The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

A plea, and a proposal, for a worthwhile book on the films of Humphrey Bogart.

Tom Polhous: “It’s heavy. What is it?”

Sam Spade: “The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of.”

- The Maltese Falcon, 1941

Whatever the secret ingredient was that fuelled the Hollywood dream factory, Humphrey Bogart had it, in spades. Like the eponymous Falcon, he was a rare bird, remarkable in too many ways to list. Maybe the most fascinating aspect of the Bogart story lies in the fact that he was out of synch with his own success: stardom came late, death arrived early, and he can have had no inkling of the hugely powerful cultural force his name would come to represent. For, while other legends of the Golden Age – many of whom were bigger hitters at the box office – have faded with the passing years, Bogart’s star has continued to shine, until he now seems one of the most iconic figures ever to have come shimmering off the silver screen and into our collective consciousness.

Let’s not mince words. Bogart was a genius. Where could you find a comparable figure? Not in his own field: there was no actor ‘like’ Bogart. Not in another era, because even Bogart couldn’t have become Bogart in any other time or place than 40s Hollywood. If pushed, the closest you might get would be someone like Picasso, Muhammad Ali, or Bob Dylan: a figure so singular that they transcend any sense of being the best at what they do; instead, what they do becomes defined by them.

Like Bob Dylan, Humphrey Bogart is a subject most people probably expect has been more than adequately documented over the years: after all, the man has been dead for over half a century, and he’s one of the best-known, most blazingly iconic movie stars of all time. Surely there are hundreds of Humphrey Bogart books? And who on earth could see any need for another one? Well, the reality is very different: there’s a surprising dearth of Bogart books in general, and an even more remarkable scarcity of good Bogart books. Worse still, if you were looking for a good Bogart book that does a good job of covering the films of Humphrey Bogart in any depth, you’d have to look even harder. In fact, you’d have to write it yourself.

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The Dream Never Dissolves: Taschen’s ‘Movie Icons’

Taschen’s ‘Movie Icons’ series offers a chance to ponder the particularities of iconic movie stills.

“She gave great still. She is funnier in stills, sexier, more mysterious, and protected against being. And still pictures may yet triumph over movies in the history of media. For stills are more available to the imagination.”

- David Thomson on Marilyn Monroe

In the olden days of the Hollywood dream factory, when movie stars were doggedly elusive and – not coincidentally – infinitely more interesting, the big Studios rigorously controlled access to their stars, radically adjusting their accessibility levels according to context: on one side, no press people got any kind of unmediated access to the likes of Bogart or Gable – the Studios controlled and choreographed all such encounters; at the same time, stars were made to make themselves available for publicity duties at the behest of the moguls who called the shots. Studio publicity departments were adroit at image-massaging machinations. If a male star, say, was the subject of rumours which threatened to undermine his perceived heterosexuality, then a suitable starlet would be lined up to publicly accompany him to a première or party, acting as a twinkly-eyed beard. It was the age of the ‘publicity still’. Elaborate tableaux were constructed into which the compliant actors were expected to step at the last moment, to have their photographs taken surrounded by suitably image-reinforcing paraphernalia. The resultant shots were at once utterly disconnected from the actors’ presence in their films, yet also somehow of a piece with their existence as ‘stars’.

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Self-Styled Siren

Websites We Love – Part 4 – Self-Styled Siren

“Let me introduce you to, uh, a friend of ours…”

There are millions of movie sites out there, but here’s one which offers an irresistable balance between erudition and enjoyment, someone who takes cinema seriously but without undue solemnity. In short, the Siren knows her movies inside out, and – crucially – knows that movies are there to be enjoyed. Covering a range of old and new, with an empathis on the classics, there’s always something interesting to be found on the site’s front page, including, at present, one of the best writeups we’ve seen on Scorsese’s ‘Hugo’.

Dig a little deeper and you’ll soon find articles which – like this one on Raoul Walsh’s ‘The Strawberry Blonde’ (1941), starring James Cagney, Rita Hayworth, Olivia de Havilland, Jack Carson, and Alan Hale – cover their subject so thouroughly and entertainingly that you’d struggle to find anything left to say. And yet the quality of the numerous comments posted by the Siren’s equally knowledgeable readership gives the lie to such notions.

