Let’s all enjoy the moment when, in 1958, Francois Truffaut made a sudden leap from high art to low neckline. In a graceful segue, France’s premier filmmaker and critic, pivoted from a quote by Guillaume Apollonaire (France’s great surrealist poet of World War I), to Howard Hughes’ obsessive presentation of Jane Russell’s nipples. Now that is an impressive display of dexterity! Shall we? Mais Oui!
The Postscript from the end of Truffaut’s Von Sternberg Essay in The Films in My Life, on Howard Hughes’ Production Notes:
. . .Paraphrasing Guillaume Apollinaire without realizing it (“Your breasts are the only shells I love”*), Hughes demonstrates in the following memo what happens when an actress’s brassiere undergoes aerodynamic design analytics: Continue reading
“Ohhh sweetness, sweetness. I was only joking when I said I’d like to smash every tooth in your head. . .”
A graphic artist in San Francisco has come up with the most delicious and disconcertingly perfect pairing since peanut butter and sriracha sauce–Charlie Brown and Morissey. Oh, had they only met! What late night door-banging sulks, lexapro-vivid dreams, and brooding breakfasts the two of these could’ve savored, Charlie B. yearning to please and Morrissey determined to be disappointed. But it was not to be. One was just a caricature of melancholy, and the other drawn by Charles Schulz. These are just a few samples from Loren LoPrete’s Tumblr, This Charming Charlie. Enjoy.
In case you were wondering, at the link above are the fashions of the year 2000. No one, I assume, in the 1930s could have dreamed of idiocies like the “It” bag (there’s nothing more reeking of a mindless herd instinct than waiting lists for handbags), super low rise jeans that make you look both short and fat (now there’s a score!), or of the pervasive influence of porn on the fashion industry (Schiaparelli will wreak vengeance one day). Instead, here in the future/past we have climate control belts, glass wedding dresses, and rather prescient cantilevered heels. Also, got to dig an updo that looks something like a knotted babka.
Well, whether you accepted last week’s challenge or not, it’s time to lay down a few little riffs on how this film brilliantly–and in at least one case, unintentionally– mirrors Hollywood history:
1. Norman Maine’s descent has been described as what happened to Johns Barrymore and Gilbert (below left and right), neither of whom were exactly amateurs at bending their elbows.
But I choose to believe another story that’s been mooted; that the inspiration for this was the Frank Fay/Barbara Stanwyck marriage (below right). Fay was a huge star on Broadway and came to Hollywood with fanfare and a fat contract. His thin-skinned orphan of a wife accompanied him, and got little work–until Fay talked Capra into auditioning her, and one of the great collaborations of 30s film began with Ladies of Leisure in 1930. Capra fell in love with Stanwyck’s naturalness and her ease, and filmed the young actress so her skin glows like wet paint, lush in its tactility. She became one of the greatest actresses of the era, and was the highest paid woman in America by 1944. Fay meanwhile, leaned hard on the bottle, lost work, began to knock his wife around and basically bought himself a one-way ticket out of town.
2. The sanitarium scene is said to be based on the a visit George Cukor (a frequent Selznick collaborator) made to a facility where Barrymore had been sent to dry up. Cukor was there to talk about a potential role in “Camille”, and was touched by Barrymore’s gentle awkwardness on this rare sober occasion.
3. The scene where Vicky’s veil is snatched off is modeled on Continue reading
Oh, winter. Ah, howling wind and careful stepping through yesterday’s detritus as the snow, once so gleaming, turns into dirt-sullied slush. And after dark, when things get bitter and the stars have lost their glitter, it becomes treacherous beneath unsteady feet. We’ve had a storm here in New York and I’m cozying inside in that half-melancholic February nostalgia one can savor when forced into quietude.
I’m as pure as the driven slush, Tallulah Bankhead once said, and having watched the original Selznick-produced A Star is Born (1937), one gets the feeling that it was only family money that allowed her such honesty–which otherwise was and is rare in a business built on selling dreams. A Star is Born, which is showing on TCM this week in an orgy of Selznick produced gems, is all about Hollywood, and about the sweet poison of success. Continue reading
There was an article in London’s Evening Standard in which a journalist took England’s most famous female boxer, Cathy Brown, to see Clint Eastwood’s film Million Dollar Baby. Thirty-four year-old Brown had recently knocked out Hungarian Viktoria Varga after just two rounds– exactly the type of fight Hilary Swank’s character, Maggie, excels at in the film. I’ve seen the film again myself recently and it’s just fabulous (and rather weirdly satisfying) to watch Swank swing out a meaty arm and knock someone senseless.
