Film

Chatter about childhood and anti-heroes

The other day I was watching The Wild Bunch while coloring my hair. It isn't a favorite movie; a lot of violence and shouting, and the marginally likeable people all die. But it's a great film in many ways, and showed people the reality of mayhem in undeclared war, which previous westerns had either avoided or just touched on.

 
One concept that wasn't new but was just taking firm hold was the idea that sometimes the bad guys are more moral than the good guys. Sometime let's start to take up the difference between ethics and morality, and then change the subject for more shallow territory. Anyway. Holden's bunch certainly didn't have ethics on their side, but the groups of people working against them were largely immoral.

Oh, dear, please don't tell me in a Google Plus reply about how I did not perfectly state this because of some math that you know or something. I just couldn't bear it this week. Take my meaning, instead. In fact, always do that. I'm fingerpainting here; it's what I do.

The "anti-hero" was my hero from the moment I discovered him. Yes, him. They were all male, and at the time, it made sense that they were. They were mostly late 19th-early 20th century mavericks who bucked increasingly systemized thought and the people who used those systems to take advantage of weakness in others.

So many people relate to those characters and (often sheepishly) look up to them, yet in everyday life, and in what passes for the democratic process, they remain lazy or contented to let the hand-rubbing money barons run things for them. I've never understood that. It upsets me greatly, so I'm going to change the subject, only slightly.

Rifle

I loved playing sheriff and also holding up the bank that was also my tree where later I talked to Jesus after I had First Communion and felt like a direct line should be established. When I was sheriff, I wore a denim vest with a tin star pinned to it that my mother made from layers of aluminum foil. But a neighbor complained there was nothing under the vest, and though I was five, this was apparently terrible.

Let's pause for a moment and reflect on a (very) large rural yard in 1970. If you are part of the always online generation, you can't begin to understand about that, and I want you to pay attention. It was a sweet wholesome life for a little kid. There were probably about as many nutballs per 100 as ever there have been, but they very rarely counted in our lives, because we did not have the world wide web telling us they were everyone except ourselves. What could you see beneath my vest in 1970? A narrow bit of skin between the two sides. And arms. Far, far less than any typical bathing suit of the time would display. But this person perceived something more. And what I want you to understand is that the person with the perception was the one I needed protection against. People who think five year-olds in play vests are on sexual display are akin to fundamentalists who never let siblings see a baby undressed. They have creepy attitudes about humanity and you should never pander to them.

But Mom didn't let me wear the vest alone anymore, and I've always hated layers, feeling trapped by sleeves and fabric clinging to my neck except during a brief Annie Hall fashion obsession a few years later, so I became a full time bank robber for awhile. I had money bags with fake bills in them of tremendous denominations, and six shooters with caps to stop anyone who tried to catch me. People who interfere with other people's happiness and dignity easily stood in for the bad good guys, and I tended to picture them like Jackie Gleason, which is nicely prescient toward Smokey and the Bandit, I do think. Or like Hamilton Burger, the D.A. in Perry Mason. He wasn't bad, but he was totally annoying, always assuming rotten motivations based on superficialities.

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I'd build escalating stories in my head about someone who was in trouble for being misunderstood, and being taken advantage of because of it, and I'd rescue them between bank jobs, and give them some of the money.

There's no point to any of this, in case you've been looking for one. I just wanted you to know I haven't really ever changed much. When I was younger, I was usually filled with some sort of moral outrage toward people who behaved either from selfish motivations, or from lazy assessments of something without regard for the bigger picture, and whatever lies beneath their first glance. People who thought how they felt about something mattered more than whatever was actually there. Now, I'm just weary of it all.

Machine

Hey, as a sort of aside, are you a fairly clever person, but kind of linear, (which is okay, but I mean, balance, and so forth,) and you make a sort of joke or half-serious statement perhaps to make a point, and someone like me replies in a way that takes you off balance and so your initial assumption because you took (me) literally is that (I) didn't understand what you meant, and so you explain the joke, kind of ruining the whole thing for both of "us?" I'm sorry I never really get that about you, and I'll try harder to match my communication style to yours sometimes, be less oblique, etc., but also, I think you should be aware that this makes it seem like you think you are smarter than everyone, and that simply cannot be true, especially on the internet, where everyone's IQ is either 132 or 146, and also, there's maybe a pinhole in your intellect where lateral thinking resides. Just food for thought. You could maybe just put your finger over it.

HoldenHorseWildBunch


How I Bought My Movie

You might have worked out that I like James Bond films a whole lot. I like each of them in and for their own era. Roger Moore's James Bond inhabited the grown-up world I was partial witness to. Pierce Brosnan's Bond inhabited the grown-up world in which my view was expanded. Daniel Craig's Bond exists between all that and a somewhat better world we're all trying to say we belong in.

On Saturday, the ION channels had a marathon of Bond films from GoldenEye through Quantum of Solace. Four Pierce Brosnans and two Daniel Craigs. The Judy Dench Years. I had them on while I did stuff, because I was oddly and pleasantly alone for much of the day. I fell asleep during Casino Royale, but of course I've seen it a billion times. Yesterday evening I watched the recording of Quantum of Solace, and then went straight to Netflix for Skyfall. It was not there.

It wasn't there? Now I know why (more on that in a minute,) but yesterday that was annoying, because it was on there for a long time.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I miss my blog. I have some ideas for refreshing it all, going to get to that, but in the meantime I wanted to type things and tell people stuff.

Last night I looked on Amazon. Various configurations of Skyfall were between 13-16 dollars. I didn't really want just a digital copy, and it wasn't even available to rent for $2.99. (In a minute.)

Today we looked it up at the library and both blu-rays were checked out. One DVD was lost, the other damaged. I went up to Target, because I felt suddenly as though this was an imperative. No copies. No Bond at all, actually.

