Dietrich and von Sternberg’s Last Tango

When The Scarlet Empress (1934), Josef von Sternberg’s lavish historical epic starring Marlene Dietrich as Catherine the Great, proved to be a critical and commercial disaster for Paramount, the director realized his days were numbered at the studio. So why not go for broke in one last picture? The result was The Devil is a Woman (1935). Continue reading

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Polyurethane Companion

Michel Piccoli and his polyurethane companion in Luis Garcia Berlanga's Life Size (Grandeur Nature, 1974)

Michel Piccoli and his polyurethane companion in Luis Garcia Berlanga’s Life Size (Grandeur Nature, 1974)

The topic of men preferring lifelike dolls or mannequins to real women is nothing new in cinema and has been treated as poignant character study (Lars and the Real Girl, 2007), rom-com fantasy (Mannequin, 1987) and bleak psychological drama (The Doll aka Vaxdockan, 1962) to mention just a few examples of the different paths taken. Luis Garcia Berlanga’s Life Size (French title: Grandeur nature, 1974) takes a more ambiguous approach to its tale of a successful dentist and his new obsession and could be interpreted as a critique of misogyny, an attack on bourgeois values or a dark, perversely amusing character study.  Continue reading

The Many Noses of Orson Welles

triple Orson Welles shot“When you are down and out something always turns up – and it is usually the noses of your friends.” – Orson Welles

When you’re a film actor, it’s easy to understand how one can obsess over some less than perfect facial or physical feature that is going to be magnified by the camera on the big screen. But in most cases these fears are usually unfounded and not even something the average moviegoer would notice or care about. Claudette Colbert and Jean Arthur both insisted on being shot from the left side for profiles; Colbert called the right side of her face “the dark side of the moon.” Fred Astaire used movement and positioning to distract people from what he felt were his unusually large hands and Bing Crosby dealt with his increasing baldness by wearing hats at all times (he refused to wear toupees). Orson Welles’ insecurity over the size of his nose, however, is probably the most baffling of the actor hangups I’ve read about.

*This is a slightly revised version of my post that originally appeared on TCM’s Movie Morlocks blog     Continue reading

My Visit to Forry’s Ackermansion

Forry Ackerman in his guest room at the Ackermansion (1998) photo by J.Stafford

Forry Ackerman in his guest room at the Ackermansion (1998) photo by J.Stafford

I never would have imagined when I was a geeky eleven year old kid hooked on Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine that I would one day meet the brainiac behind it – Forrest J. Ackerman – and be invited inside the world famous Ackermansion. It happened while I was visiting friends in Los Angeles in February 1998.    Continue reading