19 March 2013
I’m pretty sure this was taken on the set of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962) — portraying two veteran actors often described as bitter rivals. Maybe that’s true. Maybe it’s just a cliché that two successful women, fading stars in their 50s, must be prone to catfights.
You know what? I don’t care about that rivalry stuff. There’s something so perfect about this image, crystallizing as it does a moment between two women with long careers as revered actors — professional women laughing together over drinks, cigarettes, and some forgotten joke. This is the laughing of two independent women (Bette had divorced husband #4 a couple of years earlier, while Joan’s husband #4 had died just a little earlier than that). This is the laughing of women who are in on the same joke. Don’t you wish you knew what it was?
Oh, if only I had a director’s chair with my name on it, written in just this font. Perched right next to another broad’s matching chair for drinking and laughing.
12 March 2013
From Fritz Lang’s Spies (Spione, 1928), the film Lang made immediately after Metropolis (1927) but before M (1931), and which has some of the gee-whiz gadgets and terrific action that you might expect. But best of all is conflicted bad-spy Sonya Baranilkowa (Gerda Maurus), whose elegant, bejeweled hands we see here. Watch out, Agent 326!
And oh, that evil Russian’s clothes. Don’t even get me started.
Nota bene: don’t watch this streaming on Netflix, as you’ll only get part of the film. Look out for the 144-min. or 178-min. versions.
25 February 2013
I’d like to say more about how much I hate Oscars emcee Seth MacFarlane, and The Onion’s tactless, sexist tweeting about 9-yr-old Quvenzhané Wallis, but instead I want to focus on Inocente.
Inocente Izucar is an artist. For a while she was physically abused, lived as a functionally homeless person with her mother and two younger brothers, and was undocumented. None of those things are true any more.
Now she is just an artist. Her colorful art — on canvasses, sculpture, and her own beautiful face — speaks of dreams and mercy and family. She is the face of the future. Watch the Oscar-award winning, 40-min short documentary here.
Think about art and self-definition and survival, and let’s stay focused on that face.
20 January 2013
Here’s something you don’t often see onscreen: a woman who doesn’t cover up the fact that her hair has thinned.
Lidia Bastianich is PBS’s Italian cooking maven whose show, Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen (she also has spinoffs like Lidia’s Italy), always marks the difference between the overly personality-driven Food Channel shows and PBS. To wit: she doesn’t do anything to cover up her thinning hair. For comparison, let’s look at the Food Channel’s Giada de Laurentiis:
Any normal human might find a contrast between these two women absurd. Be assured I’m not trying to draw a conclusion about their respective talents for cooking — just their comparative screen appearance. (We could also discuss Giada’s obviously spectacular breasts and/or that alarming set of teeth, but let’s try to stay focused.) I just want to make the point that it is amazing to me that even good old PBS hasn’t forced Lidia into a wig. (What do I know? They may have tried.)
I got onto this subject originally because the subject of hair kept coming up in strange and interesting contexts. There was Callista Gingrich, Newt Gingrich’s wife, whose immovable helmet of hair preoccupied so many bloggers last year. Perhaps because I’m a big fan of natural hair for Black women, I have read several other bloggers who yearn publicly for Michelle Obama to stop relaxing/ironing her hair.
I’d been collecting a random assortment of hair moments onscreen for a while, but it was a comment over at JB’s terrific film blog, The Fantom Country, that gave my post clarity. Writing about how many times he’d noticed Andrew Garfield’s luscious hair, JB wrote wryly, “Perhaps he is a particularly expressive hair actor” — why, it’s comments like these that make my blog so resoundingly esoteric. (See also posts on noses, mouths, and teeth.) Esoteric it may be, but it’s my confirmed opinion that hair is an easy site for the downfall of a film or character.
Let’s start with a few actors who consistently make their hair work pretty goddamn well. I’ve seen Jeff Bridges in just about as many different hair parts as one can imagine, and they always work for me — even (especially?) when he shaved his head for the bad-guy role in Iron Man. Bridges has this way of truly appearing to be one with his hair; whether it’s the shaggy Dude from The Big Lebowski (1998) or the long-haired ex-con in American Heart (1992, below), the hair seems fully folded in with the rest of him. It’s perhaps not a surprise that an actor like Bridges, who conceals so much of his acting craft behind his prodigious modesty and naturalness, would be able to handle these hair parts so effortlessly.
Other actors, it seems, grow into their hair. I never thought much of Connie Britton as a younger woman — on the rare occasions I ever caught that Michael J. Fox show Spin City (1996-2000) I mainly thought of her as The Hair — but now that she’s in her 40s she has gotten better roles and more gravitas. I just loved what she did with her role as Mrs. Coach/Tami Taylor in Friday Night Lights (2006-2011); one never forgot how she rocked those strawberry waves, but it seemed so fully in keeping with the role. I still haven’t caught up with her new show Nashville (2012- ) despite the regular reports from blogger friend JustMeMike that I have to keep archiving for reading later. But Britton’s hair in the Nashville country music scene? It’s a hair marriage made in heaven.
On occasion one finds an actor whose hair was so integral to her character onscreen that they become inseparable. Surely the best example one can imagine is Judy Davis’ breakout role in My Brilliant Career (1979). As Sybylla Melvyn, a teenager yearning for something beyond marriage and motherhood in turn-of-the-century New South Wales, her hair exemplified her character. Frizzy, irrepressible, flyaway, and heavy with impossibility — it fit so perfectly with Davis’s plain, freckled face and her terrific intelligence that it’s impossible to think of that role being taken on by anyone else.
