Friday, August 31, 2007

Acting Up: Veronica Lake

Veronica Lake was an oddity. She didn't look like other actresses of the era, even the other blondes. Her long hair, usually covering one eye, and a squint of cynicism that emanated from the uncovered eye gave her a look and feel that places her squarely in the modern era. Veronica Lake could star in a movie today and not seem the least bit out of place. She became a hit playing the femme lead in flicks like This Gun for Hire and The Glass Key, both 1942. But it was the year before, 1941, that she gave the performance that used all of gifts perfectly: Sullivan's Travels.

Her cynicism was used in noir, her gift for displaying vulnerability used in comedies like I Married a Witch but in Sullivan's Travels Preston Sturges allowed her to combine all of her talents into the role of "the girl." That's right, the girl. Her character is never given a name and it's not until the movie's over that one realizes it, if then. And it doesn't matter. She doesn't need a name. The only name that would have seemed appropriate was Veronica Lake, so that's how I'll describe her here.

When Sullivan (Joel McCrea) first meets Veronica she's standing in a diner dressed to the nines. She would appear to be Hollywood royalty but she's not. She buys the penniless Sullivan some eggs for breakfast and breaks into a dialogue with him that so drips with sarcasm and cynicism you might have to remind yourself that the movie was made in 1941. McCrea is solid as always, an actor never given to overplaying his parts, but it's Veronica that makes the scene, blazing through her lines with a world weary irony that leaves the viewer alternately in stitches and in awe. Her delivery throughout the scene is pitch-perfect. And the lines provided by Sturges, brilliant in their own right, could have easily been played as punchlines. Take this one, for instance, after Sullivan comments that he'd like to give her the things she needs prompting her to laugh before saying:

Veronica: "You know the nice about buying food for a man, is that you don't have to laugh at his jokes."

It could have been played to the hilt with a pause between the first phrase, then the second phrase delivered for the kill. But not Veronica. It's spoken deadpan and uninterrupted. But what's more amazing is she speaks it after laughing at a remark he made. Now that's a choice. She's making a statement about how men expect certain behavior from a woman and how women are expected to oblige but by turning it around she's also saying, "I can laugh at you now because I'm in control."

She elaborates further:

"Just think, if you were some big shot like a casting director or something I'd be staring into your bridgework saying, 'Yes Mr. Smearkase, No Mr. Smearkase, Not Really Mr. Smearkase! Oh Mr. Smearkase, that's my knee!"

With each "Mr. Smearkase" the feigned interest in her inflection is different until she arrives at the knee line almost as a throwaway before saying to the cook at the diner, "Give Mr. Smearkase another cup of coffee."

As she relates to Sullivan that she's had it with Hollywood and will soon be thumbing her way home, Sullivan acts the proper man and says, "I don't like to think of you asking a bunch of thugs for lifts along the highway." Her deadpan reply, "Then don't think about it."

She reveals very little to Sullivan in this scene but her weariness and cynicism implies everything. When Sullivan (undercover as a hobo) hints that he might know some people in the biz who could help her she doesn't care anymore. She just wants to go back home and forget it all ever happened.

When Sullivan borrows his own car to drive her instead he tries to lecture her on the educational power of film.

Sullivan, "You take a picture like Hold Back Tomorrow..."

Veronica, "You hold it. Did you ever meet Lubitsch?"

She doesn't care to hear him listen to himself talk and makes it clear in line after line, delivered so deadpan and straightforward that she, and McCrea, achieve the ultimate goal of all actors: You'd think they were just making it up as they went, off the cuff and improvised.

Later in the film, after she has learned who Sullivan really is, a big time movie director, she refuses to stay in his cushy mansion while he mingles among the hobos as research for his next movie. She tells him she liked him better when she thought he was a tramp. She liked that she'd "found a friend who'd swipe a car to take me home." She doesn't want to stay in his mansion she wants go with him, to protect him and because she understands survival much better than he does.

In their scenes on the train together, sleeping in hay, she is much more playful and happy, unrestrained from trying to make it big in Hollywood or just trying to make an impression. Veronica seems endlessly amused at Sullivan's seriousness about understanding struggle. It's never said but in Veronica's eyes we can sense that her amusement comes from knowing that struggling and hardship finds you, not the other way around.

Sturges shows most of the hobo scenes silently, accompanied by music. In these scenes it's all about looks and Veronica provides perfect pantomimes of sadness across her face. Or of simple annoyance. Or laughter. And in a scene in a crowded hall, one homeless person after another lining the floor, Veronica snuggles in close to Sullivan, and seems for the first time to be vulnerable and in need.

Upon returning to the luxury of his mansion she hints at staying with him but he reveals that he's married. She's disappointed. She doesn't want his help in Hollywood, she wants to be with him and if he's married she may as well go back home. In this last important scene for Veronica she shows again her ability to show a sadness and weariness that has been missing since they went tramping. In misery she's happy, in luxury she's miserable. Eventually, of course they do wind up together but the thrust of her character development ends here.

Veronica Lake was diminutive but not fragile. At 4' 11" she was an unlikely leading lady but her personality was strong and engaging. After a string of hits in the early to mid forties she was placed in one dismal film after another. By 1952 her career was over. She filed for bankruptcy, had all of her assets seized by the government to cover unpaid taxes and found herself arrested more than once for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct. By the late fifties and early sixties she was working as a barmaid in diners in New York and then Baltimore. She occasionally got written up when discovered in one of those jobs and would manage to wrangle some T.V. work out of it. In Baltimore she hosted a local program and got a part in a low budget independent film, Footsteps in the Snow in 1966. She died on July 7, 1973 from hepatitis and kidney failure, the latter brought on by her alcoholism. The Internet Movie Database says she was born in 1919 but King's County records in New York show her birthdate as November of 1922, making her a mere 50 years old at the time of her death.

All of this could be the life story of the girl in Sullivan's Travels. She's down and out and troubled when Sullivan meets her. Then she ends up in the movies. One can easily imagine her character following the same path as Veronica. But Veronica Lake never felt sorry for herself. She once said, "I was always a rebel and probably could have got much farther had I changed my attitude. But when you think about it, I got pretty far without changing attitudes. I'm happier with that." And she was self-deprecating and cynical to the end saying about herself, "You could put all the talent I had into your left eye and still not suffer from impaired vision." It's a wonderful way to put yourself down so you don't have to listen to anyone else do it for you. But it wasn't true. Veronica Lake made each movie she was in special because of her hypnotic presence alone. She may not be as known today as other big stars from the forties (which is startling considering her amazing modernity) but she wasn't a no-talent nobody. And if you did put all of her talent into your left eye, you'd be blind in a New York minute.


