Archive for September, 2008

Warm TCM Memories

September 27, 2008

When I was in seventh or eighth grade, there was a big snowstorm that happened to coincide with Paul Newman’s birthday. TCM had a tribute that, as I think about it now, must have lasted a couple days or so. Delicious January days home from school when I could spend the day cuddled up on the couch and watch movies all day. I think I probably only had a vague understanding of who Paul Newman was before the series, but in my nascent cinephilia I was eager to let TCM take me anywhere it wanted.

The film I remember that really did it (fittingly, since it was his first starring role) was Robert Wise’s Somebody Up There Likes Me. The dark-but-not-gritty shots of loud trains and dirty buildings (atmospheric bits that TCM later excerpted for their TV ratings clip that would play before each film) with this beautiful brash boy bursting within them were devastating to this preteen. Adding to the magic was radiant Pier Angeli, whom I knew immediately from my thorough research of James Dean’s life as the mythic “one true love” who killed herself fifteen years after he died. Until that point I’d seen a few pictures of her from unenlightening angles, but now suddenly I saw her alive and so inviting. I taped the film (as I did nearly everything on TCM in those days) and would rewatch it in the upcoming years before college when I wanted something warm and comforting.

Until They Sail (also by Robert Wise) was another film they played. Watching it, I was impressed by the cast (Joan Fontaine, Jean Simmons, Sandra Dee, Piper Laurie) and assumed it to be fairly well known until I investigated it afterwards and found that it was mostly forgotten. Paul Newman in uniform and all these lovesick sisters! And in the dreamy, far-off location of New Zealand. I don’t think I’d seen Sandra Dee in anything before because I was really struck by what a cute, nice-seeming girl she was, and I wished I could have such big eyes and live by the ocean in quiet grays and whites… The Young Philadelphians was another film I saw then, and this time the blacks and whites were incredibly crisp–heightened by the pairing of Paul Newman’s sharp tux with the white chiffon debutante dress worn by an achingly luminous Barbara Rush. I really don’t remember anything else about the film other than those images, and some nice hunky fist-fights.

After my new crush started I was hungry for as much information as I could get, and what was at first a girlish attraction grew into unabashed love and admiration. I learned about his storybook marriage to Joanne Woodward and watched The Long, Hot Summer, which had all the gratifying tangles and professed hatreds and eventual couldn’t-denys that made my heart soar. (I didn’t even realize until much later that that had been Orson Welles underneath all that sweaty sunburn. And I sought out Days of Wine and Roses for more Lee Remick, though I think this is still my favorite performance of hers, with the wonderful Southern name of Eula Varner.) I wanted to see all the films they did together, and went out and bought a VHS of Paris Blues (Diahann Carroll!) and tried to wade my way through the unpleasantly melodramatic From the Terrace (why would I want to watch them fight?).

Of course this was all before I came to really understand his incredible grace as an actor, but the main reason I was so sad after waking up this morning was that he had really meant something to me personally. During the formative years of my life, as I tried to make sense of the way boys and girls came together and pulled apart, I drew a lot of reassurance from Paul Newman’s proof that good looks didn’t inevitably cancel out kindness, loyalty, good-natured intelligence. And it was a comfort to know he was still around, passionately working to do some good for the world. I will miss you dearly.

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I Know You Wanna Say It

September 25, 2008

I named my blog after the Eurodance song by Corona from 1993. Like most (I suppose), I always thought it was pretty silly and indistinguishable from other songs of its kind. So indistinguishable that when I saw Le Garçu for the first time, I didn’t even remember what song it was that Géraldine Pailhas dances to with such quiet enticement. And then…Claire Denis. I’m still not sure what I think of Beau Travail as a whole, but her ending is an undeniable masterpiece. It’s so outrageously humanistic, with a beautiful mix of self-affirmation and desperation. And that’s what I feel in the song itself now, too. I don’t know if these masterful directors just thought it had a great beat or if they could detect something wrenching brewing within it, but I’m forever hooked and I think there’s something wonderfully sad and epic about it. Besides, of course, being irresistibly danceable.