Friday, August 24, 2012

Paramount's Hundred Year Anniversary - Minus 50 years.

I am a little confused by the advertisements for the celebration of Paramount's 100 year anniversary.

©Paramount Pictures and © Vanity Fair - <-Click for larger image

While I recognize a few faces from a bygone era there (Borgnine, Rooney, Douglas), in most of the events around town it seems the studio has all but omitted the first 50 years of their history.  From films they are showing to the museum archive they plopped down at Hollywood Heritage (The original Lasky-Demille studio), none of the advertising has really any draw for classic film fans, which is sad, seeing as how the studio is one of the largest, oldest, and only one still operating from Hollywood.

©Paramount Pictures

Technically, Paramount was the Lasky's Player's Film Company until 1914. Their first employee was Cecil B Demille.  Their first blockbuster hit (by today's standards) was 1921's The Sheik. 1927's Wings was the first film to ever win best picture. The studio's current location was built in 1917, but not procured by Paramount until 1926.  While I'm sure this information is not lost on the marketing dept. at Paramount, I for one would think they would play on the amazingness (is that a word? It is now) of their meager beginnings to educate folks on the impressive amount of power this studio has acquired and held since the 1920s.

While doing research on this issue, I read that Paramount  SOLD OFF most of their pre-1948 filmography to MCA (Which merged with Universal in 1958) for Tv-right profits in 1955.  they kept a handful of silents and a few Sturges films, but apparently none of the studios thought these nitrate-based stocks were worth anything and those that weren't trashed or torched were left to rot in warehouses. Oh, the humanity.

© Paramount Pictures
On this poster there are only 9 films portrayed pre-1960 (you can find the whole list and bigger pic here).  Is it the rights issue?  Surely there could've been a deal worked out with Universal for this event. Or is it they think no one is interested in older films?  It seems more and more of my peers are becoming interested in classic films due to the lack of substance in current releases.  Someone's not paying attention.

©Paramount Pictures

What Paramount films and stars would you focus on for the celebration? The complete list of Paramount films is HERE.   I would like to see more Pickford, Valentino, Hope, and Swanson, just off the top of my head.  So strange that a city with so much important American history seems to have little interest in it's preservation. The movies are pretty much all we have left.  time to start acting like it, Hollywood. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

What Makes Marilyn so Special?

Please hold your tomato throwing, boos, and hisses until the end.  Thank you.

Marilyn Monroe.  There isn't much to be said that hasn't been already.  Yes, she was beautiful.  Yes, she certainly had "it".  Yes, her story is tragic, mysterious, and star (and politician) studded. BUT, out of all the amazing talent in Hollywood in her heyday, why is she the number one person that made it out iconic? She is freakin everywhere. There are a million blogs, a million fan pages (google search, i dare ya), her picture is plastered all over town, people are still freaking out at auctions over her pictures and belongings (okay that part i kind of get), and a lot of the time to have any discussion with classic film fans about something other than Ms. Monroe is like pulling teeth. Sure there are plenty of Audry, Grace, and Liz fans, but they aren't on billboards on the metro. They don't plaster them up and down the boulevard. There hasn't been a "My Life with Deborah Kerr" movie made.

Is it the rags to riches story?  She had a hell of a childhood, but, so did most of Old Hollywood, thats how they ended up here. Is it the drop dead beauty?  She is stunning, but in my book not any more than Liz Taylor, Grace Kelly, or Cyd Charisse. The glamour? The people she knew? Because she was perpetually the child that needed protection and never got it? Or because she was the poster child of the Hollywood double life - rich and glamorous in public, poor and miserable in life . . . *sigh*

I've watched every movie I have available with her in it this week -  Seven Year Itch, Some Like It Hot, Monkey Business, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and how To Marry a Millionaire, trying to figure out either A. what makes her such a huge deal today or B. why, unlike the vast majority of movie fans, do i not really enjoy her films.

I think a little of it is i find it hard to relate to the ditsy, breathy, hair twirling types. There were a lot of those then (hell there's a lot of those now), but I don't see anyone really freaking out about Judy Holliday or Jayne Mansfield these days. In most of her movies it seems like she was mainly cast as a piece of meat. Im not a bra burner but that whole "let me bend over slowly and pick your jaw up for you" routine is a major turn off. At least Harlow and West seemed smart.

Im not sure exactly what happened but somewhere between her earlier roles like Clash by Night and Dont Bother to Knock and her mid-career films her diction and way she carried herself totally changed. It seems by the time she got to Seven Year Itch, Hollywood magnified the ditsy sex kitten role so much it was almost unbearable to watch. She was decent in Clash.  But it's like she gave up, kind of Peter Lorre style, and stopped fighting the typecast. Lorre once said something along the lines of "Id like to do other things but if that is the Lorre they want, I dont want to disappoint". Is that what happened? That's sad if it is.

  Monroe in Clash By Night

Another part of it is how angry I am at the system and how they used her and made her life hell.  I dont think she was stupid in real life but to hear Billy Wilder tell it she was a grade-A moron, he claims she'd get lost  coming to work so much he had to hire a driver for her, and she couldn't remember simple lines.  (I read somewhere he told her Tony Curtis looked better from behind in a skirt, which is just mean if its true). I also read somewhere that she was so self conscious on camera she would constantly freeze, miss marks, and forget whole scenes, and the studio execs would harass her until she got it right.

Something I do find really interesting about Marilyn is our governments handling of her demise.  A lot of that has been circling this month, being the 50th anniversary of her death. Why WOULD the FBI need to black out her files if it was "just" a suicide? But again there were/are tons of weird deaths (Thelma Todd for one) in Hollywood.  Aside from James Ellroy's stories, none have been as intensely looked at as hers.

