Monday, 30 April 2012

Whatever happened to Maf?

Whatever happened to Maf the dog?

Maf was Marilyn Monroe's dog and companion during her final years. I always found the photos of Maf's toys in the back garden of Marilyn's home on the day of her death to be some of the most poignant, and wondered about what exactly happened to Maf. So I did a bit of research.

Marilyn Monroe & Maf

More under the cut!

Sunday, 22 April 2012

More Hollywood in the 60s

A Marilyn Monroe look-alike shortly after Marilyn's death

Costume boxes

Bette Davis on set

William Wyler's Oscar
William Wyler and his Oscar for Ben Hur.

More under the cut.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Hollywood Foto-Rhetoric

A friend gave me this book recently. It's a look behind the gloss of Hollywood and shows the film industry in decline. The photographs by Barry Feinstein with accompanying poems by Bob Dylan make it a poignant look back at the rusty layers of tinseltown.

Hollywood Foto-Rhetoric

from the outside
lookin in
every finger wiggles
the doorway wears long pants
an slouches
no rejection
all's fair
in love and selection


Central Casting and Jayne Mansfield
Casting Central | Jayne Mansfield

Hal Roach Studio for demolition

if even great
almighty death
is such
 a long way down

More under the cut.

Orphans of the Storm (1921)

1001 Films to See Before You Die - no.11. Orphans of the Storm (1921)

This review is obviously just my opinion. I'm sure some people love this film and find merits in it that I can't.

I first saw this years ago when I was in my teens and was on a Lillian Gish craze after seeing her in The Wind (a sad omission from the list) and The Night of the Hunter. I'm not the greatest fan of U.S. silent films because, like this one, I find a lot of the stories dull and the films themselves overlong. Oh, so long.

Orphans of the Storm is a remake of the lost Theda Bara film, The Two Orphans (1915). It's set during the French Revolution so in theory it shouldn't be dull at all. But it is.

The director, D.W. Griffith, uses the film to make a public service announcement of sorts. It's a sort of "Careful now! We don't want to end up like them, do we?" sort of thing.  I do feel sorry for the punters of 1921 having to put up with heavy handed history lessons, warnings about the dangers of the class system and a link-up with the recent Russian Revolution when they probably just wanted a bit of escapism for a few hours. There is escapism however, if you can ignore the anvil of social morality bashing you repeatedly in the head.

A woman gives her baby (Louise) away because she's horrified at the indignity of having a baby out of wedlock AND being forced into marriage with a Count. I think. Mercy me. The baby ends up on the steps of Notre Dame in the snow. At the same time, a peasant decides to leave his child (Henriette) to the mercy of the Church as he is too poor for care for her. Finding Louise already half-frozen on the steps, he changes his mind and takes both infants back home with him. With Louise, he finds a locket and a bag containing a great deal of money. Years later, the girls are growing up and another peasant aptly named Jacques Forget-Not, comes to give the Count and Countess a basket of apples. They couldn't give a toss about the apples. Jacques tells them how hard it is for him because he can't pay the taxes or the rent, especially since his father was tortured by the "displeased" Count's father by having boiling lead poured into his veins. The Count and Countess couldn't give a shit about that either - he's making the place look untidy and looks like Bert from Sesame St. He really does.

Years later again and Louise (Dorothy Gish) has been blinded by the plague which also killed off their parents. Henriette (Lillian Gish) looks after her and they set off to Paris to try and find a cure. De Praille, an aristocrat who takes part in the "dissolute orgies" of the upper classes and is generally a very, very bad man, takes a fancy to Henriette and kidnaps her. She is rescued by the dashing and foppish, Chevalier de Vaudrey. Henriette, being eternally optimistic, believes that Louise has accidentally fallen into the river and drowned. In reality, Louise is being held against her will by a nasty old crone who thinks she can make some money out of having the blind girl beg on the streets.

