Friday, December 05, 2008

Behind the Blog, Anecdote, Links and an All-Points Borzage Bulletin


The Siren is honored to be the subject of this month's Behind the Blog feature at Film in Focus.

She is still working on more things Bennett but fate has intervened in the form of a truly rotten disease. Mr. C keeps insisting it's a cold, the Siren firmly believes it's pneumonic plague. In the meantime the Siren has been tracking the effects of congestion on her voice. Sunday she started out very basso profundo and Tallulah-like. Monday she met Dan Callahan for a screening of Doubt (verdict: Streep terrific, rest of film not bad) and the Siren found her voice had developed a squeak in the upper register, like Jean Arthur. Wednesday was Harpo Marx day--basically no voice at all. Thursday and today, Lizabeth Scott territory.

Anyway, on to this week's anecdote and some links. The Siren was originally going to do an excerpt from Louise Brooks's Lulu in Hollywood, for its touching paragraphs about the doomed middle Bennett sister, Barbara. But after throwing such gloom over the place with her biographical sketch of Constance, the Siren really couldn't do that to her readers. So instead, here are Richard Griffith and Arthur Mayer, from their splendid (but, alas, out-of-print) The Movies, describing Constance's early career in what they dubbed "confession" movies:



Constance Bennett had the most screen offspring (with Joel McCrea usually fathering them, so that it was no shock to the movie public when they beheld in 1933 a title credit which read: "Constance Bennett in Bed of Roses, with Joel McCrea"). Miss Bennett's children came in handy for many plot purposes, including breach-of-promise suits, marriages in name only, and the foreswearing of promising careers. [Click to enlarge the Griffith and Mayer photo montage of Constance's usual romantic trajectory, above.]


Glad tidings. Turner Classic Movies is running two hard-to-find sound-era Frank Borzages on January 12. First, at 7:15 am EST, is Big City from 1937, with Spencer Tracy and the Siren's beloved Luise Rainer, who will turn 99 years old that day. The rest of the day's programming is given over to Rainer, including rarities like The Emperor's Candlesticks and Toy Wife.

But the real joy comes in the evening, as at 8 pm, TCM is showing No Greater Glory, which the Siren had listed as a "dying to see" some time back. Set the clocks, turn off the phones, ship the kids to their grandmother for a day or two, and the spouse too if you must, but that film really is an essential.

Meanwhile, David Cairns has now finished his series on Frank Borzage. Given that this great director and his frustratingly difficult-to-find movies are a constant subject in the Siren's comments, she urges you all to go to this link and read all of the posts.



Speaking of "dying to see" movies--Marilyn Ferdinand has a very detailed and fascinating post up on Only Yesterday, the seldom-seen debut movie of the great Margaret Sullavan. A must-read.

Noel Vera has a terrific post about the reactions he got when he showed three films--Zhang Yimou's Not One Less, Isao Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies, and Yoshifumi Kondo's Whispers of the Heart--to some young American students.

The Siren has long since gotten over her childhood love affair with the Three Stooges. Sorry Ivan, I know you love them, and so does Raymond de Felitta. But no matter what your opinion of the Stooges, Raymond has put up one fascinating post, about Curly and the real, and fake, Shemps.

The Siren never wants to have another discussion of Roman Polanski: Boiling Oil, or Absolution? But she could talk about Chinatown all day. Anyone with doubts about that movie's mastery needs to look at Pilgrim Akimbo's post, Chinatown and the Rule of Thirds, which uses screen shots to show the classical perfection of John Alonzo's cinematography.

Stinky Lulu put up her A-Z Meme and it rocks, of course. But boy, do you ever want to check out Lulu's writeup of Susannah York in They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Fabulous. I only hope Kim Morgan saw it. And also do not miss Lulu's breakdown of the Best Supporting Actress Race for 2008, including such timeless questions as whether "the cutest nun" has a real chance this year.

And we end with Jonathan Lapper asking, why should we automatically think of an unhappy ending as more authentic?

50 comments:

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

The Siren has long since gotten over her childhood love affair with the Three Stooges. Sorry Ivan, I know you love them, and so does Raymond de Felitta.

Hey, I'm just pleased to get the attention. Mentioning me won't help you much, but it does spread my name around.

