Saturday, October 31, 2009

Phantom of the Opera (1925) with the Alloy Orchestra

It seems like everyone on the blogosphere was doing some Halloween-type post or series on their blog. And I had absolutely nada, zilch, zip, nothing. It was a veritable Halloween FAIL. Then at the 11th hour came an opportunity so amazing that I just couldn't turn it down.

Yesterday afternoon I found out that Somerville's Arts at the Armory (MA) program was having a special event featuring the silent film Phantom of the Opera (1925) that very night. The film would be shown with live musical accompaniment by the Alloy Orchestra. I couldn't believe my eyes. This was my chance to watch a silent film on the big screen with live music! I called Carlos and being the amazing boyfriend he is, he encouraged me to go ahead and buy the tickets so we could go (any other boyfriend would have shirked and mumbled some excuse about watching a sporting event on TV instead).

The even was held at this very cool building. It was an armory built in 1903 to house the Somerville Light Infrantry of the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia. Over the past century it's been used for many things and now the space is used for community arts programs.

The space was very open and they used really cool lighting. Red light pillars running alongside the wall, spotlights, and lots of blue and green lighting. It's hard to explain but you can get a feel for it from the picture. It was a very open space and quite suitable for a big production.

Carlos and I really just came for the screening of Phantom of the Opera (1925) with live music. However, if you go to a concert oftentimes you'll have to sit through the opening act. R/A and DJ Dzinga showed 3 short films with live techno-music accompaniment. This part of the event was really trippy. The first short we saw was the experiment German film The Fall of the House of Usher (1928). Woah. It was Art Deco & German Expressionism in a very hypnotic way. I didn't quite get it. Carlos was amused. The next two short films were very strange. Some trippy '60s/70's horror sequences that made me go all cross-eyed. The last short film has techno-music so loud that I thought I was going to go deaf. So when it was time for Phantom, I was more than ready.

The film was shown on a big elevated screen and the Alloy Orchestra played below. I was very impressed by their music and how they closely watched the movie to make sure their music suited what was going on in screen. It really enhanced the movie-watching experience. They used a wide variety of instruments including: drums, chimes, bells, horseshoes, cymbals, an accordion, a saw and some other metal with a violin bow (for the creepy sounds) and a multi-functional keyboard that happened to play organ music. Sometimes I would take my eyes off the screen just to see what instrument the orchestra would use next.

The film itself was spectacular. I had never seen it before so it was a real treat to watch it both on the big screen and with live music. The film we was an amalgamation of the 1925 and 1929 versions. Most notably, the 1929 version has a talking scene in which Carlotta sings a song in the opera. We didn't hear the sound but it was notably different visually than the others since it spent so much time focusing on her face and her mouth. In reading the Trivia section of this film's entry in IMDB, there are lots of differences between the two versions so it's interesting that what we saw was a fusion of the two.

The version we saw had what I consider extraordinary use of color. Many duo-tone scenes of green, blue, orange and red were found throughout the film. My favorite was with Lon Chaney as Erik the Phantom when he is perched on the statue at the top of the Paris Opera House. He's wearing a red suite with a red cape when he crashes theBal Masque as the red death. It's at night and the rest of the elements are blue. So it's great to see the contrast between the black and the blue of the night with the Phantom's bright red!

The sets in the film were so elaborate and beautiful. It seemed like a costly film to make. I think Phantom of the Opera (1925) is a great example of how sophisticated and beautiful silent films can be. Of course, the story looks at Erik the Phantom as a horrible monster who must be destroyed whereas notable late versions like Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical, take a more sympathetic view of that character.

Interesting to note, Carla Laemmle, the niece of Phantom's producer Carl Laemmle, is in the film as one of the ballerinas. She was 15 when it was shot and she is the only surviving cast member of Phantom. And on that very same night, October 30th, 2009, Carla Laemmle was on the other side of the country celebrating her centennial birthday and signing books at the Larry Edmunds Bookshop in Los Angeles. Isn't that neat?

It was a really great night and I'm so glad I got the opportunity to see this and that Carlos was willing and excited to come with me. Now I leave you with some fun shots we took at the Armory. Perfect pictures for Halloween.

