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Remembering Robert Osborne

Beth Ann Gallagher, Karie Bible, Annie Coulter, and Deborah Rush with Robert Osborne at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival

Late Monday morning I was crying. A quick look at Twitter let me know something I hoped wouldn’t happen yet had. TCM host and film historian Robert Osborne had died. He’d been on extended medical leave, so I knew he wasn’t well, that he must have been seriously ill to stay away from the network and the job that meant so much to him. He was the rare person who created his own career around what he loved, film. Since he was the even rarer public person who kept his personal life private, fans didn’t know more about his condition than that. I wished like many he’d rebound.

I’m not the sort of person who jumps on the celebrity mourning bandwagon. I don’t write about someone’s passing simply to get blog hits. When I feel the loss of someone like Robert, and I’m going to be presumptuous and call him by his first name since he’s been in my living room many times, I really feel it. Chief among his many gifts was being able to connect and engage with an audience. He made me feel like he was excited to share what he knew and thought about a film because he cared–and he truly did. He wanted to pass on the knowledge and the joy of classic film. Whether you met him in person or watched him on TV, he gave you a personal experience.

I was lucky enough to meet Robert at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival in 2007. He was there to accept an award from the festival for TCM for its contributions “to the preservation, restoration and exhibition of silent film.” He, also, introduced CAMILLE (1921). I didn’t approach him when I saw him in the Castro Theatre‘s auditorium. I don’t think he would’ve minded, but I try to be considerate of famous people’s moments of downtime. My friends and I made sure to go up to the theatre’s mezzanine for his book signing, and that’s the first and last time I met him.

Some of us bought his book, and some didn’t, but that didn’t seem to matter to him. He was friendly and chatted with all of us, and he quickly and happily said yes to a group picture. While we started posing for the picture,  I wanted to let him know how much I appreciated him and his work. I don’t remember what I said to him, but whatever I said and how I said it, he paused for a moment and tilted his head, and then he responded with something nice back. I’m sorry to be vague, but I remember the quality of the moment and my emotions more than the words used by either of us.

Robert exemplified generosity. He was a consummate gentleman to all who approached him. He left people feeling good after they interacted with him. He wasn’t only an ambassador for TCM or classic film. He was someone who radiated happiness at his good fortune at being able to live the life he wanted, and he shared that happiness by making himself available until he wasn’t able to anymore.

Thank you, Robert, for giving more than you took, for being an educator and an inspiration, and for being you. You leave behind a rich legacy.

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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

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Why I created a Patreon account.

Carole Lombard Pencil Typing

I’ve been getting ambitious about Spellbound by Movies. There’s so much I want to do with my blog, I want to invest more time in it to promote classic and silent films. While I say Spellbound is sometimes irregularly, but always lovingly updated, I’d like to get on a regular schedule.

I have expansion ideas. There are more post types I’m itching to get to like more interviews, lists, or my usual obsessive reviews. The last can take my eight hours or more. I watch every film more than once if I can; I start with a rough draft I craft into final form; and I fact check every line I can, including describing action in the movie.

But my expansion ideas go beyond what’s on a page. Eventually I’d like my interviews not just to be conducted via email, but also done over Skype or in person. I want to record those conversations and take their recordings and turn them in a companion podcast called SIT A SPELL.

Even without adding on the cost of podcasting, there are costs associated with my blog. There are the annual hosting, URL, and WordPress redirect fees. While I’m comped some festival passes and books, I pay to attend other screenings and festivals, and I buy books to review and to build my film reference collection. Some of the festivals I attend require travel and/or hotels. All of these costs add up.

Here’s what pushed me over the edge into creating a Patreon account. In the last six months or so, I’ve been hit with two major and unexpected expenses–a large vet bill for a beloved and now passed away cat and losing my apartment to my landlords, who resumed personal occupancy. Having to incur moving costs and suddenly paying current San Francisco Bay area market rent was a double whammy.

I don’t want either to detract from my blogging or from me being able to travel to film festivals and bring you coverage. Between my blog, my Twitter account, and my Instagram, I try to share generously my movie experiences and love. There are two film festivals I’d like to attend in April. Schedule-wise I’d have to choose one or the other. Because of recent expenses, I think I should choose neither.

I blog because I love the process, love sharing my point of view, love lifting some of the movies out of obscurity, and love the community writing connects me to. I blog without pay, but isn’t it better to pay writers than not? Is it egocentric to consider if someone else values my work, then maybe they’d like to be a Patron to help it to continue? I’ve gotten some very nice unpaid opportunities, which I’m extremely grateful for. Maybe some day my blog will lead to a paying gig.

