Saturday, January 28, 2012
What are bloopers? Mistakes made by performers or public figures which shatter the illusion that they're attempting to create thereby reminding the audience that all acting and most speechmaking is just bullshit. Usually bloopers involve actors simply forgetting their lines (and then muttering "Goddamit"). Sometimes people simply fall down or become frustrated with an uncooperative prop. And sometimes uncontrollable laughter erupts in a performer for no apparent reason. This last is a very specific form of blooping and it's referred to by the English as "corpsing". I'm not quite sure why the reference to a dead body, but I've heard English actors describe it thusly: it's the moment when two actors staring at each other in mid-scene suddenly realize the absurdity of what they're doing--pretending to be other people and sincerely spouting sentiments which have no true meaning to them outside of the scene.
Peter Sellers was a master of the "corpse" and in some of his outtakes one gets the feeling that he's actually self-inducing the corpse moment as a way of releasing some tension within himself. Viz:
And then there are the good old fashioned line screw-ups (followed by the usual expletive). Here's a reel of that genre of blooper, apparently compiled from Universal films of the 1940's. The only performers I recognize are Robert Cummings, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Elisha Cook, Jr. Does anyone else out there recognize the others?
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 11:03 AM
Thursday, January 19, 2012
There's "Kane". There's "Bicycle Thief". "Greed" of course (though who the hell has ever really seen it?) "Rules Of the Game", "La Dolce Vita", "Wild Strawberries" and I suppose a few more too famous to mention. On and on--ad infinitum, ad nauseum. Face it, the GREATEST FILMS OF ALL TIMES LIST has largely remained the same over the past fifty years. Stuffy, academic and proper as a maiden aunt. So why don't we shake the tree a bit and introduce a few new concepts?
Let's begin with the fact that filmed storytelling generally needs to be incredibly functional to be incredibly satisfying. Why this is true is a mystery. The musical play is somewhat the same--fat has no place in this art form, or if it does it's strictly for fatheads. Digressions, diversions, excursions--you can do them, and a few people will appreciate the effort (or pretend to) but in the end we are dealing with bread and circuses. Hold your audience, surprise and move them, top your best emotional moments and/or gags and you've got a great film. Or at least one that people will enjoy and watch more than once--which, in a gloriously down-and-dirty economically based medium like film, is what truly counts.
My vote for the tightest, best executed, most enjoyable demonstration of the above theory follows. Frame by frame, inch by inch, I find this film as satisfying, enjoyable and moving an adventure as any of the above named masterpieces. I hearby go on record and nominate, as an utterly worthy and deserving addition to the pantheon...
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 7:47 AM
Friday, January 13, 2012
The notorious Bettie Page, one of the great pin-up/peep-show queens of all times, disappeared from view in 1957. For years her whereabouts were a total mystery. Eventually she was "sighted" but she categorically refused to be photographed or interviewed. Then, for some reason, in 1996 she decided to give an interview (audio only) to Tim Estiloz, a skilled, journeyman broadcaster/critic. Why she decided to finally re-emerge (and why she chose the relatively low-key forum Estiloz offered) remain a mystery. But emerge she did.
The interview is a nice summation of the first part of her life but doesn't go into the quite tragic second part of her life--schizophrenia, depression and a murder attempt (she had a violent altercation with her then landlord involving a knife...take that, Irving Klaw!) Page's refusal to be photographed is disappointing at first--but maybe she has a point. "Who wants to see a model when she's old and broken down", rasps the seventy-three year old Bettie. "I hate old age!" Hearing her voice--an oddly accented mid-to-southern growl--quite makes up for it.
Here's a good review of Bettie's life and times. Enjoy the interview...
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 1:23 PM
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Lets cut it to the bone: Blaze Starr was the goddamdest stripper of them all. She was one hot mama and apparently is still alive and well and working as a gemologist. Why I find this so cool I don't know; it's a little like learning that cigarettes are actually good for you I guess.
Starr, in her heyday (or hey-hey-hey-day!) was so smoking that the Governor of Lousiana, Earl Long, carried on a torrid, illicit affiar with her that was public knowlege. (I know that sounds like a contradiction but in the fifties and sixties people were still able to have publicly acknowledged illicit affairs--look at Kennedy and Monroe, for Chrissakes). Long's affair with the buxom Ms. Starr actually landed him in a mental hospital shortly before his death in 1960. He left her fifty grand in his will which she refused to take. Their relationship was dramatized (but not immortalized) in the desultory screen bio "Blaze", starring Paul Newman and Lolita Davidovich,--in my opinion, one of the great lost opportunities of the biopic genre.
It's not just Starr's "expansive upper regional domes" --as Charles Chaplin, writing in his autobiography with the unusual title "My Autobiography" referred to Joan Barry's physique (she who landed him in court on a bogus rape charge in the mid forties shortly before his marriage to the underage Oona O'Neil and the ultimate refusal of his Visa for Communistic tendencies etc. etc. enough!) that make Starr so tantalizing a subject. Watch this very nice black and white mid-1950's view of Starr through to the end. Somewhere after the four minute mark (it runs five and change) you'll see what I mean. I won't give it away. Suffice to say that if you believe in reincarnation, you probably will want to come back to life as a piece of furniture once used in a short film of a stripper named Blaze Starr, who in her heyday was so smoking that the Governor of Louisiana...