Monday, August 27, 2007

Cinema Still Life: Mummy Dearest

The 1932 classic The Mummy with Boris Karloff, billed as KARLOFF!

First the young KARLOFF! as Im-ho-tep. Is it just me or should he and Raymond Massey (oops I'm sorry, I mean MASSEY!) have done a movie together where they played brothers? There really seems to be a "family" resemblence doesn't there?

The older KARLOFF! with a great make-up
job by Jack P. Pierce.
The name "Ardeth Bay" was an anagram of "Death by Ra", the all-powerful Egyptian god. Here with Zita Johann.

Finally KARLOFF! ponders himself. A great actor with a great voice, vastly underrated and tragically underused outside of B-movies. But he made those B-movies a lot more popular and a lot more interesting than most studios A-movies. Some, like Bride of Frandenstein, stand up as masterpieces from that or any other era. By the time of Son of Frankenstein in 1939 Universal was back to billing him as "Boris Karloff". Thank Ra.


Friday, August 24, 2007

End Credits: Double the Goodness

First theatre to ever show a true double-feature, that is to say, two feature films: The Glaciarium down under (Australia that is). The two films were The Lost Chord from 1911 and The Fall of Troy from 1910. The first is an Australian movie the second is an Italian job. The date of the double feature - May 15, 1911. In case you're wondering about the name, Glaciarium, it's mainstay was putting on ice skating shows. There were five Glaciariums in Australia, two in Sydney alone. The double feature ran at the Melbourne one. But this spectacular ice show is from one of the Sydney Glaciarium (ah, for a Glaciarium in my hometown)

The first successful two color process: Kinemacolor, developed by George Smith. When? 1906. He made a short film (they were all short in 1906) of his son and daughter in colorful clothes playing in the yard. And of course, they're waving a Union Jack.

The first double exposure: Who else? Georges Melies. It came in 1898's Cave of the Demons.

The first time two characters played by the same actor physically interacted: Hang on, because it's a lot earlier than you think - 1921. Mary Pickford played Little Lord Fauntleroy and his mother. Here's the shot:

That's Mary Pickford shaking the hand of Mary Pickford. One scene where she, as Little Lord Fauntleroy, kisses herself, as the mother, on the cheek took over 15 hours to shoot.

The first year two feature movies were released in color: 1922. There was the more known The Toll of the Sea, done with the Technicolor process, and the lesser known The Glorious Adventure done with the Prizmacolor process. Here's The Toll of the Sea:

First, and only time, an actor was nominated twice in the same year for the same performance: 1944's Going My Way featured Barry Fitzgerald in a supporting role but the Academy nominated him for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor. He won the supporting Oscar and the Academy immediately changed the rules: When an actor receives votes for nomination in two different categories whichever he or she gets the most in is the category for which they are nominated.

First time two different actors both won Oscars for playing the same character: March 1975, when Robert DeNiro took home the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for playing Vito Corleone in the 1974 film The Godfather, Part II, the same character Marlon Brando had played in the 1972 film The Godfather, also winning an Oscar for his portrayal.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Cinema Still Life: Keaton and Keaton

No, I'm not sleeping here at Cinema Styles just taking a little posting nap while commenting on many sites about the Foreign Film nominations out this week.

Tomorrow, Thursday the 23rd, marks the return of the Oscars. I'll be covering 1965 through 1969.

Meanwhile, here's some more Buster.

Buster Keaton performing with his parents at age six. Not sure what the skit is about but aren't men hanging on to the sides of tables while a kid tilts it always funny? I mean, how can you go wrong? Man, table, kid. It's killer!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Director's Commentary: The Foreign Film Final Selections

Well, Edward Copeland has released the results of the nominating committee and those films receiving three or more votes make it to the final selection. 121 films got three or more votes. Below is the list of 25 (in alphabetical order) that I submitted for my part. Those bolded are my selections that did not make the final cut. My reactions below the list.

Au hasard Balthazar (1966)

Amarcord (1974)

Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972)

Babette's Feast (1987)

Battle of Algiers (1968)

Beauty and the Beast (1946)

Belle de Jour (1967)

The Blue Angel (1930) German version

Blood of a Poet (1930)

Bicycle Thief (1948)

Breathless (1960)

Carmen (1983) the version by Carlos Saura, NOT the opera

The Conformist (1970)

Day for Night (1973)

Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)

Fitzcarraldo (1982)

Grand Illusion (1938)

Ikiru (1952)

M (1931)

Playtime (1967)

Rules of the Game (1939)

Tokyo Story (1953)

Viridiana (1961)

Wild Strawberries (1958)

Wings of Desire (1987)

My Choices that Did Not Make the Cut

As for Carmen and Babette's Feast I had no illusions that either would garner enough votes to make the final cut but Eddie specifically called for favorites (not necessarily what would be considered the all-time best) so that the list would be more diverse than a by rote ranking of the usual Sight and Sound selections. And those two are two of my favorites. And Blood of a Poet was iffy either way: One of the qualifications for submissions was that the film be of feature length. Blood of a Poet is 55 minutes. Most festivals and awards organizations (Cannes, The Oscars) consider a film over 30 minutes to be ineligible for "Short Subject" consideration yet consider 60 minutes to be feature length leaving a nebulous area in the 31 to 59 minute range where no one knows what type of movie it is. I wasn't sure if 55 minutes would make the cut or not so I gave it a try. Then there's Fitzcarraldo. I knew Herzog would be represented on the list because of Aguirre, the Wrath of God but I thought the story of an obsessed Caruso fan having thousands of men pull a massive river boat over a mountain would pique a little more interest.

My Choices that Made the Cut

Most were of little surprise as they are so commonly admired (and made me feel as if I submitted a somewhat run-of-the-mill list) but a few I was happily surprised to find others had voted for as well. For instance, I had no confidence that Viridiana would get enough votes to make it. I figured The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie would be it for Bunuel and that Lang's M had a much better chance than Viridiana. As for Day for Night I picked that as a personal favorite that I saw when I was very young and just starting to fully explore my love of film. It told a great story of movie making but I didn't think many other people would care for it.

