Sunday, May 31, 2009

shot breakdown: my favorite scene from the searchers, directed by john ford


Think I'll see if I can pick off a sage-hen or two, Martha. . .

You do that, Aaron. . .

Won't go far. . .


My, the days are getting shorter-

(sharply) Lucy! . . . We don't need the lamp yet. . .

(easily) Let's enjoy the dusk a while.

(quietly) It's all right, ma. . .I been watchin'. . . Only I wish. . .

(quietly) What, Ben?

I wish Uncle Ethan was here. Don't you, ma?

Mother, I can't see what I'm doing!. . .





We're going to play the sleep-out game. . .Remember?. . .Where you hide out with grandma?

Where's she buried?

And you'll go along the ditch -- very quietly -- like a. . .
(her voice breaks)

Like a little mouse.


Hurry, Martha! Moon's fixin' to rise!

And you won't come back or make a sound. . .no matter what you hear? Promise!. .No matter what?


I promise. . .Wait!

Child, child!

Can't I have Topsy to keep me company?

There's no time. . .


Here she is, baby...


Down low -- run!



No, Chris! Go back, Chris! Go back!


John Ford-proving that a picture is worth a thousand words since 1956

Monday, May 25, 2009

dignity; always dignity (a memorial day post)

I have always been a huge fan of war films. Strange because I can't stand the sight of blood, fictitious or not, but as opposed to the often gory, useless violence and bloodshed in many horror films, I see war films as an approximation of actual events as opposed to more abstract emotions. People are killed in combat, people are persecuted, three legged monsters do not terrorize neighborhoods (as far as I know).

Because there is really no way to understand these events unless you live through them, I love watching war films because they are such a great lens for the political state of a country at a specific time. It is a look at how we view the world around us and how we view our own actions. I am especially interested in WWII war propaganda propagated by the OWI, how films were used to convince American's to fight and the complete support of the industry itself. The film Bataan even features an integrated unit, 5 years before Truman signed Executive Order 9981.

In honor of the holiday, I thought I'd post a list of my five favorite war films for your viewing pleasure. Defining the war genre can be a bit tricky, but in my own personal opinion it extends past combat (though not to Holocaust films, i consider them their own sub genre) and that is reflected in my picks.

1. The Best Years Of Our Lives (William Wyler, 1946)

This Best Picture Winner must have been incredibly relevant in 1946 as a film about soldiers returning from the war trying to fit into civilian life. This task is represented by three very different men at three very different stages in their lives. Al Stephenson (Fredric March) has been married to Milly (Myrna Loy) for 20 years, has two grown children (Teresa Wright) and was a successful banker before leaving for the front. He returns to find that his children are completely different people, and has trouble living up to the banks standards of frugality when another returning soldier needs a loan. At the next platform, Fred Derry (Dana Andrews) a successful pilot, returns to his war bride Marie (Virginia Mayo) and finds that his medals do not secure a well paying job upon his return, rendering him incapable of supporting Marie in the style she is accustomed to. All the glory and romance has been stripped away from their relationship. Homer (Harold Russell) and Wilma (Cathy O'Donnell) were high school sweethearts and planned to wed as soon as Homer came home. This is thwarted by the fact that Homer lost both his hands in the war, replaced with metal hooks. He feels subhuman and must learn to live with his disability. In real life Harold Russell, a non actor, actually lost his hands in the war, adding a different level of realism to the film. A gutsy move on Wyler's part. All three readjust in different ways and must try to move on with their lives. Fantastic ensemble, fantastic direction, fantastic film.

Favorite Scenes: Fredric March's return to his family: It's just so understated. Myrna Loy reacts beautifully & Dana Andrews in the plane graveyard: This scene is just amazingly shot as Dana trys to recapture the glory of the recent past.

