Monday, May 31, 2010

Anecdote of the Week: "Dark, you idiot! We're photographing in black and white."

All those critics grinding Sex and the City 2 into the sidewalk with their heels made the Siren think of another movie shot in Morocco—or rather, Morocco, Warner Brothers, which was probably more fun. Such were the Siren's thought processes. So here, from his autobiography Ladies' Man, is Paul Henreid describing a day on the set of that movie he made with Michael Curtiz and Humphrey Bogart.
At one point we were supposed to be shooting in a Moroccan street filled with vendors, a cart, a donkey and a crowd of people. Curtiz reviewed the set before we started and said, 'It's very nice, but I want a poodle.' The prop man was upset. 'Mike, you never told me that. We don't have one.' 'Well, get one,' Curtiz snapped. 'All right.' Nervous now, the prop man said, 'What size?' 'What size? A big one, a big one!' Curtiz turned away in annoyance. 'What color?' the prop man persisted. Curtiz threw his hands up. 'Dark, you idiot! We're photographing in black and white.' 'It's going to take about half an hour.' Curtiz rolled his eyes. 'You think time is nothing? All right, all right!' We went back to our dressing-rooms, and Mike and I started a game of chess while Bogey kibitzed. In half an hour the prop man poked his head in happily. 'I have it now, Mr. Curtiz. Will you come and look?' 'Pauli, don't touch the pieces. I think I have you mate in three moves.' And Mike went out. We went with him so he wouldn't accuse us of cheating, and there on the set was a beautiful black standard poodle. Mike looked bewildered. 'What do I want with a dog?' 'You said you wanted a poodle.' 'I wanted a poodle in the street,' Curtiz shouted. 'A poodle, a poodle of water!' 'Oh my god, you mean a puddle!' 'Right. A poodle, a puddle, that's what I want, not a goddamn dog!' All in all I found Mike Curtiz a charming man...
Meanwhile, links of interest: David Cairns posts something he must have known I would have to link to. Glenn Kenny writes up Wellman's Wild Boys of the Road with his signature panache, at Mubi. (I guess I need to change that name on my sidebar, but I'm resisting.) Gorgeous Lawrence Harvey could no more portray sweet or warmhearted than he could sing Tosca, but give him a snake-eyed assassin or soul-dead careerist to play and he was more than equal to the task. The Siren has never much cared for Grace Kelly's Oscar-winning role in The Country Girl; doesn't like the script, doesn't like the movie, doesn't like Kelly in the movie. But, at Another Old Movie Blog, Jacqueline T. Lynch makes a good case for all three--and brings up the too-little-acknowledged fact that "nearsighted people are almost always glamorous and elegant," which made the Siren smooth down her skirt and squint even more closely at her computer screen. If you want a corrective to the Siren's lack of enthusiasm for The Fall of the Roman Empire, start right here at Ferdy on Films. Finally, in her anniversary post, the Siren shamefully neglected to thank Stephen Whitty, who has pointed his New Jersey Star-Ledger and Newhouse News readers her way more than once. Stephen shares the Siren's regard for women's pictures. And yesterday, in a witty and pointed article, he also lamented the lack of modern movies aimed at women: "Every summer, studio execs act like Guy Pearce in Memento, unable to form new memories. Hey, women go to the movies! Women go to the movies to see other women on screen! We should make more movies like ... wait. What?"

Saturday, May 29, 2010

In Memoriam: Dennis Hopper, 1936-2010

Dennis is a demonic artist, like Rimbaud. -Brooke Hayward

Don't look for the Siren to be posting at length about the extravagantly gifted, unique, decade-spanning Dennis Hopper, who died today, aged 74. The reason is simple: nothing she could ever hope to write would approach what Matt Zoller Seitz already said with his video appreciation.

