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Thursday, June 27, 2013

MENTAL MONTAGE: The More the Merrier?

Margaret Dumont may have been Groucho's most popular leading lady,
but one damsel was never enough for this comedic scallawag-- here in
A Day at the Circus.

One of the funniest moments in the Marx Brothers' classic Animal Crackers is the following exchange:

Groucho/Capt. Spaulding: [to Mrs. Rittenhouse and Mrs. Whitehead] Let's get married.
Mrs. Whitehead: All of us?
Capt. Spaulding: All of us.
Mrs. Whitehead: Why, that's bigamy!
Capt. Spaulding: Yes, and it's big o' me too.

A surprising number of Hollywood greats must have agreed. If nothing else, celebrities are consistent in their irreverence for the the norm. Their knack for breaking "the rules," which they mistakenly don't believe apply to them, result in many a mugshot, courtroom cameo, or front page article in such publications as the groundbreaking Life & Style or In Touch-- both of which should probably consider changing their titles. One of the favorite nit-picking recreations in which modern society partakes with regard to their falling idols is "the Marriage Game." We roll our eyes at their numerous nuptials (Hello, Liz Taylor) or their shameful divorces (were you on Team Jennifer or Team Angelina?) and consequently declare them unsuited for the supreme honor of wedded bliss. Clearly, these silly stars don't understand the sanctity of marriage nor appreciate it. Or do they appreciate it too much??? Marriage: an event so nice, some do it twice... And occasionally without getting the necessary divorce.

Show-business becomes our business due to its overabundant coverage. We idolize our movie stars and musicians for living abnormal lives of excess and glamour, but we just as easily transition to a mob of teeth-gnashing, rabid dogs when they overindulge in these same things. Ingrid Bergman (left) learned this the hard way when she fell desperately in love with Robert Rossellini at the cost of her first marriage to Petter Lindstrom. As Petter promoted himself as the wronged and totally faultless party in the scandal, public opinion turned against Ingrid with insane rapidity. The former angelic presence of the silver screen was labeled a "whore." The mother of all that was good was suddenly deemed unfit for maternity. Naturally, Ingrid's previously proclaimed superb talent became "overrated" overnight. (People do have an uncanny knack for rewriting history, don't they)? 

Ingrid obtained her divorce from Petter, refusing to contest any of his demands. She considered his attacks deserved retribution for her shameful actions. She wed her Italian beloved and made a new life and a new career in his country. She eventually recovered, but Ingrid was only truly forgiven by her American fans until after she started detaching herself from the erratic and possessive Roberto. It was considered an admission of her own defeat when Ingrid stepped outside his directorial control and performed in the superb Anastasia. After Ingrid decided to divorce Roberto, the US felt as if she had come to her senses and thus welcomed both her and her talent back with open arms. However, this second divorce was a little sticker than the first...

Roberto turned out to be just as vindictive as Petter during the separation, yet at no time did he come close to exhibiting any dignity. He bitterly told Ingrid that Italy did not "recognize" divorce (at the time), and if she ever wed another, she would be labeled a bigamist! In addition, he threatened to take their three children ("Robin," Isabella, and Isotta) away from her. His bitterness cleverly chose to ignore his own philandering during their marriage, of course. Again, Ingrid was appeasing and complacent to most of his demands, but she remained determined to obtain her separation from Roberto. With the help of her crafty lawyer Ercole Graziadei, she was able to obtain an annulment!!! The loophole used was thus: Ingrid had not registered her "proxy" divorce from Petter in Sweden before her Italian marriage to Roberto took place. Therefore, in the eyes of Roman law, she was still technically married to her first husband. Her strategically fashioned Swedish bigamy won her the annulment from Roberto; it was as though the second marriage had never existed. Fortunately, this tactic did not harm her children. At that time in Italy, when a father recognized his "bastard" children, they were considered legitimate. All was well, and Ingrid saw to it that her ties to all past men were totally severed, legally speaking.

Naturally, the public was secretly a little pleased by her estrangement from the man she had left her first husband for. The scale of crime and punishment was balanced once again. After Ingrid's third and final divorce from Lars Schmidt, she decided to avoid the menacing "aisle" at all costs. She openly admitted that her flighty ways, when mixed with her great romanticism, did not instigate the best choices. In reality, she was too much of a free spirit to put down roots anywhere or with anyone. Her great lover always remained her work.

Of course, Ingrid wasn't the only "naughty Marietta" in Tinsel Town. Another diva, who in her time was also considered the greatest of film beauties, had her own share of scrapes with love. Reatha Deane Watson (left) lived one Hell of a bittersweet, short life. At the age of sixteen, she had already run away from home and married one Jack Lytelle. Almost as suddenly, she reappered on her sister's front porch, claiming that her husband had died. (The facts on this remain a bit fuzzy). A wild gypsy at heart, Reatha would soon make her way to Los Angeles in the hopes of becoming a "somebody." She gained some ground when landing a gig in a burlesque. Unfortunately, she was arrested for being underage, hence her infamous appearance in court before the eyes of none other than writer Adela Rogers St. Johns. Labeled "too beautiful" to be in the company of such dirty men and scalawags, Reatha was set free and became an overnight press sensation. 

