Friday, May 18, 2012

Performance Spotlight: Ingrid Bergman in Notorious

Note: This is the third post in a series dedicated to For the Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon III, looking at some of my personal favorite performances in Hitchcock films. The donation button and links for the blogathon can be found by scrolling down.

Ingrid Bergman in Notorious
"Dry your eyes, baby, it's out of character."

In 1950, Ingrid Bergman was denounced on the Senate room floor because she had left her husband Peter Lindstrom for her director Roberto Rossellini. She was already pregnant with Rossellini's baby. Senator Edwin C. Johnson denounced her as "an apostle for degradation" and a "powerful influence for evil." It was a bizarre twist in a career that, Joan of Arc aside, was far from being a parade of saintly good girls. Her breakthrough role had, in fact, been as the adulterous lover in Intermezzo. You have to wonder if Johnson (who never gained much greater fame than "the man who slut-shamed Ingrid Bergman") was much of a movie-goer. It was one of those scandals that would have popped like a soap bubble if it had come around only a few years later. As it is, it stands as the strange dark side of America's love for Ingrid Bergman.  And in that sense, it's an eerie parallel to one of Bergman's greatest roles in Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious.

In Notorious, Bergman is Alicia Huberman, the daughter of a convicted Nazi spy, who is recruited to bring down her father's friends. But Alicia is a perpetually sloshed good-time girl who, to co-opt Bogart's line, sticks her neck out for nobody. The task of convincing her falls to the attractive, brooding agent sent to tail her, T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant). Devlin and Alicia fall in love, but their affair is cut short by the news that Alicia must go to work. And for Alicia, work means "landing" Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains), a wealthy Nazi spy who was infatuated with her once before. Alicia urges Devlin to convince her not to do it, but instead, he bitterly eggs her on. This frustrated love triangle only becomes more twisted when the besotted Alex marries Alicia, drawing the cold anger of his mother (Leopoldine Konstantin). Alicia's spying soon hits pay dirt, but her suspicious actions alert Alex to her true nature. And once he realizes what she is, he'll use any means to dispose of her before his compatriots find out.

As a Hitchcock fan, I've had to endure many glib assessments of the Master of Suspense, one of them being, "Man, Hitchcock had problems with women, didn't he? What a misogynist." And it never fails to make me grind my teeth. He tortured his female characters, he had a blonde fetish, he obsessed over women he couldn't have so sure, he's a misogynist, it's that simple. But for me, the central dividing line of misogyny isn't about mistreatment or sexualization, it's about viewpoint. Hitchcock's female characters always have a viewpoint and a very strong, complex one at that. Hitchcock was fascinated by the problems women had to face, by their nightmares and questions and strengths. Sometimes his female characters are strong heroines like Teresa Wright in Shadow of a Doubt, sometimes they're spunky and sharp like Patricia Hitchcock in Strangers on a Train, and sometimes they're duplicitous and conflicted like Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest. But it's rare to find any Hitchcock female who's reduced to something as simple as "madonna" or "whore." Which brings us back to Notorious.

Notorious gives us a heroine who's racked up quite a sexual history and because of that, the man she loves refuses to trust her. Yet because of her past, the government will ask her to essentially prostitute herself to a Nazi so that they can gain information. She does this, not so much out of self-sacrificing nobility as out of hurt that her lover Devlin won't even try to talk her out of it. He is likewise unable to accept that she could do a thing like that.  But one of the many fascinating things about Notorious is that Alicia, and by extension Ingrid Bergman, is no ambiguous femme fatale. We are never left in doubt that she loves Devlin and hates what she's being asked to do. She's the sympathetic heart of the film, the sole woman in a movie that seems only to exist of men who want something from her. Well, until Leopoldine Konstantin enters the picture, but that's not exactly consolation.

