Friday, February 19, 2010

When the Sheltered Are Set Free

I've been harboring a lot of resentment lately. It's been bubbling up and it's now at the surface and I feel myself about to explode. Even though I'm in a place that I've always wanted to be in life, I can't help but feel anger at how long it took me to get here. And at how difficult the obstacles that impeded my path were to overcome.
Instead of allowing myself to fester in the misery of my resentments, I decided to work through these toxic thoughts. One of the ways I try to deal with issues in my life, is to read/watch stories with characters that have gone through similar life experiences. I picked out a few instances in classic film in which the main character lives a sheltered life and they find themselves thrust into a new life.

Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) - Holly Golightly AKA Lula Mae Barnes

At the tender age of 14, Lula marries an older Texan man and is seemingly destined for a simple life of being a wife and mother. Lula annuls the marriage (or so she says) and transforms herself into Holly Golightly, a fashionable New Yorker who parties hard and lives beyond her means whenever possible. Holly hasn't completely severed her connection to her Lula past. It seems as though her husband still supports her brother who is in the army. The thing that fascinates me most about this movie is how Holly completely transforms herself into a new person. But since you can't completely sever blood ties, she doesn't lose all of Lula as he may have hoped.

Now, Voyager (1941) - Charlotte Vale

This movie means so much to me. So much in fact that I walked out of the Brattle in the middle of the screening, when the two idiotic women sitting behind me chose to mock this amazing film. I simply would not let these b****es ruin the movie. Charlotte Vale is a Bostonian, like me, but from a completely different generation. She is cursed by simply being born the last child of Vale matriarch Mrs. Vale. Her mother is determined to keep Charlotte under her complete control which includes managing her daughter's diet, wardrobe, social life and romantic life. Charlotte finds the strength, with the help of Dr. Jaquith, to become her own person and to lead her own life. The way she stands up to her mother inspires me when I have difficulties with my own mom.

A Patch of Blue (1965) - Selina D'Arcey

A sweet girl who suffers from the mental and physical abuse of a jealous and cruel mother, Selina has gone through so much but still maintains an optimism that is inspiring. Selina is blinded at a young age, a result of a fight between her parents. Her mother, Rose-Ann, is a part-time prostitute who brings random men whom for money. One of these men rapes Selina and the aging Rose-Ann continues to harbor jealousy towards her young and beautiful daughter while she herself grows older and uglier. Selina finds love and hope in the understanding arms of Gordon Ralfe who does not understand why Selina has to suffer so. He is black, she is white, he is seeing, she is blind but their differences are only on the surface. This story always gives me a good feeling inside. For me, the message of the movie is that no matter how dire your circumstances, there is always hope for a better life.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Happy Birthday Jonas!

Today is the birthday of my very good friend Jonas from All Talking! All Singing! All Dancing!. Jonas and I met virtually over the internet when we both had done posts about Anita Page's passing. His post was in Swedish and while I really wanted to read it, I couldn't manage a way to do so considering Swedish is not one of the three languages I speak. A little while later, Jonas decided to start a new blog in English and has delighted English-speaking film enthusiasts ever since!

Jonas has a baby girl born this year; Juni, a wonderful little addition to his family. He's a virtual walking Encyclopedia. This man knows more about films from 1925-1935 than almost anyone out there. He shares my enthusiasm for Norma Shearer and we can talk for hours about almost anything. He's been a great supporter of my blog and of my life, as I go through new challenges and changes. Jonas is also one of the most hilarious people you'll ever meet. He's got the most amazing capability of remembering tiny details and incorporating those details into future jokes that keep me laughing for hours. He's also an accomplished cook and his concoctions put my cooking skills to shame. Did you know that Jonas is a sound engineer and works for a Swedish music company?! He's also got a great collection of early talkie clips on his YouTube channel. This man is simply amazing.

He's one of my best friends and although I've never met him in person, the ocean that separates us seems like only a puddle since we have such a tight bond, regardless of the distance between us.

So please join me in wishing Jonas a very happy birthday!

Jonas and I both really love Zelma-O'Neal's number "I-Wanna-Be-Bad" from the golf musical Follow-Thru (1930). It's a cute number which looks even better restored (the clip above isn't). Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Big House (1930)

The Big House (1930) takes place in an over-crowded Art Deco prison.

Warden James Arden (Lewis Stone) presides over the prisoners at a safe distance, so as not to get his suit and bow-tie dirty.

Now for the prisoners...

Prisoner #44789

John  "Morg" Morgan (Chester Morris) Morgan is a slick robber with a talent for wielding guns. After putting in 3 years with good behavior, Morgan's just about ready to get out of prison, into the real world and into the arms of some understanding dame. But the Big House doesn't quite want to spit him out yet.

