Friday, May 25, 2012

Alan Webber: Why I Love Vincente Minnelli's THE LONG, LONG TRAILER

In honor of BMFI's four-week course on famed director Vincente Minnelli, Lust for Life: The Cinema of Vincente Minnelli, BMFI patron and film fan Alan Webber reflects on his favorite Minnelli comedy, The Long, Long Trailer.

Breezin’ Along with Lucy and Desi
By Alan Webber, BMFI Patron

When I first read that BMFI was offering a look at the work of director Vincente Minnelli in June, I tried to recall all I knew about his films. Minnelli, one of Hollywood’s most prolific directors, left a legacy of varied classics including The Band Wagon, Gigi, and Some Came Running. He was skilled in all genres.

My favorite Minnelli film is the sun-drenched comedic confection The Long, Long Trailer (1954) starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. They were at the height of their TV fame when they were contracted by MGM to make this, the first of two films. Despite the fact that audiences could get Lucy and Desi for free on TV each week, the film was a big hit at the box office. When I first saw it as a nine-year-old boy in New Rochelle, New York at the Loew’s Theatre on the cold winter morning of its February premiere, there was a line around the corner. I have been laughing ever since.

The story is essentially fluff. Newlyweds Tacy (Ball) and Nicky (Arnaz) decide that rather than settling down in a new home, they should adopt a more mobile lifestyle because of the extensive travel requirement of Nicky’s engineering job. The Bride persuades her new husband to buy a trailer against his will and drag it behind a newly minted American car as they move from location to location. Thanks to their naiveté in such matters, they purchase a colossal RV that costs five times what they had planned. It’s at this time that the 37’, three-ton New Moon Trailer becomes one of the stars of the film. The viewer takes pleasure as the couple fights over every turn and parking spot while they make their way around a pre-freeway California. It’s typical of the type of chaos Lucy and Desi brought to the ‘50s and is inspired silliness. The film is also ablaze with Minnelli’s distinctive use of color and features a glorious view of the American West at mid-century before Holiday Inns and McDonalds scarred the landscape. In the middle of the adventure is a sublime rendition of the song “I’m just Breezin’ Along with the Breeze,” which the viewer will be humming long after the film is over.
Lucy convinces Desi to buy a trailer beyond their means in The Long, Long Trailer.

Some critics carped that the film was just an extended Lucy episode. In many ways it was, yet underneath the laughter is some sardonic commentary on American consumerism, technology, fads (RVs), and the prosperity of the Eisenhower years. Ironically, the film also bears some resemblance to two earlier Minnelli films, Madame Bovary (1949) and Father of the Bride (1950). Film enthusiast Michael E. Grost notes, “In all three films the wives are addicted to a luxury, a product, or a lifestyle. Lucy’s character is really a wife who spends at a level far above her means and gets her husband into financial trouble.” Thus, the film can be seen a urgent warning of the dangers of materialism and the consumer goods society that was to dominate American life in coming decades. That’s the darker side.

The Long, Long Trailer is a big, lemon-colored gumdrop of a film from the halcyon days of the ‘50s and shows Minnelli at his comedic best. It has the kind of joyful, innocent chaos that is rare today. I’m still laughing. I promise that you’ll find something to tickle your funny bone. Join us!

Thanks, Alan!

The Long Long Trailer will be shown and discussed as a part of the film course Lust for Life: The Films of Vincente Minnelli, taught by Maurizio Giammarco, Ph.D., at BMFI. The four-week class starts Wednesday, June 6 at 6:30 pm.

Film fans, if you would like to submit a post of your own about a movie or film star that you love, please contact Devin Wachs with your idea.

BMFI's Summer Film Preview

The summer issue of BMFI's program guide, Projections, arrived today! Keep reading for an overview of our summer programming. For more information about the upcoming films and a full schedule, visit or pick up a copy of Projections.

BMFI's Summer Film Preview
By Dan Santelli, BMFI Programming Intern

As the temperatures rise, the sun shines bright, and schools let out, why risk sunburn when you can catch the beam of a projector bouncing off the silver screen? Summer movie season is on the horizon and BMFI is serving up a slew of classic films, special events, and the best new releases guaranteed to entertain movie lovers of all ages and sensibilities.

Our Summer Classics programming begins with a bang thanks to a 35 mm screening of Die Hard, shown as part of the June class Action Films as Art, taught by BMFI's Director of Education, Andrew J. Douglas, Ph.D., and Programming Manager, Valerie Temple, M.F.A. Dr. Douglas will also lead a course on the early works of Alfred Hitchcock in conjunction with a July series featuring two of Hitchcock’s British pictures—The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes—and two American features—Rebecca and Spellbound.

