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falderal : a moving images blog
Sunday - September 8th, 2013
Reassessing the Legacy of Mary Pickford through Lillian Gish

Part of the Gish Sisters Blogathon. Please check out the other entries!

First of all, I am not sure if this title is even appropriate for this entry. As a warning, it may be one long ramble with no specific point, but I hope that you will enjoy it nevertheless. Maybe in the future, I will revise this entry and have a more focused argument.

Onto the article!

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Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish became friends before they became involved in moving pictures and it was Pickford who introduced the Gish sisters to movie making and Biograph Studios. I do not know what the relationship was between Pickford and Dorothy Gish, but Lillian Gish and Pickford were friends until Pickford’s death. Their friendship was so close that Gish was one of the few people that Pickford saw as she aged and drew away from the public eye.

People who know even just a little bit of film history or have an interest in film know of Gish. Her place in cinema history has been secured through her ties with D.W. Griffith, such as through her role as Elsie Stoneman in The Birth of a Nation (1915). While Gish has starred in many films that are highly acclaimed now — Intolerance (1916), Broken Blossoms (1919), Way Down East (1920), The Wind (1928), Duel in the Sun (1946), The Night of the Hunter (1955) — it is her role in The Birth of a Nation that people associate her with.

It is interesting that both stars who worked for D.W. Griffith became famous and that they had a certain label to them throughout the peak of their cinematic careers and what their legacy is at the moment. Pickford is largely forgotten despite her association with D.W. Griffith, mostly because she did not star in his currently well-known films even though she starred in numerous Biographs and was the one who negotiated her salary due to her awareness of her popularity. It was through the sheer number of films that Pickford starred in that helped her, and as she said, “I got what no one else wanted, and I took anything that came my way because I early decided that if I could get into as many pictures as possible I’d become known and there would be a demand for my work.”1
Despite being the most famous actress in America in the silent film era, Pickford is a name known only to fans of film history and rarely discussed by film buffs. On the other hand, Lillian Gish is given more attention even now yet this attention is mostly focused on the feature films she made with Griffith, just like how Pickford is known as an actress who played simpering sweet roles despite her varied oeuvre. In regards to Gish as an actress, one thing that remained constant since the peak of her career until now is that she was and still is considered a great actress. During the height of her career, she was known as the “Duse of the screen” (quote: “Mary Pickford is greatly loved but she is seldom called the Duse of the screen, as Lillian Gish is apt to be.”)2 and current movie fans still consider her acting to be sublime. Pickford was seen as a great actress in her day with some critics and fans waffling between Pickford as an actress and Pickford as a star (which I think is closer to being a personality and something beyond being considered as a legitimate actress) but currently, she is seen more as a personality and an embodiment of sickeningly saccharine roles (even though few roles, if at all, can be considered as such) that would have only been swallowable in the age of innocence. To top this off, I do think that it says something when Lillian Gish’s official website says, “If Mary Pickford was the silent cinema’s greatest personality, Lillian was its greatest actress.”3

The quote made me wonder what made Gish the great actress and Pickford just a personality. When someone calls an actor a “personality”, I see them as something like a reality TV star with not much talent yet brings great joy to the audiences due to their antics or a persona that they create. While I strongly believe that Pickford did create a public persona for herself, I would say that she is also an actress in her own right and was as gifted as Gish when it came to acting.
It is difficult to compare the actresses because I think that both had acting techniques that were different and both played roles that were different from each other. And yet when I see these actresses in close ups when they are portraying a highly emotional and sensitive moment, they are successful in twisting the audience’s hearts and astounding the viewers with how much emotion they can render with only a small movement. Whenever I watch close ups that make me feel this way, it reminds me of my favourite Jean Epstein quote:

I will never find the way to say how much I love American close-ups. Point blank. A head suddenly appears on screen and drama, now face to face, seems to address me personally and swells with an extraordinary intensity. I am hypnotized. Now the tragedy is anatomical. The decor of the fifth act is this corner of a cheek torn by a smile. Waiting for the moment when 1,000 meters of intrigue converge in a muscular denouement satisfies me more than the rest of the film. Muscular preambles ripple beneath the skin. Shadows shift, tremble, hesitate. Something is being decided. A breeze of emotion underlines the mouth with clouds. The orography of the face vacillates. Seismic shocks begin. Capillary wrinkles try to split the fault. A wave carries them away. Crescendo. A muscle bridles. The lip is laced with tics like a theater curtain. Everything is movement, imbalance, crisis. Crack. The mouth gives way, like a ripe fruit splitting open. As if split by a scalpel, a keyboard-like smile cuts laterally into the corner of the lips.
The close-up is the soul of cinema.

