Wednesday, December 01, 2010

"People who think they don’t like classic movies just haven’t seen the right ones."

Last month the Siren did an interview with Victor Ozols of BlackBook Magazine, which is up today at their online edition. It demonstrates several things, among them that Victor (whom the Siren has known for years) is a charming man, and also that the Siren doesn't look one damn thing like Joan Fontaine in Suspicion. Many thanks to Victor for his time and graciousness, for giving the Siren yet another forum for her ramblings, and for letting her tout For the Love of Film (Noir) at some length.

P.S. It's also been drawn to the Siren's attention that her line, "Film noir often plays really well to modern audiences, because we relate to the cynicism and the dialogue and the dark deeds," may reveal something about her view of modern life...

P.P.S. Esteemed Shadows of Russia Comrade Lou Lumenick of the New York Post and the Siren have been indulging in a bit of crowing over the appearance of Leo McCarey's flawed but fabulous My Son John on Netflix Streaming; check out that and Lou's other streaming discoveries at the link. Warm thanks to Vadim Rizov for pointing out My Son John's Netflix bow to the Siren; spasibo, Tovarisch.

37 comments:

Arthur S. said...

Nice, I also think that the online classic film blogosphere(or Greater Blogistan as some of the aficionados here call it), for the younger people(like me) has to do with a conscious attempt to get out of the culture forced upon them by TV mostly(you didn't get classic films on TV when I grew up although I do remember seeing WIZARD OF OZ when I was small) and its values, where basically what you get has very little to do with the way you feel and live your life. Widening one's range of references is an incredibly liberating feeling and that's really what cinephilia is all about.

If I think of one film that made me realize that old films could be as modern or more modern than what you get today, it would be MONSIEUR VERDOUX. It was the first Chaplin movie I saw, the DVD was there at the local British Council Library and I never thought I'd see a Chaplin film and this one was a sound film and had him play a serial killer and that film is so powerful, so lacerating, so unafraid of the truth and this was made just at the end of the second world war. And also aesthetically, the acting was so different from what you get, the mix of horror, slapstick and of course the way Chaplin's performance confounds yet compels identification.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Verdoux is a really great place to start with Chaplin. He's not playing The Tramp but a version of his actual self, as filtered though the press. The "Ladykiller" as literal ladykiller provides him with a platform on which to discuss that hwich is as pertinent today as it was in 1947. It was a box office flop -- and you can see why.

Curious that you find Shadow of a Doubt ideal for getting people into "old movies," Siren. It's an exceptionally singular Hitchcock. Very close to him personally. I find it deeply frightening. Norman Bates is a Boogeyman. Uncle Charlie is a blood relative. One's chances for meeting a Norman Bates are slim. But Uncle Charlie is someone who was over for Thanksgiving dinner.
In what he says about the world there's a very fine line between what Hitchcock really believes and that which he'd reject as "going too far."

X. Trapnel said...

David, I generally agree with your comment on Shadow of a Doubt (my favorite 40s Hitch, in spite of some inadvertant comedy from Maestro Tiomkin, a really dumb walking theme for Theresa Wright that gives mickeymousing a bad name), but isn't Norman first presented to us as an engaging figure? A nice, "sensitive," neighborly (until they moved the highway) young man familiar from small towns in Wm. Inge stuff. As with Uncle Charley the bogeyman reveals himself bit by bit.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Norman starts as engaging -- to a degree. He does emerge from what's clearly a "haunted house." And seen overall he's a horro movie figure. Uncle Charlie may fully reveal himself gradually, but we're tipped from the very first shot of him -- laid out on his bed as if in rehearsal for his own funeral -- that he's a malevolent force in vaery familair circumstances. We're not likely to stop at the Bates motel. But Young Charlie and her family live right down the street from all of us.

The Siren said...

David & XT, I may be out on a limb with Shadow but I do find people generally like it, especially if they've seen other Hitchcock. Certainly seeing Psycho and The Birds first would make the Thornton Wilder small-town ambience just that much more unexpected and intriguing. Strangers may be easier for the uninitiated; Walker is so amazingly good by any era's standards that most people click with it.

Arthur, I adore Monsieur Verdoux but I cannot imagine telling someone unfamiliar with old movies to go check it out; they might come back and try to put me in therapy. What a singular movie that is. I think the fact that you appreciated it so much on first viewing was an early sign of broad and sophisticated taste.

