Thursday, December 31, 2009

the coen brothers-new directors inspired by old films

I have recently found myself in love with the Coen Brothers, a directing duo with an unmistakable and original style. What really endears me to some new filmmakers is their clear love of film and utilization of it in their work. As it is with Woody Allen, so it is with the Coen Brothers. 

I recently watched The Hudsucker Proxy starring Tim Robbins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Paul Newman, with appearances by Coen Brothers favorites John Mahoney, Steve Buscemi and John Goodman. It is the story of Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins), an every man who comes to New York City hoping to make it big as a businessman with a great idea for an invention which I won't reveal. The only thing I"ll say is "you know, for the kids." The President of Hudsucker Industries, a prominent NY business decides to jump out of a window leaving the board in a quandary. Their solution? Hire a complete idiot to run their company so that the stocks drop and they can buy everything back on the cheap, then make mega millions once he is removed. Fast talking dame and pulitzer prize winning newspaper woman  Amy Archer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) connives her way into a job at Hudsucker to get the real scoop on Norville, portraying him as an absolute moron to the public. She discovers what is really going on behind the scenes at Hudsucker, but also discovers that she has fallen in love with Norville.

This film is more or less a conglomeration of practically every film Frank Capra ever made both in plot and in some of the shots. Norville is Gary Cooper and Jimmy Stewart in one package, while Amy Archer is Barbara Stanwyck meets Jean Arthur with some fast talking Rosalind Russell thrown in. 

Norville's fall from grace versus...

Long John Willoughby's in Meet John Doe

Norville is pronounced insane versus...

The trial in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

As a great fan of Frank Capra I had a lot of fun with this film. It isn't one of the Coen's best, nor does it beat the classics it references (Jennifer Jason Leigh has the speech patterns and movements of a fast talking 30s career dame down pat but lacks the inner fire smoldering beneath the tough exterior that Stanwyck and Arthur possessed) but this film is worth it for the revelation of Norville's invention and a fun way to pass the time.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

things i've learned in the past five minutes about two very different kellys

  1. Gene Kelly wore a toupe???

  2. Oh Gene, you still have the best smile any side of the Mississippi and I'm proud to attend the same University you did, this will just take me a second to get used to. Please don't hold it against me.

  3. There is footage of Grace Kelly in her casket??
In the immortal words of Stephanie on Full House, HOW RUDE. And more importantly how disrespectful. I hate coming across star in casket pictures or anyone famous really (Abraham Lincoln, anything in Hollywood Babylon) so if anyone knows which documentaries this footage appears in I would appreciate it so that I don't watch it. I'm not exactly Grace Kelly's biggest fan but this always makes me angry.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

love affair original program (and happy holidays!)

For me the world of online buying is still something exotic, a tangled web I don't care to get lost in. I've never bought anything off of ebay because I've always been too afraid that I'd become like one of those home shopping network addicts that starts compulsively buying until I have 5000 vintage magnets that I don't really need. As such I've never had many options in terms of buying memorabilia. One of the reasons that London is/was so wonderful is that I was able to actually go to bookstores and stalls that sold some wonderful old things where I could tangibly see the money pass from my hand to theirs and touch what you cannot touch on a website.

One of the wonderful things I bought is an edition of Cinegram, one of London's film magazines devoted to the 1939 film Love Affair starring Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer. It's kind of falling apart in my hands but I fell in love with it because I think the montage of images is just lovely and it also features a few write ups on its stars that are quite fun.

All images are clickable. Enjoy!

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

oh the weather outside is frightful

The great thing about a blizzard is that it provides the perfect opportunity to snuggle under many layers of quilts, catch up on my movie watching and make a dent in the 300 tea bags I brought home from Britain. I even have some corn for popping.

It also gives me an excuse to post clips from White Christmas.

I would make a list of my favorite holiday films but they have all been aptly covered from Christmas classics such as It's A Wonderful Life, The Shop Around The Corner and White Christmas to lesser known gems Christmas in Connecticut, The Bishop's Wife, Christmas in July and Remember the Night. You kids keep me creative.

Though I have been absent from the bloggersphere, I have found other outlets for sharing my love of the old and too oft forgotten. Over the fall semester I worked for a company called Raindance Film which is devoted to assisting independent filmmakers and a demystification of the industry. They post a weekly newsletter with tips and tricks of the trade, including a few articles I have written on film casting, twitter tips, etc. My favorite section is called amnesia, a category devoted to forgotten films that deserve a second look. A love of all things old made me a perfect candidate to write such articles, and I have become their resident "amnesia expert" a title I wear very proudly. Here are a few of my pieces that may be of interest:

(/shameless promotion)

Fail of the day goes to the weather channel. In an attempt to link our current snowy state to the year 1922, the last time we have seen a storm of such magnitude, they painted this bygone era as a time before bubble gum, car radios and the year the jazz singer was released. I think we need a fact check on aisle 3.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

a return to blogging!

Hello lovely blogger friends! I have returned from my four month European adventure exhausted but far better for the experience.

For right now I leave you with this picture I took of Hitchcock's former flat at 153 Cromwell Road where he lived from 1926-1939. Though situated along a posh street in Kensington nestled between white columned elegance, the spirit of the former master of suspense still casts a special spell over the building. You can almost see Norman Bates' mother peeking through a window.

