Archives for November 2009

Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

1945’s  Picture of Dorian Gray is a fascinating and at times, a disturbing watch for me. As someone who considers herself a rather unflappable mature adult, I still shudder a little at the suggestion that a painting (the original being haunting enough in its own right) manifesting and representing the depravity of a human soul at waste. But it is not the extreme end result that troubles me; the most unsettling phase is the subtle change Dorian (Hurd Hatfield) notices in the painting following his brief mourning of Sibyl Vain (a 19-year old Angela Lansbury in an Oscar-nominated role).

While I have not read the source material, another popular culture reference from television made me seek this film out. The late Ted Knight had a sitcom in the 1980’s called “Too Close for Comfort.” An episode aired that at the time, my 9-10 year old mind could not wrap my head around but I knew enough to feel a bit unsettled. In the episode (or what I vaguely remember about it), Ted was feeling guilty about something and this guilt manifested in his portrait, much in the way Dorian’s portrait would alter with each act of moral decay. On the television show, I believe the portrait went a step further and even spoke to Ted – creepy stuff indeed. Anyway, for some reason that image resonated with me and stuck with me long before I fully knew who Oscar Wilde or Dorian Gray were.

With this frame of reference, I have seen this film at least 2 or 3 times and it still works for me on the levels that I would anticipate it would and should. While there are a few deviations from Wilde’s text, the one element that does not fit at times is the inclusion of Donna Reed’s character as Dorian’s love interest (niece of the portrait painter) and possible key to redemption/salvation. Apparently in the text, this person is represented by a vicar’s daughter who Dorian romances near the end of the novel.

What really propels this film is the story. As previously mentioned, the external representation of a lost soul, is a powerful concept. This really got me thinking about if this were possible, how would people react? Would they do as Dorian does or will they look at this power as an opportunity to represent the best in their (and human) nature.

I am pretty sure that is what is exactly what the author Oscar Wilde wanted us to start to think about. There are so many other ideas related to youth and beauty, hedonism, Faust, etc. that I cannot easily or succinctly list them here; for additional references I refer you to the SparkNotes entry for the book.

This list, extracted from Wikipedia, is a comprehensive and chronological collection of other films adaptations for Dorian Gray; for my edification, I may catch the 2009 version starring Ben Barnes and Colin Firth as Lord Henry, the individual catalyst in Dorian downward spiral.

