9 Resources for Writing Classic Movie Reviews
You've watched a movie and written preliminary notes for a movie review in a Moleskin or on your computer. What sources do you use for those in-depth bits of information which you will sprinkle throughout your review? Here are a few of ours.
1. American Film Institute (www.AFI.com)
This is where you get movie details that are often difficult to find elsewhere. Not only do they offer lists of cast and crew, not only dates of when the movie was released, but specific dates about when the film was shot - information which not every movie database has.
Armed with these tidbits you realize that Donald O'Connor shot a whole bunch of films in a short amount of time just before entering the service during World War II. However, the release dates tell you they were doled out like candy throughout the emergency. Fans back home could still see their favorite star even though he hadn't made a film in years.
There's nothing like reading details about a movie straight from the horse's mouth. Biographies are helpful and are sometimes the only thing you've got, but we do prefer those volumes written by the filmmakers or actors themselves.
3. Filmmakers' DVD Commentaries
Directors, screenwriters, actors, etc. sit down to view the film in a screening booth and comment on the action, what they remember about this scene or what led to that scene. This audio becomes a special feature on your DVD, delighting movie fans everywhere. It is really the audio version of an autobiography, specific to a movie.
4. Internet Broadway Database (www.IBDB.com)
Many movies have Broadway connections. A screenwriter's source material might come from the stage or a movie star might have began or ended his career with a trod on the boards. Did you know that it was Betty Grable's debut on Broadway which landed her a film contract? And what was that hit show? The IBDB will tell you.
You should trot over to this website for lists of cast and crew and dates for the run of any show on Broadway, past or present.
5. Internet Movie Database (www.IMDB.com)
This website is chock full of information about film release dates, names of the films in other languages when released in different countries, connections to other movies, etc. But be careful. Although they do have a governing body, anyone can register and contribute information. Still, it's a great quick stop for general info on movies.
6. Google Books (http://books.google.com/)
Google is out to conquer the world of accessible information. It has scanned and uploaded millions of books and magazines page by page. So you can, for instance, read a Life Magazine interview with your favorite classic movie star of the 1940s.
We are especially fond of being able to search through a book for a particular story or turn of phrase by simply typing in search words. We search Google Books even when we have a physical copy of the book sitting on our shelf- it's quicker.
7. Google News Archive (http://news.google.com/newspapers)
Google is at it again. It has scanned and uploaded millions of newspapers page by page. We like to browse by name and year and see what the columns were saying about a person at a certain time in his/her career.
It is through the Google News Archive that we discovered an open letter of comfort to Judy Garland from producer Billy Rose during a particularly harrowing year for the legendary performer.
8. Library of Congress' Photo Stream (http://www.flickr.com/photos/library_of_congress/)
Great public domain photos are at the Library of Congress. They give you a great sense of the past, the culture surrounding and informing (and being influenced by) the classic movies we like to review.
It was an old photo of beautifully-dressed people at the fair which gave yours truly a new perspective on Rodgers' and Hammerstein's State Fair (1945).
Since many movies have their origin in stage plays or novels, it is helpful to get into the filmmakers' heads by reading the source material.
We like to play a game with these. If we've already seen the movie, then before reading the source, we guess which characters are original to the film and which ones are not and think about why that would be so.We also imagine which scenes we think were added for the film and why, what has been toned down for a film audience, how any special effects might have been translated from the stage, stuff like that. Then we read the material.
If we've seen or read the play or book first, we play the same game in reverse.
A Source We Wish Were More Accessible
After reading Gilvey's biography on Gower Champion -legendary dancer/choreographer who directed the Broadway hit Hello Dolly!- we are dying to see the different versions of a play that cast so many varied personalities in the same role. Carol Channing, Ginger Rogers, Pearl Bailey, Martha Raye, Betty Grable, Phyllis Dyler, Bibi Osterwald and Ethel Merman all played Dolly Levi.
What are your sources for reviewing movies?