Wednesday, December 22, 2010

the shop around the corner as horror film

For Sally's holiday blogathon (12 bloggers for the 12 days of Christmas, a rather nifty idea) I chose The Shop Around the Corner, a seasonal favorite directed by Ernst Lubitsch in 1940.

I haven't had much time to watch films lately, and when I have it has generally been time spent trying to fill gaps in my modern viewing. Thus when I sat down to watch the film after a number of years, I discovered something absolutely terrifying. More frightening than the fact that there is a holiday song devoted entirely to fruit cake. I'm not talking about how surprisingly depressing I found it this time around with its characters constantly worried about job security, so apt at the present time, or how it seemed more a parable for the perils of internet dating....

I was seeing it through modern eyes.

It seems a silly thing to say, but as much as it pains me for the first time I felt that alienation that quote "normal" people my age may experience when they watch an old film. Limited cutting, rather claustrophobic studio spaces. Even some of the stamped style similarities of old films are absent. There are no passage of time montages, nor is there any background music. For a film touted as a holiday favorite its sparsity cuts like a knife, its actors left to depend solely on each other to create a small world.

My God, the horror.

Instead of losing touch, losing the magic (for it slowly but steadily came back as my young eyes adjusted) it brought a new appreciation of the long take. Not at its showy best as in Citizen Kane, but as a strange collapse. After awhile I felt that I could inhabit the shop, walk around in the film space's shoes. I felt the same thing recently re-watching Remember the Night. There is a scene where Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck et al sit around a Christmas tree, singing songs and enjoying each other's company. The camera mostly just sits still in wait, a strange mirror of my own pose sitting next to a Christmas tree enjoying the company of friends. It was like we were all in the same room, enjoying the holidays together.

And I began to wonder if this is part of the otherworldliness of old film, if the lack of cuts makes it easier to 'experience' a film rather than feel strangely detached from it. An especially strange sensation given current preoccupations with making films 3D, making games more interactive. All the attention paid to bridging that gap. This is not to say that one way is better then the other, just as editing pace can be far too ADD these days it can also be far too slow depending on the situation. But there is something about that old quiet. Letting things lie just long enough for the viewer to settle in, but not so long as to become stilted. I've always thought of Lubitsch as an effortless comedy master, but here he simply lets things float gracefully, teasingly out of reach.

I feel like running through old streets like George Bailey reunited with old haunts that feel refreshingly new. My own unexpected Christmas miracle.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

No Man Of Her Own (1950)

There's something about the first winter chill and black and white celluloid slush that crackles like firewood. As I've been putting off turning on the heat in my apartment for as long as possible it was nice to warm my hands a bit with No Man Of Her Own (1950), a film I've been dying to see as a card carrying Stanwyckphile. Bless you, Netflix, for making it available on instant.

For those experiencing deja vu the feeling is justified, as the film takes its name but none of its plot from a 1932 version starring the then indifferent at best platonic Clark Gable and Carole Lombard.

Image Credits here and here

This later version stars Barbara Stanwyck (Helen Ferguson/Patrice Harkness) as a woman spurned by her lover and left penniless and pregnant. His 'parting gift' to her? A $5 bill and a train ticket. Classy. On the train she is shown real kindess by a young married couple who die when the train crashes as abruptly as the transition in this sentence. In a twist of fate Stanwyck is taken to the hospital wearing the young woman's wedding ring (because cold cream and wedding rings don't mix) and it is assumed that she is the young bride. As the family has never met her (living abroad cures so many ills) or seen her (apparently photographs hadn't been invented by 1950) she goes along with the charade to give her child a name, choosing to live a lie despite guilt over the complete kindness and trust of her new family. But for Helen there is no escaping the past.

This film marks the second time Mitchell Liesen had to direct Stanwyck as a woman with a past (the first being Remember the Night) the latter mixing sparse Christmas cheer with melodrama and murder.

Stanwcyk and holiday cheer in Chrstimas in Connecticut vs. a despairing Stanwyck in No Man of Her Own

The great performances are given guidance by a fantastic script. Its basis in a novel "I Married a Dead Man" is probably where the film gets its overuse of voiceover in the beginning and end of the film, but more important is its attention to character details. A shot of the deadbeat boyfriend deciding against giving Stanwyck more than a $5 bill out of his wallet, then an inconsolable Stanwyck leaving the money on the floor says a thousand words. It is also a compelling film because of its genre mixing. What starts as straight melodrama turns to who-done-it with aspects of the plot that seemed small paying off till the very end in unexpected ways. While some of the turns are a bit unbelievable critiquing a melodrama for its realism is like asking how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood so I'll let those plot points pass.

Definitely recommended for a cold winters night.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

wag of the finger: an open letter to the minds behind Glee from a classic film fan

Glee is a shark or jet battle cry with little of Bernstein's lyricism. At its best it is fun spectacle that has the ability to bring old standards to newer, younger audiences with a cast that includes several legitimate stage performers who really don't need the auto-tune. At its worst it is cloying, stereotypical and simplistic. I recognize that in writing this post I must admit to the sin of watching the show. I enjoy it as a former show choir kid with a tooth for nostalgia and appreciation of its premise. I also recognize that maybe I'm asking too much from a teen tv show. But in the past few weeks the show has tried to take hold of larger issues. Therefore all I'm asking, creators of Glee, is that you choose not to be hypocrites.

