1927: Hollywood, Magazines, Dreamers

Researching Hollywood, Jerome AZ, and Chicago is as fun as creating fictional characters and inserting them into the culture of 1927. Two principal characters are girl friends–one is a Hopi Indian while the other a vaudeville performer. The other two characters are a killer and an heiress of a copper mining magnate. If you enjoy the history of the motion picture industry, the wild west, and abnormal psychology, join me as I share my research of the Roaring Twenties in America.

As I’m writing the first draft to Inside the Gold Plated Pistol, Sally shares her passion for the stars of Hollywood with her new Hopi friend, Mary Kay. Fleshing out magazine covers and film posters from 1927 reveals a lot about the culture such as what America valued, and the old magazine covers are beautiful. The vamp and the flapper, she’s-got-“it” star Clara Bow, Greta Garbo, Douglas Fairbanks, and John Barrymore are inspirations behind my characters. Certainly, as Sally dreams of becoming a movie star, or copying the trends in fashion, I’ll have her pick up issues from Cosmopolitan.

Other popular magazine covers from 1927 remind me what was in vogue. The Roaring 20s was a special time for women to break boundaries and demand their independence. Innovation, music, movies, art, extravagance, and exuberance commanded the decade. It’s these elements I want to incorporate into the novel.

What Sally doesn’t read, other characters will discuss some articles from Vanity Fair and Time and McCall’s and The New Yorker.

Enraptured by the modern world, Sally laments she is stuck in the wild, copper mining town of Jerome, Arizona. If only she could make that next leap from Vaudeville to the motion pictures. Sally shows Mary Kay the world behind the curtain of the Liberty Theater, a museum now, in Jerome, Arizona. I’ll share some pictures and the story behind the movie house soon.

Intermission

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Please excuse my absence from the blogosphere for awhile. My second novel is screaming for attention. I encourage you to check out my archive for posts you might have missed. Feel free to check out my website http://www.cindybruchman.com 

If you have time, I invite you to read my first novel.  It’s called The Knife with the Ivory Handle and it’s available on Kindle and Amazon. 
Regardless, I wish you happy movie watching, reading, blogging, and adventures.

Robin Williams

Fast-talking and frenetic, his delivery and ad-libbing was pure genius. That type of comedy is hard to pull off, but what lingers in my heart were the characters he played in his more serious roles. Robin was smart, wise, and sardonic. His thought-provoking monologues made you think and learn about life. There were always puns in his lines. Twists. Wisdom. His greatest talent was his sincerity. He had a rare gift for becoming his characters. Actually, I think the characters mirrored the man.

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Dead Poets Society (1989)

John Keating: Thank you for playing Mr. Dalton. I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.

John Keating: Boys, you must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Don’t be resigned to that. Break out!

 

Good Will Hunting( 1997)

Sean: So if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling; seen that.

Sean: You’ll never have that kind of relationship in a world where you’re afraid to take the first step because all you see is every negative thing 10 miles down the road.

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Good Morning Vietnam (1987)
Adrian Cronauer: Excuse me, sir. Seeing as how the V.P. is such a V.I.P., shouldn’t we keep the P.C. on the Q.T.? ‘Cause if it leaks to the V.C. he could end up M.I.A., and then we’d all be put out in K.P.

 

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What Dreams May Come (1998)

Chris Nielsen: There’s a man Ian never got to know, the man he was growing up to be. He’s a good-looking clear-eyed fella… about 25. I can see him. He’s the type of guy men want to be around, because he has integrity, you know ? He has character. You can’t fake that. And he’s a guy women want to be around, too. Because there’s tenderness in him… respect… and loyalty, and courage. And women respond to that. Makes him a terrific husband, this guy. I see him as a father. That’s where he really shines. See, when he looks in his kid’s eyes and that kid knows that his dad really, really sees him… he sees who he is. Then that child knows that he is an amazing person. He’s quite a guy… that I’ll never get to meet. I wish I had.

 

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Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
Mrs. Doubtfire: Dear, I always say, a flawed husband is better than none at all.
Miranda: Who needs a husband when I’ve got you?

 

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Hook (1991)

Peter: I want always to be a boy, and have fun.

Wendy:  You say so, but I think it is your biggest pretend.

 

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Patch Adams (1998)
Hunter Patch Adams: All of life is a coming home.

RIP.

Makeup Effects in Film

When I was a kid, occasionally you’d catch a showing on TV of Tony Randall and Barbara Eden in the 1964 film,  The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao. It was a treat for me. I loved the premise behind the mysterious 7,000 year old sage who entered an Arizona town and put on a circus that featured himself (selves) and gave life lessons via mythological creatures. Surely influenced by the 1962 Science Fiction story by Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Come? Perhaps it’s too corny for today’s viewers used to CGI, but emotionally, I hold a soft-spot for the film. William Tuttle won an honorary Oscar for his make up contributions.

