The Many Faces of Scarlett O’Hara

goneopenerOn Sunday, September 28, and Wednesday, October 1, a remastered version of Gone With the Wind will be exhibited in select theaters across the country in a special screening presented by Fathom Events, Turner Classic Movies, and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. There are two showings each day, 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm. The occasion honors the 75th anniversary of Hollywood’s most famous movie—an icon of the Dream Factory, a monument to the production values of the studio system. Check here to see if GWTW is playing near you.

Much has been made of the behind-the-scenes struggles that defined GWTW’s production, which were revealed in the 1988 documentary Making of a Legend: Gone With the Wind. Subsequent books have expounded on the problems surrounding the beleaguered production, detailing everything from the headaches over the multiple versions of the script to the mammoth search for an actress to play Scarlett. I sometimes think that the lore surrounding the film has overshadowed the magnificence of Scarlett O’Hara. Or, perhaps aspects of Scarlett are just not politically correct by today’s standards, so it is easier to focus on the behind-the-scenes casting than the on-screen character. As a screen heroine, Scarlett has been admired, applauded, condemned, ridiculed, and reclaimed for new generations of viewers. The word “icon” is tossed around too often as a synonym for fame or legend, but Scarlett truly is an icon of pop culture—a symbol who has evolved and developed over time to represent something more than just a character in a book and movie.

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TO SOME, SCARLETT REPRESENTS THE PLANTATION SOUTH AND ITS SYSTEMIC RACIAL SUPERIORITY.

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Gordon Parks: Filmmaker, Photographer & Renaissance Man

gparks00“Something mighty there is inside a man that takes him from being the youngest of 15 children raised in Kansas poverty, something that lets him clear the cruel hurdles implanted by a racist society, something that permits not merely survival but mastery of all that he embraced. A poet, and a pianist, a classical music composer, and one very at home with the blues, which permitted him to make the fine biopic called LEADBELLY (1976), a nice partner to his ceaselessly hip SHAFT (1971), and a journalist, a novelist and a man with enough life that even three autobiographies cannot contain the whole, a painter of oils and water colors, and a photographer of street gangs and Paris boulevards, of fashion extravaganzas and mean Rio streets, and, most of all, a man who will not yield to intimidation . . . It is not simply that he was the first black man to do all these things, but that any man was able to do all these things and do them well.” – John Loengard on Gordon Parks from The Great LIFE Photographers (2004)

Tonight TCM is offering up a very special selection of films directed by Gordon Parks and his son, Gordon Parks Jr. for your viewing pleasure. The films include THE LEARNING TREE (1969), THOMASINE AND BUSHROD (1974), AARON LOVES ANGELA (1975) and SHAFT (1971) along with a making of documentary, SOUL IN CINEMA: FILMING SHAFT ON LOCATION (1971). As LIFE magazine photo editor John Loengard makes clear in his brief biological sketch of Parks that I shared above, Parks Sr. is undoubtedly one of the most interesting and multitalented men who ever sat behind a camera and directed a film. He lived a fascinating life and dabbled in many arts but today he’s probably best remembered for the Oscar wining action-packed crime drama SHAFT. This Blaxploitation classic is one of my favorite films from the 70s and besides its entertainment value, SHAFT is a wonderful showcase for many of the themes, ideas and passions that motivated Parks throughout his career as an award-winning photographer for organizations such as FSA (Farm Security Organization), the OWI (Office of War Information), the Standard Oil Photography Project as well as publications such as Vogue magazine, Essence magazine and LIFE.