Yet, within months, she had wed "Max Lawrence," who turned out to truly be the already married father of three Lawrence F. Converse. In addition to participating in Converse's bigamy charge and arrest, there remains the question of Reatha's first marriage. Was her first hubby Jack truly dead, or had Reatha in this instance committed a double bigamy of sorts??? To further sensationalize the scandal, it was widely reported that Converse had knocked himself unconscious in his cell, allegedly for being dramatically distraught over the loss his beautiful, illegitimate bride. When he came to, Converse feigned ignorance of the whole affair, but Reatha could not outrun the scandal, which ruined her reputation in L.A. and drove her to San Francisco. There she performed in a cabaret show and temporarily wed Philip Ainsworth, but he soon left her for what he claimed were her extra-marital dalliances.

Starting fresh yet again, Reatha changed her stage name to Barbara La Mar and married Ben Deeley, though she was not yet quite divorced from Ainsworth. That brings her bigamy tally up to three, by the way. Eventually, the world-worn but still lovely Barbara La Mar became Barbara La Marr and fell in with a new lover-- John Gilbert, (prior to his marriage to Leatrice Joy). She did some extra work and fell under the protection of "Father Confessor" Paul Bern-- who would incidentally have his own bigamy issue of sorts concerning his common law wife Dorothy Millette when he later wed Jean Harlow-- and was handpicked by "Mr. Pep" Douglas Fairbanks to star opposite him in 1921's The Three Musketeers. Every man in existence seemed to fall under Barbara's spell, from homosexual BFF and sometimes "playmate" William Haines to the fawning Louis B. Mayer, who considered her "the most beautiful woman who had ever lived." Sadly, despite or because of her golden looks, Barbara's rough life never won her happiness nor did her trips to the altar gain her true love. She would pass away at the age of 29 after her hard-living body succumbed to tuberculosis. (Barbara right with Ramon Novarro in Trifling Woman).

Rudolph Valentino remains a controversial figure by nature. Uncovering his sexuality has become more important than studying and understanding his work or his influence on the entertainment industry. This is sad indeed. Neither answer, one would assume, should deter people from considering him an incredible cinematic force and one of the greatest symbols of sexual power to ever hit Hollywood. Ironically, one of the pieces of evidence used to argue whether Rudy belongs in the "homo" or "hetero" box is the bigamy case brought against him in 1922. As ever when it comes to this silent heartthrob, this debate remains heavily contested, frustrating, and unsolvable.

Rudy (right) married Jean Acker-- one of Alla Nazimova's cling-ons-- in 1919, a couple of years after he had made it to Los Angeles from Castellaneta, Italy. Unfortunately for Rudy, Jean turned out to be same-sex oriented. Thus, on their wedding night, rumors spread like wildfire that the ultimate lover Valentino had spent his honeymoon trying to beat down his lesbian wife's door. The argument here is that the marriage was a total set-up in order to hide the rising movie star's closeted homosexuality. Yet, Jean's reaction muddles this theory, as does the fact that Rudy hadn't yet obtained enough popularity to need such public protection as a mock marriage. So, was Rudy extremely surprised that night by his lover's reaction or did Jean had some serious second thoughts about their mutual ruse? Who the Hell knows... After a lot of back and forth in which the couple lived apart-- with Rudy allegedly trying to patch things up-- the duo settled on divorce. Though, Rudy's new girlfriend may have had something to do with it.

Rudy became enamored of Natacha Rambova-- yet another Alla Nazimova friend. (FYI-- Rudy hung around Alla quite a bit, which is used to both bolster and refute the homosexuality claims. Alla herself was bisexual, so you have the "guilt" by association slant, yet his association with her also spread his sex-God status. Allegedly, he once overpowered Alla so much in a sexual romp that she fainted mid-coitus). The same consternation of the Acker incident was repeated in the love affair of Rudy and Natacha, who was a creative and artistic force in his life. Rudy certainly preached old-fashioned ideals to friends in terms of marriage and family, but his attraction always veered toward the socially exotic. He was drawn to strength, divergence, and intellectual elevation in women. Whether this represents further proof toward his sexual preference or is irrelevant character information is still unanswered. Yet, his deep attachment to Natacha compelled him to hastily marry her on May 13, 1922 in Mexicali, Mexico. Natacha had assured him that their union would be legal outside the US, despite the fact that he had not waited the legally stipulated full year following his divorce from Jean. Such was not the case, and soon a warrant was out for his arrest!

Rudy turned himself in when the authorities informed him that the corrupt District Attorney Thomas Woolwine had charged him with bigamy on two counts-- both for his double marriage and his consummation of the second. When the case went to court, Rudy's defense argued that the second marriage was not truly legetimate as it had not been consummated. Natacha claimed that she had been ill on the wedding night and, to allow her to rest, Rudy had slept on the porch. This is often used as argument for the pro-homosexual party, as they claim it proves Rudy was not interested in sex with his wife. However, the true person sleeping on the porch that night-- a man physically seen by a passing Indian (?!?) was Douglas Gerrard, a friend who had served as the best man at the wedding. The perjuries committed by Natacha and friend Paul Ivano, who both supported the "unconsummated" defense, were considered a necessary evil to save Rudy from the slammer. The prosecution tried to refute these claims claims and pushed for proof of the standard Honeymoom Delight. They even produced the eye-witness testimony of a maid who had seen the couple wearing matching, purple pajamas while eating breakfast together the next morning. A couple that feeds together, breeds together.  (Feast or farce, right)?