Last weeks episode used Singin' in the Rain as its musical theme. This I don't have a problem with. I don't mind revisions of old material because it's something that has always been done whether literature, film, or in what show choirs around the country have done well before Glee. In high school I was in a community production of Singin' in the Rain which served as my introduction to what is now one of my favorite films. This is not to say that I don't criticize quality if it isn't up to snuff. While I really didn't like Glee's rendition of the song the way they staged it by having them perform not in a flooded street but on a flooded high school auditorium stage was actually pretty spectacular. Watch here.

It is the mentality behind the scenes leading up to this number that I take issue with.

Will, the teacher who runs the show choir, tells the kids that he wants to do a number from the show. You know, that movie from 1952. Oh, you didn't know there was a 1952? You thought the world only started spinning around 1980? Well you're all clearly disgusted that I would even think of doing something so old. Right. I see. Well then we'll just have to modernize it! Yeah, that's clearly the only way to make it cool!

Hold. The phone.

For starters, the fact that there are several self professed stage and screen nerd characters on the show makes it highly unlikely that none of them would have heard of it. Such a reaction is not true to the characters and in poor writing form.

Second, taking one of the most beloved musicals of all time and making it seem like no one under a certain age could ever like something that old and appreciate it by itself is wrong, creators of Glee. You are so, so wrong.

I thought Glee was supposed to be a show about the underdog. About kids who don't quite fit in standing up for themselves and doing things that make them happy. And for some of us, this includes watching old movies.

I detest ageism in any form. I think it's wrong for the old to try to stifle the young, which is something that the show has tried to tackle in its celebration of the 'new.' But this neglects the fact that there can still be value in and appreciation of the old by the young. It not only neglects it, the show attacks it.

I am no longer a kid and was lucky enough in high school to have friends who were willing to humor my classic film obsession. But I know it can be a potentially alienating thing, and especially hard when you're trying to fit in. I think it's great that there is a classic film community on the internet but I become all too aware of how odd I am when I move out of my own circles.

I'm sorry to go all PSA, especially without cheesy 80s music or a young George Clooney, but Glee you've made it necessary for me to try to do your job for you. So to anyone reading this who might benefit from it all I have to say is whether you love Conrad Veidt or listening to the Andrews Sisters be loud and proud. Do what you love, and don't listen to anyone who tries to make you feel 'uncool' or weird, whether it be disregarding Glee or disregarding everything I've just said.

Underdogs up, up and away.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

two roads diverged in a wood

Just wanted to pop my head in briefly. Sadly I just don't have the time to update right now (not that the world is missing much). It's a pretty big time for me as I'm preparing to jump off the ledge and graduate into the abyss of uncertainty known as "the real world" though I've always questioned the term. The reel world may be more appropriate. Aside from schoolwork I've been editing locally for twelve hours a week which is great practice, yet I'm growing less and less sure of my ability to do... anything. My advanced seminar in film studies makes me increasingly sad that if I continue along this path I may never really be able to do anything with my love of the history and theory of the subject and I feel increasingly naive the more I try to convince myself that it's possible to do both. I hope I'm wrong and refuse to go down without a fight.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

tip of the hat: multi-talented talented people

It's always fun to find out someone famous has another equally admirable talent; Frank Sinatra and his painting, Judy Garland and her poetry, and, new to me, Yul Brynner and his photography.

"The day I came onto the set, he was sitting up on top of a ladder and to my surprise, when he saw me, he called down: 'Hey Bob, the exposure is 5.6/125."
-Bob Willoughby, photographer

I recently added Yul Brynner: Photographer, compiled by daughter Victoria Brynner to my beloved collection of photography books. I actually have two copies, the first refunded because at least eight pages had been ripped out of it. It was a strangely personal loss.

While best known for his role as the King in The King and I, what is less known are the many photographs he took around that set and others, at bullfights, in refugee camps. It was not just a hobby for him but a true art. I would highly recommend this book, and am excited for VB's newest collection of his photographs set to come out next month. I'm not quite as excited about the supposed $150 price tag but I'm sure it will be beautiful. I'll be saving my pennies for quite awhile.

All images scanned by me, click to enlarge. No copyright infringement intended.

Ingrid Bergman, 1958

Refugee camp Muascar, Jerusalem, 1959

Deborah Kerr doing hair color selection tests for The King and I, 1955

Cecil B. DeMille feeding deer, 1955

Even if you think Moses should have been a fool, I pity the fool who doesn't appreciate these pictures. (Too much? ... Yes, too much? Right then.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

In which I devise an evil evil not so secret because I'm telling you right now plan

When I was in middle school I was determined to become a child star on Friends. My plan? Be the problem teenager that Monica and Chandler would adopt because they couldn't have children. I still believe that the writers stole my thoughts and tweaked them to their own liking.

And this is why I have no doubt that my new evil evil not so secret because I'm telling you right now plan will come off brilliantly.

My newest goal?

Write a challenging role for Maggie Smith.

According to the Dame herself, she accepts practically everything offered her, and word on the street is that the poor girl (or should I say gehl?) is no longer being offered plum parts, as is the tragedy of many an aging actor or actress and sadly not surprising. It's pathetic when one of the most talented women around has to play background to Emma Watson.

Therefore, it seems only logical that if I were to write said script, it is practically inevitable that I would be able to work with said talented lady.

