in 1885, the first steam-powered popcorn maker hit the streets, invented by Charles Cretor. The mobile nature of the machine made it the perfect production machine for serving patrons attending outdoor sporting events, or circuses and fairs. Not only was popcorn mobile, but it could be mass-produced without a kitchen, an advantage that another crunchy snack–the potato chip–lacked (the earliest potato chips were made in small batches in kitchens, not ideal for mass snack appeal). Another reason for its dominance over other snacks was its appealing aroma when popped, something that street vendors used to their advantage when selling popcorn. Still, movie theaters wouldn’t allow the popular street snack into their auditoriums.
“Movie theaters wanted nothing to do with popcorn,” Smith says, “because they were trying to duplicate what was done in real theaters. They had beautiful carpets and rugs and didn’t want popcorn being ground into it.” Movie theaters were trying to appeal to a highbrow clientele, and didn’t want to deal with the distracting trash of concessions–or the distracting noise that snacking during a film would create.
When films added sound in 1927, the movie theater industry opened itself up to a much wider clientele, since literacy was no longer required to attend films (the titles used early silent films restricted their audience). By 1930, attendance to movie theaters had reached 90 million per week. Such a huge patronage created larger possibilities for profits–especially since the sound pictures now muffled snacks–but movie theater owners were still hesitant to bring snacks inside of their theaters.
The Great Depression presented an excellent opportunity for both movies and popcorn. Looking for a cheap diversion, audiences flocked to the movies. And at 5 to 10 cents a bag, popcorn was a luxury that most people were able to afford. Popcorn kernels themselves were a cheap investment for purveyors, and a $10 bag could last for years. If those inside the theaters couldn’t see the financial lure of popcorn, enterprising street vendors didn’t miss a beat: they bought their own popping machines and sold popcorn outside the theaters to moviegoers before they entered the theater. As Smith explains, early movie theaters literally had signs hung outside their coatrooms, requesting that patrons check their popcorn with their coats. Popcorn, it seems, was the original clandestine movie snack.
Beyond wanting to maintain appearances, early movie theaters weren’t built to accommodate the first popcorn machines; the theaters lacked proper ventilation. But as more and more customers came to the theater with popcorn in hand, owners couldn’t ignore the financial appeal of selling the snack. So they leased “lobby privileges” to vendors, allowing them to sell their popcorn in the lobby of their theater (or more likely on a bit of street in front of the theater) for a daily fee.
Eventually, movie theater owners realized that if they cut out the middleman, their profits would skyrocket. For many theaters, the transition to selling snacks helped save them from the crippling Depression. In the mid-1930s, the movie theater business started to go under. “But those that began serving popcorn and other snacks,” Smith explains, “survived.” Take, for example, a Dallas movie theater chain that installed popcorn machines in 80 theaters, but refused to install machines in their five best theaters, which they considered too high class to sell popcorn. In two years, the theaters with popcorn saw their profits soar; the five theaters without popcorn watched their profits go into the red. Eventually, movie theater owners came to understand that concessions were their ticket to higher profits, and installed concession stands in their theaters.
World War II further solidified the marriage between popcorn and the movie theaters. Competing snacks like candy and soda suffered from sugar shortages and in turn, rationing, as traditional sugar exporters like the Philippines were cut off from the United States.
By 1945, popcorn and the movies were inextricably bound: over half of the popcorn consumed in America was eaten at the movie theaters.
Wired profiles “Armourer to the Stars” Tony Swatton.
Tony Swatton is the most famous blacksmith in Los Angeles. But he’s not forging horseshoes. Rather, Swatton has banged out a place in Tinseltown as the go-to guy when a big-budget movie or hit TV show needs custom metalwork. The swords in Pirates of the Caribbean? Those creepy-cool murder weapons from CSI and Criminal Minds? The Infinity Gauntlet from Thor? All were Swatton creations. ...
His skill, not to mention his eye for detail, have made him the go-to guy for anyone who needs the most realistic, and awesome, weapons. He’s got a knack for coming through with just the right thing.
“When you look at actual historical weapons, they often don’t live up to your expectations,” says Shawn Strider, the organizer of the Labyrinth of Jareth masquerade in Los Angeles, who has used Swatton’s swords and armor in several of his events. “But when you look at Tony’s work, it’s exactly what you wanted it to be like.”
Demand for Swatton’s creations is huge, and the odds are you’re familiar with his work. The hook from Hook, the blade from Blade, creepy weapons from the Hellboy movies, Batarangs from Batman Returns and even custom crucifixes from Sons of Anarchy all came from the forge at The Sword and the Stone. All the vikings in Capital One’s “What’s in your wallet?” commercials carried Swatton’s gear, and Rihanna, Katy Perry and Britney Spears have worn his armor in videos. It’s an odd occasion when Swatton’s fingerprints aren’t on something seen in a big-budget flick.
Often responding to Philip or Sam, the private investigator (PI) may be identified by his coat and hat. His natural habitat: the wet street corner or, unauthorised, another person’s home. He is commonly accused of committing the very crime under his investigation. You will find him lit starkly, from the side. He is good at getting women into bed, but they often turn out to be malevolent villainesses. He is American.
The PI’s bloodlines flow deeply into the tradition of masculine heroes. His characteristics loom so large over Western popular culture that it can be hard to make him out. This is the problem facing any book on the film noir detective: being a chap, in a movie, trying to solve a problem, he is as inscrutably general a cultural trope as the femme fatale. What makes a PI a PI, and not just some other kind of leading man? You can’t even really chalk him up to an era, since he has existed since the early days of film. ...
