30 November 2011

Ava Lights Up the Screen!

Ava Gardner in "Mogambo" (1953)

Ava Gardner literally lightened up the screen in the movie "Mogambo" back in the 1950s. Not just because of the obvious wonders of Technicolor, but because of her presence. Her spirit. 
She even got nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her role as Eloise Y. "Honey Bear" Kelly
Well deservedly. 

She's so very fresh and sassy in that role - it's wonderfully hilarious! As other bloggers also have remarked, she really saves the movie which - let's face it - isn't much writing home about. It's actually a remake of "Red Dust" (1932) - also starring Clark Gable in lead role. Only at that time replacing the dewey-eyed, uptight wife with Mary Astor and the sassy, shameless ..well, prostitute (this fact was rather understated in the remake given it was the '50s, of course) with marvelous Jean Harlow. Clark's 20 years younger, thus more agile and vigorous - and his chemistry with Jean Harlow is probably one of the best ever seen on screen (in my opinion), and I can fully recommend it. Ava does most of the chemistry alone in this version, I confess, but I forgive Clark. It's hard enough being squeezed between two wenches more than once in your lifetime ... ;)

I feel I must praise Grace Kelly too for her performance as the "happily" married Linda Nordley and a likewise well-deserved nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.  Like her predecessor she plays the part as snivelling, irritating damsel in distress well (although I hate such characters) - luckily making lots of space for her counterpart aka. Ava to interfere with her sharp-witted remarks, great comedic timing and passionate manners.

Because it is hard to take your eyes off Ava's obvious beauty and spark when she steals scene after scene (notice especially her cute interactions with the animals) and definitely makes it worth giving the film a shot.

Furthermore, Ava is quoted to have said of her role as Honey Bear Kelly in "Mogambo":

"As far as my career as an actress went, Mogambo was probably as close to a pinnacle as anything I’ve done. For someone with my naturally irreverent temperament, playing a sassy, tough-talking playgirl who whistles at men, drinks whiskey straight from the bottle, and says about wine, ‘any year, any model, they all bring out my better nature’ was a gift from the gods. I never felt more comfortable in a part before or since, and I was even allowed to improvise some of my dialogue.”

Enjoy ;)


A small gossip PS: It was rumoured that Grace and Clark had an affair off-screen too, which I always thought a bit ironic. I couldn't quite fathom Clark would take her instead of Ava, whom I thought was much more fun, hot-blooded and desirable! Oh, well, maybe he just couldn't tame Ava as well as Grace... Not to mention, the latter notably was said to have a thing for older men in the first place and that they always fell for her... ;P

23 November 2011

A Shame? - The Young Actress Who Became a Nun

She was the talented and beautiful girl to give Elvis Presley his first movie kiss. The future promised her a life bathed in glory, fame and fortune, she made 10 films in 5 years and then it suddenly ended. She chose to become a nun. Well, "ended" is perhaps a bit too strong a word. After all, she didn't die or anything (though certain people might find the change of career utterly idiotic and fatal).
She simply had a change of heart.

I always saw Dolores Hart (1938- ) as one of the most beautiful creatures ever to appear on the screen. With her childlike, pure features, yet mature and intelligent eyes and calm manners - all which indicated a strong spirit in a determined, wholehearted and somewhat enigmatic young girl - she illuminated the otherwise typical, silly American comedies of the '60s. A younger version of me used to watch "Where the Boys Are" (1960), "Come Fly with Me" (1963) and "The Inspector" (1962) with same amount of admiration, awe and curiosity every time she appeared; she mystified me already then with her ambiguous mimic and acting. It was as if she was never quite pleased with her life or what she was doing, yet at other times she acted relaxed - as if she was unaware of or had gone unnoticed by the camera. She could be restless without really being it, at times her big expressive eyes hinted a certain touch of cynicism or bitterness (consciously or not, I don't think it was always the intention regarding her portrayals of her characters), but mostly melancholy. Though her blue, pensive eyes slightly betrayed her, she never really told everything. She always held back a bit; reserved, cautious and almost controlled, sometimes with a knowing look or smile hiding somewhere beneath. Despite of that, or because of that, I liked her. A lot. Perhaps it was because of her fascinating beauty. Perhaps I could see some of myself in her because of her young age and innocence that ironically held a rather precocious, sarcastic, almost self-deprecating mind. Always seeming to know more than everyone else, but never letting it on.

Anyway, imagine my disappointment when I found out she'd hardly made any films besides those I'd seen; that she had joined the convent already at an early age and - I slowly realized - would never come back to the screen. In the beginning I blamed her the same way I blamed another talented, beauty who left the motion picture industry for another, "greater" purpose - much too soon, in my opinion: Grace Kelly. Well, in Grace's case, she did it out of love for a man - and that's perhaps not so different from what Dolores did, after all. She loved God more. I guess it's possible for some people to love God more than movies (being a nutty film nerd I can tell you it's a tough realization), so much that they'll devote their entire lives in His service, but what makes all this even harder is perhaps the biggest (and most selfish) cliché of them all - and this will sound banal: that she was such an incredibly beautiful and talented young woman who disappeared from the screen, only to cover herself up and devote herself to something entirely different and rather impalpable than us - the audience! Why?, we ask. Her own answer is this:

"It was not a lifelong dream," she said. "I did not grow up wanting to be a nun. I wanted to be an actress. If it had ever been suggested I would one day be a nun, it would have been the last thing on my mind. It was a million to one shot I would ever be a nun."

