Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Birthday Salute to Junior

Carl's 26th Birthday Party in 1934.

I neglected to mention it last year and almost forgot again this year but yesterday, April 28th, marked the 101st birthday of Carl Laemmle, Jr, son of Carl Laemmle, founder of Universal Pictures and Head of Production from 1928 to 1936, the Golden Years of the studio. I'm sorry I didn't write it up last year on his 100th but this year he was fresh on my mind thanks to a post by Arbogast concerning two little movies done under his guidance, Frankenstein (1931) and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), both directed by the great James Whale. Carl, known as Junior to friends and family, died of a stroke in 1979 but his legacy will live on forever.

During his years as Head of Production, Universal produced an amazing output of film art with a fraction of the money a studio like MGM had to throw around. And while that included some big award winning prestige films like All Quiet on the Western Front and Waterloo Bridge, the main thing Junior did was make Horror a respectable genre for a studio to hang its hat on. The Cat Creeps (1930), Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Old Dark House (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), and Bride of Frankenstein (1935) all came under Junior's supervision. In 1935 the studio was losing money despite the box office results of the Horror hits and Junior put favorite director James Whale at the helm of Show Boat (1936). It was a huge success but not enough to save the studio. The two Laemmles were bought out and Junior never produced again. But while he was producing he gave us some of the great works of thirties cinema (and of all time) and helped define the look and feel of Horror for years to come. Happy Belated Birthday Junior, and thanks for the movies.

Carl and Junior in 1931, the year both DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN were released.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

TOERIFC May: Dancer in the Dark

This May 18th, less than three weeks from now, TOERIFC will presents it's fifth film discussion, this one hosted by Pat of Doodad Kind of Town.

The May selection is Dancer in the Dark and on the main TOERIFC site you will find six new sidebar banners that you can put up to advertise the discussion. I have mine linked to the main TOERIFC site where the top post shows links to Pat's site and a countdown to the post time. I recommend doing the same but if you want to link your pic directly to Pat's site now please do. As always, on the date of the discussion I will change all the links to TOERIFC both here and on the main site to the permalink on Pat's post.

And remember - Anyone who has seen the movie recently or knows it well enough already can join in the discussion so rent it or buy it today and give it a watch so you can join in the discussion.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Name That Movie, Round 2, Clip 13

It's time for Name that Movie again. Will clip 13 be unlucky for Bill and Flickhead? Will someone else - Bob, Thom or someone new to this round - come up with the answer? We shall see. Good luck.


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Wake Up to Coffee with Gene

Gene Tierney enjoys coffee at home during an interview in 1951. Have a cup with her.

Why do I feel like I'm cheating on Peter Nellhaus by doing this?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Attention all TOERIFC Members: Need Help with Updates and Questions

Hello all and a pleasant day to you. On Monday, April 20th, TOERIFC (The Oldest Established Really Important Film Club) hosted its fourth monthly film discussion and it was once again a smashing success. The film, Ingmar Bergman's The Serpent's Egg, was selected by Bill of The Kind of Face You Hate and for the fourth straight time comments exceeded 175! Thanks to all the TOERIFC members for continuing to make it such a great place to gather once a month and discuss film.

The great thing about TOERIFC that we have all discovered is that it allows everyone to really hash out the whys, whats and hows of a particular film in a concentrated yet loose jam session of ideas. The selecting member chooses the film, writes it up at his or her blog and then anyone who has seen it is encouraged to jump in and start discussing ideas with fellow members.

Of course, not everyone can spend a whole day doing that and we all understand. As such there has developed in the first four discussions a core group of commenters: Ed, Bill, Fox, Marilyn, Rick, Pat, Flickhead, Joe Campanella, Kassy and myself (whew, that was a lot of linking). Those names represent the ten who commented on the last discussion and the other discussions have had a few others comment as well, but to the best of my knowledge, those ten, henceforth known as the TOERIFC Ten, have commented on all posts thus far.

Now, some others, Kimberly, Arbogast and Piper, have supported our efforts on their blogs and I want to thank them for that. As a result I have added them to the TOERIFC sidebar as members, whether they actively engage in the discussion or not. Kimberly did in fact join in The Tin Drum discussion and will discuss others when she can. Piper has asked to make a selection and other bloggers, Mykal of Radiation Cinema, Joe of Cinexcellence, The Film Doctor and Matthew Lucas of From the The Front Row have also asked to join. On top of that, Miranda has had to back out of selecting a film but still wholeheartedly supports the enterprise. So...

