Thursday, December 31, 2009

Think of the problems it would solve -- unemployment, poverty, standing in line for theater tickets...

Many films, stories, and urban legends have been based on the 1920s Leopold and Loeb case, in which two young men decided to murder someone just to see what it would be like. Alfred Hitchcock's take on the tale, Rope, is notable for two reasons: One, it's Alfred Hitchcock, and that alone is enough to warrant a significant amount of attention. Two, he shot the entire film as one continuous take, an experiment that, while not entirely successful, is a very interesting attempt.

In actuality, the film is a series of takes about six minutes long, because at the time the film was shot that was the longest take possible. Hitchcock gets around this by using a handheld camera that follows the characters around; every six minutes or so, it just happens to come up against the back of someone's jacket or a chair or something else that's solid, giving him the time to change reels while still making the cuts completely invisible.

One very interesting shot that results from this method is that an important conversation takes place entirely offscreen. Brandon and Phillip have killed a classmate of theirs, David, and hidden his body in a large trunk in their living room, which they cover in a tablecloth and use to serve dinner at a party to which they've invited David's parents, his girlfriend, and their old schoolteacher.

Naturally, everyone is concerned when David doesn't make an appearance, but the party goes on without him (at least, as far as the other guests are aware). After they have effectively eaten off of the young man's makeshift coffin, everyone moves over to a large seating area, but the camera remains on the trunk. We hear the party guests discuss once again David's possible whereabouts, while watching the maid, Mrs. Wilson, clear dishes off of the trunk in which we know David's body is hidden; among the guests, only Jimmy Stewart, as the schoolteacher who gave his young students the (purely theoretical) idea to kill in the first place, is visible at the edge of the frame. This juxtaposition of audio and visual information creates the very tension that gave the Master Of Suspense his nickname.

The philosophical arguments presented in the film are compelling enough to make up for the lack of variation in camera work. The teacher, Rupert, postulates that a select group of superior human beings should have the right to kill those who are inferior. His reasoning is cold and academic; it is Brandon and Phillip who decide, arrogantly, that they fall into that "superior" category, and moreover, that Phillip is decidedly inferior. Once he sees how his rationale would be applied out in the real world, Rupert is appropriately horrified -- and yet, still coldly logical enough to deduce that his former students were the ones behind their classmate's disappearance.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

I freak out in your dream, I freak out in my dream...

There is one subject that filmmakers seem to love making films about. That subject is making films. Tom DiCillo's 1995 indie flick Living In Oblivion portrays the trials and tribulations of Nick Reve, the over-stressed director of an indie flick. Self-referential in a way that reminds me of Frederico Fellini's (more on that one later), Living In Oblivion takes the movie-about-a-movie genre in an interesting direction.

The story is told almost entirely through dream sequences, as various members of the cast and crew have nightmares about what can go very wrong in the making of a no-budget movie. I thought this was a very effective way of examining the hardships faced by independent filmmakers; it wouldn't be believable for everything possible to go wrong during the filming of a single movie, but it's absolutely believable that the people with the most to lose would worry to that extent. Thus, in 90 minutes DiCillo manages to demonstrate how many things can plague a set without beating the audience over the head with Murphy's Law.

One thing I really liked was that in the first dream sequence, the film opens up in black and white, then switches to color whenever we are shown a scene that's being filmed. Normally, I see movies or TV shows shot in color for the "real life" sequences and then switch to black and white to represent the camera's point of view. I found this reversal extremely interesting, as it seems to suggest that what's on camera is more important (more vibrant, and thus more colorful) than what's happening behind the scenes. Or I could be reading too much into it, and it could simply be a way to clue the audience in at the beginning to the fact that it's a dream sequence. Either way, I wish that this had been carried out throughout the film.

Interesting, the only part of the movie that's not a dream sequence is when the characters a filming a scene from their movie that is. Wildly over the top and exactly the kind of dream sequence produced in most stereotypical low-budget films, I kept waiting for the reveal that what we were watching took place only in someone's subconcious. However, just when I thought the movie had gotten predictable it threw a curveball at me, and ended with the most obviously unrealistic scenes as the ones that actually took place. Well played.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Some people are bullfighters, some people are politicians...

The 1960s were a time of change, and the film industry was no exception. The conventions of classic Hollywood began to lose their appeal as movies found a younger audience that was more interested in experimentation. The first film schools were springing up, giving rise to a new generation of filmmakers and critics who knew not just what the rules were, but why and how to break them. Additionally, more and more films were internationally produced. Blow-Up was one of the first such pictures.

The basic plot, such as it is, sounds like a conventional mystery: A photographer discovers something odd in one of his pictures, and repeatedly blows up the negative until he uncovers a corpse in the photo and realizes that he has witnessed a murder. However, auteur Michaelangelo Antonioni -- who inspired the phenomenon known as "Antoniennui" for his supposed ability to bore audiences to death -- turns this concept into an open-ended question about the nature of reality.

The film follows Thomas, a photographer who works with models, a group he clearly disdains, in order to fund his more artistic pursuits. He is involved with one woman, although in what capacity remains deliberately unclear ("She isn't my wife, really, we just have some kids... no, no kids, not even kids."), but flirts with and seduces others, including the woman he later comes to believe attempted to have her husband killed. The narrative, until he discovers the body in the photo, seems to drift a bit aimlessly; this is perhaps what the term "Antoniennui" is referring to, although I thought the beautifully-shot film was anything but boring, including several sequences that didn't seem to go anywhere. This apparent lack of direction is very purposefully in keeping with modernist themes; not every loose end needs to be tied, or rather, most don't.

Of course, I can't end this post without talking about the mimes that bookend the film. In the opening sequence they are a loud and active contrast to the quiet, passive world the film presents us with; at the end, their game of tennis, and particularly the sound of tennis as Thomas throws the imaginary ball, suggests that truth is subjective; if you believe in something, then it's true even if it isn't necessarily factual. This could be seen as a representation of the hallucinogenics that were popular among the counter-culture at that time, stating that what you see is your reality.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

I watched it get dark outside, and didn't even turn on the light...

1944's Double Indemnity is considered one of the first true films noir, if not the very first. It was certainly a turning point in many ways -- as the first James M. Cain novel to be approved by the Hays Office for adaptation, it set a precedent for darker, racier material than anything that had been seen since the pre-Code era.* Like Casablanca before it, Double Indemnity is largely a product of World War II.

The darkness and shadows that help define the film are largely the result of wartime restrictions, but the absence of available lighting was artfully turned into an opportunity to further explore the bleak tone of the narrative. The famous effect of venetian blinds casting shadows across the characters' faces suggests entrapment as they find themselves living in fear of having their crime discovered. The frosted glass in the office doors makes each character's shadow often the first and last part of them that the audience sees. It's even worked into the dialogue, as in the quote I used for the title of this post. The sense of darkness that pervades the film is more than just aesthetic; it's psychological, exposing the audience to the sense of hopelessness and claustrophobia that Phyllis and Walter feel in the aftermath of murdering Phyllis' husband.

