Thursday, March 04, 2010

Hotter Than Hot

Speaking as a happily heterosexual woman....could Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not be any hotter? That smoldering look. The husky voice. That sassy personality. There are some women I just "get". I get her.

On the other hand, there are some women that are considered sex symbols that I honestly do not get. I mean even if I were a man, or a lesbian, there is no way on earth I would find Angelina Jolie sexy. I just don't get her. To me she's all lips and not much personality. I get Halle Berry. I don't get Natalie Portman. I get the classics (Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly) I don't get the moderns (Liv Tyler or Keira Knigtley). So I suppose it's a good thing I'm straight, otherwise I wouldn't have anyone to lust over.

Or maybe I was just born in the wrong generation. To me the sexiest man ever was Cary Grant.

It seems to me that actors in the Golden Age of Hollywood used to have charm. A certain grace. And, most definitely, intelligence. Today's actors often lack all three. I'm not saying that Angelia Jolie is a dumb woman. For all I know she could be a Rhodes Scholar. But when I look at her I don't see wheels turning behind the eyes. And charm, that most elusive of all qualities, is a dead commodity. Occasionally you will see actors that have real charm, but today what passes for charm seems to be snideness. And it seems anyone even mildly attractive, with a large enough chest, can be a star. Talent is secondary. In the old studio system I believe it was the same, but if you didn't have talent you were stuck as the best friend or the smart-cracking waitress. You weren't given star billing and paid $25 million dollar to look nice in luxurious clothing.

All of the classic actress of Hollywood had acting talent. They may not have started off with it, but they learned and they got better -- or they got canned. You many not like Joan Crawford, but you can't deny she had a way of conveying evil that could be quite chilling. Grace Kelly, everyone's favorite cool blond proved she was not just a pretty face in roles like Dial M For Murder Country Girl and Rear Window. And many would dismiss Audrey Hepburn as just a pretty,charming actress with not much depth. Until they see The Nun's Story where she struggles with her imperfections as she tries to find faith.

These are deep, thoughtful performance were actresses we required to show depth of emotion, not how well that could ass-kick a ninja. (Although personally I think Katharine Hepburn could take on anyone). It's just odd to look at the all those classic actors and wonder if they'd have a career now. I mean who would hire Humphrey Bogart. He's gruft, he's got a scar and a bit of a lisp. Not terribly handsome. No, they'd make Sam Spade into Matthew McConaughey, with perfect teeth and clear blue eyes. And run The Maltese Falcon.

They had faces then. Actors. Even the extras. The glorious Thelma Diamond, the delicious Eric Blore, each had a distinctive personality so a movie was packed with real people. A real waitress who would give you a bad time for ordering tea instead of of coffee, or a cop who you can charm out of writing that parking ticket. Small interactions with minor characters that gave those sorts of films that charm. A charm that is, sadly, lacking in contemporary cinema.

Now it seems if you see an extra it is only as a prelude to them having their lungs removed by a snow plow.

No, I don't want body part and blood. I want Hichcockian suspense.. A good plot, A strong hero meets a strong heroine and together they save the world from birds, anarchy, and yet another verse of che sera sera. Put that on, I'll watch it all night long. But give six idiots small amounts of clothing, lock them up in a soon-to-be-abandoned movie studio where various murderious attacks have taken place and let the hijinks begin. Woo whoo....can't msis entertainment with that one can you?

No thanks, I'll still wit Cary Grant and James Stewart, Katharine Hepburn and Barbara Stanwick, Gene Kelly, Fred & Ginger, for me, I like my movie stars with glamour, with grace and brains, and a filter systems that lets than turn away crap So I see fewer ,movies that my contemporaries see, but I will happily see all of mine multiple times. Casablanca for instance I could probaby watch ever day until I die and still see something I hadn't noticed before. I would derve more pleasure from my 53rd viewing of Singing in the Rain than I would from my first viewing of anything by Quinten Tarintino.

Unless his film stars Gary Grant.


Duke said...

I think you might be keying on a couple of things about vintage movies that aren't reflected in current films. One is story. Actors just read the lines provided to them. If they appear witty or charming it's mostly because they have a character that's witty and charming. The old studio system had staff script writers who were paid a salary to write all day, every day. They were professional and often wrote 30 or 40 scripts a year. You get pretty damn good if you write constantly like that. Those writers were miles above the people who write scripts now because today movies use teams of writers plus everything is rewritten many times. It's not unusual for 15 people to have a hand in a script.

Classic movies were all about story, characters, and plot. People today aren't interested in those things. They prefer movies with no plot at all. Because they have little or no attention span, movies must be filled with constant movement, action, and noise to hold the audience. Any movie that isn't like that will lose money at the box office.

Another aspect the old studio system had was volume. Because they owned the theaters which showed the movies, they had to keep making them to fill the screen. Theaters had the A movie that played at night plus the B movies for weekends. Add in serials, cartoons, and newsreels, and they needed 7 or 8 hours of new film each week. Movies only played a week back then as opposed to today where they often play 2 months.

