Sunday, January 15, 2012

Best Ones I Finally Saw in 2011: Short & Sweet

1. The Red Shoes (1948), dir. Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
Eat your heart out Black Swan. (Which I have not seen; let me be judgmental.)
Swan Lake, 'The Red Shoes' 

2. Elevator to the Gallows (1958), dir. Louis Malle
The Miles Davis score doesn't hurt a bit.

3. My Life as a Dog (1985), dir. Lasse Hallström
This movie broke my heart. In the most beautiful possible way.

4. Lady on a Train (1945), dir. Charles David
I had no idea what to expect of the Castro-screened "Christmas noir" but I haven't enjoyed a genuinely fun movie like this one in a long time. The hats alone...

5. Reservoir Dogs (1992), dir. Quentin Tarantino
Gross, but incredible. Disturbing, but mesmerizing. DISGUSTING, but pretty great.

6. Party Girl (1995), dir. Daisy von Scherler Mayer
Best librarian movie ever.

7. 99 River Street (1953), dir. Phil Karlson
Impressive B-noir that's finally getting the attention it deserves.

8. Among the Living (1941), dir. Stuart Heisler
He's way too good at crazzzyyy.

9. Melancholia (2011), dir. Lars von Trier
Deserving of all the hype, in my opinion.

10. Birds of America (2008), dir. Craig Lucas
I don't know how this one came and went so quietly. A friend popped it in last month and I ended up falling in love with every character.

11. The Great Lie (1941), dir. Edmund Goulding
Bette Davis nervously pacing the floor in pants and boots as Mary Astor gives birth. Love the ahead-of-its-time role substitution. And, sorry Bette, but Mary knocks the socks off you in this one. I would even go so far as to say Astor's performance in this movie, also very ahead of its time, is not only one of the best of its era but could easily stand up to any of the better female performances we see today. It's damn good.

12. The Outsiders (1983), dir. Francis Ford Coppola
I think I loved everything about this movie. Even the dirt.

13. The Passionate Friends (1949), dir. David Lean
Almost as perfect as Brief Encounter.

14. William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet (1996), dir. Baz Luhrmann
I never thought this could work but I was very wrong.

15. Days of Being Wild (1990), dir. Wong Kar Wai
I really couldn't tell you what this movie is about, but Wong disrupts his usual favor for the lethargic with Yuddy's inner violence and torments, and the effect is anxiously dreamy. Worth it alone for Cheung's random cha-cha-cha dance in briefs.

16. The Lusty Men (1952), dir. Nicholas Ray
This film remains one of the more under-appreciated in Ray's catalog but I loved the honest simplicity and rawness of it. The plot is hardly a hidden agenda and some call the ending one of those early Hollywood cop-outs, but neither really matter (I found the ending quite perfect, actually). Mitchum and Hayward are completely in sync, always staying true and genuine to their characters, and the realistic rodeo footage makes it stand the test of time very nicely. I never thought I'd love a rodeo movie, but there it is. It's just great.

Mitchum: Hey, you're real little with your shoes off.
Hayward: (ad-libbed) You're real little with your shoes on.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

In which the accessibility of old flicks has me increasingly cranky (or, please release this one on DVD asap, #1)

Lately this Old Movie Lover (OML) has hit upon a renewed interest in the black-and-whites (and sometimes Technicolors)--the original passion of which had hit a temporary lull--by way of these four things:

1.) by way of encountering a battered Mickey Rooney autobiography in a free bin that she really has no intention of reading but is pretty amused by the pretentious opening lines and, on second thought, might have to give in to after all so she can find out just exactly how much Mr. Andy Hardy is in love with himself. And how the hell he landed Ava Gardner.

2.) by way of finally reading Mary Astor's "A Life on Film", which could give any sleeping movie fan a jolt of rediscovered love

3.) by way of discovering her local library's selection of the classics far surpasses that of Netflix's streaming offerings (this OML would also like to take this opportunity to raise a fist to said movie "provider" and whisper, "damn you, you devil, and your new prices" into the cold night air, but with a hint of foreshadowing in her favor--preferably with, as always, a heartwarming, Capra-esque ending)

4.) by way of one of those unwarranted, known-only-to-movie-lovers desires to suddenly watch something as random as that pictured below and finding that not only can this OML not view it this very instant, but that she cannot view it next week, next month, possibly next year. (She would like to dissuade any unfavorable remarks towards Susan Hayward at this time, and contends that even you, David Thomson, while you may not know it yet, want to know the truth about Ada.)

