Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Real James Dean

The Real James Dean
The Real James Dean
Intimate Memories from Those Who Knew Him Best
edited by Peter L. Winkler
Chicago Review Press
9781613734728 - 368 pages
August 2016

Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powells

When we look at the legacy of classic film actors and actresses there is a natural hierarchy. There are those obscure names known by a select group of people, characters actors that are beloved by a small following, legends who became part of the fabric of the 20th Century but contemporary audiences might struggle to identify and then there are the immortals whose images have transcended their lives and careers to become timeless icons. Among that last group there are only a handful of names including Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and James Dean.

“He made only three motion pictures, yet sixty years after his death he remains one of the world’s iconic movie stars.” – George Stevens Jr. (foreword)

Dean stands out among that bunch because of the impact he made having only lived 24 years and starred in a scant three films. However, his legacy benefited from his brief life. Those who attached themselves to his image continued the narrative after his death. He didn’t live long enough to have box office failures, career ending scandals or to grow old and fade away. Dean died with a beautiful corpse and at the height of his skyrocketing career. In a morbid way he let us write the rest of the story by dying in that tragic car accident on September 30th, 1955.

James Dean death came at the height of his East of Eden (1955) fame, immediately after filming Giant (1956) and weeks before the Rebel Without a Cause (1955) premiere. The impact of his death on the general public during that time was massive. He developed a cult following who was ravenous for anything they could get their hands on. They wanted as much James Dean as they could get and the people who inhabited Dean’s world became known for being part of different milestones in his short life. In The Real James Dean, a collection of essays, interviews and other writings edited by Peter L. Winkler, we get to hear their stories. We see James Dean through their eyes.

Earth Kitt and James Dean
 "James Dean has become a perennial hero to nonconformists.” – James Bellah, college friend

This anthology has a vast array of voices. It’s organized in a chronological way so it reads as though it’s a biography of sorts. Starting off with James Dean’s grandmother, high school drama coach, fellow college students, teachers the collection then moves on to his love interests, both male and female, his fellow actors on Broadway, TV and Hollywood, journalists, gossip columnists, directors, and many more. It’s a comprehensive view of James Dean’s life coming from all angles. There are full essays, excerpts from memoirs, clips from interviews and newly fashioned essays meant to present snippets and quotes. There are also outtakes which are longer quotes that complement preceding essays. This book is incredibly well-organized and there was a natural flow to the narrative. It reads like one big biography with each chapter written by a different writer. If you struggle with standard biographies, this is a good alternative. You could read the book cover-to-cover or dip in an out by reading individual pieces. I recommend reading the book straight through as you’ll see themes develop over time.

"Rebellious, secretive, and calculating, he opted for acceptance via the route of stardom... Sensitive and violent by turns, both the boy and the girl next door, he projected the ambivalent sexuality and chastity of the classic deal -- if in spirit he was perhaps more Icarus than Apollo." - Frank Corsarso

Some of the notable voices in this collection include writings by the following:

William Bast
Rogers Brackett
Hume Cronyn
Shelley Winters
Eartha Kitt
Elia Kazan
Raymond Massey
Hedda Hopper
Nicholas Ray
Natalie Wood
Jim Backus
George Stevens
Dore Schary
Mercedes McCambridge
Alec Guiness
and more

There are also quotes from Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, Pier Angeli and Dennis Hopper. The collection even includes a piece by James Dean that he wrote in high school as well as a piece by Rolf Wütherich who was in the car with James Dean on that tragic day.

James Dean and Rolf Wütherich on the day of the accident

The stories paint a portrait of James Dean as a moody individual who was obsessed with matadors, sensitive about his talents but also thought highly of them and was determined against all odds to make it big as an actor. He was difficult to understand but people were drawn to him like moths to a flame. Fame came to those associated with him. They became known as the people who knew James Dean.

Each of James Dean’s three major roles represent some aspect of his life and it’s true that he really did play himself on screen. There a lot of behind-the-scenes stories, some repeat themselves and some stand alone. Readers get to know quite a bit about James Dean’s sexual relationships with both men and women with a spotlight on his failed and overly romanticized relationship with actress Pier Angeli. Most of what happened to James Dean happened in the last 6 years of his life and as I read the text I could only marvel at what he was able to accomplish in such a short time.

James Dean and Pier Angeli

The Real James Dean by Peter L. Winkler is a fascinating read with each essay offering a unique reflection from one of Dean’s contemporaries. It’s much more approachable than a full in-depth biography. Winkler introduces each piece with background and includes footnotes to clarify any inconsistencies in the text. Memory is a fallible thing and there were factual errors that needed to be clarified.

