March 6, 2008

Honoring Hen: Mary Pickford

Posted in Film, Life tagged , , at 11:46 pm by Lindsay

Mary PickfordIn 1907, at fifteen years old, Mary Pickford left her home and family in Toronto and moved to New York City to pursue her dream of acting on the stage.  In less than ten years, Mary became the most famous woman in the world. 

Known for her golden curls and youthful, girl-next-door air, Mary starred in such films as Poor Little Rich Girl, A Little Princess, and Coquette, for which she earned the Oscar for Best Actress, but Mary’s achievements were not limited to the screen.

In 1916, she formed the Pickford Film Company and negotiated a deal with Paramount Pictures to release all her films under her own production company.  In an age where the studio system allowed the studios to dictate each and every assignment for all actors, Mary was choosing which projects to take, hand-selecting the cast and crew, and even going behind the camera to direct.  Just three years later, Mary, along with director D.W. Griffith and actors Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks, created the independent distribution company United Artists.  Filmmakers were given the unprecedented chance to be free from creative control of the major studios. 

The end of the silent film era also meant an end for Mary’s career as an actress, but she continued in her roles as producer and partner in United Artists.  Along with others, Mary founded the Motion Picture Relief Fund and the affiliated Country House and Hospital which provided emergency assistance and care for those in the motion picture industry. 

“If you have made mistakes, there is always another chance for you.  You may have a fresh start at any moment you choose, for this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.”  –Mary Pickford

The more I learn about the so-called “studio system” the more I am amazed by Mary’s achievements.  Under this constrictive system, Mary fought for creative control and independence.  She wasn’t content to just be the pretty face in front of the camera.  Her passion for cinema drove her to work hard towards her vision of quality film production.  Today she is remembered as “America’s Sweetheart” of the silent film age, but I’ll remember her as a skilled businesswoman who fought the odds to become a pioneer of the motion picture industry. 

March 2, 2008

From Governess to Butcher

Posted in Film, music tagged , , at 4:33 pm by Katelyn

Moulin RougeSince the topic of movies was raised earlier this week, I thought I would touch on the phenomenon and resurgence of the movie musical that began (in my opinion) back in 2001 with Moulin Rouge.

Growing up, musicals were always our genre of choice. It probably helped that my parents are both music teachers, but there was also much more of a selection of musicals from which to choose. The last great era of producing movie musicals was probably in the 1960s with films such as West Side Story and The Sound of Music and it could maybe be considered to have continued into 1978 with Grease. But most would agree that great musicals ended there. People stopped understanding the need to break into spontaneous song and dance in every scene and they moved toward reality.

After a 20ish year hiatus, suddenly within the last 5 – 8 years big name stars have taken an interest in showing off their hidden singing and dancing skills in films like Moulin Rouge, Chicago, Dream Girls, The Producers, and most recently Sweeney Todd.

So was it the novelty of the musicals themselves or the celebrities that drew the attention of a general public with no previous knowledge (or experience with) musicals? Then again, does it matter? They’re back! Nicole Kidman, Renee Zellweger, Jamie Foxx, or Johnny Depp may have attracted the audience initially, but they would not have received the great reviews and box office numbers without the stories and stellar music of great Sweeney Toddwriters and composers.

My personal list of great newer movie musicals:

Chicago (2002), Dream Girls (2006), The Producers (2005), Hairspray (2007), Walk the Line (2005)

Newer movie musicals I need to see:

Ray (2004), Across the Universe (2007), Sweeney Todd (2007), Phantom of the Opera (2004)

February 26, 2008

A Perspective On Best Picture

Posted in Film tagged , , at 1:52 am by Lindsay

After being let down at the “No Country For Old Men” win at the Academy Awards ceremony last night, I felt compelled to revisit the list of Best Picture winners, and more interestingly, Best Picture nominees.  I’m finding that often, the jewels are to be found in the nominees, not necessarily the winners. 

For example, take 1940.  “Rebecca”, Hitchcock’s first American picture takes the cake.  Now, I love Hitchcock.  I love Daphne Du Maurier whose novel the film is based on.  “Rebecca” is a good film.  It’s well-made, well-acted, and tells an interesting story.  However, “Rebecca” never ranks in the top five Hitchcock movies, so I’m a little puzzled on how it beat films like “The Grapes of Wrath”, “The Letter”, and “The Philadelphia Story”. 

Then there’s 1941.  “How Green Was My Valley” took home the top prize.  I have never seen this film, but my dad speaks highly of it, and he has good taste in movies, so I’m sure it’s a fine film.  Also nominated that year?  “The Maltese Falcon” and a little movie called “Citizen Kane”. 

Or there’s another problem.  Too many amazing movies were made in one year.  Enter 1939.  While “Gone With the Wind” – my favorite movie of all time – was deserving in it’s Best Picture win, the remaining nominees are some of the best movies ever – “Dark Victory”, “Goodbye Mr. Chips”, “Love Affair”, “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington”, “Ninotchka”, “Stagecoach”, “Of Mice And Men”, “The Wizard Of Oz”, and “Wuthering Heights”.  (They used to nominate a lot more films for Best Picture.)  There may have been one winner, but there were no losers in 1939. 

 Other notable losers from miscellaneous years: “It’s A Wonderful Life”, “Sunset Boulevard”, and “To Kill A Mockingbird”.

Let “Citizen Kane” be our lesson – at one time, it couldn’t beat out a handful of other movies, but now it beats out every other movie ever made.