The Classic Movie History Project: John, Juliet and Hayley Mills

August 10, 2016

John, Juliet and Hayley Mills

For the Classic Movie History Project this year, one of the topics is "The Family Business" and I jumped at the chance to cover my favorite movie dynasty, The Mills Family. Hayley Mills has been one of my favorite actresses since I was a child. I always consider my entrance into the world of classic film fandom to be my obsession with Audrey Hepburn that hatched in December 1999, but if I'm being particular, Hayley Mills was actually my first foray into the world of classic cinema. I was watching The Trouble with Angels and The Moon-Spinners while the rest of my elementary school classmates were hooked on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

John and Hayley

Over time I discovered her father, Sir John Mills, a phenomenal British actor who had started making movies in the 1930's, and kept at it until he passed away in 2005. Her older sister Juliet also acted, with most of her success being in television (although my own favorite role of hers is in Billy Wilder's Avanti!) All three Mills family members constantly delivered top-notch performances, whether starring in a David Lean-directed Dickens adaptation, a live action Disney film, or even an unsettling low-budget horror flick.

John, Juliet, Hayley and Jonathan Mills

...I've been thinking lately about how to fully express my love of classic movies, some way I can share my passion for them that doesn't really involve writing. I mean, I want to keep writing here, but my way with words is neither special nor eloquent in any way. I always run into a roadblock when it comes to translating my feelings about film into words and sentences. I'm currently reading a biography of Francois Truffaut, and the excerpts from his reviews at Cahiers du Cinema are leaving me even more critical of my own scholarly shortcomings.

Juliet, Hayley, Jonathan and their mom Mary Hayley Bell

Anyway, all of this has been sloshing around in my brain, all the while I knew I wanted to write something up for this post. It isn't quite enough to tell you that I love Hayley, John, and Juliet. As far as Hayley goes, everything I think becomes too personal -- why she is important to me, how her films shaped my whole life, how I've spent almost three decades aspiring to BE her character in The Trouble with Angels. Of John I can only say that he is one of my all-time favorite actors (speaking of linguistics, please tell me there is another term for "all-time favorite" so I can stop saying it ad nauseam) and his performance in Hobson's Choice is so delicately perfect, so sweet and beautiful that just thinking about it almost makes me cry. Juliet is the most underrated Mills, I think, and deserves so much more recognition than she currently enjoys. Please just watch her in Avanti!. She is at once lively, self-conscious, adorable, and full of grace. I'm usually critical of Billy Wilder's casting decisions, but in Avanti! he knocked it out of the ballpark.

John Mills and wife Mary Hayley Bell

Since I really don't think I can contribute much in the way of words, I decided to scan some of my favorite family photos from John Mills' autobiographical photo book, "Still Memories." I love that these are authentic family snapshots, not staged photos (with the exception of John and his wife, Mary Hayley Bell, eating ice cream in Hollywood. That one is a publicity portrait) My personal favorite is the following, with John and Juliet wearing fake mustaches!

John with his father, Lewis Mills, celebrating the birth of Hayley Mills.

The caption for this photo is one of the sweetest things I've ever read. John Mills writes, "I was on a 48-hour leave. I had the date of my marriage engraved on my Reverso watch, 16.1.41, which was quite unnecessary. I have never needed reminding of the most marvelous day of my life."

John Mills with tiny Juliet Mills in front of their home, Misbourne Cottage in Denham Village. According to the book his neighbors included David Lean, Noel Coward and David Niven!

Hayley Mills' christening, with her parents and Martha Scott.

It may be a publicity portrait but this is one of my favorites from the bunch. So adorable!

Hayley Mills with her parents and Sir Laurence Olivier after the premiere of Tiger Bay

Classic film book challenge: City Lights

July 09, 2016

For my first book in Raquel's Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge, I chose BFI Classics: City Lights by Charles Maland. BFI Classics books are short reads (usually about 100-110 pages) about specific classic films. I think this is the third one that I've read now, and I really enjoy them! I wrote about their L'Avventura volume for the classic film book challenge last year. The review is on my blog here.

