Evolution of a classic film fanatic

It started with a girl named Maria and a boy named Tony who thought something was coming. That’s what I usually tell people when they ask how I became a classic movie fan: it happened on a fateful March evening in 2003 when I saw “West Side Story” (1961). I became obsessed, end of story.

But my “West Side Story” obsession (which is a whole other blog post) isn’t even close to where my classic film education began. Let’s travel back in time to 1988, the year I was born. Or maybe 1991, I would have been a bit more coherent to films at age three.

My parents introduced my two older sisters and me to classic film at an early age. Some of these movies were Disney movies like “Lady and the Tramp” or “Swiss Family Robinson” or family friendly movies like “White Christmas” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

Tom Drake and Judy Garland in “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944)

I  distinctly remember watching “Meet Me in St Louis” when I was five or six and thinking that Judy Garland looked pretty or laughing at Julie Newmar’s name “Dorcas” in “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”

Basically classics have always been in my life, but as a child I never realized that they were old and thought all of these wonderful movies were brand new.

My real interest in movies started when I was in third grade and I saw the cartoon version of “Anastasia” on a rainy November day in 1997. No this isn’t a classic movie, but it started a long line of movie obsessions to come.  I mean, I even thought I was somehow the lost princess Anastasia Romanov. I was hooked.

Fast-forward to middle school. I became interested in shows on TVLand, The Monkees and 1960s pop culture. I was interested in anything old, and naturally gravitated towards movies, which is probably where it all began.

But the real gateway drug to the classic film addiction was “West Side Story” (1961). On an evening in March 2003, my dad said, “You like musicals and old movies; you should see ‘West Side Story.’” He later said he created a monster and wasn’t joking at all.

Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood in “West Side Story” (1961), the film I was obssessed with for two years.

From “West Side Story,” I snowballed into a musical love and I went out of my way to tape them off the television. I started a new musical list that is  still growing at 390 titles.

I then found actors I liked, like Doris Day and Jane Powell, and wanted to see their movies and the interest just grew and grew and grew. Now, I’m not obsessed with one particular actor or movie, it’s more that I’m crazy about the whole classic film shebang.

As a rule I only watch movies from the beginning of film to the mid-1960s. Pre-code movies are great because their vulgarity is done in a tongue-and-check way that sometimes can go by unnoticed if you aren’t paying attention. Once you get into the 1960s and beyond, the plots run thin in an attempt to be artistic, nudity isn’t rare and morals go out the window. Also actors from the Golden Era were fading away and the studio system was crumbling.

I guess if I had to make an analogue with how it all started, “West Side Story” would have been that first beer that led me into old movie alcoholism. It didn’t matter what I watched as long as it fulfilled my movie viewing needs. I think my viewing is a bit more mature than that now. Sure I still watch a few clunkers, or watch a stinker movie for the sake of fulfilling a classic actor list (like “Night of the Demon” for Dana Andrews) but it is just all part of the experience.

What kind of movie fan am I now?

•I make monthly lists from Now Playing to tape; usually 30 to 40 movies a month. We use A LOT of VHS tapes.

•I only buy books, paper dolls, posters or anything of that nature that is movie related. I often search Ebay for classic film memorabilia, and as much as I would enjoy Lana Turner’s evening bag from “Imitation of Life”, as a 21-year-old college student, that really isn’t in my budget.

•I don’t have any real obsession now. I have my favorite movies, actors and actresses but no one that I hyperventilate over when I think about them. I guess the only movie that would come close to that is “Since You Went Away” or the actor Van Johnson.

•I want to meet Robert Osborne one day. He is my hero and I think we would

Robert Osborne: My hero

be best friends. Robert, if you just happen to be reading this, let’s meet in Atlanta and have lunch, okay? I’m just in South Carolina so it’s not that far.

•I’ve come to realize that the Hollywood I dreamed about in middle school and early high school is non-existent now. I used to dream about going to Hollywood and thinking it would be like it was during the Golden Era: clean, historically preserved and bowing down to Hollywood greats like Joan Crawford. My family took a family vacation there in 2006 and I’ve realized there is nothing for me there. Hollywood is not interested in preserving history, and even though the Hollywood Bowl was cool, it’s not like Kathryn Grayson will be singing a concert there ever again.

