>This blog has languished for lack of time and an abundance of guilt.
Pressures of grad school have kept my head down, which is a good thing since I do need to be working on my thesis – and the thesis is coming along, somewhat. I have several potential posts that I want to write, but they have been pushed aside. I have been reflecting a bit on what this blog is for me and what I want it to be going forward. I don’t have an answer yet. But, at least, it is a chronicle of some features of my life, including my relationship to movies.
Several times on this blog I have mentioned watching movies with my six (going on seven) year old daughter Lily. I consider these movie viewings part (a fun part) of her education as much as an entertaining evening. Recently we saw Some Like It Hot (1959) and she loved it. Now some might say that my daughter is a bit young for this film, that, even though it is nearly 50 years old, the content needs some explaining about some things that a parent might not want to discuss with a six-year-old.
But she gets it – not all of it of course – but she understands that a couple of guys trying to walk in high heels and pretending to be women as they run away from some gangsters is funny. She also reacted strongly to Sugar Kane Kowalczyk’s (Marilyn Monroe’s) dress in the night-club performance scenes. Lily thought the dress was rather too much. And she was humorously shocked by the famous last line: “nobody’s perfect.” The look on her face was priceless – even better than Jack Lemmon’s. In fact, the parts I had to explain had to do with Spats Colombo and prohibition – which she thought was crazy. Of course, she also liked the fact that the director’s last name is Wilder, and that being the name of her little baby sister, Wilder Rose.
Why do I write all this? For me watching movies is a very personal joy. I’m sure you understand. Certainly films are objects out there in the world, separate from me, with a life of their own. And films are also a way to connect with others, such as through film blogs, etc. But films are also remarkable objects that include the viewer in their existence. I am a part of every film I watch because part of a film’s reality includes my watching of it. Cinema is also one of the most remarkable of human creations – maybe the most powerful art form so far. The life of a film includes the affects it has on and through its viewers. I can say many films have become deeply rooted in my conscious and subconscious. I see films being a personal thing for my daughter as well. She loves movies, as does most everyone. I want her to know the greatness of film, of how wonderful it is, and that it is worth the effort to think about what one watches – in other words, the best films really pay off, and the good ones pay off too.
So then we watched North by Northwest (also 1959). Recently we have seen Rear Window (1954) and To Catch a Thief (1955). I have been picking Hitchcock from the 1950s because these are great films to understand how “classic” Hollywood narrative works while also being introduced to one of the great directors. These films give me the chance to point out things to Lily about filmmaking without getting too involved. There probably aren’t too many six-year-olds who can tell you about Hitchcock, but Lily can (a little).
Speaking of North by Northwest, something caught my eye that I really liked. You remember the crop duster scene – it’s so famous that many people know all about it who have never seen the film itself. Well the scene is set up wonderfully, beginning with Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant) being dropped off the bus in the middle of nowhere.
He then proceeds to watch cars go by as he waits for George Kaplan (a person who does not exist) to arrive.
This is what I liked: As he waits, Thornhill sees a car coming, he thinks it might stop, but it goes on by. Cary Grant plays it almost as though it was a silent film.
Grant watches the car coming…
…the car gets closer and he raises his arms, but keeps his hands in his pockets…
And I just love this shot:
It is so quintessential late 1950s, and it is beautiful while being ordinary. Having been on film and television sets, I know that even such a simple shot as this took a while to make as each little detail was put in its place, as Eva Marie Saint was told exactly where and how to stand, and how to turn toward the camera. This shot is common – especially then – for female leads, with her torso facing to one side of the camera and her gaze going in the other direction.
So then last night we watched Sullivan’s Travels (1941). It was good to see it again. Lily loved it, as I thought she would. The film also gave us some things to talk about, like what was the lesson that Sullivan learned? How did he learn it? etc. I don’t have any thing to say here about the film except that if you have not seen it, you should. I have The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944), also by Sturges, on the docket for a near future viewing with Lily as well. Now I do feel a little bad because Lily had wanted to see (and show me) Milo and Otis (1986) but I pushed for Sullivan’s Travels. I guess it’s parent’s privilege, but now I have to make it up to her. Fortunately she does watch a fair number of “kids” films and current films, so it’s not all Papa’s stodgy old films.
As a side note on Sturges, I don’t know very much about him as a director or his personal life, but the DVD contained an interesting American Experience documentary that made a connection for me. Years ago I read a wonderful little book titled Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties by Noel Riley Fitch (1983). [Sylvia Beach was a famous expatriate in Paris between WWI and WWII. She owned the bookstore Shakespeare and Company and hung out with the likes of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and was the publisher of Joyce’s Ulysses.] In Fitch’s book I read about Isadora Duncan, the famous and flamboyant dancer (some say she was the mother of modern dance). She died tragically in a freak automobile accident in 1927 when her long silk scarf got caught in the spoked wheels of the open-cockpit Amilcar she was riding in. Well, that scarf was given to Duncan by her friend Mary Desti who was, as I found out, the mother of Edmund Preston Biden, later know as Preston Sturges. Incidentally, the accident gave rise to Gertrude Stein‘s mordant remark that “affectations can be dangerous.” (citation from Wikipedia)