Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve with Tay, Kay and Bill

Since she can't buy champagne for the house, her Internet house being somewhat too large for the bartenders to navigate, the Siren offers this instead: a small, year-end lagniappe to her patient readers.

Presenting the script to the greatest New Year's fadeout in movie history. (Yes, more so even than The Apartment. And the Siren worships The Apartment.)

From the screenplay One Way Passage. Tay Garnett, director; starring Kay Francis as Joan and William Powell as Dan. Story by Robert Lord; written by Wilson Mizner, Joseph Jackson, and an uncredited Tay Garnett. This one is finally on DVD via Warner Archives. And it's on sale. Cheaper than champagne, and no hangover, although it smudges the Siren's mascara something terrible.


upon which is printed:


A crowd roars and hollers, "Happy New Year!"

A band plays a lively version of "Auld Lang Syne."

Someone sticks a cigarette in the balloon and we hear but do not see it burst.

Instead, we CUT TO a fast TRACKING SHOT that runs parallel to a nightclub--part of the Agua Caliente resort in Tijuana, Mexico. The place is packed with well-dressed revelers: tuxedoes and evening gowns and party hats. Streamers and balloons and noisemakers are everywhere. They dance, they drink, they sit at tables and order food, they make merry.

We SWOOP PAST them all to the far end of the club which is nearly deserted. Two bartenders stand together, polishing glasses at a bar. At one end of the bar, a lone figure sits on a stool. We don't recognize him at first.

But then we abruptly leave our parallel track and RAPIDLY GLIDE IN and PAST the man for a brief, seconds-long glimpse: it is Skippy as we have not seen him before -- well-groomed in a black tux, nursing a drink but looking very sober, lost in thought.

In a moment, he is gone and we catch a short view of the partying mob behind him as we PAN OVER to the two bartenders, wiping their glasses nearby.

I'll be glad when this thing's over.

You're telling me? These holidays are dynamite.

They hear the sound of glasses shattering.

Hey! Look out for them glasses with your elbow!

I never touched any glasses.

Confused, the bartenders turn in the direction of the noise. We hear Dan and Joan's theme as we PUSH FORWARD and between the bartenders to discover the stems of two broken glasses crossed on the countertop, dancing couples visible in the background.

After a moment, the broken glass vanishes, ghost-like, into nothingness.



The Siren wishes everyone a gloriously romantic New Year.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Fandor: Simone Signoret

An actress who loses her looks should not be a matter of distress for a critic, unless she loses her talent or a limb along with them, but Signoret’s rapid descent from siren status has always drawn comment. The up-all-night beauty of the prostitute in La Ronde, one of her first major hits, can barely be glimpsed in the exhausted Resistance operative of Army of Shadows 19 years later. Yet the latter film (directed by Jean-Pierre Melville) also revealed that Signoret’s acting, always good, had only deepened.

Blunter than most was David Thomson in the 1975 A Biographical Dictionary of Film: “Gallantry cannot conceal the thought that few women, so dazzling at thirty, have faded so much by fifty.” And reading that entry, few women can conceal an ungallant thought such as, “Hey, Mr. Clooney, at least Signoret started out gorgeous.” Still, Thomson may be grasping an actual point by the wrong end. There’s something heroic in a woman–-Brigitte Bardot, Anita Ekberg, Marianne Faithfull–-who takes great beauty, smokes it down to the filter and grinds it out under her sole.

Refusing to preserve beauty tells society–-tells men-–that the thing valued above all in a woman is what should be discarded, and not the woman herself. Perhaps Thomson isn’t wrong to write of the “cinematic tragedy” of Signoret’s lost loveliness as though it were a personal affront; in a sense, it is.

