One Of My All-Time Favorites

…redheads, that is.

It is a great pity that most memories of flame-haired beauty Greer Garson are going to be in black-and-white, because she was extraordinary even by the standards of her time (which, as I’ve lamented before, featured Women With Regrettable Hairstyles).

The best part about Garson is that initially, she never had any intentions of becoming a movie actress. She graduated from university with a degree in French and 18th-century literature and worked in an ad agency in her native London. Then she got into some stage acting, and when she was spotted at a performance by L.B. Mayer, he offered her an acting contract on the spot. Her effect was immediate: she got an Oscar nomination (the first of seven) for her very first movie role in Blossoms In The Dust, and won Best Actress for Mrs. Miniver  just a couple years later.

Most British actresses were portrayed in the contemporaneous stereotype of the calm, classy woman, but Greer Garson somehow managed to escape the typecasting occasionally, such as the dancer in Random Harvest (coincidentally, one of my all-time favorite romantic movies, by the way):

…and she was also capable of being not just beautiful, but sexy as well. Here she is in (yet another of my favorite movies) Mrs. Miniver, showing off her new hat to her husband, wearing a nightgown which… I don’t wanna talk about it:

Maybe it was an inadvertent act on the part of the movie’s director (I doubt it), but that scene is one of the most understated yet sexiest ever filmed — no nudity, no sexual banter, nothing but Greer Garson’s astonishing beauty. And in both the above movies (they came out in the same year, 1942) she was already thirty-eight years old, an advanced age by Hollywood standards.

Here are a few more examples of what I’m talking about:

If only they’d been taken in glorious Technicolor… but hey, I’ll take what I’ve been given.

Bad Hair Dames

And lo, in the years of the 1930s there was inflicted upon women the hairstyle known as “curly bangs”; yea and even the most beauteous of them were made hideous by this fashion:

 

And only in the 1940s did the ones known as “hair-stylists” get a clue and start to make amends:


Dramatis personae, from top:

Greta Garbo
Barbara Stanwyck
Greer Garson
Ginger Rogers

Veronica Lake
Lauren Bacall
Ann Miller
Dolores Moran

Sophisticated Comedy

Reader Harry F. writes:

“In your rant about horrible modern movies, you mention the ‘sophisticated comedies’ of Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder. Can you suggest some for me to watch? (I want recommendations because if they’re that good, I’d rather buy the DVD, but if I’m going to buy them, I don’t want to risk getting a dud.)”

Okay… no pressure there. Before I go any further, though I’d like to set some parameters first.

In the traditional sense, “comedy” is not just that scenario which which makes you laugh out loud (although, of course, it can). Mostly, comedy involves situations that are not thrilling or dangerous, or even life-threatening. The best example of comedy writing, by the way, is that of the various P.G. Wodehouse stories, which place its characters into situations that seem ridiculous to the reader, but which are taken very seriously by the characters themselves — which is part of the comedy.

If you think of comedy as amusing, therefore, then most of what follows will make more sense.

But while I’m going there, let’s broaden the scope of movie comedy to beyond Lubitsch and Wilder, and include others just as good or better. I’m going to confine myself mostly to the b&w movies, because nowadays everybody seems to have their favorite color movie comedies*, and the oldies need to get their due. (Note that I’m leaving out comedies like those of the Marx Brothers and Chaplin, because everybody knows about them and in any case, their comedy is often too broad for my taste. I’m also going to leave out the better-known comedies of the era like the Astaire/Rogers movies, because everyone knows them — and if you don’t, this would be the time to remedy that shameful omission).

If you want a better idea of my suggested movies’ plots, look them up on Wikipedia or IMDB. Here goes.

The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, 1941) starring Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck — quite possibly the greatest comedy ever filmed. I cannot count how many times I’ve watched this movie, and every time I get the same enjoyment that I did from the very first viewing.

If you get your hands on no others of my recommendations, get this one.

Trouble in Paradise (Ernst Lubitsch, 1932) starring Kay Francis and Miriam Hopkins — each of the ladies has impeccable comic timing and the pre-Hays Office repartee is wonderfully saucy.

Love In The Afternoon (Billy Wilder, 1957) starring Gary Cooper and Audrey Hepburn — the ending had to be rewritten because the Hays Office thought the original was immoral. ‘Nuff said.

And it’s much better than Wilder’s most famous comedy, Some Like It Hot.

A Royal Scandal (Ernst Lubitsch, 1945) starring Tallulah Bankhead and Anne Baxter — Catherine The Great’s love life, as portrayed by Tallulah. Word is that the best scenes involved Ms. Bankhead’s improv of the dialogue, the language bluer than the Pacific Ocean. Had it been filmed in 1932, it would have fitted in with today’s movies. Because it was filmed in 1945, though, the improvised dialogue was all cut out. Still funny, though, because Lubitsch.

Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (Ernst Lubitsch, 1935) starring Gary Cooper and Claudette Colbert — serial marriages, divorce, alimony and mistaken identity, oh my. How I love this movie.

Bachelor Mother (Garson Kanin, 1939) starring Ginger Rogers and David Niven — Ginger in a non-dancing role, and Niven at his not-so imperturbable best. Viewed in contemporary terms, the plot is ridiculous; back then, it was very serious — which is why it gets the comedy treatment.

All these are just the ones which come to mind first; I’ll post more later as I think of them.

And next weekend there’s going to be a spinoff from this post, brought to mind by some of the pictures.


*Blazing Saddles is not a comedy, it’s a farce — in so many ways.

#MeLikewise

Here’s one I can definitely get behind:

Ageing cinema audiences looking for intelligent dialogue are being let down by a male-dominated industry obsessed with blockbusters filled with violence and special effects.

My only quibble with an otherwise excellent sentiment is the “male-dominated” part, even though it might be true. The fact of the matter, though, is that male domination is irrelevant: Hollywood (and the movie industry in general) can’t rely on domestic audiences anymore because the real money is to be made in the vast Asian market. And dubbing is expensive, so instead they make action movies — and by resorting to comic-book characters and storylines, they get a double bonus because the US market can be counted upon to supply a large number of retarded neo-adolescents who are still reading comic books at age 30+. Hence the success of Transformers 27 , Fast & Furious 51, Spiderman Meets [Super-Villain #16] , and similar childish bullshit.

Aldous Huxley would be laughing hysterically right now, because his “feelies” have materialized — only instead of actual touching, movies’ audio tracks are cranked up to 15 so that the senses can be literally assaulted by sound.

And another thing, speaking of artificiality: CGI special effects should not be used for reasons other than logistical (e.g. CGI-generated fleets of C-47s ferrying paratroopers into Normandy in Band of Brothers: good; making CGI characters / machines the heroes of the movie: bad — no, awful). Given the trend towards the latter, it’s no surprise to me that movie directors are already talking about simply transplanting well-known actors’ faces onto CGI bodies and being able to make movies entirely in a digital studio as opposed to on an expensive studio lot — hell, that’s already started in the porno industry (always an innovator and ground-breaker in technology, by the way), much to the consternation of actresses like Meryl Streep, Scarlet Johannson or Kathy Bates.

Whenever I’m asked why I haven’t seen the new Masters of the Galaxy (or whatever it’s called) movie, I simply reply that I quit reading comic books at about age 11*, as should every adult. The storylines are boringly repetitive, the action equally so, and the characters’ emotions are, well, set at comic-book level (which is what’s required for a preteen audience who don’t have the mental software to appreciate or even recognize complex emotional issues). It’s fine for kids, in other words; but if someone age 50 tells me he’s still seriously into comic books and/or their movie derivatives, I actually start to wonder about his mental maturity. Love of comic books by adults, at best, signifies a lazy intellect and at worst, immaturity. (Yeah, I know. Sometimes the truth hurts, dunnit? Please spare me the lofty rationale why you still act hysterically like a preteen fanboi every time there’s talk of replacing Robert Downey Jr. with Will Smith in the next Iron Man. And don’t get me started on the Star Wars industrial complex.)

Small wonder that the SJW movement is so into simplistic entertainment like RPG online shoot-’em-up fantasy games, Marvel comics and Michael Bay’s crappy automotive transmogrification movies. It’s a logical extension of SJWs’ entire snowflake persona which is so easily seduced by bumper-sticker slogans and -philosophy.

And yes I know, it’s just escapism. I don’t care. Escaping reality into a sophisticated Billy Wilder or Ernst Lubitsch comedy is one thing; escaping into the latest Iron Man extravaganza, even with Robert Downey Jr.’s excellent performance, is no better than downing a bottle of tequila — you come out of it with your senses reeling and a faint taste of nausea, not to mention shame that you allowed yourself to be seduced into this nonsense so easily. (If you come out of the latter feeling spiritually enriched, then you’re beyond help.)

And speaking of seduction: I have no idea what women’s role is in all this, hence my dismissal of “male-dominated” as irrelevant, earlier. As a rule, women don’t do action movies (note, please, that NAWALT, but as a generalization, it’s true — just look at the attendance / fan base breakdown by sex). My guess is that younger women are being assaulted by the combined force of intellectual laziness and militant feminism (which I suspect considers romantic comedies as yet another manifestation of the Patriarchy — fuck, I am getting so sick of that trope). The outcome is just going to lead to an endless stream of 50 Shades Of Grey and Twilight replicas. The awfulness of the original 50 Shades wish-fulfillment fantasy and the vampire-struck Twilight in itself means that the sequential wannabes will be so dire that audiences and readers thereof will have to be issued barf bags. Anne Rice’s dreadful supernatural soft-porn novels of the 1990s were just a harbinger of worse things — and boy, are we seeing them now.