The phone doesn't work very well at Target, but I looked at meijer.com. No results. Desperate, I went to walmart.com. Their copies all said September 15 pre-order, except one for $23. But that wouldn't be available til Friday. Target.com also said September pre-order, so I decided they were repackaging it before Spectre, and now I know it's being re-released in special steel boxes. Pre-order at Best Buy, a place I didn't think to call. Meijer, Walmart, and Best Buy are all together in a dreadful area for traffic known as Eastgate; big nonsensical highway project been going on forever. But also in that area is the mall, and my son suggested we call a store there called FYE. And they had a used DVD for $9.99. So I seriously went to the mall to get it. The store is near an entrance, so no actual malling had to be done. Mission accomplished.

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Netflix and others would be made to pull it before a new release so that people will, you know, buy it instead. I just had bad timing. But I don't buy much new or for full price (this is my heritage) unless it's extra special, so this is okay by me.

I'll be honest. A whole lot of why I'm into it lately is for the Tom Ford of it all, et all, and also etcetera. I'm shallow like that. But also, spies and stuff. I saw two spy movies at the theater this summer: Spy and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. I love spy movies.

I'm gonna go watch my new used movie now. I have plans to do more with this page, that I hope will be enjoyable to others.

 

PS: No. I said I buy things used or at a discount. I don't pay nothing for something still easily available other ways. This is how we keep having nice things.


Oh, James

I've been watching James Bond films all month on Encore. I do that pretty much every year. I have my favorites, and there are a few I tend to avoid, and watching Bond interact with his contemporary society is always interesting. They aren't in order, so the view is sometimes amusingly jarring. Or not even all that amusing, as I discovered last night.

I had my 16 year-old watch Thunderball with me. Near the beginning, Bond is at a health spa, and someone tries to kill him with one of the machines designed to...help with back alignment or something. The sexy spa attendant thinks he'll blame her and cause her to lose her job, so he suggests sex in the sauna as payment. She straight up agrees, and seconds later, you see their hands pressed against the glass.

My son kind of flipped out. Which, if you know him, is the actual jarring thing. He had just witnessed a woman blackmailed for sex, and he knew it. Later, when she's revealed to be a bad guy, I asked him if that made any difference. He said no, and mostly of course, I agree. I imagine there's a subtext of her having gotten under Bond's skin so he'd trust her, rightly played or not.

Later I pointed out to him that during the Roger Moore era, the solution was to just have all the women rabid for sex. Then during the Pierce Brosnan era, women actually have a sort of power to not take him seriously, but take what they want from him. That's how 70s, 80s, and 90s women were each represented in film.

Here's how the problem was managed with the 1995 GoldenEye "reboot," neatly, in two brief conversations. Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 3.12.55 PM

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There are two more conversations that address the reality of Bond having treated his life's work like a merry game; killing bad guys, having many women, and in the post-Cold War world, possibly less able to stop real problems.

Later on, Bond and the character Xenia are in this scene in which she clearly takes pleasure in a fight that mirrors quick and ferocious foreplay. It's a bid for control, and she loses, but not because she's a woman, but because it'd culminate with Bond losing his head.
In our Daniel Craig era, the films still generally reflect our times, and currently, female characters are offered up with more variation of character, but at the same time, they're still James Bond movies, and sex is still power, both the wielding of it and the yielding to it.


Personal Favorite Classic Holiday Films

This is partly a "best" list, but I can concede there are some good ones I left out, because they aren't personal favorites. If I were to make a real "best" list, I'd make it longer, to include a few more you might expect. Hover over the links to see which are video and which are text. Also, at least half of these are available complete on YouTube.

Perennial favorites I never miss:

It’s a Wonderful Life 1946: I've never not loved this movie, and I could watch it several times a year. I have it on DVD now, because I wanted to always see it without commercial breaks. We watch it every year on Christmas Eve while drinking eggnog and eating cookies.  I think it's kind of a perfect movie.

Holiday 1938: I first saw this as a teenager as part of a double feature with Bringing Up Baby, but to me, it pairs better with The Awful Truth, one of the funniest movies ever made. Holiday has more pathos and tension, and is not a perfect movie, but it is still very funny, and one to hug and adore. TCM is showing it three times in the next three months; watch or record it when you can.

The Man Who Came to Dinner 1942: has a wonderful cast and lots of funny moments. It's staged very much like a play, which is enjoyable. And it has a lot of in-jokes that are extra funny if you know the references, but are still funny if you don't. It was written by Kaufman and Hart, who also wrote the hilarious You Can't Take It With You, which was adapted for the screen in 1938.

Desk Set 1957: This movie is gorgeous. It teams Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, a pairing I'm not overly fond of, but I like the offbeat nature of it, and all the supporting cast. As not a Tracy fan, this is my favorite role of his. It looks like one kind of movie, but behaves like another. I have this one on DVD as well, and watch it a couple times a year.

The Bishop’s Wife 1947: This is more of a true Christmas film than the previous entries, and I think it's one of the best, because of the cast and the nearly gross sentimentality. It's tender and meaningful, but also humorous. Monty Wooley has a sweet role, completely opposite his role in The Man Who Came to Dinner.

The Shop Around the Corner 1940: I love the setting of this film, and the real caring nature of it. It also feels like a play, and could have been too stagey if not done just right, which it was. When I was younger, I really disliked Margaret Sullavan's character, but I appreciate her more now. I always appreciate Jimmy Stewart. Deeply.
 
I like these next four, but need to be in the mood, because I'm terrible at watching certain kinds of tension. Honestly, though, it's mainly me. I've watched them all with other people who don't get the same sensation from them, and I do make sure to see them each year.

It Happened on 5th Avenue 1947: In this movie, people without homes for various reasons all end up in a mansion together for the winter. Don't look up too much about it; the story is really fun if you don't know how it will go. I always have this "fear of discovery," but of course, it's a comedy. You know it will eventually all come right for every one. It's got kind of a ham-handed message, but that's part of its charm.

