Thursday, 23 June 2016

Summer Reading Challenge: Natalie Wood

Rebecca Sullivan's Natalie Wood is a part of a series produced by the BFI on film stars. The book is not a biography rather it is an analytical look at some of Wood's best known films and how they, and her, fitted into the changing sexual, racial, and feminist roles of the 40s-80s.

Sullivan begins by talking about two of Natalie's early films, Tomorrow is Forever and Miracle on 34th Street. She argues that as a child Natalie was something of a 'child-women' with a maturity and knowledge beyond her years, which made her a less mercurial child star than Shirley Temple. The book then deals with the sexual and racial aspects of such films as, Rebel Without a Cause, Splendor in the Grass, Kings go Forth, All the Fine Young Cannibals, West Side Story, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Inside Daisy Clover and The Last Married Couple in America. Sullivan believes that many of Natalie's roles begin with sexual rebellion but then end up with her character fitting into the socially accepted roles of young women in middle class America.

"her performances in Rebel Without a Cause and Splendor in the Grass remain exemplars of American womanhood on the cusp of sexual revolution and suggest an imperfect, hesitant but nonetheless crucial moment in Hollywood's attempt to deal with radical and sexual upheaval" p. 66

Sullivan discuses Natalie's frequent schism between wanting to be a 'serious actress' and wanting to be a 'hollywood star'. In many ways these two aspects of herself were never reconciled.

"This tossing between past and future, contentment and restlessness speaks to how she more than anyone else expressed women's ongoing conflicts to find their rightful place in post-studio American cinema" p. 129

"Wood often commented in the press on her desire to play rolls that meshed with her own experiences, sometimes to the point of losing sight of where her identity ended and the character's began" p. 37

My only critique of the book would be that whilst Sullivan claims to want to reassess and establish Wood as a major and important part of American culture and cinema, she often seems to side with the criticism that she allegedly seeks to rewrite. Sullivan makes frequent references to Wood's limitations as an actress, some of which I personally disagree with. Perhaps being a fan I have a biased view, but I have always found Natalie to be a strong actress in even the most uninspiring of film roles. She rises above the script and no matter what role connects with her audience. I was also surprised that Sullivan didn't write about Love with the Proper Stranger, a film which, surely marked a transition in American cinema?

It is wonderful to have another book about Natalie, and it was fascinating to learn more about her film roles and the part they played in the changing face of America in the post war period. I also loved how the book dealt with films from all stages of her career, from her childhood, to some of her final roles. It also reinforced how important an actress Natalie was for young women, and how she continues to have an impact to this day.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Summer Reading Challenge: Bendigo Art Gallery & Twentieth Century Fox Present Marilyn Monroe

Bendigo Art Gallery & Twentieth Century Fox Present Marilyn Monroe is the accompanying book for the exhibit currently being held at the Bendigo Art Gallery. The book features information about the exhibition, how the gallery was loaned several of the pieces and information about the gallery's relationship with Twentieth Century Fox. It also features two excellent articles written by exhibition curator Tansy Curtin and Dr Susan Gillett of La Trobe University, a timeline of important events in Marilyn's life, a list of artefacts found in the exhibition and several stunning photographs of Marilyn herself.

In her piece titled 'Understanding Marilyn' Tansy Curtin looks at the role Marilyn's clothes and personal effects play in our understudying of her as a person. She explains how Marilyn's belongings where held in storage by her friends the Strasberg's until 1999 when several of them were auctioned off at Christies, sparking mania from Marilyn fans. A further auction was held in 2005. It is often sad to read about how some of her gowns, such as the famous one she wore to President Kennedy's birthday, have been bought by private collectors and have not been seen since their auction. Also interesting is Curtin's explanation of how the studio system frequently altered gowns for other stars. Marilyn's famous gold lamé gown was later worn by Jayne Mansfield and had to be altered to accommodate her larger bust. Marilyn's personal wardrobe on the other hand was understated and classic, a further schism between her created personality 'Marilyn Monroe' and her previous self, Norma Jeane.

