Category Archives: Hollywood

Cheating, but how could I resist…

The number one film was on this afternoon and I cheated and watched it.  How can you not watch ‘Vertigo’ when it’s on on a rainy Sunday afternoon?  The cats were also enjoying it…

I then was playing with my HarryCAM and found a suitably ‘Vertigo’ inspired piece of set:


My annual Hollywood treat is here!

I am really not one of these people who collect magazines or even regularly read them, but I have got every one of the Hollywood issues of Vanity Fair. I got the twentieth today and I’m just pleased it’s half-term!


New beginnings… but I’ve not forgotten

It's been a Richard heavy summer...

It’s been a Richard heavy summer…

I am writing this from my new office! I have never had my own desk as a teacher before, so it is very exciting. I’m not sure this is what they wanted me to be doing on my second day, but as everyone else has gone home and I have been here for over nine hours, I’m not going to worry about it.

I am now… (drumroll) … the head of English at John Cleveland College, a massive GCSE and A Level college. This is lovely and I was definitely ready to move on from my last school, but it means that I am no longer in charge of media and film and can’t persuade myself that watching all and any film is professional development. It’s all about boring old books now…

To prepare for this new challenge (and I’m pretty sure it is going to be a crazy challenge) I have had a pretty restful summer. My main reading has been Richard Burton books – both a biography and his diaries. This was all sparked by watching three programmes on the BBC about five weeks ago; the new dramatisation of the Burton/Taylor production of ‘Private Lives’ with Helena Bonham-Carter and Dominic West, a programme about Burton’s diaries and a two hour documentary about the making of ‘Cleopatra’. All of the programmes were great and I also really loved the books. I still don’t think I know anymore about his acting, or understand it, or especially like him, but it was amazing to learn about the crazy fame he had.

Anyway, this resting, holidaying and Burton reading has meant that I haven’t done any top 100 films this summer, but I am still hoping to work on them and have about five sitting by my telly to get on with. It just depends on the crazy workload that I encounter…

6. Joint 93rd – ‘Intolerance’

1916, D. W. Griffiths, starring up to 3,000 extras, but also Lillian Gish and Constance Talmadge (who I still have a thing against because she was the sister of Buster Keaton’s mean wife Natalie).  I watched this online and at school waiting for my French class.  I have to admit that I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to the three hour run time, but realise that it is a crucial film to help me understand the progression of film.  This is the only D W Griffith on the BFI list, I presume the distasteful nature of The Birth of a Nation made sure it wouldn’t make it.


This film constantly refers to itself as a ‘play’.  I’m not sure if that is because it considered itself a photoplay or that it added some more gravitas.  The idea of a play is continued in the stagey (if lush) sets and the mostly long-shot static camera (although excited to read the book I have just got on the cinematographer Billy Bitzer)  However, there are some great forward tracking shots (to create the zoom effect that wasn’t around until 1932 for film cameras) and close-ups.  I really like the painterly, soft-focus way that faces, especially the female faces have been filmed. I can see an enormous influence for F W Murnau in them. It feels like an ancient religious icon and you can see why people have classed this as a great piece of universal art, along with Beethoven’s 5th.  It does have a timeless quality to it, despite not being well-received initially.

The narrative involves four different plots, that of ancient Babylon, Jerusalem in the time of Jesus, Renaissance France and modern America.  I’m not sure that I would have spent my energy on all four as the modern day story is by far the most engaging because of the human interest.  The Babylonian one has some amazing sets and I love the slaves opening the enormous gates and some of the fight sequences, but the French and Jerusalem settings do seem to  be filling in time (oh so much time!) without adding much to the response.  I definitely think I would agree with David Thomson’s analysis:

‘The cross-cutting, self-interrupting format is wearisome…. The sheer pretension is a roadblock, and one longs for the “Modern Story” to hold the screen…. [That story] is still very exciting in terms of its cross-cutting in the attempt to save the boy from the gallows. This episode is what Griffith did best: brilliant, modern suspense, geared up to rapidity — whenever Griffith let himself slow down he was yielding to bathos…. Anyone concerned with film history has to see Intolerance, and pass on’.

