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Entries in Judy Garland (20)

Wednesday
Apr242013

Best Shot: "A Star is Born"

I have a confession to make. I only selected A Star is Born (1954) for this week's edition of 'Best Shot' as an excuse to talk about one of the all-time greatest movie scenes. I'm talking All Time All Time. The scene is the shot and the shot is the scene and the scene justifies the whole movie's title... although it might be more accurately titled A Star is Reborn. I can't let it stop me that several people have already chosen it as their Preferred Shot though this will have the unfortunate effect of making a quite extraordinary whole movie look a little front-heavy since The Scene comes very early in the film.

Take it honey. Take it from the top...

And so she does, glancing over sheet music, humming the melodic line, and easing herself into her spotlight as the mood sweeps over her. She then unleashes one of the great Garland performances, which keeps shifting incandescendantly between three separate modes: tossed off AM rehearsal goof with the boys, fully detailed showmanship of a PERFORMANCE to come, and internal musical reverie. Judy Garland is giving three spectacular performances at once all of them bleeding into each other organically in this one continuous shot. It wouldn't be half as moving or incredible if George Cukor had broken it up into little bits.

But who needs to jazz up a scene with different camera angles when "The World's Greatest Entertainer" is giving you so many character angles already?

The night is bitter. The stars have lost their glitter.
The winds grow colder. Suddenly you're older.
And all because of the man that got away.

No more his eager call, the writing's on the wall.
The dreams you dreamed have all gone astray.
The man that won you, has run off and undone you.
That great beginning has seen a final inning.
Don't know what happened. It's all a crazy game! 

Coupled with the very smart screenplay, which aptly describes this very performance immediately afterwards as filled with "little jabs of pleasure" and George Cukor's astute understanding of what to do with Cinemascope (the mise-en-scène throughout the movie is A+), it's a performance for the ages. Garland's emotionally intricate performance (her best ever as she's just as good in the "book" scenes) is, if you stop to really consider what's happening in the frame, explicitly choreographed in every way possible to provide this bracing cocktail of performance, rehearsal, improv, and narrative while also hitting so many marks which work with very smart choices in Art Direction and Cinematography. Consider, for instance, that the dominant color in this scene is red which was also used to character Norman Maine's drunken madness in the film's opening scene but here the red is suddenly warm and cozy rather than garish and unnerving.

That this shot/scene feels so genuine, spontaneous, and possible rather than like a set piece engineered to mechanical perfection is one of the great miracles of Hollywood Showmanship. The crazy part is this: the movie's just begun! Big glitzy awesome musical numbers for Garland are still ahead of us and Vicki Lester hasn't even been "Born" yet but no matter; Judy Garland came roaring back to life right here.

Quite unfortunately just as this killer scene hooks you into the film for the long haul -- and it is a long haul as running times go though the movie is gripping -- it stops looking like a movie and starts looking suspiciously like film stills. I didn't even know it was National Preservation Week when I selected this film for this date in the series. Let's call it a happy accident and thank film preservations everywhere for their efforts. A Star is Born was notoriously butchered during release when the studio suddenly decided they wanted a tighter running time and started chopping scenes. So the movie that Oscar voters screened and voted for (six noiminations but absurdly shut out of Picture & Director) was not the version that many Americans saw in late 1954 and early 1955 as it made its way around the country. The version that's most readily available now is this Frankenstein version which tries to stitch in the missing scenes where they would have appeared in the film.

Esther Blodgett becomes Vicki Lester, contract player. They don't want to see her face!

On one level it's thrilling that these shards of old scenes are there since the movie itself is so wise and "deliciously sarcastic" (thanks, Vince) about The Hollywood Machine in all of its devouring glory. But I think the reason that A Star is Born is so enduring -- and I swear it improves on each viewing it's so sophisticated -- is that it combines this biting wit with genuine empathy for the Willing Human Casualties of that machine.

On the other level, these half-scenes distract me from the pleasure of the picture and I'd almost rather watch the compromised version that survived. A Star is Born tries to make peace with its own compromises in the Maine marriage, very movingly. On this particular viewing I was quite struck by two bookend shots from Esther's Vicki makeover. 

If I can't have the whole "Man That Got Away" shot, I'll take this second one as my best shot

In this first shot, Norman is forcing Esther to wash off the horrible studio mandated makeup but she objects already convinced that she has an "awful face" and "no chin". Norman only objects to the first comment and Esther finally laughs aloud at his aggressive but supportive commands. In the second shot, Norman is still controlling her but he's unearthed her natural beauty and "extra something" that stars have and has forced her to see her it. Maine's occassionally violent always controlling Svengali instincts are maddening but the complexity and tragedy of the marital drama in A Star is Born is that "Esther Blodgett" has always needed his heavy hand to finally realize her inner "Vicki Lester" and she may be truly lost without him. By the movie's end she's abandoned both women in favor of "Mrs. Norman Maine."

