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text 2015-03-08 20:17
Reading in Progress: Without Lying Down - Just One More Quote
Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood - Cari Beauchamp

I know I'm enjoying a book when I have the urge to tell someone "oh this bit, check this out, isn't this fun?!" Plus this quote gives you an idea of Marion being a normal woman, as well as understanding how women think differently. Neat story all round.


Backstory: Marion is on her third husband (she's in her 20s), and totally in love and happy - they both have careers in film, they both love each other's intelligence, all the good stuff. But she has eyes, and this sense of humor. (Never fear, she's not the type to have an affair - that's not where this goes. Her current husband, Fred Thomson, is a former Olympic calibre athlete/Presbyterian army chaplain turned cowboy star. Yes, his biography is just as interesting as that sounds.)


Marion is working for Goldwyn on the 1926 film The Winning of Barbara Worth. (Ebook here!) Goldwyn's secretary asks Marion to see if she can't put in a good word for the secretary's boyfriend, as he's trying to get one of the parts in the film. (Also backstory: Hopper has been a friend of Marion's for years. Which is how she knows Marion's reaction in this story.)


p. 182-183: 

“At six foot four, with brown hair and chiseled if irregular features, the young man appealed to Frances immediately. Hedda Hopper claimed that he was so “her type” of man that when Frances first saw him standing against the wall of the studio building, “she gave him a second look and as she went through the door, even risked a third.”


[The actor boyfriend had sent a screentest for the part but the male execs didn’t think much of it.]


...Frances concluded it was because male stars still tended to be “pretty boys”; the director and producer didn’t think women would be attracted to what she was the first to admit was a “gaunt, slow moving self conscious young man.” But knowing how both she and Sam’s secretary reacted to him, Frances suggested organizing a screening of his and other actors’ tests in front of a group of female office workers at the studio. The immediate response from their collective libido proved that the two women were not alone and Frank Cooper, changing his first name to Gary so that he would not be confused with another actor with the same name, was hired at fifty dollars a week.


...Yet when she viewed the daily rushes, Frances suddenly realized they had a problem on their hands.


“This guy is going to steal the picture,” Frances announced to King and Goldwyn after watching Gary Cooper’s dramatic portrayal of an exhausted man collapsing.“


While Cooper had a somewhat awkward time learning to act, he had improved so quickly (and took to direction so well) that Marion had to write him out of a later scene or he would have been mistaken for the hero of the film. And of course Cooper went on to become a major star quickly after that. Goldwyn was mocked by the industry for not giving him the salary raise Cooper asked for - Paramount snapped him up days later.


I did have to eyeroll at the concept of two men being so completely sure they knew what type of man all women would and wouldn't find attractive. (Not to mention that Marion had to get backup responses - but the way she chose to do this was brilliant - using women already working for the studio.) Again, this sort of thing didn't end in the 1900s - and it works for all genders really. We've all heard varions of (mix the genders as you will, or substitute your own): "Wait, women/men like him/her?! Why?! Ugh, not attractive at all."


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text 2015-03-08 17:51
Reading in Progress: Without Lying Down by Cari Beauchamp
Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood - Cari Beauchamp

Once again I'm having fun with multiple-book-juggling! I now have three sometimes-overlapping book reading needs:

1) commute reads: reading for the train, can't be too engrossing or I'll miss my stop (I am NOT exaggerating about that),

2) evening reads: something I can put down easily so I can remember to get sleep, and

3) paper books that aren't portable and have to be read at home.


Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood is in the third category because it's just heavy enough to be a pain to carry, along with all the other items I'm toting to and from work. At the moment it's also an evening read, but that's a problem because I'd classify it as almost too interesting.


Wikipedia: Frances Marion


[On the book cover Marion is on the right and the woman on the left is Mary Pickford.] 