The war had other effects on Double Indemnity's production as well. To avoid government censorship from the Office of War Information, the screenplay was set in July 1938, so it was not portraying the home front in a time of war. However, this created its own problems, as many props needed to make the set look realistically pre-war were unavailable at the time of filming due to rationing. This issue was most pressing in the scenes when Walter and Phyllis meet at the grocery store. To prevent cast and crew from making off with the canned goods, undercover federal agents patrolled the set, heightening the sense of paranoia already inherent in the movie's script.

Gender and sexuality are particularly strong themes throughout the film. Phyllis Dietrichson, ever the femme fatale, is introduced from a low angle, visually giving her power over Walter Neff right from their first meeting. The dialogue involving her anklet was created specifically to get their sexual tension past the censors; the result is a conversation laced with metaphor and innuendo, the first of several throughout the film. However, Phyllis' ownership of her sexuality does not come without a price. Although both main characters have dark sides, the woman is portrayed as more evil than the man, a common theme in hard-boiled stories such as this. In the end, both characters paid for their crimes with their lives as required by the Code, but Phyllis is the first to die, and Walter's shooting her can be seen as the first step in his redemption.

*Further information on Double Indemnity and its long struggle to gain approval from the Hays Office can be found in my professor's textbook, Blackout: World War II And The Origins Of Film Noir by Sheri Chinen Biesen

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Survivors Of The Blacklist, part 2

I know I said I'd have this up yesterday, but I was sidelined by a fever and all the usual pleasantness that comes with it. If you missed the first half of this post, it's over this way.

There was also a portion of the discussion set aside for questions from the audience. Before you ask, no, I didn't contribute anything -- for one thing, I was in the back of a dark corner to the side of the main theater seating with no chance of being seen, and for another, I would have been much too nervous anyway! However, I did learn a lot from the questions that were asked.

One person asked about blacklisting in the TV industry. Joe Gilford pointed out that his parents were both blacklisted from television, as were a great many others, and that TV blacklisting went on longer and was possibly even nastier than its counterpart in the film industry. Victor Navasky theorized that because television was in its infancy at this time, the effects of the blacklist and the paranoia about what could and could not be said might even be at the root of current standards of decency with regards to what can't be said or shown on TV.

Someone else asked about the aftereffects of the blacklist and whether it still, in a sense, exists today, pointing out that Elia Kazan had been given an honorary Oscar for his body of work, while John Garfield has received no such recognition. In response, Lee Grant read a moving statement from John Garfield's daughter Julie, who had originally intended to be included in the panel but was unable to make it. Julie Garfield wrote about how her father's blacklisting tore apart their lives -- CBS cancelled a deal he'd had with them, ending his career; their home phone lines were tapped; and finally, the FBI tried to make him sign an affidavit accusing his own wife of Communist ties. The harassment ended only when Garfield died of a heart attack at age 39.

The next question took the evening in an unexpected direction. The widow of Budd Schulberg was in the audience, and stood up to defend her late husband's decision to voluntarily name names before HUAC. She asked the panel to consider his rationale, as he had explained it to her, which was that he had been kicked out of the Communist party for wanting to be a writer first and a political activist second; he had also become extremely distressed at the treatment of writers in Stalin's Russia, and, she said, supported the blacklist as a means of fighting what he called the "death list" in the Soviet Union. She was obviously very emotional and seemed to have a hard time making her point, understandably as she only lost her husband a few months ago, but I have to admit that at first I thought her remarks were inappropriate, given that they were directed towards people who had to live with the consequences of the decision that her husband and so many others made to cooperate with HUAC. However, this turned out to be one of the most thought-provoking moments in a night that was riddled with them.

It wasn't the panel's answers to her question that intrigued me; they seemed to be unanimous in their disagreement, as would be expected. However, Lee Grant stopped to commend the woman for having the courage to speak her piece in a room full of people who likely held the opposite point of view, and I found that very insightful. It's so tempting, when looking at any event in history, to treat it like a classical Hollywood film; there's black and there's white, there are good guys and bad guys, and everything's wrapped up neatly at the end. Obviously nothing in real life happens this way. Yes, perhaps it's possible to look back and say who did the right thing and who did not, but isn't investigating why people made the choices they did just as important as recalling what they were? There are no heroes and villains; there are only human people reacting to the circumstances in which they find themselves, and I think those of us who have only textbooks to teach us about these pieces of history can very quickly lose sight of that fact.

I'm finishing this post about two days after I started it, and it's not officially Thanksgiving anymore. However, I'd still like to end on a note of gratitude, because as a student I feel incredibly privileged to have been able to attend this event. The opportunity to hear such a momentous event, not only in film history but in American history, discussed openly by people who lived it is a rare and very valuable one. I learned a great deal, and I sincerely appreciate the efforts put in by everyone responsible for making this event happen.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Survivors Of The Blacklist, part 1

Note: I had to cut this post into two parts, due to the sheer size of it. I think this subject warrants the length; I'll have the second half up tomorrow.

I find it appropriate that I'm writing this post an hour into Thanksgiving. Of all the things I'm grateful for this year, the most recent is the opportunity I had Tuesday night to attend Survivors Of The Blacklist: A Panel Discussion at the Theater at St. Clement's. Thanks to Kate Gabrielle, without whom I would never have known about this event, and to my Wednesday professors, who either cancelled class or were understanding about the high absence rates typical of Turkey Day Eve, I was able to make the trek to New York City and take advantage of this rare (and free!) opportunity.

The panel was presented by Kurt Peterson and Edmund Gaynes along with the Peccadillo Theater Company, as a tie-in to their current production, Zero Hour, a play about Zero Mostel's struggles with the blacklist and the House Un-American Activities Committee. After opening remarks by Congressman Jerrold Nadler, we were treated to a preview of this play, with TCM's Robert Osborne playing the voice-over role of the HUAC interrogator as playwright and actor Jim Brochu took the stage alone as Zero in a flashback scene in which Zero recalls his testimony, his refusal to name names, and the lives of friends that were destroyed by the blacklist. It was a very powerful scene, nonetheless infused with Zero's sense of comedic wit, and I would enthusiastically recommend anyone in the New York area to see the play if you can.

That led into the main event, which of course was the discussion. Robert Osborne was the moderator, and the panel consisted of Cliff Carpenter, actor; Jean Rouverol, actor and author of a book about the blacklist years; Victor Navasky, publisher, journalist, and author of a book about the blacklist; Lee Grant, actor and director; Jules Feiffer, playwright and cartoonist; Christopher Trumbo, writer and son of Dalton Trumbo; Kate Lardner, author and daughter of Ring Lardner, Jr.; and Joe Gilford, playwright and son of Jack Gilford and Madeline Lee.