The judge, who was just as confused as you are right now, became so irritated by the ridiculous  arguments and misplaced evidence that he finally had the bigamy charges dropped. An annulment of Rudy's marriage to Natacha necessarily followed to put things right, but this meant that the lovers were separated for a year until they could be properly married. Again. As Rudy's correspondence with Natacha at this time was typically overdramatic but honestly melancholy, it seems that the duo truly cared for each other, though they eventually proved to be incompatible. Had Rudy not died prematurely in 1926, a divorce would most likely have split them apart. Was part of that incompatibility sexual? I unfortunately would have to devote a separate website to that argument. But I do know that he was a bigamist...

...As was his Beyond the Rocks co-star, Gloria Swanson, but then, Gloria always went 'big' (see left). One of the most decadent stars of the silent era, this petite but powerful beauty commanded attention everywhere she went and wore the role of Hollywood Siren as if she had been born playing it. Of course, despite her violent hunger and ambition, Gloria didn't start her career as a lush and intoxicating force of nature. She allegedly began her cinematic employment at about the age of fifteen doing extra work at Essanay in Chicago. Allegedly, production was so taken with her beauty that she was signed to a contract. Before she knew it, she and her mother were moving out to California. Though she suffered through an emotionally scarring and brief marriage to Wallace Beery, Gloria emerged stronger, more resilient, and more determined. Soon enough, she was Cecil B. DeMille's chosen leading lady and one of the most followed fan-favorites in Hollywood.

With her assertive and somewhat intimidating beauty, Gloria had her share of lovers and slobbering supplicants-- from Joe Kennedy to Marshall Neilan-- and her taste for extravagance exposed itself in her six marriages. After Wallace came Herbert K. Somborn of "The Brown Derby" fame, then the dashing Marquis de la Falaise followed, whom she also divorced only to immediately marry Michael Farmer. It was due to this latter relationship that things got sticky. Gloria's impulsive need to be with Michael, which was driven by her severe case of ILL ('in love with love'), caused her to marry him in August of 1931 only to realize that she would not be free from her marriage to the amiable Marquis Henri until November. Thus, the lady received the temporary "bigamy stamp," which she quickly corrected, resolvedly returning to tie the knot with Farmer at end of the year as a legal eagle.

Despite the triumph, all was not smooth with this union. According the couple's biological daughter Michelle Farmer, Michael was "an Irish playboy" with a tendency toward alcoholism. This definitely soured the romance. In addition, despite her turbulent union with Beery (who had raped her on their wedding night), Gloria still craved a man who could, as Michelle put it, "dominate her... Men came into her life like machos and they left like poodles sitting up for a biscuit." Gloria unsuccessfully tried to find a match who could go toe to toe with her own arresting personality (right) while being his own breadwinner; someone to take care of her, while allowing her independence. Being a major and obscenely rich movie star, she was frequently disappointed by her masculine prospects. Such was the case this go-round, and Gloria and the insecure Michael eventually headed for the divorce courts. At least, she did... Michael threatened to sue her for bigamy (yet again!) if she chose to get a divorce without his consent. I guess he didn't know whom he was messing with. Gloria got the divorce two days prior to what would have been their 3rd wedding anniversary.

Gloria would wait over ten years before she faced the altar again, both because she had learned a valid lesson from her past mistakes and also because her career and her life changed a great deal with the talkie revolution. Her star did not shine as bright as it once had once her mysterious magic was forced to speak, despite her talent and strong voice. While struggling with personal issues, she would eventually come out swinging... and wedding. The next stud in her stable was George William Davey, whom she was tied to for less than a year. Her final marriage to William Duffy was the most successful, lasting a full seven years and being ended by her 1983 death. Who knows? Had she survived longer, she may have dragged her wedding gown out of mothballs a few more times!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

TAKE ONE, TWO, THREE: Joan, the Woman

Ingrid Bergman in "Joan of Lorraine" (1946).

If you research any serious to moderately serious actress in the history of the world, you’ll probably uncover her fascination with, desire to play, or personal portrayal of one character above all others: Joan of Arc. The list of actresses who have had the honor of bringing this martyred figure back to life are numerous: Katharine Cornell, Joan Plowright, and Jean Seberg, etc. Jean Arthur played her with an interesting twist, having her Joan listen and respond to God as naturally as if he were standing beside her, whereas most performers had received him in awe with upward glances. Julie Harris performed opposite Boris Karloff (as Bishop Pierre Cauchon) to great acclaim in The Lark. As for Ingrid Bergman, her fascination with the "Maid of Orleans" began in her youth. Identifying with this chosen woman’s otherworldliness and admiring her courage, Ingrid would become determined to portray her both on the screen and on the stage. Her first portrayal was in 1946's "Joan of Lorraine," a play within a play about one actress's voyage of discovery in the role of Joan. This was later adapted for film without the dual story element. She resumed, or rather, refashioned the role on stage in "Joan of Arc at the Stake" in 1953, directed by her then husband, Roberto Rossellini. Marion Cotillard just did a recorded rendering of this oration as well.