It can be difficult to appreciate how intelligent and nuanced Bergman's reactions are until you break down the script and realize just how many scenes boil down to "Devlin says something nasty, Alicia is upset." Imagine how unbearable that could get with an actress who played only that single note of wounded love. But Bergman always shades her responses. In the scene where a newly sober Alicia is celebrating that fact with Devlin, Bergman gives a barely-hidden vulnerability to the sarcastic line, "I'm pretending I'm a nice, unspoiled child whose heart is full of daisies and buttercups." After Devlin cuts her down with a cold, "Nice daydream," Bergman immediately orders another drink, her expression daring him to throw another insult. Then she follows it with the achingly sad, "Why won't you believe in me, Dev, just a little?" Bergman flashes an almost imperceptible smile after that line, as if the urge to smile is a compulsion she can't fight (If you tried to count how many times Bergman smiles in this film, you would be forced to give up before the half-hour mark). In the immediate scene after, as Alicia is taunting Dev with the possibility of his attraction to her, Bergman gives just the barest touch of anger to the line, "Makes you sick all over, doesn't it?"

Give credit to Ben Hecht's excellent script for the character of Alicia. As written, she's a woman who uses her own pain as a weapon, cutting herself down with insults ("tramp," "drunk," "no-good gal") and sarcastic quips ("I'm only fishing for a little bird call from my dream man").  She would rather insult herself than wait for Devlin to do it for her. But she also wants to draw a reaction from him, some proof of his emotion for her, and if the only way she can do that is by picking a fight then she will. It's one of the cruelest love stories ever put on the film. Cruelest because it is a love story and these two need each other and we have to spend an entire film watching them hurt each other.

Bergman's performance is so crucial to this film that I can't imagine any other actress taking the part. I could picture Gloria Grahame playing up the abusive and sexual elements of the script but could Grahame seem quite so comfortable moving about this glittering world? I could see Linda Darnell or Rita Hayworth as the innocent bad girl but neither of them had Bergman's gift for emotional need. Or her ability to take an overly literal aspect of the story and make it ring true. Take an early scene where Alicia explains why she is the way she is:
"When he told me a few years ago what he was, everything went to pot. I didn't care what happened to me. Now I remember how nice he once was, how nice we both were. Very nice. It's a very curious feeling, a feeling as if something had happened to me, not to him. You see I don't have to hate him anymore - or myself."
This is an easy way out for the audience. Now they don't have to worry about sympathizing with a loose woman. She's not bad just because she enjoys sex and alcohol, she's bad because her father damaged her. But Bergman manages to save this speech. She starts out dazed, wondering. But her voice gradually grows in strength, and instead of pop psychology, we see a rare moment of Alicia understanding a relationship and feeling better because of it. 

I sometimes feel that Bergman doesn't get the credit she deserves for this performance, partly because it's Bergman and we expect her to be great, and partly because Cary Grant and Claude Rains are so flat-out, height-of-their-careers superb that the temptation is to talk more about them. Well that and Leopoldine Konstantin's ability to stop a film in its tracks just by lighting up a cigarette. I think that although Bergman has the most overtly emotional role, Grant and Rains perhaps reveal more to the audience. They have more to conceal and so we play closer attention to what they let us see. 

Hitchcock films always have revelations to offer and my latest one, upon rewatching this film is, "This ending owes a lot to Camille, doesn't it?" We have the woman who has sacrificed health, love, and security for a man who only realizes it as she lays dying. But while Camille is the story of a woman who's led a shallow life and finds nobility in her sacrifice, Notorious takes the view that maybe it's the men who ask her to make such sacrifices that are truly the sick ones. Alicia's cause may be a patriotic one, but the movie sidesteps on the issue of whether that redeems her or whether she needed to be redeemed in the first place. What we have is the story of the crimes men and women commit for love. If Senator Johnson had gone to the movies more often, he might have learned something.

This post is part of For the Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon. If you want to make a donation (proceeds are going towards the restoration of The White Shadow, a formerly lost film that helped kick-start the beginning of Alfred Hitchcock's career), here is the link.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Performance Spotlight: Tallulah Bankhead in Lifeboat

Note: This is the second post in a series dedicated to For the Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon III, looking at some of my personal favorite performances in Hitchcock films. The donation button and links for the blogathon can be found by scrolling down.

