Saturday, June 28, 2014

Feisty Feathers

When it comes to Howard Hawk's amazing contribution to the Western genre, the first film that comes to mind is Rio Bravo (1959). It has a simple plot, typical Old Tuscon setting and a phenomenal cast of characters. It didn't revolutionize the rapidly tiring genre nor did it shake Hollywood to it's core with out of the box film making. Instead it played to Hawk's chief strength: His ability to tell one hell of a story.

Hawk's is one of those old Hollywood directors that knew no limits. He directed everyone from Joan Crawford to Marilyn Monroe, discovered and molded the talent of Lauren Bacall, felt as comfortable rolling on an old West shootout as well as capturing a song and dance number. The man had a talent for recycling his own material and spinning gold each time. Rio Bravo was no different.

I could write pages on Bravo's cinematography, wax on for hours about Dean Martin's perfect performance or Ricky Nelson's beautifully understated 'Colorado', and I could go on and on about my unswerving devotion to John Wayne and his pigeon toed gait. But for me, the real stand out, the real reason to put in Rio Bravo, comes in a very small, dainty stubborn package and her name is Feathers.

I don't think Hawks ever intended for Feathers to be such a stand out among this group of male heavy weights. I mean, he named her after an accessory that she wears only a couple of times, a brown feather boa. it isn't even memorable or showy. I think that was a direct relation to how Hawks regarded Angie Dickenson's character, as a flowery female accessory, for show and not necessarily for purpose. For Hawks, this movie was all about what it meant to be a man's man... I don't think he ever expected just how strong a woman can be when pitted against this much machismo.

Feathers leads the romantic subplot in Bravo. She comes to town on the stage coach and has to stay over night due to a busted wheel. Her timing couldn't have been worse. John Wayne's Sheriff is between a rock and a hard place keeping a notorious murderer locked in his jail until the U.S. Marshall can arrive. All he has for help is a nagging crippled deputy half off his rocker and a grumpy recovering alcoholic deputy with the shakes. In walks a young woman matching a handbill description of a wanted gambling cheat. What I like about Feathers is that they never come right out and say that she's a "fallen woman" instead she struts into the room  independent and defiant... not to mention chatty.

I love how sassy she is. From the get go, she never once comes across intimidated by the door frame dominating John Wayne. She keeps him on his toes with a never ending stream of talk. At the beginning of their relationship, Wayne follows her up into her room believing that she's cheated at the poker table down below. He asks her about missing cards from the playing deck and she replies that he's just going to have to search her for them. That he would have to remove her blouse and check beneath her skirt. Immediately Wayne is thrown for an embarrassing loop. He stutters and get's flustered. Seeing the Duke loose his footing is wonderful and watching such a small fierce little woman do it is incredibly entertaining.

Angie Dickinson is brilliant in this film. She plays Feathers like a piano hitting every high and every low of the character. She took a girl who could have come across as annoyingly flat and fleshed her out into a believable woman. I like how she builds her attitude from flirty to irritable to mad to enchanted all within in a few lines of dialogue. She's a natural and will not be ignored. I think Feathers became more and more integral to the flow of the story because of how Dickinson chose to play her. Through the course of the movie, you can tell that Hawks saw that spark as well. Occasionally the camera lingers on Feathers after the dialogue has finished allowing for those extra shades to cross her facial expressions. And during her arguments with Wayne, she get's far more screen time than he does. Even when he is responding to her, the camera never strays long and always finds her again.

Feathers doesn't borrow from the Western female stereotypes. She isn't a saloon girl decked out in corsets and flashy colors but neither is she the virtuous homestead woman. She's just a girl who came to town on the stage. She slowly falls for the Sheriff and stays despite his insistence that she leave. She's stubborn and feisty. All in all, she's mind kind of girl.

Feathers: I thought you were never going to say it.
John T. Chance: Say what?
Feathers: That you love me.
John T. Chance: I said I'd arrest you.
Feathers: It means the same thing, you know that.

Bravo is worth watching for a thousand different reasons (including a gratuitous but awesome Nelson/Martin duet), but for me, I watch it for the woman with the feathers...

As for the other reasons to watch Bravo... just look at that handsome Ricky Nelson... need I say more??

Monday, June 16, 2014

Lovey-Dovey and Modern

I was asked to write about a few of my favorite Romantic movies and give a little insight as to why I like them... This was really tough... but here it goes... (Aunt Laura... this one's for you!)

