4 BEFORE: CRIMSON PEAK

I feel like I may have reached a point that every new blogger dreads. I’m calling it The New Blogger Slump and it is the make or break period that every blog that came before has had to go through. As you can see, it has been a while since my last post; September was good, but October has proven to be even better. I am very happy to return to my online space and am eager to share all I have experienced and learned in that time.

This House is haunted…

One of the more amazing things I was able to do earlier this month was attend an advance screening for my most anticipated film this year: Guillermo del Toro’s gothic masterworkCrimson Peak. While I personally am not in the business of writing reviews, I suggest this one written by Dalin Rowell at The Daily Geekette if you are looking for some more insight into the film. Now that Crimson Peak has opened in wide release there are many articles and interviews out citing del Toro’s cinematic inspiration and singing his well deserved praises. I thought I’d throw my hat into the ring and take this time to explore a few films that have haunted screens before Crimson Peak.

4 before Crimson Peak

4 before Crimson Peak

4 Before Crimson Peak

4 Before Crimson Peak

4. El espinazo del diablo 

To describe it as haunting does not begin to cover the beauty of El espinazo del diablo (The Devil’s Backbone). This heartbreaking story is one of del Toro’s most personal films and it features one of cinema’s most memorable ghosts. “¿Qué es un fantasma?” is the question The Devil’s Backbone explores and the answer is bound in tragedy. Set during the end of the Spanish Civil war, the film follows Carlos (Fernando Tielve), a young boy who is abandoned at a rural orphanage after his father is killed. It is here that he learns of another young boy named Santi. A name spoken of only in whispers and the subject of speculation among the children of the orphanage. Young Carlos must not only try to fit into his new surroundings, but uncover their deepening mystery, as we all do.

The Devil’s Backbone is a prime example of del Toro’s style, subject matter and cinematic intentions. The atmosphere in the film is incredibly complementary to the story as a whole and the mise-en-scène perfectly reflects it. Although it is a tale that includes the presence of an apparition, the film does not aim to terrify audiences in a traditional sense. The scares are different, subtle even. Del toro’s vision(s) aims to reveal that the real monsters do not live under our beds, hide out in our closets or float through our walls. Real evil is personified; it is flesh and bone and it walks among us. Del Toro’s resounding impact is seen most clearly when he uses elements of gothic horror and magical realism to expose his audiences to these realities.

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3. The Uninvited (1944)

Long before the ghosts of The Devil’s Backbone, and Crimson Peak, there were those in The Uninvited. A spectacular tale directed by Lewis Allen, The Uninvited is set in Winward house, a mansion resting atop a cliff on the haunted shores of Cornwall England whose beauty is in spite of its emptiness. When London siblings Roderick (Ray Milland) and Pamela (Ruth Hussey) Fitzgerald stumble in while on vacation they both fall head over heels with the place and decide to buy it. “It’s wonderfully simple to buy a house…” Roderick exclaims after the deal is made. However, the history of Winward and the events to come are anything but simple.

We discover Winward house is possibly haunted very early in the film; upon hearing the rumors, Roderick and Pamela begin to wonder if their impulse buy was a mistake, keeping their uneasy feelings at bay by cracking jokes about the unsettling energy that permeates certain rooms. The house also has ties to a young woman named Stella who refuses to let it go and, like the character of Edith in Crimson Peak, has to fight against falling under its spell. In films like these, old houses become the perfect scapegoat for any unnatural sound.  An odd creak or squeak can be easily blamed away on a loose floorboard or old staircase but we know the truth.

2. Rebecca

Last night, I dreamt I went to Allerdale…I mean Manderley again.

“Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” Those are the first lines spoken as Hitchcock’s Rebecca begins. The camera glides across the grounds of the illusive mansion, allowing viewers to float and dream with the narrator. Gothic, romantic and filled with suspense, Rebecca is a gorgeous adaptation of  Daphne du Maurier’s popular novel of the same name.  In keeping with the traditional tropes of Gothic Romance, this film follows a young woman (played by Joan Fontaine) who is working in Monte Carlo as a paid companion to an aristocrat. Here she meets Maximilian “Maxim” de Winter, the handsome but brooding stranger who steals her heart.

No longer a paid companion, the young woman takes on a new title: Mrs. de Winter. There are myriad comparisons I can make to Crimson Peak at this point, but I wouldn’t want to spoil anything about either film. Nervous, naïve and desperate to make a good impression, the new Mrs. de Winter finds herself in a most precarious situation. The genius of Rebecca is that it functions as a ghost story sans ghost. Our heroine (and the rest of the mansion for that matter) is haunted by a memory, the previous Mrs. de Winter is everywhere and nowhere, existing in both empty and occupied spaces. She stirs up the past from beyond the grave.