City Lights was on my 30 before 30 list, a list that I compiled last year of 30 movies I hadn't seen but wanted to watch before turning 30 this November. The movies that comprise the list mainly fall into one of two categories -- movies I've always wanted to see personally, and movies that have cultural significance. Some films are referenced in pop culture so much that I often feel like I've missed out on some massive communal experience by not seeing them. City Lights falls into both of those categories. I love Chaplin and I'd seen all of his feature length films, save this one and A Countess From Hong Kong.

I had the immense pleasure of getting to see City Lights for the first time a couple of months ago at the New York Philharmonic. The only term that could fully convey the experience is "exquisite." I'm actually glad that this somehow eluded me for 29 years, so that my first viewing could be so beautiful. And reading this book only enhanced my appreciation for the movie and the experience of seeing it for the first time.

The BFI book is a comprehensive study of the film -- it tackles everything! The budget, the movie's reception, the personal circumstances that might have led Chaplin to this story, the shooting schedule, scene-by-scene breakdowns, contemporary criticisms, and the film's legacy.

I felt like some of the information was a little too tedious -- I could have personally done without the extensive budgetary discussions -- but overall I walked away from this feeling informed, and more importantly (to me, at least) like I had a better understanding of Chaplin's motives and what he wanted people to get from the movie. It also gave me a greater appreciation for how much work he put into his projects. I knew that he had written, produced, directed, starred in, and composed the score for, City Lights. But seeing his actual shooting notations (see below) blew my mind.

I should note that my level of film appreciation is usually just that -- mere appreciation. I don't know very much about the actual craft, the amount of preparation that goes into shooting a movie, the terms for camera angles or lighting, etc. But the author does a good job of explaining these sorts of things in ways that a novice can understand, and manages to convey just how meticulous a craftsman Chaplin was when working on City Lights (and, I'm sure, all of his movies.) He points out things that I never would have noticed before - like how Virginia Cherrill's hair is backlit in the last scene, or how Chaplin uses silence [a lack of music] to heighten the emotion of certain moments.

The author also takes us behind the scenes of the production, from the turmoil surrounding Chaplin's hiring-and-firing of his co-star, Virginia Cherrill, to the much more jovial atmosphere on the set for the boxing sequence:
"Charlie must have had over a hundred extras present... and he encouraged his friends in town to come and watch. Everyone loved boxing in Hollywood in those days. And Charlie was so funny in the ring. The boxing scene became a sort of party at the studio. Charlie loved every minute of it." - Virginia Cherrill
I had very few qualms with the book, since it was absolutely brimming with everything I could ever want to know about City Lights. My only complaint was with the author's interpretation of the ending. Granted, he acknowledges that many people get different things out of this ending, but it's more his framing of what constitutes a happy ending that bothers me:
"Her gesture of bringing the tramp's hand to her heart and the broadening of the tramp's smile at the end of the final shot can lead an optimist to hope their relationship may flower. Our knowledge of the flower girl's expectation of a rich and kind benefactor, of the tramp's social marginality, and the darker emotional tone of the score's final strains suggest to the pessimist -- or even the realist -- that this relationship will never work. But Chaplin leaves us poised on the edge, without a definitive answer."
Although the tramp clearly is in love with the flower girl, I don't think that a relationship between the two is essential to the happy ending. Throughout the entire film the tramp exhibits a self-sacrificial quality, even going to prison so that the flower girl could have the money for her eye surgery. He does this because his sole purpose is to make her happy. Therefore, seeing her success, her happiness, her restored vision, and knowing that he played a role in making it happen, should be more than enough satisfaction for the tramp.

Is it possible that the tramp and the flower girl will never be involved romantically? Yes. But I don't actually think that even factors into the ending. To me, it's a happy ending because the tramp is clearly beside himself with joy. His face in the last shot has to be one of the purest expressions of happiness ever committed to film. 

