Like: Sophia Loren (1955)

July 20, 2010

“It’s Not Just Who But When…”

This statement was made by an acquaintance of mine some years ago when the question was prompted, “Who would you like to meet more than anyone else?” And from that very moment I fully and completely realized how important timing is when it comes to the reality of a person. Often the ideal timing is that ideal cusp where the fame is new and surprising to the person themselves. Where they are overcome with both the humility of that responsibility and possibly even embarrassed by it. It is certainly when they are most thankful. And certainly ever since that initial conversation I’ve always reiterated when it comes to any such list, “It’s not just who but when…”

Now as a wrinkle, this ongoing series of portraits will only specifically deal with the women of the last 75 years of so who I consider to be the Most Beautiful and Alluring in the world. I’m well aware that the internet can quickly descend into  a game OMG SHE’S HOT, LET’S OGLE HER! (though ogle is probably not used that often) and we find ourselves skirting into objectifying and ultimately even exploitative territory. Please know that that is anything but the goal here. The goal is reflect on moments in time, go over some film and television history, talk about the nature of image, and engage the subject of sexuality in media forms. And yes, most of it will be in adoring circumstances so don’t expect much of sterile criticism, but that is definitely the world of thought it will be coming from.

This ongoing series will attempt to go chronologically.

I believe they call it “Va Va Voom”

It bears mentioning that I’m not one of those who is gaga over Sophia Loren. There’s this weird thing that doesn’t translate to modernity about her (or at least for me), but believe me I get it. Folks have been obsessed with her for a good long while and I’m not going to argue with it.

For a whole heckuva lot of people, Sophia Loren was exotic, beautiful, curvaceous, but the word I’m actually going highlight is “intrinsic.” See there is something very special about Sophia Loren coming around in the 50s that makes the love of her something inherent. I don’t think it really has to do with acting necessarily (that career seems sort of incidental to me, academy award and all). Part of it taps into the “exotic” angle because there really was just no one else like her in the limelight (was there? Maybe I’m wrong). But there’s something more, something that translates beyond that. An allure that seems to have a great deal to do with Sophia’s amazing and well-documented confidence.

What is that allure in totality? I’m not really sure.

I’m also not sure how the gender lines break on this one. I know both men and women loved Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn. But is Sophia Loren one of those guy’s girls?… I don’t really know. This also brings up issues of sexism and whether or not it’s entirely healthy for any icon to be valued solely by one sex (it implies more one-dimensionality to said like rather than something more rounded).

Since I’m unsure about so much of this, consider this post an invitation. What is it about Sophia Loren that you like?

… Honestly, for a bunch of you, it probably has something to do with this:

… or this

Or these…


Like: Eminem’s RECOVERY

June 22, 2010

Eminem seems like he could be a sexist, homophobic, stupid, crazy person.

So why do I like him?

Because he’s compelling as hell.

Eminem is fully realized pop entity. Think about it: over long a career he’s shown us a full range of representations of himself, and unlike say, Madonna, Gaga, or other pop entities, Eminem has made his career on blistering honesty.  Whether he’s exhibiting his fully humorous cartoony-songs, his rap battle antics, or his deeply personal moments, they are all startilingly honest. To Eminem, rap is PERSONAL. Marshall Mathers is not a genius mind you, he isn’t carefully orchestrating his image with some calculating manner. He is working off his intuition. His work is visceral. He is painfully sincere to the point that he’s not even aware of how sincere he’s actually being and how remarkable that is (think about, how many other rappers are all about posture and the exhibition of cool?). The end result is that we’ve gotten to see the real “story” of Eminem play out in public; he’s all but documented it for us.

Believe or not, we know that story well. I’ve always considered myself tangentially aware of his life, but in sitting down to write this I’m shocked by how much I know off the top of my head: Marshall Mathers was a young man who grew up poor in Detroit. He suffers from Munchhausen syndrome by proxy, at the hands of his mother.  He begins rapping as a teenager and slowly builds his way up in the underground rap scene of Detroit. He features a unique penchant rap battling. He both embraces the complicated nature of his “whiteness” and yet doesn’t use it a crux. He is mostly just plain talented. He gains notoriety. He releases self-made EPs and a album. These allow him to hook up with Dr. Dre and they produce the Slim Shady LP. At first, he is first regarded as rap’s new silly jokester who tosses insults at celebrities. Then people hear the rest of the album. It’s dark as hell. Matricide, suicide, other “-ides.” Parents get upset. He owns the controversy. We start to get a picture of angry and confused young man, albeit one who is hungry to prove himself as an M.C. And he wants to prove himself especially because his whiteness is still regarded as one-off Vanilla-Ice-ism.

