Post-SNAM Movie: Georgy Girl
This is going to sound mean, and I’m trying to be nice, but the titular Georgy Girl (Lynn Redgrave) looks like what would happen if Kim Novak was loud and had an awkward phase – really 1960’s you call this overweight? But I like this awkward phase because she still has this full liveliness, running around to or being chased around London by the equally crazy people in her life, like her godfather Mr. Leamington (also Academy Award-nominated James Mason), roommate Meredith (Charlotte Rampling) and the latter’s boyfriend, Jos (Alan Bates). Without context it’s a good thing if you’re being chased around the most happening city in the world by a younger Alan Bates – I’ve had a crush on this bushy-haired man since seeing Far from the Madding Crowd. But I changed my mind because his character is a underemployed flake and married his pregnant girlfriend. And that Georgy is contractually Mr. Leamington’s mostly platonic mistress and the latter, despite the creepiness, makes for a great situation that she shouldn’t abuse.
The movie shows the seeds of the Sexual Revolution through these relationships and uncertainties, characters lusting on each other strangely enough because of cabin fever like Georgy and Jos do. Georgy lands her place with Leamington because of a parody of a cabaret number, becoming a part of the mini-trend of leading women who are also awkward and make fun of female sexuality because their faces, body types or age don’t fit beauty standard. She’s an archetype, the supporting character in her own life, altruistically wrestling their problems and making her friends help her other friends. But she turns from having to watching people make love to this still-unfashionable woman being courted by two different men, getting accepted into the fold and her man being her best revenge. The Revolution also manifests itself through Georgy’s foil and object of jealousy, Meredith. This movie is very frank about this generation’s good and bad sides, poking fun at marriage with a scene showing Meredith and Jos’ civil wedding, Georgy trying her best to keep with other couples’ tradition and throwing rice at two people who don’t belong together. This honest is especially shown when Meredith proudly tells Jos about aborting the fetuses he’s sired – she asks Jos why he should have a say on keeping it or aborting, which is a valid argument although we don’t like the character making it. Despite her first optimism towards being a mum, she eventually screams about Georgy ‘babying’ up her flat and eventually shocking her ward mates and their visitors by playing one of movies’ worst mothers, calling “it” “that hideous thing,” shunning her child into Georgy’s care.
This movie is director Silvio Narizzano‘s one hit wonder but I’ll include it with Repulsion and John Schleisinger’s Darling and yes, I’m using the comparison on a superficial level – because all three are in black and white. There are diverse approaches and tones among these movies and directors but what I like about this movie is its energy. The other two who have mature-looking actors, the younger members of the cast are baby-faced people who can make babies despite their immaturity. Even Mason’s higher voice is like that of a child’s, making his rapport with Redgrave easier. Rampling, despite her sculpted features and bitch virtuosity, still has this smoothness to her and thus we can easily perceive her as one of the three youngsters whose generation probably conceived the ‘trying to figure it all out’ thing that hordes of future twentysomethings will stumble into. They’re into awkward phase between education and ‘real,’ financially stable adulthood. They still want to play like kids do – the movie having that tone of playtime, really – but are ushered into marriage and baby rearing and all that. All three movies, in dealing with young urbanites, also cross shaky class lines. But unlike Repulsion and Darling‘s snazzily dressed, partying working class, Georgy Girl‘s characters are part of the grubby quasi-intelligent class. It’s not necessarily clear whether they are moving up or down, their adulthood marked by their independence from both parents and the class system. It’s also not easy to dismiss Jos as an idiot despite of his actions because of his vigour, he just seems like a slacker with too much squandered potential. Meredith, a great beauty, is surrounded by classical music through her work as a violinist and the one with the most constant brushes with high culture and is the highest paid. Georgy has connections through Leamington but she’s still the kind of girl who, on a violently rainy day, needs to be checked up by a child welfare inspector. And all three have to, for most of the movie, go home to the same shitty, overcrowded apartment or ‘flat,’ and that I like the complexities among these kids’ class statuses.
Georgy Girl is part of a double bill for the late night program for TV Ontario’s Saturday Night at the Movies. I know that what I say in the previous paragraphs and the terrible behaviour in which supporting cast uses to react to their situations, this movie is light thanks to Redgrave’s tone setting performance, earning that Academy Award nomination. And despite her perma-jovialness, she contrasts it because her face carries the same gravitas for which her sister is known. The movie rewards this constantly joyful character with happiness. I’ll write about the movie featured in the second half of that bill, another movie released in 1966 but with much better critical/awards reception, when I feel like it.
