Making New Friends Through Movies: Meeting Kurt and Paul

If you are a classic film fan and follow the latest news about classic films, then you have probably heard of the documentary, These Amazing Shadows (2011).

If you are a classic film fan, you have probably met most of your closest friends online because die hard classic film lovers are few and far in between.

Over the past year, Hilary and I have enjoyed getting to know the directors of These Amazing Shadows: Kurt Norton and Paul Mariano.  They approached us to review their film before it aired on PBS in December 2011 (which can be read here).  We were so inspired by their love letter to films, we decided to invite them to present These Amazing Shadows to our university.  We asked them if they were interested, they said yes, and we started the long, long process of organizing the event.

One year and hundreds of emails later, Kurt and Paul finally arrived at our campus on Monday, March 4th, 2013.  It was one of the most memorable days of our university experience!  They are charming, vibrant, young-at-heart gentlemen.  Not a silent second passed between the four of us in the entire day we spent together.  We enjoyed each others’ company over lunch and an interview we will be releasing in the near future (it may be a two-part interview!).  It was a treat to be able to discuss deep topics surrounding film throughout the afternoon with these two intelligent men.  They are funny, too!  A quick glance at this picture will tell you how we all quickly formed a goofy bond among ourselves.

Katie giving Kurt the stink-eye as he documents Paul giving bunny ears to an oblivious Hilary.

Katie giving Kurt the stink-eye as he documents Paul giving bunny ears to an oblivious Hilary.

The people who attended the screening of These Amazing Shadows were enamoured with the documentary, its unique style, and of course, its subject of the love of Hollywood films and the need to preserve them.  The Q&A session following the screening was lively.  It was a joy to see the students clamouring to interact with Kurt and Paul after the Q&A was wrapped up.  All the hard work we put into the past year in raising funds, climbing out of pitfalls, and unwrapping ourselves from red tape was worth it!  Our day with Kurt and Paul scurried away far too quickly, and before we knew it, we were escorting them back to their car in the parking lot.  We started off the day shaking hands as long-distance acquaintances and hugged each other goodbye as good friends.

It is incredible to experience how networking can bring people unexpectedly together.  Through the shared passion for films, we had the honour and privilege of meeting two extraordinary men, sharing a day of our lives with them, and introducing a few aspects of Canadian culture to them.  Maybe it isn’t so fascinating how we met Kurt and Paul.  After all, you never know you will meet when you delve into the world of these amazing shadows…

Kurt Norton, Hilary, Katie, Dr. Katherine Spring (a huge help to us in organizing this event - thank you!), and Paul Mariano

Kurt Norton, Hilary, Katie, Dr. Katherine Spring (a huge help to us in organizing this event – thank you!), and Paul Mariano

Life Lessons from Charlotte Vale

Think about it: Charlotte Vale is such an inspiring character.  It doesn’t matter if your male or female – her journey seen in Now, Voyager (1942) can inspire us all to take care of ourselves and be aware of our physical and emotional well-being.

When you’re at rock-bottom, the only place to go is up (how cliche, but true).

When we first meet Charlotte in the film, she is the epitome of what an “old maid” of thirty should be.  She is “frumpy” because she is not allowed to diet, sports some furry eyebrows behind a pair of glasses, and can only wear “sensible shoes.”  Her spirit has been broken by her battle ax of a mother.  Her escape comes in the form of a meltdown from being dominated for so long.  When there was no hope in having a happy life of her own, Charlotte was given the gift of confidence by Dr. Jacquith.  Too bad we can’t all go to a rest home every time we slam down a tea kettle and cry.

Sensible shoes

Learning to walk in new shoes

The ones who help you along the healing journey may be a surprise.

We all lay at night creating scripts for our life to follow.  It never follows the stage instructions, but we keep internally writing our lives anyway.  I bet Charlotte never imagined she would meet a dashing, married man on a cruise ship who would be the inspiration to help her pick up the pieces of her shattered self-esteem.  Maybe she thought of adopting a dog during one of these nights of self-reflection in the rest home, but no, the moon and stars would not have that (and her mother probably would hate the dirt a dog would track in the house).

