HMWYBS: Batman & Bombs

Considering they share source material, Batman (1966) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) couldn’t be more different films. The first(ish) cinematic adventure of the Caped Crusader is a silly satire brimming with ’60s psychedelic colors and the truly weirdest (best?) puns you’ve ever heard. The last(ish) conclusion to the Dark Knight trilogy is a colorless, serious allegory about social upheaval, urban decay, and muscled men in jumpsuits beating the crap out of each other. And yet, improbably, there is a single unifying plot point that ties these polar opposites together.

Best Shot(s)

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As the sun rises over the water and the Dark Knight flies off with the nuclear reactor, ready to sacrifice his life one more time for Gotham City, you know just one thing is going through his mind:

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot: GOOOOLDFINGAH!

Margaret: Let’s talk about James Bond. Specifically, the movie that arguably clinched his status as an enduring cultural brand and challenges the discussant to resist overuse of the word ‘iconic’. No, not License to Kill. I’m talking, of course, about Goldfinger. No one ever makes a Top Five Bond movie list without including Goldfinger. Or should we say ‘GOOOOLDFINGAH’? Because when I read the movie’s title, I hear not mere spoken syllables but the glorious belting of Shirley Bassey.

Anne Marie: I can’t move past the opening credits without stating that this is the best song of all the Bond songs and I will fight all Paul McCartney fans TO THE DEATH who say otherwise. GOOOOLDFINGAH is so damn iconic. (BWA BWAAA BWA) Plus it’s tied to a title sequence that’s as uncanny as it is uncomfortable. The title sequence isn’t your choice for Best Shot, but considering how obviously it lays bare (har har) the franchise’s views on femininity, we should address it.

Margaret: It’s a pretty succinct summary woman-as-object paradigm of the Bond universe, and gives us a lot of visual ground on which to rest a denunciation of sexism in the Bond franchise. Maybe that’s too obvious? Yet how do you talk about James Bond, especially GOOOOLDFINGAH, especially its title sequence, without talking about the sexualization of violence and the dehumanization of women? As fun and sassy as this movie is, I can’t avoid that question. This shot in particular, yikes:

Shades of Laura Palmer. This in a sexy title sequence. Ye gads.

Anne Marie: That gives me the heebie jeebies. Really, if you replaced the music (BWA BWAAA BWA), this would look like something out of a horror movie.

Margaret: Rarely outside of horror do you see this abject reduction of women to parts and pieces. I know objectification is common as all hell, but this makes the rest of the Bond catalogue look subtle. (You can probably hear my Sociology degree threatening to rear its ugly head…)

Anne Marie: This article is a safe space. You let that inner sociologist shine!

Margaret: WELL THEN. Yada yada disembodiment yada yada removing personhood yada yada sexualizing violence and passivity and even death. (Relevant: http://youtu.be/_FpyGwP3yzE?t=2m41s ) (Also: http://youtu.be/ufHrVyVgwRg?t=5m16s )

Anne Marie: “Passivity and even death” perfectly describes the position of every Connery-era Bond girl. Especially considering that having boobs drives down a lady’s likelihood of survival. If you have boobs and 5 lines and a bikini, you’re basically asking to die in some very stylishly 60s manner. Besides the obvious dipped-in-gold method, I’m 99% positive there’s one film where a lady gets bitten by a spider in bed. And another where a lady gets poisoned in bed. All of the ladies die in bed.

Margaret:  Sexy, sexy violence.

Anne Marie: I suppose that’s what happens when you bring your work into the bedroom.

Margaret: The Bondverse is all about mixing business with pleasure. Bond is always the picture of action-star competence and power while still managing to seem relaxed– he’s never not on vacation. His name is synonymous with suavity and otherworldly cool, and therefore also mad skills with the ladiezz. There’s lots of James Bond iconography– the Aston Martin, the shaken martini, and the gun held just so, but the most defining visual component of the Bond Brand is its women. Excuse me, girls. Prostrate, heavy-lidded, sun-kissed, nearly naked girls decorating the scenery, poised to be prizes.

