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Julianne Moore: Lady in Red

27 Aug

Redheads share a special place in my heart as well as the movies. They’re rare beauties who photograph well and burn hot in either color or black & white. Fiery is a word that comes to mind. Passionate and brilliant are a few others. And as much of an anglophile, I never understood the British attitude toward gingers. As a certified cinemaniac – I can say without a doubt that the world would not nearly be the beautiful place it is without the beautiful actress known as Julianne Moore.

Red, Blonde, Brown or Raven-haired, Julianne is one of the most beautiful women to ever grace the silver screen. She is sexy, smart and magnetic. Her reputation is secure as one of the most amazing actors working in the medium today and her confident, self-assured nature has brought this beauty to prominence in a fashion few others can touch. Julianne is gutsy and belies her easy-going nature, emblematic of many of her more famous roles. She can play comedy, drama, surrealism and horror with aplomb.

I wasn’t always such a big fan. I didn’t know the talented-actress had such chops when she won the role of Clarice Starling (so massively personified by Oscar-winning actress Jodie Foster) in Hannibal, the sequel to the astonishingly-successful Silence of the Lambs. And while that movie as a whole was a hot, gut-wrenching celluloid mess, Julianne was pure-perfection. She equitted herself so well that I became a life long fan of her extremely sexy-brainy Clarice holding her own against the scenery-eating and somewhat tongue-in-cheek mugging of Sir Anthony Hopkins’s Dr. Lecter. She had taken a potentially career-suicide of a role and turned it to her star-turning advantage. That not only takes guts and talent, it takes a belief in yourself that you can bring something to any role and make it credible. And she did.

But let’s be honest. I fell in love with Julianne in The Big Lebowski. Her role in this seminal Coen Brother’s masterpiece is something to marvel at. Again, she holds her own against the insanely-perfect Jeff Bridges’s The Dude – and she abides right along with him. In a pitch-perfect role, Julianne plays an eccentric artist with a sexual twist to the hilt and the dream sequence with her dressed as a Norse Goddess complete with horn helmet and bowling-ball motif bra is the stuff comedic dreams are really made of. It doesn’t get any better than this – especially Julianne naked in a harness flying through the air painting a la Jackson Pollack. If you haven’t seen this movie, I’d stop reading this stupid blog and Netflix it immediately!

Julianne’s body of work is much broader and much more influential than the two films I’ve mentioned above. From Roger Altman’s Short Cuts to last year’s The Kids Are Alright (not to mention Crazy, Stupid, Love) Julianne delivers no matter what the subject matter or Hollywood budget. This screen-goddess is sexy as all get out and funny to boot. And for that, Ms. Moore gets my vote as one of the greatest Leading Ladies of all time – in black, white or red.

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Grace Kelly: Grace in 3 Dimensions

29 Jul

Beautiful. Graceful. Classy. Elegant. Brilliant. Grace was a glamour girl of the highest order. Her style was evergreen, never fading into trends of the past but excelling into tomorrow’s classic looks. She was a dream come true for haute couture and Hollywood. Leading men swooned when they first met her. Director fell in love. Even good old Alfred Hitchcock who couldn’t get enough of watching the star on the set of Rear Window, a movie about voyeurism.

Grace’s timing was impeccable. She came onto the silver screen scene when there was a changing of the guard. When cinematic lions such as Gary Cooper and Clark Gable were in the twilight of their careers. Both easily twice Grace’s age, they nevertheless rallied for her affections both on-screen and off. Cooper was the sheriff in High Noon who young wife (Grace) doesn’t want to see him die. Clark Gable, however, was Grace’s true-life crush on the set of Mogambo set in the jungle. Gable was a gentleman, however, and let the rising star down as easy as he could. Grace would have to console herself with future leading men – such as Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window and Cary Grant in How to Catch a Thief.

On screen, my favorite pairing was Grant and Grace. They were magical to watch, both gorgeous and on top of their game. The rapport between these two goddess made you feel like you were a voyeur. The two of them together were so much chemistry-fueled lust created when two massive stars collide. I still get shivers when I watch Grace on film. She is as glamorous in color that most stars were in black & white. I can’t imagine what she must have been like to meet in person. Maybe that’s what Hitchcock was thinking when he released Dial M for Murder in 3D when it was first released. The prospect of seeing Grace in 3 Dimensions must have driven every man, woman and child to the theaters. Hitchcock always knew how to market a movie and with Grace as his star – his job got exponentially easier.

