Sunday, August 21, 2011

What's So Great About......? or The Fault Lies Not in Our Stars



Once upon a time, when I was a very obnoxious teenager with pseudo-intellectual  pretensions, I made my father throw his napkin at me at the dinner table. Dad had come home after a hard day's work as a mechanic and I had come home from a hard day with Shakespeare. As I was rhapsodizing over the macaroni and cheese about the beauty of Shakespeare's words (my Mom was a willing listener), my Father grumbled, "what's so great about Shakespeare? I don't think he was so much." Insufferable little brat that I was, I said something to the effect that "there's nothing wrong with Shakespeare. You just can't appreciate him." Hence the flying napkin.

While I might have not phrased my words in quite the right manner and tone, I still (after all these years) think I was right. Some things and people are just special and our failure to appreciate them does not diminish their greatness. While I got the Shakespeare thing right off the bat, there were a few other generally accepted greats that either (a) it took me some time to appreciate, (b) I am in the process of learning to appreciate, or (c) I give up! I just don't get it.


A: It took me some time, but I am on board


Joan Crawford: Having first encountered her in "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane," it took me quite some time to work backwards through the eyebrows and lipstick until I finally made it to "Mildred Pierce." After that, a fabulous journey through the '40s and '30s and I am now on board the Joan Crawford Star Express. Forgive me, Joan, for not taking the time to find out what your fans always knew - you are magnificent! I'm sorry I ever asked "what's so great about her?"


Rudolph Valentino: It is difficult to assess the appeal of a silent film star unless you are fortunate to see them in a good print with good music. Sadly, my first encounters with Rudy were poor copies shown at the wrong speed with that awful overly dramatic organ music. And then, one night, the sheik stole into my tent via a beautifully restored version of "The Son of the Sheik" with a beautiful score and suddenly, I knew what all the fussing and fainting was about. By the way, he's still in the tent with me!


Vertigo: Being foolish and shallow, I initially couldn't get past Kim Novak's dark hair and eyebrows as Judy Barton. Boy, am I glad I gave this one a second chance. "Vertigo" is now one of my favorite movies. I find it endlessly compelling and - most delicious of all - am never quite satisfied. I still, after watching this movie more times than I can count, have questions. Of course, my biggest question is what took me so long to get on board?


Norma Shearer: I used to think her unattractive. Silly me. That's when I thought all beauty was just super-prettiness, not something more individual. Norma, like all great stars, was like nobody else. Her delivery, her look, even her stance was unique. She is definitely a product of her time and MGM, but I find her glamour, her magnificence and yes, her talent, undeniable. Plus, she has one of my favorite profiles. Long live Norma!




B. I'm on my way, but not there yet


Marlene Dietrich: I confess I was never a big fan of this fabulously individualistic star. There is truly no one like her. However, I tend to be emotionally drawn to people, and Marlene left me a little cold. But she and I have warmed up over the years and I can honestly say I truly appreciate her for all that she was over her long and illustrious career. She was beautiful, elegant and one of a kind. I'm in your camp, Marlene, just not in the front row (yet).


Humphrey Bogart: I get it. He's great. Again, I can name countless films of his that I love, but, emotionally, it was taken a very long time to make this connection. But I am much farther along than I used to be. I acknowledge that he is a great actor and great star. And yes, he is making inroads to my heart. I can't deny him in "Casablanca" and "The African Queen," but it's "The Maltese Falcon" that really gets to me. Bogey was made to play those men in the shadows who nurse a tender heart behind a tough exterior. It took me some time to see the tender heart.


The Wizard of Oz: I have had a love/hate relationship with this movie all of my life. I totally appreciate it, but on some level something has always felt a bit "off" to me. I adore the beginning back and white portion in Kansas, but once they get to Oz, I always get a bit nervous. I would never "dis" this film, but I am still not over the flying monkeys, munchkins, the Halloween lion suit and Glinda in her big hat and prom dress. Judy, Ray Bolger and Jack Haley are just swell. I don't know that I will ever be totally under its spell, but acknowledge this film's greatness and its special place in the hearts of movie lovers of all ages.