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I’m ready for my close up: Photography in films

Photography and moving pictures walk hand-in-hand, especially when shooting in black and white. Many people prefer color and dismiss black and white as cheap. However, some don’t realize the skill it takes to shoot black and white: making sure you have perfect lighting or having the shadows just right are just a few things to consider.

For being so closely related, it’s surprising that there aren’t many classic films about photography. I was only able to find an handful:

James Stewart in “Rear Window” spying on his neighbor

1. Rear Window (1954): James Stewart plays L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries, a free lance photographer who is laid up with a broken leg that was a result of a dangerous assignment. I’m not sure if this movie paints photographers in the best light. Jeff is in love with high society Grace Kelly but doubts that she could go on assignments with him even though she says she could. Jeff is also a bit of a peeping Tom, spying on his neighbors with his telephoto lens.
However, his peeping Tom-ery isn’t all bad since he uses it to solve a murder that he partially witnesses in an apartment across the way. Jeff cleverly mixes his career and survival techniques as he thwarts the murderer by blinding him with flash bulbs.

2. Roman Holiday (1953): The movie is more about  journalism than a photography, but the photographer certainly plays a large part in the film. Journalist, Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), is trying to get an exclusive story on a visiting princess (Audrey Hepburn) who just happens to be staying in his apartment.
Eddie Albert plays Peck’s photographer friend who tags along to get the photos for the story. This movie seems to depicts photographers as deceitful playboys. When Peck calls Albert about the story, Albert is photographing and kissing a woman in his apartment. When he is getting pictures of the princess, he doesn’t openly take pictures of her but uses sneaky little spy cameras. A real photographer wouldn’t be so afraid…
Actually, from a journalism student’s point-of-view, it doesn’t paint the newspaper business in a good light either. It has the “anything for a story” undertones and Peck goes to unethical measures to get a story. Even though he doesn’t publish it, if he was doing that in today’s journalism world he would probably face a law suit.

Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire in “Funny Face.” Their characters were modeled after Richard Avedon and Dovima.

3. Funny Face (1957):

This movie is simply about fashion photography. It has many interesting and pretty scenes with fashion, dresses and dancing. The thing I like about the movie is that Fred Astaire’s character, Dick Avery, and Audrey Hepburn’s character is supposed to be like the relationship between one of my favorite photographers, Richard Avedon and his muse, Dovima.
Fashion photography is fun and pretty to look at, but the photographer I can’t imagine it being very exciting. From a journalist/writer view point, it would be like writing the same story over and over again. For example, how does Danielle Steel get any excitement out of writing when all of her books basically have the same plot?

 

4. Weddings and Babies (1958): This is an independent film about a photographer (John Myhers) who is trying to save money in order to get married to his girlfriend, Viveca Lindfors.
I think this movie gives the most realistic depiction of a photographer. He feels unfulfilled because he is only taking pictures of just weddings and babies and wants to do something with a purpose. I’ve heard several photographers say that, others take the wedding route because it’s easier and pays well, but the ones with a drive don’t care so much about the money.
My philosophy of photography is that it should inform just like a newspaper article. You can write a story about how the Yanomamo are losing their indigenous life style, but a picture can better show how it is devastating them. Photography should be about truth, not about how to show in the best light.

 

5. Blowup (1966): This movie is a mod 1960s, English film. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, it means that it’s rather odd, has little plot and a few naked women thrown in for good measure. However, in comparison to the photographer in “Rear Window” who is a photojournalist and travels the world, the photographer, played by David Hemmings, is a successful commercial fashion photographer. He is also bored with life…go figure, wouldn’t you if you were just photographing fashion?
Anyways, the movie is about his career as a photographer, but it is rather long and drawn out. He thinks he might have photographed a murder, but we never really find out and the murder is never solved. It is a treat though to see the beautiful Russian model, Verushka, at the beginning of the film.

