Friday, October 16, 2009

Take Hitler and stick him on the funny page...

Exciting things happened this week! After months of resistance, I finally came over to the dark side and joined Twitter. If you scroll down a bit, you'll find my inane ramblings (okay; you'll find my other, shorter inane ramblings) in the sidebar.

...But that's not the exciting thing (even I'm not that Internet-obsessed). The exciting thing is that I'm now officially a Radio/TV/Film major. To celebrate my finally getting off my arse and filling out paperwork, I'm going to get off my arse (though not literally, as I type faster when seated) and write a blog post. 'Bout time.

I loved His Girl Friday the first time that I saw it, but after watching it in class earlier this semester, I found that I have a whole new appreciation for the film since I've also seen its predecessor, The Front Page. The two are nearly identical in places, save for the one small detail of Hildy Johnson's gender. Howard Hawks took quite a risk there, and I have to say it paid off; for once I prefer the remake to the original.

His Girl Friday is known, of course, for it's fast-paced and witty dialogue, which even has the characters talking over each other at times, presenting realistic exchanges that are quite unlike most classical Hollywood films. To balance the speed of the action, Hawks shot the film at a slower pace, using long takes wherever possible to keep the audience from getting overwhelmed. However, he also wasn't afraid to use montage at key points to emphasize, for example, the frenetic mood of the press room after escaped inmate Earl was found hiding in a roll-top desk almost literally under the reporters' noses. The montage editing was also used to quickly recap the action, as each of the reporters gave their own small -- and sometimes false or contradictory -- piece of the story. The varied camerawork keeps the film from looking too much like a staged play, despite the fact that much of it takes place in only one room.

The clever script included a few inside jokes. For example, Ralph Bellemy's character was described as looking like Ralph Bellemy -- personally, I couldn't see any resemblence whatsoever -- and the last man who said he had Cary Grant's character licked was called Archie Leach, which happens to be Grant's real name. Many of the film's jokes had a much darker tone, however, including minor character Molly's suicide attempt being played for laughs. Surprisingly edgy, this movie is a shining example of a black comedy.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Round up the usual suspects...'s time for another meme! This one comes courtesy of Amanda at A Noodle In A Haystack.

1. What is your all-time favorite Clark Gable movie?
I've seen woefully few, but for now I'm going to have to go with It Happened One Night. It was one of the first classic films I owned on DVD, which is fortunate because it's one of those movies I never get tired of rewatching.

2. Do you like Joan Crawford best as a comedienne or a drama-queen?
I don't recall having seen any of her comedic roles, so I have to go with drama by default. What a dull answer.

3. In your opinion, should Ginger Rogers have made more musicals post-Fred Astaire?
I'm a bit conflicted. On the one hand, it's possible she would have gotten more recognition for her own dancing abilities if she hadn't been in Fred's shadow. On the other hand, I absolutely loved her later dramatic performances, so I wouldn't want her to be pigeonholed into just doing musicals.

4. I promise not to cause you bodily (or any other serious) harm if you don't agree with me on this one. So please be honest: do you like Elizabeth Taylor? Hm?
For the longest time all I knew about Elizabeth Taylor was that she'd had a lot of husbands and had appeared as Helena on General Hospital (don't judge me; the Cassadines were awesome). Then I happened to stumble upon her in some movie I can't even remember the title of anymore, and vaguely recall being pleasantly surprised. Of course that's not nearly enough to say that I do like her, but I think I might if I saw more of her performances.

5. Who is your favorite offscreen Hollywood couple?
Has to be Bogie and Bacall. Although, that's less about them and more about a certain scene in Robert Olen Butler's Hell (an absolutely hilarious read, by the way).

6. How about onscreen Hollywood couple?
Opposite problem: I'm having a hard time just picking one. I think I'll have to go with Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant, because although they only did two films together, I thought their chemistry was off the charts.

7. Favorite Jean Arthur movie?
I loved her as smart, slightly jaded Clarissa Saunders in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

8. What was the first Gregory Peck movie you saw?
I believe it was The Scarlet and the Black in my 8th grade Religion class. Of course, this was long before I knew who Gregory Peck was and why I should pay attention to him; actually, I probably saw To Kill A Mockingbird the same year.

9. What film made you fall in love with Alfred Hitchcock? (And for those of you that say, "I don't like Hitchcock" -- what is wrong with you?!)
It was definitely Notorious for me. I just loved the plot, and of course the performances.

10. What is your favorite book-to-movie adaption?
I can't really answer this, because I still tend to avoid movies based on books I already love. Granted, now that I'm learning about how films are made and why they're necessarily different from literature, I'm definitely letting go of a lot of my old anti-adaptation biases, but I'm still not seeking them out either.

11. Do you prefer Shirley Temple as a little girl or as a teenager?
To be honest... neither. *ducks*

12. Favorite character actor?
Thelma Ritter, definitely.

13. Favorite Barbara Stanwyck role?
This might be influenced by the fact that I've just seen it again, but I'll go with her peformance as femme fatale Phyllis Dietrichson Double Indemnity.