But why all the hoop-la? As history becomes mythology after so many centuries have passed, the Passion for Joan of Arc seems a bit strange and outdated. Certainly, modern cynicism prevents audiences from responding to the "voice of God" that plagues poor Joan with the same fascination. The instinct is to mock or raise an eyebrow rather than believe. In addition, perhaps because Joan is a woman-- a girl, really-- her triumph over the British in war-torn Europe is too often presented as more of a macabre fairy tale than a truly inspiring story of heroism. Of course, this has a lot to do with the way she has been portrayed to audiences over the years. It often reads more "cute" than moving that she went out of her way to bring peace to her nation.

Dame Judi Dench in "St. Joan" (1966).

Still, while the varying depictions may age, the story does not. War is war is war, and as is clear from our nightly news broadcasts, we as human beings haven’t evolved much in terms of co-existentialism. People living in fear, people massacred for freedom, the downtrodden, the revolutionists-- they’re all still here. Within the chaos, it is always the pure voice of reason and peace that seems to be sacrificed, not so much for fear of the words, but for fear of the change they may provoke. We are too married to our savage ways; too mistrustful of our brethren to surrender our modest level of power and control for fear that we will be forced to surrender all. Better to trample underfoot than be trampled underfoot. Thus, the “heavenly” voices are silenced and their living vessels become murdered legends, from Jesus to Joan to Martin Luther King, Jr. Thus, Joan's position as a revolutionary makes her story tempting to continuing generations of artists.

Then, there is the woman herself who is appealing. The industry of entertainment is rarely kind to women. In film, the role options are variations of but a few accepted types:  the loyal wife, the slut, the frazzled, backward girl who just wants a boyfriend, or the cold, modern female who is finally reminded that she is just a frazzled, backward girl who needs a boyfriend. Even Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction could be plopped into the ‘frazz’ category. So, imagine the appeal of a strong, independent, willful female character, who is not adherent to any man, but serves only the spirit of man-- an idea of peace and goodness that has no form nor shape but exists only as faith. Imagine the appeal for actresses wanting to give a performance of strength, madness, bravery, fear, betrayal, and all the shades between. This protagonist is much more appealing than the typical gal-Friday. Hallelujah!

What follows will be the analysis of three particular women and what they brought to the role of Joan. The films of Joan the Woman, The Passion of Joan of Arc, and Joan of Arc present generally the same story, but in each adaptation, the audience meets three very different women. Which martyrdom was worth it?

Joan the Woman - Geraldine Farrar

Cecil B. DeMille seems the perfect director in retrospect to interpret the angelic Saint Joan. His own personal devotion to Christianity and his knack for luxurious, historical... re-imaginings shall we say (?), would certainly convince an encroaching viewer that something grandiose awaits on the other side of the "Play" button. Yet, Joan the Woman is far from a "Come to Jesus" cinematic moment. Cecil definitely takes certain liberties, for instance creating a love story within the tragic tale by uniting the stories of the The Hundred Years War and WWI through  a reincarnated soldier (Wallace Reid). Unfortunately, the expected juice is missing from Cecil's usually more tempting fruit.  People often forget that Cecil literally learned directing in the public eye. His first film effort, The Squaw Man (1914 ) was one on which he had a great deal of assistance, and when he made Joan a mere two years later, he had not yet cultivated the sublime craft that would make him a master of cinema.

Joan the Woman falls between The Squaw Man and more impressive future efforts like The King of Kings and The Godless Girl, meaning that he was no longer an infant and not yet a genius in his artistic self-discovery when filming commenced. There are elements of his usual intrigue, and his scene compositions are already cookin’, but the eye struggles with what to follow in the somewhat washed-out world he presents. This would not be an issue, had the film a strong actress to guide the audience through the maze of monochromatic hysteria Cecil delivered. Unfortunately, Geraldine Farrar was not up to snuff.

Not without merit: here we see a touch of the growing DeMille
brilliance. He'd only been at it a couple years, folks...

Naturally, Geraldine seemed like a casting coup when production was initiated. DeMille had worked with her on Carmen (also with Wallace Reid) in 1915 and was hoping that the same mutual appreciation and public response would repeat itself in their reunion. Geraldine herself was a fascinating and vibrant woman-- an opera singer with a conscientious demeanor and the charisma demanded of her craft. Without her legendary voice in the silent Carmen, she still performed very well, conveying the sinister sexuality of the notorious gypsy with an enviable panache. Yet as Joan, her effect was not as superb. 

