Thursday, April 15, 2010

I completed Kate and Millie's quiz...

Ooh, I do love a questionnaire, me, and here's a good one devised by Kate and Millie that you can find over at you know where and you know where too.

1. Which actors do you always (or did you always) mix-up?Well, Jeff Bridges and Kurt Russell are clearly the same person using two different names. And I can't say I've ever gotten any of the following mixed up, but I'm surprised their extreme similarity is not more often remarked upon: Fay Wray and Gloria Swanson, Glynis Johns and Gloria Grahame, Margaret Lockwood and Yvonne de Carlo, Avril Lavigne and the young Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly and Harold Lloyd without his glasses on, Shirley Temple and Erich Von Stroheim.

The first two are probably just my problem, but I bet you're not instantly certain who's who on the second row...
2. Gidget or Beach Party?
Horror of Party Beach (1964) is the perfect antidote to both.
. 3. Favourite Movie Outfit?Just as it is in the film, this is a close fight between Kay Johnson's party outfit in Madam Satan and Lillian Roth's party outfit in Madam Satan. The guys in the film go for Kay; I lean slightly towards Lillian. Was that plumage made for her or was she was made for it?
4. If you could be ANY character in ANY movie...who would you choose?I would say Seymour in Ghost World, but I am him already, so I'll go for wish fulfilment and settle on Jimmy as Thomas Jefferson Destry, a pacifist when possible but an avenger when necessary.
5. If you could marry ANY character in ANY movie...who would you choose?
Veronica Lake in I Married a Witch, and I wouldn't be all prissy and Darrin Stevensish about her using her magical powers either. Martha Vickers in The Big Sleep would probably be hell as a wife, but just think of the honeymoon.
6. If you could live in ANY movie...which would you choose?The Omega Man (1971)
7. Black & White movies you wish were in Technicolor, or vice-versa?I'd like to see Bette's dress in Jezebel in Technicolor. Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd and Road to Bali should be in black and white: forties comedians aren't so funny in colour, especially in the fifties.
8. Favourite Movie Soundtrack?Ghost World combines Skip James, Lionel Belasco and Hoagy Carmichael with a beautiful original score by David Kitay, so that takes some beating. As for most effective main theme: the first one that popped into my head was Dmitri Tiomkin's masterpiece for Double Indemnity.
.9. Favourite Movie Dance Sequence?
My head says there are so many Busby Bs to choose from... but the heart wants what it wants, and Jane Russell's 'Looking for Trouble' routine in The French Line manages to disprove two of the fundamental pillars of science: the essential motivelessness of Darwinian evolution and the impossibility of perpetual motion. To think that my parents' generation saw it in 3-D... How did they survive?

10. Coolest Movie Star?

Clint of course.
11. Sophia or Gina?I'd be happy with either... but Sophia casts the more lasting shadow.

12. "Isn't It Romantic" in most Billy Wilder films, or "Red River Valley" in most John Ford films?Can you repeat the question?

If you could re-cast ANY role in ANY movie, what would it be?Absolutely everyone in High Society except Grace Kelly. Also I can't help thinking that the cast of The Maltese Falcon has to work too hard pretending Mary Astor's still got it: I'd swap her for Paulette Goddard. Jane Russell should have been in Warners films in the forties instead of stuck at RKO. I wish Kenneth Williams had played Sherlock Holmes, and I could have done without Sean Connery as James Bond. It's not like Richard Todd hadn't been invented or something.
.14. Favourite movie character with your first name?
There are very few Matthews in the movies, and the ones there are tend to be fanatics of one kind or another, like Vincent Price in Witchfinder General, or Fredric March in Inherit the Wind. I think I'll go for Freddie, on the grounds that I feel more and more sorry for his character each time I re-encounter that sly and mendacious little film.
15.One movie that should NEVER be remade? (under THE THREAT OF A SLOW, PAINFUL DEATH!)King Kong (1933). Damn! Too late!
.16. Actor or Actress who you would love to be best friends with?Robert Benchley, Patsy Kelly: Hollywood outsiders, moonlighting on the inside.
.17. Are you an Oscar or a Felix?An unlikely mixture of the worst aspects of both.
.18. Actor/Actress you originally hated and now love?Spencer Tracy took a long time. His reputation annoyed me, and for a long time the only things I'd seen him in were those later films in which he is clearly past it, like Inherit the Wind and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, the only film with fewer laughs than Cries and Whispers. Now I can see they were right, and every time I see him he impresses me more.
I also find myself much more generously disposed towards Lon Chaney Jr than I was before I knew of all the things he had to put up with in his career.
.19. Actor/Actress you originally loved and now don't like?
God forgive me, I used to like Jane Fonda.
.20. Favourite performance that was looked over by Oscar? (Not to be confused with the aforementioned Oscar of Felix fame.)
Most of my favourite performances were snubbed by Oscar and I wouldn't want it any other way, though I have to say that ignoring Scheider's, Shaw's, Dreyfuss's, Gary's and Hamilton's faultless work in Jaws seems especially perverse.
.21. Bewitched or I Dream of Jeannie?

