Feb 26, 2012

Feb 23, 2012

Book Review-- BFI Film Classics: Victim

by John Coldstream 

Victim (1961) is an unusual movie, because it succeeds on such vastly different levels. It is simultaneously a thriller, social statement and cultural force of change. Though its makers insisted that it was a movie about blackmail, it drew the most attention for being the first British movie in which the word “homosexual” was spoken. Perhaps Victim wasn’t meant to be about homosexuals, but it speaks expertly of their plight in 1960s Britain. 

In this brief, brilliant book, all of these factors are given thoughtful consideration. It attempts to separate what was intended from what was communicated by the film and doesn’t fuss too much about the areas where that distinction is difficult to make. It makes its points with text, charts, script pages and numerous stills from the film. 

I'm a big fan of the carefully-executed film monographs put out by the British Film Institute (BFI). Though there is a certain structure to the series, each book always has its own character, which depends upon the nature of the film being discussed. For those of you not familiar with the series, each edition describes the backstory, plot, production and reaction to a single movie. The books are never much more than a hundred pages long, but they are thorough, with strong research, fascinating insights and enough of the author’s personal imprint to keep them from getting too generic. 

They couldn’t have picked a better author for this edition. John Coldstream has had a hand in two books about Bogarde, the first his authorized biography of the actor and the second a collection of Bogarde’s letters which he edited. He also helped Bogarde to collect his own journalism in another book. The author's familiarity with the star of Victim gives the text an anchor from which the rest of the film can be explored. 

Without Bogarde’s participation, the movie would likely not have thrived as it has, and Coldstream is right to shine a spotlight on the courageous actor (who was a closeted homosexual himself) and his controlled, but tormented performance. Coldstream marks the progress of Victim with a chart that Bogarde sketched (and which is included inside the cover of the book) to show the various emotional peaks and valleys of his character. 

In part, the plot of Victim revolves around a group of homosexuals who are tormented by blackmailers taking advantage of the fact that their victim’s intimate activities are illegal in the current British society. It is also the story of Melville Farr (Dirk Bogarde), a successful barrister who puts his marriage, career and reputation in jeopardy to help the victims while dealing with his own barely repressed homosexuality. 

All of these plotlines converge on one point: by making homosexuality illegal, a society opens itself up to a torrent of additional crimes, from blackmail to theft. These elegantly stated points had their effect, as they helped to pave the way for a 1967 act which decriminalized private homosexual acts between consenting adults in the UK. 

Though the subject matter of Victim was groundbreaking, you get the sense that at least British society was ready for discussing, if not necessarily accepting the practice of homosexuality. The film received an ‘X’ rating in the UK and it was banned in the United States, but its release inspired thoughtful reviews and widespread appreciation for the courage of those in the production for tackling a difficult subject. 

Overall, this tidy little volume manages to capture the essence of a complex film and production, which did good business and promoted change, while simultaneously succeeding as an entertaining work of suspense. 

Thank you to Palgrave Macmillan for the opportunity to review this book.

Feb 19, 2012

Quote of the Week

Training to be an actor is like going to school to learn to be tall.

 -Robert Mitchum

  Image, Quote

Feb 12, 2012

Quote of the Week

It embarrasses me somewhat when a kiss goes on too long on the screen. Why, I want to turn my face away. I shouldn't be there. That's something between them!

-John Huston

(That's director Edmund Goulding manipulating William Twiddy and "Bill" Easton in the photo. The man behind the camera is a film student)

Image Source

Feb 7, 2012

The Kickstarter Campaign to Put Clark Gable on the Bench

I wanted to let you all know about a great Kickstarter campaign now in progress. Sculptor Lou Cella would like to sculpt a life-sized statue Clark Gable sitting on bench in front of the Clark Gable House in Gable’s hometown, Cadiz, Ohio. He has the support of the Clark Gable Foundation, also located in Cadiz. What they don’t have is the $80,000 needed to finish the project.

