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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Here's to you, Anne Bancroft

"She would stop you from breathing, because there was something stunning about her." - Dustin Hoffman

Up until last December, I had always liked Anne Bancroft casually - which is how, I feel, a lot of people think of her. People love her as Mrs. Robinson but don't usually know much about her beyond that. She was private about her personal life, her filmography is fairly sparse, and she was never really a "movie star", though The Graduate (1967) immortalized her in film history and made her iconic forever. I watched 'Night, Mother (1986) last year, and that isn't a very good movie, but it got me thinking more about Anne, and I did a Youtube search of her. I found her on this episode of Password and I couldn't help be smitten with her personality ("He won a million dollars!" she yells out excitedly at one point), and after that, I've read everything about her I can get my hands on and have watched countless of her films. She was a very real, stunning, down to-earth person, the kind who wanted to pinch the cheeks of every baby she saw. Today would have been her eighty-third birthday - she died in 2005 from uterine cancer at seventy-three, far too early (in fact, she was outlived by her mother, two sisters, and Mel). It feels like she should still be with us, appearing in movies from time to time as the colorful grandmother or the astute older woman. However, today, I'd like to celebrate her, a soul so vibrant and admirable, and unfortunately one that people don't know too much about.

She was born in the Bronx, as Anna Maria Louisa Italiano, to a proudly Italian Catholic immigrant family. (Years later, she was told to pick out a stage name from a list given to her by the studio because her given name was "too ethnic", and so she chose Bancroft because it was the only one that "didn't sound like a stripper.") As a child, she scrawled "I want to be an actress," on the back wall of her family's flat, and at nineteen, after a stint at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, she set out for Hollywood to make that dream true. Unfortunately, the studio was more interested in giving her a sex symbol buildup than investing in her acting potential, and she spent the majority of the 1950s muddling through B films that exploited her looks rather than her talent. She turned her career around by heading back to her hometown, New York City, and participating in the Actors Studio and HB Studio, and within a year, she was an overnight Broadway success. When she returned to movies to film The Miracle Worker (1962), there would be no more cheesecake pinups for this serious leading lady, but instead, a Best Actress Oscar. The career that followed is more of the career that we associate with Anne Bancroft - one where she was selective about the films she agreed to appear in, determined never to appear in duds like Gorilla at Large (1954) again.

Her shiny black hair, beautifully shaped mouth, winged cheekbones and intensely expressive dark eyes lent her a startling, fresh beauty. And it was a beauty that she never seemed to lose: well into her film appearances of the 1990s and 2000s, she was unfailingly lovely looking. People magazine named her as one of their "most beautiful" when she was sixty-six. Yes, she had wrinkles, and she looked her age, but in spite of that, she had aged with grace, in a way that perhaps only Mrs. Robinson could. As for her acting ability, you could get me started on my campaign for why she should have won the 1964 and 1967 Oscars as well, but I also think that Arthur Penn put it best when he said that, "More happens in her face in ten seconds than happens in most women's faces in ten years." Anne could convey so much just with the sheen of her eyes, and that's what I appreciate most about her acting. She had a vulnerability about her that she brought to every role, a part of her that never lost the little girl from the Bronx.

Anne was loving, confident, easy, warm, earthy, funny, and all the while never taking any bullshit. There are so many stories about Anne that I love. I could begin with the rapport she developed with Patty Duke while they were on Broadway doing The Miracle Worker. They learned sign language and signed to each other secret messages, which drove Arthur Penn crazy. They fell apart laughing together over a ridiculous stage prop wax ham that fell unnaturally when it was sliced. In an incident where a door onstage was locked during a performance and Anne couldn't get it open to exit the scene, she began to swear profusely, so Patty covered her her curses with Helen's guttural noises. (Eventually, Anne scooped Patty up in her arms and climbed out through a window). And each show before the curtain, Patty spent half an hour in Anne's dressing room. "Ninety percent of actors won't let you do that," Patty wrote later, "Especially not a kid, but never did she say, 'no, you can't come in now.'" Patty hung around, toyed with her makeup and perfumes, and watched Anne finish dressing for the show. "'Do we know every minute of everyday?' That half an hour I knew. The whole feeling of the room, the temperature, the smells, the perfume, the costumes, and her, just her," she recalled. Patty was struggling with abusive stage parents at the time, and "felt from Annie the sense that it was truly possible for someone to care about and accept me, to want me to be intelligent and mature." Years later, when Patty, under the strain of bipolar disorder became pregnant and was unsure of the baby's father, she called Anne, who came right away to help her. When Anne died, Patty wrote in an obituary for her, "She taught me, by example, not by lecture, the ethics and disciplines of the theater. She was also one of the sexiest creatures that ever lived. Without being too obvious, I stole as much as I could from her behavior."

