Friday, November 30, 2012

Long Live Lubitsch!

Lubitsch with Chaplin, Pickford, and Fairbanks
Ernst Lubitsch (1892-1947) died sixty-five years ago today. The world lost one of its greatest talents that day.  In honor of Lubitsch, here are my three favorites of his movies:

The Oyster Princess (1919): If you haven't seen a silent movie (or don't like them, yet), The Oyster Princess would be a great place to start, particularly if you like Lubitsch's later movies.  The movie makes fun of Americans, in general, and in particular the 'fad' of rich American heiresses marrying poor European royalty.  Ossi Oswalda stars as the spoiled daughter of the Oyster king.  Oswalda was known as the 'German Mary Pickford' for good reason and you see some of her charm and talent in this film.  Also watch out for the hilarious 'Foxtrot epidemic' scene.
Ossi inspects the 'prince'
Trouble in Paradise (1932):  This is the movie that I think best personifies the Lubitsch touch.  Light and sophisticated, Lubitsch puts two and two on the screen, but he doesn't force the point that it equals four. (A lot of directors could learn a thing or two about this. Even Billy Wilder had a sign that said, "What would Lubitsch do?")  The movie tells the story of two thieves (Miriam Hopkins and Herbert Marshall) who fall in love and plan to steal money from a rich heiress (Kay Francis).  My favorite scene is the first one, where Hopkins and Marshall find that they are sole mates.
My Sweet Little Pickpocket
Ninotchka (1939): Lubitsch got great performances from his actors.  This is true in Nincotchka.  Garbo gives one of her most unforgettable performances as the laughing Soviet.  The movie tells of a Russian spy (Garbo) who comes to Paris and falls in love with a Parisian (Melvyn Douglas), but it is so much more than that.
Gotta Love that Hat

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Limericks, sort of

Well True Classics is holding a limerick contest at    I am definitely not a poet, but I was bored in one of my classes today, so I wrote a few limericks (at least I hope they count as limericks, I'm honestly not sure.)

Design for Living

There was a girl searching for a loop
Should she choose March or Coop?
Plunkett said, "It may be fun."
but when he was done
Miriam used him as a dupe.

42nd Street

Jones and Barry were to put on a show
but their leading lady was low
so they gave it to Ruby
although she was a newby
and decided to give it a go

Monday, November 26, 2012

Nostalgia: A Rant

       I don't really love the current craze of superhero movies, but all of my family does, so I have seen many of them.  This is how I found myself being dragged to the theaters in July to watch The Avengers.  This is also I happened to rewatch the movie a few nights ago with my sisters.
       I absolutely love cultural history, so I have gotten in the habit of looking for things that relate a historical artifact or event to the time period.  A few weeks ago I went to a football game, which I practically never go to, and reflected upon what the expected behavior told me about the society, etc.  I give this as necessary background knowledge for the following analysis.
        While watching The Avengers I noticed something that I think is prevalent in modern movies-- romanitizing the past, especially World War II era America.  This is especially evident in the character of Captain America.  He is what many people assume the Greatest Generation were all like.  While I know there were many like him, I had a problem with this while watching Captain America.
This is not a war bond rally.
        In Captain America, things are idealized.  His team consists of an African American man, Japanese American, and I think a French and an English guy.  Also an English girl hangs out and commands American troops.  I realize that Captain America may have enough clout to get anyone he wants to join his team, but I would have liked there to have been a mention to troubles they had back home.  It bothered me that Captain America fights HYDRA.  What, are Nazis not bad enough?  Couldn't the Captain have freed some concentration camps or something?  Captain America is an idealized America, but wouldn't a perfect America be able to deal with its problems, such as racism or real threats like Nazis? (Side note pet peeve: those propaganda films Captain America makes and those war bond rallies, seriously?)
This is a war bond rally.  (Bob Hope)
     Nostalgia shows the past in only a good light.  Captain America shows the prominent idea that 'things were simpler back then'.  People had morals and just went and were united in the war.  Somehow I don't think so.  During and shortly after World War II, several movies came out that idealized a 'simpler time' that was about fifty years before.  Meet Me in St. Louis and Life with Father being prominent examples.
Since You Went Away
      The movies made during World War II were excellent, but they were also propaganda.  The self-sacrificing heroes and heroines of Since You Went Away and So Proudly We Hail were there, I'm sure, but so were jerks like Ernest Borgnine's character in From Here to Eternity and that random guy that insults Harold Russell in The Best Years of Our Lives.
      Now I really do think the Greatest Generation was the best, but making them unrelateable doesn't help us learn from history.   Too often we compare the best of the past to the worst of the future or vice versa.  For example one of my grandfathers was a World War II veteran, came home married my grandmother, and became an alcoholic, abusive jerk.  Happily my grandmother divorced him and took her children.   On the other hand my brother one of the 'entitlement generation' volunteered for military service because he knows it is important.  He is in Afghanistan right now.  He left his wife and son and hasn't seen his second son yet in person.  He is a great man and one of the kindest people I know.  You can't make a sweeping generalizations about anything particularly about a generation you didn't live in.  Nostalgia is easy to fall into, but can also be dangerous.  If we hold those in the pasts either as gods or irredemable devils, how can we hope to be like them or avoid becoming like them?  But if we realize everyone has their faults perhaps we can understand how we too could intern Japanese-Americans or that we too could have fallen victim to Hitler's promises, then perhaps we can purge those qualities from ourselves and become better people.  Perhaps, we can also avoiding making those mistakes in our future history.