From the Siren's essay about Simone Signoret, which can be read in its entirety here at Fandor. Please do leave a comment there as well. This one was a pleasure to write for many reasons, primarily because Signoret's best movies are so good, and Signoret so marvelous in them. One of her best performances, in Marcel Carne's modern version of Therese Raquin, can be viewed through Fandor's subscription service. But the Siren also confesses that as a fan of Signoret, she has been waiting a good long while to express her opinion of Mr. Thomson's entry on the great French actress. Now that the Siren has done so, death--well, it will still sting. But somewhat less so.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Repost: Christmas With the Talmadge Girls

A repost from December 2008, for two reasons. One, it still cracks up the Siren. Two, it reminds her of how very grateful she is to be spending this Christmas in New York--so grateful that she accidentally misquoted Miss Loos last night on Twitter and Facebook: "There is nothing in this whole world that can warm the human heart like a Christmas in New York." The Siren's copy-editing memory trimmed an adjective, as you shall see. She isn't sorry, though. If the formidable Anita were alive, the Siren would tell her it's a sentence that doesn't need qualifying.

Merry Christmas, from the Siren's favorite city in the world.

Last year the Siren was traveling from New York to Seattle with four-year-old twins and her 14-month-old in tow. Should you ever attempt this, the Siren has one word for you: Bribes. Our bribes consisted of factory-sealed juice and milk boxes, one for each kid, which careful reading of the relevant airline guidelines seemed to indicate was permissible.

The security guard, however, must not have read the same Web page, because she hauled out all of our toddler baksheesh and arranged it on the table with a scowl that said we were about to get busted, big time. "I'll have to call my supervisor," she said, with the air of one who says, "I'll have to call Judge Jeffreys." Said supervisor arrived, a small and stressed-out man in his uniform shirtsleeves. The guard took him aside and the Siren heard her saying, "It's too much, they're trying to bring way too much." But instead of glaring at the Siren and her rule-bending brood the supervisor cocked an eyebrow at the guard and the Siren heard him say wearily, "They're traveling with three kids, f'Chrissake. Let 'em take in the juice."

He turned and started to walk away and the Siren cupped a hand to her mouth and called, "HEY!" He turned.

"MERRY CHRISTMAS!" called the Siren, with gusto that would have befitted the Cratchits. The supervisor grinned and mouthed, "You too."

To that supervisor, and all those who are willing to bend the rules to make a holiday brighter, the Siren dedicates this story.

It's from Anita Loos's completely charming book about her relationship with silent stars Constance and Norma, The Talmadge Girls. Anita, Constance, the third Talmadge sister, Natalie (who would later marry Buster Keaton), and the formidable Talmadge mother, Peg, decided one year during their 1920s heyday that a warm California Christmas just wouldn't do. So the four ladies took the storied Twentieth Century to New York City and arrived just after midnight on Christmas Day. They found a Christmas tree on Vanderbilt Avenue, but no decorations. They deposited the tree in their hotel suite and Peg went to bed but Constance, Natalie and Anita, being more adventurous sorts, went out determined to find something with which to trim the tree. After wandering the deserted streets they found a drugstore in Grand Central that was open and staffed by a handsome, but sleepy clerk. He immediately recognized Constance Talmadge, but sadly admitted that his drugstore had nothing for tree-trimming.

And we were on our way out when the clerk, seeing romance about to disappear from his life forever, called, "Oh, Miss Talmadge! Come on back!"

He proceeded to unearth a box of small objects wrapped in silver foil, which glistened in the light. When Nate asked what they were, he said evasively, "What does it matter? They look like icicles, don't they?

Dutch [Constance's nickname] agreed eagerly and purchased all he had of them. The young man now ventured further. "Could you use some balloons?"

"Terrific!" Nate piped up. At which our benefactor produced a package of small deflated balloons, which he explained could be blown up and secured with dental floss. After which our young friend bethought himself of surgical cotton to serve as snow. Then, in a parting gesture, he presented Dutch with the two strings of colored lights that were blinking above the cash register.

The drugstore clerk, utterly in love with Dutch at that point, carried the "decorations" back to the hotel suite where he, Anita and Talmadge girls decorated the tree.

"Let's wake Peg up to see it!" dared Nate. And it was agreed to risk Peg's fury. When she entered, wearing her nightie and sleepy-eyed, we waited breathlessly for her reaction.

"Why," she exclaimed, "it's absolutely gorgeous!"

Dutch's suitor now felt safe enough to introduce himself to the mother-in-law of his dreams. "Mrs, Talmadge," said he, "my name is Lester Noonan and I'm honored to make your acquaintance."