A note: I’ve been disappointed to see that Davis rarely shows that hair anymore. Like so many women, she now keeps it straightened and severely managed. I still can’t see her onscreen without wondering where her hair went.
There are occasions when an actor with forgettable hair takes on a great hair part. The best example I can think of is from last year’s Prometheus (2012): Michael Fassbender’s turn as the creepy robot with a fixation for Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia (1962). It’s one thing to admire O’Toole’s brassy, glinty-eyed heroism; it’s another to emulate his hair. What a nice touch that was. One couldn’t look at Fassbender throughout the film without seeing the robot’s own self-consciousness of carrying that carefully coiffed hair — hair that symbolized so much.
Click on this image of Fassbender and you’ll get a nice .gif of the hair regimen.
Yes: I am speaking of Merida’s hair in Brave (2012). Yes: I loved what the illustrators did with this. But yes: it took over.
Nor is this a fault limited to animators. Why, just last week I complained about Jessica Chastain’s hair in Zero Dark Thirty — what was wrong with those hair people on set? If there’s one thing I know a lot about, it’s how (cough) the rigors of personal hygiene and grooming have a tendency to drop away when one is single-mindedly working on a problem and scrutinizing the evidence. Por ejemplo: I’m sitting here right now on a Sunday afternoon, furiously typing a blog post about hair and movies, having not even run a comb through my hair all day. This is how us ladies behave when we’re focused. We do not fuss with ‘dos like this:
(And honestly, the movie wasn’t about some nice lady professor who keeps a blog. Chastain’s character went to black sites to witness torture of detainees! She sat around in a dreary cubicle at a CIA outpost in Pakistan! Argh.)
I have to conclude with a big hair role that stymies me: Penelope Cruz’s mane in Nine (2009). It’s so absurdly great that, for me, it veers between unbelievable and some kind of parasitic being from another planet that has attached itself to her beautiful head. I mean, us ladies have a lot to envy when it comes to Cruz, but nowhere does her hair appear to such effect than here, teased and streaked to the point that it ought to have its own life insurance and bodyguards. Just watch this sexpot number unfolding in the imagination of Daniel Day Lewis:
See what I mean? it’s just so much hair that every time I see this scene I wonder if the hair & makeup people actually added more to her head to enhance the excess of it all as she shakes it all over Lewis’s body. No wonder so many of us fantasize about sex and hair — criminey, see here for the definition of fetish.
As with all my most esoteric pieces, I can only hope that my hair fixation rubs off on you and you start to scrutinize the hair acting of all your favorite/hated actors. And when you do, I hope you post a comment about the people I’ve forgotten, the great hair roles of yesteryear, and the Hair Aliens Attack parts that I need to watch.
Which reminds me. Jennifer Aniston: greatest or worst hair actor of all time?
30 October 2012
I know, right? If you just DO NOT have the energy to go as Honey Boo Boo or to figure out what Hurricane Sandy would look like if a hurricane was a Halloween costume, you feel pressured to look hot for Halloween. Stupid Halloween. And lord knows there are enough sexy witches to throttle a whole future of Dorothys. What does one do if one wants to buck the system, to refuse to dress all sexy when you’d rather channel your inner child?
Answer: find a costume so weird that people don’t know what to do with it. Where to find inspiration? Old photographs!
These are, of course, the least practical, least attractive, and possibly most difficult costumes to create in the history of the universe (I mean, how is that woman in the eggshell going to hold a cocktail?) but I for one applaud the outright embrace of weirdness. That chicken-man would have me pawing all over his feathery softness. And that poor woman in her playing-card outfit … well, I want to kiss her on the lips.
See more costume oddities at this wonderful Flavorwire site. And c’mon, people — do something a little different. Last year I advocated going as a glowing, irradiated Marie Curie, a hatchet-wielding Carrie Nation, or as the goddess Athena. This year I say let it all hang loose, people. Weird is the new sexy!
22 October 2012
This beautiful, not-for-children animated film about two Cuban musicians isn’t something you watch for high drama or a particularly riveting love story. You watch this for the beautiful, cinematic animation and the way it captures to an extraordinary degree the world of late 1940s Habana and Nueva York, especially the music scenes in those two American cities. Watching this film is like sipping a beautiful, complex Scotch: steady pleasure throughout. This is animation for the cinéastic music lover. And it’s streaming on Netflix and YouTube (see below).
Let me hasten to say that the filmmakers, Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal, don’t use flashy techniques or 3-D or anything else to trick you into thinking you’re seeing some kind of advancement in animation techniques. Chico y Rita is Old School. Looking at the images I’ve pulled, you might even wonder why I’m so enthusiastic about it, especially after downplaying the love story between jazz pianist/ composer Chico and luscious singer Rita.
Suffice it to say that the animation is so much more than the sum of its parts. When we see a car chase, it’s thrilling the way movie car chases ought to be. When it’s a room full of dancers, they move and sway slightly more slowly and gracefully than in real life, just as movie dancers ought to, and they seem to part for the camera when we need a glimpse of our main characters. The light is always somehow just right, capturing the differences between a lightbulb in a room versus a spotlight in a club.
Sure, the love story is a bit … bland? It follows the boy meets girl, boy loses girl pattern of a late 1940s film. One wishes the scope had been larger, or more complicated, or the two characters less stereotyped. Still, they function as larger-than-life types: Chico’s full lips, and Rita’s ka-razy curvacious hips, such that overall it transfixes you with the pleasure of watching. I found the story around them more interesting — the urban landscapes, the history of jazz in that era, the steady trade in music and tourists between the US and Cuba during that pre-revolutionary world.
Aw, hell, just watch it. And maybe pour yourself a Scotch to go with it.