My choice for Best Shot is replete with the James-Bondiest of signifiers:

goldfingerBond is doing one of the most “spy” coded actions there is – peering through binoculars, sizing up his opponent from afar. His expression is keen and composed, his posture is firm, in control; he’s on the job and he’s very good at it. But being ‘on the job’ for him also means leaning over the the lounging body of a bikini-clad beauty queen. He may be strategizing a government mission of international importance, but any man who wears a terry-cloth romper when he’s on the clock can’t be all work and no play. Here we have business on the left and pleasure on the right, cozily sharing a frame.

And it’s his pleasure, make no mistake. The gender dynamics of this shot are also quintessentially Bondian. He takes a strong, active position, virtually pinning the glamorous (and at this point nameless) blonde played by Shirley Eaton. Eaton is positioned as passively as can be: reclining decoratively, admiring the confident stranger hovering over her décolletage from under seductively lowered eyes. And sure, she dies five minutes after the end of this scene (guess where? IN BED), but at least not before James Bond gets to bone her. Now that would have been a shame.

In fact, it’s only once she’s dead– the ultimate passivity — that she leaves any mark on the movie at all. She becomes the iconic golden girl, killed by ‘skin suffocation’ after being dipped head-to-toe in gold paint. To the Bond universe she was more memorable, more important, and more sexy dead than alive.

Anne Marie: Well, all I can say is thank goodness we’ve gotten over this trope of ladies as passive accessories in action films. Oh wait.

Margaret: Whatever our criticisms, Bond is a cultural institution and he’s here to stay. Here’s hoping that his next 50 years bring us more Bond Women than Bond Girls. Now, let’s all try not to die in bed.

Anne Marie: BWA BWAAAA BWA! (Sorry.)

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot: How Green Was My Valley

Ed. Note: welcome back, everyone! WRM continues to be updated sporadically while Anne Marie furiously blogs her way through a Year With Kate for The Film Experience, but now please enjoy the smart and snarky contribution from WRM contributor Margaret!

Contemporary films aren’t often described as ‘earnest.’ Even the children’s movies in these cynical times wisecrack and eye-roll enough to make [famously earnest person/character] recoil in horror. Watching How Green Was My Valley, the 1941 Best Picture Oscar Winner and one of John Ford’s most lauded films, takes the viewer through a sort of time warp. Everything about the movie is so blessedly earnest it’s almost unnerving to watch. (Can you imagine what the film would look like if its source novel were adapted in 2014?) The film’s story of a hard-working Welsh family who witness the slow destruction of their native mining town and beloved way of life is played with absolute wide-eyed sincerity, beat by nostalgic beat.

But really, how green WAS the valley? I couldn’t tell. (I’ll show myself out.)

And there’s something refreshing about that– being forced to abandon my sense of irony for two hours might have even been spiritually beneficial to me in some way. That said, there’s only so much black-and-white (har har) moralizing I can stand, and Ford really pushes the limits here. (These are a plain, upstanding people! So strong, so simple! They are more pure of heart and spirit than any of us corrupt mortals! Have you got that? Have you got it?) How Green Was My Valley has been much maligned in film history as the undeserving thief of Citizen Kane‘s rightful Best Picture Oscar, much as the similarly earnest Forrest Gump and The King’s Speech would be decades later for their victories over much edgier competitors.

Best Picture debate (and corn factor) aside, How Green Was My Valley is photographed with undeniable beauty and finesse. Director of Photography Arthur C. Miller made smart, potent staging and lighting choices throughout the film, producing some truly breathtaking frames. Particularly striking is the film’s divine depth of field, with nearly every shot giving the viewer something distinct to look at in the background and middle ground as well as the foreground. I didn’t realize just how starved I was for depth in frames until just now. Bring it back!

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There was movement in every part of this frame. So much to look at!

This visual richness is immeasurably aided by the production design team. They made the absolute most of their sound stages, crafting a genuinely credible Welsh countryside on their studio backlot. That is some top-notch set design and scene painting.