Teaching by example and not by lecture was something her friend, Alan Alda, also attributed to Anne. When Anne and Mel vacationed with Alda's family, he recalled Anne collecting sea glass with his children and grandchildren, putting them in touch with nature with her own admiration of beauty. In his eulogy for her, he told of how after undergoing chemotherapy for her cancer, she knit hats of marvellous colors and textures to cover her head. Her favorite director was Arthur Penn, and she was his favorite actress. They worked together not only on the film version of The Miracle Worker, for which she won a Best Actress Oscar, but multiple times on the stage as well. Her breakout Broadway performance, Two For the Seesaw, was under Penn's direction, and he would remember with astonishment her determination and drive: "Annie changed my life not only because she brought both of us success, but because she taught me the importance of always being hungry, of always trying harder, of always defying expectations." When Anne gleefully presented her friend Sidney Poitier with his Best Actor Oscar in 1963, at the height of racial tensions, she threw her arms around him and kissed him on national television, for which she received tons of hate mail and even death threats.

Anne's marriage to Mel Brooks seemed like Hollywood's most unusual couple. When Mel told his mother he was in love with an Italian Catholic girl, she responded with, "Bring her over - I'll be in the kitchen, with my head in the oven!"  But with a second glance, when one looks beyond their physicality, religions, and divergent career pursuits, there are similarities: they were both the children of New York boroughs, of ethnic families that instilled in them similar values, and she loved to laugh and he loved to make her laugh. When you look it at that way, it's not so hard to understand why their union survived up until her death. Mel, who was head over heels with whom he called "the most gorgeous woman that ever lived", was "trapped in a pit of depression" following her death and even now, finds it hard to talk about her. He usually only manages an anecdote about that time they sang "Sweet Georgia Brown" in Polish together (for 1982's To Be or Not To Be) and she exaggerated the movements of her lips to help him learn the song. "It is very difficult to go on without her," he said last year. Their son, Max Brooks, is the author of World War Z, the book that inspired the blockbuster Brad Pitt vehicle, and is most likely today's leading authority on zombies. (Yes, Mrs. Robinson and The 20,000 Year Old Man gave birth to a zombie expert). Max is their only child, and as an only child myself, this is something I can't help but appreciate. Max, who is dyslexic, credits his mother for helping him to conquer his initial fear of reading and then inspiring him to love it, so much so he became a writer himself. Anne (who essentially gave up her career after having Max "in the nick of time" at forty-one) read to him every night before bed, and if she couldn't be there to read to him, she recorded her voice on tapes. She also took his schoolbooks to the institute for the blind and had them also translated to audio. The last page of World War Z, published the year after her death, reads simply, "I love you, Mom."

Max has also shared that Anne was a passionate gardener. Mel always told his son behind her back that her love of the land came from her "Italian peasant heritage." Max remembers his mom retreating to the garden after dinner, recruiting a reluctant Mel and Max to help her tend to her plants, crying out theatrically every time she saved one of them from being molested by a worm. Now that she is gone, Max and Mel took up the garden as a way of healing. Max finds himself as protective of the plants as mom had been, and takes pride in the organic selection of vegetables he now has to offer to his own wife and son.

Lastly, one of my favorite anecdotes about her is a fan's story from 2002, just three years before her death. Anne had returned to the stage for what would be the final time in a play called Occupant. She was a riot during her performances; when a woman started to exit through the back of the theater during her monologue, she cried out, "Darling, you're leaving? Please, dear, please, I'm almost finished! Gimme a shot, would ya?" The time of this fan's visit, a woman had been coughing continuously for minutes on end, and finally got up, perhaps, to get a drink, to which Anne said, "It's about time. Go get some water or something." After that show, this fan and her daughter waited at the stage door for Anne to come out. When a security guard told them that Anne wasn't going to be leaving any time soon, they pleaded with him just to get a glimpse of her. He told them he'd see what he could do, and he came back to say that Anne would seem them separately. They went back to see her in her dressing room, and the fan's first words were, "Quanto sei bella" at the sight of seeing Anne, who got a kick out of this and told her, "No, tu sei bella!" Anne talked with them for a long time, holding the woman's hand throughout their conversation and hugging them before they left.

