Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Dark Shadows Christmas: My dad wins at parenting

I mention my father quite a lot around these parts, and with good reason. He's, well, a fabulous pater. He got me into old movies. We pal around. He's aces.

But every good deed he's ever done me is trumped by his big Xmas present to me this year.

He's not only an attentive father who encourages my blogging (he's often my unofficial proofreader), but he's also a first-rate artist.

Remember this here post I penned a few months ago, casting a 1940s take on Dark Shadows?

Well, Dad remembered. And come Christmas morn' (or evening, to be more precise--poor sister had to work), here's what I found staring at me from beneath the tattered ruins of unwrapped paper:



My idealized '40s cast in their designated Dark Shadows roles. My father, who is not into Dark Shadows, as I had to twist his arm rather outrageously to get him to sit through one freakin' episode, looked up the original picture of the DS cast this is based on, sketched out all the proper poses and landscape with subtle adjustments, then faithfully and expertly drew the classic actors in their proper places.

All to make me gasp in slack-jawed fangirlish joy on Christmas Day.

What a pal. Thank you, Pa.

I guess I'm slowly but surely becoming a collector of customized art pieces, as evidenced by this and the wonderful likeness of Christopher Lee I received from Vulnavia Morbius a little over a year ago now (good lord, that long??). I'm perfectly fine with this development.

Here's my most recent acquisition framed and mounted on my wall:


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Lincoln (2012)



There is a special adult charge to watching a really well done political thriller. With Lincoln, Spielberg must dance a fine line between crafting a mundane political story—which can play more interminably than Tupperware parties—and his natural inclinations lately toward the saccharine, the overindulgent fawning and reverence for the subject matter and its protagonist.

Spielberg doesn’t always succeed here, particularly in the latter department. For all his Lincoln has a few persistent warts here and there, he’s overall pretty saintly. John Williams’s score is terrible, a lazy product that could easily fit into any other grand and enlightening epic movie of the last twenty or so years.

And although Tony Kushner’s screenplay is blessedly intelligent, the speechifying can overwhelm the piece occasionally. However, Kushner can’t resist poking a little fun that salvages this, such as Edwin Stanton’s (Bruce McGill’s) incredulous outburst when Lincoln decides to natter on during a taut wait for news from the battlefield: “No! No! You’re…you’re going to tell another story!” Really, it’s only during Lincoln’s repeated orations dripping with homey wisdom that occasionally tests the audience's patience; I doubt anyone much minds Tommy Lee Jones’s Thaddeus Stephens tearing a new one into the pompous idiots around him with his gleefully vindictive epigrams (Jones has to be a lock-in for Best Supporting Actor).


The few stock black characters are either one-note, silent, and persevering, or else eloquent and righteous to the point where they, too, are more saintly martyrs than a people frustrated and consumed with rage fighting for freedom, capable of messy displays of ugly anger just like the rest of humanity. There is a lingering disappointment when you discover that Spielberg was originally going to focus the film on Lincoln’s relationship with Frederick Douglass only to scrap it later on. Though the plot here is tight and gripping, we really lose the sense that black people were an actual, effective body in procuring their own freedom; here, the wise white man and his team of equally milky toadies save the day once more. Couldn’t Gloria Reuben’s Elizabeth Keckley, an African-American and a woman, have shown any other traits in her few scenes than measured, sad nobility? Wouldn’t a well-placed smirk of self-assured contempt have played much better than her stoically teary-eyed exit from the House of Representatives when Lee Pace’s Fernando Wood calls her race inferior?

But damn, when the movie works, which I’d venture to say is most of the time, it works.

Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography has been rightfully lauded, the colors very subtly saturated, just enough to evoke a Ken Burns feel but stark enough to feel immediate. The pace is smart and quick, yet Spielberg knows when to close in and linger on a shot.

The performances are uniformly superb. Daniel Day-Lewis wrings out a sad charm from Lincoln’s tired, willowy body, with a wiry strength that makes his few shows of temper believable. (He also makes me slightly attracted to Abraham Lincoln, which I’m not sure I’m cool with). His tall, ambling form, with its loping gestures and weathered face suggest something almost Frankensteinian, but his gentle, lilting grace makes him strangely ethereal at the same time.


Sally Field is nothing short of amazing as Mary Todd Lincoln. Perhaps the best scene (certainly the most shockingly intense) is the confrontation between she and Abe over their son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) enlisting. There’s a focused frenzy to Field’s work here as she digs up Lincoln’s bones and unapologetically hurls them at him, from the haunting massacre of Cold Harbor to his threat to institutionalize her over her complete breakdown after their son Willie’s death.


Jones dominates as Stephens, far more of a moral backbone to the piece than Lincoln. The President may have the patience and soft-spoken manners we associate with morality, but when at war, morality is ugly and passionate in its expression—like Stephens. The ultimate politician like Lincoln, forced to be emotionally unbiased, is in truth seldom moral but pragmatic instead. I could say that Thaddeus Stephens is the bristling, emotionally honest Dr. McCoy to Lincoln's driven and fair Captain Kirk, but that would be dorky.