One of the first questions posed by Robert Osborne was why the men who ran the studios weren't blacklisted; it was only the "talent," the actors, directors, and writers who were targeted, rather than the moguls who employed them. The simplest response that the panel gave was that those men weren't members of the Communist party. Jack Warner and others were apparently called to testify, but were quickly cleared of any possible connections. Later, when 19 people including the group who came to be known as the Unfriendly 10, or Hollywood 10, were subpoenaed, the studio higher-ups met at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel and announced a new policy wherein no one who had ever been connected with the Communist party would be employed by the studios. Thus, the blacklist was born. The reason that Hollywood was specifically targeted by HUAC was because movies were such a large part of American culture, and therefore a means of swaying the American public opinion.

Robert Osborne also asked how the blacklist affected the children of the writers and actors who were suddenly ostracized. Joe Gilford brought up how proud he was of his parents for fighting what they saw as an unconstitutional act by the government; he also said that he'd envied kids who had "normal" lives, but also never really knew an alternative to a childhood under the blacklist. Because Ring Lardner and Dalton Trumbo went to jail, Kate Lardner and Christopher Trumbo's lives were more disrupted by the blacklist; both mentioned moving around as a result. Finances were often a struggle for all of them, as their parents were obviously unable to work.

Cliff Carpenter was asked specifically how the blacklist affected him, and he responded with a deadpan "Not pleasantly." This drew laughter from the audience, but the rest of his answer was a very emotional recounting of his experiences. He said that at the time, CBS had two lawyers who were in charge of blacklisting employees who had been accused of having connections to Communism. He went to them in an effort to stand up for the Bill of Rights, insisting that he had never knowingly belonged to any organization that advocated the violent overthrow of the government but that the probes being conducted by the government were unconstitutional; he was told that this was not the answer they had wanted to hear, and sent home to give the matter some thought. Later, he was told that the only way he could have his own name removed from the blacklist would be to provide the names of other people to go on it. His refusal to do so cost him his career, yet even in hindsight Carpenter remained adamant that it was the only choice he could make, and that he would do it all over again if he had to.

Jean Rouveral said that she, too, would make the same choices over again. Her husband, Hugo Butler, was more targeted by HUAC than she was, and the couple left the country for about 15 years, which the spent primarily in Mexico. They were in good company; Dalton Trumbo and his family also spent time south of the border, as did other victims of the blacklist and their families. She emphasized the sense of community among the blacklistees in Mexico, a sentiment that was echoed by much of the panel, although Kate Lardner warned against casting the time in too idealistic a light. Although those who were blacklisted tried to make the best of their situations, it was still a very dark time as people struggled to support their families while being prevented from doing the work that they loved.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Poem 8

Emlen Etting was an artist and experimental filmmaker who explored film as a medium for moving art, rather than narrative structure. Born into Philadelphia's high society, he grew up between the United States and Europe, and as a young man studied in Paris under the painter André Lhote. According to a biography written by my professor, With The Rich And Mighty by Dr. Kenneth Kaleta, Etting's education and social circle allowed him access to a variety of artists in Philadelphia and elsewhere; this background strongly influenced his films, particularly his earliest film, Poem 8.

As its title suggests, Poem 8 is an attempt to visually render the language of poetry. It accomplishes this partly by emphasizing motion. The film opens with a young woman dancing in a field, who represents poetic grace and rhythm. It then travels via train tracks to the bustling city. This is the first of several times that a method of transportation comes into play; other sequences feature travel by ship or by foot.

Once the camera leaves the woman in the field, it becomes another character with hands and feet visible inside the frame. The man through whose eyes the audience looks encounters women who are more cultured than the dancer, and whose routines more closely resemble those of the women in Etting's social class. They are not ungraceful, but the lack the fluid motion of the dancer in the field. In a more abstract sequence, Etting's hands are seen crushing a globe; I took this as representing the destruction of the world at the hands of those who have financial power but not artistic vision.

At the end of the film, we return to the woman in the field. She is dancing again, but this time she appears naked under a thin sheet that clings to her as she moves. This is the part of the film that I found most interesting, because it is reminiscent of the "wet drapery" effect seen in classical Greek and Roman sculpture. The sheet billowing around the dancer as she moves cinematically captures the fluidity of poetry, while at the same time the allusion to classical art brings to mind Etting's education as an artist. The use of four different mediums (film, dance, poetry, sculpture) in one image is very telling of Etting's long and dynamic career.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Don't you be the one to burst the bubble...

It must be true that history repeats itself, or else time-travel exists outside the realm of science fiction. How else could I see a movie from half a century ago and mistake it for a biting social commentary on today's culture?

Picture this: Ditzy blonde is determined to get her name out there, not because she's done anything to make her worth knowing about, but simply because she craves fame for fame's sake. Pretty soon her name and face are everywhere, from TV shows to product endorsements. I could easily be talking about Paris Hilton, but in fact I'm thinking about Gladys Glover, the main character in George Cukor's It Should Happen To You.

Like a lot of today's reality stars, Gladys starts from scratch to promote herself. It isn't quite as easy for her, however. In a time before YouTube and MTV, Gladys has to be a bit more resourceful, spending her life savings to get a billboard in New York City's Columbus Circle painted with her name on it. Her new boyfriend, independent filmmaker Pete Shepherd, looks on with much disdain for the whole project; for the record, I'm on his side, but the film does a good job of presenting both characters' points of view.

The billboard creates buzz around Gladys' name, resulting in appearances on television. "Man and Wife," one of the first shows Gladys scores a spot on, is what initially led me to make the comparison to reality TV, though I think the similarities extend to all of them. The shows Gladys appears on are shown to be obviously staged, but audiences were just as gullible back then as they are now, apparently.

Gladys follows the typical path of more successful flash-in-the-pan celebrities. Fresh from making the rounds on TV, she begins endorsing products left and right. Advertisers spin her as the "average American girl," although she is clearly anything but. She becomes famous for being famous, in a cycle that perpetuates itself until finally she comes to realize the emptiness of it all and concludes that it's better to be known for something on one block than to be known for nothing throughout the world. One can only hope modern society will eventually come to the same realization.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I'm the only cause I'm interested in...

I feel a little bit redundant, writing out a blog entry on Casablanca. Of all the gin joints movies in all the towns in all the world, I feel like nearly everyone, even non-classic film fans, has seen this one. What can there possibly be left to say about it?

As it turns out, quite a lot. Watching it in class this semester was far from my first time seeing the film, but it was my first time thinking about it in the context of wartime Hollywood. This movie, in many ways, is a product of World War II.