If suspense isn’t up your alley, warm up your vocal chords with sing-along showings of Bye Bye Birdie, My Fair Lady, and An American in Paris, shown as part of the Singin’ in the Summer series. Free popcorn if you wear a costume!

"The Children of Marx and Coca-Cola": Jean-Pierre Leaud and Chantal Goya in Godard's Masculin Feminin.

Inspired by AMC’s hit show Mad Men (it's a BMFI office favorite) and its suave, sophisticated characters, Ms. Temple has cooked up a series of five films with the Drapers in mind. Billy Wilder’s comedy triumph The Apartment, Godard’s New Wave classic Masculin Feminin, and Douglas Sirk’s 1955 melodrama All That Heaven Allows are highlights.

Be sure to figure out Who’s That Lady? at screenings of Orson Welles’ The Lady From Shanghai and Best Picture Oscar winner All About Eve, as well as rediscover two Bill Murray scene stealers—Caddyshack and Tootsie.

Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth in The Lady from Shanghai.

Director Philip Kaufman will be in our focus during the month of August with screenings of his acclaimed features The Right Stuff and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, with a special appearance by film critic and author Annette Insdorf, Ph.D.

The Perm (Donald Sutherland, above) and The Mullet ("Rowdy" Roddy Piper, below) face off in BMFI's alien-centric summer favorites.

BMFI’s The Late Show series will continue its run of hidden gems and offbeat cult movies on select Fridays at 11:30 pm throughout the summer, showcasing the weird side of the studio system with five ’80s Hollywood Oddities. Beginning with Jim Henson and Frank Oz’s 1982 Tolkien-inspired Muppet epic, The Dark Crystal, and ending with John Carpenter’s alien-laden critique of 1980s ideology They Live, the series also includes Terry Gilliam’s Orwellian Brazil, John Carpenter’s kung-fu actioner Big Trouble in Little China, and Robert Greenwald’s campy musical Xanadu. Whether you’re looking for social satire, Muppets, a darkly humorous vision of the future, or a good kick to the head by Kurt Russell, The Late Show is bound to please.

The summer ends with big screen showings of the evergreen Ben-Hur and Casablanca. If you haven't seen these classics on the big screen, you're missing out. Buy your tickets early--Casablanca is an end-of-summer tradition and tickets go fast.

In addition to our line up of classic films, we're also featuring three special events, including an encore viewing of Michael Smerconish's interview with Chris Matthews on June 3, and the ReelAbilities Film Festival's June 7 screening of the French film The Straight Line, about an ex-con who trains a blind racetrack runner.

On June 11, BMFI will hold a special screening of the documentary Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us? at 7:30pm. Prior to the screening, enjoy a special honey-centric dinner provided by Whole Foods Market with expert beekeepers in attendance. Come on down and hear the buzz on the horrors of bee colony collapse disorder and what you can do to help fix it.

Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) sets course in search of her mother in Beasts of the Southern Wild.

As always, a score of acclaimed new releases will accompany the old favorites. We do our programming on a week-by-week basis, but we're hoping to show the Cannes favorite Moonrise Kingdom (the new Wes Anderson picture) and the Grand Jury Prize winner at Sundance, Beasts of the Southern Wild, praised by Ms. Temple as “the best of the fest” and film critic Roger Ebert as “the best film I’ve seen this year."

Showcasing the best of high art and the most spectacular entertainments, there’s no putting a foot wrong with beating the heat and staying cool in a movie theater.

For more information about these and the rest of the films that BMFI is featuring this summer, check out the summer issue of Projections. From all of us at Bryn Mawr Film Institute, we wish everyone a happy, healthy, and safe summer. We look forward to seeing you at the movies.

Dan Santelli, BMFI's Programming Intern, is a 2012 graduate of Temple University with a Bachelor's degree in Film and Media Arts. A lifelong cineaste, his favorite films (in no particular order) include Leon: The Professional, The Night of the Hunter, Touch of Evil, Blue Velvet, Brazil, Apocalypse Now, Dressed To Kill (1980), Halloween, and Les Yeux Sans Visage.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"Blood Red Kisses" and "White Hot Thrills": Reflections on KISS ME DEADLY

BMFI will screen Robert Aldrich's classic film noir Kiss Me Deadly on 35 mm as part of The Late Show film series this Friday, May 25 at 11:30 pm. Our Programming Intern, Dan Santelli, reflects on the infamous film noir and its history.