Romance is a tricky subject and encompasses such a massive amount of material. A strong case could be made that all the best stories are driven by some sort of love, even if it isn't a traditional romance. Some of the most masculine movies have a cupid arch hidden in there somewhere. But when a movie is labeled as Romantic, what exactly does it have to entail to fit the bill? Is it character/actor chemistry? A comedic approach where love is found through laughter? Or is it born of tragedy, star crossed lovers torn apart by the reality of a hopeless situation?

Like most girls, I have a go-to romance movie stack. The ones I watch over and over again. They may not be the best films ever made, Oscar worthy or life-changing, but for me, they define what it means to be Romantic. These films are not considered "Classic" so hang in there with me...

Penelope (2006)

This movie is one of those overlooked gems that I absolutely love. It's the story about an aristocratic heiress who suffers from a family curse: Penelope is born with the nose and tail of a pig. The curse will only be lifted when "one of her own kind" loves her. If you ask me, her real curse is being born to parents ruled by vanity. Her mom, fearing public ridicule, locks Penelope in their home and has potential suitors sign gag orders before they are allowed to see her.

Finally, hope comes in the guise of a washed up ex musician with shaggy hair and an adorable smile. Penelope and him strike up a friendship through a one way mirror. Penelope is scared he'll run away like all the others if she shows him her face. I won't ruin the ending because this film is truly one worth discovering for yourself, but it's safe to say that things escalate from there.

I love movies with this kind of fairy tale vibe. The whole film drips with whimsicality and color, just like it was pulled from the pages of a children's book. The story might sound simple, but there is a sweetness to it that holds your heart until the very end. This is such a great movie for young girls too... it's about learning to fall in love with yourself as much as it is about falling in love with someone else.

Jessica Wilhern: Penelope, just one man, one man.
Penelope: And he'll run too! They always run. Why can't you accept that? For seven years I've been watching them run. Do you have any idea how that makes me feel? Do you?

Amelie (2001)

This movie takes a little dedication. First of all, it's French, so subtitle reading is required... a consideration since I normally crochet while I watch movies. Second, the uniqueness of this story is hard to grasp in the beginning. Amelie is the kind of character that I love. She sees the world completely different than anyone else and the  movie captures her point of view so perfectly. She lived a suppressed childhood with a detached father before moving to Paris as a young woman. Once in Montmatre, she discovers a love for helping others. Amelie begins to go out of her way to improve the lives of everyone around her, but begins to lose her own heart in the process. One day she discovers a treasure, a book of torn up photo booth pictures. She begins a search for the owner of the photo album and on the way, finds her own heart.

Every now and then, I stumble upon a character I can identify with and Amelie instantly captured me. Ultimately, Amelie is a lonely girl who doesn't always know how to interact with the world. She compensates by making sure everyone else is happy. As women, I think this tactic comes naturally. We are always trying to nurture the people around us and "fix" what we consider is broken, but when it comes to our own lives, we put everything on the back burner. Amelie is such a beautiful example of that.

The romance between her and Nino is a slow burn. Nino doesn't even really meet her until the end of the movie. Instead, it's about Amelie opening herself up to her own heart and allowing herself the risk of falling in love. The ending is one of the most satisfying sequences of any movie I've ever seen. They build up Amelie and Nino's face to face interaction with just the right amount of doubt and hope... it's heart wrenching and wonderful all at the same time.

Raymond Dufayel aka Glass Man: So, my little Amélie, you don't have bones of glass. You can take life's knocks. If you let this chance pass, eventually, your heart will become as dry and brittle as my skeleton. So, go get him, for Pete's sake!

Pride and Prejudice (2005)

I always resent it a little when I have to defend this movie, or defend Jane Austen in general. I LOVE anything Austen related, and while Persuasion is my favorite book, this 2005 adaptation of P&P is my favorite Austen movie. Is it as good as the BBC Miniseries with a dripping wet Colin Firth emerging from a lake? ... Probably not...But, I also don't want to have to dedicate an entire afternoon of my life every time I want a Mr. Darcy fix.

Fitzwilliam Darcy is probably one of the most unlikable, snobby, prideful men to have ever been created... and generations after Austen first introduced him to the world, most girls (me included) consider him one of the most romantic characters in existence. He is riddled with faults, makes huge errors in judgement and has no idea how to propose to a woman, but that's exactly what makes him so perfect for Elizabeth Bennet. Lizzy is stubborn, idealistic, fiercely opinionated and has her own mountain of pride to contend with. The two of them were not made for sweet easy courtship. I don't think they could have fallen in love without fighting with each other first. This story isn't just about two people falling in love, but instead it's about two people learning what it means to love in equal measure. These two characters had to find mutual respect before they could ever admit to deeper feelings.

