Aug 29, 2017
Living Like Audrey: Life Lessons From the Fairest Lady of All
Rowman & Littlefield, 2017
Victoria Loustalot's new lifestyle guide for Audrey Hepburn fans is a pleasant compilation of photos, quotes, biography and insights into the life of the beloved actress. While there is not much new here for fans of the Oscar-winning actress, there is some interesting analysis and appreciation of her most admirable traits.
It's a lovely turquoise-hued volume, and while the book has an appealing look, I found it difficult to navigate. Every few pages the text is broken up by block quotes and multiple pages of images. While these are enjoyable and will likely draw many fans, it turns reading the text into a sort of dance, where you get to the unfinished sentence at the bottom of the page and have to decide whether to flip forward a few pages to finish the thought or hope you can remember where you left off after admiring a photo or two and reading a quote. Ending pages before photos and quotes with completed sentences would have done much to improve the design.
Photos are presented full page at a minimum, with some spilling partly over to the adjacent page. I recognized many from movie stills and magazines in this attractive collection. The quotes about Hepburn are also familiar; I recognized many from the 1997 A&E Biography special Audrey Hepburn: The Fairest Lady (I am pretty sure I have that program memorized. I actually heard the voice of Richard Dreyfuss in my head praising Audrey exactly as he did in his interview). In this respect, the book was in many ways a pleasant repackaging of familiar material.
What I found most interesting about Living Like Audrey was Loustalot's thorough examination of Hepburn's greatest qualities. While classic movie fans are familiar with the kind, gentle and giving aspects of the actresses' personality, she is not as often celebrated for her wit and wisdom. Here I found a satisfying tribute to her sense of humor, and the dark wit behind it.
Hepburn is also given credit for the profound way she spoke about humanity. When she told an interviewer speaking to her about her work with UNICEF that she didn't "believe in collective guilt, but I do believe in collective responsibility," in one non-judgmental, but emphatic statement she demonstrated strength, intelligence and a firm call to action. This is the best of Audrey. Instead of letting the starvation and fear she suffered in occupied Belgium during World War II make her cynical, she became a steely fighter for the vulnerable. Loustalot nicely emphasizes this side of the actress and her activism.
Living Like Audrey isn't required reading for Audrey fans, but it offers many delights and interesting insights.
Many thanks to Rowman & Littlefield for providing access to the book for review.
Aug 16, 2017
Stan Brakhage Interviews
Suranjan Ganguly, ed.
University Press of Mississippi, 2017
I would rather think of myself as someone leaving a snail's trail in the moonlight than someone sitting and consciously making an art.
One of the most influential experimental filmmakers, Stan Brakhage created inspiring cinematic works for over fifty years. In those decades he explored non-narrative shorts, documentary, silent works and even scratching and painting his visions directly onto film stock. In a new book the scope of that work is revealed in a collection of eight interviews with Brakhage which span his career.
Brakhage literally had a unusual vision of the world because he had a visual impairment, and one which he sometimes ignored, stumbling through the world without the glasses that sharpened his focus. He spent much of his career attempting to translate that perspective, in addition to the other ways of seeing he experienced, to film, something he speaks about frequently in these interviews.
In crafting that vision, Brakhage worked to present a true view of his world, attempting to avoid creating works that were more decorative than meaningful. He was especially fixated on the process of making films that showed the pattern of colors and light that he saw with his eyes closed. By showing different kinds of vision like these, he would in essence communicate a fuller view of his life experience.
After having watched many of Brakhage's films over the years, it was fascinating to get a look at his process and what he intended to communicate with his various works. He was a fluid filmmaker, exploring many different ways of approaching his art, but there's always a core theme of obsession with detail and the process of finding beauty in ugliness as a way to accept the painful elements of life.
A frustrated poet and visual artist, once Brakhage knew film was his calling, he tried to tap into what only that medium could offer. He rejected narrative and, for the most part, music to explore what he could do with a purely visual, moving form. In rejecting these conventions, the filmmaker was able to free himself to a more straightforward, pure message and it was fascinating to read about his perspective on something as simple as the way light affects the way an object appears.