I'd like to put Pat Piper in Miranda's September slot. Tom Sutpen has announced on his blog about his October posting and others like Krauthammer, Ibetolis and Joseph may feel comfortable with the slots they have as well in November, December and January. However, since they made their selections before Piper I will be happy to move everyone up a month and Piper can take the January slot. Tom, Krauthammer, Ibetolis and Joseph - Please let me know your preference!

That leaves Mykal, Joe, Filmdr and Matthew. Now, I'd like to ask my fellow administrators, Rick and Marilyn, as well as the other members of the TOERIFC Ten, as well as everyone involved in this post, if they agree or disagree with the following suggestion: Since we have a core group of commenters that I believe should stay directly involved in the club by doing posts I was thinking that we could take the TOERIFC Ten and have them in continuous post rotation in the current order of Marilyn in the first position to Joseph in the tenth position. Anyone else discovering the club and wanting to contribute can be positioned anywhere in the rotation at any time. If they have a great experience with their post and want to continue they can go in the permanent rotation too. The idea is this: For everyone here from the start, I don't want anyone to lose interest because they're only getting to write up a movie once every two or three years. I'd like it to be more of a once every 8 to 10 months kind of a thing. Now I also notice that Kassy hasn't volunteered for a selection so Kassy, please let me know if you would like to.

There are a lot of questions in this post and I want everyone to know this isn't a set in stone/cast your vote yea or nay situation. Just a feel for everyone's opinion, thoughts on the process and the like. Let me know what you think of the ideas presented here.

And don't forget: Next month's selection is Dancer in the Dark, the 2000 film by Lars von Trier. It was selected by Pat of A Doodad Kind of Town where it will be written up in May. Pat, I've got the countdown running based on an arbitrary date of May 15th at 10:00 a.m. Please let me know exactly when you actually want to do it and I'll adjust the counter. And remember, anyone but ANYONE can join in the discussion. All we ever ask is that you have recently watched the movie or know it very well already so that the discussion will be both lively and informed. Thanks again to everyone for making TOERIFC such a success. See you in May!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Spread of Activation VII: The Earth Day Edition

It's Earth Day and let's celebrate by bragging on how much aliens love our planet. They do! They can't get enough of it, from War of the Worlds to Independence Day they want the whole thing. In Close Encounters of the Third Kind they love us so much they're willing to travel light years, lots of 'em, just to say "Hi." Awww. In This Island Earth, despite being much more advanced than us scientifically, they want our help with their own planet Metaluna, and a couple of our best and brightest oblige. Sometimes we're naughty, and since they love us so much they feel the need to show us the error of our ways, like in The Day the Earth Stood Still where they gently but firmly tell us to stop our warring ways or they'll kill us. Gee thanks Dad! And in 2001: A Space Odyssey those aliens... well, okay who knows what in the hell they're up to but whatever it is, we're the centerpiece of their master plan. Yes, Science Fiction, beloved here at Cinema Styles, has always operated under the conceit that you just can't find a better planet than good old Mother Earth.

The great thing about most science fiction is that outside the gobbledygook of the basic plot they don't try to explain too much. It's usually kept to a couple of sentences revolving around our natural resources or danger to the rest of the galaxy or something stupid like that. And it's a good thing too because when you think about Earth centered sci-fi plots they never actually make much sense. For instance, take the "destroy and conquer" plots.

War of the Worlds and Independence Day are all about alien races envying what we've got here and wanting to take it for themselves. In War of the Worlds, they apparently buried tripods a million years ago with the intent of taking over the planet. Why they didn't just do it then when they would have encountered NO technological resistance I have no idea. Why they didn't research the environment to realize that bacteria present here would kill them is another mystery for the ages. They have the technology to form an invasion plan from millions of miles away over a thousand centuries but didn't bother to research the environment and how it interacts with their own biology. Wow, that's monumentally bad planning!

And how about the Independence Day dullards? They too can construct fleets of ships and massive mother ships to invade a world for it's resources when the gathering of resources from planets and asteroids is something even we already understand but lack the technology and money to get enough ships to the asteroids and planets to collect the resources. The aliens of ID4 do realize don't they, with their advanced technology, that they can strip mine the galaxy for all the resources they need without once having to actually mount an invasion? They realize that right? Oh no wait, of course they don't because Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich are the guys that provided them with their motivation in the first place.

Or how about the "Earth is a danger to the rest of us" plot of The Day the Earth Stood Still? Ha! That's a laugh. People seemed to think in 1951 that nuclear weapons could destroy the universe. Your average humdrum star, going through the process of nuclear fusion constantly, produces more heat and radiation in a second than every nuclear weapon on Earth combined could ever hope to do. Which makes me think of The Day the Earth Caught Fire.