The obscure opening title, descending from top to bottom, set the mood for the strange movie to follow in Kiss Me Deadly.

Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly, which will be screened as part of The Late Show series on Friday at 11:30 pm, begins with that classic plot jump off point for the crime narrative: the Girl on the Run. Christina Bailey (Cloris Leachman, in her first feature film appearance), begs to be taken to the nearest bus station and urges the driver, should she not “make it”, to remember her name. The opening titles commence. The madness begins.

A hybrid of old school mystery-thriller, atomic age horror, and hard-edged cinematic nihilism, Kiss Me Deadly culminates to form one of the more perverse, pessimistic, and subversive social/political commentaries of its time. Standing proudly alongside other classics such as Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil, Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter, and Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past, Kiss Me Deadly more than fits the bill as a “textbook” example of film noir in terms of form and atmosphere.

"Remember me, remember my name" pleads Christina (young Cloris Leachman) to Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) in Kiss Me Deadly.

Unlike these pictures, however, Kiss Me Deadly was an independently produced feature and directed by non-studio director Aldrich. The resulting film hardly made a dent upon release in America, but the independent factor allowed for greater leeway to include violent content. Furthermore, it allowed director Aldrich to break the genre expectations and incorporate personal observations on the time and culture of the 1950s. What was billed as a “no-holds-barred” crime caper ultimately turned out to be a savage critique of the silliness surrounding ‘50s Cold War paranoia and McCarthyism with strong science fiction overtones in the last act.

Mike Hammer's futuristic looking answering machine in Kiss Me Deadly.

Ignored in the States (its sole champions were film critics Manny Farber and Andrew Sarris), Kiss Me Deadly would go on to be tauted in France for its style by Cahiers du Cinéma then-critics François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. Even more important, the film’s radical visual style heightened its importance, as it became a sort-of “template film” for all involved in the French New Wave.

While Kiss Me Deadly is more fun for those who walk into the movie cold, the plot follow private-eye Mike Hammer, a low-life scumbag with a Fascist mentality that makes the hardboiled masculinities of Sam Peckinpah and Lee Marvin seem small and diminutive. After picking up Christina and being attacked by goons, Mike’s misadventures lead him to encounters with beautiful, but highly critical, women and marauding criminals seeking out the great “whatsit”, a small suitcase-like object that became the chief inspiration for the suitcase in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.

Ralph Meeker as the brutish and sadistic Mike Hammer in Kiss Me Deadly.

Kiss Me Deadly, like most films, would've never become the essential classic it’s recognized as without actor Ralph Meeker’s characterization of Mickey Spillane’s popular private-eye, Mike Hammer. Never has a name been more suited to character’s persona. Mark Gross, in his write-up for last year’s home video release by the Criterion Collection, describes Meeker’s Hammer as a “walking, talking, 6 foot, 180 pound sneer”. This is putting it lightly. Meeker’s injection of ultra-machismo into the character makes the misogynistic ramblings of comedian Andrew Dice Clay resemble the lyrics of a Miley Cyrus tune. He’s a tough-talking, no nonsense, borderline psychotic can-of-whoop-ass waiting to be unleashed on the unsuspecting goons.

The irony of the situation, one could argue, is that Hammer himself is perhaps even worse a person than those he’s fighting against. But like all the great antiheros, Meeker’s charismatic charm and humorous approach to nihilism compels one to follow him through the end. Director Aldrich wisely counterpoints Hammer’s intensity in one scene with a tender love scene between him and his girlfriend in the next, highlighting the duality of the character. Sometimes these two extreme opposites occur in the same scene. Ultimately, what might have been a one-dimensional stick figure becomes a dynamic three-dimensional character, albeit seemingly trapped in a world that’s visually and figuratively “black and white”. You may not like him, but you can’t take your eyes off him.

One of Hammer's interrogation techniques: crushing the culprit's fingers in a desk drawer.