Living in a classic movie world

July 02, 2016

Last year (almost exactly a year ago, actually!) Raquel did a series of posts on her classic film collections and I've been meaning to share my own collections ever since. I always have "one more thing" that I want to buy, or something I need to hang up, or a collection I want to organize. Today I finally decided to stop putting it off and snap some photos!

This post is focused on how I've decorated my space to reflect my love of classic film. I want to do a follow-up post that concentrates more on individual items that are special to me. I have a lot of movie memorabilia tucked away in storage because I have too much to display in one tiny room. Hopefully it won't take me a year to get around to that post! ;)

TCM Big Screen Classics: Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory

June 26, 2016

Last year TCM announced that Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory would be re-released as part of their partnership with Fathom Events, and it was literally one of the first things that I marked in my brand new 2016 planner six months ago.

I feel like these big screen classics events were such a brilliant idea... it's almost like bringing the TCM Film Festival to people who couldn't travel out to Hollywood. I attended this screening with my parents who could never afford to go to TCMFF, but love classic movies *almost* as much as I do. My only complaint is that the events don't seem to be hyped much outside of the TCM community. At my local theater you would have no idea that Willy Wonka was even playing if it hadn't been on the ticket board above the box office. It wasn't even on the marquee. And all of the Fathom coming attractions advertised their Broadway and Opera offerings, rather than upcoming TCM events.

It's a small gripe, but I think all of us classic movie buffs have a little bit of evangelism coursing through our veins. It isn't enough to enjoy classic films, we want to share our love of them with the world and introduce more people to their magic.

But anyway, enough whining. This was such a wonderful experience for me, and I'd rather be writing about that! Before the show started there were a series of Willy Wonka themed trivia questions to enjoy while waiting for the main attraction. I had no idea that Fred Astaire was considered for the main role! I did, however, beat my dad on the question pictured above (he guessed Pittsburgh while I knew FOR A FACT that it was Munich.)

At showtime we were treated to an introduction by Ben Mankiewicz before the movie, and then he returned afterwards, too, to explain why the book "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" became the movie "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." (spoiler alert: It helped Quaker Oats to market Wonka brand chocolate bars!)

I've watched Willy Wonka (we just call it "Willy Wonka" in my house -- I don't think I even realized it had a longer title until I was an adult) countless times but it honestly gets better with each viewing. I've read reviews from other adults who revisit this childhood favorite, only to find it unsettling and disturbing, and not really about candy. I kind of wonder if a decades-long break between viewings creates that stark contrast. I doubt I've ever gone more than 2-3 years without watching Willy Wonka, so it's grown with me. Over time I've noticed new things, realized there were messages where I hadn't previously seen them, slowly picked up on Willy Wonka's beautifully dark humor.

A lot of people also seem to complain that the titular character, played by Gene Wilder, is kind of psychotic. But honestly I relate to him more than any other character in the movie. He's so filled with childlike wonder -- probably more so than most of the actual children-- but also horribly world-weary. And with good reason! He invites ten people into his secluded chocolate factory and only one turns out to be a good egg. (And yeah, I'm including Grandpa Joe here. Would Charlie have tried the fizzy lifting drink if Grandpa Joe hadn't suggested it? NOPE. Did Charlie want to engage in confectionery espionage? NOPE.)

In the end, Willy Wonka's message is about being a good egg. Be kind to others, be honest and truthful, and don't lose your sense of wonder. Even though most of the parents are blockheads, one of the best scenes in the whole movie is when Willy Wonka lets everyone eat whatever they want in the chocolate room. The parents look almost as excited as the children, scooping up handfuls of whipped cream or going hog-wild on giant pieces of licorice. For one beautiful but brief moment you're reminded that everyone is still a kid at heart.

Willy Wonka will be in theaters again this coming Wednesday (6/29) You can see if it'll be playing in a theater near you (and buy tickets!) on the Fathom website, right here. In case it wasn't already abundantly clear -- if you're already a fan of the movie, go see it! If you've never seen it before, go see it! It's fun and weird and quirky and beautiful and Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka creates one of the best film characters of all time. Just go see it!