Vanwall said...

Siren, just a quick congrats on the Film in Focus inclusion - now I see Tom Sutpen and Kimberly Lindbergs, a pair of faves for me, have a new connection in that regard. You deserve any accolades, trust me. I shall return anon.

Tony Dayoub said...

I usually blog in the late morning and early afternoon, when my youngest is taking a nap. The drawbacks to having your writing dependent on a toddler's sleep schedule help explain why my posting can be erratic.

Yes, I seem to be on the same posting schedule as you, for much the same reason.

D Cairns said...

Thanks for linking, and thanks for the kind words over at Focus. I guess I better cut down on my cholesterol if I have such devoted readers.
As for yourself, get well soon!

Tucker said...

Campaspe, you know I love it when you link to me. Thanks.

Apure said...

Do get better soon. Christmas is getting nearer, and I suppose I am not alone in wanting to read more — however desperate, cynical and gloomy — about the Bennett sisters.

darkcitydame4e said...

Hi! Self-Style Siren,
I hope that you get well soon!...
this is my 3rd post on your very interesting blog.
I must admit that I'am more of a "lurker" translation: "reader" than a poster at your blogsite.
Btw, a very interesting interview at Film in Focus:"Behind the Blog.".
Tks,
dcd ;-)

Campaspe said...

Ivan, I now think my remark about the Stooges sounds almost snotty and it totally wasn't meant to. I found them hilarious as a kid and then later things about them began to strike me as creepy. Raymond's whole series of posts goes into that, the things that a nine-year-old finds great and the things that an adult might flip over. And I have always liked your writing on them, hence my mentioning you.

Yojimboen said...

Thanks for reminding me of Griffith/Mayer’s The Movies. I remember wanting it so much as a film student but it was just too much of a luxury. Imagine my joy when a couple of years ago I found a mint hardback copy at a Pasadena bookstore for $ 5.95.

After paying for it I raced from the shop lest they discovered they’d made a mistake.

(I just moved it from the far end of my at-hand bookshelf to the near.) Thanks.

P.S I'll have a note on Chinatown later.

Marilyn said...

Thanks for all the links you provided. I really found some good reading material, especially the Stooges article.

operator_99 said...

I love Lizabeth Scott's voice, but hope you get back to your natural range real soon. You might want to record some "noirish" lines just for future use - perhaps for your answering machine.

Not One Less and Graveyard of the Fireflies are two favorites of mine and glad the kids for the most part had both the attention span and appreciation of messages delivered. Thanks for pointing to that post. I guess The Sent Down Girl would have been a bit to heavy for that age group, but could also have the "no its not real, but the situation is real" applied.

In trying to be kind to Lucille Lund, the subject of my most recent post, I left out that she appeared in two Stooges films at the end of her career :-)

Karen said...

I'm about to go follow all your links, but I just wanted to wish you a speedy recovery and remind you about chicken soup...

X. Trapnel said...

Only Yesterday at last! But it is always painful to see the sublime radiance of Margaret Sullavan eclipsed even momentarily by the fearfully vapid faces of John Boles, Douglas Montgomery, and S.A. Brugh.

X. Trapnel said...

My eye sweeps up words like "Borzage" and "Margaret Sullavan" as a magnet picks up iron shavings. In this instance a synapse misfired, and I misthought TCM was showing Only Yesterday. Alas. Brugh's revenge, I suppose.

Noel Vera said...

Siren, thanks for the mention!

Vanwall said...

Cool, baby, cool - "All Night Long" is playing on TCM as I type, I musta missed that in the playbill; Charles Mingus, Dave Brubeck, and a cast of stellar jazz musicians jamming to an Othello riff in the damndest thing I ever saw. Oh, yeah, Attenborough, McGoohan, Paul Harris and the little seen Marti Stevens are angsting about amongst the hepcats and such - for '62 this must've been banned in the Old South. Oh, and just for classification sake, it has a sad ending.

mndean said...

Same here as regards the Three Stooges. I found them funny when I was young, but started finding other films later (I was lucky - I had chronic bronchitis and spent a lot of time home sick, which was perfect timing for the afternoon movie, which was usually over when I got home from school) and realizing that there were a lot of other types of humor that satisfied me far more. I even embellished one of my bouts of bronchitis so I could see a week-long showing of the Paramount Marx Bros. films.

