Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Marlene Dietrich in Words & Images

The AFS Surrealist Love Goddesses Essential Cinema series concludes Thursday, June 30 with a 35mm screening of THE SCARLET EMPRESS, starring Marlene Dietrich.

James Agate, critic
“I can only say that she makes reason totter on her throne.” (Contemporary review of THE BLUE ANGEL, 1930)

Ernest Hemingway, friend
“If she had nothing more than her voice she could break your heart with it. But she has that beautiful body and that timeless loveliness of her face. It makes no difference how she breaks your heart if she is there to mend it.” (Quoted in Peter Bogdanovich, “Who The Hell’s In It?”)

Curtis Harrington, critic & filmmaker
“Like Garbo, she transcends any period, though some of her films do not. Her style throughout remains constant, within little characteristic variations, and as a personification of sexuality her luster never dims.” (quoted in “The Great Movie Stars”, David Shipman, 1979)

Josef von Sternberg, director

“’Marlene’ is a contraction of ‘Maria Magdalene,’ two names not often found in one person. Before becoming reconciled to being known as Marlene Dietrich, she pleaded with me to change her name, as no non-German could pronounce it correctly. The plea was ignored and she was told, correctly pronounced or not, the name would become quite well known. She attached no value to it when I met her, nor did she attach value to anything else so far as I could ascertain, with the exception of her baby daughter, a musical saw, and some recordings by a singer called Whispering Jack Smith. She was inclined to jeer at herself and others, though she was extremely loyal to friends (many of whom were not always loyal to her) and quick to feel pity and to help those who flattered her... She was frank and outspoken to a degree that some might have termed tactless. Her personality was one of extreme sophistication and an almost childish simplicity. (“Fun In A Chinese Laundry”, 1965)

Peter Bogdanovich, friend
“Privately, Dietrich would tell friends, she felt somewhat guilty about World War II. Hitler had wanted to sleep with her, and she had refused him. Later, Marlene often said that if she had slept with him, she might have altered his views on life, and history would have been different.” (“Who The Hell’s In It?”)

Jean Cocteau, friend
“Marlene Dietrich! ... Your name, at first the sound of a caress, becomes the crack of a whip. When you wear feathers, and furs, and plumes, you wear them as the birds and animals wear them, as though they belong to your body. Your beauty is its own poet, its own praise. There is no need for us to speak of it, and so I salute, not your beauty but your goodness. It shines in you, as light shines in the moving wave of the sea: a transparent wave coming out of the far distance, and carrying like a gift, its light, its voice, and the plumes of foam, to the shore where we stand.” (1954)

Ernest Hemingway
“I think she knows more about love than anybody. I know that each time I’ve seen Marlene Dietrich she has touched my heart and made me happy. If that is what makes her mysterious, then mystery is a fine thing.”

Kenneth Tynan, critic
“She has the bearing of a man; the characters she plays love power and wear trousers. Marlene’s masculinity appeals to women and her sexuality to men.”

Marlene Dietrich
“Beauty comes from within. The idea might seem horrible but it’s true.”

Friday, June 24, 2016

Watch This: Robert Downey Sr. on Canadian TV, 1967

"If everybody could get turned on to not taking themselves too seriously and having a sense of humor about themselves, I think we could get over a lot of things that we take very, very seriously. We could approach the serious matters in a different way, like war, poverty, and all the things that are going on."

Robert Downey Sr. (born on this day in 1935) is one of the underappreciated masters of comedy filmmaking. His films often have a deep satirical bite, and they're also just plain funny. He's a funny guy with a serious belief in the power of humor, as he conveys in the following interview from 1967.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Garbo in Words & Images

The AFS Surrealist Love Goddesses Essential Cinema series continues Thursday, June 23 with a 35mm screening of MATA HARI starring Greta Garbo.

“After much brooding and re-appraisal I still cannot make up my mind whether Garbo was a remarkable actress or simply a person so extraordinary she made everything she did, even acting, seem remarkable.” (Isabel Quigley, The Spectator)

"Greta Garbo has been called ‘The Divine’ in several languages… To some of her worshippers she is only ‘The Incomparable One’, while to others she is simply ‘poetry, sunrise and great music’. In England she has been characterized as ‘a superhuman symbol of ‘The Other Woman’, and in Germany as ‘the supreme symbol of inscrutable tragedy’. Other European gallants, blowing hot and cold simultaneously, have described her as ‘the flaming icicle’ and ‘the frozen torch’. In America she has been hailed with majestic dizziness as ‘the mysterious, inscrutable, available but untouchable essence of the indefinable.” (John Bainbridge, Garbo, 1955)

