Classic movie lapel pins

November 28, 2016

When I jumped on the pin-making bandwagon a few months ago I noticed there's a deficit of classic film related enamel lapel pins on the market. I scoured the internet to find as many as I could and collected them here for a little Christmas shopping/wish list kind of post. I already have the Gone with the Wind pin (#17) and I ordered the Hitchcock one the minute I laid eyes on it (#11.) A few pins were designed by me, but most of them are from other artists.

Honestly this was all I could find on classic movies, which kind of bummed me out! If you have any suggestions or ideas for a pin that you'd love to see exist let me know in the comments and I'll try to make it happen!

1 - Tippi Hedren pin from Demonic Pinfestation
2 - A Trip to the Moon pin from my shop
3 - Silent Film Intertitle pin from CreatorCollab
4 - Marilyn pin from Memento Mori Goods
5 - George Lassos the Moon pin from The Silver Spider
6 - Phantom of the Opera pin from Buddha Bit
7 - Sophia Loren quote pin from my shop
8 - The Man Who Came to Dinner pin from my shop
9 - Glow in the dark Psycho pin from That's Fancy Eh
10 - Jingle Bell Rock (Hudson) pin from my shop
11 - Hitchcock pin from Nacho Scratcho
12 - The Shining Redrum door pin from Quasi Visual Arts
13 - Holiday pin from my shop
14 - Vincent Price pin from Two Ghouls Press
15 - Funny Girl pin from Grackle Distro
16 - Glow in the dark Vertigo pin from my shop
17 - Frankly My Dear pin from Jennis Prints
18 - Maltese Falcon pin from my shop
19 - Hedy Lamarr pin from Ici Pici Pins
20 - Night of the Hunter pin from CreatorCollab

Breathing the same air as: Isabelle Huppert

November 21, 2016

Yesterday I had the enormous pleasure of seeing Isabelle Huppert do a live Q&A at The Metrograph in New York City. Huppert is widely considered to be one of the best actresses (if not the best) of her generation, and being in that room last night you definitely got the sense that you were in the presence of an icon.

My own personal admiration for her is comparable to how I feel about my favorite classic Hollywood actress, Barbara Stanwyck. They both have a quality of effortless perfection about their work. They are masters of their craft. They blend seamlessly into their roles and exude a powerful sense of confidence, but at the same time, both are able to tap into this authentic vulnerability that you rarely see on screen. And, as I learned last night, Huppert also emulates Stanwyck off-screen in her modesty, professionalism, grace, and wit.

Huppert chose all of the movies for her Metrograph retrospective (although I got the sense that Metrograph was unable to procure a lot of her choices. She kept asking about specific films that she thought she had included, but the moderator said they were unable to secure the rights or unable to obtain a copy. None of her Chabrol films were included for this reason, apparently.) including Abuse of Weakness, White Material, The Piano Teacher, Amateur, and Home. The Q&A I attended was preceded by a screening of her 2012 film In Another Country, by Hong Sang-soo.

I hadn't seen it before, but it easily entered my "favorite new-to me movies of the year" list. The film starts out with a girl dreaming up a screenplay to distract her from family problems. She dreams up three scenarios, each featuring a French woman visiting a small coastal town in South Korea. In the first segment, Huppert plays a director on holiday with the family of a South Korean filmmaker. In the second segment, she plays a married woman impatiently waiting for her famous lover to join her for a one-day tryst. In the third segment she plays a divorcee whose husband has just left her for his South Korean employee. In each scenario, she meets the same group of people and has similar but varying interactions with them -- asking a lifeguard for directions to a lighthouse, borrowing an umbrella from the girl who runs the hotel, eating barbecue with another family. The film is a light and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, but I think the best word to describe it is sweet. And it had SUCH a perfect ending. When the last scene was ending I thought to myself "PLEASE let this be the last scene, it would be tragic if it continued after this. It's too perfect." Some movies just keep going past that sweet spot, but this one knew exactly where and how to end. I loved it.

As soon as the film was finished, Huppert came out for a Q&A. In the very first question she couldn't remember the word for "lighthouse" and someone from the audience helped her out. It was hilarious because one of the ongoing jokes (probably THE ongoing joke) in In Another Country centered around Huppert's character trying to communicate the word 'lighthouse' to the South Korean lifeguard. It really set the tone for an intimate, fun event where Huppert engaged with the audience as if we were all old friends.