-Jean Epstein, “Magnification”

The “extraordinary intensity” is felt several times when I watch Gish is The White Sister (1923) and when I watch Pickford in Sparrows (1926).
Epstein’s quote, for me, also renders feelings of an ephemeral and surreal nature of certain performances, and how there is some quality about cinema and acting that one cannot put our fingers on — or as Louis Deluc and Epstein puts it, “photogénie”. There is something that is so realistic about a performance that you feel emotionally connected to that moment on the screen, but there is also something that seems like it far from our grasp and is this beautiful thing that we cannot describe. I believe that similar sentiments were felt by contemporary movie fans — this one article mentioned the difference between newer and older actresses and mentioned how there was something different about older actresses, as if there was a deeper quality to them:

Mary Pickford, in the greatest picture of her career, “Coquette” comes to the Empire today for a 3 day engagement. […] She has nothing to fear in the way competitition from any of the feminine stars who have sprung up of late years. Mary started in when pictures were a pup and she is still at the head. That old guard — Mary and Lillian Gish and Norma Talmadge and a few others — have something that the newer generation of film stars lack. They have courage. They had to have, to live through those early years, when they all knew poverty and hard work and hunger. Their experiences gave them something valuable than these fluffy-brained youngsters of today will never have. It shows in their acting — this deeply human quality, this understanding of life. There is dignity about them which they have won in the battle of the long years.4

An article that the producer, Samuel Goldwyn, wrote also reflects that there is some quality to great filmic performances and a special quality that great movie actresses have:

If an actress of a certain type created a stir, there was an immediate rush to find her physical duplicate. There must have be dozens of girls destined to become Mary Pickfords because they possessed pretty blonde hair and the same general cast of countenances; but I don’t recall any of them threatening the laurels of this inimitable little actress.
Now it is quite possible that some of the candidates for screen honors were no less physically attractive than Miss Pickford. Also they may have had acting ability but the all-important point is that they did not reflect the qualities of personality, or soul. If you prefer what made America’s favorite actress what she was and continues to be.5

For Goldwyn, a pretty face does not cut it and an actress needs to be able to show something that is more than just actions on a screen but show their soul. I think the use of the word “soul” is perfect because the soul is just as intangible as the quality that Gish and Pickford’s performances have. Gish also remarked similarly about Pickford when she said, “It was always Mary herself that shone through. Her personality was the thing that made her movies memorable and the pictures that showed her personality were the best.”6

Pickford being a product of her time is a huge part of how her legacy ended up. While her highest achievements as a businesswoman also reflects how the film industry reflected female roles in society, it is the photographs of Pickford that have proven their most enduring power. Adela Rogers St. Johns wrote an article that reflected how films changed what a beautiful woman was:

The statuesque and fulsome pulchritude of a generation ago has given way to the fragile girlish type.
[…]
And above everything else, we have radically changed our ideas an ideals about feminine beauty.
In spite of the 19th Amendment, the last ten years have seen the American beauty softened, feminized, and reduced to an amazing extent.
Did it ever occur to you that this metamorphosis for which the screen abstractly and D.W. Griffith personally are almost entirely responsible?
[…]
But after consideration, I had to admit that it was true.
The screen has had an effect upon our national life that cannot be estimated.
[…]
What was then the national’s ideal of the American beauty?
The Gibson girl.
Tall, stately, impressive. Juno rather than Psyche.
[…]
Now who is America’s sweetheart?
Mary Pickford.
Mary Pickford, who stands four feet and eleven inches in her shoes.
If England or France or Italy stops to think what the beautiful woman of America is like, the ideal type, to whom do their thoughts naturally turn?
Mary Pickford and the host of their screen beauties.7

Along with this article, there were pictures of both Pickford and the Gish sisters. The caption for the Gish sisters was “Lillian and Dorothy Gish, fragile, girlish types” and the caption for Pickford’s picture was “Mary Pickford represents today’s petite ideal type of beauty”. I believe that this change in what was considered American beauty at the time also reflects the legacy of both actresses. Both Gish and Pickford are known for roles that are considered naive to modern viewers. Both actresses are known for their child-like facial features and their hair and are seen as embodiments of times where women were supposedly weaker and more subservient. Despite people’s assumptions about these actresses, it is obvious that both women were the contrary and were intelligent and savvy women who knew what they wanted for themselves and their career. I believe that Gish was smart to play more dramatic roles because they showed off her talents and Pickford purposefully played child roles because she knew that that was what sold and brought in revenue. Nevertheless, both actresses were able to exercise some form of control over what they wanted and what the public wanted — Gish directed a movie, which is wanted to do (e.g. Remodeling Her Husband, 1920), and Pickford attempted making artistic pictures that also appealed to the public (e.g. The Poor Little Rich Girl, 1917). It is fascinating how photographs of these actresses during the height of their careers dictated the image that they have for modern audiences. When they were alive, they were seen as women who changed the image of beauty, but currently, they are seen as nostalgic figures who are vastly different than the modern women. It makes me a bit sad since I strongly believe that both of these women are feminist figures.

The aspect I love most in regards to the relationship between the two actresses is how they affected each other’s career. If Pickford never introduced the Gish sisters to D.W. Griffith, then the world would have never known one of the most powerful silent film actresses. If Gish didn’t prevent Pickford from disposing her films, Pickford would have become even more obscure and would have joined the ranks of actors that current movie fans know about but have limited or no access to films made by these once famous stars.
Did you know that it was probably Gish who influenced Pickford to take on more child roles? In a feature on The Ladies’ Home Journal, Pickford said:

I have become identified with child characters, which have been more cordially received than any other type that I have played so far. Only once in all my early picture work did I play a child, and that was in a film called The Foundling, and this was only in one scene–a flash-back to the childhood of a grown-up character.
When Lillian Gish saw The Foundling she said: “Why not play a little girl throughout a picture?”
I protested: “The public would never be interested in a story without a love theme.” Lillian told me that she liked the child incident better than anything she had ever seen me do.
I am really indebted to her for the suggestion, which I followed some years later with considerable success.8

