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…

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Love: Audrey Hepburn (1953/1961 [tie])

June 22, 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.

Hoo boy.

Where to start… I’m not sure. I’m sort of nervous just writing about her. There’s a lot to live up to. For all the noble dames of classic Hollywood, she’s the one that is held in the highest regard. The Nobleiest Dame if you will. I mean, people adore this woman. You want to live up to that. You have to live up to that.

Where to start… This was sorta inevitable right? I mean there was no way in hell that Audrey Hepburn wouldn’t be included in this series, right? She has to be here. Heck, her and Rita Hayworth will be elected captains and then they’ll just pick the rest.

Where to start… Maybe a transition? Some of the same things that make Grace Kelly awesome are the same things that make Audrey Hepburn awesome. The key difference is a matter of affectation. Audrey had the same quality of being austere, only she was somehow more accessible. Maybe it was just her inherent “cuteness.” Maybe it was how so many of her films were about the austere girl falling for the gruff regular Joe. Maybe it’s because there was something so effortless kind about her. Maybe it’s that she was approachable.

Where to start… Well, she’s gorgeous. Yeah that’s for sure. She’s not Grace Kelly, with the pristine model looks, but unquestionably beautiful. Sure, it seems there’s a little bit of Elf in the DNA there, but unquestionably beautiful. So that helps right? Or is that too obvious…

Where to start… How about the mission statement? When would I want to meet her? How about 1953? ROMAN HOLIDAY(1953) made her a star and for good reason. She’s simply charming in it. She’s delightful. She’s the life and integrity of the film and she’s playing of Gregory Peck for chrissakes. She’d win an oscar and become and instant icon.  It would have to be 1953…

Where to start… No, actually I have to say 1961. Yeah that’s the ticket, I mean BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S(1961)… what other choice is there? It might be one of the most iconic performances in anyone’s career let alone hers.  Even the image of her Audrey in character is seminal enough. Google “Audrey Hepburn” images and 95% of them are from that movie. The film is fantastic to boot: incredible source material from Capote, Blake Edwards making his mark as a director, just stunning quality all around. And perhaps what’s best is Hepburn’s complete inversion on her image, albeit done in the most graceful way possible. In many ways, Holly Golightly is the  same demure princess that we always consider Audrey to be, only she’s fallen from grace. It’s not abashed or sordid mind you, she’s just a small-town girl whose efforts to make it in the big city fell flat so she became just another playgirl trying to land a big whale. She’s just so damn alluring. Hepburn’s Holly is the complete characterization of the the oft-chased wild girl with a heart of gold. And coming from Capote’s novel, they do an incredible job both indulging in that stereotype (though it wasn’t really so much a stereotype at the time) and transcending it. It’s a perfect movie/role/performance. But that’s not really a place to start is it? More like the climax?

Where to start… I feel like I always had a deep connection with Hepburn. It honestly started with the famous Breakfast at Tiffany’s poster and for some reason I just abstractly decided she was one of my favorites. We often forget that we do this sort of thing when we’re kids: you like something for some silly reason, like a baseball player having the same name as you, or you like the logo on the front of something, or some other weak connection. So that’s why I started liking Audrey Hepburn. But like anything you keep up with, that circumstantial “like” turned into something tangible and genuine; a lifelong affinity for a timeless actress. And let’s be honest that poster is just fantastic.

Where to start… I don’t know. There’s so much to say, but nothing feels like it fully captures what makes Audrey Hepburn, well,  Audrey Hepburn.

Where to start…


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.


Love: Grace Kelly (1954)

May 21, 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 amazing what a couple of Hitchcock movies can do for a actress’s legacy.

Let’s be honest, acting is not really Grace Kelly’s legacy, is it? After all, this is a woman who ended up being an honest-to-god Princess.

Grace Kelly was probably too beautiful to be confined to a normal life. She had the kind of beauty that doesn’t exactly feel real. If you asked someone to sketch an ideal version of a “pretty blonde lady” it would probably look like her: pristine, bright and colorful, free of imperfection. This is not to imply that Grace was a bombshell type mind you. She wasn’t Marilyn. She wasn’t overly curvaceous. Nor sultry. Grace Kelly was elegant. Shapely, but slender. Statuesque. She truly had this eponymous grace… Gosh…  Here I am, hurling around adjectives like someone who can’t articulate a coherent narrative, but oddly it feels like the best approach…

… Impeccable… Perhaps that’s the best word.

In my previous piece on Elizabeth Taylor I mistakenly made it seem like Taylor was the defining style icon of this era. It was the wrong appraisal: Taylor had a defining and highly influential look, but it was Grace Kelly who was THE style icon of the time. So much so that fashion and clothing were synonymous to her identity.

Let’s do an exercise. Those of you who are familiar with her, picture Grace Kelly in your head right now. How does she look?