His next album, The Marshall Mathers LP explodes. The critical reception is enormous. He proves he is not a one-off trivial distraction. The first single continues his tradition of an obligatory jokey song, but the album actually shows depth. He gets angry. He gets border-line poetic. We get a bigger picture of his world. It’s clear he’s not in it for the money. In fact, he barely raps about money. He raps to prove how good he is. It’s pride. It makes all the difference. He stays true to his roots by taking up his old friends from Detroit and they form a side project, D-12. They have nowhere near his talent but he did it anyways, and they are marginally successful. From there the career goes on. He becomes increasingly complex. More brazen. He becomes more mature in some ways. He grows more frustrated and indignant in others. His albums continue to sell. They earn emmys. He stars in a movie by a uniquely talented director. The movie is a smash hit. It showcases a realistic portrait of where he comes from and what he values. Some of the songs from this movie are, without a doubt, his best work. He is on top of the world. He can do no wrong. He doesn’t know where to go now. He starts having weird reconciliations with his ex-wife. They don’t go well. He falls into problems with drugs. His albums suffer. He becomes lazy. He takes a hiatus.

… It’s a traditional musician’s career if we’ve ever seen one.

So what does this all mean? It means that since he documented all of turmoil  and “story” in his music (rather than do what most do and hide it, establishing a youthful and desperate front), he became a tangible, “known” figure. Unlike so many other figures, we really do feel like he we know Eminem. The very concept is insane, but he’s geniune. And even though what he’s saying might be crazy, it’s still fascinating. He’s an anti-hero. He’s Tony Soprano. You want to watch him even if you might not want to know him.

And now. Eminem is back. He’s off drugs. He doesn’t like the fact that he faded away. He doesn’t like the fact he released two sub-par albums. He’s vibrant. He’s hungry. He’s angry. He’s ready to go.

He first came out to play on this year’s “Forever”, a collaboration by Drake and Little Wayne. It’s actually a kinda crappy song. Then you get to Eminem’s verse. Take a listen:

Yup, awesome. Just awesome. The first thing that’s clear is that Eminem is still absurdly talented. The second thing you notice is just how ready he is take on the rap world.

Sure, he gets a lot of attention for his clowning-around-songs, or his more trite/preachy/”serious” stuff, but in my opinion Eminem is strictly his best when he’s angry and spitting venom.

Which is pretty much the entirety of RECOVERY.

This new album came out this week and I happen to think it’s fantastic.

A lot of folks have already taken a look at his first clunky (yet still kinda honest) song “Not Afraid” and made their conclusions:

Those conclusions fair in some ways. It falls into the previously mentioned “trite” territory… I don’t really dig the song.

But, luckily, that’s not the good stuff. The best song without a doubt “No Love” which shows of Lil Wayne’s obtuse stylings followed by what may be Eminem’s best verse in his entire career. Yes, it’s just more of the typical rap-boasting “look how awesome I am! You suck!” stuff, but that’s most of rap. We’ve come to accept it. The key is it’s freaking engaging. It’s paced perfectly. It’s (more) mature. It’s interesting. It’s fast as freaking hell. It gets your blood pumping. There’s  a reason Daniel Day Lewis picked Eminem to get his blood boiling in the mornings when he played Bill The Butcher in GANGS OF NEW YORK. Really, it says it all.

“No Love” Take a listen to the whole song, but especially Eminem’s part:

And then “Won’t back down” is a little more silly and try to ignore Pink, but it’s just as speed-laden addictive:

There’s a lot more to boot: “Cinderella Man”, “Talkin 2 myself”,”25 to Life”,”Love The Way You Lie””

All very good.

Eminem has recovered. And he’s spitting venom, just the way we like.


Don’t Like: The 42 Funniest and/or Scariest Search Terms Used to Find My Blog

May 26, 2010

Reader: Beware.

You are about to stare into the dark id of the internet… and it is not pretty.

Those of you who may have your own website may be aware that you can see the search terms that one entered to click on your site. The results are often shocking.

Those afraid of being found out, don’t worry. We can’t see who you are or where you are… just the terms independently. So technically we can only see “what” you are.

I’ve seen the mind of the internet. And it is sexist, racist, ill-informed, and completely nonsensical

Without further ado, the top 42:

……….

42. Sexiest budwieser

-I don’t get it and It’s still hilarious. I have no idea why someone would search for this, nor what it even means. I sorta picture a dancing budweiser bottle.

41. Patrick swayze basketball

-Did he ever play basketball in a movie? I’m not sure about this one. Maybe something I’m not aware of. I just like it.

40. what kind of roids give you acne

-All of them. Glad to know that’s your primary concern though. Good luck with that.

39. reality tv informs people about health

-No. It doesn’t.

38. sweating basketball players players

-Players is doubly important. Also their sweat.

37. how people look when have aids

-As bad as your syntax.

36. scottish terriers fucked up dogs

-Scotties are adorable you jerk.

35. fuck her

Previously discussed.

34. 4 friends hang out with drugs

-My guess is they needed a picture. Otherwise this makes no sense.

33. Does shane black like fan mail?

-I wonder if Shane Black likes fan mail? To the internet! Really, I think most people don’t understand the difference between a search engine/yahoo answers/the concept of general inquiry.

32. Mia who is she?

-Again. The internet is not something you can ask questions to. And fyi, it’s M.I.A. and she’s a really good hip-hop/tribalesque/alternative recording artist.

