Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Announcing the John Huston Blogathon

Having not even been active in the blogosphere for a whole year yet, I feel sort of unorthodox doing this, but I would like to announce my plans for a John Huston Blog-a-thon to be launched right here, at Icebox Movies--from August 5 to August 12.

I've only told this to a few people on a few blogs, but after some years of pondering I think Huston may very well be my favorite American filmmaker. It's strange for me to say a thing like that, seeing as how I hadn't even heard of him until my late middle school years, and he certainly was not the director who first inspired my love of the cinema (that would be the modern whiz kids like Scorsese, Coppola, Spielberg and De Palma). And the first Huston film that I ever saw was Annie (1982), which is probably the first Huston movie that EVERYBODY these days probably sees in their lifetime... even though it's one of his worst films!

But after I saw The Maltese Falcon and The Man Who Would Be King in the summer after 8th grade, something happened to me. I wanted to begin seeing more of his films. I was about to go into high school, and I realized that if I ever wanted to starting taking a career in film seriously someday, I had to familiarize myself with classic cinema more. I had a little help on the side from David Lean and Robert Mulligan, of course, but if I remember correctly, Huston was the first classic American filmmaker whom I paid strict attention to (excepting Hitchcock--he was British!). It's because of Huston that I got into the films of Ford, Hawks, Welles, Griffith and so many other American masters.

Every Huston film I see feels better than the last. I've been watching more and more of his flicks this year, for some reason. And yet, some of you will ask: why Huston? What's so special about him? He has never been regarded as much of an auteur: Andrew Sarris and Molly Haskell don't care much for him, nor did Truffaut and Godard. His career is not dominated by one single auteristic theme, unless you could try to make a case for "male angst". Some of his great pictures have nothing in common with his other great pictures. How does The Treasure of the Sierra Madre align at all with Prizzi's Honor? Is there a lick of Beat the Devil in Fat City? Hell if I know.

I invite everybody and anybody to submit contributions to the blog-a-thon. Even if you don't feel like writing anything, though, go ahead and still participate: you may learn a thing or two about Huston, or maybe you'll teach others. Don't feel like you're obliged to gush over any loving feelings towards the man, either; if you've got a bone to pick with a Huston film or two, go ahead and rip it to shreds. I, for one, am about as far from a Huston expert as one can get and am hoping to learn even more about his filmmaking than I already know. And if you dislike Huston, go on a rant: I'm all ears. I've never quite understood the concrete criticisms of him and would enjoy a better understanding of them.

Huston died in 1987 at the age of 81. This year, he would have been 104. So, come celebrate his late birthday here at Icebox Movies in early August. I can't wait--it's going to be a lot of fun writing about a filmmaker who doesn't get much due. If you wouldn't mind, please spread the word to other blogs as well--my blog doesn't have very many folllowers, and I would love to see participation from bloggers I've never met.

The mission of the blog-a-thon will be to decide whether or not Huston should be judged as an auteur, or just as a studio director who left us with some wonderful films. But as his version of Gandalf once said,

"You will understand... in time."

See you in August, everybody.


  1. Awesome. I'm already excited to write something up on Under the Volcano and The Dead! Great idea, Adam. I'll pimp this big time at my blog when it gets closer to go-time.

  2. Thanks a bunch, Kevin! It's great that you'll be writing about Under the Volcano, which I've been meaning to see any day now, as well as The Dead-- I caught a little of that one when it was on TCM last week and found its visuals so seductive that I'll definitely make it a point to watch the whole thing. In general, I think there isn't enough literature out there devoted to Huston's 1980's output.

    Glad to have you aboard, Kevin.

  3. Very cool, Adam. I'll be sure to contribute, because I shamefully haven't seen any Huston. Last year I held a blogathon of my own and didn't get a single contribution, so I know what it's like to have such an event go unnoticed. When the time comes, I can help promote it too.

  4. You mean your David Lynch blogathon, Carson? Aw, I would have loved to participate in it! You could probably try launching it again, right? It wouldn't hurt...

    Btw, if you're in need of suggestions on where to begin with Huston, try beginning with The Maltese Falcon, which was his first. After that it's basically a free-for-all. He made 50-something films, so of course not all of it is necessarily essential viewing.

  5. Exciting stuff Adam. I definitely need to brush up on my Huston, so I may well take the opportunity with your blog-a-thon to do just that!

  6. It's not something that can really be resurrected. My goal was to write about every one of his films chronologically and I achieved that. Thanks for the suggestion. I'll probably watch that and a few others. For instance, I've always wanted to see Under the Volcano and Wise Blood.

  7. Looking forward to your contribution, Drew.

    Oh, and Carson, Wise Blood is AMAZING. I had no idea it was going to be that awesome until I watched it. Without spoiling the entire list, I would count it as one of Huston's top five best. If you end up seeing it, make sure to check out the Criterion DVD, which has all sorts of amazing interviews--the interview with Brad Dourif and his memories of shooting the film with Huston is of especially great interest.

