Sunday, August 30, 2009

Another weekend spent with my mother; next weekend will be Labor Day and it'll mark the end of summer. This has not been an easy summer. Yesterday (Saturday, August 29) my mother and i watched the news coverage of Ted Kennedy's funeral.

Last week, one of the movies that opened was "Taking Woodstock" directed by Ang Lee. On Thursday, August 20, there was a reception at the UBS Gallery for a retrospective exhibition of Jack Tworkov; it was one of the few artworld events of the last year. Mary Heilman, Chuck Close, Maureen O'Connor, David Diao, Amanda Church, Charlie Finch were among the people spotted in the crowd.

The occasion for the exhibition was the publication of selected writings by Tworkov (by Yale University Press); Mira Schor is the editor. Tworkov was a fascinating artist: he began in the 1930s as a realist of the American scene, and then by the 1940s became an abstractionist; by the 1960s, he had already moved into geometric abstraction. As an artist, he was continually evolving his style. The kind of inventiveness of his career seems to be so typical of the New York School of artists, especially of the 1950s and 1960s; but by the end of the 1960s, many younger artists (Frank Stella, Claes Oldenburg, Andy Warhol, et al) began to have retrospectives at major museums, and this caused an early calcification of their styles. They began to become associated with a specific product, and they became manufacturers of that product. (It was like this spring, when the Whitney had that Oldenburg show, and Oldenburg was asked if there were any new objects which caught his imagination, and he said no. Computers, cell-phones, i-pods: his mind remains in the 1950s, with the old typewriters, erasers, irons.)

Someone i ran into at the Tworkov reception was saying that there's a lot of interest in the artworld of the 1960s. In the NY Times Book Review, there's a review of a book by Jenny Diski, "The Sixties", yet another memoir about that era. The reviewer, Elsa Dixler, makes the point that the political perspective from England is very different: in the US, there were the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, the feminist and gay liberation movements. One of the problems with so many of the investigations into the 1960s is that, too often, the writers are conservatives who have no interest in the possibilities of change.

Everyone knows that the times have changed. But sometimes it seems as if it's hard to find anyone who will stick up for the 1960s, for the changes that so many of us believed in.

Too many people have been saying that Ted Kennedy's death marks the end of an era. Well, the same thing could be said of Merce Cunningham's death. Or Karl Malden's death. Or Ellie Greenwich's death. Or Dominick Dunne's death. Or Michael Jackson's death.

But there remain a lot of us who continue to live with the ideals from the mid-century, and we're still around.

Monday, August 17, 2009

It has been almost a month since i've blogged; it has been a rather traumatic time.

More than three weeks ago, i was awakened by my brother (on the telephone) telling me that he was at my mother's, they were rushing her to the doctor's, she had blacked out and fallen and hit her head. She was bleeding profusely but she had regained consciousness.

So it's been very difficult. However, in the interim, i've gone to a few screenings and i've watched TCM's Summer Under the Stars as a distraction.

Today is Jennifer Jones day; in the morning, i watched "Ruby Gentry" (one of the best of the latter King Vidor films, certainly the most cohesive of the overheated melodramas of his late period) and "Indiscretion of an American Wife" (even in the David O. Selznick cut, an intriguing attempt to create a middleclass drama in a location setting, and there are wonderful moments courtesy of De Sica and Zavattini); then it was onto the gym and then getting a few things and then onto my mother's. And when i got there, i watched the end of "Love Letters" (Singleton!) and then "Portrait of Jennie" and now "Carrie". Jennifer Jones remains one of the most vexing of stars: there are many detractors who felt that she was being pushed because of David O. Selznick's interest in her, and then there are others who are just fans. Many years ago, i remember that Andrew Sarris ranked her as the one star who definitely was more beautiful in person than she ever seemed on the screen (and in many movies, such as "Duel in the Sun" and "Carrie" and "Ruby Gentry", she's certainly beautiful).

There are many incidental pleasures to be found whiling away the time watching TCM. For example: seeing "The Secret People" in conjunction with other movies with Audrey Hepburn makes you realize that she was actually a tall woman. In "The Secret People", she fairly towers over Valentina Cortese (who plays her sister) and Serge Reggiani (playing Cortese's boyfriend). But in her American movies, most of her co-stars (Gregory Peck, William Holden, Henry Fonda and Mel Ferrer, Gary Cooper, Cary Grant) were among the taller men in Hollywood; Hepburn learned very fast to always wear flats, though she had ramrod posture (the result of all those years of dance training) and loved to use her neck (that's why it was important for her to appear with tall men, so that she could look up to them, stretching her neck). Watching Deborah Kerr day, it was amazing to see her in "The Day Will Dawn" (from 1942, and a movie i'd never seen) and "I Met a Dark Stranger" (a.k.a. "The Adventuress" from 1946) and "The Life and Times of Colonel Blimp" (from 1945): she's rather robust and she's certainly energetic! And she has a ripe, full-lipped beauty in those movies, which MGM did a lot to try to dampen once they got ahold of her in 1947 with "The Hucksters". MGM wanted a "lady" and Deborah Kerr really wasn't that remote. MGM thought she was another Greer Garson (another redhead from the British Isles), and almost wrecked her career sticking her in things like "Quo Vadis" and "King Solomon's Mines" and "The Prisoner of Zenda" (though those films were popular).

The Cary Grant day was predictable but fun nevertheless: what's not to like about "To Catch a Thief" and "Notorious" and "Houseboat"? With James Mason, it was fun seeing movies like "The Wicked Lady" and "The Seventh Veil": glowering, glamorous, and reeking of evil! That's similar to some of the movies on Dirk Bogarde day: "The Blue Lamp" (it's easy to see why Bogarde was a sensation when that movie was released in 1950), "The Servant", "Our Mother's House" and "Darling".

It's very interesting to see a whole day's worth of a movie career: some people really found their image and stuck to it (true of Cary Grant) while others really tried to stretch after an initial typecasting (true of James Mason and Dirk Bogarde).

Over the past few weeks, there have been some wonderful articles in various journals. In Film Quarterly, there's an excellent piece on Dreyer's "Vampyr"; online, The New Republic has posted several short sections of an interview with Stanley Kauffmann, and he makes some very provocative statements. When asked if there's anything he regrets, he notes that he regrets that he vastly undeestimated Godard. Kauffmann admits he didn't appreciate what Godard was bringing to the cinema, and now that he's had the chance to review many of the films (because of the revivals that Rialto has done of such films as "Band of Outsiders" and "2 or 3 Things I Know About Her"), he sees what he missed in the 1960s. And when asked about the film he wishes he could see for the first time now, he makes the point that every classic contains more in it than can be grasped at once, but if he had to choose, he would want to experience "L'Avventura" for the first time, because he remembers how seismic that experience was to his whole understanding and appreciation of film.

Anyway, watching "Portrait of Jennie" again at my mother's, it reminded me of the fact that the first time i ever saw that film it was when i was a child and watching the movie on TV. Some kids never grow up (not if they keep watching Turner Classic Movies).