PS. Since I can never miss an opportunity to dress on -theme, I couldn't resist wearing this vintage purple velvet dress to the movies today! All that was missing was a top hat, a cane... and some chocolate ;)

Still Discovering Dirk Bogarde - Despair (1978)

June 04, 2016

I'm still determined to blog about every new-to-me Dirk Bogarde movie that I see, so after watching Despair for the first time last night I felt compelled to write something up today. The only problem is that I actually don't want to do a full post until I've seen it again, and that won't be for another couple months.

In 2009 when my obsession with Dirk was in full swing, very few of his movies had commercial releases so I had to resort to watching really horrible probably-recorded-from-a-tv-program-in-the-1980's copies to get my fix. So my copy of Despair was so bad it would likely throw any honest to goodness movie lover into a fit of.... despair.

I mean, I missed at least 1/4 of the dialogue because it kept cutting out or the sound was just that bad. From what I could see/hear/grasp I really enjoyed the movie, though, and as soon as it was over I whipped out my iphone to see it if had had a proper release in the intervening years. It turns out that it was fully restored and released on dvd (AND BLU RAY, MIND YOU) a couple years ago. I'm currently on a pretty strict self-imposed budget of one new DVD per month and June is already claimed by Criterion's upcoming release of Here Comes Mr. Jordan, so it'll be about another two months before I can get a crystal clear copy of Despair into my eager hands. But as soon as that day comes, I will be reporting back with a much better review. I just wanted to kind of log this on the blog to record that it had, indeed, been watched.

It's a funny thing, though, to think that if I had been on the ball and watched this when I bought it in 2009 I probably would have written a full review right off the bat. Sometimes I feel spoiled by things like Criterion and official DVD releases. I grew up on shoddy VHS recordings with terrible tracking, pan and scan movies with commercial interruptions, public domain tapes of Hitchcock movies so grainy and foggy that you could barely make out the image. Even now sometimes a lot of my foreign film purchases are horrible quality because good transfers with English subtitles just aren't available anywhere, and I make do. It's only when I know for a fact that a better alternative exists that I just literally can't even with these mediocre, substandard offerings.

Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge

June 01, 2016

It's time for Out of the Past's annual Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge! Last year I only managed to finish two of the six books I picked out, but this year I'm determined to knock out EIGHT. Well, I'm determined to start eight. Whether or not I actually finish that gargantuan Truffaut tome while simultaneously attempting to complete seven other books over the summer is yet to be determined...

I've been saving some books specifically for this challenge. I've had the Alain Delon book for a few months (apparently the only book about him in English, as far as I can tell) the Melville book was a Christmas present, and the Hitchcock book came from my dad's book collection. I'd been eyeing it for a long time and he finally just let me take it (such is the case with almost all of his film books that, over the last decade or so, have slowly been transitioning from his bookshelves to mine...)

I only have three Melville movies left to watch before I've seen all of them, so I want to watch those before I start his biography. I think I'll start out with the BFI book on City Lights, since I just saw that on the big screen at the New York Philharmonic last month. If you're unfamiliar with the BFI books, they're little 100-or-so page volumes about one specific movie. They're quick reads (perfect for the reading challenge and for light summer reading) but very informative. It's almost like a Criterion commentary in book form!

I'm also working on The Cinema of Cruelty by Andre Bazin, but it's on my (shudder!) kindle, so I couldn't include it in the photo. I love real books, so I kind of (very much) hate myself for having a kindle, but it's better for me for on-the-go reading. Being a weakling with the upper-body strength of a gnat, it's easier for me to carry around one kindle than three hardcover books..