As Peg blinked at him, Dutch placed a caressing hand on his arm. "Lester dug up all the ornaments for our tree!" she announced.

But she spoke a little too fondly, for Peg immediately began to assess the young man's attractions. As if he were not even present, she asked, "And where did you dig him up?"

"At that all-night drugstore!"

"Drugstore!" Peg repeated in a tone that placed all drugstores in a category with cesspools. Suspiciously, she turned to remove one of the icicles from the tree, examined it, and then in smoldering fury she addressed Lester.

"Why you sonofabitch!"

"Peg!" we all remonstrated.

"Do you know what this thing is?"

"What?" asked Dutch.

"It's a suppository!"

Lester blanched and looked flat enough to creep under the wall-to-wall carpet.

"What's a suppository?" inquired Nate.

"That's right! show your ignorance!"

Now Peg yanked one of the small balloons from the tree. "And d'you know what this object is?...It's a goddamn contraceptive!"

"What's a contraceptive?" asked Dutch.

"It's only due to my upbringing that you don't know!" Again Peg turned on Lester. "It's scum like you who give movie stars a filthy name!...Take that nasty thing apart before Walter Winchell gets wind of it! Or Town Topics! Or, God help us, Louella Parsons!"

We removed the unholy objects from our tree and Lester found a trash bin in the back hall where he could bury them.

We had scarcely finished when Norma and Joe [Schenck, later Norma's husband] descended on us from Atlantic City...

"Merry Christmas!" exclaimed Norma. But then, spotting the tree with its unlit bulbs and gobs of cotton snow, she gasped, "What is that thing?"

...But at that point Joe was already coming to the rescue. He picked up the phone, called the hotel management, and commandeered the enormous Christmas tree that decorated the downstairs lobby.

By that time the bells of St. Bartholomew's were chiming 'O Come, All Ye Faithful' and through the windows we saw snowflakes drifting like a benediction. There is nothing in the world that can warm the human heart like a snowy Christmas in New York. And as Lester forlornly approached Dutch to say "Well, Miss Talmadge, good-bye," Peg, in an upsurge of Christian spirit, invited him to join the family party. In reaction, Dutch's gaze took on the nearest thing to love light I had heretofore encountered.

Happy Holidays and a joyous New Year from the Siren's family, to yours.

(Above, the Talmadge girls in San Diego. Left to right: Constance, Natalie, Buster Keaton, director Clarence Brown (identified for the Siren by Rudyfan1926), Norma, Peg. Middle, Constance. Second from bottom, Anita. Bottom, Norma.)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Speak Out for Panahi and Rasoulof

For each year's celebration of Christmas, the world prepares a reminder that peace and goodwill are guiding stars, not destinations where we can stop and rest. This year's reminder comes in the form of the ghastly regime in Iran, where filmmakers Jafar Panahi and Muhammad Rasoulof have been sentenced to six years in prison and banned from filmmaking for 20 years. There is no point to naming the government's charges against them. Panahi and Rasoulof have been imprisoned for being artists. They join thousands of other Iranians who have struggled for freedom in that country.

The Daily Notebook at MUBI has been tracking both the news of the filmmakers' struggle, as well as the outrage from people of conscience worldwide. As awards season starts, giving those who make movies the means to speak to millions in their own voices, we hope as many of them as possible seize the chance to support one of their own.

Meanwhile, those of us who watch and love film, and who care about freedom, seek to contribute as best we can. I urge you to add your signatures to the online petition here.

As always, I wish my patient, and most beloved, readers the happiest of holiday seasons.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Week with Marty Robbins, John Ford and the Siren's Thought Processes

So Sunday night the Siren admitted on her Facebook page to having this Marty Robbins classic on the brain all weekend and not something more holiday-appropriate, like "Frosty the Snowman." At the time, she couldn't figure out why. Peter Nelhaus popped up to point out that Marty is, of course, way cooler than Frosty and the Siren also bethought herself that Marty looks better in white. All true. But not a full explanation.

Then, during a two a.m. bout of insomnia that also featured guest appearances by the UPS truck that is hoarding one of the family's toy shipments as well as fresh turkeys that go bad and frozen turkeys that won't defrost, the Siren realized there was, after all, a Christmas connection here, and she wasn't as far afield as she thought. You see, Marty Robbins did the definitive version of "Streets of Laredo."