We often don’t give children the credit they deserve.  Their presence reaches a place within us that company with a peer cannot caress.  Charlotte found a chance to correct her past through Jerry’s daughter, Christina.  Karma is real…in the movies.  By consoling a sad, unwanted little girl, Charlotte mended the pain of her own childhood.

Go with you gut. Do what feels right.

If you like an article of clothing, WEAR IT!  Don’t listen to one person’s negative opinion.  Charlotte realized her mother controlled her life through her wardrobe.  Clothing is a form of self-expression, so use this medium to tell people who you are…not who someone else wants you to be.

You can’t have everything.

As much as you can help yourself, there are some thing that cannot be conquered. Personal prejudices may keep you from someone you love.  Finances may prevent you from shaking the dust of your hometown off your boots to pursue education or adventure.  Due to Charlotte’s social situation, she could not totally embrace Jerry as her own partner because his wife refused to divorce him, but she learned to survive with what she had which was better than what she began with at the film’s commencement. We can’t have everything that makes us feel whole along our experience in life, but how those elements shaped us can influence our perspective of life. Let me close with the famous last line of the film: Oh, Jerry.  Don’t let’s ask for the moon.  We have the stars.

A Cinematic Angel: Karolyn Grimes

 

The long-awaited episode featuring Karolyn Grimes, also known as Zuzu Bailey from  It’s a Wonderful Life, has finally arrived! This is a podcast filled with cinematic treasures as Karolyn discusses the importance of the Christmas classics It’s a Wonderful Life and The Bishop’s Wife. Karolyn calls herself an “antique”, but you will soon find that the so-called antiquity is merely an element of her timelessness in the face of film history. She’s so charming and is ever-willing to preserve the memories of these films.

It’s been six months since our last podcast, but this one is worth the wait! Satisfaction guaranteed.

Anna Karenina Adaptations: Same Story, Different Perspectives

With the upcoming adaptation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, I decided to refresh myself with the previous two classic renditions and compare them before watching the new version wearing my best critical hat.

Let’s see how this story was interpreted in 1935.  It stars some of Hollywood’s best talent of the time: Greta Garbo, Freddie Bartholomew, Reginald Owen, and Fredrich March.

For a film being adapted from a book that is supposed to shed light on the unfair treatment of married women who have love affairs, this film starts off with a masculine point of view. It begins with a party attended by soldiers, gypsies, and assumed prostitutes.  Drinking games ensue, and everyone has a grand old time.  One particular man there, Stiva (Reginald Owen), is in the proverbial doghouse for cheating on his wife with the governess.  He’s allowed to run with the dogs while his wife suffers with a heartache at home.  One of his party mates is Vronsky (Fredrich March), the man who would lead his sister, Anna (Greta Garbo), to social disgrace and death.

Those who have watched the film know how the rest of the plot follows, but I noticed a big difference in Vronsky and Anna’s separation compared to the 1948 adaptation.  It is war, not Princess Sorokina, that takes Vronsky away from Anna.  The masculine sense of honour and duty drives him back to the military position he so impulsively quit.  He is leaving her to serve his country.  This is the film’s way of veiling the fact that Vronsky used Anna and is now abandoning her to a society that will no longer accept her.

The ending of the film caught me by surprise.  I admit that I have never read the novel, but I  have seen the 1948 adaptation many times.  This 1935 film did not finish where I thought it would.  There is another scene tacked on at the end to make Vronsky look like an all-round, decent, guy (you can’t fool us, Hollywood!).  Upon hearing about the death of his disadvantaged lover, he talks about his “guilt” of leaving her after an argument.  His guilt is supposed to make him look like a noble man!

The 1935 film tends to victimise Anna – presenting her as a woman who was seduced into this relationship and does not possess any agency of her own.  We must also remember when this film was made – a year after the Production Code was enforced.  Writers and directors were more or less forced to become stricter with strong female leads. From this angle in film history, Anna could not freely give in to affairs and must be punished for her wayward behaviour.  This differs from Vivien Leigh’s 1948 rendition.  Leigh’s Anna chooses to enter into the affair more-so than Garbo’s Anna who was pressured and pushed into it.  Being a pushover does not become Garbo.

The 1948 interpretation of Tolstoy’s masterwork is definitely the more poetic, feminine version.  Even though I have never read the novel, this film feels like a closer adaptation to the novel because direct quotes bookend the film.