Part of the challenge includes writing about the books you've read, so hopefully you'll be hearing more about these books in the weeks to come! :) If you're interested in reading any of the books I've selected here's a complete list with links to buy them:

The Cinema of Cruelty by Andre Bazin
BFI Classics: Cat People by Kim Newman
BFI Classics: City Lights by Charles Maland
Hitchcock by Eric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol
Jean-Pierre Melville: An American in Paris by Ginette Vincendeau
Making Waves: New Cinemas of the 1960s by Geoffrey-Nowell Smith
Jean Seberg - Breathless by Garry McGee
Alain Delon: Style, Stardom and Masculinity by Nick Rees-Roberts
Truffaut: A Biography by Serge Toubiana and Antoine De Baecque

Raffles vs. Raffles

May 23, 2016

I've wanted to see the 1930 Ronald Colman/Kay Francis version of Raffles for a very, very long time. I watched the 1939 David Niven/Olivia de Havilland version years ago -- I'm pretty sure I have a copy that I recorded on VHS from TCM when I was still in high school -- but my attempts to track down the 1930 version were always unsuccessful. I can remember the excitement whenever I'd see "Raffles" show up in my Now Playing guide, then the immediate disappointment when I'd inevitably see "1939" written next to it. (Oddly enough, the same thing happened for a while with another Ronald Colman movie. I really wanted to see his version of A Tale of Two Cities, but TCM would always be playing the Dirk Bogarde version instead. This was way before I became a Dirk fangirl, so I'd always shake my fist in the air, cursing whoever the heck this Dirk guy was, who thought he could possibly remake a role that was practically MADE FOR RONALD COLMAN. But I digress..)

I searched all the places high-school-me knew to search (basically ebay and the library) to no avail. At some point I stopped looking. For all I know it's probably been shown on TCM dozens of times in the last few years and I just didn't notice because it wasn't an obsession anymore. I had given up on the dream. *light goes out, curtain closes. silence*

A couple months ago I was searching for Ronald Colman on Amazon, and THIS came up in the search results. It's a Warner Archive double feature DVD with both the 1939 AND 1930 versions of Raffles. FINALLY!!

A lot of the time when I'm obsessed with tracking down a movie, there isn't any real reason behind my mania. It's usually just because I'm being a completist (Still trying to find the 1970 TV movie Upon This Rock to complete my Dirk Bogarde collection, argh!!) or the mere fact that the movie seems unattainable makes me desperate to attain it. I compare movies to boyfriends a lot but seriously... if you play hard to get I'm going to want to watch you EVEN MORE.

Anyway, the main reason I wanted to see this particular movie so badly is because the ending of the remake seems like it was tacked on to obey the production code. I desperately wanted to know if the pre-code version had the same ending.

The basic plot of both movies is essentially the same: Raffles is a (slightly less morally upstanding) modern Robin Hood -- he steals to help his friends and people in need, but he also might take a diamond bracelet or two for his lady friends. After deciding to settle down and get married he gives up the game. But when he finds out that a friend is in financial trouble, he decides to take on one last heist. It's clear in both movies that Raffles is essentially a good guy. He feels bad about his crimes, but he's also committing them (well, most of them) for good reasons. And after this last robbery (taking a necklace from a very rich lady, not like... robbing the community chest or anything) he's calling it quits. Now here is where the two films diverge:

*Spoiler alert*

The 1930 ending: The police enter Raffles' apartment. The chief inspector spies a plane ticket to Amsterdam, apparently the place to unload hot diamonds, and Raffles confesses. But just as he's about to be arrested he pulls a daring escape, asks Kay Francis to meet him in Paris, and then disappears into the night. THE END.

The 1939 ending: The police enter Raffles' apartment. The chief inspector spies a plane ticket to Amsterdam (9 years later it's still the best place to unload hot diamonds.) Raffles confesses. But just as he's about to be arrested he pulls a daring escape. Then he goes back to his apartment, has a small love scene with Olivia de Havilland (no promises of Paris this time) and heads off to keep an appointment to TURN HIMSELF IN to the Chief Inspector at 7pm. THE END.

That ending always struck me as so unusual... why does he evade arrest and then turn himself in anyway? It felt very tacked-on, like the original movie ended with his escape and then because of the code they had to add the part where he gets his just desserts. Having finally seen both movies now, I feel vindicated, but also kind of bummed out because it just reminded me that the code watered down so many otherwise great movies.