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 2:21 PM
Saturday, January 7, 2012
Here's a rare clip of Nicholas Ray (I will not insult anyone's film-telligence by listing credits...such as "Johnny Guitar", "Rebel Without a Cause", "Wind Across the Everglades", "They Live By Night", "On Dangerous Ground", "The Lusty Men", "Flying Lethernecks", "Born To Be Bad", "Run For Cover", :"King Of Kings", "55 Days at Peking"--wait--is that all of them?") discussing the ending of the astonishing 1950 Hollywood noir "In A Lonely Place". He briefly mentions how he was seperated at the time from his wife, the film's co-star Gloria Grahame, but he doesn't mention why.
Do you know why?
One day soon I'll tell you. Meanwhile:
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 12:45 PM
Friday, January 6, 2012
Courtesy of Leonard Edit (a pseudonym, natch) here is a fine artiwiki on the Burlesque Hall of Fame--a place that actually exists in (where else?) Las Vegas. Burlesque is considered the venue in which the striptease was born and flourished and, on the show-biz food chain it was generally considered to be at the bottom. The term itself implied lewdness, coarseness, a cheap laugh and an even cheaper set of thrills to be had watching a woman almost take off her clothes. Burlesque patrons were generally lowlifes who'd wandered in off the street to get out of the cold, a racing form tucked under their arm, reeking of cheap Gin and Old Golds. One didn't set out to be a Burlesque performer--it was a fate that befell you after a series of bad breaks in better venues. Yesterdays Vaudeville headliner could become today's low Burlesque comic simply due to a few bad breaks (like bombing in Peoria...or giving the Syph to an underage girl who turned out to be the daughter of the mayor of the town you were playing). Strippers, likewise, were girls who probably aspired to the chorus line of a Broadway show but either didn't have the stuff or didn't sleep with the right producer--this being back in the day when the theater was still largely a heterosexual domain.
And yet art did flourish within that arid soil. Over the years, the striptease became progressively more sophisticated and gradually crawled out of the Burlesque house and onto the nightclub stage. Gypsy Rose Lee was at the forefront of the transformation of the stripper into the "exotic dancer"--or "Ecdysiast", a word she actually commissioned from H.L Mencken in order to have a more dignified way to refer to her profession. (The etymology of ecdysiast is from "ecdysis"--meaning "to molt". Fine. But what's the etymology of etymology?) And molt they did in increasingly exotic and amusing ways as we'll see below.
First stop: for a very entertaining explanation of the art of stripping, here's the "You Gotta Have A Gimmick" number from the unfortunately lousy 1962 movie version of "Gypsy". This clip also provides a probably more accurate than you'd expect look at the backstage manners found in your average crapped-out Burlesque house.
Next we come to the hysterical Georgia Sothern. Warning: there is nothing--and I mean NOTHING--erotically appealing about this woman's act. But it's weirdly funny and oddly mesmerizing so give it a chance. For more on Georgia--a lot more--dig this link.
Next is the lovely Chinese Burlesque artist Noel Toy and her fan dance. For more on Noel, here's her quite fascinating obit. Hep it, digcats:
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 11:04 AM
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Apropos of my previous post, which was last years last post (as if it matters) which managed to feature the combined talents of director Robert Altman, composer/actor/producer/Julie London-marry-er Booby Troup and Striptease icon Lily St. Cry, I thought I'd begin the year's descent into the "eleysian fields of popular entertainment" (a phrase deployed by Albert Lewin writing to Preston Sturges about a script called "Two Bad Hats" which became "The Lady Eve" as quoted in Hendersons "Five Screenplays by Preston Sturges) with a festive celebration of strippers from the past. Jesus, what a train wreck of an opening sentence. Read backwards, it makes more sense than read forwards.
What would the world do without the stripper? They're usually young, friendly and claim to be studying journalism at Columbia University (at least the ones I've met). The history of the "Strip" is one of the more fascinating sideshow exhibits in the show-biz museum and I'm sorry but I don't have time today to get into it. Instead I'll refer you to my friend, J. Fred Wikipedia, who has provided us with a marvelous illustrated article on the subject.
Let's begin the new year with a refreshing look at this often misunderstood art form. I hearby commence the "Festival Of Strippers" with one of the art forms quintessential practitioners, Gypsy Rose Lee and arguably the art forms greatest guest-host, Rita Hayworth. Below are clips of each of them performing the same song, Doris Fischer and Allan Roberts classic jive-tease "Put The Blame On Mame". Gypsy's performance is from a TV appearence in the late fifties and includes a brief glimpse of the great vibraphonist Red Norvo, whose group is accompanying her. What I find truly interesting in this clip is how relatively mild--indeed almost lackadaisical--Gypsy's routine actually is. True, she's older than your usual stripper and this was presumably a cleaned-up version for broadcasting purposes--but is this really what all the fuss was about? As for her voice, let's just say that Natalie Wood's intentionally nervous rendering of Gypsy's debut as a stripper was positively complimentary; Gypsy doesn't really have a voice. Nonetheless, it's the real live Gypsy.
And then there's Rita Hayworth, from the 1946 semi-noir "Gilda". This clip will speak for itself. Though Hayworth wasn't a stripper and as far as i know really only ever performed a striptease this once, she managed to understand the art form and its audience in a way that nobody else ever quite did. Enjoy...
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 11:15 AM