31. sugar cookie death

-Sweet, sweet death.

30. black basketball player guarding a white

-I get TONS of shit like this. Vaguely racist basketball talk fuels the internet.

29. I don’t like safety laws

-Darwin award forthcoming.

28. can u play football if you have hiv

-Yikes.

27. “Busy?”

-You don’t need quotes for one word searches. And what the hell are you going to find asking this? No Idea.

26. iconic boxing images with gloves

-Hope you found some.

25. nazi+herion / naked heroin users (tie)

-The plus sign kills me.

24. kobe bryant gay pictures

-This one is really popular.

23. i like to do it with my sox on

-Notice the baseball spelling of socks.

22. old fit men

-I like to think of this as hopeful

21. “veronica lake was not a good”

-Is the “a” a mistake? Did they mean “god”. Why did they have the presence of mind to put quotes if their sentence if it makes no sense? The questions are endless.

20. Crystal meth 2008 like election

-Whereas this just plain makes no sense.

19. makes no sense

-Whereas this is literal.

18. Fear of pooping when around people

-Everybody Poops.

17. i’ve just dumped someone i really like

-Why’d you do it then?

16. touching badass buffy

-Who wouldn’t?

15. feminists but…

-Haha. One of my faves. The possibilities are endless.

14. Elizabeth taylor puffies

-Bwahahahaha.

13. Snorkel, woman / Fat people snorkeling / Snorkel fuck (3 way tie)

-Snorkel is truly a great word.

12. i don’t like football am i gay?

-No.

11. i’m going to kill you in the face

-Not in the face!

10. mr. manhattan watchmen

-The “mister” kills me. Like “mister manager” from arrested development.

9. complete ass compleat ass completely asi

-I desperately want to know how this ends.

8.  jessica alba mayo

-Gross imagery abound!

7.  how do i pick a title for my memoirs

-If you have to ask this question you probably shouldn’t be writing memoirs. Or writing in general.

6.  iron giant sex

-Oh god. We’re entering weird cartoon nonsensical fetish territory. This one actually makes the LEAST sense of any cartoon to boot… Amazing movie though.

5.  maribel – fucks daughter classic

-And it gets darker. Down the rabbit hole we go…

4 – white baseball players don’t like ugly black players

-Again. More weird basketball racism. What makes this one special is that it seems to be implying all black players are ugly… yikes.

4a – Dumb Michelle Obama Beaten Up Fuck Sex and then: Dumb Michelle Obama Beaten Up Fuck Sex Pics

-DEAR GOD. I mean… ugh. You wish you could pull out a person’s mind and look at it sometimes. See how someone’s entire fears/racism/attraction all get mashed up in this reactionary nonsense where they turn to the internet to satisfy some insatiable and completely fucked up desire. Better yet, there is NOTHING about this search based in any kind of reality. And then the insistence to come back and look for “pics” again is the icing on the cake.

3.  acceptable molestation

-Nope, it’s never acceptable

2.  my vomit is red

-Please call your doctor.

1 .  abiggail breslin nude feet

Just… I mean… god. I can’t… it’s just… GOD. Forget about the pedophilia/foot fetish cross over, and the mispelling…it’s just even the syntax… i mean… how… why… ugh… I don’t feel so good.

Forget this…

… Then again, it’s sort of scary knowing that these search terms can actually somehow lead to my blog.

… Yikes.

Honorable Mentions:

toilet plugged, self-improvement stuff i like and stuff, fuck hansbrough, who s who, love, normal kid, public speaking is like…, miss daisy racist, freakin nuts, “george carlin” 2008 photo, david merkin asshole, showtime synergy, funny internet, white and black basketball players fight, how to make the most of my gym, people who don’t like country, irish faggot, youkilis swearing espn, stuff the irish like, basketball players penis, Basketball intelligence black white, Medicine sucks, Girls pants pissing, Puking and peeing.


Like: Elizabeth Taylor (1952)

May 5, 2010

“It’s Not Just Who But When…”

This statement was made by an acquaintance of mine some years ago when the question was prompted, “Who would you like to meet more than anyone else?” And from that very moment I fully and completely realized how important timing is when it comes to the reality of a person. Often the ideal timing is that ideal cusp where the fame is new and surprising to the person themselves. Where they are overcome with both the humility of that responsibility and possibly even embarrassed by it. It is certainly when they are most thankful. And certainly ever since that initial conversation I’ve always reiterated when it comes to any such list, “It’s not just who but when…”

Now as a wrinkle, this ongoing series of portraits will only specifically deal with the women of the last 75 years of so who I consider to be the Most Beautiful and Alluring in the world. I’m well aware that the internet can quickly descend into  a game OMG SHE’S HOT, LET’S OGLE HER! (though ogle is probably not used that often) and we find ourselves skirting into objectifying and ultimately even exploitative territory. Please know that that is anything but the goal here. The goal is reflect on moments in time, go over some film and television history, talk about the nature of image, and engage the subject of sexuality in media forms. And yes, most of it will be in adoring circumstances so don’t expect much of sterile criticism, but that is definitely the world of thought it will be coming from.