From this quote, I inferred that Pickford wasn’t the only one who was in tune with the movie industry and artistic merit, but that Gish herself was as well. As she grew older, Gish became a proponent of the art of silent films and did talks, which makes me admire her even more because she was speaking from first hand experience. I always found it a shame that Pickford, who was very much active in the movie industry, became a recluse. What a dynamic duo they would have been if they did talks together about an art that is no more. It is no wonder that it was Gish who stopped Pickford from carrying on her plan to destroy her works:

Mary Pickford, who once willed that all her films be destroyed upon her death, has now decided to sanction a rare revival of one of her classics, “The Taming of the Shrew,” co-starring Douglas Fairbanks.
The 73-year-old star’s decision to sanction the revival has surprised some of her friends, who recall her earlier desire a few years ago to buy up negatives of her old films and prevent their reissue. Indeed, she added a codicil to her will requiring that these negatives be burned upon her death.
“She felt that she belonged to an earlier generation,” one acquaintance said. “That’s why she wanted to destroy her films and why she rarely appears in public any more.”
Reached by phone today, Miss Pickford explained in a high, reedy voice that she felt at the time that her old films would be “compared unfavorably” with modern films for technical reasons.
She added: “My friend, Lillian Gish, gave me a terrible argument. She said, “You can’t destroy then,’ I said, ‘Why not? I made them.’ She said, ‘But they’re not yours to destroy’.”
Ulimately friends persuaded her to change her mind, Miss Pickford said, and to donate her negatives to the Library of Congress and some prints to the Eastman House Archives in Rochester, N.Y.9

It is interesting that Pickford saw herself as something old and compared her films to newer films, when I strongly believe that comparing old films and new films is like comparing apples and oranges (I’ll be honest here, I do it too though!) Thank goodness for Gish’s intervention and her love for silent films. I loved that Gish saw Pickford’s films, and silent films as a whole, as cultural and historical property that must be preserved. Ironically it is Pickford’s keen eye that knows the public and film industry too well that almost made her films lost to the future generation. Pickford addressed the “aging” of her films and the flux nature of cinema even as early as 1917. In an article, she said:

“Fifty years from now,” prophesied Miss Pickford, “present day pictures will be looked upon with curiosity. They will merely represent a single period in the development of the screen. No one will care to refer to them except, perhaps, students and artists, while the public will flee from them. That generation will either be educated up to better things or the films will have died before then.
[…]
“My plays will not be popular,” she continued modestly, “nor will any other prominent player of the present live over again in the future through the films with the possible exception of Charlie Chaplin. I believe his work has permanences. It wouldn’t surprise me if in later years some enterprising man should ressurect the Chaplin comedies and begin a Chaplin vogue all over again. He is truly a good comedian and a great artist.”10

If it weren’t for Lillian Gish, most likely many of Pickford’s features would have been gone, which would have made her a mysterious star. It was Gish who helped Pickford’s films be preserved and not destroyed, which in turn helped movie fans of all generations appreciate an actress who was truly great. Thank you, Miss Lillian Gish, for seeing silent films as an art that is special in its own way and not see silent films as a “curios”. As a Pickford and silent movie fan, I salute you, Miss Gish!

—-

Notes:
1 Mary Pickford, Sunshine and Shadow
2 Katherine Mason Hill, “New Pickford Picture At California: ‘My Best Girl,’ Happy Fairy Tale of Dime Store Life, Is Latest Feature”, San Francicsco Chronicle, 1/14/1920
3 Lillian Gish Official Website, http://www.lilliangish.com
4 “Coquette”, Clipping from Syracuse, NY, 6/27/1929
5 Samuel Goldwyn, “The Camera Photographs The Soul”
6 Films of Yesterday, http://filmsofyesterday.blogspot.com/2012/04/happy-birthday-mary-pickford.html
7 Adela Rogers St. Johns, “New American Beauty”, Photoplay Magazine, 6/1922
8 The Ladies’ Home Journal, 8/1923
9 Peter Bart, “A Pickford Film To Be Reissued: Actress Approves Revival of ‘Taming of the Shrew’”, New York Times, 10/13/1966
10 W.K. Hollander, “Mary Pickford Says in Fifty Years Current Pictures Will Be Mere Curios”, Chicago News, 2/17/1917

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Picture credits:
http://www.allposters.com/-sp/Mary-Pickford-1920s-Posters_i5096876_.htm
http://david-paris.blogspot.com/2011/10/wednesday-glamour-15_18.html
http://wehadfacesthen.tumblr.com/post/3977661331/lillian-gish-and-mary-pickford-at-the-1941

3 Comments »

Saturday - September 7th, 2013
The White Sister ; 1923

Director: Henry King
Actors: Lillian Gish, Ronald Colman, Gail Kane, J. Barney Sherry, Charles Lane, Juliette La Violette
Country: U.S.A.

Part of the Gish Sisters Blogathon. Please check out the other entries!

What to say about The White Sister… I think that the best way to put it would be “conflicted”.

