November 21, 2014

My thoughts on the TCM Classic Film Festival #TCMFF

Plain and simple? I'm dying to go. Like, DYING!

For someone who's been a classic film fan for most of their natural born lives, I cannot believe that I've never been to one yet. I mean, what the fuck have I been doing all this time? Farting around spending money on books and trips to the UK, actually. Though I don't regret buying copious amounts of books to get stuck into and I haven't started poo-poohing my trips to London every year yet, I just wish that I had saved a little of that money I had spent for a trip to Los Angeles, California in time for one of TCM's annual film festivals.

So, what brought on this lucid pining? Only the fact that TCMFF passes went on sale last week and I was stuck sitting in front of my laptop watching my Twitter feed ignite with stupendously envy-inducing tweets from my classic film pals, telling everyone that they just landed their dream pass to the 2015 festivities. FACEPALM. Like most instances in life, I was left in the dust feeling unfulfilled and slightly grateful for the tub of Rolo ice cream we had sitting in the freezer (but then I remembered that I'm dangerously lactose intolerant so my mood got even worse).

Don't misunderstand me; I am massively happy for those who booked their passes for TCMFF 2015 and I know they're going to have a brilliant time! I've never been one of those people who boils hatred in front of a computer screen wishing everyone would just shut up about their perfect lives (and hopefully I'll never turn into an internet troll ever ever), but the fact that I felt massively upset at myself cannot be denied. I live and breathe classic film and yet, I keep screwing myself out of a chance to go to the film festival of dreams.

TCM hosts Robert Osborne + Ben Mankiewicz

And it's not just the actual screenings I'm upset at missing year after year, it's more the chance of meeting my classic film friends that has me the most pissed off. I've met the most incredible group of people online since I started tweeting and blogging and though we only exist to each other through a monitor or mobile device, I consider them my FRIENDS. Like, real live friends I can depend on and have full-blown conversations with. Together we laugh, we cry, we share massive amounts of information with, we #TCMParty, and we give each other opportunities that get us one step closer to achieving our dreams of becoming professional film reviewers and/or writers (Danny, I'm looking at you).

No doubt about it, I'll be missing TCMFF 2015, so here is what I've promised myself for TCMFF 2016:
  • I will struggle and save as much as possible for my trip to Hollywood (no more book-buying and no trip to the UK that year, SOB!).
  • I will bring my Aunt Grace with me (she's the one who introduced me to classic film way back when).
  • I'll probably be so fucking excited when I actually get to the venue that I will need to bring some adult-sized diapers with me. Yes, I will be peeing. From excitement and euphoria, you understand.
  • I will invest in a decent camera before stepping foot on a plane. I need to document this experience and I need to look back on photographs of me meeting people like Joel, Jeff, Raquel, Trevor, Karen, Cliff, Christina, Jessica, Will, and Pam whenever I start missing them too much and a computer monitor just won't suffice.
  •  Grace and I have already decided that we're going to splash out on the ultimate TCMFF pass: The Spotlight Pass. DUN DUN DUN! Go big or go home.
  • I will go to as many film screenings as I possibly can and I will also keep a look-out for my future life partner amongst the TCM-obsessed masses.
  • Despite my wanting to suffocate Robert Osborne with squishy hugs for an indefinite period of time, I will hold back and simply blow him a kiss. From a safe distance away, of course. If I get too close to him, I fear I may rob him of life.
  • Though I loathe partying and creating a ruckus, I will party hard on this trip. No doubt.

If you've already bought your passes to TCMFF 2015 tell me about it in the comments section down below! Also, tell me what your experiences have been if you've attended TCMFF in the past - what were your favourite parts - and least favourite parts - of the trip? I know booking a hotel room is going to be tough because they sell out pretty quickly, so I'm already on the look-out for suitable accommodation. Perhaps renting an apartment or house through Airbnb would be best?

November 17, 2014

Flying Solo As A Classic Film Fan

You know what sucks? Hardly anyone understands my passion for old movies. And I'm single.

This is not going to turn into a cry-for-help kinda post, I can assure you. It's more of a whimpering pleading-for-clarification type of post more than anything. Well, depending on how you see things of course. I want to know why it's so difficult to find a mate who loves classic film as much as I do. Don't get me wrong, I'm perfectly fine being on my own but I had a few hours to spare over the weekend and I caught myself sitting and thinking about all the classic screenings I've been to and all the special releases I've attended and not anywhere did I spy a charming classic movie fan around the same age as me. If I were into octogenarians, well ... there were plenty of them floating about! But, rather than jumping into bed with one of them, I'd rather just sit by a cozy fireplace and have a quiet cup of tea with them, asking them to share their classic film anecdotes with me.

I suspect things would be remarkably different if I lived in, say, New York or London, where classic movie screenings and events attract wider audiences. Here in Toronto - and I'm speaking from experience here - all of the times I've gone to a cinema screening, I've been the youngest person in the theatre. The difference in age is so obvious that groups of seniors would approach me and ask me if I had walked into the wrong screening room by mistake. After putting their minds at rest and assuring them that I was in the right place and that I hadn't been forced inside by a mean grandparent, the seniors were absolutely flabbergasted - and happily surprised - that I cared for the classics as much as they did.

I'll never forget the one time I went to watch a special screening of SINGIN IN THE RAIN (1952) a couple of years ago and I got to talking to a group of seniors sitting behind me about other MGM musicals like EASTER PARADE (1948) and THE BANDWAGON (1953): a handful of us, regardless of our ages, bonded over something that we all loved equally and sat chatting like a group of mouthy kids on a school bus! It was amazing! If only I could find someone my age that I could have the same conversations with and cuddle beneath the sheets with at the same time.

I've always been blatantly honest with you, my readers, and that's why I decided to post this entry. While I was busy hashing it out on my computer on Sunday afternoon I kept thinking to myself "but will anyone actually want to read this?" and I debated, more than once, just erasing this whole thing and trashing the draft. But this is a subject that I really care about and something that bothers me all the time. Why is it so hard to find a partner with the same interest as me? I'm reminded every day how few people have actually seen an old movie before. It's rarer and rarer to find anyone who has seen MY MAN GODFREY (1936) or THE LETTER (1940) or even FRANKENSTEIN (1931), the most popular of the bunch. Us classic film fans are a dying breed indeed ...

If you're a young, single classic movie fan like myself, how do you cope? And, if you're partnered up, how does your significant other feel about your TCM obsession? Is it something the two of you bond over? Tell me about it in the comments section down below!

November 12, 2014

Book Look! Hollywood Of the Rockies* by Michael J. Spencer

I went into reading this book knowing next to nothing about the birth of motion pictures. Sure, I've watched the odd silent film or two, but we're talking motion pictures from the early 1900s here! And, no matter how many documentaries I've seen in the past about the history of the movies, nothing compares to immersing yourself in a good book on a cold day; I find that, personally, I retain a lot more information if I read it in the form of a book rather than see it play before me on the screen.

Hollywood Of the Rockies: Colorado, the West & America's Film Pioneers starts right at the beginning, assuming that its audience knows absolutely nothing about the history of film. This is one of the great things I liked about this book; at times I felt like I was at school attending a lecture and the professor standing at the front of the room was teaching me everything I needed to know about the subject. Author Michael J. Spencer's prose was easy to follow, easy to understand, and it sunk right in.

Sure, it's a rather short book, but it introduces and builds upon some really neat technological advances and a cast of characters that made modern Hollywood what it is today. People like the Lumiere brothers, Thomas Edison, popular screen cowboy Tom Mix, Harry "Buck" Buckwalter, and Gilbert "Broncho Billy" Anderson are profiled in this book along with their rise to stardom and their contributions to the film industry. It turns out that the American film industry actually began in and around Colorado (hence the title of Spencer's book) despite us thinking that it had its roots in California. According to Spencer "the Colorado West [...] helped create the western, a genre that remained a staple of American films for decades," and you know what? It makes perfect sense.

