Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tonto and Friends Run Amok

Tonto: We take control of blog from Jenny Nipper. She has issues to work out with Hamlet and Wuthering Heights. Too much death. Too depressing. Winter is no time to watch Wuthering Heights.

Tonto and friends want funny movie. Tonto and friends want feel good without being sickening about it movie. In short. Tonto and friends want Working Girl.

Tess is temp working as secretary for man pig boss who make Tarzan seem like sensitive new man.

Tarzan: Hey! That uncalled for! Tarzan get Utne Reader, now. Tarzan have whole new appreciation for Jane.

Tonto: Tess go see Olympia Dukakis. Tonto wonder if Olympia Dukakis in every good movie from 80s? Tess get new job working for Tall Lady Parker. Tall Lady want to be friend of Tess, be mentor. She steal idea from Tess. Tall Lady break leg skiing. Tess steal tall lady dress and invitation to cocktail party. Cyn give Tess valium to "chill her ever so slightly." Tess Meets Han Solo at party and gets drunk.

Frankenstein: Lust and tequilaaaaaah!

Tarzan: Tarzan want add that Working Girl follow Joan Cusack rule: any movie with Joan Cusack be good. By virtue of fact it have Joan Cusack.

Tonto: Exactly. Cyn have hair and makeup like Bride of Frankenstein.

Frankenstein: Squeeee!

Tonto: Harrison Ford is good comedian. In wedding scene he drink whole frufru umbrella drink really fast. Hi. Lar. E. Us. Melanie Griffith funny too, though humor is dead pan.

Tarzan: Not sure Melanie Griffith is that funny. She look good in underwear, though.

Tonto: What happened to sensitive New Tarzan?

Tarzan: Tarzan can appreciate that movie is about sexism and classism in workplace, but still show most of female cast in underwear.

Jenny: And Harrison Ford in nothing but an ugly Southwestern pattern blanket.

Tonto: Hey, Jenny Nipper. Me not see you come in.

Jenny: I'm stealth like that sometimes. Hey speaking of Jack Trainer's Southwestern Blanket. What is up with his apartment? In the first scene he puts drunk Tess down in an awesome Aalto chair while he sits on an Aalto stool. So I'm like swoon. He's got a head for business, a bod for sin AND he appreciates mid century classic furniture two decades before its cool to do so. But then in the morning after scene he has a tv six inches away from his bed and he falls asleep with it on which is weird. Worse than that is the late 80s southwestern bedding mixed with the faux Arts and Crafts lamp to make Taliesin Blech style--Guys? Guys? Where'd you go.

Tonto: Sorry. Jenny Nipper loose us with interior decorating talk. We wander out to smokem piece pipe.

Jenny: Oh. Well, Just sayin. Jack Trainer has confused tastes. Anyway, this is one of my favorite movies from the 80s. It's aged pretty well don't you think?

Tonto: Movie aged better than Alec Baldwin.

Jenny: Holy crap, yeah. Alec Baldwin looks like he's 19 in this movie. I'm so used to the bloated middle-aged 30 Rock Alec Baldwin, in all his Shatneresque glory, that I forgot how lithe he once was. Tess was right to call him a snake.

Tonto: At this point, Jenny Nipper probably want to make some Cary Grant comparison.

Jenny: Oh Tonto, you know me so well. It's almost like we were fragments of the same ego or something. Yeah, the scene in which Ford talks on the phone to Tess and changes his shirt to the awe and eventual applause of the whole office is one of those moments where Ford's comic timing and physical grace were reminiscent of Cary Grant. The other is in Frantic when he is on the roof of Michelle's apartment, which recalls the anti-graceful grace in fight scene on the roof in Charade.

Tarzan: Frantic. Now that is good movie. Emanuelle "dress more like hooker in every scene" Seigner can swing on Tarzan's vine any day.

Jenny: Eww. Thanks for the mental image. Clearly the Utne Reader still has some work to do.

