Friday, July 31, 2015

Dancing Legs Quiz ~ July Edition

How well do you know your musicals? Can you recognize them if given only a partial picture? Take the quiz below and find out.

Each of the dance routines debuted in a movie released in July of its year. Guess whose legs they are. Then give yourself a bonus if you can name the movie. 




The answers are located on the Dancing Quiz Answers tab at the top of the page.

Good luck!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

I Do and I Don't: A History of Marriage in the Movies

ISBN 978-0-307-26916-4
Jeanine Basinger's I Do and I Don't is clearly the work of extensive, passionate research. The film historian explains that marriage is rarely the main subject of films and certainly never advertised as such. In order to give the marriage movie a face, she viewed hundreds of films in search of plots where "the state of being married" was the sole focus (xvi). Basinger divided her findings into three sections: The Silent Era (20 pages), The Studio System (280+ pages), and The Modern Era (50+ pages). Each is peppered with photographs (on the back inside flap, the book boasts 139 illustrations), which give visual support to Basinger's assertions.

It is supreme irony that moviegoers could be conned into believing in romance that led to happy endings in one kind of movie, and then be shown that what came after the happily-ever-after was pretty awful...yet still be conned all over again into believing that the awfulness could be fixed, made new, and restored to the point of the original happy ending. (Basinger 3)
Arbuckle & Normand, comedic marriage movie team
From a cinematic standpoint, marriage must be plagued with problems because conflict is fundamental to good storytelling. If there is no conflict in the marriage, there is no story to tell. Basinger examines how Hollywood packaged these marital problems. During the silent era, filmmakers presented marriage and its problems in two extremes: either “raucous comedy or stark tragedy” (7). Assuming viewers were married and miserable, the comedy invited them to laugh at their joint misery. On the other hand, the drama told a cautionary tale upholding societal values, but not before letting the audience view plenty of sin and, as Basinger puts it, “Participate without consequences” (16). The films also allowed their viewers to escape to an exotic location and vicariously share in a luxurious lifestyle with grand bathrooms, furniture, and clothes. The historian notes these last elements can still be seen in today’s films with their large homes and elaborate kitchens.

In the next section, Basinger describes a shift from the exaggerated to the more familiar under the studio system. She details all aspects of the studio system formula—the purpose, patterns, couples, problems, and situations—making the book an ideal read for students of film studies. Movies made during this period reassured married viewers that all ends well for those who stick with it through hard times. According to Basinger, two patterns emerged: the “I Do” pattern of affirm-question-reaffirm-resolve and the “I Don’t” divorce pattern (told in flashback) of question-affirm-resolve-reaffirm. The latter movie discussed divorce, but the event never actually occurred due to the Production Code, hence the reaffirm portion of the pattern. Basinger also covers variations of the marriage movie: “without love” and “oops, we’re not married!” marriages. In these films, tension is built because the chase continues despite the couple being married.

Basinger identifies seven recurring problems in the studio system marriage movie: money, infidelity and/or adultery, in-laws and children, incompatibility, social class, addiction, and murder. She cites numerous examples of each type of problem, noting that most movies have a combination of forces at work. In case some might think the issues are strictly American, Basinger also delves into foreign films demonstrating that “marriage films transcend cultural differences. […] Croissants, smorgasbords, or green tea, marriage is just marriage” (252).

Before moving into the final portion of her book, Basinger looks at the one external problem that can overrule the other seven: “when a movie married couple faced a large, historical situation outside their control, such as the war (and later the Sexual Revolution), their problems were subjugated to the situation” (254). This part of the book would be especially appealing to anyone who enjoys learning about World War II as Basigner spends much time analyzing WWII films. Through research of memoirs, newspaper and magazine articles, she verifies the authenticity of the events portrayed in such films, finding the circumstances on the home front not far from what was projected onscreen. To further prove her point that the situation "trumps" all other problems, she shows that the absence of war (the situation) results in the return of the seven prewar problems in films. 

The final section encompasses movies from the 1960s forward. While the section appears small, it is important to note that Basinger incorporates modern movie examples throughout the book whenever appropriate. With social change, marriage was no longer an expected state of the human experience. Women, the primary target of the marriage movie, were not interested in the institution. The genre declined as filmmakers avoided the financially unsound subject. When a marriage movie was made, the characters often debated or discussed the institution--an ongoing trend which Basinger coins "the therapy session." There are movies, however, that continue to follow the old formulas. Analyzing one of the examples, Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005), Basinger observes, "As is always the case, marriage is destroyed and restored, shown to be unworkable, and then worked out" (343). On the flip side, the author takes note of an emerging theme in current movies, one in which there is "no resolution, no closure, no reassurance, and finally, no explanation" (358). She predicts that this will be the future of the marriage movie.