In 1942, when Casablanca was made, Hollywood was feeling the effects of wartime rationing just as acutely as the rest of the country. Electricity was in particularly short supply. As blackouts and brownouts rolled throughout the region, directors had to be exceptionally creative. The tight restrictions on lighting resulted in the innovative use of darkness and shadows seen throughout the film. An example from early in the movie is when Rick takes money from the safe; he is off screen, and all the audience sees is his shadow on the wall reflecting the action. What light they did have available is used very carefully; for instance, it is often reflected in Ingrid Bergman's eyes, making them shine to play up her character as the vivacious beauty for whom both Rick and Victor Lazlo would sacrifice their freedom.

For all the material restrictions that came during the second World War, many existing creative restrictions began to ease. This was in large part due to the creation of the Office Of War Information, which strictly regulated any films that depicted either the homefront or the warfront. In conflicts between the Hays Office and the OWI, the OWI always won. Many previously censorable details -- Renaud accepts sexual favors in exchange for visas, there is rampant corruption among officials, Rick and Sam have an interracial friendship, and Rick and Ilsa admit to an affair, to name a few -- got by the Production Code because they served the war effort, which was seen as the greater good. The character of Rick himself can even be seen as allegorical to the U.S. involvement in the war, going from isolationism to interventionism once the stakes are high enough.

Although Casablanca is best remembered as a simple but well-crafted love story between three people, I find it even more compelling when looked at through the lens of history. The story of how the picture we all know and love came into existence is almost as interesting as the movie itself.

Friday, November 13, 2009

With the rich and mighty, always a little patience...

The Philadelphia Story is one of the few films I own on DVD, so I've seen it quite a few times. As with most good movies, though, every time I watch it I notice something new or interpret something differently. The intricate plot and array of interesting characters hold up well over repeating viewings. This was definitely the case when I watched it earlier this semester in The Movie Industry.

Though The Philadelphia Story is a comedy, it touches on some very serious themes. Questions about the nature of femininity are prevalent throughout the film. Tracy is a modern and independent woman; too independent, according to some of the men in her life. Her father, Seth Lord, outrageously blames her for his affair, claiming that if she had been a better daughter he wouldn't need to look elsewhere for a young woman's affection to make him feel young. He calls her a "goddess," stating that she wants nothing more than to be placed on a pedestal and worshipped. George, her fiancé, also misapprehends her this way, but unlike Seth he has no problem with Tracy's allegedly goddess-like persona. Tracy herself is more alarmed by the label; at one point she explains, "I don't want to be worshipped, I want to be loved." It seems only her ex-husband, C.K. Dexter Haven, is capable of seeing through her stand-offish persona to tell the difference between the two.

The other major theme of the movie is class differences. Most of the major characters -- that is, Tracy, her family, and Dexter -- were born into Philadelphia's high society, a subject that was of particular interest in my South Jersey college classroom. They are sharply contrasted with the nouveau-riche George as well as the working-class tabloid reporters, Mike and Liz.

My professor paid particular attention to the difference between the poor, who create art, and the rich, who patronize the artists. Mike is a writer; he works for the tabloid solely as a means of supporting itself, as he could not do with his fiction, but nevertheless he is paid to write in some form or another. Liz is a photographer. Both of these professions are inherently creative. The two characters who lack money are also portrayed as the only two who have artistic talent; the other characters contribute to the arts by funding that talent, not by producing any works themselves.

Of course, the film plays with class stereotypes as well, such as when Tracy calls Mike a "snob," as well as their drunken flirtation the night of Tracy's wedding, culminating in Mike's offer to marry her in George's place. In the end, however, everyone ends up with members of their own class: Tracy with Dexter, Seth with Margaret, Mike with Liz... and George off by himself, because the moral of the story is that nobody likes new money.

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.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

We'll always have Paris...

Remember what I said about missing Rowan internet? Yeah. That statement didn't come back to bite me or anything. Sheesh.

But I'm back at school, and this is going to be a great semester for film blogging -- I'm declaring a second major in Radio/Television/Film, with an emphasis on critical studies. My original major is Writing Arts with a concentration in Creative Writing; this results, for example, in a Wednesday schedule that looks something like watch a movie, read some poetry, watch another movie. All during class time. I love college.

However, before I get too far into the school year, I still have to finish telling you about how I spent my summer. And so, with no further ado, I present to you what was probably my other favorite place in Paris...

Voilà, la Cinémathèque Française!

La Cinémathèque is a film history museum located in Bercy, Paris. It houses artifacts stretching back to the days of the Lumière brothers and earlier, a permanent exhibit on Georges Méliès, a library, and at the time I was there, an exhibit on Jacques Tati, among other cinematic jewels. Unfortunately, photography was not permitted inside the museum, but in lieu of pictures I made sure to take notes!

The general museum takes up two floors. Among the treasures on display downstairs were original sketches of the set of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, a reproduction of the robot from Metropolis, and the head of Mrs. Bates from Psycho. A collection of costumes included a dress worn by Elizabeth Taylor in Little Women, Mae West's turban from Belle Of The 90s, jewelry that Theda Bara wore in A Girl In Every Port, and my personal pièce de résistance, the dress that Ann Baxter wore as the title character accepted the Sarah Siddons award in All About Eve.

Upstairs, there was some information about the history of la Cinémathèque itself, including several telegrams protesting the firing of its founder, Henri Langlois, a scandal that ultimately caused the temporary closure of the whole museum. The names adorning these messages include Otto Preminger, Vincente Minelli, George Cukor, Charlie Chaplin, Fritz Lang, Stanley Kubrick, and Orson Welles, among others. An honorary Oscar awarded to Langlois was also on display, as were early posters and logos for la Cinémathèque.

The Méliès exhibit, located on another floor separate from the main museum, was comprised of two rooms linked by a dark and narrow hallway befitting the mysterious air of the man himself. The first room focused mainly on his career as a magician and his love of illusion; it included the 35mm film projector he built for use at the Robert-Houdin Theater in 1896, some of his early stage costumes, and other artifacts from his time in the theater. The second room was dedicated to his directorial career. On display there were hand-tinted photographs from the late 19th century, a model of Studio A, photographs of Studio A taken before its destruction in 1945, and drafts of posters for Voyage Dans La Lune. Additionally, Voyage Dans La Lune was playing in loop on a small screen suspended from the ceiling. There was only one folding chair on the floor in front of it, but as I was perusing the exhibit several people were standing around watching. Isn't it wonderful to know that, nearly a century later, this early masterpiece can still draw a crowd?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Did I miss Christmas?

