June 26, 2006

Melancholy romance: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

I haven't posted anything about an older film for a bit, so I thought I'd post my take on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947). (This was written a year or two ago when the DVD came out.) ...

If you’re looking to be frightened by a ghost movie, this is not the movie for you. While to some extent it is dressed up in the look of one, it’s a romance, and a melancholy one at that.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is a beautiful example of black and white filmmaking. There are some great shots and it's interesting to see how the movie uses camera technique and other tools to create mood etc. as opposed to using special effects. (For example, Harrison as the ghost appears out of shadows rather than "materializing.")

The movie is about a recent widow (Gene Tierney) who leaves the oppressive environment of her mother-in-law and sister’s home to take her daughter and live by the sea. She rents a home on the coast, one the real estate man urges her not to take. He reluctantly confesses it is haunted and, because of this, a problem house.

But Tierney’s Lucy Muir falls in love with Gull Cottage and takes it. After a few introductory “haunting” type scenes (less scarey than moody), she meets the ghost, a sea captain played by Rex Harrison. The relationship begins, and so does the real story.

While never explicitly stated (until the end), as an audience we know a romantic relationship is developing – each is falling in love with the other. I think this is because they recognize they share the same independent, uncompromising spirit. One is more overt (the ghost) and the other more restrained (Lucy), but both are informed by individuality.

Of course, the relationship is doomed since she is a living woman and he is a ghost.

Eventually the captain leaves Mrs. Muir because of this. He wants her to live as a flesh and blood woman and to find love with a living man, though he warns, “… there may be breakers ahead.”

There are and Lucy hits them.

The movie shows us an unusually independent woman. She asserts herself again and again though always with a contradictory sense of apology.

Tierney plays Lucy in a playful way (as the DVD notes say, almost screwball). This quality she gives the character allows the film to show us the passage and transformations of time. The playfulness gives her a youthful quality in the first half of the film. As the movie progresses, and time passes, this becomes less and less, replaced by an introverted quietness. This interpretation, along with the wonderful score by Bernard Hermann, creates the melancholy feeling the movie’s opening scenes announced.

As time passes and the ghost of the sea captain is no longer in her life, Gene Tierney’s character becomes a lonely woman, almost eccentric.

The film gives us the inevitable Hollywood happy ending but it’s not enough to take away the essential sadness at the heart of the film. Tierney’s Lucy is a wonderful woman but out of step with her environment.

The only person she truly connects with, and who appreciates her independent spirit, is a ghost. The price for her independence is loneliness.

Tierney plays her part perfectly. Harrison, on the other hand, is a little over the top.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is a marvellous film. While it contains a lot of humour, it's primarily a romance, a sweetly melancholic one.

June 19, 2006

I love Gilbert Grape

I’ve only a moment but I wanted to say, for what it is worth, I love What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. I just watched it again, this time in the new DVD “Special Collector’s Edition” which includes commentary by director Lasse Hallström and writer Peter Hedges (along with some special features).

I think, for me, Hallström may be one of those “under the radar” directors. There seem to be a number of his films I love, not just Gilbert Grape; movies like An Unfinished Life and My Life as a Dog. Not being a director of blow-everything-up movies but of quieter, gentler films (for the most part), his work in the big arena seems to go unnoticed (though he has done pretty well, despite that).

Whatever … I seem to watch Lasse Hallström’s films over and over because I enjoy them so much. In the case of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape I’d also point out that there is some splendid photography thanks to cinematographer Sven Nykvist.

If you haven’t seen it, or if you have but haven’t seen it for a while, do yourself a favour and watch it.

And for those of you into the star thing: Johnny Depp! Leonardo DiCaprio! What more could you ask for?

June 16, 2006

Matrix meets Shopgirl - one loses

I tried watching The Matrix Reloaded tonight. After 30 minutes I was so bored I gave it the heave-ho. I put Shopgirl into the DVD player.

I was no longer bored. While I would call it a "flawed film," Shopgirl is pretty good as far as being what it is trying to be, and being engaging. And as opposed to the The Matrix Reloaded, there was a legitimate story and actual characters - always a plus.

I realise they are very different movies, aiming at different audiences and with different goals in mind. But one comes close to being what it aspires to be and the other ... well, it's a lot of noise, cool pictures and green tinted images.

Anyway ... that was my movie experience tonight.

(I should probably add, I've seen both films previously. I didn't care for The Matrix Reloaded the first time. That's why I tried it again. I thought I'd give it a second chance. I've seen Shopgirl previously, and only sort of liked it. I liked it more this second time - usually a sign that a film that has somthing going for it (like a modicum of substance.)

June 4, 2006

The combustible Ava Gardner

I recently finished reading Ava Gardner: ‘Love is Nothing’ by Lee Server and it’s nothing if not entertaining. Somewhere, he makes mention of her living life “like a rocket.”

It’s an apt description but I think I’d say she lived like she drove cars – fast, carefree and just a little bit out of control (and with more than a few crashes).

It really is an extraordinary life and, if the end has a bit of sadness to it, it should be seen in context. Her highs were very high and the lows – well, very low. It strikes me as a life characterized by extremes.

I found the biography very good and, as one reviewer mentioned (I can’t remember who it was), while Server details the good and the bad he does appear to have an affection for his subject. But then, really, who didn’t? One thing the biography makes fairly clear is how easily most people found Ava to like, even to love.

And yes, the book covers all the marriages and the affairs and, good grief, there were a helluva a lot of them.

As for her film work, one thing that comes across (for me, at least) is how much we missed of some fine acting – for several reasons. In part, a studio that seemed incapable or indifferent to placing her in good roles, and also Ava’s own insecurities and capriciousness. She was better than she knew, better than the studio allowed her to be and so she probably never achieved what she might have on film.

We do, however, have Ava Gardner in some gems, like The Killers and (my favourite) The Night of the Iguana. (Server often mentions the film Pandora and the Flying Dutchman and, while Gardner is quite fine in the film, as is James Mason, the movie as a movie is a bit of a turkey.)

If I have any objection to the biography I think it is that an explanation for the kind of personality Ava Gardner had may be absent, though I’m not sure anyone could actually explain what went into making Ava Gardner. This is not to say the book omits anything or is remiss in anyway. But she seems to have experienced major swings in mood (many, I would imagine, caused by alcohol – she was, I think, an alcoholic, taking it in like water). She was also plagued by insecurities.

And really, what explains that relationship with Sinatra? Alcohol and combustible personalities … It’s an explanation but I’m not sure that fully accounts for it.

Whatever the reasons, Ava Gardner’s life is utterly fascinating. And perhaps more than just the endless incidents and relationships, it may be its inexplicable quality that makes it most compelling.

Also see:
Ava Gardner, last studio-made star, subject of new biography

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