See the Hitchcock's at home here

Friday, August 21, 2009

foggy days in london town

Dear Readers,

Amongst the packing and panicking I just wanted to let you all know that because I will be studying abroad for the fall semester, my hop across the pond being only a few days away, I will be on hiatus until December. I hope to still pop in from time to time (and potentially post a few things) but my ability to do so will be entirely unreliable as I will want to spend every second I can exploring my new surroundings. Once I return to the states I definitely want to continue blogging, so no I haven't deserted my little internet spec and I hope to find you all here and well when I return. :)

Also: Go participate in Millie's Hitchcock birthday bash! I'm sorry I wasn't able to.

I leave you with pictures of some seriously fierce british people.

Monday, August 17, 2009

dear mr. gable

Aside from a desire to cook and an ever increasing love of all things Meryl Streep, the recently released Julie & Julia,  the true story of the effect Julia Child has on a lowly office worker and writer from Queens, NY who decides to blog about her experiences cooking every recipe in Mastering The Art of French Cooking had a surprise message that I found just as comforting as strawberry shortcake. It is not only the story of Julie and Julia, but a story of anyone who has found inspiration in people that they have never met.

I've often felt a tinge of regret that I was never able to encounter or work with many of the people I most admire. One of the things I find so interesting about the film is the fact that Julie Powell does find out what Julia thinks of her and at first is devastated by the response. Julia Child read Julie's blog and was not impressed. In short, she thought she was disrespectful and not a true cook. This is touched on in the film and you can read Julie's recent response here. More than the story of these two women what I found most inspiring was the conclusion Julie comes to with the help of her husband. It does not matter if Julia Child did or did not understand what she was doing, all that mattered was the Julia Child that Julie had created for herself, and the Julia Child that completely changed her life.

In my heart of hearts I know that much as I wish it even if I were able to invent that blasted time machine I would not be the person I would wish and more than likely would not encounter those I most admire, especially as anything more than a girl in bobby socks behind a barricade. I know that Cary Grant will not have a seat reserved next to him at the bar in heaven between him and Deborah Kerr (and even if he did I would not be able to keep up with the Parkeresque repartee) and Myrna Loy is not observing my movements from some discreet cloud. And yet, in their exquisite shadow play these people have inexplicably altered the course of my life. These people that I never met and can never meet have touched and moulded as Julia Child shaped Julie Powell. And this is what is important.

(And it's probably best that Barbara Stanwyck isn't alive because I'm pretty sure if she knew I called her Babs she would hunt me down and brass knuckle me in the face.)

Cheers to the grand delusion.

Photograph taken by me at the Julia Child exhibit on display at the Smithsonian Institute.

Monday, August 10, 2009

i'm late for a very important (birthday) date!

A Happy Birthday to Nicole at Classic Hollywood Nerd!
I hope you have a simply maahvelous day (said in my best Judy Garland voice. Which...isn't very good a'tall really. I'm not fluent in Bette Davis either so I'd better just give this up).

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Some Like It Classic

Questionnaire from the mischievous and quite brilliant mind of Matthew Conian as a substitute or addition to the more modern film questions asked over at the also wonderful Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule.

1. Your favourite Humphrey Bogart film in which he doesn't play a gangster or a private eye. (Oh, and not including Casablanca either.)
His performance as Dobbs in John Huston's Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). Bogie's descent into madness for me rivals Kathleen Bryon's in Black Narcissus.
2. Your favourite appearance by a star in drag (boy-girl or girl-boy).
William Powell in Love Crazy
3. Your favourite Laurel & Hardy film; short or feature, or one of each. (This will sort out the men from the boys - or perhaps the men from the girls.)
The Music Box (1932)