The Day the Earth Caught Fire has nothing to do with aliens, I know, but this ain't called Spread of Activation for nothing. See, in The Day the Earth Caught Fire, which is a great and underrated movie by the way, the Earth is thrown off of her axis by two hydrogen bomb tests by the United States and the Soviet Union done at the exact same time at the North and South Poles. Okay, first of all, even if a nuclear bomb could somehow move an object with a mass of 6,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 kilograms (6E+24 kilograms / 1.3E+25 pounds), and brother would that need to be one HUGE-ASS nuclear bomb, the fact that you have two at opposite ends would simply result in the two offsetting each other, further resulting in, well, nothing. For the plot to work it should just be one bomb, not two. Oh well, at least with a destroyed Earth no aliens are going to want to take it.

But what about destroying the Earth? Does Sci-Fi have anything to say about that? But of course it does! Everyone loves apocalyptic Sci-Fi. From asteroids to global warming to nuclear warfare Sci-Fi loves destroying the planet Earth. There's a new one coming out soon, 2012, and like the other ones it looks pretty stupid. My favorite in the field is probably the aforementioned The Day the Earth Caught Fire but for instant destruction I'll go with Deep Impact.

Deep Impact was released in 1998 in competition with another asteroid destruction movie, Armageddon. Deep Impact gets 5.9 on IMDB and Armageddon gets 6.0. This is important because it reminds me that most people who rate movies on IMDB are idiots and it's always good to remember that. Who knows, one day it may save your life. I don't know how, but I'm not ruling it out. Anyway, Deep Impact is a pretty good disaster flick as these things go. They do have their cake and eat it too of course by having the smaller non-planet killing asteroid hit so we can all enjoy the special effects and having the bigger planet killing one destroyed so we can all enjoy the happy ending. That was kind of chickenshit in my book but hey I understand the need for it. Besides in the instant destruction sub-genre you've got to show something to the audience. I mean, we paid money to see the planet killed, or at least injured. Which takes me to my final category, the slow death of the planet as exemplified by films such as Silent Running and Wall-E.

These don't work as well for me. Wall-E has an interesting nugget of a sci-fi idea but focuses on the robots instead of the people, which makes sense since it's mainly for kids. But for me it's like watching Star Wars where R2-D2 and C3PO are the main characters and everyone else is a bit player. Silent Running on the other hand has a very interesting main character played by Bruce Dern but a hard to swallow plot device: The Earth is now devoid of all plant life. Uh huh. As Carl Sagan said in Cosmos, "We need the trees much more than they need us." Without us the plants would be fine. Without the plants, and all apologies to Coruscant, we wouldn't be here. The idea of a functioning planet without plants is ludicrous but it's still a good movie with an interesting central character and a trio of droids (Huey, Dewey and Louie) that predate those previously mentioned Star Wars droids by five years. And it's one of the first major Sci-Fi movies with an environmental theme which makes it a good one to wrap up with on this Earth Day.

So Happy Earth Day everyone! Watch an Earth destruction Sci-Fi movie today. Sometimes the best way to appreciate what you've got is to see what it would be like if it were taken away.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Wake Up to Breakfast at Bill's Place

Don't forget: Monday, April 20th is the date of discussion for TOERIFC's next selection The Serpent's Egg, chosen by Bill of The Kind of Face You Hate. His post on the film will be up at 10:00 a.m. on the East Coast. If you have seen the film recently or know it well enough to join in the discussion then please do, the more the merrier.

And Name That Film will return next week here on Cinema Styles.

Friday, April 17, 2009

History and the Movies: The San Francisco Earthquake

Tomorrow is April 18th, the day 103 years ago that San Francisco was rocked with a 7.8 magnitude* earthquake and subsequently burned to the ground. Initial figures of deaths in the hundreds were doctored and the real death toll, which was in the thousands, was hidden from the public because the city government was afraid people might be apprehensive to move back in and businesses might be scared away. It took two to three years for the city to clean-up and start rebuilding the downtown area and a few more for it's economy to get back on track. The earthquake is still one of the strongest to ever hit the continental United States, though the strongest is still the almost unbelievable in size 9.2 earthquake of March 28, 1964 in Anchorage, Alaska. Thirty years after the fact, the movies got involved.

San Francisco was released in 1936 and starred Clark Gable, Jeanette McDonald and Spencer Tracy. The story of gambling hall owners, singers and priests called... Tim, really didn't matter much. The main thing was to show the earthquake and that's what ended up raking in the dough for all concerned. And Hollywood took notice. Using disaster as a backdrop for soap opera (touched on recently here in a post on the Titanic) quickly caught on and within a year John Ford had directed and released The Hurricane with its spectacular ending using extraordinary miniatures and even more extraordinary wind and water machines that must have made Thomas Mitchell and Dorothy Lamour wish they were in a real hurricane. From that movie to the seventies disaster flicks such as Earthquake and The Towering Inferno to the nineties offerings of Twister and Deep Impact to the 2000's The Day After Tomorrow the sub-genre is alive and well.