C: Still Trying,but not having much success


Marlon Brando: Unfortunately, I still don't get it. I am resigned to being in the minority on this point, but I find him most unpleasant. He may very well be a great actor, but I always get the impression that he is doing me a favor by showing up. Help me get in step with the rest of the world on this one!


Burt Lancaster: Another actor who is loved by millions, but who sets my emotional radar on "suspicious" mode. I appreciate him and can name a score of his films that I admire and enjoy, but I always have a bit of a negative reaction when I see him on screen. I find him overpowering in an uncomfortable way. Maybe it's because he excels at playing characters who make you feel uneasy (I really do love "Sweet Smell of Success") But - I know it's me, not him, so I will keep trying! I think I'll have better success here than with Brando.


And: The Sin of Sins


The Godfather! I'm sorry, I'm sorry, sob, sob, sob, I'm sorry, but I just can't get it. I know it's great. Everyone tells me so. I bow to its enduring place in the pantheon of great films. So, why do I run every time it's on? This probably calls for an intervention of some kind.


So, now you know my dirty little secrets (well, some of them). I'll bet that someone out there just hates "Citizen Kane" (I love) or "Casablanca" (I like)! Care to 'fess up and keep me company?

45 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm on the "Still Trying,but not having much success" with the Wizard of Oz and It's a Wonderful Life. People insist they are great but whenever they are on TV, I turn the channel so fast I sprain my finger.

Steve Miller, Writer of Stuff said...

I can't join you in hating "Casablanca" or "Citizen Kane," but I also can't mount effective arguments to counter those who dislike the latter. Especially if they trot out the "self-indulgent" card... there are certainly parts of that film that might be improved with some trimming.

But I am with you on Marlon Brando. He is one actor I guess I am unable to appreciate the way others do.

I may also have to join you about "Godfather," but maybe not as it's been 10-15 years since I last saw it. But the oder I get, the less regard I have for Coppola's work. I think it was the slanderously mistitled "Bram Stoker's Dracula" that made me begin to realize the emperor really wasn't wearing any clothes.

FlickChick said...

Hi Steve: no - I don't dislike "Casablanca" or "Citizen Kane," but I know many who (secretly) do! Sounds like we are pretty much on the same page!

FlickChick said...

@ Anonymous - thanks for fessing up about the Wizard of Oz!

John Peurach said...

Lovely cinematic confessions (as usual) for an otherwise glad I stopped in long enough Sunday afternoon. Meanwhile, I totally agree with you about being on the after the fact Joan Crawford bandwagon, and, also the Norma Shearer one that almost left the station without me. But, lucky for me - with a little lesson or two I learned from both Ann Dvorak and Irene Dunne - I was able to quickly catch up with those already in the know of what is clearly - for me anyway - been a better late than never case of suddenly becoming well aware of what was (and/or should have been) already way too obvious.

Christian Esquevin said...

Great idea for a post Marsha! And very interesting too. I think generally its a good idea to start with an actor's earliest work I'm glad you came around to Joan, even in reverse order. With Burt Lancaster I like his first two movies the best, especially The Killers. He almost always has a hard exterior, and film noir suited him superbly. His ultimate vulnerability in this movie is unforgettable. And his personality and roles were perfectly comnined in The Rainmaker, Trapeze, and Elmer Gantry - even if the characters were not particularly likable. The Train is another favorite, though not well known. I hope you have seen Norma Shearer in Marie Antoinette - she really gives her best ever performance - I think.

RB said...

I can't help you with Burt and I'm not really big on modern (post 1970) mobster movies, but my sister Sharon might help with Marlon. She was a fan and wrote this when she was 16 or so:

Marlon Brando movie…
I sit and mentally
caress his beautiful eyes
in multicolored daydreams.
The room is fraught with tension.
It is high school film
festival night.
Filled with schoolmates
Come to watch the longshoreman
battle, and
in front of me there is
an intriguing eye, not
handsome but
effective enough to blur
the perspective between
the movie screen and eye (I?)

FlickChick said...

John: I think you were on the Ann Dvorak & Irene Dunne expresses before they ever left the station! Thanks so much for stopping by.

