Early August is the anniversary of Marilyn Monroe’s death. I hesitate to write anything because I find myself too creepy stalker emotionally attached ranting, mostly about how other writers, filmmakers etc…portray her …but then I end up talking about her as if I know any better than they do ..and well….it becomes truly absurd. Understandably for anyone doing a biography or biopic there are some major points to touch on and a lot of guess work. Yet, why, does it seem that every single one of them touches on the same exact points, references and wishful thinking? So..for this rant ….I’ll just touch on acting and film …..If you are a fan, newly discovered her or a film student …these are the key moments I believe should be studied (watched);
Asphalt Jungle (1950)- dir; John Huston — I hesitate to praise Marilyn in this role because its really unclear if its simply that she doesn’t have the weight of expectation on her yet, or the fact that John Huston always gets something out of actors that no one else really can find. There is something there in her, you can read it in movements and side glances…..in her voice.
Don’t Bother to Knock (1952) dir; Roy Baker – When you see this, you have to wonder …why it seems that Marilyn and the studio’s struggled with her as an actress …pretty, sexual, and a bit clumsy she holds some vacant space inside as if this role defined her as a character…but not as a character actress…..from this jumping off point…her career should have taken a different turn…..Mediocre Noir film with some really good performances.
Monkey Business (1952) – dir; Howard Hawsk – I have to agree with common thought that “Bringing up Baby” was by far the better film ….but Marilyn is adorable in this, very calm and centered as a comedic romp sidekick.
I don’t think its possible to create a film or biography about Marilyn that would satisfy me ….There isn’t anyone except perhaps Ms.Shirley Schrift that tells Marilyn stories about the real Norma Jean that I find believable and more than one dimensional. So that is my unsavory admission …you are all wrong in all the assumptions and designations assigned to her and therefore should never ever give in to the desire to write a book or develop a film based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. Just don’t do it. I simply abhor the way she is portrayed and those key moments that everyone thinks are defining about her ….just so incredibly wrong.
photograph by Milton Greene 1956 (you can see in all the photographs taken by Milton how deeply she trusted him)
Movies are often the thing we need to carry us away …take off those burdens and escape to another place …Comedies are more plentiful in hard times; notice now action adventure super hero is the big wig, as the society recovers from war and economic woes, but lest us nay forget the need for true comedy; Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Mae West and the like ..Those who mix the sad and desperate with the comedic and take away all our worries.
If you are recovering from a broken heart and need some belly laughs with that tub of ice cream:
DUCK SOUP (1933) Dir: Leo McCary – Best when viewed with others, a fun kind of rompy laughter that you just want to be along with a group. Have a few girls in – make popcorn, a blush wine and laugh!
Need to hide from the world and do a movie marathon:
My Little Chickadee (1940) – dir; Edward c. Cline – Start with this one to set the mood, written by Mae West and WC Fields, its choppy and inconsistent and full of no way did they say that? moments. Only 83 minutes so have this lined up next:
She Done Him Wrong (1933) – dir; Lowell Sherman – Cary Grant, as pretty as they come …and nothing wrong with watching it just to see him ….
Arsenic and Old Lace ( 1944) – dir; Frank Capra – Yes, save this one as the end cap – just when you are all snuggled down into the cushions and the popcorn is gone, you think you might fall asleep and WHAM …you get hit with the comic genius that is Cary Grant and the Brewster’s. You won’t believe what is hiding in the basement.
I just need a break to perk me up & feel sophisticated;
High Society (1956) – dir; Charles Walters -Just plain fun and a little bit romantic ..the sets, the clothes and the dialogue are better than the acting….sort of adorable. A nice little break from the norms…
2 important points for today –
1) My favorite films are very very strange, and
2) I had a few delightfully gorgeous moments with coffee this week …..
I’ve previously ranted about how much I hate lists and I won’t drone on too much this time about that ….but I was given a list of 500+ cult films with the idea of “how many have you seen” and shockingly discovered I had only seen 306 of them …but many were Horror or Anime ..which are not typically my go to genres. Of course they had also left off several important cult films and used a few that were more representational of a Director when they really should have included a number of that person’s films. There was only one Tarantino movie and no Rodriquez, no Andy Warhol and only one Cohen Brothers, I saw only one Jarmusch but no Polish Bros. So as a representational set, it was seriously lacking. It was still fun to go through them and click off the ones I had seen and I think I need extra points for seeing some of them 5 or more times.
