Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Black Tights (1962) - Cyd Charisse in a Ballet Pastiche

A diamond! Snack time!



Black Tights (1962) is composed of a quartet of ballets. It stars dancers Cyd Charisse, Moira Shearar, Zizi Jeanmaire and Roland Petit of the Ballet de Paris.

My first foray into ballet vignette films was Gene Kelly’s thoroughly enjoyable financial flop, Invitation to the Dance (1956). It was a good 15 minutes before I warmed up to Black Tights, though. I watched it for Cyd Charisse, who doesn’t show until the third ballet. In her autobiography, The Two Of Us, the MGM star describes this, her first movie after leaving  her old studio, as “a labor of love.”
Cyrano sandwiched between Roxane and Christian

Carmen
The film starts with La Croqueuse de Diamants (The Diamond Cruncher) - a story about a jewel thief (Jeanmaire) who eats her profits. It then goes into a stunningly beautiful, if overlong Cyrano de Bergerac piece. The "New York Times" calls Cyrano, “ponderous, sentimental and fustian.” Still, Ms. Shearar is alluring as Roxane.

The last ballet, Carmen,  returns Ms. Jeanmaire to the screen as the fabled dangerous woman and Mr. Petit as bullfighter Jose, who, in this case, steals the famed "Habanera" score from the title character to introduce himself and his profession more fully.
Duel in 24 Hours - Stickershock!

My favorite ballet, of course, is the silliest one, - Deul en 24 Heures - which stars Ms. Charisse as a merry widow who has her husband killed in a duel because he won’t buy her the outfit she wants. She also flirts with the winner of the duel after playing hard to get, then goes out for a night on the town at Maxim’s in her new black dress.
Duel - The new black dress
Each act is about 30 minutes and altogether is a lot to take in at one time. Still, it’s colorful and fairly entertaining.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Java's Journey has received the Stylish Blog Award

Clara, author of classic movies blog Via Margutta 51, has awarded Java's Journey - along with several other blogs- with the Stylish Blog Award. Thanks, Clara and congratulations to my fellow awardees.

About the Stylish Blog Award
This award, as far as research takes me, seems to have been first given out around December of 2010. It is passed along by bloggers to other bloggers who exhibit a distinctive manner of expression and great enthusiasm for their topic. Subjects may vary. Time and the labyrinthine nature of internet memes have obscured the original stylish blogger's name, but not the snazzy button which accompanies the award. To wit:



Stylish Blog Award Instructions


a) Post a link to the person who gave you the award.

         b) Choose seven stylish bloggers and give them this award.

         c) Reveal seven facts about yourself:

Seven Stylish Bloggers
I enjoy my entire blog reading list, but I can choose only seven. Here they are in alphabetical order:

    • Carole & Co. by vp19 - Learned lots I didn't know of Clark Gable's wife from this blog about Carole Lombard. 
    • Classic Movie Blog by KC- The author's dedication to linking the classic movie blog world is wonderful. KC's descriptions are concise for those on-the-go movie link needs I have from time to time.You'll also find  movie news there. 
    • Clint Eastwood Project, The by the Floryes -  Can't stand Clint Eastwood's movies, but I do enjoy this blog written by a father and son who decided to watch all of the actor's films in order and blog about what's good (or not) about them. Produced a fair number of chuckles reading this blog. You can just hear the two of them talking to the screen. [Beware: foul language.]
    • Everyone Goes to Mick's by Mick - A Texas set designer who loves classic films and other old things. He's even named his summer house "Casablanca." I am inspired by his zest for life. 
    • Laura's Miscellaneous Musings by Laura - Connecting the classic movie blogging world with regular and thoroughly detailed link posts, the author also reviews films and puts you in the know for classic movie showings in California. [She's also a very friendly person.]
    • Olivia & Joan by Tom - The de Havilland/Fontaine mystique lives on in a blog dedicated to the two movie star sisters who have notoriously feuded for almost a century.
    • Stalking the Belle Epoque by Joseph - Daily blog posts on "all things gracious, grand and glorious." In addition to the blog's forays into classic movies, I am especially fond of the interesting tidbits on antique toys. Also, the photos of  the Treat of the Week make my mouth water.

     Seven Facts
    1. Just bought David Niven's autobio The Moon's A Balloon and cannot wait to dive into that mosh pit of wit and and inside scoops. Can't stand the cover art, though - that '70s flower child font makes me queasy.
    2. Prefer movie commentary that is either from the director, producer, writer or other behind the scenes person who has enough detail to talk about the film scene-by-scene. Barring them, an historian will do [but with a grain of salt].
    3. Christian McKay's explanation for why Orson Welles was not a failure at the end of his career encouraged me to rethink my assessment of the movie genius whom many believed peaked in his first film, Citizen Kane. By the way, McKay does an awesome job as the Mercury Theater director in Me and Orson Welles (2010). Wish there was more of him.
    4. More Orson - Enjoyed Welles' description of a laugh track in this episode of the Dinah Shore Show. The host cringes. I love it.
    5. Learned basic tap dance by watching the film greats do it in musicals.
    6. Can do a passable Paul Lynde impression that sends my sister howling. He and Tony Randall steal the show in Send Me No Flowers(1964). 
    7. On Spring Break once, sis and I ran down the aisles of the Rose Bowl as Gene Kelly's and Frank Sinatra's stuntmen do in Anchors Aweigh (1945). The tour guide just shrugged.

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011

    Elizabeth Taylor has died

    Movie star/entrepreneur/philanthropist Elizabeth Taylor died today of congestive heart failure. Ms. Taylor was 79.

