On 'Mommie Dearest': Once More With Wire Hangers

@bluebears I think the "midnight gardening" consisted of Crawford being drunk and angry in the middle o of the night and then grabbing whatever she found in the tool shed to whack at the trees. She'd be yelling and cursing during all this, which would wake up everyone in the house, and the idea was, "now that you're up, help me clear some of these goddamn branches."

The slightly disingenuous part in Christina's writing is that she doesn't distinguish clearly between stuff than happened once and stuff that happened habitually. Anyone who had a parent who drank to excess has at least a handful of wild stories about strange shit that happened that one time. CC's book, and to a greater extent the movie, makes it seem like Joan was chopping down trees a couple times a week for most of the 1940s, which really wasn't true.

The book (and, again, even more the movie) really skates over Joan's extremely busy professional life up to the early 1950s, when she was making two or three pictures a year, plus doing lots of professional appearances in support of these projects, plus lots of industry entertaining, 200 people over for dinner and dancing, that kind of thing. Little of that is indicated in the book and almost nothing of it in the movie (a restaurant date where Joan has to join Louis B. Mayer at his table), and so the picture is very distorted. All we see is Crawford putting on her stockings and yelling at the maid, like she has nothing else to do with her time.

What Dunaway has on her face is not cold cream but vanishing cream, which is an oily moisturizer you'd slather on and it would sit there looking greasy for a while and then would after a while absorb into the skin. (Cold cream doesn't really absorb that way, so you either had to sit around for a while with the stuff on your face and then wipe it off, or else go to bed and get the goo smeared all over the pillow cases. Going to bed with cold cream was considered a comic thing that vain middle-aged women did, along with the curlers in the hair, and the husband would be like, there's a monster in my bed and all that hilarity.)

Posted on March 6, 2013 at 9:34 pm 1

On The One Edit That Would Make 'North By Northwest' Perfect

Stipulating that the "sitting round the FBI table" scene is extremely static and talky and therefore something of a blot in an otherwise sleek film, I do think you have to give Hitchcock credit for making the movie he intended to make instead of attempting and failing to make the movie you would prefer to see.

It's clear that the director wanted the audience to be in the position of having more information than than the protagonist for the middle section of the film, just as he decided to leave in the scene of Judy's letter in Vertigo that clarifies the scheme she's involved in. (I will admit that Judy's letter is somewhat more elegant a solution than the meeting of the Friends of Leo G. Carroll.)

What Hitchcock is attempting here is a sort of reverse mystery, and the entertainment is achieved in a somewhat more sophisticated way than in the usual thriller: not so much raw surprises, but a series of double-takes: first the surprise, then the quick second jolt when we realize what the surprise means in the context of our privileged knowledge. There's also a pleasurable kind of tension derived from the impossible desire to warn Thornhill, to give him that one piece of information that will make his quest if not easier at least more linear.

Personally, I think the "spoiler" is not only an interesting formal device but essential to keeping up the interest in what is otherwise a fairly straightforward thriller. I also think that the final reveal of Eve's character comes as a much bigger surprise because the airport "bringing Thornhill up to speed" scene implies that all the secrets are now out in the open. We let down our guard after that, so the more straightforward melodrama in the last half hour or so (the rescue of Eve from the mountain house) feels unexpected.

The real complaint here is that the exposition scene is so stagy and clumsy, involving as it does a whole roomful of people we have never seen before and (with the one exception) never see again. But it seems that Hitchcock was only interested in a data dump here.

Posted on February 18, 2013 at 4:04 pm 0

On God (Or Maybe "Utilities") Hates Gawker

John Cook.

Posted on February 4, 2013 at 11:30 am 0

On Our Best to Time Inc. Staffers

@camelface Don't forget the alternate sponsor, the conventional wisdom that this whole internet fad would be over by next month at the latest, so we don't really see any point in asking more than a couple of thousand-word essays a month from that guy in the corner office with the $200K annual salary and expense account. I mean, it's not like the world has changed in any significant way since 1978, so who are we do go rocking the boat?

Posted on January 31, 2013 at 11:59 am 0

On No Point In Having Sex

These numbers are misleading, since the average man watches TV while having sex.

Posted on January 31, 2013 at 11:52 am 1

On Here Comes The Race Of One-Breasted German Superwarriors

I always wondered about that marching song that went

Wir müssen,
Wir müssen,
Wir müssen unsere Brüste wachsen.

Posted on January 25, 2013 at 12:11 pm 0

On The Theatrical Torsos Of Yesteryear

Was there even one play written in the 1950s that was not a coded text about being a closeted gay in a small town?

Posted on January 15, 2013 at 3:33 pm 0

On The Mystery Of The 1969 Naked Esquire Photo Shoot

I'm trying to figure out what a socialite like Lee Radziwill was doing in that list of creatives and thinkers, other than that she was probably tasked with getting her buddy Capote to crawl out of the J&B bottle in time for the shoot.

This sounds like a pitch that didn't go much of anywhere: publicists were contacted and everyone of any possible interest answered "no." Rorem commented, I assume, because he had to write something in his diary every day and he didn't have any recent blowjobs to talk about.

Posted on January 11, 2013 at 1:15 pm 1

On How "Baby It's Cold Outside" Became America's Secular Christmas Anthem, Despite People Claiming It's About Date Rape

Without Mae West and Rock Hudson, this essay is meaningless.


Posted on December 21, 2012 at 3:14 pm 0

On Because Monophthongs

@hershmire Oh, I remember the Scooby-Doo episode that ended with that line: "The Legend of the Lost Lexicographer."

Posted on December 19, 2012 at 6:39 pm 0