For starters, Geraldine (left) was 34 when she played the role but looked older. Joan only lived to be approximately 19. The age issue could have been compensated-- though the discrepancy is an instant disappointment-- if Geraldine had been able to portray more innocence and delicacy in the part. In this case, she seems more to be struggling in vain to dilute her usual potency and plays Joan the Statue instead of Joan the Woman. Her piety is also unshakable, which makes her character arc monotonous and uninteresting. Her Joan is so in control and seemingly unafraid that she comes off as somewhat pompous. Had Lillian Gish with her effervescent valiance or Mary Pickford with her vulnerable but selfless carriage assumed the role, it would have been a better fit. Geraldine is far too mature, too cynical, too unyielding, and too bored in the role. In truth, she seems to be laughing at her performance even as she gives it-- which may have been for personal reasons, as her life was a bit chaotic at the time. (She had just wed the interfering and unmanageable Lou Tellegen.)

In any case, the rigidity with which Geraldine approaches the role gives the audience little to relate to. In total contrast to the title, she makes Joan a figurehead and an idol and not a flesh and blood human being. Had Geraldine played a plotting British wench or a mistress/mole in the French monarchy, she and the audience would have been happier.

The Passion of Joan of Arc - Maria Falconetti

The blame for the aforementioned film cannot be laid on its technical inadequacies. The fact that it was a silent film, black and white, etc, are not excuses for its flaws-- though is should be said that the actual film stock didn’t age well and the version available doesn’t exactly belong in the Criterion Collection. Yet, another silent B&W film involving St. Joan does fit into that category, and its brilliance belongs only in small part to the supremacy of its restoration. Directed in 1928 by Carl Theodor Dreyer, this fittingly French adaptation of Joan’s life does not cover her initial recruitment by the voice of God through her eventual execution, but focuses on a snapshot-- or rather, snapshots-- of her life at its darkest. For 82 minutes, the audience is literally absorbed into Joan’s torment, faith, and tormented faith, as she faces the hypocritical judges who accuse her of heresy and eventually burn her at the stake for her refusal to perjure herself. 

What is amazing about the film is the fact that so little happens in such a brief time, but the art and style are so well-crafted and acted that it is not so much a movie as an experience. The phrase “not a dry seat in the house” could definitely be applied. Truly, truly, it is a breathtaking piece of work and a touching and brutally human portrayal of Joan’s story. Film students should have to study this picture alone to be able to understand how intelligent editing with finesse (see shot sequence, left) and creative camera angles can create near perfection. It is far too simple for filmmakers to leave all the directing to the audience, but Dreyer guides the focus so eloquently that this story-- which in lesser hands could have been shot as a static, staged play-- is transcendent. It is violent, threatening, paranoid, painful, heart-breaking, and fluid.

An integral part of its success belongs to Maria Falconetti, who literally carries the film in a series of intense close-ups. I can only remember seeing a full, standing body shot of her twice-- once when walking before her jury, and the other enduring her last moments at the stake. Again, this actress is not the appropriate age, but Maria succeeds where Geraldine failed because she wears the last years of the intensity of war, social scrutiny, and flagging faith so clearly that one could almost refer to her granular performance as corporeal. She is not your prototypical beauty. Indeed, she is rough, weathered, and-- unlike Geraldine-- androgynous. Every emotion, every doubt, every tick, is exhibited in her eyes-- which are wide and psychotic at times and peacefully humbled at others. With the crafty camera work and skillful cuts, viewers never grow tired of her face as it reflects her rapidly dwindling willpower. Even without this technical assistance, every tear that falls down her cheek is somehow unique, as if delivered from a different and very particular, aching place in her soul. One can literally see her nostrils quiver as she struggles to breath and contain her sobs. In simpler terms, her profound despair kicks you in the guts.

Maria Falconetti's devastation is read on her face in its many mutating
and varying degrees from start to finish. Here, she is shamed and
humiliated for her "heretical" stance and for her denial of gender.

Joan's moment of mental weakness is also brilliantly displayed by Maria. We see Joan as she caves in to her human fears, signing a confession that will clear her name, save her life, but defame her God. Yet, as she raises the pen, one feels a rush relief. Her suffering is over. “To Hell with God, Joan! Save yourself!” This makes her final denial and renouncement of the document all the more painful. When she is reaffirmed as a heretic, one feels both pride and horror on her behalf. The moment when she begins to burn is an uncomfortable inspiration, for the audience fully understands the terrors she went through and overcame. Still, her death feels personal. It is a mix of liberation and torture for the viewer. One understands what the flames are killing, having witnessed the woman so closely. Joan is not an archetype or demigod. Though played by a woman, she is just a fragile girl-- a harmless creaturs. The final scenes, the chaos at the execution, the images of her corpse within the flames, omit an aroma that is sensed if not truly scented. These are ugly, violent scenes, for which reason the film was banned/censored upon its release. 

The final analysis of Passion is not so much to promote the good that Joan did for France nor her victories nor her God. Falconetti does not present a legend. She presents a human. In a strange way, this upsets the perfect ghost of Joan’s memory while glorifying it. It is resplendent.

Ingrid Bergman - Joan of Arc

The final version to which I will lend investigation is Victor Fleming’s Joan of Arc. For all that was said of the last film, this one blatantly states the opposite. Fleming, notorious for his sweeping tales and larger-than-life movies-- Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Wings-- was clearly not of a mind to tell a story but to build an epic. The tale of Joan’s life from her resolution for conquest and declaration of war to her eventual death is blown a bit out of proportion. It's effect is long-winded and distracting instead of engrossing. Thus, the heart of the story, carried so superbly by Ingrid, struggles to find its way to the surface of the almost threatening color, overwhelming breadth, and transliterated scope of the film. It is, essentially, Joan the Woman overdosing on adrenaline. Fleming adds some brilliant touches, such as implicating the nightly rapes Joan most likely would’ve suffered during her incarceration, but the attempts at decadence, while not entirely unbearable, are out of place. Ingrid and Fleming seem at all times to be telling two different stories. One artist is playing the cello; the other is blowing a trumpet.