Tonto: To get back to Working Girl. Tonto have "Let the River Run" in head for 48 hours after watching movie.

Frankenstein: $6,000?! It's not even leathaaaaahhhhhh!!!

Jenny: And on that note. I think we should post this baby before I change my mind.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Wuthering Heights: Take any form. Drive me mad.

Wuthering Heights exists in many forms. It's a novel, of course, a stage play, a dozen movies, a song by Kate Bush, a classic comic, and a sketch by Monty Python in which the actors use semaphore code instead of dialog.

The 1939 film version was not only my portal to Wuthering Heights, (and the 19th century novel as an afterthought), but more importantly, it was my first cinematic obsession. As a 15 year old I watched this twisted, romantic movie over and over. I recorded my favorite speeches from the film and interspersed them on cassette tapes with pop songs. To this day, when I hear Olivier croak "Haunt me then. Take any form. Drive me mad." I expect to hear it followed immediately by "Can't Stand Losing You" by the Police.

Eventually I read the book. Well, I skimmed it at first, I think. I was confused by the whole second generation and all the other stuff that wasn't in the movie. The Hayes Code and the sensibilities of Hollywood had ground down the story into a shiny fragment of the original tale. As dark and passionate as the film was, it positively bland compared to the book. Or put another way the two are as different as "frost from fire." Heathcliff and Cathy are far more cruel and brutal in the novel and I've yet to find a film version that captures their malevolent essence. (Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche come close, but her accent is a real problem and Fiennes lapse back to his psycho schtick way too frequently.) In the '39 film, Heathcliff and Cathy are the only victims of their suicide by mysterious Victorian illness pact, but in the novel the moors are fertilized with the corpses of Edgar, Isabella, Hindley, Linton, the Lintons Sr. and anyone else who doesn't have the otherworldy consitution to survive a Gothic Romance.

After many more trips through the book, I've begun to think that though the basic story is very compelling and cinematic, the novel is unadaptable. Part of the problem is that the story is told mostly in flashback with the narrator dropping in on the characters every three years or so. This means you have to either hire 5 actors to play Heathcliff or put up with a 30 year old man prancing around the moors picking wild flowers.

The latest incarnation of Wuthering Heights is ITV-produced miniseries (after five attempt by the venerable BBC, the novel is turned over to the "other" flashier network in Britain) which stars Tom Hardy and Charlotte Riley as Heathcliff and Cathy. Like the rest of the adaptations this one is a mixed bag of good and bad. Excellent casting, acting (Hardy might be the best Heathcliff ever) and a sincere attempt to reveal some of the more mysterious corners of the novel are muddled by a script that plays fast and loose with the timeline for the purpose of upping the soad-opera quotient, dumps the narrative structure and religates the ghost story to an afterthought. I could have lived without the ghost, actually, I think there is a very valid reason to do a rationalist intepretation of the story, where the ghost is all in Heathcliff's head. The novel ends with Lockwood, the narrator taking the opportunity to use the last words in the book to reject the idea of the ghost lovers. The filmakers bravely walked down this route until the final shot of Heathcliff and Cathy looking out a window together echoing the classic ghosts walking off into the sunset ending of the 1939 film. William Wyler famously objected to that in his film, but the studio insisted it be done, and almost to spite him, every WH film since has echoed it in some way. The trope even shows up in Alex Cox's brilliant 1986 film about doomed and epically annoying lovers Sid and Nancy.

The 2008 adaptation begins to address some of the shadowy questions about Heathcliff's provenance, suggesting quite openly that Heathcliff may be Mr. Earnshaw's illegitimate son. There are some hints that our anti-hero may have actually murdered Hindley, and that given a different set of circumstances Hindley and Isabella might have made a fine couple. With three graffic sex scenes this is certainly the raciest Wuthering Heights ever. It's refreshing to see an adaptation actually take a stand on this question even if they wimped out a bit by changing Heathcliff and Cathy ages to early twenties instead of 15 and 16 which they are at that particular point in the novel. Not that I want to see underage kids going at it, but that nod to contemporary mores is just one of the many ways that filmmakers water down this staggeringly inappropriate love story. And yet they made Heathcliff's obsession with Cathy's dead body even more grotesque than it was in the book. What does this say about our society? I guess we are are pretty comfortable with decomposed corpses from watching millions of collective hours of Cold Case Files, CSI and the like. And we thought the Victorians were morbid.