Orphans of the Storm, 1921

De Vaudrey and Henriette fall in love and he proposes in double quick time. Henriette refuses for some reason, but he doesn't mind. She then cares for an injured revolutionary politician, Georges Danton, gets into a bit of a spat with Robespierre, finds her sister but loses her again when she is arrested and sent to the Bastille. (Insert some silly excuse so Griffith can put his lead character in the centre of the revolution and we can get some battle scenes.)

After being freed from the Bastille, Henriette and de Vaudrey are condemned to be executed by guillotine because de Vaudrey is an aristocrat and Henriette was harbouring him. Swings and roundabouts. They are saved by Danton. Louise's sight is restored and she is reunited with her sister and her biological mother, the Countess (who is also de Vaudrey's aunt. It's confusing). Everyone is happy and rich by the look of it, despite the Revolution. Everything grinds to a conclusion and I am a left unable to retrieve the 3 hours of my life I spent watching this film.

It's not that I hated the film; I just found it slow with a weak story. My copy didn't include a soundtrack which probably didn't help matters. I can find some good points though.

The sets are stunningly beautiful (filmed in Griffith's studio in Mamaroneck, New York), as are the costumes. This film has a plethora of set pieces - it has dances! It has children getting run over by coaches! Big wigs! Monocles! Duels! Heads on sticks! Fainting ladies! Naked ladies in fountains of wine! Oh, to be in France before the Revolution.

Unfortunately Griffith doesn't have the directorial originality of, say, Clarence Brown or Eisenstein (who was later influenced by Griffith, despite the anti-Bolshevik content of this film). The lighting is nice and I think the best parts of the film involved close-ups rather than the epic mob scenes and so on. I'm not a fan of Griffith's films as The Birth of a Nation is one of the most repulsive films I've ever seen, but Orphans of the Storm is ok. It owes a lot to Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities and Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, but with all the interesting parts taken out and hammy acting thrown in in its place. Even Henriette's journey to the guillotine was long-winded and held little suspense. I suppose it must be commended for the historic details. Griffiths obviously researched this period of history to death. It's impressive in terms of scale, but it's not half as deep and meaningful as it pretends to be. It's worth watching for the Gish sisters, if you like them as much as I do. Dorothy Gish's role is rather bland and Lillian Gish's isn't much better, but Lillian especially conveys emotion so wonderfully that I could watch her all day.

Screencaptures under the cut.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

My Own Private Idaho (1991)


Films You Must See Before you Die No. 835 - My Own Private Idaho

Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho is a rather Shakespearian take on life on the streets. It follows Mike (River Phoenix), a narcoleptic hustler who is traumatised from being abandoned by his mother. He suffers a narcoleptic fit at times of stress or when he is reminded of his mother and childhood. His sympathetic friend, Scott (Keanu Reeves), is the son of a mayor and a thinly veiled Prince Hal from Shakespeare's Henry IV. He is is disgusted by his father and chooses to be a street hustler and a disappointment until he turns 21 and receives his inheritance, at which point he vows he will change his ways. The Falstaff figure, Bob (William Richert), is a drug addicted vagrant and a nucleus around which a group of hustlers and misfits in Portland revolve . He and Scott share a peculiar relationship in which Scott loves him like a father, while Bob is in love with him. He is banking on Scott helping him and the rest of the group when he inherits his money.

Mike and Scott attempt to find Mike's mother and travel to Idaho to meet with Mike's brother. On the way, Mike tells Scott that he loves him. When the trail for Mike's mother leads to Italy, Scott falls in love with a girl called Carmella and they return to Portland, leaving Mike alone in Italy to continue his search. Mike continues to prostitute himself to fund his drug habit although he eventually makes his way back to Portland, having failed to find his mother. Back with his friends on the streets, they spot Scott and Carmella entering a restaurant. Bob rightly assumes that Scott has inherited his money, and approches him. Scott distances himself from him, declaring that he has changed and wants nothing to do with Bob, despite loving him like a father. Later, Bob dies and his noisy pauper's funeral is held in the cemetery a few feet away from where the funeral of Scott's father is also taking place. The film ends with Mike back on "his road" in Idaho. He suffers another narcoleptic fit, during which he is robbed by two people before being picked up by an unknown passing driver.

