director

The Power of Costuming: A Tale Told by Two Robes

Diane Evans and Agent Dale Cooper Robe Collage
Forgive my diversion into TV for a moment, but like a lot of you, I’ve gotten hooked on the new season of TWIN PEAKS. I coveted the silk robe Agent Cooper‘s former secretary Diane Evans wore in Part 7. Its colors and floral pattern look like something I’d wear because of my vintage sensibilities. When I went hunting for a good image of it, I stumbled across the photo of Cooper in his bathrobe in an earlier season. Again another red robe, but his looks like a Pendleton with abstract snow-capped mountains. Two red robes reflecting their wearer’s tastes and gender, but seemingly calling out to each other between seasons, symbolically marking each for the other half of the pair they once were. The more concrete print of her robe is a stronger image for a woman who wears bold clothes, maybe once simply for fashion, but perhaps now they buck her up and distract her from the bitterness and pain of her broken heart.

Leave or Read Comments.

EARLY WOMEN FILMMAKERS New Release Contest!

Early Women Filmmakers Cover

Flicker Alley, a boutique distributor of classic and rare films, contacted me about another great contest they’re running. Of course, I said yes to spread the word of their brand new release I thoroughly believe in, and I’m going to give you a chance to win a copy. It’s called EARLY WOMEN FILMMAKERS: AN INTERNATIONAL ANTHOLOGY.

Projects like #52FilmsByWomen and TCM‘s TRAILBLAZING WOMEN have drawn attention to the often forgotten, neglected, underpromoted, and underseen works of women directors. These are contemporary problems. Women were involved in every aspect of the nascent film industry. Early women filmmakers made product intended to be consumed by an audience comprised largely of female peers, and stars of their movies were usually women, who were paid higher salaries than their male acting counterparts.

Despite their achievements, many early women filmmakers have been written out of film history, and their contributions have been undervalued or misattributed. As in the case of Alice Guy-Blaché, their “firsts” may have been given away to now more famous males. Flicker Alley’s new release EARLY WOMEN FILMMAKERS: AN INTERNATIONAL ANTHOLOGY will be a resource for those wanting to learn more about the talented women of world cinema. New audiences, no matter where they live, will have a way to see and experience these movies, which is much better than possessing only academic knowledge of them. Restoring films to the canon requires accessibility.

On May 9, Flicker Alley releases EARLY WOMEN FILMMAKERS: AN INTERNATIONAL ANTHOLOGY on dual-Format edition Blu-ray/DVD. The set showcases fourteen of early cinema’s most innovative and influential women directors, rewriting and celebrating their rightful place in film history. The directors are Alice Guy-Blaché, Lois Weber, Mabel Normand, Madeline Brandeis, Germaine Dulac, Olga Preobrazhenskaia, Marie-Louise Iribe, Lotte Reiniger, Claire Parker, Mrs. Wallace Reid (Dorothy Davenport), Leni Riefenstahl, Mary Ellen Bute, Dorothy Arzner, and Maya Deren.

The directors are represented by ten hours of material restored to high definition. Their twenty-five films span four decades (1902-1943). Many are rare titles not widely available until now. Expect shorts to feature films, live-action to animation, and commercial narratives to experimental works. These women’s technical and stylistic innovations pushed boundaries of subject matter, narrative, aesthetics, and genre. For a complete list of films included on the set, please visit Flicker Alley here.

Bonus Materials include:

  1. New Scores by Sergei Dreznin, Frederick Hodges, Tamar Muskal, Judith Rosenberg, and Rodney Sauer and the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.
  2. Booklet Essay by film scholar and Women Film Pioneers Project Manager Kate Saccone.
  3. Audio Commentary For Lois Weber’s THE BLOT (1921) by author, professor, and expert on women and early film culture Shelley Stamp, courtesy of Milestone Film and Video.

One lucky winner will receive a copy of EARLY WOMEN FILMMAKERS: AN INTERNATIONAL ANTHOLOGY from Flicker Alley! The giveaway is open to residents of US and Canada, and the contest ends on May 22, 2017. To enter, comment on this post and then fill-out the form below. Tell me which early woman filmmaker you admire or want to learn more about!