Holiday Affair 1949: This is really good; I'm just never a fan of Robert Mitchum. It's a charming light romance in which a woman ends up choosing the man I would turn down, but that's how these things go, and everyone else is happy in the end. The mother and child scenes are really very good.

Bachelor Mother 1939: David Niven and Charles Coburn are in this film, and I love them both. Ginger Rogers plays the woman mistaken for a single mother, and finds herself going along with the narrative assigned her. I don't generally enjoy stories which go that way, but she's so good and they're so good, and if you've never seen it, you'll laugh.

Remember the Night 1940: This stars Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray, who are devastating together in Double Indemnity, which was released a few years later. This one's mostly light-hearted, and they have real chemistry between them, which is why, I suppose, they did three more films together. But it's another thing wherein someone has to pretend to be someone they aren't, and a little of that goes a long way with me (which is why I hardly ever watch Christmas in Connecticut.) There's a fairly recent remake of this story, but I don't recall the name because I didn't like it.

And that reminds me to mention sometime this week I'm going to share a "contemporary" Christmas film list, but it will be all TV movies, because I enjoy those far more than the broad comedy ones that tend to appear on the big screen these days.


Saturday Morning TV

When I woke up awhile ago, I felt lazy, and for a lark, turned on the TV instead of getting out of bed to dress. On the screen were some cowboys and a woman, trying to keep a dinosaur calm, but he broke from his ropes and then sort of gnawed another dinosaur to death. Then it chased the people, and some rocks fell on it and knocked it out. One of the people was James Franciscus, who got a new rope around it and then they made a procession with it to a Mexican town, but before they got there, a witch and a little person told them the dinosaur was evil and would destroy them.

In the Mexican town, the woman has dollar signs in her eyes, thinking of world tours with the dinosaur. This upsets a British professor who apparently found the thing, and James Franciscus, who was in it only for enough money for a ranch in Wyoming. And love. He will not have both, it seems. Then a show begins in a large arena, and there is an elephant, and the little person works to sabotage the show, as the dinosaur is about to be released, apparently to gnaw the elephant to death.

But when the curtain is opened, the dinosaur is gnawing the little person, and then accidentally tails its giant cage open. Mexicans are hysterical and running from the arena. The bandleader tries to keep the music playing, but not for long.

Church bells are tolling, and as Mexicans run for safety, knocking over vegetable and flower stands, and Franciscus is thrown from his horse as he attempts to fire on the beast with his shotgun. He fails, throws the gun, and runs inside a massive cathedral with the townspeople. They force the great doors closed against him, but his tail of menace defeats them. As everyone runs out the back, James Franciscus attempts to trap the creature within the walls. But the woman and a cheeky boy are still inside. Franciscus yells at the dinosaur and throws things at it, taunting it. Then he engages it in a battle of wits with a red flag. He falls back against the pipes of a tremendous organ, which enrages the creature, and then he jabs the flag in its ear. Then he runs to see the boy and woman to safety, grabbing a torch along the way to throw at the dinosaur just as it reaches a highly flammable section of flooring. The fire quickly surrounds it and in its terror and confusion, it howls in agony. Some men push the back door of the cathedral open, those inside escape, and the cathedral begins to collapse, a fire consuming its floor too much for the structure to stand. The townspeople watching in awe as the dinosaur succumbs to its fate.

The End.

No, really. That was how it ended. I feel a little cheated, to be honest. The Valley of Gwangi.

Next, 7 Faces of Dr. Lao is on. I can't say much about that except Tony Randall was a champ. It's good in the sense that...it's put together well and mostly interesting and stuff. And Barbara Eden has brown hair, which is nice. But I have things to do now, I guess.

Watch this part and thank me later:  

Pictures unrelated, of Rock Hudson with Richard Long, and Doug McClure with Clint Eastwood. Longhudson
Longhudson


2012 Movies and Me

(Edited to add a few links, proper blog-style)

Last year around this time I made a list of movies I wished to see during the year. I saw maybe 1/2 of them, plus a few others. 

Do I ever talk about how much I love movies? I really, really do. But in my own way. I do not love Citizen Kane, Casablanca, or From Here to Eternity, though I think they're all quite good. I never saw The Godfather or Bull Durham or The Deerhunter or Titanic. I adore Drop Dead Gorgeous, The Awful Truth, and Network. And Amadeus. I watch An American in Paris nearly every month. And so. 

2012 movies I saw, ratings A, B, C based only on how much I liked it, not how good I thought it was, except A+; I thought those were the best. I could write love letters to those two movies, and I just might do that sometime.

This Means War C
The Secret World of Arrietty B
The Pirates! Band of Misfits C
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen A
The Raven B
The Avengers A
Men in Black III B
Moonrise Kingdom A+
The Amazing Spider-Man B
The Dark Knight Rises A
Skyfall A
Quartet A
Amour A+

I also saw Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy in January, but that was actually released in 2011. Where I live now…sigh. I liked it a lot.

2012 Movies I still want to get to asap: most of which were on last year's want-to-see list. I hope to do better with 2013's list, which I'll share next week sometime perhaps, but some of them take extra time to turn up here in the middle of the country. 

A Royal Affair
Monsieur Lazhar
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel  (listed as 2011)
To Rome With Love
Paranorman
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Hotel Transylvania
The Oranges
Argo
Wreck-It Ralph
Hitchcock
Flight

Yesterday I saw previews for Brooklyn Castle and West of Memphis; I'd like to see both of those. And I'm looking forward to (finally) seeing The Flat next month. They also keep showing previews for On the Road. It looks good but not my kind of thing. You see from these lists I like quiet movies, quietly silly movies, and superheroes, pretty much. There's a certain kind of grittiness I work to avoid, with just a few exceptions.


Late Night TCM and Me: A tale of frustration and angst

The featured star on TCM this month is Joel McCrea. I love him. You might already know this. He had some of the best shoulders in Hollywood, though I am not sure he'd win against Bill Holden in a shoulder baring contest. Hard to say, as he was several inches taller. Anyway. 

