Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound is dated but still a fascinating picture. Made in 1945, in the midst of WWII, the film is one of the first to explicitly deal with the psychological effects of trauma. Gregory Peck, not yet a big star at the time, enters an institute under the guise of a famous therapist, Dr. Anthony Edwardes. Dr. Constance Petersen (another remarkable performance from Ingrid Bergman) takes Edwardes under her wing and unlocks the mysteries of his past and the seed of his psychological torment. What ensues is a theme classic to Hitchcock: the chase.

Unlike the electric pairing of Grant and Bergman in Notorious, the sexual and romantic chemistry between Bergman and Peck intentionally lacks fire. This is a rare instance in a film from the 40s, where our two romantic leads don't quite seem in love with one another at all. Peck is weak and withered, passing out on numerous occasions, while Bergman dominates. I kept wondering, does Bergman's character really love Peck's? Or is Peck's character just another case, another project. It's this ambiguity that adds to Spellbound's strangeness.

This is the second of three pictures Hitchcock and revolutionary producer David O. Selznick would collaborate on. Their two most memorable works together, Rebecca and Spellbound, remain curious oddities to me in Hitchcock's cannon. Unlike other Hitch films from the 40s, such as the stark and understated Lifeboat and Rope, they are lush, noticeably overproduced, and as experimental as Hollywood (under the code) could allow them to be.

Adding to the Selznick atmosphere is the spooky, romantic score (with its moody use of theremin) by Hungarian composer Mikolos Rozsa, which provided the film its sole Academy Award. Hitchcock complained Rozsa's score was too intrusive on his direction. Nevertheless, the music remains a beauty.

Having had successful experience in therapy, Selznick was attracted to the material in Spellbound. The script by the brilliant Ben Hecht has unfortunately lost a lot of luster through the years. The psychoanalysis mumbo jumbo--similar the coda in Psycho--is sprinkled throughout. I couldn't help but notice the similarity in storyline to another but very different psyche drama: Robert Redford's Ordinary People. Both are about freeing the mind from guilt and psychological torment and the irrational malaise society once held (here in the 40s and in Redford's picture, early 80s suburbia) against therapy.

What lures me back to the film, despite the heavy, outmoded dialogue, are the many arresting visuals and rich compositions. There is a fascinating (and fun!) dream sequence, specifically designed by Salvador Dali. A quick, unforgettable image of memory and accidental death (see image above). And a memorable conclusion that involves a gun being pointed directly at the audience--one of my favorite moments in all of Hitchcock's work. ***

This billboard in Times Square and these promotional materials seems to speak of Selznick's gifts as a producer and a revolutionary producer at the time.

Monday, December 21, 2009

making history

Besides a solid performance by Emily Blunt, the best aspect of The Young Victoria are Sandy Powell's costumes.

The film, detailing the rise of Victoria to power, is a bit choppy. And despite the stellar cast, it doesn't really come alive on-screen due to a lack of narrative focus.

But legendary costume designer Powell (Shakespeare in Love, Far From Heaven, The Wings of the Dove, The Aviator) gives the film a colorful, visual punch. The dresses are gorgeous but not in a distracting way.

Powell researched Kensington Palace archives and paintings for inspiration.

Check out this fabulous interview with Powell on Hist-Fic Chick!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Thursday, December 17, 2009

break the windows!

The break-the-windows waltz scene in Vincente Minnelli's Madame Bovary is one of cinema's all time greats (it gets going at 6:00 on the clip below, but really the entire ballroom sequence is a marvel).

Jennifer Jones (1919 - 2009)


I've been nose-deep in non-fiction to varying degrees of quality (Zadie Smith's essays, David Plouffe's account of the Obama campaign, and now Ted Kennedy's memoir).

Last night Zachary Pace's Projection series woke me up to poetry again.

It sounds terribly corny. Is poetry ever not with me? It's exciting though to find a reading that connects.

I read Nick Flynn's Some Ether in a workshop over 8 years ago and was into it and all the "bee poems" in Blind Huber.

His work is very musical, seemingly effortless, rhythmic and driving but somehow, low-key.

Here's his poem "fire"

I also appreciated and deeply admired Jason Schneiderman. His poems are so tightly controlled yet so energetic and passionate.

The other excellent readers were Diego Baez & Joseph Fasano. I had not heard of them before and I look forward to reading more of their work. Here's Diego's "Midnight on Lake Michigan" and Joseph Fasano's "Mahler in New York."

I love Zach's series. It's unique and original--a projection screen shows the text of the poem behind the reader. I'm grateful Zach has given this option for a fresh format. And I also appreciated sitting on pep rally bleachers.

And I admire that he could get a good-sized crowd out to a poetry reading in the cold.

The next one will be February 4th, 2010 with four major greats: Mark Bibbins, David Levithan, Katie Ford, & Meghan O'Rourke

In the meantime, I will be reminding fellow New Yorkers to seek it out.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

dressed to the 9s

Who are your favorite ladies at last night's New York Nine premiere?

Me likes Kate Hudson. The train in the back is cool. It's by Chanel.


Penelope Cruz.

Fergie (looking better!)

Marion Cotillard, always pretty!

Naomi Watts. Love this color.

Madonna and future fashionista Lourdes.

Zoe Kravitz.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

golden robes

Today was the announcement of the Golden Globe nominations. They are actually a pretty great bunch of nominees: four of my favorite movies of the year made it in the Best Picture - Drama lineup (Up in the Air, The Hurt Locker, Precious, and Inglourious Basterds). I'm reserving judgment on Avatar until I see it.

I thought it would be fun to a little style retrospective on memorable Golden Globe dresses!

The Golden Globes didn't really become a TV sensation until the mid-90s so it's hard to find decent pics!

What are your faves?!

OK, this is the first dress I think of when I remember past GG's. It really looked awesome on Kim Basinger. I like how 1950s-ish it is, appropriate because she won for L.A. Confidential.

Kate looked very classy winning two Globes in a smart Yves Saint Laurent.

OK, this 2000 pick may be controversial but I remember thinking how pretty this Vera Wang was on Tyra. Pastels were in that year.

SJP in Chanel. 2004.

Love the shoos!

Freida Pinto so pretty in Christian Lacroix.

Before the infamous swan dress was Bjork's memorable sequined MJ tribute!

I loved Drew's hair here. And this color. She is fun.