Have a safe and wonderful holiday!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Bonjour Tristesse

Bonjour Tristesse
by Francoise Sagan
Harper Modern Perennial Classics
$12.99 US
Buy at

I had watched the Otto Preminger film Bonjour Tristesse (1958) a while back for my You Otto See It series, and was very impressed by it. (See my post about it here) The film stars Jean Seberg, David Niven and Deborah Kerr. Seberg plays Cecile, a 17-year old who is living it up on the French Riviera with her bachelor father Raymond (David Niven). When an old family friend, Anne (Deborah Kerr), threatens their bohemian lifestyle by bringing structure and morality to their lives, Cecile becomes desperate to hold on to her free lifestyle at all costs. Even if it means breaking up Raymond and Anne's engagement.

The film is based on the Francoise Sagan novel published in 1954. Sagan is from France and wrote the novel in French at the age of 17. It was an instant hit and it only took a couple of years for the film rights to be snagged up and for the movie to be created. Many folks think that the novel is autobiographical considering the fact that both Sagan and her character Cecile are 17 years old and living in France. The novel is written in first-person narrative in Cecile's perspective and at times it did feel that I was reading a short memoir.

The book can be classified as a novella as it's only about 130 pages long. It's separated into two sections. The first part is when Anne comes into the lives of Raymond and Cecile. The second part is when Cecile puts into place her elaborate scheme to separate Raymond and Anne. It's a light, melancholy story and although it feels subdued it really makes you think about the consequences of people's actions. This story is very much about manipulation, aversion to change and the numbness and boredom experienced by the rich. Our present society is very fascinated by this, as you can see by the plethora of reality shows that follow rich people around. I think a story like Bonjour Tristesse is more eye-opening and intellectually stimulating.

Reading this book make realize not only how much I love this story but how excellent a job Otto Preminger did in adapting this novella for the screen. The 1958 film version is visually stunning bringing the characters and the setting alive before our eyes. Preminger stayed very true to the story and did little to change it. In fact, the film added to the story in a way that enhanced it. The novella is very linear chronologically. Preminger's film shifts from present day to past back to present day and did this by representing present day as black & white (the sad aftermath) and past day as color (the carefree happy days before the incident). There are a lot of little subtleties in the text that Preminger kept and showed on screen. For example, one of my favorite scenes involved Cecile being caught in the arms of her lover by Anne. Her lover kisses her shoulder and Cecile kisses the same spot. This very subtle and short moment, the shoulder-kissing, is in the novella! Preminger had picked up on a lot of the nuances of the novella and weaved them into the film. While Preminger stayed very close to the original book, I feel like he improved upon it by adding a few extra scenes and by adding a layer of social commentary. The novella is written in the perspective of Cecile so she is not capable the level of social awareness that Preminger added to the movie. I think this just enhances the story. For example, there is a scene when one of the two interchangeable maids gulps down champagne why the rich folk go about their amusement. This really shows the differences between the two classes, especially the obliviousness of the upperclass. This isn't in the book. Also, the novella was famous for being blunt sexually, with an outright reference to abortion. Preminger didn't include the abortion reference but he kept the language in the film sexy in an indirect way.

I think Bonjour Tristesse the novella and the film could be used as an example of a book-to-movie adaptation that went really well. Because an adaptation should do two things: it should stay true to the original story and improve upon it. What we get today is film directors trying change too much of the story or they are pressured by film studios to make the film in a way that makes it generate the big bucks. What ends up happening is they bastardize the story and lots of folks who loved the original book are outright disgusted by the movie adaptation (::cough ~Talented Mr. Ripley ~ cough::). I think classic film book adaptations worked a lot better even though they had the same pressures: money, pleasing film studios, time, etc.

I highly recommend you read the Sagan novella then watch the Otto Preminger film, and in that order.

Full Disclosure: A friend lent me her copy of this book.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Friday, October 23, 2009

Classic Film Series

There are so many classic film series out there that I just thought I'd make a list of them. I love the Nancy Drew series and I have dabbled in The Falcon, The Thin Man, Charlie Chan and Philo Vance. I really want to try Andy Hardy, Blondie and Boston Blackie among others.

Which classic film series is your favorite and why? Which one do you want to watch but haven't gotten to yet?