Whatever happens my blog will continue to freely accessible to all, but for the few who become Patrons, you have my sincerest thanks and gratitude. I am the sort who will pay it forward when she can. My most immediate way will be writing more regularly.

To check out my Patreon page, please click the banner below!

Become a Patron Patreon Banner

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Happy International Women’s Day 2016!

Anita Louise Autographed Picture

For International Women’s Day, let’s take a moment to remember a woman of words, Anita Loos.

She started screenwriting in the silent era, and she’s credited for elevating the intertitle beyond the functional into an art form. A wordsmith, wit, and satirist, her intertitles had zing. Yes, they had “It.” It’s likely her exposure to the family tabloid and her own newspaper writing made her value succinctness. Would it be even more of a stretch to suppose that this early education schooled her in the art of equivocal, particularly innuendo? She could write a line explaining a scene and poking fun at a star’s persona. When describing yet another one of Douglas Fairbanks‘ characters designed to show off his athletic prowess, she wrote he had “a vaulting ambition which is likely to o’erleap itself and fall on the other side.” She was getting meta before that became a thing!

She had an aversion to societal hypocrisy and the pitfalls of her sex, threads that run through her work, like in this line from Intolerance (1916): “When women cease to attract men they often turn to Reform as a second choice.” Instead she had a fondness for hustlers, loose women, and other characters usually viewed as disreputable undesirables. Exposure to San Francisco’s Barbary Coast and piers, when accompanying her father on drunken wanderings and fishing trips, gave her a glimpse of those types at a young age, and she never lost her fascination for them, and they populate her work.

The most famous example is Gentlemen Prefer Blondes‘ Lorelei Lee, a ditzy, gold digging flapper. Loos wrote the comic novel as an act of revenge. She was tired of seeing her male intellectual friends (and crushes like H.L. Mencken) fall for women with more “downstairs” than upstairs. Despite Loos’ upset over the inspirational situation, there’s an admiration for Lorelei’s wiles and ambition. Loos was a hard worker, and so was her creation, who through her kooky logic and machinations ultimately wins.

Despite a disastrous love life that included marriage to a controlling, abusive, narcissistic, spendthrift schizophrenic, she kept working and didn’t turn to drink or idleness unlike other contemporaries. She survived film’s transition into sound writing more screenplays and expanded her oeuvre to include additional novels, (likely fictionalized, but so much fun to read) memoirs, Hollywood biographies, and Broadway.

She even became a script doctor. My favorite example of this was her being called in to work on a property other male writers, like F. Scott Fitzgerald, couldn’t get right. They couldn’t relate to the source material. Fitzgerald thought it “a spiteful portrayal of femininity.” Loos loved the Clare Boothe Luce play. Loos was very familiar with its subject matter, an exposé of the cattiness, gossip, men-stealing, and gold digging of Park Avenues socialites and the wannabees. She delighted in dishing on what occurs behind the scenes in women’s spaces. She turned out a script in three weeks that remains a classic beloved for its zingers to this day–The Women (1937).

When she died in August of 1981, her drive resulted in a body of work spanning about 65 years. She remained a celebrity. The gamine, 4’11’ girl with the pixie cut had aged into a grande dame of the New York social scene, active and vibrant close to her end. She frequented the party, fashion, and arts circuits. She enjoyed being among the surviving few of the silent era able to share what ever stories she remembered or fabricated. Film historian and preservationist Kevin Brownlow interviewed her for his television documentary series Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film (1980), and he must have had a fun time sorting fact from embellishment. “At the memorial service, friends Helen Hayes, Ruth Gordon, and Lillian Gish, regaled the mourners with humorous anecdotes and Jule Styne played songs from Loos’ musicals, including “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” The storyteller would live on in others’ tales and through her work.

Anita Loos Reading

References

Anita Loos.” IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.
Anita Loos.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.
Anita Loos.” Women Film Pioneers Project. Women Film Pioneers Project, n.d. Web. 8 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.
Somerville, Kris, and Speer Morgan. “Anita Loos: The Soubrette of Satire.” TMR Content Archives. The Missouri Review, n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.

