Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: The Movies and the Marvels

This has truly been the craziest year of my life. Misery and depression practically dripped from my fingertips until April when I found out I was moving to the Czech Republic. I went from literally being at my worst possible state to being utterly happy just a few months later. I'm still having trouble reconciling the changes and am still struggling to get a significant writing rhythm going, but life is actually good. Life is actually amazing. I have a lot of projects on the horizon and many of my small dreams are coming true. I can't wait to see what happens in 2013.

With all that was going on in 2012, I didn't have a chance to see that many new or new-to-me movies. I think I probably watched 50% less than I normally do in a given year, but here is the creme de la creme of what I did see.

In no particular order and with no particular agenda:

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012, John Hyams)

Romancing in Thin Air (2012, Johnnie To)

Don't Go Breaking My Heart (2011, Johnnie To)

Life Without Principle (2011, Johnnie To)

Scattered Clouds (1967, Mikio Naruse)

The Chapman Report (1962, George Cukor)

Let's Make Love (1960, George Cukor)

Eva Fools Around (1939, Mac Fric)

Pickup (1951, Hugo Haas)

Cosmopolis (2012, David Cronenberg)

They Drive by Night (1940, Raoul Walsh)

Expendables 2 (2012, Simon West)

Fast Five (2011, Justin Lin) 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Happy Holidays!

 Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen,

I apologize for the radio silence on the blog, but I've been busy working and researching two incredibly fun projects. Regular posting will hopefully resume next year. I sincerely hope you all have a wonderful couple of weeks, full of sparkles, cinema and cinnamon. What are you doing to celebrate? What movies are you watching? Are you going to watch Die Hard on Christmas Eve or Christmas day? I have to know! Me? I'm heading off to Vienna tomorrow for five splendid days and I can't wait. Cheers to you all!


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Tombstone Diaries: What Our Graves Say About Us

I like dead people. No, not that way. Though some dead people are really hot. Have you seen Gene Kelly's wondrous ass? Or Fredric March's chiseled jaw? As a Film Theorist and Memoirist who specializes in studying and writing about classic Hollywood, I spend most of my waking hours thinking, dreaming and analyzing those who have dearly departed from both the silver screen and the living. And you know what? I like it that way. If I had a motto, it would be “out with the new, in with the old.”

I also happen to love visiting cemeteries. I grew up next to a small, 2-3 acre cemetery in southern Oregon and visited it at least twice a week from ages 5-18. My precious 5 lb. Dachshund, Libby, and I would pack a lunch, pick wild flowers and lay them on our favorite graves while sharing a pb & j and some potato chips. I was undoubtedly a weird child, but remembering and spending time with the dead just felt like the right thing to do – kind of like visiting an old folks home to talk to senior citizens or volunteering at a homeless shelter. I wanted to help the dead by remembering and recognizing their past and present existence, only you know, with less chatty interactions.

As an adult, I still enjoy visiting cemeteries for the same reasons, though I don't get to go nearly as often as I'd like. I moved to Chicago when I was eighteen and visited the epic Graceland cemetery a handful of times, traveled to New Orleans and spent an afternoon with some yellow fever victims at the historic St. Louis #1 cemetery and have made a few pit stops at other cemeteries around the US over the past ten or so years.

Though, to be honest, I never put much thought into why I liked visiting cemeteries so much until last weekend.

I recently moved to the Czech Republic. While gearing up for the big move, my husband and I got acquainted with Czech culture by watching classic Czech cinema and discovered an amazing actor named Hugo Haas. He had a very tragic and amazing life that, suffice it to say, is worthy of its own essay, but I had the dubious pleasure of visiting his grave last week at Brno's Jewish cemetery.

The tombstone states in bold letters “Czech Actor Hugo Haas.” He or whomever interred him clearly knew that he was proud to be a Czech citizen and actor and wanted to be remembered that way for all eternity. He had been married for thirty years, lived in the United States and acted and/or directed over fifty films, but he was most proud of being a Czech actor. 

This got me thinking – what do our tombstones say about who we were or what we were like?

Unlike our gorgeous gams, the sound of our laugh or even our tattoos, our tombstones (if we choose to have one, anyway) are the last, and, unfortunately, most physically permanent markers of our being and personality. More often than not, they are simple, classy affairs with a name, date of birth, date of death and who they were married to. Now and then they have a quote or even a photograph of the dead person on the tombstone. Occasionally, they're elaborate, beautiful pieces of architecture that perfectly capture the spirit of the deceased. Sometimes, often times, the simplest of graves actually house the most touching and beautiful stories.