So, without further ado, here are the steps that I've devised to reach my goal:

  1. Start writing a script with a fantastic part that could be played by Maggie Smith
  2. Upon realization that I am not talented enough to write a script worthwhile of Maggie Smith, begin building time machine.
  3. Upon building time machine, find Noel Coward.
  4. Upon finding Noel Coward, steal his brain.
  5. Travel back to the present with said brain, write script, work with Maggie Smith
  6. Live happily ever after

Simple, yes?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

my humphrey bogart stumbling into a bookshop moment

I've been trying not to stray down memory lane quite as often, lest I get lost there, but this posting by Kendra reminded me of the rather wonderful, rainy afternoon I spent in this very same shop on her recommendation.

It's the sort of place that's disappearing, sadly. Small and rather cramped, but lived in and comfortable in its own way, filled with books and playbills and postcards and other theatrical ephemera that aren't really shelved by category and certainly not scanned. It all seems to tower over you, like Alice having lost her sense of proportion.

I sat in a corner looking through shoe boxes labeled Laurence Olivier and Alec Guinness, eventually striking up a conversation with the proprietor, one of those older gentlemen who also seem to be disappearing. He told me about various theatrical scandals of times gone by that I wish I remembered, how Kevin Spacey, then starring in Inherit The Wind at the Old Vic (which I was lucky enough to attend), would visit as an avid collector of Olivier memorabilia, how John Gielgud and Guinness would drop by looking for a certain book or piece of information in their time. We spoke quite a bit about Olivier and Vivien Leigh (at one point 'sharing digs' with the actor who played Stanley to her Blanche in the stage production), he having seen them both on stage and greatly admiring Olivier especially.

I asked him about different performers to determine if he had any items pertaining to said person, which led to some interesting recollections

At one point I asked about Deborah Kerr, whom he saw in The Corn is Green. He said she was 'all over the place' and 'went dry' every night. One of his friends in the production claimed that she was a gracious and wonderful lady, but he often had to prompt her with a well placed don't you agree? or other suggestive remark.

"But I can see you're a fan, so I'll stop. It happens to all actors."

"What about Olivier?"

"Never," he said. "Never."

Though I cannot replicate his very British and very eloquent use of the English language, the swiftness of and assurance in that last remark I will never forget.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

In this War of the Roses I find myself bleeding red and white


It's mid July in the early hours of the morning, the time of day when the hot hot temperatures cool and crime simmers on the back burner.

A mousy brunette is dragged through the double doors, her heels swishing back and forth across the tile like a figure skater who knows she's on thin ice.

What's she done, Joe?

It's another one of them classic film lovers, sir. Caught her watching Dark Passage.

Book her.

When I write my personal statement for film school, I have been advised to focus on the work I've produced, what I hope to accomplish creatively, rather than my more prevalent film studies background.

This makes sense.

What doesn't make sense to me, and what never will, is the undercurrent, this bitter rivalry that exists between those who do, and those who talk about what others do, and why there is such caustic, Joan Fontaine and Olivia De Havilland style rivalry between two of the same blood.

And because I hope to never understand this and would rather be stupid and naive about something I believe in so passionately, I've made a decision. Certainly I will focus on those things, but should it be applicable (say, if I'm asked to name influences) I refuse to hide this love of film, all film, young and old, and the fact that I want to play a part in the creation of new work and help to protect and promote what's past if it is in my capacity to do so.

I would love to get accepted into a great school but refuse to be ashamed of this. No matter what the keepers at the gates would like me to say, however accomplished and respectable they might be. I have some big guns to fight with. Scorsese, Truffaut, Woody Allen, The Coen Brothers, Thelma Schoonmaker and many others.

So to borrow from Farragut and The More The Merrier, damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

tip of the hat: stars can be fans too

Deborah Kerr and husband Peter Viertel

Hello, my name is Meredith and I am a Deborah Kerr addict. In the past year she has become one of my absolute favorite people, and considering she's on Cary Grant's list of about 10 fascinating women he would invite to a dinner party she must have been a pretty classy lady. Her biography definitely doesn't delve into anything salacious (I raised as inquisitive an eyebrow as I could muster when there was nary a reference to her relationship with Michael Powell) but considering the author knew her professionally and personally I have respect for his respect and admiration for her, as well as the fact that it was published in the 70s so she was still out and about being fabulous.

One thing that I find incredibly refreshing about her is how sincerely she seemed to appreciate her fans. She tried to answer as many as she could, noting that "It's the least I can do, if anyone is kind enough to write." On occasion she became one herself, and didn't think it was beneath her stature to gush.


My dear Marlon [Brando],

Last night I saw Sayonara, and, at the risk of sounding and appearing insincere in the community of perpetual ‘note-dropping’ — I felt absolutely compelled to express my admiration and gratitude for your really exquisite performance. Exquisite may sound, I suppose, an ill-chosen word to apply to an actor, but it was just that. I can think of no other word that expresses the refinement — the myriad thoughts illuminating the scenes — long before the words were spoken. It was a performance of such skill. And which, for another of the same trade to watch, was an unbelievable enjoyment!

Thank you again — and forgive my ‘fan’ letter! …

Most sincerely, Deborah Kerr”

She even joined a fan club! Sort of.

In April, Mary Johnston visited the studio and suggested Deborah Kerr might like to become an honorary member of the Judy Garland club, having heard her express great admiration for the talented Judy, with whom she had become friendly during the days at Metro. She was delighted to do so and her then secretary, Mrs Myrtle Tully, wrote to confirm Deborah's acceptance of the honorary membership, which she has retained ever since, with permament billing in the Garland Club magazine, run by film and theatre buff Ken Sephton.

