So what’s the idea behind the relay? I’ve created a list of what I think are the best actors. At the end I, just like in a real relay race, hand over the baton to another blogger who will write his own post. The blogger will have to remove one actor (that is an obligation) and add his own choice and describe why he/she did this. At the end the blogger chooses another blogger to do the same. The idea is to make this a long race, so that each blogger gets a chance to remove and add an actor. We will end up with a list (not ranked in order) which represents a common agreement of the best actors.
Those were the words of Nostra from MyFilmViews, who has in the Biblical fashion, passed it on to at least two dozen bloggers before it came down to Andrew from Encore Entertainment and eventually from me, who is receiving this baton with excitement and trepidation.
The Previous Entries:
- My Film Views
- The Focused Filmographer
- Front Room Cinema
- I Love That Film
- All Eyes On Screen
- Time Well Spent
- The Warning Sign
- And So It Begins…
- cinematic corner.
- Andy Buckle’s Film Emporium
- Duke and the Movies
- Southern Vision
- Defiant Success
- Cinematic Paradox
- Encore Entertainment
Daniel Day Lewis
Robert De Niro
Procrastination made me think about the person I was going to excise, flip-flopping between two actors. I chose to oust Jack Lemmon from the list – sorry Anna – and it sucks because I hope to see a comedian before this relay ends. But I did it because of his grating performance in…Irma La Douce, relying on the cutesy America’s Best Friend laurels and unnecessarily prolonging his gags. I can also never see his as a statesman nor as a villain, just like the other actors who remind me of him. He also spends his later years as the ‘cowering senior citizen’ stereotype, letting stronger personalities like Walter Matthau, Kevin Costner and Kevin Spacey dominate him in scenes.
Before I tell you what I’m looking for in my best actor, before I could even think of a name, that despite bigger box office returns when their names are in the marquee, men aren’t expected to act. Men are the rock of a movie, the star who doesn’t change even the world around them does. And we don’t really want to watch them suffer neither. Or maybe I’m expecting too much from men, wanting to see them embody the two extremes of male form – being their the masculine or the lanky charity case. I also expect them, as any actor of any gender, to transcend not just gender and sexuality but race, class – as a non white straight male these criteria are important to me, despite the limitations age and other divisions. But bodies do betray their thespian inhabitants.
So the person I choose to add can’t be a star and thus has to be a character actor, and we already have a shape shifter or two up there. I first saw – and had a crush on – Bruce Greenwood as the grieving Ontarian father in The Sweet Hereafter. Do yourself a favour and see that and his collaboration with Atom Egoyan before it – Exotica, where he plays a haunted, tenor voiced man addicted the lap dances of his former baby sitter. Even after those movies, you can list the ones he’s been in as part of a new canon, I’m Not There, Star Trek, Super 8 and Meek’s Cutoff. You can call those his defaults – the toothless hick and the effete bourgeois, but even in the fourth decade in his career – he was in First Blood, for God’s sakes – he can still be as versatile as the spectrum, the same way as he has been since we first saw him onscreen.
I pass this on to my good friend Amir (Amiresque) who should take on this challenge quickly and more soberly than I can.
Friend 1: I want Casablanca to be my deathbed movie.
Friend 2 and I: You won’t like it the first time.
That’s because I didn’t. This also reminds me of that time I went to a public screening of the 2009/2010 Oscars when they were trivia-ing about the last year when there were ten Best Picture nominees, 1943 being that year when Casablanca won against nine other movies that no one remembers about and these two college-educated yet ditzy sounding girls behind me said ‘I HATE Ingrid Bergman.’ At that point of the night I wasn’t drunk enough to yell at her. But that’s also due to realizing that there’s a vocal minority that’s been maligned against Bergman and the other cast members because of their average performances in this movie. And I was one of those people. It took me the second time to realize that it was good and a third time to see its details while making fun of Drive on Twitter procrastinating on getting ready for a New Year’s Eve party that, no offense, could never have been as classy as the one I was watching.
