Monday, July 25, 2011

The Silent Screen and My Talking Heart by Nell Shipman

The Silent Screen & My Talking Heart
by Nell Shipman
Third Revised Edition - 2001

Nell's secret for working with wild animals who could sense and would react dangerously to human fear:

"Truth is, I was afraid to be scared. I operated on fear like a surgeon and somehow managed to cut it from the hidden recesses of my Id or boiled out the malignancy from my consciousness... I abolished it."

It is a fact that Nell Shipman was an incredible woman. She was an actress, animal trainer and activist, filmmaker, producer, mother, wife, adventurer, stunt woman, business woman, traveler and free spirit. After having seen The Grub-Stake (1923) and reading about her life and work online I wanted some more information. There were two books in print and I decided to go with Nell Shipman's autobiography The Silent Screen & My Talking Heart because I really wanted to read about her life from her own words.

Nell Shipman was born as Helen Foster-Barham in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada in 1892. Nell became a nickname she acquired later on and Shipman is the surname of her first husband. Nell Shipman stuck ever since. Her autobiography starts from the point of birth when her mother and father are about to bury her because she turned bright blue and stopped breathing. Then by some miracle she revived just before they arrived at the burial plot. Nell liked to think she was a changeling and that a free roaming spirit switched places with the original soul in the body. With that, Nell Shipman was off to an auspicious start. She had an early love for acting which her mother encouraged. At a very young age, she performed in theater and traveled and lived with other actors. While she had a pretty decent stage career, Shipman's real talent lied in the fact that she was comfortable in nature, could perform dangerous stunts and had a way with animals. This made her perfect for playing "The Girl" roles in movies that were filmed outdoors. She married at the tender age of 18 to Ernest Shipman who was a theatrical producer. The book chronicles her early life, her marriage, her career and the early years of her first son. It goes from 1892 until 1924 even though Shipman wrote the autobiography much later in her life (she passed away in 1970).

The title of the book suits it very well. Nell Shipman was a silent film actress and so while we don't hear her voice she definitely gets her chance to talk in this book. In fact, the book is very hard to follow because it reads as one very long rant. Nell Shipman recounts each film shoot and each adventure with lots of details but only a little insight. Nell rambles on and on as she teases out each memory out of the recesses of her mind. I found myself skimming over a few parts because frankly they didn't interest me. Some of the more action filled parts made me slow down. I really want to read this book, not skim it, so trudging through the rambling was a chore but worth the effort.

There are some memorable insights. Nell Shipman was a writer after all and some of her language was quite beautiful. I was very intrigued by how she referred to the loss of her virginity on the marital bed as "a painful gymnastic". I've never heard or read a phrase that described that moment from a young woman's point of view in better terms than that one. Also, the book has pictures of Nell in various stages of life and career which give us a different kind of peek into her life that the writing does not.

What interested me most in reading this book was the film The Grub-Stake (1923). It's financial failure single-handedly brought down her career, her movie studio Nell Shipman Productions, her home and took all her beloved animals away from her. Nell devotes a good amount of time to this but not all the details are there. There are a lot of holes but you do learn about how much she loved animals, her talent for training them and interacting with them and how much of a loss it was when she had to close down the famous Lionhead Lodge (her haven in Priest Lake Idaho that housed a lodge, barns, tents, homes for her animals, trails, etc., the book includes maps of the Lake and the Lodge) and send her animals off to the San Diego Zoo. She spoke a lot about her beloved black bear Brownie who was one of the most well-behaved animals she had. She also talks about her rambunctious bobcats Bobs and Babs and Tresore, her Great Dane watchdog who was heartlessly poisoned. Throughout the book, especially the latter half you really get a sense that she had a wonderful talent for working with animals.

So why didn't she become an animal trainer, a circus performer or a zoo keeper? Her greatest passion was acting. Later on in life, she found that she still had stories to tell but those opportunities for her to act them on film were few and far between. Throughout the rest of her life she wrote plays, short stories, novels, screenplays and children's books. She even wrote the story that would become the film Wings in the Dark (1934) which starred Myrna Loy and Cary Grant.