It was not a list that made me roll my eyes and I give the compilers credit for including some things that don’t usually make a list of cult favorites. SO this gives me the opportunity to share several, a few off that list and a few that should have been included …..and again, I have to question my own taste and think ..mmmmm…..John Waters really is a genius or I am very weird.
Let me also quickly say that French Roast beans, freshly ground with a dash of cinnamon and then just a small amount of hazelnut fake creamer is really refreshingly pleasant. We had a softly cool morning here in Michigan a few days ago so I grabbed the chance to sit outside with an article I wanted to read and this gorgeous cup of coffee. One of those perfect moments.
a few cult favorites: OR why you need to think out side the box of film-making.
Twin Falls Idaho (1999) – Written and Directed by Michael & Mark Polish – Take away all you know about linear story telling, put on your post-modernist theorist cap and just enjoy those quirky little segments without thinking about what will happen. Yes, things happen – but that isn’t the point. Whats funny is ..what you think you know about them in the first few moments – is right! So trust your instincts and be delighted.
Mystery Train (1989) Dir: Jim Jarmusch – Yeah.. I said “MYSTERY TRAIN” but what I meant was any film my Jim Jarmusch that you can find and then watch all the rest of them. Because you’ll see one ..and you’ll think wow that was so good…that is my favorite …and then you’ll see another one and you’ll think, WOW that was so good that is my favorite. But then you’ll watch “Strangers in Paradise” and you think mmmmm that was pretty good, If I had seen that first it would have been my favorite but now I really think “Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai” is my favorite. Then you get on a Bill Murray kick and you’ll see “Broken Flowers” and think ..uh …wow…its good but maybe not as good as “MYSTERY TRAIN”. So….yeah.
Barton Fink (1991) – Dir: Joel & Ethan Coen – Why, you might ask yourself…>Would you pick “Barton Fink” as a cult favorite? Above “Raising Arizona” or “Fargo” …..well..because the other of Coen Bros Films are fairly mainstream and seen by a lot of people ….anyone who knows odd films will like those…but you have to be just a little more on the side of …ok…whatever….to really love this film. At first glance its not really likable….and then you think about it …and you have a bit of a laugh to yourself about certain things ….and then you recommend it to a bunch of people.
Do yourself a HUGE favor and watch the original HAIRSPRAY (1988) written & directed by John Waters – read his books, watch his films if you are a die hard FAN but if you are a filmie – just watch this first version. Its THE musical, of THE 80’s that you should see.
Please don’t be afraid of foreign films; I get all itchy when people say they don’t want to read a movie …if you are really paying attention to the dialogue…that you have to read it ….its probably not the film for you …..Watch and enjoy, then later watch it again to read anything you might have missed…..its so worth it. ( I just realized all of these selections are FRENCH, mon cher)
Leon: the Professional (1994) – Written and Directed by Luc Besson – One of those rare films that is fine in English ..you don’t really mind that is choppy and broken up a bit language wise; I saw it the other day on Television and even with the editing for commercials it was a fun albeit sick, weird film. Its another jumping off movie, you’ll want to see everything else with Jean Reno and anything written/directed/produced by Luc Besson.
The Triplets of Belleville (2003) – Written & Directed by Sylvain Chomet – I admit, I feel hoity toidy and snobbish about recommending this film….the music, the drawings, the story ….its so delightfully cultured …and yet ….so down home and soft. Its a homemade brewski with some 3000 dollar caviar.
Delicatessen (1991) – dir: Marc Caro – “Do I have something …right ….right ..here?” ..when you get that, you’ll have seen this film enough times. Its not for the faint of heart or the squeamish.
That is already a lot to think about …so I leave it at that….. PLEASE NOTE: This is not a list – its a few general off the top of my head suggestions — I don’t go with favorites or must see or TOP 10 or BOTTOM 5 or anything that indicates …a list. Just a few films, between you and I – that are important for filmies to watch.
Can I express the delight about BAD movies in mere words? How do I give you a turn of phrase to say this is emotionally, philosophically, musically, and culturally important and you should fall in love with it the way that I am? Then it becomes a question of tempering the excitement and expression so that you’ll be interested but not so set up for the idea of it that it can’t meet what is in your (our) heads ….
First, there is just bad so that its really funny …..Like ….
Then there is bad but it should be good and I don’t know why everyone doesn’t like it …….
Howard the Duck (1986) Dir: Willard Huyck – It’s just that the 1980’s were awful all around …with hair too big and those horrible shoulder pads? Everything from film to clothes to music seems to be a stoner’s elaboration of the 1940s…..
and of course…..the really good and why is this panned? I liked it ….