By way of all of these things, this OML has hit the fingers to the keys in an attempt to track down all those great oldies she recorded from TCM to VHS in her youth, and that are now sitting static-infested and peppered and salted in a cold garage courtesy of her ever-understanding parents who kindly avoided the question, "so, they're ruined, can we chuck 'em now?" The wide-eyed, horror stricken expression that would naturally have followed such a suggestion was successfully averted.

But now, VCR-less, with boxes upon boxes of TCM recordings slipping from "it's Claudette Colbert, I love her!" to "'s either Claudette Colbert or Walter Huston, that much I know...wait...or Margaret O'Brien", this OML is increasingly at the mercy of the ever political DVD release. The unsatisfying state of the business to someone like her, who is still amazed that whoever the hell "they" are have not yet released every movie Lucille Ball has ever appeared in, however minuscule the part (she realizes this includes "Go Chase Yourself" and "Roman Scandals", among others, and asks in her polite way, do you want to make something of it?) But this OML has lost her train of thought, apologizes, and explains that she tends to get carried away when it concerns the fiery Ms. Ball. As well as the refreshingly insightful Ms. Astor, the ------ Ms. Stanwyck, who is too good for adjectives, and a certain, previously mentioned filmmaker who never fails to warm the cuckolds of this OML's heart. 

To finally return to her point, this OML would like to vent her frustration concerning the fact that no, she cannot watch every Joan Fontaine or Irene Dunne movie ever made on a crisply transferred DVD, nor can she watch this declared gem, starring a very young Elizabeth Taylor (which this OML believes is grounds enough for a Blu-ray release) without avoiding the unfortunate transfers by companies who have turned "public domain" into somewhat of a punishment. She flat out refuses to recapture the giddy chuckles this movie evoked years ago until she will no longer be distracted by the awful whites turned greens, the "now you hear it, now you don't" audio quality, and the depressing reminder that she can neither say nor do anything to urge the restoration + release process along. Except bitch and moan, like so many others, into the "pits of despair", i.e. the blogosphere.

This OML has finally reached her point, which, she realizes, could have been stated in a few short words and taken up much less of the reader's time: there are simply too many wonderful films out there that she cannot watch. Selfish, she'll grant you. Without merit...she'll let the reader be the judge, but asks him or her to consider the fact that one can make a quick, slipper-wearing trip to the closest market (that specializes in food, mind you) and pick up a movie starring Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear as conjoined twins, while those starring a classy Greer Garson doing very un-classy things are still waiting for their 15 (err, 99) minutes of fame. She asks the reader, is this fair? Is this right?

So, along with 1947's "Life With Father", this OML would like to plead her case for a decent release of our fair Julia misbehaving, along with several more to come that, while perhaps missing the awards, the remembered stars, or the big budgets to guarantee passage to every new technology, will, she promises, make the world a better place. 

(On a side note, this OML is fully aware that her sudden 3rd person writing style is, well, sudden, but seemed strangely appropriate. It also may attest to the fact that she has been frantically catching up on Self-Styled Siren posts as of late, and here she would like to point out that, firstly, considering the posts in question, one can hardly blame her, and, secondly, that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Current Mood Is: bored....out of my f*cking mind

My new job pays me a tearfully low $8.51 an hour to sit, and stare, and try not to think about the uncomfortably close proximity of flesh-stripped, honest-to-goodness real life bodies just on the other side of a temporary wall covered in black fabric (it's as weird as it sounds). I am concerned how quickly I am becoming desensitized to such proximity, as I have been imitating Tallulah for nearly 6 hours now.