14. Who is your favorite of Cary Grant's leading ladies?
I feel like I've already answered this above, so I'll change course and go with Irene Dunne. They just play off each other incredibly well, in both comedic and dramatic roles.

15. Bette Davis or Joan Crawford?
Finally, an easy question!

16. What actors and/or actresses do you think are underrated?
Hmm. I might have to get back to you on that one.

17. What actors and/or actresses do you think are overrated?
That's a lot easier. Sorry, Marlon Brando, but I'm going to have to agree with Lolita on that one.

18. Do you watch movies made pre-1980 exclusively, or do you spice up your viewing-fare with newer films?
There are some 80's and 90's and even 00's films (Heathers, Reality Bites, Serenity) that still hold a special place in my heart and on my DVD shelf. I'll occasionally watch new-ish (by which I mean, "released during my lifetime") flicks of my own volition, but more often than not it's peer pressure.

19. Is there an actor/actress who you have seen in a film and immediately loved? If so, who?
Bette Davis. I've told this story before, but last year on what would have been her 100th birthday I sat down to a marathon of her films at 10a.m., and was absolutely transfixed until I forced myself to go to bed around 4 the next morning.

20. Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire?
Fred Astaire. Sorry, Gene.

21. Favorite Ginger Rogers drama?
It's hard to pick, but I loved Stage Door.

22. If you wrote a screenplay, who would be in your dream cast and what roles would they play? (Mixing actors and actresses from different generations is allowed: any person from any point in their career.)
This is a particularly hard question for me, because I'm taking a screenwriting class this semester and quickly discovering that it is not my format. But I'm on a bit of a House kick thanks to some friends, and I'd kind of like to see Bette Davis playing the good girl up against Hugh Laurie.

23. Favorite actress?
Bette Davis

25. Favorite actor?
Claude Rains

26. And now, the last question. What is your favorite movie from each of these genres:
Drama: You need to ask?
Romance: Casablanca
Musical: Top Hat
Comedy: The Philadelphia Story
Western: Don't watch them.
Hitchcock (he has a genre all to himself): Notorious

Friday, October 9, 2009

I detest cheap sentiment...

...but I have to take a moment to stop and point out that this blog started a year ago today. That's about ten months longer than I expected it to last, to be honest, but what started as a class project has given me the outlet it turns out I really needed to explore my newfound interest in classic film.

And of course, I wouldn't have stuck with it (even as sporadically as I have) if it hadn't been for all of you awesome people out there, leaving me comments and maintaining blogs much wittier and better-informed than my own. Thank you all for the support you've given me over the past year; I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship. ♥

Before there were blogs, Bette Davis had to use paper! *gasp*

Friday, October 2, 2009

Audiences don't know somebody sits down and writes a picture. They think the actors make it up as they go along...

An actual post, about an actual movie, in this blog? Quelle suprise! Actually, I'm supposed to be keeping "film journals" for two of my classes this semester, which works out extremely well for me seeing as how I already have one.

The first film I watched in The Movie Industry this semester was Billy Wilder's Sunset Blvd. This 1950 noirish drama stars the fabulous Gloria Swanson, herself a silent film star who successfully negotiated the transition to sound, as an aging actress who wasn't nearly so lucky. Norma Desmond has the overbearing presence of a great star, which belies her fragile and childlike nature. She relies on her ex-husband-turned-butler Max and, later, the hapless writer Joe Gillis to perpetuate the illusion of her relevence in a culture that's long since forgotten her.

The setting largely seems to reflect Norma's character. Her house is decrepit and filled with the badly-preserved remnants of her glory days, including numerous photos of herself in her prime -- as Gillis says, "that's all she wanted to see." My professor pointed out a resemblence between Norma's sprawling old mansion and that of Miss Havisham, and although it's been years since I've read Great Expectations I found myself coming back to that analogy all throughout the film. Norma's old photos and silent film reels evoked the same feelings I got from Miss Havisham's stopped clocks; namely, the sense of a character trying desperately (even pathetically) to literally suspend time.

Norma's insistence on living in the past seems to be infective. Max and Gillis willingly cut themselves off from the outside world, although Gillis eventually rebels, and even Cecil B. DeMille is drawn into protecting Norma from learning that time has moved on without her. They become Norma's supporting cast as she stars in her own daily melodrama; when Gillis begins to deviate from the "script," she finally loses the plot entirely.

When Norma is arrested for Gillis' murder at the end, ever-loyal Max makes sure that she gets her audience one last time. At this, I'm left to wonder if anything in Norma's life really will change. After all, has her spacious, hollow mansion with the big iron bars on the door ever been anything but a prison to which she willingly sentenced herself? As the camera zooms in for the last time on Norma's gastly face, I get the sense that she will go on being a star in her own mind regardless of what happens to her.