Wednesday, July 17, 2013

I'd Recognize That Silhouette Anywhere

Something I've discovered in the weeks participating in Hit Me With Your Best Shot, courtesy of Nathaniel R over at The Film Experience, is that the more familiar I am with the film, the harder it is to write about. Which is the case with this week's film, Walt Disney's Oscar-winning 1964 classic, Mary Poppins. I've seen the film so many times and know it by heart (if you're like me, just saying that magical nanny's name sends me into a tailspin of memorable quotes and songs. The songs! I've been humming "Feed the Birds" all damn day), that my mind begins to fill up with ideas and images and I just can't seem to focus on one thing. How do I pick just one thing when they're all so supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?! The film brings me so much joy that when I try to think of the reasons why, my only response is a big doofy grin. But as Mary says, "practically perfect people never permit sentiment to muddle their thinking." Luckily, I'm far from perfect. So, let the sentiment muddle away!

Do I go with her iconic entrance by way of a talking parrot umbrella that flies?

By the way, you can purchase your very own umbrella. I'm not entirely sure that it'll be able to talk to you the way Mary's does. (David Tomlinson, who plays Mr. Banks, was the voice of the umbrella in the film. It's been suggested that Mary was Mr. Banks' nanny when he was a child. The fact that the same actor does both suggests that perhaps Mr. Banks wasn't always so...grown-up. And there's always been a little magic still left in him. Kinda how the same actor plays Mr. Darling and Captain Hook in Peter Pan.) And it's probably best if you don't go jumping out any windows with it, as I'm not sure the flight feature is built-in.

Do you choose one of the parts of the animated "Jolly Holiday" segment? Like Bert dancing with the penguin waiters (man, even in the animated world out-of-work performers are servers).

P.L. Travers (the author of the book series the film is based on) so disliked the animated portion of the film that at the premiere she was still trying to make Walt remove it. I can't wait for the film coming out later this year, Saving Mr. Banks, that chronicles Walt and Pamela's tussle in bringing the book to the screen. But, the finished film was one of Walt's favorites and the only one that brought him a Best Picture Oscar nomination.

Or what about the most amazing medicine bottle that pours out different flavors from the same container?

To this day, whenever I pour something onto a spoon I secretly hope that it will be different colors and flavors each time. And I always recite this exchange:

Jane: Lime Cordial! Delicious!
Michael: Strawberry! Mmmm!
Mary: Rrrrum punch. Quite satisfactory. <hiccup>

Or do I just love to laugh and choose the tea party on the ceiling? I ask you, a tea party on the ceiling?

Ed Wynn, who plays Uncle Albert in this scene, also had another iconic tea party at Disney as he was the voice of the Mad Hatter  in Alice in Wonderland. The actor was allowed to ad lib much of his lines in this scene. The actor who played Michael, Matthew Garber, was afraid of heights, so to coax him on set, he was given 10 cents every time he had to go up on the wire. 

But, I ultimately decided on a shot free of special effects as my Best Shot:

So simple in it's execution, yet able to convey so much. I love that even without any fanfare, no bells and whistles, hell - not even Julie Andrews' face - a single shot of a silhouette can still be filled with whimsy and magic. Just as three circles alone immediately bring to mind another famous Disney creation, seeing the outline of this nanny's hat is instantly recognizable and able to put that doofy grin back on my face. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Bruce Vilanch Dishes Dirt on Fire Island

Summer isn't the easiest time to blog. Everyone is always asking you to come have frozen margaritas or white wine or attend a beer blast (okay, so summer is just an excuse to booze it up). But, one of the reasons it's harder for me to write more on this blog during the summer is because in addition to my job during the week, I have a weekend job out on Fire Island.

Bruce onstage at Fire Island
It's great spending every weekend on the beach and at the pool (maybe a cocktail here or there, right?). But, I'm also working. Every Saturday night I work at the Icon Series in which a little bit of Hollywood and Broadway comes to the shores of this beach community. Last year Liza and Alan Cumming performed 2 shows (and did a repeat performance at Town Hall this past March). This past week Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, and Tony Award show writer (and former Hollywood Square) Bruce Vilanch came out to share some stories about his work over the years. He's been around for so long, he even worked with George Burns (although, he was quick to note, at the start of his career and much later in George's) and written for everyone from ABBA to (Pia) Zadora.