What is it with boxing and films? Why does boxing transfer so well to cinema when, for example, movies about hockey or football frequently suck? Say what you like about Sylvester Stallone, but Rocky is an extremely well-constructed, enjoyable film– plus, I can’t help but remember my pre-adolescent stirrings at the sight of his armpits. (If you think you’re disturbed by that, imagine how I feel.) Scorsese got more from one shot of blood dripping from rope in Raging Bull than he was able to muster in 3 hours of the crap Hughes bio-pic, The Aviator. Would On The Waterfront have been quite so moving if Brando had been, say, a failed golfer? There’s something evocative about the strength, sadness, and end-of-the-line desperation of people who get beat up for a living.
I suppose some of the appeal of boxing films is obvious: Women like watching well-built men sweat with very little clothing on. Men like sports. The drama of boxing has a simple conflict– two people face to face with only fists and their minds as both weapons and defense. Boxing has a structure that is inherently cinematic: The rounds of only a few minutes a piece, interspersed with terse instructions, loads of blood as eyelids get sliced open and noses re-arranged while pretty girls in hot-pants stroll around holding up placards. Plus boxing films have the climactic potential of the old KO. Add two condoms and a pizza and you’ve got quite a pleasant Saturday night. Continue reading
So it’s official, and has been for a month or so. Whatever Happened to “Baby Jane”? It’s Getting a Remake. Which seemed to me to be one of the silliest decisions I’ve encountered since Hollywood tried to remake The Women and ended up pouring bong water over the embers of Meg Ryan’s career.
But naturally they’re at it again. It’s clear they’ll never learn, because here’s a little sample of Hollywood logic for you: “The idea is to make a modern film without modernizing the period. It needs to resonate the golden age of Hollywood.” These words were uttered by Walter Hill, who was chosen to be the director of this remake. The man is doubtless an artist, whose upcoming Stallone film, Bullet to the Head, will rival Grand Illusion for delicacy and depth. How the hell could anything resonate the golden age of Hollywood more thoroughly than Bette Davis impaling herself on Joan Crawford’s falsies, before kicking her to the head?
I never understood the allure of James Bond films–or rather, I never understood why the hell anyone would admit to being a fan of such pendulously dull male adolescent fantasies. I’d get it if these films had been screened like nudie films used to be, in select ares of Times Square, where those burdened with a shameful yen for cartoonish dialogue + farm hand’s ideas of fancy living could go see ol’ Jimmy drive his purty car and spar with follically challenged villains. But who’d have thought such heavyhanded silliness would become so culturally entrenched?
But as usual, my sense of what will be admired and duplicated is wrong wrong wrong. And (she points out with a girlishly raised index finger) I was born too late to get all jazzed up by cold war hi-jinks in the cinema. The early 60s were a fermentative and frightening era, and Jimmy B’s smug suavity calmed WWII victors’ fears of just what the fuck the Communists were percolating behind their Iron Curtain, while here in capitalistic society men were wrapping their minds around the honestly world-changing fact that women could now actually have sex without getting pregnant, and quite frequently chose to do so with people other than their husbands. . .but still. “Plenty O’Toole?” “Pussy Galore”?
Yawn. Continue reading
I like any chance I get to think about Oscar Wilde, and there are surprisingly frequent opportunities in life to do so: Whenever one gives in to temptation, sees ghastly wallpaper, or greets a widow with newly blonded hair. Anytime you encounter someone so improbably youthful that you assume they have a ghoulish self-portrait in their attic. Whenever you write in a diary, or stay in a cheap hotel room in Paris, or leave your family to run across town to spend time with a pretty, mean-spirited young lover whose daddy is a Marquess and an inventor of boxing rules. Whenever someone in this world cannot find it in their hearts to believe that small-minded people are out to destroy them, and ends up doomed by their optimism.
But most often, and increasingly, one thinks of Wilde whenever brackened, unformed life lurches from the primordial mire and shapes itself. . .into an imitation of art. As happened in New York recently. (Ah! New York–the place where Wilde, upon his first visit, informed customs officials that the only thing he had to declare was his genius. See? Dude’s everywhere.) Continue reading