Ingrid definitely brought more enthusiasm and physicality to her role as
Joan. She is not just a small young woman who hears voices; she is
a soldier, warrior, and leader, as well as prophet.

I wanted to love the film and prove all the nay-sayers wrong, but I couldn't. The movie was critically panned upon its release, yet Ingrid was such a phenomenon at the time that the public still turned out in droves to see her. This is an example of super-proper casting. To the people of the world, Ingrid Bergman in the early-mid '40s was a saint. She was the angel of Hollywood-- a blessed, untainted, gorgeous soul. Her passion and decency, the persona that the public thrust upon her-- which was not totally untrue-- made her a foregone conclusion for the part. The fact that she had already performed the role on stage only bolstered this theory. Yet, somehow, it doesn’t work. Ingrid is seen too much from afar. The audience is not allowed to get too close, sealing Joan’s identity as an unknowable goddess instead of the mysterious, ethereal but real girl she was.

Despite this, Ingrid herself can be proud of the work she did. Her approach to the role is very much in keeping with her little girl lost identity, and coupled with her rather imposing physique, she makes for quite an interesting heroine (right). In fact, Fleming takes advantage of Ingrid’s length with his long shots, and she dominates the frame with her elegant command and childlike dedication to her quest. Why must we fight? Because... Because, we must! Because, God said so! As such, her over-devotion and wide-eyed responses to the Voice of God come off a bit saccharine at times. However, she is able to neutralize this effect by veering more on the side of immaturity rather than ignorance. Particularly in the scenes where she is questioned by her English partisan judges, her unschooled but honest answers tangle her attackers’ reason and simultaneously hurt their pride: there is nothing worse to them than being outsmarted by an uneducated peasant, not to mention a woman.

Where Ingrid really excels is in her typical simplicity and the honesty with which she communicates her emotion. The most powerful scene is perhaps that where her conscience is tested before the judges. She can uphold her prior testaments that it was God who spoke to her and commanded her to lead the legions of France, but she will be burned at the stake-- a painful death that she has fearfully foreseen. Or she can lie, claim that she acted of her own free will, and spend the rest of her life in jail. The people in the observing crowds, who are already holding her up as their savior and Saint, beg her to sign her confession! She falls to her knees in anguish, and we see only her eyes, filled with wonder and joy, even peace, cascading light and unforced tears down her cheeks. Ingrid signs, the people cheer, and she is safe. When betrayed by her the judges, who keep none of their promises, Joan becomes ashamed at her weakness and recants her faulty testimony. She dies finally understanding the eternal peace that her God had promised her. She goes fearfully but willingly through fire, determined to reach that place.

If the movie were Ingrid as depicted in The Passion of Joan of Arc, the results would have been more commendable. Unfortunately, Fleming is too concerned with winning a wrestling match with himself.

In all versions, one could make an argument as to whether or not Joan was in fact mad. Were her ravings that of a disturbed woman with the kind of "divine" genius that often makes the greatest (Moses) or worst (Hitler) of leaders, or was she truly a woman touched by the hand of some predetermining force of nature that saw calamity and chose in her its warrior? The answer doesn’t matter. In the end, it is not a faith in God that drove any of the women portrayed in these films. It was a profound faith in themselves and the message they felt they must deliver. Their sense of purpose, though shaken under duress and clouded by the usual human uncertainties, is successful. Their effect was to change the shape of the very world.

Boris Karloff as the conspiratorial Bishop questions Julie Harris's
Joan in The Lark (1955).

The most interesting thing about Joan of Arc for our purposes is how the many different actresses who have played her chose to do so because they saw slivers of themselves in her. It was these cracks, flaws, and lights in her character that they then reflected through their separate interpretations. For all her faults, one could say that Geraldine brought to the role her stubborn resolve. Maria brought pain, and Ingrid brought love. None were wholly true; none were wholly false. In searching for their characterizations, each woman probably thought she heard the voice of Joan guiding her, tried to hear her, or at least hoped to let Joan’s spirit speak through her. Were they really communing with a woman whom they had never met and only admired? Were they mad? Again, it doesn’t matter. They made their statements, martyred themselves before our critical judgment and scrutiny, and now, as Joan's women, they remain mislaid pieces to the continuing mystery of her life, death, and universal hold.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


Shameless self-promotion. (Shorry.)

All right, folks! My Facebook Page is up and running. Be sure to visit and share your thoughts on film, art, writing, what-have you. I will be posting updates on all of my writings and alerting people when a new blog is up and ready for your review.

Appreciate the support. :)

Pay me a visit at
Follow me @blahlaland on Twitter, as well!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Latest from L.A. La Land!!!

Calling all LALa Fans!!! (Katharine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby).