Tallulah Bankhead in Lifeboat 

"Lady, you certainly don't look like somebody that's just been shipwrecked."

We begin with a smoking ship tumbling into the waves. Bits of wreckage drift by: a copy of The New Yorker, a chessboard, a dead body.  Amidst all this is a woman in a lifeboat, looking gravely out at the destruction. She's wearing a mink coat. She flexes her fingers restlessly. And then she notices a run in her stocking and sighs in frustration, as if to say "Well, isn't that the final fucking straw?"

It's as perfectly succinct a character introduction as you could ever have.

In Lifeboat, Tallulah Bankhead plays Constance "Connie" Porter, a famous and wealthy journalist, who has the bad luck of being on an American ship that gets torpedoed by the Germans in World War II. She's managed to make it to one of the lifeboats, bringing a typewriter, suitcase, and a diamond bracelet with her. As per the rules of disaster films, her fellow survivors represent a microcosm of society: a millionaire industrialist (Henry Hull), a nurse (Mary Anderson), a radio operator (Hume Cronyn), the ship's steward (Canada Lee), an average-Joe sailor (William Bendix), a mother (Heather Angel), and an engineer with socialism on his mind (John Hodiak). But the lifeboat discovers one more survivor: a German seaman (Walter Slezak), who speaks no English at all and whose intentions are a complete mystery.

According to Alfred Hitchcock, the decision to cast Tallulah Bankhead in Lifeboat was a simple one. When he thought of a lifeboat drifting around the North Atlantic, he wanted to put "the most oblique, incongruous person imaginable in such a situation." That was Tallulah.

Back in elementary school, my friends and I would sometimes pretend to hold fake cigarette holders and drawl, "Dahling, dahling." We didn't know who we imitating of course, but that was the cultural legacy of Tallulah Bankhead, a woman that had once been one of the most talked-about celebrities of her age. She was true-born Alabama aristocracy and gorgeously attractive (a young Daphne du Maurier called her "the most beautiful girl I've ever seen in my life.") Her talents for sex, partying, and outrageous comments would probably have gotten her by, but she had considerable talents as an actress. She made her career on stage, bringing passion and verve to parts that were good and cartwheeling when the plots stalled. She had tried Hollywood for awhile, but refused to take it seriously--and audiences didn't respond the same way they had to her on stage. By 1944, she was no longer the glittering star she'd been and her beauty didn't have the same shocking power, but she was still unforgettable. For the role of Constance Porter, a woman whose glamor and cool wit can withstand even a German U-boat attack, Tallulah Bankhead was the first and best choice.

Whenever people trot out the old chestnut of "He/She only played themselves ," my inner retort is always, "You think that's easy?" I know I couldn't do it. And does it matter if a performer is drawing on their own personality if that personality, as in Bankhead's case, is entertaining and vivid?  Go watch a Paris Hilton performance for comparison. Tallulah Bankhead in Lifeboat just seems to get more brilliantly enjoyable each time I see her. And I wanted to feature her here because in so many ways, her performance is the antithesis of what we think of when we think of Hitchcock and his actresses. Bankhead is not a tormented frosty blonde or a fluttery bit of comic relief or a passive little marionette for Hitch to manipulate. Hitchcock is the director, but Bankhead is her own auteur.

Connie Porter is a strange kind of heroine for a 1940s war film. She's older, cynical, unattached and clearly not concerned by it. Even in the midst of debris and destruction, she's funny, drawling out "darlings" and "my pets" and the occasional "you clumsy fool," all delivered in Bankhead's amazing black-smoke-and-bourbon voice. She's a sophisticate but a self-invented one, as she admits to John Hodiak's character, Kovac. It's a character that calls to mind some of the later roles of Joan Crawford and Bette Davis but also offers up something completely different. For one thing, Bankhead is totally casual about sex in a way that neither Crawford or Davis could be onscreen (maybe that's part of why they were the movie stars). Even though the attraction between her character and Hodiak's never goes farther than an onscreen clinch, Bankhead conveys a real sexual charge that somehow bypasses both a 12-year age difference and Code-era conventions. But even more importantly for Bankhead and Lifeboat is this: she has the ability to be a leading lady and at the same time be fully on the same level as her costars. When Bankhead draws lipstick initials on Hodiak's chest or plays cards with Henry Hull or interrogates Walter Slezak, she's no descending goddess. She's part of the gang.

