Posts Tagged ‘films’

Jayne Mansfield always reminds me of summer, as strange as that sounds. Perhaps it’s all the photos of the smiling, phosphorescent leggy blonde in bikinis, often lounging by a pool, sunning herself, sultry and white-hot in the bright sunlight. Jayne Mansfield is the summer of Americana, of bygone eras that always appear glamorous in photos, always feel nostalgic despite whatever reality they actually inhabited. Vacationers lingering by pools, by lakes; the heady smell of newly cut grass, of hot dogs and hamburgers grilling, of ice cream pops dispensed from musical trucks; lazy days that stretch on and on, skies at dusk fading to a burnt-orange color. All around the sound of kids shouting and laughing, adults drinking and talking until it was dark.

This is the history that is exhumed, minus the racial chasm, the gangsters, the junkies, the crooked politicians, all of the foriegn entanglements—shot through the lens of a movie camera. Mansfield was certainly part of that; the American movie-of-the-mind, a summer drive-in double feature of sand and sun and the and good-looking young men and women dancing to transistor radios blasting static-ridden bubblegum pop.

But then there is the flipside: her often bizzare later career which spawned such tacky treasures as The Wild, Wild World of Jayne Mansfield (1968), and her terribly sad death in a car crash that killed nearly everyone aboard. This is the dark side of my associations of Jayne Mansfield. I cannot help but imagine that car accident when I think of Mansfield, the lurid details not only played out in the tabloids, but immortalized in film maker Kenneth Anger’s tell-all book of the dark underbelly of Hollywood, Hollywood Babylon. Much of the book is wholly imagined of course–amplified rumors and innuendo, or out-right lies, but these are the details that stick, the images that remain, the hot-bed of a public’s collective memory. This is the evil twin of the cotton-candy nostalgia: the awful, turgid realities that are twisted and distorted for the bizarre glee of an audience wanting all of the dirt on people who seem larger-than-life.

Still, Mansfield occupied a certain space, along with her “blonde-bombshell” counterpart, Marilyn Monroe, in the American landscape. Monroe mixed sexuality with innocence, but Mansfield was all raw sexuality. She was uninhibited and wild; she held nothing back, or so it seemed. Surely Monroe has posed by enough pools, retained that same sun-kissed glow of summer, but somehow Mansfield has become indelibly linked to all of those thoughts of summer, remaining somewhere in the back of my mind.

She lingers in black and white, sometimes in color, a woman who symbolized a nation’s new-found sexuality, bubbling with optimism, the sun as bright and intense as her short-lived career.

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“Movies are a magician’s forge, they allow you to build a story with your hands… at least, that’s what it means to me. What attracts me in movies is to be presented with a problem and be able to solve it. Nothing else; just to create an illusion, and effect, with almost nothing” —Mario Bava

Director Mario Bava’s stylistic influence on 60s Italian cinema—particularly the Giallo genre—goes without saying. His singular vision was always evident, no matter what genre he was working within. Often taking what could have been fairly pedestrian story material, and—with limited budgets—Bava created worlds that you can fall into; mysterious, often dangerous worlds. His films have a staged feeling, and maybe that’s the point; clearly atmosphere and mood are paramount concerns—and why should’nt they be? Film is, after all, a visual medium, and like another visually minded-director—David Lynch—Bava fashions dream-like worlds that tap into the primal, the visceral.

Certainly, as a result of Brava’s initial work as a cinematographer, his shots are always impeccably composed, and fascinating to examine as single images…


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Jack Davis, like the other Mad artists, was a jack of all trades. Not only did he produce a wealth of outstanding comic book material, but he also did quite a bit of other freelance work. Ads, album covers and probably most notable of all, movie posters. During the 60s and 70s, Jack Davis illustrated dozens of movie posters and his work is some of the most iconic, hilarious and visually stunning work in movie history. You can’t mistake a Jack Davis movie poster. Besides his signature style and caricature work, Davis designed posters that were overflowing with life, an anarchistic bent that made it impossible to take in all at once. Scenes and characters from the films filled the composition, pushing into the white boarders. The wackier the movie, the better reference for Davis. His poster for Stanley Kramer’s It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) might be his most famous: dozens of characters from the movie spilling forth from the cracked Earth globe, wrapping their way madly above the type face. It’s staggering to look at because, well, there is simply so much to look at. But it all works. The image may seem out of control, but the layout and composition isn’t. Another great example is Woody Allen’s Bananas (1971). Besides the dead-on caricature of Allen, Davis is able to sum up the entire film in a single illustration. Forget a trailer, I would rather have Jack Davis’ poster. Even when the film is utterly forgettable, Jack Davis’ art is not. It’s so fun and full of chaos, that sometimes the poster gives the film more credit than it deserves.

