Friday, July 27, 2012

Andrew J. Douglas: Seven Reasons to See SPELLBOUND

Bryn Mawr Film Institute concludes its "Hitchcock: The Early Years" film series with a screening of Spellbound on Tuesday, July 31 at 7:00 pm. The film will be introduced by our Director of Education, Andrew J. Douglas, Ph.D. Check out the seven reasons why he thinks you should see this Hitchcock masterpiece.

Andrew J. Douglas: Seven Reasons to See Spellbound
By Andrew J. Douglas, Ph.D., Director of Education, BMFI

You’re not likely to find Spellbound on anyone’s list of the best Hitchcock films, though it was very popular and lauded by critics and the Academy upon its release. You can decide for yourself, of course, but here are seven reasons I think it’s most definitely worth seeing:

1. Spellbound IS an Alfred Hitchcock film. Like pizza (and one or two other things), even Hitchcock movies that aren’t the best are still pretty darn good.

2. Spellbound stars Ingrid Bergman. Even though she spends much of the film looking like a cross between a Victorian schoolmarm and a researcher at Heidelberg University—with the rigid personality to match—her natural radiance still manages to shine through. This is the first of three films she made with Hitchcock (Notorious, the following year, and Under Capricorn, 1949, being the others), and across them she demonstrates her range and talent as an actress.

Ingrid Bergman plays a psychiatrist who falls in love with her amnesiac patient (Gregory Peck).

3. Spellbound stars Gregory Peck. This doesn’t do anything for me, personally, but I understand there are those out there for whom this would be a particular selling point. Enjoy.

4. Salvador Dalí designed the dream sequence. It was originally longer and more elaborate than what is in the finished film, and Hitchcock had also hoped the surrealist painter would be able to create more than one segment for the film. Nevertheless, it is fascinating to see this combination of mainstream Hollywood entertainment and European fine art.

5. Spellbound was an early and influential example of Hollywood delving into the world of psychoanalysis. Folks in Hollywood, such as the film’s producer, David O. Selznick, had been “on the couch” for years, but the field itself was just beginning to make its way into mainstream culture. It obviously influenced future Hitchcock films, such as Vertigo (1958) and Marnie (1964), but some credit Spellbound with giving rise to a series of psychological films in the late 1940s: Shock (1946), with Vincent Price; Otto Preminger’s Whirlpool (1949), featuring Gene Tierney as a kleptomaniac (and also co-written by Spellbound co-screenwriter Ben Hecht); and Max Ophüls’s Caught (1949), starring James Mason.

6. Spellbound marks the first use of the theremin in a Hollywood film. Miklós Rózsa, who had received an Academy Award nomination for scoring Double Indemnity (1944), incorporated the unconventional instrument into his only collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock. Though he earned three Oscar nominations for his work in 1945—for this film, Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend, and Charles Vidor’s A Song to Remember—it was Spellbound that got him the statue.

After an incident in an operating room, Gregory Peck admits to Dr. Peterson (Bergman) that he doesn't think he really is the Dr. Edwardes that he claims to be.
7. Liverwurst. I’ve never eaten it, and I’m not even sure what it looks like, but the way it figures into the flirtation between Bergman’s character and Peck’s, it must make for one heck of a sandwich.

Dr. Douglas received his Ph.D. from the Department of Radio/Television/Film at Northwestern University. He will introduce BMFI's 35 mm screening of Spellbound on Tuesday, July 31 at 7:00 pm and is also teaching the four-week class Alfred Hitchcock: The Early Years.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Anmiryam Budner: Why I Love REBECCA (and My Daughter Didn't)

BMFI Board Member Anmiryam Budner shares why Hitchcock's Rebecca has been a favorite since she first saw it in the 1970s, and how her own interpretation of it changed when she discovered that her teenage daughter's reaction to the film was very different. See Rebecca on the big screen on Tuesday, July 24 at 7:00 pm at Bryn Mawr Film Institute, introduced by Andrew J. Douglas, Ph.D.

Why I Love Rebecca (and My Daughter Didn't)
By Anmiryam Budner, BMFI Board Member

[Please note that this contains spoilers.]

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

I first heard that oh-so-famous line in 1977 sitting in the Regency Theater on Broadway between 67th and 68th streets in NYC. I was fifteen years old and had already sat through Gaslight, the first film on the double feature bill. I have never been sorry that I took those four hours to sit in the dark and watch these classics about young women facing danger, physical and psychological. And, while I still love Gaslight, it is Rebecca that enveloped me then and continues to fascinate me to this day.