On to the Final Selection

So now we vote for the final round. Obviously, everyone voting will be voting for those they submitted that made the final cut so it's deciding on those films one didn't rank that will make some of the difference. Also the films will be weighted as to their position. I think that's necessary but it also makes me nervous. There's always the temptation of pushing a favorite to the top of the list to ensure it gets 25 points while nudging a great film down to lessen its impact. Of course, with the 121 films still standing almost all are great works of art and I could honestly see in a quick glance at least 50 or 60 that could be ranked number one with little objection from anyone. So I look forward to submitting my vote and seeing the final cut. And now I have an excuse to highlight those four films that didn't make the cut.

Cinema Still Life: Dorothy and Joan get a Workout

Dorothy Sebastian and Joan Crawford did three movies together from 1929-30. Our Dancing Daughters (1929), Montana Moon (1930) and Our Blushing Brides (1930). Here are they are taking time for some publicity shots - the last shot suggests it is for Our Dancing Daughters.

First they eat.

Then some calisthenics are in order.

A friendly boxing match in which Joan slugs Dorothy (just so you know who's the lead).

And of course some ping pong? Yeah, that's how I'd finish it up too. Name the net judge and win a prize.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Acting Up: Anton Walbrook

From time to time here on Cinema Styles I've mentioned The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, and for good reason. Not only do I consider it the finest of Michael Powell's achievements but it is far and away one of my favorite films. It's central performance by Roger Livesy is one of the great performances in all of cinema. He takes the character of Clive Candy from a blustering old man in the beginning to a younger man through a series of flashbacks and back again, filling him with honesty, integrity and humanity every step of the way. But I'm not profiling Livesy for this edition of Acting Up because there is another less heralded performance in the film, one that is the equal of Livesy's in almost every measure, but in a supporting role that has been overshadowed by the towering character of Candy. That performance is by Anton Walbrook, as Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff. At first he is Candy's adversary in a duel, then his rival in love, then his enemy in war and finally his friend. And Walbrook, so effective five years later in another beautiful Powell film, The Red Shoes, as the demanding impresario Boris Lermontov, plays it subdued and nuanced to heartbreaking effect.

Throughout his career Walbrook had a tendency to overplay a role and occasionally in roles such as Bavarian King Ludwig (Lola Montes) or Johann Strauss (Vienna Waltzes) this was evident. But here, in this film, he achieved his perfect performance, one that includes nary a raised voice or arch of the eyebrow. Candy is all emotion and bluster, Schuldorff is deliberate and reserved. An overplayed performance by Walbrook against Livesy as Clive Candy would have created a clash of performances, but played as an observational bystander it produces a performance mesh that by the end leaves the viewer with no doubt that these two men lived full lives, together and apart.

When we first meet Theo it is in a duel. Clive has offended the entire German army with an insult at a cabaret and they have selected their best swordsman to challenge him, Theo. Our first glimpses of Theo are simply that of a silent duellist, staring intently at his mark across from him. And that's it. As the duel begins the camera pulls back until it leaves the building entirely, pulling back from a beautifully rendered model (how I miss models and miniatures in film) to a carriage where Edith Hunter (Deborah Kerr), a recent friend of Candy's, anxiously awaits the results.

Later in the hospital, we learn that both men are there. Clive won the duel then slipped on some ice tearing his upper lip open while Theo suffered injuries from the duel itself. He would very much like to meet Clive and when they are introduced it is awkward. Theo cannot speak English except for "Not very much" and "Very Much." As Theo begins to learn a little English and spend more time with Clive and Edith (who speaks fluent German) Walbrook plays him as a lovable little boy. He eventually falls for Edith, marrying her and taking her from Clive, unaware Clive has any feelings for her. He fills this early part of the performance with an utterly convincing naivete that becomes all the more impressive later in the film when his character is forced to confront Clive's naivete head on as a cynical yet concerned friend.

Later in the film Walbrook must play Theo quite differently. After World War I has concluded Candy finds out that Theo is being held in one the prison camps run by the British on the mainland. Candy is thrilled to see Theo again but in a shocking moment for Candy, Theo turns his back and refuses to speak to him. Later at a dinner party hosted by Candy, Theo arrives and apologizes. He did not want to show his friendship for a British officer in front of his men. But despite this apology, Theo is completely out of place as he is patronized by the other British officers, including Candy, who tell him that Britain will patch up Germany and all will be right again. In this scene again, Walbrook's role is mainly silent. He listens and watches and creates an unease and tension with his face and body that signals to the viewer immediately that he has much to say but restrains himself. After the party, on the train with other prisoners now freed and heading back to Germany he finally speaks at length. For the first time in the film, we see Theo in a new light. He seems cynical and angry.

'We want to trade with Germany,' said one! A General said: 'We don't want to keep an army just to occupy your country!' A General! They are children. Boys playing cricket! They win the shirts off our backs and now they want to give them back, because the game is over! War is the most unpopular thing in England. They are already organizing pacifist societies, their newspapers are anti-militarist — Here can we get to something! This is our chance! Their childlike stupidity is a raft for us in a sea of despair! Do you know what my friend, Brigadier General Candy said? He said 'We'll soon have Germany on her feet again.'

Because of the gentleness and naivete we have seen in Theo up until now this moment stuns us and puts a knot in our stomach. Walbrook does not shout the scene or over-emote, but lets each word slip out with a smoldering sense of anger and resentment. The knot in our stomach comes from our knowledge of history. We know how everything turned out. Because of that, after this speech on the train, we are sure that the next time we see Theo he will have a swastika armband on his uniform and there will be no British dinner parties for Theo to attend. But this movie is too smart for that.

The next time we see Theo it is twenty years later and he is at a customs tribunal to gain entry into England. He is being questioned on why he wants to leave Germany and move to England. He gets the usual suspicious questions and replies bluntly, with respect, but bluntly. When the judge remarks that most citizens fled Germany in 1933 and asks why Theo didn't leave when Hitler came to power Theo remarks,

I had nothing to fear from Hitler. At least I thought so. It took me eight months to find out I was wrong

The judge wonders what took him so long. Theo replies,

Please, I mean no offence - but you in England took five years.

The judge asked if he is married and he informs the judge, and us, that Edith died in 1933. Asked if he has any children he replies,

Two. I have no connection with them. They are good Nazis - as far as any Nazi can be called good.