“In close-ups she gave the impression, the illusion of great movement. She would move her head just a little bit and the whole screen would come alive – like a strong breeze that made itself felt. Wonderful movements.” (George Cukor, 1964)

“Garbo has only to flash on the screen to seize our attention. Her brilliance dispels our dullness. She takes us out of ourselves by the mere accident of her presence. It isn’t acting; it has nothing to do with acting; it is something which holds us in its spell – a kind of magic. This magic is Garbo.” (John Barrymore, 1932)

“Greta Garbo was a marvelous actress. The most interesting actress I have ever seen.” (Robert De Niro, 1995)

"Garbo is far more a fetish than an actress. (She is not) unaware of this. She has made the most of phenomenal personal characteristics: the long, poetic, prehensile arms of a growing youth; the virginal torso appropriately accented with a monosyllabic pelvis. The face itself (destiny's hands are many) is not without a more spiritual and edifying lesson: it has the equilateral beauty of some profound heroic masochism; it is fundamentally the face of a silent and nobly suffering slave, grimly humorous (with one eyebrow set back and up as though with a hair-pin) yet relentlessly combative in its supineness; a supineness which is a truly political proneness.” (Parker Tyler, Quoted in Cecil Beaton’s New York, 1938)

“Something in Garbo wanted to be where sex wasn’t. For if there’s sex, there’s bound to be sex’s uniform; if there’s a uniform, there’s bound to be a costume, and if there’s a costume, there is, possibly, a masquerade. And if there’s a masquerade, there’s a kind of deception.” (Parker Tyler, The Garbo Image, 1968)

“She was pretty much self-styled, you might say. Her features were so photogenic. You could light her face in any manner possible; any angle, up, down. Her bone structure and proportions – her forehead, her nose was just right; the difference between here and there was just right. And her eyes were set in such a way that you couldn’t go wrong.” (Photographer George Hurrell, quoted in People Will Talk, John Kobal, 1986)

“Garbo still belongs to that moment in cinema when capturing the human face still plunged audiences into the deepest ecstasy, when one literally lost oneself in a human image as one would in a philtre, when the face represented a kind of absolute state of the flesh, which could be neither reached nor renounced. A few years earlier the face of Valentino was causing suicides; that of Garbo still partakes of the same rule of Courtly Love, where the flesh gives rise to mystical feelings of perdition.

“Garbo offered to one's gaze a sort of Platonic Idea of the human creature, which explains why her face is almost sexually undefined, without however leaving one in doubt.

“The name given to her, La Divine, probably aimed to convey less a superlative state of beauty than the essence of her corporeal person, descended form a heaven where all things are formed and perfected in the clearest light.

“Garbo's face represents this fragile moment when the cinema is about to draw an existential from an essential beauty, when the archetype leans towards the fascination of mortal faces, when clarity of the flesh as essence yields its place to a lyricism of Woman.” (Roland Barthes, The Face Of Garbo, 1957)

“Just as Christ simultaneously asserted godliness and humanity by going off - into the wilderness, into a secluded part of the garden, simply to be alone - so Garbo is forever held back from that peace by films…

“Garbo’s films keep her for the audiences. They allow us to leave the cinema with the thought that she escaped the plot, the settings, and the other characters to perform endlessly in our dreams.” (David Thomson, New Biographical Dictionary Of Film, 3rd ed, 1994)

“I never said I wanted to be alone. I said I wanted to be left alone. There is all the difference.” (Greta Garbo, quoted in Bainbridge, ibid.)

50 Years Ago Today: Hollywood's Production Code Fell

Hollywood's Motion Picture Production Code was adopted by the studios in 1930 to counter the expensive and delaying influence of the then-preponderant state censorship boards. Prior to the creation of the code, and even for a while afterward, local boards would ban films because of this or that offense, and the release would be disrupted while the producers negotiated and made cuts.

Here is the resolution, approved by the heads of studios, that spells out the "don'ts" and the "be carefuls."