Day-Lewis, Field, and Jones are the three central performances, but this is an ensemble piece, and I can’t remember a recent movie with a more effective supporting cast. David Strathairn’s William Seward, Lincoln’s right-hand man, is finicky and anxious, often comically exasperated by his boss’s big ideas, but we’re never once meant to take him as a joke. Glorious James Spader brings his entire unique, alien brand of smarminess to vote-baiter W.N. Bilbo, blending right into 19th Century America without seeming that much different from his contemporary self.

Though Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee don’t have much screen time for the two main fighters of the war, their actors (Jared Harris and Christopher Boyer respectively) look so much like their characters that they lend a genuine impact to the surrender. Pace and Peter McRobbie’s George Pendleton make a nicely contemptible team of villains. Little Gulliver McGrath (last seen by me as the disturbed David Collins in Dark Shadows) is appropriately cute and touching as young Tad Lincoln. The most heartbreaking moment is when a flustered, horrified stage manager abruptly and publicly informs Tad, along with the audience at a children’s showing of Aladdin, that the boy’s father has been shot (spoiler, Lincoln dies). McGrath’s absolute harrowing despair hits home in a big way.

Yet I agree with almost every other critic that the film should have ended before this, should have ended with the shot of Lincoln walking away from us down the hall for the last time. But Spielberg can’t resist pouring on the syrup that he doused Neeson in during the “one more” scene in Schindler’s List; yet while that scene was genuinely heart-tugging for all its overdone piety, I inwardly groaned when the image of Lincoln orating on the platform at his second inauguration appeared in the flickering candle by his deathbed. That shot was sort of the sadder, more spiritual cousin to the rat scampering in front of the White House at the end of The Departed (Ralph Wiggum: “The rat stands for obviousness!”).



Although countless history buffs will nit-pick the details, and others rightfully point out the woefully un-fleshed out black characters, Lincoln is overall an astounding success for what it is. The dialogue is crisp and the actors deeply entrenched in their roles, so that we are genuinely apprehensive along with them about whether or not that controversial13th Amendment will pass.

But most importantly, who would have known that James Ashley, the Republican leader given the task by Lincoln to rouse his party to pass that very amendment, would then sink so low as to turn Libertarian, cooking meth for the notorious Gustavo Fring and marrying that awful stalker Mel? However, he at least made one masterpiece in his lifetime:





Thursday, November 1, 2012

Day-Late Halloween Movie Meme



Yikes, have I abandoned this dive for awhile. Apologies. Luckily, my fellow blog-horts (like co-horts, only...I'm sorry) have been quite more creative than stupid ol' me in the meantime. Such as that ever lovable and unpredictable dame Rachel at Girl With the White Parasol, who came up with this delightful Halloween Movie Meme!...about two weeks ago. I'm a bit tardy. Heh. SO HERE IT IS NOW! WHOOPS! HA HA HA!

Anywho, enjoy.

1. Who is your favorite movie witch?
She did appear in the movie adaptation Night of Dark Shadows, so Angelique Bouchard it is:



(Not my picture, unfortunately. Whoever made this, let me know so I can credit!)

2. What is the first movie you can remember being scared by?
My poor well-meaning mother scared me away from watching Beetlejuice the whole way through when I was an itty-bitty thing because "a lady cuts her own neck off" or something (I think she was referring to Geena Davis trying to scare off the Deetzes).


Yeah. This scene.

3. Name a classic horror film that would be substantially improved by better special effects.
The climactic scene in the original The Fly would have had a lot more impact had the fly's actual head not looked like something a kid could pick up at a costume store.




4. Name your favorite Val Lewton film.
Gotta go with Cat People, followed closely by its sequel, Curse of the Cat People. Horror with heart, with perhaps the first mainstream sympathetic female "monster." 



Add to that a very eerie, sleepy mood and Simone Simon's otherworldy charm, and you definitely have a Lewton classic.

5. What movie villain or monster has the most frightening "stare-into-the-camera" moment?
I bet there are others more iconic, but the one that really sticks into my mind that my mother brought up recently, is the epic side-eye Cotton gives the camera (and Teresa Wright) in Shadow of a Doubt.



All blank but heavy with menace. That's the stuff.
6. What is the most irritating horror film cliche?
Ironically kind of a cliched answer, but I guess the Fainting Female. Screaming I get, but I'd like to think like other organisms, us chicks' immediate instincts would be to run rather than lose consciousness altogether in moments of stress.

7. Are there any movies you refuse to watch alone?
If a movie's too scary for me to tackle alone, chances are I couldn't handle watching it with anyone else, either. See, I'll have to be alone again eventually, and THAT'S when I'd really start freaking out.

8. Picture an old childhood nightmare of yours. Now try to adapt it to film. Can it be done?
Mr. Burns chasing after me? Like every "Treehouse of Horror" ever? Yeah, probably could be done.



9. Who's your favorite "scream queen?"
I really can't choose one. I love my Scream Queens. Here's narrowed down to three:
1. Elsa Lanchester




2. Caroline Munro - This is possibly the greatest song ever written.




 3. Let's not forget our darling Fay (it's not a cliche if it's true!)


Also, according to the YouTube poster, she doesn't wear any underwear! How nice.