  8. Adam, you know I'll make a splash at WitD as we get closer to that date, and I'll be sure to participate. He's a great choice in every sense, and your initiation here deserves a great showing.

  9. Thank you, Sam! I'm so glad to see this support from everybody. It's hard for me to hold back the excitement!

  10. And now that you're in... THERE'S NO BACKING OUT! NONE!!!!!

    Ah, I kid. It's completely optional.

  11. Huston's Fat City which I saw for the first time last year in a nice 35mm print really blew me away. It's probably my fave film of his. What do you think of Eastwood's Huston portrayal in White Hunter, Black Heart?

  12. Embarrassingly, I haven't seen White Hunter, Black Heart. A few people have told me that it's one of Eastwood's greatest films, and I hear Eastwood himself is excellent in it.

    It's always a joy to see others impersonating Huston, of course. Day-Lewis pretty much got it down in There Will Be Blood and I was disappointed when he forgot to thank the late Huston in his Oscar acceptance speech!

    And Fat City sure is great, Chris. It reminded me of The Misfits, only it's even more pessimistic and despairing. When you can, be sure to check out Wise Blood, which is another one of those films of his that shows reality as it really is and bites until it hurts.

  13. I'd love to write a piece on Huston's most neglected great film, The Kremlin Letter.

  14. Alexander, I'm very pleased to meet you and I DEFINITELY welcome a piece on The Kremlin Letter! I saw a little bit of that film when it aired late at night on TCM back in January, but admittedly I wasn't much in the mood to stay up and watch the whole thing. Still mad at myself for not recording it on a blank DVD. But I liked seeing Max von Sydow and Bibi Andersson playing Commies, and was especially amused to see George Sanders dressed in drag (!). Not many people have written about that film and you would certainly be breaking new ground if you did!

  15. Thank you very much for the invitation, Adam!

    It's one of my personal favorite films, and I hope that whenever TCM shows it again, you record and watch it, because it's an unappreciated gem. Indeed, Max von Sydow, Bib Andersson and George Sanders in their roles are quite extraordinary (just the sight of Sanders is, aha).

    Pleased to meet you and find your fine blog via Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies. Allow me to add you to my blogroll as soon as I can.

  16. Awwww...I love it when my blog friends meet because of me. My work here is done!

    Alexander: It's good to see you back! I've been enjoying your comments on Scott's Blog of Doom.

    Adam: You need to acquaint yourself with Alexander's blog. It's one of the best out there. His review of Inglourious Basterds last August was one of the best on the net.

  17. I looked at Alexander's blog and am already a fan. The Basterds review has like, what, 30-60 comments!?? It's great.

    I'm so glad to see that writers I've formerly not been acquainted with are already taking an interest in this blogathon. 'Tis the strange magic of Blogger.

  18. Great idea, Adam, and I will look forward to taking part - I just recently saw a little-known Huston film, 'We Were Strangers' starring Jennifer Jones and John Garfield, so may well write about that one... though I might go for something better known too! Will also give the event a plug on my blog.

  19. Hi there,
    I just found this blog and I am very happy about it. Huston is one of my favorite directors too and just a few days ago I wrote something like a review and a personal essay of the Maltese Falcon. If you are interested I can translate it in English (it’s in Greek now) and I can send it to you. I very much liked the idea of this Blog-a-thon, well done.

    Greetings from Greece..!!

  20. Judy, I'd love to have you aboard! We Were Strangers is another one of those little-known Huston films that has eluded me... I do remember it airing alongside other obscure Huston flicks a couple weeks ago, but between that film and some others like Across the Pacific and Sinful Davey (all of these movies were airing, like, after midnight) I had no choice but to only record the latter films on DVDs. Still mad at myself for that. And yes, don't feel limited to one film--submit as much as you like. Thanks, Judy!

    Chris Z., you're writing all the way from GREECE!?? Holy cow! The blogathon is totally going in places I never expected it to go!

    I'll probably have a better idea of how this is all going to work, but I think this is how I'm going to structure the blogathon: I'll do what Jason Bellamy did with his McQueen blogathon, write small summaries of each of your submission pieces, and then create links that will take readers straight to your blogs. If any of you are confused by this just visit Jason's old blogathon at this link and it may give you a better idea of how it's going to work: http://coolercinema.blogspot.com/2010/03/steve-mcqueen-blog-thon.html

    And we're glad to have you aboard, Chris Z! Can't wait to read your Maltese Falcon review. And if you wouldn't mind translating it into English, that would be awesome--I wish I could speak Greek, but it was never offered at my school. Haha

    One more thing: for those of you who don't have blogs and would prefer for me to upload your submissions on this site myself, here's my email address:


  21. Deal me in -- don't know what I'll write about yet, but I'll come up with something.

  22. Sign me up! My goodness, I love that banner.

    Hey, I just saw where you live in your profile... my family is from that area! My mom's family grew up in Gray Summit, which is pretty close if I recall, and various members are scattered about the area in other small towns. Such a small world.

