segunda-feira, 4 de janeiro de 2016


Books are my second passion. Music comes a distant third. Books and movies: perfection. Even better when is a book about movies - God knows that movies based on books sometimes cannot be taken seriously- and from a competent author. Some wise fried gave me an Amazon voucher  as a birthday gift and I bought "The New Biographical Dictionary of Film" from critic and historian David Thomson. Just started reading it and is both insightful and funny. My only criticism  is that he takes the word " dictionary" too seriously: there is no pictorial evidence of movies, outside the cover. Or maybe I am the one who is out of depth here, as a dictionary, in essence, is not an enciclopedia. ..Anyway, the only thing I don´t understand is his facination with Nicole Kidman; he even wrote a biography of her in 2006, which I take it did not sell well. I myself will not buy it. But everybody is entitled to have a weird obsession or entertain strange notions. Except for Jeanine Basinger. She gave us Michael Bay. Mankind will never recover. 

The only man capable of making me forget the existence of "Basinger´s baby" is , of course, David Cronenberg. He is the modern day Tod Browning, just two steps ahead of his predecessor. Browning seemed to have lost part of his creative drive after Lon Chaney died and could not recover his reputation after "Freaks" (1932)- partly because he was working within the studio system, as an employee. Cronenberg seems to navigate rather smoothly between independent production and mainstream film distribution and has developed, through the yeras, as a very capable actors director. You feel his imprint all over his films, but the performences do not seem imposed or staged, even when they are amazingly over the top, like Vincent Cassel in " Eastern Promises".  The last of his features " Maps to the stars" is still on my mind. I can´t help myself with that, and that is good .

2016 has just begin, but I already miss Cronenberg. What is he doing now? Apparently he is planning in surprising us again

quarta-feira, 25 de novembro de 2015

                                                      The Bridge (Eric Steel, 2006)

Suicide almost does not exist in the world of the movies. No wonder: to this day it is a conversation too difficult to have, so personal and indivisible is the pain that come from within. Even daring filmmakers like Lars von Trier have avoided the subject altogether :  in " "Melancholia" (2011), Kirsten Dunst´s Justine is so depressed that she can barely get out of bed. But there are no signs that she actually thought, talked or tried to commit suicide. Looking back to Classic Hollywood, Frank Capra created  " It is a wonderful life" (1946) around an attempt suicide of the main character ; during Pre-Code period it was effectively used more than once as catalyst to the story ( "Gambling Lady, 1934"), at the very conclusion of a drama , a desperate act of redemption ("Three on a Match, 1932") or simply as a kind of love sacrifice, a gesture of one of those " assexual husbands" that Jeanine Basinger writes about (" The Single Standard, 1929"). Both censorship and the hardness of the subject almost banned suicide from the screens, with occasional exceptions such as the exquisite " Vertigo" ( 1958) , as though fiction had no use for it. 

The documentary "The Bridge" picks up the San Francisco location. For a cinephile, the first assumption I made was that the choice  had been partly motivated by the Hithcock movie, something like following up real suicides that took place at Golden Gate Bridge instead of the fake one. But in reality, it had nothing to do with the magnetic beauty of the classic movie: it was a rather rational and cold choice. Based on article called " Jumpers", that appeared on New Yorker magazine in 2003, director Eric Steel elected to make his documentary a piece on the banality of the last moments of desperate people amid the gorgeous scenery- Nature does not mind our internal and personal sorrows after all. Armed with the statistics that pointed out that an average of two suicides per month are commited at that location, the director placed the camera on ground level, facing the sidewalk along the bridge. And kept filming for a full year. His crew was able to catch not only the actual suicide of more than 20 people, but also their last strugles before jumping, After a while, they knew to identify those who were walking that path to end their lifes. And they followed every step, every doubtful movement towards the edge  in a very matter of factly way that makes you all but cold. 

Between the sad images, reminescent of the Twin Towers jumpers, family and friends are interviewed. We follow the stories of 3 who suceeded and 2 people that failed- a woman who was rescued by a nearby amateur photographer, and a man who midway through the jump changed his mind and asked for heavenly intervention. The testimonials are compelling as one would expect. The people left behind talk about knowing that the decision of ending it all as made a long time ago, after years of almost constant pain and strugle. Nobody that cared was surprised by it; only a couple thought they could have somehow stopped it, or helped more. 