2. The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino, 1978)

If it isn't becoming obvious, I love war films that deal with the differences between war and civilian life, how the folks at home react to and try to understand what is happening to their men overseas, and the readjustment process. Because of this I find The Deer Hunter far superior to its contemporary Apocalypse Now. I'm all about the human element. Unlike readjustment films that only show how soldiers must react to life at home, it also shows how the war changes the way people at home see the world and how the war affects their lives. DH really makes the audience care about its characters, and with heartbreaking performances by Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Savage, and then lovers Meryl Streep and John Cazale (who died shortly after the film's completion) it is hard to beat.

Favorite Scenes: Christopher Walken suffers a nervous breakdown in Saigon hospital & De Niro visiting John Savage at the Veteran's hospital

3. The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966)

In this film about the resentment of french rule in Algeria, the filmmaker puts the viewer in an interesting position of sympathy with the FLN (National Liberation Front) and humanizes those who fought against imperialist power. Unlike other war films, it does not treat war in a purely good/evil dichotomy, marking a difference between those in power in France who were seen as in the wrong and innocent civilians.

Favorite Scene: In a sequence that Hitchcock himself couldn't have done better, three FLN fighters dress up as European civilians and plant bombs in three public areas. The audience watches these people, completely unaware of their fate, and waits.

4. Three Came Home (Jean Negulesco, 1950)

Based on the true story of Agnes Newton Keith's imprisonment in Japanese POW camps between 1941 and the end of WWII, the film is about how Agnes, portrayed by the highly underrated Claudette Colbert, must survive with her young son, hoping that they will one day be reunited with her husband held separately in other camps. In several ways it was ahead of its time. 1) It portrays the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as horrific events from the Japanese point of view, portraying a Japanese Colonel (the great Sessue Hayakawa) sympathetically and as a friend to Claudette. 2) The film shows an attempted rape of Claudette by a Japanese soldier, and the gritty consequences when she tries to report it. 3) At the beginning of the film, Claudette suffers a miscarriage in a very poignant scene, portraying this event as a tragedy in its own right before they are taken prisoner.

Favorite Scenes: Claudette suffers the consequences for disgracing a Japanese soldier by reporting the attempted rape. Ok, so Claudette still looks a little too glammed up but in my mind her acting makes up for it. During the filming of TCH she suffered the back injury that kept her from portraying Margo in All About Eve

5. Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo Del Toro, 2006)

Very rarely do war films come from the eyes of a child, and that is exactly what made this film so terrifyingly real and unexpected. In 1944 Fascist Spain, Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) creates a fantasy world to escape her evil stepfather, an army officer, and the reality of the world around her. It is a film that shows how war and conflict affects the young and innocent. The cinematography, art direction, and special effects are amazing, the story tragic.

Favorite Scene: Pale Man

What are your favorites?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

going back to basics (dear readers)

Aside from taking this opportunity to post an adorable picture of Fellini and wife Giulietta Masina by Harry Benson (collecting photography books is a rather expensive passion of mine. mid 20th century b&w all the way baby. bourke-white, doisneau, eisenstaedt, etc), and aside from posting gramatically incorrect sentences, I thought I'd query you lovely people and see if there is anything specific that you all would like to see in this blog as a weekly feature to keep me writing.

Pictures? Reviews? Featured Stars? Off topic ramblings? I'm sure you'll see all of it whether you like it or not, but I thought I'd see if you had any suggestions. :)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

crazy eights; i's been tagged (by lolita @lolita's classics)

8 Things I look forward to:
1. Studying abroad in London in the fall.
2. Potentially traveling around Europe in the fall.
3. The fall.
4. Attending my oldest friend's wedding in June (and making a triumphant return to socal)
5. Learning how to operate a jib
6. TCM FINALLY airing The Miracle Woman tomorrow. It's been over a year since their last airing, and I forgot that it was on until halfway through. I'm still bitter. Suffice it to say that I will not be missing it again.
7. The Big Valley Season 2 (/nerd)
8. Video projects with friends over the summer

8 Things I did yesterday(and the day before that, and today. I bend rules mmkay):
1. Watched When In Rome with friends for laughs/to relive the MK&A days. It was like watching an amateur version of The Third Man without Orson Welles, war torn europe, decent acting, or a plot. They didn't even have a big enough budget for a train wreck.
2. Fondue party with the pallies and our annual viewing of Ten Things I Hate About You that has occurred every year for the past 5 years. Heath you are still missed.
3. Started making travel plans (my grandmother passed away =\)
4. Toured extended fam around the national mall. I always feel very Mr. Smith.