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The Innocents

The Innocents

The Innocents

1. The Innocents 

Based on Henry James’s classic novel The Turn of the Screw and masterfully directed by Jack Clayton (The Great Gatsby, Something Wicked This Way Comes), The Innocents is arguably the mother of all gothic horror films. Rich in atmosphere and tension (both sexual and supernatural), Clayton and his crew spin an eerie web that is so thick it leaves the viewer trapped from the beginning. The film follows Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) a young and inexperienced, but fiercely passionate, woman who takes a job as governess to two children who prove to be anything but innocent.

Although a similar set up can be found in other films, there is something about The Innocents that seems to subvert the genre.  A child’s voice softy crooning over black before the film begins sets up an opening sequence in which Miss Giddens is in the final throes of frantic prayer as the names of the cast and crew are introduced. The filmmakers take expert care in keeping us in the dark and when a light is shown it is not the beacon we had hoped for. Rather, it is the tiny flicker of a desperate flame. A candle perched neatly in a large candelabra lights our heroine’s way, interrupting the shadows not only onscreen (beautifully photographed by the great Freddie Francis) but in her mind as well. These images and more make Clayton’s The Innocents not only a prime source of inspiration for del Toro’s latest feature, but one of my favorite films as well.

Honorable Mentions:
 Kill Baby Kill (anything Mario Bava), The Changeling (1980)The Haunting (1963), The Haunting of Julia, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Others, Jane Eyre (any version but I adore the 2011 release) and The Orphanage.


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Photography by:  Jackson Notier

I hope this post introduced you to something new or rekindled some old loves! Season of the witch is upon us and each film is perfect for a fall night in. When you do venture out be sure to see Crimson Peak, now playing!

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TEENS ON SCREEN

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Hello Cinema guys and dolls! You may have noticed a new category today: essays! Part of the reason I started this blog was to have a proper place for the cinema studies essays I wrote in college. I plan on posting an essay a month and each one will be themed. Since september usually marks the time when everyone heads back to school I thought Teens On Screen, a paper covering “youth films” specifically the works of John Hughes would be perfect. Enjoy!

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The fascination with teenage misfits, rebels and outcasts is one that is familiar to cinema. Often portrayed as Caucasian middle class youth residing in the suburbs, Hollywood has subjected audiences to the plight of the American teenager for several years now. With films like Mean Girls, Heathers, and Clueless to television shows such as Glee, and Skins (UK) teenage angst is here to stay. Dennis Lim’s New York Times article entitled “Creating an Adolescence for the Ages” states “The teenage misfit has been a central figure in youth movies since James Dean, who sparked an outbreak of juvenile delinquency amid a wave of films that regarded teenagers mainly as a minority group or a social problem.” Teenagers are more often than not criticized for everything they already are: Immature, inexperienced and hormonal. Yet these qualities are essential for the growing pains that permeate throughout the ever-popular coming of age genre and are what make teenagers in both youth films and reality so unique.

One director who has embraced the issues associated with adolescence perhaps more than any other and continues to influence the genre today is the late John Hughes. With classic films such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, one can argue that Hughes himself started the genre of the Teen Film, or at least perfected it. The films of John Hughes would set the standard for many “youth films” of today. The dialogue is witty and memorable, begging to be quoted for years to come and the film itself is often the first time a new star or Hollywood darling appears on screen. “John Hughes’s underdog fables, among them the ’80s classics ”The Breakfast Club” and ”Pretty in Pink,” marked a turning point by exploring the inner lives of teenagers, emphasizing class and social hierarchies and promoting a buoyant everyone’s-an-outsider ethos…”(Lim). This ethos is still apparent in the youth films of today as well as those that appeared after early Hughes films. One such film set the set the stage for teen angst in the eighties was Sixteen Candles.

Marking John Hughes directorial debut and starring Molly Ringwald (who would become a Hughes favorite) Sixteen Candles is the story of Samantha “Sam” Baker who has just turned sixteen years of age. Her “sweet sixteenth” is anything but as she struggles to survive the challenging and ultimately embarrassing day. The beauty of Sixteen Candles and films that would later star a group of young actors commonly known as the “Brat Pack” is the reliability. As states in the book “You Couldn’t Ignore Me If You Tried: The Brat Pack, John Hughes, and Their Impact on a Generation” by Susannah Gora, Sixteen Candles “would set Hughes apart, in an age when other filmmakers were quick to portray teens as vapid, horny, pimpled caricatures…(10).” Unlike the slasher films of the eighties that did just that, Hughes would present the adolescent experience as a three-dimensional one and not overlook the pain, embarrassment, and melodrama that follows. “To a large degree screen teenagers have always embodied the romance of the outsider” (Lim 7) and Hughes would soon became the voice of a generation who desperately needed one, most certainly one as loud and prominent as Hughes would become. Famed film critic Roger Ebert would later describe the director as “the philosopher of adolescence” (Gora 10).