The Colorado landscape is absolutely beautiful and if this is where film was born, no wonder it took off and became the money-making industry it is today! Back in the early 1900s, films were made solely outdoors because big studio lights hadn't been invented yet. So, even interior sets were constructed out of doors and filming took place on clear, sunny days. The summertime Colorado climate was perfect for that and allowed filmmakers to work in glorious conditions surrounded by glorious landscapes. What more could one ask for?

Harry "Buck" Buckwalter hailed the picture show business as "the poor man's grand opera" and he was one hundred percent correct. You could buy a movie ticket for a nickel or a dime back then and be entertained for just over an hour, sometimes even by a double bill! Ahh the glory days, eh? I really enjoyed reading this book and learning more about an industry that I've loved practically since birth. The only downside to reading a book like this one is that it ends too quickly (the book is just shy of 160 pages). Still, Hollywood Of the Rockies is definitely worth picking up whether you decide to buy yourself a copy or borrow it from your local library.

If you're interested in purchasing this book through Amazon, click here.

November 10, 2014

World War One: 100 Years

I'm a pretty big war nut; I love watching war films and I love collecting war books (fiction and non-fiction, I'm not picky). This year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One so I thought I'd create a special post detailing some of my absolute favourite WWI films. A little morbid, yes, but I think we all should take a moment to remember those who fought so valiantly for their countries - no matter what side they were on. Canadians, Germans, Russians, Italians, French, whoever. They all matter and each life counts.

Here are some of my favourite films that take a look at life during The Great War:

The Big Parade (1925) // I'm always up for watching a John Gilbert picture - silent or not - and this one certainly never disappoints. For a silent film, it's incredibly realistic and dangerously detailed in that it depicts life in the trenches amazingly well. Now, none of us were actually there fighting in WWI, but many experts agree that this film perfectly captures the mood and desolation of The Great War better than any others (with the possible exception of WINGS which is mentioned directly below this pick). The film itself is 151 minutes long, not exactly a quick pick for a Saturday night, but it never actually feels that long. It zips by and that's thanks to the wonderful - and very touching - storyline and brilliant performances by the film's cast including Gilbert, Renee Adoree, and Karl Dane.

Wings (1927) // This will go down in (my) history as the first silent film that made me shed buckets and buckets of tears. Literally, the front of my shirt was sopping wet by the time I got through watching WINGS. It's a story that will crush your spirit and build it back up piece by bloody piece. I'll be completely honest and tell you that one of the only reasons this film landed on my radar in the first place was because it stars 1920s star Clara Bow. If it wasn't for her, I probably would never have been interested in watching it. Shame on me, I know. Like THE BIG PARADE, this film is incredibly realistic in its depiction of wartime battles and trench warfare. WINGS ended up winning the very first Academy Award for Best Picture and it's no wonder especially where the air battle sequences are concerned. Hold on to your hats ladies and gents, this one's a wild ride!

Mata Hari (1931) // A great list is not a great list until you've mentioned Greta Garbo, right? Right! Garbo stars as sultry real life spy Mata Hari in this early talkie MGM masterpiece. I watched this film for the first time this year whilst trying to polish off my hefty To Watch list (I've got so many discs piling up I could build an airship with them). MATA HARI takes place during WWI (duh!) and is loosely based on the life of courtesan/dancer Mata Hari who was eventually tried and executed for espionage. True, there are really no major battle sequences in this picture and the film's main focus hardly deviates from Garbo but it's still a period film worth watching for its prestige factor alone.

Sergeant York (1941) // Next, we have Gary Cooper is all his glory. In my opinion, Cooper was at his best when he played humble, aw-shucks heroes alongside legendary character actors - in this case it was the incomparable Walter Brennan. Cooper plays decorated war hero Sergeant Alvin York, a gifted sharpshooter who single handedly takes down an entire enemy battalion by picking them off one by one. SERGEANT YORK is not the most fast-paced war movie, but it is one of the most endearing. Howard Hawks, the film's director, was always rather good at spinning a tale and engaging his audiences and he worked his magic wonderfully here.

The African Queen (1951) // Though its subject matter may have been bleak, THE AFRICAN QUEEN presents a somewhat lighthearted take on The Great War. Yes, there are plenty of laughs in this film care of the wonderful chemistry between real life pals Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, but there are also quiet, more touching instances generously sprinkled throughout the rest of the picture. A pair of polar opposites are forced to endure a boat ride together through treacherous waterways until the grand finale when they decide to ambush an enemy vessel. This was billed as an adventure film and it really is. It won't make you weep like WINGS or THE BIG PARADE, but it will still leave you with a strengthened belief in humankind and what we, as people, can accomplish if we remain dedicated, focused, and loyal.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) // I'm having trouble moving past Peter O'Toole's handsome facade right now. Forming coherent sentences is beyond me. I apologize, dear readers, for what you are about to read ... LAWRENCE OF ARABIA takes place (mostly) in the desert with lots of men wearing linen sheets. It's hot. The men are hot. Water is scarce. There are camels. Peter O'Toole plays T.E. Lawrence, the British officer sent to Arabia in 1917 who eventually aids in the Arabic rebellion against the Turks. Blood is spilled and lives are lost and Lawrence finds himself questioning his loyalties once he becomes integrated into the Arabic community. This is, without a doubt, one of the most beautifully filmed classic movies I've ever seen. It's well worth watching if you've got four hours to spare on a Sunday afternoon!

And if you're in the mood for a modern classic:

Legends Of the Fall (1994) // Make sure you have plenty of tissues at the ready whilst watching this tearjerker. I think I was in my late teens the first time I saw this movie and I watched it for two very important reasons: 1) Brad Pitt (obviously), and 2) Anthony Hopkins (again, obviously). The film also stars Aidan Quinn, Julia Ormond, and Henry Thomas. Yes, the cast is spectacular but the story is even more so. It concerns a father and his three young sons living in the American wild during the early 1900s and how they adapt to things like technological advances, war, nature, and love. The war scenes are what initially caught my attention - and broke my heart - but it is the love story that will kill you. Believe me when I say that there is never a dry eye in the house when my family and I sit down to watch this film together. Even my Pops sheds a tear.

I'd love to know what some of your favourite WWI classic films are - leave me a comment below!

November 7, 2014

Book Look! Hollywood Gothic by David J. Skal

You all probably know by now that I am a massive, MASSIVE fan of DRACULA (1931) and, quite frankly, anything and everything associated with that film. This is precisely why when I learned about this book from a friend of mine a couple of months ago, I had to get my claws on it. It's not the easiest book to track down because I think the printing is limited, but I eventually ordered my copy off of the Canadian Chapters/Indigo site here. If you live outside of Canada, I'm fairly certain you can obtain a copy of the book through Amazon.

Okay - having gotten all of that muck out of the way, let me begin my Book Look! by telling you that this was the most in-depth exploration of Bram Stoker's Dracula that I have ever read. Author David J. Skal basically breaks down each phase of Dracula's journey from book to stage to screen and does it in a witty yet wholly professional manner. Skal's voice is sarcastic at times and that may seem a little off-putting at first, but his sarcasm and casual way of explaining certain points are what ultimately made me love and appreciate this book as much as I did. You all know I love a bit of wordplay and sarcasm, heh.

The book begins by describing Victorian author Bram Stoker's determination to create a literary work of art based around the life (life?) of a vampire named Count Dracula. Skal also presents to his readers a theory that much of Dracula was based around the Victorians' hatred and avoidance of sex and sexual activities. Skal also goes on to dissect other more obscure and popular vampire fictions of the time, bringing to light many tales and characters I had never even heard of before. Quite fascinating stuff, I promise you!