James Mason: A Star is Born ’54
A film known for its memorable songs and emotional valleys, George Cukor’s 1954 musical remake of “A Star is Born” is also an effective parody of the Hollywood machine. Its circular events calendar and more circular narratives, lack of willingness to open doors, the 1950’s craze of finding the most groomed instead of the most able (I’m looking at you, Grace Kelly), vampire-like treatment of its talent whom they perceive as expendable, lack of respect for its talents’ privacy in dire times, absolute falseness, exoticization of the rest of the world and disseminating that information into the American household, misguided and hateful press agents (Jack Carson), how it separates loving couples. I suppose Norman Maine shouldn’t drinking that much or that his problems aren’t caused by Hollywood, or that Esther Bloodgett/Vicki Lester (Judy Garland), but Hollywood still looks bad.
It also looks bad because Esther, one of its victims, has so much humanity and pathos. She gets discovered by alcoholic superstar Norman Maine (James Mason), and her soaring career coincides with his self-destruction. I can’t pick out her shining moment in the movie. While she’s in the car with Norman, she seems to belong to her big city present with hints of the small town little girl of her past. As she’s in between the musical movements of “In the Trunk,” she goes from caramel-voiced actress then breaks out into song, holding back tears of joy and gratitude. In her dressing room, still in a jolly costume as an androgynous newspaper girl, she tells Oliver Niles of how she hates Norman for failing but says it with sorrow and remorse, and brings audiences to tears.
James Mason gets a moment too. It’s the last movie played in his retrospective, and what other way to end it than with his performance in this movie. Playing opposite Garland takes a lot of subtlety. But my favourite scene for him is when he ‘Kanye’s‘ his wife at an Academy Awards ceremony. He tells those who are attending the banquet that he knows them by their first name, convincing authority from a man who is there to beg. It’s horrible for him to do, but we still feel his pain. I also just inexplicably like it when actors stutter at the right moments. Both Mason and Garland play off each other well in this scene, even if they don’t look like a good couple in a few other scenes. And his “Why do you disgust me” in the first scene brings laughs too.
The movie’s a circular one, beginning and ending both in a Hollywood benefit show. Esther returns to the place where she met Norman, filling his place. She appears to her audience as Mrs. Norman Maine, positioning herself as a traditional wife, as one of Hollywood instead of just being a newcomer. As she belts out in one of her numbers, the show must go on.
Oh and if you like Mondrian, you’ll love this movie too.
A good ten minutes of “A Star is Born ’54” are just monochrome film stills accompanied. Those ten minutes seemed thrice its length, almost ruined the experience, I wanted to walk out and get my money back. I should have known that film executives cut it up because the original three hours was apparently too long by test audiences at the time. Thankfully the last inserted parts of the film ended by the 70th minute, and the meat of the film and its musical numbers are intact. I was eavesdropping other people’s conversations after the screening, women in their forties strongly saying that the stills added nothing to the film. I hope to hear the other side of the argument someday.
A Star is Born
I’m watching “A Star is Born ’54” today. I’ve seen clips/most of the movie, but it would be nice to finally see it in its entirety at 7 at the Cinematheque. I got my Judy shirt, I got my hat, I have money for an ice cap. I have never readied myself for a movie this much.
See you there!
p.s. Son of a bitch. Apparently the power went out in sections in downtown Toronto. Please bring power back up!
Style Guide I: Do Not Be Armond White
This screencap is stolen. Deal with it.
I couldn’t write the actual rule because it was too long – ‘Do your best not to include the history of cinema while writing about one movie,’ which is pretty much what he does every. Single. Time [Fr.]. And you know, I’m trolling [coll.] for page views so that title seemed more apt for that purpose.
With almost every post here until recently, I check out what other paid film critics say about movies so I don’t unwillingly [d. neg.] steal from them. For “Odd Man Out,” there’s one from either Variety or TV Guide of all places. Then Armond White, who wasn’t listed in RottenTomatoes as a top critic.
You know what? To rehash the Armond White thing is so last year. White’s name comes up every time someone asks who the worst presently working critic. In my pre-blogging, days, I read an interview of his and he said that he disliked P.T. Anderson “There Will Be Blood” because it was pretentious. I looked up his track record and saw that he’s fine, and by fine I mean Pauline Kael-esque. Both, by the way, are notorious for hating movies touted as classics. And if we allow Kael to have a .500 batting average and write books about it, so can White.
Back to “Odd Man Out,” White’s uses his piece on its recent screenings in Film Forum in New York to shit on “Blood,” Steven Soderbergh’s “Che” and David Fincher’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” And it’s like, why do I have to hear this? Besides, “Che” was passable, “Blood” was fun (call the psych ward if you want) and “Button” pulled on the heart-strings and I saw that on a plane! If I like a movie while seeing it on a plane, it can’t be [pass.] that bad! And [conj.] I liked it not because of the lack of oxygen because everything else on a plane annoys me and I’m inside so my oxygen isn’t lacking at all!