This ongoing series will attempt to go chronologically.

Once upon a time Elizabeth Taylor was just smoking.

I realize that comment is about as blunt as it gets, but let’s just acknowledge that she was the kind of attractive that can make people feel uncomfortable. So with that, the first half of this article is largely concerned with the aesthetical value of Ms. Taylor, but I promise that this article will delve into the things that made Taylor a legend and not just some pretty person.

So now then. By looking at the picture of above, you realize that we have unquestionably left the sensibility of the 40’s, with the glamor ringlet hair-doos and vaseline-caked camera lenses,  and are now in a completely different era all together. Elizabeth Taylor’s look was so distinct that it was actually ahead of its time: the thick slanted eyebrows countering years of impossibly thin arch-shaped ones (for comparison see Stanwyck, Barbara), the uber-dark mascara, the shaping at the far corners of her eyes. It was so divergent. You know what? We can even go further than that: she wasn’t just ahead of the curve, she invented the curve. Think about the “mod” look of the 60’s and tell me that it doesn’t stem from Taylor’s look (see Twiggy).  Taylor’s one of those honest-to-god trendsetters.(1) Even more astounding is that Taylor was at this pinnacle of everyone’s collective “wow” for about 15 straight years.

So the question at hand… when would you like to meet Elizabeth Taylor?

But first a quick tangent: One thing I’ve noticed in doing this “it’s not just who but when” series is that people can really look different in different periods of their lives (and I’ve already picked everyone I’m going to write about in the series so I have a big sample size here). Some stars have aged beautifully. Some not. Some shock you with their youthful, luminous glow at age 20 that you never knew they had, while others barely look like their ultimately famous personas years we come to know later. And so far, many of the upstanding women I have covered have been in that latter category.

Taylor is different. Up until a certain point in her career she just seemed so… ageless. She first got her start as a child star, where her presence is somewhat jarring in retrospect, because she just looks like a Tiny-Elizabeth-Taylor. It’s bizarre. Check out THERE’S ONE BORN EVERY MINUTE (1942)  and be thoroughly weirded out.  It is less jarring with her “awkward years”(2)  in NATIONAL VELVET (1944) and CYNTHIA(1947), where certain features seemed out of whack with the mini and adult versions of Taylor. She got closer to her period of distinction with her role as Amy in LITTLE WOMEN(1942), except she has this scary platinum blonde hair. I mean, yikes. Then her breakthrough role came in the original FATHER OF THE BRIDE(1950).  It marked her transition from teenager to “young woman”(3) and from that point on she was the “it” girl until about 1966. Picking a moment to meet Taylor in that long period is a daunting task.

And sadly, my answer depends on hair. Yes. Hair.

You see Taylor spent much of that period with a hairstyle I that particular hairstyle that many of us younger folks recognize. You know what I’m talking about. This one:

She had Grandma hair.

Yes, it was the style at the time (and she certainly knew how to rock it,) but the problem for today’s onlooker is that Taylor’s face had such a relate-able, modern aesthetic; she would simply look so much better with modern and/or longer hair. Perhaps it’s just generational and simply due to how our current era identifies someone as being in their 20’s. Granted this is astoundingly subjective and I’m behaving as if it’s not, but it is an interesting dynamic to consider when discussing the timelessness of “style.” Could there be people who are “style” outliers? Born out of a time that style fits their features best? Maybe it’s more black and white than that;  certain people look great with long hair, certain people look great with short hair. So I insist there can be a rough consensus on the basis on facial structure and norms of symmetry. And even if there isn’t, screw it.  I subjectively think Taylor looked stunning with longer hair. So there.

Her first cinematic appearance with longer hair would be in QUO VADIS(1951)… but since she was barely in that movie anyway so we must go to IVANHOE(1952). (1)

So there’s the long hair (props to getty images, a great overall resource for old movie pictures). You can’t see her so well, but you get a sense of how much it works with her profile and facial structure. And yes, I know those are probably extensions, but whatever! It’s what we got to go on. So what about pictures that show her more clearly?

Damn.

Coincidentally, IVANHOE was the first film I saw her in…  I think. It was elementary school and I had to do a book report on one one of those silly abridged novels and I picked Sir Walter Scott’s “Ivanhoe.”  In traditional lazy fashion I watched the movie instead. (5) And boom, I was hooked on Liz. Then again, I had a surprising amount of crushes in elementary school and they tended to be out of left field (Alley Mills!?!). So as silly as this childhood crush seemed, it was really just par for the course.

Taylor dominated the next six years in terms of star power, including a starring role in the uber-popular film GIANT (1956). But while her work was always high profile, she was not necessarily known for her actual acting ability. Then came CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF(1958).  I love all of Tennessee Williams’ work and I feel like this is one of the best adaptations. Between Paul Newman’s drunken seething and Taylor’s smoldering sultriness/angry fireworks, this film provides such a tangible mix of mood and energy. You can practically feel the oppressive and titular heat. And Burl Ives, ladies and gentleman! Burl Ives! If you haven’t seen it, put it on your list for sure. It marked Taylor’s arrival as a real talent and established a persona she could really sink her teeth into in the coming years (aside from the “attractive woman” she had been playing before).