It's completely normal to have never heard of Frances Marion. The only reason I have is because I studied film history, and because I've read a handfull of books about women writers in the 1920s. Marion was one of many writers who wasn't exactly part of the Algonquin Round Table but was tied to it by living at the hotel for a time and by knowing some of the "members." (It wasn't exactly an official club.) She was also conscious that she wasn't really part of "that crowd" because her writing was often dismissed because it was only for film. Even today some people consider writing for film/television/etc. not "real" writing. (I am soooo into scare quotes suddenly, yerg.)


The one thing that you find over and over is how many witty, bright, and interesting women writers were involved in the magazine and film writing industries in early 1900s America. This isn't the first book I've read to posit that one reason women were able to be taken (somewhat, for the times) seriously in these fields was because of how disreputable the business was - women were let in because no one was taking those fields seriously. Because no one respected writers. There's a weird myth of that being a respected career, and that's never been the case. There's a very narrow field of Writers of Literature that got some respect, as well as certain types of academic writing - but there were thousands of other writers making a living who weren't considered valuable members of society, or even artists. And whose names we don't know today. If you think anything has changed, go read interviews of writers working in the film and television industry. Not the ones whose names you've heard of - again, that's a very small, select group. Most screenwriters are rarely are known by name and are just as disposable to the studios now as those writers in the 1900s. Something doesn't work? Fire the current writer and bring in someone else.


What I love about Marion is her attitude. She can do it all - write, direct, produce, edit - and she chose writing as the thing that made her happiest. (Since she was pretty they tried to nudge her into acting - which she always knew wasn't her thing.) She kept control of her career by not signing up with just one studio, and instead freelanced so she could choose who she worked with and what projects. She managed to become one of the best known screenwriters of the time - a recognized name in the fan magazines and newspapers.


I haven't yet read to the part in the book where the entire film world undergoes a Big Change with the coming of sound. It's one of those earthshaking industry moments - like television suddenly competing with film (and film fighting back) or mp3s changing the entire music industry (and the music industry fighting back). I honestly love reading about these moments because

1) everyone in the industry always flips out about them initially (in extremely dramatic ways, because careers suddenly undergo massive change, businesses rise and fall, etc.) and

2) each one always makes the media more interesting for consumers and more complex for scholars/workers in that field.

And I do love a good, meaty history-of-tech story.


Oops, this was all leading up to a quote from the book - got a bit carried away with history squee. Well, I'll just pop that in after the break.


(Also WTF is this one week it's snowing us in and the coming week it's going to be 60 degrees?! And here I thought I was being overly careful bringing some summer clothes along with me. The US east coast is winning the changeable weather award - given by me - over west coast - well, for this season anyway.)

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text 2015-03-05 20:28
Snowed in with a Book!
Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood - Cari Beauchamp

We had a heads up it'd be bad today and so stayed home from work - but I didn't really think it'd be snowing ALL day. (Remember, I'm the person who's not lived in a place with snow for decades now. I've lived in Kansas and Massachusetts, but you grow out of practice with snow and stuff.) So I'm about to leave the computer and go back to where I spent my morning - snuggled up with a book under a blanket, with the curtain open so I can see the snow fall and appreciate what I'm not going to walk through outdoors. Also I have several Cadbury Creme Eggs. Am very pleased about this.


I'm assured that all of this doesn't mean we can't make it out of our area and in to work tomorrow, but I feel skeptical.


Have been hopping from this book about Frances Marion to various Le Fanu ghost stories. Ghost stories just go with snow somehow - if I had a fireplace with a fire they'd be perfect. But Marion - well, I'm quickly becoming a fangirl. She's very focused on pursuing her writing in a field that's new to her, and doing it by herself. Not to mention being divorced twice by her mid twenties.


In 1915 she participated in the march for suffrage parade in NYC - historical background:


PBS This Day in History

New York Historical Society 

(Both links have photos of the parade. Though not of the hecklers - it was not always a safe thing to take part in these, and in some cases there was violence. And the police weren't necessarily going to help out.) 

p. 55: "Francis and friends like Adela Rogers had marched in parades before, yet they nursed a nagging suspicion that women were "trading superiority for equality." Women had been voting in California since 1911 and it seemed such an "obvious right" it was almost insulting to have to convince others."

