Thursday, July 23, 2009

Teardrops on My VCR: Forrest Gump (1994)

It was the first movie I recall seeing in the movie theater. At the age of 6, I didn't understand one goddamn thing about Vietnam or Watergate or ping pong. The only thing I understood was Forrest loved Jenny and when they were kids, they slept in the same bed. As a young romantic, I couldn't understand why I couldn't have such sleepovers with my best male friend (who I not-so-secretly had a crush on). But that's another story...

In the first grade, I wasn't so emotionally developed to I cry during this
movie. It wasn't until one PMSy day in high school, alone in my basement. I have a habit of never crying during something atrociously sad (like Thomas J.'s death in My Girl) until much, much later. But then it hits you the way The Notebook hits most adolescent girls for the first time. [Shudder].

What made me cry...

The romance between the adorably dimwitted Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) and the emotionally damaged Jenny Curran (Robin Wright-Penn) is one of the most tumultuous in cinema. Never before has a more one sided love affair been presented on celluloid.At the end of the film, after Forrest has spent his life hopelessly devoted to his childhood pal, he finally gets to marry her. But alas, her hedonistic disco life has given her AIDS and she dies shortly after they wed.

Then Forrest speaks to her grave. He describes taking care of their son, and the aspects of destiny. And how he buried her under the tree where they spent they're childhood. As Forrest tearfully walks away, a flock of birds flies towards the tree. Ah, symbolism, how you make a weeper out of me.

Why I cried...
Even though Forrest spent his entire life relentlessly in love with Jenny and he finally got her, he had such a brief amount of time with her. It's almost cruel. Not to mention her poor treatment of him. Such as constantly choosing jerks over him, claiming he doesn't know what love is, and rejecting his marriage proposal even when knowing he's the only man who's ever truly loved her.
And the kicker is, Forrest never thinks Jenny is doing anything wrong. His love is unconditional. Like for a family member. It's not my intention to turn their love incestuous, but I'm convinced most people wouldn't put up with such behavior for thirty years.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Teardrops on My VCR: Atonement (2007)

So, I cry during movies...quite a bit. And because I wanted to start yet another series, here is one that will dissect my reasons behind crying during any given scene during a film. Sometimes it's from happiness, sometimes from release. Others because I can personally relate to the scene. But most of the time it's from sheer depression.

For my first "Teardrops" blog, I'll discuss the tragic WWII era epic romance Atonement.

What made me cry...
At the end of the film, an elderly Briony Tallis (played by Vanessa Redgrave) is conducting an interview on her latest and last novel, "Atonement", which portrays the events of the film. She is overcome with grief and admits to the autobiographical elements of the book and how the happy ending is fictional.

In truth, Robbie Turner (the very sexy James McAvoy) died of septicemia the day before the evacuation of Dunkirk.

And Briony's sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) was killed in the Balham Tube Station flooding.

Briony never made amends with her sister. And Robbie and Cecelia never saw each other after their one half hour meeting at the coffee shop.

Through this quote, Briony explains her reasoning for changing the ending:

"So, my sister and Robbie were never able to have the time together they both so longed for... and deserved. Which ever since I've... ever since I've always felt I prevented. But what sense of hope or satisfaction could a reader derive from an ending like that? So in the book, I wanted to give Robbie and Cecilia what they lost out on in life. I'd like to think this isn't weakness or... evasion... but a final act of kindness. I gave them their happiness."

The movie ends with a scene of the fictional Robbie and Cecilia enjoying their togetherness while chasing waves on an English beach.

Why it made me cry...
Well, this is one of the more personal ones. I plan on someday writing a series of young adult novels based on the true events of my romantic life. (Not self-indulgent at all, is it?) Anyway, if things don't conclude climactically or harmoniously, I will fake a happy ending. Like Briony said, what sense of hope or satisfaction can a reader find in an unhappy ending after you've dragged a reader/viewer through such tumultuous events?

But truly, the real sadness comes from the realization that the real characters died seperated and miserable. To hell with their fictional counterparts. A fake happy ending doesn't make up for the real tragedy.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Little Miss Marker (1934)

"Sorrowful" Jones: "So he sneaked her out, eh? Serves me right. Every time I get big hearted–"
Regret: "When was the other time?"

Order: 2
Rated: NR
Runtime: 1 hour, 19 minutes

Shirley Temple as Marthy Jane a.k.a. "Marky"
Adolph Menjou as "Sorrowful" Jones
Dorothy Dell as Bangles Carson
Charles Bickford as Big Steve Halloway

Plot: A jaded bookie and a cabaret singer wind up as reluctant parental figures after a young girl is left as a marker at a horse track.