Here are a few of my favorite anecdotes from the event:

- Somebody asked if there is any director she hasn't been able to work with yet that she'd love to. She was incredibly modest about it, trying to say that she only wants to work with people who want to work with her. But then she did kind of let it slip that she'd love to work with Woody Allen. I'm personally not a fan of his, but for her sake I hope word gets out to him. Isabelle Freaking Huppert wants to be in one of your movies, Woody. Make it happen.

- While working on Heaven's Gate, Godard came to Montana to visit Huppert, as they were going to be working on a movie together. She asked him if he could just give her an idea of what her character was going to be and he said "the face of suffering." haha! She also told her Heaven's Gate director, Michael Cimino, that Godard was visiting and he excitedly asked if she could bring him around to the set. She passed the message on to Godard and he said he was too tired. He just stayed in his hotel and never visited the set.

- Huppert was VERY impressed with her feline costar in her 2016 film Elle. She said it was a trained cat and it was the first time she ever worked with a cat that was basically an actor.

- Huppert and her family own a repertory theater in Paris in the 6th arrondissement. She said her son does all of the programming now, and it looks like right now they're wrapping up a Lauren Bacall retrospective! I'm definitely going to check this out next time I'm in Paris!

- In Another Country was shot in NINE DAYS. Huppert was talking to director Hong Sang-soo about his next project and he causally asked if she'd want to be in it. He had no script, no plot, no plans except for the location. She agreed and the next month she flew to Seoul where she was met by the director and her male costar at the airport. Her hair was done at a beauty salon in Seoul, and her wardrobe in the film was selected from her own closet by the director. Sang-soo wrote the screenplay as they filmed, giving out scripts the night before shoots. Apparently they were intended to shoot for two weeks but after nine days he said "that's it!" and called a wrap. She said that their follow-up film (shot last year and scheduled to be released soon) was shot in only five days!

- She said she doesn't like to call her roles "characters." She prefers to just think of them as other people, who are also her. I honestly think this is more than semantics, it's indicative of how much her (I don't want to say characters but) characters feel like real people.

All in all, this was an incredibly fun evening and I'm so glad that I braved the harsh winds yesterday to go out for this event. And now I'm even more determined to track down more of Isabelle Huppert's films. As of now I've mostly limited myself to the ones I've been able to stream on Fandor, Hulu (now FilmStruck), or Mubi. But now I think I'm going to have to start tracking down those elusive DVDs. Oh boy!

Monica Vitti Laughs!

November 03, 2016

Monica Vitti's ennui is one of the reasons I love cinema. Her sad, bored, lonely, searching characters in the films she made with Antonioni are simultaneously relatable and aspirational. She is alternately a volcano of emotion and a bottomless pit of emptiness. Claudia, Valentina, Vittoria, and Giuliana are completely different women but she portrays each of them with the same solemn resolution, adding dimension to roles that, in less gifted hands, could have fallen flat.

I love her work with Antonioni. I always include Claudia whenever I do those "which fictional characters represent you?" memes. L'Avventura is one of my desert island movies. But Vitti's talents didn't end with melancholy expressions of chronic boredom or modern discontent. In a career spanning almost four decades, Vitti constantly displayed an uncanny knack for comedy. While her sullen expression might have left a lasting impression on the landscape of cinema, her laugh echoes through history, waiting to be heard.

It's often stated that Vitti turned to comedy after the Antonioni films, but in reality they were a brief departure from the genre -- two of her first films, Ridere! Ridere! Ridere! (1954) and Le Dritte (1958) were comedies. And, one could even argue, there is an element of comedy at play within her work with Antonioni. Her humor, spontaneity, and force-of-nature energy are on full display when Claudia is making faces in the mirror or dancing to "Mai!" in L'Avventura, when Vittoria wrestles and imitates corny lovers with Piero in L'Eclisse, when Giuliana tries quail's eggs in Red Desert.

This vitality comes through even more-so, though, in her comedies. I have yet to see the pre-L'Avventura ones that I mentioned above (sadly the non-Antonioni films are very hard to find in America... see this post for an elaborate story about the lengths to which I had to go to find and watch "On My Way to the Crusades I Met a Girl Who...") but I've managed to track down several of her 60's-70's comedies and I highly recommend them.

The most famous (and most readily available) is Modesty Blaise. This was actually my introduction to Monica Vitti, who starred opposite one of my favorite actors, Dirk Bogarde, in the English spy spoof. Vitti plays the titular character, a super mod spy who changes outfits and hair colors in the blink of an eye, and Bogarde plays her arch-nemesis, Gabriel, an over-the-top white-haired villain who drinks from giant champagne glasses with goldfish swimming in them. It's one of the most fun movies I have ever seen, although after countless viewings I still have no idea what's going on plot-wise.