Ok, I’m calm. I also reminded myself that there are exceptions to every rule. If you’re gonna write about a Tarantino film, go ahead and write your head off about the history of cinema. Because it’d probably all be there. But with bending rules you have to only do it once or twice. Like Ron Fair or whatshisname from the Pussycat Dolls show says, one growl per album.
Talking about the history of cinema makes you look like a dick because you’re probably telling the world that said movie is the worst thing ever made, which it’s probably not. And it makes you seem distracted. In doing something well, you must know and do the task at hand.
To remind the 26 of you who pass by, do your best not to include the history of cinema while writing about one movie. I cuss and write like a teenager, and I know to avoid doing that.
James Mason: Odd Man Out
This Carol Reed directed British film noir has everything and will make you feel everything. A leader of Irish rebel group (IRA in everything but name), Johnnie McQueen (James Mason) decides to lead a part of a heist, despite his dizzy spells. A short chase scene, then the team who made the heist loses him. Everyone including the team, the police, urban bounty hunters and priests start to look for him, with slightly different motivations for doing so. The film has the intense mood that fits the genre and ages well, and it also conveys the paranoia that comes with living in a police state.
It is also, however, very funny. The humour’s not in the same vein as “The Third Man’s” absurd goodness, it’s more subtle. Dim bulbs make stupid decisions, like Johnnie’s mates who drunkenly confide in a gambling madam who is obviously gonna give them up. There’s also people who were going to have a good time in the shed where Johnnie was hiding, which would have been awkward. There’s also some intelligent humour, like the banter of two housewives who discover Johnnie. I also hope that I discovered a few firsts in movie history featured in here, like violent street children influenced by their urban playground and an actor getting kicked in the face on-screen. There’s also Johnnie, filmed from below, making a powerful speech but something he unconsciously does diminishes that power. They’ve always done everything better in Europe. The comedy within the characters’ actions is naturalistic and didn’t seem like it was selling the jokes too hard. We don’t feel like Reed is mocking the characters he’s directed. This well-balanced set of tones within one movie is instrumental in being the precursor to the Coen style of humour. But then those guys mock the people they’re filming, which they’re free to do so.
I love it when a movie examines characters going through the chaos of urban scenes. I love that here too. When Johnnie moves from his second location to a third, and we get introduced to a minor character’s friends in the second half, the film almost lost me there. The movie’s also about the last low points of a chapter leader. The audiences just sees the weaknesses instead of a Shakespearean pull to the ground, which might make some viewers question his leadership. And the hallucinations are dated as hell. Thankfully Reed gets rid of the fat and ties all the loose ends with a remarkably effective ending.
This movie’s gonna be on again at the TIFF Cinematheque at 4PM today. I also don’t know why I would tolerate Humbert’s (James Mason) actions, decisions and the ramifications for both. Others would find them out of character for a professor – but then he’s teaching at Bumfuck, Ohio and not Harvard. Either I accepted him as a part of the genre or he’s the kind of character I love to hate and I’ll tolerate his stupidity just to see him suffer. I’ll find more theories when I have the time. The film also suffers from pacing issues, specifically between the hour mark until the last half hour. Sue Lyon as Lolita is amazing until one or two unconvincing line reads at the last exchange of the movie.
Cinematheque’s write-up has an excerpt of what Michel Ciment calling “Lolita” ‘a decisive turning point for Kubrick… one of the keys to his inner universe,’ which is more eloquent than what’s in my head. I can’t fully love the movie, but with “Lolita” and its humour I understood “The Shining” and “Eyes Wide Shut” better. I always thought that the former was funny yet overrated while I have vague recollections of the latter but it’s obviously divisive. I feel as if my appreciation of Kubrick would be better if I watched his movies chronologically.
James Mason: Bigger than Life
I forgot to tell you that the TIFF Cinematheque is playing a retrospective of James Mason, for some reason. They’re sexing up their program this summer, calling their Pasolini retrospective “Summer of Sex, Swords and Seduction, while calling the Mason one “the original Smooth Talker,” which he is.
Mason in his movies is either having troubled relationships with people younger than him (“Age of Consent”), enduring physical pain (“Lolita”), getting mixed up with terrorist rhetoric (“Julius Caesar.”) or having an addiction that hurts his job (“A Star is Born”). Those are the best trademarks any actor could have, better trademarks than ‘pretty and crazy’ or ‘mostly does Westerns’ like those in his generation. ANYWAY, he uses two and two halves in Nicholas Ray’s “Bigger than Life.” Ed Avery (Mason) encounters anomalous pains that will kill him in a year. He thus has to take cortisone indefinitely to stay alive. He starts to abuse the drugs and says weird things towards the people in his professional and domestic life.