Theo then describes his life in Germany and his longing to come to England. It is this scene, this speech, all done in one long unbroken take, that ranks Walbrook's performance among the finest of all the forties cinema, perhaps all of cinema period. It is acting that Roger Ebert called "sublime" in his review and I couldn't agree more. Ebert referred to Walbrook's "mastery of tone and mood" and that is the key. There is no crying, no anger, no emotion. No actor's tools. But there is an overwhelming sense of sadness and defeat that is conveyed by Walbrook so deftly that it is, quite simply, breathtaking to behold. Here I will not quote for the words themselves would be meaningless without the experience of witnessing Walbrook deliver them. Suffice it to say that upon my first viewing of this great movie this was the moment that truly had me mesmerized. But it works as well as it does only if one witnesses Walbrook's Theo in his other forms before this moment. Knowing the cheerful Theo, the naive lovable Theo and then the bitter and angry post-war Theo before arriving at this moment provides the framework that Walbrook must navigate to confidently arrive here: A Theo that now, at last, understands the world around him and is no longer willing to pretend he does not.

In his final great moment in the film Theo councils Candy on the state of the world. Candy is a distinguished old British General, trained in the rules of war and thoroughly unprepared for the new state of evil that knocks at his door. Candy would rather lose the war than use ungentlemanly methods where advancing and retreating do not win the day. It is Theo that must assure him that this is no ordinary adversary and that Britain must fight until its last breath, and again Walbrook delivers it as truth, not monologue, not acting:

You have been educated to be a gentleman and a sportsman - in peace and in war. But, Clive, dear old Clive, this is not a gentleman's war. This is a life and death struggle, with your backs to your cliffs against the hordes of barbarism. This time you are fighting for your very existence against the most devilish idea ever created by a human brain — Nazism. And if you lose there won't be a return match next year, perhaps not even for a hundred years.

Anton Walbrook was christened with the name Adolph. Anton Walbrook was also a homosexual living in Austria under Nazi rule. Life was intolerable for him there and by 1936 he knew time was running out. It wouldn't be long before Adolph Wohlbruck would be made to disappear. In 1936 he was required to fly to Hollywood to re-record dialogue for an international film. He saw it as his chance. He never returned and promptly changed the spelling of his last name and changed his first name entirely, from Adolph to Anton. He settled in Hampstead, England and one can only surmise that his circumstances played no small part in his delivery of such a magnificent performance. Perhaps that is why there is so little emoting, so little "acting", so much mood and tone. Perhaps the reason the viewer feels such a sense of truth from Theo is because Anton felt it too. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp was made in 1943. The war was not over yet. While making the film, the outcome was still uncertain. But in Anton Walbrook Michael Powell had an actor that understood the struggle the world was involved in on a personal level and was willing to allow that to shine through in his performance. It was 1943 and Anton Walbrook, at last, understood the world around him and was no longer willing to pretend he did not.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Cinema Still Life: Where's the Orchestra?

Carol Reed supervises Anton Karas who provided the entire musical score for the film, The Third Man, with this one instrument, the zither. The "Harry Lime Theme" sold over half a million copies in its first month and made Karas a star but alas, his popularity was not to last. He was unpopular in his home of Vienna because he had gained his success with a film that portrayed a defeated, divided Vienna. Geez. And every follow-up he did essentially flopped. But he had that one song and it was enough that he could retire a millionaire. If you'd like to read up on the whole story of Karas and how Reed stumbled across him here's a nice bio from

Click for larger image.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Unseen Images: gravida

I usually designate this space in my Unseen Images articles for feature films that have not had the recognition they deserve. They are usually films that have been in release for decades without any substantial notice from the critical community. My current entry is a little different for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it is not a feature length film, it is a short film, coming in at just over twenty minutes. Secondly, it has not been in release for decades, in fact, it was just released this year. But like many short and feature length films that are the result of dedicated young artists who still don't have the time, money or recognition to get their work into Sundance, it deserves to be seen, if only to remind us that truly independent filmmaking still exists and that in an artform as expensive and time-consuming as this, it is possible to express oneself without a multi-million dollar budget. Such is the case with gravida: a Study in Loneliness (2007) directed by Lucas McNelly.

The film focuses on Kristen (Rachel Shaw), a women alone who longs to reach out to someone, anyone, and have them reach back. The film gives us brief glimpses into her life and work before taking us to the main thrust of the story which will involve a delivery service employee played by Adam Kukic. As for a detailed plot synopsis, unlike past entries, I will provide none here for important reasons. The purpose of this entry is not to break down and analyze the film but to call attention to the work of those involved and the talents of its writer/director Lucas McNelly - and to get people to see the film. A detailed plot analysis of a twenty minute film would most likely negate that last goal so instead I will concentrate on the performances, music, camerawork and direction.

In any character based drama or comedy, the performance is the thing. If the lead doesn't work, the film doesn't work. Here we have a lead performance by Rachel Shaw that is more than servicable, it is excellent. The weight of the film is on her shoulders and she succeeds without a shrug. Throughout much of the film she is required to act alone, without benefit of a fellow actor to play off of, always a difficult task. When getting my degree in theatre, I always disliked having to do the monologues for acting classes, much preferring scenes with a fellow actor. Rachel Shaw's task is doubly difficult as only one brief scene has her even speaking to herself. The other times she is alone she must communicate to the audience silently through movement and facial expression. As Shaw approaches the climax of her character's hopes and doubts she draws the viewer in with an honesty of emotion that is at once cathartic and disquieting.

Joining Shaw is Adam Kukic as the messenger service employee who eventually becomes intertwined in her life. Kukic does a fine job as well but is required to do much less than Shaw so a comparison between the two would be unfair. For what he is required to do he does well, particularly the blandness of his awkward small talk, which Kukic makes feel real enough that you almost squirm a little, wanting to interrupt and help him out. His character's final emotional reckoning is played with an off-the-cuff indifference that is perfectly suited for the part.

Both Shaw and Kukic make their way through the film aided by an impressive song score supervised by Margaret Welsh and understated camerawork by David Eger. The music is never overwhelming, distracting our attention from the characters or story on the screen, but like all good music employed in films, becomes a background rhythm to which the camera moves. The camerawork itself is employed to tell the story, not become it. Often, when one starts noticing too many clever angles or cuts, it can be an indication that the director is padding, trying to visually compensate for a weak story. That is not to say one cannot have extraordinary angles and cuts in a movie, it is just that in the best movies, the extraordinary angles and cuts go unnoticed while were watching, as we are enthralled in the story. Later we can think back and marvel at them. In a weaker film, it's all we notice and we notice while we're watching. Here the movements are simple but effective. I didn't realize there was any movement in the final scene at all until I watched it again because it's intention was to draw us into to Kristen, and it did so quite well.