RIP, Mr. Hopper.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What Price Hollywood? (1932)

It was exuberant and a little larger than life; it was a romantic story of a decent girl, and of a fellow who did her a good deed. They weren't in love with each other, they were friends, and in spite of her success she was always mindful of him and had compassion for him. She never lost her respect for him, they had a wonderful relationship; he was, in a sense, a father figure. It was a very difficult story to write--it was a balancing act, awkward, funny, touching, and a very human story, different and very interesting. I think that's why it's been remade so many times.
--George Cukor, quoted in David O. Selznick's Hollywood by Ronald Haver

Sometimes it takes more than one viewing to appreciate a movie's worth. So it was with What Price Hollywood?, the breathtakingly good 1932 George Cukor film that the Siren just saw for the second time, after watching and liking it, but under less than ideal circumstances, in late 2008. Famous mostly for being the precursor to three later stories of a woman's star rising while a man's burns out, this movie stands apart from any later version of A Star Is Born, and does so in ways that work almost entirely to its credit. What Price Hollywood? is the best movie the Siren has seen so far this year.

One thing you won't find the Siren doing here, however, is using What Price Hollywood? to run down the 1937 A Star Is Born, an excellent film with one of Fredric March's best performances, or the 1954 Cukor-directed version, which is a masterpiece. It's astonishing that three such good movies were made from the same idea; there are plenty of stories that were made well twice, like Imitation of Life, but three? That must be unique, or damn close. (The 1976 Star is Born, however, despite charismatic leads, thrust "Evergreen" upon a blameless public and therefore cannot be forgiven either in this life or the next.) Instead, the Siren is saying that What Price Hollywood? is no mere dated antecedent, but its own superb self and deserving of the same affection lavished on the other two.

The vital distinction was made by Cukor himself, above: The central relationship is not a romance, but a friendship. Constance Bennett (remember our mercurial Constance, the 20th-century Becky Sharp?) plays Mary Evans, a waitress at the Brown Derby who yearns for stardom but has yet to get a break. Into the restaurant one night reels director Maximilian Carey (Lowell Sherman), top-hatted, white-tied, and half-seas-over. Mary's sang-froid and wit captivate him as much or more than her beauty, and Max takes her to a premiere and later gives her a bit part in his latest movie. So good is Mary that she parlays one line of dialogue into later stardom, and she remains grateful to the man who gave her a break. But they don't become lovers. Instead, Mary the star falls in love with a polo-playing rich boy, who predictably makes her miserable. Meanwhile, Max's drinking goes from a manageable habit to a terrifying dependency that kills his career. Mary refuses to desert him; she intercedes with his producer, puts up with Max's drunken intrusions, pays him just to hang around her set, and finally bails him out of the drunk tank after he kites a check. That night, while staying in Mary's guest room, Max shoots himself. The scandal takes down Mary's career.

Constance Bennett considered this her best picture, which shows her intelligence--stars are wrong about that more often than you might think. As Mary, she's tarter and more ambitious than the two Esthers that followed. She targets Max as soon as he walks in the Brown Derby, negotiating with another waitress so she can take the table: "I gave you Wally Beery last week!" We see her poring over fan magazines and practicing her star mannerisms, but when the daydream ends Mary is all business and realistic about the manipulation that will go into forging a career, as well as the sheer work. Mary isn't naturally brilliant. When Max gives her a bit part with one line, she's terrible; Bennett's face, as she does lousy takes and seems helpless to improve, will hit home with a lot of former acting students. She goes home and practices over and over, Cukor's camera following her feet going up and down the stairs until she finally gets it.

Lowell Sherman was primarily a director but he also acted; the Siren knew him as the agent of Lillian Gish's fall from virtue in Way Down East. Sherman was good, even if that great Griffith silent didn't demand, or get, much subtlety from him. But what a performance Sherman gives as Max. There's no explanation for why he drinks; his one comment when told he should give it up is "What, and be bored all the time?" He doesn't show contempt for his Hollywood trappings, but there's something in Max that stands apart and mocks. The script gives Sherman a lot of lines that could play as nasty; Sherman speaks them in the deadpan manner of a man who long ago gave up hoping anyone was going to get his jokes. Mary does gets his point, all the time, and she tosses the verbal ball right back at him. That is reason enough to believe that he would take her to heart. When Max is viewing rushes of Mary with the producer Julius Saxe (Gregory Ratoff, and you won't believe how young he looks), the director is so sure of his judgment that he lounges back in his seat until his face disappears, feet propped up in front of him. And Sherman gives you every nuanced reaction you could want with just the soles of his shoes.