Hello, dear friends! If you have taken note of the above update, you probably know that things are shifting here at L.A. La Land. In addition to tuning up and reshaping this blog's presentation-- which is transitioning from a monthly star focus to more varied articles, including but not limited the popular Cast Aways, Didja's, Mental Montages, etc-- I am working on a Facebook page for all of my writings as well as (hopefully) a new website! I will fill you in as these projects take shape! You can now keep in touch with me via my new Twitter account Blahlaland as well!

Dare you resist the raw sex appeal of Bruce Campbell
(here in Evil Dead 2)?
In more excitement, I have become a featured writer for Bad Movie Nite, which you may recall me mentioning in a past post. If you are unfamiliar, this is an amazing site-- run by a very good friend-- that hilariously inspects both the bright and dark side of B-cinema. As you age, you often start to realize that those films from your youth (aka The Garbage Pail Kids) that you thought were A-LIST pictures are actually... not. Some get an A+ for nostalgic purposes, others get an "F" for "Why the 'eff' was this picture ever made?" From The Room to Escape from New York, there are enjoyable and shameless reviews, as well as random updates regarding the entertainment world, and podcasts with special guests from the wrong side of the Tinsel Town tracks. For an enlightening escape from the grandeur of denser Hollywood fare, please stop by and take a vacation in a land where thinking is not a prerequisite. My first three reviews: Jack Frost, Supergirl, The Worst Witch.
Preview of coming attractions (With a little help from my friends, please
and Thank You)!
Finally, another good friend of mine is producing an independent film called Lucidia that is currently on Kickstarter. There are only a few days left to offer your contributions, and I truly hope that you can take the time to donate some dough (if you are able.) More and more, independent film has become the last frontier of compelling storytelling that incorporates unique artistic devices. Witnessing the ingenuity that an underfunded but creative team can accomplish-- their own style, their own way-- is truly remarkable compared to the more polished and packaged movies that are released. These days, you basically see everything in a film's trailer. It is nice to be confronted with a movie that defies predictability and challenges you to actually pay attention and not just ogle. Where would Hollywood be without the ingenuity of former indie-breakthrough artists like Tarantino, Cameron, and Romero??? You can find more information on the very intriguing Lucida its website-- or via Twitter - . Thanks, gang!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Didja Know these two artists came together on a very important project?
Ingrid Bergman and Salvador Dali enjoy a chat during Spellbound.

"Film as art" was not an easily accepted credo. Nevertheless, great innovators of the business, particularly those who combined social subtext with stimulating presentation, were able to take creativity and the social impact of cinema to a much more respectable level than ever expected. As "genius" is sometimes read as "madness," some of our greatest, historic auteurs were prevented from bringing their compelling concepts to fruition. It is not a simple thing to get the guy holding the money to believe in your out-of-the-ordinary premises. Hence, some of the greatest cinematic moments were those that never made it to the big screen, whether they were laid to rest on the cutting room floor or buried on the page before being given a chance to breathe. Orson Welles is a perfect example, as the majority of his countless film ideas were labeled DOA: Don Quixote, Cyrano de Bergerac, Heart of Darkness, etc.

One director that seemed to escape these frustrations, at least at the height of his career, was the "Master of Suspense," Alfred Hitchock. Before his films and his sanity took a nose-dive post-Marnie (what was Topaz about exactly???), Hitch seemed to artistically, subliminally, and criminally get away with pretty much everything. His box-office receipts and cunning with studio execs-- he would shut off the camera because it was 'acting up' whenever David O. Selznick appeared on his set-- gave him a pretty impressive exemption from most censorship rules or reconstituted, pre-packaged production standards when it came to making his final cut. He didn't always win his arguments, however. Case in point: Spellbound.


The Salvador Dali-designed dream sequence in Spellbound remains perhaps the most memorable thing about the film. If anything, the collision of motion pictures with Dali's immobile yet liquid artistry is a stunning and perfect example of aesthetic fusion. (Of course, the acting and chemistry of the amnesiac Gregory Peck and the psychologically and sexually ignited Ingrid Bergman didn't hurt matters either). The Hitch-Dali combo created a perfect blend of structured surrealism that was evocative of the mysteries of the human subconscious when in an unconscious state. (Whoof). It was also nice to look at. However, there is an impressive piece missing from the final film. Originally, Hitch planned on having Ingrid in the dream sequence, as she was a dominant sexual focus in the dreamer's-- Gregory Peck's-- psyche. The plan was to have her appear in her beautiful glory before being miraculously cemented as a statue-- with an arrow piercing her neck, no less (left). Ants were to swarm about the exterior of the frozen entity. Oh, the psychological implications... 

Naturally, Ingrid was game. She endured the make-up process, the staging, and the obvious discomfort of tiny, scattering insects all over her body, because of her pure fascination for the concept and her desire to be a part of such a groundbreaking moment: art in motion (right). First, Ingrid was given a straw through which to breath, and this was placed through the plaster literally being built around her. Then, the sequence was filmed in reverse, with Ingrid breaking from the impromptu statue. Thus, played backwards, the statue appeared to be materializing. The entire length clocked in at twenty minutes. Unfortunately, while the scene was successfully filmed, it was never shown. This was a result of yes-man contamination. Someone, whom Ingrid did not name, approached Selznick and convinced him that the breathtaking imagery was complete and utter nonsense. Selznick, of course, demanded that piece de resistance be cut from the film. Tactical interference too often murders the best of ideas. Perhaps even more than Hitch, Ingrid mourned the loss: "It was such a pity. It could have had that touch of real art." Damn the editing!