As for Shemp, I liked him better as a character actor (The Bank Dick, anyone?) than as a Stooge.

Ben Alpers said...

I can't believe that you didn't mention that the long-awaited Murnau, Borzage, and Fox DVD box set has just been released! (Its official release date is December 9, but my copy has apparently already shipped...yippee).

It includes ten Borzage films: LAZY BONES, SEVENTH HEAVEN, STREET ANGEL, LUCKY STAR, THEY HAD TO SEE PARIS, LILIOM, SONG O' MY HEART, BAD GIRL, AFTER TOMORROW, and YOUNG AMERICA, as well as Murnau's SUNRISE and CITY GIRL.

It's wildly overpriced, but at this point I'm happy to pay.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Congratulations on being featured in Behind the Blog, and thanks for the mention.

I love the voice comparisons to various stars. So much more descriptive, and we know exactly what you mean.

I must confess, I still like the Three Stooges. It's like eating chocolate cake for breakfast. You know you shouldn't, and you never tell anyone you did it, but you're never sorry, either. Woo, woo, woo, woo!

allowe said...

Hi, Siren. I have been reading you for the past couple of months. You're good.

Three decades ago I enthusiastically bought a lot of books and magazines about movies. (Since then I bought a huge collection of VHS movies, including many oldies.)

I thought you might be interested in an interview Luise Rainer did that a film magazine published in 1979. It was originally published in the New York Daily News.


She remembered her MGM star days mainly as time when she suffered from a bad marriage with writer Clifford Odets.

She received her second Oscar and remembered it this way in her interview with Harry Haun printed in Films in Review:
"I was so involved with my misery with Odets that I was completely unaware of the Oscars but I felt I had to at least go to the dinner. Odets and I then had an awful row and I asked him not to come with me but he came and all the way down he was terrible to me...We had to walk around the hotel five times before going in. I couldn't go in the way I felt. And just when we finally walked in, they announced I got my second Academy Award."

A second marriage to a London publisher was happier and lasted over 30 years.

DavidEhrenstein said...

My love affair with Gregoire LePrince-Ringuet is as hot and heavy as ever.

DavidEhrenstein said...

As for Bithdays, on December 11 the Manoel de Oliveira will be 100 years-old.

And he's still writing and directing movies!

Campaspe said...

Ben, that set has come up in comments before, but I will admit to not mentioning it in the posts, out of a general assumption that people know about it. If I am honest, however, it's also due to my small sulky snit that I don't have it and at the moment it's out of my price range.

Allowe, thanks so much for de-lurking. I did a couple of posts on Ms Rainer about two or three years ago (I linked to them in this post) and during the course of writing them I got very fond of her. She had intelligence and grit and was eminently too good for Odets, who seems to have been a real domestic nightmare. David Shipman also pointed out that she never capitalized on her Oscar wins and seems to have been focusing on her lousy marriage at a time when her career was at a very important stage.

David, thank you for jogging my memory! I will watch the Oliveira that Flickhead sent me in celebration. I can never remember who said that directors do their best work in youth and in old age ...Welles maybe?

DavidEhrenstein said...

Beverly Garland R.I.P.

Ben Alpers said...

Campaspe,

I can't blame you for your snittishness regarding the Murnau/Borzage box. The price/packaging is outrageous and continues a long tradition of Fox forcing fans of their back catalog to jump through ridiculous hoops to get certain films (I already own SUNRISE on DVD, but had to buy two other films in order to get it thanks to an earlier silly scheme.)

Still, I welcome DVD copies of films whose absence I've been complaining about for years.

Jonathan Lapper said...

I love the question about making money with your blog. People always seem to ask that (I get it a lot), as if the only reason I started it was so I could quit my job (which I'd love to) and make money blogging. Surely I didn't start it because I love writing about movies. When you tell them you don't you make money get a funny look and can sense they want to ask, "Then why did you start it?"

I hope you feel better. I once had mnemonic plague. You're laid up for a week and all you can do is think of clever ways to remember things. It was a living hell.

Yojimboen said...

