Monday, July 2, 2012

The Spark That Lit The Flame

I've been doing some amateur time-line therapy on my movie obsessions lately, trying to work backwards to find the sparks that lit the flames that grew from interest to obsession (in a good way, of course). It could have been a photo, a TV show or even a movie that started me on one of my many journeys and, as with the best journeys in life, they often lead to a most unexpected destination.

Since movie magazines and TV were my first introduction to classic films and stars, the spark usually started there. It is great to be able to look things up on the internet, but, boy, was it fun to go exploring at the public  library, hoping to discover some unknown information about a new interest. And, oh the excitement, when you did!

These flames are eternal.
 The Sparks

Spark: "The Public Enemy"
Just an afternoon movie that came on immediately after the usual Saturday afternoon Bowery Boys installment. Maybe I was too lazy to get off of the couch and change the channel (no remotes at our house), maybe something in the preview intrigued me, but whatever it was, I stayed glued to the TV throughout the entire film.

Spark: Unknown Chaplin
This 3-part Kevin Brownlow and David Gill series, shown on PBS, was a revelation (having seen it before the "Hollywood" series). Like most of the world, I knew who Charlie Chaplin was and had seen many bad copies of his early films. I wasn't impressed. This series changed everything.

Spark: The 16-part "Hollywood" series, also by Kevin Brownlow and David Gil. I had actually picked up the companion book "The Parade's Gone By" earlier, but it did not have the same impact as the series. This treasure trove of information and interviews literally changed my life. Kevin Brownlow is one of my heroes.

Spark: This photo of Jean Harlow
I saw this photo in a large picture book called "The Stars" by Richard Schickel. Other photos fascinated, but there was something about this blonde lady on a horse checking her make-up. My Aunt Lois said "oh, that's Jean. She never wore underwear."

Spark: 1940's "City For Conquest."
Any Cagney movie was always a must, but this one had an added surprise.

Spark: "Three on a Match"
Having developed a slavish devotion to all things Warner Brothers, this little film with favorites Bette Davis and Joan Blondell seemed a natural.

Spark: David Shipman's "The Great Movie Stars: The Golden Era."
This epic volume had a profound impression on me and I still refer to it to this day. It's a welcome companion on a blue day.

Spark: David Robinson's 1985 book "Chaplin: His Life and Art"
I have re-read this amazing bio many, many times. While there may have been others that are more factually accurate, this paints an unforgettable portrait and offers wonderful information about those early Hollywood years.

Spark: "Vertigo"
It's easy to become obsessed about a film about obsession. No matter how many times I watch it I still have so many unanswered questions.

Spark: "Sunset Boulevard"
Probably my favorite movie of all time. It combines my love of the silent era as well as more modern films.

Spark: Richard Schickel's bio "D.W. Griffith: An American Life."
A must for anyone who cares about the origins of American movie-making. I earned a great respect for Griffith and his work. A fascinating story.

Spark: "Charade"
The music, Paris, continental romance and beautiful clothes, a chance viewing lead from love to obsession.


The Flames

Flame: James Cagney
After viewing "The Public Enemy" on that chance Saturday afternoon, my love of old movies was born and I had only 2 burning questions for my mom: who was James Cagney and where can I find out more about him? Such charm, such charisma. I tell you, I was a gonner!
Others have come and gone, and many have stayed for along time, but Jimmy will always be foremost in my heart. He was the first classic movie star I loved and how lucky for me that my first love is eternal.

Flame: Charlie Chaplin
Once I fell under the enchanted spell of the Little Tramp, it was only a short while before his genius revealed itself to me. 
Aside from a comic, he is an artist whose humanity is as big as the world. Others may be funnier, but none  shine a light into the secret recesses of the human heart better than Charlie.

Flame: From the "Hollywood" series: Silent Film, Buster Keaton, Clara Bow, William S. Hart and Rudolph Valentino.
Thank you Kevin Brownlow and David Gil for opening the door to a lifelong passion.

Flame: 1930s Glamour Photography. Seeing Jean Harlow in all of her platinum glory taught me the definition of glamour. 
Drooling over black and white works of art from the great portrait photographers is an obsession I never tire of. 

Flame: Ann Sheridan
Ann Sheridan in "City for Conquest" was, to me, the most beautiful, down-to-earth woman I had ever seen! 
Her chemistry with Cagney is unsurpassed. No matter what the film, Ann is always a pleasure to watch.

Flame: Ann Dvorak
Ann's performance in "Three on a Match" was a revelation to me.
She was beautiful, jittery, and doomed - a perfect pre-code woman! Plus, she looked great in lingerie. Her too-early exit from starring roles is unfortunate.

Flame: Kay Francis
David Shipman described her as "wavishing Kay Fwancis," one of the best-dressed women in Hollywood.
That was enough for me. Who the hell was Kay Francis? Why haven't I ever seen her and how can I see more of her?  Before TCM, it was a challenge, but after seeing "Trouble in Paradise," I am coo-coo for Kay-Kay.

Flame: Edna Purviance
I can't say why, but Edna Purviance fascinates me. Perhaps it because she remains a bit of a mystery in a world where everything is known about everyone. 
Her story seemed to be written in the margins of Chaplin's life and film. As the years have gone by, I have learned much about Edna, but there remains so much more learn. This is one journey I want to savor.