Resolved, That those things which are included in the following list shall not appear in pictures produced by the members of this Association, irrespective of the manner in which they are treated:

  1. Pointed profanity – by either title or lip – this includes the words "God," "Lord," "Jesus," "Christ" (unless they be used reverently in connection with proper religious ceremonies), "hell," "damn," "Gawd," and every other profane and vulgar expression however it may be spelled;
  2. Any licentious or suggestive nudity – in fact or in silhouette; and any lecherous or licentious notice thereof by other characters in the picture;
  3. The illegal traffic in drugs;
  4. Any inference of sex perversion;
  5. White slavery;
  6. Miscegenation (sex relationships between the white and black races);
  7. Sex hygiene and venereal diseases;
  8. Scenes of actual childbirth – in fact or in silhouette;
  9. Children's sex organs;
  10. Ridicule of the clergy;
  11. Willful offense to any nation, race or creed;

And be it further resolved, That special care be exercised in the manner in which the following subjects are treated, to the end that vulgarity and suggestiveness may be eliminated and that good taste may be emphasized:
  1. The use of the flag;
  2. International relations (avoiding picturizing in an unfavorable light another country's religion, history, institutions, prominent people, and citizenry);
  3. Arson;
  4. The use of firearms;
  5. Theft, robbery, safe-cracking, and dynamiting of trains, mines, buildings, etc. (having in mind the effect which a too-detailed description of these may have upon the moron);
  6. Brutality and possible gruesomeness;
  7. Technique of committing murder by whatever method;
  8. Methods of smuggling;
  9. Third-degree methods;
  10. Actual hangings or electrocutions as legal punishment for crime;
  11. Sympathy for criminals;
  12. Attitude toward public characters and institutions;
  13. Sedition;
  14. Apparent cruelty to children and animals;
  15. Branding of people or animals;
  16. The sale of women, or of a woman selling her virtue;
  17. Rape or attempted rape;
  18. First-night scenes;
  19. Man and woman in bed together;
  20. Deliberate seduction of girls;
  21. The institution of marriage;
  22. Surgical operations;
  23. The use of drugs;
  24. Titles or scenes having to do with law enforcement or law-enforcing officers;
  25. Excessive or lustful kissing, particularly when one character or the other is a "heavy".
The Production Code was initially pretty ineffectual, due to a too-heavy workload, but in 1934, generally considered the beginning of the Production Code era, a new agency was created, with staff and real teeth, the Production Code Administration, run with great attention to detail by Catholic zealot Joseph Breen.

For many years the iron grip of censorship and enforced conformity prevailed but by the time television became a pervasive force in American's lives, the film industry fighting for every scrap of advantage it could gain. At the same time, European art films like Ingmar Bergman's SUMMER WITH MONIKA (1953) were breaking attendance records in small art theaters and even drive ins, displaying new flesh and new attitudes toward lifestyles that had previously been taboo on screen.

In 1952, the United States Supreme Court guaranteed First Amendment protection to films and the momentum for the abolition of the code grew. Enforcement grew somewhat more lax as the administrators of the code felt the heat, which rose to wilting temperatures with 1959's SOME LIKE IT HOT. The PCA denied the film a Code certificate, but United Artists released it anyway. As you must know by now, the movie was a smash hit, and the Code reeled.

The '60s presented many more challenges to the declining code and finally Jack Valenti, incoming president of the Motion Picture Association Of America, was charged with reviewing Mike Nichols' brilliant adaptation of Edward Albee's WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF. Knowing that the film's impact would be lost if the language was neutered, he merely insisted on the removal of the word "screw." Other instances of shocking dialogue were untouched, though the film received an advisory label due to its language and themes. In this manner it was released on this date in 1966.

Valenti's improvised advisory tag was to prefigure the movie ratings system, which was the eventual successor of the Production Code.

Friday, June 17, 2016

30 Minutes of THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED Is Now Online!

One of the most elusive and sought-after films ever made is Jerry Lewis' unreleased - in fact suppressed - film THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED. It's set in a concentration camp and is about a clown named Helmut Doork whose job is to lead children gleefully to their deaths. The clown is played by Jerry Lewis, who also directed the film. After he finished the movie in 1972, he decided it was not good enough to be released, also, it was probably in bad taste. The film's negative and all prints then were placed under lock and key. Until recent developments have brought it closer to the light.

There's more backstory in this AFS Viewfinders article from 2015, about the Library Of Congress' acquisition of the film.

But the big new news, which we first read in this Screen Crush article, is that 30 minutes of footage from the film has now been uploaded to YouTube. See it while you can, as it might not be up for long.