It does so well because audiences love seeing destruction and the wrath of nature from a safe distance. It's too terrifying and heartbreaking in real life but fictionalized up on the screen it can be awesome to behold. I grew up in Charleston, SC which suffered a massive intraplate earthquake in 1886. It was felt as far as Chicago, IL, Cuba and Bermuda. Charleston has only had that one big one but it has small earthquakes almost daily and every few weeks they're big enough to feel. Growing up there I got used to occasionally hearing all of nature go silent for a few seconds and then feeling the tremor as the doors rattled and the dishes shook. I also saw my fair share of hurricanes and tropical storms. I was already living in DC when Hurricane Hugo slammed into Charleston in 1989, just days before another huge earthquake rocked San Francisco, but going home to see my parents afterward it was amazing to me that anything had survived, so devastated did the whole area look. Like I said, close-up it's not much fun, but seen in a movie it can exhilarating, even cathartic.

The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 was also one of the first big natural disasters well documented photographically, with both still and motion picture photography. Thirty years before the fiction movie was released, newsreel footage was abundent and can be seen below in the first clip. The second clip is from the climax of the 1936 movie, showing the first part of the earthquake unfold. On April 18th, 1906 San Francisco was destroyed by an earthquake. In 1936 Hollywood exploited that event and discovered gold still lay in the hills of San Francisco after all. Over a hundred years later we still don't know enough about earthquakes to predict when they will occur but predicting big-budget onscreen destruction is as easy as checking the calendar. Every summer the aftershocks of that Gable-McDonald romance are still felt, and will be until the world ends in 2012.


*current estimate.

Further Links:
The Virtual San Francisco Museum
Wikipedia entry on 1906 earthquake
Eyewitness to History
USGS Page on 1906 Earthquake

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Day May Come...

Hold your ground! Hold your ground!

Sons and Daughters of Blogspot, of Wordpress, of tumblr and Movable Type, my brothers and sisters, I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of bloggers fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship...

But it is not this day.

An hour of wolves and shattered laptops, when the age of blogs comes crashing down...

But it is not this day!

This day we blog!!

By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you stand, Bloggers of the West!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tax Day: All Around Suckage

It's tax time again here in the States. Yes, April 15th, the day souls are crushed, dreams are shattered and fortunes lost. But don't worry, you're not alone. For instance...

There's the tax pigs. If they grew that much between 1940 and 1951, imagine how big they are now. My God, they must be monstrous!


Then there's this lady with her son looking at the long form at the Federal Building in this pic from April 15th, 1958. She slaps her hand to her face, "Oy vey," she thinks, but just look at that crowd behind her. Major suckage going on there!


But don't worry Long Form Lady because even the stars have problems. Why it's Bette Davis in tax court in 1951. She sets an example to all of us by smiling even as Uncle Sam's lawyers are mere minutes away from reducing her pathetic lawyer to smoldering doggy poo. See, here's the thing, they're the IRS, and if they say you owe, YOU OWE! Period! Up yours Hollywood Star! Time to pay up!


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

History and the Movies: Titanic

On this night, April 14th, 1912, the Titanic struck an iceberg in the chilled waters of the North Atlantic and slipped under the waves in the early morning hours of the 15th shortly after. The Titanic disaster has been written about and turned into dramatic movie fare so often that its fact has blended with fiction and new writers and filmmakers are consistently looking for a new angle, a new approach. After the last big movie, Titanic (1997, d. James Cameron) no one wants to make another given the overwhelming success of that production: billions in box office worldwide - yes, billions - eleven Oscars, good critical reception (even if some critics deny it now) and even a few top ten lists. Money, Critical Reception and Awards: It's the sacred triumvirate of movie success that Hollywood producers dream of but rarely achieve. Once achieved it's hard to bounce back from. It's taken Cameron 12 years to finally direct another non-documentary movie (Avatar, December 2009).

The Titanic has also been used as a backdrop in otherwise engaged dramas such as Cavalcade (1933, d. Frank Lloyd), as a punchline in Time Bandits (1981, d. Terry Gilliam) and even as the basis for a computer adventure time-travel game, Titanic: Adventure out of Time (1995).