Wow, that was a random rant.  Hopefully it makes sense.  I also hope there are some interesting ideas.  But if there aren't this blog formally apologizes.  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fake Romances?

   As I just barely mentioned in my last post, I am in a class called Film in American Culture.  What I didn't mention was that most of my class mates seem to be, um, rather stupid regarding old movies.  While this is not necessarily a bad thing, (there's always room for converts), they act like they know a lot because hey they are in a class, which needless to say drives me crazy because I have studied movies diligently for two and a half years and have seen pretty much all of the 'important' films made before 1965 and many of the not so important ones.
   Anyway we were discussing North by Northwest today and three girls were giving a presentation about the production history, genre, etc.  One of them was talking about genre and she said something about it combining action, adventure, mystery, romance, and drama.  She seemed to act like this was revolutionary.  Now North by Northwest is a good movie and all, but no.  Genres are almost never pure.  Rarely do you have a drama without a little comedy, etc.  I think pretty much from the beginning adventure movies have some romance.  Some examples- any Douglas Fairbanks movie I can think of, Wings, and all those Errol Flynn/ Olivia de Havilland movies.  Heck, even Casablanca counts in that genre.
  Later in the class period the Eva Marie Saint/ Cary Grant relationship in the film came up.  Some thought it was awkward, and while I disagree, I can almost see their point.  Some one called it 'fake' and my teacher pointed out that that is kind of intentional.  But then the girl I talked about in the previous paragraph said that she guessed all old movies are like that because the other movies we'd seen in class had 'fake' romances. (The implication being that modern movies don't have fake romances) WAIT WHAT?!?
I can't be romantic opposite a fake, Ingrid! Stop it!
    First problem you've seen six movies in this class so you're going to say that all movies pre-1960ish had fake romances?  Second problem, two of the movies, we've watched are Casablanca and The Best Years of Our Lives.  How can you say that Ilsa Lund and Rick Blaine's romance feels fake? You are an idiot, this is the only answer.  Also I find all three romances in The Best Years of Our Lives incredibly compelling.  In fact Myrna Loy and Fredric March remind me of my parents who are adorable and love each other deeply.  Teresa Wright could be my sister and Cathy O'Donnell could be a neighbor, so I don't understand how you could find these unrealistic.  I am at a loss for words.
Yes our marriage has no romance and is soooo fake
The only thing may be that she forgot we saw these two movies, but still assuming that in the old days they didn't know what a romance was or how to make a good romance is stupid.  In my opinion she is stupid and modern movies have more contrived romances (see Transformers, most Superhero movies, etc.)  In the old days, studios knew they were making movies for an entire population and thus made movies for the entire population, which you know what included great romances.  All I said in response though was that I think there are fake romances in modern movies and fake romances in old ones, but also great romances throughout film history, because I am smart and don't make a sweeping generalization based on seeing only a few movies.

I'll bet she'd think we were fake.
In my classmates honor here are some of the greatest screen romances (in my opinion) before 1960, most of which don't need explanations because they are so iconic:

   Charlie Chaplin and Virginia Cherrill in City Lights
   Bette Davis and Paul Henreid in Now Voyager
   Clara Bow and Donald Keith in The Plastic Age: Although not a perfect movie, by any movies, I love how Clara Bow's character takes a step back and grows up and lets him grow up.  Best scene: when she is crying watching him play football
I don't really care about him, see my tears?
   Myrna Loy and Fredric March in The Best Years of Our Lives
   Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas in Ninotchka: I watched this movie for the second time last year with my female room mates and we were all gushing over Melvyn Douglas' character.  I love how he gets Ninotchka to laugh and then how he fights to get her out of Russia.
   Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca 
   Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins in Trouble in Paradise: they are so perfect for each other

   Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer in Love Affair: the perfect romance, that last scene... (and in my opinion better than the remake)
Lou's going to die, but eh I haven't demonstrated how
much I love him throughout the whole movie
   Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday: Separating for the greater good has got to be one of the most romantic things I can think of
   Mary Pickford and Mahlon Hamilton in Daddy Long Legs: although this romance is really short I love how concerned he is that he is too old for her.  Also the poor little orphan girl really deserved something good from life.
   Teresa Wright and Gary Cooper in The Pride of the Yankees

And some screen teams that nail romance in every movie of theirs I've seen:
    Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire: romance through dance- they are the best; probably my favorite of their dances is "Never Gonna Dance".  They both put themselves into the dance so much, it's not fake at all, even when slightly undermined by a quick fix ending.

    Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart- my favorite scene of theirs is the end of Dark Passage, it made me cry because you know they have a great romance and I care about them because of that.  They tell you everything with those few glances.
    Myrna Loy and William Powell: they make married life so romantic and fun, what's not to love

In conclusion I submit the proposition that romances were more often believable back then and that there is a reason, people still try to copy the great romances of the screen, most of which are from the Golden Age of Hollywood, so this girl doesn't know anything.

Film in American Culture class

   I am currently in a class entitled "Film in American Culture".  I took it because I knew there was a very low  possibility of my hating it.  Now I do really like it but there are a lot of things I would do differently.
   My teacher is having us watch seven movies as a class to explore the topic.  He chose Stagecoach, Casablanca, The Best Years of Our Lives, Rebel Without a Cause, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, North By Northwest, and Dr. Strangelove.  Now these movies are all certified classics and I understand why he chose most of them.  The thing is that I think it is kind of an eclectic bunch.  First, I feel there is lacking a central theme, which you kind of have to have with something so broad.  For another thing, we've mostly talked about how these movies reflect history and not as the title of the class would seem to indicate- films that change or reflect American culture.  If my mission was to create a class around movies that shows American culture say before 1970, I would pick different movies:
   First I think he should have a silent film.*   I think it is really important to understand why movies became such a thing and it didn't start with the talkies.  You could show something like The Birth of a Nation to reflect some of these ideas, but I think I would show Why Change Your Wife?  For one thing, it shaped fashions in both clothes and interior design. (Demille bathrooms)  For another you could talk about stardom and movie culture's universality in the early 1920s.  Lastly I think the movie is hilarious and that most people with an open mind about silents would enjoy it.  Also the fact that it is not horribly offensive and long is a plus.[Also included in my discussion of the silent era would be several shorts featuring Chaplin, etc.]
  For post-World War I we would watch Wings.  Wings is one of the greatest action movies and it would be fun to talk about how they had to fly.  It's also interesting to look at as an artifact of post war America.  You could also talk about Clara Bow, which is always a good thing.
  In my class we were supposed to look for Depression themes in Stagecoach, which are there, but the movie was made in 1939.  Gold Diggers of 1933 was made during the depths of the Depression.  You could talk about why showgirls and backstage musicals were popular.  Also the number "Forgotten Man" opens up a whole discussion about the Bonus March and the memory of World War I and isolationism.
    For a discussion of pre-World War II, The Great Dictator would be amazing.  We'd have watched some Chaplin shorts featuring the Little Tramp so students would understand the implications of making Charlie Chaplin Jewish.  We could also discuss how Chaplin's speech is basically a call to stop being isolationist.
This scene in particular would be fascinating to discuss
    As an example of World War II films, I would probably show So Proudly We Hail.  While I completely agree that Casablanca is a must see, many of my classmates had seen it.  So Proudly We Hail tells the story of nurses in the South Pacific.  Made in the middle of the war, it is a lovely tribute to the women who fought in the war and also shows many of the emotions that people obviously felt.  (For example Lake's character's anger against the Japanese.)  You also discuss the phenomena of Veronica Lake and what it meant to be a patriotic woman during the war.
  For postwar America I would show From Here to Eternity.  Made several years after the war and fairly critical of the military, it would be an interesting companion piece to So Proudly We Hail.  (You could compare the romances for example.) As a plus Montgomery Clift shows the postwar penchant for sensitive actors.
  Bonnie and Clyde would be a great movie to show in a class like this.  Although it is set in the 1930s, it's about the 1960s and influenced styles and later movies.  You could talk about the violence and the disillusionment with the establishment many Americans were feeling.  It would be fun to see how they use a clip of Gold Diggers of 1933.

   As is probably evident in my choices, I find it fascinating to look at the effects of war upon society.  I would probably set up the class and use Why Change Your Wife? as an example.  From there we could talk about perceptions of women in movies (especially with Why Change Your Wife?, Gold Diggers, and So Proudly We Hail).   The three movies dealing with World War II, in particular would be interesting to compare and contrast.
  Also I tried to have a variety of genres, comedy, action, musical, drama, melodrama, etc.  I find it fascinating to see how different genres and time periods deal with war and stress.
  It killed me to exclude movies like The Best Years of Our Lives, but I thought From Here to Eternity would be better in order to talk about Monty Clift and other post war method actors.  By the way I am studying to be a history teacher and I love cultural history which probably explains some of my choices.

*My teacher doesn't seem to know that much about silents, when I've talked to him before class, I found out that the only Gloria Swanson movie he'd seen was Sunset Boulevard.  Also for our final paper we have to write about a movie and how it reflects the time period.  I picked It with Clara Bow because I like to challenge myself and didn't want to go with something easier like Gone With the Wind, which has a ton written about it.  Anyway in talking to him about my paper, he asked questions about if Clara Bow was different from other stars of her day and if she had made the transition to sound.