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Entries in Bette Davis (26)

Thursday
Aug282014

1989 Look Back: The Last Films of Two Hollywood Legends

Hollywood in 1989 was a far different place than it was in the studio system heyday of the 30s through the 50s. The Old Hollywood glamour that made stars like Bette Davis and Audrey Hepburn once shine bright seemed like a distant memory compared to such blatantly sexual films as Sex, Lies, and Videotape. Trying to imagine Davis' Margo Channing or Hepburn's Holly Golightly appearing alongside the neon prints and leg warmers of the 80's is ludicrous. Except that both of these legendary Best Actresses happened to still be making films in 1989, decades after they had first achieved stardom. Sadly, 1989 would be the last year that both actresses would appear again on the big screen and what's worse, neither of their films (Wicked Stepmother and Always) would contribute much to their cinematic legacy.

more after the jump

Click to read more ...

Monday
Jul142014

Podcast: Katharine with a side of Bette!

In this special edition of the podcast, Nathaniel welcomes two Katharine Hepburn buffs Nick Davis and Anne Marie Kelly to talk about their (shared) first Actress Obsession. Naturally Kate the Great isn't the only diva that finds her way into the conversation. Expect supporting roles or cameos: Bette Davis, Cary Grant, Barbara Stanwyck, Tennessee Williams, Deborah Kerr, Spencer Tracy, Audrey Hepburn, George Cukor and more...

You can listen at the bottom of the post or download the conversation on iTunes. Continue the conversation in the comments.

00:00 Intro. Plus Middle School drama: Hilariously "intense" early obsessions
13:00 Types, Genres, and Suddenly Last Summer
17:00 Her autobiography and films she loathed like Dragon Seed
22:00 Chemistry and co-stars
33:00 Revisiting unsatisfying movies -- raise a cocktail to this peculiar cinephile habit
40:00 The Spinster & The Magic Penis
47:00 Bette Davis and why we compare them. Silliness before the sign off.

Further Reading
Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Summertime 
Nick's Hepburn Oscar Profile
A Year With Kate: Pat & Mike
A Year With Kate: Dragon Seed 
A Year With Kate: Christopher Strong
Me: Stories of My Life (Book)
The Making of the African Queen (Book)
Alex Von Tunzelmann & Self Styled Siren (Twitter) 

Kate with a side of Bette

Wednesday
Jul022014

Podcast Part 2: A Smackdown Conversation w/ Melanie Lynskey

ICYMI  Part One of this Podcast & The Smackdown Itself

Starring: Actress Melanie Lynskey, the original creator of the Smackdowns Brian Herrera (aka StinkyLulu), and your regulars Nathaniel R,  Joe Reid and Nick Davis

Smackdown 1964 - A Companion Conversation Pt. 2
00:01 Back From Intermission & Joe freaks out over Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte
04:05 Bette Davis and Baby Jane
07:30 Agnes Moorehead totally divides us
13:30 The Night of the Iguana and its repressed lesbian
16:30 Melanie talks subtext, chemistry and shares an acting pet peeve
20:50 Nathaniel demands a remake and we cast it
24:00 Ava Gardner and Richard Burton GIF-ables
31:20 Not Nominated: Glynis Johns, Irene Papas, and Gloria Foster
34:10 A parting question for Melanie Lynskey

You can listen at the bottom of the post or download the conversation on iTunes. Continue the conversation in the comments.

THANKS AGAIN TO OUR GUEST MELANIE LYNSKEY 
Her new film Happy Christmas (co-starring Anna Kendrick, Joe Swanberg, and Lena Dunham) is currently available OnDemand and iTunes and opens in limited theatrical release at the end of July.

Anna Kendrick & Melanie Lynskey in Happy Christmas (2014)

(It's funny and endearing. Writer/Director Joe Swanberg really loves his characters and his actual baby son is one of the best babies you'll ever see in a movie -- so much personality!)

Smackdown 64 Companion. Part 2

Tuesday
Jun242014

Curio: Uneek Dolls

Alexa here. It was an empty dollhouse that inspired Debbie Ritter to start making clothespin dolls. Over time, inspired by history, literature, and old movies, she's designed hundreds of different miniature caricature dolls; her etsy shop currently stocks over 600.  Her clever classic film dolls have been catching my eye for awhile now; I really admire her ability to paint a caricature on the end of a clothespin.  And the fact that she has a Bette Davis obsession doesn't hurt either. And, she does custom orders!

Bette, Joan, Tippi, Edith Head (!) and more after the jump...  

Click to read more ...

