“A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.”-James Joyce (born on 2 February 1882)
Happy birthday to my lifelong favourite actor, Paul Newman! He would have been eighty-nine today.
“If you’re playing a poker game and you look around the table and can’t tell who the sucker is, it’s you.”-Paul Newman
What is your number one Paul Newman flick?
When I was fifteen, I learned the truth behind Norma Desmond’s famous Sunset Boulevard assertion: “We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces!” Six decades of repetition has eroded this cutting indictment to a fragment of its original self, denuded of meaning even as it has become a pithy pop-culture sound bite that the least film savvy person can repeat with cocksure swagger. My enlightenment came in the form of a dusty, jacket free old book crammed with its fellows on a shelf at the public library. Subject: silent movie star portraiture. Impact: sudden, immense, striking. A well-established love of the arts, history, and old movies hadn’t prepared me for what I found in this neglected volume of photography. Questions rushed my senses: Who were these women and men? Why was their beauty sung not to the heavens but inarticulately whispered of in a suburban teenager’s bedroom? What happened to them? When did mystery and imagination leave entertainment photography, resulting in the garish, empty images that had engulfed my recent 1980s childhood?
TWO OF MY EARLY FAVOURITES:
The trajectory of my life changed the day I checked out that book. A passion for old movies expanded to include silent films. I watched as many as I could find, and read everything available on the subject in our large library system. Result: hooked, permanently. Bonus: growing up to write about what I love, including silent movie culture.
Amidst the flavors of the day and luckless publicity seekers, the stars whose fame flamed into the sky with the spark and longevity of an uncontrollable firecracker, and those with fleshy charms but little talent, there stood performers with skill, magnetism, and dedication to a craft that was being forged as the cameras rolled. Some are remembered-if only for the persistence of their images in twenty-first century advertising-but most are forgotten, their work rarely seen by the modern masses. In a world where Mary Pickford has been reduced to the curve of her curls and Lillian Gish to her shy, arcane smile, where Charlie Chaplin is nothing but the sum of the sartorial trio of hat, cane, and shoes, what chance does Mabel Normand stand to be recognized and appreciated as a first-class artist? Even her lovely face is a fading footnote. Continue reading
“All the world’s a stage/And all the men and women merely players/They have their exits and their entrances/And one man in his time plays many parts/His acts being seven ages.”-William Shakespeare
Farewell, dear sir!
Vivien Leigh was born Vivian Mary Hartley on 5 November 1913.
She was a very, very fine actress of stage and screen. If you’ve only seen Gone with the Wind or A Streetcar Named Desire, you have missed some wonderful film performances. Her theatrical work has, of course, been lost to time. It’s a shame, because she was a serious and brilliant stage actress obsessively dedicated to her craft. Her film stardom was largely beside the point.-“I’m not a film star, I am an actress. Being a film star is such a false life, lived for fake values and for publicity.”-Vivien Leigh
She was married to this chap for two decades.
She died on 8 July 1967.
If I ever find a time machine, I will make dozens of stops just to see the magnetic and fiercely talented Vivien Leigh weave her magic across the world’s stages.
- Title: Me Stories of My Life
- Author: Katharine Hepburn
- Year Published: 1991 (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.)
- Year Purchased: Summer of 2010
- Source: My momma
- About: Dear Kate: You were such an iconoclast. I know, I know; what an over-used word. I’m not proud of trotting out something so stale, especially in reference to
someone as amazing as you were. Really, though, what choice do I have? What else is there? Rebel, nonpareil, maverick? Nonconformist, idol, icon? Legend, paragon, nonesuch? They’re all too pale, weak, humourless. You were too kick-ass to be so neatly boxed-in, anyway. Now let’s get to business. Continue reading
- Title: Drinking with George A Barstool Professional’s Guide to Beer
- Author: George Wendt with Jonathan Grotenstein
- Year Published: 2009 (Simon Spotlight Entertainment)
- Year Purchased: September, 2011 (at Oktoberfest Zinzinnati)
- Source: George Wendt
- About: George Wendt’s love affair with beer is a thing of epic beauty. Drinking with George is part personal biography and part encyclopedia of beer. It’s a strange combination that pairs as wonderfully as barley and hops. You could really say that he poured his heart and soul into this project. Tee-hee. It’s incredibly funny, informative, and can be read in the time it takes the average person to drink a couple pints of Guinness. It even comes with a bit of real, human romance: his love for his wife Bernadette Birkett (who voiced Vera Peterson on Cheers) is sweet and moving, if nearly as hilarious as his beer-induced exploits.
