Born When She Kissed Me: Nicholas Ray Blogathon, 2011

So I didn’t hear about this until the last minute so the first piece I’m posting is a link to my previous piece on In a Lonely Place (1950), but I have much more to say about Nick Ray. He’s one of my favorite directors. I was introduced to his work while still an undergrad, and have only delved deeper over the years. Actually, this year has been quite a good “Nick” year for me, as the film noir festival and the TCM Film Festival here in Los Angeles both provided genuinely amazing Ray treats for me that I hope to write about for this blogathon.

That said, a small caveat on my In a Lonely Place piece- it was one of my very initial attempts at the blog world so it may not be as strong as later articles and it’s fairly dated as it deals with news issues that were happening at that time, but I like it and I’m very proud of it. I will also say that this film is one of my favorites, I have seen it screened theatrically more times than Star Wars and if you ever get a chance, the novel written by  Dorothy B. Hughes is brutal and simply terrific. With that, here is my article on Ray’s film. Keep checking back. I’m hurriedly prepping something else.

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TCM Classic Film Fest, 2011-Initial Preparations and Looking to the Past

And so it goes. A year passes, things change, and…here we are. About to enter the insanity that is the TCM Classic Film Fest once again.

I experienced it last year, and submitted my review to a local magazine. It ended up going unpublished,  however, that doesn’t mean I can’t post the review here, one year later, right? In short, I would like to share with you my experiences from the TCM Classic Film Fest 2010.

First of all, let me preface this by letting you know that when I wrote this, I was still on my “festival high” and the magazine audience that I was writing it for not nearly as advanced as I feel that this one is. So I apologize if the tenor of the piece feels somewhat…less. In any case, you are a forgiving audience (I feel), so I will give you the writing and hope that you will at least be cheerleaders along with me.

I will tell you this: The TCM Film Festival of 2010 was remarkable in so many ways that I have to publish this piece before I let you know what my plans are going to be this upcoming weekend. So here goes….

Firstly, I must confess: I am not a morning person. It takes me a while to get out of bed. However, the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) Film Festival that took place at Grauman’s Chinese and the Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Blvd, from April 22-25, was a whole different story. In fact, all I needed to know to jump out of bed that first day was: my breakfast is going to be made out of Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Dick Powell, and Gloria Grahame and cooked up by Vincent Minnelli in 1952. While most people I know can barely make it to work by 9:00am, I had gotten on my bike, booked it up to the Walk of Fame, bought a ticket, and was in my seat ready to watch one of my favorite films: The Bad and The Beautiful.   

And it was worth every little bit of sleep lost, as there was so much gained! First off, there was a Q&A with Robert Osborne and Cheryl Crane, Lana Turner’s daughter. Most famous for her, um, “run in” at 14 years old with mommy’s gangster boyfriend Johnny Stompanato, (she showed her approval of the relationship by stabbing him to death), Crane was actually most charming and spoke lovingly of Turner. But it had nothing on the film itself. This motion picture can knock any modern day movie trying to “expose” Hollywood’s evils flat on its proverbial ass. Twice. The bad?  Waking up early after being out way too late the night before. The Beautiful? Seeing a gorgeous 35mm print of this, pristine and larger than life…the way it was meant to be seen!

After this, I blasted through hell incarnate (read: tourists and people dressed like SpongeBob Squarepants) to get much needed sustenance and garner a spot for one of THE best and THE most cynical and downright nasty films ever placed on celluloid: Sweet Smell of Success(Alexander Mackendrick, 1957). It was in the Grauman’s Chinese, large and in charge, with a Q&A with one of the stars, Tony Curtis.

The man, the myth, the legend. See Sweet Smell of Success. Just do it.

I shouldn’t say much about this except that it was a disappointment and it was not Tony’s fault. The guy is 84 years old, and he’s more than welcome to ramble. But if you are the Q&A guy, your JOB is to keep him on track. Oh, and…try and make sure he keeps the microphone up to his mouth. It was tragic, as I would’ve liked to have had a good Q&A for this film. If you have never seen this film, you must. Mike Patton (Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, etc) really likes it. He’s used several lines from it in Tomahawk songs.

The remainder of the festival was amazing. Later that first day, I saw Mel Brooks present The Producers, and that was phenomenal. He’s sharp as a tack, funny as hell, and had great stories.

Mel Brooks outdoes everyone and probably will...forever. Flanked by Mitch Glazer on the right and Vanity Fair's Sam Kashner (who, thankfully, let Brooks have centerstage as well he should have!)