The effectiveness of the movie’s emotional arc relies on hammering home the tragedy of the titular valley’s descent into ruin. For that feeling to truly land, the viewer needs to buy the ‘Before’ valley of the film’s beginning as an absolute idyll, and boy, were Ford and Miller working overtime to make that sell. Within the first five minutes you see sufficient proof that the cinematography Oscar was well-earned. Shot after lovingly, painstakingly framed shot shows us perfect rolling countryside neatly bordered by perfect rows of houses. Even the smoke curls beautifully across the sky– pollution never looked so picturesque. Not only is it lovely in the valley, but its lucky residents are so darn happy all the time that they can’t help but lope through the streets singing in joyful unison. (Even though they are coal miners. The film relishing in regaling us with the evils of Too Much Coal Mining, instead of Just Enough Coal Mining, which is I guess what we should all be going for.)

The beauty of the early scenes makes the ravages of time seem all the more cruel. Which brings me to my choice for Best Shot:

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My choice for best shot.

Spring has arrived in the valley, and the tight-knit valley community comes as a body to the Morgan family doorstep. Geometrically, the frame is beautifully staged: I love the converging lines of the paths and the rooftops and the stream of people. Pretty young girls bearing fresh wildflowers trailed by the fraternal mining men and a swell of tender Welsh choral music are about as picture-perfect as it gets. The loveliness of the scene is tinged with something poignant and sad – we know it’s soon to be lost forever.

O, the valley. My, she was yar green.

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot: The Letter (1940)

titleThere’s a reason Kim Carnes wrote a song about Bette Davis’s eyes. The song might be lousy, but it pays homage to a simple truth: Bette Davis had the best eyes of any post-silent film era actress. The intensity of her stare is startling, and she could move through the emotional waves of a scene without uttering a word. Not that she ever stayed still long enough in her early career for you to notice. Part of the genius of her partnership with William Wyler was his ability to tame her tics and focus her intensity through her already famous eyes. Wyler was a director for whom the filmmaking rule “Show Don’t Tell” was paramount, and he accomplished it through his camera and his actress in his second film with Davis, The Letter.

If I had any sense at all, I’d choose the first shot of this exotic noir as the Best Shot, but I have no sense (and I don’t like choosing opening scenes). Still, I want to take the time to glide through the opening:

1 2 3 4The camera begins by meandering through the grounds of a moonlit sugarcane plantation. The camera glides lazily by shadowed, sleepy workers, and happens upon the mansion in the background, lit brighter than the dark shapes crowding it.

6 7Suddenly, a shot goes off, startling a bird and the audience. A distant figure stumbles out of the mansion door, followed by a woman who fires again.

8 9We cut closer. The woman is Davis, stonefaced and firing repeatedly from the shadows. The camera pans in to see the murderess, but her eyes betray nothing.

BEST SHOT

EndChaos. Workers, dogs, everyone is awake. Still the woman says nothing. Suddenly, the moon comes out from behind a cloud. The crime and criminal are starkly illuminated, and the audience gets the first flash of who this woman is, without her ever uttering a word. Everything is in her eyes.

The Letter, despite its melodramatic plot, may be one of the subtler performances of Davis’s career. Leslie Crosbe is a woman with secrets to hide – letters and lovers and death. Unfortunately, when William Wyler controls the moonlight, it shines with the all power of a Hollywood spotlight. From this point forward, Leslie will hide from the moon. Her rawest scenes will be exposed by harsh moonlight. Every time she tries to hide, it will slip through cracks in the window and cracks in her facade. Moonlight isn’t for lovers anymore.

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HMWYBS: Can’t Stop The Music

This week for Hit Me With Your Best Shot we’re trying something a little bit different: two bloggers for the price of one! Please welcome back Margaret as we discuss this week’s movie.

title_cantstopmusicAnne Marie: On the April Fool’s Prank scale from “short-sheeting the bed” to “saran wrap over the toilet,” Nathaniel’s assignment of Can’t Stop The Music for Hit Me With Your Best Shot ranks somewhere around “food dye in the shower head:” Messy, colorful, and guaranteed to stick with you for the rest of the day.