In regards to mise-en-scène, it is absolutely breathtaking. I was astounded by the sets and how lovely all the costumes were. It was truly an impressive picture to watch purely for the sets alone. As for the leads, Lillian Gish and Ronald Colman, that is where the “conflicted” feelings comes in. Both Gish and Colman are formidable actors in their own rights but I was less than impressed with Colman in this film and Gish left me both impressed and kind of cold. Personally, the chemistry between the two actors (their characters are lovers) worked and did not work at the same time because I could not wrap my head around the coupling of the two actors. Gish’s character isn’t a child but her looks made her appear to be like a child-woman and Colman appeared a bit too old for her that they looked mismatched. However, what made me think that Gish was a nuanced actress was that despite her youthful face, she appeared incredibly mature, which left me baffled because my brain kept going, “She looks so young, BUT SHE OBVIOUSLY ISN’T!” I think that my thoughts were obstructing my ability to immerse myself into the love scenes because I thought that they were very well acted, but then I would always have an afterthought that ruined the moment.

So why did Gish’s performance make me think that it was impressive but also unimpressive at the same time?
As a disclaimer, I am going to state that I think Gish fans are going to like her performance in this movie. Heck, I think that the sets and her acting were the best things about the movie and it’s those things alone that make this film worth a watch. I actually feel bad for criticizing Gish because I haven’t watched many of her films and only watched some of her most famous pictures, so all I’ve seen of Gish are similar characters. I’m falling into the mistake that people (myself included) made about Mary Pickford so I feel a bit iffy saying not very nice things about Gish.
When I see Gish in highly emotional scenes, such as in The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Broken Blossoms (1919), I am blown away by the power of her performance. It is both Brechtian-esque and immersing at the same time; Gish’s performance of emotional scenes makes my skin crawl and I become aware that I am watching a movie but at the same time, I am almost in a trance-like state where I am captivated by everything Gish does on the screen and all thoughts escape my mind. The reason I hold Gish in such high respect as an actress is because she is able to make me feel that way. I felt this way when I watched Gish in certain scenes in The White Sister (one of them is shown in Picture 2), but what was odd about watching this movie was that I felt as if I was watching Gish performing in the same mannerisms as she did in her previous pictures. What I loved most about Gish’s performance in her other silent pictures was what made me feel detached and a bit pooped in this movie. It’s quite a mystery as to why but I do have an inkling. I absolutely adored Gish in The Night of the Hunter (1955) because of her powerful performance and for me, it was a change to see her as this protective and strong woman whereas the characters I saw Gish perform in her silents were of girls and women who were helpless. While her character, Angela, isn’t completely helpless, she has a weariness to her that seems similar to Gish’s most famous silent film roles.

Overall, I think that this film is worth a watch for Lillian Gish fans but it wouldn’t be a movie that I would personally watch again during my free time.

IMDb Link: The White Sister

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Saturday - July 13th, 2013
Johanna Enlists ; 1918

Director: William Desmond Taylor
Actors: Mary Pickford, Anne Schaefer, Fred Huntley, Monte Blue, Douglas MacLean, Emory Johnson, John Steppling, Wallace Beery, Wesley Barry
Country: U.S.A.

Johanna Enlists is a cute film to watch and I enjoyed it very much but it was also a film that made me all too aware of the role women play in American society. It made me realize how little things have changed, despite the feminist revolution, from the 1910s until now.

In this movie, Mary Pickford plays Johanna, a country girl who is seen as ugly but she dreams of having a beau. After being upset after finding out that her crush is married with children, she prays to God to send her a beau… and Johanna ends up getting the American army. This leads to Johanna having crushes on a few men and she learns from magazines, newspapers, and books on how to be a lady. This leads to one of those transformations where the girl suddenly becomes hot after she does her hair differently and wears different clothes (similar to how current movies use glasses to make the girl ugly and the girl becomes attractive after she takes them off) and I was a bit surprised to see such a movie trope being used even back in the days. I loved how Pickford’s hair was used as the turning point for Johanna’s transformation because Pickford’s curls were so famous. I love seeing her hair having importance in her movies’ plots. I guess some things just don’t change. After Johanna makes a transformation, men become attracted to her and she has a slew of admirers with three in particular. This leads to a little trouble and in the end, Johanna gets a beau.

The ending is very old-fashioned for current viewers and despite being aware that things were different back in the days, I still find it a little weird when people use the explanation of, “We’re the same kind” to get the girl. Another movie example that I can think of at the top of my head is Ashley’s reason for getting married to Melanie in Gone with the Wind (1939).

Even though it is off-putting that a girl goes through so much trouble to get a guy, what I love about Pickford films is that she works with the system to get her way. In the paper that I wrote during my final semester in college, I wrote about how Pickford subverted society’s expectations of females, and I think that this movie is a perfect example of doing so. Sure, Johanna goes through a lot of trouble trying to get the guy (and I enjoyed her trying to change her looks and behaviour, especially dancing à la Isadora Duncan) but it is her scheming to get the men and the males in this movie are flat and are like toys controlled by Johanna. I love it when I see Pickford acting in a coquette-ish behaviour because it becomes another example as to how she wasn’t always portraying innocent characters and how wide her range was.

Another thing that I found highly enjoyable in this film were the effects used in regards to images + texts (ref. Picture 2). I always like seeing these in silent movies and these days, we don’t really see much of it outside of Quentin Tarantino’s films. I had a good chuckle when I saw “Solid Ivory” next to Pa Renssaller (Huntley). There are also some great intertitles in this film, which had me in stitches. A personal favourite was one that said, “Oh, Lordy — when I prayed for a man — WHY did you send me a thousand?”

