Friday, February 26, 2010

musicals in france

Gigi and An American in Paris share many similarities: they are both Best Picture-winning musicals directed by Vincente Minnelli and both are extremely fluffy. In An American Paris Gene Kelly winningly plays an upbeat but struggling American painter who lives in a tiny Paris flat. An aging heiress (played with great ease by Nina Foch--my favorite actor in the film) discovers him on the street one day, and decides to sponsor his work. By happenstance at a bar, he falls in love with an elusive and elegant Lise Bouvier (Leslie Caron in her splashy debut) who may already be attached to someone else.

The plot is creaky and any tension, mostly set up between Kelly and Foch is quickly evaporated by the familiar love story. Yet the movie is a visual and aural delight. The music of George Gershwin ("I Got Rhythm," "Embraceable You," "Strike Up the Band") soars against the vibrant Paris backdrop (the film was filmed on elaborate sets not actual locations). Gene Kelly slinks his way through it but from a modern standpoint, the film is no Singin' in the Rain. The love story just isn't that compelling. It's not until the climax--an explosive, gorgeously lit ballet sequence--that the film really dazzles. It's one of Minnelli's and cinema's all-time great set pieces. ***

His overstuffed bonbon Gigi is far less successful--a plodding (and too tame) adaptation of Collette backed by an uneven Lerner and Lowe score. Leslie Caron plays the title character (her vocals were dubbed), a young girl who is being groomed to be a courtesan by her protective aunt (a perfectly cast Hermione Gingold). The handsome Louis Jourdan plays her suitor, who falls in love with her, not merely as an object of desire but as a young woman.

Again the visuals take center stage: impeccable and lavish period detail in costuming (many of the pieces are now iconic) and art direction. The film is nice but unlike Minelli's superior (and best) musical, Meet Me in St. Louis, Gigi lacks intimacy. There were moments where I wish the camera had gone in for some close-ups (even some medium ones!) but it remains a wide shot movie, too busy showing off all the artifice and decor. **

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

thelma ritter: an old clock running down

This month is Oscar season, so my DVR is full of TCM films. One of them is Pickup on South Street, a dark film noir about a pick-pocketer (played by Richard Widmark) who inadvertently steals government information from a wallet. The political drama is now outdated, but the film is still worth watching for its gritty script and great cast.

Classic character actor Thelma Ritter received her 4th Academy Award nomination for the film (she eventually lost six supporting nominations). Donna Reed won that year for her unlikely portrayal in From Here to Eternity but Ritter was perhaps much more award-worthy. In one particular scene, she steals the show. Since it involves a major plot development, those who haven't seen the film may want to avoid watching the clip below. But for those who are game, at the 2:26 mark, Ritter does amazing things as an actor playing a woman at the end of her day--alone (at least she thinks she is), tired, listening to a melancholy love song on her Victrola. It's a wrenching scene in its quietness and Ritter adds so much detail to create character. She registers a range of comedy, fear, and sadness in a short scene.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

oh my darling

My friend Rebecca Myers and I co-edit an online journal named Clementine.

Our third issue went live yesterday and we are excited about it. With every issue, it's a pleasure to compile great poetry and photography by up and coming and established artists. One of my favorite poets, David Trinidad, is in the latest issue with two beautiful poems on death. It also features Chris Roberts, Lisa Newhouse, MRB Chelko, Sharanya Manivannan, Rachel Marie Patterson, Kaethe Schwehn, and Andy Stallings.

The gorgeous photography included is by Rick Herron (who took the picture here) and David Wright.

Compiling all of the unique perspectives has been fun and it's exciting to see Clementine blossom. It's also fun to work with Rebecca who is a very talented poet.

Our mission with Clementine are to give a space to poems that tackle or adopt ideas about the persona. Here's one of my favorite poems that Becca wrote from her chapbook Greener. The poem is in the voice of Maria von Trapp.