Though I'm not Catholic or hardly religious, I think I understand her. It was basically the same I experienced when I chose my academic study not so long ago. It was a rather sudden decision - though it had been in the back of my head for many years. But until then I'd always thought I should do film studies in the capital - and now I'm here learning stuff that includes everything I'm passionate about and not just films. In that sense, Dolores Hart is a role model that never fades (though she's far too underrated an actress which is indeed a shame).

By the way, I found this great article including an interview with her (also where I got the quote from) that explains her passions and choices in life, and it has this wonderful ending:

Friends send movies to the abbey and she watches more than many of the other nuns because of her background, but there usually isn't time to see many. She watched "Titanic" and she had hoped Dame Judi Dench would win the Oscar for "Mrs. Brown."
Would Hollywood ever see her return?
The odds, she says, are a million to one.
But those were the same odds she would ever become a nun.

16 November 2011

Get yourself drunk!

I've never been in favor of excessive drinking, but this poem touched me on a different level, making me realise that it involved more than just plain drunkenness. There is a certain melancholy about it, something inevitable and self-absorbing that clings to it and doesn't leave you again. I find it beautiful somehow. In relation to being drunk with movies; talking about them, "living" in them, I understand its meaning. It portays a crushing, timeless truth about life, time and human nature in their essence; a truth about our weaknesses, our hunger for stimulants, intoxication and moments of oblivion whether it comes from the media, food, materials, power and certain strong feelings like love and hate etc. - to name a few.


by Charles Baudelaire

"Be always drunken.
Nothing else matters:
that is the only question.
If you would not feel
the horrible burden of Time
weighing on your shoulders
and crushing you to the earth,
be drunken continually.

Drunken with what?
With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you wish.
But be drunken.
And if sometimes,
on the stairs of a palace,
or on the green side of a ditch,
or in the dreary solitude of your own room,
you should awaken
and the drunkenness be half or wholly slipped away from you,
ask of the wind,
or of the wave,
or of the star,
or of the bird,
or of the clock,
of whatever flies,
or sighs,
or rocks,
or sings,
or speaks,
ask what hour it is;
and the wind,
clock will answer you:
"It is the hour to be drunken!
To escape being the martyred slaves of time, be ceaselessly drunk.
On wine, on poetry, or on virtue, as you wish."


15 November 2011

The Face of Garbo by Roland Barthes

Garbo still belongs to that moment in cinema when capturing the human face still plunged audiences into the deepest ecstasy, when one literally lost oneself in a human image as one would in a philtre, when the face represented a kind of absolute state of the flesh, which could be neither reached nor renounced. A few years earlier the face of Valentino was causing suicides; that of Garbo still partakes of the same rule of Courtly Love, where the flesh gives rise to mystical feelings of perdition. 
It is indeed an admirable face-object. In Queen Christina, a film which has again been shown in Paris in the last few years, the make-up has the snowy thickness of a mask: it is not a painted face, but one set in plaster, protected by the surface of the colour, not by its lineaments. Amid all this snow at once fragile and compact, the eyes alone, black like strange soft flesh, but not in the least expressive, are two faintly tremulous wounds. In spite of its extreme beauty, this face, not drawn but sculpted in something smooth and fragile, that is, at once perfect and ephemeral, comes to resemble the flour-white complexion of Charlie Chaplin, the dark vegetation of his eyes, his totem-like countenance.
Now the temptation of the absolute mask (the mask of antiquity, for instance) perhaps implies less the theme of the secret (as is the case with Italian half mask) than that of an archtype of the human face. Garbo offered to one's gaze a sort of Platonic Idea of the human creature, which explains why her face is almost sexually undefined, without however leaving one in doubt. It is true that this film (in which Queen Christina is by turns a woman and a young cavalier) lends itself to this lack of differentiation; but Garbo does not perform in it any feat of transvestism; she is always herself, and carries without pretence, under her crown or her wide-brimmed hats the same snowy solitary face. The name given to her, the Divine, probably aimed to convey less a superlative state of beauty than the essence of her corporeal person, descended form a heaven where all things are formed and perfected in the clearest light. She herself knew this: how many actresses have consented to let the crowd see the ominous maturing of their beauty. Not she, however; the essence was not to be degraded, her face was not to have any reality except that of its perfection, which was intellectual even more that formal. The Essence became gradually obscured, progressively veiled with dark glasses, broad hats and exiles: but it never deteriorated.
And yet, in this deified face, something sharper than a mask is looming: a kind of voluntary and therefore human relation between the curve of the nostrils and the arch of the eyebrows; a rare, individual function relating two regions of the face. A mask is but a sum of lines; a face, on the contrary, is above all their thematic harmony. Garbo's face represents this fragile moment when the cinema is about to draw an existential from an essential beauty, when the archtype leans towards the fascination of mortal faces, when clarity of the flesh as essence yields its place to a lyricism of Woman.
Viewed as a transition the face of Garbo reconciles two iconographic ages, it assures the passage from awe to charm. As is well known, we are today at the other pole of this evolution: the face of Audrey Hepburn, for instance, is individualized, not only because of its peculiar thematics (woman as child, woman as kitten) but also because of her person, of an almost unique specification of the face, which has nothing of the essence left in it, but is constiuted by an infinite complexity of morphological functions. As a language, Garbo's singularity was of the order of the concept, that of Audrey Hepburn is of the order of the substance. The face of Garbo is an Idea, that of Hepburn an Event.