Casablanca is a decidedly different background for a reunion for stars Humphrey Bogart, Hollywood’s first yo-yo dieter Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet or as I like to call it, this movie makes these ugly guys look good. Warner Brothers had the beat-up looking stars, Paramount despite of what we know has the hottest ones and MGM had the ones who could dance and sing. This summarizes our lecture on American Filmmaking in Studio Era Hollywood. Anyway, director Michael Curtiz turns these actors who, during the Maltese Falcon, looked scrappy with some disposable income, into white tuxedo, bow tie wearers who have more disposable income. His camera flattering them as they’re on ‘vacation’ – they might stroll on the streets and get a little tan and they look well rested despite their anxieties of exile and war and morality.
It didn’t start to impress me until the scene when Sam (Dooley Wilson) performs “Knock on Wood,” when I realized that the first seventy minutes here make up for the most fluid musical ever made. Two or three scenes of dialogue between songs in the right mix for the genre. And when the songs happen, Sam or the other performers have the same spotlight on them but they’re integrated with the bar/saloon’s patrons. Other musicals would have the performer and his spotlight dominating the screen, either forcing an externalized manifestation of their inner thoughts or the performer altering the world around him. It’s a kind of cheat that this ‘musical’ takes place in an environment where one can hear music but it’s more natural and we’re all the better for it.
I remember the second time I saw this, realizing that the reason for this movie is to make love to Bergman’s luminous, youthful face. As Ilsa Lund, she and her husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) unknowingly enters her ex boyfriend’s namesake bar Rick’s (Bogart). Repeat viewings shed light on the familiar, also showing her maturity at 27, when actresses today don’t get taken seriously until they’re 31. She’s the most beautiful actress to beg Bogart for something and simultaneously break his heart. Acting wise she does all the work while Bogart, for what seems to be the first time in his career, is cool and collected. But somehow these opposite acting strategies work together. And as I’ve said before, he looks good here, blissfully enjoying Paris during the flashbacks.
The cinematography serves the leads as it does with Rick’s establishment, the glitters from dresses worn near the bar and casino and the darkness when the patrons have all disappeared. The symmetry of these deep shadows evoke noir techniques I’ve seen in British romance movies of the era, where the love can forbidden despite the lack of guns. And unlike noirs where the men’s silhouettes haunt the alleyways and doors, the chiaroscuro stays indoors and somehow the frame doesn’t make me feel cagey. These sequences also reminds me of Curtiz’ later work in Mildred Pierce.
I don’t know why I didn’t like it the first time and that would have made an interesting post. I thought that the lines were cheesy, perhaps? But all cylinders fired off in repeat viewings and I don’t know why it took me this long for me to love this movie.
Noir is a bit of a questionable genre for me. The more bebop, B-film, chiaroscuro, surrealist, youth culture oriented it is, the more I like it. It’s the convoluted plot of the mainstream ones that turn me off. The noir world is one for the wise and the good listeners. We are lucky that there are some great cinematographers, and the more recent the example is, the more visual the story gets. Conventions of the classic version of the genre, however, has dialogue snappier than Tarantino’s. The oldies also add more on-screen and off-screen characters and more dead bodies and more stolen artifacts, and unfortunately I’m too wired and ADD for that.
Like The Maltese Falcon, for instance. Watching Humphrey Bogart finally taking lead is rewarding. The guy who has been playing second fiddle to Jimmy Cagney and Bette Davis mixes his hard, New York voice with elocution in the moments when he’s on the spotlight. He perfected his angry man thing even when he was doing supporting roles, and now that it’s his show, he gets to change the world and wipe out one scum at a time.
I also admire the bravery of the actors like Sydney Greenstreet and Mary Astor who allowed themselves to be photographed in such unflattering angles and moments. You’d think that the former is a giant circus freak or the latter as haggard and broken down if this is the first time you have seen them (and if you’ve seen Mary Astor in “Don Juan,” you might as well have seen the face of God). The latter examples of noirs would be full of beautiful people – Barbara Stanwyck and her dyed golden locks, Alan Ladd and his chiseled face. But in “The Maltese Falcon” we see people who look as rotten as the criminal plans they have obsessed with for years.