Links I Like: August 11, 2011

This week’s unintentional theme turned out to be Classic Hollywood comediennes, it appears, with posts in tribute to Lucille Ball, Myrna Loy, Marilyn Monroe, and Thelma Todd, but there are plenty of other subjects on display here as well. I’m trying to only choose one post per source per post, but some of these blog are so good it’s tough to choose. Thankfully, posts about classic film don’t really ever get stale, so I’ll probably hold some back for later weeks, because I really have been reading some awfully good stuff lately.

The Loving Lucy Blogathan – Brandie at True Classics

Last Saturday (August 6th) would have been Lucille Ball’s 100th birthday, and the internet rose to the occasion in a lot of places (including Google, whose search page logo was a 1950s TV set that played I Love Lucy clips when you clicked on it), but nowhere more than at the Loving Lucy Blogathon hosted at True Classics. A truly remarkable number of people joined in (I was not one of them, because I’m terrible at keeping up with blogathons), hitting Lucy’s life, her career in film and radio, the I Love Lucy years, and various other aspects of Lucy-dom. I’ve only read a few of the entries so far, but they were excellent – I still hope to delve into the rest at some point. She was a remarkable actress and comedienne (not just in slapstick; her early films can be very dry and sarcastic), plus a very forward-thinking businesswoman who, along with Desi Arnaz, saw the value of television and syndication long before anyone else did. Her legacy will be with us for a very long time.

No, But I Read the Book – Lawrence Block at Some Came Running

A guest post on Glenn Kenny’s blog by crime thriller author Lawrence Block, with a quite refreshing look at film adaptation from a writer’s perspective. He takes a pretty healthy view on it, not getting up in arms about changes to his books, but with a much greater understanding of what makes a good adaptation than many filmmakers even have! An enjoyable little read, and he chimes in the comment as well, which are (as always on Some Came Running) worth reading.

Marilyn on the Couch – Miriam Bale at Mubi

I’ve long defending Marilyn Monroe’s quality as an actress and comedienne, and here’s a wonderful post backing me up. Marilyn knew how to use her persona on-screen, as is abundantly clear in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, but she also knew how to use it off-screen, in trying to get a take she liked or maintain her power in a scene against more aggressive costars. Bale uses an example of a scene from The Prince and the Showgirl, which I haven’t seen, to illustrate how she takes the upper hand from Laurence Olivier, of all people.

Happy Birthday, Myrna Loy – Self-Styled Siren

Myrna Loy is easily one of the most consistently watchable and personable stars of the 1930s and 1940s; it was her birthday back on August 2nd, and the Self-Styled Siren was right on hand to give her a lovely tribute, talking both about Loy’s pre-code “exotic” phase where she was repeatedly (and not happily) cast as Orientals or other exotic races and about one of her later comedies, Third Finger Left Hand. The Siren peppers the whole piece with quotes from Myrna’s autobiography, which I’m very anxious to read now. Not only is Loy a great actress and comedienne, livening up dozens of films with her mere presence, but judging from these quotes, she was a wonderful human being.

Puppetry and Ventriloquism – David Bordwell at Observations on Film Art

Bordwell is at his best, I think, when talking about narrative structure, and that’s what he’s largely on about here, discussing innovations in narrative in 1940s film. He brings in a few side examples in the beginning talking about flashback structures (tied into current films like Battle: LA and Limitless, as part of his ongoing thesis that Hollywood narrative technique is still basically classical) and subjective uses of the camera, but quickly focuses in on narrators themselves as a narrative technique, one which was pushed to the limit in the 1940s and 1950s. He points out a lot of the absolutely unrealistic things that films with narrators sometimes do (like show things the narrator couldn’t see, an absolute no-no in first-person fiction that we don’t really notice in films, or have dead narrators, or have characters within a story interact with a non-character narrator). The older films he discusses are all ones I’ve seen a few times (some of them more than a few), and I hadn’t really thought about the way they use their narrators before. Pretty fascinating stuff.

Thelma Goes Wild – David Kalat at Movie Morlocks

There were so many good posts on TCM’s Movie Morlocks blog this week that it was hard to pick just one. I’m sure someone else choosing would’ve chosen a different one. :) But I really enjoyed this look at early 1930s comedienne Thelma Todd’s works, especially her shorts with ZaSu Pitts. I know Todd from supporting roles in a few films, notably some early Marx Brothers comedies, but had no idea of her lead roles in these shorts (as well as several films with Charley Chase). I don’t know if these are available anywhere, but I’d love to see them. David Kalat gives some background on Todd and her career and then does a close reading of one of the Todd-Pitts shorts, along with tantalizingly brief clips.

50 Day Movie Challenge – Jonathan Hardesty at Jonathan on the Internets

I’ve been doing the 50 Day Movie Challenge, though I keep getting behind all the time. The twelve-entry head start I gave myself ran out long ago and I haven’t recovered yet. But I’m still plugging away, and my boyfriend has just started doing it himself. He’s got a few entries up already; let’s see if he manages to stay on-track better than I have! I’ll know I’m in trouble when he catches up to me. :)

Agnès Varda – Amy Taubin at Fandor

Originally printed as the liner notes for the DVD of Agnès Varda’s autobiographical film The Beaches of Agnès, this is a very nice overview of Varda’s career and recurring themes, as well as specifics about The Beaches of Agnès, a film I haven’t seen but very much want to soon. I’ve loved Varda’s 1960s films, and she’s done a lot more in her life than just make features – she was initially a photographer, and now works mostly in the documentary capacity rather than making fiction films, but even those are few and far between. Seeing her in interviews, though, reveals a very special woman; it’s a treat to get to share in the things she does.

Silent Oscars 1917, Part 3 – A Mythical Monkey Writes About the Movies

And the Mythical Monkey just doesn’t let up, putting out a third wonderful post about the films of 1917, this one focused on the films Charlie Chaplin made for Mutual Studios, some of the finest work of his career, and almost certainly his best shorts. But this post goes beyond them, talking about Chaplin’s evolution as a director moving from Essanay to Mutual, the formation of his “stock” company (Eric Campbell, Albert Austin, Edna Purviance), and the lead up to the fiilms of 1917, going into specifics about such films as The Vagabond, One A.M. (my personal favorite Chaplin short), Easy Street, The Cure, and The Immigrant. What’s more, he ties them all together with a narrative of Chaplin’s career that makes me feel like I understand Chaplin a little bit better than I did before, even though I’ve seen most of these films many times. This series really can’t be beat for a close look at Hollywood silent cinema.

Bicycle Thieves – Chris Edwards at Silent Volume

Usually Chris writes about silent film, but he’s been going to a Neorealist series at the TIFF Lightbox, so he’s got a few reviews up from that, including this one of Vittorio De Sica’s seminal film Bicycle Thieves (aka The Bicycle Thief). It’s been a long while since I saw this film, and I loved it – after reading Chris’s excellent review of it (which brings out a few points that I hadn’t really considered before, like the effect of all this on the young boy), I’m more than due to revisit it.

Blu-ray Consumer Guide July 2011 – Glenn Kenny at Some Came Running

Another blu-ray review post from Glenn Kenny, a series I’m definitely paying attention to every month. In a whole heap bunch of capsules, he reviews the films, yes, to a degree, but more importantly the quality of the blu-ray disc. This month he reviews an eclectic mix of films including, but not limited to: Kiss Me Deadly, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Black Moon, Inland Empire, Zazie dans le metro, True Grit, People on Sunday, The Big Country, Big Jake, Rio Lobo, Jan Svankmajer’s Alice, Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back, Drive Angry, Hair, The Island, New York New York, They Live, and Wild at Heart.