And "Streets of Laredo" figures in the Siren's favorite scene in John Ford's 3 Godfathers, from 1948. Harry Carey Jr. is dying, and as he asks to hold his godson, the canvas of the covered wagon stretches out behind him like the white linen in the song. We see a yellow blanket around the baby's head like a halo, and a blue blanket wrapped around that like a Madonna's robe. John Wayne's grief and guilt are plain though the camera shows mostly his back, as he walks away with that unique loping grace--tell the Siren all day that he was always John Wayne, but how many actors can do that? As Carey starts to sing and pace with the baby, the top of a chair in the foreground seems odd for a second, until it suddenly becomes a brief vision of the headstone Wayne and Pedro Armendariz won't be able to give their friend. Wayne and Armendariz are kneeling to one side; the Magi. They stand as though to pay respects. Now Carey crosses back through the shadow cast by the wagon. And, in a directorial choice that prompts all sorts of Christmas thoughts about the miracle of genius, the camera stays exactly where it is, as Carey sits down with the baby, and the wagon and the white canvas and the shadow embrace him and the child and hide them from sight.

In the giant clip-retrospective ever unspooling in the Siren's head, that, my friends, is one great Christmas scene.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

In Memoriam: Blake Edwards, 1922-2010

A handful of the Siren’s work colleagues read her blog, and she sits next to one, an economist who visits the site from time to time when he isn’t unraveling the mysteries of GDP and U6. Thursday afternoon as the Siren was stashing her pocketbook in her desk this gentleman greeted her with, “So, when can I expect a Blake Edwards tribute?”

The Siren stammered that she doesn’t, indeed she can’t write something for every great movie figure who dies. The Siren memorializes people when she has something to say, and contrary to what her longsuffering sister might tell you, she doesn’t always. Blake Edwards has a long, varied and important filmography, but many of the films that make his reputation--the Pink Panther series, 10, and even S.O.B.--are not to the Siren’s taste.

But her colleague’s question made the Siren think of an exchange on Glenn Kenny’s blog a while back, concerning Carol Reed, where the question came up: “How many great films does it take for someone to have auteur status?” Well, the Siren absolutely does not set herself up as an arbiter of such matters, but she pointed out that Reed has three great films, and others she loves, too. And Thursday, after telling the economist she wouldn’t post about Edwards, she afterthought that she should. Because Edwards made three films that are firmly ensconced in her personal pantheon.

The first is Days of Wine and Roses, a movie that belongs to that category of film that’s so harrowing it’s hard to analyze. In the Siren’s mind, it caps a whole cycle of alcoholic/AA films that begins, roughly, with The Lost Weekend and Smashup: The Story of a Woman and continues through I’ll Cry Tomorrow and other slide-into-the-bottle films such as The Joker Is Wild. Not one of those came close to the effect this movie had on the Siren. (Neither does Leaving Las Vegas, for that matter.) The other films either plunk you down in media boozus, or show alcoholism as something that’s triggered, essentially, by a run of bad luck. Days of Wine and Roses, with a skilled purveyor of slapstick at the helm, has the nerve to start when the drinking is still fun and the drunks are still charming--and not just because they’re the intensely lovable Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick--and then take them to where all smiles stop together. The Siren isn’t sure when or if she’ll watch it again, ever, because then she’d have to watch Lemmon smashing the greenhouse, or trying to persuade a breastfeeding Remick to have a drink with him. Frankly, just the opening bars of the credits kill her. But it’s a great movie.

The second is Victor/Victoria. The Siren loves everything about this film. What Dennis Cozzalio describes, perfectly, as its “expansive cabaret energy.” The fairy-tale Paris Edwards conjures, where sex is so delightfully pervasive you’re free at last to take the a la carte approach you’ve always dreamed of. Julie Andrews and the cockroach. James Garner getting hugged by Alex Karras. Lesley Ann Warren, each screech perfectly modulated in a dumb-blonde performance the Siren would rank right alongside Jean Hagen in Singin’ in the Rain. And above all Robert Preston, a great actor who never got the long run of film parts he should have, capping the movie with one line: “You bitches.”