*As an honorable mention, I'd like to include Marilyn Burns as Sally Hardesty (or "Leatherlungs" as my dad dubs her), even though I refuse to watch all of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, due to overall cowardice. However, for sustained screaming, I hear nothing can beat her neverending howls during the notorious dinner scene (like Lanchester, I hear they looped some of her screams backwards for creepier effect).



Some of that was her own blood, apparently! Oh, the fun of shooting on location and running through brush and branches.

10. What is the most disappointing horror remake?
The thing is, there are so very,very many terrible horror remakes. Really, you just have to pick the one whose ludicrousness hits you in that one raw place.

The 1973 Wicker Man was uneven but such a unique mixture of pastoral musical hippy-dippy hypnotism and creepy cult nightmareville that it definitely stands as an unclassifiable classic.

...But then in 2006 they cast Nicholas Cage as an Average Joe policeman (unlike the fervently virgin and fundamentalist Edward Woodward's Sergeant Howie), they dumbed down the script and made it a matriarchal society for some who-knows reason (oh us crazy ladies with our periods and pagan sacrifices), and stripped out the eccentricities and eerie mood and replaced it with...bees.



Yup, that happened.

11. We've all seen our share of vampires, zombies, and werewolves on film, but are there any mythical creatures or monsters out there that you think deserve more movies (i.e. golems, changelings, the Minotaur, etc.)? 

Ooh, this is a good one! I'm not sure....oh! Oh! I just looked up "creepy mythological creatures" and I'm going for Aswang from Filipino folklore all the way! 


According to Urban Titan, she's  a cross between a vampire and a witch! And super, duper horrifying: 
Almost always female the creature is a cannibalistic eater of the dead and of the living. They can transform themselves into either a black dog or a black boar. Some of the methods effective in fending them off is the use of garlic and/or holy water. During the day they are in their human form and appear as quiet, shy, elusive characters. At night though they transform into the terrifying creatures whose trademark features include very bloodshot eyes.
Totally know what I'm going as for next Halloween. 

12. Along the lines of "Scary Mary Poppins," can you think of any non-horror flicks that could easily be adapted to fit the genre?
Why not All About Evil, the story of an aging leading actress's demonic possession by a seemingly innocent yet deadly soul-sucking succubus?


I guess that is kind of the plot. Just throw in a scene like Isabelle Adjani's harrowing subway ordeal in Possession, and presto!


13. And now, just for fun, pick one movie monster or villain to be remade into a cuddly plush toy, just for you.


Boris the Lovable Bumbling Monster Guy. He basically is an overgrown plush toy, just made out of dead bodies. He really wants to be your friend!


**********

That was fun, thank you for inspiring me to get on my lazy ass and type, Rachel! I really will try to be a better bloggette/esse/whatever, just the inventive juices haven't been real...good...lately. Maybe I need to see more movies, hmmm.....

I'm the warrior of love. Yes, I am. I'm coming to get you.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Key to Great Comedy: Act like you're in a tragedy, not a comedy


If you were to pin me down, barrage me with wet willies, fling my hand at my face going, "Why do you keep hitting yourself, why do you keep hitting yourself," and demand to know who my favorite comedian of all time is, I'd probably in the end choose John Cleese.

There's an old saying that British sketch comedians would eventually either attend the Benny Hill school or the Monty Python school of nonsense comedy. Why do I prefer the ones who choose the latter, symbolized by Cleese, over the former, symbolized by a boisterous man who grins impishly while peeking under ladies' skirts?

Because the Pythons--at least, my favorite Pythons--never act like what they're doing is funny. Ever.

I can't quite define what's so funny about that. But the fact exists: Charlie Chaplin is a comedic genius, but I crack up far more quickly at the sight of Stoneface Buster Keaton's quietest, mildest reaction to indignities than the wildest, most madcap classic Chaplin routine. Just the way I'm wired.

When a comedian is obviously in on the joke, there's an inherent smarmy smugness that seeps in. That certainly has its place and can be amusing--after all, name one host of Late Night TV, even your favorite, where that isn't a thing with them. And I'm not talking about comic greats like Groucho or Steve Martin, since that smug salesmanship is part of their act, part of the joke.

Yet that winking, smirking sense of enjoyment can grate on my nerves in comedy if it's not part of the punchline. That's why I've never felt the charm of certain Mel Brooks movies like Robin Hood: Men In Tights or, again, Benny Hill or any episode of Laugh-In I've seen. Also, most of the jokes are terrible. But again I think of Groucho and Martin: often the very point of their comedy was the painful obviousness of their humor, and it was their self-parodying execution that made their routines classic.

But returning to Cleese, very little in this life has left me weeping in hysterics more than the trials and tribulations of Basil Fawlty. Seeing this buffoonish man yearning for sophistication yet failing again and again, each time in more degrading and humiliating ways, is quite simply funnier than the smartest monologue by the suavest Late Night host. Yet once more, it is Cleese's execution that makes Fawlty Towers a perfect paradise of madcap situation comedy--after all, every sitcom features the trademark Escalating Bad Situation driving the plot and stressing out the characters.