River Phoenix was a hugely talented actor who seemed incapable of putting in anything other than a brilliant performance. Apart from Stand By MeMy Own Private Idaho is possibly his best film. It's yet another reminder of what a great actor we lost when he died at the age of 23.

A lot of people deride Keanu Reeves, and he does have an awkwardness about him that could be and is interpreted as wooden. Personally, I'm fond of him. I like his film choices (on the whole) and he seems like a nice bloke and he's actually one of the few contemporary film stars who doesn't annoy the  bejesus out of me. He also hasn't aged in well over 20 years which is quite a feat. Congratulations on your great genes, Keanu. His reputation as a bad actor is quite unfair, although sometimes I admit that he's been miscast. He stands up well alongside River Phoenix in this film, probably helped by their obvious camaraderie.

This is a brave and a classic cult film. The stand-out moment for me is the campfire scene. It must be one of the most heart wrenching and vulnerable declarations of love, particularly because in the film none of the other hustlers admit that they're gay. According to Gus Van Sant, River Phoenix expanded the scene with his own dialogue.

The direction is unusual. The camera angles used are interesting and sometimes the film is documentary style as some of the cast members (who were actually real-life hustlers) recall stories. Sex scenes are depicted via freeze-frames of the actors holding funny poses. During Mike's narcoleptic episodes, time-lapse landscape and nature shots are used, as well as remembrances of his childhood depicted through old home movie footage. Shakespearian language is scattered throughout the film, as are some peculiar characters such as a client of Mike's who makes Mike clean his house while dressed up as a "little Dutch boy"from a cleaning product. Oh, and Udo Kier as Hans. I love him so much.

Not much more to say except that I think this was a film ahead of its time in a way - not just story-wise, but in terms of film making. It perfectly captures a drifting, passive longing.

Screencaptures and quotes under the cut.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

The Innocents (1961)

The Innocents (1961) Poster

"All I want to do is save the children, not destroy them."

This film is a masterclass of suspense and why it's not on the 1001 movies to see before you die list I'll never know. Beverley Hills Cop is on the list, not that it pretends to be suspenseful, it's just the fact that it's there and this one isn't that irritates me. *shrugs*

It's unsettling from the first moment, with birdsong and a child singing "O Willow Waly" over a black screen for nearly a minute. This was so unusual that, according to Wikipedia, projectionists thought that there was something wrong with the film.

The story starts with Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) being interviewed for her first position by wealthy playboy bachelor (Michael Redgrave) who has been "saddled" with two orphans, for whom he has no time for "neither mentally nor emotionally". The children live at his country house, Bly. He tells Miss Giddens that the previous governess died, and so he offers her the position, making it clear that her role would be to take on all responsibility regarding the children and that he should never be contacted or bothered about their upbringing again. First Miss Giddens meets Flora (Pamela Franklin), who tells her that her brother, Miles (Martin Stephens), will be arriving shortly, although he is not expected. Miss Giddens then receives a letter from Miles' school, telling her that he's been expelled but does explain why. Miles arrives and evades all questions about his school by precocious flattery. The new governess begins to see things, such as a man on the tower, and after questioning the housekeeper, Mrs Grose (Megs Jenkins), learns of a valet, Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde), who died and whose body was discovered by Miles. She is also told more about her predecessor, Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop). As she learns of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel and their affair, the sightings of the ghosts become more intense. Miss Giddens is convinced that the two children are possessed by the spirits.

For me, apart from The Woman in Black by Susan Hill, The Turn of the Screw is the finest ghost story and it's mostly due to its ambiguity. For this reason, The Innocents is the perfect adaptation, with Truman Capote's added dialogue emphasising the disturbing Freudian psychological elements to the story. We see what Miss Giddens sees, but everything she experiences is preceded by a trigger - the story of Quint and Miss Jessel unfolding slowly through the film via Mrs Grose. It can be seen both as a ghost story, and also as a depiction of paranoia. 

