Daily Archives: August 8, 2009

Your Official Pre-War Actress of the Day is…

So I’ve decided to adapt my wonderfully popular Pre-War Actress Power Rankings from my Facebook page to my blog, for all the world to enjoy.

The deal is simple, the “Official Pre-War Actress of the Day” will be rated upon the following qualities:

1. Quality – as in strength of films and performance

2. Versatilty – can she sing, dance, act, do comedy etc.

3. Ballingness – is she hot? is she sexy? is she merely cute? Ballingness=Hotness.

4. Personal Life – as I talked about at length here, I am immensely fascinated by dirt, by death, and the macabre. Points are awarded for scandal, adventure, mysteriousness, activism, and other noteworthy aspects of life. Personality counts too.

So without further ado…Your Official Pre-War Actress of the Day is…

Marion Davies

Quality – 8/10                                                                                                                                                                                                                   I’ve seen her now in 7 films I think, with almost everything being good. Her two silents with King Vidor, Show People and The Patsy are marvellous, and demonstrating Marion at her self-effacing, engaging, comedic best. Not So Dumb, her talkie with Vidor is abysmal, and the other talkies I’ve seen her in are solid, but not remarkable. It would seem her silent work is where its at.

Versatility – 7/10                                                                                                                                                                                                                 She’s a brilliant silent comedienne, probably my favorite, and she made the adaptation to talkies quite well, as she was still regularly starring in films until she retired in 1937. She could sing and dance a little too. But I’ve yet to see her do straight drama.

Ballingness – 9/10                                                                                                                                                                                                      She’s quite attractive, and she has a cuteness when she does comedy. A very expressive face, which is always cool with me.

Personal Life – 10/10                                                                                                                                                                                                   Most famous as the longtime mistress of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. He basically made her a star, and tried to establish her as serious actress. She’s the basis for the Susan Alexander character in Citizen Kane. She’s gotten a bad rap as being a talentless trophy wife, but she was actually very good at comedy, and deserves a much better legacy. Either way she was very close to a very influential man in American history. She was also a noted humanitarian, and famously gave Hearst over $1 Million dollars when he was facing bankruptcy.

Favorite Role – Peggy Pepper in Show People (1928). Marion as an aspiring actress who gets her break in comedy, but decides she wants to be a serious actress. Her mimicking of Gloria Swanson is completely inspired.

Greatest Moment –

Her Lillian Gish is astonishing.

Professional Sports Equivalent – David Beckham (overshadowed by famous partner, and both unfairly criticized for it)

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On WWII Documentaries & Riley Rossmo

During WWII, a ton of major Hollywood directors were called into service in order to create films documenting the war effort. If you check out the filmographies of the major directors of the era you’ll see titles jump out like George Cukor‘s Resistance and Ohm’s Law (za?), Josef von Sternberg‘s The Town (nothing says Americana like von Sternberg), and famously John Ford‘s Sex Hygiene (an engrossing…and graphic educational film about the horrors of STDs).

My personal fave (although no director is credited) is The House I Live In, starring Frank Sinatra:

Frank Sinatra talking about “Nazi werewolves” is a recipe for success.

As you can see, the tone of these films is all over the place, some are instructional, some entertaining, some documentative, and some overtly propagandistic.

Anyway I’ve checked out 2 in the past couple days (well 3 including the first 2 episodes of Frank Capra‘s Why We Fight, but I wanna write about that one when I’ve seen it all):

The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress (William Wyler, 1944)

This documentary is one of the more highly regarded WWII documentaries produced, helped in large part by the fact that Wyler himself was flying the missions documented in the film. One gets a sense of the palpable danger Wyler and the men he’s documenting faced. We see the Memphis Belle fly on bombing missions of the German countryside and engage in dogfights with German planes. We see men injured and we see the damage done. The film closes with sobering and haunting narration thanking these men for the destruction they are unleashing upon Germany, destruction like this:

There’s something about association of destruction and heroism that I find troubling. I realize that essentially war lauds those who kill the most men, but usually that aspect is downplayed or ignored in favor of some aspect of bravery, courage, or selflessness. So the film closing with a note of gratitude regarding the astonishing destruction being inflicted upon Germany, stands out as a hell of a jolt.

Nazi Concentration Camps (George Stevens, 1945)

Much different in tone from Memphis Belle, this film is documentary footage of the concentration camps, filmed after the defeat of Germany. The intent of the film rather than to serve as propaganda, was to document as accurately as possible the atrocities of the camps, and in fact the film was shown at the Nuremberg Trials, offering damning evidence of Nazi war crimes.

As such the film isn’t constructed with any concern for cinematic or entertainment value (not that holocaust footage should be entertaining, but something like Alain ResnaisNight and Fog is obviously structured to enhance the audience experience and is replete with cinematic technique). It makes for an interesting film, though pretty boring…it sounds ghastly to say such a thing, but the footage simply exists as footage. It’s purpose is to serve as evidence and nothing more.

There’s a couple of interesting things I did notice though. The first few minutes of the film are spent reading the affidavits of several witnesses, including George Stevens and John Ford, who swear that the footage is authentic and has not been altered in anyway other than the editing of 80,000 feet of film into about 6,000. Now I’m not sure if this was a standard legal practice, or if it was done to reinforce to any doubters that yes, this did actually happen.

Secondly there are multiple instances in the footage, of German officers, soldiers, and civilians being forced to view the piles of dead bodies and the charred remains of those long since disposed of.

A good friend of mine, the wonderfully talented comic book artist, Riley Rossmo, author of everyone’s favorite Sasquatch detective comic, Proof, and Seven Sons, a marvelous adaptation of the famed Chinese folktale of 7 Chinese Brothers, espouses a belief in what he calls “the power of shame”. It’s a doctrine that dictates that sometimes the best form of instruction and correction is to shame people by showing them how there actions are affecting others. Essentially make the person feel so bad that they won’t do it again. This can be as simple as bending over really slowly and with great difficulty to pick up someone else’s garbage, essentially forcing the litterbug to confront the error of their ways.

I realize that “the power of shame” in the context of the holocaust is perhaps a little trivial, but essentially I believe that’s what is going on in this documentary. Forcing to people to face the results of their actions is the best way to ensure contrition, awareness, understanding, and remorse. To ignore or gloss over the truth, only breeds misinformation and lies, while ensuring that justice cannot be served.