X. Trapnel said...

Doesn't the difference in how we perceive NB and UC have something to do with the fact that no murders (ok, attempts, but even these are not "bodily" as in Rope, Strangers on a Train) are shown in Shadow of a Doubt? But yes, the avuncular upstanding citizen is a far more frightening figure, than Hitch's outsider killers.

Some would consider the smug knowingness of Todd Solondz or Sam Mendes dealing with "similar" material as an advance on Hitchcock.

X. Trapnel said...

Sorry. Except for Charlie and Charlie as anything but strangers on a train. That was bodily enough.

Karen said...

I left a long comment over at the interview, but it looks like it's not posting...

I just wanted to say, as I've said before, that the Marx Brothers films are terrific gateway films to get people over their initial resistance to something old and/or B&W.

But the tallest hurdle I see in my own introduction of friends and families to classic Hollywood--especially 1930s Hollywood, forever my fave--is the incredibly rapidfire dialogue. Siren, you mentioned His Girl Friday as a good starter film, and there's no denying it's brilliant on many levels, but the dialogue--especially in that opening scene with Grant and Russell--is delivered at such a breakneck pace that many people I've shown it to just can't follow it. I'm not sure why I don't have that problem--is it just decades of listening?--but it's a stumbling block for more people than I would have expected.

The Siren said...

Wow, really? Because while it's a dying art in movies, machine-gun dialogue is all over television, to wit: Aaron Sorkin. In fact, The Social Network endeared itself to me with its obviously Hawks-ian opening, a man and a woman sparring at a table and no way they're gonna hold for laughs, miss it and you miss it toots.

DavidEhrenstein said...

You know that didn't occur to me about The Social Network, Siren, but you're right. In many ways its a present-day spin on 30's newspaper comedy with a soupcon of Sweet Smell of Success. It's way out in front for this year's film prizes, particularly Sorkin's script. But I feel that script, good as it is, wouldn't have worked without Fiuncher's directorial timing and the sullen loveliness of Jesse Eisenberg.

Karen said...

I wouldn't be surprised if the rapid-fire nature of Sorkin's dialogue has also been a barrier for people in becoming Sorkin fans.

But even still, while he may not pause for laughs, I'm talking about how fast the words actually come out of the actors' mouths. Listen, say, to Pat O'Brien barking into the phone in Torrid Zone and think about just how many WPM are spewing out. I don't mean only how quick the exchanges are, but how fast the lines of dialogue are delivered.

I honestly never thought about it until I started dealing with the confusion of others.

Yojimboen said...

But Karen... Ah've always depended on the confusion of others...

DavidEhrenstein said...

(rim shot)

DavidEhrenstein said...

And speaking of Tennessee, Sweet Bird of Youth is set to be revived on Broadway with Nicole Kidman and the hardest working Total Babe in show business, James Franco.

Arthur S. said...

Well I think shocking people might shake their assumptions. Or if not VERDOUX, something like ANGEL FACE or TOUCH OF EVIL.

In many ways Pauline Kael's observation about CITIZEN KANE being the culmination of 30s newspaper comedies applies greatly to THE SOCIAL NETWORK since its also about a media tycoon who innovates in his field and ends up alienating his friends. And the dialogue is just as fast as in that film.

And I agree with David E. The film's main interest is Fincher's mise-en-scene and his command of the palette of digital cameras and the acting.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Congratulations on this terrific interview. Always admire your comments and analysis. And a swell photo.

ivan said...

awesome interview

and your blog truly is fantastic

DavidEhrenstein said...

Had an utterly wonderful evening last night of the sort I treasure as a professional journalist. Fox Searchlight threw a cocktail party on the roof of the Thompson Hotel in Beverly ills and there was tons of press and several marvelous celebs. What's great about events like these is getting to hang with people in loose and delightful ways for just a bit (as it would be rude to monopolize their time.) So I got to hang with Anne Hathaway -- who has the post perfect skin, EVAH! She's like a ice cream cone one longs to lick. Congratulated her on the Oscar gig, and told her that Rachel Zoe (her stylist) must be in a state of total bliss. "She is," Anne said
"but she's VERY pregnant as well."
I said that for the show itself she should just remember to breathe --and hang onto Bruce Vilanch for dear life.