You wouldn't believe how difficult Stoker's widow, Florence, made it for theatrical agents to secure the rights to her husband's work (and rightly so, in some cases). It seems that there were a number of people who were quite eager to bring Dracula to life on stage but at every turn, they were thwarted by Florence Stoker's seemingly iron will. The same thing started happening when Hollywood came knocking on the widow's door, wanting to secure the film rights to her husband's work of literary fiction. After reading through pages and pages of judicial information, I'm completely shocked that Universal actually managed to get Dracula onscreen by January nineteen thirty-one!

The chapter that I enjoyed reading the most delved into the making of Universal's Spanish version of DRACULA (1931) which was filmed on the Universal soundstages at night, once the English cast was done filming for the day. The same sets were used but the Spanish version was photographed quite differently, setting itself apart from the more popular English version of the film. It's worth watching both film prints in order to spot the differences and similarities between to the two pictures. Many consider the Spanish version far superior to the English one and that's explained in more detail by Skal in his book.

Special sections of the book are devoted solely to all the different cast members that inhabited the roles created by Stoker (and even those roles that were created by movie execs like Count Orlock in the German film NOSFERATU (1922). Whole pages are reserved specifically for people like Bela Lugosi (naturally), David Manners, Max Schreck, Raymond Huntley, and Bernard Jukes, the man who played Renfield more times than anyone else on stage or on film. I can't tell you how many new tidbits of information I picked up whilst making my way through this book! It's like every page held a new Pandora's Box that was just waiting to be opened.

Hollywood Gothic was originally published in 1990, but has since been revised and updated in 2004 giving us, the readers, even more information to devour about our favourite bloodsucker. This book has been meticulously researched and it's definitely worth investing in even if you're only a casual admirer of the horror movie genre or of Stoker's original story.

November 5, 2014

Autumn/Winter Fiction TBR: Classic Film Edition

Here are the books I've got on my Autumn/Winter to-be-read list: 
An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser // I came across this classic on the shelf at my local library. If I'm completely honest, the cover is what initially attracted me. I picked it up, turned it over, and read the blurb on the back cover and was like: wait a minute this sounds terribly familiar ... Guess what? This is the book that inspired A PLACE IN THE SUN (1951)! I can't wait to dig into this meaty novel come the colder winter months.

Back Street by Fannie Hurst // Here's another book that has a captivating cover (man, these publishing houses certainly know what they're doing). I first read about this book over on Raquel's classic film blog, Out Of The Past and I couldn't wait to get my sticky paws on it. Admittedly, I had ordered it a few months ago and I've yet to pick it up and dive in. I know, I know. But I will get to it this winter. I promise, hand-on-heart.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey // How have I not read this book before?! Honestly, I'm actually embarrassed to admit that it's been sitting on my bookshelf unread for the better part of a year. I saw the film for the first time a little while ago and I absolutely loved it, so I thought I'd buy the book in the hopes that it'd be even better than the movie (which is usually the case, isn't it?). I hope this one doesn't disappoint me. Has anyone read this before?

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak // Here's another book that's been gathering plenty of dust on my bookshelf over the past year-and-a-bit (I seriously need to stop with the book hauling). My mission in life is to read this novel before seeing the film (of which I've only seen bits and pieces of). I hope to be swept away to the cold Russian wilderness when I finally sit down to read Doctor Zhivago, and if I'm disappointed, I'm throwing it into the fire. So there!

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand // I wrote a film review for THE FOUNTAINHEAD (1949) a few weeks ago and that was my first time seeing the film. I had certainly heard about it before - thanks to my obsession with Gary Cooper who stars in the movie - and I was super-curious about the story's themes and twists. Some had described it as a turgid love affair depicted on screen and when I started catching wind of the rumours involving Coop and his co-star Patricia Neal, I just had to watch it. The film was all right - not bad, but not great - so I'm hoping the book will impress me more.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy // A classic! I love classics. Like, more than I love ballet. And that's a lot. I've read Anna Karenina once before when I was in college and I remember thoroughly enjoying it and that's one of the reasons why I'm eager to re-visit the novel again a second time. Russian literature is perfect in the wintertime and I can just see myself now: wrapped up in a warm blanket, a cup of steaming hot tea by my side, a roaring fire glowing in the grate, and a hefty Russian tome in my hands. Oh dear God, that sounded so wrong.

What have you got on your Autumn/Winter to-be-read list?

November 3, 2014

The beauty of Joan Crawford in Sadie McKee (1934)


So, I'm sitting here watching SADIE MCKEE (1934) and I'm thinking to myself: holy crap could Joan Crawford look any lovelier?! 

I had DVR'd SADIE MCKEE sometime last week - can't remember what day it was - in the hopes of watching it over the weekend. It's a movie I had heard about quite a while ago but have never been able to find on DVD, so unfortunately I never had the chance to see it until now. Man, I've been missing out!

The film stars Joan Crawford, Franchot Tone, Gene Raymond, and Edward Arnold. It was directed by the amazingly talented Clarence Brown with costume design by Adrian (a girl's best friend, forget diamonds). The film revolves around a woman named Sadie McKee (Crawford) who rises from rags to riches care of a drunken millionaire (Arnold) and his friend (Tone). Raymond plays the rascally suave boyfriend who sleeps with McKee and leaves her the next morning in favour of a blonde bombshell who lives down the hall (makes me wonder if McKee was that bad in bed).

The film actually surprised me with how good it was - it was charming, it was gritty, it was dramatic, and there was always a ray of hope shining through no matter how many times Crawford's character got punched in the face or landed flat broke on her ass. Have I mentioned that Edward Arnold plays a superb drunk? Well, he does. His performance in SADIE MCKEE was absolutely astounding!

Okay so let's move on to the fashion in this film: Adrian was a fucking GOD, people! The costumes he designed for Crawford for SADIE MCKEE are unreal! For the longest time I believed that Adrian created his best deigns for Katharine Hepburn, but my God, after watching this film, I've changed my mind. Crawford really lucked out in the 1930s, didn't she? If I was being dressed by Adrian every day, I'd have millionaire playboys like Franchot Tone chasing after me too!

Let's be real, though ... even if I had Adrian dressing me every day chances are I wouldn't look nearly as good as the Hollywood starlets did in his heyday. For one, my bottom is a lot more - shall we say - "meatier" than Crawford's was and there is no way I'd be able to pour myself into one of Adrian's creations. Not even with the unceremonious help of Spanx. His gowns just seemed to skim over Crawford's curves in this film and the little details like stripes, bows, and blinding glitter suited her and gave an otherwise plain character a sultry edge. Look at the way the collars on her gowns accentuated her face! Such a brilliant use of design.

Tell me: what are some of your favourite Hollywood costumes?

October 31, 2014

What I'd Pack In My Halloween Movie Survival Kit

THE MUMMY (1932)

Deep down, we all enjoy watching a good horror film, don't we? We may not admit to it, but we do. I'm not the biggest fan of modern horror films because I find them predictable and cheesy, but as far as classic horror films are concerned, I'm a pushover. I love them. I love them in black and white, with a tall imposing figure dressed up as the villain, and I love the atmosphere that seems to pour off the screen.

So, let's say that some almighty power took me from my current lackadaisical life and dropped me into one of my very favourite classic horror films - what would happen? Well, first of all, I would be incredibly happy knowing that at any moment I would get to meet either Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff or Vincent Price! But then, once it dawned on me that these legendary villains would rather kill/eat/encase-me-in-wax rather than make small talk with me I'd be pretty fucking scared (sorry, but the occasion called for swearing).