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I’m not finished with you, MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD… not by a long shot!

monsterchallengedI’ve been grooving to the soundtrack to Arnold Laven’s THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD (1957) for about 24 hours now (there was some sleep jumbled up in there, but not a whole lot), which was released by Monstrous Movie Music back in 2011. (It should come as no surprise at this juncture that it takes me a while to get to around to new things.) Heinz Roemheld’s full-bodied cues (orchestrated by Herschel Burke Gilbert) for this mollusk-on-the-loose classic are reliably immortal, full of blood and thunder (and slime), and making pioneering use of backmasking ten years before The Beatles got all the girls for doing the same thing. There’s lots of choice misterioso in the mix and moody string work, some of which might remind the older Monsterkids among us of Roemheld’s score for THE MOLE PEOPLE (1956). Anyway, Monstrous Movie Music has done an incredible job of assembling all of Romheld’s cues and providing context for each of them, deconstructing the composition and execution to give the curious a fuller appreciation of the work that went into this project, which I first saw as an impressionable lad of, oh, 10 or 11 or 12, when it was shown at my local drive-in on a triple bill with THE VAMPIRE (1957) and THE RETURN OF DRACULA (1957)– all projected in green, so that they could be sold to us rubes as color movies. I love the track titles that disc producers David Schecter and Kathleen Mayne have provided for our enjoyment, such as “Death by Fright,” and “Mollusk Mood Music” and “Slime.” But one track in particular caught my eye: “Scarf Found.” And it got me to thinking. (Cue flashback music.) [...MORE]

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August 16, 2014
David Kalat
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Robin Williams, My Popeye

I had planned to run something else here this week, but in light of this week’s tragic news regarding Robin Williams, I’ve shoved that essay to a later week and opted to re-run an oldie but a goodie, my fifth ever Movie Morlocks post from four years ago about one of my very favorite movies, which happens to star Robin Williams  (apparently when I re-posted it, the original comments reposted with it!).

The actual piece itself makes a passing mildly unkind remark about Williams, within the context of praising one of his most notorious flops.  I thought about rewriting that section but decided against it because it felt dishonest.  And as schmaltzy as Williams ever was, he was never dishonest.

There is a curious distinction to be drawn between “pop culture” and “popular culture.”  It’s a divide that’s been opening up in American entertainment ever since the days of Elvis–arguably ever since jazz–but the 21st century’s media fragmentation and Internet communities have only hastened the pace.  To put it simply, “pop culture” loves Community; “popular culture” loves NCIS.  And there was a time when Robin Williams was an anarchic rebel force from pop culture, and a time when he opted to make career choices driven by popular culture.  The hipsters of pop culture never forgave that defection; the vast majority of America never saw it as a defection in the first place.

Below the fold: the story of an oddity that belongs to neither pop culture nor popular culture, despite being a splashy musical comedy from some of America’s most accomplished satirists and starring its then-up-and-coming beloved comedian superstar, adapted from one of the most ubiquitous and enduring characters of 20th century pop/popular art.

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KEYWORDS: bill irwin, comic book films, harry nilsson, jules feiffer, Musicals, Popeye, Robert Altman, Robin Williams, Shelley Duvall
COMMENTS: 66
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Carole Lombard’s Lasting Impact … on Napa!

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Carole Lombard will be headlining TCM’s Summer Under the Stars line-up on Sunday, August 11th.

While pursuing my personal interest in local history here in Napa I was pleasantly surprised to discover how one of my favorite funny ladies, the brassy blonde bombshell Carole Lombard, had made a lasting impression on the area when she visited California’s Wine Country in 1939 to star in Garson Kanin’s THEY KNEW WHAT THEY WANTED (1940). This notable RKO production was based on a Pulitzer Prize winning play written by Sidney Howard that chronicled a complicated love triangle between an ambitious San Francisco waitress (Carole Lombard), a simple-minded Italian grape farmer (Charles Laughton) and his affable ranch hand (William Gargan). Much of the film was shot on location in the Napa Valley and during that time Lombard, along with her costars and husband Clark Gable, toured wineries, mingled with locals and befriended some well-heeled residents who still fondly recall family stories about encountering the lovely Lombard.

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A Century of Scares: Happy Birthday Bava!

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This week marks the 100th birthday of Mario Bava who was born on July 30th (according to leading Bava researcher Tim Lucas and author of the essential Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark) or 31st (if you want to believe IMDB.com and Wikipedia). The brilliant Italian director, cinematographer, special effects artist and screenwriter died in 1980 but today he’s fondly remembered by horror film enthusiasts as the Maestro of the Macabre. Bava has long been one of my favorite filmmakers so I couldn’t let this important anniversary pass without acknowledging his artistry.