While the formal elements of 1950s films might appear dull and televisual when compared to the kinetic camerawork of the current day, Kiss Me Deadly remains unconventionally energetic with an abundance of activity happening in and out of the frame. Photographed by Ernest Laszlo (whose work on Stanley Kramer’s Ship of Fools would earn him a Best Cinematography Oscar), the frames are filled with hard lighting and obscure shadows. There are hints of the work of cinematographers Nicolas Musaraca (Cat People) and the German Expressionists, most notably Karl Freund (Metropolis). Film noir style might be best known for this lighting convention, but Aldrich’s camera and staging are two of the film’s biggest stars. Filled with fluid tracking shots and meticulous staging of the actors, Aldrich’s rushed production schedule doesn’t seem to have hindered his indulgence in exploiting the cinematic form. In particular, a scene in which Hammer drops in on an opera singing tenant features two long takes of such consummate quality that they rival some of the best staging by Orson Welles.

From left to right: Director Robert Aldrich, actor Nick Dennis, dialogue coach Rick Sherman, and actor Ralph Meeker on the set of Kiss Me Deadly.

Director Robert Aldrich would go on to have a superior career in feature filmmaking with such classics as The Dirty Dozen, What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?, The Longest Yard (with Burt Reynolds), and Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte. More underrated efforts include The Killing of Sister George, The Choirboys, and The Grissom Gang. Aggressive masculine nature exists underneath the veneer of most of these works, but never was it more exploited, or more expressively so, than in Kiss Me Deadly.

Kiss Me Deadly serves as a reminder that genre films have the power to transcend the cinematic art form as well as the culture, sometimes even more than the “art” film, by burying social and political critiques underneath the surface in the subtext. The influence of Kiss Me Deadly can be found in a wide range of work like the French New Wave films of Godard and Truffaut (certain set-pieces in Breathless and Shoot the Piano Player are directly inspired), ’70s Sidney Lumet movies (Dog Day Afternoon), the "cinema du look" films by Luc Besson (particularly Leon: The Professional), the cine-literate work of Quentin Tarantino, and the thrillers of Brian De Palma.

Mike Hammer's (Ralph Meeker) first encounter with the potentially deadly "Great Whatsit" box.

Even though it’s virtually impossible not to have encountered the influence of Kiss Me Deadly, the classic is not generally known to mainstream American moviegoers. This tragedy is understandable, chiefly because its initial 1955 release was very limited due to the Kefauver Commission of Congress's attempted ban of the film. Even in the markets that chose to play the film, audiences didn’t seem to take notice and Kiss Me Deadly eventually drifted into obscurity in America. MGM’s VHS, laserdisc, and DVD releases have helped expose the movie to today’s audiences and the recent Criterion Collection Blu-ray release is yet another attempt.

Very few films made match the exuberant joy in embracing pop-nihilism like seeing Kiss Me Deadly. A masterful combination of art, commerce, and politics, it stands as a high water mark for the American crime film and a step forward into modern movie sensibilities. If this is your first time and, better yet, you know little more than what you’ve read, I envy you. To quote the emphatic mechanic who makes his first appearance at the sixteen minute mark: “VA VA VOOM, PRETTY POW!!!”

Dan Santelli, BMFI's Programming Intern, is a 2012 graduate of Temple University with a Bachelor's degree in Film and Media Arts. A lifelong cineaste, his favorite films (in no particular order) include Leon: The Professional, The Night of the Hunter, Touch of Evil, Blue Velvet, Brazil, Apocalypse Now, Dressed To Kill (1980), Halloween, and Les Yeux Sans Visage.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Making ZORRO "Not-So-Silent": An Interview with Composer Brendan Cooney

By Devin Wachs, Public Relations Manager, Bryn Mawr Film Institute

There are a lot of highly anticipated superhero movies coming out this summer, but a great action film doesn't need to have the latest special effects... or even a prerecorded soundtrack. In The Mark of Zorro, the original swashbuckler, Douglas Fairbanks thrusts and parries his way through Spanish California as the masked bandit Zorro. On Tuesday, May 22, Bryn Mawr Film Institute will host a special screening of the 1920 silent classic, accompanied by an original score performed live by Not-So-Silent Cinema's quintet of talented musicians. Trust me, you won't miss CGI explosions.

Brendan Cooney, the creator of Not-So-Silent Cinema and the composer of the fantastic new score, answered some questions via email about why he loves The Mark of Zorro and how he approaches creating silent film scores.

How did you come up with Not-So-Silent Cinema?

The Not-So-Silent-Cinema project began at a small concert series at the Mennonite Church in Germantown where I was invited to play piano for a screening of the classic vampire film Nosferatu. After playing several more films at the venue I decided to start expanding the project, writing scores for small ensembles. The project has blossomed leading to shows in larger venues like the International House in West Philly and the Armory in Boston, MA. We did a short Halloween tour of my Nosferatu score this past October up the East Coast, and this Spring I debuted a new score for some Buster Keaton shorts.