From Deborah Kerr by Eric Braun

Just goes to show, cliche as it sounds, that stars are people too, and I tip my favorite invisible hat to Ms. Kerr for being a lesson straight out of Funny Face on how to be lovely.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

with liberty and film viewing freedom for all

For Americans, Independence Day is a celebration of our many freedoms, with liberty and unlimited amounts of grilled food for all. It produces both feelings of pride and, for some, a platform to discuss what we can do better, and where we have failed. It's two parts "God Bless America," one part Will Durant.

In this holiday, and in the classic community, there's something of a yearning for the past, for the 'good old days,' a pang of regret at Frank Sinatra's assertion [in relation to this fred astaire/eleanor powell dance number] that we'll never see the likes of this again.

And though I do believe that things go in cycles, and we may see things like it again, he's absolutely right.

So where's the silver lining? I was reminded of this by something Kendra posted on her tumblr earlier in relation to the blight that is the Twilight franchise. Sorry those that like it, I just... don't get it. I've been invited out to two of the three films and I don't regret the time, I regret my contribution to their box office. I love the atmosphere of a big theater, but not when I'm paying $12 for a film that should be paying damages for brain cell loss.

Instead of being forced to watch this headache for a film fix, we now have the option to get a netflix account or go to a local movie store (or a library, even) where we have a host of incredible films, past and present, at the tips of our slimy green monster claws. I couldn't bring myself to say 'tip of our fingertips,' so, this works, right?

Even though I sometimes get a bit sad about the fact that many of the people I most admire are no longer walking around this topsy turvy earth, and there are certain values in life and in films that I find lacking in todays crop (though for me there's also a lot of greatness, as well), we have some truly incredible advantages in our access to film from all time periods and countries (well, except for lost films. sorry silent fans!) We don't have to wait for them to be re-released, or as my father had to contend with growing up in the middle of nowhere midwest, having to wait several years for a film to come to town because the local theatre owners were too cheap to pay money for first run films.

I suppose it could be argued that this practically unlimited, anytime anywhere access sort of cheapens the magic of it all (I'd be really interested in hearing some opinions on this) but much like independence day, with the positives and negatives that are brought up, it is nonetheless something to be celebrated.

Note: The picture accompanying this post really has absolutely nothing to do with independence day considering it's Gregory Peck and Deborah Kerr going on a ridiculous day trip to Tijuana (if you're not sold on Beloved Infidel yet, I pity the fool) but it seemed festive and it's also one of the most ridiculous[ly amazing] scenes I've ever seen for pure randomosity. And that is also something to be celebrated.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

the time has come, the walrus said

... to talk of why I have done such a poor job of updating this blog! I have no fancy schmancy excuses and it's not like I'm planning on winning a pulitzer for my content as it is. I've been doing some work for my family, reading war and peace, and trying to fill in some of the holes in my film viewing which I need to write about but judging from many of my past entries I'm just so much better at talking about what I'm planning on writing about then actually writing it. I see your potential nods at my mediocrity, and raise you....

David Niven riding a donkey and holding a parasol, which beats scissors, rock, and paper respectively.

This nonsensical update was brought to you by lux, the beauty soap which will wash away all second hand embarrassment at my inability to produce a quality post.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

come on get happy-it's judy garland's birthday!

It's rather sad to think that she could still be here doing single ladies duets with Liza, but there is more to this talented lady than the tragedies of her life and I think this should be celebrated. So here's to you, amorous glamorous lady. I wonder if there is a Freed unit table at the commissary up in the sky.

Judy Garland was known for her incredible vocal abilities, but I wanted to take a moment to highlight another hidden talent of hers that is less well known. Poetry. The Judy Room has a great page of her poems that everyone should check out.

I leave you with this bit of silliness.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

tip of the hat: some things haven't changed since 1944

I'm generally not one for Carvel unless it has sprinkles and a cherry on top, but yesterday morning I decided to take advantage of my limited access to tcm and watch Andy Hardy's Blonde Trouble, a later installment in the Andy Hardy series where Mickey Rooney leaves his beloved home and joins the leagues of "frosh's" at his father's alma matter. Aside from the fact that the logline sounds more in league with Dude, Where's My Car? or those TWINS TWINS TWINS beer ads (from tcm: a college boy has to cope with a pair of beautiful twins) the focus on the life of a freshman in college struck a chord of nostalgia. Alright, so the guys no longer wear suits to class and Herbert Marshall isn't my dean, but the excitement about a new stage of life, the how to survive your first year handbooks, it's still there. And as I look towards my last year at college it was nice to remember and relate to something that's still relevant over 60 years later.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

back from outer space

Bonjour lovely friends! I have returned from my May travels and hope to get back into the swing of things soon, starting with my whiz bang out of the park super duper paratrooper biggest Sound of Music post ever recorded in the history of the world post. There may be casualties, namely my eyesight. Until then I wanted to share a picture that you all might enjoy of The Dancing House in Prague. It was completed in 1996 and resembles two figures, well, dancing, (aha! lucky guess!) and was originally called Fred and Ginger. I imagine you can guess which I like better. ;)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

so long, farewell, auf weidersehen goodnight for two weeks!

Hello lovely followers! Just dropping by as I have been out of town for the past week (and finally made it out to mission dolores in san francisco for all the vertigo super fans like myself) and will hopefully be leaving tomorrow night (assuming the ejklajkl volcano, clearly a jan brady attention whore of a phenomenon throwing a football at the nose of... the world, stops acting up) for germany and other wonderful places for two weeks, including salzburg where I plan to get my sound of music on and enjoy all the other lovely non-som things I'm sure it has to offer, as well as write more incredibly long run on sentences.