Andy Hardy ~ 1937-1958. Various DVDs available. 16 movies.
Blondie ~ 1938-1950. Not available on DVD. 28 movies.
Bomba The Jungle Boy ~ 1949-1955. Not available on DVD. 11 movies.
Boston Blackie ~ 1941-1949. Not available on DVD. 14 movies.
The Bowery Boys ~ 1937-1958. Not available on DVD. 86 movies.
Bulldog Drummond ~ 1929-1951. Various DVDs available. 17 movies
Charlie Chan ~ 1929-1949. Various DVDs available. 41 movies.
Crime Doctor ~ 1943-1949. Not available on DVD. 10 movies.
Dr. Christian ~ 1939-1941. Not available on DVD. 6 movies.
Dr. Kildare ~ 1937-1947. Various DVDs available. 16 movies.
Ellery Queen ~ 1935-1942. Not available on DVD. 9 movies.
The Falcon ~ 1941-1949. Not available on DVD. 16 movies.
Francis (The Talking Mule) ~ 1949-1956. Various DVDs available. 7 movies.
Henry Aldrich ~ 1939-1944. Not available on DVD. 11 movies.
Hildegarde Withers ~ 1932-1937. Not available on DVD. 6 movies.
Jungle Jim ~ 1948-1955. Not available on DVD. 16 movies.
The Lone Wolf ~ 1935-1949. Not available on DVD. 15 movies.
Ma and Pa Kettle ~ 1949-1957. Available on DVD. 9 movies.
Maisie ~ 1939-1947. Not available on DVD. 10 movies.
Mexican Spitfire ~ 1939-1943. Not available on DVD. 8 movies.
Michael Shayne ~ 1940-1947. Not available on DVD. 12 movies.
Mr. Moto ~ 1937-1965. Available on DVD. 9 movies.
Mr. Wong ~ 1938-1941. Available on DVD. 6 movies.
Nancy Drew ~ 1938-1938. Available on DVD. 4 movies.
Nick Carter ~ 1939-1940. Not available on DVD. 3 movies.
Perry Mason ~ 1934-1937. Not available on DVD. 6 movies.
Philo Vance Mysteries ~ 1929-1947. Various available on DVD. 14 movies.
The Saint ~ 1938-1954. Not available on DVD. 9 movies.
Sherlock Holmes ~ 1939-1946. Various Available on DVD. 14 movies
Tarzan ~ 1918-1960. Various Available on DVD. 29 movies
Thin Man ~ 1934-1947. Available on DVD. 6 movies.
Torchy Blane ~ 1936-1939. Not available on DVD. 9 movies.
The Whistler ~ 1944-1948. Not available on DVD. 8 movies.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

He Made Me Watch It ~ Dr. Strangelove (1964)

Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

This is the first installment in a new short series called He Made Me Watch It. "He" refers to my beau Carlos who is coercing... errr I mean, encouraging me to watch some of his favorite films. Most notably, these are films that I have had no interest in prior to Carlos' recommendation. You may recall a couple months ago I wrote about The Hustler (1961). This is one of Carlos' all-time favorite movies and I was so impressed with the film that I was resolved to be open-minded and watch more films that Carlos recommended to me, regardless of any hesitance I had previously to said films. And because I have such a soft spot for the man, I'm even allowing him to take me to see It's a Wonderful Life (1946) - a film I've been avoiding like the plague - on the big screen around Christmas. So stay tuned for a post on that.


My viewing of Dr. Strangelove (1964) came at the perfect moment. I had just seen Seven Days in May (1964) (read my post about it here) and had been thinking a lot about the Cold War and how it has been represented on film. I've also been watching the 3rd season of Mad Men and had been particularly interested in 1960s America especially the political and social changes that our country faced during that time. And here enters this Kubrick classic.

Now everyone and their mother has seen this film. So I won't pretend to be an expert or to give you any new insight. I just want to say that I enjoyed how this film manages to blend farce and suspence into this witty film. George C. Scott is a hoot as General Buck Turgidson, a man so on edge and so sensient that he is just bursting at the seams. His facial expressions and mannerisms are hilarious!

My favorite line of his is quite a naughty one. He says the following to his bikini-wearing secretary: "You just start off your countdown and ole' Bucky will be back here before you can say 'Blast Off'". Oh my!

I also have a soft spot for Sterling Hayden (The Most Beautiful Man in Movies) who plays General Jack D. Ripper - great names huh? - a deranged General who has just ordered several B-52 to drop atomic bombs on Russian soil. Eek!

When I hear people talk about this movie, they usually talk about Peter Sellers who plays three roles: The President, Dr. Strangelove and Captain Mandrake. I can't say I was all that impressed with Sellers (I'm waiting for someone to throw tomatoes at me). He's okay. I think Hayden and Scott were much more interesting actors to watch on screen.