  23. I'm promoting the blogathon on my blog--Thrilling Days of Yesteryear--but the banner you created is a wee bit too big for my sidebar...so I went ahead and worked up one of my own. Anyone is more than welcome to use it as well--you can either copy it off the blog or download it here.

  24. Hey, Stacia! I think I've been to Gray Summit before; at the moment I'm drawing a blank on it, but it's probably definitely nearby. So glad to see one with St. Louis County roots taking part in the blogathon!

    Ivan, I noticed that you've written up a Prizzi's Honor piece already. That's a joy for me since I've never really seen anything written about that film since its release--in modern times it's gotten a strange reputation as one of the "worst Best Picture nominees", and I don't agree at all. It would easily make my top five of 1985 along with Scorsese's After Hours, Spielberg's The Color Purple, Weir's Witness and Friedkin's To Live and Die in L.A. (which I just recently saw), or maybe Kurosawa's Ran (which I have laying around the house and need to watch soon!).

    I actually had to watch Prizzi's Honor twice to get some sort of final verdict on it. I saw it for the first time last summer, and thought it was both thrilling and hilarious. But that one scene where the mafia dons are ordering Nicholson to bump off his wife, and he's angrily retaliating ("You want me to grow old, like you guys? Without a wife?") really got to me. That scene was the heart of the picture, I thought. For a gangster parody, Prizzi's Honor has a ton of soul. Can't wait to read your piece on it when the blogathon around. Feel free to submit more than one piece, too.

    And thanks for constructing the new banner, Ivan! It's great-- and it's just the right size for any sidebar. What's funny is that I thought my own banner was too small because I've seen other blogathon banners that look bigger. Guess I overreached, haha.

  25. Adam:

    Just came across your blog via another site. Nice to read your comments on John Huston. We are in agreement about him being an excellent filmmaker. You certainly have to admire the scope of his portfolio, from detective films to big budget epics (The Man Who Would Be King) to smaller, more offbeat dramas (Fat City, The Night of the Iguana).

    I recently wrote about his 1962 film, Freud, which can be found here:


    I will definitely write another post for your site in August, perhaps on Reflections in a Golden Eye or on Key Largo or something else that comes to mind between now and then.

    I'll probably also add a hilarious story about the one time I met Huston on a plane back from Ireland in 1985. It's a classic!

  26. Tom, it's great that you've written about Freud, which strangely hasn't gotten a DVD release yet. I own a book by Leslie Brill entitled John Huston's Filmmaking, and apparently Brill had to go all the way to some college just to find a copy of the film so that he could write about it.

    And man, do I envy you that you got to meet Huston! Please do write about it--I and others would love to hear the story. I'm particularly surprised that Huston was in Ireland at that time at all, knowing that he had to sell his Irish estate St. Clarens sometime around when Wise Blood was completed (so maybe in the late 1970's), and I always figured that he spent the duration of the 1980's in Mexico. But it sounds like he occasionally snuck back and forth...

  27. Great idea! I'd love to participate. I'd like to write about several of his films.

  28. Adam:

    You're correct that by 1985, Huston had been living in Mexico for some time after his years in Ireland. Either this trip by him was "sneaking back
    as you put it or else he was going there to work on set ups for what would be his final film, "The Dead."

  29. I'm in. I'll also be putting up one of your banners.

    If you cough(wantedtoreturnthefavor)cough. That'd be awesome.


  30. Nice observation, there, Tom. The Dead should have instantly occurred to me when thinking of Huston's late Irish connections, and totally didn't register for me when it should have. Now I need to go in the cellar and flog myself!

    Bryce and Tom #2, we'd be happy to have you guys! Oh and Bryce, thanks very much for promoting the blogathon on your site... I'll try to build up resources to promote your Nolan blogathon as well. I gotta set up a sidebar first; this site miserably hasn't had a sidebar for as long as it's existed!

  31. Thanks Adam,

    Here's a review of Wise Blood. Consider it an early submission. I'll probably do another when the time comes.


  32. How will everyone be able to keep track of various posts to different sites for the blogathon? Will there be a central location where appropriate links should be sent?

  33. Yeah, basically what I'm going to do is on the day of August 5, I'm going to create one central page here in which everybody can post comments containing links to their blogathon contributions (which they'll publish on their own sites).

    Are you going to participate too, Adam? We'd love to have you! The others over at EYAWTKAF might be interested, too.

  34. I don't have a lot of experience when it comes to Huston films, but I'm going to throw in my two cents. I've already picked out a target film. Having this thing was a great idea, Adam!

  35. Looking forward to your contribution, Adam.

  36. Adam, I am willing to write about Escape to Victory and The Man Who Would Be King. Have also seen The African Queen, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The Maltese Falcon, but am sure many would be writing on them. Another not too well know John Huston movie on which i am wiling to write is The Mackintosh Man.

    --- Ratnakar


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.