Chances are, each one of them would attempt to kill me within the first five minutes of me inhabiting their world. How would I protect myself? I would need some kind of survival kit; something that I could carry with me wherever I went to ensure not only my survival but my safety and peace of mind. Here's what I'd take with me on my adventure through classic-horror-film-land:

  • A neck guard (kind of like a chastity belt, but for the neck) // There is no way I'm letting the Prince of Darkness (i.e. Dracula) anywhere near my neck. But if he should hypnotize me and make his way closer and closer to my jugular vein, this neck guard would stop him. I would give the key away to someone I trust and have them hide it from me, that way I couldn't reveal its hiding place whilst under the influence of Dracula's hypnotic powers. There'd be no way for him to bite me! Bam bosh thank-you, job done!
  • My Mom // Because everyone needs (and wants) their Mommy there with them in a frightening situation. Depending on the size of my survival kit, I don't even know if she'd be able to fit inside, but for the sake of this post (and my life) I'm going to make her fit. No one messes with my Mom - it's a known fact. I can just see it now: a villain approaches me with ill intentions and all of a sudden my Mom steps between him and me, injecting herself into the fray, brandishing either a slipper or a wooden cooking spoon (an Italian mother's weapon of choice) with deadly precision. Just one look from her would have him running in the opposite direction and cowering in a field somewhere, praying for death. Side note: this actually happened to both me and my older sister growing up. Like I said before, no one messes with my Mom.
  • A trusty sidekick // My Paddington Bear comes everywhere with me and if I'm about to come face-to-face with an evil villain, you better believe Padds is gonna be right there with me. A woman needs a source of comfort especially when placed in a tricky or deadly situation. Perhaps if I was being chased through the streets by a madman he would think twice about harming me when he saw how much I depended upon my adorable and fuzzy inanimate sidekick. Said villain would probably take pity on me, no? Well, it's worth a try anyway.
  • Kitchen provisions (i.e. spices, garlic, butcher knives, and tomato sauce) // How does one ward off a vampire? Throw bags of garlic at him and run like hell. How does one kill a villain in one stroke? Stab him in the neck with a butcher knife. And how does one survive in a foreign land where there is absolutely no authentic Italian tomato sauce to be found? Bring your own! This one's pretty self explanatory so I'll just stop right here and move on to the next item ...
  • A jar of Vaseline // Poor old Boris Karloff. He always played villains/misunderstood creatures with horribly dry skin (i.e. Frankenstein's monster, The Mummy). Maybe if someone had taken the time to apply some ointment to his epidermis, his villains wouldn't have been so fucking angry and malicious all the time. The key to surviving one of his classic horror films was creating a spa-like atmosphere, one in which the man could get a facial and seaweed body wrap. Bam bosh thank-you, another crisis averted!
  • A disposable four-bladed razor and a makeup kit // Not for me, silly - for the Wolf Man and Erik, the Phantom of the Opera! Give the Wolf Man a good, clean shave and he'll be forever in my debt. Makeover Erik with some heavy coverage foundation, some blusher, and a flattering shade of lip balm and he'll be putty in my hands. The thing with classic movie villains is that they were just misunderstood most of the time. If people took the time to really understand why they were so emo and moody, chances are, the 'villains' would have stopped terrorizing their public and would have successfully integrated themselves into 'normal' society.

Right! I'm pretty sure I've covered all my bases - and if I didn't, well, you're all invited to my funeral. Like I mentioned earlier: classic horror villains are tricky. They're not just crazed serial killers like the dudes in modern horror films are. No, classic film villains are multifaceted, depressed, and largely misunderstood human beings (well, not always human, I admit). Still, if thrown into their worlds you'd definitely need to make sure that you were properly equipped to handle the chill-inducing situations you'd inevitably find yourself in and for that very reason, you'd need to take with you a handy-dandy survival kit. My question to you is this: what would you pack in yours?

This post was inspired by the lovely people over at Man Crates - Gifts For Men.

October 29, 2014

The 1940s: My Second Favourite Movie Decade

I spoke about my absolute favourite movie decade a couple of weeks ago here (in case you missed it) and this time I thought I'd tell you why I love the 1940s almost as much as I love the 1930s. The 1940s was a very tumultuous decade thanks to World War II and Hollywood's apparent obsession with Communism. Though, having said that, a remarkable amount of happy-go-lucky films were made during this time (Christmas movies and romantic comedies immediately spring to mind). We musn't ignore the darker films, though, because the dramas and noirs that came out of the 1940s are some of the very best - in my humble opinion - and they're a big reason why I enjoy watching material from this decade so much.

Here are the things I admire most about films from the 1940s:

The 1940s had a knack for producing the very best holiday movies // Do I need to even explain this one? No. Not really. Not when I have this list to show you: The Shop Around the Corner (1940), Holiday Inn (1942), Meet Me In St Louis (1944), It's A Wonderful Life (1946), Miracle On 34th Street (1947), and The Bishop's Wife (1947). There. Enough said.

The emergence of film noir // The 1940s is when noir started to become really really popular. Audiences were swept away on a black and white tidal wave of femme fatales and cigarette smoke into the seedy underbellies of cities the world over. Crime waits for no man and when stacks of money and pornography are involved, great movies are made. Some of my favourite noir pictures include Laura (1944), Gilda (1946), and The Big Sleep (1946).

The start of a beautiful friendship between Spencer Tracy & Katharine Hepburn // Oh my great goodness, where do I even begin explaining my love for these two? Never was there such a natural onscreen pairing - well, aside from maybe Myrna Loy and William Powell - than there was as far as Tracy and Hepburn are concerned. They were able to melt into each others arms whilst verbally sparring back and forth until one of them was proclaimed the victor (and it was usually Hepburn, that feisty lass). It all began with a glimpse of a stockinged leg in Woman Of the Year (1942) and ended in heartfelt emotion in Guess Who's Coming To Dinner (1967). Their working relationship and their personal love affair spanned decades and people - including myself - still talk about it today. Is it the stuff of legends? You can bet your bottom dollar it is!

The dynamic onscreen (and off-screen) pairing of Humphrey Bogart & Lauren Bacall // Talk about sparks flying off the screen! Phew! You'd almost need to wear a welding mask watching these two interact in movies like To Have And Have Not (1944) and The Big Sleep (1946)! If chemistry is what you're after, look no further than these two lovebirds. Together, they are the epitome of sex on fire; the way they look at each other, the way they circle each other like hungry crows, the way they walk together, side by side. Bottom line, if you're feeling especially frisky one cold winter's day and find yourself contemplating reading the newest issue of Playboy, why not just pop in a Bogie and Bacall film? It'll give you greater satisfaction, trust me.

The rise of Judy Garland and the introduction of Gene Kelly // There's nothing I like better than a Hollywood musical - and if that musical was produced by MGM, even better! Judy Garland was a star in the 1930s but it wasn't until 1939 that she got her big break in one of that year's biggest blockbusters, The Wizard Of Oz. After that, she took off like a cannonball shot out of a cannon, making hit musical after hit musical for her bosses at MGM. Gene Kelly had his onscreen debut in For Me And My Gal (1942) with Garland and from there on out, he quickly became one of MGM's go-to leading men. I swear, I could watch Garland and/or Kelly all day long without even blinking an eye! Separately, they're magic. Together, they're a force to be reckoned with.

Do you enjoy films from the 1940s as much as I do?

October 27, 2014

Book Look! George Raft: The Man Who Would Be Bogart by Stone Wallace

This is a short and sweet - but highly informative - biography about forgotten Hollywood star George Raft. Just as an aside, I'd like to mention that after having read this biography of Raft, I now have a dangerously inappropriate crush on him. I'm sure he would appreciate it if he were still alive and had a chance to meet me. I think.

In George Raft's earliest days in California he was often compared to his pal, the deceased Hollywood heartthrob Rudolph Valentino. Although he cared for his friend dearly, Raft did not take these comparisons lightly and often grew upset with the constant comparisons, stating that he was his own man and did not appreciate being labeled a Valentino wannabe.