Over the past week or so, I've haunted (haha – get it?!) this website and looked at hundreds of different celebrity graves. The results are rather surprising because most of them are...well, normal. Out of the hundred or so I saved on my desktop, only a few really stood out as unique or timeless. Joan Crawford's grave isn't a well-polished, colorful tribute to her stardom (though it is very clean) and Audrey Hepburn's isn't a coy, fashionably elegant monument to her lady-like demeanor.

Crawford is buried with her long-dead, very boring husband, Alfred Steele, and Hepburn's is just a simple cross. Neither mention their acting achievements or hint at their personality.

Marilyn Monroe's doesn't mention the pain of her existence or honor the legacy she left behind.

Without a word, it simply states that she died too young and she was loved.

Sometimes the graves were just as I expected them to be:

The epitaph reads “Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It's perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we've learned something from yesterday.”

 Elizabeth Taylor's Grave.

That statue is about 10 ft. tall.

Some are (intentionally or unintentionally) quite hilarious:

A few are classy tributes to the artist's legacy:

A handful of them are of the deceptively simple variety:

Hollywood's favorite French lover was married to his lovely wife, Pat, for 44 years. After she died of cancer, he killed himself by overdosing on seconal. He couldn't stand to live without her.

Fabulous actress and dancer Ann Miller was nine months pregnant with her daughter, Mary, when her terrible husband, Reese Milner, got drunk and she “fell” down a flight of stairs. Ann had to give birth to the dead baby with a broken back and she never had any other children. Though she danced with Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and was a fantastic star in her own right, she wanted to be remembered as a mother.

Ms. Dee also had a very tragic life, eerily similar to her contemporary Marilyn Monroe. It was plagued with eating disorders, incest, bad marriages, alcoholism and a fall from stardom. Her grave makes me want to cry.

So, what do you think, dear readers? Have you ever thought about what you want to put on your tombstone? How do you want to be remembered? Are you a Woody Allen type obsessed with your own demise? Or are you like Harold, Maude and me? I think the three of us agree with Auntie Mame on this one - “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death! Live!”

Love your life, love your death and, if you've gotta go out, go out in style:

More awesome tombstones after the break...

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Conflicts of Women: An Interview with Mary Ann Anderson About Her Dear Friend, Ida Lupino

Ida Lupino isn't one for bullshit. She shoots straight, looks you in the eye and lays it all on the line with every acting performance and picture she directs. She is a street smart gal, wise to so-called authority figures (like Warner Bros.) and boldly defiant in the face of adversity.

Oh, she can be sneaky (see Sherman's The Hard Way to take her master class on manipulation), but each and every one her motives and underhanded deeds is in the name of ambition and personal success. Lupino knows what she wants when she wants it and will do anything to get it. There's a reason she acted and directed so many terrific film noirs and dark dramas, like The Hitch-Hiker and On Dangerous Ground -   she could emotionally cut through the shadows and fog without being a showoff and strike you dead in your tracks with a glare as easily as she could with a gun, piece of rope or garage door. 

To put it mildly, she is one for the ages.

It's hard to say what she's known for more these days – her impressive acting resume or her downright miraculous directing credits. Shortly after cinema Frontiers-Woman Dorothy Arzner retired from filmmaking in 1944, Lupino showed up on the directing scene and became the only female filmmaker in the studio era. The only one. Like Clint Eastwood, Don Siegel and Allan Dwan before her, Lupino's films are aesthetically efficient, swift and often deal with controversial social issues in honest and meaningful ways.    

But before we get into that, I'd like to tell you about a lovely woman named Mary Ann Anderson.

Between 1984 and 1995, Anderson was a conservator for Ida Lupino and became her lifelong friend. She is the daughter of soap opera star, Emily McLaughlin, and has spent the majority of her life working around some of Hollywood's most prestigious and talented actors and actresses. Anderson saw Lupino through health problems, house problems, family problems and went to great lengths to cement her legacy in cinema history. This included supervising a restoration of The Hitch-Hiker, making sure Ida received her DGA pension and helping to write her amazing memoir, Ida Lupino: Beyond the Camera.

Anderson is also a terrific writer. The memoir details Lupino's life, career and bravely captures her adventures as Hollywood's sole female filmmaker. Some lady directors are blasé about their presence in the film industry, but Lupino was up front and personal about it and clearly recognized how meaningful her work would be for future generations. Her voice, professionalism and sassy personality shine through the pages and make me wish all the more that I could have met her in person. Ida Lupino: Beyond the Camera is one of the best memoirs I've ever read and I highly recommend you pick-up a copy now. Seriously.