Pickford was wonderful as an actress in this movie and I loved how there was nothing beneath her to get the desired comedic effect. One of my favourite moments was when she had a clothes pin on her nose because I couldn’t help but think that she was adorable (ref. Picture 3). After getting to know more about Pickford, I am surprised that she is known for playing “little girl roles” rather than being known as a comedienne. She’s wonderful in comedic and dramatic roles and it’s a shame that people aren’t giving her more credit for her acting talent.

I should really get going with a Pickford marathon as well. So many marathons to do and so little time (erm… patience, hahaha. Who am I fooling?)

IMDb Link: Johanna Enlists

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Tuesday - July 9th, 2013
Duran Duran – My Own Way ; 1981/1982

Directors: Russell Mulcahy

I was a bit unimpressed with this video because “Girls on Film“‘s video was so elaborate. This video seemed like a combination of “Careless Memories” and “Planet Earth“‘s video with the German Expressionist-like background and the focus on band members. Not only that, but the dancers were also reminiscent of the dancers in “Planet Earth”, but I guess this is pretty explainable since the director is the same.

What I did like was the editing for this video and the Mondrian-esque bits added a fun effect to the video, which complemented the song. The quick cuts matched the beat of the music, so I thought that was pretty neat. Other than the editing, there weren’t any references to the lyrics in the song.

I like to imagine that this video isn’t much of a marketing tool (unless the goal was to sell eye candy, in which they did succeed, in my opinion) but something you’d watch while dancing to the song and eventually, it will just be playing in the background.

Hm… I think that’s really it. I feel rather underwhelmed and don’t know what else to say.

I was happy to see Nick smiling a lot in this video because he looks so cute when he does. As he gets older, he seems to smile less and less in the videos, which makes me feel pooped. Everyone looks better while smiling!
I was also amused by the parrot strutting on his synth and also making an appearance next to Roger’s drum set. I wonder what Nick would have done with the parrot took a dump on his synth. Immature thought but it was a thought that crossed my mind for a second while watching the video.

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Sunday - July 7th, 2013
As Good as It Gets ; 1997

Director: James L. Brooks
Actors: Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, Greg Kinnear, Cuba Gooding Jr.
Country: U.S.A.

I watched this movie on television in either middle school or high school and I remembered enjoying the movie a lot. I came across it again so I decided to watch it and I found it highly enjoyable this time around as well.

I have a weird relationship with Jack Nicholson in that I admire his acting but I find him scary. It isn’t scary in the Boogieman scary but Nicholson has his own weird vibe that I can’t shake off. Even in this movie, all I can think of is, “It’s Jack Nicholson. It’s Jack Nicholson.” while enjoying the movie.

What I liked so much about this movie was the way the actors worked with each other. It was as if the characters were written for them and no one else could play them the way they did. Even though I didn’t think that there was any romantic chemistry between Nicholson and Helen Hunt, I didn’t find it weird either. Speaking of Helen Hunt, I thought that she was wonderful in this film. While Nicholson’s character, Melvin, is the protagonist and it is his story in regards to how he changes by helping other people, it was Hunt’s performance that I found to be most touching. Her scenes with Greg Kinnear were so sweet and she seemed so genuine that I couldn’t differentiate Helen Hunt, the actress, and the character she was playing. I love it when I watch a movie and I forget that it’s a movie; it’s as if I’m no longer here and I’m just a fly on the wall observing real life people. I guess this is why Brecht came up with his idea of theatre, but I really do love this feeling of total immersion when I watch films and in regards to this film, I’m happy that I can pinpoint why I felt this way. Helen Hunt, you are an amazing actress.

And another thing… Verdell is so cute!!! (ref. Picture 2) I know that animals that perform for movies are highly trained but I couldn’t help but wonder how many takes it took to get the right shot. Verdell was so perfect in every moment that I was astounded by how well he conveyed the necessary emotion to complement the other actors. Verdell and Melvin were the best couple in this movie, I swear. Ugh Jack Nicholson… WHY ARE YOU SO TALENTED?!

I’ve decided that this movie is one of my favourite feel good movies; I wouldn’t be surprised if I come back to it every now and then to cheer myself up.

IMDb Link: As Good as It Gets

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Saturday - July 6th, 2013
The Shining ; 1980

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Actors: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Barry Nelson, Philip Stone, Joe Turkel
Country: United Kingdom, U.S.A.

This entry is dedicated to my friend Stephanie, who is the only one who knows how much I dreaded watching this movie and was willing to do a Kubrick marathon with me. Thank you for being an awesome friend!

***

Finally, Stephanie and I were able to watch The Shining and resume our Kubrick marathon. I was scared since I do not like horror films at all and I am so glad that we got this movie out of the way. It was worth the watch, but no way am I rewatching this again! (Unless it is with bunnies.)

What made the movie most frightening for me was the use of sound, particularly the score. It complemented the actions on the screen perfectly and created the most unnerving atmosphere. For example, towards the end, when Wendy (Duvall) is looking for Danny inside the hotel, the chant-like music seemed to reflect the hotel’s ghosts coming to life but it also added drama to the scene. I felt very scared watching that scene due to the music and what Wendy was going through. Although I haven’t watched many horror films in my life, I do know that sound plays a large role in the genre, but Kubrick’s use of synth music did a great job in evoking eeriness, claustrophobia, and tension. It was the music that made me jump and feel like I was on the edge of my seat, more than the actions on the screen.