Seems like I'm always neglecting this thing, doesn't it? Forgive the reappearing/disappearing/reappearing act, guys; I've been unexpectedly without internet for much of the past month, forced to spend my spare time foraging for free wireless signals and cursing Mother Nature. You see, we've enjoyed some lovely summer storms around here lately, and one of them took out my dad's computer, my sister's computer, and the router that connects my computer to both of theirs. Fixing this has taken much longer than any of us anticipated, but thankfully I'll be back on campus by Sunday. I never thought I'd be in a position to miss Rowan's meager internet, but such is life.

In the meantime, I still need to go through all my film-related notes from Paris, but I'll tell you about a lovely surprise I had in a theater right here in Jersey. Have you seen The Time-Traveler's Wife? I went with my mom and sister last week, and to be honest I wasn't expecting all that much. I was pleasantly surprised in a couple of ways, not least of which was when a clip from this film popped up on-screen. I'll have you know I was quite proud of myself for being able to identify it immediately, although come to think of it after the number of times I've seen that movie, being able to pick it out by one scene is hardly an accomplishment.

Er, for those who haven't seen the movie yet and plan to, the above has absolutely nothing to do with any plot spoilers, but you might not want to click that link if you'd rather be surprised. Also, you might not want to read the rest of this post, which may in fact contain spoilers.

For everyone else: What did you think of the reference? I admit, after my initial "Y HELO THAR I KNOW YOU, MOVIE" buzz wore off, I had to kind of question why the filmmaker chose that particular scene of that particular movie. I mean, okay, I get it, Bette Davis is drunkenly rambling about time and the male protagonist here travels through time and neither of them feels they have enough time. But being so familiar with the film from which that one clip is taken, I can't really divorce it from its original context. On first viewing, I really didn't see a parallel between Henry and Miss Judith Traherne. She, in that clip, has just found out she's going to die; he travels back to, in a sense, relive various parts of his life over and over and over again. As much as I appreciate any opportunity to throw in a Bette Davis reference, I just wasn't sure it fit.

However, after talking to my mom about it a bit as we left the theater, it started to make a little more sense. Now, after typing up all the reasons why it originally confused me, I'm actually starting to see the connections between Henry and Judy. Henry's condition, we're told, is neurological and cannot be cured... just like Judy's. Both Henry and Judy are burdened with the knowledge of when they're going to die, and both movies involve a man keeping that knowledge from the woman he loves (and both deal somewhat with the fallout of that secrecy).

The more I think about it, the more I'm sold on the idea. Anyone want to add another $.02? Or if you have't seen The Time-Traveler's Wife, or Dark Victory, or both, then why don't you tell me about the last time you saw a classic film incorporated into a more modern work, and how you think that was handled?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Bonjour, salut, and âllo...

Hello, all! Sorry for the long absence; my internet connection in France was surprisingly spotty, my free time was unsurprisingly short, and I've been working nonstop since I've been back. That's all over now though, and I have three weeks in which to catch my breath and catch up on everything before I go back to school. I have a whole slew of movies (both old and not-so-much) to ramble about, but first I thought I'd dip my toes back into the proverbial blogging water by sharing a few film-related experiences I had in Paris.

First off, in my after-class wanderings I stumbled upon what might just be my favorite place in the whole city. The Bibliothèque due Cinéma François-Truffaut is an entire library dedicated to film history, with books in both French and English. It's located in the underground shopping mall/cultural center/métro station in Les Halles, right next door to the Forum des Images, a cinema and instructional center with thousands of archived films I unfortunately did not get the chance to peruse. I could have happily camped out here for the entire month, but as there was much else to do I settled for a quick snapshot and a single evening of browsing the stacks. (Apologies for the poor picture quality; my camera was on the wrong setting and I didn't want to make my friend stand there and take it again.)

My second great discovery came in a poster shop in Montmartre. They had stacks and stacks of classic film posters in English and French, but when I saw this French version of Bringing Up Baby I just had to have it. I limited myself to just this one purchase, but I did go back to that shop again to look for more. I would have felt kind of silly coming home from Paris with a suitcase full of English-language movie posters, but I was so, so very tempted.

That's about it for now. There's one more place that gets its own post before I go back to talking about movies, but first I'm going to go watch Notorious and catch up on my blogroll.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Crazy Eights

Since Lolita, Ginger, and Nicole were all kind enough to tag me, I thought I'd take some time out of our irregularly scheduled movie-related rambling to do this meme. I'm not sure who's left that hasn't been tagged, so I'll just be lazy and tag everyone.

8 Things I Look Forward To
1. Studying in Paris! I'll be there for all of June in a Fine Arts program, taking Contemporary French Cinema and Art & Architecture of Paris, and hopefully brushing up on my français on the side.
2. Shopping, in preparation for the aforementioned trip. My wardrobe sorely needs updating from the ripped jeans I've been bumming around campus in all year.
3. Being able to relax for the next couple of weeks, now that I'm done with finals.
4. Getting back onto a less insane sleeping pattern. I actually miss waking up before noon.
5. Seeing the Gaslight Anthem perform live again. This may or may not happen while I'm in Paris, but if it doesn't then I'll definitely catch them the next time they come back to Jersey.
6. Going back to Rowan in the fall. I miss my friends, I miss my apartment, I... even kind of miss my classes.
7. Expanding my DVD collection. Which brings me to...
8. Having a disposable income. Or even simply an income. I must remind myself how much I look forward to this, because I certainly do not look forward to returning to my summer job.

8 Things I Did Yesterday
1. Woke up.
2. Laundry. Lots of it.
3. Relived the '90s via the first two discs of Beverly Hills 90210, season 1. I still think Brenda Walsh is the most realistic fictional teenager ever invented.
4. Spent some quality time with the internet.
5. Listened to "Engines" by Snow Patrol multiple times. Set a line from that song as my Facebook status without knowing my roommate had been using it as an away message, thereby accidentally managing to convince a mutual friend that there's a conspiracy afoot.
6. Ingested more caffeine than is probably healthy in any 24-hour period.
7. Played the Sims 2 until I got annoyed with my slow laptop.
8. Tinkered with the layout on my Dreamwidth blog. Gave up tinkering and picked a premade layout as a placeholder.

8 Things I Wish I Could Do
1. Learn languages easily. I've been working on French on and off for seven years, and I'm nowhere near fluent.
2. Find a profitable way of combining writing with film history.
3. Cook. I can feed myself adequately, if I have to, but I wish I had the desire to try it more often.
4. Sit down with some of the important figures in film history and talk about what went on in their time periods from their perspectives.
5. Sit down with Joss Whedon and talk about why exactly going back to Fox seemed like a good idea, and also, can we have more Victor pretty pretty please?
6. Finish writing something without having a grade and/or the shame of losing NaNoWriMo dangled in front of me like a carrot on a stick.
7. Be a professional student.
8. Invent a weather-controlling machine.