I think for me to truly appreciate this film I need to learn more about it. I want to spend sometime reading a few articles about it and watching the extras on the Special Edition DVD. If you have written a post about it on your blog or know of an interesting post or article online, please send me a link! I'd also really love to hear your thoughts on this film and if you have any tidbits of information to share or interesting observations, please please please leave me a comment. Speak!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Jean Harlow Films @ the Brattle

Okay, okay. I should have really titled this post Victor Fleming Films @ the Brattle but I didn't go to the Brattle because of Victor Fleming, I went because of my darling Jean Harlow. The Brattle Theatre was showcasing 2 Victor Fleming films, Bombshell (1933) and Red Dust (1932). Michael Sragow, author of the book Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master, was there to talk about his book and the Fleming films. The big coincidence here is that even though these are Fleming films, Jean Harlow happens to star in both. I wish I had stayed for Sragow's talk and Q&A, but it was a miserable day outside and a big crockpot full of beef stew was waiting for me at home.

I did however get to see Bombshell (1933) on the big screen with my beau Carlos and what a treat it was! Jean Harlow plays Lola Burns, a superstar blonde bombshell who graces the cover of every movie magazine read by her legions of fans. You'd think she has it all but she's surrounded by leeches. Her drunkard father and brother are gambling away her millions and her assistant (Una Merkel) is helping herself to Burns' wardrobe and everything else. The worst of them all is publicist/reporter Hanlon (Lee Tracy) who is so hell-bent on getting lots of juicy gossip and keeping Lola Burns on the headlines of newspapers that he willingly sabotages Burns' life whenever he can.

The film has a lot of rapid-fire dialogue. So much so, that it's very easy to miss a lot of great one-liners. It's a film that begs several viewings. In fact, they cram so much dialogue that when there is a moment of silence in the film it seems very strange, like the silence is out of place. The audience at the Brattle seemed to enjoy Franchot Tone's performance the best. He plays Burns' fake lover and the cheesy lines he uses to woo Burns made the audience laugh out loud.

Bombshell is not available on DVD and TCM shows it on occassion. So it's really a treat to have been able to see this on the big screen (I had seen it once before on a TCM Harlow marathon). I'm glad Carlos was willing to trudge through the cold rain, which later became snow, to see this hilarious film with me at the Brattle. And how lucky am I that there is a local repertory theatre like the Brattle that will show films like this to the public.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

TCM Monthly Audio Podcasts

Here is some exciting news regarding TCM. They are turning their Private Screening interviews into monthly audio podcasts available at iTunes and on the TCM website. Yay! Now I just have my fingers crossed that TCM will develop an iPhone app (a girl can dream!).


For Release: October 9, 2009

Turner Classic Movies Brings PRIVATE SCREENINGS UNCUT
Interviews Online with Monthly Audio Podcasts

Special Audio Editions of Robert Osborne Interviews
With Hollywood Legends to be Offered Free through and iTunes

First Podcast Available in October, Featuring Star of the Month Leslie Caron

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) is bringing PRIVATE SCREENINGS UNCUT, unedited versions of the network’s acclaimed interview specials, to the Internet with monthly audio podcasts made available free through and iTunes. Each month’s podcast will be drawn from TCM’s archives of the series, which features TCM host Robert Osborne conducting in-depth interviews with Hollywood legends. The podcasts will be expanded versions of Osborne’s conversations, including portions not included in the original telecasts. In addition, Osborne will record special introductions for each interview. TCM kicks off its PRIVATE SCREENINGS UNCUT podcasts this week with October’s Star of the Month Leslie Caron.

“One of the greatest privileges and joys for me at TCM is being able to sit down with some of Hollywood’s greatest personalities for PRIVATE SCREENINGS,” said Osborne. “This podcast will allow fans to enjoy some of the most memorable interviews we’ve conducted in the past, including a lot of material that has never been heard before.”

Each PRIVATE SCREENINGS UNCUT podcast will be timed to coincide with TCM on-air programming. Upcoming podcasts are slated to feature Angela Lansbury in November, when TCM will air her Oscar®-nominated performance in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945); Lauren Bacall in December, when her late husband Humphrey Bogart will be honored as TCM’s Star of the Month; Betty Hutton in January, when TCM airs a selection of her movies; and director-producer, five-time Oscar nominee and honorary recipient Sidney Lumet in February, during TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar.

