Monday, June 9, 2008


Winifred and I kicked off the summer Saturday by watching our first melodrama of the season. Every summer in the Quimby home includes a marathon of black and white dramatic talkies. In 2003 we plowed through nearly every Hepburn movie we could as a dedication to Katharine Hepburn's pants-filled legacy, a filmfest I consider a tremendous victory because most of her movies were filled with laughs (and bonus feminism) instead of tears (Philadelphia Story and Woman of the Year were the focus).
Unfortunately the crux of a melodrama is that it will break your heart, toy with your emotions, crush your soul, and force you to question all that you truly know about humanity. Fortunately Winifred allows comedies (classic, of course) to soothe my fragile emotional state.

We started with Leave Her to Heaven, 1945 technicolor classic that is part of my personal collection. (It's beneficial to alphabetize your VHS and DVD collections! Who knew?) Delightfully over-the-top, Leave Her to Heaven is based on a novel of the same name by Ben Ames Williams. The trailer:

During the movie I tried to compile a short list of films for us to watch as the summer continues. We usually go to Charlotte, who holds a Masters in film criticism, but the truth is that we never get to the movies, and then we hurt her feelings, and we don't like letting her down. (Moreover, the films on the list have been reccomended by Charlotte before.) It was several years before we watched The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and if only we'd rented when she told us to we wouldn't have waited years for our lives to change forever.

In Alphabetical Order:

All That Heaven Allows (allegedly part of the inspiration for another family favorite, Far From Heaven)
Back Street (1961)
Rules of the Game (1939)
Touch of Evil
Wings of Desire

We're watching Back Street again, though it will most certainly kill me. IMDB alludes to three versions of the Fannie Hurst tragedy, which seems unfathomable that the ultimate heartbreaking film could be re-made and re-made. With that much dedication over the centuries you'd think someone would have stepped up in the 90s and made another. I'd work on getting it financed but I feel too conflicted. First, if a Fannie Hurst movie is going to be made into a movie for wide release in our modern world, I'd nominate Imitation of Life first. (It's marginally less emotionally devastating.) Second, I feel conflicted over Back Street. Our heroine is a feminist icon yet she sacrifices her personal life for her career--not a message I'm willing to promote--and then suffers again and again at the hands of the man who loves her--but is unable to shrug his wife (a character who demeans the image of women everywhere) and her prize for her undying love is some other dude's kids! Oh, GAWD, WHERE ARE THE TISSUES, I CAN'T HANDLE THIS.

My retribution for the intense pain I've agreed to again withstand is forcing--if I can--Winifred to watch Rules of the Game. It's not really a melodrama, instead it's a strong, passionate film exploring social class, war, impending doom, government...a movie that leaves me empty yet full of dispair. It's probably an unhealthy obsession, yet on par with Winifred's love for all-things-Fannie Hurst which seems, ya know, fair:

Didya see that trailer? Mystery! Intrigue! That comes pretty close to the sensationalism of a melodrama, no? Post-script: a big part of a melodrama are indiscretions and adulterous affairs built on True Love, which just happens to be a major plot point of Rules of the Game. (I WIN.)

We could watch melodramas intermittenly through the year, too, but it's not nearly as much fun. (When I had the flu Winifred and I watched Martian Child and under the influence of medication it was as emotionally destructive as a melodrama, so we can win with that, right?)

As for Touch of Evil, any film the Coen brothers call "disturbing" sounds like a great idea to me. Wouldya look at that typeface? It screams drama! Plus the trailer includes explosions with its mystery, intrigue, and hysterical screaming. I think it's a tease to show an introdcutory film class the opening of the film and not the rest of the film, but I'll willingly do the same to you:

I know that's a lot of videos I've forced you to watch but it's still June and I think we can do it. There are other movies too, and we've promised Charlotte to wait for her. (But I can't find those few movies right now.)


Emily said...

Dude -

Netflix has a "Tearjerker" category of films. Yes, really!

Also, I saw you had *Backstreet* on your list, so had to look for it, butNetflix, who should have EVERYTHING, does NOT have it! So, I can not join you in tears with that one.

And, by the way *Martian Child* is a heartwarming, tear-enducing flick. And, it has John Cusack, how can that be bad?

Captain said...