5. Reminisced about the days of aim. I do not miss them.
6. Continued reading David Niven's The Moon's A Balloon
7. Ate the most delicious spinach and artichoke dip that has ever existed
8. Achieved enlightenment, natch

8 Things I wish I could Do:
1. Time Travel
2. Speak French. Or Italian. Or Spanish (4 years of book learnin' and what do I have? Single Engine Jet Plane. Our education system, ladies and gentleman)
3. Ride a horse
4. Be as fierce as Myrna Loy.
5. Find the George to my Gracie
6. Direct, Produce, Write, Create, Compose
7. Cook
8. Play legit jazz on the piano

8 Shows I Watch:
1. I Love Lucy
2. Gilmore Girls
3. Fawlty Towers
4. Arrested Development
5. Pushing Daisies (sob)
6. 30 Rock
7. Friends.
8. Gossip Girl (it's my crack show)

I tag 8 people now and they are:

Monday, May 11, 2009

this week in celebrity inventions

...they didn't know they invented.
Katharine Hepburn and The Snuggie
(I wonder if her estate is getting royalties for the product placement)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

but most of all, i remember mama (dearest)

For me, the two greatest debates on the youtubes surrounding Classic Hollywood are Bette vs. Joan, who would have won in a WWE style smack down (my money is on Bette, for the record), and Joan vs. Christina, the latter being far more serious.

I first watched the 80s camp classic Mommie Dearest last summer, and upon first viewing was absolutely appalled that the film was made as it was. Yes, I enjoy Faye Dunaway's performance, and yes, I laugh at some of the classic lines, but beneath this there is the issue of abuse, not to be laughed at because it extends past Joan and Christina to a larger closet full of old hollywood skeletons and unanswered questions.

Really I don't think it did justice to either party. I'm not really a fan of Joan's but it is clear that there are some gross exaggerations (and though I don't know much about this whole ordeal, I DO know that Joan cut Christina out of her will AFTER she wrote the book, so she absolutely had fodder to do so. It was not the other way around) and there are scenes where it is clearly one sided, i.e. the rose bushes scene. Joan gave her blood and her life to MGM, so being put out to pasture must have been a striking blow for her.

The other thing that bothers me about the film is the fact that, even if I think Joan is treated unjustly, and even if these things are exaggerated, it seems obvious that Joan had a bevy of psychological problems and an obsession with her work that made her anything but an ideal parent. Even if I personally don't like Christina Crawford and take issue with some of her accounts, the tragedy of the camp factor is that it makes light of abuse. Even if it looks ridiculous that doesn't make any of it right.

I don't know why on earth this came to me on mother's day, I was just minding my own business, looking at cute pictures of Audrey Hepburn and her chilluns, but regardless of how fictitious it is, it makes me glad that I have a wonderful mother as my biggest fan.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

home on the range

You Know You Are Too Obsessed With The Big Valley When...
  1. You try to inject the phrase "boy howdy" into everyday conversation.
  2. You upload clips from the show on youtube (with more to come)
  3. You wonder 'what would Victoria Barkley do' in any given situation
  4. You want to retroactively marry Heath or Jarrod, even if it means things will inevitably come to a horrible end where you get shot, are ordered away by your fake Spanish father because it's 1965 and apparently white actors make better Mexicans, or you simply do not fit in with the fierce lifestyle that the Barkleys are accustomed to
  5. You start to note the regular directors of the show and their style
  6. You get especially excited when an episode is directed by Paul Henreid
  7. You expect any troubles in your life to be tidily resolved in fifty minutes time, and for justice and order to always be upheld
  8. You want to master the Barbara Stanwyck look of defiance

  9. You wish you could trade in your car for a horse or a stagecoach

  10. and most importantly...
You just wish you could've been a tv Barkley

Saturday, May 2, 2009

behind the sunglasses; why barbara stanwyck isn't camp


2    [kamp]  Show IPA
1.something that provides sophisticated, knowing amusement, as by virtue of its being artlessly mannered or stylized, self-consciously artificial and extravagant, or teasingly ingenuous and sentimental.
2.a person who adopts a teasing, theatrical manner, esp. for the amusement of others.