I understand the allure when people die to soon like with James Dean or Jean Harlow. But it just seems out of everyone that left us too soon Monroe has gotten far more attention than anyone I can think of.  I read somewhere that she really wanted to top Liz Taylor in magazine covers so I suppose, in a way, in longevity and popularity, Marilyn wins.

Maybe it's the combination of all the things I mentioned that makes her the face of Hollywood. I spend a lot of time on Hollywood Boulevard and get so bummed when people skip over Pickford or Jack Lemmon to stick their hands in Harry Potter's prints at Grauman's.  No one skips over Marilyn though, that's for sure. Young, old, everyone knows who she is.  I suppose I should just suck it up and be happy that kids at least know her, and hopefully learn more about the era from her. But I can't help but be just a little curious about why someone else isn't in her limelight.

Okay, you can throw things now.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Silents and the Big Screen

I used to be bored to tears by silent films.  Sad, I know, but it's true.  Smooth into my early 20's even, I would try, because I at least realized a lot of them had historical significance, but would always seem to hit play, and then wake up when the end credits were rolling.

I'm not sure if it was hitting the wise, ripe age of 25 or what, but somewhere I developed different tastes in films than I had growing up.  When I had TCM (oh how I miss you, please stream) they had a feature - probably still do- called Silent Sundays that would still be on Monday mornings while i was getting ready for work. And this weird  movie, with any shot of money tinted gold, was on, and 3 hours later I was hooked, and super late for work.


Fast forward 5 years to now- I recently moved to Los Angeles, and holy crap the plethora of films you can see on the big screen here. After Greed I ran the gamut on silents, Demille, Griffith, Chaplin, Stroheim, if I could find it, i would watch it.  But, as much as I enjoyed them at home alone on the couch, something was missing.

The Cameraman is now my favorite Keaton film.  It's absolutely hilarious. Whenever Im bummed out, I find that scene of him in the dressing room at the Venice Plunge on youtube, and giggle away.  This was the first film Keaton did with MGM, and the last film he made there where he had creative control.  Hollywood thought it was completely lost, but in Paris in the late 60's,  someone found the whole thing.  Another copy was found in 91, and through the combination of the two, we get the whole film in near-perfect quality.

Filming the dressing room scene

A few weeks ago I spotted a Facebook posting from The New Beverly Cinema about a Buster Keaton night. I came so close to not going, short notice, laziness, etc etc. but I even managed to drag my boyfriend along, and Im so glad I made it - I realized what was missing siting alone on the couch.

New Beverly Theater

The movie revolves around a poor tintype photographer who falls for a girl, Sally, who is a secretary in a news department. In an attempt to impress her, he trades in his junk camera for an even junkier motion film camera that he doesnt even know how to operate, and shows up at her job looking for work to be near her.  Even after making a fool of himself in front of her entire office, Sally takes Buster's phone number and promises to call. (When she does call, Keaton runs down about 5 flights of stairs, and then a mile or two, and is in her lobby before she even realizes he's dropped the phone. Awesome scene).  He is so happy to be on a date with her, but naturally everything that can go wrong does - he's broke, he gets squeezed off the trolley, his bathing suit doesnt fit, he loses his bathing suit all together, all the other guys along the way try to steal her away, aw man! - and the date ends with poor Buster being dropped off by a guy from her office who had picked them up on their way home.  The next day, trying to help Buster, Sally gives him a tip of something possibly film worthy going on in Chinatown, but he messes that opportunity up as well, almost costs Sally her job, and vows to stay away.  I won't spoil the hijinx that result in the end of the film, but it involves a monkey, a speedboat, chivalry, and sweet redemption. It's really some of Keaton's finest.

As soon as we arrived at the theater I got incredibly excited.  We had to wait . . IN A LINE... for the box office to open to get tickets.  I wonder if Keaton ever imagined that in 2012 there would be a line to get in to see his films, I hope he did. Young, old, black, white, everybody waiting anxiously to see a great film. It's really a happy occasion to see so many different backgrounds able to come together for a common interest. No matter what we think or do when we go home, for that one moment, we're all together, getting along, and really happy in each other's company.  Keaton did that for us that day. Awesome.

The theater was almost full.  The Beverly isn't a huge theater but it probably seats 150 or so.  I was thinking "eh, this will be cool for a Sunday afternoon, pass some time with a good movie" not really understanding the enjoyment about to happen. The movie starts, and about 2 minutes in, as soon as we see Keaton fighting a crowd to be able to smell Sally's hair, the whole theater erupts in laughter. The 8 year olds behind us were laughing every bit as much as the 80 year olds in front of us, making us laugh even harder. By the time Keaton gets to go on his date, my boyfriend was laughing so hard i thought we might have to step out for a second.

For some reason, when you see movies with an audience, the emotions in the movie hit you harder.  Sitting in the dark with popcorn in a room full of strangers, all laughing and booing at the same thing, really makes seeing a movie an experience. Especially at a venue not trying to squeeze every last cent out of you.  I think modern films and theaters are kind of lacking in that department.  The theaters are so big and expensive, the movies so overdone, you kind of lose that sense of community you get in a smaller theater with a film that doesn't rely on booze and fart jokes for a laugh.  I can understand how back in the day going to a movie was a real event.  Not just because it was all new to them, but because you felt a little more in touch with your fellow man at a good movie that had something to say, or could really make you laugh. That's what was missing from my couch.

I cannot wait to find more silents to see on the big screen.