Taylor was deservingly nominated for an Oscar in the role, but of course it went to the immortal performance of Susan Heyward’s I WANT TO LIVE!(1958)… Huh?!? That nonsense movie won her an Oscar?! See, this is a great example of why I can’t stand the Oscars.  Little do people realize, they’ve always sucked. Mostly because the level of misappropriation is off the charts. Yes, I know “opinion” is a part of it, but the politics of choosing a winner truly is the rule of the thumb. Trust me, I know Oscar voters. They don’t watch a lot of the films. They pick to spread awards around and reward past performances, their friends, and whoever would be the better story over the more impacting and lasting performance almost every time. Case in point: everyone was so impressed with Taylor’s performance in CAT that it garnered her sufficient clout that she actually won the Oscar for her subsequent performance in the completely mediocre BUTTERFIELD 8(1960). Plus she was then sick in real life  and everyone felt sympathetic for her [Facepalm].  Of course that undeserving reward had further consequences: Taylor receiving the nonsense Oscar is what prevented Shirley Maclaine from winning an Oscar for THE APARTMENT (1960). This horrible cycle has gone on and on for years. We’re giving out awards to people because we fucked up and didn’t give it to them for the performance they deserved it. This happens every year. It happens in every category (only like 30% of the movies on AFI’s list are best picture winners). It’s political, inane, and nonsensical. That’s why I hate watching the Oscars…  Sorry about the tangent. End Rant.

Anycrap… Taylor’s pin-up heyday had one last Hurrah with THE SANDPIPER(1965), but her next film was a dramatic reversal of that image. A singular performance that took what she established in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF and brought it to fruition.  I’m speaking of course, of Martha.

WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?(1966) is probably on the list of my 50 favorite films. Some of the most ardent readers here might find that odd because I’ve hated pretty much every modern incantation of the “marriage sucks” mini-genre (Revolutionary Road, etc). You know the kind of movie I’m talking about: a married couple yells at each other and say bitchy things and it’s all about how the institution of marriage is  corrupt, yada, yada, yada. It the kind of assessment that is so far off base from my personal disposition, but that’s they the whole when-the-film-was-made thing comes into play. The film works best as a counterpoint to the long tradition of sterile marriage comedies of the 40’s and 50’s.(6)  It’s scathing really; the popular discourse is something that really, truly matters in this world and WOOLF had a sincere and lasting impact. It was the kind of sobering portrait that made a lot of couples really uncomfortable the night after watching. Particularly, a lot of intellectual, “progressive” couples. Plus, WOOLF isn’t really saying those inane negative things about marriage itself. In the best tradition of grim art, it’s meant to work as a mirror, albeit one with constructive intentions. It never caves to banal platitudes or trite moralism, but instead presents an distressing alternative to your own life. It is meant to give you a glimpse into the abyss, so that you can stay clear away. After all, most of us are not like George and Martha.

What also helps WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF is that it is, you know, a flawlessly constructed work. Richard Burton channels the empty vessel of nihilism, a man clinging to his last shreds longing, so completely that it’s frightening.(7) George Segal and Sandy Dennis simply nail the young couple, who ride the roller coaster of the evening, falling into various context after context, examining themselves. And then there’s Taylor. She imbues Martha with pure venom, her words are practically corrosive. More importantly, they’re often right. She’s is at once an acute characterization of all the points in the feminist movement, while still being a singular, faulty, and angry-as-hell human being. The movie depends on Martha having credibility and a (distanced) sense of sympathy, otherwise it’s an indictment of women at large. (8)  As horrible as these people are, most of their anger comes from the fact that deep down they need each other. That reality cannot be conveyed in some cheesy way either or else the whole thing collapses in on itself. Luckily, it all comes together beautifully. The source material of Albee’s seminal play is the main reason for this; it’s a work that should stand the test of time, but the director of WOOLF understood exactly what to do with it. In fact, I can only think of a handful of directors whose first film is a total masterpiece and with WOOLF, Mike Nichols is one of them. (9)

There is a true lasting legacy of WOOLF upon Taylor’s career. It defined her late period roles and showed she was better than a pin-up, even better than a political choice for an academy award. She could deliver an iconic performance. Something that more than set the model for the litany of “unhappy marriage performances” that followed, but actually altered the discourse of feminism and liberalism. The word iconic was chosen carefully. Unlike most others, she is an Icon with every facet of her career.

So there. There’s over two-thousand-five-hundred words of my long, rambling thoughts on Elizabeth Taylor.  I could actually say a lot more as I feel like I barely covered anything. Like most of the people in this series, she has a crazy personal life and a ton of marriages that a lot of people seem to care about. I just don’t. I care about the performances. I care about the legacy. I care about her effect on culture, aesthetics, and politics.

She’s the game changer.

Welcome to the 50’s.