I like his early comedies, some of his "working man" dramas, some of the spy things, some of the westerns. I'm not completionist about him, though. He was in a million things. Some of it isn't my groove. But I set up my bedroom DVR to record most of the films TCM is showing on Wednesdays this month, particularly the early "pre-Code" ones with which I'm less familiar. Tuesday night I started watching a really old one called Born to Love, from 1931, also starring Constance Bennett. It was a very early entry for both of them, and neither is very good, but they're endearing enough. And this movie was on in the wee hours of the morning, when they tend to show the films only a hard-core interest would find appealing.

It's set in London at the tail end of WW1. They meet, fall instantly for each other, and it is made clear they give themselves to each other just before he is to leave for battle, promising they'll marry upon his return. And then she is pregnant. If you don't know much about movies of that era, you can't have a complete understanding of how scandalous it is, because she isn't made out to be a bad girl. But she is paid back for her indiscretion.

At first, tragedy; her young man is dead! Then a savior; the rich lord who loves her agrees to marry her and raise the baby as his own. And then I fell asleep. 

Last night, I turned it on again. Let me back up first, and foreshadow how this ends for you. The movie is 75 minutes long, ordinary for that time. So is my recording. But the first 15 minutes of my recording are the end of the previous movie, and some previews. This never happens on TCM, so I assumed the movie was even shorter than I'd thought, which is sometimes the case, and the rest of the time slot is filler. 

Moving along. They baptize the baby in the lord's name. At the christening party, she receives a phone call. Her love is still alive! She won't see him. She tells her husband. She does see him! But rejects him for her marriage. She tells her husband. He doesn't believe her! They divorce. He takes full custody and kicks her out. 

Two years have passed. McCrea is back in London, everyone assumes Bennett has been with him, but he didn't even know of her divorce. She is in a crappy flat, clearly preparing to hock her necklace when he turns up. She pushes him away! If she doesn't, she won't be allowed to see the child, and she is about to for the first time since she was sent away. She pawns her necklace, excitedly buys a gift for her son, and rushes to her old home. Her ex-husband is there, and she asks, "Will I be able to see my child regularly now?"

He says, grimly, "I can never again interfere."

She rushes up the stairs and we see her run into the nursery, the crib in shadows. She gasps! And the TV asks if I want to delete the recording. 

This is the last thing I see on my screen. 
2012-05-16 23.45.47
 So, you know, I worked out what happened next. The kid is dead, the dad is full of regret, she runs off to kill herself. McCrea shows up at the last second, but I couldn't decide if he's too late or not. These movies used to go either way, you know. Reluctantly, I looked it up. 


Wherein I wax on a bit about Bill Holden's bare chest

One of the best things about watching a William Holden movie from the mid-50s to early 70s is there's a high degree of likelihood he'll be in some state of partial undress, rather a lot of the time. In fact, if you look at candid photographs of him out having his real life adventures, you'll see that he's often shirtless in those as well, or unbuttoned, wearing shorts, barefoot, etc. The man clearly enjoyed being a natural part of nature, though they say (they who say these things) that he was obsessed with showering, too. Well, maybe there's the answer; you take a shower four times a day, you tire of putting on a new set of clothes each time. 

Breezy-1973-William-Holden-pic-91

But, and this is true of other Hollywood stars of his era and earlier, he is often seen onscreen with a hairless chest. They (same they or possibly another set altogether) say this was done for Picnic (1955) because he was (definitely but who cares?) a bit too old for the character he played, and the bare chest made him look younger. I dunno. That doesn't really add up for me, but whatever. His chest is also hairless in Love is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955) and The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957,) but not Sunset Blvd (1950,) The Bridges of Toko-Ri (1954) or Paris When it Sizzles (1964.) I don't remember at the moment what his chest hair condition was in The World of Suzie Wong (1960) but I think the reason we saw less of him in that film is in case it led us to figure out just what a man does with a call girl, and that would be bad.  Wong

So maybe in his case there was some kind of mid-late-50s ban on very hairy chests, which had him continually shaved up between Bridges and Paris, but other actors previously had this treatment as well. Funny Hollywood. They took the hair off men's chests, but added it to so many of their heads. 

I mean, Bill Holden had one seriously hairy chest. And even though I grew up in the hairy man 1970s, this is not something I normally find specifically appealing. However, there are sometimes special circumstances. I do like hunting for treasure.

Here's the man, hairless and hairy. 

Damp

Bridgefrayedshirt

Nakedgun

Franklyshirtless
"They let me grow it on my face."

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Billboat

Holden

Parischesthair

Soon I'm going to do another gratuitous post about Bill, with images of him holding various (and mostly pointy) objects.

Glassesholden

More William Holden pictures here, 3 pages so far. Yes, well. 


A great deal of blather, men and how I love them, 1965, tao, time travel, etc.

(also posted at http://liliales.tumblr.com)

Something I saw earlier on Tumblr has been nagging at me. It was a photo of the most attractive man I can name, with a mild note of misery that he had inevitably aged. They were enchanted with the face, but maybe not the man wearing it.

 
This is wholly enchanting, isn't it?

We celebrate youth, and we sometimes celebrate the aged, but we rarely celebrate the process from one to the other. I think that's what I'm attempting to do as middle age crawls over me like a late summer afternoon shadow.

I would never wish a celebrity or anyone I knew would stop aging or look or act just the same as some one point in time. But I sometimes wish there would be a point at which we're old enough and wise enough to travel fluidly back and forth in our own time stream, to witness events and people as they were then, but from our current point of view. We'd be sensible enough to stay out of our own lives, of course.

You may know the year I was born fascinates me.

It was so dualistic in every arena; concurrently buttoned-down and loosened up. I'm both of those things in one small (ish) package. I believe in dressing up to go out, in manners and dignity and respect and slow-growth investment, and I'm also so open-minded I don't have any doors in my head, and I don't wear shoes unless I absolutely have to, and I just really don't care for money at all. I could dig outside in the dirt all day long, but rarely without my iPod or satellite radio plugged into my ears. I love Dave Brubeck, Dave Gahan, and the Dave Clark Five. And I love absolute silence.

