Archive for the ‘film’ category

Roman Polanksi at 80: A Retrospective

This month marks the 80th birthday of Roman Polanski: a man who remains one of the most controversial figures in popular culture, and one of the most brilliant filmmakers of all time. To coincide with the auteur’s birthday, James Greenberg  (The Hollywood Reporter, Los Angeles Magazine, DGA Quarterly), has published a lavish, beautifully illustrated coffee-table book,  Roman Polanski: A Retrospective, that tackles one of the most famous–and infamous–directors in film history.
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Shirley? You Jest.

This post is in conjunction with the “Funny Ladies Blogathon,” hosted this weekend at Movies Silently. Head on over to the blogathon page to check out the many, many wonderful tributes to greatest funny gals of all time.

Surely there were plenty of funny ladies I loved before Shirley. Growing up, I Love Lucy was a daily ritual, just as The Carol Burnett Show was a sacred rite. And on primetime TV, well, the very best comedies all starred women: we had our pick of powerhouses like Murphy Brown and Roseanne. But, those were all TV shows. When it came to the movies, all of my favorite funny people were the fellas. At 12 I’d already discovered Chaplin and Keaton, The Marx Brothers and Danny Kaye, and I adored all of them. Of course, there are countless screen comediennes, but in this girl’s life, the one who came first and knocked me square over the head was Shirley MacLaine.

Of course, she’s really not exactly famous for being a straight up ‘comedienne.’ She’s the Oscar-winning actress from Terms of Endearment and countless other roles that have, rightly, won her a spot as one of cinema’s most accomplished dramatic actresses. And yet, even in those ‘serious’ roles, MacLaine’s uniquely wry, cutting wit punctuates even her most emotional performances. We laugh with MacLaine, even if it’s to hold back a tear. Read more ►

Growing Up Scarlett

Here’s the thing about my mother and I: We don’t communicate. I love her, of course, but the simple fact of the matter is that we just plain stink when it comes to the whole communication thing. In fact, every one in my family does. Don’t get me wrong: we talk a LOT. We are very very good, in fact, at talking. Name a topic, we’ll talk about it. Talk, talk talk. Think “Pick a little Talkalittle” from The Music Man. But. When it comes to the big stuff. The important stuff. The stuff that really matters.

Well. We sound more along the lines of crickets … chirping.

It’s taken a long time, but at last I’ve come to realize that the only way we communicate, in fact, in a constructive and meaningful manner is in fact through movies. I know more about my mother’s profoundly sensitive, deep love of family from the way she falls apart into a mess at the end of The Imitation of Life than I do from any heart to heart we’ve ever had over tea. Similarly, too, I know that all my mother has ever wanted was to make sure I was happy–although it has been hard for me to genuinely understand that– by the way she falls apart into a sobbing mess at Stella Dallas and I Remember Mama. Her abiding affection for (and my father’s grudging toleration) of family musicals like Meet Me in St Louis and really anything with Doris Day, made it easier to understand why she raised my sister and me in such a sheltered manner.

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Oh and: She absolutely cannot stand Ordinary People. It’s just too overwhelming for her. Interesting.

And so it’s been a strange therapy (talk about literal cinematherapy) to be able to reassess my relationship with my mother through the medium of film.

Ours was a strange household: Mrs. Cleaver could have taken lessons from my mother when it came to running a home. The flowers always fresh, carpets always newly vacuumed, and the table always set at the same time every night for dinner. In my own adulthood, I cannot help but marvel at her for her machine-like efficiency. Certain behavior was expected. As was speech of an approved fashion. We spoke constantly, our family, but in retrospect, never really about the big life issues. Oh we flirted around it, hinted at it, but never point-blank addressed it.

And so my mother and I found had to find other ways to say what we couldn’t face to face. And that happy medium proved to be (you guessed it) classic film.

Of the many films we shared together, there is one that stands out from all the others: Gone with the Wind.

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As cliché and yawn-inducing as that sounds, as eye-rolling as you may think it, the fact remains: my mother raised me on this film. And you know what? I’m glad of it. She taught me everything I needed to know in life through that film, and I would like to take this opportunity so graciously afforded me by Brandie Ashe and True Classics, to prove it.

I must have been about 10 years old when my mother first sat me down to watch the film—a tradition that would be repeated throughout the rest of my childhood and even into adulthood. It started innocently enough: the girlish fascination with pretty dresses and Southern gallantry and so forth. (And, just to be clear: My mother is an African-American who attended an all-white school in Delaware in the early 1960s. So if she is able to see past the extreme racial prejudice and focus instead on the film’s storyline and theme, I would suggest more people follow the lead.) And then, around 15, I started picking up on things that I’d never understood before. Things like … dude, this guy Ashley is a total douchebag. And. Ahh, so it’s Mammy and Melanie who are actually the strongest women in the film. I grew up with these characters, re-discovering year-in and year-out, never failing to learn something new about who they were, just as I was learning who I was.

As a grownup I can see, clearly, what my mother was doing– even if it was subconsciously. Those awkward lessons that every girl needs to hear from a mother figure, she inculcating through none other than Scarlett O’Hara. And this is why Gone with the Wind, for all of its seat-squirming social inequities and admitted over-the-top melodrama … for me, anyway, it is deeply personal. And the lessons learned from it have stayed with me. Lessons such as the following:

Gone with the wind

Rule #1 He’s just NOT that into you.

