Like: Natalie Wood (1961)

August 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.

The problem with dying under mysterious circumstances is that often people forget how you lived.

Natalie Wood is not regarded as one of our great actresses. In some ways I understand this as when compared to the heavy weights (Hepburn, Kelly, Monroe, etc) she just wasn’t quite on that level… but in another way, this makes no sense whatsoever. That’s because Natalie Wood was in some damn good movies.

We constantly think about how hr life was cut short, but in reality her career bridged three decades. She was a child star, a teen star, and finally an Adult Star (not that kind of adult, get your mind out of the gutter). And she made absolutely classic films at every stage. Seriously, why does no one talk about her more? She was in five bonafide classics: MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET(1947) [she was the young girl!] REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955) [opposite Dean in his defining film] THE SEARCHERS (1956) [Ford’s best film!]. WEST SIDE STORY(1961) [She was Maria for god’s sake!]  SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS(1961) [her sultry performance was lauded across the board and began the last stage of her glory years]. From there she took what she did in … IN THE GRASS and used that persona to string together some really good performances: GYPSY(1962) LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER(1963) INSIDE DAISY CLOVER(1965) THE PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED(1966) All great work.

You could make a joke that she was one of the first stars who “had talent, but an even more talented agent” and I can’t exactly argue with her luck. She was cast in movies that transcended generations. These are seminal movies that are still with us. I can remember seeing WEST SIDE STORY as a kid and then being shocked when I sat down to watch it a theater for film school. The cinematography in that film was off the charts good. Revolutionary even. But still, she was good. She got these parts for a reason. Perhaps Sydney Pollack said it best: “When she was right for the part, there was no one better. She was a damn good actress.” The whole key being when she’s right for the part but isn’t that everyone. We get so few true chameleons in our movie stars (streep, day lewis, etc) that you have to recognize the ability of someone who merely “casts well.” Believe me, it’s a talent.

So here’s to Natalie Wood. Who cares how she died?

She’s a part of three decades of movie history and an integral part of some of the best films of all time.

That’s reason enough to care.

By the way, welcome to the 60’s.


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: Barbara Stanwyck (1944)

March 25, 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.

Oh Barbara, you incorrigible such and such.

What can I say? Actually, scratch that, what can’t I say? Barbara Stanwyck could be anything you wanted to be. So far we’ve had a transcendent dancing beauty, a British thespian who made a mark on legendary character, a bawdy and witty comic, a hardworking dame who worked her ass off to make a classic, and star with a legendary look.

So now with Barbara we got an honest to goodness actress.

Okay that’s both harsh toward the other ladies I’ve profiled and not giving nearly enough credit to Barbara; her personality and performances were practically bursting at the seems. But what made that exuberant and forthright personality so memorable was that she featured a ton of dexterity. Her femme fatales  were the most joyfully bent and glaring. Her reluctant ladies in love were the most incorrigible and yet doomed to succumb. Her screwball antics were the most off-kilter and vibrant.  Some look back on those extreme traits and see, well, an actress hamming it up. But that’s not really an accurate appraisal. She’s simply taking the popular classical acting style to its logical conclusion by  fully committing to embodying that often absurd personality, while still respecting the character’s reality (basically, she plays the antics straight). Which, in that consideration, actually transcends classical acting. When you consider her dexterity and character self-allegiance, you could argue  she’s really a forerunner to Meryl Streep; she simply went more comedic because the industry’s focus dictated it (though Streep’s been going noticeably light in recent years to resounding success).

I like to make a different argument however… she was actually the forerunner of Brando. GUH??? Yup. Stanwyck was a modernist. Her devotion to the moment, the character, the tone of the scene are all implicit aspects of modern acting and she was light-years ahead of her counterparts. Think of the famous accolades of Brando when he first busted on the scene where his intensity and hysterics were lauded as stunningly-real. All the same compliments could be given to her. Even if it comes off a bit extreme today (while Brando’s work remains remarkably fresh) she still fits the modernist definition perfectly: she doesn’t present her character, she is her character.

Part of what aided Stanwyck’s dexterity was an actual physical gift:  mainly that she looked different all the time. It was really uncanny. I remember first seeing some of her movies when I was younger and I had no idea they were the same person. Sure we remember that weird flopped blonde thing with the hyper-curved bangs she had going on in DOUBLE INDEMNITY(1944), but she also had that weird, brown, puffy-cloud mullet in THE LADY EVE(1941). She even still rocked that awesome flapper wavy hair + headband thing early in her career like in Capra’s LADIES OF LEISURE (1930). Eventually she kind of settled into that thing where her eyebrows were way too over-manicured, but what are you doing to do. And do notice that all the movies I’m mentioning with these crazy looks are utter classics.

And they are largely classics because of her.

Here’s my girlfriend’s take on why should like Barbara Stanwyck:

“Whether you love Babs, film noir, look like her, mix her up with George Washington, lust after her anklet, or want to speed in her district then cry on her shoulder, this is the dame for you. Lets face it; you’re a little bit cheap, a little bit slutty, a little bit mad with power. You are not afraid to admit that you are in it for the money, the thrill of murder, the hardboiled private dicks, and the classy venetian blinds.”

So here’s to you Barbara, you incorrigible such and such!

(And Yes, these are all pictures of the same person).

I seriously couldn’t decide which one of these is my favorite… the boxing gloves or the gun?


Don’t Like: Edward Norton (But It’s Complicated)

June 11, 2008

Send hate mail now.

I really don’t know what to say. It’s not like he’s a bad actor. He’s never sucked in anything he’s done.

It’s just he hasn’t been that good either.

Am I crazy? His breakout film Primal Fear, was a gimmick performance. Don’t get me wrong, he was more than serviceable in the role, but it’s a gimmick movie centered around a gimmick performance. We see them all the time on Law and Order, and CSI. It’s not all that remarkable. All those accolades heaped on Edward after the film’s release always left me puzzled.

Since then he’s showed up in every film, delivering his straightforward lines with the same bland, monotone voice. Sure, it’s not Keanu levels of absurdity or dumbassery, but the same even keeled delivery is there.

Edward’s big advantage is he seems like a pretty smart guy. I know he likes to write and contribute to the screenplays of his films. That I can respect (mostly because of the good results). He always seems to pick good projects and good roles, which again is a total compliment. In the age where most actors don’t seem to really get it, he gets it. For example, most actors like to mix it up between pay gigs with strategic prestige gigs… only they have no idea how to pick either. Instead Norton likes to do both but always approaches it from the strength of material perspective first. It’s nice to see.

I’m actually pretty excited for The Incredible Hulk (mostly cause I hear it’s pretty fun)

But still. As an actor? Just regarding performance?

He’s just not that good.

UPDATE: I saw the Hulk last Thursday, and dare I say it: I really liked him in that movie. He had a nice calm and focused performance. Good show ole’ chap.