That leaves Lucas McNelly, the director. In many ways, I have already discussed his work before arriving at this point. A good director gets good performances and works closely with his cinematographer to achieve the proper look of the film. The performances of Shaw and Kukic and the camerawork of Eger are testaments to the talents of McNelly. And the film itself is testament to McNelly's dedication to his craft and desire to be a filmmaker. He has produced a film of understated elegance and thoughtfulness that allows the viewer to glimpse, ever so briefly, a moment in time that will be burned for eternity in the heart and mind of its protagonist, Kristin. He has done so on a limited budget and without a studio backed marketing campaign. He has done so because of a desire to become a filmmaker that will not be quelled by someone telling him it's too much work, it takes too much money. He's the best kind of filmmaker there is, the kind driven by a love of the art not a desire for a contract. Money would be nice of course.

gravida is not a perfect film but considering the budget and time limitations it is quite an achievement. If I were doing a scene by scene breakdown I would highlight more of what I thought was right and even a couple of things I thought could be better. But my purpose here, for now, is to get recognition for small films like this into the public eye. In an age when major studios are pumping millions of dollars into film projects based on board games like the recently confirmed Monopoly movie to be directed by Ridley Scott (I think I'm going to be sick) it becomes even more important for the indepedent directors to make themselves known through festivals, local theatre bookings and by people with a shared love of film spreading the word across that beloved series of tubes, the internet. We understand the studios need for hits, it is after all a business as well. We don't have to see the big budget studio excesses if we don't want to, but a part of their purpose is to bring in money, money that can be distributed to filmmakers with larger ideas that yearn to be expressed. Seeing gravida reminded me just how far-reaching this artform is, how often we forget how much work is out there that doesn't come from Hollywood. Since I can sum it up no better than Orson Welles, I will close with his words, from his acceptance speech at the American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement Honors in 1975, speaking on the very differences noted above between studio films on one end and independant work on the other:

Let us raise our cups then, standing, as some of us do, on opposite ends of the river, and drink together to what really matters to us all, to our crazy and beloved profession. To the movies. To good movies. To every possible kind.

Monday, August 13, 2007

A Birthday Tribute to Alfred Hitchcock

Today is Alfred Hitchcock's birthday. He would have 108 (born 1899) if he were still alive. Of course he is, in his movies which are timeless. A quick tribute from Cinema Styles covering the favorites, least favorites, ups, downs and everything in between.

Favorite Hitchcock Film: Notorious (1946)

Favorite Pre-Hollywood Hitchcock Film: The 39 Steps (1935)

Favorite Performance in a Hitchcock Film: Joseph Cotten in Shadow of a Doubt (1944)

Favorite Tandem Performance (that is, two actors playing off each other beautifully): Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in Notorious (1946)

Least Favorite Hitchcock Film: Topaz (1969)

Least Favorite Performance: John Gavin in Psycho (1960) Damn near stops the movie. Hitch referred to him on the set as "the corpse."

Most Exciting Hitchcock Film: (Tie) Foreign Correspondent (1940) and North by Northwest (1959)

Most Self-Referential (or autobiographical) Hitchcock Film: Vertigo (1958), of course.

Goofiest Hitchcock Film: (tie) Spellbound (1945) and Family Plot (1976)

Scariest Hitchcock Film: Psycho (1960)

Best use of Monuments in a Hitchcock Film: (Tie) Saboteur (1942) Statue of Liberty and North by Northwest (1959) Mount Rushmore

Best Use of Location in a Hitchcock Film: Vertigo (1958) San Francisco

Best Chase in a Hitchcock Film: Cary Grant pursued by crop duster in North by Northwest (1959)

First True "Hitchcockian" Film: Blackmail (1929)

Most "un-Hitchcockian" Film: (tie) The Farmer's Wife (1928) and Waltzes from Vienna (1934)

Best Hitchcock Comedy: Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941)

Favorite Hitchcock Cameo: Walking with his dogs in The Birds (1963)

Most Clever Hitchcock Cameo: Seated at the table in the photograph in Dial M for Murder (1954)

Best "Children in Peril" scene in a Hitchcock Film: (tie) Strangers on a Train (1951) Merry-go-round sequence and The Birds (1963) Attack on the school scene.

Most Underrated Hitchcock Film: The Lady Vanishes (1938)

First Hitchcock Hollywood Film: Rebecca (1940)

First Hollywood-Altered Hitchcock Ending: Suspicion (1941) They just didn't want Cary to be a killer.

Best Un-Resolved "Ending" to a Hitchcock Film: The Birds (1963)

Most Clever Experiment in a Hitchcock Film: The "one-take, unbroken shot" of Rope (1948)

Best MacGuffin in a Hitchcock Film: The lighter in Strangers on a Train (1951)

Only 3-D Hitchcock Film: Dial M for Murder (1954)

Best Jimmy Stewart Hitchcock Film: Rear Window (1954)

Most Used Actor by Hitchcock: Leo Carroll in six films. I'm not counting Hitch and his multiple cameos.

and finally,

Best Use of Salvador Dali in a Dream Sequence in a Hitchcock Film about a Psychiatrist falling in love with her patient who is an innocent man wrongly accused: Spellbound (1945) I had to get that scene on the list somehow.


Sunday, August 12, 2007

End Credits: Let's Do it Again

Directors who made the same film twice. Why? Who the hell knows. Some questions I just don't ask.

Oscar Micheaux: Birthright - 1924 and 1939

Cecil B. DeMille: The Squaw Man - 1914, 1918 AND 1931

Alfred Hitchcock: The Man Who Knew Too Much - 1934 and 1956

Woody Allen: September - 1987 and 1987. He made the movie first with Maureen O'Sullivan, Charles Durning and Sam Shepard, then made it again with Elaine Stritch, Denholm Elliott and Sam Waterston in their roles. Why? Maybe he was bored.

Michael Haneke: Funny Games - 1997 and 2007 (Kind of a ten-year anniversary thing I guess)

Martin Scorcese: Goodfellas 1990 Casino 1995. Oh, wait a minute...

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Cinema Still Life: Behind the Scenes - Potemkin

Filming the Odessa Steps sequence for the seminal film Battleship Potemkin (1925) by the great Sergei Eisenstein. While there was an actual mutiny aboard the Potemkin and demonstrations by workers on that same day that enthusiastically greeted the ship when it pulled into harbor there was no massacre on the steps. Eisenstein did such a masterful job that even today most people visiting the steps expect to see some kind of memorial to the massacre.

The sequence itself has come to be accepted as the ultimate example of montage as developed by Eisenstein. Eisenstein himself described montage in several different contexts but primarily focused on the summation that it contains several different images, editing not necessarily for continuity but for overall effect in which a new idea emerges that is not present in any individual shot. For a deeper elaboration of the theory as it particularly relates to Potemkin go here.