This book is flawed. Even her son Barry Shipman, who wrote the afterword and was also the one to encourage his mom to write the book, admits that not everything is here. We are missing all the interesting post-1924 years. The writing is beautiful at some points and a bit robotic at others. And you really have to mine for the insights because they are hidden in midst of a lot of rambling. There is an essay at the end of the book written by Peter Morris which contextualizes Nell Shipman's work and life into feminist history. That also adds something to strengthen the weak book.

If you are really interested in Nell Shipman or in early film history it's worth the effort it takes to read it. She was a very fascinating woman and like the many men who were drawn to her over the years you'll be charmed by her too. I purchased the last new copy of the Third Revised Edition from and I'm feeling a bit guilty about this. Barnes & Noble doesn't carry it and Borders (which is currently going out of business) never carried it. It was part of the Hemingway Western Studies Series published by Boise State University and their Bronco Store seems to be selling new copies of the Third Revised Edition. Google Books has a preview of the book you can see here. I'm curious about reading her collection of letters and The Girl from God's Country: Nell Shipman and the Silent Cinema by Kay Armatage. Maybe I'll learn more about Shipman from these two books than I did her autobiography.

I just want to thank John of Robert Frost's Banjo once again for introducing me to Nell Shipman. He composed and performed music for the DVD release of the film The Grub-Stake (1923). Also, please take a moment to read my review of The Grub-Stake which was part of my IOU Series. If you want to watch any of Nell Shipman's films, the 3 volumes of The Nell Shipman Collection are available to purchase online.

Full Disclosure: If you didn't read it above, I bought the last new copy had. Darn it!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Guest Blogger: Author Gigi Amateau interviews Author Joseph Papa

When Elizabeth Taylor passed away earlier in the year, one of my favorite authors Gigi Amateau tweeted the fact that she had met Taylor briefly years ago. I tweeted her back asking if she'd like to write a bit about the experience for Out of the Past. She agreed and made it even better by including it in an interview with Joseph Papa, the author of Elizabeth Taylor: A Passion For Life (read my review here). I thank Gigi for introducing me to Joseph Papa's book, for arranging this interview and for writing such wonderful books as Claiming Georgia Tate (a personal favorite), Chancey of the Maury River and A Certain Strain of Peculiar.


Gigi: Certain stars have, oh, a personal impact on us regular folks - the big ones: Elvis, Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson, Audrey Hepburn. When do you recall first becoming aware of Elizabeth Taylor? 

Joseph: My earliest memories of Elizabeth Taylor are actually from the mini-series North and South. I was (and still am, I suppose) obsessed with it as a child. Taylor has a small role in the series. It wasn't until much later that I would come to appreciate her as much as I do now.
G: What led you to write Elizabeth Taylor: A Passion for Life?

J: The idea for the book came very casually from an editor that I work with. She was looking for someone to "do" a book on Taylor and I jumped at the opportunity. I'm fortunate that she had the faith in me to do it.

G: It’s evident from the way you write about Elizabeth Taylor that you admire her for her tenacity, her free spirit, and her determination to succeed and experience life, as well as her beauty and glamour and style. If asked to express her life as a bumper sticker what would that bumper sticker say?

J: It would have to be a quote from Liz herself, well actually from her character in Suddenly Last Summer. I think perhaps: "Truth is the one thing I've never resisted." Or perhaps, "When the suncomes up, I have morals again"

G: How did she influence you?
J: If I've learned anything from Elizabeth Taylor, it's how pointless regret is. She never spent too
much time dwelling on mistakes and I think she grew and learned from each of them.