I still have many mini series adaptations to wade through, should they ever make their way onto Youtube. Like Heathcliff, I'll scan the horizon for whatever new forms this endlessly fascinating novel chooses to take to haunt me. Wuthering Heights the sock puppet play is sure to be along any day now.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Quoting Lincoln: The Washington Merry-Go Round

Flipping back and forth between coverage of the Inaugural pagent yesterday evening, I decided to opt for the pre-code political drama, Washington Merry Go Round (1932). One scene in particular was greatly appropriate. Button Brown, (Lee Tracy) a freshman congressman is writing his first speech to deliver before the House. He gleefully tells his girlfriend/secretary, Contance Cummings that the speech is going to be the sensation of the political season: he's going to quote Lincoln! As he sits in his chair waiting to give his speech , an older congressman, a real blowhard of an orator gives a speech that uses the whole second half of the Gettysburg address. Poor Button Brown, naive enough to imagine that invoking the name of Lincoln would be an effective gimmick when half the men in congress are putting on fake beards and stovepipe hats to sell the latest additions to an appropriations bill. Button gets up and throws out his whole speech, spending his time deriding the specifics of a pork barrel bill. His speech is the sensations of the political season because it has the gall to speak truth to power. While there was a bit of that yesterday, the biggest surprise was that Obama, after being sworn in on Lincoln's Bible, mainly quoted George Washington.

Like the far more familiar Mr. Smith Goes to..., Washington Merry Go-Round is the story of a young idealist congressman, out to rid the body politic of corruption who is nearly destroyed by the political machine he's trying to pull down. Instead of boys club activitists, Button employs Bonus Marchers and a gal Fridy who is romantic interest. The main difference is the cynicism of pre-code era. While Mr. Smith is played by earnest Jimmy Stewart, Button is played by a much tougher, slightly jaded Lee Tracy. Though his character is a newcomer, he understand the basic game. He gets to Washington on bought votes and plans to pull down the crooked machine which put him there. He quickly discovers that it's not just the party boss, but the powerful business interests who fund the party boss, that he must destroy and he goes after those bosses with ruthlessness. Sadly his mentor Senator Wylie (Walter Connoly) also gets pulled into his crusade and pays with his life.

Button discovers that the philosophy that lies at the heart of the business interests is fascism. The head of this cabal describes himself as a "strong man" and looks up to Stalin and Mussolini as his models. He's been feeding the Bonus Marchers on the downlow, no doubt waiting to use them for some sinister purpose.

The movie is set during a time of great crisis, at the beginning of the Depression in a country that is trying to see it's way out of Prohibition. Early in the film, Button addresses a crowd of Bonus marchers, men who've put their lives on hold to come to Washington to lobby for the bonus that was promised them as veterans of World War One. Button does something completely unexpected. He tells them to quit asking for a handout and help him root out cuorruption since they can't find work. He is nearly torn apart by an angry mob who doesn't want to hear this. In the weeks after one corporation after another has gone before congress to ask for a handout, it's a message that stills resonates. If Bonus Marchers, even fictional ones, can manage to pull themselves together to take on a cause bigger than themselves, then surely corporate America can do the same.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Eye Candy of the Day: Long live the articles of Piratization!

The articles of Piratization are as follows:

1) All men shall make equal share of the treasure. Any man caught hording more than his rightful share will be banished from the crew. Those injured in battle shall receive additional compensation for their injuries. Loss of a right arm=500 dubloons. Loss of a left arm=300, Loss of a right leg=400, loss of a left leg=200, loss of an eye=300.