So how does Cleese take that same template and make Fawlty Towers the funniest sitcom in history? It's more than Cleese playing it deadpan, more than just "playing it straight". It's the downright fury and abject disgust Cleese infuses Basil with, his utter impatience and lack of self-awareness. No matter how hard he tires to bottle in the rage behind a tightly uppercrust civil facade, it all comes exploding out into frustrated extremes. He's over-the-top and screechy, and his sincere panic and hysteria make me happier than the sunniest, most gleeful performance of any other comedian I can think of. He isn't just annoyed or stressed; he actively hates what's going on around him and everyone involved, no matter how much of the problem is his fault. And that is hilarious.



Perhaps because we all have within us a deep well of schadenfreude, there's something oddly delicious about watching a tragedy unfold wrapped up in a comedy. But you need a Cleese to sell it, someone who believes wholeheartedly in the tragedy, not the comedy. Off the top of my head, I can think of two modern performances that sometimes just about measure up to the bar Cleese set. The first is Donald Glover crying on Community.

Glover's character Troy is overall a very happy, carefree fellow, but that makes him all the more unequipped to handle the least amount of conflict. What makes his character the standout along with Gillian Jacobs's Britta is how all-out he goes in portraying Troy's moments of hilarious despair. These are numerous, and they are gold. Like Cleese, he is shamelessly over-the-top, shamelessly cathartic. Goofy, but without the knowledge that he's goofy. Crying is just plain funny when he does it.



The second performance also involves copious amounts of crying, along with hackneyed fundamentalist speeches and posturing: Stephen Colbert as Chuck Noblet in Strangers With Candy, one of the greatest comic creations of the '90s.

http://youtu.be/VFACWOfhot4

It's less sincerity than pompous gravitas that makes Colbert Colbert, much like with Martin's persona. But just like Martin and that infamous fit he throws when the mood lighting is wrong, it's when that pompous balloon is popped and the mania and tears are revealed is when shit gets real, real funny.

Welp, I've done it. The one thing no human being should ever do. I've tried to explain why something is funny. Tune in next week for my piece Satire: It Makes Fun of Stuff by Pretending to Be That Stuff. How it Works and How it Makes us Learn to Laugh Again! 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Thrilling Sequel to the Liebster Award: Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.


Almost a year ago, I was generously bequeathed the Liebster Award by the ever gracious Rachel at The Girl With the White Parasol. Now the delightful Rianna of Frankly, My Dear, who along with Natalie from In The Mood dreamed up the Great Recasting Blogathon I just took part in, has nominated me anew. Super swell of her, no?

But life changes. Everything eventually evolves into something deeper, more complex, more disturbing yet somehow compelling.

So in other words, there are some new rules this time around. Such as:

* You have to endure me telling you eleven things about myself.

*Then I answer eleven questions from my nominator, i.e., Rianna.

*In turn, I tag eleven bloggers.

*...And then I hand off eleven questions from off the top of my own fevered brain!

In case you didn't notice, eleven is the watchword, dear friends.

First things first, a terrifying glimpse into my inner workings with:

11 Things About Me

1. I hate driving.

2. I used to have the first chapter of Lolita memorized. Don't know if I still do. "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo. Lee. Ta. The tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps"--Eh, life's too damn short.

3. I hate math.

4. Not a coffee drinker. Nor a tea drinker. More of an Ovaltine kind of gal.

5. I've become obsessed with Robsten. With laughing at Robsten. Which leads me to no.6:

6. I can indulge hardcore in schadenfreude.

7. I'm having a really hard time writing about movies lately, because I don't get TCM, and Netflix has become a real pain in the ass. And frankly, there are no video stores around anymore. That's why I've devoted a lot of my recent posts to blogathons and quizzes and lovely awards such as these until I can sit down, watch a bunch of stuff, and get inspired to write again.

8. Darryl Hannah in Splash could be the first movie character I ever pretended to be. I'd sit in the bathtub as a child and tell everyone that I was becoming a mermaid. I still pretend to this day. Not, y'know, that I'm a mermaid or anything. That would just be plain silly. Silly to imagine I'm a free-spirited beauty swimming carefree under the waves, just plain silly.

9. I find Anton Phibes's love for his wife Victoria genuinely touching. Hope those kids make it.

10. Speaking of creepy lost loves, I've just read up on Karl Tanzler, and have been debating casting an imaginary movie about his life. Would that be too real-life sensationalistic?

11. Great Gatsby, Scarlet Letter, Lord of the Flies. All books that everybody hates in high school that I actually liked.

11 Questions by Frankly My Dear

1. Ingrid Bergman or Greta Garbo?

Depends on my mood. When I want soulful and genuine, Ingrid. When I want enigmatic sensuality, Greta. Overall I'll pick Ingrid, though. Because her characters are more approachable, it follows that she herself is just a bit more approachable.

Did I also mention how science has proven she has the most adorable smile and girlish ways?

Though I highly admire Garbo for not giving no shit about such nonsense.

2. Humphrey Bogart or James Cagney?

What?! No! Come on! They're both like the best ever! Not only as actors, but apparently as human beings, too. Grrrrr.