[The] famous five film noir traits—oneiric, strange, erotic, ambivalent, and cruel—were neither clear cut nor all strictly necessary in order for a film to be noir. This genre is yoked together by a general ambience—an aura of darkness—rather than any true collective character. If the film noir is about one particular thing, I’d say it was about bad people. It is therefore about crime, and the investigators of those crimes. Enter the PI.
Orson Welles was renowned for his keen wit, sharp tongue, and profound sense of personal grievance. Consequently, Welles’ lunch-time collected commentary, compiled in the recently published My Lunches with Orson, will inevitably be a treasure trove of good lines.
Peter Apsden, in the Financial Times, gives us a few good excerpts:
Orson Welles was stymied at virtually every stage of his career by those whom he believed to be inferior and, in consequence, terminally unsympathetic to him. Welles wrote the template for the way in which arrogance and insecurity fuel each other to produce breakdown. There was the stellar ambition of Citizen Kane (1941), and then immediate and lengthy decline. His physique swelled, his patience shortened, his friends, or “friends”, scarpered. He ended his days at his regular hang-out, Hollywood’s Ma Maison restaurant, draping himself, as Gore Vidal once described, in ‘bifurcated tents to which, rather idly, lapels, pocket flaps, buttons were attached in order to suggest a conventional suit’.
Which is where we find him in My Lunches With Orson, Peter Biskind’s sensitively edited account of Welles’s conversations with Henry Jaglom. The British-born actor and director became Welles’s regular lunch partner and confidante, and taped their dialogues over a couple of years before Welles’s death in 1985. This is Welles riffing uninhibitedly on his life and times, lurching from mischief to melancholy, and it is riveting. I defy anyone not to feel moved by its narrative arc of greatness laid low by its own luminosity.
The book is already attracting attention for its waspish indiscretions. Here is Welles on Woody Allen: ‘I can hardly bear to talk to him. He has the Chaplin disease. That particular combination of arrogance and timidity sets my teeth on edge.’ On Laurence Olivier: ‘Larry is very – I mean, seriously – stupid.’ On the pianist Arthur Rubinstein: ‘The greatest cocksman … [he] walked through life as though it was one big party.’ On Rear Window (1954): ‘Everything is stupid about it. Complete insensitivity to what a story about voyeurism could be … Vertigo. That’s worse.’
But beyond those headlines, there are fascinating pointers to how Welles viewed himself, and his work. What, asks Jaglom, did they think of Kane in England? ‘It was not gigantically big in England. Auden didn’t like it,’ replies Welles, obviously preferring to stew on the verdict of a single poet rather than the bathetic business of box office returns. ‘I always knew that Borges … hadn’t liked it,’ he continues. ‘He said that it was pedantic, which is a very strange thing to say about it, and that it was a labyrinth. And that the worst thing about a labyrinth is when there’s no way out. And this is a labyrinth of a movie with no way out.’ And then we can imagine that famously booming voice turn warm with the sudden discovery of a good joke.
‘Borges is half-blind. Never forget that.’
One more interesting paragraph from John Powers, at NPR:
If you love old movies, My Lunches with Orson is like being handed a big tin of macadamia nuts — you just keep devouring it. Welles talks about everything from the secret side of Katharine Hepburn — she talked dirty and was hot to trot — to how The Godfather is ‘the glorification of a bunch of bums who never existed.’ He knows this because he used to bed the same showgirls real gangsters did. Although a lifelong man of the left, Welles says the right-wingers in Hollywood were much nicer people — especially John Wayne, who was a prince.
In 1927 Claude Friese-Greene shot some of the first-ever color film footage ever taken around London. He captured everyday life in the city with a technique innovated by his father, called Biocolour. The British Film Institute used computer enhancement to reduce the flickering effect of the original Biocolour and bring us this striking rare film which transports us back through time.
In connection with the 36th Anniversary (on May 25th) of the opening of the first Star Wars movie, Alex Jay chronicles (in detail) the evolution of the Star Wars logo.
Lucas turned to Suzi Race to design a new Star Wars logo. She wrote about her involvement in a two-part post on her site: part one and part two. The Star Wars Poster Book (Chronicle Books, 2005) had a short account of her role:
...Though the poster contained no painted imagery, it did introduce a new logo to the campaign, one that had been designed originally for the cover of a Fox brochure sent to theater owners….Suzy Rice, who had just been hired as an art director, remembers the job well. She recalls that the design directive given by Lucas was that the logo should look “very fascist.”
“I’d been reading a book the night before the meeting with George Lucas,” she says, “a book about German type design and the historical origins of some of the popular typefaces used today—how they developed into what we see and use in the present.” After Lucas described the kind of visual element he was seeking, “I returned to the office and used what I reckoned to be the most ‘fascist’ typeface I could think of: Helvetica Black.”
I thought to myself, “Oh, that sounds like a fun story.” So I just started writing.
I started at noon and I was done by 1pm. I’d expected that maybe a hundred nerds would read it and enjoy it, and that some people would have had a fun lunch hour because of me. Instead, it changed the trajectory of my life. By the time I went home at five it’d had a quarter-of-a-million readers, a week later I had a manager, and a week after that I had a contract with Warner Brothers. They brought me on to write a treatment, and then a screenplay based on that treatment.