TCM will draw future podcasts from its extensive PRIVATE SCREENINGS archive, which includes interviews with such luminaries as Ernest Borgnine, Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell, Mickey Rooney, Charlton Heston, Jane Fonda, Tony Curtis, producer-director Norman Jewison and producer Walter Mirisch.

Turner Classic Movies is a Peabody Award-winning network celebrating 15 years of presenting great films, uncut and commercial-free, from the largest film libraries in the world. Currently seen in more than 80 million homes, TCM features the insights of veteran primetime host Robert Osborne and weekend daytime host Ben Mankiewicz, plus interviews with a wide range of special guests. As the foremost authority in classic films, TCM offers critically acclaimed original documentaries and specials, along with regular programming events that include The Essentials, 31 Days of Oscar and Summer Under the Stars. TCM also produces a wide range of media about classic film, including books and DVDs, along with hosting a wealth of materials at its Web site, TCM is part of Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., a Time Warner company.

Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., a Time Warner company, creates and programs branded news, entertainment, animation and young adult media environments on television and other platforms for consumers around the world.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Seven Days in May (1964) Monologue

I think this monologue really captures the fear and uncertainty that was so much a part of the Cold War in America. It's delivered by Frederic March who plays the fictional American President Jordan Lyman in Seven Days in May (1964). This film has a great cast of stars but it's March's incredible performance that carries the film.

The enemy's an age. A nuclear age. It happened to kill man's faith in his ability to influence what happens to him. And out of this comes a sickness, a sickness of frustration, a feeling of impotence, helpessness, weakness. And from this desperation, we look for a champion in red, white and blue. Every now and then, a man on a white horse rides by, and we appoint him to be our personal god for the duration.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Stanley Donen @ the HFA ~ Two for the Road (1967)

I went back for more...

This time the Stanley Donen film being featured was Two for the Road (1967). It stars Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn as a married couple on the verge of breaking up. The film takes an unconventional look at marriage, in a both humorous and saddening way. The story focuses on the biography of the marriage, from courtship and through the happy moments and the hardships and is told through their adventures on the road in Europe. The films dances back and forth through time and we see how the relationship evolves over time. The sequences are marvelously placed together oftentimes with vehicles serving as a fadeout into the next scene. It's easy to tell which timeframe your in simply by watching Audrey Hepburn. She goes through about 4 or 5 different hairstyles, with her hair getting shorter and shorter as she gets older. Also, they fitted Audrey Hepburn with what seemed to be hundreds of the most unusual and interesting 1960's fashions. Visually, it's a stunning film which just adds to the great script.

The audience seemed to enjoy the film a lot as there were a lot of laughs at the appropriate parts of the movie. This time the theater was packed with not even one seat left open. In fact, I think some patrons had to be turned away!

There was a Q&A segment much like on Friday night but this time with many more questions but fewer interesting insights into Donen. Donen said that he doesn't watch any of his films anymore because they don't give him as much pleasure as they used to. Also, during the filming of Two for the Road, Donen, Hepburn and Finney were all having marital problems in their personal lives so being on set with each other was a nice escape. They found comraderie with each other. However, Finney and Donen did not see eye-to-eye on Finney's character Mark Wallace. Donen wanted Mark to be charming and Finney thought that being charming wasn't really acting, so in the end the character didn't come out quite how Donen wanted it. However, he was pleased in the end.

Donen and Hepburn got along fabulously and this was the third and final film they did together. Donen said that when he first shot Hepburn it was for Funny Face (1957) and he had to do a shot of her overlooking Paris while on a plane. He said that he was so taken aback by Hepburn's beauty and presence that he couldn't stop staring at her even when it came time to call "cut". In fact, someone had to shake Donen out of his daze in order to keep working! I thought this was particularly interesting because Hepburn is such an icon and I often wonder why her. I think it was a combination of her beauty, her dazzling face, her charm, her voice, her grace and her elegance that makes so many of us enraptured with her. I'm sure Donen agrees.

Overall, I think both nights turned out well. They were amazing experiences both getting to see the director up close and to hear him speak but also to watch a couple of his films on the big screen.