Click for larger image

Friday, August 10, 2007

Director's Commentary: Segregated Celluloid

Records in sports are a tricky thing. With each new generation comes new training methods, new equipment, sometimes even new rules. When someone breaks a record someone else will inevitably point out that it wouldn't have been possible under the stricter rules twenty years earlier. Or perhaps if someone holds on to a record long enough, we also accept that maybe the record has stood so long because the situation was so different when it was set. In baseball especially, the argument has long been that into the forties the Major Leagues and the Negro Leagues did not compete against each other so all of their records are suspect. If Babe Ruth had to face off against Satchel Paige would it have seemed so easy for him? If Josh Gibson had to stare down Bob Feller would he have hit so many home runs himself? Or more importantly, if the Babe and Josh had to face, in an integrated league, a Satchel Paige followed by a Bob Feller week after week what would have happened? Given the extraordinary talents of both Ruth and Gibson, most likely not much would have been different. But there is one difference that cannot be denied: Ruth is in the record books, Gibson isn't. For that matter we don't even know accurately how many home runs Gibson hit. Such was the lot for the African-American ballplayer, even into the fifties, several years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.

A similar problem was occurring in the arts for much of the twentieth century but unlike athletics, its sins of omission cannot be so easily quantified into numbers and statistics.

After the first films starting showing in the late 1800's countries all over the world got into the act. The leader, in both quantity and quality, quickly became America. But like sports, only white people were let into the gates. As movies became big business just a little over fifty years after the Civil War, African-American men and women were bitterly oppressed, pushed back by Jim Crow laws that effectively kept them in servitude. As a result, black faces on the big screen were often white faces in disguise. And more disturbingly, no one seemed to mind. An extensive essay on The Birth of a Nation was written previously on these pages, entitled The Myth of a Nation, detailing the cornucopia of horrors in that film and how readily it has been accepted in the pantheon of film history. But what wasn't discussed was just how many other films swam in the same sewer. As Donald Bogle details in his introduction to the excellent book, A Separate Cinema, such early short films included Wooing and Wedding of a Coon (1905) and The Dancing N*g (1907). Others he didn't mention were Tossing a N***er in a Blanket (1898) and A N***er in the Woodpile (1904). And if you don't think racism was pervasive consider this: The latter film's entire plot concerns the theft of a woodpile, an explosion and discovery of the thief, a white actor in blackface. There was absolutely no need to make the thief black except it seems so they could use that particular word in the title.

The book A Separate Cinema, edited by John Kisch and Edward C. Mapp, phd., is an excellent chronicle of the film history of what were known as "Race Movies." These were movies made for and by African-American filmmakers dedicated to getting a more honest portrayal of their lives onto the screen. That history is chronicled in the extensive introduction, written by the aforementioned Donald Bogle. The remainder of the book is a collector's dream: Page after page of Race Movie posters, rare and antiquated, treasures to behold.

The poster themselves are an important look into the history of the race movie as the movies themselves have not been properly preserved and few remain in good condition today. Even fewer are available on DVD to the home viewer. A search for Oscar Micheaux, the foremost race movie maker of his day, on DVD reveals only a smattering of titles available: Body and Soul (1925) Lying Lips (1939) and Murder in Harlem (1935) to name three with only the last two available on the DVD giant, Netflix. It is a subject many would love to study more but with so few films available it is a difficult task indeed. For now, most will have to rely more on books and posters than celluloid itself.

By the forties Hollywood had only produced a select few movies geared towards Black audiences (Hallelujah! (1929), The Green Pastures (1936), Cabin in the Sky (1943)) and even fewer movies with central black characters geared towards both black and white audiences (Imitation of Life (1934)). Of course, all of those movies are much better known than Lying Lips or Murder in Harlem. Hollywood had the budget and the talent to put out polished efforts that the black filmmakers could only look upon in envy. While Oscar Micheaux had to scrape together whatever financing he could for his efforts, movies like The Green Pastures and Cabin in the Sky were given sizable studio budgets and top black talents like Eddie "Rochester" Anderson and Rex Ingram. Anderson and Ingram worked in race movies too, at reduced salaries, but the quality of those films suffered due to the lack of the technical magic a major Hollywood studio could provide. However, as Bogle notes in the introduction, because of this the films take on an odd "realism", using actual locations rather than sets, that gives them a more modern feel at times then their Hollywood counterparts.

After World War II Hollywood began producing more films focusing on racial themes like Home of the Brave (1949), Intruder in the Dust (1949), No Way Out (1950) and Bright Victory (1951) which spelled the end for the race movie studios as black audiences were seeing those films in much larger numbers. Eventually black filmmakers and actors like Melvin van Peebles and Pam Grier would revive the spirit of the race movie with films like Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971) and Coffy (1973), films anyone could enjoy but clearly designed for black audiences.

It's been nearly fifteen years since I bought my copy of A Separate Cinema and since that time the collection managed by Kisch and Mapp has only grown. They have a website where you can view much of the artwork as well as find out details about upcoming exhibitions. Currently they are supervising the exhibit "Chicago's Black Film History" at the DuSable Museum in Chicago, Illinois. It began May 10th and runs through September 3rd of this year. If you're in the area give it a look. It's a largely forgotten part of our collective film history but one that richly deserves to be remembered.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Shot for Shot: Barry Lyndon

By 1975 Stanley Kubrick had cemented his reputation as one of the masters of cinema. From Paths of Glory to Dr. Strangelove to 2001 his films were widely seen and widely discussed. His previous film, A Clockwork Orange, had been a huge hit with multiple Oscar nominations. Before that was 2001 which turned science fiction and the convential movie plot on its ear. So his next film was sure to be a smash. It wasn't. To be sure, it was quite successful critically, and to this day I consider it one of his best, if not on any give day, his absolute best.

The film is Barry Lyndon and it is a film of rare beauty, a film that is methodically paced but never boring. A film that places Ryan O'Neal of all people, in the role of Redmond Barry, an Irish adventurer, societal manipulator and, eventually, broken down gamester. Ryan O'Neal fills the role with a naiveté that eventually turns to self-serving calculation but through it all, Redmond Barry seems more human than anyone he encounters, save his friend and comrade in arms, Captain Grogan.

For this edition of Just a Moment we will focus on one of the most extraordinarily paced and photographed sequences in cinema history, the famous duel scene between Redmond Barry, now Barry Lyndon, and his stepson, Lord Bullingdon.

