Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I recommend spending Christmas with the Ambersons


Of all the films that seem to me most quintessentially Christmas movies, The Magnificent Ambersons is the least obviously relevant to the festive season.
True, it does feature charming, and beautifully realised, studio-shot sequences of jingle bells and dashing through the snow, but it is not set at Christmastime, nor does it abound in the yuletide cheer that radiates from On Moonlight Bay, Holiday Affair or Bell, Book and Candle. It is as moving as It's a Wonderful Life, but less effusive, and perhaps a little less certain that every story can end happily if we only wish it so.
And yet, at that more thoughtful hour, at the end of the day, with the presents long opened, the wine all drunk, the fire only faintly glowing, and not a creature stirring all through the house, when our thoughts drift to Christmases past, absent friends and, perhaps, dreams unfulfilled... then there can be no better cinematic accompaniment to our ruminations than this, the most humane and moving film Orson Welles ever made.
.
It is not, let me rush to stress, a morose film. There are powerfully moving passages, for sure, but much of it is light; it's very funny in parts, and full of charming social detail. But at the same time, in its very simplicity and reticence it finds its way to a very deep place, and says more about the bonds of family, of the loves we strive for and define ourselves by, and of the passing of the years, than any other film I know.
It is a story about things ending, and of the need to make our peace with time, the enemy we cannot possibly outwit. And it speaks, consolingly but not sentimentally, of our need, like the effigy atop Larkin's Arundel Tomb, "to prove our almost-instinct almost-true: what will survive of us is love."
.
At one time it was the last film in the world to need trumpeting. It was almost Citizen Kane, not as precocious perhaps, but, except for the effects of studio interference, every bit as good.
But it rarely troubles the 100-best lists these days, due in part to the inevitable, lazily iconoclastic backlash against Kane itself, now routinely punished for the crime of being so long hailed the best film ever, and in retaliation against its appropriation as shorthand by critics who refuse to look beyond the milestones of cinema history. (A couple of years ago British film critic Chris Tookey wrote of an already forgotten film called There Will Be Blood that it “even surpasses the greatness of Citizen Kane”! In what department?) And as Kane's stock fell, so did Touch of Evil's rise, because it’s genre and there’s stranglings and shootings and corruption and you don’t have to think much about it.
While all this was happening, Ambersons seemed to just fall away, like melting snow, or memories of a childhood Christmas.
Personally, I like Kane and Evil very much (and also The Stranger, still underrated) - but my favourite Welles by a wide margin remains Ambersons. Kane is an obvious tour de force, a technical marvel and a work of great brio, but in its striving for profundity it is clearly a young man's film. Ambersons is a quieter work in its mechanics, but as drama it's streets ahead.
The film is based on a book by Booth Tarkington, whom I have never read, but who seems to specialise in nostalgia Americana: he also wrote the Penrod stories, on which were based those two delightful Doris Day movies On Moonlight Bay and By the Light of the Silvery Moon.
As befits the subject, Welles’s work as director is never ostentatious or distractingly showy; it is a far more integrated job of work than Kane, that at all times allows the drama to lead the presentation. (Though when the moment does call for the grand effect, Welles pulls off some of his most impressive: witness the reverse tracking shot through several doorways.)
Welles wrote, directed and narrates the film but does not appear, allowing the other members of his Mercury players their chance to shine, which they certainly do.
Agnes Moorehead was never better. I hate to think what this woman could have done in movies and never got to show us. She's like an exposed electric wire one minute, cracked china the next; just amazing. This is my favourite Joseph Cotten performance too (with the possible exception of his work in that other great non-Christmas Christmas movie Portrait of Jennie: oh what a double-bill they make!): praise indeed for that most reliable of actors.
And there are striking contributions too from a very young Anne Baxter and from Tim Holt, a likeable actor who, in a long and busy career, never gave a performance this good again.
.
True, the film was grievously compromised by a frankly vengeful RKO who, fed up that their much ballyhooed boy wonder had turned into a white elephant almost overnight, hacked at the concluding reels, took out half an hour and re-shot a new, hurried finale. But the amazing thing is that it still works as well as it does. The new bits are obvious if you look for them, but not really obtrusive if you don’t (they were supervised by Robert Wise, the film’s editor and himself a stylish and intelligent director). At most one is aware of an unwise acceleration to the final scenes, but the first hour is sublime.
.
No other film has achieved (or perhaps sought) its texture. It starts like a documentary and slowly segues into drama, in which an entire time and place, its rise and fall, is mirrored in the rise and fall of one family, whose members we are carefully introduced to and whose paths we follow in tandem.
By the time it has established all of its major themes and characters it has settled into a unique rhythm that is warm, elegiac, delicate in the extreme, but also poignant, cinematically very effective, and quite stunning in its careful but never unnecessary attention to historical detail.
It may be possible, but mistaken, to dismiss the film as an insufficiency of drama in a surfeit of detail. This is because Welles adopts the very opposite approach to most dramatists, who pride themselves on creating human situations that ring true in any surroundings and convey themselves to us with the minimum of effort and adjustment. But the personal dramas here are indivisible from their location and their moment (and so carefully and beautifully are the latter evoked, the film seems often almost eerily like a vanished age come to life). Somehow it uses its specificity of setting and circumstance to reveal its essential truths all the more potently; it reminds us that the universe cares nothing for the complexity and intensity of our lived moments: all we are is the connections we make, and eventually we, and everything we know and see and experience, will be forgotten utterly.
.
Welles achieves this, paradoxically it might seem, by deliberately concentrating on the tiny details rather than the large. His opening monologue pinpoints both theme and era exactly by the seemingly irrelevant distraction of listing various changes in men’s fashion against a montage of Joseph Cotten trying on the different items in front of a mirror.
The whole film is built around the same understanding: that a change as seemingly mundane as the transition from horses to automobiles is in fact one that transforms everything and everyone it touches, that instantly ends one age and starts another, and cuts off the former from all possibility of recall. It is by concentrating on the small details that the larger themes come into focus.
Thus neither narrative nor backdrop are appendage to or metaphor for the other, rather they are two perfectly integrated halves of the same story.
There is a sad wisdom here, never stated outright but potently conveyed all the same. The story of the Ambersons themselves seems inevitable, somehow, in the context of the wider setting Welles evokes for them to reside in.
.
I usually try to find time around Christmas for this wise, generous-hearted, rueful little film, and every year, as I get older, it seems to have more to tell me. Great drama, as Hemingway told us, is a matter of truth. The Magnificent Ambersons, never harsh or bitter or neglectful of drama's obligation to enchant, is nonetheless one of the truest films I have ever seen.
.
(A much shorter version of this was originally posted in a different form in March 2008)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Leslie Nielsen: Them's the breaks