I did another 9:00am run on Saturday to see Billy Wilder’s Sunset Blvd (but I’d do almost anything for a Billy Wilder screening…you should too), and Nancy Olsen was there, looking barely any older than she did in the film! It was impressive. I visited the Egyptian Saturday night to see Donald Bogle (read his book “Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks: A History of Blacks in Film”- educational and extremely well-written!) present some of the most exquisite 35mm transfers of out-of-circulation cartoons (such as “Coal Black and the Sebben Dwarves”)

The 35mm prints of these cartoons were magnificent and the historical discussion by Donald Bogle was beyond that.

done by folks like Bob Klampett and Tex Avery. That show blew my skull apart and made me simply ecstatic to live in a city where I could bear witness to this on a big screen!

Then there was Three Alarm Sunday. Heard of a three alarm fire? I have 3 alarms to wake me up. I used ‘em for Sunday. One was Good, one was Bad, and one was Ugly. Because that was the film I saw. It was life changing. Out of all the films I have seen in my life (and I have seen a ton), I had never seen this, and I had especially never seen it with 94-year-old Eli Wallach doing the Q&A. What do you want me to say? He was witty, funny, charming. He let loose an “I’ll stop acting when I die!”

"I'll stop acting when I die!"

and brought along a birthday card someone sent him that played the beginning theme from the film. The movie and the music were so beautiful that they made me cry. Not once, not twice, but several times. I felt lucky to have eyes and ears, and thanked Italy and Mr. and Mrs. Leone for having some sexy times to create Sergio. I walked out of Grauman’s a changed woman, and will never forget that morning.  While I saw several more films that day, including The Stunt Man (Richard Rush,1980), Murder, He Says (George Marshall, 1945) and one of my all-time-favorites, In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950), The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is a film that went beyond the pale, and really “tied the room together, man.” Thank you TCM, and thank you Los Angeles for providing me with a nice little film vacation! Can’t wait until next year!

And so we have come full-circle. It is now next year. I have been chatting excitedly with my good friends Karie Bible from Film Radar and Dennis Cozzalio of Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule and we all agreed in our different conversations that this year’s schedule is *just* as difficult to prioritize as last year’s. Realistically, the fact that I even have a pass to go to the thing makes me feel like Charlie Bucket getting a Golden Ticket to Willy Wonka’s factory.  That said, when you put certain things against each other at the same time, it truly is like a filmic Sophie’s Choice. That said, I am going to now present you with what I feel will be my schedule for the TCM Classic Film Festival 2011. Feel free to comment on it at will!

THURSDAY, April 28th

7:15- A Night at the Opera with What’s Opera, Doc? on 35mm, guests: Andy Marx and Robert Bader

-I’m not sure if I have seen a Marx Brothers film on the big screen before. So…I’m gonna make sure that I have.

10:15-The Devil is a Woman on 35mm, guest: Katie Trainor

-totally problematic, TOTALLY Von Sternberg/Dietrich, and to quote the TCM site- “When Spain threatened to ban all Paramount pictures over the film’s depiction of their police guard, the studio pulled it from worldwide distribution and destroyed the master. They also released von Sternberg from his contract prematurely ending a level of artistic freedom that the director would never enjoy again.”  This is the world premiere of a new restoration from MOMA. Can we say excited, boys & girls?

FRIDAY, April 29th

-9:00am, Becket on 35mm, Q&A/Discussion w/Peter O’Toole

-I am getting up SUPER early in order to be able to see this. If I do not get a good seat for this I will be crushed. I am soooooooo looking forward to this it’s kinda silly. As I have commented to friends of mine, this is kinda one of the first “bro” movies. But, as far as I’m concerned, it’s the kind of “bro” I LIKE watching. Peter O’Toole in person. Need I say more???

-12:45pm Bigger Than Life on 35mm, guest: Barbara Rush

-It’s on scope. It’s by Nicholas Ray. It’s got Walter Matthau. 2008 restoration. I’ve never seen it. It’s about drug addiction and the ripping apart of the “picket fence” thing. I’m SO IN.

-3:45pm The 7th Voyage of Sinbad on 35mm, guest: Bruce Crawford

-DUDE. Harryhausen. 35mm. Are you out of your mind?? I may resemble a female in all the ways I am supposed to, but when it comes to things of this nature, I WANT ADVENTURE AND BIG MONSTERS ON THE BIG SCREEN. I will not hide the 14-year-old-boy that resides in my brain. And he gets treated to some rockin’ good times with this. Thanks. I could lie and tell you that it was just because I wanted to write about the Bernard Herrmann music, but why beat around the bush???