To some extent I've liked all of the Titanic movies I've seen because the event itself looms so large in my mind that any dramatic recreation of it will hold my attention. In the end however, looking back as objectively as I can, it is the movie-making world's distrust of history and disrespect for the intelligence of its audience that eventually takes me out of most Titanic movies, save one.

Allow me to explain by taking a short digression to an American Experience episode on Annie Oakley that I recently watched. It didn't take long to realize that Annie Oakley had a pretty damned interesting, and at times, fascinating life. And every single movie made about her had utterly destroyed the facts in favor of Hollywood make-believe. It was maddening to watch this documentary and think how pathetic in comparison were the stories of Annie Oakley (1935, d. George Stevens) or Annie Get Your Gun (1950, d. George Sidney) to Annie's real life. Why Hollywood believes their unimaginative, mediocre story inventions trump that of reality I'll never know. They claim it is for audience appeal and I'm sure to some extent they are right.   Certainly the story of Jack and Rose aboard the Titanic helped that film's fortunes greatly.

For myself though, that's precisely the problem. When it comes to the story of the Titanic, history trumps fiction every time. I know many people are fans of Cameron's Titanic, from critics I respect to bloggers I know and love, and I am not here to bash the film. In fact, I think Cameron did a superb job of directing the chaos of that tragic night and handled the epic length of the film quite admirably. It maintains a steady but quick pace throughout. But I don't care about Jack and Rose.  For that matter, I don't care about Julia and Richard Sturges in the 1953 Titanic (d. Jean Negulesco) either, or any of the other fictional character I've seen in theatrical or made for television versions. And it goes beyond that: I get a little annoyed by their very existence. I find the real story so compelling that fictional creations in lieu of the real people seems insulting to me. Why hasn't anyone ever focused on the Strausses in a movie? A couple so deeply in love they died together rather than have one die while the other lived alone. They get a shot or two in most of the movies but that's it. I guess they're not young enough to hold anyone's interest.

Of course there is one movie that does deal with history, the one so many hold up as the best of the Titanic films and for good reason: Because it is. I refer to A Night To Remember (1958, d. Roy Ward Baker), a film that eschews fictional characters in favor of the officers aboard the Titanic facing and dealing with the disaster thrust upon them on that fateful night. The main character is Second Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller played by Kenneth More. For this viewer the movie is gripping in part because the historical figures aboard the real Titanic become the characters we follow in the movie. Lightoller has not one doomed romance while aboard the ship on its maiden voyage and yet somehow is still interesting. He does not have a single custody battle with his ex-wife and yet doesn't bore the viewer to sleep. Amazing. Who would've thought soap opera storylines would be unnecessary when dealing with a story about a massive steamliner dragging over 1500 people to their deaths? I'll still watch those other Titanic movies if I happen across them, so fascinated am I by the story of that ship, but A Night To Remember is the only one I can honestly recommend and feel good about. The rest are inventions with an interesting backdrop, a historical event used to prop up make-believe drama, an event that occurred 97 years ago tonight and will reach the century mark in just three more. Will there be a new movie in 2012 to mark the occasion? Perhaps. Will it be the best yet made? It's possible. For now though, the best yet made is the one whose title also perfectly evokes the reflection upon that quiet moonless night when over 1500 people met their deaths and 706 escaped from a night that no one would soon forget, A Night to Remember.
Links and resources:
Open Directory on Titanic - Amazing and extremely thorough online compilation of multiple resources of Titanic information, for just about any topic on the Titanic one is interested in.
Library of Congress Online, where the photos for this post were retrieved. Not all photos at the site are available for reuse so check the copyright information. The ones posted here are in the public domain.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Name That Movie, Round 2, Clip 12

Here's the clip for this week. There's nothing obscure about this one. Most movie lovers have probably seen it at some point so I expect it will be quick work today. Unless of course, it's been a while since you've seen it and you don't remember the scene, which is always possible too. Good luck.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Peter's On His Way

I don't know who any of these people are. I do know that the parents of the kids in the photo immediately below should expect some industrial-size vomiting later in the day. Below them is a girl on an Easter Egg Hunt on the White House lawn, 80 years ago in 1929, standing with what appears to be a hastily constructed bunny made by a blindfolded chimpanzee. And finally three women prepare for an Easter Parade, at least according to the photo captions and no, I don't know what in the hell they're doing either. But they're kind of creepy. So there you have it. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Prelude to a Kiss

Edmund Goulding, director of Grand Hotel, The Dawn Patrol and Nightmare Alley, instructs students as to how to properly shoot a kiss for the camera at Columbia University during a special motion picture class in 1927. Not an actual academic major for decades the school offered up what I can only assume was a one time deal or an elective course on movies. I couldn't say for sure because there is no further info on the photo. I wondered if Goulding grabbed the heads of his stars when setting up a kiss. Probably not.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Serpent's Egg is TOERIFC's April Selection

Just a reminder that you've still got almost two full weeks to rent or buy The Serpent's Egg and watch it. Then head over to The Kind of Face You Hate on April 20th, where Bill R. will handle the duties of writing up the film in question, and join in the discussion.

