Classic film book challenge: L'Avventura

July 17, 2015

I'm participating in Raquel's Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge and for my second book I read the BFI Film Classics book on L'Avventura, written by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith.

When I signed up for the summer reading challenge I started browsing on Amazon, and I stumbled upon the BFI Film Classics series. They have dozens and dozens of books each dedicated to a single movie. In this book the author tackles the public reception to the film, the production background, the meaning, the casting, and the legacy. If all of the BFI books are this comprehensive and riveting then I'm definitely going to be purchasing more of them in the future!

If you've seen L'Avventura, then you'll probably agree that reading an in-depth analysis will help with your understanding of the film. That's not to say that it's too complicated or too confusing to wrap your brain around without any assistance. It's an enjoyable movie on its own, but additional insight can only strengthen your grasp on the deep meaning lurking under the simple surface. The author does a wonderful job of explaining how this movie came to be and what exactly Antonioni was trying to tell us in the story. I particularly loved his observation about Antonioni's work in general, that he isn't a realist or a moralist. "His films are reflections on, rather than of, the world. It is this which makes him.. an essentially modern artist." In L'Avventura there is a rawness that isn't present in a lot of films that predate it, but at the same time it has an otherworldly quality that plucks it from reality. It doesn't straddle the line between gritty realism and cinematic confections, it hovers above them in some nether world of its own.

One thing that I felt was lacking in the book was any real effort to tackle the symbolism, something that I personally tend to overlook unless I already know what I'm looking for. And even then, I might know it's there, but I don't always know what it means. I also would have loved some discussion about the dialogue, which is one of my favorite things about the movie. Words are few and far between but when they're spoken they are always poignant and riddled with multiple meanings. "I have never understood the islands. With all that water around them, poor things ..."  Don't you wish people spoke like that in real life? I do.

One word of warning if you're planning on reading the book - make sure you've seen La Notte and L'Eclisse beforehand. The author makes a ton of comparisons and they'll fly right over your head if you've never seen the other films. He also makes mention of Red Desert, Blow-Up, and Zabriskie Point, but only in passing.

Overall I really enjoyed the book and I feel like it helped strengthen my understanding of the movie and the climate in which it was created. I'm looking forward to reading more BFI Classics. They're almost like 100 page classic film blog posts in book form!

Finally, this isn't really related to the book so much as the movie, but I had to share it. The scene in which Monica Vitti is waiting outside and men start slowly swarming around her reminds me so much of The Birds. I was hoping that the author might address L'Avventura's effect on other filmmakers (did Hitchcock see this movie? I feel like this HAD to be an inspiration for The Birds) but he didn't, which left me googling "L'Avventura The Birds" as soon as I had finished, hoping someone else might have pieced something together. And lo and behold, I found this video. It's chilling, isn't it?

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, or How I saw Gary Cooper's face on the big screen and my heart nearly exploded

July 08, 2015

The Garden Theater in Princeton has been playing classic movies as part of their Hollywood Summer Nights series, and this week they showed Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. I was looking forward to this screening for a very long time (I think I've had it marked on my calendar for at least two months) and it was everything I hoped for and more.

First of all, let's just get this out of the way first -- Gary Cooper. HIS FACE. OH MY GOD HIS FACE. It's just so perfect. I seriously wanted to yell "PAUSE!" and just sit there in the darkness staring at his face a little while longer (okay, that sounded way creepier than I meant it to be?) but he is just so pretttttyyyy. (I've clearly forsaken any intentions I ever had about this being a serious film blog.) And his expressions are so darn cute. Like in the scene when he first takes Jean Arthur out to dinner and watches as the violinist serenades her -- I died. They had to move my body out of the aisle after the movie was over so that rest of my row could get out. Because I actually died from the cuteness. And then when (SPOILER) he finds out that Jean Arthur was the one writing the mean articles about him, and his broken heart is etched all over his beautiful face, but he smiles just a little bit to try to retain some dignity... man oh man. (END SPOILER)

Ok, done talking about Gary Cooper's face. Moving on...