8 Shows I Watch
1. Dollhouse... which is actually the only show I've actively been following this season, so the rest are DVDs and/or reruns on TV.
2. House
3. Family Guy
4. Supernatural
5. Firefly
6. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
7. The X-Files
8. Beverly Hills 90210
9. Scrubs
10. And of course, anything on TCM.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Now just because you got your neck washed, you think you're a gentleman...

The semester's finally over, which hopefully means I'll have a couple of weeks free to catch up on all the TCM I've been missing. I did have the chance to watch one movie in between finals, parties, presentations, and move-out last week, and naturally it was the one starring Bette Davis: Bordertown.

Of course, the film really centers on Paul Muni's character, Johnny Ramirez. After studying for five years to become a lawyer, Johnny's first real case reveals that his education just didn't match up to that of his richer opponent. He devotes himself to earning as much money as possible, and moves from L.A. to a town on the Mexican-American border, where he gets a job working for casino owner Charlie Roark. Now, Johnny didn't leave his law practice behind just to be a bartender -- he climbs the ladder all the way up to the top, becoming Charlie's partner. So our protagonist made good. The end, right?

Not even close. Charlie has somehow (and we're not explicitly told how) procured for himself a young, feisty wife who's quite interested in Johnny -- and who wouldn't be? Marie Roark actively despises her husband, though he's oblivious and Johnny just plays dumb. In fact, Ramirez tells her outright that he's more interested in money than in her, but since the plot wouldn't move very far if she respected that, Marie is just crazy enough not to care, and just crazy enough to do something about it when the opportunity presents itself:

As the film progresses, Marie slowly goes mad with guilt or paranoia, becoming ever more obsessed with the man she killed her husband for. While doing his best to ignore her, Johnny pursues a relationship with the woman who cost him his law career almost as relentlessly as Marie pursues him, although with much better results. Up to a point, at least.

It's impossible to discuss this movie without discussing the ending, so if you haven't seen it this might be your cue to turn elsewhere. For the rest of you: The film seems to be sending mixed messages about the status of Mexican-Americans. On the one hand, Johnny is presented as an intelligent and capable character; his love interests are two white American women, and his friends and employees all seem to like and respect him. On the other hand, there's, well, everything else.

To be fair, although there are incidents of racism scattered throughout the film, it feels much more like an accurate portrayal of the way these characters would act and think than an actual statement the movie is trying to make. Miss Elwell calls Johnny "Savage" because that's how she sees him; the audience is not necessarily meant to agree. Then suddenly at the end, the message is "go back to your own kind," the implication being that Johnny somehow isn't worthy of the society he's been functioning just fine in up until then? It feels like something that was tacked on to appease the general audience of the time, rather than an organic conclusion to the story. It would have felt more natural to have Johnny go back because he had an epiphany about losing sight of the people he'd originally intended to help, making the character come full circle rather than simply hit a brick wall.

Clearly the ending didn't age well at all, but I still enjoyed the movie as a whole. Bette Davis excels at bringing the crazy, and Paul Muni sizzles with every woman he shares screen time with.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

I can see what's good, tell me the rest...

My Little Chickadee is the perfect film to see Mae West playing Mae West. It's also the first film in which I've seen Mae West at all, but she was well represented throughout my childhood in icons ranging from Betty Boop to Jessica Rabbit. I'd always taken those to be caricatures -- greatly exaggerated portrayals of Mae's most famous habits. I was actually surprised at the feeling of déjà vu that I got upon seeing Mae speak those first lines from inside her carriage. I had definitely seen this somewhere before.

Of course, as close as the cartoons I grew up with came to the real thing, nobody can do Mae West like Mae West. The slinky walk, the batting eyelashes, the smokey delivery of each and every line... The actress definitely overshadowed the character, but I can't say I didn't find her fascinating to watch anyway. I tend to be drawn to larger-than-life performers, so I can easily see myself becoming a big fan of Mae.

I found it a bit funny that after the film, Robert Osbourne said Mae West had been angry because she'd been overshadowed by her co-star and co-writer, W.C. Fields. Don't get me wrong, Fields' performance was stellar (and quite a bit more dynamic than Mae's), but my eyes were on her the whole time.

Mae West's Mae West-ness aside, I really enjoyed this movie. The script was witty, although not all of the jokes hold up in the present day. Still, it was a fun film that pitted two great performers against each other. Regardless of what they thought of each other when the cameras weren't rolling, the way they shone together was timeless.

What a charmer!

Monday, April 27, 2009

How do you solve a problem like Maria?

I finally did it. After years of hearing about this movie, after being dragged to the Von Trapp tourist trap house on a family vacation, after never having had even the slightest desire to see this film, I finally broke down and watched The Sound Of Music.

This is the part where I'm supposed to renounce my prior disdain for the movie and admit I just didn't know what I was missing, isn't it? Sorry, kids, but the best I can do on that front is just to say that it wasn't as bad as I had been bracing myself for.

The main problem I had was Saint Maria. She was just too good to be true -- and this was even after I'd just watched "Practically Perfect" Mary Poppins. It wasn't Maria herself, or Julie Andrews' portrayal, that I had a problem with; what bothered me most was the way that other characters talked about her, particularly the other nuns. "How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?" Really? I hate it when characters' flaws are excused or benevolently tolerated for no reason. Even in a children's story, I think it just makes that character feel flat.

The story itself felt like it should have been two different movies. First there's a would-be nun acting as governess to a widower's children; she gains the children's trust and falls in love with her employer, and there are a few mentions of the political climate strewn about here and there. They live happily ever after until someone decides the movie was too short, so hold on a second -- there's Nazis! Maybe it was because I'd expected the main plot to be about the family's escape from occupied Austria, but the entire ending felt tacked-on to me.

Maybe if I'd grown up with this movie, I would have liked it better. I did enjoy parts of it, but it isn't a film I'd actively seek out to watch again.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Jane says to Michael, "I know of a man with a wooden leg named Smith." And Michael says, "Really? What's the name of his other leg?"

On Easter Sunday, I woke up to two things: A chocolate bunny, and Mary Poppins. The latter I watched twice over the course of the day, so I feel extra prepared for this post.

Of course, watching Disney movies as one of the grown-ups is an entirely different experience. When I was little, I had no idea what the woman's suffrage movement was, and I had never seen someone trying to make a living by performing on the street. I accepted these, and the myriad other aspects of the film that didn't match up with my middle-class American upbringing, without much thought. Odd how its those same details, the ones I'd always just skipped over as a child, that most hold my interest now.