- by John Carvill


You Don’t Know How to Dunk: a Clark Gable Double Bill

Oomska Recommends – Classic Hollywood Double Bills

You can’t get much more classically Golden Age than Clark Gable, so let’s indulge in a double bill featuring the ‘King of Hollywood’, one from his prime, the other the last film he ever made.

Part One: ‘The Misfits’

First up, it’s John Huston’s ‘The Misfits’ (1961), in which a weathered, crumpled-looking Gable leads a stupendously great cast including Montgomery Clift, Eli Wallach, Thelma Ritter and – of course – Marilyn Monroe, for whom this would also be the last film. The problems afflicting the production of this film are legendary. Both Monroe and director John Huston were hammering the booze (and, in Monroe’s case, pills) pretty hard, Huston was in the grip of a gambling addiction, a recent car accident had left Clift needing resonctructive surgery, screenwriter Arthur Miller’s marriage to Marilyn was breaking up, and all concerned were beaten down by the extreme heat of the Nevada desert. And it’s very sad to reflect that, within just a handful of years, all the principal cast – except for Wallach who is still with us today, aged 96 – would be dead.

Gable didn’t even live to see the completed film, suffering a fatal heart attack – said to have been triggered at least in part by over-exerting himself in the stunt department, wrangling horses etc – immediately after shooting finished. And Gable only got involved in the stunts because he was bored waiting around for the forever late-arriving Marilyn Monroe, who is as luminescent as ever in this often overlooked film. Was Monroe ever more beautiful than in the crisp, crystalline black and white footage shot by veteran cinematographer Russell Metty? If so, not often.

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Leave a comment Posted in Movies Tagged Clark Gable, , It Happened One Night, , John Huston, Marilyn Monroe, Mongomery Clift

The End of Oscars

The End of Oscars (as) History?

Eliminating Testimonial Awards from the Academy Awards Telecast is a Depressing Mistake

by Stephen Glaister

For many[1] viewers[2] the high point of the 2010 Golden Globe Awards was Martin Scorsese’s Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement in motion pictures.[3] Scorsese’s clips package wowed (at least up to its embedded Shutter Island trailer), and his acceptance speech[4] eloquently testified that film is both massively collaborative (“[T]hat making movies is a collaborative process is not a cliché, it’s the truth”) and deeply historical:

“Because, as William Faulkner said: The past is never dead. It’s not even past. As far as I’m concerned, making films and preserving them are the same thing. In this room, none of us who make films and watch them would be here without the people who came here before us.”

The Oscars’ counterparts of the DeMille Award – principally Honorary Awards and the Thalberg Award (for producers) – have, similarly, long provided ceremony highlights. For example, while recent Oscars telecasts have lived in the ratings shadow of the 1998 ceremony at which Titanic won 11 Awards, on the night itself, Stanley Donen’s Honorary Award[5] upstaged James Cameron’s juggernaut. Scorsese introduced Donen’s clips package, which spanned immortal ’50s musicals with Kelly and Astaire, and ultra-chic ’60s confections with Grant, Hepburn, Loren, Peck, and Finney, then Donen accepted his Award, saying that he should really be giving it to the long overdue Scorsese. Next, in two graceful minutes, Donen serenaded his Oscar statuette with a verse of ‘Cheek to Cheek’, brought down the house with an elegant soft-shoe routine, and humbly and wittily saluted 25 of the key writers, songsmiths, and actors who’d made his directorial success possible. It was a sublime moment. Hollywood’s glamorous past (and its past’s past – Astaire premiered[6] ‘Cheek to Cheek’ in 1935′s Top Hat) indeed wasn’t even past, and the implicit argument that Hollywood c.1998 would have been quite different but for the efforts of Donen & co. was made. The evening’s other shenanigans (from Bart the Bear delivering an envelope, to Cameron’s grimace-inducing ‘I’d like to do a few seconds of silence in remembrance of the 1500 men, women and children who died when the great ship died’) looked simultaneously pinched and overdone by comparison.

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