Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Ginger Marathon

Since moving away from home, I've had to learn how to occupy myself alone on holidays. I try to do something unique to wherever I'm at and then I normally watch movies that no one else I know would be interested in.

So I began Easter 2014 at the Studio City Farmer's Market. I bought the most beautiful blueberries and the sweetest peaches. I also picked up some green chili tamales to have for lunch. Then this afternoon I settled in for the main event: 1930's Ginger Roger movies (without Fred Astaire).

First up: Bachelor Mother (1939)
TCM screened this film a couple weeks ago during it's annual film festival but I was unable to attend. I was sorry to have missed it because I do adore this movie. Ginger Rogers plays a store clerk who by happenstance finds an orphan baby. Everyone mistakes the baby for her's, including the owner of the store where she works. David Niven plays her overworked boss and through the course of the movie, the two of them fall in love (as one does when in the presence of Ginger Rogers for any period of time). I like how the film deals with the subject matter. Rogers is believed to be an unwed mother in 1939! Not only is everyone trying to help her succeed, but they are going above an beyond to make sure she is successful. Rather than ostracizing Rogers, they are embracing her. A very unconventional idea for the time.

It's a sweet movie with a sweet story and isn't melodramatic in the least. In fact, it's quite funny. The on-going gag with the wind up ducks is wonderful.

Second on the agenda was In Person (1935). This time, Rogers is paired with George Brent. This movie isn't near as cute as Bachelor Mother but I do like seeing early Ginger before she found her "grit" so to speak. This was back when the studio was still playing up her sweetness. I think they found out through the course of the 1930s that Ginger was much more than just a pretty face, the woman was dynamic and could act with the best in the business. When I watch In Person, it's to see the career foil of where Ginger Rogers was in '35 and where she would end up in only a few years time. Her character in this movie is a shy, nervous-breakdown starlet who spends her time at a isolated cabin with George Brent. The film doesn't really have any depth and the ending is a bit unresolved but the dance numbers are fun and George Brent really knew how to let his leading ladies shine.

Last up: Vivacious Lady (1938). Ginger Rogers and James Stewart! It doesn't get much better than this! These two made such a wonderful couple on screen. Rogers plays a nightclub singer who marries Stewart, a botany professor. They keep the marriage a secret because they know his father (who is president of the university where Stewart works) wouldn't approve. This movie has one of my favorite all time things: a scene with a drunk Jimmy Stewart! I love when this man plays loaded! He is absolutely adorable. Rogers is at her best balancing her sweetness with a bit of a bite. She even has herself a hair pulling cat fight! Lady isn't to be missed if you are a fan of either Rogers or Stewart.

So I will round out my Easter with church tonight and pizza with friends afterwards. I always miss when I spend holidays away from home but today wasn't a bad day in California after all.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Strength of a Woman

As I was standing in line at the grocery store today, I began to casually peruse the magazines by the check out counter. Dozens of covers with beautiful airbrushed models all promoting new fashions, diet trends and a multitude of tips on how to keep the men in our life happy. I will admit to buying the occasional People magazine and the only ones I read religiously are Entertainment Weekly and The Hollywood Reporter.

It's so hard in today's society to be a woman. Contradictory information is thrown at us from day one. We are told to be modest but not prudish, intelligent but not intimidating, sexy as long as we aren't being exploited and happy in our own skin as long as that skin is being treated three times a day with an arsenal of beautify products. 

Hasn't it always been that way though? Women have always been held to such ridiculous standards and not just by men. I think as girls we judge ourselves and each other much more harshly than the opposite sex could ever dream of. But I think sometimes we enjoy the martyrdom of not being good enough. The days I actually think I look attractive, a seed of guilt springs up. "How dare I think I might actually measure up while girls like Miranda Kerr walk the earth?"