G: How about some word association, thinking of Elizabeth Taylor. I say Dick you say:

J: Liz

G: I say AIDS, you say:

J: crusader

G: I say mother, you say:

J: courage

G: I say Virginia, you say:

J: Senator (as in John Warner)

G: Speaking of Senator Warner, I think my favorite period of Elizabeth Taylor’s life is when she was married to John Warner. I was fourteen and in junior high school when I met her in Hanover County, Virginia at the Republican Party Ox Roast – what was then an annual fundraising event held on my friend’s farm. My friends and I were working the event by parking cars. She was there campaigning for her husband’s run for a Virginia senate seat. I remember she wore a cherry-red and white v-neck dress that showed off her legs and her cleavage. She looked so natural and comfortable and gorgeous. She stopped to greet me and asked what I planned to do with my life. I said I wanted to be an actress! She told me, “It takes a lot of hard work and determination, but if you really want it, then don’t ever give up.” Later as my friend and I were riding double bareback down the road on a mule, her car rolled by, and she stopped to talk to us, again. She asked how far we were going and told us to be careful on the road. I also remember from that time that she was married to John Warner, she told an interviewer about the two of them cooking together and arguing over whether the pasta was al dente. She threw the pasta against the wall and it stuck there, so they wrote ‘al dente’ and the date on the wall. I thought that was so romantic! So, what is your favorite period of Elizabeth Taylor’s life?

J: That's a tough question because I'm not certain that my favorite time in her life is necessary the one with the most impact ... that being of course her work with HIV/AIDS later in her life. I'm very drawn to the time in the 1950s when she was making some of her best films, Giant, Suddenly Last Summer, Cat on a Hot Tin Room, etc. One of my favorite stories - that I uncovered while researching the book -was from the set of Giant where Taylor would forge her lifelong friendship with Rock Hudson. They filmed in very rural Texas and would frequently have to stop shooting because of hail storms. Hudson and Taylor would gather the balls of hail and use them as ice for chocolate martinis. The late 50's also saw her marriage to Mike Todd, a union that was cut short by his death. I find their time together endlessly fascinating and romantic.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor: A Passion for Life by Joseph Papa

Elizabeth Taylor: A Passion for Life
The Wit and Wisdom of a Legend
by Joseph Papa
Harper Design
April 2011
Hardcover $16.99

My motto has always been to be true to myself, whether it pleases others or not. - Elizabeth Taylor

Compiled by Richmond native and NYC publicist and writer Joseph Papa this book is a collection of quotations as spoken or written by Dame Elizabeth Taylor herself. But this book is more than just a book of quotations. It's a way for us to understand actress Elizabeth Taylor, the passionate, talented, charming and oftentimes mysterious woman who shuffled off her mortal coil earlier this year. Taylor has always been a bit of a conundrum to me and I'm sure this is the case for many other folks too. Why did she marry so many times? Why was she so devoted to men? Why did she make those life and career choices that she did? Why all the jewels? Why?

This book presents us with an opportunity to come to understand Elizabeth Taylor and for her (through the author) to show us who she really was in her own words.

I'm surprised how much I learned about Elizabeth Taylor just by reading quotes! Joseph Papa arranges the quotations in different themed chapters including: Childhood, Acting, Marriage, Motherhood, Self, Beauty & Aging, Extravagances, Giving Back and Life. The most important thing I learned about Elizabeth Taylor was that she was an incredibly passionate woman. She had a passion for life, for men, for food, for her kids and being a mom, for jewels and for her friends. And sometimes there is a price to pay for having passion. You can alienate others and if you are not careful you can put your own life on a path of self-destruction. As a passionate person myself, I know how much peril passion can put a person into. It's not something you can contain and its manageable through restrictions made upon you by yourself or outside forces of which you have no control. Taylor had a life of luxury, celebrity and lots of personal freedom which allowed her passion to drive her life and her choices. Now this may seem a lot to get out of the book and while I don't think this is the message Joseph Papa was trying to get across this is what I could identify with. And I think other readers might be able to find something, some quote (or quotes) from Elizabeth Taylor's own words to apply to their own lives.

Pick up this book if you are an Elizabeth Taylor fan, a confused admirer, a passionate person or you just have a curious mind. It also makes a great gift for the classic film fan who may not want to dive into a dense biography but could get a lot out of a collection of great quotes.