Sad to hear of the death of Leslie Nielsen, an actor I always enjoy watching, whether it's in Forbidden Planet or The Poseidon Adventure or Prom Night or The Naked Gun or Columbo.
.
His career tells an interesting story about Hollywood, and what actors call 'the breaks', and a nice story at that.
We only tend to notice the breaks when they go against someone: the star that never made it, the poor mug who made it once and never clawed their way back, the silent legend killed by the microphone, or what seems to us the patent absurdity that such charismatic legends as Lugosi, or Buster Keaton, or Louise Brooks never got their second chance.
Them's the breaks, kid, them's the breaks.
.
But then you look at Nielsen.
Imagine going up to Nielsen in the mid-seventies, when he was guesting in every tv show under the sun, just making a living but hardly a face too many people would be able to instantly put a name to.
Imagine telling that guy that his obituary will be headline news all over the world, that thousands of movie fans will feel the loss, that tributes will spring up listing favourite moments from his films, or even, indeed, the simple fact that still to come in his career will be several huge box-office hits in which he will be lead star and principal attraction. And strangest of all, almost all of those obituaries will call him a comedian.
How did this happen? Just the breaks.
.
Look again at Airplane.
Nielsen is cast as the doctor in Airplane for the same reason that Lloyd Bridges and Robert Stack and Peter Graves are there: because of their reputation for slightly stolid seriousness in melodrama and disaster movies.
Nielsen's first appearance in the film is interesting in this regard. The crew are looking for a doctor among the passengers, and we cut to Nielsen for the first time, who says he is a doctor. The sudden cut to his character is not really meant to announce the arrival of a well-known actor; that it's Nielsen is at best a sort of in-joke for film buffs. The main purpose is to deliver a joke: he has a stethoscope around his neck.
But to audiences today the abruptness of the cut seems to say here comes Leslie Nielsen, with precisely that buzz of excitement that accompanies our first glimpse of Orson Welles in The Third Man. The film cranks up a gear - great, says the audience, here comes Leslie Nielsen.
His presence announces comedy, where it was intended to announce, if anything, authenticity. The stethoscope, and the fact that it is joke, tends not to be noticed at all. All we see is that absurdly handsome face, and what now seems like its obvious promise of masterfully delivered laughs.
.
And masterfully deliver laughs is precisely what he goes on to do. He cemented this new reputation with the various incarnations of Frank Drebin and never looked back. Now he's a comedian, and that very deadpan quality that characterised his straight work becomes his trademark in comedy. He gets to play a live action Mr Magoo; he gets to play Dracula for Mel Brooks. No matter how bad the film is, he's always value, and he's lovable; one of those actors we think of as pals rather than idols. He gets to spend the last twenty years of his professional life as a beloved star, as a face everyone can instantly put a name to.
And he gets to be a loss that thousands of film fans feel.
Them's the breaks.
.
Leslie Nielsen, 1926 - 2010

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Which is the more unlikely: “Freddy Got Fingered” is now ten years old, made a profit, or may be released in a Director's Cut?


To my mind, they all sound equally impossible, but all three, dear reader, are true.
.
Dear reader! Ha!
In my continuing quest to present posts of interest to as few people as possible, I think I may have struck gold with this one.
Is there even a hypothetical possibility that anybody with Movietone News on their blogroll has the least interest in a post on Freddy Got Fingered? Is anything less likely? Is anyone even still reading now? Even I may not bother reading it all the way to the end.
.
Freddy Got Fingered is not only my guiltiest guilty passion, it's the guiltiest guilty passion anyone's had ever, easily proved when the two concepts of 'guilt' and 'passion' are correlated objectively using graph paper and a lead ball on a string.
But the fact is I was fascinated by Tom Green in his heyday and must have seen this film a couple of dozen times. Was it really ten years ago? Apparently so, but how hard to believe. If there's one thing Freddy Got Fingered was never intended to be it's ten years old. This is a film that runs on sheer nowness. Films like this do not age like wine, they embalm themselves. It will never truly find a fresh audience: only those who were there, and innocent bystanders. I still watch it, on the increasingly rare occasions my wife lets me, and I can quote whole stretches of the dialogue. (Which is not to say that I do: just one of the many things that sets me apart from people who like Monty Python's Flying Circus.) I used to have the poster for it on my wall, but it got torn when I first moved in with the little lady I married. To this day, she insists she did it accidentally.
.
I don't think it's good, as such, but then I never did. I found it compulsive. And there was something - and nothing about me is more mysterious to my better half - that I found equally magnetic about Green, who had something that can't actually be called comic invention but was, for all that, very definitely something, and something that his peers and progeny lack to a man. In a funny sort of way it was charm, a palpable idiot charm, and that combustible mix of self-deprecation and extreme confidence that you see in someone who is riding a wave of adoration in a job the nature of which (unlike that of pop star, say) prohibits the explicit acknowledgment of it. (Comedians are supposed to be humble. Only in the last few years has civilisation degraded so far, and the balance of power between society and its minstrels so shifted, that we allow comedians to look and behave like rock stars. That preening turd Russell Brand, for instance.)
The comedian needs to be laughed at, and so coolness is fatal. Peter Sellers never recovered from a taste of it, and that's why he was never able to revive his career after it was withdrawn. You see the same thing when Woody Allen's on the Dick Cavett Show in the early seventies, and groupies are yelling from the balcony: this tension between the nerdish persona and the fact that everyone knows that really you're the coolest thing of the moment. (Allen got the balance more or less right - though Annie Hall now seems an unwarrantedly arrogant film - but readjustment when the spotlight moves on can be understandably hard, the main reason, I really do think, for the crotchetiness of Allen's latter work.)
The same thing happened to Green, who more or less disappeared after this film was released. Green, though his persona was that of the post-adolescent dropout goofball, would go on chat shows around this time, and see girls with placards calling him the sexiest man alive. Then he got to marry Drew Barrymore, which I bet he still finds hard to believe: a case of Mr Smith not only going to Washington but becoming president too. And then Twentieth Century Fox came to him and said: "Would you like to star in your own movie? Tell you what - why not write and direct it as well!"
The extraordinary confidence he must have felt at this time was poured into this astonishingly hubristic film that contains not a drop of wit but pulses with manic energy, and is so unusual that at times it feels more like an art house movie than a big studio star vehicle. Imagine watching it with no idea of who Green is - think of it purely as a narrative about a young man who wants to be a cartoonist - and you'll see what I mean. It's a uniquely strange piece of work, for all its nods to the American gross-out tradition, and to Green's own work on tv. It also has real momentum, and each scene is different from the last, revolving around some new, separate idea.
The best scene for me, where all the threads come together in joyous concert, is the bit where he takes Marisa Coughlan to the fancy restaurant -a bravura sequence from first to last, buzzing with incompatible comic ideas and ending in an orgy of slapstick so unjustified by the narrative as to play closer to Bunuel than American Pie. I'm not saying any of this is intended, or that any of it is done with great style. But even if you hated it more than any film you ever saw, of all the insults you could fling, you know that 'boring' is the least likely one to stick. Most bad comedy films just run out of energy and lie there. Freddy never runs out of energy. It has too much. It's overlong, and there's way too much in it, but it's never dull, from the exhilarating opening titles, with Green skateboarding through a shopping mall to the accompaniment of the Sex Pistols' 'Problems' to the finale, as he and his father return from their Pakistan hostage ordeal and, among the placards greeting them at the airport, is one that reads WHEN THE FUCK IS THIS MOVIE GOING TO END?
.
Nobody thought it would do badly; indeed, among the many fascinating extra features on the DVD is a live soundtrack of the audience at the film's premiere, cheering, whooping with delight and screaming with laughter.
But, as we all know, the film was rleased just as that coolness bubble burst, and it got near-universally bad reviews and became the film that defined Hollywood comic excess. Overnight, Green turned from a superstar to a pariah.
Like everything else in his career to that point, the moment was somewhat overplayed. Not every review was a pan: it actually got a rave from the New York Times, and an imdb contributor made the following valuable observations:
.
This movie, although not solid in plot, is that of comical genius. People are too easily offended by the actions of Tom Green, not able to see the comical genius this movie has. Breaking barriers is comedy, and that is exactly what Tom Green does in this film. The things he does, from jerking off a horse, to pretending to be a deep sea diver are all great ways to get the point across, this movie is something different. People who have any sense of moral value or a tendency to vomit should stay away, but who has moral values anymore? In the end this movie is nothing more then an inspired way of making me laugh. The movie is funny enough as it is sober, I however would suggest you see it stoned or drunk off your ass.
.
Green wearing his cheese helmet. What do you mean, you haven't seen the film and you don't know what I'm talking about?