ENDNOTES

1- You know… like J-Lo.(a)

(a) intentionally semi-dated reference. (i)

(i) I hate having to explain jokes in blog/extended-footnote from. This is more because of my selfish insecurity that people won’t get it, because, yes, I know most people get it… ugh. Moving on.

2 – Awkward for her standards, not our hellish ones.

3 – Remember, this was back when teenagers didn’t act like young women in films.

4 – Ivanhoe. I can’t think of it without thinking about the classic Simpsons line. [Bart is writing a book report and reads it back to himself]: “Ivanhoe is the story of a Russian Farmer and his tool.”

5 – My more studious nature didn’t kick in until middle school.

6 – Which is not to say the era was devoid of more adult themes. It’s just of societal darkness was crammed subtlely or uns-ubtlely into the Noir genre.

7 – I realize this could be interpreted like I’m advocating the idea that women tear down men until they are shells of their former selves, which is an opinion many take away from the film. I could not disagree more. Burton’s nihilism is strictly his own doing.

8 – Similar themed works by Updike and Yates, fail to understand that basic principal. They’re pretty much sexist pigs who think women are to blame.

9 – He actually upped things with his next film “The Graduate”… or as it’s more colloquially regarded “the best comedy of all time” and/or “one of the top 7 movies of all time”… If you want to get all qualitative or whatever.


Like: KICK-ASS

April 16, 2010

No big review.

1) You will enjoy KICK-ASS if you like/don’t mind the following: gleeful amoralism, a sense of irony, insane amounts of violence, punk rock sensibility (the sensibility, not punk rock itself, though there’s some of that too), children dealing insane amounts of violence, children absorbing insane amounts of violence, children swearing, Nic Cage being awesome instead of corny (fine-line), hilarious/filthy dialogue, well-choreographed fight sequences, meta-commentary, surprisingly serious overtones, surprisingly silly overtones, surprising life-affirming overtones, Adam West cadence, and silly costumes.

2) One of the best parts about the movie is the managed to subvert a lot of the negative aspects of the comic. This doesn’t happen that often. It does away with most of the sexist stuff in Millar’s shitty opus and completely does away with the weird racist stuff (and yes, Mark Millar is  racist folks. It’s not “reflexive commentary,” he’s just got straight up issues). On the whole it’s a completely more functional tone and it’s much, much funnier.

3) KICK-ASS may seem to have a confused thematic message, but I’d argue it doesn’t at all; it just plays into a whole lot of gray areas which are more results from seemingly simple decisions… plus so much of the film’s success depends constantly messing with your expectations. It’s sort of a Coen-esque anti-movie at times, but ultimately it plays straight… which yeah, makes it seem uneven, but think of it like this: it’s a movie that uses anti-movie sequences as dramatic events. In the age of super-saavy audiences (especially with comic book movies), it’s a perfect device. I love that and it’s a pretty edgy film sensibility (almost Hanake-esque? In terms of what it’s doing, not how it’s doing).

4) If you’re on the fence, consider the following: the one thing this movie will do is prompt you to have a reaction. Good. Bad. Aghast. Enthralled. You won’t leave the theater and immediately forget it like that vast majority of consumed entertainment.

5) And if you ever see this girl on the street. Walk the other way:


Like: Gene Tierney (1944)

April 6, 2010

“It’s Not Just Who But When…”

This statement was made by an acquaintance of mine some years ago when the question was prompted, “Who would you like to meet more than anyone else?” And from that very moment I fully and completely realized how important timing is when it comes to the reality of a person. Often the ideal timing is that ideal cusp where the fame is new and surprising to the person themselves. Where they are overcome with both the humility of that responsibility and possibly even embarrassed by it. It is certainly when they are most thankful. And certainly ever since that initial conversation I’ve always reiterated when it comes to any such list, “It’s not just who but when…”

Now as a wrinkle, this ongoing series of portraits will only specifically deal with the women of the last 75 years of so who I consider to be the Most Beautiful and Alluring in the world. I’m well aware that the internet can quickly descend into  a game OMG SHE’S HOT, LET’S OGLE HER! (though ogle is probably not used that often) and we find ourselves skirting into objectifying and ultimately even exploitative territory. Please know that that is anything but the goal here. The goal is reflect on moments in time, go over some film and television history, talk about the nature of image, and engage the subject of sexuality in media forms. And yes, most of it will be in adoring circumstances so don’t expect much of sterile criticism, but that is definitely the world of thought it will be coming from.

This ongoing series will attempt to go chronologically.

It’s hard to argue with the merits of Gene Tierney inclusion into this series, considering she once played the literal idealization of a woman.

Otto Perminger’s LAURA (1944) is considered one of the semi-classics of golden age cinema and I personally hold it in even higher regard. It is a deftly constructed story with shades of CITIZEN KANE(1941)’s flashback structure, only instead of focusing the life of a power magnate it delves into a classic femme fatale.(1) Honestly, I love the tone of this film: the traditional atmosphere of the mysterious noir, and yet a quasi-aloof commentary on the nature female projection by males. Aside from the similarly-eponymous titles, I see a lot of influence from Hitchcock’s REBECCA (1941) in the film, particularly in the use of zooms and slow/voyeuristic camera movement.