The best kind of love stories are the ones where each person accepts the other one for exactly who they are. Not for who they hope the will become, or for deeds past or present, but for all the ugly mistakes too. Darcy loved Elizabeth even after she rejected him. Darcy was able to look past all of Lizzy's shortcomings and still want to spend the rest of his life with her. (However, I wouldn't recommend listing out those shortcomings during a wedding proposal...)

For me, this movie captured the tone of Pride and Prejudice by allowing the story to retain it's humanity. It allowed Darcy and Elizabeth to breathe on screen and gave their romance the chance to grow steadily. I'm a Captain Wentworth girl, personally, but Mr. Darcy is one of those endearing romantic figures that won't ever fade.

Mr. Darcy: You must know... surely, you must know it was all for you. You are too generous to trifle with me. I believe you spoke with my aunt last night, and it has taught me to hope as I'd scarcely allowed myself before. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes have not changed, but one word from you will silence me forever. If, however, your feelings have changed, I will have to tell you: you have bewitched me, body and soul, and I love, I love, I love you. I never wish to be parted from you from this day on.

Shakespeare in Love (1998)

I made the ultimate mistake of putting on this movie for inspiration when I began to write this post... Needless to say, within ten minutes, my computer was cast aside and I was laying on the steps of the Rose listening to some of the most beautiful lines ever written.  William Shakespeare is the last word in romance as far as I'm concerned and this movie not only pays homage to the wonder of his works but breathes life into the heart of the theater.

Shakespeare in Love is a spin on the life of William Shakespeare. It tells the fictional story of how he came to write Romeo and Juliet during a passionate affair with Viola De Lessups, a young aristocrat with a heart for the theater. The two fall hopelessly in love all the while knowing that it's a romance that can never endure. Theirs is a "stolen season". Viola is promised to a broke but titled Colin Firth and is scheduled to sail to the new world and Shakespeare is already married with a wife back in the country.

Viola De Lesseps: All the men at court are without poetry. If they see me, they see my father's fortune, I will have poetry in my life. And adventure. And love. Love above all... Not the artful postures of love, but love that overthrows life. Unbiddable, ungovernable, like a riot in the heart, and nothing to be done, come ruin or rapture. Love as there has never been in a play. I will have love.

What makes this movie so romantic for me is Shakespeare's language presented against the backdrop of a passionate romance. Hearing Viola and Will speaking the lines of Romeo and Juliet while falling in love with each other is enough to make any girl swoon. It reveals the depth of just how beautiful Shakespeare's words really were regardless of gender. Oftentimes, Will would be reading as Juliet since Viola (dressed as a man) was playing Romeo in the play. After finding out that Viola is beyond his reach, Shakespeare proclaims that he is "Unmanned, unmended and unmade". I mean, come on, how amazing is that line?!

This film also captures the true heart of a thespian. The theater folk surrounding Will and Viola are passionate about the stage even if they have a funny way of showing it, the fiercest being Ned Alleyn (a stupendous Ben Affleck). My first love was found on the steps of a playhouse, and the electricity and romance of the stage is portrayed perfectly here. I love showing this movie to people who either aren't Shakespeare fans or who are intimidated by Shakespeare's verse because it brings his words and his world into new focus.

This movie speaks to my heart on so many different levels. Even the tragedy of the couple is laced with a definite amount of hope. The theater, the passion, the words... every last minute of this film is beautiful and the epitome of Romantic.

William Shakespeare: My story starts at sea, a perilous voyage to an unknown land. A shipwreck. The wild waters roar and heave. The brave vessel is dashed all to pieces. And all the helpless souls within her drowned. All save one. A lady. Whose soul is greater than the ocean, and her spirit stronger than the sea's embrace. Not for her a watery end, but a new life beginning on a stranger shore. It will be a love story. For she will be my heroine for all time. And her name will be Viola.

So there you have it Aunt Laura... a few of my favorite romantic movies... and none of them "classic"

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Study in Cheese: Harlow, Gable and Gorgonzola

I blame Clark Gable.
He's the reason I followed a bunny trail down a rabbit hole and into a wonderland of Pre-Code debauchery. Red Dust (1932) was the first time I ever knowingly watched a Pre-Code movie, and while Gable might have been the initial draw, it's the women of this picture that keep me coming back for more.