Perhaps this is because Hughes himself was a bit of an outcast during his high school years as Gora points out, “Hughes is often portrayed as having been an outsider in high school. There’s some truth to that-he certainly was different from anyone else in his school, and he wasn’t part of the truly popular crowd- (13).” Surviving high school and being apart of or wanting a way into the “in crowd” has become an essential genre convention for youth films. In the two thousand and four film Mean Girls one of the characters draws a diagram for the main character Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) who is new to the high school. The drawing explains where everyone sits in the cafeteria, but what it really does is show the new girl the social hierarchy established by her peers. The popular girls, jocks, geeks and weirdos are all social groups existing within a larger one inharmoniously. Through separation and labels Cady and other teens in films with similar scenes are able to make a crucial choice… beat them or join in.

Changing oneself to fit into a group is another teen film trope that is apparent in many movies. A perfect example of a youth film that breaks the invisible walls of high school social groups is the nineteen eighty-five John Hughes film entitled The Breakfast Club. Once again featuring Molly Ringwald and the “Brat Pack” The breakfast club is a coming of age tale about five teenagers all representing different stereotypes, are forced to spend a morning together in detention. It is there that the “jock”, the “nerd”, the “basket case”, the “popular girl” and the “rebel” interact for the first and perhaps the last time. In a good teen film the characters, setting and dialogue should reflect the settings, personalities and vernacular of the youth during that time but it should also display the issues. Ned Tanen comments on the film by stating “When those kids are being dropped off that day at detention in The Breakfast Club, you get right to what this movie was about, and what this generation was about: middle-class suburban kids trying to keep it together” (Gora 67).

Hughes acknowledged the problems that teenagers faced on a daily basis and showed that even though many did not come from a place of poverty their lives were not perfect. As the film progresses the group moves upstairs and out of boredom begin to reveal their secrets to one another. In one memorable scene Claire, the popular girl, displays her special talent to the others, which consists of being able to apply lipstick without her hands. Everyone delights in her skill except Bender, representing the rebel. He mocks her in his monologue stating, “My image of you is totally blown.” before divulging his turbulent home life. As tensions continue to rise the jock asks in dismay if they are doomed to become like their parents to which the “basket case” says its inevitable.

Gora points out in her book that teens of the eighties were in essence a generation struggling with identity and belonging. “The 1960s and ‘70s teenagers changed the world-and all the 1980s teens had to do was live in it” (66). This struggle for identity and need for acceptance may explain why fitting in is still such a huge part of the teenage experience. As stated before separation and labels grouped teens together and kept the social hierarchy of high school society in tact. Roz Kaveney, author of Teen Dreams: Reading Teen Film from Heathers to Veronica Mars claims “Hughes placed class firmly if crudely on the agenda in all of these films…”(29). Near the end of the breakfast club the “popular girl” gives the “basket case” a make over, an “entirely superficial and entirely reductive” act according to Kaveney (22). In the teen scene looking better often times equals social acceptance.

Character after character the audience learns that a pretty face masks an ugly heart and that heart often rests within the popular girl. She seems to have everything; the perfect car, skin and hair, boyfriend and friends who will answer to every call and supply every need. If you defy her she will make your life a living hell, if you befriend her watch your back. There are countless youth films that feature the pretty yet manipulative leader of the pack who every girl wanted to be. In many films the unpopular girl idolizes the popular one and dreams of having the seemingly perfect life she does. It is then that the otherwise invisible girl realizes that she must not try to beat them, but join them. It is here the full transformation makeover is cued. The “makeover” has become so much of a staple in these films that they are almost expected. The superficial act of “making over” the pretty but plain girl becomes a visual crossing over for the protagonist representing her change and assimilation. If teenagers during this time and arguably today struggle so much with identity, why not assume the identity of someone else? We have seen in short stories and other works mainly in the science fiction genre, what happens when individuality is lost. It is quite a stretch to compare a high school clique to the pod people of Invasion of the Body Snatchers but in some cases they function the same way.

In Hughes next film Pretty in Pink, class and identity are two very important themes. In the film Ringwald plays Andie, a poor girl who sets her sights on Blane, a good-looking rich kid or “Richie”. Because of Andie’s social status she is very self-conscious and even embarrassed of where she comes from. Kaveney comments on identity and status by pointing out the character that really has something to loose, surprisingly it is not poor Andie but “Richie” Blane. “Blane is genuinely attracted to Andie and has genuine feelings for her, but he has not the strength to persist in the relationship when he is threatened with social death by Steff and their clique…” (32). By sacrificing his own happiness to not risk social suicide speaks volumes about what his priorities are.