Margaret: I may never forgive Nathaniel. This week’s selection features The Village People, Steve Guttenberg on rollerskates, more penis than would ever be allowed in a modern-day PG movie (read: any), and two hours of my life I will never get back. What passes for the movie’s plot cheerfully beats the viewer over the head with so many make-it-big-in-the-city cliches that it’s almost not worth mentioning. (Golly-Gee-Guttenberg just lives for music, and he wants a record deal! His plucky roommate has connections, so all they need is a group of singers! These men off the street sure have decent voices and some serious moves! Phase three: profit! ) Let’s leave plot aside and focus on the gaudy, ludicrous, at times almost motion-sickness-inducing aesthetic of the thing.

Anne Marie: I actually asked my parents if anybody had noticed how very, very gay the Village People were. My mother’s response: “It was the 70’s. And nobody thought the movie was good.”

cantstopMargaret: But Anne! Don’t forget! It’s not the 70s anymore, man. To paraphrase the screenplay, It’s the 80s! It’s the 80s! Welcome to the 80s! We’ve left the 70s behind!

Anne Marie: False. There is way too much shag rug and hedonism for this to be an 80s movie.

Margaret: A fair point. It’s positively smothered in glitter, polyester, and improbable rollerskates. You’d think that would set it apart among films of its time, but apparently this came out the same year as Xanadu so maybe everyone was just doing non-stop disco aerobics in 1980.

Anne Marie: Speaking of athletic musical numbers…

 

Anne Marie: I can’t be the first person to notice that “YMCA” bears a striking resemblance to Jane Russell’s number “Ain’t There Anyone Here For Love” from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. I want to take a closer look at these scenes, not only for their ridiculous camp value, but also for the not-so-subtle censorship flaunting happening front and center. That leads us to…

BEST SHOT

 FirefoxScreenSnapz002Compared to…
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Anne Marie: In “Y.M.C.A.” and “Ain’t There Anyone Here For Love,” both Russell and Valerie Perrine are framed center as the supposed focal point of the scene. However, the majority of the athletic, under-dressed action happens around them, not to or with them. The men are the musclebound eyecandy. This makes Russell and Perrine into de-gaying diffusers of displaced voyeurism: It’s okay to stare because surely you’re just staring at the pretty lady, not the hunks behind her. Actually, “Ain’t There Anyone Here For Love” may be the only scene in the entirety of Jane Russell’s career where she’s wearing more than her male costars.

6a00d8341bfd9e53ef01348642c6b6970c-450wiFirefoxScreenSnapz003Margaret: That’s certainly true of this movie’s leading lady. Valerie Perrine does the very minimum to beard the musical number (Guys! Wait! This can’t be The Gayest because LOOK AT THIS PRETTY STRAIGHT LADY!) and she does most of it in a tank top and shorts– relatively modest when you consider all the greased-up manflesh on display. In “Ain’t There Anyone Here For Love,” Russell is practically begging for the attention of the men around her, while the “Y.M.C.A.” number sees Perrine cheerfully accepting her position as purely decorative. Progress of a kind?

Anne Marie: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Can’t Stop The Music share more in common than just over-dressed straight ladies. Both play at brinksmanship with the standards of censorship and good taste of the times.

Margaret: Basically, they were testing just how much synchronized disco-soundtracked homoerotic humping can they could shoehorn into this while still keeping a PG rating. (You know it’s a liberal time when your movie, which features exposed lady-boobs and MORE THAN ONE FREE-DANGLING PENIS, still gets a PG. Was Harvey Weinstein backing them??)

Anne Marie: Both Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Can’t Stop The Music directly or indirectly reference sexual taboos. In the case of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes it’s female promiscuity and (in one number) homosexuality. In Can’t Stop The Music it’s the New York gay subculture. These were ideas that would have most likely shocked morality and good taste at the time. However, both films managed to skirt censors by hiding those references under glittery layers of camp. The more outrageous and ridiculous the tone, the easier it is to dismiss something as a flight of fancy rather than a serious threat to the status quo. This also leaves the back door wide open for double entendre.

Margaret: BACKDOOR WIDE OPEN, EH? FOR DOUBLE ENTENDRE? I see you, Miss Anne. I see you.