But it's a prime example of Vitti's light comedic touch. It actually feels light. Effortless. Gentle. One of my favorite scenes in the film is when Vitti and Terence Stamp, playing the Robin to her Batman, sing a little duet while eating ice cream.

Isn't that beautiful? And light as a feather. I love the hat tilt, the way Stamp and Vitti reach for a kiss before sinking into their seats. It's comedic choreography, well timed, simple, and sweet.

I think the mark of a great comedienne is the mannerisms -- it's not just about being able to deliver a punchline. Aside from Modesty Blaise, all of Monica Vitti's films were in Italian, and despite the language barrier I still find her humor absolutely charming. It's the mannerisms. It's the almost Chaplin-esque facial expressions. I think she would have excelled in silent film, although one would definitely miss her perfect intonations and that raspy, delightful laugh.

Her flair for creating Antonioni's weary women trying to make sense of the alien world around them lay in her ability to communicate with the audience through her expressions. I firmly believe you could watch L'Avventura with the subtitles off, and, just by watching Vitti's face, completely understand what the movie is saying. She brings this same talent, this ability to convey thoughts and emotions through gesture and manner, to her comedy.

My two favorite Vitti comedies are The Scarlet Lady, in which she stars as a revenge-obsessed woman opposite Maurice Ronet, and The Pizza Triangle (alternate titles are A Drama of Jealousy and Jealousy, Italian Style but I swear it's a comedy) which co-stars Marcello Mastroianni and Giancarlo Giannini. The Scarlet Lady is (drum roll!) available on amazon, on a Region 1 disc (so you can play it in the US) with English subtitles (woo hoo!) Unfortunately The Pizza Triangle doesn't seem to be commercially available in the US, but I found a copy here if you're interested.

Or you can go back and re-watch the Antonioni films, paying close attention to those fleeting glimpses of a rare comedic talent. Like Garbo before her, Monica Vitti was a natural at honing in on and reflecting the weight of existence on screen.... and when she laughs, it is a revelation.

A Classic Movie Halloween!

October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween! A couple weeks ago I got obsessed with the idea of making a Halloween video set to a Bauhaus song. I wanted to do Spirit, but then I re-listened to She's in Parties and it just seemed to fit so well with the ethereal spookiness of early 30's horror and Val Lewton films. I have enough footage saved to my computer now to do one with Spirit as well, but I think I'll save that for next year.

But for this year, here's "She's in Parties" by Bauhaus, with clips from the following films: Isle of the Dead (1945), I Walked with a Zombie (1943), Dracula (1931), Night Monster (1942), The Old Dark House (1932), Mark of the Vampire (1935), Frankenstein (1931), The Fall of the House of Usher (1928), The Black Cat (1934), The Seventh Victim (1943), Nosferatu (1922), Doctor X (1932), Bedlam (1946), Cat People (1942), Horror Island (1941), The Leopard Man (1943), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), The Wolf Man (1941)

BFI Classics: Cat People

October 19, 2016

This was the last book that I wanted to read for Raquel's Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge, which ended on September 15th. But in a beautiful fusion of procrastination and serendipity, I didn't get around to reading it until this week, when leaves are falling, the wind is starting to moan --not quite howling just yet-- and Halloween is definitely in the air. It's the perfect time of year to dive into a book about one of my favorite spooky movies!

I've read a handful of BFI books now, and Cat People by Kim Newman is my favorite. I've really enjoyed all of them, but some can get so caught up in the production details that they don't really spend too much time on the film itself. The bulk of this book devotes itself to deconstructing each scene, and it's absolutely fascinating. Production details can be interesting too (and this book isn't lacking in that department) but I'm personally way more interested in the actual film than the budgeting details. There's a reason I chose to read a book about a movie instead of a book about economics, haha :)

The author is a huge fan of the movie, which comes in handy when you're talking about a film that some people might not appreciate. He defends it valiantly from its detractors and diligently answers critiques with reasons why its supposed shortcomings make the film even better. He even included a particularly spiteful review from Stephen King and rebutted the complaint that the film was too obviously shot on a soundstage ("When I was supposed to be worrying about whether or not Jane Randolph was going to be attacked, I found myself worrying instead about that papier-mache stone wall in the background." UGH. For someone renown for his wild imagination, King certainly had a hard time using it when watching this movie.)

