Wednesday, May 23, 2012

James Wong Howe was one of Hollywood's greatest Asian American craftsmen, so because it's Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, peep Howe's handiwork below

J.J. Hunsecker rules Manhattan LIKE A MUTHAFUCKIN' BOSS!
Sweet Smell of Success (Photo source: DVD Beaver)

The Elmer Bernstein-scored Sweet Smell of Success is one of my favorite older movies because it's cynical, hard-bitten, pre-curse-words-allowed-in-movies Hollywood screenwriting at its best. Its cinematographer was James Wong Howe.

Sweet Smell of Success minus great writing = the TV series Smash
Sweet Smell of Success (Photo source: DVD Beaver)
J.J. Hunsecker's way too creepily obsessed with his sister. He and Tony Montana and Angelina Jolie's brother should get together and form some sort of creepy club.
Sweet Smell of Success (Photo source: DVD Beaver)

Howe's sterling work in black and white also graced the first Thin Man installment and Hud, two films that I first saw on TCM and are always worth revisiting on that channel, partly because of Howe's cinematography.

Myrna Loy, the original Mrs. Hart to Hart before there was a Mr. and Mrs. Hart to Hart
The Thin Man (Photo source:
'Operator, can you tell me why these motion pictures contain 'Thin Man' in the title even though they have nothing to do with the thin man from the first movie?'
The Thin Man (Photo source:
Is that a PBR in your hand, Hud? Don't try to be a fucking hipster.
Hud (Photo source: This Distracted Globe)
Hud and The Hustler were reasons why when Paul Newman made Harper, Lew Archer's last name was changed to Harper so that the movie would be another Newman box-office hit with an H-word for a title. I wonder why they didn't change Slap Shot's title to Hockey Fuck or something.
Hud (Photo source: This Distracted Globe)

In 2004, I wrote and recorded three Asian Pacific American Heritage Month interstitials for the Fistful of Soundtracks channel. One interstitial centered on Howe. The other two were about Margaret Cho and Homicide: Life on the Street writer James Yoshimura. Below is the entire three-minute interstitial I did on Howe. The last time I heard my Howe segment was about eight years ago. I forgot that I worked Method Man's "Bring the Pain" into the segment. Nice choice for a bed, 2004 me.

Take it away, partial transcript of 2004 me:

"Howe was one of the first cinematographers who perfected deep focus photography, in which both the foreground and the distant background are clearly seen. Another Howe innovation was the way he shot the boxing sequences in Body and Soul. A boxer himself when he was a teenager, Howe grabbed a pair of roller skates, climbed into the ring with the actors and filmed the action with a handheld camera. Though only five-foot-two, Howe was a badass. He was described by those who knew him as a tough perfectionist and a taskmaster. He was openly hostile to film crews. He was particularly hostile towards racists and had to deal with them on and off the sets. In an L.A. Times article, Howe's Caucasian widow recalled an incident at a restaurant in which a bigot tried to humiliate Howe and his wife by shoving them off their seats. Howe got the best of the bully using his high school boxing skills… Howe died in 1976, leaving behind a body of work that influenced cinematographers everywhere. Howe was a man who worked hard with his lights and camera to capture beauty, even if it was in a town that exhibited the ugliest behavior towards him and his people."

A roller skating jam named 'James Wong Howe'
Come on, everybody, wear your roller skates today. (Photo source: Film Monitor)
Goddamn, back in the '30s, they even dressed up when they worked behind the camera, which is awesome. It's as if James Wong Howe is saying to future cinematographers, 'Fuck you, you 21st-century cinematographers who'll be going to work in T-shirts, cargo shorts and flip-flops. I'm makin' this look good.'
James Wong Howe prepares to film The Thin Man on the 1934 movie's set. (Photo source: Dr. Macro's High Quality Movie Scans)

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