NEXT: DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944) on May 1st

Nine Stars Waiting For Their Big Break...
She Blogged By Night on Norman Maine... "like a child with a blow torch"
We Recycle Movies "How A Star is Born Changed My Life" 
Film Actually gets uncomfortably privy to Norman Maine's headspace
Cinesnatch Vicki Lester Steals a Moment
Antagony & Ecstacy on the Judy Garland Meta Narrative (and more)
Amiresque shares four vivid memories of this picture
Dancin' Dan a master class in how to shoot a musical sequence 
Alison Tooey sees a good sense of distance between the characters
The Film's The Thing looks at ALL THREE film versions. Overachiever!
...or see all the choices Sequentially 

Wednesday
Apr242013

Visual Index ~ "A Star is Born" Best Shots

For this week's Hit Me With Your Best Shot challenge I asked participants to look at A Star is Born (1954) though they could sub in the Janet Gaynor 30s version of the Barbra Streisand 70s version or the Clint Eastwood/Beyoncé ver-- oh they haven't made that one yet -- if they were itching to watch one of those instead. In the end you know we always come back to Judy G.

Here's what the Best Shot club chose in semi-linear narrative order (I cheated a bit to fill it out as there were far too few entries today). But since the movie was famously post post-production with now infamously missing sequences, who knows?! 

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mrs Norman Maine and... A Star is Born (after the jump)

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Mar062013

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: "The Wizard of Oz"

A brief preface for new readers: "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" is a series in which we invite all movie lovers to share their choice of 'best shot' from a single pre-selected film on their own web space (twitpic, blogger, tumblr, whatever) each Wednesday night. The joy of the series is seeing the same film through multiple eyes. "Best", not just Beauty, being in the eye of the beholder.

I love the sepia opening scenes more than I can say...

So, what is the takeaway image of The Wizard of Oz (1939) for you? How do you define best and does that definition change with each movie? My choice and several others are somewhere over the rainbow after the jump

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Feb202013

Jesse Unleashed. And Other Links

i09 the best critical responses to Safe Haven's batsh*t ending (spoilers, obviously)
Natasha VC the Boogie Nights premiere photos are debilitating. (amen)
Cinematic Corner expresses disatisfaction with The Master. I think the qualms expressed here are very imply put the problem a lot of people have with the second act of Paul Thomas Anderson's career. I wonder if he'll change again?
Awards Daily salutes the hard working Oscar publicists as ballots close
MNPP Judy Garland's A Star is Born even wins over JA! She's just brilliant in that film. One of the worst Oscar losses ever. 

Coming Soon on a new Bruce Lee biopic in the works. I read a few articles on this last night and not one of them mentioned that there already is a Bruce Lee biopic, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story which came out in the 90s and starred the hotness that was Jason Scott Lee (no relation)
Playbill Les Misérables will be returning to Broadway in 2014, just 11 years since the original long running show closed. Meanwhile the show has never closed in London and has now been playing for 27 years
Jesse Williams the actor (the hottie from Cabin in the Woods) doesn't pull punches detailing his issues with Django Unchained's treatment of race and slavery
Advocate Kelly McGillis will reminisce about Top Gun generically but she won't talk about Jodie Foster's coming out!
Lainey Gossip checks in with the pre-Oscar gingers Jessica Chastain & Nicole Kidman
In Contention looks at Sound Mixing which I personally think is terrifically hard to predict this year 

Finally... if you believe that math can predict the Oscars check out Ben's Oscar Forecast. He's a Harvard student who's trying to predict them with formulas. He's predicting the usual suspects that have been winning everything for acting but for best director... Ang Lee (!?!)

Monday
Oct292012

Hurricane Sandy Open Thread

To all our Eastern Seaboard US readers, stay safe! "Sandy" is raging toward us. Should I lose power there are are a few posts ready to be published. The storm begs a movie question... What movie scenes or entire movie sequences come to mind when you think about stormy weather? 

 

I mean besides Dorothy & the twister and her sudden transport to Oz... which has never and will never be bested in human movie history... especially once you include her technicolor recap of the events. Which is like the best in-movie "previously on..." moment ever.

♫  It really was no miracle.
What happened was just this. 

The wind began to switch,
the house to pitch
And suddenly the hinges started to unhitch.

Just then the Witch,
to satisfy an itch
Went flying on her broomstick,
thumbing for a hitch. ♩♪

My god, I just love that movie so much, don't you? Judy. Judy. Judy.  Any chance to think of her is welcome. Even if it means violent house threatening weather.

But oddly the first thing I thought of out in the rain today was the climax of Four Weddings and a Funeral when Andie MacDowell was all...

My brain is so weird.

Before I embarrass myself further, I'll turn it over to you. Favorite stormy movies?