Sunday, September 18, 2011

Lolita Fantome

Here's a fun, light, lovely video put together by MonsieurLunatique of clips from Kubrick's Lolita set to music by Stereo Total. Just some footage of one of my favorite movies with one of my favorite bands. C'est tout.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Actors with Great Voices

Sometimes there are actors out there whose primary charms--their gravitas, charisma, carriage, what have you--are personified by their voices. That doesn't mean their voices have to be their only talent, only that it's an important ingredient in an already wonderful actor-y stew. Here are some of my faves in the vocal dee-partment:

Christopher Lee
I think I've gone over this one, haven't I? Let's just allow his King Haggard to speak for himself.

Ronald Colman
He possesses the quintessential uppercrust British accent, all sexy and suave. Here's a link to his appearances on the Jack Benny radio program, where he's the perfect Wilson to Benny's Dennis.

George Sanders
Combines Colman's aristocratic suavity with Lee's commanding basso profund...ity? Anyways, hot. Could anyone else voice a tiger so realistically (and strangely sexily? Don't judge me I'm not a furry!!)?

Maximilian Schell
The Grim Reaper in vocal form. Absolutely chilling, yet engrossing.

I've never seen this, but it looks super depressing. You're welcome!

Leonard Nimoy
No, I'm not going to post "Bilbo Baggins!" Just this weirdness:

George Takei's voice ain't bad, either, and can be really funny, too.

He's also very fun to imitate. Go ahead, give it a shot!

Dan Castellaneta (I've come to terms with the fact I'll never be able to spell his surname without looking it up first)

Of course everyone in The Simpons cast has an amazing set o'pipes, but Castellaneta (yup, had to look) gets the most props because his natural voice sounds nothing like Homer's--in fact, the exact opposite: sorta high-pitched, actually.

Margaret Sullavan
"Strange, fey, mysterious--like a voice singing in the snow."
--Louise Brooks

Lauren Bacall
There's something very comforting and down-to-earth about her husky voice. There's a scene in The Big Sleep where tension is high, and Bogie is alone in his office, and we're all a little scared for him. Then he calls Baby on the phone and we hear her say "Hello?" And suddenly the world's a better, sultrier place.

This isn't the scene, but it's still a classic, and still has to do with a phone:

Gracie Allen
"The moment I heard her voice I figured she had to be a dancer. She sounded like the bird who had been thrown out of the nest for singing off-key. In fact, it turned out to be a perfect voice. It had no lows, so it projected beautifully in a theater. Gracie never had to yell to be heard, her voice just cut through everything else. And years later, when she started singing on the radio, it turned out she had a lovely singing voice. Like Gracie herself, her voice was unforgettable."
--George Burns

Tuesday Weld
And just like this actress, Tuesday's voice was bubbly, garrulous, and slightly deranged. Adorable.

It might not have translated the best to singing, but I still can't help but dig her shot at a single in 1960. Still got plenty of personality:

Stuck in your head yet? Excellent.

Kathryn Leigh Scott
Having played the bulk of the female leads, such as Maggie Evans, Josette, and all of Josette's various incarnations, Scott was arguably the most charming actress on Dark Shadows. I think her cheerful, lively voice has a lot to do with that. It's very versatile, too.

This video's pretty long and contains one of them sweeping, dramatic, climactic spoiler moments. Hey, look, it's in the title! Sorry, but anyone who knows anything about Dark Shadows should already know about this twist. In case you don't want to watch the whole thing you can just listen a few seconds, and you can hear her disembodied voice...or is it really hers?!

Michelle Pfeiffer
Similar to Bacall, Pfeiffer's got the pefect wry, femme fatale vibe going on with her voice. But where she lacks Bacall's comforting tones, she makes up for it in quirkiness and electricity. And like Weld, Pfeiffer loses none of her cheek when she belts one:

Arleen Sorkin
Modern day Lina Lamont, only not as grating and with an extra dash of insanity.

Tara Strong
She's basically in every cartoon show ever. Her voice is probably less distinctive than Sorkin's, but I'd argue she's more versatile because of it. In fact, she can even do a pretty mean Harley herself, as evidenced in this trailer for the upcoming Arkham City video game.