Anne Marie: I’m sure I don’t know what you mean…Cant_Stop_the_Music08 copy

Margaret: You have to wonder if producer Alan Carr thought he had a hit on his hands. Following the mega-success of Grease, he probably had his pick of projects. For whatever reason, he picked this glitterbomb, which arrived just after the demise of disco and barely recouped a tenth of its 20 million dollar budget. Apparently he personally directed and casted for the YMCA sequence, so I guess he’ll always have that.

Anne Marie: That and the 61st Academy Awards.

Margaret: Disco is dead. Long live disco.

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HMWYBS: LA Confidential

Note from Anne Marie: Please welcome again the fabulously talented Margaret, who’s covering The Film Experience’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot challenge here while I binge-watch Katharine Hepburn movies for TFE. I leave you in her capable hands.

Boys and girls, don’t make the same mistakes I have. Never watch L.A. Confidential when it plays on your local network affiliate. It’s amazing how much the removal of a few f-bombs can ruin the emotional stakes of a scene, especially when you factor in the world’s laziest dubbing. Imagine Russell Crowe’s furious, rain-soaked face bellowing “You [DID] him..you [DID] him!” to a weeping Kim Basinger. Totally ruins the tone.

The uncensored L.A. Confidential is much easier to take seriously. A riff on the dirty Hollywood noir, it focuses on the venal Los Angeles police force of the early 50s, and the paths of Officers Bud White and Ed Exley as they navigate the questionably moral system of their department and uncover a network of corruption.

Crowe’s Bud White is a simple brute. Sure, they try to humanize and sensitize him with his woman-protecting crusade, but he’s a blunt object. Pearce’s Ed Exley, on the other hand, is as sharp as they come. A little too transparently thirsty for status and acclaim in his police force, he’s savvy, cocky, and almost smug about his categorical unwillingness to engage in the seedy culture of his department in the name of “justice.”

(Pearce is so entirely excellent in this movie, I can’t help but wish that he had been the one to become our big bankable movie star, and that Russell Crowe would be relegated mostly to ensemble pieces and the occasional direct-to-DVD. Because I’m mad at Russell Crowe for having the career Guy Pearce should have had, this write-up will have nothing to do with him.)

We’re introduced to Exley in uniform, looking freshly scrubbed and sporting somber rimless spectacles. Twice in the first 20 minutes we hear higher-ups, noting his ambition, advise him to the lose the glasses if he wants to get anywhere.

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Perhaps the administration doesn’t want him looking too closely or seeing too clearly, hmmm?

It may be a kind of Film-school-101 motif, but Exley’s glasses do a great deal to telegraph his arc over the course of the film. We see him wearing his glasses when he’s looking critically at his department the cases in front of him. Every time he narcs on a fellow cop and every time he puts two and two together on a case, the glasses are on. The glasses also help separate him from his peers, and it could be argued that they symbolize his power to see things as an outsider and look critically at the network of corruption around him.

To wit:

Glasses on, Exley encourages his higher-ups to throw his peers under the bus. Narc.

Glasses on, Exley encourages his higher-ups to throw his peers under the bus. Narc.

He's trying to act cool around the bros in his department with his glasses all off, but they still cold-shoulder him.  Cause he's a narc.

He’s trying to act cool around the bros in his department with his glasses all off, but they still cold-shoulder him.
Cause he’s a narc.

Can't examine a crime scene without his trusty investigatin' glasses.

Can’t examine a crime scene without his trusty investigatin’ glasses.

When Exley tries to blend in with the force, and participates in the (morally questionable) antics of his peers, the glasses are off.

This includes scenes where he carries and uses a gun. For crying out loud, people! What was contact lens technology like in 1953? Shouldn't he at least have to take an eye exam before he goes firing bullets willy-nilly in the name of the law???

What was contact lens technology like in 1953? Shouldn’t he at least have to take an eye exam before he goes firing bullets willy-nilly in the name of the law???

7noglasses2As the main case unravels and Exley starts to piece together that his accolades and status in the force have been built on a foundation of cover-ups and lies, he slaps the glasses back on and waxes self-reflective about how he had ‘lost sight’ of what made him want to be a cop.