Brian Kellow, in his excellent biography of the Bennett sisters, suggests that Max's character reads as gay, an analysis the Siren wouldn't dispute. Bennett was (probably) 28 and ravishing, and Max notices, but he never reacts to her as a potential conquest, nor do we see him flirting with any other beautiful women, or even checking them out. More than that, in Max's banter with Mary there's a great deal of the gallant but teasing way that gay men often flirt with women.

It doesn't matter that much to the Siren, though, because What Price Hollywood? shows us a male/female friendship based on simple regard for intelligence, humor, loyalty and kindness. Such relationships are common enough in real life, whether one side is gay or not, but you would never know it from most movies. "The public don't understand relations like between you and Carey," Saxe tells Mary after the director's suicide. But Cukor, Bennett and Sherman did.

The millionaire playboy character, Lonnie Borden (Neil Hamilton), can be seen as problematic; Kellow calls him "tiresome" and the Siren's own adjective would be "insufferable." But the Siren can't believe that in a script this good, the writers didn't know what they were creating. At a polo game Lonnie hits Mary in the backside with a ball (I know, I know), then asks her out to dinner. She quixotically (or sensibly, depending on your viewpoint) decides to stay home and he shows up in her bedroom to drag her, still in her negligee, to the lavish spread he's prepared. This may be intended to play as charming, although a moment when Lonnie force-feeds Mary caviar had the Siren covering her eyes in a way she usually reserves for a director like Dario Argento.

To back up the Siren's take on Lonnie, there's also Cukor: "David [O. Selznick] didn't like cheap jibes about Hollywood or its people, he had a romantic idea that the whole world loves Hollywood...and he didn't want to make anything bitchy or sour." Lonnie's later actions and lines are surely aimed at the unearned snobbery some people had, and have, toward Hollywood. The Siren began to wonder if, in a movie filled with in-jokes, Borden wasn't a poke at the Mdvanis and other European bluebloods who wedded stars — like Constance herself, married to the Marquis de la Falaise de Coudray at the time of filming. Borden, after whining that Mary's scheduled interview is going to scotch their tennis game, develops his theme by attacking her professional colleagues: "You can work with them. But do you have to be intimate friends with them?" This while she is reading a book on high-society etiquette in order to fit in with his crowd. Lonnie polices her clothes, scowling at a bracelet she's putting on until Mary sheepishly responds, "I know, too gaudy, huh. Not with sport clothes. See, I'm learning!" (If you'll permit the Siren a bit of life advice, barbed clothing critiques from a straight man are a 100% surefire sign of a control freak to be avoided at all costs.) When Max hits the skids and Mary is trying to help him, Lonnie further demonstrates his powers of empathy by snapping, "Well, he brought it on himself."

Constance was merrily cheating on de la Falaise throughout their marriage, and it's a pity Mary doesn't do the same. But when Lonnie picks a fight over Max's latest drunken intrusion, Mary throws out her husband, and not her friend. The Siren loved her for that.

Still, Lonnie isn't the villain of the movie, much as the Siren might want him to be. That role is reserved in a small way for the public that rips off Mary's veil after her wedding, and in a big way for the ravening press that leaps in a pack on any misstep by a star. This is somewhat self-serving; the same press is the agent of Mary's rise. But the sermonizing behind the gossip-column items about Max's downfall, and the reporters on Mary's lawn after his suicide, is still with us in these supposedly more freewheeling times. (Look at the gleeful way Lindsay Lohan is nailed up for everything from getting drunk to showing up somewhere with smudged mascara; the Siren isn't the only one who finds that coverage sick-making.)