My boss, who had alerted me to the program, later admitted that she sent me off to the theater knowing that I would completely and utterly identify with the second Mrs. de Winter as played by Joan Fontaine. Despite a courageous start, shouting to prevent Maxim de Winter’s presumed suicide on cliffs in the south of France, she is almost immediately revealed to be young, gauche, poor, utterly insecure, and nameless. She bites her lips, bites her fingernails—rather, Joan Fontaine gamely pretends to bite them since it’s clear that her manicured movie star fingernails had not been subject to nervous gnawing until the moment called for in the script—knocks vases over and gratefully obeys when Maxim tells her to eat up her lunch. At fifteen I yearned for romantic attachment, while also craved relief from the demands of encroaching adult responsibilities. That a handsome, brooding, rich, and English older man would notice me, like me, and, in an impulsive moment, whisk me away from the cares of a subservient existence—in my case the mundane woes of making it through high school as an unattractive bookish teenager—this was a mythic tale near and dear to my heart.

The unnamed second Mrs. de Winter looks around the deceased Rebecca's bedroom, preserved intact. 

Of course, unlike so many classic romances, marriage is not the end of Rebecca, but only the first act. The real heart of the movie only begins to unfold when the newlywed odd couple arrives back at Manderley. No mere house, but a menacing castle with a large staff, unused wings, and a routine established by the first Mrs. de Winter, the dead—but ever present—Rebecca. And, let’s not forget Mrs. Danvers, perhaps one of the most frightening figures ever seen on a movie screen. Judith Anderson’s strong, plain face with its beaky, jutting nose, framed by a wreath of black braids so tightly wound they must have hurt, and those hands, always folded, clutching each other, lest she explode… I still shudder every time she appears on screen.

I rooted for Joan Fontaine as she adapted to this overwhelming environment and winced at each of her missteps. I tensed when it appeared that Rebecca and Mrs. Danvers would destroy Maxim and his young bride. I sighed in relief when, despite the loss of Manderley, the movie ended with a promise of happiness with the unnamed second Mrs. de Winter’s emergence from the cocoon of adolescence into adult partnership and the elimination of Maxim’s guilty secret. Though, like Maxim, I mourned the loss of innocence that was necessary to their building a more adult relationship. I wasn’t ready to grow up and so I wasn’t ready for the character to do so either.

Over the decades I approached repeat viewings of Rebecca without questioning my easy adoration. In fact it held a place in my pantheon as a piece of art that allowed me to recapture the glorious loss of self that is so difficult to find in anything—books, movies, music—after childhood. I moved on through college, graduate school, career building, and parenting. Through it all, Rebecca remained visual comfort food. VHS and DVDs made it easy for me to return to Manderley again and again; to relive the sensation of being rescued, threatened, and then finding true safety. It wasn’t until I attempted to watch the film with my then-eleven-year-old daughter that I began to peel back the layers of complicated pastry that supported the strudel I was downing with relish.

I approached the moment with high expectations. We had watched a number of classic films by this point and she had also evinced a taste for romantic comedy that led me to think Rebecca would be a hit with her. Therefore, I was shocked when, fairly early in the movie, soon after the action shifted to Manderley, my daughter paused the disc and announced, “I don’t like it. She’s such a wimp. Why doesn’t she stand up for herself?”

She liked her heroines to be heroic, or at least not scared of their own shadows. The girl on the screen was lacking in everything to which she aspired: she wasn’t confident, she didn’t speak her mind. In short, she was contemptible. “Just wait,” I said. “She gets better by the end. Really, you’ll love it,” I promised. Then I begged, but she was stubborn.

I think it we ended up re-watching one of the Harry Potters. Sigh.

I was crushed that my child, my wonderful, glorious child, didn’t immediately fall under the spell of this great movie I loved so much. What had I done wrong?

Eventually I pulled back from my bitter disappointment and understood that I had done nothing wrong. In fact, her reaction was a good thing. Really, did I want my child to suffer from the same insecurities that had plagued me? Of course not. On the contrary, I was relieved to discover that she was stronger and less afraid of the world than I had been at the same age.

The second Mrs. de Winter can only be a true partner to Maxim (Laurence Olivier) after she learns the truth about Rebecca. 

Okay, that’s good. I even admitted to myself that she had a point. You pity the second Mrs. de Winter, but you also want to smack her. Why doesn’t she insist that Maxim offer a tour of his castle or confront him about his feelings for his first wife? Wouldn’t any sane person insist on firing Mrs. Danvers after taking one look at her? Did this different way of interpreting the main character mean I couldn’t love this movie anymore?

No, I still loved it, and I was surprised to discover that in looking at it without resorting to the primal response pathways I had laid down in my youth, that other meanings coexisted with my original interpretation without negating it. For one thing, it’s a morally unsettling story. Rebecca’s death is ruled a suicide, but we know Maxim is in fact guilty of killing her and hiding her body. True, she probably intended him to kill her, but does that excuse him?