At the beginning of the movie, Captain Dudley Smith asks him if he’d be willing to shoot a known perpetrator in the back to ensure that he wouldn’t get away with his crimes in the court of law. Firmly, proudly, he said no. Of course, it turns out that Smith is the high priest of the murderous corruption in his ranks, and the moral climax of the movie sees Exley (glasses on) decide that, after all, he can shoot a perpetrator in the back rather than run the risk of seeing him go free.

BEST SHOT

9noglasses_bestshotAfter all his moralizing, Exley has rolled in the dirt with the people he used to hold in contempt. His prized moral superiority is a thing of the past. The higher-ups want to cover up Smith’s crimes and say he died a hero in the shootout. They size Exley up through the one-way mirror of the interrogation room, suspicious that former ‘Golden Boy’ Ed Exley won’t play ball. Exley, finally warming to the LAPD way of doing things, agrees on the condition that he be named a hero as well. He smirks. He’s shot someone in the back, and he’s taking a hero’s reward for it. His glasses, the main visual cue for his distance from the corruption of his colleagues, are gone for good. He’s given in. He’s one of them: a real L.A. cop.

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot 2014: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Note from Anne Marie: Please give major snaps my frequent collaborator Margaret, who wrote this inaugural post for The Film Experience’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot event, covering my rear while I cover Katharine Hepburn. First time viewers, welcome. Long-time viewers: welcome back!

Though it’s a story about erasing from your mind all memory of love, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is both romantic and unforgettable. That’s thanks to the off-kilter genius of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and director Michel Gondry, whose sensibilities are singularly well-matched here. They take an inventive premise and fully embrace the idiosyncrasy and often pure weirdness that follow.

After a painful breakup, Clementine (Kate Winslet) and then Joel (Jim Carrey) both undergo an experimental procedure to have all traces of their past relationship wiped from their memory. The story is both mind-bendingly original and achingly familiar.

We’re guided through timeline leaps and emotional tangles by a smart visual language, and deceptively simple visual effects and beautiful cinematography elevate the story at every turn. Add also an unimprovable ensemble cast, and you find yourself with a wealth of options for the best shot of the film, scarcely a poor choice to be found.

But when I close my eyes and think ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind‘, there’s really only one thing I see, one thing that’s burrowed deep into my memory, clinging to the folds rather than be forgotten.

What else? It’s Clementine Kruczynski.

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Moody, perceptive, impulsive, compassionate, vividly alive and whole, Kate Winslet’s Clementine Kruczynski (No jokes about her name) is a live-wire presence and the beating heart of the film. As Joel gets his memories of Clementine erased, we’re witness to a flurry of his experiences with her: dinners out, fights, household mundanities, and tender small moments. It’s when these precious happy memories disappear that he begins to regret his decision, and eventually panics as he realizes just how much he loses when the Clementine goes. The emotional crux of the movie requires the audience to find her just as lovable and as maddening as Joel does, and oh how we do.

 BEST SHOT

Clementine being literally pulled from Joel’s memory, just after a rare moment of pure happiness in our melancholy lead, is the visual summary of the heartbreak of the film. (They used real wires to pull her back out of the frame, instead of CGI– one of many elements that make it so visceral and uncanny.) The frame is filled with Clementine’s lovely face before the light turns harsh and she slips suddenly away, leaving only darkness. Winslet’s performance is so beautifully present that her disappearance deflates both Joel and the scene. It’s a brief shot in a visually inventive sequence, but it leaves its mark.

eternal-sunshine-poster-would-you-erase-me

I wouldn’t.

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Number-Crunching The 86th Academy Awards

86th-Oscars-Logo-586x390

Hi. Remember me? I used to write this blog before I started an epic journey through Katharine Hepburn’s filmography. Turns out epic journeys are way more time-consuming than I thought. Anyway, the Academy Awards are on Sunday and I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to re-visit my yearly tradition of number crunching the sequels, adaptations, and remakes that are nominated this Oscars season. And since I’m trying to buy back your love, I made the graphs really, really pretty.

