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ClassicMovieholic

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  1. I like that movie as well, though I must admit I don't remember the scenes you describe? It does, however, remind me of a story in Edward Ball's Slaves in the Family, a nonfiction based on his research of the genealogy of people and descendants of people who had been enslaved by his ancestors. The playwright Clare Boothe Luce (probably best known to classics fans as the author of The Women and best friend to the ill-fated starlets Dorothy Hale and Rosamond Pinchot) purchased one of the defunct Ball family plantations as a hunting lodge and retreat. This would have been around the 1930s and '40s. One of the descendants of the sharecroppers who lived in the area recalls that Boothe Luce used to like to have the local African American children come around to the house at night to serenade her on the porch. Native New Yorker Boothe Luce was of course as Yankee as they come, and the request seems to have been met with a mildly amused and bewildered sort of "White people, am I right?!" As you suggest, it was very much an outsider's view of what life in the rural South meant (especially for black people), informed by movies like Jezebel and apparently The Great Lie, with no bearing on the reality of how anyone in the South was living at that time (or any other time, really). Possibly The Great Lie was trying to capitalize off of Bette Davis' earlier success in Jezebel, and the "Gone With The Wind fever" that swept through Hollywood and infused even contemporarily set movies with anachronistic and romanticized impression of race.
  2. speedracer5, my personal favorites: For her sheer beauty: The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) Favorite drama (a typical choice): Wuthering Heights (1939) Favorite comedy: The Divorce of Lady X (1938) Perhaps her most acclaimed performances, which I haven't seen, are her Oscar-nominated role in The Dark Angel (1935), and her role in These Three (1936); a sanitized version of Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour scrubbed clean of lesbianism but nonetheless highly regarded for its performances. I often see Lydia (1941) mentioned as a fan favorite on sites like this, but haven't seen that one either. Guess I have a little catching up to do on the "Merle Conon" myself, lol!
  3. Of course I take your point on The Good Earth, and acknowledge that it is justified. The shameless use of "yellowface" was considered acceptable and even artistically innovative at the time, but needless to say, does not age well. It's problematic for all the obvious reasons, not the least of which is the heinous casting discriminating Anna May Wong suffered in vying for the lead role. That said, I do find myself able to immerse myself in the film in spite of that for its other merits. It's a real epic of the period, and there are some beautifully articulated moments, such as [SPOILERS] when O-Lan has to kill her husband's beloved cow, or the famous scene in which she is swept up into the storming of an aristocratic palace. But I can totally understand why someone wouldn't be able to overlook the very glaring flaw of the casting and makeup. And if I were an Asian person, I might feel differently myself. In defense of Luise Rainier, however, I saw an interview with her once in which she said she didn't want to do the film with "yellowface" makeup, not for any reasons of racial sensitivity that I'm aware of, but because she felt prosthetics and heavy makeup would distract from the performance. She preferred to act the emotions of the part without the cheesy makeup gimmick. When the producers insisted, she still made an effort to have face-altering makeup applied as minimally as they would allow. She evidently had in mind doing the part more in the spirit of the color-blind casting which is fashionable now in many Shakespeare productions, operas, etc. Of course, it kind of defeats the purpose of color-blind casting if a person of the dominant culture is playing a role that should go to a marginalized actor; To use an obvious example, it works with a black Hamlet, but not with a white Othello. Nonetheless, Rainier deserves a modicum of credit for attempting to resist the trend of yellowface that was very much in vogue then. Even the great Katherine Hepburn got her hands dirty with this.
  4. speedracer5, as someone who lives in the Central Pacific, her alleged partial Polynesian ancestry is also a source of fascination to me. I think it is said that on her Sri Lankan-born grandmother's (whom Merle regarded as her mother) side, she was part Maori, which I imagine is impossible to officially document. Nonetheless, I feel her purported Polynesian ancestry comes to the forefront in films like Wuthering Heights. From certain camera angels in that, she fits in quite well with contemporary Maori actresses, or the Hapa (people of mixed Polynesian and white and/or Asian ancestry) of the region in which I live. Merle's rumored Maori ancestry loosely inspired the New Zealand novel and film White Lies.