One interesting observation that really stuck with me was about which characters the audience is supposed to sympathize with. Modern audiences like Irena, Simone Simon's character, and feel sorry for her. But at the time of its release, did audiences instead see themselves in the milquetoast Kent Smith and All-American but nevertheless brazen husband-stealer Jane Randolph? Was French Simone Simon (playing Serbian here) a foreign, unfamiliar character whose exotic appeal had lured Kent away from his waspy Girl Friday? Newman writes in the book that the film is clearly trying to switch heroines halfway through the film -- in the scenes in which Randolph's character is in danger, we are supposed to be rooting for her. But do we? My heart is still with Irena, the poor romantic girl stuck in a body that she can't control.

Newman also gives us some background information about the sets used (or I should say, re-used) in the film. Val Lewton was an ace at recycling old sets, and here there are quite a few that will look familiar to you once you know where else you saw them! The inside of Irena's building with the giant ornate staircase is from The Magnificent Ambersons. Kent Smith's workplace is from The Devil and Miss Jones. The park is from an Astaire-Rogers musical (not sure which one.) For the infamous pool scene, they actually used an existing apartment building that had the right claustrophobic feel, with eerie underwater lighting. (On location shooting, take that, Stephen King!)

I've seen the film countless times so I didn't feel like I needed to revisit it before reading the book. However, now that I've learned so much about the film, gained so many insights into the characters and the psychology of the movie, I'm eager to watch it again with a newfound understanding.


October 17, 2016

Today is my one year Alainiversary! On October 17th, 2015, I fell down an Alain Delon rabbit hole and I've been watching his movies as if they were air and I couldn't breathe without them ever since.

About a week ago I received this signed photo in the mail. I could have fainted. I actually sat down right where I was standing, my eyes so fixed on the writing that someone would have had to physically move my head to get me to stop looking at it.  

To Kate. 

I don't know how to say this. I just... this means a lot to me. I don't care if it sounds silly or sad, but for some of us celebrity crushes are kind of all we have. I celebrate mine, and I embrace them. They make me goofy-grin happy! They are benchmarks in my life. There were my Sinatra years, my Bogarde years, and now my Delon years.

I enjoy the hunt, that desperate search to find every last movie they ever made. I like scouring ebay for weird memorabilia (favorite Sinatra find: a McDonalds lapel pin that says "Fry me to the moon", favorite Bogarde find: a comic book with an illustrated [and highly embellished] biography, favorite Delon find: Japanese fan magazines and an 81" poster for Any Number Can Win.) I like watching and rewatching the movies over and over again until I can close my eyes at night and play them on the black velvet underside of my eyelids*.

And I enjoy celebrating their anniversaries. Sinatra started on February 14th, 2000 when I was making a Valentine's Day mixtape for my parents (always the coolest kid around, it's nothing new) and Bogarde started on August 10, 2009 during TCM's Summer Under the Stars. I had seen Alain Delon before in Once a Thief and The Yellow Rolls Royce but it didn't *hit me* until I watched The Girl on a Motorcycle last October. It's not even really his film, it's 95% Marianne Faithfull, but his few scenes sealed my fate. Hook, line, and sinker, for a whole year.

Looking back on this little cinematic love affair, I can't believe how many Alain Delon related opportunities came up this year. Last December I got to see Purple Noon at The Film Forum. In February the Film Society at Lincoln Center showed an original print of La Piscine. In July The Film Forum showed a few Delon films, but the only one I was able to see was Deux Hommes dans la Ville. The reason I couldn't see the other ones? I was in Paris, where I got to see Le Samourai at Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé! And while I was there I also managed to pick up an Alain Delon coffee table book at a little DVD shop, along with some movies that were missing from my collection.

And then finally, my autograph. What beautiful timing. An Alainiversary present from the man himself! ;)

*paraphrasing Nabokov here

TCM Bus Tour in New York City

October 13, 2016

A couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of going on the TCM Classic Film Bus Tour in New York City. I'm a TCM Backlot member and they had a promotion a few months back where you could get the tickets, normally $49 each, for only $6! I got tickets for me and my parents, and the savings alone actually paid for my Backlot membership, so that was pretty cool!

I had done the LA tour during the 2014 TCM Film Festival, but I was itching to do the New York one since it's more like "home turf" to me :) I couldn't help but compare/contrast while I was on the bus, but I feel like my own preferences and sensibilities definitely influenced my opinions. I like New York better than Los Angeles. I like that it's kind of rough and dinged-up and a lot of days in NYC are spent trying to figure out how to navigate around a local parade or avoid falling into an open construction site, lol! It's not as shiny and sparkly as LA, but I love that. It feels more homey and cozy. When you're in New York, it's more like you're actually in a movie while LA feels like you're on set.

The tour bus in LA was TCM branded, had giant picture windows and a large flat screen tv in the front of the bus. The New York bus was a little worse for wear, was not TCM branded, and it had a sole travel-size-dvd-player screen for everyone to watch. But I liked it more.