Many people I know who are the same age as me feel like that. We're products of what I truly believe was a unique point in history. You may think you know just what I mean, but unless you're between 41 and 46, you really don't. I'm explaining it very poorly because it isn't explainable.
 

Anyway. I'd definitely visit 1965. All my first loves, I still love em. I watched them grow up, grow out of date, die or grow old. I don't love those people and that stuff only for what it was when I first made the discovery; I love all they were and are and will be. After all, as Madeline L'Engle once put it, "I am all the ages I've ever been." We're just flowers; we open up, take in light, produce seeds and begin to dry out and get droopy. People preserve flowers in books, to carry the memory of when their scent was fresh. It's the same flower, though, whether fresh or dried-out.

We preserve star photos at Tumblr the same way. But if you could go and visit the moments those photos were taken, what would you discover? How would it affect how you see these people now, so many years after their youth faded or they passed away? I guess it depends on whether you're viewing them as real people, or only a glorified reflection.

When I was a very little girl, my ideal of a man was a distinct cross between Bret Maverick and Speed Racer. This largely informed my view of men in general, so you can imagine I spent a few years somewhat confused and disappointed at what I saw around me. But still I've never not loved men utterly, for all their strengths and frailties and just basic maleness. (Except their socks. I can never love those.) And I've been thinking about kissing men for over 40 years now, though I've still never kissed a race car driver or a western anti-hero.

Much later on, when I reflected back on those early crushes, I read up on James Garner, who played Bret Maverick and another favorite TV character, Jim Rockford. I decided I'd probably like him even more than the characters he often portrayed. It wasn't possible to do this with Speed Racer, but I've read lots of books and articles and watched lots of interviews with all my other childhood favorites, and I found I liked them even more, most of the time, when I learned about their ideals and humor and weaknesses and real-personnesses. Would they like me in return? Well, who thinks about that? (In Fantasy Land, I have straight pretty teeth, though, and the rest is easy.)

In 1965, I'd want to watch some of these people and certain events right at the genesis of all that social change which flavored my childhood. They may have largely ignored it all, but it didn't ignore them, either raising them up or viewing them with disdain. 

Now, inside my aging head, my brain still sees me as the young hopeful woman with a 24-inch waist and long lean legs, socially awkward, casual in manner and formal in speech (or the reverse, depending,) slightly manipulative yet confused by outright duplicity…very little of this has changed except my waistline. And I'm calmer and wiser, and much less awkward as a result. 

Sort of.

So more even than just visiting my birth year, I'd most like to go back and see some of my favorite stars when they were the age I am now. (Except possibly Bill Holden. I'd meet him post-vasectomy, pre-Audrey Hepburn, but that's another tale altogether.) I want to see if they were recognizing then what I'm recognizing now.

This is the time in life to start defining what contentment really means, and to realize it's mostly just a choice we make, if we're willing. To be willing, we have to accept the utterly tiresome loss of collagen, a thickening waistline, sometimes the hair on our heads. The tradeoff is totally worth it, though. Youth is wasted on the wrong people. Aging can be very sexy, because it becomes a choice rather than an imperative. In our current era, we have more leisure to contemplate this, but I suspect plenty of people have known it right along, only it's a native secret that you can't quite understand until you're fully initiated into the club. 

And if you reach the age in which the contemplation of nature and all that came before now takes up the largest part of your day—that age at which, apparently, you're taking in more data than ever before, but don't feel so much like bothering with it all—you've earned the privilege of laughing at the notion that prettiness is largely defined by youthfulness. Even if you're a little wistful about it at times. 


The Females in Classic Film

It's not that I didn't or don't like women. I will admit that as a child I trusted only a few of them. Women always seemed to be plotting against each other or someone else. They weren't all sweet and kind and giving like my mother. 

I'm speaking of women in movies, of course. It took until high school for me to love any woman in a movie besides Sophia Loren in Houseboat. Then I began to really enjoy Myrna Loy, Irene Dunne, and Katharine Hepburn, except not with Tracy. I didn't like how she was with him until I saw them together in The Desk Set. Which I loved, and love.

My 10 favorite leading ladies, roughly in order:

Irene Dunne
Myrna Loy
Katharine Hepburn
Judy Garland
Greer Garson
Audrey Hepburn
Jean Arthur
Claudette Colbert
Rita Hayworth
Rosalind Russell

11 more actresses I always enjoy, in no particular order:

Ingrid Bergman
Marjorie Main
Doris Day
Ethel Barrymore
Spring Byington
Ruth Hussey
Butterfly McQueen
Carole Lombard
Mary Nash
Judy Holliday
Debbie Reynolds

You can see this is largely informed by the genres of movies I prefer. I don't go very deep or very heavy most of the time.

I've grown to like two or three Bette Davis things, though I wish Claudette Colbert had been able to play the part originally written for her, in All About Eve. I like Barbara Stanwyck in a couple things, but it's more that I like a couple movies she's in and again, might have liked them more if cast differently. Ball of Fire was always one of my favorite movies, but I can't want her in it for Gary Cooper.  She's good, of course, just—not quite right, to me. I like her better with Cooper in Meet John Doe, same thing only different.

And I love the movie The Women, but not specifically because I love many of the women in it. It's just a great film overall. My favorites in that movie, though, are Paulette Goddard, Marjorie Main, and Mary Boland. And as I grow older, I more fully appreciate Rosalind Russell's portrayal of her wonderfully awful character.

I know some people who don't like Jean Arthur or Judy Holliday as much as I do because they used such shrill voices sometimes. Last night I was watching Born Yesterday and thinking about how carefully Holliday used hers. There are a lot of nuances to her pitch that she crafted for that character. It's really quite brilliant and incredibly endearing. But even though it's her movie, and she's simply wonderful in it, I'll admit I'm always drawn to watch it to see William Holden wearing glasses and reciting literature. 