And that, I thought, was that.
But it seems it's not just me that still gets it down from the shelf when their wife is at her Italian class. The film has a real following, as Green discovered on his recent stand up tour, where fans would yell for him to 'do the Backwards Man', or sing 'Daddy, do you want some sausages?'

Green picked up the story in a Vanity Fair interview this January:

And everybody in the place started cheering wildly. Like they knew exactly what the line was from. And I’m like, “Wait a minute, I thought this movie was supposed to have bombed?” I didn’t realize it until recently, but it’s developed a real cult following. I mean, I knew there were people who liked it, I just didn’t realize the extent... So I did the song and everybody started to cheer. And it was really sort of fun, because I realized that people do respond to the movie. You know what I mean? They get it... I actually want to re-release it as a director’s cut. This was the first time I’d ever directed a movie. And when you do that, a studio brings in focus groups and they make changes to it. They’re like, “You’ve got to shorten it, make it exactly 89 minutes long.” So it ends up being not exactly what you intended. I called the studio and said, “I’ve been out there doing standup, and literally hundreds of kids are coming out with their DVD copies of the movie, screaming out their favorite lines. I want to do a director’s cut.” They did some research and it turns out the thing has done extremely well on DVD. They didn’t even seem to know. It’s actually made a profit, which is more than can be said for most movies that come out of Hollywood.

Oh poster, I remember you...

Though it's hard indeed to watch the film and imagine that the studio compromised Green's artistic freedom in any way whatsoever - if any film ever screamed director's cut it was Freddy - I'm proud to say I contributed to the fact that it went into profit. How much would I like to see a newly edited version? Let's just say if they released a director's cut of this, and a director's cut of The Magnificent Ambersons, and for some reason I was only allowed to see one of them... well, let's just hope that never happens, that's all.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

I no longer dig the sixties, but I still love Rita Tushingham


As a teenager I was fully into the whole swinging sixties thing; these days it bores me to tears.
.
The spectacle of Britain trying to be the pop-cultural touchstone of the world is always pretty laughable, and if the sixties version seems any less ludicrous than the shameless Blair-era remake that might simply be down to how much water has passed between it and us. The pretensions of sixties British culture may retain a certain naive charm, but it's a charm that's largely lost on me, now.
I appreciate this puts me in the minority in an age when kids learn about the Beatles in school, but there it is.
.
But one passion still burns fierce from my one-time love of all things sixties: Rita Tushingham.
Firstly, she's great-looking. Rita was one of the defining faces of 1960s Britain, as surely as Twiggy (thin model with cockney accent) or George Best (pissed footballer). In her relatively few years as a major movie star she became an icon both of the social-realist or ‘kitchen sink’ movies of the late fifties and early sixties, and then, quite separately, of the freewheeling, ‘Swinging London’ films that replaced them. .