The best way to define Camp is to list some Camp things: Busby Berkeley's films with Ruby Keeler, Marlene Dietrich, Barbara Stanwyck, Noel Coward, Victor Mature, feather boas, stereoscopes, and ornate Tiffany lamps-things that hold special sentimental value for certain people who believe in them, and are sources of amusement to other, more derisive types.
-Thomas Meehan (for the New York Times, March 21, 1965)

1. As the poor middle child on full house that no one really cared about would say, HOW RUDE.
2. I don't hate camp, so this post is not about why I think Stanwyck is better than Camp.
3. I'm biased. You could fill the Grand Canyon to its brim with my bias.

Now before I huff, puff, and try to blow his statement down, it only seems fair to start with a few reasons why Stanwyck could be seen as Camp. 

1. She did have a very emotional style of acting, and when mishandled or misused by a director on rare occasions her emotional outbursts appear maudlin and overextended. 

I think the problem with the above argument is that her style of acting was not theatrical in the sense that Marlene Dietrich was theatrical. The joy in a Barbara Stanwyck performance is the fact that her emotion, when channeled properly, had a very raw intensity to it. Frank Capra advised her that the greatest tool a film actress has is her eyes, and I think that this, more than her very distinctive walk, is what makes her one of the greatest actresses of all time. I've always thought this was extremely apparent in her final scene in The Thorn Birds  where, according to the director of the series, the look on Richard Chamberlain's face was an incredibly real reaction to her performance, and after it was completed he found Stanwyck shaking behind the door. In her performances there was always a humanity and a warmth to her that escaped the confines of character, like in the insert at the end of Double Indemnity which narratively seemed incredibly out of place, but marked Stanwyck as an actress that, no matter how terrible the character, was never entirely evil. The same can be said of the famous murder scene itself. No violence is shown, only the look on Stanwyck's face, her reaction to the crime they are committing. In The Thorn Birds her character was also an awful, twisted woman, but I have to believe that in casting Stanwyck they wanted the audience to feel some degree of sympathy with this lonely woman. 

Another example is one of the final scenes (that starts around the 3 minute mark) in Frank Capra's Ladies of Leisure from 1930. As an early talkie and soapy melodrama the material never soars, but one of the last scenes in the picture, for me, forecasts why Stanwyck became a star. In the scene Barbara is asked by her sweetheart's mother to give him up because they are from completely different worlds. Both actresses break down, but the way they do so is strikingly different. The older actress merely quavers, Stanwyck bursts. And it's different from method, Stanley Kowalski pushing his fingers into his temples or Charles Castle breaking down in The Big Knife. She had a way of making the audience think that she was really in pain, to the point that sometimes I find it almost uncomfortable to watch.

When I think of Camp, I think of some of Bette Davis' later performances, primarily in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane and Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte. She was a wonderful actress, and I find it incredibly sad that her talent was so demeaned as she got older. Stanwyck avoided this by moving to television, where she is probably best known for her performance as Victoria Barkley on The Big Valley. Instead of being turned into a monster because of her age, she continued to do her own stunts and ride horses, showcasing her vitality even though she was in her late 50s and by Hollywood standards should've been sitting in a rocking chair knitting sweaters and looking sweet and senile. She didn't ride side saddle. She was the boss, the head of the family, and she knew it. I haven't had a chance to watch the entire series, but in what I have watched I would call her a role model for older actresses, someone who was lucky enough to continue performing with dignity (and win an emmy for it).

Barbara Stanwyck was an incredibly versatile and respected actress. There was always a sense that she was still Ruby Stevens from Brooklyn, never a cold glamour queen, and if the flash in her eyes was all performance, all planned, than she was the greatest Camp actress of all time, and as such surpasses the term entirely.