Stanley Donen introducing the film

Stanley Donen on his filming style

Stanley Donen on the difficulty of shooting Two for the Road (1967)

A special thank you to Carlos for letting me know about Donen coming to the HFA and for taking me to the first night.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Stanley Donen at the HFA - Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

A few days ago I got a phone call at work from my beau. He asked me if I recognized the name Stanley Donen. I replied that yes I recognized his name and that he was a film director. My beau proceeded to tell me that Stanley Donen, the Stanley Donen would be at the Harvard Film Archive on Friday to present his film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954). It took me a while to grasp the magnitude of this opportunity and by the time it did, I had already gotten off the phone with my beau and I was staring blankly into my cubicle. I get to see the great director Stanley Donen in person! Oh... my... God! It was all I could do not to get up and dance around the office in pure joy.

The HFA was doing a series called Debonair: The Films of Stanley Donen where they were showcasing 14 of his films. Stanley Donen would be there to present two, Seven Brides and Two for the Road (1967). The Boston Globe had an article about the 85 year old director giving a great overview on his career. The article concluded saying that Donen always wears a large medallion on a chain around his neck which is inscribed: Stanley Donen. If lost, please return to Elaine May. Sure enough when I saw him enter the HFA, he was wearing that same medallion!

Stanley Donen spoke a few words after he was formally introduced. We got to see two of his famous choreographed works: the Gene Kelly-Jerry the Mouse Anchor's Aweigh (1945) dance number and the Gene Kelly & Gene Kelly's ghost dance number from Cover Girl (1944). Then they pulled the curtains aside and we got to see Seven Brides for Seven Brothers in all it's widescreen Cinemascope glory!

The audience reaction was great. There was applause after the really wonderful dance and song sequences, especially the Barn Raising dance number that makes this film so iconic. I think my beau like the story, Howard Keel's brazenness and the acrobatics. I most enjoyed the choreography and Jane Powell's spunkiness. It's hard not to be impressed by this movie. It has it's sleepy moments but it's truly a feast for the eyes and there is something for everyone to enjoy.


I think the most awkward part of these sorts of things is the Q&A portion. The people who have the courage to ask the questions (not me) are the ones who either hog the spotlight solely to praise the guest or to ask some dumb question. It's the dumb questions, which these people take way too long to ask (what's with the throat clearing people, just get to the point), that illicit the best answers. One guy asked about the long scarf in one of the dance sequences in Singin' in the Rain (1952). I'm not going to even begin to contemplate the way he asked the question because it makes me want to cry. Donen said that they had used to airplane propellers on either side of the studio turned on at full blast to create enough wind force that when Cyd Charisse stood in one spot, it lifted the long silk scarf up and held it up. There were no computers or fancy technology involved; just pure ingenuity and resourcefulness.

Another person asked the question about what Stanley Donen thinks about films today. A good question just poorly presented by the asker. Donen's answer really struck me and I wish to God that I had done a video-recording of his answer. Donen said that he watches films today and he tries to limit his viewing of newer films to those of quality, but it's getting more and more difficult to find these films. He dislikes computer generated movies in which you see something on screen that doesn't really happen. There is a magic and realness to watching real people do things on screen that he misses in contemporary film. Granted, his films had fancy effects. Gene Kelly didn't really dance with the cartoon mouse Jerry in the famous Donen-choreographed sequence in Anchors Aweigh (1945). Donen struck a chord with me while he was speaking. There is a humanity in classic films that is lacking in contemporary movies, especially blockbuster ones. We as the audience become increasingly disconnected with what's going on on the screen. There is the magic of the movies, the fantasy element that sweeps us away to another time and place and to another reality. However, the story, the people, the realness is what grounds us. Contemporary movies seem to isolate us more and more. Don't some of you feel this way too? I know I do.

An interesting thing to point out about Stanley Donen is that he started off as a dancer. He was inspired by Fred Astaire and when he was 9 years old he watched Flying Down to Rio (1933) on the big screen and he knew he wanted to be part of whatever it was that made films like that so magical. The day after he graduated high school he moved to New York. He got the opportunity to be a dancer in Pal Joey. He got to meet, become friends with and work with dancer Gene Kelly extensively. And although Kelly's dancing was much different, Donen still felt inspired by Fred Astaire. Donen was interested in street dancing instead of dancing on point. He liked the realness of dancing in every day situations. On the street, in a barn, on a field, wherever. As long as it was in a real location and not just a stage or a dance studio.

Donen really impressed me with his candor and frankness. People tried to kiss up to him but he wasn't about to let anyone be his sycophant. Listening to him talk was truly remarkable!


Here is some secret footage... Shh!