Dr Susan Gillett's piece is titled, 'The Making of Marilyn Monroe', it deals with the differing public and private personas of Marilyn, her use of her femininity and sexuality, and the way in which she subtly subverted the chauvinism of the studio system.
The age in which Marilyn rose to fame was one dominated by the 'male gaze' and Marilyn especially was seen as a sex object and little more by the studio heads.
"The man is the actor, the active one; the woman is the spectacle, the fetishised sex object" p. 59

Marilyn however wanted greater, more human, roles and she was well aware of the way the public viewed her, she subtly added touches of knowing and humanity to the frequent show girl roles she played:
"Marilyn's genius as an actor is to work this line between parody and naturalism, knowing and not-knowing, giving and withholding, being the object par excellence and hinting that there is so much more than meets the eye" p. 60

"Both on and off the screen she was the object who did what an object is not meant to do: she exposed the double edge of men's glorification of the female body, discomforted their authority and entitlement, and- even worse- she demanded to mean more than they wanted her to" p. 65

Overall this is a great little book which is both the perfect companion to the exhibition and a fascinating book on its own. It is both respectful and insightful and definitely makes me want to read more about Marilyn.

Monday, 6 June 2016

The Jungle Book (1967)

The Jungle Book has been one of my favourite films ever since I was a child, and whilst I haven't seen the recent remake, I did recently re-watch the classic 1967 animation.
As a film The Jungle Book holds up just as well today as it did in the late sixties, re-watching it I was again taken by the wonderful characters, fantastic music and beautiful backdrops. It honestly leaves more recent Disney offerings, such as Frozen, for dead!

One of my favourite things about old Disney films is the beautiful backdrops, they are literally like watching a painting come to life. They are visually stunning films.

The Jungle Book fully captures the mysterious beauty of the jungle, its eeriness and its danger. It also has some of the strongest characters in any Disney film, even minor ones, such as the elephants and the vultures are integral and enjoyable (especially the Beatle-esque vultures!). Baloo, is and always has been, my favourite. He's a free spirit, with a gentle heart and a loyalty that exceeds differences and fear. In many ways the film encapsulates the free spirit and nostalgic sadness of the sixties.

It's a powerful story of friendship, and on a more subtle level, it is a look at the relationship between man and beast. There is a touch of sadness as Mowgli returns to the man village. What will he grow up to be? Will he use fire the way other men have?

Also I'm pretty sure this has one of the greatest soundtracks of any Disney film ever! I do feel Disney has lost some of the magic it once had, I'm probably alone in this belief, but their more recent films are just not as wonderful as the old ones. I think they lack a visual beauty and an honesty.
But now for some fun little facts!
If you thought the vultures where like The Beatles you wouldn't be wrong. Originally The Beatles were asked to do the voices of the vultures but they turned it down. Still Disney kept with the theme and in the final film they bear more than a passing resemblance to the mop-topped Liverpudlians.
Shere Khan was voice by George Sanders, whom you may remember as Addison DeWitt in All About Eve. 
And if Baloo's voice sounds familiar that's because he was voice by Phil Harris who also voiced Thomas O'Malley in The Aristocrats and Little John in the animated Robin Hood. 
Bruce Reitherman, who voiced Mowgli, was the son of the director.
And finally The Jungle Book was the final film that involved Walt Disney, he died during production.

So if you haven't seen this film for awhile it's time for a re-watch, and if you have never seen it you are in for a treat-it's truly one of the finest films of any genre.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Summer Reading Challenge

I'm excited to say this year I have signed up to take part in Out of the Past's 2016 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge. The aim is to read 6 classic film books before September 15. (However I must admit that it will sadly be Winter in my part of the world!)

The six books I have chosen are:

1. Bendigo Art Gallery & Twentieth Century Fox Present Marilyn Monroe: This is the book that accompanied the exhibition held at the Bendigo Art gallery, its a quick read, but has some interesting reflections on Marilyn's life and career.
2. Double Feature by Terence Stamp: Having read both 'Stamp Album' and 'Coming Attractions' this was next on my list! This is the third autobiography written by Stamp and deals with his life and career in the sixties, particularly his relationship with Jean Shrimpton. Having read and enjoyed his other books I am looking forward to this one!
3. By Myself and Then Some by Lauren Bacall: I have heard good things about Bacall's autobiography, and I am really looking forward to learning more about her life.
4. From Shane to Kill Bill-Rethinking the Western by Patrick McGee: Westerns are my favourite film genre and I think they are often misrepresented and sidelined in modern film analysis, so I am hoping this book might shed some new light on this often complex genre.
5. Natalie Wood by Rebecca Sullivan: This is a new book (and I'm hoping it arrives on my doorstep before September!) From the blurb it sounds fantastic, Sullivan aims to highlight how Natalie was often the face of the changing mores of the fifties and sixties and how her films shifted the way females were viewed.
6. The Hustler by Walter Tevis: I'm looking forward to seeing how the book compares with the classic film (and if it can live up to Paul Newman's epic-ness!)

                                                       (Not seen-Natalie Wood)

If anyone else is interested in taking part in the challenge all the details can be found at Out of the Past's blog.
Happy Reading!