Greedy, delusional Fred C. Dobbs or naively corrupt Tom Powers? 

Guess I'll have to play the shallow game and pick the one I'd rather make out with. Jimmy, you're it.

Oh, Jimmy.


3. Julie Andrews or Judy Garland?

No contest. Judy all the way. Julie's got a heavenly voice and tons of class, but a little white bread for my taste. Judy, man, Judy just tears you apart and don't let go. From sweet Dorothy to nutty Hannah Brown (LOVE that character) to tremulous Vicki Lester, she got IT.

4. Cary Grant or Clark Gable?

Another really tough one. Very different types those two, acting wise and, frankly, sexy wise. You have overt masculinity in Gable, and a more foppish style in Grant. I personally find Gable more attractive (in my secret '30s version of Star Wars he'd be Han Solo), but this time I'll have to give the nod to Grant. More style, more humor, more durable career.



5. Deborah Kerr or Greer Garson?

Deb. She seemed to step out of the "Great Lady" role more often, and to chilling effect in movies like The Innocents.


6. Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire?

Had you asked me this when I was a kid and in love with Don Lockwood, I'd have easily picked Gene Kelly. However, with the hindsight of mature adulthood, I'm going with Astaire. The Cary Grant of dancers, what with his casual dandy appeal.




Also, I'd probably rather work with him than Kelly, from the sounds of it. Astaire would rescue me from where I cry under a piano and help me learn the steps that demanding Kelly yelled at me about.

7. Ava Gardner or Lana Turner?

Ava. Lana was lovely, but not too distinctive from other blonde starlets of the era. Although Ava strikes me as looking a little....shall I say...too harshly feline at times, there's no denying she's uniquely striking and sexy, in any era at any time. Plus, the more I read about her the more I like her personality. Swears like a sailor, but sticks with you true blue.



8. Errol Flynn or Tyrone Power

I've always been a bit more partial to Erroll. Tyrone's a handsome guy, but in a plastic Hollywood way that's a bit too reminiscent of Tom Cruise in his pre-crazy days. Even though if I was a young starlet I'd probably rather work with Tyrone, Erroll's got more magnetism.



9. Myrna Loy or Carole Lombard

WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO ME AND WHY, RIANNA. WHYYYYY.

They're both my heroes! My role models! Everything I aspire to be and more!

It's...it's Nora...and Irene...choosing between them....Dave...what are you doing, Dave? Please, Dave. I can feel my mind going, Dave. Would you like to hear a song, Dave? "Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer truuuuueeeee...."

Okay, okay. Uh....Myrna's personality offscreen, Carole's persona on? Not that Myrna's personality onscreen isn't luminous and Carole's off isn't either, but this is the only way I can reconcile my heart to pitting them against each other.


BOTH FLAWLESS SO BOTH GET PICTURES

10. Montgomery Clift or James Dean?

Hm. Guess I'll go with Clift. He had the longer career after all, what with, y'know, not dying till eleven years after Jimmy Dean. Though just let me watch East of Eden again and I can easily change my mind.



11. Katharine Hepburn or Bette Davis?

Oof. Oof. Not quite as bad as Myrna vs. Carole, but still! After much deliberation: Katharine for her younger years, Bette for later. It took Bette awhile to find her footing in those early days, while Katharine was bright and daffy and strong from the start. However, I'm not a huge fan of the noble old pixie with a heart of gold Katharine played in her older years, while I have a strange respect for how batshit Bette was willing to take her later camp roles.

Vanity? Who needs vanity?

11 Tags

Before I start, here's the disclaimer I always like to put when tagging my cyber-friends: I JUST WANT TO HONOR Y'ALL. IF IN FACT YOU DON'T WANT TO PLAY, NO BIGGIE. SOME PEEPS ARE LIKE THAT, AND I RESPECT YOUR DECISION. JUST SIT THERE AND BE FLATTERED IF THAT'S THE CASE. ALSO, IF  YOU'VE ALREADY BEEN NOMINATED, UM...BE DOUBLY FLATTERED, OKAY?

I've also decided not to notify you with comments on your own sites...cuz I'm lazy and there are eleven of you? Just...if you see this and you want to post, have at it! There, that saves face.

Right, here we go:

* Beautiful, supportive, crazily insightful and brilliant writer Rachel at The Girl With The White Parasol

* Uniquely inspiring enthusiast for movies both obscure and mainstream, Vulnavia Morbius at Krell Laboratories

* Brilliant movie researcher and fantastic writer esco20 at By Film Possessed

* Fun, funny, and film-savvy maven FlickChick at A Person in the Dark

* The madcap creative classic movie love-fest over at All Good Things

* Generous and consummate movie lover KC at Classic Movies

* Hilariously witty and thorough Tales of the Easily Distracted

* Meredith L. Grau at her highly stylish and sophisticated L.A. La Land: Fame, Fortune, and Forensics

* The other brilliant Meredith at her infectious Movie Montage

* Eclectic and enthusiastic Millie at ClassicForever

* Kristin at I Think Therefore I Review. She seems to write specifically to my tastes, I don't know how she does it!