There is a perversive ambiguity in this documentary, not lost on anyone. It is very difficult to watch the suicide scenes whithout feeling the absolute urge to try and stop them, and yet the very premisse of the documentary is one of non interference stance: those people were set to do it, regardless of our feelings; to end their lives was their decision, their goal  and we should have respect for them. It does not try to explain the motivations behind the suicides hard enough, instead it is more interested in the actual process, the planing put into it. One can choose to see this as a hauntly beautiful tributer, a chance for those desperate people we would otherwise not hear about to tell us their stories, but the moral implications of playing Peeping Tom in actual suicides infects the whole narrative and make this documentary a spoiled piece on the morbid banality of death. 

quarta-feira, 28 de outubro de 2015

 2 months in one post

If there is a good thing in not having a famous blog is that you don´t feel guilty if your time is consumed by other activities and you neglect to post. "No readers, no responsability" is my motto.

The couple of months have been though. I have been reading a lot about the women wage gap and the the glass cliff effect, mostly in relation to two women that anybody should admire: Jennifer Lawrence and Ellen Pao.

And it made me angry. I explain:

Jennifer Lawrence wrote a very revered essay for a newsletter called " Lenny", by Lena Dunham. J-Law is what, 25 years old, that already won Oscar ( not for the movie she deserved to have won, but that is another issue) and is steadily building a career as a female action movie star and serious actress, all in one. A very acomplished woman. And yet she wrote that after the emails between the production team at Sony Pictures were made public , she realised that she had failed as a negotiator. She listed, among other reasons, two that tell a very sad story:

1) She felt she did not want alienate the producers by being too though, she did not want them to see her as " difficult". She wanted to be liked by them;
2) She understands that she is basically being paid for something she loves doing, which is a luxury most of mankind , and women in particular, don´t have. She felt that she better not ask to be paid the price she was worth it as she wanted to be part of a team and not be too " greedy".

Ellen Pao is a lawyer and former (key word) CEO of Reddit. She became known after she filled a gender discrimination suit against her former employer in 2012, sparking a debate on how women were being treated in Silicon Valley. During her tenure as CEO, she implemented a new hiring policy at Reddit; basically elöimating the salary negotiations form the table, as she felt this was detrimental to women, who often have very poor negotiation skills. Reasons? Mostly the ones Jennifer Lawrence gives us. She also made sure Reddit would apply more rigorous measures against bigotry and online harassment. Sounds good, right? Well, she faced such a violent blacklash and the board of directors, for reasons we can only imagine, reacted demanding results in user growth in the next 6 momths, higher than what she thought she could deliver. 

And how exactly reading about the very elitistic problems of two high profile women in 2015 made me angry? Because looking back at 1915 there was a female powerhouse called Mary Pickford who did not give a shit about not being "likeable" when sitting with producers to discuss her salaries aspirations and never doubted herself in terms of Box Office, knowing pretty well she was worth what she was being paid because she did deliver the goods. 

She was both actress and the CEO of her production company and the most powerfull woman in the movie business by age 25. Of course, she cultivated a sweet image, but the sweet part was never lacking of the sheer force of her personality. Adolph Zucker was delighted to have met such a though young woman, who would fight him with arguments and earn not only his respect, but also affection. Charlie Chaplin hated her and complained bitterly that although she was well versed in all corporate talk and could speak face to face to bankers and producers, she was not so smart: she just knew her price and made sure she got it. When her Box Office results started to show that audiences had moved on, she closed her shop so to speak, and just handled her corporate interests. She died very, very rich, but a bit bitter. But there is a lesson she taught us, modern women of 21st century and it is:

Know your price and make sure you get it, no apologies and no excuses. 

quinta-feira, 27 de agosto de 2015


I hate going shopping in general and gifts . in particular, can be a total pin in the ass. I get all confused about what to buy or not buy, the budget for the occasion, the store etc. Usually, I take the coward´s route and buy a gift certificate from an online store. That saves me time, energy and sanity.

Last week I had a friend´s birthday and I was more than happy to know exactly what to buy: "My lunches with Orson".  She is hungarian and Mr Welles, according to his own words " loved them to the point of sex". 

Now, is the book any good? I have no idea! To be fair, there is a brief and not that all in depth introduction, sort of just enough to put the conversations in perspective. I would have expanded it a bit, but hey, that is just my take on it. It looked a bit in a hurry,you know? 