The most poignant scene in the film by far is Mr. Banks' late walk through the deserted London streets on his way to being fired. It was never something I paid attention to as a kid -- after all, where was the Mary Poppins magic or animation? -- but I now find it riveting. Here's a man who is just starting, with the help of Bert, to realize how screwed up his priorities are. His entire worldview is in the process of being shaken, and before he has the chance to get his bearings, the one thing he's valued most is about to be pulled out from under him. To the credit of David Tomlinson, the audience can see the confusion in Banks' face when he pauses at the place where Michael had wanted to feed the birds. It's clear that he's still not quite sure what it all means.

I really liked that the parents -- particularly Mr. Banks -- were such an integral part of the story, to the point of having side plots of their own. It's a more interesting alternative to the static or absent parents in many Disney films.

One thing that hasn't changed about my perception of this movie is the "Step In Time" number. It's always been one of my favorite choreographed sequences in film. As I was watching on Sunday morning, I started reading some of the trivia on IMDB, and I saw that they had to film this scene twice because of a scratch on the original film. I tried to find more information on this number, but my Google-fu is failing me today. I did find a clip, at least.

Can you imagine having to nail this twice?

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

He's the perfect example of that dying race, unpressed gentleman of the press...

It feels like I've had this entry sitting, half-finished, on my computer for almost a month. Sorry, guys; school's been eating all my free time lately, and just when I think I've found a way to make it work to my advantage, it goes and devours some more. Anyway...

This blog started as a combination of my personal and academic pursuits. Through sheer coincidence, those two parts of my life are crossing paths here once again. I spent much of one Sunday, a few weeks ago, reading The Elements of Journalism by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel for my Evaluating Writing class. I woke up the next morning to find my school closed, and a journalism-themed marathon on TCM. How's that for timing?

I sat down that afternoon wondering, dork that I am, if I'd be able to pick out any of Kovach and Rosenstiel's lessons in the careers of these fictional characters. One of the issues in journalism, though skimmed over in the book, jumped out at me immediately in Teacher's Pet. The question alluded to by these writers and posed by the movie script is whether and to what extent education is necessary, or even desirable, in journalism.

By the time Kovach and Rosenstiel's book was published in 2001, journalism schools had long been a part of the business. Its effectiveness, however, was not universally accepted among journalists. Yes, Jim Gannon is alive and well, although the nature of journalism has undergone some changes since this film was made. The fundamental argument made by Clark Gable's character seems to still hold water to a certain extent, even today. On page 155, Kovach and Rosenstiel make note of "the degree to which journalists, compared with other professionals, failed to communicate the lessons of one generation to the next." They go on to state that "hairdressers have more continuing education than journalists." I'm sure my journalism-major friends would dispute this, but it's an interesting idea. What ultimately constitutes an "education" in journalism: the Poynter Institute, or the School of Hard Knocks?

In the film, James Gannon firmly believes in the latter. A high school drop-out who worked his way up to editor of the city paper, Gannon at first holds all education in pure contempt -- "The important thing is he's had no experience," is how he dismisses his rival for Erica Stone's affections, the pretentious Dr. Hugo Pine. "He didn't start at the bottom and work up. That's the only way you can learn." His opinion on the matter is made very clear early in the film, when a distraught mother asks him to fire her son so that the boy will go back to school. Gannon ignores her, confident the boy will fare much better under his wing. Shortly thereafter, he discovers a certain journalism teacher has a particularly low opinion of him and decides to do some undercover reporting, for his own edification of course.

Miss Stone, played by Doris Day, represents everything that Gannon abhors: "Amateurs teaching amateurs how to be amateurs." A former reporter and the daughter of a well-respected editor, Erica Stone decided to teach "for the same reason that occasionally a musician wants to be a conductor; he wants to hear a hundred people play music the way he hears it." She believes that carefully training reporters in the art of explaining not just what happened but why and how is the only way for print journalism to overcome the blow it was dealt by television newscasts. When a mild-mannered older gentleman who introduces himself as James Gallagher appears in her classroom, she sees in him the potential to be a great reporter -- if only he had a little bit more schooling.

Naturally, Gannon-as-Gallagher attempts to be as antagonistic as possible towards the unsuspecting Erica without actually giving himself away. And naturally, this being a romantic comedy, he finds himself falling in love with her despite her wildly different approach to the job he's spent much of his life married to. His growing attraction to Erica opens his mind to her side of the debate, and he even comes to question his own self-worth, especially after a night on the town with his well-educated competition. He begins to think that formal education may very well be the best path to becoming a journalist -- until he sees what a well-educated editor who lacks reporting experience can do to a front page. Unfortunately this boost to his self-esteem comes courtesy of Erica's late father, which has the expected consequences for their relationship, but it also leads to interesting conclusions from a journalistic perspective. Good instincts, after all, can't be taught.

Neither the film nor the debate ends there, but I won't spoil the ending. Everyone should see this movie; it's a hilarious romantic comedy if you aren't interested in journalism, and if you are, it raises some important points that are still valid today. In fact, with the rise of amateur internet-based reporting and the uncertain future of print journalism, this film may become even more relevant with time.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

So they were turning after all, those cameras...

Nicole started this questionnaire, and I thought I'd play too.

Who was the first actor/actress that you were first interested in?
Bette Davis. Last year on what would have been her 100th birthday, TCM aired a 24-hour marathon of her films. I had only just gotten into classic films at that point and had only seen her in All About Eve and Jezebel, so I tuned in to see what all the fuss was about. I ended up leaving it on from 10 a.m. to 4 a.m.

How old were you when you really began watching old movies?

What was the first old movie that caught your interest?
Penny Serenade

Who is currently your favorite actor?
I'm not sure I really have one. I guess I tend to gravitate toward Cary Grant.

Who is currently your favorite actress?
Bette Davis

What is your favorite old movie and why?
All About Eve. The script and the performances are all absolutely dazzling.

How many old movies do you own?
Probably about 35. I don't have them with me, so it's hard to count them by memory.

How many old movies do you have recorded/ on the dvr?
None. I don't have a DVR, and my VCR is hooked up to a TV that doesn't get TCM.

If you could go back in time and visit any actor/actress, who would it be?
I'm not sure I would go. I think it would shatter the mystique of these big classic Hollywood stars.

Who is one actor/actress that you want to know more about?
Lately I've been curious about Greta Garbo.

What film could you watch over and over again?
All About Eve. I think at this point even my roommate has it memorized.

What is your favorite Hitchcock film?
Notorious. I wish Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman had done more films together; they were great here and in Indiscreet.

Who is your favorite director?
This is a tough call. Probably Frank Capra.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Excuse me, kids, I've won a prize...

To celebrate TCM's 31 Days of Oscar, Raquelle recently held a contest to give away TCM U notebooks. My name was one of those pulled from her magic hat, and this afternoon I received this lovely prize in the mail!

Excuse the weird flash at the top; the cover's nice and shiny! Inside, it has a couple of pages with little descriptions of each "college" in the TCM University.