Raft gained in popularity throughout the 1930s playing gangsters in films produced by the likes of Paramount, United Artists, and Warner Bros. Despite his initial reluctance to play steely-eyed, remorseless criminals Raft was often typecast and found it extremely frustrating when it came to agreeing to play the film roles he was offered. If he refused a role, he was placed on automatic suspension and if he succumbed to studio pressure and ended up accepting the role, he risked further alienating himself from his audience and devotees.

George Raft stars alongside one of his favourite leading ladies, Carole Lombard, in BOLERO (1934).

George Raft was often labeled a gangster in his personal life too, thanks to his days growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen surrounded by real life mafia men who he'd perform favours for in exchange for his safety and his general well-being. If he took care of the East Coast mob men, they'd take care of him, that's essentially how it worked. Raft's trouble was that he was far too generous and hardly ever turned down a plea for help no matter who was asking. Later on in life he ended up losing almost his entire fortune because he gave his money away willy-nilly to any friend or acquaintance who needed his financial aid.

Generous to a fault, Raft was the sort of man who many in Hollywood and New York greatly respected. He began his career as a dancer on the stage and then the screen, following his minor dancing roles up with larger, more meatier characterizations in films like SCARFACE (1932) and EACH DAWN I DIE (1939). Author Stone Wallace delves into each period of Raft's life and career, whether up or down, and really succeeds in painting an unbiased, detailed picture of the performer. Wallace's writing style is very fluid and succinct, making for an easy-breezy read. Before I knew it, I had finished the book and was left wanting a whole lot more!

Raft certainly made a lot of bad career decisions in his time - like giving prime roles away to the likes of Humphrey Bogart who rose to stardom playing Raft rejects - and all of those instances are intricately dissected in Wallace's book. Though I'm a massive Bogart fan, at times I was left absolutely heart-broken for Raft when I learned he had refused to play characters like Sam Spade in THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) and Dobbs in THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (1948).

To sum up, I'd definitely recommend George Raft: The Man Who Would Be Bogart - it's direct, it's entertaining, it's honest, and it paints a fair portrait of one of Hollywood's forgotten stars.  I have to give credit to Emma over at Let's Misbehave: A Tribute To Precode Hollywood for initially being the one who turned me on to George Raft and this particular biography. Check out her engaging post on the man and the book by clicking here.

This post was written for the CMBA Forgotten Stars Blogathon hosted by the Classic Movie Blog Association.

October 22, 2014

This or That: Classic Movie Edition

This post was inspired by the lovely Lindsey over at The Motion Pictures (TMP) - link here!

Right! Here we go - this is where I go slightly insane trying to answer questions that are extremely hard for me to answer (considering how in love I've been with classic film for most of my life). If you'd like to answer these questions on your blog, please go ahead - I'd love to read others' opinions!

Would you rather ...

  • watch only horror or only thrillers? Well, to be honest, I'm not the world's biggest horror fan but I do love a good early horror film (i.e. Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy). That being said, I'm not a huge thriller fan either. Okay okay ... if I was forced to answer this question - which I am - I would have to pick horror because I just couldn't do without Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff in my life (not to mention the very yummy Colin Clive).

  • watch only comedy or only romances? Oooh this is a toughie. Right off the bat, I'm afraid I'm going to have to go with romances only because most of my favourite classic Hollywood stars never excelled at comedy. People like Greta Garbo, Vivien Leigh, and Spencer Tracy never really made many comedies and if I was forced to give them up, I don't think life would be worth living.

  • watch only male or only female leading roles? I'm going to have to let the male population down on this one and answer with female leading roles. I know I'm going to regret saying that in, like, two minutes because the majority of my favourite films have mostly men starring in them. The thing I like most about female stars is their glamour and their uncanny ability to emote better than most of the males did onscreen (and in real life too, I imagine).

  • shop online or in-store? Online baby! The discounts you can find online are unreal compared to the sales that you come across in-store. Nowadays, shipping is free on most sites and packages arrive within days, so why wouldn't you want to take advantage of those pros? Yes, sometimes I miss wandering physical shelves of movies and books, but if I can find stuff cheaper online, Imma click and buy.

  • watch one movie per day or fifteen movies per week? Fifteen movies per week?! Ain't nobody got time for that. Easy there Hercules -- one a day is plenty.

  • be a director or a professional movie reviewer? This is how I would direct: Okay everyone. Stand in front of the camera. And act. Go! I think I better choose movie reviewer for this one. I'm just no good at telling people what to do because I always think they're secretly complaining about me behind my back. Plus, I love to write so reviewing movies would be a real treat for someone like me.

  • watch only your favourite genres or every genre but your favourite? Well, this one's a no-brainer! I would definitely choose to watch only my favourite genres of film. At the risk of sounding incredibly boring and unaccommodating, I would hate to spend the rest of my life watching Westerns (though I have come to appreciate them a little over the past year). Westerns and '70s horror. No thanks.

  • only watch films from physical media or only watch films on a tablet? See, I'm kinda torn on this one because when I travel or when I'm just feeling lazy, I love to watch films on my iPad. Either on a plane or cuddled up in bed, I love the convenience of a tablet. However, there's nothing quite like the feeling of opening up a new DVD or bluray and popping it into the player. Can I cheat with this one? I'm gonna have to say tablet for when I'm traveling and physical media for when I'm at home.

  • watch only films or only TV shows? This one's kinda easy for me to answer because I've always secretly preferred films over TV shows. Actually, it's only recently that I started watching loads of television; a couple of years ago I hardly watched any at all! So, films for this one. Easy-peasy.

October 20, 2014

Things I've learned being a classic movie fan!

A picture of me reading Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century by Sam Kashner

  • You will spend a lot of time on your own in darkened movie theaters and in front of the TV
  • People will start referring to you as 'eccentric'
  • Acquiring film-related coffee table books will become a sport (and second-nature)
  • Special pop-up classic film screenings will make a summer's day seem like Christmas
  • You will lament the fact that no one dresses like Cary Grant or Joan Crawford anymore
  • Men who wear trench coats and fedoras are not your friend (and they are not Humphrey Bogart)
  • It will be extremely hard for you to attract members of the opposite (or same) sex - trust me
  • TCM will become your idea of heaven on Earth and Robert Osborne will be your god
  • You will pluck your eyebrows to within an inch of their life in the hopes of looking like Greta Garbo
  • Whilst burying your nose in a biography you will begin living your very uneventful life vicariously through someone who is now (probably) dead and who had way more fun than you ever will
  • The very idea of no longer having people like Katharine Hepburn and Clark Gable in the world makes you spontaneously burst into tears (even whilst waiting for your urine test results at the doctor's office)
  • Classic movie villains are way more badass than modern movie villains - with the possible exception of Khan from Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
  • Watching an hour of Astaire & Rogers dancing is way more entertaining than watching reality contest shows like Dancing With the Stars and American Idol no matter how many times the networks tell us it's going to be the greatest season ever
  • You will remain single all your life because if you cannot marry Gary Cooper or Barbara Stanwyck, you will marry no one at all
  • Each time you watch a modern movie, you will imagine your favourite classic film stars playing the roles inhabited by George Clooney and Gwenyth Paltrow (and doing a much better job of it)

October 17, 2014

The Stage To Screen Blogathon! The Odd Couple (1968)

Watching The Odd Couple whilst on holiday and eating a sandwich that Felix would be proud of.

Right off the bat, before I get started, I want to know why this film is so fucking perfect. I'm pretty sure I've never laughed as hard as I did when I watched this film for the first time back in my university days (early 2000s). I was taking a theater course at York University in Toronto and one of our group assignments was to pick one scene in a stage play to reenact in front of the class. I was a huge theatre rat back then and I excelled at being on stage, showing off to a room full of discerning audience members so the very thought of presenting a scene from Neil Simon's THE ODD COUPLE filled me with something akin to heavenly glee.