Max's suicide is the most celebrated sequence in What Price Hollywood?, and it deserves every bit of its fame. Selznick hired Slavko Vorkapich to develop the montage leading to the fatal gunshot; Haver describes the Yugoslavian immigrant as "the first person working in the American commercial film industry who had a completely intellectual concept about what film could and should do." Together, Vorkapich and Cukor created a montage that turns on the old idea of a man's life flashing before his eyes in his final moments. The concept is almost cliched; the execution is unforgettable. Due credit must also go to Murray Spivack, the RKO sound department head:
I knew that they needed some kind of sound effect to carry this and I thought, 'I've gotta get something unusual, that isn't familiar,' something that sounded like a brainstorm to me--it has to whir, a kind of crazy thing, and it had to increase in speed. So I got a cigar box, tore off the lid, put some rubber bands around it, tied it to a string, and swung it around in a circle faster and faster. And when it was recorded, it sounded just fine.

Brilliant as the sequence is, it isn't even the Siren's favorite. That would be Mary's first entrance to the studio, done from her point of view in a series of tracking shots that dissolve one into the other: behind a truck going through the gates, back past the squatty soundstage buildings, through an entrance partially blocked by a pile of dirt, and into the soundstage, the camera finding Mary around the same time it spots the film equipment and crew, until Mary finds Max at work and she stops, flanked by the lights and the camera, both things framing her and squeezing her in at the same time.

It was Cukor's third film as solo director — he'd only been at it since 1930 — and yet his genius is everywhere, in moment after moment that gives you a world of character in just a minute or two. Max and Mary pulling up to a premiere in a hand-cranked car that's pouring smoke, Mary as delighted as if she were in Cinderella's carriage. Max staggering into Mary's garden and stopping to blow smoke up a statue's ass. The inscription on Max's photo in Mary's living room: "I made you what you are today. I hope you're satisfied." Mary at Lonnie's polo game, where she perches on a table and coos to her maid, "Bonita, I'm all that-a-way over one of those polo players out there. Baby, can he ride!" Max, after being put to bed by Mary for the last time, calling to her and when she responds "yes darling?" replying, without a trace of self-pity, "I just wanted to hear you speak again."

A great, great movie — as yet unavailable on DVD.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Anecdote & Link of the Week: "You still got a lot of Nazis?"

The Siren has just one link today, to a piece by Kim Morgan about her stint at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival. This year Kim presented, among other things, He Ran All the Way, the final film of the great John Garfield, and spoke with Garfield's fabulous daughter Julie. The Siren shares Kim's evangelical fervor on the subject of Garfield's greatness, and since Kim admits to repeating herself on the topic, the Siren will too: Garfield is the actor who truly divides it all into Before and After. And the Siren echos Kim's question: Where's HIS damn box set? In small tribute, a brief, piercing passage from Hildegard Knef, the actress who spent some of Garfield's last hours on earth with him.
Garfield's deep-set eyes over the flame of a match. 
'How long are you staying?' (he asks). 
'I'm flying to Germany in the morning.' 
'I'd like to go along! I don't have a passport.' 
'To Germany?' 
'You still got a lot of Nazis? I'm a Jew.'

 'Don't know, they're quiet for the moment.' 

 'Ours are deafening. It evens things out.'

Monday, May 17, 2010

Son of Fury (1942)

The Siren had a great time with Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamine Blake, which she just saw on impulse. Besides, you know what this blog really needed? Another George Sanders movie, that's what. We were running low.