I haven’t had a quiet life. I’ve lived dangerously. Sometimes disaster has come at me like a train. There have been times when I’ve almost drunk myself to death. I’ve been in situations where I was perilously close to killing myself. I’ve almost died several times. Yet some instinct, some inner force, has always saved me, dragging me back just as the train whooshed past. – Elizabeth Taylor

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Buster Keaton and Live Musical Accompaniment at the Somerville Theater

A coworker mentioned to me back in May that the Somerville Theater was showcasing a Buster Keaton film festival. I thought she may have confused that with the Charlie Chaplin festival they were having. I put it out of my mind until I saw something in a local town blog about the Somerville Theater showing 2 Buster Keaton shorts and 1 full-length film along with live musical accompaniment. WHAT?! And I had missed a similar showing on June 5th in which one of the shorts was my FAVORITE BUSTER KEATON SHORT EVER, The Scarecrow (1920). Well there was no way I was going to miss this new opportunity, so on a gorgeous Sunday evening, Carlos and I head out to Somerville to enjoy some Buster Keaton.

The films screened were Neighbors (1920), The Goat (1921) and Seven Chances (1925). We got to see these Buster Keaton films the way they were meant to be seen. And how is that exactly? The scenerio fit the following criteria:

1.) 35 mm print
2.) original Thomas Edison aspect ratio of 1:37:1
3.) in a theater that was around during the Buster Keaton era
4.) live musical accompaniment
5.) an enthusiastic and lively crowd that laughs at the real humor

The musician was Jeff Rapsis, a silent film accompanist and composer who travels all over the northern parts of New England performing and screening silent films in theaters. Lucky for us, he traveled further south to the Boston area to perform at the Somerville Theater. Boston is a classic film loving town so of course he was welcomed with open arms. Rapsis improvises his music. He has an idea of what he's going to play but nothing is written down. He reacts to the film and to the audience. After the screening, he told a few of us that sometimes he'll play very quiet music or none at all to get the audience to wake up and pay attention to what's going on in the film. Rapsis demonstrated a genuine love for silent films and encouraged the audience to react to the film. When the first film, Neighbors (1920), played the audience immediately erupted into laughter. Rapsis plays on a keyboard and will switch between different instrumental sounds. So at times it sounded like a full orchestra and at other it's was just organ music. I love how Rapsis played variations of the Wedding Theme in various points in Seven Chances.

Neighbors (1920) - This was Carlos' favorite film of the three and my least favorite. I enjoyed it but not as much as the other two. Buster Keaton and Virginia Fox are in love with each other and want to marry but her dad, Joe Roberts (Fatty Arbuckle's replacement) is opposed. Keaton's real-life dad Joe Keaton plays his on screen dad and they have a hilarious scene together where Buster's head is stuck in mud and Joe tries to pull him out much to Joe Roberts' amusement. I particularly loved the scene at the end with Buster standing over two other men in a three-person tower and they go back and forth across the tenement yard. Hilarious!

The Goat (1921) - Now I know where the famous Buster-behind-bars image comes from! Buster Keaton plays a scapegoat. Dead Shot Dan is on the loose after he tricked a photographer into taking a picture of Keaton instead of himself and escapes jail. Now everyone is after Keaton because they think he's Dead Shot Dan. Everyone including cop Joe Roberts. Keaton helps Virginia Fox and she takes him in but uh-oh her dad is that cop who has been chasing him! Lots of great stunts in this film and there are a lot of great gags. A slight bit of blackface but not so much that it's very offensive. This is 1921 after all. Keaton's family almost make appearances in this film.

Seven Chances (1925) - Contemporaries may be more familiar with the Chris O'Donnell remake The Bachelor (1999). This is a full-length feature with more plot but just as many wonderful stunts! Keaton plays Jimmie Shannon. A shy man who is head-over-heels in love with Mary (Ruth Dwyer) but doesn't have the balls to ask her to marry him. When it comes to light that his law firm is about to be disgraced, he learns that he could save his reputation and his company with his $7 million inheritance. However, in order to inherit the fortune he needs to marry by 7pm on his birthday, that day! When he flubs his proposal to Mary, his friends try to get him a new bride and all sorts of hilarity ensues. This film is particularly known for the famous boulder scene which happened by accident. At a screening, his tripping over some rocks got the most laughs so they shot the film again with bigger fake rocks that got bigger and bigger. It's a wonderful scene and shows Keaton at his best physical comedy prowess.