Her unpretentious style, carefree attitude and striking looks – far from conventionally pretty but undeniably magnetic, with straight, dark hair and eyes huge and expressive enough to drown sailors in - seemed to chime exactly with the mood of the times. But when the international attention Britain had enjoyed in the sixties receded she faded from prominence too, though in truth she was far from unique in that.
It is an odd but possibly telling fact that virtually none of the most iconic stars of the sixties extended their careers successfully into the seventies (the one exception, perhaps, being Michael Caine, who deliberately subdued his more idiosyncratic characteristics in a string of international package-deal movies and had to wait forty years for roles as good as the ones he started out in). Others, like Peter O’Toole, Richard Harris and Albert Finney seemed to graduate almost immediately to elder statesman status, working prominently but only occasionally, while the most celebrated faces, the ones that dominated the magazine covers and most overtly defined the look and attitude of their era – Terence Stamp, Julie Christie, Alan Bates - seemed almost to disappear. Rita belongs in this latter category.
Perhaps they embodied their moment so perfectly that they had no real place in any other: certainly their images remain instantly recognisable visual indicators of their decade. Or perhaps the kind of photogeneity that defines zeitgeists was ultimately all that Stamp, say, had to offer in the first place. (Only a suggestion, you understand...) But Rita was different. As well as great looking, she was a compulsively watchable actress, as much cursed as blessed with fleeting Sunday supplement appeal.
. On the face of it, she may have seemed unlikely material for Cool Britannia status. Where most previous British star actresses had emerged from the Rank charm school, or somewhere with a very similar postcode, with unrelaxing beauty and speaking clock diction, Tushingham was exactly as she appeared: a slightly gangly Liverpudlian teenager, a stranger both to drama school and beauty school, trained neither in deportment nor elocution, who still spoke in the lilting accent of her home town.
She was a greengrocer’s daughter, who had more or less stumbled upon her aptitude for drama in convent school plays. On leaving school she took roles with the Liverpool Playhouse, and was just eighteen when she appeared as Jo, the troubled teenager and unmarried mother in Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey (1960), a hauntingly beautiful performance in a comparable film, with Dora Bryan equally impressive as her feckless mother.
.
The film was ground-breaking in several ways, with its unflinching focus on such hitherto unmentioned issues as single motherhood, divorce, adultery and homosexuality, and it cemented a new attitude that had been bubbling for a year or two in British movies, helping to make room for Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and Billy Liar and A Kind of Loving. But while the majority of these films centred around alienated, frustrated - and basically annoying - male characters, A Taste of Honey was unusual in that its central character was a young girl, through whose eyes the audience experienced the unfolding drama. And there was a sincerity and worthiness to her story that Billy Liar, for all its wit and sharp observation, could never match. The film is not merely groundbreaking; it's genuinely moving, and chief among its attractions was and remains the astonishing freshness and authenticity of Tushingham’s performance, which deservedly earned her the BAFTA for best newcomer and propelled her to the front rank of British screen performers.
. The same talent she brought to Honey was just as strongly in evidence in her subsequent performances in The Leather Boys (1964), another unusually frank treatment of homosexuality, set among London’s motorcycle gangs, and the more lyrical Girl With Green Eyes (1964, above and below), which casts her as a naïve, rural girl who falls for an older man (Peter Finch). In both films, Tushingham’s performances are as assured as her debut - funny, touching, and always unerringly truthful.
.But by the time it was released the fashion in British movies was turning away from kitchen sink realism in favour of something rather more upbeat. Responsibility for that rests largely with the entirely unexpected international success of Tom Jones (1963) a film invariably described as a 'rollicking period romp', though if you don't find it remotely rollicking I won't tell on you if you don't tell on me. Albert Finney was now the face of a more carefree sixties-chic, as movies swapped social realism for a somewhat desperate exuberance. James Bond played his part too – the first of the series, Doctor No, came out in in 1962, with From Russia With Love and Goldfinger following in quick succession.
Suddenly to be English was to be cool (they said, so we believed), all eyes were on Carnaby Street and the King’s Road (they claimed, and thus it was so), and London was swinging (an elusive talent for any city, and a concept that slips through the fingers like water in the effort of definition, but one which was rarely interrogated, then or now). In consequence, virtually all the major American movie studios rushed to open London offices, and huge amounts of Hollywood money was injected into British film production, in the certainty that this was where the big hits were going to be coming from. .
Though there had always been an eminently exportable kind of English style, it had been dispensed in the sober tweeds and discreet hipflasks of Herbert Marshall, Leslie Howard, George Arliss. The thing that was new about the 1960s version was its focus on a romanticised version of working class modes and lifestyles, and the celebration (and exaggeration) of an unpolished national specificity that the studios had hitherto sought to iron out. Imperfect beauty, regional accents, gawkiness and eccentricity were all in. So Rita, who might easily have seemed hopelessly out of step in this new and glossier cinema, in so many ways antithetical to the one in which she had risen to prominence, found herself equally at a home as a quirky leading actress and alternative style icon.
And it was in this idiom that she gave her other most defining performance: as the gauche provincial girl arriving in London in Richard Lester’s comedy The Knack (1965, below), alongside Ray Brooks and Michael Crawford.

Her performance and image in this film – tweed-capped and dark-mascaraed, clutching a boutique carrier bag and a copy of Honey magazine, struggling with malevolent left luggage lockers and automatic passport photobooths, or travelling through the London streets in a double bed – is as indelible a milestone of British cinema as Jo's melancholy passage through sooty, rainy Salford. The relentlessly frenetic trendiness of the film itself has dated it more than the simple sincerity of Honey, but for those with a taste for these kinds of sixties trifles it is at least among the most energetic and ingratiating.
.
For Rita, it seemed like yer actual international stardom was beckoning, especially when she was immediately cast in a small but central role in David Lean’s epically epic epic Doctor Zhivago (1965). But those big British hits, so confidently predicted in the wake of Tom Jones, were proving stubbornly unwilling to materialise, while costly flops poured forth like they were going out fashion, which of course they were. Worldwide interest began to wane, the glitz tarnished, and one by one, the Hollywood studios pulled out of town.
And with them, sadly, went Rita Tushingham’s first flush of fame as a major British star. She continued to appear in low-key roles in low-key films, always giving excellent, meticulously convincing performances, and remains busily at work today, even though she never quite achieved the enduring star status deserving of her exceptional talent and undeniable screen presence.
. In retrospect, a clear sense of desperation hangs over Smashing Time (1967, above and below), a raucous swinging sixties comedy musical, scripted by George Melly, with Rita and her Girl With Green Eyes co-star Lynne Redgrave as two North Country girls touring Swinging London and marvelling at the wonderful sights they encounter, several of which inspire them to burst into brash, untrained song. (Including, of course, Carnaby Street: “The street that is part of the beat that is part of the scene!”) There's even a custard pie fight.
Though certainly eager to please, the film was not a hit, and its boisterousness did not disguise the clarity with which it called time on its era.
For some this came not a moment too soon, as Rita discovered when she and Redgrave accompanied the film to the 1966 Acapulco Film Festival (is there still an Acapulco film festival, by the way?):
"Joan Crawford hauled us over the coals for wearing our Carnaby Street mini-skirts. She took one look at us and said, 'You are a disgrace to the film industry.' We asked why. 'Because,' she said, 'you are not wearing long dresses.' We turned around and walked off, giggling."
.
Whether you love all this sixties stuff or hate it, Rita is well worth a second look. Unlike so much else that is typical of that unique moment in British cultural history, her performances, especially in A Taste of Honey, seem hardly to have dated at all.
.
(All the photos in this post, the anecdote about Joan Crawford, and a whole load of other great stuff on Rita, can be found here.)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Goodnight, sweet fool