-8:00pm Spartacus, digital, guest/Q&A: Kirk Douglas

-So I have dreamed of seeing Kirk Douglas in person since…oh…forever. I love that he is a man that doesn’t let anything keep him down and I love his dedication and his passion. I just want to see him in person. I have also never seen Spartacus on the big screen. There is something somewhat romantic to me about seeing it at the Egyptian. So…I am going to do this. I am *hoping* that it will let me out early enough to make the midnight at the Egyptian, however….

-12:00am The Tingler, 35mm, guest: Bruce Goldstein

-I love William Castle. I love Vincent Price. I make it a point to never miss a chance to see a Castle movie when it is being projected, if i can help it. So…if I can help it, I’m gonna try to make it! If I can’t then, ah well.

SATURDAY, April 30th

-9:30am This is the Night, 35mm, guest: Jennifer Grant

-It’s the film that launched Cary Grant’s career, got Thelma Todd in it (aka “Hot Toddy” who died under very mysterious circumstances), it’s pre-code-era, and it’s a new restoration from the UCLA Film & TV Archive. Sounds good for breakfast!

-12:00pm The Outlaw Josie Wales, digital

-Clint Eastwood. Big Chinese. Need I say more?

-3:45 Went The Day Well?, 35mm, Guest: Kevin Brownlow

-OK, so this is where it gets super painful for *me*…I need to see Outlaw Josie Wales so therefore I cannot go to the “Conversation with Kevin Brownlow” that they are having. This part SUCKS. If you don’t know who Kevin Brownlow is, he’s the guy I wanna be when I grow up. He got an Academy Award for the work he’s done with film preservation, ok? So instead of the “Conversation with…” I’m going to see this film. Don’t get me wrong. This film looks incredible!!! It’s loosely based on a Graham Greene story, it’s a North American premiere of a new restoration, it has all the right stuff. And Brownlow is going to speak on its merits! But…it’s playing at the same time as Carousel, one of my favorite musicals in the entire world, a film I have NEVER gotten to see on a big screen, and a film that never PLAYS on a big screen. Yeah, Sophie? You and your choices can go to hell. I’m still loving my Golden Ticket, though. Oy vey.

***here’s my two options that I haven’t decided on yet:

-6:15 Niagara, 35mm, guest: Foster Hirsch

-Love me some Hathaway, great dark Marilyn film, and Foster Hirsch is a badass mofo when it comes to film noir-y writing and that kinda stuff. I would LOVE to see him talk about this film. To be honest, 50% of the draw of going to Niagara is Hirsch. But…I haven’t decided yet.

OR

-6:30 Pennies From Heaven, 35mm, guest: Ileana Douglas

-Don’t think I’ve seen it on a big screen, wonderful film, Steve Martin…pretty irresistible. This slot is a REALLY HARD CHOICE. I may not know what I’m going to until a little while before I go…

-9:30pm One, Two, Three, 35mm, guest: Michael Schlesinger

-It’s Wilder. We do not miss Wilder. It is a rule. Kinda like breathing. ‘Nuff said.

-12:00am The Mummy, 35mm, guest: Ron Perlman

-I think I would have to be mildly stupid to miss seeing the 1932 film The Mummy at the Egyptian theater. If I can make it there in enough time from the Wilder…I’m there. Plus…uh, RON PERLMAN?????? Yeah.

SUNDAY, May 1st

-9:15am The Sid Saga, 35mm, guest: Ross Lipman

-I’m not going to lie. I’m going to this purely because of the film preservationist/restorationist. Ross Lipman is fantastic and everything he has worked on is so fascinating and to me that I pretty much trust his name at this point. He’s also an incredibly nice guy. I am very much looking forward to watching this piece. Once again, it looks like another really exciting and super cool film preservation achievement.

-12:30pm Bright Boulevards & Broken Dreams: The Story of Black Hollywood, Speaker: Donald Bogle

-I’m a sucker for a film academic who can entertain while also educate. And Donald Bogle fits that bill to a T. Therefore, I think I may go ahead and check him out again. He was awesome last year with the cartoons, so…sure! Let’s go for it!

-3:15pm A Place in the Sun, Guest: Rose McGowan

-Why Rose McGowan is the guest for this film…I have no clue. I know she was on TCM, so I have to conclude she digs this film a whole lot. To be perfectly frank, I’d rather have Alec Baldwin tell me why he likes George Stevens, but hey- not up to me, right? In any case, I’ve never seen the film and I just finished a book that uses it as a fairly central plot point, so I think it might be a good idea to finally see it.