Time moves forward and special effects in film evolve and what a fun process to experience. Makeup effects are artistic creations and still preferable to me than CGI. Another special effects master was John Chambers called upon by Hollywood/television to create various parts for various stars–those Leonard Nimoy ears? Made by Chambers. That Lee Marvin nose in Cat Ballou? Chambers. However, it’s the work Chambers did in the original Planet of the Apes series that earned him the other honorary Oscar for Makeup Effects. By the time The Elephant Man released in 1980, enough people felt makeup/hair effects deserved its own category at the Oscars.

Terrence Mallick was offered to direct the film, but declined The Elephant Man. David Lynch accepted and created a mesmerizing black and white Victorian masterpiece. Is it a biopic of the poor deformed John Merrick? I don’t think so. David Lynch took many liberties with the real story behind John Merrick and I would categorize it as a film “inspired by true events”. Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt, Anne Bancroft, and John Gielgud never acted better. Nominated for 8 Oscars including Best Picture, the make-up job was a major factor.  Christopher Tucker designed the makeup while Wally Schneiderman applied and supervised.

 

Rick Baker won the first award in 1982 with my personal favorite dark comedy/horror film, An American Werewolf in London. Here’s a fun video showing how Rick’s team and David Naughton created the monster. It’s a pivotal film in special effects with makeup. When I saw this in the cinema, I was awestruck. It’s hard to pull off a love story, a comedy (the score adds to the humor), and a horror story effectively. I watch it every Halloween and it still holds up 30 years later. If you have 3.5 minutes, take a look:

Since 1982, Rick Baker has won more awards than any other with 11 nominations and 8 total wins: An American Werewolf in London(1982), Harry and the Hendersons (1988), Ed Wood (1995), The Nutty Professor (1997), Men in Black (1998), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2001), and The Wolfman (2011).

Making a film is an ensemble effort. Yet, one rarely hears about the artisan who does the grudge work and gets little of the limelight. Isn’t it interesting how a “bad film” has radiant elements? A toast to the underrated makeup artists who supply key ingredients to the overall magic of the film. Here are some earlier Oscar winners. Which ones are your favorites?

Film Spotlight: Gran Torino

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Clint Eastwood directed, produced and starred in the 2008 film, Gran Torino. There’s much to say about this oxymoron of a character: scarred and sweet, rude and noble, cantankerous and romantic all wrapped up into a celluloid package and delivered by the scruffy, inaudible Clint Eastwood. It’s ranked high at #95 on the IMDB 250 film countdown. Should it be?

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This was a film that had my heart and my head fighting each other. Any plot with a dynamic character is preferable than a static one. Clint acted as an old ‘Dirty Harry’ with too many snarls and one-liners; I thought the script by Nick Schenk was a choppy mix of horrible, mediocre, and small beams of brilliant. Walt Kowalski I could relate to. I grew up listening to veterans of the Korean war talking like Walt Kowalski. Men back then were supposed to be hard, unsympathetic. You better know how to chase a skirt, drink beer, swing a hammer, and  shed no tear. That generation kept their yards immaculate, took care of everything they owned and threw nothing away. They would die for their family and country. Racial tags and slurs were common growing up as a kid.  Political Correctness hadn’t been suggested yet. Another way to put it, Walt Kowalski was Archie Bunker, and Archie was as common as apple pie, lemonade, and the American flag. Experiencing this, I didn’t have a problem with Walt Kowalski in the film. Clint Eastwood has played the same character for fifty years, so I wasn’t surprised he was, again, the hard shell with the soft middle.

Walt reluctantly mentors Thao, who he nicknames Toad. Thao is played by actor Bee Vang. It was his first acting job, and you could tell. Unfortunately, Bee Vang was one of the worst actors in the cast along with the neophyte priest, Father Janovich. Anytime they conversed with Clint Eastwood, it was painful to watch. The script was terrible and their acting wooden and unbelievable. There was very little chemistry between Eastwood and the actors in the film except the bright spot, Sue, played by Ahney Her.

Ahney Her had a great role in Sue. Her lame boyfriend, appearing briefly as pretty-boy Trey, was played by Clint’s son, Scott Eastwood. Another family member contributed to Eastwood’s film, Kyle Eastwood, who wrote the score. But back to Ahney. She delivered her lines with grace and energy which was sorely lacking in the other performances. Sue was the interpreter, the feminist, the “smart” Asian female who intercedes and befriends Walt Kowalski. It is only after she is attacked that the film becomes interesting. While Walt hacks up blood, the ending is clear, but the climax is nicely done.

