Funny Face (1957). I first saw Funny Face at the impressionable age of sixteen or so; it was literally one of the movies that made me fall in love with old movies. To a shy gay kid in Tempe, Arizona, the combined sight of elegant Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire, chi-chi fashions and Paris served as a window into another, nicer world. It is the kind of film that one stops to check out if it’s on somewhere, revisiting it occasionally like a warm old friend. It must have been a sign, therefore, when the DVD for my old friend popped up in the bargain bins at Ross, Dress for Less™. At the very least I could check it out again to see if it still holds up. My feelings were summed up in a tweet: “S’wonderful, but Audrey Hepburn is something of an asshat in that movie, huh?” It’s true. Hepburn is still utterly adorable as a mousy bookstore clerk turned famous model, but her character does the most obnoxious things from beginning to end. First, after reluctantly agreeing to accompany Astaire’s photographer and Kay Thompson’s magazine editor to Paris, she forgets her very first modeling appointment. Then she ruins her debut press conference by arguing with Astaire (for whom she fell with improbable rapidity) over some silly issue. She’s uppity and pretentious throughout, climaxing with the scene where she bolts a triumphant fashion show to track down Astaire. That kind of behavior is simply inexcusable — especially when it relates to her being smitten with the appealing yet old Astaire — and yet I still love this movie. Maybe it’s director Stanley Donen’s light and airy, never studio-bound touch, or Thompson’s fabulousness as the driven Maggie Prescott (“Think Pink” is a highlight). Perhaps this is the filmic equivalent of an old friend who has done some crap that one doesn’t approve of, yet one feels close to anyhow. Yeah, that’s it.
Joseph P. Kennedy Presents: His Hollywood Years by Cari Beauchamp. A few years back, author Cari Beauchamp wrote an absorbing book called Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood. This was a great narrative about female empowerment in the growing industry of motion pictures, but it did have an intriguing minor player in Joseph P. Kennedy, better known as the patriarch of the Kennedy dynasty but here portrayed as an early mover and shaker and one of the few non-Jewish movie moguls. With this later book, Beauchamp focuses entirely on Kennedy and his thorny Hollywood career. Kennedy put another feather in his “self made man” cap as head of FBO, a company that made a tidy profit with cheapie Westerns in the 1920s. His most notorious effort of that era, however, was the doomed Queen Kelly, a costly Erich von Stroheim epic starring Kennedy’s mistress, Gloria Swanson. The tangled production of that film made for some of the more interesting chapters in this book, along with the areas that dealt with Kennedy’s complex home life (I didn’t know he had an institutionalized daughter, for one). The bulk of the book deals with Kennedy’s wheelings and dealings, which is where it falters. Unlike screenwriter Francis Marion, who was a genuinely appealing and interesting person, Kennedy comes across as, well, a big douchebag. His ambition was admirable, but the man seems like the ultimate glad-handler whose all consuming desire for success left a lot of ruined lives in his path (including that of Marion’s husband, cowboy actor Fred Thomson, who met a tragic fate when Kennedy froze him out of work). It is to Beauchamp’s credit that she can write about such a reprehensible person and make it work, but I was relieved to find him dead in the end.
The Legend of Bloody Mary (2008). Terribly acted, supposedly scary flick about a popular scary kid’s game. Like Candyman, this film uses the old apparition of Bloody Mary in the mirror as a starting point. In the film, a nerve-wracked college student is haunted by his sister’s disappearance when the two were kids. It seems she and her friends unwittingly resurrected the spirit of a vengeful 1800s spirit; it’s up to this guy and a priest/archeologist (!) to will the upset ghoulie back to the afterlife. This film appears to have been shot on a camcorder with community college acting class students. A sure sign of its classiness is the scene in which the priest consults a weathered 17th century document typeset in the computer age font ITC Blackadder. Christopher rented this with the hopes of seeing Glee‘s Cory Monteith in the nude; as it turns out, it’s the similarly titled Bloody Mary (2006) that contains Cory’s butt cheeks in a bloody death scene that likely cost three times as much as this opus.
Janelle Monae — The ArchAndroid. Still a fantastic album. Mind-blowing, actually. A second listen reveals the weird quasi-psychedelic touches in the album’s second half. It isn’t often that R&B/Hip Hop artists call to mind the likes of Donovan, but there it is in the trippy “Mushrooms & Roses.” When “Make the Bus” came on I thought “this sounds exactly like Of Montreal” — sure enough, this is a full-fledged collaboration with the funky indie group (apparently the two are currently touring together). Monae may not have the powerful pipes of a Beyoncé, but her vision and commitment is something to behold. The delightful psych-pop of “Wondaland” (which was included on a recent mix CD from a pal) is likely my favorite tune, and a good one to sample for the curious.
Retro Television Network (RTV). A nice surprise byproduct of cutting the satellite dish was finding a local feed for the fledgling Retro Television Network, an enterprise that aims to bring back the TV classics that TV Land so carelessly pissed away (along with its most loyal viewers) a few years back. A sampling of what we’ve seen in the past week: Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Kraft Suspense Theater, The Jack Benny Show, Emergency, Marcus Welby M.D., It Takes A Thief, Run for Your Life, The Rifleman, Peter Gunn. Much of RTV’s lineup consists of hour long ’60s-’70s vintage drama and action series (many produced by Universal Studios). Sure, a lot of it is slow-paced and cheesy, but I loves me some good cheese. Behold: a 1970 episode of Marcus Welby M.D. with guest star Michele Lee as a hypochondriac spoiled rich girl who lived in a house with the ugliest avocado green and yellow living room. I dig it. Our DVR is going to be busy with this channel, which is much more than we can say for 99% of DirecTV’s offerings.