I've said it once and I'll say it again. It's great being a classic film fan in Boston!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Tough Without a Gun by Stefan Kanfer

Tough Without a Gun
The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of Humphrey Bogart
by Stefan Kanfer
Hardcover - February 2011
9780307271006 $26.95
Paperback - February 2012
Alfred A. Knopf (Random House)

In a corrupt world he kept his own code of honor, without the consolations of religion or social approval. - Stefan Kanfer

[Bogart was] the only man I have ever known who truly and completely belonged to himself. - Lauren Bacall

The term "tough without a gun" comes from author Raymond Chandler. Chandler said "Bogart can be tough without a gun... he has a sense of humor that contains the grating undertone of contempt." Bogie was a man's man. He was the man. He was tough with or without a gun. You watch him, you admire him, you fear him and you want to be him. The most important thing you need to know about Bogie was that he was always himself. He was never molded or shaped. Instead, he stayed true to what he was and it showed on screen and off.

Stefan Kanfer's book, Tough Without a Gun, focuses on the film career, personal life and the posthumous development of the cult of Bogie. I really wish Kanfer had dedicated more time to the Extraordinary Afterlife part. We get 227 pages of Bogie's life and death and only 27 pages of his afterlife. However, those short 27 pages do provide a lot of insight into why, almost 55 years after his death we still idolized Bogie.

In the book, we get to glimpse at a very young Bogie who came from a well-to-do WASP family. His mother was an illustrator (she drew the famous Gerber baby but Bogie was not the model contrary to popular belief) and his father was a doctor. He was a privileged kid but when he became an adult a lot of things changed. His mother and father's marriage went south (although they didn't divorce), his father got himself into bad debt and his sister, after having a child, suffered from post-partum depression which led to her alcoholism. We see that Bogie's early dramatic career, on stage and in movies, was very much a way for him to earn money to help his family.

Kanfer glosses over what he thinks are Bogie's smaller films and Bogie's biggest films are given more time, back story and explanation. He spends a lot of time talking about High Sierra (1941) , Casablanca (1942), The Maltese Falcon (1941), To Have and Have Not (1944), The African Queen (1951), etc. Do be aware that he does give away entire plot lines. If you haven't seen a film he's talking about, skip over that section and come back to it after you've seen the film. Kanfer also looks closely at Bogart's four marriages including the most well-known (and romanticized) one he had with Lauren Bacall as well as his friendships with directors, actors and actresses and his relationship with his two children.

Tough Without a Gun is chock-full of interesting anecdotes and insights. And the funny thing is, the most interesting ones are not about Bogie at all. However, they do relate to Bogie in some way and are put into context. Here are my favorites:

- James Cagney operated a 100 acre farm in Martha's Vineyard (I want to find this!)
- Edward G. Robinson had a huge collection of art work.
- Joan Bennett's husband shot her agent out of jealousy. Bennett was blacklisted from films even though the agent wasn't fatally wounded and she never cheated on her husband. Bogie helped her get her role in We're No Angels (1955).
- On the Waterfront's plot may be Budd Schulberg and Elia Kazan's response to the HUAC.
- Peter Sellers was an expert Bogie impersonator and did some of the dubbing in Beat the Devil (1953).
- Casablanca almost didn't make it onto film because of the Post-Code issue of the two main characters being lovers previous to the story.
- Director Edward Dmytryk  gave many more names to the HUAC than Elia Kazan and he also spent time in jail for his Communist ties.

Also, Kanfer's book has a major error in it that I spotted right away. And it's not about Bogie! Kanfer says the following about Paul Henreid's role in Now, Voyager (1942): "On a cruise, the ugly duckling meets the unhappily married Henreid, and under his ministrations turns into an enchanting and self-assured swan." NO! That is NOT what happens. By the time Bette Davis' character makes it onto the cruise she's already a swan and it's under Claude Rains' ministrations that she makes her transformation. For those of you who are fans of the film, you may recall Henreid's character being shocked by a picture of her in her ugly duckling stage. I really hope the publisher fixes this error before the paperback publishes.