So…there are a lot of TBAs still on Sunday, and I might catch Westside Story  or Manhattan, but I’m not sure. This is where my schedule is at this point. All I know is I’m going to be EXHAUSTED on Monday. This is like Comic Con, just less smelly and crowded and more (dare I say it?) nerdy! In any case it is equally so. And I cannot wait. So there you have it. That is my plan. Perhaps I will see you there?

Are you down with the sickness?: In a Lonely Place and Modern Traumas

Interesting times right now, I have to say.  And the synergy of my film viewing and the world at large is not going unnoticed by this rabid cinephile.

Tonight I went to the Silent Movie Theater to see In a Lonely Place, a film that I fell in love with back in college at UCSC, when my best friend Ray showed it to me. Since then, I have read the book it was based on, wrote a paper about it, and, better still, found an absolutely fucking BRILLIANT song that was based on it (using one of the best lines from the damn film).

This is undoubtedly a troubling film. There is no question in my mind that it is one of Bogart’s best performances, as you see his range of acting through an array of facial expressions that he rarely gets the opportunity to use in most of his more standard roles, however…it makes the film (and his character) that much more, well, disturbing.

See, there’s a murder, right? And it’s a noir, so there seems to be a wrong man thing, right? (And no, I’m NOT going to give anything away, I hate spoilers and ruining films for people with the heat of a thousand burning fires) And of course there’s a love story somewhere inside. All set within the confines of Hollywood and the film industry. Now, the WONDERFUL thing about many of the films in the ’40’s and ’50’s that were made about Hollywood is the way that they treated the landscape. Far from it being the environment where dreams come true and stars are born, it is diseased. Hollywood is sick and rotting, it is a corpse being slowly picked apart by the vultures who live there; beasts who feed upon it (some call those agents, but hey…) trying to gain some substantiation but end up with nothing but more contamination. My point is, that this film is about the sickness.

I am not a stranger to Hollywood, nor am I a stranger to infirmity, especially the kind discussed within the narrative of this film. I wish I could say that it was foreign to me, however, whether it was a personal experience or a friend’s, it is all too familiar. See, no matter how you cut it, Bogart’s character, Dixon Steele, is guilty. I know, I know, I just told you I wasn’t going to spoil anything, but hear me out- I’m not. The main issue in this film has to do with anger issues, and, more crucially, domestic violence. As the cops look at his case, they go through Dix’s files, they come across case after case of fights and brawls and assorted other socially “acceptable” male misbehavior. Then they come to one of his former girlfriends. She retracted the call she made about him, and said that she had broken her nose by “running into a door.”

This is the point where we start to worry and wonder. This is the part where we become disturbed. THIS is the part where the acceptable “guy-ism” of punching the other dude’s lights out doesn’t count. Because you hit a girl. Now I am a full-on feminist, but I don’t think that there aren’t extenuating circumstances to many situations and the term “hitting a girl” does kinda rub me the wrong way at times because it infers that, well, I couldn’t punch the fuck outta someone if I wanted to. However, I also realize that it is a biological FACT that most men are physically stronger than most women in many circumstances (minus weightlifters, bodybuilders, military, and probably a good percentage of the crazy nutjobs that survive Burning Man on a yearly basis, etc), and therefore? YOU DON’T HIT A GIRL.

Which brings me back to my main discussion. Nicholas Ray’s film and Chris Brown and Rihanna. Wh-wh-wh-what??

Yes, I wrote exactly that. Now the interesting thing is, as I was driving to the theater tonight, I was oblivious to the connection between the two (Gee, I dunno, film noir from 1950, R&B teeny-bopper couple from 2009…connection just *didn’t* immediately spring to mind…call me crazy), but as I watched the film unfurl, I was horrified to realize that there was Too Much There. Watching Dixon Steele unravel, watching Gloria Grahame respond, watching their relationship build to the crescendo that it does, the magnificence that is that film…I found more items inside of the diegesis alarming that I had before. Yet, I also found them more heartbreaking and more heartwrenching as well.  Because nothing is ever simple, nothing is ever easy, and love, above all, is the most difficult of all things. However, this film shows that love, with certain people, can be a combat zone, and does nothing to hide that fact. As a sidenote, it would seem to me that this at least partially stemmed from the fact that Nicholas Ray and his star, Gloria Grahame, were in the middle of ending their marriage during the making of the film (he slept on the set, actually, claiming the need to “work late”). However, like war, in this film love is hell.