When Grace exited the silver screen to become a true life princess, many were devastated. The world lost her to Monaco and the feeling was that Grace left in her prime. I always wonder about the movies she would have made if she’d stayed. So many more chances to bask in the glow of the most beautiful blonde the silver screen had ever seen in color. Grace was an amazing actress, even more than a fashion icon. She straddled both worlds so well and would utilize both her talents when transitioning to the private, luxurious world of royalty. But I fear she did it too soon. Realizing too late there was more that she could have accomplished had she not stepped into a guilded cage.  At least that’s my take on her, especially in light of her later years and the horrible car crash that would take her life.

But that’s much too much reality for this blog. Here I like to dream and remember my leading ladies as I first found them. The goddesses of light that illuminated my early life and defined for me what beauty, intelligence and passion all wrapped up in the visage of a gorgeous woman could do to a mortal man. Especially upon repeat viewings. And for me, Grace was the accessible goddess – the one who would listen to you, make you smile and laugh – and if you were very, very lucky give you a memory that would last you forever. In 3D!

CINEMUSES: Kim Novak is One Pissed-Off Goddess!

10 Jan

I love Kim Novak. She is one of the most talented and beautiful of Hollywood’s Leading Ladies, not to mention Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock’s VERTIGO is a masterpiece, but would not nearly be the classic so worthy of multiple viewings if it were not for Kim. Who isn’t able to put themselves in Jimmy Stewart’s obsessive shoes watching Kim strut her stuff as Marilyn. OMG! The blonde in the grey suit is one of the most amazing femme fatales ever! And she’s not even trying to kill Jimmy, just mess with his head so much that he has to be put in an asylum! Now that’s a girl after my own heart.

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Kim came out of hiding lately long enough to rip the Director of THE ARTIST a new one for invoking music from VERTIGO to give his own film a little extra uumph at the end. Lovely Kim said it was tantamount to “rape” and her lambast was all the more thunderous because she is a living Hollywood legend who knows how to hold her tongue. She hasn’t even written her memoirs, though she tried (they were lost in a house-fire). Kim gets the GARBO award for letting everyone remember the way she was. Except for one offending French Director whose black & white love letter to silent movies incurred the wrath of a sex goddess. If that doesn’t spell OSCAR, I don’t know what does.

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To recap: What do you do when you’re a director whose film is fated to be in the running for an Oscar – big dream come true – that draws the ire and disdain of a silver screen siren = cinephile’s worst nightmare! While I can only wish to be in said Director’s shoes, I would never want to do it at the expense of one of my favorite CINEMUSES. I’d rather just continue toiling away in obscurity than succeed at the risk of offending a Goddess. After all, this life is but the prologue to another – and when I’m at the pearly gates, I only want my beautiful Leading Ladies who’ve passed before me to whisper nice things into St. Peter’s ear.

CINEMUSES: Mary Astor, The Ultimate Femme Fatale

9 Jan

There is something so deliciously bad-ass about Mary Astor. She was the ultimate femme fatale, Brigette O’Shaunessy, from The Maltese Falcon starring Humphrey Bogart and directed by John Huston. The first and arguably best Film Noir, Falcon is as perfect in its structure and form as Casablanca. And as perfectly beautiful and virtuous as Ingrid Bergman was as Ilsa, Mary Astor is as the beautiful, deadly and duplicitous Brigette.
Now, the very definition of a femme fatale is a woman so beautiful and beguiling that a man would willing walk into his own open grave to please her. She must be so intoxicating that a man would off-himself if only to have her one-time. Mary Astor was smoking-hot in Falcon, but she was also smart, brassy, quick-talking and utterly shameless in manipulating men. Sparks flew between her and Sam Spade. They only grew more intense when she killed his partner, Archer. And by the end, she’s so messed up Bogart’s insides that he almost considers doing time for her. Almost.

To be honest, I haven’t seen many Astor movies. They’re hard to find and many of them were lackluster, never talking full advantage of Astor’s formidable talents. She was a force to be reckoned with, on and off the screen. One of her earliest appearances was opposite Clark Gable in Red Dust, with Jean Harlow. I’ve got to tell you that Jean, though I love her, couldn’t hold a candle to Astor’s sexual attraction with hair slicked back and an animal stare than threatened to vanquish everyone in her sights.

Off-screen, Astor was a free-spirit and got into trouble with the powers that be and press for her sexual escapades. She wrote a sordid autobiography and was open about her sex life when such things were considered tawdry and unbecoming a lady. Mary was quick to call bullshit when she saw it and stood her ground. She had to. She made several movies opposite Bogart, Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre – a tough crowd by any measure. But that’s what I love about Mary – she gave as good as she got.