I put up a sidebar banner yesterday but haven't seen it on any other TOERIFC members blogs so it probably hasn't been noticed yet. So, simply follow this link to choose from one of two sidebar banners for the movie. I also couldn't help but notice for the last couple of selections that the sidebar banners are too small on some sidebars. This occurs because of Blogger's buggy "shrink to fit" option when posting a picture in the sidebar. It shrinks it too much. So, if you have a 150 pixel wide sidebar (Bill, that's what you have) choose the 150 pixel wide banner and when you upload it, unselect the "shrink to fit" option. Then simply provide a link to the main TOERIFC address where the time and place of discussion is listed. On the date of discussion you can change that to the actual permalink of Bill's post on the film. Thanks, and see you there.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Ten People I Know

There's this viral meme infecting the blogs these days having something to do with naming ten favorite characters in the movies. So many have admitted that they have dozens of favorites and that the list changes from day to day and that a little bending of the rules is required that I don't feel bad about changing it around a little bit for myself as well.

I have dozens if not a couple of hundred favorite characters in the movies. Maybe more. Seriously. Think about how many movies where you see a character with only a line or two but they're so good you say in reference to them forever after, "I love that guy!" or "I love that lady!" Happens to me all the time. Or favorites from childhood like the Cowardly Lion played by Bert Lahr. I love the Cowardly Lion played by Bert Lahr ("Unusual weather we're having, ain't it?"). But, for favorites, true favorites, characters that really connect with me on a deeper level, well... that's a whole different ballgame.

Favorite characters for me are the ones that resemble someone in my life or remind me of some time in my life. And not just a passing resemblance but a feeling of "dear Lord that's me, or him, or her, or that time!" Where without even knowing me, the filmmakers and actors somehow pinned down an exact moment or time or relationship and got it dead on accurate. It happens in literature and music as well. Many people have a book they read again and again because it mirrors so closely something they have experienced or has a character that is all too familiar. And probably everyone has heard a song with a lyric that seems written for them. Having said that I am a bit trepidatious about revealing this list lest it feel too exhibitionist but what use is a blog for personal expression if one cannot express oneself personally. It's my view that most of us are covering up for something lacking in our lives and I'm no different. Think whatever you will about Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia, but the tagline (one of several) of that movie is like a mantra to me: You may be through with the past but the past ain't through with you. With that in mind, here's the list:

Oma, Fat City. Not only do I think Susan Tyrrell, who played Oma, should have walked away (walked, as in no competition) with the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, I think she should get a Presidential Medal of Freedom for the role. And if you think she or Stacy Keach, also fantastic as fellow drunkard Tully, overplayed their roles well then sorry, I guess you haven't known many alcoholics. I have. They're a part of my life, from my own family to working at a liquor store in a poor neighborhood (probably the saddest job I ever had) right up to today. My wife and I have a friend right now who is a raging alcoholic but also, and more importantly, there's my sister, and no one can steal the crown from my sister. She's been screwed up on drugs and alcohol for as long as I can remember, in jail and out, even married to a drug dealer in the eighties until the F.B.I. closed in and they both made deals to nab the higher-ups. After that they divorced. My sister, almost fifty, lives at home with my parents, sober now but no longer able to make her own way in this world. If you're curious what that looks like, watch Fat City and watch a brilliant portrayal of alcoholism by Susan Tyrrell.

Woody Allen in Husbands and Wives, Manhattan and Deconstructing Harry at various times and various moments of my life. I look nothing like him and certainly don't have groups of friends anywhere near as pretentious or self-important but I swear when I watch those movies it's like that son of a bitch followed me around.

George Bailey, It's a Wonderful Life, played by James Stewart, near the end when he's suicidal because everything, fucking everything, is closing in on him at once. Let me tell you, sometimes you really do feel like giving up. Fortunately I have a guardian angel just like George did and it's my wife.

Marion Crane, Psycho, played by Janet Leigh. Boy, how many times have I felt like taking off with a bagful of money? Too many to count. I feel for Marion and the unfair end she comes to after doing something not out of malice but desperation. She comes to her senses (fortunately I've yet to leave mine) just a little too late.

Madame de, The Earrings of Madame de..., played by Danielle Darrieux. She finally found love and look what it got her. I want her to find love and be happy. God I feel for her.