Now all that's left: 

11 Questions from Me, Me, Meee

1. Ever written about something you changed your mind about later? 
*Say you liked a movie when you wrote about it, only to watch it later and realize it sucked, or you were too hard on a performance that in retrospect held a project together, etc. For me, I think I gushed a little too much about The Artist when it came out, and was too much a champion of its use of Vertigo's music. Looking back...what was the point of using the music? It just kind of distracted me, now that I think about it. (I was also too harsh on the '90s Revival of Dark Shadows.)

2. Favorite photograph of your favorite actor/actress?

3. Favorite film critic?

4. Least favorite film by favorite director?

5. Do you prefer foreign films dubbed or subtitled?

6. What common feature in classic Hollywood films would you have changed?
*Ex: Racism, sexism, all the smoking, etc.

7. Most misleading trailer/poster/overall marketing for a movie?

8. Which actors around today (if any) do you think will be considered true immortals fifty years from now, in the tradition of Garbo or Bogart?

9. Have you ever been put off by an actor, director, or producer's work by their obnoxious or offensive offscreen shenanigans, or do you think that's irrelevant to their body of work?

10. Marry, boff, or kill  (men): Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart?
( ladies): Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Louise Brooks?

11. Pet obscure actor/actress?
*Not a lot of people have heard of them or remember them these days, but I'm a huge fan and thus oddly protective of Jessica Harper, Frances Dee, and Caroline Munro. There are others.

*****

Thank you, Rianna! Along with your generous nomination, this is twice in a row now you've inspired me to post. 


Friday, July 27, 2012

Great Recasting Blogathon: Val Lewton's Dark Shadows




The following is me humble contribution to the Great Recasting Blogathon hosted at Rianna's Frankly, My Dear and Natalie's In The Mood. When I read the following on Rianna's page describing this cyber-shindig, long-time followers o'mine can imagine how I jumped to:

So the premise for this blogathon of ours is as follows: to recast a film made after 1965 in a year pre-1965 with actors in the lead roles and a director that were popular at the time. Supporting cast is optional. You have to explain why you chose the actors & director. We are allowing two recasting per film. If this sounds a little confusing, here is an example: the well known modern filmTitanic (1997) was made in 1997, but for this blogathon you could change the year, for example, to 1945, cast Ingrid Bergman in the Kate Winslet role, Cary Grant in the Leonardo diCaprio role, and switch the director from James Cameron to George Cukor. 
Well, gee, if you're going to twist my arm....

Naturally, being the obsessive nostalgic fangirl that I so very much am, I set my sights on opposite-updating Dark Shadows. Y'know, that '60s soap opera about vampires and an old creepy mansion in Maine? I might have mentioned it before, I don't remember.

*Note: I'm focusing on the original '60s series and the new Burton movie when discussing previous performances here. Sorry, Revival, but I already devoted a long, rambling post to you, so there ya go.

I didn't actively dislike Burton's recent treatment of Dark Shadows, but he did bungle an awful lot. There's a fantastically fun, weird project peeking out from the choppy editing and questionable script choices, but I just don't think a modern major film studio knows how to package such a sprawlingly bad-good, gothic melodrama like DS.

But I'll bet you anything Val Lewton around 1940 could.



I'd argue that even more than David O. Selznick there was never a producer in his time period who left a more personal stamp on his projects than Lewton, ableit working in a far more insular and genre-specific arena than someone like Selznick.  He specialized in the psychological aspect of horror, his unusual and surprisingly emotional 1942 Cat People bringing a strange dignity and mo' monies to RKO's B-Horror division. He was put in charge and turned out other B-classics that, though they might not have matched the unique energy and not-quite-rightness of Cat People, are still quietly enthralling in their own right: I Walked with a Zombie, Bedlam, Isle of the Dead, and the moving sequel to Cat People called Curse of the Cat People.

Even though his films depended mostly on fears centered around what you couldn't see, that doesn't mean he couldn't deliver on the visuals. Who can forget the sight of the comatose Christine Gordon and the dead staring eyes of the looming Darby Jones in I Walked with a Zombie, the lighting that made Julia Dean look like an undead gremlin as she tells little Ann Carter the story of "Sleepy Hollow" in Curse of the Cat People? Classic imagery.

The psychological and physical combined to create an atmosphere in Lewton movies most modern gothic directors can only drool at. This, and his career in low-budget flicks, would make him a perfect fill-in for Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis in a wacky alternate dimension 1940s DS flick.

Not to mention that like Lewton's film oeuvre, Dark Shadows isn't a typical horror show. As in any soap opera, DS relied on the emotions reflected in the characters and the storylines, with the supernatural there to add an extra dollop of dark urgency. That contrast could be the key to the show's success and unique hold on non-soap fans, and possibly for Lewton as well. Only his reception was reversed--his horror films attracted not only thrill seekers but also sensitive, non-horror fans who enjoyed getting wrapped up in a good story.

So:

Producer
Val Lewton

Director

Gotta go with Jacques Tourneaur, director of Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie. The eerie, dreamlike quality of the first makes the scenes of Irena Dubrovna (one of the most sympathetic fictional characters ever?) succumbing to her feline heritage all the more disturbing, and yes, heartbreaking. Plus, he proved in Zombie that he knows how to film compelling stories in gothic mansions featuring stuffy family members who happen to be festering with SECRETS.