Ingrid's complex but devoted relationship with Alfred Hitchcock was made all the richer when her co-star of Notorious, Cary Grant, came into the picture. Together, they all represented Hitchcockian cinema at one of its grandest moments. Their contradictory natures as people blended well in the realm of professional collaboration, and their alliance outlasted the shoot. Hitch, as the eternal observer was able to watch the friendship of Ingrid and Cary with a certain amount of envy, which he brought to life on the screen. Through Cary, he got to hold Ingrid, kiss her, and dismiss her with a strange coagulation of frigid, sexual taunting. Ingrid's "Alicia" became the woman in heat yearning for deliverance from the erotic torture of Cary's "Devlin." In life, the roles were opposite, with Hitch being the suffering and lovelorn gent fawning over Ingrid, and she being the less cold but still unresponsive lover out of reach. What resulted from the complicated and intricate threesome was the birth of a classic.

Ingrid remained at the center of this awkward love triangle. Aside from her natural warmth and amiability, her acting left both of her male counterparts astonished. For the first time in history, Hitch would be so impressed with a female performance that he did not seek to cut the actress down to size. He was too in awe to be awful. His general commentary to Ingrid at the end of each day was a controlled yet intimidated "It was very good today, Ingrid." In addition, Cary Grant became the number one cheerleader on Team Ingrid. By monitoring her instinctual and raw performance, he learned a lot about the craft of acting, which inspired him to engage and cultivate his own talent with more bravery. Cary had worked with Hitch before on Suspicion, but it was Notorious that held the real place in his heart. So proud was he of the film and the time he had spent on it that, unbeknownst to everyone involved, he swiped the infamous Wine Cellar Key (left) from the prop department and kept it as a good luck charm. He felt it-- as a representation of the film-- was "the key that would open new doors in his career."

Cary held onto the Key for many years. He would work with Hitch as one of his preferred leading men-- he had in fact been the first choice for Spellbound-- and the duo would go on to make To Catch a Thief and North by Northwest together. Their bromance remained a mutually respectful and untainted one (right). Ingrid would happily work with Cary under lighter circumstances in Indiscreet, but her final film with Hitch was less than ideal. Still experimenting with his single-take sequences, which he had captured previously to better effect in the "real time" Rope, their collaboration in Under Capricorn was tedious to film and incredibly frustrating for the actress Some theorize that the grueling behind-the-scenes trauma Hitch inflicted on Ingrid was some version of sexual punishment. By this time, Hitch's school-boy crush had obtained a spiteful edge, and the working relationship between director and actress was not as smooth as it had once been. They would never work together again but were able to maintain their friendship.

The Key became the reminder, therefore, of better days. It represented the cohesion of all concerned at a moment of great triumph, both personally and professionally. The Key locked the three artists together and bound them in an alliance that may have dwindled due to time and distance but never disappeared. Cary had this token to hold onto and keep him grounded for many years. Then, when Ingrid and Cary re-teamed in 1958 to film Indiscreet--after Ingrid's affair, marriage, and separation from Robert Rossellini-- she got a little surprise from her old friend. Having witnesses his friend endure and persevere over the many ups and downs that had ensued during the years since Notorious, Cary felt that the time had come to pass his good fortune along. Thus, at the farewell dinner that he threw in Ingrid's honor, Cary bestowed the Key upon her, telling her that it had served him well over the years and that it was now her turn to take advantage of its magic. Needless to say, Ingrid was deeply touched. She held onto the Key for another twenty-one years, during which she regained her former incomparable status as a great and respected international actress of the stage and screen.

Hitch brings it home.

The trail finally came to an appropriate end in 1976. That March, Alfred Hitchcock was honored with the AFI's Lifetime Achievement Award. As such, the usual banquet and celebratory party was thrown, with many of Hitch's old colleagues and the actors and actresses of his films paying him tribute throughout the evening. Ingrid and Cary were obviously in attendance. When it became Ingrid's turn to speak, she went through the usual drill of gratuitous complimenting, but she cinched her speech with a more personal and heart-warming note. She began reminiscing about Notorious and, most importantly, the infamous crane shot of the Key. She went on to say:

"Cary Stole that key! Yes, and he kept it for about ten years-- and then one day he put it in my hand.... And now, I'm going to give it to you."

With that, Ingrid descended the stage and delivered the Key to the man who was directly responsible for its powers, whether real or imagined. In a very out-of-character moment, the normally stone-faced, wry, and poised director rose, embraced Ingrid and Cary, and all three of them found themselves crying. It was an beautifully sentimental moment for everyone in the audience. Now, the Key locks Notorious firmly into a place of cinematic genius that few other films in the Hollywood lexicon can boast. Hitchcock, of course, has maintained his reputation as the master of his craft.