Thank you to Chicago Review Press for sending me this book for review. They were also generous enough to let me host a giveaway for one copy of the book (US Only)! Just leave me a comment below to enter. Contest ends 10/2 and winner will be announced 10/3!

Update: Contest is over. Congrats to Katy the winner!

Monday, September 26, 2016

New & Upcoming Classic Film Books (7)

I didn't think it was possible but this may be my best round-up yet! I spent several hours going through publisher catalogs to find the new classic film books coming out this Fall. Get your wallets ready because you'll want to add some of these to your library.

I present to you my latest round-up with publication dates ranging from September to December 2016.
Are you new to my list? Here are the details. Main link goes to Goodreads and I've included buy links to three major retailers. If you shop through my buy links you'll help support this site! Thanks in advance.

Books include biographies, memoirs, scholary texts, coffee table books and more from a variety of publishers. All publication dates are subject to change.

Make sure you let me know in the comments section below which of these books interesting and what you're reading now!

Turner Classic Movies
by Tenaya & Andre Darlington
Running Press
224 pages – December 2016
AmazonBarnes and Noble – Powells

by Chris Yogerst
Rowman and Littlefeld
252 pages – September 2016

by Carol Burnett
Crown Archetype
320 pages – September 2016

by Peter Ackroyd
Nan A. Talese
288 pages – October 2016
AmazonBarnes and NoblePowells

by Axel Nissen
McFarland and Company
October 2016

by Michelle Morgan
The History Press
256 pages – October 2016
Amazon - Barnes and Noble

Dan Duryea: Heel with a Heart
by Mike Peros
University Press of Mississippi
240 pages  – October 2016
Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powells

by Shawn Levy
W.W. Norton & Company
448 pages – October 2016

by Kevin Brianton
The University Press of Kentucky
174 pages – October 2016

by Paul Mobley, Allison Milionis and Norman Lear
Welcome Books
176 pages – October 2016

by Fredrik Gustafsson
Berghahn Books
204 pages – October 2016

by Boze Hadleigh
Taylor Trade Publishing
114 pages – October 2016

by Edward Sorel
176 pages – October 2016

by Robert Matzen
GoodKnight Books
400 pages  – October 2016

by Manoah Bowman and Natasha Gregson Wagner
Running Press & Turner Classic Movies
320 pages – October 2016

by the Editors of the Official John Wayne Magazine
Media Lab Books
256 pages – October 2016

by Bradford Tatum
Harper Perennial
400 pages – October 2016

by A.T. McKenna
The University Press of Kentucky
296 pages – October 2016

Edited by Steven Neale
University of Chicago Press
416 pages – October 2016

by Jason Solomons
Carlton Books
256 pages – October 2016

by Mel Brooks and Judd Apatow
Black Dog & Leventhal
288 pages – October 2016
AmazonBarnes and Noble – Powells

The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop
by Richard M. Isackes and Karen L. Maness
Regan Arts
352 pages –November 2016
Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powells 

by David Wills
Dey Street Books
256 pages – November 2016

Henry-Jean Sarvat & Brigitte Bardot
256 pages – November 2016

by Kliph Nesteroff
Grove Press
448 pages – November 2016

by Jonathan Rigby
November 2016

by Christopher Laverty
Laurence King Publishing
224 pages – November 2016

by Laura Lindenfeld and Fabio Parsecoli
Columbia University Press
256 pages – November 2016

by Alain Silver and James Ursini
Applaus Theatre and Cinema Books
456 pages – November 2016

by Robert J. Wagner, Scott Eyman
272 pages – November 2016

by Pascal Merigeau
Martin Scorsese and Bruce Benderson
Running Press
1,136 pages - December 2016

by Robert Sellers
Thomas Dunne Books
432 pages – November 2016
AmazonBarnes and NoblePowells

by Tippi Hedren
William Morrow
320 pages – November 2016

by Allen Glover
The Overlook Press
272 pages – November 2016

Panel to the Screen: Style, American Film, and Comic Books During the Blockbuster Era 
by Drew Morton
 University of Mississippi Press
208 pages – December 2016

by Kevin Kehrwald
Wallflower Press
144 pages – December 2016
Amazon Barnes and Noble - Powells

by Douglas A. Cunningham
Rowman & Littlefield
356 Pages – December 2016

Here are my previous round-ups :