I quoted Patty Duke earlier, where she said that she stole as much from Anne's behavior as she could without being too obvious - and I too, wish I could be like her in many ways, for there are just so many things that I admire about her. Finally, I'd like to suggest that if you ever have some free time, you should watch this interview she did with Charlie Rose in 2000. The interview ends with Charlie Rose proclaiming, "I am mad for you!" and you will be, too.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Just whistle | Remembering Lauren Bacall

(1924 - 2014)
I watched Written on the Wind on Saturday. I hadn't seen a Lauren Bacall movie in a quite while. These past few days, I was thinking of her.

I felt like Lauren Bacall was going to be immortal. I think we tend to feel that way about the handful of Old Hollywood stars that are left: if they've made it this long, often well into their eighties or maybe nineties, then it seems like they'll live forever. Of course, we all know that it isn't possible, and we try to prepare ourselves for when they'll go, but when the time comes it's startling, sudden, and heartbreaking. Lauren lived a full life - nearly a month short of her ninetieth birthday  - and for that reason, a lot of people might not comprehend this, well, feeling of shock. But it's a collective understanding for classic movie fans; the depth of each loss painfully apparent. It's, slowly, with each death, losing the last remnants of an era long gone. It's like the closing of the final curtain.

Lauren Bacall was the kind of a person that any reasonably intelligent woman would want to emulate. She simply was film noir: sexy, cool, collected. And underneath, she was incredibly real, passionate, and courageous, combining tenacity and sharp wit. When she wrote her bestselling autobiography, By Myself and Then Some, she did away with a ghostwriter and wrote intensely and honestly. When I read it, I was moved to tears, I laughed, I identified with her, and I came away empowered. She lusted for life: "Even at my lowest ebb, I have never contemplated suicide. I value what is here too much. I have a contribution to make. I am not just taking up space in this life. I can add something to the lives I touch." And perhaps even more importantly, she understood life. She came it away from it all wiser than most of us could ever hope to be. She never lost sight of Betty Joan Perske, who as a teenager chain smoked in the movie theater balcony watching Bette Davis, using Sen Sen to hide the stench from her mother. She loved Bogie and remembered him as a human being, not a saint. She clung to memories but lived in the present. She was always unashamedly herself. She knew she was not perfect, and she did not care. She had a sense of humor that was always unfailing. She celebrated the beauty of survival. She cherished honesty. When she grew old, she wore her wrinkles like a badge of honor, explaining, "Your whole life shows in your face, and you should be proud of that."

Here's a corny but comforting thought that has been floating around online. When Humphrey Bogart died, Lauren buried him with a small, gold whistle that had once been a charm on a bracelet that Bogie had given her early in their love affair, an homage to her most famous line ("You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow."). The charm was inscribed with, "If you need anything, just whistle." And yesterday, he whistled for her.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Review: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945)

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) 
Director: Elia Kazan
Starring: Peggy Ann Garner, Dorothy McGuire, James Dodd, Joan Blondell

I read Betty Smith's "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" three summers ago, and ever since, it has been one of my favorites. I had been wanting to see the movie, but it was unavailable on Netflix until recently. For those of you not familiar with it, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn tells the story of Francie Nolan, a young girl living in Williamsburg near the turn of the century. Her coming of age is riddled with less than easy circumstances which force her to grow up fast. Her father, Johnny, is a luckless but lovable singing waiter with a weakness for alcohol whom she hero worships. Her mother, Katie, is hardworking and practical, hardened by her determination to create a better future for her own kids. Katie's sister, Sissy, is a wonderful, warm woman and a lovely aunt to Francie and her brother but is branded by a liberated sexual attitude and a carelessness that are the reasons for the multiple marriages she's got under her belt. These adults in her life, her struggles, and her own idealism sparked by a love of literature shape Francie as she transforms from a little girl to a young woman.