Laura, Brief Encounter, played by Celia Johnson. She is so like her. So very much like her I can't think of anyone else when I see her. And she's wonderful, both the character and the real person so close to me.

Cooper "Gooper" Pollitt, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, played by Jack Carson. A minor character sure, but there's someone I always think about with him and I have great sympathy for just how badly he misses it. How he just doesn't get it. He just doesn't understand that playing by all the rules and having a tidy life doesn't mean acceptance or even love will come your way. Come to think of it, I know a few people like that. And yet sometimes I envy them even while I know they often envy the stragglers.

Kay Adams, The Godfather I, II and III. Even though I can confidently say my first wife and her friends and family were not gangsters I cannot watch The Godfather and see Kay Adams and not feel an absolute closeness to her and what she's going through. I was never, ever, connected to the world my first wife lived in and she never made any attempt to connect me to it. Not that I wanted to. Like Kay, I made several futile attempts to get her out of it but never could. Oddly enough, the most derided of all Godfather films, the third one, provides the most dead on line for me in my situation with my first wife. When Michael says to Kay, "You hate me, don't you?" she responds, "I don't hate you, I dread you." Wow! That is it! Spot on!

Everyone seems to have a cheat on these lists and here's mine: Dodsworth, all three leads played by Walter Huston, Mary Astor and Ruth Chatterton. They're all wonderful and I feel for all three, even Ruth Chatterton, desperately trying to cling to youth by bedding younger men.

Howard Beale, Network, played by Peter Finch. I have no connection to this character whatsoever. None. But this line - "I just ran out of bullshit" - that he uses to explain his dramatic change on the air in how he addresses the world... well, I just wish it were that easy sometimes. To just run out of bullshit and bombard the world with brutal honesty. But then you get fired from your job and your kids go hungry and your friends desert you and someone eventually finds a way to kill you, not as dramatically as Howard, but in a slow creeping way. They say "Bullshit makes the world go round" and they're probably right. If I let my higher ups in on my true feelings I'd be cleaning out my desk within the hour and I know it. So I keep feeding them bullshit and my kids keep eating. My wife and I run out of bullshit from time to time but usually realize it's sometime more cruel to tell someone the truth than feed them a lie. You might be ready to be blunt but that doesn't mean someone else is and they've got to get there on their own, same as you. Still, wouldn't it be nice?

I hope no one reading this thinks less of me for the mild exhibitionism in this post but that is how a character truly does become an all-time favorite of mine, a character I can think about at different peaks and valleys of life for inspiration, guidance or even as a warning. It's just one of the reasons the movies mean so much to me, because in so many ways, they are and always will be, a part of me.


Now comes the matter of tagging. Well, I don't know who is left at this point. I thank Flickhead and Brian for tagging me for this meme and extend the tag to anyone who has not yet been tagged. And even if they have already been tagged, I still want to tag Arbogast, Neil, Marilyn, Sheila and Ryan. Also anyone who is linked on my sidebar and has not been tagged yet I tag YOU! Seriously. Look on the blogroll. If you're there and have not been tagged yet consider this official. I just don't want to type out all those links right now. Thanks.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Name That Movie, Round 2 Clip 11

It's Name that Movie time again. Bill and Flickhead are the clear leaders but I have a feeling today they will stumble. Just a feeling. Here's the clip:


Saturday, April 4, 2009

Climbing Up on Murray Hill

Recently, Bill R. of The Kind of Face You Hate did a piece on actors who were/are also writers. I don't remember if he was mentioned but Leslie Howard is a prime example. He wrote plays for Broadway in the twenties and thirties including Murray Hill in 1927 which, as the poster describes, is a Society Farce-Comedy. And I do so love the addition of the word "comedy" after "farce" so the reader of the poster doesn't confuse it with a Society Farce-Drama ("Yes it was profoundly moving social commentary, when I wasn't splitting my sides from the farcical hijinks!").

It was put up as a part of the WPA's Federal Theatre Project in 1940. In the year prior Howard had played the role of Ashley Wilkes in Gone With The Wind, which incidentally turns 70 this year. And on it's 75th anniversary in 2014 it will officially be longer since the movie was made than the end of the Civil War was from the time the movie was released (74 years). Leslie Howard died in 1943 after the plane he was travelling in was shot down by a German bomber over the Bay of Biscay. It's still disputed what happened that night so for a more thorough account of the theories go to the Wikipedia entry on Howard's death here.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Fun with Sophia and Carlo

Ah those two kids, always laughing it up!

