L13FC: Vincente Minnelli

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Welcome back to Cindy’s Lucky 13 Film Club where we share comments with one another about a topic in the film industry. This is my lucky day because you are joining me on my birthday! Three cheers to Vincente Minnelli.

He was a costume and set designer in Chicago theater before he moved to New York City and was eventually hired in 1940 by producer Arthur Freed at MGM. Considered an auteur because of his style and creative control of his films, his background in theater and experience with stage sets and the use of color are trademarks of his musicals and dramatic films. According to The Gross: The Hits, The Flops by Peter Bart in 1999, Minnelli’s impact is profound in cinematic history. Vincente Minnelli directed An American in Paris (1951), Brigadoon(1954), Kismet (1955), and Gigi (1958). Other than musicals, he directed comedies and dramas including Madame Bovary (1949), Father of the Bride (1950), The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), and Lust for Life (1956), Designing Woman (1957), and The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (1963). He passed away at the age of 83 in 1986. Nominated several times, he finally won the Best Director Oscar for Gigi in 1958. As a director, he is credited for coaxing several actors (Shirley MacLaine, Spencer Tray, Gloria Grahame, Anthony Quinn, Kirk Douglas, among others) in Oscar-nominated performances. Would anyone disagree that Gene Kelley‘s magical dancing in the fantasy-rich sets of a Minnelli film is the best offering from MGM? I think not.

What’s the allure? It’s his use of color. Vincente used Technicolor better than most directors to shape the visual information much as a theater director does for the stage. Used as a device, he created motifs and incorporated visual imagery and symbols that added a layer of complexity for all to appreciate. Contrast his colorful worlds to the real world pallet of grays, browns, and Army green from the depression and WWII. In the fifties, the battered world needed the whimsical sweetness of a Minnelli film. His films were a tonic, the relief after the hangover of war.

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One example is his decision to use the bold color of fuchsia to signify the loose morals of Shirley MacLaine‘s “easy” character, Ginnie Moorehead in Some Came Running (1958). Walter Plunkett was the Costume Designer and combined with Minnelli’s vision to illustrate the theme of acceptance and the fracture of morality in small-town America in part by use of color, it was a memorable film.

Which sequences in his films have you noticed this theatrical trick to use color to help tell the story?

Since Gene Kelly was in several Minnelli films, take a look at this tribute by Christopher Walken.

L13FC: The Actress as Saint or Sinner

Welcome back to this month’s discussion about the film industry. Have some fun and join in the conversation.

In literature and in film, females in the Judeo-Christian world throughout the ages have been portrayed as either saint typified by the Virgin Mary, or as fallen Eve, the sinner/seducer usually using her sexuality to control her situation. When I look at lists of popular actresses in the history of motion pictures, I’m struck by how that dynamic is visualized on the screen. It’s either or. That image stains the actress and it’s hard to shake it. In addition, with few exceptions, the youthful actress is innocent and naive while the mature woman is bitter and manipulative. If the actress has a long career, there are two faces to her. Good while young. Bad when older. Generally speaking, more actresses than not are cast in roles which fall into these two stereotypes.

Take one of my favorite actresses of all time, Shirley MacLaine. Her best films in youth portray her as sweet, innocent, and the adorable girl-next-door. Then she hit forty and the last half of her long career, she’s played nothing but cantankerous, conniving, and bitchy or “strong” women. I bet you can think of a dozen actresses who followed a similar path.

Best Classic Saint: Audrey Hepburn

Best Classic Sinner: Elizabeth Taylor

Then there are actresses who are remembered as one-dimensional. You associate her as the seducer/sinner or she was the embodiment of wholesome goodness. When they tried to veer away from their image, the public was disappointed. Meryl Streep is an interesting exception. She had the saintly features in youth, but she frequently played a sinner. Many of her characters from her earlier career were entangled in affairs or rejected maternal expectations. Then as Streep aged, she fell into the pattern of playing the mature woman who plays extreme personalities, often as the viper. Why is Streep considered the best actress of all time? Didn’t Katherine Hepburn buck the two stereotypes, too? Is there a correlation?

We’ve heard of child actors who can’t bypass their child image. We’ve heard of male actors who are only remembered for their villains. My question then: when you think of actresses and their best roles, do you find a pattern within yourself that prefers the saint or the sinner? 

I see a shift today where more actresses are playing roles that blend mental and physical strength combined with ethical clarity. And they look hot in their clothes, too. Emily Blunt’s characters are like that. Many of Jennifer Lawerence’s characters have the right combination. It is the modern scriptwriter who is changing the visual identity of what it means to be a woman. Do you see it?

Robert Mitchum

 

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Alone in NYC, Jerry doesn’t know what he wants.

Robert Wise directed the adapted William Gibson Broadway play, Two for the Seesaw in 1962. The romantic drama featured a powerful pair, Shirley MacLaine and Robert Mitchum. After West Side Story’s success in 1959, Wise collaborated again with André Previn and provided a memorable score. Ted D. McCord’s cinematography (The Sound of Music 1965) with Wise’s leadership as director is reason enough to watch the film. From the wide-angle NYC location shots to mid-range street angles to the split screen emulating two sides of the seesaw, it is a solidly crafted film.

Perhaps they seesaw too much, but the love story is authentic and portrays the painful situation one experiences if one has been in love enough times–being the ghost in the room. That is, you are madly in love but the other person cannot love you because they are hung up on the predecessor. Gittel Mosca, played by MacLaine, is looking for a man to commit. She is smart in understanding Jerry Ryan’s loneliness and his insecurities. Played by Mitchum, Jerry wants individuality. It’s a double-edged sword living the career handed to you on a silver platter by Daddy. Jerry doesn’t want his life orchestrated by his rich wife from Nebraska, but he’s scared he will fail if he seeks out his accreditation as an attorney with his own wits. He has filed for divorce but cannot cut ties.  When it comes to love, it’s hard to shelve over ten years of marriage and pretend it didn’t affect you.

He is smart intellectually while Gittel is smart intuitively. Back and forth they go, giving and withdrawing, hoping and receding. Gittel chooses self-respect and autonomy–a lesson any gal should learn regardless the decade. With stellar acting, direction, and an intelligent script, it holds up today as it did in the 60s. 4/5

I assign myself an actor to explore over the winter break. Robert Mitchum is the man this year. Nothing I’ve seen him in has disappointed me. What a voice! I confess I’ve seen only a handful, so I need your help exploring his filmography. Other than the usual like The Night of the Hunter, Cape Fear, and The Big Sleep, I’m curious which film you think I should investigate.  Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison? Out of the Past?  What’s your favorite Robert Mitchum film? 

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