 

In case you don’t want to gamble on winning the set, note Flicker Alley is offering a prerelease discount. If you order now through May 16, you will receive $20 off the $69.95 set.

Good luck!

Leave or Read Comments.

Happy Birthday, John Waters!

John Waters as William Castle and Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford on FX's FEUD

William Castle (John Waters) addressing the crowd at STRAIT-JACKET’s (1964) premiere as Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) listens on FEUD (2017) episode HAGSPLOITATION

I grew up in a John Waters household, so when I caught up with FEUD (2017), I was delighted to watch his cameo as shockmeister William Castle. My parents went to Waters’ movies, and my mom owns an ODODRAMA card gotten at a first run screening of POLYESTER (1981). Living in Massachusetts close enough to The Cape that Provincetown could be a day jaunt, she thinks she shopped in Dreamlander Divine‘s thrift shop, which he ran in his poor, pre-fame days. It was only a matter of time until we shared some of Waters’ movies together. I’ve now seen most of his films and read most of his books.

Which is how I know it was an honor for him to play Castle. Physically, the two men were very different. Waters has remained trim while Castle was heavier in comparison and thicker haired. FEUD show creator Ryan Murphy didn’t want Waters costumed to resemble Castle. No, fat suit as Waters said. Murphy was aware those in this know would delight in how meta it would be for Castle disciple Waters to appear as himself when portraying the other director.

If you haven’t read Castle’s memoir STEP RIGHT UP! I’M GOING TO SCARE THE PANTS OFF AMERICA, you need to. Waters wrote a loving and nostalgic introduction on how seeing Castle’s gimmicky movies as a kid inspired a love of cinema and the outrageous. There’s a joy in both directors’ works at defying convention to pursue their own visions. Keep on reading after the introduction, and you’ll learn a lot about B-movie making on shoestring budgets, including what it was like to work with Joan Crawford on STRAIT-JACKET (1964).

Happy birthday to John Waters, who doesn’t think he’s ever topped William Castle, but got to be him for a day! That must have been his best early birthday present.

Leave or Read Comments.

You Know You’re a Film Fanatic When–This is Your Gym Tee!

Spellbound by Movie's Beth Ann Gallagher in Rock Rebel's Universal Monsters Collage Tee

I can’t resist showing my movie love when at my new gym. Since I’m only a beginner, its circuit training sessions are grueling, but I keep myself peppy by wearing film-related tees. Today’s reflected my lifelong enjoyment of the Universal Monsters series.

Starting as a tot, I’d tune in to local station WLVI for The Creature Double Feature every Saturday. The show didn’t have the typical costumed horror host, but the announcer was enthusiastic, and he never talked down about the material. The program’s introductory sequences built anticipation of what was to come by containing horror clips, sometimes altered in psychedelic ways, accompanied by electronic music and vocal effects.

I credit The Creature Double Feature as one of the influences that turned me into a film fanatic. It was pure cinema of entertainment until commercials temporarily interrupted whatever was onscreen. Besides Universal, the program showcased Toho Studio‘s giant monster movies, American International Pictures‘ fifties films, Hammer Studios, and Roger Corman‘s sixties horror flicks.

Mention The Creature Double feature to anyone who grew up watching it, and you’ll get a smile from someone eager to chat. The name acts like a secret handshake. If you search the web, you’ll find fan pages and a message board run by people nostalgic for the show. I even found a list of every movie it ever played. That’s a great help because I know I’ve watched Hammer movies, but sometimes I can’t remember which ones. I enjoyed them, but the melancholy monsters of Universal Studios stuck with me.

Leave or Read Comments.

Quote: The Importance of Women Writing Their Own Stories

“I did this show called TRAILBLAZING WOMEN, and the biggest thing I’ve learned in two years of doing the show is that men write their history and that’s why they’re remembered more than women. Cecil B. DeMille made sure to write everything down, but all the other women that were working at the same time as Cecil B. DeMille and D.W. Griffith–there were women directors, they didn’t write their stories down, so they weren’t included in the history books. I think it’s really important for women to mention the things that they were a part of.”