Maria Von Trapp, on the 25th Anniversary
Re-release of The Sound of Music on Video

They sugared and screened my life, made me
Julie Andrews, finder of comfort in brown
copper kettles, climber of mountains, settler
in unfamiliar territory. I went from hills to curtained
kids, yodeling all the way. Oh there's the whirling
dervish now, the how-do-you-find-a-
problem-like-Maria. Say it loud and it's almost
like praying. Maria. Sweet singer, second
mother, former nun turned able-bodied Edelweisser.
Christopher Plummer tired to make surrender
film worthwhile, but how, chin scar
like an either/or? Pick your poison,
your puppeteer. Will it be God or Captain,
abbey bells or seven children screaming?
Favorite things do nothing for fear. I hear
my well-kept songs wanting out, personal
refrains not fit for any festival chorus but voiced
Leisel-like at night, gazebo hidden. I sneak away
for secret ballads, strum chords crisp as abandoned hills,
wonder if when I wandered long,
afternoons by the high stream, through audience-
less and still a nun, I sang better.

I rewind the final scene, watch again and again
as my Julie Andrews legs trudge towards an unseen
inn in Vermont. A family fleeing war,
hands so full of Gretel, who can carry
a guitar?

-Alicia Rebecca Myers

I do hope you enjoy our latest issue!

Monday, February 15, 2010

valentine's day

Sluggish pacing is usually death knell for the romantic comedy. Many filmmakers fail at attempting multiple story lines and some succeed. Garry Marshall, who found a knack for frothy films such as 1990's Pretty Woman, would be in the category of the former. Clocking in at 125 minutes, Valentine's Day is a turgid romantic comedy without much romance or comedy. It wastes the talents of Shirley MacLaine, Queen Latifah (playing another stereotype), Kathy Bates (in a nonsensical and completely unnecessary role), Julia Roberts (unbelievably cast as an Iraq soldier on leave), and Anne Hathaway (also unbelievable as a peppy poetry student who temps and moonlights as a phone sex operator). Most of the screen time is given to Ashton Kutcher, an attractive but terrible actor. I kept waiting for him to wink at the camera.

It's the audience who pays to see this who have been "punk'd." I won't even spend time on the plot which is more convoluted than the ridiculous intertwined L.A. story lines in Crash or 1974's Earthquake. I pictured a group of Hollywood executives drawing a Venn diagram on a dry erase board, connecting all of the characters in every possible fashion. The film could have been trimmed by at least 40 minutes, including a predictable subplot featuring Julia Roberts's niece Emma and a quizzical tween romance between Taylor Swift (all of her attempts at comedy fell flat in the audience) and Taylor Lautner. There is a gay storyline, that is shamelessly used as a plot device, with dated, sitcomish jokes sprinkled throughout ("I'm with you, just not behind you"). We watch all of the straight characters kiss, but for some reason, our gay men are reduced to a face caress. The supporting cast features a cutesy kid (Bryce Robinson), the painfully bad Jessica Biel, Geroge Lopez, Jessica Alba, McSteamy and McDreamy from "Grey's," Jamie Foxx, and I believe a dog or multiple dogs were in the movie for "aww cute there's a dog" moments.

In case you don't believe that this film is more a harmless frothy concoction, less a cold Hollywood product, Warner Brothers has already optioned a similar movie for New Year's Eve. The thought of that is equally nauseating. The problem is that Valentine's Day isn't a very compelling holiday. As a teacher, Jennifer Garner attempts to explain its history to a bored classroom. One of the few things that kept my interest, in the most base way, as if I were watching an episode of "Saved By the Bell," was "what is in the mysterious silver box?" Just so you aren't duped like I was, what's in the silver box isn't very thrilling. *

Saturday, February 13, 2010

more nyfw faves: prabal gurung

I think Prabal Gurung's collection was the one I was looking forward to the most. And I don't think it disappoints. So many great pieces. What do y'all think? See more at Coutorture.