Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Molestada: Ace in the Hole (1951)

“Molestada” is the best word I could think of to sum up my experience watching Billy Wilder's classic film noir, Ace in the Hole (1951). “Molestada” in Spanish means to be "bothered". But there is something more to "molestada" than there is in "bothered", "disturbed" or even "discomforted". There is a twinge in “molestada” that captures that feeling of a fine nerve being plucked, triggering a well of emotion which over time and after so many plucks begins to overflow.

To say I was completely molestada by Ace in the Hole (1951) is succumbing to the great power of this film. An exploration of media manipulation through the story of one particular bad apple, Charles Tatum (or Charlie, Chuck or plain Tatum depending on who addressed him), a deceitfully opportunistic and greedy journalist. He sees an unfortunate situation, a man trapped cave, and knows how to exploit it for his own need. What's amazing about this is that Tatum is seeking a type of immortality in a business where one's story one day is treasured, and the next day, it's used to wrap fish. He even admits this himself, but still wants to grasp that fame, to make his mark in the industry.

Tatum's character is matched evil-to-evil with Mrs. Lorraine Minosa, the platinum-blonde wife of the poor man trapped in the cave. She's my favorite character. A hard-boiled dame, so overcooked that even her yolk is rock hard. She has only one very small soft spot, which is reserved for the elation she receives from money. Lorraine is as manipulative as Tatum, using her husband's situation for her own selfish needs. Two such characters are so bad, that one town will always be too small for them and its a wonder they don't instantaneously combust when they meet.

I discovered while flipping through my Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide that the film was initially called Ace in the Hole but the name was changed to "The Big Carnival". As part of the Criterion Collection, its kept its original name, for which I'm truly grateful. While Leo Minosa's entrapment and Tatum's media frenzy do result in a twisted carnvial of sorts, I think this film is more aptly named Ace in the Hole as its the germination of Tatum's lucky break, which he exploits too much.

It's a marvel I even got through this film. It took two days of watching it in ten-minute intervals. Somehow I made it through to appreciate it for what it is.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Breaking the Code: Baby Doll (1956) Article

Here is my entry in the booklet for Elia Kazan's Baby Doll. This one was by far the easiest to write.

Broken Code: Impure love must not be presented in such a way to arouse passion or morbid curiosity on the part of the audience.

Stories that take place in the deep South are wonderful exaggerated studies of the human condition, especially when its character's lives seem to fester in the sweltering heat. And nothing festers better than a good Tennessee William's story. Controversial to its very core, Elia Kazan's adaptaion of Baby Doll is true resistance against the code. The repressed and expressed passions in this film are as hot as the exposed light bulbs that hang from the ceilings. And when those two opposing passions collide the results are explosive. Nothing is hidden, nothing is coy, its all exposed and has either the effect of arousal or discomfort. Baby Doll is a woman-child, married too young to Archie Lee, whose frustration with his unconsummated marriage affects his cotton-gin business. Rival, the hot-blooded Mr. Vacero (literally Mr. Cowboy), sweeps into town stealing away Archie's business. In retaliation, Archie burns down Mr. Vacero's gin. But what he doesn't expect, is the hit below the belt when Mr. Vacero manages to seduce his previously frigid young wife.

The swing scene is by far the most infamous and passionate. It is difficult to watch it without experience a quickening of the heart and shortness of breath. With every touch and caress, Mr. Vacero brings out the hidden lust in Baby Doll and brings about her transition from child to woman on the eve of her 20th birthday. Such power that sizzled from the screen, terrified audiences and censors alike leading to a national boycott. Raw sexual energy like that had never been seen before in a film and people immediately resisted it. In 1956, a primary figure in the Catholic church, Cardinal Spellman , spoke out about the film telling all Catholics that if they dared watch this movie, they would commit a sin against God. It eventually got pulled from theatres. Yet, this low-budget film stood out as an legitimately amazing film and received 4 Academy Award nominations. It marked a turning point in how sexuality could be expressed on film and paved the way for the expression of passion in cinema.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Breaking the Code: The Three Faces of Eve Article

Here is the first of six articles that will go in the booklet inside the DVD boxed set. I'm writing one on each of the films plus an introduction to the history of the Hays Code and censorship. I have no idea how long they should be, so this may expand or shrink, but its the general idea. And since the professor won't read the text, he's only looking at design, I can write whatever I want.

Broken Code - Repellent Subject - Apparent cruelty to children or animals

The Three Faces of Eve (1957) is less an example of Hollywood's rebellion against the Hays Code and more a specimen of how restrictive it was to storytelling and how it could not stop the wheels of social change from turning. The film starts with an opening narration in which a psychologist introduces the case of Eve White, a woman who has multiple personality disorder. Based on a true story and provided to the audience as educational rather than entertainment, was one of the ways this film worked around the codes restrictions. Educational material, presented as such, had more leeway than a regular film which only had a story to tell. Three Faces of Eve did something great for film history. It explored the societal and emotional dynamics of mental illness in a new and interesting way. In so many films in the years before, characters were either inherently good or bad or in the case of film noir, ambigously both. It was stepping into murky waters when a character did bad things yet also captured audience's sympathy. Case in point, in Three Faces of Eve, we have Eve White, a quiet unassuming woman. She is a simple housewife and in submission to her backwardly stubborn and aggressive husband. Eve gets these terrible headaches in which her alter-ego Eve Black manifests. This personality is the polar-opposite of Eve White. She's single, flirtatious and manipulative. She even proves herself capable of great violence when tries unsuccessfully to strangle her own daughter to death.