The conversations itself show a very egomaniac, funny and hurt artist. It is like he was, at that point, just pretending to be working, just for the sake of the conversation. Most of the times is Henry Jaglom who brings up an on going project, some idea etc. Orson seems to be aware that his value, back then, was of a raconteur. And he is truly marvelous at it. But oh, very annoying: no good piece of advice is given to his friend,even when he is in personal trouble: just on and off, an old tale mixed with some (very)funny tirade or observation.

I always pitied the genius, the truly artistic minds and temperaments, as they never seem to know when to stop. Everybody needs to retire, folks.It does not mean to stop working, but simply to stop just working. Instead of putting all the energy in creating, maybe it would be more interested to mentor people. Or to give themselves an upgrade, really. Mr Welles despised producers and had a very high regard to acting. I personally think that was his downfall. And that he was no writer, no matter what he said. I am no writer myself, but I can doctor texts and have great ideas. Dialogue? no. I think with Mr Welles was the same, he always needed some guy to write the dialogue, even though he could do all the other stuff, even better a script. 

In any case, the book is worth reading for those who like moviemaking, gossip and food. 

terça-feira, 4 de agosto de 2015

Once upon a time: date rape was not really rape in the 30´s...

I was reading this blog entry on Robert Matzen and suddenly became aware of this "she said/he said" tale of sexual abuse in Old Hollywood.

If the Bill Cosby scandal taught us is that, even today, a woman has lots to lose in opening her mouth to accuse a man of rape. God, even if they are legion, chances are they will not be heard. Cosby knew that pretty well, was counting on that, and almost got off the hook. 

But today we have the illusion of gender equality, so woman do try and speak out more. They are becoming more and more aware that rape should be reported, no matter what, and that the rapist should be the one feeling ashamed. 

Why is it so easy for a woman to understand that Loretta might be telling the truth, and for several men  to doubt it? 

I think I know the answer: first, to accuse a man of rape is really a serious thing to do and should not be taken  lightly It is not only a crime, but is a testament to inadequacy. All the pieces I read  so far written from  their standpoint try to rationalize the situation, breaking down facts and old anedoctes, behind the scenes tell tales of Old Hollywood that we simply CANNOT verify, all in hopes to save  Clark Gable from becoming known as a rapist. Second: men have a hard time trying to understand the contradictory nature of the female relationship with sex. 

I will not go out and say " Loretta is telling the truth: men are basically pigs and she was the one that had to carry the secret and shame" simply because there is no way to know. She was very religious, but she was also  a young, beautiful woman in Hollywood, already with a marriage dissolved before she turned 20. The assumption being that she was not that innocent, that she was, in fact, a hipocrite. It might well be the case of an old woman, looking back and trying to rewrite her life story, apologize her mistakes and justify her actions using another lie to cover the other lies she already told.  But I would like to take a look at the information we KNOW as fact and play a bit of detective with it, and not simply list some " witnesses" for her indiscretions and conjecture about Loretta´s reasons for yet another cover up.


It would be stupid to assume when fecundation took place in this case. What should be considered is that if Judy Lewis was full term and what that means.

For what I read through all theses years, she was born healthy and on term. But babies can be born with 37 weeks and be healthy; or they can be born after 42 weeks and be okay too- my case! So we have a 5 weeks period that the description of a " healthy baby girl" would fit. 


According to the Buzzfeed piece, during filming of " Call of the wild" Loretta admitted of flirting hard with Clark Gable. She also said openly that acting was a bit like falling in love with your screen partner. Now, let me tell you: beautiful girls are, usually, teasers. They want to know they are desired, but that does not mean they want to have sex. In this scenario she paints, she was comfortable with him from the get go; she had flirted hard and "nothing had happened", so she felt everything was under control. In this case she would invite him over to her cabine, not expecting to have sex; she had said no; he did not listen. 

Now, let´s make it clear that a woman at that time, even a "sophisticated " woman at that time, would not consider using the term " date rape" for this scenario. Not at all: for this woman, she simply had played a game and lost. Or, if we are talking about a woman with religious belief here:in this case she would feel as she was the wicked, that she had led a good man ashtray. 


Years earlier, silent screen actress Barbara LaMarr had bore a child out of the wedlock and later adopted him; Constance Bennett did it too, to avoid a dispute with her then ex-husband. So, what Loretta did was not new at that point, but what makes it remarkable was that she did it motivated by religious beliefs and that the father of the baby in question knew about it and washed his hands. 

