Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Great Space Race: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes From a Different Perspective

There's still something about a darkened theater. It's a space that presents a strange mix, a sensational sense of togetherness and isolation at the same time.  While you never really forget other audience members are there (they laugh, they cry, some damn teenager gets caught on their date's lip ring) these multiplex multitudes are meant to be ignored as the lights dim. But should they be?


The idea of the 4th wall may be a theatrical concept, but it can also be applied to film. While both screen and stage tend to have a defined space, neither are self contained, and direct address is discouraged in both. The term may only be applicable to the world onscreen, but this recognition of the audience really happens all the time and is generally just as unsettling. The person coughing in the second row can completely ruin what should be a dramatic pause. A group of latecomers knock into your knees, excuse me, pardon me, blocking the screen in the process. Both distractions can alter the reception of a film, and one's understanding of it. There are limits to this, of course, but it's an interesting aspect of the process to consider, and one that has been written about rather extensively (see Rick Altman).

While the extent is debatable, I can attest to ways the screening space can change the film.

I've attended Screen on the Green in Washington, DC once every summer for the past four years. The event is an annual tradition known for its top notch lineup as well as the one minute HBO dance party that takes place before every screening. It's possibly the only show in town where the hundreds of people assembled on the mall will stand up and dance to the HBO intro before settling in for a classic cartoon and the advertised show.

Over the years I've watched the last five minutes of The Apartment walking backwards along the mall, trying to see it to the end while simultaneously hurrying to catch the last metro. My second year, On The Waterfront, we came late, couldn't get seats terribly close, and ended up watching the entire film with a sound delay. It's a lot less fun than it looks in Singin' in the Rain. The third time wasn't a charm with Goldfinger as they had to cut off the film midway through to evacuate during a horrendous thunderstorm. Dodging bolts of lighting actually seemed appropriate, though I prefer my terror remain up on the screen with head slicing top hats.

Even without these added obstacles sitting on beach blankets sandwiched between the Smithsonian Museums, the Capitol, and the Washington Monument adds an extra thrill to any film.

This year I came for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, a fun and frothy classic perfect for a summer evening.


While nothing as disruptive occurred this time around, the event is set up in such a way that those around you become more of an attraction than they usually would. The drama unfolding right before my eyes was a blonde other than Marilyn Monroe scanning the sidelines for her boyfriend. I had one eye on the choreography on screen, the other on the graceful way the girl would extend her hands high into the air and wave repeatedly to direct him to their spot. If it were a darkened theater I may have noticed the added laugh on the line about writing your senator or the occasional wolf whistle, but I wouldn't have noticed her high high heels with candy cane stripped ties.

As media becomes more readily disseminated and more easily condensed it is important to remember not just Screen on the Green or even the ipod screen, but the city bus or the rural barn in which the ipod is played. With new audiences for classic films come new spaces in which they can be viewed.

To infinity and beyond.

Friday, August 12, 2011

My Life as a Greer Garsonologist (Extra! Extra! Read All About It!)

By Yours Truly (Not Johnny Dollar)

Some exciting news for this little blog o'mine that its ramshackle authoress is in Issue 73 of Bright Lights Film Journal. It is a long term goal of mine to keep up with and diversify my writing, and this is the first time I've submitted a film piece to any publication, online or otherwise, so I'm thrilled that Gary Morris and the minds behind BL liked it and accepted it. I'm also more excited than I should be to be somewhere in the coding of MUBI.

Greer Garson is one of my favorite actresses, and her career trajectory has always fascinated me. More than almost any other star (save the likes of Marilyn Monroe) she became trapped in a certain persona that she couldn't break from. This not only shaped her legacy, it also marked an important shift in the American conscience that's worth documenting. And thus the above essay was born.

If you actually take the time to read it, bless you. Either way just wanted to share.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Link Love #2 (Plus Liebster Awards and Additional Newsbits)

Awards

The wunderbar Marsha of A Person in the Dark has bestowed a Liebster upon Movie Montage. Liebster is supposedly German for "beloved," and it is now my turn to pass the torch along to several worthwhile blogs of my own choosing.