Farewell until June!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Kate and Millie's survey

Finals are FINALLY over, I've been transported back home (not by my handy dandy teleportation device, unfortunately, rather a long process more akin to a marx brothers sketch entitled 'how much stuff can we fit in our car', more glamorous on screen I must say) and I'm ready for something fun to christen summer vacation and break free from my zombie like stupor. And what better than a survey put together by the rather mischievous and highly entertaining duo Kate and Millie? Nothing, clearly.

1. Which actors do you always (or did you always) mix-up? As a child I always mixed up Natasha Richardson and Emma Thompson. Now I occasionally see a picture of Hedy Lamarr and for a split second think it's Vivien Leigh. Hmm.

2. Gidget or Beach Party? I honestly don't know what this question is asking (eep!) so I'm going to go with ticker tape parade. It's the only logical choice.

3. Favorite Movie Outfit? The overall costume concept in the Ascot Opening Day sequence in My Fair Lady. If the new remake really gets made the new design can never compare to Cecil Beaton's brilliance. I'm holding my tongue on this one because I trust Emma Thompson. Don't let me down dear lady.

4. If you could be ANY character in ANY movie...who would you choose? Any role played by Eve Arden.

5. If you could marry ANY character in ANY movie...who would you choose? I love him because he's the kind of guy who gets drunk on a glass of buttermilk, and I love the way he blushes right up over his ears. I love him because he doesn't know how to kiss, the jerk! Prof. Bertram Potts in Ball of Fire (note: must be played by Gary Cooper. Ahem.)

6. If you could live in ANY movie...which would you choose? You Can't Take it With You. What a wonderful life that would be.

7. Black & White movies you wish were in Technicolor, or vice-versa? I think The Night of the Iguana would have been lovely in color.

8. Favorite Movie Soundtrack? An American in Paris (poke me with pins why don'tcha! I love too many)

9. Favorite Movie Dance Sequence?
I have many that change constantly, and though I would generally say either Dancing in the Dark or the Girl Hunt Ballet in
The Band Wagon, I am currently enamored with Marian the Librarian in The Music Man. I love the choreography, the way actions are made part of the score, and how the different characters are developed throughout. It looked like such fun to film!

10. Coolest Movie Star? (Cough, cough, BOBBY DARIN, cough, cough -Millie) Sorry Millie, but my vote has to go the king of cool Humphrey Bogart.

11. Sophia or Gina (Oh, how Kate enjoys replaying Gina's sad defeat OVER AND OVER! -Millie) I am not well enough informed! Therefore I say John Glenn, because yet again it's the only logical choice.

12. "Isn't It Romantic" in most Billy Wilder films, or "Red River Valley" Billy Wilder always and forever

13. If you could re-cast ANY role in ANY movie, what would it be? Oh me oh my. I'm inclined to say Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady in favor of Julie Andrews, lack of as yet to be proven star power be damned.

14. Favorite movie character with your first name? All the Meredith's that I know of are either whiny doctors on Greys Anatomy or the temptress in the parent trap remake, and I'm inclined to choose the latter.

15.One movie that should NEVER be remade? (under THE THREAT OF A SLOW, PAINFUL DEATH!) Gone With the Wind. Just don't even try, you will fail.

16. Actor or Actress who you would love to be best friends with? I would have loved to have been part of the Gracie Allen/George Burns/Jack Benny crowd. Also Deborah Kerr.

17. Are you an Oscar or a Felix? Felix!

18. Actor/Actress you originally hated and now love? Also Deborah Kerr. As explained here.

19.Actor/Actress you originally loved and now don't like? None to speak of.

20. Favorite performance that was looked over by Oscar? (Not to be confused with the aforementioned Oscar of Felix fame.) Judy Garland in A Star is Born. Incredible performance.

21. Bewitched or I Dream of Jeannie? Bewitched! Agnes Moorehead cannot be beat.

22. Hannibal Heyes or Kid Curry? (Hint for those who don't know who they are: pick Hannibal Heyes.) Ok I'll pick Hannibal Heyes ;)

23. Favorite Style Icon: Fred Astaire or Cary Grant? Well I love Grant's mentality of not letting the clothes wear the man, but Fred had those adorable belts. I'll say Cary but only by a hair.

24. Single most favorite movie scene EVER? MY BRAIN IS EXPLODING RIGHT NOW. I'm inclined to say the scene at the end of Perfect Strangers (1945) when Deborah Kerr and Ronald Donat see each other again for the first time in their improved state after several years with him away at war, including the lead up to it (it's during a blackout so they can't see each other, it's brilliant). The middle section of the film is dull as tombs but it's just such a perfect sequence.

25. Movie you really "should" see, but have subconsciously avoiding for who knows what reason? The Shining because it looks terrifying!

26. Movie quote you find yourself most often repeating in real life? I can't recall what film it's from, but I often say 'Oh for the love of heaven' Katharine Hepburn style.

27. 50's Westerns or 60's Spies? (I can't even answer this myself...but you have to! MWAHAHAHA! - Millie) 50s westerns for me though this is an EVIL EVIL question.

28. Favorite splashy, colorful, obnoxious 50's musical? Not obnoxious, but Singin' in the Rain is the ultimate.

29. Favorite film setting (example: Rome, Paris, Seattle, Siberia, Chile, Sahara Desert, etc) All of these are pretty wonderful. I'll say Rome.

30. If you could own the entire wardrobe of any film, which would it be? Not a great film but Helen Mirren's costumes in The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone are GLORIOUS.