The good news is: ha! I'm blogging again. Sort of.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Saul Bass In My Bathroom Tile

If it wasn't for the pesky bobby pin that disappeared on the bathroom floor and forced me to a hands and knees position, I never would have noticed the resemblance the off-white tiles and gray grout have to Saul Bass's thick artistic tendencies. Admittedly, I don't know much about design. Admittedly, I don't really know what to say about Saul Bass's beautifully simple, sometimes stark to an uncomfortable degree, movie posters and titles of the 1950s and 60s, when movie posters/titles and art began to merge for the first time and shed the world of pulp (appropriately enough, at the same time the old studio system was losing its hold over movies and their approved subject matter). No, I really don't know what to say that probably hasn't already been said as far as art and expression and visual culture, except that Saul Bass was as much a part of the awakening '50s as any movie director.

The film that convinces me of this fact is The Man With the Golden Arm (1955), the movie that caused Otto Preminger to say "fuck it" and give us the first picture publicly unapproved by the industry and welcomed with open arms by a post-war movie public that was fed up with all the sugarcoating. The fact that it stars Frank Sinatra as a heroin addict, the all-American crooner, is another score for the gritty loving realists. The fact that he is nothing short of groundbreaking in the role of the struggling drummer and card dealer is icing on the cake.

The Man With the Golden Arm was made 10 years before The Sound of Music, but, like many movie lovers, I'm sure I'm not alone in associating Eleanor Parker with the perfectly coiffed Viennese baroness who nearly ruined things for Maria. How silly of us all, for it was Eleanor Parker who played a single working woman way back in 1944's One for the Book/ The Voice of the Turtle (it was not the more conventional, yet admittedly adorable elopement with Ronald Reagan at the end, but that spacious apartment she rented on her own, a rare occurrence in a pre-1950s film when wartime housing was often portrayed as patriotically shared, that appealed to a teenager ready to leave the nest). It was Eleanor Parker who endured prison life in the noir-esque Caged (1950), had an abortion behind her husband's back in Detective Story (1951), and suffered from abusive-resulting multiple personality disorder in Lizzie (1957). Ms. Parker was not partial to frou-frou roles, and even the slightly dark yet vulnerable undertones she gives off as Baroness Schraeder are evidence of this. So we really should have known, should have been completely aware of her ability to nail the pathetically fragile and deceitful wife of a drug addict to the falsely sacrificial cross. How appropriate that this luminous beaut with the breathy voice play such a role opposite Kim Novak's bosomy and supportive mistress. I can't help but think of Ingrid Bergman's barmaid Ivy knocking Lana Turner's Jekyll and Hyde good girl for a loop. She smartly fought for the role switch. She understood. And so did Parker. Of course, Parker's desperation, her paralyzing fear of loneliness and desertion make her a much more dangerous woman than fun-loving Ivy. And when she's found out at the end, when her treachery is naked and exposed, she plays it like a caged animal being taunted and poked by sticks, no longer the deceitful wife who quite literally drove her husband to the needle. She shrinks from taloned lioness to terrified kitten in a matter of seconds, and it is quite a thing to watch.

 The guilt, destruction, and fear oozing out of the film's performances (all top-notch) are validated by Saul Bass's title design. The first time his thick lines and jagged fingers appear to Elmer Bernstein's equally superb jazz soundtrack you know you are in for something dark, and hard, and deliciously new--the rawness of what this must have felt like to a 1955 audience has hardly aged with time, because I felt it too. The golden arm reference is two-fold: the arm of shooting up, and the arm of Frankie Machine's card dealing talents. Pulled in competing directions, Frankie is at once trying to withstand Zosch's whistle announcing guilt trips, avoid his dealer's persuasive (and creepy) promises of peace and comfort, land a job as a drummer sans shaky hands, and, ultimately, reject all of the destructive callings of his previous life while living in the same town and cavorting with the same crowd that continues to use and abuse him. He is broken, and crooked, and reaching out. The only periods of true peace and comfort he achieves are with Molly, equally broken and struggling--Novak makes it seem as if every high-heeled step Molly takes is steeped in hopelessness, and yet Frankie's well-being is a hopeless task she'll willingly fight for, so he fights for it too. The hard-to-watch cold turkey scene is proof enough of this.