That’s Not Musidora! A Case of Mistaken Identity Compounded by Tumblr

Perhaps it’s not unexpected that an actress who’s best remembered for playing a disguised thief suffers from a case of mistaken identity on the internet. In the silent film Les Vampires, Musidora plays Irma Vep, who dons a catsuit for convenience in movement as she commits her crimes. This may be the first cinematic catsuit, and it was followed by many in popular culture. It definitely was the first to have an erotic impact on the public. In a compliment of reverse chronology, Musidora has been called the Brigitte Bardot of her day. Musidora’s catsuit helped whip that fever of appreciation up. Particularly striking are the shots of her navigating the rooftops of Paris. Was she a dream or nightmare about to descend into a home? This most iconic image of her inspired a tribute photography shoot, and thanks to the lack of verification and attribution of images on the net, sites ranging from Tumblr to serious movie blogs to even an academic page accidentally have perpetuated a case of mistaken identity.

One image from this photo shoot appears repeatedly on the net, credited as Musidora:

Lys Reygor as Irma Vep Rooftop

As soon as I saw it, I knew this photo was not of Musidora. The model’s bone structure is wrong. The make-up is much too intentionally gothic. While Musidora wore make-up in her Les Vampires performance, her make-up looks naturalistic in comparison to this person in whiteface. The black brows are drawn on and do not match the more organic curve of Musidora’s. The model’s eyes are very kohled. The lipstick reads as actually black on film versus red lipstick photographing darkly. Another dip a little too far into the exaggeration of Musidora’s image is the black beauty mark. Musidora did not sport one in the film. Even the outfit is not quite correct. The model wears lace gloves reminiscent of a style popular in the 1980s. In the film, Musidora wears more practical opaque gloves. Maybe in honor of René Gruau‘s portrait of the actress in her most famous role, the model clutches beaded necklaces, something the character of Irma Vep does not do when jumping rooftops in the film. She’s stealthier than that. Plus, the photo looks too modern and crisp, even for one that might have digitally restored.

Here are some images of Musidora as Irma Vep in the catsuit for your comparison:

Musidora in Catsuit for Les Vampires

Musidora Catsuit Lying down in Les Vampires

Musidora Catsuit Searching in Les Vampires

Musidora Catsuit Caught in Les Vampires

My first step in solving the mystery of who took this photo of whom was to Google. I searched the web via text and via image, and I finally used the correct search words with the picture. I found that while Tumblr was the most guilty in attributing the photograph incorrectly, it also held my answer of the image’s origins. Lys Reygor’s Tumblr shows multiple copies of this image. Under one, a Tumblr user going by the name Jadé Antoinette credits Lys Reygor as the model and Béatrice Tatareau as the photographer. The photo shoot site is listed as Bordeaux.

Lys Reygor Tumblr Proof

I then used those three names as search terms, and I eventually found Béatrice Tatareau’s Musidora-inspired photographs on a French site called Wizzz. There was a whole gallery of them to scroll through. Off to the side was a citation of model (Lys Reygor), place (a rooftop in Notre-Dame, Bordeaux), year (1985), and photographer (Béatrice Tatareau). I had found proof of Jadé Antoinette’s claim! In doing so, I proved what I knew was true–That’s not Musidora!

My excitement at being right was moderated by the artist’s biography on Wizzz:

“Deux de mes photos de la série Sur les toits, rue Notre-Dame, Bordeaux, 1985 sont légendées à tort sur internet sous le nom de l’actrice Musidora, Irma Vep dans Les Vampires, le film de Louis Feuillade (1915) © Gaumont. Je tiens à préciser que je suis l’auteure de ces œuvres, épreuves argentiques N&B datant de 1985. Je signale ici l’appartenance de mes photographies au patrimoine de l’ADAGP. Merci de votre visite.”

Roughly translated by Google into English, it says:

“Two of my photos from the series on the roofs, Notre Dame, Bordeaux 1985 are wrongly captioned on the Internet under the name of the actress Musidora, Irma Vep in Les Vampires, Louis Feuillade ‘s film (1915) © Gaumont . I want to say that I am the author of these works, B & W silver prints dating from 1985, I note here of my photographs belonging to the heritage of the ADAGP. Thank you for your visit.”

I initially took up my search to disprove the the photograph’s authenticity. I did not want Musidora incorrectly identified anymore. There is not as much available documentation on the actress in English as there is in French, so I was going to assist with that in this case. I’m now asserting the authorship of the photograph and the others in its series as well. Tatareau is in the odd position of having a photograph become widely distributed online, which could be seen as a mark of success for her piece, yet not getting credit. It must be an odd position to be in as a creator! Film fans often get excited about potent photographs and share them quickly and frequently. Tatareau’s is a good example of making sure what you share is genuine. It’s, also, a reminder to give credit to photographers when we can. We’re sharing their work and creativity.

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