FlickChick said...

Christian: I am still hanging in there with Burt, and not giving up yet! As for Norma - yes, she was wonderful in Marie Antoinette (and those beautiful Adrian gowns didn't hurt!).

FlickChick said...

RB- thank you so much for sharing Sharon's lovely poem. While I might not feel quite the same way about Brando, I know a 16 year old's massive movie crush when I see it! Just lovely and heartfelt and full of the magic that makes us love the movies!

Rachel said...

This was a great post, FlickChick. Entertaining and insightful. I too had a long time in understanding Dietrich's appeal, I think it was Shanghai Express that finally turned me around. She's still not one of my favorites, but at least I get it now.

I think Christian is on to something; it's usually a good idea to see an actor's early work before you dismiss them. Early and late-period Joan Crawford are very different.

As for my cinematic confession... errr, The Leopard. All my most admired critics love this movie. They write so beautifully about it. And it just didn't move me at all. I'll have to try again, some time in the future.

FlickChick said...

@ Rachel: it's true that the earliest work is usually more defining, but sometimes you just get turned off to someone over one performance and then form a general opinion (that takes years and an open mind to change!). As for The Leopard -same here;)

cometoverhollywood.com said...

Thank you Lord I am not alone with my dislike for Marlon Brando, Burt Lancaster and The Godfather.

I am the same way. I just don't get it. Marlon bores me to tears whenever I try to watch him and his cockiness pisses me off. Burt Lancaster is okay...but I also think he's boring.

Also, if I hear that "and I'm bootless and toothless, I'll gum it" speech from Elmer Gantry on the TCM featurette haha

FlickChick said...

@Comet: Wow! I never knew there were so many of us! We will have to meet in secret!

KEVYN KNOX said...

I am not sure I can forgive you for The Wizard of Oz comments (just kidding -- sorta).

I cannot say I hate Citizen Kane in any manner (great great film) but fellow cinephiles tend to scoff when I say it is NOT my favourite Welles film. Touch of Evil actually is.

My biggest "What's So Great About...?" moment would have to be Lawrence of Arabia. Yeah yeah, it is visually beautiful (though not completely stunning as it should be!) but it just plays as one colossal bore to me.

Anyway, I also wanted to let you know that I have awarded you the Liebster Blog Award. Hope you like it.

Caftan Woman said...

Can't help you with the Brando thing. I sense the wheels turning and it's a turn off.

I might have some help for the Burt Lancaster thing. Have you seen "Tough Guys" from 1986? Burt and Kirk Douglas are past their prime gangsters. Not a great movie, but there's something very endearing about their performances and it might soften those Lancaster edges for you.

FlickChick said...

@ Kevyn - if you forgive me for "The Wizard of Oz," I'll forgive you for "Lawrence of Arabia"! And - that' so much for the award. I'm going to check your site now!

FlickChick said...

@ CW: There is an all day Burt Lancaster marathon coming up on TCM in a few days, so I plan to DVR a few and watch. He might just jump from category "C" to "B."

Diane said...

Burt L. I agree but Marlon, well I guess everyone has an opinion.

FlickChick said...

@ Diane: That's what makes the world go 'round!

shelleyflannery49@gmail.com said...

I completely agree with you on Marlon Brando--what is that? Is it too much method? You are right; his attitude usually speaks louder than his performances . . .

FlickChick said...

Hi Shelley! Yes - I always feel like he dragged himself up on the screen, sighed, and said "okay, I'll act for you, but I won't like it!"

Kendra said...

I don't like Citizen Kane and think Casablanca is a bit overrated, as well! I quite like Marlon Brando but will fight anyone who says he out-acted Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire. Pfft, bitch please.

Kendra
<a href="http://www.vivandlarry.com</a>vivandlarry.com</a>

FlickChick said...

@ Kendra: I am with you - Viv was just too darn good for the likes of him - never got the "animal" attraction thing. Where was Clark when you needed him??

SweetCalMommy said...

I completely agree with you on "The Godfather" and "The Wizard of Oz" is an okay movie...it has its moments but I could live without ever seeing it again. I do like "Citizen Kane". My movie that I don't have much success in liking is "Gone with the Wind"--I just don't get what all the fuss is about when people start telling me how much they love it.

toody said...