Given her love of swashbucklers and Sanders, the Siren probably would have seen Son of Fury ages ago if it weren't always billed as a "South Sea Island-er." We all have certain plot elements that make us groan, and when the Siren hears about the South Seas she practically howls. As sure as death, taxes, and Hugh Hefner's girlfriends using too much self-tanner, you will get:

1. Flowers everywhere, waving palm trees, cute little huts, a secluded lagoon (see no. 4);
2. The king/chieftain/whatever, initially itching to kill the Handsome Western Stranger but abruptly turning all wise and avuncular;
3. At least one native girl, usually played by an actress from any corner of the globe except the South Seas, giggling over the HWS;
4. the HWS going swimming with the native girl in the secluded lagoon, so you get lots of underwater shots and the girl dog-paddling in a flirtatious manner;
5. the native girl falling in love and living only to serve her HWS, and the HWS falls in love too because the girls back home are such a drag with their shoes and their petticoats and their bad attitudes and the way they never once think to serve you fish wrapped in a banana leaf.

This shit is so persistent that some of it pops up as late in 1984 in the revisionist version of The Bounty. The Siren finds the setting bearable only if there's a fun twist, like everybody getting washed out to sea at the end of The Hurricane. And the Siren warns you that the South Seas portion of Son of Fury hits all the points. Fortunately the tropical paradise stuff forms only about one-third of the movie, and the other stuff, including Frances Farmer, Sanders and Tyrone Power, is great. Plus, John Carradine is loping around the island with Power, louche and gloomy as ever, and Carradine pulling his endless tape-measure body out of a hammock takes some sting out of Gene Tierney in permed hair and a sarong that drapes carefully over her belly button.

The plot hews closely to the ur-swashbuckler theme of usurped inheritance, with evil baronet Sir Arthur Blake (Sanders, bien sûr) forcing the real heir, his allegedly illegitimate nephew Benjamin Blake (Roddy McDowell), to become his bonded servant. Ben sticks around long enough to grow into Tyrone Power and fall in love with his beautiful cousin Isabel, played with gusto by Frances Farmer. Fed up with his brutal uncle, Power runs away to the South Seas in order to make his fortune so he can come back and get even.

Now when people discuss Sanders, a frequent topic is his way with a drily funny line, and as Addison DeWitt his delivery is a joy forever. But think also to Addison and Eve in the hotel room. As Sam Staggs and others have noted, the scene suggests S&M roleplay to the point where Baxter's collapse onto the bed is a climax in more ways than one, Sanders leaning in for the kill: "And you agree how completely you belong to me?" So often he is playing a man reserved to the point of iciness, but one you just know is a world-class freak once the bedroom door slams shut.

All of Sanders' best roles employ this side of him, and Son of Fury is one hell of an illustration. When the movie opens Sir Arthur is bare-chested and pummeling the stuffing out of some bit player, as part of a late 18th-century amateur boxing match. It isn't the way Sanders lands the punches that tips you off about Sir Arthur, it's the way he savors the moments between, eyes widening and chest heaving in anticipation. Later he beats Roddy McDowell and plays it the same way, prompting the child to declare, "I'll never submit." Hmmm.

But the high point arrives during a masquerade ball, where Sir Arthur catches Ben (now Power) making a passionate declaration of love to Isabel. Sir Arthur summons his nephew to the stables. They enter and have a nice long moment of eye contact before Sir Arthur declares that it's time to continue Ben's education in the "manly art of self-defense," adding, "it is time you learned to give as well as take." They punch one another to the tune of more roaring double entendres--the Siren's favorite, spoken by Sanders of course, being "Take off your coat and your education will begin."

A minute or two later, as the Siren was reeling back on the couch trying to convince herself that yes, she'd heard what she just heard, Power takes an almighty overhead wallop from Sanders and collapses on the floor. And Sanders pulls a whip off the wall and starts flogging him, and there's shots of Power unconscious on the floor, profile prominent and lashes fluttering. The ball guests pound on the stable door and finally break in and someone grabs Sanders' whip out of his hand and begs him to stop "for mercy's sake." Sanders staggers off, sweaty, panting and spent.

People, this is one dirty scene.