  5. Thank you for the recommendation. My wife mentioned that podcast to me some time ago, but I haven't listened yet. I'll have to give the episode you mentioned a listen! Yes, I'm very interested in the topic, and it can be hard to find authentic source material, not least because Merle herself drastically altered her own life story and obscured her origins to make them harder to trace. There was a steamy (to my understanding more fiction than fact) bestseller called Queenie back in the '80s by her nephew-by-marriage, Michael Korda, and an accompanying TV movie starring white actors in the South Asian roles. Perhaps good for entertainment value, but not for historical information. Same goes for The Last Tycoon, which includes a minor character whom Fitzgerald loosely based on Merle, with African American standing in for South Asian ancestry a la Imitation of Life. The novel I'm reading now, though explicitly based on Merle's story, also falls into this category...an entertaining page-turner, but not bringing anything particularly new or enlightening. A lot of information seems to come from The Problem With Merle, a television documentary which investigates her origins, but I haven't yet found a way to watch it. As you probably know, Merle did make a few color films at the heyday of her career, as well as lesser appearances in later color films. Notable among the former were The Divorce of Lady X (1938, presumably filmed just before the 1937 car accident that scarred her face, as she's amazingly fresh and pristine looking in it), and A Song to Remember (1945) and Desiree (1954), both filmed after the car accident and cosmetic poisoning in 1940 which left her skin permanently damaged. One of her husbands, the cinematographer Lucien Ballard, devised a lighting technique that helped conceal her facial scarring, so perhaps that was employed in these films, as she looked gorgeous in them...even in Desiree in which she was significantly older. I suppose your podcast probably mentions all this, so forgive me if I'm being repetitive. In my opinion, her South Asian ancestry seems most evident in her early films, whereas her look hardens somewhat and gets overly made-up in these later color films, after the accident and skin bleaching incident you mention. As you say, black and white absolutely loved her face, and was conducive to both accentuating her natural beauty and concealing blemishes, as well as "whitewashing" her features when necessary. Even so, in early films like The Scarlet Pimpernel, she looks so much like one of today's Bollywood beauties it's hard to imagine she was able to perpetuate the ruse as long as she did. Later in life, when there was perhaps less pressure to lighten her skin, her lovely natural darkness also becomes apparent in color photographs, as in this well-known shot of her with Rosalind Russell and Greer Garson: I have not yet finished Whisper of the Moon Moth, but thus far the title refers to a moth native to India; the whispering to the soft flutter of its wings...presumably symbolic of the whisper of Merle's secret identity, calling her back to her homeland? Perhaps it will become clearer as the book goes on.
  6. I take your point, and heartily concur. Gone With The Wind both book and movie are two of my all-time favorites, so I have a pretty high tolerance for material that today's audiences might deem politically incorrect, and have no problem separating the art from the ideology or understanding things in historical context. I think what I find off-putting about the moment I described in To Sir With Love is more that it doesn't jive well with the narrative as a whole. Poitier is supposed to be this inspiring teacher figure, but then he goes off on this misogynist, sexualized rant against these underaged schoolgirls, and the contrast with the central theme of the movie and his character arc is jarring. It underscores the film's lofty ideals with a note of hypocrisy, which rather than adding complexity as it might in a different sort of character study, undermines the noble intentions of the filmmakers in this case. It is that which I find "cringey" more than just the dated ideas about gender and sexuality (which I can and do tolerate without batting an eyelash in other films of the classic era).
  7. I think it was no less than May Angelou who said of Birth of a Nation, "The filmmaking was perfect...the history was not."
  8. TikiSoo, wow! I recognize her from those older movies, but I'd never drawn the connection before!
  9. We'll agree to disagree on the film, but another standout small performance is Victoria Vetri's meta cameo as a neighbor girl who looks like Victoria Vetri.