For one thing, our guide, Jason, was WAY better than our LA guide, who my friends and I nicknamed "casually sexist tour guide Mike" because of the way he flippantly inserted demeaning misogynist comments into so many of his film anecdotes. Jason was knowledgeable and clearly was a true classic film fan. It was obvious that he was excited about the tour and film history, and his excitement was contagious. I found myself getting pretty pumped about locations for films I've never even seen, like Ghostbusters or Plaza Suite.

The tour kicked off with the "New York New York" number from On The Town screening on the DVD player as we drove off to our first destination. Then Robert Osborne came on (the screen, not the bus, haha!) and spoke a little bit about which NYC films made him fall in love with the city and move there. He said that Woody Allen's Manhattan is his favorite New York film, which really caught me by surprise. I'm not a fan of that film at all, but I have to give it some credit now, I guess, if it has the Osborne seal of approval!

Throughout the tour he'd ask the bus driver to pull over for a minute, at which point he'd play a clip from a film that was shot on the location we were stopped at. Above you can see On the Town playing on the DVD player while we were parked next to the subway stop in the movie.

This is actually not the best example (it's just the only one where I happened to take a photo of the screen and the location!) because this scene from On The Town was actually filmed on a soundstage! They had tried to film on location here, but because Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly were so popular, they had a difficult time getting work done with all of the crowds they were drawing!

We made a couple of stops along the way, the first one being Zabar's, where You've Got Mail was filmed.

I should mention here that I felt like the tour was kind of post-1970's heavy, so for any of those militant TCM fans who think classics stop at 1960 you might want to steer clear of this tour. There were definitely a decent amount of older film locations -- I'm going to list every film at the bottom of this post -- but most of the movies are post 1960. There were a lot that seemed like weird choices to me, actually, like Moscow on the Hudson and Baby Boom. I'd be the first to acknowledge that some of the more modern films (if you can even call them that when they're 20-30 years old already) are bona fide classics but those seemed like odd choices to me for a TCM Classic Film tour.

Anyway, speaking of bona fide modern classics -- You've Got Mail. I love this movie (although I kind of hate how it ends!) so I was excited to stop at Zabar's. This is where Meg Ryan gets in the "cash only" lane when she only has a credit card.

36 Sutton Place is where the girls lived in How to Marry a Millionaire!

Of course we had to drive by Tiffany's! If I was in charge of the tour I think I would have come prepared with pastries and let everyone go stand outside the window for a little early morning contemplation a la Audrey Hepburn.

This is where Elizabeth Taylor hails a cab in Butterfield 8. Our tour guide joked that only in the movies could someone hail a cab in NYC and actually get one immediately. I think he might have been forgetting that the person hailing the cab was Elizabeth Taylor ;) Pretty sure she could get ten cabs just by stepping outside the door...

This is the street where Sally gets her Christmas tree in When Harry Met Sally, another one of my modern favorites. I should mention here that -- assuming every tour operates in the same order that mine did -- the left side of the bus is definitely the side to be on. My parents were sitting on the left and my mom kept trying to take photos for me because I was missing everything on the right side. (So thank you to my mom for a lot of these photos!)

Finally, we stopped at the subway grate where Marilyn Monroe took her iconic Seven Year Itch promo shots. I was wearing a mini skirt so this was my pathetic attempt at "doing a Marilyn" on the subway grate, haha!

The subway grate actually isn't marked, there is literally no way to know it's even there unless you know the exact address (southwest corner of Lex and 52nd, the 2nd subway grate in from the street) before you go there. Apparently classic film fans are trying to get the city to declare it a historical landmark so that they can at least get a plaque for it, and I really hope that works out! My only complaint about this stop is that the bus parked in the spot where you'd have to be standing in order to get a photo from the same angle as Marilyn's original pictures. It's a small pet peeve though!

Overall, I was incredibly pleased with the tour. I learned so many interesting facts about movie history in New York that will definitely be on my mind whenever I'm in the city now. Did you know that tenement residents were evicted in order to build Lincoln Center in their place? Before it was torn down the city let the crew of West Side Story come in and shoot in the abandoned neighborhood. I thought that was so sad!

Ideally I would love it if the tour was successful enough that they made one for Lower Manhattan (this tour only went through midtown and uptown) which is where I like to go whenever I'm in New York. I feel like there's a lot of material there, definitely enough for another tour! I'd also LOVE if they made a Paris tour. I couldn't stop talking about it to my parents after the tour was over. I started plotting out which movies I'd include, which locations, trivia to ask during the tour. I almost want to write out a whole Paris tour and just send it to TCM with my fingers crossed that they'd take me up on it, haha!

