Monday, January 22, 2018

Cecil B. DeMille -- guest blogger

Hello, this is the great Cecil B. DeMille. I would say “famed director” but some of you younger readers wouldn’t know who I am. Suffice to say I’m the greatest film director that ever lived. My time was the ‘20s through ‘50s when motion pictures were king, theatres were giant ornate palaces, and there were no virtual reality games in the lobby. Between silent and talkies I made 70 movies. Take that, Woody Allen!

The 2018 Academy Award nominations will be announced tomorrow so I asked Ken (who is a lovely writer and in my day I probably would have hired him… but then had him rewritten) if I could be his guest blogger today and share some of my thoughts on this year’s crop. After all, I was the greatest film director who ever lived. And now you can add “greatest film director who ever died.

Overall I was disappointed. This year’s contenders are not “movies of the YEAR.” They are nice little diversions on a Tuesday night. A “movie of the year” was an EVENT. It had SCOPE. It had major stars. It was destined to be a classic, still viewed fifty years later. In fifty years from now is anyone going to be watching THE BIG SICK? And don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed THE BIG SICK. But it was a pleasant trifle. And too long. And I made three-hour movies. But I blame Judd Apatow.

Yes, I know. I sound like one of those old disgruntled burn-outs. “Hey, you kids, get off my movie lot.” But in my day, we made spectacles with no CGI. If we needed 10,000 extras for an intimate café scene we got 10,000 extras. For THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (perhaps the greatest film ever made – take that James Cameron), I parted the Red Sea. More impressive was getting a performance out of Charlton Heston. (We clashed considerably because I wouldn’t concede to his demand that all the Jews be armed with machine guns. “They didn’t have machine guns back then!” I screamed, but he kept claiming “the Second Amendment.” I had to constantly remind him that back in ancient Egypt the right to bear arms meant sticks.) Nowadays, what passes for spectacle? DUNKIRK maybe. But there’s no story. I watched it the other night with Joan Crawford and we were both confused.

Then there’s THE POST, which is a pale version of ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN. That’s like if Steven Spielberg followed up my picture with THE SIX COMMANDMENTS.

As for THE PHANTOM THREAD – excuse me but motion pictures require “motion.” That is not a film, it is an oil painting. I watched it with Lana Turner and she fell asleep.

LADY BIRD was a sweet little comedy that we would call a B-Movie. Studios cranked those out once a week. You wouldn’t buy a hard ticket to see LADY BIRD. You would go to your neighborhood theatre where for a dollar it would be playing with THE DISASTER ARTIST. GET OUT is a terrific B-Movie that would break all boxoffice records at the Drive-In.

If MOLLY’S GAME came out in 1927 instead of THE JAZZ SINGER, the silent era would have been extended an additional five years. I watched it with Marilyn Monroe and the dialogue gave her a migraine. She had to lie down (with Clark Gable).

The other contenders are pretty or thoughtful in that Art House way, but again, where is THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH or SAMSON & DELILAH? As for candidates in the acting categories – I haven’t heard of half of them. Where are the STARS? Back then we had Claudette Colbert, not Stephen Colbert. Why isn’t George Hamilton up for anything?

I understand the U.S. boxoffice had it’s worst year in over a decade. On the eve of the day when they announce nominees for “the Best Picture” I say “Make Better Pictures.”

Thanks, Ken, for letting me rant. From what I understand, Ken will be reviewing the Oscars again on his podcast. Carole Lombard says she subscribes so I’ll probably go over to her place to listen.

Cut!  Print!  That's a wrap, everybody!  


Mr. Hollywood said...

I 100% agree with you Ken ... an unimpressive group of films ... and more expensive then ever to get to a theater to see them! It's no wonder B.O. is WAY down!

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Ken, you've said a number of times that you thought THE BIG SICK was too long. I don't happen to agree; I like it exactly as it is. But here's your Friday question: how would you have shortened it?


Jeff said...

Thanks for the column, Mr. DeMille. One thing though: are you honestly saying you wouldn't use CGI if you were still creating your sweeping spectacles today? I bet you a solid nickel that CGI would be your best friend.

Also, any thoughts on "The Greatest Showman?"

Anonymous said...

It should be pretty obvious to anyone who follows long term trends that the movies, like popular music, have taken a step back in the last 10-20 years in terms of quality.
This happens to every art form at some point -painting, architecture, fiction etc.
It's just movies' time.

Paul Duca said...

What would Carole Lombard say about that comment, Mr. DeMille?

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Mr DeMille, some of the greatest movies are non-epics. But how their STORIES are told are epic, or at least iconic:

The Graduate. The Breakfast Club. It's A Wonderful Life. Annie Hall. The Maltese Falcon. Rear Window. Touch of Evil. Fargo. Do the Right Thing.