  10. I recently finished Cleopatra, a scholarly biography by pulitzer prize winner Stacy Schiff, and followed it up with a light, breezy "sequel" on the topic, Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran. The former was excellent. The latter...entertaining enough, but lacked much depth or complexity and left me a little hungry after Schiff's incredible job of research and immersing one in the world of her subject. As a huge fan of both the 1934 C. B. DeMille film starring Claudette Colbert, and the collossal 1963 super-epic starring Elizabeth Taylor, it was interesting for me to compare the actual history with the Hollywood-ized versions. What is surprising is that, with a few admittedly glaring exceptions (Cleopatra had four children, for example), both films follow the bare bones of the story somewhat closely...as well as one has a right to expect, anyway. As George R. R. Martin once quipped of the nature of adapting a source for the screen, "How many children did Scarlett O'Hara have, anyway?" (three in the book, one in the movie, the point being it ultimately doesn't really matter for the purposes of relaying a gripping narrative). Now I'm in the middle of a classic-film-related novel, Whisper of the Moon Moth, a heavily fictionalized account of actress Merle Oberon's efforts to conceal her mixed racial identity in order to succeed in British and Hollywood films. I'm perennially fascinated by the subject. The book itself is fast-paced, but overly simplistic in character development and peppered with inaccuracies regarding the timeline (which the author readily admits she manipulated for the sake of the plot), as well as a lot of serendipitous meetings with a who's who of classic cinema notables that feel contrived and strain credulity at times. Not a great work of literature, but a fun read to pass the time.
  11. Sidney Poitier **** shaming a class of high school girls in To Sir With Love (1967). As an educator myself, the sexually charged and verbally abusive way he speaks to female minors entrusted to his care is shockingly inappropriate and totally off the mark for how inspirational of a movie it's supposed to be. Other than that, a movie of considerable merit: a characteristically measured performance by Sidney Poitier (aforementioned scene excepted); a wonderful sense of the atmosphere of working-class swingin' '60s London; an interesting portrayal of racial hostility at a time when British colonialism was collapsing, featuring a provocative inversion of the "white-savior" stereotype; a capable supporting cast including some stand-out youth performances, as well as British character staples like the great Patricia Routledge; and lest we forget, Lulu's iconic theme song!
  12. I agree with others here that Harriet deserved best song of the songs which were nominated. The others weren't memorable at all, including Elton John's winning song. As another pointed out, yes, Elton John's worst is still not half bad. A song I thought was overlooked, however, was Glasgow (No Place Like Home) from Wild Rose. The movie was in general (I thought) a better A Star is Born than A Star is Born (2018). Jessie Buckley also deserved at least a nod for acting, in my opinion.
  13. I hope I may be forgiven if I only haphazardly scanned the previous comments on this very long thread 😔, so apologies if I mention a performance which has already been covered here. From the classic era, two star-making minor roles for two beauties who soon went on to be major leading ladies come to mind; Lana Turner's teenaged "sweater girl" and [SPOILERS] murder victim in They Won't Forget (1937), and Merle Oberon's brief but crucial Anne Boleyn in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933). Both characters are written out of the story under tragic circumstances after only a few minutes of screen time, but both also set the tone for the rest of each piece, and virtually insured their future stardom by cementing their proto-screen-images with very little. From the modern era, Liza J. Bennett's Mistress Ford in 12 Years a Slave (2013). In an economical several seconds of screen time, she totally devastates with a couple razor-sharp lines of dialogue [SPOILERS]: "Your children will soon enough be forgotten," to an enslaved woman forcibly separated from her family, and (paraphrased) "I can't have that kind of depression around," of the same enslaved woman's grieving sobs during a church service. In my opinion, they are the most searing moments in the film, more impactful than the explicit cruelty of Master and Mistress Epps by virtue of the startling contrast with the surface-level familiar myth of the kindly slave mistress. Bennett plays it off with dry-ice-cold-burning precision to brilliant effect.
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