Other key things I liked or noticed:
  • Griffiths creates easy pathos – ‘the little dear one’ and ‘brown eyes’ as names for some of the female characters.  It also means it is universal, but also makes sure the spectator is aware of the response they should be having.
  • Recurring theme of the cradle rocking to indicate universality.
  • Impressive editing – love the irising, the complex cross-cutting and cross dissolves
  • A lot of intertitles – have recently re-watched ‘Sunrise’ and am so impressed in the ability to not use them. Amazing matte paintings
  • The dear one reminded me of Emily Watson
  • Typical view of Jesus, liked the use of lighting on him
  • In the harem dancing sequences, I liked the more realistic female bodies
  • It is weird to think that this was going on at the same time as WW1
  • Gets really exciting towards the end when they are trying to stop The Boy’s execution. Loved the camera following the speeding train.

Creative ideas:

A list of my intolerances (probably not as serious or universal, but I have many…)

A picture in soft focus.

A moving image that focuses on the set.

What a weekend!

I’m not very good on my own.  Never have been.  I finally lived alone at 28 for a year and learnt ways to enjoy it.  Most of them involved making my house obsessively neat and pretty, watching a lot of films, reading compulsively and having a drink or two.

I had the opportunity to re-live that time this weekend as M went away to London to see a gig.  I set myself up with an excellent film marathon on the Saturday afternoon and night, had a stash of film magazines to get through and watched one of my Top 100 films

.  film mags pic

3 dvds picture


I’m not going to gild the truth.  I didn’t get out of my pyjamas, I did employ the duvet, I did drink one too many Singapore Slings and I did review the films with my crocheted Hobbes.  I’m not ashamed, it was a great day.

Anyway – the films!  My Man Godfrey is amazing – I love William Powell and have added The Thin Man to my wishlist.  The two other films weren’t as amazing, but Jack Lemmon is in them so I don’t really care.

Excuses and another two reasons why my Dad is lovely…

I have not had much time to work on my top one hundred films for the last couple of weeks.  As well as having a stupid mini-OFSTED faculty review thing at work, I am also writing a novella this month (Oh, hark at her!).  The creative task certainly wasn’t my idea (come to thing of it, neither was the OFSTED thing), I hate writing, but my friend Stumo talked me in to it and, I have to say, I am enjoying it.  I will post progress on the deadline (7th December) and let you know how I got on.

Anyway, I have still been reading film related books and magazines.  This morning I finished ‘Rin Tin Tin’ by Susan Orlean.  My dad bought me this book about two years ago and I finally got round to reading it.  He kept mentioning it and I started to feel very guilty that it was still sat untouched on my shelf.  My dad is great at giving books as presents.  He doesn’t do it very often, but when he does it means that he has researched it and he knows that you will really like it.  He has given me lovely hardback books on Gabriel Garcia Marquez, rude Shakespeare and the history of underwear. All have been corkers and I should have remembered that and started on this one earlier.  Although I have to say that I wasn’t hugely excited by the topic, although I knew that Orlean was reputed to be a good writer.  Dad had given me another book about Cheetah, the monkey from the Tarzan films and it was funny, but I didn’t think I needed to read another book about film animals for a little while.  How wrong I was.

It really is that good.

This book is fantastic.  It manages to cover one hundred years of  American history in a light and touching way.  The entire entertainment industry is laid bare as we track this dog’s (and its heirs’) journey from battlefield puppy to film icon.  But it does something even more interesting; it talks about the process of celebrity, our quest for permanence and our desire to love and collect.  Very serious topics for a book about a dog!

Anyway, sorry Dad – I have now read it and loved it.  I’ll bring it back with me so you can read it too.

PS – the second reason is that he is actually making me a steadicam, which will be better than all the other steadicams put together because he is aces.

Look what arrived!

I didn’t buy the book last week at the exhibition, because I didn’t want to carry it (such a princess…) and so I’m very happy that this arrived at school today!


Holiday reading.

I had a lovely half-term of film related activity – the V&A exhibition, ‘Imitation of Life’ and creative task and some reading.  I really enjoyed the Judy Holliday biography by Gary Carey.  Dad and I found this on Swanage railway station for 50p.  It’s actually a first edition and so I’m pleased with my purchase.  I have really loved Judy Holliday since seeing ‘Born Yesterday’ a year ago and have now ordered ‘It Should Happen To You’, also starring Jack Lemmon (another favourite).

And look at the jigsaw we did!

An emotional day.

My mum texted me on the 13th October to ask if I would like to go to the V&A ‘Hollywood Costume’ exhibition during my half-term week.  Of course I would.  I had heard it was coming and couldn’t wait to see it.  I used to want to be a costume designer (which explains my A Level choices – textiles, history and English – no film studies in those days) and the power and importance of costume in film, as well as the amazing glamour, has alway fascinated me.