I've been a fan of Lupino's for a really long time and consider her to be one of my role models. I love the films she directed and love her presence on screen. I recently revisited a lot of her movies and felt compelled to track down a copy of her memoir, which led me to e-mail Mary Ann Anderson. She was kind enough to let me interview her about Lupino and the book, which follows below. I've also written two essays to correspond with the interview, one about her films with Raoul Walsh and another about my personal favorite film of hers, The Bigamist. You'll see those on the blog within the next two weeks.

Can you talk about your experience writing the book? 

Writing the book was a lot of fun, especially working closely with Ida; her wit and charm along with her grand story telling made it all possible and very intriguing.  

How much of it was completed when Ida passed away?  

80% was completed before Ida left us... the book does not have as many details towards the end as in the beginning but recently additional notes of Ida's have been discovered that will be in Beyond the Camera II, also you will note that there is a one page chapter: Life Begins at 8:30  - additional pages were left out by the publisher!

What's your favorite memory of Ida?

Meeting Ida for the very first time! This changed my life!

Do you have a particular favorite film of hers? 

High Sierra.

Do you know much about her working relationship with Raoul Walsh?  I know they were fond of each other, but what made them work together so well?

They had similar ideas about filmmaking and had the same favorite leading Actors and Actresses. Raoul had strong feelings for Ida - his wife in  later years, Mary, told me this!

Did Ida want to begin the book talking about being a female filmmaker in Hollywood? I was practically cheering during the first chapter because of how self-aware she was as a director.

Yes, the entire book was designed by Ida; she wanted it to read like a shooting script.

What did Ida think of Dorothy Arzner? Did they ever get a chance to meet?

Ida respected Dorothy and they were friends but the had only met on a few occasions - industry parties. They were very complimentary to each other about their work.

Can you talk about Ida's directing methods? The book talks about her feminine presence on set, but I'd like to know more about her artistic process. Did she storyboard? Rehearse a lot? That sort of thing. 

Ida studied each script and would go onto the set alone and plan out her set-ups. So, on the first day of shooting Ida was totally prepared and knew what shots she wanted. This saved time in production costs and overtime hours for the actors.

How do you think Ida would feel about contemporary Hollywood's view of women?

Wow, what a question! I can just hear her... Ida would like some of Hollywood's view but loathe others.  She did not consider herself a feminist - she felt "we are all filmmakers our sex should not make a difference!"   

Did she ever talk about her hopes for future female filmmakers?

Ida wanted to see more women in filmmaking - she would be pleased that there are more woman directors today but would not like the subject matter of most films of today. If Ida was still here she would like Lifetime short films dealing with conflicts of women!

Do you happen to know if there are any plans to release or restore more of her work? I'd love to see a proper DVD of The Bigamist, for instance.

The Hitch-Hiker is due to be released in March 2013 for the 60th Anniversary of the release of the film. Several of Ida's films have [also] been released by Warners. There are several DVD's of Ida's Filmakers features, too!

Are you still in contact with Bridget (Ida's estranged daughter)? I know their relationship was strained, to say the least. 

No, I am no longer in contact with Bridget!

What are you working on these days? Any new books or projects on the horizon? 

Yes, Beyond the Camera II and The Hitch-Hiker Book.

Many thanks and hugs to Mary Ann Anderson for this wonderful interview.

*All images courtesy of Mary Ann Anderson

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Doors Made Me Do It: Notes on They Drive by Night

This blog is going to be Ida Lupino-themed for the rest of the month. I love that lady with all my heart and can't wait to share what I have planned.

To whet your appetite, I decided to try something new and write down every random thought I had while watching They Drive by Night. I don't usually take notes because it distracts me from watching movies, but I've literally watched the damn thing five times in the last two weeks and didn't think note-taking would be such a bad thing the fifth time around. Over the course of making this post, I realized that Lupino's Lana Carlsen is now one of my very favorite female characters. You will find out more about that very soon, but I hope my notes give some hints as to why I think she's so great.

They Drive by Night is a very odd, wonderful movie that's both incredibly dark and noir-ish in places and bust-a-gut funny in others. I can't think of another movie that features both someone like Roscoe Karns being hilarious at every possible turn and someone like Ida Lupino who dramatically sweeps through portions like a tsunami in almost the very next scene. I love They Drive by Night dearly.

FYI, these notes are chock-full of spoilers and written as if you know what the hell is going on in the movie. So, if you haven't seen it, I don't know if this post is for you. If you have seen it, I hope you enjoy the notes and pretty screengrabs. 

What's your favorite Raoul Walsh movie?

Man, Jerry Wald was awesome. I should write an essay about him.
George Raft was such a dick.