But right now we just have an LA tour and a NYC tour and I loved them both. If you love movies, I don't think the small things like bus branding or tv screen size will affect your enjoyment of the tour. The most important things are the locations, the information, and the tour guide, and the NYC tour excelled in all three departments. I'd actually do it again if the opportunity came up.

Here are the films that were included in the tour, in order of date:

Mounted Police Charge (1896), King Kong (1933), My Man Godfrey (1936), Nothing Sacred (1937), Miracle on 34th Street (1947), The Naked City (1948), On The Town (1949), Ma and Pa Kettle Go To Town (1950), It Should Happen to You (1954), The Seven Year Itch (1955), The Eddy Duchin Story (1956), North by Northwest (1959), Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), West Side Story (1961), Barefoot in the Park (1967), Rosemary's Baby (1968), The Producers (1968), Midnight Cowboy (1969), Cactus Flower (1969), The Out of Towners (1970), Plaza Suite (1971), Serpico (1973), The Way We Were (1973), The Sunshine Boys (1975), Network (1976), Marathon Man (1976), Annie Hall (1977), Superman (1978), Manhattan (1979), Eyewitness (1981), Arthur (1981), Moscow on the Hudson (1984), Splash (1984), Ghostbusters (1984), Heartburn (1986), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), Baby Boom (1987), Wall Street (1987), Three Men and a Baby (1987), Moonstruck (1987), Working Girl (1988), Big (1988), When Harry Met Sally (1989), Sleepless in Seattle (1993), You've Got Mail (1998)

Two Alain Delons are better than one

October 03, 2016

This post is for the Dual Roles Blogathon (It's not late if it's still technically yesterday in some time zones while I'm writing this, right?) which is highlighting films in which an actor plays more than one part. Naturally I couldn't pass up an opportunity to screencap the heck out of La Tulipe Noire (1964) in which Alain Delon plays a masked hero during the French Revolution.

The film itself is okay, it's definitely not the best adventure film out there, but it's enjoyable. Also, the US release has somewhat confusing English subtitles. But let's get real... if you're watching La Tulipe Noire, you didn't come for the subtitles:


To be honest I've only watched the film from start to finish once. But I've lost count of how many times I've just popped the dvd into my computer and fast-forwarded to the best eye candy scenes where Alain Delon is playing what has to be the hottest masked avenger in cinematic history.

Now that's not really much of a stretch for Alain, right? I mean, you could look at basically any candid photo of him and be like "yeah, definitely the hottest masked avenger of all time." He doesn't even need to DO anything, he just oozes "hot masked avenger."

So that's where the acting and the dual roles come in. Because in addition to playing Guillaume de Saint Preux, The Black Tulip, hero of the French Revolution, he is also playing this guy:

When the hot masked avenger gets injured on the job, he asks his brother Julian to cover for him. Guillaume has a whole Scarlet Pimpernel/Zorro situation happening-- he's a respected member of society who needs to keep his heroic antics under wraps. If he attends a social function with a giant gash on his face, the guy who caused it will obviously know he's The Black Tulip.

So sweet, innocent, pure little cinnamon roll Julian takes his place. He is so delicate and nice and awkward that, I kid you not, whenever the story was following him I'd be like "ugh, bring back Alain Delon!" That's how good Alain Delon is. He was literally right in front of me on the screen and I forgot it was him. Because hot masked avenger Alain Delon was nowhere to be seen.

Look at them, they don't even look like the same person. The Black Tulip is confident and manages to make a ponytail tied with a ribbon look like the most macho hairstyle that ever was. Julian, meanwhile, is buttoned up to the neck in a pilgrim ensemble like "gee, shucks, Guillaume, I sure wish I was as cool as you are!"

"we are literally the same person but I am still staring at you in awe because you are such a perfect specimen"

The film was based on a novel by Alexandre Dumas, but apparently (I haven't read the book) the only thing they have in common are the names of the characters. So if you're looking for an accurate adaptation, you'll have to look elsewhere.

But I'm pretty sure if you're watching La Tulipe Noire, you were looking for something else:

(more screencaps after the jump!)

Breathing the same air as: Charlie Kaufman

September 27, 2016

Image from The Princeton Garden Theater's instagram

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending a screening of Anomalisa (2015) at The Garden theater in Princeton, followed by a Q&A with writer/director Charlie Kaufman. I have to admit, I'm only somewhat familiar with Kaufman's work -- I'd seen (and enjoyed) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) years ago and I watched Being John Malkovich (1999) last weekend to cram for the event -- but I couldn't pass up an opportunity to listen to one of the most interesting filmmakers of our time.

