Sunday, May 21, 2006

Double Feature Movie Night: The Uninvited and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

I woke up this morning to a general dampness outside that seems to be evidence of either light rain or over-enthusiastic dew. Early morning fog has given way to clouds and it’s chilly but decidedly muggy outside. At once I realized that Los Angeles’ celebrated June gloom seems to have arrived early this year. Weather like this makes me (and everyone else in my family) want to go ‘up the coast.’ I long to linger on deserted stretches of shoreline, buffeted by strong winds and listening to the sounds of seabirds crying in the distance or to stand atop a craggy cliff, again buffeted by strong winds, the sea roaring below. While sitting on my soggy back step, my mind absorbed in a world of clich├ęs drawn from Gothic literature and Hollywood movies, I realized my trip up to the land of ‘Bronte beaches’ (my sister’s phrase) was not to be. Alas, poverty and the exorbitant price of gas forbid my making this journey at the present moment. So I asked myself, “What is one to do when a trip up the coast is indicated but simply cannot be undertaken?” Why, watch a movie, of course. So I have devised a Bronte Beach Movie Night that should, if not exactly cure my wanderlust, at least allay it somewhat.

After but only a moment of thought, two films came to mind: The Uninvited and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Though set in England rather than in California, these films are set in the proper coastal settings, with all the necessary moodiness and melancholy. The Uninvited begins with a brother and sister who discover an abandoned seaside house while on vacation. Buying the house for a remarkably low price, they begin to hear sounds of a woman crying during the night, much mystery and mayhem follows. The screenplay, written by Dodie Smith (101 Dalmations, I Capture the Castle) contains some wonderfully understated and sarcastic humor, and the characters are delightfully familiar, country doctors, devoted family retainers, and one Mrs. Holloway who is strongly reminiscent of Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca. Is it coincidental that she shares her name with a British women’s prison?

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir contains a similar beginning, a young widow looks for a house in a seaside village and decides to rent (against her estate agent’s advice) a remote “cottage” overlooking the sea only to find that it’s haunted. Far from becoming a mystery, however, the story becomes a meditation on love and loss. Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve, A Letter to Three Wives) with a score by Bernard Herrmann (Citizen Kane, Vertigo), this film has all the melancholy beach shots and windswept vistas one could wish for.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

LACMA: Written for the Screen

Los Angeles County Museum of Art is celebrating the best of film writing by showing ten films listed in the Writers Guild of America’s 101 Greatest Screenplays list. Shown in double features on Friday and Saturday nights, the films are grouped thematically, Casablanca and Manhattan, The Lady Eve and Groundhog Day, Rear Window and High Noon, Sunset Blvd and Adaptation, with an opportunity to attend a discussion of the art of writing for film by five of the screenwriters on the list. Perhaps the most interesting pairing is that of Rear Window and High Noon, shown under the heading of Unity of Place and Time on Friday May 26. These films have been linked together because of their atmosphere of claustrophobia and suspense, Rear Window through its use of limited space and High Noon through its restricted use of time.

Written for the Screen will run from May 19 to June 3, Fridays and Saturdays, with programs starting at 7:30 pm in LACMA’s Leo S. Bing Theatre. Tickets can be purchased in advance at the museum ticket office or online. Purchase of a film ticket includes entrance to the galleries (except specially ticketed exhibitions). General Admission is $9, members and students $6, tickets for the second film only $5 (cannot be purchased in advance).

Friday, May 12, 2006

A Healthy Dose of Bob

I can tell Exams have finally tossed me over the edge and left me for dead when my Netflix queue is filled to bursting with sitcoms from my youth. Since my last Final on Wednesday (Math, don’t ask) I have been simply gorging myself on Season I of The Bob Newhart Show. From the moment I hear the theme song I’m lost in the long ago, feeling cozy and reminiscent and like I should be sitting curled up on the couch in my parents’ blue and brown late seventies family room. Though I couldn’t have told you one thing about the show before the DVD arrived, now it’s like Bob and I never parted, like the last thirty years never happened. The modular shelving and chrome light fixtures in Bob’s high-rise Chicago condo, the olive green, rust, and mustard colored kitchenette, the super long blouses and super short skirts, this is the way the world looked when I was born. I had forgotten it all, but now these things have become as familiar to me again as when I was seven. Nostalgia, just the thing to help me recover from Finals. Next up on the parade of the past, Mary Tyler Moore.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Madness and Mayhem: Films in Honor of Sigmund Freud’s Birthday

Hollywood has always exhibited a fascination with Freudian psychoanalysis. In movies, hysterical women and guilty men spend copious amounts of time on the couch; charlatan doctors play wealthy women for their money or hypnotize them with disastrously comic results and corrupt ones use hypnosis to make patients carry out their bidding. How many scenes can you recall of patients lying on analyst’s couches or asking whether they should lie down on analyst’s couches or being hypnotized by bright lights or the mesmerizing gaze of a charismatic fiend? Every genre from light comedy to supernatural thriller has utilized the familiar images of psychoanalysis and hypnosis. Though you may never have enlisted the services of a mental health professional yourself, the language of psychoanalysis is familiar to you through its very reductive representation in Hollywood films.

In honor of the 150th anniversary of Sigmund Freud’s birth I would like to celebrate his pioneering work in hypnosis as a cure for hysteria and repressed trauma with a double feature movie night. Though there are more appropriate films available than anyone could watch in a single sitting, my personal choices would be Alfred Hitchcock’s 1945 Spellbound with Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman and the 1948 cult classic The Snake Pit starring Olivia de Havilland and directed by Anatole Litvak (Sorry, Wrong Number). These two films cover the use of hypnosis in addressing guilt induced psychosis, dream analysis, and the ever popular electroshock therapy. In case you're looking for some conversational ice breakers, here are some links to get you started.

Hollywood's Crazy Idea of Mental Hospitals
How Hypnosis Works
History of Hypnosis
Interpret Your Dreams
Women and Hysteria