Kanfer reveals a lot about Bogie without dishing dirt. This book is great for those of you who love Bogie but don't want gossip-ridden fare. Kanfer's portrait of Bogie is both kind and realistic. The book is insightful and you'll come to understand why Bogie became such an iconoclast. So what are you waiting for? Get your read on!

Full Disclosure: I asked the publisher for a review copy.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Winner of the Fourth Blogiversary Giveaway

And the winner of my Fourth Blogiversary giveaway is... (drumroll, please)

Jill! AKA Kitten Biscuits from the classic film blog Sittin' on a Backyard Fence. You can also follow her on @BiscuitKitten on Twitter.

This was her entry: 

"My all time favorite Cary Grant film is Hitchcock's NOTORIOUS. Grant worked with some great directors during his career, but no one uncovered the darker side of the Cary Grant persona better than Hitchcock. Grant's Devlin is the most complicated character he ever played and he did so beautifully. It is a shame he didn't play these types of roles more. I love Devlin's skepticism, his sex appeal and romanticism, his feelings of betrayal by Alicia (while betraying her), and his redemption. I also can't forget to mention Ingrid Bergman. She and Grant had excellent chemistry, which makes all the difference. Plus they are both ridiculously sexy in this film.
I love NOTORIOUS so much that I drove 4 1/2 hours to Savannah, GA with my husband (we live in Atlanta) to see a 35 mm screening. A glorious moment I will never forget. "

I would like to second the "ridiculously sexy" comment! Too true. And she makes a great point about Hitchcock bringing out Cary Grant's darker side. He did the same in Suspicion (1941). And driving 4-1/2 hours to see Notorious?! That's some serious dedication right there. 

Thank you to everyone who entered my giveaway!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Summer of Classic Films in Boston - July 2011

Lots of great films for July!

Brattle Theater - Cambridge

Tickets are $9.75, Matinees before 5 pm are $7.75. Students $7.75 with ID. Seniors $6.75. Children under 12 $6.75. You can also purchase one of many different membership packages.

The Leopard (1963) 
July 8th - 10th (Friday - Sunday) - 4pm and 7:30 pm

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
July 11th  (Monday) - 2:30 pm and 5:00 pm
July 12th  (Tuesday) - 2:30 pm and 5:30 pm

Double Feature! Two for the price of one!
The Birds (1963) & Psycho (1960)
July 18th (Monday) - 2:30 pm (Birds) 5:00 pm (Psycho)
July 19th (Tuesday) - 2:45 pm and 7:00 pm (Birds) 5:15 pm and 9:30 pm (Psycho)

Battleship Potemkin (1925)
July 22nd (Friday) - 8:00 pm
July 23rd (Saturday) - 12:30 pm, 2:15 pm, 4:00 pm, 5:45 pm, 7:30 pm
July 24th (Sunday) - 12:30 pm, 2:15 pm, 4:00 pm, 5:45 pm, 7:30 pm

Somerville Theater - Somerville

Weekday matinees (before 5pm and not including Holidays) are $5. Saturday, Sunday and  Holiday matinees (before 6pm) are $7.00. All other times are $8.00. There are discounts for Senior Citizens and children under 12.

The African Queen (1951)
July 3rd (Sunday) - 11:00 am
July 4th (Monday) - 5:00 pm and 8:00 pm

Singin' in the Rain (1952)
July 10th (Sunday) - 11:00 am
July 11th (Monday) - 5:00 pm and 8:00 pm

The Wizard of Oz (1939)
July 17th (Sunday) - 11:00 am
July 18th (Monday) - 5:00 pm and 8:00 pm

Dr. Strangelove (1964)
July 24th (Sunday) - 11:00 am
July 25th  (Monday) - 5:00 pm and 8:00 pm

Ninotchka (1939)
July 31st (Sunday) - 11:00 am

Silent Film Series - Buster Keaton
Special event price $12.00, $8 for Seniors and Students
July 10th (Sunday) - 7pm
Seven Chances (1925) plus Keaton shorts Neighbors (1920) and The Goat (1921)
with live musical accompaniment

Tickets are $9, $7 for Students and Senior Citizens. Some screenings are $12 or even free (check the website)! Cash only folks. Don't bring the credit card. And you can NOT buy in advance so show up early.