Alas, that's the last of Sanders for a while, although once we've dispensed with the island idyll he does come back, thank god. Power flees to Bristol where he's sheltered by a barmaid, played with unaffected sweetness by Elsa Lanchester in a nice couple of scenes. He stows away on a ship bound for the Spice Islands and becomes part of the crew, but not without getting knocked around by the first mate. Power gets physically chastised a lot in his movies, ever notice that?

Anyway, all the sexuality pouring off Sanders makes for a nice contrast with Power, who had a purity that seemed to come partly from his wondrous looks, and partly from something innate. To some it reads as closed-off or wan, to others (like the Siren as well as Myrna Loy, who confessed to being in love with him) it's key to the actor's appeal. Power could play attraction, infatuation and love quite well; base lust, not as much.

So when Power jumps ship with Carradine and meets Gene Tierney, whom he christens Eve (blech), their scenes play even cuter than such stuff usually does and they have to carry off the romance via their beauty. It sure isn't chemistry; Power plays much more believably against Farmer in the earlier scenes. Tierney was very young and utterly exquisite, but what could she do with a screenplay that demands she learn English by looking at Power with shining eyes and chirping, "Earth!" while pointing up at the sky. The Siren kept hoping Sanders would show up shipwrecked, but no dice. No, we go through all the scenes enumerated above, and Power dives for pearls in a really baggy set of swimming trunks, and finally a ship arrives to take him back to England and revenge.

Director John Cromwell has a number of good-to-great movies on his resume, but not much auteur cred. Son of Fury is too uneven to make a solid case for his talents--for that you'd need Caged or The Racket or (the Siren loves this one) The Enchanted Cottage. Gareth McFeely points out that Cromwell seems much more interested in the English scenes than in the island paradise, and the Siren seconds that emotion. For that matter, she could say the same of Arthur C. Miller, the brilliant DP who also shot How Green Was My Valley. The island is just pretty; the streets and rooms of England are enthralling. Miller had a way of lighting scenes so that the foreground looked lushly detailed, sharp and accurate, but the background was left in inky shadows that suggested an era without electricity as well as acres of more period stuff stretching beyond the confines of the set. Plus, everyone looks gorgeous. Even Henry Davenport.

Back in England, Power has brought Farmer a string of pearls and declared that he still loves her. (Farmer is throatily sexy and sinister in her few scenes; it is sad indeed to recall that this was her last movie before she was institutionalized.) Farmer's response is to betray her cousin to Sanders. It's no avail, however; Power's legitimacy is revealed in a court scene and Sanders must hie back to the ancestral manse and plot his next move. It's all building to the final confrontation between Sir Arthur and Ben, but the scene preceding that inevitable fight is the last one to relish in Son of Fury.

Sanders slinks into Farmer's bedroom and says he hopes "you won't forget your poor old father after he's broken and humbled," while looking like he's no such thing. Farmer points out that she's doing fine, since Power has asked her to remain as his wife. And just when you thought Sir Arthur could not possibly get any more deviant, he sidles over to his daughter, picks the pearls up off her neck with a caressing little flourish and purrs, "Now that has possibilities." Moments before Power barges in, Sanders is sitting at the table eating grapes, with little finger-wiggles after each one meets his mouth.

All this, mind you, in 98 minutes. So, is Son of Fury a lost classic in need of reappraisal? Well, no. But it was so much fun the Siren wanted a cigarette afterward.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Anecdote of the Week: "I don't want to kill the woman."

Enter Howard Hawks. Notes from the set of His Girl Friday, courtesy of Rosalind Russell in her autobiography Life Is a Banquet:
We had been shooting two days when I began to wonder if his instructing me that my suit should be kind of hard-boiled-looking was the only advice I was going to get from Mr. Hawks. He sprawled in a chair, way down on the end of his spine, and his eyes were like two blue cubes of ice, and he just looked at me. After the second day I went to Cary Grant. 'What is it with this guy? Am I doing what he wants?' 'Oh sure Ross,' Cary said...'If he didn't like it, he'd tell you.' 'I can't work that way,' I said. I went over to where Hawks was sitting. 'Mr. Hawks,' I said, 'I have to know whether this is all right. Do you want it faster? Slower? What would you like?' Unwinding himself like a snake, he rose from his chair. 'You just keep pushin' him around the way you're doin',' he said. I could hardly hear him but I could see those cubes of eyes beginning to twinkle. [snip] 
Hawks was a terrific director; he encouraged us and let us go. Once he told Cary, 'Next time give her a bigger shove onto the couch,' and Cary said, 'Well, I don't want to kill the woman,' and Hawks thought about that for a second. Then he said, 'Try killin' her.'