A Pre-Code film was a "talky" made and distributed by Hollywood during the early 1930s. It usually refers to a movie made after the silent era of the 1920s but before the enforcement of the MPAA decency code in July of 1934. There is quite a bit of detail wrapped up in the code and why it came about but I'll try to keep it simple for my purposes here. With the economic collapse beginning in 1929, Hollywood felt the financial blow through dwindling box office returns. Film Moguls were looking at bankruptcy and company collapse as well as a drastically changing audience mindset. The excess lifestyle of the Roaring Twenties had become the enemy, the reason why so much of the nation was jobless and desperate.

The major film companies countered by introducing new types of characters. The silent stars were largely
replaced with actors trained in the theater and directors moved the action out of the penthouses and down into the streets. A Pre-Code film is generally characterized by violence, slums, prostitutes and most importantly, SEX. Film makers ushered in a new wave of cinematic shock and awe. Pre-Code movies are vulgar and eye-popping even for today's public. Perhaps even more so because most people don't consider old movies to be capable of such graphic material. That's one of the reasons I love them so much... they never fails to surprise!

The film code came about because... well... to put it bluntly... because Catholics got mad. The Catholic League of Decency threatened to boycott movies if they didn't start adhering to a fixed set code of ethics. The Catholic population of the 1930's made up a strong majority of the American populace and the film companies surrendered fearing severe backlash if they didn't. Everything from screenplays to advertising had to go through Breen's Office for approval before they could be distributed. This was the Hollywood norm for the next THIRTY years!! Watching a movie from 1933 and one from 1934 is a drastically different viewing experience. Watching a Pre-Code means embracing rebellious classic cinema... and learning to enjoy it.

When it comes to a steamy Pre-Code, no other film does it better that Victor Flemming's Red Dust. It stars a very young (clean shaven) Clark Gable as the owner of a remote jungle rubber plantation. At the beginning of the film he voices discontent with his given circumstances, wishing for a richer, grander life as opposed to his current harsh lifestyle. He's unhappy and grumpy to say the least. As luck would have it, a steam boat breaks down delivering a sexy Saigon prostitute right into Gable's bed... quite literally. The first time the audience meets Vantine (an incredibly gorgeous Jean Harlow) she's attempting to kick a drunk fat man out of her bed. Not only is Harlow dressed in a very daring negligee, she's announcing to the men in her room and the audience that she might be a harlot, but she has her standards.

The first significant interaction between Harlow and Gable happens over a discussion of cheese. Gable hasn't given his new house guest a second glance, "I've been looking at her kind ever since my voice changed." He's already made up his mind about her and isn't interested in the same old type of girl. Harlow doesn't give up, however. She's absolutely charming, countering Gable's gruff attitude with sass and wit, telling him all about Gorgonzola and Roquefort cheese. By the end of the scene, Gable's pulling her into his lap for a kiss and the shot fades out. Oh, and by the way, Harlow is in nothing but a satin robe this whole time.Once the steam boat is fixed, Gable calls Harlow a "cute little trick",  shoves cash down her cleavage, pats her on the bottom and sends her on her way.

If Pre-Codes were known for their sharp prostitutes, they were also made popular by another type of shocking female: the cheating wife. In walks Mary Astor, wife of Clark Gable's new plantation worker, and the third point of this provocative triangle. Astor's character isn't what you would expect. She's tough, strong and stands up for both herself and her weakling husband. After all, it's only after she slaps Gable across the face that he begins to see her feminine potential.

Cheating wives are often times portrayed as either morally weak or simply bored with their current life/spouse. This isn't the case with most Pre-Code straying wives. Norma Shearer  made famous the wife who evens the playing field with an adulterous husband, other character types were wives who "sold the goods" to pay the bills while husband were out of work, or the wife who discovers a wild life outside her sheltered four walls. Astor was the wife who fell for a new kind of man. The kind of "barbarian" man that Tarzan made famous. And while Gable wasn't exactly walking around in a loin cloth, he wasn't a charismatic smooth talker either. He was all Alpha and poor Astor never stood a chance.

After Gable has made up his mind to go for the married goods, the unthinkable happens... Harlow walks back through the door. The boat broke down again. All of a sudden Gable is sandwiched between two very different types of women, and two very different types of life style. Astor being everything he's always wanted but never had and Harlow encompassing the wild world he's always known. Like any good Pre-Code man, Gable reaches for the forbidden fruit and feels no shame. He sends Astor's husband on a traveling trip through the monsoons rains and keeps the lonely wife all for himself.

My favorite part through all of this drama is how the women interact. They both know what the other is up to but never resort to pulling each other's hair out. They simply live and let live. Harlow doesn't like sharing her man, but she doesn't fight for him either. She understands instead why Astor can't resist the temptation and tries to offer up cautious advice at the beginning of the affair. Astor in turn knows that Harlow is a prostitute but chooses to ignore both the words of wisdom as well as Harlow's given profession.