2) No man shall do harm to another on this crew or any other person under the protection of these articles. Those caught in harming another will be banished from the crew.

3) No man shall hold a woman against her will. Any man caught doing so will be banished from this crew.

4) No ship on the seas is safe from plunder, but those under the protection of these articles. We mean to take treasure from every ship we encounter, but will use no more force than is necessary to subdue them. Any man caught using undue force will be banished from this crew.

Those in favor, say aye! Long live the articles of piratization!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Framed in Meet Cute: Rafter Romance

Well it's been more than a month folks. Hope you all had a great Holidaze! Wish I could say I had something terribly productive to show for my hiatus, other than a few extra pounds from all the dedicated eating I've been doing. I've watched a ton of movies and I'm in danger of forgetting them if I don't get busy blogging.

Rafter Romance (1933) starring Ginger Rogers and Norman Foster (Skyscraper Souls) is a mostly watchable pre-code comedy about a couple sharing an attic apartment in Greenwich Village. Before you get too excited by the raciness of the scenario, remember that Mary has the apartment in the evening and Jack has it during the day because he works as a night watchman. What they are supposed to do on the week-ends is never explained. Their over-involved landlord (George Sidney) takes it upon himself to make sure that they never even meet one another in the apartment. This is a great scenario for a screwball comedy and the movie begins very promisingly with the landlord over-hearing a conversation between Jack who is also a struggling artist and his lady "patron." She offers him hundreds for a painting that he considers worthless. His refusal has more to do with what the drunken elderly woman might expect out of him for the money, but at just that moment the landlord is unable to control himself and bursts into the room demanding he take the money. It's a great piece of comic timing. In fact, with such able comedic talent as Sidney, Rogers and Foster, I'm amazed this move isn't funnier. The gags, which mostly revolve around the couple playing nasty tricks on the other, tend to fall flat. I'm not sure why, perhaps they are just all a bit too predictable.

The funniest scene in the movie has Jack and Mary, who've never met at home, meeting in a deli down the street. He falls for her instantly, never realizing she's the "near-sighted spinster" he's been torturing for weeks. She is sitting on a crate outside the deli and her face is neatly framed by a hanging salami. He goes home and renders the scene in his art, which is pretty hilarious. "And there you were, framed in meat," he says by way of a pick up line.

One of the more entertaining aspects of Rafter Romance is Ginger's outrageously edgy wardrobe. She is a girl who loves big sleeves and even bigger plaids, and I'm certain she inspired this outfit. For someone who is late on the rent, she is certainly a decade (or half century) ahead of the times with her wardrobe. And true to form for pre-code films, there is scene where she undresses before the camera. Filmed from behind, she removes her blazer to reveal a completely bare back. She turns around to reveal that her "shirt" is really just a scarf that's been tucked into the front of her skirt and wrapped around her neck. Before the reveal there is a good ten seconds when she appears to be topless before the audience. Ginger Rogers complained in her memoir that she was never comfortable in skimpy outfits onscreen. This may have been the scene she was thinking of because it must have been scandalous back in the day.

As was pretty typical in pre-code films, Rafter Romance deals directly with the effects of the Great Depression. The reason for the cohabitation is that Mary and Jack, despite having jobs, can't keep up with their rent. Their landlord who is kind-hearted, but practical, doesn't want to put them out on the street. At work, Mary must go out on a date with her loathsome boss, (Robert Benchley) and only manages to keep him at arm's length due to the intervention of a nosy cab driver who makes it his business to defend her honor. Jack has to deal with his drunken patroness who continually propositions him and winds up passing out in Mary's bed, an unpleasant situation for her to deal with after a long day at work trying to sell people refrigerators. The movie doesn't judge these two, though as they hustle to avoid outright prostitution and it's just a fact of life for them that they have to make some moral compromises.