It's always good to remember that no matter the state of women's rights there were always times when practical women would ask "is this really necessary - it's clear we're capable." Also that, in the early days everyone still clung to the idea that "women are special" (the whole putting the gender on a pedestal, sacredness of motherhood, etc.) and that that attitude could be a positive. (Nope, for the most part it tended to be used to argue that women should stick to "their world" - meaning wife/mother/housekeeping.)


I also forgot the whole part about many states allowing women to vote in regional elections long before the national law passed. Which reminds me I have a paper book on women's suffrage I've been meaning to read. Meanwhile this book on Marion mentions SO many interesting women in the arts - and as usual I'm noticing  a lot of them don't have their own biographies. Not that I'd have time to read them all, of course.


Ok, off to my blanket and Cadbury eggs!

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text 2014-06-22 00:52
Reading In Progress: In Which I Read Something Vaguely Nearly Current, and Also a Star Wars Reference
Final Cut: Art, Money, and Ego in the Making of Heaven's Gate, the Film that Sank United Artists - Steven Bach

I spend a lot of time (when I'm not reading) looking at my TBR list and thinking about what I really should be reading instead of what I'm currently reading. Such as books written in the current century. I was in one of those moods when I was looking up a film reference and discovered that hey, this book I've been meaning to read is available on Open Library, and it's not checked out!


Title: Final Cut: Money and Ego in the Making of Heaven's Gate, The Film That Sank United Artists

Publication date: 1985

Film: Heaven's Gate (That wikipedia link will give you all the floptacular details, and cites this book. I have never managed to sit through the entire movie.)


So it's not quite current, but at least it puts me a lot nearer than the history I've been living in for the past few months. It's also about a subject that I adore - films that are flops. I love reading about how they happened, who signed off on them, and how many people were tearing their hair out during the process. It's usually never just one person to blame - it takes a lot of people under various delusions to make a real fiasco. (Which reminds me that I haven't read this book either: Fiasco, A History of Hollywood's Iconic Flops)


Since this isn't the review I won't say more about the book - but I'll note that so far it's short on any fun detail, and mostly about business meetings. But it does throw out film references every so often, and then of course I have to google for more info.


As part of a discussion of how companies will purchase "pickups" - films that are finished but need someone to put together distribution deals to actually show them in theatres.


p 75:  "...Production might not even be consulted, merely informed that domestic distribution, say, had just spent $1 million of production's money to acquire a Japanese sci-fi adventure called Message from Space "which can't keep 'em from lining up at the box office. It's a Jap Star Wars! It'll clean up." The only thing it cleaned up was the red inkwell. Then there was something called The Passage, which featured Malcolm McDowell as a sex-crazed Gestapo agent who ran around in a jockstrap adorned by a swastika."


There you have it, the kind of quote that makes me IMMEDIATELY stop and say "I MUST see those films!" (Actually my first thought was "wtf, "Jap Star Wars?! Really?!" and then I remember that this was the 80s, and that this isn't the first nonfiction book I've read where film executives talk like that. And worse. I'm saving the rants for the book review.) This is how I find myself hours later still looking at Youtube videos, because it's like eating potato chips, one leads to another and then another...


Message from Space (1978) (IMDB)

First, here's the wikipedia page, which has one of the longest plot summaries I've ever seen for a film on wikipedia (I did not read it all, let me know if I've missed anything comic). And now, you MUST go watch this:


Message From Space trailer (Youtube, 3 min)


That just screams Fodder for MST3K. Also there are SO many things there that I recognize from anime and now want to go check the dates and see which came first. In particular, that spaceship shaped like a clipper ship - because I automatically think of Captain Harlock space pirate anime. But then there are MANY such things in Message from Space that seem similar to other film/anime/etc. - but specifically Star Wars. A great summery is this video, which also has many, many clips of the film alongside clips from Star Wars:


Mike Matei Message From Space Review (Youtube, 2012, 8min)


If the trailer made me think that the film might be humorously bad but dull, that review made me feel it might not be quite so dull. But still definitely bad.