Robert Wise would be a completely acceptable alternate.

As for my cast, I've decided on a mish-mash of Lewton regulars and general 1940s actors who fit the bill.

Such as:

Boris Karloff as Barnabas Collins



Karloff was a loyal veteran of Val Lewton's, starring in 1945's Isle of the Dead, The Body Snatcher, and 1946's Bedlam. If we're to set this movie in, say, 1940 (which was two years before Lewton really hit it big, but work with me here), that would make Karloff...oh...about 53 years old. That made me a little hesitant to cast him as Barnabas, but then I thought, screw it, to hell with this ageist crap. After all, Depp is almost 50, and even though Jonathan Frid was only 42 when he first played the role, he...well...had the sort of craggy features that made him look like he could be older. 

What both Karloff and Frid have that I think Depp lacks is a highly unconventional sex appeal--a haunted, hollowed, imposing gravity. I thought Depp acted Barnabas well enough in the half-parodic setting of the new movie. But his look was absolutely wrong; you want someone who's starkly different not because of makeup, but because of an eerie presence that's anachronistic with his setting. Karloff has that presence. Plus, his romantic yet cruel Imhotep in The Mummy not only showcased his pathos, but also showcased his ability to play within the "lost love comes back reincarnated" trope.

Frances Dee as Victoria Winters/Josette DuPres


Victoria Winters, the governess protagonist of Dark Shadows, was inspired by Jane Eyre. Betsy Connell, the nurse protagonist in I Walked with a Zombie played by Frances Dee, was inspired by Jane Eyre. Coincidence?! Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe it's confusing I even brought it up.

Dee too has a rare gravity, a gravity that makes her often soft-spoken characters seem stronger and more tolerable than the usual damsel type. And as an added bonus, Becky Sharp and Little Women are proof she looks achingly lovely in period gowns. That on top of her subtle lyricism would make her a very sympathetic Josette in flashback, Barnabas's Lost Lenore. Critics and audiences often view Alexandra Moltke's turn in the original and Bella Heathcote's in the new movie as wooden, unexciting. For all Dee shares these gals' muted line deliveries and even expressions, there's a warmth and quiet vitality to her work that would help make Vicki more animated, more believable (I say this as a Victoria fan who acknowledges her dippy ingenue issues).

Simone Simon as Angelique Bouchard


For anyone who's a fan of the Cat People movies, this actress enchants you. Her Irena's the most sympathetic character, unusually comely and appealing for someone playing the alleged monster of the title. Yet still...some weird stuff is going on behind that kittenish doll's face that's eerily off-kilter, a note that's just a mite tone-deaf in that sing-song voice. "There is something subtly alarming about [her] oddly mannered good-girl behavior," Roger Ebert says in his review of Cat People.

Angelique has to master similar "Good-girl" behavior in order to thrive in Collinsport without anyone discovering her secret powers. Yet she should indeed remain "oddly mannered;" this will remind us of the cray cray evil boiling away underneath the pretty surface. However, like I said, Simon also commands a great deal of sympathy as Irena, a sympathy vital to any portrayal of Angelique that's as fully realized as Lara Parker's original performance. As scintillating as Eva Green is in the new movie, she's almost too flamboyantly nuts for us to believe a true aching heart exists there within her broken frame. Simon's ethereal spookiness combined with the human weight she brings to her characters would make Angelique the complex villain you can't just dismiss as a woman scorned, just like the witch Parker originated.

Plus, like Green, Simon's French. So there's that.

(Aren't you impressed I didn't cast Vivien this time? I was tempted.)

Dwight Frye as Willie Loomis


...Yeah, maybe not my most original choice, but it would work so well. Let's return Willie to the John Karlen days when he was one of Dark Shadows' most complex characters, a sleazebag graverobber who ends up with a tortured conscience to end all tortured consciences as he becomes Barnabas's unwilling slave. The sinister nastiness that easily slides into hysterical panic, the sniveling pathos, all of that's embodied in Frye's multiple takes on the Renfield character type and in Willie.

Judith Anderson as Dr. Julia Hoffman


I know it's a stretch imagining her play a mysterious, shifty, intelligent, cultured, sinister, and obsessive mad scientist.

Ha, I'm hilarious.

Even with or maybe because of her dark, scheming edge, she tends to class up any movie she's in. And after the fiasco that was Julia's character in the new movie, let's give Julia back her classiness, shall we? And who among us hasn't longed to see Anderson play a mad scientist? Aaaaaand she plays frustrated unrequired love really well (see Rebecca and Laura).

She's perfect for Julia. She'd do Grayson Hall proud.

Tom Conway as Roger Collins


I'm being a good girl. I haven't cast Vivien Leigh, and I haven't cast George Sanders. But I have cast his brother.

Roger Collins is basically George Sanders a trifle more de-sexed. He's snooty, uppercrust, and looks down on everyone and his or her madre. Conway is a competent actor and he has all those qualities in abundance; on top of that, his voice and George's are practically identical, so yay more sex appeal!