Vid is super loud, sorry.

And of course, while we're on the subject, Mark Hamill. You already heard his Joker above, but...heck, why not another dose?

So, who am I forgetting? There are many. I've left out obvious contenders like James Earl Jones, Orson Welles, and Sean Connery. But who else?

Note to the internet: seriously, guys, why you gotta disable so much embedding code? Can't we all be friends?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Marilyn Monroe in Don't Bother to Knock, 1952

The thing about Marilyn Monroe is she's not like anyone else. She's not like you, and she's not like me.  She's not a regular person.

She couldn't get away with playing one, either. Whether or not that inability to take on "straight roles"--i.e., regular people--contributed to her personal tragedy, it also enhanced her ability to play parts sympathetically that another actress might have made shallow or unlikable--Lorelei, Sugar Kane, my personal favorite Pola Debevoise, and others in her light comedies. A lot has been said about her time with Strasberg, and how that intense training might have hurt her career rather than helped it. I can see where those arguments are coming from. The key to Method Acting is pulling out the raw, human element at the center of the performance. And that is the opposite of Marilyn's talent: the talent of creating a real, relatable character out of mannerisms and motivations entirely devoid and innocent of ordinary Earthling trappings.

This quality really has little to do with her actual looks. She's extraordinarily pretty, yes, with a body I'd personally kill for. But there are plenty of extraordinarily pretty, curvaceous blonde actresses out there: Anita Ekberg, Diana Dors, Mamie Van Doren, Kim Basinger, and these days, someone like Scarlett Johansson. And you know what? I might even argue that on a sheer physical level, some of those actresses are even prettier than Marilyn. What separates Marilyn as an icon is what everyone else has already talked to death: her spaced out, otherworldly vulnerability--the ultimate childwoman.

What makes her Nell Forbes in Roy Ward Baker's Don't Bother to Knock so incredible is how she subverts that innocent yet sexy childwoman image, that at first so tantalizes Richard Widmark's Jed Towers, into something terrifying.

I once said about Vivien Leigh that she didn't so much act roles as she did throw herself at them. Marilyn is acting here, but she's bringing something out of herself that while present in other roles, has an edge here that spooks you. Nell is popularly known as her "psychotic babysitter" role, but she makes her much deeper than that. Of course, Daniel Taradash's screenplay has much to do with that, as well; according to what I've read about Charlotte Armstrong's original novel, the Nell in that story (with the surname Munro that they had to change once Marilyn was cast) is far less sympathetic, without the tragic-lost-love past they give Nell here.

They probably added this backstory once they saw what Marilyn was doing with the role. This was her eighteenth movie, and Fox had figured that since she had already proven herself unusually sexy in movies like All About Eve and The Ashphalt Jungle, they might as well make a cursory attempt to prove she could act a little. She must have unnerved even them with the final product.

You don't see the wheels turning in her Nell. She appears like a luminous vision across the courtyard to the jilted Widmark, recently dumped by Ann Bancroft (luminous in her own right, in this her film debut). Nell, recently released from a mental institution into the care of her jittery elevator attendant uncle Elisha Cook, has secured a brief babysitting position, thanks to her uncle's insinuating ways around the luxuriant hotel where he works. When Jed sees her in the window, highlighted by dim lamps, she's attired herself in the wife's negligee, a midnight-colored affair, and she's also wearing star-like earrings and bracelets. She's sashaying back and forth in front of a mirror, waving the negligee around like a mermaid gracefully flapping her tail. She seems the ultimate night-time dream of a woman perfect for forgetting your woes in.