End up chatting with her less about her career than that of Debra Winger, who co-starred with her in Rachel's Getting Married She's over the moon about her as an artist. I told her about Mike's Murder, which she didn't know. It's one of The Wing's very best performances. Sadly I don't think it's on home video yet. The Wing will next be seen on cable in an episode of In Treatment

Anne's Love and Other Drugs and Brokeback Mountain co-star Jake Gyllenhaal was there to, and as winsome as ever. He said Maggie is going to do "The Three Sisters" on Broadway so of course I told him the Kim Stanley story. Back in the 60's the Actors Studio did an all-star staging of it and when asked what she'd like to eat during a dinner scene in the play La Stanley lustily replied "Chili! Good ol' Texas chili!" Needless to say he cracked up.

dgb said...

The interview is terrific. Siren, you speak beautifully for all of us.

As for Hitchcock, my late-20s niece and her husband told me over the holiday that they recently gave 39 STEPS a try and couldn't get into it. It was too far-fetched for them. I suspect they thought it was supposed to be a serious thriller and not a romp. Too bad they didn't make it to the final shot, with the escapees holding hands, the handcuffs dangling. That pretty much says it all.

Again Siren, thanks for being such an articulate voice for all of us.

swhitty said...

Siren, what a lovely interview -- fine points, smartly made. (The few times that anyone has interviewed me, I always hem and haw.) And thanks for so graciously mentioning me.

On the subject of being a film buff and a parent, and wanting to share the classics with your own little squirts, I can certainly empathize with how challenging that can sometimes be.

Would agree, though, that a great entry point is early Keaton and Chaplin -- think "Cops" or "The Rink" which our friend Glenn Kenny recently, eloquently wrote about. Then, of course, there are the Marx Brothers (little ones connect with Harpo immediately). Some musicals -- "Meet Me in St. Louis" is an easy favorite. And the Universal monsters -- particularly "Bride of Frankenstein" -- work well, too.

It gets harder -- or at least, I've found so -- when the children move into middle-school and beyond. But when my own daughter started to get lost in a morass of bad, brand-new teen movies, I got her back by introducing her to some older good ones -- beginning with "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," then moving back to "The Breakfast Club," "The Graduate" (not exactly a teen movie, but you get the idea) and "Rebel Without a Cause."

Because she could recognize and identify with the characters, it was less of a shock then leaping headfirst into, say, "The Thin Man." And now we can sit down and watch "Bringing Up Baby" together and have a great time.

That may be the key, I think -- find a genre your child is already into, and then show him or her where it began.

Incidentally, there's a pretty good book on all this by Ty Burr, "The Best Old Movies for Families"...

DavidEhrenstein said...

Excellent point about genres, swhitty.

The entire culture is premised on the notionthat the present is superior to the past. When it comes to culture that's rarely the case. Showing kids where the "new" that love really came from is very important. You've Got Mail is NOT an improvement on The Shop Around the Corner

Trish said...

I like Shadow of a Doubt as well, especially for the small town atmosphere. The mother is in denial about Charlie, and the father -- whose hobby is solving murders, can't see the forest for the trees.

Sorkin, yes, but there's also "Gilmore Girls" from Amy-Sherman Palladino. There's certainly an art to it. That said, I'm not so keen on "His Girl Friday". Yes I know -- Hawks, Grant, etc. But Rosalind Russell's manner, voice and wardrobe are so off-putting I've never been able to give this movie another chance.

Tom Block said...

Here you go, David:

http://www.wbshop.com/Mikes-Murder/1000179742,default,pd.html?cgid=

DavidEhrenstein said...

Merci!

Laura said...

Congratulations on an excellent interview! Enjoyed it very much, and the photo is lovely. :)

The "entry point" I find works great for the younger set is SINGIN' IN THE RAIN. My kids have shown it to countless friends. A couple of them now own their own copies. That news gave me quite a thrill!

Best wishes,
Laura

Vanwall said...

I always try to get people to watch something funny as a starter for classic films, and it varies from time to time - Laurel and Hardy's "The Music Box" was one I'd use a lot when I could. Yes, "Double Indemnity", and "The Big Sleep" are two of the hard-boiled ones, both with great dialog, and "The Maltese Falcon" is another - it has a nifty modern touch to it that presaged post-war films. "Laura" is a good one, too, it moves along well - the important factor for a lot of younger viewers, IMO.