The two "Black" and the "White" personalities into yet another personality deconstructs the ultimate binary of character that has been created by the mental illness. In turn, it deconstructs the social stereotypes of good housewife and it's opposite, cheap floozy to a more grounded image of woman. The two Eves, biblical in their shifts from good to bad, become Jane, symbolic of Janus the two-headed good. Jane is the medium who encapsulates the history of both Eves into one sensible woman. She is independent and has the clarity of mind reconciliate the deep-seated trouble that is festering in the two other personalities. This represents the underlying message of the film, which is a warning against the repression of the female and that individuality and the freedom to be oneself is what balances the person. One could argue that Three Faces of Eve could be one of the minor and quite early germinations in the complex web of the feminist movement. Whether it had been intended that way or not, there is no denying the power of this film.

1) June Allyson was talked out of starring in this film by her husband Dick Powell who thought that she would be a miscast.
2) Joanne Woodward won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Eve White/Eve Black/Jane.
3) Orson Welles was considered for the roll of Dr. Luther, played by Lee J. Cobb, but instead decided to devote his time to directing Touch of Evil (1958).

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Breaking the Code: Boxed Set Update

After re-watching The Three Faces of Eve (1957), I realize its not a suitable option for my boxed set. But I have to work with what I've got nontheless. Its too late to find a new film selection and I'm already knee-deep in image research and my proposal is due on Thursday, so I cannot back out now. However, the film has been very inspiring visually for the project, so I'm glad of that at least. The design of the two menu screens of the DVD have inspired me to do something similar with the boxed set cover. It is tres cool! See below.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Breaking the Code: Boxed Set Directors

I've been playing around with images and doing some image research. I decided that in the booklet that goes with the boxed set, that the directors would appear in profile as a sort of stamp. Their presence is kind of vague but its also like they gave their seal of approval of sorts. Anyways, I just like how they look.

Joseph L. Mankiewicz ~ Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

Nunnally Johnson ~ The Three Faces of Eve (1957)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Reactions to Splendor in the Grass (1961)

Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind
~ Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood ~
~ William Wordsworth ~
  • Consequences of sexual repression affect both the female and male protagonist. A rarity amongst coming of age stories.
  • I was both enraptured by the story but put off by the soundtrack. Violins screeching the same sentimental notes over and over again was too much.
  • The title of the movie means something to the story and its characters. The fact that it comes from a line written by a well-known Romantic poet gives it even more credence.
  • I could not have seen this same story taking place in a city. There is something about rural open space, small communities and isolation that exaggerates the human condition.
  • A tolerable, even enjoyable Natalie Wood. That says a lot for me, I'm not a fan.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Breaking the Code: Updates

I just read some amazing news at Pre-Coded Messages about the second volume of the The Forbidden Hollywood DVD boxed set collection. It'll have 2, count 'em 2, Norma Shearer movies, a blonde Bette Davis film and another crazy Stanwyck flick. I was particularly surprised by the Davis film, Three on a Match (1932) being a selection. This is a lesser-known work and may only have been chosen because of the big-wig stars that have supporting roles in the film (Davis, Bogart, Blondell). I highly recommend watching it as its a very interesting story involving many of the classic Pre-Code elements including infidelity, drug-abuse, mob activity and child-neglect.

In other news, I've finally selected my 5 films to go in my mock "Breaking the Code" boxed set. I will hold A Face in the Crowd (1957) as a back-up selection in case I find one of these doesn't quite work.

Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

Baby Doll (1956)
The Night of the Hunter (1955)

Three Faces of Eve (1957)

Now I'm wishing I could do a Pre-Code boxed set too! Shucks!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Exciting New Project!

For the Desktop Publishing course I am taking, I have to work on a final project using Adobe InDesign to develop something new in print. I was inspired by the DVD boxed set of the 7th Season of Road to Avonlea which came with a booklet with notes "written" by one of the characters. I decided to do something similar.

I'm developing a "Breaking the Code" special edition boxed set. It will have 5 DVDs, all of which are from the late 1950's and represent Hollywood's rebellion against the Hayes Code. I'm going to pretend that its sponsored by Turner Classic Movies and possibly be inspired by some of their designs. The booklet itself will have a different article, written by myself, on each of the 5 movies. My goal is to make the complete package, the DVD boxed set cover as well an 8-page booklet and present it to the class as my final project.

The reason I'm so excited about this is that I have finally found a way to incorporate my love of classic films into my school work! And I can simultaneously post my progress on this blog! I will be, of course, careful about what I will post because I'm probably stealing lots of copyrighted material (granted this project will never be distributed into the real world).

For now, I have to come up with the 5 movies I want to be in the boxed set. I know definitely that Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) will be one of the films. Please feel free to send in your suggestions for the other four DVDs and let me know what you think about my project.

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