    Often known more for her exciting personal life than the movies in which she played, Ms. Taylor has a very wide base of fans who will no doubt give her many tributes today.

    Here are a few:

    Sunday, March 20, 2011

    Songwriters Who Sing Their Own Songs

    Comden & Green
     One of life's pleasures is hearing librettists and composers sing their own songs.  When I first heard Betty Comden clear her throat in a recording of "Thanks A Lot, But No Thanks," the songsmith seemed to give me permission just to have fun with the tune. I had only heard (and seen) the fabulous Dolores Gray version for It's Always Fair Weather (1955), with  choreography attributed to Gene Kelly. The ice-cool blonde in a red-hot dress commanding a room full of chorus boys was the only image that came to mind when the song played. However, the lack of gloss and glamor in Ms. Comden's recording -without the massive orchestra - distilled the song to its delightfully silly Comden & Green essence.
    Mercer & DePaul

    I confirmed only after hearing the Johnny Mercer- Gene DePaul demo recording (with just a piano accompaniment) that, yes, the backwoodsmen in Seven Brides For Seven Brothers reference Robin Hood and his Merrie Men when singing "Sobbin Women." Though what that has to do with kidnapping your bride I still haven't the faintest clue. Hearing one of the songwriters chuckle a little during one of their demos songs for this film made these musical giants seem refreshingly human. [As did hearing Cole Porter's voice waver throughout his famous catalog song, "You're The Top."]

    What are some of your favorite recordings of songwriters singing their own songs?

    Saturday, March 19, 2011

    Esther Williams and Mackinac Island

    Click to enlarge
    Went skiing. Didn't think of movies. Ok, once. Our off-season tour of Mackinac Island mentioned the Esther Williams swimming pool at the famous Grand Hotel. MGM shot a bit of This Time for Keeps (1947) there with the Million Dollar Mermaid herself.

    Friday, March 11, 2011

    Bela Época - Brazil's early cinema

    Reposted with permission from Spotlight, a world trivia blog which highlights one continent per post.


    Bela Época (Beautiful Era) is the name given to the earliest period of Brazilian films. Ejumpcut notes
    "Cinema reached Brazil within six months after Lumière revealed his cinématographe in Paris in late 1895. The first screening of what was called the "omnigraph" was held in Rio de Janeiro on July 8, 1896.

    Italo-Brazilian Affonso Segreto introduced the first filmmaking equipment in 189
    8. During the next few years, he filmed public ceremonies, festivals, Presidential outings, and other local scenes and events. Although initially greeted with fascinated amazement, cinematic spectacle did not become a widespread and stable form of entertainment until several years later. . . . When energy was industrialized in Rio de Janeiro in 1901, exhibition halls proliferated like mushrooms. Brazilian exhibitors resolved to make their own films on national topics to supply these halls."


    From 1900 to 1912, the Brazilian film industry began to develop. FilmReference.com states
    "In this period . . . Brazilian films dominated the domestic market, and documentaries and newsreels constituted the most important filmic productions. Fiction films were realized according to the established genres of comedy, melodrama, and historical drama, generally adaptations of literary classics, as well as carnival and satirical musicals, which followed the popular traditions of the circus and the vaudeville of the nineteenth century."
    The first Brazilian feature film was Antônio Leal's Os estranguladores (The Stranglers, 1908). The first Brazilian comedy was Júlio Ferrez's Nhô Anastácio chegou de viagem (Mr. Anastácio Has Arrived from His Travels, 1908).

    Wednesday, March 02, 2011

    Frank Sinatra's Facial Twitch

    They had faces then.

    Whoever coined this apothegm about classic movie stars was right on the nose - their faces were relatively unique for Hollywood leading performers. Deanna Durbin had that arched eyebrow,  June Allyson's eyes would shut when she smiled, Peter Lawford had the deepest dimples and Gene Tierney had the most sensuous overbite of the 1940s.

    Frank Sinatra can be thrown in among them. This star is a joy to watch not only for his legendary talents, his swinging style or his ability to make the most public performance seem like an intimate affair, but also for a tiny tic on that celebrated visage.

    Some years ago, during a close-up of Sinatra singing the ballad “I Fall In Love Too Easily” from Anchors Aweigh (1945), I noticed that he had a twitch. His lower lip on the left side briefly draws down involuntarily (see video below). I began to notice that this tic occurs from time to time when Sinatra holds a note in other songs or when, during dialogue, his character pauses to think [see his last close-up in That‘s Entertainment!(1974)].

    Sinatra is remembered for his cool and surefootedness in a performance. This little mouth quirk may have no correlation whatever to what the man is actually thinking at any given time, but it gives him the appearance of vulnerability. The “imperfection” works especially well with his earlier films, when he plays characters who are just a little unsure and whom you want to “mother” - you know, bobby-soxer bait.

    I began to look for Sinatra’s twitch whenever he was onscreen, and . . . yep, there it is again. I had never heard anyone mention it or talk about it, so this was my little “secret,” an almost imperceptible piece of the megastar that's all mine . . .  until now.

     It's difficult to see in this copy, but look for Sinatra's tic at 14sec
    video

    Tuesday, March 01, 2011

    Before He Was Bond, He Was Remington Steele

    Stephanie Zimbalist & Pierce Brosnan in "Remington Steele"
    Yours truly contributed a guest post to the Classic Film and TV Cafe with a review of "Remington Steele" (1982 -1987), a television dramedy about two detectives who battle crime and their feelings for each other. The title character played by Pierce "007" Brosnan, references classic movies, whose plots usually help him solve the mystery.

    I'll post at The Cafe whenever I get the urge to scratch an itch for discussing pop culture beyond the 1960s. 
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