There's no denying Sophia was a beauty, but am I the only one to think there's a slight resemblance with this other famous actress?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

History and the Movies: Jeannette Rankin

I often connect history and the movies in my head. When I think about or read about an historical event, often a movie dealing with the same themes will come to mind. Today is no exception. On this day in 1917 Jeanette Rankin officially took her seat in the House of Representatives to become the first woman elected to the United States Congress, and whenever I think of Rankin, Friendly Persuasion comes to mind. Allow me to explain.

Women did not have the right to vote across the nation yet in 1918 when Rankin was first elected but they did in Montana, the state from which she hailed. Her election was historic but unfortunately for Rankin, a mere four days after taking her seat there was a vote to enter into the war in Europe, later to be known as World War I. It was unfortunate because she was a pacifist and took the unpopular route of voting against it. A total of fifty members voted against it but as a woman, she was singled out, as if all women would immediately be pacifist. The implication being that a woman didn't have the guts to go to war, nevermind the 49 men who also voted against it. She wasn't re-elected and stayed on in Washington for twenty years as a lobbyist until being voted back to Congress in 1940. Yes, 1940, meaning that December 7th, 1941 occurred during her term of office. Surely her timing at getting elected, not once but twice, decades apart, both times just when a World War was underway, has to be one of the most extraordinary instances of bad luck in political history.

She voted against war with Japan and this time she was not one of fifty, she was one of one. She was alone. Her statement before casting her lone "Nay" vote was, ""As a woman, I can't go to war and I refuse to send anyone else. It is not necessary. I vote NO." It is probably not necessary to relate that this did not go over particularly well. The position was so unpopular she didn't even bother to attempt a re-election campaign.

Rankin was called a pacifist, even by herself, but I don't think that's entirely accurate, or better put, it doesn't tell the whole story. It's all a matter of degrees. Years ago in a discussion with a Professor of History (yes, I was the kind of student that stayed after class and got into discussions with my professors) he told me that he couldn't abide pacifists. They do nothing in the face of injustice, he said, and were to his mind immoral. An activist stands against injustice and he held up Gandhi and Martin Luther King as two shining examples. Non-violent activism was not the same as Pacifism and it bothered him when people confused the two. But that's only one view of Pacifism and a fairly limited one at that (sorry Prof). If you go to this entry on Wikipedia you can see there are as many definitions of Pacifism as there are outlooks on world affairs. Jeanette Rankin was no immoral Pacifist refusing to fight for justice. Quite the opposite.

In life, after voting against both wars, she worked with the war effort on the homefront and later led a march of some 5,000 women to the Capitol Building protesting the Vietnam War. Rankin was an activist with non-violent principles. An extreme pacifist, one that refuses to become involved in any way is quite different than Rankin. One could argue that merely getting elected and taking part in the political process proved she was no Pacifist of the non-involvement variety.

In Friendly Persuasion it's that idea of non-involvement that is palpable. I don't much like the film because I feel it swings back and forth between serious examination of principles and lightheartedness too often and too uneasily for me. I'm no big fan of Samantha the Goose and feel the story would have been better served without all the silliness in between the moral arguments. But those arguments of principle are what make the movie worthwhile. And it has always made me wonder about the ideals of non-involvement.

In the film the Birdwell family will avoid involvement even to the point of not protecting themselves. The son Josh, played by Anthony Perkins, decides to fight against the approaching Confederate hordes and protect himself and his family. His father Jess, Gary Cooper, does not and disagrees with the action. The problem for me is that the film tries to have it both ways. Josh fights but isn't killed and so the characters are spared having to deal with the moral guilt of someone dying to protect them, the very act of with which they disagree.

Or the scene where Jess fights a soldier, overpowers him and then lets him go. Had the soldier threatened Jess enough that Jess kills him in the heat of the moment there would be more places to go but as it is we get to see Jess fight for himself and also be a pacifist, having his cake and eating it too.

How about when the home is invaded while Jess and Josh are gone? The mother, Dorothy McGuire, invites the soldiers in, let's them have whatever they want and everyone's happy. Would that really happen, or would she have been raped and killed? And then would Jess have stood by his religious beliefs or engaged in an act of revenge?

All questions never answered by the film because it never asks them. Still, it is a well made film and William Wyler's direction is admirable. The way the films juggles the moral questions and finally skirts around them though, isn't. In the end, the movie is too afraid to support any one view of pacifism or non-violence to its conclusion. The ideals of fighting for what one believes in but stopping short of violence to get it is an admirable principle, one that I am not sure I could adhere to every day of my life. It would be interesting to see it explored fully by a film like Friendly Persuasion but only in real life, with the likes of Jeanette Rankin, Martin Luther King and Mohandas K. Gandhi, can we see those ideas realized and fully examined.