~ ~ ~

Basinger's book is conversational in tone. As such, there are quick asides throughout, often humorous in nature. For example, regarding the perfect "older" husband during the studio system: 
He was rich, he gave you everything, he solved all your problems--and then he died and got out of your way so you could marry a really hot guy. (115 in footnote) 
Describing the plot of The Egg and I:
They set out in his car, and as they drive farther and farther up into the thickly wooded hills on their way to their new home, the goat they are bringing with them eats her new hat. (Every woman in the audience immediately knows that this hat thing is a terrible omen.) (124)
These comments do not take away from the book as she does not veer off the path for long. In fact her quips are often located in parentheses or footnotes. If the reader prefers a more straightforward read, the comments can be avoided altogether. However, in my opinion, they add flavor, a personal touch to her book.

On her quest to document the history of marriage in movies, Basinger describes hundreds of films from the silents to modern day. Everyone who reads her book should walk away with a few new films to view. (As I write, I have two films waiting on my DVR--one new and one I wish to revisit after reading her take on it.) Basinger also includes a brief analysis of TV marriage sitcoms in her book, so readers might come away with a new sitcom to check out as well.

~ ~ ~

In addition to reading I Do and I Don't, individuals may be able to take a free course on the subject from Basinger via Coursera (the class has been offered the past two years, no information on when it will be offered in the future). Those who have taken the course will most likely be bored by the book as much of the lecture follows the text word for word. If you read the book first, the bonus of taking the course would be the opportunity to hear and see Basinger (lectures are prerecorded), view clips of a few movies she describes in the book, and discuss the films with other students who are taking the course. The course is not graded, so it is a low pressure environment.
Work Cited

Basinger, Jeanine. I Do and I Don't: A History of Marriage in the Movies. New York: Alfred A. Knoff, 2012. Print. 

This review is part of the 2015 -

Hosted by Raquel at Out of the Past Blog

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Brunettes, Blondes, Disability, & Questions Out of the Past

I have long heard this film's praises which is why I added it to my 10 movies to see in 2015 list. Out of the Past (1947) turned out to be quite a treat. It almost seems morbid to say that with all the deaths in the movie, but you've got to appreciate a film that keeps you on your toes. 

I purposely avoided movie reviews and synopses so I could view the film with fresh eyes. I knew it was a noir and was fairly confident the brunette was going to double-cross the men. (I've watched The Maltese Falcon. I know to watch out for those sneaky brunettes...) Sure enough, the brunette is beautiful, but deadly. Her wardrobe is stunning and her role the juicier of the two female parts. 

The Brunette/Femme Fatale, Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer), in three of her gorgeous outfits

In contrast, the blonde, who plays little more than an audience surrogate (basic purpose: listen to the Mitchum character's past), is plain, but virtuous. She is the one we are to emulate. Go ahead and fall for the mysterious stranger, just don't marry him. 

The Blonde and not-so-glamorous Ann Miller (Virginia Huston)

The stranger in question is Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum), who fights the good fight, but in the end makes the noble sacrifice expected of characters who must atone for sins of a past life. In this case, Jeff gives up the [blonde] woman he loves. And the catalyst for the events? Whit Sterling, a wealthy gambler played by Kirk Douglas, making the leading three a cleft-chinned bunch: 

Robert Mitchum ~ Jane Greer ~ Kirk Douglas

The movie has the standard set of supporting characters: the gambler's tough sidekick (Joe - played by Paul Valentine), the detective's partner (Steve Brodie), the sly secretary (Rhonda Fleming).  

Dickie Moore - Source
In the mix is a character referred to as "The Kid" (Dickie Moore). "The Kid" is a minor role, reminiscent of Dick Tracy's loyal orphan pal of the same name (Dick Tracy, 1990). He doesn't get much screen time, but his inclusion is significant because he gives a positive representation of a person with a disability during a time when it was not common (arguably, still isn't). He is deaf without the stereotypical labeling or depiction. He is not a tragic figure to be pitied like Tiny Tim or fixed like Emily Blair in And Now Tomorrow (1944). Rather, "The Kid" is portrayed as capable and treated with respect by the other characters--even by the antagonists. At the same time, it is unlikely the writer, Daniel Mainwaring*, casually included a character with a disability.  Since "The Kid" is the first person the audience meets in connection to Jeff's new life, his young friend might be meant to tip us off that Jeff is a likeable guy despite his checkered past. In other words, "The Kid" may exemplify what Mariam Nathan Lerner describes as a "representation of deafness [...] to provide a window into audience understanding and appreciation of the protagonist."