- Motivation: The author hawked his book at last year’s Oktoberfest Zinzinnati. Only a humourless, beer-hating twit could resist buying a copy from the man himself.
- Times Read: 1
- Random Excerpt/Page 35: “Looking to lighten my load, I packed a leather travel bag I’d overpaid for in Marrakesh with my untouched and completely unnecessary suit and dress shoes. I sent them back to the States via tramp steamer, addressing the bag to my friend Joe Farmar so as not to offend my dad. A few months later, I would try to recover the clothes, only to discover that Joe had torn the suit, the shoes, and even the bag itself to shreds. This was entirely my fault: I hadn’t bothered to include a note, which confused Joe until he put “bag” together with “Marrakesh” and decided that I’d hidden hashish somewhere inside.”
- Happiness Scale: 10
- Title: Leading Ladies
- Author: Don Macpherson
- Year Published: 1986/This edition: 1989 (Conran Octopus Limited/Crescent Books)
- Year Purchased: 1990s
- Source: It was a Christmas gift from my Aunt Lauree.
- About: This is a coffee table book, not a scholarly work. The text is nice, but not genre-shattering; it’s the standard drill for this kind of product. The images are from The Kobal Collection, so the writing stands no chance of taking first place, anyway. The whole gang is here, from Theda Bara to Doris Day, Jean Harlow to Jean Seberg, Anna Magnani to Debra Winger, represented by an array of unusually stunning photographs. Since that is the dominant reason for buying a book like this, you’ll walk away happy.
- Motivation: I’ve been fond of old movies since I was a child.
- Times Read: Multiple
- Random Excerpt/Page 22: “By the time she was twenty-five, Colleen Moore was earning a weekly salary of $12,500, a reflection of her value to a studio for whom she was a highly profitable jazz baby. With her bobbed hair, cheeky face and alert eyes, she resembles to modern eyes an uncanny combination of the better remembered Clara Bow and Louise Brooks. But in the 1920s, it was Moore who was the incarnation of the twenties flapper girl.”
- Happiness Scale: 10++
Anna Karenina, starring Keira Knightley and Jude Law.
Wuthering Heights, starring Kaya Scodelario and James Howson.
On the Road, starring Kristen Stewart and Garrett Hedlund.
- Title: Forgotten Films to Remember
- Author: John Springer
- Year Published: 1980 (The Citadel Press)
- Year Purchased: 1990s
- Source: Unknown
- About: Some of the best classic movies aren’t, well, classic. At least not in the sense of having wide, lasting cultural impact. Maybe they were box office winners in their day, quiet sleepers or cheapie programmers, critically acclaimed or unappreciated gems; most have been long forgotten by the masses, embraced and beloved by fanatics alone. Hollywood studios churned out hundreds of films a year, so it is no wonder that, of those hardy survivors, few are truly iconic. If you want to learn more but are too cowed to wade through the classic film jungle alone and bewildered, Forgotten Films to Remember makes it easy. Covering the years 1928-1959 (with a quick overview of the 1960s and 1970s), John Springer devotes a paragraph each to dozens of remarkable movies that you really need to watch. In the process, a clear, workmanlike but interesting narrative of studio-era Hollywood emerges. The accompanying photographs are mostly from the author’s archive.
- Motivation: I love old movies, especially obscure ones.
- Times Read: 4 or 5
- Random Excerpt/Page 18: “Howard Hawks made a strong movie out of Martin Flavin’s play, The Criminal Code, aided impressively by the performance of Walter Huston. He played a district attorney who becomes the warden of a prison, populated by men he has sent up. Constance Cummings and Phillips Holmes had the love interest such as it was and Boris Karloff skulked about as a squealer.”
- Happiness Scale: 9