If you make that many movies you get damn good at doing it. A movie today might take 3 or 4 years to complete but back then they were finished in 2 weeks which gave everyone more experience than they get today.

So actors and directors worked constantly, got enough practice to be good, had excellent professional writers, and had teams of editors, soundmen, and so on behind them. All this resulted in some of the greatest films ever made. But none of this would mean anything without an audience that appreciated a quality story. People simply demanded it then but do not want it today.

There is also one other aspect to classic film we must keep in mind. Most of the movies were shot on nitrite film stock. By the 1960's it had started to crumble away. Most of the movies were lost. Only the very best, like Casablanca were grabbed up to restore because it was a great film. You see my point? We watch Turner Classic now and think all the movies back then were great because thats all we see. They made plenty of bad ones too but they weren't picked out to restore. We are left with the cream of the crop.

Many movies were also lost due to studio fires. Also, some studios simply threw them away when they ran out of storage room. It is estimated only 10% of all movies made are still around and for the most part those are the best 10%.

If we threw away over 90% of the movies made today and only kept the best; future generations would have a different idea of our films too. They'd say they were a lot better than they really were.

Do you think these are the aspects of classic film you're picking up on? They were made under a studio system which gave the industry much more experience which in turn made them better actors, writers, and directors. Audiences demanded quality, intelligent stories. Combine those together and you get a golden age of film. Add in the fact all the lousy ones were destroyed and you're left with a series of outstanding movies that will always remain the best in the world.

Decca said...

Duke, I think you're right. The studio system had a lot to recommend it, however unfair it might have been to the participants. But I also think that that back then actors were required to have talent. So many of the greats from back then got their start on stage, and nobody made it very far if they couldn't act.

Today it seems like having a beautiful face and a hard body is the only requirement for stardom. It used to be Broadway or the West End was the training ground. Now it's WWE or hip hop music.

The scripts were definitely better than too and film had "more" of whatever they were trying to deliver. More romance. More laughs. More suspense or action. It seems like modern movies feel they deliver if there is enough gore or a convoluted enough plot that people think it's deep.

Sure, old movies had there share of convoluted. No matter how many times I see The Big Sleep I will never understand it. But I often walk out of a new movie with my mind filled with nothing but plot holes.

You are absolutely right and have obviously given this more thought than I. (As you can tell from the typos I wrote this while half asleep....I really need to proofread.) Thank you for your insightful reply.

Duke said...

Decca, I really don't have a clue about your movie watching so take this comment with the good intent I mean it to be.

Do you think you're getting to see the better new movies and not just hollywood tripe? Think about music. If you based an opinion on the state of music brom what you heard on the AM radio it would be pretty poor. There is good music but you have to look for it elsewhere.

So without knowing the movies you've watched maybe you aren't getting to see the good new ones. I find a handful each year that are very good, even compared to classic hollywood, but most don't play at local cineplex.

You might find a movie hound that watches a lot of movies, is about your age, and shares your taste to get a few recommendations on some of the more obscure films you may have missed.

Just a suggestion. It might help you find a few newer movies you like. I'm not saying new movies are better than the classics or your opinions on the golden age is wrong. Quiet the opposite. I feel the same as you. But there are still good movies being made that are enjoyable too and you might like watching them if they've been under the radar for you.

Decca said...

Duke, I freely admit I don't see as many movies as I could (or should). The SF Bay area is a feast of indie movie houses and major cineplexes that I do not frequents as often as I should.

I do watch films on HBO and the Sundance Channel, but I don't often to out to movies. For one thing they are awfully expensive. For another I have a bad back and sitting in a movie seat for two hours can often be painful.

But you are right to call me out on my movie viewing. Perhaps I condemn without fair hearing. But hey, it's all about me, isn't it?

In some way I find I don't like most recent movies because, to be totally childish, they just aren't fun. Either they are moronic comedies that aren't in the least funny or else they are serious dramas that are so serious you walk out feeling depressed.

I'm of the old school where I like being entertained. Maybe I'm lazy, but I don't want a film to be "challenging," I want it to take me away from my own life for a few hours. I guess I saw too many old movies as a child, I identify with the feel-good films of the depression where the whole point was to make you forget that you were broke and hungry.

I can appreciate from a purely academic standpoint the directing talents of, for example, James Cameron. But I don't necessarily enjoy myself.

I realize that serious, thought-provoking films are important and fully applaud those who make them. But I don't necessarily want to watch one.

The brilliant British comedian Eddie Izzard does a riff about movies you can eat popcorn to. That's what I like, a popcorn film. And as someone who started off college as an acting major, I insist upon good acting. Being pretty and reciting your lines correctly is not enough. Meryl Streep, for instance, can act (I loved "Julie and Julia") but someone like Nicole Kidman, who many people love, leaves me cold.

I know, I'm unreasonable. But, as I said, it's all about me.

Duke said...

Aww, Decca, I wasn't calling you out. I agree with you about movies and the value of classic hollywood. They are my favorite too.

There's nothing wrong with wanting a movie to be escapist entertainment either. You should watch what you like, and only what you like. Movies shouldn't be medicine, social education, preaching, or anything else except entertainment.