The world’s oldest operating roller coaster, Leap-the-Dips, in Altoona, Pa., was built in 1902. It’s 41 feet high and has an average speed of 10 mph.
New Jersey’s Kingda Ka, below, opened a century later. It’s 456 feet high and accelerates to 128 mph in 3.5 seconds.
Charlie Chaplin demanded 342 takes for one three-minute scene in City Lights. Actress Virginia Cherrill played a blind flower girl who mistakes Chaplin for a wealthy man. Her only line was “Flower, sir?”
Chaplin later called Cherrill an “amateur”; he’d hired her as the love interest without even talking to her. Asked why so many takes were necessary, he said, “She’d be doing something which wasn’t right. Lines. A line. A contour hurts me if it’s not right. … I’d know in a minute when she wasn’t there, when she’d be searching, or looking up just too much or too soon … Or she waited a second. I’d know in a minute.”
But it’s also true that Chaplin often worked out a scene on the set, rather than relying on a finished script. “Chaplin rehearsed on film — he’d try out an idea and do it over and over again,” film historian Hooman Mehran, who narrates the segment above, told CNN. “And since he was the director, he couldn’t see his performance, so he had to record it.”
If box-office receipts are adjusted for inflation, Gone With the Wind is still the highest-grossing film of all time, with earnings of $3.4 billion in 2014 dollars.
After the film’s 1939 premiere in Atlanta, playwright Moss Hart wired producer David O. Selznick:
OH, ALL RIGHT, GO AHEAD AND HAVE A VULGAR COMMERCIAL SUCCESS!
Robert Altman’s 1992 film The Player opens with a continuous shot that’s eight minutes long. Altman told one interviewer, “I wanted to make that ridiculously long opening shot because so many people talk about these long opening shots as if they are some achievement in themselves.”
At 1:17, Fred Ward refers to Orson Welles’ 1958 film Touch of Evil, which opens with a three-minute tracking shot of its own (below). Several takes were ruined when the customs man at the end forgot his line, which ruined the entire take. Charlton Heston remembered Welles telling the man, “Look, I don’t care what you say, just move your lips, we can dub it in later. Don’t just put your face in your hands and say, ‘Oh, my God, I’m sorry.'”
A revealing anecdote from Mank, Richard Meryman’s 1978 biography of Herman J. Mankiewicz, co-writer of Citizen Kane:
Herman was a mischievous child. One day after some misdemeanor, Herman was confined to the house by his mother. To keep him there during her absence, she hid the long stockings he needed for his knickers. Herman went to his mother’s room, put on a pair of her stockings, got on his bike, and rode off to the Wilkes-Barre public library, where he loved to browse among the shelves and to read for hours. When he came out, the precious bike was gone — stolen. Herman’s punishment was permanent. His father never bought him another bike. His mother answered Herman’s pleas by telling him it was all his own fault.
Meryman concludes, “Rosebud, the symbol of Herman’s damaging childhood, was not a sled. It was a bicycle.”
In Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971), just after Charlie buys a chocolate bar, he discovers a commotion at a newsstand: The finder of the fifth ticket, a “gambler from Paraguay,” has been declared a fraud.
“Can you imagine the nerve of that guy, trying to fool the whole world?” says one man.
“Boy, he really was a crook,” says another.
The man pictured in the newspaper is Martin Bormann, Adolf Hitler’s private secretary.
Here’s a curious invention from 1916, in the early days of motion pictures: It’s a machine designed to suggest plot ideas by randomly juxtaposing ideas. Words, pictures, and even bars of music are printed on paper rollers, and the writer turns these to present six elements that form the basis of a story.
In the example above, the machine presents the words aged, aviator, bribes, cannibal, carousal, and escape. “These particular words readily suggest, for instance, that an aged aviator after flying through the air on a long trip, lands finally on a desolate island where he is met by a cannibal, whom he is forced to bribe to secure his safety. After an interim which is full of possibilities as a basis of a story, a carousal ensues following which the aviator escapes.”
Inventor Arthur Blanchard says that this technique can be used to inspire any fictional work, from a cartoon to a song, but he patented it specifically as a “movie writer.” Whether it inspired any movies I don’t know.
Sigourney Weaver was born Susan Weaver. She named herself Sigourney at 14, after a character mentioned briefly by Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby:
She came over to me and whispered, ‘I’ve just heard the most surprising thing. Look, please come and see me. I’m staying at my aunt’s … Mrs. Sigourney Howard … phone book …’ She was hurrying away as she spoke, to join her friends who were waiting to drive her home.
“I was so tall,” Weaver told Time in 1986, “and Susan was such a short name. To my ear Sigourney was a stage name — long and curvy, with a musical ring.”
She couldn’t have known it at the time, but it appears that Fitzgerald intended Sigourney to be a man’s name: He had borrowed it from his friend Father Sigourney Fay, to whom This Side of Paradise is also dedicated.
“Jordan, it is clear, is here adopting the formal ‘English’ style of addressing her aunt by her husband’s name(s),” writes John Sutherland in Curiosities of Literature. “This was not just etiquette in the best circles; it was standard procedure in phone books of the 1920s. The husband paid the bills, and his was the name listed.”
For his 1991 film Backdraft, director Ron Howard wanted fire to have a “brain,” like the shark in Jaws. So sound designer Gary Rydstrom added animal growls and howls to the sound of the flames. “You don’t hear them as animal sounds, but subconsciously it gives it an intelligence or a complexity it wouldn’t normally have.”
“For the suck in of air we used coyote howls. It wasn’t just a simple wind — it was more intelligent.”
“A lot of the fireball explosions were sweetened with monkey screams and different animal growls. Cougars make a great fire explosion sweetener. There’s a complexity to natural sounds, especially animal sounds, that is really wonderful.”
(From Vincent LoBrutto, Sound-on-Film, 1994.)
Until her death in 2010, film editor Sally Menke edited all of Quentin Tarantino’s films. He called Menke “hands-down my number one collaborator,” saying, “The best collaborations are the director-editor teams, where they can finish each other’s sentences.”
Because these films were edited in rented houses rather than in studio suites, Menke’s work was largely done alone. To keep her from getting lonely, Tarantino invited his cast and crew to address the camera between takes and say, “Hi, Sally!”