There were antidotes about Bea Arthur in the Star Wars Christmas Special (and a man in an alien costume affectionately known as "cuntface"). A misunderstanding on a talk show that led to the headline: "Vilanch Has Largest Penis in Hollywood...Says Lady Gaga". But I think everyone wants to hear about the backstage Oscar stories.

Me, Bruce, and my friend Nick. Just a regular weekend...
In 1994, Dolly Parton performed an Oscar nominated song from the film Beethoven 2nd. (Guys, I would just like to take this moment to point out that Beethoven 2nd has more Oscar nominations than Marilyn Monroe, Edward G. Robinson, and Donald Sutherland combined.) The producer thought it would be a fun idea for the 2 dogs from the film to come out on stage. The dogs thought otherwise. During the broadcast, one of them proceeded to take a dump on stage during the number. They tried to cut away to just a head and shoulders shot of Dolly, but her dress was so tight that you could see...well, both Partons very well. They quickly cut to just a headshot, but the smell was so bad that it brought tears to Dolly's eyes.

After all that, the next award to be presented was the Honorary Oscar to 6-time nominee (and never winner) Deborah Kerr. (Remember when those were actually shown during the ceremony!) Bruce said she had flown all the way from Switzerland and she wanted that damn Oscar. He and another man were to walk her backstage behind the curtain that would rise to reveal her center stage. As they walked across the stage, Kerr began to smell something and looked at Bruce ("like Miss Anna scolding a naughty child of Siam") and asked, "what exactly was on this stage the night before? A petting zoo?!" (For those of you interested, here's the clip of Dolly and the upstaging dog shit)

Bruce also said that the Honorary Oscar is referred to among the show's participants as The Kiss of Death. Once you accept it–you die! He says that they ask Doris Day every year and she always turns it down. He says, "The day you hear that Doris Day will be presented with the Honorary Oscar, just know she knows something we don't".

It's such a coincidence that he brought up Doris Day and the Honorary Oscar as just last Tuesday, my fellow contributors and I just did a poll of 10 Women That Deserve the Honorary Oscar over at Nathaniel R's The Film Experience and Doris Day made our Top 10! Maybe we're eager to give more than stars are willing to receive. I never got around to posting it last week, but here is my own personal ballot:

1. Catherine Denevue
2. Doris Day
3. Angela Landsbury
4. Marni Nixon
5. Maureen O'Hara
6. Liv Ullmann
7. Gena Rowlands
9. Kim Novak
10.Mia Farrow

8 out of my chosen 10 made the final cut–not bad. Although, someone mentioned Debbie Reynolds and that would have been such a good addition. Let's just hope that when one of these ladies is finally honored, the stage doesn't smell like dog shit!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Clinical Kinks

Who would have thought such an unassuming, nice little-ol' country like Canada (eh), could have produced such a dementedly twisted artist like director David Cronenberg. In fact, IMDB has kindly informed me that he's known as The King of Venereal Horror(!) and the Baron of Blood. Two titles I'm sure all good Canadian children aspire to. Just looking over his filmography: The Dead Zone, The Fly Crash (not the Best Picture winner about Race in LA, but the one where Holly Hunter and James Spader get sexually turned-on by car crashes. Somehow the Academy passed on it...) Spider, A History of Violence, etc. one gets a sense that feel-good Family Films are not his expertise. Even their titles evoke a kind of visceral feeling of dread and foreboding. His 1988 film, Dead Ringers (see what I mean about those titles), a disturbing film about twin gynecologists both played by Jeremy Irons, is the subject of this week's Hit Me With Your Best Shot over at The Film Experience. In addition to celebrating its 25th Anniversary, the film was chosen in honor of Nick Davis's new book: The Desiring Image: Gilles Deleuze and Contemporary Queer Cinema. Nick is a fantastic writer and he successfully completed his goal of seeing every Best Actress Oscar Nominated performance. Ever. Like, all of them. Check it out – you'll be sucked into an actress K-Hole the likes of which you will not emerge for days. Make sure you left some food for the cat...Anywho, onto the Queer Cinema.