4. Your favourite appearance by one star in a role strongly associated with another star. (Eg: Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade, Grace Kelly as Tracy Lord, Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates...)
Irene Dunne as Anna Owens in Anna and the King of Siam (1946) the non-musical precursor to The King and I.
5. The thirties or forties star or stars you most think you'd like, but have yet to really get to know.
Rita Hayworth and James Cagney.
6. Your favourite pre-Petrified Forest Bette Davis film.
I'm going to say Parachute Jumper (1933) simply because her Alabama accent is absolutely adorable.
7. Your favourite post-Mildred Pierce Joan Crawford film.
I've only seen Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? so...sure.
8. Your favourite film that ends with the main character's death.
The Letter (1940). Also includes one of the greatest opening scenes of a film in film history.
9. Your favourite Chaplin talkie.
The Great Dictator (1940). Chaplin's speech more or less as Chaplin at the end of the film is timeless.
10. Your favourite British actor and actress.
Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr
11. Your favourite post-1960 appearance by a 1930's star.
Barbara Stanwyck as the delightfully evil Mary Carson in the epic television melodrama The Thorn Birds.
12. Dietrich or Garbo? Dietrich
13. Karloff or Lugosi? Lugosi
14. Chaplin or Keaton? (I know some of you will want to say both for all of the above. Me too. But you can't.) Definitely Keaton for me (though of course I love Chaplin as well)
15. Your favourite star associated predominantly with the 1950's.
Deborah Kerr
16. Your favourite Melvyn Douglas movie.
For me it's a tie between Theodora Goes Wild (1936) and Ninotchcka (1939)
17. The box-office failure you most think should have been a success.
Citizen Kane and It's a Wonderful Life
18. Your favourite performance by an actor or actress playing drunk.
Definitely the scene in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington where Jean Arthur gets drunk with Thomas Mitchell and goes to tell off James Stewart and set him straight about what really goes on in Washington. A close second would be Deborah Kerr playing an old, broken down drunk in Edward, My Son. She hardly has anything to do in the film but her final scene is absolutely why she was noticed by the academy that year.
19. Your favourite last scene of any thirties movie.
Remember My Forgotten Man in Gold Diggers of 1933
20. Your favourite American non-comedy silent movie.
The Wind (1928) a masterpiece directed by Victor Sjostrom starring the unsurpassable Lillian Gish.
21. Your favourite Jean Harlow performance.
Red Dust (1932). Love love her and Clark Gable.
22. Your favourite remake. (Quizmaster's definition: second or later version of a work written as a movie, not a later adaptation of the same novel or play.)
The Parent Trap (1998). This movie defined my childhood. Don't be hatin'.
23. Your favourite Orson Welles performance in a film he did not direct, not including The Third Man.
Tomorrow is Forever (1946) starring Orson and Claudette Colbert
24. Your favourite non-gangster or musical James Cagney film or performance.
See Question 5.
25. Your favourite Lubitsch movie.
To Be Or Not To Be (1942) one of my all time favorites.
26. Who would win in a fight: Miriam Hopkins or Barbara Stanwyck? (Both in their prime; say in 1934 or so.)
Barbara Stanwyck hands down. Don't mess with Brooklyn, boys and girls. No one slaps her around unless she wants them to (unlike Hopkins)
27. Name the two stars you most regret never having co-starred with each other, and - if you want - choose your dream scenario for them. (Quizmaster's qualification: they have to be sufficiently contemporary to make it possible. So, yes to Cary Grant and Lon Chaney Jr as two conmen in a Howard Hawks screwball; no to Clara Bow and Kirsten Dunst as twin sisters on the run from prohibition agents in twenties Chicago, much though that may entice.)
Teresa Wright and Eva Marie Saint as gangster's molls in a 50s comedy akin to Some Like It Hot.
28. Your favourite Lionel Barrymore performance.
You Can't Take It With You (1938). Greatest fictional family ever created.
29. Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard or Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour? (See note on question 14.)
J'adore Paulette
30. You won't want to answer this, but: there's been a terrible fire raging in the film libraries of all the major studios. It's far too late to save everything. All you can do is save as much as you can. You've been assigned the thirties. All you'll have time to drag from the obliterating inferno is one 1930's film each from Paramount, MGM, RKO, Columbia, Universal and Warners. Do you stomp around in a film buff's huff saying 'it's too hard, I can't choose just one' and watch them all go up in smoke? Or do you roll your sleeves up and start saving movies?
But if the latter:
which ones...?

Good Grief.

Paramount: Duck Soup MGM: The Wizard of Oz RKO: Top Hat Columbia: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington Universal: Frankenstein Warners: Gold Diggers of 1933

If you are up to the challenge be sure to post your responses (or a link) over at Matthew's blog here.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Myrna Loy-a definition of a favorite actress

"Why does every black person in the movies have to play a servant? How about a black person walking up the steps of a court house carrying a briefcase?"

Myrna Loy [a-dele will-iams]
  1. Actress
  2. Activist
  3. Arch nemesis of Gracie Allen? 
  1. Being and  becoming
  2. To stare down racist scum and republicans with great contempt
  3. To pass the nuts. I mean, pass the guests the nuts
  1. The eternal good sex woman wife
  2. A lanky brunette with a wicked jaw

1. Witty 2. Arch 3. Defiant 4. Natural 5. Inspirational

Friday, July 31, 2009

friday night random; the cold war heats up

Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr produce the kiss that everyone missed in The King and I, Yul slips in some tongue? (for the good of the scene, of course), and bald men everywhere pump their fists and cheer.

I haven't watched this yet but just happened upon it on youtube and am intrigued, because I seem to be more keen on watching random Deborah Kerr movies that next to no one has heard of than watching some of the cinema classics I still need to check off my list (A Clockwork Orange, anyone?)

Trivia (from imdb):
  • Ron Howard and Jason Robards' film debut
  • "During filming, Yul Brynner's hand was cut by a former crazed lover who traveled across Europe to find him. There are scenes where Brynner's bandaged hand is not shown on screen and there are scenes where he is holding a prop to camouflage the hand."

Monday, July 27, 2009

bright lights, small control room

Sitting with friends on a rainy thursday night watching An Affair to Remember, I had to laugh when the scene came up where Cary Grant is forced to appear on television and the host complains that his forehead is too shiny and wonders if he has a blue shirt he can change into because he is wearing white (glare, you know) as crew members scurry about and Cary fidgets and looks uncomfortable. Several months ago this meant nothing to me, but after observing and working in the television industry for several months these little details have taken on a completely new meaning.