The mystery of Miss Jessel and Miles's expulsion play on her insecurities in a situation she is not comfortable with. The children are mysterious and their closeness is something she cannot penetrate. She is disturbed that they are not completely angelic. There is little in the way of adult company, further isolating her, and Mrs Grose encourages her speculation rather than grounding her. Miss Giddens is charmed by her employer, but, on his terms, cannot have contact with him. The story of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel's affair only intensifies her frustration - she sees their abusive, torrid relationship as wicked, but grows increasingly infatuated with it at the same time. She feels nervous but proud of the responsibility her master has given her, but ultimately she is ill-equipped to deal with the children, particularly as her obsession with the "ghosts" grows. As Miles states near the end of the film, perhaps her ghost story is the result of mental illness, or even a strange attempt at distracting herself from her fear of insanity. The master approved of her "imagination", so maybe this is a desperate attempt to make him notice her.

The choice of Deborah Kerr does smack of the token "big" filmstar with the necessary pulling power at the cinema. She is clearly playing a role which is intended for someone much younger; someone naive, nervous and inexperienced - not something you would expect from a woman with forty years of life behind her. However, her portrayal of a woman on the brink is excellent and her expressions of horror are unrivalled. It's easy to believe that she is simply a woman from a sheltered background venturing into employment to make her own way in the world. Anyway, it's Deborah Kerr and you'll never hear me say anything negative about her. It's a small cast, but everyone, especially the children, put in great performances. 

The direction, cinematography and lighting is equally wonderful. A good decision was made in shooting it in black and white. The film is incredibly eerie, nightmarish, paced and beautiful. I can't help but think that the key to a ghost film is subtlety and the building of suspense. There are no big shocks in this film, it simply plays on your fears in a strange, mysterious house when the darkness seems darker and every noise is sinister. The first line of the film is, "Do you have a good imagination?" and our imagination plays on our greatest fears with a few visual and aural cues. As it is so rare for a filmaker to understand this (particularly in contemporary cinema), so a film like The Innocents remains a benchmark and one of the finest examples of its genre.

Screencaptures galore under the cut.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

So many films to see before you die.

I like making life hard for myself, so I've decided to try and watch and blog about one of the "1001 Films You Must See Before You Die" every week. Based on all editions, including the films which were removed to make way for new films, there are 1089 films on the list.

There is an amazing Blog List you can join and be assigned a film a week, but I've decided to go it alone and work through the films which I already own first.

Here's the master list from filmsquish so I can link them to posts as and when. If you'd like to put this masterlist on your blog, here's a html code which you can cut and paste. Please let me know if you're going to tackle this task of Herculean proportions because I'd love to follow your blog.

Cut for massive list reasons.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Al's Tattoo

My artwork now is posted on another blog, just so I can keep this one tidy, but I can't resist posting this here too. Al has been really kind in sending me this photo of his tattoo, fresh from the needle. The design is is partly based on my illustration of Florence + The Machine. The tattoo artist has brought some wonderful scrollwork into it and the colours are stunning! I'm just amazed by it and humbled that Al chose my illustration as a basis for his tattoo.

Thanks to Al for the photo and Rich Hunter from A New Dimension Tattoo in Lake Worth, Florida for such beautiful work. Definitely the place to go if you're getting a tattoo!

Monday, 2 April 2012

March in photographs

I'm taking some screencaps of The Innocents as my next post. I think it's probably the best ghost film I've seen, disregarding The Grudge since Asian horror cinema pretty much has that genre covered now. Really, Hollywood has a lot to learn from Asian cinema about suspense and that CGI isn't as necessary as they seem to think. The best horror films I've seen have been those made on a small budget. Please comment if you have a favourite ghost film. I'd love some recommendations!

Anyway, as screencapping may take some time, I thought I'd share some photos I took last month as an in-between post. :) It's so lovely now that summer is here. The house photos are of my friend's house. It's like something out of "Country Living". Beautiful home. I love the idea of putting old photographs in little jars.