 For those of you not familiar with Kickstarter, it is a grassroots method of quickly gathering funds for the completion of various kinds of projects. I’ve seen it used most frequently to fund independent films. Each campaign is schedule for a set period of days. If the donation goal is not met by the last day of the campaign, then all funds are returned to the donors. So this is all or nothing!

 Since the campaign kicked off on February 1st (Clark Gable’s birthday), they’ve only raised $535. That’s a long way from success. There are lots of incentive prizes, even for donation of as little as a dollar. The campaign link is here.

There’s more information about the sculptor Lou Cella and the project on his Facebook page .

I really like this idea. It would be great to be able to go visit the statue some day. I always thought it would be fun to sit in Clark Gable's lap.

Feb 5, 2012

Feb 4, 2012

Book Review-- Ida Lupino: Beyond the Camera

Ida Lupino: Beyond the Camera 
by Ida Lupino with Mary Ann Anderson
Bear Manor Media 

Father made a remark. “Ida,” he said, “the player whose likeness appears on those pieces of film is important; the man who determines what pieces is the most important of all. He is the director. Just remember that!” 

I almost didn’t think I was going to make it past the first section of Ida Lupino: Beyond the Camera. In it, author Mary Ann Anderson describes the sad condition of Lupino’s Brentwood Heights estate when they first became acquainted in 1983. It was horribly depressing to think that my beloved Ida had once lived in a place with a broken toilet and patio furniture sitting in the bottom of a slimy, green swimming pool.

Fortunately, she had the means to turn things around. Anderson, an agent who was her friend for twelve years, describes how she also played a role in improving Lupino’s late life circumstances. Then the book turns to the rest of Lupino’s life: before and behind the camera and personal details. It’s a fast, but substantial read.

Before reading Beyond the Camera, the only Ida Lupino biography I’d ever read was a book by William Donati. It turns out Lupino was not fond of the man. Though he was once her houseguest, she didn’t consider him a close friend, and his book was unauthorized.

As with Donati, it appears Lupino did not hold back her feelings when she felt strongly about another person. This included her neighbors, who would get soaked by her garden hose if they got on her bad side.

 It was amusing to read that she even had an issue with Robert Osborne, who irked her with some inaccurate reporting when he was better known as a writer. This is the first time I’ve heard of anyone being annoyed by Mr. Osborne! It’s a good thing he never got within hose range.

Author Anderson and Lupino

Reading Beyond the Camera is a lot like sitting next to Lupino while she dishes on these and other personalities, acting and her fascination with directing and producing. Always fiery and opinionated, she tended to be more generous in her opinions than you’d gather from these two anecdotes. For every enemy she crowns, there’s a long list of co-workers she throws her affection to, including Olivia de Havilland, Barbara Stanwyck and James Arness. She also had great respect for her longtime business partner, and one time husband, Collier Young.

Lupino shares loads of interesting anecdotes about her career and life. The moments that made me wish I’d been there with her where when she lost her temper, such as the time she got into a pushing fight with Mae Clarke at the Motion Picture Country Home because she thought Lupino had stolen her false teeth. The punch line for that story had both women laughing in the end.

Beyond the Camera is essentially a mixture of scrapbook and journal. It’s got tons of amazing photos. I don’t think I’ve seen half of these shots before. Most of them are candids from on the set, though there are a few personal photos from later in Lupino’s life. I’m most fond of a picture of her in velvet pants and elegant flats, peering intently into the lens while she directs a television western.

At times I wished the book a had had another edit. There were a few instances where transitions to quotes were a bit confusing or the phrasing puzzled me for a moment. In a way, this fit the loose, anecdotal style of the book, but it could have been an easier read. That said, I didn’t sleep much the night I picked up this book. Once Ms. Lupino started chatting in my ear, I had to see her through.

Thank you to Bear Manor Media for providing a review copy of this book.