Jersey Girl (2004) dir: Kevin Smith – Its really not just that I adore Kevin Smith and he can do no wrong …don’t even think it…or say it …..I really loved this film. Its true; Ben Affleck is stiff and completely lacking in charm in this role…but that works….he is supposed to be a really flawed human being in an uncomfortable place between what he should be, what he wanted to be and what he can be. and yet ……Raquel Castro as Gertie is beyond adorable, George Carlin is perfect as the grumpy grandpa and Liv Tyler is sweet, awkward and stoic. If the film had done the Hollywood angle and been focused on how he really gets back into being that rich guy and falls in love…it would be a better Hollywood / popular film but that wouldn’t in my opinion make it good. But let me just thank Kevin Smith for the amazing kids play sequences from Sweeney Todd …That is freaking brilliant. (We will talk about the cinematographer, Vilmos Zsigmond in a upcoming column)
and lastly …there are really bad movies that I just don’t get it …Why is this considered good?
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) – Dir: David Fincher — I sat in the theater watching this film and being so excited about actors and moments; Jared Harris is always delightful to watch and his scenes were wonderful. Cate Blanchett had scenes that were visually stunning and Taraji P. Henson was heartwarming. Unfortunately, there were so many moments went I felt like , yah yah yah …get on with this ….and the people around me were tearful or laughing or sitting in rapt silence. My companions kept going over and over it as we walked out and still more at dinner…..and I was quiet, just thinking …mulling it over….what was it that I didn’t connect with? The premise is silly, but that has never stopped me from enjoying a movie. I respect David Fincher as a filmmaker so I still struggle with the elements for me that read no emotion in the film…I felt like I was watching people act.
I’ve been aware of not really saying anything to you about coffee – I write in the morning, early before the rest of the house is up and I enjoy my first cup of coffee while I think and begin to commit to the idea of the column. This week its a blessing to have my favorite bean from Detroit Bold aptly named, “Woodward Ave”, a quiet, reserved but slick coffee with just the right amount of darkness and a smooth quality. Which does in turn remind me of our topic for today, Mr. George Sanders.
Often the right bad boy. You can’t call him just bad because there is no leather jacket and certainly he is not a criminal type or a hooligan. So endearingly smooth and pretty while at the same time around the edges he is dark and mysterious. His words are never the truth but not actually a lie.
The first time I was aware of him I admit I didn’t pay close attention, I was too busy wondering who the beautiful girl was in the scene…..she was there only moments and then …well….I was caught up in the brilliance of Bette Davis in “All About Eve” (1950) so both George Sanders and Marilyn Monroe were swept aside.
It was later when I was on a Daphne Du Maurier (The Birds, Don’t Look Now) kick that I saw him in “Rebecca” (1940)
and it hit me…this was the same actor in my all time favorite bad film, “Psychomania” (1973, UK 1971).
What a thrilling chore it was trying to stay awake for late night horror fests from the GHOUL show (1970’s tv host) which is even funnier now when you realize television went off at 1am. What a masterpiece of bad horror film making …just delightful! Motorcycle riding, leather jacket punks with loud hip music, witches, and frogs. The editing is terrible, the film somewhat disjointed but what a fun and exciting story. Mr. Sanders added just the right ouch of upper crust English backbone to an otherwise silly movie.
Now yes, I do also have to include that Mr. Sanders was indeed in “Batman” (TV 1966) as Mr. Freeze, what 50s and 60’s working actor could resist that offer?
I offer you three highly recommended George Sanders films that you might not have seen and every film connoisseur must watch:
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz – An interesting juxtaposition to put Rex Harrison and George Sanders as competition for the heart of a woman in roles that are basically identical except that one rouge is alive and very slick but the other is dead while being both loud and rough. How does a woman choose between these two potential lovers? Well, the safer path is most definitely with the dead one.
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) -dir. Albert Lewin – Such a wonderful adaptation of the Oscar Wilde novel. They do a superb job of creating mood and spirit for the idea of light, easy lifestyle of the spoiled rich and keeping a dark horrid secret.
The Black Swan (1942) – dir. Henry King – Must watch for so many reasons, Tyrone Power of course and Maureen O’Hara, but also notably the work of cinematographer Leon Shamroy (Cleopatra, 1963) who provides an elegant tone to a fairly common pirate sword fighting story…one of those films you read the joy of going to work through the performances.