22. Hannibal Heyes or Kid Curry? (Hint for those who don't know who they are: pick Hannibal Heyes.)The one with the biggest tits.
23. Favourite Style Icon: Fred Astaire or Cary Grant?A photo-finish after a highly unequal start: Cary came out of the womb with a martini and a bon mot; Fred looks like a circus exhibit until he starts moving. It's closer than it should be given the odds, but I think Archie still just has it.
.24. Single most favourite movie scene EVER?
So, so many. Top of my head: the Maurice Chevalier/passport examination scene from Monkey Business (1931) takes some beating.
.25. Movie you really should see, but have been subconsciously avoiding for who knows what reason?Well, I've seen literally not one single frame of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings children's films, though as Sherlock Holmes once said, I can't say it's likely to weigh too heavily on my conscience. More embarrassingly, Rio Bravo and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp have been sat on my shelf for so very long, waiting for the right time to be watched... and for some reason it just never seems to come around. Not the expectation of dislike, far from it in fact, just a question of compatibility of temperament. Plus they're both very long.
26. Movie quote you find yourself most often repeating in real life?"You'll get used to me." (Norman Wisdom in Up in the World.)
27. 50's Westerns or 60's Spies?
The spies have it.
.28. Favourite splashy, colourful, obnoxious 50's musical?
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, even though it's a travesty of the book.
29. Favourite film setting (example: Rome, Paris, Seattle, Siberia, Chile, Sahara Desert, etc) I am guaranteed to love any film set in a wax museum, but if we're talking geography, I'll watch anything in Italy, and anything in Cornwall.
.30. If you could own the entire wardrobe of any film, which would it be?
That one in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
.31. Carol Burnett or Lucille Ball?
Carol, from a position of considerable ignorance on both counts.
.32. Favourite Voice. Ever. Period. If honey could talk, it would sound like Glynis Johns. Among men: Vincent Price. Or if you mean singing voice: Andy Williams.
.33. Favourite movie that takes place in your home-state?That would presumably be county over here, which would be Devon, so the howl goes out to The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939).
.34. Which actors would you want for relatives? (Mother, Father, Grandma, Crazy Aunt, annoying cousin, older brother, etc...)Well, obviously I'd like to have been a Marx Brother. Uncles: Roland Young, Charlie Ruggles, Miles Malleson. Crazy aunt: Helen Kane. Next door neighbour: Scarlett Johansson.

Down With Realism! (or ‘A Tale of Two Bookshops’)