Those movies are the only real pre-1970s movies that used photography as a basis of the plot. I was disappointed and surprised that there are so few movies that have main characters playing photographers, since photojournalism was a big field in the 1940s and 1950s due to publications like LIFE that revolved around photography. I just can’t believe that there are so many movies about stewardesses, nurses and architects but so few about photographers.

Here are a few films that the main characters are photographers, but it is not a main point in the plot:

-One More Tomorrow (1946): Anne Sheridan plays a photographer who falls in love with high society Dennis Morgan. The fact that she is a female photographer means she is lower class and could never fit in Morgan’s social circle.

-If a Man Answers (1962): Sandra Dee marries photographer Bobby Darin. She plans on keeping her new husband using a dog training book, because she worries about him photographing other women.

-Wait Until Dark (1967): Audrey Hepburn plays a blind woman terrorized by men trying to get a heroine filled doll. Her husband in the movie is a photographer.

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Remake is a dirty word

Classic 1939 film “Wizard of Oz” faces remake doom

Yesterday on the radio, I heard Ryan Seacrest say that as a result of the success of “Alice in Wonderland,” Tim Burton was wanting to remake the classic, shouldn’t be touched 1939 “Wizard of Oz.”

I think this is terribly ironic because just last Friday I was watching the documentary “Memories of Oz” (2001) on Turner Classic Movies. The documentary was part of the annual July airing of “Wizard of Oz” to celebrate when it was released.

In this documentary actor/writer John Waters (who seemed rather bizarre) said that remaking the “Wizard of Oz” would be suicide and it would fail; the only way it would work would be with completely unknown actors, but that wouldn’t even be fool proof.

Well John, looks like they didn’t listen to your advice. However, as much as I want it to, I doubt Tim Burton’s movie will fail. Everyone seems to love his creepy, odd direction and films and they all do fabulous in the box office. I personally am not a fan, but it seems I am the only one who is not.

As for unknown actors, Seacrest said that it was rumored that Angelina Jolie would play the Wicked Witch of the West. He said she wanted to show that she wasn’t afraid to play “evil roles” and he also called her “the biggest celebrity in the world.”

Ok two things Ryan: 1.) Hasn’t Angelina already proven that (in film and real life haha)?  2.) I wouldn’t say Angelina is the “biggest star in the world.” All she does is adopt babies and occasionally act. I had forgotten about her until I saw a preview for “Salt.” She wasn’t even at the Academy Awards!

I don’t know about how many of you feel about remakes. I personally hate them. It usually seems I worry and worry and worry about them and then they fail in the box office anyway or you never hear about them. Examples of this would be: “The Women” (2008)-second remake of 1939 Joan Crawford film, “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” (2009)-remake of 1956 Dana Andrews film  or “Psycho” (1998)-remake of the 1960 Hitchcock film.

After I told my mother, she said, “Next they will remake ‘Gone with the Wind’!” I disagree, because it doesn’t seem that anyone is interested in the South except for we southerners. Also, “Gone with the Wind” has been dubbed ‘racist’ because it has slaves in it, so I’m not sure how current politically correct would tip toe around the historical fact that there were slave owners in the 1800’s in the south. However, Robert Osborne, prime time host of Turner Classic Movies and my idol, shakes his head when people call the film ‘racist’ and reminds his viewers that it was a different time in film and you can’t take everything from contemporary standards.

How do you feel about the remake? Do you think it will fail? What classic movie is next to go on the chopping block?

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Happy 4th of July, Pilgrim

Today we celebrate the birth of America. I thought about what makes me think “Now that’s America” when I watch old movies. Here are a few things that I thought of:

John Wayne looking VERY attractive in “Stagecoach” (1939).

John Wayne: What other actor is so widely known and associated with America? His roles are usually a cowboy or a soldier. My favorite role of his is from “They Were Expendable” which is probably one of the best World War 2 movies along with “Battleground.”
Many of my friends and others have criticized John Wayne as always playing the same role, or playing himself. I personally don’t see the issue with this when so many of today’s actors like Katherine Hegel or Jennifer Aniston play the same role over and over again. The only difference is John Wayne played meaningful, strong and manly roles while those actresses are always dizzy, confused dames. To me, John All-America actor. He even played football in college, what could be more American than that?