Now I know what your thinking... "What in the world does any of this have to do with classic movies?!" Let me explain. I came across this picture of Ava Gardener while messing around on Pinterest this evening, and I had a bit of an epiphany. Really look at this picture. You can almost feel the force behind her eyes, the strength of her body, indignant confidence. That's what I want to exude when I look in the mirror each morning: Strength. Strength of character, confidence in my opinions, grateful that I'm not the size of a Victoria's Secret model and instead revel in my own genuineness. 

Ava Gardener wasn't perfect. She wasn't traditionally beautiful. She had a mystery about her though and an unabashed quality that was even more appealing than the shy coquettes of her time. She was known as having the vocabulary of a drunken sailor, mesmerized many a ladies' man all the while holding onto a firm sense of self. Even her flaws were somewhat hypnotizing. I think a lot of her success came from this center of self.

So instead of comparing myself to every photo-shopped model on every grocery store counter in America, I'm going to instead embrace what makes me me and find confidence in the eyes my mother gave me. 

                                                                        Thank you Ava for the inspiration!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Politely Greener

How do the English deal with infidelity? Well, according to The Grass is Greener, they handle things with mild wit and polite decorum. Maybe that's why after first seeing this film a few years ago, I put it back on the shelf and haven't picked it up since. Maybe back then it just didn't meet my expectations. I mean, it has all the characteristics of a movie I typically would drool over: Cary Grant, Robert Mitchum, Music by Noel Coward, directed by the always brilliant Stanley Donen... there was no reason why this film shouldn't rank among my top ten just given the credentials. However I found it at the time to be completely forgettable.

I've recently been revisiting my Robert Mitchum movies (of which I have very few) and decided to give this one another shot. Ultimately, I'm glad I did. It still doesn't rank among my top 10, or probably top 20 for that matter, but I was able to find parts of this film that I really enjoyed.

The first surprise was finding how much I adored Jean Simmons' performance. She has never been one of my favorite actresses. I have never found her to be very engaging. She always did what she did well, it just was never quite my style. But in Greener, she was a breath of much needed fresh air. She balanced out what could have been a very dry love triangle and her presence honestly stole the show. She was quirky, honest and lovable. While the other three were busy tiptoeing around one another, Simmons was bursting at the seems with fun. Without her, the movie would have fallen cardboard flat.

I also liked seeing Mitchum and Grant together. That was the pairing I really wanted to see. The two of them represented two sides of the same coin using their suave and charming personas to keep you falling in love with both throughout the film. Grant pulls on his like-able, genteel, easy-going self playing the quintessential English husband while Mitchum personifies the perfect American playboy. I particularly like how Mitchum didn't cheapen what could have been a very unlikable character. Instead, he was almost sweet and came across sincere in his love for Deborah Kerr. Mitchum and Grant's scenes together I found to be very engaging and fun to watch.

As much as I adore Cary Grant, I would have liked to have seen Rex Harrison (who was originally cast but bowed out for personal reasons) in the role. I think his character needed to have a little more edge or some kind of dynamic to make him more interesting. He was almost too sympathetic. I found myself pitying him more that rooting for him. I think Harrison would have been able to capture that balance of likability and arrogance that the character needed.

Coming away from Greener, I found it still lacked whatever it needs to make it rise above the rest for me personally however I was able to find some redeeming qualities. Would I recommend it to a new classic movie watcher? No, probably not. I wouldn't want that to be their first introduction to classic film humor. It's better suited for those of us with prior actor investment. Here's to another shelving... but maybe I won't wait so long to re-watch it again in the future.

Monday, April 14, 2014

"Hang on Lads"

The 1969 original production of The Italian Job is probably one of my favorite films from the '60s. I will admit that my film history rhetoric becomes severely lacking after about 1961, but the absence of background information has never impacted my ability to enjoy Michael Caine's cheeky wit.

I attended the TCM Film Festival screening of the picture right on the heels of my Harold Lloyd high. I trekked back to the standby line following Why Worry? and took my place among the rest of the TCM rejects. I came to the conclusion that we represented a special class of old movie fan. Standing in the cold, huddled together, avoiding glances from puzzled tourists all for the chance at seeing a TCM presentation. There was no guarantee that any of us would be allowed in, but there we stood anyway hoping against hope... and much to our collective joy, we all were ushered back into the Egyptian.