Even though Lifeboat is an ensemble film, Hitchcock does emphasize Connie's viewpoint many times. In the midst of dark and dramatic moments like Canada Lee's recitation of the Lord's prayer and Heather Angel's total break of sanity, Bankhead's reaction is kept at the front.

Using Tallulah Bankhead of all people as the audience surrogate shows some real mischief on Hitchcock's part. But from a narrative perspective, it makes sense. Connie at the beginning of the story is the most comfortable and assured of the Lifeboat cast. The task of the film is to test that assurance, to strip her of her mink and jewels and typewriter. Essentially, to make her just as uncomfortable as it wants to make the audiences of 1944, reminding them of the darkness that needs to be fought. Bankhead's descent into survival mode is America's too.

But if Bankhead is given the heroine's part by design, that doesn't mean the actress doesn't do her part to grab some extra attention. There's a fun game to play with Lifeboat that I like to call, "Spot Tallulah's Funny Background Business." It would be harder to find group shots where she doesn't have some bit of scene-stealing business to take your eyes off everyone else. In a scene where she already has a cigarette, Bankhead ups the ante with a side glance that would make even Dietrich look unsteady.

Or here, planting her head on her knuckles like a thought balloon is about to emerge.

 Or here, in a shot where we're meant to notice the darkening of John Hodiak's brow. But all the while Bankhead's sprawled across his lap in a way that doesn't say "weak, dehydrated, starving survivor of a shipwreck" so much as it says, "public ravishment to commence shortly."

With as much as I've made of Bankhead and the idiosyncratic charms of her character, you might think this performance was pure camp. And yet it isn't. Camp would stretch the reality of the film; Bankhead never does. It's one of the things that separates Lifeboat from the boilerplate genre of disaster films (well, technically it's a war film, but it's got the "disparate characters thrown together" angle so let's call it even). The quirkiness and humor of these characters never breaks the real drama of their situation.

But wonderful as it is to see Bankhead exhale one-liners and play up to the camera, my favorite scene of hers is played relatively straight. Connie and the others are trying to encourage Gus, the injured seaman, to submit to an amputation. Gus, however, can only think about his girlfriend Rosie, a woman who loves to dance more than anything. "If my leg goes, Rosie goes!" he snaps. Connie, in patient, come-to-mother tones, tells him, "I don't know Rosie but I know women. Some of my best friends are women." (The sweetness in Bankhead's voice only makes that line funnier.) She continues on, lecturing Gus about the loyalty of women, how broken-hearted Rosie will be that he would rather die than trust her. All the while you can hear both the sympathy that Connie has for Gus and the sugar she's pouring on, trying to convince him.

When Gus lets slip that Rosie's old boyfriend's been around and that Rosie keeps asking him about life insurance policies, Bankhead glances to the side for a moment. Then she presses on twice as hard, her voice throbbing with feeling ("...think of her back home laughing and dancing...not sure whether you're dead or alive").  She sounds like some patriotic radio announcer. After Connie knows she's sealed the deal, Bankhead lifts her eyes upward for a moment, muttering under her breath, "God forgive me." Bankhead's performance gives the perfect counterpoint to the cool, flip Connie we were introduced to. We see her intelligence, her humor, and her gift for manipulation, along with a very real compassion and warmth.

One reason I love Lifeboat is that it's a wartime propaganda piece that doesn't sentimentalize women. Our main heroine is not a dewy-eyed young woman bravely sending her man off to war. She's a cool, sarcastic forty-something with no apparent interest in being a wife or mother or patriotic helpmeet. And our other female character Alice (Mary Anderson's pretty great here too) may be a lovely young nurse with a gentle voice, but she's also the one who leads the others in a savage and mindless attack. When a man tries to hold her back, she rushes in with redoubled fury. These women are courageous and selfish, violent and loving; they are human.