The scene, accompanied by a manipulated version of Handel's Sarabande, takes place in a barn, not a pasture or meadow as the first duel in the film. Pigeons fly across the rafters and send dust particles scattering into the light. In the previous scene Lord Bullingdon has demanded satisfaction from a tired, broken down Lyndon.

The scene begins with a shot of a pistol being loaded.

We are then shown the gentlemen who have gathered to officiate the duel and relay the rules to the dueling parties. Throughout the scene the mood is so restrained that the tension builds effortlessly as we await the outcome. That is to say, Kubrick provides no flashy photography, no quick edits, no overpowering musical cues. He lets the duel play itself out in real time allowing us, the viewers, to feel as if we are present at a real duel with people we have come to know well.

As the coin toss is called we can already notice one striking difference between Lord Bullingdon and everyone else: He is overwhelmingly nervous. His body quivers and shakes in stark contrast to the business-like composure of the surrounding gentlemen, including Lyndon.

Bullingdon wins the toss and gets first shot. He is escorted to his position as we get to see the interior of the barn in long shot for the first time.

Behind the sound of drums we here the cooing of pigeons and the fluttering of their wings throughout the scene. Again, a sense of a real time and place pervades the scene.

Lyndon then takes his mark and Lord Bullingdon is told to cock his pistol to ready himself for the first fire. But something unexpected happens. Because of his nervousness, he misfires into the ground while cocking.

It is explained to him in his horror that this counts as his first shot and that he must now stand his position while Lyndon takes his first shot. Bullingdon is now overwhelmed by fear and panic and runs to the corner of the barn to throw up. As he returns and re-takes his position Barry Lyndon once again shows his humanity. Throughout the film Lyndon has performed actions that go against his immediate best interests: When faced with an opportunity to let a berating and cruel commanding officer perish in fire, he saves him instead. When faced with a chance for advancement in the military by acting as a spy he reveals himself to his mark. In every situation his need for humanity and kindness has paid off. Here, for the first time, it will fail him.

As Lord Bullingdon stands ready to receive fire, Lyndon aims his gun down and, in an act of generosity unknown to someone like Lord Bullingdon, fires into the ground.

The officiating gentlemen are surprised and move to confer with each other. It is asked of Lord Bullingdon if he has now received his satisfaction. In a stunning act of selfishness and pettiness, he replies no, he has not received his satisfaction. Barry Lyndon is restrained but can barely believe what he is hearing. His acts of humanity and kindness have always gone his way but now they are mocked. Lyndon's face reveals a man stunned by and resigned to his circumstances at the same time.

Lord Bullingdon now readies himself for his seconds.

He trembles as he pulls the trigger and hits his mark, in the leg. His face shows relief and almost (?) joy as the duel is over and he has won.

The scene ends with Lyndon writhing about in pain and anguish as he is attended to by the officiating gentlemen.

It is a scene that last 8 minutes and 50 seconds. In that span, time seems to stand still. In this scene Kubrick does as good a job as anyone in the history of cinema at portraying a moment in real time that draws all of its power from not being rushed or artificially heightened by music that provides emotional cues or quick edits that direct our attention to an inevitable climax.

Everything we have learned about these two men is portrayed before our eyes unapologetically in this scene. We have had reason to question Barry's motives throughout the film. He has done things that were selfish and unethical at times but one feels they were done out of rashness and haste more than anything else. Conversely Lord Bullingdon has had cause for our sympathy as he has been displaced from the mother he loves and feels that Barry is using her for his own gain. But there is something about Barry that we admire and something about Bullingdon that we mistrust.

In this scene, their characters arrive at their final reckoning and we understand them finally and completely. Barry has done wrong. He has used and shamed Lord Bullingdon's mother. But by shooting into the ground when he has a chance to end the duel by shooting Lord Bullingdon instead he shows that he is capable of understanding his mistakes and atoning for them. He confirms what we have thought about him from the beginning: He is prone to mistakes and misguided actions but has the humanity to accept them and if possible, correct them.

Lord Bullingdon on the other hand shows us that he does not understand honor in any reasonable way outside of shallow displays such as duels to gain satisfaction. We may have had sympathy for him at times but his refusal to accept Barry's gesture of firing into the ground as a clear acknowledgement of his wrongs and, in some ways, an apology tells us that Lord Bullingdon is a small petty man.

As the film ends, Lord Bullingdon presides over his mother signing over money for Barry as a part of an agreement for Barry to leave. Barry himself is now an amputee having lost the leg Lord Bullingdon shot. Lord Bullingdon will live the rest of his life inside a body intact, but one wracked with self-doubt and cowardice. Barry Lyndon will travel to the states and live out his life as a travelling gamester. He may have lost his leg, but unlike Lord Bullingdon, he is clearly a man in full.


Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Cinema Still Life: Alice Guy

The first woman director, Alice Guy (1873 - 1968), center, on the set of her first film La Fee aux choux (1896 or 1900) for Gaumont Talking Pictures. The film is listed on IMDB as released in 1896 but the Gaumont catalogue lists it as number 370 which would place it more accurately in the year 1900 as well as her other 49 films which are listed between 1896 and 1899 but according to Gaumont would be in the early 1900's. Who's correct? Who knows. Eventually she directed for Pathe and Metro but ended up out of the biz writing in fanzines.

Click for larger image.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

End Credits: Something About This Looks Familiar

Movies remakes that are not, strictly speaking, remakes like Cape Fear or War of the Worlds, but clever adaptations. First the "remake" and then its inspiration, whether movie, play or book.

1. A Star is Born (1937) / What Price Hollywood? (1932)

2. Forbidden Planet (1956) / The Tempest (1611)

3. Apocalypse Now (1979) / Heart of Darkness (1902)

4. Airplane (1980) / Zero Hour (1957)

5. Outland (1981) / High Noon (1952)

6. The Big Chill (1983) / Return of the Secaucus Seven (1980)

7. Clueless (1995) / Emma (1816)

8. A Bug's Life (1998) / The Magnificent Seven (1960) / The Seven Samurai (1954)

9. Mission Impossible II (2000) / Notorious (1946)

10. Flight Plan (2005) / The Lady Vanishes (1938)


End Credit Remakes

Friday, August 3, 2007

Unseen Images: The Luck of Ginger Coffey


Irvin Kershner is not a famous director, but you probably know at least a few of his films. He directed George C. Scott in the minor 1967 hit, The Flim-Flam Man, Richard Harris in The Return of a Man called Horse (1976), Faye Dunaway in Eyes of Laura Mars (1978), Sean Connery in his return to the role of James Bond in Never Say Never Again (1983) and most famously, the cast of Star Wars in The Empire Strikes Back (1980). But most people have never heard of his best film, made on a limited budget with a relatively unknown cast in 1964. The film is The Luck of Ginger Coffey. It starred Robert Shaw who had just recently gone from anonymity to blockbuster recognition with his appearance in From Russia with Love but his skills as an actor were still untested, still an unknown quantity. After this film the matter would be settled. His performance as Ginger Coffey is one of the best performances of the sixties, bar none. Along with Shaw was Mary Ure, Shaw's real life wife, playing Ginger's wife in the film.