Little Miss Marker is a vast improvement from Stand Up and Cheer! in nearly every possible way. Here, the true Shirley formula has begun: a young orphan (or at least motherless) Shirley touches the heart of a few undesirable folks with her innocence and talent.

Little Miss Marker, along with movie #4, Now and Forever, were both produced by Paramount Pictures early in Shirley’s career. I’m not completely sure as to why Shirley was loaned to Paramount for two movies. (Maybe if I was a good little film student and read her autobiography I would know). It doesn’t make a difference, Little Miss Marker wasn’t really any different from any of the other movies Shirley would make in the future.

The plot of this movie is a tad barbaric: a gambling addict leaves his child at a horse track as a marker while he goes to find more money. He doesn’t return, so the head bookie takes her home for the evening. The next day, the bookie and his friends learn that the father had committed suicide, leaving the child on their hands. If you’re familiar with the Shirley formula, you may have already guessed that the bookie, one "Sorrowful" Jones, is an old grump who wants nothing of children, women, or love. Of course, in the end, he finds all three.

One interesting thing that I found about Little Miss Marker was Shirley’s character’s transformation. In the beginning, "Marky" is precocious, innocent, and constantly comparing real life to that of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. But as time goes on, and Marky is surrounded by the dregs of society (okay "dregs" is a little harsh, but these people are gamblers, drunks, and tramps...not the best company for impressionable little ladies), she starts to pick up on the rougher side of life and begins to get sour and wisecracking. Bangles Carson, (awesome stage name!), the one woman in this group sees that Marky needs her childhood whimsy returned and organizes a King Arthur party.

At first, Marky thinks the whole thing is childish. Then "her" horse, the Charger is brought out and everything is like new again. This is when things get a little worrisome. The Charger's owner (who also happens to be Bangles' boyfriend and the only external conflict keeping her and Sorrowful apart) appears, making the horse nervous and causing it to throw little Marky. She is rushed to the hospital in desperate need of a blood transfusion, but the only one who matches her type is Big Steve, Bangles' boyfriend.

Of course, in the end, everything is set as right as rain. Marky lives, Big Steve dumps Bangles and leaves her to Sorrowful. Presumably they all live happily ever after. It's a typical Shirley Temple movie ending. The only difference with this film is that it wasn't made by Fox.

Featured Songs
"I’m Just a Black Sheep Who’s Blue" - Dorothy Dell
"Low Down Lullaby" - Dorothy Dell
"Laugh You Son of a Gun" - Dorothy Dell and Shirley Temple
"Sidewalks of New York" - Ensemble
"The Bowery" - Ensemble

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Shirley Temple Canon Ranking Attempt

During the Christmas break of my sophomore year at college, I discovered blogspot. Thanks to the IMDb hitlist, I found a couple doing an exploration of all the best picture winners who posted a blog about each one. A few years ago, I had watched and ranked all the best picture winners so I was immediately intrigued and loved the idea of going through an entire list of movies. But because there so many BPW's and I had so little time, I settled on the 22 movies from Shirley Temple's youth.


Since I was a little girl (in the early to mid-90's) I have been a fan of Shirley Temple. I have collected most of her movies (on good ole’ VHS) and devoured them. I love them. The childish off key cutesy singing. The extraordinary tap dancing numbers. The cheesy-deep-fried-in-sugar dialogue. I love it all. I feel that no one is really familiar with her movies anymore so I have taken it upon myself to view and dissect her canon.

I originally started in 2007, with half of the blogs being written then. Shit happens, blah blah blah and I didn't finish. But since a friend of mine has all of them on VHS, I figured now was as good a time as any to finish.

So here's some information from my original blog...

I will watch the 22 Shirley Temple vehicles starting with Stand Up and Cheer! made in 1934 to Young People made in 1940. Over the next few weeks, I will post a blog on each in chronological order. I will give basic information on each film (i.e., ratings, run time, plot summaries, etc.) I will also give a list of featured songs and offer my favorite quote. Finally I will discuss the film in question to the best of my ability.

As you may know, the Motion Picture Association of America instituted its rating system on November 1, 1968, long after the Shirley films were made. But by the late 80's, Shirley’s movies were being release on home video, meant to be devoured by families across America. With censor friendly parents chomping at the bit to show their kids the "gentler" good old days, the Fox video department thought it wise to go back and rate all the movies in the Shirley canon by the M.P.A.A.’s current standards. This resulted in 11 of the films being rated "G" and 9 being rated "PG". This is most likely due to the racial stereotypes and mild violence that I’ll discuss later. The other 2 films, Little Miss Marker and Now and Forever were released by Paramount Pictures and not re-rated for their video releases in the early 2000's. 