As soon as my group members and I had chosen the dinner party scene to reenact, I rushed to the library and borrowed the film because I only ever was familiar with Simon's original stage version of the script. The stage play debuted on Broadway (naturally) in 1965 and the film version was released only three years later in May 1968; following the huge success of the stage play, Hollywood producers quickly adapted the script in order to have it produced for the screen. Can you blame them for wanting to cash in on Simon's zippy, snappy masterpiece?

I never laughed so hard as I did the first time I watched THE ODD COUPLE (1968). And, you know what, it wasn't even laugh-out-loud, hilariously, stupendously funny. It was more quietly funny (if that's possible). It was a mature type of funny. Like, when rich people snigger at sarcasm at a posh cocktail event. It was that kind of funny. The script is literally perfect and must have come straight from a higher power; the comebacks and insults are dangerously witty and the one-liners never fail to crack me up. I have to be really careful of when I eat or drink during this movie because if I put something in my mouth at the wrong time, chances are someone's getting dirty (from airborne food particles, that is).

Here's what happens in the film: Felix Unger (Jack Lemmon) is about to commit suicide because his wife has left him and wants a divorce. He walks into the seedier part of Manhattan, rents a hotel room, bids the front desk clerk adieu, goes up to his room and attempts to jump out of the window. One problem, though ... the window is sealed shut and he cannot open it. Aw shucks! Next he swallows an entire bottle of pills but before he can let them overtake him and send him into an endless slumber, he heaves and throws every last one of them up. Dammit, foiled again!

Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau) hosts poker night for him and his buds every week (or is it every month?), but on this night Felix is a no-show (he's too busy trying to kill himself, you see). The guys are worried about Felix, especially when his wife phones the apartment and reveals that she's asked her husband for a divorce. Now the guys are panicking because they know how devoted Felix is to his wife and children. They're wondering where on earth he is and if he's thrown himself off a bridge or out of a window yet (the answer is no). In just a few minutes, once the guys have had their fill of gossiping and harried, panicked thoughts, Felix shows up at Oscar's filthy (and smelly) eight-room apartment.

Oscar asks Felix to move in with him for a couple of very good reasons: 1) Oscar will be able to keep an eye on Felix and make sure he doesn't try to bump himself off in the night, and 2) Felix, being the 1950s housewife that he is, can whip the desolate-looking apartment into shape and become Oscar's personal chef. This would have been a good idea had it not been for Oscar and Felix being polar opposites. One likes a mess, one sprays everything with Lysol. One drops crumbs all over the floor and the other one is brought to hysterics if even one crumb is found on the kitchen counter. One flings pasta at the wall and one flings a vacuum over each and every surface of the apartment. One says "a spoon" and the other says "a ladle."

You catch my drift.

THE ODD COUPLE works for those very reasons. It is a marvelous look at two people who can't stand each other yet love each other more than life itself. The film is a fantastic depiction of the battle of the sexes - well, just the male sex. It also examines the roll of the man and the woman in the home with Oscar representing the typical "man" and Felix repping the "woman." Never before have so many themes and life variants been explored in a stage play or in a film and I think this is one of the big reasons why THE ODD COUPLE is still well regarded today. It's a riotous, unbelievably funny look at friendship and life, yet it is also a realistic glimpse into the way humans interact with each other day in and day out.

This post was written for The Stage To Screen Blogathon hosted by The Rosebud Cinema and Rachel's Theatre Reviews.

October 15, 2014

My Top 10 Favourite Classic Film Tweeters!

Tweet tweet!

I've met a lot of great people online within the past couple of years and the majority of these people are classic film fans! Turns out, the classic film online community is one of the nicest ones I've ever come across; everyone has positive things to say about one another and no one ever throws shade at anyone else. We're a mature lot - most of the time - who really seem to respect one another despite the fact that we don't always agree with each other's opinions.

I love Twitter. It's quickly become my most-used social media platform and I try to catch up on my feed at least a few times every day. If you'd like to, you can follow me at @callmeveebee but I'm warning you, I post a lot of classic film-related stuff on there (not to mention many useless, random tidbits that are probably best left unsaid - or un-tweeted).

Without further ado, here's a list of my top ten favourite classic film tweeters:

  • Aurora @CitizenScreen // Aurora posts the loveliest screen shots and portraits.
  • Cliff @IEphemera // Cliff is a veritable fount of information and specializes in pre-Codes and 1930s-era cinema.
  • Warner Archive @WarnerArchive // If you're looking for obscure movie and TV titles from the classic era, look no further than this mega-stupendous online e-tailer.
  • Karen @TheDarkPages // Specializes in film noir tweets and posts awesomely atmospheric movie stills.
  • @PreCodeDotCom // Sex, drugs, and rock n' roll in tweet-form.
  • J.P. @HollywoodComet // This lady loves vintage fashion and watches musicals every Monday. What's not to love?
  • Will @willmckinley // The master. His tweets are always the most interesting reads.
  • Joel @joelrwilliams1 // My brother from another mother! Joel tweets great links to classic film blogs on a daily basis.
  • TCM Party @TCM_Party // The ultimate hang-out spot! Come join us for TCM live tweet sessions.
  • TCM @tcm // This one doesn't need explaining. Just follow them.

Please let me know who your favourite classic film tweeters are in the comments section down below! Let's share the Twitter love x

October 10, 2014

The 1930s: My Favourite Movie Decade

Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers star in The Gay Divorcee (1934).

Whenever someone is brave enough to ask me what my favourite decade of movie-making is, my brain automatically conjures up images of black and white fairytale lands in which Fred pursues Ginger and Hepburn seduces Grant with the aid of a charming leopard called Baby. Can't guess which decade I'm referring to? Well, you definitely shouldn't be here then (shame on you!).

The films of the 1930s have always been my favourites. No question. No contest. No what-ifs. It all started when my Aunt Grace introduced me to DRACULA (1931) and THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) when I was barely ten years old (I was six or seven, actually). Since then I've always had a big, fluffy soft spot for movies produced in the '30s. I prefer them over films from any other decade - although, the stuff produced in the 1940s was almost just as good - and if it came right down to it, they'd be the ones I'd rescue from a fire (please God don't let it come to that).

Here are the things I admire most about films from the 1930s:

Nineteen thirty-nine // I mean, do I even need to explain myself here? Nineteen thirty-nine is considered Hollywood's Golden Year. A year in which a veritable shitload of amazingly outstanding films was released and literally had the movie-going public lining the streets at all hours of the day and night, clamoring to get into cinemas nationwide just so that they could get their fill of what has now become legendary Hollywood product.

My favourite Hollywood stars came into their own in the 1930s // The majority of my favourite actors and actresses graced the screen in the '30s, making names for themselves and climbing the ladder to stardom one film at a time. People like Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow, Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Norma Shearer, Robert Taylor, William Powell, Myrna Loy, James Cagney, Spencer Tracey, Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Marlene Dietrich, and Katharine Hepburn all achieved enormous success in the '30s and it was thanks to them that I got turned on to classic film in the first place. I might get beat up for saying this, but can today's actors really compare to the ones I just mentioned here? I fucking think not.

The violence // We have the Warner Bros collection of gangster films to thank for the majority of the violence that graced the screen in the 1930s; films like THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931), LITTLE CAESAR (1931), and ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES (1938) lit up the screen with the rat-a-tat-tat of spitting machine guns and wailing sirens of police cars, not giving a damn about Hollywood censorship or the frail sensibilities of movie viewers. Films from the '30s were raw and gritty and ultimately paved the way for the film noir genre that clawed its way to the forefront during the 1940s and '50s.