Monday
May122014

Earth Girls Are Linky

Cinema Enthusiast double features Bette Davis & Miriam Hopkins in The Old Maid (1939) and Old Acquaintance(1943)
The Dissolve this sounds potentially amazing: Jonny Greenwood will play his score to live screenings of There Will Be Blood this summer and fall
Comics Alliance a brief very selective snapshot of Spider-Man convoluted history

MNPP says good morning to Rami Malek (The Master, Short Term 12). What do you make of him? I haven't yet formed an opinion. No discernible projected persona yet though that could well be an advantage at this early stage of his career.
/Film Joe Quesada talks about planning for binge-watching in series construction with Marvel's Daredevil series (due in 2015) 
Playbill because all big 80s and 90s movie hits will eventually become stage musicals (only 107 left to go), 2015 will bring us Bull Durham. If it's any good expect whoever plays Annie Savoy to win the Tony like Susan Sarandon shoulda won the Oscar (that she wasn't nominated for). 
Awards Daily Sashas surveys the very strong Godzilla reviews but then hoists a really frightening Oscar idea on us. Don't scare me like that. The Oscars aren't meant to be the Blockbuster Movie Awards (remember those?). Big blockbusters already get Oscar attention. No sense giving them their own category beyond visual effects. Look at how embarrassing those "genre" categories are at the Critics Choice Awards each year!  
Coming Soons Open Road will distribute Jon Stewart's true story political drama Rosewater starring Gael García Bernal & Shohreh Aghdashloo this fall. Yay| 

Today's Must Read. 
Serious Film the 8 kinds of awful people at movie screening Q&As. This is a good read to prep you for any film festival you plan on attending. Do not be any of these people. Sadly, they are legion. 

Weird Coincidence
Last night I asked The Boyfriend what he was reading and he said "this National Book award finalist 'The Flamethrowers'. It's about this woman in the 70s artworld and her Italian lover." And then this afternoon I read that they're making a movie of it and Jane Campion is in talks to direct. It's in the air, I guess. But The Film Experience is always YES for more Jane Campion. Let's bulk up that filmography which has been quiet all too long. 

Today in History...


Earth Girls are Easy debuted in movie theaters 25 years ago today. That was before barely anybody knew what Jim Carrey might look like under his bright red fur but when everyone knew that Mr & Mrs Jeff Goldblum/Geena Davis were a hot mutant thing, whether crossing interspecies intergalactic lines (this), giving birth to larvae babys (The Fly! ewwww), or sending up vampire movies (Translvania 6-5000). The towering 80s movie couple (six foot plus!) didn't make it too far into the next decade, though, divorcing in 1990.

Thursday
Apr172014

Seasons of Bette: Dark Victory (1939)

Seasons of Bette had a headache last week but is feeling much better now, thank you. Herewith, your catch-up episode on Dark Victory (1939)

it was the ghastliest feeling, everything went fuzzy. 

Fallen out of order, have I. That's awfully dreadful of me given that the great revelation of both Anne Marie's brilliant A Year With Kate and my own intermittent Seasons of Bette series is that you can actually watch a movie star grow in power and nuance and embrace of their own specificity if you watch their films chronologically.

This is true, at least, of the studio system where stars were invested in for the long haul rather than dabbled with for a few months at a time if agents, lawyers, producer, directors and stars could agree on a one-time contract. The old system had its drawbacks of course, giving thespians less agency in their own filmography and less ability to test their range in different genres and with left turn character types. Despite that, and even because of it, it was uniquely ideal soil for the true movie stars to grow like majestic redwoods. You know the kind of superstar I'm talking about: they are emphatically always themselves no matter how well they play any particular character. [more...]

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Apr152014

Seasons of Bette: The Letter (1940)

Multi-tasking again. Herewith a new episode of three recurring series: Seasons of Bette, "Introducing..." and Hit Me With Your Best Shot in which I, Nathaniel, refuse to show you Bette Davis's face. For here's a perverse truth: none of my three favorite shots of The Letter (1940) include it.

honorable mention: Leslie recounts her crime

Pt. 1 "Introducing..."
Meet Leslie Crosbee, murderess. We're only one minute into the movie when she unloads six shots purposefully nto the back of one Geoff Hammond who is attempting to escape her house. He doesn't make it beyond the foot of her steps. Her face is a frozen severe mask as she drops the gun. It's Bette Davis's most potent entrance into a movie yet.