Despite the fact that Elia Kazan directed this, I found this film to be more corny than gritty. And to me, that was the real failure of the film. A kind of tenacity exists in the book that is not as prevalent in the movie, and when it does come across, it is very heavy handed. Granted, because it was the 1940s and the Hays Code was in effect, there were more gruesome aspects crucial to the original story that couldn't have been portrayed in this. For example, Sissy's story of marriages and miscarriages, touched on but not fully developed in the film, was, to me, one of the most heartbreaking parts in the book. Also, a horrific incident where a pervert molests Francie - her father lovingly tries to preserve her innocence to the best of his ability afterwards, a gesture that greatly demonstrated their strong bond. Of course, like I said, seeing that it was the 40s, it was not a viable possibility that Kazan could have addressed the latter, but the former could have, in my opinion, been further expanded upon.

Peggy Ann Garner won a Juvenile Oscar for her portrayal of the main character, Francie. The problem with child actors is that they usually fall into over exaggerated mannerisms - and I don't blame them for it, because after all, they are kids, and I rather fault the directors who encourage this acting as a means of buying the hearts of viewers. I didn't find Garner to be an exception above that typical standard. Francie's childhood has its good moments, but many times it was cruel and this lent her sensitivity and a maturity beyond her years, which is absent in Garner's performance. However, Garner effectively captures her idealism.

Dorothy McGuire can be very enjoyable in the right thing - for example, she is wonderful in Friendly Persuasion and she is even good in the light romantic role given to her in A Summer Place. She is fair as Katie; what I liked least was her tendency to be over theatrical, which I'm sure stems back to Kazan, and this hurt her chances at conveying the quiet resilience of the character so palpable in the book. But she is also successfully stoic and strong at other moments. James Dunn won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar as ne'er do well Johnny. His is one of the stronger performances in the film, though physically, he is never what I pictured Johnny to be: in the book he is young and handsome but Dunn seems tired, old, wrinkled next to twenty-seven year old Dorothy McGuire. Then there is Joan Blondell as Sissy. As I mentioned above, Sissy was one of my favorite things about the book and while I hail Blondell as the iconic gum snapping blonde dame of the thirties, I kind of wish she hadn't been cast in the role. Her performance is one dimensional, displaying Sissy's fun loving side but void of any of the sadness that is so touching in the book. However, in her defense, Blondell definitely suffers from the stagnant development of her character, and she might have been able to preform better had Sissy's character been better served by the script. Lastly, Lloyd Nolan in a smaller role as Officer McShane, the kind police officer who befriends the Nolan family. He was good and I really have no complaints.

Ultimately, the problem with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is that it takes a plucky story of a girl's maturing into adulthood and forces it to become sentimental and schmaltzy. In doing so, it makes characters that in the book are so beautifully complicated seem flat and stereotypical. Really, this film can't do justice to the book - so if you haven't read that yet, my advice to you is skip the movie and read that instead.

(P.S. It's been nearly two years since I'd done a movie review on here! Here's to getting back into it.)

Saturday, April 19, 2014

My experiences at the TCM classic film festival

I just got back a few days ago from TCM's annual classic film festival. It's probably quite unnecessary for me to elaborate on what that is, but just in case, the festival is three days long (well, four, if you're lucky enough to procure passes that get you into Thursday's red carpet opener - I, unfortunately, was not) and located in Hollywood. That's three fun days of getting an up close and personal look at Hollywood legends, watching 35mm print in the gorgeous movie palaces sprinkled across Hollywood Boulevard, and waiting in very long lines alongside fellow film lovers (there's no camaraderie quite like that of waiting in line for the same thing.)

This was, indeed, my first TCM classic film festival, and I flew all the way across the country to be there. I guess I should begin by saying that this festival doesn't disappoint at all. It's exhilarating for all passionate classic film lovers. If you're wondering whether it's worth it to attend this event, even if you have to make the trip for it, I'll tell you right away: yes. Do it. You won't regret it at all. As a classic film lover, it was everything I'd dreamed of.