31. Carol Burnette or Lucille Ball? Lucille! Though both are wonderful.

32. Favorite Voice. Ever. Period? Greer Garson. It's just so wonderful and bizarre at the same time.

33. Favorite movie that takes place in your home-state? My state generally doesn't get spotlighted in film, so I'll pick my almost home and say The More The Merrier.

34. Which actors would you want for relatives? (Mother, Father, Grandma, Crazy Aunt, annoying cousin, older brother, etc...) Ha! I'll say Debbie Reynolds as my grandmother, Fred Astaire as grandfather, Cary Grant as father, Deborah Kerr as mother (we would have a gilmore girls things going on, clearly) David Niven as my older brother, Hayley Mills as my younger sister, Katharine Hepburn and Angela Lansbury as my aunts and Humphrey Bogart for an uncle. Quite a family.

Monday, April 19, 2010

a grave error

There is something I must make the world aware of, a great travesty undertaken whilst we slumbered, serene in our ignorance.

The evidence:
But we all know there is only one Gable.

I plan to contact the proper authorities post-haste. God save our gracious King, long may he reign as the supreme definition in the dictionary that cometh with thine apple computer.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The End of the Yellow Brick Road, and What I Found There

photograph taken from life goes to the movies

I am a shadow chaser with ear pressed to the ground, hoping to catch some faint footstep of the past. I am Nora Charles peering around the corner of the Myrna Loy building, led by an invisible Asta. I stumble over the ghosts that drift up from the seamless concrete, my hands full of stories that tumble to the ground and fall without sound. No one sees them, it’s like they were never here. And to the executives at Columbia, they never were.

I know right from the intro video that something is wrong. As I listen to the story of Harry Cohn, watch short silent montages of It Happened One Night and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, hear the name Mayer mentioned once before it is slipped into a back pocket, I know their game. The winners rewrite the history and chain themselves to their bottom line, dogs behind a wire fence.

We are led to the old Irving Thalberg building, past the old offices right by the gate, the gate that had once roared its name, MGM, and the cool white building where the big white elevated desk once towered over hopes and dreams, teeth gleaming. Never more. We are led down the old main streets with new names like the Frank Capra bank, which I know Jean Arthur did not run past when she supposedly screamed I’m free, I’m free. We are led to a Foley studio, full of bottles and keys and fake grass and rugs and I finally know something lives here, something breathes here that recognizes it is a fake.

We see the old bungalows where Katharine Hepburn would throw rooftop parties, we stand in the vast cavern of stage 15 where the yellow brick road once stood, past stucco walls where Gene Kelly danced around a lamp post and an afraid of heights Red Skelton was supposedly forgotten in the rafters, a dummy thrown off the side as revenge. Sometimes I have to pull teeth for this information, and sometimes it is waved away with the flick of a wrist stamped by Columbia.

Something was here, I know it was, and I’ll yell it from the top of stage 6 till my face turns blue. The Columbia Cagneys’ll not tie me down; the faceless giants who poke fat fingers in my face. This is how it’s going to be, see? Nyah, nyah.
Shaded by trees, connected by paths, and surrounded by flowering shrubs, the bungalow dressing rooms of the stars gave an outward impression of an enclave of peace and tranquillity, but inside, as I was to learn, their walls bore the scars of countless exhibitions of temperament, noisy moments of triumph, and far too many lonely heartbreaks. I was also to learn that writers got drunk, actors became paranoid, actresses pregnant, and directors uncontrollable. Crises were a way of life in the Dream Factories, but by some extraordinary mixture of efficiency, compromising, exuberance,gambling, shrewdness, experience, strong-arm tactics, psychology, blackmail, kindness, integrity, good luck, and a firm belief that "the show must go on," the pictures came rolling off the end of the production lines. -David Niven
Something lived here, once. I know it. I just know it.

Monday, March 29, 2010

and SNAP. the job's a game!

Due to the upcoming GRE this saturday aft and my reliance on disney films to solve all problems, I've taken to doing anything I can to weather the immense quantities of vocabulary words I don't know as well as I thought I did and math I haven't seen since high school by creating childish tricks to keep such information in my wee brain and maintain a phlegmatic countenance. Didn't know that meant something other than, ahem, a rather unladylike disturbance in the throat? I didn't either chum. My handy dandy vocab cards indicate that I should create unusual sentences to keep this weighty assemblage of words in my head. So what do I do? Use classic film, of course!

For example:

Mr. Potter, a rather avaricious and reprobate sort of fellow, as well as a virulent force in Bedford Falls, chooses to take unfair advantage of the impecunious George Bailey, choosing to prevaricate to maintain power rather than enervate his position in the community. Rather than disabuse the situation, we last see him awaiting the exigent incarceration of George.

Works like a charm.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

adventures in hollywoodland 2010

Rather than pawing at a beach ball and drunkenly stumbling along sandy shores as the stereotypical collegiate spring break entails, I chose to enter a time warp of my own design with one of my good friends as Co el capitan. One of our stops? Musso and Frank's grill, serving your favorite stars since 1919. Honestly I don't think the place has changed much since 1919.

We met up with the super snazzy Kendra of who I've known about the internet for eons it seems so it was lovely to meet you! It's always fun when two Vivien Leigh fans plus one admirer who doesn't know as much as the other two *cough* get together. Our waiter was Sergio, who has been a fixture of the establishment since the 1970s and served practically anyone and everyone who was still in town and not at Forest Lawn.