–Illeana Douglas, co-host of the I BLAME DENNIS HOPPER podcast, episode 12/20/16

Leave or Read Comments.

#52FilmsByWomen Quick Review: The Notorious Bettie Page (2005)

Gretechn Mol and tigers The Notorious Bettie Page still

Last night I watched The Notorious Bettie Page (2005) because it was her birthday. Gretchen Mol does a great job in embodying Bettie, which took guts. Mol had to know what scrutiny she’d be under to look like the famous model, replicate her ease and joy in posing, and radiate a personality that made much of her more extreme work seem like softer, campy fun, but still sexy. Mary Harron makes sure there’s a humor to the film, and she showcases many of her actresses’ work over the supporting male actors’. The soundtrack and visuals are of the era. The living magazine covers are a nice touch. For feminists the movie will have an empowering, sex positive appeal. Bettie is shown having agency to pose or to retire into her Christian faith without regretting her life or actions and without her beliefs being knocked. Her journey is respected. The movie ends early in her life with no hint of her later mental health struggles. A positive portrayal of a woman, whose later years I wish were as happy as many scenes in this film.

More about #52FilmsByWomen here.

Leave or Read Comments.

Review: Debra Paget, For Example (2015)

Beautiful, classic film era actress Debra Paget never quite became an A-list star. Despite being in some high profile films, she was mostly relegated to genre roles, usually playing exotic parts and often wearing skimpy and skin-tight costuming. Filmmaker Mark Rappaport chose her as the subject of one of his latest video essays, Debra Paget, For Example (2015), that’s part career biography, part examination of studio era Hollywood, and part personal digression into side topics or characters that interest him.


Rappaport performs a sort of archaeology with classic film elements. The majority of his movie is comprised of clips from Paget’s films. He allows some excerpts to play straight through, while with others he creates new scenes by making collages with with his selected images and moments. At times the material shown simply supports the biography. Other times it’s used to illustrate points. Because of the material he’s working with, a video made in his Paris apartment on a Mac with Final Cut Pro has an expensive, glamorous look. Aspirational DIY filmmakers could be inspired by how easy it would be technology-wise to create their own movies without ever leaving home.


When the documentary opens, Rappaport repeatedly superimposes the 2oth Century Fox logo over Paget’s face. This happens first in black and white and then in Technicolor. During her fifteen year film career, she was a contract player for the studio for eight years. Those were her career’s glory years. She once was third in the volume of fan mail received there, only being bested by Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe. Getting beyond the surrealism of a logo appearing and disappearing through fade and reverse fade over her visage, the imagery suggests she was part of the studio, branded by it, and never bigger than it. She will always be part of its story and vice versa.


The director narrates the documentary and he attempts to provide a female companion voice by having Caroline Simonds periodically speak Paget’s thoughts. Simonds never really says anything to counter to Rappaport’s narration. Instead her lines bolster his point of view. Her lines don’t always ring true or come from a female point of view.


Rappaport brings up that in Paget’s film debut, Robert Siodmak‘s film noir Cry of the City (1948), it is weird that a fourteen year-old is the romantic love interest of thirty-eight year old Richard Conte‘s character. Simonds retrogradely asks, “Why is my mother allowing this?” Paget’s mother was a stage mother and pushed all of her children into performing careers, but her father was part of their family life. Either parent could have reviewed her potential roles and rejected parts or scenes. Ultimately that’s not the perspective of a fourteen year-old girl. Someone that age tends to think they’re more grown-up than they are. Paget might have thought Conte ancient as the young feel about anyone that much older than them, or she might have been so excited about playing such a dramatic role that the age difference might not have been on her mind, or she could have had an age inappropriate crush. Those are possibilities.


The filmmaker points out that Paget is repeatedly cast as older than her age. She later plays a college coed when she’s really high school age. There’s a suggestion that she was pushed into maturity working in an adult business. There’s a suggestion of how movies do sell us illusions. There’s a suggestion that the commodification of her charms had begun.