My only extra bit of advice is this: we purchased the matinee passes, which at $350 a piece are the second cheapest passes. They gained us entry into all screenings and Club TCM events starting before 6pm. Having not attended the festival before, and needing to purchase tickets long before the festival's schedule was released, I got the impression that anyone worth seeing would be interviewed within the exclusivity of Club TCM. So at the time, I really felt it was important to have some kind of access to Club TCM - in fact, I wanted to get the more expensive classic passes, which give you full entry to screenings and Club TCM, but they sold out before we could buy them - and that's why we settled for the matinee passes. Now, I realize that that was a waste. All celebrities are seen outside of Club TCM. While Club TCM is a nice little setup in the Roosevelt Hotel, I personally felt that one certainly wasn't missing much by opting out of the extra cost of Club TCM. If I have the opportunity to attend again, I feel the palace pass, or the cheapest pass, would be the best option. Now, since our passes didn't assure us entry into the screenings after 6pm, we had to wait in standby lines for those events, but for the most part (more on that to come later) we got into everything we wanted to see. I would even suggest that if you live in the LA area and want to attend this festival at a practical cost, don't even bother buying a pass - spend the twenty dollars for the standby tickets at what you selectively want to see. More likely than not, you'll get into everything. (But yes, the passes are pretty.)

The festival schedule is hectic - usually three or four events running at the same time at different venues (the hub of the festival is the Hollywood Roosevelt and the movies were screened at Grauman's, the Chinese multiplex next door, the Egyptian and El Capitan), leaving one forced to pick between them. Most try to run from event to event trying to catch all they can, but my dad (who accompanied me and took the majority of pictures in this article, so you can blame the bad quality on him) and I decided to prioritize the events where we would see the celebrities. We have a home theater so we weren't so compelled to attend the screenings lacking special guests, since viewing these movies on the big screen wasn't our motive. So, we spent a lot of time in between sitting down to eat and walking up and down Hollywood Boulevard, looking down at the stars like total tourists. I also stumbled upon Larry Edmund's bookshop and had a ball; I'm pretty certain I've ordered used books from them online so it was great to see the shop in person (it's a classic movie haven, by the way). However, if we do get to attend again, I do hope we'll have the chance to actually watch more movies, because we've both admitted that the grandeur of the movie palaces is something our home theater lacks.  And, there's something great about watching old movies with an audience (like when we applaud for, well, you know, dead stars, but they totally deserve it.)

Visiting Grauman's - Natalie's tiny hands & feet

Larry Edmund's bookshop. Ignore Kill Bill. 

Stars on the stage at the Montalban Theater.
On our first day, we headed over to the "Ask Robert Osborne" session which was held farther down Hollywood Boulevard than the other locations (which are all really in walking distance of one another), at the Montalban Theater. Interesting piece of trivia: the Montalban is where the Lux Radio specials were recorded, so, in other words, almost every star in Hollywood has been there. I was really looking forward to Ask Robert because Robert knew Lucy quite well (he brought her up on his own several times within the session), and I wanted to personally ask him a question about her. Plus, isn't there a thrill in getting to speak to Robert Osborne, the man we all see on TV pretty much daily? It was about four questions in, and I hadn't got called on yet but still had my hopes up, when Alex Trebek wandered onto the stage and kicked off what was a surprise tribute to Robert, who has been hosting TCM for all of its 20 years. That put an end to the questioning, but it did bring unexpected appearances. Several stars showed up to talk about their affection for Robert Osborne. The first was Eva Marie Saint, who had done an extensive interview with Robert Osborne at last year's festival. She is absolutely adorable, and as we had seated ourselves off to the right, next to several seats marked "reserved for guests", I was thrilled when an usher led her into the first seat in the row ahead of us! It was incredibly exciting to feel her presence so close, and I couldn't help myself from looking at the back of her head over and over. Diane Baker, who also worked with Hitchcock in the film Marnie, came out after that and sat in the seat in front of Eva. I got a kick out of it each time Eva leaned over to say something in Diane Baker's ear.

Alec Baldwin, who used to host the Essentials with Robert (now it's Drew Barrymore, and I guess I would have preferred to see her but, you know, it's okay) also made an appearance but didn't join us in the audience as he had to dash off to "lunch with his wife." After Alec Baldwin, who of all people would be introduced by Alex Trebek but Robert Wagner and his wife, Jill St. John.