Because of this, even something that would feel patronizing in another film (Connie being forced to give up vain, frivolous things like diamond bracelets for the common good) seems organic. Connie isn't being molded and humbled into a good little woman, she's a person pushed to the brink of survival. In the moment when Connie has finally lost everything she valued, Bankhead lets loose with this deranged, Halloween-witch cackle that's bound to raise the hairs on the back of your neck.

As a Hitchcock film and as a war film, Lifeboat never really got a fair shake. Damned as apologia then, damned as propaganda now. It's really, for my money, the best of Hitchcock's war films (Not counting Notorious). For all that Foreign Correspondent and Saboteur made speeches about the "little people" who would fight against evil, it's Lifeboat that really showed the humanity and love for those little people. Even down to a detail like a woman checking her stocking after a torpedo strike. Connie Porter is Tallulah Bankhead. But hell with it, she's also us.

This post is part of For the Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon. If you want to make a donation (proceeds are going towards the restoration of The White Shadow, a formerly lost film that helped kick-start the beginning of Alfred Hitchcock's career), here is the link.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Performance Spotlight: Teresa Wright in Shadow of a Doubt

Note: This is the first post in a series dedicated to For the Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon III, looking at some of my personal favorite performances in Hitchcock films. Performance is something I haven't tackled in great depth on this blog, but I really wanted to try something new. My favorite Hitchcock films have been with me so long that I can't sum them up easily in film reviews or formal essays. As a result, these spotlights are less structured than what I've posted before, but I hope they get across my great love for these roles and for what these actors brought to the Hitchcock canon.

With introductions out of the way, let's start with one of all-time favorites.

Teresa Wright in Shadow of a Doubt

"I guess I don't like to be an average girl in an average family."

Few actresses have been as critically lauded as Teresa Wright was when her career began. Instead of the typical bread crumb trail of bit parts and disappointments leading up to that big break, Wright got her glory right from the beginning. After success on stage as the ingenue in Life with Father, Wright was signed on by Samuel Goldwyn, who immediately saw in her a kind of genuine, youthful appeal. As he put it, when he saw her at her dressing table, "(she) looked for all the world like a little girl experimenting with her mother's cosmetics."

Goldwyn immediately cast her as the lone innocent of The Little Foxes. Set against scene-stealing performances by Bette Davis, Dan Duryea, and Patricia Collinge, Wright not only held her own, she got her first Oscar nomination. Her next two pictures, Mrs. Miniver, and Pride of the Yankees were likewise critical successes that got her back-to-back Oscar nominations (she won for Mrs. Miniver). Three Oscar nominations for her first three films--not even Meryl Streep can say that. It's a record that's never been beaten. And that's not even taking into account her (in my opinion) two best films: William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives and Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt.

What is it about her? The standard truism for acting Oscars is that you win for transformation, you win for outsized flashiness, or you win for past services rendered. Teresa Wright can't lay claim to any of these. She was never flashy and her performances were, to a great extent, variants on the same theme. She played innocents and heroines, loyal sweethearts, devoted wives and daughters. And she remained roughly 18 years old for the entirety of the 1940s. She was, in so many ways, The Girl Next Door. Not in the sunshine-y, MGM style that Judy Garland was, but the kind of girl you could imagine working in hospitals or marrying your best buddy. To that extent, perhaps you can attribute her success to an era that badly needed her.

And yet what I keep coming back to with Wright and the love I have for her is that she never played an Ideal. There's a core of reality to every Teresa Wright performance, a resistance to easy platitudes. Just go back to Best Years of Our Lives and the cool strength in her voice when she tells a traumatized Dana Andrews to go back to sleep. Or the moment when she says, "I'm going to break that marriage up!" That line could so easily have been played for cuteness or girlish petulance--Wright just sounds like a woman who's realized the truth. Even in something like The Little Foxes, cast opposite a bunch of scene-stealers and a very condescending love interest, playing a character who's rather too innocent to be believed, Wright listens, showing us the girl's dawning intelligence.