Prisoner #42633

Butch "Machine Gun" Schmidt (Wallace Beery) This big lug has a weak spot for his momma but has no qualms about gunning down the whole DeLacey gang in one fell swoop ($500 for all three!). He's got opinions and he's not afraid to share him. His mind is always on the dames. Butch is the type to kiss a gal one moment and knock out her teeth the next.

Prisoner # 48642

Kent Marlowe (Robert Montgomery) A yellow-bellied fish* (*a term for a new inmate) gets thrown into the slammer for vehicular manslaughter as a result of having too many drinks on one fateful night. Marlowe's from a respectable and wealthy family and feels he doesn't belong in the slammer and will do anything to get out. Even if it means backstabbing his fellow prisoners.

It gets mighty lonely for a chap in prison with all those other chaps. Butch entertains the other prisoners by fake reading letters from a fictional girlfriend named Myrtle, who just adores her great big boy. He also entertains himself with the thought of all notches that are supposed to exist on bedposts around the area.

Morgan has his eye on Marlowe's sister Anne (Leila Hyams) who looks positively angelic in the photo Marlowe carries around with him. Her blonde curls frame her face almost like a halo. Morgan gets several glimpses of Anne before he can lay his hands on the real thing. First a picture, then a glance during visiting hours, then it's a visit to the bookstore where Anne works. Morgan envisions a new life in the Pacific Islands and Anne is just the sort of dame he'd like to take with him. She's a good virginal specimen. Or is she? Morgan possesses her with his stare and she seems willing to be possessed. He comes looking for her and she thinks it's to seek revenge against her for her brother's backstabbing. However, she caves in to his good looks, his charm and a little taste of danger that could spice up her life.

Who knew a film about a bunch of men in prison could be so sexy?

The Big House (1930) is available on DVD as part of the Warner Home Archive collection.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Does Watching Classic Films Make You Anti-Social?

I've been asking myself this question a lot lately and I've come up with two answers: Yes and No.

YES - During my days as an undergrad and the year or so before I started grad school, I was a loner. I had very few friends, and those friends lived quite a distance away and I only saw them maybe once or twice a year. It was during that period of my life (from the ages of 21 to 25) that I watched a lot of classic films. I would fill up my free time with Turner Classic movies. Films from bygone eras were my escape from the harsh reality of this so-called "real world". I tried to fill the void of not having friends by filling them with classic film stars. It couldn't completely console my loneliness though. I'm a very social creature by nature but I can be crippled by my shyness. When I started Grad school, I made an effort to make friends, to go out and to put myself out of my comfort zone. I feel that earlier in my life, I was avoiding dealing with real people by watching classic films. While I still watch classic movies to this day, I don't watch them voraciously as I used to because I want to use some of my free time to hang out with friends, family and the beau. If I continued to watch classic films like I used to, I would have just continued to alienate myself from real people in real life and would continue to be miserable, wallowing in my own loneliness.

NO - Having a particular interest that you are passionate about is a social catalyst. It gives you a topic of conversation, you can use it to pique someone's interest and you can use that passion to find other like-minded folks. Even in my days of lonely classic film consumption, I still had a burning desire within me to share and talk about the movies I was watching with other people. When I developed new friendships in my mid-20s, I cautiously started talking about classic movies. As soon as I opened up the gates, a flood ensued. I wanted to find more and more opportunities to talk about films with people. At one point, it started to drive me crazy and I needed an outlet to get my thoughts out there. That's when I started Out of the Past ~ A Classic Film Blog and I have been happy as a clam chatting about classic films ever since. I've developed great friendships both online and off through this blog. I met my good friend Kevin when I took his Film Noir class and Carlos and I immediately bonded with a shared interest in film. I've shared classic films with other friends to get some culture in their life. Other classic film bloggers have developed great friendships with each other referring to those friends as "non-fleshies". Two of my best non-fleshie friends, Jonas of All Talking! All Singing! All Dancing! and Mark of Bookmark Zero, I met online through my blog and mutual interest in classic movies. So in this way, classic films made me more social than I have ever been before!


Dear readers. If you were to pose this question to yourself, what would be your answer? I want to hear your thoughts.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Sex and the Single Girl (1964) and some Belated Thoughts

Some months ago, when I was working on my review of the Natalie Wood boxed set, I invited a couple friends over to watch Sex and the Single Girl (1964) with me. All three of us were pretty horrified by the ridiculousness of this film. Yes I know it's the 1960s and there are a plethora of silly films from that era (many of which I enjoy immensely) but this one was ridiculous to the point of being just plain stupid. How did this film even get made?