The sensuality // This is where pre-Codes come in, I think. I went to a Catholic elementary school (and high school, for that matter) when I was younger so the very idea of discussing sex during class was unthinkable. Our teachers preached abstinence until they were blue in the face and we all just accepted it, thinking sex was immoral, tasteless, and basically the work of Satan. I had nothing to go by and until I started watching pre-Codes, I had no idea what actually happened before, during, and after sex. Loretta Young, Warren William, Jean Harlow, Chester Morris, and Barbara Stanwyck taught me the ins and outs (heh) of sex and what it meant to want somebody until your blood boiled. Films from the early '30s served as my sexual education and I'm sure the same is true for many other younger classic film fans.

Every film of the early 1930s seemed like an experiment // From the early talkies to the machinations of Busby Berkley, virtually every film produced in the early 1930s was an experiment in what could be accomplished with a set, some paint, and a camera. As time progressed, films got glossier and more fairytale-like, differing in style and tone from their early '30s predecessors. This was the decade in which Hollywood really developed and matured creatively, coming into its own and surpassing everyone's wildest dreams. It's no wonder, then, that the Golden Year of 1939 happened, is it?

So, tell me, what's your favourite film decade?

October 8, 2014

A wee little me with a wee little obsession!

Can you spot a wee little me in the picture above?

One of my earliest childhood memories is of my Mother taking me out for a day of shopping at our local mall and me making a beeline for the tiny, independently-owned cinema shop on the second floor. Sadly, that shop no longer exists (although the actual mall itself is still standing) and with it has gone so many great memories of a tiny little me getting lost amongst the shelves of 'old movies.'

Not typical childlike behaviour, I can assure you. Everyone else my age was either too busy stuffing their faces with McDonald's in the food court or wandering around the isles of The It Store downstairs, on the lower level (The It Store sold joke/comedy items like whoopie cushions and pornographic card games and greetings cards). My Mom knew she had a 'unique' child on her hands very early on and once she accepted my love of vintage Hollywood, she eventually encouraged me to pick out whatever I wanted inside the cinema store. I mean, there were far worse things she could have bought me back then (smelly plastic jelly shoes immediately come to mind).

That shop was where I first picked up VHS copies of BYE BYE BIRDIE (1963), THE THIN MAN (1934), and the THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! trilogy (separately, of course, because we couldn't afford to splash out on the box set). I also remember being gifted countless MGM musicals from that store - titles like EASTER PARADE (1948), SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952), SUMMER STOCK (1950), and MEET ME IN ST LOUIS (1944) were all bought by my parents and either given to me as birthday and/or Christmas gifts or bestowed upon me whenever I did well on a math or spelling test in grade school.

Those VHS copies are long gone (thanks to ebay) but the memory of acquiring them, owning them, and loving them till the tape wore out still linger in my mind. I swear, when I'm a cranky 90 year old living in splendor in the English countryside, I will still remember all those trips my Mom and I took to that pokey little shop in the mall. I know this is a rather frivolous and somewhat pointless post, but it's something I started thinking about recently. I have two young nephews and now, when I take them shopping - for Lego, not old movies - I can't help but wonder if they'll look back on our own shopping excursions with as much fondness and sentiment. They'd better, or else no more Lego Ninja Turtles sets for them! Auntie Nessa is putting her foot down! Heh.

October 6, 2014

Mashed lips and no tongues!

"You should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how."

There is one thing about classic movies that genuinely makes me cringe. Like, every time. It's the way people kiss in them. Or, more specifically, the way people smush their faces together in lieu of a real, passionate, hot and steamy french kiss (with tongues). So basically, these people aren't even kissing at all - they're just mashing their faces together and praying for a good take.

I understand why, though. I get it that the censors didn't allow film actors to exhibit any real signs of passion and that, really, films stars didn't have much choice in the matter. No tongues. No open mouths. No kisses lasting longer than a couple of seconds, and certainly no saliva-induced kissing sounds (i.e. slurps). I think even head movement was restricted, come to think of it. Ugh! Can you imagine if real-life-kissing was like that? We'd all need copious amounts of ChapStick and Blistex to curb the constant lip chaffing and dryness associated with classic film make-out sessions.

I think the only consolation prize here is that the movie starlets didn't get their lipstick smudged! I've lost track of all the times I've paused a film, seconds after 'the kiss,' to see if makeup had either been transferred from face to face or smudged outside of the women's carefully lined lips. And nope, nary a spec of pancake powder had budged (that's either down to amazing makeup staying power or the stars themselves who took careful measures not to muss up their artfully crafted facades).

I'd love to know your thoughts on the whole 'no tongues' kissing trend of classic film. Do you hate it as much as I do and crave some realism? Or do you think it's cute and/or charming? I can't tell you how many times someone has asked "But did people really kiss like that back then?!" when they've sat alongside, watching a classic movie with me. What kind of an answer am I supposed to give them? Remember, I want to make old movies sound cool, so I could hardly utter a lame, non-intelligible "Yes," could I?

*sigh* I tell you, being a classic film fan is a harder job than I thought!

October 3, 2014

The 'O Canada' Blogathon! My thoughts on Norma Shearer

Norma Shearer with frequent co-star Robert Montgomery in THEIR OWN DESIRE (1929).

I hadn't discovered Norma Shearer until I was in my twenties, but when I did, my discovery was akin to a patriotic awakening. She was Canadian! And I'm Canadian!

We are both Canadian.

Edith Norma Shearer was born on August 10, 1902 in the French-speaking city of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. That's nowhere near my city of birth - Toronto, Ontario - but still, I like to think that had we been a little closer in age we would definitely have hung out with each other. Spending our Friday and Saturday nights loitering at the local mall, knocking back 7-Eleven slushies like nobody's business. Somehow the thought of getting brain freeze with Norma Shearer excites me beyond belief.

The woman was beautiful, had a magnificent figure, spoke in a sort of clipped, saucy manner, and had men falling all over themselves to snag a private moment with her. To say that I immediately idolized her is a gross understatement. I wanted to be her and I wanted immediate results.

The first of Shearer's films that I watched were THE WOMEN (1939), A FREE SOUL (1931), and THE DIVORCEE (1930) - in that order. Afterwards, since I clearly couldn't get enough of this woman, I dived head-first into more pre-Code classics like PRIVATE LIVES (1931) and THE HOLLYWOOD REVUE OF 1929 (1929). Finally, came MGM prestige pictures MARIE ANTOINETTE (1938) and IDIOT'S DELIGHT (1939).

I'm going to come right out and admit something (brace yourselves): Norma Shearer may not have been the world's greatest actress but she was endlessly charming in all of the roles she played. In her earlier pictures she had a tendency to 'over-act,' using her eyebrows and arms and hands a little too much for my liking to get her character's point across. But, so what? Didn't everyone in the late '20s and early '30s? Despite her puckered brow and hyper limbs, Shearer was awarded the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1930 for THE DIVORCEE.

Anyone who can come from Canada and make it big in Hollywood earns my immediate respect. It's a huge gamble you're taking, leaving your life and family behind to see what successes await you south of the border (if any). If there is one thing Shearer had in spades it was gumption. She acquired stardom and fame as easily as picking a star straight out of the sky with her dainty little fingers. The world would see Norma Shearer's name in lights soon enough and she would be celebrated as one of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's brightest stars alongside legendary figures Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, and Clark Gable.

Shearer married MGM boy wonder producer Irving Thalberg on September 29, 1927 and had two children by him; a boy and a girl. Thalberg was never a man with a strong constitution and after his premature death in 1937, Shearer began to distance herself from the studio and Hollywood. She officially retired from the screen in 1942 and married former ski instructor Martin Arrouge. Despite having become somewhat of a recluse, Shearer still attended some Hollywood public events after her second marriage. However she adamantly refused to appear on television, the new entertainment medium that was taking the world by storm post-WWII. In 1960 Shearer's private secretary made the following statement:

"Miss Shearer does not want any publicity. She doesn't talk to anyone. But I can tell you that she has refused many requests to appear in motion pictures and TV shows."

