Monday, April 24, 2006

THIS JUST OUT The Films of Faith

While I understand that everything in the world's largest theocracy, the United States of Jesusland, needs to be marketed to Christians, I do think that Warner Bros may be stretching it a bit here. For one thing, Protestantism is the name of the game these days and their Films of Faith Collection focuses wholly on Catholic themes. Perhaps they made this decision based on the TV ratings from the Pope’s funeral last year, one never knows. While I love a theme and admire the (probably unintended) kitschy ambition of the collection, their selection of films simply doesn't gratify me. That being the case, I have created my own collection of Catholic screen gems, focusing on nuns.

Song of Bernadette (1943) Jennifer Jones as the young girl who sees the Virgin Mary, Vincent Price as a cynical politician, and Gladys Cooper as a mean, jealous Mother Superior.

Bells of St Mary’s (1945) Bing Crosby is a singing priest with unconventional ways.

Black Narcissus (1947) Deborah Kerr, Jean Crain, Kathleen Byron, and Sabu – mad nuns, enough said.

Heaven Knows Mr Allison (1957) Deborah Kerr is a nun stranded on an island in the south Pacific with Robert Mitchum during WW2.

The Nun’s Story (1959) Audrey Hepburn plays a nun whose faith and vows are forever being tested. Will she be able to conform to the ways of the church or will she leave the order?

Lilies of the Field (1963) Sydney Poitier plays an unemployed construction worker who happens upon a group of German nuns in the Arizona desert. The best part is when he teaches them Southern spirituals.

The Sound of Music (1965) Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Anna Lee, and Richard Haydn - A postulant falls in love and leaves the order. To music.

The Trouble with Angels (1966) Where Angels Go...Trouble Follows (1968) Rosalind Russell, Mary Wickes, Hayley Mills, Susan Saint James, and others. The first one is the best. Nuns and their charges navigate the complexities of Vatican II and the swinging sixties.

The Singing Nun (1966) Sister Ann’s singing gets her a record deal and everyone is listening to her light-hearted songs, but is she prepared for her new found fame?

The Flying Nun (TV 1967-70) Sally Fields – the misadventures of a nun whose enormous wimple enables her to fly.

A couple of films that feature nuns rather less prominently than the others, but are worth the price of admission:

Applause (1929) This vehicle for Ziegfeld piano sitter Helen Morgan tells the story of Kitty Darling, a faded burlesque star who sends her daughter to a convent to prevent her from following in her footsteps. Beautiful scenes of pre-Vatican II nuns walking with their trailing medieval habits amidst statuary and white swans.

Portrait of Jennie (1948) Jennifer Jones again, this time with Joseph Cotten. Lilian Gish plays the aging nun who remembers the mysterious Jennie from years before when she was sent to a convent after her trapeze artist parents died in a freak accident.

Nuns in Hollywood
Nun's Habits
Nun Dolls
Official Vatican Website

Monday, April 17, 2006

TO DO IN LOS ANGELES The Brothers Quay at USC and AMPAS

Famous stop-motion experimental animators Steven and Timothy Quay will be making their first public appearances in the United States this week. The first being at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Friday evening and then on Sunday afternoon at USC's School of Cinema-Television. Both events will include a presentation of their work, discussion of their films and influences, and a Q & A period.

The Quays have been making animated films since the 1970s and are well known for their innovative and unique style, which is by turns bizarre and dreamlike. Influenced by the Czech artist Jan Svankmajer, their classic 1986 Street of Crocodiles is considered one of the best animated films of all time and has influenced countless filmmakers.

If you can't make it, but you are interested in seeing their films The Brothers Quay Collection provides a good introduction.

At AMPAS - Friday April 21 at 7:30pm at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Samuel Goldwyn Theatre located at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. (310) 247-3600. Tickets are $5 for the general public and $3 for Academy members and students. Tickets for this event will be available on the night of the screening, if still available. On the day of the event, doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the time of the event, but they have been selling tickets by mail so how many seats are left is hard to say.

At USC - Sunday April 23 from 10 to 12 noon at USC School of Cinema-Television's Eileen Norris Cinema Theatre located just beyond the Booth Ferris Memorial Hall on West 34th Street in Los Angeles. This event is free.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Jayne Mansfield Made a Career of Being a Girl

April 19 is Jayne Mansfield's birthday and though perhaps not a great actor or comedienne, she was a great star and became one of the leading icons of the late 1950s. In case you’ve never experienced Jayne Mansfield before, now might be the time. The films she made are light and funny and exhibit a classic 1950s obsession with good, clean sex. Probably her best film (and my favorite) is the 1956 Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? A spoof of the TV advertising industry, Rockwell Hunter has found the perfect spokesmodel for Stay-Put lipstick, his big account. When Rita Marlowe, the famous actress with the oh-so-kissable lips, comes to New York he knows it’s his big chance, but in order to secure the account, Rock has to pretend to be Rita's "Lover Doll." Is Rock cut out to be a high power executive after all? Co-starring are Tony Randall, Betsy Drake and Joan Blondell in her standard 1950s sidekick role.