When I was reading David R. Slavitt's book George Sanders, Zsa Zsa and Me for review on this blog, I got my answer. Director Richard Quine (known to me primarily as Susan Peters' ex-husband) was desperate for money to pay back taxes, alimony and child support. He also owes his publicist Goldblatt a considerable amount of money. To pay him back he has to work on a new movie, any new movie. Goldblatt also worked for Tony Curtis who thought it would be fun to make a movie with his friends Henry Fonda, Lauren Bacall, Natalie Wood and Mel Ferrer. Warner Brothers had just paid 800 grand for the rights to Helen Gurley Brown's Sex and the Single Girl not realizing that it was a nonfiction book with no plot line whatsoever. All they knew is that the book was a bestseller and culturally significant. So Quine needs movie, Curtis and his cronies want to make a movie together and WB has rights to a socially important book. All three elements literally crash together to make a mess of a movie.

Some other thoughts on this film:

My original review
Sarah's enthusiastic review on Cinema Splendor (she can appreciate strange '60s films like no one else can)
Nicola also didn't like it. Vintage Film Nerd.
Mercurie mentions this film in Part 3 of his excellent series on Sex Comedies. A Shroud of Thoughts.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Born to Kill (1947) @ Chez Kevin

On Sunday night, a few friends came over to Chez Kevin for dessert and a movie. Just this past October, Kevin had purchased his first home. A condo; the first floor in a historic Queen Anne style home. I am not exaggerating when I say that everyone who sees Kevin's place is absolutely gobsmacked. The home is filled with character, has a gorgeous layout, nice big rooms and original Queen Anne details. My favorite details are the Queen Anne style tiles around one of his two fireplaces and an old-fashioned pencil sharpener. Kevin decorated it well with lots of nice furniture, candles and other special accents.

Before we watched the movie, I took some pictures of Kevin's place. He's got extensive collections of DVDs, books on movies as well as movie poster artwork. Here are some highlights:

Here is Kevin's main bookcase for his DVDs. Notice the painting on top? It's a commission painting done by the ultra-talented Kate Gabrielle of James Dean in Giant (1954). Kevin's always given me very thoughtful gifts, so for his last birthday I thought I'd do something special for him.

This is part of his collection of DVD boxed sets.

When Kevin was debating what movie to show, he considered Fellini's Nights of Cabiria (1957). He has a poster of the film in his living room.

Two of Kevin's favorite directors.

Here are some more movie posters (Italian). When you walk through Kevin's condo, there is no doubt that the person who lives there is a true film buff!


After much debate as to what to show during the movie night, Kevin ultimately decided on Born to Kill (1947). He introduced it to us as a film noir, that is as dramatic as it is darkly humorous. I met Kevin a couple years ago when I was a student in his film noir class, so for him to show a film in this genre for his first official movie night was a special treat for me.

I hadn't seen Born to Kill before so I was looking forward to watching a film new to me.

Or so I thought.

Born to Kill (1947) stars Claire Trevor and Lawrence Tierney. Trevor is a divorcee who witnesses the aftermath of a murder committed by Tierney. She is both terrified and entranced with Tierney, tapping into her own murderous and evil tendencies. Trevor is engaged to a rich man in order to gain her own financial freedom from her rich foster-sister, Audrey Long. Tierney punishes Trevor by marrying Long and using her for his own selfish purposes.

As I was watching the film, certain things seemed awfully familiar. Then when I saw actress Isabell Jewell, who plays Laury Palmer, I had a vision of her lying, prostrate on the floor, dead, the camera focusing on her shoes. At one point, I wanted to point at the television and proclaim "She gets murdered! I remember her shoes!". Alas, I held my tongue so as to not ruin the movie for anyone. It's not much of a spoiler, considering most of the story is based on the investigation of her murder, but it would have been rude otherwise. When the image I had in mind popped up on the screen, I knew that indeed I had seen this film.

Isn't it amazing that one can watch a film, forget all about it with the exception of one solitary image? That seems to happen to me a lot.

Some topics of conversation from pre-show and post-show bonding.

1) Lawrence Tierney was an intimidating man. Onscreen and off.
2) Lawrence Tierney once played Elaine's dad on Seinfeld.
3) In the late 1940s, folks were fascinated by evil women. This explains why so many films during this era showcased femme fatales.
4) Costume Designer Edward Stevenson had a penchant for strange hats and head-dresses as well assymetrical clothing.
5) Engagements were unusually short in those days.
6) The popcorn that Lisa brought in from Trader Joe's was absolutely delicious!

Thanks again to Kevin for such a great movie night! I'm looking forward to his next one.

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