The whole film is rather sexy. Harlow walks around most of the picture in varying degrees of undress, Gable first kisses Astor while both are dripping wet and the three of them are all stuck inside one hot little house during weeks of pouring rain. It leaves very little to the imagination. It all comes to a head when Gable takes the "noble" route and decides against pursuing Astor any further. Instead he decides to brutally make out with Harlow on the kitchen table. Astor walks in and has her pride snapped in two. What else is left for a jilted adulterous woman to do but pull a gun and shoot her betraying lover?

But no worries, Harlow shoves a sterile (dubiously sterile) rod through the bullet hole and saves Gable's life. Prostitute to the rescue! This is yet another scene that would never have made it past the code. The audience sees Harlow push the rod through Gable and out the other end. It isn't a quick and clean scene. Gable is sweating and grimacing and Harlow is shaky and all nerves. The code office would have deemed this as violent and vulgar. They would have ordered it to be cut out.

I love when a movie has a happy ending... and this one definitely ends on a cheerful note. Astor and her husband leave for America (him thinking his wife a hero for denying the advances of a lecherous plantation owner... little does he know, poor guy) and Harlow reading Gable a bed time story about a rabbit going "hippity hop  hippity hop" before giving into his flirtatious fingers. After the enforcement of the code, this ending would never have happened. Under the code, every act of "sin" had to be punished accordingly so none of these characters would have gotten away with anything. The fact that this movie allows for flaws in human nature is part of it's appeal. As you watch it, you want it to end exactly the way it does... happily with each couple going their separate ways.

Pre-Codes are so great because they allowed women to embrace new levels of sexuality and feminism. This is the only time in film history where females were the ones who ruled the box office. To this day, it is rare that a woman can carry the full weight of a movie (unless your Jennifer Lawrence and even then it's not a sure bet). These actresses played characters that weren't tied to typical boxed stereotypes but instead reveled in what it mean to be a powerful woman living in a man's world. They played raw, unapologetic, fierce characters that were fully capable of taking their lives into their own hands... And none did it better than Mary Astor and Jean Harlow in Red Dust.

I promise more Pre-Code fun in the future... I won't be able to resist!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Hollywood Goes to War: D Day Edition

Yesterday was the 70th Anniversary of D-Day (June 6, 1944). The day Allied forces began the Normandy invasion on Omaha Beach. Comet Over Hollywood wrote an interesting piece recognizing well known actors who stormed the beach that fateful day, and I was glad to know that a few of my favorite actors were real life heroes as well.

Having a family history of men in the military as well as my two brothers who have served/are serving in current Army positions, I have a deep respect for men and women whose choose to take on the responsibilities and heartache of war.

Here are three men, out of the thousands, that faced the "longest day" in history...

Sir Alec Guinness- Not yet bestowed upon with the title of "Sir", Guinness served in the British Royal Navy Reserve. He operated a British landing craft on D-Day. Guinness is best known by my generation as Obi-Wan Kenobi from the Star Wars films, but he was a well known British actor long before he signed on for a lightsaber. He didn't take his first on-screen role until 1946 but worked steadily for the next 50 years. Knowing that his bravery extended well beyond that of a Jedi, makes me love him all the more.

David Niven- This real life hero worked within the intelligence branch of the military and  served as Lt. Colonel of the British Commandos. He was then assigned to the U.S. First Infantry. This made him one of the first officers to touch ground on Omaha Beach. He was also one of the 25 British soldiers to be awarded the U.S. Legion of Merit Medal Watching Niven on screen, it's hard to believe such a gentle looking man could have been this incredibly courageous. I won't ever watch him in Bachelor Mother the same way again.

Robert Montgomery-  Already an established actor, Montgomery enlisted before the United States even entered World War II. He became a PT boat Lt. Commander and was part of the D-Day invasion serving on the USS Barton destroyer. Montgomery served 5 years active duty and was awarded a Bronze Star, the Good Conduct Medal, the American Defense Service Ribbon, the European Theater Ribbon with two Battle Stars, and one Overseas Service Bar. Montgomery also accepted an unpaid position in the White House under President Eisenhower advising and coaching him on how to address television/radio audiences. He even had his own office in the White House. He is considered a pioneer in the field of media consulting. Talk about a well rounded gentleman...and just look at that grin... irresistible!