On the death of film stars

I remember seeing certain deaths in the newspaper at breakfast when I was a child, and hearing the adults comment on them. Harry Chapin comes to mind, and Jim Croce. I was 8 when he died. That affected me because I knew a couple of his songs and I knew he wasn't old. He just up and died, accidentally, shockingly. 

Then there was Groucho Marx. I'd just finished reading his hilarious autobiography around the time he died, and I was kinda crushed. I felt like I knew him a little bit, you know? That was the first one that hit me hard, at age 12, and I've never forgotten it. (Elvis had just died three days earlier, and that barely affected me at all.) I can picture the column in the newspaper, below the fold—maybe there was something important going on in the world that day—just as I saw it that morning at the table. I cut it out and saved it in my scrapbook, actually. Wish I still had that.

I was very into old movies by around the age of 10. We'd always watched old stuff at our house, anyway, and all my fondest TV memories are in black and white. Well, plus we didn't have color TV until 1981. Since most of what I loved wasn't even in color, that never bothered me much. People were crap at adjusting their greens and oranges, anyway. 

I had early crushes on James Garner, Robert Stack, and Raymond Burr. But then I had a lot of time to myself starting in 1975 because of family illnesses and other difficulties, and I became infatuated with Cary Grant (pretty much been over that for a long time, but I do love him like an old boyfriend I outgrew,) Gary Cooper, and Gregory Peck. I was sad to learn Gary Cooper was dead, and that launched me into a decade of reading biographies and obsessing over which film stars were alive and dead. Every time I'd see one I hadn't noticed before, I'd ask Mom if he was alive. Most of the time she knew, sometimes we had to go to the library to look it up. 

Things weren't at all like they are now, of course. Old movies were 20, 30, 40 years old, not 50, 60, 70. That's real history now! 

In high school, I added Jimmy Stewart, Joseph Cotten, Gene Kelly, Rossano Brazzi and a few others to my growing list of loves. They were all still alive. I also developed mad passions for Jack Lemmon, Rex Harrison, and William Powell. Among a number of others, of course and sigh

Two actors I've always enjoyed but was never enamored by, Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart, were long dead. Then Bill Holden died, and Steve McQueen. My love for Holden has grown immensely over the past 10-15 years, never so much into McQueen. 

But then, starting with William Powell when I was 19, my true classic loves all started to depart. One by one by one since then, all my childhood loves have died, except for James Garner. 

I'd only just rediscovered Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra around the time they died, and it was a gripping realization to have; these guys were in their prime before I was born, and now I was in that time of life myself. But they lived long rich lives, as did Grant, Stewart, Kelly, Peck, and Lemmon. So mourning them was more like mourning a bygone era than anything else. Also, I was an adult, mourning something lost from my childhood.

When Jim Garner, who is nearly 83, passes from this world, I don't know if I'll be overcome with sadness. It's a confusing thought. I mean, I love 1957-1985 Jim Garner of film and TV. He is, by all accounts, a very fine man for his family and friends to know and love, but to me he is mostly a collection of screen memories. Well, let's be honest. In considering all my oddly intense feelings for a handful of famous men, living and dead, he is the one about whom I've composed the most and most deeply, intricately detailed sexual fantasies. But also, he was so honest as a man on screen; a real man. A Jim Garner character is always a person we'd wish to know and we do know that extends to reality as well. There aren't that many big stars about whom we are certain this is true. 

I cannot remember a time in my life I wasn't basically in love with him, from very early childhood. Of course I don't really know him, but he always made you believe you could, right? And the point is, he was my first love, beginning over 40 years ago. Before I knew what sex was and before I wanted it, I wanted him. Don't take that wrong because it isn't. And I've never stopped wanting him. But when he dies, I'll still have everything of him I was ever going to have, anyway. His family will mourn the real person they knew and loved, and, as is generally the way, celebrate their lives with him. 

I think I'll be mourning an ideal that seems impossible to ever conjure again. But I guess I'm mourning that already. 

 


blather about dead film stars and a cocktail

I'm tickled remembering the summer of 2005 when I was making fake blog titles that mimicked bad ad slogans. Clearly I've stopped trying. Anyway.

I've been taking inventory of my personal DVDs. I don't have lots, and have bought many more for the family and/or individual kids than for myself over the years. But it's a semi-solid collection for how little money and effort I've put into it. There needs to be Nero Wolfe. And more movies starring my favorite old loves. I'd like to have Anchors Aweigh. I know everyone likes On the Town more, and I'd like that, too, but the other would come first for me. And then a couple other movies featuring Frank Sinatra. (As much as I love Guys and Dolls, I can never watch it without remembering Gene Kelly should be in there instead. Same with Pal Joey of which I have the vinyl soundtrack but not the film itself. But Sinatra acquitted himself well in those roles and a number of others.)

I would like to have the latest special edition of Singin' in the Rain. It was at Costco last year but so was An American in Paris that day and I had money for only one of them. Then Singin' in the Rain sold out so I never got it. It was my second choice and I lost the gamble on it. But I have it on the DVR right now. There are a few movies I record each year and keep around for months until the need for space bumps them off the list for awhile. The current crop is marked with a K here:

James Garner, Gene Kelly, Jimmy Stewart, what could be better? Well, the addition of Jack Lemmon, mainly. But I watch those three particular movies over and over again. Now, of course I love Singin' in the Rain? It has a couple of incredible musical numbers. But I honestly do love An American in Paris slightly more. It's a different kind of art, more what I'm into, is all. I like its contemporary time period and music, love love love the Gershwin, and how each frame was composed as a work of art. Love Minnelli. I liked it less when I was younger because it made me impatient. Now I think I could watch it go on for another hour if it liked to.