For those of you who are sticklers... On Shirley Temple’s actress page on IMDb, there are two films made in between Stand Up and Cheer! and Young People that won’t be discussed in this blog. They are Change of Heart and Now I’ll Tell. What I can gather from these movies’ pages, Shirley is a minor character and brought in for whatever reason. This blog will only focus on her star vehicles in which she is given top billing. As for after Young People, those films were made after Shirley’s contract at 20th Century Fox had ran out and she was picked up by other production companies. Afterwards, her films had more of a "teen" feeling. yeah...I'll be posting the ones I wrote a year ago shortly and hopefully get going tomorrow.

Stand Up and Cheer! (1934)

Angie: "Did you know that Lawrence Cromwell is the authority on feminine beauty?"
Secretary: "A lot of good that’ll do you, Angie."

Order: 1
PG (for good ol' 30's style racism)
Runtime: 1 hour, 9 minutes

From the commencement, let me state that Stand Up and Cheer! is not what we know as a "Shirley Temple movie"; it just so happens to be a movie with Shirley Temple in it and the first of her films at Twentieth Century Fox. Those expecting a story about how a sweet little waif single-handedly ends the Great Depression with her tap dancing and dimples will be sorely disappointed. Instead, it is the story of Lawrence Cromwell (Warner Baxter), who is appointed the "Secretary of Amusement", a government ordained position meant to cheer up all those sad Americans.

For the next twenty minutes, we get several boring musical numbers and audition pieces for the BIG! DAMN! SHOW! Cromwell is putting on. All are mediocre or laughable in an unintentional way. "Broadway's Gone Hill-Billy", is particularly grating. Then comes the only reason why anyone in the modern era would watch this film: Shirley Temple's film debut.

Shirley plays the talented daughter of Jimmy Dugan (James Dunn), a vaudevillian trying to get his father-daughter act into the BIG! DAMN! SHOW! But first, they have to convince Mary Adams (Madge Evans), the head of the children's department to let little Shirley audition even though she is just under the age limit. After meeting Cromwell, Shirley melts her first heart of many and is allowed to perform.

Certainly, the brightest spot in the whole film is Shirley's number with James Dunn, "Baby, Take a Bow". Unfortunately, there are 45 more agonizing minutes until the film's end. Here's what you need to know: more numbers, Cromwell flirts with the head of the children's department, Cromwell struggles with his political duties, evil bankers want the Depression to go on longer...yadda, yadda, yadda.

But because this is a movie, the Great Depression magically ends seven years early thanks to Cromwell's efforts. Then there's a BIG! DAMN! PARADE! where Shirley returns for a ten second cameo.

I'm going to be a huge fucking star!
As well as being mostly boring as Hell, Stand Up and Cheer! is also racist. I know what you're thinking: practically everything in the 30's was a little bit racist. However, when you're not exposed to that kind of "comedy" routinely, it's uncomfortable when you actually see it. Several actors in the background are made up in black face. And then there’s Steppin Fetchit, an actor who specialized int playing lazy, dumb, poor, and "jive-talking" African-Americans. Oh my God, his scenes are painful to watch in this enlightened age. All those who think Gone With the Wind is bad...just stay away.

I bought this film--on VHS--in 2004 to complete my Shirley Temple collection which I started in the mid-90's. It was actually the last one I needed and the hardest one to find. My video has had over 15 minutes of Steppin Fetchit material removed (according the box). Knowing what they kept in, I don't even want to think of that missing footage.

If it weren't for Shirley Temple, this film would have easily fallen into obscurity. Basically all of the musical numbers are crap and the acting is unmemorable and hardly worth mentioning--whoops--except for James Dunn and Shirley who aren't acting but letting their natural charm/fucking adorableness ooze. Rest assured that Stand Up and Cheer! is the worst of the Shirley Temple canon, if we can even consider it a part of the canon. The folks who release the DVD's sure do, so on the list it goes.

Featured Songs
  • "I’m Laughin’" - Dick Foran, Tess Gardella and Ensemble 
  • "Baby, Take a Bow" - James Dunn and Shirley Temple 
  • "Broadway’s Gone Hill-Billy" - Sylvia Froos and Ensemble
  • "This is Our Last Night Together" - John Boles and Sylvia Froos
  • "We're Out of the Red" - Dick Foran and Ensemble
  • "Stand Up and Cheer" - Dick Foran