Whether you're watching The Colbert Report, CNN, or your local news station, there are tens of people behind the scenes constantly checking mic levels, video levels, framing, lighting changes, and prompting everything that is being said by the smiling news reporter telling the story of a cat that has been rescued from a tree. Behind the frame of your television set there is a tribe of people constantly changing what you hear about, what images you see, and how you see them. In interning at a production facility in my area that tapes two well renowned ESPN shows on a daily basis (unless we're dark because of golf. it happens), my eyes have been opened to a world that I'd never really thought about and never before knew existed. And no, I know next to nothing more about sports now than I did three months ago, and to me that's the least exciting part of the whole process.

The day in the life of a television intern, or a study in hurry up and wait:
  • 10-10:30am Arrival. Generally spent chit chatting, watching Golden Girls, or sitting in for framing purposes and an audio check when they are filming a Turkish television show that mainly focuses on Eastern Europe's relation to Russia and the United States.
  • 10:30-11am Fax out for the first show, where everyone on the crew goes to their respective locations during taping so the technical director can make sure that everyone can hear and speak to himself and the director over the headset (communication is key during a broadcast to keep things going smoothly), as well as about a million other details (are the plasmas working, which remote is going to which plasma, are any of the lights burned out, are the different sound cues working, etc)
  • 11-12:15pm Lunch and an occasional episode of I Love Lucy, or more recently the tour de france.
  • 12-15pm-2pm Final preparations for taping and the show itself. Time for television magic (or chaos, depending on the day). Unlike a film set, in television the location of those in ultimate power is separated from the set itself. The control room houses the director, the technical director who makes the actual shot changes per the commands of the director, the assistant director in charge of keeping time (unlike film television is timed down to the second), the producers, and the chyron (graphics) operator. In the room adjacent to the control room is audio, which should be fairly self explanatory. All of this is being fed to profile, where the servers are located and the tape is laid down on two different tracks. In studio are the hosts of the show, the ped cam operators, the jib operator (the camera on a crane that looks like this. i've spent quite a bit of time on it), the stage manager, and the prompter op (me) who also does lighting for the first show.
  • 2:15pm-approx. 3pm Fax out for the second show. Rinse, lather, repeat explanation of first fax out.
  • Approx 4pm-5:15pm Taping of the second show. Though in most cases the events proceed in similar fashion to those for the first show, in this case the two hosts have been away and we have either had to do shows with one remote host, two remote hosts, two guests, two remote guests, and several remote interviews that change some of the segments of the show and make prompting a bit weird when you are responding to the needs of talent that isn't actually in front of you and can't see or directly communicate with you. The second show also on rare occasion has to go live because there is something wrong with the tape or Brett Favre decides to come out of retirement again, meaning anything goes, que sera sera, whatever will be will be. More chaos, more television magic.
  • 6pm Both shows have now been fed, our work is done.
This routine sometimes changes if they have shoots for whatever client may be coming in. For example, this past week I PA'd for two audio broadcasts for a well known accounting firm and watched the filming of a music video. All I can say is that everything you have heard about music video sets (if you have heard anything about music video sets) is true. Let's just say there was a "hot dancing chick," a smoke machine, and a jaguar convertible driven onto the sound stage.

Learning the Lingo*
  • Blocks: The segments of the show divided by commercial breaks
  • On heads: Being on headset, aka laughing at whatever great comments the director is making that day and in general acting like 8 year olds on walkie talkies.
  • IFB: Earpiece used by talent mainly to hear what the producers are saying during taping.
  • Float a segment: A segment that has either been removed from the show or may be used in a different segment
  • Ready for faces: Person on set sitting in for the video person who essentially paints with electronics, making sure that flesh colors are adjusted correctly and all the levels in all the different locations and monitors look approximately the same.
  • Set your dead pot: The assistant director informing the audio engineer to get ready for the out sound cue, which has to be hit at exactly the right time to correspond to the last second of the show.
  • You're hot: Indication that one of the camera's needs to be reframed because there isn't enough head room
  • Woof: Stop.
*Because television production is like being in a special club, some of this terminology may change or mean different things because television people don't want anyone else to have any idea what they are talking about.

So next time you're flipping channels between one Michael Jackson special and another, instead of making angry hand gestures at the screen and wondering why the world has nothing else to talk about (no disrespect meant to Michael Jackson fans, I just really don't care what his fifth cousin's grandmother has to say) instead think about every detail on your screen from the name of the person being interviewed and the subtle movements (or not so subtle in CNN's case) of the camera and the people behind each and every second of what you see. There's a whole lot of life going on there.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

films that I have been incredibly impressed with lately

1. Sense and Sensibility (Ang Lee, 1995)
How can you dislike a film involving Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, and Hugh Laurie as they put their superpower rings together to create the best Austen film I have seen? No, it is not the most faithful of adaptations, and yes, Thompson was too old for the part (though they did change the age of Elinor Dashwood to late 20s, meaning that she was still too old) but after spending years of labor and love on the screenplay for the film it is crystal clear that she had such an understanding of the character and for me this absolutely shines through. It should be noted that I am biased, as I will defend Greer Garson's Elizabeth Bennett until my dying day. Ang Lee's direction is very understated and I love that, as with his best known work Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, nature has a harmonious place in the world of the Dashwoods. It's also fun to see Hugh Grant playing something other than the cad.