Here is the video:

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Anna May Wong In Words & Images

Anna May Wong:
“When I was about 17, a truck came booming down the street and the driver yelled for me to get out of the way. He called me “chink.” To my surprise I blazed back a remark equally insulting at him and he wilted. That was the turning of a corner for me.” (1934, Los Angeles Times
“We were always thrilled when a motion picture company came to Chinatown to film scenes for a picture…I would worm my way through the crowd and get as close to the camera as I could. I’d stare and stare at those glamorous individuals, directors, cameramen, assistants, and actors in greasepaint, who had come into our section of town to make movies.  
“(I decided) yes, I would become a movie star too! Having made up my mind to this, the next step was to watch motion pictures on the screen..." (1926, Pictures Magazine) 

“And then I would rush home and do the scenes I had witnessed before a mirror. I would register contempt, shame, reproach, joy and anger. I would be the pure girl repulsing the evil suitor, the young mother pleading for her baby, the vampire luring her victim.

"One day, I was doing a big crying scene before my mirror when my mother walked into my room. She must have been amazed to see me with tears streaming down my face, clutching a bit of lingerie to my bosom but she said nothing. She was very considerate of one whom she must have thought at least peculiar. She left the room without a word.” (San Francisco Chronicle, 1928)

Hye Seung Chung:
"The first period of her career involved her struggle as a pioneering Asian American screen actress whose talent and beauty became largely subsumed within Hollywood’s exotic and sexual imagery of a Madame Butterfly and a “Dragon Lady” in such films as ‘THE TOLL OF THE SEAS (1922) and THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD (1924). Disheartened by Hollywood’s treatment, in 1928 Wong left the U.S. for Europe to seek what would be a “second beginning” of her acting career. In Germany, France and England, she ascended to international stardom, appearing in a variety of lead roles on stage and in film productions fluently speaking all the original language dialogue."("Hollywood Asian", 2006)

Karen J. Leong:
“Anna May Wong joined an out-migration of performers of color when she traveled abroad. From the 1920’s, American culture infused by the Italian Renaissance, expanded its horizons artistically as well as geographically. The resulting outflow of talent consisted primarily of African Americans, most notably artists like Josephine Baker and Paul Robeson, who similarly performed throughout Europe before more appreciative audiences. Within this transatlantic flow of talent, Wong distinguished herself with her unique status of “being oriental” and American at the same time, continually surpassing expectation with her modern flapper-style and wry sense of humor.”  ("The China Mystique", 2005)

Graham Russell Gao Hodges:
“(During the shooting of PICCADILLY) her impact on the public was immediate. People mobbed to her everywhere she went, making her forays into the city (London) difficult. English girls tinted their faces ivory with ochre color to get “the Wong complexion.” They cut their hair with bangs in the front to achieve the “Wong haircut.” Gorgeously embroidered coolie coats blossomed among the theater crowds in Piccadilly Circus.” – ("Anna May Wong: From Laundryman’s Daughter to Hollywood Legend", 2004)

Hye Seung Chung:
"Back in Hollywood, the biggest disappointment for Wong came when MGM offered her the Temptress role of second wife Lotus in the film adaptation of Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth (1931), instead of the lead role of O-lan. After losing the role of lifetime to Luise Rainer, Wong again deserted Hollywood to visit her ancestral homeland for the final time, to find out whether she was “playing a Chinese or merely giving an American interpretation of one.” ("Hollywood Asian", 2006)

B. Ruby Rich:
“The great tragedy of Wong’s life was that she sought to break free of her tradition – bound community and join the world of modernity that the cinema represented, on to find herself lashed by the very industry to constraining racist stereotypes.” (Guardian, 2004)

Anna May Wong:
“How should we be, with a civilization that’s so many times older than that of the west? We have our own virtues. We have our rigid code of behavior, of honor. Why do they never show these on the screen? Why should we always scheme, rob, kill? I get so weary of it all, the scenarist’s concept of Chinese characters.” (quoted in “Asian America Through The Lens”, Jun Xing, 1998) 
AFS Presents Anna May Wong in PICCADILLY (1929) with a live score by Ms. 45s on Thursday, June 16. Details here.

Monday, June 13, 2016

From MovieMaker Magazine: Julia Halperin's Pre-Production Diary

Those of us who have never made a feature film have little idea of all the work that goes into preproduction. In this month's MovieMaker Magazine, filmmaker Julia Halperin has shared a diary that gives us a tiny notion of how many of these little details are swarming around a producer/director during the preproduction period of an independent film. It's an excellent, though too brief, article and it makes us look even more forward to seeing LA BARRACUDA, which she is co-directing with her partner Jason Cortlund.

Important takeaways:

  • The grind never stops. If you're not actively scouting locations or talking to actors, you are sending scores of emails.
  • The availability of your onscreen talent is a constant worry, especially if you're not working with a First Class and Four Seasons budget. But good actors are also good filmmakers, and they are worth it.
  • Good location people, and locations, are very important.
  • You should always stock up on groceries before going into preproduction.