  • Dorian Grays Portræt (1910)
    Directed by Axel Strøm
    Starring Valdemar Psilander as Dorian Gray
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray (1913)
    Directed by Phillips Smalley
    Starring Wallace Reid as Dorian Gray
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray (1916)
    Directed by Fred W Durrant; screenplay by Rowland Talbot
    Starring Henry Victor as Dorian Gray; Sydney Bland as Basil Hallward; Jack Jordan as Henry Wotton; Pat O’Malley as Sybil Vane
  • Das Bildnis des Dorian Gray (1917)
    Directed by Richard Oswald; screenplay by Richard Oswald
    Starring Bernd Aldor as Dorian Gray; Ernst Ludwig as Basil Hallward; Ernst Pittschau as Henry Wotton; Lea Lara as Sibyl Vane
  • Az Élet királya (1918)
    Directed by Alfréd Deésy; screenplay by József Pakots
    Starring Norbert Dán as Dorian Gray; Gusztáv Turán as Basil Hallward; Bela Lugosi (credited as Arisztid Olt) as Henry Wotton; Ila Lóth as Sibyl Vane
  • El Retrato de Dorian Gray (1969). Telenovela produced by Televisa.
    Directed and Produced by Ernesto Alonso
    Starring Enrique Alvarez Felix as Dorian Gray
  • Dorian Gray, also known as The Evils of Dorian Gray or The Secret of Dorian Gray (1970)[1]
    Directed by Massimo Dallamano; screenplay by Marcello Coscia; Massimo Dallamano and Günter Ebert
    Starring Helmut Berger as Dorian Gray; Richard Todd as Basil Hallward; Herbert Lom as Henry Wotton; Marie Liljedahl as Sybil Vane
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray (1973) (made-for-television)
    Directed by Glenn Jordan; screenplay by John Tomerlin
    Starring Shane Briant as Dorian Gray; Charles Aidman as Basil Hallward; Nigel Davenport as Henry Wotton; Vanessa Howard as Sybil Vane
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray (1976) (made-for-television)
    Directed by John Gorrie; screenplay by John Osborne
    Starring Peter Firth as Dorian Gray; Jeremy Brett as Basil Hallward; John Gielgud as Henry Wotton; Judi Bowker as Sibyl Vane
  • Le Portrait de Dorian Gray (1977)
    Directed by Pierre Boutron; screenplay by Pierre Boutron
    Starring Patrice Alexsandre as Dorian Gray; Denis Manuel as Basil Hallward; Raymond Gérôme as Henry Wotton; Marie-Hélène Breillat as Sybil
  • The Sins of Dorian Gray (1983) (made-for-television)
    Directed by Tony Maylam; screenplay by Ken August and Peter Lawrence
    Starring Belinda Bauer as a female Dorian Gray; Anthony Perkins as Henry Lord
  • Dorian, also known as Pact with the Devil (2001)
    Directed by Allan A Goldstein; screenplay by Peter Jobin and Ron Raley
    Starring Ethan Erickson as Louis/Dorian; Malcolm McDowell as Henry Wotton; Amy Sloan as Sybil
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)
    Directed by Stephen Norrington
    Starring Stuart Townsend as Dorian Gray
  • Dorian (2004)
    Written and Directed by Brendan Dougherty Russo
    Starring Andrew Vanette as Dorian Gray; Stephen Fontana as Basil Hallward; Michael Multari as Henry; Danielle Matarese as Sibyl Vane
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray (2004)
    Directed by David Rosenbaum; screenplay by David Rosenbaum
    Starring Josh Duhamel as Dorian Gray; Rainer Judd as Basil Ward; Branden Waugh as Harry Wotton (changed from Henry for unknown reasons); Darby Stanchfield as Sybil Vane; Brian Durkin as James Vane
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray (2006)
    Directed by Duncan Roy; screenplay by Duncan Roy
    Starring David Gallagher as Dorian Gray
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray (2007)
    Directed by Jon Cunningham; screenplay by Jon Cunningham and Deborah Warner
  • “The Picture (of Dorian Gray)” (2009)
    Directed by Jonathan Courtemanche; script by Neal Utterback
    Starring Hanna Dillon, Lawrence Evans, and Miles Heymann
  • Dorian Gray (2009)
    Directed by Oliver Parker; screenplay by Toby Finlay
    Starring Ben Barnes as Dorian

Thanksgiving Day Films

Gobble, Gobble!

This topic I suppose can present a challenge in many ways. I instantly think of 1947’s Miracle on 34th Street when I think of Thanksgiving; but more importantly, I think about Christmas. After that I felt a little stumped.

So this morning I decided to do a quick internet search and run a comparative analysis of the films that others might recall versus my own “brain freeze” when I think about must view around the Thanksgiving theme. I stumbled upon this article, published only yesterday in the Washington Post: A feast of Thanksgiving DVDs. This article’s list includes:

The Daytrippers
Pieces of April
Miracle on 34th Street
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
The Ice Storm
Home for the Holidays
Funny People

By my count I have only seen three of the films listed; the one I mentioned in my introduction, Ang Lee’s Storm and Pieces of April. I cannot say this is a disappointing subset at all.

To add a little variety to this initial list, I decided to dig in further and see what other films are out there and if I have indeed seen them.

About.com:

Hannah and her Sisters
Home for the Holidays (again)
The House of Yes
Mighty Joe Young (1949)
The Ice Storm (again)
Miracle on 34th Street (again)
Planes, Trains, Automobiles (again)
Pieces of April (again)

Additional searched yielded approximately the same films so I will spare listing the films again.

Besides the three films (upped to four thanks to about.com’s mention of Mighty Joe Young), the films I will be adding to my Netflix queue are: Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Home for the Holidays.

Do any of you in the blogosphere have any movie recommendations for this time of year?