The film begins with some amazing opening credits in which black and white anatomy drawings from the Renaissance are displayed against a blood red background. The images are beautifully grotesque. And the color red pops out again later in the film as the color of the scrubs and operating linens during surgeries. The film has such subdued colors throughout that when the stylized uniforms, usually a clean, stark white, are suddenly a vibrant crimson it's unsettling–as if the figures around the woman are performing a satanic ritual and not a medical procedure. The red looks also brought to mind another Canadian artist's work: Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale in which fertile women are kept as concubine's by wealthy men. Dressed head to toe in red, they're only purpose is to procreate. Sex is not for pleasure but a necessity. This discomforting mix of constraint and clinical detachment with the primal act of intercourse is also evoked in my choice for Best Shot:

Claire, (played by Genevieve Bujold. I loved her so much in Anne of a Thousand Days that I put this film in my Netflix queue years ago. Well, thanks to this series, I finally saw it. All I can say is, her character is far from Anne Boleyn) an actress who sought out the help of the twins, begins an affair with them (although she only thinks it with one of them). One of her sexual encounters with the twins leads to her being tied to the bed with tourniquets and various other medical instruments. The scene and the above image don't so much titillate as disturb with their oddity. And the act itself seems detached from emotion or feeling. It's an arresting image that shows Cronenberg at his best. Compelling, able to provoke with its unusualness, it lingers in the viewers mind.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

American Ideals

It's hard to remember sometimes that George Lucas ever made any movies other than the Star Wars trilogy. (Yes, I said trilogy. I'm still in denial that those prequels exist.) They've made him so much money, become a global phenomenon for over 25 years, and instead of new ideas or different films, he just keeps going back to them to tinker with the classics (hey, let's add a CGI Jabba the Hut! What if Greedo shoots first?!). So, it's easy to forget that 4 years prior to creating characters like Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Obi Wan Kenobi in a galaxy far, far away, he filmed a story about Curt, Steve, and Laurie set in the very real place of Modesto, California. Based on his experiences growing up in the early 60s and taking place over the span of one night, American Graffiti, feels like a glimpse into what shaped the young filmmaker into becoming the man he would become. Mining from his personal history proved to be rewarding as it went on to be nominated for Best Picture and recently made Entertainment Weekly's list of 100 Greatest Films of All-Time. It is also the subject of this week's Hit Me With Your Best Shot courtesy of Nathaniel at The Film Experience. (After a month long hiatus from the series and my own unplanned month long break from this blog, we are both back and ready for action!) So, hop into your 1956 Ford Thunderbird and let's go cruising...

The studio wanted the title changed not understanding the meaning. It's very, graffiti is...well, you see...AMERICA! Man, what DOES it mean?

There's not so much in the way of plot in the film. It's set the night before a couple of recent high school graduates, Steve (played by Ronny Howard, who apparently spent all of the 70s playing a teenager in the 50s/60s) and Curt (Richard Dreyfuss, who looks like the oldest 18 year old I've ever seen) are headed off to college. Steve tries breaking up with his high school sweetheart, Laurie (Cindy Williams, who, like lil Ronny, loved nostalgia) and Curt isn't so sure he wants to go away. Especially after he sees a vision that sets him on a quest (wow, that sounds like he's a medieval knight) and it just so happens to be my choice for best shot of the film:

Curt is in the backseat of the car with Steve and Laurie up front, listening to Wolfman Jack on the radio, (Wolfman will also have an impact on Curt during the evening.) when he looks out the window and sees a beautiful blonde in a White Thunderbird. (Look, it's a pre-Three's Company Suzanne Somers! What you can't see is that she's using her Thighmaster at this exact same moment.) She mouthes what appears to be "I Love You" to Curt and the guy falls instantly. But, she has quickly driven away before he can find out more about her. Curt spends the rest of the movie trying to reconnect with her, but in the process, finds out more about himself and what he really wants in life. She's a catalyst for his self-discovery and a beacon of hope that something out there is better. 

There was originally supposed to be a shot of her at the very beginning of the film driving in her car while transparent, showing that she never truly existed. It was cut due to the budget. But, I'm glad they kept her in reality. The Girl in the Thunderbird is real. She represents a dream that something great is out there waiting for you.