Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 08
October 9, 1935
A Midsummers Night's Dream premieres in NYC

In 1935, famed Austrian stage director Max Reinhardt (who fled to Los Angeles from Nazi Germany) staged his elaborate version of Shakespeare’s fantasy comedy A Midsummers Night’s Dream at the Hollywood Bowl. The production proved so popular that Warner Brothers hired him to bring his vision to screen. Warner Brothers, known for their hard-hitting (and profitable) gangster films, wanted to branch out into more prestigious fare, and nothing could be more prestigious than the first major sound production of a Shakespeare play. At the time, Variety described it as “ perhaps the biggest gamble ever taken by a picture company or producer.” The studio budget $1.3 million for a 70-day shoot. While Reinhardt would bring to the production his decades of theatrical experience, he also wanted to harness the power of cinema to capture the magical fairy realm. As such he hired a hundreds of extras to suggest the fairy realm. To boost the film’s marketability, Warner Brothers and Reinhardt opted to cast Hollywood names, rather than depend on stage actor. As such James Cagney took the part of Bottom, Dick Powell, Lysander, and most famously Mickey Rooney was Puck. Kenneth Anger, who would go on to be a major experimental filmmaker, was cast as one of the fairies.  The cinematographer Hal Mohr, who devised a new lighting system to handle the dense forests that Reinhardt had designed for the production, won the only write-in Oscar of the Academy Awards history. Yet despite Warner Brothers best effort, the film tanked at the box office, losing more than half a million dollars. And then to add insult to injury, Germany banned the film because the director and film’s composer, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, were Jewish.


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December 8, 1978
The Deer Hunter released

In 1978, two very different Hollywood films for tackled the previously taboo subject of Vietnam: Hal Ashby's Coming Home (released in February '78) and Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter, which debuted on December 8, 1978.

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December 8, 1861
Georges Melies Born

Born in the middle of the 19th century, Georges Méliès helped define film as the most important artform of the 20th century. The son of a shoe manufacturer, Méliès was fascinated more in stagecraft and puppetry than heels and soles. And while he eventually took over his father’s factory, he did so only to make enough money to buy the Theatre Robert Houdin in 1888. Soon he became a master showman, creating elaborate stage fantasies with magic and special effects. His life changed completely on December 28 1895, after he attended the Lumière brothers’ exhibition of their Cinématographe. From then on, he strove to marry the magic of theater with the magic of film. In 1896, a production gone wrong showed him the way. After a camera jammed, Méliès saw things wondrously disappear, then pop back in frame, as if by directed by a master magician. He started developing other special effects—a double exposure, a split screen, and a dissolve––to enhance film’s trickery. In 1902, his A Trip to The Moon became an instant classic, turning Méliès into one of film’s foremost artists. His success however could not be maintained. By 1913 his famous film company was sold off, leaving Méliès nearly penniless. Indeed the boy who turned to the arts to avoid making shoes watched as the celluloid from his films was used to patch soldiers shoes during World War I. Nearly lost to obscurity, Méliès was rediscovered in the 20s and awarded the French Legion of Honour in 1931. Now heralded as one the grandfathers of cinema, only 200 of his over 500 films remain.

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