Rappaport evaluates Paget’s talents. In “her very first shot in her very first film,” he sees skill. “She knows how to walk across a room. Not as easy to do as you might think.” He praises her for being able to cry on demand. Essentially he goes on to say and show she could act, dance, and sing. She might have had a very different career as the musical film biography of John Philip Sousa Stars and Stripes Forever (1952) showed, except musical movies were on their way out.


The dark-haired-but-blue-eyed Paget found herself the studio’s go to woman for ethnic roles. She played Middle Eastern, Native American, South Sea island, and East Indian parts. For some films, she’d wear contact lenses to turn her eyes brown. She hated that because Kleig lights would heat the lenses up. Her thoughts on having her skin darkened for roles might not be recorded. Rappaport creates a sequence showing her many exotic parts. Not only does it highlight the absurdity of the films she was cast in, but also it acts like an odd sort of fashion show, and while the castings and characters were ethnically tone deaf, there’s a pleasure in seeing a beautiful woman wearing outlandish fashions in glorious Technicolor that makes everything prettier than it should be.

He discusses how sexualized her roles were. There’s the aforementioned skimpy and skin-tight outfits. In the Biblically inspired Ten Commandments (1956), her character was a sex slave, and the costuming had her braless. In Fritz Lang‘s The Indian Tomb (1959), she performs a bump and grind dance routine more suited to Las Vegas stages. Because of her image, Rappaport mentions how Paget was the first crush of many a boy. Those crushes may or may not have been innocent. I’m sure there was many a lad (and a lassie) who didn’t know why they adored the actress, who were getting a hint of what their budding sexualities were. Rappaport chooses to focus on the masturbatory fantasies she inspired. No mention is made of those who may have been influenced to be like the Paget they saw on the screen, a very different kind of wanting.

When the director digresses, parenthesis appear on the screen. They look like crescent moons, tying into the exotic mysticism of some of Paget’s parts. Digressions can be relevant, like when he compares Paget to Maria Montez, “The Queen of Kitsch.” Montez’s roles surpass Paget’s in outrageousness of performance and costuming as a montage shows. He appoints Paget “The Princess of Kitsch,” and then he says that one person’s kitsch may be another’s nostalgia, and he seems not to want to rob anyone of their pleasure in that nostalgia. Momentarily, he’ll focus on other performers because of their Jewishness or sexuality, Paget being the launching pad to that discussion. Despite the tangents, Rappaport covers a lot of of her life in little more than a half hour.


Even if I didn’t always agree with Rappaport, Debra Paget, For Example was a fun way to spend time. I’d seen the actress in multiple movies, but I’d never investigated her, and the documentary piqued my interest in seeing more of her films. I enjoy kitsch and camp. Within films not successful at being what their creators hoped them to be and getting remembered for the wrong reasons, there were performers like Paget working hard to make something out of a role and lucking into starring in moments of stunning imagery.

Note: I watched this movie as a paid subscriber to Fandor. You can view it here.

Leave or Read Comments.

The Casting That Almost Was–Louise Brooks as Dorothy Shaw

Louise Brooks Reading Gentlmen Prefer Blondes

When refreshing about Anita Loos for my post on the writer, I stumbled across a reference in ‘s excellent silent film column Silent but Deadly! about a casting that almost was–Louise Brooks as Dorothy Shaw.

Louise was the studio’s choice to appear in the first screen adaptation of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1928). If she had been cast, this would have been her third film working with director Malcolm St. Clair. Louise had acted for him in two prior films, The Show Off (1926) and A Social Celebrity (1926). Instead another film was their third pairing.

Even though Louise’s The Show Off character was a Lorelei, the Dorothy casting wouldn’t have been against type. The character was a chooser of the road less travelled. While Lorelei pursued men with status, money, and jewels, Dorothy romanced who attracted her for himself, whether he was a writer, tennis player, or ballroom dancer, and she ended up having adventures like meeting the Prince of Wales and teaching him American slang. Everything depended on whom was cast as Miss Lee for Louise to appear the more romantic, less scheming, and in her own way, less conventional one.