I love the Singin' in the Rain time period as well, but it's not one of the ones I'd like to quietly slip into for awhile. It's a different sort of treat for me. The movie also has more stress and anxiety than the other,  for which I have less patience than when I was younger. And I think the talky fashion show scene is pretty, but really no longer interesting to me. So they've switched positions in my heart, but not by all that much.

I watched An American in Paris twice yesterday, second time with the commentary on, and Singin' in the Rain today, and each fit its respective day beautifully. I painted a sort of modern jazz thing during the former, did some cooking and cleaning during the latter, pausing the TV to head into the kitchen for a new task from time to time. 

One task was to make simple syrup and squeeze lots of little key limes for the first gimlet of the season. It's a bit cold out, but was sunny all day, and the first buds are appearing on the dogwoods and other early bloomers in the neighborhood. In my backyard, the oregano has started to grow, and some of the mints. So it's nearly summer gimlet time, and I even had cucumber for garnish, but you can't see it in this photo. 

The thing to do is drink the gimlet, then eat the cucumber, made delicious by soaking in lime-enhanced gin. 


Oh, how he sizzled

I discovered William Holden the day he died. I was in the 10th grade. Not a novice to gruesome celebrity deaths, at first I thought this one was just another crazy Hollywood dude gone wrong. I'd heard his name before but never took notice the way I already had with Grant, Cooper, Stewart, Cotten.

The first few movies of Holden's that I saw bored me a little, though it was easy to see that he had a handsome, affable charm. He just wasn't my type. 

Born Yesterday changed my mind first. I didn't appreciate Judy Holliday then as I do now (and I do, a lot!) but Holden's ease and sharp charm grabbed hold of me. 

Holdenhollidayframe
Holdenholliday
And now that I'm so much older and see many movies differently than I once did, I love him in Executive Suite, Picnic, Sabrina (did you know Joseph Cotten played the older Linus role on Broadway? I wish he'd done so in the movie as well, instead of Humphrey Bogart,) even Paris When it Sizzles, though that movie is not nearly as good as it should be. I don't recommend it unless you're being completionist about Holden or about Audrey Hepburn. It is a very pretty movie, to be sure.

My favorite Holden films are from what I believe is a visually captivating era. This is a still taken for Sabrina.

Holdensabrina

That era is known for creating overwhelming sexual tension on film, as well, particularly in the blue collar setting found in Picnic.

Holdennovakpicnic
I love him less in Stalag 17 and Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, but those are good movies I can recommend. When I saw The Moon Is Blue I was disappointed by it (kinda like they were in M*A*S*H,) but it's a piece of film history you may want to look into if you're a student of how the Code was applied in different eras. 

And I still have mixed feelings about Sunset Boulevard. I get why it's so good. But I just don't really enjoy it. However, Holden is so handsome and pathetic in it, the sets are perfect, Gloria Swanson is fairly awesome in her role, and the whole thing builds in a sort of thick intensity. If you can watch biting dramas, you have to see it. It's another important piece of film history.

Holdenswanson
When you think about it, William Holden appeared in quite a few important films. I've actually seen only about half of his films so far; he made 70 or so. There are at least a dozen more I hope to view.  Maybe I'll count them up sometime.

Watch this when you have a quiet moment in which to bite your lip:

 

Watch this, too, if you have time. It's actually the penultimate scene from Executive Suite, carefully worded to suit both your economic view and mine...and grippingly well-delivered.

My type hasn't changed much over the past 30-35 years, but I will say it's matured and better-developed. I don't miss being a youth who didn't understand how to appreciate this:

Holdenlandscape

William Holden was a long-time alcoholic and it did him in at the end, but he has an amazing film legacy for us to appreciate. Check it out in an interesting blog post here.

 


It's always fair weather...

It's been quite awhile since I did a nice long focus on one actor in particular. That's no longer so difficult to find; there are hundreds of blogs these days devoted to the daily worship of dead celebrity, and mine has long since fallen into an abyss of chaotic randomosity. But I've got someone in mind I always meant to talk about, and it's long overdue.

Nearly everyone in my dream lover pantheon is tall, with just a few exceptions. Only a couple so far, I think, are what I'd actually call short—under 5' 9". I just enjoy looking up at a man by a nice 4 or 5 inches or more. And it can be said that a man's height often has bearing on his personality—I'm more attracted to a tall bearing, so there it is. But let's face it;  some of these guys were just really tasty eye candy. How many of them could I say I truly admire? Ten? If so, here's one who definitely belongs on that list, even though his chin would probably rest just above mine.

When you encounter a man who stands tall no matter the length of his frame—no slouching and folding himself up to be less noticeable if he's tall, no anxious Napoleonic giddiness to make up for a lack of height if he isn't—it's usually because he's completely self-aware, at ease with himself, and with you as well. It's impossible to not take notice of such a man. When I was a kid we often referred to that quality as "je ne sais quois," but honestly, often you do know just what that certain something is. It's not mysterious or ineffable. It's an inner strength, expressed externally in this way and that. Sometimes it's expressed in a long beautiful jawline, set just so. 

Kellydinnerjaw
Sometimes it's expressed in his ability to defy gravity by the sheer force of his will.

Kellyairborne
Maybe it's simply that he knows exactly what you want and exactly how to give it to you. 

Kellycamerabreath

There can never be "another Gene Kelly," and that's not something that can be overstated. Whoever the next guy is, who stands tall in a crowd of lanky models, who can throw himself around a room with grace, elegance and humor, who can demonstrate kindness and yearning and bitterness all in the same line of dialogue, well, I hope I have the privilege of watching him work his magic. But standing in the same room or on the same set as this guy here is something none of us will ever get to do, and those who did were in the presence of a unique individual. 

 

 


2011 Classic Movie Film Fest: The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

This is one of those movies I've seens parts of over the years, half hour here and there, but haven't watched straight through since I was a child. As a child, I was captivated by the time period (and of course, still am,) and by Gregory Peck, who was one of my earliest loves. But the movie seemed long and dull in the middle. 