By the late fifties, Britain had started to produce what would come to be known as "kitchen-sink dramas." Some notable ones include Look Back in Anger and This Sporting Life. The term came from an expressionist painting by John Bratby featuring a kitchen sink. The critic David Sylvester wrote an article referring to trends in art going more towards featuring the banality of everyday life and referred to the Bratby painting in the article. The term caught on and soon an entire genre was created. Although many films could fit into the "kitchen-sink" genre, generally speaking the characters should be from the U.K., the film should be in black and white, possess no cinematic pretensions and involve ordinary people dealing with ordinary problems. The Luck of Ginger Coffey fits that formulation to a tee and although it is rarely mentioned among "kitchen-sink" dramas it is easily among the best.


It is clear from the beginning that James Francis Coffey, nicknamed "Ginger", is a dreamer. He has moved his wife Vera and his daughter Paulie to Canada in search of a better life. Ginger has so far failed at every job he's taken but he's sure that here he will succeed. "Those jobs weren't for me," he tells his wife. "They couldn't see my true talents." Ginger always has a reason why those other jobs failed and it never seems to be him.

It doesn't take long for Vera and Paulie to lose faith in Ginger and long to return to Ireland. Vera starts saving money for tickets back home but Ginger takes the money and blows it. When confronted with Vera's fury over this Ginger assures her they don't need to save because any minute now his ship will roll in. But the Coffey's do have one thing in their favor, a rich friend who can get Ginger the job he wants at a local paper.

It seems Ginger has always fancied himself a journalist and believes that's what he should be doing. When he's given a job as a low level copy-editor at a local newspaper he accepts it begrudgingly. He doesn't feel a man of his age and wisdom should be starting at the bottom but should be given a byline his first day on the job. At this point, one begins to feel the same frustration with Ginger that his wife and daughter feel and it comes as no surprise to anyone but Ginger when Vera and Paulie leave him, taking up residence with that rich friend. After taking everything with them Ginger has no choice but to move in to the local Y.M.C.A.

Here he meets a man who works for a local diaper service and Ginger is offered a delivery job. He takes it as an effort to show Vera and Paulie that he is willing to do hard work to win them back. Paulie is convinced and with his duel income he is able to afford a small flat for himself and Paulie, all the while assuring Vera that his promotion at the paper to a reporter is just around the corner.

At the diaper delivery job Ginger excels. He comes up with new ideas to make the service more efficient and even re-designs their logo to draw in more business. And that's when it happens. That's when the viewer looks into the eyes of a man destined for failure and knows there is nothing they can do about it. It is all the more frustrating and heartbreaking because while everyone around him can see it, Ginger cannot. The diaper service offers him a promotion, a big one, where he can be in charge of taking the service in new directions.

Ginger turns it down.

Accepting the promotion would mean devoting all of his time to the job meaning he would have to leave his low-level newspaper job. And that's the job that Ginger is convinced is his future. By this point, perhaps feeling sorry for him, Vera has come back. The struggles continue as Ginger has left the diaper service to focus on the paper job only to be laid-off. No promotion. No reporter's byline. And now, no job at all.

Ginger, drunk and depressed, relieves himself on a tree in a public park and is arrested for indecent exposure. In the courtroom, jokes are made about drinking and the Irish and Ginger is humiliated. Ginger tells his story to the judge, who takes pity on him and dismisses the charges. In the final scene, Vera waits for Ginger outside the courthouse. As she tells him it will get better, they walk off across the courthouse lawn together, unsure of themselves and with an uncertain future ahead.


The Luck of Ginger Coffey is not a "happy" film by any stretch of the imagination. But it's not as depressing as the synopsis makes it sound either. There is hope for Ginger. One could reasonably assume he could go back to the diaper company with his tail between his legs and get his old job back. But that's not really the point. Like them or hate them, the point of the "kitchen-sink" dramas was to get inside the lives of everyday people and that didn't always mean a rosy ending for the title character, ala Georgy Girl. Sometimes, it didn't always mean an ending at all, at least not in the traditional sense.

As the film ends the story line is depressing but the characters are not. Vera has returned to Ginger and is encouraging him. People cannot change who they are overnight or perhaps ever but they can take steps in the right direction. Ginger worked two jobs to prove to himself and his wife and daughter that he could do it. Sad as the ending may seem there is hope, hope for both of them.

Orson Welles famously said, "If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story." The point being that we all have multiple happy endings and multiple sad endings but they're not really endings at all, just starting points for the next step. The Luck of Ginger Coffey shows us a man with many happy and sad endings weaving in and out of his life. Picking one to start or end his story would not help the viewer to understand him. We understand Ginger only through watching his decisions produce consequences after an "ending" or "beginning" has occurred. We, the viewers, can see where those starting and stopping points are. The tragedy of Ginger Coffey is that, try as he may, he simply cannot. As he walks from the courthouse we have hope for him and his wife, hope that he will see those "beginnings" when they arrive, but ultimately fear that he will not. It's not a happy ending but it's the only ending the movie can give us. We may not have a cut and dry conclusion, but we know Ginger Coffey well, and we understand him. Hopefully one day, he will too.


Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Cinema Still Life: The First Full Length In-Flight Movie

Imperial Airways, April 6th, 1925. Actually, in 1921 Aeromarine Airways showed a short Howdy Chicago. Aeromarine Airways had amphibian planes and HOWDY CHICAGO was played as they came into Chicago via the lake. Ah, marketing. But Imperial Airways showed a full length box office smash, Conan Doyle's The Lost World from that very year, 1925.

It was until 1961 that airlines began showing feature films as a part of regularly scheduled flights. The first to be shown on a regularly scheduled flight was By Love Possessed with Lana Turner and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. on a TWA flight from New York to Los Angeles. I'll take The Lost World.

Click for larger image.