The Big Sleep could well be the greatest crime film ever made.
Is it the real world?
No, of course not. It is completely artificial.
I got to thinking about The Big Sleep today because I was reading through Kate and Millie's new questionnaire, and pondering Question 24: "Single most favorite movie scene EVER"... And it struck me that a favourite scene needs to be something more than my favourite scene from my favourite film - it has to be a favourite scene in its own right. It should perhaps be an unexpected left turn in the context of the film, stand a little apart from the rest of it even, so that it could be seen in isolation and still convey one's reasons for choosing it.
An obvious candidate by these criteria would be either of the bookshop scenes in The Big Sleep: the one where he pulls Dorothy with the corniest routine in the manual (you'd look beautiful without your glasses, Miss Malone) and coaxes her into closing up the shop for a boozy afternoon in the back room, or the one where he affects a lisp and tries to needle Sonia Darrin into admitting that her store is a front for Geiger's porno and blackmail racket.
Both sequences are surprising: Malone's for its sexual frankness, Darrin's because Bogart is unmistakably pretending to be homosexual. But they are also perfect little nuggets of cinema; scenes that exist - like all scenes used to do - purely to advance the plot, but which through the utmost professionalism of everyone responsible for them before and behind the camera, emerge as little mini-masterpieces in their own right.
Like the whole film, these sequences are a lesson in how to achieve and sustain mood, style and excitement without once setting foot outside a studio sound stage. And never for a second do we think in either one of them that we are in a real bookshop.
This latter point reminded me of an email I received last year from an American visitor to this site called Joe Kenney, who wrote:
What I love about old films is their artificiality: rather than go to Paris they built a replica on the lot... You know that scene where John Barrymore sneaks out the window in Grand Hotel, and looks over that German cityscape? It's obviously a painting, yet its artificiality (for me) only serves to further the "fairy tale" ambiance of these old movies.
As well as everything that people love about old Hollywood, I also love everything that people hate about old Hollywood. I love the studio system and the tyrannical moguls. I love censorship.
And most of all I love the artificiality.
What is it with this cult of realism? I go along with Mamoulian.
Mamoulian's worth listening to on most any subject. I'd say he was the greatest creative artist in cinema, a supreme stylist whose best films, hugely diverse in genre and mood, are made one by their innovation, their clear commitment to the transformation of the material - away from realism, into poetry, into art - by use of all the stylistic (that is, artificial) resources available to the film-maker. And if those resources were not there he invented them, and all, never let it be forgotten, within the strictly commercial framework of popular Hollywood narrative.
Mamoulian knew that lack of restriction shrinks aspiration. He realised, for instance, that censorship, for all his brushes with it and the inevitable pettinesses and double-standards that must rise from it, was a guarantee of high creative standards as much as - in fact far more than - moral ones. And in particular, he hated realism, which he identified as the art of the obvious.
I've quoted him elsewhere on this subject but it stands repeating:
I've heard that films are a reflection of life. Is that all? Is that what the films are, is that what theatre is, a reflection of life? Is it enough just to put a mirror and reflect what you see? I don't think it is. Films are not as much a reflection as a revelation of life. While obviously we are of our time and we have to function within the texture of the times we live in, and portray the world as it is, it is very important for us also to indicate in that same film the way the world should be, the way we would like the world to be.
The greatest cinema has often been the most artificial in style and effect - what, after all, could be more artifical than Hitchcock? Our current fad for realism of presentation seems to sit paradoxically alongside the greater and greater infantilisation of subject matter (the idea of a Batman film prohibited to the under fifteens says something profound about us, I think) until you realise that both reflect the shrinking of the imagination.
We do not want to put any effort into the illusion; we need to have all the work done for us by the product itself, and if it falls short in any department we are incapable of engaging with it at all. Yet modern audiences who object on principle to watching silent or even black and white movies, because they lack that necessary degree of reality, rarely note how weird it is that they are perfectly happy to watch films they are completely unable to smell.
Do they really expect us to believe that last scene was set in a coffee shop? Oh, come on! You couldn't smell anything!
I've never heard someone say that. Yet the logic applies.
(By the same token, it is odd how easily people who could not possibly cope without a mobile phone or an i-Pod seem to get by without a single 3/Ralph.p(p)ps. What is a 3/Ralph.p(p)ps? I've no idea - but once everybody's got one they're going to think us ever so cute for struggling by without any.)
'Good' acting has become synonomous with naturalistic acting, so the likes of Tod Slaughter, Robert Newton, Vincent Price, George Arliss, even Bette Davis or Charles Laughton, are often termed 'bad' actors, because their style is theatrical. (This particular cult goes back to the laugh-a-minute method school to which modern actors remain in thrall.)
I have no idea - but it would be fascinating to find out - when that dismal little term 'overacting' was first coined. If it means, as it appears to, acting that is poor, that reveals limitations, that falls wide of its intentions, then it is invariably misused, applied rather to a no longer fashionable type of acting: that of expressive acting, with its roots in theatrical and pantomime tradition. If overacting is truly the crime - that is to say too much acting, acting that is inappropriate in its own context - then the handcuffs belong on Tom Cruise, not Bela Lugosi.
Theatre is as artificial as can be, but nobody complains about the fact that the castle ramparts weren't real when they went to see Hamlet at the National. Why must cinema be any different? Movies are just filmed theatre. They have more scope for adventurousness, but this need not be narrowed into the pursuit of realism at all costs.
The more work the audience has to do for themselves, the more rewarding the experience. This is why, whatever the relative merits of individual films, as a whole silent films are a higher art form than sound, black and white is higher than colour, restraint is higher than explicitness. So what if it doesn't reflect real life? Er... movies aren't real life, you know...
Realism is an illusion, and nothing dates faster than that which pursues it most assiduously. It's also a willo the wisp: you think it's there, but then you come back to it a decade later and you can see that all it was is all it ever is: that which happens to be fashionable at the time.
Which brings me back to the bookshop.
. Last November I watched a film being made.
Or rather, a scene from it. A bookshop scene.
How long did it take to shoot the bookshop scenes in The Big Sleep? An afternoon, perhaps. A whole day at most. But not a second was wasted shooting it, that's for sure.
I have no idea how important to the plot or how enjoyable in its own right the bookshop scene of Stephen Frears's new film Tamara Drewe will be - but I do know what a song and dance it was to shoot. Though it is hardly a set-dresser's nightmare to turn a corner of a studio into a convincing bookshop, the cult of realism demanded that a real bookshop must be used. For some reason they chose the one opposite where I work, in London's Muswell Hill. We were warned in advance that they would be commandeering that side of the road, but were also asked if we could avoid parking on our side too, the excuse being that the camera would be shooting through the window and the scene is supposedly set not in London but rural Dorset. (So instead of creating exactly the settings and effects you want in a studio for a fraction of the cost, reality was demanded - and then faked anyway!)
But in fact, the bit about shooting through the window was a fib: they blacked out the windows, so it didn't matter in the least what was happening on our side of the road, they just wanted an excuse to take possession of it too, blocking it off with (presumably) illegal parking cones, so that the film's stars could pull up in their taxis and get out without any inconvenient waiting around for, or brushing shoulders against, the ordinary people. At one stage a car pulled up with just a dog in the back.
The other side of the street was full for its entire length with enormous trucks and heaps of equipment, of the sort that would have been instantly available, without expensive transportation, in a studio. A huge table was bedecked with food, and most of the crew did little other than stand there eating it all day. Though it was Armistice Day I saw only one poppy, and the 11 o'clock silence was observed by nobody.
The trucks arrived the night before, and were still dismantling their equipment the following morning. They left behind the lighting they had put up in the shop.
The total cost of the exercise was probably more than the whole of The Big Sleep cost to shoot. Will that bookshop scene be worth the trouble it took? How can the expense possibly be justified? How can such a colossal lack of imagination even qualify as realism?
It's that kind of thinking that did this to the MGM backlot:

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Anybody want to finance a film about alcoholic dogs or something?

If your email account is anything like mine, you will be well familiar with the kind of message which purports to be from an African bank, or the wife of a recently deceased millionaire, or a fictitious lottery, advising you of the chance to claim, or help invest, a phenomenal sum of money. I get, on average, a couple a day. It's been years since I've stopped to read them, longer still since I was in the habit of replying for a laugh and stringing them along to see how far I could get without actually committing myself to anything.

But this one was a little different and, because it concerned cinema, it intrigued me rather. The other odd thing about it is that it doesn't actually ask me for anything; it merely tells me about a film the guy's trying to set up. Presumably it wants me to invest in the production, which, if I had any spare piles of cash (I'm still waiting for the dead African billionaire to cough up), I'd be sorely tempted to do, as I'm sure you'll agree it sounds like one terrific movie.

See what you think: the email is headed BEAR BEER DEAR 'movie', so I'm assuming that Bear Beer Dear is the film's title. If so, great.

Dear Sir,
Unique thrilling movie script is the basic, movie Producer and Company need to make a breathtaking production.
Roger is a hard working husband and father but is addicted to alcoholism. What become of Douglas, Rogerss second son who took to his brevity but a singular learnt habit of alcoholism has done him worst harm in life. Rogerss companion billy his dog is more than a pet to him, not even his family can come in between him and billy. How many animals must die by barrel? billy saved the life of Rogers at the hunting expedition by maneuvering whisky, Rogerss horse. billy was brilliant to have manipulated Ashley to drive Rogers home and thwarted Trevors pilfering plan on Rogers who is drunk to stupor. Georgianas manhandle by Rogers. Rogers scolded by Douglas at the birthday party of Mabel. Morris manipulated Douglas his friend to play hanky panky love game with Mabel. Trevor make comic of Douglass dad as Douglas reply lead to bloody fight at the night club. Ahmed chase of Douglas and Patton over an escaped accident. Roman, Douglas, Mabel and Patton mimic Rogers their dad who is dru
Thank you for finding time to read through.
Mr. Onyema Emmanuel.

How many animals must die by barrel? How many indeed.
This film's got the lot: people addicted to alcoholism, escaped accidents, hanky panky love games and dads who are dru. When you look at the kind of rubbish that does get greenlighted by the major studios these days, surely it's only a matter of time before Bear Beer Dear sets the box offices alight, with or without my financial assistance.