Teresa Wright was lovely, she was the kind of actress who radiated charm and goodness. But watching her, I don't feel pressured into liking her. I feel like I'm watching a good woman who has to struggle and question and mature. Her goodness is always earned

In Shadow of a Doubt, Teresa Wright's character Charlie is a young woman, living at home, surrounded by a loving, middle-class family, and quite clearly dying inside from boredom. "This family's just gone to pieces," she tells her befuddled father (Henry Travers). When he tries to reassure her by telling her that the bank just gave him a raise, Wright sums up her angst with a sharp, "How can you talk of money when I'm talking about souls?"

In a stroke of inspiration, Charlie remembers her favorite relative, Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten). She seizes on the rather vague idea that a visit from Uncle Charlie will restore the family, shake them up a bit. But, sure as the old Chinese curse, Uncle Charlie's visit gives them a lot more excitement than they bargained for. Because Uncle Charlie is in fact, a serial killer who has come to their small, sleepy town to hide from the law. And when Charlie slowly begins to suspect her uncle's true nature, it will mean the death of her innocence and her love for him. And her literal death as well, if Uncle Charlie decides she must be silenced.

Shadow of a Doubt is one of my favorite Hitchcocks and I had the great experience of introducing one of my friends to it a few years back. She was no stranger to Hitchcock or classic film, but she was quite blunt about what she did and didn't like. After we watched Teresa Wright walk away cheerfully from an uncle who'd just violently twisted her hand, my friend shook her head. "God, she's dumb." But much later, as we watched a scene with Charlie and her little sister Ann (the brilliant Edna May Wonacott) discussing the merits of flower-picking, my friend let out a happy sigh. "I love that whole family," she said. And by the climax of the film, as we watched a now-wised-up Charlie threaten to kill her uncle, my friend turned to me and asked me, "Who is that actress?"

I think the key to Wright's performance is that she plays Charlie for everything except fear. Once she finds out the truth about her uncle, Wright's face and body spell out utter revulsion and anger. As she watches him twist a paper napkin with strong, ruthless fingers, her eyes widen and you can see the slow realization in her mind: this is who this man is, this is the man I loved. And you can see the beginnings of cold hatred. "We thought you were the most wonderful man in the world," she tells him, her shoulders stiff. "The most wonderful and the best." Wright doesn't shrink away; she's almost paralyzed with how much she wants to get away from him. And yet, even though she's clearly afraid for what will happen if he stays, she isn't afraid of him. She's not a victim, she is his adversary. So when Wright tells her uncle to go away or she'll kill him herself, you don't see empty threats. She could really do it.

Wright is at her most chilling in a later moment that takes place after a carbon monoxide "accident." Charlie is unconscious on the lawn and her family is crowded around her. Uncle Charlie tenderly calls her name, rubbing her hands, and leaning over her. Charlie comes to, dazed for a split-second. But then she sees Uncle Charlie and her gaze turns flat as a cobra's. "Go away." It's that pure, reflexive hatred that makes you see just how much Uncle Charlie has poisoned her world.

Critics make a lot of the incestuous subtext in Shadow of a Doubt. The symbolic way Uncle Charlie slides a ring on young Charlie's finger, the moment when he throws his hat onto her bed, and the constant references to the two Charlies being twins, soulmates, inseparable. And of course, the way Charlie moons over him in the beginning. Well, the reading's certainly there for the taking, but I don't think Wright plays it for only that. She plays infatuation, yes, to a degree that would make you uneasy even if you didn't know that Uncle Charlie was a killer. Nobody could possibly live up to such adoration ("Before you came I didn't think I had anything!" she tells him). But Wright shows her infatuation in the beginning as something that blurs boundaries. There's hero worship and affection and flirtation and romance there and maybe a buried hint of desire, but it can't be reduced to the sum of its parts.

Although I have to admit that I will always be disturbed by the moment after Uncle Charlie hurts Charlie's hand. He pats her cheek in an avuncular manner, telling her there are things in the paper that aren't for her innocent eyes to read. And instead of looking confused or angry or even a little insulted, Wright looks back at him in starry-eyed amazement, like they've just shared some wonderful secret. It's pretty much impossible not to think of abusive relationships in that scene.