And then the Siren cycles around to Breakfast at Tiffany’s. This film brings up a different question: Howard Hawks’ dictum aside, how many great scenes does it take for the movie itself to be called great? The Siren recuses herself from the bigger argument, again. But she knows how many great scenes it takes for her to overlook every single flaw in a movie, and love it anyway.

It takes exactly one.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

No Greater Glory; Or, Is Subtlety Necessary?

Last week Tom Shone asked when uplift became a quality reserved for children’s movies, and wearily observed, “We toast the misanthrope. We ask for morbidity's autograph.” James Wolcott issued a hearty second, and the Siren votes in favor of the motion.

Today, however, she has a different, but perhaps related query: Is subtlety necessary? We don’t seem to require it when the plot slams into ways in which we humans are, frankly, a bunch of slobs. But when the subject is the yearning for love, home and friendship, or the virtues of peace over war, suddenly modern audiences are all about a lighter touch--unless, as Tom also notes, we have a bit of distance lent by CGI animation. Wanna show the beast within? Hit me with your best shot, baby. (As the very first commenter on Richard Brody’s 25 Best of the Year puts it, “What’s wrong with unpleasant?”) But dial up the emotion on the love scenes, and some--not the Siren’s distinguished company in comments, but some--are going to squirm, especially if you’re unlucky enough to be in a snickering moviehouse audience, as the Siren has been on a couple of occasions she’s complained about too much already.

This meditation is inspired by the Siren’s second viewing of No Greater Glory, the 1934 Frank Borzage masterpiece that she urges you once again, in a most unsubtle way, to just click over and buy, please. Themes are spelled out in line after line, big moments are brandished like the flag the young characters fight over, the sentiment and melancholy are grand and conspicuous. The film is not subtle, and that’s why it’s great.

In an Eastern European city just after World War I, a gang calling itself the Paul Street Boys is fighting a rival group for control of a lumberyard that serves as their sole playground. The Paul Street Boys are just that, no more than ten or eleven years old. Their enemies, the Red Shirts, are maybe three or four years older, larger and tougher as well. At first young Nemecsek (George Breakston) seems the weakest of the Paul Street Boys, but the film gradually shows that he is, as Lawrence Quirk put it, “the one pure spirit of the lot.”

Quirk included this in his collection of The Great Romantic Films, and for years the Siren thought it a rather odd choice. What’s an antiwar allegory doing side-by-side with Death Takes a Holiday and The Life of Vergie Winters? One viewing showed her why, of course. Nemecsek’s devotion to the Paul Street leader, Boka (Jimmy Butler) is irrationally romantic and very like a women’s picture, where the love object is often unaware, undeserving and unable to respond until the woman does something drastic, such as catch her death. Boka doesn’t seem to deserve Nemecsek until the end, and perhaps not even then. It’s the leader of the rival gang, Feri (the handsome and quite marvelous Frankie Darro) who declares to Nemecsek, “You’re all right,” and treats him with respect from then on. But as in other classic Hollywood love stories, the appeal of a rival is beside the point. When Boka realizes, too late of course, that the devotion he’s been mocking is the worthiest he’ll ever experience, he goes to Nemecsek’s bedside--and Nemecsek rears his head off the pillow with a light in his eyes more blazing than Camille’s.

The movie starts with stock war footage, then cuts to an embittered soldier raging about war: “They made me fight.” Then we see that same soldier, older now, in front of a class lecturing the boys on the old lie, “dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.” It’s a loud echo of a similar scene in All Quiet on the Western Front, but the switch also prepares the ground for No Greater Glory’s tonal shifts.

Nemecsek’s ineptitude gets played frequently for laughs, underlined by a rather bouncy score that includes some Strauss late in the movie when the gangs swing into their version of war. But Borzage switches emotions during those scenes with ease, as when Boka chews out Private Nemecsek, and it’s amusing until Nemecsek starts to cry, gets mocked for it, and we remember the agony of such moments from our own childhood.