Bass went on to create posters and titles for Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder, Hitchcock's Vertigo, Psycho, and North By Northwest, It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, and a slew of others you can peruse here. You can also see how new DVD releases are butchering Bass's talent here (if you, you know, want to be a little depressed by the state of marketing). But it was really Golden Arm that started it all, that announced a change in both movies and audiences, and that utilized fabulously inseparable artwork that still inspires today in the titles of Catch Me If You Can, Burn After Reading, and even the animated recesses of Monsters, Inc. Who would have thought an arm cut out of paper could work such wonders?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

15 Movie Questions

Though this has absolutely nothing to do with the following post, I feel I must share the fact that I am in a really good mood today. (And someone just walked by in a lime green Mad Hatter hat, and my mood has lifted even higher. Fun people come into toy stores.) Yes, I am at work on the most beautiful day Portland has had all year (we've broken 70! take that Seattle), yes, I've had an annoying headache since waking up, and, yes, my food stamp benefits don't come through for another week, but, damn it all, the sun is finally out in Portland, I work at a frakking toy store, and someone has just given me an excuse to make a list. And I love making lists. Especially when they pertain to movies. So here goes...

1. Movie you love with a passion.

I don't care what anyone says; not even the wonderful Self-Styled Siren can sway me with her perfectly strung words. I will defend Capra's You Can't Take It With You (1938) until my death. And possibly after that.

2. Movie you vow never to watch.

It just ain't gonna happen. I mean, look at all that pink.

3. Movie that literally left you speechless.

I first watched The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) in a silent film class. I was left not only speechless, but with a lump in my throat the size of an apple, and tears that would not quit. I was literally shocked when the lights went up and I found myself surrounded by others. That is what a damn fine movie does. 

4. Movie you always recommend.

The Apartment (1960). It stands the test of time so well, caters to both sexes, and is a great way to prove black-and-white movies are fabulous. Plus, Lemmon and MacLaine are adorable.

5. Actor/actress you always watch no matter how crappy the movie.

I think I'm going to have to blatantly steal Rachel from The Girl with the White Parasol's answer. Yes, I definitely have to: Barbara Stanwyck and Jimmy Stewart. Why, oh why did they never do a picture together? Even when the movies suck (honestly, though, I can't think of any truly sucky movie that either was involved in), or they are not my cup of tea (both gained quite big reputations in the western genre, which I usually avoid like a family of cockroaches), still, they are incredible.

6. Actor/actress you don't get the appeal for.

Contemporarily speaking, I would have to go with Leonardo DiCaprio and Natalie Portman, who have a knack for simply playing themselves over, and over, and over again. If we're talking classics, though, which I obviously always am, up until last year it would have been: Robert Ryan....really? But then I saw The Set-Up and he was redeemed for all of those repulsive characters I have never been able to stand (and which I now agree attest to acting abilities after all). Until about 4 seconds ago it most definitely would have been: John Wayne....really? And then I came across this:

And now I am confused and bewildered and all alone and moving on to the next question.

7. Actor/actress, living or dead, you'd love to meet.

This is a tricky one because, honestly, I feel most actors are far too intense, hammy, awkward, or intimidating to actually enjoy a meeting with (I mean, what could you possibly say to Garbo, Hepburn, or Davis). I like to think Barbara Stanwyck and Cary Grant would be both fun and down to earth. I'd also give anything to hear Carole Lombard's infamously foul mouth.

8. Sexiest actor/actress you've seen. (Picture required)

Joel McCrea. (Paul Newman is just too easy.) The way this man lazily paws at Claudette Colbert and Jean Arthur is enough to make any woman quiver.

9. Dream cast.

Leading man: Cary Grant
Leading woman: Barbara Stanwyck
Anti-hero: Lew Ayres (too underrated)
Anti-heroine: Gloria Grahame
Not-too-sugary-cute-child: Peggy Ann Garner
Villainous duo: George Sanders & Anton Walbrook
Femme fatale: Olivia de Havilland (she should have been bad more often)
Comic relief: S.Z. Sakall & Ann Sothern
Bumbling detectives: William Powell & Irene Dunne (damn! why did they never do a film together? Wait, they did. Whew.)