Claustrophobic close ups intensify our discomfort at Mrs. Danver's attempts to intimidate and destroy the second Mrs. de Winter.

Above all, I started to develop an inkling of the true genius of Hitchcock’s direction. He used all of the tools he had—editing, mise-en-scène, lighting, and music—to produce an atmosphere of menace that permeates the entire film. He heightens psychological tension through the use of close ups, nestling actors so tightly together that it makes me as a viewer feel that the vast spaces of Manderley are overwhelmed by the claustrophobia of sexual tension and jealousy that are poisoning the household. He even manages to hint that Mrs. Danver’s obsession is fueled by repressed lesbianism without, needless to say, ever stepping past the allowable conventions of the time.

Even if you’ve seen it before, go again on Tuesday, July 24. Andrew Douglas, who knows way more about this film than I do, will help you to discover something new.

Anmiryam Budner, a life-long film addict, is a BMFI Board member and Bryn Mawr resident. In addition to sitting in the dark watching movies she is also an avid reader, knitter, and aspiring writer.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Juliet Goodfriend: Why I Love TO ROME WITH LOVE

BMFI President Juliet Goodfriend shares her thoughts about Woody Allen's latest ensemble comedy, To Rome with Love, currently playing at BMFI. Check back for more posts from BMFI staff and community members that discuss the films we love.

Why I Love To Rome with Love
By Juliet Goodfriend, BMFI President

Why do I love Woody Allen's To Rome with Love? It's more than the scenery, more than the wonderful return of comedian Woody on his screen. It's the satire he uses to propel the theme (that happiness comes only to those who get back into their own authentic skins and out of the phony world of celebrity). The film is totally unified around that theme, even if the time sequencing expands and contracts throughout the film.

But my special epiphany came an hour after I saw it, when I recalled Barcelona performance troupe La Fura dels Baus's staging of Das Rheingold, which was performed at the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia in Spain and broadcast in HD here at BMFI. The Rhine Maidens rose from below in three lucite boxes, filled 3/4 full with water and sang and swam about for many minutes.

If that did not inspire Mr. Allen's tenor-in-a-shower delight in To Rome with Love, I don't know what did. And, by the way, throughout the Rheingold opera I was afraid the maidens would get chilly in the water or aspirate some. I had the same fears for tenor Fabio Armiliato during his arias in the shower. But no one choked or chilled, the audience just basked in the clever warmth of this artful work.

Opera star Fabio Armiliato plays an undertaker whose vocal talent is discovered while he croons in the shower in Woody Allen's To Rome with Love.

If you've seen To Rome with Love, what are your thoughts about the film?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Valerie Temple: Why I Love THE APARTMENT

We’re showing Billy Wilder’s The Apartment on 35 mm on Wednesday, August 11 as the official start to our “It’s a Mad Men’s World” film series. Programming Manager Valerie Temple shares three reasons why it’s her all-time favorite, film-wise. Check back for additional posts by BMFI staff and community members that explore the movies we love.

Why I Love The Apartment
By Valerie Temple, Programming Manager, BMFI

[This post contains SPOILERS, so be warned!]

The Apartment is my declared favorite movie. When someone asks me “What’s your favorite movie?” I answer, “The Apartment” without hesitation. This wasn’t always the case. Years ago, whenever someone dared to posit the dreaded favorite movie question, I would refuse to give a straight answer. “It’s too hard to pick just one,” I’d say. “I can give you my top ten, but that’s the best I can do.”

But then, during my junior year of college, I checked a certain VHS tape out of the campus media library to watch alone in my dorm room. Although hardly an ideal viewing environment for such a classic, the small screen failed to diminish the impact of Billy Wilder’s masterful direction, I.A.L. Diamond’s sparkling dialogue, and, most importantly, the intoxicating chemistry between leads Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. I was hooked immediately. It was love at first sight, and eleven years later it still tops my list.

What’s so great about The Apartment?

I’m glad you asked!

Bittersweet comedy – Although The Apartment retains the #20 spot on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years…100 Laughs list, it differs tonally from most straightforward comedies. This atypical film combines laugh-out-loud comedy with some very dark moments. I mean, how many comedies out there include a suicide attempt by one of the main characters?! And yet these tragic scenes do not detract from the overall humor of the film. In fact, they imbue the story and characters with humanity that is often not found in less sophisticated fare. The tightrope balance that Billy Wilder manages to tow between comedy and tragedy is truly commendable, and sets The Apartment apart from the rest.

C.C. "Buddy" Baxter (Jack Lemmon) receives his highly-anticipated promotion after allowing his superiors to use his apartment for their romantic encounters.