The other characters of our story are entertaining bar patron and wife. I couldn't decide what drink I wanted because I really don't drink often (how very un-Nora Charles of me) and entertaining bar patron suggests I get a Mary Pickford, an off the menu cocktail which sounded perfect for our surroundings, and was also delicious (maraschino, grenadine, pineapple juice, and rum should you care to know). Another thing I love about M&F's is that they didn't card me. I'm legal and all but the majority of the world seems to think I'm not a day over 14. Maybe they assume anyone who dines there has an 85 year old soul, I'm not sure. After thanking entertaining bar patron, he says "you know who that is, don't you?"

Oh ho ho you have no idea what table you're messing with, sir.

We quickly proved that we did in fact know who she is, and much more, and if I'd thought of it I would've said that I'm more of a Lillian Gish girl myself. Well done, angels.

Now back to Sergio. As someone who has served there for ages, of course we had to grill him. Apparently of the newer set Johnny Depp is one of his chums and gives a 5000% tip. But of course being us we also wanted to know about those of days gone by, and being me I only wanted to know who was the nicest and prettiest of them all.

The super nice?


The super gorgeous and super gracious?

No surprises here.

At one point I was sent a free drink for some reason (who questions such things) so there may have been a bit of the collegiate stumbling but in a prohibition era way. I don't know what that means. ANYWAY I would definitely recommend visiting this place if you're in town. If those walls could talk...

Sunday, March 7, 2010

quiet on the set-the quest pt 1

One thing that I love to do is seek out famous film locations, wherever I may be. I just think it's fascinating to watch a film (especially the older ones) and then see where the magic happened. Especially if things look just the same. For me it creates a sort of continuity with the past which I find comforting and I thought it would be fun to share, especially because my brain is still a bit mushy after having it pulled out of my skull during midterms.

(sorry some of these caps are not the best)

First, a few of the on location spots I have visited:

Greyfriars Kirkyard-Edinburgh, Scotland
Film: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Edinburgh is such a historical wonder and I have a Maggie Smith obsession to thank for my finding the kirkyard, one of my favorite spots in the city. Burials have been taking place here since the late 16th century and walking about it is like stepping into a time warp. The graveyard is most famous for the story of greyfriar's bobby, the loyal pup who was so saddened by his masters death that until his own he guarded the grave, and is now buried in the graveyard himself.

If you look up towards the tree you will see the square tombstone and dark wall captured in the frame above. Hasn't changed at all.

Chester Terrace-London UK
Film: The End of the Affair (1955)

Located just off of Regents Park lies this beautiful neighborhood where Deborah Kerr and Van Johnson had their secret trystes. The entrances to both ends is a magnificent arch which unfortunately I couldn't document because there were residents standing outside and I felt a bit funny, but the neighborhood and it's archways are well documented in the film.

A 180 from the above still, which would have been taken on the second floor above the blue door in the background

Cafe des 2 moulins-Montmartre, Paris, France
Film: Amelie

The cafe where everyone's favorite pixie worked. They rebuilt it as a set but the cafe it is based on is very real.

Please excuse my awkward cone shaped head exacerbated by my awkward but very warm cap.

Christchurch College-Oxford, UK
Film: Harry Potter...s

The UK in general is sort of Harry Potter land and of course there is CGI and studio sets a plenty but the first couple of films did some on location filming at Christchurch, and even if the films aren't masterpieces I can say I've visited Hogwarts. The 12 year old and 21 year old in me is happy.


Bodega Bay-California
Film: The Birds

One of the most iconic sequences in the film is when the kids run out of the schoolhouse towards the bay, only the real schoolhouse isn't by the bay! The complete run is composed of two different streets in the town.


What the kids would've seen as they ran from the school


Pinewood Studios-UK
Film: Tamara Drewe

Unfortunately I don't have any pictures of my own for this but last semester I got to be an extra in Stephen Frears' newest film for a day which was an interesting experience to say the least. Needless to say I was very excited to be where the likes of The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus and many other great films have been shot. I was supposed to be an attendee at a literary festival and they set up tarps very near to the beautiful path pictured above out in the beginnings of their exterior shrubbery garden things. On the way to lunch we got to walk through the above pictured building which I believe is the main office that has been there since the beginnings. To the right of this picture is a rather lovely part of the building where I could see an episode of Poirot or some 30s style upper class farce being filmed.

Warner Brothers Studios-Burbank, CA
Studio Tour

I imagine this is pretty self explanatory. Too many films to name. This is the only picture I can find from this trip at the moment so here is the exterior of the Gilmore home for your viewing pleasure.

I hope everyone has a happy Oscar day! I am heading out to LA tomorrow to visit a friend for spring break and have already made plans to visit Sony studios, aka MGM. I'm sure other shenanigans will follow and if anyone has any suggestions I'm all ears!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Not Tuesdays With Martin Scorsese-The New Restoration of The Red Shoes

Instead of worshipping cupid this Valentine's Day my heart has been pierced by the Archer Arrow as I spend a little time at the altar of Powell and Pressburger For the Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon. The event is hosted by The Self-Styled Siren and Ferdy on Films to support the National Film Preservation Foundation.

The National Film Preservation Foundation is the independent, nonprofit organization created by the U.S. Congress to help save America's film heritage. They work directly with archives to rescue endangered films that will not survive without public support.

