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Saturday, August 20, 2005

Gloria Grahame: Thursday Great Acting Blogging

Gloria Grahame:

Wow, what a hot mama! Gloria Grahame pretty much exemplified sex in the late 1940s and early 1950s - she was essentially cast as the sexpot in most of her movies. But Grahame brought a whole lot more than her incredible looks to the screen - there's always another, much deeper side to every one of her "babe" roles. Much of her career was spent working for some of the most politically challenging directors in America - for Dmytryk in Crossfire, for Nicholas Ray in In A Lonely Place, for Fritz Lang in The Big Heat and Human Desire, for Robert Wise / Abraham Polonsky in Odds Against Tommorrow, for Nicholas Ray and Josef v. Sternberg in Macao though she also appeared in Oklahoma! and Minnelli's The Cobweb and The Bad and the Beautiful.

Unfortunately for Grahame, her personal life was considerably troubled. She married Nicholas Ray, who was bisexual, highly neurotic, a compulsive gambler and an alcoholic - while all that helped make him one of the greatest directors ever, it certainly didn't make for a satisfactory home life.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Patrick Dewaere: Thursday Great Acting Blogging

Patrick Dewaere is the great outsider of French acting - his career started in tandem with Depardieu, Blier's Les Valseuses (1974)making both of them stars. But while Depardieu cemented his image as a likable rouge (in Maitresse, Buffet froid and LouLou), Dewaere began to play some of the most desperate characters ever seen on screen. Dewaere had a way of throwing himself into roles that has rarely been matched in intensity - the only comparisons are Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence and Rip Torn in Coming Apart. His greatest role, I believe, was in Corneau's Serie Noire, a largely ignored masterpiece adapted from Jim Thompson's A Hell of a Woman.

Dewaere plays the role of Franck Poupart like his life depended on it (and perhaps it did). Dewaere gives the only performance that actually mirrors Thompson's written originals - Dewaere makes us believe that Dewaere is just as much a loser in real life as his role, and just as crazy (if not more so) in real life than the role demanded. Nobody has ever done frustration better than Dewaere. And we almost never see a character quite like Franck - the only comparison I know is Jason Holliday in Shirley Clarke's Portrait of Jason.

It's convenient to say Dewaere's intensity was part of his pyschological make-up that led to his suicide in 1982 at the age of 34. I'm not so certain Dewaere was so easy to figure out as all that. Nevertheless, Dewaere will always retain that mystery of great artists who die young.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Thursday Great Acting Blogging

Ok, so we've usually been historical in our previous Great Actor Blogging. Why not get current?

A very interesting young French actress is Sylvie Testud, who has been wowing some of the best directors in France and elsewhere. She's a bit of a protege to Chantal Akerman, for whom she starred in La Captive and Tomorrow We Move, but she's also worked with de Oliveira (I'm Going Home) and Alain Courneau (Fear and Trembling, The Blue Words).

I'm in love. Sylvie, marry me!

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The other man in Ozu's world: Shin Saburi (Thursday Great Actor Blogging)

The critical work on Ozu has usually focused on the characters played by Chishu Ryu. Understandably, since Ryu played a central role throughout Ozu's career. Ryu's first role was in Ozu's first movie, Dreams of Youth (now lost) through to Ozu's last, An Autumn Afternoon.

However, Ryu's impact on Ozu has obscured the fact that Ryu signified a particular personality type within Ozu's world, and that other actors within the Ozu universe signified other character types. Takeshi Sakamoto signified a jolly, well-meaning, kindly character, especially in Passing Fancy, What Did the Lady Forget?, and Record of a Tenement Gentleman (though he plays a different character in the silent version of A Story of Floating Weeds). Tatsuo Saito in Ozu's early career generally plays a sophisticated, bemused upper-class character (usually a physician, professor or upper-level executive).

Shin Saburi plays an unusual role within the Ozu universe. Ryu's character usually is a passive, acted-upon character. Saburi, on the other hand, particularly in Ozu's middle period, embodies a different type of character than usually seen within Ozu. Saburi physically is a much larger and more masculine looking actor than Ryu (or indeed, the vast majority of Ozu's actors). Saburi's characters are active and able to solve problems - unusually in Ozu's cinema. Saburi physically is often in motion, while Ryu remains much more inactive.

Further, Saburi plays most of the most admirable male characters within Ozu's universe, as opposed to Ryu. It is Saburi's Shojiro who financially saves the matriarch and daughter in Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family. In Equinox Flower, Shaburi plays a wise (and rather bemused) matchmaker. His finest role with Ozu was in The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice, which personally I find the most underrated of Ozu's movies.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Aristocrats as the recent decline of American comedy

I find the movie to be indicative of the great decline of American comedy. There's an important reason why the joke is really not that funny - it's essentially a wholesale mis-use and misinterpretation of the purpose of sex jokes.

Sex jokes are in essence about overthrowing political conventions. This is why such writers as Machiavelli and Beaumarchais (to Jean Renoir) so readily focused on sex-capades as a central way of understanding (and reforming) politics. That's also precisely why Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor were such ground-breaking comics. American comedians previously had worked blue many times (not on TV or radio or movies obviously - but certainly at nightclubs/vaudeville/etc) - Dean Martin's entire comedic schtick was how many women he had slept with. But the previous blue comedy was mostly lifeless and irrelevant until Sahl and Bruce and Pryor combined it with their political understanding, something that had largely been absent from American (stand-up) comedy previously.

The problem with current American comedy is that the lesson most comedians learned from Pryor et al was to work blue and outrageous - but NOT that they needed to be political and real. (I'm not using political in the sense of "make fun of the President's big ears or accent" here).
Thus, the joke is not really shocking precisely because (the vast majority of) these comics do not have a good understanding of where the current political/religious/cultural boundaries are anymore - again, precisely where Pryor and Bruce situated their comedy. I.E. the vast majority of The Aristocrats is fake-outrageousness and not really outrageous at all.

This explains why there are so few comedians now at the forefront of American culture - remember, in the 1950s-1970s, the comedy club had the same level of cultural relevance as the other major institutions of avante-garde culture then: the jazz club, the coffee-house and the university. Indeed, since so many comedy clubs also functioned as jazz clubs and coffee-houses themselves AND many comedy clubs were located within easy reaches of universities (Hungry I near Berkeley, Bitter End near NYU, Second City near University of Chicago), all of these institutions effectively were the same.

The few comedians who do retain some aspects of the genius of Pryor and Bruce are precisely those who have remained political - Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle and Margaret Cho. Most of the rest - including the vast majority of even the well-known comics - are essentially still doing "please, take my wife (now updated to girlfriend/boyfriend/S&M partner)"/"don't you hate flying?"/"kids these days" routines that were already traditional by the 1930s, if not long before.