[No matter what wikipedia calls it, I am never calling Star Wars anything with "A New Hope" tacked on. It was Star Wars in 1977 when I saw it in the theatre, and it'll always be Star Wars, no additional title needed. So there, George Lucas.]


At this point I could go on about good-bad space films that exist only to feed off of the late 1970s mania for Star Wars - but that would be a really long tangent. And I should go ahead and talk about the second film, which is much less fun than I thought it'd be.


The Passage (1979) (IMDB)

On its wikipedia page there's the following quote from Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide:

"Trashy WW2 story of Basque guide Quinn helping chemist Mason and his family escape over the Pyrenees with Nazi fanatic McDowell in hot pursuit. McDowell's campy performance must be seen to be disbelieved."

So I was really hopeful at that point that it was going to be more campy and less sadism. After all, Final Cut had referenced "a sex-crazed Gestapo agent who ran around in a jockstrap adorned by a swastika." I thought that scenario would have to be comedic. But nope, I was wrong.


There are a few YouTube clips from the film (you can easily dig up the others), but the one I'm going to post has none of the original audio and instead is set to an Anthrax song. Depending how you feel about Anthrax, you can mute it. Er, if you still want to see it after I describe it.


The Passage (1979) Tribute (Youtube, 4min)


Judging (somewhat unfairly, though I do know a lot about the history of films churned out in the 1970s) from the clips I've seen, this is a film trying to be really edgy with the sadism of the lead villain, McDowell's nazi, Capt. Von Berkow. And here's where I really should have remembered watching him in the 1979 Caligula, which I'd rented with some friends thinking it'd be total campy bad film night. And no, it was mostly just gross and very non-funny.


The scene where McDowell is in a jockstrap (in The Passage, not Caligula!) - and here I'm just basing this on what I know about the film's plot, characters, and the clips in that 4min video - is when he's with actress Kay Lenz and his character has somehow forced her into having sex with him. I assume in one of those "or else I'll kill your loved ones" set ups where the woman has no choice. It might have come off campy if Lenz hadn't managed to look as upset in her reaction shots - because even without hearing the audio you can see that McDowell's really hamming it up in his gestures. (The film also has a scene where Christopher Lee is set on fire by McDowell, which I wouldn't call enjoyable - though in the clip that I saw you don't see much, there's no gory detail. Not to mention it's not the first or even 20th time I've seen Lee die in a gruesome manner, because I've watched most of his vampire movies.)


So enough said about that. On the up side, this is now a bad movie I don't have to bother to watch. And suddenly I find this a wonderful thing, that Youtube has saved me so many hours of bad movie watching, when I can now screen a few scenes ahead of time and figure out if it's the right level of bad movie for me to enjoy.


So I'm now off to watch more of Mike Matei's and Cinnemasacre's film reviews. Because in there are the kinds of bad films I can happily enjoy. For example:


Monolith Monsters review by Matt Matei (wikipedia) (youtube, 7min)


Actually this is the kind of movie that desperately needs an MST3K-ization or you'll drift off to sleep before the action happens. Or alternately you'll learn the dangers of becoming a geologist and picking up strange rocks. (Spoiler, there is no giant humanoid rock monster. Imagine the kids seeing that in 1957 and how incredibly pissed off they were! Well, I'd have been, anyway.)

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review 2011-07-28 00:00
Elizabeth I in Film and Television: A Study of the Major Portrayals
Elizabeth I in Film and Television: A Study of the Major Portrayals - Bethany Latham I liked the book. The beginning was a bit slow, but after the first 100 pages, I couldn't put it down. I could really see and fell the life on court - something not every author can do (to pull me completely into a story or setting).
I'm not a history nerd and wasn't really interested in Henry VIII. before, but now I think I have to put an official biography of Anne or Mary Boleyn on my to-read list.
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