Perminger was always a bit of kindred spirit to Hitchcock and a bit more of a practitioner of subtlety (by classical standards). While Hitchcock was the revolutionary, the hit-maker, and driving force behind some beautiful, overt, and shocking films, the one thing he never really had in him was a sensesubtlety. I’m not really sure he needed it or anything as he was so assured at working with bold cinema, a graceful character study would just seem limp by his usual standards. Perminger, however, was perfectly adept at taking the thriller and working within a less heightened cinematic style.  Most classical noirs feel stilted to the modern viewer and Hitchcock movies are so uncannily slick/Hitchockian (and therefore “dated” in their own way) that the same modern viewer has a way of relegating them to “old timey” status. Meanwhile, the first thing that jumps out at you about LAURA is just how damn modern it all feels. Check out some of the moving camera work and see if you feel the same.

Note only watch the first two minutes or so, but you’ll get a sense of the cinematography:

The great thing about LAURA is ended up a being a big hit and it marked both Otto’s arrival as an elite director and provided a star-making turn for Tierney.

And yes, she acquits herself most admirably in the role. It helps that Laura herself is so well-conceived to begin with(2), as the very notion of an ambiguous female ideal who is constructed from the various  accounts of other characters just has so many possibilities. It’s the sort of thing that just begs to indulge in our male voyeuristic tendencies and wish-fulfillment and supply commentary from there.  She plays Laura in the flashbacks as a sort of blank slate, again: “a projection of the male ideal.” Unlike most Hollywood female roles which are written that way (often unbeknownst to the writer) and usually completely undermine the humanism of the character, LAURA chooses to relish in the murky morality of that ideal.

Tierney takes what could be a somewhat gimmicky concept and infuses it with this alternately subdued/haunted presence. The subdued/blank canvass act is a tricky dynamic if you think about it: she could so easily tread into the kind of territory where Laura is either The Joke of a perfect woman or offensively/un-ironically the perfect woman that we see in most movies, but she knows that the role has to play. It’s not the Coens and it’s not the kind of modern lead-age comedy where that stuff would fly.  So She splits the difference beautifully. It’s 100% functional in the noir universe, but just enough of that “blankness” let’s us know that she and Perminger are criticizing the idea that man’s ideal woman is a vacant vessel; the literal trophy wife.(3).

It’s all so perfectly subversive.  By the time we’re introduced to the fact that Laura is not really dead and instead in hiding (afraid of the murderer), she exhibits such a subtle, but beautiful change in personality that affects us substantially.Yes, Laura’s very much the same beautiful object of desire, but she’s far-less object-like: emotionally wounded, scared, distrustful. To use my “trophy” footnote example, she is the victim of a male’s desire to literally kill her and turn her into his trophy. Her emotional reaction is perfectly synonymous with the female reaction to being objectified.

I love the layers. It plays perfectly straight to the audience as a classic noir, but the subtext still rules (Hitchcock would later be more forthright in the 50’s and his subtexts would turn into very literal “text” if you will). I really do consider LAURA to be a feminist film even thought it may not appear that way at all (yes if you examine the ending from the detective’s angle it could be construed as that typical movie guy-saves/gets-girl sexist motif, but the first half of the film and the portrayal of the villain play exactly like criticism to me. It’s the way we assume something about our “ideal images” and how we mistake them for “reality.” The mistake is a costly one and often leads to our failings in reality. OUr happiness in life is often reflective of our ability to reconcile the two.

It’s an important question. It’s actually rather analogous to what I do in these series of columns: many of these women had public presences on screen that I find fascinating, and yet their real lives were often tumultuous existences (Tierney had a tragic life for sure). My admiration of them is largely a projection based on surface. I’m regailing them for their beauty, for the moments when they’re putting up a facade. They’re starring in movies often written and directed by men. Aesthetically there’s similarity to dolls being set up in a diarama: models, mannequins, trophies. Sure film can subvert that in some ways because it’s “sculpting in time” but I can’t lose sight of the fact that that’s who I’m idealizing.  I’m fully aware of how potentially damaging they entire dynamic is.

For some reason I think that because I’m aware of it and trying to handle it responsibly I’m somehow absolved of it…  I know that doesn’t fully work.

I just have to find a way reconcile the two.

1 – I realize this could imply that Laura from LAURA is the prototypical “bad girl” femme fatale, but don’t make that assumption; a femme fatale can just as easily (if not preferably) be a good natured girl who gets wrapped up in a whole bunch of trouble, and often bringing the male protagonist down the rabbit hole so to speak.

2- Even if the dialogue comes of a little stilted and on the nose to the modern viewer.

3- People don’t think about the meaning trophy wife as much as they should. It’s critical already, but if you literalize it a trophy also is an inanimate object. speechless. lifeless. pretty. and only signifies the accomplishment of those who obtain them (or possible the ones who “constructed” it). You get the idea. It’s both highly accurate and more insulting then you think.