My promised note on Chinatown: (This may be old stuff for some readers, but I hope fresh for others): I remember reading a Robert Towne interview once where he talked at length about his proposed/preferred ending for his script. Anyone who’s lived in L.A. will be familiar with that high point of the Cahuenga Pass which affords the perfect view of Hollywood and L.A. to the south, and the San Fernando Valley to the north.

For no particular purpose, Towne, a native Angelino, had collected news photos taken from that vantage point over the years. It became his plan to end Chinatown with a montage of match dissolves of those images, showing the Valley being transformed from the expanse of orange groves it once was, to the rectilinear Steven Spielberg suburb it is today. Obviously it wasn’t to be. Robert Evans or Paramount or Roman Polanski put the kibosh to that idea.

Sad, really. I think I would have preferred Mr. Towne’s ending.

Bob Westal said...

Yojimboean -- As a proud Angeleno, I've always liked the sound of that ending, but I think it would have detracted from the tragedy of the one that Polanski cooked up -- maybe the only occasion I can think of times where a director changed a writer's original conclusion, making it both darker and better.

Campuspe -- it's great to be back and congratulations on all the well-deserved attention. I've been distracted both by the election and then its aftermath (too much time of my blogging tie arguing with Daily Kossacks, I'm afraid), and various gigs, and the growing group of DVDs sitting in my sitting room that I'm supposed to review -- for money, but a laughably small sum, but still a sum....Which brings me to Mr. Lapper's point. Even including the few people who get to make a living doing this stuff (a group that definitely does not include me at this time), if you're doing this for the money, you probably started your blog expecting to welcomed as a liberator with candies and flowers, so to speak.

Sadly, I don't get the kind of question that Lapper does -- everyone out here already knows most bloggers aren't making a cent and are surprised to learn that a limited few, mostly in politics and gossip and the like, actually do okay.

Bob Westal said...

I forgot a sad addition I have to make to David Ehrenstein's comment above.

RIP Nina Foch.

Yojimboen said...

Bob W. My bad, I wasn’t clear enough. By all reports, the existing Chinatown climax: “Forget it, Jake…” is completely Robert Towne’s; but he wanted to go from that to the photo montage of the metamorphosis of the Valley - to complete his roman à clef of the Mulholland saga. He would have been content, it was said, for the end credits to roll over the image-montage, but they wouldn’t even grant him that.

Peter Nellhaus said...

"Monday she met Dan Callahan for a screening of Doubt."

A 2008 release seen by Campaspe in 2008? If it hadn't been for the Denver Film Festival, I'd probably be years behind on a few more films.

By the way, from being alone, seeing the Stooges on a theater screen, the bigger they are, the funnier they are. I should propose to Columbia Pictures "The Three Stooges - The IMAX Experience".

And thanks to Mr. Ehrenstein, I better write something on my favorite actress named Garland.

Deborah said...

I've never found the Three Stooges funny, even as a 9 year old, but if you've ever seen the Robert Montgomery film "Fugitive Lovers" (and if you haven't, I recommend it) Larry, Moe & Curly make an appearance as "The Three Julians" and are surprisingly tolerable; possibly even enjoyable.

PS Siren, I echo my sister's recommendation of chicken soup.

Flickhead said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tonio Kruger said...

As much as I adore Jean Arthur, Campaspe, I'm guessing that sounding like her wasn't meant to be your idea of an ideal situation. So I wish you a speedy recovery and the best of health, even if you end up sounding like neither Ms. Arthur nor Ms. Scott.

Bob Westal said...

Yojimboean -- Not to go all wonky and hijack this thread, but I think you were closer to being right the first time -- at least in terms of plot Towne's original ending for "Chinatown" was, famously, considerably different and a lot less "down" but Polanski and, I guess, Robert Evans, made him change it. As for the business with the pics, I can see where they thought that might have softened the blow of the ending.

shahn said...

Well, who wouldn't want some on-screen babies with Joel McCrea?

Congratulations on your Film in Focus interview. Thank you so kindly for the lovely mention too.

I hope you feel better soon (hot toddies always work for my bronchitis!)

Karen said...