First of all, let’s look at the new-and-improved breakdown of all 511 Oscar nominees through history (click to make larger):

511bestpicturenoms(Those are pretty graphs, right?) Side note: while adaptations still dominate, I had to create a new heading, “Other,” to deal with all of the anomalies. Many movie adaptations (like the American Gaslight) are also remakes (of the British Gaslight). “Other” also includes the two later Lord Of The Rings movies which are both sequels AND adaptations, which is just not kosher. Even with this change, adaptations make up over half of the total: 289 straight adaptations have been nominated up to the present.

The sequels you can probably guess most of: Godfather Part II, Godfather Part III, and Toy Story 3 are the obvious, but there are two other early sequels: The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945) and The Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935, oddly).

The remakes, on the other hand, have a fun oddity.  Two movies with the same title have been nominated for an Oscar: Heaven Can Wait (1943), and Heaven Can Wait (1978).  However, the first is the story of a playboy who recounts his exploits in Hades, while the second is a Warren Beatty film about a football player who comes back to life in the body of a multimillionaire.  Here’s the weirder part: the second film actually is a remake of a 1941 film called Here Comes Mr. Jordan, starring Robert Montgomery and Claude Rains.

85bestpicturewinnersUnsurprisingly, the numbers stay pretty consistent from types of movies win to what types of movies dominate. As I was re-creating this graph, I started to wonder. Do we nominate so many adaptations because they seem more Oscar-worthy somehow? Is this finally proof of my freshman English professor’s scoff that film is derivative? Let’s try taking a historical perspective on this data.

511NomineesByDecade

“Unoriginal” stands for the sum of Remakes, Sequels, Adaptations, and Other

First thing I notice: the 1950s were not big for original content. When you think about it, the 1950s and 1960s were the times of the Great Epics, most of which were based in literature (Ben-Hur, Lawrence of Arabia). The the 1970s and the American New Wave hits and BAM new content! Since then it seems mostly steady, although there’s so far been an uptick in original material in the New Millennium. Don’t get me wrong; I love period pieces, but I definitely welcome stories written specifically for the screen (whatever the theme of this blog may suggest). Let’s see how this holds with Best Picture winners.

85WinnersByDecadeWow. Well, the Academy is at least consistent in its inconsistency. There’s that mid-century dip again, although this time its nadir is the 1960s. We seem to have more or less evened out since then. I do hope this current uptick in original screenplays continues though.

Speaking of current Oscar winners, here’s the breakdown of this year’s Academy Awards. It is by far the simplest graph I’ve made since I started these, and it’s also contrary to everything we’ve been seeing (except that last graph):

9bestpicturenoms

No sequels or remakes

With all that critics (including me) keep kvetching about how these are the End Times for the film industry because Hollywood can’t stop making sequels, it’s nice to see visual proof that it isn’t always so. In 2013, we found 9 movies that represent the best of what Hollywood sees in itself, and over half of them were original stories.

What do you see in these graphs? Data is always up for interpretation!

I’d like to thank my 8th grade math teacher, Mr. Dicker, for teaching me how to use Excel. I’d like to thank God, Meryl Streep, and my parents, without whom this blog post would not be possible. And now the band is playing me off, so I really have to go!

For more fun updates, or to suggest a movie, like WRM on Facebook or follow on Twitter @WeRecycleMovies. Also check out our podcast on iTunes!

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What Price Hollywood? – The Movie That Inspired A Star Is Born

225px-WhatpricehollywoodposterI’d like to start 2014 with a throwback. All the way back in 2012, when I started (or rather restarted) We Recycle Movies, the blog was reborn with a trio of reviews of the various versions of A Star Is Born (1937, 1954, and 1976, respectively). At the time, I remarked that they were all based on an earlier movie called What Price Hollywood? that was unavailable through conventional means and only seemed to be a minor inspiration anyway. I have to be honest. This rankled me. I’m somewhat of a completist (as my current column on The Film Experience will attest), and I didn’t like the idea of starting the blog with an unfinished set. Fortunately for us, Turner Classic Movies screens everything, so I at last was able to uncover a lost gem. And what a gem it turned out to be!

