November 29, 2016
I don't actually like this movie all that much, but I've returned to it dozens of times because Frank Sinatra's performance is SO good, and I love his character SO much that the rest of the movie doesn't even matter to me.
Watching this just brought back so many memories of when I first fell in love with Frank Sinatra, and classic movies in general.
I used to have a flip-phone in high school that let you set a video clip as your background wallpaper, and I spent way more time than I should admit trying to record a perfect 10-second clip of Frank Sinatra turning around in the door, when Barney Sloane enters the movie and we get our first glimpse of that skinny little world weary curmudgeon.
I remember before the internet made everything so easy I had a micro-cassette recorder that I used to tape the songs from the movie, resting the microphone in front of the TV speakers and making everyone in the house be quiet while I was recording.
I memorized his "convention of angels" speech when I was 14 and I was shocked when I watched it today and realized I still knew all the words.
"Your story's all cockeyed baby."
Barney Sloane was, and still is, FOR SOME REASON, my ideal. I remember listening to his bit about hard luck and not having eaten food since yesterday afternoon, his tie always at half mast, his creaseless pants (even though they're "constitutional") a cigarette limply dangling from his mouth, the way he says "at all" with such Sinatra-like enunciation, and feeling an overwhelming connection to the character. I wanted to love him, to be him, to know him, I don't even know. But watching it today I felt the same indescribable feeling.
Maybe watching this film so much as a teenager created an unbreakable bond between the character and my teenage self and whoever I am now. I feel more like Barney Sloane now than I ever did then. Maybe Barney Sloane helped shape me into another bleak world-weary curmudgeon (not so skinny though, dammit) or maybe that ill defined connection I felt as a kid was some kind of kinship with the person I'd become.
Anyway. Whatever the reason, Barney Sloane was, is, and always will be an incredibly relatable character for me and I'm sure I will put up with Doris Day's irrepressible goddamn chipper spirit many, many more times for years to come.
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
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!
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.