I bet her clothing and hair is a big part of what you picture. There’s no singular facial trait (like with Julia Roberts you’d go “big smile”), she just had a perfect symmetrical face. So it’s about the look. She had a few different looks, but we likely know them all. She would most likely be wearing white. She could be wearing a stunning evening dress with a large, conservative skirt,  but a liberal reveal of her shoulders. She’s most likely wearing diamonds. Her hair could curve into an elegant wave, or be pulled straight back with a bit of volume. She could be going to a fancy cocktail party, she a fancy dinner, or be the belle of the ball. It wouldn’t matter because she’d never be under-dressed for an outing, would she? It’s all so classic. You have your more casual looks as well though. Maybe, she could see her lounging on some fancy sailboat. White khaki shorts. A modest sweater. Sunglasses. A forerunner to Jackie O. The air of the distinguished. The yachting crowd.

There’s a reason you can picture Grace so easily. It’s because we all have the same iconic images in burned into our minds. Her physical presence and style are inexorably tied together, and specifically tied up with something very important in addition…

There’s this popular cliche about how men like to worship women from afar.  It’s not necessarily voyeurism, but more of an ingrained belief that the immaculate feminine perfection can only be maintained in absolute form from a distance (otherwise you see the imperfections). Other kinds of figures give us shortcuts around the imperfections, often upfront. Unlike television stars, the buddy-like comediennes, or even the hapless airheads, who are considered approachable and accessible, the “movie star” is the perfect example of the effects of that distance. We go into darkened theaters and stare up at these amazing specimens with our mouths agape. It is there that the distance becomes a chasm. And with someone like Grace Kelly: whose looks are so perfect, with every bit of her definitive flair of upper class style which we (generally) so desperately envy, that chasm instead becomes a vast expanse.

We love her, because it’s almost inconceivable to be her. So really, what other choice is there?

Back to Hitchcock.

Did you know that Grace Kelly only starred in movies for 5 freaking years?

I bet you didn’t know that. She’s considered one of the great movie stars of our time after all. But just five years of work: Two bit parts in FOURTEEN HOURS (1951) and HIGH NOON(1952). She erupted on the scene as “that beautiful blonde woman who stole the scenes from Ava Gardner” in MOGAMBO (1953). The next year was a big one as she starred in five freaking movies alone. GREEN FIRE and THE FIRE OF TOKO-RI. Then she starred in two consecutive Hitchcock classics, DIAL M FOR MURDER and REAR WINDOW. !!!.  She didn’t even do all that much in them, but they have virtually defined her screen career. She’s often considered the ideal model of “The Hitchcock Blonde.”  I guess it helps that both are just outrageously good movies. The fifth film of that year? THE COUNTRY GIRL, which earned Grace Kelly a freaking Oscar. You haven’t heard of it (most likely) because it’s not all that good. But really, that’s often what people win Oscars for, their not-so-good work at the just-the-right time. I’ve gone on my “oscars just being awards for previous performances and politics” rant before so I won’t again… but please note that this forgotten, blah performance prevented Judy Garland for winning in A STAR IS BORN and Audrey Hepburn for winning in SABRINA. Ugh. Moving on… Grace seemed sort of weary of a lot of the attention that came after all this. She didn’t look forward to raising kids like this (and she wanted kids). So she only did three more films (which I honestly haven’t seen so I can’t really comment), but at the end of 1956 she hung up her acting shoes for good. She was 26.

Again. She was 26…. Whoa.

Of course it helps if you meet the Prince of Monaco and he falls hopelessly in love with you. Anytime you can get the fairy tale ending I say you go for it. If only to see what it’s like, right? She never really acted again, though she was tempted by her old friend Hitchcock a few times. Instead, she did all the princess/stately duties. She did an immense amount of humanitarian work (the funniest of which was breast feeding advocacy thing). She gave birth to Princess Caroline.  Basically, she got to be a princess.

Given everything we’ve discussed… A fitting conclusion for Grace Kelly, isn’t it?


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: 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: Veronica Lake (1941)

March 11, 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.

Hoo boy. Veronica Lake sure had a look.

… But let’s be honest. It’s mostly that hair. A wavy golden lock cresting over from a part so straight that scientists probably use it to correct their instruments. That hair hangs over the side of her face in that specific, alluring manner whose mystery begs for attention and awe. And that obscuring facet simply highlights the exposed side of her face with that devastatingly expressive arched eyebrow of hers; mere shifts in latitude and that baby signifies all the things a dame of the silver screen needs: amusement, bewilderment, an possible invitation… or trouble.