July 22nd (Friday) - 7:00 pm
July 24th (Sunday) - 4:30 pm

Somewhere in the Night (1946)
July 22nd (Friday) - 9:30 pm

All About Eve (Two-Disc Special Edition)All About Eve (1950)
July 23rd (Saturday) - 7:30 pm

The Late George Apley (1947)
July 23rd (Saturday) - 9:30 pm

Guys and Dolls (1955)
July 24th (Sunday) - 7:00 pm

People Will Talk (1951)
July 25th (Monday) - 7:00 pm

Suddenly, Last Summer
Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
July 29th (Friday) - 7:00 pm
July 31st (Sunday) - 4:30 pm

The Honey Pot (1967)
July 29th (Friday) - 9:15 pm

Escape (1948)
July 30th (Saturday) - 9:30 pm

No Way Out (Fox Film Noir)
No Way Out (1950)
July 31st (Sunday) - 9:30 pm

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The African Queen (1951) at the Brattle

This passage comes from the book Tough Without a Gun: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of Humphrey Bogart by Stefan Kanfer:

In the early 1950s the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, tried something old. Like many another venue for productions of Shakespeare, Chekhov, and Shaw, the Brattle had become a film house in the early 1950s. But it was a film house unlike any other. It had a rear-screen projector, rather than the standard setup that beamed movies on a screen above the audience. And it had owners who believed that the past could be more alluring than the present.
 In April of 1957, the Brattle screened Casablanca (1942), 15 years after it had come out and 3 months after Bogart died. Kanfer goes on to show how the posthumous cult of Bogie starts at the Brattle and spreads across the country gathering followers along the way. Having seen Casablanca (1942) at the Brattle and having seen The African Queen (1951) , another Bogie film, there too, I think this is pretty darn cool. It makes me love the Brattle more than I do already.

For a whole week, the Brattle showed a restored 35mm print of The African Queen (1951) starring Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart and directed by John Huston. In cases like these, I'm glad I haven't yet devoured all the great classics because I got to experience viewing The African Queen for the first time on the big screen. Not having seen it in its previous condition, I can't tell you how the restored print compares however I can tell you that I saw was strangely beautiful. A Technicolor film showing dirt and grime in all its glory. 

The trifecta of Huston-Hepburn-Bogie just works. The director and the two stars were a scrappy trio. Hepburn had an adventurous spirit and her natural mischievousness made her a perfect fit for playing Rose Sayers. Stefan Kanfer says that Hepburn enjoyed hanging around heavy drinkers John Huston and Humphrey Bogart. Perhaps because she was in a long-term, albeit extramarital, relationship with hard drinker Spencer Tracy and knew what to expect. Hepburn didn't drink much on set herself but maybe she should have. She believed in drinking lots of water and ended up getting very sick after ingesting contaminated water. Huston & Bogie staved off the sickness by sticking to the booze. Perhaps Bogie's portrayal of the gin-loving Charlie Allnut was easy peasy for him and perhaps the sober version of Charlie, after Rose throws away all his liquor, required a little more work. It all comes together to make one beautiful picture.

I enjoyed this film very much. I was a bit thrown off by that first scene in the church when all the native Africans are trying to mimic the sounds of an English hymn as Katharine Hepburn and Robert Morley try to sing eloquently over their drones. It did set up the comedy aspect of the movie though. While Rose and Charlie are in a lot of danger, it's a very light-hearted movie. Because there is such a strict focus on those two characters you get plenty of time to understand them, care for them and laugh at their wild antics. While this film was also screened at the Somerville Theatre, I'm glad I watched it at the Brattle, the so-called originating point of the cult of Bogie.

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