I can't say what I did with my two boys, I was watching so many on the tube, they grew up with 'em. They have a good eye for supporting players in a lot of films, now. Maybe not the best idea tho, one of 'em snuck downstairs and watched "Night of the Hunter" once and Harry Powell scared the bejesus out of him. That's the one that graduated from film school, tho, so mebbe he had a good upbringing after all.

I think some classic westerns would be good starters, like "Ramrod", or "Blood on the Moon", for the right person, but only ones that have more of that ambiguity in 'em.

I still try Teddy Tetzlaff's 1947's noir-comedy "Riffraff" a fast-moving minor masterpiece of great photography, wonderful acting, and snappy dialog - but as observed earlier, some are resistant to Pat O'Brien and Anne Jeffrey's rapid fire smart-assery.

I'm not too sure which kid-flicks from the misty past would work, but I'll have to start trying soon, as the oldest small unit is getting old enough to watch.

Vanwall said...

I will own up to an utter failure, the enthusiasm of youth led me to pull a buddy into a midnight showing of "Freaks", and he said never again. It used to gnaw on me that I threw him in the deep end like that, and I've been more careful to bring 'em along before I hit 'em with something like "M" or "Pandora's Box" or "Nightmare Alley".

Trish said...

I gave my two young nephews "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein", thus creating two little monsters who drove their mom crazy quoting lines from the movie... My teen nieces were brought up on a diet of Disney animation, so I gave them a movie about growing up: "The World of Henry Orient".

bryanD said...

"Siren, you mentioned His Girl Friday as a good starter film, and there's no denying it's brilliant on many levels, but the dialogue"---Karen

That rapid-fire dialogue, oy! A holdover from hit-and-miss vaudeville hack comedians and radio announcers whose livelihood depended on managing the seconds hand or being fired. It can still be heard today among the lesser substitute talk radio hosts.

The fact the real people spoke SLOWER (there are transcription discs!) in those days, just makes it all so self-indulgent.

If it weren't for the very interesting Virginia Weidler flitting about, I never would have finished The Philadelphia Story and all that nattering. God bless Jimmy Stewart, too!

gmoke said...

"Best Years of Our Lives" could be a good introduction for someone serious who hasn't gotten into old film yet.

"Casablanca" of course as who can resist the Marseillaise scene.

"Duck Soup" for the anarchist in us all.

Best paraphrase from "Blood on the Moon": "Tate, I've known dogs that wouldn't claim you for a son." Robert Mitchum to Robert Preston just before their fight breaks out.

gmoke said...

At the risk of being too forward, Siren, your legs in those patterned stockings do remind me of Joan Fontaine's in Decameron Nights.

DavidEhrenstein said...

That's a perfect movie to give thm, Trish. The World of Henry Orient is a little masterpeice about friendship and fun before the onslaught of puberty. I went to high school with a girl who ran around in a ratty old fur coat like Tippy Walker's. Great score by Elmer too.

Trish said...

David, I don't think I've ever connected with a movie so much as I have with The World of Henry Orient. I saw it when I was about the same age as the two girls. To this day I find myself humming the theme. I also thought Angela Lansbury was smashing...

Karen said...

Trish--me, too! I saw it with my sister when it first came out; she was about the age of the girls, I was a little younger. It stayed with me like a shadow for 40 years, which was the next time I got to see it--why did it never show up on TV??--and it was as fresh as I'd remembered.

A priceless film.

Rozsaphile said...

Yes, a lovely little movie -- and one with a bit of Hollywood history behind it. The source novel was by Nora Johnson, the daughter of famed screenwriter Nunnally Johnson, who wrote many of John Ford's films and other Fox pictures. Later, the story was adapted again for a Broadway musical, called Henry, Sweet Henry. It had the usual Broadway birth pangs, and in Nora's telling, her father more or less took over the project against her wishes, thus reenacting some of the troubled relationship problems that had inspired the original novel.

Trish said...

Karen, it must have been shown on tv a few years after its release because that's where I saw it... and you're darn right. It wasn't shown often, but seeing it many years after the first time I was completely amazed by how relevant it was.

Neetu said...

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