning and aftermath, but the heist itself, a dialogue-light bit clearly inspired by Rififi, was a little dull, and the romance subplot was a snoozefest. I much prefered the noir opening, where the aging heistmaster gets out of prison only to discover that Modernism has consumed the world and Jacques Tati is filming Playtime in his home town. Had a real Reginald Perrin vibe.
- The Burglars (1971): A.k.a. Le Casse. This movie starts with a huge nerd-out as the titular burglars invade a beautiful 1960s mansion and crack the safe with a specialized piece of equipment that, e.g. uses Scantron-like cards to program a key-cutting machine. Includes long sequences where Jean-Paul Belmondo is looking stuff up in the service manual, a manual which is either the most detailed prop in the entire movie, written in good manual English, or... this is a real piece of equipment with a real service manual? I guess they gotta make safe keys somehow. I would love to know more about this machine!
Also, as long as I'm focusing on details most people don't care about, in the granary office at the end of this movie there's a hatrack which strongly resembles what Duchamp's Hat Rack would look like if it were actually a readymade.
Often I focus on these little things because the rest of the movie was boring, but although the heist that opens The Burglars is the best part of the movie, there's a ton of good stuff here. There's a cool car chase, good stunts, excellent cat-and-mouse between Belmondo and Omar Sharif. The fashions and design are swinging '60s throughout. Bad parts: the ending is pretty weak, there's a doesthegoldfishdie.com moment near the beginning, and an ugly scene where Belmondo's character slaps a woman around and it's played for laughs—unnecessary and really hard to stomach.
- The Bishop's Wife (1947): It's no Wings of Desire, but it covers some of the same ground. The minor characters are fun. Cary Grant's character is the ultimate service top, and it's wonderful to watch him be oblivious to society's rules about who does things for whom. One of these gags is reprised twice in a way that reminded me of Billy Wilder. IMDB says uncredited writing credit for... Billy Wilder! Trivia says he was just called in to redo a couple scenes, though. You can tell he didn't have full rein over the screenplay because the characters fulfill their dreams.