This guy is one of my all time favorite actors. He  wasn't built like Clark Gable or Errol Flynn, he didn't sing or dance, and most often people recognize his famous daughter before they remember him. (Elizabeth Montgomery starred as Samantha in the original TV show Bewitched). But for me, this guy is pure charisma. Finding out Montgomery's war record only made me love him more.

These actors were not only willing to give up fortune and fame but they were ready to sacrifice their lives on that beach 70 years ago in the pursuit of conquering unspeakable evil. The most important thing we can do now is remember... and say a word of "thanks" to every man and woman we see in uniform.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Running into Myself

I'm going to be very honest and start out by saying that I never cared for Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961). Frankly, it intimidated me. A film with so much history wrapped up in it is a hard thing to tackle. Preconceived ideas are almost impossible to set aside when the entirety of feminine culture has been effected by the legend of Holly Golightly. Even my generation 40+ years later feels the ripple effect. The little black dress, the pearls, the name Tiffany's still translates as the epitome of class. And while it's true that Holly is a breathtaking character... she is anything but a role model.

The first time I watched this movie, I was still in high school... and not only did I not like it, I don't even think I finished it. I was going through my Audrey phase, watching anything and everything I could get my hands on, driving the poor video rental store owners crazy. Tiffany's was last in a long succession of Hepburn films and if you've ever sat and watched this movie, you know how different it is from the rest of her body of work. 

A very brief synopsis: A writer, Paul Varjak, (who is sleeping with a married woman for money) moves into an apartment above an odd New York socialite, Holly Golightly  (who is using men for money). These two emotionally crippled people slowly fall in love.

Audrey Hepburn does generate a certain kind of magic in her portrayal. Holly is probably one of the most relate-able female characters to have ever graced the big screen. It has nothing to do with her impeccable fashion sense, her socialite hobbies or her habit of eating breakfast while staring into a window at Tiffany's... but because she is a woman deeply jaded and heart broken. She becomes a mirror and all of our insecurities are suddenly displayed in Technicolor. That's what has always scared me... and something I couldn't grasp as a teenager. I hadn't lived enough yet to know what it means to build a cage around your heart. 

Paul: You know what's wrong with you, Miss Whoever-you-are? You're chicken, you've got no guts. You're afraid to stick out your chin and say, "Okay, life's a fact, people do fall in love, people do belong to each other, because that's the only chance anybody's got for real happiness." You call yourself a free spirit, a "wild thing," and you're terrified somebody's gonna stick you in a cage. Well baby, you're already in that cage. You built it yourself. And it's not bounded in the west by Tulip, Texas, or in the east by Somali-land. It's wherever you go. Because no matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself.
I finished the film the second time I watched it. I was about to be finished with college and had suffered a major emotional blow. I didn't like it this time either. I resented Paul and Holly's relationship. I had opened myself up to love and been burned for it... It seemed to me that Holly's method of survival didn't seem so bad. You do what you have to to live. In my opinion, this movie had it all wrong... Who was this gigolo to tell me that guarding my heart was such a bad thing? 

Holly Golightly: You know those days when you get the mean reds?
Paul Varjak: The mean reds, you mean like the blues?
Holly Golightly: No. The blues are because you're getting fat and maybe it's been raining too long, you're just sad that's all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you're afraid and you don't know what you're afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?
Paul Varjak: Sure.
Holly Golightly: Well, when I get it the only thing that does any good is to jump in a cab and go to Tiffany's. Calms me down right away. The quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there. If I could find a real-life place that'd make me feel like Tiffany's, then - then I'd buy some furniture and give the cat a name! 
I've seen this movie a few times since then... and while it isn't one of my favorite Audrey films, I have discovered a deep affection for Holly... because I feel like her some days. It's a fear that every girl has hiding within her heart... those mean reds. Its the panic that wakes you up at 3 am for no reason. The whispers when your trying to go to sleep reminding you of everything in your life you can't control. It's the small voice that plants seeds of doubt that you'll ever find the safety of another person. 

We find solace in our little black dresses and our ability to look fabulous in spite our inner chaos. I love how Holly refuses to hear the bad news of a breakup letter until after she's applied her lipstick... because that's exactly how women approach impending heartache... with our shield (in this case a mask of makeup) securely in place. 

I think it's why after so many years, you still find Breakfast at Tiffany's posters on dorm room walls... because every girl can still find a small part of herself in Holly Golightly. For me, it's a reflection I don't always like being reminded of. I like my walls right where they are and I'm not done running yet. 

So here's to the mean reds and the Tiffany blues, the Givenchy dresses and every rich man under 50!