However, it is not that simple. Especially not in real life. And especially not when the media gets involved (also one of the pivotal messages of the film- a critique of fame and the role that the media plays in making/breaking personal lives).  This very aspect of media involvement hit me like a jackhammer. Actually, it hit me more like the unending barrage of updates I’ve been seeing everyday at the gym about Chris Brown and Rihanna. And I was fascinated by the parallel issues that I was seeing within fiction and non-fiction, with the more than 50 years in between.

I had been listening to a piece on NPR about teenagers in LA and their responses to the Chris Brown/Rihanna thing right before I pulled up to the theater. See, it’s pretty phenomenal what fandom and fan culture will do to people and their synthesis of actual real life events. The way I see it, there are three main activities that fans regularly engage in that can be seriously and horrifically detrimental in situations like this.

1) Fans will intentionally ignore the negative/unacceptable in order to keep their image of their Perfect Idol “perfect”

2) Fans will actively search for and find “back up” evidence (no matter how outlandish it may seem) that defies the event in question in order to reposition and restore the Perfect Idol back to his/her “rightful” throne

3) Fans will vigorously disseminate their version of events as the absolute truth, as a result of their expert knowledge in that area

Now, please do not misunderstand me. I am a HUGE fan of Fandoms and Fan Culture. I study it, love it, AM it, to a certain extent. Each of the above things in and of itself is not inherently evil. However, when it comes to a situation like Rihanna and Chris Brown…it becomes very dangerous. These three things are, obviously, methods that fans use to intentionally distort the truth. This is not bad when it comes to the discussion of William Shatner’s toupees, but it is damaging beyond words when it comes to something like domestic violence.

Especially when there are, oh, no celebrities with the balls enough to stand up and say “Hey guys- this shit don’t fly. This was not good.” That certainly doesn’t help. So when KCRW has these teenagers discussing their feelings about whether Rihanna hit him first, and then whether she deserved to get hit back because she started it, and others disowning Brown altogether, you end up realizing that there is an entire generation of kids out there right now, struggling to cobble together some kind of reasoning and some kind of meaning from all of this with no guidance. Oh boo hoo, so Brown isn’t getting to do that awards show. Is that going to help these girls who love(d) him? Not really.  One of the girls said something to the effect of “Oh, he’s never going to be able to come back from this one. He’s being called Ike Turner, you don’t come back from that.”  Tragically, and especially after rewatching the film tonight, I have to play the cynic on this one. He’s already coming back. His PR people are working overtime to make damn sure that happens. Thus I say, welcome to the sickness. Welcome to the disease. Welcome to the virus-ridden place that used to be located in Hollywood, but has now been expanded to a meta-location called, simply, Celebrity.

inalonelyplace3791 I was going to post a picture of Rihanna and her face, but do you really need to see that? I mean, that is a physically embodied example of illness and malady, physically imposed and created, but sickness nonethless. But I thought better of it. We’ve all seen it by now, and if you haven’t, google it. NO ONE should EVER get beaten like that. I’m glad that picture got leaked though, even if her 21-year-old ass isn’t. It’s going to make a difference in someone’s life. I hope. But I’m not going to repost the damn thing.

Do we need to see more reiteration on WHY you shouldn’t beat another human being to a bloody pulp? I’m thinking….no.  So instead, I’ll end with a brief musing on the foreign poster I found for In a Lonely Place. I thought it was particularly fascinating because, well, the title change. I have a penchant for foreign film posters. BIG time. My favorites currently are the Polish ones. But this one is pretty interesting. The film’s “tagline” literally says “Of hatred? or of death?”  And the title? Well, this film is now called “Death in a kiss.”

Quite a different feel from In a Lonely Place, eh? The association of kisses with violence and death with hate and intimacies, all against the backdrop of what seems to be Bogart caressing Grahame’s face in his hands…It’s quite intense. Not unlike the film. Translations and updates can be funny things, not unlike language itself. It can change a film from having a semi-moody, melancholic title to one that connotes vicious violence and explosive passions. That very same language is also used to change one man’s actions of anger and violence into a simple “mistake,” or something that was “taken out of context,” with very similar effects: the entire scene changes.

At the end of the day, media is as sensitive as we are. However, as it seems to be continually proven, not all the people who are producing it these days, are. They are those vultures as mentioned earlier, circling, waiting. At this point it is just up to us really. We have to decide whether we’re going to be down with the sickness, or abscond to greener pastures and leave it for others to deal with, as the celebrities seemed to have done with the Rihanna/Brown case. Alternatively,  we can always try and revitalize this bitch, give it some blood, a new title and tagline perhaps. I don’t know about you, but those foreign posters? They always speak volumes to me.