What do you know of my heart? What do you know of anything but your own suffering? For weeks, Marianne, I've had this pressing on me without being at liberty to speak of it to a single creature. It was forced on me by the very person whose prior claims ruined all my hope. I have endured her exultations again and again whilst knowing myself to be divided from Edward forever. Believe me, Marianne, had I not been bound to silence I could have provided proof enough of a broken heart, even for you.

2. High Noon(Fred Zinnemann, 1952)
An Austrian making a Western? The most American of film genres? Who does he think he is, John Ford? And how dare he destroy all the glory in it! Well, potentially now deceased critics who said such things in 1952, the joke seems to be on you as High Noon remains one of the greatest westerns ever filmed. If you want to you can see the anti-Communist witch hunt slant in it (because it's there and it's brilliant), but I was too focused on the gritty style, the anticipation of the shoot-out, and Gary Cooper's increasing anxiety and despair to notice anything else as the story unfolds almost in real time and the clocks tick tock to high noon. This is also the first time I've watched a film without getting annoyed with Grace Kelly and her flippant superiority (sorry Grace Kelly fans, but no me gusta), so I raise my invisible malt whisky to you Fred Zinnemann.

You risk your skin catching killers and the juries turn them loose so they can come back and shoot at you again. If you're honest you're poor your whole life and in the end you wind up dying all alone on some dirty street. For what? For nothing. For a tin star.

3. Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976)
I don't think I ever completely appreciated William Holden's talent as an actor until I saw this film. Without a doubt this is one of the greatest films of all time, one of the greatest screenplays of all time, and I wish that in such a time of unrest we would revert to smart, gritty films of the 70s instead of pretty colors and compositions with little substance. This film also proved that Faye Dunaway was an excellent actress, beret or no beret. Watch for Cindy Grover's one big scene as William Holden's wife, it will absolutely take your breath away. This film is a must watch, and is especially frightening in its very accurate prediction of the takeover of reality television, the continued downsizing of the individual, and how ratings and mindlessness have taken over popular culture and our society.

By tomorrow, he'll have a 50 share, maybe even a 60. Howard Beale is processed instant God, and right now, it looks like he may just go over bigger than Mary Tyler Moore.

4. When Harry Met Sally (Rob Reiner, 1989)
For me this film is a perfect example of a script making all the difference in a film. I've never been a big Meg Ryan fan (Billy Crystal is always fantastic in my book) and there's nothing all that artistic about the filmmaking, but I think that's because Rob Reiner knew it was all about the relationship between these two characters and not any weird camera angle he could come up with. It is a chick flick but the well structured, incredibly well written script elevates this film to its standing as one of the greatest romantic films of all time.

The fact that you're not answering leads me to believe you're either (a) not at home, (b) home but don't want to talk to me, or (c) home, desperately want to talk to me, but trapped under something heavy. If it's either (a) or (c), please call me back.

5. The Nightmare Before Christmas (Henry Selick, 1993)
I have a special place in my heart for animated films (and Tim Burton), and paired with a catchy musical score and unique premise I found this film irresistible. Not only does it mix together two of my favorite holidays, it has a rather gothic style all its own that is a feast for the eyes and walks an interesting line between the darkness of its design and the lightheartedness of its premise and plot. Great for kids but still enjoyable for adults.

You know, I think this Christmas thing is not as tricky as it seems! But why should they have all the fun? It should belong to anyone! Not anyone, in fact, but me! Why, I could make a Christmas tree! And there's not a reason I can find, I couldn't have a Christmastime! I bet I could improve it, too! And that's exactly what I'll do!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

saturday morning confessional

I own the first season of this show on dvd. Because I'm still eight. And still wish that I had a gigantic vault full of money to dive into.

What are your favorite cartoons from childhood? I'm feeling nostalgic this morning.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

a little tea, a little sympathy, a little latent homosexuality and a lot of homophobia

Tea and Sympathy (1956)
Directed by Vincente Minnelli

To be gay, or not to be gay. That is the question most asked about a film that seems to present a picture perfect postcard of 50s homophobia. Featured in the documentary The Celluloid Closet (which I have not seen) the film brings up questions about gender roles, peer pressure, and what society perceives as masculine vs. feminine behavior.

The plot centers on the relationship between Laura Reynolds (Deborah Kerr) the wife of a house master at a boy's school, and Tom Lee (John Kerr) a shy, sensitive student who is called "sister boy" because of his perceived effeminate characteristics. Tom believes that he is in love with Laura, whose job it is to be an impartial observer and friendly ear to all the boys, offering only a little tea and sympathy on sunday afternoons. Laura is lonely at the school because her husband Bill (Leif Erickson), the super macho house master, does not know how to show affection towards Laura and prefers to spend his time with his students playing sports and hiking. He sees Tom as a failure, and when Tom is treated ruthlessly by the other boys he does not put a stop to it. As a result of this behavior Tom tries to prove his manliness by sleeping with the local floozy who works at the local dive. He finds that he can't go through with it and out of shame tries to kill himself. Laura, unable to remain impartial any longer, offers herself to him and gives Tom the love that he has never received from his father, his friends, or another girl, enabling him to overcome his insecurities and become his own man.