Like: Mae West (1940)

March 2, 2010

“It’s Not Just Who But When…”

This statement was made by an acquaintance of mine some years ago when the question was prompted, “Who would you like to meet more than anyone else?” And from that very moment I fully and completely realized how important timing is when it comes to the reality of a person. Often the ideal timing is that ideal cusp where the fame is new and surprising to the person themselves. Where they are overcome with both the humility of that responsibility and possibly even embarrassed by it. It is certainly when they are most thankful. And certainly ever since that initial conversation I’ve always reiterated when it comes to any such list, “It’s not just who but when…”

Now as a wrinkle, this ongoing series of portraits will only specifically deal with the women of the last 75 years of so who I consider to be the Most Beautiful and Alluring in the world. I’m well aware that the internet can quickly descend into  a game OMG SHE’S HOT, LET’S OGLE HER! (though ogle is probably not used that often) and we find ourselves skirting into objectifying and ultimately even exploitative territory. Please know that that is anything but the goal here. The goal is reflect on moments in time, go over some film and television history, talk about the nature of image, and engage the subject of sexuality in media forms. And yes, most of it will be in adoring circumstances so don’t expect much of sterile criticism, but that is definitely the world of thought it will be coming from.

This ongoing series will attempt to go chronologically.

If by chance you have never seen a Mae West comedic performance, do yourself a favor, and rectify that situation immediately.

Granted, Mae West made her entire career on one great shtick: she’d talk in a sultry tough-dame voice and bang out one liners. Seriously, that and a little bit of singing was her entire career. Check out any of her movie. It’s almost all she does moment to moment, line after line… and it is glourious.

But do not mistake this directness for Mae West being a vacant prop, pumping out studio-fed lines just with her own bit of gusto. The truth is anything but. She was a true comedic auteur, with an active brilliance and polish behind that one singular and glourious shtick. She was complete product of the vaudeville stage, the place where she sharpened her wit and creative savvy.  Her early career involved some serious taboo and boundary pushing, she even got arrested for performing her play entitled “SEX.” She would then bring that edginess and creativity to her film roles and actually WROTE many of the movies she starred in (an incredible feat for the time… wait a minute… pardon my language but what the fuck am I talking about? That’s incredible feat today. Name me a female actress/star who writes her own movies? [Cricket Cricket] Just Tina Fey? … that’s all I can think of… one.). The edginess and double-entendre laden dialogue of her early films like I’M NO ANGEL (1933) were considered lewd enough by the uptight-nicks that it led to the censorship era of Hollywood with the Movie Production Code (well they were just SOME of the films and a lot of it actually had to do with communism fears, but Mae West’s stuff is often cited as a driving force). Fed up with code by the mid-40’s West returned to the stage where her antics were both more appreciated and under the radar.

But as for her short run of movies, whichever genius came up with the idea of pairing her with WC Fields deserves a medal, as MY LITTLE CHICKADEE (1940) is one of my favorite movies. Those not familiar W.C. Fields should also make themselves aware of his comedic stylings. Fields and West are actually doppelgangers of sorts. Both had finely tuned one-note personas (Field’s being the witty, scheming drunk with just as uncanny diction) with sharp tongues and ever sharper minds. Their pairing was so obvious and  perfect…  So naturally, they hated each other. Neither liked to play second fiddle and there’s the famous stories about each of them furiously pumping out re-writes right into production in order to make themselves the star. Which is wonderful for us, because that drive/spite helped push the films so that almost every single line and moment really, truly funny. It also had the added effect of letting their natural hatred of each other show up so palpably on screen. Thankfully, the characters are just trying to play each other the whole time so it’s completely called for. The film actually had a decent budget for the time, but they play it low much to their own success. It provides some hilarious slapstick and lets you throw up your hands at the obvious badness of the whole proceeding. When you roll with the punches,  you will enjoy a truly classic movie.

Thanks Mae.

A scene from My Little Chickadee

http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/index.jsp?cid=238503

The best youtube video I could find to embed was this horrible quality I’M NO ANGEL  … which is sad, but work with what you got:

THE WHOLE MOVIE IS ON HULU

http://www.movieweb.com/video/HUBtkGBHMjEZFI

And lastly some Mae West quotes (Via IMDB):

A hard man is good to find.

When caught between two evils I generally pick the one I’ve never tried before.

When I’m good, I’m very good. But when I’m bad, I’m better.

I believe in censorship. After all, I made a fortune out of it.

I only like two kinds of men: domestic and foreign.

I’m no model lady. A model’s just an imitation of the real thing.

I wrote the story myself. It’s all about a girl who lost her reputation but never missed it.

Good girls go to heaven. Bad girls go everywhere else.

I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.

Ten men waiting for me at the door? Send one of them home, I’m tired.

I do all my writing in bed; everybody knows I do my best work there.

Few men know how to kiss well. Fortunately, I’ve always had time to teach them.

Why don’t you come sometime and see me? I’m home every evening . . . Come up, and I’ll tell your fortune.

A dame that knows the ropes isn’t likely to get tied up.