What Jed quickly finds out is that Nell is really a nightmare version of a man's ideal one-night stand. Her stardust and hare-brained, loopy manner, Marilyn's chief charms in her future projects, is the chief signal something's wrong here.  We can tell from the start. The instant we see her wander into the hotel's lobby, we immediately interpret her dazed otherworldliness as broken-hearted derangement, not the airs of a kooky, lovable ditz, the type she popularized in her comedies. Her interactions with her uncle in the elevator (and does anyone else get the feeling Cook's character ain't quite right, either? Dude, seriously, back off the guests!) increase the feeling she's just barely able to keep her feet on this planet, her head in this hemisphere. By the time she's left alone with the little girl, we know that somehow, some way, the little girl will be horribly effected by the off-balance big child in charge of her. And yet we also know that on some level, anything Nell does to the child won't be out of malice, but out of frustration that the child is not playing along in her own skewered, emotionally stunted take on reality.

And that strange innocence is far more terrifying than if she were a frank sociopath. She may be the closest equivalent to a female Norman Bates I've yet seen in a movie.

Jed, presented as one of those hard-boiled, jaded heavies always hanging out in Noirs, can't handle her because of this. If she were your standard femme fatale, along the lines of your Jane Greers, Linda Darnells, Gene Tierneys, and Lauren Bacalls, he could set her straight right away. But all his hardest, most biting lines fail him, because Nell is actually hurt by them. She's technically a femme fatale--her sex appeal lures the hero into dangerous, violent entanglements--but she isn't at the same time, because she's delusional, tender, and frightened. She just wants her lover back. Yet she ties up a little girl and tries to push her out the window. He can't reconcile this. Unlike your Sam Spades and Phillip Marlowes who had to rely on their brutal wits to win the day, Jed has no alternative but to empathize before the conclusion--really empathize.

That Nell succeeds, through her insanity, in creating a good man out of Jed is what keeps her from becoming a villain in the true sense of the word. The movie is a strange blend of Noir cliches--all the business with the shades, Bancroft's tedious songs in the inexplicably Western themed nightclub, the tacked on sentimentality--but combines them with innovative, risky touches, like revealing the self-inflicted scars on Nell's wrists and upping the tension by filming in real time.

But really, again, the most innovative part of the whole movie is the alien-like Marilyn. She doesn't play fragile, she is fragile. That may sound dunder-headedly simple, since of course Marilyn is known for her sincerity. But the impact of seeing such broken, teetering fragility, actually seeing it, without feeling like it's just being played out for you, is shaking to witness. There are cringe-worthy moments, where you can't bear to hear her baby voice moon ecstatically over her lost airforce pilot (just how healthy and mature was her love for him? Surely her childish instability wasn't created overnight by his death but by systematic abuse and natural impulses). But these moments are cringe-worthy for all the right reasons--you don't think you'd be able to listen to someone saying that in real life, either. It's too pathetic and heartbreaking.

I've yet to see Niagara, but I've often heard it criticized for spinning Marilyn's unique charm too negatively in that villainous role, which this movie skillfully avoids by allowing Marilyn to interpret Nell on her own terms, with her own vulnerability. Does such wistful madness make her performance more difficult to watch, knowing the ultimate end the movie's star came to? Yes, in a way. But on the other hand, you're almost affirmed on Marilyn's behalf, watching her in such a triumphant performance, knowing that without any outside prodding, Marilyn was capable of using her own natural self not only to charm, but to genuinely move and disturb.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Framed Awesomeness

He's thinking deep thoughts.

Just yesterday I received by mail this fabulous, commissioned portrait of Sir Christopher "Ol' Red Eyes" Lee from one multi-talented bloggette extraordinaire who goes by the handle of Vulnavia Morbius over at Krell Laboratories. Yes, I got a little frame for it. Wouldn't you?

Very, very impressive. Like my dad (an artist in his own right) said, Lee must be a hard subject to capture, since he's got such regular, handsome features. You're welcome for the tough assignment, Vulnavia, and thank you for the tremendous outcome! I'll be keeping an eye out for your Etsy account whenever you get it started!


Similar to my outlook on the Japanese earthquake, I don't think my nutty little movie/cartoon/TV/miscellaneous mumbo-jumbo and argle bargle blog is the appropriate space to commemorate say, oh, I don't know, the tenth anniversary of September 11th. My heart goes out to everyone effected that day, needless to say. Let's memorialize the people, not the horrible event, how 'bouts?