I think some people fault Shadow of a Doubt because compared to other Hitchcock films, it's not particularly terrifying (Uncle Charlie may be a serial killer but he's also sane, with enough self-preservation to keep him restrained for most of the film). What makes it so compelling for me is the battle of wills between Charlie and her uncle, between two people who are family. She loved him as much as she ever loved anybody and he loved her as much as he was capable of loving anybody. After she discovers the truth, the love between them evaporates but they can't simply separate. They are tied together in an uneasy alliance, both working together to hide their secret from the others and yet always ready to turn on each other, hurt and angry. What could be more familial than that?

This post is part of For the Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon. If you want to make a donation (proceeds are going towards the restoration of The White Shadow, a formerly lost film that helped kick-start the beginning of Alfred Hitchcock's career), here is the link.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Blogathon Post

The blogathons are coming, Milady

After a long, cold season, the blogathons are sprouting up everywhere. I've been planning a news post for a while, but each time I go to click "publish," someone announces a new event. Anyone who follows me knows that I love blogathons. Even more than I love hearing the sound of my own voice, I love the conversation. I love the chance to jaw with fellow film fanatics and find out what they've got to say. So here's a relatively current list for the moment. And yes, I've signed up for quite a few of these.

Blogathons in May

For the Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon III (May 13th-18th), Hosted by Ferdy on Film, This Island Rod, and The Self-Styled Siren, Facebook page here

The annual Film Preservation Blogathon has pulled into town again, like an old and elegant past acquaintance, promising a round of drinks and some exciting new stories. Each year, this blogathon offers film lovers a chance to use their talent, time, and money to save the many lost and languishing films out there. Last year, the blogathon tackled film noir, earning the money to restore the 1950 film The Sound of Fury. The year before that, the topic was film restoration and the goal was the salvation of previously lost silent films. For 2012, the topic is Alfred Hitchcock and the goal is the restoration of 1928's The White Shadow, directed by Graham Cutts, with the enthusiastic help of his assistant director Alfred Hitchcock.
"NFPF estimates that it will cost $15,000 to stream The White Shadow for four months and record the score. It is the mission of this year’s For the Love of Film Blogathon to raise that money so that anyone with access to a computer can watch this amazing early film that offered Hitchcock a chance to learn his craft, with a score that does it justice."
But it isn't just about money, it's also about the blogging, which is open to everybody who's interested: 
"Remember anything to do with Graham Cutts, Alfred Hitchcock, film preservation, film scores, silent films, etc. etc. etc. is fair game. The idea is to provide people with a sense of interest and excitement and get across why this project and film preservation in general are so important."
The Horseathon (May 25th-27th), Hosted by Page from My Love of Old Hollywood

And now a little something for the animal lovers out there. The talented Page from over at My Love of Old Hollywood has cooked up a blogathon, devoted to the many fascinating, funny, and fearless equines that have lit up the silver screen, from Trigger to last year's War Horse.
"I thought it would be fun to do a Horseathon. There's been so many great films made that are either horse centric or revolve around our favorite western stars and their trusty sidekicks with hooves...Write about anything you want to as long as there's a horse involved. (Yes, if your favorite film had a rocking horse as part of the plot then that's fine too!)"
Blogathons in June

The Mary Pickford Blogathon (June 1st-3rd), Hosted by KC from Classic Movies

For any silent film lovers who hoped that The Artist would restore respect to the legacy of artists like Douglas Fairbanks and King Vidor, the answer (in a true twist of Billy Wilder-style cynicism) was the demolition of the Pickford-Fairbanks Studios in Hollywood. Still, even if contemporary Hollywood seems determined to live by the motto of "Today, today, today," that's all the more reason to pay homage to one of cinema's great leading ladies and innovators, Mary Pickford.
 "Mary Pickford was a funny, riveting and ridiculously entertaining performer. The little girl image may make her seem old-fashioned, but Pickford’s movies are alive; they pulse with her irresistible energy. These flicks are entertaining by any standards. It is easy to see why people loved her so much...So on June 1, 2 and 3, I invite you to send me new and previously-published posts about any aspect of Mary Pickford’s life and movie career."
The Queer Film Blogathon II (June 18th-22nd), Hosted by Caroline from Garbo Laughs and Ashley and Andreas from Pussy Goes Grrr