Laura Reynolds: Years from now when you talk about this-and you will-be kind.
Aside from the fact that it is a Minnelli film, the staginess of its setting and acting style can be attributed to the fact that the film was adapted from the popular stage play which also starred Deborah Kerr, John Kerr (not related), and Leif Erickson. Despite this similarity, there were several key differences from the racier stage play and the more streamlined screen play, including a scene where Tom takes a midnight swim with a schoolteacher who is fired for potentially being a homosexual. More drastic is a tacked on ending in which Tom comes back to a school reunion and finds that Laura has left her husband because she couldn't stay with him after being with Tom. She left a letter for him, which Deborah Kerr reads in a voiceover. The viewer finds out that Tom has written a very successful book about his experiences, is happily married, and that Deborah did not get her happily ever after ending as she still feels guilty about the unhappiness she brought on her husband. Deborah Kerr was reportedly not happy about these changes, as the stage play simply ends with her famous line asking Tom to be kind (referenced above) as she unbuttons her blouse. These changes indicate that the film wanted to remove any doubt about Tom's sexuality, while the stage play was all about that doubt.

Even though it clearly is not a film that is friendly towards those who do not follow the sexually straight and narrow path, I personally am not convinced that Tom was gay, and wonder if this is another tragic instance of having to force a notion about a topic that is rarely ever treated properly, and in the early era of film practically nonexistent. The film errs in its ending, shamelessly forcing the notion that he turned out alright in the end (celebrate! he's not gay! hurrah hurrah!), but that still doesn't change the fact that he is clearly shown to be attracted to Laura from the very beginning.

To me, this does not mean that there is no veiled homosexuality in the film as it seems pretty clear that Laura's macho husband is actually the one who is gay. He spends all his time with his young male students, constantly feels the need to prove that he is a 'real man', and avoids the affection of his wife who laments that they "don't touch anymore." In my reading of it the film actually presents an approximation of my own views, that whether you love classical music and being in plays or tossing around a football this has nothing to do with one's sexuality. You can appear the essence of manliness and be secretly hiding what in 1950 (and now, you're kidding yourself if you think society is past this) was shameful, or be a quiet boy who simply doesn't know how to show his affection towards a woman. Even if it still isn't a forward film, it is correct in the final conviction that stereotyping was as wrong then as it is now.

If you like moody films that are mannered and stylized with some excellent actors (clearly I've become an instant Deborah Kerr fangirl. just add water), or are interested in depictions of homosexuality in film, this is worth a watch.

My Rating: B

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Snakes on the Plains in King Solomon's Mines

Photobucket the end you begin to accept it all... you watch things hunting and being hunted, reproducing, killing and dying, it's all endless and pointless, except in the end one small pattern emerges from it all, the only certainty: one is born, one lives for a time then one dies. That is all... 

King Solomon's Mines (1950)
Directed by Compton Bennett & Andrew Marton

Made in "the good old days" before it was mandated that no animals be harmed in the making of this or any film, King Solomon's Mines quite literally opens with a bang as an elephant is shot and killed by an Englishman on safari. The viewer stares in horror as the elephant staggers and falls, twitching in its last moments of agony. The other elephants scream and cry like a mother who has just lost a child, and thus begins King Solomon's Mines.


Yes, sorry. I was confused there for a moment. They look so similar.

This is a film that must have fascinated audiences in 1950 as a colorful spectacle filled with adventure, romance, and mystery primarily filmed on location in the foreign lands of Africa. From lush forests to harsh deserts and fields that strangely resemble English Countryside, this isn't Burbank folks. In the opening credits, a viable history lesson in itself, MGM thanks the Government Officials of Tanganyika, Uganda Protectorate, Kenya Colony and Protectorate Belgian Congo. We aren't in Kansas anymore.

One of the early influences of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, King Solomon's Mines is the story of the original Indiana Jones, Allan Quatermain (Stewart Granger) who leads an expedition through uncharted African territory (or at least it was potentially uncharted in 1897) in an effort to locate Henry, a man who dissappeared searching for the legendary King Solomon's Mines. He is secured by Henry's wife, Elizabeth Curtis (Deborah Kerr) and her brother John Goode (Richard Carlson). Quatermain does not expect that they will return. As the trio make their way along Henry's hand drawn map, love blossoms between Elizabeth and Quatermain as they fight the elements and several unfriendly tribes for their lives. 

This film is definitely told from a Western perspective, but I still found it forward thinking for its time as 1) the filmmakers used actual African peoples as opposed to Mickey Rooney in blackface and had the hutzpah to shoot on location 2) aside from the fact that the whites have the power of guns it is clear that they are trespassing on the tribesman's territory and not the other way around 3) there is pretty extensive footage of several tribal dances and ceremonies, and 3) the only score in the film is several African chants. It is practically a documentary, a filmic preservation of part of Africa's past.