Rhett schooled Scarlett about her obsessive pursuit of Ashley Wilkes’ affections. And he’s right. Love the people who love you. Why would you want it any other way? If he’s just NOT THAT INTO YOU it’s all for the best.

 

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Rule #2 Own every inch of who you are.
Scarlett is profoundly flawed, but I absolutely adore her for having an acute knowledge of who she was–good and bad– and she owned every inch of it. The exact same can be said of Melanie Hamilton. Extreme opposites of the same coin, Scarlett and Melanie flourished from an extraordinary inner strength.

 

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Rule #3 Jealousy is extremely unattractive.
Scarlett is a royal bitch, but the woman is far from irrational: even in her jealousy of other women, there is an unspoken, perhaps unconscious, respect that pricks at her. Her sister Suellen, however, is a piercing example of how ugly jealousy can be. Instead of being a proactive figure, Suellen is perfectly content to be the victim. Few things are as unattractive as self-pity.

 

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Rule #4 “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
Because, actually, if anyone says that, they really don’t. And what’s more, you more than likely deserve it. Rhett was 100% done. There’s a limit to everything.

 

Vivien Leigh Scarlett O'Hara Gone with the Wind 1939

Rule #5 You are NOT all that
Be humble. No one likes a hard-ass. There’s a reason people were drawn to Melanie Hamilton. Even someone like Scarlett–the ultimate hard-ass– admitted a deep respect for her. If there’s anything Melanie proved, it’s that meekness is not weakness.

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Rule #6 True friends stick by you.

Cherish the hand extended to you when no one else dares. Ask yourself what you’ve done to deserve it. And then try, somehow, to be worthy of it. Scarlett, unfortunately, didn’t do this until it was too late.

 

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Rule #7 Listen to Mammy.
Tough love is real love. Do not trust anyone that sugar-coats life for you– they are not a true friend. If someone calls you a “spider”, like Mammy does, they’re probably right. Listen to them.

 

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Rule #8 If you make enemies, make sure they are worthy of you.
Not everyone is as unrelentingly loyal as Melanie Hamilton, so take your adversaries seriously. A woman like Belle Watling could have made a powerful ally. India Wilkes? Never. It’s a fine, but necessary, line.

 

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Rule #9 Love is real, romance is a fiction.
Remember, Scarlett’s idea of romance was Ashley Wilkes—a schoolgirl ideal that did not exist. Rhett never once factored into her definition of what love really was… which is why she lost out on real love in the end. You see, romance is fiction. Love is real.

 

AsGodAsMyWitness

Rule #10 Tomorrow IS another day.
So use it to do what Scarlett did every day of her life: fight.

 

oh yes, and a cheekyRule #11, for the road:

RHETT

THIS is what a REAL man looks like.

Perhaps I’ll send this article to my mother and ask her to read it. She’ll probably smile, assure me that she will of course read it, give it a surreptitious glance, and tell me how much she enjoyed it before quickly changing the subject to something much happier and easier to talk about.

And that’s fine, mom. Because I understand you, thankfully, through our shared experience of film. Films allow me to hear the words, put ever so perfectly, in just the right way, that none of us could ever say on our own. And, not only have I grown to be OK with that, I feel quite special to know that every time I put in a film like Gone with the Wind or Stella Dallas I’m actually spending quality time with mother.

 

2013 TCM Classic Film Festival: Thanks For The Memories!

Still the new kid on the film festival circuit, the TCM Classic Film Festival is already the classiest name in the game— its mannerly, friendly and well-presented cinephiles from all over the globe are a glaring anomaly on the Boulevard. Their vocabulary is incomprehensible to the uninitiated (words like “pre-code” and “mise-en-scene”) and the fangirling and fanboying (of which there is much) is for people who, by and large, have been gone for decades. In other words, this is a film festival that is, in the truest sense of the word, about film. This is not a Sundance or a Cannes or a Telluride where the most exciting part of the event is the swag bag and industry hobnobbing. No sir, at the TCM Classic Film Festival, the audiences are there for one thing only: to revel in the shimmery nitrate glow, the popping Technicolor dreaminess, and the gritty nourish shadows of classic movies. Here, Octogenarians are rock stars, and even 20-somethings are in reverent awe of these remarkable living legends. Laughter, tears, applause, boos and cheers often fill the theater walls, and the ever-diminishing collectivity of the movie going experience is once again in full bloom. Even films that one has seen before are made new again by the transformative experience of a movie theater. And yet the festival programming also challenges its guests by offering rarely screened gems that make this festival more than a mere nostalgic romp: it’s also one of personal discovery. Read more ►

The Glamour of Grit: Classic Style in New Hollywood

By the late 1960s and early 1970s, that once radiant glow of Hollywood had dulled; the grand dream machine was a Miss Haversham of its former glory. Rot had set in on the studio system and was in a state of complete disrepair. The stars that once lit the celluloid galaxy had, if not fallen, were slowly dying off. Old Hollywood had hemorrhaged from the inside and its death blow was dealt in 1967, when a film about two notorious Depression-era bank robbers challenged the very notion of filmmaking and ushered in a new approach to making movies. From 1967 until around 1975, there was a revolution in the film industry that has come to be known as “New Hollywood”. New Hollywood cinema brought radical new sensibilities to filmmaking, blazing a trail to create the framework of the film industry that we know today. The studio system that had manufactured Hollywood glamour for decades had decayed to the point of collapse and the fresh, adventurous young mavericks– Arthur Penn, Francis Ford Coppola, William Friedkin– were pushing boundaries, challenging morality and not giving a damn.

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