$12.90 for a tank of gas? Whoa.
Aw, Bogie. How old was he here? *calculates* 41.

I wonder if Jake's dad talks to other truckers like that.
Forget the fruit, I'll settle for a cup of American coffee. 
Roscoe Karns is a national treasure. I could watch him play pinball all day.
People who pick their teeth in public are gross.
Ann Sheridan! Sass and class in one wartime bundle.

Waitress uniforms were so much snazzier back then.
That guy looks like Randolph Scott from behind.
Sam Jaffe look alike.
“All right, that's enough of the x-ray treatment.”
“Don't get me wrong sister, all you make me think about is how much I'd like to be with my wife.”

Go, Bogie, Go!

I wonder how much $300 in 1940 currency is in 2012 currency.
I really want to punch someone.
I wonder if Ida Lupino thought of this scene when she was making The Hitch-Hiker.

Truckers don't seem to understand the gravity of sexual harassment in the workplace.
“You're going to knock your teeth out chattering if we don't get something hot into ya.”

Move those hips, Roscoe.
That dude is going to die soon and it will be sad.
Clouzot stole a lot from this movie for Wages of Fear.
Walsh directed the shit out of the truck scenes.
Aw, he died.

Ya know, now that I think about it, the beginning of this movie is eerily similar to Only Angels Have Wings, except in that movie Rita Hayworth doesn't murder Richard Barthelmess and there's no jolly musical number to lift our spirits after the first person dies.
All landladies should be that nice.
George Raft doesn't have a clue about women. Ann Sheridan should just move in with Bogie and his wife William Moulton Marston style. Or, better yet, Bogie should leave his wife and move in with Ida and Ann.

That is great wallpaper.
What a creep.

I know Ann Sheridan was a redhead, but she has the cinematic aura of a blonde.
I need to find some combs like that. Wow, it literally took her 30 seconds to do her hair.
Ew! George Raft morning breath.
That fella should eat more watermelon.
Oh, hey, look, I'm a short guy and I need to prove my masculinity by beating up this fella who is a foot taller than I am.
It's a crime that Ida Lupino doesn't show up until 30 minutes in.
What a fantastic dress and hat.
I don't think I could be married to Alan Hale either. He would be a good boss, though.

I really want to punch someone.
Ida sticking her leg out like that explains everything about her character. It's no rich gal Colbert gam display, it's more like a poor dame trying to make good and show off. Reminds me of Joan Crawford's Crystal Allen. 
“That's just like Lana, right on the trigger every time.” And, that, my friends, is the perfect way to describe Ida Lupino.
You are not James Cagney. Stop it.

Why, Ida, why?!

Ya know, if he had told her RIGHT THEN that he was interested in another woman, this movie would be a whole lot less interesting.

I just noticed what George Raft is wearing – a long sleeved shirt underneath a collared shirt? Let alone not owning a pair of pants with a crease in them. Tsk tsk.
Bogie always seems to be at the bottom.

I want those dog statues.

Loyal is Bogie's middle name. I love the way he says “Pearl.”
I wish I could make that much money in five minutes.

Cassie doesn't seem like a name that would be popular in 1940.
What a strange split screen. Noir pillow talk.
Pull over Bogie, just pull over!
That's right up there with Angel Face for one of the best car crashes in cinema. Poor pears.
Watching Ida plot and scheme is a great joy. She purrs like a rattlesnake.
Handsome Handless Humphrey.
Bogie is finally at the top of the frame.

Why doesn't he just invite Ann Sheridan to the party?
Sexy fun time.
He would be an incredibly frustrating person to live with.
Lana Carlsen is the film noir version of Crawford's Sadie McKee. 
Don't worry Roscoe, I would probably do that even if I was sober.

But I can fix it.
Bwhahaha. I don't like to see Alan Hale die, but I love to see Ida Lupino go after what she wants.
No more coffee for you.
You are no Greek God, George.
You're too good for him, Ida. He doesn't like aggressive women.
I can't think of a classic Hollywood actress who was ever in the same outfit twice. Not that she doesn't look absolutely smashing. 
Snap went Ida's sanity.
What guy wouldn't love to hear that?

She totally would have gotten away with it if she had kept her mouth shut.
What a pretty prison dress.
Poor Ida. She set her love up in an ideal life position and he shared it with someone else. Ungrateful wretch. In reality, Ann is far more manipulative than Ida. Just wait 10 more minutes to see.
God damn, she can play unhinged really well.
“The doors made me do it!”
Yeah, let's keep everything Ida set-up and made happen without appreciating or thanking her at all and live happily ever after.

Bottom line: Don't pull others out of the gutter and expect anything in return.