Andie on the other hand comes to represent individuality, staying true to herself and style throughout the film. “Andie becomes the embodiment of grace under pressure” (Bernstein 77) and in many ways she has to be. Pretty in Pink comes to a climax when Andie prepares for the one event that will forever be remembered by a teen, and make or break you in a night. That event is the prom. Due to her social background and class Andie cannot afford a fancy prom dress so she uses her friends and resources to make her own, solidifying her non conformity and uniqueness. Her dress becomes “…less a garment than a statement: a cool, pink, fuck you, a sexy suit of armor deflecting the stares and sneers she knows will come her way when she walks into prom…alone!” (Bernstein 77).

In some ways we can learn from characters like Andie and the other Hughes girls as well as guys. The cultural impact that they made by living out their lives onscreen changed the way teenagers were viewed by society and forced adults of the generation to wake up and pay attention. The affects of films like Pretty in Pink, and The Breakfast Club live on today in both film and television, creating a post Hughes high school homage.

WORKS CITED

Bernstein, Jonathan. ‪Pretty In Pink: The Golden Age of Teenage Movies. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1997.
Gora, Susannah. ‪You Couldn’t Ignore Me If You Tried: The Brat Pack, John Hughes, and Their Impact on a Generation.
New York: Crown Publishers, 2010.

Kaveney, Roz. Teen Dreams: Reading Teen Film and Television from ‘Heathers’ to ‘Veronica Mars’ New York: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, 2006.
Lim, Dennis. “Creating An Adolescence For The Ages.” New York Times (2011): OmniFile Full Text Mega (H.W. Wilson). Web. 22 May 2012.
Mean Girls. Dir. Mark Walters. Perf. Lindsay Lohan, Jonathan Bennett, and Rachael McAdams. Paramount Pictures, 2004. Film.

Pretty in Pink. Dir. John Hughes. Perf. Molly Ringwald, Jon Cryer, and Harry Dean Stanton. Paramount Pictures, 1986. Film.
Sixteen Candles. Dir. John Hughes. Perf. Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall and Justin Henry. Universal Pictures, 1984. Film.
The Breakfast Club. Dir. John Hughes. Perf. Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, and Judd Nelson. Universal Studios, 1985. Film.

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Phew! You made it to the end of six pages worth of work, thanks for sticking it out! This paper was written in 2012 and has not been altered, that way you and I can see my writing grow and progress. If this format doesn’t work, is too long or needs more pictures to break up the text please let me know. I would love to hear what you think!

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NEW YORK MINUTE

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Admit it, you were just as hooked on Mary-Kate and Ashley films as I was when you were a kid. In trying to come up with a NY film to recreate for my first Cinema Circle post I knew exactly what I was going to do. No not Taxi Driver, Do The Right Thing or any of the other amazing films set in this city, not yet. Instead I chose one that would be relatively easy to recreate and fun to remember. The year was 2004, the film New York Minute.

A SIMPLE PLAN…

New York was one of those places I loved visiting but never really thought I could live there; it’s fast, loud and unforgiving. Rumors told me the people were rude, experience said otherwise and whenever someone asked me “How do you like New York?” I would immediately respond that I loved it followed by my thoughts on why I shouldn’t. Like directing, I used to think you had to have a very specific personality to survive here. You know the type: social, outgoing, in short a text book extrovert, the exact opposite of me. I was 13 when New York Minute premiered. I remember sitting in the school computer lab listening to bands like Lacuna Coil (Heaven’s A Lie anyone?) and obsessing over upcoming films. I was particularly excited for a little movie called Mean Girls and New York Minute.

I saw both with my own sister (we caught Mean Girls in theaters) and remember screaming “I’m Roxy!” at the screen once the girls were introduced. Roxy Ryan (played by Mary-Kate) was the wild one, the extrovert. The film itself is utterly ridiculous (Roger Ebert has a funny review here) and as I sit re-watching it 11 years later I am embarrassed to admit I ever liked it. But that’s what’s so fun about revisiting films like this, they offer a small peak into your world back then, allowing you to laugh at them and yourself much later in life. Plus if I sat here trying to convince everyone that I only watch European art house films all day that would be a lie. I guess you can say I have had an empire state of mind as of late so to quote Jay-Z “…and since I made it here I can make it anywhere…” and I’m sure that is true. I have not been in New York long but I know this; Life moves pretty fast here and I intend to do the same. My simple plan is to move on and forward, not at the breakneck pace the city seems to set but rather at my own. Slow and steady if need be but always full steam ahead.

CLOTHING CREDITS
SKIRT – AMERICAN APPAREL | TOP– I LOVE NY GIFTS | SHOES– MARAIS USA

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New York minute

New York Minute

Photos by Jackson Notier.

NEW YORK MINUTE
Dir. Dennie Gordon | Run time: 91 min
Starring: 
Mary-Kate Olsen, Ashley Olsen, Eugene Levy

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