Then the rest is regular notebook paper with the TCM U logo at the top of each page. I'm thinking I might use this for a classic-film scrapbook of some sort; naturally there will be more pictures if and when this happens.

Many, many thanks to Raquelle!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

I will regard this great honor not so much as an award for what I have achieved, but a standard to hold against what I have yet to accomplish...

The lovely and talented Wendymoon has gifted me with the Premio Dardos award. I'm really quite honored. For those just tuning in, here's what that pretty picture up there means:

The Dardos Award is given for cultural, literary, and personal values in the form of creative and original writing. These stamps were created with the intention of promoting fraternization between bloggers, a way of showing appreciation and gratitude for work that adds value to the Web.

By accepting this award, it's now my privilege to turn the spotlight onto five other bloggers. I'd like to encourage you all to check out All Talking! All Singing! All Dancing!, Cinema Splendor, Hollywood Dreamland, Silents and Talkies, and Classic Hollywood Nerd. Some of these blogs have received this already, but I think they're all deserving so hopefully those authors will forgive the repetition.

I promise I'll start actually trying to live up to this real soon. I've got a post in the works right now that actually involves ~research~ (yes, I'm getting quite fancy over here) but I'm hoping to finish it up within the next couple of days. And of course, now that I've said that I have to...

Friday, February 27, 2009

Your mom's an architect...

It's been quiet around here -- too quiet. School unfortunately has a way of cutting into my movie-viewing time, but today it made up for that by presenting me with quite a lovely opportunity. I'm going to break here from my usual classic-movie theme to talk about a more current independent film, Happy Birthday, Harris Malden. Why? Well, because one of the actor/writer/director/producers went to my school, and today he and one of his buddies came by the Honors film series to show us their movie and were kind enough to stick around and talk to us afterward.

The movie centers around a man (named, if you can't guess, Harris Malden) who for much of his life has drawn his facial hair. In the shelter of his community on Franklin Street in Philadelphia, this is all well and good; there is a silent agreement among Harris' friends and neighbors to never, ever bring it up. It's left up to Harris' best friend, Paul, to keep him from venturing out of the neighborhood, but when Paul can't keep the outside world -- in the form of his obnoxious girlfriend, Susan -- from intruding on Franklin Street, Harris has the very existential crisis that Paul has spent his entire life trying to prevent.

This is not just a movie about a man and his mustache. I found a lot of different themes running through this movie -- truth, community, the nature of friendship -- but the one that I could relate to most was change. In one of my favorite scenes, Harris says to Paul's grandmother that he feels like he's still talking about the good times he's had in the past, while everyone else is trying to move forward. I think that this is something everyone goes through at some point; I certainly did when I went off to college, in between losing touch with old friends and making new ones. And that, in a nutshell, is why I enjoyed this movie so much. I'm a sucker for films that take a completely off-the-wall premise, and manage to say something meaningful with it.

Now, on to my post-movie experience. Ben Davidow and Eric Levy were both on hand to answer questions after the screening, and they had quite a few interesting things to say. Here's some of what I learned:

  • This film is independent in every sense of the word. The guys of Sweaty Robot did everything from pre-production to distribution. I happened to have caught this movie on a PBS affiliate from New York last weekend, and apparently that was their doing as well. They're trying to get on PBS stations in other major cities as well, so keep a look out.

  • Shooting took 20 days. In August. In Philadelphia. From what I gather, it was a little warm. The 'stache kept melting off, so instead of makeup in some scenes they had to use foam latex and glue. Due to budget issues, they had to start buying cheaper, thicker latex, which is why in some scenes the mustache looks 3-dimensional. Nick Gregario, who played Harris, is listed as the Foam Latex Mustache Engineer in the end credits.

  • For the most part they stuck to the script, but a few scenes were smooshed together and others were added after filming started. The scene between Harris and Grams that I mentioned above, for instance, was filmed when they had a spare minute in between shots of the birthday party.

    Many, many thanks to Ben and Eric for coming out and talking to us, and to the Rowan Honors Film Series for sponsoring this event.
  • Friday, February 13, 2009

    You'll do as I tell you, and if I tell you to lie you'll do that too...

    Screw Valentine's Day; the most interesting "holiday" this weekend was today, Friday the 13th. Since I'm not home to go see Rocky Horror and have no interest in viewing the latest slasher-movie remake, I thought I'd celebrate by finally posting something about the only horror movie I've seen lately that's actually earned the label.

    A lot of movies try to create suspense by using plot twists to keep the audience on its toes. Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte is one of the few movies I've seen use that technique successfully. Not only did this movie keep me guessing; it managed to do so in a way where everything still made perfect sense by the end of the film. Director Robert Aldrich strikes the right balance between presenting questions, leading the audience astray, and providing clues to the right answers anyway. Yes, there are plenty of opportunities to correctly guess how the story is going to play out, but these hints are so obfuscated by the madness entrenched in that old Southern house that I jumped from theory to theory several times before having my suspicions confirmed -- and there were parts of the solution that I never saw coming.

    Even the movie's unusual opening credit sequence brings the creepy. There's something about Bette Davis standing alone on a black screen, looking utterly devastated and vulnerable yet completely out of context, that's more than a little grotesque. It sets the tone beautifully for the rest of the movie.

    Hush... Hush is all at once a psychological thriller, a classic horror flick, and a whodunnit mystery that's consistently one step ahead of its audience. It's not a movie to watch while half-asleep on the couch; if the all-star cast doesn't command your attention, the intricate plot certainly will.

    Friday, February 6, 2009

    Superior Scribbler Award

    Many, many thanks to Sarah for honoring me. The rules are as follows.

    1. Name five other Superior Scribblers to receive this award.
    2. Link to the author and name of the blog that gave you the award.
    3. Display the award on your blog with this LINK which explains the award.
    4. Click on the award at the bottom of the link and add your name to the bottom of the list.
    5. Post the rules.

    I'd like to pass this on to Fletch, Carrie, Wendymoon, Stacia, and Ed, in the hopes that you will all click on those lovely little links and see these wonderful blogs for yourself.

    Thursday, January 29, 2009

    20 Actors Meme

    Nicole and Sarah were kind enough to tag me in the 20 Actors meme, and I've given my word not to cheat this time. Luckily, this time I have all night.

    Cary Grant

    Claude Raines

    George Brent

    Gary Merrill

    Spencer Tracy

    Joseph Cotten

    Clark Cable

    Humphrey Bogart

    James Stewart

    William Powell

    James Cagney

    Fred Astaire

    Errol Flynn

    Melvyn Douglas

    Gregory Peck

    Sidney Poitier

    Lee J. Cobb

    Tyrone Power

    George Sanders

    Dana Andrews

    Jack Lemmon

    Since I'm permanently late to the party, I'll just tag anyone who hasn't done this yet.