I hustled for a seat and was fortunate enough to get to sit by a very interesting man. He knew quite a bit about The Italian Job and very little about Harold Lloyd, so we spent some time before the movie began trading classic film information. This is one of the things I love about going to film screenings: meeting fellow fans and feeling a sense of camaraderie right off the cuff just because of a shared interest. Then Ben Mankiewicz walked in. I've never seen him so close before (well, beyond the close ups on the TV...) and seeing him live was a pretty awesome experience for this little film nerd. I didn't think it could get much better when, to my life-made delight, Mankiewicz introduced his guest for the discussion prior to the film: Quincy Jones.

QUINCY JONES! I mean, come on! This guy is a living legend! He's produced and written music beyond successfully for decades. He knows everybody and had such amazing stories to tell. He wrote the music for The Italian Job not to mention dozens of other famous films (In the Heat of the Night, anyone?!) He answered Mankiewicz's questions in round a bout ways while inserting crazy awesome stories in the process. He was wearing a ring left to him by Frank Sinatra, has the same birth date (down to the hour, same year, same day) as Michael Caine and has 6 daughters ranging in age from 21-60. This guy has lived one crazy amazing life and he's still going. Listening to him was overwhelmingly wonderful. As they were starting to escort him out, he gestured to an empty chair and took a seat... Quincy Jones wasn't lying when he said he enjoyed this movie, he even stayed and watched it with us. I loved that about him.

This movie is a wonderful romp of a film. It doesn't take itself too seriously and keeps a casual, very British feel from beginning to end. A very brief synopsis: ex-convict and crew attempt to rob gold from the Italian government using traffic jams and mini-coopers. The real reason to watch this movie though is for '60s era Michael Caine. If you are from my generation, Caine means Alfred from Batman. He is the quintessential British older gentlemen... but let me tell you, this guy had quite a persona before embracing his current status. He was a womanizer on screen, the epitome of British sexy and the most intellectual cockney you have ever seen. The man dated Natalie Wood for goodness sake! In this movie he is constantly surrounded and bedded by beautiful women and has no problem  schmoozing whomever he needs to to get what he's after.

I will say the bigger the screen the better if you ever decide to watch this movie. The scenes around the Italian countryside with the camera falling over sharp ledges will make you cringe! I jumped a few times making the guy next to me laugh. "I thought you'd seen this before,"... I looked over at him and replied, "I have but never like this!" That's what's so special about seeing older movies in theaters. They were made for big screens, for music pounding, they were made to pull you in and push you off cliffs.

I might not have been able to financially embrace everything that TCM had to offer during it's film festival, but Why Worry? and The Italian Job were definitely heart warming experiences. They reminded me why I had moved to Los Angeles in the first place... because California is where things grow, and I fully intend on growing and embracing as much as I can while I'm here.

Thank you TCM for a wonderful evening!

Through Rose Colored, Horned Rimmed Glasses

On Friday night, I had the opportunity to see Harold Lloyd's film Why Worry? at the Egyptian theater in Hollywood as a part of the TCM Film Festival. Me being fairly broke, I couldn't afford an actual festival pass so I was escorted down a cement ramp, around a corner, through a back parking lot onto a deserted street against an iron fence... to the "Standby Line". You would think TCM was embarrassed by us as far away as we were. I was an hour early so naturally I was the only one in line. As I stood there calculating my chances for not getting robbed, I couldn't help but feel excited. Harold Lloyd! At the historic Egyptian with live orchestra accompaniment. I moved to Los Angeles for things like this. Because when everything else around me goes wrong... nobody makes me smile quite like Lloyd.

I stood there and remembered the 'love at first sight' moment when Harold Lloyd stole into my life...