 Stay tuned for Part Two…

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The Bates Motel Sign; the house on the hill; a swirling shower drain; Norman Bate’s tortured visage; Bernard Herrmann’s score. All of these images and sounds have become iconic, woven into the popular lexicon, so unmistakable, even without context.  If by sheer dumb luck you have never seen Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), you are likely to be familiar with some aspect of this film. (Like the theme for Jaws, Bernard Herrmann’s theme for Psycho is forever entwined with the action it’s amplifying.) This month Psycho hits the 50 mark, and despite many shallow imitations, a few sequels, a remake, and many, many movies attempting to tap into the sheer audacity and precision of its filmmaking, Psycho still retains the power to shock, even in contrast with the best modern horror picture. Perhaps, it’s that Psycho taps directly into the heart of the movie-going experience: voyeurism at its base level. We seek entry into other worlds, other lives, from the safety of the theater seat or living room couch. Norman is fellow who likes to watch, and the audience, in turn, becomes an accessory to this act, implicated— in a strange, passive way—in its fallout. 

For better or worse it remains Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous film, which, in and of itself, is astounding considering the sheer number of influential and ground breaking works Hitchcock directed over his prolific career.

Happy Birthday, Psycho, you don’t look a day over 50.

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There’s something wonderfully fatalistic in the oeuvre of Catherine Deneuve. Even in the more optimistic of her film work—The Umbrella’s of Cherbourg (1964) for example—there is always the threat of ruin, that her steely resolve will somehow dissolve, fade away as the final credits roll. It’s that filmic resolve that sometimes gets labeled as “emotionally distant”, which is wholly unfair and misses the point of her amazing abilities as an actress. On the contrary, she has an extraordinary range, both when playing a character and in her choice of roles. From the emotionally fragile woman slowly coming undone in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965),  to an actress and theatre director in Nazi occupied France in François Truffaut’s The Last Metro (1980), to an aging vampire, of all things, in Tony Scott’s The Hunger (1983), Denevue is describing emotional wreckage that is more subtle, less overtly traumatic.

And then there is her work with director Luis Buñuel: Belle de Jour (1967) and Tristana (1970), a pair of films that, quite succinctly, encapsulate that range previously spoke of. The bored housewife of Belle Je Jour is certainly the most famous, but it is her turn as the optimistic orphan girl turned calculating woman in Tristana that is the weightier, the more deeply resonate of the two.

It is the elegance, and, OK, here comes that word, timelessness, of Catherine Deneuve that leads me to compare her with other actresses like Grace Kelly and Isabella Rossellini; that indefinable charm that far exceeds pure beauty, that makes her films endlessly watchable.  


















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These days, short film ads are fairly ubiquitous. You know the sort: an ad disguised as a short film—which usually follows or precedes an ad about the same product— and presented as a story with characters and plot all wrapped around a-not-so cleverly hidden product placement.

Well, it seems David Lynch has jumped into this particular fray with obvious relish.  The results are really intriguing, and certainly the best of this genre of advertisement. Lynch is not new to the world of ads. He has done spots for coffee and perfume in past years, always with his particular cinematic eye, and this series of short film ads for Dior’s new line of handbags called LadyDior, are no exception. True, the product placement is utterly blatant (it always is), but it’s done in a way that is funny and silly, with that sort of offbeat, Lynchian perspective. The ads themselves are Lynch through and through; from the writing to the lighting and music, David Lynch has been given free rein to do what he does best. And the very hands on nature of these ads harkens back to his earliest short films and first feature; he not only writes and directs the pieces, but he works the camera, edits, writes music and does sound mixing. It’s all very beautiful and mysterious, and you almost forget that it’s an ad for a handbag, which I guess defeats the purpose in way.

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