Anomalisa is a stop-motion animation, but the story and characters feel remarkably real and human. The script originated as a play, which might explain why the puppets have more emotional depth than you'd expect from inanimate objects. The story is about a middle-aged customer service expert on a one day business trip in Cincinnati for a public speaking gig. He's emotionally detached from his wife and son back in LA, and finds he's unable to rekindle the flames with an old Ohio girlfriend. When he turns his attentions to a shy woman who's in town to attend his lecture things turn sweet, then Lynchian, then sour.

I liked Anomalisa, and I thought it was exceptionally well executed, but it's not really my kind of movie. The humor was wonderfully dry and sharp - I loved that - and the attention to detail with regard to the animation was mind blowing. It's actually a rather tender movie, thoughtful about little things like a self-conscious woman hiding her hands in the sleeves of her sweater. But there's a touch of the grotesque that runs through it that is off-putting to me. I felt the same way about Being John Malkovich. It's almost as if it's a beautiful object that's coated in a layer of grime. And that's absolutely fine, and even admirable, but it's not my thing.

I didn't dislike the movie. I enjoyed watching it, for the most part (call me a prude, I probably am, but I wasn't a fan of the drawn-out sex scene between two of the puppets. I'm firmly in the "fade to black" camp) but when it was over I just felt... nothing. I knew I didn't want to watch it again, but I was glad that I had at least once.

The Q&A after the film was interesting and Kaufman was hilariously self-deprecating. My kind of humor! *high fives the air* When the moderator inquired about rumors that Kaufman is writing a novel he launched into a defense, explaining that it's the only way he could create something without having to secure financial backing up front. This way he can write the whole book and nobody has to put out any money until it's published (financing was clearly a sore-spot for him, which was especially sad. Even though I wasn't particularly smitten with this particular film, there's no denying he's a creative genius and it's heartbreaking that somebody that talented should have trouble getting his movies made.) The moderator sheepishly said he had only been offering an opportunity for Kaufman to plug his book, which prompted Kaufman to sarcastically inform us that "we'll all be dead" by the time it comes out.

Sidenote: I am very much looking forward to this book, assuming it's published before I die. While uncomfortable, slightly grungy films aren't my cup of tea, I do enjoy that type of story in fiction and my reservations about Kaufman's work are entirely visual. I think that it's probably all about the difference between picturing the story with your own imagination vs. seeing it through someone else's eyes on the screen. It's likely the reason that Kurt Vonnegut is my favorite author but I've been unimpressed by every tv or film adaptation of his work.

He answered a lot of questions with simple yes/no answers -- does the Japanese doll's unique voice at the end of the film have any significance? Yes. Was he influenced by existentialism when writing the film? No.

I think my favorite reply was when somebody asked him about likability. The audience member hadn't found the main character in Anomalisa, Michael, to be either likable or sympathetic, and they wondered if Kaufman related to the character at all. Kaufman replied that likability isn't important to him, it isn't an element he considers at all when he's writing. As long as the character feels true to who Kaufman wants them to be, that's all that matters. "Hurrah!," I silently exclaimed. While I didn't personally like the character of Michael either, that didn't factor into my assessment of the movie. I don't think that a film's value should be determined based on how much we can relate to its characters. "Likability" or the "would I want to grab a beer with this person?" test seems to be such an important factor in almost every aspect of society anymore. We often choose presidents, hire job applicants, and critique film characters based entirely on this quality. To me, a film character should be interesting and fully formed. Whether or not I personally would want to hang out with them might be a consideration if I'm taking a buzzfeed quiz titled "Which movie character should be your BFF?" but it shouldn't come into play if I'm assessing the character's existence.

Another audience member asked if Kaufman wrote because he felt compelled to, or because it made him happy. Kaufman's reply was that he's never really happy (sad face!) but that there are times when one of his films is screened and it gets a good reception and he can't help but feel slightly pleased. If you want to talk about relatable, we've got relatable sitting here in front of us.

I was enjoying myself immensely, and I started to feel a little guilty about my lukewarm feelings towards Anomalisa. The writer/director was right in front of me (literally right in front of me, because I had somehow awkwardly ended up in the center front row BY MYSELF. Nobody else in the front row. So awkward.) and he was so kind, self-effacing, intelligent, and ridiculously funny. I had to wonder if the Q&A had preceded the screening, would that have colored my opinion of the film?

I'm not going to re-watch it to find out. Sorry!