That being said, I did enjoy the remake (I re-watched it after the 1930 version last night.) David Niven makes a fantastic Raffles. I still prefer Colman, but they both pull off the effortlessly-suave-and-likeable-criminal thing very well. The remake isn't as tight as the original (despite both clocking in at 72 minutes) but the cast does include Dame May Whitty, and honestly that's reason enough to watch anything.

Now I just need to watch the 1917 John Barrymore version... 

Ronald Colman photos from this awesome site

Ice Cream Social blogathon: Sunday in New York (1963)

May 20, 2016

When I saw that Movies Silently was hosting a Classic Movie Ice Cream Social Blogathon, spotlighting movies with the "power to cheer you up when you’re feeling down," I knew I HAD to blog about Sunday in New York. It's a comedy from 1963 starring Jane Fonda, Rod Taylor, and Cliff Robertson, and it's been my favorite movie for about six or seven years.

I feel like we've been together forever though. I've seen other movies that I like better, or (obviously.. I mean, it's a 60's sex comedy, it's not Citizen Kane) movies that are just better movies. But something about Sunday in New York stuck with me; it is my filmic comfort blanket. It's like a cup of tea and a book during a thunderstorm, a shoulder to cry on on a bad day, a scoop of ice cream on a hot summer afternoon.

I've seen Sunday in New York countless times, so much in fact that sometimes I'll try to play the movie in my mind, running through each scene and seeing how much I can remember (The answer here is "all of it," something that's either very impressive or very embarrassing.) I had the immense pleasure of seeing this on the big screen at the 2014 TCM Film Festival, introduced by Robert Osborne in person. I cried happy tears afterwards, it was such a moving experience for me. And last year when I got a portable projector and movie screen for the backyard, deciding which movie to pick for the inaugural screening was a cinch.

So what is it about Sunday in New York that makes it so great? Why is this the movie that, above all else, cheers me up when I'm feeling down? I can give you a list of reasons (and I will, in a second) but, I think our relationships with movies are similar to relationships with people (stay with me) in that we each have our own chemistry with film. Sunday in New York appeals to me, it set off a spark in my brain that's impossible to quantify. I fell in love with it, and despite any attempts to make sense of my infatuation, I've come to accept that it just is. You can't help who/what movie you fall for, sometimes it's Alain Delon, sometimes it's a very silly slightly sexist 60's romantic comedy that's also kind of an ad for Peter Nero. If that sounds like it might be your cup of tea (or ice cream cone!) too, here are some reasons why I think Sunday in New York is awesome:

- If you have to escape for a few hours to a different reality, escaping into one that takes place in this apartment is a very good idea.

- It utilizes a lot of standard rom-com devices, but in a very fresh way. Jane Fonda and Rod Taylor have not one, but TWO very cute meet-cutes. And there is your standard confusion-arising-from-misunderstandings but it's hilarious, not eye-roll worthy. And while a few complications-to-move-the-story-forward happen, they don't last long. When you're watching a movie to cheer you up, you don't want to experience any of those frustrating movie moments that get you yelling at your screen.

- It talks about sex, double-standards, and the pressure of expectations on girls in a very frank way (albeit laced with some sexism that's to be expected from this type of movie from this particular era)

- There's a second storyline involving Cliff Robertson and Jo Morrow that's almost as funny and adorable as the Taylor and Fonda plot. (Sidenote: if anyone doubts Robertson's sex appeal, watch him answer Morrow's complaint that it's cold in Denver with the line "I guarantee that will not be your problem...." Yeesh!!)

- The cast members have an excellent rapport with each other. Jane Fonda and Rod Taylor make a fantastic pair and really should have been their generation's Doris Day and Rock Hudson (Taylor was actually paired with Day a couple times but I feel like he works so much better with Jane Fonda.)