Future reading... If I can get my hands on them:

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Marilyn and Me

On Facebook, there has been this rising trend of incredibly random personality tests... If you have an active newsfeed, you've undoubtedly fallen into the trap of taking at least one or two of them out of innocent curiosity. Who doesn't want to know what cooking spice, flower or famous princess most accurately represents their personality...

A friend of mine sent me one, the other day, that selects a classic film actress for you based on your answers to some rather flippant questions... She was super excited because she got Lauren Bacall... and me, it in the divine wisdom that is the world wide web, I got Marilyn Monroe. I was shocked and a bit appalled... if you know me, you know that I am NOT a Marilyn type of girl. So I did what any sensible person would do... I took the test again... and the result was still the same: You Are Marilyn Monroe... What?! I resisted the urge to try a round three and chalked it up to a faulty question/answer combination. But it did get me to thinking... Why was I so aghast at being compared to Marilyn Monroe?

It's not that I don't like her... in fact, it's quite the opposite. I enjoy most of her movies. I think she was quite delightful as an actress and a lot of fun to watch. She was definitely dynamic on screen and was so much more talented than people usually give her credit for. Beautiful girls in Hollywood are a dime a dozen, you have to be more than a pretty face to make it in the industry. Marilyn knew how to wield the power of those curvy hips to make a life for herself... we all use what was given us to make our way in the world, why not her?

If anything, I think she was subjected to the culture of her day. She was treated as nothing more than an object to be possessed. She was surrounded by cruel men and even crueler women. We are not easy on our own sex and are quick to abandon girls we don't feel like measure up to our ever changing standards. Perhaps if Marilyn had had a good group of Sex and the City girlfriends, her life might have ended up a little bit differently.

Maybe it's because I find Marilyn almost impossible to relate to. A woman that legendary is even hard to imagine as flesh and blood. Her tragic death and notorious life make it even harder to see past the glitz and glamour to the heart of the woman within. Because after all, she was a real live, living, breathing, feeling woman. She fell in and out of love, struggled with her body image, had a complicated family life and was preyed upon by men in power. Those are things I've dealt with personally, so maybe Marilyn isn't such a reach for me in the end... at least on an emotional level...

I wish I could have known Marilyn in those moments when she was alone looking in the mirror. What did she think when she ran her fingers through her dyed hair and make-up caked lips? She wasn't happy, her final days alive are evidence of that. So when beauty, fame and wealth aren't enough... what does it take to have a joyous heart? What was missing in her life to make the next day worth facing?

See... I over-think EVERYTHING! A simple little personality test and I'm sitting here musing over what it takes to push past suicidal thoughts. Not that I'm considering suicide! But we all have those moments when the darkness creeps in and takes over... when life has become nothing more than a walking shadow. We are going through the motions but not able to feel beyond involuntary breath. Marilyn is proof that even the most decorated of lives can be hollow and empty.

I guess that I don't mind being compared to Marilyn after all... not the Magazine cover, platinum Marilyn Monroe... but the Norma Jean child within... the vulnerable, heart broken woman beneath the Hollywood mask. Because at the end of the day, every girl just wants to be loved for who she really is, especially if the love comes from her own heart.

Monday, June 2, 2014

When Silents Speak Louder Than Words

In my first blog, I had an entry titled Silent Film 101. It was a post on how to approach silent movies from a 21st Century point of view. I thought it was a topic worth revisiting since silent cinema has had a bit of a resurgence in today's popular film culture. Harold Lloyd pictures and Metropolis screenings have become staples at classic film fests across the map and are making their home video debut thanks to marvelous blu-ray editions. Silent gems are more accessible now than ever giving everyone a chance to celebrate these beautifully unique early films.

But where do you even start?

I feel like silent movies intimidate audiences today and therefore are usually ignored. Because they are devoid of mass amounts of sound effects and spoken dialogue, people feel like they won't be able to relate to the material presented. It's an understandable opinion. Today's culture is bombarded with constant noise. Between IPods, radios, televisions and everyday hustle and bustle, the idea of watching something as stripped down as a silent movie feels foreign and unnatural. The closest comparison I can think of is offering a sushi roll to a cattle farmer... it just doesn't seem like it would make any sense.

But trust me... it's totally worth it! Film has the unmatched ability to screen shot our history.
To watch a movie from the 1920s is to step back in time and see the world as it was. Silents are unique because they were the first films ever to be made, to ever be watched. They cradle this magical energy and exuberance because it was a brand new media... moving pictures! To fully appreciate how far film has come...  it's important to remember how it began: The first directors to ever capture our imaginations, the first collaborations between artists and vaudeville, the first actors to ever shape a generation... this is fascinating stuff!