What about The Mark of Zorro particularly inspired you to create this score? What makes this film special?

I was already a big fan of the 1940 Mark of Zorro starring Tyrone Power, a charming film full of humor and storybook romance. The 1940 version is so great that I was was expecting to be disappointed when I sat down to watch the original 1920 film starring Douglas Fairbanks. But the 1920 original version is an absolute masterpiece. Even without sound it captures all of the magic, charm, and romance of the later versions of the film. Douglas Fairbanks is an impressive athlete, performing all manner of death-defying stunts, leaping off buildings, and over tables like he was a cat. The fight scenes are ballet-like in their choreography.

What is your score for The Mask of Zorro like?

This score was a lot of fun to write. As the film is set in Spanish California, I felt I had license to mix and match all manner of Latin American and Spanish musical genres. In the score you will hear flamenco, mariachi, tango, salsa, and many other influences. It is a goofy score, the musical jokes highlighting the humor of the film. But it is also a score which takes the romance and valor of the film seriously. I wanted the audience to find the film both funny and inspiring.

Do you have a favorite part of the film or score?
There are, of course, many stories of heroes with secret identities. What makes the Zorro story particularly exciting is the extreme contrast between the heroic Zorro and the weak, foppish dandy Don Diego. Some of the best scenes in the movie are the Don Diego scenes, where Diego torments his family with his pathetic weak nature. As a viewer you can't wait for Diego to reveal his true identity to them.

Not-So-Silent Cinema's performance of Nosferatu at The Armory.
How do you write for a silent film?

Composing for these films is a different than other composition projects because structure of the music is dictated the narrative arc of the film and not by some internal musical form. Some live film scores you will hear are entirely improvised. My score contain a great deal of improvisation but they are also meticulously written out. There are clear themes and motifs that reappear and everything is time-coded to fit perfectly with the film.

I wrote this score specifically for the musicians involved, a fantastic group of players from all corners of the Philly music scene:

Patrick Hughes is a brilliant trumpeter. He has toured the world with Melody Gardot, and is a long-time member of the West Philadelphia Orchestra, Philly's premiere balkan brass band.

Alban Bailey is a gifted guitarist. The first time I heard him play he was playing some of the fiercest and daring avant-garde free improvisation that I had ever heard. I later learned that he was a tango guitarist in the Oscuro Qunitet and that he played a lot of Djano-esque gypsy swing in OctoMonkey. He seemed like the perfect candidate for this project.

Josh Mazhiz is the man about town on his bass. He plays in virtually every configuration you can think of, from complex through composed jazz trio music with Tom Lawton to theatre pieces at Sprial Q to the scrappy rock band TJ Kong and the Atomic Bomb.

Nezih Antakli is a percussionist with a wide pallet of rhythmic styles at his command. Here in Philly he plays in the West Philly Orchestra. He has toured Europe, Turkey, Argentina and the US.

Why should someone see this film with live accompaniment?

Silent films were intended to be seen with live musical accompaniment. Often times we take film music for granted, letting it wash over us and influence the way we perceive a film but without actually paying conscious attention to what we are listening to. Seeing a silent film with a live score changes all this. The score becomes something real and tangible, being created in front of your very eyes.

It also allows audience to enjoy live music in a different way. Modern audiences are less and less inclined to sit through an hour of instrumental music. But watching a live film score gives an audience a reference point to make sense of and enjoy live music.

We have had rave reviews from audience members. People love these projects.

Thanks, Brendan! We're looking forward to your musical spin on this action adventure.

The Mask of Zorro is playing next Tuesday, May 22, at 7:30 pm. Tickets are available online here.

Devin Wachs is the Public Relations Manager for Bryn Mawr Film Institute. She joined BMFI in 2005, following her graduation from Bryn Mawr College. If you send BMFI a message on Facebook or Twitter or are interested in onscreen sponsorships, she's the one who'll be in touch!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Degrees of Separation: The Cast of THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL

Today BMFI welcomes The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the new comedy from Shakespeare in Love director John Madden about a group of British retirees in India. Keep reading to learn more about the impressive cast--including Dame Judi Dench, Dame Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie, and Dev Patel--and their past cinematic collaborations.

Degrees of Separation: The Cast of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
By Nina Zipkin, BMFI Intern

In The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the new film from Fox Searchlight (the studio behind Little Miss Sunshine and The Descendants), a group of British retirees leave England behind and decamp for Jaipur, India, after seeing advertisements for the titular hotel.