Mary Astor should have been a much bigger star in my estimation. She had the beauty, brains and balls to take on any comers, and I only wish that I had met her – only to be vanquished immediately. of course!

CINEMUSES – Lovely Rita Hayworth

8 Jan

Rita Hayworth was unquestionably one of the most beautiful and glamorous movie stars to ever grace the silver screen. She was also very traumatized throughout her career and died a tragic death. The still above is from the famous “The Lady From Shanghai,” co-starring and directed by Orson Welles, Rita’s husband at the time. The story goes that Welles owed the studio a film and manufactured a cockamamie storyline in so many days before filming began. I don’t particularly care whether this is true or not, because Rita Hayworth was at her most luminous in the film. It also has one of the most ingenious and sinister visual sequences captured on film – the “hall of mirrors” scene above. Rita wasn’t known then or since as being a particularly talented actress – but I think she’s amazing in this movie as well as “Gilda.”

Rita Hayworth was an absolute knockout and appeared lit from within on screen. Her trials and tribulations in real life are mercifully over and largely forgotten. What remains is the essence of the woman in her physical and intellectual prime. Her movies are worth watching because she appeals to contemporary audiences as much as she did back in the 40′s and 50′s. And she makes an amazing ‘cameo’ appearance in one of my favorite movies ever – “The Shawshank Redemption.” There’s not many actresses today whose legend will surpass their lifetime like lovely Rita…Rita Hayworth.

CINEMUSES: INGRID BERGMAN – PARADISE IN PARIS

7 Jan

I’m a student of film and grew up loving the stars of Pre-Code, through to the 40’s and 50’s. Especially the leading ladies. And no other leading lady captured my young imagination and set my adolescent heart afire more than Ingrid Bergman.

I first met Ingrid, the beautiful Swede, as many did in Casablanca. It’s hard to argue Casablanca isn’t the finest American film ever made, largely because of the performances by Bergman and her leading man, Humphrey Bogart. Bergman embodied the role of Ilsa, a young woman with a secret who falls head over heels in love with Rick when they meet in Paris right before the German occupation of the City of Lights during World War II. This we find out in flashbacks, framed in the knowledge that Ilsa betrayed Rick and ever since has been the disillusioned, bitter owner of the most popular watering hole in the desert location on the North African continent.

Any film lover will tell you that Casablanca is meticulously constructed. Film students like me pour over every frame of film, literally, in books such as (Warning: Film Geek!) “Casablanca:The Film Classics Library.” But what I only realized just recently, after having watched the movie repeatedly for over twenty years, is the theme of closure. Never having gotten over losing Ilsa, Bogart’s Rick walks around like an open wound, the not-knowing what happened to his lost love gnawing at his guts all these years later. This betrayal is central to the narrative and everything hinges upon what Rick will do once he finds out why Ilsa betrayed him. And maybe even more to the point – whether she ever really loved him in the first place.

My favorite scene when I was a kid, was the moment at the airport near the end when Rick lets Ilsa go. But after having loved and lost myself, my new favorite is when Ilsa comes to Rick’s the night before and ends up pointing a gun at his heart to try and get the letters of transit. Rick tells her to shoot – she’d be doing him a favor by putting him out of his misery. At this very moment, Ilsa’s resolve melts and she falls into her true love’s arms. At that moment Rick’s faith in love and humanity is restored by the only person on earth with the power to do so – Ingrid Bergman.

Bergman is at her most beautiful in Casablanca. Her face radiates youth and beauty. She exudes a wholesome sensuality that makes everyone in the film fall immediately in love with her and want to help her. We can all relate to Rick, having once been so lucky to have been loved by such a woman, then left standing in the rain at a train station with a cryptic dear john letter melting in his hand, his heart broken in a million pieces. Only an insanely beautiful woman could do so much carnage, made all the worse by depriving her loved one with the reason why; with closure. It doesn’t really matter what the reason is, just the not knowing. That’s when the mind will turn on itself. Fueled by liquor, cigarettes and rage, Rick represents everyone who’s ever had their “guts kicked out” by a beautiful woman. And Ilsa is the only one who can put us out of our misery.

I have a feeling that Casablanca will continue to fascinate me for decades to come. No doubt, there are more surprises to come as I live and dare to love again. And having been deprived closure by a lover like Rick, I still would love to know why I had my guts kicked out. But I also know I’ll never get Paris back, because that only happens in the movies. That’s why I’ll never stop being fascinated by Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca. Because she taught me that even though someone says they don’t love you anymore, a part of them always will. The part worth remembering. Paris.