Flame: Alfred Hitchcock
It's a close race with Billy Wilder, but I think Hitch wins the race for favorite director. 
Endlessly watchable, endlessly debatable, always beautiful and fascinating. How many dreams started with a Hitchcock film?

Flame: Gloria Swanson, Pola Negri, Norma Talmadge, Alla Nazimova, Theda Bara
and all of the silent great ladies whose names were forgotten.
They did, indeed, have faces then. But, besides faces, they had a way to reach into your heart and cast a spell. They were the very definition of "Movie Star."

Flame: Mary Pickford and Miriam Cooper
Both ladies worked for Griffith. One went on to become to be the world's biggest star. The other faded into obscurity. 
Mary's life is well known and it is an endless pleasure to me to discover her art. Miriam's work is harder to find and she is probably not a great actress, but there is something about classy, loony Miriam...

Flame: Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. Too hot to go near.
Before "Charade," I loved them both. After "Charade," it was total obsession. 

In those sophisticated, elegant early 1960s, he was the perfect man and she was the perfect woman. To me, that will never change.

Some long-burning embers that may erupt at any moment:

"The Man Who Would Be King" - Michael Caine
"The Apartment" - Jack Lemmon, Billy Wilder
"How To Steal a Million"  - Peter O'Toole
"Sherlock Holmes" - Robert Downey, Jr.
and Veronica Lake, William Holden, Robert Mitchum, Hayley Mills, and on and on!

What were your sparks that lit the fire that caused the flame of a movie obsession?


KC said...

Thanks for sharing your sparks. I love hearing how other classic film fans were born! Two things that stand out for me are Bette Davis' performance in Dark Victory and a book called 500 Films that I got for Christmas when I was 13. There are so many more, but those are the big ones.

Diane said...

That was just great. Sparks. Fabulous. I just loved it.

Christian Esquevin said...

What a great idea for a post FlicChick! I'm with you in having pured over those huge Hollywood movie picture books as a little kid. I can't remember their titles but one was on the silents. And daytime TV. I was fasinated by the Busby Berkeley musicals and those extravagant choreographed numbers. And westerns - I watched scores of them and they were the old ones, not the newer John Wayne films from the 50s and 60s. My father was a film buff so we often went to see the new releases - musicaals and historicals were big with them. And James Cagney - right on. That scene of him dropping at the doorway in Public Enemy is indelible. Hollywood Glamour photography is a later obsession. We'll have to trade off which ones are our favorites on a blog post. And Hayley Mills - my first cruch. Thanks for the memories.

FlickChick said...

KC - those first movie books were just wonderful - a portal to another world. And I am sure Bette Davis was the cause of many a love affair with classic films.

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Diane. I am glad you liked it.

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Christian - seems like we share quite a few obsessions (including Hayley). I would love to trade of a few favorite glamour photos. Those, to me, are more unforgettable than many films.

Silver Screenings said...

Great idea for a post! It's always interesting to see how people develop a passion for classic film.

FlickChick said...

Thank you, SScreenings- well, we do have to get to the root of the problem!

Dawn said...

I think the movie was, Meet Me in St. Louis", that sparked my interest in classic films.

The film that sparked my interest in film noir was, Leave Her to Heaven.

Oh my gosh.. not to forget to mention, Gone With the Wind and anything with Bette Davis. Right now, I'm hooked on pre-code films.

FlickChick said...

Hi Dawn. Oh, have tons of fun with pre-code. A few of my favorites are the previously mentioned Three on a Match, as well as Call Her Savage (with Clara Bow) and Midnight Mary (with Loretta Young). In fact, I am working on a post about Loretta Young in that film.

Dawn said...

I will be back to check it out..

readerman said...

Great post. If I had to pick one spark of my own I'd say King Kong. I must have watched it ten times in the early 60s during those after school afternoons. Such a great film.

Unknown said...

I became a film buff at about age 10, when my parents allowed me to stay up late on weekends. I'd stay up until the wee hours watching many great films on the Late Movie, the Late, Late Movie, and the Late, Late, Late Movie. (Historical note for youngsters: There was a time when late TV featured something besides hour-long informercials.

I'm 54 now, and my love is still running strong. It's even better now because so many films are available for us on DVD. That availability has allowed me to see such treasures as Louise Brooks' mesmerizing performance in "Pandora's Box."

FlickChick said...

@ Readerman - I wonder how many boys were lured into classic films by repeated showings of King Kong! God Bless Million Dollar Movie and all the other TV movie showings that got us Baby Boomers started!

FlickChick said...

@ Perry - thank you for your comments. It's so true that TV was the gateway for many of us to get to see classic films. The DVD (and the DVR & TCM)just add to the delight.


It's nice how many people I knew through blogging that love James Cagney. He is my favorite actor and I came to know him watching The Public Enemy without planning. I was just changing channels when I caught the credits and Jean Harlow called my attention, but Jammmy won my heart!
By the way, your aunt Lois' comment was hilarious!

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Le! Yes, Aunt Lois was on an intimate basis with Jean.