A few things that caught my attention was the exterior shot of the Overlook Hotel (ref. Picture 2) and the acting. When I saw the shot of the hotel, at first, I didn’t even see it until I looked closely at the shot. I wondered why Kubrick chose this hotel because it blended with the surroundings and the shot looked weird. After thinking over it a bit, I thought that the shot worked because it made the hotel look ghostly in the “is it there or is it not there?” sense, which seems to foreshadow the supernatural things that are to happen later on in the movie.
As for the acting, in the beginning, I thought that Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall’s acting was incredibly hokey. It was if I was watching a B-movie and I thought that Nicholson in particular was hamming it up. In retrospect, I wonder if this was intentional and if it was, maybe it was an indicator for Jack’s (Nicholson) descent into madness as the hotel takes a hold of him. When Jack is interviewing for the caretaker position and when he calls his wife about it, something about him seems off and inauthentic, but when he decides to do his best to “correct” his wife and child, there is nothing about him that seems fake. As the movie progressed, I stopped thinking this and thought that the chemistry between all the major players in the movie was perfect. I stopped thinking that Nicholson was being hammy and I started to find Duvall to be less and less grating and was rooting for Wendy. Often times when I watch movies, I’m thinking, “YOU IDIOT, WHY AREN’T YOU DOING SO-AND-SO?!” but Wendy was sympathetic and perfect in portraying a loving wife and mother who is frazzled but doing her best to survive and save her son. When Jack is breaking through the bathroom door and talking/singing about little piggies (brilliant moment in acting, by the way), Wendy looks horrified due to what is happening, but when she finally acts and slashes her husband’s hand, her face expression is a combination of fright and guilt over having to hurt her husband. I loved how Wendy was very active and how you could see that there were many thoughts racing through her head, and she tried to think of what she can do to get out of the situation that she is in. She wasn’t some useless woman who gave up and wailed about her woes, but she tried her best to save herself and her son.

What I found enjoyable about The Shining is that it’s not a horror film that’s all about screaming and being scared. There is nothing wrong with movies like that since it’s a completely different experience, but The Shining made me become invested in the plot and the characters rather than watching out for the next scream moment. I’m a fan of straight forward endings, but after watching this movie, I had fun thinking about what certain scenes meant and I have to give props to a movie that let’s me enjoy thinking about something. It also seemed that it was a film that was fully aware of the nature of films in regards to how they are watched and how there is no right interpretation in regards to a movie or any artistic work. I have never been so aware of the mise-en-scène until this movie — the amount of red used in this movie makes you even more aware of its usage. In regards to interpreting film, it reminded me of my early years in college and how I struggled with the idea of what’s the “right” way of looking at a movie until a professor told me to stop stressing and that there is no right or wrong. A person can have their own views and if they can support it, then all is peachy keen. It doesn’t mean that others need to agree or that one needs to agree with others’ points-of-view, but these various perspectives can lead to discussions and further thinking.

Stephanie told me about The Shining re-enacted by bunnies and showed me this wonderful video. I found it absolutely hilarious and adorable and had to watch it on repeat. What amazed me was how successful the video was in capturing all the key scenes and I didn’t find it scary at all. I thought that the “staring” part (ref. Picture 3) was really funny because I didn’t expect to see that within the 30 seconds. It’s impressive how much information can be crammed in 30 seconds.

I would love to watch this movie again, but since I’m a big fat chicken, it’s going to be one of those movies that I admire but can’t rewatch. I can see why so many people are a fan of this movie and I have great appreciation for it as well. I’m really enjoying the Kubrick marathon and so glad that a friend is partaking in it as well. The next film we’re going to watch is Barry Lyndon!

IMDb Link: The Shining

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Monday - July 1st, 2013
Duran Duran – Girls on Film ; 1981

Directors: Godley & Creme
Original air date: July 13, 1981

For some reason when I rewatched this video, it left me cold. Maybe I ate too much lunch so my brain was dead, but I remember my first impressions when I saw the video for the first time. I remember thinking that it was quite funny, was a bit shocked by the suggestive scenes, and loved the model acting like a sumo wrestler because her hairdo amused me. However this time around, I felt nothing. Maybe I’m just thinking too much these days, which is taking out the fun in watching anything. Lately I’ve been feeling quite a bit of indifference to things that I’ve watched.

I liked how the video showed the camera and the band members back-to-back so that the viewers become aware that it’s not just girls who are on film, but the boys as well. I loved how John Taylor was getting primped up and Nick Rhodes was checking himself out in the mirror; I thought it was quite appropriate and was sort of like a role reversal in regards to how these behaviors and actions are stereotypically attributed to women. Sadly (for me), there are more instances of seeing other people than the band members, which means that my attention is drawn away from the band members (let’s not kid ourselves, all I wanted was Nick) and onto the characters doing various things. I thought it was quite hilarious how these women were shown as dominant and yet they are still subservient since they are playing these roles in front of the band members. It doesn’t help that the band members said that all they cared for was checking out the models — you can’t really blame them since they were in their late teens. Hell, I’m in my early twenties and I still fangirl. Interestingly enough, the males who are doing the “looking” aren’t the band members (they’re just performing) but they are the men who are eventually beaten up by the women. It’s a little bizarre how the set design makes it appear as if these female models and male actors are performing for the band members and yet it also appears to be that the show piece are the characters and the band members are just there to provide music for the scene. I guess everyone wanted to play the decoration role in this video.