*Mainwaring used the pseudonym Geoffrey Holmes when he wrote Build My Gallows High, the novel on which Out of the Past is based. 

The lines--writing and delivery of--are solid. I love the insight into Jeff's character from this exchange -
Taxi Driver: Buddy, you look like you're in trouble.
Jeff: Why?
Taxi Driver: Because you don't act like it.
Mitchum's character doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve. Another favorite -
Secretary: For a man who appears to be clever, you can certainly act like an idiot.
Jeff: That's one way to be clever. (Slight pause) To look like an idiot.
I've heard similar responses from Marilyn Monroe's and Ginger Roger's characters. It's interesting to hear it from a man. 

***Spoilers Ahead***
The twists compel the viewer to pay attention or lose track of who is crossing whom. After seeing it once, I feel there are parts that I missed. For example, when Ann's father reads the paper, he says that Jeff is wanted for two murders. I know about Eels. Who is the other victim? And what about the Kathie and Joe angle? Was she playing him like the other men? Or was he focused on not disappointing Whit or saving his neck? Is Whit and Joe's relationship more than platonic (Joe worried about disappointing Whit, Whit's extreme distress and anger at Joe's death)? Finally, Kathie had a remarkably accurate shot, why/how did she miss Whit at the beginning of the story--was there more going on?

These questions aside, the resolution was satisfying. I loved the irony of Kathie's last outfit. As she fully reveals how evil she is, her outfit gives her the appearance of a nun.

When Jeff tries to reason with her (like you can with this dame) that if they run off to Mexico, the police will find them, she responds:
I don't care. Just so they find us together.
Dang, I thought, She's ready to go out Bonnie-and-Clyde-style! I didn't know how close I had hit it.


Lerner, Mariam Nathan. "Narrative Function of Deafness and Deaf Characters in Film." Media/Culture Journal 13:2 (2010). Web. 15 July 2015. 

Williams, Tony. "Movies and the 'Enemy' Within." American Cinema of the 1940s: Themes and Variations. Ed. Wheeler Winston Dixon. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2006. 182-199. Print.  

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Getting to Know You: The Liebster Award

About a month ago amidst grading finals, overseeing promotion speech re-edits, organizing a field trip, putting on our school's first dramatic production, and maintaining general order (if you could harness the energy of adolescents on the brink of summer break, you would make a fortune), I received a much needed pat on the shoulder from Theresa at CineMaven's: ESSAYS from the COUCH.  She recognized Classic Reel Girl with a Liebster Award. 

It may not seem like much, but to me, it was the extra boost I needed to get through the end of the school year. The light at the end of the tunnel that said yes, you are more than a drill sergeant, than a grantor of bathroom passes (or big meanie who doesn't), than investigator of who drew that male part on the bulletin board, desk, book.... There's a reason why Jane Russell's earrings in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes make me think of something else. Call it teacher radar or overexposure to middle school "artwork."

I digress. Since Theresa's nom, I have also been nominated by Phyl from Phyllis Loves Classic Movies. For this, I am equally grateful. Thank you ladies! 

*When you get the chance, please check out their blogs by clicking on their titles above.

The Award

Cue the mood music.

So what exactly is this award? The Liebster Award is not so much an award as it is a getting to know you game. It is kind of like those breaking the ice activities at the beginning of a new class, training, meeting, etc. Except this one gives you the opportunity to get know bloggers who are new on the scene. Plus, it's fun answering the questions.

The Duties

There are four parts to the award:

1) Answer the questions of the blogger who nominated you.

2) Share 11 random facts about yourself.

3) Pay it forward - Nominate up to 11 bloggers for the award.

4) List 11 questions for the bloggers you nominated.

The Q and A's:

*Click here for my answers to Theresa's questions. 

*Click here for my answers to Phyl's questions.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

List of Yankee Doodle Dandy Posts

For this fourth, I thought it might be fun to revisit favorite posts devoted to Yankee Doodle Dandy, James Cagney's performance, and the Yankee Doodle Boy himself, George M. Cohan. Enjoy!

  • THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931) by Bobby Rivers at Bobby Rivers TV - The post looks at Cagney's talent, including his dancing skills in YDD.