I've mentioned it on this blog before, actually, but in case you're a new follower and don't really know, I am not a fan of Robert Wagner's. I am, however, a big fan of Natalie Wood's, and maybe I would like him better if that horrible night on the boat hadn't occurred. I have always held him somewhat responsible for her death - perhaps his negligence, but one thing's for sure, I feel quite passionately about it, so much so I wrote a persuasive essay on the topic in eighth grade. Of course, I still had to stand up and applaud with everyone else when they appeared on the stage. After they did their bit with Robert Osborne up there, the ushers led them down to the audience as they had done with Eva Marie Saint and Diane Baker. Now, in my row, there were four chairs marked "reserved", starting from the left, and I sat on the fifth chair. The usher led Robert Wagner and Jill St. John right into my row - first, Jill St. John sat on the second seat, but then the two stood up and switched seats. So there was Robert Wagner, who had first made a surprise appearance and was now sitting two empty seats away from me!

I had to turn my face away because I genuinely started laughing very hard at the ridiculousness and irony of it all - imagine, out of all the people who might end up two seats away from me!

My dad's stalkerish photos of Eva Marie Saint and Robert Wagner (note his unfortunate close proximity). 

Despite the Robert Wagner incident, the tribute to Robert Osborne was enjoyable. I only wish I had been able to ask him a question about Lucy. Oh, well.

What I really wanted to see was later that day, the screening of Blazing Saddles with an interview with no other than Mel Brooks himself. Since Christmas, I've been having a total Anne Bancroft obsession and I was really excited at the prospect of getting to see her longtime husband in person. (I wanted to see her husband, but I got stuck with the husband of another one of my favorites!) However, this screening was at 9, long past the 6 o'clock deadline of our passes, so we would have to get into the standby line for this. One of the festival employees assured us that more likely than not, we would get in: he said there were five hundred passholders in line, and about nine hundred seats in the theater. We got standby tickets #101 and #102. It seemed, mathematically, it was all going to work out in our favor. The standby line for Blazing Saddles continued to stretch across the side of the building opposite from the Hollywood Roosevelt, as we waited for over an hour. The passholders line was out of our view so we could only take the employee's word that we would probably get in. It was several minutes past 9 o'clock when the employees shot down our hopes by informing us there was no room left in Grauman's. She attempted to console us with the information that the screening of the Warren William precode Employees Entrance would be starting soon. "Have a good night!" she said. "Not anymore!" someone shouted back. I was really disappointed, as I had very much wanted to see Mel Brooks. But I had known that Blazing Saddles was probably going to be the most popular event at the festival and that our chances were slim - it wasn't until the employee outlined it for us in the numbers that I had really begun to think we were going to get in.

The beautiful interiors of the El Capitan.
The second day of the festival, we saw Maureen O'Hara at the El Capitan screening of the 1941 Best Picture winner, How Green Was my Valley. I was bowled over by the gorgeous interior of the El Capitan, the first real movie palace I'd ever been in. Then, Maureen O'Hara was wheeled out on to the stage and we all stood up and loudly applauded her. She waved her hands at us, gesturing for us to sit down, but we continued to clap for her. Seeing her made me a little teary eyed. I think she still looks lovely, and she is a sweetheart of a human being. Robert Osborne started off the interview by asking, "Now, tell us about John Ford" or something like that, and Maureen shot back, with a hint of her Irish brogue, "I thought we were going to talk about me." How could you not love her? Maureen's interview is online here, and I really recommend you watch it if you haven't already. We're so lucky to still have her. At the end of the interview, Robert Osborne told us Maureen would be at Club TCM the next day for a second chance to see her, and I thought that finally our matinee passes would come to some use, but it turned out he misspoke - she appeared in the lobby of the Hollywood Roosevelt (which was open to all festival attendees) while we were inside Club TCM anticipating her arrival. So, we missed her, but we did get to see a closeup look at her that day when her limo pulled up in front of the Hollywood Roosevelt. My dad and I just happened to be at the entrance as they assisted her into her wheelchair and led her inside. They wheeled her right past me as I heard someone tell her, "These are all your fans, wanting to see you." It was wonderful seeing her, but it still made me kind of sad.

Left: Maureen O'Hara with Robert O at El Capitan for Green Valley screening. 
Right: How close we got to her when watching her arrival at the Hollywood Roosevelt the next day.