Take the scene in a greenhouse where Boka, Nemescek and another Paul Street boy are hiding from the Red Shirts. Nemecsek, already shivering and soaking wet from falling in the lake, is ordered into the greenhouse pool to hide and, absurdly, he covers his head with a lily leaf. The camera shows us a frog on another lily pad, and the first cut to Nemecsek shows his nervousness as funny. Then we see the frog closer, and the croaks get louder, and the cuts back to Nemecsek reveal the boy’s genuine terror, and the way he’s fighting not to scream. But he stays in the pool, big-eyed and fearful, even after the Redshirts have finished their search and left. Nemecsek won’t get out until Boka tells him to. Subtle, no--the scene’s effects are obvious--but it’s an astonishing feat of tone, ludicrous childhood fears giving way to the movie’s purest example of courage.

What knocked the Siren sideways in both viewings of No Greater Glory was just how ravishing it is. George Breakston’s weak-chinned, big-nosed face takes on the aspects of a Christ child. The boys shoot marbles, their arms lined up in perfect rhythm. Lamplight turns the scenes in the botanical gardens into glimpses of the supernatural. Nemecsek climbs a pile of lumber to see whether someone is trying to steal their flag, and the camera follows him with a movement so lovely and precise the Siren gasped. The simplest shots, like one looking down a row of boys being inspected by Boka, are so immaculately balanced the Siren drank them in as though she were spending the afternoon at the Frick. There isn’t a single graceless frame, not one shift of the camera that doesn’t give complete aesthetic satisfaction. On that basis alone, the Siren would happily call this her favorite Borzage movie (and the Siren loves Borzage in general, she loves him very much indeed).

If the Siren wants to irritate herself, via the same impulse that has some of her Twitter pals live-tweeting certain talk-show hosts, she can look up a treasured old romantic film and find someone sneering. And not necessarily a modern critic either; there’s always Bosley Crowther, so consistently, flamboyantly wrong the Siren has developed a weird affection for the prosy old bore (scroll down for a nice example). So it’s really quite heartening, in this holiday season, to note this movie’s fervent support in unexpected quarters, and look at the IMDB ranking, and see the comments from all sorts of viewers who get it. Perhaps, pace Tom, we don’t need to “lighten up.” Maybe we just need more romance--obvious romance.

Note: Several people have commented on the new banner, from Desk Set. It comes from the splendid Six Martinis and the Seventh Art, which the Siren has been praising a lot lately, for excellent reasons. If you want a larger dose of Christmas cheer, in black-and-white and even (unusuallly for the blog's proprietor) color, just click over to Shahn's series from December 2007.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

A Letter to Elia: From the Siren's First Column at Nomad Wide Screen

East of Eden, however – that one is a bit surprising, for a minute or two. A literary adaptation of a flawed John Steinbeck novel set in rural California, a Biblical allegory writ so large and plain even the character's names ring a cathedral bell for Cain and Abel--what big link is there to the man who made Taxi Driver and Goodfellas? And yet, it isn't surprising at all. East of Eden is crippling in its level of emotional violence, James Dean's need for his father's love so raw it's like a third-degree burn. Scorsese makes several references to his own relationship with his older brother, never spelling out particulars. Eden spends a lot of time with the Bible-reading scene, where Dean's father, played by Raymond Massey, tries to force a confession as to why Dean had pushed blocks of valuable ice down a ramp. Richard Davalos as the brother watches Dean's agony with a bit of sympathy, but mostly relief that he's the good one. Even without the cagey tidbits about his own brother, it's clear Scorsese admires the film's ruthless eye for the way men simultaneously seek connection and cut themselves off from it.

That is the Siren writing about the excellent A Letter to Elia, the documentary about the art of Elia Kazan from Martin Scorsese and Kent Jones. It’s from her first column for Nomad Wide Screen, and for now it is available here. The column, scheduled to appear bimonthly, is called Retro Fit and will deal with, well, what you’d probably expect the Siren to deal with, only in first person. She'll still be here in third person. Nomad Wide Screen is an online magazine that forms part of Nomad Media. You can check out the first issue here and read about the contributors, who include my esteemed pals Vadim Rizov and Simon Abrams. The editor of Wide Screen is the great Glenn Kenny.