I know that music videos don’t need to complement or have anything to do with the lyrics to the song, but I thought it was pretty tongue-in-cheek to show these one-dimensional female models/characters when the song (from what I understood) is sympathetic towards female models. The following lyrics

“Girls on film (she’s more than a lady)”

“There’s a camera rolling on her back, on her back. And I sense the rhythm humming in a frenzy all the way down her spine.”

“The diving man’s coming up for air cause the crowd all love pulling dolly by the hair, by the hair. And she wonders how she ever got here as she goes under again.”

made me think that the song was about how female models are seen as objects without any substance and how they are used by photographers. Yet here we are watching this video that shows women being objectified for our pleasure and we don’t really care for the women and what they have to go through. At the end of the video, we see these women retreating behind the scenes and having a good time so why should we really care for these women anyway, right? In this sense, I do think that this dichotomy created by the video and the lyrics is quite brilliant.

One more thing: I love Nick’s hair in this video! I am loving how his hair changes from video to video, although I am going to assume that his hair is going to be same throughout the travelogue videos. And I never understood why people thought John was so handsome until I watched this video. Look at him in the screencap!!! What a dreamboat.
I’m just going to give up using last names and refer to the band members by their first names from now on. I’m so inconsiderate, presumptuous, and rude, hahaha.

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Saturday - June 29th, 2013
Duran Duran – Careless Memories ; 1981

Directors: Terry Jones, Perry Haines

Ah, “Careless Memories”! How I love this song because of the lyrics; they’re probably one of the few Duran Duran songs that I relate to and it’s probably the ~eternally angsty teenager~ side of me that makes me think fondly of this song.

Going to the video…

Call me mean, but I found this video absolutely hilarious. It was my first time watching it and I was surprised by what the video entailed. I enjoyed it so much because I loved how cheesy it was in so many parts (ref. Picture 1) — even the lighting added to the corny factor of this video. It was very similar to “Planet Earth” in that there isn’t much to look at except for the members, and I swear to God, I bet that all Duran fans watched this just to see Simon Le Bon’s overacting. I can’t hate the video for Le Bon’s acting because I felt like even he wasn’t taking the video very seriously and I always see Le Bon as a big jokester. There were so many time when I chortled and this video made me love Le Bon even more. He was so dreamy in the 80s and his hairstyle in this video suits him very well. I wish that he stuck with the hairdo since it’s so flattering on him (although between us, I not-so-secretly like Le Bon’s hair in the Big Thing era!)

Visually, nothing caught my eye. That’s a lie, because I looked forward to close ups of Nick Rhodes throughout the entire video. There just wasn’t enough of him, which was a big, fat shame because he looked so good in this video! I want to pet his fluffy hair… and look at his sleeves!!! I want that blouse in my closet. I fangirled every moment Rhodes came on the screen because he looked fabulous and he smiles in this video too! No one can deny that the man has a beautiful smile — it’s just too bad that he rarely shows it in pictures (ref. Picture 2). I am starting to wonder if all I’m going to end up doing in my future blog posts is to mention Rhodes and what I think of him in the videos. I wouldn’t be surprised if I do.

On a serious note, the only ~cinematic~ things that caught my eye was the possible use of a crane to get a close up of Le Bon and the freeze frames of the flowers being shown. In all honesty, the freeze frame flower bits were the most interesting things in the video because of their suddenness, and it complemented the frustration mentioned in the lyrics.

What I noticed in regards to Duran Duran videos that I’ve watched was that if I like the song, I’m usually disappointed by the music video. I can’t really blame anyone for this, especially with such an early video, but the songs that I like usually have videos that I’m not too fond of. I got through “Careless Memories” easily because I thought that Le Bon made it really fun (I couldn’t help but dance along to the video) but then I think about “Save a Prayer” and how much I dislike that video (will talk more about that when it’s time to write about it). However, my fault is that I expect things without knowing what I want so I can’t even write a good criticism about this video. If someone asked me, “What would you have done differently?” I would just derp and run away.

Such were the thoughts when I watched this video.

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Thursday - June 27th, 2013
Duran Duran – Planet Earth ; 1981

Directors: Perry Haines, Russell Mulcahy

Just to clear some things before going into the post, I am using original air dates and posting about music videos from information given to me by Katy of Ask Katy or information that I’ve gleaned from the Duran Duran Wiki.

Now that’s all cleared, onto the post!

I have been working on this post for 2 weeks now and I admit defeat. I am probably going to look back at this entry when I’m 40 years old and go, “What in the world?”