We arranged to go on the 23rd as I was going to be down in London for an Amanda Palmer gig anyway (dream day!) and it was the day before my mum started her radiotherapy.  We decided that it would be good to take her mind off it.  We met outside the doors at midday, had a lovely French lunch, a quick trip to Skandium (even more of a dream day) and then went in to the exhibition at just before 3.

Waiting to go in…

I don’t think I had prepared myself properly for what I was going to see.  One of the first costumes was Vivien Leigh’s green curtain dress from ‘Gone With The Wind’ and it made me cry.  I think it was the combination of my mum being poorly (and my sister Joey),  and the fact that I was so happy to be there with her, she had introduced me to the film when I was twelve.  I watched it twice in a row the first time I saw it (that’s seven and a half hours) and then every day for the entire holiday.  I watched it while writing a list of every costume change that Vivien Leigh made (I’m sure I have the list somewhere…), I have the poster over my fireplace in my current flat, a jigsaw, books on the film and its stars…  I haven’t watched it for years now, but it is part of my childhood and so to be faced with a physical representation of that was too much for me.  I felt like an hysterical Catholic faced with the relic of a saint.  But it felt lovely and comforting and surreal.

Yes – that one!

The whole exhibition is amazing, I recommend everyone to go and see it.

2. Joint 93rd – ‘Imitation Of Life’

Very comfy for a lush melodrama on a cold October night

I was very pleased to have ‘Imitation of Life’ as my second film of the top 100 to watch.  I had watched a couple of Douglas Sirk films (‘All That Heaven Allows’ and another one…) and enjoyed the decadent, hyperbole of the melodrama.  Unfortunately, as soon as I pressed play, I realised that the other Sirk film I had seen was this one!  Of course I would have watched it anyway (I’ve probably watched 50% of the top 100 before) and I am now looking at it for different reasons, but I couldn’t believe I had forgotten a film I saw in the last year.  My brain is clearly packing up.  Anyway, Kate and I settled in with some lovely food (always on offer at her house) and some pink fizz to suit the 50s tone.

I was very impressed with the way the film dealt with some major issues (harassment, sexism, racism, the role of women and the struggle of everyday working-class American life) in a straight-forward and adult way.  Occasionally it was a little heavy-handed, but the strong female characters were engaging and it was interesting that Lora and Annie were almost allowed to be more complex because they are widows, they are removed from the girlish romantic storylines of conventional Hollywood.

I started to investigate Sirk, who is an engaging Hollywood character.  He was born in Germany to Danish parents and was always an outsider in Hollywood.  He had to leave Germany in the 1930s as his second wife was Jewish.  With this outsider view he was able to see the excesses and hypocrisies within his adopted culture and create some ‘paradigmatic dissections of conformist 1950s American society.’  On his retirement after this film in 1959, he was considered a second or third rate director, although very popular at the box office. ‘Cahiers du Cinema’ and Godard revered him as an auteur and created his current reputation.  I am always really interested when critics re-evaluate artists and re-write film history.  Throughout his career, he focussed on cultural mores, constraint and repression.  This repression is obvious in the mise-en-scene in ‘Imitation of Life’ with the use of ceilings, low angles and placement of things in front of the camera (banisters, fences etc.).  There are a lot of fragmenting lines.  The female characters are also always physically corseted and constrained by their clothing.  The reflection of society is potentially represented in the multiple scenes where characters are seen as reflections in mirrors or shop windows.

I thought some of the acting was great – particularly from Juanita Moore and Susan Kohner.  Mahalia Jackson is amazing when she sings ‘Troubles of this World’ at the funeral.  A YouTube clip that I sent my dad (a big Mahalia fan) last time I watched the film!

Only at the end can Lora (Lana Turner) be the proper mother of Susie and Sarah-Jane – she had drafted out those duties to Annie, Juanita Moore’s character.  Is this a comment on women’s possibility to have a career and be a mother?

Ideas for creativity:

  • Colours – bright reds/dove grey
  • Lush Technicolor photography
  • Very forced/artificial/consciously fake – the painted backdrops
  • Spotlight lighting
  • Long depth of field
  • Vaseline on the lens/soft focus (especially on Lana Turner)
  • Static cinematography to focus on the lush sets.
  • A painterly quality – Sirk was influenced by Delacroix and Daumier.

Details of the film:  USA, 1959, Universal. Directed by Douglas Sirk and starring Lana Turner, John Gavin, Sandra Dee, Susan Kohner and Juanita Moore

Details of viewing: 22nd October, with Kate at her house in Stanwick on DVD.