4) THE " WHAT THE F..." Factor

Now, Loretta and Clark might have even carried an affair after the alleged rape happened. And this is not to surprise anyone either, but I do doubt it. She was raised in a town where a movie like  " The sheik" was basically sexual education to young girls. 

The sad part is that we will never know many women of that time had actually married their " rapist" after the steady boyfriend had simply mistook "red" for "green"? There was such a crime called " seduction" in the 18th, 19th century context, which can vary pretty much from "back alley rape" to "consensual sex" and, most of the time, the family of the offended woman would actually force marriage upon both parties. 

5) Conclusion: 
We will never know what happened. But instead of writing an open letter asking people not to talk about the past, why can´t we simply keep on discussing why we simply  find it too hard to give credit to what a woman is telling us?

segunda-feira, 13 de julho de 2015

Farmer takes a wife ( 1935)

The life of a Classic Hollywood fan films is a roller coaster, I can tell you that. I used to spend so much time searching all over internet for movies, from Amazon to Youtube and back. Sometimes I would find terrible copies, like the one I still have from the "The quiet man", and get mad I spent my hard earned moneys on  frankly, something that  should have not been released in the first place. No, I love the John Ford masterpiece, but the quality of the DVD was....not to be found. 

Other times you can be surprised to find a good copy available for streaming of a title that you had already given up viewing. I have no access to TCM right now, and this can be as hard as to go days without a cigarette if you are a smoker. It happened yesterday: I found "The farmer takes a wife" on Youtube and almost cried! Sound, image and credits, all there. 

You, my only reader, might ask why was I so eager on watching this film, I can give you many reasons, and I assure you I will, but mostly , just look at that beautiful shot of Henry Fonda, so young and so dreamy. This was his first film, in a starring role. He basically recreated the role that gave him star status on Broadway, just the year before ( 1934) under the direction of no other than Victor Fleming. 

Now, you have to keep in mind that this was one of the last films released under Fox Films, not yet 20th Century Fox. Daryl Zanuck was already there, but he was yet to establish his firm grip on the studio. Janet Gaynor, with then since 1926, was still the bigger star on the lot, but on the wane: Zanuck favored luscious ( Linda Darnell), french ( Annabella) or  musical ( Betty Grable) women as leading ladies. Even the beautiful and feminine Loretta Young suffered with what she perceived as the " lack of interess" of the new boss. This was a man that , after all, did not need  the so called "casting couch"; he was famous for throwing "casting orgies" every Friday. Of course, he had no time to waste with childlike Janet Gaynor, who made her exit by the end of the decade.

So, you have a newcomer ( Fonda) on the brink of stardom; a bonefide star (Gaynor) on the wane and a competent director ( Fleming) on the top of his game. Not to mention a Studio, going through , let´s say, an awkward phase, but on the right path. 

That is why I was so keen in watching it in the first place.

Now, the movie...

Fleming had a reputation as a " macho director" mainly because, I think, of his off screen antics: he was very masculine ( best friends with Howard Hawks and Clark Gable after all) and somewhat of a woman chaser ( had affair with almost all his leading ladies). Take a look, a closer look, at his movies, and you will find a very gentle touch, sometimes an almost sentimental film making approach. The women in his films  are often strong willed, they often take active roles in the plots. But he always makes a point of showing women as very feminine, loving creatures. For every Scarlett O´Hara  in his universe there was a Melanie; ladies are, he seems to say, as strong as bitches, because they are made of the same cloth. If you are fond of " Gone with the wind" , I recommend you to check the documentary on the production, it is available online and has plenty of information. It will show you how Fleming, basically a tyrant, had an eye for character development after all. Olivia de Havilland herself said that, for all of Cukor delicacy and understanding, it was Fleming, with only one observation, that showed her how to play Melanie: he told her, in private, after failed takes " Whatever Melanie says, she really means it".

All through the movie you can sense this light touch.Molly ( Gaynor)is a cook on a boat; she finds working and living along the Erie Canal exciting and thinks the railroads will never replace this lifestyle she is so entranced with. She meets Dan Harrow ( Fonda), who plans to work on a boat long enough to raise money and buy a farm. They fall in love, but their different expectations and world views clash.In the end they are reunited after Dan fights Molly´s former boss, Jothan, and show her that life in the canal will never be the same again.

