Cinema THE STACKS

The Silver Screen

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First Sip:

“Champagne is funny stuff.
I’m used to whiskey. Whiskey is a slap on the back
and champagne’s heavy mist before my eyes.”

– Jimmy Stewart as Macaulay Conner
in The Philadelphia Story (1940)

 

Slice of Cake:

“Everyone wants to be Cary Grant—
even I want to be Cary Grant.”

– Cary Grant

Handsome and funny, Cary Grant defines the word charming.

His biographer Geoffrey Wansell said Grant could “blend irony and romance in a way that few other stars have ever done—by slyly never appearing to take himself too seriously… With the arch of an eyebrow or the merest hint of a smile, he’d question his own image.”

Wansell also quotes Alfred Hitchcock about Grant’s ability to also play more dangerous characters, “There is a frightening side to Cary that no one can quite put their finger on.”

 

statue in Bristol

.

Starting with pre-code films
opposite Mae West,
Cary Grant went from black-and-white screwball comedies,
to classic Hitchcock thrillers,
to award-winning dramas.


He made over 70 films in 35 years.
This January 18 marks his birthday.


 



Happy 115th birthday
* *** Cary Grant *** *



 

Here are my Five Favorite Films starring Cary Grant:

(Note: I guess I must really like him in husband-left-behind
roles—since that is the basic plot of 4 of these 5 films…)

#5
The Grass is Greener (1960)

Not a flawless film.  For instance, I can’t really see the appeal of Robert Mitchum.  But Jean Simmons is so much fun with her bright-tangerine perfectly-accessorized frocks!

#4 
My Favorite Wife (1940)

This film has its problems as well—and yet Irene Dunne is an absolute joy to watch.

#3
The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Here is as perfect a film as can be: Three powerhouse actors, Katharine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant—all terrific!  And yet—all the best lines go to the newspaper photographer played by Ruth Hussey.

“I was the only photographer
whose camera you didn’t smash. 
You were
terribly nice about it.  You threw it in the ocean.”

Ruth Hussey as Elizabeth Imbrie
in The Philadelphia Story (1940)

#2
His Girl Friday (1940)

This is a sneaky movie. The title sounds patronizing in three different directions, and the dialog is so blindingly quick and clever that all the unusual bits seem geared to slip right past us. But this is no ordinary boy-wins-back-girl story. This is a woman seduced—not by love for a man—but by passion for her job. A job she’s good at. Very good. (And all the men around her acknowledge it.)

“And that, my friends, is my farewell to the newspaper game!
I’m going to be a woman; not a news-getting machine.
I’m gonna have babies and take care of them and give them
cod liver oil and watch their teeth grow and—and, oh dear,
if I ever see one of them even look at a newspaper,
I’m going to brain ’em!”

– Rosalind Russell as Hildy Johnson
in His Girl Friday (1940)

“Walter, you’re wonderful,
in a loathsome sort of way.”

– Rosalind Russell as Hildy Johnson
in His Girl Friday (1940)

#1 
Holiday (1938)

This is my very favorite film, and has been for a very long time. It is funny and appealing and brings up questions of sexism and classism and the ability to define one’s own life. The brother-sister relationship is subtle and splendid. Plus, I love Jean Dixon and Edward Everett Horton as the acedemic married couple.

“Let’s ring bells!
Let’s send up skyrockets!
…Well, let’s turn on all the lights in the house.”

– Katharine Hepburn as Linda Seton
in Holiday (1938)

Is it a camera? Or a projector?

Linger Awhile

Been thinking this week
about the movie The Greatest Showman (2017) .

“For all of us
who’ve ever had to find strength and beauty
in what makes us different.”
– Zendaya

Academy Awards, March 2018

Here are 2 reasons to utterly dismiss this musical:

** The real P.T. Barnum was not heroic.
** This movie is not historically accurate.

When I first saw an ad for this movie (and it was a full-page magazine ad), I thought:
Nope.

No, ma’am. Do not need to see one more biopic about a white male with an out-sized ego who grows rich by exploiting people.

Then my daughter told me she’d been obsessively listening to the soundtrack.
She said I had to go and see this movie. So I did.

What I found is a highly fictionalized and stylized version of history. The movie makes no attempt to hide that;
nor the fact that Hugh Jackman playing P.T. Barnum is dimensionally more attractive—in every way—than the real P.T. Barnum ever was.

Here are 5 reasons why I utterly love this musical.

1) The Heart of the Story

It’s very clear that the heart of this movie is with the Oddities.

There is a song, ‘Come Alive,’ which is a celebration of being different.
It’s begun by Hugh Jackman as Phineas T. Barnum, inviting Sam Humphrey’s character to come join the circus.

I see it in your eyes
You believe that lie
that you need to hide your face.
Afraid to step outside,
So you lock the door—

But don’t you stay that way!