So if your ready to open your cinematic horizons and try something new, I've assembled a few helpful hints for embarking on silent cinema... trust me, you won't regret it!

1. Prepare Yourself: 

Any avid reader will tell you that books require perspective. For example, you would never read a Jane Austen novel like you would a Shakespeare play. They each require a different approach. The same goes for silent movies. Remember that these films were made prior to sound technology even being in existence. It wasn't even an option yet. This required that film makers use other means to tell their stories. This resulted in films that look and feel differently than products made even within the same decade let alone 90 years down the line. Be aware that the pacing of the story will have been written for a different type of audience. Movie goers of the 1920s were not as cohesive as today's society (That's a whole other post for a whole other blog, and I won't get into it here). Preparation is the first key to enjoying a silent movie... just remember that this movie wasn't made for a child of the computer age and appreciate it within it's given context.

2. Silent Acting Style: 

I have heard so many complaints even from fellow classic movie fans that silent movie acting is "over-done" and "fake". My response to this is always the same... Of course it feels that way! Why wouldn't it? These actors weren't bred in method acting studios nor had they grown up watching movies... they were new to this medium too. They were born and bred on the stage, in vaudeville, in acting traveling troupes. They were given the enormous responsibility of capturing an audience with nothing but their body language and facial expressions because they literally had no voice. They also weren't sure how their performance was going to be viewed or how well it would be understood and received. Imagine an elaborate game of charades with only a few cue cards to help tell your story... and then watch these actors again... they are brilliant! Audiences needed to be spoon fed in the beginning so that they could mature along with the cinema as its story telling developed and grew.

Silent movie actors were decadent and masters at their craft. Greta Garbo shook men to their cores with just one look and Charlie Chaplin knew how to use his whole body, from head to toe, to garner a laugh... these actors knew what it took to conquer the imagination... something our entertainers might have lost sight of over the years. Acting is talent, a gift... not something that can always be manufactured. Accept these actors for what they had to work with and I promise you, the "fake" aspect will fall away and you will begin to see why celebrities were eventually renamed Stars... these people just shine brighter on the big screen...

3. Choose Carefully: 

Don't just watch any silent movie in the beginning. Choose films that you have a

vested interest in seeing. This will give you a reason to push forward even if you are feeling a bit skittish. For example, watch a film with Rudolph Valentino or Clara Bow. They personified the 1920s: the Sheik and the Flapper. Women committed suicide after Valentino's pre-mature death. He was one of the first big sex symbols to ever grace the cover of a fan magazine. There had to have been something special about that guy, right?! Let Clara Bow show you how the girls of the '20s partied. These flappers knew how to have a good time. Women from this era were embracing a new wave of confidence and sexuality. No more corsets or ankle length hemlines... these gals let it all hang loose! Choosing fun and flirty films for your first silent movie experience are a good way to get your feet wet... it will make watching the deeply moving and artistic pieces easier and more palatable.

4. Stay Open Minded: 

Silent films truly are a very specific kind of movie medium. They were unlike anything that had ever been seen before. They impaled our sensibilities, forced us to consider the world outside our front door, encouraged us to see new possibilities and shaped our nation and our world beginning with those few flickering images behind a lit lantern. Be willing to explore silent era films and look at it as an adventure. Once you build up your silent movie muscle, who knows, you might feel like you could even take on a German Expressionist Silent! (Dr. Calligari, Anyone?) Appreciate them for what they are, not what you want or expect them to be.

If you still aren't sure you can do this... my last piece of advice...

5. Watch The Artist (2011):

This film not only won the Academy Award for Best Picture but is truly a throwback masterpiece. The actors in it aren't long gone, it has all the elements of a beautiful romance and it's black and white with an amazing sound track... They were able to capture all the beauty of a silent movie... and proved that silent cinema still has the capability to capture the heart of a sound worshiping culture...

My favorite scene is when Peppy is in George's dressing room. She walks around taking it all in. She is so in love that just being in his room is enough to make her heart fill up. She goes up to his coat hanging up and puts her arm through his sleeve. She stands there and imagines him holding her. It's such a gorgeous scene... emotions that powerful don't need long soliloquies or word laden speeches... just watching her lay her head on the shoulder of that coat speaks volumes... That's the power of an image and why movies not only swept over our landscape but why a century later, they are still the most powerful form of artistic expression...

There you have it! My Silent Film 101 Update... Come on, be adventurous... watch a silent!

Harold Lloyd's A Sailor Made Man (1921)