DeMille would've done CGI, as others noted.
Dunkirk also had no dialogue. At least none that mattered. It was an impressionist painting.

Wonder Woman may have been the most epic of the movies made this year. LOL

The Ten Commandments isn't amazing because of it being an epic with 10,000s of extra (which was impressive) but because of the story.

In fact, Hollywood keeps trying to make Epic (even with CGI) films and most suck.

Colin Stratton said...

Sounds more like Norma Desmond than DeMille.

Charlie said...

"But in my day, we made spectacles with no CGI" - but Mr. DeMille sir.... they still do...there is one megalomaniac who keeps crowing that he makes the greatest movies with no CGI, throwing a shade on those who do use CGI. But like you said his movies have no stories, just Oscar nominated actors and big stars who he hires thinking they will cover up the lack of any story.

VP81955 said...

The lady in my avatar loves Ken's podcast and says Cecil can drop by anytime. Carole added she's forgiven Mr. DeMille for firing her as the female lead on "Dynamite" (1929), his first talkie, adding they smoothed it all out nine years later when she did an adaptation of "My Man Godfrey" with her ex Bill Powell on Lux Radio Theater (many eps of which can be found online). While Cecil B. was promoted as the show's "director," he was essentially a glorified host who let the writers and radio professionals do their job...unlike the beancounters with Ivy MBAs who run the studios today and think they know the industry.

A. W. Carter said...

If "Lady Bird," "Three Billboards...," and "Get Out" etc. dominate the Academy Awards this year, I'm good with that, reminding the studios to consider, buy, and shoot more personal scripts. (But I won't hold my breath)

Dhruv said...

Avatar was the greatest epic to me.

It is understandable that James Cameron is not a popular man because of his attitude etc... but he simply is the greatest visionary ever. I, and I bet many more will agree, that the first time one saw "Avatar" was an unforgettable experience.

Not a great story, yes.

- But the 3D effects and the vision to bring it onscreen and the determination to pursue the technology to make that movie is unparalleled.
- The patience to wait for many theaters across the world to get their screens ready for that movie.
- Simply for that hard work and pioneering that technology - he deserves accolades and respect.

He is the only name here, who will bring the crowd to the theaters. When I say crowd, not the city folks to multiplexes, but small town and village folks to theaters. These people don't watch English movies, but "Titanic" left such a impression on them that, when "Avatar" was released, the name James Cameron was enough to bring these people to the theaters.

Phil said...

She had to lie down (with Clark Gable). 😂😂😂

Ken, regarding yesterday's post, would you you be posting your play? Would love to read it. Thanks.

Unknown said...

Thank you Mr. DeMille. I’m ready for my close up.

ODJennings said...

"I bet many more will agree, that the first time one saw "Avatar" was an unforgettable experience."

Well yes, but it was called "FernGully" and it was unforgettable mostly because I was 8.

Peter said...


I like James Cameron. I loved The Terminator and Terminator 2, Aliens, True Lies, and I have no problem admitting I absolutely adore Titanic.

But Avatar bored me senseless. I was checking my watch half an hour into the film. And the fact that he's devoted the last decade and much of the next to making four Avatar sequels is really depressing.

Dhruv said...

Yes agree with you Peter, that's disappointing that he will be making only Avatar sequels from now on.

ADmin said...

You're a HACK, DeMille! Your use of linear storytelling is annoying & puerile. Commercial - Shmommecial. If it wasn't for the Bible you'd be directing Maytag commercials!

Your friend,

Frederico Fellini

Dr Loser said...

Brilliant! One small correction to that Second Amendment thing: Cecil would have been in favor of allowing the Jews pointy sticks.

"I'm ready for my close-up now, Mr de Mille ..."

Dr Loser said...

(Beaten by jlandecker. My apologies.)

Ralph C. said...

Ken, great work having Mr. DeMille as a guest blogger.... HEY!! Wait a minute!!! DeMille is dead, isn’t he??? You tricked us!! Let’s get ‘im everyone!!!

Cap'n Bob said...

"Ready when you are, C.B."

Peter said...


Thank you for your comment, it made me laugh!

Scott Mumford said...

Even though we disagree on "Phantom Thread", I feel ya, Ken. I've been losing faith in the Oscars since "The Artist" won Best Picture back in '11/'12. Ugh. So many "meh" movies with "universal acclaim!" and breathless "Best Picture of the Year!!" blurbs.

BobinVT said...

Love the guest bloggers from the great beyond.

Pat Reeder said...

Thanks, Ken, I really enjoyed this post. The Oscars have become completely disconnected from audience tastes. As an exercise, just try to remember what won Best Picture two years ago or three years ago (or maybe even last year). If you can manage that, then try to name three other nominees. Go on, I dare you. I have to keep up with showbiz news for a living, and I not only couldn't remember what one recent Best Picture winner was, even after I looked it up and saw the title, I still couldn't remember what it was.