That's probably why I haven't committed to it since then. It must have been one we skipped in the early 80s when my Mom and I attended weekend double features at the Fine Arts Theatre in Fairway, KS. We'd get the quarterly schedule, choose which weekends to attend, and kept that up for a long time until The Gods Must Be Crazy showed up and never left. Anyway. 

Jennifer Jones looks pretty super, but I feel that her scenery chewing is going to wear me out, as it sometimes does. It spoils the look of her mouth, even. I am fairly sympathetic to her character, but can't be as patient with her as I'd like. 

I forgot the flashbacks were so long. Today I'm actually more in the mood to watch Gregory Peck make love in Italy, but that's a different movie.  

And now we're in a war flashback, which reminds me I really ought to get around to Pork Chop Hill someday. 

Where was I? Oh, yes. It occurs to me that when this movie was made, the story-telling technique was new and probably captivating on the big screen. I'm only 50 minutes in, though, and wishing it would move along. But since I know where it goes and vaguely remember how it ends, it's probably difficult for me to be objective.

Yes, I am sympathetic to Betsy, as I said. But good lord, she makes everything in the world about her. I'm never very sympathetic about that. I've seen in my own life how that can damage everyone who tries to love that sort of person. However, unlike so often in real life, we see just a slice of it, and can believe she'll continue to broaden her perspective to include points of view other than her own.

It's a highly cinematic film. It takes a bit of time and head space, but I think it's one of those everyone who appreciates classic movie history should watch at least once. There are a few subplot flaws, but they were just there to support the character growth, anyway. Besides, Gregory Peck is just so fine, you know?

 


2011 Monthly Classic Film Fest: The Doctor Takes a Wife

One of my 8 "movies I've never watched" for January, mentioned two posts ago. It was on TCM a few days ago, and I watched it today. It was okay. I'd give it a 7, but then, I give most things a 7. 

Here's the basic setup: Spinsters Aren't Spinach is a book by June Cameron, played by Loretta Young, who writes that it's more fun to be single than to be chained to a man's kitchen. It's a bestseller, and the publisher looks forward to a sequel. At the beginning of the movie, a misunderstanding occurs between her and another guest at the lodge where she's staying, and she cops a ride to New York with him. He's Dr. Tim Sterling, a "neuropsychiatry" teacher played by Ray Milland, who dismisses her views on the New Woman.

When they stop in Hartford so she can send a telegram, a Just Married sign is mistakenly put on the back of their car, it is seen by the woman running the telegraph office, and from there, hijinks ensue, because, of course, it will appear she's no longer a champion for the spinster if she's given in to the wedded state, and who better to spread gossip than the woman controlling the wire? Meanwhile, the two of them continue to rub each other the wrong way, and have no idea others think they are married. In fact, he's actually engaged to someone else. Of course.

And so forth.

I liked it. It doesn't really bear looking at a 1940 comedy and noting there is no reason for absolutely any of it to have actually occurred. Are the right people likeable and the right people not likeable? Yes, though it's not easy to say why. Did the correct resolution occur? Of course, though, as is typical, it depended on two complete absurdities that were entirely unnecessary. But that's how these movies are. We watch the actors do things we can't or wouldn't or shouldn't do, and then live happily ever after 90 minutes or so later.

Loretta Young knew how to be winning and yet soft; much better at it, I think, than Rosalind Russell. Ray Milland was strong, but could still act silly or woo a woman with his eyes at just the right moment. He was a little bit Eddie Albert and a little bit Cary Grant, til he lost his hair. Frankly, I think he could have worked harder to sound American, but Cary Grant never had to, so why complain?

It was pleasant; a weekend movie sort of movie. 

Next up, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.


2011 Monthly Classic Film Fest, part one

Taking an idea from @4ever Classics, I decided to choose 5-10 movies airing each month this year on TCM or FMC that I probably haven't seen. By which I mean, mostly I have, but too long ago to remember or to have appreciated them. Since I lean hard toward comedies, this may mean watching many more serious dramas this year than usual. But I'm still going to mainly choose films that won't make me feel like I need a dose of lithium. I'm not very entertained by drunken spouses, terminal illness, or men blowing up stuff and not even trying to kiss anybody. No other real criteria except I'm focusing on films I haven't seen which star actors or actresses I particularly enjoy.

So here's the list for January:

The Doctor Takes a Wife (1940)

A man-hating author and a woman-hating doctor have to pretend they're married. Cast: Loretta Young, Ray Milland, Reginald Gardiner. Dir: Alexander Hall. BW-88 mins

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956)

A public relations man must cope with revelations about a wartime romance. Cast: Gregory Peck, Jennifer Jones, Fredric March. Dir: Nunnally Johnson. C-153 mins 

King Of Hearts (1966)

During World War I, a Scottish soldier finds an abandoned town ruled by whimsical lunatics. Cast: Alan Bates, Genevieve Bujold, Jean-Claude Brialy. Dir: Philippe de Broca. C-102 mins

Washington Story (1952)

A reporter in search of government corruption falls for a congressman. Cast: Van Johnson, Patricia Neal, Louis Calhern. Dir: Robert Pirosh. BW-82 mins

The Kissing Bandit (1948)

A timid young man is forced to follow in his father's footsteps as a notorious masked bandit. Cast: Frank Sinatra, Kathryn Grayson, J. Carrol Naish. Dir: Laslo Benedek. C-100 mins

Black Hand (1950)

In turn-of-the-century New York, an Italian seeks vengeance on the mobsters who killed his father. Cast: Gene Kelly, J. Carrol Naish, Teresa Celli. Dir: Richard Thorpe. BW-92 mins

Key To The City (1950)

Two mayors meet and fall in love during a convention in San Francisco. Cast: Clark Gable, Loretta Young, Frank Morgan. Dir: George Sidney. BW-101 mins

Marty (1955)

A lonely butcher finds love despite the opposition of his friends and family. Cast: Ernest Borgnine, Betsy Blair, Esther Minciotti. Dir: Delbert Mann. BW-94 mins