Don your black cloth caps, gentlemen, for yesterday Norman Wisdom was taken from us.
.
In truth, he had been lost to us for some time, trapped in the embrace of that skulking coward Alzheimer's. His last few years were spent in a nursing home on his beloved Isle of Man where, it is said, he would watch his old movies but no longer recognise himself in them. (He did still enjoy them, though - which restores the smile somewhat.)
.
Lest it need be said: Norman was a great screen clown, though I'll admit that the films themselves were often self-destructively undisciplined. Had he been around in the thirties I think it would have been a very different story. In the fifties and sixties the film world had simply forgotten how to do this sort of thing, and as with the Martin and Lewis films, the talent is there but the handling is wrong.
American readers, I fear, will hardly recognise the name (except for Ivan, that is) though in his day he packed out Broadway, and received an oscar nomination for The Night They Raided Minsky's. In Britain he was loved by nobody but the public, who adored him, spurring the critics on to greater and greater levels of invective and dismissal.
He was easy to resent: they hated especially the gear changes in his work, between slapstick clown, whose physical idiocy was perfectly matched by a vast repertoire of ear-splitting shrieks, and sentimental balladeer, prone to sudden bursts of inky sincerity in self-penned serenades to romantic or social failure, delivered in an almost parodyingly pitch-perfect croon. It was obvious, too, that both personae were equally unreal, and that a third Norman lay behind: a steely professional, enormously ambitious and enormously sure of himself.
His fans, especially children, saw or cared for none of this, however. They were just delighted to be able to go to the pictures and enjoy the continuing adventures of the greatest British screen imbecile since George Formby, and there is no reason to think that Chaplin and Stan Laurel were not entirely sincere in their praise of him. He was brilliant at what he did.
.
His screen character is the familiar, Formbyesque little man, trying to make something of himself and enduring numerous setbacks before triumphing, and falling somewhat improbably into the arms of the perky leading lady, at fade-out. His funniest trait, and the one with the strongest claim to being uniquely his, is his exaggerated obtuseness in the face of impending embarrassment, exacerbated by his complete inability to recognise class signals or signs of frustration in others. Relentlessly proletariat and crass, yet oblivious of the class system, he assumes instant and extreme familiarity with everyone he encounters. Classic examples include his mistaking his new boss for a fellow employee in Trouble In Store and encouraging him to raid his own drinks cabinet and help himself to his own cigars while Norman inanely keeps watch, the excruciating train journey in One Good Turn where he simply will not take the hint that his upper middle class fellow passengers do not want to help pass the time with a sing-song, or are likely to be amused by his belching, and the wonderful sequence in Up In The World when, as the new window cleaner at a stately home, he mistakes one of m'lady's soirees for the staff canteen, hands out pieces of cake to the distinguished guests and finishes with a raucous drum solo.
.
Unfortunately, as his fans aged with him, new generations did not take on the mantle of adoration, and so critics were not forced into reassessment as they were with the Carry On films. Though the man himself had been grudgingly afforded British institution status many years back, no effort has been made to reappraise, or even distinguish between the films.
The tendency to view all of his films as one big indivisible lump is shared as much by their fans as their detractors. Even Wisdom himself, when I asked him what his own favourites were, tended to rank them more in terms of the memories they evoked, or their relative box-office performance (though in truth, virtually all of them were copper-bottomed smash hits). When I offered Up In The World as my personal choice, he asked - many, many years before the onset of his memory problems - "was that the one where I drive a little toy car?" (Nope - that was the much inferior, excessively sentimental One Good Turn.)
.
Most of his films have something to make them worth watching, but clear distinctions can certainly be made. Up In The World was a key film of my teenage that I have watched many, many times for largely incidental reasons, but I still think it the best. Trouble In Store, his first, is not far behind.
As his career progressed, his ambition became more and more counterproductive, and many of the later films are hobbled by unhelpful evidences of it: overlength, multiple characterisations, unwise attempts at seriousness or variation.
But there's not much wrong with Just My Luck or Man of the Moment or The Bulldog Breed or The Square Peg - and it's difficult to come away from viewing any of them without some respect for the sheer energy of the man, and the infectious desire to please. (The rest are strictly for the specialists, and if you qualify as one of those, please join me here, where I hope to post some altogether more obsessive analysis very shortly...)
.
It will be interesting to see what tone the obituaries take on the films, and whether his death will have any effect at all on their standing. They deserve a fresh look, perhaps even an NFT retrospective would not be inappropriate. His reputation will, I feel certain, grow, if not among the public then surely among the custodians of such things.
If you have children, show them one of his films tonight. I suspect his tricks will still work. You may find yourself enjoying them too.
.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

gloria in excelsis

First, remember this:
.

.
In 1932, when James Whale cast her as a white flame, "young and handsome, silly and wicked!", she was twenty-two years old.

She was one hundred years old this July.
. .
She died on September 26th, having long since seen and heard everything it was possible to see and hear.
.Now, we have only her shadow, or rather her shadows - in Roman Scandals and The Invisible Man and Gold Diggers of 1935 and The Secret of the Blue Room and Prisoner of Shark Island and The Old Dark House.
. .
Find a large white space, pass a beam of light through her shadow, and nothing will have changed.
Reality is no substitute for this.
.
When the model for Da Vinci's Mona Lisa died, did her friends say, "now all we have left is that inadequate, ephemeral painting..."?

Farewell, Gloria Stuart (1910 - 2010)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

He gives parties on a zeppelin


The lovely Kate at Silents and Talkies has published my guest post on Roland Young.
Who has been known to host parties on zeppelins. (In a film for which I am happy to have been described as "our John the Baptist" by Gerald at Laszlo's On Lex.)