The magazine will be subscription-based, and the Nomad Media founders explain the philosophy thus:

Nomad Editions represents a new business model for digital media. We believe that readers will pay a fair price for high-quality, original and exclusive content, delivered in a superior format, to mobile devices.

Nomad Editions also wants the creators of that content — writers, photographers, illustrators, and editors — to be well rewarded for success. Nomad Editions shares a substantial percentage of our revenue with the contributors and editors, so that everyone who's part of Nomad Editions has a direct and substantial stake in the success of the business.

The Siren hopes her patient readers will check it out, and sign up. Free trials are available here.

(The screen cap is from a brief but wonderfully heartening post at 24 Frames Per Second, about the reaction of college students to Dean's performance in East of Eden: "He's still got it.")

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Repost: Changing

Every once in a while, the Siren reposts something; this is from December 2007. She will not trouble her patient readers with why she is reposting this. Trust her. She just needed to.

Every day I try to write. It is most difficult at home, where there are telephone calls, Linn, nursemaids, neighbors. If I had been a man it would have been different. A man's profession is respected much more, as is the work he does at home, his fatigue, his need to concentrate.

Try telling a child that Mamma is working, when the child can see with its own eyes that she is just sitting there writing. Explain to the nurse you pay dearly to do what is expected of you--explain that this is important, is supposed to be finished by a certain date--and off she goes, shaking her head, convinced I am neglecting my child and my home. Success in one's profession and trying to write a book do not compensate for domestic shortcomings as obvious as mine...

I doodle on a piece of paper and my conscience bothers me. Because I am a bad mother, because I am inadequate, don't answer letters, don't mend the faucets but allow them to go on dripping for months on end.

I have coffee with a neighbor and make excuses for everything I am doing, because I know that she will never understand why this is important for me. This terrible "female guilt." I dare not have music on when I am in the basement, writing, lest upstairs they think I am just sitting here loafing. I feel that to be respected I must produce pancakes and home-baked bread and have neat, tidy rooms.

These are my thoughts as I try to write about how good it is to have a life that gives so much freedom, so many choices...
--from Changing by Liv Ullmann

Liv Ullmann's autobiography has always been one of the Siren's favorites. She read it in high school in Alabama, when she had never seen an Ingmar Bergman movie, and indeed had barely heard of him. The Siren saw the front cover, and liked the looks of Ullmann. That was it. Later, after reading the book and falling in love with the actress, the Siren tried to watch Persona on whatever was passing for pay TV back then. She didn't understand a single frame. When the Siren looks in the mirror she can still see the line between her eyebrows that had its genesis all those years ago, as she furrowed her brow over Persona. Guess that one is due for another viewing. [Note: Persona still awaits that second date.]

Anyway, it was the account of Ullmann's youth and her struggle to become an artist that fascinated the teenage Siren, not the book's references to work versus home. Certainly the Siren registered passages like the one above, as that is how she was able to pull the book down and find those paragraphs in a matter of minutes. But back then, she read Ullmann's words and thought, "Poor Liv. Oh well, won't be that way for me."

In the words of Daffy Duck, "Ho ho and ha ha."

This is primarily a film blog, and the Siren has always operated on the assumption that people don't particularly want to hear about her personal life, which includes a devoted husband, three children under the age of 5 [now 7] and glorified hospice care for an ancient cat. [Said cat has now passed on, bless her sweet, ineffably patient and loving soul.] But this week, the Siren thought you might want a few words on exactly what takes her so goddamned long to write anything.

Partly it is control-freakdom of a very high order. When it comes to writing, the Siren is a slogger. She looks at bloggers like Lance Mannion and Glenn Kenny, able to turn out thoughtful posts almost daily, and she has no idea how they manage it. To write a paragraph, for the Siren, is to re-write it, flip it, delete a sentence, insert another, move the graf to the top, shift it again to the bottom and then delete the thing altogether. Afterward it is quite possible she will be flipping through blogger tutorials trying to figure out how to retrieve it.

Under the very best of circumstances the Siren might be able to write two or three things a week. Mostly the Siren doesn't have the best of circumstances. Rather than boring her patient readers with her domestic travails, the Siren thought she'd let Liv explain things for her.

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.