LA. La Land: Fame, Fortune, and Forensics: Aside from being a fellow Meredith this girl knows her stuff. Really. Her posts are deeper than the Mariana trench and a lot more fun to look through.
Film Studies For Free: Catherine Grant's page is an invaluable resource for film news, new journal publications, and listings of film essays and articles available online. It's overwhelming but in a good way.
Happy Thoughts, Darling: The word liebchen immediately brought MC's site to mind. Well written and a nice blog to sit down and drink a cup of tea with.
The Pneumatic Rolling-Sphere Carrier Delusion: To use his own words Joe describes his blog as "rambling observations on books, history, movies, transit, obsolete technology, baseball, and anything else that crosses my mind." Every time I click on his page it's the equivalent of stepping into an ephemera shop. Also fun for those who love all things San Francisco.
Who Can Turn The World Off With Her Smile?: Laura's blog is still new to me but I'm pretty assured in calling her the Eve Arden of the classic blogging world. Her page is a lot of fun to read and I feel like if I ever met her on the street she could toss back a one liner faster than Eleanor Powell could machine gun tap.

Posts

  • The Lady Eve's REEL LIFE was able to interview Edna May Wonacott, the child actress who played Ann Newton in Shadow of A Doubt. Read her great post about Edna here
  • The Millie truly has a unique way of expressing herself (I still think "stupendously deranged" is a word pairing of divine inspiration) so please enjoy Six Greatest Upbeat, Cheerful Bobby Darin Songs About Violent Death
  • The Movie Snob's latest Director's Spotlight on Francis Ford Coppola outlines why he's the gift that keeps on giving
  • I love Kate of Scathingly Brilliant's love of astronomy. You can read all of her 'star stuff' posts here

Also of Interest

  • While I imagine most of you have perused it by now TCM always does an incredible job with its graphics, and I encourage one and all to look through each and every page of their Summer Under the Stars website
  • Nancy Wake, WWII heroine dubbed the "White Mouse" by her Nazi enemies, has died at 98. Learn more about her amazing life (thanks for the link, Kendra)
  • Roger Ebert posted a link to the Sound on Sight article The "Gray Ones" Fade To Black yesterday, a piece about the lack of shared cultural knowledge many young people today seem to possess, and I've been contemplating whether or not to comment. While this is true I think that we all need to start speaking loud and clear 'We are here! We are here!' Dr. Seuss style because there's clearly a flourishing classic film community on the Internet with a lot of young energy behind it, and I think it's time people recognized our existence instead of using those darned kids with their Bieber fever as a well worn punching bag.

Just For Fun

  • A 'Did You Know' Fact. I haven't watched the television show The Munsters in many years, but only just found out that Grandmama, played by Blossom Rock, is Jeanette MacDonald's older sister. Who knew!

Also a note that this blog isn't going anywhere but the girl behind it is. In the next few days I'll be making the move clear across the country to Southern California, and will hopefully be able to stay forever and ever and ever. The area should prove an amazing resource for this blog, so stay tuned.

Friday, August 5, 2011

What Lucille Ball and Coffee Creamer Have in Common

Sometimes my mother calls me Lucille. It’s not because she has forgotten my name (though I was often confused with the family dog…), rather this is more a playful reference used when I’ve done something silly. And by silly I mean something Lucy Ricardo might do. I’ve loved I Love Lucy since childhood, and it’s still my favorite show. It is not only a link to television’s past but to my own.

Only later would I learn the many sides of Ball. Her days as a platinum blonde chorus girl at RKO (check out Astaire/Rogers films Top Hat and Roberta for some early cameos, among others) and eventual promotion to full red-headed Technicolor glory in films like Du Barry Was a Lady, which only Ball and Virginia O’Brien make bearable. Offscreen reading about her love affair with Desi Arnaz can only lead to ugly crying and the over consumption of thin mints.

What fascinates me the most is how she was always half and half. Half out of this world gorgeous movie star, half goober. Her beautiful eyes would brighten as a deformed putty nose threatened to light her face on fire. Lucy Ricardo often gravitated towards the silly and the slapstick, and this is what Ball remains best known for. But part of the fun is the rare moments when that other side shines through.

The only way I can imagine celebrating her centennial in public memory is to post what I would probably deem my favorite scene from I Love Lucy. It’s part of an episode that appropriately takes place during the Hollywood season, when Lucy gets to do a dance number with Van Johnson. It has always stuck out to me as one of the few moments when Lucy completely drops her schtick. The number begins situation normal (i.e. humorous) and slowly transitions into Lucille Ball, effortless screen queen. The true beauty is that Ball made both seem effortless. The result is magical.



I only just discovered that there is a wonderful blogathon going on at True Classics to celebrate her August 6th birthday (and I have now joined in the fun!), so be sure to check out the posts here.