Here's another blogathon that has become an annual tradition, the Queer Film Blogathon, hosted by the always-delightful Caroline at Garbo Laughs, as well as her new co-hosts Ashley and Andreas. It offers an exciting mix of opportunities for bloggers to discuss non-cisgender representation onscreen. I participated last year and had a blast.
"Since last year‘s Queer Film Blogathon was such a tremendous, staggering, fabulous, amazing success, it’s only logical that we do it again this year. And so, I ever-so-proudly announce, the second annual Queer Film Blogathon, celebrating lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, or otherwise non-heterosexual, non-gender-binary depictions or personages in film!"
The William Wyler Blogathon (June 24th-29th), Hosted by R.D. Finch at the Movie Projector 

Have I mentioned that William Wyler is one of my favorite directors?  Dodsworth, Roman Holiday, The Letter, The Heiress, and Best Years of Our Lives are all on my all-time favorites list. That's not to mention the pleasure I get from films like The Little Foxes, How to Steal a Million, The Collector, Friendly Persuasion, Jezebel, and Ben-Hur. You can try to tell me that Wyler's overrated, that he's dry or overly polished or that Andrew Sarris doesn't  like him. But you might as well try to tell me that ice cream tastes like sawdust. I'm sorry to say that this blogathon isn't accepting any more entries, but bloggers are still welcome to stop by, comment, and add their applause for Wyler.
"The Movie Projector is hosting a blogathon June 24-29, 2012, honoring William Wyler, one of the great directors of Hollywood's studio era...Between 1925 and 1970 he directed seventy-one films, working in nearly every genre. Wyler was known for the demands he made on actors, sometimes shooting a scene thirty or forty times, but also for the quality of the performances in his pictures. Actors working in his films received thirty-one nominations for the Academy Award in the acting categories and won thirteen times. Wyler was nominated for the Oscar as best director twelve times, more than any other person."
Blogathons in July

The Best Hitchcock Movies (That Hitchcock Never Made) Blogathon (July 7th-July 12th), Hosted by Becky from ClassicBecky's Brain and Dorian from Tales of the Easily Distracted

As if an actual Hitchcock-centric blogathon wasn't glory enough, we're also getting a blogathon to honor those films that feel "Hitchcockian." For everyone who's ever sat down to a spine-tingling thriller and had that moment of, "Hmm, this seems a little familiar." In the words of those bewitching bloggers Dorian and Becky:
"...Simply a fun, casual blogathon open to all who love Hitchcockian (as opposed to just Hitchcock) movies, and wish to participate. Again, the idea is to not review Alfred's own films, but those that have a Hitchcockian feeling and Hitchcockian elements in them.  For example, North by Northwest shares a lot of themes with The Prize (1963), Psycho surely inspired DePalma's Dressed to Kill (1980) not to mention more than a couple more. A film doesn't have to be based on or inspired by any particular AH film, either: Charade (1963) and Arabesque (1966) certainly have the freewheeling terror that a great Hitchcock film does."
Blogathons in August

The Gene Kelly Centennial Blogathon (August 20th-25th), Hosted by the Classic Movie Blog Association

It may be coming up on one hundred years since Gene Kelly came into the world, but it sure doesn't feel like it. When I watch a clip of Kelly dancing on roller skates in It's Always Fair Weather or of him planting big smacking kisses up Jean Hagen's arm, I don't feel like I'm watching an entombed legend. I feel that shiver of recognition, that feeling that this performer is still real and vivid and part of us. That's what a great artist can do. This blogathon is restricted to CMBA members only but that still means a whole host of riches for Kelly fans and movie lovers.

Has all this given you an appetite for blogging?

Mary Pickford image credited to Dsata at Pictures Blog
Gene Kelly pic snagged from Classic Cinema Gold