My sister Deb is quite right: early Stooges appearances in "legit" films are almost tolerable. They also feature, along with Ted Healy, in Dancing Lady, with Joan Crawford and Clark Gable (hard to get more legit than that), and are perfectly respectable. And I say that as someone who has loathed them from my very earliest exposure to them.

allowe said...

I always thought of the Three Stooges as the working stiffs of American comedy.
Bob Hope, Red Skelton and Jack Benny were the celebrated stars of radio and the Big Screen. W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers came to the movies from Broadway. In their heyday Chaplin and Keaton were geniuses who directed their films.
I alway imagined the Three Stooges carrying lunchboxes and thermoses to work and punching in at a timeclock.
Okay, guys it's time to make a living. They gouge each other in the eyes and make some bad puns and the whistle blows and they are done for the day.

operator_99 said...

Well I finally got over to the much deserved interview and recognition at Film in Focus. It was great to get some insight on your process and the fulfillment that comes at the end of the day when another post hits the blog. In it for the money? - yeah, that's the ticket. And lastly, I was honored to see a mention of my site, especially along side of one my favorites. Thanks, and now, how about that Joan B. article :-)

Tonio Kruger said...

If we're going to start giving out cold and sore throat remedies...my family always swore by freshly squeezed lemon juice mixed with the beverage of your choice. (It's the lemon, of course, that does the trick, not the beverage.)

Campaspe said...

All of these remedies, particularly the toddy, sound much better than than the one I have used for years, which involves a great deal of cayenne pepper and honey. Supposedly Liza Minelli uses that one, but I can't decide if that should encourage or terrify me. (Love Liza but she's sick a LOT.)

X. Trapnel said...

Siren,

The simplest and best remedy I've found is a cup of tea (strong as possible) with half to three-quarters of a lemon squeezed into it (as Tonio Kroger says, it must be a fresh lemon, not lemon juice [which always savors of some skunk-like addititve]).

Sirenically speaking though the slight hoarseness of Margaret Sullavan or Jean Arthur would lead any sailor to his happy doom.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Sirenically speaking though the slight hoarseness of Margaret Sullavan or Jean Arthur would lead any sailor to his happy doom.

...and Glynis Johns.

Bob Westal said...

I wouldn't call it a remedy exactly, but pretty much anything hot and spicy is a natural, er, expectorant. And we can't forget what my mom calls "Jewish penicillin." Around here, I'm big on getting some Mexican chicken soup or pho and adding the appropriate hot sauce, I'm sure Campaspe's neighborhood has some kind of ethnic equivalent.

Oh, and I hate to be a wet blanket, but be careful about the Toddy if you're taking anything containing acetomeniphen/Tylenol.

Feel better Ms. C.

X. Trapnel said...

Glynnis Johns, absolutely!
and Blythe Danner (whom I've always preferred to her daughter).

Cinebeats said...

Congrats on the Film in Focus interview, Siren! It's about time you were featured there. I enjoyed reading it and many thanks for mentioning Cinebeats.

And you count me as a Three Stooges fan. My mom used to take me and my brother to a pizza parlor in town that also doubled as a small movie theater and they often showed Three Stooges movies during weekend afternoons. I have some fond memories of watching the Three Stooges movies with my mom and brother.

Bob Westal said...

Since inquiring minds don't want to know, it's time for to announce that I stopped finding the Stooges funny sometime after my 11th or 12th birthday, and all my alliegiance went to the Brothers Marx.

And yet, Blythe Danner only became more intriguing, for some reason. I'm totally with X. Trapnel there, no disrespect to Gwynneth.

X. Trapnel said...

I am not anti-Gwynneth (tho there was the Syl and Ted absurdity). There were shots of her in Shakespeare in Love that could cure cataracts

Vanwall said...

Personally, I find the Stooges tiring in large doses, but they do have that never-ending mayhem aspect and they will outlive all others, I'm afraid - the basic level of slam comedy involved is un-killable, and appeals to a fair amount of viewers still, mostly male; judging by the rising level of stupid comedy in film today, with poorly timed pratfalls and unbelievably overdone humor, the Stooges look positively Einstienian. Nyuck, nyuck.

Vanwall said...

Oh, and as far as husky voices, Lizbeth Scott could pull my Iditarod winner any day.