Reportedly Errol Flynn refused the part of Quatermain because he didn't want to rough it in a tent on location. Though the stunt doubles clearly saw more action than the stars did, all three are definitely in the elements, and these elements are king. The plot is essentially secondary to the majesty of the animal kingdom, fighting and living in every invisible nook and cranny and constantly threatening their lives. There are anteaters and giraffes, predators and prey. One false step and Deborah Kerr almost gets taken out by a mamba snake, centipedes feed off their flesh, and tigers paw at their tents. The kings of the kingdom are the elephants, and people are merely meat. There are no souls in the wilderness. There is no morality, no order. Survival of the fittest, baby. This focus also makes the love story far more interesting as it never becomes sappy or overdone. The need to survive is always superior to personal feeling.


I recommend viewing this film if you can't afford a trip to Africa, Disneyworld, or a time machine. It offers all three for the low low price of a subscription to netflix.

My Rating: B- 

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

barbara stanwyck: the original tough cookie with a soft center (obligatory birthday post)

There is a difference between sentimentality and honest sentiment.
-Barbara Stanwyck on her role in Stella Dallas

I hardly ever remember celebrity birthdays, and wouldn't have without glancing at Lolita's page, but because I now know, and because I always seem to be up for gushing about Barbara Stanwyck, here we be. If you want to look at some amazing scans, The Classic Maiden has aplenty for the occasion (her stanwyck collection is a sight to see).

Note: Instead of being a day late and a dollar short as is my usual custom, I choose to be the day early bird that catches the worm because the day of I will be at work, and tomorrow evening (yes, I openly admit it) I'm seeing the Harry Potter Movie.

I imagine the abridged version of Barbara's life would read something like this:

Barbara Stanwyck was born Ruby Catherine B.A.M.F in training tough as nails will cut you like the Queen Stevens (you can see why they changed it) July 16th in Brooklyn, NY 102 years ago, and I imagine if she had it her way she would still be working. Smoking kills, kids. She was the consummate professional, and garnered tremendous amounts of praise from practically everyone she worked with. There were no "you rock, don't ever change" remarks made in her acting yearbook, but a verifiable love fest as gathered together by Ella Smith in her book Starring Miss Barbara Stanwyck. In a special on the making of The Thorn Birds, Richard Chamberlain said that she was everything that you have ever heard about her and more. He then went on to say how honored he was that he seemingly turned the old girl on in his nude scene and laughed in a really creepy way, but I digress.

Though she is best known for her performance as that femme fatale of all femme fatales Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity, or even for her role as Victoria Barkley on the tv western The Big Valley (and I adore both), for me Babs was at her best in comedy.

My Favorite Babs Performances:

  1. Ball of Fire (1941): It's just pure 40s fun and was the film that made me a fan. It features a host of fantastic character actors, and babs and gary cooper are adorable.
  2. The Lady Eve (1941): A Preston Sturges classic. I think these two scenes speak for themselves.
  3. Baby Face (1933): In this racy pre-code Babs quite litereally sleeps her way to the top of an established bank. Ohh the censors had trouble my friends. Right there in New York City.
  4. Clash By Night (1952): Babs in all of her melodramatic glory (and an early performance of Marilyn Monroe). Pure 50s angst.
  5. Lady of Burlesque (1943): How can you hate a ridiculous B movie based on a book by Gypsy Rose Lee called The G-String Murders? And if I can do splits and cartwheels when I'm 36 I'll be in pretty good shape.

Honorable Mentions: Titanic (1953) and any of her work with Frank Capra from The Miracle Woman (1931) and The Bitter Tea of Genera Yen (1933), two startlingly gritty Capra before Capra pictures, to her later work in Meet John Doe (1941). Basically I've never run into a Stanwyck film I didn't like. Well, except for The Bride Walks Out, which I wish I could kick in the teeth.

Much as I love Meryl Streep, Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn, she definitely has my vote for best actress of our time.


"Barbara Stanwyck, who lives for today and tomorrow and only seldom for yesterday, did, however, sit up late one night talking with me about her childhood. And some of the things she said are now permanently etched in my memory."

I cannot recall, Shirley," she said, "ever hearing anyone say to me as a child, 'I love you!'" Barbara spoke of having no memories of her father or mother, since both had died soon after she was born. "I tell you this," she continued, "only to make you aware of how fortunate you are to have been surrounded by so much love all your life. Both your parents who love you are still alive. You have your husband, your two children, and even members of your husband's family who adore you."

But I'm grateful for what I do have. Every night before i go to sleep I thank God for what he has given me. When I awake each morning I again thank God for being here this day."

Barbara Stanwyck, that night, made me totally aware of how lucky I have been all my life. Until she underlined everything, I now know I had been taking all those blessings for granted."

-Shirley Eder

(scanned by me)

Monday, July 13, 2009

fantastic art giveaway at silentsandtalkies

Do you like flappers?
Do you like pop art?
Do you participate in fred astairing contests and wish you had a print that reflected this love?

