A look back at this day in film history
December 10
November 5, 1999
American Cinema Shoots Itself

Several days after Halloween in 1999, sophisticated New York cineastes were treated to a real horror film, American Movie, a documentary about two would-be filmmakers stumbling after the American cinematic dream. Director Chris Smith had spend the last years following the progress of aspiring Milwaukee director Mark Borchardt and his best friend Mike Schank as they worked on a horror film, Coven. Though some accused Smith of treating the two men as figures of fun, American Movie captures their passion for film and depicts their sometimes inept low budget methods, offbeat views and mispronunciations (such as Coven, which Borchardt pronounces “coh-ven”) with genuine affection. The film catapulted Borchardt and Schank to unlikely star status as they traveled the world with the film giving highly entertaining Q&A sessions, appearing on talk shows and, in the case of Schank, even playing a version of himself in a movie (Todd Solondz’s Storytelling.) American Movie was a cult hit for Smith and his producing partner Sarah Price, and the pair followed it up by co-directing another humorous doc The Yes Men (2004), about two political pranksters.

More Flashbacks
December 10, 1968
Oliver Released

When Oliver!, Lionel Bart’s musical stage adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic, proved a surprise hit in 1960, Hollywood knew a film adaptation wasn’t far behind.

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December 10, 1948
Sturges' Unfaithfully Yours

In December 1948, Twentieth Century-Fox released Unfaithfully Yours, the latest work from the comic writer-director Preston Sturges.  Fox was hoping to profit from the director’s possible comeback. From 1940 to 1946, the writer/director had a string of seven major hits, but then, after leaving Paramount and setting up a production company with Howard Hughes, Sturges seemed to have lost his magic touch. But Fox was betting he still had it in him, especially since the film was actually written in 1932, just prior to his hitting it big. Here a symphony conductor (Rex Harrison), believing his wife is having an affair, imagines different scenarios for murdering her as he conducts three classic orchestral pieces. During Rossini's Overture to Semiramide, the conductor envisions his wife as a vamp; during Wagner's Overture to Tannhäuser, he imagines a better life for himself, and finally during Tchaikovsky’s "Francesca da Rimini" ruminates on that special place in Hell for cheating wives. And while everyone was excited by the outcome, publicity storm clouds were on the horizon. Studio lawyers feared possible law suits from the English conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, who bore more than a striking resemblance to the main character. Then in July, Rex Harrison’s name was linked to the scandal swirling around the suicide of Carole Landis, an actress he was having an affair with. But, in the end, the film’s dark comedy was out of touch with a hopeful post-war America. And while it was praised by critics, few came to see it.

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