It happened at 2 am. Per my normal behavior, I had fallen asleep on my mom's couch while watching TCM. I used to retreat to the living room when sleep was obviously elusive. Robert Osbourne tells much better bedtime stories than I could ever dream up. I remember floating back into my body and finding a handsome little man on my television screen. I had never seen him before. He had the funniest looking glasses, a goofy sweet grin and was leaping all over the place. I reached for the remote to turn it off, silent movies weren't really my thing. I had always found them to be a bit creepy and didn't want that to impact whatever my unconscious mind might conjure up when I went back to sleep...

But... I kept watching. There was something about that face, those eyes. I hadn't ever seen a silent star look so endearing... especially in such an adorable sailor suit. I left it on and drifted back to sleep. When I woke up the next morning, I had to think if what I had seen had actually happened. It felt rather surreal. I hadn't noticed the title of the movie or who the actor was. (This was before DVR info listings, back when cable was a bit more snatch-n-grab). I turned on the computer and started reviewing the TCM schedule from earlier that morning. Apparently I had slept through a few silents before waking to that one. However, I came across a title that looked promising: A Sailor Made Man. Well, the cute little guy was in a sailor suit...

That's the night I fell in love with Harold Lloyd. I think it had to happen that way. Silent movies have a mystical quality, something alien and foreign hanging around the fuzzy edges. For me to be open to them at all, I needed to be introduced to them off handed... And it started me down a glorious path.

Intellectuals flock to Charlie Chaplin and hipsters claim Buster Keaton but us romantics... we champion Harold Lloyd. He's the guy that always gets the girl. He has a singular determination once he finds a purpose and pursues it to an undeniably beautiful end. He wasn't a 'tramp' character, there wasn't anything grotesque in his appearance and his athleticism on screen is jaw dropping. The guy could shimmy up a pole like it was nothing, he scaled walls, hung from cable cars... and always kissed the girl.

In Lloyd's own words:
The glasses would serve as my trademark and at the same time suggest the character-quiet, normal, boyish, clean, sympathetic, not impossible to romance. I would need no eccentric make-up, "mo" or funny clothes. I would be an average American youth and let the situation take care of the comedy. The comedy should be better for not depending upon a putty nose or its equivalent and the situations should be better for not being tied to low comedy coattails; funnier things happen in life to an ordinary boy than to a Lonesome Luke. Exaggeration is the breath of picture comedies, and obviously they cannot be true to life, but they can be recognizably related to life. -Lloyd-An American Comedy

I think Lloyd is the perfect way to introduce silent film to new audiences because he is relate-able. He's a character we all know, we've all been. He holds an undeniable fascination as was apparent by the audience's reactions and laughter the other night.

 Sitting in that theater, watching that film as it was meant to be seen, filled me with such elation. I might have cried just a little. That's the power of film. That crafted inspiration from nearly 100 years ago can still have the same effect on audiences today as it did then... perhaps even more so. The house was packed, Leonard Maltin and Harold's granddaughter Suzanna opened the film and I was the happiest girl on Hollywood Blvd.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Fresh Start

For a couple of years, I had a blog that I was very devoted to. It was my outlet, my online journal. It was how I compensated for dreams not yet realized. I posted all sorts of things and I truly did enjoy it. It met a very sincere need for me: to connect with other old movie fans and share experiences.

It's sad how much a world can change within the span of just a few years and my life has manifested in ways I never could have forseen. I'm no longer the same girl that started writing back in 2010. My heart beats at a different rythm, my mind clicks at a different speed. I miss that girl, but in order to move forward, I needed a fresh start, a new template, a new place to store my thoughts.

As much as I have grown, a few things have stayed constant. My hair is still brown, my eyes are still green and classic films still have a way of filling me top to bottom with joy. So these posts will continue to be nothing more than my thoughts and my opinions (and some awesome pictures from time to time) on the movies that are just as much a part of my DNA as the reflection I see in the mirror every morning.

So be patient with me, it's going to take some time to find my groove again...