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"Our distinguished chairman has finally arrived at our reason for being here."

The fifth anniversary of the Siren’s blog came and went on April 19 with no noisemakers, no fetching cocktail dresses, no Gershwin and no one crying to the waitstaff “more champagne!” So the Siren wants to celebrate in her own way, by expressing overdue gratitude to some of the people who showed her kindness from the outset. If, like Margo Channing, you detest sentiment (whatever else this is, it ain’t cheap) you may switch off the radio and huddle in your mink until it’s over.

Lance Mannion popped up one day in the comments to a rather batty series of posts the Siren did on Perfume at the Movies, and gave me a link—-my first from a blogger I didn’t already know—-with praise that did my heart good, although he did say I’d drive a Netflix-queue obsessive crazy. (I still collect scent references, by the way. Great perfume counter in Has Anybody Seen My Gal?.)

Girish also swung by early on, adding his erudition and offering tips on movie-viewing in Toronto. We wound up going to the Cinematheque together a few times (Naruse!) considerably brightening a rather lonely time in Toronto.

Peter Nelhaus was the first person ever to respond to my plaint about a disk’s unavailability with a request for my mailing address—but far from the last. Michael Phillips, aka Goatdog, soon did the same. The Siren adores them both.

Filmbrain, otherwise known as Andrew Grant of Benten Films, was someone I got to know via Cinemarati, where he offered warm support and friendship to an insecure Siren.

And then there’s the mighty James Wolcott, aka the Traffic Santa Claus of Small-Time Bloggers, whose kind words sustain the Siren and whose continued links keep her Statcounter from dying of boredom.

Dave Hudson’s many links from his various perches around the web have been the happy source of treasured readers.

Ray Young, the gentleman known as Flickhead, was an early commenter and generous linker, urging me to see more Chabrol after I loved La Ceremonie, for all of which I am forever grateful.

Ivan G. Shreve, whose Thrilling Days of Yesteryear I had been lurking at for a long time before I blogged, was also an early and generous linker.

Dennis Cozzalio
is such a difficult, unforgiving sort of person that when I wrote at length of my disdain for his all-time favorite movie, he responded with a warm and funny email that cemented our mutual admiration for all time.

Lou Lumenick’s generous partnership for the Turner Classic Movies “Shadows of Russia” series has, among many tangible benefits, given my mother some happy hours of bragging privileges at the local bodega, church and coffee shop. Mom thanks him, and so do I.

Marilyn Ferdinand’
s extraordinary moxie and energy resulted in my single proudest moment as a blogger—helping her to raise more than $13,500 for film preservation.

Greg Ferrara (come back, Greg) did beautiful work on the blogathon icons and home blog, and I am also very grateful to him.

Glenn Kenny
, whose talent as a writer gives us all something to aim for, has the Siren’s deep gratitude for many kind words, technical advice, Region 2 DVDs, and for beng a good friend and invaluable sounding board.

David Cairns
I thank for Duvivier, The Eagle and the Hawk, Les Visiteurs du Soir, running a brilliant blog and being a great dinner companion.

Dan Callahan
I thank for friendship, hospitality, Constance Bennett, Naruse and for writing the best star profiles going.

Robert Avrech
I thank for his wise correspondence, his many great posts about early cinema, and for demonstrating that respect and friendship will always trump mere politics.

Annieytown of Blogdorf Goodman was my dear friend long before either one of us started blogging, but I still thank her for links and for her unerring eye for beauty.