As for the video, I have mixed feelings about the “Planet Earth” video but in the end, I absolutely love it. Here is the thing. I love pretty things and people but then there is the other side of me that says, “You were a film studies major for Christ’s sake. YOU CAN’T JUST LOOK AT SURFACES.” But the thing is, as much as I like to learn, I also like to admire something that is pretty and not to think much about it. How I react to nice visuals changes from situation to situation and sometimes, I just want to like something for superficial reasons, and that is the case with “Planet Earth”.
On the one hand, I wish that the music video was more ~interesting~ (like their video for “The Chauffeur”), but truthfully, I love this video because I get to see the band members in their prime in regards to their looks. There are close ups of every member and I get to just feast on these pretty boys. And is there something wrong with that? There probably is and I’m sure much can be said about “the gaze” but all of that goes out the window after I see Nick Rhodes in a frilly shirt and a nice jacket. I share the same sentiments with Andy Warhol when he said, “Oh I really like their videos, they have the best videos. They didn’t have enough of Nick Rhodes on that peace record though; there’s a lot of Simon on it but Nick just comes in at the end.” — that’s how I feel about every single Duran Duran video. THERE IS NEVER ENOUGH NICK RHODES IN MY LIFE. Yes, it is the truth and I don’t care about content when there are pretty things to be seen. I think my guilt is assuaged because I find many of Duran’s videos to be about admiring nice things and that whatever I see in these videos are meant for my pleasure. I also found something on Ask Katy, which I found to be a bit funny. A fan asked why Roger Taylor is the topless one in the beginning of the video and he answered, “I can’t think of any reason why i [sic] was chosen for the opening shot other than I was the only one prepared to take my shirt off and bare all!” Yep, bare it all for us fans! Woohoo!

I think that’s really the worst though. The fact that I don’t tend to care much about my thought process and dismiss it alarms me a bit at times (as you can tell from this ramble and probably all my blog entries). I guess I can make myself feel better by saying, “I’m looking at manufactured pretty boys! I’m doing what I’m SUPPOSED to do.” I’m a brainless robot.

The video makes it so easy to consume the band members that critical thinking goes out the window when I watch the video. It starts with a topless R. Taylor and from there, it is a visual feast of the members, especially of Simon Le Bon. The lines that pop up next to the topless Le Bon draws the viewer’s eyes to Le Bon’s face so that all we can do is stare at him and sigh in contentment. I guess that this isn’t all that new with music videos, since older music videos that I’ve watched also featured the band members prominently.
I suppose that there isn’t much guilt in regards to consuming these pop stars because the music is so catchy and easy to take in. What I do find interesting is that in their earliest video, there isn’t much objectification going on in regards to women. Sure, there are those New Romantic dancers (male and female) and the woman who is next to Simon (ref. Picture 2), but she’s there for such a little while and most viewers are probably caring more about the band members than the woman. The woman may play the usual “decoration” role, but I can easily brush it off since the band members themselves are more interesting and decorative than the woman.

What I like seeing in moving pictures are references to the past, and I am thinking that the “Planet Earth” video took some visual cues from Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920). I like to see this as a nod towards the role that music videos will play in Duran Duran’s career, in that the band is taking a risk in investing something that is new, which in turn will open doors for them. Dr. Caligari‘s set design was different than what was normally seen in silent films at the time and Duran Duran’s increasingly elaborate videos were something new too. Not only that, Duran Duran’s videos became highly associated with them, just as German Expressionism, and particuarly Dr. Caligari, became a hallmark and icon for German cinema. Also, the Expressionist style of Dr. Caligari came from budget issues, so I wonder if Haines and Mulcahy chose this style also for budget reasons too… Hmm…


Andy Warhol quote source: Fiona Russell Powell

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Tuesday - June 25th, 2013
Shakhmatnaya goryachka (Chess Fever) ; 1925

Director: Vsevolod Pudovkin, Nikolai Shpikovsky
Actors: Vladimir Fogel, Anna Zemtsova, José Raúl Capablanca
Country: Soviet Union

During my email conversations with my friend, K, I asked her what her personal favorite films were and she mentioned Chess Fever. I was very glad that she recommended it to me because it was a joy to watch! The film had everything that I loved about silent film comedies: slapstick and visual humor.

I think that this is one of those films that is great for introducing people to silent films because it is short, funny, and really cute. The male protagonist was adorable with his many cats, pockets full of chess boards and pieces, and his clothes reflected his obsession with chess; his hat, handkerchief, socks, and even his sweater resembled a chessboard. My favorite scene is definitely the one that I chose for this entry, when the male protagonist tries to woo his fiancee back, but then he ends up playing chess on his handkerchief.

Despite it being very funny, I did find the movie to be quite unsettling. Maybe I am over-analyzing, but it felt as if the movie was a reflection of movie making. In the movie, the only character that dislikes chess is the female protagonist, Vera (Zemtsova). However, everyone in her life, from her mother, her grandfather, is obsessed with chess and so is the rest of the town. In the end, she ends up loving chess by falling in love with the world champion of chess, and she is reunited with her lover (Fogel). Coming back to the idea of movie making, what made me think of that idea was that actors are like chess pieces and don’t have a will of their own: they are the chess pieces and the directors are the players controlling them. Even though actors may say what they want, most likely they will have to succumb to their director’s wishes, and this is just like Vera who in the end becomes like everyone else in the movie. Also, I don’t know if Pudovkin and Shpikovsky were trying to say something about the dangers of group mentality through this movie or if they were just having fun with the idea of chess, but that thought was a bit unsettling too.

Nevertheless, before I started thinking a BIT too much about this movie, I had a lot of fun watching it. It reminded me of Ernst Lubitsch’s silent comedies, which is probably why I enjoyed watching this so much. Also, I FINALLY watched something by Pudovkin, phew!

IMDb Link: Shakhmatnaya goryachka

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