Wearing my Gary Cooper fan club button, of course

Obviously, Gary Cooper is one of my favorite things about this movie. But I also love every single other thing about it. Jean Arthur is perfection and all of the supporting characters were perfectly cast. And then there's Frank Capra and Robert Riskin, possibly my favorite director/writer duo of all time. Like any good Capra film, there are quite a few messages sprinkled (or doused) throughout, but my favorite is that we should all treat each other with kindness. Longfellow Deeds is a well-meaning, sweet, good man who gets bullied and picked on and taunted from every direction. And he just can't wrap his brain around why. Like Longfellow, I cannot understand why human beings can't just be nice to each other. I don't get it when it comes to war, I don't get it when it comes to schoolyard bullying. I just don't understand intentional meanness. Two of my favorite quotes from Longfellow Deeds --

"What puzzles me is why people seem to get so much pleasure out of... hurting each other? Why don't they try liking each other once in a while?"

"It's easy to make fun of somebody if you don't care how much you hurt 'em. I think your poems are swell, Mr. Brookfield... but I'm disappointed in you. I must look funny to you... but maybe if you went to Mandrake Falls you'd look just as funny to us... only nobody would laugh at you and make you feel ridiculous... because that wouldn't be good manners."

Another message that the film drives home is that we should help out our fellow man. The movie begins with Longfellow Deeds inheriting 20 million dollars and being shuffled off to New York City where he's expected to spend a good deal of that money on things like the opera and an arsenal of lawyers. After suffering countless humiliations and dealing with some pretty intense pangs of homesickness, Longfellow decides to donate the bulk of his fortune to buy land for farmers who could use a helping hand. The fact that he wants to help people less fortunate, rather than shower himself in luxuries and supply his wealthy lawyers with a steady stream of funding, means he simply MUST be insane.

After taking the stand at his insanity trial, the judge remarks that not only is Longfellow Deeds sane, but he's the sanest man who ever set foot in that courtroom. I'd venture to say, he's one of the sanest characters in film history. His notions about what's right and wrong are common sense, but the world seems to view common sense as heresy. That's the thing about a Capra film -- at the end goodness and love will always win. John Doe doesn't jump off the building, Longfellow Deeds isn't sent to a mental institution, and Anthony P. Kirby realizes that you really can't take it with you. I wish that was the world we lived in, I wish it so badly.

I'll end with one last quote from Longfellow, explaining at his trial why he wanted to give his money away to people who needed it more than he did --

"It's like I'm out in a big boat, and I see one fellow in a rowboat who's tired of rowing and wants a free ride, and another fellow who's drowning. Who would you expect me to rescue? Mr. Cedar - who's just tired of rowing and wants a free ride? Or those men out there who are drowning? Any ten year old child will give you the answer to that."

God I love that quote. (And Gary Cooper's face...)

Classic film book challenge: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

I'm participating in Raquel's Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge and for my first book I decided to read The Ghost and Mrs. Muir by R.A. Dick, the novel that inspired one of my favorite movies.

I really enjoyed this book a lot. There were a few sizable plot discrepancies between the book and the movie, which I'll get to in a minute, but for the most part it felt like I was reading a beloved film. I could hear Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison's voices and picture the atmospheric Gull cottage as I turned each page. The movie always leaves me with a palpable sense of mystery, romance and serenity and the book inspired the same feelings. I would highly recommend it, whether you're a fan of the 1947 movie or not.

Before I continue, this is not going to be a spoiler-free post, so if you aren't familiar with the plot (either from the book or the movie) here's your warning to stop reading this post and go watch the movie or read the book first.

There were a couple pretty big differences between the book and the movie, but (with one exception) I don't feel like they changed the overall feeling or direction of the story. First of all, in the book Anna has two children - Cyril and Anna. Cyril is an old-fashioned stick-in-the-mud who takes after his father's side of the family. If you've seen the movie, you know that Lucy Muir's in-laws are the last people you'd ever want your children to take after! His character was very unlikeable and it's understandable that they decided to cut him entirely out of the story when they made the movie. At one point in the book, Captain Gregg needles Lucy into admitting that she doesn't even like her own son. Not really fodder for a 40's romance film, right?