Later that day, Kim Novak was to make an appearance at the Egyptian for the showing of Bell, Book, and Candle. Because it was to be at 6:15, we, once again, had to get into the standby line. Not wanting a repeat of the Blazing Saddles incident, we snuck out of El Capitan half an hour early to make our way to the Kim Novak standby line. We got tickets #11 and #12. The standby line for this was much shorter than Blazing Saddles, probably only fifty or so people. Jerry Lewis was going to be at The Nutty Professor at the same time, so I guess that drew away some of her crowd. We did get into this one. I wouldn't know for sure, but I figure that pretty much everyone in the standby line did. Anyways, not only did we get in, we managed to get front row seats! It was off to the left of center, but that was okay. Watching a movie from the front row can kind of give you a headache, no doubt, but we wanted those seats to get the best possible look at Kim. And we did - as she was led through the aisle on to the stage, she passed incredibly close to us. What she talked about has gotten some extra attention in the press recently (I saw a write-up about it on the Washington Post's website yesterday morning). She discussed the "elephant in the room", or her appearance at the Academy Awards. It appears that she got some "fat injections" done, and it did not exactly turn out that great. So, of course, when she appeared at the Oscars, people ripped her apart for the way she looked. At the festival, she talked quite bravely about how what happened to her was bullying, and how it must be stopped. She talked about how she had been nervous to appear at the Oscars, considering she had never won one or even been nominated for one. How she suffers from bipolar disorder and is always anxious about public appearances. In return, our audience sent her an outpouring of love, as someone shouted, "We love you Kim!" from the back of the theater. "I've got to confess, I feel at home with you," she told our audience. You can also watch her interview here, and I suggest you do. It's really important. Not only is it ridiculous for a society to expect an eighty-one year old to look the way she did in her twenties, it's even sadder to hear her talk about how much the criticism hurt her.

Kim Novak and Robert O at the Egyptian's Bell, Book, and Candle screening.

The last day of the festival was Sunday, with a far less crowded schedule than the days preceding it. We decided to make it for what we thought was going to be Maureen O'Hara's four o'clock appearance at Club TCM, and spent a little bit of the earlier part of the day in Beverly Hills. We drove down Roxbury Drive, so I could see where Lucy lived. Though her address has widely been reported as being 1000 North Roxbury Drive, the home at 1001 Roxbury looked more like the New England style, colonial home Lucy chose, so vastly different from the Spanish inspired architecture southern California is famous for. Tour buses that drove by pointed towards 1001 Roxbury. However, I read online that the new owners did massive reconstruction (hmph), so who knows for sure which side of the street she lived on. It was exciting to just kind of be in that vicinity, I guess.

When we went back to the Roosevelt Hotel, I went to the bathroom. I was washing my hands when I looked over to the left of me, where a passholder was talking to an elder lady wearing a loud outfit and a lot of jewelry. I mused silently to myself that the woman kind of looked like Margaret O'Brien. She was making appearances at the festival and I had wanted to see her at the screening of Meet Me in St. Louis, one of my favorite films, but we'd opted to see Ask Robert instead. So we had missed her. I figured that there was no way Margaret O'Brien was using the same bathroom as the rest of us, but as I dried my hands behind the two women, I heard the passholder compliment her on how she "spoke with such charisma." It hit me then: this was Margaret O'Brien! She had, after all, been at the festival for the Mickey Rooney tribute that day. I stood behind them for about a minute, a little smile on my face, completely starstruck by having "run into" Margaret O'Brien in the restroom of the Hollywood Roosevelt! My dad was waiting outside for me and I told him of the incident. We stood there, waiting, until she came out and passed by us, and I pointed her out to my dad. I saw pictures of her at the event and later confirmed that that had, indeed, been her. I really wish I had said something, but I couldn't even think of what to say. What an incredibly unique experience, though! And I love that she's sporting a nose piercing these days (I did a double take on that).

At  the Hollywood Museum.
After missing Maureen O'Hara that day, we went to the Hollywood Museum, where there was about half an hour left before closing. The two best things about this museum were seeing Lucy's Emmys and the Max Factor "For Redheads Only" room, which is basically a shrine to Lucy with a little bit of Rita Hayworth here and there. As we were visiting family for dinner, we didn't have time to stick around for the festival's evening events. We stayed one more day in Hollywood, in which we took the Paramount Tour. It was great to see Lucy's dressing room and the park in Paramount named after her, but I was really upset that the tour guide told us exaggerations or misinformation (I totally picked out the ones about Lucy, and it made me question everything else she said). We also visited Universal, which my dad wanted to see. I don't really care for rides and the famous studio tram tour puts a lot of focus on more recent movies and tv shows, though, of course, it was great to see the Psycho House.