Interesting trivia about DeMille: back in the silent days, before he became synonymous with speaking for God in giant 1950s Biblical epics, he was most famous for deifying bathrooms. He made movies about the affairs of rich people who lived in huge mansions, and each film had to feature an erotic undressing and bathing scene in a bathroom that was bigger, more ornate and more decadent than the one before. His opulent bathroom decor porn did as much in the '20s for plumbing fixtures catalogs as he later did for the Old Testament. Even if you didn't care about the characters, you paid to see the DeMille Bathroom. It was like the silent version of HGTV.

Here are a few stills from his erotic 1920s bathroom scenes, including a discrete nude bathing scene by Claudette (not Stephen) Colbert:

And just for grins, here are photos of his estate when it was up for sale, if you want to see his own bathroom, featuring the King of Hollywood’s throne.

Anonymous said...

No, he won’t. And he hates that question.

By Ken Levine said...

The only reason I don't post the play is because I am submitting it elsewhere and don't want it available on line for anyone to just produce on their own without permission and compensation. But I don't hate that question at all. I appreciate your interest.

Phil said...

I understand. Thanks Ken :)

Andrew said...

Regarding Avatar, am I the only one who wanted the bad guys to win? Tear down that tree!

It is sad that the Oscars don't mean what they used to. I grew up in the 80's. Here were the best picture winners (from 1980 thru '89): Ordinary People. Chariots of Fire. Gandhi. Terms of Endearment. Amadeus. Out of Africa. Platoon. The Last Emperor. Rain Man. Driving Miss Daisy.

I'm not sure all of those movies deserved to win, but they were all great movies, and were well-loved and respected by the public.

I have had no interest in any of the nominees or winners in a very long time. I know many people my age (in their 40's) who feel the same way. The Oscars are an insignificant event from a different, self-congratulatory planet.

McAlvie said...

It's very true that there's been a decline in the quality of movies. Not the production quality, but the "draw in an audience" quality. Much like what we saw with tv programs, movies went for a niche market. Instead of making a movie that just about anyone wants to see, and can see because it isn't R rated, they made movies that appeal to a small market. The movie makes a splash initially because it punches a button for that demographic. But the demographic grows up, while the movie industry is still pushing out "Dumber and Drunker in Vegas," and it's sequel, "Dumb, Drunk, AND STONED." Then you have to market to women, so you take all the worst elements of those two movies and call it "Bridesmaids."

CGI can't fix that.

Take a step back in time, and you'll find that most of the movies made were viewable by anyone of any age. An 8yo might have been bored, but not scarred for life. Your grandma understood the storyline. Heck, even the cartoons played well across several age demographics. There's a reason why classic movies still have a fan base. There are only a handful of movies today that will stand the test of time.

MikeN said...

CB, I wish you had been available to advise the Indian director of Baahubali. Epic story that suffers for bad CGI. The sequel made nearly $20 million in the US last year. You could have told him to hire the extras and created a true epic(if you didn't complain about copying from your movies).

James Van Hise said...

There's a great line in Blazing Saddles where someone says, "He's killed more men than Cecil B. DeMille!"

Jahn Ghalt said...

I get that Charlton Heston angered a certain segment of American Society when he spoke on behalf of the NRA.

I still credit him for speaking at a Warner's stockholder meeting, knowing full well he would never work for Warner again. His speech? It was nothing more nor less than to read the lyrics for a particularly scurrilous 2 Live Crew "song" which had just been released.

cadavra said...

Cameron only wishes he could make a picture as good as THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. He's a second-unit director working way above his pay grade.

And AVATAR was a rip-off of DANCES WITH WOLVES, which was in turn a rip-off of RUN OF THE ARROW, proving once again that Sam Fuller could do anything better and in half the time.

Peter said...


Heston actually read out the lyrics to Cop Killer by Ice-T, who was signed to Warner at the time.

I do love the irony that Ice-T did a notorious song called Cop Killer and now plays an NYPD cop on Law & Order SVU.

Barry Rivadue said...

There's something askew today when My Little Pony gets a PG for "mild action" while DeMille's TEN COMMANDMENTS had lots of unmild action and got a G when reissued in '68. Far more sensible minds back then.

John Mazur said...

Take out the ‘S’ for The Big Ick?
That’s a tad shorter.

Kaleberg said...

DeMille had a lot less competition. He barely had to fight for audience share with television, only late in his career, and he could film in color. He didn't have to deal with cable channels or streaming services. Video is a lot more book like these days. It's a whole different game. The Oscars have been been changing too, largely because the industry has been changing.