No more living in those shadows,
You and me we know how that goes.
You can prove there’s more to you
You cannot be afraid—
Come alive!

(Please note: All lyrics quoted are by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.)

During the 2018 Oscars, another song ‘This is Me’ was sung by Keela Settle. It had a beautifully diverse back-up ensemble. It got a standing ovation from the audience.

In her introduction to their performance, Zendaya said this:

“This song is so much more than a piece of music.
It has become an anthem for all of us who’ve ever had trouble marching
to the beat that others drum for us;
for all of us who’ve ever had to find strength and beauty
in what makes us different, and then to be brave enough to
unapologetically sing it out to the world.”


– Zendaya
Academy Awards, March 2018

Here are some of the lyrics to This is Me:

Run away, they say,
No one’ll love you as you are.
But I won’t let them break me down to dust,
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious.

I am brave, I am bruised,
I am who I’m meant to be,
This is me.


2)  The Friendship of Males

A building is on fire. Phineas rushes in and heroically carries out an unconscious figure in his arms.
But it’s not a woman who needs saving. It’s his friend Phillip.

Earlier in the film, Phineas and Phillip have a
song and dance number that’s set in a New York City bar—
It’s a cinematic male pas de deux second only to
Don and Cosmo dancing to Moses Supposes.

Also, I find it wonderfully refreshing that Phineas is able to convince Phillip to join the circus before Phillip meets Anne.
And not because Phillip meets Anne.

 

3) A Fine and Equal Romance

I like how this film follows the same romantic arc that Jane Austen used in her later novels. The story begins with the women being right. The story ends with the women being right. It’s the men who are shown to learn and grow.

Also, rather than a tired tale of pursuer-and-pursued, both romances are based on mutual attraction from the beginning, which everyone is honest about from the beginning.

Anne and Phillip sing the exact same lyric:

You know I want you.
It’s not a secret I try to hide.

Anne’s resistance to their getting together is neither internal nor emotional; it’s based on soceity’s problem—our problem in the 1840s, our problem still in 2019.

She sings:

I know you’re wondering why—
Because we’re able to be just you and me
Within these walls.
But when we go outside
You’re going to wake up and see that it was hopeless after all.

She is proved to be right, not only by society’s weakness and injustice,
but by Phillip’s own.

4) Chekhov’s Diamond

I admire how the story structure is built around something I call Chekhov’s diamond.

There is a theme like a gem in the center of the story, and every character and every scene comes at that central theme from a different angle, illuminating a different facet of the diamond.

The central theme in this story is ‘What does it take to belong?’  

 

5) So welcome. So rare.

The children on screen talk and act like actual children. How extraordinary is that?

As an aside, the child actor Ziv Zaifman is a better singer than Hugh Jackman. When I listen to the song A Million Dreams and it switches from young Phineas (Zaifman) to adult Phineas (Jackman), I always feel a little disappointed.

So—not surprisingly—my daugher was right.

The soundtrack is obsession-worthy.
And the story is compelling, up-lifting, and tired-trope defying.

I recommend this movie whole-heartedly.

“Half Cup More”

Back in 2001, I wrote a poem called
‘What I Learned from the Movies’

Here’s a little bit of it:

 

The strength of a woman
is Katharine Hepburn,
She whispers Poor Lamb
and kisses the man asleep-sitting-up;
Turns off a light with one hand, smoothes
her hair with the other, straightens
her shoulders.
Down the staircase, glissando
into the updraft
of waltz music,
into the snapping
dogs alone.


Take-Away Box:

“Life’s like a movie
Write your own ending
Keep believing, keep pretending”

– Kermit the Frog
from the song “Rainbow Connection”
words & music by Paul Williams & Kenneth Ascher
in
The Muppet Movie (1979)

———————–
References:
1) The quote about Cary Grant by Cary Grant came from Vanity Fair magazine, albeit 24 years after Grant died. Cary in the Sky with Diamonds, Vanity Fair, Aug 2010.
2) I got the photo of Cary Grant statute from Watershed <https://www.watershed.co.uk/whatson/8961/cinema-walk>
3) Geoffrey Wansell’s book is Cary Grant, Dark Angel from Skyhorse Publishing (2011).
4) The picture of me is in front of Jerome’s historic Liberty Theater (1918). I was on a roadtrip through Arizona in March 2014. Photo taken by Prof B.


Thank you for reading!
Kelly J Hardesty

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– from The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

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© Kelly J Hardesty 2022

2 thoughts on “The Silver Screen”

  1. I am always astonished by your extraordinary depth and breadth of knowledge, and your capacity to immediately understand that life on celluloid is not two-dimensional. I’m usually trying to keep up with plot and the pictures while you automatically appreciate the themes and associations with other movies or life or individual people. And you write beautifully!

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