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BERGMAN IN JULY*

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(* … or not. As an alert reader just pointed out, Bergman has been replaced with a tribute to James Garner. Still… I’ll leave this post for future reference, as I’m sure TCM will eventually bring some of these films back.)

I recently screened a 16mm print of Ingmar Bergman’s (1918 – 2007) The Magician (1958). His birthday was on Bastille Day (July 14th) and his day of death was July 30th. It is fitting that both his life and death should fall on the same month. The Swedish director is famous for artful portrayals of existential extremes that tackle the agonies of passion and life against a backdrop of inevitable mortality in ways that put them back-to-back. His most famously iconic scene from The Seventh Seal (1957) turns the game between life and death into something that is not even back-to-back; it’s face-to-face in a setup that is still referenced even today (ie: in The Colbert Report‘s “Cheating Death” segments). Which brings us back to the end of July… usually thought of as a summer moment made for back-pack adventures, trips to the water-park, and leisurely moments spent lounging around in air-conditioned spaces. But perhaps TCM programmers were hip to the idea that July is also Bergman’s month, because this Monday night they are showing six of his films back-to-back. Here are some crib notes for those ready to take the plunge.  [...MORE]

The Power of a Well-Placed Exclamation Point, Part 2

postersbobI had so much fun selecting tag lines from Golden Age movie posters for last Thursday’s post that I thought I would revisit the topic in Part 2. A bit of light summer reading!

As with Joan Crawford and Bette Davis from last week’s post, I ran across other movie stars who inspired tag lines based on their star images. Bob Hope was renowned for his exquisite timing in which he delivered one-liners and asides with a precise, rapid-fire delivery. His comic persona was a unique combination of boasting and belittling, self-promoting and self-deprecating.  In the poster for My Favorite Blonde (1942), Madeleine Carroll has Hope in a compromising position. She says, “Did you like the kiss Bob?” As I read Hope’s one-liner response, I could almost hear his voice speak the line, “I’ll tell you as soon as the water on my knee stops boiling!”

Other Hope-inspired tag lines gently deride the comic, much like he did to himself. For example after the title “Where There’s Life (1947),” the tag line continues with “There’s Hope In the King-Size Comedy of a Cut-Rate Clown Prince!” A “disclaimer” at the bottom of the poster assures viewers: “If you laugh yourself sick at this picture . . . sue Bob Hope!” Another poster references classic westerns to belittle Bob’s misadventures in the Old West: “Covered Wagon . . . Stagecoach . . . Red River . . . AND NOW  Bob Hope [and] Rhonda Fleming in Alias Jesse James.”

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The Power of a Well-Placed Exclamation Point, or Would You See a Movie Based on This Tag Line?

postertrader* Morlock Kimberly Lindbergs is still unavailable to post her usual tantalizing and entertaining articles, so I am filling in for her once more.

For several months, I have been researching posters for classic movies for a personal project. I enjoyed the experience more than anticipated because I have learned a great deal. Classic-film posters were rendered like illustrations, making them more artistic and colorful than contemporary posters dependent on photographic elements. Another entertaining ingredient is the tag line—that one-line description used to suggest something about the movie that will lure viewers into the theaters. Written by studio press agents, producers, or unsung employees in the publicity office, the tag lines are frequently melodramatic, sometimes funny, and occasionally vexing. I thought I would share a few that I found interesting. Be prepared for excessive exclamation points!

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THE VERTIGO OF TIME

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Unlike Chris Marker (1921 – 2012), I am not an editor, poet, videographer, novelist, digital multimedia artist, or filmmaker. Even on a strictly personal level we are worlds apart, him having been a Salinger-like enigma who famously avoided interviews and photographs, me being a “nothing close to Salinger-like on any level” kind of guy who just last week photo-bombed his own shot of John Waters in a manner that would make even the paparazzi cringe. And yet, despite our many differences, there is something about Chris Marker that always elicits in me a feeling of deep kinship – and not just because we both love cats. The answer, I think, lies in one word: Vertigo. [...MORE]

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