Monday, August 23, 2010

The films I most wish had never fallen into the public domain


I came late and grudgingly to the DVD revolution, not so much striding boldly into the future as bowing grumpily to the inevitable. (I appreciate you can fit more of 'em on a shelf but my heart will always be with those big sexy tapes.)
History will recall DVD, in fact, as the last big new thing in technology that I was ever suckered into rearranging my life for. I don't care what they come up with next: I'm sticking to what I've got. I'm halfway through my life now anyway, and everyone knows that CD's will never replace wind-up gramophones in the long run.
.
By the time I started buying discs the market was already up and running to capacity, and I just loved the fact that there were so many old classics to be found at near-giveaway prices.
What I soon discovered, of course, was that the condition of the movies more than reflected the generosity of the price ticket, which came as a bit of a shock.
Like many, I had bought all that buckwheat with which the format had been launched - you remember it all, I'm sure: that a poor quality DVD is a contradiction in terms, that the very process of transferring film material to disc is an act of aural and visual restoration, that the quality is so sharp you can not only see and hear pins drop but smell them too, that every time you buy one God puts another sunbeam in the sky, and so on. I had no idea that it was even possible to simply copy an old tape onto a disc using technology every bit as low-tech as I used to make tape to tape copies, though it was soon obvious that that was what had happened with a lot of the discs I was buying. In many cases they had not only been mastered from old tapes but from tapes that had been kept at the bottom of someone's swimming pool.
.
The problem was copyright, or rather the lack of copyright.
Films that had fallen into public domain were free to manufacture, and anyone capable of producing a few hundred discs and printing a sleeve could be in the distribution business. At the time I was just so glad to finally see these films that I didn't let the quality bother me too much. Besides, I was also buying even less legit versions of far rarer films from mail order suppliers, and these were frequently of such appalling quality - multi-generation copies of video recordings of 16mm projections - that these semi-official titles seemed near-perfect in comparison.
Now though, I'm more picky, and the quality of some of these discs seems in many cases just not good enough to watch.
I'd be happy to pay a little more for a better quality issue, though - and that's where we see the real problem. In most cases whatever market might have existed for the film in question has been killed stone dead by the cheapjacks. Putting out old movies is chancy. Rewards are minimal. And if the potential purchaser already has a choice of a hundred pocket money versions, how many are going to shell out bigger bucks for better quality? On Pot o'Gold for Chrissakes?
So the wide availability of a public domain title actually makes it vastly less likely that we'll get anything better.
.
Not in every case: the accident of public domain status is no indicator whatever of quality, and a few of these films retain a sufficiently high reputation as to justify distributors offering the choice: you can pay £15 for a shiny, top quality His Girl Friday or £2.99 for one that gets the essence across but looks like it was photographed through the window of a fish and chip shop, with the microphone next to the deep fat fryer. (Personally, I have the pucker Columbia Classics disc in the Elstree Hill packaging: it's nicer.)
The same goes for Orson Welles's The Stranger, the Rathbone Sherlock Holmes series, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, and My Man Godfrey. If you want to lech over Jane Russell in The Outlaw, you can either shell out pence for any of the currently available discs, and get the perhaps effective sensation of peeping on her through net curtains, or go searching for an old Video Collection tape: the last time the film appeared, in Britain at least, in even vaguely pristine form.
Likewise with a little perseverance, and the stamina to resist all DVD's calling themselves The Evil Mind, you should eventually be able to locate one of the old British video tapes, correctly titled The Clairvoyant, that give you the full effect of Fay Wray doing her mindreading act in one of the most heart-stopping costumes and hairdos of her career. ("I have a very pretty thing here. Can you tell me what it is?")
And of course, crappiness is not guaranteed with a public domain release: the distributors don't care, but they don't actually want to upset you; they just release whatever they get hold of. So the relative quality of a title does vary throughout the public domain sector. With a bit of trial and error I found more than watchable versions of The Kennel Murder Case, Lady of Burlesque and the Ritz Brothers' version of The Gorilla, though the copies of each that I started with were among the worst I'd seen of anything.
There should be a website, 'PublicDomainWatch', or something, where we consumers swap horror stories and point each other to the best and worst existing editions of a particular film.
.
So this is the two-edged sword of public domain: it means that we have some sort of access to films that we might never have seen at all - but heaven help us if we ever fall in love with any of them.
What follows are the films I most fell for that are least capable of loving me back, and that I most wish some suicidal distributor would waste money issuing in proper restored form, just for me.
Each is obtainable in a seemingly infinite number of editions so inadequate they seem not so much like movies as dreams of movies, or memories of movies, or movies watched illicitly through the windows of neighbours' houses; movies at one removed, movies on which I can only eavesdrop, but which, even in the cruddiest condition imaginable, convey as much to me as if I was watching them for the first time, in a packed house, in 1934, or 1943, or 1931... or... or... or...

The Front Page (1931)
Another Lewis Milestone milestone in the wake of All Quiet: the talkie of the play that invented the talkies. Was ever a better cast assembled for a single film? One of the most important films ever made, and only a pristine restoration will be enough to stop people yammering about how it's good but His Girl Friday is better. No way. His Girl Friday is just lovely, but this is American history photographed in flashes of lightning, every bit as much as Birth of a Nation. It's also funnier than Birth of a Nation, a film which, for all its points of interest, doesn't have Frank McHugh in it.
But I've never found this in any condition better than terrible.
.
Rain (1932) and Of Human Bondage (1934)
The first seemed an unusual departure for Joan Crawford on release and audiences stayed away; now of course it's more like a presentiment, and the negative reputation it retains is completely unjustified. Joan is ably complemented by Walter Huston, the greatest actor in talkies at the time, and Lewis Milestone is still restlessly pushing the limits of talking cinema, and building up the reputation as one of the true thirties masters that for some reason he doesn't have.
Bondage, by contrast was a success, and catapulted Bette to stardom, overshadowing Leslie Howard's fine study in self-abasement. But the films make for a natural double-bill: they have early fireworks from Bette and Joan in common, they have their air of sexual cruelty in common, they have Somerset Maugham in common. And of course they have only being available in dodgy public domain editions in common. I've found fairly watchable versions of these, but nothing you could confuse with a truly first class transfer.
.
Our Daily Bread (1934)
A breathtaking masterpiece. The best version I've found is okay-ish on the eye, but spoiled by that most weirdly ubiquitous giveaway indicator of public domain status: a constant noise exactly like dripping rain outside the studio on the soundtrack. What causes this I've no idea, but start the film with an empty bladder or you'll be stopping it every fifteen minutes to answer the call, which does tend somewhat to disrupt the poetry and majesty of Vidor's greatest achievement in the talking era.
.
The Strange Woman (1943)
Strange woman, strange movie! How I long to see it gleam! And to think I only got it because it was in a 50 film cheapo box set!
Edgar Ulmer's in the chair, so you know it's going to be weird, but it's really good: one of his very best. This is like a British Gainsborough melodrama but even more so: Hedy Lamarr breaks hearts and heads on so ruthless a pursuit of personal gain she makes the bitchiest bitches of Davis, Crawford, Hopkins and Stanwyck, to say nothing of Margaret Lockwood, look like Olivia de Havilland tending the wounded.
If you ever feel yourself entertaining the notion that Hedy didn't have the chops to play Scarlett O'Hara, watch this and don't let me catch you saying anything so silly again.
.
Indiscreet (1931)
The first time I ordered this I got that glossy Sunday afternooner with Cary and Ingrid. Right title, wrong film. Next two tries got me the right film, but with such smudgy visuals and tinny sound as to make it almost unwatchable. That I say 'almost' is tribute to the film itself: imagine a DeMille and Swanson silent in sound... or imagine Swanson in Madam Satan, if you like, then add Monroe Owsley... and you have this piece of pure froth. Gloria is so haughty when she's talking! I wish she'd made a million talkies like this - or that someone would just issue a decent print of this one...
.
The Greeks Had a Word For Them (1932)
The saddest of all. I know I'm going to love this, but I can't prove it. If you think you don't know it, that's because it's invariably issued with a tv era retitle: Three Broadway Girls. It's gold-diggers and sugar daddies and chorus girls and Joan Blondell and I'm sure it's a delight. Alas, I've never got all the way through it.
.
Do you have any public domain experiences to share?
And needless to say, if any reader knows where I can get a really good edition of any of these, do please get in touch...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Hooray for Harold Lloyd!