In like a bolt of lightning and out like a snuffed candle. Quit while you're ahead and always leave your audience wanting more, that's what my mother always taught me. I suppose, having just finished researching the bulk of this post, that is also something that Norma Shearer picked up on too. It's better to go out like a lion (Leo the lion?) as opposed to stumbling around in the dark, clutching for a shred of fame that now seems to elude you. In my mind - and in the minds of many others - Norma Shearer will always represent one of the brightest eras in filmmaking history: Hollywood's Golden Age.

This post was written for the O Canada Blogathon, hosted by Speakeasy and Silver Screenings.

October 1, 2014

My sick day survival guide!

Billy Idol
Two words, one person: Billy Idol. He's a classic, right? Bah! Either way, I can't get enough of his new autobiography called DANCING WITH MYSELF (Simon & Schuster, 2014). I pre-ordered it a couple of weeks ago and since it's arrived in the post I haven't been able to put it down! I honestly wasn't expecting much in the way of writing style or descriptiveness (sorry Billy) but the man has totally won me over - as if he didn't already possess my soul - with his literary prowess! I recently learned that when he was in college/university, he studied English Literature and you know what? It totally shows. One of the reasons why I chose to mention him here is because in his memoir he pays homage to classic film more than once; a couple of his all-time favourite classic films include THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920) and WHITE HEAT (1949).

I had a sick day on Monday due to a horrible migraine that introduced itself on Sunday and refused to go away until Monday evening. Like a horrible, boisterous, unwelcome guest that refuses to leave your home this migraine totally put me out of commission for an entire day and I was forced to call in sick to work at 4:30 AM on Monday morning (have I mentioned that I didn't sleep a wink that night either? No? Well, I didn't).

Sick days are blessings in disguise and are a wonderful way for us to escape the cut-throat world of the workforce for a while and really take the time to relax, lounge about the house, and get better. Plus, they're the perfect opportunity for us to cuddle up on the couch - or in bed, whichever you choose - and spend an entire morning/afternoon in front of the telly, let's be honest here! I'm not ashamed to say that this was precisely what I got up to on Monday; I plopped my bottom down on a comfy armchair and switched on TCM once I mustered the strength to leave my lovely bed. Here's what I watched:

Lana Turner and Lee Bowman in Dancing Co-Ed (1939).

DANCING CO-ED (1939)* // A copy of this DVD was sent to me a couple of weeks ago by the kind folks over at Warner Archive and I've only just got 'round to watching it now (sorry 'bout that). If you'd like to see a very young, but perfectly coiffed, Lana Turner tapping her way through college, then this is your movie! DANCING CO-ED is one of those typical happy-go-lucky MGM musicals that were churned out between the 1930s and the early 1950s. If you're feeling down or ill this is the perfect movie to watch because it will literally make you feel like a bright young thing again (ahhh those were the days!). You can purchase the movie here.

DOWNSTAIRS (1932) // I can't get enough of John Gilbert. Really. And a talking John Gilbert is even more dishy than a silent one (if that's even possible). My DVR was kept extremely busy during the month of September thanks to TCM's terrific pre-Code spotlight every Friday and DOWNSTAIRS was one of the very last movies I had programmed on my cable box. I remember reading about the making of this film in Eve Golden's fantastic biography of Gilbert and this was the first chance I've had of actually watching the film since then. I still don't understand what the big deal was concerning Gilbert's supposedly 'effeminate' voice. Dude spoke (and sounded) like a DUDE. So there, Louis B. Mayer! Ha!

THE MERRY WIDOW (1925) // Speaking of John Gilbert ... this was another film I buckled down and watched on Monday afternoon and by this time, I was kinda getting bleary-eyed from watching so much television. Perhaps watching THE MERRY WIDOW wasn't the best decision I could have made that day seeing as how it's two-and-a-half hours long! Plus, it's a silent. That means I was reading film titles for more than 120 minutes. Not even the delicious sight of a young John Gilbert could save my eyeballs but, nevertheless, it was a film that I enjoyed. Good story. Good performances. Great moustaches (on the men, of course).

So, there you have it: my rundown of how to survive a sick day! Read a good book (or two or three), watch a few great films, cuddle up on the sofa, have a cup of tea and you're all set! Unplug the phone and shut off your computer because God knows we need a break from them every so often. When you return to work the next day looking one hundred times better and your boss accuses you of 'faking being ill,' give him/her the middle finger salute and utter these immortal words: Billy Idol and black and white celluloid saved my life! (Now may not be the best time to ask for a raise, so take it easy and ask for one another day).

September 29, 2014

Book Look! 11 Pre-Code Hollywood Movie Histories by Cliff Aliperti

I must mention pre-Codes at least three times a week on this blog (and that makes perfect sense considering I post on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays). So basically I pretty much mention pre-Codes in every single post. If you don't like pre-Codes, I'm terribly sorry (no, I'm not) and if you love pre-Codes, welcome back to your little slice of Internet heaven!

This week I'm here to talk about my friend Cliff Aliperti's new book entitled 11 Pre-Code Hollywood Movie Histories - and don't let the fact that we're Internet buddies cloud your judgement on this post. I went into reading this digital book with an open mind and forced myself to approach it as if it had been written by a complete stranger. I always think that method works best because I don't want to psych myself up and then be disappointed half-way through or once I've finished reading the piece.

This book serves as a handy little guide to some of the lesser known pre-Code films Hollywood produced in the early '30s. In it you will find chapters dedicated solely to the following eleven films: SHOW GIRL IN HOLLYWOOD (1930), FOR THE DEFENSE (1930), GENTLEMAN'S FATE (1931), CITY STREETS (1931), HELL'S HIGHWAY (1932), WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND (1932), CALL HER SAVAGE (1932), EMPLOYEES' ENTRANCE (1933), ONLY YESTERDAY (1933), THE SIN OF NORA MORAN (1933), and JIMMY THE GENT (1934).

Cliff's book starts off with a bang; a really engrossing introduction that had me nodding along in agreement at practically every sentence. My favourite bit was when he drew comparisons to the production values of early talkie horror films DRACULA (1931) and FRANKENSTEIN (1931), revealing that even though the films were released just ten months apart from each other, FRANKENSTEIN's production values seem far removed from and vastly superior to the more primitive DRACULA.

Cliff also includes a succinct and easily referenced chronology for those readers who are a little unsure of what-happened-when regarding not only Hollywood events, but world-wide events too (namely the two World Wars, the bills that were passed or amended by the US government, and other instances that directly affected the film industry).

Going into this book, I was only really familiar with a couple of the pre-Codes Cliff chose to profile. I've seen both EMPLOYEES' ENTRANCE and JIMMY THE GENT before and only just recently watched CALL HER SAVAGE on TCM, so I was eager (and uber-curious) to read about the other films I'd never even heard of! Each film's chapter gives a brief synopsis of the movie, facts about the production and casting, a history behind the plot, characters, and studio happenings during the time of production, and little known tidbits that every classic movie fan can appreciate. Every chapter is wonderfully insightful and I really enjoyed making my way through each one. I now have a pre-Code To Watch list as long as my arm (or even one of my legs!).

I think the only thing I would change about this book would be to make it longer. I polished the entire thing off in one sitting and before I knew it, I had reached the final page. No! I thought, I want more pre-Codes! I want my pre-Codes! I swear I've calmed down since then. I would have liked to have seen more chapters dedicated to the more popular films of the genre (i.e. SCARFACE (1932), RED DUST (1932), and THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931). If Cliff is reading this, here's hoping he writes another volume to go along with this one!

11 Pre-Code Hollywood Movie Histories is available on Amazon [click here] and you can also find Cliff Aliperti on his blog, Twitter, and on Goodreads!

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