The feminine perspective is present through the internal voice-over of Anna’s thoughts near the end of the film.  Not only that, but Vivien Leigh’s Anna knew what she was getting herself into.  At the ball where Anna and Vronsky make eyes at each other, there is a great difference in how Garbo’s and Leigh’s Annas behave.  Garbo’s Anna repeatedly declines Vronsky’s requests to dance while Leigh’s Anna willingly monopolizes him for the entire night.  That doesn’t sound like the seduced victim of 1935.  Again, at the races when Anna is watching Vronsky through her binoculars, she is constantly licking and biting her lips.  She is into him just as much as he is into her.

Thanks to www.vivandlarry.com for the picture.

Because of the equal consent on both sides of the 1948 affair, the romance and chemistry between Vivien Leigh and Kieron Moore is more believable than Garbo and Fredrich March.  While Garbo and March’s characters quickly complain about being watched by their society chums, Leigh and Moore’s characters are too busy producing a lovechild.

The 1948 film is not afraid to present Vronsky as he truly is: a coward.  He is boyish, as he should be to the older Anna, and has a weaker will.  When Anna returns to her husband after giving birth to their stillborn lovechild, he gains her attention back by attempting suicide.  By this time in the twentieth century, people may not have believed the added ending in the 1935 film and seen Vronsky for who he is.  There is no point in building up his character because there is nothing to admire about him.

One must still feel pity for both Garbo’s and Leigh’s portrayal of Anna.  She is a woman bound in a marriage that is defined by “duty” and “obligation” rather than love.  Whether Vronsky is presented as a decent guy or a cowardly scoundral, his treatment of Anna is unforgivable (you can almost hear Blanche Dubois say, “deliberate cruelty is unforgivable!”).  No matter how filmmakers of the past or present interpret Vronksy’s intentions and character, and despite how much consent Anna Karenina gives, she will always suffer from her society’s unfair treatment between men an women in extramarital affairs.

Searching for Scarlett: How Four Hours Lack the Depth of Over 1000 Pages

This is an adaptation of an essay of mine which I wrote for a class this past year.  Personally, I prefer the novel over the film but please keep in mind that I STILL LOVE THE FILM.

A great source of inspiration for Hollywood has been in the adaptation of plays and novels.  One of Hollywood’s greatest films from its greatest year, 1939, was adapted from Margaret Mitchell’s best-selling novel, Gone with the Wind. Through different modes, both media exhibit Scarlett’s will to survive, but the film does not record Scarlett’s character development as thoroughly as the novel.  The novel gives her more depth because the reader has access to her inner thoughts.  The film version of Gone with the Wind makes Scarlett appear more heartless than she is.  This article will set out to prove that her full development as a character is stunted in the film because the viewer cannot know her thoughts.  Instead, the film tries to communicate her thoughts through cinematography, montage, and colour.  These techniques of the film medium are used to express Scarlett’s desires in moments of intense emotion, but the viewer misses out on knowing her specific opinion on certain events.

Close-ups are used throughout Gone with the Wind in moments of intense emotion to compensate for the loss of internal thoughts.  One scene where the close-up lacks the detail of the novel is the most critical scene of all – when Scarlett admits to Rhett she has loved and depended on him all along but never realised it.  The film closely follows the dialogue in the novel but neglects to give voice to Scarlett’s thoughts:

“She was thinking: ‘But Rhett is my soul and I’m losing him.  And if I lose him, nothing else matters!  No, not friends or money or – or anything.  If only I had him I wouldn’t even mind being poor again.  No, I wouldn’t mind being cold again or even hungry’”     (Mitchell, 1019).

Had the film included this contradicting cry of woe, viewers who did not read the novel would have believed Scarlett’s confession.  This statement is completely contrary to her character who vowed to “steal or kill” to avoid living through hunger and poverty (Mitchell, 421).  The use of close-up simply does not convey this message.  Vivien Leigh brilliantly portrays a woman who just lost her best friend, daughter, and husband in a short period of time, but the same sympathy the reader would have felt does not translate completely to the film.  Film is effective in showing the viewers the woe in Scarlett’s face, but the camera cannot transcend flesh and reveal the pain in her heart.

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