This was my second visit to California - I had been there once, about a decade ago, before I was a classic film fan. I love it out there, and am really missing it a lot now that I'm back home. There were also some things we didn't get to see that I wish we had time for, like the UCLA and Margaret Herrick archives. I guess it's always good to leave something for next time, though. The only thing that could keep me from visiting the film festival again next year is the timing. See, I was very lucky this year because the dates coincided with my spring break, so I only had to miss one day of school. Because the major audience for this film festival are adults who don't have spring break, TCM doesn't necessarily try to arrange the festival to align with spring break. I've got my fingers crossed that next year I'll be lucky again, because I had an absolutely wonderful time and I would love to go again.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Fashion in film: The Graduate

As of the moment, I've been going through a major Anne Bancroft obsession (expect a long winded post on this soon). So, I downloaded The Graduate (1967), which has been a favorite of mine for a couple of years, for a rewatching. I thought I would write a little blog on something that stuck out to me this time I watched: the fashion.

Mike Nichols put effort into nearly every meticulous detail of The Graduate (1967), from his innovative editing (who can forget the incredible cut of Dustin Hoffman jumping onto his raft and landing, instead, on a naked Anne Bancroft) to the sympathetic Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack ("hello darkness, my old friend.") Just as much effort is put into the selection of wardrobe in The Graduate. Anne Bancroft and Katharine Ross don't just wear pretty clothes - their clothes are a reflection of their sentiments.

Consistently throughout the movie, Mrs. Robinson wears some kind of an animal print. Nowadays, the media refers to women who date men their junior as "cougars", and Mrs. Robinson is perhaps the genesis of this woman: she was one before the term was coined. Mrs. Robinson was outfitted in animal print to create the effect of a carnivorous animal seeking to pounce on her prey (Benjamin). In fact, the first shot of Mrs. Robinson is in the Braddocks' crowded living room. As scores of party guests clamor around Benjamin - to the point of his obvious discomfort - and congratulate him on his recent graduation from college, Mrs. Robinson remains lounging in a chair. Smoking her cigarette, she eyes Benjamin from a distance but does not yet approach him.

In this opening scene, Mrs. Robinson wears a shift style cocktail dress covered in black lace. The lace is reminiscent of lingerie and underneath is a zebra print. This outfit, the first she wears in the whole film, really tells us a lot about Mrs. Robinson that we will learn later: her predatory nature and her sensuality. 

After Ben decides to take her up on her offer ("I am sexually available to you, Benjamin"), Mrs. Robinson shows up at the infamous Taft Hotel in a large cheetah print coat. And both times we see Mrs. Robinson in her slip, it is once again an animal print. When Ben comes to the house to pick up Elaine for their date, Mrs. Robinson sits by the bar, angry, smoking, covered in an animal print blanket. Even at Elaine's wedding, she sports a suit trimmed with her signature print and a matching hat.

Anne Bancroft is brilliant as Mrs. Robinson because of her multidimensional portrayal: Anne plays her not as a tawdry seductress but rather, beneath her cool veneer, we find a very tragic middle aged housewife who after becoming pregnant in college was denied the opportunity to follow her dreams. (In an interview she gave in 2000, Anne said that she imagined that Mrs. Robinson had perhaps been a great artist.) The animal print, like a coat of armor, is a physical representation of her cunning exterior. Only when she is stripped of it, we are exposed to the vulnerability she hides inside. This is depicted beautifully by Anne in the scene where Dustin Hoffman attempts to make pillow talk - they are in bed and so she is naked. "What was your major subject in college?" he asks her. "Art," she says with sad eyes, expressing more there than most actors can in a whole monologue.

Elaine Robinson's wardrobe is far more conservative than her mother's. While Mrs. Robinson opts for clothes that are sexy or show off her legs, we often see college coed Elaine in turtlenecks, sweaters, and jackets. The pastel pink dress that Elaine wears on her first date with Ben gives way to her virginal, demure personality. The contrast between the two wardrobes is a tangible tribute to the clash between mother and daughter.

The distinctive wardrobe elements of The Graduate are yet another detail that adds to this film being the masterpiece that it is. While many movies have beautiful wardrobes, few films use clothes to their advantage as well as The Graduate does.

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