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.