Finally, others I am grateful to for their writing, their wisdom, their comments, their emails, their links, and their Internet comradeship: Gloria Porta, Tom Watson, Surlyh, Noel Vera, Karen Green, Yojimboen, Vanwall, X. Trapnel, Operator_99, Arthur S., David Ehrenstein, Tony Dayoub, Sheila O’Mallley, Alex aka Burritoboy, Raymond de Felitta, Kim Morgan, Larry Aydlette, Mrs. Henry Windle Vale, Gerard Jones, Phil Nugent, Dan Leo, Bob Westal, Dan Sallitt, Brian Herrera, Bill Wren, VP81955, Vertigo’s Psyche, Lee Tsiantis, Keith Uhlich, The Derelict, J.C. Loophole, Jacqueline T. Lynch, Dave Kehr, Jenny the Nipper, the Cinetrix, Trish, Tonio Kruger, Andy Horbal, Gareth, Brian Darr, Tom Carson, Nick Dawson, Jim Emerson, Ryan Kelly, Nathaniel R, Edward Copeland, John McElwee, David Bordwell, Michael Guillen, C. Parker, Raquelle Matos, Brenda Cullerton, Siobhan, Tom Sutpen, Richard Gibson, Richard Brody, Vadim Rizov, John Lichman, Laura, Shahn, Camorrista, Kathleen Maher, Chuck Tryon, Kevin Lee, Ed Howard, Dennis Lim and Maud Newton.

And to those the Siren owes thanks, but also knows she omitted because damn it, she always forgets something: Please know that the next time the Siren sees your name, she’ll be smote to the heart and skedaddle back here to add it.

That’s all. Back to our regular menu of long-winded analysis, tributes, oddball anecdotes, digressive lists, occasional bilious nitpicking, hey-looky-here links, planned projects that get shelved due to househunting, house moving or a household down with stomach flu, George Sanders obsession, Joan Fontaine obsession, and meandering but wonderful comments threads that always land on either Frank Borzage, Dimitri Tiomkin, George Brent or Danielle Darrieux.

Most of all, I am grateful y’all keep coming back.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Lena Horne, 1917-2010

From Vincente Minnelli's autobiography, I Remember It Well, 1974.
During my first few months at Metro, the only challenges were to my imagination. Lena Horne came to the studio at the same time, and my first assignments were to direct her musical numbers. Another director would do the rest of the film. Lena complained in her autobiography that because she was black, her many numbers were never integrated into the script. They could thus be cut out of the film if Southern distributors objected. This was, of course, contemptible. Could it have been only 30 years ago that we considered it daring to cast a black actress in a non-servile role? We were raising our puny voices for social progress. They should have been louder.

From Lena Horne's landmark 1981 one-woman show, excerpted in her interview with Ed Bradley, a snippet of which is accessible here.
They said to Max Factor, "Look at this woman. Look at her. Create a makeup to make her look more colored." That's a little something we used to call each other before we got straight. He said, "Okay." Okay, they'll do anything. And he went away, come back about two weeks later with a makeup they created for me. Named it Light Egyptian. Took this Light Egyptian and put it all over Ava Gardner. So I'm gonna tell you, I felt bad for a while. About 12 years.

And a beautiful tribute here, from Sheila O'Malley.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

"Something about the sound of my own voice fascinates me."

Last Wednesday the Siren went to the Grassroots Tavern, which she had not done in many a year, to record a podcast with John Lichman of Film Threat, Vadim Rizov of Indie Eye, and Dan Sallitt of Thanks for the Use of the Hall. It was a loose-limbed affair touching on many subjects, including fashions in directors, Kurosawa and Wilder, “Une Certain Tendance du Cinema Français,” Avatar and James Cameron, how to maintain civility on the Web, and a little bit of Anthony Mann. The Siren observed that the wine has improved somewhat since she frequented the place, although not all that much.

You can access the chatter at The House Next Door.