Revenge of the Zombies (1943)

revengeofthezombies1943Revenge of the Zombies

This film is definitely a strange bird. It is about a mad scientist, Dr. Max Heinrich von Altermann (played by John Carradine) who is working on creating an army of zombie soldiers for the Germany during World War II. Don’t worry the feds are on the case as well as the brother of his recently “deceased” wife (Veda Ann Borg).

The ethnic stereotyping will shock some of today’s viewers; a reading of the definitive source on the portrayal of African Americans in cinema: Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies & Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films, and you will be able to easily identify the caricatures. For audiences of the day, they knew what they were in for by the presence of one Mantan Moreland, a popular actor in his day as the go-to guy of “bug-eyed” slapstick comic relief. This slapstick, when combined with the theme of zombies and Nazis does provide for a bit of “campiness” that devotees of B-films might appreciate.

Mantan’s performance as well as the presence of John Carradine do elevate this film for a production of  Hollywood’s Poverty Row (by Monogram Pictures), but that still does not make it a cinematic masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination. However, that is part of the charm and appeal of  a movie like this. During this time, it was the minor studios’ job to  deliver low-budget (and often short) forms of cinematic amusement – good taste be damned!

 

Obsession, Revisted

VertigoSome time ago i mentioned I saw Brian de Palma’s 1976 homage to Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Obsession and was not a fan of it.

One thing I failed to do was give a full on review laying out my disappointment in the experience.

Just the very implication of incest … hmm

As a theme it is a tough sell in so many ways. Of course many folks generally do not feel comfortable with it as a general rule of thumb. Should it not be addressed as a topic? I am not saying that at all. What I take exception with how it is handled in this movie is that I am supposed to believe that he does not know that this is his daughter or that there is some biological connection between he and she?

I find that a little hard to accept. Especially since his daughter was kidnapped and never seen for a number of years. I guess the conclusion to possibly be drawn from that (and I am sure the filmmaker will agree) that he is so blind with obsession over the memory of his dead wife that he cannot fathom this as a possibility. Me? I am not buying it.

Homage is one thing…

Maybe some think that it is clever that de Palma uses a similar cinematically literary device, the idea of the double, the reveal in the middle of the film and the protagonist as the pawn – all central elements in both films but somehow more effective in the master’s work.  I think to model one’s own work after someone you admire is slightly double edged. And while you admire someone sometimes it is best to simply mention your admiration or refer to it (with a wink and a nod) in your own style. So while I may be in the same boat of admiration as De Palma, I think that some things are better left undone and not to be replicated.

Maybe I will give it another go…

For the sake of my love of Hitchcock’s Vertigo I will go back and re-watch Obsession, but be warned I am already slightly put off by it so a major epiphany will have to wash over me if my mind is going to be changed.  This second chance is something that I gave vertigo which I admit was a film that was a bit over my head when I first watched it on VHS.

In the end movies like all works of expression and art are pieces that inspire diverse reactions in many people. Also one’s idea of the creative or artistic evolves and morphs over time. So maybe, in time, I will come to see Obsession as De Palma would want me to see it.

Further Evidence of the Power of Kate

Now, you can own "i luv cinema" stuff!

Check out my CafePress.com site!

TCM Classic Film Festival

Where else? but Hollywood!

Movie camera and film

Coming to a Theatre Near You ….

cinema screenI may not have to tell many of you out there, but when it comes to classic movies, you should take every opportunity to see them on the big screen. I was not always a purist in this regard. I figured I could watch TCM or AMC with and get a satisfactory cinematic experience. Then I saw the restored version of Vertigo (1958) at my alma mater’s movie theatre. There is nothing like it.

The problem then becomes, where to find screenings? In places like NY or LA there is not much of a problem. I know Chicago has a couple of cool places too! But it gets a little tricky outside of major metropolitan areas. There are many resources out there, but here is one site that I think is a good starting off point.

Film Studies Online

cameraI have always wanted to opportunity to study cinema formally at school. However the trajectory of my more modest work life has not allowed me to pursue this study.

Here is a resource that I am starting to use – open universities. By open I mean there are no applications, no enrollment fees, etc. Many of the top academic institutions have these resources available. A simple search of free online courses, will amaze you.

So now there is no excuse, the resources are out there for you to engage in self-paced learning …

 

Happy studying!