What follows is no kind of systematic analysis of the work of Harold Clayton Lloyd, but a few random reflections; a kind of stream of consciousness; a work in progress...
I'd always loved Harold: I'd seen a lot of his work in extract, and thanks to a compilation tv series I saw as a child (of which more later) I had got to know him more extensively, and earlier, than I had Chaplin or Laurel and Hardy (and vastly more extensively and earlier than Keaton).
Then there was his own 1962 distillation Harold Lloyd's World of Comedy, the most successful product, I would say, of the sixties vogue for feature compilations of comedy clips. (Lloyd's best sequences are often self-contained, or build from simple, easy-to-grasp premises, so their highlights can usually be removed from their narrative context with the minimum loss of meaning or effect: not so easy with other comics, which is why the Robert Youngson films, for instance, sometimes seemed a little spasmodic.)
As I grew older, I began to tick off the full features, and a few shorts, in occasional tv broadcasts, but there was so much of his work, produced over so many years, that my absorption of it was entirely unsystematic. I remained a fan, but never felt confident enough to call myself a connoisseur.
At last, now, I'm in a position to really get to grips with the full trajectory of his work, and to rope it all into critical perspective, thanks to my simultaneous acquisition of this terrific box set of 9 DVDs, containing a good selection of shorts and most of the features:
.
... and this supplementary two-disc set of still more, rarer shorts:
. In so doing, I've also been able to soberly reassess my opinion. Perhaps I might still think Lloyd an important figure, but lose some of my youthful, uncritical love for the man as I gained a more thorough and detached perspective? That this might be possible seemed even more likely when I mentioned the box set to my cinematic touchstone Anthony Blampied, only to learn that he has no time for Lloyd at all. Major disagreements about movies are a rare thing between us.

In the event, I'm delighted with what I've found, and I'm delighted that I'm delighted. I don't think Lloyd was as important an artist as Chaplin, but I never did. I do think his films are funnier pound for pound, however, and for laughs and formal innovation, I see him as fully the equal of Keaton, with a somewhat more winning screen presence. (I admire Buster hugely, and laugh at him as loud as anyone, but I came to him as an adult and, for whatever reason, that just seems to make a difference with me...)
The thing that Lloyd has over both men - and by and large qualitative ranking of these three giants is as odious to me as to all of good will and stout heart - is a beautifully precise sense of his own place and time. By which I mean not just in the backgrounds to his films, but also in his own characterisation, which is specifically and instantly a thing of the American teens and twenties, as opposed to that something of the eternal that we see in Chaplin and Keaton. This is, of course, part of what made Lloyd so very successful, and part of what counted against him in the Roosevelt years.
It's a good thing or a bad thing; it comes down to taste. Personally, I'm in love with the twenties, and so I am in love with Lloyd and his screen world, and I bless him for preserving so much of the flavour and the iconography of the times in which he worked.

And so, that's what I've been watching lately: Lloyd, Lloyd and more Lloyd. As always, I find myself drawn first to the less acclaimed and the less familiar: the earlier shorts, the later features. I've now seen all of his sound films except for Professor Beware, which is, frustratingly, the only one apart from the widely (albeit multi-generationally) available Sin of Harold Diddlebock not to be included in the set.
And watching the shorts in chronological sequence is revealing too - showing that the switch from Lonesome Luke to the Glasses character may have been an instant visual transition, but a much more gradual one in terms of character and performance.

No question what the most striking discovery has been so far: The Cat's Paw (1934) is one of the most fascinating films of the early thirties I've yet seen. Not Lloyd films - anybody's films. And the early thirties are, after all, where a conservatively-estimated 99% of my most cherished movie experiences are crowded, so this really is something.
The film is a conscious effort by Lloyd to try something new - his character is not called Harold, for the first time in one of his features - and it is also one of the very last Hollywood films to enjoy the liberty of pre-Code censorship (or lack thereof). There's very little of the traditional Harold to be seen here, except perhaps in his obtuseness (that gets more pronounced in the talkies), the sweetness of his naive courting of the leading lady (Una Merkel here: superb as ever), and in an amusing nightclub sequence, that strives for the same embarrassment-at-a-public-event effect that worked so well in The Freshman and Movie Crazy but is chiefly notable here for the eye-opening pre-Code outfits on the girls:

The big reason why the film is so interesting, however, is how it fits into the New Deal era 'Dictator Craze', with Lloyd as a Capra-esque naif accidentally elected Mayor of a big American city, discredited by a fabricated scandal, who decides to become a dictator, rounds up all of the neighbourhood criminals and forces them to confess under threat of decapitation! We get to see a convincing severed head and gory, oozing neck before we are let into the secret that it is all an illusion, a trick to get them to talk... nonetheless, this is one of those 1933-4 pro-Roosevelt movies that today get labelled 'Fascist' - occasionally by people who actually know what the word means.
Cinematically these films are all completely thrilling: it's that juxtaposition of a familiar style and a totally unfamiliar viewpoint: the accepted pre-Code experience, times ten. Beast of the City, Gabriel Over the White House, let's not forget Duck Soup (anti-war satire my arse), and most of all DeMille's unimpeachable This Day and Age are vital, vivid documents of a period of true uncertainty in American history. Others: Vidor's beautiful, perfect Our Daily Bread... Capra's fantastic American Madness... Certainly Capra is the film-maker you'd most be prepared to accept was behind the camera of The Cat's Paw were such a claim made... It anticipates the screwball mode - it was made before It Happened One Night - but also taps into that Mussolini-admiring era of Hollywood/Washington paternalism... plus it's Harold Lloyd, so it's really charming and really funny... Me and the missus are still reeling from it, actually.