The cinematographer was Ernest Palmer, one of the unsung pioneers, active from early silent film days till the 1950´s. I liked the fog scenes, think they were well made and, although a bit slow, were important to the dramatic development of the characters. We see Molly hearing Dan´s voice through the fog, then seeing him and talking to him all through it and, when it the fog is dissipated, she decides to quit her job and work alongside Dan. I was a bit surprised they did not use more of an incidental soundtrack, instead Fleming opted to sprinkle the movie with vocal groups of "sailors" singing in bars for instance, or street music. I somehow doubt it the boats were that spacious, but the wardrobe seemed to be what normal working people would wear it in the first half of the 19th century. Honestly , it is kind of refreshing to find out that the "MGM" standard of ludicrous and over the top costumes were not , at that point, of common use. I love Adrian  ( and Gaynor loved more than anyone else, I suppose) but his ideas for the so called " period pictures" were so outrageous sometimes....

Even though Fonda played the character before, it shows that he is , at this point, not all at ease in front of the cameras. I find it very clever of Fleming in using this awkwardness  of the actor to his advantage: Dan Harrow is, after all, a fish out of water. After he falls in love with Molly, he seems more relaxed and , funny thing, is his face that the camera loves, not Gaynors. Fonda at this point is painfully beautiful and he keeps getting close up after close up. I cannot complain...

If you are interested in the film, just check it out online or , if you are lucky enough, check TCM schedule. Please note: if you are a " Fast and Furious" kind of person, this movie is NOT for you...

sexta-feira, 10 de julho de 2015

  Ava and the Avas that followed

Even for Hollywood standards, she was a special : a beautiful, alluring animal. That she was, in fact, a woman, all flesh and bones like all of us makes her even more magical and fascinating. I always wanted to know more about her, other than the marriages, the love affair, and the discovery. 

There are a few books out there about her life and I am yet to buy one. I do put a lot of energy into  researching  biographies before buying  them, reading as many reviews as I can before I feel sure it is the right choice. It makes the whole process longer, but I learned the hard way that publishers do.....publish anything they think will sell. Are they not aware that it hurts us, the public for such books, to find inaccuracies, mistakes and stupid lies written about people we admire? Don´t get me wrong: I am not talking about sanitized books, hagiographies of all kinds or even the worst of all, family-members-telling-it-all. Those do them- and us-  no justice.

Anyway, Ava was such a remarkable person that a book came out about the making of a biography of her. The reviews are very positive, so I already made up my mind about it. Soon I will find out more about the woman so special to me. In the meantime, I share what I already know-or think-about her.

The so called "Studios System" or "Star Machine" for Jeanine Basinger gave us the movie stars. And they were right in feeling at the time that  they created them and they could destroy them. In another words: the stars were creatures. They had their hair changed, teeth caped, accents erased. Their previous life story was rewritten, as if the ones they had before were a draft. Most of the times, their name was changed.

But not with Ava.

She had not only the perfect face and body , but also the most unusual, yet simple,  name. Ava Lavinia Gardner. No, she was not  called "Lucy Johnson" as some researchers suggested. The only thing MGM had to get rid of was her North Carolina accent. Oh, and to teach her how to act. She was a teenager when she arrived there, chaperoned by a sister.

Years passed: two marriages ( Mickey Rooney and Artie Shaw) and not a single good movie . Was she aware of that? Did she care at that point? It does not matter now,  almost 70 years later, because in 1946 she finally broke through with " The Killers". It is not what she does, as she does not do much. But we believe a guy like Burt Lancaster would fall hard for her. That movie proved also important to her as John Huston is listed among the screenwriters and he was very keen on working with Ava, even after her days as a bonafide movie star were over. 

I watched " The Barefoot Comtessa" when I was young, on the day she died. I did not follow the plot in a linear way, as I was 11 years old with a very limited attention span . I remember finding  the Humphrey Bogart character very weird and wanting even more Ava on the screen. I was fascinated by her and did not care about the story, to be honest. That is the essence of a star: your eyes are on no one else.

Oh, the name. It has been a trend in Hollywood now. Reese Witherspoon, Hugh Jackman, Heather Locklear and Jeremy Renner had all named their daughters "Ava". As it often goes, this has inspired many others and "Ava" is listed among the top 10 names for girls in USA. What is the meaning of this name? No idea! It is a Persian name , meaning voice or sound, very common for older women, as an Iranian friend told me. It is also an old German name, used mainly in the Middle Ages,  but honestly, nobody knows for sure its meaning. 

I named my daughter Ava, not following a trend, but paying tribute to a very honest, down to earth and beautiful woman.