Claudette Colbert, Jennifer Jones and Shirley Temple in my favorite movie, “Since You Went Away” (1944)

The 1940s: Another thing that embodies America is the 1940s war era. I suppose I am a bit romantic about patriotism because I crave a patriotism that no longer exists. During World War II, men were willing to fight for the country and those on the home front who couldn’t fight did all they could to help out. Victory Gardens were grown, cooking grease was saved and sent to the military, women sacrificed their silk stockings and painted their legs. People gave up daily luxuries that people today would refuse to give up.

LIFE magazine: LIFE magazine used to be the top publication. I can’t think of a magazine published today that can compare to LIFE. It showed the world the truth about war, the current fashions and let them in on celebrity lives. Even more so, it was a magazine that was started to revolve around photo journalism. It has some of the best photos and photographers like Robert Capa who showed us what war really was.

Harry James in “Best Foot Foward”

Other things:
-Pin-Up girls: Betty Grable, Esther Williams or Rita Hayworth. They all had sex appeal, but that same attainable, girl next door quality.
-Big Band music: No one can play a trumpet better than Harry James and Tommy Dorsey always seemed like one of the most likeable fellows. Glenn Miller even died while he was flying to a USO show during World War II.-Irving Berlin: Jerome Kern once said, “Irving Berlin has no place in American music, he is American music.” The man wrote “White Christmas”, “Cheek to Cheek” and “Putin’ on the Ritz”, who else can you say that about?

Also happy birthday to: Louis B. Mayer, George M. Cohan, George Murphy, Gloria Stewart, Eva Marie Saint and Stephen Boyd.

Happy 4th of July!

Ziegfeld girls in 1936

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Actress Beauty Tips #2: Champagne Hair Rinse

This is the second installment of our monthly classic actress beauty tips that I have read about AND tested.

Greer Garson in the 1940s

Actress Greer Garson, star of “Mrs Miniver” is known for her vibrant red hair; Robert Mitchum even referred to her as “Big Red.” According to Divas: the Site, after Miss Garson shampooed, she would rinse her hair with a cup of California champagne, brush her hair100 times and tie it in a net for the rest of the evening.

After further research, I found that rinsing hair with champagne is a way to make your hair soft, shiny and brighten natural highlights for flaxen haired individuals. I read about Miss Garson’s hair treatment last summer and have been intrigued to try it. This blog has finally given me a reason to do so.

**Disclaimer: My hair is of age to be rinsed with alcohol. It started growing November 1988. **

Champagne Hair Rinsing:

1.) Go out and buy champagne. I didn’t want to be too cheap, but not too expensive either so I bought a $15 bottle of Korbel at BI-LO.

Korbel California Champagne

2.) Most directions say to measure out a half cup of champagne and half cup of  hot water. I did a straight cup of champagne since it sounded like Miss Garson did not dilute her alcohol.

3.) Shampoo and condition your hair.

4.) Now for the fun part: After shampooing and rinsing, pour the champagne into your hair. I made sure to pour it on top of my hair and underneath. During this part, I realized why several reviews suggested mixing the champagne with hot water. The champagne was COLD after being in the refrigerator. It was a rather odd sensation as it bubbled in my ears and nose and dripped from my hair.

5.) DO NOT RINSE OUT THE CHAMPAGNE.

6.) Brush and towel dry your hair to get rid of any excess champagne. No, I did not brush my hair 100 times like Miss Garson.

7.) Nor did I tie my hair in a scarf for the night.  Blow dry your hair.

To review: My hair looked shinier and felt softer, but I didn’t see a major difference. I was surprised that my hair didn’t feel stiff or sticky from the process. However, the smell of my hair gave me a craving for cheese and crackers.

Since I tested this at night, the champagne will be washed out in my morning shower.  I think I will retest the rinse one morning so I can see how it feels to have champagne in your hair all day. Hopefully people wouldn’t smell it and think I’m an alcoholic, haha.

I’m not sure if I will ever see those “champagne highlights” websites discussed, but it is a fun routine.  Other than silly, I did feel sort of glamorous during the process.

Check back August 1 for the next beauty tip and an update on champagne hair rinsing!

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