Then have I got a contest for you!
Enter to win one of these three amazing baskets here, sign up for kategabrielle's newsletters, and/or join her birthday club and get a free mini print on your birthday every year! Support an awesome artist and blogger.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

the hunter of innocents pt 2

Night of the Hunter (1955)
Directed by Charles Laughton
United Artists

Much has been written about Night of the Hunter. It has been marveled at for its challenging screenplay, the unsettling performance of Robert Mitchum, the haunting score, the brilliant use of light. It has been lauded for its artistry, its originality, and championed over the lack of enthusiasm shown for it upon release, a fate similar to another landmark film Citizen Kane

Love it, hate it, you'll never see a film quite like it.

Based (to a certain extent) on a true story, Night of the Hunter is about Harry Powell, a psychotic reverend (Robert Mitchum) who believes it is God's will that he kill widows for the sinful ways they tempt men. He lands in jail for stealing an automobile (err...from a woman he killed) and is put in the same cell as Ben Harper (Peter Graves) a condemned man who robbed a bank out of desperation and hatred for those who were living high off the poor. Before his arrest Ben hid the money where no one would look, leaving only his two children, John (Billy Chapin) and Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce) with his secret and the promise that they will never tell. Harry Powell believes that this money should be used to build a great church of God, and marries Ben's widow (Shelley Winters) to better search for the money. Increasingly crazed and desperate, he kills his new bride and ruthlessly goes after the children who escape in John's boat down the river. They are picked up by Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish) a truly religious woman who saves them from Harry Powell and gives them a place to call home after such trauma. 

The ending is often criticized for seeming rushed and entirely out of place, but I find it of historical interest if nothing else because my suspicion is that certain points were changed due to the social strictures of the time. There are two biographies about the making of the film by Preston Neal Jones and Jeffrey Couchman respectively, and in future I would like to look more into this.

What I found most striking about the film was the wavering line it draws between reality and fantasy, a nightmarish world where no child, no innocence is safe, without straying from real issues like the cultish qualities of religion and how the depression affected average Americans when Fred and Ginger couldn't tap dance their way around it any longer. 

Religion plays a huge part in the film, from allusions to biblical stories, scripture, and song, but where it is different from many, why it was probably criticized at the time (aside from its odd style) and why I esteem it so highly, is the fact that there is a distinction drawn between the good and the evil of religion, the positive in the form of the legendary and wonderful Lillian Gish as opposed to the pompous, manic religious fanaticism of Harry Powell. There isn't exactly a middle ground, but I forgive that as it is a film of extremes. It is not all good or all bad, there are different ways that people use their faith and different ways that it should be used.

There is hardly an end to the depth that could be put into this post, but nothing I could say matches simply viewing it so that is my suggestion to one and all. I don't think that I've ever felt so unsettled by a film, and remain haunted by its images.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

the hunter of innocents pt 1

As someone who hates most of the horror genre, specifically many of the recent films of the mindless slasher, torture porn variety, it is very rare that I come away from a film that truly chills me to the bone. It is also strange that this should happen twice in once week with British director Jack Clayton's The Innocents (1961) and Charles Laughton's one hit wonder The Night of the Hunter (1955). Both in my opinion are film masterpieces that deal with the corruption of children, utilizing every aspect of filmmaking from manipulations of sound, light, music, composition, and performance in a skillful manner.

The Innocents is the story of an English governess (Miss Giddens), played by the legendary Deborah Kerr, who takes a post as caretaker for two children living in their uncle's mansion in the english countryside. As with many horror films looks are deceiving, and the fairytale grounds and darling children, Flora (Pamela Franklin) and Miles (Martin Stephens) become grotesque when Miss Giddens suspects that they are being controlled by their former governess and her lover who want to enter the children's bodies to continue their affair in the flesh. Giddens finds out that the two were not careful about their relationship, potentially corrupting the children even if no witchery is involved. Everything the children do appears sinister and adult as she takes up the crusade for their souls. In the end it remains unclear whether Miss Giddens has simply gone mad or the children are truly possessed.

Deborah Kerr was a perfect choice for the sexually repressed English governess who becomes increasingly paranoid and unstrung as the film progresses. She combined her ability to play the perfect, proper lady with a vulnerability and sensuality that created a very unsettling effect in her scenes with young Miles (Martin Stephens) who became a man child that seemed to view Miss Giddens as his lover rather than his governess. In an extremely creepy scene, one that gave 20th Century Fox pause 50 years ago and still resonates today, Miles kisses Miss Giddens goodnight on the mouth in a way that a child would and should not kiss a woman, leaving Giddens speechless and frightened. Though the children are potentially corrupted in the film, Jack Clayton kept the real children innocent by never showing them the script in its entirety. The cast is excellent across the board, with two of the finest children's performances I have ever seen.

Also of great note in the film is the art direction and work of cinematographer Freddie Francis in creating the perfect gothic nightmare, from the bright, airy beginnings and beautiful grounds of the house, to the more odd and unsettling compositions as Giddens suspicions arise, to the increasingly claustraphobic end and denoument.

What I love about this film is the fact that, as is the case with a more recent and equally brilliant horror film El Orfanato (Juan Antonio Bayona, 2007) the viewer is left to decide if they want to view the film on a completely supernatural or completely realisitic level, with evidence to support either theory. But even if the viewer decides that ghosts have really taken over the children, the real and terrifying prospect of how adult behavior can harm an impressionable child is ever real and present.

Stay tuned for pt 2 (The Night of the Hunter)