On occasion Brakhage would also push against the conventions of interview. At one point he challenges an interviewer who tries to recenter the conversation by saying "we're getting off on a series of abstractions." Those abstractions were at the center of existence for him and the most important things to explore.
It was also interesting to read about the different ways Brakhage's wives influenced his work. He was married to Jane Brakhage for thirty years, and her vision, contributions to the conception of his work, filming and editing were all key to the films he made in their years together. She was also his frequent subject, something which she allowed, but ultimately struggled to fully accept. In contrast, Brakhage's wife Marilyn Jull, who was with him for the last decade-and-a-half of his life refused to be his subject, changing once again his perception of his work, while also giving him guidance as to where to set his focus.
Overall the book was an interesting journey, one that might be mysterious to those unfamiliar with Stan Brakhage's work, but an important work for anyone interested in filmmaking.
Many thanks to University Press of Mississippi for providing a copy of the book for review.
Aug 10, 2017
The posters and trailer for the 1960 spring break romp Where The Boys Are are so relentlessly cheerful, that it's a bit disorienting to find that while there are certainly laughs in this beach bound flick, it also covers some dark territory. From the insensitive and entitled to the criminally violent, four college women learn that going where the boys are can be fun, but also perilous for body and soul.
Paul Prentiss, Dolores Hart, Connie Francis and Yvette Mimieux star as a quartet of restless college students, freezing through a snowy winter, ready to hit the road for Fort Lauderdale and sunny beaches. Almost right away the subject of sex comes up as Hart scandalizes her prim professor on the realities of relationships for her generation. She's all talk though and plenty hip to the things men will say to get her into bed.
Still, Hart is game for romance, as is the rest of her crew, only they expect to find husbands rather than erotic distraction for the length of their vacation. For all the freedom they grab from their school and parents to take their vacation, they all seem set on becoming as Prentiss says, "a walking, talking baby factory." For them, freedom has its limits and they want it that way.
None of the men they meet are on board with this philosophy though, and many of them are too horny to wait for the sexual revolution. For some of the girls, that simply means a few long nights of negotiation. For one, misunderstanding what men really want steals her innocence in a heartbreakingly brutal way. This side of sexuality had not been explored so thoroughly in the movies, and especially teen beach flicks. Some of it still disturbs today.
This darkness has a flip side and much of the film's effervescence comes from its leading ladies, all of them at the beginning of their careers. Yvette Mimieux would also appear in Time Machine that year, and here as in that film, she is devastating to watch because she is so vulnerable. Of the four, she is the one who most indelibly captures the dangerous naivety that can lead to taking too seriously the first intoxicating rush of adult life and romantic attention. In her first film, Prentiss becomes a star right away, making her gangly limbs and blunt delivery into something both refreshing and oddly glamorous.
At the top of her singing career, Francis had to be talked into giving acting a try. Having some control over the songs she sang helped to convince her. Of course the title song would end up becoming her most famous. Her character is the only one that doesn't ring true though. While she is beautiful and charming, you are expected to believe she has trouble with men because she is too butch, something which only becomes clear when she sighs that she should quit the field hockey team.
While this trio beams with charisma, it is mellow, magnetic Dolores Hart who steals the show. Only three years away from ditching Hollywood to become a nun, she makes you yearn for more. Here is an actress who would have been especially fascinating as she aged, because no matter what dippy dialogue she was handed, she always managed to give it all a feeling of greater depth. Perhaps it is best to be grateful she made anything at all though; you can't fault her for finding her calling and escaping brutal Hollywood for a life of devotion.
For all its dramatic changes in tone, Where the Boys Are works, because the whole point of it is that it is chaotic. That the insanity and darkness on display are not even close to the debauchery of a modern day spring in Fort Lauderdale is both charming and a little sad. As much as these women are pushing the boundaries of romantic relationships, they and their men are still innocent in a way that is now lost.
The film is now available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive on a disc that includes a trailer, a clip of the film's Fort Lauderdale premiere and a light-hearted featurette featuring interviews with Prentiss and Francis. There is also charming and upbeat commentary featuring Prentiss, who is a great storyteller because she's got a fantastic memory and doesn't take herself too seriously.
Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.