Louise got as far as the screen test, which she bombed. Anita Loos viewed the test, and she was bitingly honest to the actress saying, “If I ever write a part for a cigar-store Indian, you will get it.” Likely due to lasting bitterness at losing such a high profile part, Louise “was partly responsible for the low regard that St. Clair’s films later fell into.” During her late in life rediscovery by cinephiles, she would tell interviewers what a terrible director he was, but she was critical of most of her directors.

We’ll never know what kind of Dorothy Louise would’ve been once she relaxed into the role, and we have to read period reviews  to know how the movie turned out. It’s a presumed lost film. It earned lukewarm reviews in which the cast were more praised than the project. Motion Picture News‘ critic Laurence Reid said it was missing “the sparkle of the book and the play.” We’ve the above picture of Louise to taunt us with the film that could’ve been, one we’d likely be lamenting as lost. Maybe we’d even be claiming that as Flaming Youth is to Colleen Moore, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is to Louise Brooks.

 

References

Foote, Lisle. “Malcolm St. Clair.” Buster Keaton’s Crew: The Team behind His Silent Films. Jefferson: McFarland, 2014. 102-03. Print.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1928 Film).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 09 Mar. 2016.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (novel).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 09 Mar. 2016.
Hutchinson, Pamela. “Anita Loos – Sharp, Shameless Humour of the ‘world’s Most Brilliant Woman‘” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 11 Jan. 2016. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.
Kramer, Fritzi. “Lost Film Files #9: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1928).” Movies Silently. Fritzi Kramer, n.d. Web. 09 Mar. 2016.
Louise Brooks.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 09 Mar. 2016.
Malcolm St. Clair (filmmaker).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 09 Mar. 2016.
Reid, Laurence. “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: Entertaining Enough But Lacks Color.” Internet Archive. Motion Picture News, 1928. Web. 09 Mar. 2016.

 

Leave or Read Comments.

#52FilmsByWomen

52 Films by Women Dance Girl Dance

During my recent blogging hiatus, I took a movie-watching pledge that’s perfect to share with you during March, which is Women’s History Month. I pledged to watch 52 Films By Women. I’m watching at least one film directed by a woman a week. I started fulfilling my pledge in January. I’m not alone in joining the campaign. As of today, 6,546 other people have made the same promise and are seeking out movies made by women film directors.

Women in Film (WIF) came up with the idea. They’re an advocacy group for women in media. Their goal is to see “gender parity reflected on and off screen” and ensure that “rich, diverse experiences of women’s lives are reflected on screen.” WIF “found that one of the barriers for female directors is a perceived scarcity of talent pool and experience.” Their 52 Films By Women project is a way to draw attention to the wide body of work from the silent era to today that’s available to be viewed, enjoyed, discussed, shared, and inspire future films.

If you’d like to participate, it’s very easy to. Fill out their pledge form here. Start watching films made by women. Share what you see with others. Tweet about the movies. Blog about them. Make Instagram, YouTube, and Vine posts. Remember to use the hashtag #52FilmsByWomen where appropriate. Talk to people about the movies. Organize your own home or theatre viewings. Have fun finding the work that is out there!

I’ve been sharing what I watch on Twitter, but moving forward I plan to feature the films on this blog. I’ve been selecting from the full time range of available offerings from the silent and classic eras to the present day, and the genres have varied within the formats of narrative film, animation, and documentary. I’ve been trying to make all movies first viewings and seek ones I’ve not seen before, but I was away on a trip last weekend, and while I watched a woman directed film in a theatre, it was one I’d seen previously. Maybe one week I’ll watch two to make up for that!

Leave or Read Comments.

Happy Easter!

As an Easter treat, here’s the delightfully magical silent short Les oeufs de Pâques. The film was written and directed by Segundo de Chomón for Pathé Frères. A contemporary of Georges Méliès, de Chomón was often compared to the other director due to their work in trick films, but the Spanish director would go on to work in other genres and for other directors, like Abel Gance. If you’ve seen other French silents from this era, then you might recognize this one’s lead actress Julienne Mathieu. She was de Chomón’s wife, and she started in films before he. She encouraged him to seek film work, so we have both to thank for the creation of this bit of whimsy in more than one way!

Leave or Read Comments.