The NFPF will give away 4 DVD sets as thank-you gifts to blogathon donors chosen in a random drawing: Treasures III: Social Issues in American Film, 1900-1934 and Treasures IV: American Avant Garde Film, 1947-1986

One of my favorite films from super duo Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, The Red Shoes, has been lovingly (and expensively) restored by the UCLA Archive thanks to generous support from Martin Scorsese's Film Foundation. It received a star studded premier at last years Cannes Film Festival and was recently screened at the British Film Institute where I saw the new restoration this past December as my farewell to London. Unfortunately I was not able to attend the first night when Scorsese himself was in attendance. These screenings are wonderful because they bring new audiences to old classics.

The Rank gong is on display at the Movieum of London

The original three-strip Technicolor negative, cracked, covered in mould and desperately in need of repair was restored using a new digital process where a high resolution scan of each of the 579, 000 frames was cleaned and reassembled in a new digital master (source). It is a very painstaking and expensive process that could only be undertaken because of the amount of support (aka funding) behind the restoration. For the film purists out there, original prints of the film still exist. The screening at Cannes was a 35mm print of the new digital restoration. I can attest that the result is absolutely breathtaking; the cobwebs have been removed, that's all.

The Red Shoes (1948) was first conceived as the brain child of Alexander Korda because he wanted P&P to make a ballet vehicle for his wife Merle Oberon. When that fell through the pair bought the rights from Korda. Wanting to make a film with dancers who had acting talent as opposed to actors who needed dancer stand ins, a member of the Sadler Wells dance company, flame haired Moira Shearer was chosen to play the beautiful ballerina Victoria Page. But Shearer was not easily convinced. In fact it took a year of convincing because Shearer deemed films a lesser art form. She finally acquiesed and filming began in 1947 at Pinewood Studios, on location in Monte Carlo and various other locales. The film had the added task of trying to make London's Covent Garden look beautiful and vibrant when things were still very bleak and war rationing was still in effect. The shoot itself was grueling.

Wednesday 09 July 1947

Early to bed and early to rise - 5;30 am. to Pinewood Studios for 8am - 8:30 class. the earliest class on record! I was most pleased that massine recognized me and asked "How is your child?". "Very well," I replied "dancing all day long. "Mine too", said Massine. watch 3 scenes 'shot'. One took ten retakes - a rather difficult piece including Tcherina, Shearer, Joan Harris, Massine and Helpman. Moira Shearer is the nicest little thing I've seen since Baronava. Tcherina is beautiful and has good turns. Helpman is amusing. The word for his type of character is, I believe, in theatre terms, 'camp'. One sees him either very smartly dressed or ragged and rolling with jokes but I must say, always quite a good chap. Massine looks tired. it is rather a shock to find him an old man, but still a great character. If Shearer is used well she should develop into a 'Big Star'.

The film, based on a Hans Christina Andersen fairytale, is the story of a ballerina forced to choose between love of a man and love of her art. Unsatisfied with one or the other, she kills herself to break the spell of the shoes. Audiences were also unsatisfied with the films tragic and gory ending, but as has been pointed out it was really a lot less demonic than the original fairytale where the woman's feet are cut off and for the rest of her life she walks on wooden feet as the shoes dance on. In the film both dancer and dance shoes are laid to rest, making the focus not only the obsessive quality of artistic passion, but the ways that this obsession can alter and ultimately destroy a person's life. Unlike the original story, Victoria Page is ultimately unable to divide herself. It is the reality of many dancers caught in the balance between the intense dedication needed to succeed as a dancer and the struggle to maintain a personal life.

The most striking and most talked about portion of the film is the seventeen minute ballet sequence. It was unprecedented at the time and served as an inspiration for ballet sequences in An American in Paris and Singin' in the Rain. Unlike past musical numbers in Hollywood set up in a more theatrical space where the camera tends to sit back and relaxes like a viewer in a theatre, The Red Shoes sequence uses every filmic tool at its disposal to make the ballet a one of a kind experience. Though there are unique elements of framing and color, the transitions and manipulations of the film in post-production are what make it so unique. It is dreamlike rather than static, hallucinatory rather than stable.

The thing that I find most striking about the ballet is the fact that it is a move toward a more subjective cinema. It transitions from the dancing shoemaker, established underneath a proscenium arch in a traditional theater to sequences meant to take place in the mind of Victoria Page and in a few instances from her first person point of view, putting a probe into the mind of a ballerina and giving the audience an idea of how dancers must create a world for themselves to effectively convey their emotions to the audience. First person camera was still a rarity, the only example I can think of a brief sequence from the POV of Pip in David Lean's Great Expectations (1946). The shoes take over Page's body and she dances through many foreign landscapes, Shearer's soaring form superimposed on a series of matte paintings that clearly were not present on the stage. At certain points the film speed itself is slowed down to make the dancers seem like they are floating.

The sequence also makes use of the Soviet Montage style of editing, juxtaposing dancers with flowers, birds and clouds. Through a series of cross dissolves, dancers are shown to be delicate beings in a heightened state of beauty that surpasses human existence.

The other wonderful thing about being able to see this film at the BFI, other than the newly restored film itself, was the fact that Scorsese lent items from his personal collection for display at the South Bank Center. Included in the display were the original red shoes, signed by Shearer, (and as I remember) Anton Walbrook and Marius Goring, as well as original art sketches, letters, and a script from the early stages of development when Alexander Korda was still tied to the project. Unfortunately I did not have a camera with me so the details are a bit foggy, but there was a beautiful letter between Powell and Pressburger during their later years of life that expressed a deep love and lasting affection, the deep love Martin Scorsese has for the film, a deep love that I share.