Another major difference is in the mystic qualities of Captain Gregg. In the book, he cannot materialize but instead speaks to Lucy through her mind. He can also speak to other living persons who are open enough to hear him. He can travel with Lucy wherever she goes (as he does in the movie) but he is also all-knowing. He's aware of her children's thoughts, and can seemingly predict the future. He sometimes speaks about the afterlife, which is probably the only part of the book that I didn't really enjoy. It was very convoluted and while I get that it was supposed to be shrouded in mystery it ended up coming across instead like a half-formed idea. I'm glad that for the film they decided that calling him a "ghost" was a good enough explanation for why a dead guy could talk to and fall in love with Gene Tierney.

The last big difference came about when Lucy met Miles, George Sanders' character in the movie. While the basic circumstances remain the same -- he romances her and then she finds out that he was already married -- the details are wildly different. They meet outside, not at the publisher's, when Miles rescues Lucy's dog. They bond rather quickly and before you know it, Miles is asking Lucy to abandon her children and come away with him. He comes across as mildly smarmy in the movie but in the book he's downright gross. It also kind of bothered me that Lucy would even give his offer a moments thought -- throughout the entire book she is a strong-willed, level-headed woman but here she legitimately contemplates leaving her children with her horrible in-laws and running away with this first class cad. The fact that she would take his demands into consideration (instead of seeing them as a flashing warning sign that he was a big giant heap of trouble) was so much more heartbreaking than the eventual discovery that he was married.

There are other little differences here and there -- Blood and Swash comes into the story much later than it does in the film, and the adorable cook Martha doesn't move in until Lucy is already an empty-nester. Overall though it seemed like the screenwriters mostly shifted around the chapters, deleted a child here and a dog there, and that was about it. It's very similar, even a lot of my favorite lines from the movie came straight from the book! I particularly love when Lucy's sister-in-law says, "You want me to go - don't deny it - you want to be rid of your own husband's sister - don't deny it, I say." and Lucy replies calmly, "I am not denying it." Priceless!!

If you're a fan of the movie, you should definitely consider reading the book. It instantly transports you into the world of the film and for that reason alone it's worth many re-reads. If you haven't seen the movie yet, it's also a wonderful book on its own. Lucy is a very strong female protagonist (albeit not the best judge of character when it comes to smooth-talking dog rescuers) and the book actually has a lot of interesting observations about morality, religion and living a fulfilled life of solitude. I'm very glad I read it, and now I want to go watch the movie for the bazillionth time!

Can YOU name every single Hayley Mills movie? Didn't think so! With Kate and Millie

July 05, 2015

In February I got to go visit the one, the only, the Millie in her beloved glorious Washington. While I was there we decided to film a little extremely long video. In it, we tried to name every Alfred Hitchcock movie, every Frank Sinatra movie and every Hayley Mills movie. We did much better with Hitch than Hayley, and kind of mostly okay with Frank. It's a shame we weren't filming when we had breakfast in the morning because we started off with Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant and did SO GOOD.You'll have to just take my word for it.

I actually finished editing this the week I got home but, being the queen of procrastination that I am, obviously didn't get around to actually sharing it until now, four months later. Oops! I should warn you that it's incredibly lengthy and me and Millie both agree that Casey is probably going to be the only person who watches the whole thing all the way through (thank you Casey!) but we had a ton of fun shooting it and hopefully we can shoot another one when Millie comes to visit me in my not-quite-as-beloved state of New Jersey later this year!

Before I go, can I just say how insanely crazily wonderful it is that I met Millie through classic film blogging over six years ago (How has it been that long?!?!?!) and back then I never would have imagined that we'd get to do this. My love-hate relationship with the internet will always be leaning slightly more towards love if only because of the amazing friendships it has given me. Thanks, internet!