10. Favorite actor pairing.

There are so many great ones out there, but I think what it really comes down to is this:

Grant and Dunne

11. Favorite movie setting.

Singing in the Rain (1952).

The 20s interpreted by the 50s. The talkies, the rain, the garb, and it looks like a lot of fun.

12. Favorite decade for movies.

Silly question.

13. Chick flick or action movie?

Ugh...really? That's the ultimatum? Chick flick, but only in the literal sense that applies to one movie, and one movie only:

14. Hero, villain, or anti-hero?

'Nuff said.

15. Black-and-white or color?

Despite a recent viewing of The Red Shoes, which dazzled to the point of inspiring a header picture change, I have to stick with my true love.

They just can't make 'em like they used to.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Red Shoes

I have avoided watching The Red Shoes (1948) for over a year now after a friend gifted me a copy. I avoided it for two years before that when I could have easily borrowed it from the same friend, I avoided it when I became fascinated with Kate Bush's album of the same title (saucy devil played by Miranda Richardson in the video), and I avoided it for several years before that when I still lived with my parents and TCM aired it repeatedly.

The fairytale, if you're not already aware, is horrific. No, scratch that. It's fucking horrific. Leave it to Hans Christian Andersen's warped imagination to scare the bejeezus out of you and make you want to cloud yourself in a pure, white veil, never looking in the mirror again, never wanting anything ever again but to be a good little girl and go to Heaven. In the fairytale, a selfish little girl, adopted by a rich woman after her mother dies, wants a pair of beautiful red dancing shoes. She gets them, and they take on a life of their own. They dance whether she wants to or not, and they never leave her feet. Night and day, rain or shine, they won't stop dancing. Eventually, the girl has her feet amputated (amputated! what kind of fairytale includes amputation?!?) but the shoes still do not stop--they continue to dance with her amputated feet inside them. Inside them.

Now, can you see why the childhood memory and imprinted visuals of this terrible tale has left me a bit anxious to see the film? But this is what happens when it's rainy and cold, when you've just set up your projector in a new apartment (which, of course, must be broken in with a visually fantastic movie), and when your friend comments on the "redness" of your apartment at the exact moment that you open the first box entitled "DVDs" and find The Red Shoes right on top, Moira Shearer's flawless en pointe staring back at you. This is what happens: you give in and watch the damn movie.

For the first ten minutes I was terribly nervous, and for the next 123 we were completely entranced (at least, I was completely entranced, and being so entranced I could not accurately determine if he was also just as entranced--because I was, you know, entranced). The acting was dreamlike; I was surprised to find that Ms. Shearer made only a handful of appearances on film, this being her most well-known. The infamous dance sequence, the actual ballet performance of The Red Shoes, was the most beautiful, the most disturbing, the most colorfully stimulating, and quite possibly the most wonderfully artistic dance sequence on film I've ever seen (though Cyd Charisse and the green dress are still up there, artistic merit warranted or not). So comfortable is this film, all of its parts and players, within the realm of art, that sometimes you can't tell if you're watching a surrealist painting in the works, or a double exposure of a sunset and flame. Or perhaps you have truly just teleported to a world where color and movement are on a level of existence we could not have imagined- except Powell and Pressburger could. And did. In 1948.

I can't promise with as equal conviction that this film will change your life as a friend who has assured me that watching The Wire will change mine (this has yet to be confirmed, or even tested), but it certainly changed my perceptions of early dance films--namely, that they could be strange and daring without sacrificing any of the Technicolor pow! associated with 1940s and 1950s musicals. Instead, The Red Shoes takes the pow! to new and unexplored terrain, as if introducing it to its own potential. Powell and Pressburger were famous for being ahead of their time, and that is entirely apparent in The Red Shoes. The tragedy underlying this film is not how life imitates art, though Vicki's fate is pretty gruesome, but that P & P never touched the musical/dance genre again. Maybe there was just nothing left to do with it after Vicki lay broken and still.