Time To Celebrate The Movies!
I love movies, and I LOVE movies ABOUT movies! And with this year’s Oscar season underway – it is a great time to catch up on movies about movies!
I wasn’t surprised when “The Artist” won Best Picture of 2011 – or Best Director and Best Actor as well – it is a movie ABOUT THE MOVIES – and Hollywood has a history of putting a mirror up to itself – for romance, action, drama – and of course, big laughs…
More on the pwer of “Bowfinger” in a moment, but first, let’s look at the year that Hollywood rewarded itself:
The Artist – 2011. I once told a friend that the Oscar frontrunner for Best Picture was a silent french film that was also a musical. That didn’t go over so well, but they came around once they saw the trailer. And then they were bowled over when they saw the movie. “The Artist” is a sweet, affectionate look at the world of silent movies, a story told in silent movie fashion.
It all begins in Hollywood, 1927: silent movie star George Valentin fights the arrival of talking pictures, afraid they will cause him to fade into oblivion – luckily, he sparks with Peppy Miller, a young dancer set for a big break.
Director Michel Hazanavicius tells a deceptively simple story in a very emotional way, and stars Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo and John Goodman play it like a silent movie. And of course, you will LOVE Uggie, the dog in the movie who WALKED THE GOLDEN GLOBE RED CARPET! YOU GOTTA LOVE HOLLYWOOD.
The movie was shot in the 1.33:1 “Academy ratio,” just as in silent-film days, since director/writer Hazanvicius considered it ‘perfect for actors’ because it gives them ‘a presence, a power, a strength. They occupy all the space of the screen.’
Peppy’s house in the film is Mary Pickford’s house, and the bed where George Valentin wakes up is Mary Pickford’s bed.
In solitude, George views a reel from one of his silent swashbucklers through a film projector centered within his apartment. The film is in fact a genuine silent film, The Mark of Zorro, which established its star, Douglas Fairbanks, as a real life silent era action hero and matinée idol, the kind George Valentin is portrayed as being within the film. The scene from Zorro is altered, however, substituting actor Jean Dujardin as George for Fairbanks for the close-up shots.
So where did these guys come from? How about from France!
In 2006, Dujardin starred as racist, sexist secret agent Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath in “OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies”, a role which earned him an Etoile D’Or Award and a César Award nomination for Best Actor. The film, just like “The Artist”, was directed by Michel Hazanavicius.
The film’s success spawned a sequel, “OSS 117: Lost in Rio.” These are both available on DVD now, so check them out!
A Star Is Born – THE definitive movie about movies. It has been filmed 3 times, and there hare plans for a new version with Will Smith and beyonce, directed by Clint Eastwood. CANNOT wait for that, but let’s go back to the beginning.
It all began in 1937. The original “A Star Is Born” was produced by legendary Producer David O. Selznick. It stars Janet Gaynor as an aspiring Hollywood actress, and Fredric March as aging movie star Norman Maine, who helps launch her career. As her career grows, his stalls, with tragic results. Ultimately, he can’t handle the pressure and commits suicide.
At the premiere of her next film at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Janet Gaynor is asked to say a few words into the microphone to her many fans listening across the world; she announces, “Hello everybody. This is Mrs. Norman Maine.” As you will see, this dramatic ending is replicated in some very unique ways going forward…
A Star Is Born – 1954. THIS is the legendary version. Directed by George Cukor, this version starred James Mason as Norman Maine, a movie star whose career is on the wane, who meets showgirl Esther Blodgett when he drunkenly stumbles into her act one night.
This is one of the most amazing performances Judy Garland ever gave – and a new Blu-ray version includes a ton of material cut before release…this film showcases the best of her singing, dancing and acting ability – and credit must go to James Mason as well, who brings real depth to the role of a matinee idol whose star is on the wane…
Because the role of Norman Maine is that of a has-been actor, it was rejected by Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper, Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and Cary Grant (who at first accepted it) before being finally accepted by James Mason.
A Star Is Born -1976. Enter Barbra Streisand. She was determined to remake this classic Hollywood story, but move it to the world of rock ‘n’ roll. In this version, talented rock star John Norman Howard is played by Kris Kristofferson, who in real life was a country music star – he wrote such hits as “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Help Me Make It Through The Night.”.
In this music-based version, the singer has seen too many years of concerts and managers and life on the road have made him cynical and the monotony has taken its toll. Then he meets the innocent, pure and very talented singer Esther Hoffman – Barbra Streisand.