It’s impossible not to compare What Price Hollywood? to the films it later inspired. Unlike A Star Is Born, What Price Hollywood? (1932 dir. George Cukor) is not a Depression era morality fable about the joys and sorrows of Hollywood. In fact, unlike its pontificating progeny, What Price Hollywood? is not very moral at all. It’s one of the last Pre-Code films about Hollywood, and although its content isn’t particularly lascivious, its tone is nonetheless one of unapologetic excess.

"I'm a movie star, not an actor!"

“I’m a movie star, not an actor!”

Mary Evans (Constance Bennett) is a cynical waitress at the Brown Derby who wants to be a star. When drunken director Max Carey stumbles into the restaurant the night of his premiere, she rides his tipsy tailcoats all the way from the Chinese Theater to a studio contract and stardom. Max’s career spirals out of control while Mary rises higher; she marries a mercurial millionaire and settles in France, while Max commits suicide in a sober spell of self-loathing. This is no story of star-crossed lovers – Max and Mary are not in love. Most of the time the story seems pulled from a ‘30s fan magazine.

Before 1933, anything really did go for movie stars. This was the era of Gloria Swanson’s Lancia limo upholstered in leopard fur, and Greta Garbo’s less-than-subtle love affair with Mercedes de Acosta. This is Mary’s world, and compared to most of Silent Hollywood she’s practically a nun. Mary’s worst faux pas is going to her millionaire boyfriend’s dinner in her nightie (not by choice). And then there’s Max’s sad suicide in her living room. That one does almost cost Mary her career. Mary is a low-class actress who wants to be famous and have fun. There’s no moral judgement against Mary for her ambition. The film applauds her for it.

"I'm a movie star, not an actor!"

“I’m a movie star, not an actor!”

This is because What Price Hollywood? is an artifact of Pre-Code Hollywood. While I’ve talked extensively about the effect the Hays Code had on films, I’ve left out its effect on studios. Once the Hays Code crackdown happened in 1933, stars had morality clauses written into their contracts. Gone were the days of wild parties and rape allegations (well, almost gone). Depression-era audiences said goodbye to the worldly girls like Mary Evans. It was time for the virtuous Vicky Lester’s star to shine.

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What A Year It Was! 2013 In Review

Wow, was this an incredible year! It started with a massive movie musical missive against Les Mis (that lasted maybe longer than it should have), then for a while we juggled (mostly) regular posts and contributions to Hit Me With Your Best Shot at The Film Experience. That last one led to an ongoing gig writing for The Film Experience, for which I am extremely grateful (more on that in a minute). I lectured at the Queen Mary Art Deco Festival in Long Beach (and again at San Diego Comic Fest) and did the occasional podcast. The rest of the year seems dull in comparison, though I managed to gather a few great guest posts from friends, liveblog The Sound of Music Live, and break 200 followers and 100 posts before the end of the year. As always, thank you to everyone who read. Thank you also to Margaret, Adam, Gabe, and Nathaniel for contributions and support.

Now, on to some big news: The blog is going back to twice a month! I know. I’m sorry. I promise it’s for a good reason. That reason is…

I’m writing a weekly column for The Film Experience starting January 1st! (That’s tomorrow!) Katharine Hepburn, my lifelong idol, made exactly 52 movies, and for the next 52 weeks I am going to watch them in chronological order. It’s called My Year With Kate and it’s going to be yar. Really it is. I’m so excited Nathaniel is giving me this opportunity, and I can’t wait to spend a year with my favorite leading lady.

In the meantime, I’ll need breaks from Kate the Great, so I will be updating We Recycle Movies every other week. I’ve got lots of great ideas for 2014, so stay tuned here! And as always, if you have any suggestions for posts please voice them in the comments below.

Thank you all for making 2013 an incredible year. Here’s to what has passed in 2013, and what will come in 2014! I found the perfect clip to ring in the new year: Katharine Hepburn’s New Year’s Eve scene from Holiday:

Happy New Year!

 

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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