Where the hell do you go after your protagonist makes an entrance like that? To her confession, as it turns out. William Wyler, here adapting a play by W. Somerset Maugham, is appreciated today mostly as a great actor's director, but he's so much more than that. He's not content to rest on the power of his actors alone, despite the three Oscars and multiple nominations they'd already received at this point. In one of his boldest moves, he even lets the entire cast turn their backs on us -- this movie is cold -- while Mrs Crosbee calmly recounts an attempted rape and the resultant murder in great detail. The camera (cinematography by Oscar favorite Tony Gaudio) becomes a kind of detached slave, following Bette's vocal cue and showing us now vacant rooms, steps and floorboards, as if it exists only as an empty stage for her drama. Given how rapturously and literally shady our leading lady is (oh the sinister cast shadows of film noir!) it's not much of a spoiler to tell you that she's a liar.

best shot: the equally shady widow

Pt. 2 Best Shot
The title character in this noir, is an incriminating letter written by Leslie which is in the possession of Mr Hammond's mysterious Asian wife (Gale Sondegaard in "yellow face"). The movie is casually racist, a product of its time, or at least suggestive of the casual racism of its time. Leslie's lawyer remark that Hammond's marriage to this woman, immediately makes the colonist of questionable character and thus presumed guilty of the rape Leslie has accused him of. And Leslie herself is the most verbally racist of the film's characters, grotesquely repulsed by Mrs. Hammond

Then i heard about that -- that native woman Oh, I  couldn't believe it. i wouldn't believe it. I saw her walking in the village with those hideous spangles, that chalky painted face, those eyes like a cobra's eyes. 

But fortunately for the film, this fetishistic attention to Mrs Hammond's "exoticism" in any scene in which she appears actually serves to level the playing field. That's especially true of this scene which is tricked up in every way possible with "Asian" signifiers in the scoring, decor, and "dragon lady" costuming (it's worth noting that Mrs Hammond is the only Asian in the film costumed and presented this way as if she's barely real at all but a projection of Leslie's own jealous and racist obsession with her). And in this case, doesn't one have to excuse or even applaud all the exoticism? If you're going to engage in an epic staredown with Bette Davis in which she must suddenly be cowered by you, you'd better bring it by any means necessary. Sondegaard and the cinematography do.

In a curious way, though, The Letter's most fascinating character is the man with six bullets in his back. What kind of a man could own the vengeful hearts of two such lethal women? In his own stiff way he's the perfect embodiment of film noir's powerfully confusing phobic relationship to the female gender. It loves them like no other genre while also living in perpetual fear of their power and agency.

runner up shot: Guadio & Wyler find several great uses for Bette's hands in this film. I love her fingerprints grazing her victim here.

To be Continued...
Tonight at 10 PM we'll post the visual index of all Best Shot entries for this famous noir. 
Thursday Seasons of Bette continues, back-tracking one year for Dark Victory since we fell behind.

Tuesday
Apr152014

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Visual Index ~ The Letter (1940)

William Wyler's The Letter (1940) was nominated for seven Oscars in 1940 and remains a compelling example of two essential noir staples: dramatic lighting and the art of the femme fatale. I was watching it for Seasons of Bette, but the dramatic cinematography and Bette's heyday called out for a closer investigation from multiple sets of eyes...

The Letter's 11 Best Shots
in rough chronological order (click on the image for the 12 corresponding articles)

Her body language that it bleeds such layers into her character...
-A Fistful of Films

When William Wyler controls the moonlight, it shines with the all power of a Hollywood spotlight...
-We Recycle Movies

'Oh, it was all instinctive. I didn't even know I'd fired.'
- Sorta That Guy 


The right blend of scared innocent and hardened survivalist, enough to be believable to her in-movie audience while sending out signals to the theater audience... 
- Alison Tooey


We are witnessing a flashback occur in the present without leaving the scene...
 
- The Film's The Thing 


The shadows of blinds in the protagonist’s face might be something that we now immediately associate with film noir...
-Coco Hits NY

Wyler is founding noir right here...
- Cal Roth 


This fetishistic attention to Mrs Hammond's "exoticism" actually serves to level the playing field...
 - The Film Experience 

But what I really love about this particular shot is the costuming...
-Entertainment Junkie

 It's almost like a standoff in a Western, except the women aren't on equal footing... 
- Film Actually


One of the most visual performers of the sound era offers up an entire film's worth of great expressions...
-Antagony & Ecstasy


I try to think this is the moment where the film ends...
-Manuel Betancourt 

 

Next Tuesday night (April 22nd)
Disney's POCAHONTAS (1995). Can you sing with all the colors of the wind? If so, please join us by selecting your best shot. The more pairs of eyes, the better the cinematic visions. [More Upcoming "Best Shot" Episodes]