Barbra Streisand insisted that she wanted Elvis Presley for the part of John Norman Howard. She even went to Las Vegas to see Elvis after one of his performances in 1975 and talked to him directly to convince him to play the part. Elvis wanted to do it but Colonel Tom Parker, his manager, was angry that Streisand did not come to him first. Imagine what could have been: Elvis revitalized, energized and renewed…but it was not to be.
Streisand has a reputation, and this film is full of legendary stories. Director Frank Pierson was so angered by his experience working with Streisand that he wrote a first person account, published in both New York and New West magazines, detailing what a horrible experience it had been. Pierson portrayed his star as egocentric, manipulative and controlling.
Streisand won the Oscar for Best Song for “Evergreen”. And at the end, when the previous films ended with “Hello everybody. This is Mrs. Norman Maine,” in this version, the announcer states “here is Esther Hoffman Howard”, and Babs launches into an 8-min song – a beautiful tribute to her late husband, but the camera stays on her in closeup for the ENTIRE SONG. An 8-min closeup of Streisand as she pays tribute to her dead husband…
Postcards From The Edge – 1990.
Carrie Fisher was Princess Leia, and she was also a member of Hollywood royalty, since her Mother was Debbie Reynolds and her father was matinee heart throb Eddie Fisher. “Postcards” tells the story of substance-addicted Hollywood actress Suzanne Vale, whose career is on the skids. After a spell at a detox center, her film company insists as a condition of continuing to employ her that she live with her mother Doris Mann, herself once a star and now a champion drinker.
Meryl Streep plays Vale, with a swagger and self-assurance that underlies her addiction problems. Streep sings in the movie, and acquits herself nicely. This is a funny, touching, and completely inside look at the dysfunctional families of Hollywood stars.
Debbie Reynolds reportedly wanted to play the role of Doris Mann, loosely based on herself. However, director Mike Nichols personally requested Shirley MacLaine. While it would have been fun stunt casting, MacLaine is terrific in the role.
Dennis Quaid is one of many great Actors in supporting roles in this terrific, inventive comedy with a heart.
Bowfinger – 1999.
One of the funniest movies about movies ever made, “Bowfinger” stars Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy. When desperate movie producer Robert Bowfinger (Martin) fails to get a major star for his bargain basement film, he decides to shoot the film secretly around him.
That’s right, he finds a paranoid action star Kit Ramsey and secretly films him, making up a plot as he goes along. Eddie Murphy plays dual roles: as Ramsey, and also as a goofy PA who just wants to be in the business…oh, and he happens to be Kit’s brother.
Robert K. Bowfinger: Would you be willing to cut your hair?
Jiff Ramsey: Well, yeah, but it would probably be better if someone else did it. I’ve had a few… accidents.
Heather Graham is the young wannabe who steps off the bus in Hollywood and asks innocently: “where do I go to be famous?” Hilarious and sweet, sweet, sweet.
Sunset Blvd. – 1950.
Legendary Director Billy Wilder had it all: Fame, fortune, awards. All because of Hollywood. And in 1950, he bit the hand that fed him. HARD.
The setup is simple: A hack screenwriter writes a screenplay for a former silent-film star who has faded into Hollywood obscurity. Real life silent film star Gloria Swanson plays the role of Norma Desmond, a star who time has passed by…she hires struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis, played by William Holden, to help her with her comeback.
The film is full of classic moments, such as when Gillis meets Norma for the first time:
Joe Gillis: You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big.
Norma Desmond: I *am* big. It’s the *pictures* that got small.
Norma Desmond cannot get over the fact that “talkies” replaced silent movies. This is a very similar setup as this year’s “The Artist”, and speaks to a universal truth – the failure to understand when times pass you by…
Norma Desmond: There once was a time in this business when I had the eyes of the whole world! But that wasn’t good enough for them, oh no! They had to have the ears of the whole world too. So they opened their big mouths and out came talk. Talk! TALK!
Legendary silent film Director Erich von Stroheim plays a Chauffeur for Desmond – and later in the film it is revealed he was once her Director – he later dismissed his participation in this film, referring to it as “that butler role.”
Billy Wilder alienated alot of Hollywood with the harshness of his look at Hollywood, but this is a masterpiece, pure and simple. In 1998, the American Film Institute selected this as the 12th greatest film of the 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time.
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