Martian Child was tear-enducing film under the influence of flu-related medication. Seeing it sober when Dad watched it inflicted long-term pain. Still, without the grandiose music in the melodramas we watch with Mom (which, records indicate, is pivotal to a true melodrama!) it was pretty dramatic. All I needed was John Cusack though, and I did totally enjoy it. I hope his next film is better, though.
I'll see what we can do about Back Street. You need to see it!! (If we watch any other and Netflix doesn't have it, let me know.)

Anonymous said...

Ok. I can think of very few movies more emotionally devastating than Imitation of Life. Just think of that scene in the classroom.

Unless Todd Haynes is involved, I am reluctant to give my personal ok to any Hollywood remakes of any of these films. Have you heard about the travesty that is the new The Women? I treasure that film as one of the only films written by right-wing nutjobs I will watch whenever it’s on tv.

Clearly we must find these earlier Back Streets. Apparently I need to see it again, because I remembered Rae as a woman of ill repute disguised as a lower class "career girl." I may be conflating the book with the movie, though.

Speaking of unfairly maligned "career women" and class, have I recommended the very compelling Kitty Foyle? You could maybe follow that up with some Barbara Stanwyck.

Now, on to La Regle du Jeu. I leave you with a teaser: “Why does a rabbit, but not a grasshopper, transform my consciousness and my engagement with fiction to die a documentary death?” If that screening goes well, I think that we should see Grand Illusion. I have been waiting for years for this movie to be screened somewhere on film, but I have waited too long. This is the one film that Henri Langlois was the most desperate to hide from the Nazis, and is considered by many to be the most morally important great film of the twentieth century.


Captain said...

I don't think I'd be okay with a remake unless it was someone I liked.

Do you think Kyle knows about The Women? He is OBSESSED with The Women--I think a big part of it is the lore (no pun intended) that the cast is always DOOMED. This is AWFUL. Are they capitalizing on the SATC $$?

And that's just the thing with Back Street. She works SO HARD to get to where she is, overcome everything and then when it's all coming together she has all she's worked for, the heart of the man she loves, and all that stands in the way is his wife. See what it's done to me? He is MARRIED and if he weren't a cad he would have never enlisted in a war to escape his wife. And then, THEN! he could have married her without having to DIE after telling his crazy wife. Ahhhh! It fights all the feminism in me, you know.

My copy of Grave kept skipping but I could hardly make it through the first 30 minutes. I think its brilliance lies in using children for voices and that is what started me with the heart wrenching. Which isn't to belittle the rest of the movie that I didn't see. If Mom and I watched that, would she ever forgive me? (Do you know if Dad finished it?)

There was a movie in March (that I didn't actually see) and it killed a rabbit, and the person I knew who DID see it insisted it was a real rabbit. Anyway I think it was some sort of homage but the movie was so horrible I never saw it. (Which is too bad because it was vampires, werewolves, AND zombies, which sounds like a good way to go, no?) I'm not horrified by seeing the real rabbit, is that bad? In my defense a bird hit the front door this morning and I'm still pretty upset. Mom told me to go away because I "couldn't do anything," just like when I was 8.

Anonymous said...

That's pretty funny. No killing chickens for you!

What's terrible is that usually when I see a scene in which an edible animal is shot, I think, mmm, tasty. And when a bird narrowly missed our windshield last week, Darcliff veered away and looked back, saying "Did it make it? Is it ok?" I was horrified and said, Are WE okay? That thing could have ended up in the car with us." At that point, Darcliff felt fear too, thinking about how freaked out I would have been by a still-living bloody vulture in my lap. Ugh.

I can't believe you couldn't make it past the first 30 minutes. My advice to you is: DON'T GO BACK. You will not be able to take it.

Here is what happens after the end of The Women: Joan Crawford uses her alimony to start her own perfume line (beginng with a scent called Indomitable or Lamé). She is soon able to tell the perfume counter to shove it and moves into a fabulous apartment on Central Park West that has shiny, shiny floors, a baby grand, and a deco couch. After she defeats her rival, the head of Arpège or some such, she marries him and adds a flat in the Marais to her holdings. Meanwhile, Norma Shearer becomes so frustrated by her lonely existence that she leaves the still-philandering Stephen, taking little Mary with her. She's forced to work at the perfume counter for a while, where she learns about the plight of the lower classes. She reunites with the Countess at a workers' rally in the Village, and they move in together, adding Rosalind Russell. They all live happily ever after (except for Norma's mother, who is refused admittance to the lesbian collective they've set up and has to find herself another man).


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