He's also of course another Lewton favorite, starring as the lusty, unethical shrink in Cat People and as the Edward Rochester substitute in Zombie. 

Joan Bennett as Carolyn Stoddard


Now here's the kicker! So Joan Bennett played Elizabeth, the family matriarch, in the 1960s, right? Well, POW, in 1940 I'd have a blonde Joan Bennett as Liz's daughter, Carolyn! Mind-blowing, I tells ya!

She'd be about 30 in 1940, a drastic departure from Chloe Grace (still sounds wrong) Moretz's sullen 15-year-old in the new movie. I also **SPOILER** wouldn't make her a werewolf at the eleventh hour. That be bullshit.

Bennett's Carolyn would also probably diverge from Nancy Barrett's '60s Go-Go dancin' version. Bennett always drips with sophistication and high style; thus, instead of a perky spoiled princess with a hidden heart of gold, she'd be more the aloof, snobbish, high society queen with a hidden heart of gold. Can't you see her languishing uselessly around Collinwood, wearing pearls and slinky evening gowns, a haughty pout on her lips? I know I can.

Yet this opens up a problem I hadn't anticipated: I have no idea who to cast as Elizabeth.

? as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard

As played by Joan Bennett and Michelle Pfeiffer, Elizabeth is beautiful and dignified, coldly patrician. I've done my research, and there were very few actresses of the proper age still working in Hollywood at that time who would fit those qualities, sad to say. Hollywood moulded any woman still having the audacity to work past her 30s and 40s into either quirky old maid/spinster aunt character actors or crusty grand dames (Liz is a grand dame, but she's a sexy grand dame). Maybe Belle Mitchell? Maybe Clara Kimball Young (no)?

My dad suggested that since, hey, Elizabeth was basically a comeback role for Bennett, how about bring back a silent film maven who hadn't worked in a good long while? That would make sense.

So how about Theda Bara? Florence Turner (who was still working by that point, but mostly in bit parts)? Or, GASP! Evelyn Nesbit? My, once you examine the problem this way, the possibilities are boundless....



Darryl Hickman as David Collins


Even though I'm still smarting from some apparently immature and catty comments he made about Gene Tierney on the commentary track for Leave Her to Heaven, I guess if you're going to have a spooked, energetic kid in a 1940s movie, might as well go with him. Whatevs.


BONUS CHARACTERS!

Neither of these characters were in the Burton movie (well, actually...it's complicated!, eerie music, etc), but hey, anything's allowed in a magical Val Lewton alternate reality gothic wonderland:

Theresa Harris as Maggie Evans


(Boy I hate using this phrase, but) For his time, Lewton employed African-Americans in his movies more intelligently than many of his peers. Oh, they were still portrayed as servile, still unerringly gracious to their white bosses, still exotically mystical at times, still occasionally spouting sassy domestic sayings (quoth Ms. Harris in Cat People: "Don't nobody like apple fritters?").

Yet Lewton lets them converse and interact with others with common sense and dignity. No imposed dialect, no cloyingly childlike display of buffoonery. In fact, I Walked with a Zombie was surprisingly sensitive for the time; despite associating black people with mysticism, Lewton manages to purposely portray white pampered ignorance in a few scenes and how the black inhabitants of the island grin and bear such ignorance.

Above the fray is Theresa Harris, smart, beautiful, and magnetic. Lewton and Tourneaur obviously like her, and so do we. Again I cringe a little at the thought of her as Maggie Evans, the waitress. But then again, for someone as acute a performer as Harris, I imagine she'd be able to sneak in some of the race-consciousness from Zombie and give her Maggie more autonomy than worrying about the apple fritters (or chicken something, I can't remember what it was). Maybe she could play super sleuth, figure out what's up with Barnabas, and get into cahoots with Sheriff Patterson or Dave Woodward or whoever else would be there tracking Barn down.

Ann Carter as Sarah Collins


....Ohhhhhh wait she'd only be about four. Meh, oh well. I mean 1940 in a loose sort of way, more an approximate date than anything set in stone. Anyways, after watching Curse of the Cat People, Carter's my new favorite child actress. Yeah, I choked up a lot during that one, what of it? She's a very lonely Alice in Wonderland girl, and touchingly beautiful. She'd do wonderfully as the ghost of Barnabas's beloved little sister, the last remnant of his conscience.

Plus it's Boris Karloff with a child. There's nothing more adorable.

So long as they stay away from ponds.

*****

After casting this, I can't help but imagine how this would do as, say, a serial of twenty-five minute shorts set before A-movies. Y'know, kinda like very early General Hospital clips, or whatever hospital show it was? Dark Shadows is such a sprawling story, such an eclectic mix of characters, that most movie adaptations haven't quite succeeded in grasping what made it so compulsively watchable and easy to obsess over for all its grandiose awfulness. Perhaps these could be projects Lewton, Tourneur, et al could turn their fevered brains to when suffering creative blocks during production of their other movies.

Either way, I'd love to see Barnabas as a tortured yet brutal aristocrat who definitely is a vampire--but his attacks are shrouded in shadow, and like in Cat People, maybe the light could settle on his eyes, not his fangs.