I would think that Turner Classic Movies would, with their usual perspicacity, show a few of her movies on her birthday, but a quick glance of their online schedule proves me a hapless optimist. So while TCM can't help us on this one, several of her films are on DVD and Amazon has virtually everything she ever made. Netflix has a few, but they seem to be specializing in the exploitation films she made in Europe in the early 1960s, which are pretty painful. Even those might be worth watching as long as you’re not expecting too much. They do have the 1964 double feature Primitive Love/Mondo Balordo, which pairs Jayne with the horror great Boris Karloff. Apparently, Jayne plays some part in an international freak show which includes transvestites, 27-inch tall singing men, and Japanese bondage. You never know, it might be worth checking out.

Some of her better movies you might want to look for are: The Girl Can’t Help It with Tom Ewell, The Burglar, a low budget noir based on a David Goodis novel, and Kiss Them For Me with Cary Grant.

"A forty-one inch bust and a lot of perseverance will get you more than a cup of coffee-a lot more. But most girls don't know what to do with what they've got."

Official Jayne Mansfield Website

Thursday, April 13, 2006

TO DO IN LOS ANGELES Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

"I have never seen anyone turn on an audience, men as well as women, the way he did that night. The minute he strode on stage, I could see that he was a character looking for a film."

As part of their 5th Annual Music Documentary Series, AFI at the ArcLight is showing D.A. Pennebaker's 1973 documentary Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Not released until 1983, Pennebaker's film captures David Bowie's final performance as alter-ego Ziggy Stardust in 1973 at London's Hammersmith Odeon Theater and features songs from Ziggy Stardust, Hunky Dory, Aladdin Sane, and other Bowie albums, as well as backstage footage.

Ziggy Stardust will be shown on Wednesday April 19 at 8 pm at ArcLight Hollywood, 6360 W. Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA.

Tickets are $11, $10 for ArcLight, AFI and Skirball members, on-site parking is $2 for four hours with validation.

For more information about the series go to AFI at the ArcLight
Information about Ziggy Stardust at the Ziggy Stardust Companion

TO DO IN LOS ANGELES 8th Annual Film Noir Festival at American Cinematheque

It's time for the Film Noir Festival at American Cinematheque again. If you're looking for something to do this weekend, the festival will be showing double features at both the Egyptian in Hollywood and the Aero in Santa Monica. This weekend's schedule features films by Jean Negulesco, Robert Wise, Sam Fuller, and Jacques Tourneur. Noir fans, take note. Many of the films shown at the festival are not on DVD so this is often the only opportunity to see them. Festival host Eddie Muller often provides interesting background information about the films as well as interviews with actors and directors involved so it's always a unique experience.

The Film Noir Festival runs through April 16th at American Cinematheque, a non-profit organization dedicated to showing the best of film, classic to avant garde.

The Egyptian Theatre is located at 6712 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood
The Aero Theatre is located at 1328 Montana Avenue at 14th Street in Santa Monica
Tickets are usually $9, $6 for members, and $7 for seniors/students with valid ID.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

"It's Sister Ruth. She's Gone Mad"

I have decided that, for me, the Ultimate Movie operates along the same lines as the Ultimate Ballet. The Ultimate Ballet should, of course, have the following components: an exotic locale, unrequited love, madness or a curse or something, and a healthy dose of hardcore angst. The Ultimate Movie I have in mind has a bonus, however. Nuns. For me, there are few things as picturesque as a pre-Vatican II nun and since they exist outside my personal experience I find them exotic as well.

Made in 1947 by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, Black Narcissus is about a group of Anglican nuns who travel to a remote village in the Himalayas to start a new branch of their order. A local Prince gives the nuns a huge but dilapidated palace set high upon a cliff and though they are warned that the House of Ladies (it used to house a local Prince’s wives) is no place for a nunnery, they forge ahead with their plans to do good, educating the young girls and curing disease. Beset with problems from the get-go, the young Sister Superior (Deborah Kerr) tries to maintain control, but the new environment seems to encourage nostalgia and exaggerated emotional outbursts and she is forced to turn to Mr. Dean, the Prince's agent, for help.

As confusion increases and tensions rise, the nuns find themselves at sixes and sevens. Sister Superior becomes lost in the long ago, dreaming of Conrad, the young man who jilted her, throwing her into the arms of the church; Sister Phillipa plants flowers instead of much needed vegetables while staring into the distance; and the paranoid and sinister Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron) becomes obsessed with Mr. Dean and leaves the nunnery, wearing lipstick! The plot thickens and violence ensues. I won't give it away, but the end is very much like a tragic ballet, full of over the top melodrama. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: with mad nuns, you couldn’t possibly go wrong.

Truly, it is an incredibly beautiful film and I think the story would make the most amazing ballet. It has all of the aforementioned necessary qualities plus a mad nun. It could be like Giselle, only they’re nuns in the Himalayas not Rhineland maidens and Ruth dies more violently than Giselle does, but they both have a mad scene and I think we need another ballet with a mad scene. It’s time.