A lot of folks don’t realize she was also impossibly short (didn’t crack 5 feet). Then again a lot of classic movie stars were really short so any surprise should be lumped in with the collective bunch, but Veronica’s frame just seemed so svelte that the mental computation of here real-life proportions seems to melt ones brain. Getting past her petite physiology one realizes there are more important considerations. Like how a lot of folks like to debate whether or not she was actually any good.  This seems like a silly thing to question to me. Her early rolls often found her as a high voiced bubbly school girl and her femme fatale roles mostly used the aforementioned hair/eyebrow affectation as she put on a sultry deep voice that always came a little off kilter. So yes. There was something a bit off about those when compared to some of the best actresses in the business, but that seems more like a matter of being slightly misused (instead of wholly misused).

Luckily, there was a director out there who knew exactly what to do with Veronica Lake. This is not a unique phenomenon. An actor may have a certain unfocused or commercial nature that suddenly gets honed into something far more interesting and substantial. Think Adam Sandler in PUNCH DRUNK LOVE. Dicaprio teaming with Scorsese. Lake had the same fortune as them and was able to have her real potential shown on screen. So who was this mystery enabler?

First, a question: what director has perhaps had more influence on the Coen Brothers, over any other? So often the Coen’s brilliant voice is credited as being an amalgamation of many things, delicately blended into their own sensibility. This is true to a certain point, but the better answer is Preston Sturges.

I will not mince words. Preston Sturges is my favorite director of the classic film era. I’m amazed how many film lovers my age have not seen his movies, let alone heard of him. He was a real auteur in an age where Directors and Writers were part of the golden age compartmentalized machine, churning out films for the masses. Sturges and Welles were pretty much the only substantial guys writing their own stuff. Sturges was wildly influential towards developing a darker, more interesting voice as he became pioneer for Billy Wilder to follow just a few short years later. Wilder gets so much credit, but it’s all there in Sturges before him:  the sense of irony, the crushed blacks and wonderful grey tones of the cinematography;  Sturges was simply ahead of everyone. The aforementioned love of Sturges by the Coens is evident in the many ways they’ve been remaking themes and tones from SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS througout their filmography. Heck, BARTON FINK has an achingly similar plot (a naive filmmaker wants to connect with his roots and be a voice of lower class struggle). And guess what the name of the movie is that Sullivan is making? Yup. “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”… yeah… you do the math. But more universally, both Sturges and the Coens are primarly concerned with breaking down the hollywood “truths”: the black and white morality and clear-cut lessons; things like good behavior being rewarded, the guy gets the girl, the noble crusade, really all the standard tropes of movie-dom. But always examined with a particular sardonic, hilarious bent of course. Do not mistake either for being obtuse or preachy.

Back to Veronica Lake. So she finally gets a role of substantial value with Sturges in SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS (1941). She’s simply “The Girl” (actual credited name for the character), a wannabe actress who gets to show of a full range of humility, quiet desperation, and honesty, yet still let her show off the dexterity of her acting chops come the various “audition and acting” modes. It’s all top-notch stuff. The kind of thing where you get to convey your talent and yet strike resonance. And I love her in it.

Here’s there meeting scene in Sullivan’s Travel’s. (remember Sullivan is director going undercover as a poor man to get to know the real plight of the people). The scene is a slow burn. What makes her so good does really start coming in until about 2 minutes into the scene. Enjoy!

Not bad eh? Hel,l she’s better than Ladd in these scenes (Though Ladd is great in his naive pitch-man scenes to the studio too). So Again, to reiterate… I really love this movie. Check out the whole thing if you get a chance and other Sturges movies too. I have his book of screenplays and they were practically a masterclass in writing (while understanding the antiquated nature of course. Think of it as a classic foundation. You gotta learn how to play catch before you can actually pitch).

After the film’s (and her’s) success, Veronica Lake kept on trucking, establishing herself as a major star in the early 40’s. But like most of these stories, everything didn’t stay that way. She had a gradual (and somewhat public) descent into alcohol and mental troubles that have sort of come to define a huge part of her legacy. But so often their referenced independent of circumstance. Her slide all stemmed back to a on-set accident where she tripped on some film equipment while pregnant and began hemorrhaging. The problems created by incident from it eventually led to the loss of this second child just after he was born. It completely devastated her and ingrained in her a kind of loathing of filmmaking, yet it’s amazing how little this event is talked about in her decent. Doesn’t it seem like this kind of devastation cannot be calculated?

It seems like these tragic conclusions keep having to be brought up in this ongoing series. I don’t really like talking about them or even really thinking about them. There’s just so much more that’s important to talk about when it comes to these wonderful actress. I realize that this kind of mental polishing is very un-Sturgian/un-Coenian, but it’s also very human to me. There’s a better legacy beyond tragedy. For Veronica Lake, there’s so much more.

Like Sullivan’s Travels.

Like that singular fantastic performance.

Like her unrealized potential (she never worked with Sturges again, though often did with Ladd).

And yeah… that hair.