For myself, you can count me in Imelda Staunton’s “grey pound” (or in US terms, “grey dollar”) group. As she so correctly puts it: “There are a lot of people who want to listen to intelligent dialogue and see films that make you think, but also [with characters] that don’t just go around killing.” I agree completely. As much as I enjoy a good occasional killing in a thriller (book or movie), I can live without them — witness my affection for modern movies like A Good Year , Hope Springs and Midnight In Paris, to name but three that could be classified as romantic comedies, but which are actually stories of character development. No special effects, no CGI, no explosions or car chases: just simple themes with complex characters facing life-changing challenges.

So you’ll forgive me if I can’t converse knowledgeably about the latest Marvel movie which combines classical mythological figures like Thor and Loki with modern mythological figures like Iron Man and Captain America — good grief, the whole premise makes me want to reach for the single malt — because the chances are that I won’t have seen it. And as for the female type of fantasy escapism, this picture encapsulates my sentiment exactly:

Actually, you can substitute any of the current comic-book genre movie titles into that meme, and you’ve got my position.


*Not all comics are for kids. I’ve never quit reading Asterix and Tintin stories, for example, for the simple reason that like earlier Looney Tunes cartoon movies, the humor is not just aimed at children, but in many cases it’s seriously adult-oriented. And if you don’t understand Latin and Roman-Gallic history, a lot of Asterix is going to sail right over your head.

Music, Lyrics and Wisdom

I can’t remember if I’ve written before about my fondness for the romantic comedy Music and Lyrics, starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore, but I will now.

Grant of course plays his typical screen persona of the diffident, occasionally-clueless Brit twerp — it works for him, and clearly works for pretty much everyone, so why not? — this time, as a has-been 80’s pop star who can write a lovely pop tune, while Barrymore is a ditzy girl who just happens to have a soaring, but unrealized talent as a lyricist. The movie shows how they meet and fall in love, and that’s all we need to say about the romance. But that’s not what interests me about the story.

You see, the movie is filled with all sorts of insight into the creative process. Anyone who wants to make some kind of living at being “creative” should watch this movie a dozen times, because there is so much received wisdom in the script that it should be used as a college text. A sample  is when Barrymore professes to be unable to write a couple of lines because she’s “not feeling inspired”, and Grant excoriates that nonsense by shouting explosively:

“Inspiration is for amateurs!”

No truer words were ever spoken. If you earn a living at anything, Rule #1 is that you have to show up for work every day — and not just show up, but produce something. It’s as true of the creative process as it is for an assembly-line worker.

I’m often asked how I can write something new for this blog each day, and my answer is quite simple: I sit down at my computer, and don’t get up until I’ve written at least two or three posts. Not all of them will get published — I’m very harsh towards my own writing — but I do this every single day, circumstances permitting. Note I use the word “circumstances” and not “inspiration”, because if you are truly creative, as Grant reveals above, you don’t need inspiration to produce something.

When I’m writing a novel, by the way, I spend at least ten hours a day writing. It could be new content, it could be research, or it could be editing; all of that is part of the creation of the work, and all of that is productive.

I remember fondly that when Jack Kerouac revealed that he wrote On The Road in one, long continuous explosion of creation, Truman Capote aptly commented: “That’s not writing; that’s typing!” And he’s absolutely correct: On The Road is a long, muddled and ultimately incoherent tract, and if it can be used for any “teaching moment” it shouldn’t be for its brilliant writing, but as an object lesson in how not to write a novel. Kerouac wrote a lot of other novels, and most of them are better than On The Road because he actually worked at them, rather than relying on creativity (fueled, it should be said, by booze and amphetamines: not the best of influences).

I know, I know: writing a pop song is not the same as writing a novel; but the process is the same.

Incidentally, Music and Lyrics also features a couple of other star turns: Haley Bennett is quite astonishing as a pop diva, and Kristin Johnson equally so as Barrymore’s middle-aged groupie wannabe sister. Come to think of it, there are no bad performances in this movie — and how often do you get to say that?

Required Reading

Mr. Free Market lent me this book, and if you read no other non-fiction works this year, this should be the one you do.

Marshall explains, in fine detail, what underlies the political (and even socio-political) goals of most of the world’s nations. It should be a required textbook in high schools or failing which, in college-level Politics 101 courses.

Do I agree with everything he writes? Hell, I don’t agree with everything that anyone writes —  but as I was reading it, I found myself nodding in agreement a lot more often than not. I’m going to buy my own copy as soon as I get back home.

No need to thank me: it’s all part of the service.