Moving on from Capra, we arrive at Sturges. I am unusual in quite liking The Sin of Harold Diddlebock. I think it will inevitably disappoint if you think of it as a Lloyd movie that happens to have been made by Sturges (and admittedly the film does all it can to foster that impression with an opening flashback to the end of The Freshman that achieves nothing other than show how good for his age Lloyd was in 1947). Think of it, rather, as a Sturges movie, for which he had the inspired idea of casting Lloyd in the lead, alongside his other rep players: Conlin, Pangborn, Kennedy, Vallee... Listen to the dialogue: some of it is wonderful; Sturges at his best, and Lloyd delivers it well. Never mind the back-projected thrill finale - remember this was the forties, and communal film-making genius of the sort that could be commandeered for Safety Last was just a memory now.

Lloyd had the greatest Hollywood house of all: an amazing Italianate Los Angeles monstrosity, so exquisitely tasteless... just beautiful. If you want a tour of the property, seek out a tv movie called Death at Love House, filmed there with somewhat indecent haste, given the morbid subject matter, a year after his death. Robert Wagner and Kate Jackson are husband and wife journalists researching the great, fictional thirties starlet who supposedly lived there, and who appears in flashbacks and faked old film clips, and looks exactly as you would expect a fake thirties film star to look in a seventies tv movie: like a fake fifties film star. Is she haunting the estate? Has she possessed Robert? Or is she even not dead at all? Who knows, and who cares, to be honest. It's just fun, inconsequential spook stuff, enlivened all the way and back again by the authentic support cast: Sylvia Sidney, John Carradine, Dorothy Lamour and an especially droll Joan Blondell. But the real star is the house - Harold's house, which is shown in immodest detail. Even his celebrated 'rogue's gallery', an arched corridor lined with autographed photos of Harold's fellow Hollywood royalty, is worked in, and frankly it looked a bit creepy and mausoleumish even in Harold's heyday. No set dressing necessary here. The thought that his beloved mansion would have served as instant Hollywood kitsch would have horrified him. But if you can reconcile your respect for Harold and your innate voyeurism, take the tour. Death at Love House, it's called.

How unknown a quantity is he, really? Whenever I read a book or an essay, or watch a documentary about Lloyd, they always start the same way: by remarking how ironic it is that this giant of silent comedy, who consistently outgrossed his - apparently - better-known and more celebrated peers, should now be more or less forgotten. This always takes me aback. At first I thought it was simply wrong, but lately I've come to accept my astonishing good fortune in being a member of the sole generation in Britain since Lloyd's active years of which this is not true. Everyone who was born in Britain somewhere between the late 1960's and the mid 1970's knows Lloyd. And I don't mean the film buffs solely; I mean everyone; I mean people with only the vaguest sense of who Chaplin or Laurel and Hardy are; people who have never even heard of Buster Keaton and couldn't pick him out of a line-up of four. But not only would they recognise Lloyd and be able to tell you who he was and what he did, they'd be able - and more or less certain, unprompted - to launch into a song that begins:

Hooray for Harold Lloyd
(d'doo d'doo de-doo d'doo-doo)
Harold Lloyd
(d'doo d'doo de-doo d'doo-doo)

and ends:

A pair of glasses and a smile!

See, in the early nineteen-eighties, Britain had just three tv channels (envy us, envy us) and after the kids' programmes had finished on the main channels and we were waiting for our parents to bring the chips in from the kitchen, we all switched to BBC 2 to escape the news. BBC 2 was at this time the best reason for owning a television. (Today, alas, it is just one more good reason not to.) We first saw Chaplin here, and Stan and Ollie, but the big hit was Harold. Everyone loved Harold Lloyd, chiefly, I suppose because of the thrill sequences, and the fact that, unlike the other stars, BBC 2 showed not whole shorts but a packaged tv compilation series, with two extracted sequences per show, and that insanely catchy theme song I quoted above.
Yet Kevin Brownlow's introduction to Jeffrey Vance's near-edible coffee table book Harold Lloyd: Master Comedian not only opens with the usual spiel about Lloyd being now forgotten, it actually indicts these programmes as partly responsible for the man's oblivion:

Two years after Lloyd died in 1971, Time-Life signed a distribution deal for his films and handled them with a tragic lack of understanding. The shorts were packaged with a commentary in the style of Pete Smith ("Poor Harold! It's doom for the groom unless he gets to his room!"), which effectively sank them without a trace. The features were spared the commentary, but insensitive, honky-tonk scores and the elimination of entire sequences often crippled their effect.

True, the commentary was naff in the extreme: I remember one beginning, "Here's our old friend Harold Lloyd; I used to know his brother Cellu..." I also have it on good authority that the programme split the Safety Last climb into two segments, ending the first with, "Hickory dickory dock, Harold's on the clock, We'll finish his climb some other time, Hickory dickory dock!" On the other hand, we were all doing that voice in the playground next day; it didn't put us off or seem inappropriate... And as for the honky-tonk music, I loved it. In these new versions, it's going to take me a long time to get used to the absence of the infectious musical motif that accompanied the 'call me Speedy' greeting in The Freshman. Another interesting thing the Time-Life programmes did was show the Feet First climb as a silent, slightly re-edited, with honky-tonk accompaniment. I couldn't believe how less funny it was when I finally saw it in its proper form, with no music, just the sound of Lloyd grunting and yelling.

I could go on like this for ages. I haven't, for instance, devoted a dozen or so paragraphs to how adorable Bebe Daniels is. I haven't raised the matter of whether Lloyd reminds anyone else but me of Woody Allen when, in his sound films, he pulls his 'idiot face' (ie: when trying to hide the colt in the taxi in The Milky Way). But you must excuse me: I have Harold Lloyd movies to watch.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy century, Gloria!


On a day for celebrating American history, let us stop and salute the wondrous Gloria Stuart, one hundred years old today.
.
I have nothing more to say here than I did a year ago here, and I had nothing more to say there than I did here, the year before that (when I had quite a bit to say).
Suffice it to say that Gloria is, for me, the most vital and magical living link to thirties Hollywood, more poignant to me even than Joan and Olivia, though I'm hard pressed to really explain why...
... neither do I feel much of an obligation to.
.
I get the feeling that Gloria herself is not a particularly sentimental person, or one who dwells much on the past.
In that case I'll do it for her.
A very happy hundredth, Miss Stuart, from us all.