When the newly minted expats arrive, they find that the lap of luxury they were expecting was oversold in the brochure, due to the young, upstart manager's (Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire) excellent Photoshop skills.

The duped pensioners are played by some of the United Kingdom’s most talented thespians. These acting luminaries have had long and storied careers, and many have worked together in the past. In anticipation of the film’s release, here are some the works that have boasted several Marigold Hotel stars on their cast lists.

Tom Wilkinson and Judi Dench
In the 1998 Academy Award Best Picture winner Shakespeare in Love (also helmed by Best Exotic director John Madden), Tom Wilkinson played Hugh Fennyman, Will Shakespeare’s financial backer when he mounts a production of “Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter.” Dame Judi Dench won her first Oscar for her definitive, yet brief (less than ten minutes!) performance as Elizabeth I.

Wilkinson and Dench shared the screen again a few years later in The Importance of Being Earnest, when they played Dr. Chasuble and Lady Bracknell.

Tom Wilkinson and Maggie Smith
Wilkinson was also the narrator of the 1999 adaptation of David Copperfield that starred a young Daniel Radcliffe as David and Dame Maggie Smith--who also stars in Best Exotic--as Betsy Trotwood.

Wilkinson as the good Reverend with Anna Massey (Miss Prism) in The Importance of Being Earnest

Bill Nighy and Judi Dench
In Notes on a Scandal, Bill Nighy played the husband of London art teacher Cate Blanchett, who was the object of her co-worker’s obsession. Judi Dench’s role as the quietly unhinged spinster history teacher garnered her a Best Actress Oscar nomination.

Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson
Nighy and Wilkinson played generals both named Friedrich (Olbricht and Fromm, respectively) in Valkyrie, the Tom Cruise action vehicle about the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

Bill Nighy with Terrence Stamp in Valkyrie. The film also co-starred Tom Wilkinson.

Bill Nighy and Maggie Smith
Nighy also put in an appearance as Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in which Maggie Smith, of course, played Professor McGonagall.

Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton
On the BBC's worldwide phenomenon Downton Abbey, Penelope Wilton plays Isobel Crawley, a former doctor’s wife whose life changes when her son becomes the Earl of Grantham’s heir. Maggie Smith plays Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, Queen of the One-Liner. Smith and Wilton’s particular brand of early 20th century genteel-yet-withering snark (they agree on very little) is a sight to see.

Penelope Wilton
Wilton was Mrs. Gardiner and Dench was Lady Catherine de Bourgh in the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Incidentally, that script was written by Deborah Moggach, who wrote These Foolish Things, the novel on which Marigold Hotel is based.

Wilton and Nighy played the mother and stepfather of Simon Pegg’s Shaun in the zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead. They again reteam as husband and wife in Best Exotic.

Celia Imrie
Celia Imrie, who plays a retiree looking for love in Best Exotic, starred in Calendar Girls with Wilton. She also played Lady Glenmire on an episode of Cranford, a miniseries about a small town in the 1840s facing the changes brought about by the industrial revoltion that starred Dench as Ms. Matty Jenkyns.

Kate Ashfield, Simon Pegg, Penelope Wilton and Nick Frost in Shaun of the Dead.

Judi Dench and Maggie Smith
In 1999 Dames Judi and Maggie starred together in Tea with Mussolini, a film about a group of formidable female expatriots in in 1930s Italy called the Scorpioni. Smith played an aristocrat and Dench an aspiring artist.

The ladies again teamed up for the drama Ladies in Lavender, in which they played two sisters who find affection for a young, mysterious foreigner.

Maggie Smith and Judi Dench in Ladies in Lavender
They also worked together in the 1985 Merchant Ivory adaptation of E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View. Smith was Helena Bonham-Carter's very proper chaperone and Dench was Eleanor Lavish, a freewheeling novelist.

Dev Patel
Although Dev Patel, of Slumdog Millionaire fame, hasn't worked alongside any of these actors before, Simon Beaufoy, who wrote the Slumdog script, penned The Full Monty, which also starred Mr. Wilkinson.

The chemistry that these actors share together on screen is more than battle-tested. And if you enjoyed any of the films listed above, any one of them could be used to handily win you a round of six degrees of separation.

Nina Zipkin is recent BMFI intern and Bryn Mawr College graduate. You can read her thoughts on pop culture and more on her blog at