HOWEVER. It's been a long time since I saw Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and I think it's time to revisit it. I feel like I owe it to Kaufman, and it'll be nice to spend some time in a world where erasing memories is a plausible procedure. I can think of so many I'd like to dump in my proverbial trash can (let's just discard that whole folder titled "teenage years") but last night's Q&A is one I'll definitely hold onto.

TCM Big Screen Classics: Dr. Strangelove

September 22, 2016

I recently entered a contest through the TCM Backlot and won tickets to see Dr. Strangelove (1964) today, as part of the TCM Big Screen Classics series that Turner Classic Movies hosts with Fathom Events.

I hadn't seen the movie since TCM aired it in 2004 as part of an election-season series where a handful of politicians joined Robert Osborne to discuss their favorite films. I remember liking it, but I was 17 at the time and I'm not sure I fully grasped the humor or the message. Watching it now, with a fully-formed appreciation for dark humor and a better understanding of the perils of a nuclear-armed world, it felt more like an immersive experience than a simple night at the movies.

The movie was book-ended by clips of Ben Mankiewicz sharing some behind-the-scenes details, just like on TCM. He mentioned that the whole cast got a kick out of Peter Sellers, and apparently George C. Scott said that he felt guilty for accepting payment for his role because he had such a great time on the set that it felt like robbery to take the money! I wasn't surprised to hear this, because in the closing scenes I happened to notice Peter Bull, who plays the Russian ambassador, trying *so* hard to maintain his stern composure while Peter Sellers performed his Alien/Nazi-hand-syndrome routine in the foreground.

The movie definitely makes you laugh (the scene with the pay phone is priceless, and who can forget the film's most famous line, "Gentlemen. You can't fight in here! This is the War Room!") but watching a film in which paranoid, delusional leaders threaten the fate of the entire planet kind of hits a little close to home nowadays.

I am opposed to a Trump presidency for many reasons, a major one being the notion that a man who doesn't even have the temperament for twitter could be in charge of our nuclear codes. Someone who wouldn't rule out the possibility of a nuclear attack on Europe. By the end of this movie -- the cowboy riding the nuclear warhead onto its Russian target, the crazed Nazi scientist unfazed by nuclear annihilation, the images of Earth being wiped out by the Doomsday Machine while Vera Lynn's voice reminds us "We'll Meet Again" -- I was silently weeping in my seat.

It's hard to write a post about Dr. Strangelove and not draw the comparisons. I kind of feel like even if you're a Trump supporter you would have to see some similarities between him and General Ripper or General Turgidson, right? Maybe you would see them as the heroes of the story? Sometimes I really wish I could watch movies like this -- ones that clearly have a political message with (in my opinion) a pretty black and white notion of who's the good guy and who's the bad guy -- through different eyes. Do you see what I see if your opinions aren't informed by the same political ideology? Do conservatives and liberals walk away from Meet John Doe, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, or 12 Angry Men with the same message? Are we even seeing the same story? I'm honestly curious.

As a liberal, the takeaway that I got from Dr. Strangelove was one of anti-militarization. Signs around the army base proclaim "Peace is our Profession" while inside General Ripper is calling for an unprovoked nuclear airstrike against Russia. Neither side (save for a few paranoid individuals) actually wants war. None of us do, right? We all want our lives to go on peacefully, we want to love our families and eat good food and read good books. I don't want anybody to be blown to smithereens. I can't even fathom wanting that. And, to me, this film drives home that point. Only the delusional characters actually want war. Everyone else just wants things to remain calm and quiet. For them, peace really IS their profession.

Another message that I personally took away from Dr. Strangelove was that of human fallibility. No matter how many fail-safes we build into our weapons, no matter how high the chain of command before something like a nuclear attack could occur, humans are fallible. It's crazy to have weapons that could destroy the planet many-times-over resting in our stupid, stupid hands. Furthermore, the answer to human fallibility is not mechanical infallibility. The Doomsday Machine was created as way to combat human error, but in the end it's a combination of human fallibility and mechanical infallibility that seals the fate of our planet.

So yeah, this was quite an experience for me. I always take election season kind of hard (I definitely get it from my mom, who has proclaimed "if ______ wins, we're moving to Canada!" every four years since before I was even born) but this one is really getting to me and it's definitely permeating my film analysis. (Case in point: I was positive Jaws was a metaphor for gun control until I remembered that that wasn't even a major issue yet in 1975.) As someone who uses film as a form of escapism, this hasn't been the best situation to be in. I'm just a film lover who wants to experience a little of that bliss I keep hearing about, the one that comes with ignorance. Just two hours of ignorance, that's all I'm asking for...