- If you don't like Peter Nero, this isn't really a plus, but it's basically an ad for Peter Nero. Fonda brings Robertson's character one of his albums as a gift, Fonda and Taylor discuss the new Nero album on their date, he orchestrated the soundtrack for the movie, and when they go to a nightclub I'll give you one guess who's there performing live. Go on, guess! ;) I like it, though, I think it's kind of a throwback to the 30's and 40's when a lot of movies would feature a band leader like Ray Noble or one of the Dorsey brothers.

- It's a feel-good movie. If you know me, it might actually be a shock that I'd choose a feel-good movie to cheer me up, lol! My friends literally preface recommendations with "It's depressing, you'll love it!" But as much as I might like my films dark, morbid, and gloomy, when it comes to my "ice cream social" movie, I want something that leaves me grinning like an idiot when it's over. Sunday in New York is planted firmly in happy-ending, smiles for days territory, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Still Discovering Dirk Bogarde - The Damned (1969)

May 17, 2016

In 2009 I started a series called "Discovering Dirk Bogarde" where I documented each new-to-me Bogarde film that I watched. The last entry was in August of 2010. Did I simply slack off in the post-writing-department and consume the remainder of his filmography without chronicling my thoughts on this blog? No. Sadly, I haven't watched a single new-to-me Bogarde movie since 2010. I have no idea how that's possible, but here I am, SIX YEARS LATER, still discovering Dirk Bogarde.

I wish I could say that I loved The Damned, but I honestly still have no idea how I feel about it. It confused the HECK out of me, for one thing. I felt like a complete idiot -- I couldn't figure out who was who or how anybody was related. My ego was comforted a bit when I read some reviews afterwards, though --

" many characters introduced so quickly that one part of your mind will spend the rest of the movie just trying to sort them out." - The New York Times

"Characters and plots keep slipping away from us, as in a frustrating dream. We are never quite sure where we are." - Roger Ebert

I want to revisit the movie at some point (not right away though, it's an experience that nobody should subject themselves to more than twice in the span of a few months) and I think I'll grasp the plot a lot better with this handy dandy family tree that I whipped up today:

the damned family tree 1969

It took me hours sifting through reviews and synopses to break this down, and even then it was still puzzling. Some articles cite Konstantin as Joachim's son, while others refer to him as "an unscrupulous relative" and make reference to Sophie's ex-husband as Joachim's "only son." Who knows.

War-and-Peace-level character confusion aside, it's a... strange film. I think it's probably best known today for all of the shocking elements that made it a cult classic, including (but not limited to!) a gay Nazi orgy, pedophilia, incest, rape, child suicide, and drug abuse. Fetch my smelling salts! While I tend to prefer my movies pedophilia-free, I can understand things like that being included when they're essential to the plot. This didn't feel necessary though, it seemed like it was intended to shock, and that's it. The only truly outrageous deed that felt like it was crucial to the plot was the incest (now THERE is a sentence I never thought I'd type!) but honestly even that could have been replaced with an equally horrendous but less gag-inducing act and still been effective.

The acting was occasionally too dramatic (mostly Reinhard Kolldehof, who I've seen likened to George C. Scott but I felt like he was much more Lee J. Cobb) but overall any issues I have with the movie fall squarely on Luchino Visconti's shoulders. While a lot of the lighting is beautiful, especially a few scenes shot with an eerie green pallor reminiscent of early two-strip technicolor horror films, the camera movements remind me of home videos when my parents would hand the camera over to me or my brother. Zooming in on a face, then quickly zooming out, panning over to the side and then back up to someone else.. while I get that the intended effect is a kind of operatic level of drama (sort of like the exaggerated zoom-to-close-up of a soap opera) it just struck me as too erratic. Visconti would also be responsible for the fractured script --originally 4 hours, then cut down to 2.5. Somehow it's simultaneously too long to enjoy but not long enough to fully spell out anything that's happening in the story.

I'll give him points though, for two things -- the cast and the lush visuals (despite my annoyance at how exactly those two things were filmed.) Even Reinhard Kolldehof, in all his overacting pompous glory, was perfectly cast. Dirk Bogarde's character is a mild-mannered employee that's thrust into a number of unsavory predicaments, constantly working that meek mouse/conniving genius balance that Bogarde pulls off so well in so many films (I'm looking at you, The Servant!) And despite my opinion that most of the shocking elements were unessential, Helmut Berger indulges in pretty much all of them with a finesse that's as mesmerizing as it is unsettling.