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While it sounds like I disliked the film, I cried at the end, and still love the film despite its flaws. Perhaps because I understood what Clint Eastwood was trying to do.  Here was a film about the effect of the horrors of war. Walt Kowalski lived with the guilt of killing Korean soldiers. It haunted and jaded his entire life. Here, now, was Thao, who was Walt’s redemption. By sacrificing his life for Thao, he was able to come to peace with his past and give a life to Thao who would be free of the gang preditors. By vindicating Sue’s attack, Walt in one move saves the neighborhood, the family, and Thao and Sue. The irony in the film is wonderful. Walt Kowalski becomes more comfortable with the customs and food of the Hmong than his own family.  Walt had failed as a father to his two sons, unable to have a positive relationship with them or affirming their manhood. With Thao, Walt is able to teach him how to be a man (albeit in an old-school way) by teaching him how to repair, garden, build, and care for possessions. That’s what real men do. They care for their families and protect them.

For those reasons, the audience discovers they look beyond the gruff exterior of Walt and see the loyal, loving man at the same time Walt Kowalski looks beyond the Asian stereotype and sees his Hmong neighbors as people with similar values as his own. While the traditions and customs displayed in the film might be inaccurate at times, the purpose behind the film is why Gran Torino is ranked pretty high. Clint Eastwood attempts to reveal Universal Truths in his films, and I appreciate that.

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Oh, also the sweet, green 1972 Gran Torino. I want one of those!

Film Spotlight: Strangers on a Train

Alfred Hitchcock hired Raymond Chandler to write the script for the 1950 book adaptation of Strangers on a Train. Considered a masterpiece by Roger Ebert (read his review here:  http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/strangers-on-a-train-1951 ), there is a lot to ooh and ahh about the film because of the skillful camera work by Hitchcock. Not everyone loved the film. Raymond Chandler criticized Hitchcock for altering his script too much and complained to Hitchcock in a letter:

“What I cannot understand is your permitting a script which after all had some life and vitality to be reduced to such a flabby mass of clichés, a group of faceless characters, and the kind of dialogue every screen writer is taught not to write—the kind that says everything twice and leaves nothing to be implied by the actor or the camera.”

Read the scathing letter in its entirety here: http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/01/flabby-mass-of-cliches.html

Predictable dialogue, wooden-cartoonish characters, and absurd plot aside, perhaps these dings dent the overall composition of the film, but it doesn’t take away from the last half of the film’s suspenseful rise to the fantastic climax on the merry-go-round in an amusement park. For its flaws, it is a worthwhile cinematic experience.

Hitchcock opened with close-up shots of two sets of shoes getting on a train. Thus began the meeting of two strangers. Robert Walker played the bored, garrulous Bruno Antony, a socialite cushioned by the wealth of his New York father and batty mother. He recognized pro-tennis player Guy Haines, played by Farley Granger and pestered the celebrity about his upcoming divorce which he read about in the social column of the newspaper. An elaborate plot constructed by Bruno Antony ensues: Bruno will kill Guy’s scheming wife if Guy kills Bruno’s father.

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Alfred Hitchcock and wife of 50 years, Alma Reville, had one daughter.  Pat Hitchcock played a supporting role as the young, sassy daughter, Barbara Morton, in Strangers on a Train. Barbara and sexy-even-with-those-glasses, Miriam, were my two favorite characters, easily outshining the rest of the cast.

 

Alfred Hitchcock was famous for hiring blonde bombshells as stars in his movies but not in this one. Thick rimmed glasses play a role in the film. Barbara represented smarts while Miriam represented sexuality, and their  performances were essential to the success of the film. They paralleled the two males–Guy Haines was wholesome and polite while Bruno Antony was manipulative and brash. Props played a larger role if you consider Guy Haine’s lighter found at the crime site. Hitchcock stressed the importance of these props when he shot them with long close-ups.

Two favorite scenes showcasing Hitchcock’s innovation behind the camera happened during a tennis match and at an amusement park. If you haven’t seen the film, keep a look out at the tennis match and watch how the crowd moves their head in sync to the left and right, but in the center of the stands, Guy Haines stares back at you. At the end of the film, in the amusement park, notice how the carousel plays garish music and the petrified plaster-painted animals are stuck in a nightmare. Their expressions compliment the human struggle taking place. It’s an original, perfect place to have a showdown.  Have you seen Strangers on a Train? Rent it quick for the cinematography and decide for yourself if Raymond Chandler had a legitimate gripe against Hitchcock’s script.

High Country Hike

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Yesterday, Jim and I hiked at the Aspen grove at the base of the San Francisco Peaks in Flagstaff, AZ. The wild flowers, Aspens, ferns, and cool temperatures made for a nourishing hike because an hour south, it’s too hot and dry for our liking, but up at 7,000 ft., it threatened to rain on us all morning and we were thrilled.  Here are five + six shots of our hike. Come join us.

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Let it rain!  Which shot do you like best?