Part of Donen's intro

RE: Dancing & Masculinity

RE: What dancing means to Donen

to be continued...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Men are difficult too! ~ Double Harness (1933)

There is the standard misconception that in romantic relationships women are difficult and men are easy. I think this is a load of claptrap. Men are as difficult and depending on the individual, sometimes more difficult than women. They have their own hang-ups and emotional baggage that can muddy the relationship waters. What I find interesting in classic films especially from the 1930s and the 1940s is that there is a good mix of romantic drama from both sexes. It's not always the girl who is reluctant to marry the guy, oftentimes you find it's the guy who is dragging his heels.

In the recently found RKO film Double Harness (1933) , William Powell plays John Fletcher, a shipping tycoon who is uninterested in business and marriage, basically anything that would tie him down. He's the eternal bachelor who spends his money wooing dames and neglecting his future. In comes Ann Harding as Joan Colby, the daughter of a rich Colonel whose sister Valerie just married her love. Joan has a cool head about marriage and believes that is' as much a business arrangement as it is an emotional connection. Joan sets her sights on John because she sees great potential in him as a husband and as a shipping tycoon. Yet she's also in love with him which complicates things. They date for two months, which in contemporary dating would equal around two years, yet John, although in love with Joan, is reluctant to make the leap into marriage. When John's former flame, the wiley Monica Page (Lilian Bond) comes back into the picture, Joan becomes desperate and as a last resort devises a scenario that will trick John into marriage.

This movie can easily be split into two smaller ones because really there are two romantic plot lines. First is Joan's quest to marry John. Then after they are married, it's Joan's quest to stay married to John and to help him re-establish himself in the shipping business. Joan is the only one holding the relationship together as John has a plethora of hang-ups; his major one being maintaining his personal freedom. Even when he sees that marriage and business have been good to him and credits Joan for being a positive influence in his life, he still longs for the glory of his days as a free-wheeling bachelor. Whenever I watch this film, I feel exhausted for Joan. She builds a relationship from virtually nothing only to have to constantly work on it so it doesn't fall apart at the seams. That's emotionally taxing. Relationships can't be one sided and at one point or another John has to step up his game and work on the relationship too.

I could go on but I don't want to give the plot away (more than I already have). I really recommend this film. It's quite a diamond in the rough. It's available on DVD exclusively in TCM's Vault Collection.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tuesday Weld ~ I'll Take Sweden (1965) ja ja ja

On the surface I'll Take Sweden (1965) is your typical teen vs. parent '60s comedy. Yet on a deeper level this film is representative of the changing sexual mores in society, especially when it comes to youth sexuality, and how that was affecting American culture. What's interesting about I'll Take Sweden is that we get to see how Americans treat sexuality and how that differs from the looser Swedish sexuality (or at least the Swedish stereotype).

Bob Hope stars as widower Bob Holcomb who is dealing with his teenage daughter JoJo's budding sexuality. Tuesday Weld plays JoJo and her petite frame, blonde locks and little girl voice make her a sort of an alternate Sandra Dee. JoJo is head over heels for Kenny (Frankie Avalon) a young ne'er-do-well who plays the guitar, rides his motorcycle dangerously and lives in a trailer. Not quite what JoJo's father expected for her daughter's future husband. In an effort to get his daughter to give up Kenny, he whisks her off to Sweden. At the Stockholm branch of his work, is womanizer Erik who immediately sets his hooks on JoJo. In the meantime, Bob is falling in love with beautiful divorcee Karin, an interior decorator.

I could go into a full summary of the movie but I won't because I'd rather you watch the film instead. The most interesting aspect of this film is the clashing ideas of sexuality. Bob doesn't think JoJo should go off to a youth retreat alone with Erik because they are unmarried yet Bob has no qualms of taking his girlfriend Karin on a romantic outing. Also, it's made very clear that the Swedes have little interest in marriage and are okay with premarital sex. I know that the Swedes have a less Puritanical view on sexuality than Americans do, but this film is obviously playing up on stereotypes for the humor factor. No matter how exaggerated it is, it's still a nice insight into the sexual dilemma of the 1960s.

And it's got Tuesday Weld in awesome outfits!!!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Tuesday Weld is the new Pamela Tiffin

Remember back in the earlier part of the year I had a strange fascination with '60s actress Pamela Tiffin? Of course not. So you should take a moment to look through my archives and readed the series I did for her. Currently I seem to be leaning towards the lovely Tuesday Weld. Stay tuned for all things Weld in this space!

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