New & Upcoming Classic Film Books (1)
New & Upcoming Classic Film Books (2)
New & Upcoming Classic Film Books (3)
New & Upcoming Classic Film Books (4)
New & Upcoming Classic Film Books (5)
New & Upcoming Classic Film Books (6)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Anna Karina and Band of Outsiders (1964)

Anna Karina in Band of Outsiders (1964)

Band of Outsiders, known in French as Bande à part, is a Jean-Luc Godard film from 1964 starring  Godard muse Anna Karina. She plays Odile, a naive young woman studying English with fellow students Franz (Sami Frey) and Arthur (Claude Brasseur). Odile becomes the object of fascination for both Franz and Arthur. They lust after her and when she reveals a crucial bit of information about a store of money in her aunt’s home, they use her as a means to an end. Arthur owes his uncle some serious cash to his uncle so he needs to get his hands on this money right away. Things spiral out of control as the urgency grows and things don’t go according to plan. There are some lighthearted moments in the film including the iconic scene of Karina, Frey & Brasseur dancing in a nightclub. That scene inspired Uma Thurman and John Travolta's dance in Pulp Fiction and the film as a whole made a mark on director Quentin Tarantino.

I first saw this film at the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood. It was a very special event because the film’s star Anna Karina was in attendance and the audience was treated to an interview with her by Ben Mankiewicz of TCM. This event had been buzzed about for months before the festival, especially by me and other fans of French cinema and Karina herself. Mankiewicz kicked off the interview by saying “we're celebrating a movie that's over 50 years old and... the buzz at this festival from the moment we announced you were here was palpable." French New Wave films like Band of Outsiders still resonate today because of actresses like Anna Karina. She was a major influence on culture and is mesmerizing to watch on screen. Karina remains modest about her influence saying "I'm very excited to see that so many people still like the film".

Anna Karina and Ben Mannkiewicz at the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival

From a young age, Karina loved the movies. She started off singing and dancing in her native country of Denmark. She was an extra in Danish films as a young teen. Karina remembers, "One day someone saw me in the street and he said would you like to be in my film?" She said why not but had to ask her mother because she was 14 years old. She got her mother's permission and made the film The Girl with the Shoes, aka Pigen Og Skoene (1959)  . Four years later the short got a prize at the Cannes Film Festival. By that time she was already an established actress in France.

Karina moved to Paris while still a teen. She didn't have much money so she did some work in TV commercials including one for Palmolive soap. Godard saw the commercial and offered Karina a part in his upcoming film Breathless (1960) and he said "but you have to take your clothes off." Karina’s response was direct, "I'm not talking my clothes off." She later reminisced about turning that iconic film down:

"I didn't want to do it so I didn't do it. [Godard] didn't understand because he thought I was nude in the soap film. But you only saw a bit of shoulder... It was in his imagination.” - Anna Karina

Anna Karina at the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival

Three months later she got an offer for a lead part in a Godard film. By that time she had forgotten all about him. She consulted her friends who pointed out that Godard had made an amazing film called Breathless with Jean Paul Belmondo. She went to meet Godard and asked him if she had to take her clothes off. His response was, "no it's a political film". Karina was concerned because she was so young and still learning how to speak French. How would she make a political film? Godard responded "Don't you worry about it, you just do what I tell you to do". There was a bit of a snafu because Karina was still underage and needed permission. Her father wasn't in her life anymore and her mother was living in Copenhagen. Godard offered to bring her mother to Paris. Karina hadn't seen her mother in 8 months and called her up saying "Mommy I'm doing a political film in Paris with a great director called Jean Luc-Godard. You have to come to sign the contract.” Her mother didn't believe her and hung up the phone. She finally convinced her mother to come to sign the contract and the rest is history.

Ben Mankiewicz asked if Karina had ever auditioned for Godard. She hadn’t. She signed the contract and that was it. There was a test where Godard filmed a sort of interview with Karina to see how she’d do on screen. One of the questions he asked her was how many boys she had been with and she told him it was none of his business.

Karina eventually let her guard down and she and Godard fell in love. He was a romantic and she was his muse but they still had to work together. Mankiewicz asked Karina if Godard was a difficult director. "In a way yes", replied Karina. For Band of Outsiders, they had no script and had to learn their dialogue every morning. The dynamic between the actors and director meant that they knew what to do and what Godard wanted even without a script. Godard said that if he had a script in the end he wouldn't have wanted to do the film. He made a kind of script for the producer so they knew what to do.  Karina remembers that Godard didn't direct very much because he trusted the actors. Karina likened the acting to music. You just felt it and it made sense.

Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina

And about that famous dance scene Karina remembered that they had to rehearse for three weeks. Every night after shooting, they would go to a night club and practice for an hour before the night club opened to patrons.

Note: this piece was transcribed from the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival interview with Ben Mankiewicz and Anna Karina. Quotes and paraphrasing are used.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Cry Terror! (1958)

Cry Terror! (1958) has a plot so taut with tension that I watched it wide-eyed at the edge of my seat in wonder and a bit of terror. Based on an original story by director Andrew L. Stone, this fantastic Film Noir from MGM benefits from a brilliant cast, a fast-moving storyline, great editing, excellent build up of suspense and a MacGuffin. A term made famous by director Alfred Hitchcock, a MacGuffin is something in the story that drives the characters to action. What's interesting about a MacGuffin it's only purpose is to drive the plot but ends up being of little importance in the overall scheme of the story. For Cry Terror! the MacGuffin is a bomb on a airplane with the threat to plant more. The real story however is about the kidnapping of the bomb's inventor and his family by terrorists.

Paul Hoglin (Rod Steiger) hires his old army buddy Jim Nolner (James Mason) to develop a bomb.
Jim thought he was working on a government project. Much to his surprise Paul is the head of a terrorist group and the bomb winds up in a commercial airplane. At first no one is hurt but the threat mobilizes FBI into action. Just as Jim was about to report his friend to the FBI, Paul shows up to the Nolner home and kidnaps Jim, his wife Joan (Inger Stevens) and their young daughter.  The kidnapping gives the terrorists time to put their plan into action which includes extorting the FBI for $50,000 which Joan must pick up and deliver to them.

Paul's terrorist group is made up of a bunch of misfit characters including Neville Brand as the Benzadrine addicted Steve, Angie Dickinson as Paul's girlfriend Eileen and Jack Klugman as Vince the thug. The FBI team led by Kenneth Tobey as Agent Frank Cole still believe Jim was part of this original group of terrorist. Once they learn that Jim was merely a pawn in the terrorist group's game they work to help save the kidnapped family. Little do Paul Hoglin and his co-horts know that they messed with the wrong family. The Nolners are never complacent and constantly scheme to fight back against the terrorists and protect their young daughter.

James Mason gets top billing but the two real stars of this movie are Rod Steiger and Inger Stevens who both deliver powerful performances. Steiger is truly terrifying and delivers a powerful yet nuanced performance as the lead villain. Stevens plays Mason's wife and while she is in a constant state of terror, she rises above being just a victim and proves to be a strong character. She fights tooth and nail to protect her family and never allows herself to be paralyzed with fear. The Nolners are a true power couple. When they're first kidnapped, the terrorists threaten to separate them from their daughter. This is simply unacceptable to the parents. They decide to walk out the door together to their certain death than to bear a separation. Such a move forces the terrorists to regroup and modify their plans. This is the first of many brave acts.

Steiger and Stevens dominate the film but James Mason has his moments to shine. There is a wonderful scene when Mason makes a daring escape through an elevator shaft.

Jack Klugman, Rod Steiger and Angie Dickinson in Cry Terror! (1958)

I'm a big fan of Angie Dickinson and Jack Klugman so I was delighted to see them both in this film. Neither of them though are truly effective as villains but Neville Brand makes up for it in spades. Brand's Steve is a serial rapist and murderer and we fear for Joan (Stevens) when they are left together. Those scenes are unsettling and add to the growing tension in the film.

Inger Stevens and Neville Brand

A few points in the film, the inner monologue of Joan (Inger Stevens) or Jim (James Mason) takes over as narrator. In most movies this sort of narration is not always effective. In this film it worked beautifully. Their thought processes help audiences understand their fear and gave us insight into their scheming.

The film was shot on location in New York City and Hoboken, NJ. There is an extended sequence where Stevens travels from NYC to NJ to deliver money and there are lots of great views of the drive. Rod Steiger and Inger Stevens suffered carbon monoxide poisoning when they filmed a scene in a real subway tunnel. They were given oxygen and suicidal Inger Stevens at first refused the help because she wanted to die. Stevens committed suicide 12 years later at the age of 35.

Provocative and effective and with excellent pacing, Cry Terror! (1958) is a must-see for Film Noir fans.

Cry Terror! (1958) is an MGM film available on DVD-MOD from Warner Archive.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me this title for review!

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