I'm a huge fan of Norma Shearer. I know she was never considered a great beauty, but her elegance, grace, femininity, and even her voice, are marvelous. Her acting may seem a bit too overblown by today's standards, but she was one of a kind and always a joy to watch.

FlickChick said...

@ Sweetcal - you are not alone in your opinion of GWTW - I happen to be a little attached to it myself, but can think of scores of films that I like better.

FlickChick said...

Toody - I'm all over Norma these day. She was a great star and quite beautiful, I think.

Missy Kendrick said...

I'm with you on the great mumbler,Brando.
One that I think is over-rated is Carole Lombard. Now it's my turn, Sorry.

FlickChick said...

Missy - you & I just might have the same NetFlix queue...

Irene Palfy said...

soo.. still in the tent with Valentino, hm? (Yeah - that's what I got from that post..)

Marvellous post! Like you I always have kind of emotional "connection" (sorry - not sure which word to use here.. - I think I don't even know how to say it properly in German..) which makes me like or dislike an actor/actress..

FlickChick said...

Yes, Irene - still in my tent! I think it's the emotional reaction to a star that makes then "special" to us - ah, the wonder of film!

Irene Palfy said...

m-hm.. I see.. well, enjoy! ;") (yap.. still thinking about Valentino... no wonder he never visits me in my tent.. I think now it's too late.. - I will go and look for someone else.. this tent is gone now. All my best to Rudolph - and he shall not dare to call me..) ;"p

ClassicBecky said...

I have a blasphemous classic film fan dislike that I am always reluctanto discuss. However, after your fun and courageous article, I feel I can admit it, especially since I am No. 34 comment, and nobody will likely see it -- I don't like Marlene Dietrich, never did, and don't see any change on the horizon. There, I said it, and I'm glad -- I'm free!

FlickChick said...

Becky - I'll never tell. I felt the same way about her for a very long time, but I'm kinda coming around.

Dawn said...

I also, never got into the film, The Godfather!

I'm with Caftan Woman, "Tough Guys", is a wonderful film..

FlickChick said...

Hey Dawn - I think there are more non-Godfather types than we thought! I don't feel lonely anymore!

The Lady Eve said...

I hope you get into the front row on Marlene one day, FlickChick, and at least a few rows closer on "The Godfather." I still have a problem with Joan Crawford, though not as much as I once did, and after I saw Greta Garbo dance in "Mata Hari" she lost some of her charm for me.

Great post!

FlickChick said...

Lady Eve - I think I have a better chance with Marlene than the Godfather!

Me, Myself and I said...

And I thought I was the only one who felt that way about The Wizard of Oz and Marlon Brando... Thanks for sharing your "dirty little secrets" :)

FlickChick said...

Seems like we have lots of company!

Meredith said...

"Some things and people are just special and our failure to appreciate them does not diminish their greatness."

Beautifully put. And as someone who absolutely adores Vertigo, hurrah! Every time I watch it something new comes to my attention, which is always magical. And I'm with you on the Wizard of Oz. Initially I will get excited whenever I see it on but then my attention starts to dwindle. It's just never captured me.

FlickChick said...

Thanks you, Meredith! Vertigo is endlessly entertaining and amazing, isn't it? Great film.

Barb H said...

I love Norma Shearer and her acting is really good. She made the transition from silent to sound and as many silent actors their gestures are broad but she managed to tone it down. I have watched Marie Antoinette so many times I've warn it out!! Not a Marlene Dietrich fan and I would never run to a Marlon Brando movie EVER. It's like he's doing ME a favor. However, I love the Godfather and have watched it many, many times and each time I see it I get a new understanding of a particular character.
GWTW 1x a year is fine, Wizard of Oz well not my thing, Citizen Kane brilliant characters, lighting, script. However, gets too much credit IMO. As for Burt Lancaster well I always liked him, edgy, dangerous, never really knew what was going on in his mind. Interesting.

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Barb. It has been so interesting reading everyone's comments and opinions!