Jack Lemmon as C.C. Baxter – Jack Lemmon has infused wit and warmth into many unforgettable roles (Felix Ungar in The Odd Couple, George Kellerman in The Out of Towners and John Gustafson in Grumpy Old Men, to name a few) but his prodigious talents are on full display as lovelorn office drone C.C. Baxter. In a difficult role that requires both immense comedic timing as well as the capacity for deep, tender emotion, Lemmon shines. He can be hilarious by doing something as simple as making a pasta dinner (with a tennis racket!), but he’s equally as adept at finding poignancy in the many downbeat moments of the film. Lemmon’s even able to make you laugh even while you’re crying, like the scene where a morose Baxter tries to drink thoughts of Miss Fran Kubelik (MacLaine) away and ends up dancing cheek to cheek with a blonde barfly. He so deftly embodies the role, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in it.

Buddy tries to impress Fran (Shirley MacLaine) with his creative cooking skills.
Best last line of a movie EVER – If this was the Family Feud, the most popular answer for a question about memorable final lines in movies would most likely be “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” from Casablanca. For me, it doesn’t get better than the final line in The Apartment. After finally realizing her love for Baxter, Miss Kubelik high tails it back to the apartment, only to be stopped short by an ominous noise coming from behind the door. Is it a gunshot? No, it’s the “pop” of a champagne bottle, opened by Baxter to celebrate his plans to move from the tainted apartment (and becoming a “mensch”). The rest of the scene is a master class in understatement. As Fran talks with Baxter she takes out the deck of cards that the pair bonded over earlier in the film and begins to shuffle. When it dawns on Baxter that Fran has chosen him and she plans to stay, he states plainly “I love you, Miss Kubelik. You hear what I said, Miss Kubelik? I absolutely adore you.” True to the salty-and-sweet tone of the film, Miss Kubelik simply offers him the cards, smiles softly, and commands Baxter to “Shut up and deal.” This sharp little exchange is romance without the schmaltz, but it is still as effective as, say, ending on a big kiss like a typical romantic comedy would do. More so even, because it is so restrained. I still get chills watching it.

I could go on and on, but those are just three reasons I love The Apartment, and three reasons for you to see the gorgeous 35 mm print of the film screening at Bryn Mawr Film Institute on Wednesday, July 11 at 7:00 pm. Don’t miss it!

Valerie Temple is the Programming Manager at Bryn Mawr Film Institute. She has an M.F.A. in Film Production from Boston University and thinks she's very funny. (Her words.)

Monday, July 2, 2012

Five More Fourth of July Film Favorites

By Angela Monaco, BMFI Intern

Last Fourth of July, we offered five movie suggestions to help get you in the patriotic spirit. Now that Independence Day is upon us once again, celebrate with five more films that will surely leave you feeling proud to be an American!

1. 1776 (1972)
It’s the summer of 1776 in Philadelphia, where the thirteen colonies are in the midst of constructing the hotly-debated Declaration of Independence. The film version of the Broadway musical comedy, 1776 offers a humorous yet educational depiction of our nation’s founding. This movie will have the whole family voting “yay” in favor of America’s freedom!

2. Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
Tom Cruise stars in this biography of Ron Kovic, a paralyzed Vietnam War veteran who, feeling betrayed by his country, becomes an anti-war and pro-human rights activist. Nominated for eight Academy Awards, Born on the Fourth of July presents a new and different take on patriotic idealism.

3. Forrest Gump (1994)
Who could be a better symbol of American patriotism than the beloved Forrest Gump? Tom Hanks plays this simple-minded yet sweet man who just happens to be present for some of America’s most famous moments in history. A decorated Vietnam War hero, Forrest Gump shamelessly approaches life with the sheer gumption and determination that every American aims to possess.

4. To Kill a Mockingbird (1963)
To Kill a Mockingbird is the story of an American hero of a different kind. In this adaptation of Harper Lee's classic novel, Gregory Peck stars as Atticus Finch, a lawyer who defends a black man accused of raping a white woman in the South in the 1930s. Atticus fights to make the Declaration’s main principle “all men are created equal” a reality in his racially-divided town. He exemplifies the qualities for which America is known: fairness, tolerance, and the courage to do what is right.

5. Apollo 13 (1995)
Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, and Kevin Bacon star in Apollo 13, the true story of the astronauts aboard the infamous Apollo 13 space mission to the moon. Apollo 13 celebrates the pioneering spirit of the American space program, leaving you with a renewed sense of pride in America’s audacity to go where no man has gone before!

Angela Monaco is a Spanish and Communications student entering her senior year at the University of Pittsburgh, currently interning at the Bryn Mawr Film Insitute.