It’s a melodrama with a male in the centre, and there’s the duality of him feeling emasculated yet feeling the need to take on ‘female’ roles like raising his son. His jobs, teaching and answering phone calls for taxi services, are female dominated work – he’s surrounded by them while operating the switchboards. He eventually speaks out about those jobs and the threat of the pains makes him feel emasculated, while faced with the pride that he can’t ease the burden on himself and let his wife work. He can’t handle all of this and his family is what’s affected the most. He even treats his son with psychological abuse. In essence, Ed is putting too much on his plate. Or, a really early version of “Breaking Bad.”
Someone with a sense of humour would watch this film and wouldn’t understand why he’s such an upstanding citizen and then the drugs come and that audience will say ‘There you are James Mason, we’ve been waiting for you all along.’ An interesting reaction for what is arguably Mason’s best performance.
The movie’s an acquired taste. The melodrama goes hand in hand with the extremes of his reactions to the drugs that can put audiences off, no matter how realistic they could be. And there’s the ending. But unlike the juvenile tendencies in “Rebel Without a Cause” or the noir hopelessness of “In a Lonely Place” – which I do like better by the way – “Life” is Ray’s most socially conscious film.
James Mason: Age of Consent
Powell made “Age of Consent” in his later years and it seems like he’s trying to make his aesthetic more “groovy.” Instead of the manicured beauty of “The Red Shoes,” “Age of Consent” has a documentarian’s approach, finding beauty in accidents. I found the shot of animals frolicking in vegetated areas having the same spirit as the cherry blossom shots in “Black Narcissus,” that latter of which I only have a vague recollection of. Imagine “Age of Consent” as a movie directed by Sister Ruth, with a primal, natural approach. Yet I wonder what I would be thinking if I didn’t know who the director was.
In a way Age of Consent goes within the same thread as the “Narcissus” or “The Red Shoes” where a person of power goes into another land and has a complex relationship with the ones he’s technically subjugating.
James Mason and Helen Mirren are thus entwined within this creepy rendition of Pygmalion and Galatea, just like any good Pygmalion narrative. If they were the stars of “My Fair Lady,” that would have been a better film. A bland Australian painter (Mason) finds his muse, Cora (Mirren) when he goes back home to an unpopulated beach. Mason has his most mentally balanced roles in this film, while Mirren, at the top of her game is at her most beautiful while straddling the boundary of classy and trashy. Mirren will again tap into both around a decade later in “Caligula,” and after that, almost never again.
Despite of what I said about Mirren, better writing could have helped her character. In one moment she’s the perfect muse, even giving artistic suggestions to Mason, in another she’s a catatonic child who wants romance from a guy she met just weeks ago. There also should have been more direct protestation against their relationship. Having Cora’s alcoholic, abusive grandmother as the only one pointing out how sketchy this relationship is just feels a little inconsistent.
Seminal Television: SNL
(Say, where are the whores? ph. NBC)
In preparation for the Cinematheque’s retrospective of James Mason, I give you Jon Hamm as he does his best impression of James Mason. It’s a picture, it lasts long.
(Pinball wizard ph. screencap from DVD)
You can’t really tell whose vehicle this is – whether it is Sidney Lumet’s urban theatre about power struggle and the defense for what is right, or if it’s David Mamet’s, again, theatre where the world crowds and burdens our idealistic protagonist looking for redemption. It’s both. I’m more familiar with Lumet’s work. The other film I’ve seen of Mamet is “Redbelt.” I’ve read “Glengarry GlenRoss” the play and for some reason only have a vague recollection of it. Either way this seems like a slow marinade compared to their other work. It’s after fifty minutes later when Frank Galvin’s (Paul Newman) client’s brother-in-law confronts him which gets us at the edge of our seat.
It’s also unlike their work where in this movie, we get a lot of short scenes instead of a few big acts. The drama gets built up as we see both Galvin’s side and the archdiocese’s camp strategize, both teams stoic but they show a few breaks of sweat now and then. Speaking of stoic, Paul Newman’s looking the same but with gray hair. His performance is a bit quieter here than his showy roles fifteen years earlier. He doesn’t do any yelling even in his last speech. It’s this subtlety that would mark his better roles after this one.
I’ve joked in private that David Mamet couldn’t write women. This movie, however, gives us Laura Fischer (Charlotte Rampling), a strong female who’s also afraid of her tough persona. There’s Sally Doneghy, still feeling the pull and tug between her husband and vegetable sister. Finally, there’s Kailtin Costello Price, the nurse whose less than five-minute appearance makes us feel as if we’ve known her life story. This is one of the incidents where I couldn’t have been more glad to be wrong.
Lastly, this paragraph isn’t necessarily a spoiler as much as it is an advice to douchebag judges and lawyers. How did Frank and the Plaintiff win? Sandbag the little guy once, shame on you. Sandbag them twice and they jury will see what’s going on.