I definitely want to give this one another shot, I just need some time to recover first...

Get you a classic movie tv network who can do both

May 14, 2016

Whenever my parents would plan family vacations, they'd always fall into one of two categories -- relaxing vacations and busy vacations. Relaxing trips would be places like the Jersey Shore, the Winterthur estate in Delaware, and small-town day trips (Lambertville, NJ, Burlington, VT, New Hope, PA, etc.) where you mosey along and generally just kick-back. Busy trips are places like Disney World, New York, Washington DC, Toronto, Montreal -- places that require a lot of walking, museum-visiting, shopping, hustle and bustle!

I've never preferred one type of vacation over the other, so when I plan my own trips nowadays I try to fit both into my schedule. A little bustle, and a little mosey. And in the last two years I've found both of those trips in the form of TCM vacations. Last fall I went on the TCM Cruise, and this spring I attended the TCM Film Festival in Hollywood.

Since they're run by the same company, it can be hard not to compare them in your head. The festival has more movies but the cruise has a better location. The cruise has better food choices but the festival has more celebrities. The cruise is less crowded and frantic, but the festival is where you're more likely to run into all of your online film friends.

But something Anna Karina said at The Film Forum last week stuck a chord with me. She was asked to choose favorites numerous times (her favorite of her own films, her favorite Godard film, her favorite classic movie) and each time she apologized and said "I just can't choose!" She compared it to preferring one of your children over the others -- one might be the most pretty, one is the funniest, one is the most intelligent -- each has their own qualities that make them special, so you just can't compare. I have a habit of ALWAYS picking a favorite and reducing subjects to a matter of THIS or THAT. Godard or Truffaut. Gina or Sophia. Frank or Bing.

But this doesn't have to be like that. While all signs seem to point to the cruise being a relaxing vacation, and the festival being a busy one (something I was obviously hung up on until Anna Karina opened my eyes) they can each give you the best of both worlds.

If you want to attend the festival, but you aren't cut out for a whirlwind of activity at the moment, take it easy! Nobody is forcing you to see five films a day. This year I managed to watch 11 movies total (I'm not going to beat the world record by any means, but it was still a lot for me) and I took time each day for at least one sit-down meal. Almost every day I spent a little me-time at the hotel, just listening to music and chilling. My hotel didn't have a pool this year, but if it had you'd better believe I'd have been there at least once or twice. If you find a hotel behind Hollywood Blvd. you can cut through the Hollywood and Highland center and avoid most of the sensory overload of Hollywood Blvd. I brought my kindle with me and finished a whole book over the course of the week just while I was standing in lines for movies or grabbing a bite to eat. It CAN be a very fast-paced, hectic week, a non-stop movie marathon with no time for food or sleep. But it doesn't have to be.

Likewise, if the cruise seems a little TOO slow, think again. Movies are programmed all day long, with pool-side screenings running way into the wee small hours. There are plenty of fast food options (I mean food served fast, not like there's a Burger King on board) so you can grab a quick bite and then high-tail it over to your next movie. Even when the ship pulls into harbor for an excursion, they're still doing things on the ship if you want to keep the TCM momentum going and forgo the tropical part of the experience. And while the still quiet of the ship's top deck was like a drug to me, I totally understand if that can be off-putting for people who prefer to be surrounded by action. Hang out by the pool or in the lounge and you won't have to worry about the soundless vacuum of the sea.

So do I have a favorite? Not anymore. I can see why each one is appealing, and in a perfect world I'd do them both every single year. (And if you have the money, I say go for it!! Do both!) But if you're currently doing some hard core penny-pinching, like me, TCM can really give you the best of both worlds in one single trip. All of the relaxation from the cruise can be found at the festival, and all of the buzzing energy of the festival can be found on the cruise.